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U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.

There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.

On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fLkVJSBplE

One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.

The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw21Z-37JW0

Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjnvvzmX6MY

Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.

Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.

Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth.  McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.

The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.

 

 

 

 

Tennis Set to Dazzle the Commonwealth

Sania Mirza practices for the Commonwealth Games

Regular readers of TennisGrandstand will know that my first steps in this esteemed company were tracking the progress of players from the former Commonwealth countries as they did battle the world over in search of fame, success and prize money.

Now, starting October 4, all that changes for these players who bare the colours of their homelands and descend on Delhi as tennis makes its debut in the Commonwealth Games schedule.

The sailing certainly hasn’t been plain. The bad press and setbacks have almost derailed the games altogether and have led to accusations of outdated concepts and an existence as a poorer little brother to the Olympics.

There have been withdrawals, hissy fits and refusals to play but finally the pens and insults can be dropped and the racquets lifted in the search for Commonwealth gold.

There will be no Andy Murray. No Sam Stosur. No Marcos Baghdatis. No Lleyton Hewitt.

But the home stars have all stood firm and the likes of Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Somdev Devvarman will fly the Indian flag in to competition and they will be hoping that performances and medals silence the critics.

All singles and doubles matches will be the best of three tie-break sets, including the finals. The male and female singles draws will consist of 32 players while the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles competitions will see 16 teams fight for gold.

Each country can enter a maximum of four men and women (of which three can compete in singles play) and two teams in each of the doubles events. Players from the same country will be placed in separate quarters of the draw.

Despite all the high-profile withdrawals there is still plenty of talent to feast our tennis-hungry eyes upon. Australia’s Peter Luczak has troubled the higher echelons of the men’s game and Scotland’s Colin Fleming is one of Britain’s formidable ‘Flemski’ doubles partnership alongside Ken Skupski of England.

Mirza will be one to look out for in the women’s draw as will the recently christened Aussie Anastasia Rodionova.

Then we have Paes and Bhupathi in the doubles who have two French Opens (1999 and 2001) and a Wimbledon title (1999) won together under their belt. Devvarman will also link up with US Open finalist Rohan Bopanna to give India a fantastic chance of gold in the men’s doubles.

Then there’s also British doubles number one Sarah Borwell to look out for and former singles and doubles Top 50 player Marina Erakovic lining up for New Zealand.

Wales have two players in the draw – Josh Milton and Chris Lewis. Milton is in fact the eighth seed in the men’s singles. Lewis faces Fleming in the first round which will be a difficult encounter but I’m hoping for the best for both of them.

While there might not be enough top world talent to tempt the eyes of some peripheral tennis fans there is certainly enough to keep tennis fanatics occupied throughout the tournament.

We hope that the games run according to plan, like the football World Cup in South Africa, and that the critics are put firmly in their place. We hope there are no problems, no collapsing structures, and no serious injury.

It is time for the players to put all the hoo-hah behind them and focus fully on winning medals for their friends, family and countrymen. Good luck to them all.

Djokovic, Murray And Nadal Battle Through First Matches At Rogers Cup

It was an incredibly hot and humid day in Toronto on Wednesday as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray made their first singles appearances at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Both advanced to the third round but not without a struggle in their respective matches.

With on-court temperatures around the forty degree Celsius mark, Djokovic unsurprisingly struggled with the heat and had trainers come to his aid at several points throughout the match. As has been the case in the past, the talented Serbian was hindered more so by the weather than his opponent.

Red in the face and obviously labouring on the court between points, he had to come back from down a break against Julien Benneteau of France early in the second set. Djokovic managed to avoid going to a second set tie-break when he broke the Frenchman’s serve in the final game of the match. Had the match gone to a decisive set I believe we might have seen a retirement from the fragile world number two.

After the match Djokovic faced question after question about his health and why he seems to struggle so often in these types of conditions.

