by James A. Crabtree
Normality has been restored, with the exploits of Janowicz, Darcis, Del Potro, Stakhovsky, Brown, Kubot and Verdasco disappearing into the vault named Wimbledon folklore.
After all the hiccups throughout the draw the number one and two ranked players meet in the final. Wimbledon 2013, like 33 of the last 34 Slams will be won by one of the Big Four.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, currently the best hard-court players tour, know each other’s games well. Too well, having played18 times, with Djokovic leading 11–7. This tally includes three Grand Slam finals. The 2011 and 2013 Australian Opens, won by Djokovic and the 2012 US Open, won by Murray.
For Murray to win this one he will have to find influence from a multitude of sources. He is coming off a tough fight back victory against Verdasco, and a solid win against Janowicz. There is no reason to believe he has peaked. Also, he has beaten his rival on the big stage but also on the same court, one year ago during the Olympic semi-final. He knows he can’t rely on just rallying out his opponent. He needs surprise attacks, rather than just the passive get backs. Somehow he needs to persuade the Serb to over hit his backhand and question the serve that can get tight under pressure. He needs to keep Novak guessing, find a way into his brain while keeping his own mind unruffled. Conversely, the Serb will be looking to play the very same mind games, and very similar tactics to the Scot.
Wimbledon 2013 will serve to either even the score for Murray or push Djokovic past the tallies of Becker and Edberg with six total slams and onto seven to equal Wilander and McEnroe.
Novak has reached this level by shaking the old label as someone who would quit and crumble. These days he doesn’t merely tolerate tough battles, in truth they galvanize him, not that he has had many this Wimbledon. When he is pushed to the brink he screams, dives, slides, rips and fights to the bitter end better than no man. A tennis machine, possibly inspired by Nikola Tesla, is always dangerous even when he is playing badly; he is always in the game. Novak carries the air of invincibility. He doesn’t miss an easy shot. His serve is rarely broken. He doesn’t make unforced errors. He chases down balls that most players wouldn’t have even attempted. The only real worry is the fact he has only been pushed once all tournament, in that absurdly good semi-final against Del Potro. But is it foolhardy to question someone who has been good?
If Novak claims his second Wimbledon crown he will further cement his name as a legend, all round good guy, great player on all surfaces and poster boy for the new Serbia. If Murray wins his first Wimbledon crown, and the countries first in seventy-seven years, the Scot will enter the realms if immortality. Murray hysteria will abound. Aside from all his extra million dollar deals will be surely be a Knighthood, statue at the All England Club, a new Column in Trafalgar square opposite Nelson and likely divinization.
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
As tough as Federer’s draw has been on paper this was his first real test.
Jo- WilfredTsonga is a big, fast and intimidating player who knows what it feels like to beat his rival in five sets.
Add to that Tsonga’s assorted collection of thunderous ground shots, booming serves, tantalizing volleys and a crowd he keeps enchanted, Federer had a problem.
Most people attending, aside from those who had national pride or an unhealthy devotion at stake, were happy to see either man win.
The first four sets were shared evenly and at that point both players deserved to win. Consistency, fitness and strategy were comparable, although Tsonga’s style was generally more flamboyant. By this point people watching were thinking up elaborate excuses why they wouldn’t be into work tomorrow morning, in anticipation of a Wawrinka Djokovic battle royale.
“Jo was really pressing forward today, playing aggressive, pushing me to come up with the plays and get one more extra ball back. I think I did well. I’ve been moving well all week, or the last couple weeks. You know, I guess also not having played any tournaments leading in, today was tricky because I haven’t been in a match like this for some time, and I’m happy I came through.” said a relieved and happy Federer who added to his own history books with his 10th straight Australian Open semi-final.
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went toe to toe with Federer but failed to deliver when it really mattered most, losing 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3. Tsonga was bidding to deny Federer any more statistical achievements and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semi-final.
The Frenchman had taken the fourth set brilliantly seizing the opportunities when they presented themselves. Sadly he started the fifth without the desperation needed to outlast the most successful player of all time. Something was missing and with it Federer’s confidence multiplied.
