Rafael Nadal

Forget The GOAT Debate! Let’s Talk About The GROAT!

By Thaddeus McCarthy

As we are in the (short) off-season, I thought now would be a perfect time to look at some historical aspects of our great game. Rather than discussing my opinions on the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate (which is a boring and tedious one), I will instead talk about the GROAT (Greatest Record of All Time) debate. Whether it is Roger Federer’s 17 Grand Slams, or Rafael Nadal’s 81-match clay-court win streak, we certainly have an array of options. The records I will compare will be only men, as it is too difficult to compare both sexes. I also don’t want to get into a debate on the relative importance of the two.

Two factors are most important here; the first is the difficulty of acquiring the record, and the second is how important the record is too the game’s history in general. The difficulty of acquiring the record can be looked at by the closeness of the results, the quality of the opponents, and the next person in the category. How important the record is can be looked at by how widely known is, and is revered by players and historians.

I would like to start off by talking about a record that unfortunately never was, Federer’s 19 consecutive Grand Slam finals. The match which broke this streak was the 2008 Aussie Open semifinal versus Novak Djokovic, which coincidentally your writer watched from the stands. I remember thinking that Fed was not his normal self. He did in fact have mononucleosis, which did slow him down. But let’s for now go back to fantasy and believe that Federer won this match, in which case I believe we certainly would have had the greatest record in tennis, and arguably in sports. Why? Well there were many close matches throughout, such as Janko Tipsaravic at Aussie 08, won 10-8 in the 5th. The opponents Federer had to face in this time (2005-2010) before the final were very good; such as a young Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, and David Nalbandian. The next person in the consecutive finals category is Rafael Nadal with 5, which is not even close. And it’s standing in the history of tennis and sports would undoubtedly be exemplary. It would be near on five years of constantly finishing in the top two of sports major tournaments… ridiculous.
As it is in reality land, we have Federer’s 23 consecutive semi-final streak to admire. The matches were close and the opponents were still very good. The next person in the category though is Novak Djokovic with 14, which is much closer than five. It is probably the best known record in tennis, and has been talked about as one of the greatest in sports. But is it the greatest? His own 17 Grand Slams stand out as maybe a better known record. Nadals 81-match clay court win streak, or his 7/8 titles at 4 different tournaments (French Open, Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona) were both far beyond anything else. Jimmy Connors 109 single titles record will likely never be approached. Guillermo Vilas’s 16 titles in a single season will not be overtaken in the modern age. You could also include Rod Laver’s two calendar year Grand Slams or his 200 total titles in this company.

For Nadal’s two greatest records there is one match which stands out above all others, and that is the 2006 Rome Final, which went over 5 hours. It was the longest match in the Nadal-Federer rivalry. Winning this match enabled Nadal to break Vilas’s record 53 straight clay wins. Jimmy Connors total titles record of 109 is a reasonably known record throughout the tennis public. The next person in the category is Ivan Lendl with 94. Seeing that Fed only won a single title this year to notch up his 77th, we can clearly see how difficult it is. The Vilas record of 16 titles in one season (1977) is practically unbreakable. Especially considering that Federer in his best year of 2006 ‘only’ won 12. Most of those for Vilas were on clay though, so one has to question his all-court mastery. Rod Laver’s calendar Grand Slams, one in the amateur era and one in the professional; will be hard to emulate. It has to be remembered though that these were the transition years when neither (amateur/professional) had all the great players in their respective competitions. One has to think that it would be somewhat easier to accomplish the true Grand Slam then, than from the 70s onwards.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to that which is best known by the general public and appreciated by historians. And unfortunately Vilas’s, Nadal’s and Connors records; while undoubtedly great, are not well known by the general public. The Laver calendar Grand Slams are well known, but the quality of the opposition in those days was spread across two separate competitions. The record which stands out I believe (and I know it may be obvious) is the Federer semi-final streak of 23. The reasons for it are many. It is one of the best known records in tennis and is revered by historians and the public alike, most importantly though it demonstrates consistent excellence over a prolonged period. Among the great records in sports it is arguable where this stands alongside the likes of Tiger Wood’s 142 consecutive cut streak or Wilt Chamberlains 100 point game. Within tennis though, nothing is on par with it. We needn’t live in a fantasy land, because the reality of 23 consecutive top four finishes isn’t half bad.

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

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.

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

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?

(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

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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Nike Men’s Fall Preview: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro

It may still be the grass court season, but Nike has already released what several of their key male athletes will be wearing come fall, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro.

