Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category
Before the 2013 Australian Open even began, there was plenty of talk concerning the history that Djokovic or Murray would make, should either of them claim the first of the year’s grand slam titles.
Djokovic was aiming to be the first player in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne. Murray, having won his first Grand Slam title with the US Open in September, was looking to become the first player to follow up a maiden title by winning back-to-back titles.
It was fitting then, that these two should contest the final, as they did two years ago. Last year, the two men faced each other in a gruelling five hour semi final, and a match that could have gone either way with only the finest of margins separating the players.
Djokovic won both of those meetings – as he did in the 2013 final earlier today – but Murray’s five-set win against the same opponent when they met in New York only four months ago is evidence that he’s more than capable on his day of triumphing over the world number 1.
On route to the final, Murray claimed his first win over Roger Federer in a grand slam event. It would be premature to suggest that Murray has overtaken Federer in the men’s game, but it was nonetheless a significant victory, and one which could have been achieved in straight sets had the Brit been more clinical.
If Murray can improve on his dismal showing during last year’s clay court season, there’s every chance of him improving his ATP World Tour ranking enough to leapfrog Federer and head into Roland Garros as the second best player in the world.
In fighting off the challenge of Djokovic to reclaim the world number 1 spot in 2011, Federer proved to his doubters that he’s still amongst the sport’s best, but there must surely be questions over just how long he’ll be able to compete with the likes of Djokovic and Murray in five set tennis.
And with Rafa Nadal far from certain of retaining his position amongst the elite after such a long injury lay-off, there looks to be very few players capable of challenging the dominance of Djokovic or the emergence of Murray.
That could either offer tennis fans with many fascinating battles between the sport’s top two stars, as it did during the period between 2006 and 2008 when Nadal rose to the challenge of toppling Roger Federer, or it could lead to a predictable state of affairs, where the two finalists may as well be handed a passage straight through to the final for lack of any serious threats elsewhere.
For me, the lack of progress made from players such as Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro has been disappointing.
A series of injuries certainly affected Del Potro for a lengthy period after he won the 2009 US Open, but he’s fought his way back into the top ten, and has the ability to be causing problems for the very best players.
Similarly, Berdych and Tsonga both have the talent to be more of a threat, but simply don’t look any closer to breaking into the elite than they did three or four years ago.
Each of those two players have long had the ability to challenge the top players when they meet, as well as having the potential to get much closer to competing for and winning the biggest prizes.
But with each major tournament that goes by, there’s a similar outcome whenever a top four seed is pitted against an opponent ranked in the lower half of the top ten. Berdych and Tsonga both showed glimpses of their ability to produce tennis of the highest quality in their respective matches against Djokovic and Federer, but neither genuinely looked like upsetting the odds.
Amongst the younger players, I was looking forward to seeing how Milos Raonic coped in his fourth round match with Federer. Raonic clearly has plenty of potential but failed to provide any real test for Federer, who in the TV commentary was described as “looking bored” as he closed in on a comfortable victory.
The previous round had resulted in Bernard Tomic – another player touted for future success – send crashing out by Federer in straight sets.
In a sport that was ruled by Federer, taken over by Nadal and then by Djokovic, there appears at the moment to be only one genuine contender to the Serb’s status as world number 1 – Andy Murray.
Nadal v Federer was a rivalry developed in tournaments all over the world on every surface. Murray and Djokovic have each played in three of the last four grand slam finals, and the evidence suggests that the pair could contest many more, in a rivalry that is shaping up to be the fiercest on the men’s tour.
It was perhaps fitting that Novak Djokovic should come out on top at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The world number one may have achieved fewer title wins in 2012 than he did over the previous calendar year, but it was always going to be a near impossibility to repeat his extraordinary 2011 season anyway.
Instead, his aim was to prove that last year was no fluke, and that he was at the top of the men’s game for good.
