Category Archives: Wimbledon

Wimbledon 2016 – how they rated

Andy Murray 9/10

Two-time Wimbledon champion

 

The Brit exceeded pre-tournament expectations but, more importantly, dealt with the burden of becoming favourite over the final nine days of the tournament. His run to the title was stress-free save for a tough two sets against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals. Crucially, the Scot kept his head when so often in the Lendl-free days he would have lost it. A first major for three years is a great way of starting his partnership with Jamie Delgado, with Lendl back in the mix too. Expect Murray to go close in New York after helping Great Britain into the semis of the Davis Cup but don’t rule out an early exit in Rio where he will defend his Olympic crown.

Milos Raonic 8/10

Make no mistake – Carlos Moya is taking this guy to a new level. There’s been a lot of credit given to the latest ‘super coach’ John McEnroe yet it is Moya who is adding steel to Raonic’s game. The Canadian’s rise has been solid and he now finally looks capable of being a Slam winner. He should and will be disappointed with his inability to figure out Murray’s brick wall in the final but he will get another shot in the US Open and his game suits three of the four majors so expect him to win one sooner rather than later. He found a way to get past the legend that is Roger Federer in the match of the tournament and will now feel he belongs in every conversation about possible winners at the next two Slams.

Roger Federer 6/10

This may seem harsh but Federer missed his last chance here. His comeback win over Marin Cilic was dramatic but the chinks in his game were spotted and exploited by Raonic. Federer schooled the Canadian at Wimbledon 2014 but whilst the younger man has moved on, Federer’s body has finally refused him any further progress. It remains to be seen if the Swiss will take part in the 2017 season. Will he still be a major semi-finalist should he decide to go on? Probably. Can he win another? The answer to that is a categorical no. Federer’s joie de jouer may now dip if he feels he cannot make it to Grand Slam #18. One thing’s for sure – a more popular player Centre Court will not see for many a decade.

Federer victorious in 2011

17 and most probably out…

 

Novak Djokovic 6/10

Not as disastrous as it first seems. This guy has been putting his body and mind under insane pressure in his quest for the Calendar Slam. His early exit here coupled with his usual sitting-out of the Davis Cup quarter-finals will give the world #1 the necessary time to recuperate from what has been a stunning year in which he held all four majors. The pressure will have been notched down rather than up for a change so don’t be surprised to see Djokovic return fitter, stronger and just as good as before.

Nicolas Mahut 10/10

The genial Frenchman has ensured that his name will not just be remembered for THAT 2011 match which he lost. As well as reaching the last 16 in the singles, the 34-year-old has found a young doubles partner capable of complementing his game perfectly. They are now holders of two of the four majors and are the best doubles team in the world right now; Pierre-Hugues Herbert can achieve things in singles also but I’m sure most neutrals were more delighted for his partner Mahut as he became a Wimbledon champion on Saturday evening.

Nick Kyrgios 2/10

Everybody knows I’m not a fan so I won’t write too much. Get a grip, Kyrgios. People are paying big money and to tank when you lose a set is pathetic. Hire a coach who will test you, not pander to you. Want to be a champion or not? Talented players without the desire to win are ten-a-penny and are forgotten overnight. Kyrgios has the ability to win Wimbledon but right now he is a million miles away as he has the heart of a pea.

Serena Williams 10/10

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22 not out

 

If Kyrgios wants an example of how it is done, he should look no further than the seven-time Wimbledon champion who now has 22 Grand Slams to her name. At the age of 30, she took the decision to hire Patrick Mouratoglu as her coach and their partnership has reaped gigantic reward. Serena has never lost a mental battle on court and her Wimbledon fortnight is one to be cherished. She was pushed in round 2 by her compatriot Christina McHale but came through in three sets. From there, her route was relatively straightforward but when pushed by Angelique Kerber in the final, she came out on top. This will be of huge relief to the American after losses at the business end of the previous three majors. If I had a mansion, I would put it at stake to back Serena to win #23 in nine weeks’ time.

