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.





Dolgopolov, Nishikori Among Players Looking for Top 10 Debut in 2012

The top 10 of the ATP World Tour rankings might not be as rarefied air as one might think. Of the top 50 players on tour, 26 have spent time among the elite at some point in their careers. There is a mix of veterans and young players still trying to join that crowd. Here’s a look at five of them that could be well-poised to make their debuts along the Federers and Nadals of the world in 2012:

Alexandr Dolgopolov

Career-High Ranking: 15

The young Ukrainian had a breakout season in 2011, first making his presence felt by reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. On the way to his best result at a Major, he defeated perennial top-tenners Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling. As his nickname suggests, the “Dog” had solid results throughout the year—including winning his first career singles title in Umag and making the fourth round of the U.S. Open—but endured some struggles during the fall indoor stretch. Provided he notches more impressive wins in Masters 1000 Series play and navigates his way through any slumps, he can sneak up on the top 10: much like one of his backhand winners after his fourth or fifth slice in a row.

John Isner

Career-High Ranking: 18

The American also had a career year in ’11, and was one of the hottest players on tour after Wimbledon—winning two titles and making the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. Isner has shown he can play well on all surfaces; he even has a European clay-court final appearance on his resume. Probably the main thing that slowed one of the game’s biggest servers from reaching even higher in the rankings was his performance at crucial stages, particularly in tiebreaks. Shoring up his record in that situation could be beneficial. Likewise, Jim Courier recently called Isner “the most disruptive force in the men’s game” and believes his current dedication to working out in the off-season is “gearing [him] up to start bashing balls and really get a running start into [the upcoming] season.”

Kei Nishikori

Career-High Ranking: 24

A couple of years ago, it seemed that Nishikori was ready to have a single digit ranking beside his name: In 2008, at the age of 18, he won his first career title in Delray Beach, Fla., then advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open later in the year, beating Juan Monaco and David Ferrer along the way. However, injuries have slowed his ascent up to this point. In 2011, though, when he was able to log a lot of court time, Nishikori showed what he was capable of. He became the highest-ranking Japanese man ever and advanced to two singles finals. Nishikori also beat none other than Novak Djokovic over the course of his dream indoor stretch of tournaments. Health will be the main factor in determining how high he can go.

Juan Monaco

Career-High Ranking: 14

The Argentine had been on somewhat of a tear in the latter half of 2011, reaching the round of 16 at the U.S. Open; the finals in Valencia, Spain; and the quarterfinals of the Masters Series 1000 tournament in Paris. His season didn’t exactly end on a high note as Rafael Nadal throttled him in the opening rubber of the Davis Cup finals. Still, the veteran should be emboldened by his run of good form on a surface that’s not exactly his best. He’s made 10 career finals on clay, winning three titles, and solid results on the dirt could propel him past his career-high 14 ranking.

Pablo Andujar

Career-High Ranking: 43

The Spaniard is another player that does most of his damage on the dirt: In 2011, he won his first career singles title in Casablanca, and made the finals in Stuttgart and Bucharest. That follows a year in which he notched impressive results on the Challenger circuit, going 1-3 in finals. He also made his first ATP-level final in Bucharest in 2010. In other words, Andujar has been in ascent mode the past two years to earn a place in the top 50. The fact that he won’t have to play as many qualifying matches to get into main draws now should prove beneficial to his top 10 hopes.

John Isner Sees Top 10 Hopes Hindered by Tiebreaks

The 2011 ATP World Tour season was undoubtedly one to remember for John Isner: He reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, won two titles over the summer and is coming off his first career Masters semifinal in Paris. There he fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a final-set tiebreak after holding three match points.

Ahh, the tiebreak: The method used to determine the winner of a 6-all set at regular ATP events and the U.S. Open provided some forgettable experiences this year for Isner. The 6’9” American, who led the tour in aces and service games won, fell short at more than a few crucial moments over the course of the season, defying the conventional wisdom that ‘breakers always favor the big server.

And as impressive as his year was, could it have been even better—perhaps with a top-10 finish? Let’s take a look at some of the missed opportunities in 2011, aside from the Tsonga match:

Australian Open, Third Round

Marin Cilic d. Isner: 4-6, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(2), 9-7
This match-up in the round of 32 pitted two of the game’s biggest servers against one another. Each of them served more than 20 aces, but it was the Croatian who came out on top, rallying from two sets to one down. A win, though, in the fourth-set tiebreak would have enabled Isner to defend his round-of-16 points from the prior year. As it was, his ranking took a minor hit.

Atlanta, Finals

Mardy Fish d. Isner: 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-2
Isner entered the rematch of the previous year’s final on an eight-match winning streak, which included taking the title at the grass-court event in Newport, RI. Isner was at the top of his game and in the second set, found himself with two match points, including one on his serve. However, it wasn’t to be and Fish denied Isner the title for the second year in a row.

Washington, Semifinals

Gael Monfils d. Isner: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6)
Despite the tough loss at his prior tournament in Atlanta, Isner’s strong play continued at the Washington event, the place he first made his presence known on the ATP tour in 2007 with a surprise run to the finals. That year he defeated Monfils in the semifinals, but it would be the Frenchman who would exact a bit of payback in 2011. Isner fought off two match points and eventually got one of his own, but Monfils held steady and advanced to the finals.

