With the third Grand Slam of the tennis season getting underway in South West London this week, Wimbledon and the upcoming US Open provide Novak Djokovic with the opportunity to become the first man in the history of the men’s game to win a calendar Grand Slam. The Serbian world number one has achieved success at the Australian Open and French Open so far in 2016, and will be looking to write himself into the record books with further victories this summer.
Djokovic is seeded one for Wimbledon, and as he hunts for his fourth title on the grass in London, the Serbian still believes that there is room for improvement in his game. This will certainly be ominous news for his closest rivals, with bookmakers Coral offering Djokovic as the favourite over the next two weeks with tennis betting odds of 8/11 Of course, we cannot talk about Wimbledon without mentioning home favourite and 2013 winner Andy Murray. With another day, another Murray story makes the headlines, and the Scot heads to Wimbledon having achieved the perfect preparation with another title at Queens, under his new coach for the second time, Ivan Lendl. Murray is the 5/2 second favourite with Coral, with Roger Federer and Milos Raonic at 11/1 and 12/1 respectively to upset the world’s current top two.
Meanwhile, August sees the return to action of the US Open at Flushing Meadows, with the world’s best players battling it out under the lights in New York. Djokovic will be looking to defend his title from last year, and with it possibly achieve the calendar Grand Slam. As a result, Coral offer Djokovic tennis betting odds of 10/11, with Murray once again the second favourite at 4/1. With Rafa Nadal missing Wimbledon due to injury, the Spaniard will be hoping to recover in time to take part in New York, where he is currently 16/1 with Coral to win his third US Open title.
Having failed to win a Grand Slam title since 2012, Federer will be looking to hit back in the best way possible at critics who have written off the 34-year-old over recent years. The Swiss maestro certainly loves the grass of Wimbledon, and it will take a brave man to bet against the seven-time champion reaching the latter stages once again this year.
Rod Laver is one of five players to win the Grand Slam of tennis – sweeping all four majors in one calendar year. He is the only one to achieve this amazing feat on two occasions – in 1962 and in 1969. Laver discusses the Grand Slam in this except from his book “The Education of a Tennis Player” (available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257626/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_3LuMvb169NNH6) written with Bud Collins.
Grand Slam varies in meaning in the games of bridge, baseball, golf, and tennis. A sweep of the tricks, or a home run with the bases loaded, is unusual but not rare. The bridge table and the ball diamond offer the possibility daily.
In golf and tennis, a series of triumphs within a calendar year make up a Slam. Golf ’s has been singular, celebrated only in 1930 when Bobby Jones, the phenomenal Georgian, won the amateur and open championships in both Britain and the United States. I can’t imagine there’ll ever be another just like that one, since only an amateur is eligible to enter all four tournaments, and the amateur who can compete evenly with pros in golf and tennis no longer exists. Today golf’s Grand Slam is considered the winning of both the U.S. and British Opens plus the Masters and the PGA. No one has ever done it.
The Slam in tennis is also an obstacle course of four national championships to be won in one year, though farther flung in time and location: the Australian in January, the French in June, the British in July, and the U.S. in September. I like to think the tennis Slam is the hardest of all because you have to get your game up to top level four times over an eight-month stretch, and of course you’re playing other tournaments in between, too. Much travel and changing conditions are involved. In 1969, I started in the tropical summer heat of Brisbane and wound up in the autumn rain of New York.
I’m not sure when I first heard the term Grand Slam, but it was Don Budge—the original Slammer—who cleared up the meaning for me. Don explained that the only countries to win the Davis Cup—Australia, the U.S., France, and Britain—became known as the Big Four, the world’s tennis powers, and when Budge was the first to sweep the Big Four titles in 1938—the year I was born—his feat was called the Grand Slam.
Five years earlier, an Australian, Jack Crawford, came very close. Jack won the Australian, French, and Wimbledon (British). The official name is The Lawn Tennis Championships, period, (but everybody calls this event Wimbledon.) At Forest Hills for the U.S. Championship, Crawford led Fred Perry two sets to one, and it appeared that he would have a Slam. Crawford hadn’t set out specifically to win all four, as did Budge in 1938, and numerous others including myself later. He just won the first three, and that had never happened before. But there was little, if any, ballyhoo about a Grand Slam preceding his bid to complete it.
