Andy Murray

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“Andy Murray: Wimbledon Champion: The Full Extraordinary Story” A Fascinating And Revealing Biography

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Andy Murray: Wimbledon Champion: The Full Extraordinary Story

“Andy Murray: Wimbledon Champion: The Full Extraordinary Story,” the new book documenting the life of Andy Murray and his history-making championship at Wimbledon in 2013, is now available in paperback in the United States.

“Andy Murray: Wimbledon Champion,” written by veteran tennis journalist Mark Hodgkinson and available here on Amazon.com: http://m1e.net/c?96279190-0uRWdMinyv5kE%4090388149-CE1I3gVtSfFB2 and wherever books are sold in the United States for $19.95, is a fascinating and revealing biography of Murray, who last summer became the first British man in 77 years to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, exorcising the demons of decades of British tennis frustration

Few tennis players have ever had to carry the same weight of expectation from an entire nation in the way that Andy Murray has. Nor has their path to triumph been subjected to quite so much scrutiny. In the book, Hodgkinson documents Murray’s incredible journey and examines the individuals who have influenced his career, including his family, his coaches, and his girlfriend. Hodgkinson assesses how the Scot has won over a dubious, critical public and how he was shaped into what he always wanted to be – a Wimbledon champion.

Hodgkinson is the founder and editor of TheTennisSpace.com and a former tennis correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. He has written for the BBC, contributed to British GQ, and other tennis periodicals around the world.

Fans are also invited to follow the book on social media on Facebook here: http://m1e.net/c?96279190-k94t0iLUpUtAE%4090388150-QPv0vipVLjm8k and on Twitter at @AndyMurrayBook

Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com) is also the publisher of “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All-Time” by Steve Flink, “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “Macci Magic: Extracting Greatness From Yourself And Others” by Rick Macci with Jim Martz, “Court Confidential: Inside The World Of Tennis” by Neil Harman, “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection” by Rene Stauffer (www.RogerFedererBook.com), “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” by Bud Collins, “The Wimbledon Final That Never Was” by Sidney Wood, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey and Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Titanic: The Tennis Story” by Lindsay Gibbs, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes with Peter Kolar, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “On This Day In Tennis History” by Randy Walker (www.TennisHistoryApp.com), “A Player’s Guide To USTA League Tennis” by Tony Serksnis, “A Backhanded Gift” by Marshall Jon Fisher, “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli (www.Boycott1980.com), “Internet Dating 101: It’s Complicated, But It Doesn’t Have To Be” by Laura Schreffler, “How To Sell Your Screenplay” by Carl Sautter, “Bone Appetit: Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog” by Suzan Anson, “The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle” by Stewart Wolpin among others.

 

Ivan Lendl Talks Star Coaches Coaching Star Players, Golf And Playing PowerShares Series Tennis

Ivan Lendl

Fresh off helping Andy Murray get back to form after back surgery at the Australian Open, Ivan Lendl is getting his own game in shape. The 54-year-old winner of eight major singles titles is set to play five events on the PowerShares Series champions tennis circuit starting February 5 in Kansas City, Missouri. The following is the transcript of the telephone news conference Lendl conducted Wednesday to promote his appearances on the 12-city circuit for champion tennis players over the age of 30.

 

RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining us today for our PowerShares Series tennis conference call with Ivan Lendl. The PowerShares Series kicks off its 2014 season next Wednesday, February 5, in Kansas City, and will visit 12 cities in all through March. Good tickets and terrific meet and greet and play-with-the-pros on-court opportunities are still available, and you can get more information on that at www.PowerSharesSeries.com

We want to thank Ivan for joining us today. He’s fresh off his trip to Australia, where he was working with Andy Murray. Ivan’s playing career is highlighted by three US Open titles, three French Open titles, and two Australian Open titles. He reached 19 major singles finals in his career. Roger Federer is the only man to play in more major singles finals, and Rafael Nadal just tied him with his result in Australia. Ivan also won 94 singles titles in his ATP career, which is 17 more than Federer and 33 more than Nadal.

Ivan will be playing in PowerShares Series events in Kansas City on February 5, Oklahoma City on February 6, Indianapolis on February 14, Nashville, Tennessee, on March 12, and Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 13.

In Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, Ivan is scheduled to face his old rival John McEnroe in the semifinals, and with that I’ll ask Ivan to kick off the call here, talk a little bit about his rivalry with John.  You guys have been jabbing at each other for 35 years now, and you’re going to be playing with him in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and he’s going to be your Valentine’s Day date on February 14th in Indianapolis.

IVAN LENDL: Yeah, we have played quite a few times starting in juniors. I think the first time we played was in Brazil in 1977. So it’s quite a long time we have played, and played a lot of matches, so that should be fun.

Q. I wanted to ask a general question if I could just about your life. You come from Czechoslovakia, had your fabulous on court career and a really great success in business and now in coaching. Aside from your family, what’s the best part of being Ivan Lendl these days?

