The longest-running, most comprehensive tennis fantasy camp in the world marks a special anniversary this coming October.
The 30th edition of Tennis Fantasies with John Newcombe and the Legends will take place from Sunday, October 15 to Friday, October 20, 2017 at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas (30 miles from San Antonio).
Tennis Fantasies was created in 1988 by Steve Contardi. A Cincinnati-based tennis club manager and veteran teaching pro, Contardi the previous year had attended a baseball fantasy camp and asked himself a simple question: Why not try this with tennis? Contardi soon joined forces with Newcombe, a three-time Wimbledon singles champion who also operated one of the world’s preeminent tennis facilities.
A male-only event, Tennis Fantasies takes place only one week a year. Approximately 80 campers play on teams under the eyes of the legends – players who have accumulated more than 150 Grand Slam titles. In addition to coaching during singles and doubles matches, campers receive tactical and technical instruction and spend time with the legends virtually round-the-clock, including all meals and ample time mixing beer and blarney inside the ranch’s Waltzing Matilda Room.
ROD LAVER ATTENDING FOR THIRD TIME
The presence of Laver – often considered the greatest player in tennis history – has added an exciting new dimension. Laver first came to Tennis Fantasies in 2014 and in 2017 will appear for the third time. “It was great to come and spend time with all my friends who I’d competed against,” said Laver, “and then it was terrific to meet all the campers and see how much they loved playing and being around the tennis.”
Said Newcombe, “The repeat rate is more than 70 percent, so over the years everyone from the legends to the campers have really made this a special community. Competition and camaraderie are the cornerstones of Tennis Fantasies. People leave blood on the court – and then they eat their meals together. It’s a lot like the days when we were all traveling the world.”
Hall of Famers Newcombe and Laver will be joined in 2017 by 12 additional coaches, including five other Hall of Famers: Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Mark Woodforde, Owen Davidson and Charlie Pasarell. Rounding out the staff are seven Grand Slam champions: Marty Riessen, Rick Leach, Brian Gottfried, Dick Stockton, Luke Jensen, Murphy Jensen and Ross Case.
For more information about Tennis Fantasies, contact Steve Contardi at 1-800-874-7788 or email him at [email protected]
Rod Laver, often considered the greatest tennis player of all-time, has committed to coaching at the 2016 edition of Tennis Fantasies with John Newcombe and the Legends.
The 2016 Tennis Fantasies with John Newcombe takes place from Sunday, October 16 to Friday, October 21 at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas. The ranch is located 30 miles from San Antonio.
Tennis Fantasies is the longest-running, most comprehensive fantasy tennis camp in the world. Started in 1988, this male-only event takes place only one week a year. Approximately 80 campers play on teams under the eyes of Grand Slam champions. In addition to coaching during singles and doubles matches, campers receive tactical and technical instruction and spend time with the legends virtually round-the-clock, including all meals and ample time at the ranch’s Waltzing Matilda Room.
Laver made his Tennis Fantasies debut in 2014 and is primed to return for a second time.
“Competition, camaraderie and community were the cornerstones of my career,” said Laver, “so the chance to replicate that with dozens of recreational players and my lifelong mates was a real treat. I’m looking forward to having that experience once again.”
Laver is the only player in tennis history to have won all four major singles titles in a calendar year on two occasions (1962 and 1969). All told, Laver won 11 major singles titles, including four at Wimbledon. His brilliant, shotmaking game has inspired such notables as John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras.
In addition to Laver, there will be 13 coaches at Tennis Fantasies in 2016, including six Hall of Famers: John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Mark Woodforde, Owen Davidson and Charlie Pasarell. Rounding out the staff are seven legends: Marty Riessen, Rick Leach, Brian Gottfried, Dick Stockton, Luke Jensen, Murphy Jensen and Ross Case. All told, the Tennis Fantasies coaching staff has won more than 150 Grand Slam titles.
“We first started this event nearly 30 years ago and have built a very special community,” said Newcombe. “It’s fantastic, for example, that we have a repeat rate in the 70 percent range. In a way, the mix of match play and friendship among campers and legends has helped all of us create the atmosphere of the days when we were all traveling the world. People leave blood on the court trying to beat one another – and then sit down and eat their meals together.”
For more information about Tennis Fantasies, contact Steve Contardi at 1-800-874-7788 or email him at [email protected]
by Kevin Craig
Novak Djokovic claimed his sixth Australian Open title and 11th major singles title overall on Sunday night in Melbourne as he defeated Andy Murray in the final, 6-1, 7-5, 7-6. The win evens Djokovic up with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg at 11 major titles, a number which Djokovic will surely increase by the end of 2016.
The first set started promising for Murray as he had a break point in the opening game of the match on Djokovic’s serve. It was all downhill from there in the first set though, as Djokovic fought for the hold and then quickly raced out to a double break lead at 5-0 in less than 20 minutes. Murray, stunned by what had just happened on the court, started to show signs of life as he was able to get a game on the board and avoid a bagel before making Djokovic stress slightly as he served out the set, having to play a game that lasted 10 points.
Djokovic started off the second set strong again, having a look at four break chances at 1-1. Murray was able to fend those off, but not the break chance Djokovic would see at 3-3, allowing the Serb to take a break lead in the set. Murray refused to go away though, as he quickly earned his first break point since the opening game of the match and took advantage of it to get back on serve. Despite the disappointment of letting the lead slip, Djokovic continued to apply pressure on the Brit’s serve, getting break points at 4-4 and 5-5. Murray was up 40-0 in the 5-5 game, but lost a 37-shot rally to Djokovic, the first of five points that the Serb would go on to win in a row to get the break advantage and a chance to serve for a two sets to love lead. Murray fought in the 12th game to earn a break point and take Djokovic to deuce, but the Serb didn’t let up and was able to successfully take the set.
The match appeared done and dusted early in the third set as Djokovic broke in the opening game and then held at love for a 2-0 lead. Combine that with the fact Djokovic had only ever lost from two sets up once, to Jurgen Melzer at the 2010 French Open, and there was little hope for the No. 2 player in the world. Murray, though, was able to earn break points in back-to-back service games from Djokovic, and was successful in the latter game as he got the third set back on serve. It was straightforward to the tiebreak from there as the returners only got past 15 twice in the last six games of the set. After fighting so hard to get to the tiebreak, it appeared as if Murray had nothing left, falling into a 1-6 hole. Djokovic, on his third championship point, hit an ace down the T that sealed the straight sets victory and his 11th major title.
The disappointing moment for Murray sees him lose to Djokovic in the Australian Open final for the fourth time. Murray, though, does not have to stress about tennis for a couple weeks as he can head back home to his wife and await the birth of their first child.