Rafael Nadal: The Spaniard will be adding a pop of color to Nike’s lineup, sporting the Nike Men’s Fall Premier Rafa Crew in Sonic Yellow with Armory Navy accents. The same modern scooped V-neck he donned at Wimbledon will stick around. A sublimated graphic print on the chest, as well as a laser-perforated graphic on back keep the shirt design fairly subtle — the though the “X” on the front alludes to superhero status. The top will be paired with the Nike Men’s Fall Premier Rafa Woven Short in Armory Navy.

Rafael Nadal Fall 2013 Nike

Rafael Nadal Fall 2013 Nike Shorts

Roger Federer: The Swiss maestro will attempt to go for his sixth US Open title in a newly-refined polo, the Nike Men’s Fall Premier RF US Open Polo in Light Armory Blue. A contrast self fabric collar and subtle side panels make this one of Federer’s most elegant looks, and the pale grey/blue palette adds just enough color to not oversimplify the top. He’ll combine it with with the Nike Men’s Fall Premier RF Twill Short in White.

Roger Federer Fall 2013 Nike Shirt and Shorts

Not to be forgotten, Federer also has his own line of practice RF tees, including the Nike Men’s Fall RF Trophy V-Neck T-Shirts in Armory Navy or Wolf Grey (left and middle). The Nike Men’s Fall Graphic T-Shirt (right) will also bring a light-hearted smile for all Nike athletes donning the shirt. It comes in Armory Navy (pictured below), Sonic Yellow and White.

Nike 2013 Fall Practice Shirts

Juan Martin del Potro: The Tower of Tandil has regularly taken a low-key approach to his outfits, and the fall season is no different. He’ll be wearing the Nike Men’s Fall Advantage UV Crew in Light Armory Blue (pictured below), Dark Armory Blue and Sonic Yellow, as well as the Nike Men’s Fall Gladiator 10″ Plaid Short in Light Armory Blue (pictured below), Vintage Green, Geyser Grey, and Armory Navy.

Juan Martin del Potro Nike 2013 Fall Shorts and Shirt

Other tops that could potentially be worn by the rest of the Nike athletes also have some great designs, including the Advantage UV Graphic Crew (left), Advantage UV Graphic Polo (middle) and Rally Sphere Stripe Polo (right).

Nike 2013 Fall Shirts

The Decline of Roger Federer; Bernard Tomic’s Blind Love — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Second Guessing

One of the two biggest upset of Week 1 at Wimbledon was that of Rafael Nadal losing to Steve Darcis.  Nadal meekly succumbed to the inspired play of the Belgian in the opening round, leaving many questioning his future in the game.  The knees are the obvious first concern.  That his knees could deteriorate as quickly as they appeared to in that first match after the performances he’s put on the past five months seems a stretch.  But his condition is a tricky one, and the grass does force his knees to work harder.  There are also rightfully questions about his scheduling – both before and after SW19.  Before Wimbledon, he put in a lot of tennis for someone with documented knee issues who had sat out seven months.  Post Wimbledon presents the question of how much more mileage Nadal will be willing to put on those knees, since it will primarily come on hard outdoor and indoor surfaces.  But the other question that has to be asked is how much of this is also between the ears.  When Nadal walked out onto Centre Court, it was likely with the bad memories of 2012.  The slightest niggle is also apt to have a major impact on his level of play, which given his injury history, is understandable.  It also explains why he has become noticeably more irritable when things aren’t “just right” for his needs/wants (like his uncharacteristic griping about scheduling at Roland Garros).  No matter how you slice it, what we saw from Nadal at Wimbledon was troubling.  We know he can play on surfaces outside of clay, but he has to 100% believe his body will allow him to the second half of the season, or being a factor on anything outside of clay may just be a pipe dream.

Decline of Roger FedererThe Decline

The other upset vying for the biggest shocker of the tournament is that of Roger Federer by Sergiy Stakhovsky.  If ever there was a moment when it felt Federer was truly in decline, it was this match.  It’s the first time in nearly a decade that the Swiss has lost before the quarters of any major, let alone Wimbledon.  But the days of Federer being able to consistently find his best or escape from the jaws of defeat with great frequency are behind him.  It happens with age, and Federer’s is finally starting to catch up with him.  It doesn’t mean he will never win another major (see Sampras, Pete in 2002), and Federer insists he doesn’t view himself as in decline.  He still feels he has the game to win the big ones, and bottom line, his belief is the only one that matters.  So though he’ll likely need some help to win the slams, don’t be too quick to send him off into the sunset.  He still has game, and there are still some moments of pure genius left up his sleeve.

