Friday, 30 December 2011

That was 2011 so how about 2012?

Clearly we have witnessed the year of Novak Djokovic - 3 Grand Slam titles, a memorable finish in the French Open semis, plus Masters wins left right and centre.  Pleasing towards the end of the year though was the rise of Roger Federer from a predicted career demise into a once more serious threat.  Better still for the future of men's tennis was the continual improvement and greater consistency of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the rise of another Serbian player Janko Tipsarevic into the top ten, and the finish to 2011 by David Ferrer to match his start.  Youngsters such as Tomic and Raonic have the opportunity to make further inroads into the upper echelon of the game in the upcoming season.
The signs of wear and tear on Rafa near the end of 2011 are of concern, but he has had this before yet managed to put in sensational periods of the most exhilarating tennis, so beware him in 2012, and not just on the clay (but especially the clay)  The Davis Cup was won by Spain, and one of the losing team will be a player to watch in 2012 - Juan Martin Del Potro could have been anything following his 2009 US Open victory but injury thwarted his progress.  Now he is well poised to leap into the top bracket again, and his best is an exciting brand of the game we love.

For the women, 2011 was fascinating not only due to the terrific standard of tennis but also the unpredictability - at the highest level we saw 4 different Grand Slam title winners, 3 of them debut champions.  In Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, we quite possibly have the next world number one, and a player with the craft to hang on to that mantle for some time.  I believe that with a major break through not far away Vika Azarenka has the game to be one of the most serious challengers to Petra.  Samantha Stosur worked hard in the second half of the year to finally realise the potential she had shown for a number of years with her US Open crown, and Li Na was simply wonderful in the the first part of the year, making the first 2 Grand Slam finals, capturing Roland Garros after pushing Kim Clijsters all the way in Melbourne.  Refreshing to see Sharapova fit for most of the year and able to finish where she deserves to be - amongst the top five in the end of year rankings.  I doubted we would see Serena back again, possibly at all, and certainly not to the level she displayed so quickly.  The game is that much greater for her presence.  Players who finished the year strongly included Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic, both with legitimate claims on regular top ten positions throughout the coming year.

Lead up events to the 2012 Australian Open are upon us and it is time for my dreaded early tips for the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  Mens Singles favourite should be the world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, but Roger Federer shapes as a significant threat.  The 2 may meet again in the semis, and if that happens my prediction is the semi winner wins the tournament, and it would be Novak in my humble opinion.  If however the 2 were to meet in the final then I feel that Djokovic may find it harder to overcome the Federer experience of 5 finals for 4 wins.  Ultimately I feel that he would overcome the difficulty, and therefore claim his 3rd Australian Open, and 3rd straight Grand Slam victory.

With the women it is harder to choose - Serena Williams will be seeded, but only high enough to guarantee a meeting in the fourth round with a top ten player - could be Stosur, Li Na, Zvonareva or even Sharapova - the draw will be horrid for someone.  Irrespective, if fit I back Serena to make it through that fourth round, and because of her record in Melbourne she is my selection to win the next 3 matches after that, and the title.  The dangers are Petra Kvitova and a fit Maria Sharapova, although I believe that Vika Azarenka has a serious chance this time, as too may Samantha Stosur should she handle the home town pressure and lower ranked early round opponents better than in previous years.

Can't wait for 16 January and the thrills in my home city, but all the attention for the moment is on the preliminaries - Brisbane, Auckland, Sydney and Hobart for the women, Brisbane, Sydney, Doha, Chennai and Auckland for the men.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

ATP Silly Season

It's as if November has decided to ignore all that happened before it in 2011, and serve up a series of results in Mens tennis which are not fulfilling the script for a fitting finale, especially for Novak Djokovic, who should only be remembered for his outstanding year.

Yes it is cool that the Swiss maestro is wielding his wand with vintage precision and power, effectively turning back the clock to his days of dominance.  However, Novak came out of the US Open with 3 Grand Slam titles for the year and only 2 match losses.  After losing a Davis Cup match to Del Potro, he has lost a semi final in Basel, and now gone down to Ferrer and Tipsarevic in successive round robin matches at the season ending Masters Cup in London.

Hopefully, the lasting memory of London will be the Wimbledon triumph and not this unfortunate postscript to a stellar period in the career of a great champion.

The brave but vanquished opponent in the terrific Wimbledon final was of course Rafa Nadal, who captured the only Grand Slam title of 2011 missed by Djokovic on the clay of Roland Garros.

His part in the Barclays circus has been embarrassing by the Spaniard's lofty standards - a struggling win against Mardy Fish followed by a thrashing at the hands of Federer, and another loss, this time to Tsonga.
Rafa has clearly been the second best player in the world this year but has failed to make the semis of what should be a show piece of the best in mens' tennis to finish off the year.

Andy Murray has put in some wonderful work and finally achieved some consistent results to overtake Roger Federer in the rankings - his injury during the Barclays forced him to retire from the event and now will seemingly be destined to slip back to 4 in the world.

