Friday, 31 October 2008

Murray downed

Murray downed

All good things must come to an end. That master of the indoor season Nalbandian beat Andy in two, 6 and 3.

Which means unlike Rafa, Roger, Nole and most of the other leading lights, Nalbandian can still boast an undefeated record against Murray.

And you've got to say that with Nadal's incredible year taking its toll on Rafa, Nalbandian and Co must fancy their chances on the indoor court for next month's Davis Cup final.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

You gotta read this: Overend on Murray

Here's Jonathan Overend's post on Murray becoming a man, if not quite the man (not yet).

Two tournaments remain in this extraordinary year for Andy Murray and this time it doesn’t matter what happens in Paris and Shanghai - 2008 will go down as the most successful season for a British tennis player since the days of Mr Perry.

Murray has collected five titles in the season - a nice geographical spread from Qatar to Russia via France, Spain and deepest Ohio, USA - he's also climbed to number four in the world, collecting a fearsome reputation as autumn’s in-form player.

He’s in Paris this week for the final Masters Series event of the year before heading to China for the big one, the end-of-season showdown, The Masters Cup.

That’s the one with the best eight players of the year - so no riff-raff, no byes, no Vince Spadea, just serious big-time tennis.

Murray’s second half of the season has been extraordinary, with a quarter-final at Wimbledon followed by the Cincinnati title, a first Grand Slam final at the US Open and then back-to-back titles in Madrid and St Petersburg.

The only blip was in August after Cincinnati - that strange exit from the Olympic Games to Yen Hsun Lu, a defeat which looks more inexplicable with every passing day.

But that remains his only bad loss since the start of May. Every other match he should have won, he has won. Major progress.

Earlier in the year, a search for tennis court perfection appeared to hold him back from concentrating on the simple things. Now it’s all about getting the win, however it comes.

But forget the notion of “winning ugly”, endorsed by his previous coach Brad Gilbert, Murray has been winning spectacularly.

Since the start of August, he's beaten Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - the only three players ahead of him in the rankings.

Performances of aggressive intent have been backed by real steel under pressure and a revelation of a first serve.

And one of the really interesting aspects of this sequence, 18 wins from his last 19 matches, is the way talented opponents have been crushed, almost beaten mentally before the match begins.

Three matches stand out on this point: Wawrinka in New York, Monfils in Madrid and Verdasco in St Petersburg. Top 20 players with plenty of ability, but freaked out by the mental ordeal of facing Murray. The result? Three consummate thrashings.

Murray, of course, has more than enough ability to beat these guys toe-to-toe, but he’s now beating them in the mind the way Federer used to (perhaps still does?) during his years of domination. That is a considerable factor when you’re still building your reputation on the tour.

And what a reputation. Every interview with an ATP player in advance of Paris appeared to make reference to Murray as “the form player” or “the world’s most dangerous” or “the best in the world right now”.

Careful scheduling, another real improvement from 12 months ago, means Murray still has plenty of energy left at this late stage of the season.

He’ll give it everything for two more tournaments and then take the off-season to prepare for 2009 and the Australian Open, where he will start as one of the favourites to challenge for Djokovic’s title.

And as we come towards the end of a difficult year image-wise, with media spats, TV comedy lampooning and a premature autobiography, one can only praise the way Murray has turned his attitude around.

Everything about him, from the waves to the crowd to the positive approach in interviews, is an improvement.

The world is no longer against him - of course it never really was as long as he could prove he could win matches - and I think he now realises that when his name gets in the paper, it adds several dollars to the bank account. It’s all good.

“Kevin the teenager” appears to have stomped out of the back door. The “miserable git” (Tim Henman’s famous aside from the summer) has cheered up and come to the party after all. Murray’s tennis is doing the talking, and these last few months it’s been magnificent to watch.

In short, as Mr Federer observed, he has "become a man".

