U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

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.

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.

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.

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.





5 Thoughts From Wimbledon 2013

by James A. Crabtree

Return of the Serve and Volley?

John Newcombe, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Todd Woodbridge have been saying it for years. And for the first time in years they were proved correct. Dustin Brown and Sergiy Stakhovsky proved you can play aggressive while rushing kamikaze to the net, and most likely received a thankyou card and box of chocolates from legends turned commentators.

The 1980’s were back, minus the short shorts and mullets. All that talk about the limited time to rush to the net, players hitting too much spin, the returners being too sharp, was halted. Well, halted for a day. All the guys who produced the massive upsets failed to find the adrenaline rush that caused the upset and thus lost. Where does that leave us? Pretty much back to where we were at present day baseline tennis, but with a more recent memory of the old days and a little proof that it can be effective.

Thank God For The Roof

It used to really suck when it rained, now there is a roof 😉 Are you listening Roland Garros?


Keep Off The Grass?

Lets not hope the powers that be get their knickers in a twist and decide that the grass is bad after the carnage of that Wednesday. Okay, so everybody wearing shoes fell over, seven players were lost including seeds Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner. But it was all just a freak occurrence (although most falls were on a similar spot on the baseline and during a similar change in direction) no matter which court right?

But the grass is good, and lets remember the game was born on it and the majority of the slams used to be played on it.

Ol’ Boris summed it up best.

“A short grass court season is definitely part of the problem with the injuries. Grass court tennis is different to other surfaces, it is only two weeks of action after a long clay court season. Players need to give themselves more of chance. The grass is the same, the groundsman is the same.”

Nadal and Federer Finished?

Are the Spaniard and the Swiss finished or is this just one freak tournament where some players we assumed were finished are making comebacks and the old guard just got trounced? As bad as it is for the faithful Federer and Nadal fans it is great for the likes of Verdasco, Youzhny and Kubot to get some time in the sun, well London clouds but you get the picture. It would be hard to imagine that Nadal and Federer will not reach the same heights again. Nadal definitely has developed grass demons or hates being in England paying the extra tax, and Federer seriously has trouble producing the blistering winners he used to be able to conjure from nowhere. The U.S. hard-court season will pose some fascinating questions, especially if Federer is ranked as low as 5.

A-Tomic Tonic

Bernie started the year on a tear, won a tournament and then ran into Federer at the Aussie Open. Since February he hasn’t put together more than two wins in a row and his personal life has been in disarray much in thanks to his father/coach John and all those issues we wont get into. At Wimbledon this year he as won three matches in a row already beating Sam Querrey, James Blake and 9th seeded Richard Gasquet, all whilst father/coach has been banned form attending. So is Tomic playing well for his dad who cannot attend or because his dad cannot attend. Either way the formula is proving a successful tonic and it would be hard to bet against Tomic in his next match against twitter sensation Berdych.


BNP Paribas Open preview: The round of 16

Tomorrow is a big day at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells because all sixteen men left in the singles draw will play for a spot in the quarterfinals. At this point, there are still some surprises left in the draw. Players like Somdev Devvarman and Ryan Harrison are having amazing tournaments. So, let’s take a look at each of today’s matchups.

Stadium 1

Sam Querrey v. Tommy Robredo

A year ago, there wouldn’t have been a question who would win this match. Sam Querrey seemed to be a rising star, destined to break through at a Masters event or a Grand Slam, while Tommy Robredo was a former Top 5 player who appeared to be declining rather rapidly. A lot has changed in a year though. Sam never got his breakthrough and Tommy has found his way back to form. Now, these two are just four spots apart in the rankings and fairly evenly matched in my mind. When I asked Tommy about his goals for 2011 after beating Donald Young, he responded that he would like to make it back to the Top 10. A good showing in Indian Wells would be a great confidence booster transitioning onto clay, Tommy’s favorite surface. When asked about his level of play, Robredo said, “I think that last year, I did the worst year of my life and now it was a turnover, no?” The interview took place before the result of the Querrey/Verdasco match was available so he was asked to comment on the prospect of playing either guy, to which he responded, “When you are in fourth round, you’re not going to play with somebody easy, no? So, if you want to win, you have to play your best and I’m in a good moment so I just hope to arrive to the match in great shape and to win.” Querrey may not have had the best start to the season, but he’s played great tennis so far this week, particularly against Verdasco. Sam recently switched the tension on his racket back to what he was using before his slump and that seems to have provided him a much needed boost. In my mind, both these guys have the capabilities to win this match and both feel confident this week which should make for a good show.

