Posts Tagged ‘nadal’

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]

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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.

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.

The ATP World Tour Finals: Expectation Mounts

October 26, 2009

The ATP Tour is set to culminate this year, at the end of a very long season, in London’s grand O2 Arena between Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, where the ATP World Tour Finals are due to take place.

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.

In the last three years, the World Tour Finals (previously called the Tennis Masters Cup) have taken place in Shanghai, where the ATP believed the new economic and sporting revolution in tennis was due to take hold with instant ferocity.

However, events did not transpire as well as planned—the popularity of tennis in China and Asia as a whole, while increasing, has not exploded. One year prior to the conclusion of the original contract, the final event of the men’s calendar has relocated to a more fan-, sponsor-, and television-friendly hub, namely London, accompanied by much media hype, speculation, and expectation.

Currently, six players have determined their position at the event as they have already acquired the amount of points necessary to remain in the top eight until the end of the season.

These players—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Andy Roddick—have produced consistently exemplary results throughout the season, thoroughly deserving their place at the O2.

However, organisers—and fans—have reason to worry that the London premiere will not be as spectacular as first thought. Injury troubles and exhaustion have suddenly hit a multitude of players extremely hard.

Rafael Nadal, the current world No. 2 and first qualifier for the championship, and his injury woes have been well documented since his apparent fall from grace at the French Open in Roland Garros in June, where he was beaten triumphantly by an inspired Robin Soderling.

It transpired that his troublesome knees had finally got the better of his mental strength and conditioning, forcing him to take an extended break from the tour, and consequently missing out on defending his French Open crown and Wimbledon.

Even when he returned in August, in preparation for the US Open, his chances of winning the final Slam of the year were severely diminished by a persistent abdomen strain.

Having reached his first ATP Tour final since May at the recent Shanghai Masters 1000 event, critics believed that Nadal was finding his form at just the right moment. However, a subsequent defeat to Nikolay Davydenko at this event gave rise to the rumour once more that Nadal was—and is—still not the indefatigable warrior that he was in his splendid 2008 season.

Federer has only added to the significance of injury worries. Usually a beacon of time management and health, Federer has also been forced to take an extended break from the tour in apparent preparation for the Finals, by resting and recuperating after a summer packed full of long tournaments and life changing events.

Since May, Federer has reached five of his last six tournament finals (three of which were Grand Slams), as well as becoming a new father to twins.

His layoff from the tour, missing events in Tokyo and Shanghai, indicate that he is focusing his attention well and truly on one of his favourite tournaments, the Finals—but the jury is still out on whether his recurring back injuries, muscle tensions, and general tiredness will allow him at least one more successful tournament before the season ends.

Other significant figures and Final participants to fall foul of the arduous tour schedule are Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro. Roddick, in particular, has been vehement in his demands for the tour to be altered. With a troubling knee injury plaguing his preparations, the American may not be fit enough to pose a serious threat to the champion’s trophy.

Suggesting that the tour should be significantly shortened so that world stars such as Nadal, Federer, and himself are fit to play throughout seems to strike an important chord with all players at this time of year.

Roddick stresses that fans and critics alike must remember that not only are tennis tournaments scheduled in quick succession all year long, they cross many time zones, which only adds to the mental and physical tolls on such finely tuned athletes.

Del Potro, too, has suffered tremendous defeats since his victory over Federer in the US Open Final, notably loosing in the first round of the Tokyo Open to a virtual unknown, highlighting yet another case of players running out of energy before the season officially concludes.

Once again, questions are being raised over the potential quality of the upcoming London event. Will these elite players be suitably rested, injury free, and mentally strong enough to provide the spectacle that all parties so clearly demand?

There has rarely been a time when the stars of the men’s game have been so super and the depth of competition among the highest strata has been so fierce. Yet these world-class players feel as if the ATP has an inability to see that even the best athletes need time to recharge, in order to provide tournaments with their appearances, let alone professional performances.

The threat of no-shows or boycotts of one of the ATP’s most lucrative tournaments—arguably its flagship event—must be troubling for the tour’s management.

Yet, still, the present atmosphere in tennis suggests that there is a wind-down, rather than a buildup to a climax, in November; surely this is not what the World Tour Final organisers intended?

Nevertheless, what will have to change to rectify this situation, with necessary benefits for both players and tournaments, remains to be seen.

(Published on Bleacher Report; 26th October 2009)

Archive: Royal Dilemma – Beyond Roger Federer, Who Can Be King of Queens at the US Open?

October 26, 2009

The last Grand Slam of 2009 (and of the first decade of the third millennium) starts on Monday, with 128 male players desperate to create one more highlight in their 2009 tennis resume.

Once again there are many stories on the male side of the draw, making for an all-together enthralling fortnight of tennis duels.

Roger Federer is certainly the reigning king, the defending champion who has won the tournament five times in row, a feat never before achieved in the Open Era. Can he write yet another chapter in tennis history and equal Bill Tilden’s six consecutive Open titles record, while increasing his Grand Slam total to a sweet 16?

Removing Federer from the equation, in a Grand Slam event and in one of his favorite locations, will be incredibly difficult; the birth of his twin girls, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, seems to have only increased his inspiration and passion for tennis.