IVAN LENDL: Well, I haven’t really thought about it much. I think staying busy and having something to do, something I like to do is always good, whether it is being in tennis and working with Andy or playing some, or playing some golf tournaments in the summer. All of that is fun.

Q. And obviously we have this trend now with great legends, great veterans working with different players. Some have worked, some have clicked, certainly you and Andy, others not to be mentioned are less so. What do you think the key is in the coach and pupil relationship on the ATP Tour?

IVAN LENDL: I think the key, especially with the older guys who have played successfully, is that, number one, what can that player or that coach offer to a practical player, and also chemistry.

Q. And what’s been the key to your chemistry with Andy? Do you think in some ways you guys are quite similar?

IVAN LENDL: Well, we had the unfortunate part we shared that both of us lost a few majors before we won the first one, and we understood each other with that quite well. I could understand how he was feeling, how frustrating it is, and so on and so on. Also I think sense of humor, and enjoyment of sports.

Q. People view you as a pretty serious character, but talk to us about your sense of humor off court.

IVAN LENDL: I would hate to ruin my reputation.

Q. I had the pleasure of talking with your daughters last year for the Southeastern Conference golf tournament

IVAN LENDL: Which one did you talk to?

Q. Daniella well, the one was at Alabama, the one was at Florida.

IVAN LENDL: Okay.

Q. Talk to me a little bit about your play of tennis and your play of golf. I get the sense that one is business and one is a pleasure/love. Am I overstating it too much?

IVAN LENDL: Well, it depends how you look at it. I enjoy both, obviously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Q. I get the sense, though, that and obviously you are deeply into tennis, but golf looks to be a real deep relationship that you’ve got with that particular sport, something that you’ve really taken hold of and really held onto.

IVAN LENDL: Well, I enjoy competing, and once I stopped playing tennis, because of my back I didn’t play for quite a while, I had really nowhere to compete, and golf filled that part of my life very well, obviously on a much lower level than when I played tennis, but I still do enjoy playing the senior state opens and tournaments and so on.

Q. Do you see either of your daughters being able to make a run in golf like you made in tennis?

IVAN LENDL: Well, I think it’s really up to them how much they want to do that or whether they want to do it at all.

Q. Could you maybe discuss whether you feel like through the years McEnroe was you had a lot of great rivalries, whether that was your number one rival, and maybe just talk about how your relationship with him has maybe changed now that you’re playing him in a different type setting.

IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know if he was my number one rival. We have played, I believe, somewhere in the mid 30s, something like that, and I have played a lot of matches with Connors. I have played quite a few matches with Wilander, Edberg and Becker, as well. I think at one time, obviously, we were number one rivals, and then I think it started shifting sort of mid ’80s to other guys, and Connors was there at the same time as McEnroe, maybe a bit longer because after ’85 he took some time off, didn’t play as much as before. I would say I had a lot of rivalries with those guys.

Q. Has your relationship sort of changed with him now that you’re playing in a different setting?

IVAN LENDL: Well, it’s obviously much less competitive than it has been when we played in the US Open finals, but I think both of us still want to play well and have fun with it.

Q. And just talk about this tournament coming to Indianapolis, the first stop since the tour here, and I know that you

IVAN LENDL: Are you from Kansas City?

Q. No, from Indianapolis.

IVAN LENDL:  Okay.

Q. And obviously I know you came here when it was clay and had a great match with Becker when it was still clay and then back when it was hard courts.    Talk about your memories of playing there in Indianapolis.

IVAN LENDL: The first time I came in the summer to the United States, Indianapolis was one of the places, and I could not believe how hot and humid it was.  It was quite a shock. I didn’t expect that. Obviously I didn’t know much about it, otherwise I would have expected that. It was extremely hot. It was extremely difficult to play in those conditions, and I was very proud when I was able to overcome it and win there.

RANDY WALKER: Ivan and John played 36 times in their career on the ATP Tour. Ivan led the series 21-15. Only Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played more times in the open era history of the ATP Tour. Novak and Rafael have played 39 times to Ivan and John’s 36 times. The No. 3 rivalry of all time in men’s tennis in the open era was Ivan and Jimmy Connors. They played 35 times, and Ivan led the series there 22-13. And then in PowerShares Series history, John leads the series over Ivan 2-1.

Q. A lot of people say this is a little similar to the Champions Tour, or the PGA Senior Tour. What’s the fun in this? You’re not as competitive as the old days, but you obviously still want to win this match. What’s it like for a crowd to witness one of these?

IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been in the crowd, but I can tell you what it feels like as the players. It’s always fun to see the guys. It’s fun to interact with people more. It’s a bit lighter side of the players, but yet, as you said, it’s still competitive that the guys want to play well.

Q. And along those lines, just the atmosphere. It’s a different setting, but it sounds like it’s something that’s really picking up steam and a lot of people are having fun with it and it’s gaining more and more momentum. How do you see this moving forward the next five years or so?

