Tag Archives: Venus

The end of an era

Image

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.

Image

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!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Image

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How to solve a problem with Maria

A Dream realised

That it was Maria Sharapova who stood with the Suzanne Lenglen trophy aloft at the end of the fortnight should come as no surprise; A relief as there have been a few too many surprises in the women’s game over the last 14 days, something which serves as a big problem to the game’s marketing machines. For all of the complaints about the almost-decade-long monopolisation from the Williams sisters, it was good for the sport. Ask people for the name of a top women’s tennis player or a Slam winner and they would invariably opt for one of the Compton girls. Behind them came the good looks of Maria which meant that for a long time the sport did not need to try with marketing and appeal. As the sisters head over the hill to retirement and new careers, where does the women’s game go now and, more importantly, who can it pin its hopes on to appeal to a larger audience?

Even the most devoted tennis fan would hesitate to name the winners of the last 8 slams before this year’s French Open. For what it is worth….Francesca Schiavone, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters x2, Na Li, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur and Victoria Azarenka. Are any of them equipped to carry the sport forward with mass appeal?

I think it is safe to suggest that Schiavone’s year in the Roland Garros sun is now firmly in the past. She did marvellously to reach the 2011 final in her title defence but now appears to have rediscovered what was her previous career level; a safe bet for the last 16 but not likely to trouble the second week too much. Her fall to Italian number 2 after Sara Errani’s terrific run seems to confirm that Schiavone’s star is descending.

Kim Clijsters recently announced that she will retire for a second time after this year’s US Open. Her return to the sport brought her three Grand Slams, a damning indictment of the women’s game as her heart never seemed fully in it.  Her dream is to win on the grass of the All England Club – this summer presents her with a double dose of opportunity but the smart money would be on the hectic schedule proving too demanding of the working mum.  The loss of her smile and on-court attitude will be another blow to the Tour.

Na Li’s victory at Porte d’Auteuil 12 months ago was heralded as a major breakthrough for Asian tennis. The first Slam winner from the world’s biggest continent won the hearts of tennis fans with her adventurous play and fun bickering with her husband, and her form in the first six months of last season suggested more was to come. Sadly, it hasn’t materialised with Li struggling to stay in the Top 10 and whilst one would not rule out another slam, major domination is unlikely.

There is more hope attached to the winners of the last three Slams.  Petra Kvitova heads into her Wimbledon defence with as good a chance as any of lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish. As she powered her way to victory last July, I was convinced that here was a young woman who could dominate at SW19 for years. I have not changed that opinion. Her game is perfectly suited to the slower grass courts and her power is breath-taking.  An improved showing at Roland Garros this year is good preparation for another assault, this time as defending champion. Can the game use her as a marketing tool? Unlikely.   Her sometimes sullen, sluggish movements are akin to Lindsay Davenport and whilst both have many admirers amongst tennis fans, you need more to lure outsiders; on-court grace, stunning beauty, bubbly personality or continued success in all slams. As harsh as it sounds, none of these are yet true of Petra.

Samantha Stosur’s forehand threatened to blow the women’s game away in the autumn of last year. Her straight sets destruction of Serena in the US Open Final demonstrated great play, as well as the ability to keep calm under pressure as Serena disgracefully lost her cool for a second successive year under the Flushing Meadows floodlights. The spotlight was firmly on Stosur in her home slam in January but she stuttered, she stuttered badly. Call it Mauresmo Syndrome if you wish, but Sam just could not cope with the sudden weight of national expectation on her shoulders, not helped by Lleyton Hewitt’s ageing legs shifting that expectation across the draws.  Her performance in Paris was more assured, less nervous.  After what is likely to be usually early exits on the grass courts of South-West London, Stosur will be a favourite to retain her title in New York. Her modest, shy attitude and her age, as well as the fact that she consistently struggles in two of the four Slams, mean that she is not the face the game needs to take it forward.

Victoria Azarenka’s all-encompassing start to 2012 was something expected, if a couple of years later than envisaged. Her three-month unbeaten streak laid down a marker that she was ready to dominate but her early defeat in Paris showed her frailties are still there.  Her off-court persona makes her a likeable character, but too often her on-court shrieks are open to ridicule. Her looks, tenacity, charm and good play give her a decent chance of being a major marketing force if the audience can get beyond the peacock-esque noise.

The WTA must be disappointed that Caroline Wozniacki lost her way when adapting her game in an attempt to become a major winner.  This was a young lady who had almost everything they wanted in a Number 1 – looks, charm, grace, star appeal, a willingness to fulfil a hectic schedule – but ultimately her game was found to be lacking and it now looks likely that she will never win a Slam as she slips down the rankings.   You sense with Caroline that there will always be somebody just too good for her in each tournament.

So it is to Maria Sharapova that we look once more.  The 17 year old who called home on her mobile phone from Wimbledon centre court to tell her mum she had won is now a 25 year old veteran whose constant will-to-win suggests that she is again ready to lead the sport in this period of transition.  Modelling contracts and sponsorship commitments have never been too far away for Maria, but she has managed to combine them with constantly improving her game like nobody else has managed in the past. The reconstruction of her game following the reconstruction of her shoulder has been a slow, but oh-so-sure one.  She, more than anybody, will know that with the sport being wide-open, she has the ability to add more majors to her collection. The fact that she is now only the sixth woman in the Open era to have won all four majors will only add to her confidence.  Her willingness to scrap until the very last point of every match belie her sweet demeanour and, deep down, that is why most tennis fans have at least begrudging respect for her. Yes, it is over to you Maria – the autumn of your career is charged with carrying the WTA through a period of transition. Your legend is secured, you can only add to it from here. I will be watching with close interest, but admittedly with the volume turned down.

Leave a comment

Filed under Roland Garros