Angelique Kerber 8/10

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Kerber v2.0 can win more majors

 

The Australian Open champion made serene progress during the first week before knocking out Simona Halep and Venus Williams in consecutive rounds. She could not repeat her feat of defeating Serena but her overall fortnight has lain to rest any lingering remnants of the old mentally-fragile Kerber. Angie v2.0 is a force to be reckoned with. It would be a major surprise if she fails to surpass her previous best of a quarter-final berth in New York in September and she is likely to once again provide the younger Williams with her stiffest competition. Let’s hope the Wimbledon champion’s longevity encourages Kerber that she too can maintain this level for a good few years.

Venus Williams 9/10

There was nothing spectacular about the elder Williams’ run to the semi-finals, defeating nobody that she hadn’t been expected to. However therein lays the sheer quality of her tournament and level; at the age of 36 she is still living with players in the Top 10. She is still capable of winning slams – yes it requires a favourable draw and a Serena slip but Venus is as capable now of winning the US Open or Wimbledon as at any other time in the last five years.

Elena Vesnina 9/10

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Vesnina’s stand-out single performance

 

‘The Vesh’ finally gets a mention on this page for her singles exploits. A multi-slam doubles champion, she went deep into a major for the first time on her own. Knocking out Andrea Petkovic, Ekaterina Makarova and Dominika Cibulkova meant that she deserved her place in the last four. Granted her semi-final appearance was over quicker than it takes to fly from Paris to London but for somebody who has seen her suffer so many tough first-round losses over the past ten years, it is amazing to see somebody like Vesnina get her moment in the spotlight.

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Blushing bride

 

Dominika Cibulkova 10/10 – Wimbledon quarter-finalist and made it out of there in time to get married. Ace fortnight!

Petra Kvitova 2/10 – Must do better, especially on grass.

Garbine Muguruza 5/10 – Early loss will do her good and keep her feet on the ground.

Simona Halep 7/10 – Back to her best, will go deep in the US Open.

Tomas Berdych 6/10 – Perennial semi-finalist.

Sam Querrey 8/10 – Backed up shock win by making the last eight.

Lucas Pouille 9/10 – Making great strides. Not seen him play yet, but surely one to watch?

Marcus Willis 10/10 – Tested Hollywood scriptwriters. We will NEVER see him again but nice story.

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Plenty of early Brexits, but Serena and Djokovic Remain the ones to beat

The Championships

There’s a strong temptation these days to just hand the Wimbledon trophies over to Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and not bother playing the tournament at all. But with Andy Murray reuniting with Ivan Lendl and Serena not having won a major since this time a year ago, what hope is there for a different name on those trophies in two weeks’ time?

Serena Williams should not have too many issues until next weekend, when she is set for a Centre Court showdown with either Heather Watson, who came so close to defeating her on that very court at the same stage last year or, more probably, with Kiki Mladenovic who pushed her close in Paris last month. If Serena were to come through that potential banana skin, she could race away to her 22nd Grand Slam but I just have a gut feeling that Mladenovic may get the better of her in a big shock.

Still 21 not out

If Serena does fall by the wayside, who are the main candidates for victory? As I so often say, you cannot discount Agnieszka Radwanska from a run at the All England Club and should she benefit from Serena being ousted she would be the most experienced player left in that half of the draw. Of course, Radwanska’s career has been ruined by a niggling lack of bottle when the going gets tough so I wouldn’t make her outright favourite at any stage. Gaby Muguruza is aiming to win back-to-back majors but may find the quick turnaround a little bit too tough emotionally and I wouldn’t be surprised if she too goes out in the first week.

Sabine Lisicki may be unseeded but, as a former finalist here, she can never be ruled out. Her form has been less than desirable for over nine months now but she always brings her best form to South West London. The same applies to Petra Kvitova, the two-time former champ. Can she bring her A game to Wimbledon 2016? Nothing coming in suggests that it is likely and she is going to come up against a dangerous floater in Barbora Strycova as early as the third round so I’d be amazed if she were to complete a hat-trick of titles.

It is Madison Keys who I believe stands the strongest outside bet going into this year’s championships. Her game is improving solidly; she has been to a Major semi-final at last year’s Australian Open and is fresh from a grass court title in Brimingham last two weeks ago. Were she to have to go through Serena Williams in the final, I would make her the underdog and not back against Serena. But should Serena not make it, I expect the Stars and Stripes to still be flying, this time for a new champion in Madison Keys.

