Monthly Archives: June 2013

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Britain's big hopes

Britain’s big hopes

Every now and again you get a major tennis tournament that beats itself up so badly in the first week that you wonder just what it’s got left to give in the second week. Wimbledon 2013 falls firmly into this category. The women’s tournament lost two of its top triumvirate on Weird Wednesday, but alas there was only ever really one winner anyway. It is the men’s tournament that has it all to do to ensure we still have a spectacle in a few days’ time.

Not since the 2002 Australian Open (when none of the top 5 seeds and only five of the top 16 seeds reached the Last 16) has a men’s draw been decimated like this so early on. Back then it was unheralded 16th seed Thomas Johansson that eventually strode through the draw to claim the only Slam of his solid career. Will somebody as relatively unknown to casual tennis fans be victorious on Sunday at the All-England Club? Unlikely, bordering on impossible. What Wimbledon 2013 has to its advantage that week two of Australia 2002 didn’t possess is two stellar big-time hitters. The defeats of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were cataclysmic for tennis. There’s no denying that but it’s wrong to suggest either of them were completely unexpected, especially the defeat of the latter. Nadal’s record since his victory here in 2010 is one win and two defeats. That’s not a trophy record, it’s a match record. He put so much into retaining his Roland Garros crown that a let-down was almost inevitable. Federer’s quarter-finals record will stand forever but he was looking shakier and shakier in the early rounds over the last 18 months that eventually it had to come. That it would come in the grounds of his castle is upsetting but as previously stated, not entirely unexpected.

There may be some one-sided affairs to come this week, but what will salvage the latter stages will be a final for the ages. Andy Murray is in terrific form. He’s playing with confidence, assuredness but it is not straying into arrogance. He is mindful of each dangerous step across the SW19 minefield and is affording each opponent the respect that they deserve. Added to this, the support from his home crowd has never been as fervent as it is this year. He’s a champion in the making, the first British man to win Wimbledon in forever…..if it wasn’t for Novak Djokovic. The Serb made three unforced errors in his third round victory over the 28th seed Jeremy Chardy. That’s an insane statistic at any level, not least in the Last 32 of a major. I don’t care if Chardy wasn’t playing so well, all it does is reinforces my belief that what happened to Federer and Nadal out there last week has sharpened Murray and Djokovic up so much that their final showdown is bordering on certainty. There may well be some minor shocks along the way this week, but I’d stake all I own on those two bringing the curtain and the house down next Sunday afternoon. For what predictions are worth at the moment, their likely semi-final opponents for me would be Juan-Martin Del Potro for the Serb and huge-serving Jerzy Janowicz for the boy Murray. But stand by for another classic Wimbledon final, their third Grand Slam final in the last 12 months.

Favourites for the crown

Favourites for the crown


On the women’s side, Serena’s final is effectively on Magic Monday – the best day of Grand Slam tennis, in which all 16 men’s and women’s 4th round matches are played. The imperious American comes up against Sabine Lisicki, the girl who just can’t get enough of Wimbledon. A semi-finalist and quarter-finalist in the last two years, the German has already seen off two grand slam winners and the reigning Eastbourne champ in the first week. Her reward is a date with destiny. Topple Serena on Centre Court tomorrow and the path opens up to a maiden major. She poses the biggest threat to knocking Serena off her untouchable perch. The biggest problem for the Lisicki is Serena knows this. Williams will bring her A Game to Centre Court, knowing that Lisicki is the biggest obstacle to her lifting her sixth Wimbledon title. Expect Serena to come through in two tough sets. What the women’s tournament really needs is Laura Robson to win her fourth round tie with Kaia Kanepi. That would lead to a quarter-final match-up with Williams the following day, watched by a sure-to-be raucous crowd. Only that will save the women’s tournament from being a forgettable yawn from the second Monday onwards. The young Brit will need to minimise her mistakes against a good player in Kanepi but if she brings her best game, the fearless Brit will keep her nerve where Kanepi’s will fail. Serena will win her sixth crown; again I am certain of that. I have a sneaky suspicion she will face Marion Bartoli in the final, six years after the Frenchwoman was defeated in the final by Venus. Nobody is playing really good stuff in that bottom half, hence the reason I give the nod to the experience of Bartoli.
We may have dull days ahead this week, but after the seismic shocks of last week, I think there’ll be no surprise names on either trophy. Tomic, Stephens, Robson, Del Potro….prove me wrong if you can!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Wimbledon

