by Kevin Craig
Gilles Simon gave Novak Djokovic everything he could handle on Sunday at the Australian Open, but in the end it was the Serb who was able to come through after a five set battle that lasted more than four and a half hours. Despite losing 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, Simon was able to provide many challenges for Djokovic and perhaps created the blueprint for how to stop the No. 1 player in the world.
The entire match was tightly contested, including the first set despite the overall lower quality of play. It appeared as if Djokovic would roll through another easy win early on as he dominated his first two service games and broke at love to take a 3-1 lead. It was then that Simon proved he would make things difficult as he broke back immediately and went on to have four break chances in Djokovic’s 3-3 service game that lasted 20 points. Djokovic was able to fight through that game to get the hold, and then break in the next game as Simon let the disappoint of not converting on the break points linger, eventually leading to a 6-3 first set win for the Serb.
Djokovic completely controlled the second set, only losing five points on serve, until the tiebreak. Simon, who saved 10 break points and had to play 25 more service points in the second set than Djokovic did, felt a sense of relief as he made it through the set and showed that in the tiebreak as he loosened up and only lost one point.
Djokovic was able to settle back down in the third set and broke Simon in his first service game, running out to a 3-0 lead. Simon, just like in the first set, made things difficult for Djokovic though, as he bounced back and broke to get the set back on serve at 3-2. Each player looked confident on their serves throughout the rest of the set, until Djokovic found a break point at 5-4 and pounced on it to win the set.
Once again, Simon put his persistent style of play on display as he looked in control in the second set. It started early as Simon played only 10 service points in his first two games compared to Djokovic’s 24, allowing Simon to look at five break points. He was unsuccessful in converting those break chances, but did go on to earn two more later in the set. Simon converted on his seventh break point of the set to go up 5-4 and went on to serve out the set, taking the match to a decider.
In the fifth set, Djokovic played his best tennis, racing out to a double break lead at 5-1. He was unsuccessful at serving out the match the first time as Simon just would not go away, but the Serb held on and served out the match at 5-3 for the five set win.
Djokovic was pleased with the win, but disappointed in his quality of play. The credit has to be given to Simon as he was able to force Djokovic into making exactly 100 unforced errors after he made less than 80 in the first three rounds combined. The errors matched with an unsuccessful break point conversion rate of less than 25 percent would normally lead to a loss for most other players, but the No. 1 player in the world was able to find a way to tough out the valiant effort from Simon.
Djokovic will hope to bounce back to his normal quality of play as he takes on Kei Nishikori, who is coming off a win in which he handily beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, in the quarterfinals. Nishikori will be looking to repeat his form from when he beat Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2014 US Open in hopes of pulling off another major upset.
Without a doubt, Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player on the planet and the Serbian won three of the four Grand Slam titles on offer in 2016. This year, the world number one will be looking to go one better and claim victory in all four major tournaments as he looks to cement his place as one of the greatest male tennis players of all-time. Here is why Djokovic is capable of defying the odds and enjoying an incredible season in 2016.
Okay, so Djokovic is an exceptional tennis player. In fact, it could be argued that he is more or less unbeatable on his day. The Serbian’s consistency at the top level stands him apart from the rest and his hunger and strive to achieve greatness helps to motivate him in almost every single tournament that he enters. As of January 11th, Djokovic is priced at 6/1 with Coral to win all four Grand Slam competitions this year and many will be backing the Serbian to succeed in the sports betting in 2016.
Perhaps the most straightforward tournament of all will be the Australian Open, which gets underway later this week. In Coral’s sports betting markets, Djokovic is priced at 4/6 to win a sixth Australian Open title. It is by far his favourite event and the Serbian will be well favoured, especially if Andy Murray is forced to drop out of the competition due to the impending birth of his child. Djokovic loves the Melbourne event and must rank as the greatest player on the planet on the hard court surface.
