Tag Archives: Federer

My 2013 Grand Slammy awards

To tide me over the horrible tennis off-season I thought I would look back on the year before we get ready to do it all again in 2014. So I give you my very own Slammy awards: (NB there will be a lot of bias in here and the categories may not be so mainstream)

The ‘Oh I say! tennis day of the year’ award: Friday, July 5th

I thought at the time that this was one of the best days of tennis a Grand Slam had offered up in two decades; the four months in between have done nothing to dilute that view. When a British player reaching a Wimbledon final isn’t the highlight of the day, you know you’ve had a treat. The nine sets of men’s tennis served up in the Wimbledon men’s semi-finals will stand the test of time for their drama and for their incredible level of quality. As a side-note, don’t count Juan-Martin Del Potro out of winning that tournament one day.

The ‘Errrr crikey, what do we do for the rest of the tournament?’ award: Wimbledon Day 3

Wimbledon's Black Wednesday

Wimbledon’s Black Wednesday

Ah yes, the day that eight players withdrew through injury either before or during their matches, the day that six former World number 1s bowed out of the tournament. Not only were Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic all eliminated on the women’s side, but the 21st century’s King of Centre Court finally succumbed to an opponent he shouldn’t have lost to; Federer’s four-set loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky a fitting finale to a day that tennis enthusiasts will never forget. Exit stage right half of the tennis world protagonists.

The ‘Handbags at twenty paces’ award: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova

Whilst the Siberian cannot live up to the World Number 1 on the court (remember it is almost a decade now since Maria has defeated Serena), their public falling-out was at least a more even match-up. Quite what seemed to cause the until-then good friends to fall out is open to interpretation but it did seem that the age-old “I don’t like your boyfriend” stance added fuel to the fire. It’s not quite what women’s tennis wants to be known for but it did get tabloid inches. I’d pay good money to see the stare-down between these two on a grand stage next year?

The ‘You’re tossing a potentially good career’ award: Bernard Tomic
So much raw talent but will somebody please get a hold of the Aussie before it’s too late? The 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist lost in woeful fashion to Britain’s Dan Evans in New York in August and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but on a tennis court. The ‘kid’ has talent but his will-to-win and desire to put in the training hours looks at very best suspect. He needs to cut himself loose from his father and get a seasoned experienced coach to put him back on the right track. Photos of him in a nightclub receiving lap-dances during the offseason do not suggest he is knuckling down just yet. Next year is vital for him, almost make-or-break. He has the talent, but then so did Jelena Dokic….

The ‘Duracell bunny’ award: Marion Bartoli
Her effervescent never-say-never attitude finally paid dividends in the summer of 2013 when, at her 47th attempt, she finally won a Grand Slam title. She took full advantage of the draw opening up with all of the withdrawals and shock losses and marched through to the Venus Rosewater Dish without losing a set. Her name will always be there on that plate and despite the fact that it was not a stellar tournament on the ladies’ side, her example goes alongside Francesca Schiavone’s from recent years with the maxim to kids that if you leave everything out there on the court, then you really can reach the highest of highs. Her decision to retire shocked many but not as many as you would first think. Bartoli was always a scientist, a mathematician. She left no stone unturned in her career and she logically concluded that Wimbledon 2013 would be the pinnacle of her career. Nothing left to achieve, merci and adieu! Well played Bartster!

The ‘Why are you still playing? Ah, that’s why!’ award: Radek Stepanek

Davis Cup trooper

Davis Cup trooper

The 35-year-old Czech can still be a nuisance on the singles tour. He gets into the heads of the very top players, albeit temporarily but struggles now to stick runs together at ATP level. He’s dropped down to play a few lower-level tournaments but it is the Davis Cup that he lives for these days. In November, he helped the Czech Republic to a successful defence of their title by overcoming Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, a year after they defeated Spain. Keep on running, old man – it’s clearly worth it!

