Saturday, 30 August 2008

Groundhog Day

It seems like only yesterday that Murray celebrated coming back from two sets down in a 5 set thriller by flexing his muscles. And today we had a repeat performance.

Not everyone likes Murray - I get that - but who could not appreciate the strength and guts he showed today in coming back to beat Jurgen Melzer in five?

As he showed back at Wimbledon, Murray may not do it the easy way - and he's not always easy to like - but he's a fighter.

And that combination of talent and guts will take him top 3 one day.

UPDATE: Match stats below. And as you can see Murray's second serve is still way too slow. It was punished by both Melzer and Llodra in the previous round.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Is this the best we can do?

Is this the best we can do?

There's a bit of a buzz in the media about Anne Keothavong's run to the third round, where she was beaten earlier today by Dementieva.

I'm pleased for her - the past few days will be good for her confidence and her ranking - and it shows that the LTA under Roger Draper is making progress.

But there has to be a reality check. Feel good press coverage about Keothavong masks the scandal which is British women's tennis, where the idea of a player making the second week is currently simply out of the question.

I was staggered to read that the last time a British woman made the third round in NY was 1991. It tells you all need to know about the drift and loss of direction in British tennis in the past 20 years.

So full marks to Anne for punching above her weight but there is a long way to go. Let's hope Laura Robson delivers....

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Roddick clears the first hurdle...

... the human banana skin that is Fabrice Santoro, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.

So the dream lives on.

I know I have a vested interest after putting my money where my mouth
is for once - maybe I'm looking through dollar tinted spectacles - but
Roddick looked good.

The serve was on fire and he was aggressive, taking charge of most
points. But what caught my eye was the (much maligned) back hand, from
which he unleashed a string of cross court and down the line passing

But before I get too carried away it's worth noting that Santoro looks
past it. And he lost respect for his bizarre refusal to play the final
point after taking it a bit too personally when a crunching bomb of a
serve from Roddick nearly took his head off.

Gulbis won't be as easy.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

So far, so good

Grand Slam tennis tournaments are almost aways slow burn. After all the very best players in the world don't get to play each other until the second week.

But emerging stars of the future, plus former champions who have slipped down the ranking but still have the ability to beat almost anyone on their day, means it's never plain sailing for the seeded few.

The first two and a half days of US Open 08 has seen the tournament take shape nicely. Already we have had a handful of five set thrillers. I especially enjoyed Blake v Donald.

Blake showed why so many people (including me) are always rooting for him. Big shots and big heart. But he also showed (again) why he hasn't and probably won't win a slam. His mind and concentration and nerve have a bad habit of wwandering when he needs them the most. Still he's through to round two.

Donald was a revelation. As freakyfrites says he has...

...a brilliant, all-court game in the electric atmosphere of Arthur Ashe stadium. He looked so complete - great lefty serve, ripping forehand, Djokovic-worthy backhand, Blake-like movement and killer feel at net (a talent all his own.) And the most promising development in his game? He was enjoying himself!

Other highlights include Rafa being pushed hard by a player I've literally never heard off, and of course Safin. Marat is usually good value for money and the former champion beat Vince Spadea in 5. But only after a major row with the umpire. Didn't see it myself but here's the report from the BBC:

The Russian had to recover his poise after he was foot-faulted on a second serve at deuce while serving to stay in the fourth set.

Safin received a warning for swearing as he angrily argued with the umpire Carlos Ramos and briefly sat in his chair, refusing to play on.

The double fault gave Spadea a set point, which he converted to take the match into a decider. But despite his anger, Safin broke in the first game of the fifth set and served superbly to seal a place in round two.

Safin was still seething when he answered questions in his post-match press conference. "It's stupid rules that somebody made in 1850 and now they give me the problems with these things and it shouldn't be that way," he said. "How can a guy see... a foot fault... with sunglasses from 35 metres away. It doesn't make any sense."

