Sunday, 8 July 2012

Murray's Moment or Federer's History?

76 years of hurt about to be broken? The best final since Fedal in 2008? Federer chasing history? 

Since Roger Federer and Andy Murray made it through their respective semi's on Friday, much has been made of the pressure on both men to lift the treasure trophy this Sunday afternoon.
Federer at 30, and having not won a grand slam title in over 2 years, faces perhaps the toughest task of his career. On the line, a return to the number one ranking and a record advancing 17th grand slam prize pushing him towards Sampras' record of weeks atop the world rankings. A win for Roger also secures him the top section of the draw for the Olympic Games, his main priority for the 2012 season, importantly meaning to win that title he will feasibly only have to play ONE of Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal to win that gold medal.

Meanwhile, Murray carries British hopes on his shoulders. No stranger to grand slam finals, (he's contested another 3 thus far) Murray has yet to play a final in his home country on the famous Centre Court, carrying pressure like no other match in his career to date. The 25 year old Murray is seen by many as being long overdue a major prize, and the ageing Federer would seem to be his best chance to date, of reaching the pinnacle of the sport for the very first time. Murray's 8-7 record against the Swiss also bodes well for the Scot's chances in the match, as he knows that he can beat Federer if he plays to his best level.

The worry for Murray and his fans today is that he realises where he is, what he's doing, and the history he could make. After all, 2 of Murray's 3 previous major losses came against the mighty Federer, who importantly knows how to get it done in major finals on centre court, and against the player he faces today in Murray.

In terms of match up, as the head to head shows, the two are very evenly matched, with Federer's explosive attacking game often being negated by Murray's fierce counterpunching, whilst other times Murray is too defensive for the dynamic all court style of the former 6 time winner at SW19. 
On grass, (a surface they've never met on before) both will look to vary their game mixing their strike backhands with a few deft slices, and both will look to play some of their points up at the net, especially Federer who will look to play first strike tennis and not enter into too many long rallies with the consistent Scot.
Whilst the grass is by no means as quick as it was back in the 90's, it still favours the more attacking style of Federer, and should he be able to execute by keeping his errors down, i get the feeling that Murray will have to step out of his comfort zone to deal with Roger's game today.

Finally, nerves must come into the equation of this match not just for Murray, but for Federer as well. The history on the line for both men means that it will be difficult for both men to play their best tennis, but i thought that before Fedal in 2008 and we got the best match of all time. Good luck to both men :)

Prediction Federer bts Murray- 6-3, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2


Friday, 6 July 2012

Wimbledon Men's Semi's Preview

As the 2012 Wimbledon championhsips reach their conclusion, we see three familiar faces in the last 4, and one grass court supremo who proved himself on the surface by reaching the same stage here last year. Federer, Djokovic and Murray are no strangers to the semi's here with over 12 between the three, whilst Tsonga's exploits on grass in the last couple of years suggest that we could be in for the most exciting semi-finals ever.

Neither match up's will pose many new questions to the players. Federer and Djokovic have faced off a mammoth 27 times already, whilst Tsonga and Murray have met 6 times, importantly with 2 wins for Murray on the grass, but there are some slight differences that will add some extra spice to today's match up's.

First Semi- Roger Federer (3) vs (1) Novak Djokovic

History and records are on the line once again for Roger Federer in this match up. A win over Djokovic puts his much discussed quest to return to number one in his own hands, giving him the possibility to overtake Sampras for most weeks at the top of the pile and claim another record that strengthens his claim for GOAT.

Another tangible in this match up will be the grass factor. Federer as the former 6 time champion here will fancy his chances in a completely new surface match-up, without forgetting that Djokovic won here last year, and is by no means a rookie on the surface.
In terms of how the surface might affect the match up, the lower bounce on grass will reward the more creative side of Federer's game. No doubt he'll hope to bring Djokovic in with low slices and pass him at the net, a tactic he used to great effect earlier in his rivalry with the young Serb. For Djokovic, he'll be best served to be consistent from the baseline and drag Federer into the longer rallies which will benefit his punishing game and draw Federer into overhitting. 

Talent wise, both are two of the best players of all time, so for sure the match will be decided by one or two moments. Djokovic goes in favourite due to his recent grand slam head to head with Roger, and for the ageing Federer to win you would think he needs a good start and preferably the first set to build a head of steam.

The final wildcard in Federer's favour is the glorious British summer. The forecast for today is for the roof to be closed, rendering the match an indoor match, bringing into play Federer's sublime indoor career record that includes over 20 titles. Indoor's the consistent conditions allow Federer greater margin and more comfort on his backhand which has been prone to shanks in windy conditions. 

