federer

U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

By James A. Crabtree

With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.

There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.

On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.

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

One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.

The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw21Z-37JW0

Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjnvvzmX6MY

Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.

Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.

Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth.  McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.

The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.

 

 

 

 

Djokovic And Murray – The Wimbledon Battle Royale, Round 4

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

5 Thoughts From Wimbledon 2013

by James A. Crabtree

Return of the Serve and Volley?

John Newcombe, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Todd Woodbridge have been saying it for years. And for the first time in years they were proved correct. Dustin Brown and Sergiy Stakhovsky proved you can play aggressive while rushing kamikaze to the net, and most likely received a thankyou card and box of chocolates from legends turned commentators.

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

The 1980’s were back, minus the short shorts and mullets. All that talk about the limited time to rush to the net, players hitting too much spin, the returners being too sharp, was halted. Well, halted for a day. All the guys who produced the massive upsets failed to find the adrenaline rush that caused the upset and thus lost. Where does that leave us? Pretty much back to where we were at present day baseline tennis, but with a more recent memory of the old days and a little proof that it can be effective.

Thank God For The Roof

It used to really suck when it rained, now there is a roof ;) Are you listening Roland Garros?

wimbledon

Keep Off The Grass?

Lets not hope the powers that be get their knickers in a twist and decide that the grass is bad after the carnage of that Wednesday. Okay, so everybody wearing shoes fell over, seven players were lost including seeds Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner. But it was all just a freak occurrence (although most falls were on a similar spot on the baseline and during a similar change in direction) no matter which court right?

But the grass is good, and lets remember the game was born on it and the majority of the slams used to be played on it.

Ol’ Boris summed it up best.

“A short grass court season is definitely part of the problem with the injuries. Grass court tennis is different to other surfaces, it is only two weeks of action after a long clay court season. Players need to give themselves more of chance. The grass is the same, the groundsman is the same.”

Nadal and Federer Finished?

Are the Spaniard and the Swiss finished or is this just one freak tournament where some players we assumed were finished are making comebacks and the old guard just got trounced? As bad as it is for the faithful Federer and Nadal fans it is great for the likes of Verdasco, Youzhny and Kubot to get some time in the sun, well London clouds but you get the picture. It would be hard to imagine that Nadal and Federer will not reach the same heights again. Nadal definitely has developed grass demons or hates being in England paying the extra tax, and Federer seriously has trouble producing the blistering winners he used to be able to conjure from nowhere. The U.S. hard-court season will pose some fascinating questions, especially if Federer is ranked as low as 5.

A-Tomic Tonic

Bernie started the year on a tear, won a tournament and then ran into Federer at the Aussie Open. Since February he hasn’t put together more than two wins in a row and his personal life has been in disarray much in thanks to his father/coach John and all those issues we wont get into. At Wimbledon this year he as won three matches in a row already beating Sam Querrey, James Blake and 9th seeded Richard Gasquet, all whilst father/coach has been banned form attending. So is Tomic playing well for his dad who cannot attend or because his dad cannot attend. Either way the formula is proving a successful tonic and it would be hard to bet against Tomic in his next match against twitter sensation Berdych.

 

