Posts Tagged ‘federer’

Why Bernard Tomic is One to Watch

January 20, 2012

Bernard Tomic, the young Australian tennis star, won his third round match 4-6 7-6 7-6 2-6 6-3 at the Australian Open on Friday night in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena.  His opponent, the crafty Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, was a tough match up from the start – ‘it’s like playing myself in the mirror’ – but the Australian won through in 5 sets.

The play was evenly matched – total points won: Tomic 174, Dolgopolov 174 – but, thanks to a partisan crowd and stronger belief, it was Tomic who was able to win the critical points and pass relatively unscathed to the next on-court challenge.

He nows plays Roger Federer in the fourth round, being the first teenager to reach the fourth round of a slam since Marin Cilic in Melbourne in 2008; will he be the first teen to beat Federer since Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005?  No matter what the outcome, certainly Tomic will hope his tennis career trajectory proceeds in a similar fashion to the latter teenager.

What is more, whether the Australian wins or loses, his performance will certainly give Australians hope that they will once again have a presence at the top of the men’s  tennis game.

Tomic is an unconventional player, mixing up pace with spin and direction like almost no other player – apart from, perhaps, Dolgopolov.  He has what experts like to call ‘an excellent tennis brain’, meaning despite his young age, he is intelligent and tactical on the court.

It is Tomic’s ease when he strikes the ball, however, which is most startling – when he is on form, his racquet appears to sweep away the ball with as simple and effortless a stroke as swatting a fly, yet the ball covers the court with astonishing power and speed.

His one-handed backhand is almost as fluid, with plenty of vicious slice to get his opponent down low.  As the past greats of the game must think when they see him play: ‘this is how tennis should be’.

Needless to say, there are echoes of Federer here, as Tomic himself highlights.  Following his win against Dolgopolov and looking forward to his match with Federer, he concurred that Federer was a great inspiration, and his matches are those ‘you really want to sit down and watch’.

Tomic has already played against Federer in a Davis Cup tie on grass in Sydney, a match which Federer won with relative ease.  But for Tomic to play his idol at his home grand slam event in front of what will doubtless be a super-charged 15,000-strong crowd is another step altogether.  It will be both a steep learning curve, but also a great chance to show the world he really is one to watch.

This is not to say Tomic is flaky, however.  Tomic showed his first hand on the world tennis stage in the summer of 2011 by progressing to the quarterfinal of the Wimbledon Championships, being beaten by the ultimate champion of the tournament, Novak Djokovic.  With this he moved up 87 places in the world rankings, to number 71.

However, in his last tour match of 2011 at the Paris Bercy Masters, Tomic faltered against Frenchman Nicholas Muhut in a round of qualifying, in front of a small crowd and on what can only be described as a ‘peripheral’ court.  No television, no Australian crowd, no extended support group – just an opponent, who he should beat, across the net.

Despite showing he had the skills to outmanouvre the Frenchman from all quarters, his heart did not seem in it, as he shook his head after every errand shot from his racquet and every winner from his opponent’s.  To add insult to injury, his somewhat strong-willed father, John Tomic, walked out after the youngster was broken in just the first few games.

It just shows was surroundings can do for a player – or, rather, for that player’s support.  Fast forward to Melbourne, only two months later, and Tomic is the darling of the first grand slam of the year.  Same surface, same player, totally different response to adversity.

If Tomic is to succeed in the upper echelons of the game, he needs to be able to apply the same sort of strength as he has in Melbourne to matches like those in Bercy – learning to win in minor tournaments, and in early rounds, when only a few hundred people are watching.  Then, perhaps, Tomic will become the darling of tennis the world over.

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Roger Federer The Ultimate Champion Once Again As Andy Murray Falters

January 31, 2010

It was the sort of match that you knew, no matter what the final score line, would be tight.  A closely-fought battle between two natural talents of tennis.

Andy Murray, the young and feisty Briton who has been tipped for a Grand Slam victory for years, against the experienced campaigner and ultimate champion, Roger Federer.   For many tennis purists, a match as close to heaven as one can achieve in today’s slow, grinding game.

As experience goes, a player can’t be much wiser than Federer.  Fifteen Grand Slam victories, including triumphs at all four majors and on every surface in the game, plus the record-holder supreme of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, 22 Grand Slam finals and 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1, giving him a total of 268 weeks at the pinnacle of the men’s game.