But luck was on Federer’s side during this kind spirited affair. Even whilst a break up he was the fortunate recipient of a net cord that dribbled over the net, with Tsonga fruitlessly running all the way past the net and into Federer’s court to which Tsonga, with a wry smile, could only mock hit a ball at the Swiss master.
Tsonga’s downcast expression following his defeat was more striking than the words he used afterwards when speaking to the press.
“You know, I’m a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But, you know, in other way I played a good match. I was solid. I was there every time. I keep my level of concentration, you know, really high all times. You know, I just gave my best today, so I’m proud of that. But, you know, I’m not happy to lose, and I already look forward for the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time.”
Everybody is so quick to comment on Federer’s age, almost without realisation how old everybody else is getting. Tsonga and Berdych are both 27, David Ferrer is 30. Their athletic biological clock is ticking by too and all three need to renounce their membership from the illustrious ‘nearly men’ group.
A subdued Tsonga reflected afterwards of the Federer he lost to today but beaten at Wimbledon two years ago. “In 2011 I think it was not a really good year for him, and I’m sure he’s more in a good shape. He was in a good shape last year and he’s in a good shape at the beginning of this year, so I think it’s a different player.”
A different player Andy Murray, Federer’s next opponent, should be wary of.
I really feel bad for the tennis players over the holidays. They work so hard for so little and barely have time to relax! So if I were the Tennis Santa, what would I bring them to lighten their load and bring a smile to their faces during this season of cheer?
The first thing I would wrap up and put under the e-tree would be the Fountain of Youth. Did you know that it’s actually an Archaeological Park in Florida? How cool! I’d pass out a lot of these since quite a few players are at or around the age of doom (30) and could use the assistance turning back the clock and prolonging their tennis primes. I wouldn’t give one to Federer though. He doesn’t need any help.
Speaking of turning back time, I’ve found the perfect gift to help Andy Roddick re-discover his days of glory- or at least his days of hair. The Afro-Visor!
On the other end of the spectrum Robin Soderling just got a new puppy, so I will certainly have to bring him an embarrassing costume for the adorable pet!
I thought I’d get the cerebral Sam Stosur something special to help those match to-do lists stay put. Sweat-bands and sharpies are too finicky of a combination for a Grand Slam Champion! She’ll love these “To-Do Tattoos”.
For Mikhail Youzhny, and maybe the rest of his Russian compatriots, I’d like to try to eliminate the brain farts on the court. Therefore, why not help them get out of their system off the court? The “Brain Fart Whoopie Cushion” should do the trick.
And finally, I’d like to prolong the day that Jelena Jankovic inevitably runs out of entertaining excuses for losing tennis matches. With this “Instant Excuse Ball” the colorful Serbian should have material for years to come!
So that’s my list- what about you? What would you virtually gift to your favorite players if you were the Tennis Santa? Feel free to share in the comments section, or tweet me with your lists. And no matter what you celebrate, be sure to have a safe and happy Holiday season. There’s no time to be too naughty, the new tennis season is just around the corner!
The final eight players for the ATP World Tour Finals are clearly the big names in men’s tennis and have dominated all season-long. They are set to face off on November 20-27 at the O2 arena in London and fans will be treated to witnessing some of the best tennis players of any generation.
The two round-robin groups are:
Group A: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Andy Murray (GBR), David Ferrer (ESP), Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Group B: Rafael Nadal (ESP), Roger Federer (SUI), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Mardy Fish (USA)
But while the names are familiar, much has changed in the past 12 months.
Defending champion Roger Federer has experienced an up-and-down year, dropping out of the top three and failing to capture a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002. However, the Swiss maestro should never be counted out and showed he still has magic left with title-winning performances at Basel and the Paris Masters recently. Federer, a 30-year-old father of twins, also ended world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten streak of 43 matches at the French Open semifinals and earned his 800th career win last week.
Djokovic has been virtually unstoppable at times during the year and captured the Australia Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open to compile one of the best individual seasons of all time. The 24-year-old Serb conquered his fitness woes and played with confidence to match his talent and skill. Sitting behind Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal for most of his career, Djokovic proved he could win in any condition, any surface and any situation, and will deservedly finish the 2011 season on top. Djokovic, however, is still recovering from a nagging shoulder injury that forced him to withdraw in Paris.