Roland Garros Week 1 Done! Random Thoughts…

By James A. Crabtree

  1. Question- Can Serena Williams lose on current form?
    Answer- No
  2. What do Jiri Novak, Christophe Van Garesse, Thomas Enqvist, Tommy Haas, David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Andy Murray all have in common?
    They have beaten Federer in 5 set matches since his career began. Gilles Simon cannot be added to this list after losing his second five set match to Mr Federer in the fourth round at this years Roland Garros.
    In other Fed news he appears to have bulked up or perhaps has a Batman costume beneath his shirt? And his shoes with that white bit at the back don’t look unlike old man slippers.
  3. John Isner needs to learn how to break serve, not just hold serve.
  4. A tennis purgatory exists for tour players who seem lost, unable to find their former glory. No player wants to end up here but those who find residence here are not losing drastically but are in an awful limbo land. They are not winning the tough matches that they once would; they are not improving and are far from retiring. Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Anna Ivanovic have continued their limbo form in Paris and have exited Roland Garros before Monday of the second week.
  5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has already equaled her best slam performance, a fourth round at Wimbledon in 2008. Can she go one further?
  6. Question? Can Rafael Nadal lose at this years French Open?
    Answer? Yes, but would you bet against him. Even when he is not up to his best his opponent seemingly crumbles
  7. Ryan Harrison needs a big win over a big player as much as I need to clear my overdraft.
  8. Former world number one and 2008 U.S. Open finalist Jelena Jankovic is seeking to leave the purgatory group and seems to be finding old form after bating Stosur. She next faces Jaime Hampton who ‘Is For Real’. She has been steadily improving; she is fun to watch and embodies a certain toughness that is endearing.
  9. Australian Open has a roof, is building another court with a roof and has lights. Wimbledon built a roof. U.S. Open has lights and plays until late. Roland Garros needs a roof. Roland Garros needs lights. Surely the people who live near Roland Garros can put up with this for two weeks a year?
  10. Nadal can get upset. Blame the rain and the lack of a roof Rafa, not the schedule.
  11. Bernard Tomic didn’t do anything to make us forget the daddy issue
  12. If everything goes to form and Victoria Azarenka meets Maria Sharapova in the semi, hope that Azarenka wins. Sharapova has not beaten Serena Williams since 2004 and has lost the last twelve matches to her.
  13. Gael Monfils could’a and should’a won against Tommy Robredo. Instead Robredo has won three straight 2 set down 5 set matches! What the! Incredibly Tommy is the first to do that since five-time champion Henri Cochet, one of the four muskateers. Of interest Cochet, a spruce little Frenchman won in Paris five times. He also beat ‘Big Bill’ Tilden in a 1927 Wimbledon semifinal after being down two sets and 1-5 before winning 2-6 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-3.
  14. Nicholas Almagro is making a name for himself as a choker against fellow Spaniards as he was 2 sets up and 4-1 against Robredo. Back in January   Almagro was 2 sets up against David Ferrer then fell apart after having match points
  15. Ernets Gulbis comes from a wealthy family and is a bad tempered racquet thrower. He suffered a big defeat then went on to talk bad about the four best players in the game. Is Ernie a whiner, an heir to the throne or just Joffrey Baratheon?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjA4vDBdpcs

Novak Djokovic, worthy of a Montage

by James A. Crabtree

Novak Djokovic is the spoiler of many parties. He has captured almost everything the game has to offer. He has won when he shouldn’t have, caused Roger Federer to smash a racquet, caused Rafa even more OCD’s, won over partisan crowds and nudged his way to the top of the tennis word.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-e-Ud-ly04

But Novak wasn’t always this way. He was very soft for what seemed like a long time. He looked like the sort of guy who gets beaten up by meanies wearing skeleton costumes at a High School party.

Should we bring up the past? Novak used to be a quitter on an incredible scale. In 2006, Djokovic retired when two sets down in the French Open quarter-final against Rafael Nadal. In 2007 he quit during his Wimbledon semi-final, yes SEMI-FINAL AT WIMBLEDON again against Nadal, blaming a blister on his toe that had even the commentators querying his toughness. In 2008 he won a slam, then he started tinkering with his serve and everyone but his mother said he was finished. Then 2011 happened and we tried to find the reason why he started dominating. We couldn’t figure it out. Surely blatant hard work couldn’t be the only answer? Perhaps a combination of Zen, yoga, stretching and gluten free all rolled into one?

The question is what happened? Yes Novak was always pretty good. He always had the skill set but appeared to lack the mental toughness. He had won that early slam but what he continues to achieve since and keeps achieving is ridiculous. Since June 2006, Djokovic has been coached by Marián Vajda, a former Slovakian professional tennis player. What links Marián with Mr. Myagi is unknown but speculation abounds that he has asked Novak to wash his car and paint his fence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYl7N0JPWs

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VWtVQmJTXk

These days nobody can work out an attack against Novak. Russian cold war scientists and probably Matt Damon from his Goodwill days have been employed using the finest oversized computers to work out a mathematical code to take down the Serb. In truth, nobody knows what to do. To play him is worse than a headache, it is a flipping migraine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTLlyWMHyj0