In his column in The New York Times, John Kieran did write: “If Crawford wins, that would be something like scoring a grand slam on the courts, doubled and vulnerable.” And when Crawford fell short, Allison Danzig reported in paragraph three of his account in the Times that “Crawford’s quest of the Grand Slam was frustrated.” With his 2-1 lead in sets Crawford may have looked the winner, but he was through, exhausted. He was having trouble with his asthma, and even occasional slugs of brandy taken during the fourth and fifth sets couldn’t turn him back on. Jack won one more game, and Perry won the match, 6-3, 11-13, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
The next year Perry, the dashing Englishman, took three of the major titles, but he was cut off early, losing in the fourth round of the French. But he won the French in 1935 and became the first to win all four major titles, though not within a calendar year. Budge not only made the first Slam, he says he invented it. “I take certain whimsical pride in creating it [the Slam],” he wrote in his autobiography. “Crawford almost won something that didn’t exist. There was only passing notice at the time that I had won all four titles, but with time and publicity the stature of the Grand Slam grew. The expression became popular and it was what I came to be best known for.
“In 1938 I had set my goal to win these four titles, but only my good friend and doubles partner, Gene Mako, was aware of it,” Budge wrote. “The fact that there was no such acknowledged entity as the Grand Slam made it somewhat easier for me because I wasn’t bothered by the cumulative pressure of the press and fans that Laver and Lew Hoad [in 1956] had forced on them. But the pressure from within was no less intense for me than for them.”
The Times’ “passing notice,” as Budge calls it, was just that after he beat Mako in the Forest Hills final. “Feat Sets a Precedent” was the fourth deck in the headline, and well down in his story Danzig noted: “… a grand slam that invites comparison with the accomplishment of Bobby Jones in golf.”
Budge relates that his biggest goal had been attained in 1937 when he led the United States to its first Davis Cup success in ten years. He was clearly the master of the amateur world, and he wanted another goal to keep his interest high in 1938 before he helped in the defense of the Cup and then turned pro. He set out to make a Slam, an original contribution to sporting lore, and a target for those who followed. Thanks to his pioneering, the Slam received plenty of ballyhoo thereafter, and was uppermost when I made the rounds.
In Budge’s time, obviously, few non-Australians made the twenty-one-day haul Down Under to play in our championship. The boat trip was forbidding and expensive. In 1938, only Budge, Mako, and three or four Australians even played all four Major tournaments. By my day the jets opened up the world to everyone and squeezed it together, making it relatively easy for a squad of tourists to hit all the major stops. The same tough crowd was everywhere—there was no avoiding them.
In Budge’s Grand Slam, six of his 24 victories were over men ranked along with him in the world’s top ten. In mine of 1969, I won 26 matches, 12 of them against others in the top ten. I also won the South African championship, the British Indoor, the U.S. Pro, and 11 other tournaments, a total of 18 titles in 33 tournaments. The pace had accelerated. We were playing every month of the year, probably too much for our own good. But the money was there, and we went after it. Tennis wasn’t a year-round occupation in the Budge era. It is now. I think it’s more demanding, flitting between time zones, and there’s more pressure with so much money being pumped into the game. But I like it this way, the money and the constant movement.
When I make comparisons between today and the more leisurely Budge period, I’m certainly not trying to make my triumphs sound any grander than his, just pointing up differences. At the end of 1969, a
panel of the most respected tennis writers drew up an all-time ranking. It was headed by Bill Tilden. Second was Budge, followed by me. I don’t think anybody can really say who was the greatest, but I am happy to accept that ranking. Moreover, I considered Don a friend, and I’ll always be grateful to him for the way he treated me in 1962 when I was on the verge of my first Grand Slam.
Another man might have been resentful of my claiming a piece of the property that had been his alone for twenty-four years. Not Don. He had been through the tension, and knew what it could be like. He
helped me relax by spiriting me away for a day in the country before Forest Hills began that year. We drove to the Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills where I could take it easy. Nobody asking questions, no phones ringing. We even played a couple of nonchalant sets. He was great.In Don’s year, he was unquestionably the best player in the world, though an amateur. I couldn’t very well consider myself the best when I won the amateur Grand Slam in 1962 so long as such splendid pros as Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, and Lew Hoad were at large. Plus Butch Buchholz, Alex Olmedo, Andres Gimeno, Barry MacKay, and Mal Anderson. I was excited and tremendously pleased at making the Grand Slam in 1962. The collection of titles raised my asking price when I turned pro a few months later—but I knew I wasn’t the best. Probably Rosewall was then. Knowing that took something out of my satisfaction at dominating amateur tennis. I had my Grand Slam; now I wanted a shot at Rosewall, Gonzalez, and the others. To get it I had to drop into limbo with them on the pro circuit and give up any thought of ever repeating the Grand Slam.
