Hardman's Thoughts

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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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.



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 … 


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.



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



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.


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Djokovic Dominance

Personally, I usually love the ATP World Tour Finals. I think that it’s the greatest week of tennis on the calendar. Players can lose and still lift the trophy, doubles and singles get equal footing and the level of play is, usually, superb.

Last year was a massive let down. The first singles match to go to three sets was Nishikori’s victory over alternate Ferrer. Three more matches went the distance, and the tournament looked to be heating up but then Federer withdrew from the final and Djokovic won by default.


Djokovic won last year, the year before and the year before that…

I fear a similar fate one year on. Djokovic might have to actually play the final this time, however there is almost no question that he will win. Can Federer really beat him on current form? Does Murray care about the tournament enough with a bigger tournament later this month? And are the rest even worth talking about?

Djokovic blew Kei Nishikori off the court on Sunday, the only man who took a set off the Serb a year ago. He will almost certainly beat Federer tonight, in their last 6 meetings; the Swiss only has 2 victories. Berdych will offer no resistance. Then, following that – who can stop him in the other group?


If no-one can beat Djokovic in his group, how will the other fare?

Nadal is having a resurgence of sorts; however beating Wawrinka is hardly a precursor for impending success, especially when considering both his record against Wawrinka and his record at Tour Finals (the first being excellent, the second being dreadful).

I’ll be surprised if Ferrer gets out of the group and even more surprised if he ever beats Djokovic again.

Wawrinka could and indeed does do well against the Serb however he probably has to beat Ferrer and Murray to have a shot at taking him on, which on Monday’s showing is very unlikely.

As I’ve already mentioned, Murray has bigger fish to fry this month and should Djokovic beat Federer, the Brit will finish the year at number 2 regardless of this week. Andy will soon lose interest in this tournament.


Wonderful players, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest

What am I trying to say? I love the ATP Tour Finals. I think that they are such a wonderful concept as a round robin format in a tennis competition is simple yet compelling.

However, it’s with a tad of lethargy that I await Sunday’s final this year. There’s no question who will win, there is no question what will happen. The intrigue has left men’s tennis, and until someone can consistently topple Djokovic, it will not return.

In fact, if you want empires falling then I suggest you watch the doubles tournament. Not only could any of the 8 teams win it this year, it’s looking likely that the Bryan Brothers will lose their grip on the number one crown. Should they retain their status as the best in the world, it will be through unbelievable play from an unconvincing position.

Maybe then, I am still as excited by the Finals, just by the doubles tournament for a change.


You should definitely watch the doubles if you get a chance

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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.


  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?


  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.


  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.


  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.


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.


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.


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.

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The True Supercoach


  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.

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


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

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Prime Memories – 7. Murray’s Olympic Medals, ’12


Major-less Andy Murray carried the tennis flag for Britain at their home Olympics. With the tennis being held on the hallowed turf of Wimbledon – could he add to the growing British medal tally?

When Jonny Wilkinson kicked England to victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, I boldly declared that it was the start of a golden age of British sporting success. Back in 2003, a tweet was the noise a bird made and “facebook” was merely a strange collection of two words, hence this declaration was only heard by my family with even them thinking it a little absurd. By the time the London 2012 Olympics finished, I believe that my claim had been justified. I’m not good at predictions and I won’t pretend that this was a formulated guess using evidence of growing grassroots prospects who could be beating the world in nine years time, it was merely lucky – that being said, I am still proud of it! Over the next few years Britain were competitive in almost every sport, including the English cricket teams march to the top of the world, a handful of incredibly talented golfers, a couple of brothers dominating the triathlon circuit, strong showings in hockey world cups and an unprecedented success at the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. Most places you looked, Britain had a top athlete competing with the best with football being the main disappointment on the international stage. However, England still boasts the most watched league in the world, despite its negative connotations for football in this country. One man epitomised this rise in many ways; he was competing in one of the strongest eras since his sport started and was coming mighty close to winning majors.

The Olympics: Held in the midst of a golden generation?

The Olympics: Held in the midst of a golden generation?

