James Crabtree

James A. Crabtree is a freelance writer for various publications both online and in print. He resides in Melbourne Australia and considers himself a tennis obsessive. Follow his sporadic updates on Twitter at @JamesACrabtree or email him at james.a.crabtree@gmail.com.
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10 Ways to Make the Professional Tennis Tour Cooler

tennis in the sky

by James A. Crabtree

Okay, this article will likely get some of you upset and I am sure I may even be accused of being a halfwit. However, they are just ideas, not set in stone, where imagination has gotten the better of me and will probably never happen.

Of course if any of them do happen, I do want a cut of the action and full praise for being a genius.

Cool Idea 1

Get rid of the 32 seed format in grand slams, which has been in place since Wimbledon 2001. Why should we get rid of it? It is far too much protection to the high seeds. The knock on effect is too many of the same matchups from tournament to tournament, less chance for the draw to open up for a no name and thus less variety. Boring. Go back to the 16 seed format, which could right now pair 17th ranked Gilles Simon in a first round match up with Djokovic or 24th ranked Jerzy Janowicz with Andy Murray. Now that would be good.

Cool Idea 2

Shuffle up the events (sorry Chris Skelton). Now for those of you who like uniformity and probably have a tidy bedroom you will likely prefer all the clay court tournaments bunched together, all the grass courts back to back and then a season of hard court events. Like neatly folded bed linen all this is rather…BORING! Why not see which players can mould their games quickly from surface to surface?

In fact this fantastic idea hinders the specialist from racking up points at certain times of year.

Cool Idea 3

Have an indoor event in Australia in October, mainly because I live in Australia and it is a long time between Aussie Opens. Another tournament is needed in this far off distant land to keep the tennis heart pumping throughout the course of year. Twelve months between Aussie Opens is just far too long. Also it would be great to have tour events in some tiny countries. Monaco is taken care of but how about Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City!

Cool Idea 4

There is no ATP 1000 event on grass. Thus the tour needs one and needs to extend the grass court calendar a little longer. Actually, imagine having a top class grass court event in South America or somewhere that is typically only played on clay.

That being said it would be great to mix up the court surfaces across the globe. A clay event in England would be great addition.

Cool Idea 5

More of an exhibition, a “blast from the past” event. This would involve two of today’s top players slugging it out with old school wooden racquets. In fact let’s go full 1970’s; short shorts tight shirts, moustaches and the winner must hurdle the net.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZA5kPOXNUw

Cool Idea 6

Coaching Court – this court could be inside the main ground or enclosed in a glass box outside (cooler option) at any big tournament. Throughout the first few days coaches of respective players would offer instructional analysis and drill summaries for onlookers for free. A brief question and answer service would conclude each session.

Cool Idea 7

Another exhibition match – but the catch? No topspin allowed. I want to see Rafael Nadal chopping at the ball for an hour. If topspin is inadvertently used a side-court judge will determine if a player is to lose a point.

Cool Idea 8

Local area wildcard recipient.  Don’t worry, they won’t just be gifted the entry but an open tournament, where anyone can enter, will be played out. The beneficiary will go straight into the main draw and a possible Vince Papale moment will be born.

Cool Idea 9

Live in match tweeting!! At every changeover a player must tweet what is going through their minds. If they choose to follow or retweet Justin Bieber they will be punished with immediate deduction of a game.

Cool Idea 10

Remember back when we thought of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi as friends? When they did stuff like this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o8bLajJfnU

Well the impromptu match needs to be brought back. Not necessarily Manhattan but how about the smallest little tennis club here and there that nobody in their right mind would have expected.

Novak Djokovic, worthy of a Montage

Novak, at it again

by James A. Crabtree

Novak Djokovic is the spoiler of many parties. He has captured almost everything the game has to offer. He has won when he shouldn’t have, caused Roger Federer to smash a racquet, caused Rafa even more OCD’s, won over partisan crowds and nudged his way to the top of the tennis word.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-e-Ud-ly04

But Novak wasn’t always this way. He was very soft for what seemed like a long time. He looked like the sort of guy who gets beaten up by meanies wearing skeleton costumes at a High School party.