U.S. Open, Quarterfinals

Andy Murray d. Isner: 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2)
This match presented a complete contrast of styles: One of the game’s biggest servers faced off against one of its most brilliant returners in Murray. Plus, Isner was in completely unfamiliar territory as this was his first career Slam quarterfinal, while Murray was playing in his fourth of the year. Murray came up with crucial breaks in the first two sets to capture them. Isner, though, showed he wasn’t done as he took the third, then garnered break points to serve for the fourth set. Murray staved those off and got the set to a breaker, which he swept through with the loss of two points. That brought Isner’s nine-match winning streak to a halt—as well as his Grand Slam hopes for ‘11.

Those four losses alone cost Isner a title, a final, a Slam semi and fourth-round appearance. But if anything was gained from those defeats—as well as other tiebreak losses at Davis Cup and Masters events—Isner did show resiliency, evidenced by the winning streaks he was able to put together. Perhaps, a little bit more luck under those circumstances could lift him even higher up the rankings.

Or maybe doing away with the tiebreak altogether would be to his advantage? It’s been well-documented how he performs in those conditions.

Serbian Fatalism at Legg Mason Tennis Classic: Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki

Serbian fatalism was in full swing at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. last night as the two remaining Serbs, world #15 Viktor Troicki and #25 Janko Tipsarevic went out to John Isner and Gael Monfils, respectively. Being from the former Yugoslavia myself, I have an intimate look into the way Serbians, as a culture, are hard-wired and these two young men are no exception. Perhaps, they are the example.

After losing the first set, 7-6(5), Troicki could have easily faded away thinking Isner was serving just too well for any opportunities to arise. Instead, he took advantage of Isner’s fading confidence and broke him to go up 3-0 in the second set. As Isner became increasingly negative with his own movement, Troicki’s belief and body language surpassed any inkling of doubt he may have had earlier in the match. He began to play like a dangerous top player and won 91% of his first serves pushing Isner into a hole. Isner himself even stated that in the second set, he was “either missing wildly or missing weakly into the net” and that was a true tale of the type of pressure Troicki was putting on him.

Then the third set began to unfold and with it, Troicki began to doubt. After a resurgence, his performance plummeted as his serve and return percentages dwindled, and he created a large gap in the deficit for his winners to unforced errors. Likewise, Tipsarevic stayed with Monfils for the majority of the match, but when the point was on his racquet, he succumbed, looking to his box and simply saying “nemogu,” or “I can’t” in Serbian, when referencing getting broken in the first game of the second set.

The word ‘fatalism’ is commonly used to refer to an attitude of resignation in the face of some event which is thought to be inevitable, as in the case of a loss. Even if a player believes he can win and does well initially, disbelief creeps in and takes hold, refusing to let go. In the case of both Troicki and Tipsarevic, good friends that fell out of the tournament in the same evening, it shows how contagious the doctrine actually is: they feel powerless to do anything other than what they actually do, because they are bound to lose in the end, no matter how much they put into the match. And although this type of attitude can be witnessed in other players who dismantle mentally on-court, it’s the Serbian political history that gives the greatest context. From the assassination of Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand by a Yugoslavian nationalist to launch World War I, to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict last decade, Serbians and Croatians alike, have had a turbulent history that seems to be against our own best interest. As a culture and nation, we strive to be better people, and we achieve success, but the dark cloud still hangs over us and we doubt our abilities, even if we don’t want to admit it.

In his press conference, Tipsarevic referenced that the reason he lost wasn’t his “forehand or backhand, it was more my lack of concentration. I was getting so frustrated, that I couldn’t win free points off my serve and couldn’t finish off the points as I wanted to, and as I did in the previous two matches.” Fatalism isn’t always present, but it appears in the most inopportune times, making us believe that acceptance is appropriate, rather than resistance against inevitability.

But the reward will come one day for these two players, as it has for current #1 Novak Djokovic. After winning the Australian Open in 2008 at age 20, it took him three full years to win another grand slam. The time in between was filled with drama of apologies about on-court antics to a pronounced and immense struggle with his serve. And then a breakthrough occurred, and he became unstoppable. He was able to shun away any mental strife and play for himself, and for his country in the Davis Cup finals, winning it for the first time in Serbia’s existence. What was a handicap turned into the ultimate asset: Djokovic learned how to direct his energy to attain his goals, and even surprised a few people on the way up to the top of the men’s tennis game. Hopefully, Tipsarevic and Troicki can follow in his steps, but not without drama of their own.

