Posts Tagged ‘wimbledon’

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.


Roger Federer and The Drama Over That Jacket

July 15, 2009

Over one week has passed since the dramatic, history-making final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick—yet aside from Federer’s record-breaking 15th major win, one element of the match has remained at the forefront of many fans’ and analysts’ minds: the now infamous “15” jacket.

An obsession over small embroidery. A sudden hatred for gold stitching. “Ridiculous attire.” Describe the offending article how you please—it seems that this piece of sartorial manufacturing has touched a nerve in tennis circles.

Seemingly presumptuous, arrogant, and brash to tennis neutrals and fans of anyone but Federer, the idea that this jacket was already made has illustrated, in material form, a tarnishing of the Swiss star’s image.

Opinions are divided. The crux of the matter: Did Federer believe so strongly that the final would be a cakewalk, did he so confidently anticipate collecting his 15th Slam trophy and sixth Wimbledon win as soon as the semifinals were complete, that he immediately ordered a jacket to be made with indicative ornamentation?

Or did Nike have the upper hand in proceedings, either expecting Federer to win and encouraging him to carry the modified jacket in his gold bag, or delivering it to the victor in the aftermath of his five-set, four-hour marathon?

Both of these latter explanations assume that the jacket was more a management-level marketing tool rather than a Federer-induced fantasy and self-aggrandizing blip in the Federer consciousness.

By viewing the footage from various television channels (and, perhaps most importantly, remembering Federer’s more humble and consistent character), the last of these explanations—that a representative produced the jacket from off-court after the match—is correct.

Even if we assume that Federer and Nike collaborated on this idea, one must agree that Federer could never have been confident enough, nor arrogant enough, to have the jacket ready and waiting in his bag.

Yes, he celebrated his victory by having the jacket decorated with a “15” logo. But given the size and position of the embellishment, as well as the fact that no attention was drawn to the logo until the interviewer made Federer turn around to show the global televised audience, there should be no need for such hullabaloo.

This moment will not pass again—Federer, and anyone else, for that matter, would only have one chance to celebrate a record-breaking 15th Slam victory. Surely we should respect this feat and a recognition of it, combined with Federer’s understated grace and sartorial elegance, in such a moment.

Remember, please, that Federer himself faced disaster in last year’s final against Rafael Nadal—surely he could know how terrible it felt to be on the receiving end of defeat without even the addition of a celebratory jacket for the victor.

For someone to appear on court with the jacket and for Federer to not mention it himself until pushed neatly represents Federer’s understanding of history (and fashion) as well as a subtle humility—indications, therefore, that the jacket was produced as a result of marketing demand rather than a prophetic demand for attention.

In this regard, it is not Federer that should be mauled—instead his Nike representative, or managerial leader, should ideally take the flak. Whoever is tasked with Federer’s image needs to remember why he is so rightfully adored by young and old.

Federer rose to the pinnacle of men’s tennis as a populist champ, an artist and player who characterised quintessential Swiss restraint and precision. Simultaneously, the Swiss is a citizen of the world, a fashion enthusiast, thus there is no fundamental problem with the odd simple embellishment or interest in on- and off-court clothing.

Federer fans and followers may even agree that the suspense and surprise over what the Swiss will wear next is another enthralling element to his spellbinding power.

Certainly no one else could pull off his fashions, and no other tennis player has propagated such interest in a clothing range (Federer’s RF hats, as well as his shoes and match garments, are frequently sold out around the world).

Yet for the majority of the tennis world—and other neutral viewers who watched the annual and traditional spectacle of a Wimbledon final this year—this latest manifestation from the Nike Design Studio introduced a gauche megastar content with morally rising above the rest.

Roger Federer will hopefully be remembered by the number of his Major titles, his number of weeks at No.1, and numerous other records. But we must ensure that many more than a few tennis fans and analysts remember him—by ensuring that his image does not overhaul his universal character, artistry, and skill.

(Published on Bleacher Report; July 13th, 2009)

The Wimbledon Championships: Quintessentially British

July 8, 2009

Wimbledon.  A microcosm of established British traditions, maintained in perfect form for all to enjoy for two weeks every year.  

There is quiet, respect, calm.  Orderly queuing, assiduous ground-staff, precisely uniformed officers.  Even in media coverage, the BBC, one of the greatest British symbols and an institution recognised worldwide, reigns supreme.

Pimm’s and lemonade, champagne, strawberries and cream—perfect ingredients for a typical British summer—are readily available for the swarming crowds.  

Let’s not forget the strict dress code for players, the traditional bright Wimbledon whites.  Rules and legislation, to which all must sedulously adhere – more evidence of Britishness in this unique haven.  

