Djokovic

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Pro Tennis Right Now Is Boring – Bring On The U.S. Hard Court Season

Cincinnati

By Thaddeus McCarthy

 

The tennis world at this time seems to be quite boring.

Some articles are still coming out concerning Novak Djokovic’s epic win over Federer in the Wimbledon final, which is quite surprising seeing that it was over two weeks ago, an article that recently came out discussed how Boris Becker called Federer the Greatest of All Time (yawn). Another article was out recently concerning how Boris does not call himself a friend of Novak’s. But rather than chattering about supposed coach/player relationships or the monotonous GOAT debate, what I will discuss today is the real business that should concern the tennis world right now, which is the upcoming American hard court swing.

Novak Djokovic has effectively lined himself up as the favourite to have the most successful US Open Series. Nadal is not going away any time soon, and will arguably be more of a threat on hard courts than he was through the short grass season. In terms of points to defend, Nadal has by far the most. There is a lot of doubt though, that he will be able to repeat his effort this year with what he did last year and win the US Open series (Cincinnati, Toronto and US Open). I would not put him as the second favourite this year, just because he has never traditionally performed well in the second half of the season. Last year was an odd occurrence in that respect.

The culprit for the second favouritism position this year could rest with Andy Murray, who has no points to defend and is coming under the radar. His performance at Wimbledon was encouraging after his long down period since his Wimbledon win last year. His strongest surface is perhaps hard courts, which is demonstrated by his 2012 US Open title and 3 Aussie Open final showings. Stan Wawrinka could perform well this summer, but since the Aussie Open has not looked like a Grand Slam winner. Jo Tsonga is another contender, but I think he will only do well enough through a week (or 2) to win one of the American summer tournaments, if any. I have always felt that Jo is the sort of player who is able to play lights out tennis for a period. And he could do this at any time.

The real second favourite though, should be Roger Federer, who has traditionally performed well on the American hard courts and is in resurgence this year. And the fact he lost the Wimbledon final could be good, because unlike in 2012, there will be a feeling this year that he still has something to prove. Last year he was having back problems, and so I think that it is not fair to compare his 2013 with 2014. The level he is playing at is similar to 2012, and the Wimbledon final in particular was reminiscent of Wimbledon 2009.

All things considered, Novak Djokovic should have the best period in the next couple of months. If all players are playing at their best on hard courts, I believe Novak is king. Unlike on clay, where I think Nadal still has the edge. Novak has only the one US Open title and will be hungry to grab another. However, the danger of the young up-and-comers will be more persistent this summer than any other time in recent memory. The showing of Nick Krygios (and Milos Raonic) at Wimbledon is a direct example of this.

But Novak and the rest of the tennis world should never count out Rafael Nadal, as he is the greatest competitor and most tenacious player in tennis history. And will be fighting hard to defend his titles. The field lining up against him is led by Novak, but is flanked by some notable old names and exciting new comers. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Federer Racquet – What A Racquet

Roger Federer playing in Hamburg

by James A. Crabtree

Roger Federer playing in Hamburg

Roger Federer’s switch to a new racquet has made more news stories worldwide than a lunar landing. And so it should. When the world’s most successful assassin changes his most trusted weapon, this is big news.

Federer has made minor adjustments over the years, from the Pro Staff 85 6.0 he used in 2001 to defeat Sampras (the same racquet Sampras used). He then went to the Hyper Pro Staff which looked like a paint job of the previous.

If you painted your old Porsche and told everyone it was a new model would they believe you? Well, lets just assume your friends are gullible. And you would argue it is still a Porsche and should be driven with care. Both the Porsche and the Pro Staff are tough to handle.

By 2003 Federer was using a racquet with a 90 sq. inch frame and winning slams. This was the most dramatic adjustment and to many an observer the racquet has barely changed since. Just subtle paint jobs and a twinge on the marketing with a new name to keep mugs like myself trying to emulate our Swiss hero. The nCode range followed, then the nSix-One Tour 90, K Factor Six One Tour, Six.One Tour BLX and up until Wimbledon 2013 the BLX Pro Staff Six.One.

This is a tough racquet to play with. It may also be the least friendly racquet for your regular club player, as it doesn’t allow for errors. It’s a pure players racquet for Samurai’s who have mastered the craft.

So is it the same old Pro Staff that has been around for Eon’s. Well it is and it isn’t. The racquet has been moulded and adjusted to fit the player, rather than the other way around. Federer has made detailed and minute changes to his racquet and although it may look like the one in the shops it would feel and play totally different. The model, which has the same shape and hard edges would vary in weight, balance, swing weight, composite material, grip and strings whether you chose the version played by Sampras, Edberg, Courier or Federer. Regardless, it can still account for 41 slams.

