Stan Wawrinka Beats Andy Murray To Advance To Final Four In London

by Kevin Craig


Stan Wawrinka disappointed the London crowd on Friday at the ATP World Tour Finals as he was able to knock home favorite Andy Murray out of the event. Wawrinka and Murray battled for just under two hours in what was a very high quality match. Wawrinka will be able to continue his hopes of winning the year-end championship, while Murray can now begin his preparations for the Davis Cup Final against Belgium. Rafael Nadal also grabbed an exciting win on Friday, as he dispatched fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in a tight three setter. Meanwhile, in the doubles event, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took a massive step towards finishing the year as the No. 1 doubles team.

The most anticipated match of the day saw a pair of two-time grand slam champions face off as Wawrinka took on home favorite Murray. A tight first set saw Wawrinka serve for it after breaking for a 5-3 lead, but Murray was able to break right back to even the set back up. The set eventually went to a tiebreak, where Murray would take a 4-2 lead but then go on to make four unforced errors and lose the tiebreak 7-4. The disappointment of dropping the first set after having an advantage carried over into the second set, as Murray was broken in the first game. Wawrinka grabbed another break later in the set and served for the match at 5-2, but appeared to tighten up. Murray broke the first time Wawrinka served for the match, then held at love to put all the pressure back on the 2015 French Open champion as he attempted to serve out the match again. The nerves were evident on Wawrinka’s side of the court, but he was able to hold on through a nine-point game and win the match, 7-6(4), 6-4. The shot-making from both men was at an incredibly high level for the duration of the match, but Wawrinka was able to win the bigger points, as he saved eight of the 10 break points he faced. The result sets up an all-Suisse semifinal, as Wawrinka will take on Roger Federer.

Nadal was able to dispatch Ferrer in what may have been the most exciting match of the singles event, getting the 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 win. Some fans were questioning how much effort Nadal should have put into the match after going down a set considering the fact that he had already clinched the first place spot. However, anyone who has watched a Nadal match at any point of his career knows that he will give 100 percent effort until the final point, and that was no different in this match. Nadal got off to a very quick start in the first set, going up two breaks, but Ferrer was up to the task and fought back, eventually forcing a tiebreaker. Ferrer won the tiebreak, but it was all Nadal from there as he didn’t face a break point in sets two or three. This impressive win from Nadal is a continuation of his tremendous run of form, a trend he will hope to see continue into his semifinal match with Novak Djokovic.

The first doubles match of the day saw the team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo defeat Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, 3-6, 7-5, 10-6. The loss for Matkowski and Zimonjic sent them out of London after being the only doubles team in the tournament to go winless. Not much separated the two teams as Dodig and Melo only won three more points over the course of the match, but they were able to win the bigger points as they won 76 percent of their second serve points. The win set up Dodig and Melo in a good position to advance to the semifinal round, but they still needed some help to come from the other match.

Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took on the French duo of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the last doubles match of round robin play to decide what the semifinal round would look like. Herbert and Mahut needed a win in order to make their way out of the group stage, but they were unable to do so as Rojer and Tecau played top-level tennis, winning the match, 6-4, 7-5. The stat lines for this match are almost identical except for one crucial stat, break point conversion. Rojer and Tecau won three out of seven break chances, while Herbert and Mahut were unable to win the vital points, going one for six. The loss for the US Open champions sends them home after a very successful year, while Rojer and Tecau will be joined by Dodig and Melo in the semifinal round.

Saturday at the World Tour Finals will be a great day of tennis as the semifinal round of the event will be played. The results on Friday saw the semifinal lineup set up to see Roger Federer face Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal battle with Novak Djokovic, while Rojer/Tecau will face the Bryan brothers and Bopanna/Mergea will take on Dodig/Melo. That match between Rojer/Tecau and the Bryan brothers could potentially decide who will end the year as the No. 1 doubles team, so there will be loads of tension and excitement in that match-up.

Bryan Brothers Aren’t Done Being Top Doubles Team In The World

Bob and Mike Bryan aren’t done being the top doubles team in the world just yet, and they were able to prove this on Thursday in London at the ATP World Tour Finals.

