Hardman's Thoughts

Pretty much everything…


Leave a comment

Ramble #13

Later for London?

I’m sat here watching Gael Monfils struggling against Dominic Thiem in their second matches at the ATP World Tour Finals.

Dom won the first set against Novak Djokovic, but lost the next two comfortably. Gael was easily beaten by an efficient Milos Raonic. This is a must win match for both men and, as I write this (6-3, 0-1 (30-30)), it’s the Austrian who looks more likely. 

Gael just doesn’t look like he’s fully fit (although he has just broken Thiem …), like Andy Murray didn’t last night, and, although I didn’t see it, Stan Wawrinka in the earlier match. 

Raonic came into this tournament carrying a knock, and Marin Cilic wasn’t 100% either. And this isn’t a new thing. Every year players pull out or don’t play at their best due to fatigue and niggly injuries. Held with just a weeks break from the last masters of the year in Paris, maybe the organisers need to look at a rescheduling. 

Firstly, this is meant to be the year-ending tournament, however, the Davis Cup final is yet to be played. Last year, Andy didn’t really turn up at the O2, his thoughts very much on winning the Davis Cup. Are we seeing something similar from Marin Cilic this year? The big Croat looked unbelievably flat last night, there’s no question that in his usual guise he would have punished Murray for an incredibly weak set. 

The Davis Cup scenario also makes it very difficult to calculate who will end as year-end number one this year. Andy will lose points following this tournament. While it can’t happen this year, in theory the world number one could win the tour finals, beating the world number two in the final, and yet not finish the year atop of the rankings. 

But all of that is just a minor point used to back up my bigger one about fatigue.

We all want to see the top eight players playing at their best. We don’t want to see a load of tired professionals, struggling to move their legs for one final week.

Give them an extra week, play the Davis Cup final first. 

The players will be happier with the extra rest, the spectators will be more willing to pay money to see closer matches. We want to see long rallies, heart-stopping moments, breathtaking winners. We don’t want to see unforced error after unforced error.

Someone in the village I live in described Wawrinka as amateur yesterday. That may well be true. But if it is, it’s only because the scheduling surrounding this wonderful tournament is amateur. 

Advertisements


1 Comment

Who’s going to win in London?

The ATP World Tour Finals are always worth watching. Any tournament which features only the top eight in the world is bound to be full of excitement and, while the drawing of the group stages has slightly dampened expectations this year (at least on one half), it should be no different in 2016.

In Group McEnroe, or the group of death, new World Number One Andy Murray (boy, it feels good to write that!) faces Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic. All have reached Grand Slam finals, all have a genuine shot at getting out of the group, and winning the title.

Over in Group Lendl, Novak Djokovic has three players he’s never lost against: Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem. If you weren’t expecting to see those last two there, don’t worry – none of the tennis correspondents on this blog predicted either.

At the start of the year, a group of friends and I made predictions for how this year would pan out. It’s fair to say, very little of it has happened! I’ll do a blog after the tour finals looking at who did best, but before then – I thought it best to ask them who they now feel will win next week, and see what has changed.

us2

Charlie Marriott: 

Who he said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who he thinks now: Novak Djokovic

Why? It’ll obviously be Djokovic because Murray will bottle it now he’s #1.

Emma Still:

Who she said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who she thinks now: Marin Cilic

Why? He beat Djokovic in Paris, why can’t he do it in London?

Gareth Hardman:

Who I said at the start of the year: Roger Federer

Who I think now: Gael Monfils

Why? Well the Federer prediction has fallen away to 16th in the ranking, so I needed to find a new horse to back. And I’ve been convinced for a long time that, if he qualified, Gael Monfils would reach the semi-finals. Having seen the groups, I am strongly backing that, and the Frenchman would face either a fatigued Murray, an inconsistent Wawrinka, a Cilic with other tournaments on the horizon or Nishikori. I think he can win all of those matches. And then, why not? Why couldn’t he win? I feel tennis is due a shake-up, and Gael is just the man to provide it.

James Doan:

Who he said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who he thinks now: Andy Murray

Why? You would have to fancy Murray with his relentless form.. but it’s not a happy hunting ground for the lad- I don’t know why? Only tiredness and fatigue can stop him. Also, watch out for Stan, he’s a big game player and he should be well rested.

Josh Hockley-Still:

Who he said at the start of the year: Stan Wawrinka

Who he thinks now: Stan Wawrinka

Why? Andy rarely plays his best at the O2, he’s had a whirlwind few weeks, and in a nightmare group. Novak has a simple group, which I think he’ll get through, but after that I’m not convinced he’s ready to beat the very best yet. So I don’t think it’ll be one of those two, Stan usually plays well at the O2, and when he gets on a roll, he’s very difficult to stop.

Now you’ve seen what we think – who do you think is going to win? Let us know in the comments below!


3 Comments

How 2016 Will Finish (part I)

It is quickly becoming a tradition for my friends and I to predict what men’s tennis will look like in 12 months time, in terms of the top 10 and slam winners. This year we are extending it to include the women’s and olympics winner. This first one is a look at the men’s side, with the burning question – do we think Djokovic’s Dominance will continue?

Doing the men with me are Charlie Marriot, Emma Still, James Doan and Josh Still. Charlie, Emma and Josh have all done this before, James is new to it and is only doing the men’s side. Good luck to all my fellow bloggers. All the graphics were designed by Emma, and I am forever grateful for her photoshop skills in the development of this.

us2

We’ll start with the top five, and explanations.

Table

Charlie: 

Pretty much status quo at the top – Federer‘s natural decline will continue but I would imagine he will have at least 1 semi-final appearance at a Slam.

Emma:

Djokovic’s dominance will continue into 2016, highlighted with my picks for the big tournament. Federer seems to be getting better despite his age, with my theory being that it’s purely so he can win the Rio Olympics in 2016. I think he will. Murray is consistently amongst the top four, and three seems to be a perfect position for him. Nishikori has vast potential, and while last year wasn’t great, the next very well might be. His game is still good enough to challenge the best. Wawrinka is on a slight decline, but he’s still good enough for top 5.

Gareth:

I believe the top 4 pick themselves; the only issue for debate is the order. Djokovic will be world number 1 without hell freezing over, and it is likely with his late season form, plus lack of points to defend, that Nadal will be second. Federer and Murray could both quite easily finish third, I’ve plumped for Murray on the basis that I imagine he’ll be more consistent over the course of a year, even if Federer has more individual success. Wawrinka is now a permanent fixture amongst the top 10, and even if he doesn’t win a slam in 2016 (which I don’t think he will), he is still better than the vast majority of tennis players.

James:

Novak Djokovic amassed a record breaking 16,585 ranking points last year after reaching all four grand slam finals, winning a record 11 masters series events before winning the World Tour Finals event in November at the o2 in London. The only major title that eluded him was the French Open where he was defeated by Stan Wawrinka in four sets at Roland Garros. The only certainty about predicting the top 10 in male tennis is that Novak will be number 1. Roger Federer played some of the best tennis of his career in beating Andy Murray in straight sets in the semi-final of Wimbledon before losing to Djokovic in the final. He also reached the final of the US Open before losing to Djokovic once again. 2015 was a landmark year for Murray who won the Davis Cup on his own. He also enjoyed his most accomplished year on clay winning two titles and beating Rafael Nadal on the surface for the first time in the final of the Madrid Masters. It is a big year for Murray who is expecting the birth of his first child in February as well as committing to play in Davis Cup competition once again. I expect that Muzza may struggle to replicate the consistency of last season and relinquish his number spot in the rankings. Nadal looked ready to compete with the world’s best once again at the World Tour Finals in London in November. He looked to be back to somewhere near his best form in his demolition of Murray in the round robin stage. A good clay court season could see him retain his place amongst tennis ‘big four.’ Out of all the players in the current top 10, Stan the Man seems the only one capable of trading blows with Novak Djokovic in a best of five sets match. Stan hit Djokovic off the court to win the French Open and if the Swiss could add more consistency to his game he could move even higher up the rankings.