Early predictions for 2014
Serena Williams to win less Grand Slam tournaments – whilst she is the undisputed Queen of the WTA, this was her year to capitalise. Next year Victoria Azarenka will win at least another Grand Slam and the youngsters will all be a year wiser and a year fitter. But Serena will still win one or two.
Juan-Martin Del Potro will win a second Grand Slam title. If the big man can ensure he gets amongst the top 4 seeds at the big tournaments, he is capable of adding to his solitary major.
Roger Federer will end the year in the Top 5. Not as many points to defend as in previous years, a switch of coach and a switch of mentality = dangerous maestro!
Slaone Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard will become established members of the WTA Top 10, Grigor Dimitrov and Jerzy Janowicz will crack the top ten on the men’s tour. Bernard Tomic will not.

Career crossroads

Career crossroads

From a British point of view, Andy Murray will add to his Slam collection, most probably in Melbourne at the year’s start. Heather Watson will battle back into the world’s top 50 due to her new attacking game but Laura Robson’s immediate future will depend on how quickly she settles into working with her new coach. Jo Konta will make it three British women in the Top 100 once again. Dan Evans should get into the Top 100 by the time the US Open series comes around.
Oh, and just so he doesn’t go without a mention…Rafael Nadal to end the year by winning the World Tour Finals and as World Number 1.

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Unquestionable greatness

World Champion and Great Briton

World Champion and Great Briton

I thought long and hard about whether I could get away with writing a blog about the athletics World Championships, whether I was informed enough. But then that particular concern has never stopped me with tennis. I’ve watched all week a sport which is beset with drug concerns, as the sport I love appears to be lumbering into a doping crisis. Or at least it will be if Francophone media have their way. Not content with having eventually been proven justified in their pursuit of Lance Armstrong, they appear to now want to say that any enforced absence or retirement from tennis is down to doping. Nadal, Serena, Bartoli, Clijsters, Henin. 5 Champions. All having their names dragged through mud. This is the sport that chucked Martina Hingis, a five-time major winner, out on her ear for recreational cocaine use, something the Swiss always denied. But the facts are there for me. Tennis does not do cover-ups.

Anyway, the athletics. That is a sport where you cannot trust much of what you see. You have Russians who arrive at major championships and knock three seconds off their personal bests, in the 1500 metres. You have people like LaShawn Merritt who has served two drug bans in the past winning the 400 metres by a full 10 metres and you’re supposed to admire that. No, you can’t. You watch it and you suspect immediately. Shelley-Ann Fraser=Pryce has served a suspension in the past too. How many of the host nation’s athletes have served suspensions in the past five years? How many deserving athletes have been denied their moments on the podium due to cheats initially prospering at their expense. A sport which is currently having to do without Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Sherone Simpson. All established stars that fell afoul of regulations for an assortment of reason, none of which are acceptable for top sport stars. I’m just glad that I can watch the sport that I love and not see it through those suspecting eyes, no matter what L’Equipe or the Belgian gutter press say.

What I initially wanted to write about before I got so rudely interrupted by those libellous stories was how we measure greatness in sport. Christine Ohuruogu became World Champion for the second time this week, a full six years after her maiden victory. She followed up her first World title by winning the Olympic title 12 months later, but it has taken her five long years to get back on top of the podium. Yet we didn’t proclaim her a great athlete in 2008, no we waited until this week’s triumph ended her barren spell a couple of Relay gold medals and another Olympic medal, this time silver!). Usain Bolt is on for yet another clean sweep and now there is little doubt that he is the greatest short sprinter that ever competed. It’s because he is going out there and doing it time and time again. Mo Farah was not content with winning the 5000m and 10,000m double in just the Olympics, but has gone and repeated it in Moscow. By doing that, he inches closer to the real greats like Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebreselassie. Only by sticking around in a sport do you achieve greatness. By consistently being close to, if not on, the top of a sport for a sustained period of time.

