respiratory problems

Weekly Debrief – Djokovic’s Raindance, Verdasco Gold, “Indo-Pak Express”

As the US Open unfolded and the player field began to dwindle, storylines were made, but none more so than the unexpected win by Novak Djokovic in the semis and his ensuing raindance. Fernando Verdasco also had his celebratory dance after his win over comrade David Ferrer. And the Indian Pakistani duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi made their mark for peace. I leave you off with a little known locker room video that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. Let’s take a look at this week’s top stories in tennis!

Novak Djokovic as a True Contender

The biggest story this week may be Novak Djokovic’s defeat of the king of tennis himself, Roger Federer, in the semifinals of the US Open, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Federer not only had a winning head-to-head ratio against Djokovic (10-5), but he was 184-6 after winning the first set in a grand slam. Djokovic overcame all odds and pulled off the greatest win of his young career.

As the two weeks in Flushing Meadows were unfolding, it seemed like there was a natural pull for a Federer-Nadal final, something that had never happened here before. It was as if all the pleading by journalists, fans and commentators was paying off. Well, until Djokovic came out from “under the radar” and spoiled the party.

It’s slightly disconcerting that the #3 player in the world was given little thought for a run to the title here. He has been a steady member of the top 4 for the last three years, yet his respiratory problems and tendency to fold under pressure situations made him seem like just another bump along Federer’s route to the final. In Federer’s post-match press conference he even acknowledged that “The guys who overlooked [Djokovic] don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.” What makes the story more comedic is that CBSNews’ twitter feed had this up even before the Djokovic-Federer semi was over: “Rafael Nadal Reaches First U.S. Open Final, Moves on to play Roger Federer for Championship and Career Grand Slam.”

But enough of the hilarity, let’s get back to the tennis.

While easily dropping the second and fourth sets, it seemed that Federer had turned it around and was on his way to a ‘W.’ He held two match points on Djokovic’s serve, up 4-5, 15-40 in the fifth but allowed the Serb to dictate both points. If you are a Djokovic fan, you know to await disappointment because he succumbs to the do-or-die moments 95% of the time. However, this day was different. He not only won both rallies convincingly, he did it on his own terms: blasting forehand winners on both occasions to bring the score to deuce. He then earned the only break of the set at 5-all and sealed the win when Federer’s forehand went wide on match point. Djokovic stood there stunned, staring at his box, almost not convinced he had just beaten the Great Federer.

In his post-match press conference, he revealed exactly what was going on in his head during the match: “I got a bit nervous end of the first and third set, and that’s why I lost those sets. But anything except that, I think I played overall a great game, fighting really and being aggressive when I had chance, and defending well. I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it. Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for the shots. I was lucky.” Very lucky indeed.

Furthermore, Federer struggled at the net in the two sets he easily lost and his first serve percentage wasn’t even hitting 50% until more than halfway through the match. On the other hand, Djokovic was more consistent on his first and second serves percentages. And if you don’t believe me that Djokovic has been serving extremely well during this whole US Open, take a look at this stat: he’s #6 on first serve percentage with 69%. What’s more is that all of the other men on the list only played 1, 2, or 3 matches each for these high percentages, Djokovic played 6 matches. (Source: http://www.usopen.org/en_US/scores/extrastats/f_srv_pct_ms.html )

Djokovic Must Have Done his Raindance

In what turns out to be the third-straight year the Men’s Singles final will be played on a Monday due to rain, there is increased talk about the US Open having a covered stadium to avoid this. While Roland Garros doesn’t have the need for a roof as clay dries faster, the Australian Open and Wimbledom both jumped on the track and built roofs atop their marquee stadiums. So, why not the US Open? One of the reasons is that Arthur Ashe stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world and estimates are that it would cost around $150 million dollars to build. Tough obstacle.

