Saturday, 31 May 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Dmitry Tursunov V Andy Murray. A great rally in Hamburg which ends with Tursunov hitting a winner off a ball which is behind him. Watch it here.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Don't cry for me Argentina

In recent years it's always been a safe bet to assume that at least one Argentinian player would make to the second week of the French.

But after shock defeats for Canas (1st round) and Nalbandian (2nd round), plus defeats for Chela, Junqueira, Decoud, Del Potro, Gonzalez, and Vassalo Arguello (all 2nd round), and Berlocq and Roitman (both 1st round), along with Murray's fine victory against Acasuso, a lot is resting on Eduardo Schwank, the only Argentine left in the draw.

And he has a tough match in the third round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, who is on fire at the moment.

Still every cloud... The good news for Murray is that if (and given his inconsistency this year it remains a big if) he gets past Almagro rather than face Nalbandian in the 4th he'll either play Chardy or Tursunov. Which gives him a decent chance of a quarter final spot against Rafa...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A classy performance from Murray

We saw a different Murray today. The one who looks the real deal, a genuine, future, Grand Slam champion.

It wasn't just that he eliminated the errors which caused him so many problems on Sunday, he was also far more positive - both in his body language and his more aggressive game plan.

Acasuso is a useful player on clay but Murray simply didn't allow him to play, and I lost count of the outright winners that Murray fired past the Argentine.

The score line (6-4, 6-0, 6-4) doesnt do Murray justice. He now faces Almagro in the third round.

Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Jonathan Eysseric, one to watch?

Well, he maybe the youngest guy in the draw but he certainly gave Murray - who was far from his best - a fright on Sunday, taking him to 5 sets.

It took Eysseric a while to find his feet but after losing the first set 6 - 2 he started to play without fear, stepping in and attacking Murray's serve, and coming up with some great shots.

And suddenly errors started to creep into the Murray game, allowing Eysseric to take a 2 - 1 lead. But just as he was on the verge of a memorable upset Eysseric ran out of gas, and Murray turned on the screws wrapping up the final 2 sets 6 - 0, 6 - 2.

I won't pretend I'd heard of Eysseric before the draw was published last week and having only seen limited highlights, it's not clear to me whether he's got a future in the big time, or whether, like many junior hotshots before him he won't be able to make the step up.

So I googled him to get a bit of background. Born in France, 18 years ago today, he's a leftie, below average height for a pro player, but very quick around court.

He was junior finalist at the Australian Open 2007, and won the junior US Open doubles in 2007. Currently ranked 390 in the world.

And after the glamour of Paris he's back on the futures tour next week...

You can watch the highlights here.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga V Nicolas Mahut. I don't know how Tsonga even reached this ball, let alone hit a winner. Spectacular. Watch it here.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Great moments in Paris

There's something special about the French Open. And if like me you can't wait for the action to begin in Paris on Sunday take a look at the great posts by Van at Tennis talk anyone on his favourite moments from the French Open. It includes Courier's destruction of the field in 1992 and Capriati v Clijsters in 2001

This also presents me with an opportunity to shamelessly recycle two posts with video on some of my own favourite memories from Roland Garros. Chang and his under arm (under hand?) serve and Agassi coming back from two sets down to complete his career slam.

Lets hope 2008 will provide some equally enduring memories. Go Roger!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Great moments in tennis No 10 - the terminator shows no mercy

McEnroe and Lendl never saw eye to eye. The two could not be more different.

McEnroe oozed god given talent and charisma. But was also brash, loud and infuriating. Lendl was a superb athlete - nobody worked harder off or on the court - but was a cold, quiet, and hard to like tennis machine.

This clip neatly highlights their differing personalities. McEnroe plays a killer drop volley and then closes off the angles at the net. But Lendl doesn't hesitate to drill it straight down McEnroe's throat.

McEnroe goes down like he's been shot and stays down. Lendl barely skips a beat. The best bit is the slow mo close up towards the end of the clip.

Been racking my brain to try and remember where and when this took place. If you know post a comment.

UPDATE: Full marks to Van from Tennis talk anyone for some impressive detective work. It was Dallas, 1989. Check out the comment to see how he worked it out.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Respect to Rafa...