A consistency which saw him win the opening grand slam event of the year – with a gruelling win after six-hours against Rafa Nadal – and then go on to compete in two further grand slam finals as well as reaching the last four at Wimbledon and the Olympics confirmed his status as the best male tennis player in the world right now.
Of the other members of a top four which has consisted of the same quartet for a fifth consecutive season, each have played their part in a terrific year of tennis.
Rafa Nadal was firmly on the way to challenging Djokovic’s dominance before injury struck before the year was even half completed.
Nadal’s absence from more than four months of competition was to Andy Murray’s benefit, with the Brit finishing the season ranked in third place.
Murray has made giant strides of his own this season and in any other year, a first Wimbledon final, followed by an Olympic gold and a maiden Grand Slam title would have been enough to make him the stand-out performer on the tour.
But such has been the standard from all of the top players, Murray is merely one three – along with Djokovic and Federer – who have achieved big things during 2012.
Arguably, the finest individual achievement was not Murray’s victory in the US Open, but Roger Federer’s win at Wimbledon that saw him replace Djokovic as world number one.
To still be capable of adding major titles at such a late stage in his career – and with such fierce competition from such a talented trio of rivals – is testament to the Swiss, and further strengthens claims that he is the greatest player in tennis history.
Successive quarter-final defeats at Wimbledon in 2010 and 2011 looked to be proof that Federer had past the point were he was still able to match the likes of Nadal or Djokovic and compete for the sport’s biggest prizes.
But to the credit of Federer, he refused to accept the fact that there are players around that he is incapable of winning against, and a new desire and determination has been very much evident over the last year or so.
Whether that continues will much depend on his physical ability, especially in longer five-set matches at grand slam events.
As for the other questions for next season, will Andy Murray continue to build on his major successes of the summer, and even pose a challenge for the number one ranking?
And can any of the challengers below the top four provide a greater threat to the favourites?
What is certain is that if next season brings anywhere near as much drama as this year has, we’ll be in for another treat.
For many tennis fans, there may have been some mixed emotions during this afternoon’s gold medal match in the men’s singles competition.
On one side of the court stood Andy Murray, a player with all the ability to be a multi-Grand Slam winning tennis player but who has yet to win any of the biggest prizes on offer in the sport.
Facing Murray was Roger Federer, the greatest player in tennis history, and a man who has won everything in the game – apart from an Olympic gold medal in the individual event.
Federer did, in Beijing four years ago, win a gold in the double’s competition. But in what was likely to be the last Olympics that he stood a realistic chance of competing for gold, it would have been fitting for such a great champion to complete the set of every major tennis honour by claiming victory on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. In doing so, he would match Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal in winning a career “Golden Slam”, consisting of a win in each of the four Grand Slam tournaments, and also in the individual tennis event at the Olympic games.
Ignoring the prospect of Great Britain’s place in the medals table being strengthened by a win for Murray, I was desperately hoping to see him win this time around, particularly after a loss in his first taste of a final at Wimbledon only a month ago.
The opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal comes around only once every four years but relatively few competitors ever get the chance to achieve such a feat on home soil.
Murray has been consistently been amongst the top three or four players in the world for the past five years, and in the absence of a Grand Slam title to date, being crowned Olympic champion is the least he deserves to show for his career so far.
The hope now is that a first Grand Slam title will soon follow for Murray. It’s bad luck that a player of such a high level of ability happens to have two of the greatest players of all time competing during the same era in the sport, but it’s not too late for Murray to make his own mark on the history of the sport.
Such a dominant display in the final against Federer not only shows that Murray is capable of adding major titles, but having lost in each of his four previous grand slam finals, an Olympic win will give the Brit renewed confidence going into events such as next month’s US Open.
Rafa Nadal’s determination to topple Roger Federer eventually reaped its rewards and Novak Djokovic transformed his own fortunes almost overnight in going from a regular semi-finalist at major events to a consistent winner of the biggest tennis titles.
