Monday, 30 June 2008

The come back kid

Wow! What a game, what a come back. I missed most of Murray - Gasquet as I was playing a match in the box league I'm helping to set up for the tennis courts round the corner.

It was a game against an opponent who was probably 30 years older than me but in the first games everything went wrong and the pressure of having to beat someone I really should beat started to creep in. The first point of the match set the tone, with his shot hitting the net court and dropping over the net.

Before I knew it I was 4 games to love down. Four edgy, tight games later it was all square. And then I broke and served out 6-4. The second set was as it should have been and I ran out 6-0. It's the oldest cliche in the book but so much of tennis is in the head.

And we saw further proof of that with Andy v Gasquet. Murray showed unbelievable fighting spirit and mental toughness. Whilst, perhaps unfairly, more questions will be asked about Gasquet's character.

I'm watching the highlights as I write and Murray showed it all today. Belief, emotion, breathtaking shot making, inappropriately timed drop shots, and incredible athleticism - watch him run down the ball in the third set tie break.

This was the defining moment. As he ran off court on the ad side to chase down a volley and somehow from the acutest of angles, hit a stupendous backhand passing shot on the run.

Murray ended up almost in the crowd, standing on a ledge in front of the first row, and his emotional celebration of the point will probably be the back page photo in tomorrow's papers. (Either that or him flexing his muscles at the end.)At this point the momentum swung Murray's way and the match slipped through Gasquet's fingers.

When we look back in a few years time I'm sure this will be the moment when the centre court crowd and the rest of the British public finally accepted Murray as their player.

Rafa is up next and Murray must feel like he can beat anyone but I just worry about how much this 5 setter has taken out of him. Either way I can't wait for Wednesday.

You can see the tie break shot here

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Image is everything

Andre Agassi was Andy Murray's childhood hero and from an early age he has sought to emulate the master. So it's ironic that at 21 Murray has only just worked out how important image and the off court part of the game is.

By image I don't mean the flash, brash show put on by the early Agassi but the importance of creating a winning and appealing persona. A personal brand that people can willingly buy into.

For any British No 1 Wimbledon is all about pressure and expectation. But Murray is starting to realise that if you communicate better you can turn this potential burden to your advantage and use the crowd to lift you and carry you through difficult points. Witness his pumped up Hewitt style celebration on big points yesterday against Haas.

It would be easy to attribute all of this to his new PR adviser Stuart Higgins - who is clearly doing a great job addressing the two question points hanging over Murray, his temperament and fitness. See for example his photo opp with Murray and his cute puppy, what better way to soften Andy's image?

Or the great photo in the (London) Evening Standard on Friday of Murray working out with his fitness trainer and their 'stretch harness', a neat way of reminding people that Murray has worked hard to build up his strength, fitness and durability.

But personality is something a PR guy can only polish not spin. When the player is on court and in the public eye for hours at a time only they can determine who they are and how they want to come across to the fans and the media. Murray seems to understand this now and that is a big step forward towards becoming the finished article.

Now if he can just cut down on the drop shots!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Roger Federer v Nicolas Kiefer. Stunning, on the run, forehand down the line winner from Federer. Reminds me of Roger breaking Rafa in the 5th set of the Wimbledon final last year. Watch it here.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

It can happen to anyone

I suspect park players the world over took comfort and a little satisfaction from Sharapova's defeat. Not just that every underdog can have its day. But what gives us all hope is that even former Wimbledon champions occasionally have service games with 3 double faults!!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Day 3

Part of the beauty of tennis is that it is a game of small margins. A
match can turn on a single, pivotal point or game.

We saw it today with Ivanovic v Dechy. Having won the first set Dechy
had two match points in the second. One of which ended with a shot
from Ivanovic hitting the net cord.

The ball could have dropped either side of the net. Ivanovic got
lucky. The ball just made it over and she won the point. And then went
on to win the set and the deciding set (although she was less than

She could have so easily been sharing a cab to the airport with
Djokovic, who earlier of course, was blown off court as Safin wound
back the years and served up the biggest shock of the tournament so far.

As Safin said himself in the post match interview its just getting
harder for him as he comes up against the new generation of younger,
hungrier players.

But he reminded us today not just why he is a two time grand slam
winner, but that he also has the unique status as the only player to
have beaten both Sampras and Federer in Grand Slam tournaments, and
then go onto win the events.

He's never liked grass but now its a bit slower and the draw is
opening up a bit who knows he may go deep.