Irrespective of the intricacies the Pro Staff, a racquet initially designed for Jimmy Connors, is now gone. The replacement looks like the Blade that Monfils has been using, but is now suspected to be a prototype. Whatever racquet it is, the switch has laid to rest the most successful racquet in grand slam men’s tennis history.

Usually when players change racquets it is for money, such as Djokovic to Head or more recently Wawrinka and Tomic to Yonex. When players switch model within the same company more often than not it is a paint job. Federer’s latest racquet is definitely more than just a façade.

Federer lost one surprise match at Wimbledon and it’s not unreasonable to think he has overreacted. He has had a horrid year thus far, with only one tournament win and no victories over a top 10 player. On top of this his confidence has taken a hit. He has dropped in the rankings, and showed inconsistency with his various game plans. Is a new racquet just a desperate shot in the dark to find form, or another experiment that could plummet his woes further?

Is Federer learning from Pete Sampras, who never changed his racquet throughout his career but suggested perhaps he should have. Or is coach Paul Annacone in his ear, having been there at the end of both the careers of Sampras and Henman.

Federer has stated he is happy with the new racquet, and the greater sq. inches it provides should add a little more power and help with the various shanks we have become accustomed to seeing. The new racquet hasn’t yet experienced a loss or been put up against a considerable opponent. His arm may have been tested, but not his ability to deal with the underlying psychological aspects it will undoubtedly present.

Djokovic And Murray – The Wimbledon Battle Royale, Round 4

Novak Djokovic

by James A. Crabtree

Novak Djokovic

Normality has been restored, with the exploits of Janowicz, Darcis, Del Potro, Stakhovsky, Brown, Kubot and Verdasco disappearing into the vault named Wimbledon folklore.

After all the hiccups throughout the draw the number one and two ranked players meet in the final. Wimbledon 2013, like 33 of the last 34 Slams will be won by one of the Big Four.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, currently the best hard-court players tour, know each other’s games well. Too well, having played18 times, with Djokovic leading 11–7. This tally includes three Grand Slam finals. The 2011 and 2013 Australian Opens, won by Djokovic and the 2012 US Open, won by Murray.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wqbbikk13tk

For Murray to win this one he will have to find influence from a multitude of sources. He is coming off a tough fight back victory against Verdasco, and a solid win against Janowicz. There is no reason to believe he has peaked. Also, he has beaten his rival on the big stage but also on the same court, one year ago during the Olympic semi-final. He knows he can’t rely on just rallying out his opponent. He needs surprise attacks, rather than just the passive get backs. Somehow he needs to persuade the Serb to over hit his backhand and question the serve that can get tight under pressure. He needs to keep Novak guessing, find a way into his brain while keeping his own mind unruffled. Conversely, the Serb will be looking to play the very same mind games, and very similar tactics to the Scot.

Wimbledon 2013 will serve to either even the score for Murray or push Djokovic past the tallies of Becker and Edberg with six total slams and onto seven to equal Wilander and McEnroe.

Novak has reached this level by shaking the old label as someone who would quit and crumble. These days he doesn’t merely tolerate tough battles, in truth they galvanize him, not that he has had many this Wimbledon. When he is pushed to the brink he screams, dives, slides, rips and fights to the bitter end better than no man. A tennis machine, possibly inspired by Nikola Tesla, is always dangerous even when he is playing badly; he is always in the game. Novak carries the air of invincibility. He doesn’t miss an easy shot. His serve is rarely broken. He doesn’t make unforced errors. He chases down balls that most players wouldn’t have even attempted. The only real worry is the fact he has only been pushed once all tournament, in that absurdly good semi-final against Del Potro. But is it foolhardy to question someone who has been good?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKbsq26lU7E

If Novak claims his second Wimbledon crown he will further cement his name as a legend, all round good guy, great player on all surfaces and poster boy for the new Serbia. If Murray wins his first Wimbledon crown, and the countries first in seventy-seven years, the Scot will enter the realms if immortality. Murray hysteria will abound. Aside from all his extra million dollar deals will be surely be a Knighthood, statue at the All England Club, a new Column in Trafalgar square opposite Nelson and likely divinization.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK4HDCIr_E8

Dr. Nadal, the Villain of Monte Carlo

SkyFall

by James A. Crabtree

SkyFall

The documentations decree that a Bond baddie must often appear amicable at first, preferably have an accent, seek world revenge or domination and hang out in playgrounds of the rich.

Therefore dear old Rafa could well be the quintessential James Bond baddie. Just for a moment imagine Dr. Rafa stroking a white cat, sitting on a swivel chair overlooking a giant screen of the globe and the locations he has already dominated.

Suddenly Bond is brought into the room, shackled by two goons.

“Aaaa, Mr Bond, it is more than dream to meet you,” Dr. Rafa, would say. “Unfortunately you are too late, the cities for my supremacy has been set forth. I will rule the world again. And now, eh, you will die, no?”

