Australian Open

Daria Gavrilova Pleases Home Fans With Continued Australian Open Run

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Daria Gavrilova kept Australian tennis fans’ hopes alive for a deep run as she was able to defeat the No. 28 seed Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 on Friday at the Australian Open to advance to the round of 16. Gavrilova has been the sole Australian representative in the women’s singles draw since Tuesday, as she was the only Australian woman to advance out of the first round.

In the first set, Gavrilova and Mladenovic exchanged breaks in each of their second service games before Gavrilova would go on to break in the seventh game and hold on to that lead to close out the set. The efficient 32-minute first set included zero deuce games and only saw two games in which the loser of the game got to 30.

The second set was more tightly contested as the first game lasted nine points before Mladenovic was able to hold. Gavrilova then held for 1-1, the last hold before four consecutive breaks were exchanged. After being down a break twice and battling back both times, Mladenovic went on to get a break in the tenth game and close out the second set, forcing a decider.

Gavrilova and Mladenovic wound up playing the longest third set of the women’s singles tournament at the Australian Open as they needed 20 games to decide a winner. Once again, Gavrilova was able to break early in the set, but was unable to consolidate as she was broken right back by Mladenovic to get the set to 1-1. There was minimal trouble on serve until Gavrilova broke Mladenovic again to go up 5-4 and have a shot at serving out the match. Her consolidation troubles continued, though, she was broken at 15 and Mladenovic prolonged the match. Finally at 9-9, Gavrilova got the decisive break to go up 10-9 and went on to hold to make her first fourth round at a slam.

One of the main differences in the match came in the unforced errors department as Mladenovic committed 61 while Gavrilova contained hers to 30. The two were not unfamiliar with each other though, as they had faced off in the 2009 final of the French Open juniors, where Mladenovic was able to get the straight sets win. Gavrilova was able to get her revenge on Friday, and is able to continue her dream run in front of her home fans.

The Aussie winning the 171 minute match is a testament to her maturity and ability to keep her composure in difficult situations as she continues her best run at a slam. The 21 year old dubbed the win as the “best win of [her] whole career,” but has an opportunity to get an even better one as she will take on the No. 10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.

Lleyton Hewitt Bids Adieu In Australian Open Loss To David Ferrer

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

Lleyton Hewitt played the final match of his career on Thursday at the Australian Open as he bowed out to David Ferrer in straight sets. The 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 score line shows how easy of a victory it was on the court for Ferrer, yet Hewitt, as well as the entire crowd in Rod Laver Arena, never gave up hope until the last point was played that he would be able to pull out the victory.

The match started promisingly for the Australian as he was able to get to 2-all with Ferrer, but the 2013 French Open finalist had other plans in mind, as he went on to win four games in a row to close out the set.

After the routine first set for the Spaniard, there was more of a fight in the second set. In a repeat of the first set, Ferrer was able to break at 2-all, but when Ferrer served at 4-3, Hewitt had seven break points in a game that lasted over 10 minutes. He was unable to convert any of them, though, as Ferrer was able to continue being simply the better player.

In the third set, Ferrer went up an early break before seeing another resurgence from Hewitt, in which he broke to level the set back up at 3-all, giving the crowd one final thing to become ecstatic about. Hewitt was able to silence the crowd quickly though, as he regained the break advantage in the next game and would go on to close out the match in straight sets.

The fact that Hewitt was able to compete in this match is impressive in itself, with Hewitt being ranked exactly 300 spots lower than Ferrer. Yet everyone knew that Hewitt would not be willing to give up on his career so easily, and showed that on court as he put in one final great effort.

After the match ended and Ferrer and Hewitt approached each other at the net, Ferrer actually asked Hewitt if they could swap shirts, similar to what soccer players do after certain matches. Ferrer would go on to claim that the only piece of tennis memorabilia that he has on display in his house is a signed shirt from Hewitt, a true testament to how well respected Hewitt is by his peers.

Hewitt’s fighting spirit and tenacity has been an inspiration to many tennis players who are currently on the tour, including Ferrer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, and surely many others. Murray and Nadal were able to have their voices heard post-match as they had tribute videos displayed in Rod Laver Arena praising the two-time grand slam champion.

Hewitt’s career in tennis is far from over, as he will continue to be an inspiration to tennis players all over the world. He will also be taking over the duty of being the Australian Davis Cup captain, and will surely be seen coaching players at some point in the future.