Hewitt is looking good, comfortably beating Montanes. And Serena is
through but her opponent Urszula Radwanska showed enough to justify
the suggestions that she is a future grand slam champion.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The drop shot: the true test for Murray

I'm a big fan of the drop shot. The well constructed point and the sudden change in play. The surprise and disguise. The grace and skill of the shot. And the helplessness of the player stranded at the back of the court, or yanked out of position.

Andy Murray also loves the shot and is one of best (the best?) in the business at pulling it off. But you can have too much of a good thing. Just ask Michael Stich and Todd Woodbridge, pundits on BBC Radio, who both criticised Murray today for over using his favourite shot, especially on big points.

There's a danger of over analysis here but the more I think about the drop shot the more symbolic it becomes. I think it's rapidly becoming a test of how serious Murray is about getting to the very top and winning the big tournaments.

What matters more to him, the pursuit of the perfect shot, or the accumulation of Grand Slam titles?

As Stich said today, you can get away with it against Santoro in the first round (it won Andy plenty of points today) but it will be Murray's undoing in bigger games when more is at stake. When you are 2 sets to 1 down in a Grand Slam semi and things are getting tight, it's the drop shot which crumbles first.

So if Murray really wants it - I'm sure he does - he's going to have to put his pride to one side, listen to the former champions and start playing the percentages

I only caught the last four games plus the decisive tie break on the radio on the way home from work, but the match (including the drop shots) was a bit special. Murray overcame a potential first round banana skin 6-3 7-5 7-6. You can read the BBC as it happened here.

Monday, 23 June 2008

First day round up

No opening day at Wimbledon would be complete without an early exit for a highly seeded player. This year it's Nalbandian's turn to be the fall guy. The 2002 finalist was beaten in straight sets by Frank Dancevic, who played out of his skin.

Lleyton Hewitt, who of course beat Nalbandian in 2002, battled through a 5 setter.

It's been a good day for Federer. The Champ eased through in three (the highlight was Hrbaty sitting in the chair next to Federer during the final changeover, watch it below) and Monfils, a possible 3rd round opponent pulled out.

Djokovic also went through but was made to work for it by Michael Berrer, who pushed him all the way in the first set (7-5 to Djoko), and took the second 6-2, before Djokovic reminded him who's boss and wrapped up the next two sets 3 & 0.

And despite the hype, Sam Querry's height and big serve wasn't enough. He was put out by a clay courter, Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Britain's Alex Bogdanovic lost in the first round (again). That's 7 in a row. And the BBC are reporting that is the final straw for the LTA who will pull Bogo's funding after the US Open.

Ivanovic shows her class and had McEnroe raving. Venus and Serena are both through.
Elena Baltacha battled through to the second round beating Angelique Kerber in 3. A great result.

Top Spin beats his 'personal Nadal'

Regular readers will remember that I recently wrote about how most tennis players, at all levels of the game, have their own personal Nadal: the guy who beats you no matter how much you work on your shots or mix up your game plan.

I'm delighted to report that after 10 attempts, two tie breaks, and a choked match point, yesterday I finally beat my personal Nadal (the hitting pro at the local tennis place). Happy Days!

Pleased to say that I resisted the temptation to fall to the floor and roll in the (artificial) clay like the real Nadal.

Sunday, 22 June 2008


Six of the best from the web:

Nick Bollettierri's predictions for the first round.

Van's at Tennis, talk anyone? on why Venus will win (again).

Gototennis' predictions for the women's tournament.

Rafa's Wimbledon blog on Times Online.

Barry Flatman from The Times on the 10 greatest Wimbledon finals.

And finally video highlights of last year's classic final including the two massive games in the 5th when Fed firstly held (just) and then broke Nadal.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Nicolas Lapentti v Mario Ancic. A perfect example from Lapentti of how to use the classic drop-shot, lob combo. Watch it here.

It's a great shot, but for me the Play of the Week was Rafa's diving winner against Djokovic last Sunday.

Friday, 20 June 2008

The draw is out...

... and the answer to the question we’ve all been waiting for is that the Men's No 3 seed is in the same half of the draw as the No 1 seed. So it’s Federer not Nadal who faces a potential showdown with Djokovic in the semis.

Murray, Roddick, Blake, Davydenko and Gasquet are all in Nadal’s half . So there’s the prospect of Nadal v Murray in the quarters. But before that Nadal will have to overcome the winner of Gulbis v Isner in the second round. And Murray will need to get past Santoro, Malisse, and Gasquet.

Federer has Hrbaty, Soderling, Nishikori or Monfils in the 3rd and potentially Hewitt in the 4th, probably Ferrer in the QF.

Djokovic faces either Nalbandian or Baghdatis in the fourth.

