Novak Djokovic

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Grigor Dimitrov Q&A: Fun Fan Encounters, Ultimate Dinner Guests, and Maria Sharapova

DSC_94010001citi practise wednesday

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twenty-two-year-old Grigor Dimitrov has much to be happy about.

He kicked off his 2013 season by reaching his first ATP final in Brisbane, pushing Andy Murray in a tight two set match. He continued his good performance making two more semifinals and one quarterfinal on the year, while taking tennis’ top men to their limits on court.

In Monte Carlo in April, Dimitrov took Rafael Nadal to three sets, and a few weeks later, he stunned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid.  Directly following his win over the Serbian, tears welled up in the young Dimitrov’s eyes, and it was clear how much the win meant to him. His ranking also catapulted to a career-high of 26 in the world.

After his successful clay court campaign, the focused Bulgarian now shifts gears to the U.S. hard courts and hopes to build on his great season.

“The clay season was a lot of fun this year for me,” commented Dimitrov following his first round win over Xavier Malisse at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I would like to do even better on the hard court … I love playing in the States. It’s a place where I always feel comfortable.”

Charismatic and approachable, Dimitrov has also gotten plenty of buzz surrounding his off court relationship with WTA player, Maria Sharapova. Though he prefers his privacy about his personal life, he realizes it is an inevitable popular topic with the press and fans.

“Of course, there is a lot of talk off the court, and in the end, I think that’s part of the game … In England (during Wimbledon), in general, there were a lot of these questions. But what can I do?” stated Dimitrov, still smiling.

On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., I had a chance to sit down with the enchanting Dimitrov for a few minutes as he talked memorable moments, crazy fan encounters and who his ultimate dinner guests would be. After the interview, he extended his hand as I stepped off a rather tall stage that a three-year-old would probably enjoy jumping off of. What a perfect gentleman.

What is your most memorable moment on court?
I think definitely there are many, and one of them was when I played Novak Djokovic this year. I think that’s one of the most memorable matches for me. Of course, can’t forget the match against Rafa (Nadal). I’m trying to make every moment to stay with me and keep it in a special way.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I would be definitely into sports. My mom is a former volleyball player. I like playing soccer, volleyball, basketball – any sports. I’m pretty active when I have my time off, so I would definitely try to be sport-oriented but I don’t think there’s one sport in particular over the others.

If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Johnny Depp, for sure. This is my number one pick of all-time. Other two … my girlfriend, but I’m having dinner with her every night. (Laughs)

Hmm. Two people … I would go with … Monica Bellucci. And then … it has to be a musician, but I cannot name one. Any musician that I like nowadays that would be it probably.

What is the funniest or craziest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
I must say there are lot of these, because I always do some things with the fans whether it’s going to be practice or when I come out to sign autographs. I always do something – whether I’m going to give a t-shirt or wristband. The fans always have some funny gifts. Once I got one crazy gift, I received a little (stuffed) bear and there were sentences in Bulgarian on it. I don’t know how long that took, but I think it was an extremely big effort for someone to do it. I remembered that for quite a bit; I was in Asia then. In Asia, I think I had one of the biggest supporters out there. One year, it was just crazy; everyone had their t-shirt with my sign, and they made a special t-shirt for the matches. So I think that was kind of cool.

Novak Djokovic and Friends Vacation on the Coast of Croatia

Hvar, 19.07.2013 - Tenisac Novak Djokovic odmara se na Palmizani

What does the world No. 1 in tennis do for a relaxing vacation? He grabs his family and friends, and cruises the beautiful coast of Croatia!

With his best buds in tow, Novak Djokovic soaked up the sun and hit the scene in cities like Dubrovnik, and Hvar over the past week. Whether it was boating on the Adriatic Sea, stopping by for gelato on a neighboring island, enjoying a group dinner with a popular Croatian singer, or posing with the hundreds of eager fans looking to meet the star, Djokovic came ready with his Hollywood smile and charm.

Check out his adventures from the last few days on the Adriatic coast before he returns to the practice courts for his next tournament in Montreal!

