Dubai

In His Latter Years, Roger Federer Can Accept Losing Just As Much As Winning

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

Since his comeback in 2017, after sitting out for the latter six months of the 2016 season with a knee injury, Roger Federer has been riding on the wave of unpredictability to the fullest. Not that it was not the case before the ill-fated 2016 season, but his professional timeline has come to be cleanly divided along the ever-in-vogue theme of before and after.

That Federer turned back time and continued to do that for much of 2017, and for extended portions in 2018, which included him adding a couple of more weeks to his already existing record as the world No. 1, then, extinguished the idea of the Swiss player being done for good on the ATP Tour. Alongside, it also left many wanting more from him in terms of his results – as if seeking a reassurance that the Federer of old, harking back to his peak in the early 2000s, had finally returned.

Reality, however, has been quite different from such labeling. For while, Federer did seem to control time at the start of 2017, it caught up with him as the months sped by. And across these months, the two have been engaged in the tussle that marked Federer’s career right up to the time his knee gave away.

What we now see when he takes to the courts is a tangible demonstration of him trying to wrestle time trying to reassert his say over an entity that answers to none. Ergo, the display of good days and bad days of play in matches.

Euphoria of him holding aloft his 100th title at the Dubai Open left behind any naysaying the Australian Open fourth-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas – who, incidentally was the same player who had ended his two-year run of dominance at Melbourne Park – but it only briefly covered the weaknesses in his game, which once again made themselves known at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, especially in the final.

The title in Dubai conveniently camouflaged the fact that it took Federer a couple of matches to settle in, in the tournament. It also tamped down on the certainty that the 37-year-old had started to miss a step or two, even though he more than made up for it with experience-filled subtlety and shrewdness. And while, Federer did well to make it to the Indian Wells final, this dissonance proved to be one time too much.

The aftermath of the result in Indian Wells has heightened the murmuration of dismay around the 20-time Slam champion. And though it has not yet risen to the level as seen before-2016, it is no less vehement than how it used to be then. This cacophony of scepticism growing louder, then, forms the crux of the matter at hand. As to Federer being held to such high standards which essentially omit the basic fact that he is human like others – prone to getting beaten and sidestepped by time – which include facing losses, as an athlete.

One aspect where Federer has made his peace with time can then be seen in how he puts his defeats in perspective. Where before, the champion in him scoffed at losses as if he were unable to bear that stain clotting his otherwise pristine scroll of wins, he now understands that defeats are the other side of victories and there is nothing wrong in accepting them as such. ‘

Federer’s statements in his post-final press conference in Indian Wells reiterated as much. “Maybe that’s why I’m okay with it…, because I felt like I’m actually playing, you know, good tennis. Like, in Australia, I wasn’t too down on myself because I feel like my game is there, my body is there.” He added, “I think when you feel that way, you know, you take it more, how do you say, positively? I don’t know how to explain, but it’s just not as dramatic. Whereas, when you’re hurt and things are difficult and, you know, that maybe those hurt more. I’m not sure.”

When seen from this context, Federer’s career has come to epitomise If’s verse that is well-known among the sport’s followers. And if, Roger Federer can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same, why cannot the world, too?

Jelena & Petra: Best Actresses

There is something fitting about two of the WTA’s most dramatic personae triumphing on Oscar weekend. From Dubai to Bogota, spectators were treated to two comeback stories. One may have had a bigger budget, but both protagonists, Petra Kvitova and Jelena Jankovic, provided compelling drama throughout their title runs.

Amidst a star-studded cast of characters in Dubai (even without top seeds Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka) the plot focused on tragic heroine Kvitova. An active, if static competitor, the Czech starlet was faced with questions as to whether she could build upon or at least maintain the form she rediscovered in Doha en route to a three-set defeat to Williams in the semifinals.

Jankovic by contrast is a more passive participant in the sport. A gifted counterpuncher who once topped the world rankings, the Serb was playing in a small South American clay tournament rather than an event closer to home to avoid the ignominious prospect of playing qualifying at the latter. This week, the ostensibly washed-up glamour girl was simply looking to string matches together, something she could do in her sleep during her hey day, now a task with which she has struggled since winning the prestigious Indian Wells event in 2010.

