Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Outstanding sporting achievements can be a little bit like buses, you wait ages for one and then two come along at once. Last weekend the tennis world was not only rewarded with a World Number One that wasn’t Federer or Nadal for the first time in 387 weeks, but also with a new Wimbledon Champion (the last time someone other than Federer or Nadal lifted the pineapple-topped cup aloft was in 2002). On Sunday, after 47 tour wins, eight ATP titles and six months of phenomenal tennis, Novak Djokovic was finally able to legitimately say what everyone already knew – that he is the best player in the world right now.

Djokovic had been within touching distance of World Number One for several weeks but, due to Nadal retaining his French Open title, it was only after his highly entertaining victory against Tsonga on Friday that the Serb managed to claim the top spot as his own.  Despite his new found status Djokovic went into his first Wimbledon Final as the underdog with most tennis fans, including me, believing that whilst it would be a close-fought match Nadal would prevail. How wrong we were!

From the very start of the match Djokovic showed why he has only lost once this year.  He was serving consistently, keeping his unforced error count low and most significantly of all outlasting Nadal in the longer rallies. Very few players on the Tour want to get involved in lengthy exchanges with the Spaniard but Djokovic seemed happy to match his opponent stroke for stroke and ended up winning 69 per cent of the points that went over eight shots – and you know that when Nadal is losing these rallies something is up. And there clearly was something up with the defending champion, perhaps it was the same nerves he suffered in the first set of his match against Murray or maybe he was stunned by Djokovic’s outstanding play; whatever it was he did not seem his usual self. On several occasions he left balls that he would normally hunt down voraciously and gone were the constant fist clenches and cries of ‘Vamos’ that usually characterise his play. In contrast, Djokovic was brimming with confidence, fuelled by his comprehensive 6-1 disassembly of his opponent’s game in the second set. It was only when Nadal broke in the third set that we truly saw some of his trademark passion and at that point my belief that he would win in five sets was reignited. The vast majority of the crowd had been fully behind the Spaniard from the start but at that point the weight of support for him would have lifted the roof off centre court had it been shut; I was not alone in my desire to see the match go the distance. Early in the fourth set it looked as if those craving a classic match would be satisfied as Nadal looked to build on his momentum gaining a break point in the first game of the fourth set. But whilst Djokovic seized almost every opportunity he had in the match, converting five of his six break points, he did not allow his opponent to do the same. With the Serb’s defensive game proving just too good, Nadal was only able to make the most of 50% of his opportunities to break. Would the match have panned out differently if the Spaniard had broken at the start of the fourth set? I doubt it. Whilst I would normally fear for any player who gave Nadal the slightest sniff at getting into a match, Djokovic was just playing far too well.

After the match, the new Wimbledon Champion credited Federer and Nadal with forcing him to raise his game and with him raising it in spectacular style you have to wonder how many titles they have deprived themselves of. Federer may have managed to beat Djokovic once this year but it seems to have only spurred him on and if he maintains this level of play it will take a monumental effort to beat him again.

My time at Wimbledon as a whole
As ou will no doubt have realised from all my blogs over the course of the Championships I had the most phenomenal week.

The main highlight of my time there obviously has to be the final; it was an event like no other. It may sound like an over-exaggeration but going into Centre Court on that day I felt how I imagine many brides feel on their wedding day. Here was a moment that I had dreamed of for many years about to come true; I was jittery with the heady combination of nerves and excitement. When Nadal and Djokovic walked onto court I started to cry, I felt so privileged to be at a high profile match that was packed full of promise. Whilst I loved the whole match the pinnacle for me was when Djokovic raised the cup for the first time, to be part of such a special day in someone’s was a real honour. The contrast of the new World Number One’s team dancing in their box whilst the defeated champion sat with his head in his hands was a moving sight. It was one of the most emotionally charged moments I’ve witnessed.
My other abiding memory of the day is of the Serbian celebrations – it was as if Wimbledon’s media alley had been turned into Belgrade’s main street. A large group of Djokovic fans clad in red, white and blue were dancing, singing, chanting around Centre Court as the crowds spilled out. When Djokovic’s parents came down to join them they lifted his father aloft and clamoured to shake the hand of his mother, all the while maintaining the festival spirit. The often reserved and respectful AELTC became a blaze of colour and joyful noise making everyone there feel as if they had an invitation to the greatest party in town.

Whilst nothing will beat that final Sunday for memories here are my other favourite bits of the Championships:

  • Lisicki’s success – whether it be a routine match on an outside court, her hard-fought defeat of Li Na on Centre or her storming run to the semis of the singles and finals of the doubles, the charismatic German played every match with grace, good-humour and a smile. Her performances exuded joy and she reminded everyone that just to be on the court and in good health is a privilege.
  • Watching Nadal practice – if you are ever at a tournament where Nadal is playing I would urge you to try and watch a practice session. It is only when you are close to the Spaniard that you can truly appreciate the pace, power and accuracy of his shots. Watching his whipped forehand in the flesh is to be in the presence of greatness.
  • The birth of a new era – after months of me harping on about it, the new talent in the Women’s game finally came to fruition in the form of Kvitova. It was so exciting to see a non-Williams Wimbledon Champion and it was even better that it was in the shape of the humble yet determined Czech. I hope that Kvitova’s victory will be the catalyst for more of the younger players reaching their potential as I think the likes of Azarenka are just a few points away from joining her in the grand slam club. Kvitova’s victory was just one win in a weekend of Czech female success with Peschke and Benesova experiencing success in the Ladies Doubles and Mixed respectively.
  • My match of the tournament had to be Tsonga’s stunning comeback against Federer, I feel so lucky to have seen it in the flesh. The Frenchman has to be one of the most entertaining players on tour and it was brilliant to see his level of skill match his performance talents, especially against one of the greatest artists in sport.