IVAN LENDL: Well, wherever we have played, it’s usually very well received, and I have played in Europe, I have played in Asia, I have played in Australia, I have played obviously in the United States and Canada. It’s very well received and people seem to enjoy it very much. As far as where it’s going to go in the next five years, I don’t know. I’m not involved in the business part of it.

RANDY WALKER: You’re also playing in events in Nashville and Charlotte, and those matches are going to be the exact semifinal rematches of the Super Saturday at the US Open September 8, 1984, when you beat Pat Cash in a fifth set tiebreaker and John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors in a five-set semifinal. If you could talk a little bit about that day; you hit a pretty good forehand topspin lob down match point against Cash in the fifth set. Talk a little bit about that match and that day and rekindling your match with Pat in Nashville and Charlotte.

IVAN LENDL: Yeah, it was an extremely difficult day, obviously, when you play five sets and you have finals of the US Open coming up the next day. But I think it’s a special day in tennis. That Super Saturday was special for many, many years. They went away from it either last year or a couple years ago. But I always have nice memories of that, and I’m looking forward to recreating it as long as I don’t have to play five sets.

RANDY WALKER: It’s one set semifinals and one set finals on the PowerShares Series.

IVAN LENDL: We can start in the tiebreaker then.

Q. We are from New York, and we always see John, always practicing, and he takes tennis very seriously. He has fun, but he’s still competitive. How do you train for this PowerShares Series?

IVAN LENDL: Well, I do some conditioning. I try to do something every day for conditioning, whether it is biking or rollerblading or do some weights and so on. I play tennis about three times a week.

Q. Also something a little bit about Andy Murray because we spoke to Andy today, and he’s going to be here in New York in Madison Square Garden. He said that you had great things to say about New York. Do you remember when you played here at Madison Square Garden?

IVAN LENDL: I always enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing at Flushing Meadows, I enjoyed playing at Forest Hills, and I absolutely loved playing at Madison Square Garden. All three places at that time, I had a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, so I could stay home, which was always a big advantage, at least in my mind, that you stay home and have home cooking and stay in your own bed. I think the results showed how much I enjoyed it because when you feel comfortable somewhere, you usually play pretty well.

Q. And also, again, about Andy, coming back from back surgery, he had a pretty good run at the Australian Open.  Were you guys somehow surprised how well he played? Unfortunately he lost to Roger, but what’s your assessment on that?

IVAN LENDL: I think it was sort of realistic what he achieved at the Australian Open. I think he was very close to doing better. I wish he had done better because that match was the beginning of the fourth set; anything could have happened after he served match point and Rocha was serving for the match, if Andy got ahead in the fourth I think he had an excellent chance of winning, but unfortunately he got behind.

Q. And with respect to you again, you have been a great champion, have so many fans around the world and such a pleasure that you’re going to join the PowerShares Series. How do you feel because it’s more relaxed in a way, but at the same time it’s competitive. I’m sure there’s still the love for the game out there for you, right?

IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I enjoy playing, and I enjoy going to places I have never been to, and I never played in Oklahoma City, so I’m looking forward to that one.

Q. My question regards your last couple of years traveling with Andy, participating in Grand Slams and other tournaments. In addition to you imparting your wisdom and expertise to a young player like Andy, what have you gleaned from him and his play and his training, his mental challenges, if you will? I know you’ve helped him with that regard and helped him of course win Wimbledon last year. But what have you learned from him and perhaps some of the other players like Rafa and Djokovic, Roger, et cetera? What have you picked up over the last couple years that you’ve been exposed to these top global players on a regular basis?

IVAN LENDL: Well, you learn how much the game has changed, how much more complete players they are than the players in the past. You see how everybody trains and how they prepare.  But most of the time you just not that you learn, but you confirm your beliefs in how things are done and what’s the best way to go about preparation and competition.

Q. Sticking with the Australian Open for just a quick second, it was a great final between Rafa and Stan.  Anything that you saw that either led you to believe or surprised you in that final, especially with Stan playing so strongly that first set?

IVAN LENDL: I didn’t see the final. I was in the air from Melbourne to Los Angeles, and I learned the result when I landed in Los Angeles, and I still didn’t have time to watch it.

Q. You and Connors, great rivalry, and I know after you retired from playing on the regular tour, both you and Jimmy, it seemed like you both picked up golf. From what I can tell you’re a little more fervent about it than he may be, but have you ever considered getting on the course and reconstructing a rivalry on the course, or maybe you’ve done that and we don’t know about it?

IVAN LENDL: No, I haven’t played with Jimmy. I wasn’t even aware that he plays much. It can always be done.

Q. The Wimbledon final was incredible, and obviously

IVAN LENDL: You’re talking about 2013?

Q. Yeah, and all the pressure on Andy, obviously, and the last game to close it out. Sitting up there in the friends’ box, when he closed it out, what went through your mind?

