men’s tennis

ATP Tennis 2012 Preview: Grand Slams, Young Guns, and the London Olympics

by Lisa-Marie Burrows

As one door has closed to say goodbye to the 2011 tennis season, another door will shortly be opening to embrace another exciting year of tennis in 2012, in which all fans of the sport and the players alike, will look forward to the impending Olympic Games in London.

It has barely been a month since the Spanish Davis Cup team danced and cheered triumphantly in victory over Argentina in the final in Sevilla, but whether the year 2011 has finished or not, preparation for 2012 is underway.

Players have been sharing their training plans for Australia on various social networks, as the first tournament of 2012 commences on New Year’s Day in Brisbane. Alternatively, many of the elite players on the tour (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) have elected to play once more in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East where five of the top six men will compete against each other at the end of December.

It was Novak Djokovic who became the king of the headlines in 2011 with his dominating, record-breaking year which saw him finish his season with an impressive 70-6 win/loss record. This year, the hunter became the hunted man, and there is no doubt the “Serbinator” will continue to fight for his victories throughout the impending year. But, in addition to his determination to repeat the feat of his triumphant year of 2011, the remaining players on Tour will vie to become headline contenders, title winners and seek to improve their own ranking. This year may throw up surprises in the form of new players stealing the limelight for outstanding victories, competitors who may rise up the rankings, and of course, the exciting possibility of there being a new Grand Slam winner in 2012.

Grand Slam Defenders and Contenders

Novak Djokovic

First and foremost, world number one, Novak Djokovic, is the man who will have the weight of the tournaments firmly on his shoulders after a successful 2011, winning three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Series titles. Without doubt, Djokovic has continued to train hard in his off-season in order to maintain his fabulous form, good health and specific dietary requirements to complete yet another successful year and repeat his spectacular achievements of a flourishing year. As the Serb continues to work on his performance, many of his rivals will search for the required method to beat the current world number one. The only other man who was able to swipe a Grand Slam in 2011 was Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on the Parisian clay, after Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic in the semi finals.

Rafael Nadal

World number two, Rafael Nadal, will search for further Grand Slam triumph and establish his confidence and belief in his game, which on occasion appeared absent on duty. The Spaniard has admitted via his Twitter feeds that he has been training hard in Majorca during the off-season to obtain peak physical condition for an action packed 2012, firmly eyeing the London 2012 Olympic Games in his sight.

Roger Federer

Despite turning 30 years old, Roger Federer has played down all talk of an imminent retirement plan and proved his tenacious attitude and thirst for glory is still very much at the forefront of his game, as he discovered his vintage form of old to win the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London in November. The Swiss Maestro should not be discounted for further Grand Slam victories to add to his record breaking 16 titles, as he is a player who is comfortable on all surfaces and he has demonstrated his superiority from grass courts, to hard courts and most recently on clay courts time and again. Federer will hope for a solid start to the year to improve on his 17 match winning streak he obtained at the end of 2011 and make a strong impact at the Australian Open to silence his critics by stamping his authority yet again in the men’s game.

Andy Murray

For the last few years, British number one, Andy Murray, has had the expectation of winning a Grand Slam burden him at the start of very season. Each year, critics are heard saying ‘this is his year’ and ‘it is now or never’ which inevitably is difficult for a player to ignore and even harder to live up to the expectation. Murray has shown great resilience despite the pressure and has proven he is capable of surpassing his disappointment at losing the final of the Australian Open for two successive years.

Murray has one trait which is vital for his success: confidence, and against the top guns of the game, more often than not, he has it in abundance. Murray is not afraid of a battle and has the ability to change the momentum of a game from defence to offense rapidly. Despite facing a groin injury towards the end of the season, (which saw him withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals), he has worked hard with his ever-supportive team in Miami during the off-season to develop his physicality and remain injury-free. The 24-year-old strives to improve his game to start the year off with all guns blazing – and with a Grand Slam trophy in his hands.

David Ferrer

Spanish world number two, David Ferrer, is a player who has remained consistent with his game, his level and his battling attitude on court. Rarely is there a day when Ferrer is not seen fighting for each and every point in a match and that is what makes his opponents so wary of him during matches. The 29-year-old has become the personification of a wall on court, as his defensive skills are incredulous and he is always able to make his opponent play that one extra ball, thanks to his great movement and physical strength on the court.

The world number five will hope that his participation in Abu Dhabi at the start of the new season will enable him to build on his great finish at the World Tour Finals where he reached the semifinal stages which saw him dispatch of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the round robin stages before losing to eventual champion, Roger Federer in the semifinals.

Ferrer may be considered as somewhat one of the veterans of the Tour, but his experience and recent success in the Davis Cup finals may have inspired his motivation further to complete his campaign of Grand Slam success. Could this finally be the breakthrough year for the fighting Ferrer?

Juan Martín del Potro

Having recently won the ATP Tour’s “2011 Comeback of the Year” award, the talented Argentinean has proven his passion for the sport, as he has soared up the rankings from world number 485 to an astonishing world number 11 by the end of the year. He has continued to stave off injuries since his wrist surgery, which saw him unable to compete on the circuit and as a result, his ranking and ability to play diminished.