The article is from BBC 606 forum. You can read it plus the resulting comments here

Querrey freaked out by Murray

Querrey freaked out by Murray

Murray chalked up his 19th win in 20 games beating Querrey 6-2, 6-4. Further proof that he is the form player right now.

I didn't see it (was lucky enough to be at the Emirates to see Arsenal draw 4-4 with Spurs) but on paper it was an intriguing match-up: one of the best servers in the game against one of the best returners, on a fast indoor surface

By all accounts Murray dealt with the serve comfortably, winning 6 straight games in the first set after losing the first two, and then breaking Big Sam twice in the second.

Querrey had 3 double faults in one service game. Maria had something similar at Wimbledon and I wrote then about how park players the world over responded to that with a quiet, knowing smile - we've all been there and it is heartening to see a pro (and multiple slam winner in Maria's case) fall part on serve.

But at least she had an excuse with the blustery conditions. But shame on you Sam!

When you play indoors the occasional double fault is bad but 3 in one game, ouch that hurts. I played 3 sets indoors last night and only had 2 all night, and believe me my serve is not a Querrey bomb.

The only explanation is that Murray intimidated Querrey and got into his head in the way he has against others in recent weeks.

Murray beating players in the mind (a la Roger) is something Jonathan Overend writes about in a great post on the BBC site. I'll provide a link or maybe even the text tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Federer beats Nalbandian

Roger and Nalbandian go back a long way, coming up together through the juniors. And in the early days on the pro tour Nalbandian eclipsed Roger winning their first five encounters.

But then Fed won 8 of the next 9 matches. So Roger went into today's final in Basle with a slender 9-8 head to head record.

Today Federer denied Nalbandian a chance of equalling that record beating the Argentine 6-3 6-4 to secure his 57th career title. The key was Roger's serve (he only dropped 7 points on serve all match)

You can watch the final game below

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Tennis is the best medicine

Afraid it's more blogging on my own tennis - sorry, I can't help myself!

I had one of my sweetest victories today. The standard of tennis wasn't good as it has been in recent weeks, but the bottomline was I won in difficult circumstances.

I was playing my personal Nadal - the hitting pro from the local indoor place. As ever we kept it to just an hour.

He must win 8 out of every 10 games we play. And today I was feeling lousy (I've not had enough sleep this past week and today it felt like I was coming down with a bug. No energy and felt spaced all day.)

But I went ahead with the tennis on the basis that it would be kill or cure, with the smart money being on the former rather than the latter.

Despite having a cracking headache i got off to a good start holding serve, breaking, and holding to go 3 - 0 up. My opponent then held and broke back to close the gap to 3 - 2, but I then won the next 2 games to go to 5 - 2.

He was serving to stay in the match and I somehow squandered 3 matchpoints before he closed it out and then broke me to bring the score to 5 - 4.

I was feeling terrible and at the back of mind I couldn't help but think that if it went to 5 all I would struggle to stay in the match. So I stepped it up and hit two big returns from the ad court to tee up two break points, and clinched the match on the the second with a fierce backhand approach shot from which he netted the volley.

I came off court with a headache but also feeling pumped, and when I got home I felt so much better. Proof that tennis really is the best medicine.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Good luck to...

Good luck to...

...Laura Robson who plays her first match on the WTA tour today. She takes on Iveta Benesova from the Czech Republic at the Fortis Championship in Luxembourg.

Go Laura!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Murray on the up

Andy Murray has had universally good PR for the past few days. (Not often you can say that but his winning ways have done wonders for his rep).

As ever, Jonathan Overend was on the money this morning when giving his verdict on Murray. He listed Andy's achievements over the past four months which have seen Murray win two masters, reach his first grand slam final, reach No 4 in the world, and beat Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. The guy is on a roll.

To his credit Murray is prepared to put in the graft. Something his PR and new media team have highlighted to great effect with photos and video on his website.

The hard work is paying off. On the evidence of the past week his serve is much improved. What was a major weakness is now one of his main strengths. Ditto his fitness.