Yet the sun-soaked fortnight in Melbourne showed that Murray would be in no way just putting in an appearance on Sunday night.  Dropping only two sets in his run to the final, he produced awesome displays of his grit and talent in equal measure in his victories over John Isner, the towering American, and world No. 14 Marin Cilic.

After witnessing his dismantling of Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, a performance showcasing Murray’s determination, aggressiveness, and endurance and all the while highlighting Nadal’s increasing vulnerability against top ten players, many thought that a similar performance in the final against any opponent—even Federer—would be enough to crown the Scot the Australian Open Champion.

Before the tournament, there were whispers that Federer was not at his silky-smooth best.

After becoming father to two twins, getting married, and surpassing Pete Sampras’ 14-Slam haul at Wimbledon, many thought that the subconscious motivation to work that extra bit harder, both during tournaments and in practice, was just a little absent from the Swiss’ mind.

Shaky performances, too—well, at least by Federer’s elevated standards of play—against Russians Igor Andreev in the first round and Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinal increased the jitters among Federer fans that perhaps the champion didn’t have the optimum conditioning needed to win seven hard-fought matches in two weeks.

Nevertheless, a Grand Slam holds significant and unparalleled resonance within the Federer psyche.

A stunning victory against Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round and an even more impressive, almost faultless display against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals set the perfect scene for a battle of mind and body in Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night.

And so it transpired.  From the offset, each service game was closely contested, with both Murray and Federer reaching deuce and breakpoints several times over.  Numerous close calls in the first set would have seen Murray go up a break—but with Murray’s serve faltering, instead it was Federer that gained the advantage, winning the first set 6-3.

A second set break to Federer shortly followed at 2-1, in a game where Federer orchestrated a stunning symphony of his all-court skills to reach 0-40 and then finish with the decisive break.

Chances were missed by both players, including some serious opportunities for Federer to increase his advantage to two breaks, but the first and only break of the set secured Federer’s second set win, 6-4.

By this stage Federer was firing on all cylinders; every shot was timed to perfection, hit with precision and power, forcing Murray to run incessantly from corner to corner of the baseline and forward into the net.

The Scot’s relentless—and increasing—power shots were swiftly and effortlessly swatted away by the Swiss magician with his magic wand.

As soon as Federer captured the second set from Murray’s grasp, the match looked to turn inevitably and uncontrollably in the Swiss’ direction.

A jaw-dropping 155-0 record in grand slam matches when Federer has been two sets to love up only cemented the feeling that another victory was on its way.

But still, Murray pushed and pushed for a crucial break, a swing in momentum, anything to turn the match back to his side, toward his dream.  He got it, at 3-2 in the third set, when Federer dropped his level slightly and mistimed several shots; nevertheless, like a true champion, Federer never panicked and broke back to even the set at 5-5.

A crucial third set tiebreak ensued.  The tension in Rod Laver Arena reached fever pitch as mini-breaks were exchanged throughout the early points.

After each and every point the crowd erupted into a cacophony of noise—screams, bellows, chants and sighs in equal measure—all in the hopes of lifting their respective idols.  A smorgasbord of red, white and blue faces, banners, clothes and flags coloured the entire stadium.

Everyone knew that should this tiebreak force a further set, the outcome of the match could be drastically altered in the underdog’s favour.

So the nail-biting continued.  After numerous missed set points and championship points, with increasing sighs and shouts from both the audience and the players, a further chance for Federer to seal the victory.

The crowd hushed; a service fault by Murray; gasps from the crowd; a second serve, return, forehand into the net.  Federer cried in delight; the victory was secured, 13-11 in the third set tiebreak.

Needless to say, Murray was disappointed at his loss, crushed by being so near, yet so far from his dream.  The raw emotions that spilled out in his runner-up speech showed the anguish of faltering once again in the high-stakes situation of a Grand Slam final.

But as ever, Federer was the ultimate champion.  He vanquished over the challenges posed from the other side of the net in each and every match during the fortnight, while simultaneously acting with grace, poise, and dignity.  Towards the media, towards his fans, towards the tournament organisers, he acted—and will continue to act—like a true champion.

