Thursday, 28 February 2008

It doesn't get any better than this

While stuck in the traffic on the way home this evening my mind drifted back to last year's Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. In particular the two momentus games in the fifth set which defined not just the match but the essence of Federer's brilliance.

Firstly, Federer some how soaked up the pressure from Nadal and saved two break points to hold serve and go 3 - 2 up. And then he broke Nadal thanks to a net cord and 3 of the best points you are ever likely to see.

The down the line forehand passing shot on the run; the brutal forehand winner down the line; and turning defence into attack as he runs around the ball and unleashes a stunning forehand down the line. Genius.

Watch it again on youtube thanks to sysphy11.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Does Federer need a coach?

In my predictions for 2008 I suggested that Federer will bounce back from his defeat at the Aussie Open by winning Wimbledon, the US, and even Gold at the Olympics. It's a tall order but I think he still has the edge.

However, there can be no doubt that with the emergence of Djoko and the other 'next generation' players, the gap between Federer and the chasing pack has narrowed.

And so after Federer's split with Tony Roche and his defeat in Melbourne the question that many are asking is does Federer need a new coach? As Joel Drucker says on ESPN even a Ferrari needs a mechanic.

Which got me thinking. Who could add value?

It may sound a little left-field but given that Federer is probably looking primarily for an advisor and sounding board, how about Andre Agassi? Agassi could bring the best bits of Brad Gilbert, without the Gilbert in your face intensity (or maybe that is the best bit). He's also won the one remaining slam that eludes Federer.

What's more, while Federer is likely to continue to win slams for the next few years, he has to accept that sooner or later he will no longer be No 1. When the time comes Agassi could help him move to the next phase in his career and make the transition from all conquering No 1 to a top 5 player who still wins the occasional slam.

And I'm sure Agassi would enjoy helping Federer over take Sampras...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Sampras is not Rocky

Talking of guilty pleasures I've always had a soft spot for the Rocky films. In Rocky 4 we see Rocky coming out of a comfortable retirement to risk it all against Drago, a younger, taller, stronger opponent. And would you believe it, against all odds, Rocky beats Drago.

Back in tennis world the Pete Samprass comeback bandwagon gathers pace. Last Autumn Samprass played three exhibition matches with Federer, including the game in Macau which Sampras won 6 and 4.

Last week Sampras beat Tommy Haas in an exhibition, and on March 10 we have another Sampras v Federer game at Madison Square Garden.

Kamakshi and Steve on the ESPN blog have five reasons for and five reasons against a comeback. Elsewhere Tennis Fanantic would like Pete to give it a shot.

My view is the mens tour is no movie and Sampras (great as he was) is not Rocky.

There are more than 100 super fit guys itching to take down a legend. In the unlikely event that Sampras does risk his reputation it's hard to see his body lasting a full season. Instead he'd have to cherry pick events (Wimbledon, the US, some of the masters).

But of course he wouldn't be seeded and so could find himself up against Federer, Nadal, Djokovic (or Murray, Tsonga, or Davydenko, the list goes on) in round one or two.

I just can't see Sampras risking his pride or reputation.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Vault - every tennis geek's guilty pleasure

I've been meaning to write about the ATP's Vault of tennis results ever since I started the blog. It's a treasure trove, containing the results of all Grand Slam matches since 1968, and all ATP matches since 1970.

So if you ever want to know who Henman beat on his way to winning the Paris Masters in 2003 (Davydenko, Grosjean, Kuerten, Federer, Roddick, Pavel - his finest hour), or who reached the last 4 of the Australian Open in 1988 (Lendl, Cash, Wilander, Edberg) this is the place for you. Enjoy.

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Robby Ginepri v James Blake. Great defense, followed up by killer cross court passing shot. Watch it here

Friday, 22 February 2008

Playing the media game

Tim Henman never made a secret of his frustration with the tennis press - and given some of the crap that was thrown at one of Britain's most succesful sportsmen who can blame him - but he was always smart enough to show willing in the post match press conference.

This blog posting from The Guardian's Simon Hattenstone, where he seems to take slightly too much pleasure in assasinating Andy Murray's character, shows what happens when you refuse to play the media game.

It also underlines why media relations is another discipline any top sportsman needs to master. PR is (or should be) as integral to what they do as nutrition or sports psychology - former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier once described the post match press conference as the most important hour of the week.