Novak Djokovic Hvar Novak Djokovic Hvar 2 Novak Djokovic Hvar 4

Hvar, 19.07.2013 - Tenisac Novak Djokovic odmara se na Palmizani

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

From Djokovic to Federer, What’s Ahead in the Summer for the ATP Top 5?

Federer, Nadal, Ferrer, Murray, Djokovic

(July 16, 2013) With the U.S. Open looming in the near future, what does the summer hard court season hold for the ATP top 5? Nick Nemeroff recaps the players’ recent results and gives an outlook into the season going forward.

Roger FedererRoger Federer: World No. 5

2013 has been quite the lackluster season for Roger Federer. The Swiss has only one title to his name (Halle), and has failed to reach the final in all five of the tournaments where he entered as the reigning champion. Federer is 1-5 against the top 10 this season, including two demoralizing losses to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells and the final of Rome.

In all of Federer defeats this season (Andy Murray, Julien Benneteau, Tomas Berdych, Nadal twice, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sergiy Stakhovsky), he was entirely unsuccessful in controlling the middle of the court and found it hard to neutralize the offensive weapons of his opponents. Moving forward, I would anticipate Federer to be less inclined with working his way into points, a strategy highly uncharacteristic of the distinctive first-strike tennis which guided him to 17 grand slams.

Federer’s summer schedule is highly dense as he has entered Montreal, Cincinnati, and of course, the U.S. Open. But what has come as a bit of a surprise to many, Federer is playing on the clay of Hamburg and Gstaad in what appears be an effort to get more match play in before the hard court stretch and to gain back some of the confidence he lost earlier in the season.

Rafael NadalRafael Nadal: World No. 4

With Nadal, the lingering questions always revolve around his ever so fragile knees. Following his opening round defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon, Nadal expressed that the stress and pain put on his knees is amplified on grass due to the consistently lower positions he must execute in order to properly strike the ball.

Though the tour is transitioning from grass to hard, Nadal’s knees will continue to be tested. Despite the fact that hard courts yield higher bounces which mean the Spaniard will see more balls in his desired strike zone thus less bending and lunging for lower balls, hard courts are called hard courts for a reason—they are hard—especially on Rafa’s knees.

Before the U.S. Open, Nadal will be playing in both Montreal and Cincinnati, two events that will surely allow him to gauge the status of his knees. If Nadal can remain healthy, as he proved in the seven tournaments he has won in 2013, he can be absolutely devastating. Remember, besides the six clay court tournaments he won, Nadal also won Indian Wells defeating Federer, Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro en route to the title.

David Ferrer_cropDavid Ferrer: World Number 3

David Ferrer has reached the semifinals of 4 of the last 6 grand slams, including a career best run at this year’s French Open where he overcame his grand slam semifinal struggles getting to the final before losing to Nadal.

Undeniably, Ferrer’s premier surface is clay. Ferrer is often praised for his speed, consistency, retrieval abilities, and his fighting spirit. The narrative around Ferrer often clouds one of the most overlooked and important aspects of his game that being his aggression. For one of the smallest guys on tour, Ferrer really injects a mountain of energy into each and every shot and certainly can put a significant amount of pace on the ball.

Ferrer will be less inclined to grind on hard courts and as a result, his underestimated finishing power should be on full display.

Andy MurrayAndy Murray: World No. 2

Regardless of what Andy Murray does for the rest of the season, his 2013 will be remembered for his triumph at Wimbledon. Despite it being one of the most bizarre tournaments any of us have ever witnessed, the British fans’ 77 years of agony finally ended.

The joys of success must be quickly celebrated as Murray has a whopping 2000 points to defend from his U.S. Open title last year. Murray should feel less pressure in the U.S. Open warm-up even tournament as he only has 180 points to defend in Montreal and Cincinnati.

Over the past several years, Murray’s game has evolved leaps and bounds under the careful supervision of the ever stoic Ivan Lendl. In prior years, Murray game was characterized by inexplicable passivity and constant mental battles. Today, Murray has flip the switch on that characterization and has learned to better control the myriad of thoughts running through his head and utilize his powerful groundstrokes in a manner that is more proactive rather than reactive.

