Stan Wawrinka Beats Andy Murray To Advance To Final Four In London

by Kevin Craig


Stan Wawrinka disappointed the London crowd on Friday at the ATP World Tour Finals as he was able to knock home favorite Andy Murray out of the event. Wawrinka and Murray battled for just under two hours in what was a very high quality match. Wawrinka will be able to continue his hopes of winning the year-end championship, while Murray can now begin his preparations for the Davis Cup Final against Belgium. Rafael Nadal also grabbed an exciting win on Friday, as he dispatched fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in a tight three setter. Meanwhile, in the doubles event, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took a massive step towards finishing the year as the No. 1 doubles team.

The most anticipated match of the day saw a pair of two-time grand slam champions face off as Wawrinka took on home favorite Murray. A tight first set saw Wawrinka serve for it after breaking for a 5-3 lead, but Murray was able to break right back to even the set back up. The set eventually went to a tiebreak, where Murray would take a 4-2 lead but then go on to make four unforced errors and lose the tiebreak 7-4. The disappointment of dropping the first set after having an advantage carried over into the second set, as Murray was broken in the first game. Wawrinka grabbed another break later in the set and served for the match at 5-2, but appeared to tighten up. Murray broke the first time Wawrinka served for the match, then held at love to put all the pressure back on the 2015 French Open champion as he attempted to serve out the match again. The nerves were evident on Wawrinka’s side of the court, but he was able to hold on through a nine-point game and win the match, 7-6(4), 6-4. The shot-making from both men was at an incredibly high level for the duration of the match, but Wawrinka was able to win the bigger points, as he saved eight of the 10 break points he faced. The result sets up an all-Suisse semifinal, as Wawrinka will take on Roger Federer.

Nadal was able to dispatch Ferrer in what may have been the most exciting match of the singles event, getting the 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 win. Some fans were questioning how much effort Nadal should have put into the match after going down a set considering the fact that he had already clinched the first place spot. However, anyone who has watched a Nadal match at any point of his career knows that he will give 100 percent effort until the final point, and that was no different in this match. Nadal got off to a very quick start in the first set, going up two breaks, but Ferrer was up to the task and fought back, eventually forcing a tiebreaker. Ferrer won the tiebreak, but it was all Nadal from there as he didn’t face a break point in sets two or three. This impressive win from Nadal is a continuation of his tremendous run of form, a trend he will hope to see continue into his semifinal match with Novak Djokovic.

The first doubles match of the day saw the team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo defeat Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, 3-6, 7-5, 10-6. The loss for Matkowski and Zimonjic sent them out of London after being the only doubles team in the tournament to go winless. Not much separated the two teams as Dodig and Melo only won three more points over the course of the match, but they were able to win the bigger points as they won 76 percent of their second serve points. The win set up Dodig and Melo in a good position to advance to the semifinal round, but they still needed some help to come from the other match.

Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took on the French duo of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the last doubles match of round robin play to decide what the semifinal round would look like. Herbert and Mahut needed a win in order to make their way out of the group stage, but they were unable to do so as Rojer and Tecau played top-level tennis, winning the match, 6-4, 7-5. The stat lines for this match are almost identical except for one crucial stat, break point conversion. Rojer and Tecau won three out of seven break chances, while Herbert and Mahut were unable to win the vital points, going one for six. The loss for the US Open champions sends them home after a very successful year, while Rojer and Tecau will be joined by Dodig and Melo in the semifinal round.

Saturday at the World Tour Finals will be a great day of tennis as the semifinal round of the event will be played. The results on Friday saw the semifinal lineup set up to see Roger Federer face Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal battle with Novak Djokovic, while Rojer/Tecau will face the Bryan brothers and Bopanna/Mergea will take on Dodig/Melo. That match between Rojer/Tecau and the Bryan brothers could potentially decide who will end the year as the No. 1 doubles team, so there will be loads of tension and excitement in that match-up.

U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

By James A. Crabtree

With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.

There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.

On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.

One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.

The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.

Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.

Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.

Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.

Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth.  McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.

The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.





Djokovic And Murray – The Wimbledon Battle Royale, Round 4

by James A. Crabtree

Novak Djokovic

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.

5 Thoughts From Wimbledon 2013

by James A. Crabtree

Return of the Serve and Volley?