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Madison Keys is in fine form

 

In the men’s tournament, there is simply nothing that will scare Novak Djokovic. He must recognise that he is head and shoulders above everybody in the game right now. If he plays to his maximum ability and intensity he will walk away from here just seven match wins away from the Grand Slam, all four majors in the same calendar year. He could face a small test in the Last 16 in the shape of Philipp Kohlschreiber who has caused him trouble in the past but there is nothing to indicate the German could take out the 2016 Djokovic over five sets. After that, Milos Raonic would need to play the match of his life to take out a warmed-up Djokovic and it is just unlikely to happen.

Everything points to a second Wimbledon final between the World number one and Britain’s number one Andy Murray. Murray won their previous final encounter, in straight sets back in 2013 but only the most patriotic Brit or foolhardy gambler would back him to achieve such a convincing victory this time around. Does Murray have a shot? Yes. He has a very favourable draw and I can see him losing no more than two sets on his way to another home Grand Slam final appearance. But he would need to be absolutely on it and hope Djokovic is not at the top of his game for him to take home the title. Having Ivan Lendl back in his camp will be important to him and there was always a sense that these two special characters would end up back together; they’re almost meant to be. But it looks like a third runners-up trophy of the year for the Scot.

On course for the calendar Grand Slam

 

Away from the top two, expect a decent tournament but nothing more from 7-time champ Roger Federer. His season has been too affected by injury for him to string anything more than five matches together at his spiritual home. The Swiss legend should content himself with a quarter-final berth. Of the “next generation”, I’d pick Dominic Thiem to once again go the deepest but a place in the last 16 will probably be the best he can hope for here, which doesn’t quite stand up to his semi-final result in Paris. That said, it would represent real consolidation of an excellent spring for the talented young Austrian. The pack is assembling under Djokovic but there is some way to go before they start snapping at his heels.

My picks:

Women’s champion: Serena Williams

Men’s champion: Novak Djokovic

Break-out star: Madison Keys

Likely to spring a shock: Barbora Strycova, Kiki Mladenovic, Ivo Karlovic and Gilles Simon

Set to disappoint: Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Stan Wawrinka

Brit watch: Murray to reach final, no other player to reach the second week.

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London sun shines on two all-time greats – Wimbledon 2015 Review

I wrote 15 days ago about how I had a feeling that Wimbledon was going to be a stellar tournament and I have to say that for me it delivered. At the end of the fortnight, Serena Williams was the holder of her 21st Grand Slam title and Novak Djokovic was holding his eight major aloft. But on the way to these fairly predictable outcomes, we were privileged to see scintillating encounters as well as near-exhibition tennis from some of the all-time greats. Moreover, a former champ returned to the winners’ circle and the tournament played out in virtually-perfect summer weather. Yeah, 2015 was a vintage Wimbledon.

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is a machine. He’s now gone onto nine major wins, putting him ahead of Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi. I don’t think any of those players, especially the Open era champions, get less respect and recognition than Djokovic does. I said in January how when you watch Djokovic in the flesh up against the very best you truly appreciate just how far he has come since his early days in the sport. He was always a very good player, but what he does on a tennis court now is the stuff of legend. I have never seen such a great counter-attacker on a tennis court, hitting so accurately and so deeply on such a consistent basis. But that accurate, deep hitting allows him to set the pace in these big matches; it was Federer doing the scampering around at many stages in that final. Add to this Djokovic’s ridiculously low number of unforced errors in such a big match then you are now looking at a truly flawless tennis great; there is no weakness there.

Across from Djokovic on the champions’ dinner dancefloor was Serena Williams, celebrating her sixth Wimbledon title and 21st major in total. The elder Williams is now 75% of the way to completing the elusive calendar Grand Slam and only a fool will bet against her achieving that in New York in eight weeks’ time. Serena is now only three majors behind Margaret Court and it seems a foregone conclusion that she will now at least equal that mighty haul of 24. She came within a couple of points of being dumped out in the third round by Heather Watson, but that is where Serena’s grit shines through. Yes, she is the most powerful player to ever play the women’s game and her serve is the greatest it will ever see but it is the incredible fight that she can possess that has seen that number rise so high. Wanna play Pontoon? Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams- their total major championships come to 21, the same number as Serena has won on her own.