The trickiest tournament will be the French Open. Djokovic is yet to win at Roland Garros and while Rafael Nadal has struggled in the last couple of years, it would be foolish to rule the Spaniard out. If the Serbian is going to win this particular title, his time is now – especially before last year’s winner Stanislas Wawrinka becomes one of the top players in the world. It will be tough but if anyone is capable of defying the odds, it’s Novak Djokovic.
From there, Djokovic will only need Wimbledon and the US Open to complete the set. In 2015, the Serbian won both of these tournaments with relative ease although he did have to dig deep in order to defeat Roger Federer in both finals. The Swiss superstar may not be the same athlete that he was five years ago but he still possesses sheer talent and is capable of denying Djokovic the coveted Grand Slam quadruple.
So, will the Serbian achieve this goal? Well, it’s an incredibly difficult ask but Djokovic is an exceptional tennis player. A lot will hinge on the performances of Andy Murray – if the British number one performs at his best, Djokovic will find it tough. However, any slip-up and the Serbian will be too good and should capitalise. Fans are set for a great year of tennis and it could be a record-breaking performance if Djokovic has his way.
Djokovic Wins 60th Title, Reaches Final of Every Tournament in 52 Weeks – Passing Shots with Kevin Craig
by Kevin Craig
- In Doha, Novak Djokovic was able to win the title (the 60th of his career) and reach his 16th consecutive final, making it so that in the past 52 weeks, Djokovic has been to the final of every tournament he has played. Djokovic did not drop a set all week and was only taken beyond 6-3 twice, including a 6-1, 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal in the final. In a simple recipe for success for the week, Djokovic won 77% of his first serve points and broke his opponents a total of 20 times.
- Victoria Azarenka won her first title since August 2013 as she defeated Angelique Kerber in the final in Brisbane. Azarenka was not taken beyond 6-3 in a set all week as she was able to break her opponents 29 times. The win sets up Azarenka for a Top 16 seed at the Australian Open.
- Stan Wawrinka won his third consecutive title in Chennai by defeating Borna Coric 6-3, 7-5. Wawrinka did not drop a set in four matches and was only broken once all week as he hit 41 aces. Wawrinka is now 8-0 in titles since the start of the 2014 season, including his wins at the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open. Before 2014, Wawrinka was just 4-9 in finals.
- Taylor Fritz won his third challenger title by defeating Dudi Sela 7-6, 6-2 in Happy Valley. The win made Fritz’s career challenger record 22-5 and was his fourth Top 100 win. Fritz’s ranking at the start of the 2015 season was 1151, but this win will boost his ranking to about 154, just shy of a 1000 spot improvement from a year ago.
- Sloane Stephens won her second career title by defeating Julia Goerges 7-5, 6-2, while fellow American Alison Riske made the final in Shenzhen, losing out to Agnieszka Radwanska. Previously to this week, no American woman had made the final of a tournament in the first week of the season since Lindsay Davenport made the final of Auckland in 2008.
- Also in Doha, Illya Marchenko made his first ATP semifinal since 2010 in St. Petersburg. Along the way, Marchenko was able to beat David Ferrer, Teymuraz Gabashvili, and Jeremy Chardy. The win against Ferrer was his first Top 10 win in five tries.
- Thomas Fabbiano won his first ATP main draw matches as he made the quarterfinals in Chennai after making it through qualies. In the second round, Fabbiano beat Gilles Muller 6-4, 7-5, and managed to break the big server four times, despite Muller hitting 14 aces and winning 79% of his first serve points. The quarterfinal run will allow Fabbiano to reach a new career high ranking of 142.
- Go Soeda made the final of the Bangkok Challenger, making 2016 the 11th consecutive year that he has made a challenger final, dating back to 2006. He fell to Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3, 6-4, as Youzhny continues his attempt to rejoin the Top 100.
- In Brisbane, Samantha Crawford made her first WTA semifinal in just her fifth main draw appearance. Crawford got her first two Top-25 wins by defeating Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic. Throughout her qualifying and main draw matches, the big hitting American hit 64 aces and won 73% of her first serve points as she prepares for her appearance at the Australian Open via a wild card.