IVAN LENDL: I was very pleased for him. I knew how much pressure Andy went through in 2012 playing Roger, and I was also aware of how much pressure there was in 2013, how much he wanted to win, how hard he worked for it, and what obstacles he had to overcome, so I was extremely pleased for him.

Q. And also at Wimbledon, Jack Nicklaus was there, and he said that tennis was tougher mentally than golf. Could you talk and just compare the mental requirements, mental toughness of the two different sports?

IVAN LENDL: Well, I think they’re both mentally tough. I think in both sports you rely on yourself and you don’t have teammates to pick up your slack where if you mess up something or if it’s not your best day, that somebody else steps up. You really get all the credit, but you also get all the blame if you want to call it that way. I think the main difference between tennis and golf is that in golf if you have a bad half hour or 45 minutes, you’re out of the tournament. In tennis you can have a bad 45 minutes and be sitting a break down and you can still win in four sets. In that part, you would have to say that maybe tennis is a little bit easier mentally because you can have little lapses and get over it, but it’s definitely tougher physically.

Q. In terms of John back in the old days, he was pretty a lot of rough edges, came at you pretty strong. Did he piss you off? What was your take on John?

IVAN LENDL: Oh, I think I could handle it all right.

Q. But did you have anger towards him, or did you view it as it was pretty much just part of

IVAN LENDL: I think if you play with anger, you don’t play with a clear mind. I think you have to play with a clear mind.

Q. And finally, if I could just ask you to just talk about pretty much the incredible history of Czech tennis.              So many outstanding players and now back to back Davis Cups, but some problems recently in terms of winning Slams. Could you talk about the heritage of Czech tennis and on court the beauty of the Czech game?

IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I think I have a quiz question for you then at the end if you want to talk about Czech

Q. Wait a second, all right.

IVAN LENDL: But it’s a great question. You will enjoy it. I think the history is there for a long time. You can go I’m not a historian, but you can go all the way to the Second World War and afterwards, and there is great history, men’s and women’s. And now in the team competitions, two Davis Cups in a row, before that two Fed Cups in a row, I believe, and Berdych is very close and Kvitova has won Wimbledon. It’s great, great history and present of Czech tennis. The question I have for you:  Who is the only person to be a world ice hockey champion and a Wimbledon champion?

Q. That’s a good question. I know Ellsworth Vines won ping pong and tennis.

IVAN LENDL: I didn’t know he won ping pong.

Q. I know you were part owner of the Hartford team.

IVAN LENDL: Not true, but I was on the board, yes.

RANDY WALKER: I think I might know the answer to that. Drobny?

IVAN LENDL: Correct.

RANDY WALKER: What do I get?

IVAN LENDL: Another question. Who is the only person with an African passport to win a Grand Slam?

RANDY WALKER: Drobny. I am the publisher of the Bud Collins History of Tennis.

IVAN LENDL: That would be why.

Q. I was wondering how you get along with the players on this series, if you get a chance to hang out away from the court and if you play pranks on each other or if you have any interesting stories.

IVAN LENDL: We do. We do clinics together. We do meet and greets together. We travel together. We get along very well.

RANDY WALKER: We want to thank Ivan for joining us today, and we will see him starting on February 5 in Kansas City.

To subscribe to Randy Walker’s tennis email list click: http://www.mailermailer.com/u/signup/1007584j

 

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

From Djokovic to Federer, What’s Ahead in the Summer for the ATP Top 5?

Federer, Nadal, Ferrer, Murray, Djokovic

(July 16, 2013) With the U.S. Open looming in the near future, what does the summer hard court season hold for the ATP top 5? Nick Nemeroff recaps the players’ recent results and gives an outlook into the season going forward.

Roger FedererRoger Federer: World No. 5

2013 has been quite the lackluster season for Roger Federer. The Swiss has only one title to his name (Halle), and has failed to reach the final in all five of the tournaments where he entered as the reigning champion. Federer is 1-5 against the top 10 this season, including two demoralizing losses to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells and the final of Rome.

In all of Federer defeats this season (Andy Murray, Julien Benneteau, Tomas Berdych, Nadal twice, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sergiy Stakhovsky), he was entirely unsuccessful in controlling the middle of the court and found it hard to neutralize the offensive weapons of his opponents. Moving forward, I would anticipate Federer to be less inclined with working his way into points, a strategy highly uncharacteristic of the distinctive first-strike tennis which guided him to 17 grand slams.

Federer’s summer schedule is highly dense as he has entered Montreal, Cincinnati, and of course, the U.S. Open. But what has come as a bit of a surprise to many, Federer is playing on the clay of Hamburg and Gstaad in what appears be an effort to get more match play in before the hard court stretch and to gain back some of the confidence he lost earlier in the season.

Rafael NadalRafael Nadal: World No. 4

With Nadal, the lingering questions always revolve around his ever so fragile knees. Following his opening round defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon, Nadal expressed that the stress and pain put on his knees is amplified on grass due to the consistently lower positions he must execute in order to properly strike the ball.