In 2012, and I was trying so hard to not write about this but it is just impossible not to, Andy Murray lost the Wimbledon final in 4 sets to Roger Federer. This was Murray’s fourth Grand Slam final and his fourth loss, although the first time he had won a set.  He was actually the better player for 95% of the first two sets, with only a concentration lapse costing him the second. The loss was hard to take, emphasised by the tears on centre court and his fans, which I class myself among, feared another downturn in form such as the one we saw after the 2011 loss at the Australian to Djokovic. While that dip in form only resulted in early losses at Masters Tournaments’, another one here would almost certainly end his hope of winning an Olympic medal in his home country. The pressure was on for Murray to raise his game once more. In the Olympics, there are three medals available: Gold, Silver and Bronze. Some sports such as boxing share the bronze medal between the losing semi-finalists but tennis isn’t like this, there is a match to decide the bronze medallist. Murray was ranked 4th in the world at the time, with only two greats in Federer and Nadal as well as the incredible athlete Djokovic ahead of him, meaning that he would, in theory, have to beat one of them in order to win a medal. As it happened Nadal pulled out of the tournament with an injury that would sideline him for the rest of the year, however even before this I was convinced Murray would win a medal, I just didn’t know which colour. In fact, I’d had that same feeling for at least a couple of years previous to the tournament; the stars just seemed to be aligned. One of the most ridiculous reasons I see people give for why they don’t like Murray is that he hates the English, starting after a joke he made on the radio, and I saw the Olympics as a perfect opportunity to reinforce that he was British and not solely Scottish, although in reality – that level of nonsense probably doesn’t matter to him.

This seems like a good time to talk about tennis, especially at the Olympics, in more detail. Male tennis players either play best of 3 sets or best of 5 sets. The 5 set version is used at the Grand Slam tournaments, the Davis Cup ties where the result matters and the final of the Olympics. This means that the Olympics is a best of 3 set tournament until you reach the final, with the reason being, I presume, that the tournament can be completed quickly while at least making sure the winner is deserving. It is much easier to cause an upset over 3 sets than over 5, which is why few men from outside the top 10 win major titles. Tennis hasn’t been an ever present at the Summer Olympics, as in 1924 there was a dispute between the two governing bodies meaning that, despite it being featured since the rebirth of the Olympics, it was scrapped until 1988 when it has been played ever since. While Great Britain were the dominant team in the early stint, winning 39 medals between 1896 and 1924, they had only won 1 medal since the re-introduction (a silver in the 1996’s men doubles team of Neil Broad and Tim Henman). There was immense pressure on Murray to add to that tally in 2012, although pressure really wasn’t a new thing in his career! The 2012 tournament was notable for two things: first of all, it was being held at Wimbledon meaning that for the first time the court surface used would be grass and secondly, it was the first time since 1924 that mixed doubles would be a medal event – more on that later.