“On This Day In Tennis History,“ the popular tennis book, ebook and mobile app, is now also available as an audio book. The calendar-like compilation of historical and unique anniversaries, events and happenings from the world of tennis is now available in audio form via Audible.com and can be purchased here on Amazon.com: http://www.mailermailer.com/rd?http://www.amazon.com/This-Tennis-History-Day-Day/dp/B0178PCQH4/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1449508067&sr=8-1 The narrator is Tiffany Bobertz, a theatre production veteran graduate of Augustana College and resident of Tempe, Arizona. The audio version is available for sale for $26.21 or $14.95 with an Audible.com membership.
The popular mobile app version of the book is available for $2.99 at www.TennisHistoryApp.com. The app can be found by searching “Tennis History” in the iTunes App Store and Play Store or directly at these two links:
“On This Day In Tennis History,” compiled by Randy Walker, is a fun and fact-filled, this compilation offers anniversaries, summaries, and anecdotes of events from the world of tennis for every day in the calendar year. Presented in a day-by-day format, the entries into this mini-encyclopedia include major tournament victory dates, summaries of the greatest matches ever played, trivia, and statistics as well as little-known and quirky happenings. Easy-to-use and packed with fascinating details, the book is the perfect companion for tennis and general sports fans alike and is an excellent gift idea for the holiday season. The book features fascinating and unique stories of players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe, Don Budge, Maria Sharapova, Bill Tilden, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Anna Kournikova among many others. “On This Day In Tennis History” is available for purchase via on-line book retailers and in bookstores in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
“On This Day In Tennis History” is published by New Chapter Press while the mobile app was designed and developed in conjunction with Miki Singh, founder of www.FirstServeApps.com. Fans can follow the app on social media at Twitter.com/ThisDayInTennis and facebook.com/thisdayintennis.
Said Hall of Famer Jim Courier of the book, “‘On This Day In Tennis History’ is a fun read that chronicles some of the most important—and unusual—moments in the annals of tennis. Randy Walker is an excellent narrator of tennis history and has done an incredible job of researching and compiling this entertaining volume.” Said tennis historian Joel Drucker, author of Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, “An addictive feast that you can enjoy every possible way—dipping in for various morsels, devouring it day-by-day, or selectively finding essential ingredients. As a tennis writer, I will always keep this book at the head of my table.” Said Bill Mountford, former Director of Tennis of the USTA National Tennis Center, “‘On This Day In Tennis History’ is an easy and unique way to absorb the greatest—and most quirky—moments in tennis history. It’s best read a page a day!”
Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com) is also the publisher of “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” by Steve Flink, “The Secrets of Spanish Tennis” by Chris Lewit, “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection” by Rene Stauffer, “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” by Bud Collins, “How To Permanently Erase Negative Self Talk So You Can Be Extraordinary” by Emily Filloramo, “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time” by Sandra Harwitt, “The Wimbledon Final That Never Was” by Sidney Wood, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey and Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Titanic: The Tennis Story” by Lindsay Gibbs, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes with Peter Kolar, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “A Player’s Guide To USTA League Tennis” by Tony Serksnis, “The 87 Rules For College” by Jacob Shore and Drew Moffitt, “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli, “The Lennon Prophecy” by Joe Niezgoda (www.TheLennonProphecy.com), “Bone Appetit, Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog” by Susan Anson, “How To Sell Your Screenplay” by Carl Sautter, “The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According To Hoyle” by Stewart Wolpin, “Lessons from the Wild” by Shayamal Vallabhjee among others.
by Kevin Craig
Both the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles team were able to win the ATP World Tour Finals titles on Sunday, as Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer, while Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took down Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea. The match between Djokovic and Federer was their 44th, and Djokovic was able to even up their record at 22 wins apiece. Rojer and Tecau were able to continue their impressive form in London as they won the tournament without dropping a set along the way.