Kickin’ Grass

One of the biggest controversies at this year’s Championships has been the condition of the courts.  There have been many slips and falls, with some alleging that the courts are dangerous, while others simply chalk it up to typical grass court tennis.  Though the weather has possibly had a negative impact on the grounds, there are a few things to consider before condemning Wimbledon and its grounds crew.  First, the bulk of the complaints have come from the losers, while the winners (many of whom have managed to stay upright) see no real issue.  Additionally, many of the withdrawals and retirements were due to either freak accidents or pre-existing injuries the players picked up in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon.  And perhaps the biggest culprit of all is the players’ movement on the court.  As Darren Cahill pointed out, many of the players are guilty of not taking enough of the tiny steps, which you have to do on grass, to maintain balance.  Video footage of many, but not all, of the tumbles shows players hitting the turf after taking a large, wide step or getting completely wrong-footed.  It’s a perfect storm that has left the folks at Wimbledon to do damage control, but hopefully going forward, especially with an extra week between Wimbledon and the French beginning in 2015, we’ll see far less of these unfortunate events.


Love is blind.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard.  It’s also a phrase that we typically think of as relating to romantic love, but it applies to other types of love, too.  Sometimes it can refer to familial love, as is the case with Bernard Tomic.  The Aussie, who had an impressive five-set win over Sam Querrey in the opening round, lashed out at the ATP for banning his father due to pending assault charges dating back to Madrid.  He feels that they’re hurting his game by not just banning the man that is his father, but the man that he still views as his coach.  It’s understandable where Tomic is coming from, but it’s a sad situation.  His dad is too physical with others, including his own son.  With any luck, Tomic will find success without his father by his side so that he can see he doesn’t need him to enjoy a fruitful career.  And hopefully, he’ll one day look back and realize what a favor the ATP has done for him by putting its foot down.

Bring It On

Event organizers’ brains are probably just whirling with the possibility of a showdown between Andy Murray and Serena Williams in what could once again be billed as an intriguing “Battle of the Sexes.”  The Scot responded to a Twitter follower who introduced the idea that he should take on Serena Williams, and it turns out the Scot is game.  When Williams heard about it, she also expressed enthusiasm at the idea.  It’s of course all in good fun, but if organizers can find a way to turn this talk into a reality, it’s a guaranteed success.  And better yet, stage it in Vegas as Murray suggested.  It would be a spectacular show sure to bring plenty of good publicity to tennis.

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray Among 2013 ESPY Award Nominations

ESPYS Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray

(June 27, 2013) Sports network ESPN has released the nominations list for their annual ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly), and it includes not only best male and female tennis-exclusive categories, but also nods to Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in various other categories. (Remember to cast your official votes at the ESPYS website here.)

American Serena Williams receives her ninth ESPY Award nomination, and is listed this year as one of four women under the “Best Female Athlete” category. According to ESPN, the award is presented to the female sportsperson, irrespective of nationality or sport contested, adjudged to be the most outstanding over a given year.

Her competition includes US Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and Baylor University college basketball player Brittney Griner. Williams’ achievements giving her the nod for the ESPY nomination include her 2012 titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, her Olympic gold medal in singles and doubles in London last summer, and her 2013 French Open title.

Scot Andy Murray receives a nomination in the “Best Moment” category which is presented to the moment or series of moments occurring in a sporting event or season, irrespective of sport contested or gender of participating sportsperson(s), adjudged to the most remarkable, compelling, or entertaining in a given year.

Murray’s “moment,” of course, is winning a gold medal at the London Olympics last year in straight sets over Roger Federer, whom he had lost to four weeks prior in the Wimbledon final. The nomination also alludes to him being the first “British” man to win a singles gold in the Olympics since 1908.

Murray’s three competitors include Jack Hoffman’s touchdown run in the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ spring game, Alex Morgan’s game-winning goal against Canada in the Olympic semifinal, coach Chuck Pagano’s return to the Colts after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Serb Novak Djokovic is nominated for “Best International Athlete,” which is presented to the sportsperson in a North American professional or collegiate league, irrespective of gender, born outside the United States adjudged to be the best in a given year. According to ESPN, the nod was given because (1) he was the first player to be year end No. 1 in consecutive seasons since Roger Federer achieved four straight world No. 1 finishes from 2004-07, and (2) he won the 2013 Australian Open singles championship.