The oft-injured Nadal also enters the World Tour Finals recovering from ailment, as he has not played since the Shanghai Masters last month, electing to prepare his body for London and Davis Cup. The world No. 2 enjoyed a solid season, winning his sixth French Open and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to friendly rival Djokovic. The two captivated tennis fans all year with their intense matches that culminated in one of the most thrilling U.S. Open finals.
With a triumph in Shanghai, Britain’s Andy Murray overtook Federer as the world No. 3. Almost surprisingly, the Scot was perhaps the most consistent player on the Grand Slam stage aside from Djokovic, with a finals appearance at the Australian Open and three semifinal finishes. The brooding, seemingly self-loathing player has dedicated himself to fitness and after a deflating defeat at the hands of Djokovic at Melbourne, has rediscovered his game and confidence and should be a force at the World Tour Finals and in the 2012 season.
Spain’s David Ferrer and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should prove formidable and could spoil the party for any of the top four. World No. 5 Ferrer enters the event with solid wins at Shanghai, Valencia and the Paris Masters. Tsonga, at World No. 6, matched his career high ranking by reaching the finals in Paris, where he lost to Federer. Of the bottom four, only Tsonga has a winning career record against Djokovic.
Rounding out the top eight are Czech Tomas Berdych and World Tour Finals newcomer American Mardy Fish. In the quarterfinal of the Paris Masters, Berdych stunned Murray and secured his second consecutive World Tour Finals berth. Fish, who overtook fellow countryman Andy Roddick as the top American player this year, has shown consistent top victories that were lacking in the past. He enters the tournament despite being troubled with a hamstring strain.
The end-of-the-season round robin competition begins this Sunday, November 20th and should showcase some thrilling matchups to close out the 2011 ATP season.
By Maud Watson
Blow to the Cause
The saying goes that “there’s no place like home,” and that was certainly the case for Roger Federer last week in Basel. The Swiss Maestro won his home tournament for the fifth time, ending a 10-month title drought in the process. But while the victory provides Federer some much-needed momentum and confidence going into the last remaining tournaments of the year, the bigger story was his comments pertaining to the recent gripes about the length of the ATP season. Unlike many of his other high profile fellow competitors, Federer doesn’t see the schedule as a huge issue, putting more of the responsibility on the players to schedule themselves appropriately. He is correct in saying that it’s better to have too many rather than too few tournaments, and players need to realize where they perform best and put themselves in the best position to peak at the right time. So while there is definite merit to Murray’s suggestion of slightly reducing the number of required events, Federer is the one to have hit the nail on the head. His sentiments are undoubtedly music to tournament directors’ ears, and his view will carry some weight against the opposing school of thought’s arguments. Federer’s record speaks for itself, as you don’t win as many tournaments as he has without putting in a lot of court and travel time over the course of several seasons. If he’s been able to do it with little complaint and little injury, there’s no reason why others should not be able to follow in a similar fashion. And if they can’t, maybe they need to take a hard look at what else is causing their injuries aside from just the length of the season (such as poor personal scheduling, style of play, etc.).
One for All
The field is set for London, and it comes courtesy of Tomas Berdych’s win over Janko Tipsarevic on Thursday in Paris. Berdych, who was next in line to qualify, had to dig himself out huge holes in both sets to secure the victory, and as happy as he was to earn the win, two others were equally as thrilled. The Czech’s victory also ensured that the remaining two London berths went to Tsonga and Fish. This may have proven key for Mardy Fish, who after blowing two match points against Juan Monaco in a second set tiebreak, ultimately had to retire from the match early in the third with a niggling left hamstring strain. Fish will hopefully be able to take advantage of having the luxury to pull out of the match, knowing he was already London bound, in order to recuperate and be in the best shape possible for the final tournament of 2011.