And finally, good to see Tsonga back in action. I saw the first two sets and it wouldn't have surprised me if he had crashed out. He was terrible. Shot selection was poor and execution even worse. But he shook off the rust after losing the first set and won it in 4.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Killing time online

It seems when they're not busy practising their ball toss, working on their core muscles, or perfecting their autograph signature, the pro's enjoy spending time online.

In an interview with the Guardian Andy Murray sheepishly admitted that he has checked himself out on youtube. The clip below is one of his favourites, a running backhand pass down the line (with shades of THAT shot against Gasquet) against Chela

And of course it's not just Murray who kills time online. Rafa is also well known for his blogging. He's back doing his blog for The Times newspaper and you can read it here

It seems he find blogging harder than generating ridiculous amounts of top spin or running down balls that few other players on the planet could dream of getting:

So that you understand, I normally do this blog either before going out for dinner or just after that. We sit, and do the blog. It takes some time and I am happy to do it, but it is not easy for me to just sit here, answer to all your questions (that's the easy part) and then try to come up with a great, deep, writer's blog.

There are better tennis blogs out there (see the blog roll) but it does give you an insight into his world and his Q&A with fans is fun (if a bit bland). Full marks to Rafa for making himself accessible to the fans.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Well the tennis has begun. Thanks to Sky and their interactive courage I had a choice of 6 matches. So I passed on Ferrer and went for my man Nishikori who was up against the 29 Seed Juan Monaco on court 13.

Nishikori was promoted to the main draw after Lleyton dropped out, but showed that he fully deserves to be playing with the big boys, coasting through the first two sets 6-2, 6-2, with the back hand looking particularly strong.

There was a bit of drama at the start of third. I was a bit distracted (and for 'technical reasons' there was no commentary) but from what I can see the Umpire got it wrong on the score.

At Deuce on Monaco's serve the Argentine won two consecutive points to wrap up the game, but the Umpire mistakenly scored the first point to Kei, even though it was clearly in. Monaco (understandably) was not amused.

As I say I was a bit distracted, but it then looked like Monaco appealed to Nishikori, and either Nishikori (or another official?) put the Umpire right, and the game was rightly awarded to Monaco.

This seemed to unsettle Nishikori and he was broken in the next game. He did manage to break back, only to be broken again when serving to stay in the set at 5-6.

Fourth set was more straight forward for Kei as he wrapped it up 6-2, but he did need to call the trainer, and so lets hope its nothing serious. Next up: Ryan Sweeting or Roko Karanusic.

Photo by: Hatnim Lee/

Friday, 22 August 2008

Bring it on

I enjoyed the Olympic tennis, more than I thought, but if I'm honest it's just a warm up event for the US. Sounds crazy but until I started reading the build up on a few of my favourite blogs I'd almost forgotten how much I love the US Open.

The night tennis. The in your face atmosphere. The A list stars dropping in to check out Roger and Rafa or Venus and Serena. And most of all, superb tennis. Think Agassi v Blake, Wilander v Lendl, or Edberg v Chang.

The draw is out and you can get it here and Nick's tennis picks has his usual excellent run down. These are the first round games I'm looking forward to:

Nishikori v Monaco
Roddick v Santoro
Haas v Gasquet
Berdych v Querry
Blake v Young

My money is (literally) on Roddick to win the tournament (50-1 people! what can I say) but if he does make me rich he'll have to do it the hard way. Santoro, Gulbis, Djokovic in the quarters and then Roger if he's still round (I still almost do a double take when tapping those words of doubt about Roger).

Let the games begin...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Roger gets full marks in the US Open Quiz

I really enjoyed putting together the Wimbledon quiz so I thought I'd do the same for the US. Feel free to post the answers in the comments. Good luck!

Q1) In which year did night tennis make it's debut?

Q2) Who lost three women's finals in a row in the mid to late 70s, including two back to back against Chris Evert?

Q3) In 1990 Pete Sampras won his first US Open. At the time he was the lowest seeded player to win the tournament. What was his seeding?