Djokovic’s four tough competitors include Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, Mexican boxer Juan Manuel Marquez, Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi, and Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.

There were also two exclusive tennis categories: Best Male Tennis Player and Best Female Tennis Player. Full nominations list below.

Best Male Tennis Player Nominations

Novak Djokovic

  • Clinched the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat in consecutive seasons since Roger Federer achieved four straight World No. 1 finishes from 2004-07
  • Won 2013 Austrailian Open singles championship

Roger Federer

  • Won his record 17th Grand Slam singles championship and record-tying seventh Wimbledon singles championship

Andy Murray

  • Captured his first Grand Slam singles title when he beat Novak Djokovic in five sets to win the 2012 U. S. Open
  • Won the Olympic gold medal, beating Roger Federer in the finals

Rafael Nadal

  • Became first man to win the same Grand Slam tournament eight times when he won 2013 French Open


Best Female Tennis Player Nominations

Victoria Azarenka

  • Finished 2012 as No. 1 ranked player in WTA
  • Lost in the finals of the 2012 U. S. Open

Maria Sharapova

  • Equaled her best season to date, finishing number two in the world
  • Won three WTA titles

Serena Williams

  • Earned her fourth U. S. Open singles title in 2012
  • Won her fifth Wimbledon singles title in 2012
  • Won the 2013 French Open singles title

Can Ernests Gulbis Stop Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the Wimbledon Grass?

(June 25, 2013) Ernests Gulbis’ best performance at Wimbledon has been reaching the second round on four separate occasions, including already this year. Unfortunately for Gulbis, his draws have been anything but strawberries and cream. The first three of these contests have all ended in defeat for the Latvian, and it has come at the hands of Rafael Nadal in 2008, Andy Murray in 2009, and Jerzy Janowicz in 2012. Can Gulbis turn around his luck this year?

Despite Gulbis’ stellar 2013, he enters unseeded and Wimbledon still isn’t doing him any favors as his draw pits him against the No. 6 seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the second round.

On paper, Tsonga is the overwhelming pick to win in this match. Tsonga not only leads the head to head 3-0, but he also has reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2011 and 2012 whereas Gulbis is 7-12 in his career on the grass.

While their grass court resumes may be abundantly different, the ever-confident Latvian will certainly believe he has a fighting chance in this match. He should draw inspiration from the fact that Steve Darcis had an 11-11 record on grass before his match against Rafael Nadal and had only made it past the opening round once.

From a tactical perspective, Gulbis will be looking to maximize the amount of backhand-to-backhand rallies as this specific pattern of play matches up Gulbis’ strongest wing against the infamously frail Tsonga backhand.

Tsonga’s premier strategy will be to throw the kitchen sink at Gulbis’ protracted and wrist reliant forehand. The Frenchman’s ammunition off the forehand side in particular should allow him to rush and pressure Gulbis into an array of forehand errors. In addition, Tsonga’s slice backhand should make it increasingly difficult for Gulbis to set up and take the powerful cuts he is used to taking.

Both guys possess tons of power from the ground and off the serve. When this type of matchup arises, the player who is better able to maintain depth and pace and not allow their opponents to take huge swipes at the ball will have the best opportunity to win.

Ultimately, Tsonga should come away with the victory as he possesses an all-court style of play which provides him with a great number of options by which to win and close out points. Not only can he power down aces and crush winners from the baseline but he has the unique and ostensibly archaic capacity to move forward and end points at the net.

However this match ends up, if you’re going to Wimbledon on Wednesday and have the ability to see this match, it definitely is a must-see blockbuster as far as a second round match goes.

Prediction: Tsonga in 4 sets 

Wimbledon Rewind: Nadal Stunned, Kvitova Survives, Federer Shines, Sharapova Battles

This article marks the first in a daily series of articles reviewing the action at Wimbledon.  They follow the same general format as a similar series on Roland Garros.  If you missed some of the action, or want a general overview, check out this written equivalent of a highlight reel.


Match of the day:  Banished to the distant precincts of Court 19, Lukas Rosol still produced another thriller.  After five sets and two tiebreaks, Julian Reister slew the Czech giant killer in a blow to the tournament’s first-week intrigue.  Fans with grounds passes got their money’s worth, though, perhaps more so than those on the show courts did.

Upset of the day:  One year after Rosol stunned him in the first week, Rafael Nadal succumbed to an even lowlier opponent in Steve Darcis.  The Belgian dropped serve just twice in three sets as the former Wimbledon champion slipped too easily into passive play.  Nadal did not lack chances to turn the match around in the second set, serving for the set at 6-5 and later holding a set point in the tiebreak.  He loses before the final for the first time in ten tournaments this year.