Though the tour is transitioning from grass to hard, Nadal’s knees will continue to be tested. Despite the fact that hard courts yield higher bounces which mean the Spaniard will see more balls in his desired strike zone thus less bending and lunging for lower balls, hard courts are called hard courts for a reason—they are hard—especially on Rafa’s knees.

Before the U.S. Open, Nadal will be playing in both Montreal and Cincinnati, two events that will surely allow him to gauge the status of his knees. If Nadal can remain healthy, as he proved in the seven tournaments he has won in 2013, he can be absolutely devastating. Remember, besides the six clay court tournaments he won, Nadal also won Indian Wells defeating Federer, Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro en route to the title.

David Ferrer_cropDavid Ferrer: World Number 3

David Ferrer has reached the semifinals of 4 of the last 6 grand slams, including a career best run at this year’s French Open where he overcame his grand slam semifinal struggles getting to the final before losing to Nadal.

Undeniably, Ferrer’s premier surface is clay. Ferrer is often praised for his speed, consistency, retrieval abilities, and his fighting spirit. The narrative around Ferrer often clouds one of the most overlooked and important aspects of his game that being his aggression. For one of the smallest guys on tour, Ferrer really injects a mountain of energy into each and every shot and certainly can put a significant amount of pace on the ball.

Ferrer will be less inclined to grind on hard courts and as a result, his underestimated finishing power should be on full display.

Andy MurrayAndy Murray: World No. 2

Regardless of what Andy Murray does for the rest of the season, his 2013 will be remembered for his triumph at Wimbledon. Despite it being one of the most bizarre tournaments any of us have ever witnessed, the British fans’ 77 years of agony finally ended.

The joys of success must be quickly celebrated as Murray has a whopping 2000 points to defend from his U.S. Open title last year. Murray should feel less pressure in the U.S. Open warm-up even tournament as he only has 180 points to defend in Montreal and Cincinnati.

Over the past several years, Murray’s game has evolved leaps and bounds under the careful supervision of the ever stoic Ivan Lendl. In prior years, Murray game was characterized by inexplicable passivity and constant mental battles. Today, Murray has flip the switch on that characterization and has learned to better control the myriad of thoughts running through his head and utilize his powerful groundstrokes in a manner that is more proactive rather than reactive.

Look for Murray’s second serve to be a key shot as he looks to defend his U.S. Open crown especially if he ends up facing either Ferrer or Djokovic, two of the best returners in the game.

Novak DjokovicNovak Djokovic: World No. 1

Shock and disbelief were coursing through my veins during the Wimbledon final as Novak Djokovic put forth one of the most substandard performances of his career. Coming from a guy who usually steps up in the biggest moments and has ice running through his veins, Djokovic surely was not expecting such an outright defeat.

Having lost two of his last three major finals to Murray, the Serbian will enter the hard court swing looking to restore the form that catapulted him to the number one ranking, a level of play far distant from what we saw in the Wimbledon final.

The next several months will be a key stretch for the Serb as he looks to maintain a grasp of the top ranking. In 2012, Djokovic won Canada and reached the final of Cincinnati and the U.S. Open meaning he has serious points to defend.

The Magnificent Seven: Memorable Men’s Matches from the First Half of 2013

Made for this sport, and for each other.

Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall.  This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half.  Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.

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7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3

During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite.  First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively.   Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo.  Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1.  When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled.  Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished.  Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris.  (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)

Stakhovsky

6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)

Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club.  An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals.  That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10.  Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday.  Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better.  Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.

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5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2

Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back.  He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized.  Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set.  A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth.  All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently.  Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013.  Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.

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4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5

Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012.  Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years.  Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition.  To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset.  But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges.  He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.

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3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3

Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications.  Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why.  Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic.  Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation.  We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.

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2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10

Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year.  The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent.  Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began.  Or so we thought.  A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment.  Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return.  The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt.  Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments.  Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.

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1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7

The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line.  One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced.  Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth.  Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line.  Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph.  While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb.  Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.

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Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.

Adidas Men’s Fall Preview: Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco

Barricade and Adizero 2013 US Open Murray Tsonga

Adidas has released its men’s fall preview outfits, complete with more vibrant colors for the Adizero line as well as newly-refined colorblocking for the Barricade line, and athletes such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray, and Marcos Baghdatis will be wearing these kits throughout the fall and US Open series.

Andy Murray: The Scot keeps it simple once again in this adidas Men’s Barricade Murray US Open Crew, fully equipped with a “Band-of-Power” across the chest and rubberized stripes on the sleeves. It comes in Hi-Res Red (left), Blue Beauty (middle), Black (right), as well as two version of White.

Andy Murray Fall 2013 adidas

Marcos Baghdatis, Gilles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny: The polo version of the Barricade crew takes on a bit of a soccer or polo club feel with the partial “Band-of-Power” across the chest, and is simple yet inventive. It comes in White with Black, or Black with Hi-Res Red.

