James Crabtree

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As predictable as a Vin Diesel movie and the Importance of that Gulbis Debate

Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

 “Modern tennis is sorely lacking in character.”

Snot nosed rich kid Ernest Gulbis raised a debate recently at Roland Garros.

“I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray, but, for me, all four players are boring. Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are boring.” Gulbis said after his second round loss to Gael Monfils that Federer was the biggest perpetrator.

“I often go on YouTube to watch interviews. I quickly stopped watching tennis interviews. It’s a joke,” said the Latvian.

“It was Federer who started this trend. He has a superb image as a perfect Swiss gentleman. I repeat that, I respect Federer, but I don’t like the way that young players try to imitate him.”

In truth, Ernie does have a point, but only sort of. This debate has a few underlying factors that need to be addressed.

Now, the question of boring is really only being brought up because the same players are being asked the same questions time and time again. And why, Ernie, are they being asked the same questions? Because Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have been winning all the time! How many differing responses can they come up with from the same journalists asking the same questions at tournament after tournament?

The same four players winning consistently is all becoming as predictable as a Vin Diesel movie, and as we know he has been using the same script on different titles for roughly a decade. Now we can’t fault the stars of the game for their monopoly across different tournaments. Perhaps the bigger crime is that of the underachievers, and that is a huge number of players below the top four.

Over the years we have been waiting on the likes of Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga, Gasquet, Tipsarevic, Raonic, Isner, Baghdatis, Janowicz and dare I say Gulbis to not only provide us with a surprise win, but a surprise championship. Someone to come in and really stir things up.

Surprisingly the monopoly of the slams is very even across the men and women’s tour. Since 2003 the men can boast ten different slam winners. The women meanwhile can only boast fourteen.

However since 2008 and across twenty-one slams the men can claim only five winners while the women can boast eleven.

If we compare this with the past usually a no name or unlikely could sneak a slam. Gustavo Kuerten won the French in 1997 ranked 66th. Mark Edmondson won the 1976 Australian ranked 212th, Goran Ivanišević won the 1999 Wimbledon title ranked 125th. Richard Krajicek sneaked a Wimbledon win between the Sampras dominance as the 17th seed. Thomas Johansson managed to take the 2002 Australian title as the 16th seed. These days a shock grand slam triumph would be Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open seeded sixth.

Gulbis may claim that the game lacks characters. What he has failed to notice is that the games most prominent representatives happen to come off as gentleman, whether they sincerely are or not. Not many sports can claim that. In truth when we think of the most major sports a plethora of reprobates line the tabloid pages for all the wrongs reasons.

Something, for now, tennis gladly doesn’t have.

 

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

Ernest Hemingway

 

 

In Appreciation of Tommy Haas

Tommy Haas

By James A. Crabtree

What thirty five year old Tommy Haas has done this year is just absurd. The guy is not just old; he is pretty much prehistoric.

Tommy turned professional in 1996 and lost his first grand slam match to Michael Stich at the U.S. Open that year. That was the same year Renée Zellweger said “You had me at hello” to Jerry Maguire, everyone danced ‘the Macarena’ and approximately 45 million people were using the Internet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiBYM6g8Tck

Some of the big and very much now retired players young Tommy beat in the years following were Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1997, Marcelo Rios in 1998, Tim Henman and Andre Agassi in 1999, Pete Sampras in 2000 and Andy Roddick in 2002.

Yet Tommy is still swinging. Better, stronger and faster. In many ways he makes a mockery of the suggestion that the modern player is a much better player/athlete/tactician. He still plays very much the same game he always has. The groundstrokes are still crisp and aggressive, he isn’t afraid of the net and he will likely still have a slight emotional meltdown during the match.

Many a professional athlete has tried a comeback from the usual ailments that affects us all over time, but few have shown the resolve to not only to make it back, but stay back and truly return to a respectable level.

Haas has come back from various injuries for the joy of playing in front of his young daughter. His determination to continue playing shows there is a fire inside that is still burning. It is obvious that Tommy has an increased duty to physical fitness, as he is known to practice hard but also put in the work before and after practice. It would not be unreasonable to believe that Tommy Haas is indeed the result of military intervention courtesy of the Office of Scientific Intelligence and is the new 6 million dollar man (that’s 31 million adjusted to todays money).

2013 has seen him register wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gilles Simon, John Isner and a certain Mr Novak Djokovic. All while wearing the sort of awful translucent fashion statements and lame black socks that you expect your dad to wear in attempt to embarrass. Indeed, Tommy is still human and a dad, so some things should be expected.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrVUGc0b5wo

The German who is as much an American now is the quintessential nearly man, one of the best to have knocked on the door of grand slam contention having reached 3 Australian Open semi-finals and 1 Wimbledon semi-final. Obviously he still believes he can add his name to the history books having climbed to his current ranking of 14 after an all time high of 2 back in 2002. Not a bad comeback after dropping out of the rankings in 2010.