If I was Djoko I'd be starting to get a little nervous, especially with all those points to defend in Melbourne.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Richard Gasquet v Kei Nishikori. My man Kei is out-manoeuvred by Gasquet thanks to a classy, Murray-esque dropshot. Watch it here

Friday, 17 October 2008

We were on a break!

Sometimes we forget that the pro's are human. It's not surprising
given that most the time they move around the court like super heroes.

But everyone needs a break every now and then and Roger, Rafa, and
Andy M all seemed to have benefited from the post New York lay off.

The standard of tennis from all 3 of them this week has been top
class. I've not had a chance to see Federer (plenty to watch on tape)
but I keep hearing good things and I've seen the quality of Rafa and
Andy's shot making for myself.

So this weekend we are in for a treat with a Fed v Murray re-match
followed hopefully by either a Federer / Murray v Nadal final.

And I keep thinking ahead to the New Year and the prospect of a
recharged Federer coming out to make history. Good times ahead.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hard yards pay off

Team Murray spend a lot of time working on Andy's sprinting during
their off court fitness sessions.

And you could see why today. Murray was a break and 5-4 down and
Cillic was serving on set point. It was a lovely second serve
resulting in a short ball for Cillic to put away in the deuce court.

And yet somehow Murray not only made the ball but then hit a superb
forehand cross court winner. Awesome.

It must make all the hard yards seem worthwhile.

(I'll try and find the video of the point).

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Is indoor tennis proper tennis?

Is indoor tennis proper tennis?

I play a lot of indoor tennis. Mainly because the weather is so lousy in the UK and I don't have much time to play. So if it rains on a Sunday morning and I'm due to be playing outdoors, there goes my hitting for another 7 days.

Until last year I was a member of David Lloyd's in Raynes Park, London. It's a stones throw from SW19 so if it rains during Wimbledon fortnight you sometimes see the pros practising on one of DL's 12 indoor carpet courts. Venus and Serena were rumoured to have been there a few years back but there's no photographic evidence!

I always enjoy playing indoors but - and this maybe controversial - it's not proper tennis.

There's no wind, no glare from the sun, or bad light, and the bounce on indoor carpet or hard court is usually extremely consistent.

In short the experience is good, too good. Some days on indoor (super-fast) carpet you can feel like Federer as you hit a flashing backhand pass down the line. But then you go outside and get found out.

Despite all that I'm enjoying what little I have seen of the action in Madrid. There's been a buzz about Gulbis for sometime and yesterday he again lived up to the hype as for the best part of the first two sets he outplayed and outhit Rafa.

Elsewhere Roger seems to be feeling the benefit of his break - can't wait to see him take on Tsonga.

And Djokovic must have been pleased to see Hanescu retire injured in the third after the Romanian took the first and took the second into a tie break.

So don't get me wrong indoor is great to watch and I'm so glad its a fixture in the tennis calendar because the gap between the US and Australia is too long. But its not the real deal.

Tennis is an outdoor game.

Monday, 13 October 2008

It's not Jelena's fault

I'm starting to feel sorry for Jelena.

It's not her fault she's no 1.

It's not her fault there are (at least?) three better players who
currently don't hold the top spot.

It's not her fault two of the three (Justine and Maria) are out of the
game at the moment and the third (Serena) puts Slams ahead of being No

It's not even her fault that the system allows a player to be No 1
without holding a Slam - even though it doesn't feel right.

All Jelena has done is put in the hard yards, played a full calendar,
and won more than she's lost.

And the reason she is No 1 is largely because the system wants to
reward and incentivise players for playing all year round.

Part of me wishes it wasn't this way and that more emphasis was on

But the fact of the matter is, the reason Jelena is No 1 is the same
reason why us tennis addicts are able to watch high quality tennis
from world class ballers for 11 out of 12 months a year.

And if we can't bring ourselves to celebrate this, we should at least
accept it and give Jelena a break.

Nobody who has made the sacrifices a pro (and their family) have to
make just to break top 100, should be made to feel embarrassed for
being No 1.