As he walked around the stadium in his lap of honour, holding the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy aloft and waving at his fans with unrelenting excitement and enjoyment, no one could refute the fact that this man is truly happy, unaffected by professional or personal regret or failure.  The happiness etched on centre of his heart radiated outwards to his luminous glow of success.

Let’s not forget that this was the man, the humanitarian, that organised the ‘Hit for Haiti’, enlisting the help of fellow tennis players and filling 15,000 seats in Rod Laver Arena, two weeks ago to the day.

Now, he stands as not only the human champion, but the sporting champion.

At a time when the greats of the global sporting stage are falling into disarray on account of transgressions, misfortunes and misconduct, there is a desire—no, need – for us to savour this great; arguably the greatest of them all.  Who knows when we will be delivered another like Federer.

Rafael Nadal’s Nagging Injuries: A Wounded Warrior

January 30, 2010

The Australian Open is always an interesting setting for the formulation and renewal of tennis storylines.

What effects will lag on from the previous season; which disasters will be erased from memory at the start of the new year; which players will come back reinvigorated, refreshed, renewed?

Which players will burst forth, which players will be upset?

But there was a disturbing familiarity to one of the biggest tales of the fortnight: Rafael Nadal’s fading invincibility, his wounded warrior status clear for all to see in his retirement against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.  The notion that we’ve seen the best of his dramatic rivalry with Roger Federer, a rivalry that the Spaniard was dominating, drawing to a sad close.

Although Nadal started 2009 as he left 2008, with an epic five-set win over the Swiss in the Australian Open final (his sixth Slam—the first on a hardcourt—following wins at Wimbledon, the French Open, and the Olympics in 2008), 2009 slowly descended into injury heartbreak.

Nadal came to Melbourne this year without a tournament victory in eight months.

Within that period came a shocking defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling in the French Open, a withdrawal from the defence of his crown at Wimbledon, and poor shows at numerous other events including the World Tour Finals in London in November (where he lost all three of his round robin matches).  He has a 1-9 record in recent matches against Top 10 players.

Knee injuries and abdominal injuries were the main causes for concern in the 2009 season.

Now it’s the right knee again, inducing so much pain that he felt it necessary to retire in the third set of his quarterfinal, with Murray leading 6-3, 7-6 (2), 3-0.

This time, Nadal chose not to play through the pain, explaining that was what caused him to take such a long break from the tour in the middle of last year.

But what this latest display of the Spaniard’s vulnerability illustrates is an existing pattern.  Nadal has been punishing his body for years, proving himself as one of the most relentless competitors—and practice partners—in the sport’s history, consistently attaining a level of stamina and endurance that few thought possible on the tennis court.

Clearly the same determination and strength will be applied to his recovery.  It now appears that he will now take at least one month off to recover from this latest strain.

What remains to be seen, however, is how these persistent niggles will affect his Grand Slam chances and, most importantly, his tennis career.

[Published on Bleacher Report; 28th January 2010]

Winning Performances of 2009: Roger Federer, Masters Madrid

December 9, 2009

It was the victory about which the ramifications were to reverberate around the tennis world for months.

After a few despairing and desolate months at the beginning of 2009, including Grand Slam defeat, the continued unattainability of the No.1 position and the much media-scrutinised racquet-smashing, it seemed that Roger Federer had truly lost his tennis mojo.

Yet the Madrid Masters final was the triumph that acted as the trigger for ultimate supremacy.

In comprehensively defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the clay-court final, Federer seemed to find and unleash the power and skill that had seemingly been laid dormant for months.

In the weeks that followed, Federer won the French Open – his first victory at Roland Garros, his fourteenth Slam overall (equalling Pete Sampras) and achieved him a Career Grand Slam – and Wimbledon, where he won his record-breaking fifteenth Grand Slam by beating Andy Roddick in an epic 5-set final.

Of course, on the Sunday in May when Federer won in Madrid, these events were yet to be uncovered, yet to be dreamed.

But even looking at the event individually, it was clear that the tide was turning for the Swiss.

With personal life settled – Federer and ‘his Mirka’ married in April – and injury woes abating, Federer was able to revert back to his perfectly relaxed self on the tennis court.

Reaching the Madrid final with ease, Nadal, the clay court king, was outclassed from the baseline and the net with stunning cross-court, down-the-line and net winners.  Despite Federer’s recent woes, and historical match-ups in favour of the Spaniard, Nadal just couldn’t keep up with Federer’s power, precision and poise.

