Monday, 31 March 2008

Who is defending what in Miami?

Murray's failure to close out against Ancic yesterday means he will slip out of the top 20 when the updated rankings are published next Monday. Murray is defending 250 ranking points following his run to the semi's last year.

It will be the first time he's been out of the top 20 for nearly 2 years. And as the Telegraph points out Murray's drop in the rankings means that he now faces the prospect of not being seeded at the coming clay-court Masters Series events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg. So if he is unlucky he could get a top 5 player in the first round.

The good news is that Murray's absence from the French Open and Wimbledon last year means he has no points to defend and is likely to climb back up the rankings if he can go deep in both tournaments.

Murray ranking problem prompted me to look up who is defending what in Miami. It makes for interesting reading:

Djokovic - champion 500 pts already out, second round

Canas - final 350 pts

Murray - Semi 225 pts already out, second round

Ljubicic - Semi 225 pts

Roddick - Quarter final 125 pts

Robredo - Quarter final 125 pts

Chela - Quarter final 125 pts

Nadal - Quarter final 125 pts

Federer - 4th round 75 pts

Davydenko 3rd round 35 pts

Nalbandian 3rd 35 pts

Safin - 2nd round 20 pts already out, first round

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Play of the week

Djokovic play of the week
Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal. Djokovic drops his racket mid ralley, picks it up, stays in the point, and then belts a lovely cross-court winner. Watch it here

Friday, 28 March 2008

Great moments in tennis history No 6 - the Serena Slam starts here

Paris, 2002, Serena Williams beating her older sister Venus in the French Open final. Seems hard to imagine now but at the time there was a lot of concern about the Williams Sisters (and their Dad) being bad for tennis.

Messed up thinking if you ask me. I never quite understood how people could think that two charismatic, talented, athletes – who have subsequently turned so many new people onto tennis – could ever be anything but fantastic for the sport.

OK the match itself was no classic with both Sisters making too many unforced errors, but it was the start of something special - the Serena Slam.

She then went onto win the other 3 Grand Slam events in the following 7 months, so that come January 2003 she held all 4 Slam titles.

The best moment in Paris came at the end of the match when Venus dashed off court only to re-emerge from the locker room – to the surprise and delight of the crowd - with her camera.

Venus then elbowed the press photographers out of the way to take pictures of her sister lifting the trophy. A great illustration of how close ‘Team Williams’ are. You can watch this super moment below (hope your French is better than mine) and you can read the Guardian’s write up here

Thursday, 27 March 2008


Six of the best from the web

* Bjorn Borg on the BBC on keeping it together on court.

* Craig Hickman on the draw for the Sony Ericsson Open.

* Tennis Fanatic on the rankings contest between Roger, Rafa and Novak.

* Bodo on Federer's love for the game and respect for tennis history.

* Tennis Hacker on one to watch, Robin Haase.

* Rackets and Balls on Justine's new academy.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Sampras and Federer to play Wimbledon

A couple of the answers in Federer's word association (favourite tournament and dream doubles player) got me thinking.

And so I'm going to make another prediction: Sampras and Federer will play doubles at Wimbledon.

It's unlikely to be this year - Roger won't want anything to disrupt his plans to win a record sixth consecutive title - and in fact it may not be for another four or five years.

But given the mutual respect and the fun they've had over the past year in the exhibitions I think they'd both get a lot out of doubles. And it would give both them a chance to add another Slam to their records.

You heard it here first!!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Word association with Federer

As part of the build up for the Indian Wells semi Sky Sport did a form of word association with Federer. Roger was asked a series of rapid fire questions by Mark Petchey.

Here's the highlights:

* Favourite tournament: Wimbledon

* Toughest opponent: Nadal

* Favourite womens player: Hingis

* All time sports hero: Becker

* Best match you've been involved in: Sampras at Wimbledon 2001

* Favourite shot: forehand

* Any superstitions: none

* If you could play doubles with anyone who would it be: Sampras

* If you weren't a tennis player what would you be: A football player

Monday, 24 March 2008

Djokovic (nearly) does a Becker

Well I guess Mardy Fish's run was too good to last. He put up a brave fight against Djokovic, taking the second set, but when it came to it couldn't match Djokovic for fire power.