It was either glory or money in those days prior to open tennis. You took your choice: glory (and, of course, enough money to get by on) with the amateurs; or very good money and anonymity with the pros. It was time for me to make the good money, and to satisfy my competitive urge against the blokes I knew were the strongest. But no more Slams . . . I thought then.
I’d heard about Budge’s Grand Slam, and Californian Maureen Connolly’s, too. Until Aussie Margaret Smith Court did it in 1970, and German Steffi Graf in 1988, Maureen had won the only women’s Slam in 1953. My first year away from Australia, 1956, I was a witness to a nearthing.Lew Hoad was the world’s No. 1 amateur then, one of my early heroes, and I was able to watch almost all of his matches as he took the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and came into the final at Forest Hills. One match away, but across the net was Kenny Rosewall. I sat there marveling at Rosewall, along with the rest of the crowd, as he destroyed Lew’s bid, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. I never stopped marveling at him. Thirteen years later, he was still around trying to break up my second Grand Slam. He had his shot at me in the final of the French, but I played the clay court match of my life and avoided the treatment he gave Lew.
But in 1956, it was exciting enough just to be at Forest Hills and follow Lew’s progress. I was eighteen, awed, and unknown. A few aficionados recognized my name because I’d won the U.S. junior title a month before, but I could wander around getting the feel of the place completely unnoticed.
I was out of that tournament fast. Ham Richardson, then the No. 1 American, was my first-round opponent, and by virtue of the company I was keeping I played for the first time in the Forest Hills Stadium. Ham got me out of there before you could say one-two-three: 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. My Queensland mate, Roy Emerson, got to the quarters, and I was glad for him. It was fun for a young Australian to watch as his countrymen dominated the championship of their great rival, America, with Hoad, Rosewall, and Neale Fraser surrounding a solitary Yank, Vic Seixas, in the semis. I didn’t mind the passive role of spectator at the final. I figured I’d be there in one of the starring roles one day, but the thought of a Grand Slam for Laver didn’t occur to me until four years later.
In 1960, I won the Australian title for the first time, and since that’s the only way you can begin a Grand Slam, I wondered: Why not me? After beating Neale Fraser—coming from two sets down—I had that feeling that it was going to be a big Laver year. Hadn’t I been Wimbledon finalist to Alex Olmedo in 1959? So why couldn’t I make a GrandSlam?
Manolo Santana, the gifted Spaniard, showed me why. He and that slow clay in Paris abruptly brought me back to the real world. Parisian clay may look harmless, but it’s quicksand for us outsiders from Australia and America, a trap that clogs our power and swallows us. Europeans are like kids snapping up peanut butter sandwiches when they operate on the home ground against big hitters. My visions of a Grand Slam were almost blacked out in the first round of the French by a Pole named Andrzej Licis, who pushed me all over for five sets. Weird luck was the only way I beat him—with a no-hope shot made up on the run, a backhand topspin lob at match point that floated over his head, plunked on the baseline and left the ball stained with a big white chalkspot. I had never heard of Licis before, and seldom after, but that afternoon I thought he was one of the greatest players in the world. I doubt he felt the same respect for me.
I wasn’t thinking Grand Slam anymore, just wondering how much longer I could last. Not another round. Santana, who really was one of the best, and plays a clay court as artistically as Isaac Stern plays the violin, put me out with little trouble.
I had to learn to play on clay, to firm up my patience and prepare my way to the net better. The Grand Slam was three-quarters grass [today hard courts replace lawns in Australia and the U.S.], and I wasn’t worried about myself there. The other quarter, the French, is something else, more challenging than the others, more difficult to win, more satisfying from the standpoint of having survived a terrific test.