This did not deter the giant Argentinean number one, as 2011 became the start of his resurgence. He displayed outstanding form in the Davis Cup finals in Sevilla, Spain, where he pushed both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer to the limits in both of the singles rubbers. He is certainly a player who will be eyeing a top five position in the rankings and would love once more to taste the sweet success of yet another Grand Slam victory after he became the champion of the US Open in 2009.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The talented, charismatic Frenchman finished 2011 on a high – and even equalled his career best ranking of 2008 to finish the year as the world number six after an incredible indoor season. Tsonga had started to encompass many of the headlines during different periods of the year as he appeared in the finals at Queen’s and followed up an excellent grass court week with an infamous victory over Roger Federer at the semi-finals of Wimbledon. But most recently, his indoor season saw him crowned champion in Vienna, Metz and reach the finals of the Paris Masters 1000 Series and become the runner up at the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

With the Australian Open just around the corner, this is one of the Slams that holds precious memories for Tsonga, having reached the peak of his career there for the first time in 2008 at the semifinals after his outstanding and unexpected victory over Rafael Nadal before losing to eventual champion, Novak Djokovic.

He is fast becoming more adaptable to all surfaces and playing with greater consistency in recent months. It would be no surprise to see the world number six break into the top five for the first time in his career and quite possibly threaten the elite players as a Grand Slam contender.

Other Players to Watch Out For

Bernard Tomic

Tomic gained himself notoriety when he became the youngest junior Australian Open champion at the age of 15. Since making the transition into playing on the ATP Tour, the hard hitting 19 year old will aim to take advantage of playing in his home country and use his native crowd to help spur him to further career success as he will aim to continue to climbing up the rankings after entering the top 100 and finishing the year at an impressive world number 42.

Alexandr Dolgopolov

The popular 23 year old player from the Ukraine started 2011 ranked number 48 in the world and despite a topsy-turvy year (particularly during the clay season), Dolly as he is so fondly referred to by his fans, was able to finish the year ranked number 15 after reaching his first ever quarter-finals at a Masters Series 1000 event in Shanghai, before losing to Kei Nishikori.

This year will inevitably become an important year for the Ukrainian, which will hopefully see him strive to make more impact in both the Masters Series events and at the Grand Slams to help him break into the top ten and challenge the dominating players.

The 2012 Olympic Games

The 2012 London Olympic Games will kick off from 27th July to 12th August 2012, which will commence 14 days after the Wimbledon finals. It will be interesting to see the necessary rapid court preparation and how well the courts recover in time for the greatest sporting event of the year.

Many of the top-seeded players in tennis have already started their preparation for next year, with the impending Olympics heavily at the forefront of their mind, particularly in regards to tournament scheduling. Some players have discussed how they have targeted the Olympic Gold Medal as one of the accolades they are aiming to clinch. Novak Djokovic has recently shared his ambitious plan for 2012:

“Next year is an Olympic year and the Olympics are the greatest sporting event in history. I was fortunate enough to get a (bronze) medal in Beijing in 2008 and it was a remarkable experience. It is something I’m really, really looking forward to, going there and doing my best.”

With this in mind, changes have had to be made to the tournament schedule this year, in order to make room for the Olympic Games. The penultimate Masters Series 1000 event in Paris-Bercy will have the possibility of a knock-on effect as a result of the alterations to the calendar. The tournament may be at risk of losing some of the top 8 competitors who may elect not to play in order to stave off injuries as the World Tour Finals, which begins the day after the final in Paris-Bercy. Problems could arise for the players if they were to reach the finals of the tournament and will then need to play at the 02 Arena the next day in London. Will the field be as strong in the Parisian capital this year?

With the new season underway in less than a week, there is so much to look forward to and having the Olympic Games this year, makes the tennis calendar all the more special. Every year in tennis, there seems to be new names striving to breakthrough, players aiming to put a halt to the dominance of the top five players, but will 2012 be the start of a new change? We shall have to wait and see…

Lisa-Marie Burrows is an aspiring sports journalist and has covered several European tennis tournaments, including Davis Cup and Valencia. She manages the blog Tennis News and Views and you can follow her on twitter for further updates, @TennisNewsViews.

Get to Know Jack Sock: Jack vs. the “Beasts”

by Steve Fogleman, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Get to know the newest American tennis player on the professional scene, 18-year-old Nebraskan Jack Sock. I caught up with him during the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs last week and got his views about turning pro and the necessary expectations, his time training and getting to know Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, his most memorable match at this year’s US Open (it’s not what you might expect!), and his upcoming schedule for 2012.

The 18-year-old was vying for a main draw spot in next month’s Australian Open as he was treated like a local hero at the event and a heavy crowd favorite. Unfortunately, Sock’s plan was cut short as he had to retire in the third set of his match versus Denis Kudla due to cramping.  Sock returned the following day, however, in good spirits and buoyed by the local support surrounding him to watch the rest of the event. For all of his junior accomplishments, he’d already won the love of the Atlanta tennis community for a singular achievement: teaming up with Racquet Club of the South doyenne Melanie Oudin to win the 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles title.

I asked Sock what it was like to make the most important decision of his life thus far: turning pro straight out of high school, foregoing the college route players like John Isner have chosen to pursue.

Sock said it was “obviously a very difficult decision when you’re 17-18 years old.  You don’t really grasp the concept of turning professional in a sport. For me, growing up, I played lots of team sports, and really loved the team atmosphere. Still do. So, for me,  I really would have looked forward to playing on a college team, being on a team with some friends, and competing as a team and representing a school. In the end, I’m also someone who, when I start something, I like to finish it.  I thought if I’d gone to school, I would want to stay, get a degree and finish what I start, but I felt ready to take the next step and turn pro.”

When asked about comments from fans and others expressing disappointment that Sock did not follow the route of pursuing a university education, Sock said that it was the first he had heard of any comments, and that he doesn’t delve into the internet looking for editorial comments about him.

