Turn on a tennis tournament sometime during the dreary month of February, and more likely than not you will see a blue court under artificial lighting with players who end matches quickly behind cascades of unreturnable serves. But then there’s the odd chance, especially this year with Nadal’s comeback, that you will turn on a tennis tournament and see—red clay. Outdoors. With actual rallies.
The South American clay season often raises eyebrows in its position between marquee hard courts in Australia and North America. An anomaly as a procession of indoor hard tournaments unfold through Europe and the United States this month, these tournaments lack intuitive logic from a fan’s perspective and have caused many to wonder whether they would benefit from shifting to hard courts. If they did, skeptics argue, they would lure a more balanced field of players rather than the usual group of clay specialists who pounce on them so eagerly. Moreover, the results there actually would become relevant to the mega-Masters 1000 tournaments ahead in Indian Wells and Miami, for barometers of hard-court form they are not at the moment. Perhaps less persuasive but still credible is the thought that change itself can inject new life into a tournament, generating publicity that adds energy to it and bringing it to the attention of the sport’s international audience. (Somewhat like what Nadal did this year. Until he announced his comeback schedule, many fans probably did not even remember the order in which these events unfold.)
Of course, Ion Tiriac plunged his tournament into a great blue sea of change last year that illustrated the distinction between good and bad publicity, or perhaps that the latter exists. And there are plenty of other reasons why the South American tournaments should defy the pressures of conformity to remain paradises of dirt devils. Clay specialists they may be, but players like Ferrer, Almagro, and Wawrinka (all in the Buenos Aires 250 this week) showcase excellent talents that can entertain anyone with a true passion for and knowedge of the sport. By contrast, the more prestigious 500 tournament in Memphis this week attracted nobody more scintillating than Cilic and the usual parade of towering servers from North America, unmatched in monotony by any other type of player. Even assuming that a tournament would benefit from their inclusion, it is far from clear that changing to hard courts would convince many of these players to take the long trip south. Appearance fees, local connections, physical condition, and current career goals generally drive scheduling decisions in the sub-Masters 1000 tiers for the marquee names. Nor should one underestimate the appeal of a sunny South American vacation when much of the Northern Hemisphere lies shrouded deep in winter, something irrelevant to the surface.
For fans, meanwhile, that South American sun can come as an invigorating jolt of energy, much like the Australian summer that enlivens our post-Christmas doldrums. The saturated colors and warm light that flickers onto our televisions and desktops in a sense presages the springtime experience of Indian Wells and Miami more than do the sterile arenas of February’s indoor hard-court tournaments. Diversity stands as one of the sport’s great strengths, and playing tournaments on two different surfaces in the same week bolsters it no less than playing tournaments on three different continents in the same week.
Finally, there seems something to be said for adhering to local traditions and preserving ties to each region’s distinctive history. Hard courts have come to dominate the sport and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The “if you can’t beat them, join them” theory clearly does not apply to tennis, though, for the specialty surfaces that remain in Europe arguably have enhanced their prestige by becoming less common. People are drawn to the unusual and the unfamiliar, which provides an independent reason for the South American tournaments to keep the one key element that distinguishes them from others during the same span.
That said, those eager to import hard courts to South America will look forward to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, an experiment that may cause some to consider embracing the surface more enthusiastically. Seeing hard courts in this region, though, may look even odder than seeing clay courts in February.
While none of the ATP tournaments this week enjoys a field of the pedigree that the WTA has produced in Dubai, the 250 tournament in Marseille features every member of the top ten’s lower half. We start with that event in our weekly preview, following it with the technically more significant tournament in Memphis and the latest edition of the South American clay swing.
Marseille: Recovered from his Davis Cup marathon earlier this month, world #6 Berdych claims the top seed in this overstuffed draw. At his best on these fast surfaces, he still cannot overlook the second-round challenge of Gulbis, who defeated him at Wimbledon last year. An intriguing collection of unpredictable threats rounds out the quarter from Rotterdam finalist Benneteau, who upset Federer there, to the notorious Rosol and the rising Janowicz. After breaking through on an indoor hard court in Paris last year, the latter has struggled to sustain his momentum in 2013. Like Berdych, Janowicz must start the tournament in crisp form to survive his early challenges.
Somewhat less dangerous is the second quarter, where Tipsarevic would reach the quarterfinals after facing only a qualifier. The fourth-seeded Serb will have welcomed this good fortune, considering an inconsistent start to the season that included a retirement at the Australian Open and an opening-round loss as the second seed in an indoor 250 this month. Starting 2013 by winning fifteen of his first sixteen matches, by contrast, Gasquet became the first man to claim two titles this year in a surprising development that vindicated his top-ten status. A second-round meeting with compatriot Monfils would intrigue, although the latter continues to rebuild his rhythm in a return from a long absence.
Two of the most notable figures in the third quarter lost their Rotterdam openers last week, one surprisingly and one less so. While few expected Tsonga to stumble against Sijsling, familiar sighs issued from Australia when Tomic reverted to his wayward self. The Aussie eyes a more accommodating draw this time, though, for higher-ranked opponnents Klizan and Paire will not overwhelm him. A potential opener against Davydenko might cause concern among Tsonga’s fans on an indoor hard court, but the Russian has slumped significantly since reaching the Doha final to start the season. In a quarterfinal, Tsonga and Tomic could engage in a battle of seismic serving that would test the focus of both.
Fresh from a strong effort in Rotterdam arrives the second-seeded Del Potro to a more challenging draw. Rebounding from his Australian Open debacle, he held serve relentlessly on indoor hard courts last week and may need to do so again if he opens against home hope Michael Llodra. A former semifinalist at the Paris Indoors, Llodra upset Tipsarevic in Montpellier two weeks ago and always relishes playing on this surface. Less formidable is the Frenchman whom Del Potro could meet in the quarterfinals, for Simon lacks the shot-making ability to thrust the Argentine out of his comfort zone.
Final: Berdych vs. Del Potro
Memphis: The most important tournament of the week only on paper, this sequel to San Jose often features many of the same players. This year departs somewhat from that trend, for top-seeded Cilic and fifth-seeded Nishikori arrive in North America for the first time this year. Between them stand Zagreb finalist and Memphis defending champion Melzer, who could repeat his final there against Cilic, and Tsonga’s Rotterdam nemesis, Igor Sijsling. Hampered by injury during the Australian Open, Nishikori aims to regain his groove before tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami where he could shine. By contrast, Cilic hopes to build upon claiming his home tournament in Zagreb for the third time. When they met at last year’s US Open, the latter prevailed in four sets.
Impressive in Davis Cup but less so in San Jose, Querrey looks to produce a more compelling serving performance as the fourth seed in a section without any giants of his size. Compatriot Steve Johnson, who upset Karlovic last week, may fancy his chances against the mercurial Dolgopolov in the second round. Withdrawing from San Jose with injury, the seventh seed may find the courts too fast for an entertaining style that requires time to improvise. If Dolgopolov should meet Querrey, though, he could disrupt the rhythm on which the American relies.
Somewhat like Querrey, Isner achieved modest success in San Jose before subsiding meekly in the semifinals. Since he missed much of the previous weeks with a knee injury, the matches accumulated there should serve him well in a tournament where he has finished runner-up to Querrey before. The tenacious returning of Hewitt may test Isner’s fortitude, although the former has not left an impact on his recent tournaments. Also in this section is the faltering Ryan Harrison, the victim of some challenging draws but also unable to show much evidence of improvement despite his visible will to win. The home crowd might free Harrison from the passivity that has cost him lately.
The undisputed master of San Jose, Raonic moves from the top of the draw there to the bottom of the draw here. His massive serve-forehand combinations will meet a similar style, albeit more raw, in American wildcard Jack Sock when the tournament begins. Raonic can anticipate a rematch of the San Jose final against Haas in the Memphis quarterfinals, while the lefty serve of Feliciano Lopez should pose an intriguing upset threat. Since Melzer rode similar weapons to last year’s title here, this fellow veteran could surprise the draw as well.
Final: Querrey vs. Raonic
Buenos Aires: After Nadal had dominated the South American headlines during the previous two weeks, another Spaniard attempts to follow in his footsteps. Now the top-ranked man from his country, world #4 Ferrer will face the same task that Rafa did in Sao Paulo when he meets either Berlocq or Nalbandian in the second round. Troubled by Nalbandian before, he will feel more comfortable against the unreliable Fognini in a more traditional battle of clay specialists a round later. In the second quarter continue two surprise stories of the past two weeks, Horacio Zeballos and Martin Alund. While the former won his first career title by toppling Nadal in Vina del Mar, the latter won a set from the Spaniard in a semifinal at Sao Paulo—the first tournament where he had won an ATP match. The highest seed in this quarter, Bellucci, imploded on home soil last week but did defeat Ferrer in Monte Carlo last year.
Framing the lower half are the ATP’s two most notable hard-luck stories of the season. Two days after Wawrinka had lost his epic five-setter to Djokovic, Almagro allowed a two-set lead to slip away against Ferrer in Melbourne after serving for the match three times. That trend continued for both men in February, when Wawrinka lost the longest doubles match in tennis history and Almagro dropped a third-set tiebreak to Nalbandian despite serving 28 aces. The Swiss #2 faces a mildly intriguing test to start the week in Paolo Lorenzi, and fellow Italian Simone Bolelli aims to continue his surge from a semifinal appearance in Sao Paulo. Less imposing is the path ahead of Almagro, although the unseeded Albert Montanes can score the occasional headline victory on clay.
Final: Ferrer vs. Wawrinka
By Evan Valeri
In my previous article I discussed which ATP players in the modern game have the most desirable strokes. As we have all seen before, the player with the superior technique is not always the winner. In this article we will take a look at which players have a strong mentality on court as well as other supporting aspects of the mental game.
Man with a Plan – Roger Federer
You don’t become number one in the world for more than 300 weeks without having a plan when you step on court for battle. Not only plan “a” but also plans b, c, and d. Federer has the ability to dissect a player and exploit their weaknesses while playing to his strength. He moves opponents around all areas of the court better than anyone and it appears as though he often has them on a string, playing a well conceived game of cat and mouse. You can often see Federer pull opponents into the net with a short slice backhand, forcing a weak approach, which allows him to blast a ball which they are unable to handle. Roger is smart and adaptable on court. If his first plan isn’t working he changes gears so he can stay ahead of any foe.
Winning the Clutch Moments – Novak Djokovic
Having a better deciding fifth set record (.721 win percentage) than any of the other players in the top ten says it all. When the pressure moment arrives, Novak knows how to win and that is why he has won the most majors the last few years and is the number one player in the world. Novak knows what points he can afford to lose and save energy if need be. He can also understand which points and games of each set are the most important. At these times he elevates his game and makes his opponent crack under the pressure. Djokovic flat out knows what it takes to win and how to play his highest level of tennis during the biggest moments.
Mental Toughness – Rafael Nadal
This category represents a variety of aspects of the mental game combined into one. Level headedness is the ability for someone to glance at you, and whether you are ahead 5-0 or down 0-5, they won’t be able to tell. Mental toughness also includes the ability to front run and not relax if you are ahead, and not stress out if you’re behind in a match. There is one man on the ATP tour who is better than anyone else at keeping the pressure on, fighting his way back, and keeping his cool. That man is Rafael Nadal. Rafa has an amazing .827 career winning percentage because he is the most mentally tough player on tour.
Physical Fitness – David Ferrer
Being in the best possible physical shape on a tennis court gives a player a huge advantage mentally. David Ferrer is not only one of the fastest players on tour but can play at the highest level for longer than anyone else out there. This is a huge advantage during a five set match. Knowing that even if your opponent is winning, if you can force a fifth set your victory is almost inevitable. David knows this and embraces it with twice as many five set wins throughout his career as losses. Just as important as being fast and having superior stamina is the ability to avoid injury and David has done a great job staying healthy during his years on tour.
Court Coverage – Andy Murray
You won’t find a player who can cover more of the court during a match than Scot Andy Murray. Murray is fast on the tennis court but more importantly he knows how and where to recover. Like a great chess player, he is fantastic at anticipating his opponent’s next shot. Murray has been known for being content at playing rallies from 30-50 hits in length and move better side to side as well as forward and back than anyone out there.
A player who has the best strokes in the world and a complete mental game would be difficult to beat. No matter how efficient your technique or how mentally strong you are, a player still needs to know how to execute on court. The ability to play a winning style of game is pivotal in defeating your opponent. In the final article in this series I will take a look at the different game styles and which players excel at putting them into play.
1. Agnieszka Radwanska needs more weapons: Radwanska is many people’s favourite player with her quirky, imaginative style – combining speed with a deft touch. But despite arriving in Melbourne in the form of her life, we saw Radwanska come unstuck in the latter stages once again when up against a big hitter. Despite having more variety than Caroline Wozniacki, it appears she could suffer the Dane’s fate of always falling short at the majors unless she learns to attack a little more.
2. Bernard Tomic still has a huge ego: Don’t get me wrong, Tomic has impressed me so far this season but he’s not as close to the top 10 as he thinks. ‘It’s only a matter of time before I get my ranking up alongside these guys,’ he told us after losing in straight sets to Roger Federer. Before we start believing that, Tomic needs to start producing the goods, outside of Australia.
3. Maria Sharapova’s serve is still an Achilles heel: As unexpected as Serena Williams’ loss to Sloane Stephens was, Sharapova’s demolition at the hands of Li Na a day later was almost as surprising. Like many people, after a week’s action in Melbourne I had the Russian nailed on as the champion. But the first time she seriously came under some pressure, her serve folded and her error strewn display saw her bomb out with a whimper.
4. Roger Federer checks betting odds: Now we’re sure that Roger doesn’t gamble with all the strict match-fixing regulations imposed by the ATP these days but he still keeps up with the odds. After beating Milos Raonic in the fourth round, he informed us that he’d seen Novak Djokovic’s odds ahead of his match with Stanislas Wawrinka and he thought they were really disrespectful to his fellow Swiss. Bet365, you’ve been told!
5. The tennis world is prone to overreacting: We couldn’t help but sympathize for poor old Victoria Azarenka who had to take on Li Na in front of a very hostile Rod Laver Arena who cheerfully applauded her double faults and her every error. Ok Azarenka may have been guilty of playing a few games in her semi-final but she wasn’t the first to do so and she won’t be the last. Plus Sloane Stephens had only held 1 service game in the entire match so one can hardly say it was a surprise she got broken after Azarenka’s ‘time out.’ Part of this is the fault of the press who whipped the Aussie public into a frenzy over the Belarussian’s alleged ‘cheating.’
6. Modesty gets you nowhere: Like many people, I was pretty disappointed by David Ferrer’s comments after his semi-final demolition at the hands of Djokovic. ‘These guys are just better than me. What can I do?” shrugged Ferrer. The Spaniard had played extremely well en route to the semis but you sense he just doesn’t believe he can beat Djokovic, Federer or Murray which is a disappointing attitude for the world number 4 to have.
7. The equal pay debate will always come up at the slams: The one-sided routs which Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams handed out for the first four rounds saw plenty of grumblings arise from the men’s game. Just like at Wimbledon last year. And at virtually every slam. While it’s a little disappointing that Sharapova was able to win her first two matches without conceding a single game, one should also look at just how easily Djokovic and Murray won their first few matches before pointing the finger.
8. Tsonga can get away with outrageous things: How did he get away with saying this? After losing to Roger Federer in 5 sets, the Frenchman was questioned on why there’s more upsets in women’s tennis. He replied, “You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I’m sure everybody will say it’s true, even the girls (laughter). No? No, you don’t think? But, I mean, it’s just about hormones and all this stuff. We don’t have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That’s it.” If Djokovic, Federer or Murray had said that they would have been publicly castrated but instead this caused barely a ripple.
9. No excuses from Murray: Many players would have blamed blisters maybe a sore hamstring for losing to Djokovic in 4 sets in the Australian Open final. Federer gained a bit of a reputation at one time for finding injury-related excuses to explain his occasional defeat. But Murray deserves huge credit for telling the press that they had no impact on the match and Djokovic simply played the big points better.
10. Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne: There’s no doubt that the Australian Open is Djokovic’s favourite slam. He’s said many times that Rod Laver Arena is his favourite stadium in the world and it seems to inspire him to new heights every year. Just as Rafa Nadal is a different beast at Roland Garros, Wimbledon brings out something extra-special in Federer, Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne.
Article provided by David Cox from Livestreamingsport.com an award-winning sports, news and live stream website.
Having completed the recap of the WTA field at the Australian Open, we issue report cards for the ATP. As before, grading reflects not just results but expectations, quality of opposition, and other factors.
Djokovic: The master of Melbourne like none before him, the Serb became the first man in the Open era to finish on top Down Under three straight years. That record span of dominance over a tournament that famously has eluded dominance came with a satisfying serving (note the word choice) of revenge over Murray, who had defeated him in the US Open final. Consolidating his current control over what looks like the ATP’s next marquee rivalry, Djokovic won his third straight match in it after losing the first set in all of them. Vital to his success was the series of 44 consecutive holds with which he ended the tournament, strangling two of the game’s best returners in Ferrer and Murray. Those top-five opponents managed break points in just two of Djokovic’s service games through the semifinal and final as he repeatedly won 30-30 and deuce points throughout the tournament—with one notable exception in his epic against Wawrinka. The undisputed world #1 survived and then thrived in running his winning streak over top-eight opponents to eleven. Overpowering Ferrer and outlasting Murray, Djokovic showed that he can—and will—do virtually anything to win. A+
Murray: The US Open champion came closer than many anticipated to becoming the first man to win his second major on the next opportunity after his first. Murray admittedly benefited from a puff pastry of a pre-semifinal draw, which allowed him to conserve energy for that five-setter against Federer. Threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the end of the fourth set in that match, he showed remarkable resilience by bouncing back to claim an early lead in the fifth and close out the man who had tormented him at majors. Murray maintained a nearly impenetrable rhythm on serve throughout that match, and his forehand continued its maturation into a real weapon. He will rue the three break points that he let escape early in the second set of the final, which could have unfolded entirely differently otherwise. But Murray was right to consider the tournament an important consolidation of last year’s success. A
Federer: Handed the most difficult draw of the top three, he showed just how well his game can silence players who rely heavily on their serves in ousting Tomic and then Raonic. Federer defended crisply and moved as alertly as he has in years past during the five-set quarterfinal with Tsonga that followed, which unveiled the full range of his weapons from the explosive to the delicate. But his struggles to break serve caught up with him against Murray, whom he could not crack for three and a half sets even as his own serve came under frequent pressure. Probably drained by the Tsonga epic, Federer faded in the fifth set despite mounting an impressive surge to swipe the fourth. He finished the tournament by winning all six of his tiebreaks, a sure sign that he remains one of the sport’s best competitors under pressure. A
Ferrer: Never looking his best during the fortnight, he backed into the #4 ranking rather than charging into it with confidence. Ferrer probably should have lost to Almagro in the fourth round, outplayed for most of the first four sets and kept alive only by his compatriot’s shocking inability to deliver the coup de grace. Thoroughly exposed by Djokovic in the semifinals, he suffered his second humiliating defeat at that stage of a major over the last twelve months as he offered little better than batting practice for the Serb’s weaponry. Ferrer said consistently this fortnight that he considers himself a clear level below the Big Four, and his results against them on grand stages continue to make his point for him. B
Tsonga: The Frenchman slipped to 13 straight losses against top-eight opponents here, but the manner in which he did contained kernels of hope for the season. Not folding meekly to Federer as he had in an earlier Australian Open, Tsonga regrouped from losing the first set in a tiebreak to win the second and regrouped from losing the third set in a tiebreak to win the fourth. He even spared no effort in battling Federer down to the finish in a fifth set tenser than the scoreline showed. Also likely to please new coach Roger Rasheed was his greater efficiency in closing out overmatched opponents in the previous four rounds. Docked a notch for his Neanderthal-like comments about women’s tennis. B+
Almagro: As the percipient Steve Tignor of Tennis.com noted, sometimes a player’s greatest achievement can turn into his greatest catastrophe within a handful of points. Jerking Ferrer around the court for two and a half sets, Almagro astonished audiences by his newfound courage against an opponent who had won all 12 of their previous meetings. He will remember his first quarterfinal at a hard-court major for the wrong reasons, though, once he failed to serve it out three times across the third and fourth sets before succumbing to cramps as well as the crushing weight of his disappointment in the fifth. B-
Chardy: Not only did he upset Del Potro with inspired attacking tennis, but he followed up that five-set victory by grinding out a four-setter against the recently dangerous Seppi. The Frenchman came from nowhere to reach his first major quarterfinal and in the process showed considerable courage. Chardy almost pulled off an Almagro against the Tower of Tandil, gagging on triple break point midway through the third set when he had won the first two. Unlike the Spaniard, he mustered one last surge in the fifth with an unexpected fearlessness to finish what he had started. A-
Berdych: Drawn against the top seed in a quarterfinal for the second straight major, he could not find the same thunderbolts that he had hurled at the US Open. Or perhaps Berdych simply matches up more effectively to Federer than to Djokovic, who has won all eleven of their hard-court meetings. Before that relatively tame four-set loss, however, he recorded four straight-sets victories that bode well for his consistency, always the main question for him. He leaves the Australian Open as the man outside the Big Four most likely to win a major this year, although he will need some help to do so. B+
Del Potro: Through the first two rounds, the Tower of Tandil looked not only sturdy but downright terrifying. Just when people began to take him seriously as a dark horse title threat, Del Potro turned into the Leaning Tower of Pisa when he tottered to the exit in a strangely enervated effort. That five-set loss to Chardy at the end of the first week marked a setback in a surge that started with his bronze-medal victory at the Olympics, departing from his recent steadiness against opponents outside the top ten. F
Tipsarevic: He looked every inch a top-eight seed in dismantling sentimental favorite Hewitt before his home crowd on Rod Laver Arena, where the Aussie had wrought so many miracles before. Striking winners down both lines with abandon, Tipsarevic appeared to make an imposing statement. Then he wobbled through two five-setters and retired against Almagro, not a surprising result for a man who has completed a career Golden Slam of retirements. C
ATP young guns: Heralded with enthusiasm when the tournament began, none of these prodigies left a meaningful impact on the tournament. Brisbane finalist Dimitrov became the first man to exit Melbourne, failing to win a set in his opener, and Raonic succumbed to Federer much more routinely than he had in their three meetings last year. Tomic produced a stronger effort against the Swiss star than he did last year but still lost in straight sets after struggling mightily with a qualifier in the previous round. And American fans need not have watched Harrison’s ignominious loss to Djokovic for long to realize how far this alleged future star must improve before mounting a credible threat. Last but not least, Paris finalist Jerzy Janowicz narrowly avoided a second-round implosion over a dubious line call and rallied to win after losing the first two sets—sets that he should not have lost in the first place. Janowicz did at least progress as far as his seed projected, and many of these young men received difficult draws, but the breakthrough of young stars that many expected here happened almost entirely on the women’s side. C+
Bryan brothers: At their most productive major, they closed within four major titles of Federer by comfortably winning the final after some close scrapes earlier in the fortnight. The Bryans have earned some of their most consistent success in Australia, where they have reached nine finals and five consecutively. Djokovic still has some work to do before he can approach the numbers of these twins whose talents never seem to fade. A
Djokovic vs. Wawrinka: Undoubtedly the match of the tournament, it represented the high point of Wawrinka’s career to date. The Swiss #2 basked in the spotlight while cracking his exquisite one-handed backhands to all corners of the court and taking control of rallies with his penetrating cross-court forehand. Wawrinka even served at Federer-like heights for much of the match, outside a predictable stumble when he approached a two-set lead. Stunned by the brio of his opponent, Djokovic needed a set and a half to settle into the match. The underdog then needed about a set and a half to regroup from the favorite’s charge, at which point the fourth and fifth sets featured spellbinding tennis all the more remarkable for the ability of both men to sustain their quality. Fittingly, the match ended only after Wawrinka had saved two match points with breathtaking shot-making and only with a rally that forced both men to pull out nearly every weapon in their arsenals. A+
Simon vs. Monfils: Not much shorter than Djokovic vs. Wawrinka in terms of time, it felt considerably longer to watch. This mindless war of attrition featured rally after rally of the sort that one more commonly finds on practice courts, including a 71-shot meander to nowhere that contributed to the inevitable cramping suffered by both men late in the match. If the previous epic offered an argument to keep the best-of-five format, this match argued just as eloquently for its abandonment. Simon, the winner, had no chance of recovering in time for his next match, nor would Monfils if he had won. C-
Men’s final: Not a classic by any means, it compared poorly both to the women’s melodrama on the previous night and to the marathon of the 2012 men’s final. The 2013 edition illustrated some troubling reasons why the Djokovic-Murray rivalry never may capture the imagination to the extent of Federer-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic, and Djokovic-Nadal. Presenting no contrast in styles, these two men played essentially the same games in a match of mirror images that came down to execution in any given situation—interesting but not exactly stimulating to watch. Moreover, they continued to bring out the passivity in each other by showing so much respect for each other’s defense that many rallies featured sequence after sequence of cautious, low-risk shots designed to coax errors rather than force the issue. These tactics worked perfectly for Djokovic, just as they worked for Murray at last year’s US Open, but they left fans waiting for a spark that never came in a match that trudged towards anticlimax. B-
And that is a wrap of the 2013 Australian Open! Up next is a look ahead to the first round in Davis Cup World Group action: all eight ties previewed and predicted.
James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — The game started as expected, with baseline to baseline rallies.
We all got comfy and settled in for what we thought would be a long night, or at least a tough four sets like their last encounter at the 2012 U.S. Open.
At two games apiece Novak Djokovic upped the pressure choosing not to inform David Ferrer, who was still in rally mode. With Djokovic taking just one step forward, suddenly the heavy topspin balls Ferrer was playing were landing right in Djokovic’s preferred hitting zone, ultimately turning a defensive swing into an offensive punch.
Djokovic broke to go 3-2 up and we knew at that point that the set was over. What we didn’t realize was how easy the next few games would be and how the end result had been pretty much decided.
As quick and painful the first set was for Ferrer, the second set was worse. At one stage Djokovic won twelve straight points. Compound that by the fact that Ferrer committed twelve unforced errors from a guy who doesn’t usually miss a ball, and you have a real headache.
As much as Ferrer wasn’t himself, Djokovic was a deity.
There are reportedly three secret ways to beat Novak Djokovic.
1.Hope he has one of those mental lapses that he hasn’t really had since pre 2011
2.Be Rafa on clay
3.Secretly slip a gluten pizza into his lunch box
David Ferrer wasn’t informed of the secrets and thus the second set was one to forget for the Spaniard. The third set, however, may require a year of therapy.
Usually if you see a good bloke getting beaten up before your eyes, you do the ethical thing. You either step in and help or you call the authorities. Today over fifteen thousand people watched in awe at tennis carnage.
Ferrer was broken instantly, and Djokovic who was far from being jokey, didn’t stop the bullying. Each and every shot was highlight reel. A ‘Best Of’ Collection in real time. Winners flew from the Serbians racquet with devastating effect as we tried to comprehend what Djokovic was doing to the fourth best player in the world.
Somehow at 0-4 down Ferrer hit a forehand down the line for a winner, and avoidance of a bagel set, to which he received a pitying applause.
The Ferrer revival was short lived.
Instantly Djokovic was back to his old tricks, and Ferrer was missing easy shots.
And just like that the ninety minute bullying session was over.
Beware- The Serbian dragon Wawrinka had awoken in the fourth round is breathing fire.
He will meet either Roger Federer or Andy Murray in the final.
Follow the first men’s semifinal on a live blog tonight. Will top seed and defending Novak Djokovic oust fourth seed David Ferrer?
Ferrer 2-1*: Ferrer holds on a backhand error by Djokovic, a positive start for a Spaniard who often struggles on his service games. After jolting out to a 40-0 lead, meanwhile, the defending champion encounters some trouble when Ferrer punishes a forehand for a return winner, but he finds a strong first serve to hold. Some more sluggish returning from Djokovic keeps the fourth seed in front early in this semifinal.
Djokovic 3*-2: A slice that finds Ferrer’s backhand corner perfectly sets up the other sideline for a signature Djokovic backhand that gives the Serb control of his service game. Consecutive aces allow him to close it out at love. The two men then trade backhand errors on the first two points of Ferrer’s game, a surprise considering the steadiness of both two-handers on display tonight. Two points later, Djokovic jerks the Spaniard around mercilessly from one sideline to the other, finally coming to the net to deliver the decisive blow with a drive volley-conventional volley combination. That exchange sets up two break points, the first of which Ferrer yields by spraying a ball over the baseline.
Djokovic 5*-2: Using his wide serve to open up the court for down-the-line groundstrokes, Djokovic continues to cruise on serve with a series of short exchanges. Forcing the action on Ferrer’s service game as well, he cannot break through the Spaniard’s defense and gets surprised by one audaciously angled forehand. From 40-15, though, Djokovic takes him to deuce by capitalizing on some meek second serves. At the second deuce, he dazzles with a backhand pass on the full run over the high part of the net to earn a break point. A deflated Ferrer floats another groundstroke long to surrender the insurance break.
Djokovic 6-2: Coasting to triple set point, Djokovic wraps up the set with an ace that concludes his third straight love hold. The top seed lost just two service points in that set, while breaking Ferrer twice, so the underdog faces a steep climb from here.
Djokovic 6-2 2*-1: Under duress again at 30-30 on his serve, Ferrer wins the next two points with more convincing groundstrokes. He must keep this higher level of aggression to stand a chance against Djokovic, more than happy to rally with him in neutral mode. After another routine hold by the Serb, he drags his opponent through another long game, which Ferrer would have lost quickly if not for some timely first serves. The Spaniard continues to miss too many routine balls for his consistency-based style of play to shine, and an egregious netted backhand with the court open positions Djokovic at break point again. A forehand error early in the next rally hands him an early lead in this set as well.
Djokovic 6-2 4*-1: Another love hold for the Serb consolidates the break with the assistance of unforced errors flowing ever more freely from Ferrer’s racket. Missing balls left, right, and center now, the Spaniard puts up virtually no resistance as he surrenders his serve at love. Djokovic does strike a clean inside-out backhand winner on the third point of the next game, but he does not need to find his best form at the moment.
Djokovic 6-2, 5*-2: For the first time in the match, Ferrer finally earns an opening on his opponent’s serve, closing to 15-30 behind a penetrating second-serve return. At first, a stirring return two points later looks as though it may bring him to break point, but Djokovic lunges for an impressive defensive retrieval that keeps him in the point long enough to benefit from another error. An indifferent game from both men allows Ferrer to stay in the set after he trailed 15-30, Djokovic declining to close the door as he misses several makeable shots.
Djokovic 6-2 6-2: As Rod Laver watches, the man seeking an Australian Open three-peat cruises to a two-set lead. Despite an unwise drop shot, Djokovic impresses from the baseline by unleashing every variety of angle from his forehand. He converts his first set point to establish a stranglehold on this semifinal.
Djokovic 6-2 6-2 3*-0: In no mood to let the Spaniard detain him for long, Djokovic quickly moves to 15-30 in the first game of the third set. A commanding position on the next point reaps no rewards, however, when he shanks a forehand in a rare donation. Not that he need worry, for Ferrer misses a forehand after another long, grinding rally of the sort that he normally wins and then concedes another error to surrender the opening break of serve. A quick hold behind him, Djokovic breaks the deflated Spaniard at love one more time to essentially put away the match. Slamming a SportsCenter-worthy forehand winner from outside the doubles alley over the high part of the net onto the sideline, he follows that spectacle with two crushing backhands down the line. The Serb can do no wrong at the moment.
Djokovic 6-2 6-2 4*-1: A comfortable hold for Djokovic, punctuated by a favorable Hawkeye challenge, precedes an easy service game for Ferrer as the Serb appears to have settled into cruise control.
FINAL: Djokovic wins 6-2 6-2 6-1: Still refusing to surrender despite the obvious futility of the situation, Ferrer tracks down a Djokovic drop shot only to experience the indignity of seeing a lob sail over his outstretched racket as he leaps for it. Ever a showman, the top seed tries out a series of elaborate drop shots that work by a matter of millimeters. An errant forehand and a double fault set up Djokovic’s first match point, which Ferrer surrenders easily on his last unforced error of the 89-minute evening, a brutal display of superiority by the defending champion and world #1.
By Evan Valeri
While Berdych didn’t have what it took to defeat the world number one in their quarterfinal matchup, he played well. It was right along the lines of some of the other matches the two have played over the course of the past two seasons. Berdych seems to squeak a set out of him every now and then sandwiched between a couple lopsided whoopings. Tomas wasn’t able to capitalize on a few keys to winning the match. He needed to keep points short and win a majority of the rallies that lasted between four and nine shots. Tomas was unable to complete this task with Novak winning 60% of those points. Tomas also needed to serve well and win most of his first serve points. This was also a bust with him winning just 66% against the best returner in the game.
It’s tough to play your best tennis and capitalize on the key points every time when you are playing the best in the world. Even though Djokovic was coming off a five hour marathon match with Stan Wawrinka, he looked fresh and fitter than ever. For the number six ranked Berdych to win sets more consistently against the top players, he needs to become a more complete player. It’s possible for him to elevate his game and play top tier tennis, hitting big winners against these players for a set, but to do it for three is another story. He lacks the ability to play grinding, retrieving, defensive tennis, which the top five players in the world are able to do.
A player’s ability to run down ball after ball has become a must. Look at the Ferrer vs. Almagro quarterfinal a few days ago. Almagro was able to play at a very high level the first four sets, but after the fourth set ended and the two players were past the three hour mark on court, he looked weary. He wasn’t hitting his shots with the same zip they had early in the match and he was moving as though he had glue on the bottom of his shoes. Ferrer on the other hand, who is considered to possibly be the fittest man on tour by his peers, looked fresh as a daisy as though the two players were just starting the second set. Because of his superior fitness, Ferrer cruised to a 6-2 win of the fifth set, and won the match after clawing back from two sets to love down.
The Djokovic vs. Ferrer semifinal matchup tonight at the Australian Open will show any casual fan the importance of being fit and being able to stay in the point. These two are masters of pulling out points after it appears their opponent has won the point two or three different times. They are bound to trade blows for at least four sets and several hours. Fitness most likely won’t be an issue tonight with these two. They have proven they can both play at the highest level for over five hours. The match will feature many points where these guys are moving each other side to side behind the baseline, waiting for that carefully calculated, high percentage chance to be aggressive and finish the point.
While tennis seems to be following the “defense wins championships” trend, it takes more than just running down ball after ball and staying consistent to be the best. Players need to be able to combine that with the ability to play aggressive, point ending, all court tennis when the opportunities present themselves. If players can’t master the transition ball and they just counterpunch every shot, eventually they will get too far out of position and the opponent will seize that moment to change the tides and win the point. If you look at the five best players in the world, they are able to play defense better than anyone and transition that defense to offense at the drop of a hat.
The fitness of modern players has changed the game of tennis. Tennis used to be a game dominated by the serve and volley, but with the introduction of more powerful racquets, the change to more western grips, and polyester strings, the trend has favored the hard hitting baseline player. During the serve and volley era, points were short and although the top players were in good shape, fitness wasn’t a priority like it is to athletes today. With the amount of topspin players are putting on the ball in today’s game, they are able to swing more powerfully while staying consistent. If players aren’t able to run down ball after ball to stay in points they are going to lose every match. The open stance has also grown in popularity and is hit on both the forehand and backhand wings. It allows players to generate loads of angular momentum and apply tons of spin and pace to each shot, while also recovering quicker towards the center. As time goes on we are seeing courts get slower, which also encourages defensive play and long rallies. Players have advanced from quick serve and volley points to grinding 20 plus shot rallies and five hour matches.
Combine all of this together and it is easy to see that defense is the new offense.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Because the quarterfinals, by definition, only have 4 matches, I’m going to do this recap a little differently than the earlier ones. I’m going to highlight three players who looked good. The first two will be the ones who exceeded expectations and the second will be the player who looks to be playing at the highest overall level right now. It’s not really fair to say anyone looked bad or underperformed this round. We had 1 epic match, 2 matches where the favorites won as expected, and 1 match where the lower seed just brought his strong form and almost pulled off the upset. Federer is the only one who can be said to have disappointed, but he honestly didn’t play so poorly. He just almost got beaten by a big server who hits massive groundstrokes, something that has been happening for the past few years.
Who Looked Good
1. How can I not give this first spot to Nicolas Almagro? Almagro has often had trouble just winning sets off Ferrer in the past, let alone almost winning a best-of-five match. Almagro showed a high level of play throughout this match that we are really not so used to seeing from him, though maybe we should begin to expect it. Almagro has clearly picked his game up a few levels and we should start looking for him deep in most tournaments. His lack of ability to successfully serve it out—on each of three occasions, no less—tells us that he’s not quite there yet, but you can’t really get used to winning in pressure situations unless you lose in some first.
2. The guy who looks best to win this tournament right now is actually the one that has been mostly flying under the radar. Andy Murray hasn’t really run people over this tournament, but he has been pretty close to being unbeatable. He hasn’t faced players quite as good as Djokovic has, but Murray has been relentless with a slightly more offensive version of his counterpunching tennis. Murray just wins far too many of the points; it’s really that simple. His serve hasn’t been overpowering and his return hasn’t been perfect, but he has just been far too dominant in the rallies for anyone to touch. He doesn’t look invincible, but he definitely has to be the favorite of the final four.
Match of the Round
It feels unfair to deny Ferrer/Almagro this spot. After all, it was the second-best match of the tournament at the time it was played. Unfortunately, Federer/Tsonga a night later was just better. Federer won the first- and third-set tiebreaks by a single minibreak, but it was the sets that Tsonga won that made this match an epic. Tsonga played the only way he possible could against Federer: he hit big on every single shot. No matter where he was on the court or whether it was a forehand or backhand, every single shot of Tsonga’s was absolutely blistered. Federer wasn’t passive either, pulling out winners. It was attacking tennis at its finest, with Tsonga’s power was just too much for Federer when his shots were on. Federer, though, always stayed in touch and managed to hold serve often enough to be able to take advantage when Tsonga slipped up for just a moment. That was how he won the third set and how he won the fifth. Tsonga was dominating the later stages of the match. Federer just found the right moment when Tsonga’s level dropped, broke serve, and concentrated on holding the rest of the way to pull out the epic victory.
We offer a tour of the three semifinals on Thursday as the Australian Open reaches its penultimate stages in both the men’s and women’s draws.
Sharapova vs. Li: The two highest-earning women in the WTA prepare for their latest chapter in one of its most curious rivalries, defined largely by the ebbs and flows in Sharapova’s career. Sweeping all five of her meetings with Li before shoulder surgery forced her sabbatical, she struggled with this opponent’s steadiness and steeliness in dropping four straight upon her return. The tide turned markedly in 2012, however, not long after Sharapova had signaled her resurgence by reaching finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Winning a clay encounter of excruciating suspense in the Rome final, she dismantled Li with ease in both of their hard-court meetings for the loss of seven total games.
Under this rivalry runs the intriguing undercurrent of their coaches. While Sharapova works with Li’s former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, her semifinal foe has enlisted the services of Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez. Just as Hogstedt surely can impart valuable insights to his charge, then, so can Rodriguez from his experience watching the Belgian duel with Maria on a multitude of grand stages. In their 2012 meetings, Sharapova showed a commitment to breaking down Li’s forehand, her more powerful but less reliable wing. Although most fans know these women best for their backhands, their forehands again could play a key role in determining the outcome, for they generally mirror the responses of both women to pressure.
Pressure is not something with which Sharapova has grown familiar this fortnight, in which she has dropped just nine games. But she has saved an astonishing quantity of game points and break points in winning nearly all of the multiple-deuce epics that she has played. Li, who also has not lost a set, showed similar fortitude in sweeping the vast majority of her long games against Radwanska, toppled by her in the quarterfinals. Not lacking for courage or fortitude, each woman will take audacious swings at any opportunity that presents itself in a match full of splendid shot-making—and abysmal errors as well.
Azarenka vs. Stephens: Rarely do opponents collide for the first time in a major semifinal, but even more rarely does a woman reach a major semifinal in just her seventh main-draw appearance at one of the four elite tournaments. While Sloane Stephens probably would not have reached the semifinals without Serena’s back injury, she deserves credit for keeping her composure despite her inexperience when that match stretched deep into a final set. Now, the 19-year-old faces the challenge of rebounding within a day from the most important victory of her career, not an easy feat to achieve even for someone of greater experience.
Not suffering from any physical woes at this stage, Azarenka has not looked quite her unbeatable self of early 2012. The top seed did look more impressive in her quarterfinal than in any previous stage of her title defense, outlasting a severe first-set test from a resurgent Kuznetsova. As the tournament has progressed, Azarenka has begun to serve with greater authority, a key against an opponent in Stephens who still does not earn many free points on her serve. If the defending champion can claim and consolidate an early lead, the underdog might fade. All the same, the American teenager does not look the complacent sort who would content herself with reaching the semifinals. Stephens brings a precocious willpower to the court that bodes well for her future as an elite contender, and she likely will force Azarenka to earn her third straight berth in the final of a hard-court major. What remains unlikely is the potential of her still-developing games to threaten the extremely polished, balanced weapons wielded by the world #1.
Djokovic vs. Ferrer: Twice before have they intersected on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic winning both in straight sets. He swept the Spaniard in two semifinals at the US Open as well, conceding only one total set in those two matches. Outside the clay where Ferrer plays his best tennis and Djokovic his worst, in fact, the Serb has dominated this rivalry relentlessly with the strange exception of the year-end championships. Denied in all four of his major semifinals, by one of the ATP Big Four each time, Ferrer must overcome a significant mental hurdle to make his Sunday night debut.
Finding the confidence that eluded him for so long in marquee matches, Ferrer did record a minor breakthrough last fall by securing his first Masters 1000 shield. And he has become a far more consistent threat at majors in the latter stages of his career, reaching the quarterfinals or better at each of them for the first time in a season last year. At this tournament, however, he has hovered a few notches below his finest form, fortunate to escape his compatriot Almagro in the previous round when the latter failed to serve out the match three times. Famous for his consistency, Ferrer donated more errors than usual in that match and repeatedly struggled to hold serve, an ominous sign ahead of his battle with the best returner in tennis history. An ominous sign for Djokovic, meanwhile, lies in the nine sets that he has played across the last two matches, which have forced him to dig deeper into his reserves of energy at this stage than he would prefer.
Nevertheless, every man who has played a five-hour match before the final—except the perennially star-crossed Andy Roddick—has won the Australian Open, and the world #1 has won 19 consecutive matches at the major that has witnessed his greatest successes. Aiming to move just one victory from a historic Melbourne three-peat, Djokovic should weather Ferrer’s limited offense with ease and chip away at his defense inexorably in a grinding baseline encounter.