There isn’t as much pressure, perhaps, because it’s early in the season and the prestige isn’t as great as Wimbledon or Forest Hills. But in Paris you know you’ve been in a fight. You come off the court exhausted, looking battle-stained, your clothes and body smudged with red clay. I promised myself that in 1961 it would be different for me in Paris. It was to the extent that I got to the semifinals before running into Santana, who was the top seed. And I gave him a better match. After four sets we were even—in the score anyway, two sets each, and I’d had a fine chance to win in four, leading 4-1. But I was through, and Manolo wrapped me in a lovely web of shotmaking, 6-0 in the fifth. I believe that’s the only time it’s happened to me since I’ve been a world-class player. It happened so fast it was almost painless.
In the second set Manolo sprained his left ankle. He took off his shoe and hobbled around, testing, to see if he could go on. I followed him to commiserate, but not to step on his bare foot as I should have. I missed my chance. Still, it didn’t seem to matter when I had that 4-1 lead in the fourth set. Then Manolo exploded. He was sure of his ankle again, and he rang up eleven straight games and the match. I never got close until we shook hands.
Five weeks later, I won Wimbledon and was considered No. 1 in the world. Was that a nice thing to do to your leader, Manolo—blitz me in Paris with all those people watching?
by James A. Crabtree
Research has concluded that those who repeatedly work extended hours are more than twice as likely to experience major depression.
And influences such as marital status, socio-demographics, lifestyle, work strain and support at work make little difference.
So spare a thought for Lleyton Hewitt. Whether you love him or loathe him it is impossible to deny the guy gives more than a hard days work and never leaves work early. He is hard school from the old school and someone the new school could learn from. This year alone out of the 19 matches he has played 12 have gone the distance.
Apologies for the following business jargon filled paragraphs that many readers may find enlightening, motivating and team spirited or mind-numbing, long winded and down right boring.
Lleyton owns a can do bizmeth attitude, a holistic, cradle-to-grave approach that he has displayed since the get-go. His mission critical goal of raising back up to the top proves you can have your cake and eat it, given he is nearing his tenure yet still manages to push the boundaries.
Some say he is well beyond his prime but this fearless, spirited, Dad of three will argue otherwise. He continues to challenge and apply himself to every proposal. He is certainly no guy that abuses the ‘sickie’. Lleyton prefers a life where he is at work, playing tennis and playing hard.
Just so you know, the business jargon paragraphs are over and of the 42% who claimed they understood them only 8% actually did. Irrespective, we are back to tennis.
And Lleyton Hewitt is back, thanks to a fine week at Queens Club where he has outlasted Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey and Juan Martin del Potro. At age 32 Lleyton is back and we could well see him around for many more years to come considering the dinosaurs, older than him and still playing, such as Michael Russell, Radek Stepanek, Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Haas and Michael Llodra.
Don’t, however, shed a tear for the taxing way in which he plays. This is simply the way Lleyton plays, and as far as we can recall has always played.
Lleyton’s family usually come to work with him, watch him work than reap the reward of more than a standard income. The seventeen year veteran and two-time grand slam winner has almost $20 million in prize money, a whole heap in sponsorship deals and a property portfolio to his name. Simply, hard work pays off and people, adversaries and peers are always jealous of those who work hard. He doesn’t have an obvious weapon such as a serve or a devastating forehand. His weapon is grit and resolve.
So as far as working overtime it could be argued that its Lleyton’s opponents are the ones experiencing overtime. As for the Aussie battler, it’s just a normal days slog.
By James A. Crabtree
Is Rafa not learning from his mistakes?
Yes, he has been absurdly good since his return. Nobody prophesised such a success return, and in a word his reappearance been made us wonder if he made a secret deal with the tennis Gods.
But has it all been too much and too soon? Has he pushed his body too far, too quickly? Let’s face it, the amount of trophies he has been chomping down on he could have metal poisoning;)
Think back to the months following Wimbledon 2012, when we knew about the knee issue but we were certain it was a mental problem. Rewind back to January when everybody was asking every other Spaniard when Rafa was going to return. Think back to how we thought the King of Clay was all but done.
Then he announced a return to a little 250 clay tournament after pulling out of the Australian Open. And when he did return we didn’t think he would be the same player. Sceptics thought he would need to change his tactics, finish rallies quicker to rest his knee. Naysayers believed he needed to play closer to the baseline to minimise court coverage. Doubters whispered he wouldn’t have the willpower to overcome adversaries when going the distance and he had hit his expiry date.