Wimbledon is a tournament like no other; from the beautifully preened purple planters to the military precision of the ball kids it is the model of perfect organisation. With it’s thoroughly English undertones and truly global audience it offers something for everyone. I will definitely be there again next year and I think you should all join me there.

The best of my photos from Wimbledon can be found on my flickr page.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Ahead of yesterday’s Men’s Quarter Finals everyone was asking ‘Which of the top four is most likely to fall?’ and whilst the tennis blogosphere appeared to have a variety of views there appeared to be a general consensus that it wouldn’t be Federer. How wrong we were.

I was fortunate to have secured a Centre Court ticket for yesterday and as I made my way up to my seat I was thinking ‘Mmmm, maybe at a push Tsonga will manage to get a set… it’ll probably be Murray v Lopez that will be a closer run thing’. Maybe it was short-sighted of people not to predict Tsonga to cause an upset, he has been playing extremely well recently culminating in him reaching the final of Queens. My decision to tip Federer to make it to the semis was not meant as a slight on Tsonga’s abilities though, it was purely driven by the brilliant tennis that Federer has been playing – I would even have doubted whether Nadal or Murray could beat him. If you combined Federer’s swift procession through the French Open draw with his clinical displays at Wimbledon thus far you were left with an extremely experienced and skillful master who had Champion written all over him. But, having watched the quarter-final in the flesh, I can now say for certain that I completely underestimated Tsonga and the sheer power that he had at his disposal. For the first set and a half of the match it looked as if it would be a fairly routine Federer rout; the Frenchman was struggling to find his feet, he was putting a high percentage of his volleys into the net and if anything he looked a little lethagic. It was only as we entered the second set tiebreak that we started to see shots that reflected Tsonga’s true ability and even then I texted a fellow tennis lover (who was on Court One) stating that the match wasn’t very exciting as Federer was dominating it. At the start of the third set someone from the crowd shouted ‘Come on Jo, it’s a grand slam quarter-final’ and, whilst I’m sure he was already aware of that, it was as if it suddenly struck him that he really had nothing to lose.  He suddenly rose to the occasion firing shots of unbelievable depth and strength at his opponent, reining in his powerful serve to ensure it was also precise and throwing everything into the match, and he was greatly rewarded with a single break in each of the three remaining sets. At the start of the match the atmosphere had been a little stilted with only the occasional ‘Come on Roger’ or ‘Allez Jo’ at key points but as Tsonga upped his game the crowd matched him, steadily becoming more vocal as the excitement grew and giving him a standing ovation in return for his victory dance. I had gone in wanting a four set Federer victory (as I’ve said before I was desperate for a Federer v Murray final) but the way that Tsonga played I could not begrudge him the win, he fought back from two sets down through sheer determination and clever play. What was most noticeable for me during the whole match was that Federer’s level did not drop, he was still playing very well, it was just that Tsonga surpassed him and the World Number Three was not able to handle his opponent’s power as he was consistently pushed off the court. I am very intrigued to see how Djokovic handles Tsonga because whilst I think he is better equipped to see off the brute-force of the Frenchman I think he will also struggle to surpress him. I predict that in the semis Tsonga will avenge the Australian Open Final defeat to Djokovic in 2008 and make it through to his second grand slam final.

My whole reason for buying a Centre Court ticket yesterday was to see Murray play but I’ll be honest and say that after the Tsonga v Federer match it was a little bit of a let down. It was still a good game to watch but from the start it was clear that Murray was the stronger player on the key points and that he was going to be able to get the job done fairly routinely. Towards the end there were some exciting moments when Lopez had some break points but aside from that it was a fairly routine victory. Hopefully the Scot will be able to raise his game when he needs to against Nadal. Because he didn’t need to pull out all the stops yesterday, I didn’t see anything from Murray to entirely convince me he can win Wimbledon but I remain confident he will at least make the final.

Today and tomorrow I am going to get ground passes, tour the outside courts for doubles and juniors and watch the semi-finals on Henman Hill / Murray Mount. I was tempted to try and buy another Centre Court ticket for Murray tomorrow but it’s pretty pricey and I know that I’ll have just as much fun watching it on the big screen – I’ll report back on it all as soon as I can.

Read Full Post »

Apologies for not having blogged sooner but I’ve been stuck in a terrible vortex of decorating where every spare waking moment has been spent decorating my spare room – thank God for Radio Wimbledon and BBC Tennis’s online coverage, it’s been the only thing keeping me sane! Anyway, here are a few thoughts on the first four days of play:

– The Men’s draw is still looking like a four horse race but I’ll happily settle for the predictable. There has been a lot of talk around which guy is most likely to infiltrate the top four and spoil the MuRaFeDjoko party. The main names being bandied around have been Soderling, Roddick and Del Potro but none of them have done anything to indicate that they could break the main quartet’s stranglehold. Soderling stayed in by the skin of his teeth against Hewitt today, Roddick has been serving well but other aspects of his game are lacking and Del Potro is in uncharted territory as this is the first time he’s got passed the second round at Wimbledon. To compound matters whilst the pack have floundered the top four have thrived. It took 34 minutes and over a set of tennis before Federer lost a point on his serve today, Murray reeled off 15 straight games in his match against Gimeno-Traver and both Djokovic and Nadal are strolling through with ease. It’s looking more and more like the French Open semi-final line-up will be repeated.