Asked to clarify what exactly goes on, he said, “Well it’s really hard to explain. Anybody who didn’t play professional level will not understand quite what’s going on. Today I was really on the edge, so health is the most important thing for me, and then tennis and success and whatever comes with it.”

Djokovic tried to reveal what he feared the worst case scenario might have been, “…at a certain moment you might collapse or whatever. But after half an hour, hour, with the proper recovery, you will get back to the normal feeling and normal state of body. I guess that in the long term it can hurt you, and it happens to me quite often. And, I don’t know, it’s just something that you cannot fight against. Nobody can turn off the sun and just do me a favour, even though I would like it.”

I’m not sure if Djokovic is struggling with some medical condition that he would rather not specifically describe or if he is just super-sensitive in the heat-threshold department. One thing is clear though – if these conditions hold up as expected, Djokovic will have trouble advancing deep into the draw. With Roger and Rafa likely to continue grabbing the prime-time evening spots in the schedule I think it is safe to say Novak will have to find a way to overcome his issues with the weather or he will soon find himself on a flight to Cincinnati.

For Andy Murray the obstacle today was not so much weather-related but rather a veteran opponent with a fierce forehand by the name of Xavier Malisse. In the early stages it appeared as though Murray was going to be in for a long match as the X-man raced out to a 4-2 lead. Serving at 5-4 however, Malisse would lose the next three games and have his serve broken twice in the process to lose 5-7.

In the second set Malisse completely fell apart and his once lethal forehand was suddenly missing the mark with regularity. Murray’s game was moving in the opposite direction and he was cleverly using his well-rehearsed drop shot to his advantage.

I watched the match today with my girlfriend, and she remarked how frustrating it used to be when I would drop shot her in a tennis video game we used to play together. That’s pretty much how Malisse felt during the second set as he stopped even trying to get to them towards the end of the match.

Serving at 2-3, Malisse would find a way to lose all four points in the game to surrender the critical break to Murray. At 2-5 he once again found himself down 0-40, but this time was able to salvage a couple of points before losing on Murray’s third match point. The final score was 7-5, 6-2 for Murray and he seemed happy with his first match as defending champion at the Rogers Cup.

“I feel good,” Murray said after the match had ended. “I mean, today could have been a little better from the start, but, you know, the first round is tough, and I was playing a very good player.”

During the evening session, Rafael Nadal finally made his singles debut. Going up against Stan Wawrinka seemed like it would be test on paper, but one that the Spaniard would likely handle with ease. Instead it took him 93 minutes to get through the first set. He would have to survive multiple set points against him during a see-saw tie-break that ended in his favour, 14-12.

The second set went more according to plan and Rafa closed it out without any unnecessary drama for a 7-6(12), 6-3 victory.

With Querrey and Marin Cilic both having been eliminated from that quarter of the draw, Nadal should now have an easier time advancing towards the finals.

In other results of note on Wednesday at the Rogers Cup, Fernando Verdasco the 9th seed lost to Jeremy Chardy. It was the second time in two career meetings that Chady has emerged victorious in their head-to-head although Verdasco came within one game of advancing. After winning the first set in a tie-break, Verdasco was serving for the match at 5-4 but could not hold. Chardy eventually closed it out 6-7(7), 7-6(5), 6-2. You can add his name to an impressive list of French players within the top hundred of the ATP rankings.

On an outside court, American Sam Querrey who has won four tournaments this year, was defeated by Kevin Anderson a qualifier from South Africa 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4.

Thursday will be highlighted by what’s sure to be a fierce battle between David Nalbandian and Robin Soderling, as well as Federer vs Michael Llodra and Andy Murray against Gael Monfils.

Fan Watch: Rafael Nadal vs Stan Wawrinka

Lisa Grebe talks about Rafael Nadal’s first singles appearance at the Rogers Cup. After a tough and nailbiting first set versus Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka , Rafa picks up the pace and shows Stan who’s the man. He takes home the win with a 7-6 6-3 win. The tie break took 92 minutes and was the longest in the Spaniard’s career.