21 not out

21 not out – the incomparable Serena Williams

As examine the tournament, we see great examples of depth in both draws. Who would have backed Richard Gasquet to calmly see off reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set? John Isner seemed to shy away from going for his own Wimbledon record when he bowed out on the second day of his five-set marathon with Marin Cilic. Vasek Pospisil leaped out of the Canadian shadow of Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard, who had disappointing and dreadful championships respectively, by reaching his first major quarter-final.  Roger Federer advanced defiantly into a second consecutive final and would surely have lifted an eight Wimbledon title if Kevin Anderson had have taken care of the eventual champion when he led him two sets to love last Monday evening. Federer was imperious against Gilles Simon and Andy Murray leading into that final and will be cursing his luck that he came up against the flawless Djokovic once more.

On the women’s side, there were stand-out runs to the latter stages for CoCo Vandeweghe  and Garbine Muguruza. The former showed no fear as she went toe-to-toe with Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals, pushing the five-time major winner every step of the way. It will be interesting to see if Vandeweghe pushes on from here. Muguruza had an amazing run to her first Slam final, taking out the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska and then doing herself proud by putting in a decent performance against Williams in that final. Her powerful groundstrokes and wingspan remind me of a young Venus Williams and she would do well to go back to Barcelona and purchase a grass court to ensure her performance here isn’t a one-off. Her results at all the slams now are showing signs of consistency and she seems to be the youngster who is most capable of being a regular feature in the world’s top five.

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

When Martina Hingis came back to the tennis world following a drugs ban, there were few that didn’t queue up to offer her their partnership. The chosen ones were Indian duo Sania Mirza and Leander Paes and Hingis is surely close to being the best doubles player in the world right now. She waited 18 years for another Wimbledon title, and much like London buses, two came along at the same time. It’s good to have Hingis back and so much a part of the scene, but it’s to her eternal shame that her career will forever be asterisked with a 2-year drugs ban. Having said that, it’s still good to see that smile back on a doubles court and one wonders how she’d fare if she decided to make a second singles comeback, even at the age of 34.

It wasn’t all great over the past fortnight. Caroline Wozniacki rightly opened up the debate about Wimbledon’s scheduling of the two main show courts. Their late starts (starting 90 minutes after outside courts) mean that there is only time for three matches per day on those two courts, and 99% of the time that means two men’s matches and only one women’s match each day. By also starting at 11.30am, it would give greater exposure to the top of the women’s game. (Come on) Tim Henman has promised that he and the rest of the Wimbledon Committee will look into this and Henman has been a force for good since he started in that role five years ago so expect to see change in the next year or two. Not before time.

Wimbledon's show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

Wimbledon’s show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

All in all, the British summer time sun shone brightly on a magnificent tournament. More and more players in the modern day seem to be acclimatising to playing on grass and the extra week’s rest between Roland Garros and Wimbledon ensured they had enough time to adapt to the different surface, ensuring a Wimbledon that will live long in the memory, especially for two of the greatest champions that have ever graced the sport. Roll on New York City!

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Reasons not to miss Wimbledon 2015

The Championships

The Championships

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion this is going to be one of the better Wimbledons, nay one of the better Grand Slams, in recent years. Rather than simply state that feeling, I decided to dig deeper down into why my heart is saying this. So it’s not just my instinct, here are the reasons the 129th edition of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club Championships is going to be a belter.

Serena’s Calendar Grand Slam quest

There’s no doubt for me that this is the single most thrilling sub-plot to tennis in 2015.  The 20-time Grand Slam champion has won the first two majors of 2015 and thus is half-way to completing the elusive Calendar Grand Slam. Only Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have achieved this feat during the Open Era and should Serena emerge from this tournament holding a sixth Wimbledon title above her head, only a fool would bet against her completing the Calendar Slam in her home major in New York. Once again, the field may have to hope that she has an off-day somewhere along the line because when Serena is on you’d have to think that nobody, with the possible exception of an at-her-very-best Petra Kvitova, could hurt the American.