Daria Gavrilova Pleases Home Aussie Crowd With Upset Of Petra Kvitova

by Kevin Craig

@Kcraig_tennis

Daria Gavrilova, the 21-year-old from Australia, gave the home crowd plenty to cheer for on Wednesday at Melbourne Park as she defeated the No. 6 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Night matches in Margaret Court Arena are always a special event to watch, and having a home favorite playing a Grand Slam champion was no exception. Gavrilova is full of confidence currently after having teamed up with Nick Kyrgios to win the Hopman Cup in the first week of the year, and that confidence was on display as she got the biggest win of her career in the second round of the Australian Open.

In the beginning of the match, things appeared bleak to the Aussie crowd as Gavrilova fell down an early break in the first set to the big-hitting Kvitova. Gavrilova was undeterred, though, and fought back to win four of the next five games after being broken to win the set.

The second set started off fairly straightforward, with no breaks of serve coming until the sixth game, when Gavrilova was able to garner a break for a 4-2 lead. She would go on to attempt serving for the match at 5-3, but it was an unsuccessful attempt for the Aussie as Kvitova was able to fight back in that game and get back on serve. Gavrilova was able to keep her composure though and break right back to earn the 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Gavrilova took advantage of Kvitova’s poor serving performance, winning 52 percent of all of Kvitova’s serve points, including 57 percent on second serve. Combine that with 35 unforced errors from Kvitova, including four in the final game, and Gavrilova was well on her way to the upset.

There is a possibility that Kvitova was not 100 percent healthy, as she was forced to withdraw from both the events she was signed up for prior to the Australian Open.

The night before the upset occurred, Lleyton Hewitt somewhat foreshadowed what would happen, praising Gavrilova in his post-match press conference on Tuesday. Hewitt complimented her work ethic and claimed “she’s got a lot of good things ahead of her.”

Gavrilova will look to keep the Aussie dream alive as she takes on the No. 28 seed Kristina Mladenovic in the third round.

, the 21-year-old from Australia, gave the home crowd plenty to cheer for on Wednesday at Melbourne Park as she defeated the No. 6 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Night matches in Margaret Court Arena are always a special event to watch, and having a home favorite playing a Grand Slam champion was no exception. Gavrilova is full of confidence currently after having teamed up with Nick Kyrgios to win the Hopman Cup in the first week of the year, and that confidence was on display as she got the biggest win of her career in the second round of the Australian Open.

In the beginning of the match, things appeared bleak to the Aussie crowd as Gavrilova fell down an early break in the first set to the big-hitting Kvitova. Gavrilova was undeterred, though, and fought back to win four of the next five games after being broken to win the set.

The second set started off fairly straightforward, with no breaks of serve coming until the sixth game, when Gavrilova was able to garner a break for a 4-2 lead. She would go on to attempt serving for the match at 5-3, but it was an unsuccessful attempt for the Aussie as Kvitova was able to fight back in that game and get back on serve. Gavrilova was able to keep her composure though and break right back to earn the 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Gavrilova took advantage of Kvitova’s poor serving performance, winning 52 percent of all of Kvitova’s serve points, including 57 percent on second serve. Combine that with 35 unforced errors from Kvitova, including four in the final game, and Gavrilova was well on her way to the upset.

There is a possibility that Kvitova was not 100 percent healthy, as she was forced to withdraw from both the events she was signed up for prior to the Australian Open.

The night before the upset occurred, Lleyton Hewitt somewhat foreshadowed what would happen, praising Gavrilova in his post-match press conference on Tuesday. Hewitt complimented her work ethic and claimed “she’s got a lot of good things ahead of her.”

Gavrilova will look to keep the Aussie dream alive as she takes on the No. 28 seed Kristina Mladenovic in the third round.

Rubin Posts Australian Open Upset Over Sour-Grapes Paire

By Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Noah Rubin of the United States registered the upset of the day on the opening day of the 2016 Australian Open as the No. 328 ranked rookie pro knocked out the No. 17 seed Benoit Paire of France, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6.