Rafa is back from injury, showing that he does live twice; proving intuitive improvisation is the secret of his genius. No doubt he seeks vengeance for the heinous crimes of the rats that have leap frogged him in the rankings whilst he has been away. The world once, is not enough, and how dare the Scottish division of the MI5, Serbian Poliza and Swiss Secret Service for their aggression while he has been away. But now he is back and doing what he does best, serving up thunderballs in his favourite hunting ground of Monte Carlo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0dFsAtAlEo

His success at the tournament that is the playground of the rich can only be compared with the mindboggling feats of other athletes. Heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano won 49 straight fights over four years, and Edwin Moses reigned as hurdles champion from 1977 to 1987 including 122 consecutive victories. Dating back to 2005 and including this year’s event Rafael Nadal has won 44 straight matches in Monte Carlo. This includes 8 straight titles.

The odds appear overwhelmingly in the Spaniards favour. When dealing with a Casino the house always wins, and in this case Rafa is the house. He has lost only once at the event, in 2004 to Guillermo Coria, when ranked 109 in the world. He had his revenge a year later against Coria in the final. Of the 44 matches he has won consecutively so far he has only lost a set six times. Of those matches the deciding set has never even been a true battle.

But what is it about Monte Carlo? It isn’t the closest to his home island of Majorca but it isn’t far off. In truth the glam doesn’t suit Mr Nadal as some others who call the tax haven home, such as an overabundance of top 50 players including some guy called Novak. But the crystal waters that the club overlooks surely calm the tenacious Spaniard.

A ninth title seems more than likely. Never bet against Dr Rafa, no? Besides, nobody even resembling Bond is in attendance.

The Best Live Match Ever

Novak-Djokovic-rips-shirt

by James A. Crabtree

I was talking with a fellow tennis fanatic the other day and the conversation shifted to the best live match we had ever seen. The fellow fanatic in question has rather deep pockets and could recount epics played throughout the world and the great corporate seats they had and blah blah blah. Well, enough about them, they were rather annoying.

I am not going to get snobby and say “You had to physically be there.” That is absurd and unfair to those of us with mortal salaries.
And by no means does this epic matchup have to be a final.

You simply have had to watch the match live, been engrossed in it, unable to draw yourself away from the drama that unfolded in front of your eyes..

Andy Roddick versus Roger Federer, 2009 Wimbledon Final

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ivf3TOUY78

Tough call here because the Federer versus Nadal epics in 2007 and 2008 were pretty special. But the choice goes to this five setter simply because, like many, I started the match cheering for Roger and finished going for Andy. Fed, at the time, was going for his fifteenth slam which would make him the most successful player in history, and Andy has had to bear witness to every slam in Fed’s career. But on this day Andy Roddick really looked like he could it. He was a set up, then 6-2 in the second set tie break, but Federer levelled it. Roddick lost the third but rebounded in the fourth. The thirty game fifth set, well that’s just part of Wimbledon lore. Do I really need to mention that Federer won it?

Stephen Edberg versus Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros Final

This was an absolute heartbreaker, especially if you were a diehard Edberg fan. Anyway, the gentleman Swede was attempting to become one of only a handful of true volleyers to pick up the title. In the fifth set he was a break up and looked like he would serve and volley his way into destiny, on clay. Unfortunately for Edberg fans he was up against a seventeen year upstart who had famously underarmed served in the fourth round against Lendl, the world number one. Michael Chang, with destiny on his side, took the title and secured his place as the youngest ever grand slam winner.

Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, 2012 Australian Open final

This epic final knocks out of the list the 2009 Verdasco/Nadal semi-final. Although still a very recent memory the relentless fight these two players showed proved why they will be remembered as legends in a match that lasted twice as long as Lord of The Rings. Let’s remember both players were coming off emotional wins, Rafa over Roger and Novak over Andy. The final included some of the most gruelling baseline hitting in recent memory, Nadal falling to his knees in jubilation after winning the fourth set and Djokovic’s infamous Hulk inspired shirt rip after his victory. Most of Melbourne awoke after this match with a very painful tennis hangover.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa2JPWwSqdI&feature=related

Boris Becker versus Johan Kriek, 1985 Queen’s Club Championships

Little can be said for the quality of the tennis as I simply don’t remember because I was only five years old at the time, but this was my first ever tennis match. I do remember it being very hot, and standing with my parents in line for the bar behind the biggest and most ginger human in the world.