Murray was definitely competing in the singles and the men’s doubles (with his brother Jamie), as well as possibly appearing in the mixed doubles should he find a partner. The Opening Ceremony was held on the 27th July, with the first tennis matches taking place on the 28th; hence the only tennis players at the ceremony were the flag bearers. The hunt for medals didn’t start in the best fashion when Andy and Jamie lost their first round match in the doubles to Austrian pair Melzer and Peya. Murray played his first singles match a day later, on the 29th, with a tough tie against the Swiss flag bearer, Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka had played Murray in the first full match under the roof on centre court a few years earlier and took him to five sets; hence there was no way that Murray would be underestimating him! It was possibly the duty of carrying Switzerland’s flag that hindered Wawrinka, or maybe that Murray was so fired up he made Wawrinka look ordinary – whatever it was, Murray cruised into the next round by winning 3&3. This meant that he had already advanced past the stage he reached at the last Olympics’, when he lost to Lu in the first round. Two days after his win against Wawrinka, Murray returned to Centre Court to beat Jarkko Nieminen 2&4 in even more convincing fashion than his win against Wawrinka. Without breaking into a sweat, Andy Murray had cruised into the third round where it was very possible he would face his first challenge, in the form of Marcos Baghdatis. The pair had met just a few weeks previously at Wimbledon, where Baghdatis had given Murray a 4 set scare in the third round. With the Olympics match-up being a best of 3 sets, there was every chance that there could have been an upset. That upset looked on the cards when Baghdatis took the first set 6-4, playing some wonderful tennis while Murray looked a little off colour. Murray started to turn on the style during the next two sets, he found his rhythm and Baghdatis started to make mistakes, allowing Murray to win. The final score-line read 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 and the match was vital as Murray gained some much needed match sharpness. Meanwhile Federer, Del Potro and Djokovic booked their spots in the semi finals with wins over Isner, Nishikori and Tsonga respectively. Murray promptly joined them when, on Thursday 2nd August, he dismissed Almagro 6-1, 6-4. The match was a bit of a non contest because Almagro was struggling with injury and Murray is a far superior player on grass. Novak Djokovic was the only man between Murray and a guaranteed medal, and on Friday 3rd August 2012 they faced each other for the first time on grass. Both sets were tight but neither went to a tie-break as Murray always broke at the right time, winning 7-5, 7-5. Murray was guaranteed a medal, but whether it would be Gold or Silver would be decided on Sunday.

The celebration that became customary for Murray

The celebration that became customary for Murray

This would be a good time to mention the mixed doubles, and leave you in suspense as to the result of the singles final, as the day before the Djokovic semi final, Murray started his campaign. He was partnering British number 2 Laura Robson, whom he has specifically chosen to play with – something that caused annoyance with British number 1 Heather Watson. For the record, I always thought that he was right to go with Robson. The two had played mixed doubles tournaments for GB before and the mixed styles suited each other well. Robson’s left handed serve and aggressive shots complemented Murray well. In mixed doubles, it is best of three sets however the third set is a champions tie-break – that being a tie-break where instead of first to 7 points (or 2 points clear), it becomes first to 10. They won their first round match 7-5, 6-7, 10-7 against the Czech pair Hradecka and Stepanek, which meant Murray and Robson progressed to the quarter finals as there were only 16 pairs in the draw. The quarter final match up was with Australian pairing Hewitt and Stosur, who were one of the favourites for the title given that they both have doubles pedigree. Rain and scheduling delays had meant that the match wouldn’t take place until Saturday, with the final being held on Sunday. Therefore, if they wanted to win a medal – Murray and Robson would have to play 3 matches in 2 days. They won the first, by beating the Australian pair 6-3, 3-6, 10-8. The semi final was against the German pairing of doubles specialist Kas, and grass court specialist Lisicki later on the Saturday. Once again the match went to a third set champions tie-break, with once more the Brit pairing prevailing. They had reached the final with an impressive 6-1, 6-7, 10-7 victory over a very decent pairing. Murray was guaranteed his second medal at the games, while 18 year old Laura Robson was picking up her first Olympic medal. I had expected them to do well together, but to do this well was unprecedented. That sort of summed up how the Olympics went for Britain.

Laura Robson partnered Murray during the mixed doubles

Laura Robson partnered Murray during the mixed doubles

When Murray played his first match against Wawrinka, Great Britain had won 2 medals but neither of them were Gold. By the time he walked onto the court to face another Swiss, Roger Federer, in the final on the 5th August, Great Britain had won 29 medals, 14 of which were Gold. Super Saturday had happened the day before when Britain had won 6 Gold medals, and Ben Ainslie was about to take Gold in the sailing, before Murray would have finished his final. Of the poster stars of the games, Ennis, Ainslie, Wiggins, Hoy, Pendleton and Farah had already delivered Gold; the pressure was truly on Murray to add to that list. It was merely 28 days since Murray had lost to Federer at the same venue; could he remove that memory quickly? There were obvious worries that Federer would be too strong for Murray; that once more he would have to settle for second place. Personally, I believed he could win if he won the first set and was competitive through to the third. I believed that the third set would be the one where the match was won or lost. We needn’t have worried. Murray flew out of the blocks, pummelling Federer to all corners of the court, rushing through the first two sets 6-1 and 6-2. Federer had no answer to Murray’s aggression and accuracy, added to the fact that he was serving better than I had ever seen.  While the third set was closer, Murray managed to get a break at 2-2 and carried on serving well to see it out at 6-4. The victory margin of 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 was as emphatic as it sounded. It was the first time Murray had beaten Federer in a best of 5 set matches and secured yet another Gold for Team GB. So, what were the differences between this victory and the Wimbledon defeat? Well for a start, none of the match was played under the roof therefore giving Murray the chance to exploit atmospheric conditions and secondly there was the crowd. For Wimbledon, Federer had been the crowd favourite yet here at the Olympics, 99% of the crowd was behind Murray and incredibly vocal about it. Murray really relished playing for Team GB and he had been a man determined to win a medal since the start, he had come for something and walked away with Gold. This was the day he truly came of age.