Look for Murray’s second serve to be a key shot as he looks to defend his U.S. Open crown especially if he ends up facing either Ferrer or Djokovic, two of the best returners in the game.

Novak DjokovicNovak Djokovic: World No. 1

Shock and disbelief were coursing through my veins during the Wimbledon final as Novak Djokovic put forth one of the most substandard performances of his career. Coming from a guy who usually steps up in the biggest moments and has ice running through his veins, Djokovic surely was not expecting such an outright defeat.

Having lost two of his last three major finals to Murray, the Serbian will enter the hard court swing looking to restore the form that catapulted him to the number one ranking, a level of play far distant from what we saw in the Wimbledon final.

The next several months will be a key stretch for the Serb as he looks to maintain a grasp of the top ranking. In 2012, Djokovic won Canada and reached the final of Cincinnati and the U.S. Open meaning he has serious points to defend.

The Magnificent Seven: Memorable Men’s Matches from the First Half of 2013

Made for this sport, and for each other.

Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall.  This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half.  Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.

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7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3

During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite.  First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively.   Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo.  Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1.  When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled.  Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished.  Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris.  (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)

Stakhovsky

6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)

Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club.  An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals.  That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10.  Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday.  Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better.  Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.

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5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2

Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back.  He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized.  Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set.  A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth.  All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently.  Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013.  Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.

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4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5

Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012.  Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years.  Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition.  To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset.  But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges.  He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.

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3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3

Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications.  Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why.  Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic.  Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation.  We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.

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2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10

Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year.  The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent.  Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began.  Or so we thought.  A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment.  Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return.  The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt.  Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments.  Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.

Rafael+Nadal+French+Open+Day+13+D1S4XRV0_S1x

1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7

The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line.  One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced.  Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth.  Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line.  Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph.  While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb.  Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.

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Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.

Novak Djokovic Foundation Raises $1.7 Million at Star-Studded London Gala

Novak Djokovic Foundation Gala

(July 9, 2013) Monday evening at the Roundhouse in London, tennis stars, celebrities and distinguished guests helped raise over $1.7 million at the Novak Djokovic Foundation’s inaugural London Gala and fundraiser event.

Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic at London gala 2013 2 png

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and his longtime girlfriend and the Foundation’s executive director, Jelena Ristic, were a beautiful site at the star-studded event, which included Kate Hudson, Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Sir Richard Branson, Goldie Hawn, Ronnie Wood, Jonathan Ross, Princess Beatrice and Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York among its 300 guests.

Marion Bartoli and Tim Henman Kate Kudson, Gerard Butler, Goldie Hawn Novak Djokovic, Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn, Richard Branson

Demonstrating the Foundation’s worldwide support from Djokovic’s international circle of friends involved in fashion, sport, music, entertainment and business, auction prizes included a money-can’t-buy yacht getaway with Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, a signed guitar by Ronnie Wood and a seven day holiday at Sir Richard Branson’s private island, Necker, situated in the British Virgin Islands.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmB11FTi5X4

A game of tennis also ensued on the tennis court stage, where Boris Becker took to the umpire’s chair, Jeremy Piven did the splits with Djokovic and even Kate Hudson grabbed a tennis racquet while clad in her flowing Elie Saab dress.

Novak Djokovic at London Gala Becker Ross and Djokovic Jeremy Piven and Novak Djokovic Kate Hudson plays tennis in dress at Djokovic gala

UNICEF Ambassador Djokovic founded the Novak Djokovic Foundation in 2007 with a mission to support vulnerable and disadvantaged children from the lack of nutrition, education, illness or loss of family, especially in his native Serbia.

Dinner Table Novak Djokovic Foundation Gala

Wimbledon Men’s Final Rewind: Andy Murray’s Historic Achievement, and More

The consummation of a long, tempestuous love affair.

The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion.  Here are some thoughts.

That was…historic:  77 years, and counting no longer.  It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles.  With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year.  He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.

But also anticlimactic:  Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold.  Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time.  He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers.  Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed.  Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.

Symptoms of a real rivalry:  Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did.  Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time.  But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns.  After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon.  One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.

Return to normalcy:  Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all.  Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve.  Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.

