contender

FEDERER-NADAL: HOW OFTEN CAN THEY PRODUCE CLASSIC MATCHES?

By Ritesh Gupta

Over the past week or so, reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and 2008 winner Rafael Nadal have been queried about their chances of winning the 2010 edition.

The beauty of all the projections for any major title not only lies in choosing the winner, but also in whether we would get see another epic Federer-Nadal battle.

How often can these two meet and that too for the big summit clashes?

The possibility of these two going all the way may not be as strong now especially considering the indifferent form displayed by Federer of late.

Federer might have survived an early exit at the Wimbledon tennis championship with his five-set win over Colombian Alejandro Falla, but he needs to show some of the vintage stuff sooner than later to amend some of the dented impressions. It’s not that Federer can’t have an off-colour day or a  slow start in any major championship, but no one is used to seeing the Swiss champ being challenged in the first round of a Grand Slam in such a fashion.

To some extent, the onus lies on Federer to show the same ruthlessness.

Still, for those, who follow the sport and perhaps the most intriguing tennis rivalry seen ever, digging deeper and deeper or anticipating who would win the battle everytime they face each other is quite fascinating.

On top of it, after achieving so much, the two have reached a stage where everytime a Grand Slam is about to begin, there is talk of new records and comparisons inevitably lead to talk of unparalleled success in this sport.

In all, there have been 21 matches between the two. Nadal has won 14 times.

But what about these two players themselves?

There are two facets which clearly stand out in equal proportion in these two players i. e. self-belief and respect for each other.

The fact that there has hardly been any other pro other than these two to emerge as a strong contender for a title of Wimbledon’s stature, too, reflects the mindset of Nadal and Federer to a large extent. But still, if we look around the way the likes of Maradona and Pele have reportedly indulged in verbal volleys during the ongoing FIFA World Cup, it is quite amazing to see the way Nadal and Federer conduct themselves and never get perturbed by the incidents around them.

In case of Federer, the recent unexpected loss to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, has hardly dented his pride. Just days before this loss,  Federer saw his streak of a record 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals come to an end at Roland Garros.

For one, who would be trying to win his seventh Wimbledon title – a record currently shared by William Renshaw (1881-86, ’89) and Pete Sampras (1993-95, ’97-2000), Federer’s demeanour oozes simplicity. He categorically says his game is made for grass and even though he hasn’t performed the way he was expected to after winning the Australian Open this year, Federer says he is ready to defend his Wimbledon title again. He has also talked about his love for lifting the Wimbledon trophy and leaving a record which would be tough to beat.

Federer says he is happy to see Nadal competing again after missing out on the last year’s edition. And for himself, Federer still feels its important to win the first round and try to make all the expectations simple for “yourself”.

On the other hand, the only man who has managed to beat Federer in the past seven years at the All England Club, Nadal, too, never stops giving away any credit to the Swiss prodigy.

Nadal may have put the onus on Federer by labelling him as favourite, but at the same time, he says he is ready too.

The Spaniard pointed out that before the commencement of the clay court season, questions were being raised whether he would be able to reach the pinnacle again. After a troublesome 2009, Nadal’s hunger has only got stronger and stronger.

Even if Nadal fails to win the title at the All England Club this year, he will leave London at the top of the rankings.

For Federer, one comment from Sampras comes to mind.

“The reason I play tennis is to play in these big tournaments,” Sampras had said after his loss to Federer in the fourth round of the same championship in 2001.

Federer, too, lives for tournaments of such stature. Let’s see whether Federer can go all way this time around!

STOSUR GOES FROM PRETENDER TO CONTENDER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Stosur Breakthrough – As the dust begins to settle after a fantastic, albeit wet two weeks in Paris, I wanted to take a moment to tip my hat to a handful of individuals who have proved their mettle at this year’s Roland Garros.  First and foremost, I have to start with Sam Stosur. Over the course of her career, the Aussie has shown glimpses of what could be, but her fitness was always slightly suspect and her mental toughness questionable. After stringing together some nice wins over the course of her 2010 season, however, Stosur looks like she might have finally put all of the pieces together. Her gritty win over Justine Henin in the round of 16 was impressive, but her win over Serena Williams in the quarters is where she crossed the line from being a pretender to a contender. Having lost the second set to Williams after serving for the match, as well as losing the early break in the third, the Sam Stosur of old would have crumbled.  Congratulations to her for finding her resolve, and here’s hoping she’s soon to be adding Grand Slam champion to her résumé.

Super Soderling – Robin Soderling momentarily made the world take notice when he dumped out 4-time defending champion Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open, but it wasn’t long before he began to fade off the radar. At the 2010 French Open, there were only mere murmurs of what he had done a year ago, but on Tuesday, the big-swinging Swede reminded everyone that he’s capable of slaying dragons on the biggest stages in the sport. Though he was 0-12 against Roger Federer, Soderling showed great resolve in his four-set, rain-interrupted quarterfinal victory over the world No. 1. Even more impressive, Soderling fought against history, as he snapped Federer’s streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. Even if he ultimately doesn’t reach the final, there’s little doubt that Soderling is looking more and more like he’s ready to make a move into the world’s top 5.

Awesome Austrian – The French Open has seen its share of surprise semifinalists, finalists, and champions, but I doubt there are too many out there who had Austrian Jurgen Melzer penciled in for a semifinal berth. Melzer has had some hard fought wins en route to his best showing at a major, as well as some stellar victories, including a straight sets win over Spaniard David Ferrer.  But the match that Melzer is to be most commended for is the match that saw him reach the semis, his come-from-behind five-set thriller over Novak Djokovic. Granted, Djokovic is a shadow of the player that he was two years ago, but any time a player fights back from a two set deficit, he is to be applauded.

Last American Standing – Props are in order for American Robby Ginepri, the only American to survive through to the round of 16. With only one tour-level match victory under his belt in 2010, Ginepri could not have come in to Roland Garros on a lower note.  He suddenly found his game at the perfect moment, however, stringing together some solid victories, including a five-set see-saw match over former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.  Hopefully for Ginepri, this is going to be a turning point in his season.

Calling Time – In an honorable mention, I have to tip my hat off to chair umpire Carlos Ramos who had the guts to call a big star like Rafael Nadal on violating the time rule between points in his match against Nicolas Almagro, not just once, but twice.  As mentioned before, one of my biggest pet peeves is that some players do get by with abusing the clock, which in my opinion, is a form of soft cheating.  Hopefully Ramos’ enforcement of this rule wasn’t a one-off and is something that will be applied more frequently across the board for players ranked both high and low.

SHARAPOVA COMEBACK CUT SHORT

Maria Sharapova’s comeback to the WTA Tour was cut short by Lucie Safarova.  The leggy Russian was ousted in two sets 6-4, 6-3.  Sharapova will now head for Strasbourg.

“It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm,” a philosophical Sharapova, who was playing her first tournament since pulling out of the Sony Ericsson Open in March with an elbow injury, told a news conference.

There is a lot of work for Sharapova to do if she wants to be considered a serious contender for the French Open.

IS MURRAY GETTING TOO BIG FOR HIS BOOTS?

By Melina Harris

Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticizing the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder. His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.

Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organizers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behavior. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’

Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.

Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’

In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250,000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sports journalist almost walked out in protest.

Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?

In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council, thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.

Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semifinals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the world No. 4.

Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organizers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.

It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).

Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?

It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.

Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.