There’s no reason to suggest that Murray cannot do the same. After all, there was little between him and Djokovic two years ago, both in terms of achievements at the time, and also the potential of each player to challenge the top two.
A win at the London Olympics doesn’t do anything to change Murray’s Grand Slam record, his achievements of beating the two top players in the world en route to a triumph in a five-set final of a major event will hopefully be the catalyst towards further success for Britain’s finest player in many a generation.
It’s men’s semi-final day at Wimbledon today, and two fascinating matches are in store.
Federer versus Djokovic has become a regular contest at the semi final stage of a grand slam tournament, with the pair having met eight times in the last four of one of the majors.
Djokovic holds the advantage of having won five of those encounters, but today’s match will mark the first time that the two players have faced each other on grass. That makes it a difficult match to predict with Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest grass court tennis player ever, performing much better this year than in either of his past two showings at the All England Club.
As well as a place in the final, both men are contending for the number one ranking in the world, with Federer set to take top spot if he can lift his seventh Wimbledon title.
The winner will face either Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and anticipation for the second of the men’s semi finals is every bit as great.
Neither of the two players involved have a grand slam title to their name, and both will sense an opportunity to put that right by the end of the week.
Andy Murray takes part in his fourth successive Wimbledon semi and while he may be relieved not to have to face Nadal this year, he’ll need no reminders of what happened in 2009 when, after seeing Nadal withdraw from the tournament due to injury, he went on to face Andy Roddick in the last four. Murray was the favourite but it was Roddick, the number six seed, who triumphed in four sets on the way to a narrow loss to Federer in the final.
Many will again consider Murray to be the favourite as he takes on Tsonga, but the Frenchman poses a genuine threat to the prospect of a first British finalist in the men’s event since 1938.
Tsonga’s ability is in no doubt and there are signs that a grand slam title may not be far away if he continues to progress. Only last month, Djokovic found Tsonga almost impossible to live with for a large part of their clash at Roland Garros, and Murray himself will recall how tough an opponent Tsonga can be, having faced him in a quarter-final at Wimbledon only two years ago.
I was in the crowd at Centre Court on that day and for much of the opening two sets, Tsonga was virtually unplayable. Home advantage certainly helped Murray, but still he was on the verge of finding himself two sets down.
Tsonga, serving with a 5-4 lead in the second set tie-break, chose the most unfortunate moment to drop points on his serve and having handed the momentum back to his opponent, it was Murray who pounced to level the match at one set all.
From that moment on, Tsonga looked beaten and there was little sign of any fight or determination to regain an advantage in the match. Having been the better player in each of the first two sets, he was swept aside with ease over the next two, both finishing 6-2 in Murray’s favour.
For me, that match perfectly summed up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and illustrated the difference between the top players, and those who are just behind. Where competitors such as Nadal, Djokovic and Murray can often find something extra and find a way to win even if circumstances don’t look to be in their favour, there are other players who have the ability to compete with the very best, but struggle to find the extra mental strength needed to fight their way out of a corner.
If Tsonga can find a way to maintain the level of tennis he is capable of for more than just a set or two, I think he’ll have too much for Murray. He’s in good form, is improving with each year, and having reached the semi final at Wimbledon for the first time last year, will be looking to go one better this time around.
But that’s a big if, and if Murray gets on top in the early stages, or the match is a close fought affair that goes to four or five sets, then I couldn’t see anything other than a Murray win.
Whatever does happen, the two matches promise plenty of drama – and on Wimbledon semi final day, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Less than a month into the new tennis season and the ATP tour has exploded into life, with the world’s best two players once again at the heart of the drama.
Following a sporting year like the one Novak Djokovic had in 2011, it is always interesting to see the response of the competitor once a new season begins.
Across various sports, there have often been examples where either a team or an individual have put so much into reaching impossible heights within the space of one season, only to find that their efforts have taken a toll physically and mentally in a way which has lasting consequences.