– The Women’s on the other hand is still wide open with no one player stamping her mark on the tournament. Both of the Williams sisters have dropped sets (Serena’s dropped two), Stosur and Li are out and Zvonareva has wobbled. Wozniacki is looking OK but with her dislike for grass I question whether she’ll make the last 16. Most of the pundits are tipping Sharapova for the title but I have niggling doubts over whether she can maintain her consistency for the whole fortnight. The players who have looked the most comfortable in my opinion have been Kvitova, Bartoli (although she’s only played one match so far) and much to my joy Ivanovic who has only dropped four games. I’m also feeling very excited about Lisicki in the wake of her extremely close victory over Li. I can’t see her being a Goran-esque wildcard Champion but I hope she can at least make the quarter-finals, she deserves it after today’s match. Lisicki and Ivanovic could well meet in the last 16 which would be a brilliant match between two very likeable players.

– Hoorah for the Golden Oldies and the Comeback kids. My top three matches of the tournament so far without a shadow of a doubt have been V. Williams v Kimiko Date-Krumm (combined age of 71 and at times they played like it was 1971 with KDK offering up some wonderfully nostalgic chip and charges), Hewitt very nearly defeating Soderling in five sets despite having been in plaster just eight weeks ago, and the dramatic match between Lisicki (back after her career plummeted due to injury) and Li (aged 29). In the space of two days we’ve had three brilliant battles and that’s the best thing about the first week of a grand slam, the unlikely match-ups that spark phenomenal passion and play.

– I have mixed feelings about the roof. On the one hand it means that play can go on so there is always live tennis to watch (rather than Cliff Richard singing, thank God) but I also feel it gives some players an unfair advantage. The big names, who are often the competition favourites, get to play on Centre Court quite frequently so when you put the roof on they get two distinct advantages.
1.) Their match is not interrupted by rain, stays on schedule and they get home and have a rest day whilst their lower ranked, lesser known next round opponent has to hang around hoping the rain stops and may well not get on court until the next day therefore losing their rest day which impacts on their chances in the next round.
2.) Those who play on Centre Court often have the chance to get used to the different playing conditions it creates which again gives them an advantage when they play under the roof against someone who has not had that experience.
Now I know that tennis players should be able to recover from matches quickly and adapt to the conditions etc but I do feel it puts any underdogs at a disadvantage. Maybe I’ll feel differently next week if it rains when I have a Centre Court ticket!

– The scheduling this year seems very odd. I don’t understand why matches are being cancelled at 6.30pm when the weather is fine and there is the prospect of rain the next day; surely it’s best to get as much of a match played as possible. Laura Robson has had both her first and second round match cancelled late in the day which cannot be ideal, especially when you have the prospect of facing Sharapova looming over you! Also, why was Isner / Mahut stuck on Court 3 in the evening? By all accounts there was very little atmosphere becauce a lot of the ticketed seats were empty due to people leaving early and not returning their tickets. In my opinion it should have been on a free-for-all court like 18 or on Court One.

– Roll on next week. In exactly seven days time I will no doubt be lying awake too excited to sleep because of the prospect of seeing the Men’s semi-finals live, I will have already attended at least three days of the tournament and I’ll have a Men’s Final ticket in my possession. I have been so envious of all the people who have crowded into the AELTC over the last four days and my only comfort has been knowing that I’ll be there very soon too – watch out SW19, I’m on my way!

P.S. Following on from last Friday’s discussion around the odds of Isner / Mahut here’s an excellent Kevin Mitchell article from the Guardian that’s worth a read.

Read Full Post »

Let me take you back to 3rd May 1998. On this day, some 13 years ago, Stoke City faced Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium knowing that only a victory would keep the Potters in Division One. Stoke City lost 5-2.

By a quirk of fate, Manchester City, despite winning 5-2 away from home, were also sent down to the third tier of the football league. To make matters worse for the Potters, their local rivals Port Vale stayed up and so ended Stoke’s disastrous first season in their new stadium.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, because on 14th May 2011, Stoke City faced Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup Final – the Potters’ first-ever FA Cup final.

It marked a remarkable journey over the past decade. Unlike Manchester City, who won promotion straight back, Stoke toiled in Division Two for a few years before promotion, with a heady mix of Icelandic owners, managers and players, a stunning Dutch winger called Peter Hoekstra (who is still the best player I’ve ever seen in a Stoke shirt), even a trip to Wembley to lift the Autowindscreen Shield – the years between 1998 and Stoke’s promotion to the top flight ten years later were, for the most part, awful. And so to seeing Stoke continue to establish themselves as a top flight team is still hard to believe.

When I was asked to write a short season review as a Stoke fan – I couldn’t really do it. I didn’t want to trawl back over losing the opening game at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Nor the League Cup defeat at West Ham. Or any of the other defeats. Sure there were great results too – the 3-2 over Sunderland, the 2-1 away at Newcastle and then beating them 4-0, beating Liverpool, drawing with Chelsea. But at the end of this season, and in the years to come, only two games will really stand out at the end of Stoke’s third season of Premier League football – and neither of them were league games.

On the 17th April, Stoke City faced a much-fancied Bolton side in the FA Cup semi-final, at Wembley – a stadium that Stoke had previous played at 3 times, winning all 3. On the way to Wembley I thought we might, just might, win. But if we lost, then I wouldn’t be surprised – just as long as it wasn’t a hammering.