Novak Djokovic v. Viktor Troicki

Novak Djokovic is probably having about as good a start to the year as could be imagined. He’s undefeated so far this year and took home his second Slam in Australia. It’s tough to imagine that anyone could derail him from taking home this title, except maybe Federer or Nadal, and that’s a big maybe. There’s a lot to be said for confidence and Nole’s got tons of it this year. These two guys have grown up together, as Nole put it, “he’s one of my best friends on the tour, and off the tour as well.” In his press conference today, Djokovic was asked about playing such a good friend, and he said, “we are very competitive and professional, and you know, our job is to play well and try to win.” Even more interesting is the fact that Djokovic and Troicki are still alive in the doubles draw which means they will have to play as a team even after one of them has lost their singles encounter. Djokovic seemed enthused about the prospect of continuing their doubles campaign even if the singles clash may make it a bit awkward, saying, “Maybe in the same day it’s a little bit uncomfortable and you know kind of you know, if he wins he feels bad really talking about that with me or vice versa. I guess, but it passes, it is just one day, you know, we are still friends regardless of what happens on the court. It’s our job, but we are especially excited about the doubles, that’s what I have to say.” All in all, it would be tough to say Viktor can pull this off. Nole is in fine form. However, I should mention that his result against Gulbis may have been a little misleading. Djokovic played well yesterday, but no as well as he has been playing this week. Gulbis more self destructed. He had plenty of chances where he was up 0-30 on Djokovic’s serve or up 40-0 on his own serve where he would go on to lose the game. Regardless, I would be surprised if Djokovic didn’t come out on top of this encounter.

Andy Roddick v. Richard Gasquet

John Isner may not have played great tennis last night, but Andy Roddick appears to be in fine form. Just when journalists try to write him off, Roddick always comes back with a vengeance. He won his 30th title last month in Memphis, despite being quite ill, and certainly appears to be playing high quality tennis. Roddick had spectacular results at Indian Wells and Miami last season, so it’s really important for him to defend his points at this year’s tournaments. He was runner up at the BNP Paribas Open last year, so he will need to make it all the way to the final if he’s going to defend all of his points. To do so, Andy will have to make it past Richard Gasquet, who is a former Top 10 player trying to fight his way back up the rankings. When asked about Gasquet’s level of play in his post match press conference yesterday, Andy said, “I haven’t seen him actually play much recently, but we’ve been on tour together for a very long time. I think we know each other’s games pretty well. Certainly confidence is a big issue with him, he seems like he’s confident right now, he played well in Dubai, he’s played well here. So, I’m expecting the best of him.” Clearly you should never underestimate the opponent, but Andy Roddick should be able to get through this match.

Rafael Nadal v. Somdev Devvarman

Today’s night session is likely to be a short one. Rafael Nadal appears to be healthy and that is a fearsome thing. He is playing amazing tennis and I’m not sure how Somdev Devvarman will handle the pressure of playing the world No. 1. Devvarman hasn’t had very many good results on big stages so playing Rafa at night in Indian Wells will probably be one of his biggest matches. This is already a great result for him and I have a feeling he’ll be happy with his progress this week regardless of whether he wins or loses. I just think Rafa has the upper hand here.

Roger Federer v. Ryan Harrison

The young American, Ryan Harrison, had a great result yesterday, beating upstart Milos Raonic in a third set. Harrison moves on to face Roger Federer in the 4th round. He’s a confident guy, but I’m not sure how much confidence can do for you when you’re playing a guy like Roger. Yesterday afternoon, Federer demolished Juan Ignacio Chela and it’s hard to imagine that Harrison will not share Chela’s fate. Ryan is only 18 and has plenty of time to mature and grow his game. He’s still a little hot tempered and tends to lose focus. That will be an issue with Federer because he’s likely to fall behind at some point. His only chance is to hang in there and stay level headed and come up with a new game plan. I’m just not sure he’ll be able to do that quite yet.