Like so many of the greats before he finds a way to win when he should have already lost. Just ask Stan the Man Wawrinka who almost reached the upper echelons at the Aussie Open only for Novak to refuse to give up. Ask Andy Murray who really could have had him in that second set in the Aussie Open final. The guy atop is a vexatious unrelenting baseliner, a bothersome retriever, a troublesome and tiresome returner. The most stubborn player currently with a racquet. And I mean that in a good way. I mean he has refused to lose. He slides, he attacks, he skids, he does the splits then he has the audacity to speak to the home crowd in any language going.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SUzcDUERLo

Okay, so Novak hasn’t been unbeatable this year, he has lost to Del Potro and Haas but on the big occasions when it has mattered he has simply gotten the job done.

Think back to Monte Carlo recently. Before the tournament began there were questions whether Novak would even play because of a dodgy ankle. Before you know it he struggled through a tough first rounder with Mikhail-Youzhny and tough second rounder with Juan Monaco. After that Novak battled on and snatched away what has come to be known as the invitational Rafa Nadal Monte Carlo Closed.

Yes, Rafa did play pretty bad in the final and Novak even admitted to the fact. But it was a Samson moment, the locks had been cut. Rafa was all but unbeatable on clay and more invincible at Monte Carlo. Will the Rafa locks regrow in time for the French Open? Unless Novak gets a career threatening blister he is a lock in to unify the grand slam belts…right?

All that remains is a montage…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU9Uwhjlog8

 

If You Pay Them, They Will Come

Not all tennis tournaments are created alike, even those of allegedly equal standing. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships awards precisely the same number of ranking points as the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis last week, since both are ATP500 events. There the similarities end.

Dubai awards considerably more prizemoney, offers appearance fees only expressible using scientific notation, and an opportunity to be photographed in front of some of the world’s least restrained architecture. These factors doubtless account for the superiority of the field. The sixth seed in Dubai this year – Janko Tipsarevic – would have been the top seed in Memphis last week, had he bothered to show up. It also goes some way towards explaining why Dubai is voted best 500 level tournament nearly every year.

It probably helps that it gives the players an opportunity to venture outside, having been confined to indoor arenas in Western Europe for a few weeks now. (There is of course a whole other clay tour presently meandering through Latin America.) I certainly enjoy the sudden shift. Each year Dubai feels like a gust of warm clean air I hadn’t even realised I’d yearned for. It could just be a matter of convenience. From my vantage ten time zones ahead of Greenwich, it’s a treat to watch tennis matches that end before midnight. As I write, Tomas Berdych is mauling Tobias Kamke. The second round is already underway. Here’s how the first round went.

No less an authority than Lleyton Hewitt has anointed Marcos Baghdatis a ‘tremendous striker of the ball’. If balls are to be struck, then ‘tremendously’ is certainly high on my list of preferred ways to go about it (although I’m also partial to ‘infrequently’, depending on the circumstances). Faced with fourth seed Juan Martin del Potro, Baghdatis played more or less though he had nothing to lose, until he gained a break of serve in the third set. Then he had a break to lose, and duly lost it. A short while later he had three match points to lose, and he lost those as well, although I shouldn’t be quick to discount his opponent’s contribution. If Baghdatis grew tight at the key moments, then the Argentine grew loose, finally striking some tremendous balls of his own. Once the third set tiebreaker came round, del Potro’s victory was more or less assured; he has now won his last ten deciding set tiebreakers. It sealed a fine comeback from the world number seven, and a fine and dramatic match from both.

On paper, Nikolay Davydenko versus Tipsarevic was a first round encounter to savour. On court, it wasn’t, at least not if you were in a hurry. The first two games took thirty-one minutes, and both went to the Russian. So did the next four, in a mere nineteen minutes, delivering one of the most laboriously prepared bagels in the sport’s history. It was intriguing, although not from a strictly technical point of view, since the tennis was mostly poor. Davydenko later admitted to feeling exhausted after the opening games, and that he’d merely tried to steer the ball safely up the middle of the court. This proved to be more tactically prudent than Tipsarevic’s approach of spraying balls all over the place.