“My goal was to win,” Nadal said. “When you come back after (some) time without playing, tournaments are always difficult. I just tried my best and tried to find my rhythm.”

Rafael Nadal now faces Kevin Anderson on Thursday at the Rogers Cup.

Nadal And Djokovic Lose In Doubles

Was it really worth all that hype?

The super-duo of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Rogers Cup in the first round late last night at the hands of Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

The mostly unheard of Raonic/Pospisil pairing came back to win the match 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 in front of an electric opening night crowd at the Rexall Centre.

At only 19 and 20 years old respectively, Raonic and Pospisil defied the odds and somehow managed to avoid the nerves that must have accompanied sharing a court with the two top ranked players in the world.

Serving at 8-2 in the Super tie-break, Raonic and Pospisil appeared to have won the next point which would have given them six match points. Instead the chair umpire called Pospisil for touching the net prior to the point ending, thus giving the point to Nadal and Djokovic. The call seemed to temporarily rattle the Canadians as they allowed their more experienced opponents to bring the match all the way back to 9-8 with still one match point to try to capitalize upon. On that point they made no mistake and an authoritative Pospisil volley ended the match and allowed the two to walk out with their heads held high.

The Nadal/Djokovic partnership marks the first time since 1976 that the world’s top ranked singles players have joined forces in doubles on the ATP Tour. Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe were the last to do it and after last night’s result I wonder if it might be another 34 years before we see it again.

While it certainly created quite a buzz both here in Toronto and around the tennis world at large, the fact that the number one and two players joined forces is perplexing in many ways. Obviously Nadal and Djokovic get along quite well, as was further evidenced by their multiple practice sessions together here this week, but in an individualistic sport such as tennis you’d think teaming up with your greatest competition is a bit too close for comfort.

Roger Federer mentioned in his pre-tournament press conference yesterday that he never would have teamed up with Nadal during the height of their intense rivalry. Even though those two also got along reasonably well, the press had created such a build-up with their quest for Grand Slam glory and the number one ranking that it basically negated any possibility of a doubles partnership.

“Well, Rafa asked me a few years ago to play doubles in I think it was Madrid indoors…but then I think our rivalry was so intense, I just felt it was the wrong thing to do,” Federer revealed.

“It would have been great for the game, but I think it would have been a bit of a curveball for everybody. I don’t think the press would have enjoyed it so much. They want to put us against each other, not with each other.”

Nadal and Djokovic are in the infancy of their relationship as the best two players in the world and there is no guarantee it will last very long. Djokovic’s lead over Federer and Murray in the rankings is slim and he hasn’t had the most consistent year on tour. Maybe if their chase for the top ranking was narrower they would have thought twice before teaming up in Toronto.

Regardless, their experiment has ended prematurely and will now allow them both to concentrate on their singles play. For Nadal, he will open Wednesday night against the winner of the Frank Dancevic/Stan Wawrinka match that will close out the evening on Centre Court today. Djokovic will play Julien Benneteau of France tomorrow during the day session.

FEDERER-MURRAY TIE-BREAKER HISTORY; BRYANS MAKE HISTORY

Roger Federer and Andy Murray’s third-set tie-breaker in their 2010 Australian Open men’s final was second-longest tie-breaker ever played in major men’s final – only the epic Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe 32-point “Battle of 18-16” tie-breaker 30 years ago in the 1980 Wimbledon final lasting longer. Federer saved off five set points in the third-set tie-breaker in his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) victory. The five longest tie-breakers ever in men’s singles finals at Grand Slam tournaments are as follows;

Wimbledon 1980: Bjorn Borg def. John McEnroe 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7(16) 8-6… Mac saved 7 match points (5 in TB)

Australian Open 2010: Roger Federer def. Andy Murray 6-3 6-4 7-6(11)… Fed saved 5 set points in TB

Wimbledon 2000: Pete Sampras def. Patrick Rafter 6-7(10) 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2… Pat saved 2 set points in TB

