(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 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.
The 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.
(All dresses supplied by Having A Ball, who have dressed the Wimbledon champions for years.)
(July 6, 2013) Coming into the Wimbledon final, Mike and Bob Bryan had won 23 consecutive matches. The last time the twins saw defeat was April 21, 2013 when they failed to capitalize on seven match points against Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau in the Monte Carlo Masters final.
Less than 15 minutes into today’s final, the Bryan’s opponents, Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, were playing like the team that hadn’t lost a match in nearly three months. In Bob Bryan’s first service game, the overwhelming underdogs quickly created two break points and converted the second after Dodig nailed a marvelous return at Bob’s feet nd the 6’8 Brazilian put away the response with an overhead.
On their own serve, Dodig and Melo were serving huge facilitating many short points finished by simple volleys and overheads. In addition, Dodig and Melo were varying their formations and really did an effective job keeping the Bryan’s guesing especially with the I-formation. For those not familiar, the I-formation is when the server’s partner crouches down hovering over the center service line as the server moves near the center mark on the baseline. This formation is a difficult one to consistently execute but it keeps the returners guessing because they aren’t sure where the net player and the server will move. Thus, if you have a team like the Bryan’s who can drill cross court returns all day long, it helps to keep them honest and prevents them from entering a rhythm off the return.
Five games in and the Bryan’s were in paramount danger of losing a 6-0 set for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open as they fell behind 5-0. Amazingly enough, the Bryan’s have only ever lost five 6-0 sets during their professional career. The Bryan’s were able to escape from a 0-5, 15-30 hole, break their opponents, and hold once more before dropping the first 6-3 in 31 minutes.
Looking back, the three games the Bryan’s rallied off at the end of the first set were crucial. It was abundantly clear the Bryan’s had gained a sizeable amount of momentum despite losing the set.
This transition in momentum translated into a fast start to the second set. The Bryan’s broke serve after Dodig, who had been extremely potent on serve in the first set, gifted away the break with a double fault.
To make matters worse for Dodig and Melo, their cogency off the return completely vanished in the second set. Daren Cahill of ESPN astutely pointed out that the Bryan’s began to introduce the body serve with increased regularity in the second stanza of the match. This tactic seemed to jam Dodig and Melo both physically and mentally. Not only were the Bryan’s hitting more unreturnable serves, but they seemed to draw Dodig and Melo into a major state of confusion. The Brazilian and the Croatian, when given a chance to cleanly hit a return, continually kept going down the line at the net player. And almost every time they did this, the Bryan’s made sure to make them pay for their mistake and end the point then and there. Such a bizarre strategy, whether decided upon or forced by the powerful serves of the Bryan’s, is not bound to work considering how swift the Bryan’s hands are at net.
All the Bryan’s needed in the second set was one break, and behind 15/16 first serve points won, they closed out the set 6-3 without facing a break point.
As the third set commenced, one of the notes I wrote to myself was “Not seeing too many down the line returns from the Bryans.” Ultimately, one of the main factors in the Bryan’s success in the match was their ability to consistently strike dipping, cross-court returns. Dodig and Melo continually returning at the net player really made breaking serve nearly impossible.
In addition, on serve, Dodig and Melo seemed less willing to stray from standard formation as the Bryans started to dial in on their returns. The lack of formation variation extended to serve placement as Dodig and Melo hit almost all of their serves into the Bryan’s backhand. Serving into the Bryan’s backhand is definitely the smart play but if you do it over and over and over, it becomes far too predictable. The Bryan’s broke to go up 2-1 and were cracking the backhand returns that failed them earlier in the match. Needless to say, the twins had Dodig and Melo right where they wanted them.
The patterns I previously described held suit for the rest of the third set. The only inroad Dodig and Melo made in a service game was when the Bryan’s were serving at 3-2 30-30. Mike Bryan quickly eradicated any notions Dodig and Melo had of breaking nailing a body serve and then an ace to hold for 4-2.
Winning the third set 6-4, the result seemed inevitable. The fourth set was definitely duller than the other sets and was characterized by a series of quick holds. The Bryan’s eventually broke through at 4-4 and put the match in the hands of Bob Bryan’s reliable lefty serve. Bob hit a monstrous serve down the middle at 30-15 and ended the match just like Marion Bartoli did in the Women’s Singles Final– with an ace.
The Bryan’s celebrated the win with their trademark chest-bump. With the victory, the Bryan’s became the first doubles team in the open-era to hold all four majors at the same time. With a win at the U.S. Open in September, the Bryan’s would be the first team to complete the calendar year slam since Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman did it 1951 and be only the second doubles team in tennis history to do so.
At the end of a chaotic fortnight, a Wimbledon women’s final has emerged that almost nobody expected. Here is a look at how it took shape on Thursday, and some key facts about the matchup, plus a detour into men’s doubles.
