When Rafael Nadal stepped onto Centre Court for his semi-final against Andy Murray he did so in the knowledge that come Monday he would no-longer be World Number One, having just seen Djokovic secure a victory that took him to the top spot. It is hard to know whether it was this news or Murray’s sensational start to the match that caused the Spaniard to drop the first set but one thing’s for sure, he was not willing to lose both his ranking and Wimbledon title in the same day.
Right from the start of Murray v Nadal the defending champion looked strangely nervous and ill-at-ease whilst the Brit was comfortably going for his shots and absorbing whatever was thrown at him; an approach that quickly brought success as he notched up the first set after 54 minutes. Up on The Hill the atmosphere was an odd mix of electric excitement and nervous restraint, as people who had raced for prime viewing spots earlier in the day started to contemplate the prospect of having a hometown hero in the final. Wedged between two picnic tables but feeling utter elation at the thought of potentially seeing a Brit in the Wimbledon final, I urged, cheered and bellowed support at the big screen along with thousand of fellow fans. If the sheer weight of collective wanting could carry someone to success Murray would have reached the final the moment he stepped on court. Unfortunately it was not enough, in the same way that Murray’s game was not enough, because in the fifth game of the second set Nadal broke which sparked the turnaround that led to a four-set victory for the Spaniard. Whilst one break cannot gain you a victory this one seemed to change the entire momentum of the match; Nadal’s confidence rose and he began to play his trademark destructive tennis, Murray’s first serve percentage dropped below 50 per cent and it quickly became clear he was going to stick to his original risky strategy – even though it wasn’t working. In reports afterwards people kept citing a few key points that lost Murray the match, and yes, there were some crucial moments which signalled defeat, but even if he had won those I still think he would have lost. Whereas it was Nadal looked uncomfortable in the first set, the Scot now seemed far from his usual self. Although Murray is widely criticised for his mid-match moans and groans they are part of his game and they do seem to aid him but in the semi he was strangely quiet, in the final three sets he was missing returns that are usually his bread and butter, and most of all he lacked variety. I like to watch Murray because he builds points very cunningly, steadily luring in his opponent before trapping them with a sensationally pacey down the line or a sneaky drop-shot but in this match he repeatedly played cross-court to Nadal’s backhand, waiting for him to make a mistake that unsurprisingly did not come.
I’ll be entirely truthful; Murray’s defeat hit me hard. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to attend a Wimbledon final that featured a Brit, I was sad because I honestly believed he was playing well
enough to win it and I was upset to see him so disheartened. Most of all though I was angry because I knew that all of the doubters, who watch tennis once or twice a year, would use his defeat as yet more evidence for their claims that he’s a choker and an underachiever. I had desperately wanted Murray to succeed to prove them all wrong and show that he is a superbly gifted player who on his day can overcome Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Please, if you are an occasional tennis fan and you read this blog, believe me when I say Murray is a phenomenal player and he has achieved some stunning victories in his career and is achingly close to a major success.
One other thing I wanted to mention in this entry is that if you didn’t see any of the Tsonga v Djokovic semi-final I urge you to try and catch some of the highlights because it is one of the most entertaining matches I’ve watched in a long time; two superb athletes giving it their acrobatic all!
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Posted in Sport, Tennis, Uncategorized, tagged Centre Court, Djokovic, federer, Lopez, murray, Nadal, Tsonga, Wimbledon on June 30, 2011|
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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.
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