The American twins won what was by far the most dramatic and exciting match of the tournament by taking out the home favorite team of Jamie Murray of Britain and John Peers of Australia in a tight three setter. The singles event saw Roger Federer go perfect in round robin play and Novak Djokovic secure his spot in the semifinal round. Djokovic’s win locked up a match-up with Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, while Roger Federer will await Friday’s results to see who he will be facing.

The Bryans vs. Murray-Peers match had a great amount of tension and intensity from the start, as it would decide who would be the second team to advance from the group after Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea clinched their spot in the semis on Tuesday. Three tiebreaks were needed to decide the match as there was only one break for each team throughout the match, both coming in the first set. Murray and Peers were the much better team in the first set winning 78 percent of their service points, including 77 percent on their second serves, and they carried this success into the tiebreak as they took it 7-5. The roles reversed in the second set as the American duo was the better team and proved it in the tiebreak. After winning 89 percent of their first serve points and winning twice as many points on return as Murray and Peers, they took the second set tiebreak 7-5. The drama couldn’t have gotten any more intense as the semifinal spot would be decided by a super tiebreak, which saw 30 points played. After many exciting points, it was the No. 1 team in the world that was able to come out on top, winning the super tiebreak 16-14, for a 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 16-14 win, saving five match points. Not only did the win secure them a spot in the semifinals, it also gives them a little breathing room in the race for the year end No. 1 doubles team ranking.

Federer’s match with Kei Nishikori was a definite crowd pleaser as the two battled at a very high level for over two hours. The 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win for Federer was set up by his dominance on the first serve, as he only lost eight points in the entire match after getting the first ball in. Another major factor that came as a surprise to many Federer fans was the fact that he went perfect on break chances, breaking Nishikori each of the six times he was able to earn a break point. On the other end of the spectrum, Nishikori was able to earn himself 12 break points, but only succeeded on five of them. The entire match was extremely close as only three points separated the two men once the match was over. While the loss saw Nishikori get eliminated from the tournament, he can use this result, as well as his win over Tomas Berdych, to boost his confidence level heading into 2016. Federer, on the other hand, will use this battle to prepare himself for the more intense matches that wait ahead in the knockout rounds.

Djokovic will be joining Federer in the semifinals as he was able to defeat Tomas Berdych in what was a surprisingly difficult match for the Serbian. Berdych fought hard throughout the entire match and had his chances as he was able to convert on both break points he had in the match. The only problem was that he only got two break points, while Djokovic earned 12 and converted on four of them. The main difference between the two players was Djokovic’s ability to win 71 percent of the points on Berdych’s second serve, setting up the 12 break opportunities that he was able to earn throughout the match. Berdych leaves London after going 0-3 in round robin play for the first time in his six appearances at the World Tour Finals, while Djokovic was able to lock up the second place spot of the group by virtue of the 6-3, 7-5 win. Using his extraordinary defense to fight off the powerful game of the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, Djokovic shrugged off 10 aces and was nearly able to win half of the points on Berdych’s serve.

The other doubles match of the day had much smaller implications and drama as the Italian pairing of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini were able to leave London with some pride, getting a 6-4, 1-6, 10-5 win over Bopanna and Mergea. Bopanna and Mergea actually won six more points than Bolelli and Fognini over the course of the match, but the Australian Open champions were able to win the more important points. The loss doesn’t hurt Bopanna and Mergea much, though, as they will still leave the group in first place.

With Djokovic securing his spot in the semifinal round of the World Tour Finals, fans will be given a treat this weekend. Djokovic’s match with Rafael Nadal in the semis will surely be a classic, as both players have been in amazing form at the end of this 2015 season. The other semifinal will see Federer take on either Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka, which will also surely be a great match to watch. While the teams of Bopanna/Mergea and the Bryan Brothers know they will be playing in the semifinal round of the doubles, they will have to wait until the end of Friday to figure out who they will be playing, as the other doubles group is still far from being determined.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.




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.


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.


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…



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


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.