The final in Madrid was the start of something huge for Federer and the tennis community, signalling the eve of another new era.

ATP World Tour Finals In London: Lessons Learned From Shanghai

November 30, 2009

The World Tour Finals, the ATP Tour’s year-end championships, which has now been completed following Nikolay Davydenko’s singles victory, has re-established itself as the ATP’s premium tournament following its premiere in its new home of London’s O2 Arena.

The Shanghai experiment (the Tennis Masters Cup—the Finals’ previous name—was played there for the past four years) now looks like a woefully unsuccessful misadventure, a notion underlined by the fact that the ATP pulled the plug on the event one year before the original contract expired in favour of the newly sponsored and newly organised event in London.

The mainland Chinese made a good effort to get up to speed with state-of-the-art, Western-style sports promotion, particularly with tennis. With team-based sports already popular in Asia (football being a clear example), individual sports were the next emerging area.

The likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal already had huge fanbases, as well as sponsorship, in China, and it was hoped that staging the Tennis Masters Cup in a cosmopolitan and accepting Chinese city like Shanghai would capitalise on this interest.

A brand new arena, introduced solely for the Tennis Masters Cup, was inaugurated in 2005 by Federer (the “lucky” 8-leaf, magnolia-shaped roof does not seem so lucky anymore).

But despite Shanghai’s—and the ATP’s—best efforts, certain difficulties remained insurmountable. The most significant of these was the painful reality that the Chinese equivalent of a “typical” tennis fan didn’t have the disposable income, or free time, to buy a ticket.

Equally, for the majority of overseas fans, China seemed just too far to travel even to see the best tennis players.

The event, in its innovative stadium and with presidential-like benefits, seemed like a futuristic novelty for the majority of its prospective visitors.

From the offset, it was different in London’s O2. Hosting other events such as unique music concerts, gymnastic championships, and exhibitions, the location is already well-known as a prestigious location for the world’s best entertainment.

As soon as tickets were released for the World Tour Finals in February, sessions began selling out. By August, only 20,000 of 250,000 tickets remained available.

An unstoppable hype machine, combined with a thrilling 2009 tennis season and, most crucially, an enormous, long-established, and relatively affluent Western fanbase whose constituents are already familiar with the sport, made the move to London profitable before the event even started.

The media presence in Shanghai was also limited; organisations that usually send reporters abroad found the lack of activity in Shanghai a reason for home reports instead. The time difference only compounded issues for broadcasters, reporters, newspapers, and fans alike.

London, on the other hand, is well positioned geographically and chronologically for the broadest range of countries and individuals. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to visit and report from London, one of the financial and cultural hubs of the world?

The sheer number of accreditation passes hanging around the necks of those who wandered the O2’s alleys provided the evidence that this event would be comprehensively documented by the world’s media.

The ATP positioned the move to Shanghai as a (incredibly) forward-looking gamble based on China’s booming economy and growing interest in tennis. A progressive mood was in the air, especially as this event is second only to Grand Slams in terms of importance. Shanghai seemed like the perfect location to compound the global aspirations of the widespread ATP tour.

Although it is advantageous to maximise the market for tennis by taking the sport to emerging or exurban regions, there is no doubt that the most important event should be held in mature markets and big cities, purely because of the limited style and duration of the event.

The Shanghai event was out of sight, out of mind.

How many neutral television viewers were around at two a.m. GMT to flick to the TMC and suddenly find an interest in tennis? This shortsightedness has cost the ATP in the long term and is why it is even more crucial that the event is taking place in such a global, high-octane centre such as London.

The TMC events held in New York in the 1980s have always been the benchmark, and perhaps the reason why only a city like London can come close to that success.

From all accounts, it appears that the past week’s World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena has well and truly achieved that.

The London event was a stunning success, with the quality of the tennis providing an uplifting end to the 2009 season.

The crowds were unexpectedly huge, the staging was brave and innovative, and, most importantly, the players gave absolutely everything to what has now been acknowledged as one of their favourite locations and events.

From the first ball, this was a classy competition, ambitiously staged by the tournament directors. The light shows and emotive musical introductions created chilling pre-match hype, and the practice court in the middle of the public walkway added to the fan experience.

