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Murray Applies the Heat in Flushing Meadows…

Despite looking suspiciously like Jasper, the dashing vampire from the Twilight films, Slovakian, Lukas Lacko failed to draw blood against an impressive Andy Murray amidst the blistering heat of a New York afternoon, losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in just under two hours.

Murray used his typical variety of shot to gain two break points with a drop shot at 2-1 in the first set; a fabulous topspin lob awarded him his first break of serve. A muscular looking Murray continued his aggressive style of late, in the following games, stepping well inside the baseline to attack Lacko’s second serve and approach the net; a tactic that served him well throughout the course of the match. After a closely fought game at 5-3 and a couple of erratic shots from Murray, the Scot took the first set in 38 minutes.

Murray applied the pressure early on in the second set, breaking Lacko immediately, however buoyed by an audacious defensive shot in the second game, Lacko broke back straight away to level the set at one game a-piece. After taking out his frustration on his racket, Murray decided it was time for a new one and broke back once again in the following game.

A couple of service holds later and Murray went up a gear once again to set up three break points; a double fault by Lacko handed him the game and a definite psychological advantage. There really was no return for the Slovakian as Murray served out the second set with a penetrating forehand winner.

Murray’s impressive serving and aggressive returning made it hard work for Lacko who still didn’t have the answers in the final set, going down 6-2 once again.

The signs look bright for the Briton, who looks set to progress well into the tournament and possibly go all the way. Memories of a once physically weak Murray, cramping through lack of conditioning, have well and truly faded into insignificance; he could almost give the werewolves in Twilight a run for their money; well maybe not, but a transformation has certainly occurred.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Murray Defeats Federer to Defend Rogers Cup Title

Andy Murray overcame his 0-3 record against Roger Federer in ATP Tour finals today with a drawn out 7-5, 7-5 victory that lasted through several lengthy rain delays. The Scot called it, “one of the best week’s of my life,” upon giving his victory speech to the resilient Toronto crowd.

It was a very different Roger Federer who came out in the opening set of the final today against Andy Murray. Instead of breezing through the opening frame as he had against both Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic, a lethargic Federer looked lifeless in the opening three games where he was broken twice.

Murray looked exactly as sharp as he had when he left the court yesterday afternoon after defeating world No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 and his shots were immediately hurting Federer on every occasion.

While Roger reminded us all yesterday that it was his younger opponents who seemed tired this week, one had to wonder if at the age of 29 his late night heroics were finally catching up to him.

While serving at 3-0 Murray then suddenly dropped all four service points to allow Roger one break and the chance to begin working his way back into the match. The players would then hold service for several games until Murray went to serve for the set at 5-4.

A fan flashed a sign on the overhead video screen that proclaimed, “Federer is Betterer,” and the Swiss star proved them right by breaking Murray to even things up at 5-5.

In that game it was Murray’s nerves that suddenly acted up as he blew a routine forehand to go down 0-30 within the game and later double faulted at break point to complete his mini-implosion.

Just when you thought a tiebreak was around the corner, Federer double faulted for 15-30. At deuce, a timely Murray lob eluded Federer to give him a break point and then a Federer forehand error wide tilted things in Murray’s favour.

Murray held in the final game of the set to take it 7-5. Federer being broken three times inside of one set was a rarity and on serve at 2-1 Federer the rain came and halted play for about one hour.

Returning to the court Murray would win two straight points to even things up at 2-2 and then proceeded to break Federer to go ahead 3-2. Another rain delay of well over an hour then appeared and upon resumption of play it was Federer who came out firing as he broke in the first game back to tie the set at 3-3.

At 5-5 and with fans hoping for the match to be pushed to a third set, Roger would let down his guard and find himself down 0-40 while serving. Murray hit a beautiful over-head, backhand volley to put away the game and then proceeded to serve for the set, ahead 6-5.