Phew, got that out of my system! Now back to enjoying Madrid :)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Andy Roddick v Viktor Troicki. Nice play from A-Rod. He runs down a lob volley from Troicki and spins to hit a winner down the line. Watch it here

Friday, 10 October 2008

Great Sharapova video from Nike

When it comes to blogging I try to stick to two rules:

1) don't drone on too much about my own tennis matches.

2) don't pinch things from other people's blogs.

I broke the first rule earlier in the week when talking about last Sunday's match and now I'm shamelessly flouting the second by lifting this video from Gototennis, which regular readers will know is one of my favourite blogs.

It's the new Maria Sharapova Be Your Own Fan video from Nike which beautifully charts her journey from a childhood in Siberia to becoming a three time grand slam winner.

It's one of a series of animated ads from Nike aimed at inspiring young women in Europe. This from the Guardian tells you a bit more:

Nike's ad highlights the criticism and negativity that Sharapova had to overcome – such as she was "Just another pretty face" – in becoming a global sports star. It ends with a call for women to "Be strong like Maria".

The other ads feature 400m runner Sanders, Swiss triathlete Nicola Spirig, Sicilian triple jumper Simona La Mantia and French martial arts expert Delphine Delsalle.

"Their stories, like the young women themselves, are as charming as they are impressive and inspiring," said Betsy Decker, associate creative director at W&K Amsterdam.

W&K chose to show the athletes in animated clips – as opposed to more typical slick live action shots of the women – because it was felt that the approach "humanised" them more.

"By humanising these young athletes… we hope to show girls of all ages and fitness levels how sport strengthens self-belief," added Decker.

And it really is lovely, as well as being strangely reminiscent of A-ha's take on me video...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Feliciano Lopez also loves tennis

We had a fantastic fortnight's holiday in Spain a couple years ago. We divided our time between Deia, a wonderful village in the hills of Rafa's island of Majorca, then moved to the neighbouring island of Menorca (highlight was sipping cava in the sun on a catamaran trip around the island on my birthday), before travelling to Barcelona, one of my favourite cities.

I remember watching Roger v Rafa in the hotel in Deia, and lying in the sun reading the brilliant Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. (BTW if you've not read this brilliant portrayal of rivalry and failed ambition among 2 aspiring tennis pro's, do check it out. So good)

So there I was watching and reading and thinking about tennis but I couldn't get a game with anyone. By the time I got to Barcelona I was itching for a hit!

So I dropped by the Sanchez-Casal academy to join in an afternoon of drills in the baking sunshine on superb clay courts.

Their trademark was a variety of different 4 ball drills. You'd start with a deep ball to the forehand to which you play a defensive return, short ball hit to your backhand for the approach shot, a deep ball to your backhand that has you back peddling before a short ball to the forehand which is crying out to be smacked down the line. Repeat again and again with different combinations of shots.

It was a great experience all round. As well as working on the strokes it was so cool to walk around the grounds where so many pro's have cut their teeth.

I'm still on the distribution list for their e-newsletter which arrived in my inbox the other day. It includes an interview with Feliciano Lopez who trained at the academy before the hard court season. In it he speaks of his love for the game, not just the benefits from the lifestyle but also how tennis, like any sport, creates healthy habits and disciplines.

So good to see a pro who is clearly still enjoying what he does.

Interviewer: What values are important for you as an athlete?
Feliciano: “The sport helps create habits, a discipline and routines that help you in your professional and personal life. It is very healthy and I recommend it; because you move around a good atmosphere no matter what sport you practice, and especially in tennis, which is my sport and I love it. Any child who practices a sport will be in contact with good things; the sport helps you think positively and in tennis more so.

I: What does tennis contribute to you and how does it help your life?
FL: “Since I was a kid I practiced much sport, quite a lot, and tennis is a marvelous sport. Mainly having to travel to so many countries gives you experience, you meet many people, different people, talk different languages…that helps you mature; travelling to many places…tennis helps you mature, and mature very fast.”