It is a truth universally acknowledged in the tennis world that, when Kvitova is playing her “A” game (even perhaps her “B+” game), she is among the fiercest competitors in the sport. Her hyper-aggressive style took her to great heights in 2011, including a Wimbledon crown and a Year-End Championships title in Istanbul. But Kvitova has been criticized in the last 18 months for her propensity to go off the rails. But as the Middle Eastern fortnight came to a close, the Czech’s game was in full effect, which helped her take out three top 10 opponents, including a net-rushing Sara Errani in the final. As flawless, positively cinematic as she seemed for most of the week, Kvitova still treated fans to some of her trademark drama with a sudden dip in form just shy of the finish line. The tireless Errani sensed her opportunity and switched tactics as she took the match to a decisive set. Somehow, Kvitova turned the match around right when she needed to as the final set got underway. As her “Pojd!”s grew louder, it became apparent how much the win meant to Kvitova, who closed in style and nabbed her first title of 2013.

As for Jankovic, the win in Bogota had more of an “indie” feel rather than a mainstream success. In a field far more reminiscent of an ITF Challenger than a WTA International, JJ only faced one player ranked in the top 100 en route to the final, dropping two sets along the way. In the title match, she faced clay court specialist Paula Ormaaechea, who had been ranked in the top 100 as recently as a month ago and took a set from Venus Williams at last year’s French Open. The Serb had lost her last five finals, which gave this match a “now or never” feel, one last chance for the aging veteran to turn around a spiraling career. By the scoreboard, Jankovic’s victory over Ormaechea was more straightforward than Kvitova’s in Dubai, but it lacked the Czech’s authoritative punch. Playing better defense than she had in the last year, Jankovic relied more on errors from her Argentine opponent than her own stellar play. The week wasn’t pretty from Jankovic, nor were the wins particularly impressive. Yet for the first time in what feels like forever, Jelena Jankovic won five complete, consecutive matches. She was far from her best, but wasn’t this kind of “against all odds” consistency the very thing that made her so maddening only few years ago?

The “match play versus confidence” debate is tennis’ equivalent to the chicken and the egg, but after playing week in, week out in search of wins (and the confidence that comes with them), the Academy finally recognized two of the hardest working women in tennis, and both Jankovic and Kvitova are starting to get a little of both.

HENIN AND SERENA, THE TWO PRINCIPLE GODDESSES OF TENNIS

By Christopher Rourke

This Final match, the first Grand Slam final of the 2010s brings the two greatest female players of the 2000s into battle for the fourteenth time. Their first match took place at 2001 US Open, where Serena defeated Henin in the fourth round, 7-5 6-0.  The nineteen year-old Henin, had been a semi-finalist at Roland Garros that year and was the finalist at Wimbledon, losing to the defending champion, Venus Williams.  Many would argue that these two players are not merely the two best players of their generation – but the greatest female players *ever*.  Both of these players have the singular ability to hit winners from any part of the court – still exceptional on the women’s Tour – and the capacity to utterly dominate their opponents.  As such, they remain the most aggressive players at the top of the women’s game.  This was demonstrated emphatically by Serena in her quarter-final against Victoria Azarenka. Finding herself 4-6 0-4 down, and seemingly out, of the match Serena cut down her groundstroke errors, and began hitting the ball much harder, hitting return winner after winner, producing yet another serving clinic, hitting 17 aces and many other unreturnable serves to close out the match – dragging out a titanic performance, seemingly from nowhere.  Serena struck 57 winners to Azarenka’s grand total of 22.  She made the match totally about herself, her own  performance.  As Azarenka said: “She [Serena]  started playing unbelievable from 4-0. I’m really impressed with her… . She has very powerful shots. You don’t see many girls serving 200 in the third set”.  In very similar fashion, after struggling through her second, third and fourth round matches against players ranked in the top 5 and top 30, and producing a solid 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 win against the former world no.3 Nadia Petrova, Henin demonstrated her full all-court mastery in her semi-final match against China’s Jie Zheng. In a match that lasted only 50  minutes, Henin struck 23 winners to Zheng’s grand total of 3 and won 10 out of 13 of her net approaches.

As such, this final represents the fourteenth meeting between the two principle goddesses of tennis, a clash that can be allegorised to a battle between the warriors Artemis and Athena.  Here, the splendid Rod Laver arena is the grand stage equivalent of mount Olympus, Rod Laver arena being the Centre Court of the the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  Remarkably, this will be Henin and Serena’s first clash in a Grand Slam tournament final, because the players have repeatedly found themselves in the same half of a Grand Slam tournament draw – in all six on their Grand Slam meetings.