Stadium 2

Juan Martin del Potro v. Philipp Kohlschreiber

Juan Martin del Potro is back and that is a beautiful thing. He looks like he’s in pretty good shape and definitely gaining back some of the confidence he lost being out for such a long time. Kohlschreiber is kind of a surprise 4th round opponent. He’s kind of spotty player who occasionally finds success, but generally comes across as fairly average (for a high quality player that is.) Based on their level of play and Delpo’s scorching forehands, I think del Potro should be able to pull this one off pretty easily.

Tomas Berdych v. Stanislas Wawrinka

This should be an interesting match. Tomas Berdych had the best year of his life last year making the semifinals at Roland Garros and the final at Wimbledon. It’s tough to follow a year like that and he’s been struggling ever since Wimbledon last year. He crashed out in the 1st round of the US Open and hasn’t managed a great result since. However, he seems to be clawing his way back to form. On the other hand, Wawrinka is playing some of his best tennis. He won a title at the beginning of this year and he’s very focused on his game these days. I think we might see the upset here with Stan getting the win.

Albert Montanes v. Ivo Karlovic

This is probably the most peculiar of the matchups. I doubt anyone had these two pegged in their draw. But, they are both extremely talented players. Montanes is actually ranked quite high, but because he’s from Spain, which has so many highly ranked players, he tends to be forgotten pretty often. Karlovic has proven himself to be a great player, but he’s only recently come back from injury and is still working to find his top form. He broke the service speed record in Davis Cup last week and he’s already dispatched David Ferrer and Gilles Simon from this tournament. With wins like that, it’s hard to bet against him. I think Karlovic will likely win this one.

Tennis People: US Open seedings announced, Del Potro and Serena out, Nalbandian very much in

*The seedings have been announced for the US Open next week and this is where the realisation the final Slam of the year is upon us really sets in. On the men’s side the top seeds are as you would expect. The top ten reads, in order: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Soderling, Davydenko, Berdych, Verdasco, Roddick, Ferrer. Cypriot fans’ favourite Marcos Baghdatis finds himself seeded 16th and could be an outside bet on going far in the tournament. John Isner, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey fly the home flag at 18, 19 and 20 while David Nalbandian (31) and Lleyton Hewitt (32) round off the seeds.

*The women’s side throws in a few more surprises as there are a few stars missing through injury. Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki will be celebrating her top seeding in Serena Williams’ absence and China’s Li Na (8) will have a few eyes on her following her heroics in Australia on the hard courts. 14th seed Maria Sharapova can never be overlooked in these events and emphatic Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at 20 will be looking to cause some Melanie Oudin-sized shockwaves in 2010. Zheng Jie (21), Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (22), Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic (26) and Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi (31) are also worthy outsiders.

*The Juan Martin Del Potro injury saga has reached a disappointing conclusion for his fans as he has announced that his persistent wrist injury will prevent him from defending his US Open title this year. The Argentine has been missing since the Aussie Open and underwent surgery in May. “I’m so sorry for my fans, sponsors and the people who care about me,” he said. “But I have only started practising in the last two weeks and unfortunately I cannot compete at the top level yet.” The news follows the pulling out of World No. 1 women’s player Serena Williams who has failed to recover from the foot injury she sustained stepping on broken glass in Munich in July. “It is with much frustration and deep sadness that I am having to pull out of the US Open. My doctors have advised against my playing,” she said. Serena has set next month’s Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, beginning September 26, as her likely return date.

*David Nalbandian has spoken of his delight at securing a seeding for the US Open next week. “I think expectations are good because the goal we set for this year was to finish in the top 30 and in a few tournaments I’ve pretty much done that,” he told ESPN Desportes. “After getting a seed at the U.S. Open, you aspire to more.”