The turning point came in the first game of the deciding set. Djokovic was 0-40 down but demonstrated his champion's credentials by serving three consecutive aces and two service winners to hold . He then broke Fish in the next game.

Nearly as good as Becker's 5 consecutive aces.

This is Djokovic's 9th career title and the win takes him to within 425 points of Nadal. Watch out Rafa, Djoko's going to get ya...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Go Mardy, Go

Fish knocks out Federer
Wow, Fish ambushes Federer. Watched the first set last night when Fish was in charge but fully expected to wake up this morning to find that Federer beat him in 3.

Federer tried to put a positive gloss on the result (as well as the best player in the game he is also one of the most PR savvy):

"All in all, I'm happy the way this week has been going for me. The walkover is an awkward situation, but you have to take them when they come around.

"A semi-final to start off with at the first Masters Series is a good thing again, and I hope I can go from here and win in Miami and on to clay.

"I feel I've got the matches in I really wanted, you know. So I feel better than still 10 days ago, that's for sure."

But there's no getting away from the fact that he's currently in his worst run since becoming No 1. By the end of March 2006 Federer had won 4, including 1 Slam and 2 Masters. Wind the clock forward 2 years and he hasn't even made a final.

Rumours of his death have been exaggerated - as I've said before I still believe he'll end the year No 1 - but it's hard to imagine he'll ever enjoy the complete stranglehold on the sport that he had between 2004 and 2007.

The only crump of comfort for Federer is that when the ranking are published tomorrow he will have increased the gap over Nadal, as Rafa failed to defend the points he bagged by winning the tournament last year and Federer improved on his first round exit in 07.

It's worth pointing out that Fish only entered the tournament thanks to a wild-card. And it's great to see an underdog journeyman have his day in the sun. I hope he goes all the way and takes the title this evening.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Play of the week

Kevin Anderson ATP play of the week
Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Kevin Anderson v Robby Ginepri. Cross court forehand winner on the run. Nice! Watch it here

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Is it the end for Safin?

Marat safin smashes his racket
Marat Safin has a unique place in tennis history as the only man to beat both Federer and Sampras in Grand Slam events and then win the tournaments. Sampras in New York in 2000, Federer in Melbourne in 2005. Neither performance was a fluke.

The “future of tennis” (according to Pete Sampras) was also World No 1 for 9 weeks in 2000, and is a two time Davis Cup winner. But Safin has never fully realised that potential and has often been let down by his body and his head. All too often he has succumbed to both injuries and a tendency of beating himself on court by losing his cool.

For the past year he has been toiling away outside the top 40 and only this week was dumped out of Indian Wells in the first round. His decline underlines how difficult it can be to turn it around once you start to slide down the rankings.

Safin – like plenty of fallen champions before him – finds himself in the classic catch 22. You need ranking points to earn a seeding for the major tournaments, but to accumulate rankings points you need to go deep in tournaments, and this can be tough if you are unseeded.

His draw at this year’s Australian Open is the perfect illustration of how challenging it can be. He came up against former finalist Baghdatis in the second round and was beaten in four. Had he beaten Baghdatis he would have played Hewitt in the next round, and then Djokovic in the 4th round. Had he beaten the eventual champion his reward would have been a semi with Federer.

At 28 Safin has to ask himself does he have what it takes to get his career back on track? I hope the answer is yes - after all Agassi famously did it at a similar age - but life is not getting any easier for Marat as he comes up against a new generation of younger, fitter and hungrier players.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A champions reaction

It was always going to happen. It was just a question of who would be on the receiving end.

Federer answered his critics by ruthlessly destroying world No 44 Nicolas Mahut 6-1 6-1 with near perfect tennis.

It wasn't just the flawless strokes but also his movement around court which suggests he is back to his very best.

Highlights brought to you courtesy of Vidboy

Monday, 17 March 2008

Murray starts to play the media game

A few weeks ago I wrote about how media relations is (or should be) as an important aspect of professional sport as nutrition or sports psychology. I also said that this is an area where Andy Murray, understandably, has a lot to learn.