Should we bring up the past? Novak used to be a quitter on an incredible scale. In 2006, Djokovic retired when two sets down in the French Open quarter-final against Rafael Nadal. In 2007 he quit during his Wimbledon semi-final, yes SEMI-FINAL AT WIMBLEDON again against Nadal, blaming a blister on his toe that had even the commentators querying his toughness. In 2008 he won a slam, then he started tinkering with his serve and everyone but his mother said he was finished. Then 2011 happened and we tried to find the reason why he started dominating. We couldn’t figure it out. Surely blatant hard work couldn’t be the only answer? Perhaps a combination of Zen, yoga, stretching and gluten free all rolled into one?

The question is what happened? Yes Novak was always pretty good. He always had the skill set but appeared to lack the mental toughness. He had won that early slam but what he continues to achieve since and keeps achieving is ridiculous. Since June 2006, Djokovic has been coached by Marián Vajda, a former Slovakian professional tennis player. What links Marián with Mr. Myagi is unknown but speculation abounds that he has asked Novak to wash his car and paint his fence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYl7N0JPWs

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VWtVQmJTXk

These days nobody can work out an attack against Novak. Russian cold war scientists and probably Matt Damon from his Goodwill days have been employed using the finest oversized computers to work out a mathematical code to take down the Serb. In truth, nobody knows what to do. To play him is worse than a headache, it is a flipping migraine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTLlyWMHyj0

Like so many of the greats before he finds a way to win when he should have already lost. Just ask Stan the Man Wawrinka who almost reached the upper echelons at the Aussie Open only for Novak to refuse to give up. Ask Andy Murray who really could have had him in that second set in the Aussie Open final. The guy atop is a vexatious unrelenting baseliner, a bothersome retriever, a troublesome and tiresome returner. The most stubborn player currently with a racquet. And I mean that in a good way. I mean he has refused to lose. He slides, he attacks, he skids, he does the splits then he has the audacity to speak to the home crowd in any language going.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SUzcDUERLo

Okay, so Novak hasn’t been unbeatable this year, he has lost to Del Potro and Haas but on the big occasions when it has mattered he has simply gotten the job done.

Think back to Monte Carlo recently. Before the tournament began there were questions whether Novak would even play because of a dodgy ankle. Before you know it he struggled through a tough first rounder with Mikhail-Youzhny and tough second rounder with Juan Monaco. After that Novak battled on and snatched away what has come to be known as the invitational Rafa Nadal Monte Carlo Closed.

Yes, Rafa did play pretty bad in the final and Novak even admitted to the fact. But it was a Samson moment, the locks had been cut. Rafa was all but unbeatable on clay and more invincible at Monte Carlo. Will the Rafa locks regrow in time for the French Open? Unless Novak gets a career threatening blister he is a lock in to unify the grand slam belts…right?

All that remains is a montage…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU9Uwhjlog8

 

Dr. Nadal, the Villain of Monte Carlo

SkyFall

by James A. Crabtree

SkyFall

The documentations decree that a Bond baddie must often appear amicable at first, preferably have an accent, seek world revenge or domination and hang out in playgrounds of the rich.

Therefore dear old Rafa could well be the quintessential James Bond baddie. Just for a moment imagine Dr. Rafa stroking a white cat, sitting on a swivel chair overlooking a giant screen of the globe and the locations he has already dominated.

Suddenly Bond is brought into the room, shackled by two goons.

“Aaaa, Mr Bond, it is more than dream to meet you,” Dr. Rafa, would say. “Unfortunately you are too late, the cities for my supremacy has been set forth. I will rule the world again. And now, eh, you will die, no?”

Rafa is back from injury, showing that he does live twice; proving intuitive improvisation is the secret of his genius. No doubt he seeks vengeance for the heinous crimes of the rats that have leap frogged him in the rankings whilst he has been away. The world once, is not enough, and how dare the Scottish division of the MI5, Serbian Poliza and Swiss Secret Service for their aggression while he has been away. But now he is back and doing what he does best, serving up thunderballs in his favourite hunting ground of Monte Carlo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0dFsAtAlEo

His success at the tournament that is the playground of the rich can only be compared with the mindboggling feats of other athletes. Heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano won 49 straight fights over four years, and Edwin Moses reigned as hurdles champion from 1977 to 1987 including 122 consecutive victories. Dating back to 2005 and including this year’s event Rafael Nadal has won 44 straight matches in Monte Carlo. This includes 8 straight titles.