Sock recalled his most vivid memory of this year’s US Open as being the Andy Roddick match on Arthur Ashe in which he lost in straight sets, but learned a great deal.  “Andy’s a good friend. Both being from Nebraska is crazy. It’s crazy to be playing another guy from Nebraska in a Grand Slam. The whole build-up, seeing your name for a night match on Arthur Ashe is pretty crazy. The whole introduction, the interview before the match starts, walking out on the court, seeing the lights on, how many people, 18,000, cheering for you, especially an All-American match is pretty crazy.” I reminded him that there were even more people both inside and outside of Arthur Ashe watching him that night.

2012 will be the first full year of Sock’s professional career. It will also be his first full year of tennis at any level. “I think this next year will be the first time I will play a full schedule. Obviously, I went to a public high school for four years so I wasn’t able to play the full ATP  Challenger/Future circuit like some other guys who turned pro a little younger. So far, I’m loving it.”

Regarding the new expectations and burdens that turning pro entails, he indicates that “you usually don’t want to think of it as a job. The decision to turn pro is not so much different than when you’re an amateur. The only difference is you’re taking responsibility for yourself now. You’re not having people make decisions for you. Going into this new year, I have to start making decisions on my own, being a lot more professional about the approach to the tournaments and getting better at tennis and more physical in order to hang with these guys, especially in five set matches.”

But the biggest difference, Sock added, is that “these guys are so physical. They’re beasts on the court. If you want to hang with them and compete with the best in the world, you ‘ve obviously got to be in incredible shape and you’ve got to have an incredible mind, so I think that’s the thing that hits you when you see these guys play.”

You would think it would be difficult to play at the US Open and a Masters series event like Miami, as Sock has, and then wind up in a Challenger event the next week. But he seemed to dismiss the notion that there are extreme highs and lows. “It’s a different atmosphere, but every one’s still good at tennis, everyone can still hit the ball. Maybe less people are watching, but you have to try to get some points, and you have to get some matches in. Hopefully, I’ll get through it sooner than later.”

Sock follows College Football closely, most notably his Nebraska Cornhuskers. “I went to the (Nebraska-) Washington game, earlier this season when I was up there visiting my brother and my dad. I think they’re on the right track, and their first impression as far as the Big Ten is that the other teams obviously respect them. The defense was a little weaker this year than previous seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how next year goes. We just let go of our Defensive Coordinator and I think next  year they’ll do really well.”

Sock is currently managed by CAA, a sports management firm which represents Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco. Sock’s interactions with the firm’s other clients preceded his relationship with CAA. “Even before I was with them, at the Open last year, I got to warm up with Novak for a week. He liked the consistency of warming up with the same person, so I was either warming up with him or practicing with him when he was off. This year, at the Open, I got to know Murray. I mean, I got to talk with him and spend a little time with him.

His immediate plans are to return to Florida to compete in futures for the first two weeks of January and then resume training in preparation for San Jose and Memphis, where he was awarded wild cards to compete. The USTA announced on Monday that he will also be awarded a wild card to the 2012 Atlanta Tennis Championships next summer. “The next couple of months are basically based on how the the beginning of the year goes. The better you do, the better tournaments you’ll play. If not, it’s back to playing some Futures and Challenger and see how that goes.”

Steve Fogleman covered the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia. He manages the website Tennis Maryland and can be followed on twitter @TennisMaryland for further updates.

Raonic, Haase Could Get Company From Compatriots in Top 100 in ‘12

It can be lonely in the top 100, especially if you’re Andy Murray, Ernests Gulbis or Jurgen Melzer.

They’re just three of the 21 players that are their nation’s sole representative among that ranking benchmark. But while some of them, such as Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis, might not be getting any company from their compatriots any time soon, there are some national number-twos who could be backing up or surpassing their higher-ranked countrymen in 2012. Here’s a look at five of them.

Izak van der Merwe

Second-ranked player from South Africa behind Kevin Anderson

Over the course of the past four years, van der Merwe’s year-end ranking has improved—from 302 to at the end of 2008 to his current, and career-high, 113. In 2011, the 27-year-old South African won two Challenger titles on hard courts, and made the finals of another. He also advanced to the quarterfinals at the ATP World Tour 250 event in Johannesburg, where his countryman Anderson won their “home” tournament. Solid results at the start of 2012 could land van der Merwe alongside Anderson in the top 100.

Vasek Pospisil

Second-ranked player from Canada behind Milos Raonic

If it seems like Raonic appeared out of nowhere in 2011, the opposite should be expected of Pospisil in the year ahead. Big things are expected from the 21-year-old, who improved his ranking by nearly 200 points over the year. His most impressive feat in the past year was lifting his country into World Group play for the 2012 Davis Cup. Improving his place in the standings could be his next big accomplishment.

Go Soeda

Second-ranked player from Japan behind Kei Nishikori

The veteran reached his career-high ranking in 2011—90—with his best ATP Tour-level result coming in Thailand, where he reached the quarterfinals out of qualifying. He played in the main draw of three of the four Grand Slams during the year, and also won two Challenger events. Soeda had a solid finish to the year with quarterfinal finishes in two of his last three tournaments, giving him something to build upon in 2012.