In the Ladies Ivanovic has (on paper) an easy run to the semi’s where she should meet either Serena or Kuznetsova. The William sisters are kept apart. Serena is drawn to face Mauresmo in the third round. Number two seed Jankovic has a tougher draw with Venus, Maria, Safina, Dementieva in her half.

You can find it here

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Wimbledon quiz

As we get closer to next Monday's opening day Wimbledon fever has
finally started to take hold.

I've decided against blogging on the seedings (Baghdatis No 10, what
gives!) and instead thought I'd set a quick quiz.

Got to be honest I don't know all the answers yet myself so feel free
to submit them in the comments.

Q 1 Who did Pat Cash beat in the semi en route to winning Wimbledon in

Q 2 In what year did Edberg make his last appearance at Wimbledon?

Q 3 How many Wimbledon doubles titles did McEnroe win?

Q 4 What was the furthest round Michael Chang reached at Wimbledon?

Q 5 Who won the 1996 boys singles title?

Q 6 How many sets did Federer drop en route to winning 2005 title?

Q 7 In the modern era which mens player has played in the most
Wimbledon tournaments?

Q 8 Who did Boris beat in 1991 quarter final?

Good luck!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Return of the Mac

McEnroe is back in town for his annual stint in the Wimbledon commentary box. I like McEnroe - hey who doesn't these days, even the media (no, especially the media) love him these days.

But of course it wasn't always that way. Back when he was a champion the British media, particularly, the tabs, used to give him a real hard time.

Nowadays McEnroe, the elder statesman of the game(!!) gives good headline and the press lap it up. Here's a selection from todays papers.

McEnroe questions Murray's commitment and will to win, The Guardian

John McEnroe hopes for more from Andy Murray, The Times

John McEnroe tells Andy Murray it's time for him to perform on grass of SW19, The Telegraph

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Djokovic shows he is a match for Nadal on grass

Rafa and Novak went toe to toe again yesterday, and the Queen’s final was far more competitive than Nadal’s walk in the park in Paris.

I continue to be impressed with how Rafa’s grass court game has developed. He looks good, real good, and is of course already being talked up as a dead cert to win Wimbledon. (As Gototennis says, show Federer some respect!). But I still feel that on grass Nadal hasn’t quite got the edge over the rest of the tour that he enjoys on clay.

Sure he won yesterday but it was a close run thing. Djokovic had his chances in both sets, with Rafa eventually shading it in a first set tie break, and then breaking back at 4 – 5 down when Djoko was serving for the second set, before going onto wrap up and the set and the match 7-5.

So respect to Rafa, but also to Djoko – this two set final lasted longer and was more of a contest than the 3 set final in Paris. And I think Djokovic will come away thinking that if there is a rematch at SW19 in the final or semi, he will be more than capable of winning it.

UPDATE: Highlights now below, including the amazing diving winner from Rafa.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Tommy Robredo v Philipp Kohlschreiber. Great defence from Tommy to stay in the point and then a winner out of nothing. Watch it here.

Friday, 13 June 2008

First impressions

Been a crazy week so not had a chance to watch any action from Queens until last night's Nadal v Nishikori. (I even had to pass up a spare ticket offered to me from a friend who is a member at Queens for the after work slot on Tuesday. Nearly killed me.)

So i really enjoyed watching the second set and most of the third of the first meeting between Nadal and Japan's rising star Nishikori.

For the past six months I've heard a lot of good things about Kei but this was my first proper look and he didnt disappoint. He looked good, real good. Which comes as no surprise given his success in San Jose and quick rise through the rankings.

He held his own against Rafa before losing in 3. He showed a nice variety of shots: a beautiful angled drop shot played from behind the baseline, a thumping two handed backhand winner down the line, crisp serve volleying, and an impressive forehand. The second set - which he won - was especially impressive.

Two service games held to love sandwiched another service game when he was 0 - 30 down. Many would buckle against Rafa in such circumstances. But Kei came up with a series of winners and took 4 points in a row to hold serve.

Based on what I saw last night there will be plenty of seeds who won't fancy drawing him in the early rounds at Wimbledon.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Shot of the year?

He may not have bagged that elusive slam but Federer did depart Paris with shot of the tournament, no, lets call it what it is, shot of the year.

Here's how Jonathan Overend on his BBC blog described it:

It was an off-forehand, crosscourt to Ancic's backhand side, but the ball stayed low and Federer's entire body shape suggested a shot down the line.

He whipped his arm through, snapped the wrist alarmingly, and next thing you knew the ball was landing on the line at a ridiculous angle.