An ex-champ bows out

I sincerely hope Lleyton Hewitt can find a way to get through his first-round encounter with fellow veteran Jarkko Nieminen. Tennis loves bidding farewell to its champions and the 2002 winner would deserve one last day under the Centre Court sun against the reigning champion Novak Djokovic on Wednesday afternoon. Hewitt’s career will be remembered for his epic four and five-set struggles and his never-say-die attitude rather than any particular shot or technical attribute. He carried the sport for the 18 months at the beginning of the millennium when Sampras’ light had dimmed and whilst Federer’s was only just starting to flicker. Hewitt’s last act of his career will be walking off the Rod Laver Arena in seven months’ time, but for now the Wimbledon crowd that has always so admired him would love to cheer Rocky on to one last grass-court knockout punch.

Rolling from the start

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It’s not often that the first two days are stacked with so many high-quality matches but boy would I love to have a ground pass in South-West London over the next few days. For whatever reason, there are some great match-ups in both first round draws. Wimbledon favourite Daniela Hantuchova takes on last year’s Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in a Slovakian derby whilst former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone takes on her compatriot Sara Errani, herself a former Roland Garros finalist.  The Eastbourne winner Belinda Bencic comes up against grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, a former semi-finalist at the All-England Club and there are a whole host of other intriguing clashes over the first two days. On the men’s side, there are tough openers for Gilles Simon, against the unpredictable Nicolas Almagro, and for two-time former champion Rafael Nadal who will be hoping that Thomaz Bellucci doesn’t have one of his ‘on’ days. The undoubted highlight of the first round on the men’s side however is Philipp Kohlschrieber challenging the defending champion and World Number 1 Novak Djokovic. Kohlschrieber is always capable of stringing together three winning sets in a Grand Slam whoever the opponent, but consistency has always been his biggest foe. Djokovic would do well to have a word with Hewitt on how to avoid the ultimate upset when he opens up proceedings on Centre Court tomorrow; the name Ivo Karlovic looms large on Hewitt’s career obituary.

British flag flying high

Not just for June - more than only Murray should make it into July

Not just for June – more than only Murray should make it into July

There is a very good chance that British hopes will not be pinned exclusively on Andy Murray as we head into July. I can’t remember the last time more than one Brit was left in the tournament when the seventh month of the year arrived so this is incredible progress. Granted, this has much to do with the fact the event starts a week later this year, but still……..

Four potential winners on the women’s side

2013 Finalist Sabine Lisicki has as good a shot as any

2013 Finalist Sabine Lisicki has as good a shot as any

Serena is the favourite but there are cases to be made for Sabine Lisicki, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Lisicki turns into a different player when she walks through the gates of the All-England Club. Until four weeks ago, Lisicki had won more matches at Wimbledon than at all the other Grand Slams put together – an incredible record. The German, who broke her own WTA record for the most aces in a match earlier this month, is a Top 20 player who transforms into a Top 5 one for two weeks every year. Kvitova is now a two-time Wimbledon champion whose best game can blow most top players off the court. Her demolition of Genie Bouchard (spare a thought for the Canadian – let’s hope she doesn’t lose too many ranking points this week to further crush her confidence) proved exactly that when she simply blasted the Canadian defender straight off the court. Her compatriot Safarova pushed her close in last year’s semi-final and comes into this off the back of her first Grand Slam final and at her highest-ever ranking. Her confidence is at an all-time high and she will have gained heart from that second-set display in Paris.

Three potential winner’s on the men’s side

Novak Djokovic has to be the favourite. He’s the defending champion and with renewed vigour after his Paris disappointment, he will aim to channel his hurt from that crushing defeat to Stan Wawrinka by lifting his third Wimbledon crown. After the first round, his route through to the finals is a relatively straight-forward one, save for a potential third-round clash with former quarter-finalist Bernard Tomic. I expect to see him in the final two weeks today. Who he will face is tougher to call; Andy Murray is back to his best, and has a terrific opportunity to reach his third Wimbledon final – should he do so, he stands his best chance, on this surface and with the home crowd behind him, of getting the better of Djokovic for the first time since his back surgery……..

Last chance saloon for King Roger

The third potential winner is Roger Federer. This is where it gets interesting – Old Father Time is finally calling last orders on the Swiss maestro’s realistic chances of winning this title. This is his last plausible opportunity to lift an eighth Wimbledon title, and 18th major. I think he knows it too. He can still beat all of the top guys on grass at Wimbledon over five sets. He must seek to avoid upsets en route to the semi-finals and hope that crowd support carries him through titanic struggles with Murray and Djokovic. He’s capable. One last time, he’s more than capable.