It was clear – and understandable – that Djokovic was tiring towards the end of the 2011 ATP season, and while his status as world number one was never in doubt, he was always going to find that 2012 would ask a different set of questions.
Could last year’s extraordinary season possibly be repeated? Could Djokovic fend off renewed and determined challenges from Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal? Would there even be scope for yet more improvement?
If the Australian Open is anything to go by, the answer to those questions has been emphatically positive.
There remains much for the Serb to do in order to earn a place among the game’s greats, but even though his third Australian Open title ranks as his most memorable triumph, his two most likely rivals have also laid down a strong statement of intent for the season and will themselves emerge from the two-week tournament with a great deal of credit.
Andy Murray fought Djokovic all the way to a tense fifth set conclusion in the semi finals and has the potential to pose an equally strong challenge if he can build on his Australian showing.
Nadal meanwhile, beaten on every occasion he faced Djokovic last year, spoke of how he had lost some of his passion for the sport towards the end of last year after a tough season.
But he also acknowledged that he needed to work harder if he was to get back to competing at the top.
The Spaniard shown a determination during the Australian final that has been missing from his game since losing the US Open final in September, and the evidence from Melbourne is that Nadal’s hunger has returned.
Djokovic won many plaudits for the way he battled against Nadal, one of the game’s greatest competitors, for almost six hours. Less attention was given to the fact that the reverse was also true, and there’s no other player on the tour at the moment who could compete with Djokovic throughout a match lasting so long.
That Nadal even lost the match was in some ways his own doing, when taking into account some of his errors at crucial times, most notably in the final set when, already a break up, he missed an opportunity to cement his advantage by hitting the ball out at the net with the whole court to aim at.
Djokovic himself faulted on a shot at 5-3 up in the fourth set tie break, but having turned that around to take it into a deciding fifth set, Nadal had no margin for further mistakes.
The major error he did make, which set Djokovic on the way to breaking back, didn’t just ensure that the contest was levelled, but swung momentum back in Djokovic’s favour at a time when it looked like he was heading for certain defeat.
The thin line between success and failure was visibly demonstrated and if there was ever a match which deserved to be called a draw, this was it.
Unfortunately for Nadal there did have to be a runner-up, but if the match is a taste of what this growing rivalry will offer during 2012, he’ll have many more opportunities and it certainly won’t be long before he takes one.
Andy Murray may still be without a Grand Slam title but after his performance against Novak Djokovic earlier today, there’ll be a growing number of people who believe that it is only a matter of time before that changes.
Under the coaching of Ivan Lendl – himself a four-time Australian Open finalist, winning two – Murray has already shown signs of progression.
The contrast between the tame, straight sets defeat that Murray suffered in last year’s final, and today’s match could not have been greater.
The 2011 Australian final was not even a contest. Djokovic went into the competition on the back of an impressive run of form which began in the summer of 2010 and included a series of outstanding performances in the US Open, a tournament which he would have seen success in had it he not faced an inspired Rafa Nadal in the final.
Casual British observers and sections of the British press got excited at the prospect that Murray would finally lift a Grand Slam title, based on the fact that he wasn’t up against Federer or Nadal. But to the majority, Djokovic was the in-form red-hot favourite and the win that he went on to secure was the first of many during a record-breaking calendar year.
Twelve months on, Djokovic remains the best tennis player in the world. Not only a supremely talented player, but one who is now up there with the toughest competitors on the tour, able to match even the likes of Nadal and Hewitt for sheer guts and determination.
None of those players know when they are beaten and that has often been an area where Murray has let himself down during the majors. While he provides a match for any player, both in terms of desire and ability, he has shown a tendancy to self destruct at crucial times, particularly when matches have started to slip away.
There was none of that today, though.
After losing the first set to Djokovic and then suffering an immediate break of serve in the second to go 0-2 down, Murray dug deep and took six of the next seven games, including three straight breaks of the Djokovic serve to level the match.