... as we know his No 2 spot is under threat - Nadal and Djokovic would have swapped places in the rankings if Djokovic had won their match on Saturday. But instead Rafa sent a message.

He made it clear that - contrary to his comments last week - he won't give up his ranking without a fight.

Still stand by my prediction that Djokovic will end the year as No 2 but Rafa (as you'd expect) will go down fighting.

And watching the matches over the weekend reminded me how lucky we are to have three great players slugging it out at the top of the rankings.

You can watch highlights of Nadal v Federer, and Nadal v Djokovic below

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Novak Djokovic V Igor Andreev. Djokovic races from the back of the court to not only retrive a drop shot but win the point with a cute back hand drop shot of his own. Watch it here.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Henin at her very best

I'm missing Henin already. So thought I'd dig out some video highlights. Henin v Williams, QF of last year's US Open. Henin won 7-6, 6-1. Thanks to kumarravichandran for the vid.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Justine, say it ain't so

Justine Henin is one of my favourite players on the women's tour. I've always admired her game - that one handed backhand! - but also the way she has punched above her weight and size to win almost everything in the game.

So I was really surprised and disappointed to hear that the World No 1 and reigning French Open, US Open, and Olympic champion is retiring with immediate effect. I guess every great champion wants to bow out at the top, but at only 25 year's old this decision feels premature.

The French Open won't be the same without her.

Monday, 12 May 2008

High stakes tennis

The pressure is well and truly on at the top of the rankings. It's what Alex Ferguson would describe as squeaky bum time.

Djokovic's win in Rome and Nadal's early exit have really mixed things up. I predicted on Sunday night that the points gap would shrink to 400 or so points.

Turns out its even closer that than - just 310 points separate No 2 and No 3.

Meanwhile, Federer has put real distance between himself and Nadal, with a cushion of 1,400 points. As I wrote the other day, Federer's results on clay to date should be enough for him to hold on to his current position for a while yet.

For Rafa it's a different story with the Spaniard appearing to concede that Djokovic will overtake him in the next two months. Today he said "The logical thing is that he goes past me here in Hamburg, or at Roland Garros or Wimbledon."

It's not like Nadal to give up without a fight - maybe it's mind games - but it shows how tough it is at the top right now.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Is Djokovic a lucky general?

Onwards and upwards for Djokovic with his win in the Rome final. Believe it or not, events over the past few days reminded me of Napolean and his preference for lucky generals.

Djokovic is a real talent and could be a great champion (if he can break his bad habit of retiring injured.)

But I'm starting to think that Lady luck is currently in the serbinator's corner. Take this week. Djoko hasn't been playing well and struggled against Andreev in the third round.

However,a combination of shock defeats for the best two players in the world - one of which was only the 4th time Nadal has ever been beaten on clay - and a spate of injured players retiring (love the irony) presented Djokovic with a golden opportunity to win another Masters event and close the gap on Nadal.

It all seems to be going his way at the moment. I mean this as a complement - because there's a lot to be said for 'making your own luck' - but perhaps it's better to be a lucky player than a good player.

Whatever, I'm just pleased to see more competition at the top of the tree. And am looking forward to seeing the updated rankings tomorrow. According to my maths the gap between No 2 and No 3 is only 400 points now.

UPDATE: It's just been pointed out to me that Djokovic won Rome without playing a single player from the top 20.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Janko Tipsarevic V Paul-Henri Mathieu. Killer forehand down the line winner. Watch it here.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

How the clay has saved Federer's top spot

Two months ago, when he was stuck in his slump, there was a real chance Federer could lose the No 1 spot to Nadal before Wimbledon.

When the ATP rankings came out on 10th March the gap between Roger and Rafa was only 350 points, the closest it has ever been. To put it context, winning a Masters Event like Monte Carlo is worth 500 points and the French 1,000 points.

Federer then scraped together enough points in Indian Wells and Miami to extend his lead to 670 points coming into the clay season.

So Nadal was within touching distance.

The problem of course for Nadal is that even if he won all the clay tournaments he would not necessarily close the gap, because he's only matching his achievements (and points) from 2007. Rafa also needed Roger to struggle on clay. Something that seemed possible given his difficulties in the US.