Q4) Who did Lendl beat in the 1986 men's final?

Q5)Who handed who not one but two bagels in a men's US Open final?

Q6) When was the last US Open played on grass. (and a bonus points for men's and women's singles winners)

Q7) How many sets did Graf drop en route to winning the women's championship in 1996?

Q8)Who did Roger beat in the 2004 semi?

Q9)How many singles championships did Navratilova contest?

Q10)Who lost to Gasquet in the 2002 juniors and Tsonga in the 2003 juniors?

Monday, 18 August 2008

Too much of a good thing?

FreakyFrites - one of my favourite bloggers - asked a really good
question, in a comment she posted on the item below, on how they will
schedule the Olympic tennis in 2012.

To paraphrase, will Wimbledon and Olympic tennis be back to back?

As far as I'm aware nothing has been decided yet, but a couple of
things are as good as set in stone.

It's almost inconceivable that the All England Club will break with
tradition and move Wimbledon from its usual last week of June, first
week of July.

So it looks to me as if the mens final will be Sunday 8th July.

Meanwhile, the opening ceremony for the London games is 27 July. And I
guess that the tennis will start shortly after that.

So rather than having to wait 12 months for another dose of Wimbledon,
we have Groundhog Day 3 weeks later.

Can't quite decide if it's a good thing or if it will all feel a
little weird.

What do you think?

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Olympics wrap up

Been a great week of tennis in Beijing. Olympic tennis has shown to a few tennis snobs (including me) that it deserves to be taken seriously.

There's been the traditional smattering of upsets - hands up, who this time last year thought Roger would not even make it to the podium? - and some compelling games, especially the two semi's. 

I'm pleased for Rafa who has yet again proved he can't be pigeon holed as a dirt baller, pleased for Roger (and Stan), and pleased for team Williams.

What I take away from the week though is that when the best singles players in the world put their mind to doubles they can beat the specialists. The Swiss double act of Roger and Stan demonstrated this on Friday beating two of the best doubles partnerships on the same day. Venus and Serena underlines the point.

And this is why doubles fails to capture the imagination for many. As long as the best players avoid doubles in the Slams, doubles will remain a poor relation.

Anyway enough of that, time to start thinking about Olympic tennis at Wimbledon in 2012....

Friday, 15 August 2008

What would you do?

Didn't see it but Nadal - Djokovic sounds lilke a cracker. But the talking point of the day was in the other semi.

Did Gonzalez touch a ball that was going out? The referee didn't think so. Blake was adamant he did. Gonzo kept out of it, much too the disappoinment of Blake who said later that Gonzalez should hold his hand up.

Looking at the replay I'm pretty sure the ball nicked Gonzalez's racket. And if it did he would have known about it. (Incidentally it is important to note that after the match Gonzalez said he didn't and I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt)

But what would you do? You're 9-8 down in the third set of an Olympic semi, serving to stay in contention for a Gold or Silver. It's the Umpire and linespeople's job to call the points. So say you clip the ball and everyone apart from your opponent misses it,  should you do the right thing or just keep quiet?

I'd like to think down the park on a Sunday when there's nothing but pride at stake I'd fess up - life's too short and you don't want to win a match on a dubious call.

But in a big match event, a semi of a Masters, Slam or Olympics, how many people (if they are honest) would hand their opponent the point?

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Did Roddick call it right?

Van is understandably disappointed with Andy Roddick's decision not to represent the US at the Olympics. It says a lot about his game at the moment that he feels he has to write off events, an event that only comes around every 4 years. But I look at Andy Murray's tired, lacklustre performances in Beijing and can't help but think the other Andy made the right call.

I was talking it over with a friend last week and I think Roddick has a real chance at the US Open this year. He's won it once before, and if it wasn't for Federer would have won it again at least once. With Roger no longer invincible (Roddick has already beaten him once this year), and Rafa not being 100% at home on hard court, this year is his best opportunity in a long time.

