Follow our live blog on the Australian Open men’s final, updated at each changeover. Will Djokovic complete the first three-peat of the Open era here, or will Murray become the first man to win his second major title in the next major after his first?
Djokovic 2-1*: Although Murray wins the first point with an impressive forehand, Djokovic sweeps the next four behind some solid first serves that leave him in control of the points at the outset. A handful of groundstroke errors from the Serb provides the Scot with a love hold as the match starts uneventfully. At 15-15 in the third game, Djokovic correctly judges that a Murray lob will float long, which it does by a less than comfortable margin. Still looking a bit casual, perhaps almost too relaxed after his long semifinal, Djokovic cruises to another hold.
Djokovic 3-2*: Murray finds a cleaner rhythm on his first serve and holds at love again, this time punctuated with an ace. Although he starts with a 30-0 lead, Djokovic finds himself pegged back to 30-30 with two routine errors. A crushing inside-out forehand and a nonchalant miss on a drive volley move a game to deuce for the first time. From there, a brave net approach draws an error from Murray on the pass, and then Djokovic delivers his own scintillating backhand pass down the line off a drop volley that looked out of his reach.
Djokovic 4-3*: His normally trusty backhand spraying a few early errors, Murray soon faces the first two break points of the match. A sturdy first serve and a penetrating cross-court forehand do just enough work to avert them. He then saves a third break point that Djokovic had created by carefully massaging the rally, and a fourth break point escapes on an uncharacteristic backhand error from the Serb. Two points later, Murray escapes the game with a first serve down the center stripe. With that potential momentum swelling his sails, he wins the first point of his return game. But a stunning recovery from Djokovic after a sprawl behind the baseline allows him to rip off a backhand down the line that wins the point anyway. The quick hold leaves him within range of the first set without having faced any serious pressure.
Djokovic 5-4*: After some passive groundstrokes, Murray falls behind break point on a cross-court backhand that narrowly misses the edge of the sideline. Able to save the fifth break point on his serve, he unleashes a first serve and a bold drive volley that takes away vital time from Djokovic’s defense. Two points and another drive volley later, he stays even in the set. Although Djokovic loses two points in his next service game, he closes out the game with a confident ace that forces Murray to hold for his survival in the set.
Djokovic 6-5*: Starting to improve his first-serve percentage, the Scot holds routinely after some court-stretching rallies. That game departed from the script of their final here two years ago, when a Djokovic break at this stage opened the floodgates for his routine triumph. Djokovic continues to hold as well, opening the court with crisp, flat angles that thrust his opponent off balance. He did not face a break point in this set.
Murray 7-6: After 15-15, which they reached by trading netted groundstrokes, the Serb unleashes a massive cross-court backhand to set up a comfortable approach and move within two points of the first set. A pair of backhand errors from Djokovic let Murray off the hook, and a strong first serve clinches the hold. Neither man dropped serve in this set, although Murray faced greater pressure during it. A double fault starts the tiebreak ominously for Djokovic, and Murray battles to win the next rally several times over before finally finding the winner. With a wild forehand, the Serb falls behind 0-3, and Murray soon leads by a double minibreak at the changeover. Disinterested in the proceedings, Djokovic tosses away the rest of the tiebreak in a deflating finish to a tense set.
Murray 7-6 2-1*: Holding at love, Murray ranges all over the court to retrieve everything that Djokovic flings at him before drawing errors in a series of long rallies. The streak of points reaches eight for Murray, and seventeen of the last nineteen, as he reaches triple break point on the top seed’s serve. Djokovic recovers to save all three, suddenly transitioning back into offense. Capitalizing on that miniature surge, he starts to open his shoulders more freely on his groundstrokes and dodges what might have looked like a formidable deficit. After a massive return for an outright winner, Djokovic reaches 30-30 on the Murray serve following a strangely sprayed backhand wide that his opponent mistimed. But Murray records the 15th straight hold of the match.
Murray 7-6 3-2*: Consecutive aces help Djokovic pull ahead to 40-15, only to see a fine return by the Scot and a careless error pull the game back to deuce. Murray again fails to exploit the opening, though, and allows his opponent to stay hopeful in this set. The front-runner then delivers an ace of his own to start and another to finish a strong hold.
Murray 7-6 4-3*: A sluggish start to the next game from Murray offers an easy hold to his opponent. And a diffident return game from Djokovic allows Murray to do the same.