Another classic match-up between two legends of the game saw Djokovic dispatch Federer in rather routine fashion by a score of 6-3, 6-4. After their match in the round robin stage in which Federer beat Djokovic, Federer surely must have come into this match with confidence, but Djokovic was able to play simply at a higher level than he did in that first match-up, as he played great defense all match and played high quality tennis on the pivotal points. The two men were only separated by four points total in the first set, but Djokovic was able to win the more important points, saving both break points he faced and winning 71 percent of his second serve points. Federer’s 57 percent first serve rate also didn’t do him any favors as he allowed Djokovic to step up and get good looks on a lot of returns, leading to two breaks. The second set saw the Serbian continue to dictate play as he was able to lose only six points in his five service games, and force Federer to face five break points. Out of those five, Djokovic was only able to convert on one, but that was all he needed to seal the match, as the break gave him a 5-3 lead. He would go on to comfortably serve out the match and claim the World Tour Finals title for the fourth year in a row and a fifth time overall. This title was his 11th of the year to go along with his wins at three of the four grand slam events, as well as six Masters 1000 events. Djokovic’s 2015 season will surely go down in the record books as one of the greatest seasons of all time, and winning the World Tour Finals in London was the icing on the cake.
The doubles final took place between two teams that had gone through their first four matches of the tournament undefeated, as Rojer and Tecau teamed up to take down Bopanna and Mergea, 6-4, 6-3. After clinching the No. 1 year end doubles team ranking on Saturday, Rojer and Tecau were brimming with confidence heading into the final. This showed as they were able to win a very tight first set by dominating on their second serve points, winning eight of nine, and saving both break points that they faced. Add on the six aces they hit in the first set, and Rojer and Tecau were tough to touch in their service games in the first set. The level of play from Bopanna and Mergea dropped significantly in the second set, as they only managed to make 42 percent of their first serves and just barely managed to win more than half of their service points overall. This resulted in Rojer and Tecau applying a lot of pressure in their return games, as they broke on both break points they saw, including a break at love to finish off the match. Rojer and Tecau dictated play with their serve again in the second set, only losing five points on serve total. This title for Rojer and Tecau was their third this year, and their 11th as a team. After a very successful year for the Dutch and Romanian pairing, they will surely take some time to relax in the offseason and enjoy their accomplishment of finishing the year as the No. 1 doubles team.
An interesting note about the two winners on Sunday is that Djokovic and Rojer/Tecau both also won Wimbledon in 2015. These players must really like something about London as they were impossible to match this year at Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals, and they must surely be happy to see that the year-end championships will be staying in London until at least 2018. Not only will they be able to bring home the title, but both Djokovic and Rojer/Tecau will also be heading into the offseason with their respective year-end No. 1 rankings, a true testament to how dominant they were throughout the year.
by Kevin Craig
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer set up their anticipated match-up in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals with wins over Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, respectively, on Saturday in London. Djokovic and Federer played dominant levels of tennis, making fans around the world eager to watch the final that will take place on Sunday. The doubles event also witnessed very important tennis action as the team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau were able to clinch the year end No. 1 doubles team ranking by beating Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the semifinals. Rojer and Tecau will face Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea as they were able to continue their impressive form at the event by beating Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo.
Djokovic was able to defeat Nadal 6-3, 6-3, in a match that was much closer than the score line may suggest. The two players who have been in the best form this fall were unlucky to go up against each other, but it was Djokovic who was able to play the better tennis and win the bigger points. Nadal played well throughout the match but played one sloppy service game in the first set, which Djokovic gladly took advantage of. The first set was very tight as both men won an equal amount of points on the return, but that one bad service game from Nadal to start off the match was enough for Djokovic to run away with the set. The second was similar to the first as just a couple sloppy points from Nadal on his service games led to a comfortable win for Djokovic as he was able to get two breaks in the set. Nadal didn’t play poorly, he just simply could not hit through the wall that is Novak Djokovic. The incredible defense from the Serb, mixed in with his shot-making brilliance, was too much for the Spaniard to handle, as Djokovic was the one who saw his way into the final. Djokovic was able to avoid pressure situations in his service games as he didn’t have to face a single break point all match. He was able to dominate with the first serve, winning 89 percent of the points when he got the first ball in.