This list did take a lot of deep thought, with so many games to recollect. The 2012 Aussie Open Marco Baghdatis versus Stan Wawrinka racquet smash bonanza was one of the most intriguing matches I’ve ever seen and now rewritten as a Greek tragedy. Brad Gilbert versus David Wheaton at Wimbledon 1990 was a strategical masterpeice. It is easy to recall the Sampras and Agassi bouts, Henman near misses, Davis Cup upsets including Lleyton’s 2003 two set down comeback against Federer. But the battles royale that take precedence within the memory banks cannot be dislodged.

ATP World Tour Finals Feature Familiar Faces

Andy Murray

What parity?

The final eight players for the ATP World Tour Finals are clearly the big names in men’s tennis and have dominated all season-long. They are set to face off on November 20-27 at the O2 arena in London and fans will be treated to witnessing some of the best tennis players of any generation.

The two round-robin groups are:

Group A: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Andy Murray (GBR), David Ferrer (ESP), Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Group B: Rafael Nadal (ESP), Roger Federer (SUI), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Mardy Fish (USA)

But while the names are familiar, much has changed in the past 12 months.

Defending champion Roger Federer has experienced an up-and-down year, dropping out of the top three and failing to capture a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002. However, the Swiss maestro should never be counted out and showed he still has magic left with title-winning performances at Basel and the Paris Masters recently. Federer, a 30-year-old father of twins, also ended world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten streak of 43 matches at the French Open semifinals and earned his 800th career win last week.

Djokovic has been virtually unstoppable at times during the year and captured the Australia Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open to compile one of the best individual seasons of all time. The 24-year-old Serb conquered his fitness woes and played with confidence to match his talent and skill. Sitting behind Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal for most of his career, Djokovic proved he could win in any condition, any surface and any situation, and will deservedly finish the 2011 season on top. Djokovic, however, is still recovering from a nagging shoulder injury that forced him to withdraw in Paris.

The oft-injured Nadal also enters the World Tour Finals recovering from ailment, as he has not played since the Shanghai Masters last month, electing to prepare his body for London and Davis Cup. The world No. 2 enjoyed a solid season, winning his sixth French Open and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to friendly rival Djokovic. The two captivated tennis fans all year with their intense matches that culminated in one of the most thrilling U.S. Open finals.

With a triumph in Shanghai, Britain’s Andy Murray overtook Federer as the world No. 3. Almost surprisingly, the Scot was perhaps the most consistent player on the Grand Slam stage aside from Djokovic, with a finals appearance at the Australian Open and three semifinal finishes. The brooding, seemingly self-loathing player has dedicated himself to fitness and after a deflating defeat at the hands of Djokovic at Melbourne, has rediscovered his game and confidence and should be a force at the World Tour Finals and in the 2012 season.

Spain’s David Ferrer and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should prove formidable and could spoil the party for any of the top four. World No. 5 Ferrer enters the event with solid wins at Shanghai, Valencia and the Paris Masters. Tsonga, at World No. 6, matched his career high ranking by reaching the finals in Paris, where he lost to Federer. Of the bottom four, only Tsonga has a winning career record against Djokovic.

Rounding out the top eight are Czech Tomas Berdych and World Tour Finals newcomer American Mardy Fish. In the quarterfinal of the Paris Masters, Berdych stunned Murray and secured his second consecutive World Tour Finals berth. Fish, who overtook fellow countryman Andy Roddick as the top American player this year, has shown consistent top victories that were lacking in the past. He enters the tournament despite being troubled with a hamstring strain.

The end-of-the-season round robin competition begins this Sunday, November 20th and should showcase some thrilling matchups to close out the 2011 ATP season.

Serbian Fatalism at Legg Mason Tennis Classic: Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki

© REUTERS/Molly Riley

Serbian fatalism was in full swing at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. last night as the two remaining Serbs, world #15 Viktor Troicki and #25 Janko Tipsarevic went out to John Isner and Gael Monfils, respectively. Being from the former Yugoslavia myself, I have an intimate look into the way Serbians, as a culture, are hard-wired and these two young men are no exception. Perhaps, they are the example.

After losing the first set, 7-6(5), Troicki could have easily faded away thinking Isner was serving just too well for any opportunities to arise. Instead, he took advantage of Isner’s fading confidence and broke him to go up 3-0 in the second set. As Isner became increasingly negative with his own movement, Troicki’s belief and body language surpassed any inkling of doubt he may have had earlier in the match. He began to play like a dangerous top player and won 91% of his first serves pushing Isner into a hole. Isner himself even stated that in the second set, he was “either missing wildly or missing weakly into the net” and that was a true tale of the type of pressure Troicki was putting on him.

Then the third set began to unfold and with it, Troicki began to doubt. After a resurgence, his performance plummeted as his serve and return percentages dwindled, and he created a large gap in the deficit for his winners to unforced errors. Likewise, Tipsarevic stayed with Monfils for the majority of the match, but when the point was on his racquet, he succumbed, looking to his box and simply saying “nemogu,” or “I can’t” in Serbian, when referencing getting broken in the first game of the second set.