But Novak Djokovic doesn’t seem to mind the final has to be pushed back one day. After his grueling on-court battle yesterday against Roger Federer, he welcomes the delay, and even his fellow female player knows it! As Djokovic had just learned of the postponement, he was leaning against a wall in the locker room, smiling. A Russian player currently vying for the Women’s Doubles trophy, Nadia Petrova, walked past him and said, “You are lucky! Seriously lucky!” Djokovic just stood there nodding and replied, “Another day in New York.”
When Rafael Nadal was questioned, he diplomatically responded: “There’s nothing you can do about this; it’s New York in the rain. For sure it’s fairer like this. I think it’s better for both of us to have a day of rest.” I’m not so sure I agree with him as he didn’t have a tough semifinal match with only 20 hours to recover. If the final had been played Sunday, it would have favored Rafa for sure. And his uncle, Toni, seems to agree: “For us, it would have been better that it had not rained today, because Djokovic might have been a bit more tired. But it was fairer like this.”

The two opponents share the same publicist, Perez Barbadillo, and he jokingly said: “Obviously, Rafa would have preferred to play today, and Novak was praying for rain, so I suppose what I take out of things is that God is Orthodox,” referring to Djokovic’s Serbian Orthodox faith. “He’s been listening to Novak.” (Read the full New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/sports/tennis/13tennis.html )

To further spark conflict for the US Open title, it seems that the ATP website has already picked it’s winner — even before the match has been played! (I took a screenshot knowing very well it would be corrected within a couple hours.)

Rafael Nadal’s faster serve

Imagine playing tennis since the age of 4, turning professional at 15, and playing the same heavy-topspin lefty game until you break the top 10 at the tender age of 18 and achieve #1 just three years later. If this were my track record, I wouldn’t look to change anything about my game. Not only is there no need, but technically-speaking, if the change brings a worsening in results, it may be hard to revert back to the old ways.

This is not the case with Rafael Nadal, who, two days prior to the start of the US Open, changed the grip on his serve.

Rafa swung by the commentators’ booth in Arthur Ashe stadium during the Gael Monfils-Novak Djokovic quarterfinal and chatted with ESPN’s Brad Gilbert and Chris Fowler about the change. “I am trying to serve a little bit more like Wimbledon because the ball here is very soft,” said Rafa. “It is not getting a lot of topspin, I try to play a little bit more flat. And for that reason, I am serving faster, that’s it.” Changing his grip didn’t happen overnight though as the media would have you believe. While hitting his fastest serve ever at 134 MPH in Flushing Meadows, Rafa is quick to say that “I worked a lot to serve well during my career and I have to keep working hard.” It looks like then that there is no such thing as a quick-fix — hard work is still what achieves results.

Fernando Verdasco’s Golden Moment

Although the fourth round featured some great matchups, the duel between Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer on Louis Armstrong stadium was pure heart on full display. And I wouldn’t expect any less from the passionate Spaniards. Both men won 70% of their first serves and hit a combined total of 23 aces, not something that either is usually known for. However, Verdasco had 73 winners to Ferrer’s 38.

Even though the match lasted well over four hours, aggressive play with plenty of marathon sprints to and from the net were seen up through the last point from both players. Ferrer had quickly gone up 4-1 in the fifth set tiebreaker, visibly frustrating Verdasco. His run ended there, however, as he never converted another point. Verdasco pulled off the shot of the tournament with his sprinting forehand volley that looped around the net pole and into the deuce corner on Ferrer’s side. Verdasco fell on his back in joy, and after shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire, proceeded to continue his excited 12-year-old celebratory dance. As he double fist-pumped his way into the hearts of fans, he dropped to the ground on both knees and slapped the court seemingly giving gratitude to the tennis gods, all the while yelling “Yes! Yes!” I even heard from a friend they could hear Verdasco yelling all the way up in Canada. Dude, gets around!

Check out Verdasco’s match-winning point:

“Indo-Pak Express” Leaves Mark

Even though the Bryan Brothers came through for American fans in capturing the US Open Men’s Doubles title, their opponents in the finals received perhaps even greater recognition globally. The duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi began their “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign back in Wimbledon as part of the effort to support peace between the two embattled countries they come from, India and Pakistan, respectively. They have quickly gained not only the support of fans, but the leaders of their countries as well for showing there can be great respect and partnership between the two countries.