Josh:

There’s no debate about the no. 1 position – Djokovic has become a ‘Big 1’ within the ‘Big 4’, and it’s hard to imagine what, barring a serious injury, could stop him finishing top of the rankings for the 5th time in 6 years. Indeed, I think he has a serious chance of completing the Grand Slam for the first time since Rod Laver in 1969; his physicality is such that I just don’t see who will beat him over 5 sets, and as a patriot, I fully expect him to win Olympic gold in Rio too. Behind Djokovic, I predict that Nadal will bounce back from a lacklustre year ’15 just as Federer did from ‘13 and Murray from ’14. Murray’s consistency will see him at no. 3. Federer, who will be 35 next summer, will drop down to 4 as I’m not sure he’ll be able to produce his best every week – but he should still have a couple of Slam runs left in him.

It may seem a little harsh not to include Stan Wawrinka in the Big 4 – after all, he has won a Slam and finished in the top 4 in each of the last 2 years. But while he’s a threat to any of them on his day, he will never have their unrelenting consistency and, thanks to Djokovic’s dominance, I don’t think he’ll win a Slam this year. Assuming he doesn’t, no. 5 is actually generous – he wouldn’t have been ranked that loftily for the past 2 years without a Slam win.

 

And now the bottom half

Table2

Charlie:

Goffin is showing more promise so a good run at some 500 rank tournaments could see him slip by Tsonga, Dmitrov et al into that 10th place.

Emma:

Tomas Berdych lives at number 6. I don’t see Nadal’s body holding up for a year. He looked good at the end of last year but I don’t think that’ll last. Ferrer is getting older but still seems to always be in and around the top 10 so you’d be stupid to bet against him being there again. Raonic and Cilic, with age and experience, are too good not to return to the top 10.

Gareth:

The second half of my top 10 highlights the severe lack of depth in men’s tennis. It essentially hasn’t changed in the last two years. I think Berdych and Nishikori will stay, Raonic and Cilic will return with Goffin being the sole debutant. Why Goffin? His match against Murray in the Davis Cup proved he can play, and genuinely threaten, the best. Goffin’s place could quite easily still go to Ferrer, even at 34.

James:

2015 was not a great year for Japanese star, Kei Nishikori. Losing in the first round of the US open and withdrawing from his second round match at Wimbledon through injury. However at 26 Nishikori should be entering his peak years as a professional tennis player and playing injury free I expect him to cement his place in the world’s top 10. Berdych has been a consistent performer on the male tennis circuit for nearly a decade. A regular beyond the fourth round of grand slam tournaments I expect the Czech to remain between 6-10 in the rankings throughout the year. For Kevin Anderson, 2015 was something of a breakthrough year. The big South African reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and Wimbledon for the first time in 2015 as well as reaching his first quarter final in a grand slam at the US Open culminating in reaching a career high world number 10 in October 2015. The indomitable Ferrer will almost certainly finish the year inside the games top 10. He does every year. If Nick Kyrgios can keep his head together, the talented Aussie can be a top 10 player for many years to come. However, that is like saying that if Daniel Sturridge can stay fit England can win the Euros. Nonetheless, Kyrgios is a huge talent and a good run at his home Slam in Melbourne could set the tone for a big year for the big mouth.

 

Josh:

I could easily have put Nishikori ahead of Wawrinka, as he has the potential to develop into a genuinely world-class player, who has also shown that he can trouble all of the Big 4 – but will his injury-prone body ever be able to get through a full season?! I could have put him in the top 5, or judged that his injury record merited leaving him out of the top 10 altogether, but in the end I compromised by putting him at no. 6.

There was fierce competition for the remaining 4 places. Berdych at no. 7 – does any more need to be said? My wildcard is Kyrgios at no. 8! He’s into his twenties now, and assuming he’s maturing both on and off the court, there’s no reason not to consider him a future Grand Slam champion. He has a temperament perfectly suited to the big stage, so I’m expecting at least one run to the semi-finals or even the final of a Slam in 2016; probably Wimbledon, or his home slam in Australia. My list finishes with Ferrer and Cilic – I keep predicting Ferrer’s demise, but even though I think the days of him going deep into the second week of Slams are over, he should win enough 250 and 500 tournaments to stay in the top 10.   Cilic actually could contend for Slams, and now that he seems to be over his injuries, is too good not to be there or thereabouts after a full season on tour.

Ending with a look at the grand slam, and other major tournament, prospects, and it’s fair to say one man from Serbia dominates … 

Table3

Charlie has given a little note on the pattern amongst our slam winners: Normal service to be resumed at the main tournaments after a couple of unexpected years, the newer names seem to be settled in now so while they’re all likely to challenge, I think this year will (sadly) be a return to the more conventional list of champions.

Table4

 

Josh provides us with a tip of the player to watch:

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO

Juan-Martin-Del-Potro_zps8660ecc8

I know I said this last year and ended up with egg on my face, but if the giant Argentine attempts another injury comeback, he will remain the most exciting player in tennis, and if he retains only a fraction of his awesome abilities, one of the very best. I’ll be following his progress closely. On the domestic front, Kyle Edmund’s burgeoning career is worth watching after an encouraging Davis Cup debut. Borna Coric, Alex Zverev, Hyeon Chung and Thanasi Kokkinakis are all hugely talented youngsters now firmly enmeshed in the world’s top 100, so hopefully they can continue their development this year.


Leave a comment

Wimbledon 2015: The Male Favourites

The main section of Wimbledon begins in just under a week. It’s strange how a competition that happens every year can remain so special year upon year. Wimbledon has a little bit of magic to it, something different from the plethora of tennis tournaments that happen every week. There are many different competitions taking place, men’s and ladies’ singles and doubles, mixed doubles, wheelchair doubles, junior singles and doubles as well as legends doubles. Between mid morning and late evening every day for two weeks, the BBC will be full of tennis. It really is heaven for British tennis fans.

Although, with the increased exposure of tennis on terrestrial TV comes the casual tennis fans. The ones who seem to think tennis only exists for two weeks a year, those who probably only watch football and thus get bored when there’s no football and so turn to tennis. They probably have only heard of Federer and Nadal, they probably think that Fred Perry is just a clothing brand and are almost certainly the ones calling Andy Murray “boring” and “lacking in personality”, except with stronger language. These people are the bane of my life, for example they don’t understand the difference between a game and a match, and led me to quit twitter during Wimbledon 2 years ago. Casual fans are fine, I don’t expect everyone to follow every sport religiously – it just annoys me that with tennis they seem to pipe up with their uneducated opinion without anyone asking for it, or even needing it. They aren’t what this blog is about; I just wanted to get it off my chest!

It’s time for me to focus on the men’s draw, and take a look at who I think the favourites will be. Below are the players who I think have the best shot at winning the title, in order of their chances. It’s likely the winner will come from the top 2, however below that there are a lot of players who will give it a good shot. It’s unlikely, but tennis does throw up a shock or two every now and then. Djokovic could meet an Ancic in the first round; Murray could meet a Soderling in the third. Wimbledon is the only slam played on grass that brings with a greater importance to hold serve. Big servers and good returners do well here, increasing the likelihood of a new champion. Also, with Wawrinka and Cilic winning slams recently, the era of the big 4 seems well and truly over. Will that reflect in the winner at Wimbledon? The next two weeks will tell!

Why am I doing this for the men and not for the women? Well the women’s draw is much harder to predict, essentially because best of 3 sets means that shocks are more likely. I feel more comfortable doing this for the men’s, although that isn’t to say I won’t write something for the women at some point if I have time!

  1. Novak Djokovic (world ranking: 1, best Wimbledon: W in 2011, 2014):

I can spout all I like about it being the most open Wimbledon for years; the simple truth is that it’s hard to look beyond the reigning champion. The World Number 1 always cruises through the first 4 rounds; usually without dropping a set and thus when it comes to longer matches he has the physical advantage. Furthermore, Djokovic usually gets blessed with kind draws (or maybe he makes every draw kind) and there only seems to be 2 or 3 people who can actually beat him. Those people have usually been pushed earlier in the tournament and therefore unless they start well won’t challenge the Serbian. I’d be handing him the title if he hadn’t lost at Roland Garros.