The word ‘fatalism’ is commonly used to refer to an attitude of resignation in the face of some event which is thought to be inevitable, as in the case of a loss. Even if a player believes he can win and does well initially, disbelief creeps in and takes hold, refusing to let go. In the case of both Troicki and Tipsarevic, good friends that fell out of the tournament in the same evening, it shows how contagious the doctrine actually is: they feel powerless to do anything other than what they actually do, because they are bound to lose in the end, no matter how much they put into the match. And although this type of attitude can be witnessed in other players who dismantle mentally on-court, it’s the Serbian political history that gives the greatest context. From the assassination of Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand by a Yugoslavian nationalist to launch World War I, to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict last decade, Serbians and Croatians alike, have had a turbulent history that seems to be against our own best interest. As a culture and nation, we strive to be better people, and we achieve success, but the dark cloud still hangs over us and we doubt our abilities, even if we don’t want to admit it.

In his press conference, Tipsarevic referenced that the reason he lost wasn’t his “forehand or backhand, it was more my lack of concentration. I was getting so frustrated, that I couldn’t win free points off my serve and couldn’t finish off the points as I wanted to, and as I did in the previous two matches.” Fatalism isn’t always present, but it appears in the most inopportune times, making us believe that acceptance is appropriate, rather than resistance against inevitability.

But the reward will come one day for these two players, as it has for current #1 Novak Djokovic. After winning the Australian Open in 2008 at age 20, it took him three full years to win another grand slam. The time in between was filled with drama of apologies about on-court antics to a pronounced and immense struggle with his serve. And then a breakthrough occurred, and he became unstoppable. He was able to shun away any mental strife and play for himself, and for his country in the Davis Cup finals, winning it for the first time in Serbia’s existence. What was a handicap turned into the ultimate asset: Djokovic learned how to direct his energy to attain his goals, and even surprised a few people on the way up to the top of the men’s tennis game. Hopefully, Tipsarevic and Troicki can follow in his steps, but not without drama of their own.

In what was sadly seen as offensive, a photo and corresponding caption posted by Tipsarevic of him holding up a plastic gun at Djokovic with his hands in the air and reading “How much $$$ would Rafa gief … ;) ”, stirred up a storm on the internet recently. Ben Rotherberg of The Daily Forehand got the full scoop by asking Tipsarevic to comment on the situation. Tipsarevic stated that “it was a bad joke. We were really happy that we won Davis Cup. We were at dinner … I think it was a plastic gun … it was a bet and a stupid joke. At the time it seemed funny because the joke was about how dominant Novak is [on tour], that nothing can stop him this season. The next day, I took it off Facebook and Twitter. As I heard later, it was all over the internet, people were blaming me for thinking that ‘I hate Rafa.’ I called Novak and Rafa the next day. I spoke to them and they were fine about it. They told me to be careful because of social networking and [how] people can get things like this in a wrong way.” This is Serbian fatalism at its finest, ladies and gentleman. But all credit to Tipsarevic for realizing how grave of a situation it really was and commenting whole-heartedly on it.

Tipsarevic finished appropriately with: “I still blame myself.  I think it was a bad, bad joke. You can make a bad story out of anything if you want to. I apologize to anyone that thinks it was offensive to anybody on tour.” To a non-native speaker, expressing sincerity may be tough, but the aura surrounding Tipsarevic’s response ensured all those present that he meant what he said. And remember too, that he had just lost a tough match to Monfils not even an hour before.

For the full clip, Jen from Racquet Required has it on Youtube.

Hopefully, one day in the near future, these two young Serbians will be able to channel their energy into attaining the goals that their talents are capable of. Until then, we can struggle in their drama-filled journey with them.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi

Mondays With Bob Greene: Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world

Serbia won the ARAG ATP World Team Championship

STARS

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat Julien Benneteau 3-6 7-6 (1) 6-3 to win the Interwetten Austrian Open in Kitzbuhel, Austria

Aravane Rezai beat Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (2) 6-1 to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France

Alexandra Dulgheru beat Alona Bondarenko 7-6 (3) 6-3 6-0 to win the Warsaw Open in Warsaw, Poland

Serbia won the ARAG ATP World Team Championship, defeating Germany in Dusseldorf, Germany

Thomas Enqvist beat Fernando Meligeni 7-6(3) 6-3 to win the AOC Grand Champions Brazil in Sao Paulo, Brazil

SAYING
“I know what I have to do, but that doesn’t make it easy.” – Roger Federer, when asked if he could win the French Open.

“Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world. He’s showed that throughout his career. But Paris begins with the first round, not the final.” – Rafael Nadal.

“If I continue playing like I’ve been playing for the past three weeks, I have a very good chance (of winning the tournament). I’m really looking forward to it.” – Dinara Safina, on her chances at Roland Garros.