An early criticism related to the lateness of the match finishes. Some of the evening singles sessions ended close to midnight, a spectacle that would normally be appreciated if it were not for the lack of public transport from the East London location at a late hour on chilly, rainy November evenings.

The atmosphere would change completely if the evening session started earlier, even by half an hour, so that all fans could stay until the conclusion of the final match without worrying about missing transport connections.

The only real disappointment of the week was the farcical indecision of Thursday night, at the conclusion of Group A singles matches, when dithering ATP officials failed to announce the two winners of the group to the players and spectators.

Given the nature of the event—the same layout, and same rules, remain every year—the situation should have been thought through properly, especially as one who had even basic computer spreadsheet competency could have disclosed the result immediately following the evening match.

All in all, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the World Tour Finals’ new home in London. We have plenty to look forward to next year…

(Published on Bleacher Report; 30th November 2009)

Evening Sessions Become Late Night Sessions At The O2 Arena

November 25, 2009

The day started well enough. In fact, the whole tournament started splendidly.

A highly successful first Sunday with plenty of top players in action (Andy Murray’s and Roger Federer’s wins being the notable highlights).

On Monday, a day session with enough upset (Soderling beating Nadal in straight sets in a repeat of this year’s French Open fourth round) satisfied tennis fans, neutrals and journalists. A session that ended with time aplenty to grab a bite to eat and settle down for a doubles-singles match duo in the evening.

But then the trouble started to mount. We heard rumblings from the Media Centre about the previous evening’s exploits and the horror that Roger Federer’s press conference would commence at midnight. Oh well, fans thought. Journalists have to do their (very privileged) job. What does it matter to them that they have to share taxis, instead of ride the tube, to get home?

However, on Monday night, journalists’ worries extended to the mass crowd. After a slightly late-running doubles match, the hotly anticipated singles match between Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko (a rematch of last year’s final) started at around 9pm. Both counter-punchers clearly wanted to win, and how; in 30 minutes, a period in which a set can often be complete, the Serb and Russian had only played four games.

For many spectators, their travel arrangements only extended until midnight—and, given the tenacity and endurance of the two players, a long night was predicted.

In fact, many spectators had to leave at 11:30pm in order to secure transport home. Some were even forced to leave at 9:45pm to ensure getting home safely. Many ended up being stranded in East London after staying on to applaud Djokovic’s victory over Davydenko, with tubes into Central London stopping at midnight.

Not good, especially when a session only comprises one doubles and one singles match, the latter being the most favoured for the majority.

Clearly, this isn’t good for the audience—and nor for the players, who must dislike playing in front of a half-capacity crowd at such an important event.

Can anything be done? Well, somehow, London transport authorities must know that such events, with effectively late-night conclusion certainty, are due to take place. Can connections from the O2 Arena and North Greenwich be improved for such occasions?

Television schedules, too, could bring some common sense to proceedings.  Tennis approaching midnight in the UK, while being advantageous for those in North America, is not necessarily what the public wants to watch on a weekday night when they have to get up for work early the next morning.

Of course, the obvious answer is to commence the evening session a little earlier. Even a 30 minute advance in scheduling could make the difference between worry and enjoyment for the crowd, players and even sponsors.

For this event to continue in the utterly successful manner in which it started, surely such an improvement must be made for future years.

(Published on Bleacher Report; November 24th, 2009)

ATP World Tour Finals: First Impressions Of A Truly Impressive Event

November 25, 2009

Well, the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals got underway in London. And what a spectacle!

This is an event in the truest sense of the word.  London’s architecturally stunning O2 arena has been transformed into a gladiatorial tennis arena—a setting to inspire, or perhaps intimidate, the world’s best tennis stars. The spotlight is on the players, a one-on-one, week-long fight for the title—let’s hope they shine the entire week.

The view from the bleachers is just as spectacular as the court itself. Each of the 17,000 seats have a brilliant view of the court, in an atmospheric, theatre-like environment. The cheers and electricity emanating from the many thousands of fans to the players on court is addictive. Tennis in Great Britain is alive and well.

What a first day it was. The event kicked off in style with practically a full house observing the first match between No. 1 in doubles, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, and No. 8 seeds Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski.  To spice up the proceedings, an upset was duly served, with the eighth-ranked Poles beating the seasoned veterans.