My Wimbledon 2013 : ground pass goodness and a bit of constructive criticism


The one thing that instantly struck me about Rafael Nadal’s first round defeat on Monday afternoon wasn’t worry for his old knee problem, nor was it to marvel at Steve Darcis’ accomplishment (after all, it’s becoming old hat to send Rafa tumbling early at SW19 – he may be needing a wildcard shortly with all those ‘deserving’ Brits). No, it was to reassert just how wonderful Roger Federer’s achievement is to have reached 36 (not out…..) consecutive major quarter-finals. Not since the 2004 French Open has he failed to be a part of the Last 8. It is a staggering achievement, and does disservice to how difficult it is to reach the latter stages of a Slam. Witness Rafa’s early exit here or Lleyton Hewitt’s first round defeat as defending champion in 2003. Players raise their level against you and every top player can have an off-day. Except Federer, it would seem. Or so it seemed until late on Wednesday evening when his run finally came to an end. He didn’t play his worst match, but Sergiy Stakhovsky produced a master class of serve and volley, a real return to the past. But whatever, Federer’s record of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals will never be matched.

My trip to Wimbledon this year consisted of ground pass tickets on Days 1 and 2. Ground pass is really where the value is on the first few days of a Slam, the potential for well-matched ties all over the grounds. Maybe the quality isn’t so high but you usually see competitive action. But this year, I got lucky and managed to see several really high-quality first round match-ups.

2012 girls’ champion Eugenie Bouchard showed no lack of mental fortitude to battle back against the wily Galina Voskoboeva. Bouchard has the game to be a contender in years to come if she can transfer the potential into development. I was delighted to see her follow that up with a smashing win against former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, although it has to be said that Ana has never been totally at ease on grass. Fernando Verdasco showed a surprising willingness to come to net and out-volley grass-court specialist Xavier Malisse in four highly enjoyable sets. Truth be told, the one I was most looking forward to disappointed. American Sloane Stephens never looked in any danger against her compatriot Jamie Hampton, and whilst the latter has nice variety to her game, for me it is evident that the Australian Open semi-finalist will go further with her career.

Day Two saw Alexandra Cadantu raise her level to comfortably see off a low-on-confidence-and-form Tamira Paszek, a member of the Wimbledon Last Eight Club. The Austrian needs to take some time to pick apart her game – she has talent, but is slipping away at this stage in her career. The biggest height mismatch came out on Court 10, with 5ft6 Olivier Rochus attempting to slay the 6ft9 Kevin Anderson. I’ve only ever seen the Belgian play three times and each time the opponent has been at least 6ft8. It felt a bit like we were at the circus. The veteran hit more drop-shots in a single match than will probably be produced in total during the remainder of the tournament, but as effective as this tactic was it was ultimately in vain as Anderson’s big serving saw him through in the end. Elena Vesnina negotiated a tricky-looking pairing with big-hitter Andrea Hlavackova, following up her first grass-court title in Eastbourne last week by winning through in two impressive sets. The Russian is a favourite of mine, and in particular my tennis mate who insists we watch her every time we go to Slams. After six long years, the player that he always knew was hidden behind all the errors appears to have finally broken out into a Top 20 player. It’s nice when that happens. The best match of my Wimbledon experience was Dominika Cibulkova against Maria-Elena Camerin. Allow me to explain: Camerin is another of these players you just kind of stumble upon. I think we’ve seen her play five times at Wimbledon, and each time she has been defeated. But this was the closest she has come and against a very good player too. Baseline rallies, crosscourt backhand winners, volleys, lobs, drop-shots; this had it all. What we expected to be a 45 minute destruction job turned into two and a half hours of fab grass-court tennis. Well done to both ladies. And see you next year, Camerin!

A word of warning for the best tournament in the world. If you continue to pride yourself on selling 7,500 tickets each day, you must ensure that they can be sold prior to the start of play. It is not fair that a paying customer who is within the first 7,500 people through the gates misses the first 90 minutes of play. I have been going for the past decade and the whole process is getting slower each year. They have moved the start of play forward, but there is no movement in the start of ticket sales. Two hours to sell 7,500 tickets is a tall order. They have to rethink because the popularity is proving too much for them to handle. I would hasten to add that this four-hour process is not helped by the draconian security search that takes fully ten minutes from the moment you remove your belt. In my two days there, the line was held up as officials scurried to seek the answer to whether it was necessary to take belts off and whether knives and forks were allowed (how difficult is it to know the rules in advance). An airport-style security scan is then performed, and then EVERY bag is searched individually by hand. Yeah, 7,500 bags. After scanning. Too much. I don’t think anybody would accuse the US of being lax with security yet the Open is seamless in getting people through quickly and efficiently. The All England Club will probably argue that security is paramount, yet the scanning is not done with people who enter with debenture tickets etc. Maybe people with more money couldn’t possibly be terrorists, what say you Wimbledon? Either way, it’s shoddy and people who join a queue four hours prior to play (the time the Club recommends) deserve to be accommodated on time. Look out for the players and the corporate customers by all means, but don’t forget the real fans.

