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
It is difficult to fathom how hard Nicholas Almagro strikes the ball.
He glares with the eyes of a temperamental bull, but hits with the flowing grace and control of a Matador. An interesting scenario, Almagro uses his racquet as a muleta to tease and finish a pesky ferret.
A method that was proving successful for the first time.
Ferrer has beaten Almagro all twelve times they have played, including 5 losses in finals, a matter that doesn’t sit well with Almagro. “I don’t want to think about that. He is the No. 4 of the world. He is the favourite. He beat me many times, but many matches were close.”
Still, this was only their second meeting at a grand slam, and surprisingly Almagro looked like the player with more experience.
Ferrer was coming up against a player who was in rhythm, a player who controlled the rallies with the crosscourt backhand, then owned it with a backhand down the line.
Only one break of serve separated them in the first and second set, proving how many matches are decided by just a few crucial points.
Still, Ferrer was being rushed and uncharacteristically antagonised, vocalising his disdain and even swiping his racquet down on the court.
Meanwhile Almagro had all but passed the finish line and banked a cheque of $500,000, the guaranteed sum for a grand slam semi-final and $250,000 more than the quarterfinal purse.
Obstinate to the last, Ferrer dug in with Almagro serving for the match two sets to love up and 5-4. Now the tension the favourite had felt was all gone. Subsequently Ferrer edged himself forward on the baseline whilst his opponent attempted to win by pushing the ball.
Suddenly Ferrer was playing his typical game, taking the set and reminding his opponent that he still had to finish the quarter final. Ferrer reflected, “Well, it’s very difficult to win [against]Nico [Almagro], no? I think he played better than me in the first set. There was a break. I play bad in myself in one break. In the second, I didn’t play good, no? In the third, I feel better with my game. I can play more aggressive.”
Ferrer had stolen the momentum that Almagro craved and now everyone expected that the match would go the distance.
Indeed, the fifth set came but only after an unbearably tense fourth set, where again Almagro squandered his chances, twice serving again for the match before losing in the tiebreak. “I think the tiebreak of the fourth set I played very good. And in the fifth, he was cramping, problems with his leg, so it was easier for me,” reflected Ferrer to reporters of his 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory.
Almagro, nursing a suspected injured groin and wearing an incredulous smile ran out of drive, reeling at the opportunity lost.
The two players hugged afterwards, their level of friendship striking after such destructive circumstances, with Ferrer humble of his achievement, “I try to fight every point, every game. I know all the players in important moments we are nervous. I know that. I try to do my best. Today I was close to lost, sure. But finally I come back, no?”
Ferrer progresses to the semi-final where he will face either Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych.
by Maud Watson
Despite the enthralling tennis that has been taking place in London, one of the biggest stories of the week has been Yannick Noah’s accusations that Spanish athletes are doping. Put bluntly, Noah’s comments couldn’t have been more idiotic for a multitude of reasons. First, if you’re going to accuse someone of doping, have some semblance of concrete evidence, because suggesting that other athletes suddenly appear stronger and able to significantly dominate out of nowhere is not going to cut it. Not to mention, has he taken a look at Tsonga or Monfils? They’ve no doubt achieved their builds fair and square, but there are many players who don’t cut as imposing of a figure as those two. Second, Noah put his own countrymen in an awkward position. Kudos to Llodra and Tsonga who took the high road and apologized to their fellow Spanish competitors for Noah’s comments. Finally, Noah’s solution to the problem was appalling. Rather than suggesting that authorities clean up the alleged abuse, he supports letting French athletes dope, ignoring the long-term health effects it could have on those athletes. The French Tennis Federation has condemned his comments, but they should also suspend him from any involvement with their Davis and Fed Cup teams as well as any media obligations. He cannot go unpunished.
There has been more than one upset this week in London, and there have also been some spectacular efforts from three individuals in particular. Props need to be given to Federer. True, he’d probably trade in his results this week for a major title, but he’s the only one of the Big Four who’s proven there’s still plenty left in the tank (and check out his total matches for 2011 vs. the other three, and you’ll see he’s played nearly as much). Then a big congrats to David Ferrer. He’s a bit like Davydenko in that he always seems to be overlooked. He’s played breathtaking tennis in London, however, and if this is any indication that he’s starting to find the belief against the biggest names in the game, watch out for him in 2012. Finally, hats off to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. After losing to Federer in three to start his campaign this year, he then produced top-notch tennis against Fish before taking it to Nadal when the chips were down to secure his semifinal berth. If they keep playing like this, we’re in for an exciting end to the last tournament of the season.