In what was sadly seen as offensive, a photo and corresponding caption posted by Tipsarevic of him holding up a plastic gun at Djokovic with his hands in the air and reading “How much $$$ would Rafa gief … ;)”, stirred up a storm on the internet recently. Ben Rotherberg of The Daily Forehand got the full scoop by asking Tipsarevic to comment on the situation. Tipsarevic stated that “it was a bad joke. We were really happy that we won Davis Cup. We were at dinner … I think it was a plastic gun … it was a bet and a stupid joke. At the time it seemed funny because the joke was about how dominant Novak is [on tour], that nothing can stop him this season. The next day, I took it off Facebook and Twitter. As I heard later, it was all over the internet, people were blaming me for thinking that ‘I hate Rafa.’ I called Novak and Rafa the next day. I spoke to them and they were fine about it. They told me to be careful because of social networking and [how] people can get things like this in a wrong way.” This is Serbian fatalism at its finest, ladies and gentleman. But all credit to Tipsarevic for realizing how grave of a situation it really was and commenting whole-heartedly on it.

Tipsarevic finished appropriately with: “I still blame myself.  I think it was a bad, bad joke. You can make a bad story out of anything if you want to. I apologize to anyone that thinks it was offensive to anybody on tour.” To a non-native speaker, expressing sincerity may be tough, but the aura surrounding Tipsarevic’s response ensured all those present that he meant what he said. And remember too, that he had just lost a tough match to Monfils not even an hour before.

For the full clip, Jen from Racquet Required has it on Youtube.

Hopefully, one day in the near future, these two young Serbians will be able to channel their energy into attaining the goals that their talents are capable of. Until then, we can struggle in their drama-filled journey with them.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi


By Peter Nez

“This is the Federer we’ve been accustomed to seeing,” long time commentator Dick Enberg stated in the third set when Roger was serving for the match, which became his first straight sets victory at the Wimbledon Championships thus far, having “struggled” in his first two rounds. I’m not convinced it was necessarily a struggle, even though he rarely goes five sets in a major, particularly on grass, even more bizarrely at Wimbledon, but I am of the opinion that the men’s game is so vastly talented and Federer is engaged in a constant staving off of young upstarts day in and day out, being one of the oldest on tour currently, dominating multi generational huddles, and as Mahut and Isner have proved, anything can happen on any given day. And what does Alejandro Falla and Bozo the clown have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Their impetus must be to go for broke, full throttle, no hesitation, and little thought for marginal play, or else what could be the only outcome possible? ‘Fortune favors the brave,’; an aphorism that parades the sports psychologists halls and sessions frequently, and to face that mind set every time you step out on court is something only the greatest athletes can relate to. Falla was the perfect embodiment, Soderling: a vision of execution, and Bozo was an anomaly at best. Clement was the perfect opponent for Roger to get back to Swiss precision and rhythm.

Federer is renowned for stepping up his play as tournaments progress, especially majors, and today was no different. The serve and movement was intact, the energy on court apparent, and with an opponent who is devoid of any perplexing weapons, Roger showed us all why he has six Wimbledon titles and counting. Greatness comes easy to those with an abundance, but without the proof of its prowess renewed continually on the world’s grandest stages, even past accolades can seem shadowed and distant. Federer thrives on confidence maybe more now than he ever did before and a match like this, taking Clement out in three seasoned sets, could give him the boost he needs with a draw that looms with hungry contenders. If Australia 2010 has showed us anything, when Roger’s game is on, nobody has a chance.


By Peter Nez

“I have almost no words anymore watching this,” defending singles champion Roger Federer said about the Isner-Mahut match on court 18. “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen and could imagine. I don’t know how their bodies must feel the next day, the next week, the next month. This is incredible tennis.”

I don’t think I have ever heard a broadcasting team, with the likes of zany Brad Gilbert, and Mr. Hello! Patrick McEnroe, scramble for words harder than they did today on day three of Wimbledon to describe the match etched in history between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, wiry, goofy faced, and grass savvy, against the giant from the south, American Bulldog John Isner. A match that just wouldn’t end, and as I am writing this is going into the eighth hour, tied 30-30 in the fifth set at 41-42 in favor of the 6’9” Isner. This has ceased to be an epic, a battle, a clash of warriors, a feud between unwavering wills, it has now become, as it is tied now, with Mahut holding at 42-42 in the fifth set, a ridiculous labyrinth of surreal proportions bordering on an overdone farce; the groundhog day of tennis, where the clock moves forward, and scoreboards shift numerical value, but the players are locked in psychological time warfare with physical impediments all brushed aside. These guys aren’t playing for a spot in the third round anymore, but for immortality.

Their play was suspended due to darkness the day before, after the fourth set, but nobody could’ve anticipated this… play suspended yet again at 59-all in the fifth, with much trepidation on both players parts (maybe more so with Isner, who looked like he wanted to continue), after 7 hours and 6 minutes of play in the fifth set alone on day three. Mahut first addressed the fading light issue, but Isner, who looked ready to collapse a few times, sluggishly agreed and the longest match in tennis history has a possibility of going even longer. “This will never happen again,” Isner said in his post-postponement interview. I think it’s safe to say that truer words were never spoken.

Shattering every known record in Wimbledon and tennis history combined, the two immortals are due first on court 18 Thursday. What is going to be the final score? What will the engraved stats procure at the end of it all? Who will end up winning? Is there actually a winner and a loser in a match like this? A match unlike any match in sports history; a contest that defies categorization. Well, you know where I’ll be first thing in the morning. The question is will I have to call in sick for work?