What's more he's not had to contend with the two long haul flights or crippling humidity, which means he should be great physical condition (provided his back holds up.) The key of course is the draw. Can he avoid Murray, Djoko and Nadal until the final? And can someone else take out Roger before the semi?

Anyway for once I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and I've got great odds: 50 - 1. Please Andy, do it for me!

PS: On the BBC the other day they mentioned that at the Athens games in 2004 the US women's volleyball team had a competition to see who could kiss A-Rod first. Apparently he was chased all over the village. Not sure if this was a factor in his decision not to travel to Beijing…

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Roger kicks Rafa's butt at the Olympics

There's a headline to put a smile on the face of all Federer fans. But of course it was only Rafa Arevalo. It was pretty comfortable for Federer although the once mighty forehand continues to mis-fire at times.

I also watched a recording of Hewitt v Nadal. It reminded me again about the small margin between victory and defeat in tennis. Hewitt didn't play badly - quite the opposite - but Nadal was ferocious. With his forehand down the line hurting Hewitt time and time again.

Plus Nadal not only got balls that most players would struggle to retrieve, his 'gets' often turned into outrageous winners.

In the first set almost every game went to deuce but when it mattered Rafa had the edge and took the set 6-1, a harsh looking scoreline for Lleyton.

Hewitt gave it all but it was never going to be enough.

BTW - this was the first Olympic tennis I've ever seen. Amazing but true. I was on honeymoon in the US 4 years ago, Sydney and Atlanta were too late at night and Sky+ had yet to be invented.

So I've never really got Olympic tennis until today. And now i like it a lot!

Watching Nadal and Hewitt warm up in their national colours in front of their fans brought home to me how big an occasion it is and important this is to these guys.

That said handing out a medal for coming third still feels a bit lame!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Amazing fact about Chinese tennis

China, population 1.3 billion, landmass 3.7 million square miles, and
yet (according to today's Times) 15 years ago there was only 20 tennis
courts in the whole country.

Can this really be true? Either way, hats off to Zheng and co, they've
come a long way in very little time.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Igor Andreev v Radek Stepanek. Watch it here

Friday, 8 August 2008

Is this the break Federer needs to get back on track?

Roger Federer must be feeling pretty happy today. He may get mobbed every time he sets foot in the Olympic Village, and he may not get a chance to actually eat his food in the canteen, but he won’t care. Because the draw is out and it looks good.

Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray – the form player coming into the Olympics – are all in the other half of the draw. OK there are some players in Fed's half who have unexpectedly beaten him recently (step forward Simon and Karlovic) but I can’t imagine lightening will strike twice.

So provided he get’s through his first round encounter with the erratic hard hitting Tursunov, and possible encounters with Canas and Nalbandian, he should have a nice run to the final.

Compare that with Rafa who is likely to get Lleyton in the second round, Querrey or Andreev in the third, Murray in the quarters, and Djokovic in the semi. You wouldn’t bet against Nadal after his recent run, but he will deserve a medal if he comes through that lot.

You can read it here

UPDATE: It just gets better for Roger. Karlovic has pulled out due to illness. Plus, I think Nalbandian may actually be in the other half of the draw, not certain, as the draw document is not very user friendly.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Time for a commercial break

Nike have spent an awful lot of money trying to (in the language of the brand guys) 'own' tennis. And a fine job they have done too, with the four biggest names in the game - Roger, Rafa, Maria & Serena - all sporting the swoosh.

And yet, over here in the UK, Nike is almost invisible when it comes to tennis, with the firm preferring (perhaps understandably) to concentrate on football, rugby and athletics.

So I nearly fell off my chair on Sunday night when the fantastic new Nike 'courage' ad was played in almost every ad break during the Cincy final.

According to Joaquin Hidalgo, Nike Vice President of Global Brand Marketing:

“The commercial celebrates courage as the essence of the ‘Just Do It’ spirit. The fast paced cut takes viewers on an inspiring journey highlighting obstacles athletes at every level must face and overcome.”