All of the men wearing the Barricade line will also be sporting the adidas Men’s Fall Barricade Woven 9.5″ Short in Black, White or Blue Beauty, as well as the adidas Barricade 8 White/Silver/Blue Men’s Shoe.

Baghdatis, Simon, Youzhny adidas Fall 2013

 

Andy Murray Fall 2013 adidas Barricade 8 shoes

 

Novak Djokovic: The Serb recently signed with adidas for a footwear deal (as his clothing sponsor Uniqlo does not make tennis shoes), and he’ll be exclusively sporting the adidas Barricade 7 Novak Men’s Shoe in Red/White for the US Open series.

Novak Djokovic Barricade 7 US Open men's shoe

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Monaco: The Frenchman and Argentine are slated to wear the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Polo in either Hi-Res Red w/Hero Ink and Orange (top, below), Hero Ink with Hi-Res Red and Orange (second below, left) White with Hero Ink (second below, right).

The blue as well as the vibrant colors and lines are an extension of adidas’ spring/summer line seen most recently at the French Open, except that this time, the designs are more contained to the upper chest and back.

Tsonga and Juan Monaco Fall 2013 adidas
Tsonga and Juan Monaco Fall 2013 adidas 2

Fernando Verdasco, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Jurgen Melzer: Most of the other adidas athletes will be sporting the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Crew in various colors. The bold styling of the tee once again matches today’s aggressive game, with the graphics only on the chest and upper back.

All of the athletes wearing the adizero tops will also be donning the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Bermuda Short as well as two color combinations of the adidas adizero CC Feather II Men’s Shoe in Red/Blue (left, bottom) or White/Blue/Red (right, bottom).

Verdasco, Dolgopolov, Melzer adidas Fall 2013

Verdasco, Dolgopolov, Melzer adidas Fall 2013 2

 

Adizero 2013 Fall Men's Shoe

 

What do you think of the adidas men’s fall and US Open styles?

The Day After: Andy Murray on Winning Wimbledon, Knighthood and Making Media Rounds

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(July 8, 2013) Andy Murray was overcome with emotion on Sunday on his way to winning his first Wimbledon title at the All England Club, a historic day for a nation celebrated.

After the congratulatory hugs and kisses from family and friends, a message from the Queen of England and a phone call from David Beckham, he jetted off to the Wimbledon Champions Ball looking every bit the winning gentleman. It looks like he won’t be letting that trophy go any time soon! (More photos in the link)

Andy Murray Wimbledon championOn Monday morning, Murray returned to the All England Club to make his media rounds, after catching only ”about an hour-and-a-half (of sleep) last night,” he told Sky News.

Andy Murray interview 2“You don’t want to go to sleep in case you wake up and it didn’t actually happen. I was just messaging my friends and laying in bed. It was tough to get to sleep last night,” he told BBC Five Live.

Andy Murray interview“I was pretty beat up when I woke up, but it’s a beautiful day to wake up as Wimbledon champion … it was a long day, but I’ll have a chance to celebrate today,” said Murray.

“I’m sure I will see some of the newspapers around. I’ve seen some of the back pages and front pages of the newspapers this morning,” admitted Murray during his media rounds.

Andy Murray reading the papersAmid the wonderfully-loud and supportive Center Court cheers on Sunday, Murray admits that he grasped quickly that he had won, but not quite yet what he had done for the country: “When I actually won yesterday, it sunk in quite quickly that I won Wimbledon. But actually how big it was, I think will take quite a while.”

“When I was sat downstairs on my own when I was waiting to do drug testing, that’s when it all hit me,” stated Murray. “I just got like so tired. I felt like I hit a wall and that’s when it felt like it was all starting to sink in, all of the emotions and what I had just done.”

Andy Murray wins WimbledonMurray added: “When you’re on the court you feel what is going on inside the stadium, on Center Court, but you can’t feel everything else that is going on outside.”

“But after the match you see some of the pictures of the hill and people watching back in Dunblane and the sports clubs, people at the Tower of London. I don’t know how many people watched yesterday on the TV – there will have been hundreds of millions across the world and that’s not really something you can grasp. That’s a strange feeling.

After a brief week-long holiday, Murray plans to get right back on the horse, and feels there has been a weight lifted off his shoulders going into future tournaments: ”I feel very relaxed today and there was a huge release of tension and pressure yesterday. I feel that once I get back on the match court, I’ll feel much more relaxed out there, preparing for big events … Last year after the US Open, the next few tournaments I played, I just felt a lot calmer on the court and much better about things.”

So is there anything that could top the feeling of winning Wimbledon? “Everyone would like to be world No. 1, but it’s such a hard thing to do,” stated Murray to the Telegraph. “Right now, I hold two of the Slams, the final of another one and the Olympic gold, and I’m still not close to No. 1 … maybe one day I’ll get there.”

Andy Murray with Wimbledon trophyWith his historic win at the All England Club, Murray becomes the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, and many have wondered if “Andy Murray” could soon become “Sir Andy Murray.” So, could the Scot see himself as that?