The newest commodity to the Wimbledon treasure chest, a £80 million behemoth, is the latest manifestation of the traditional British nature and its quiet, unassuming manner. 

The roof remained unused for over one week. The extravagance stayed unconsumed. The novelty had yet to be displayed.  It was the perfect irony. 

How British.

The differences between, say, the US Open, the next Major on the tennis calendar, could not be more visually or atmospherically distinct.  

At Wimbledon, the deliberate lack of advertising and promotional material, the muted colour scheme of white, purple and green and the quiet, appreciative and ballot-selected audience is in direct contrast to the brash, loud, capitalist and revenue-driven atmosphere of the US Open complex and the impact that this area has on one’s sporting nature.  

One only has to look at the difference in colour, shape, scale, and design of Arthur Ashe stadium, the flagship Center Court at Flushing Meadows in New York, compared to the “cathedral” that is Centre Court at Wimbledon, in order to illustrate the intrinsic notions of British culture at Wimbledon.     

Nevertheless, both tournaments return wholly positive souvenirs.  Both stadia, both tournaments, offer deeply moving and stimulating fan experiences.  Both represent, almost subconsciously, their respective countries and their cultures in profound and multi-faceted ways. 

Deeper and darker tones too, more fundamental components of British society, accent the Wimbledon experience.  There is a consistent, underlying base note, which whirs throughout the tournament, of class, status, and hierarchy.  

The Royal Box may indeed be graced by royalty this coming weekend if Britain’s Andy Murray is still thriving on Sunday.  But oftentimes, sat on the best seats in the house are distinguished celebrities, upper classes, and Wimbledon members –  those who are able enjoy a sociable afternoon out watching lawn tennis with the option of retiring to club rooms should they feel too uncomfortable.  

Those with money and privilege position themselves out of the layman’s reach, on high terraces and in private lounges with the best (sheltered) views of the complex.

Debenture holders miss out on the panic and trauma of desperately seeking prestigious tickets by ballot or camping, by paying their thousands and attaining their own individual seats at the front of the greatest courts.

Wimbledon is anthropomorphic, a perfect fit with British upper-middle class traditions, conservative structures and high society – and these rarefied groups’ centuries-old relationship with the masses remains unmodified.

One can even note that the philology and use of the world ‘class’ is another instrumental and distinctly British phenomenon; a definition that is visually illustrated to its maximum potency at the All England Club.  

A punctual 1 pm start time—one’s distinguished person must have time to arrive, collect oneself and have tea before starting right on time, naturally)—terraces for tea and chit-chat, and a privileges-based, Oxbridge elite atmosphere all add to the distinct Wimbledon character (and the schism between fans and this elite club).  

This is not necessarily to be disliked, however—when else can one gaze and gawp at how the “leisured class” live, what they wear, how they act, in such close proximity?  For those lucky enough to be on Centre Court on Sunday, what an honour to be in the same location as the Queen.

Other British characteristics also remain true to form in this British occasion.

For two weeks every summer, all Britons have a truly legitimate excuse for complaining abut the most British of all British traditions—the weather.  Most significantly, rainy weather.  

It can be sunny and cold, sunny and windy, even sunny and extremely hot (as has been the delightful surprise for viewers and spectators this year); but rainy weather in all its forms is disliked by all.  

It is a mutual feeling that brings even the most dissimilar of Britons together—no-one, no inhabitant of cities and villages across the entire British Isles, must ever like weather of any precipitous nature—especially when it ruins punctuality and a traditional “great day out.”

A Brit, liking rain?  You cannot be serious… 

It is through Wimbledon that we can usually revel in our dislike for this type of climatology.  Our distaste reaches all corners of the world in tennis broadcasts -birds-eye views of dark, dreary and overcast skies are punctuated by a sea of brightly coloured umbrellas on Henman Hill and across the Aorangi complex.  Through Wimbledon, we have a true reason to complain.  

This year, the weather has been practically unseasonable for June, with 30 degree Celsius afternoons and cloudless, sunny skies.  But this is Britain—it has to rain sometime; and so it did, on June 29.  Never has such weather been welcomed so enthusiastically.  

However, one couldn’t help oneself—a Briton can never be happy with the status quo.  As soon as the roof was closed, there were calls for its evening swansong.  

There was no rain directly before Andy Murray’s fourth round match but the roof remained closed.  Complaining is another distinctly British characteristic—statements of discontent reverberated around the grounds with aplomb.  

Even as the night wore on, when one admitted to staring in wonderment at its luminescent beauty, there were calls from some that the players were negatively affected from playing the entire match under the concertina-like structure.  

How British.     