“Any win on the clay is a great win. I know the Americans don’t do well over here, so it’s good to get us on the board.” – Robert Kendrick, after his five-set, first-day win over Daniel Brands.

“To play him on any surface, he’s so dangerous. (He served) a lot of unreturnables.” – Lleyton Hewitt, after surviving a French Open -record 55 aces struck by Ivo Karlovic to win his first-round match.

“I think it is going to be huge and this is respect because Djokovic was not here. And I think we showed that we are a big tennis nation also if Novak is not here with us.” – Janko Tipsarevic, after he teamed with Viktor Troicki and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic to lead Serbia to the ARAG ATP World Team Championship title.

“A very, very poor match – probably my worst match in the last two years.” – Jelena Dokic, after losing to Romanian qualifier Ioana Raluca Olaru in the first round of the Warsaw Open.

“I have no expectations for the French Open. This is not a time in my career to have expectations.” – Maria Sharapova, after losing a quarterfinal match in her first singles tournament since undergoing shoulder surgery.

“It’s incredible. I’m so happy to win my first title in France.” – Aravane Rezai, the first Frenchwoman to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, in the tournament’s 23-year history.

“I didn’t expect to win. I don’t know what happened that I was playing so well. .. I had to use every drop of energy I had to win.” – Alexandra Dulgheru, after winning her first WTA Tour title, the Warsaw Open.

“I think it’s my best moment in my career. I played in my first ATP World Tour final and I won.” – Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, after winning the Austrian Open.

SETS RECORD FOR ACES

Ivo Karlovic slammed a record 55 aces yet still lost his first-round Roland Garros match to Lleyton Hewitt 6-7 (1) 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) 6-4 6-3. The tallest man on the ATP Tour at 6-foot-10 (2.08m), Karlovic shared the previous record of 51 aces with Joachim Johansson. The ATP began keeping records on aces in1991. However, Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame tennis journalist and broadcaster, in his book The Bud Collins History of Tennis, lists American Ed Kauder as the holder of the most aces struck in a match. Kauder fired 59 aces in a 6-2 3-6 9-11 10-8 6-0 first-round loss to Ham Richardson at the US Championships (now US Open) in 1955. According to Collins, Karlovic’s 55 aces stands as the second-most all-time and the most aces in a match at Roland Garros.

SET FOR LONDON

Rafael Nadal is the first player to clinch a spot in the season-ending ATP World Tour finals to be held in London. Nadal is the reigning Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon champion. He will be joined by seven other player sin the November 22-29 event. Despite qualifying for the year-ending event in each of the past four years, Nadal has twice withdrawn from the competition because of injury and has never reached the final. Last year he missed the finale in Shanghai because of tendinitis in his knee. He lost to Roger Federer in the semifinals in 2006 and 2007.

SURPRISE

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Alexandra Dulgheru won the Warsaw Open. She rallied from 7-5 4-2 down to win her opening round in qualifying, then won two more matches just to get to the main draw. Ranked 201st in the world, Dulgheru included among her victims Daniela Hantuchova before she beat Alona Bondarenko in her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour final. Dulgheru won the title match in two hours, 52 minutes – exactly the same time it took her to beat Lenka Wienerova in the first round of qualifying.

STOPPED

John Isner’s French Open ended before it began. Isner won a wild card into Roland Garros by winning the USTA wild card tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. But he had to pull out of the French Open because of mononucleosis.

Russia’s Dimitry Tursunov and Croatia’s Mario Ancic are also missing this year’s clay court Grand Slam tournament. Tursunov withdrew because of a heel injury, while Ancic pulled out because of a lack of fitness.

SHARAPOVA BACK

Maria Sharapova played singles in a tournament for the first time in nearly 10 months, reaching the quarterfinals before being stopped by Alona Bondarenko. The three-time Grand Slam tournament winner needed nine match points in her opening match before finally downing Tathiana Garbin in three sets at the Warsaw Open. She beat Darya Kustova in the second round before falling to the eight-seeded Bondarenko. The Russian had surgery for a torn rotator cuff last year and missed the US and Australian Opens as well as the Beijing Olympics. She briefly returned to tournament tennis in March, playing and losing a doubles match in Indian Wells, California. “In these nine months the only thing I’ve accomplished is probably a good pasta carbonara,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s not my specialty. My specialty is to go out and compete and win Grand Slams.” Sharapova has already next month’s Edgbaston Classic in Birmingham, England, a grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon.

STRICKEN

Japan’s Kei Nishikori has an injured right elbow, forcing him to pull out of the French Open. Nishikori has not played since losing in the opening round at Indian Wells, California, in March. Last year Nishikori became the first Japanese man since 1937 to reach the fourth round of the US Open, and he was later honored as the ATP’s newcomer of the year for 2008. He was ranked as high as number 56, but currently is ranked 117th in the world.