A dream realised

A dream realised

So, could Murray add a second Gold to the tally just a few hours later? He asked for the mixed doubles final to be played straight after the singles final and when he and Robson took the first set 6-2, against the favourites and number 1 seed Belarusian pairing of Azarenka and Mirnyi, it looked to be justified. The first set had included 2 breaks of serve for the Brit pairing and a very impressive serving performance from Laura Robson, who had been struggling in the tournament, throwing in a lot of double faults. However, at 2-1 in the second set the wheels began to fall off. Murray missed a volley that he would usually make at break point down and the number 1 seeds went on to win the second set 6-3. Like all their other matches, the champions tie break was required. At 9-6, Azarenka and Mirnyi seemed to be cruising towards victory however Murray then saved two match points and another twist seemed on the cards. Unfortunately for Britain, there was nothing that both Murray and Robson could do with the next match point and the Belarusian pairing deservedly won 2-6, 6-3, 10-8. Despite the loss, both played exceptional tennis throughout the run and I would be very surprised if they didn’t team up again at another tournament.

Murray and Robson had to settle for a Silver medal

Murray and Robson had to settle for a Silver medal

Two medals, one of them Gold, beating the best player of all time convincingly and getting the belief that he could win majors were everything that Murray gained from his week at the Olympics. As he stood atop of the podium and sang along to God Save the Queen, there was nobody who questioned his nationality. He had become a national treasure to those who doubted before and those who didn’t doubt him had just become even prouder of their hero. The Olympics were everything I’d hoped them to be: a few weeks proving that sport can produce the most wonderful of memories and Britain helping themselves to a nice set of medals. Murray’s Gold was far and away my favourite of the lot, not just because it was Murray but also because of the quality of tennis he produced in the semi final and final. This truly was a tournament victory to savour, the next question was: could he reproduce this at majors? That question would be answered sooner rather than later.

The medal winners of the Male Singles

The medal winners of the Male Singles

Gareth’s Awards:

Murray’s Match of the Tournament: I have called this Murray’s match of the tournament because the record for longest Olympic match was broken twice throughout the men’s singles. First of all Tsonga’s victory over Roanic lasted almost four hours, before Federer’s victory over Del Potro in the semi final beat that by lasting 4 hours and a half. Both were incredible matches and deserved a mention. However, Murray’s best match, for me, was the victory over Djokovic in the semi final. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Federer in the final but the way he dismantled Djokovic’s game, usually so solid, at will during the big points was mightily impressive. That win also pointed the way that that rivalry would start to go.

Murray's Match of the Tournament: An impressive win over Djokovic in the semi final guaranteed Murray a medal

Murray’s Match of the Tournament: An impressive win over Djokovic in the semi final guaranteed Murray a medal

Most Heart-warming Moment: As if winning a Gold medal for your country isn’t heart-warming enough, how about hugging an eleven year old after your win? Henry Caplan was crying after Murray’s win so much that he walked down to where Murray would walk past and asked him for a hug as he did. Murray responded and as they embraced, he said “anything for my fans”. Words can’t do justice how nice this moment was.