Yet there is a paradox within all this.  At Wimbledon, every year, there is an ever-present, over enthusiastic optimism and belief—histrionics, if you will—that we impose on our homegrown players.  

This outspokenness is so unlike the traditional British character.  We like to mock, downplay achievements; we are embarrassed by each other’s talents and successes.  

However for these two weeks of the year (and now especially, given that we have a real contender for the title in the Scot, Andy Murray), one is legitimately allowed to hype up the often non-existent prospects of the current crop of British male and female tennis players, whether they be junior or senior, experienced or unprofessional, talented or journeymen.  

The applause, cheers, yells and screams from beneath the roof over Centre Court last night were truly thunderous.  Expressions, emotions and enthusiasm exploded at every opportunity.  There was no stiff upper lip here, just unabashed patriotism and passion.  

How odd it is.  

So, will this year’s event end in traditional British fashion, with a Briton falling at the final hurdle?  Will ‘recent’ tradition be restored by Roger Federer, the so-called King of Centre Court?  

We are nearing the conclusion—not long to wait.  

Of course, even after the tournament, Wimbledon will remain the quiet, peaceful, and orderly club it is.

How British. 


(Published on Bleacher Report; June 30th 2009)

Stanislas Wawrinka: Flying Under The Radar At Wimbledon And Elsewhere

June 29, 2009

Stanislas Wawrinka is the second most famous Swiss player and well used to being kept in the tennis shadows.  The experience of flying under the Swiss and international tennis radar due to Roger Federer’s huge success means that he has been able to work diligently on his game and work his way into the top ten (he was ranked No.9 in June 2008).  

He admits that playing Andy Murray on Centre Court at Wimbledon, in front of a nigh-on jingoistic crowd, will be one of the biggest matches of his life. 

Yet it must be remembered that Wawrinka, ‘Stan the Man’, is not averse to pressure.  Who can forget his antics when collaborating with Federer during last year’s Olympics doubles tournament, conquering world-renowned doubles specialists Bob and Mike Bryan in the semifinals and triumphing in the final to win the Olympic Gold medal for Switzerland.  

Wawrinka was able to enter the tennis top ten last year after reaching the finals of the Masters 1000 Event in Rome, eventually loosing to Novak Djokovic; throughout the tournament he demonstrated considerable skill, technique and tenacity to win over the likes of Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and James Blake. 

He also beat Federer on clay earlier this year in Monte Carlo (before loosing again to Djokovic) showing that he is not afraid of counterpunching with the best players on tour.  

The 24-year-old Wawrinka from Lausanne is a softly spoken man, which only adds to his anonymity in tennis circles.  Despite this, he has reached the fourth round at Wmbledon for the second year in a row with a 5-7 7-5 6-3 6-3 victory over the American qualifier Jesse Levine. 

Currently the No. 19 seed and ranked 18 in the world, Wawrinka certainly merits his place among the elite.  He possesses one of the best backhands on tour, all of his groundstrokes are heavy and loaded with spin, but his favourite surface is clay, arguably the antithesis of the Centre Court grass at Wimbledon. 

No doubt the grass has slowed down in SW19 to rival clay court characteristics (has the baseline ever been so dusty so early in the tournament?), but he will be very much the underdog when he takes on the world No. 3 on Centre Court.

Murray and Wawrinka are good friends on the tour, but good feelings will be left in the lockeroom as Murray continues his quest to become the first male Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936.  Murray leads Wawrinka 4-3 in their head-to-head meetings, the most recent of which was at the US Open last August, a match Murray won in straight sets.

Aggressiveness, consistent serving, solid groundstrokes and an occasional venture to the net are the key tactics to assume in this match.  Whether Wawrinka can actually enact this, on the most famous and one of the largest courts in all of tennis while facing a popular, talented, and dangerous opponent, remains to be seen.

Roger Federer, Andy Murray And Other Contenders For Wimbledon 2009

June 19, 2009

Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament of them all, begins next week with a new roof over Centre Court. But will new stars also rise to the occasion?  

It will be hard to top the culmination of last year’s tournament, with the drama and excitement of the five-hour, five-set marathon men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. But are there potential surprises in store now that the draws and seedings are complete?

Of course, the most dramatic revelation is that in a 7 p.m. BST press conference at Wimbledon on Friday evening, Rafael Nadal took the decision to withdraw from Wimbledon due to tendinitis in his knees.  He will be unable to defend his Wimbledon title, the fourth champion to not defend his Wimbledon title after Don Budge, Fred Perry and Goran Ivanisevic.  

Now, Juan Martin Del Potro, the No. 5 seed, will take Nadal’s position in the draw, meaning that he will be the highest seed that Britain’s Andy Murray could possibly face before the final. 