Here, I will review how these extraordinarily gifted players match-up, stroke for stroke, in primary features of the game.

SERVE
Serena Williams

Serena Williams has the best first serve and the one of the best second serves in the women’s game.  Though not struck quite as hard as her record-breaking older sister’s, Serena can hit all parts of the service box, and hit ‘flat’, slice and kick serves with ease.  Serena consistently leads the ‘ace’ and ‘points won on 1st serve’ categories, at every Grand Slam tournament. At this tournament, Serena has struck a total of 53 aces, to
Henin’s 23.  Venus Williams, a quarter-finalist, finished with a total of 21.  On numerous occasions, Lindsay Davenport described Serena’s serve as the ‘best serve in women’s game’ and the best serve that she had faced in the entire length of her career.  Of Serena’s serve, her fourth-round opponent,  Samantha Stosur said: “I think the three breakpoints I got, she hit two aces and were a completely unreturnable and they were all over 190… Couple times I actually guessed where she was going and she still got me…. (.)more so than even the power, the variety. When she’s on, she’s able to hit it within ten centimetres of whatever line she wants. When she’s got that trajectory and is so close to the lines, it’s not easy to return.  She doesn’t hit every serve over 190. She goes 160, 170, and you think it’s not that fast. But when they’re on or very close to the line, they’re still very hard to get”.  Serena’s serve exhibits a perfect confluence of
technical excellence and simplicity of production.

Henin has a good, and very powerful serve – she has been serving up to 190 kmh at this year’s tournament.  However, she has not been serving as well as she did back in 2003 and 2006 – 2007.  Henin’s serve has always earned her some free points, and allows her to begin most rallies from an offensive position. However, both Henin’s first and second serve can break down, and critically during key points in matches. This occurred in the Brisbane final, when Henin held two match points, serving at 5-4 in the third set against Kim Clijsters.  This brittleness occurs partly because Henin has continuously reworked and reformed her service motion during the length of her career, as far back as the autumn of 2001.  Thus, as Sam Smith has pointed out, Henin’s service motion is never “fully part of her”.  Any frailty on Henin’s service will be brutally exposed by Serena, the most fearsome, and destructive, returner in the women’s game.

RETURN of SERVE
Serena / Henin

Both players have very destructive returns and frequently hit outright winners on both second *and* first serves – which has the effect of immediately demoralising their opponents.  Serena’s return-of-serve [look out for her forehand crosscourt return-of-serve from the ‘deuce’ court] can be a little more powerful than Henin’s but Henin gets slightly more of her service returns back into court.  In her 2006 – 2007 prime, Henin was winning as much as 55 – 60%+ points on the return-of-serve, more than any player on the women’s Tour.  Both players are roughly equal in this feature of the game.

FOREHAND
Henin

Serena possesses a very powerful forehand – and has recorded, from the data that i have collected, the fastest groundstroke in the ‘Hawk-Eye’ era; a forehand meassured at 154 kmh [= 96 mph] in her quarter-final match against Ana Ivanovic in Dubai on the 19th February 2008.  However, Serena’s forehand can break down, primarily because as she needs a lot of set-up time to prepare for the full-length of stroke. To explain, on the take-back, Serena often takes the racquet face as far back as [behind] her head and completes the swing with the racquet face lying down the length of her back, over her left shoulder.  The whole stroke is comparatively long and requires both good timing and excellent footwork to be fully effective. See: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2114649/safina_vs_s_williams_forehand_r45_view_slow_motion/ – this is only moderate swing-length for Serena’s forehand.

Serena likes to perform the stroke with full extension, and when she doesn’t have the time for this, the stroke can lose a lot its potency and effectiveness.  There are some players on the Tour, notably Elena Demenetiva [specifically from 2007 onward], that exploit the mechanics of the stroke by taking the ball very early off their much shorter swings, hitting shots directly down the length of the court, straight at Serena. This takes away Serena’s set-up time on the ball, and forces Serena to improvise by using an almost ’emergency’-type swing, tamely brushing up against the ball, yielding a midcourt ball that can easily be attacked by the opponent.  However, when Serena’s footwork and balance are fully co-ordinated with the stroke production on forehand, it can be utterly devastating.