John Newcombe, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Todd Woodbridge have been saying it for years. And for the first time in years they were proved correct. Dustin Brown and Sergiy Stakhovsky proved you can play aggressive while rushing kamikaze to the net, and most likely received a thankyou card and box of chocolates from legends turned commentators.

The 1980’s were back, minus the short shorts and mullets. All that talk about the limited time to rush to the net, players hitting too much spin, the returners being too sharp, was halted. Well, halted for a day. All the guys who produced the massive upsets failed to find the adrenaline rush that caused the upset and thus lost. Where does that leave us? Pretty much back to where we were at present day baseline tennis, but with a more recent memory of the old days and a little proof that it can be effective.

Thank God For The Roof

It used to really suck when it rained, now there is a roof 😉 Are you listening Roland Garros?


Keep Off The Grass?

Lets not hope the powers that be get their knickers in a twist and decide that the grass is bad after the carnage of that Wednesday. Okay, so everybody wearing shoes fell over, seven players were lost including seeds Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner. But it was all just a freak occurrence (although most falls were on a similar spot on the baseline and during a similar change in direction) no matter which court right?

But the grass is good, and lets remember the game was born on it and the majority of the slams used to be played on it.

Ol’ Boris summed it up best.

“A short grass court season is definitely part of the problem with the injuries. Grass court tennis is different to other surfaces, it is only two weeks of action after a long clay court season. Players need to give themselves more of chance. The grass is the same, the groundsman is the same.”

Nadal and Federer Finished?

Are the Spaniard and the Swiss finished or is this just one freak tournament where some players we assumed were finished are making comebacks and the old guard just got trounced? As bad as it is for the faithful Federer and Nadal fans it is great for the likes of Verdasco, Youzhny and Kubot to get some time in the sun, well London clouds but you get the picture. It would be hard to imagine that Nadal and Federer will not reach the same heights again. Nadal definitely has developed grass demons or hates being in England paying the extra tax, and Federer seriously has trouble producing the blistering winners he used to be able to conjure from nowhere. The U.S. hard-court season will pose some fascinating questions, especially if Federer is ranked as low as 5.

A-Tomic Tonic

Bernie started the year on a tear, won a tournament and then ran into Federer at the Aussie Open. Since February he hasn’t put together more than two wins in a row and his personal life has been in disarray much in thanks to his father/coach John and all those issues we wont get into. At Wimbledon this year he as won three matches in a row already beating Sam Querrey, James Blake and 9th seeded Richard Gasquet, all whilst father/coach has been banned form attending. So is Tomic playing well for his dad who cannot attend or because his dad cannot attend. Either way the formula is proving a successful tonic and it would be hard to bet against Tomic in his next match against twitter sensation Berdych.


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

By James A. Crabtree

 “Modern tennis is sorely lacking in character.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ernest Hemingway