On paper, Murray is tough to beat. But how will he react on the second Sunday, especially if Roger Federer stands across the net?

Nevertheless, does Nadal’s early exit raise Murray’s chances of being the first British men’s Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936?  Certainly. Yet in reality, this news opens up the tournament for everyone on both sides of the draw. 

Indeed, Murray has plenty of other hazardous opponents in his half. Andy Roddick is placed in his section; Nikolay Davydenko, Lleyton Hewitt and potential giant killers, Ernests Gulbis and Jeremy Chardy, are also looming. The talented likes of Stanislas Wawrinka and Marat Safin are also in this side of the draw. Can the latter further bury his feelings that ‘grass is for cows’ and repeat his excellent run of last year, where he reached the semifinals?

Andy Roddick always performs well on grass with his booming serve, especially at Wimbledon where he has reached the final twice (in 2004 and 2005, where he lost both times to Roger Federer). He injured his ankle last week at Queen’s Club in the semifinals of the Aegon Championships, a warm-up tournament for Wimbledon, but it seems that the injury is not severe. 

Roddick is having one of his best seasons for many years—with a new coach, Larry Stefanki, and new bride—Brooklyn Decker—supporting him, so hopes are high. The fact that he is in Murray’s half, far away from the Federer foe, is another possible mental advantage for him. Expect big things from the consistent American this fortnight.  

Roger Federer is clearly the big favourite to reach the latter stages of the tournament in the other half of the draw, but it must not be forgotten that he has not played a warm-up tournament and could still be emotionally drained from his French Open title. 

If his opponents in the first few rounds come out all guns blazing, there could be small opportunities for an upset, especially if Federer plays as listlessly as he appeared in several rounds of the French Open, where he clearly felt the pressure of his chance to complete a career grand slam. Will he be locked in, or distracted by, the intoxicating combination of his Paris breakthrough and Nadal’s early exit?

A sixth Wimbledon title is no doubt possible—Federer adores Centre Court and the grass of Wimbledon—and Nadal notwithstanding, no player has been able to touch him on this unique surface for seven years.  Could this be the tournament where Federer could break Pete Sampras’ all-time Grand Slam titles record of 14 Majors?  It would certainly be sweet to complete the accomplishment on the hallowed turf of Centre Court.

Novak Djokovic has many questions to answer over the next two weeks. After a dismal showing at Halle on grass, where he lost to 31-year-old wild card Tommy Haas in the final, not to mention a loss to Philip Kohlschreiber in the fourth round of the French Open, will he be able to find some consistent form once again? 

Additionally, there are some intriguing matchups in the first round that will whet all tennis fans’ appetites around the world. James Blake versus Fabrice Santoro could be a dangerous match for the American, with the aging magician still able to perform some mesmerizing tricks. Lleyton Hewitt versus Robby Ginepri could be a great showcase for thunderous shots and fiery attitudes. Sam Querrey versus Ivan Ljubicic will be full of thunderous serves and probably few service breaks. 

Will Robin Soderling be able to capitalise on his French Open success by prevailing over Gilles Muller, another Major wild card (remember his exploits at last year’s US Open, where he was beaten in the quarterfinals by, you guessed it, Roger Federer)? 

Overall, it must be stressed that grass is unpredictable in that there are so few tournaments on the surface in the ATP Tour season—it is difficult to assess the quality of various players on this most unique of surfaces after usually only one small warm-up tournament, for example. 

The outcomes of potential matchups are hard to determine as grass is an unknown variable in proceedings.  Who, for example, would bet against the likes of Andy Roddick and Roger Federer—whereas the progress of Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is tough to call. 

Equally the sudden growth of young, up-and-coming talent in the past 12 months has been incredible, but we have yet to see whether Juan Martin Del Potro, for example, will conform to their Wimbledon seeding and reach the late stages of the tournament, adding yet another ingredient to the potent mixture.  

Who will be the sun be shining on—or alternatively, who will the new roof protect—at the end of the fortnight? Should we expect a true-to-seeding final, or a potential upset to rival that of the recent French Open?

(Published on Bleacher Report; June 19th, 2009)

Federer, Nadal And Healing The Wounds of Wimbledon 2008

June 17, 2009

Being ill can sometimes have some small advantages.  Yesterday I spent the afternoon in bed, totally engrossed in L. Jon Wertheim’s latest publication, ‘Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played’, a 300-page emotive, dramatic and detailed investigation of last year’s Wimbledon 2008 Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

With Wertheim, an esteemed and popular tennis journalist, being present at the epic final, only eight rows behind the court, he could fully translate the unique atmosphere in Centre Court to the pages of his book.