Recall his first tournament, Vina del Mar, Chile; and that three set final loss to Horacio Zeballos. The Doubters, Sceptics and Naysayers aligned with their arms folded and smug grins across their chubby red faces. Nadal had lost, not to Djokovic or Murray or even Federer. He had lost to a mere mortal. He was indeed finished.
What followed next was not only contrary to the belief of the Doubters, Sceptics and Naysayers but also contrary to rational thought. He won a tournament. True, there were bumps along the way, it was just another 250 event in Sao Paulo, and he was pushed to three sets by non-household names Carlos Berlocq and Martin Alund. Nadal followed with another tournament win, this time Acapulco which included convincing wins against Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer.
The Pessimists were still not convinced, “He can still play on clay, but the hard court is a different animal.”
What better way to silence the critics than with a win? Nadal did, this time on the hard courts of Indian Wells. The journey included a tough three sets with Ernests Gulbis and a reunion with Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro. This win was subsequently a reminder to all that Nadal can still beat anyone.
Nadal lost his next tournament in Monte Carlo, in the final to Djokovic, a place we all but thought he was forbidden to lose. Being a clay court tournament all the typical questions about injury, attitude and aptitude were again asked. By now Nadal had most certainly won a lot, but he had also played a lot.
The questions were however shrugged off quickly thanks to more critic silencing displays in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome where Nadal had been pushed in some instances but for the most been brutal. Once again the big names were no obstacle and again included wins over David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer plus Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Nicolas Almagro and the troublesome Gulbis.
With all these conquests is there any reason to suspect that Nadal will not win his eighth Roland Garros title. Is it rude to even think otherwise? Or should he have taken it a little easier on himself. Should he have included more rest among his preparation? Or is Rafa basking in the tonic of his own victories yet to come? His season so far ‘has been dream,’ time will only tell if it will become ‘more than dream’.
The 3 worrying little details….
1. This season Nadal’s Fibonacci sequence is…
Runner up, Winner, Winner, Winner, Runner up, Winner, Winner, Winner…
2. Rafa has lost to Djokovic on clay this year.
3. Is Rafa’s 2013 French Open draw too easy?
By James A. Crabtree
So it’s April and that means two things. The first quarter of the year is over and the European clay court season is about to begin.
So what have we learned?
Well, rather a lot.
The beginning of the tennis year started in December 2012. With this the whole of Australia became hysterical after Bernard Tomic went nuts at the Hopman Cup and beat both Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. After that young Bernie continued the streak and won his first title in Sydney prompting some to feel, including probably Bernie himself, that the second coming of Rod Laver was upon us. He did of course become unstuck at The Australian Open, after much hoopla, in a one sided loss to a certain Mr Federer. Bernie hasn’t done much since and it’s doubtful the European clay will help his cause.
During the same period Janko Tipsarevic quietly won in Chennai, Gasquet in Doha and Andy Murray in Brisbane. More fuss was made of the emergence of Baby Fed Grigor Dimitrov who made the Brisbane final, and the fact Tomas Berdych lost in the quarters and was wearing unbranded clothing – the poor darling. He has since signed with Swedish fashion brand H&M.
A week later and David Ferrer was up to his usual tricks – cleaning up at ATP 250 events, this time in Auckland. As a matter of fact Ferrer should be banned from 250 events or at least given some sort of handicap like favoured racehorses. He has won 20 career tournaments 12 of which have been ATP 250 events. Not bad for a labourer from Spain.
Two weeks into 2013 and it was already the Australian Open, which went very boringly to Novak’s script. Highlights included Federer in pink shoes and Stan Wawrinka’s battle where he managed to scare Novak in his silver shoes, in the fourth round.
Davis Cup followed the first slam of the year with the surprise elimination of understrength Spain at the hands of Canada and a certain Mr Milos Raonic.
By February Frenchman Richard Gasquet was proving he is still a force, beating the rising Benoit Paire who has severe difficulty against his countrymen.
Down in Zagreb Marin Cilic won his first tournament since Umag in July last year. We bet he wishes the entire tour was played in Croatia as he would surely be the world’s number one player, having won 5 of his 9 tournaments on home soil.
The week, however, belonged to Rafael Nadal who made his comeback to the tour in Chile after what felt like a ten year absence. Nadal lost to Argentinian Horacio Zeballos in the final who was on fire for the week, prompting many to say that Nadal was indeed finished and would never return to his best.