A tale of two semifinals: Notching her sixth consecutive straight-sets victory, Marion Bartoli surrendered just three games to Kirsten Flipkens en route to her second Wimbledon final. Far more drama awaited in the three-set sequel, which brought Wimbledon patrons their money’s worth. Extending to 9-7 in the third set, the epic clash between Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska twisted through several ebbs and flows from both players. Each woman let opportunities slip away, and each extricated herself from danger more than once before Lisicki slammed the door.
A tale of two routes to the final: A rare opportunity awaits Bartoli to win a major without facing any top-16 seed, any major champion, or any former No. 1. The highest-ranked opponent to meet the world No. 15 this fortnight was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, much less experienced on these stages. For her part, No. 23 Lisicki has upset three top-15 opponents, including two members of the top four in Serena and Radwanska. All three of those victories came in three sets, exposing her to much more pressure than Bartoli has felt so far.
Back from the brink, again: For the second time this tournament, Lisicki won the first set from a top-four opponent, played a dismal second, and fell behind early in the third. For the second time, she erased that 0-3 deficit in the decider, held serve under duress late in the set, and scored the crucial break before closing out the match at the first time of asking. The key break came at 4-4 against Serena and at 7-7 against Radwanska, both of whom played well enough to win their final sets against most opponents. But not against this woman at this tournament.
Still Slamless: This loss may sting Agnieszka Radwanska for some time, considering the magnitude of the opportunity before her. Not many Slam semifinal lineups will feature her as the only woman in the top 10. The world No. 4 stood two points from a second straight Wimbledon final with Lisicki serving at 5-6 in the third set. Radwanska would have entered that final as the clear favorite on account of her 7-0 record against Bartoli. For all of her consistency, and all of her titles at lesser tournaments, that one major breakthrough continues to elude the Polish counterpuncher. Once again, she will watch from the sidelines as someone with a much less impressive resume does what she cannot.
No time like the first time: First-time major finalists have achieved some stunning results on the women’s side over the last few years. Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka shone on their first trips to the second Saturday, both against the more established Maria Sharapova, while few can forget what Francesca Schiavone achieved during a memorable fortnight in Paris. On the other hand, others have not risen to the occasion as well as they might have hoped in their first major final: Sara Errani, Samantha Stosur, and Li Na among them. (Stosur and Li would find redemption with their second chances, though.) Only a slight underdog, if an underdog at all, Lisicki should embrace the moment with her relaxed demeanor and fearless ball-striking. She might start slowly, but she probably will not go quietly.
The magic number 23: Both of Bartoli’s finals at majors, Wimbledon in 2007 and in 2013, have come against the 23rd seed after she defeated a Belgian in the semifinals (Henin, Flipkens). Last time, the legendary Venus Williams held that seed, so the then-No. 18 Bartoli reached the final as a heavy underdog notwithstanding her ranking. The double-fister has plenty of reason to fear this No. 23 seed as well, however, having lost to Lisicki at Wimbledon two years ago.
Stat of the day: Saturday will mark just the second Wimbledon final in the 45 years of the Open era when both women seek their first major title. The adrenaline will flow, the nerves will jangle, and somebody will walk off with the Venus Rosewater Dish who never expected to hold it a few weeks ago.
Dream alive, barely: Switching to doubles for a moment, Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for a calendar Slam by reaching the Wimbledon final after winning the first two majors of 2013. The inseparable twins have profited from the instability besetting many other doubles teams. Nevertheless, they have won Wimbledon only twice in their career and needed five sets to escape the 14th seeds, Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Even if the Bryans do not win the US Open, they would hold all four of the major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously with one more victory, for they won their home major last fall.
Flavor of the fortnight: Pitted against the history-seeking twins are the 12th seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who upset Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in a five-setter of their own. Wimbledon has featured plenty of surprise doubles champions in the last several years, such as Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen, so one should not underestimate Dodig and Melo. The latter also defeated the Bryans in Davis Cup, albeit with a different partner on a different surface. And Dodig has enjoyed an outstanding Wimbledon fortnight, having reached the second week in singles as well.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Despite losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, Novak Djokovic played some inspired and acrobatic tennis as the match went on.
Bryan Brothers ready to capture French Open crown: David Cox of the New York Times writes that the “French Open has been a tough tournament for the otherwise all-conquering Bryan brothers as they last won the title in 2003.” The Bryans will surely not have the home crowd behind them as they face off against Frenchman Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut. Despite not being able to capture the title for over a decade, the Bryans remain confident in their chances to take down Roland Garros.
“It feels great to be back in the final. Obviously, this has been a sticky one over the last 10 years. We’ve come very close and haven’t got over the hump, but we’re coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Plane Cam: Those of you who watched Ryan Harrison take on John Isner last week may remember Harrison becoming irritated by the model airplane that makes constant trips between “a towering crane outside the Roland Garros grounds and a tower at Suzanne Lenglen” as Peter Bodo of Tennis.com reports. He goes on and describes the plane as being a “sky cam that has become a standard feature at most sporting events.” Bodo goes on to describe origination of the plane came but admits that “your kid would like it a lot more than Harrison did.”