The grass is greener:  Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades.  He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface.  With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass.  Could it become his favorite surface?

No place like Down Under:  Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open.  His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors.  In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.

Four in a row:  Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe.  That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13.  His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.

Del Potro lurking (again):  At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set.  It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray.  Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray.  On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.

No competition, no problem:  Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked.  Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.

Practice makes perfect:  The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year.  Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set.  But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.  He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.

Hangover ahead:  After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion.  One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon.  On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.

More drama elsewhere:  France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title.  The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6.  The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.

 

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Semifinals

Fast forward six months.

We can anticipate a blockbuster meeting between two members of the Big Four in the Wimbledon final after all.  The route getting there took some intriguing twists and turns, however.  Here are some reactions to Friday’s action.

That was…expected:  For the seventh time in ten years, the Wimbledon final will feature the top two men in the world.  When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal tumbled by the first Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray became overwhelming favorites to reach the second Sunday.  Credit to them for taking care of business and ensuring a worthy climax to the tournament.

But also better than expected:  With Djokovic’s semifinal opponent injured and Murray’s semifinal opponent highly inexperienced, two routs could have unfolded on Friday.  Instead, a captivated crowd saw more than seven and a half hours of high-quality tennis, courtesy of underdogs who showed determination and resilience.  Credit to Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz for battling the favorites bravely.

Marathon man:  The world No. 1 played the longest major final ever last year at the Australian Open, and this year he played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.  Novak Djokovic’s super fitness and physical style of play predispose him toward these epics, as do the ebbs and flows that still characterize his emotions.  His five-set victory over Del Potro lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just five minutes shorter than the Federer-Nadal classic in 2008 and longer than the Federer-Roddick thriller in 2009.

The march of grass revenge continues:  Having defeated his 2009 Wimbledon nemesis in the fourth round and 2010 Wimbledon nemesis in the quarterfinals, Djokovic avenged his loss on grass to Del Potro in the bronze-medal match of the 2012 Olympics.  In the final, he will get a crack at the man who denied him a chance at the gold medal there.

That was then, this is now:  Djokovic’s Wimbledon semifinal followed almost exactly the opposite pattern of his Roland Garros semifinal.  He took an early lead, let it get away, took another lead, let that get away in a fourth-set tiebreak, but then closed the fifth set in style by winning his opponent’s last service game.  With just a month between those memorable matches, the similar situation combined with the contrasting result should give him even more confidence for the final.

E for effort:  Deep in the fourth set, Del Potro cracked an unthinkable 120-mph forehand, a speed comparable to the average first serves of many players.  He also saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before forcing a final set.  The Tower of Tandil came to play despite a painful knee injury, and he willed himself to retrieve more balls and survive longer in rallies than anyone could have asked of him.  Fans could see why he had not lost a set en route to the semifinal, where he made his most impressive statement at a major since winning the 2009 US Open.

But Z for zero:  On the other hand, Del Potro remains winless against the Big Four of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and Federer at majors since the start of 2010, with at least one loss at each major.  He has won at least one set in four of those six losses, but an 0-6 record is what it is.  Players don’t get points or trophies for “almost” in this cruel sport.

Murray’s mulligan:  For the second time, Andy Murray reached the final at consecutive majors.   The previous do-over did not end well when he lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, a year after falling to Federer.  Losing last year’s final at his home major likely taught the Scot some valuable lessons that he can apply to his second chance, though, and he came much closer in his first attempt than he did in Melbourne.  One can expect Murray to shed tears for one reason or another on Sunday, and the British fans will do their best to facilitate a happier ending to the remake.

Guru of grass:  Great Britain should count itself fortunate in producing not only a remarkable champion in Murray but one suited to succeed at his home major.  Murray has won 17 straight matches and reached four consecutive finals on grass, including the Olympics gold medal and the Queens Club title earlier this month.  He will hold the surface advantage against Djokovic on Sunday with his superior first serve and stronger forecourt skills.