Murray 7-6 5-4*: After the Scot challenges on a close volley near the baseline and receives the bad news from Hawkeye, Djokovic fires down first serves that allow him to take command of the rally immediately. Charging to 40-0 with pinpoint groundstrokes highlighted by a backhand down the line, Murray skirts a double fault to hold serve without a tremor. He will attempt to break for a two-set lead.
Murray 7-6 6-5*: Punished for an overly meek approach, Djokovic watches a Murray forehand pass sail by him on the first point of this crucial game. Two points later, a bold smash from deep on the court for a clean winner puts the Serb ahead. He closes out the hold with sturdy baseline play but cannot subject Murray to much pressure as the Scot closes out a second straight set without a loss of serve.
Sets even 7-6 6-7(3-7): Although a double fault temporarily opens the door for the Scot at 30-30, Djokovic closes out a second straight set full of holds with punishing forehands, a well-angled smash, and a cross-court backhand for a clean winner. The two men then trade overpowering first serves on the first two points of the tiebreak. After Djokovic had double-faulted away the first point of the first-set tiebreak, Murray double-faults away the first minibreak of this tiebreak. A forehand error from the Scot leads him trailing 2-4 at the change of ends, and a service winner soon deepens his arrears. Responding with a forehand error of his own, Djokovic permits Murray to stay within range. Another draining rally ends with a meekly netted backhand by the Scot, though, and his slice finds the net on the Serb’s first set point to even the match after a pair of lopsided tiebreaks in each of the first two sets.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 2-1*: Opening with a commanding service hold, Djokovic strikes two aces and even wins a Hawkeye challenge, a rare event. Not much more challenging is the next service game from Murray, where the difference in effectiveness between his first and second serves surfaces. Spreading the court with effective wide serves, Djokovic holds routinely again as his opponent’s forehand starts to falter.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 3-2*: A love hold for Murray quickly restores the set to level terms as the Serb struggles to find a way into rallies. Two routine errors from the third seed late in the defending champion’s next service game remove any threat of pressure on the latter.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 4-3*: Considering the holds that flow so easily on both sides, 40-30 seems like a chance for Djokovic, but he lets Murray draw level by failing to corral a wide serve. A crushing cross-court backhand highlights the defending champion’s next service hold, which ends with a spectacular series of defensive retrievals.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3: With a forehand rocket on the first point of the eighth game, the Serb signals his intent to score a crucial break. He then recovers a drop shot, drawing an odd miss from Murray, and rips two brutal forehands to reach triple break point. While Murray fends off the first two, aided by his opponent, his forehand finds the net on the third for the first break of the match. Serving for the set, Djokovic establishes his authority with massive first serves and closes out the set at love.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 2*-1: Down 0-30 on his serve in the first game, Murray desperately needs a hold to start this must-win fourth set positively. He wins the next three points before floating an inside-out forehand wide to reach deuce. A lovely backhand stab volley off a potent pass provides him the key to unlock the hold. In the second point of his next game, Djokovic slaps a careless inside-out forehand into the alley to position Murray with a 0-30 chance, and an error on his forehand down the line presents the first break point on his serve since early in the second set. Untroubled by the danger, Djokovic thumps down three first serves to hold. On the second and third points of the next game, Murray cannot track down a blistering backhand return and dumps a double fault into the net. Running around his backhand to strike an inside-in forehand, Djokovic claims double break point. Saving the first break point with a service winner, Murray surrenders the second after a long rally with a netted forehand.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 4*-1: A flicker of hope shines upon the Scot when he reaches 30-30 in the next game, extinguished with a tame forehand error and a backhand pushed wearily long. Serving in a must-hold game, Murray falls behind 0-30 but regroups to win three straight points by exploiting some wayward groundstrokes from the Serb. Djokovic stretches the game to deuce with a forehand perfectly placed in his opponent’s forehand corner before the third seed again earns a game point. Pulverizing groundstroke after groundstroke off the baseline, the Serb refuses to relent and returns the score to deuce. From there, a dazzling series of defensive sprawls and a double fault from Murray leave Djokovic with a stranglehold on the proceedings.
Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 5*-2: Perhaps a little too comfortable, the Serb donates two quick errors that he erases in part with an imaginatively angled forehand. The increasingly tired Murray shows little resistance from there. A rather careless return game from Djokovic, aiming for form rather than function, extends the final through another changeover.
FINAL: Djokovic 6-7(2) 7-6(3) 6-3 6-2: With the title on his racket, Murray strikes a pair of elegant passing shots past the top speed as he approaches the net too rashly. Three points later, Djokovic jerks him from side to side, earning a championship point. He wastes no time in converting when Murray nets a backhand to hand the Serb his coveted Australian Open three-peat.
Murray will rue the three break points that he squandered in Djokovic’s first service game of the second set, which could have dealt a serious blow to the defending champion’s spirit. The Serb allowed him only one break point the rest of the way in a sparkling sequence of 21 consecutive holds. Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at the Australian Open, equaling Agassi and Federer for the most by any man here in the Open era.
While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully. We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.
Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea. Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test. But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.
Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA): Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots. In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena. Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly. The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.
Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA): This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic. A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career. That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final. She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.
Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena): Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day. Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others. The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.
Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense): The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little. Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska. Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.
Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena): For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4. Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope. The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.
Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA): Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career. Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden. Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.
Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA): After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents. She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.
Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3): The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic. Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years. The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.
Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8): From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology. He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight. Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.
Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8): The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker. The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.
Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11): Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process). The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match. Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.
Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13): At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce. A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced. The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week. The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.
Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19): Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans. She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years. Is she ready for her comeback? Perhaps more to the point, are we?
Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20): From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative. Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament. His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland. Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.
Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22): Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines. Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level. Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.
Excited about these matches and others on Day 1? Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.
Looking for a jumbo preview of the Australian Open men’s draw that breaks down each section of the brackets? Look no further. We take one quarter at a time in tracing the route of each leading contender, locating the most intriguing matches, projecting the semifinalists, and identifying one notable player to watch in each section.
First quarter: Seeking the first men’s three-peat Down Under of the Open era, Djokovic will want to conserve his energy during the first week and probably will. Although rising American star Ryan Harrison could threaten briefly in the second round, he lacks the experience to test the Serb in a best-of-five format, while potential third-round opponent Stepanek lacks the consistency to do so as his career wanes. Among the other figures of note in this vicinity are two resurgent Americans in Querrey and Baker, destined to meet in the second round. The winner may fancy his chances against Wawrinka, more comfortable on clay, and Querrey in particular could bring confidence from his upset of Djokovic in Paris to another clash with the Serb when the second week starts.
The quarter’s lower section features several men who share Wawrinka’s affinity for clay, such as Monaco and Verdasco. While the Spaniard’s career has sagged over the past year or two, the Argentine enjoyed his best season to date in 2012 as he reached the top ten for the first time. His reward lies in a clear route to the second week and an appointment with the enigmatic Berdych. Always susceptible to ebbs and flows, the world #6 ended last season optimistically with a semifinal at the US Open, where he upset Federer. But then Berdych started this season miserably by falling in Chennai to an opponent outside the top 50. He has won just one of his twelve career meetings with Djokovic, although the only victory came in one of their most important matches: a Wimbledon semifinal. While Berdych’s route to the quarterfinals looks comfortable, then, only a superb serving performance can shield him from the Serb’s more balanced array of weapons when he arrives there.
Player to watch: Querrey
Second quarter: The only section without a clear favorite proliferates with question marks but also with talent and intriguing narratives. In the draw’s most notable first-round match, Hewitt will open his 17th Australian Open campaign against the eighth-seeded Tipsarevic. A mismatch on paper, this encounter could develop into one of the late-night thrillers that have become a Melbourne tradition, and the home crowd might lift their Aussie to an improbable victory over an opponent less untouchable than those ranked above him. Other storylines include the apparent emergence of Grigor Dimitrov, previously familiar only for his facsimile of Federer’s playing style but now a Brisbane finalist. While the Bulgarian never has reached the third round of a major, his recent accomplishments and his desire to impress romantic interest Maria Sharapova might inspire him. He faces a challenging initial test against Benneteau, who fell just short of his second straight Sydney final.
Awarded his first seed in the main draw of a major, Jerzy Janowicz looks to continue his momentum from last fall when he reached the final at the Paris Masters 1000 tournament. Unlike Dimitrov, his route through the first round or two looks clear, and projected third-round opponent Almagro does not pose an insurmountable obstacle. Unless Janowicz improves upon his January efforts so far, however, Almagro can look ahead to the second week and perhaps even a quarterfinal against compatriot Ferrer. The highest seed in this section, the latter Spaniard will reach the top four after the tournament no matter his result. His fitness should carry him past erratic opponents like Baghdatis or Youzhny, although the titanic serve of Karlovic has troubled him before and merits watching in their second-round match. Having recorded multiple victories over Ferrer on marquee stages, Nishikori poses his most convincing pre-quarterfinal threat. But he has struggled with injury recently and may prove no better able to grind past the Spaniard in the heat than Almagro, who never has defeated him. If Tipsarevic reaches the quarterfinals, on the other hand, he will aim to reverse the outcome of their US Open quarterfinal last year, which he lost to Ferrer in a fifth-set tiebreak.
Player to watch: Dimitrov
Third quarter: Never has a man won his second major immediately after winning his first. Never, however, in the Open era had a British man won any major at all, so this bit of history should not intimidate the reigning US Open champion. Murray will start his campaign by reprising an odd encounter with Robin Haase at the 2011 US Open, which he rallied to win in five sets after losing the first two. The lanky Dutchman behind him, he will face nobody over the next few rounds with the firepower to discomfit him over this extended format. Throughout his section lie counterpunchers like Simon or Robredo or tactically limited players like Mayer and Stakhovsky. The two exceptions who could threaten Murray will meet in the first round. Reviving his career with solid results in Doha and Auckland, Monfils will pit his momentum against fellow showman Dolgopolov in a match likely to showcase plenty of electrifying shot-making.
Perhaps of more interest is the route traced by Del Potro, the most likely title contender outside the top three seeds. In the second round, the Tower of Tandil could meet surprising Slovakian Aljaz Bedene, who reached the Chennai semifinals to start the year and nearly upset Tipsarevic there. Owning more than enough weapons to dispatch the passive baseliner Granollers afterwards, Del Potro would open the second week against Marin Cilic. The Croat developed around the same time as the Argentine and honed a similar playing style to complement his similar physique. But Cilic has disappointed those who anointed him a future major champion and top-10 fixture, appearing to content himself with a lesser level of accomplishment. He must brace himself for an opening battle against home hope Marinko Matosevic, who took him to five sets in New York last fall. If Del Potro can reverse his 2009 loss to Cilic in that projected fourth-round encounter, he also must halt his winless hard-court record against Murray. The task does not loom as large as it might appear, for he has won sets in all four of those matches.
Player to watch: Del Potro
Fourth quarter: What a pity that leading Aussie hope Bernard Tomic can play only two rounds before descending into the maw of the GOAT, as he did in the fourth round here last year. All the same, Tomic will have the opportunity to knock off a seeded opponent in Martin Klizan while praying for a miracle from Federer’s second-round opponent, Nikolay Davydenko. (Those who saw their match at the 2010 Australian Open will remember how impressive the Russian looked against the Swiss—for a set and a half, after which he utterly collapsed.) Perhaps more formidable than the momentum of Tomic is the mighty serve of Milos Raonic, which nearly toppled Federer three times last year. In each of their matches, Federer managed to win the crucial handful of points late in final sets, but can he continue to escape so narrowly? The younger man cannot look too far ahead too soon, however, for a second-round match against Lukas Rosol lurks, and everyone knows what Rosol has done in the second round of majors.
Winless against top-eight opponents in 2012, former finalist Tsonga hopes to turn over a new leaf in 2013. To snap that streak, though, he must survive the early stages of the tournament against dangerous lurkers like Llodra and Bellucci. Tsonga has struggled at times against compatriots and has a losing career record against Gasquet, his projected fourth-round opponent. Fresh from his title in Doha, the world #10 never has plowed deep into the Australian draw and may not benefit this time from the weak first-week slates that he received at majors last year. Eyeing a possible upset is Haas, another artist of the one-handed backhand who has collaborated with Gasquet on memorable matches before. But the question remains whether any of these men currently can compete with Federer across a best-of-five match, and the answer seems clear.
Player to watch: Tomic
Final: Djokovic vs. Murray
Champion: Novak Djokovic
Come back tomorrow for the women’s preview, designed with the same level of detail!
The top tennis players in the world converge this week for the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in pristine Key Biscayne, Florida. As the world’s premier tournament outside of the four grand slams, these next two weeks are sure to bring many storylines and possibly some surprise winners on both the ATP and WTA tours.
Last week during the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament saw several high-profile players pull out due to a sweeping 48-hour long stomach bug that effected players, coaches and fans alike. One theory not yet tested in tennis is just how successful these same players will be in the week after their bodies and immune systems have had to fight off a vicious virus. That being said, will the players affected by last week’s stomach bug perform better or worse than their healthier counterparts this week in Key Biscayne? The answer: much better, and here’s why.
When the body is forced to fight an infection or virus, the immune system is initially compromised. But because of immunological memory, the body becomes more alert and “remembers” the pathogen it previously killed. You may have experienced this added alertness after recovering from a cold – you are less likely to contract another cold or virus directly after your initial cold because your immune system is more alert to foreign pathogens.
As tennis players’ immune systems are no different than our own, it’s very likely that they will respond in the same manner: the players who pulled out last week from the BNP Paribas Open are less likely to contract any new virus this week, and thus more likely to have extra energy as their bodies should be fully recovered and their immune systems more alert.
The list of pull-outs is no short list, and includes Petra Kvitova, Francesca Schiavone, Gael Monfils, Vera Zvonareva, Vania King, Jurgen Melzer, Mike Bryan, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Magdalena Rybarikova. Meanwhile, even Roger Federer stated he felt “under the weather” at the beginning of the tournament.
As the players range anywhere from number 1 on the ATP rankings to number 86 on the WTA rankings, it will be interesting to see the players’ progression through the draw. As some will undoubtedly fizzle out due to other factors, it’s no certain science, but I would bet that at least a few of these players will have better than expected results during the next two weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schiavone or Melzer bust through with excellent runs, and now you would know why. It’s all thanks to their immune system.
After struggling with self-doubt about whether she belonged with the top girls on the WTA Tour, Julie Ditty is starting to produce the results that her former coach, Pat Van der Meer, said she is more than capable of.
Julie Ditty’s fairytale run continued on Friday at the US Open with a second round win in the Women’s Doubles event. According to Van der Meer, results like these are just a sign of things to come.
“I really believe that Julie has the ability to start reaching the quarterfinals and better in doubles at the Grand Slams on a regular basis,” said Van der Meer. “She’s just as good as any of the other girls out there.”
Ditty and fellow American Carly Gullickson defeated the team of Tathiana Garbin and Tamira Paszek 7-5, 6-4, marking the first time that either Ditty or Gullickson have reached the third round at a Grand Slam. Attacking Garbin’s weak service deliveries, the pair broke Garbin three times and came back from 4-2 in the second set.
Gullickson was the star player in the match, attacking the net throughout the match as she frequently poached across the net for winning volleys. Ditty said that Gullickson’s strong play helped carry them to victory on Court 8.
“She was really helping me out on the court today,” said Ditty. “I was struggling out there, but sometimes you have to win ugly and I’m just really happy to be in the third round.”
While many of the doubles teams competing at the US Open choose to play from the baseline, Ditty and Gullickson have adopted a more traditional form of doubles play. Both players served and volleyed on their first serves and looked for opportunities to attack the net throughout the match.
Ray Ruffels, who has helped coach Ditty throughout the summer, said the more conventional doubles play they have used will help them in the long run.
“Part of the reasons so many players stand back is because the volleying at the women’s level is pretty poor overall,” said Ruffels. “There’s so many specific shots like drop volleys or short angles that you can use against a team who is at the baseline. Because both Julie and Carly are so good up at the net, there’s no reason why they can’t be successful playing the way they are right now.”
Ditty said that she and Gullickson have also been successful this week because of their strong friendship. The pair first met when Gullickson, as a 12 year old, would train with Ditty at Vanderbilt University, where she was an All-American NCAA player. While both Ditty and Gullickson have been competing together on tour for the last few years, this is the first time they have played doubles together.
“I almost feel like she’s my sister,” Ditty said. “We have a great friendship off the court and you always want to play with somebody that you get along with.”
Finishing up her first full year of competing exclusively on the WTA Tour, Ditty said that she has struggled with the higher level of competition.
“It’s been a real eye opener to me,” said Ditty after her first round win on Wednesday. “The girls at this level are so much stronger and they have the belief that they belong out here, which is something I struggle with at times.”
After winning three titles and compiling a 29-13 record in 2007 on the USTA Pro Circuit, the tennis equivalent of Triple A in baseball, Ditty has gone 2-15 in main draw matches on the WTA Tour in 2008, with the majority of her wins this year coming in the qualifying rounds.
“It was really important for Julie to make that jump to the next level,” Van der Meer. “She was getting too comfortable playing in the same tournaments.”
In the final tournament of her first 12 months on the WTA Tour, Van der Meer said the mental and technical aspects of Ditty’s game are beginning to come together.
“We’ve told her so many times how good she is and I think she’s finally starting to get that confidence,” said Van der Meer. “She’s starting to use her left-handedness by incorporating slice and topspin more as well. It might be too late this year because the season is winding down, but I really believe that Julie is ready to have a breakout year on tour next year.”
For the French, Masha will wear Tiffany & Co. designer Elsa Peretti’s Wave earrings in 18K gold.
The jewelry complements Maria’s 20s-inspired Paris Dress from Nike, the back of which is adorned with a Tiffany pearl button closure. (Classy!)
This is also the beginning of a two-year partnership between the current world No. 1 and the jewelry giant; Masha will step onto the court of all the Grand Slams wearing Tiffany earrings, which’ll also be sold at Tiffany stores under the Tiffany for Maria Sharapova collection.
Buy: You can grab a pair of the RG earrings here for $1,150. Also available in white gold.
The Paris Dress, from what I can tell, is currently sold out.
(image from tiffany.com)
For a man who’s the father of two successful tennis stars, Richard Williams sure has a hard time containing his bitterness.
Williams recently had these things to say to a newspaper in India:
The first dealt with the explosive and sensitive issue of race. “People are prejudiced in tennis. I don’t think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be.”
He then proceeded in conspiratorial fashion to attack the media; among other things, he accused them of preventing Venus and Serena Williams from ever achieving Grand Slam success. He went so far as to claim it “the worst media job that they have done on any human being in the world.”
Finally, Williams closed out the verbal festivities by insulting former stars Tracy Austin and Chris Evert-Lloyd. “But if you get some little white no-good trasher in America like Tracy Austin or Chris Evert, who cannot hit the ball, they (the media) will claim this is great.”
Let’s consider these comments and allegations further.
On the issue of race, they say you can never understand a man until you walk in his shoes. I can’t possibly comment on what a black person goes through on a daily basis; however, sometimes there are more effective, if not graceful ways to get your point across. Smearing an entire sports community with one brush is unfortunate as much as it is distasteful.
If in his heart he feels there is a racial divide in tennis, then he would be better off channelling his efforts into educating people about it.
The second proclamation regarding the media has two faces to it. The first is that the media is an easy target to chastise when things don’t go your way. Conversely, it is your best friend when all is well and exposure is necessary. In other words, the media is both your friend and enemy.
The other side of that face cuts right to the issue of accountability. That the Williams sisters have not been able to match their enormous potential with a boat load of Grand Slam titles is something only they can answer. Pointing a finger at others is a feeble attempt to try and skirt away from this fact.
Finally, his attack on Austin and Evert is easy enough to debunk. In fact, for a person who is a tennis insider, it is quite astonishing, if not absurd, to assert what he did. Saying Evert could not hit the ball is a little like saying Elvis was a poor guitarist – just like there were better guitarists that existed before and after him, many tennis players before and after Evert could “hit the ball” with more power than she could.
The Williams sisters indeed prove this. In many ways, they took tennis onto another athletic plane. This impressive achievement is a testament to their talent. To chastise those who brought the game fame during a time it was played differently is patently unfair, if not ignorant.
Nonetheless, Williams would do well to remember that technology has also had some say in this. For example, in ice hockey, today’s players shoot the puck harder since the introduction of new composites such as titanium. In tennis, a racquet can play a significant role in adding power to one’s game.
Evert has an added dimension to her legacy, which is decorated with 18 Grand Slam titles. Presley emerged at a time when teenagers were ready to rebel through music. Evert came during a time when women were fighting to be treated with respect and equality. The late 1960s and early 1970s, lest we forget, was when the birth and golden age of women’s liberation happened; tennis jumped on that revolution.
Evert was also in the middle of one of sports’ great rivalries in the 1980s as her melodic and patient baseline style took on the ferocious, powerful serve-and-volley approach of Martina Navratilova. Oh, how tennis aged with grace and beauty!
Richard Williams should be proud of and satisfied with what his gifted daughters, who have amassed great wealth thanks to tennis, have contributed to the evolutionary process and that they remain a welcomed addition to the sport.
Yet, for Mr. Williams, it seems that the fact that his daughters are part of tennis’s great heritage is not enough.
Perhaps it is time for Richard Williams to stare into the mirror and see what the reflection gives?