For many Federer fans, this book may seem anathema, a publication never to be bought, let alone opened; but being the sadist that I am, I insisted on purchasing the piece if only to marvel at Wertheim’s stunning descriptions and extensive knowledge.  Here is an author that truly knows his stuff—and appears to enjoy writing about the minutiae of the tennis world. 

Strangely, I managed to read—no, devour—the entire book in just a few hours.  Even the intense emotions that reverberated off the final pages of the book, which brilliantly echoed Federer’s despair and Nadal’s jubilation at the end of the final, failed to prohibit my snapping the book shut.

A million things flew through my head as I flew through the chapters that broke down the background of the match and each dramatic set.  Yes, reliving the events of the darkness of Sunday, July 6, 2008 was upsetting for me, a viewer who strongly desired Federer to win a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title.  However, almost one year on, am I, along with other Federer fans, really still hurting that badly? 

I began to ponder the events of the past few months.  Certainly there have been many peaks and troughs, ups and downs, in Federer’s performance, both before and after the crucial Wimbledon loss. 

Yet have the events at Roland Garros a few weeks ago—where Federer won the French Open, his 14th major, completing a career Grand Slam—affected Federer fans, Federer himself, if not the whole tennis world, so deeply and fundamentally that one is actually able to accept gargantuan defeats such as Wimbledon 2008 with a little more ease and fluidity?

Surely the recent news and events do help this feeling.  When Federer was defeated once again at the Australian Open at the beginning of February this year in a five-set final against Nadal, many believed it truly was the beginning of the end for Federer. 

The schism between Federer and Nadal fans deepened, the rivalry truly registering across global sports audiences.  The Wimbledon 2008 final, with its unparalleled location, length, and drama really penetrated the international consciousness, which only increased after Melbourne.

It seemed that Federer’s despair and desolation of 2008—the frightful combination of mononucleosis, the symbolic ‘turbo-zit’ (Wertheim’s phrase, not mine), the loss of his hegemonic No.1 position and Wimbledon—was set to continue for the foreseeable future of Federer’s tennis career. 

Federer’s crushing defeat at the French Open last year only exacerbated the opinion that his chances of winning majors, especially if facing Nadal in the final—and certainly achieving the career Grand Slam—was effectively zero.

Nevertheless, richly needed highs in the season came from Federer’s Olympic gold medal with Stanislas Wawrinka in doubles which propelled him to his triumph at the US Open in New York in September.

These victories notwithstanding, the consensus was that last year’s Wimbledon signalled the coronation of a new king and Federer was irreversibly damaged.

Yet by April 2009, a shift in the tennis sphere—barely perceptible but present nevertheless—began to manifest.  Federer’s private life became, by his own high standards, ‘practically perfect’, with a private marriage with his longtime sweetheart Mirka Vavrinec over the Easter weekend in his hometown of Basel and a baby on the way.

With Roger the person and all private matters running as smoothly as Swiss clockwork, Roger the tennis player seemed to settle down too. 

A great performance at the Rome Masters 1000 event was topped by a magnificent tournament and straight sets victory against Nadal in Madrid on clay.  Consequently hopes were indeed higher for Federer’s French Open prospects, yet nobody could bet against the king of clay ruling supreme in Paris once again. 

But then the shocks came.  Novak Djokovic defeated—then Nadal defeated at the French Open.  Federer hung in the tournament, feeling the mounting pressure, fighting with his heart and soul in order to create his dream against almost every opponent. 

This year, not even an intruder could stand in his way.  June 6, 2009, 11 months exactly from that fateful Wimbledon 2008 day—Roger Federer becomes the French Open champion.  The career Grand Slam, the 14th major. 

Suddenly, Federer has won two of the three Slam events since Wimbledon 2008, now with his first French. Nadal has won Olympic gold and another hardcourt slam in the Australian Open. This rivalry still lives and breathes.  Federer is still the great player he always was, seemingly only slightly affected by his Wimbledon loss. 

Of course, the tennis season is far from over—there are still two slams and many Masters 1000 events, not to mention the World Tour Finals, to complete—and Federer, like Nadal, has not played a competitive match since that monumental day in Paris. 

But somehow, it seems that Federer’s Parisian victory has melted the pressure.  Across the world, it has enabled Federer fans to relax (if only fleetingly); it has enabled them to believe that there really is such a thing as tennis karma.  What goes around comes around, one could say. 

Nevertheless, clearly the Spanish nemesis still poses a problem for Federer.  A 13-7 record in Nadal’s favour does not bode well for future match-ups, even if the latest meeting was won by Federer. 

Crucially, Federer may play with a little more ease at this year’s Wimbledon, given that he does not need to ‘chase history’ as urgently or fervently as was suggested in the darkest moments.  However, Federer has always been pushed by history; he is too competitive and too aware of competitors to truly relax. 