To be fair, he did land plenty of them in. Indeed, he won 34 points in that opening set, but no games. This provides a useful counterpoint to those commentators who believe they’re demonstrating a useful principle by converting points into games, i.e. ‘Isner has served sixteen aces – that’s four entire games worth!’ Really they’re proving little beyond their ability to reliably divide by four.

Having been bagelled, the Serb reconsidered his approach, and made some effort at landing even more shots within the confines of the court, and ensuring that enough of the points he won occurred consecutively. This had the happy result of putting him ahead a double break in the second set. Based on recent results, this was clearly an unfamiliar situation in which to find himself, and so he reverted to his earlier strategy, the one he’s been working on since the Australian Open. It yielded the usual result of losing in straight sets.

By some coincidence, Malek Jaziri also won 34 points in his opening set against Roger Federer, which turned out to be seven entire games worth, thus yielding him the set. This inevitably turned out to be more of a story than Federer’s eventual comfortable victory. Federer would insist, if anyone bothered to ask him anymore, that he never takes any opponent for granted, but I can’t help but wonder whether he initially saw Jaziri as a realistic threat. The defending champion was patchy in form, and frequently experimental in approach, charging the net, and volleying deep when a drop volley would have worked better by exposing his opponent’s suspect movement. Jaziri isn’t the spryest of contenders. Powerfully built, he has the presence (and features) of a low-level enforcer from The Sopranos.

But he’s a nice guy, and by his own admission he idolises Federer. All else being equal, Jaziri would undoubtedly have preferred to win, since he has to earn a living. Nonetheless I suspect he was quite satisfied to grab a tight set, and then to experience what it felt like once Federer’s forehand found its usual range and pace. For young players who grew up dreaming of facing Federer, deep down I’m sure they’d rather encounter him in decent form. The Swiss romped home 6-0 6-2, each set proving rather shorter than Tipsarevic and Davydenko’s opening pair of games.

It was also about as long as it took for Bernard Tomic to contract a crippling ‘general illness’ against Victor Hanescu. There was no word on whether this was an actual medical diagnosis. Requests for more detail have been rebuffed. Requests for less detail have been impossible to meet. The official word is that ‘something might have happened’ and that Tomic will recover ‘after rest probably’ or ‘some kind of surgery, maybe.’ At least it answers the question – which I posed elsewhere – of whether the young Australian’s fighting loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Marseilles last week will turn out to be a crucial moment in his development.

I submitted that it had been more crucial for Tsonga, since he’d gone on to win the Marseilles title in rather grand style, earning a disappointingly ordinary trophy and a peck on the cheek from a three year old. Before his cheek had even dried, Tsonga was off to Dubai, where Roger Rasheed was lurking in wait. Rasheed has already warned his charge (via the miracle of Twitter) that the hard work was about to begin. I’m not sure what was said in private, but upon taking the court Tsonga was a new man, one ready to turn around a six game winning streak against his opponent, Michael Llodra. He did this from a break up in the first set. An ace on game point was disallowed, the point was bafflingly replayed, confusion briefly reigned and Tsonga surrendered the break in a flurry of double faults. From there he looked truly lost. Afterwards he blamed the umpire, publicly. I suspect Rasheed will have words about that.

Anyway, Berdych has now finished off Kamke, Daniel Brands has seen off Mikhail Youzhny, and del Potro is tearing strips from Somdev Devvarman, all in brilliant sunshine. And it isn’t even midnight.

Tsonga and an opportunity lost

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE –

As tough as Federer’s draw has been on paper this was his first real test.

Jo- WilfredTsonga is a big, fast and intimidating player who knows what it feels like to beat his rival in five sets.

Add to that Tsonga’s assorted collection of thunderous ground shots, booming serves, tantalizing volleys and a crowd he keeps enchanted, Federer had a problem.

Most people attending, aside from those who had national pride or an unhealthy devotion at stake, were happy to see either man win.