Prediction: Djokovic in five sets. 3-6, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5

Second Semi- Andy Murray (4) vs (5) Jo- Wilfried- Tsonga

Home favourite Andy Murray see's his best chance to reach a final since 2009, as he faces the charismatic Frenchman Jo- Tsonga, a fellow semi-finalist yet to make a final on the lawns on SW19. \

The British hopeful owns a 5-1 positive h2h record against Tsonga with 2 of his wins coming on grass, at Wimbledon in the quarters in 2010, and in last year's Queens Club final. Undoubtedly however the Tsonga of 2012 is a whole new prospect. His French Open quarter final performance on considerably his worst surface shows just what good form he is in, even taking Djokovic the distance with a combination of big serves and blistering forehands, tactics further rewarded on the grass courts.
His form over the fortnight has shown no signs of dipping from the Roland Garros days, with especially his serve firing on all cylinders, going unbroken in his first four matches.  

Murray's draw saw many worrying that he might not even make the second week, but a combination of awesome returning and tenacious defense has seen him fight his way past the likes of Davydenko, Karlovic, Baghdatis, Cilic and Ferrer, by far the most impressive route of the four semi-finalists. This match practice should stand him in good stead, particularly to deal with the powerful serve and main weapon of the frenchman. 

A potential indoor match probably see's this match becoming a throwback serve fest to the days of Sampras and Ivanisevic. The stabilised conditions have favoured Murray in his matches, but both he and Tsonga will be serving bombs, and i fancy the match includes a couple of tiebreaks in a four set thriller.

Prediction: Murray in five sets. 6-7, 6-4,  6-4, 2-6, 7-9 


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Wimbledon Men's Preview 2012

In my Women's prediction thread, i noted how the WTA had finally refound a degree of consistency and stability at the top of the game, yet my predictions for the men's draw will buck those same trends which have been a feature of the ATP since the rise of Fedal and then the emergence of Djokovic, by making what some might call "crazy" decisions.

Irrelevant of the draw, the history books beckon of any of the top 3 manage to win the Wimbledon title. Djokovic enters Federer like dominace at the fast majors with a win here, whilst the Spaniard Nadal does the RG/Wimbledon double thrice, not bad for a "clay courter". The real history though lies with Federer ( nearly every win see's him breaking some sort of record) should he win, the number one ranking is his again tieing Sampras for most weeks, another major lengthens his lead to 17, six over Nadal at 11, and strengthens his argument for GOAT and another year end no.1 finish.

To see any hope for players outside of the top 3 HAS to be dependant on the draw, so lets take a look and see what upsets we might see over the next 2 weeks at SW19:

Top Half

First Quarter- Djokovic is on a 9 consecutive SF streak, and bar big hitting Tomas Berdych in the quaterfinal, his road to the semi's is relatively block free. Former no.1 Ferrero is a tough opening match, but Novak will have too much in the tank over five sets for the 32 year old Spaniard. Towards the Czech's end, Gasquet looms as a possible candidate to spring an upset and make the Djokovic QF, but the safe money is on Berdych who often saves his best tennis for the quicker lawns of the All England Club. Pick of the first rounds are the top seeds matches. Djoko/Ferrero and the battle of the ball bashers Gulbis/Berdych.

Winner - Novak Djokovic

Second Quarter-  6 time champion Roger Federer has the easiest opening round on paper against clay favoring Spaniard Ramos, Llodra is too old to challange RF in round 2, so Muller could be his shock in the third. Simon on grass is a nice fourth round, opening up a potential QF with Tipsarevic. The 2 ranked Serb will have to make it through Nalbandian in his opening match, and potentially Isner in the round of 16 to get there, and nothing tells me he should be banked on to get through those tough ties. Isner/Mahut do battle again in the second round, and lets hope they finish more in the vein of last year rather than the 2010 marathon.

Winner - Federer ( over Nalbandian in a turn back the clocks moment)

Bottom Half

Third Quarter- British hopeful Murray leads the 3rd Quarter, looking to make it one better than his last 3 efforts and make his first SW19 final. Unfortunately for him, getting there will be a nightmare. Davydenko in the first will be easier than most expect but 3 consecutive big servers in Karlovic, Anderson and Raonic is too much of a shootfest for fans to be confident. Raonic will be that guy. On the other side of the quarter, Del Potro and Ferrer are the highest seeds, but unsuited to the grass. Roddick could swoop in for the dream run to the semi's where it's anyones ball game.