It was a hammering. But not the one I feared. Stoke raced into a 3-0 lead after just thirty minutes. At half-time it was hard to comprehend what we were seeing. It was also hard not to expect it to all go horribly wrong. But it didn’t. Stoke ended up running out 5-0 winners – the biggest victory at the new Wembley, and the biggest FA Cup semi-final win for some 50 years.

Not only that, but all of our goals were brilliant. Not one long-throw, not one scrappy mess in the box. Etherington and Huth smashed in the opening two from distance, before Jermaine Pennant’s stunning run and through-ball gave Kenwyne Jones our third. After the break Jonathan Walters turned it on – first with a run from the half way line ending with a 25-yard curler into the bottom corner and finally a neat finish at the back post from a Jones cross. 5-0. 5. Five. Stoke City 5 Bolton 0. It still hasn’t really sunk in.

We went into the final against the richest club in the world –Manchester City. We didn’t expect to win, and so it proved, as nerves and the fitness of Huth of Etherington, was too much to bear.Yaya Toure scored with 15 minutes to go. But when the Blues lifted the FA Cup, it wasn’t Blue Moon that rang out around Wembley, it was “there’s only one Tony Pulis”. Every single Stoke fan stayed until way after the final whistle to praise their team, sing Delilah and to applaud Manchester City.

After that day, the season petered out. We faced Manchester Cityin the league just three days later, losing 3-0 before losing our final game at home to Wigan 1-0 – giving the Latics Premier League survival.

But what a season. Although our final position of 13th, having been 8th going into the final day, was disappointing, our season was magnificent. Never once were we in the relegation battle, we reached the FA Cup Final, and, and this is the exciting part, we reached Europe. Yes, next season Stoke City will enter the Europa League.

Stoke will enter the third qualifying round where we’ll play Hajduk Split on 4th August and we could go on to face teams such as Gaz Metan Medias, Qarabag and Rabotnicki.

Whatever happens, the 2010-2011 season was another step forward for Stoke – and we’re hoping 2011-2012 will be another – at home and on whatever European adventures await.

Guest blogs
Thank you to @timwardwrites, life-long Stoke fan and sports blogger, who kindly wrote this piece.

If you have a sporting event or topic that you feel a need to write about please get in touch.

Read Full Post »

Ever since I was little the Wimbledon fortnight has been one of my favourite times of the year. Because we didn’t have Sky and were internetless up until I was 13, that two week period was the only chance I really had to watch tennis so when it was on I tried to absorb every drop of it. I would rush home from school, book the Finals weekend off work, gobble my meals down at a ludicrous pace – I would do whatever it took to ensure that I missed as little play as possible. To me the last week of June and first week of July always has been, and always will be, a glorious fortnight and this year’s should be the best yet as I will be attending several days of the Championships, including the Men’s Final. So, as I sit writing this on Wimbledon-eve, it would be a drastic understatement to say I’m excited. I will be blogging throughout the tournament so hopefully you will get to share in my excitement. Anyway, on to the job in hand of previewing the Championships.


Men’s

Whilst there could well be several upsets along the way, I think the Men’s side of the tournament is unlikely to provide a surprise Champion because the top 4 are all looking too strong. Whilst it would be nice to think that someone new could make their name at SW19, I imagine that if anyone is going to break the MurRaFeDjoko stranglehold it is likely to be an experienced player.

Nadal
World Number One, French Open Champion, defending champion and unbeaten on the AELTC’s hallowed turf since 2007 – Rafa is not a man you would want to bet against. The Spaniard has not had the ideal run up to Wimbledon as he was knocked out in the quarter finals of Queens but he is so highly skilled and meticulous in his training that I do not think lack of match practice will be an issue for him. If anything his defeat by Tsonga at Queens was probably for the best because he looked exhausted and I got the impression that when he lost the second set to the Frenchman he was slightly relieved at the prospect of a few extra days rest. I never fail to be astounded by the way in which Nadal, a natural clay-courter, is able to adapt with relative ease when playing on grass. He proved in both 2008 and 2010 that he has the game to succeed on the green stuff and in a tournament that could well be rather stop-start due to predicted rain in the first week I think his mental strength will push him ahead of many competitors. As the defending champion he will open play on Centre Court tomorrow and I would not be in the least bit surprised if he closes the tournament in the same place in a fortnight’s time.

Federer
In the same way that I refuse to ever rule Rafa out on clay, I will never not list Roger as a favourite at Wimbledon – he has the ability to be simply sublime on grass. Some players desperately need a good pre-Wimbledon warm-up but the fact that Federer hasn’t played a match since Roland Garros (he withdrew from Halle with a groin injury) will have had virtually no impact on his chances – when you’ve won the Championships six-times you don’t really need to familiarise yourself with grass. Last year I was pretty confident that the Swiss Master wouldn’t make the final but this summer I really think he will be there. Despite clay being his least favourite surface he sailed through the French Open and his performance made clear that, whilst many are writing him off, he still considers himself far from finished. He has begun to adapt his game to keep up with his younger counterparts and shots like his backhand slice are as suited to Wimbledon as strawberries and cream so he has the necessary armoury to take the title. He also has a relatively easy draw with Tsonga in the quarter-finals likely to be his first big test. Federer caused a lot of discussion after the French Open final when he essentially said that when he plays his best game no-one can beat him, a statement that I completely disagree with; it was true five years ago but times have changed. I do believe that he can win Wimbledon but I think he needs to rely on others not playing their best tennis because in my eyes when Nadal, Murray or Djokovic bring their top game they will beat Federer, irrespective of how well he plays.