Novak Djokovic frustrated over officiating: Following his five set semifinal defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals, as Sport 360 tells us, Novak Djokovic was less than happy with what he thought was confusing and disorganized officiating. Djokovic was extremely displeased that the court was becoming too dry.
“Off the court I was told that it’s the groundstaff who make the final decision on watering the court. The supervisor said it was him who decides. It takes 30 seconds to one minute to water the court. It was too difficult to change direction. I think it was wrong what they did.”
Djokovic was also mad about being stripped a point at 4-3 40-40 in the fifth set where he touched the net after seemingly putting away an overhead for a winner.
“My argument was that the ball was already out of the court when I touched the net.”
Road to Roland Garros with David Ferrer: David Ferrer produced a thorough and comprehensive beat down of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their semifinal clash Friday. Ferrer’s reward for his victory is a date with Rafael Nadal Sunday in what is his inaugural grand slam final. The Spaniard took a ride to the French Open grounds in this edition of Road to Roland Garros and talked about his on court mentality, who he would be if he was an actor, his adoration of Novak Djokovic’s humor, and who his friends are on the tour.
Maria Sharapova on upcoming final: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are just hours away from squaring off in the French Open final. Sports Illustrated has an extensive preview of the match including insight from Sharapova as she attempts to overcome Serena for the first time since 2005.
“I have never really thought about going out on the court and just trying to be consistent, not playing my game and just getting the ball back. That hasn’t ever been my philosophy, because the way that I win matches is by being aggressive, by moving my power, by looking to move forward and playing that aggressive game.”
“Despite all those statistics, despite my unsuccessful record against her, it doesn’t matter because you’re at the French Open final. No matter how good she’s playing, you also have to give yourself a bit of credit for getting to that point and doing a few things right to be at that stage and giving yourself an opportunity.”
Venus Williams says Serena Williams is greatest she’s ever faced: In a question and answer session with Yes Network, Venus Williams talks about her most influential fashion designer, her favorite New York meal, her favorite city, her most memorable grand slam victory, her favorite career moment and more. Venus also talks about how Serena is undoubtedly the greatest player she has ever faced.
“Clearly Serena. No doubt. I’ve played most of the greats and she is definitely the best” Venus said in response to being asked who the best player she as ever seen or played against.
By Rachel Bird, Special for Tennis Grandstand
LOS ANGELES, CA (March 4, 2013) — With Southern California professional tennis on the decline, good friends Justin Gimelstob and Mardy Fish decided to do something about it. A year ago they were informed that the contract for the long-standing Farmers Classic at UCLA would not be renewed. Enter the first ever LA Tennis Challenge on Monday, March 4th at the brand new Pauley Pavilion at UCLA (to be televised Tuesday, March 5th at 7pm on Tennis Channel). Nothing was too outrageous. The more celebrities the better. The evening was all about charity and raising tennis awareness in Southern California.
To open the event, a red carpet was rolled out for stars and tennis players alike. Evan Handler (Sex & the City, Californication), Gregg German (Ally McBeal), Tim Olyphant (Deadwood, Justified) and Keenan Ivory Wayans (In Living Color, White Chicks) came out to support charity and tennis. Inside the arena were more stars like Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), Rainn Wilson (The Office), Bruce Willis and Gerard Butler.
The charities for whom proceeds from the LA Tennis Challenge are to be distributed among include:
- The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation
- The Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund
- Novak Djokovic Foundation
- Call To Cure
- Southern California Tennis Association
Tommy Haas, the “older” player experiencing a resurgence, and James Blake, fresh off his doubles win in Del Ray, Florida, kicked things off with a one-set singles match. It was during their warm-up that the people in the best seats realized they would have to stay alert, as balls would be flying into their area regularly. Justin Gimelstob quipped that in the worst case scenario see the sponsor Esurance, which got a laugh. Quite a few people were hit during the course of the evening, but no one seemed hurt and most people shook it off.
Angelenos Haas and Blake had some fun rallies, like a tweener Haas kept in play and an overhead slam Blake was about to take until he heard Haas whimper and then just tipped it over the net. But for the most part, they came to play and were competitive. Then Haas broke the net.
Gimelstob was a real professional as he dealt with the various challenges of the evening. He kept it fun and light during the fifteen minutes it took to repair the net and first had Haas and Blake play mixed doubles with two little girls. Then he had them sign autographs while he invited all the kids to come down to do tennis drills. Meanwhile there was a raffle, which included signed Federer and Nadal memorabilia.
With the instructions to stop hitting so hard into the net, play resumed. Gimelstob decided Haas and Blake would play a tiebreak at five-all to speed things up. At 7-5, Haas emerged victorious.