Winner- Andy Roddick

Fourth Quarter- Nadal once again takes the uncomfortable position at the bottom of the draw, and would have much preferred Djokovic's route to the final. He faces an awkward looking third round with Haas or Kolschreiber both of whom performed strongly in Halle last week. Things start looking better after that, but Lopez serving well on grass isn't a formality either. A Tsonga/Hewitt opening round will test the charismatic frenchmans injured thumb, whilst Melzer and Wawrinka are other tricky customers in his section. Tsonga's efforts last year in making the semi's make him my favourite for this section of the draw (fitness dependant), with Nadal suffering a rare first week loss to Haas or Kolschreiber in R3.

Winner- Jo Wilfried Tsonga

Semi Finals

Federer bts Djokovic in a high quality four set match reminiscent of their RG encounter in 2011
Tsonga bts Roddick in a five set serve fest, heartbreak for A-Rod who blows his last shot at a Wimbledon title.


Federer avenges his loss to Tsonga by winning a four set tussle in the final, and recapturing the no.1 ranking once again. A familiar sight?


Wimbledon Women's Preview 2012

Looking ahead to the womens singles at Wimbledon this year, and for the first time since 2010 and Serena, the WTA looks a lot more settled and stabilised, with a successful and proven number one star in the shape of Maria Sharapova. That combined with the continued steady play of other front runners like Azarenka and Kvitova, and the top of the womens game looks as solid as it has been in the last four or five years.

Heading into SW19 this stability takes on an added meaning, with this particular event having been dominated by very few women, 2 women in particular going by the names of Venus and Serena. Between them, the sisters have been involved in 10 of the last 12 finals, winning 9 titles, 5 for Venus and 4 for little sister. The only other previous champions in this years field are last years winner Kvitova, and Sharapova who's 2004 win at 17 kickstarted her career, which has now come full circle back to number 1 in time for the event where it all started.
Looking past these 4 women, obviously Azarenka can't be counted out in what looks to be her career season to date, whilst grass court lovers Bartoli and Pironkova could be the dark horses for a place in the final.

Predictions based on grass court history are all well and good, but as we all know the draw can and has curtailed many dream finals (Sharapova, Serena anyone?) and meant that the unexpected does happen, even at one of the most consistently predictable events. Looking at it , and one quarter could be anyone's:

Top Half

First Quater- Unless Lisicki recaptures her form from the grass last year, Sharapova's road to the quarters looks relatively comfortable, and i expect her to defy the possible bannana skin R2 by beating Venus Williams slayer Tsvetana Pironkova in 2 comfortable sets. Past that, Kerber looks good to meet her as the seeded quartefinalist. I expect Clijsters to fight hard, but that it's too soon for her to beat Kerber on her worst surface. Floaters in this part of the draw are Mchale who's had some big wins this year, and Makarova who comes alive on grass beating Kvitova in Eastbourne last week, after winning that title back in 2010.

Winner- Maria Sharapova

Second Quarter- Every slam throws up that crazy quarter that nobody would like to call, but here's my shot at it. Venus Williams is the 5 time champ, but her fatigue inducing disease makes her too unpredictable to back, whilst Stosur as one of the top seeds in this section is about as home on grass as she would be in the Siberian Winter. The solid Radwanska is the highest seed but has flattered to deceive at the majors and not always reproduced her winning tournament tennis on the biggest stage. Li Na certainly has the game for grass, and might be freed from the shackled of being French open champion. Look for her to make a deep run this fortnight. Interesting match up's see A-Rad face Venus in R2 again, whilst Stosur/Navarro could make it a triple of first round losses for the unlucky Aussie.

Winner- Li Na

Bottom Half

Third Quarter- The Serena quarter looks good for the four time former champ until a possible Kvitova QF which everyone will hope materialises. After her R1 loss at Paris, the American must surely be motivated to lay down the gauntlet on the grass as she has so many times before, and i'd wager that until Kvitova nobody will stop her. Errani in the fourth round would be a struggle on clay, but Williams game will be far too big for the diminutive Italian on the grass, whilst Kvitova might struggle but should get by flat hitter Cibulkova at the same stage.