Roland Garros Week 1 Done! Random Thoughts…

By James A. Crabtree

  1. Question- Can Serena Williams lose on current form?
    Answer- No
  2. What do Jiri Novak, Christophe Van Garesse, Thomas Enqvist, Tommy Haas, David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Andy Murray all have in common?
    They have beaten Federer in 5 set matches since his career began. Gilles Simon cannot be added to this list after losing his second five set match to Mr Federer in the fourth round at this years Roland Garros.
    In other Fed news he appears to have bulked up or perhaps has a Batman costume beneath his shirt? And his shoes with that white bit at the back don’t look unlike old man slippers.
  3. John Isner needs to learn how to break serve, not just hold serve.
  4. A tennis purgatory exists for tour players who seem lost, unable to find their former glory. No player wants to end up here but those who find residence here are not losing drastically but are in an awful limbo land. They are not winning the tough matches that they once would; they are not improving and are far from retiring. Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Anna Ivanovic have continued their limbo form in Paris and have exited Roland Garros before Monday of the second week.
  5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has already equaled her best slam performance, a fourth round at Wimbledon in 2008. Can she go one further?
  6. Question? Can Rafael Nadal lose at this years French Open?
    Answer? Yes, but would you bet against him. Even when he is not up to his best his opponent seemingly crumbles
  7. Ryan Harrison needs a big win over a big player as much as I need to clear my overdraft.
  8. Former world number one and 2008 U.S. Open finalist Jelena Jankovic is seeking to leave the purgatory group and seems to be finding old form after bating Stosur. She next faces Jaime Hampton who ‘Is For Real’. She has been steadily improving; she is fun to watch and embodies a certain toughness that is endearing.
  9. Australian Open has a roof, is building another court with a roof and has lights. Wimbledon built a roof. U.S. Open has lights and plays until late. Roland Garros needs a roof. Roland Garros needs lights. Surely the people who live near Roland Garros can put up with this for two weeks a year?
  10. Nadal can get upset. Blame the rain and the lack of a roof Rafa, not the schedule.
  11. Bernard Tomic didn’t do anything to make us forget the daddy issue
  12. If everything goes to form and Victoria Azarenka meets Maria Sharapova in the semi, hope that Azarenka wins. Sharapova has not beaten Serena Williams since 2004 and has lost the last twelve matches to her.
  13. Gael Monfils could’a and should’a won against Tommy Robredo. Instead Robredo has won three straight 2 set down 5 set matches! What the! Incredibly Tommy is the first to do that since five-time champion Henri Cochet, one of the four muskateers. Of interest Cochet, a spruce little Frenchman won in Paris five times. He also beat ‘Big Bill’ Tilden in a 1927 Wimbledon semifinal after being down two sets and 1-5 before winning 2-6 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-3.
  14. Nicholas Almagro is making a name for himself as a choker against fellow Spaniards as he was 2 sets up and 4-1 against Robredo. Back in January   Almagro was 2 sets up against David Ferrer then fell apart after having match points
  15. Ernets Gulbis comes from a wealthy family and is a bad tempered racquet thrower. He suffered a big defeat then went on to talk bad about the four best players in the game. Is Ernie a whiner, an heir to the throne or just Joffrey Baratheon?

Novak Djokovic, worthy of a Montage

by James A. Crabtree

Novak Djokovic is the spoiler of many parties. He has captured almost everything the game has to offer. He has won when he shouldn’t have, caused Roger Federer to smash a racquet, caused Rafa even more OCD’s, won over partisan crowds and nudged his way to the top of the tennis word.

But Novak wasn’t always this way. He was very soft for what seemed like a long time. He looked like the sort of guy who gets beaten up by meanies wearing skeleton costumes at a High School party.

Should we bring up the past? Novak used to be a quitter on an incredible scale. In 2006, Djokovic retired when two sets down in the French Open quarter-final against Rafael Nadal. In 2007 he quit during his Wimbledon semi-final, yes SEMI-FINAL AT WIMBLEDON again against Nadal, blaming a blister on his toe that had even the commentators querying his toughness. In 2008 he won a slam, then he started tinkering with his serve and everyone but his mother said he was finished. Then 2011 happened and we tried to find the reason why he started dominating. We couldn’t figure it out. Surely blatant hard work couldn’t be the only answer? Perhaps a combination of Zen, yoga, stretching and gluten free all rolled into one?

The question is what happened? Yes Novak was always pretty good. He always had the skill set but appeared to lack the mental toughness. He had won that early slam but what he continues to achieve since and keeps achieving is ridiculous. Since June 2006, Djokovic has been coached by Marián Vajda, a former Slovakian professional tennis player. What links Marián with Mr. Myagi is unknown but speculation abounds that he has asked Novak to wash his car and paint his fence.

These days nobody can work out an attack against Novak. Russian cold war scientists and probably Matt Damon from his Goodwill days have been employed using the finest oversized computers to work out a mathematical code to take down the Serb. In truth, nobody knows what to do. To play him is worse than a headache, it is a flipping migraine.

Like so many of the greats before he finds a way to win when he should have already lost. Just ask Stan the Man Wawrinka who almost reached the upper echelons at the Aussie Open only for Novak to refuse to give up. Ask Andy Murray who really could have had him in that second set in the Aussie Open final. The guy atop is a vexatious unrelenting baseliner, a bothersome retriever, a troublesome and tiresome returner. The most stubborn player currently with a racquet. And I mean that in a good way. I mean he has refused to lose. He slides, he attacks, he skids, he does the splits then he has the audacity to speak to the home crowd in any language going.

Okay, so Novak hasn’t been unbeatable this year, he has lost to Del Potro and Haas but on the big occasions when it has mattered he has simply gotten the job done.

Think back to Monte Carlo recently. Before the tournament began there were questions whether Novak would even play because of a dodgy ankle. Before you know it he struggled through a tough first rounder with Mikhail-Youzhny and tough second rounder with Juan Monaco. After that Novak battled on and snatched away what has come to be known as the invitational Rafa Nadal Monte Carlo Closed.

