by Stephanie Neppl
Being at a Davis Cup Finals tie is unlike any other tennis experience I have ever personally been a part of. In addition to the players coming together to represent their countries, another personality is often on court with them: the crowd.
The Davis Cup crowd during the Spain versus Argentina final in Seville this weekend was electric. The tennis often felt like the supporting act as fervent supporters of both teams tried to out-chant, out-cheer and out-spirit the other. Whether it was shouting during serves, delaying play with the stadium wave or starting up what felt like a percussion band in the middle of a game, there was constant noise from beginning to end. It really was fabulous for those of us lucky to be present.
During today’s match between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro, the crowd was certainly a major player. Play was interrupted time and again. It didn’t matter who was serving; games were delayed, even second serves were delayed and despite some fans (and players, coaches, teammates) getting irate it just didn’t stop. Whether it was done due to pure excitement or to distract one of the players (or both), the cheering, drums and horns were just part of the action. Both team captains got into discussions with the chair umpire and it wasn’t until the Argentineans were given a warning did the crowd scale it back a bit.
For the first time in his storied Davis Cup career, Nadal was in the position to clinch the Davis Cup for his team and as expected he won his 20th straight singles match in Davis Cup play (he hasn’t lost since his debut in 2004). But Del Potro certainly was no pushover and the match looked likely to go to a fifth set when the Argentinean battled back from a break down to serve for the fourth set at 5-3. At that stage in the match, Del Potro had wrestled back the momentum and the Argentinean fans saw their hopes return as Del Potro bounced around the court with a new fire.
The next five games would be an emotional rollercoaster for all 24,000 fans in the Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla as Del Potro lost three straight games before breaking Rafa as he served to seal victory for Spain. But Del Potro’s legs seemed to be gone and the tiebreak ended 7-0 in Nadal’s favour. The Spaniard’s final forehand winner sent him flat on the court in joy.
After the match, Nadal acknowledged how amazing the Davis Cup crowd can be. “The atmosphere is really, really unbelievable so thank you very much all the Spanish crowd, all the Argentina crowd that makes this confrontation really really special and unforgettable.”
That ambiance is what makes Davis Cup so special. In tennis, it can be rare to see such emotional cheering throughout an entire match, let alone four or five matches. It’s what makes Davis Cup so special and challenging for fans and players alike. It makes each point seem so vital. Whether a double fault or simple missed return, each point won is celebrated as if a set was won. And that is incredible to experience.
Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.
(Del Potro and Spanish team via Getty Images; Nadal photo via AP)
The tennis season is ending this week with the Argentine men taking on Spain in the Davis Cup Finals, but we’re already looking toward 2012. More specifically, what tennis fashion the adidas athletes will wear come the Australian Open and beyond. Let’s have a look at the ensembles the following players will be wearing come January: Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, Andrea Petkovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Laura Robson, Maria Kirilenko, Daniela Hantuchova, Ernests Gulbis, Viktor Troicki, Sania Mirza, Sorana Cirstea, Jurgen Melzer, and Fabio Fognini.
Stella McCartney has been known to dress World #1 Caroline Wozniacki in some rather revealing (and appealing!) dresses and the one for the start of 2012 is no exception. Made of what seems to be a combination of lace and mesh, it’s quite a statement — particularly the back of the dress. Does anyone else think the back looks transparent or see through?
Ana Ivanovic, along with Daniela Hantuchova, will be sporting a peach and coral dress from the adiZero collection. While this style is not their best attempt to glam up the Serbian star, the cute compression shorts and bra may make up for it. The white version of the dress, however, doesn’t look as flattering, while the green version may look less harsh against the red clay of of Roland Garros.
Interestingly enough, the supposed adiZero tank meant to be worn by Sania Mirza and Sorana Cirstea seem eerily close in length to Ana’s minidress. Perhaps the two have been accidentally reversed? Jokes.
The other adidas ladies, namely Andrea Petkovic, Maria Kirilenko, and Laura Robson, will all be sporting the adiPower Barricade line in coral and green showcased below.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, Fernando Verdasco will be sporting a bright orange adiZero set at the Australian Open, and a green set supposedly for the clay court season. Wonder what was going through Verdasco’s mind in that second photo …
One look at this photo of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s adiZero set and it deceptively seems the adidas team has ventured away from their recent asymmetrical shapes. But do not fret. The mark up of the front view shows that the designers have kept their word in keeping our eyes busily scanning every inch of the shirt. I still can’t figure out whether it looks good or not.
And more for Tsonga:
With a warped adjustment of the focus of the lens, the designers also seemed to have created another look from this mark up for Jurgen Melzer and Fabio Fognini, just in white, bright orange or electrifying yellow.