Next, Mardy Fish, another Los Angeles resident, was trotted out to play the #1 ranked player, Novak Djokovic. It was announced that a local Serbian church wanted to do something special to welcome him, so a Serbian dance troupe in traditional garb emerged and did a number. At the end, Djokovic joined them. The incongruity was amusing.
Djokovic opened with a love game but the crowd seemed to be pulling for Fish. Fish gave it a real fight before Djokovic went up 3-2. Then Djokovic got silly. He had some words with a lady in the front row who got hit. He handed his racket over and let a little ball girl play a point. He mentioned that his serve was a let and complained to the chair umpire that he’d been sleeping.
Fish fought back to 4-all. Then a lineman called a fault that went Djokovic’s way. Fish was obviously disappointed. Meanwhile Djokovic high-fived and hugged the lineman. When he went up 5-4, Djokovic did a little Serbian dance before he took his seat.
At 7-all there was a tiebreak. After some horsing around, Djokovic took the set and dropped to the ground like he’d won a Slam, lying on his back as if in disbelief. The crowd burst out laughing and cheering. It only got more wild and crazy from there.
Gimelstob introduced the Bryan Brothers as the best doubles team of all time, claiming they’d won five million tour titles. Their childhood hero, Pete Sampras, came out next to join his doubles partner, Djokovic. It was past and present world number one’s doubles.
Pistol Pete started out a little rusty when he tried to finish a point at the net and ended up hitting straight into the net. Soon after he hit a shot that the Bryan Brothers threw up their rackets simultaneously to hit. After a particularly good point, Djokovic went to chest bump Sampras, a la Bryan Brothers, and got nothing but Pete’s back.
Djokovic had more words with the chair ump after he played through a call he hadn’t heard. “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” Obviously all in good fun. Later he re-enacted a point in slow-motion to prove it had gone out. Up 4-2, Djokovic was loose and celebrating with a little dancing.
The chair ump was replaced in the middle of the match with Rainn Wilson, or Dwight Schrute from The Office. Wilson started out by calling a time warning on Sampras. Then he coached him, “Keep your eye on the ball, Pete.” He wanted to know what Djokovic and Sampras were talking about when they had little chats at the baseline. Then he asked for some popcorn.
Wilson called for quiet and then fake passed gas as a Bryan brother served. A Bryan ended up throwing some of the popcorn at him. When Djokovic served, Wilson called him Choko-vic but when Djokovic had an ace, he received a thumbs up.
Sampras had it with Wilson’s antics and got the microphone from Gimelstob. “It’s time we had a real actor out here! Bruce Willis.” Willis was sitting courtside and the fans went nuts. He got up and made a move to come out to the court but the lights went out.
Gimelstob had to think fast. The fans were game so they acted on his joking request and turned on their flashlight apps on their phones. Pauley Pavilion looked like a tennis vigil. Gimelstob said it wasn’t regulation to play without lights but threw caution to the wind and suggested a super ten-point tiebreaker to end the evening. The fans were into it.
With more abuse from Wilson, the so-called “Robot tennis sensations of Camarillo, CA” the Bryan Brothers won the tiebreaker, 10-7. Bruce Willis and Gerard Butler came out to see the tennis players. The fans were crazy for Djokovic. I heard one security guard say he’d never seen anything like it. Meanwhile, I took shelter in the Audi R8 that was on display courtside. It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it!
Tennis, at heart, is not the most complicated of human endeavours, and the number of things one can usefully say about it is limited. The trick (though sadly not always the goal) for those determined to talk about it at all is to say the same things in interesting ways.
Even so, there are limits. The most skilful and thoughtful commentators in the world will still inevitably repeat themselves from time to time, and most commentators by definition aren’t the best. This isn’t to say most commentators are wrong – some are, but tennis, broadly speaking, is a hard topic to misread – merely that they are endlessly right in the same way. The average commentator peddles repetition without relent. This is why, whenever Davis Cup comes round, we hear . . .
1. ‘Isn’t it great that doubles matters?’
Saturday was by broad consensus the greatest day of doubles in living memory. The centrepiece was of course the record-shattering match in Geneva between Switzerland and the Czech Republic, which ended 24-22 in the fifth set. That is the match destined to endure – breaking records tends to cement at least a temporary place in the annals – but there were others that were great in their own way.
Slovenia’s Blaž Kavčič and Grega Žemlja both suffered straightforward singles losses, then somehow backed up to defeat Poland’s mighty duo of Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg, 13-11 in the fifth. Marc López and Marcel Granollers kept Spanish hopes from guttering out entirely, defeating Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, again in five sets. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares commenced Brazil’s audacious recovery with a five set victory over the Bryan brothers.
There were others, and taken as a whole they guaranteed that the middle day was the key to a fine weekend. Over and over again, the doubles rubber proved pivotal, stopping momentum or confirming it, inspiring a comeback or clinching the tie. It is ever thus – that’s the beauty of the format – but this weekend showcased it more succinctly than ever. If ever the Davis Cup format is altered, the crucial function of the doubles must surely remain.