Djokovic’s success stemmed from his application of pressure on Murray’s second serve and being able to force him into hitting unforced errors. The 35 percent success rate on second serve and 65 unforced errors will create an easy recipe for the No. 1 player in the world to grab the win. Djokovic was able to do so in less than three hours as he was not only able to level Laver’s and Borg’s number of major titles, but also evened himself with Roy Emerson’s six Australian Open titles. Djokovic continues to look unstoppable early in 2016, and the tennis world is left waiting to see who has the ability to beat the best player in the world.
Rod Laver is one of five players to win the Grand Slam of tennis – sweeping all four majors in one calendar year. He is the only one to achieve this amazing feat on two occasions – in 1962 and in 1969. Laver discusses the Grand Slam in this except from his book “The Education of a Tennis Player” (available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257626/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_3LuMvb169NNH6) written with Bud Collins.
Grand Slam varies in meaning in the games of bridge, baseball, golf, and tennis. A sweep of the tricks, or a home run with the bases loaded, is unusual but not rare. The bridge table and the ball diamond offer the possibility daily.
In golf and tennis, a series of triumphs within a calendar year make up a Slam. Golf ’s has been singular, celebrated only in 1930 when Bobby Jones, the phenomenal Georgian, won the amateur and open championships in both Britain and the United States. I can’t imagine there’ll ever be another just like that one, since only an amateur is eligible to enter all four tournaments, and the amateur who can compete evenly with pros in golf and tennis no longer exists. Today golf’s Grand Slam is considered the winning of both the U.S. and British Opens plus the Masters and the PGA. No one has ever done it.
The Slam in tennis is also an obstacle course of four national championships to be won in one year, though farther flung in time and location: the Australian in January, the French in June, the British in July, and the U.S. in September. I like to think the tennis Slam is the hardest of all because you have to get your game up to top level four times over an eight-month stretch, and of course you’re playing other tournaments in between, too. Much travel and changing conditions are involved. In 1969, I started in the tropical summer heat of Brisbane and wound up in the autumn rain of New York.
I’m not sure when I first heard the term Grand Slam, but it was Don Budge—the original Slammer—who cleared up the meaning for me. Don explained that the only countries to win the Davis Cup—Australia, the U.S., France, and Britain—became known as the Big Four, the world’s tennis powers, and when Budge was the first to sweep the Big Four titles in 1938—the year I was born—his feat was called the Grand Slam.
Five years earlier, an Australian, Jack Crawford, came very close. Jack won the Australian, French, and Wimbledon (British). The official name is The Lawn Tennis Championships, period, (but everybody calls this event Wimbledon.) At Forest Hills for the U.S. Championship, Crawford led Fred Perry two sets to one, and it appeared that he would have a Slam. Crawford hadn’t set out specifically to win all four, as did Budge in 1938, and numerous others including myself later. He just won the first three, and that had never happened before. But there was little, if any, ballyhoo about a Grand Slam preceding his bid to complete it.
In his column in The New York Times, John Kieran did write: “If Crawford wins, that would be something like scoring a grand slam on the courts, doubled and vulnerable.” And when Crawford fell short, Allison Danzig reported in paragraph three of his account in the Times that “Crawford’s quest of the Grand Slam was frustrated.” With his 2-1 lead in sets Crawford may have looked the winner, but he was through, exhausted. He was having trouble with his asthma, and even occasional slugs of brandy taken during the fourth and fifth sets couldn’t turn him back on. Jack won one more game, and Perry won the match, 6-3, 11-13, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
The next year Perry, the dashing Englishman, took three of the major titles, but he was cut off early, losing in the fourth round of the French. But he won the French in 1935 and became the first to win all four major titles, though not within a calendar year. Budge not only made the first Slam, he says he invented it. “I take certain whimsical pride in creating it [the Slam],” he wrote in his autobiography. “Crawford almost won something that didn’t exist. There was only passing notice at the time that I had won all four titles, but with time and publicity the stature of the Grand Slam grew. The expression became popular and it was what I came to be best known for.
“In 1938 I had set my goal to win these four titles, but only my good friend and doubles partner, Gene Mako, was aware of it,” Budge wrote. “The fact that there was no such acknowledged entity as the Grand Slam made it somewhat easier for me because I wasn’t bothered by the cumulative pressure of the press and fans that Laver and Lew Hoad [in 1956] had forced on them. But the pressure from within was no less intense for me than for them.”
The Times’ “passing notice,” as Budge calls it, was just that after he beat Mako in the Forest Hills final. “Feat Sets a Precedent” was the fourth deck in the headline, and well down in his story Danzig noted: “… a grand slam that invites comparison with the accomplishment of Bobby Jones in golf.”
Budge relates that his biggest goal had been attained in 1937 when he led the United States to its first Davis Cup success in ten years. He was clearly the master of the amateur world, and he wanted another goal to keep his interest high in 1938 before he helped in the defense of the Cup and then turned pro. He set out to make a Slam, an original contribution to sporting lore, and a target for those who followed. Thanks to his pioneering, the Slam received plenty of ballyhoo thereafter, and was uppermost when I made the rounds.
In Budge’s time, obviously, few non-Australians made the twenty-one-day haul Down Under to play in our championship. The boat trip was forbidding and expensive. In 1938, only Budge, Mako, and three or four Australians even played all four Major tournaments. By my day the jets opened up the world to everyone and squeezed it together, making it relatively easy for a squad of tourists to hit all the major stops. The same tough crowd was everywhere—there was no avoiding them.
In Budge’s Grand Slam, six of his 24 victories were over men ranked along with him in the world’s top ten. In mine of 1969, I won 26 matches, 12 of them against others in the top ten. I also won the South African championship, the British Indoor, the U.S. Pro, and 11 other tournaments, a total of 18 titles in 33 tournaments. The pace had accelerated. We were playing every month of the year, probably too much for our own good. But the money was there, and we went after it. Tennis wasn’t a year-round occupation in the Budge era. It is now. I think it’s more demanding, flitting between time zones, and there’s more pressure with so much money being pumped into the game. But I like it this way, the money and the constant movement.
When I make comparisons between today and the more leisurely Budge period, I’m certainly not trying to make my triumphs sound any grander than his, just pointing up differences. At the end of 1969, a
panel of the most respected tennis writers drew up an all-time ranking. It was headed by Bill Tilden. Second was Budge, followed by me. I don’t think anybody can really say who was the greatest, but I am happy to accept that ranking. Moreover, I considered Don a friend, and I’ll always be grateful to him for the way he treated me in 1962 when I was on the verge of my first Grand Slam.