Henin’s forehand is equally as powerful as Serena’s, and certainly at average rallying speeds – but is produced from a far shorter and more compact swing, so is more functional, and efficient, especially when placed under direct pressure in a rallying situation.  At coaching conferences, Henin’s forehand has been isolated in seminars as the best in the women’s game.  My last coach, a performance coach based in the UK, explains that, almost unique among women players, Henin’s stroke production on the forehand closely resemble that of an ATP player. Henin’s forehand is both technically and (uniquely, in the women’s game) biomechanically excellent.

BACKHAND
Serena

Henin’s backhand received enormous attention from the tennis establishment when she broke into the top of the game in 2001 because it is a single-handed stroke that combines both high levels of power and variety.  However, much like Serena’s forehand, Henin requires a good deal of set-up time to unleash her single-handed topspin backhand – and many players exploit this by taking the ball early and hitting the ball very hard into the corner of the ‘ad.’ court.  This forces Henin to employ her slice backhand, as a defensive response to keep herself in the rally.  Early on in their head-to-head series, Serena directly attacked Henin’s backhand, knowing that she could rob Henin of time on the ball, and force defensive replies.  Many other players employ this strategy now, though some players find it hard to adjust to Henin’s slice -which can cut right into the court. Historically, though, Serena has been able to pounce upon defensive shots coming off
Henin’s backhand, and take control of the rally.

Serena’s backhand remains one of the more powerful backhands in the game, is technically sound and rarely breaks down.  Also, Serena is able to create acute angles off her crosscourt backhand, even when placed under pressure.

VOLLEY
Henin

Both Henin and Serena can volley well, especially at critical points in a match.  However, Henin is a superlative volleyer, with exceptional feel – and she has wide repertoire of volleying shots.  Henin has the ability to hit volleys from behind the service line – and still create winning shots from a very difficult position on the court.  Henin is probably the best volleyer in the women’s singles game, and certainly at the elite level.  Henin volleyed with increasing frequency towards the end of her first career, circa 2006 – 2007, and seems to be picking up from where she left off in this feature of her game.

Serena’s speciality is the forehand drive-volley, which she can play to spectacular effect. Her drive-volley is the best, the most destructive, in the game – a shot that she helped to popularise at the top of the sport. However, Henin has an almost equally good drive-volley, and has employed it frequently during this year’s tournament.

FOOTWORK
Henin

Henin has sublime footwork around the ball, perhaps the best in the women’s game. She rarely overruns the ball and is especially economical in her movement.  In marked contrast, and especially for a player of her ability, Serena has relatively poor footwork.  It can take Serena a full set of matchplay before Serena has properly conformed her footwork to the stroke production on her groundstrokes – as clearly evinced in her quarter-final match against Victoria Azarenka, where appeared off-balnace for almost a set and a half of matchplay.

BALANCE
Henin

Again, Henin is exceptional in this feature of the game – and normally retains superior balance than Serena on the fundamental strokes.

COURT COVERAGE
Henin

Though athletically restricted because of her height and natuural wing-span [Henin stands  1.67 m), Henin is one of the best technical movers in the sport and covers the court remarkably well.  Serena used to be an especially athletic player, able to retrieve many balls hit past the sidelines and return them with ease.  However, though she still covers the court well, Serena is no longer one of the very best athletes on the women’s Tour – players such as Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic have all overtaken Serena in terms of court coverage and athletic output.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Serena and Henin are roughly equals, when examined across all features of the game, which serves to make this rivalry especially compelling.

Two external factors may effect the outcome of this match, however – Serena has clearly been injured from early on in the tournament, and her multiple leg and ankle injuries seem to have become more serious in her last two matches, inhibiting her movement, specifically in the ‘ad.’ court. Serena has made no attempt to retrieve what are, for her, easily makeable balls, hit within metres of her reach.  This is potentially concerning as Henin has the perfect game to exploit weaknesses in movement and court coverage, hitting to short angles off wings, to both sides of the court.  In particular, the short angles produced off Henin’s crosscourt backhand could be very damaging – and telling – for Serena.

On the other hand, Henin has struggled both mentally and especially physically to complete some of her matches in Melbourne, appearing physically exhausted in the closing stages of her third and fourth round matches.  Henin has spoken, quite honestly, of how her body has yet to fully adjust to the demands of playing physically and emotionally draining matches, having been absent from tournament play for a full twenty months.  Henin’s very quick semi-final win will help her enormously in this regard going into Saturday’s final.  However, the and the greater question may well prove to be Henin’s level of mental resilience in a Grand Slam Final – Henin’s first since September 2007.