Thomas Schoorel

Second-ranked player from the Netherlands behind Robin Haase

It’s been quite some time since the days of Richard Krajicek, Jan Siemerink and Paul Haarhuis. But a Dutch renaissance appears to be in effect based on the play of Haase and Schoorel behind him. The 22-year-old Schoorel cracked the top 100 in 2011, before finishing at 133, based on strong Challenger results, winning two tournaments in a row on clay. He also picked up wins over perennial top-100 players Jarkko Nieminen and Jeremy Chardy during the year, and made the second round of the French Open.

Andrey Golubev

Second-ranked player from Kazakhstan behind Mikhail Kukushkin

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for Kazakhstan’s former number one in 2011. After winning his first career title at the ATP World Tour 500 stop in Hamburg and making the finals in Kuala Lumpur in 2010, Golubev—whose career-high ranking is 33—notched a 6-26 record in the just-concluded season. Most of those wins came during the summer on outdoor hard courts, a sign that he began to rediscover some of his form after a rough start. A good run in the beginning of ’12 could help him fully put the memories of ’11, and that lower ranking, behind him.

Sampras, Moya, Lisicki Join Li Na for Exhibition Tournament in China

2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na received a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Wuhan, kicking off a two-day exhibition tournament on December 17, 2011 called “Li Na and Friends.” The festivities  also feature 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras and former world number number 1 Carlos Moya, as well as 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and WTA Comeback Player of the Year Sabine Lisicki. The event gave fans a chance to celebrate Li Na’s historic Grand Slam victory and brought tennis to a quickly-growing market in China.

Li’s slump since winning Roland Garros in June seems to have ended as she looked to be in better form this weekend after a month-long training camp in Germany.

“I trained quite solidly and effectively in Germany. I feel much better now compared with the past several months. But how good my form is, I think it will be tested at this tournament … I just want to relax my nerves after the Germany trip. It’s a feedback event for my home fans,” Li said after being greeted at the Wuham Tianhe airport by a cheering home crowd.

The 29-year-old was also nominated for the Laureus “Breakthrough Player of the Year” award on Thursday showing just how far the veteran has come not only in tennis, but in the international world of sports.

The first day of the exhibition featured a square off between Li and Lisicki followed by mixed doubles with Li teaming up with Sampras and Lisicki pairing with Moya. On Sunday, the men will take court for their singles match followed by a reverse mixed doubles match.

After fighting off two match points to defeat Li at this year’s Wimbledon 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, Germany’s Lisicki again praised Li’s mark on tennis.

“I am delighted to have been included in the ‘Li Na and Friends’ event. Li Na and I had one of the best quality matches of Wimbledon 2011 and it is always a pleasure to play a champion — especially a reigning Grand Slam Champion like Li Na who is so friendly and professional, something all of China should be very proud of,”  said the 22-year-old.

After growing up watching Sampras on TV, Li shared how starstruck she was upon meeting one of her idols.

“I always admired his skills and play, but only saw him on TV. But during the China Open this year, I met him for the first time outside the locker room, and he said ‘Hi, Li Na, I am Sampras. Congratulations for the French Open championship,'” said Li. “After he was gone, I had to ask myself, ‘Did that really just happen?'”

Likewise, Sampras reciprocated the feelings of mutual respect.

“It’s good to be back,” said Sampras, referring to his third trip to China in three months. “I’m a friend of Li Na now, which is a great honour for me.”

Check out more photos from the exhibition tournament’s press conference in wintery China below. Massive log cake included!

(Sabine Lisicki/Na Li photo courtesy of Lisicki’s Facebook page; Press Conference photos courtesy of IMG; Rest from LiNaAndFriends.com)

Andy Murray Could Open the Floodgates With a Slam Win in 2012

Though his 2011 campaign didn’t end exactly as he hoped, the year was still a successful one for world number four Andy Murray: five titles won (including two Masters Series 1000 victories); advancing to the semifinals or better at all four Grand Slams; and a period spent back in third place in the rankings.

Now there’s only one way Murray can follow up on those achievements, and that’s win a Grand Slam singles title in 2012. He’ll have his first opportunity to do so before he knows it.

And once the first one is out of the way, more can surely be expected.

And if he were looking for inspiration in that regard, he could do worse than look at the career arc of Hall-of-Famer Ivan Lendl. In the early-1980s, Lendl was known as a “choker” because for all of his success at the regular weekly tour stops, when it came Slam-time, more often than not, he fell short. Lendl actually lost his first four Major finals before prevailing at the French Open in 1984. From that point on, he never looked back, winning eight Majors total from ’84 to 1990.

But back to his early defeats in those Slam finals: They came at the hands of three of the game’s greatest players ever: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander. Murray has finished runner-up three times among the Majors: twice at the Australian Open and once at the U.S. Open. Last year’s loss at the Aussie was dealt to him by Novak Djokovic over the course of his dream season, and his other two defeats in Slam finals were meted out by Roger Federer.

In this day and age, there’s no shame in losing to those two, particularly in the later stages of a big tournament.

Of course, skill plays a tremendous part in making a breakthrough at tennis’ premier events, but luck can’t be discounted. Looking at Lendl once again can be cited: He was down two sets to none against John McEnroe before the American lost his concentration and let Lendl back into the match.

How the draw shakes out can be a big factor in determining victory: If Robin Soderling doesn’t beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open, does Federer complete his career Slam then?

In other words, a lot of outside factors go into making tennis history. Once it all comes together for Murray, it should become a little easier to add more titles to the ledger, and that “best player to never win a Major” tag will be a thing of memory.

ATP Tour’s Best Tennis Celebrations of 2011

What a year for tennis! As the men are in the middle of a so-called “off-season” training and rejuvenating their bodies and minds, we’ll take a look at the year’s best title-winning celebrations, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic, Gilles Simon, Milos Raonic and others! Man, can these fellas celebrate in style!