The first four sets were shared evenly and at that point both players deserved to win. Consistency, fitness and strategy were comparable, although Tsonga’s style was generally more flamboyant. By this point people watching were thinking up elaborate excuses why they wouldn’t be into work tomorrow morning, in anticipation of a Wawrinka Djokovic battle royale.

“Jo was really pressing forward today, playing aggressive, pushing me to come up with the plays and get one more extra ball back.  I think I did well.  I’ve been moving well all week, or the last couple weeks.  You know, I guess also not having played any tournaments leading in, today was tricky because I haven’t been in a match like this for some time, and I’m happy I came through.” said a relieved and happy Federer who added to his own history books with his 10th straight Australian Open semi-final.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went toe to toe with Federer but failed to deliver when it really mattered most, losing 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3. Tsonga was bidding to deny Federer any more statistical achievements and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semi-final.

The Frenchman had taken the fourth set brilliantly seizing the opportunities when they presented themselves. Sadly he started the fifth without the desperation needed to outlast the most successful player of all time. Something was missing and with it Federer’s confidence multiplied.

But luck was on Federer’s side during this kind spirited affair. Even whilst a break up  he was the fortunate recipient of a net cord that dribbled over the net, with Tsonga fruitlessly running all the way past the net and into Federer’s court to which Tsonga, with a wry smile, could only mock hit a ball at the Swiss master.

Tsonga’s downcast expression following his defeat was more striking than the words he used afterwards when speaking to the press.

“You know, I’m a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But, you know, in other way I played a good match.  I was solid.  I was there every time.  I keep my level of concentration, you know, really high all times. You know, I just gave my best today, so I’m proud of that. But, you know, I’m not happy to lose, and I already look forward for the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time.”

Everybody is so quick to comment on Federer’s age, almost without realisation how old everybody else is getting. Tsonga and Berdych are both 27, David Ferrer is 30. Their athletic biological clock is ticking by too and all three need to renounce their membership from the illustrious ‘nearly men’ group.

A subdued Tsonga reflected afterwards of the Federer he lost to today but beaten at Wimbledon two years ago. “In 2011 I think it was not a really good year for him, and I’m sure he’s more in a good shape. He was in a good shape last year and he’s in a good shape at the beginning of this year, so I think it’s a different player.”

A different player Andy Murray, Federer’s next opponent, should be wary of.

Another Federer Quarter

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE – History was not on the side of Canadian Milos Raonic. In fact when the vast majority of the tour face Federer, statistics and history are not on their side.

No Canadian, not including defectors, had ever made it to a grand slam quarter final. Federer on the other hand has reached the grand slam quarterfinals 34 consecutive times. That is 136 victories, a hefty number to shift, meaning Federer doesn’t lose unless his opponent truly deserves to be there. It also means that Federer is a perfect employee, never taking a day off.

The big Canuck is an interesting specimen, duly if Andy Roddick and Richard Krajicek had a baby, Milos Raonic would be the result, although no speculation exists for that union to ever take place.

Indeed, if you squinted your eyes and used your imagination only slightly, you might well have been watching a Federer Roddick match, and the result of those was usually fail-safe.

This was never going to resemble a clay court match, with Milos going for glory early with big serves or cracking groundstrokes, knowing full well if he tried to out rally he was doomed. Federer meanwhile relished the ball in play, bullying the Raonic backhand every chance he had.

“I think I played tactically well tonight and was able to keep the points short on my own service games, used the 1-2 punch. That was obviously also a good thing tonight.” Federer stated in his post match press conference.

Quickly Federer started to read the massive Raonic serve, although initially he could only muster a block return although instinctively returning the ball from within the baseline.

Raonic was in trouble when 2-3 down in the first set facing a few break points. Calmly he fired two Sampras style aces, causing all worry of a break to simply vanish.

At 4-5 the tension built again, giving Federer a set point. As has so often been the case the computer assistance was switched on, unfairly in Federer’s advantage, prompting Raonic to net a relatively easy volley.

Of considerable interest is Federer’s chameleon approach, feeling the need to better his opponent when it comes to their particular strength. To which Federer stated, “Important obviously was first to focus on my own serve before even thinking about how to return Milos. But I did a good job tonight.  As the match went on, I started to feel better. But that’s kind of normal.”