It’s Official: Justine Henin Makes Comeback To The WTA Tour

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is returning to competitive tennis, making the announcement barely a week after Kim Clijsters capped her comeback from retirement with a second U.S. Open title.

Henin had been retired for just over a year, but at 27 says she has the fire and physical strength to compete for an eighth Grand Slam title. Her announcement on VTM television capped an about-face that went from her “definitive decision” to retire last year, to weeks of no comment to a smiling admission Tuesday that she truly missed the game too much.

She wants to play two exhibition tournaments, in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai, to hone her skills ahead of a competitive return next year with plans to compete in the next Grand Slam, the Australian Open.

“The fire within burns again,” Henin said. “I want to come back in January.”

Henin officially retired on May 14, 2008, initially rejecting any thought of a comeback with a dogged determination that had come to mark her play throughout a decade-long career that yielded seven Grand Slam titles and one Olympic gold medal.

At 27, it certainly is not too late for a comeback. As Clijsters proved, breaking back into the top tier at short notice is far from impossible. She won the U.S. Open in her third tournament since announcing her return.

“Subconsciously, it might have had an impact,” Henin said of Clijster’s successful comeback. “But it certainly was not the most important reason.”

Like Clijsters, Henin is still in her prime and has been able to rest her body for over a year. Throughout her retirement, during which she became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Henin looked fit enough to immediately step back onto a court.

As recently as May, she complained about the old injuries that still gave her pain in the mornings and the dreaded life of living in a bubble as she was shuttled around the world chasing victories.

“The last 15 months I’ve been able to recharge the batteries, emotionally as well,” Henin said.

Henin said coming face to face with the world’s misery on UNICEF trips to places like eastern Congo widened her horizons like tennis never could.

Henin has won nearly $20 million in prize money and had been ranked No. 1 for all but seven weeks since Nov. 13, 2006, until her retirement. When she retired after a string of early tournament exits just ahead of Roland Garros, she felt the fire no longer within and gave in.

It was the first time in a life totally centered around her prodigious talent for whipping backhands past hapless competitors. She became the first woman player to retire as No. 1.

Then, suddenly, this summer the craving came back.

Henin Official Comeback Announcement Expected Soon

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin is expected to officially announce her comeback very soon. Belgian TV station RTBF is reporting that a press conference is expected in the next few days. Belgian newspaper De Standaard is reporting that Henin has recently ordered 14 new tennis racquets fit to her competitive requirements. Henin’s staff and representatives have been silent and have not commented on her comeback status. The four-time French Open champion, who decided to retire from tennis 16 months ago, will play two exhibition matches in Charleroi, Belgium and Dubai at the end of 2009.

Henin was signed on to appear in theaters with a play called “Arrête de pleurer Pénélope!” between October 24 and December 20, but canceled last August. Her cancellation fed rumors that she is working behind the scenes to make a return to the tennis courts, like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open on Sunday.

Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam tournaments in her career and won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in women’s singles.

Clijsters has said in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that she would welcome Henin’s comeback. The 2009 winner of the US Open said that she isn’t afraid of Henin making a comeback and would welcome her back to the tour.

Kanepi peels Jankovic

kaia-kanepi-dubai09

Kaia Kanepi, wearing Australian by L’Alpina, claimed her first top-five scalp by taking out Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 7-5 in the third round of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships; she’ll next face Elena Vesnina, who beat Dominika Cibulkova 4-6, 6-1, 4-0 after the Slovakian retired because of the heat.

Jankovic attributed her loss to a bad performance. “This was the worst match of my career. It was a horrible day. I kept framing the ball, kept making unforced errors and could not put two balls together on the court. I didn’t move properly, and I didn’t see the ball properly,” she said.

“[Kanepi] didn’t have to do too much. Basically, I beat myself. I don’t know what happened out there. I am ashamed of this performance.”

Aww. What about some praise for your Estonian opponent?

jelena-jankovic-dubai09ajelena-jankovic-dubai09b

For this tourney, Jelena and ANTA switched back to their first dress silhouette, switching up the color from green to orange. And finally we got a look at her warmup jacket, with a pleated front and ruched cuffs. Does anyone have details on that red and white tote? Doesn’t look like her Bally bag to me…

Bonus round: Kanepi’s official website.