The odds appear overwhelmingly in the Spaniards favour. When dealing with a Casino the house always wins, and in this case Rafa is the house. He has lost only once at the event, in 2004 to Guillermo Coria, when ranked 109 in the world. He had his revenge a year later against Coria in the final. Of the 44 matches he has won consecutively so far he has only lost a set six times. Of those matches the deciding set has never even been a true battle.

But what is it about Monte Carlo? It isn’t the closest to his home island of Majorca but it isn’t far off. In truth the glam doesn’t suit Mr Nadal as some others who call the tax haven home, such as an overabundance of top 50 players including some guy called Novak. But the crystal waters that the club overlooks surely calm the tenacious Spaniard.

A ninth title seems more than likely. Never bet against Dr Rafa, no? Besides, nobody even resembling Bond is in attendance.

In Appreciation of Tommy Haas

Tommy Haas

By James A. Crabtree

What thirty five year old Tommy Haas has done this year is just absurd. The guy is not just old; he is pretty much prehistoric.

Tommy turned professional in 1996 and lost his first grand slam match to Michael Stich at the U.S. Open that year. That was the same year Renée Zellweger said “You had me at hello” to Jerry Maguire, everyone danced ‘the Macarena’ and approximately 45 million people were using the Internet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiBYM6g8Tck

Some of the big and very much now retired players young Tommy beat in the years following were Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1997, Marcelo Rios in 1998, Tim Henman and Andre Agassi in 1999, Pete Sampras in 2000 and Andy Roddick in 2002.

Yet Tommy is still swinging. Better, stronger and faster. In many ways he makes a mockery of the suggestion that the modern player is a much better player/athlete/tactician. He still plays very much the same game he always has. The groundstrokes are still crisp and aggressive, he isn’t afraid of the net and he will likely still have a slight emotional meltdown during the match.

Many a professional athlete has tried a comeback from the usual ailments that affects us all over time, but few have shown the resolve to not only to make it back, but stay back and truly return to a respectable level.

Haas has come back from various injuries for the joy of playing in front of his young daughter. His determination to continue playing shows there is a fire inside that is still burning. It is obvious that Tommy has an increased duty to physical fitness, as he is known to practice hard but also put in the work before and after practice. It would not be unreasonable to believe that Tommy Haas is indeed the result of military intervention courtesy of the Office of Scientific Intelligence and is the new 6 million dollar man (that’s 31 million adjusted to todays money).

2013 has seen him register wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gilles Simon, John Isner and a certain Mr Novak Djokovic. All while wearing the sort of awful translucent fashion statements and lame black socks that you expect your dad to wear in attempt to embarrass. Indeed, Tommy is still human and a dad, so some things should be expected.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrVUGc0b5wo

The German who is as much an American now is the quintessential nearly man, one of the best to have knocked on the door of grand slam contention having reached 3 Australian Open semi-finals and 1 Wimbledon semi-final. Obviously he still believes he can add his name to the history books having climbed to his current ranking of 14 after an all time high of 2 back in 2002. Not a bad comeback after dropping out of the rankings in 2010.

Tommy does have a long list to be encouraged by such as Andre Agassi, who held the number won spot aged thirty three and Ken Rosewell who won the 1972 Australian Open aged thirty seven. Fabrice Santoro played twenty one years on tour, Jimmy Connors competed in his final ATP match in 1996 at the age of forty three and Pancho Gonzalez sustained his mission until the age of forty six.

Tommy will surely join this list at some time. But for now Tommy is no Haas been.

The ATP Quarterly Review

Rafael Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

 

So it’s April and that means two things. The first quarter of the year is over and the European clay court season is about to begin.

So what have we learned?

Well, rather a lot.

December 2012

The beginning of the tennis year started in December 2012. With this the whole of Australia became hysterical after Bernard Tomic went nuts at the Hopman Cup and beat both Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. After that young Bernie continued the streak and won his first title in Sydney prompting some to feel, including probably Bernie himself, that the second coming of Rod Laver was upon us. He did of course become unstuck at The Australian Open, after much hoopla, in a one sided loss to a certain Mr Federer. Bernie hasn’t done much since and it’s doubtful the European clay will help his cause.

During the same period Janko Tipsarevic quietly won in Chennai, Gasquet in Doha and Andy Murray in Brisbane. More fuss was made of the emergence of Baby Fed Grigor Dimitrov who made the Brisbane final, and the fact Tomas Berdych lost in the quarters and was wearing unbranded clothing – the poor darling. He has since signed with Swedish fashion brand H&M.