The match was very tight throughout as neither player gave the other many opportunities to get a lead, each player was only broken three times in the match, forcing each set to go into a tiebreak. Rather surprisingly, Rubin was the one who was able to keep his composure in the big moments and take each of the three tiebreaks using his incredible speed and defense to frustrate Paire. The Frenchman was unable to break through Rubin on the important points, seeing him fall in straight sets to the 2014 Wimbledon juniors champion. Paire’s inconsistent level of play and Rubin’s defense were the major factors in the match, as Paire hit 72 unforced errors, compared to Rubin’s 22, and managed to win only 48 percent of his second serve points.

After the match, Paire refused to give any credit to the 19 year old American, and was very candid in claiming that Rubin is “not a very good player,” but that Paire “was worse than him today.” Also, Paire was heard many times throughout the match saying that he was losing to the worst player in the world. Nevertheless, Rubin moves on to the second round of a major event for the first time in his career, as he will take on another Frenchman in Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Rubin earned a wild card entry into the Australian Open in an reciprocal agreement between the U.S. Tennis Association and the U.S. Open and Tennis Australia. Rubin was granted the wild card by the USTA by virtue of having the best record among American players on the USTA Pro Circuit last fall. He won the singles title at the event in Charlottesville, Va. Rubin, 19, turned professional this summer after his freshman year at Wake Forest University, where he reached the NCAA singles final. He is a student at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York City and hails from nearby Long Island. He won the Wimbledon junior title and the USTA National Boys 18 Championships in 2014, earning him a main draw wild card into the US Open, where he lost in the first round to Federico Delbonis in his only previous major tournament main draw appearance.

Martina Hingis Returns To No. 1 Doubles Ranking – Passing Shots With Kevin Craig

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

  • Bob and Mike Bryan are the No. 3 seeds in the men’s doubles draw at the 2016 Australian Open. The last time the Bryans were seeded lower than No. 2 at a grand slam was at the French Open in 2005, where they would go on to make the final.
  • American Nicole Gibbs was able to qualify for the main draw of the Australian Open without dropping a set. In her three matches, Gibbs was able to win more than half of her return points, 52 percent, allowing her to break her opponents 15 times total.
  • Viktor Troicki was able to defend his title in Sydney, defeating Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(7). Troicki became the first man to win back to back titles in Sydney since James Blake did so in 2006 and 2007. Prior to his loss in the final, Dimitrov had won 11 consecutive deciding set tiebreakers. The last time Dimitrov had lost a deciding set tiebreak before this was in 2012 against Donald Young in Memphis. The man who holds the record for most deciding set tiebreakers won consecutively is Carlos Moya with 17.
  • In the Simona Halep – Svetlana Kuznetsova semifinal match in Sydney, Halep was able to win almost every statistical category, yet she lost the match. Kuznetsova won 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, despite winning five less points than Halep did. Kuznetsova went on to win the title, defeating Monica Puig in straight sets in the final.
  • The doubles team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza won their 30th match in a row by defeating Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic in the final in Sydney. The longest win streak by a women’s doubles team is held by Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova at 44. With the title, Hingis will join Mirza as co-No. 1 doubles players, seeing Hingis return to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since 2000.
  • Also in Sydney, Teymuraz Gabashvili was able to make his first ATP semifinal after going 0-16 in ATP quarterfinal matches to start his career.
  • Mikhail Youzhny won his second challenger tournament in a row, defeating Adam Pavlasek in Bangkok, 6-4, 6-1. The win will boost Youzhny back into the Top 100 after having been outside of the Top 150 as recently as November of 2015.
  • Three tournaments in the United States have taken place on the futures circuit in 2016 so far, and each event has seen a different American teen reach the final. Stefan Kozlov won in Los Angeles in the first week of the season, while Tommy Paul won in Plantation and Michael Mmoh lost the final in Long Beach in the second week.

Why Novak Djokovic WILL win all four Grand Slam titles in 2016

Without a doubt, Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player on the planet and the Serbian won three of the four Grand Slam titles on offer in 2016. This year, the world number one will be looking to go one better and claim victory in all four major tournaments as he looks to cement his place as one of the greatest male tennis players of all-time. Here is why Djokovic is capable of defying the odds and enjoying an incredible season in 2016.

Okay, so Djokovic is an exceptional tennis player. In fact, it could be argued that he is more or less unbeatable on his day. The Serbian’s consistency at the top level stands him apart from the rest and his hunger and strive to achieve greatness helps to motivate him in almost every single tournament that he enters. As of January 11th, Djokovic is priced at 6/1 with Coral to win all four Grand Slam competitions this year and many will be backing the Serbian to succeed in the sports betting in 2016.