The atmosphere only grew when No. 1 Brit in singles, Andy Murray, took to the stage against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro. Predictions expected the match would be tight—the world Nos. 4 and 5, a Slam Champion and potential future Slam Champion, battling on their favourite surface.

For the passionate home crowd, Murray did not disappoint. The match, full of blinding rallies, fast serves and awe-inspiring talent, culminated in a Murray victory that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The conclusion of the day session gave the many fans a chance to relax, recharge and get ready for an eventful evening. The alleyways around the arena became full of chatter and excitement, the electricity overflowing from the tennis court.

There are plenty of food and drinks outlets to satisfy every taste. But beware of the horrendous queues.

Being such an open, important and publicity-packed event, people-spotting is a great activity to make the time fly by. From ex-players, to umpires, to commentators, to journalists, all variety of tennis enthusiasts mingle with the crowds. It’s a true tennis fan heaven under one roof.

More capacity-crowd doubles commenced during the evening session. This time, it was an expected win from No. 3 seeds Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi.

At 8:45 p.m., however, the “real” match started—Roger Federer against Fernando Verdasco.

The tension mounted until the two greats made their way to the court—a tension that was so greatly exacerbated by dramatic music, emotive video montages and player interviews being broadcast on the big screens.

This event certainly is epic in all its elements.

When Federer arrived, the applause was thunderous, the atmosphere intense. We all knew we were in for a good show.

The Spaniard started on a blinder, pummeling every shot and serve. Federer seemed unnerved at times, yet remained calm, knowing that his chance would come. And it did.

While Verdasco continued his successful shot-making, with a little encouragement from the audience Roger found his groove and started to retaliate. Cross-court forehands, volleys and drop shots all found their mark and soon, Roger was well in control in the third set.

Not even a few scoreboard glitches—Federer became Spanish for three minutes and the big screen went partially black for a significant part of the third set—could dampen the fresh, exciting mood of the first evening singles match to be held in London.

At 11:05 p.m., a thoroughly energised, but hoarse, collection of tennis fans emerged from the O2 arena fully satisfied—the home favourite was triumphant, as was the sentimental favourite. But given the success and enjoyment of the day, the thousands of people swarming about the arena appeared to be craving another dose of high-quality, high-drama tennis on the best, brightest stage.

ATP, we salute you. After an only semi-successful Shanghai venture, we worried if the over-commercialised, over-publicised and over-sponsored season-ending finale in London would be a media and fan nightmare.

But all fears were in vain. You chose the city, you chose the venue and we cannot thank you enough.

Let the Battles Commence.

(Published on Bleacher Report; November 24th, 2009)

ATP World Tour Finals: With Groups Determined, The Scene Is Set

November 20, 2009

Now that the competitors of the two round robin groups for the ATP World Tour Finals have been finalised, and official photos taken, the first day of hotly anticipated competition is less than 48 hours away.

In the first time that the event will be hosted in London, the location seems especially apt for an almost wholly European participation (following Andy Roddick’s withdrawal due to a knee injury and Swede Robin Soderling taking his place, only Argentine Juan Martin del Potro does not hail from the European continent).

Equally, the huge, modern, architecturally stunning location of the O2 Arena in the east of the city seems apt for the newly rebranded and highly anticipated end-of-season spectacle.

In Group A, the first of the round robin groups, Roger Federer will face Del Potro, Scot Andy Murray, and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in what is described as the toughest of the two groupings.

The first singles match on Sunday, the first day of the eight-day tournament, will be home hope Murray against Del Potro—surely a highly entertaining encounter from the two young talents—followed by Federer against Verdasco.

The other group consists of world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, Russian Nikolay Davydenko, and Robin Soderling of Sweden, who will play on Monday.

Group B will start with Nadal against Soderling in a rematch of the French Open fourth round, where the Swede knocked out the four-time defending champion. Djokovic and Davydenko will conclude the first round robin matches late on Monday.

Djokovic goes into the finals as the in-form player, having won last week’s Paris Masters title, brushing aside Nadal in straight sets on the way to the final. The week before he beat Federer on his home court in Basel to win the final of the Swiss Indoors.

Although the players do not have to win every match in the round robin stage in order to progress to the semifinals, with such stiff competition, every victory will matter this year.