January 2013

A week later and David Ferrer was up to his usual tricks – cleaning up at ATP 250 events, this time in Auckland. As a matter of fact Ferrer should be banned from 250 events or at least given some sort of handicap like favoured racehorses. He has won 20 career tournaments 12 of which have been ATP 250 events. Not bad for a labourer from Spain.

Two weeks into 2013 and it was already the Australian Open, which went very boringly to Novak’s script. Highlights included Federer in pink shoes and Stan Wawrinka’s battle where he managed to scare Novak in his silver shoes, in the fourth round.

Davis Cup followed the first slam of the year with the surprise elimination of understrength Spain at the hands of Canada and a certain Mr Milos Raonic.

February 2013

By February Frenchman Richard Gasquet was proving he is still a force, beating the rising Benoit Paire who has severe difficulty against his countrymen.

Down in Zagreb Marin Cilic won his first tournament since Umag in July last year. We bet he wishes the entire tour was played in Croatia as he would surely be the world’s number one player, having won 5 of his 9 tournaments on home soil.

The week, however, belonged to Rafael Nadal who made his comeback to the tour in Chile after what felt like a ten year absence. Nadal lost to Argentinian Horacio Zeballos in the final who was on fire for the week, prompting many to say that Nadal was indeed finished and would never return to his best.

Over in Rotterdam Juan Martin del Potro beat Julian Benneteau, who had taken care of childhood rival Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Sadly for Benneteau he lost his eighth successive ATP final, a streak he would surely like to break.

In Brazil Rafael Nadal seemed unfazed by his previous loss and romped to victory over taking out the ever moody David Nalbandian in the final. Nadal as usual bit the trophy he won and expressed how the win was dreamlike.

San Jose played out at the same time and for the last time with Milos taking out old and temperamental Renaissance man Tommy Haas, who may have found the secret of eternal youth.

Memphis indoors provided for Kei Nishikori his third title and hopefully some suede shoes. The Japanese star didn’t drop a set.

‘Allez’ in Marseille for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga where he ousted Tomas Berdych winning his tenth career title and fifth on home soil. Interestingly a player of Berdych’s stature has a pretty mediocre collection of titles with only eight since 2004.

In Buenos Aires David Ferrer picked up his second title of the year and probably breathed a sigh of relief that a certain Mr Nadal didn’t make the trip. A dream for him no doubt.

A week later and Berdych, after beating Federer in the semi’s, lost in another final this time in Dubai. This title went to Novak Djokovic, who was playing his first tournament since winning in Australia. Two out of two for the super Serb.

At Delray Beach the enigmatic Latvian Ernie Gulbis showed another glimpse of talent downing Edouard Roger-Vasselan in the final to win his second title there.

Meanwhile in Acapulco Nadal was playing havoc with Ferrer’s schedule and duly destroyed his fellow countryman in the final 6-0 6-2. Ouch.

March 2013

The onset of March brought two big tournaments and the end of the big hard court tournaments until after Wimbledon.

First was Indian Wells where Nadal was back to dreaming. Here he made it official he was back and could beat anyone after adding to Federer’s horrible 2013 with a quarterfinal win. He then outlasted Del Potro in the final. More than dream dream.

Over in Miami Andy Murray won his second tournament of the year and seemed more genuinely pleased than when he won the U.S. Open (insert Sean Connery accent – “where’s my watch”). Although it was a great win, the field was depleted with injuries and no-shows. One notable was Tommy Haas making his first 1000 event semi final since 1952 or something. The tournament should also be remembered for the first round squabble between Llodra and Paire that makes “Days of our Lives” look harmonious. And no, they won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list.

The Sum Up

The first three months has seen the emergence of new talent in Tomic, Dimitrov and Paire, and the revival of old in Haas and Gasquet. Most notably for the first time since 2004 Federer and Nadal are both ranked outside the top 3.

Only time will tell what the next quarter will bring.

Federer v Nadal – An Old Rivalry

Rafael Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

Before, it was Laver and Rosewall, McEnroe and Borg, Agassi and Sampras.

For the past year it’s been more about Djokovic and Murray.

One hundred years from now the beginning of this millennium will be remembered for clashes shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The biggest headline in tennis once again took centre stage at Indian Wells in the men’s quarterfinal.