Adidas’ top man Andy Murray recently previewed his new adiPower Barricade styles in London at a “Road Tennis” event, but a detailed look is shown here also in white.
Overall, the adidas team has done a grand job once again dressing the world’s elite tennis stars. What do you think?
By Maud Watson
At the front part of this week, the powers-at-be of the ATP were happy to announce that a decision had been made to shorten the season by two weeks, beginning in 2012. In order to achieve shaving off two weeks from the current schedule, the week between the Paris Masters and ATP World Tour finals was eliminated, and four other smaller tournaments will be shifted around to different weeks in the calendar. In the end, the decision was not surprising, and all parties had to be fairly pleased with the outcome. The bigger question to look out for in the next few years to come will be if they opt to shorten the season any further. As that will most likely mean cutting tournaments, it may be dependent upon how much the players take advantage of the new 2012 off season as opposed to playing exhibitions. At the very least, expect the odds to increase that such a future decision will be messier than this current breakthrough.
In recognition of the fact that the ATP has planned to shorten its season starting in 2012, the ITF has been forced to consider the possibility of moving both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup finals further up in the year. Such a move would most likely benefit both players and fans, as things tend to run more smoothly when all of the governing bodies work in sync. In addition to this consideration, it would probably be even more beneficial if the ITF sinks its energies into revamping the structure of the Davis Cup, a subject that people are hearing more and more whispers about.
Another legal battle appears to be on the horizon as the USTA has filed a claim against Olympus, the company that has served as the title sponsor of the US Open Series. The USTA claims Olympus is looking to save the nearly $11.7 million it will cost to sponsor the 2011 US Open Series, while Olympus is claiming it has the right to pull out of the contract due to category conflicts with Panasonic. The USTA will seek to acquire the $11.7 million for the 2011 US Open series sponsorship, as well as a declaratory judgment that it didn’t violate Olympus’ exclusive sponsorship rights. It will certainly be a hassle and a blow if the USTA comes out on the short end of the stick, but at least with the success of the series and the US Open itself, one would like to think that the USTA won’t have to look far to find a new title sponsor with Olympus having pulled out of the contract that was slated to run through 2013.
The Battle Wages On
It seems that mediation efforts between Tennis Channel and Comcast have failed, and now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is apt to have to get involved. Tennis Channel is alleging that it shouldn’t be on one of the more costly sports tier of channels when two of Comcast’s own channels – Golf Channel and Versus – are part of the basic service package. Comcast claims Tennis Channel agreed to its place on the sports tier back when they first negotiated a deal. Comcast seems relatively confident that the FCC will find in its favor, but tennis fans will be hoping otherwise. A finding in favor of the Tennis Channel could help the game grow in a multitude of ways.
Well, the foot injury plaguing Serena Williams has once again forced her out of another Grand Slam, as she has already announced that she will not be in Melbourne to defend her 2010 title. Williams stated that she had to have additional surgery on the foot due to training too hard and too soon following her first surgery. The pullout will cost Williams 1,000 ranking points, and it is apt to cost her a place in the Top 10. It’s a blow to the younger of the two Williams sisters and her fans, but rest assured that when she is healthy, it’s difficult to imagine any scenario in which she won’t shoot back up towards the upper echelons of the women’s rankings. In fact, assuming she makes a full recovery from the freak foot accident, don’t be shocked to see her named the favorite going into SW19.
This week kicks off the culminating event for the world’s top eight ATP players. The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals are taking place in London’s prestigious O2 Arena where the winner could walk away with a cool $1.63 million and up to 1500 points. Play has already begun, so let’s take a look at the potential matchups and breakdown their hard court head-to-head ratios at the bottom!
Group A Breakdown
Group A consists of world number 1 Rafael Nadal, Serbian comedian Novak Djokovic, breakthrough Czech Tomas Berdych, and American stalwart Andy Roddick. Berdych and Roddick were among the last two to qualify for the event, but they could prove to be heavy roadblocks for the other players even if they don’t make it to the finals.
Djokovic has had a strong showing at tournaments this year reaching several semifinals, but the second half of the season has been especially rewarding. He reached a career-high number 2 after his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, won Dubai in February but stayed relatively quiet until his finals’ appearance at the US Open. Since then, he’s led Serbia to it’s first-ever Davis Cup finals, won Beijing, and lost to Roger Federer in the finals of Basel after being up a set. He holds a winning head-to-head ratio on hard courts against Nadal, Soderling, and Ferrer, but his tilted losing streaks to both Federer and Murray on the hard courts may be of concern if he meets them in the semifinals. All in all, not bad for a guy with ailing asthma problems and who used to find his best form in the beginning of the season when he was freshest. Since pumping up his workout schedule this year, he’s seen improvements in both his stamina and strength. He’ll continue his good form and find himself in the semifinals.
