Paris

Andy Murray Could Overtake Djokovic To Become No. 1

Who would have thought that Andy Murray would get this close to becoming the Number one Tennis Player in the world? The online tennis odds of Murray reaching the summit were never high.

His rivals were simply too good; however, it looks like Murray has overcome all obstacles to finally come within striking distance of the top spot. A long time ago, seven years ago to be exact, Andy Murray reached the No.2 spot in the rankings.

And that lit a fire in him, a desire to climb over opponents like Roger Federer to finally make it to the top. And the fact that he has come so close is nothing to scoff at; because Murray can literally touch his objective considering just how close he is to the top.

And with rivals like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, it says a lot about Murray that he has climbed so far up the rankings. The only thing standing in his way is the Paris Masters. If Murray can win there and Djokovic fails to reach the final, then Murray will become the top-ranked Tennis player in the World for the first time in his career.

Of course, with the sort of pressure such a prospect can attract, Murray cannot afford to dwell on it, and he said as much in a recent interview. He cannot think about it too much, not when he has matches to prepare for in the immediate future.

Murray is right in thinking that he has no control over whether or not he becomes the Top-Ranked player. As things stand, Murray could win all his matches and still fail to become No.1.

Novak still holds all the cards; he can still waylay Murray’s journey to the top. Luckily for Murray, he hasn’t made becoming No.1 an obsession, which can happen sometimes. He has simply focused on doing his best in each and every game. He has no intention of acting any different from what he has done for the last couple of weeks.

That isn’t to say that Murray is completely brushing aside the idea of actually becoming No.1. Even if Andy were to strive to become the Top-Ranked player in the world, he doesn’t think he can achieve that goal before early 2017 at best. The prospect of reaching that goal this week seems unlikely for Murray.

This season has been good to Murray, allowing him to exceed many of his own records by winning seven titles; however, Novak has also performed astoundingly in 2016. If Murray does become Number one, he would be the oldest person to do so (at age 29) since John Newcombe who took the spot in 1974 when he was 30.

Murray is confident in his abilities and definitely, believes that he deserves the top spot. The last few months have seen Murray perform at his absolute best.

Last year’s Paris Masters didn’t end well for Murray who lost to Novak in the final; now, Murray will face Fernando Verdasco in the second round. Even with his victories at the Olympics and in Vienna, there is no way of telling whether or not Murray will end 2016 as the top-ranked player in tennis.

Rafael Nadal Withdrawal Shocks Roland Garros

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

The biggest news of the day at the French Open on Friday wasn’t caused by something that happened on the court, rather by a decision made by nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, who was the No. 4 seed in the event this year, announced that he had withdrawn himself from the tournament.

“This is one of the toughest press conferences of my career…If it wasn’t Roland Garros, I probably wouldn’t have taken the risks (of playing with an injury). It’s the most important event of the year for me,” said Nadal.

The cause of Nadal’s surprising decision was a left wrist injury that the Spaniard has been dealing with for the past “couple of weeks”, just another bullet point on a long list of injuries that have hindered his success in the past few years.

Nadal first felt pain in his wrist three weeks ago when he played in the quarterfinals of Madrid, but attempted to play through the pain in Rome, and then in Paris.

After beating Sam Groth and Facundo Bagnis in his first two matches in Paris, losing only nine games in the process, many began to believe that Nadal would be able to provide a tough challenge to Novak Djokovic in the latter stages of the tournament.

Unfortunately for Nadal and fans of tennis, there will not be a 50th meeting between the two great champions, as the pain in Nadal’s wrist continued to grow.

“I arrived here with a little bit of pain but I thought it was something I would be able to manage, but every day it got a bit worse,” said Nadal.

While many will be disappointed with his decision to leave the tournament, Nadal is doing what is best for him and his career as he is weary of the potential problems that would come from playing with his injured wrist.

“It’s not broken, but if I keep playing it’s going to be broken in the next couple of days,” said Nadal.

“To have won the tournament I would have had to play five more matches and the doctor told me that was 100 percent impossible,” said Nadal.

Nadal and his team hope that he will be able to play in Wimbledon and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that happens.

“I need a couple of weeks with the immobilization. Then we’re going to do the treatment and we hope the treatment works well. We expect to recover quick,” said Nadal.