Novak Djokovic – Australian Open

There’s no better place to begin than with Novak Djokovic’s stellar start to the season at the Australian Open in January. Little did the world know what was to come:  10 titles, a career-defining record of wins and the ascension to World Number 1. There were no doubts the man knew how to party, but this year we were reminded time and again. The young Serb was so excited in Melbourne that he was even knocking down ceilings!

Gilles Simon – Apia International Sydney

That same month, Frenchman Gilles Simon let it roar after winning the Apia International Sydney against Viktor Troicki. The usually soft-spoken X-Men-Wolverine-crossed-with-that-teen-vampire-Edward-Cullen-dude wasn’t afraid to flaunt his joy in front of his staring opponent (enlarge the left photo, don’t take my word for it!). Unfortunately, Simon’s results wavered for the rest of the year, but we did see him re-enter into the top 15 after having fallen all the way to #41.

 

Milos Raonic – SAP Open

Young Canadian Milos Raonic burst onto the scene in early 2011, plowing his way through the qualifiers of the Australian Open before losing in the fourth round, taking his first title in San Jose at the SAP Open, and then pushing Andy Roddick in the finals of Memphis. Learn this face and learn it well, as we’ll probably be seeing a lot more of him in years to come. That is, if he can stay injury-free. Back troubles kept him off the tour for a while, even forcing him to skip the U.S. Open. Here’s hoping the 6’5″ stud celebrates like this more often!

Andy Roddick – Regions Morgan Keegan Championships

If you want pointers on how to properly dive on a tennis court, look no further than the match point-winning dive Andy Roddick displayed at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis. Against the younger and faster Raonic, Roddick went for broke in nearly every rally. As one of the more subdued celebrations in this collection, he appears shocked, before realizing the nearly impossible get had just won him the championship.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZb0ZWpSF-k&w=320&h=205

Ryan Sweeting – US Men’s Clay Court Championship

Two months later we saw another American champion, just this time it was first-time winner Ryan Sweeting who defeated Kei Nishikori in the final of the US Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, Texas. As is tradition, Sweeting took the champions’ plunge into the pool at the River Oaks Country Club, afterward celebrating with young fans. What more could you want in an easily lovable winner?

 

Rafael Nadal – Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

The month of April also saw one of tennis’ biggest champions win his first singles’ title of the year. Rafael Nadal commandingly defeated fellow Spaniard David Ferrer at the Monte Carlo Masters before doing a repeat the following week in Barcelona. With his genuine “jumping for joy” below, it sincerely seems as if Nadal didn’t think he’d see this day again. Not only had he not won a title in six months, but Monte Carlo also held a special place in his heart. At the end of 2009 and start of 2010, he had a year-long title drought that again abruptely ended with him taking home the Monte Carlo crown. This Nadal celebration is like so many of his previous ones: you can almost photoshop any background or court surface or crowd behind him and his joy would still be as palpable. Every one of his previous 44 titles meant just as much to him as any future one. Like a young boy reaching for candy at the highest shelf, Nadal exudes excitement, heels barely on the ground and smile captivating the stadium, in everyone of his titles.

 

Rafael Nadal – Barcelona Open

Not far from his winning ways, the title in Barcelona was just as sweet in celebration, but with an added touch. If only to somehow involve Marat Safin in the mix, the absurd size of this trophy deserves a mention on its own merit. Nadal learned from Safin’s trophy-destroying ways back in 2000 and handily hoisted the trophy above his head — all without breaking it! Looks like an extra tier of names has even been added since Safin’s time!

Nikolay Davydenko – BMW Open

Although not his best year, Nikolay Davydenko has compiled an impressive career. Nine consecutive years with at least one title is quite a feat, and his sole title this year at the BMW Open included an extra-large accessory, a white BMW to be precise. Let’s see how many ways there are to dress up a BMW with Davydenko: on the hood, in the driver’s seat – perhaps driving down the road on your left? Oh, we can only dream! Winning looks good on you, Kolya.

 

Juan Martin Del Potro – Estoril Open

There is perhaps no better “feel good” story than Juan Martin Del Potro’s comeback this year. Not only did he take the ATP award by the same title earlier this month, but he walked away with a healthy wrist and a return to #11 in the rankings after falling down to #485 back in January. Below is his double fist-pumping hungry defeat of Fernando Verdasco in Estoril, only his second title since winning his maiden slam at the 2009 U.S. Open. Good to have you back, big guy!

 

Novak Djokovic – Mutua Madrid Open

Winning his sixth title of the year in Madrid gave Djokovic the chance to take a fun photo with the ball kids for an awesome celebration. Nothing beats a player comfortable in his own shoes, surrounded by fans who breathe his every victory with him. The happiness on those kids faces doesn’t lie!

Rafael Nadal – Roland Garros

Nadal broke through again in May by winning Roland Garros and had the honor of celebrating with one of the best characters of all time, Mickey Mouse. And in Disneyland Paris, no less! There’s much to be said of his perseverance (and struggle) this year as he was demolished by Djokovic on 6-of-6 finals: four Masters tournaments and 2 grand slams. If it hadn’t been for Djokovic, we could have been witnessing a repeat of Nadal’s spectacular 2010 season. But instead of nine titles this year, he went home with only three.