Federer won the all-Suisse semifinal against Wawrinka, 7-5, 6-3. After a tight first set that saw breaks exchanged early, Federer was able to break in the 12th game, giving him a one set advantage. This match saw a similar pattern to many Federer-Wawrinka matches, as Wawrinka was unable to raise his level of play after beginning to feel scoreboard pressure. Federer was able to grab a break early on in the second set and take control of the match as he saved the only break point he faced in the set. Overall, the difference in the match came from Federer’s ability to control his second serve points, as he won 65 percent while Wawrinka only managed to win 42 percent. That led to Federer being able to see six break points in the match and win three of them. The win now boosts Federer’s record to 18-3 against his compatriot, as well as sets up an appearance in the final at the World Tour Finals against Djokovic.
Rojer and Tecau were able to dethrone the Bryan brothers as the No. 1 doubles team in the world by winning their semifinal match-up, 6-4, 6-4. Similar to the Nadal-Djokovic match, it was a much closer affair than the score line would suggest. After trading breaks in the early stages of the first set, Mike Bryan was serving for his team at a deciding point late in the first set, but was given a time violation right before he started to serve, which according to him was the first he had received all year. This may have gotten into Mike’s head a bit, as he would go on to double fault, giving the break to Rojer and Tecau. After winning the first, they went on to control the second with ease, as they went a perfect seven-for-seven on their second serve points, only losing four points on serve total in the set. This win not only gave Rojer and Tecau the No. 1 doubles team ranking, but also saw them turn around an 0-4 record against the American brothers.
Bopanna and Mergea were able to continue their hot streak at the World Tour Finals as they took down the team of Dodig and Melo, 6-4, 6-2. In a match that lasted under an hour, Bopanna and Mergea were simply the better team, dominating on their first serve and converting on all four break points they had. Their level actually dropped in the second set, but luckily for them it dropped on the other side of the net, as well, as Dodig and Melo failed to win more than half of their service points. The win sees Bopanna and Mergea head into the final with a perfect record so far in London.
Federer and Djokovic set up the final that many fans expected to see by winning their matches on Saturday. Surely their final on Sunday will be a treat for fans as there will be high levels of tennis played by both men. The doubles final will see a Romanian on each side of the net as the 2015 Wimbledon champs Rojer and Tecau will face Bopanna and Mergea. The surprise team of the tournament, Bopanna/Mergea will hope to see their good run of form continue as they will need to play a high level of tennis against the team that will finish the year in the No. 1 spot, Rojer/Tecau.
by Kevin Craig
Roger Federer was able to hand Novak Djokovic is his first loss in 24 matches on Tuesday at the World Tour Finals in London, playing at a consistently high level throughout the match. Federer’s performance stifled the No. 1 player in the world as Djokovic appeared to be stunned by Federer’s play and the simple fact that he was unable to get a lead. Despite going to 2-0 in the group stage, Federer has yet to secure his spot in the semifinal round due to Kei Nishikori getting a three set victory over Tomas Berdych. The win for the 2014 US Open finalist has set up what will be an eventful and intense Thursday at the World Tour Finals.
Federer’s performance over Djokovic was vintage Federer. The first set was very straightforward for both men, as there was only one break point total through the first 11 games. It was in the 12th game of the set that Federer was able to dig into Djokovic’s serve and earn himself the break and win the first set. The second was a breeze for the Suisse as Djokovic’s level dropped massively and he looked nothing like the player who had only lost five matches in 2015 previous to Tuesday. Djokovic was only able to win five points on his first serve in the second set, and he gave Federer way too many opportunities as he donated unforced errors in bunches, giving Federer the 7-5, 6-2 win. While Federer has not locked up his spot in the semifinal round, this match will surely give him the confidence needed to defeat Nishikori on Thursday and secure the first place seed of this group.