Ancic applauded, Federer roared his approval, nobody else could believe it so they just got to their feet.

I've seen Federer play similar shots a hundred times, but this was different because it was hit so hard.

To generate the angle, and get the ball down in time after crossing the net, it usually needs a softer hit.

But this was smacked at full pelt and the poor ball should have been retired hurt.

Watch it here.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Even scarier tennis from Nadal

To (mis)quote Depeche Mode, everyone has their own personal Nadal. The opponent who has that hold over you. Who beats you no matter what you try, how much you work on your strokes, or how you change your game plan.

I played my Nadal on Sunday, appropriately enough on an artificial clay court. It must be the 8th or 9th time we've played. They've all been some of the best matches I've been lucky enough to play in, and I've lost them all.

Sunday was no different, although like Federer in Rome a few years back, I did have a matchpoint which I failed to convert.

A few hours later the real Nadal destroyed Federer. For all us Federer fans it was a car crash of a match. That Nadal won is no surprise but to win with a bread stick and a bagel against Federer is simply unbelievable.

It wasn't just the scoreline that blew me away, but also the way Nadal's game has (further) improved, especially his backhand and serve.I won't try to explain why Nadal won and why Federer was made to look so out of his depth. Nick Bollettieri has already done it and his analysis is a must read.

The only grain (crumb would be overstating it) of comfort for Federer is that he defended his points and goes into grass season with a 1,000 points lead over Nadal and Djokovic in the rankings.

I really can't wait to see how will Federer respond not only to the drubbing but the fact that Nadal will come into Wimbledon with maximum confidence and momentum.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Outrageous stuff from Robin Soderling in the World Team Cup final in Duesseldorf. Watch it here.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Federer v Monfils

Great match and great performance from Monfils. Countless moments of magic from Federer, but also far too many errors from the world No 1.

I hope this proves to be a turning point for Monfils, a real breakthrough.

Monfils and his good friend Tsonga have provided much of the excitement for the first two slams of the year. The challenge for both (hugely talented) Frenchmen is to use their runs as platforms for future success.

I have a hunch that of the two Tsonga is better equipped to move to
the next level. Let's hope Monfils proves me wrong.

You can read the excellent BBC Federer v Monfils as it happened here

Nadal v Djokovic

Five words: A walk in the park.

(But fair play to Djokovic for the late fightback.)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Scary tennis from Rafa

On his 22nd Birthday Nadal gave himself and the rest of the tennis
world a present - a demonstration of near perfect, ruthless and brutal

He crushed Almagro 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 a stunning result and an incredible
scoreline. No, a frightening scoreline.

This wasn't a case of a champion playing a hopelessly outclassed wild
card in the first round.

It was a Grand Slam quarter final against the in-form clay court
player. Almagro has won more games on clay this year than anyone else
on the tour.

And yet he was completely overwhelmed. It wasn't as if Almagro played
that badly. Sure, there were too many mistakes, but even when he
conjured up what should have been outright winners, Rafa got them back.

I've felt for some time this could be Fed's year but on the basis of
the past few days the Swiss maestro must be hoping that Nadal is going
to have another outbreak of blisters.

Monday, 2 June 2008

In praise of Jonathan Overend

When driving to work I flick between the Today programme on Radio 4
and Breakfast with Nicky Campbell and (the brilliant) Shelagh Fogarty.

Today is still essential for anyone who works in PR but it's nowhere
near as agenda setting as it likes to think.

For me the best thing about both shows is when they handover to "our
tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend".

His packages are normally no more than 60 - 90 seconds but in that
time he'll give you all you need to know. A great blend of reporting,
analysis, and putting the sport in context for the non-addicts.

I still remember now how he put the criticism of Murray's lack of
fitness 2 or 3 years ago into perspective by simply pointing out that
footballers play 90 minutes once, maybe twice, a week. Where as tennis
players can play 5 or 6 matches in a week.

(which reinforced my belief that Federer is the world's greatest
athlete as well as tennis player, but that's a discussion for another

Over the years I've had the pleasure to hear Overend's reports from
Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Monte Carlo. The list goes on.

And whenever I hear him I used to think why doesn't he have his own
tennis show? And for the past year or so I've also wondered why
doesn't he have his own blog?

Well now he does and if was worth the wait. He's been blogging from
Paris and it is a joy to read.

Do check it out at the BBC tennis website, in particular his post on
"the hardest, most amazing shot I've ever seen". Yes, THAT forehand by
Federer against Ancic on Saturday night.

(Note: I'm blogging on the run at the moment. Will post a link for
JE's blog when back online).

UPDATE: You can read it here.