Djokovic
The World Number Two is often written off on grass but he actually has a pretty impressive Wimbledon record having reached the semis twice and the quarters once. I cannot see him going a step further this year and reaching the finals though. I am very intrigued to see how he bounces back after his French Open semi-final defeat by Federer ended his extraordinary run of 41 matches unbeaten. Since that loss he has only played one other match, an exhibition game against Gilles Simon, so it is hard to judge how he will perform at Wimbledon. He has obviously had the most phenomenal year and one defeat is not going to have changed the fact that he is in great form but I think his winning streak was fuelled in large parts by confidence and now that he is no longer riding that wave there could be a little dip in his game. He will have to play Soderling in the quarter finals which has the potential to be a very close match and if he came through that then he would then most likely Federer in the semis and this could be his undoing. Of all the guys on tour it is the Swiss Master who has the greatest handle on Djokovic’s game and I think this will be amplified at Wimbledon where Federer is so comfortable.

Murray
So many people have laughed at me when I’ve said this but I’m going to put it out there anyway – I think Murray will win. Maybe my judgement is clouded by wanting to be able to say ‘I was there when a Brit won Wimbledon’ or perhaps I’m naively underestimating the other players or it could be that I desperately want him to win to prove all of the doubters wrong but I do truly believe he can do it. Out of the top four he has easily had the best build-up to the tournament, winning at Queens in emphatic style, and he looks in brilliant form. The Scot’s semi-final against Roddick (former Wimbledon finalist and four times Queens Champion) was a lesson in grass court tennis and he played so ferociously that the American joked on court that he should at least ‘keep it social’. If Murray can play like that at Wimbledon I sincerely doubt anyone will be able to stop him. His draw is relatively easy and Roddick in the quarters should be his first real test after which he would probably play Nadal in the semis and whilst this would be a very tough match I think Murray could edge it. Whenever I say that Murray will win everyone brings up the usual ‘choker’ argument saying he lacks bottle but in interviews he seems very relaxed and upbeat and I am certain he has the strength to win.

The best of the rest
Out of everyone else I think the only real threat to the top 4 is Roddick; he has an excellent grass court game,  his serve makes life very difficult for his opponents and if it wasn’t for Federer he’d have three Wimbledon titles to his name. He may be in the twilight years of his career but he has the game and experience to make him a real threat.
I had put some money on the young Canadian Raonic quite a few month’s ago but he has looked a little patchy recently and unfortunately for him he will probably have to play Nadal in the third round so I think it’s unlikely he’ll even make the second week. He’s certainly a prospect for the future.
Irish qualifier Conor Niland is ranked 184 in the world making him the highest ranked male player from the British Isles after Murray. Whilst he’s not going to win the tournament if he can win his first match a potential show court match again Federer awaits him in the second round – I really hope he can get there.

Women’s

I’m not going to write much about the women’s tournament as I am really struggling to know who to tip.

  • The biggest story of the women’s competition is the return of the Williams sisters and a lot of people are tipping either of them to take the title. If one of them does add the title to their trophy cabinet I will be bitterly disappointed, I like them both as players and think they have done wonders for the sport but it will be a damning reflection of the Women’s game if a player can return after a year off, having only been in training for a month, and win won of the biggest tournaments around. They both looked rusty at Eastbourne but they clearly still have brilliant games and the same desire to win as ever before. I question whether Serena’s fitness will hold up for a fortnight and I think their decision to not enter the doubles reflects her lack of fitness but if she manages to get days off in between each match she’ll probably be OK. Out of the two of them Venus looks the stronger but I don’t think she looks infallible and can see her being beaten.
  • I’m really disappointed that Clijsters has had to withdraw as a result of injury as she was one of the players I was most excited about watching. I doubt any of the female competitors are disappointed though as at full fitness I’d have put her as the favourite.
  • I had been tipping Azarenka but she withdrew from Eastbourne with an injury last week. I’m reluctant to read too much into it as Vika retiring from matches is almost as common as Djokovic winning them but I think she would need to be at full fitness to win her first Grand Slam title. I do still think she has a decent chance of the title but she has a very tricky third round opponent in the shape of Hantuchova and Petkovic could cause her some problems further down the line.
  • I refuse to accept that Zvonareva will not win win a Grand Slam title but I really wish she’d hurry up and do it. She is such a consistently good player that it has to happen soon and I think she could go one better than last year when she was runner-up. She has a very tough draw though with Venus a potential fourth round opponent and Kuznetsova and Kvitova both in her quarter.
  • I desperately want Kvitova to be champion and her performance at both the French Open and in the final at Eastbourne have assured me that she will definitely be a dominant force of the tour for many years to come. Her run to the Wimbledon semis last year (lost to eventual champion Serena) surprised quite a few people but I don’t think anyone would be shocked to see her match, or even better, that success this year.
  • Probably my favourite to be lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on July 3rd is Bartoli, she may not be as noisy or glamorous as many of her rivals but by golly does she play a good game. Fresh off the back of a semi-final in her home slam, she has won Eastbourne beating Azarenka, Stosur and Kvitova in the process. She’ll probably have to see off Serena in the fourth round followed by a likely quarter final against French Open Champion Li Na but I think she’ll take it all in her bouncing stride.
  • Whilst I don’t think either of them will win I hope my favourite German duo of Petkovic and Goerges both do well and at least reach the second week as I really want to see each of them play live.
As I say, I’m going to camp out for all of the second week of the Championships and will try to blog each day I’m down there so I hope you’ll keep reading.

