kohlschreiber

MURRAY IN CRISIS MODE: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Confidence in Crisis – It was just nearly four months ago that Scot Andy Murray appeared ready to continue his ascent up the rankings and perhaps claim his first of what could be multiple major titles. He was confident then, even claiming before the Australian Open final that his best could beat Roger Federer. But then the Swiss maestro schooled him on that final Sunday, defeating him in straights sets just as he did the first time they met in a Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open.  But this second one hurt more. The third set was on his racquet, and there’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been the same since that crushing defeat. Evidence of that was blatantly on display during his most recent devastating defeat at the hands of Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. I thought at the start of the season that this could potentially be a make-or-break year for the young gun, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is the time that Murray has to either put up or shut up. He’s in serious crisis mode, and his coaches have their work cut out for them. To allow him to completely fizzle would truly be a great tragedy for British tennis.

One Brave Man – Leon Smith has bravely accepted the post as captain of the British Davis Cup Squad. The LTA appears to be going in a different direction with the selection of Smith, which hopefully will prove fruitful over time. Many speculated Smith was appointed due to his status as one of Murray’s former coaches, and that his appointment would secure the participation of Britain’s No. 1 (though Murray has already stated Smith’s being named captain will have no bearing on his own participation in Davis Cup). Still, putting someone of Smith’s background in such a position may be the spark this nation needs. It’s a nation that isn’t short on money for developing players, and it has a population pool similar to tennis powerhouses France and Spain to draw from. The talent is there, and maybe Smith, who will have the chance to mold some of these players in a different forum, is finally going to be able to watch that talent bloom into some quality players.

Seize the Clay – That’s exactly what American Serena Williams will be looking to do, as she has announced she’s planning to make her return to competitive tennis in Rome at the Italian Open. Tennis fans will be anxious to see how the reigning Australian Open champion fairs on the red dirt as she prepares for the second major of the year. Hopefully Williams will prove she has bounced back nicely from her knee injury, as I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see how a fit Williams stacks up against an in-form Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters on clay.

At the 11th Hour – As happy as I was to hear that Serena Williams was planning a return to tennis in Rome, I had to roll my eyes at the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez is holding one spot open for either Williams sister to join the U.S. Fed Cup Team, due to play Russia on April 24 & 25. I understand that there’s a drop off in talent and experience when looking at the Williams sisters versus the rest of the American women, so it’s understandable why Fernandez would desperately want them to be part of the squad. But both sisters have a history of only playing Fed Cup when it suits them, and more recently, have said they’ll play only to pull out in the end. Fernandez has up to an hour before the April 23 draw to change her roster, so I personally think she’d be better served to name a complete squad now with the understanding that the last one named may lose a spot to either Williams sister. Granted, it’s not the most ideal setup either way, but at least this way another less-experienced player doesn’t lose valuable time in mentally preparing to represent her country and practicing with the rest of the team should both Williams sisters opt to forgo filling that last spot.

Splitsville – Earlier this week, Serb Novak Djokovic announced that he was splitting ways with co-coach Todd Martin, who had been working with Djokovic since 2009. As Djokovic explained, “Todd faced a lot of difficulties to work on and off the court…He just didn’t have enough time to understand what I need…” It’s hard to say how the split will impact the Serb’s game. Evidence shows that he has struggled with results this year, but I was still sad to see the split. It’s no offense to his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who has done an excellent job with his young charge. But Martin was a top player, an aggressive player, and perhaps most importantly, a true gentleman of the game. Since Martin had come on board, it seemed that Djokovic was starting to show more poise and grace on the court, which mentally could only pay off in the long run. I’m hoping this newly-acquired skill will stay with Djokovic, even if Martin has not.

GASQUET, BAGHDATIS, ISNER AND CLEMENT IN PRE-OZ OPEN FINALS

Richard Gasquet advanced to his first tournament final following his drug suspension and successful appeal, defeating Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals of the MediBank International in Sydney. Gasquet saved triple set- point in the second set and has yet to lose a set this week.

He will face Marcos Baghdatis, who overcame Mardy Fish 6-4, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5) after a three-hour battle. Baghdatis wasted a match point in the second set tie-break only to recover from a break down twice in the final set.

In Auckland, John Isner advanced to the final, defeating Albert Montanes 6-2, 7-6, one year after being Monanes 7-6 7-5 in the first round at the same event. The American giant meets next Arnaud Clement who surprisingly ousted the 2008 champ, Philip Kohlschreiber 6-3 7-6.

“I am very happy to be in the final again,” said Clement. “Since 1997, I have played between 23-30 tournaments a year and I have only been in ten finals, so of course it is special to be in a final”.