Most heart-warming moment: Murray hugs a young fan

Most heart-warming moment: Murray hugs a young fan

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Can Andy Murray’s reluctance to play in the Davis Cup be justified?

This weekend Great Britain took on Russia in the Davis Cup in Coventry. The result was a surprise victory and one that meant GB returned to the brink of being in the World Group (also led to me writing a blog about the importance of it). However, it was also another tie without GB’s top player Andy Murray. There is a lot of debate about whether or not Murray should play these kinds of matches and so I’ve enlisted the help of a fellow writer, forestjosh, on our We Only Sing When We’re Winning blog to look at the arguments.

Argument against Murray missing Davis Cup ties (forestjosh):

The obvious line of argument to take when arguing this case is that representing your country should always be perceived as a sacrosanct honour. But, as I am one of the least patriotic people around, I will avoid this demagogic reasoning. Instead, my claim is that Murray’s excuses for not playing in the Davis Cup are dishonest, and that his true motivations for doing so expose a side of him that, as his fan, I would prefer not to see.

The Davis Cup is scarcely a major commitment. Two singles matches (and possibly another doubles match) spread over 3 days, 2 or 3 times a year. Considering that the elite tennis player is capable of, in Masters’ tournaments playing 7 matches in little more than a week, and in Grand Slams frequently playing 4/5 hour marathons at the highest of intensity, the Davis Cup seems a stroll in the park by comparison. Yet Murray continues to repeat that he cannot play Davis Cup due to fatigue, which appears spurious. All the other leading players play the Davis Cup far more frequently than Murray, who has not appeared in the competition since 2011. What is so uniquely grueling about his schedule? As I’m not his trainer, I may be completely wrong about this, but my suspicion is that the fitness issues are a façade.

Instead, Murray’s reluctance to play Davis Cup can be largely attributed to the lack of prestige involved. In September, the British team face a play-off to return to the World Group. Suddenly, Murray’s interest is piqued, and he now claims to want to play in that tie. This rings hollow, as he hasn’t been remotely interested in being a team-mate of James Ward, Dan Evans et al. during the lean times of the past two years. These guys have battled heroically for their success this year against quality opposition, and deserve far better than the disdain Murray has shown them. If the maxim ‘no man is bigger than the team’ has any more merit than any other empty slogan, Murray must commit fully to the team, rather than cherry picking the matches where he can enhance his own status.

There is a financial element in play here as well, as the appearance fees for the Davis Cup are negligible. It appears that Murray will not countenance violating his rest period when remuneration is not on offer, but when it is, a different story emerges. Murray has recently signed a lucrative deal with Globosport to play exhibition matches over a 3-week period during the off-season. In other words, this multimillionaire is foregoing his best chance of a prolonged rest period in order to earn even more money, while claiming he cannot play Davis Cup due to a ‘crazy schedule.’ In his lack of commitment to the Davis Cup, Murray is coming across as a mercenary with little regard for his lower-ranked teammates. As a longstanding admirer of Murray’s, it is illuminating to catch a glimpse of a totally different, and somewhat unpalatable, aspect of his character; all thanks to the Davis Cup!

The truth is that Murray’s attitude to the Davis Cup is primarily hurting himself. This is the archetypal case of knowing the price of everything, and the value of nothing. John McEnroe saw his Davis Cup triumphs as some of the proudest moments of his career, given that his success was as part of a team. Ilie Nastase even claims that he would have given up both his Grand Slam titles to overturn the pain he felt losing a Davis Cup final. As a Romanian, Nastase was inspired by the chance to leave a legacy and achieve something none of his compatriots had previously managed. Admittedly, even with Murray, Britain aren’t going to win the Davis Cup. But there is a chance we could become a fixture in the World Group. Murray has only ever lost 1 singles match in the Davis Cup. (admittedly he hasn’t played as many as he should.) Jonny Marray and Colin Fleming are one of the better doubles pairings around. If Murray were to change his attitudes, we could revive British interest in the Davis Cup and, building on our recent heroics, become seriously competitive again. Maybe a successful Davis Cup team could even stimulate greater interest in the sport and lift British tennis out of the doldrums. Right now, Murray is our only player in the top 200 male singles’ rankings; a national embarrassment. Wouldn’t it be great were Murray to take a step towards remedying this, rather than only thinking about himself?