To date Murray has had a strained relationship with the media which means he's had more than his fair share of bad press. Much of this could have been avoided with a smarter approach to PR.

No one wants to see him go down the road of Beckham style over exposure but there's no excuse for not getting the basics right.

So I was pleased to hear that Murray has appointed a new PR adviser - Stuart Higgins, a former editor of The Sun. Higgins specialises in consumer brand building, celebrity PR, and the cross over between the two.

If I were Higgins I'd give Murray the following advice:

* Professional tennis is hard enough without parts of the media gunning for you. Show them some respect and your life will get easier.

* Remember the media are not the enemy. They have a job to do and column inches or air time to fill. Give them what they want and you'll start to see an improvement in the tone of their coverage.

* But always be mindful of the power of the press. An unguarded remark can easily be taken out of context and be used against you. So don't clam up or change your personality, but do think about how your 'dry' sense of humour can be mis-interpreted.

* Though it may not always seem like it most of the tennis press want you to succeed almost as much as you do. Most (but not all!) are true tennis fans and if you were to win a Slam then its likely to be the only time their copy gets on the front page or leads the news bulletin.

* And above all else you need to act like a champion if you want to be a champion.

It will be interesting to watch the 'Higgins effect' at work.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Juan Monaco v Santiago Ventura. One of those rallies you only get on a clay court. You can watch it here

Friday, 14 March 2008

Great moments in tennis No 5 – the King is dead, long live the King

All the buzz around this week’s exhibition between Sampras and Federer made me dig out the footage from their one and only game on tour, the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2001.

It was a 5 set classic with Federer edging it 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in his first appearance on Centre Court. At the time it was a big upset - Sampras was seeking his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, and eighth in nine years - but with hindsight we now know it was one great champion reluctantly passing the baton onto another.

The result has been suggested by some as being the answer to the question, who is the greatest of the two legends? I'm a Federer fan (and my vote's with Roger everytime) but I don’t think this match settles the debate.

Largely because neither man was at their peak. Sampras was in decline – even if he did go onto win the US the following year – and at 19 Federer was not yet the finished article - he lost to Henman in the next round, something which is sadly unimaginable now.

The Classic Match has a nice write up and The Guardian’s match report is worth a read.

And Thanks to Steffanofanderoger you can watch the highlights of the thrilling fifth set here, including Federer fighting hard to hold serve, and then breaking serve to signal an end to an era.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Any excuse to show Tsonga v Nadal...

I love Indian Wells, the first Masters event of the year. By the time it comes around the Australian Open - one of my favourite Slams – is all but a distant memory, and the French and Wimbledon seem way off. So the tennis addict in me is crying out for some top quality action. And the draw for this year’s event doesn’t disappoint.

With the exception of the top 5 or 6 it’s always hard to predict who will go deep in a tournament, but if the results follow the seeding we are in for some great matches.

Unlike in Dubai, Federer has an easier route to the later stages of the tournament, with a bye in the first round, Roitman or Garcia-Lopez in second round, and probably Robredo or Tipsarevic in the third. And then it gets interesting with a possible clash with either Murray or Roddick in the quarter final and then one from Nalbandian, Youzhny, Davydenko in the semi.

In the bottom half of the draw we have Nadal - the defending Champion - who is scheduled for a re-match with Tsonga in the fourth round, Gasquet in the quarters, and then Djokovic in the semi. Nadal v Tsonga was one of my favourite matches at this year's Australian so fingers crossed for a re-match. In the meantime it gives me the perfect excuse (as if I need it) to post some footage of Tsonga whipping Rafa in Melbourne.

Will also be good to watch the progress of the likes of Isner (who has Davydenko in the second round), Querry (who has Hewitt in the second round), and Nishikori and Cilic who play each other in the first round. Bring it on.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Six of the best from the web

Craig Hickman on Roddick's revival

Tennis served fresh Tennis magazine's interview with Agassi.