Another man might have been resentful of my claiming a piece of the property that had been his alone for twenty-four years. Not Don. He had been through the tension, and knew what it could be like. He
helped me relax by spiriting me away for a day in the country before Forest Hills began that year. We drove to the Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills where I could take it easy. Nobody asking questions, no phones ringing. We even played a couple of nonchalant sets. He was great.In Don’s year, he was unquestionably the best player in the world, though an amateur. I couldn’t very well consider myself the best when I won the amateur Grand Slam in 1962 so long as such splendid pros as Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, and Lew Hoad were at large. Plus Butch Buchholz, Alex Olmedo, Andres Gimeno, Barry MacKay, and Mal Anderson. I was excited and tremendously pleased at making the Grand Slam in 1962. The collection of titles raised my asking price when I turned pro a few months later—but I knew I wasn’t the best. Probably Rosewall was then. Knowing that took something out of my satisfaction at dominating amateur tennis. I had my Grand Slam; now I wanted a shot at Rosewall, Gonzalez, and the others. To get it I had to drop into limbo with them on the pro circuit and give up any thought of ever repeating the Grand Slam.
It was either glory or money in those days prior to open tennis. You took your choice: glory (and, of course, enough money to get by on) with the amateurs; or very good money and anonymity with the pros. It was time for me to make the good money, and to satisfy my competitive urge against the blokes I knew were the strongest. But no more Slams . . . I thought then.
I’d heard about Budge’s Grand Slam, and Californian Maureen Connolly’s, too. Until Aussie Margaret Smith Court did it in 1970, and German Steffi Graf in 1988, Maureen had won the only women’s Slam in 1953. My first year away from Australia, 1956, I was a witness to a nearthing.Lew Hoad was the world’s No. 1 amateur then, one of my early heroes, and I was able to watch almost all of his matches as he took the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and came into the final at Forest Hills. One match away, but across the net was Kenny Rosewall. I sat there marveling at Rosewall, along with the rest of the crowd, as he destroyed Lew’s bid, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. I never stopped marveling at him. Thirteen years later, he was still around trying to break up my second Grand Slam. He had his shot at me in the final of the French, but I played the clay court match of my life and avoided the treatment he gave Lew.
But in 1956, it was exciting enough just to be at Forest Hills and follow Lew’s progress. I was eighteen, awed, and unknown. A few aficionados recognized my name because I’d won the U.S. junior title a month before, but I could wander around getting the feel of the place completely unnoticed.
I was out of that tournament fast. Ham Richardson, then the No. 1 American, was my first-round opponent, and by virtue of the company I was keeping I played for the first time in the Forest Hills Stadium. Ham got me out of there before you could say one-two-three: 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. My Queensland mate, Roy Emerson, got to the quarters, and I was glad for him. It was fun for a young Australian to watch as his countrymen dominated the championship of their great rival, America, with Hoad, Rosewall, and Neale Fraser surrounding a solitary Yank, Vic Seixas, in the semis. I didn’t mind the passive role of spectator at the final. I figured I’d be there in one of the starring roles one day, but the thought of a Grand Slam for Laver didn’t occur to me until four years later.
In 1960, I won the Australian title for the first time, and since that’s the only way you can begin a Grand Slam, I wondered: Why not me? After beating Neale Fraser—coming from two sets down—I had that feeling that it was going to be a big Laver year. Hadn’t I been Wimbledon finalist to Alex Olmedo in 1959? So why couldn’t I make a GrandSlam?
Manolo Santana, the gifted Spaniard, showed me why. He and that slow clay in Paris abruptly brought me back to the real world. Parisian clay may look harmless, but it’s quicksand for us outsiders from Australia and America, a trap that clogs our power and swallows us. Europeans are like kids snapping up peanut butter sandwiches when they operate on the home ground against big hitters. My visions of a Grand Slam were almost blacked out in the first round of the French by a Pole named Andrzej Licis, who pushed me all over for five sets. Weird luck was the only way I beat him—with a no-hope shot made up on the run, a backhand topspin lob at match point that floated over his head, plunked on the baseline and left the ball stained with a big white chalkspot. I had never heard of Licis before, and seldom after, but that afternoon I thought he was one of the greatest players in the world. I doubt he felt the same respect for me.
I wasn’t thinking Grand Slam anymore, just wondering how much longer I could last. Not another round. Santana, who really was one of the best, and plays a clay court as artistically as Isaac Stern plays the violin, put me out with little trouble.
I had to learn to play on clay, to firm up my patience and prepare my way to the net better. The Grand Slam was three-quarters grass [today hard courts replace lawns in Australia and the U.S.], and I wasn’t worried about myself there. The other quarter, the French, is something else, more challenging than the others, more difficult to win, more satisfying from the standpoint of having survived a terrific test.
There isn’t as much pressure, perhaps, because it’s early in the season and the prestige isn’t as great as Wimbledon or Forest Hills. But in Paris you know you’ve been in a fight. You come off the court exhausted, looking battle-stained, your clothes and body smudged with red clay. I promised myself that in 1961 it would be different for me in Paris. It was to the extent that I got to the semifinals before running into Santana, who was the top seed. And I gave him a better match. After four sets we were even—in the score anyway, two sets each, and I’d had a fine chance to win in four, leading 4-1. But I was through, and Manolo wrapped me in a lovely web of shotmaking, 6-0 in the fifth. I believe that’s the only time it’s happened to me since I’ve been a world-class player. It happened so fast it was almost painless.
In the second set Manolo sprained his left ankle. He took off his shoe and hobbled around, testing, to see if he could go on. I followed him to commiserate, but not to step on his bare foot as I should have. I missed my chance. Still, it didn’t seem to matter when I had that 4-1 lead in the fourth set. Then Manolo exploded. He was sure of his ankle again, and he rang up eleven straight games and the match. I never got close until we shook hands.
Five weeks later, I won Wimbledon and was considered No. 1 in the world. Was that a nice thing to do to your leader, Manolo—blitz me in Paris with all those people watching?
Rod Laver documented his 1969 Grand Slam season – and his life story – with Hall of Fame tennis journalist Bud Collins in the book “The Education of a Tennis Player” (for sale here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257626/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_tiFEvb1MG9Y13 In the book, Laver also imparts his wisdom on how amateurs can achieve more success in tennis. In this book excerpt, Laver discusses “Killer Instinct.”
When I was a kid, and beginning to play well, a little better than the ordinary, I first experienced the enjoyment of playing to a crowd. It was a good feeling to have my strokes admired, and I was in no hurry to get off the court. As a result I let too many opponents off the hook. I found out that you have to play with the intention of making it a short day, of doing the job quickly and thoroughly.
I don’t mean rush it. Anything but that. But when you have the opportunity you strike then, and you realize that no lead is as big as it looks. If your opponent is serving at 1-4, you feel pretty good: three games ahead. But that’s only one service break, and you want to keep the pressure on, or you’re going to be in trouble. It’s no time to experiment with new shots or to show off for the “sheilas” in the crowd.
