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MURRAY AND ROBSON TO SLOG THROUGH NEGATIVE BRITISH PRESS

By Melina Harris

Hello everybody, welcome to my new weekly column for Tennis Grandstand, where I will be giving my thoughts on the tennis world surrounded by the inevitable warmth and sunshine of both the weather and the British press in England (well, now and again maybe during Wimbledon when Andy wins!).

I write these words on an unusually sunny morning in a coffee bar overlooking a serene and sparkling Ramsgate harbour in the garden of England, Kent, the location and inspiration for such literary greats as Charles Dickens, T.S Eliot and the master painter Turner. On Sunday, the British public held their breath and the world watched eagerly as two great artists walked onto the tennis world stage in the first Grand Slam final of the year in Melbourne, Australia.

Contesting his 22nd career Grand Slam singles final, world number one Roger Federer played the role of the old master, Turner, creating the final in exactly the way he wanted, wowing the crowds with his honed style and grace, while our British hopeful Andy Murray sprayed the court with touches of his potential brilliance like urban graffiti artist Banksy’s iconic and unmistakable political images on randomly selected walls across London.

However, like a Banksy original crudely painted over by a council worker, Murray’s brilliance was eclipsed and wiped out by the majestic beauty of Federer at his best. The 28-year-old Swiss master dispatched of the young Scot in a closely contested straight set victory, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(11) to land his 16th major title, leaving our gutsy boy choking back the tears in his post match interview (mirroring the feelings of our nation, impatient for an end to our ‘150 thousand’ (Federer) years of hurt) as he tried to sum up his performance in front of the Aussie crowd.

I haven’t yet taken a look at the back pages of the numerous British newspapers for fear of reading phrases such as ‘Scottish choker’ and the ominous rhetorical question, ‘Is Murray yet another Henman?” For a majority of the British public who know very little about tennis, let alone the extreme lengths it takes to achieve Murray and Henman’s obvious greatness, they view what these players have achieved thus far as failure. I can’t count the number of times over the years I’ve heard conversations in pubs, restaurants and coffee bars about how Tim Henman was a ‘rubbish’ player, even though he was consistently amongst the top ten players in the world and Murray, now number three in the world, a sour and miserable Scottish loser whom they hated with a passion (his comments about not supporting the English football team will never be forgotten it seems).

As a player myself, I know just how hard it is to progress through the ranks in British tennis and would like to take this opportunity to praise Tim and Andy for their hard work and determination in the face of such negative press (we are notorious as a nation in building sports stars up just for the pleasure in bringing them back down again). I would urge my international readers to just take a look at the recent John Terry debacle (our English football (soccer) captain, who previous to his extra marital affair was hailed as a hero who has now become the new hate figure in sport) let alone the David Beckham red card affair in the World Cup, where pictures of a replica figure of him hung from a tree engulfed in flames like something from the Salem Witchcraft trials was featured regularly in the press, when he had previously been hailed a national hero.

Of course it would genuinely be fantastic for British tennis if Andy were to go on and win a Grand Slam title, especially at Wimbledon, however why can’t the British public celebrate his performance over the last two weeks and look positively to the future, with rising star Laura Robson posing the mouth watering potential of a female Grand Slam champion instead of always publicly pulling our sports stars to shreds in coffee shops, pubs and most lethally in the British press.

For instance, Robson, who unfortunately lost to Russian Karolina Pliskova  in the girls singles final in Melbourne, couldn’t escape the damaging British press as she was criticized and labeled a moody teenage loser by a Times journalist, who commented  damagingly, ‘I saw a future champion on Saturday. I also saw a loser. I saw someone with exquisite talent and the temperament to go with it. I also saw a player who was error-prone and too flaky to live.  Of course, they were the same person. This was Laura Robson in the final of the junior girls’ singles at the Australian Open in Melbourne.’

I only hope that Laura takes the advice of Cheryl Cole (our nation’s pop star sweetheart and omnipresent judge of the X factor) and never ever buy a British newspaper or nonchalantly google herself, because all she will discover are a bunch of sad old journalists picking out the negatives, predicting failure and gloom; a recipe for disaster if the philosophy of ‘The Secret’ is to be believed, that positive thinking attracts positive results, whereas a whole nation of negative thinking will simply mean the continuation of the misery and failure so many Brits seem to revel in. Perhaps this is the point?

So Murray and Robson may have fallen at the final hurdle in Melbourne, but I urge the British public to stay positive, eradicate the negativity and maybe just maybe we might get the champions we so clearly deserve. To be honest, I think Fred Perry is more likely to rise from the dead and win Wimbledon this year than this actually becoming a reality, however I’m one hundred percent sure that Andy and Laura will make them eat their words by the end of the year and I cannot personally wait to applaud them in my new weekly column at tennis grandstand! Bring it on!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

KOOYONG CLASSIC DRAW SET

The eight-man field at the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne, Australia is now set with Ivan Ljubicic rounding out the draw.