His overall match results at the ATP World Tour Finals may say otherwise, but Mardy Fish was one of the feel-good stories of the week. He said he was approaching the tournament with the attitude that he was just happy to be there, and that’s been evident in his whole demeanor. You can see how much it meant to him to qualify for this prestigious event, and the fact that he played that third round robin match, knowing he was already out of the running and carrying an injury, is nothing short of admirable. He also put together some fine tennis and had his preparation not been hampered by the injury, you can’t help but wonder if he might have won a few more of the key points and found his way to the semis. It’s hard to know whether or not Fish is capable of backing up his 2011 season next year, but it’s hard not to root for him to have another crack at London.
Awards Are In
The ATP Awards were announced at the front part of the week, and there were no real surprises. Djokovic took home honors for finishing No. 1 while Nadal received the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his work with his foundation. Bogomolov Jr. was named the Most Improved by his peers, while standout Raonic was voted the Newcomer of the Year. But the most telling awards were perhaps those that were given to Roger Federer. Despite falling to No. 4 in the rankings and not winning a major for the first time in nearly a decade, fans still voted him their favorite player for the ninth consecutive time, a testament to the enduring quality of the brand of tennis he plays. He was also named the recipient of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, as voted on by his peers, for the seventh time in eight years. For sure, Federer has had some less-than-classy moments in interviews following tough losses, but it’s nice to see that the sportsmanship award went to the top player who doesn’t feel the need to wear every emotion on his sleeve and doesn’t violate the time or coaching rules.
That’s what Roger Draper and the LTA are asking the British Government to do when it comes to their tax laws regarding athletes competing in Britain. Currently, athletes are taxed on prize money, appearance fees, and worldwide endorsements. While taking taxes out for prize money and even the appearance fees doesn’t seem unreasonable (though they are high), the tax on the endorsements does. Nadal, who brought the issue to a head earlier in the year, and any other athlete is right to complain and can’t be blamed for choosing to play at another venue that will allow them to take home more of their hard-earned money. The question is if the government will budge, or if they think that they can continue to get away with it. They’ve already granted some exemptions, such as to those competing in the 2012 Olympics, but it’s hard to imagine tennis players boycotting Wimbledon or possibly even the ATP World Tour Finals if not given exemptions just because of the tax laws. Fingers crossed Draper and the LTA can get the government to do the right thing in this scenario.
The final eight players for the ATP World Tour Finals are clearly the big names in men’s tennis and have dominated all season-long. They are set to face off on November 20-27 at the O2 arena in London and fans will be treated to witnessing some of the best tennis players of any generation.
The two round-robin groups are:
Group A: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Andy Murray (GBR), David Ferrer (ESP), Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Group B: Rafael Nadal (ESP), Roger Federer (SUI), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Mardy Fish (USA)
But while the names are familiar, much has changed in the past 12 months.
Defending champion Roger Federer has experienced an up-and-down year, dropping out of the top three and failing to capture a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002. However, the Swiss maestro should never be counted out and showed he still has magic left with title-winning performances at Basel and the Paris Masters recently. Federer, a 30-year-old father of twins, also ended world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten streak of 43 matches at the French Open semifinals and earned his 800th career win last week.
Djokovic has been virtually unstoppable at times during the year and captured the Australia Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open to compile one of the best individual seasons of all time. The 24-year-old Serb conquered his fitness woes and played with confidence to match his talent and skill. Sitting behind Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal for most of his career, Djokovic proved he could win in any condition, any surface and any situation, and will deservedly finish the 2011 season on top. Djokovic, however, is still recovering from a nagging shoulder injury that forced him to withdraw in Paris.
The oft-injured Nadal also enters the World Tour Finals recovering from ailment, as he has not played since the Shanghai Masters last month, electing to prepare his body for London and Davis Cup. The world No. 2 enjoyed a solid season, winning his sixth French Open and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to friendly rival Djokovic. The two captivated tennis fans all year with their intense matches that culminated in one of the most thrilling U.S. Open finals.
With a triumph in Shanghai, Britain’s Andy Murray overtook Federer as the world No. 3. Almost surprisingly, the Scot was perhaps the most consistent player on the Grand Slam stage aside from Djokovic, with a finals appearance at the Australian Open and three semifinal finishes. The brooding, seemingly self-loathing player has dedicated himself to fitness and after a deflating defeat at the hands of Djokovic at Melbourne, has rediscovered his game and confidence and should be a force at the World Tour Finals and in the 2012 season.