Perhaps the most straightforward tournament of all will be the Australian Open, which gets underway later this week. In Coral’s sports betting markets, Djokovic is priced at 4/6 to win a sixth Australian Open title. It is by far his favourite event and the Serbian will be well favoured, especially if Andy Murray is forced to drop out of the competition due to the impending birth of his child. Djokovic loves the Melbourne event and must rank as the greatest player on the planet on the hard court surface.

The trickiest tournament will be the French Open. Djokovic is yet to win at Roland Garros and while Rafael Nadal has struggled in the last couple of years, it would be foolish to rule the Spaniard out. If the Serbian is going to win this particular title, his time is now – especially before last year’s winner Stanislas Wawrinka becomes one of the top players in the world. It will be tough but if anyone is capable of defying the odds, it’s Novak Djokovic.

From there, Djokovic will only need Wimbledon and the US Open to complete the set. In 2015, the Serbian won both of these tournaments with relative ease although he did have to dig deep in order to defeat Roger Federer in both finals. The Swiss superstar may not be the same athlete that he was five years ago but he still possesses sheer talent and is capable of denying Djokovic the coveted Grand Slam quadruple.

So, will the Serbian achieve this goal? Well, it’s an incredibly difficult ask but Djokovic is an exceptional tennis player. A lot will hinge on the performances of Andy Murray – if the British number one performs at his best, Djokovic will find it tough. However, any slip-up and the Serbian will be too good and should capitalise. Fans are set for a great year of tennis and it could be a record-breaking performance if Djokovic has his way.

 

Andy Roddick Holds Court With Media Before PowerShares Series Tennis Circuit Debut

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Prior to competing on the 2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit, Andy Roddick held court with the media to discuss a wide array of topics including his competitiveness, the Australian Open, Bernard Tomic, the National Football League, a potential future role with the U.S. Davis Cup team, and playing alongside legends of the game at events in Birmingham, Denver and Houston. Here’s the full conference call transcript of Roddick’s interview.

 

RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th.  The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City.  For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself.  I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.

 

Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.

ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences.  So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun.  It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.

 

Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?

ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.

 

Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.

 

Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?

ANDY RODDICK:  It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.

 

Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.

 

Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?

ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat?  I don’t know.  Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.

 

Q.  Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?

ANDY RODDICK:  I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue.  They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.

 

Q.  And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing?  Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.

 

Q.  Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again.  He played he actually beat me the first two times.  I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports.  So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.

 

Q.  There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?

ANDY RODDICK:  No, I don’t.  The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.

 

Q.  Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?

ANDY RODDICK:  Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night.  Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.

 

Q.  Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.

ANDY RODDICK:  Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script.  We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it.  We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.

 

Q.  No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade.  How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to.              But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it.  You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Q.  Any good one liners you’re working on these days?

ANDY RODDICK:  You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?

 

Q.  You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?

ANDY RODDICK:  Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job.  All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.

 

Q.  I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more.  He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.

 

Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned?  I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path.  I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.

 

Q.  As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.

 

Q.  What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?

ANDY RODDICK:  Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis.  It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier.  Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.

 

Q.  For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?

ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really.  The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.

RANDY WALKER:  We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.

 

Tennis Musings From New Zealand

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By Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

                     The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.

David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.

Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.

In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.

On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.

All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.

So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.

 

The Significant Seven: Memorable Women’s Matches From the First Half of 2013

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Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women.  As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective.  (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.)  What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.

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7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9

The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished.  Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open.  Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis.  By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could.  Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity.  The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon.  For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.

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6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4

On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game.  But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1.  By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail.  When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall.  Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4.  Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner.  The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final.  It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances.  Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.

Honorable mention:  Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.

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5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5

Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began.  No, I thought not.  And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire.  To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008.  The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface.  Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different.  Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her.  She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris.  Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.

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4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3

When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA.  But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry.  As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence.  The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set.  Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak.  She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third.  Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove.  (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.)  All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.

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3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0

Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well.  Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history.  For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead.  But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum.  Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket.  Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight.  She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.

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2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4

With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger.  Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal.  Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry.  A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match.  At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading.  There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors.  Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points.  The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama.  When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.

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1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3

Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top.  The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.  When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity.  The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve.  Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries.  Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court.  But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense.  With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself.  She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.

 

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

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.)

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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.