Contrasting paths:  Just as in the women’s draw, one finalist has survived a significantly more difficult route than the other.  Like Lisicki, Djokovic has halted three top-15 opponents en route to the final, including two top-eight seeds.  Like Bartoli, Murray has not faced a top-16 seed in his first six matches.

Contrasting trajectories:  In each of his last three matches, Djokovic has started impressively in winning the first set and then stumbled in the second set.  He rallied to win that set from Haas and Berdych anyway, but he trailed the German 2-4 and the Czech by a double break.  In contrast, Murray has started slowly in each of his last two matches, dropping the first set before roaring back to win.  If this trend continues, the final could become a best-of-three affair after the first two sets.

Rubber match:  Djokovic and Murray have contested three of the last four major finals, equal to any span compiled by Federer and Nadal.  The rivalry between the top two men has not quite caught fire yet, although they split those two previous matches in New York and Melbourne.  Perhaps extending their clashes beyond hard courts will raise the successor to Federer-Nadal a notch higher in intrigue.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Overlooked amid the drama on Centre Court, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty reached their second doubles final in three majors.  The two Australians defeated two of the top five teams in the world to reach the final, where they will face Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.  Their Fed Cup team will have a solid pairing on whom to rely in decisive doubles rubbers moving forward.

My picks for the singles finals:  I’m taking Lisicki in two and Murray in four.  This Wimbledon has belonged to the underdogs, and I think that it will stay that way.

 

Sabine Lisicki’s Wimbledon Magic; History Beckons for Bryan Brothers — The Friday Five

Sabine+Lisicki+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+csqLAjHl1htx-1

By Maud Watson

Sabine+Lisicki+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+csqLAjHl1htx-1Wimbledon Magic

No matter how poor her results coming into or after Wimbledon, for that fortnight, Sabine Lisicki plays like a Top 5 talent.  She’s defeated the reigning French Open champion four of the last five years (she didn’t play in 2010), and her winning percentage against Top 10 players on the lawns of the All England Club is quite impressive.  But unlike in years past, Lisicki has managed to find enough consistency to book herself a place in her first major final.  She’s in with an excellent shot against Bartoli to produce a little more magic to claim her maiden slam title.  Irrespective of what happens Saturday, however, it will be a disappointment if Lisicki fails to follow up the rest of her season with stellar results.  She has a powerful, all-around game and far too much talent not to be vying for the game’s biggest titles on a consistent basis.  She also has an affable personality that the WTA could use right now, so here’s to hoping that this Wimbledon final is just the first of many major titles the German will be competing for.

Second Chances

In 2007, Marion Bartoli shocked Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final where she lost to Venus Williams.  Now, six years later, Bartoli has once again defeated a Belgian in the final four to reach a Wimbledon final where she’ll face another talent with a big serve, powerful game, and brings her best on the grass.  But things are a little different in 2013, too.  Bartoli thrashed Flipkens in the semis instead of escaping by a hair, and her opponent in the final, Lisicki, is even less experienced at this stage than her.  And despite struggling with her game for the past several months, Bartoli is looking like the Top 10 player that she can be once again.  She showed no signs of nerves in the semis, not only relentlessly attacking virtually every ball with laser-like precision, but she showed a willingness to mix it up by coming forward.  Assuming she doesn’t let the occasion get to her and is able to play at this high level on Saturday, tennis fans are going to be in for a real treat.

History Beckons

The Bryan Brothers have done almost anything there is to do in doubles, breaking records right and left.  On Saturday, they’ll have the chance to add one more feather to their caps as they vie for the Wimbledon doubles crown.  Should they win, they’ll have a “Bryan Bros.” Grand Slam and will become the first doubles duo in the Open Era to hold all four majors at once.  Also, should they taste victory in London, look out when Flushing Meadows rolls around.  The twins would then be going for a calendar-year Grand Slam, one of the rarest feats in the sport.  They’ve managed to do just about anything else in the world of doubles, so why not this?