For many sportsmen the media is still an annoying distraction. What Murray and others need to remember is that the best and the worst parts of dealing with the media come with the territory. The media are the link to the fans, the paying customers, and a sport's media profile is key to its financial health.

In return, journalists need to remember what it is like to be 19 or 20, recognise how hard and daunting it must be for Murray and Co to deal with the media, and cut them some slack.

Because this sort of unnecessary personal criticism is precisely why Murray, and many others, are wary of the media, and why they either play safe, or don't play ball.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Great moments in tennis No 4 - Agassi completes career slam

How do you measure greatness? Is it the number of slams a player wins? How they win them? Completing the near mythical calendar Grand Slam? How they respond to adversity and setbacks? A Champion's complete domination of the game? The impact a player has on tennis? Or the number of new people they attract into the game?

The answer of course is all of the above and then some.

Andre Agassi was a true Great. The number of slams he won ("only" 8 - what most players would give for a fraction of that success) probably denies him the title of The Greatest of All Time (GOAT).

But I would argue that he was an even greater player that his arch rival Pete Sampras. Sure, Pistol Pete won 6 more Slams but where Andre has the edge over Sampras, McEnroe, Borg, and (for the time being at least) Federer is his 'Career Grand Slam', winning all 4 of the main events between 1992 and 1999.

Unlike Laver he didn't do it in the course of one season - which I guess is still the ultimate test for any candidate to be GOAT - but of course what Agassi did do was complete his Slam on 4 different surfaces.

He completed the set in Paris in 1999 with victory over Andrei Medvedev in the French Open final. True to form Agassi didn't do it the easy way. In fact he had to claw it back from 2 sets to love to win in 5.

You can watch the final moments of the match along with the post match reaction here

Monday, 18 February 2008

Who is Kei Nishikori ?

Well, I've got to be honest until Sunday's final of the Delray Beach International I'd never heard of Nishikori. And when he lost the first set 6-3 I assumed it would be a routine win for Blake. So it was great to see him take Blake apart in the next two sets with his backhand.

Apparently he's the first Japanese player to win an ATP event in more than 15 years. And the 18 year old's character as well as his shot making suggests this will not be his only victory.

He showed real balls in the semi when he battled back from a set down against big serving Sam Querry, saving 4 match points in the process. And then he went one better in the final when he refused to be intimidated by the occasion or Blake's status as top seed. Way to go Kei!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

'Super Mario' no match for 'Super Murray'

Murray beat Mario Antic 3 & 4 to win the Marseille Open, the fifth ATP title of his career. Murray had to work hard to overcome Antic - the last man to beat Federer at Wimbledon - and dropped his serve in game 4. But he broke back straight away and then broke Antic again in his following service game.

The win should propel Andy back into the top 10 when the updated rankings are published tomorrow. And this proves he was right to sit out the Davis Cup tie in Argentina.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Great moments in tennis No 3 - Sue Barker triumphs in Paris

Sue Barker is best known these days for having to laugh at Ali McCoist's lousy jokes on Question of Sport. But back in the day she was some player.

Her finest hour was winning the French Open in 1976. For me its an even greater achievement than Virginia Wade winning Wimbledon. Barker tells a great story about the low key media and public reaction to her victory. The game wasn't screened live in the UK and there was only the briefest of passing references on the BBC evening news.

These days it would be an open top bus around London.

Although with Nadal so dominant on clay in the mens, and the lack of decent British women players, it could be another 30 years before a Brit repeats Barker's success.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Murray into Marseilles semis

After yesterday's erratic performance Andy got it together today for an impressive win over Mahut. The big difference today? The serve was firing.

The BBC have a short write up.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My predictions for 2008

  1. Federer to win Wimbledon, Olympic Gold, and US Open and end Year as No 1.
  2. Nadal to win French but won't make Wimbledon final, or get beyond US Semi's and will end year as No 3.
  3. Djokovic to win a slam - well I had to make sure I got one right ! - and end year as No 2.
  4. Murray to win some ATP events, and go deep at Wimbledon and New York, and end year in top 6.
  5. Tsonga to struggle to repeat form and success of Australian Open.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Great moments in tennis No 2 - Five aces in a row from Boom, Boom Boris

Now beat that - 5 consecutive aces from Boris. Not a bad way to hold serve from 0-40 down. Awesome.

Great moments in tennis No 1 - Chang messes with Lendl's head

Check out Chang and THAT under arm serve against Lendl, en route to
winning French Open in '89.