Kei Nishikori’s win over Tomas Berdych came in a very entertaining battle that was the first singles match of the tournament to go three sets. Both players were far from their best when it came to serving, but Nishikori was able to win the bigger points and earn himself nine break points throughout the match. This constant pressure on the Berdych serve was pivotal for Nishikori as he was able to fight through the adversity of losing the second set and get the much needed break in the third to get himself the 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win. Despite the win today, Nishikori could still finish in any position in the group, depending on the Thursday results. Likewise, Berdych still has an opportunity to survive through the group stage, but that would require a win over Djokovic and some help from Federer.
The doubles group that played on Tuesday has a much clearer vision about the semifinal stage as the team of Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea were able to secure their spot in the next round with a straight sets win over Jamie Murray and John Peers. This result, along with Bob and Mike Bryan getting an easy victory over Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, set up a winner takes all match for Thursday. With Bopanna/Mergea already clinching the first place spot of the group, the match between Bryan/Bryan and Murray/Peers will decide who moves on to the semifinal stage with the second place spot.
The Bryan brothers were able to garner a good bounce back win over the Italian pairing of Bolelli/Fognini, 6-3, 6-2. Coming off of a disappointing loss in their first match, the Americans looked very comfortable and confident on Tuesday, only dropping eight points on serve and not facing a single break point. Bolelli and Fognini will be disappointed by being eliminated from the World Tour Finals after just two matches, but their 2015 was very successful as they were able to take home the Australian Open title.
The eighth seeded team of Bopanna/Mergea that didn’t secure their spot in the World Tour Finals until the last week of the season seems to be playing with a bit of house money. After defeating the Bryan brothers on Sunday, they were able to dispatch Murray and Peers, the two time grand slam finalists in 2015, in a tight two setter on Tuesday, 6-3, 7-6(5). The win saw them lock up the first seed of the group even if they lose their third match, as they will have a head-to-head advantage over whichever team ends up being the second seed. The team of Bopanna and Mergea enjoy playing in London, as they were able to make the semifinals of Wimbledon earlier in the year and are now playing as confidently as they have in 2015.
by Kevin Craig
The last tournament of the ATP calendar sees the eight best singles players and doubles teams battling each other for the title of World Tour Finals Champion. In the round robin format, every participant is able to overcome a loss, or possibly even two, but the teams that win on day one take the first and most important step towards the title.
The opening day of the ATP World Tour Finals in London saw the two main attractions of Group Stan Smith easily win their matches as Novak Djokovic dispatched Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, and Roger Federer defeated Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2. Djokovic was able to continue his out-of-this-world form, only dropping two games to the 2014 US Open finalist. Djokovic didn’t face a break point in the entire match and only lost nine points on serve total. While Nishikori may not have been 100 percent healthy, the Serbian was able to keep his game at an incredibly high level, playing insane defense on almost every point, allowing himself to get some breathing room before his matches with Berdych and Federer.
Roger Federer played the last match of day one and was able to sustain the powerful game of Tomas Berdych, winning easily in straight sets. After exchanging breaks early in the first set, Federer was able to turn his game around and didn’t face another break point for the rest of the match. Meanwhile, Berdych struggled with his serve throughout the match as he only made 44 percent of his first serves and faced six break points, losing four of them. The Suisse maestro was able to overcome hitting four double faults by winning 86 percent of his first serve points and almost 50 percent of his return points.
Meanwhile on the doubles side of the tournament, the first-seeded Bryan brothers were upset in rather routine fashion by the team of Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea by a score line of 6-4, 6-3. The first set was tight as both teams won the same amount of points, 26. The teams exchanged two breaks each early in the set, but the eighth-seeded Bopanna/Mergea were the better team on the day as they were able to get one break more to win the first, and saved both break points they faced in the second set to get the straight sets win. The Bryans are now 0-2 against Bopanna and Mergea in London, after they lost to them in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon earlier this year.