Which is why Federer's recent revival has been so important and impressive. 4 weeks in, point for point, it's Federer who's having the better clay court season.

Federer picked up 175 bonus points by winning Estoril, defended his points in Monte Carlo by reaching the final, and has already gone further in Rome than last year's third round exit.

Meanwhile Rafa matched his 2007 victories in Barcelona and Monte Carlo but his shock second round exit in Rome means he drops 465 points.

Which means Roger will increase his lead of 845 points over Nadal when the rankings come out on Monday, giving him a decent cushion if he drops points in Hamburg or Paris.

There's an awful lot of tennis still to come this year but if he remains at No 1 until the end of the year, he'll probably look back and regard clay as the turning point.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Federer strikes back

A good day's work for Federer today as he got one over Canas, his (other) nemesis.

Going into the match Canas had a 3 - 2 advantage in head to head results. But unlike last year when Canas enjoyed two back to back victories over Federer, today it was pretty comfortable for the world No 1.

Federer won in straight sets 6-3 6-3. The highlights are below. Check out the rally when Federer breaks Canas in the second set with the score at 3-3. It's about 2 mins 30 seconds in.

Monday, 5 May 2008

You learn something new every day

During my early morning game today I learned two things about tennis. Both of which I guess I should have already known.

The first thing I learned was that, despite their name, 'all-weather' courts are slippery when wet.

The second, more useful (and less painful) learning was that Nadal is naturally right handed.

My friend Shane mentioned that he'd read on Wikipedia that "Although Nadal plays left-handed, he is naturally right-handed. When he was younger, his coach, Uncle Toni, decided that his two-handed backhand would benefit from a strong right arm, so he taught Rafael to play with his left." Amazing.

And it got me thinking. Would Rafa have been No 1 if he had stuck with his right hand...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Murray on Murray

Andy's new PR adviser Stuart Higgins is already delivering the goods.

The 'make Andy Murray more likeable' project begins with the Murray brothers as the cover stars of the Observer's Sport Monthly magazine. As you'd expect from a PR pro like Higgins it's not just prominent coverage, its good coverage, and great photos.

By and large it's a nice, light hearted piece in which journalist Emma John highlights how Andy's dark humour is mis-understood, especially by the media.

It touches on their childhood, sibling rivalries, their likes and dis-likes (Andy strongly dislikes celebrity and 'WAG' culture, whilst Jamie is a BIG fan of Britney); and we also learn that between tournaments the two brothers are living together at Andy's new flat in London.

All in both a good read and a good bit of PR. Check it out here.

And BTW, this is the second month in a row that OSM has found space for a feature on tennis. Last month we had the great piece on Monica Seles. Keep it coming guys.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Nadal V Davydenko. A fantastic 'get' from Rafa shows why he is near unbeatable on clay. Watch it here.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Great moments in tennis No 9 – Connors rides the wave all the way to the semi's

New York, September 1991, Jimmy Connors becomes at 39 the oldest man to reach the semi of the US Open since Ken Rosewall in 1974.

Coming into the event Connors was ranked 174 in the world after sitting out almost the entire 1990 season with a wrist injury.

But Connors always loved the US Open. Connors was a five times champion in New York -and the only player to have won it on three different surfaces - grass, clay and hardcourt - but arguably 1991 was his finest hour.

Few thought he would get through the early rounds. And it looked like the doubters were right as he found himself 2 sets and 3 - 0 down to Patrick McEnroe in the first round.

But there's nothing Connors liked more than a battle against the odds, and he hauled it back to beat McEnroe jnr in 5. This was the start of something special.

The second and third rounds were straight set wins, and then in the 4th round Connors again had to come back from 2 sets down, although this time he then found himself 5 - 2 down in the final set. But to the crowd's delight he fought back to win in a tie break.

Same story in the quarters when he came back from a set down to overcome Paul Haarhuis to reach the semi's. It was like something out of a movie.

Sadly Connors ran out of juice against Jim Courier, who was on a roll after his victory at Roland Garros earlier in the year. Courier made short work of it winning in 3 sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.

Despite that result it was still seen as being Jimmy's tournament. Although Connors - for whom winning was everything - would probably disagree...

You can watch (some blurred footage of) the tie break below