I’ve heard it said that you’re either born with the killer instinct or you’re not. I don’t agree with that. I feel I had to develop that killer outlook which, to me, means making the shot called for to win the point and resisting certain temptations. You don’t try to blast a ball 200 mph crosscourt into a corner when you have an easy sitter and your opponent is way out of position. If a soft, unimpressive-looking dink is called for, you hit it and make the point.
The good chances don’t come that frequently, and the killer knocks them off surely when presented with them. The killer doesn’t let up or ease off when he gets a good lead. This can be learned. Make sure of the easy shots—concentrate extra hard on those. Everybody has problems with difficult shots, but the killer gets his edge because he is meticulous with the setups.
Don’t compose eulogies to yourself when you get ahead. Concentrate on staying there. When Charlie Hollis, my coach, decided that I wasn’t homicidal enough, he sent me out with the intent of winning every match 6-0, 6-0. That seems grim for the usual player, but Charlie’s theme was good and clear: run scared and don’t let anybody up.
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.
Nadal: Because He’s Worth it
Rafael Nadal was celebrating after lifting the Sportsman of the Year Award at this year’s Laureus Sports Awards. The reigning French and US Open and Wimbledon Champion beat of stiff competition from some of the world’s top athletes to raise the trophy in Abu Dhabi. Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters were all nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year award but lost out to the American skiing Olympic gold medallist Lindsey Vonn.
Laver Backs Murray for Success:
He may have taken a fair bit of stick from doubters questioning his ‘bottle’ after his third straight Grand Slam final defeat but Andy Murray will undoubtedly take great comfort after one of the true greats of tennis backed him to come good. Rod Laver, the only man to twice win all four majors in a calendar year and the last man to do so, has backed Murray to one day lift one of the great trophies aloft and has called for the British press to get off his back. “He did very well in coming through the field that he was against,” the eleven-time Grand Slam winner told Garry Richardson of the BBC. “Just look at the way that [Novak] Djokovic played that day and through the whole two weeks. He was just a man obsessed. Unfortunately Murray did not have any chance because Djokovic just played unbelievably well.” He said of Murray’s future chances: “Winning the first one is probably the toughest thing you’ll ever come across. He just has to not let the British public take hold of him and say ‘you’re a failure’ because he’s certainly not that at all…I think he’s certainly capable of pulling it off but…that’s up to Andy. It depends on his ability to win the big matches when he’s not playing so well. Sometimes he can get a little emotional and that detracts from his great ability.” The full interview can be heard at the The full interview can be heard at the BBC Tennis website.
Sampras a Monfils Fan:
Before the serious play began at this week’s SAP Open in San Jose current French star Gael Monfils took to the court to play an exhibition against esteemed Hall of Famer Pete Sampras. The young wild child scored a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory and certainly left a mark on his opponent. “I played a little better than I did last year and held my own,” said the 14-time Grand Slam winner. “But physically that’s the most I’ve served and volley in combination of the last seven years. Not easy. Gael’s a great mover. He returns well and made me work pretty hard on my service game, but all in all, I’m very happy with the way I played. I had a few chances in the first set I let slip away, but he’s the real deal. I’ve played a lot of good movers in my day, but not only does he move well, but he slides, which helps really cover the court that much better.” But he wasn’t getting carried away with talk of Monfils ending France’s wait for a major winner: “You look at Roger [Federer], [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic now, you can tell that they can play at that level a little bit easier, a little less effort, whereas with Gael I think just to get there is a lot of work. He has the talent, it’s just a matter of putting it all together, but he has the game. He serves big, he can come in when he has to, and returns quite well, but to win these majors you’ve got to be very, very special. He has the talent; it’s just going to take some time. He’s still very young. He’s 24. He still has a lot of time to get it.”
Nadal set to resume Training:
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has announced via his official website that he is set to resume training ahead of Spain’s Davis Cup match with Belgium next month. “I feel quite good,” the statement read. “I am going home today (Tuesday) to Manacor to begin training on the courts. I am going to start training slowly, following a plan, so that there are no setbacks.” Nadal also spoke of his disappointment of the way he crashed out of this year’s Australian Open at the quarterfinal stage to friend and compatriot David Ferrer: “I was crying in the locker room,” said the 24-year-old. “I [hated that I had] to go out of the tournament. Last year, I had to do it and it was something I didn’t want to repeat. But from the third game I knew I didn’t have a chance to win. David was playing fantastic and I wasn’t able to run enough to rise to the level to beat him.”
Querrey-ing his Form:
It’s not been a good start to 2011 for American star Sam Querrey. Complaining of a loss of love for tennis mid-way through last season it looks like his poor run has spilt over in to the new tennis calendar. This week in San Jose the world No. 17 suffered the unceremonious honour of falling to the world No. 113 Lukas Lacko of Poland in straight sets in their first-round encounter. “I didn’t try to play fast,” said the 23-year-old. “I tried to play more accurate, to make him run, and I knew he was going to miss when he was moving a lot.” His current run of a 1-8 win/loss ratio is a far cry from his career-best four titles on three different surfaces during the early part of last year which placed him third behind Rafa Nadal (seven) and Roger Federer (five) for the most titles won. Lacko was positively beaming after the greatest win of his career which places him against the 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro in round two. “It’s a good feeling because it proves to me I’m able to beat guys like this,” he said. “I played a couple matches this year, last year, against guys like Sam – Top 20, Top 10 players. I played good matches, I got chances, but I never finished the match. I lost too many close matches. It’s good satisfaction to beat a guy like this.”
Li Screams for Ice Cream:
Li Na is already cashing in on becoming the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam final after ice-cream giant Haagen-Dazs signed her up as an ambassador and the face of all their Eastern advertisement campaigns. Among her benefits will be free consumption of ice cream at any of their worldwide stores. It is thought to be the first time the ice cream giant has used an athlete in its campaigns. Her finals appearance saw Na climb to a career-high No. 7 in the world, three places below Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm who once sat at No. 4. The deal is said to be worth well over $1m over several years and she is said to also be signing a similar deal with Rolex shortly.