*Ahead of the Davis Cup World Group relegation playoff between Ecuador and Romania in September, Ecuadorian coach Raul Viver has highlighted Nicolas Lapentti as the key man in the tie. Viver believes that victory over Romania could help to persuade Lapentti to postpone his retirement for a further year. “If we win against Romania I can see Nicolas Lapentti staying one more year,” said Viver. “For the team, it would be good to have him more years because I think the younger players can learn a lot from him. Nicolas is a great team player, a natural leader, and he increases the level of motivation for the rest of the players. In Davis Cup, he always plays his best level, physically and mentally. He demonstrated that last year against Brazil, winning both his singles matches and the doubles match.” For the full interview on Ecuador’s prospects visit the ITF website.

*Top South African player Kevin Anderson has announced he is ready to end his self-imposed two-year ban from Davis Cup play. With such an important match against Germany next month for a place in the World Group stage Anderson’s announcement is a well-timed boost for SA tennis fans. Speaking in a conference call last Thursday Anderson said: “I needed time to work on my game but I’m back in the top 100 now (in the ATP rankings) and I’ve grown a lot as a player over the last two years. I’m glad to be back in the team and I’m looking forward to the tie in Germany.” For full build up visit South African sporting website

*Lleyton Hewitt and coach Nathan Healy have parted ways after this year’s tournament in Washington. Hewitt’s manager David Drysdale says it is down to Healy wishing to spend more time with his family and being unable to constantly travel.

*Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova has been reflecting on her career recently and giving thanks for the fact she has remained relatively injury-free. Recently passing the $7m mark for prize money she still harbours hopes of returning to the Top 10 despite a career-record 3-10 in tournament finals, and only one Grand Slam semifinal appearances in 38 attempts. “Knock on wood , I wonder when I will get to that stage but I remember when Ai Sugiyama and other players said you wait till you get to certain age…but I don’t feel that way yet,” she said of her good health. To read about her thoughts on recent results visit the TennisReporters website.

*Sam Querrey has spoken of his delight as his family went in to partnership with the City of Las Vegas to run the Darling Tennis Center. Querrey won his first professional tournament, the Tennis Channel Open, on the site in 2008 and spoke of his pride at what his family could bring to the people of LA. However, he has been quick to play down talk of him being a “white knight” or saviour to the site. “It’s an awesome place,” Querrey said. “I think there’s so much potential here, and I learned to play tennis as a kid (in Las Vegas), so I wanted to help.” For the full interview visit the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s website.

*James Blake’s 6-0, 6-1 victory over Pere Riba at New Haven on Monday in 35 minutes was the fastest completed match of 2010.

*Twitter is currently awash with tennis gossiping as players begin descending on New York for the US Open. Close friends Caroline Wozniacki and Viktoria Azarenka both seem pleased with their hotel choices while Azarenka is also delighted to have stumbled across £160 in a jacket pocket left there since Wimbledon. What is it with women and multiple jackets? Sabine Lisicki has been getting her sweat on in the gym while Brit teenage sensation Laura Robson is voicing her frustration at rain-delayed matches.

*This week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings see Andy Roddick climb back in to the top 10 at No. 9 in good timing before the US Open begins. Juan Martin Del Potro is now ranked at No. 10 as his injury woes continue. Another American, Mardy Fish, leaps 15 places to No. 21 in the world while the Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela slips back in to the top 50. Taylor Dent leaps 13 places to No. 70 and Donald Young sees himself ranked at No. 100 in what is a great week for the USA ahead of their home slam.

*Two returning female stars have achieved their comeback’s highest rankings this week in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings. Kimiko Date Krum sees herself at No. 50, her highest placing since her retirement back in 1996 (she returned to the tour in 2008). The 39-year-old is the oldest player in the Top 50 since Billie Jean King in March 1982, aged 40. Kim Clijsters is the world No. 3, her highest slot since August 2006. Li Na is at a career-high No. 8 after becoming the first Chinese player to break the Top 10 back in February while Elena Dementieva slips from No. 8 to No. 13.

*Former world No. 8 John Alexander has been elected in to Australia’s parliament after winning the New South Wales seat of Bennelong. Alexander, 59, won 7 singles and 28 doubles titles during his career and has spent many years since his retirement commentating for Australian Channel Seven. “I think for the moment I’ll concentrate on this job, I won’t do anything that will detract from my efforts to represent the people of Bennelong. I’m 100 per cent committed,” he said.