The second set continued much like the first although Raonic held his nerve longer. This time the set wasn’t decided until 3-3 in the tiebreak. Federer took the advantage by delivering a Wawrinka inspired backhand down the line that could only make you wonder if great backhands were given away for free in Swiss cereal boxes.

Federer’s scream of joy directed towards his entourage was heard throughout the arena, whilst Raonic ambled despondently to his chair, with more on mind his than just the overwhelming score line. Raonic told reporters, “well, long story short, until probably 45 minutes to an hour before the match, I wasn’t even sure I’d play.  I rushed over to get a quick MRI on my foot.  I was having issues walking.  I got the clear to play after that.  I just had an anaesthesia injection into my foot.  I was given the go to play.”

Subsequently Raonic stumbled to open the third set, and kept on stumbling. Federer meanwhile was on autopilot, treating the crowd to a level of on court purity that only a very small amount of players experience, breezing to victory 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.

“Most of the times you play good, you know. When you play very good, that’s rare. So just have to try to have as many good days or great days as you can, and that’s why I push hard in practice and keep myself in shape.”

Federer faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the next round marking his 35th straight quarterfinal.

 

The Best Live Match Ever

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.

Roger Federer: born or molded champion?

By Romi Cvitkovic

Roger Federer has claimed a multitude of records in tennis and now he can add one more to his list of accolades: World No. 1 for a record 287 weeks, bypassing great legends such as Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.

Federer has been the face of tennis since 2004 when he first catapulted to the top, holding the No. 1 ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks from February 2, 2004 to August 18, 2008. In what many consider to be the greatest and most competitive era of all time, holding the top spot that long without break was enough to solidify him in the top echelons among all sports. He has claimed not only countless record titles, including 17 Grand Slam titles, 20 ATP Masters 1000 titles, 6 ATP World Tour finals and reached 32 Grand Slam semifinals, but he has also been a repeat recipient for some of sports’ greatest awards, including the Laureus World Sports and ESPY awards.

But it did not always come so easy for Federer. As a kid, he threw fits on court and could be found crying after losses — the latter not being hard to believe given his breakdown after the finals of the 2009 Australian Open. His emotional outbursts as a child may have simply been growing pains, or conversely, tell-tale signs of a future elite player. But no one could have guessed just to what degree his talent would climb. So, are legends born or molded?

In tennis, good athletes come along in constant cycles, reaching the top 100 or so in rankings, great athletes tinker with the top 20 rankings, and excellent athletes hold solidly in the top 5. But legends, they are unlike any species in sports — they dare to dream and achieve the impossible, breaking records and standing as ambassadors. And Roger Federer could already proudly stand at the pinnacle with sporting legends such as Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, and Michael Jordan.

After winning his seventh Wimbledon earlier this month at a ripe age of 30, Federer made a confession about his development as a player.

“I never thought I’d be that good. I really never thought that … When I won [Wimbledon] in 2003, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I was going to win Wimbledon and have my kids seeing me lift the trophy… I was considered a big talent. I was considered good in Switzerland first and then at 16, 17 internationally I was making a few dents so I thought ‘ooh, maybe something is possible here, maybe I can make the top 100′. But I was never like ‘I’m going to be world No.1′. That was more like a fantasy, a dream, an idea.”

For Federer it seems to have been equal parts talent and training, combined with some interspersed luck, that got him to this point in life. When he was a junior player, he had the shots and technique, but couldn’t quite put together consistent winning games. With time, some emotional restraint, and his ability to turn weaknesses into strengths, he has achieved what athletes only dream of. And what is scary is that he’s not even near finished — aiming to not only play the London Olympics this summer but hopeful of playing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.

Congratulations Roger, and thank you for your inspiration, thirst for the best, and for bringing tennis the most graceful one-handed backhand in history!

Check out the ATP World Tour video tribute below that includes interviews on Federer’s legacy from the likes of Marat Safin, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg and Ken Rosewall.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B9NliaXr2U&hd=1&w=585

(video and photo credit: ATP World Tour)