You can have barren spells, injuries, times when a flash in the pan comes along and beats you to medals. But if you stick at what you do best and you look to continually improve, you’ll be back on top more times than you’re not. That’s why Sir Alex Ferguson was the don of British football. Arsene Wenger may have outwitted him on occasions, Mourinho may have trumped him a couple of times but Ferguson was the best for 20 years at United. That’s what made Michael Johnson the greatest athlete of all time, he was at the very top of his sport for nine years. And he doubled up in that time. That’s what makes Roger Federer the greatest tennis player of all time for me. That consecutive grand slam quarter-final record, the amount of time he’s spent in the Top 5. The way others have had to raise their games to challenge these legends of their sport. By being good, you can win. But by having longevity, you can achieve greatness. Whilst it would be a little exuberant to suggest Christine Ohuruogu is one of the greatest athletes in the world, her victory in Russia this week makes her, for me, one of Britain’s greatest ever. It puts her above the likes of Kelly Holmes and Linford Christie.

Welcome to Club Longevity Christine, you’re a fully paid-up and deserving member.

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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…..

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All eyes back on London for one last 2012 time

8 of the world’s top 9 players descend on the Artist-formerly-known-as-the-Millennium-Dome this weekend as the ATP Tour Finals take place. This year’s finale comes two weeks earlier than usual; great news for those who have long campaigned for a shorter season.  Let’s hope this change is justified and that the players arrive in much sharper fitness than in previous years. It would be nice if next Monday night’s final was between the best two players, rather than merely the last two standing.

Rafael Nadal’s absence gives opportunity to Jarko Tipsarevic, who performed well last year as an alternate. It is just reward for a man who continues to perform more and more consistently every year – he always had the talent and was always a dangerous floater in any draw but his performances over the last 18 months mean he is now becoming a contender to be the best of the rest. His swashbuckling style will mean that all of his matches this week will be well worth a watch for any neutral.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the other player who left it late to book his London spot. His year has been solid enough but not as successful as his 2011 season.  Tsonga has failed to kick on in a year when I fully expected him to at least reach a Grand Slam or Olympic final. The cold hard facts for Tsonga are that he is getting no younger and Murray and Djokovic look likely to continue being better than him and being much more consistent than him. The gap has not narrowed – it has got much, much wider.

Tomas Berdych arrives in Britain on the back of an impressive autumn. After first round defeats at Wimbledon and in the Olympics, Berdych looked in danger of slipping down the rankings. But he has steadied the ship and was unfortunate to have to play Murray in the New York semis on a ridiculously windy day which unfortunately spoiled what would have been a classic. The slower indoor courts in London may well suit Berdych’s game and I do not rule him out from a final appearance nine days from now, despite being put in the same group as Murray and Djokovic. If he comes out of that group, expect him to reach that final.

Juan-Martin Del Potro is back to full fitness and could have a massive 2013 ahead of him. He is the man with the game to take it to Murray, Federer, Djokovic and a fit Nadal. If Nadal continues to struggle next season, the smart money is on JMDP to be a staple of the last 4 in Grand Slam events. As things stand now, I put him as one of three men who can win the Australian Open next month, along with Murray and Djokovic. His recent victory over Federer in Basel leaves him in good fettle and one had to marvel at his delight at coming out victorious over Djokovic in the Olympics Bronze Medal match. JMDP has the ability to knock any of the top guys off the court – is he capable of doing it back-to-back? When fully fit and confident, yes I think he is.

David Ferrer is the sport’s Mr Consistency; 2 Grand Slam semi-finals this year with appearances in the last eight in the other two are testament to this. He is enjoying as fine an Indian Summer in his career as he could have dreamed of. His durability is the key to his game – I sometimes wonder what he could achieve if he actually thought he could beat the Top 3 or 4. After a favourable draw, Ferrer could feature in the last 4 this week, which will represent a solid end to another impressive year for the 30-year-old Spaniard.