US Open 1976: Jimmy Connors def. Bjorn Borg 6-4 3-6 7-6(9) 6-4… Jimmy saved 4 set points in TB

Wimbledon 1998: Pete Sampras def. Goran Ivanisevic 6-7(2) 7-6(9) 6-4 3-6 6-2… Pete saved 2 set points in TB

The first two sets were more one-sided than the score line would suggest, especially the second set when Federer broke Murray’s serve only once, despite a 40-15 and 40-0 lead in two other service games of the Brit. In the third set, Murray broke Federer’s serve for the second time in the match (first one at 0:2 in the first set) and led 5:2, later was two points away from taking the set at 5:3 on serve. In the tie-breaker, Murray had five set points (6:4, 6:5, 7:6, 9:8, 11:10) and saved two match points, at 9:10 in a spectacular way with a passing-shot off of Federer’s drop shot. The Swiss maestro converted his third match point to improve his all-time record 16 Grand Slam triumphs in singles. Federer won fourth Australian Open (2004, 2006-2007) what gives him second place Down Under right after Roy Emerson, who won six times between 1961 and 1967. For Murray, it was the longest tie-break of his pro career, while Federer won three longer tie-breaks (14-12 against Martin Verkerk, 16-14 against David Ferrer and a record 20-18 against Marat Safin).

“I always knew it was going to be a very intense match,” said Federer. “I’m happy I was able to play so aggressively and patiently at the same time because that’s what you got to be against Murray.”

* Murray is now the eighth player in the Open Era with a 0-2 record in Grand Slam finals joining two-time Aussie Open finalist Steve Denton, Wimbledon and Aussie Open finalist Kevin Curren, U.S. and Australian finalist Miloslav Mecir, U.S. and Wimbledon finalist Cedric Pioline, U.S. and Australian finalist Todd Martin, two-time French finalist Alex Corretja and Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist Mark Philippoussis. There is a strong analogy between Murray, Mecir and Pioline as only these three players have not won a set in a major final, and all three reached finals at two different majors and lost to the same best player on both occasions at three different periods of time:

1986 US Open: Ivan Lendl (1) def. Mecir (16) 6-4 6-2 6-0
1989 Australian Open: Lendl (2) def. Mecir (9) 6-2 6-2 6-2

1993 US Open: Pete Sampras (1) def. Pioline (16) 6-4 6-4 6-3
1997 Wimbledon: Sampras (1) def. Pioline 6-4 6-2 6-4

2008 US Open: Federer (2) def. Murray (6) 6-2 7-5 6-2
2010 Australian Open: Federer (1) def. Murray (5) 6-3 6-4 7-6(11)

“Tonight’s match was a lot closer than the one at Flushing Meadows,” said Murray, comparing his first and second major finals. “I had a chance at the beginning of the match, and I had chances at the end of the match.

* In doubles, the Bryan brothers beat Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 in their record-breaking 16th career major final as a team. The Bryans eclipsed Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde – the Woodies – who reached 15 major finals from 1992 to 2000, according to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS book ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com.) The title was the eighth major for the American identical twins – their fourth in Australia – and leave them four shy of equaling the record set by John Newcombe and Tony Roche for most majors won by a team with 12 titles (four Australian, two French, five Wimbledon and one U.S. title won from 1965 to 1976). Woodbridge and Woodforde won the most major doubles titles by a team in the Open Era with 11 titles (two Australian, one French, six Wimbledon and two U.S. titles).

The Bryans were close to clinch the match in straight sets but wasted a 5:2 lead in the tie-break. The Americans have won four Australian Open titles, which is an Open Era record for a team. The all-time record belongs to Adrian Quist and John Bromwich, who won the Australian title eight times between1938-1950.

* Leander Paes won his 11th career major title when he paired with Cara Black to win the mixed doubles final with a 7-5, 6-3 decision over the Russian-Czech duo of Ekaterina Makarova and Jaroslav Levinsky. Paes won his fifth mixed doubles title in a major – two each with both Black and Martina Navratilova and once with Lisa Raymond. He won six majors in men’s doubles.