This is a Slam, after all.  Moreover, Nadal will enter SW19 as the No.1 seed and defending champion, with more motivation than usual after his early exit at Roland Garros; Federer will be desperate to reclaim his most prized crown and simultaneously surpass Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles. 

To a certain extent, ATP ranking points also come into play.  Currently, Nadal is 2000 points ahead of Federer.  A win at Wimbledon for Federer, or on the flipside, a poor showing by Nadal, could kick-start a forceful numerical comeback by the former World No.1, especially as Nadal has many points to defend in the coming months.   

It is clear that there is still an incredible amount riding on this forthcoming Wimbledon once again, without even considering the hopes of the likes of Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and even 31-year old Halle champion Tommy Haas. 

Nadal’s knees and the suspected flare-up of patella tendonitis are of much concern.  Could any more stress and strain on punishingly hard grass courts add insult to injury (only small pun intended) and leave Nadal in turmoil for not only a defense of his WImbledon title, but also his chances in the rest of the season’s events?

Is it dangerous to consider Federer a favourite, given his lack of competitive grass-court preparation and the fact that he could still be emotionally drained? 

Will the coming fortnight prove to be another turning point in the Federer-Nadal rivalry?  Another blow to Federer on Centre Court, or indeed now Nadal, could have tumultuous consequences for the remainder of the season.

Tennis lends itself to a coup d’etat and even the occasional restoration of ‘traditional’ power, but the past few months have created the most radical and oscillatory shifts between two individuals for many years. 

The sheer accumulation of matches and twists in momentum and victories in recent months between these two tennis giants mean it is certain that any clash will be full of tension, drama, and excitement.    

The wounds from Wimbledon 2008 are indeed healing, slowly but surely—with the essential help of time and, of course, the silhouette of the Coupe des Mousquetaires firmly fixed at the forefront of Federer’s mind at least for one year.  Still, time is a fickle creature.  We will know in only a few weeks if the wounds are to be reopened, deeper and more poisonous than ever before.

A Tale Of Two Cities – Add A Sporting Dimension

June 15, 2009

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’

A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

Charles Dickens set this illustrious work in the era of the French Revolution, telling the story of Paris and London.  The novel has fewer characters than a typical Dickens novel and was published in weekly installments. 

Although anathema to traditionalists, it is true that the schism between these two metropolises, the renewed weekly anticipation, excitement and drama, and the limited number of protagonists, are elements that remain in sporting reality today for many tennis fans.

Paris: the city of clay; the city of Roland Garros; the city in which Rafael Nadal’s feat of clay turned to dust, out of which a triumphant Roger Federer rose, capturing his 14th Major title, a Career Grand Slam.

London: the city of grass; the city of Wimbledon; the city in which Federer’s five year Centre Court dream ended last July, in a still darkness that was punctuated only by the glow of scoreboards that clarified the numerical story of a great battle.

Two cities, two characters.  The dichotomy of the two protagonists: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal—inclusive of their heritage, styles and fates—fascinates even the most neutral of viewers, listeners, and readers.  The discourse continues unrelentingly, the weekly outcome of their contests difficult to reveal. 

The best of times: We were rewarded with the ‘Greatest Match Of All Time’ at Wimbledon.  A seven hour marathon, punctuated by two nerve-tingling rain delays, resulted in a five hour, five set thriller between Federer, the ailing five-time consecutive Wimbledon champion and Nadal, the rising grass matador and French Open annihilator. 

A practically anachronistic defeat, given Federer’s supreme reign on grass that had lasted since 2002.  Hope balanced by despair, belief overriding incredulity.  The match will forever be remembered as an event that surpassed all expectations. 

The worst of times: Roger Federer’s definitive defeat in the French Open 2008 final—an almost embarrassing show for the then World No.1 and 12-Major champion.  The bizarre one-sided scoreline, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, only underlined the annihilation that was suffered, contrasted the unyielding ascendancy of the clay-court king, under grey Paris skies.  Clay wisdom and clay foolishness.  Promise and desperation.  Wounds that seared deep into the soul were formed. 

In these cities’ recent tennis showcases, Wimbledon 2008 and Roland Garros 2009, the stories of these capitals and the traditions of the characters, have been turned upside down, removing all predicted convention and outcome from the tennis world. 

In the aftermath of Roland Garros 2009, where Nadal was ousted in the fourth round and Federer was triumphant under the most extreme pressure, the traditional tale has twisted once more.

The belief of Nadal, juxtaposed with the incredulity of Federer, has flipped.  Federer’s despair has transformed into hope and wisdom that he can prevail against Nadal, he can prevail in testing circumstances. 