Winners from the first round advance onto the semi-finals while losers are relegated to the consolation side and are still guaranteed at least one other match. This is another reason why the unsanctioned tournament is such a drawing card for those looking for some extra preparation for the Australian Open. Players are sure of facing some top-level competition with the opportunity to work things out in their games despite the possibility of an early loss.

The opening round this year has the following battles:

Novak Djokovic vs Tommy Haas

Fernando Gonzalez vs Fernando Verdasco

Robin Soderling vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Juan Martin Del Potro vs Ivan Ljubicic

The Kooyong Classic began in 1988, the year the Australian Open was moved from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to its current location at Melbourne Park. The move was enacted to facilitate the growing need for space at the Open.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were frequent visitors in the 1990s, with Agassi making the finals for five consecutive years from 2000-2004. Interestingly enough, the years that Agassi won in Kooyong (2000, 2001, 2003) were also years he managed to win the Aussie Open. No wonder why in recent editions of the tournament we’ve seen players likeFederer, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick show up!

Federer won the tournament a year ago over compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, but chose not to join the field for the 2010 edition. It is still a possibility that the world number one may stop by to play a friendly match outside of the established tournament format.

The tournament runs from January 13-16th.

Happy Anniversary to Andre and Steffi!

October 22 marks the eight-year anniversary of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, the most celebrated couple in the history of tennis. Their anniversary, and other events in the history of tennis, are chronicled in the October 22 chapter excerpt for the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) featured below…

2001 – Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, two the greatest champions tennis has ever produced, are married in a small, private ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada. The two all-time greats date for more than two years since both won the singles titles at the 1999 French Open. “We are so blessed to be married and starting this chapter of our lives,” Agassi and Graf says in a joint statement after the ceremony. “The privacy and intimacy of our ceremony was beautiful and reflective of all we value.” Agassi and Graf are the only two players in the history of the sport to win all four major singles titles – and an Olympic gold medal – in their careers.

1985 – Arthur Ashe resigns as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team after a tenure of five years. Ashe resigns “”in the best interests of me personally and of the team,” according to a statement released by Ashe’s agency, ProServ. The United States wins the Davis Cup during Ashe’s first two years as captain in 1981 and 1982, but the U.S. loses in the first round in 1983 and the second round in 1985. Ashe’s overall record as U.S. Davis Cup captain concludes at 13-3.

1982 – Vitas Gerulaitis defeats Gene Mayer 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Mazda Super Challenge in Melbourne, Australia and then blasts the officiating as the worst he has seen in his career. Says Gerulaitis, “From Egypt to Zambia, it has never been as bad as this. This is the worst place I have ever played.”

1995 – Wayne Ferreira of South Africa ends the three-year reign of Pete Sampras as champion of the Lyon Open in France, defeating Sampras 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3 in the final. Says Ferreira, “I played one of the best matches I could play. I tired a little at the end but I wasn’t going to get tight.” Ferreira has surprising success with Sampras during his career, winning six of 13 matches against the seven-time Wimbledon champion.

1995 – Filip Dewulf became the first Belgian in two decades to win an ATP Tour singles title, defeating Austria’s Thomas Muster  7-5, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 in the CA Trophy in Vienna, Austria. Dewulf is the first Belgian to win an ATP title since Bernard Mignot wins the title in Dusseldorf  in 1974.

1995 – Mary Joe Fernandez celebrates her 24th birthday by defeating South Africa’s Amanda Coetzer 6-4, 7-5 to win the Brighton in England. The title is the fifth of seven career WTA Tour singles titles for Fernandez.

2006 – Maria Sharapova becomes the first Russian to win the Zurich Open, defeating Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 4-6, 6-3  in the final. Both players takes advantage of the WTA Tour’s controversial experimental on-court coaching rule, allowing on-court coaching between sets. Sharapova speaks on-court to her coach Michael Joyce, while Hantuchova talked with her mother.

2006 – Roger Federer defeats Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 to win the Madrid Masters singles title. The title is his 10th of the 2006 season, giving Federer the distinction of becoming the first player in the Open era to win 10 or more titles in a season for three consecutive seasons. Federer finishes the season with 12 titles – to go with the 11 titles he wins in both 2004 and 2005.

1995 – Michael Chang defeats Italy’s Renzo Furlan 7-5, 6-3 and delights fans in Beijing by speaking to them in Chinese after winning the Salem Open for a third year in the row.