Home is where the Heart is for Anderson and Dodig:
There were two maiden winners on the ATP tour last week as Kevin Anderson took his home title at the SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg and Ivan Dodig took home the PBZ Zagreb Indoors in his native Croatia. Anderson was a set down against the Indian star Somdev Devvarman but rallied to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. “It’s an amazing experience,” said the new world No. 40. “Obviously just winning my first title is one thing, but doing it in front of my home fans and my country with my friends and family watching is something I’ll remember forever. My end of year goal is to finish the year in the Top 20. Obviously it’s a good start, but there’s still a lot of tennis to be played and it’s just important to recognise the accomplishment this week and build in confidence for the rest of this year.” Dodig’s victory was a little more straightforward as he overcame the No. 8 seed Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-4. “I think it’s the best thing that can happen to a player – to play at home in front of your own crowd,” said the 26-year-old. “I’m really happy and enjoying this day. It was amazing for me all week and it’s an unbelievable experience. I think I served really well all week, especially on the important points. My serve is my best shot. I’m very happy that the serve was working great in all the matches this week.” For more fallout from both Anderson and Dodig visit the ATP site.
The Kids Are Alright:
This year’s Australian Open threw us a bevy of new names to look out for in the main draws of ATP events and some of the best performers at Melbourne Park are continuing the early season promise in to February. 20-year-old Canadian Milos Raonic qualified for the main draw Down Under and eventually reached the fourth round where he lost out to David Ferrer. Now at the SAP Open in San Jose the new world No. 84 has recorded an impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory over the No. 4 seed Xavier Malisse of Belgium. “It was a good win,” said Raonic. “He returns well. He’s been playing well this year. I’ve been playing well also, so I focused on making sure I take care of my serve and stay on top of that. I had a few opportunities there on his return and I was able to utilise them, so it helped. I was serving really well so it was putting a bit more pressure on his service game not to get down too early.” New Lithuanian prospect Richard Berankis was semifinalist Ferrer’s third-round victim in Melbourne but also at San Jose he conquered the No. 6 seed Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-3, 7-6(2). The Japanese No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori was another third-rounder in Australia and he is also in to round two. The 21-year-old overcame Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6(6).
Clijsters to be No. 1?:
If the Belgian Kim Clijsters wins her quarter final matchup with either Nadia Petrova or Jelena Dokic in Paris she will climb above Caroline Wozniacki as the No. 1 player in the women’s game. The four-time Grand Slam winner reached this stage with a less than regulatory victory over the world No. 78 Kristina Barrois. “I knew it would take time to get into the rhythm and get the feel for the ball,” the 27-year-old said. “Slowly I got into the match and started being more aggressive. It’s nice to be in Paris. I love the court here and the crowd is so welcoming.”
Ivanovic Single Again:
Ana Ivanovic has apparently split with coach Antonio van Grichen after only two months after the pair “failed to mesh.” He apparently wanted to implement many changes to the former world No. 1s game as well as criticising her current body weight which she did not agree with. Ivanovic has now announced her intent to find a regular hitting partner to create stability while she searches for a new full-time coach.
Blake Flying Solo:
Former world No. 4 James Blake has announced that he is no longer travelling with a full-time coach after splitting with Kelly Jones last year. The 31-year-old stated at the SAP Open in San Jose that he believes he is too old to be helped by a full-time strategist and instead travels with a full-time physio to help him with many long-term injuries he carries. “I really don’t need someone to put me through the same drills that I already know and to tell me things that I’ve already seen and heard,” said the world No. 170. “I may have Kelly, Brian [Barker, another former coach] or my brother [Thomas] come around here and there because someone on the outside can always pick up things that you can’t, but I knew that by this age I would know the game well enough to coach myself.”
Olympic Dream in Balance for Williams Sisters:
Venus and Serena Williams are set to be included in the USA’s Fed Cup squad for their match against Germany in April for the first time since 2007 as they have been told that they must at least show up for, if not play in, one tie this year to keep themselves eligible for Olympic play in 2012. ITF rules state that players don’t have to necessarily play but be on site and show support for their team during two ties prior to the Olympics beginning.
Young Enough to Conquer:
Donald Young quickly became the forgotten man of American tennis after his early promise failed to materialise in to a genuine challenge to the higher echelons of the sport. But while many have written him off he is back in action at the SAP Open in San Jose this week without his parents in sight. While both are USTA pro coaches and have definitely passed on some good advice to their talented but enigmatic son, the fact he is working now with other USTA coaches such as David Nainken and Leo Azevedo is a good sign. He is showing improvements to his game on his return and certainly believes a corner may have turned in his quest to be remembered for more than just ‘the one that got away.’ “It’s developing weapons and picking the way I want to play and sticking with it,” he told TennisReporters.net. “I’ve been doing it quite a bit. In the past I went with the wind and didn’t have a set game plan.” The 21-year-old Young still has his sights set on a Top 50 berth despite having never climbed higher than No. 73 before now. “To be honest, I’d be upset if I didn’t get there too,” said the left-hander. “Some of my peers have moved up and made it there and I’d like to move higher. But if I play better the wins will come. I’ve set [my goals] low before and now I want to set them higher. It’s wavered and there were times I feel like I couldn’t do it, but then you win some matches and you feel you can.”
No-Go for Novak:
It is reported that Australian Open Champion Novak Djokovic pulled out of this week’s ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament with a shoulder injury. It is not yet known how long the Serb will be out of action for.
Another Fresh Start for Safina:
In yet another attempt to resurrect her freefalling career the Russian Dinara Safina has announced that Davide Sanguinetti will be her new coach going forward in to 2011. Her latest former coach, Gaston Etlis, will work with the Argentine Juan Monaco. The injury and confidence-plagued sister of former men’s star Marat Safin was No. 1 in the world in April 2009 but now finds herself ranked 117.
There was no home comfort for the French at the WTA Paris Open this week as every single home-grown player crashed out in the first round for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Dolgopolov Fanbase Growing:
On the back of his exceptional run at this year’s Australian Open the star of Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr. continues to rise. If you are a fan of his or just want to know what it’s like growing up on the ATP tour following your father around then head over to their website where you can read a fantastic article on the upbringing of one of tennis’ latest starlets. It’s a little different to say the least!
The Russian Mikhail Youzhny has re-entered the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings at No. 10 this week after his recent events replacing Jurgen Melzer while Marcos Baghdatis re-enters the Top 20. South Africa’s Kevin Anderson leaps 19 places to No. 40 after his maiden victory at the SA Tennis Open and Santiago Giraldo also enters the Top 50 at No. 47. Ivan Dodig leaps 24 to No. 60 after his victory in Zagreb and Somdev Devvarman (No. 80), Karol Beck (No. 87), Nicolas Mahut (No. 90) and Gilles Muller (No. 91) are all high risers. Due to last week’s Fed Cup commitments there were no movers in the Top 100 of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week.
GOAT Race Unaltered:
With neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal in action this week the GOAT Race scores remain unaltered.