Nadal’s belief has been replaced by despair over his knee injuries.  His hope for a second Wimbledon title is ebbing gently away as new contenders emerge. 

Now the momentum is in Federer’s favour. 

As in Dickens, the superlative degree of comparison between these two cities, these two protagonists, cannot be more distinct. 

London and Paris.  Only separated by a sliver of water, yet fundamentally diverse.  English versus French, practicality versus beauty, irregularity versus symmetry.  Grass versus clay, Wimbledon versus Roland Garros, Centre Court versus Philippe Chatrier.

Federer and Nadal, one of the most discussed sporting rivalries of recent times.  The most artistic versus the most warrior-some. The ethereal versus the earthly, lithe versus pumped, fluency versus staccato.

The texture of the relationship between these two players is consistently adapted, then synchronised, then separated again, to provide yet more compelling drama to the overriding story of these two tennis cities. 

Now Wimbledon 2009 awaits.  Which dramatic characteristics will manifest?

Do we wait in anticipation, expectant of another moment of history?  Will hegemony be exchanged once more?  Do we have everything new before us, or nothing at all?  Who will be ‘Light’, and who will be ‘Darkness’?

Yet in the midst of these direct contrasts remains a clear imbalance.  Gain and loss are not symmetrical; the reactions to these emotions are not equal and opposite.  Victory does not feel as fulfilling as loss feels ruinous.  In SW19, 127 players will feel loss; only one player will experience victory, relief, jubilation.  This year, that person is truly unknown.  

Is there yet another twist in the tale?

(Published on Bleacher Report; June 15th, 2009)

Wimbledon Will Host ‘Centre Court Celebration’ With New Roof and Old Stars

May 17, 2009

On May 17, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, home of the prestigious and illustrious Wimbledon Championships, will celebrate its accomplishment of building a fully retractable and weatherproof roof over its famous Centre Court in readiness for the 2009 Wimbledon Championships. 

This adventurous building project has been in planning since January 2004, as part of the Club’s Long Term Plan, with money for the building work being raised by the most recent sale of Centre Court Debenture tickets.

According to AELTC organisers, the roof will provide ‘a first-class, consistent and safe playing environment in both open and closed positions.’

Combining tradition with innovation and functionality with its revolutionary translucent construction design, natural light will still reach the grass but when adverse conditions stops play, the famous Centre Court grass will be protected. 

‘It has been designed to close and open in under 10 minutes and will be closed primarily to protect play from inclement (and, if necessary, extremely hot) weather. 

Play will be suspended while the roof closes/opens before being resumed once both the court surface and bowl have attained the optimum conditions for players and increased capacity audience.

This process will take between 10-30 minutes depending on the prevailing climatic conditions.’

To celebrate, and test, the new roof and its movements, the AELTC are hosting a special event on May 17 called “A Centre Court Celebration.”

Being a unique event, Wimbledon organisers did something unique themselves. Tickets were offered for sale to anyone via online and telephone bookings—an amazing event in itself, considering that obtaining tickets for the real Championships in June and July is highly contentious and competitive. 

For the Championships an annual ballot system is implemented, with only one in five applicants being successful in gaining a ticket for a seat, day and court of the organisers’ choosing. 

Ian Ritchie, Chief Executive of the All England Club, said, ‘The demand for tickets was truly exceptional and we are delighted to have a capacity Centre Court crowd for a great day on May 17.’

The benefits of having this roof are clear to see.  No longer will there be unpredictable and long-lasting rain delays (at least for prestigious Centre Court matches starring the top players). 

Not only will players be sure of their match times as much as is possible in dry-weather play, ticket holders for Centre Court will be guaranteed to see play, making Centre Court tickets an even more prized commodity from these Championships forward. 

Likewise, should any long rain delays occur throughout the Championship fortnight, other matches might be moved to Centre to guarantee their completion. 

Additionally, all broadcasters can be reassured that they will be able to broadcast matches to millions of viewers worldwide.

Equally, matches can carry on late into the night if necessary, meaning there should be no repeat of last year’s final drama between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, which, due to two rain delays, carried on into the evening and essentially ended due to the falling darkness on Centre Court at 9.30 p.m.

However, does this roof and its effects really hold a positive prospect for the tournament?

Never again will important matches in the Championships be impacted by Mother Nature’s hand.  Will Wimbledon loose its trademark, the never-ending rain delays?

Weather-affected and light-affected dramas such as last year’s final will not be repeated.  No rain delays means that a struggling player will no longer be able to regroup and come back onto court with a refreshed and re-energised heart and soul. 

Wimbledon is famous for the frequency of its ‘rain stops play’ calls, court covers and umbrellas.  Let’s not forget Cliff Richard’s ‘Singing In The Rain’ outburst.  What will replace this long tradition?