2. ‘How about that Davis Cup atmosphere?’
When Pete Sampras defeated Gustavo Kuerten in the final of the Miami Masters in 2000, the day was cloyingly warm, the crowd was rambunctious, and the air was dense with samba. Local players often struggle with the Miami crowd – think of Andy Roddick facing Pablo Cuevas a few of years ago – since the support for South American players is overwhelming. There is close harmony chanting. There are jeers on double-faults. It is, in the parlance of tennis commentary, ‘a Davis Cup atmosphere’.
For all that some would dearly wish it to be otherwise, tennis has few opportunities for blatant and macho patriotism in the normal run of events, at least beyond the early rounds where the wildcards and local hopefuls are weeded out. Davis Cup is all nationalism, all the time. Of course, local customs still prevail. The crowd in Ariake Stadium that watched Japan see off Indonesia was utterly unlike the one in Buenos Aires that witnessed Argentina dismantling Germany, but it was also more spirited than a usual Japanese audience. I’m not entirely sure why the USA chose to host Brazil in Florida this weekend, thus neatly ceding the crowd support to the visitors. After his loss to Thomaz Bellucci, John Isner professed not to appreciate the Brazilian supporters, although it probably wouldn’t have mattered so much had more than a handful of Americans turned up.
The atmosphere doesn’t merely inspire the players on to greater heroism, it alters the way they go about it. Would Bob Bryan have yelled ‘Come on’ so vehemently at Melo at a normal tournament? According to Bryan, no: ‘Davis Cup is an emotional atmosphere . . .There were some words said. You know, no hard feelings, no grudges. It’s Davis Cup. This sort of stuff happens all the time.’ Would Carlos Berlocq have shredded his shirt so exultantly upon achieving a win via retirement in any other situation?
Part of the function of Davis Cup is to provide a context in which overtly nationalistic behaviour is more or less tolerated, if not encouraged, so that the rest of the sport can relatively remain free of it. When such behaviour seeps across the other events – with exceptions – it tends to feel misplaced and leaden-handed. At best we indulgently chuckle and call it ‘a Davis Cup atmosphere’.
3. ‘Davis Cup allows lesser players to shine.’
Fabio Fognini clinched the tie for Italy. If he’d lost that crucial fifth rubber, then Ivan Dodig would have clinched it for Croatia. Frank Dancevic played a crucial role in seeing off Spain. Andrey Golubev, among the most gifted underachievers in the sport, won both his singles rubbers, including a four set defeat of Jurgen Melzer to seal the tie for Kazakhstan. Who honestly saw that coming? How many of you had heard of Thiago Alves before he nearly sent the mighty USA crashing out yesterday?
None of these fellows are household names, except perhaps in their own countries, and, one presumes, in their own homes. The point of Davis Cup isn’t that lower-profile players achieve wins. These guys regularly win matches at the levels at which they compete (the exception being Golubev, who’s been known to indulge in losing-sprees that rival Donald Young’s). The Davis Cup enables them to secure meaningful victories in a tournament of global importance. Winning a tie means a great deal. Winning the Cup itself means everything.
Last year the deciding rubber in the final was won by Radek Stepanek over Nicolas Almagro. There is no event in the sport of comparable stature in which that might happen. A reformatted biennial format (the most commonly proposed alternative) surely would work against such an outcome.
4. ‘It’s time to look at tiebreaks in fifth sets.’
Every Davis Cup weekend features at least one match whose heroic proportions compel most onlookers to shake their heads in wonderment, yet oblige others to resume their call for fifth set tiebreaks to be made universal, in order that so arresting a spectacle might never be repeated. This weekend it was the seven hour doubles match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
As far as I can make out, the most heated discussion around this issue occurs in the United States. Discussion elsewhere seems more measured and sporadic, and I can’t imagine the debate reaches any special incandescence in countries where cricket is popular. A test match has barely hit its stride by the seven hour mark. I’m also yet to hear many players vociferously calling for tiebreaks to be introduced in deciding sets, whether it be in Davis Cup, at the Majors (besides the US Open) or the Olympics.
If it all becomes too much, there is always a mechanism whereby any match can be shortened. It’s called losing. As it was, even the longest doubles match in history had little material impact on the tie.
5. ‘Davis Cup matters!’
Anyone who watched Alves huffing and heaving as he failed to contain his disappointment after losing in the live fifth rubber to Sam Querrey in Jacksonville was left in little doubt about what this match, and by extension the Davis Cup means to him. Ditto for Milos Raonic’s exuberant roar as he sealed the tie against Spain. Or Fognini collapsing triumphantly to the dirt in Turin. Or Stan Wawrinka prostrate on the hard Geneva surface. There were uncounted similar moments, twinkling and flaring across the entire weekend, pricks and gashes of light, all joining up to form a long archipelago across the doubting world, proving to us that for unnumbered players and fans, the Davis Cup matters as much as ever.