Though Roger managed to push the game to deuce, Murray would prevail with some excellent serving to become the first repeat champion in Canada since Andre Agassi in 1994-95.

Murray’s serve was very solid today and he even surprised himself with what he claims is his fastest serve ever on the ATP Tour.

“I managed to come up on the breakpoint with a big serve, and actually I think the deuce point is the fastest serve I’ve ever hit. I think it 225 kilometres an hour, which is just over 140 miles an hour. So that’s obviously something that I’ve been working on quite a lot. I just went for it.”

I asked Murray after the match what he felt was more satifying – winning his first tournament of 2010 or finally reversing his losing streak to Federer in ATP finals. Instead, Murray saw another bit of silver-lining in the triumph.

“Winning a tournament is always great, but it’s the first time I beat Roger and Rafa in the same tournament, which is probably the most pleasing thing, and then didn’t drop a set against either of them. So it’s good for the confidence for the next few weeks.”

Roger was quite gracious in defeat and made no excuses in his post-tournament press conference. Speaking about the reality of his and Murray’s struggles since the Australian Open he said,

“I think most important actually for both of us is that since Australia, you know, maybe we’ve had not the results we were hoping for after playing so well right off the bat at the beginning of the year. I think, for us, it’s really important knowing we’re back on hardcourt, that our game’s back on…I think that’s a big positive for both of us.”

Certainly with their strong play in Toronto this past week, Federer and Murray have sent a message to the rest of the tour that they are mentally and physically ready to take a good run at the U.S. Open. We’ll have to wait and see if they can carry that momentum into Cincinnati or if someone else is ready to step up and put their name into contention as well.

Thanks for following us throughout the Rogers Cup. Stay tuned to ProTennisFan for more updates and coverage of the ATP Tour as the final Slam of the year quickly approaches. You can also follow us on Twitter for frequent coverage as well.

Murray Gets Wimbledon Revenge on Nadal

Andy Murray enjoyed a little post-Wimbledon revenge on Saturday at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as he handled world number one Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the finals.

Murray played as crisp tennis as I’ve seen from him since the Australian Open in January and appeared composed and prepared from the very opening game.

After a quick three games to start the match, the rallies began to lengthen and both players brought some of their best tennis for the Toronto crowd to enjoy.

Though the crowd was slightly more pro-Nadal, they cheered Murray as well and seemed to pull for either player when they faced a break point.

At 3-3 in the opening set, Nadal had two break point opportunities at 15-40, but Murray would bail himself out with timely serving to hold for 4-3.

Murray used that energy to break the Spaniard in the very next game and then held easily to close out the first set 6-3.

The fact that Nadal was down by a set did not seem to phase him nor the crowd. It is not exactly a rarity to watch him fight from behind and still manage to emerge victorious.

Murray apparently did not get the memo that he was supposed to hand over that second set, as he broke early to go up 2-1.

Nadal would use his lethal forehand to rip a winner to get back on serve and tie things up a bit later at three games apiece.

With Murray serving later at 3-4, he double faulted to hand Nadal a chance at 15-40. Again he would maintain his composure and use his serve to get back into the game and even the score at 4-4. I was most impressed with how Murray never seemed to lose his cool during the match, even when it appeared that the momentum was about to shift in Nadal’s favour.

As a few very light rain drops began to fall at 4-4, Nadal inexplicably played some loose points and gave Murray a 0-40 score to work with. The Scot would seize the moment and with a Nadal backhand into the net he jumped ahead with the break to 5-4. He would win all four points in the next game to take the match and get one step closer to defending his Rogers Cup title.

By virtue of advancing to the finals, Murray will hold on to his world No. 4 ranking. A loss would have allowed Sweden’s Robin Soderling to overtake him in that position.

Murray will face the winner of tonight’s match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The winning player will then hold the number two ranking in the world.

Check back later for a full report on the outcome of this world class match-up.