Novak-Djokovic-beats-Rafael-Nadal-for-Wimbledon-Crown

  1. Andy Murray (world ranking: 3, best Wimbledon: W in 2013):

Another reason for Djokovic being the clear favourite is his one sided recent record over clear second favourite Andy Murray. Murray hasn’t beaten Djokovic since his Wimbledon victory in 2013, meaning he’s lost the last 8 matches the two have played. Given that it’s almost certain he’ll be seeded 3rd, a meeting with Djokovic could happen as early as the semi-final. Recent history will need to be re-written. Even then there is hope. When Murray was ill at the French Open, he still managed to push Djokovic to 5 sets over 2 days. Add that to his grass record over the Serb (2-0 in Murray’s favour) and you can see why there’s a good chance Andy will be adding to his 2 Grand Slams. Andy needs to be at his best, Novak needs to be slightly off but if anyone can beat Djokovic on grass then it surely has to be the Briton?

newmain_1759599a

  1. Stan Wawrinka (world ranking: 4, best Wimbledon: QF 2014):

I think Stan will be very disappointed with his Wimbledon record. Only one quarterfinal spot, he’s lost in the first round 5 times and hence it looks unlikely he’ll win this year! However, he has the game to survive, nay flourish, on grass and is now a multiple-Slam winner. The French champ may have lost early at Queen’s but that tournament won’t matter to him, he’s after Wimbledon. On his day, he can destroy anyone. It was only a few weeks ago that he beat Federer without being broken once. We all know that Wawrinka has the power to end any rally abruptly, his Achilles heel had been his unreliable serve. If his serve is working at Wimbledon then it wouldn’t surprise me to see him beating both Djokovic and Murray. If Wawrinka can find some consistency, then he won’t retire with only 2 Grand Slam titles.

635692835537588333-USP-TENNIS-FRENCH-OPEN-DJOKOVIC-VS-WAWRINKA-73619744

  1. Roger Federer (world ranking: 2, best Wimbledon: W in 2003,04,05,06,07,09 and 2012):

While I don’t consider Federer a serious threat for 3 out of 4 Slams these days, you can’t ignore his talent on grass. Federer is a real danger this year. He’s desperate for one last Slam and is probably the only player as comfortable, if not more, than Murray on grass. Furthermore, the second seeding means he could avoid both Djokovic and Murray before the final, allowing them to wear themselves out hence leaving the door open for the Swiss number 1. That being said, Federer is unbelievably inconsistent these days and could he beat Dimitrov, Nishikori and then Wawrinka/Murray in 3 consecutive rounds as he might have to? I’d say it’s unlikely. With a favourable draw and in the right spirit, Federer could sneak his way into the final and possibly more. Without it, it may be another early exit. Since 09, he’s only reached 2 Wimbledon finals – he’s no longer a huge threat.

federer_2012_wimbledon_228

  1. Kei Nishikori (world ranking: 5, best Wimbledon: 4R 2014):

Nishikori has been something of a late bloomer, hanging around the top 50 until a surge in 2014 rocketed him up to 5th and then 4th. He also knows how to get on rolls. In 2014 he nearly beat Nadal on clay, before reaching the US Open final – beating Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic in a row. Once he gets going, the Japanese man is tough to beat. And no wonder, his style allows for no let up in intensity from his opponents and has enough power to hit through most players. He’s got a defensive game as good as Murray and Djokovic’s, a serve as consistent as Federer’s and his strength lies in returning – you can see why such a player will be dangerous, especially on grass. His record at Wimbledon is shocking however I expect him to change that this year and could well go all the way – he has to win a Slam soon if he is ever going to.

Britain Wimbledon Tennis

  1. Milos Raonic (world ranking: 7, best Wimbledon: SF 2014):

It would take a lot for Raonic to win Wimbledon. Probably an illness to both Djokovic and Murray, avoiding Federer (or letting someone else take him out), Wawrinka losing early on and playing better than Nishikori at some point. However, we can’t rule the Canadian out. He reached the semi-final last year and it would be wrong to ignore that as a fluke. Big servers do well on grass, with easy points a must as players feel they can break every game. Therefore it’s highly likely that if Raonic is to win a slam, it will be Wimbledon. Unlike Nishikori or Dimitrov who can realistically win any of the slams, this is Roanic’s best shot. A seventh seeding places him just inside the top 8, which could be a massive advantage.

Day Nine: The Championships - Wimbledon 2014

Tomas Berdych (wr: 6), Marin Cilic (wr: 9) and Grigor Dimitrov (wr: 11):

The quality in depth of men’s tennis at the moment is absurd. I’ve listed 6 players, all of whom have a genuine shot at Wimbledon and yet haven’t mentioned one of last year’s semi-finalists, the reigning US Open champion and a former Wimbledon finalist. I’m grouping them together mainly so I don’t ramble on for too long but also because they are the best of the rest! Cilic and Dimitrov would be higher if not for the likelihood that they will be seeded outside the top 8 and therefore have to play a member of the top 8 (possibly Djokovic or Murray) in the fourth round. It’s unrealistic to tip them for the title, even though they clearly have the game to win, when they could have to beat Federer, Nishikori and Murray just to reach the final! Berdych is arguably playing the best tennis of his life this year however you could say the same about Wawrinka and Murray and they are both better than the Czech. If the draw gets turned upside down, one of these 3 could capitalise however that’s their best chance.

_75527980_dimitrov450598426

Players who won’t win it, but could knock out one or two big names:

Kevin Anderson:

The big South African recently reached the Queens final, beating Wawrinka along the way. Clearly comfortable on grass, his serve means that breaking him will require you to work over time. He’s also consistent, only once since the start of 2013 has he not reached the 3rd round of a slam. The flip side to that is he has never gone beyond the 4th round, but then again he’s clearly in some form and so this could be the first time he reaches the quarterfinals.

Feliciano Lopez:

Possibly the only Spaniard in history to prefer grass courts to clay; Lopez (or Deliciano to Judy Murray) is always a danger at Wimbledon. His three grand slam quarters have all been at the all-England club and if he draws Berdych, Nadal or Ferrer at the 3rd, 4th round stage then you wouldn’t bet against him doing it again. Certainly one the top guys would like to avoid.

The French contingent:

Out of Tsonga, Monfils, Simon and Gasquet the first has the best chance of going the furthest at Wimbledon however none will be easy matches for anyone. To make it worse, Monfils and Gasquet are lingering outside of the top 16 seeds and therefore could face a top ten player as early as Friday/Saturday next week. Monfils in the third round is quite possibly the worst third round draw of all time.

Nick Kyrgios:

Kyrgios reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year and thus it’s difficult to know just how high he will be seeded. It’s unlikely he’ll make the top 16 and therefore could rival Monfils for worst third round draw. Only Murray seems to have a handle on him and at some point even that will fail. Kyrgios just loves the big stage, and will be desperate to defend his points. No one will be relishing facing the Aussie if he finds a similar level to last year.

maxresdefault

The unseeded ones:

Anyone outside of the top 32 is a threat at any point; you just need a quick glance over tennis history to prove that! However, there are some you fear more than others. Although it’s possible he will get a seed, Philip Kohlschreiber of Germany is now ranked 33rd in the world. The man who can beat anyone on his day could well face Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the first round! Or Novak Djokovic in the second! A player that dangerous and possibly unseeded is a clear threat. At 43 in the world, it’s certain that Gilles Muller won’t have a seed for Wimbledon. Does that make him any less of a threat? No, and at Queens recently he beat Dimitrov before very nearly beating Murray. Watch out for him, he’ll be lurking dangerously somewhere. Also keep an eye on Verdasco and Pospisil, both are nightmare first or second round ties.

And finally…

There are two players who reside in the top 10 which I haven’t talked about yet. One of them is a two-time Wimbledon champion but sadly is no longer a threat on the green grass of London. Rafael Nadal simply won’t make it as far as the quarterfinals; it’s possible he won’t even make the second week. His knees don’t play on grass, he just lost his French Open crown and he couldn’t even beat Dolgopolov at Queens. It’s a sad end to a wonderful career. David Ferrer isn’t a threat either; instead he’s a dream draw for those ranked outside the top 10. Never truly comfortable on grass, one can’t imagine him wasting too much energy at Wimbledon now or in the future. By not caring about SW19, it will almost certainly prolong his career.

f_09-06-TropheesRG2013-NadalFerrer-03

Realistically, I think there is only likely to be 4 contenders for the title at Wimbledon this year however it would be wrong to ignore the pedigree of Nishikori and Raonic. As the rest of the article showed, there are a number of names lurking in the draw, ready to pounce and dethrone the current kings of tennis and therefore it’s not going to be an easy Wimbledon to pass through. You feel like Djokovic is almost owed a draw where he faces Muller, Kohlschreiber, Monfils, Dimitrov, Nishikori, Wawrinka and Murray/Federer and such a draw is unlikely but possible.

Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself it will be exciting however I feel there is a good chance of a new winner of Wimbledon this year. At the very least, the French Open final would have shown the field that Djokovic is vulnerable in Slams and that Wawrinka is a serious threat. Djokovic prioritised the French over everything this year, with that now lost there is a question of motivation for Wimbledon. However, the man is more like a machine and it’s unlikely that any lack of desire will hinder his chances of winning this title. Unfortunately, like everything else with men’s tennis right now, it will come down to how well Djokovic is playing as to whether he wins or not. But you know that Federer, Murray and Wawrinka will all feel like they can beat him on the biggest stage.


Leave a comment

The True Supercoach

Supercoach
n.

  1. A former player who achieved success in the sport (usually but not exclusive to a lot of success), made a memorable impact on the sport and has returned to coach a famous player.
  2. An incredibly successful coach, with more than one athlete.
It started with Lendl, Ivanisevic and Chang

It started with Lendl, Ivanisevic and Chang

Going into 2012, the big tennis news was that former 8 time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl had become Andy Murray’s coach. While this wasn’t the first time a former great had returned to the game to coach a famous star, it kicked off the modern era, which now sees almost all of the top 10 being coached by so called “supercoaches”. With Murray leading the charge, future top 10 players Cilic and Nishikori hired Ivanisevic and Chang respectably, followed by Becker and Edberg joining Djokovic and Federer. In 2014, all four players have had great success, inspired by the success of their coaches and long time idols. Following Lendl’s departure, Murray hired another former player – this time Amelie Mauresmo. Of the two definitions provided, all 6 would firmly belong in the first. They have all made tiny but significant changes to their pupil’s game and turned them into a more formidable opponent, or Slam winner, but haven’t yet done enough to consider themselves amongst the greats of coaching.

In 2014 came Becker, Edberg and Mauresmo

In 2014 came Becker, Edberg and Mauresmo

Although largely ignored by the media, by definition the term supercoach has to have a secondary meaning, in many ways a more obvious one. As described above, a supercoach could mean someone who has set a few players on the path towards the top 10, grand slam finalists and beyond. One that remained with their subject all the way on that path would be even better. The two that spring immediately to mind here are Bob Brett and Nick Bollettieri. Also included in this definition could be Brad Gilbert, who had a decent playing career reaching 4th in the rankings before coaching Aggasi, Roddick, Murray and Nishikori, with varying success (it would be wrong of me not to mention the sleeping giant of British tennis here, Bogdanovic, who was also coached by Gilbert – I guess we all have that ex we regret ever seeing naked).

The true supercoach is possibly the person who can cross both bridges. One who has footprints in both camps? Or maybe a true supercoach is purely a great player who became a great coach. Does anyone tick both boxes? To answer that we should first explore both options, starting with what makes a player and coach great. Personally, I would argue a great coach is one who takes a good player, possibility languishing in 20-30 in the rankings and makes them capable of competing for Grand Slam titles. Furthermore, they should be able to do it more than once. Doing it once shows you found the right person to coach; doing it twice and more proves you’re a talented coach. It’s harder to define what makes a great player as no definition truly fits the majesty of the word, which is over-used (by myself included) anyway. Maybe we can agree that to be considered great you have to win a slam, spend time in the top 2 of the rankings and be remembered for your exploits in more than your own country. That still encompasses a wide range of players but is merely a drop in the ocean compared to how many have played the sport. Using my definitions of great, I certainly can’t think of an example of a great player becoming a great coach. So, the true supercoach is someone who can be considered in both definitions, even if they aren’t prominent in one.

True supercoach?

True supercoach?

Step forward Magnus Norman. Taking this back to the definitions at the top of this article, how does he fit into the first category? For that, I must draw your attention to 6 months at the start of 2000. A player, who had helped win the Davis Cup for Sweden in 1998 but had suffered with illnesses and injuries, appeared in Australia for the first slam of the year and made it all the way to the semi-finals. He followed that up with a title in the Rome Masters and an appearance at the French Open final, losing to Gustavo Kuerten. Of the 6 finals he played that year, that was the only one he lost, going on to reach the tour finals and finish the year 4th in the world with a time of it spent 2nd. Yes, it was merely a flash in the pan but I’d argue it’s good enough for the first category. You could claim that in those 6 months, and by winning the Davis Cup, Norman made a bigger impact on the tennis world than Henman or Rusedski did in their entire careers and both of those would be considered supercoaches in this country (yes, Rusedski reached the US Open final in 1997 but he didn’t face a single seed along the way – Norman faced future world number 1 Safin in the quarters).

Remember, to be called a true supercoach he must fit both definitions. If the fitting for the playing definition is loose then the coaching one certainly isn’t. Following retirement in 2004, Norman started coaching the 2002 Australian Open winner, Thomas Johannsson. Despite his best days being behind him, Norman was able to guide Thomas to the Wimbledon semi-finals and his final two ATP titles.

On the 4th November 2008, Norman took control of fiery but powerful Swede Robin Soderling. Before Magnus became his coach, Soderling was probably most famous for being the guy who mocked Nadal at Wimbledon. Not known for being nice, and permanently painting himself as an outsider, Soderling had done little to make friends on the tour. He was your typical solid top 30 player who was well known inside tennis but unheard of outside of it. That all changed when Norman took over. Magnus refined Robin’s already impressive forehand, making it almost unplayable, made his huge serve more reliable (although it was never perfect) and gave him a more powerful backhand. But, more than that, Norman was able to focus Soderling’s mind away from the distractions that used to lose him matches. Gone were the days when a player would irk him on the other side of the net to the extent where he would make so many errors he would throw the match. All of the work began to show when Soderling was the architect of, in my opinion, the greatest sporting shock of all time with victory over Nadal at the 2009 French Open. That fourth round win remains the only time Nadal has lost at the French and Soderling followed it up by reaching the final before losing to Federer.

090629 Tennis

The first success story

He then went on to reach the quarter finals in America, destroy Nadal and Djokovic at the 2009 tour finals before successfully reaching the final again in France 2010 (this time beating Roger Federer) and winning the Paris masters as well as reaching world number 4. There was a time when he was genuinely feared by all of the world’s elite, and you can see why with the weapons he possessed. These weapons had always been there but had been fine-tuned by Norman. Once he split with Norman, his career started to slide, and unfortunately a nasty case of mono has meant he hasn’t played a match since 2011.

Despite a very successful partnership with Soderling, Magnus Norman had failed to turn him into a Grand Slam winner. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and picked his next student carefully. He ended up going for a player similar to Soderling in many regards but with a few very key differences. Stanislas Wawrinka remains a popular man on tour. He is known for being humble and pleasant but, before his partnership with Norman, the kind of guy you could beat in big matches. He possesses the same weapons Soderling had: ie a destructive serve and a powerful one-handed shot that can produce winners at will. The difference is Wawrinka’s shot was his backhand and his forehand usually let him down during key points. Wawrinka had always struggled mentally with the life of being a tennis player. He had lost focus in big matches, and let big potential victories slip by – most notably his matches against Murray at Wimbledon 2009 and Djokovic in Australia 2013.

When Norman took over, Stan had been in the top 10 but had since dropped to become a regular resident between 15 and 25. He had shown potential without being earmarked as a future slam winner. As Tim Henman said, he was good without being great. Norman changed every aspect of that and it all started with a crushing victory over Murray in the 2013 US Open quarter finals. In fact, crushing was the wrong word. There isn’t a right one, as every aspect of that performance was perfect. Murray, admittedly injured, left shell-shocked and the world took notice of the humble Swiss. Stan the man had become Wowrinka. Not happy with a 5 set semi-final loss to Djokovic and an appearance at the semi-final of the tour finals, Norman and Wawrinka plotted ways to beat the very best and that is exactly what Stan has done all year. It started with an incredible maiden Slam in Australia, beating Nadal in the final, and has ended with the Davis Cup title. The most exciting thing about Wawrinka is that he isn’t the finished article, there are still aspects Norman can improve and you can guarantee the Swede won’t rest until he has.