Roger: 330 Rafa: 130
*Rafa Nadal insists that there is “no pressure” as he bids to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Slams at the same time. Dubbed the “Rafa Slam,” it is a feat not even his greatest rival Roger Federer has achieved. Speaking before the tournament began he said: “Maybe I am only going to have this opportunity [once] in my career. But [it is] not for that reason I [am] going [to] have the pressure. The pressure is like every Grand Slam, you want to play well in the important tournaments. And for me, having the fourth or not is something that is not in my mind.” He also was quick, as always, to place himself behind R-Fed in the list of favourites to lift the trophy. “I feel if I play at my best level, I can have a chance to be in the second week, and there we will see what happens. Every match will be really difficult, so I have to be ready for everything. But I for sure am feeling less favourite than [Federer] and not more favourite than Djokovic, Murray, Soderling, these kinds of players.”
*Before we can even catch our breath following the Christmas rush we are thrust back in to the hectic world of a Grand Slam and already the headlines are keeping us hooked. Former world No. 1 Dinara Safina collapsed to a 0-6, 0-6 defeat at the hands of No. 3 seed Kim Clijsters in just 44 minutes. Many of her critics are labelling her as finished as the woman who reached the final here in 2009 has won only nine of her last 25 matches since returning from her latest injury setback. “I was sitting in the changeover, and I was like, OK, at least how can I get a chance to hurt her?” said the younger sister of enigmatic men’s star Marat Safin. “Nothing was hurting her, not my backhand, my forehand or my serve. My return, nothing. She was dictating basically from the first point. There was nothing that I could do to hurt her. Embarrassing.” But she has vowed to defy those doubters and fight her way back to the parapet of the game she once sat on top of. “I will give my 100% to get back. I will fight. I will go through whatever it takes,” she added. “But first I want to find answers. I’m fully motivated…I cannot say that I didn’t practise hard but I guess something was not right. I don’t know. I have to figure out the answers.” The full interview, plus Clijsters’ reaction can be seen at the WTA website.
*That result was the sixth ‘double bagel’ of Clijsters’ impressive career. All have come at Grand Slams with four of the six being in Melbourne. They have all come within the first two rounds and all, bar one, have seen her reach at least the semi finals. The omens look good for the Belgian. They read as follows:
|2000||US Open||Marta Marrero||1st||2nd|
|2003||Australian Open||Petra Mandula||2nd||SF|
|2003||Wimbledon||Rossanna de los Rios||1st||SF|
|2004||Australian Open||Maria Elena Camerin||2nd||R-Up|
|2007||Australian Open||Vasilisa Bardina||1st||SF|
|2011||Australian Open||Dinara Safina||2nd||?|
*Both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are confident they can lift the 2011 Aussie Open title after coming close to lifting majors in 2010. But they appreciate the fact that they must aim to overcome the top two of Nadal and Federer if they are to achieve this, having had mixed results in previous encounters. Djokovic overcame Roger Federer in the mesmerising US Open seminfal in New York last September before losing to Rafa Nadal in the final. He also lost to Tomas Berdych in the semis at Wimbledon. “They’re the two best players in the world, deservedly,” said The Serb. “Of course, [they are] the two biggest favourites in any tournament they play to win the title. I guess I’m in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event. How far back, I can’t say. To be able to compete with them is a big challenge. Every time we play they take my game as well to another level. They make me play better. In case I get to play them in this tournament, I will look forward to it.” Murray lost the other Wimbledon semi to Nadal whilst he also lost last year’s Melbourne final in straight sets to Federer. He believes that experience will help his assault this time around. “Experience obviously helps,” said the 23-year-old Scot. “I played quite a lot of big matches last year. I went through some very tough patches last year, as well, especially after the Aussie Open. That was something I had to come back from and I learned from. So I think mentally I’m probably in a better place.” The full interviews can be seen on the ATP website.
*Danish beauty Caroline Wozniacki has come under further scrutiny as she begins another Slam looking to lift her first major. The top female star is probably sick of listening to the old “worthy No.1” debates and, even if she won’t admit it, Matt Cronin believes she is showing the signs of stress and strain. “I believe that I’m a really good player,” the 20-year-old said. “I can beat anyone on a good day. If I win, great. If I lose one match, just back on the practice court, work, and get stronger. I think that’s also why I’ve reached the level I’ve reached. I’m never satisfied. I always want to get better. Every time I step on the practice court, I always see things that I want to improve. I think I get frustrated, but I use it in a positive way. That’s the way I’m built.” The full report can be seen at the FOX Sports website.
*It was the match that truly exploded the 2011 tennis season in to life. David Nalbandian overcame feisty home favourite Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic five-set tussle that reprised the 2005 quaterfinal here, that time Hewitt coming out on top. Visibly exhausted following the late finish, Nalbandian was understandably elated at the shift he had just put in. “It was a very tough first round,” said the Argentine. “We both know it, every time we play it’s long matches, tough ones, he’s a real fighter. He played unbelievable. It’s amazing playing with him in a full stadium, here in Australia. We both had a lot of chances, I was serving for the match, it was that kind of match nobody can forget. Cramping was around all the time, he was too tired as well. I played the two match points, I play incredible, serve and volley, it was amazing, and then after that the match was for both. I can win, I can lose, the match was very close. I was one point to be two break points down in the fourth, so I play very good shots, I didn’t care about it. I win my serve, and that’s helped me, that helped me to win the match. I take that we both fight a lot all the time; it doesn’t matter when we are tired we keep fighting. Today the match was for me, but he can win as well. I take the brave heart that I put today on court.”
*Venus Williams has been sporting yet another bizarre dress Down Under but then, what’s new? With what could best be described as fishing net wrapped around her midriff she has claimed that Lewis’ Carroll’s most famous creation is the inspiration. “The outfit is inspired by Alice in Wonderland,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s kind of about a surprise, because when Alice goes down the rabbit hole, she finds all these things that are so surprising. This outfit is about having a surprise in a tennis dress, and showing some skin and then just having a print. Prints don’t happen that often in tennis. So it’s called the Wonderland dress.” Okay then.
*Former world No, 6 Nicolas Lapentti has retired from tennis, aged 34, after suffering ongoing tendonitis in his knee. He won five ATP Tour singles titles and reached a further seven finals in his 16 years as a professional. “It took me a lot to take the decision,” he said. “I didn’t want to rush; I wanted to be 100 percent sure. I’m leaving tennis without regret. I’ll have a farewell match, but I don’t know when and against whom. I have to get over the injury first.”
*When faced with questions about her longevity Japanese stalwart Kimiko Date Krumm says that it is her husband who will decide how long she prolongs her gargantuan career for. “If my ranking is high enough to play in the Grand Slams I’ll be back next year,” she said. “I’ll just have to check with my husband first. We only spent about a month together in total last year.”