It's an unbelievable ad, with a superb montage of icnonic sporting moments. Just a shame about The Killers sound track which is a bit obvious.

And for once it seems the UK (and the rest of Europe) get to see the ad before the US - it will be screened from tomorrow in the US. But if you can't wait you can watch it below.

According to the press relesae the Nike marketing guys have also come up with a smart digital campaign, which should enable you to find out about the story behind each of the stars in the ad. In theory you should be able to check it out here but there seems to be a glitch so I've yet to be able to get the site up and running. Maybe they are holding it back until the campaign goes live in the US tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

There's something about grass

I played at Queens tonight. I know it's hard court season but you should never say no to grass.

There's something special about Queens, not just the grass courts but also the fact that it's home to an ATP event.

To play on the same courts as some of my childhood heroes McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Agassi; and more recently Lleyton, Rafa, Roddick, Murray and Henman, is pretty amazing.

Believe it of not it was the third time in 5 days that I'd played on grass and each time I step onto it I'm struck by how different it really is to any other surface.

When ever someone writes about the unique characteristics of grass - the low, fast, sometimes skidding bounce, and the sheer unpredictability - it always seems so cliched, and at times exagerated.

But it really is that different. The best example being drop shots or short, angled volleys, which bounce once and then just fade away. On hard, clay, carpet you'd get many of these back. Not on grass.

And as I had post match beer I marvelled at how Federer and Nadal can switch so effortlessly after 5 weeks of clay and produce one of the great finals of the modern game, on a surface they only play on 10 or 11 times a year.

As for me, I love the experience even if I am off the pace half the time. Note to self: work on that backhand slice!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Who has beaten Roger this year?

How a Federer fan (or Fedophile) might explain this year's defeats:

* Nadal (no shame there)

* Djokovic (or there)

* Murray (he's going to have to grind very hard if he keeps playing this way)

* Andy Roddick (law of averages)

* Gilles Simon (the guy was on a roll, caught Roger cold...)

* Ivo Karlovic (big serve, on his day etc)

* Radek Stepanek (ouch!, you got to be kidding me!)

* Mardy Fish (come on Roger throw me a bone, even Mirka can't put a positive spin on that one)

Monday, 4 August 2008

Expect the unexpected

Men's tennis at the moment can be summed up in three words:

brilliant but unpredictable.

For the past 3 or 4 years Rafa has won on clay and Roger on grass and hard court. That's just the way it's been. But now you can't say with any certainty what's going to happen next.

Federer seems capable of both beating or losing to anyone on any given day. Rafa goes on a brilliant run which is ended, against the odds, by Djokovic coming off the back of a mini slump.

Djokovic has a 4-0 head to head with Murray, and yet Murray beat's him twice in a fortnight. Murray plays the best tennis in the Cincy final and is poised to serve for the tournament, but somehow gets broken and finds himself in another tie break. It's hard to keep up!

The only thing predictable about mens tennis right now, is that it's going to stay unpredictable for a lot longer yet.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Stanislas Wawrinka v Andy Murray. Stan the man drills one across court . Watch it here.

Friday, 1 August 2008

24 hours in Cincy

Well it's been a busy 24 hours in Cincy. Yesterday I watched Andy Murray blow Tursunov off the court with ease. Unfortunately I can't find it on Youtube but if you can, check out the second and third games of the second set.

A series of outrageous shots saw Murray break and then consolidate. Spectacular stuff. The backhand as he broke serve had me jumping out of the chair!

And then of course, shortly after I had put up a post on Roger living on borrowed time, Karlovic took advantage of Roger's lack of confidence to dump him out of the tournament, and hand the No 1 spot to Rafa.

And then today we saw another side of Andy Murray. If yesterday was all sublime skills and shotmaking, today was street-fighting and mental toughness as he can from a set down to beat Carlos Moya.

One final thought before I head to bed, you must read Bodo's diagnosis on Federer's problems, it's all down to Seven-Day Tournament Influenza. I kid you not...