Bodo on Sampras v Federer at Madison Square Garden

Steve Tignor on Sampras - Federer

ATP Tennis reports that Roddick will not play at the Olympics.

Nina Rota on tennis in America

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Federer had glandular fever

In an interview with the New York Times yesterday Federer revealed that he contracted Mononucleosis or glandular fever at the turn of the year, the same illness which forced Mario Antic out for 6 months last year.

This is apparently why he felt sluggish and entered the Australian Open with little preparation. The symptons include muscle fatigue and a lack of energy - it can't have been much fun playing 2 weeks of tennis in the extreme heat in Australia while fighting the virus.

Key quotes from the NYT article:

Federer said he was unable to practice for about 10 days in February and received medical clearance to begin training five days before the tournament in Dubai began March 3.

“They weren’t sure I was over it, but now I’m creating antibodies, and this really shows you are over it,” he said. “But I lost a lot of fitness. I was feeling so great in December up until the moment I got sick, so this has been my problem the last couple weeks: really getting back on track. I haven’t practiced and couldn’t really work out the way I wanted to, because you have to be very careful with mono.”

Federer said he had a fever in December before traveling to Australia but sought no medical treatment. After his health problems in Australia, he took a long-planned two-week break from tennis, which included attending the Super Bowl. But he said he soon fell ill with flulike symptoms again and returned to Switzerland for tests.

“I had felt great the day before and then awful the next day,” he said. “And this is really when I said: O.K., something is wrong. I have to totally check things out here.”

“I finally have the green light and finally I can give 100 percent in practice again, because it wasn’t fun sort of being there sort of halfway,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy that too much. But again, it was interesting, and you’ve got to go through those moments, as well. I know that. Through a career, a long career maybe as No. 1, you have to go through injuries and sicknesses.”

Monday, 10 March 2008

Rafa is breathing down Roger's neck

For some time I’ve been toying with the idea of producing a graph to chart the movement in the rankings gap between Federer and Nadal, the rise of Djokovic and the next generation, as well as the decline of former No 1’s Hewitt and Safin. But let’s face it, life’s too short for number crunching and getting stressed about spreadsheets.

But you don’t need a graph to see that with the publication of the new rankings today Federer is under pressure. After his poor start to 2008 the gap between the World No 1 and Nadal is 350 ranking points, the closest its ever been. In fact it’s the smallest margin Federer has held over the No 2 spot since May 10, 2004 when he led Roddick by the same figure.

And so even though he's had a slow start to the year himself, Nadal finds himself in touching distance of the top spot. As the ATP's Greg Sharko explains the No. 1 ranking can't change hands in Indian Wells, since Nadal is defending title points (500) while Federer lost in the opening round (5). But depending on the results of both players in Indian Wells, then the No. 1 position could be up for grabs going into Miami. Nadal has quarterfinal points to defend (125) while Federer has fourth round points coming off (75).

But it's not that straighforward. What a graph would brilliantly illustrate if only i could find the time (or energy) is that Djokovic is closing fast on Nadal. So Rafa needs to win in Indian Wells and then repeat his previous dominance in the clay season if he is to close the gap on Federer and fend off Djokovic.

So my take on this is the numbers don't lie. Federer is still No 1 (and will be for some time) but the gap IS closer than ever as the chasing pack start to catch up, and 2008 will be Federer's toughest year to date.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Jose Acasuso v Nalbandian. A controversial choice. I'm surprised they didn't go for any one of a number of superb points by Murray against Federer, but hey the judges decision is final...

Just when you think Nalbandian has the point nailed Acasuso unleashes a killer passing shot. You can watch it here.

Friday, 7 March 2008

It’s over for Roddick and Connors

I guess it was never going to last for ever. Apparently Connors wants to spend more time with the family. Here’s Roddick’s take on Connors’ return to retirement:

"He's helped my backhand a ton. I mean, it's a different shot than when we got together. It's a lot more solid. And just that fighting spirit.

When we got together, I was as close to down and out as I've been. I spent the week after Wimbledon almost as close to depressed as I've been as far as my career goes. And I really credit him for that spark and getting me back into the top five and in a Slam final pretty close there afterwards."