*Fundraising for the flood victims of Queensland, Australia has topped the $1.8m mark following another charity event organised by the gracious Roger Federer on Sunday. Rally For Relief was a 90-minute-long friendly extravaganza featuring many of the sport’s top stars. Pat Rafter captained the Green Team which featured the Andy’s Roddick and Murray, Viktoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonereva, Kim Clijsters and Rafa Nadal. The Gold Team was led by home favourite Lleyton Hewitt and featured the talents of Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer and Sam Stosur. Players rotated round court and even took turns as line judges while US Davis Cup captain Jim Courier oversaw proceedings from the umpire’s chair. As usual, players were miked up and fired quips as sharp as their groundstrokes across the net much to the delight of the 15,000 present at the Rod Laver Arena. The event finished with an all-Aussie encounter as Hewitt battled Rafter before Nadal and Clijsters faced Federer and Stosur in mixed doubles.
*Former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic has blamed her pre-tournament injury disruptions for her first round crash at Melbourne Park. “For the last 10 days I couldn’t push hard in practice because of my abdominal strain,” said the Serb, who was forced to withdraw from the Hopman Cup with the problem. “I had [only] really Sunday and Monday that I could push a little bit more, and the first couple days that I could actually serve. I think that at the end got to me. It’s a ten-day strike before the Slam.”
*Maria Sharapova has been discussing her recent split with long-term coach Michael Joyce publicly, Thomas Hogstedt taking over the reigns. “After a really long period of time, I think a few things become a routine,” said the 23-year-old, who describes Joyce as “like a brother” and who will continue to look after him financially. “I think from both of our perspectives it was really a good move to bring in a new voice, a fresh perspective into the team. Obviously it’s different not having him at a tournament after so many years. But it’s part of an athlete’s career…It’s been going really well with Thomas. I like the work ethic that he’s brought on the court. I’m happy so far, but you never know where things will take you.”
*Nadia Petrova insists she is in no rush to find a new coach having been “single” since the off-season. “Frankly, I’m in no hurry to get a new coach because I’ve been on tour for so long,” said the Russian. “What I need is a regular hitting partner.”
*Swiss star Patty Schnyder says she is unsure how long she will continue to play tennis after bombing out of the Aussie Open at the first hurdle. “I haven’t made any commitments beyond the next one or two months,” she said. “I’ll play Fed Cup against Israel and then Doha and Dubai. After that I don’t know.”
*Former player and founding member of the ATP, Jim McManus, 70, has passed away of medical complications brought about by his recent fight with cancer. Before the ATP was established McManus twice featured in the Top 10 American players in both singles and doubles. In 1968 he and Jim Osbourne reached the semifinals at the US Open, probably his greatest moment as a player. But it is after retirement that he really made his mark. Employed by the ATP for 28 years he worked on rankings, tournament representation and development, pension plans, player entries, the Senior Tour and alumini services as well as being one of the original Board of Directors. “It is with great sadness that we learn of Jim’s passing,” said Adam Helfant, the ATP’s Executive Chairman and President. “From his early days as a player, and later as a founding member of the ATP, Jim was always regarded as a true pioneer of the game of tennis. On behalf of the ATP, I can say that men’s tennis has truly lost one of its greatest and most significant figures.”
*There is an interesting piece written on Maria Sharapova and how her recent engagement could affect both her playing career and her assets in comparison to former Russian pinup Anna Kournikova. It is written by Mark Hodgkinson of The Daily Telegraph in London and can be read at the website for the Montreal Gazette.
*The GOAT race enters week two with both Roger and Rafa competing at this year’s Australian Open. Both gain 20 points for their troubles and have the chance to add mega bucks to their totals next week.
Roger: 230, Rafa: 80
There’s a reason the Australian Open is the greatest slam of all. (What, am I biased?)
It’s not the happy slam because of the beer gardens everywhere, the costumed fans, the easy access to transportation, the gorgeous sunny spaces and the sparkling blue courts. It’s not the friendly staff everywhere, the fun off-court entertainment and the variety of outer-court matches.
The Australian Open is what it is because of those amazing fans that make up the best tennis watching crowd in the world.
Melbourne Jewish community doing their thing for Dudi Sela against Del Potro.
The crowd gathering in Garden Square to watch Alicia defeat Roberta Vinci at match point. Only drawback: You can kinda tell how a point is going to end, because the cheers erupt from Rod Laver behind you a second before the TV shows the end of the rally. At the same time, you gotta love that.
“We are yellow, we are blue, we are Swedish, who are you?”
The Swedes, always hands-down best costumed at the Open, going insane for their man Robin Soderling on Margaret Court Arena. As for me? I was watching Carlos Ramos, and noting that Robin’s black outfit with fluoro yellow trim was looking decidedly evil, particularly if the yellow was substituted for red. Flames. Owww.
And my favourite thing about the Open, hands down: The Hellas Fan Club at Marcos Baghdatis matches. Granted, earlier I’d seen some stupid Greek kids, wrapped in flags, asked to sing for a Channel 9 camera. They promptly belted out a very obviously anti-Turkish racist chant, which had all the nearby Greeks in titters. The grownups do it better, and they did, all through five sets of Marcos against a random I cannot name. Sorry. And yes, I now have favourite Greek chants. No, I cannot tell you what they mean. But I do know it’s not worth watching Marcos anywhere else other than the Australian Open. The crowd belongs to him.
Marinko’s Main Men: A crew of who I could only assume were Marinko Matosevic’ mates cheering their lungs out for their boy on Court 6 against the Lithuanian army cheering their boy Richardes Berankis. Sitting next to his couch, I could only just mumble “oi oi oi” to their Aussie Aussie Aussies, but was also busy listening in to Pat Cash’s commentary. “Great serve,” he sez, before elbowing L out of the way. Marinko put on a great fight but lost the match, but those Aussies were on fire. “We love Marinko because he is Victorian!” Love.
Blurry for a reason. Margaret Court Arena is known as the hub of insanity. The Bay 13 of Melbourne Park. MCA at night? Take the craziness and double it. MCA, at night, with crowd favourite Jo-Wilfred Tsonga?
I’m talking hardcore.
The Frenchies had forgotten compatriot Mikey Llodra on the court next door, so we did the dutiful and watched the lovely Mika – always fun for some volleying action – before heading to MCA for the fifth set. And I was afraid for my life. The picture above is blurry – if you were there, you’d know why.
A packed house at 1am on Rod Laver Arena getting behind our man Lleyton Hewitt. I hate when matches are called “thrillers” and “epics” but usually because I’m jealous I wasn’t there. This match had everything: The ancient rivalry, the two big players, gorgeous tennis and a passionate, formidable, fired-up crowd. And the essential RLA late finish just made it all the more Aussie. And similar to the Tomic loss at 2am last year, we all went home unhappy. And then waiting in long taxi queues in the freezing.Because that’s what we do, tennis fans.