STEFFI AND ANDRE, AGAIN

Their act was so good at Wimbledon, Andre Agassi and his wife Steffi Graf will play another exhibition match – this time at Roland Garros on Saturday, June 6. Sponsored by Longines and in honor of the tenth anniversary of the couple’s 1999 singles championship victories, Agassi and Graf will play on Court 7 with ten young players from around the world.

STEAMED

Lleyton Hewitt is upset over the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) decision to fine Australia USD $10,000 because of the country’s refusal to play a Davis Cup zonal tie in India. Tennis Australia (TA) had asked the ITF to move the Asia/Oceania Zone tie out of Chennai, India, but when the request was denied, the Australians refused to play, forfeiting the round. “The way the ITF went about it was a disgrace in the first place,” said Hewitt. “Australia Davis Cup is pretty disappointed about the way they’ve gone about it.” Under ITF rules, Australia could have been suspended for a year. India feels the ITF has been too lenient with Australia and is seeking a review of the punishment.

STUPIDITY

Jelena Dokic’s father is facing up to eight years in prison after threatening the Australian ambassador in Belgrade, Serbia. Damir Dokic was charged with “endangering security” of the ambassador and unlawful possession of weapons. He was arrested after reportedly saying he would blow up Ambassador Clair Birgin’s car if she did not stop negative articles about him from being published in the Australian mea. Searching his house in northern Serbia, police found rifles and hand grenades.

SINGERS WANTED

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is seeking youngsters to perform at this year’s US Open. The children – 12 years of age and younger as of September 13, 2009 – will be singing “America the Beautiful” before the night sessions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

STRAIGHT IN

Taylor Dent has been granted a wildcard for the Pilot Pen Tennis to be held August 21-29 at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven, Connecticut. Dent will join fellow American Mardy Fish and Spaniard Tommy Robredo as players already committed to the US Open hard court warm-up event. Dent has reached a career-high ranking of 21st in the world before undergoing back surgery. When that surgery proved to be unsuccessful, he had spinal fusion surgery and has slowly worked his way back onto the ATP tour.

SUSPENSION SHORTENED

Poland’s Radwanska sisters -Agnieszka and Urzula – along with Daniela Hantuchova have lent their support to Habitat for Humanity and their latest building project in Warsaw, Poland. Due to be completed this September, the Warsaw project will provide new homes and a better future for six families. The three WTA Tour stars joined in with the construction on the latest installment of the “women-only” construction program which is designed to recruit, train and empower women. Besides their financial support, the Radwanska sister gave their match play racquets to Habitat for Humanity Poland for an auction.

STAGE FOR UPSETS

The infamous Court Two at Wimbledon, dubbed the graveyard of champions, will be replaced in time for the 2011 grass-court championships. “The new court (Three), containing enhanced spectator amenities, will be built on the site of old Court Two,” All England Club officials said. The work will start immediately after this year’s tournament and will be completed by May 2011. Several Wimbledon champions were upset on the old Court Two, including Pete Sampras in his last visit to Wimbledon in 2002. A new Court Two will be used for the first time when the Grand Slam tournament begins next month, while the retractable roof over Centre Court will also makes its debut.

SPONSORSHIP GONE

The Australian Open has lost nearly USD $10 million in sponsorship, thanks to the current world-wide financial crisis. Garnier, part of the L’Oreal Group, has become the second major backer to pull out of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. GE Money recently decided against extending its three-year arrangement. Garnier said the beauty products company has recently advised Tennis Australia of its decision not to continue as a sponsor in 2010. A much smaller arrangement between the Australian Open and MasterCard is also over as the sponsorship market continues to tighten locally and internationally.

STANDING TALL

Vera Zvonareva has been named a “Promoter of Gender Equality” as part of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s partnership with UNESCO. Zvonareva joins fellow tennis stars Venus Williams, Tatiana Golovin and Zheng Jie as Promoters of General Equality for the program as well as WTA Tour founder Billie Jean King. Zvonareva had her best year in 2008. The 24-year-old enrolled in the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 where she is studying for a post-graduate degree in International Relations and Economics.

STRODE ARTHUR ASHE WINNER

The top men’s player on the University of Arkansas’ team, senior Blake Strode, has been named the national recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship. Strode beat out nominees from Harvard, Georgia, Toledo, Rice, New Mexico and Pepperdine for the national honor.