 

Andy Murray – AEGON Championships

The Scot (or is that Brit, when he’s losing?) stepped it up this year and the UK media shouldn’t be complaining. Although he pulled the plug on London early to prepare himself for the Australian Open, Andy Murray had a solid 2011 capturing three more titles than last year’s two. Here, he basks in the glory of his first title of the year in London/Queen’s Club after coming back from a set down to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It had been nearly eight months since his previous title, and it seems he has forgotten they put the winner’s name on the trophy. Pure joy from an often self-deprecating Murray can make any year-end celebration list.

 

Novak Djokovic – Wimbledon

There is just no way of avoiding this guy. His celebrations have been called over the top and unnecessary, but can you blame him for savoring the moment (and the grass) at Wimbledon? Djokovic’s defining win there over Nadal made the naysayers quiet down and step back and just say “too good.”

 

Radek Stepanek – Legg Mason Tennis Classic

32-year-old veteran Radek Stepanek took the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. by storm, routing “Lucky Loser” Wayne Odesnik 6-1, 6-1 in the second round, downing Verdasco in the quarterfinals and finally owning Gael Monfils in the finals. To top it all off, he performed his famed victory dance move, “The Worm,” and sealed the deal by cheerily stealing the park ranger’s hat for a fun opportunity during the trophy ceremony.

 

Novak Djokovic – Rogers Cup

The Summer of the Serbian continued when Djokovic defeated Mardy Fish to take the Rogers Cup. Just call him “Superman Nole” with his contagious positive energy – even the chair umpire can’t contain himself!

 

Vasek Pospisil – Davis Cup World Group Play-offs

Canadians know how to do that deep carnal scream/roar with whatever you call this celebratory stance (wish there was video!). In September, Vasek Pospisil single-handedly won Canada’s Davis Cup World Group play-off vs Israel notching two singles and one doubles win. He started the year ranked 339 but is at a healthy 119 currently. Along with Raonic, he’s a force to be reckoned with and that’s definitely a reason to celebrate.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Moselle Open

Along with his thumb-wagging dance or stylish tuxedo ensemble, Tsonga always looks poised for a bumping party. And his first title of the year in Metz was no exception. Hard to believe that a player which only notched two 250-level titles this year nearly took the top spot at the podium at the ATP World Tour Finals. That’s either a testament to the depth of the current men’s game or a reflection of the struggle Tsonga fan’s face at every tournament: which Tsonga will show up this time? “Consistently-doomed Tsonga” or “consistently-crazy-awesome Tsonga”? His celebrations are indeed few and far in between.

Janko Tipsarevic – Malaysian Open

Janko Tipsarevic may never outgrow his boyish ways, but he took a step in the right direction as he not only won his first title at the Malaysia Open, but followed it up with a second title in Moscow less than one month later. In the past, Tipsarevic had been known as the only top player to never have won a title. But after using his Serbian comrades as inspiration, he’s even gone as far as inking his name into the year-end championships – a feat not many men in this sport can claim. And yes, Janko, that trophy has your name on it … (He and Murray are like two peas in a pod!)

 

Roger Federer – Swiss Indoors Basel

Ah, Roger Federer. Could a list as this really not mention his name? As one of the more calm and stoic players, when he gets fired up, you know he means business. After a “dismal” year with no grand slam titles to his name, he still took home four trophies, among them Basel. For a record-breaking fifth time, the Swiss Maestro planned to his hometown fans defeating Kei Nishikori before celebrating with the ball kids and LOTS of pizza. Much like his young self, maybe one of these youngsters will grow up to be the next tennis superstar.

Roger Federer – Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

Federer had a stellar end to the season as the following month he picked up the ATP World Tour Finals trophy for a record sixth time. With that came a check of $1.63 million as he went undefeated the entire week, and a bump up in the rankings back to #3, displacing Andy Murray. You can always count on Federer being relatively “fresh” for the year-end championships somehow. Players: take note and emulate.

 

Spain – Davis Cup Finals

Last, but definitely not least, is the “Dancing Happy Spaniards” of the Davis Cup. Their sound defeat of Argentina brought us not only these great photos of the team celebrating, but the Spaniards must have foresight as they did a pre-win celebration in the lockerroom prior to their finals match!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvHE6E-tL3A

And there you have it! Any good ones I’ve missed, share in the comments!

The Magic of Davis Cup

Tennis is known as a gentlemen’s sport, a well-mannered game where spectators are expected to be on their best behaviour at all times. Other sports are highlighted by audience chants of “DE-FENSE!”, breaking out in song and creative team encouragements. Tennis is all about quiet, please.

Tennis etiquette is thrown out the window for one event during the year, adding a dimension to the sport that is both exciting and refreshing. Davis Cup, the only team event on the tennis calendar, embodies passion, team spirit, national pride and is the ultimate physical and mental test. It brings out the best in players regardless of their ranking and propels them to dig deeper than they ever thought possible.

Everything that makes Davis Cup so special was on display this weekend during the final between two tennis powerhouses, Spain and Argentina, in Seville. On paper, it seemed Spain had a distinct advantage given that they had their hometown fans and the king of clay, Rafael Nadal on their side. The Spaniards jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Friday and seemed well on their way to another Davis Cup title. David Nalbandian, Argentina’s Davis
Cup stalwart, teamed with Eduardo Schwank to cut the deficit in half after a masterful performance in Saturday’s doubles rubber. Argentine hopes rested on the shoulders of Juan Martin Del Potro who had to recover from a gruelling five set loss to David Ferrer on Friday to try and pull off a monumental upset against Nadal to keep the tie alive for his country.