Comeback of the day:  Down a set early to Fabio Fognini, former Wimbledon doubles champion Jurgen Melzer clawed back to win the next three from his seeded opponent.  The veteran’s lefty serve could shine on grass, but he has not left an impact on a major in three years.

Gold star:  The first round of Wimbledon has not always witnessed Roger Federer’s best tennis (see Falla, 2010).  This year, however, the defending champion opened the action on Centre Court by yielding just five games to Victor Hanescu.  With Nadal out of the draw, Federer’s hopes of a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon title soar significantly.

Silver star:  A champion here eleven long years ago, Lleyton Hewitt looked every inch the part in dismantling the 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka.  The Aussie had reached the semifinals at Queen’s Club two weeks ago, defeating Del Potro en route, and grass remains his most dangerous surface.  He might well reach the second week or better in the section vacated by Nadal.

Wooden spoon:  Remember when Janko Tipsarevic held a top-eight seed at the US Open last fall?  His stock has fallen sharply during a season-long slump in 2013.  Now the 14th seed at Wimbledon, Tipsarevic fell to compatriot Viktor Troicki in straight sets to continue that spiral.

Americans in London:  While doubles specialist Rajeev Ram advanced in four sets, John Isner avenged an Eastbourne loss last week to Evgeny Donskoy.  Notoriously fond of marathons in early rounds, Isner advanced more efficiently this time.

Question of the day:  With Nadal gone, does Federer or Murray become the favorite to reach the final from the lower half of the men’s draw?


Match of the day: When Petra Kvitova dropped a 6-1 first set on Coco Vandeweghe, the 2011 champion probably expected to cruise easily into the second round.  Little has come easily for Kvitova since she won here two years ago, though, and she quickly found herself embroiled in a dogfight with her fellow heavy server.  Vandeweghe eked out a tight second set and pressed Kvitova deep into the third before the favorite prevailed.  The route does not get any easier for the former champion from here.

Upset of the day:  At least world No. 5 Sara Errani did not fail to win a point in a set, as she had at Wimbledon last year to Yaroslava Shvedova.  Never a threat on grass, Errani won just five games from Puerto Rican rising star Monica Puig in one of the quietest upsets of a top-five player that you’ll see.  She now has lost in the first round at consecutive non-clay majors.

Comeback of the day:  On her least effective surface, Alize Cornet dropped the first set to former Wimbledon doubles champion Vania King.  Not known for her fortitude, Cornet easily could have folded from there.  Instead, she lost just four games over the next two sets to stay on track for a third-round rematch of her Roland Garros tilt with Victoria Azarenka.

Gold star:  Handed a formidable first-round opponent in Kristina Mladenovic, Maria Sharapova clung fiercely to her serve throughout a first set that featured only a single break point.  The going got slightly easier in the second set, and it should get easier for her in the next few rounds.

Silver star:  To the surprise of some, Wimbledon issued a wildcard to Andrea Petkovic just weeks after she lost in Roland Garros qualifying.  The charismatic German had contemplated retirement in the wake of that setback, but she continued an encouraging recent trend by justifying the wildcard with a straight-sets victory.

Marathon of the day:  All four Serbs in action advanced, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic with ease.  Vesna Dolonc battled back from losing the first set to topple Yanina Wickmayer, but Bojana Jovanovski surpassed all of her countrywomen in the drama department.  The fiery youngster who reached the second week of the Australian Open needed a 16-game final set to halt Ajla Tomljanovic, a once-promising talent derailed by mononucleosis.  The historic rivalry between Serbia and Tomljanovic’s native Croatia added an entertaining dimension to the thriller.

Americans in London:  The highest-ranked American here not named Williams, Sloane Stephens opened impressively by defeating Eastbourne finalist Jamie Hampton.  In general, though, this group fell far short of their Paris success while posting a dismal 2-7 record on Day 1.  Both of the victories came against fellow Americans, Christina McHale joining Stephens in the second round with a win over Alexa Glatch.  The 26th-seeded Varvara Lepchenko fell to the unheralded Eva Birnerova.

Question of the day:  Early in the second set of her opening match, world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka fell awkwardly on the slick grass.  Although she managed to regroup for a comfortable victory, Azarenka said that she will undergo tests on the leg to assess its condition.  How serious will this apparent injury prove?