SIGNS UP

Alex Bogomolov is the new Touring Professional in Residence for the Napeague Tennis Club in the Hamptons area of Long Island, New York. At one time ranked in the top 100 in the world, Bogomolov will serve as the club’s resident ATP Touring Pro and will be available to Napeague Tennis Club members for private lessons, clinics, and other club events throughout the summer.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Warsaw: Raquel Kops-Jones and Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Yan Zi and Zheng Jie 6-1 6-1

Strasbourg: Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo beat Claire Feuerstein and Stephanie Foretz 6-0 6-1

Kitzbuhel: Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa beat Andrei Pavel and Horla Tecau 6-7 (9) 6-2 10-7 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com/index.html

Prostejov: www.czech-open.com/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (second week)

ATP

$170,000 UniCredit Czech Open, Prostejov, Czech Republic, clay

The Robbie Koenig Blog: Can Anyone Beat Rafa In Paris?

Can Anyone Beat Rafa In Paris?

Anyway, the clay court season thus far, one word….” NADAL”….the kid is from another planet!!! Mentally and physically, on this surface, he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen, and probably the best of all time…and he’s only just 23 (in a few days)!!!

For me, what makes him so good are a few things. Firstly, his ability to “compartmentalize” his thoughts. He NEVER gets ahead of himself. He only focuses on the present. He only ever talks about his next opponent, never who he might meet later in the draw and potential match-ups down the line, thereby giving respect to each guy he faces and taking nothing for granted. And on the match court, its more of the same. He rarely lets the previous point affect the next one and he has this ability to play each point like there was none before, or none to follow.
Secondly, he loves the battle more than anyone! It’s the “process” of winning that seems to consume all his effort and he constantly rewards himself with a “Vamos,” sometimes as early as the second or third game, if he’s had a tough hold. And coupled with the joy he takes out of each victory, again often early on in a tournament, is so refreshing and just goes to show how much he enjoys the “small” victories. Let’s face it, anyone can enjoy the big or classic wins!

From a physical point of view, his movement is “two days on horseback” ahead of his peers.(Must be said, Djokovic has been impressive with his challenge). I’m sure good genes help, given the athletic ability of his uncles, it obviously runs in the family. His footwork is the key to his shot-making, both in attacking and defending. It’s so easy to get a little slow with your feet when attacking because you generally got time on the ball, but Rafa never lets his intensity wane, and always makes sure he’s perfectly setup to pull the trigger!!!

Can anyone beat him in Paris? Not unless they cut off his left arm…and even then, he’s pretty damn good with the right one as we all know! The problem for the chasing pack is doing it over five sets. The semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid was an epic, but remember that was at altitude, quick clay courts and best-of-three sets and the Serb still couldn’t get the W!!! I can’t see him hanging with Rafa over five sets. I think Murray can hang with him over five sets, but he doesn’t move well enough on this stuff. Firstly, he’s gotta get far enough to meet Nadal, and secondly, I can’t see him handle the Spaniard, because Rafa will out-maneuver him over the distance. Hard court, different story, it just shows how important movement is at the highest level, and clay is unique in that regard!

What about Roger? I can’t see it happen. I don’t read much into the Madrid win for the obvious reasons already discussed. Wimby and the US Open are his best bets to bag another major, but even those are gonna be a lot tougher than previous years.

Djokovic is the main challenger, no question – the results don’t lie! Hopefully he and Nadal are in separate sections of the draw. That would be my preferred final.

Watchout for: Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic

Hope you all looking foward to Rafa being challenged at Rolland Garros as much as I am.

Robbie Koenig: Murray Fulfills Potential I First Saw At Age 16

Andy Murray Sunday – and through the week – played the kind of tennis that showcased the talent that I always knew he had. I played him in a first round doubles match in Nottingham when he was 16 and I was playing some of my best tennis around that time with my partner, Chris Haggard, who had one of the trickiest lefty serves on a grass court you could ever imagine. But this young 16 year old kid that I had never heard of, or seen before, carved us up on serve like I’ve never seen before. He made Chris and myself look like ameteurs for a set, but thank goodness his partner managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for them, otherwise we would have packed our bags early that week. Naturally from that day on I watched the results of this kid from Scotland.

I watched the meteoric rise to top 10, but the top 5 was the benchmark. This past 12 months frustrated the hell outta me, when he lost a  lot of matches he should have one. But he’s finally come of age. He’s finally got that mental strength, to compete with the very best. Wimbledon, Toronto and in Cincinnati proved that! Its about doing it CONSISTENTLY. That’s the key to being the best.

This is a kid who know’s exactly what he wants in all areas of his tennis.

He’s so humble in everything he does, this guy doesn’t understand the word “showboat ” and takes everything in his stride.

This guy is a real athlete in every sense of the word. I think he’s second only to Rafael Nadal in athletic ability on the court. I hope he continues to build on his success. He’ll be a great addition to the ” Quad Squad ” ( Nadal, Fed, Djoko and Murray).

To all the readers, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions or to comment on things. I will gladly be of assistance.

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