Due to that factor, despite the enjoyable matches this time Wimbledon only scores 8/10.

Leave a comment

Filed under Wimbledon

The best tournament in the world

Henman Hill, June 2012

Henman Hill, June 2012


To celebrate Rafael Nadal becoming the first ever eight-time winner of a single major, I thought I’d give you eight reasons why the tournament starting on Monday is the best tournament in the world. I may be biased, but I’m also right.

1) The dress-code
I had an awful dream last week that Wimbledon had abolished the ‘predominantly white’ dress code. I think short of dreams in which monarchs die I have never had a scarier dream in my entire life. Of course, it will never happen. Wimbledon is a traditional place, but it’s smart too. Its whiteness is part of its brand, its image, its marketing appeal. There is no finer sight on a tennis court than pristine white on the lush green grass at 11.30am on the first day.

2) The queue
Some consider it a major inconvenience but Wimbledon prides itself on being one of the very few major sporting events (the only one?) where you can rock up on the day and get top-class tickets. Granted, the popularity of Centre Court and Court 1 means you now need to bring a tent to ensure you get one of those golden 1,000 every day but turn up early morning and you’re guaranteed ground pass tickets. If the weather is good, get yourself a paper, take a coffee and bacon butty from the burger vans and sit in the Wimbledon Park morning sunshine whilst waiting for the grounds to open. In the company of 7,000 other tennis fans. Bliss really!

3) Defending champions
Whilst there is nothing wrong with the current incumbents, it is not the identities of Roger Federer and Serena Williams that I refer to. Instead, it’s another nod to tradition. 1pm on the first day of the tournament, Centre Court play is opened by the defending Gentlemen’s Singles Champion, and the following day by the defending Ladies’ Champion. This should be the case at all majors; they deserve that honour for their endeavours the previous year. But for now, this sets Wimbledon apart.

4) The ‘Graveyard of Champions’
McEnroe, Connors, Cash, Stich, Agassi, Krajicek, Martinez, Venus, Serena, Hingis. All of them lost on the old Court 2, now the ‘new’ Court 3. All in matches they were expected to win easily. There’s a certain trepidation that hangs around that part of the famous old grounds, no seed really wants to be put out to play there. It even did for the first man to lift this title seven times, Pete Sampras. His Wimbledon career was ended out on Court 2 by Swiss journeyman George Bastl in 2002. I’m not sure Pistol Pete has fully forgiven Wimbledon for putting him out to grass on that court. But with only three matches per day on each of Centre and Court 1, some big names have to walk the plank on the Graveyard of Champions. Which brings me nicely onto…

Pete Sampras exits Wimbledon stage right

Pete Sampras exits Wimbledon stage right

5) Scheduling
Yes, they may only have three matches a day on Centre and Court 1, but do you know what? Barring ridiculous rain, they get the job done. No need for 15 days here, in fact the All England Club laughs in the face of 14 days and instead opts for a day off in the middle of it all. And the second the draw is made, the players know what days they will be playing throughout the fortnight – none of this ridiculous business of playing the first round over three days. And if the weather is atrocious during the first week, there’s always the prospect of catching up with a People’s Sunday, when all 35,000 tickets are put on sale to the general public. It’s only happened on three occasions, but Tim Henman will tell you it’s a whole lot of fun when it does happen.

6) The weather
Now, it’s true that there is the odd occasion when Wimbledon gets the occasional drop of the wet stuff. Oh okay, it happens a fair bit. That’s all part of the fun. The centre Court roof spoils it a bit to be honest; I miss the re-runs of the 1980 Borg-McEnroe tie-break during rain delays!

7) The 4-week season
It really hit home how different grass is to clay when I switched Queen’s on the day after Nadal won in Paris. It was like watching a completely different sport. For the very best players to have to fine-tune their games within the space of just 28 days is an incredible, unenviable task, but one which they are up to. With the rapid turnaround from Paris to London, one wouldn’t be surprised if you got fluke results here. But you don’t. It’s credit to the players at the very top of tennis that they are able to adapt completely to this surface. In many ways, it is the ultimate test of a player’s character and game. It’s why grass will always have its place on the Slam circuit. How best to prepare? It’s oh-so-tough to go from a gruelling 15 day work-out in Paris and to triumph a fortnight later in London – the only men to have done it being Borg, Federer and Nadal. Neither Nadal nor Djokovic has chosen to play a warm-up event, whilst defending champion Federer looked a little shaky as he acclimatised to the surface in Halle, his warm-up tournament of choice….