The “Indo-Pak Express” as the two are fondly called, had a great run only dropping one set before going out in two hotly-contested tiebreakers in the final. In his post-match presser, Bob Bryan said that “This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy.”

With United Nations ambassadors Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan sitting together in the audience, the crowd cheered and gave Bopanna and Qureshi a standing ovation during the trophy ceremony for their peace-loving efforts. Qureshi went on to say that he was dedicating his share to the 21 million flood victims in Pakistan and thanked the Bryan brothers for donating a portion of their winnings to the Pakistan flood victims as well. In the interview room of Ashe stadium, the UN ambassadors from India and Pakistan presented the Bryan brothers with ceremonial Pakistani garments called ‘ajraks’ and thanked them for their benevolence. “A lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street,” Mike Bryan stated. “Sport can bring people together.”

ATP BONUS

And if you haven’t had enough of Djokovic yet, check out the Bryan Brothers Video Blog in the locker room of Ashe stadium with the ‘Djoker’. He’s not only shirtless and ‘buffed up,’ but he’s doing pushups and shaking hands with Jimmy Connors in his skivvies! Eat it up, Djoker fans, he’s a world-class chatter.

http://www.tennischannel.com/video/index.aspx#4d172bf3-e066-4881-bd16-f2c938b89707

ATP Tidbits: Djokovic’s Humor, Ryan Harrison as Role Model, and the ‘Worst Job in Sports’

Since coverage of the US Open has been quite extensive this year, I’ll stick to the lighter side of tennis for this week and bring you the fun off-court moments. I’ll take a look at Novak Djokovic’s humorous ways, talk about the ‘worst job in sports,’ bring you tennis’ newest role model teenager Ryan Harrison, and talk about my thoughts on what may be going on with Andy Murray in his recent third round exit at the US Open — and it’s not his lack of mental strength or coach. I’m citing a different culprit altogether.

Djokovic, the comedian, gaining American fans quickly

In what was one of the most hotly contested first-round matches, Novak Djokovic squeezed out a win against compatriot and good friend Viktor Troicki in five sets, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. But the story wasn’t all in the tennis itself. As temperatures on-court soared to above 120-degrees and the humidity wreaked havoc, Djokovic’s respiratory problems were once again the center of attention. He could have lost in the fourth set, but as luck would have it, the shade came onto Arthur Ashe stadium and relieved Djokovic of some of his woes. He quickly took advantage of the slightly cooler temps and came out the winner.

Novak Djokovic. August 31, 2010

After the match, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert asked Djokovic on-court: “How nice was it out here to get a little bit of shade?” As Djokovic searched for words, the first analogy that came to mind was that “it was like a ‘sleeping with my girlfriend’ kind of feeling.” The crowd roared in laughter and Gilbert became noticeably embarrassed. But whatever, Djokovic was relieved that he pulled out the win.

His press conference following his win was one for the books. The Serbian “Djoker” seems to be building his American audience base and is getting more confident in his humor once again. It’s nice to see Djokovic back at his lighter, more confident ways – both on and off the court.

If you have a chance, see the live video of his presser as his facial expressions and comedy are ten times better than on paper, you won’t be sorry! Starts at the 5:31 mark.

What is the ‘Worst Job in Sports?’

Ever read the Wall Street Journal to get your tennis fix for the day? Honestly, neither have I. But Tom Perrotta of Tennis.com fame wrote an interesting article in the WSJ a couple of days ago concerning the ‘worst job in sports.’ And guess what it was. Being a tennis coach.

Brad Gilbert, former coach to Andy Murray and current ESPN Commentator.

For all the glitz and glamour we think coaches have in traveling with their athlete(s) and staying at plush hotels in destinations we can only dream of going to, there is a down-side of being a tennis coach. If you’re lucky enough to be a wanted elite coach, then you could probably live comfortably on the money you make as everything else is paid for by the player. But what if your player is not winning or progressing? You’re either ‘out’ or your pay doesn’t change much. Players seem to change coaches every few years anyway, looking for a new outlook or support system.