Federer will undoubtedly be remembered as the greatest player of all time. What will perhaps be forgotten is that Federer has been consistently owned by the man who chased him in the rankings for so long, Rafael Nadal. Nadal leads the Federer/Nadal conflicts with 19 wins to 10, and significantly by 8 wins to 2 in grand slams.

The most recent encounter between these two at Indian Wells had the build-up.

Federer has not won a title since August last year and in many ways is playing a match in a more timid style than that of which we are accustomed to seeing.

Nadal, as we all know, is back after a very lengthy absence and has a point to prove on hard courts and in a tournament in which he lost to Federer last year.

When Federer beat Nadal in the Indian Wells 2012 semi-final it was his first victory against the Spaniard on an outside hard court since Miami in 2005. The 2013 display went back to the script of old whilst Federer and his army of fans searched for answers with no more imaginative excuses than his age and injury.

Nadal’s display of aggression after a lengthy layoff from injury was significant although Federer’s lack of hostility on court, faltering serve and inconsistency was disheartening. Federer’s main hard court weapons, the flatter forehand and faster serve have all but eluded him so far this year.

These players know each other’s games inside and out and new strategy is almost impossible. Like a childhood sibling fight all tactics have been used before, only a heightened level of spite could prove a difference.

A spite that was missing for Federer resulting in the 28th encounter being an epic anticlimax.

Nadal’s biography ‘RAFA’ is as much about Federer as it is about Nadal, with detailed schemes of how the Spaniard would overcome the Swiss inundating the text. More than simply a great matchup Nadal treats the issue with obsession, a mountain he must climb. In contrast for Federer to play Nadal seems like an exhausting chore and whether he admits it or not, one he would rather avoid.

Indeed, in their most recent battle, Federer seemed more fatigued by an opponent that has always troubled him. For some reason Nadal always thinks of himself as the underdog. And these may have been the prevailing issues rather than any of the subplots leading up. Federer struggles against Nadal, always has, and perhaps, always will.

This rivalry has been going on a long bloody time, nine years to be exact. They have met 29 times, have played seven exhibitions of which Nadal has won five, will meet a few more times before they retire and then will undoubtedly play each other a further absurd amount of times more on the Champions tour.

If the current game plan remains the same, it would be hard to imagine a reversal of fortune for the greatest player of all time.

State of the Union

Ryan Harrison - The American hope?

by James A. Crabtree

What a disappointment the American men currently are.

For a country that is so rich in tennis history it is heart breaking to see a power house such as the United States limp through the season.

True, some players have been playing well. Sam Querrey has displayed a mild resurgence, James Blake is attempting one last hurrah, Jack Sock could well be a diamond in the rough and Mardy Fish is back at Indian Wells but hasn’t played since the 2012 U.S. Open. Outside of the top 100 Tim Smyczek looks to be a hustling player making waves. The players hanging in the bottom half of the top 100 such as Brian Baker and Michael Russell, are those with heart whilst the majority of the new batch, thus far, are all hype.

The real disappointment lies with the supposed new generation of stars. Granted, they do all talk a good game, profess their commitment to hard work and assure us that they are just that one big win from joining the elite. At this point none look like worthy candidates to propel the stars and stripes forward during the teenage years of this decade and for the most part lack true grit.

Ryan Harrison is still only twenty years old, and players tend to show their potential at around twenty two these days. Impressively Harrison has the skills to battle with the elite, just not the temperament to outclass anybody notable so far.

In 2011 Donald Young reached a career high ranking of 38, the fourth round of the U.S. Open and made the final of a 250 event in Thailand. The John McEnroe prophecies were starting to ring true until 2012, when Young pressed the self-destruct button and lost seventeen matches in a row. 2013 hasn’t been so bad, but Young is way off in the rankings.

Back in the early eighties many players from the eastern bloc looked to defect their homeland for the American dream. These days the reverse is happening. After some financial disputes with the USTA, Russian born Alex Bogolmov Jnr decided he was more Russian than American in 2012. Jesse Levine is another with eyes on being part of a Davis Cup team, having aligned with Canada, the country of his birth. Reportedly both players still live in Florida.

None of the current crop look poised to make a leap.

For those who can remember, rewind ten years prior and it was a much different story.

Pete Sampras was sailing off into the distance after his fourteenth slam. Andre Agassi had recently collected his fourth Australian title, and Andy Roddick was only months away from cracking the big time.