I get the impression that Roger Federer is not going to pull up trees this week in London.  His year has been an unqualified triumph.  He won his 17th Grand Slam title and regained the Number 1 spot, before going on to become the man who has held that slot for the longest in Open history, a figure which now stands at over 300 weeks. Incredible. He is going for a hat-trick in London – he has not lost a match at the Championships since 2009. However, if anybody will come into this tournament feeling drained from his year’s efforts, it will be Federer. But it would be foolish to completely write him off (he has been placed in the weaker group which will help his cause) and I would be delighted to be eating my words in a week’s time if Federer poses with his 7th Tour Finals trophy. Yes, it would be his 7th. Incredible is often the best word to fully appreciate this man’s career.

Andy Murray will count on more home support than ever as he attempts to cap off a remarkable year for British tennis. His summer success seems to have inspired the country’s top 2 women with Laura Robson and Heather Watson both reaching WTA finals, the latter winning hers, since Murray lifted the US Open trophy. His early loss in Paris last week will have actually served him well. He will arrive in London fresh and ready to win his first Tour Finals. Murray has a difficult draw in Group A alongside Djokovic and Berdych but if he gets out of the group, which he should, he can take his place in his first final at the event. One thing is for certain, he arrives in better shape than he did a year ago, when he pulled out after his first match loss to David Ferrer.

Novak Djokovic is the man to beat in this tournament.  He will end the year back on top of the world when he takes over from Federer in the rankings during the tournament.  His year has been a resounding success. In an era where we are blessed with so many fantastic players, he was never going to be able to match his amazing 2011, but he has backed it up this season with one Grand Slam and two final appearances in others. Whilst Federer and Murray shared the summer plaudits, and rightly so, it is right and fitting that the Serb will finish the year as the top-ranked player in the world. He is there to be fired at, he knows that a victory in London will validate that spot but also knows that a victory for Murray or Federer will give that player scope to believe that they are the best player in the world right now. Like Murray, Djokovic lost early in Paris and should be fresh. It may not be the bravest of predictions but I tip Djokovic to prove he is still the best player in the world for now and end 2012 as Number 1 and with his second ATP Tour Finals trophy in his locker.

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The end of an era

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At the time of writing, only one glittering career has officially ended in New York this past week, but at least one more is imminent and two others appear to be nearing their denouement.  Laura Robson has burst onto the major scene by ending Kim Clijsters’ career for good in an incredibly high standard two sets of tennis.  Kim seemed quite relieved to have it all over and done with – I was privileged enough to be in the stands to witness it, and we all wish her the best in the rest of her life – tennis will miss her smile.  The hard-hitting Robson has added movement to her game now and whilst it would be wrong to put too much pressure on her young shoulders, this may not be the last time we see her in the latter stages of a Slam.  She showed all of her best fighting qualities to see off another major winner in the following round when she battled to a 3-set victory over Na Li – an amazing result to follow up on the best win of her career with arguably an even better one.

Elsewhere in the women’s draw, there was serene progress for Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka who have barely dropped a handful of games each.  I saw Serena’s match against Coco Vandeweghe and it was painful to witness – the gulf in class frightening.  The pre-match interview with Vandeweghe suggested that her serve would be better than her opponent’s – I think in reality she served about ten double faults in seven games. Sharapova was equally ruthless in her demolition of Melinda Czink.  I didn’t get a chance to see Vika but her results seem just as emphatic.  Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska seemed unseasonably off-colour in their victories over Pauline Parmentier and Carla Suarez-Navarro respectively; it is no surprise to see that they are not featuring in the second week.  The opportunity to check on Angelique Kerber didn’t present itself, but she may have also effectively ended the Grand Slam career of Venus Williams.  if, as I suspect, the sport loses Clijsters and the elder Williams in quick succession, major draws will have an unfamiliar look about the for a while.  Their successes will always be remembered, but time waits for no woman.

And nor does it wait for any man.  Andy Roddick has chosen to follow Kim Clijsters’ example and retire on his own terms.  His announcement that this will be his final tournament is fitting, coming at the place of his only Grand Slam victory, way back in 2003.  History will prove that Andy’s peak came at exactly the wrong time, coinciding with Roger Federer’s dominant years.  If it hadn’t been for Roger, Roddick would be a 3-time Wimbledon champion but Federer always had the American’s number even in the epic 2009 final when A-Rod famously professed that he hadn’t just thrown the kitchen sink at the Swiss maestro, but had thrown “the whole damn kitchen at him”.  Roddick’s respectable showing in New York means he bows out with his head held high.