Nadal’s withdrawal grants fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers a walkover into the fourth round.

On the court, headlines were made by 23-year old American Shelby Rogers as she upset two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova by a 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-0 score line.

After racing out a hot start, converting on three out of four break points and saving the only one she faced in the first set, Rogers began to be challenged by Kvitova in the second set. The Czechwoman had a breakpoint in Rogers’ first service game of the second set but couldn’t convert, but did grab her first and only break of the match when Rogers was serving up a break at 4-3 and looked like it could be a turning point.

Kvitova went on to take the second set in a tiebreak, but was unable to carry the momentum over into the decider. Rogers stood strong and continued to play well as she had done all match, going up 0-40 in Kvitova’s first service game and breaking for an early lead. Kvitova had a look to break right back, but once again failed to convert on a break point, and that was ultimately where the match ended.

Rogers went on to break twice more, with a hold at love thrown in the middle, to close out the set and the match.

Rogers, the No. 108 player in the world, earned her first appearance in the fourth round of a major with her win over the No. 10 seed. The moment gave Rogers, and fans of American tennis, plenty to cheer for and be emotional about.

“It was incredible…I’m one that cries very easily and I think everyone saw that. I immediately started crying,” said Rogers.

Irina-Camelia Begu, the No. 25 seed from Romania, will be Rogers’ next opponent.

Tsonga Stages 0-2 Comeback To Earn 100th Major Win

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earned his 100th win at a major and advanced to the third round of the French Open on Thursday in Paris after battling back from a two set deficit against Marcos Baghdatis, earning the 6-7(6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win.

Tsonga, who owned a 6-0 head-to-head record over Baghdatis, came into the match with plenty of confidence playing in front of his home crowd, but the experienced Cypriot was up to the task in the early stages.

In the battle of former Australian Open finalists, Baghdatis in 2006 and Tsonga in 2008, Baghdatis’ strategy was to utilize the drop shot as much as possible and make the Frenchman run all over the court. Throughout the first set, that gameplan worked perfectly for the Baghdatis, the former No. 8 player in the world, and it allowed him to have the confidence to go up an early break and eventually save a set point in the first set tiebreak before going on to win it.

The French faithful did not give up hope in the highest ranked French player as he showed signs of being able to battle back from the deficit, despite the fact that Baghdatis had been playing at such a high level. After going up a break early in the second set, all seemed to be right for Tsonga, but Baghdatis was able to break right back before going on to grab another break later in the set. A hold at love, including an ace at set point, gave the Cypriot a two sets to love lead, pulling him to within one set of his first third round appearance at the French Open since 2010.

“He just played perfectly, tactically in the first two, and he pushed me to give the best of myself,” said Tsonga of Baghdatis’ play.

The high quality play from Baghdatis in the first two sets was all for naught, however, as Tsonga was able to battle back, as the majority of the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier expected. Baghdatis, who has struggled with fitness before, including in his epic second round encounter with Andre Agassi at the 2006 US Open, Agassi’s final professional tournament, began to show signs of decreasing energy as he began to make too many errors and relied on his drop shot too much to shorten points.

After dropping the third set, Baghdatis had a chance in the fourth to go up a break again, but Tsonga came up clutch and did not look back from there. Two breaks in the fourth and fifth sets came easily to Tsonga as he was able to eventually pull out the five-set win and advance to the third round where he will take on 2014 French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis.

Baghdatis never gave up on the drop shot throughout the match, finishing up by hitting 68 total. “Over five sets that’s a lot of running to the net, very tiring,” said Tsonga, who successfully came back from two sets to love down for the third time in his career.

On the women’s side, both Williams sisters won their matches easily with 6-2, 6-1 score lines. Serena beat Teliana Pereira of Brazil, while Venus defeated fellow American Louisa Chirico.

Venus, who is 15 years older than her opponent on Thursday, cited experience as the deciding factor over the young and talented Chirico. “Louisa has a lot of talent but I think I had the experience. Today, I was lucky that I’ve played 20 years here at Roland Garros…It’s not as much fun when you have to meet an American early on, but the best part is an American will go through,” said Venus.