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “A lot of people have asked me about that today and in the past, ‘if you won Wimbledon.’ But I think it’s more just because it’s taken such a long time for someone to do it. I don’t know whether winning Wimbledon deserves a knighthood.”

Andy Murray with Wimbledon trophy 2According to Forbes, Andy Murray’s endorsement deals could get a boost following his Wimbledon win and be “at least on par with [Novak] Djokovic by the end of fiscal 2013,” which is estimated at around $14 million annually. Roger Federer is currently on top of men’s tennis with endorsement deals totaling $65 million, followed by Rafael Nadal at $21 million, then Djokovic. However, Forbes notes that “if 2-3 more majors follow in the coming years, eclipsing $20 million annually in endorsements is not impossible” for Murray.

But none of that matters to his hometown of Dunblane, Scotland, where the community celebrated, including his grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine, who said the atmosphere was “tremendous”.

Andy Murray grandparents“We were telling him what wonderful support there was up here,” Shirley Erskine told Sky News. His grandfather also commented on Andy’s spirit for playing the game. ”I don’t think Andy will change in any way,” he said. ”I think he will still be very committed to his tennis – he doesn’t know anything else. It’s been his way of life for the last 11 years.”

Stores were rebranding their names, kids were hitting the tennis courts at sports clubs, signs were adorning storefronts, and even a cake replica basked the city.

Andy Murray DunblaneBy early afternoon, Murray made his way to South London to take part in an adidas publicity event called “Hit the Winner” where 100 lucky fans took the court against the Scot.

Andy Murray adidas press WimbledonAndy Murray adidas event 3 Andy Murray adidas event 5 Andy Murray adidas event 4 Andy Murray adidas event 6Afterward, Murray made his way to 10 Downing Street in London for a cross-party reception in his honor, which included  (L-R) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Andy Murray, Prime Minister David Cameron, Labor leader Ed Miliband and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robinson.

Andy Murray at 10 Downing Street Andy Murray at Downing Street 2 Andy Murray at Downing StreetEnjoy the moment, Andy! Now go and celebrate!

Andy Murray, Marion Bartoli and Others Shine at Wimbledon Champions Ball 2013

The women's and men's singles winners, Marion Bartoli and Andy Murray, pose together

(July 7, 2013)History has been made, and the winners of this year’s Wimbledon Championships attended the prestigious Champions Ball at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel in London on Sunday evening.

The women's and men's singles winners take a photo togetherThe stunning surprise of the evening was the elegantly beautiful women’s singles winner, Marion Bartoli. Earlier in the day, she promised to don ”extremely high heels” and “a short green dress” to the Ball and we weren’t disappointed. She showed up in skyhigh 6 inch Christian Louboutin Daf Booty suede platform boots  (which go for a fierce $1,395), and the French women looked every bit the part of a confident and happy champion.

Marion Bartoli Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013The men’s singles winner and already a member of the All England Club, Andy Murray looked charming in a black tuxedo and radiant smile. He brought along his mum and dad, Judy and Will, girlfriend Kim Sears, as well as his good friend Dani Vallverdu and coach Ivan Lendl.

Andy Murray Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013 9 Andy Murray Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013 5 Andy Murray Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013 4 Andy Murray and Kim Sears Judy and Andy Murray Judy, Andy and Will Murray Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray, Dani Vallverdu Wimbledon Champions Ball 2013Bob and Mike Bryan, who on Saturday captured the Gentlemen’s Doubles title, looked dapper in twin suits and bow ties.

Bryan Brothers Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013The Ladies’ Doubles winners, Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei and Shuai Peng of China, also looked elegant in their sheer and silk sleeveless dresses.

Su-Wei Hsieh and Shuai Peng Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013The Girl’s and Boy’s singles winners, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy also attended, and rubbed shoulders with the sport’s elite.

Gianluigi Quinzi and Belinda Bencic Champions Ball Wimbledon 2013Hope the celebrations continue for days!

(All dresses supplied by Having A Ball, who have dressed the Wimbledon champions for years.)

Wimbledon Men’s Final Rewind: Andy Murray’s Historic Achievement, and More

The consummation of a long, tempestuous love affair.

The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion.  Here are some thoughts.

That was…historic:  77 years, and counting no longer.  It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles.  With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year.  He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.

But also anticlimactic:  Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold.  Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time.  He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers.  Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed.  Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.

Symptoms of a real rivalry:  Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did.  Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time.  But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns.  After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon.  One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.

Return to normalcy:  Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all.  Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve.  Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.

The grass is greener:  Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades.  He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface.  With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass.  Could it become his favorite surface?

No place like Down Under:  Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open.  His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors.  In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.

Four in a row:  Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe.  That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13.  His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.

Del Potro lurking (again):  At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set.  It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray.  Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray.  On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.

No competition, no problem:  Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked.  Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.

Practice makes perfect:  The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year.  Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set.  But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.  He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.