He took the next set, too, after saving five set points.
Djokovic ran away with the fourth and looked all set for victory after securing the all important break in the fifth and final set on the way to establishing a 5-2 lead. Murray again needed to give everything he had in order to hold serve and stay in the game, and followed up by breaking Djokovic to love.
The quality of tennis on display was breathtaking, with neither player showing the signs of fatigue that they’d have been fully entitled to show following the effort that both had given.
In the end it was Djokovic who survived a trio of break points which Murray earned at 5-5, and he went on to break the Scot and qualify for his third Melbourne final, and his seventh at Grand Slam events.
Unlike the aftermath of Murray’s previous Grand Slam final defeats, which have all been in straight sets, or following the brutal beatings handed out to him by Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon and US Open last season, no questions will need to be asked of Murray’s performance this time.
It would be premature to get too carried away after an improved showing on what has traditionally been Murray’s favourite surface of all the grand slams, but after matching the world’s best for five hours, he has emphatically answered the question of whether he genuinely has what it takes.
As Djokovic did last year, Murray needs to maintain such a level consistently. If he does, his time will not be far away.
Sporting highlight of the weekend for me was watching Leyton Hewitt move into the fourth round of the Australian Open, after a thrilling clash with Milos Raonic.
Despite being renowned for his battling qualities, after losing the first set against the talented youngster, Hewitt looked at times like a man who just wasn’t going to have quite enough to turn it around, but levelled the tie after the second.
It was in the decisive third set when much of the drama took place, Hewitt putting his all into earning a break of serve midway through the set but immediately surrendering his advantage in losing his next service game to love.
Into the tie break which resulted from a failure by either player to break serve, Hewitt went on to take a 6-3 lead and give himself a trio of set points with the first two of those opportunities on his own serve.
The excitement grew amongst the home fans, though Raonic wasn’t finished. He saved the first two set points and then, on his own serve, looked poised to level the tie break when he set himself up for a forehand smash at the net… before inexblicably netting and gifting Hewitt the third set and an overall lead in the match for the first time.
Even at a more senior age than many of his opponents, it remains a joy to watch Hewitt in such form, and still demonstrating a combination of talent and sheer determination – the very qualities that once took him to number one and helped him become a Grand Slam winner.
The mood of the 21-year-old Canadian dropped noticeably in a fourth set which Hewitt quickly took control of. From then on, the outcome was inevitable.
Raonic was named ATP Newcomer of the Year after making outstanding progress throughout 2011. In doing so he followed in the footsteps of the likes of John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Rafa Nadal.
He is a player with the ability and potential to make further strides this season, too, but needs to keep his head held high even when he’s not on top. Such an attitude is always necessary in order to compete at the very top.
And for an example of the determination required of a champion, Raonic need look no further than Hewitt.
Congratulations to Andy Murray after winning the Cincinnati Masters title last night.
The win, achieved after Novak Djokovic retired midway through the second set, will set Murray up perfectly for another shot at the US Open, which starts next week.
Many feel that the New York based tournament represents Murray’s best chance of securing his first Grand Slam title, and he will also have boosted his confidence by claiming a win over a man who over the last nine months has been virtually unbeatable.
Djokovic’s had already lost the first set and trailed by a double break in the second when he retired due to injury, but that shouldn’t take away from Murray’s triumph.
The Scot has proved time and time again that he is capable of competing with the very best, as his head-to-head records against Federer and Nadal will confirm.
If Djokovic goes into the US Open with doubts over his fitness, then Murray must be considered as likely a winner as any at the tennis calendar’s final major of the year.
Coupled with the indifferent form of Roger and Rafa, there’s no reason why Murray shouldn’t feel as though his first big success is just around the corner.
Unless you were hoping for a British winner, Wimbledon once again failed to let us down.
There may have been only few major shocks, but there were plenty of results which would have taken the majority by surprise, and certainly no shortage of drama.