Trials and tribulations end in the ultimate triumph for Maria Sharapova

By Melissa Boyd

Four years ago many wondered if she would ever play again and when she did, next to no one believed she could taste the sweetest victory of her career, the one that she earned on the famed red clay courts at Roland-Garros. In the space of three days, Maria Sharapova became World No. 1, captured her first French Open title, completed the career Grand Slam and wrote another page in the tennis history books.

People may have doubted Sharapova’s ability to win a Grand Slam after suffering a potentially career threatening shoulder injury in 2008, but Sharapova herself never stopped believing through all of the trials and tribulations of her comeback. It all came together for her on the clay in 2012, a surface on which she once famously described herself as being a “cow on ice”. Remarkably, Sharapova went undefeated on red clay this year, a streak which culminated with her fourth Grand Slam title in Paris following a 6-3, 6-2 over first time Major finalist Sara Errani of Italy.

“I had so many outs in my career.  I could have said, I don’t need this.  I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams,” Sharapova said. “But, when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small.”

The 25-year-old Russian is the tenth woman to complete the career Grand Slam joining the esteemed ranks of Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court,  Chris Evert, Shirley Fry, Steffi Graf, Doris Hart, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams. She is the first player to accomplish the feat having won only one title at each of the four events.  Sharapova’s performance at Roland-Garros will propel her to a whole new category of greatness, the one that is reserved for the best players of all-time.

Beyond the numbers and the significance of such a monumental triumph, it’s how Sharapova found her way back to the pinnacle of her sport that is perhaps most impressive. She overcame bad losses, poor form and a less than reliable serve. She has since improved her movement, rediscovered her lethal groundstrokes and most importantly, found her confidence. The Sharapova that won her first French Open title is a better player than the Sharapova who won her first three Grand Slam crowns.

Beneath Sharapova’s fame, fortune and steely exterior, lies the heart of a true champion and the exuberance of a young woman who is realizing her dreams. She is a fierce competitor who takes her tennis very seriously and when she fell to her knees and cried tears of joys into the French ‘terre battue’ after Errani’s shot went into the net on match point, she showed the world just how much the greatest moment of her tennis life meant to her.

“It’s the most incredible feeling. I don’t know what to say. I’m so happy. I’ve worked so hard for this,” Sharapova said. “It took a lot to get to this stage and even more to win it. There are so many tough days where you feel like giving up, but you don’t. It’s been such a journey to get to this stage again.”

Making sense of a wide open women’s draw at Roland-Garros

By Melissa Boyd

While play on the women’s side during week one of Roland-Garros has not been of the highest quality, the drama that the ladies have produced over the first eight days in Paris has more than made up for it. For those just tuning in, it would appear as though a tornado has run through the draw, sparing just a handful of seeds along its destructive path.

When pre-tournament favourite Serena Williams was reduced to tears en route to a stunning first round defeat at the hands on an inspired Virginie Razzano, the upset flood gates were opened and several title favourites were shown the door earlier than anticipated. Most notably, a cranky World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was knocked out on Sunday by Dominika Cibulkova to ensure that there will be a second different Grand Slam champion in 2012. The Slovakian exorcised some demons with the victory after failing to close her last two matches against Azarenka despite holding sizable leads on both occasions. Meanwhile, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska mustered just three games in bowing out to 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

While the top eight seeds are all still in title contention on the men’s side, only four of the top eight ladies remain. The top half of the draw has been particularly decimated. Case and point, one of Cibulkova, Sara Errani, Angelqiue Kerber or Samantha Stosur will be a Roland-Garros finalist this year. Stosur played for the title in 2010 and won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last summer. The other three are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the business end of Majors, but have quietly built impressive career resumes. With her ball striking, Cibulkova can contend with anyone, Errani has won three clay court titles this season alone and Kerber, the newest member of the WTA’s Top 10, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2011.

The bottom half of the women’s draw features the new tournament favourite as well as the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champions. A gaping hole was left in the Maria Sharapova’s section of the draw following Williams’ unexpected exit and Caroline Wozniacki’s third round loss to Kaia Kanepi. The Russian, who could take over as the new World No. 1 if she reaches the final in Paris, has been a woman on a mission through three rounds, dropping a mere five games as she attempts to complete her career Grand Slam. It remains to be seen whether the added pressure of being the favourite will get to Sharapova as she moves closer to the business end of the tournament, but so far she has been lights out. Na Li and Petra Kvitova are slated to meet in the quarter-finals and could provide some serious for opposition for Sharapova in the semifinals, especially considering her record against both players.