Hangover ahead:  After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion.  One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon.  On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.

More drama elsewhere:  France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title.  The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6.  The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.

 

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Semifinals

Fast forward six months.

We can anticipate a blockbuster meeting between two members of the Big Four in the Wimbledon final after all.  The route getting there took some intriguing twists and turns, however.  Here are some reactions to Friday’s action.

That was…expected:  For the seventh time in ten years, the Wimbledon final will feature the top two men in the world.  When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal tumbled by the first Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray became overwhelming favorites to reach the second Sunday.  Credit to them for taking care of business and ensuring a worthy climax to the tournament.

But also better than expected:  With Djokovic’s semifinal opponent injured and Murray’s semifinal opponent highly inexperienced, two routs could have unfolded on Friday.  Instead, a captivated crowd saw more than seven and a half hours of high-quality tennis, courtesy of underdogs who showed determination and resilience.  Credit to Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz for battling the favorites bravely.

Marathon man:  The world No. 1 played the longest major final ever last year at the Australian Open, and this year he played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.  Novak Djokovic’s super fitness and physical style of play predispose him toward these epics, as do the ebbs and flows that still characterize his emotions.  His five-set victory over Del Potro lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just five minutes shorter than the Federer-Nadal classic in 2008 and longer than the Federer-Roddick thriller in 2009.

The march of grass revenge continues:  Having defeated his 2009 Wimbledon nemesis in the fourth round and 2010 Wimbledon nemesis in the quarterfinals, Djokovic avenged his loss on grass to Del Potro in the bronze-medal match of the 2012 Olympics.  In the final, he will get a crack at the man who denied him a chance at the gold medal there.

That was then, this is now:  Djokovic’s Wimbledon semifinal followed almost exactly the opposite pattern of his Roland Garros semifinal.  He took an early lead, let it get away, took another lead, let that get away in a fourth-set tiebreak, but then closed the fifth set in style by winning his opponent’s last service game.  With just a month between those memorable matches, the similar situation combined with the contrasting result should give him even more confidence for the final.

E for effort:  Deep in the fourth set, Del Potro cracked an unthinkable 120-mph forehand, a speed comparable to the average first serves of many players.  He also saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before forcing a final set.  The Tower of Tandil came to play despite a painful knee injury, and he willed himself to retrieve more balls and survive longer in rallies than anyone could have asked of him.  Fans could see why he had not lost a set en route to the semifinal, where he made his most impressive statement at a major since winning the 2009 US Open.

But Z for zero:  On the other hand, Del Potro remains winless against the Big Four of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and Federer at majors since the start of 2010, with at least one loss at each major.  He has won at least one set in four of those six losses, but an 0-6 record is what it is.  Players don’t get points or trophies for “almost” in this cruel sport.

Murray’s mulligan:  For the second time, Andy Murray reached the final at consecutive majors.   The previous do-over did not end well when he lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, a year after falling to Federer.  Losing last year’s final at his home major likely taught the Scot some valuable lessons that he can apply to his second chance, though, and he came much closer in his first attempt than he did in Melbourne.  One can expect Murray to shed tears for one reason or another on Sunday, and the British fans will do their best to facilitate a happier ending to the remake.

Guru of grass:  Great Britain should count itself fortunate in producing not only a remarkable champion in Murray but one suited to succeed at his home major.  Murray has won 17 straight matches and reached four consecutive finals on grass, including the Olympics gold medal and the Queens Club title earlier this month.  He will hold the surface advantage against Djokovic on Sunday with his superior first serve and stronger forecourt skills.

Contrasting paths:  Just as in the women’s draw, one finalist has survived a significantly more difficult route than the other.  Like Lisicki, Djokovic has halted three top-15 opponents en route to the final, including two top-eight seeds.  Like Bartoli, Murray has not faced a top-16 seed in his first six matches.

Contrasting trajectories:  In each of his last three matches, Djokovic has started impressively in winning the first set and then stumbled in the second set.  He rallied to win that set from Haas and Berdych anyway, but he trailed the German 2-4 and the Czech by a double break.  In contrast, Murray has started slowly in each of his last two matches, dropping the first set before roaring back to win.  If this trend continues, the final could become a best-of-three affair after the first two sets.

Rubber match:  Djokovic and Murray have contested three of the last four major finals, equal to any span compiled by Federer and Nadal.  The rivalry between the top two men has not quite caught fire yet, although they split those two previous matches in New York and Melbourne.  Perhaps extending their clashes beyond hard courts will raise the successor to Federer-Nadal a notch higher in intrigue.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Overlooked amid the drama on Centre Court, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty reached their second doubles final in three majors.  The two Australians defeated two of the top five teams in the world to reach the final, where they will face Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.  Their Fed Cup team will have a solid pairing on whom to rely in decisive doubles rubbers moving forward.

My picks for the singles finals:  I’m taking Lisicki in two and Murray in four.  This Wimbledon has belonged to the underdogs, and I think that it will stay that way.

 

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