Top Four Players Advance to Rogers Cup Semi-Finals

The top four players in the world took to the court today in Toronto offering fans a terrific line-up of ATP action. By the end of the day, they did not disappoint.

During the day session reality set for David Nalbandian as his career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian’s ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. It was a case of too much tennis in a short period of time as he admitted to after the match.

“I feel a little tired for all the weeks, for the last week and this one, and I didn’t get a rest,” Nalbandian said.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I’d have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.

On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week’s time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet Rafael Nadal a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second match of the day.

Nadal struggled in making the transition to the daytime session as his previous two singles and one doubles match have come after sun-set.

Kohlschreiber stunned the crowd by taking the first set 6-3 and utilizing his one-handed backhand to his advantage.

As he so often does, Nadal fought back hard in the second set and broke early to go up 2-0. The Spaniard always seems to find a way to play his best when he is behind in a match or even within a specific point. He turns his defence into offence just when you think he might be on the edge of losing. He pulled the match even at one set apiece and there was little doubt at that point that he would continue towards the finish line.

Kohlschreiber was having success when he would come to the net and pressure Nadal to hit a perfect passing shot, but unfortunately for the German he chose that strategy to few times during this match. As his backhand began wavering, Nadal broke him for a 4-3 lead and eventually won on triple match point when a Kohlschreiber backhand hit the net. The final score was 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the evening session, the match of the day on paper and in execution was clearly the Wimbledon re-match between Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer.

With the suddenly confident Czech having won their last two encounters, the buzz around the press room was leaning towards a Berdych victory.

While Roger has gotten past Juan Ignacio Chela and Michael Llodra with relative ease this week, they represent a cake-walk for a player of Roger’s calibre. Tonight was the true test of where Federer’s game is at and the result would have an enormous impact on his chances moving forward to the U.S. Open.

Should Federer win it would represent a confidence boost for him personally and also for the media with regards to his chances at taking a run at his second Slam of the season. Another loss to Berdych and he would have been taken to task for another missed opportunity and as a glimpse into his continued decline. Talk about pressure!

Federer played wonderfully in the first set mixing up his shots and appearing as composed as ever. For his part, Berdych was struggling with his serve, and ended up down 0-30 during each of his four service games. Mentally he appeared to be totally unprepared for the match.

Tape on his left knee and thigh made me wonder if he was struggling with the physical part of his game as well. That injury – which he would not discuss following the match – was sustained yesterday in his third round victory over Alex Dolgopolov.

Just when it looked liked the old Roger was back, things turned in Berdych’s favour. He finally had an easy hold to take the first game of the set and generally began to serve a much higher first serve percentage. Midway through the set the impact of Berdych’s groundstrokes was also felt across the net for the first time in the match.

At 5-6 and after several tenuous holds for the world No. 3, Federer would double-fault twice en-route to handing the second-set to Berdych.

Things then fell apart quickly for the Swiss player in the third set. Federer had a crucial chance when Berdych was serving at 1-1, 0-40, but he squandered all three break points. As is so often the case in tennis, Federer then came out and was unable to hold his own serve following his golden opportunity. Berdych then held serve and before the crowd could comprehend what was happening it was 4-1.

With Federer serving at 2-5, the crowd tried its best to inspire their hero. As one fan aptly screamed, “this is Roger’s Cup!”

A rare chant of, “Don’t give up Berdych” was followed by, “Give up Berdych!”

Federer held his serve and then it was up to Berdych to close it out while serving at 5-3. Instead, Berdych allowed Federer a total of four break point chances in that game, and on the fourth one he hit a forehand wide which sent the crowd into a frenzy as Federer was suddenly back from the dead.

A final set tiebreak was then upon us and Roger mounted a 4-0 lead before faltering and allowing Berdych to tie it all up at 5 apiece.

A Berdych backhand then gave Federer his first match point at 5-6. Berdych was serving on the next point but it didn’t matter as Federer pressured him into sending the ball long. Miraculously Federer avoided his third successive defeat against Berdych but it sure was close.