Nothing particularly new has been learnt, but a couple of things have been further confirmed by the event’s latter stages.
Firstly, Andy Murray, as good as he is, just isn’t good enough to beat Rafael Nadal at his best. At Wimbledon anyway.
Evidence of Nadal’s brilliance was in no short supply during his semi final with the British number one, but the error count was one of the more telling statistics. In a Wimbledon semi final against a player of Murray’s calibre, a tally of seven unforced errors across four sets is almost as close to perfection as is possible to achieve.
Murray is capable of beating Nadal, and there’s no doubt he’ll prove it multiple times during the remainder of his career. But despite many pundits suggesting Murray was favourite to win their contest this time around, the Spaniard remains simply too strong for Murray at SW19.
The past two weeks have also proved beyond doubt that Novak Djokovic is looking to remain at the top of men’s tennis. 50 wins from 51 matches this year have catapulted him to number one in the world. Barring an almighty change in fortunes, which would need to be combined with Rafa Nadal successfully defending the US Open title later this year, Djokovic will end 2011 in top spot.
Anyone doubting whether he could maintain the explosive form which he showed at the start of the year have long been forced to re-consider. So too those who suggested Nadal would be too strong for him during the clay court season. And now, those who failed to see Djokovic conquering Wimbledon will, too, have been proved wrong.
Just as Nadal failed to be overwhelmed by Federer’s total dominance and rose to the challenge of reaching, even surpassing, the level at which Federer was at, Djokovic has refused to accept his place alongside Murray as “best of the rest”. While so often failing to reach his potential at Grand Slam level, Djokovic has showed occasional glimpses of what he is capable of, most notably during some epic matches at the US Open.
He has now added consistency and a greater confidence to his game and is reaping the rewards. Most of the questions asked of him are being answered, and attention will now turn to the likes of Nadal, Murray and Federer, and how they will respond.
The only big question remaining for Djokovic to answer is whether he can remain on top, year after year.
The two weeks of Wimbledon are always a treat.
The most British of sporting events manages to capture not only the hearts of tennis fans around the world, but also those of many people who, for whatever reason, have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the sport outside of late June/early July.
Not a year goes by without plenty of drama – and this year has been no exception.
From the rise and rise of Bernard Tomic, the 18-year-old Australian who came through the qualifiers and has since dumped the likes of Nikolay Davydenko and Robin Soderling unceremoniously out of the tournament, to yesterday’s action in the Ladies singles event which saw both of the Williams’ sisters lose in the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time. Venus and Serena’s losses were in addion to world number one Caroline Wozniacki somehow failing to progress despite enjoying a two game lead in the deciding set, and having earlier stormed through a first set which she took 6-1.
Wozniacki’s exit leaves her still without a Grand Slam title, and will again no doubt again raise the question of how a player can remain at the top of the sport’s rankings without having secured a major title. It also leaves the tournament wide open, with former champion Maria Sharapova the only player in the quarter finals to have even the experience of a Grand Slam final.
The big story of the men’s event may be that of Tomic, but the all of the big names are still in the draw, making it to the quarter finals without much fuss.
Britain’s hopes of a men’s singles winner continue to rest on the shoulders of Andy Murray, whose form has improved as he has progressed through each round.
Rafa Nadal too has looked more and more like the player to beat, and barring a surprise in either his or Murray’s quarter final ties, the two will meet in the semi final for the second year running.
With Djokovic and Federer also reaching the last eight as expected, it is difficult to see past the top four seeds when looking for a potential winner. But there still remains plenty of potential for a shock or two, as there was at the same stage of last year’s tournament when Tomas Berdych denied Federer the chance to contest an eighth consecutive Wimbledon final.
Whether the top four make it a repeat of the semi final line up at Roland Garros earlier in the month, or whether Tomic, Lopez, Tsonga or Fish upset the script and add their own names to the list of semi-finalists, there is certain to be much more drama before Sunday’s conclusion.