Fresh off her win in Bali for the second straight year, a confident Ana Ivanovic stated she thinks she has what it takes to get back to the top. Ordinarily, this might be considered a pipe dream given her results the last couple of years, but with the current topsy-turvy nature of the WTA, it’s not impossible. She’s quickly turning her game around since bringing on Nigel Sears, and with a victory to cap off her season, she’ll be looking to build on her results early in 2012. And while her team admits it’s a big ask to return to the apex of the rankings, the WTA could use her in the latter rounds of the competition. Here’s to hoping she’s back in the mix and on her way to playing Istanbul at the end of next year.
Now or Never
Andy Roddick’s 2011 campaign came to an abrupt end, as Andy Murray showed no mercy in dismantling the American’s game to win the match handily 6-2, 6-2. But it will be more than just this loss that will be leaving a sour taste in Roddick’s mouth. For the first time since 2001, he will finish outside of the Top 10. For sure, going into 2012 Roddick is going to put in the time and effort, because he’s always been a fighter. He also seems confident that his slump in form is due to needing to improve his fitness and movement. But there’s no denying that he hasn’t seemed to be enjoying himself out there much of the season. Nor does he have the personality of a Hewitt or a Ferrero, making it difficult to see him taking the approach of those two struggling veterans. So, barring a favorable turnaround in results, it might be time to start asking ourselves if 2012 will be the final season for the man who has carried the American banner the last decade.
Cherry on Top
After a horrendous autumn, Petra Kvitova righted the ship in stunning fashion to finish the season strong with her win in Istanbul, making a very strong case to be named the WTA’s Player of the Year for 2011. But the hard-hitting Czech wasn’t done yet. She valiantly led her nation against Fed Cup powerhouse Russia to secure a sixth title for her country and first since 1988. She certainly didn’t need the win to serve a springboard going into 2012, but it’s a great addition to her growing résumé. If she can continue to play this way consistently, we may be witnessing the dawning of a new and fruitful era in Czech tennis.
Anyway, the clay court season thus far, one word….” NADAL”….the kid is from another planet!!! Mentally and physically, on this surface, he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen, and probably the best of all time…and he’s only just 23 (in a few days)!!!
For me, what makes him so good are a few things. Firstly, his ability to “compartmentalize” his thoughts. He NEVER gets ahead of himself. He only focuses on the present. He only ever talks about his next opponent, never who he might meet later in the draw and potential match-ups down the line, thereby giving respect to each guy he faces and taking nothing for granted. And on the match court, its more of the same. He rarely lets the previous point affect the next one and he has this ability to play each point like there was none before, or none to follow.
Secondly, he loves the battle more than anyone! It’s the “process” of winning that seems to consume all his effort and he constantly rewards himself with a “Vamos,” sometimes as early as the second or third game, if he’s had a tough hold. And coupled with the joy he takes out of each victory, again often early on in a tournament, is so refreshing and just goes to show how much he enjoys the “small” victories. Let’s face it, anyone can enjoy the big or classic wins!
From a physical point of view, his movement is “two days on horseback” ahead of his peers.(Must be said, Djokovic has been impressive with his challenge). I’m sure good genes help, given the athletic ability of his uncles, it obviously runs in the family. His footwork is the key to his shot-making, both in attacking and defending. It’s so easy to get a little slow with your feet when attacking because you generally got time on the ball, but Rafa never lets his intensity wane, and always makes sure he’s perfectly setup to pull the trigger!!!
Can anyone beat him in Paris? Not unless they cut off his left arm…and even then, he’s pretty damn good with the right one as we all know! The problem for the chasing pack is doing it over five sets. The semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid was an epic, but remember that was at altitude, quick clay courts and best-of-three sets and the Serb still couldn’t get the W!!! I can’t see him hanging with Rafa over five sets. I think Murray can hang with him over five sets, but he doesn’t move well enough on this stuff. Firstly, he’s gotta get far enough to meet Nadal, and secondly, I can’t see him handle the Spaniard, because Rafa will out-maneuver him over the distance. Hard court, different story, it just shows how important movement is at the highest level, and clay is unique in that regard!
What about Roger? I can’t see it happen. I don’t read much into the Madrid win for the obvious reasons already discussed. Wimby and the US Open are his best bets to bag another major, but even those are gonna be a lot tougher than previous years.