The usually polite Canadian crowd got a bit unruly at times throughout the match. Serving at 0-4 in the tie break, someone yelled just as Berdych was about to serve, “Berdych are you nervous?”

Asked about it after the match, Berdych was unwilling to make up excuses or use the crowd’s intimidation as a crutch.

“…it’s all right. I’m happy that so many people just come to see, and they were enjoying, so just let them enjoy, and that’s it,” he concluded.

The final match of the night was unfortunately a dud as Novak Djokovic sent Jeremy Chardy packing 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and twelve minutes. If only all of the Serb’s matches could be played in such cool conditions.

The day’s results allow Canada to have the top four players in the world in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup for the first time in tournament history.

The Nadal/Murray match goes Saturday at 3pm and the Federer/Djokovic will be at 7pm.

While the Soderling’s and Berdych’s of the world are making the top-ten more competitive this year, the top-four are showing us this week that they are still the serious contenders for the final Slam of the season.

Check back soon for semi-final analysis and of course you can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

Photos by Bob McIntyre © 2010.

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MURRAY IN CRISIS MODE: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Confidence in Crisis – It was just nearly four months ago that Scot Andy Murray appeared ready to continue his ascent up the rankings and perhaps claim his first of what could be multiple major titles. He was confident then, even claiming before the Australian Open final that his best could beat Roger Federer. But then the Swiss maestro schooled him on that final Sunday, defeating him in straights sets just as he did the first time they met in a Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open.  But this second one hurt more. The third set was on his racquet, and there’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been the same since that crushing defeat. Evidence of that was blatantly on display during his most recent devastating defeat at the hands of Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. I thought at the start of the season that this could potentially be a make-or-break year for the young gun, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is the time that Murray has to either put up or shut up. He’s in serious crisis mode, and his coaches have their work cut out for them. To allow him to completely fizzle would truly be a great tragedy for British tennis.

One Brave Man – Leon Smith has bravely accepted the post as captain of the British Davis Cup Squad. The LTA appears to be going in a different direction with the selection of Smith, which hopefully will prove fruitful over time. Many speculated Smith was appointed due to his status as one of Murray’s former coaches, and that his appointment would secure the participation of Britain’s No. 1 (though Murray has already stated Smith’s being named captain will have no bearing on his own participation in Davis Cup). Still, putting someone of Smith’s background in such a position may be the spark this nation needs. It’s a nation that isn’t short on money for developing players, and it has a population pool similar to tennis powerhouses France and Spain to draw from. The talent is there, and maybe Smith, who will have the chance to mold some of these players in a different forum, is finally going to be able to watch that talent bloom into some quality players.

Seize the Clay – That’s exactly what American Serena Williams will be looking to do, as she has announced she’s planning to make her return to competitive tennis in Rome at the Italian Open. Tennis fans will be anxious to see how the reigning Australian Open champion fairs on the red dirt as she prepares for the second major of the year. Hopefully Williams will prove she has bounced back nicely from her knee injury, as I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see how a fit Williams stacks up against an in-form Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters on clay.

At the 11th Hour – As happy as I was to hear that Serena Williams was planning a return to tennis in Rome, I had to roll my eyes at the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez is holding one spot open for either Williams sister to join the U.S. Fed Cup Team, due to play Russia on April 24 & 25. I understand that there’s a drop off in talent and experience when looking at the Williams sisters versus the rest of the American women, so it’s understandable why Fernandez would desperately want them to be part of the squad. But both sisters have a history of only playing Fed Cup when it suits them, and more recently, have said they’ll play only to pull out in the end. Fernandez has up to an hour before the April 23 draw to change her roster, so I personally think she’d be better served to name a complete squad now with the understanding that the last one named may lose a spot to either Williams sister. Granted, it’s not the most ideal setup either way, but at least this way another less-experienced player doesn’t lose valuable time in mentally preparing to represent her country and practicing with the rest of the team should both Williams sisters opt to forgo filling that last spot.