I: How does a player live the change from Junior to Professional?
FL: “In Spain we are very lucky because all young players have the option of competing in many tournaments at different levels, without having to travel too far. That is one of the most important aspects and that is why we have so many players who are currently standing out from the rest. I began to gain experience in these tournaments, playing in much in Spain, with illusion and then slowly I was able to begin taking the first steps in the professional world.”

I: What message do you give, as an athlete, to other young players?
FL: “What is most important is to be involved in sports, to enjoy it and to continue playing and having fun. Tennis, at the professional level, is very difficult and you must like it very much if you want to continue involved with what you are doing. Besides having qualities, you must have the illusion, motivation and like what you are doing. It is a great sport and all tennis player who I know that are standing out and getting good results, love what they do and feel the tennis game inside of them.”

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I love tennis

I try to avoid blogging about my own tennis matches - after all who's interested - but I had one of those games today, the kind of game you are lucky enough to play in once or twice a year.

I was playing my personal Nadal. We usually play on hard but today was indoor synthetic clay, which is slower and at times has an unpredictble bounce.

It was one of those truly special games where we both brought out the best in each other. It helped that it had only been 3 or 4 days since we last played so the level was good from the start and it just got better as we traded shots.

Don't get me wrong it wasn't all faultless technique (I wish) and fizzing winners (although there were a fair few of those). There was also some scrambling, lunging 'gets' as shots you didn't think would come back were somehow retrieved. Not to mention a few unforced errors...

My favourite moments were two serves to the ad side which went out wide and where returned to my forehand, allowing me to blast clean cross court winners. It's something you see the pro's do routinely, but usually I lack both the technique and confidence. Maybe my concerted effort to watch the ball is starting to work!

The only downside was that we only had the court for an hour so we couldn't play a full match. In fact we only managed 8 games, finishing with a marathon final game which must have lasted 10 minutes or more and saw me eventually break back to end all square at 4-4.

It was a killer to have to finish at the point but in a funny way it seemed fitting that noboby lost.

I was buzzing on the way home, reflecting on how days like these make up for all those games where you are battling against the wind, or strangely off the pace, or your serve is mis-firing. And it reminded me why we love tennis.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Tommy Robredo v Dudi Sela. I've never heard of Sela (No 66 in the world, where have I been?) so this clip is worth it for novelty factor alone, but it's also worth taking a look to see how Robredo returns the drop shot with a lunging lob, and then, thanks to some great reflexes at the net, turns defence into attack. Watch it here

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Roger takes a break

Sweden has given an awful lot to tennis – Bjorn, Edberg, Wilander, enough said – so I often think it’s a shame that they only have a second / third tier event, an event that is regularly bypassed by the leading players.

That said, I’ve felt for sometime that Roger was putting himself under unnecessary pressure by opting to compete in Stockholm, and so it’s no surprise to see him pull out.

But it did surprise me a little that he appears to have listened to the advice of many Federer fans, and has decided to take an extended break. Here’s the statement from his website

"2008 has been a tough year for me as I was always playing catch up after being diagnosed with mononucleosis at the beginning of the year. I feel fortunate to be healthy again, but I want to remain at the top of the game for many more years to come and go after the #1 ranking again.

In order to do that, I need to get a proper rest and get strong again so that I am 100% fit for the remainder of the year or next year. At this point, I am not sure when I will be ready to play again, but I hope to be back at some point before the end of the year.

I apologize to the tennis fans in Sweden as I was looking forward to playing in Stockholm again. The country has produced so many incredible tennis players and the tournament has such a great history. I hope to be able to come back at some point in the future."

You wouldn’t expect anything else, but good to see the explicit statement of intent about staying on top and regaining No 1. Like Roger I still think that’s possible but when it comes down to it Slams are now more important than the ranking, and this break will give him the best possible preparation for the best possible way to start 2009 - winning the Aussie Open and equalling Pete's record...