* Murray avenged his loss to Marin Cilic from last year’s U.S. Open by defeating his Croatian opponent 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinals. It was the third meeting between the two players in the last four majors but two previous occurred in the fourth round: Murray won in straight sets in Paris, while Cilic did the same thing to Murray in New York, when Murray was seeded No. 2. In Australia this year, the Brit won 10 of last 13 games in the match. “This is the best I’ve played at a Slam,” said Murray. “Obviously the match against Rafa [Nadal] was great. Tonight, the majority of the match was great, as well. Physically I’m going to be fresh for the final. You know, [it] just comes down to who plays the better tennis on the day. It’s my job to do that.”

* Federer did not face break point in his 88-minute 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals. Tsonga had an identical score line (116 minutes) when he won his semifinal two years ago against Rafael Nadal.

* Cilic was the first Croatian to ever reach the semifinals of the Australian Open. Other Croats who reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne were Goran Ivanisevic (1989, 94, 97), Goran Prpic (1991) and Ivan Ljubicic (2006). Cilic was the fifth player in the Open era to win three five-setters en route to the semifinal in Melbourne, after Colin Dibley (1979), Steve Denton (1981), Andre Agassi (1996) and Nicolas Escude (1998). Nicolas Lapentti needed four five-setters to advance to the semis in Australian in 1999.

GASQUET TOPS LOPEZ; MAYER SAVES FIVE MATCH POINTS

Richard Gasquet and Leonardo Mayer had salient wins on the opening day of the MediBank International in Sydney Monday. Gasquet, in his full comeback from battling cocaine drug charges last year, beat Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-4, while Mayer saved two match points in beating Igor Andreev 6-7(7) 6-3 7-6(4).

Gasquet extended his head-to-head record to 5-0 against the Spanish Davis Cup star. “I played well last year with semi-final in this tournament, so I’m happy to be here and to win the first match.” said Gasquet.

Mayer, from Argentina, handed Andreev his fifth defeat in a row in a final set tie-break and his fifth defeat after wasting match points in last 13 months.

In Auckland at the Heineken Open, only three matches were played on Monday. In one of them, hometown pupil, Jose (Rubin) Statham won his first career ATP match beating fellow New Zealander King-Turner 6-2 7-5.

Andy Roddick: A Sporting Gesture

Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker

Andy Roddick may have performed his best act when he married Sports Illustrated model Brooklyn Decker last month, but his act of sportsmanship at the 2005 Italian Open would rank high as well. The following excerpt from the May 5 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) details what happened.

May 5

2005 – Andy Roddick performs one of the greatest gestures of sportsmanship on a tennis court when he overturns an apparent double-fault – that would have given him the match – and eventually loses to Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the round of 16 of the Italian Open in Rome.  Roddick is leading 5-3 in the second set and has triple match point with Verdasco serving. Verdasco’s serve appears to land just wide and is called out by the linesperson. Roddick, however, says the ball was in after checking the mark on the clay court and concedes the second serve ace to Verdasco. “I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary,” says Roddick. “The umpire would have done the same thing if he came down and looked. I just saved him the trip.”  Famed American sports journalist Frank Deford say on National Public Radio of the gesture, “In one moment with victory his for the taking – no, not for the taking – is given, is assumed, Andy Roddick went against the way of the world and simply instinctively did what he thought was right. Once upon time we called such foolish innocents sportsmen.”

1981 – New Yorkers John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis are eliminated from the WCT Tournament of Champions at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. McEnroe is defeated by Brazil’s Carlos Kirmayr 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-2 in a second-round match, while Gerualitis is defeated by fellow American Fritz Buehning 7-5, 7-5. McEnroe holds a match point in the second-set tie-break but is unable to convert, while Gerulaitis loses the last six games of the match after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set. ”Inexcusable,” says McEnroe of the loss. ”He ran me around like a yo-yo and he deserved to win.”

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