Yes, Rafa did play pretty bad in the final and Novak even admitted to the fact. But it was a Samson moment, the locks had been cut. Rafa was all but unbeatable on clay and more invincible at Monte Carlo. Will the Rafa locks regrow in time for the French Open? Unless Novak gets a career threatening blister he is a lock in to unify the grand slam belts…right?

All that remains is a montage…


The Best Live Match Ever

by James A. Crabtree

I was talking with a fellow tennis fanatic the other day and the conversation shifted to the best live match we had ever seen. The fellow fanatic in question has rather deep pockets and could recount epics played throughout the world and the great corporate seats they had and blah blah blah. Well, enough about them, they were rather annoying.

I am not going to get snobby and say “You had to physically be there.” That is absurd and unfair to those of us with mortal salaries.
And by no means does this epic matchup have to be a final.

You simply have had to watch the match live, been engrossed in it, unable to draw yourself away from the drama that unfolded in front of your eyes..

Andy Roddick versus Roger Federer, 2009 Wimbledon Final

Tough call here because the Federer versus Nadal epics in 2007 and 2008 were pretty special. But the choice goes to this five setter simply because, like many, I started the match cheering for Roger and finished going for Andy. Fed, at the time, was going for his fifteenth slam which would make him the most successful player in history, and Andy has had to bear witness to every slam in Fed’s career. But on this day Andy Roddick really looked like he could it. He was a set up, then 6-2 in the second set tie break, but Federer levelled it. Roddick lost the third but rebounded in the fourth. The thirty game fifth set, well that’s just part of Wimbledon lore. Do I really need to mention that Federer won it?

Stephen Edberg versus Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros Final

This was an absolute heartbreaker, especially if you were a diehard Edberg fan. Anyway, the gentleman Swede was attempting to become one of only a handful of true volleyers to pick up the title. In the fifth set he was a break up and looked like he would serve and volley his way into destiny, on clay. Unfortunately for Edberg fans he was up against a seventeen year upstart who had famously underarmed served in the fourth round against Lendl, the world number one. Michael Chang, with destiny on his side, took the title and secured his place as the youngest ever grand slam winner.

Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, 2012 Australian Open final

This epic final knocks out of the list the 2009 Verdasco/Nadal semi-final. Although still a very recent memory the relentless fight these two players showed proved why they will be remembered as legends in a match that lasted twice as long as Lord of The Rings. Let’s remember both players were coming off emotional wins, Rafa over Roger and Novak over Andy. The final included some of the most gruelling baseline hitting in recent memory, Nadal falling to his knees in jubilation after winning the fourth set and Djokovic’s infamous Hulk inspired shirt rip after his victory. Most of Melbourne awoke after this match with a very painful tennis hangover.

Boris Becker versus Johan Kriek, 1985 Queen’s Club Championships

Little can be said for the quality of the tennis as I simply don’t remember because I was only five years old at the time, but this was my first ever tennis match. I do remember it being very hot, and standing with my parents in line for the bar behind the biggest and most ginger human in the world.

This list did take a lot of deep thought, with so many games to recollect. The 2012 Aussie Open Marco Baghdatis versus Stan Wawrinka racquet smash bonanza was one of the most intriguing matches I’ve ever seen and now rewritten as a Greek tragedy. Brad Gilbert versus David Wheaton at Wimbledon 1990 was a strategical masterpeice. It is easy to recall the Sampras and Agassi bouts, Henman near misses, Davis Cup upsets including Lleyton’s 2003 two set down comeback against Federer. But the battles royale that take precedence within the memory banks cannot be dislodged.

Rafael Nadal pulls out of London Olympics; Serena Williams on a mission — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Déjà vu

It was three years ago when Rafael Nadal suffered a major upset at Roland Garros at the hands of Robin Soderling, announced he had knee problems, and then pulled out of Wimbledon, unable to defend his crown. Now it seems he’s been handed a very similar scenario in 2012. After a hard loss in the second round of Wimbledon, he’s once again battling knee problems that have inhibited his ability to prep for London, meaning that he will be unable to attempt to defend his singles gold medal and serve as flag bearer for Spain. But while this is a troubling immediate concern for Nadal, it also brings plenty of uncertainty to the bigger picture. It would be plain stupid to write Nadal off just yet. Things looked bleak in 2009 before he turned it around to put together a banner year in 2010. But he’s three years older now, more of the competition is starting to catch up, the knee problems are never going to go away, and his style of play is only going to increase the wear and tear on his joints. Champions are stubborn. They don’t like to change the playing styles that have brought them so much success. But at this juncture in his career – and another heartbreaking pullout – it might be time for Rafa to consider doing more re-tooling of his game.