Critics believe that Wimbledon could turn into a late-night event, allowing matches to continue long after midnight.  The prospect of 15,000 people streaming into neighbouring roads late at night, disrupting residents, is contentious. 

What do the players think?  Roger Federer, who writes a foreword in a commemorative book on the Centre Court and its transformation: ‘Centre Court: The Jewel in Wimbledon’s Crown’, published on May 18, believes that the roof won’t change play very much. 

‘I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot, but the good thing is there is going to be less wind just because the roof is going to be back on.

The fixed roof, the sliding roof, is just going to save us all.  Me, sponsors, fans, players. It’s just going to make it easier for everybody. There’s always going to be a match on TV. That’s always a good thing, I think.

I’m excited that Wimbledon made that big step.’

Simon Barnes, a British journalist who has experienced 24 rain-dependent Wimbledons, maintains an old-school, philosophical attitude.

‘Now, when it rains, life will go on untroubled, at least for those with Centre Court tickets. Never again will we see that strange tent above the grass.

The legend of SW19 states that the groundsmen once rolled back that famous wet green canvas tent to discover a still life: two glasses, an empty champagne bottle and an equally empty pair of knickers. This year they’ll have to watch the tennis.’

Anyhow – what are the odds for a rain-free fortnight?

(Published on Bleacher Report; May 3rd, 2009)

British Tennis Coverage Review: Is It Really All About Andy Murray?

May 17, 2009

2008 was the year of the bull. 

Now that Nadal has closed down and overtaken Federer for the coveted No. 1 spot, not to mention the Wimbledon and Australian Open titles to add to his four French Open crowns, all—and I mean all—the talk, hype and analysis on British TV, radio and on-line has turned to Murray with full intensity.  

Of course, Murray, despite not having the softly spoken, self- deprecating persona of a certain Tim Henman, has been the darling of British tennis coverage for many years. Many commentators and insiders have been urging him to tone down the temper tantrums and fulfill his huge potential.  

Now that is coming to fruition with extreme speed and ferocity, Sky Sports, the UK’s premium tennis coverage provider, cannot (or will not) mask their undying devotion to the young Scot and his televised matches. When Murray plays, the world stops. Nothing else matters.  

Marcus Buckland, the chief presenter-anchor of the tennis show, together with commentator Mark Petchey, are especially vocal in their ardor for Nadal and Murray.  ‘Only a few hours until Murray walks on to court,’… ‘mark your schedules now,’… ‘let’s look forward to another great display,’ are his frequent cries. 

For the ardent Murray fans (although how many are there in Britain, really?  Do they really hold a huge majority?), of course, this is a delight.  But come on Buckland… there are other players out there!  

You get the feeling the other commentators are positive about Murray because they are told to be…  

Nevertheless, the majority of viewers put up with this slight inconvenience. After all—and I do not write such things lightly—I believe British tennis viewers have it good.  

In order for Buckland to provide us with unlimited Murray love, the coverage of the best events is second to none.

From Sky Sports, one gets unrivalled live and highlights coverage (day and night) of all ATP Masters 1000 events and the World Tour Finals, several prestigious Masters 500 events and the jewel in the crown—unlimited live, interactive and highlights coverage of the US Open. 

To add to this excellent foundation, we get to listen, admire and laugh with insightful, entertaining and engaging commentators from the team of Mark Petchey, Barry Milns, Barry Cowan, Leif Shiras and Peter Fleming. 

The latter, in particular, keeps me coming back to the coverage again and again with his witty and informative banter, peppered with technical analysis and personal reminiscing in equal measure.

More recently, Sky Sports has introduced a viewer interaction element, via text and email. A gimmick, a fluke, some may say – but certainly so far, tennis broadcasts this year have been jam-packed with insightful and interesting questions and comments from knowledgeable viewers.

It remains to be seen whether this will continue… 

Finally, and perhaps I save the best until last – we should not forget the delights (and quirks) of the BBC’s free, outstanding and extensive coverage of the remaining slams—the Australian Open, the French Open and most importantly, the illustrious and flagship tournament of Wimbledon.  

Every year—and I anticipate that this year will be no exception—I wait eagerly for uninterrupted and extensive coverage on two terrestrial television channels, as well as radio and on-line, of what seems like every court, every match (present and past when rain stops play), not to mention expert analysis and humour from tennis greats such as John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors.  

A delight.  

Will Murray Mania burn deep into Wimbledon coverage, too? Of course. But that won’t stop anybody enjoying what hopefully will be a wonderful summer of tennis for the British audience.

(Published on Bleacher Report; May 3rd 2009)