Splitsville – Earlier this week, Serb Novak Djokovic announced that he was splitting ways with co-coach Todd Martin, who had been working with Djokovic since 2009. As Djokovic explained, “Todd faced a lot of difficulties to work on and off the court…He just didn’t have enough time to understand what I need…” It’s hard to say how the split will impact the Serb’s game. Evidence shows that he has struggled with results this year, but I was still sad to see the split. It’s no offense to his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who has done an excellent job with his young charge. But Martin was a top player, an aggressive player, and perhaps most importantly, a true gentleman of the game. Since Martin had come on board, it seemed that Djokovic was starting to show more poise and grace on the court, which mentally could only pay off in the long run. I’m hoping this newly-acquired skill will stay with Djokovic, even if Martin has not.

Murray Survives Scare To Advance In Cincinnati; Federer, Nadal Advance

Defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland rallied from a set and break down in the second set to edge past lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and 11 minutes on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the new No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after winning the title last week in Montreal, struggled to find his form after breaking to take a 3-2 lead. Following the service break, the 27-year-old Frenchman immediately broke Murray’s serve to level the match at 3-3 before winning three of the next four games to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Benneteau, who got in the main draw when Juan Martin del Potro withdrew after the draw was made.

Benneteau, who is currently ranked No. 55, secured an early break in the second set to go ahead 2-0 and looked to have a big edge on Murray, who looked out of sorts on all his shots.

The turning point occurred in the next game when Murray won a thrilling 53-shot rally and quickly broke back to get back on serve. The Scot, who has now won a record 53 matches this season, insisted the 53-shot rally changed the rest of the match.
“Oh, it made a big different,” said Murray, who has won five titles this year in Doha, Rotterdam, Miami, Queen’s Club and Montreal. “I think he was very tired after that rally. I managed to stay strong after that.”
The momentum shifted immediately and it was all Murray from that point on, dropping just two more games en route to victory.
“You know, he’s been around a long time and he’s very experienced and obviously made it very difficult today,” said Murray, who has reached five of the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals dating back to his victory in Cincinnati last August.

Murray, who earned his 72nd career win in a Masters 1000 event, smashed seven aces, won 70 percent of first serve points and broke Benneteau’s serve on six of 13 opportunities. Benneteau hit four aces, three double faults, won 59 percent of first serve points and was able to break Murray’s serve three times.

Murray’s semifinal opponent on Saturday afternoon will be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who eased past former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, in 70 minutes.

Federer, who earned his 200th career win at a Masters 1000 event, was in complete control from start to finish, breaking serve once in each set to win convincingly. Federer’s serve was superb, winning 24 of 27 first serve points, smashing 11 aces, while not facing a break point the entire match.

The 15-time Grand Slam singles champion insisted holding serve against Hewitt is an important thing to accomplish during a match with the fiery Aussie.

“I think that definitely helps against Lleyton, who once he gets his teeth into your serve it can get quite tricky,” said Federer, who improved to 9-1 in quarterfinal matches this season.

Hewitt, who reached the finals in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2004, only managed to hit two aces and win 69 percent of his first serve points.

Federer improved to 15-7 against Hewitt, winning the last 13 meetings.

“He’s beaten me so many times in the past that I didn’t expect myself to all of a sudden go on such a great run against him,” said Federer, whose loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Montreal was his first loss since losing at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in May.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain continued his impressive return from a knee tendinitis injury, dispatching Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 41 minutes.

Nadal, who has won six Grand Slam singles titles including four French Open titles, was impressive on serve throughout, hitting two aces and winning 35 of 41 first serve points. The 23-year-old Spaniard was also able to break serve twice on six opportunities.

The former world No. 1 will face No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic in the night match on Saturday. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match by defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to his second straight semifinal in Cincinnati.