Woman on a Mission

The US Open Series got underway last week at the Bank of the West Classic, and it was a familiar champion that was left holding the trophy aloft. Serena Williams has rarely played the week after winning a slam, but she made an exception this year as she jetted from the lawns of Wimbledon to sunny California to successfully defend her title in Stanford. Stanford marked the site of a lucrative summer campaign for Williams last season, and she’s no doubt hoping for more of the same in 2012. But pundits are guessing there was a little more driving Serena to compete the week after winning her fourteenth major than just looking to recapture some good vibes. If she can successfully defend the bulk of her points this summer, she’s in with a real chance to finish the year as the No. 1 ranked player in the world. It’s certainly an attainable goal given how frequently the top spot has changed hands, and the younger Williams already has the experience of knowing what it takes to get there. If she’s truly dedicated towards reaching the upper-most echelons of the game, it’s going to make for an interesting summer.

Back on Track

While Tipsarevic secured a title in Germany, Ferrer continued his best year with a win in Sweden, and Cilic thrilled the home crowd in Croatia, the biggest ATP stories came out of the grass court event in Newport. The winner, John Isner, is undoubtedly elated to notch a tournament win and perhaps get his season back on track. Newport served as a catalyst to a great summer for him the past, and after the slump he’s been in, a victory in the City by the Sea is just what the doctor ordered. If he’s once again able to use this as a springboard to pile up the wins and confidence throughout the summer, look for him to be a force to be reckoned with at the US Open. The finalist in Newport is also noteworthy. Lleyton Hewitt, who has undergone a number of surgeries and played very little in 2012, proved that he’s still got the moves, even on the challenging grass courts. Though he fell one match shy of garnering his first tournament win since 2010, it was an excellent effort by the two-time Grand Slam champion. Hard saying how much longer he’ll be competing at the top professional level, but if he can continue to find that vintage form that made him the youngest ever to finish a season ranked No. 1, he can still cause more than a few problems for the game’s best.

Major Shift

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that hell has frozen over, but a big change is slated to come to the All England Club in 2015. After studying the facts and figures, the powers-at-be have decided to bump Wimbledon back a week, allowing players both a little more recovery time following Roland Garros and the opportunity to gain an extra week’s prep on grass. The event that may be most impacted by this change is the tiny 250 event in Newport, typically played the week after Wimbledon. Presumably, Newport may look to grab a spot before The Championships, but even if that occurs, the move could have a negative effect on its field. How many players will opt to travel to the States for a week on grass only to return to Europe for Wimbledon? And if Newport is allowed to remain after Wimbledon, will players be as willing to participate, or will they look to get straight onto the hard courts in preparation for the US Open? But the potential woes of Newport aside, this is great news for tennis overall. It should lead to less grumbling and hopefully ensure even higher quality grass court tennis.

Assuming the Helm

In what is probably a welcomed change by many of the French WTA Players, two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo has been named the new French Fed Cup captain. She replaces Nicolas Escude, who has been involved in a drawn out controversy concerning leaving top French player Marion Bartoli off the team due to her coaching arrangement with her father. As one of the most successful French players in recent decades, she brings a wealth of experience to the table – experience and guidance from which many of France’s fledgling talents could benefit. Smart move by the FFT, and hopefully the move pays dividends in the near future.

If I Were The Tennis Santa

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!

For Andy Murray, I thought some “Understand Your Mother (Instantly) Breath Spray” might be helpful, considering his mother’s eternal wisdom and awesomeness.

I’d give this “Sharp-End Dog Pencil Sharpener” to Rafael Nadal, mainly just to see his reaction.  What’s the fun in playing Santa if you can’t be a little bit naughty?


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”.


I’ve decided it’s time for Agnieszka Radwanska to finally come out of the ninja closet.  This “Ninja Hooded Mask” will reveal her true identity in 2012. Watch out WTA!


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!