The home favorite team of Brit Jamie Murray and Australian John Peers won a very tight match over Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli, 7-6, 3-6, 11-9. The exciting doubles affair was the first match of the tournament and many fans were eager that the rest of the matches would follow suit. Instead, this was the only match of the four played on day one that went three sets. The fourth-seeded Murray/Peers gave the London crowd the win they wanted and also gave them a very exciting match. Despite the loss, the Italians set themselves up well by winning a set and only losing 10 games. This could come into play in their favor if the group ends up seeing three teams with the same record.
With these results, the Bryan brothers find themselves in a bit of trouble after day one of the tournament, as they failed to win a set and are now forced to play well against the Australian Open champs Bolelli/Fognini and the US Open and Wimbledon finalists Murray/Peers if they hope to make a run at the title. On the singles side, these opening matches only gave further proof as to what many fans already believed; Djokovic and Federer would be the class of Group Stan Smith. If either Berdych or Nishikori hope to make a run at the World Tour Finals, they’ll have to greatly raise their level in their remaining matches.
by Andrew Eichenholz
In the middle of the summer I got a phone call from one of USOpen.org’s managing editors, who controls content production for the US Open’s official website. I never thought that a few months later I would be sitting here writing about how I got to be the last writer to publish a feature on one of my idols, sat front row in the press conference following arguably the greatest upset in the history of tennis and walked away with a wealth of experience that I never dreamt was imaginable when I published my first tennis story a year and a half ago.
Covering a Grand Slam was epitomized for me by Day 12 of the event— my eighth day reporting on the best tennis players in the world.
The impossible was happening— world No. 1 and history-chasing Serena Williams was down in the final set of her semifinal match, just three sets away from winning her fifth consecutive Grand Slam.
That may not mean much to people who do not follow tennis, but only 12 women have won five Grand Slams in their entire career during the Open era (since 1968), forget consecutively. Williams also would have tied Steffi Graf’s overall record of 22 with a victory. I was doing the “match of the day” story, and when arguably the best player ever is going down, that is a pretty big deal.
Generally, we tried to get all match stories out to our audience within ten minutes of the last point. Every single one of us in our office thought that Serena was going to find a way to survive. Her opponent, Roberta Vinci, would later admit that she thought the same. So, not only was it a matter of trying to pump out a quality product in a short amount of time, but both the writer who was covering the match itself and I were basically writing two stories, not knowing who would come out on top until Vinci hit a winner on match point.
At that point, we had a bit of a problem—few fans knew who the unseeded Vinci was and we did not know all that much about her ourselves besides her results and ranking. Who is she? The world wanted to know and our team had to make that happen, so after filing the “match of the day” story, I did some research on my phone as a few of us ran over to the Italian’s press conference so that I could file a quick piece to help people get to know Vinci.
It was a packed house at the presser— the Italian writers were still on cloud nine, shocked that two players from their country would be playing for the title the next day when not one had made the US Open final before.
If it seems like there was a lot of stuff going on at once, think again. Keeping in mind that this whole series of events happened in the span of an hour or two, I also was responsible for wrapping up the junior tournament and American Collegiate Invitational for the day.
The world outside of our office may have frozen in disbelief, but we still had work to do. That was my day every day at the US Open— there was no sitting for one match, writing it up and getting on the train home. There were always tons of things going on at once and I embraced that.
I would not have had it any other way.
My favorite part of covering sports— not just tennis— is writing feature stories. It is nice to sit back and take in a match to tell the reader what happened and why, but there were 256 players in the men’s and women’s singles draws alone at the US Open. Each of them had a unique story.
From a 19-year-old who spent plenty of time during the summer and the Open itself practicing with Roger Federer to a little-known American woman who went without seeing her mother for four years to pursue her dreams, there were so many stories that nobody had touched yet, so why not go for it?