In many people’s eyes Roddick didn’t win enough, mainly because he failed to win a second slam. It must be remembered that his second chance was always going to be a lot tougher thanks to a certain Mr Federer who spoilt many careers. Now with the oft-criticised Roddick gone, and enjoying retirement, the torch as America’s best player hasn’t been passed onto a worthy candidate.

Now before the stomach acid of the Isner fans starts churning let’s remember that big John does very little outside of the U.S. or Davis Cup duties and has been looking rather out of sorts this year. Is it too soon to count him out?

And when was the U.S. this unsubstantial? Certainly not twenty years ago when the Americans were surely the majority in any draw.

So what has happened in the years since? Is the college system watered down, do the Academies need a revamp, is American tennis stuck in the past or just stuck in a lull?

As much as champions are formed at the grass root level, the formative years are spent idolising a hero. Naturally, an idol a young player can relate to will only help to cultivate progression.

With so many tournaments stateside, roughly 18% of the total tour, it is bad for tennis to have a weak America. And with so few American contenders a sense of complacent mediocrity can set in quickly.

Australian Open Recollections

130127110534-djokovicnumber1-single-image-cut

By James A. Crabtree

The Aussie Open is over and this means constant therapy and prescription pills until the French Open.

Regardless, here are some pointless observations, rumours, thoughts and complete randomness that needs to be shared.

1. Fred Stolle said, adamantly, a few days before the tournament that “Djokovic will win it all unless he breaks his leg.” Not only was he right but I do hate it when old people get it so so right.

2. During the qualifying rounds I got to know a guy I simply referred to as Security Guard Joe. Our conversations were like those you expect to share whilst drinking  a brew with an old guy at a bar.

“Got any good bets?” he asked.

Monica Puig, I’d say she will reach round 3, at least.” I responded boldly.

“Good. I’ll put some money down.”

I was wrong, need to avoid Security Guard Joe.

3. Bernie Tomic was the only non-seeded player to list Monaco as his residence, so somebody good is doing his accounts! According to rumour the young Australian was given 32 different racquets by Yonex to trial. He chose the 31st and is happy with it. Lets hope he is not as picky with shoes.

4. Djokovic should be featured in the next video by PSY, of Gangnam Style fame. He really should be, the guy just cant stop doing the dance.

5. Ever wondered why so many players look so clean cut? Wonder no more as the Australian Open featured a “Player Beauty Bar.”

6. Sloane Stephens had roughly 17,000 twitter followers before her match with Serena Williams. One little win later and she had 35,000. She now has over 60,000.

7. Spoke to an old Czech reporter who has been coming to the Open since 1991. He had some great tales, including the legend that Marcelo Rios spent $300,000 in the casino in 1998, the year he reached the final as the number one seed. Wow.

8. The media received a very cool media pack, sunscreen, that included a little towel, pen, mini fan, media guide and a USB stick that is not compatible with my computer….ARGHH.

Also, some journalists partook in a special Cardio Tennis session run by Tennis Australia. All athletes (I use that word very loosely) took themselves far too seriously, and all were panting like poodles on a hot summers day after only five minutes action. One journalist by the name of Crabtree was awesome and won a towel but we shall go into no further detail of these incredible exploits. ;)

9. Bumped into Security Guard Joe. Luckily for me he didn’t put a bet on Monica Puig because he couldn’t remember her name.

“My shift is over soon mate, got any other good bets?” he asked.

Del Potro is probably due a good run,” I suggested.

“Del Potro? “

“Yeah, the Argentinian. He should go deep, I’d put a dollar on him.” I said.

Security Guard Joe left quickly like I was Old Biff with a sports Almanac from Back to the Future 2. Del Potro lost later that day in the third round to Jeremy Chardy. I am not Old Biff, and really need to avoid Security Guard Joe for the rest of the tournament.

10. Stan vs Novak, for many this was the match of the tournament – can’t stop thinking about this one and a possible alternate reality where Stan got it then cruised through the rest of the tournament. Stan was amazing, up 1 set and 5-2 in the second. Imagine if he had capitalised and become the other Swiss with a slam.