Spain’s David Ferrer and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should prove formidable and could spoil the party for any of the top four. World No. 5 Ferrer enters the event with solid wins at Shanghai, Valencia and the Paris Masters. Tsonga, at World No. 6, matched his career high ranking by reaching the finals in Paris, where he lost to Federer. Of the bottom four, only Tsonga has a winning career record against Djokovic.
Rounding out the top eight are Czech Tomas Berdych and World Tour Finals newcomer American Mardy Fish. In the quarterfinal of the Paris Masters, Berdych stunned Murray and secured his second consecutive World Tour Finals berth. Fish, who overtook fellow countryman Andy Roddick as the top American player this year, has shown consistent top victories that were lacking in the past. He enters the tournament despite being troubled with a hamstring strain.
The end-of-the-season round robin competition begins this Sunday, November 20th and should showcase some thrilling matchups to close out the 2011 ATP season.
Together with Wimbledon, its my favorite Slam! I love “The City” from the restaurants to coffee shops, theatre, night life….there is no place like it!!! Apart from the fact it was my most successful Slam (1x Semi’s and 3x Quarterfinalist in doubles) and my favorite surface, I always felt at home in the Big Apple. The tournament paid a lot of bills for me! Also the wind can blow there…i probably was one of the few guys who liked that (conditions could be as windy as hell at my hometown in Durban, South Africa when i was growing up as a youngster) its a great equalizer, and tests your mental resilience, and its a factor, no question, together with the heat and the crowd, it makes for heady cocktail!
So who’s gonna handle the conditions best? That’s the million dollar question. Let’s stay away from Nadal, Federer and Djokovic for a while, because we know they are the favorites, any person can tell you that/ Lets take a look at their various sections in the draw and try pick out some “dark horses.”
Rafa, top of the pile, first time ever at a Slam, has got a tough Quarter!! Berdych ( who by the way I think is grossly under achieving!) can be a handful a for any of the top three, and he had a great record against Rafa, until recently, plays Karlovic potentially in the third round. Nadal will play either of the two I suspect. Those are two guys he won’t be happy to see in his section that’s for sure! Remember the courts play QUICK at Flushing Meadows and those two guys will love that!
Also you have Blake and Nalbandian in the Quarter, ANOTHER two players who have the measure of Rafa. Remember James’s most successful Slam is here, and he’ll be tough to beat under lights at home! As far as Nalbandian is concerned, who knows which guy is gonna turn up, he’s probably short of some matches.
In the next quarter you got the likes of Ferrer, Simon, Youhzny, Murray and the “on fire” Juan Martin Del Potro (he’s won four straight tournaments!) Murray was gonna be one of my picks to make the semis, but that’s a tough section. Del Potro vs. Canas is a very interesting first round matchup, never easy to play someone from your own country and someone you probably looked up to as a youngster. Del Potro will do well to get over this first hurdle! and keep that tsunami size wave of confidence on a roll! I think the fact Murray lost early in Beijing is actually beneficial, because he’ll have more time to recover and get acclimatized back in the US. It’s so tough to play your very best when you are globetrotting like the tennis players have been doing this past month. Murray is my pick to come thru, but only just ahead of David Ferrer, who remember last year put Rafa out…..and they’re in the same half this year???
The Bottom half is definitely easier, I think. Unfortunately I don’t think Roddick is gonna make it as far as the Semis. Djokovic will see to that, if not Ernests Gulbis in the second round. That is my outside pick there! Gonzo is playing well, but that section will be all Djokovic
Then finally the fourth quarter – interesting. A few dangerous floaters – Almagro, Verdasco ( Fernando has had a great season so far!) and Andreev have all had a good year. What about the Haas vs. Gasquet 1st round!!! That’s rough for either player. But perhaps the most interesting matchup, could be the potential third round encounter between Stepanek and Federer. “Steps” beat him in Rome earlier this year and is a tricky customer even when Roger was playing well…..but considering how susceptible the Swiss Maestro is looking now, that match could be a massive headache for “Big Rog” And if Fed does get bounced early, which one of the above mentioned guys will capitalize…..Probably NONE….That’s because Davydenko is in that section. The guy who always finds his way into the last four, and the one player we always say very little about!!! But boy has he earned his stripes, remember the win in Miami this year, he drilled Rafa in the finals! Beware the Russian.
I can’t wait for Monday! To see the players go toe to toe at a Slam is the ultimate! (I’m not a big fan of tennis being an Olympic sport, so I wasn’t that in to it). I would love to see Murray win his first Slam, it would spice things up even more at the top of the rankings. Don’t forget he won the Junior title there back in 2004, so there’s that ‘feel good factor’ for him in NYC!!!
Enjoy the spectacle!