The top two players in each of the round robin groups advance to the semifinals of the tournament, with a possible $1.63 million on offer to a champion who is also undefeated in group stages.

An important side story will be the ongoing battle for year-end No. 1, a position which is still yet to be determined. Federer, who took over as world No. 1 in midseason as Nadal was sidelined by injury, could still lose the No. 1 ranking to the Spaniard.

An undefeated winner of the tournament will claim 1,500 points in the rankings, with the Swiss star’s lead over Nadal at 945 points, meaning that effectively Nadal will have to reach the final of the event in order to recapture the No. 1 position.

While this year is undoubtedly Roger’s year, with final appearances in all four Slam finals and wins in the French Open and Wimbledon (securing a career Grand Slam and record-breaking 15th Slam title), it is clear that the final plot line of Roger’s annual story is yet to be written.

ATP World Tour FInals – The Contender Run-Down

November 14, 2009

Now that the final tournament of the season is reaching its conclusion, the 2009 ATP Tour will culminate in the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena between Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, less than two weeks away.

The top eight players, their rankings taken from their year-long results on the tour, will battle it out in this exclusive finale in the hopes of becoming the year’s ultimate tennis champion.  These players have produced consistently exemplary results throughout the season, thoroughly deserving their place at the O2.  But who will be the ultimate champion?

Rafael Nadal of Spain was the first player to secure a spot in the end of year championships as a result of his stellar start to the season.  Following on from his French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic success in 2008, Nadal continued the trend by defeating Roger Federer in an epic 5-set final at the Australian Open in early February.  His hot streak continued into the Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome Masters 1000 tournaments, until he faltered in mid-May against Federer in the Masters 1000 Madrid Final.

From that point, his recurring knee problems seemed to get the better of him; he lost to Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, his most lucrative tournament (he had not lost at the event in 31 matches over five years) and was unable to defend his crown at Wimbledon, pulling out with patellar tendonitis.

He rallied somewhat in August, reaching the latter stages of events in Montreal and Cincinnati, but was still not at his best at the US Open, later putting his sub-standard performances down to a painful abdominal muscle strain.

More recently, he was runner-up to Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai but there are signs that he is still not back at his peak fitness or skill level.  Occupying the No. 2 spot in the world, it is evident he has high hopes for the London championship.

 

Roger Federer was the second player to quality for the World Tour Finals.  With a somewhat shocking start to the year, that seemed to continue his run of bad results from 2008, where he suffered from mononucleosis and back strains—including his loss to Nadal at the Australian Open and a racket-smashing episode in Miami against Novak Djokovic—Federer rebounded with a vengeance in Madrid against Nadal.

He then went on to win his first ever French Open, allowing him to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Slam victories and achieve a career Grand Slam.  In just under two weeks, Federer followed this sweet victory with a win over Andy Roddick to clinch his 6th Wimbledon title and 15th Slam overall, signalling him as the greatest player of all time.  He also returned to No.1 as a consequence of his victories and Nadal’s absence, a position that he will hold until the end of the year.

Since Federer’s amazing summer, the Swiss player’s level has plateaued somewhat, with consistent match victories but no titles.  He lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open Final and recently Djokovic in his home town of Basel, with an extensive break in between these two events in order to rest his weary limbs.

An early exit in the Paris 1000 event may mean that he has less match experience than preferred going into the World Tour Finals, but there is no doubt that his extended breaks from competition at the end of this season will stand him in good stead for the tiring tournament in London.

 

Andy Murray, from Scotland, was the third player to qualify as a result of his consistently excellent results throughout the season.  He started off as the player to beat in 2009, winning an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a tournament in Doha.  His Australian Open tournament did not turn out as well as expected with an exit in the quarterfinals, but since then Murray has continued to outperform the majority of players on every surface.

In August he moved to No. 2 in the world, briefly overtaking Nadal and Djokovic—the first time someone other than Nadal or Federer had held such a prestigious position in over four years.  A finalist in 2008, Murray had high hopes for his favourite Slam, the US Open, but lost to Croat Marin Cilic in three easy sets.

Throughout the back end of the season, the Scot has been suffering with a persistent wrist injury, making his ranking slip back down to No. 4; but with a win in Valencia in November, it looks as if Murray is finding form just in time for the end of year championships.