The much-anticipated duel certainly lived up the hype and captured all that is magical about Davis Cup during more than four hours of tennis bliss. Del Potro came out like a man on a mission to take the opening set and get an early break in the second. Urged on by the Spanish faithful, Nadal turned the matched around as Del Potro seemed to tire with each passing point. Trailing two sets to one and down a break in the fourth with both of his thighs heavily wrapped, the Argentine somehow found another gear. He pummelled forehands, played inside the baseline and found himself serving for the fourth set. But, the final momentum shift of the match went the way of Nadal and his tenacious defense. The Spanish hero once again played the part as he hit a forehand winner down the line on match point to allow his country to taste Davis Cup glory once again.

The fourth set, in and of itself, was something to behold. The compete level on every point was remarkable. Play was halted on several occasions because fans for both teams broke into spontaneous chanting and applause. Emotions were high, the fist pumping was fierce and the celebrations were incredibly heartfelt. Seeing grown men break down in both tears of joy and anguish showed just how much it means to play for your country.

Over the past few years, the Davis Cup format has come under heavy scrutiny and rightfully so. The competition may be difficult to follow, but this year’s final reminded us all that is right about this one-of-a-kind tennis event that can be experienced in nations around the world.

Argentina Stays Alive with Doubles Victory – Live from the Davis Cup

by Stephanie Neppl

The Argentinean fans seemed to have known something the rest of us didn’t before the start of today’s do-or-die doubles match in the Davis Cup Final in Seville, Spain.

David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank needed to defeat Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez in order to keep Team Argentina’s hopes alive. So as the crowd waited for the ceremony and match to begin, the Argentinean fans in particular were extremely energized and vocal. Perhaps it was their way of blessing the stadium and court so things would go in their favor.

And they certainly did. The Argentinean duo played near perfect tennis. Nalbandian in particularly served very well and came up with huge serves whenever he was in danger. Schwank also was solid and very much stepped up to the challenge of ensuring at least one of Sunday’s singles matches still mattered.

The Spanish team, on the other hand, was largely abysmal. For every one of Verdasco’s scorching winners there were five bad misses. Lopez’s net play was tight and erratic. Nothing the team tried seemed to work. Their shot selection, their court coverage – neither were good enough. Verdasco was certainly the most emotional player on the court, and he used a  lot of energy reacting to his play. He frequently tried to get the Spanish crowd to make some noise and help them get into the match but the latter never happened.

After losing the first set, the Spaniards went down a double break. The Spanish players on the sidelines were still and quiet as Verdasco and Lopez went down 6-4, 6-2.

In the third set, the Argentines again broke early but midway through the set it seemed as tho the Spaniards might make a match of it. Up a break, Nalbandian served and faced several break points. Each time the break point was forced, Verdasco tried to pump up his partner and the crowd. Each ad point, Nalbandian served big and Lopez missed the return.  The short-lived threat to pull even was gone and the Spaniards would go down in straight sets.

After Friday night’s exciting five-set match between David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro, it didn’t seem as if the crowd in the Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla could get any louder. But in the first set of today’s doubles match, it did. Both the teams’ supporters seemingly got into a chant fest after just a few games. Neither would stop blowing horns, pounding drums or singing until the other stopped and neither did, even though play was being disrupted. Team captains Albert Costa and Tito Vazquez spoke with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and assumedly tried to see what could be done. Often, points would begin amidst all the chatter while in other points fans threw out whatever distraction they could during a player’s serve and the teams just got on with it.

So now it’s up to Juan Martin Del Potro to try and keep Argentina’s hopes of its first Davis Cup alive. After last night’s heartbreaking five-set loss to David Ferrer, it’s going to be a huge challenge for him to recover enough emotionally and physically to tackle Rafael Nadal on clay.

Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.

Ferrer Wins Thriller as Nadal Schools Monaco – Live from the Davis Cup

by Stephanie Neppl

Words won’t do justice to try and convey what the atmosphere of a Davis Cup Final feels like. Even an hour before play started at Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla on Friday afternoon, the Argentinean and Spanish chants had begun and they would only intensify through the day and what would become a late night.

This was never going to be a quiet affair, but Spain versus Argentina was beyond loud. The crowd was boisterous, it was mischievous, it was ecstatic. Drums, brass instruments and horns were allowed inside the venue and they were used often, and not always appropriately.

When the ceremony began, I got goosebumps as the players were announced onto the court. Such applause, such appreciation and such idolatry particularly for David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal. Rafa was of course the last of all players to be introduced and he was lovely in acknowledging his home country.

The first match, as expected, was very one-sided. Rafa  has been a big match player for most of his career, and he had the massive advantage of playing on his favourite surface in his home country. It wasn’t at all that Juan Monaco played badly, Rafa was just vintage Rafa on clay. It is amazing to watch this Rafa – the way he moves the ball around, the great way he is able to defend. This is just one example why it is so hard to put Rafa away on clay:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVdmcm0oqno

In the end, there was nothing Monaco could do as the King of Clay put Spain up 1-0 with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 win.

The second match would turn into those Davis Cup matches fans hear about and read about but few are lucky enough to see live. Well last night 26,000 of us got to witness Davis Cup greatness and the matchup was ideal. The young, tall Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro versus the veteran, much less statuesque, David Ferrer. Del Potro can annihilate the tennis ball but is not the greatest mover on court, particularly on clay. In the first set, Del Potro looked quite hopeless at times. His heavy shots were returned, and returned well over and over again and when he did venture to net things got ugly.