 

Read Full Post »

So the Wimbledon draw has been done and without a doubt the biggest headline coming out of it is that 2010 Marathon Men John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will once again be facing off in the first round. The immediate question on everyone’s lips was ‘What are the chances are that?’ Well, thanks to my numbers boffin of a brother and Steve of @GBtennis I can confirm it is 142.5/1. Here is the little spreadsheet my brother sent me followed by Steve’s further clarification:

 Isner Mahut (spreadsheet for download)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chance of one of them being in a non-seed v non-seed match is indeed 64/96 = 2/3, but if one of them draws a non-seed, then by taking one of the non-seed v non-seed slots in the draw, it reduces the chance of the other one getting a non-seed v non-seed slot to 63/95. You are then correct to say the chance of that slot being the right one is 1/63.

Or, cutting out the middle step, the chance of Isner avoiding a seed is 2/3, as it says on your spreadsheet, and the chance of Mahut getting the slot next to him is 1/95. Either way, you get an answer of 2 in 285 = 1 in 142.5.

I’ll do further analysis of the whole draw over the weekend.

Read Full Post »

As I type this, the first matches of the 2011 French Open are already underway and I believe this could be one of the most exciting Grand Slam tournaments in a long while. On the Women’s side it is absolutely wide open with several players who would normally be considered outsiders being able to make a legitimate claim that the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen could soon be theirs. Whilst in the Men’s draw many people are making it seem that Nadal and Djokovic’s status as finalists is a foregone conclusion, something which I do not agree with. One thing is a certainty though, the next fortnight is going to deliver two extremely hard-fought contests.

Women’s
As I mentioned above, I really do think the Women’s is wide open and we could well see a new face come to the fore. With both of the Williams sisters out, Clijsters playing her first match since Miami in March and Wozniacki having shown weaknesses in both Madrid and Rome, now seems to be the moment for someone to make their mark:

Kvitova
A few weeks ago I said that I considered Kvitova  do be a significant contender and I still stand by that. Her recent form has illustrated that she has the weapons to win on clay, reaching the final in Prague and winning the Madrid title, and her quarter-final showing at this year’s Australian Open along with last year’s Wimbledon semi-final have proved that she is capable of going deep in Grand Slams. Whilst there are some tricky opponents around her in the draw such as Li Na, I am confident she can at least make the quarter finals where she could well face Azarenka who she beat in the final of Madrid and I wouldn’t bet against her to do it again.

Azarenka
I have tipped Azarenka on more occasions than I dare to count but I refuse to give up hope as she has far too strong a game not to win a Grand Slam title soon.  I truly believed that she would win last year’s US Open but unfortunately an odd accident involving a running machine led to her dramatically collapsing on court in her 2nd round match. The French Open could well be the Belarusian’s moment though as she has had a good few months winning in both Miami and Marbella as well as reaching the final of  Madrid and the quarter-final in Rome. My main hesitation with Azarenka is her fitness and whether she can stay healthy for seven matches back-to-back as in the last three months she has retired in Indian Wells, Stuttgart and Rome. I think she will do well but with Clijsters, Petkovic, Sharapova and Kvitova all in her half I can’t see her reaching the final.

Sharapova
Two weeks ago the phrase Maria Sharapova – French Open Champion wouldn’t even have crossed my mind but after an emphatic performance in Rome where she beat Azarenka, Wozniacki and Stosur back-to-back it would seem crazy to rule her out. It seems that she is truly once again a contender having come back from a series of shoulder problems which led to her falling to 126 in the World in May 2009. A change in coach, support from her new fiancé and renewed belief in her game all seem to to have fuelled her resurgence making her a very dangerous opponent. She is one of the more experienced contenders for the title having won all of the other three Grand Slam titles and she will be desperate to complete her career Grand Slam with a victory at Roland Garros. Her potential quarter-final against Clijsters is an extremely juicy match and one that I think she could win. I think she would then face Kvitova in what on paper is a semi but in my eyes will be the final as I believe the winner will come from the lower half of the draw.

Clijsters
I’m always reluctant to rule Kim Clijsters out because she is such a supreme competitor and athlete but there lies the problem. The Belgian’s greatest asset is her athleticism but I suspect that having been laid low with an ankle injury since March (she hurt herself dancing at her cousin’s wedding!) she may not be at full fitness. There is no doubt she wants to match compatriot Henin and win a French Open title and she certainly has the shots to do so but I think a few long matches could take their toll and a tough last 16 against Petkovic or quarter-final against Sharapova will finish her off. From a selfish viewpoint I am desperate to see her play well at Wimbledon so I really hope she doesn’t exacerbate any ankle problems by playing on regardless of injury.

Goerges / Petkovic
I am desperate to see these two young German’s do well as they are both exciting, charismatic and fun players to watch and are extremely talented to boot. Goerges has proved herself to be a talented clay court player reaching the quarters in Charleston, the semis in Madrid, winning in Stuttgart and beating World Number 1 Wozniacki twice in the process. She also has the advantage of being in what I think is the easier half of the draw but that said she will probably have to beat the likes of last year’s finalist Stosur, World Number 3 Zvonareva and defending champion Schiavone if she wants to make the final. Whilst I don’t fancy Petkovic as strongly, if she plays her best tennis I do not think it is beyond her to reach the quarter-finals but I think Sharapova could well prove too much. I have a real soft spot for Petkovic though as she is such a likeable character so I want her to do well.

