Tag Archives: Lleyton Hewitt

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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Equal pay, shambolic scheduling and greatness at work; things we learned from New York

Queen of Queen's

Queen of Queen’s

The equal prize money debate refuses to go away. When you have one of the top 3 male players continuing to raise the issue, it’s not going to disappear quietly. Andy Murray is right to say that men’s tennis is a different sport to the women’s game. But his call for either the women to play best-of-five sets at Slams or men to play best-of-three is reactionary and not thought-out. Women’s matches would go on forever if it went to best-of-five, and I do not mean that in a derogatory manner. They just would. This would have severe consequences for any scheduling of Slams. We’d certainly be looking at Slams over 17 or 18 days in my opinion. As for the men slugging it out over three sets; well then we would see some new faces in the final four I guess. Only Djokovic really comes out of the traps hard at all times in the early rounds. Nadal and Murray would be up against it from the off.

And whilst we cannot hide from the fact that currently the women’s game rides the coat-tails of the men’s in terms of ticket income, sponsorship etc., this does not mean it will always be like that. Men’s tennis has been blessed for five years now. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have been total box office, guaranteeing bums/asses on seats wherever they go around the world. Only Serena Williams really commands the same attention on the women’s side. Sharapova did one time over but I’m afraid her noise put paid to a lot of her admirers. Victoria Azarenka should also have that box office appeal but, as much as I like her, again her noise turns people away. But this will not always be the case. The new generation coming through have learned not to scream and grunt and this will help the women’s game. Incidentally, how fitting that it was Monica Seles who presented the trophies to Serena and Azarenka – I’m sure she was proud of that noisy final! Looking at the players coming through, I have a sneaking suspicion that the women will more than hold their own against the men in the next five years. There is not an awful lot coming through on the men’s side but the women will be fine.

The US Open continues to get scheduling so badly wrong that it’s almost incomprehensible. During the first week, you don’t really have to check the schedule for Arthur Ashe Court. They don’t look for potentially good matches. They just rotate Serena, Venus, Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and inexplicably Caroline Wozniacki. Wimbledon put Andy Murray out on Court 1 for his third round match this summer. Serena Williams has not played on anything other than Arthur Ashe Stadium in the last six years. I can’t access the schedules from before that date, it may stretch even further. From somebody who has sat through a night session involving Serena and Novak Djokovic dropping a total of four games between them, I can’t fathom how this is attractive day in, day out. And the fact that the defending men’s champion had to wait until last thing on Day 3 to begin his campaign is rotten, rotten to the very core.  And a 5pm Monday start benefits who exactly? The West coast who are still at work? Sleeping Europe where the finalists were always likely to hail from? I would implore the USTA to sort it out but they are well past caring about fans or players.

Tennis is becoming more and more of a veterans sport. Five of the women’s quarter-finalists were in their 30s and on the men’s side the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet enjoyed their best turnouts so far, both into their late 20s. Add onto this Tommy Robredo making the quarters after his marathon-man showing in Paris, David Ferrer playing the best tennis of his career in his 30s and Mikhail Youzhny playing as well as he has ever done aged 31, and then there’s Lleyton Hewitt. Ah yes, the man I expected to retire last January. He insists that he just couldn’t do it, no matter what his body was telling him to do. And boy is he being rewarded. Many argue that it’s the increased prize money that is keeping players from retiring. And for some that will be true. If your body isn’t giving up on you, then why turn your back on pay-checks. But for the likes of Hewitt, sporting glory and love of what he does will always come first. You’re a long time retired in this sport and fair play to these boys and girls for not wanting to be airbrushed out of history just yet.

Serena Williams is incredible. She won her first Grand Slam tournament in the 90s, she has won three of the four majors on five separate occasions and has now seen off challenges from her sister Venus, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters, Jennifer Capriati and Maria Sharapova, whilst continuing to stave off Victoria Azarenka.  She’s now won 17 majors, which puts her one behind Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert, and I’m starting to think she even has her sights on Steffi Graf’s 22. More tellingly for me, it puts her level with Roger Federer. Whilst she may not have had to play five sets, I would wager that the level of competition in front of her has been tougher long-term than that which Federer faced for a long period of his dominance between 2003 and 2008. So, if we talk about Federer as the greatest and put him ahead of the more competitive eras of Connors, Borg, McEnroe etc, then I argue that we put Serena on the same pedestal.

King of Clay...and Hard

King of Clay…and Hard

Which brings me to Rafael Nadal; he definitely has his sights set on catching Federer’s total of 17 majors. Not that he’d admit it of course, and not that he probably believes he can achieve it, such is his modesty. I always felt that the reason Federer tried so desperately for one more major was that he didn’t quite think 16 would be out of reach of Nadal and that 17 would prove to be. But it’s suddenly looking very achievable for the man from Mallorca. His renaissance is one of sport’s great tales – none of us could have imagined at the start of 2013 that he would come back from serious injury and win two of the three majors, go undefeated to date on hard courts and outlast Novak Djokovic, the indefatigable Novak Djokovic, on that surface. Rafa was in the zone during that final; it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him as pumped up as he was at the end of the decisive third set when he saved three consecutive break points at 4-4. As Djokovic watched those points sail by, he knew he couldn’t compete with this man over two more sets. The match was won and lost right there. Djokovic of course played his part as he always does but 2013 is Nadal’s year just as 2011 was the Serb’s. Were the Spaniard to carry this form into early-2014 and win in Melbourne, I would make him odds-on to at least match Federer’s 17 major titles. When you consider the likes of Becker, McEnroe, Lendl and Connors all ‘failed’ to reach double figures, you fully realise how great this last six years has been for men’s tennis. Golden age, enjoy every slam they give us.

 

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