(images via Getty Images)

We’ve come a long way, but there’s a lot left to do

shahar-peer-doha-spr08

Le sigh. Why is this still happening in 2009?

I’m sure you’ve already heard about the madness going on in Dubai: Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter the United Arab Emirates even though SEWTA head Larry Scott had discussed with the tournament — essentially run by the government — that any player who qualifies to play must be able to do so.

The 45th-ranked Peer did qualify, and was already set to play a first-round match against Anna Chakvetadze. After this last-minute development, lucky loser Ayumi Morita replaced her in the draw.

While there was no exact reason from the government about the visa denial, organizers cited anti-Israeli public opinion in light of the Gaza conflict, the risk of a spectator boycott, and a potential threat to the well-being of a player.

Wall Street Journal Europe, a sponsor of the event, pulled out of its sponsorship obligations. Title sponsor Barclays, though, is sticking to their guns and backing the decision to keep Peer out of the event.

Stateside, Tennis Channel has dropped its coverage of the tournament. Here’s the statement from CEO and Chairman Ken Solomon:

Tennis Channel regrets to inform our viewers and tennis fans that we are canceling our upcoming coverage of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, U.A.E, originally scheduled for this weekend. Unfortunately the event will exclude a single player who has been blocked from entering the country due to her nationality. This is despite her having qualified for the competition via her on-court performance and current ranking.

“Tennis Channel recognizes that this exclusion has been made by state authorities and neither the tour nor tournament directors themselves. However we also honor the role and proud tradition that tennis has always played as a driving force for inclusion both on and off the courts. Preventing an otherwise qualified athlete from competing on the basis of anything other than merit has no place in tennis or any other sport, and has the unfortunate result of undermining the credibility of the very nature of competition itself.”

Meanwhile, other SEWTA players are siding with Shahar even as they play the tournament (Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo). I’m not sure that the solution would have been to boycott the event completely since we don’t know why Shahar was denied a visa. But if it comes to light that the government is simply being intolerant, then the WTA and its players must be sure to skip Dubai next year.

We had such high hopes, especially since Peer got to play in Doha last year. TSF hopes that Dubai makes the right move and allows Israeli player Andy Ram to play in the ATP’s Dubai stop next week.

Roddick Lets Racquet Talk For Him

How long has it been since Andy Roddick’s name was mentioned as a serious challenger to reigning heavyweight tennis champ Roger Federer? With young guns Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the scene, Roddick has quietly slipped into the background of men’s tennis as a perennial top ten player who can’t quite compete with today’s versatile, all-court players. And yet looking at Roddick’s record over the past five years, he has been one of the most consistent players on tour, but still there is a lack of respect from media and tennis fans alike that such a record would normally command.

Andy Roddick 1

Looking at his Grand Slam record, Andy Roddick hasn’t exactly lit the record books since his professional tennis debut in 2000. The US Open title in 2003 is his lone Grand Slam title. That puts him in the same company as Thomas Johansson, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Goran Ivanisevic. All one hit wonders. I’m not trying to say that Roddick is on par with these players, or that he won’t at some point win another slam. Surely if it were not for Roger Federer, Roddick would own a couple of Wimbledon titles and another US Open as well. How many players has Federer denied reaching greater heights?

Roddick’s record over the past five years grants him the status as one of the best players of his generation. Looking at the following win/loss statistics, it is hard to argue with that statement. His Slam record other than his one win, includes 3 finals, 4 semi finals, and 4 quarter final appearances. He has also qualified in the season ending Masters tournament each year during that span.

2003: 69-16
2004: 63-14
2005: 56-15
2006: 42-15
2007: 46-14

His wins have may have diminished over the years, but he is playing less tournaments than he used to. More importantly, he has had to deal with the growing threat of an emerging group of younger tennis players who have risen to the top of the sport. His steady play has been overshadowed by the recent emergence of Nadal (3 grand slams, age 21) and Djokovic (1 grand slam, age 20). Sometimes, he even gets upstaged by whichever player has had the most recent momentary surge, such as Jo-Wilfred Tsonga at this year’s Australian Open.