Norman's (and Stan's) dream achieved

Norman’s (and Stan’s) dream achieved

Soderling and Wawrinka are very similar players, and perhaps it would be a more impressive achievement to take two different players and turn them into world-beaters, however that shouldn’t take anything away from Norman. He showed his success with Soderling wasn’t a one-off and also proved that he could do much more with a player. Norman was able to take the aspects of both players game that were good and made them great, furthermore he has taken the more disappointing areas and turned them into reliable shots and finally he improved the mentality of both players. If you combined Wawrinka’s backhand, Soderling’s forehand, mixed the two serves and added Norman you would have the perfect player-coach partnership. A player like that would be unstoppable and there would be one reason for it: Norman.

The two players one coach has made the world fear

The two players one coach has made the world fear

It is difficult for great players to become great coaches. There are very few examples across any sport. For example, Jose Mourinho wasn’t a great football player whereas Diego Maradona was a disastrous coach. In tennis, few great players even tried to make the leap across to coaching until recently which is why the term supercoach entered our dictionary. The term itself though is disrespectful to people who have dedicated their lives to coaching and have been incredibly successful at it. However, to find the true supercoach you have to combine the two and there is only one candidate at the moment. Magnus Norman had a better playing career than Gilbert and has had a better coaching career than Becker, Lendl or Edberg. In fact, I’d argue that of the ones we know about at the moment, only Chang and Ivanisevic can come close to matching what Norman has achieved. In an era of supercoaches, Norman stands above them all for being the only person to combine both aspects of the meaning and with an academy opened which has featured both Wawrinka and probable future number 1 Dimitrov, his success can only continue.


Leave a comment

Prime Memories – 1. Murray’s win at Wimbledon, ’13

1

We had a male slam champion, now could he achieve the Holy Grail and win Wimbledon? With the surface suiting him and the draw opening up, this was no longer a pipe dream – it was realistic.

After his victory at the US Open, Andy Murray nearly became the first man in the open era to win his first two slams back-to-back when he reached the Australian Open Final and took the first set off Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately the scheduling had conspired against Murray who had played a five-set marathon with Federer a day after Djokovic had thrashed David Ferrer in straight sets. The recovery time became a factor and after Djokovic won the second set on a tie-break, he wore Murray down to win in four. There were so many intriguing stories emerging in men’s tennis during this time – such as the return of Rafa Nadal, winning almost every tournament he entered (including the French Open) after returning from a 7 month injury lay off, the pulling out of the French Open by Murray because of his back and a direct result of a shocking clay-court swing or the form of players such as Ferrer, Tsonga and Wawrinka. Heading into Wimbledon, Cilic reached the final of Queens once more while Youzhny reached the final at Halle. Both of them lost, to Murray and Federer respectively, however this showed that men’s tennis had depth and we fully expected that to be on show at Wimbledon.

Like so many stories involving Andy Murray, the ghost of Fred Perry looms large. Perry, unsurprisingly, was the last British male singles champion at Wimbledon, beating Gottfried Van Cramm, who has a very interesting story about living and surviving in Nazi Germany despite being gay, in 1936. There had been no British winner in the Open Era nor any British finalist either (apart from Murray himself in 2012) however we can’t ignore the Women or the doubles players. In the Open Era, Ann Haydon Jones (1969 – ladies singles and mixed doubles), Virginia Wade (1977 – ladies singles), John Lloyd (1983,4 – mixed doubles), Jeremy Bates, Jo Durie (both 1987 mixed doubles), Jamie Murray (2007 – mixed doubles) and Jonny Marray (2012 – men’s doubles) had all won titles however none had won the big one, both in terms of sets played and media coverage, the men’s singles. If the media will chastise those who failed to mention the ladies champions then I am not going to let them forget the doubles wins either.

Many Brits failed in the pursuit of that elusive crown, with the majority playing well in other slams yet falling apart at Wimbledon. John Lloyd was a wonderful tennis player, reaching a slam final in Australia and winning two Wimbledon titles (look up) however he could never go further than the third round in the singles at London. The next male singles player to reach a grand slam final was Greg Rusedski, the US Open in 1997 – which propelled him to win Sports Personality of the Year. Interestingly enough, when Murray actually won a slam – he only came third in the same competition. The end of the 90’s were truly terrible days for British Sport. Anyway, Greg could only ever reach the quarter final at Wimbledon, also in 1997. The most successful British tennis player at Wimbledon was Tim Henman, whose ups and downs were agonisingly watched on a mound of grass which became Henman Hill. In 2002, Henman reached his fourth and final Wimbledon semi-final. He lost to a Lleyton Hewitt and that was that. For a couple of years, British tennis went through a lull, hoping for the now old Henman and Rusedski to do something remarkable while knowing that in reality, the talent pool had dried up. Murray changed all that, with promising displays in 2005 (third round) and 2006 (fourth round). Between 2009 and 2012, Murray had reached four semi finals in a row, including that elusive final in 2012. Going into 2013, the British public were hopeful that he could break the age-old hoodoo.

On paper, the draw couldn’t have been much harder for Murray. A quarter final meeting with either Cilic or Tsonga, French Open semi finalist, would then be followed by a semi final clash against either Federer or Nadal, the fifth seed. If he won those two then Djokovic would almost certainly lie in wait in the final as his hardest match would potentially be against Del Potro, who isn’t known for his grass court capabilities. The first day started off in normal fashion with Federer, the defending champion, breezing past Hanescu by only dropping 5 games while over on the women’s side, Sharapova and Azarenka also didn’t lose a set. At this point, Rafael Nadal stepped onto the court (number 1) to play Steve Darcis of Belgium. When Darcis won the first set on a tiebreak, everyone said that Rafa would recover and win in four – he had to, right? Well the recovery didn’t happen at any point during the second set, which also went to a tiebreak and once again, the Belgian beat the Spaniard. Two sets down, people were watching with fascination. Nadal had lost early the year previously, losing in 5 to Lukas Rosol in the second round. While people had heard of Darcis and he had beaten Berdych at the Olympics in 2012, a first round and possible straight sets loss would be a bigger shock. Nadal looked hindered by injury as he surrendered a break in the third and went down 6-4. One of the big four was out on the first day. The third member of the group to play, Andy Murray, won his match in straight sets to avoid joining Nadal, Wawrinka (l to Hewitt), Tipsarevic and Fognini on the list of seeds who lost. If day 1 was surprising, then day 2 continued the trend, to a certain extent. The biggest seed to fall was female, Maria Kirilenko losing in straight sets to Brit Laura Robson – who looked in excellent touch and ready to make an impact, she would reach the fourth round. With the exception of Kohlschreiber, Simon and Querry all the seeds progressed serenely on the men’s side, although Ferrer and Gasquet both had to go four sets to achieve victory.

Darcis celebrates victory over Nadal

Darcis celebrates victory over Nadal

Day 3 was one of those days that people remember forever. Sadly, it was the day that I didn’t watch much of as I was travelling down to London, to actually go to Wimbledon for a day. However, following it on the train was mesmerising as a grand total of 12 singles seeds fell, including Azarenka, Sharapova, Tsonga, Cilic and Wozniacki. Most of those were injured, with Cilic (although we can safely assume now that this was due to a failed drugs test) and Azarenka not even turning up. Of the seeds scheduled on the show courts that day, only Murray, Flipkens and Kvitova (walkover) actually won. Murray beat compatriot James Ward’s conqueror, Lu in straight sets in a rather comfortable fashion, he was beginning to look good. Not to be forgotten, Federer strode out to centre court to round the day off with a straight-forward match against Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Ukrainian was putting up a fight but still lost the first set, on a tiebreak. Usually in these scenarios, the lower ranked player would then collapse and the experience of a 17 time grand slam winner would shine. However, this match was defying all logic as Stakhovsky served and volleyed his way into a second set tiebreak, which he promptly won. Federer surely couldn’t be in trouble as well? Things got worse for Federer as, at 5-5 in the third set, he was broken and Stakhovsky served out the set to lead 2-1. Federer was one set away from defeat in the second round of a major and that defeat was sealed with another tiebreak loss. Federer had joined the list of seeds losing on the third day, to an opponent whose only previous slam achievement had been reaching the final of the 2004 US Open boys singles before losing to Murray. The bottom half had been blown apart, with only Murray’s section having the majority of the seeds it was expected to have in the third round. We knew now that one of Kubot, Paire, Mannarino or Brown would play one of Almagro, Janowicz, Melzer or Stakhovsky in the quarter finals. The world was suitably shocked.