A small blip in Montreal notwithstanding, victories at Madrid, Paris, Wimbledon—and, most crucially for the U.S. Open field, at last week’s hard court Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati— demonstrates that Federer enters Flushing Meadows with match practice and blooming confidence.

Yet, this American hard court summer has indicated that there are plenty of stars at the top of the men’s game who can try to dethrone the king.

The increasing parity between the top eight in particular—ranging from Roger Federer at No. 1 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at No.8—all have impressive hard court credentials and can perform well on a big stage. Only time will tell if the younger members of the elite will withstand a two-week long scrutiny under the New York lights.

There is yet more depth in the lower rankings. One only has to look at Robin Soderling’s elimination of Rafael Nadal, then Fernando Gonzalez, at the French Open in May, to see that any best-of-five set invincibility that the experienced players believed they had has vanished.

Andy Roddick, the gregarious American, has also proved his longstanding endurance and talent in the recent Grand Slam events. Since pairing with coach Larry Stefanki and shedding 15 pounds in weight—to replicate his weight when he won the U.S. Open in 2003—he has reached the semifinal at the Australian Open and the final at Wimbledon among other notable season highlights.

Now back in the top five, and the fifth seed for the U.S. Open, Roddick has matured and recommitted to winning his second Slam title before time runs out.

Perhaps the obvious choice for safer bets, if Federer is taken out of the equation, is Andy Murray. In consistently good form and at his highest ranking this far on the tour, he has won numerous events this year (and, most critically, beaten the top players in doing so).

Reaching the final at his favorite Slam event at last year’s Open, beating Nadal in five sets in the semifinals and loosing to Federer in the finals, means he knows what it takes to progress deep into the event.

Juan Martin del Potro is another favourite. Despite his youth, the Argentine has matured greatly this season. Beating Roddick numerous times amongst others, with a definite strength on hard courts, makes him likely to reach the second week of the tournament, if not further.

The dark horse, of course, is Rafael Nadal. The lingering injury worries and lack of match practice over the past few months makes any predictions difficult to quantify. Can the patellar tendinitis which has so hampered him withstand gruelling best-of-fives on the New York concrete?

Nevertheless we all know that Nadal is a fighter, a warrior who performs his best in the biggest and best tournaments. If he can survive the first week of the event, the practice he is given may just serve him perfectly for the second week’s duels. Wouldn’t it be a story if Nadal could accomplish the Career Grand Slam, too?

Many stories, many ifs, many buts. Who will reign supreme?

(Published on Bleacher Report; August 26th, 2009)

Archive: Who Ever Said This Was A Weak Tennis Era?

October 26, 2009

The ATP made history in Montreal last week, as the top-seeded players at the Rogers Cup Masters—the top eight ranked players in the world—all progressed through to the quarterfinals of an ATP Masters event.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

An impenetrable line of sheer tennis talent, skill, tenacity, and endurance.

At least for this week.

There many long-term events which, on this one occasion, created the ripe set of circumstances for this feat.

Not long ago it seemed like there was a melting pot of nightmares, injury, tiredness, timeouts and disappointment at the top of the men’s game.

But in Montreal, the tennis stars aligned.

Rafael Nadal’s knees recovered sufficiently from tendinitis and allowed him to attend the tournament. At the same time, Federer’s twin girls, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, were delivered early enough for him to make something of a surprise entry at the top of the draw.

How times can be so different. Would we have been complaining about the lengthy tennis season and a lack of competition on the men’s side of the game if two of the current tennis greats were not in the Masters 1000 field?

During the tournament, Andy Roddick came back in a decisive third-set tiebreaker to secure a victory. Jo Wilfried Tsonga benefited from Gilles Simon’s continuing slump, passing through the all-French third round encounter to the top-eight row in the quarterfinals.

Arguably, even the tournament itself—a Masters 1000 event, the rung beneath Grand Slams in terms of prestige—played a role in this unique event by providing a first round bye to the top eight players.

Andy Murray, however, rose to the top of the top eight by beating Juan Martin Del Potro in three closely-fought sets in the final.  With a 50-7 record in 2009 at the end of this tournament and a No. 2 ranking to boot, it seems Murray’s hardcourt hegemony is a definite incentive for the rest of the field to equal.

And it makes Murray a certain target for future important matches.

Nevertheless, if we continue to see such a display from the top players in the world, one will be hard-pressed to remember a time when there was such a high level of talent in the game.

The newcomers are maturing, solidifying their games and rightful place at the peak. The veterans are maintaining their consistently high levels of play like never before, tweaking and modifying their skills to keep the young guns at bay. The injury-prone push their weary bodies harder and harder. A constant battle, a never-ending fight, all to stay at the top.

The fallout, perhaps, will be this week’s tournament in Cincinnati.  Another Masters 1000 event, the gruelling back-to-back North American hardcourt tournaments certainly prove a tough test for even the fittest of men.

Andy Roddick has been the first (and arguably, being the home grown player, one of the most important) dropouts, falling to Sam Querrey in the second round.  Will there be more upsets to follow, or will the likes of Murray, Federer and Nadal reign supreme?

The upshot for us? Tennis fans have never had it so good.

(Published on Bleacher Report; August 20th, 2009)