With an impeccable 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles going into today’s match, most people had penned in a US victory for the Bryan brothers in yesterday’s doubles rubber against Brazil. But in tennis it’s never safe to count on the better team on paper. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares have had success playing the Bryans in the past, having beaten the brothers twice, although on clay. This was a whole new ballgame, playing to keep their country alive in the tie, on foreign soil, against the best doubles team in the world. It was almost inconceivable that Brazil could pull off such a victory under the circumstances.
Team Brazil came out to play from the first point, as Bruno Soares put in it the post match press conference, “to beat these guys, you have to be 110%. Today we showed we were 110%, most important for five sets. We didn’t drop for one second.” He was correct. Even when the team went down three set points in the first set tiebreak, they kept calm and were able to go on to win the breaker and take the first set. Things got more heated at the end of the second set tie break, won by the Americans, when their was some controversy over an exclamation by Bob Bryan, seemingly towards Marcelo Melo. The crowd made more of a fuss about the exchange than either team did.
Both teams played down the incident in their post match interviews. Bob Bryan cited the charged environment, saying, “Davis Cup is an emotional atmosphere. They got passionate after they thought they won the set. I got passionate to them. There were some words said. You know, no hard feelings, no grudges.” The sentiment was similar from the Brazilians. Marcelo Melo seemed a bit confused about what happened, saying, “Bob never did this before. We have really good relationship. I have him as a friend. In that moment I got in shock. How Bob did this, is not normal.” He mentioned he would have to review the footage later to see what really happened, but he seemed fairly certain that Bob meant no harm to him directly.
The overall atmosphere in the arena could not have been any more different from Day 1, where the crowd never seemed able to get into the singles matches. The crowd was firmly behind the home team, but there were a few Brazilian fans in the house which made for an even livelier air. The Americans on the Team USA bench were just as pumped up as the crowd, up on their feet as often as not. Ryan Harrison did a particularly good job getting the crowd cheering.
While Team USA would’ve been thrilled to capture the tie on Saturday, fans attending Sunday’s event somewhat benefit from Brazil’s doubles victory. What would’ve been dead rubbers will now be more exciting events. Sunday’s matches begin at 12PM EST and feature reverse singles John Isner v. Thomaz Bellucci followed directly by Sam Querrey v. Thiago Alves.
The USA Davis Cup squad got off to a quick start on Friday in their first round tie against Brazil. Sam Querrey easily overcame Brazil’s No. 1 player, Thomaz Bellucci, in straight sets. Sam Querrey served very well, but Bellucci definitely handed him a few games. He admitted to being a bit nervous in the first few games, but settled in after the first break.
This is the first home tie for both Querrey and Isner and this was Sam Querrey’s first victory in a live singles rubber. Unfortunately, the crowd for the first match was about as flat as Bellucci’s game. However, the sparse audience did a great job of supporting the home team. When asked about the crowd support, Querrey responded, “they got surprisingly loud there at the end for an arena that wasn’t full.” He also urged fans to come out tomorrow to watch the Bryan brothers, who he unequivocally deemed the greatest doubles team of all time.
The crowd had an easier time getting into the second match, which was surprisingly less one sided than the first. Where Thomaz Bellucci seemed resigned to lose, Thiago Alves maintained a very positive attitude against John Isner, a player ranked 125 spots higher than him. After losing the first set 6-3, Alves hung in there in the second and had plenty of chances against the American. All of the sudden the Brazilian bench was on its feet and Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd, forcing the US fans to step up their game.
Based on the players’ body language, an onlooker would have easily mistaken the score of the match in favor of Brazil. Alves was fist pumping after every winning point, while Isner lumbered around the court, a point he was quick to address in his post match press conference, saying, “ I don’t realize it when I’m out there, but I guess I am pretty slow and pretty deliberate, especially in a three-out-of-five-set match.” The good news was that the attitude had nothing to do with the knee pain that sidelined Isner during the Australian Open. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, John Isner stated that he plans to play the reverse singles rubber on Sunday.
Saturday’s schedule features Bob and Mike Bryan against Brazilian players Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. This match gives the brothers a chances to clinch the tie for the United States. The last time the Bryan brothers lost a Davis Cup match was 2008, but their not prepared to write in that “W” quite yet. In Thursday’s post-draw press conference, Bob Bryan said, “we have to go out there and play good tennis, have to execute. This is a team that has beaten us before. They beat us in a big match at the French. We really respect them. We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us.” It’s smart never to take the competition likely, but the Bryans have an impressive 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles.
Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend. We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.
Canada vs. Spain: Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America. Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor. Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches. Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year. If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic. Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.
Italy vs. Croatia: This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails. On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians. But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory. The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat. Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though. At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.
Belgium vs. Serbia: One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist. First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career. Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters. That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments. Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada. With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.