Over in Rotterdam Juan Martin del Potro beat Julian Benneteau, who had taken care of childhood rival Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Sadly for Benneteau he lost his eighth successive ATP final, a streak he would surely like to break.
In Brazil Rafael Nadal seemed unfazed by his previous loss and romped to victory over taking out the ever moody David Nalbandian in the final. Nadal as usual bit the trophy he won and expressed how the win was dreamlike.
San Jose played out at the same time and for the last time with Milos taking out old and temperamental Renaissance man Tommy Haas, who may have found the secret of eternal youth.
Memphis indoors provided for Kei Nishikori his third title and hopefully some suede shoes. The Japanese star didn’t drop a set.
‘Allez’ in Marseille for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga where he ousted Tomas Berdych winning his tenth career title and fifth on home soil. Interestingly a player of Berdych’s stature has a pretty mediocre collection of titles with only eight since 2004.
In Buenos Aires David Ferrer picked up his second title of the year and probably breathed a sigh of relief that a certain Mr Nadal didn’t make the trip. A dream for him no doubt.
A week later and Berdych, after beating Federer in the semi’s, lost in another final this time in Dubai. This title went to Novak Djokovic, who was playing his first tournament since winning in Australia. Two out of two for the super Serb.
At Delray Beach the enigmatic Latvian Ernie Gulbis showed another glimpse of talent downing Edouard Roger-Vasselan in the final to win his second title there.
Meanwhile in Acapulco Nadal was playing havoc with Ferrer’s schedule and duly destroyed his fellow countryman in the final 6-0 6-2. Ouch.
The onset of March brought two big tournaments and the end of the big hard court tournaments until after Wimbledon.
First was Indian Wells where Nadal was back to dreaming. Here he made it official he was back and could beat anyone after adding to Federer’s horrible 2013 with a quarterfinal win. He then outlasted Del Potro in the final. More than dream dream.
Over in Miami Andy Murray won his second tournament of the year and seemed more genuinely pleased than when he won the U.S. Open (insert Sean Connery accent – “where’s my watch”). Although it was a great win, the field was depleted with injuries and no-shows. One notable was Tommy Haas making his first 1000 event semi final since 1952 or something. The tournament should also be remembered for the first round squabble between Llodra and Paire that makes “Days of our Lives” look harmonious. And no, they won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list.
The Sum Up
The first three months has seen the emergence of new talent in Tomic, Dimitrov and Paire, and the revival of old in Haas and Gasquet. Most notably for the first time since 2004 Federer and Nadal are both ranked outside the top 3.
Only time will tell what the next quarter will bring.
By James A. Crabtree
Before, it was Laver and Rosewall, McEnroe and Borg, Agassi and Sampras.
For the past year it’s been more about Djokovic and Murray.
One hundred years from now the beginning of this millennium will be remembered for clashes shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The biggest headline in tennis once again took centre stage at Indian Wells in the men’s quarterfinal.
Federer will undoubtedly be remembered as the greatest player of all time. What will perhaps be forgotten is that Federer has been consistently owned by the man who chased him in the rankings for so long, Rafael Nadal. Nadal leads the Federer/Nadal conflicts with 19 wins to 10, and significantly by 8 wins to 2 in grand slams.
The most recent encounter between these two at Indian Wells had the build-up.
Federer has not won a title since August last year and in many ways is playing a match in a more timid style than that of which we are accustomed to seeing.
Nadal, as we all know, is back after a very lengthy absence and has a point to prove on hard courts and in a tournament in which he lost to Federer last year.
When Federer beat Nadal in the Indian Wells 2012 semi-final it was his first victory against the Spaniard on an outside hard court since Miami in 2005. The 2013 display went back to the script of old whilst Federer and his army of fans searched for answers with no more imaginative excuses than his age and injury.
Nadal’s display of aggression after a lengthy layoff from injury was significant although Federer’s lack of hostility on court, faltering serve and inconsistency was disheartening. Federer’s main hard court weapons, the flatter forehand and faster serve have all but eluded him so far this year.
These players know each other’s games inside and out and new strategy is almost impossible. Like a childhood sibling fight all tactics have been used before, only a heightened level of spite could prove a difference.
A spite that was missing for Federer resulting in the 28th encounter being an epic anticlimax.