Argument for Murray missing Davis Cup ties (gazzaefc):

In 2012, only Roger Federer from the elite group known as the Big 4 played any Davis Cup matches. Admittedly, Nadal was injured for the semi final and final of the competition but Djokovic wasn’t for the first round or quarter final – he chose not to play. In 2011, Djokovic only played one singles match (he retired hurt) as well as a doubles match (which he lost) and neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal played in the entire 2010 competition. My point is that none of the big 4 have dedicated themselves totally year on year to play this competition. Murray has played fewer ties than any of them over the years but I will delve into those reasons later on. The reason that no-one ever focuses on the playing record of the other 3 could be because their countries are blessed with almost unlimited talent. If Novak doesn’t play for Serbia than Tipsarevic or Troicki will play, Spain can use the likes of Ferrer, Almagro, Grannollers, Verdasco and co (plus in the past they’ve had Ferrero, Robredo etc) and Switzerland have a solid top-20 player in Wawrinka. So Spain, Serbia and Switzerland miss their star players but they can usually still win most ties, Great Britain don’t have that luxury. They all miss Davis Cup matches, Murray’s absences get noticed more because of the lack of depth in British tennis.

The Davis Cup doesn’t involve many matches in a year – usually 3. Of those, Andy would only play 2 singles matches per tie, so why doesn’t he play? Part of the reason could be the scheduling of the tournament. The first tie used to be held around March which clashed with the start of the Masters tournaments. It has now been moved to early February which suits players better, but GB got a bye in that tie this year. The second tie, as it was this year, is in April. This is right before the clay court season and so most players are preparing for that. Murray said that he sat out this tie against Russia because he believes he has a genuine chance of winning the French Open. Playing two hard court matches in Coventry while changing your game to play clay would be less than ideal, so this reason makes sense to me. The third tie is at the worst possible time for the top players – it is the weekend after the US Open. The US Open is the last slam and the centre court at Flushing Meadows doesn’t have a roof meaning that any adverse weather (and there usually is in New York) pushes the Men’s final back to Monday. If Murray got to another final this year and it was a gruelling 5-setter, as last year, after a tough 2-week tournament – the last thing anyone would want is an important team competition, on a different continent just 4 days later. If the Davis Cup wants the top players to play, then it should look at its schedule.

Another point based on the scheduling is that playing the Davis Cup could harm Murray’s chances in the slams. I mentioned that in 2010 both Federer and Nadal didn’t play the Davis Cup – that year they shared the slams between them. In 2011, Djokovic played one Davis Cup singles match and in 2011 he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open as well as becoming world number 1 and having an incredible winning streak at the start of the year. I would rather Murray wins slams and reach number 1 than play Russia in Coventry.

Between 2008 and 2010, Great Britain dropped from the World Group to the third tier of the Davis Cup. They were playing players ranked outside the top 200 in the world, sometimes even in the 500’s. Playing at this level teaches Andy nothing whatsoever; you can’t even say it is match practice because it is essentially a walkover. Instead, he did the right thing by letting Evans, Ward etc play them – allowing them to gain skills from these matches. If Murray had played in all of these ties we would have won them all but we would have gained nothing. If Murray had played in them, we would have reached the World Group in 2012 but if then Murray had picked up an injury and couldn’t play in the first World Group tie, we would have been smashed 5-0/4-1. Now, Evans and Ward have experience of facing big players in this tournament and can draw on that. We will still probably lose a match like that but it might be closer (for example not in straight sets). The experience they have gained will be invaluable and it has improved them as players – something Murray wanted to happen.

Murray will most likely come in to the side now we are on the brink of the World Group. His time out of the side hasn’t got good press but he’s done it for the right reasons, giving youngsters experience and refining his game so he could win a slam (which worked). The big players have all missed Davis Cup ties recently, just Murray gets more press because he’s British and we have less depth in quality of our male tennis players.