USA vs. Brazil: Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend. For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions. While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves. In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans. All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.
France vs. Israel: Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level. Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles. The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months. In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before. Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.
Argentina vs. Germany: Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge. While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy. Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq. The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well. Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian. Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber. There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.
Pick: Er, Argentina?
Kazakhstan vs. Austria: In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major. The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side. His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer. The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday. Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic: While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka. After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately. Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych. The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him. In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych. The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.
Pick: Czech Republic
Having completed the recap of the WTA field at the Australian Open, we issue report cards for the ATP. As before, grading reflects not just results but expectations, quality of opposition, and other factors.
Djokovic: The master of Melbourne like none before him, the Serb became the first man in the Open era to finish on top Down Under three straight years. That record span of dominance over a tournament that famously has eluded dominance came with a satisfying serving (note the word choice) of revenge over Murray, who had defeated him in the US Open final. Consolidating his current control over what looks like the ATP’s next marquee rivalry, Djokovic won his third straight match in it after losing the first set in all of them. Vital to his success was the series of 44 consecutive holds with which he ended the tournament, strangling two of the game’s best returners in Ferrer and Murray. Those top-five opponents managed break points in just two of Djokovic’s service games through the semifinal and final as he repeatedly won 30-30 and deuce points throughout the tournament—with one notable exception in his epic against Wawrinka. The undisputed world #1 survived and then thrived in running his winning streak over top-eight opponents to eleven. Overpowering Ferrer and outlasting Murray, Djokovic showed that he can—and will—do virtually anything to win. A+
Murray: The US Open champion came closer than many anticipated to becoming the first man to win his second major on the next opportunity after his first. Murray admittedly benefited from a puff pastry of a pre-semifinal draw, which allowed him to conserve energy for that five-setter against Federer. Threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the end of the fourth set in that match, he showed remarkable resilience by bouncing back to claim an early lead in the fifth and close out the man who had tormented him at majors. Murray maintained a nearly impenetrable rhythm on serve throughout that match, and his forehand continued its maturation into a real weapon. He will rue the three break points that he let escape early in the second set of the final, which could have unfolded entirely differently otherwise. But Murray was right to consider the tournament an important consolidation of last year’s success. A
Federer: Handed the most difficult draw of the top three, he showed just how well his game can silence players who rely heavily on their serves in ousting Tomic and then Raonic. Federer defended crisply and moved as alertly as he has in years past during the five-set quarterfinal with Tsonga that followed, which unveiled the full range of his weapons from the explosive to the delicate. But his struggles to break serve caught up with him against Murray, whom he could not crack for three and a half sets even as his own serve came under frequent pressure. Probably drained by the Tsonga epic, Federer faded in the fifth set despite mounting an impressive surge to swipe the fourth. He finished the tournament by winning all six of his tiebreaks, a sure sign that he remains one of the sport’s best competitors under pressure. A
Ferrer: Never looking his best during the fortnight, he backed into the #4 ranking rather than charging into it with confidence. Ferrer probably should have lost to Almagro in the fourth round, outplayed for most of the first four sets and kept alive only by his compatriot’s shocking inability to deliver the coup de grace. Thoroughly exposed by Djokovic in the semifinals, he suffered his second humiliating defeat at that stage of a major over the last twelve months as he offered little better than batting practice for the Serb’s weaponry. Ferrer said consistently this fortnight that he considers himself a clear level below the Big Four, and his results against them on grand stages continue to make his point for him. B
Tsonga: The Frenchman slipped to 13 straight losses against top-eight opponents here, but the manner in which he did contained kernels of hope for the season. Not folding meekly to Federer as he had in an earlier Australian Open, Tsonga regrouped from losing the first set in a tiebreak to win the second and regrouped from losing the third set in a tiebreak to win the fourth. He even spared no effort in battling Federer down to the finish in a fifth set tenser than the scoreline showed. Also likely to please new coach Roger Rasheed was his greater efficiency in closing out overmatched opponents in the previous four rounds. Docked a notch for his Neanderthal-like comments about women’s tennis. B+
Almagro: As the percipient Steve Tignor of Tennis.com noted, sometimes a player’s greatest achievement can turn into his greatest catastrophe within a handful of points. Jerking Ferrer around the court for two and a half sets, Almagro astonished audiences by his newfound courage against an opponent who had won all 12 of their previous meetings. He will remember his first quarterfinal at a hard-court major for the wrong reasons, though, once he failed to serve it out three times across the third and fourth sets before succumbing to cramps as well as the crushing weight of his disappointment in the fifth. B-