Nadal’s biography ‘RAFA’ is as much about Federer as it is about Nadal, with detailed schemes of how the Spaniard would overcome the Swiss inundating the text. More than simply a great matchup Nadal treats the issue with obsession, a mountain he must climb. In contrast for Federer to play Nadal seems like an exhausting chore and whether he admits it or not, one he would rather avoid.
Indeed, in their most recent battle, Federer seemed more fatigued by an opponent that has always troubled him. For some reason Nadal always thinks of himself as the underdog. And these may have been the prevailing issues rather than any of the subplots leading up. Federer struggles against Nadal, always has, and perhaps, always will.
This rivalry has been going on a long bloody time, nine years to be exact. They have met 29 times, have played seven exhibitions of which Nadal has won five, will meet a few more times before they retire and then will undoubtedly play each other a further absurd amount of times more on the Champions tour.
If the current game plan remains the same, it would be hard to imagine a reversal of fortune for the greatest player of all time.
This week, 11-time Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, may be making his debut of the new season at Viña del Mar in Chile, but he has also made his debut in the world of mobile technology.
Nadal has launched his new application, which can be downloaded on the iTunes App Store. The new Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy App is for all recreational players, which helps you to learn directly from the Spanish champion himself.
The application offers exclusive, in-depth tennis tutorials of Rafa’s strokes and has easy-to-use video coaching tools so players can capture their strokes, analyse their games and compare their technique side-by-side with Rafa.
With this application, it is like having a bit of Rafael Nadal in your pocket, learning his secrets on his powerful serve, brutal forehand and ripping backhand.
The Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy App comprises of nine tutorials featuring his serve and returns with a host of future tutorials of all Rafa’s strokes, along with exclusive insights from Rafa himself on what makes him one of the world’s best tennis players.
For those who download the application can also upload their own videos as well as their own Vstrated coaching sessions to the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy on Vstrator.com.
It seems to me that for any budding future tennis star, this is the easiest (and most likely cheapest!) way of having Nadal as your own personal tennis coach!
Roger Federer: 17-time Grand Slam champion, 6-time Year-End Championships winner, 21-time ATP Masters 1000 champion (he holds the record amount of titles alongside Spaniard, Rafael Nadal), Olympic silver medalist and Olympic gold medalist in the doubles with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. Overall, he has won 76 career singles titles in total, but why am I collating a list of his outstanding career achievements? Well, it is because Roger Federer made it to the semifinals of a Grand Slam and for many tennis players that would be a dream come true, for Federer’s critics, it’s simply not good enough.
World No.2, Roger Federer, was bundled out of the semifinals of the Australian Open by eventual finalist Andy Murray after 5 gruelling sets against the world No.3, not too dissimilar to his Australian Open achievements last year.
At the start of 2012 after Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in four sets during the semifinals of the first Grand Slam of the year, some began to question his future in tennis and if it would be the beginning of his career decline due to his age, after starting a family and having other players emerging and dominating in the major tournaments.
Last year in Rotterdam during the press conferences I heard the former world No.1 being questioned about his career and possible retirement (he went on to win the title in Rotterdam), whether he would ever win another Slam again (Wimbledon 2012 anybody?) and if he believed he would regain his place at the top of the rankings again (on July 16th 2012 he tied Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No.1 after taking back the top spot once more). Prior to these achievements, Roger Federer had been written off in the minds of some people, but in 2013, write him off at your own peril.
After his 2012 semifinal Australian Open defeat, Federer went on to win consecutive titles in Rotterdam (where he defeated Del Potro), Dubai (where he beat Murray) and Indian Wells (once again beating the then-ranked No. 9 Del Potro, No. 2 Nadal and No. 11 Isner, all in straight sets).
His success continued back in Europe where he was successful in the final against Tomas Berdych on the controversial blue clay in Madrid and won a record 5th Cincinnati title against world No.1 Novak Djokovic. His victories continued on his beloved grass courts of Wimbledon where he was crowned champion for the seventh time against Andy Murray and two weeks later he was avenged by the Brit in the final of the Olympics where he was awarded the Olympic silver medal.
His 2012 season did not end too badly either with back-to-back final appearances in hometown Basel and at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the 02 Arena in London.