Stosur
Last year’s finalist has had a fairly hit and miss season going out in the 3rd round of the Australian Open to Kvitova and failing to make the quarter-finals at either Indian Wells or Miami. She has picked it up on the clay though reaching the semis in Stuttgart and being runner up in Rome where she lost to Sharapova. Sadly she was ill when she played in the Rome final so it was hard to judge whether she could have beaten the Russian if she was at full strength, my inclination is to say she would have certainly put up an incredible fight. Stosur’s in the top half of the draw but will face a tough third round match against either experienced Argentine Dulko or Pironkova then a potential 4th round re-match of the Stuttgart semi that she lost against Goerges. I think if she can get through that she will be in the final.

Others
I know, I know, I haven’t even mentioned the World Number 1 Wozniacki despite her winning Brussels this week. I just think she looks vulnerable against the best clay courters and I can see her falling at the quarters if not sooner. I’m aware that I’ve also overlooked the defending champion Schiavone and whilst there’s the possibility she could pull it out the bag and repeat last year’s success I haven’t seen anything from her that suggests she will. And whilst I’m desperate to see Zvonareva pick up a Grand Slam title I don’t think the French Open is likely to be it because there are better clay court players out there and she has also seemed a little inconsistent this season.

Men
Whilst many tennis fans are saying the race for the Coupe des Mousquetaires is one featuring only two horses I think that is a very simplistic assumption. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, Djokovic and Nadal are the men to beat but to claim they’re the only two in with a shot overlooks far too many great players.

Nadal
I really don’t know if I need to state the case for Nadal being a contender as the numbers speak for themselves. With a .924 index rating on a clay and a 38-1 winning record at the French Open it is easy to see why people consider him the King of Clay and Roland Garros the capital of his kingdom, but for the first time we’re entering the tournament with people seriously questioning his chances of retaining the title. With back-to-back clay court defeats to Djokovic there have been doubts cast over the Spanish Master’s supremacy and even he has called Djokovic the favourite for the French. There’s no question about it, he looked seriously frustrated during the Rome final and seemed at a loss as to how to beat the Serb – the normally unshakeable fighter was riled. Despite this I strongly believe that this time in a fortnight I will be watching Nadal raise his most familiar of trophies for the sixth time and there’s two main reasons for this. 1.) He’s had a week off – yes, I know, so has Djokovic but I believe Nadal needed the last seven days far more than he did. Even though the World Number 2 was physically drained from his constant winning streak he was mentally on a high, in an extremely good frame of mind and had gained some landslide-like momentum. Nadal on the other hand looked emotionally exhausted, was struck down with a virus in Rome and generally seemed to need some time to rethink his strategy. He’s now had a week to compose himself, talk tactics with his camp and work on any slight flaws in his game – he’s apparently spent whole practice sessions just playing cross-court forehands. 2.) The tournament will win it for him. This probably seems an odd thing to say but I believe that because the matches are five sets, the French crowd adore him and RG has almost become his own private training ground that, in the very rare moments that he is weak, the tournament will pull him through. It’s no secret that Nadal is one of the most determined sportsmen around and he will cling onto his title with every tooth, nail and fibre in his body and when you’re facing him in that frame of mind, on a scorching Sunday afternoon, with everyone around you chanting his name you stand very little chance, even if you’re 45 matches unbeaten.

Djokovic
Obviously Djokovic is on an extraordinary run – you don’t reach 39 matches unbeaten, collect a Davis Cup, Australian Open victory and four Masters titles without playing sublime tennis; the question is how much longer it can continue. With Djokovic you get the feeling that a lot of the fuel behind his success is confidence and therefore with each win he takes another step further in front of the field. By the same measure though, a serious challenge to his run could really knock him for six and I think this challenge is lying in wait in round three in the shape of a 6ft 6′ Argentine. One of the most eagerly anticipated parts of Friday’s tournament draw was the moment that Juan Martin Del Potro’s name was picked out because, whilst he is only seeded 25 as a result of his long-term absence from the tour through injury, he is considered to be one of the biggest threats to both Nadal and Djokovic. JMDP, the 2009 US Open Champion, has extremely big ground strokes, a large wingspan and a clay court title under his belt already this season so he is not the sort of player you want to meet early on. Unfortunately for the Serb, Del Potro popped up as a potential third round opposition for him which means that Djokovic will face a man of top 10 calibre within the first week. If the match up does occur it will be a tantalising one that will offer firm evidence of whether the World Number Two is up to the job of dethroning Nadal. Aside from JMDP, Djokovic does still have a fairly tricky draw starting with talented youngster De Bakker, he also has home favourites Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet, dangerous clay court specialists Almagro and Ferrer (to name just two of several) and Federer in his half. My head says Djokovic will be in the final, my heart says it will be an all Spanish affair with Ferrer causing an upset in the semis.

Ferrer
So I’ve kind of already given away my prediction for Daveeeeed (or David as he’s more commonly known) by saying he could well defeat Djokovic but let me explain why. Outside of the tennis world he is a relative unknown but he is someone who warrants a great deal of respect. In most eras he would probably be held up as one of the best clay court players around but in the reign of his compatriot Nadal he has largely slipped under the radar despite having reached a career high of Number 4 in the World, won two titles this year and been runner up twice in 2011 (l. to Nadal both times). The diminutive World Number 7 (he is only 5’9) has the ability to really get under an opposition’s skin and grind them down and I think he will do this against Djokovic. The best he has achieved at Roland Garros in the past is quarter-finals but I have a real gut feeling that this could be his year. I can’t see him defeating Nadal but anything less than semis will be a surprise in my eyes.