Tommy does have a long list to be encouraged by such as Andre Agassi, who held the number won spot aged thirty three and Ken Rosewell who won the 1972 Australian Open aged thirty seven. Fabrice Santoro played twenty one years on tour, Jimmy Connors competed in his final ATP match in 1996 at the age of forty three and Pancho Gonzalez sustained his mission until the age of forty six.

Tommy will surely join this list at some time. But for now Tommy is no Haas been.

The ATP Quarterly Review

Rafael Nadal

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.

December 2012

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.

January 2013

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.

February 2013

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.

March 2013

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.

Australian Open Recollections

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By James A. Crabtree

The Aussie Open is over and this means constant therapy and prescription pills until the French Open.

Regardless, here are some pointless observations, rumours, thoughts and complete randomness that needs to be shared.

1. Fred Stolle said, adamantly, a few days before the tournament that “Djokovic will win it all unless he breaks his leg.” Not only was he right but I do hate it when old people get it so so right.

2. During the qualifying rounds I got to know a guy I simply referred to as Security Guard Joe. Our conversations were like those you expect to share whilst drinking  a brew with an old guy at a bar.

“Got any good bets?” he asked.

Monica Puig, I’d say she will reach round 3, at least.” I responded boldly.

“Good. I’ll put some money down.”

I was wrong, need to avoid Security Guard Joe.

3. Bernie Tomic was the only non-seeded player to list Monaco as his residence, so somebody good is doing his accounts! According to rumour the young Australian was given 32 different racquets by Yonex to trial. He chose the 31st and is happy with it. Lets hope he is not as picky with shoes.

4. Djokovic should be featured in the next video by PSY, of Gangnam Style fame. He really should be, the guy just cant stop doing the dance.

5. Ever wondered why so many players look so clean cut? Wonder no more as the Australian Open featured a “Player Beauty Bar.”

6. Sloane Stephens had roughly 17,000 twitter followers before her match with Serena Williams. One little win later and she had 35,000. She now has over 60,000.

7. Spoke to an old Czech reporter who has been coming to the Open since 1991. He had some great tales, including the legend that Marcelo Rios spent $300,000 in the casino in 1998, the year he reached the final as the number one seed. Wow.

8. The media received a very cool media pack, sunscreen, that included a little towel, pen, mini fan, media guide and a USB stick that is not compatible with my computer….ARGHH.

Also, some journalists partook in a special Cardio Tennis session run by Tennis Australia. All athletes (I use that word very loosely) took themselves far too seriously, and all were panting like poodles on a hot summers day after only five minutes action. One journalist by the name of Crabtree was awesome and won a towel but we shall go into no further detail of these incredible exploits. ;)

9. Bumped into Security Guard Joe. Luckily for me he didn’t put a bet on Monica Puig because he couldn’t remember her name.

“My shift is over soon mate, got any other good bets?” he asked.

Del Potro is probably due a good run,” I suggested.

“Del Potro? “

“Yeah, the Argentinian. He should go deep, I’d put a dollar on him.” I said.

Security Guard Joe left quickly like I was Old Biff with a sports Almanac from Back to the Future 2. Del Potro lost later that day in the third round to Jeremy Chardy. I am not Old Biff, and really need to avoid Security Guard Joe for the rest of the tournament.

10. Stan vs Novak, for many this was the match of the tournament – can’t stop thinking about this one and a possible alternate reality where Stan got it then cruised through the rest of the tournament. Stan was amazing, up 1 set and 5-2 in the second. Imagine if he had capitalised and become the other Swiss with a slam.

11. The Media restaurant never once skimmed on portions. Thanks guys, but more dessert options next time, please.

12. Beneath Rod Laver Arena I passed a guy I thought I recognised, some small time Aussie player I thought. I said “Hey mate,” and he responded with a “Hey Mate” of his own. I stopped for a second, hang on, that wasn’t the Aussie I thought it was and this guy is wearing Nike’s with a hint of pink. That was bloody Roger Federer.

13. Popped in to see the stringers and one old time doubles player had a tension of 33lbs. What the!

14. The old Czech reporter told of how he once hit with Andre Agassi, whilst the eight-time grand slam champion was waiting around for Brad Gilbert on a practice court. I am insanely jealous.

15. Where’s Wally. Captain Australia. A bloke with a giant phone. A guy with a giant head. The Heard stole the show at matches featuring Aussie players. This crew should be a perquisite at every grand slam.

Like many of you I am having Aussie Open withdrawals. Hope this offers you some solace. Roll on Roland Garros.

Ramblings from a Tennis Journalist: Australian Open Men’s Final Flashbacks

Novak Djokovic celebrates his third straight Australian Open title

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 — The Australian Open is over, and Novak Djokovic has been crowned champion again winning his third title in a row.

A lot went on today, more than just Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic hitting a few balls.

A huge number of people arrived early to watch the game on the grounds, taking in some of the live music and consuming a seriously jolly amount of booze.