Winner- Serena Williams (but her 3 set match with Kvitova in the quarters will be match of the tournament)

Fourth Quarter- Many interesting names sit in the last quarter, with Woznaicki, Bartoli and Vika sitting above the likes of Kuznetsova and Ivanovic who could realistically do some damage on the lawns. Wozniacki doesn't have the firepower and aggression for grass, and i think she'll fall to Sveta in R3. Vinci could trick her way past Bartoli in the 3rd round, but if Marion escapes her then she'll do enough to get to the quarters. Facing her there, well probably Vika who has a clear run to the last 16 where it would take a consistent Ivanovic to knock her off, and we haven't seen that in forever. There, i get a feeling Bartoli makes it a match, but is beaten by Vika's superior movement and clutch play.

Winner- Victoria Azarenka

Semi Finals

Sharapova bts Na
Williams bts Azarenka

Dream Final: Williams bts Sharapova 6-3, 7-5

So my guess is that this familiar sight will greet us at the end of another Wimbledon campaign. Predictable? Perhaps, but i expect it to be one hell of a ride to get here!

Friday, 15 June 2012

King Murray falters at Queens

The ever impressive Nicholas Mahut added another big scalp to his list of victims on a grass court, by beating British favourite Andy Murray in the Scots first round, and only pre Wimbledon tune-up at Queens club.

The 30 year old Frenchman best know for his epic match on the grass with Isner a couple of years ago, played tennis defying his advanced years, leaping around the court, and bounding to the net, playing a brand of tennis reminiscent of Borg and Mcenroe from years gone by. Probably the trickiest kind of player Murray could have drawn for his first grass match since 2011, Mahut's big serve and crispy volleys were too tough to handle and the 2007 finalist ultimately progressed over the top seed in a tiebreak third set. 

With the hopes of a nation once again resting solely on his shoulders for another year at SW19, Murray now has to go into his home grand slam with only one competitive grass court match, surely not ideal preparation for a charge towards winning his first major. After the match, Murray himself was quick to point out that Djokovic and others are heading into Wimbledon light, and that his 2012 schedule thus far means he's hardly been short of tennis, so who knows maybe an early loss at Queens will be just the tonic he needs to go into Wimbledon refreshed and ready for glory. Something tells me that the British press will fail to see that light at the end of the tunnel!

Better news for Murray this week, was that he was by no means the only seed to bow out early, with both Tsonga and Tipsarevic losing their opening matches to much lower ranked opponents. Both the number 2 and 3 seeds were upset in three close sets, emphasizing the beauty of the grass court swing particularly in the best of 3 format. The quick surface, low bounce and specialist players mean shock defeats are much more likely than on a more predictable surface like hard courts. All 3 players come from the French having made the fourth round or better, and have had considerably less time to get their grass court feet under them than some of their opponents this week. 

Notable names still left in the draw include 2010 champion Sam Querrey, David Nalbandian the Wimbledon finalist 10 long years ago, and perrenial French underachiever Julien Bennateau. My money is on Nalbandian to sneak out another title and potentially turn that momentum into a decent result at SW19.

Here's a look at the grass court events at Queens, including Mahut/Murray.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ten predictions for the Grass Court Season!

Exams and end of Uni celebrations have meant this blog has been inactive for much too long. Revision, festivals, and other such activities barely allowed me time to watch the action at Roland Garros, much less blog about it, but now as my long British Summer begins, so again does my blog, just in time for (in my opinion) the best tournament of the year- Wimbledon !

Speaking of the French, what a topsy turvy, up and down tournament that was. On the woman's side, the form player of the Clay swing Maria Sharapova held firm to capture her fourth slam and complete the career set, but  Azarenka, Na and both Williams sisters disappointed , in what has become a remarkably consistent trend for top players in the womens game in recent years. Top marks for Sharapova though. It's been no secret that the last few years have been tough for her both on the injury, and confidence front, but it's great to see a truly hard working woman back at the top of her sport.

As almost everyone expected Rafa Nadal was nigh on impossible to stop in his quest for a record breaking 7th French title, well except for a brief collapse in set 3 against Djokovic, but we'll let him off with a few nerves against his 2011 nemesis. Barring Rafa's miraculous clay consistency, the remaining memebers of "the big 4" played their worst majors in a long time. Both Djokovic and Federer lost sets left right and centre before the quarters, never usually making a habit of that in the majors, whilst Murray after reaching the semi's last year went out rather flatly in four sets to Ferrer. Top marks in this however for the insurmountable Rafa, and the returning American Brian Baker who looked like he belonged on the court Phillipe Chatrier.