How far Roddick will go is anyone’s guess, but what seems more likely is his impending retirement. Although he has not given any formal announcements, I don’t see him leaving the tour on a losing streak. He is, however, guaranteed a top 10 finish for the ninth straight year — a feat not many can claim, not even Federer. He’s had a relatively successful year, winning his opener in Brisbane and following that up with his Masters Title in Miami en route defeating both Nadal and Berdych. Since his fourth round shock exit at Wimbledon to Rendy Lu, he has yet to advance past the semifinals of any tournament. His power is still present and his backhand has gained consistency, but his younger opponents have the edge on better footwork.
After years of unsuccessful targeting of Berdych as the ‘next big thing,’ he finally emerged from his dismal cocoon and exhibited his new mental strength this year. Other than his semifinals appearance in Roland Garros and finals appearance at Wimbledon, his results have been mediocre. But the points that he did accrue from those tournaments has been the distinction. Since losing in the first round of the US Open to Michael Llodra, he has gone 2 for 10 in the last eight events. Having reached his career-high of number 6 just last month, it seems that he is content with where he is. But that is where his err lies. In the tennis community, it is never enough to just reach your goal and then ‘checkout’ mentally, as is the case with Berdych. Players are implanted with the notion that there is always someone better than you that you have to defeat in order to progress. But Berdych has taken a break and his best tennis this year is in the past.
Nadal. No words are needed to express the steadiness, passion and pure talent that are encompassed in the Spaniard and his drive to win in London. His calculated scheduling and win at the US Open are examples of Nadal’s maturity, and it’s likely that maturity may take him all the way to the title here. If his tendonitis doesn’t creep up and he continues blasting his new serve, he may be unstoppable once again.
Group A Semifinalists:
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
Group B Breakdown
Group B consists of Swiss king Roger Federer, shaggy-haired Briton Andy Murray, windmill Swede Robin Soderling, and diminutive Spaniard David Ferrer. This group boasts most rivalry and competition amongst the players, and each have recently scored some big wins.
Soderling can be a nightmare for most anybody these days if he wants to be. While he is a hothead on court, it’s still a 50/50 chance whether this fierceness will hurt or help him during any given court battle. In the greatest wins of his career defeating both Nadal and Federer on French clay, his cool anger propelled him to win. On more heated occasions like during his first round loss to Marcel Granollers at the Australian Open this year, his temper forced him into error-prone shots. He’s had the most successful year of his career, reaching his personal best of number 4 in the world just this week, and adding onto that several finals appearances and a title at the Paris Masters most recently. He could be ready to go home and call it a season, but he may just put in a great fight against the next guy and find himself in the semifinals.
Murray is a class act on the court and could prove to be a lead contender for the title. After his tough loss in the finals of the Australian Open to Federer, he lost his focus for several months. He continued training to be more aggressive in his play, but it was to no avail losing in the quarterfinals or earlier for the next eight tournaments. Although he became more exciting to watch as an attacker, he seemed to lose sense of his game and would revert back to counterpunching mid-point. He finally found his balance when he realized that he will always be a pusher with attacking capabilities, but never an attacker exclusively. When he instilled this new confidence in himself, he went on to resolutely beat Federer in the finals of both the Toronto and Shanghai Masters. If he continues strong mentally, there could be very little the other players could do to stop him.
Ferrer has always been a streaky, but brilliant, player. Sometimes he comes out firing, keeping his energy high and beating the best players in the world back-to-back. At other times, he seems to take a back seat to the stars and be fine with it. The only winning head-to head ratio that he hold against another player in the London field on hard courts is against Berdych, but it’s not likely they’ll both make it to the semifinals. Otherwise, Ferrer has had a commendable year, especially as of late taking home the Valencia title just last month. Although not one known to win many hard court tournaments, he was runner-up here in 2007 and he knows how to push players all over the court.
Federer. What can be said about the Swiss that hasn’t already been said? Well, to begin with he’s had a stellar year by many standards winning all four of his titles this year on the hard courts, so that should be a confidence-booster. The only mild bump in the road could be his losing head-to-head record on the hard courts against Murray (5-8) and his even ratio against Nadal (3-3). He should be a shoo-in for the semifinals but it could get tricky if Nadal makes it there as well.
Group B Semifinalists:
Roger Federer and Andy Murray
To further help analyze each player’s chances at the World Tour Finals, I have compiled a table with hard court head-to-head ratios only for all the players. Some interesting things can be visualized by viewing the table below. Who’s your pick to win it all?