Stakhovsky shocked the world with victory over Federer

Stakhovsky shocked the world with victory over Federer

I’m not sure that the British public could take any more excitement from a sporting event and fortunately for our hearts that was where the seismic unexpected events stopped. It even rained on the fourth day, which reassured us that normality was present however I was there and it interrupted a thrilling fifth set between Dimitrov and Zemlja, which Maria Sharapova watched. I don’t know if she watched again the next day, if she did then she would have seen her boyfriend lose. Zemlja then lost to Del Potro in the third round, who was joined in the fourth by Djokovic, Haas, Berdych, Ferrer and Seppi. Dodig took advantage of Kohlschreiber’s fatigue while the only real shock in the top half was the presence of Tomic, who had beaten Gasquet in 4 wonderful sets of tennis. Over in the bottom half, there were only 3 seeds left. Murray had beaten Robredo to set up a tie with Youzhny (the 20th seed) whereas a young, tall Pole called Jerzy Janowicz looked like the man to beat and was taking full advantage of Federer’s absence. Two former top 10 players having resurgences were also there in Melzer and Verdasco, whose opponent was an unknown Frenchmen Kenny De Schepper. There were only 2 French players left and these weren’t Simon, Tsonga, Gasquet, Monfils, Chardy, Paire or even Benneteau for De Schepper had been joined by Adrian Mannarino, who was playing another Pole in the shape of Lukas Kubot. The bottom half was truly fascinating and highlighted the depth in men’s (French?) tennis.

De Schepper, the unknown Frenchman, was into the second week

De Schepper, the unknown Frenchman, was into the second week

I had been very impressed with the way Kenny De Schepper had dismantled 22nd seed Juan Monaco in the third round however he couldn’t repeat the trick against Verdasco, who looked in fine form. The French resistance was ended (in the men’s draw anyway) when Mannarino surrendered a 2 sets to 1 lead against Kubot. Polish hopes were well and truly alive, however, when Janowicz came through in 5 sets against Melzer, to guarantee that a Polish man would grace the semi finals of a grand slam for the first time in history, following in the footsteps of Aga Radwanska on the women’s side. In a half with a strangely European flavour to it, only one man in the third round wasn’t from Europe, Murray finalised his place in the quarter final with a toughly contested straight sets victory over Youzhny.  The top half was much more predictable as the top four seeds made it into the quarter finals. Djokovic eased past Haas in straights, as did Del Potro against Seppi however Ferrer and Berdych both needed four against supposedly weaker opposition.

Djokovic, Del Potro and Murray all were yet to drop a set as they reached the quarter final and 3 of the 4 ties in this round were straight sets victories. The other was a five set thriller, with a player coming back from the brink to keep a dream alive. Let’s start in Poland where Janowicz comfortably got past Kubot in 3, although their extended hug at the end symbolised the friendship, admiration and respect they had for one another. Djokovic blew Berdych away after a tight first set, in possibly the first true sign that he was ready to win Wimbledon again, his opponent in the semi final was Del Potro who won despite a nasty looking tumble in the first game of his match with Ferrer. Picking himself up, his injury meant that he could hit through Ferrer rather than play the Spaniards favoured running game. It looked for all the world like they would be joined by Verdasco when he went two sets to love up on Murray however Verdasco choked and the Brit took full advantage – clawing his way back from the dead to win in 5.

Murray came through a tough test in the quarters

Murray came through a tough test in the quarters

Del Potro was quickly becoming a hero as he managed to take Djokovic to five sets in the semi finals. After losing the first, he won the second, lost the third before winning the fourth. Djokovic had greater fitness levels however and showed what a champion he is by coming through relatively comfortably in the fifth. He was joined by friend and rival Andy Murray, who finally ended Janowicz’s fine run despite losing the first set. Murray’s experience told as he served incredibly well and managed to break his 6ft 8in opponent more than most could. Despite everything that had happened, the top 2 seeds had arrived in the final together with Murray and Djokovic ready to have another career defining match. This was becoming a regular occurrence yet no-one seemed to mind!

Djokovic cruised into the semi's and scraped into the final

Djokovic cruised into the semi’s and scraped into the final

I had a tough dilemma to make on the morning of July 7th. Either go to a Lancashire T20 match against Leicestershire and take a radio to follow the Wimbledon final or stay and watch the tennis at home and use twitter to follow the cricket. I was acutely aware of just how much the 2012 final had hurt and, by not watching it, that pain would be reduced. However, I also knew that Murray was ready to win Wimbledon and is a better player on grass than Djokovic ever will be. I chose to watch the tennis.

Much like their US Open final, there was an early trade of breaks. Both players looked good and both were raising their game when they needed to. At 3-3, Djokovic played his first poor service game and, as logic dictates, you can’t afford that in a grand slam final. Murray broke and this time managed to confirm that break with a hold. Djokovic made Murray serve for the set however the Scot was able to do that without dropping a point. Game and first set Murray, Mohamed Lahyani declared. Let’s not get excited yet, the British public told themselves, this is what happened last year.

When Murray netted a forehand, Djokovic went 3-1 up in the second set however Djokovic double faulted a couple of service games later to concede the break. The score was back on serve at 4-3, which became 4-4 as Murray narrowly held serve. Unsurprisingly, the match was a brutal display of long rallies and aggressive shots. This was tennis as it should be, both men pummelling the other with no sign of respect for one another.  Murray managed to find another break at 5-5, forcing Djokovic to pull a forehand into the net. He was serving for a two sets to love lead in the final of Wimbledon, and Murray did it – again without dropping a point. Like their US Open final, Murray had raced to a two sets lead.

At 2 sets up, we were already dreaming of this

At 2 sets up, we were already dreaming of this

The third set started in perfect fashion for Britain as Murray broke with a correct challenge, a feat that, for Murray, is about as rare as a British male grand slam winner. Just when most pundits thought Djokovic was dead, he rose once more to level the set at 2-2. This man will just never give up, which makes him annoying and admirable in equal measure. This trend continues when he raced to a 4-2 lead in the set. It looked as if we were going to have to play a fourth until Murray recovered the break straight away and held serve to level at 4-4. Next thing we knew, we stood on the brink of the impossible as Murray broke once more thanks to his trademark passing shots and Djokovic netting. Murray was 4 points away from becoming a Wimbledon champion, effectively achieving immortality in this country. When he brought up three match points, the whole nation held its breath. Surely, surely, surely this was it! Not yet, as Djokovic saved all three and then managed to get a break point himself. Murray had to save two of these before gaining a fourth championship point. Murray served, Djokovic returned and some girl’s screamed thinking the match had been won. It hadn’t, yet Murray wasn’t affected as he returned to Djokovic’s backhand. I don’t believe that I was breathing as Djokovic hit it back, straight into the net. There was a moment of “wait…” until “AFHGSHGSGHSGHSHGSGS” and the deed had been done. Andy Murray was Wimbledon champion.

The trophy, and a place in history, secured

The trophy, and a place in history, secured

Not only did this victory break a hoodoo, it helped rid Britain of the ghost of Perry. No longer would people talk about Perry, they would talk about Murray. I thought nothing could beat the feeling I felt when he won the US Open, I was so so wrong about that! To win in straight sets was unbelievable but despite the amount of times he had broken Djokovic, I don’t think Murray would have won had he lost all four of those championship points, something he has admitted since. This was the pinnacle of my sport watching, every match since then has seemed strangely less important. Everything I had said for years had come true in one glorious afternoon at the start of July. Wimbledone.