Within the cornered off zones the linesmen sat tensely in their portable offices watching TV, hoping later that they wouldn’t be ridiculed by Hawkeye.

The ball boys and girls meanwhile added each other to their various Facebook accounts or goofed about playing cricket with a tennis ball and, as a substitute for a bat, a diseased looking flip-flop possibly borrowed from a vagrant.

Things started to heat up early for the journalists securing their court passes for the big game. It’s amazing how many chose instead to watch the game, whether it a first round or final, down in one of the media hubs on their own personal screen. A plus side is the constant availability of stats; the negative is the lack of feel or atmosphere.

A walk through the corridors and all feels remarkably lonely compared to the hustle bustle of only a few days before. Like a summer hotel that attempts to stay open through the later seasons, looking after only a select few guests.

One of the guests is a former regular that now wears a suit, and happens to have a TV camera following him. He speaks to another more recent guest who carries a racquet bag in preparation of a hit. This guest wears a hoody, and seems a little in awe of the guy in the suit. They are Andre Agassi and Andy Murray respectively.

Back at the Media Hub the journalists again prepare, and what a sight. Some are cracking their knuckles for a tough night on the laptop. The others limber up their belts for an extra serving at the media café, which I must say are very generous.

Before you know it, it’s game time and some journalists find they haven’t prepared properly, even though they have been provided with a plethora of information both online or in print.

The match starts and all goes to form. Deep baseline rallies that evoke memories from Wilander to Agassi to Safin to present day and Djokovic. Nobody giving an inch, both wanting a mile.

A change of ends brings the KIA adverts, and I genuinely mean that I like them. Actually, I now want a KIA Sportage and even want a job with KIA. No, not as a mechanic, but thinking up cool adverts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK3Xz8QrEqQ

Ah, The Nappies.

Back to the tennis, no breaks of serve. Lots of baseline rallies, slides and amazing gets. Andy saves one break point with a 23 ball rally. Scottish and Serbian fans given up momentarily trying to electrify their man, neither has the patience.

The game stays the course. Tiebreak time. Andy Murray gets it and looks officially on his way to a heroic victory. He is playing great aggressive inspiring tennis and is not Scottish but British. Officially Great British in fact.

Change of ends, no breaks of serve. I spot Andre Agassi’s head in the presidential box and it is very shiny. The rumour that he is to star as Lt. Theo Kojak in the new season of Kojak is one I made up, but want to become true.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY2reJ9ktRo

Hey did you hear that Andre Agassi is going to be in Kojak on TV?

Back to the tennis, four games all and Novak is talking to himself, at his box and bouncing his racquet on the ground. He is not happy, but still in the game, no breaks of serve yet…Speaking of servers, what happened to all the big servers and one-two punch of years past? Imagine a deck of cards with no Aces — that’s modern tennis. Boom Boom Becker would be rolling in his…big bed in Monte Carlo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7u1tDAHHUs

Another KIA advert, good but not as good as the nappies but still kinda cool.

If you stay in Australia long enough you become a citizen. You can fill out all the documents, learn the anthem, take the immigration test or simply have your name Aussiefied meaning it will have an ‘O’ inserted on the end of it.

This just happened for Novak who has just become ‘Doco!’ He is now an Australian.

Agassi watches intently as the 2nd set heads for a tiebreak, I’m tweeting too much and the 3g keeps dropping out on my phone. A true first world problem. Need 4g now, I can’t live like this.

Andy Murray is serving and a flock of seagulls (not the band) flying above interrupt his second serve with an errant feather that drifts down. Andy misses the serve and loses his focus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_Pq0xYr3L4

Novak gets the second set. Andy looks distraught and has blisters. Andre looks impressed.

More holds of serve until Murray loses his at 3-4 down. Is this the match decider? Keyser Söze/Kevin Spacey looks worried. Everybody who has been going for Murray suddenly changes allegiance. Djokovic chases down everything, like Hewitt on drugs. Djokovic gets the set, his confidence flowing and breaks Murray. The match is all but over.

Djokovic is unbreakable. Murray is spent, losing points easily and thus England, Wales and Northern Island have given up on him meaning he is back to being Scottish.

After 3 hours and 40 minutes Novak claims victory and is soon screaming at his entourage in delight. Moments later some tech guy who looks like a bearded gamer dressed like a teenager is setting up the trophy island.

Some speeches later and Novak gets his trophy again from a former owner, Andre Agassi.

The 2013 Australian Open is over. All the winners have been decided. Congratulations Novak.

The quickest way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach. Djokovic talks about his victory then goes round the press conference room and hands out chocolates. A bad word will never be printed about Novak again — what a genius! Raise your game Roger and Andy, the press need chocolates. This is not bribery but necessity.

P.S. Real good chocolates and see you next year Aussie Open, miss you already.

2013 Australian Open and The Usual Suspects?

Novak Djokovic

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.

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