In a couple of days, the Australian Open will be under way. The ‘Happy Slam’ is not only great for the players, but it has also proven to be the most fan friendly of the four majors. The Aussies have provided us free streaming of the qualifying tournament as well as the draw ceremony and the “Rally for Relief” event will be aired on Tennis Channel (Saturday at 10pm EST.) By the wonder of technology, I was able to stream today’s draw ceremony on my phone and it looks like we’re in for some great tennis in the next two weeks. I’m already preparing myself for some sleepless nights. In case you missed it, or you were just too lazy to check out the draw for yourself, I’ll be breaking it down piece by piece.
First off, Rafa and Roger have won 23 of the last 26 Grand Slam events, so you’d pretty much be crazy to pick anyone else to win. However, if anyone can challenge their dominance, it’s going to happen in Melbourne. Historically, the Australian Open has provided us with a lot of breakthrough performances. The 2008 final was contested between Novak Djokovic and Jo Wilfried Tsonga and the 2005 final between Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. Every other Slam final for the last five years has included either Federer or Nadal.
Just remember, I’m no Nostradamus and some of my picks may sound a little crazy, but it’s boring if you always pick the better players. Sometimes the mediocre guys rise to the occasion and even the best players have bad days.
Seeded Players: Rafael Nadal (1), Feliciano Lopez (31), John Isner (20), Marin Cilic (15), Mikhail Youzhny (10), Michael Llodra (22), David Nalbandian (27), David Ferrer (7)
Clearly all of the expectations lie on Rafa. He could become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Slam titles at the same time, something not even the great Roger Federer has accomplished. Although, Laver was quick to say that this would be impressive, but would not equal his calendar year sweep. Nadal certainly could have drawn a worse quarter, i.e. Andy Murray, but there are a lot of great competitors lurking in here, ready to take away his chance at making history. In round 4, Rafa is likely to face John Isner (or Marin Cilic) who can both be occasionally great, but I definitely like Nadal’s chances. In the quarters he could find Mikhail Youzhny, Michael Llodra, Lleyton Hewitt, or David Ferrer. All of the are dangerous, but Rafa would have to have a pretty off day to lose. Rafael Nadal’s biggest challenge will likely come in the semifinals: Robin Soderling or Andy Murray.
Semi Finalist: Rafael Nadal
Possible Sleeper: Michael Llodra
Best First Round Match: David Nalbandian (27) v. Llyeton Hewitt ***This will be a fight to the death. Given the hometown advantage, I think Lleyton will prevail.
Seeded Players: Robin Soderling (4), Thomaz Bellucci (30), Ernests Gulbis (24), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13), Jurgen Melzer (11), Marcos Baghdatis (21), Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (32), Andy Murray (5)
A week ago, it was huge news that Robin Soderling would usurp Andy Murray’s place as No. 4, giving him his own quarter of the draw. However, the universe likes a good joke and Murray landed smack at the bottom of Soderling’s quarter. So, things are pretty much the same as they would have been. Robin did catch a (tiny) break by ending up on Rafa’s side of the draw considering his head-to-head with Federer. Speaking of Andy Murray, expectations are high. He made the final last year and hasn’t yet managed to prove himself by winning a major event. Andy’s road the final is tough, probably the worst of any guy in the Top 5. In round 3, he’s likely to face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who had a great fall season, beating Rafa and winning an ATP title. Then things get really tricky. In round 4, Andy could face Jurgen Melzer, Marcos Baghdatis, or Juan Martin del Potro. Whoever gets there will be tough. Things only get worse because, he will likely see Robin Soderling in the quarters. If he even makes it that far, his prize will be a semifinal meeting with Rafael Nadal. This is no one’s dream draw.
Semi Finalist: Robin Soderling
Possible Sleeper: Juan Martin del Potro, Alexandr Dolgopolov
Best First Round Match: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13) v. Philipp Petzschner
Semi Final: Robin Soderling d. Rafael Nadal ***Yes, I know I’m crazy, but have you seen how fit Soderling looks and Nadal’s coming off a bout with the flu
Seeded Players: Tomas Berdych (6), Richard Gasquet (28), Nikolay Davydenko (23), Fernando Verdasco (9), Nicolas Almagro (14), Ivan Ljubicic (17), Viktor Troicki (29), Novak Djokovic (3)
Novak Djokovic is thanking his lucky stars tonight. This draw suits him beautifully. His greatest triumph came in Melbourne in 2008 and I’m sure he’s keen to repeat that. To get there, Nole will likely have to go through the huge server, Ivo Karlovic, countryman Viktor Troicki, and either Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco. I like his chances, particularly after his triumph over Federer at last year’s US Open. I think Djokovic is more confident in his abilities that he has been since the ’08 AO. However, we all know that Nole’s biggest enemy is heat, and even though his conditioning has gotten significantly better, weather will still play a huge role in his draw.
Semi Finalist: Novak Djokovic
Possible Sleeper: Janko Tipsarevic
Best First Round Match: Viktor Troicki (29) v. Dmitry Tursunov
Seeded Players: Andy Roddick (8), Juan Monaco (26), Stanislas Wawrinka (19), Gael Monfils (12), Mardy Fish (16), Sam Querrey (18), Albert Montanes (25), Roger Federer (2)
Andy Roddick is the unluckiest man in tennis. I’m just going to say it. Of all the people who have been deprived of Grand Slam glory by the genius of Roger Federer, no one has been on the losing end more times than Andy Roddick. I think he’s in great form, making last week’s final in Brisbane, but there’s no way he beats Roger Federer at this year’s tournament. I am looking forward to a Roddick/Federer quarter final though because I love them both. I’m sure everyone is interested to see what Stanislas Wawrinka will bring to this tournament. Regardless of what you think of his decisions, he has definitely re-dedicated himself to tennis and it paid off in the form of winning last week’s tournament in Chennai. The American men really seemed to lose out in this year’s draw. Isner’s got Rafa in the 4th round and Querrey’s got Federer. I think both of them have excellent chances of finally breaking through to a major quarter or semi this year, but it’s not going to be the Australian Open. Federer had a “bad” year last year (only winning one major, making a semifinal, and two quarterfinals) but ended the season on a high note by beating Rafael Nadal to winning the World Tour Finals for the fifth time. He’s the defending champion and I think we’ll be seeing him play a lot of tennis over the next two weeks.
Semi Finalist: Roger Federer
Possible Sleeper: Andrey Golubev
Best First Round Match: Gael Monfils (12) v. Thiemo De Bakker
Semi Final: Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic ***Fed’s not letting Nole beat him again.
Final: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling
Stay tuned for my take of the women’s draw.