There is no doubt that current world No.1 Novak Djokovic and world No.3 Andy Murray are a formidable force on the tennis court and the ‘Novandy’ battles could serve up a rivalry lasting several more years, but whilst Roger Federer is around, he still has the ability to beat the top players – after all he is still one of them. If Federer remains healthy, he may go on to win another major, let’s remember what he achieved last year. Could 2013 be a bit of history repeating? For many Federer fans, they are hoping so and they never give up on their hero.
Ahead of the Australian Open, Federer had not played a tournament going into the first Grand Slam of the year and by his own admission, he was pleased to reach the semis with very little match practice prior to the tournament:
“So I go from here with a good feeling for the year. I didn’t play a tournament leading in, so now obviously I know where my level is at.”
Murray may have knocked Federer out of the semifinals, but has that knocked his confidence or willingness to improve? Of course not…
“I have even more time to work on my game, work on my fitness this year. It’s something I’m excited about.”
With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray frequently taking centre stage in Grand Slam finals and with the imminent return of Rafael Nadal after his lengthy injury battle with his knee, domination is something which Roger Federer will have to fight for, but he is a sportsman and losing is a learning experience that teaches you to work harder.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion is often referred to as arguably one of the greatest of all time (GOAT) players and as long as the Swiss maestro has the desire to continue playing, he will endure fighting amongst the greatest for more Grand Slam glory and to continue making history. For this reason I would not write him off for future success, after all, he is Roger Federer.
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.
by James A. Crabtree
With the Australian open only a jiffy away now seems the opportune moment to make some foolhardy predictions as to who shall claim the spoils first in 2013.
At a glance it doesn’t look like a new grand slam champion will emerge just yet.
With the big 4 being cut down to the big 3 for a second straight major with a certain Spaniard sick one would assume that a new contender could join the party dominated for so long by the remaining Scot, Serb and Swiss.
In truth none look like they are either knocking on the door or even hold an invite to the elusive ‘S club 4’. Berdych and Tsonga have proved they can take down a big gun, but have never followed it up in the following round. This leaves only Del Porto who has at least proved he can hold his nerve in 5 set thrillers. The big Argie’s draw isn’t easy with a possible matchup against Granollers in round three, the inform un-seeded Dennis Istomin by round four and Andy Murray in the quarters. Tsonga’s draw is better with the only major problem being countrymen Gasquet in the fourth round.
With Nadal away so often Federer shall play, as with his Roland Garros victory in 2009 and Wimbledon 2009 and 2012. This time more question marks surround Federer’s destiny. The seeding format in Australia is an upside down 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 rather than 1v 3 and 2 v 4. This means 2nd seed Federer is slated to meet 3rd seed Murray, a player he would have otherwise avoided, in the semi-finals. That is supposing he makes it. Problems persist for ol’ Roger well before then with possible opponents including Davydenko, an inform Tomic, a dangerous Raonic and a nemesis of sorts with Tsonga in the quarters. The all-time leading grand slam champion has big questions regarding form having not played a competitive match since the ATP Tour Finals in early November 2012.
And what of Murray? Many tennis enthusiasts have predicted he could go on a tear having got the U.S. crown and shown impressive performances in Australia the past three years, with two finals appearances and one semi-final. His performance in Australia thus far has been the most notable of the big 3, inclusive of reclaiming his second straight Brisbane title. His first round matchup is against Robin Haase, a fellow curly haired baseliner and someone he has split their last two meetings with, although they have not played each other since 2011. Other hurdles for him include Dolgopolov or Simon in the fourth round then an intimidating Del Potro in the quarters.
As well as Murray has performed Djokovic has performed better as he looks for a hat trick in Melbourne and his fourth title in six years. A second round struggle could be with Ryan Harrison who looks to be itching for a big name scalp. This might not happen this year but Harrison can be dangerous and did take a set off Murray in Australia in 2012. The ‘other Swiss’ Wawrinka is expected in the fourth round then possibly an out of sorts Tomas Berdych in the quarters although his name could be replaced by new kid on the block David Goffin.
And what of the semi-finals?
It’s time to go out a limb and say Jo-Wilfred Tsonga will beat Roger Federer and make his first semi-final since 2010, but ultimately lose to Andy Murray who will continue to play for sick friend Ross Hutchins.
On the other side of the draw expect Mr Consistent David Ferrer to meet up with Novak for a repeat of their 2012 quarterfinal match with a similar score line and result.
That leaves Novak Djokovic to do battle again with Andy Murray in their second straight grand slam final with Novak gaining revenge on the Scot.