 

Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Roddick occupy three other London berths.  These players, too, have excellent chances at the season-ending tournament; Djokovic has been consistent throughout the year, beating many top players, and is the defending champion of the event.

Del Potro has been inspired throughout much of the hard court season in particular, with his US Open win a notable highlight and justification of his selection for the championship.  Djokovic is enjoying a burst of renewed confidence, with his recent win over Roger Federer to win the Basel title and Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the 1000 Paris event.  Is he peaking just in time to defend his crown?

Andy Roddick, too, has produced stellar results, frequently reaching semifinals and finals of the biggest and best tournaments, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and Miami.

Injuries are nevertheless a big concern for this trio; tiredness and exhaustion are playing their part, plus Roddick is suffering from a knee injury which saw his exit from Shanghai and withdrawal from Paris.  Will he be fit enough in time for London?  Only time will tell.

 

The final two players, completing the 8-man lineup, had their fates sealed in the final tournament of the year in Paris.  Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco, through their own exploits and those of the other few remaining contenders, sealed their positions as 7th and 8th ranked in the world respectively.

 

With these eight players being so consistent in their success over the past 10 months, it is incredibly difficult this year in particular to predict the World Tour Finals champion.  All players have prowess on indoor hard courts and all have shown that they can withstand the pressure of the most tense, important moments.

Andy Murray will be the home favourite, with significant column inches being reserved for the Scot’s play; however, it is difficult to ignore the experienced Federer, Nadal and Roddick in such an event, where a loss in the ’round robin’ stage does not necessarily mean the end of the player’s chances to win the event.  The defending champion, Novak Djokovic, should not be discounted, having won the most matches in total this season.

One thing is for certain; injuries and withdrawals notwithstanding, the ATP’s London masterpiece should certainly live up to its hype of being ‘The Decider’.

(Published on Bleacher Report; December 14th 2009)

Is The Tennis Calendar Too Long?

November 12, 2009

Many tennis players are growing increasingly unhappy at the gruelling length and content of the ATP Tour.  The yearly season runs from early January, where warm-up tournaments take place in Australasia and the Middle East in preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia, to the ATP World Tour Finals in London in late November, and even the Davis Cup Finals in December.

From beginning to end, this arduous, jam-packed calendar provides just 4 weeks of off-season before the tour begins once again.  The rest and recuperation that the players so dearly need by this stage, therefore, is severely limited.

Signs that this growing tour schedule is taking its toll have been noticeably visible in recent months.  Until the ATP 500 tournament in Basel this past week, Roger Federer did not play any tennis since the US Open apart from his Davis Cup appearance.  His necessary break from the tour in order to recover from fatigue and exhaustion was longer than his regular off-season.

Andy Murray was also a no-show in the recent ATP 1000 tournament in Shanghai due to a wrist injury, only returning in Valencia last week, but with frequent icing on his longstanding injury.

Nadal, too, has been a victim of the season’s busy schedule.  After his Australian Open win, plus multiple successes on the American hard courts and European clay earlier in the year, his constant weekly play finally took its toll on his knees and the Spaniard had to withdraw from the tour for several months.  Even in the recent tournament in Shanghai, signs that Nadal had still not fully recuperated from his ailments (he has also been suffering from a stomach muscle pull) were visible.

The most vociferous critic, however, of the current tour schedule is American Andy Roddick. One of nine players to withdraw from the Shanghai field, Roddick has also withdrawn from this week’s Paris 1000 event, citing knee problems.  Applauding the innovative WTA Tour Road Map that was instituted this year and designed to give the women a longer off-season, Roddick strongly believes that more time between important tournaments, and a longer off-season is desperately required for the men’s tour.

The problem seems to be particularly poignant this year, since so many top players have been consistently reaching the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of every event that they have entered.  Playing 5 or 6 matches per week, every week, can take its toll on even the most finely-tuned athlete.  The fact that Grand Slams and ATP 1000 tournaments are compulsory for qualifying players only adds to the demands on high ranking players.

Although the current ATP CEO, Adam Helfant, has been more willing to listen to players’ complaints and suggestions than his closed predecessor, Etienne de Villiers, there are still questions over whether the tour schedule will be changed.  Despite the ATP Tour having player representatives, ultimately the governing board has control over the structure and content of the tour.  The conflict between players’ needs and sponsors’ demands, even for such an experienced professional, will be hard to resolve.