Djokovic is the main challenger, no question – the results don’t lie! Hopefully he and Nadal are in separate sections of the draw. That would be my preferred final.
Watchout for: Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic
Hope you all looking foward to Rafa being challenged at Rolland Garros as much as I am.
Together with Wimbledon, its my favorite Slam! I love “The City” from the restaurants to coffee shops, theatre, night life….there is no place like it!!! Apart from the fact it was my most successful Slam (1x Semi’s and 3x Quarterfinalist in doubles) and my favorite surface, I always felt at home in the Big Apple. The tournament paid a lot of bills for me! Also the wind can blow there…i probably was one of the few guys who liked that (conditions could be as windy as hell at my hometown in Durban, South Africa when i was growing up as a youngster) its a great equalizer, and tests your mental resilience, and its a factor, no question, together with the heat and the crowd, it makes for heady cocktail!
So who’s gonna handle the conditions best? That’s the million dollar question. Let’s stay away from Nadal, Federer and Djokovic for a while, because we know they are the favorites, any person can tell you that/ Lets take a look at their various sections in the draw and try pick out some “dark horses.”
Rafa, top of the pile, first time ever at a Slam, has got a tough Quarter!! Berdych ( who by the way I think is grossly under achieving!) can be a handful a for any of the top three, and he had a great record against Rafa, until recently, plays Karlovic potentially in the third round. Nadal will play either of the two I suspect. Those are two guys he won’t be happy to see in his section that’s for sure! Remember the courts play QUICK at Flushing Meadows and those two guys will love that!
Also you have Blake and Nalbandian in the Quarter, ANOTHER two players who have the measure of Rafa. Remember James’s most successful Slam is here, and he’ll be tough to beat under lights at home! As far as Nalbandian is concerned, who knows which guy is gonna turn up, he’s probably short of some matches.
In the next quarter you got the likes of Ferrer, Simon, Youhzny, Murray and the “on fire” Juan Martin Del Potro (he’s won four straight tournaments!) Murray was gonna be one of my picks to make the semis, but that’s a tough section. Del Potro vs. Canas is a very interesting first round matchup, never easy to play someone from your own country and someone you probably looked up to as a youngster. Del Potro will do well to get over this first hurdle! and keep that tsunami size wave of confidence on a roll! I think the fact Murray lost early in Beijing is actually beneficial, because he’ll have more time to recover and get acclimatized back in the US. It’s so tough to play your very best when you are globetrotting like the tennis players have been doing this past month. Murray is my pick to come thru, but only just ahead of David Ferrer, who remember last year put Rafa out…..and they’re in the same half this year???
The Bottom half is definitely easier, I think. Unfortunately I don’t think Roddick is gonna make it as far as the Semis. Djokovic will see to that, if not Ernests Gulbis in the second round. That is my outside pick there! Gonzo is playing well, but that section will be all Djokovic
Then finally the fourth quarter – interesting. A few dangerous floaters – Almagro, Verdasco ( Fernando has had a great season so far!) and Andreev have all had a good year. What about the Haas vs. Gasquet 1st round!!! That’s rough for either player. But perhaps the most interesting matchup, could be the potential third round encounter between Stepanek and Federer. “Steps” beat him in Rome earlier this year and is a tricky customer even when Roger was playing well…..but considering how susceptible the Swiss Maestro is looking now, that match could be a massive headache for “Big Rog” And if Fed does get bounced early, which one of the above mentioned guys will capitalize…..Probably NONE….That’s because Davydenko is in that section. The guy who always finds his way into the last four, and the one player we always say very little about!!! But boy has he earned his stripes, remember the win in Miami this year, he drilled Rafa in the finals! Beware the Russian.
I can’t wait for Monday! To see the players go toe to toe at a Slam is the ultimate! (I’m not a big fan of tennis being an Olympic sport, so I wasn’t that in to it). I would love to see Murray win his first Slam, it would spice things up even more at the top of the rankings. Don’t forget he won the Junior title there back in 2004, so there’s that ‘feel good factor’ for him in NYC!!!
Enjoy the spectacle!