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Lleyton Hewitt’s Last 32 showing proves that the 2-time Slam winner can still live with the best on his best day.  However, the fact that he has had to rely on wildcard entry to all four majors this season certifies that his best days are few and far between these days.  Whilst his fighting spirit will never die, the smart money would be on the former World #1 hanging up his racquet at the end of the 2013 Australian Open.  Again, Hewitt is unfortunate to have played in Federer’s era but he is somebody who fulfilled every bit of potential in his career.  If he is to follow Roddick into retirment, the game will have lost two very popular characters in a short space of time.

As for the contenders, I stick by my tip for the title.  Andy Murray may not have set the world alight in Week One, but the old adage rings true – you can’t win the title in the first week, only lose it.  His run has been tough and he stepped up the level of his play against Milos Raonic in the last 16.  Federer was imperious in the first week, but nobody seemed willing to really get at him.  Murray will do so in the Last 4. I have not seen a single shot of Djokovic’s tournament so far, but results-wise I have seen nothing yet to change my view that it will be the 25-year-old Brit who lifts the trophy aloft on Sunday night, weather permitting of course.

A word on my overall thoughts on the US Open experience.  Firstly, the bad stuff: Arthur Ashe Stadium.  It is is unsustainable at its current size.  From the cheap seats, you are so far away from the action that it is hard to get involved in a contest.  Huge swathes of empty seats greet the day sessions.  The music from Ashe can be heard on all outside courts, which surely does not offer courtesy to the other competitors.  Above all, the USTA’s over-reliance on its so-called marquee names meant that the same players appeared over and over again on the main court during the first week in ridiculously mismatched, uncompetitive encounters. Take Clijsters v Robson and Malisse v Isner out of the equation and the average set score on Ashe in the first five days was 6-2.  Not good value. Onto the good stuff though, and there is plenty.  The most lively Grand Slam I have been to (I haven’t yet been to Melbourne) with ample crowd capacity on all outside courts.  Ticketing is easy, security is quick (although no body scan/search is conducted, which is worrying given tennis’ history), the transport links are excellent and a ground pass represents excellent value  with $72 giving you access to all courts other than Ashe.  A resounding thumbs-up for the US open from me!

The things that make a Slam special though are the things that may mean nothing to the next person – watching my favourite player Nadia Petrova win three on the spin, watching my favourite male player Fabio Fognini win in the long shadows of a Grand Slam sunset and getting my photo taken with one of my faves,  2009 US Open Junior champ Heather Watson, who proved herself to be approachable and pleasant.  All in all, a great week at Flushing!

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Murray’s time has come

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The power in men’s tennis could be about to shift firmly towards Andy Murray.  The British number one comes into the final major of the 2012 season on the back of an annihilation of Roger Federer in the Olympics final only three weeks ago.  For those who question Federer’s desire in that match, I suggest they read any of the Swiss maestro’s interviews from the previous four years – London 2012 was one of his biggest motivations for continuing at the top of the game and his failure to win a Singles Gold medal will undoubtedly rank as one of the bigger disappointments of his glittering career when he finally hangs up his racket. The plain and simple truth is that Murray outplayed Federer with a ruthless display of aggressive tennis, just 48 hours after seeing off Novak Djokovic in straight sets, albeit in a best-of-3-sets match.  This, coupled with his run to the Wimbledon final earlier in the summer, has now given Murray the self-belief that he belongs with these guys at the very very top in the greatest era of men’s tennis.