8) The quest for a British champion
But it is maybe Andy Murray who comes into this as favourite. He sensibly skipped the French Open to rest his back and had a jump-start on his leading competitors with grass-court practice. He won solidly last week at Queen’s and arrives in SW19 as fresh as any player in the draw. It seems like for every one of the last 15 years, the British crowd has thought that this will be the year we end our now-36-year wait for a winner in either of the single’s events here, a hope and an expectation that has brought an almost-constant buzz to this tournament. During that time, the hopeful cries of “Come on Tim!” died down just in time to be replaced by the more expectant “Come on Andy” chants. And each year it has ended in disappoint, at various stages and in various circumstances. But now that Andy Murray is an Open winner, now that he has picked up an Olympic Gold medal on that Centre Court, now this time more than any other time, we really do think this is our year…..

Leave a comment

Filed under Wimbledon

Greats of the game

King of clay

There was a moment late on Thursday, June 6th that divides opinion in tennis fans. It came in the 47th minute of a Grand Slam semi-final as Serena Williams powered another winner past last year’s runner-up Sara Errani to complete a 6-0 6-1 demolition job. “Lack of depth” screamed one set of voices; “a class of her own” countered the others. Where is the truth? As in all the best differences of opinion, I would argue that it is somewhere between the two. Sometimes, and this goes for both the male and female winners of the 2013 edition of Roland Garros, somebody is just too good.

Serena remarked this week that when she plays at her best level, she is difficult to beat. For once, this was unequivocal modesty from the dominant force in the women’s game. The truth is that when she plays at her best level, nobody on the tour can beat her. I have written before about how determined Victoria Azarenka is to push herself to Serena’s level but the truth is that at this moment in the former’s career, clay and to a lesser extent grass are not conducive to that chase. Vika’s best chance of upsetting Serena will always come on the harder surfaces of New York and Melbourne. Sharapova gave it her best shot but is simply incapable of living with a 100% Williams. It is a fact that Serena is a marvel, a sporting freak of her generation and fitter than ever before.

But away from her, there is depth. Witness Azarenka’s three set struggle against 31st seed Alize Cornet, unseeded Svetlana Kuznetsova’s surge to a classic quarter-final with Serena, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic’s rediscovered confidence, and then the Americans are coming again. Strong showings from Sloane Stephens (to back up her Australian Open achievements) and Jamie Hampton suggest that the women’s game is in fine nick. A word for Sara Errani too – She is too good a player to be remembered for that semi-final disaster. She was simply the perfect opponent for Serena. Let’s instead remember her run to the final last year and her first five matches this.

Queen of WTA

The men’s tournament also had a predictable ending, and in this assertion lays the sheer enormity of Rafael Nadal’s greatness. The final was not played on Court Philippe Chatrier, it was played on Court Rafa Nadal. He owns that place. This is the man, lest we forget, who missed seven of the last 11 months through injury. Whilst not one of their finest encounters, his semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic is still an all-time classic. His destruction of his good friend David Ferrer in the final cemented his place in tennis history. Forever. Eight championships from his nine appearances in Paris. 59 victories to one defeat. The first to win one of the major tournaments on eight occasions. The man is not of this world. And yet it is still his humility that sets him apart from the rest. He said after the final that of course he has doubts and that a man without doubts is an arrogant man. Well call me arrogant, because I have no doubt that he is the greatest clay court player who has ever played and who will ever play this sport. The word champion was invented for Rafael Nadal.

The word perseverance could have been invented to describe beaten finalist David Ferrer’s career. I previously thought that he had maximised his talent but I was clearly wrong. His career, despite him being in his 32nd year, is still on an upwards trajectory. What a tournament for the 30-somethings. Federer reaching his 36th consecutive major quarter-final barely raised an eyebrow and that in itself is testament to his greatness. In addition to this, the two Tommies rolled back the years. Haas solidified his excellent 2013 by reaching the last eight after outlasting everybody’s favourite marathon man John Isner in a 4th round five-setter, and that at the age of 35. Robredo became the first man in 85 years to come back to win from two sets down in three consecutive matches.

These stories, along with Tsonga’s run to the semis and the single-handed showdown between Wawrinka and Gasquet in the last 16 meant that this was an excellent Slam. The only shame was that both finals were won in straight sets, but that statistic only serves to underline the greatness (and that word is overused in sport but not in these examples) of our two French Open champions. Predictable, but unforgettable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Roland Garros, Uncategorized