There are still many stories to be told as Roland-Garros approaches its climax and if week one of is any indication, prepare to brace for the unexpected.

Compelling women’s event in store at Roland-Garros

By Melissa Boyd

The WTA Season is off to a flying start and rarely has there been this much anticipation for the women’s event at a Grand Slam heading into Roland-Garros. The draw if filled with storylines that will keep fans enthralled for the entire two-week fortnight.

Serena Williams, who is undefeated on clay this year with two titles, comes to Paris as the favourite, but the American will have to conquer a few French Open demons if she wants to win her first Roland-Garros title since 2002 and first Grand Slam crown since 2010. Williams will have to prove she can win seven matches in the ever-changing conditions on the clay courts in Paris, but she certainly has put herself in prime position to accomplish the feat.

Then there is Maria Sharapova, the former self-described “cow on ice”, has been the second best clay court player this season on the strength of her two titles in Stuttgart and Rome. Many felt like this was the Russian’s best chance to complete her coveted  career Grand Slam, unless Williams, whom she has not beat in eight years, fell in her section of the draw and that’s exactly what happened. The much hoped for Sharapova-Williams final will instead potentially happen in the quarter-finals. Sharapova winning Roland-Garros would be some story, but she’ll have to navigate a tough draw to do it.

It’s hard to believe that World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has been labeled the tournament’s third favourite, but an underwhelming clay court season that featured uncharacteristic losses and an injury withdrawal have people wondering whether Azarenka can repeat her stellar run in Australia. Not to mention that 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur, Brussels champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus Williams as well as a pair of former French Open champions, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova are in her section of the draw.

Other names to watch out for include last year’s finalists. Defending champion Na Li could be stiff competition for Sharapova or Williams in the semifinals and while everyone was writing off Francesca Schiavone, she went and won her final tune up event in Strasbourg. Mona Barthel and Angelique Kerber are prime candidates to cause havoc in the women’s draw at Roland-Garros.

While many are already dusting off the French Open trophy to give it to Serena Williams, tournament tradition on the women’s side in recent years would lean more towards someone making a Cinderella run to the title with the odds stacked against them. The Parisian fortnight will dictate which of these two familiar story lines will characterize the second Grand Slam of the tennis season.

Like we Needed More Reasons to Love Grigor Dimitrov

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov has given us plenty of reasons to love him (we count six, maybe eight), but here’s the nail on the coffin: His favorite designer? Alexander McQueen. (See the Q&A here.)

BTW, congrats to Grigor for cracking the ATP Top 150 — he’s now at 136 — after winning back-to-back-to-back Challengers this year. (ATP: Grigor’s stats).

And speaking of McQueen, Sarah Burton, who’s succeeded Mr. McQueen (RIP) as creative director, presented the Spring 2011 men’s collection this past June in Milan. The women’s collection will show in Paris this week. One thing we’ll know not to expect from Burton are the fashion house’s infamous, over-the-top presentations. “That was very much [his] territory — the spectacular show,” Burton told Elle.

(photo from Wilson‘s FB)

RAFA’S RECORD OF CLAY

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the king of clay.

The “rey” of clay, so to speak.

Back on May 29, 2006, as documented in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), Rafa put himself in the “clay” record books with a win over Robin Soderling, as document below. Soderling, ironically, would play another historic match with Nadal three years later at Roland Garros, handing the Spanish lefty his first career French Open loss in the fourth round.

