Archive | July, 2013

Roger making a racket

24 Jul

Roger Federer Backhand

Roger Federer and the old racket at Wimbledon.

One man who does not seem to embrace change – why would you when you are perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time – is Roger Federer. Federer has been in constant denial on his slide from the top, and truth be known would still harbour thoughts that he is only a sniff away from getting back to winning Slam titles. That is what all champions hold on to, belief.

Sometimes it takes an unexpected early loss to bring about change. Could it be that Federer’s early Wimbledon exit ushers in the move to a more forgiving larger headed racket that many experts have been calling Roger to trial for a few years now? Roger admits he has never had the inkling nor desire to change anything, let alone his most valuable work tool – his racket. “I was always too deep into the last weekend of tournaments to even try to make a change of racket if I wanted to”, Federer stated a few days ago when asked about the new racket.

So, in a move that indicates a sense of mortality, Federer unveiled a prototype new racket at Hamburg this week. Could this be the sign of a mid-life, mid-size racket crisis? Federer has used a 90 square inch Wilson (very un-forgiving unless you are a Swiss precision ball-striker) his entire career. He is currently trialling a 98 square inch racket that is designed to give him “a little help”. Racket technicians believe the move may even extend Roger’s tennis career, and perhaps this is a sign that he is now willing to adapt and adjust to the challenge of being the hunter and not the hunted.

In Federer’s words when asked about the new racket, “so far, so good”. For Roger that brief phrase could sum up his career.

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Mature Murray masters his demons.

4 Jul

Andy Murray

Andy Murray – Phew. The Brits can breathe again.

Scottish world #2 Andy Murray appeared to have the fright of his life against a rampaging Fernando Verdasco. The darling of Wimbledon was forced to dig so deep he almost swapped the racket for a shovel as Verdasco unleashed 2 and half sets of tennis nirvana. We learnt something about Murray yesterday – he has a streak of stubborness – we already knew that, but he now has a steely resolve to match the grumpy exterior. Ivan Lendl would be proud.

As Murray said after the match, “my frustration may have affected me in the past, but I don’t think that is the case anymore”. Murray added when asked what he changed at 2 sets to love down –  “I was more patient, took a little longer between points and didn’t give him any free points after that”. Murray appears ready, his belief system is strong, his foot speed impressive, his all-court game flourishing. Under Lendl he has found his place. It is here and now – competing in Slam semis and finals and doing it with confidence.

There was no sense of relief from Murray – that sentiment was overplayed by every Brit in the crowd, on Murray Mound and by those watching on the tube. Grand Slam tennis is played over 5 sets, and it’s played, at this level, mainly between the ears. Murray simply got the job done – the telling moment was how he served out the match. Clinical. Professional. No fuss. Ivan Lendl was proud.

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Andy Murray

Andy Murray

David Ferrer. Class act

3 Jul

David Ferrer shows his usual hustle to make a fantastic save against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

David Ferrer – at home on clay.

In a David versus Goliath match-up, Spanish ball machine – all 5′ 9″ of David Ferrer, takes on Argentina’s 6′ 6” Juan Martin Del Potro in a Wimbledon 1/4 final. In an event that has been dubbed “Wimble-geddon” due to seeded players crashing out, Del Potro (seeded 8) and Ferrer (seeded 4),whilst being anything but grass court specialists, have in fact justified their seedings.

Ferrer is in career best form – and there are not too many 13 year tour veterans, who at 31 year’s of age you can say that about. No matter what happens in this match Ferrer rises above Roger Federer to #3 on the world rankings next week. It is a fitting reward for a player who comes across as shy and reserved, but is in fact one of the true nice guys in the locker room. David Ferrer is dour. Dogged. Determined. Aussie coach Darren Cahill rates Ferrer as the current best service returner in the game. A big call, but Cahill has substance in the debate – he did coach both Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi – both acknowledged as the best returners in their time too.

David Ferrer has the strength of mind to get the job done. As a junior, Ferrer’s coach Javier Piles, unhappy with David’s work rate, locked him in a dark ball cupboard for several hours. Coach Piles is still on hand today and far more content with his player’s output. Ferrer too is content – “Tennis doesn’t owe me anything. Tennis is one of the fairest sports. It’s given me so many extraordinary feelings.” Look for a fast, fit Ferrer to frustrate Delpo. Ferrer in four sets for me.

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Crouching tigress Radwanska pounces on Li.

3 Jul

Agnieszka Radwanska

Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska at full stretch against Li Na.

World #4 Agnieszka Radwanska is on track to reach her second Wimbledon final in a row after a stirring battle with China’s Li Na. Radwanska many times had to resort to her crouching baseline defensive plays to blunt Li’s all out assault. The match went the distance. 3 hard fought sets, and it took the Pole 8 match points to see off her tenacious opponent. The win sets up a semi final showdown with the other blonde bombshell in the draw, German smiling assassin Sabine Lisicki.

This will be a match of contrasting styles. Lisicki, athletic, pounding serve, all bash and crash versus the variety, methodical point construction and subtlety of Radwanska. It has the makings of an epic contest between two fan favourites at Wimbledon. Radwanska is a former winner of the Wimbledon junior singles and has won the WTA most popular player on tour award for the past 2 years. She is the first Pole to win a WTA singles title (she currently has 12), and also the first Pole to reach a Slam final. Radwanska will have the edge in mental toughness and should get the job done.

In the other semi final, France’s wind-up toy Marion Bartoli will take on the “comeback kid” Kristen Flipkens. Flipkens fell as low as a ranking of #175 this time last year, and is now riding a wave of confidence built around her aggressive serve and attacking gamestyle.  Bartoli should have all the quirky answers, and if nervous energy is anything to go by, will win this one comfortably to set up another fascinating final on Saturday.

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I play tennis. Where are you from?

2 Jul

Map showing the Member states of the United NationsThis map does not represent the view of its members or the UN concerning the legal status of any country,[2] nor does it accurately reflect which areas' governments have UN representation.

Tennis: no longer the domain of the USA, Australia and a handful of others, but something more akin to the United Nations.

Take a look at any event week in week out on either the WTA or ATP tennis tours, scan the draw of an ITF Futures or women’s tour event. This week, while the biggest tournament in the world, Wimbledon, is in full swing there are also tour events from Austria to Thailand. In fact 21 nations are hosting tournaments this week alone. The Davis Cup, which started in 1900 as something of a social challenge between the Americans and the Brits, now has 130 nations competing every year. It is the largest annual international sporting event. Tennis is THE global game.

It’s not just the events themselves that are spread across the globe, nor the competitors, but MOST importantly the spread of talent. Look at the line up at Wimbledon for the women’s 1/4 final to help confirm the point. Sabine Lisicki from Germany takes on Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. China’s Li Na faces Agnieszka Radwanska from Poland. American Sloane Stephens will battle France’s Marion Bartoli and Czech Republic lefty Petra Kvitova plays Belgium’s Kristen Flipkens. Eight players from eight countries.

If you still need convincing back it up to the 4th round – Monica Puig (Puerto Rico), Laura Robson (Great Britain), Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria), Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) and Roberta Vinci (Italy) all give credence to the internationalisation of tennis. Even if you take into account a couple of upset defeats – and plug those players back into the mix, it only serves to reinforce the view. Maria Sharapova (Russia) and Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, as well as seeded players from Serbia, Austria, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia and Romania. Phew. If this is the game you want to play, get yourself a 64 page passport. Tennis – truly international.

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*PS The PRO tips a Czech Republic versus Poland final with Petra Kvitova to take the title.

Sabine Lisicki’s happy hunting ground.

1 Jul

Sabine Lisicki

Sabine Lisicki – the moment of triumph.

Sabine Lisicki is one of those players who seems to grow a foot taller out on Wimbledon’s famed centre court. Super powers? Kryptonite? Super-hero status is something that happens to Lisicki – and for those driving Serena Williams into unbackable odds, they probably wish Sabine Lisicki would put away the cape. While Lisicki has never been past the 4th round at any of the other 3 Slams, she is through to her 4th quarter final appearance at Wimbledon in 5 years.

In a see-sawing battle which produced some stern tests of character in the deciding 3rd set, it was Lisicki who had the resolve and belief to get the job done. If you saw the post match Lisicki BBC breakdown you realise how big a deal it is for a player to overcome not just Serena, but their own demons, and the relief was tangible. Serena, the 5 time Wimbledon champion and world #1, bows out with a career best winning streak halted at 34 matches. That won’t please her, because it puts her second to sister Venus, who had a streak of 35. No one likes coming second to their sister.

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