Wish I was there

Wish I was there

And finally,

It’s tennis on grass at Wimbledon. Biased I may be but it’s just aesthetically pleasing, isn’t it.

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A wonderful Wimbledon

King of Britain

King of Britain


Followers of men’s tennis have been spoiled in the last few years. The Federer and Nadal rivalry took the sport to new heights before Novak Djokovic came along and stole the show from 2011 onwards. Andy Murray quietly battled away, improving his game bit by bit before adding Ivan Lendl to his coaching team, a move which gave him the extra push to look those three in the eyes as their equal. We’ve been treated to incredible finals or semi-finals in practically every major of the last five years, to the extent that we’ve come to expect that level in the latter stages.

But I don’t think there’s ever been a day like Friday. Eight hours and 45 minutes of pure drama, it had everything; a gentle Argentinean giant pushing the World Number 1 to his absolute limit and a hard-hitting virtual unknown playing the role of panto villain attempting to thwart the hometown hero. The level reached by Djokovic and Juan-Martin Del Potro in their five set match-for-the-ages was at times almost literally unbelievable. The first match point that JMDP saved will live with me forever – what courage and confidence in your game. His obvious exasperation with the Serb’s stubbornness means that Wimbledon found a new favourite. But eventually it was Djokovic that came back from the brink when it looked like he had nothing left to give – how many times have we said that in the last three years? At four hours and 43 minutes, the longest men’s semi-final in Wimbledon’s long history. And the organisers had deemed that the starter!

Surely the world’s second best player Andy Murray would have no problem seeing off the unheralded Jerzy Janowicz in the main course. The first problem was when the 6ft8inch Pole pulverised the man from Dunblane in a devastating first set tiebreak. Cue audible gasps from the reserved Centre Court crowd. Things got better for the Brit when he took the second set but Janowicz broke early in the third set. This is when the crowd woke up and, inspired by their support, Murray played wonderfully to go into a two sets to one lead. No problems now.
Except what Wimbledon does best is attempt to screw their own players. They are so afraid to be seen to give home-town advantage that they go the opposite way. It was at this juncture (after Murray had won the last five games) that they decided to close the roof, despite there being tons of bright sunshine, despite it being an outdoor summer event. I think this was the first time the BBC haven’t endlessly fawned over that bloody roof. Murray was furious (maybe his gran is a big EastEnders fan and this controversial decision was further delaying the start of the dour drama). But he channelled his anger and he used the crowd to motivate, to cajole, to rouse himself. In short, he did everything he could and should do in order to take advantage of it being his home Slam. He reached his second consecutive Wimbledon final, but no thanks to the referee’s office. Poor Tim Henman was having flashbacks to 2001 – he did really well not to have a very public breakdown in the commentary box! All in all, possibly the best day’s tennis in 20 years!

Marion la Magnifique

Marion la Magnifique


A word on the winners: Marion Bartoli is a deserving champion. Her belief in her game has never wavered – she may not have so many modelling contracts, because she ain’t “a looker”, isn’t that right John Inverdale? But as she herself said, she has never dreamed of getting modelling contracts but she has absolutely always dreamed of winning Wimbledon. Double-handed off both sides, you never forget watching her play. She handled the big occasion better than the new Wimbledon darling Sabine Lisicki, who will also be better for her fortnight in SW19. But Bartoli did not lose a set in London. Her style and character may not be to everybody’s liking but she deserves her new place in tennis history.

Andy Murray is now a multiple Slam winner. He currently holds more glitter than any other man in the game. He is the reigning Olympic champion, reigning US Open champion and became the first British player since Virginia Wade 36 years ago to win our home Grand Slam. He played sublimely in the first week but I felt that he looked flat in both his quarter-final and semi-final victories. But he did what Federer and Nadal could not do; he got through on his tough days. And in the final he blew Novak Djokovic away. The comeback king had no answer to Murray’s game. Murray made more winners, made less unforced errors and served better under pressure. Lendl has had the exact effect Murray will have hoped for when they first talked about linking up. There’s a new top two in tennis, and Murray is one of them.

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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!

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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.

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