Soderling
Twice French Open finalist, the only person to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros and an unbeaten week at the World Team Championship make the Swede a significant contender. Whilst my backing of Ferrer may surprise some people I think few people would argue that Soderling poses a real threat to Nadal in their quarter of the draw. I find the World Number 5 to be one of the most difficult players to read on the ATP Tour and therefore his matches are tough to predict but he has time and again shown that he has a clay court game to match the best of them. Nadal beat him in last year’s final, knocked him out in the first round in 2006 and  I think it is likely that Soderling will once again fall at the hands of the Spaniard but I think this year he will put up a far greater fight.

Murray
Murray is comparable to Sharapova in the fact that a fortnight ago I would have written him off but his performance in Rome has forced me to rethink matters. During his semi-final last week Murray showed that Djokovic was fallible and looked closer to beating him than anyone else has all year, and perhaps more importantly than that he showed that he has regained his hunger and belief. There are few more awkward sights in tennis than seeing a player implode on court and after the Australian Open it felt like we were subjected to that several times with Murray but it seems the corner has been turned. People often forget that the Scot spent a sizeable part of his tennis upbringing in Spain and therefore has a solid clay court game, and, whilst he is still better on hard, he can make life very difficult for his opponents on the red stuff. On the face of it Murray’s draw may seem fairly easy to people and whilst he has probably the easiest draw of all the top 10 players (his first two matches are against qualifiers) he will still have to overcome some very tricky players to make the semis including Almagro, Raonic and Dolgopolov. I think Almagro in the quarters is the only one who will pose a serious challenge to him but then there’s good ol’ Rafa in the semis and Murray will have to play as he did in the last two sets against Djokovic if he wants to stand a chance of reaching his fourth Grand Slam final. I can’t see Murray winning this but I will put on record now that I have complete belief that he will win a Grand Slam title (possibly several) but I think the first is likely to come on hard court.

Del Potro
As with Ferrer, I’ve already kind of covered JMDP but I’ll elaborate on a few points. The Argentine’s success is very dependent on his fitness as this is his first tournament back after having withdrawn from his Madrid match against Nadal with a muscle tear. It is hard to know whether he is healthy enough to play but my inclination is that he is, when you’ve previously had a year out through injury you don’t take risks when it comes to your body. His match fitness is another matter though as he hasn’t played a five set match since the 2010 Australian Open and he won’t be able to ease himself in gently as he is facing big serving Ivo Karlovic in the first match (a draw that I imagine neither of them wanted). In his last appearance at Roland Garros in 2009 he made the semi-finals where he lost to eventual champion Roger Federer so he can play on clay. As I said I really think he could push Djokovic, especially as it is fairly early on in the tournament and he will still be relatively fresh but if he does win it will be a hard fought victory and I doubt he’ll be able to muster the strength to defeat his likely next opponent, Madrid semi-finalist Bellucci.

Almagro
If there’s any man who comes near to Djokovic for success rates this year it is Almagro who has already notched up three titles , been runner up once and semi-finalist twice this year. He is fresh off the back of his success in Nice and has a fairly easy start to the tournament playing a qualifier so momentum should be in his favour. He is a very talented clay court player who reached the quarter-finals at last year’s French Open (l. Nadal). Whilst he has the form I do question his ability to win the big matches and I think if Murray’s playing well a quarter-final victory against him may be a step to far. Whatever happens he is certainly a very dangerous outsider.

The others
The only significant player that I haven’t mentioned is Federer and that’s because aside from taking a set off Nadal in Madrid he has shown very little to convince me that he’s a serious contender. I have said before that I am very firmly in the ‘never write Fed off’ camp because he is such a sublime player that he has the ability to pull almost anything out of the bag but I believe that on the clay courts of Roland Garros is the last place he will do this. Federer is at his most uncomfortable on clay and unfortunately for him there are great players out there who relish the opportunity to get coated on the dirt. For Federer to win another French Open title I think he needs to rely on others playing badly and with so many good players in the mix that is not going to happen. Gasquet and Monfils are probably the only other two worth a nod but whilst they both have the game to win their home slam I cannot see either of them doing it. They are both a little too unpredictable (Monfils especially) and for either of them to string together seven victories against a strong field is a major ask, especially as they will probably both face extremely tough fourth round matches with Gasquet possibly playing either Djokovic or JMDP and Monfils most likely confronted with Ferrer.

Bits and bobs

  • Spare a thought for John Isner. Less than a month ago the American skyscraper of a man would have been seeded for French Open but after first and second round exits in Madrid and Rome he dropped to 39 in the rankings meaning he went in the main draw without any protection, and now he has to face Nadal in the first round. If you’re in Paris on Tuesday and hear a large crash it’ll be the big man being felled.
  • One issue that I haven’t addressed is the change in balls at the French Open; in the past they’ve used the heavier, slower Dunlop balls whereas this year they have switched to Babolat which are reportedly a lot quicker. Whilst the players have had the opportunity to practice with the new balls they could still play a deciding role in close matches, especially those where a change of balls comes at a crucial moment.
  • If you want to read anyone else’s opinions on the runners and riders for the French Open I suggest you look at these articles by Matt Cronin of @tennisreporters. Women’s and Men’s.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »