wimbledon finals

Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga chase history at Wimbledon — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Blockbuster Battle

At the time of writing, the men’s semis are set, and once again, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer find themselves ready to do battle in a highly anticipated semifinal matchup with plenty on the line. In many ways, this is a bigger match for Federer. A win over the Serb would put him one match away from a historic victory at SW19. Such a win would not only see him tie Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon singles titles, but it would also earn him the No. 1 ranking to then tie and likely surpass the record Sampras set for most weeks at No. 1. The Swiss will be well aware that Wimbledon likely represents his best shot at regaining the top spot. He has some room to maneuver over the course of the summer, but given how dominant Federer was last fall, time is running out for him to gain the necessary number of points to leapfrog the current No. 1. As for Djokovic, a semifinal win would secure his No. 1 ranking and put him one step closer to successfully defending his Wimbledon crown. He certainly looks primed to achieve both goals, as he’s playing much better this tournament than last month in Paris. For history’s sake, my heart is pulling for Federer, but as the saying goes “if I were a betting man,” my chips would be on Djokovic.

History Beckons

The other men’s semifinal pits Great Britain’s native son Andy Murray against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a match that’s a complete tossup. Tsonga has been to a major final, and as evidenced by his shocking victory over Federer at last year’s Wimbledon, has shown that when his game catches fire, he can blitz anyone off the court. Unfortunately, Tsonga’s game also tends to have peaks and valleys, and Murray’s consistency could spell trouble for the Frenchman. Murray has also been in this situation more frequently than Tsonga, and his higher ranking and 5-1 head-to-head lead over Tsonga would seem to indicate he has the edge in this matchup. This match is essentially going to come down to the intangibles. How both handle the pressure of trying to book a place in their first Wimbledon final will play a significant part. The larger share of that pressure will likely rest on Murray’s shoulders, as he is the higher ranked player and is also the man trying to end Britain’s drought for a homegrown champion. The fact that it is Tsonga and not Nadal who stands in Murray’s path only increases the pressure exponentially. How Murray pulls up after his quarterfinal victory over Ferrer – the most physically taxing of the four quarterfinals – may also come into play. Again, this is a tough one to call. An entire nation will be pulling for Murray, but it may not be enough to stop the Frenchman from breaking British hearts.

Night and Day

You never quite know what you’re going to get with Serena Williams, and she’s proven that this fortnight at Wimbledon. After suffering a devastating loss in the opening round of a major for the first time in her professional career just last month in Paris, Serena Williams has gone to the opposite end of the spectrum in London, having reached her seventh Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Final. While parts of her game have looked shaky, her serve has been a thing of beauty during these Championships. She hit a record 24 aces – a set’s worth – in her semifinal win over Victoria Azarenka, and suffice it to say, if that serve is clicking come Saturday, it’s going to be a long day for Aga Radwanska. The final match is primarily in the American’s hands. If she can continue to serve well, manage her own nerves, and avoid getting frustrated by the number of balls that may potentially keep coming back, the odds are in her favor. It’s not as though the opposition is going to hit her off the court. In short, it’s ultimately up to Serena as to whether or not she can and wants to show the world what she’s capable of when her heart and mind are focused on the sport.

Pole-Vault

Aga Radwanska has catapulted into the upper most echelons of the women’s game, and on Saturday afternoon in England, she will step out onto Wimbledon Centre Court with two prizes up for grabs – her first major singles title and the No. 1 ranking. It’s wonderful for the game that a player like Radwanska has reached the final. She is one of the few true “thinkers” on tour, as her lack of power forces her to use more court craft and guile to achieve success. With the steady progress she has made this year, a breakthrough at the majors was due, and her spot in the Wimbledon final is well deserved. She will have her work cut out for her against Williams, who could potentially steamroll her. But don’t make the mistake of assuming this has the same feeling as the Sharapova vs. Errani final we saw a month ago at the French Open. Radwanska has beaten some of the sport’s biggest hitters before, with her win over Sharapova in the Miami final last March coming to mind. She’s ranked No. 3 for a reason, and provided she holds her nerve and plays within herself, she’s in with a chance to become the first Polish woman to win a singles major and sit atop women’s tennis.

Same Song & Dance

A bit of troubling news made headlines earlier this week when Rafael Nadal announced that, due to knee tendinitis, he would have to pull out of the exhibition he was going to play against Novak Djokovic on July 14. The announcement was an unfortunate one for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, ticket holders to the exhibition will be disappointed. But the announcement also comes with plenty of question marks that spawn both skepticism or worry depending on which camp one falls into. After three months of collecting nearly every clay court title this spring, running around the court like a jack rabbit, and heading into Wimbledon with zero mention of physical problems, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows that within a week of suffering what was arguably his worst defeat at a Slam he should come out with the news that his knees are too sore to play an exhibition. After all, when the exhibition was originally scheduled, Nadal had to have known odds were he would be heading into it after a lucrative clay court campaign, a deep, possibly title-winning run at Wimbledon, and that the Olympics would then be just around the corner. Gut instinct says that if he were still competing at Wimbledon, and especially if he’d won the title, he probably would not have pulled out the exhibition. Then again, a successful clay court swing does mean a lot of matches and wear and tear on the body. His style of play isn’t doing his knees any favors, and if his body reacted this way to the more forgiving surfaces, his fans are undoubtedly worried about how he’ll handle the summer hard court swing. In this case, rest would definitely be necessary heading into a busy summer schedule. Either way, there’s little doubt that Nadal is going to be one of the most scrutinized tennis players at the 2012 London Olympics.

The Stories that weren’t

Now that it’s officially the off-season, which is all of one month long, you’ve probably seen many many retrospectives and “Best [insert tennis topic here] of 2010” lists. So, instead of doing my own “best of” this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the 2010 storylines that didn’t quite pan out.

It’s Finally Andy Roddick’s Year

The Rationale: Last year, Andy Roddick took part in one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals of all time. At 27, most people thought his chances of winning a second Grand Slam were slim, but he powered through the field, defeating hometown favorite Andy Murray in a great four set semifinal. Just like 2004 and 2005, Roddick would face Roger Federer in the final; however, unlike those two times, Andy went after the title with a vengeance, giving us an epic fifth set. Well, a 16-14 fifth set was epic before Isner-Mahut and for a championship match I still consider it pretty incredible. Anyway, we all know how that turned out. Poor Andy went home empty handed once again. Even though he didn’t win, reporters jumped at the idea that Andy was on the right track. So, when Andy posted a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open and backed that up with a finalist appearance at Indian Wells and a win in Miami during the US hardcourt season, a lot of people felt that he was on track to finally win Wimbledon.

The Reality: Unfortunately Roddick crashed out to Yen-Hsun Lu in the 4th round of Wimbledon. After losing in the round of 16 at Legg Mason in early August, Andy fell out of the top 10, leaving no Americans in the top 10 for the first time since the ranking system was instituted. He later confirmed that he was suffering from mononucleosis and had to skip the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The disappointments continued when he lost in the 2nd round of the US Open to Janko Tipsarevic. Then, he was forced to retire from his 2nd round match in Shanghai. However, Andy worked incredibly hard in Basel and Paris to salvage his spot in an eighth consecutive year end championship and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

Nadal’s Winning Ways Are Over

The Rationale: Rafael Nadal is pretty much the King of the French Open and in 2009, for the first time since he started participating, he didn’t take home the trophy. In fact, Nadal lost rather shockingly to Robin Soderling in the 4th round. Suffering from tendonitis in both knees, Rafa was unable to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title and eventually lost in the semifinals at the 2009 US Open. Rafa failed to defend his Australian Open title after being forced to retire in the quarterfinals against Andy Murray. Nadal’s last title came in Rome in April of 2009. By April 2010, he still hadn’t won a single title.

The Reality: Nearly one year after his title in Rome, Rafa decimated Fernando Verdasco in the Monte Carlo final. Proving his Monte Carlo title was no fluke, Nadal blew through the clay court season, winning Rome and Madrid, and capping it all off with his fifth French Open title. After that, Rafa went on to win his second Wimbledon title and completed a career Grand Slam at the US Open. After a slow start to the year, 2010 actually ended up being all about Rafael Nadal.

Justine Henin’s Magical Comeback

The Rationale: After a two year retirement, Kim Clijsters came back to win the 2009 US Open in just her third tournament back from retirement. So, when Justine Henin announced that she too would be returning to professional tennis, the expectations were high. Not to disappoint, Henin defeated Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, and Zheng Jie en route to the Australian Open final. She lost to Serena Williams in three sets, but was off to a good start considering this was her second tournament back from retirement. She reached the semifinals at the Sony Ericsson Open in March before losing to compatriot Kim Clijsters in three sets, but managed to crack the top 25 after starting the season unranked.

The Reality: Justine has won the French Open four times, but fell to Sam Stosur in the 4th round of this year’s tournament. No matter, Justine had mentioned that the purpose of her comeback was to finally win Wimbledon. Justine is a two time finalist and three time semifinalist at the grass court tournament and it is the only trophy keeping her from completing a career Grand Slam. Henin was seeded 17th by the start of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships but was set on a course to meet fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the 4th round. It was one of the most anticipated match ups of the tournament and Kim prevailed in three sets. The real disaster was not the loss, but a fall Justine took in the first set. After sustaining an elbow injury, she was forced to end her season after her Wimbledon loss. Henin is set to return to tennis at the Hopman Cup in January, and this story may very well become relevant again.

Ernests Gulbis Is Ending His Slacker Ways

The Rationale: Ernests Gulbis is only 22, but he’s already compiled quite a reputation on tour for having lots of untapped talent, but little motivation. Some days he looks absolutely inspired and some days he looks anything but. However, 2010 started off as a great year for the young Latvian. In February he reached the semifinals at the Regions Morgan Keegan event in Memphis and went on to win his first ATP title at Delray Beach. At the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Gulbis reached his first semifinal at an ATP Masters 1000 event. The real story from Rome was that Gulbis beat World No. 1 Roger Federer in the second round. While he eventually lost the semifinal to Rafael Nadal, he was the first player to win a set against Rafa in the 2010 clay season.

The Reality: Gulbis was forced to retire in the first round of first round of the French Open and skipped out on this year’s Wimbledon. He proceeded to lose in the first round of the US Open as well. Articles popped up everywhere in May about Gulbis’ new dedication to tennis, but as soon as he started losing consistently again, those articles were nowhere to be found. He ended the year without progressing past the 1st round of any major. However, he did manage to finish the season at a career high No. 24.

Clearly this is just a small sampling of the stories that weren’t quite right. We aren’t psychic so journalists can only go off the information they have at hand. All of these stories made sense at the time but fortunes change and injuries occur. Since this is certainly not a comprehensive list, feel free to send me some of your favorite false stories of 2010.

American Hopes Higher Than Ever for the US Open

For the first time in a few years American fans must be feeling very confident about the men’s side of the draw at their home Slam beginning in New York on Monday.

While Serena’s absence means home hopes will be firmly lodged behind older sister Venus in the women’s game, for the first time in a few years American dreams will be spread amongst a small band of merry brothers hoping to hoist the red, white and blue flag high above Flushing Meadows come the conclusion of finals day.

Even the most pessimistic of American tennis fans would be hard pushed to disagree that there are five men capable of pushing deep in to the draw and giving the country something to shout about. It’s not certain of course, form and injury permitting, but it is possible.

At 27, Andy Roddick should be at the peak of his powers. The 2003 Champion is the only American to have lifted the US Open since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras used to fight tooth and nail over the hallowed trophy.

Last year he fought out on of the toughest Wimbledon finals in recent memory before finally succumbing to the powers of Roger Federer but this year his form has been somewhat erratic and following his Washington defeat to Gilles Simon he dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in 2006, meaning there was no American in the top 10 rankings for the first time since their inception.

His diagnosis with mononucleosis seemed like his end to 2010 was going to be hugely disappointing. But then A-Rod did what he does best and stopped the critics jabbering.

At Cincy last week he defeated plucky Swede Robin Soderling as well as world No. 3 Novak Djokovic. He was serving for the semifinal against Mardy Fish before having a trademark wobble and losing the tie 6-4, 6-7(3), 1-6.

But the earlier performances will buoy a man who is getting over an illness which causes lethargy and nausea. Only a cold-hearted hermit would fail to be warmed and rallied by the cheers of a home crowd and a country as proud of their own as the US of A will undoubtedly be throwing the weight of their voices behind a man they have been praying will repeat that 2003 triumph for the past 7 years.

However his draw isn’t the easiest. A second round against Janko Tipsarevic or Olivier Rochus won’t be easy and then he has the possibility of Gael Monfils or Igor Andreev to come.

And what of that Cincinnati semifinal victor Mardy Fish? Right now the man is the hottest property on the ATP Tour and the name on most people’s lips. He pushed Federer all the way in the Cincy final and only a year ago, maybe even six months ago, that would have been unthinkable.

His recent performances have seen a huge progression in his ATP ranking and he is the hottest man along with David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis entering Flushing Meadows.

Jan Hajek shouldn’t pose too many problems in round one for the number 19 seed and the opposition doesn’t look too tough from then on either. Fish and Roddick could even meet at the quarter finals stage if all goes well for both men.

Fish has only once reached that mark here in 2008 but on current form who would bet against him repeating that in 2010? He looks a very good outside bet for the betting man to possibly earn a semifinal berth.

Then of course there are the two young men who not so long ago were being touted as future stars of this sport.

In the summer of 2009 the future looked very rosy for Sam Querrey. He reached three ATP Tour finals in a row, losing to compatriot Rajeev Ram in Newport, another American Robby Ginepri at Indianapolis before breaking that streak by defeating the Aussie Carston Ball at the LA Open.

Despite a run-in with a glass table that nearly ended his career in the autumn Querrey finished the year at a career-high world No. 25 and was tipped to fly in to the top 20 during 2010.

A first-round Aussie Open defeat to Rainer Schuttler wasn’t exactly the best start to the year. A run of early defeats followed before he reached the final of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in April where he lost to Argentine clay specialist Juan Ignacio Chela.

After losing the first round in France to that man Ginepri again he began complaining of mental troubles and claimed that he had “fallen out of love” with tennis in an Andy Murray-style full on collywobbler. However, come Queens he’s turned it around again and after beating Fish in the final, his first title on grass and third in 2010, he became the only player this year to win titles on three surfaces.

He then defeated Murray in the final of the LA Open to hold on to his title and so things are looking slightly rosier again for the world No. 22 and the No. 20 seed next week.

Chela lurks in his quarter of the draw but other than him the names don’t look like they will pose too much of a threat before the later stages.

Finally we have the massive John Isner. The 6 ft. 9 North Carolinian is the current world No. 20 and has never progressed past the fourth round of a Slam reaching that mark here last year and back in the Australian Open in January.

He started the year brilliantly by winning his first tournament, the Heineken Open in Aukland, before that Aussie Open result. He fought valiantly during the USA’s 2-3 defeat to Serbia in the first round of Davis Cup World Group Stage play before a few disappointing showings.

At the Serbian Open he reached the final after wins over Josselin Ouanna, Richard Gasquet and Stanlislas Wawrinka but doubles partner and good friend Querrey pipped him to the title on this occasion.

He made history at Wimbledon of course with that mammoth matchup with Nicolas Mahut but we have heard very little from him since. Perhaps he is still recovering? Shoulder injuries have been troubling him and there are still a few doubts as to whether he will make next week, but he strenuously denies these.

Perhaps the least likely to progress deep in to the draw due to form and injury concerns. His first two rounds should be straightforward but then he may begin meeting the likes of Radek Stepanek, Julien Benneteau, Tommy Robredo, Victor Hanescu or the No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych and this is where, on current form, you would fancy him to fall.

There are, of course, a large spattering of Americans throughout the rest of the draw but the serious money will be on these five. However the home players do this is shaping up to be a great tournament once more full of enough thrills and spills to outlast any Hollywood Blockbuster.

The Greatest Match of All-Time?

There has been much talk about the greatest match of all-time. The last two Wimbledon finals (Rafael Nadal defeating Roger Federer 9-7 in the fifth set in the 2008 final and Federer edging Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth  set in 2009) certainly are integral part of this conversion. One match that deserves consideration is the 1996 final of the year-end ATP Tour World Championship between Pete Sampras and Boris Becker. The summary of this match, as well as other events that also happened on November 24, are documented below in this book excerpt from ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com).

November 24

1996 – Pete Sampras and Boris Becker play what many say is one of the greatest matches of all-time, with Sampras fending off Becker and a raucous pro-German crowd 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-4 to win the year-end ATP Tour World Championship in Hannover, Germany. Sampras says the match is perhaps the most dramatic of his career. “This is one of the best matches I have ever been part of,” says Sampras. “This is what the game is all about. It’s not the money, it’s not all that, it’s the great matches.’

1996 – Steffi Graf needs five sets to defeat 16-year-old Martina Hingis 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 to capture the year-end Chase Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York. Graf wins despite twisting her knee in the seventh game of the fourth set. Hingis, herself, considered quitting the match after pulling her left thigh muscle in the fourth set.

1991 – Seventeen-year-old Monica Seles wins the year-end Virginia Slims Championships, defeating Martina Navratilova 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 in a rematch of the U.S. Open women’s singles final. The win ends one of the most lucrative years in the history of women’s tennis as Seles wins three major singles titles – the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open – as well as 10 tournament titles. She reaches the final of all16 tournament she enters and earns $2.457 million in prize money, a record at the time.

1999 – Andre Agassi defeats top rival Pete Sampras 6-2, 6-2 in round robin play at the year-end ATP Tour World Championships in Hannover, Germany. Playing only his third match after recovering from hip and back injuries, Sampras gives much of the credit to Agassi for his victory, ”I was a touch rusty, but it had a lot to do with Andre,” Sampras says. ”It’s not an excuse, he clearly outplayed me.” Says Agassi, “On my best day, I couldn’t beat Pete 2 and 2 if he’s playing what he’s capable of. I could have everything go well for me and I am not going to beat him 2 and 2.” Says Sampras of his rivalry with Agassi, “When we are both playing well, on top of our game, there’s a good chance we’ll get through these tough matches and meet in the finals or semis of the Slams. If that happens, we can definitely take this game to a whole new level, especially in the United States.”

1969 – Neale Fraser, the retired Australian tennis standout and current insurance salesman, is named captain of the Australian Davis Cup team. The 36-year-old Fraser replaces Australia’s legendary Harry Hopman, who steers the Australian Davis Cup team for 22 years – and 16 titles – since 1939. Fraser goes on to captain the Aussie Davis Cuppers for one more year than Hopman – a record 23 years – and guides Australia to four titles.