Adoring fans

I’ll end this article, and the series, with a couple of tweets. One from the man himself , the other from me both displaying a truly British reaction to triumph – shock! (Admittedly, his was possibly sarcasm)

Gareth’s Awards:

Shock, Shock: So the bottom half of the men’s draw saw Kenny De Schepper reach the second week of a slam and Lukas Kubot reach a quarter final, as we know. Nadal and Federer lost in the first and second round, while Azarenka and Sharapova couldn’t go any further either. Serena Williams lost to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round, before her herself lost to Marion Bartoli of France in the final. There was only one non-seeded player in the quarter finals of the women draw yet only 3 top 10 players. Which had the greater shocks? I’d still say that Nadal and Federer losing to Darcis and Stakhovsky was more surprising then grass court specialist and big server Lisicki beating Williams. Possibly the greatest shock was Bartoli retiring so soon after her win.

Beaten finalist Lisicki triumphed over Williams earlier in the tournament

Beaten finalist Lisicki triumphed over Williams earlier in the tournament

Best tribute video: I’ve always been a believer that putting sporting montage clips to music can be one of the most powerful tributes in existence. None have been executed as perfectly as Biffy Clyro’s tribute to Andy. Combining the best two things about a wonderful nation, the result (entitled “Victory over the Serve – using Biffy’s “Victory over the Sun”) is a perfect blend of clips and emotion. Despite the use of a couple of 2012 shots, the perfection of this is highlighted when Djokovic nets that backhand and Simon sings “we can change the world”.


Leave a comment

Prime Memories – 2. Murray’s first Grand Slam, ’12

2

On the 12th September 1936, Fred Perry won his 8th major. With the weight of expectation and history on his shoulders, Andy Murray ended the 76 year wait for a male singles major champion.

Tennis, at its finest moments, is the cruelest of sports. Going toe-to-toe with an opponent for four, five gruelling, energy sapping hours only to be denied must be hard to endure. The beauty, and horror, of tennis is that a person gets exposed in front of the world. No other sport pushes someone to the limit and expects them to deal with the ecstasy and pain alone. Heartbreak and triumph are usually seen at the very same moment and as one person celebrates, the other wonders what they can do to win. This was never more apparent than on the 8th July 2012 when Roger Federer claimed his seventh Wimbledon title, beating the home favourite, Andy Murray. In truth, this story starts 7 decades before that day.

Fred Perry won the US Open in 1936 for the 3rd and final time. Perry, son of a Labour Co-Op MP, was the final British male winner of a Grand Slam champion in the 20th century. Despite many promising youngsters coming through, none of them were realistically able to challenge for honours. That was until Andy Murray came along. In 2005 he had promise, much like many others, yet as the years went by we knew we had someone special on our hands. In 2008, he reached his first Grand Slam final in America and his inexperience showed as he lost in straight sets. No matter as, despite a lean 2009, he would return to the Grand Slam Final arena once again, this time in Australia, where once again he left empty handed. In 2011 he had his best year yet as he reached the semi finals in all the four majors while defending the losing finalist points in Australia, yet there was still no Grand Slam crown. At Wimbledon 2012, he won his first set in a Slam final yet after 3 hours and 24 minutes; Federer had turned it around and was victorious once more. It seemed that there was nothing Murray could do to win a major; as the three guys in front of him were simply too good.

Fred Perry: the last British male Slam champion

Fred Perry: the last British male Slam champion

The first one of those three is unquestionably the most successful man to ever play tennis. Roger Federer has combined grace with ruthlessness to win 17 grand slam titles, including a career slam of all four. The 7 Wimbledon’s that I’ve already mentioned combined with 4 Australian Opens, 5 US Opens and 1 French have seen him become a legend, not just of tennis but of life. While many would call Federer the greatest of all time, a few argue that it is instead Rafael Nadal. Rafa is undoubtedly the King of Clay having won 8 French Open titles, and his record isn’t bad on other courts either having won Wimbledon and the US twice as well as a singular Australian Open title to take his slam total to 13. Whereas Roger has a career slam, Rafa has a golden slam due to his victory during the 2008 Olympic Games. The rivalry between the two of these was compelling while others, Murray included, watched on – wanting to reach their level. Despite Murray breaking their dominance on the rankings first, it was Novak Djokovic who really blew the era apart when, in 2011, he won 3 of the 4 slams. He has won 4 Australian Open titles in total, with one coming as early as 2008 but the rest being in the last 3 years, 1 Wimbledon and 1 US Open. He has never won the French Open but did reach the final in 2011. Federer is graceful, Nadal powerful and Djokovic never stops. The Serbians powers of recovery have been much talked about, with the prime example being the 2012 Australian Open. Having beaten Murray in an epic 5 hour match, Djokovic went 6 hours with Nadal just two days later and still came out on top. To win a slam, Murray would most likely have to beat 2 of these, although it could be done – as Del Potro had proven in 2009.

Flushing Meadows, New York was the scene of the US Open in 2012. Murray took to the field as one of the favourites, in an intriguing year for all four of them had won honours already. The Australian Open had been won by Djokovic, the French by Nadal, Wimbledon by Federer and the Olympics by Murray (see episode 7). Unfortunately, Nadal had withdrawn from the US with an injury, which was sad news for tennis but good news for Murray fans as Nadal was the one man he had trouble beating when both were at their best. Murray suffered a slump in form after the Olympics, only winning 2 matches at the Rogers cup and the Cincinnati masters. He was expected to raise his game for the US Open; he needed to as Djokovic had won in Toronto and lost in the final in Cincinnati, where Federer had won.

Both Federer and Djokovic cruised into the quarter finals, without dropping a set. Federer had the easiest passage with simple victories over Young (3,2,4), Phau (2,3,2) and Verdasco (3,4,4) before Mardy Fish unfortunately withdrew from their fourth round meeting with health issues. Without breaking a sweat, Roger Federer had reached the last 8 and looked good for the title. Djokovic hadn’t broken sweat either, dispatching Lorenzi 1,0,1 in the first round before beating Dutra da Silva 2,1,2. For most people, the third round is where it gets harder however Djokovic eased past Benneteau 3,2,2 before being 2 sets up on Wawrinka when the Swiss retired. In other stories from New York, it had looked good for the Americans in the third round where they had Fish, Sock, Querry, Blake, Isner, Johnson and Roddick present. All except Roddick (and Fish) exited in that round; confirmed when Isner lost to Kohlschreiber despite being 2 sets to 1 up. Roddick himself then lost to Del Potro in the fourth round, which was his final professional match. It wasn’t the fairytale ending that Americans had hoped for, as their last champion, one imagines, for quite some time departed before the last 8. Meanwhile, Cilic had sneaked into the quarter finals, mainly thanks to Tsonga losing in the second round, where he was joined by Ferrer, Tipsarevic and Querry’s conqueror, Berdych.

For Andy Murray, his tournament had started against the Russian, Bogomolov Jr, who he had no trouble in beating 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. Things got even easier for him in the second round where he gave Dodig no chance throughout the whole match, winning 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. The opponent and the class took a step up for Murray in the third round where he faced Lopez of Spain, Feliciano to most but Deliciano to Andy’s mum Judy. The match was a real struggle, featuring three tie-breaks and four sets. Murray managed to find a way to win the first two sets, both on tie-breaks before losing serve in the third to drop the set 6-4. His first set lost in the tournament didn’t seem to linger in his mind as he came back and won the fourth on a tie-break. He had been tested, pushed to close to the limit but had come through and for that, he was in better shape. He showed what good shape he was in with a crushing demolition of the much talked about Milos Roanic in the fourth round. As he won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, which looked less comfortable than it was, people started to talk about him as a potential champion. Facing Cilic in the quarter final, he had a brilliant chance to get through to the last 4.