The freedom my editors gave me was one of the nicer parts of working for the tournament’s website compared to a newspaper. I noticed that a lot of print writers spent their entire day focusing on one thing and one thing only, simply because their newspaper did not have enough space for more.
One of the pieces I wrote that got a lot of fan interaction was probably the piece that I turned around the quickest, believe it or not. Victoria Azarenka was the No. 20 seed because of injuries she sustained last season, but for years has been considered a top-five player.
Everybody in the media center at one point or another had done the same story on her competitive spirit shown on and off the court, including myself. But, a couple of days before I filed, I found her agent on the grounds and asked if her practice partner, who is in reality like a second coach, would be willing to talk to me. He never got back to me, so I was about to send my story in, but a couple of hours before her match, the practice partner texted me, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner.
It was well worth the wait, as even though he is a member of her team and is not going to say anything close to bad about her, I got a glimpse into a different side of Azarenka that really made the story unique.
Walking past the likes of Roger Federer and many of the game’s greats every day and talking to them when they were in press was interesting, but not new. I had been a ballperson at the US Open for a number of years; so being around the best of the best was not nerve-wracking.
That came into play one morning at about 9:00 a.m. when I was walking through the grounds toward our office while the juniors were practicing — juniors and lesser known players typically have to take what they can get in terms of practice courts, so they were out and about bright and early. I glanced around just out of curiosity, and saw a former world No. 1 coaching a couple of Russian girls.
I did not think anything of it at the time, but when the team finished our morning meeting, I realized that it would be interesting to catch up with a top player who was forced out of the sport by a back injury for our readers. So, after covering my matches for the day, I walked around the grounds only to find Dinara Safina watching one of her students’ matches.
During a break, I asked if she would not mind chatting for a bit once the match was over, but she was more than happy to catch up then and there. Safina was known as an extremely emotional player on the court, and it was not out of the ordinary to see her visibly angry with herself, as if she was not having any fun whatsoever. Yet, readers seemed to enjoy what she had to say— namely how much she loved tennis and despite being forced out of the sport as a player, would love to stay involved in it in some capacity for the rest of her life.
Perhaps the most completely reported story I wrote and the one that I spent the most time on was a long form painting of Lleyton Hewitt’s career. Hewitt, who played his final US Open, spent plenty of time atop the world rankings over a decade ago and has become known as the prototypical warrior. Despite many injuries and a physical deficit in terms of size that he faced, Hewitt always seemed to find a way to beat players he should not have. My job was to not simply write about what made him an all-time great, but to talk to people who were or are around him to get insight into what he is like behind the scenes.
To do this, I even reached out to people Hewitt has not played or even spoken to since last millennium to get an authentic idea of what he was like before the Australian reached the top of the world, following his coaches and friends every step of the way until where he is now, laying out his career through the eyes of those around him.
I can go on for days about each and every story, but the one I may remember the most is one that I did not write.
The men’s final was widely anticipated throughout the entire sports world. A colleague and both agreed that we had never, ever been exposed to such an electric atmosphere in our lives. Roger Federer— who has won more Grand Slam titles than anybody— was the underdog against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
There were constant momentum shifts and the crowd responded every single time. Looking around at other press members chuckling as the waves of roars rushed through the chilly night, there was no doubt that something special was happening.
When my colleague and I walked down the stairs to head back to the office for the final time, there was one thing I knew for certain— that special match was the most fitting way to finish what was a more-than-special experience and I will never forget it.
In one of the sport’s great rivalries, two of tennis history’s best competed in Sunday’s US Open men’s final, as No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic defeated No. 2 Roger Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. “Winning a Grand Slam is very special for any tennis player when you are dreaming of becoming a professional,” Djokovic said after the match. “To win against one of the all-time Grand Slam champions, somebody that always keeps on fighting till the last point, keeps making you play an extra shot … all these things are very special to me.”
Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com