This past week in Dubai, Roddick certainly reclaimed the spotlight. Not only did he hold serve the entire tournament, but he also successfully defeated both Nadal and Djokovic which must have felt incredibly satisfying. Both were straight set victories leaving no doubt that Roddick was in control of the match. He had never beaten Djokovic, and had not beaten Nadal since 2004 when Nadal was still a kid. Despite amicably parting ways with coach Jimmy Connors the previous week, he has made it known that he is ready to contend for a Grand Slam again and will be looking to build on these victories at the upcoming Masters Series hard court events in the US. After years of everyone asking what’s wrong with Andy Roddick, it’s nice to pause for a moment and examine what’s right.

Ask Bill – Bill Mountford

There was speculation that some unseeded entrants in last week’s ATP event in Dubai received appearance fees in excess of US $1 million. Considering that eight of the world’s top ten played the tournament, the total purse (combining appearance fees and prize money) was likely greater than any of the ATP Masters Series events.

The worst example of why things are out of whack between Dubai and the rest of the tour occurred two years ago. In Andre Agassi’s final season, while he was looking to minimize travel, he opted to fly half-way around the world to Dubai in lieu of playing the Tennis Channel Open in his hometown of Las Vegas. Of course he was offered an appearance fee that even he could not refuse. By the way, in 2007 Agassi purchased tickets to attend matches at the Darling Tennis Center. That act showed a lot about Agassi’s character, or it was his penance. Regardless, there are not too many people “in” tennis who opt to pay for tickets when all-access credentials are readily available.

Congratulations to Sam Querrey, who won his first ATP title in Las Vegas. Too young to legally enjoy a celebratory beer, Querrey looks like a sure-fire future Davis Cupper. Forecasting future champions is always risky business, and Sam Querrey is a prime example. The first international junior tournament that he played was at the 2004 US Open (where he extended that year’s champion, Andy Murray, to three sets in the quarterfinals). The Californian was only able to enter this event as a wildcard, based on his winning the Boys’ 16 and under Nationals in Kalamazoo, MI (as a third-year 16s, by the way). He was hardly on the experts’ radar screen at that time, but rather just another good American junior who appeared primed for college tennis.

In Andy Murray’s second round match in Dubai, he let fly several clearly audible obscenities. I have a soft spot for Andy, because he is my son’s favorite player and I love his competitive spirit. But it appears that the point penalty system, which was put in place a few decades ago to essentially reign in John McEnroe, has been relaxed considerably. If these same rules existed back in 1990, then Johnny Mac would have won his eighth major at that year’s Australian Open instead of being unceremoniously defaulted.

The week following Andy Roddick’s victory in San Jose, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated criticized the popular American for some unseemly, and certainly unsportsmanlike, behavior. There was a marked improvement in the way Roddick carried himself in Dubai. I suspect that a member of the Roddick team – and perhaps Andy himself – read this SI.com article. I feel Wertheim is comfortably growing into the position that the late, great Gene Scott once held: the conscience of tennis. There was nothing unfair about the opinions he shared. It was nice to see Andy enjoy his best victory in a few years, and behave honorably. In fact, commentator David Mercer referred to his semifinal win over Novak Djokovic to be “the highest quality in sport and sportsmanship.”

I watched 50,000 Balls, an interesting documentary about the lives of four top-ranking 12 and under American players from the summer of 2006. In Hoop Dreams fashion, it will be fascinating to see the sequel 500,000 Balls when these boys reach the 18s! Hopefully, a prominent Film Festival will show the project.

Serena Williams edged ahead of big sister Venus in their career head-to-head record (8-7) with a third set tiebreak win in the semifinals of Bangalore, India on her way to her 29th career title. This match could have been a preview of the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal match for women’s singles.

Congratulations to Wayne Bryan for being named the 2008 Professional Tennis Registry’s Professional of the Year. Wayne reminds me of the Grateful Dead. As was frequently said about this legendary band, Wayne is not only the best in the world at what he does, he is the only one in the world who does what he does. Every coach, and every parent for that matter, ought to have a copy of his book The Formula: Raising Your Child to be a Champion in Athletics, Arts, and Academics.

Joel Drucker wrote a nice piece on Wayne’s boys, Bob and Mike Bryan, who continue battling to make professional doubles relevant. The Brothers are relentlessly nice young men, and a credit to the tennis profession.

Monica Seles has announced her retirement, and she is a shoo-in for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A player must be inactive on the main tour for five years to be eligible for induction. Well, Seles’s last professional match was played in 2003 during Roland Garros. While the class of 2008 has already been announced, her retirement announcement gives our sport the opportunity to do right by one of the greatest champions of all-time by fast-tracking her induction.