Murray impressed with victory over Milos Raonic in the fourth round

Murray impressed with victory over Milos Raonic in the fourth round

Progressing into the semi finals were David Ferrer with a 5-set victory over Janko Tipsarevic and Novak Djokovic, who continued his impressive form with a straight sets win over Juan Martin Del Potro. Djokovic looked unbeatable; Ferrer had looked shaky in his quarter. Given that they were now going to play each other; it seemed like there was only one result possible. Federer, both in good form and rested, took to the court against Tomas Berdych only to find that the rest had hindered more than helped him. He lost both the first and second sets only to recover to take the third before Berdych held his nerve and knocked one of the big 3 out. Surely, with only Cilic and Berdych in his way, this was now Murray’s chance to reach another major final? Cilic wasn’t about to roll over and the Croat raced he way to a 6-3, 5-1 lead. The blustery conditions and a dip in form had affected Murray, who was facing another disappointing early exit from a Grand Slam. It’s possible that a year earlier he would have lost this tie, before he found a coach in Ivan Lendl who pushed Murray further than he ever could. The new Murray refused to be beaten, turned the second set around and won it on a tiebreak before breaking Cilic’s resistance in the third and serving out a bagel in the fourth to progress. Murray had gone from looking lacklustre to looking like a champion in just a few minutes.

Djokovic and Murray were both expected to get through to the final, and they did however neither had easy semi-finals. Going first, on an incredibly windy day, Murray had to deal with both the weather and Berdych’s aggressive start. That combined to the Brit losing the first set however he then adjusted to the conditions and started wearing the Czech down. Taking the next two sets 6-2, 6-1 and being a break up in the fourth meant Murray was in control. Berdych fought back, and was close to taking the match to a fifth but Murray clung on and won it on a tiebreak. Djokovic also lost the first set in such conditions, as Ferrer’s style of play suits playing big hitters in wind. Unfortunately for David, the match was then postponed as a tornado hit New York. When it resumed the next day, Djokovic only dropped 6 games in easing through to the final. Murray-Djokovic, the final many had predicted had become a reality. Djokovic was in scintillating form however Murray had a new mental toughness that had seen him come through real tests in the tournament. Murray was more rested; Djokovic had spent less time on the court. It was all set to be a thrilling final!

Novak Djokovic was in scintillating form all tournament

Novak Djokovic was in scintillating form all tournament

It took place on Monday 11th September, 2012 – almost exactly 76 years after Fred Perry’s victory. Murray elected to return and managed to break Djokovic’s serve in the first game. However, this advantage was short lived as Djokovic regained the break straight away. Two games into the final, it was 1-1 yet it already had the makings of an epic. The first three games saw 10 break points fashioned, of which 7 were played yet only 2 converted. Murray held to love in the fourth game before fashioning two further break points in the fifth and taking one, courtesy of a double fault, to lead 3-2. The next two games both went to the servers yet there was still excitement, with one containing a 54 shot rally. Of course, a break was lying around the corner given that both men’s strength is in their returning and it was Djokovic who managed to get it – levelling the match. The two then held serve, with varying degrees of comfort in each game, to force the first set into a tie-break. It is worth mentioning at this point that the first set is usually crucial when these two play as in 14 of their previous 15 matches, the winner of the first set won the match. This tie-break was absolutely crucial then and the quality of it didn’t let anyone down. Five set points came and went for Murray, as the tie-break was once more drawn level at 10-10. The tension watching was unbearable and you could feel it radiating half way across the world. When Djokovic hit a backhand long, Murray had a sixth set point. This was the time; this was the moment surely to break the Serb’s resistance? Indeed it was as Murray found a serve that Djokovic couldn’t return back into play.

The road to the final, and the final itself, was tough for Murray

The road to the final, and the final itself, was tough for Murray

The tie-break victory did indeed spur Murray on as he raced into a 4-0 lead in the second set, with Djokovic bereft of both ideas and energy. Of course, the great champion that Djokovic is wouldn’t let Murray get away with an easy set and fought back, breaking for 4-1 and then again at 5-3, while serving consistently enough not to give any breaks away and we were back level at 5-5 in the second set. Once more, this set looked like it would go the distance however one of them was able to break the other and take the set 7-5. Which one? Well, this Andy Murray bloke was a different one to the one we had seen in previous years. No longer haunted by mental demons and defensive play, he was able to snatch the initiative away from Djokovic at the business end of the set, and go two sets to love up. The way he did it was similar to how Federer had stolen the second set in the Wimbledon final away from Murray.

That moment of reflection

That moment of reflection

One set was all Murray needed to win a Grand Slam, very little else mattered. The weather was windy yet dry and so the final would definitely be completed that night. As some people in Britain started heading to bed, any of us who could (this was on Sky, luckily Sky Sports 1 and hence I could watch it) chose to stay and see if we could witness history. History was put on hold, however, as Djokovic refused to die and came out fighting, taking the third set 6-2, which was the fastest set of the match. Djokovic’s resurgence continued as he broke in the first game of the fourth set and despite Murray carving break point opportunities, he couldn’t convert. All of a sudden, in almost the blink of an eye, Djokovic had levelled the match at 2-2. The scoreboard read 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6 and most in Britain now feared the worst. Memories started flooding back of US Open 2008, Australian Open 2010 & 2011 and Wimbledon 2012. No man had lost his first 5 Grand Slam finals, so for the wrong reasons Murray stood on the brink of history.

Murray, much to his credit, took a bathroom break and talked to himself in the mirror, saying “You are NOT going to lose this match”. He came back rejuvenated and broke Djokovic in the first game before holding in the next. I was telling myself not to get too excited, as there was still a long way to go. All of a sudden, its 3-0 to Murray and the recovery from Djokovic seems to have left him jaded. Of course, it couldn’t last and Djokovic won the next two games to bring him right back into contention. Murray held serve and then fashioned a break on the Djokovic one, this meant that he was one game away from becoming a Grand Slam champion. Scotland, nay Britain, held its breath. This was a long breath, believe me – I just about lived through it, as Djokovic called for a trainer before conceding the first three points of the game. Murray has three championship points, when one disappears. The second doesn’t though, as Djokovic sends a forehand long. Andy Murray was a Grand Slam Champion, Britain had a winner once more but that didn’t matter immediately – this moment was all about Andy. Murray preferred quiet reflection to making a fool of him, and so sat on the court with his face in his hands rather than falling to the floor or screaming “Come on!” I imagine it was a bit overwhelming, to finally achieve one’s dream in life – Murray dealt with it with such professionalism and class, it was impossible not to love him. An epic final with a British champion? The wish-list of many had been delivered.

The moment that we will remember forever

The moment that we will remember forever

It was such a majestic tournament with such a wonderful and emotional ending. I never stopped believing in Andy, throughout all the bad days and the reward was this. As Mark Petchy said “it’s good that the final was like this” – if he had won in straights, while we wouldn’t complain, it wouldn’t have shut the doubters up like this did. He was dead and buried after the fourth yet he found the energy to finally defeat Djokovic, who fought bravely to keep hold of his title. It says a lot that, a year and a disappointing defence on, I still smile from ear to ear when I remember these two weeks. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried when he won, I’m surprised he managed to hold it together.

Andy cracks a smile, mainly of relief, following his victory

Andy cracks a smile, mainly of relief, following his victory

Gareth’s Awards (more recognition this time!):

The other one: Andy Murray wasn’t the only Brit that conquered Flushing Meadows for Kyle Edmund won the boys’ double with his partner Frederico Ferreira Silva, who is from Portugal. This was a wonderful achievement but deservedly overshadowed by who I’m going to talk about here. Laura Robson reached the fourth round of the Women’s singles. After beating an American qualifier, she met former champion Kim Clijsters in the second round. Two sets later, Robson advanced to meet another grand slam winner and 9th seed Li Na in the third round. Robson won in three gruelling sets before being denied by Sam Stosur. She was 18 at the time and it was an unprecedented success. She should win honours in her career, if she stays fit then there is no reason why she won’t!

Robson, 18, beat two former Grand Slam Champions before falling to the defending one

Robson, 18, beat two former Grand Slam Champions before falling to the defending one

First round madness: Unbelievably, there were 9 matches in which a man came from two sets down to win in the first round alone! The grand slam record was equalled after only 3 days of play, and then later beaten when Fish repeated the trick in the second round. The matches: Petzschner beat Mahut, Mathieu beat Andreev, Cilic beat Matosevic, Tipsarevic beat Rufin, Gulbis beat Haas, Muller beat Youzhny, Fognini beat Roger-Vasselin, Garcia-Lopez beat Monaco and Dologpolov beat Levine. It was truly bizarre but utterly wonderful.

First round madness: Cilic prevails over Matosevic

First round madness: Cilic prevails over Matosevic