2006 – Rafael Nadal wins his 54th consecutive match on a clay court, breaking the Open era record set by Guillermo Vilas, defeating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open in Paris. Nadal is honored for his achievement with an on-court ceremony featuring Christian Bimes, the President of the French Tennis Federation, and Vilas himself, who won 53 straight matches on clay in 1977. Says Nadal of the record, “Obviously, the record is something just extra. It’s something you want. You want to go for it, but the first round in a Grand Slam tournament is always difficult. The first round in any tournament is difficult, but in a Grand Slam, there’s a little more pressure.“ Vilas was not even aware that he held the record for most consecutive clay court victories until weeks before the record was broken. He was, however, well aware of his Open-era records for consecutive victories, regardless of surface (50) and for tournaments won in a year (16) – all accomplished in 1977. Says Vilas, “I’m not sad to lose the minor record, but I’ll be mad if he breaks the others.” Nadal’s streak begins in April of 2005 at the Monte Carlo Open. The streak ends at 81 on May 20, 2007, when Roger Federer beats Nadal in the final of Hamburg, Germany.

If it’s good enough for Michelle Obama…

Jelena Jankovic moved away from the baby doll dresses she and clothing sponsor ANTA dreamed up for the beginning of 2009, choosing Miami as the event to debut this faux one-shoulder kit (hey, if it’s good enough for Michelle Obama, it’s good enough for Ms. Jankovic!).

Jelena crashed out of that tournament, unfortunately (losing to Gisela Dulko in the second round after a bye), but she bounced back the week after with a title win at the Andalucia Tennis Experience. Following that, she had three quarterfinal losses at Stuttgart, Roma, and Madrid.

What’s in store for Paris? We here at TSF eagerly await what she’ll wear while playing on the terre battue of Roland Garros (which begins next week). Judging from her choices so far, I don’t think she’ll disappoint…

More: A few more pictures during Janks’ Madrid Open run — including the white/blue sneakers and the blue mascara she paired with her blue warm-up.

The Robbie Koenig Blog: Can Anyone Beat Rafa In Paris?

Anyway, the clay court season thus far, one word….” NADAL”….the kid is from another planet!!! Mentally and physically, on this surface, he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen, and probably the best of all time…and he’s only just 23 (in a few days)!!!

For me, what makes him so good are a few things. Firstly, his ability to “compartmentalize” his thoughts. He NEVER gets ahead of himself. He only focuses on the present. He only ever talks about his next opponent, never who he might meet later in the draw and potential match-ups down the line, thereby giving respect to each guy he faces and taking nothing for granted. And on the match court, its more of the same. He rarely lets the previous point affect the next one and he has this ability to play each point like there was none before, or none to follow.
Secondly, he loves the battle more than anyone! It’s the “process” of winning that seems to consume all his effort and he constantly rewards himself with a “Vamos,” sometimes as early as the second or third game, if he’s had a tough hold. And coupled with the joy he takes out of each victory, again often early on in a tournament, is so refreshing and just goes to show how much he enjoys the “small” victories. Let’s face it, anyone can enjoy the big or classic wins!

From a physical point of view, his movement is “two days on horseback” ahead of his peers.(Must be said, Djokovic has been impressive with his challenge). I’m sure good genes help, given the athletic ability of his uncles, it obviously runs in the family. His footwork is the key to his shot-making, both in attacking and defending. It’s so easy to get a little slow with your feet when attacking because you generally got time on the ball, but Rafa never lets his intensity wane, and always makes sure he’s perfectly setup to pull the trigger!!!

Can anyone beat him in Paris? Not unless they cut off his left arm…and even then, he’s pretty damn good with the right one as we all know! The problem for the chasing pack is doing it over five sets. The semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid was an epic, but remember that was at altitude, quick clay courts and best-of-three sets and the Serb still couldn’t get the W!!! I can’t see him hanging with Rafa over five sets. I think Murray can hang with him over five sets, but he doesn’t move well enough on this stuff. Firstly, he’s gotta get far enough to meet Nadal, and secondly, I can’t see him handle the Spaniard, because Rafa will out-maneuver him over the distance. Hard court, different story, it just shows how important movement is at the highest level, and clay is unique in that regard!

What about Roger? I can’t see it happen. I don’t read much into the Madrid win for the obvious reasons already discussed. Wimby and the US Open are his best bets to bag another major, but even those are gonna be a lot tougher than previous years.

Djokovic is the main challenger, no question – the results don’t lie! Hopefully he and Nadal are in separate sections of the draw. That would be my preferred final.

Watchout for: Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic

Hope you all looking foward to Rafa being challenged at Rolland Garros as much as I am.