Somehow, Del Potro was able to turn the tide and starting hitting with much more conviction, actually winning some of the longer rallies that earlier he was unable to do. Del Potro would led two sets to one. The Spanish bench was looked tense, the Argentinean fans much more alive after they had little to cheer for in the first match. Alberta Costa was visibly tense and started to complain to chair umpire Carlos Ramos about the noise the Argentinean fans were making (particularly during a player‘s serve).

All bets were off by this stage of the match. The Spanish fans loudly cheered when Del Potro missed a first serve, horns were blown at will and the crowd was on its feet after most points. It’s no wonder the match lasted nearly five hours.

Most fans knew that if Argentina was to keep itself in this tie Del Potro would need to win his match in four. David Ferrer would be a clear favourite to win should the match go five sets – he is the epitome of fitness. And when Del Potro was broken to give Ferrer the fourth set, it all seemed over.

Ferrer raced to a 5-1 lead and though Del Potro won two straight games to stay alive, fatigue had set in and Ferrer would clinch a 2-0 lead for Team Spain with a 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The celebration by Ferrer, the Spanish team and the crowd was an explosion of joy. One can only imagine what emotions will be shown on court today should Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco clinch a Spanish victory in the doubles as they take on David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank today.

Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.

 

(Ferrer and stadium photos via Getty Images; Nadal via AP)

Djokovic Visits Former Coach Gencic with Wimbledon Trophy; Talks About Goals and His Head in 2012

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has been busy! After finishing up at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, he spent the weekend in Belgrade celebrating and visiting his childhood coach Jelena Gencic, received GQ’s “Ace of the Year” award, filmed a movie cameo in Bulgaria, and traveled to Bosnia to pick up another award, while talking with reporters about his outlook for the 2012 season – and joking about his head.

News broke out on Wednesday that Novak Djokovic would be playing himself in the upcoming Sylvester Stallone-written movie “Expendables 2,” alongside actors Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Filming for the tennis star took place in Sofia, Bulgaria along with some extraneous fun relishing the citiy’s trendy night life.

Interestingly enough, the only clue to Djokovic’s initial post-season adventures came by way of countryman Janko Tipsarevic, who said the two were heading to the Maldives for vacation after the ATP World Tour Finals. But I guess when Sylvester Stallone, your childhood idol, asks you to star in a movie, you don’t deny the opportunity.

First on the agenda though was a weekend of celebrating that included a night out at club Magacin in Belgrade.

The trip to Belgrade, however, was inspired for an entirely different reason. American television company CBS is currently filming a documentary on the world’s #1 tennis player, and it included a sweet reunion with his childhood coach Jelena Gencic after not having seen each other for four-and-a-half years. She also revealed the secret to Djokovic’s match point-saving return forehand winner against Roger Federer in the semifinals of the U.S. Open earlier this year.

Djokovic arrived to her house with a big hug, telling her “I have brought that which we have been dreaming about and which I had promised you I would win.” He then showed her his prized Wimbledon trophy. Gencic held the trophy and replied that her “happiness at this moment has no end.”

Before going into the house, he asked to see her garden. It was the same one which they had spent countless hours conversing in and where he had told her he would one day be #1.

As they entered the house, the jokes began and it became reminiscent of a time many years prior. Gencic teased her pupil and confessed she still had his childhood racquet from where everything had originated 17 years ago.

Gencic: “Do you remember this racquet?”

Djokovic answered jokingly: “Of course, I remember! I know that the cap fell off the bottom of the handle and I know that … oh my, you never changed the strings!”

Gencic replied: “Yes, I did!”

They were like old friends, with Gencic even bringing up his famed forehand return winner against Federer at the U.S. Open: “On match point [down], you played the most impossible shot, the most difficult shot …” But Djokovic interrupted, “How is it impossible when that is the shot we were training for for years?” To which Gencic joked, “But that’s why I’m bringing it up!” followed by laughter from both. Djokovic admitted to media that he learned his signature “crosscourt returns and down-the-line backhands” from Gencic’s unique training style when he was a kid. All things have come full circle as that save on match point has now become his career-defining moment.

Djokovic ended his visit with an invitation for Gencic as his guest for the opening day of Wimbledon in 2012. But she joked, “Nole, prepare me a seat two weeks later when the finals are, so we can celebrate a new [Wimbledon] trophy together!”

“If I didn’t have Jelena Gencic or my parents who believed in me and my potential, I probably wouldn’t have had the desire to become world #1,” Djokovic concluded. See the full video of their reunion below including video footage of Djokovic hitting on court as a kid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH_3zzqReZg

Following this momentous visit, he departed for a short trip to Banja Luka, Bosnia to accept the country’s “Person of the Year” award. There, Djokovic was asked by reporters concerning his movie role to which he said that “he had just filmed his [movie cameo] yesterday,” calling the cast “legends” and jokingly admitted that he’s better as a tennis player than an actor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTxSZUebk3k&feature=player_detailpage#t=96s

During the same news conference, he also talked about his goals for 2012.

“It’s crucial that if I prepare well for next year, I will have a great chance to begin the year [right], and it is that beginning that is crucial for the entire season. So, in Australia I’ll try again to get the title, and I believe [my play at the Australian Open] will give me good knowledge about how the rest of my season could go. I think I’m at the top of my career and my abilities, and I believe in the quality [of my game], and why not? I will always have bigger goals.

When asked about his injury status, he playfully replied: “I don’t have any injuries. I have enough time to heal everything – especially my head, which is a little crazy.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_kPaXJ68v8

(Magacin photo courtesy of HelloMagazin.rs; screen shots via YouTube)