The LA Times meanwhile suggest that what Roddick has learned from Connors is how to ‘throw one nasty tantrum’, reminding us of Roddick’s abuse of the umpire at the Australian Open:

Roddick, to umpire Emmanuel Joseph: "You're an idiot."

Roddick to the fans: "Stay in school kids, or you'll end up being an umpire"

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Losing sucks...

especially when it's a game you feel you should have won, or against a player you believe you should beat.

Anyone who plays has probably been there at some point - along with the love of the game the taste of defeat is the one thing casual club players can truly share with the world's best.

It's entirely natural to shrug and say I didn't play as well as I can - after all few people enjoy admitting their best is not good enough. And sometimes it's true, it just was 'one of those days'.

But in many cases the harsh reality is that your opponent didn't let you play your best game. Either way, Federer let himself down with his unsporting comments about Murray, which you can read on the BBC.

To criticise Murray for being overly defensive and just waiting for things to happen is unfair and demeans Federer. Sure, Murray is a counter-puncher, and has great defence, as part of a great all round game. But Monday was more than just Federer mistakes. Murray outserved, out returned and outplayed Federer.

I don't buy the 'Federer is finished' theory and stand by my prediction that he'll win Wimbledon, Olympic Gold, and the US. But one thing is for sure, 2008 is going to be his toughest year yet.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

6 - 0

Six of the best from the web

Ravi on ESPN on the decline of tennis in Sweden.

Richard Vach on what the defeat against Murray means for Federer.

Steve Tignor has 2 great youtube videos of McEnroe at Wimbledon.

Savannah on what's up in the women's game.

Down the line on the return of Hingis.

The Tennis Hacker on the power of words.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Murray has balls

Not everyone likes him but no one can deny that Andy Murray has not just talent, but also balls.

In the past two months he's suffered a humiliating first round exit from the Australian Open and been dumped on by the media for not playing Davis Cup.

So when he went a set down to Federer today after failing to convert a set point in the first set tie break, it would have been almost understandable if he rolled over in the second set. There's plenty of players on the tour who would mentally concede defeat, safe in the knowledge that there is no shame in being beaten by the Special One.

Instead Murray upped his game and took the next two sets in style. An incredible performance, and an incredible result, which gives him a 2-1 lead in head to head results.

It's Fernando Verdasco in the next round and given the up and down year he has had so far it wouldn't be a surprise if Murray lost.

And if so we should let it slide. It may not happen this year but Murray will one day be a great champion.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

I lied...

... I have been excited about the Dubai Open before. And the reason was of course the Agassi - Federer photo op on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab hotel, one of the greatest PR / promotional stunts of the past 20 years. Barnum would be proud.

Federer v Murray - tomorrow

Sounds terrible but I can't remember ever getting excited about the Dubai Open before. But tomorrow is a different matter as we have Federer v Murray in round one.

Both players had disappointing defeats at the Aussie Open and both will have a point to prove. Should be a fascinating encounter.

Federer hasn't played since losing to Djokovic in the Semi in Melbourne so the question is will he enter the tournament under prepared or in tip top condition after 6 weeks of training?

He'd never admit it - perhaps not event to himself - but Murray in the first round is not how we would have wanted to ease himself in after a 6 week break.

If you had to call it you'd still fancy Federer to win but Murray has nothing to lose and nothing to fear - when they last met in Cincinnati in 2006 Murray caught Federer on a bad day and took full advantage winning 5 & 4. This should hopefully give him the confidence to take the game to Federer tomorrow night.

Looking at the rest of the draw it is a stong field and there are a number of potentially great matches, including a contest between the power of Tursunov and the guile of Gasquet in round 1; Djokovic v Cilic in round 1, with the winner taking on either Youzhny or Santoro in round 2; and Nadal - Roddick in the quarter final.

Should be a good week.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Andy Roddick v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Cracking back hand cross court winner en route to winning San Jose Open for the third time. All the work with Connors on A-Rod's backhand has clearly paid off. You can watch it here.