I can’t even eat leftovers for two days in a row, how can I expect players to stay with the same coach for more than two YEARS in a row? It’s an interesting concept that is often overlooked by the casual sports fan. In other sports, where managers and executives pick their coaches, tennis is unique in that the actual athlete picks the coach. For further reading on this, check out Perrotta’s article as he talks to greats such as Larry Stefanki, Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Mats Wilander, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Bob Brett: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703946504575469961990822120.html

Ryan Harrison. Title? Role model

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’re familiar with the newest talent that has developed right under our eyes, Ryan Harrison. After coming through qualifying and taking out veteran Ivan Ljubicic in the first round, 18-year-old Harrison took Sergiy Stakhovsky to five sets in a match that lasted over four hours. In fact, Harrison held three match points in the fifth set tiebreaker before double-faulting on his last opportunity and allowing Stakhovsky to serve for the win, which he did.

Although Harrison lost, it doesn’t make his run any less fruitful or devoid of fans. The grace and calm which he exhibited after his defeat speak volumes to his character, and those around him agree. “He has wide open ears, always willing to learn, wanting to grow and develop,” said Tracy Austin, a former World #1. “I love his attitude, and his work ethic as well.”

Ryan Harrison. September 3,2010.

In his press conference, Harrison was quick to say that he has a lot to work on before becoming a “full-time tour player.” I’m just going to keep my head down, and work as hard as I can and listen to the people I trust and develop my game. I’ve got a lot of work to do. From the time I get back home until my next tournaments, my goal is going to be improving my game until I can be a consistent contender, and the ranking and all that stuff will take care of itself.” Parents, if you have any youth looking for a young capable role model, Ryan Harrison is it.

Could Andy Murray’s problem be …. mono?

You’ve all probably heard about Andy Murray’s surprising third-round exit to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka by now. But I wonder if you’ve thought about precisely ‘Why?’ Forget about lack of desire, mental stability, or coach, Murray may have a different ailment altogether. During the match, he called the trainer twice, once for “tightness in my quad” and the second time because he felt “pins and needles around my right elbow.”

Andy Murray bent over two different times during his match against Stan Wawrinka. September 5, 2010.

At his press conference Murray stated plain and simple that “I lost to the better player, that’s all there is to say.” However, when questions were raised about his physical capabilities he couldn’t pinpoint the problem and this made me wonder. Murray is known for his physical strength and being able to outlast his opponents, so something has to be up.

Andy Muray: “I was disappointed that I was struggling physically. You know, I tried to find a way to come back. Didn’t quite do it. Yeah, I was disappointed that I’ve not been really in that position for a long time. I still feel like I’m super fit. I just didn’t feel great. You know, there was a lot of things that I was feeling on the court. But, yeah, I just haven’t felt that way for a few years now. So I’m going to have to go look at why that was the case and try and get better.”

Anyone know where I’m going with this? Well, if Andy Roddick’s recent tumble gives any hint, my speculation is that Murray may be suffering from a mild case of mononucleosis as well. I’m no doctor, but that fact that he can’t pinpoint his problem and was “struggling physically” remind me of Roddick’s statement earlier this year when he said he wasn’t feeling strong enough mentally or physically and couldn’t fathom why. These players are in constant contact and mono travels like the plague in locker rooms and lounges. To me, this would spells disaster on tour as we’ve already seen Roger Federer and John Isner openly talk about their stint with mono. Here’s to hoping the ‘popular trend’ ends, but it could only get worse before it gets better.

ATP BONUS:

I picked up on a strange statistic at this year’s US Open. Not only are all four remaining men in Rafael Nadal’s quarter Spaniards, but there are a total of six Spaniards in the fourth round — that’s almost 38%! Did the US Open’s blue courts somehow turn into clay this year?! For a country known for producing talented clay-specialists, Spain is quickly turning into a force on all surfaces.