I have been one of Andy Murray’s biggest critics over the years.  His rise to the top was filled with missed opportunities and shock defeats in Grand Slams to players that he should never have lost to. There was a stage approximately 18-24 months ago where he looked like his career had already peaked.  Djokovic and Nadal were disappearing into the distance, with Federer hanging onto his younger counterparts’ tailcoats. Drastic action was needed by Murray and it came earlier this year in the shock appointment of  the dour Czech Ivan Lendl as his coach. Opinion was divided at the time as to whether this was inspired choosing or a desperate lunge to the bar in the last chance saloon. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two.  Lendl knows from his own playing career that patience can be the key; he was the same age as Murray is when he won his first Grand Slam and he went on to win a number.  Murray saw something in Lendl which other players haven’t seen – this was the Swede’s first coaching appointment, a full 17 years after he retired from the game.  Whilst neither would win a happiness contest, it seems that the dour cocktail is proving a positive one and less people than normal would bet against Murray lifting the US Open trophy in a fortnight’s time.  Who knows, if that happens we may even get a smile from the both of them? One smile, not two, let’s not get too carried away.

Nadal’s absence takes away one of the big obstacles in Murray’s way.  I put only Djokovic, Federer and Del Potro as other possible winners.  Djokovic will aim to sign off a slightly less successful year (only the Australian Open in the bag this year!) by proving he is still the man to beat on the ATP Tour.  Del Potro has history here and looks to be almost back to his best and will prove an incredibly tough not to crack on the hard New York courts. Federer has continued his outstanding summer form into the American season and will expect an appearance in the final.  However, Murray stands in his way – your time has come, Andy.

The women’s game desperately needs somebody to take Serena out in a giant-killing act.  If somebody can raise their game to their maximum level and beat the dominant younger Williams sister, then the field would be blown open.  Get a blanket and throw it over about 8 women if Serena loses somewhere along the line.  Maria Sharapova has a shot at the slam where she probably has the most support.  Vika Azarenka has a shot at reasserting her number 1 ranking.  Petra Kvitova has hit good form at just about the right time for a run in the season’s final major.  A word for Maria Kirilenko, who will look to cement her finest season of her career by securing another last four spot and maybe go even further.  But it is Kim Clijsters who jumps out as the big value bet here.  Kim will retire from tennis for a second and surely final time as soon as she hits her final ball in anger or joy in New York.  She will put every ounce of effort she has in her to give this one final shot.  She will be the crowd favourite, no doubt, and if Serena is ousted somewhere along the line, the support and emotion may be enough to give Kim the edge over the rest and carry over the line.  What is encouraging is that with the obvious exception of Rafael Nadal, all the big players in both events are fit and ready to go.  It promises to be a glittering two weeks under the lights of Flushing Meadows.  I am lucky to be going over there for the first five days, with the first five sessions being on Ashe Stadium court – this should give me a chance to see most of the main runners and riders up close over the next 7 days, and I will no doubt blog further upon my return.  But for now, I will leave you with these words; Andy and Kim – you read it here first!

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Going for Gold in SW19

The desire of tennis players to win Gold at the Olympic Games has never been as strong as it is right now, not least because of the tournament being played on the hallowed courts of The All-England Club. With the unfortunate exception of the injured Rafael Nadal, all of the world’s top players head to South-West London this week in search of what is deemed by sport, if not tennis, fans as the ultimate prize; an Olympic Gold medal.

Many feel that Roger Federer has played on so long for the sole reason of dreaming of winning Olympic Gold on his Centre Court.  His recent triumph on that court ensures he will continue to gun for further Slams for at least another year or two. His dual aims of winning another major and regaining the Number 1 ranking have been achieved after some personal sacrifices. Quite what this will do for his career remains to be seen, but the lifting of self-imposed pressure could lead to Fedex having an Indian summer in the most unbelievable of careers.

Andy Murray has to now believe that he can win on the grass of Wimbledon.  I always sensed with Andy that he didn’t truly believe that his breakthrough win would come in his home Slam. His run to the final three weeks ago must surely give him the confidence to go on to great things there in the future.  The smart money may yet be on the man from Dunblane winning Gold on home soil.