11. The Media restaurant never once skimmed on portions. Thanks guys, but more dessert options next time, please.

12. Beneath Rod Laver Arena I passed a guy I thought I recognised, some small time Aussie player I thought. I said “Hey mate,” and he responded with a “Hey Mate” of his own. I stopped for a second, hang on, that wasn’t the Aussie I thought it was and this guy is wearing Nike’s with a hint of pink. That was bloody Roger Federer.

13. Popped in to see the stringers and one old time doubles player had a tension of 33lbs. What the!

14. The old Czech reporter told of how he once hit with Andre Agassi, whilst the eight-time grand slam champion was waiting around for Brad Gilbert on a practice court. I am insanely jealous.

15. Where’s Wally. Captain Australia. A bloke with a giant phone. A guy with a giant head. The Heard stole the show at matches featuring Aussie players. This crew should be a perquisite at every grand slam.

Like many of you I am having Aussie Open withdrawals. Hope this offers you some solace. Roll on Roland Garros.

Ramblings from a Tennis Journalist: Australian Open Men’s Final Flashbacks

Novak Djokovic celebrates his third straight Australian Open title

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE — The Australian Open is over, and Novak Djokovic has been crowned champion again winning his third title in a row.

A lot went on today, more than just Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic hitting a few balls.

A huge number of people arrived early to watch the game on the grounds, taking in some of the live music and consuming a seriously jolly amount of booze.

Within the cornered off zones the linesmen sat tensely in their portable offices watching TV, hoping later that they wouldn’t be ridiculed by Hawkeye.

The ball boys and girls meanwhile added each other to their various Facebook accounts or goofed about playing cricket with a tennis ball and, as a substitute for a bat, a diseased looking flip-flop possibly borrowed from a vagrant.

Things started to heat up early for the journalists securing their court passes for the big game. It’s amazing how many chose instead to watch the game, whether it a first round or final, down in one of the media hubs on their own personal screen. A plus side is the constant availability of stats; the negative is the lack of feel or atmosphere.

A walk through the corridors and all feels remarkably lonely compared to the hustle bustle of only a few days before. Like a summer hotel that attempts to stay open through the later seasons, looking after only a select few guests.

One of the guests is a former regular that now wears a suit, and happens to have a TV camera following him. He speaks to another more recent guest who carries a racquet bag in preparation of a hit. This guest wears a hoody, and seems a little in awe of the guy in the suit. They are Andre Agassi and Andy Murray respectively.

Back at the Media Hub the journalists again prepare, and what a sight. Some are cracking their knuckles for a tough night on the laptop. The others limber up their belts for an extra serving at the media café, which I must say are very generous.

Before you know it, it’s game time and some journalists find they haven’t prepared properly, even though they have been provided with a plethora of information both online or in print.

The match starts and all goes to form. Deep baseline rallies that evoke memories from Wilander to Agassi to Safin to present day and Djokovic. Nobody giving an inch, both wanting a mile.

A change of ends brings the KIA adverts, and I genuinely mean that I like them. Actually, I now want a KIA Sportage and even want a job with KIA. No, not as a mechanic, but thinking up cool adverts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK3Xz8QrEqQ

Ah, The Nappies.

Back to the tennis, no breaks of serve. Lots of baseline rallies, slides and amazing gets. Andy saves one break point with a 23 ball rally. Scottish and Serbian fans given up momentarily trying to electrify their man, neither has the patience.

The game stays the course. Tiebreak time. Andy Murray gets it and looks officially on his way to a heroic victory. He is playing great aggressive inspiring tennis and is not Scottish but British. Officially Great British in fact.

Change of ends, no breaks of serve. I spot Andre Agassi’s head in the presidential box and it is very shiny. The rumour that he is to star as Lt. Theo Kojak in the new season of Kojak is one I made up, but want to become true.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY2reJ9ktRo

Hey did you hear that Andre Agassi is going to be in Kojak on TV?

Back to the tennis, four games all and Novak is talking to himself, at his box and bouncing his racquet on the ground. He is not happy, but still in the game, no breaks of serve yet…Speaking of servers, what happened to all the big servers and one-two punch of years past? Imagine a deck of cards with no Aces — that’s modern tennis. Boom Boom Becker would be rolling in his…big bed in Monte Carlo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7u1tDAHHUs

Another KIA advert, good but not as good as the nappies but still kinda cool.

If you stay in Australia long enough you become a citizen. You can fill out all the documents, learn the anthem, take the immigration test or simply have your name Aussiefied meaning it will have an ‘O’ inserted on the end of it.