The buzz that the Federer-Sampras exhibition created was wonderful for our sport. “Cheap” tickets were scalped for over $1,000. George Vecsey of the New York Times wrote a wistful article previewing this match and Harvey Araton, also from the NY Times, wrote an interesting post-match commentary. In previous eras, these cross-generational challenge matches were common. Bill Tilden played Ellsworth Vines, Vines played Don Budge, Budge played Bobby Riggs, Riggs played Jack Kramer, Kramer played Pancho Gonzalez, Gonzalez played Rod Laver, Laver played Jimmy Connors, etc. Before tennis went “open” in 1968, the only (and the best) way champions had to earn money was through playing in exhibitions against previous champions.

Getting psyched up to play against Roger Federer in a sold out Madison Square Garden is more manageable for the 36-year-old Sampras then the prospect of grinding out Tour matches (or even of having to win seven matches in 13 days at Wimbledon). It is times like this when I really miss the New York sports talk radio stations!

Roger Federer’s less than gracious post-match comments about Andy Murray were likely taken out of context, but his follow up comments that Murray is more talented than Novak Djokovic seemed really out of character. Rafael Nadal disturbs Federer, and John Yandell wrote fascinating articles about this topic on www.TennisPlayer.net, but Djokovic apparently really gets under Federer’s skin. Last week, the Serb opined that he expected Murray to win and that Federer is essentially losing his aura of invincibility. Hmmm…

The announcement that Roger Federer was sick with mononucleosis must have surprised Pete Sampras, who holds Federer in the highest regard. Pistol Pete won his seventh Wimbledon title on a broken foot and his fifth US Open title with stomach ulcers. Sampras has always talked about how he admires the way Federer carries himself, and these champions obviously share unique experiences. Here’s hoping that they grab a beer together and discuss the time-honored Aussie code that both men respect: If you’re fit, then you take the court; if you take the court, then it means you’re fit.

There was a great trivia question a few years ago: Who was the last man to win a tour-level event while using a wood racquet? Hint: he was the only player to beat Mats Wilander in a major back in 1988. Well, here is a modern era trivia question: Who was the last man to win a tour-level title WITHOUT using polyester strings? Polyester strings have had as great an impact on the way tennis is played professionally as larger head-size, graphite racquets had 25 years ago.

I am looking forward to watching the Indian Wells coverage on EuroSport next week. Please feel welcome to send questions, comments, criticisms, requests, and jokes each week.

Consistency, fatigue or something more?

It’s becoming a regular pattern, and – for now at least – a small crisis for Andy Murray and his camp: a fine tournament win followed by a weak first round loss to a journeyman.

Last week’s display in Marseille was typical of the Scot. He had some gritty, and at times awkward, wins (e.g.., over Stanislas Wawrinka and Nicolas Mahut ) and some dominant displays (Jesse Huta Galung and a recovering Mario Ancic in the final). Of course his triumph was aided by the early exits of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the disappointing Richard Gasquet, and tennis’s new darling Novak Djokovic. However, such luck is commonplace in today’s game, and Murray’s second title of the year indicated a prosperous 2008 was to come.

Fresh off his return to the top ten and surely brimming with confidence, Murray then joined Marcos Baghdatis in exiting the first round of Rotterdam. This time he lost tamely to local wildcard Robin Hasse. Murray insisted fatigue was not a factor: “I wasn’t tired physically or mentally, I felt decent,” but even after beefing up somewhat since his gangly early years, Murray still has a lot of room to improve his physical condition, which would help his stamina.

Andy Murray Photo 1

Instead, Britain’s number one used a rather tired excuse that the court and balls were different and hard to get used to. Frankly, this excuse never really holds much weight. These players are professionals and the time they get to practice on such courts should surely eradicate any issues they have with the different surfaces from week to week.

Perhaps his dismissive view of the loss coupled with his recent title win suggests that priorities lie predominantly with the more glamorous, and rewarding, trio of upcoming tournaments: “This is just one of those matches you can afford in tournaments like this…now I will have some days off before I start preparing for Dubai and the Indian Wells and Miami stretch. It still has been a good start of the year.”

The above comment shows a still-young attitude towards the game that may well change as he matures. Either way, with two tournament wins and a return to the top ten, it has indeed been a fine start to Murray’s third full year on the ATP circuit.