Chardy: Not only did he upset Del Potro with inspired attacking tennis, but he followed up that five-set victory by grinding out a four-setter against the recently dangerous Seppi. The Frenchman came from nowhere to reach his first major quarterfinal and in the process showed considerable courage. Chardy almost pulled off an Almagro against the Tower of Tandil, gagging on triple break point midway through the third set when he had won the first two. Unlike the Spaniard, he mustered one last surge in the fifth with an unexpected fearlessness to finish what he had started. A-
Berdych: Drawn against the top seed in a quarterfinal for the second straight major, he could not find the same thunderbolts that he had hurled at the US Open. Or perhaps Berdych simply matches up more effectively to Federer than to Djokovic, who has won all eleven of their hard-court meetings. Before that relatively tame four-set loss, however, he recorded four straight-sets victories that bode well for his consistency, always the main question for him. He leaves the Australian Open as the man outside the Big Four most likely to win a major this year, although he will need some help to do so. B+
Del Potro: Through the first two rounds, the Tower of Tandil looked not only sturdy but downright terrifying. Just when people began to take him seriously as a dark horse title threat, Del Potro turned into the Leaning Tower of Pisa when he tottered to the exit in a strangely enervated effort. That five-set loss to Chardy at the end of the first week marked a setback in a surge that started with his bronze-medal victory at the Olympics, departing from his recent steadiness against opponents outside the top ten. F
Tipsarevic: He looked every inch a top-eight seed in dismantling sentimental favorite Hewitt before his home crowd on Rod Laver Arena, where the Aussie had wrought so many miracles before. Striking winners down both lines with abandon, Tipsarevic appeared to make an imposing statement. Then he wobbled through two five-setters and retired against Almagro, not a surprising result for a man who has completed a career Golden Slam of retirements. C
ATP young guns: Heralded with enthusiasm when the tournament began, none of these prodigies left a meaningful impact on the tournament. Brisbane finalist Dimitrov became the first man to exit Melbourne, failing to win a set in his opener, and Raonic succumbed to Federer much more routinely than he had in their three meetings last year. Tomic produced a stronger effort against the Swiss star than he did last year but still lost in straight sets after struggling mightily with a qualifier in the previous round. And American fans need not have watched Harrison’s ignominious loss to Djokovic for long to realize how far this alleged future star must improve before mounting a credible threat. Last but not least, Paris finalist Jerzy Janowicz narrowly avoided a second-round implosion over a dubious line call and rallied to win after losing the first two sets—sets that he should not have lost in the first place. Janowicz did at least progress as far as his seed projected, and many of these young men received difficult draws, but the breakthrough of young stars that many expected here happened almost entirely on the women’s side. C+
Bryan brothers: At their most productive major, they closed within four major titles of Federer by comfortably winning the final after some close scrapes earlier in the fortnight. The Bryans have earned some of their most consistent success in Australia, where they have reached nine finals and five consecutively. Djokovic still has some work to do before he can approach the numbers of these twins whose talents never seem to fade. A
Djokovic vs. Wawrinka: Undoubtedly the match of the tournament, it represented the high point of Wawrinka’s career to date. The Swiss #2 basked in the spotlight while cracking his exquisite one-handed backhands to all corners of the court and taking control of rallies with his penetrating cross-court forehand. Wawrinka even served at Federer-like heights for much of the match, outside a predictable stumble when he approached a two-set lead. Stunned by the brio of his opponent, Djokovic needed a set and a half to settle into the match. The underdog then needed about a set and a half to regroup from the favorite’s charge, at which point the fourth and fifth sets featured spellbinding tennis all the more remarkable for the ability of both men to sustain their quality. Fittingly, the match ended only after Wawrinka had saved two match points with breathtaking shot-making and only with a rally that forced both men to pull out nearly every weapon in their arsenals. A+
Simon vs. Monfils: Not much shorter than Djokovic vs. Wawrinka in terms of time, it felt considerably longer to watch. This mindless war of attrition featured rally after rally of the sort that one more commonly finds on practice courts, including a 71-shot meander to nowhere that contributed to the inevitable cramping suffered by both men late in the match. If the previous epic offered an argument to keep the best-of-five format, this match argued just as eloquently for its abandonment. Simon, the winner, had no chance of recovering in time for his next match, nor would Monfils if he had won. C-
Men’s final: Not a classic by any means, it compared poorly both to the women’s melodrama on the previous night and to the marathon of the 2012 men’s final. The 2013 edition illustrated some troubling reasons why the Djokovic-Murray rivalry never may capture the imagination to the extent of Federer-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic, and Djokovic-Nadal. Presenting no contrast in styles, these two men played essentially the same games in a match of mirror images that came down to execution in any given situation—interesting but not exactly stimulating to watch. Moreover, they continued to bring out the passivity in each other by showing so much respect for each other’s defense that many rallies featured sequence after sequence of cautious, low-risk shots designed to coax errors rather than force the issue. These tactics worked perfectly for Djokovic, just as they worked for Murray at last year’s US Open, but they left fans waiting for a spark that never came in a match that trudged towards anticlimax. B-
And that is a wrap of the 2013 Australian Open! Up next is a look ahead to the first round in Davis Cup World Group action: all eight ties previewed and predicted.