Now, after a long stretch of tournaments on all sorts of different colours of clay, we reach the grass season, which i'm sure we all hope isn't suddenly played on pink turf! Such a short period of the season, and such a specialist surface usually plays out in a very predictable fashion, so here's my (educated) stab at what's in store over the next few weeks:

1) The winner of the mens single's title at Wimbledon 2012 will DEFINATELY be one of either Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer. (sorry Andy Murray)
2) The womens singles champion will NOT be a first time major winner.
3) However the winner will DEFINATELY NOT be Samantha Stosur, Fran Schiavone, Ana Ivanovic, Sveta Kuznetsova, or the world no.1 Azarenka!
4) Nicolas Mahut will invariably draw John Isner.
5) Venus and Serena will be on the same side of the draw for the first time since 2005.
6) Neither the mens winner nor the womans winner will repeat their victory at the Olympics, 3 weeks after Wimbledon ends.
7) Laura Robson will get to the third round in the womans main draw.
8) At least one whole day at this years Championships will be lost to rain.
9) The womans singles champion will be four time former champ Serena Williams.
10) The mens singles champion will be Novak Djokovic.

So there we have it, a few thoughts about the grass season ahead, not really touching on the Olympics, which is being saved for a special after Wimbledon. Hope you've all enjoyed the blog, nice to be back blogging, and bring on the grass!


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Blue Clay- Here to stay or go away?

This weeks Mutua Madrilena open is special for a few reasons. Firstly, and somewhat contentiously the joint event for both men and women on the ATP and WTA tours will be offering more prize money for the ladies, secondly the Caja Magica (the venue for the event) is the only tournament in Europe in which the roofed stadium houses 3 courts, all which can offer play in a rain delay. However, these interesting but somewhat irrelevant stats pale into insignificance when you realise that this Madrid Open will be the first ever clay court event to be played on Blue Clay.

Tournament owner and former professional Ion Tiriac has always been known to shake things up, least we should forget his controversial introduction of model ballboys and girls that garnered so much attention back in 2008. This time, he says the move to a more 'viewer and player friendly" blue clay will enhance the experience for tv viewers who might have struggled to make out the ball before, and won't truly hinder the players. Indeed Tiriac had figures at the ready saying his expert team of court analysists believe that the visibilty will be over 20% better for those watching, and that it's just a happy coincidence that the blue matches that of Mutua Madrilena the premier sponsor of the event.
Naturally, with change comes a variety of different opinions. Clay stalwart and hardly an acrimonious figure, Rafael Nadal is one of a few players to already have spoken out against the move saying,   "The court is more slippery than usual, because I do not know if you have too little clay, it's hard underneath it, and [maybe] if you paint it blue its more slippery ... I am not a technician, but I've noticed it. There are times when the court is soft, but that’s a less worrisome problem." Nadal, born Majorcan also echoed a Federer like argument, pointing out that the clay season and Roland Garros has always been played on red/orange clay suggesting that the blue is somewhat unnatural.
Whilst a cynic might argue that Nadal's beef with the change is due to his previous clay success, and a dislike for a potentially faster and more slippery surface particularly when playing against monster hitters like Isner and Del Potro, he is not the only player to argue against the blue. Raonic, no pusher, and a player that would perhaps benefit from the new surface, tweeted about the slippery nature of what he and many others have now deemed "Smurf Clay".

However, what has to be remembered in the face of much criticism and skepticism, is that this is hardly the first big radical shake up in tennis in recent memory. Hawk eye received a lot of negative press about the potential for time wasting, slow down the game, usurping the umpire- i could go on- but has been an unanimous success. A short 7 years ago, and both the Australian and the US Opens were played on green surfaces, but now both use different shades of blue, and undoubtedly provide a clearer more vivid picture for both spectators and players. Despite the comfort and tradition the red clay provides, the manufacturing process that the courts undergo, involves applying a dye to the court whether it's blue or orange, so the difference between the actual playing surface of 2012 and 2011 is minimal at best.

Yesterdays start of play shed some interesting light on how the surface will play differently, and how this will affect the players. 3 of the marquee matches on the Manolo Santana centre court went 3 sets and over 2 and a half hours possibly indicating a variation in how the court plays as the match develops. Indeed Venus Williams after her marathon win told reporters that "she had to remember she was on a clay court (sic)", referring to the combination of the colour change, and the slightly faster surface. Another troubling development has been the ankle injury to Wozniacki today during her gutsy win over Pervak. The Dane is unsure of whether she'll be able to continue in the tournament, but will seek doctors advice before making a final decision tommorow. So far, one injury can be attributed to rotten bad luck, but by this time next week should there have been any more then we may just be celebrating the downfall of Tiriac's blue dream and assigning it to the history books. There's certainly a few players who hope so.