What of the world number 1? For the first time in two years, Novak Djokovic has gone two majors without winning one.  He will want to prove that he is still top dog and the proud Serb would love nothing more than to do that by winning sport’s top prize whilst wearing his country’s colours. I have thought all summer long that Murray, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer would each take one of the four big summer prizes. Nadal reigned supreme in Paris, King Roger returned to rule Wimbledon so I believe it is left to Murray and Djokovic to squabble over the Games and the US Open.

Does anybody else have a realistic of striking Gold?  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cannot be ruled out – his semi-final appearances in the last two Wimbledons prove that he is capable of majestic grass-court play.  He also has the power to blow away any of the top 3 candidates on any given day.  If he gets a favourable draw, he is more than capable of ensuring the ‘Tricolore’ is raised above the lawns of the All-England Club at the end of the Games.  My other outside chance may surprise many. I have never been this man’s biggest fan, and his best days are undoubtedly behind him but something is drawing me to Andy Roddick. There are not many who are prouder to represent their country than the big-serving American yet, in his heart of hearts, he knows he is no longer capable of posing a credible threat over the course of a fortnight of 5-set matches.  But you would be foolish to count him out over 3 sets against most of the world’s players, such is the power of his serve even at this stage of his career.  Yes, don’t discount A-Rod going deep into the tournament and he would prove to be a popular champion at the All-England Club, even if he wasn’t wearing the all-white of a Wimbledon tournament.

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On the women’s side, it is hard to see beyond Serena Williams following up her brilliant Wimbledon title by adding singles Gold to her glittering career.  It had been a long road back to full recovery and redemption for Serena, but finally two years of illness horror and shocking tantrums came to a happy conclusion when the natural order was restored 3 Sundays ago with the surname Williams being engraved back onto the Venus Rosewater Dish. Serena is back and wants to play and you get the sense that the others are playing for scraps as long as she remains serious in her ambitions.  It would be foolish to back against Serena next week, but which other players will believe they have a genuine shot?

Maria Sharapova still sees Wimbledon as home but Sabine Lisicki’s straight-sets destruction of her a month ago serves to show that Maria is not infallible on the lush green courts.  And this goes for a lot of the women’s game right now; the top 20 are all capable of beating 18 of the other 19 on their day.  Quite whether Maria would be a popular winner would remain to be seen, such was her lack of determination to play Fed Cup until recently, when she was only prompted into doing so by having to prove her eligibility to compete in the Games.

The Wimbledon finalist Agi Radwanska won many fans with her diverse play during the Wimbledon fortnight, if not for her personality.  She has a sound tactical brain but you sense that the Wimbledon final may prove to be the highlight of her career, even at this relatively early stage.  Look out for her and little sister Urszula to make an impact in the doubles event however.

Vika Azarenka was points away from cracking the Serena nut in the semi-finals last month and will think that she is the one with a genuine chance of ousting the younger Williams sister.  Her tenacity and refusal to admit defeat will take her a long way in this tournament, and no doubt she will look to impress whilst wearing her country’s colours being the strong patriot that she is.  Petra Kvitova still has the game to win on the grass and, with the heavy burden of defending champion being lifted from her shoulders, she can go on to prove she is has the potential to be the greatest grass-court player of this new generation.

A few words on two players with little chance of winning Olympic singles Gold; Venus Williams has been a great player for well over a decade and it was great to see her contribution to tennis rewarded when she was asked to carry the Olympic torch through the grounds of The All-England Club last week.  A career that has known no bounds ticked off another marvellous achievement. In addition, Elena Baltacha will fulfil a career-long dream next week when she represents Great Britain in the London Games having also earlier carried the Torch.  Elena is a player who has made herself available for selection for Fed Cup duty at all points in her career.  She has fought back from a series of career-threatening illnesses and has fulfilled every bit of potential in her career.  I finally got the chance to see her play live last month and what a honour it was.  Sadly for her, her career has never been about going deep in Grand Slams but to watch her fight like a lioness for every single point is a wonderful experience.  Enjoy every second, Bally!

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