By James A. Crabtree
So it’s April and that means two things. The first quarter of the year is over and the European clay court season is about to begin.
So what have we learned?
Well, rather a lot.
The beginning of the tennis year started in December 2012. With this the whole of Australia became hysterical after Bernard Tomic went nuts at the Hopman Cup and beat both Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. After that young Bernie continued the streak and won his first title in Sydney prompting some to feel, including probably Bernie himself, that the second coming of Rod Laver was upon us. He did of course become unstuck at The Australian Open, after much hoopla, in a one sided loss to a certain Mr Federer. Bernie hasn’t done much since and it’s doubtful the European clay will help his cause.
During the same period Janko Tipsarevic quietly won in Chennai, Gasquet in Doha and Andy Murray in Brisbane. More fuss was made of the emergence of Baby Fed Grigor Dimitrov who made the Brisbane final, and the fact Tomas Berdych lost in the quarters and was wearing unbranded clothing – the poor darling. He has since signed with Swedish fashion brand H&M.
A week later and David Ferrer was up to his usual tricks – cleaning up at ATP 250 events, this time in Auckland. As a matter of fact Ferrer should be banned from 250 events or at least given some sort of handicap like favoured racehorses. He has won 20 career tournaments 12 of which have been ATP 250 events. Not bad for a labourer from Spain.
Two weeks into 2013 and it was already the Australian Open, which went very boringly to Novak’s script. Highlights included Federer in pink shoes and Stan Wawrinka’s battle where he managed to scare Novak in his silver shoes, in the fourth round.
Davis Cup followed the first slam of the year with the surprise elimination of understrength Spain at the hands of Canada and a certain Mr Milos Raonic.
By February Frenchman Richard Gasquet was proving he is still a force, beating the rising Benoit Paire who has severe difficulty against his countrymen.
Down in Zagreb Marin Cilic won his first tournament since Umag in July last year. We bet he wishes the entire tour was played in Croatia as he would surely be the world’s number one player, having won 5 of his 9 tournaments on home soil.
The week, however, belonged to Rafael Nadal who made his comeback to the tour in Chile after what felt like a ten year absence. Nadal lost to Argentinian Horacio Zeballos in the final who was on fire for the week, prompting many to say that Nadal was indeed finished and would never return to his best.
Over in Rotterdam Juan Martin del Potro beat Julian Benneteau, who had taken care of childhood rival Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Sadly for Benneteau he lost his eighth successive ATP final, a streak he would surely like to break.
In Brazil Rafael Nadal seemed unfazed by his previous loss and romped to victory over taking out the ever moody David Nalbandian in the final. Nadal as usual bit the trophy he won and expressed how the win was dreamlike.
San Jose played out at the same time and for the last time with Milos taking out old and temperamental Renaissance man Tommy Haas, who may have found the secret of eternal youth.
Memphis indoors provided for Kei Nishikori his third title and hopefully some suede shoes. The Japanese star didn’t drop a set.
‘Allez’ in Marseille for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga where he ousted Tomas Berdych winning his tenth career title and fifth on home soil. Interestingly a player of Berdych’s stature has a pretty mediocre collection of titles with only eight since 2004.
In Buenos Aires David Ferrer picked up his second title of the year and probably breathed a sigh of relief that a certain Mr Nadal didn’t make the trip. A dream for him no doubt.
A week later and Berdych, after beating Federer in the semi’s, lost in another final this time in Dubai. This title went to Novak Djokovic, who was playing his first tournament since winning in Australia. Two out of two for the super Serb.
At Delray Beach the enigmatic Latvian Ernie Gulbis showed another glimpse of talent downing Edouard Roger-Vasselan in the final to win his second title there.
Meanwhile in Acapulco Nadal was playing havoc with Ferrer’s schedule and duly destroyed his fellow countryman in the final 6-0 6-2. Ouch.
The onset of March brought two big tournaments and the end of the big hard court tournaments until after Wimbledon.
First was Indian Wells where Nadal was back to dreaming. Here he made it official he was back and could beat anyone after adding to Federer’s horrible 2013 with a quarterfinal win. He then outlasted Del Potro in the final. More than dream dream.
Over in Miami Andy Murray won his second tournament of the year and seemed more genuinely pleased than when he won the U.S. Open (insert Sean Connery accent – “where’s my watch”). Although it was a great win, the field was depleted with injuries and no-shows. One notable was Tommy Haas making his first 1000 event semi final since 1952 or something. The tournament should also be remembered for the first round squabble between Llodra and Paire that makes “Days of our Lives” look harmonious. And no, they won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list.
The Sum Up
The first three months has seen the emergence of new talent in Tomic, Dimitrov and Paire, and the revival of old in Haas and Gasquet. Most notably for the first time since 2004 Federer and Nadal are both ranked outside the top 3.
Only time will tell what the next quarter will bring.
James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
As tough as Federer’s draw has been on paper this was his first real test.
Jo- WilfredTsonga is a big, fast and intimidating player who knows what it feels like to beat his rival in five sets.
Add to that Tsonga’s assorted collection of thunderous ground shots, booming serves, tantalizing volleys and a crowd he keeps enchanted, Federer had a problem.
Most people attending, aside from those who had national pride or an unhealthy devotion at stake, were happy to see either man win.
The first four sets were shared evenly and at that point both players deserved to win. Consistency, fitness and strategy were comparable, although Tsonga’s style was generally more flamboyant. By this point people watching were thinking up elaborate excuses why they wouldn’t be into work tomorrow morning, in anticipation of a Wawrinka Djokovic battle royale.
“Jo was really pressing forward today, playing aggressive, pushing me to come up with the plays and get one more extra ball back. I think I did well. I’ve been moving well all week, or the last couple weeks. You know, I guess also not having played any tournaments leading in, today was tricky because I haven’t been in a match like this for some time, and I’m happy I came through.” said a relieved and happy Federer who added to his own history books with his 10th straight Australian Open semi-final.
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went toe to toe with Federer but failed to deliver when it really mattered most, losing 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3. Tsonga was bidding to deny Federer any more statistical achievements and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semi-final.
The Frenchman had taken the fourth set brilliantly seizing the opportunities when they presented themselves. Sadly he started the fifth without the desperation needed to outlast the most successful player of all time. Something was missing and with it Federer’s confidence multiplied.
But luck was on Federer’s side during this kind spirited affair. Even whilst a break up he was the fortunate recipient of a net cord that dribbled over the net, with Tsonga fruitlessly running all the way past the net and into Federer’s court to which Tsonga, with a wry smile, could only mock hit a ball at the Swiss master.
Tsonga’s downcast expression following his defeat was more striking than the words he used afterwards when speaking to the press.
“You know, I’m a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But, you know, in other way I played a good match. I was solid. I was there every time. I keep my level of concentration, you know, really high all times. You know, I just gave my best today, so I’m proud of that. But, you know, I’m not happy to lose, and I already look forward for the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time.”
Everybody is so quick to comment on Federer’s age, almost without realisation how old everybody else is getting. Tsonga and Berdych are both 27, David Ferrer is 30. Their athletic biological clock is ticking by too and all three need to renounce their membership from the illustrious ‘nearly men’ group.
A subdued Tsonga reflected afterwards of the Federer he lost to today but beaten at Wimbledon two years ago. “In 2011 I think it was not a really good year for him, and I’m sure he’s more in a good shape. He was in a good shape last year and he’s in a good shape at the beginning of this year, so I think it’s a different player.”
A different player Andy Murray, Federer’s next opponent, should be wary of.