This just happened for Novak who has just become ‘Doco!’ He is now an Australian.

Agassi watches intently as the 2nd set heads for a tiebreak, I’m tweeting too much and the 3g keeps dropping out on my phone. A true first world problem. Need 4g now, I can’t live like this.

Andy Murray is serving and a flock of seagulls (not the band) flying above interrupt his second serve with an errant feather that drifts down. Andy misses the serve and loses his focus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_Pq0xYr3L4

Novak gets the second set. Andy looks distraught and has blisters. Andre looks impressed.

More holds of serve until Murray loses his at 3-4 down. Is this the match decider? Keyser Söze/Kevin Spacey looks worried. Everybody who has been going for Murray suddenly changes allegiance. Djokovic chases down everything, like Hewitt on drugs. Djokovic gets the set, his confidence flowing and breaks Murray. The match is all but over.

Djokovic is unbreakable. Murray is spent, losing points easily and thus England, Wales and Northern Island have given up on him meaning he is back to being Scottish.

After 3 hours and 40 minutes Novak claims victory and is soon screaming at his entourage in delight. Moments later some tech guy who looks like a bearded gamer dressed like a teenager is setting up the trophy island.

Some speeches later and Novak gets his trophy again from a former owner, Andre Agassi.

The 2013 Australian Open is over. All the winners have been decided. Congratulations Novak.

The quickest way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach. Djokovic talks about his victory then goes round the press conference room and hands out chocolates. A bad word will never be printed about Novak again — what a genius! Raise your game Roger and Andy, the press need chocolates. This is not bribery but necessity.

P.S. Real good chocolates and see you next year Aussie Open, miss you already.

Aussie Juniors Thompson and Schipanski Spill about Hitting with Djokovic, Cilic, Raonic

Jack Schipanski practicing with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic (photo via Tennis Australia Facebook page

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE — One of Rafael Nadal’s great advantages in his tennis journey was the opportunity, as a junior, to hit and train with fellow Majorcan Carlos Moya.

Observing personally the preparation and expertise that some of the games best players employ, that keeps them leading the field, is perhaps the best lesson any young player can be a part of. Getting to practice with a professional player gives a junior player a step up and one that can ultimately skyrocket a young players game.

Jack Schipanski and Jordan Thompson are such two players.

During the last few weeks at the Australian Open these two junior Australian players, who are currently making the leap to the men’s game, were given the opportunity to hit with a range of stars.

“I told Scott Draper I was around and available to hit,” said Schipanski of his experience. “Scott got back to me later that morning, and said you’ve got Novak.”

Schipanski hit with the world No. 1 for about an hour on an outside court whilst Djokovic’s coach, hitting partner, strength and condition trainer, physio and an abundance of fans watched on.

“His coach was also a help with some technical things on my game, he gave me some great advice.”

Later Djokovic was a little more challenging.

“We played a few points and he said whoever loses this point has do to five push-ups. So I played one of the best follow up forehands I have ever played and won the point. He comes straight back and says double or nothing. Again I get a forehand on top of the net, he guesses the wrong way and I miss an easy put away. Then it’s push-ups in front of everyone watching.”

Jordan Thompson revelled in his experience and found it an invaluable opportunity before his Australian Open qualifying match.

“My coach knows Bob Brett who coaches Cilic so I hit with him first. I then hit with Djokovic. After that, the tournament desk kept ringing. I hit with Djokvoic and it was tough, it felt like every ball he hit was hitting the baseline.” Jordan added, “The next day in qualifying I played against a guy roughly 800 places above me in the rankings, I had so much confidence. I won that match 9-7 in the third set, then lost to Ryan Sweeting in the second round of qualifying.”

Jordan got an up close and personal with a few more stars.

“Raonic was telling me where he was going to hit his serve and I still couldn’t get it. Lleyton was intense for two and a half hours but barely broke a sweat. Dolgopolov was the most fun. He was putting all kinds of spins on the ball. That slice backhand is a horrible joke, takes the ball places it shouldn’t go. We played a set, which I lost 6-3 on one break.”

Jordan and Jack are leaving the junior ranks and will find themselves on the circuit this year, contesting both Futures and Challenger events across Australia in the coming weeks.

Keep an eye out for them, there is no reason to believe that they wont be the big name in years to come, perhaps hitting with some young upstart before a tournament.

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