Still Standing

For all of the dramatic upsets and withdrawals that have unfolded the last two weeks, the top two favorites in the men’s field, Djokovic and Murray, are still standing.  Both still have a little more work to do if they hope to contest the championship match on Sunday, but make no mistake, they’re heavy favorites to live up to their seeding.  On paper, Djokovic has the more difficult of the two semis, with del Potro as his opponent.  The two split meetings earlier this year, and the Argentine got the better of Djokovic on these same courts at the Olympics in 2012.  But in this semifinal, you have to figure Djokovic’s experience will prove a major X factor.  There’s also the knee issue that’s plaguing del Potro, and trying to defeat the Serb at less than 100% is a big ask.  Janowicz will also have to come up with some spectacular answers if he’s to disappoint an entire nation by upsetting Murray.  The Pole did get the better of Murray last year at the Paris Masters and has a monster serve.  He’ll also go in knowing that Murray was less than steady in his quarterfinal clash with Verdasco.  But Murray has far more experience in these situations, is the steadier of the two, especially in the mental department, and will have virtually all of the fans on the Centre Court in his corner.  Both should be entertaining affairs, but expect Djokovic and Murray to set up a blockbuster final.

The Basics

After a stunning early loss at Wimbledon, Federer appears to be going back to the drawing board.  In lieu of his usual break following the conclusion of Wimbledon, the Swiss will be adding two clay court events to his schedule.  He’s set to contest Gstaad – the tournament that offered him his first wildcard – and Hamburg, which he’s also won more than a few times in the past.  It may be interpreted by some as a troubling sign from the ageing veteran, but in many ways, Federer’s decision is one to be admired.  He’s not letting his pride get in the way, and he’s smart to try and pick up a few events between now and the summer hard court season.  He could use the rankings points, a chance to get his game clicking, and more than anything, a chance to gain some confidence.  Hopefully he’s able to get it going so that he can be fully back in the mix come the US Open.

Juan Martin Del Potro Looks to Further Improve on his Best Wimbledon Ever

Juan Martin del Potro in Wimbledon semifinals png

Juan Martin del Potro in Wimbledon semifinals png

(July 3, 2013) For years now, I have dismissed Juan Martin Del Potro on grass. And it wasn’t without reason. He is very tall and has long legs, and the low bounce on grass makes it difficult for him to get down to hit balls comfortably. His movement on the surface has never been great. Most of all, though, even when he played his best tennis, the results just weren’t there on the green stuff.

I should have started paying attention last summer, when a great run at the London Olympics took Del Potro to the a victory over Novak Djokovic and the Bronze Medal. I should have noticed in the earlier rounds of this tournament, when his level of play was higher than it has ever been on grass.

Well, I finally noticed when he hit David Ferrer off the court.

This is the Juan Martin Del Potro that a terrible wrist injury has deprived us from seeing for 4 years. Sure, he’s shown flashes of his old self the past 2-3 seasons or so. But there has been no consistency at that level and no reason for us to think that he could sustain it again.

Del Potro is moving very well around the grass courts, getting to balls with enough time, and just absolutely hitting the stuffing out of them. Del Potro has shown us a level of grit and determination this tournament that we haven’t seen from him since the US Open final in 2009.

2013 has not been a great year so far for Del Potro but he is really beginning to heat up now. The American hard courts are by far his best surface and he is primed for a great summer as long as he is healthy. He has looked lethal on the grass so far this year and there is really no reason that his grass season has to end this match.

Of course, his opponent might have something to say about that. Novak Djokovic is on a mission to win his second Wimbledon and he doesn’t want to let the last player to beat him on grass stop him now. Djokovic has been monstrous on defense all tournament and those elastic defensive skills will be tested against Del Potro’s power.

Djokovic is clearly the best player in the game right now. That being said, he has not been as dominant this year as in the past few and is nowhere near the untouchable level that he was back in the spring of 2011. He has no real weaknesses, but another talented player playing his best game for 2 or more hours can definitely beat him.

Obviously, even though there is never any shame in losing to the best player in the world, this match would be disappointing for Del Potro if he loses. He has played through nasty spills and terrible knee pain and it would be sad for him to lose. But this has been the best Wimbledon of his young career so far and it is a tremendous step moving forward to try and once again find the levels that won him a Slam already in his career. The Tower of Tandil is standing tall—and he will go as far in this tournament as his body lets him.

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