I am happy that David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic are playing some top tennis - it potentially adds some badly needed depth to the elite level of the game.
Unless Ferrer beats Berdych, we will have the top 3 players in the world not even in the last 4 of the Masters Cup.

However I question how real that increased depth actually is.   Murray being injured is an unfortunate outcome and uncontrollable.  And the top 2 - Rafa and Novak - are far and away the best players of 2011, and all things being equal would be fighting off either for this title or at least comfortably at the semi final stage.

I am unhappy that this season seems to have taken its toll on Nadal and Djokovic - the demands of the schedule may have something to do with it, but I think the players themselves should take responsibility for their own welfare, and be smarter about working to the calendar.  Federer is a good example - he is firing better at the very end of the year.  Instead of throwing around threats of possible player strikes and other protest action, all players should just plan better and reduce the risk of wear and tear on their bodies.

I am prepared to dismiss any failures recorded against Nadal and Djokovic in the last part of this season as exceptions in a year which both players have given us tennis of a standard rarely seen by our generation, and if we are to believe older and wiser scribes, generations past.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Kvitova Star of 2011

Petra Kvitova Wimbledon Final 2011
The end of year WTA Championships have offered up some fresh faces as the semi finalists have now been decided.

Victoria Azarenka, despite her loss in the final round robin match, had already secured top billing in the White Group, and with her stunning recent form appears ready to take a major step in a huge event.
Never having been past a semi-final at Grand Slam level, the Belarussian should still have the firepower to dispense with Vera Zvonareva and proceed to the final in Istanbul.

Vera made it through as the second ranked player in the Red Group, only on a countback - one win and two losses hardly inspires thoughts of the Russian star advancing further.

If truth be told, the best performed player of the trio of single match winners was Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, whose comeback win against Zvonareva was full of merit, and the straight sets loss to Petra Kvitova should at least have been a three setter considering Radwanska led 5-1 in the first.

The other semi final is the marquee match of the two based on performances so far.  Czech Wimbledon champ Kvitova has been almost frightening in her attack on ball and opponent, and has yet to lose a set.
She faces reigning US Open champion Australian Samantha Stosur, who defeated her nemesis Maria Sharapova at the 10th attempt in straight sets, stumbled against the Azarenka freight train, but then destroyed hapless Li Na for the loss of a single game.  The Chinese girl failed to hold serve the entire match.

The winners of the last 2 Grand Slam titles fighting for a place in the final.  Kvitova must start the favourite, and head to head record gives her the advantage as well, leading that 2-0, including what was at the time a surprise victory when they met in the Australian Open earlier this year.  What Kvitova will not be able to do as easily in this match is to physically dominate.  The wins she has had have come against players without the power factor in their games - Wozniacki, Zvonareva and Radwanska.

As Stosur showed against Serena Williams in the US Open final, power is a major component of her game.  However, the Aussie will need to be sharp on her back hand wing, and continue displaying the variety of slice and spin that has complemented her forehand weapon and brought such success post Wimbledon this year.

The fact that Petra is a left hander throws another variable into the equation - Stosur's damaging off forehand will be collected by Kvitova's forehand in most instances, and the Australian needs to be wary of feeding this too much.

Overall, I believe that Stosur has the potential to win, but that Kvitova is the more likely given current form and how they match up against each other.

Kvitova would most likely face Azarenka in the final, and my prediction there is that Petra will win (repeating the semi final result at Wimbledon), and despite not finishing the year ranked number one, will have earned the title of Player of the Year.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Novak makes it a 2011 Triple

The final Grand Slam tournament for 2011 in terms of Mens Singles produced its share of upsets along the way - Ferrero's epic triumph over the 7th seed Monfils and Donald Young's wins, including that over 14th seed Wawrinka, propelling him into the second week to the loud approval of American fans.  The same fans in high spirits as both John Isner and Andy Roddick strode into the quarter finals, Roddick erasing some of the memories of a lousy year dogged by injury and erratic form.

However, in the wash up, we had a repeat of the Roland Garros semi final line-up - the top 4 seeds again displaying the significant gap between them and the rest of mens tennis.  Again like in Paris, it was the Novak and Roger semi that would capture the world's attention and for all the right reasons.  At the French, Federer performed at a level unseen (even from the great man himself) in mens tennis for many a Grand Slam tournament, and it took that level to be able to overcome Djokovic.

In New York this year, it appeared that Roger would thwart the Serbian's attempt to win his third major in 2011 after capturing the opening 2 sets in vintage style.  One of many changes to the Djokovic game has been his resiliance, and instead of accepting the trend of the match, he used his skill and tenacity to reshape the match and take it to another level, turning pressure straight back to the Swiss star.  Very quickly, this semi final had been tied up at 2 sets apiece and momentum clearly with Novak.

Roger came again and should have won the match - he had a break of serve and was leading 5-3 and 40-15 on serve.  One magical forehand blast from Djokovic to save a match point swung everything around once more, and this was the last momentum shift - Federer could give no more.  Novak had found a way home, and into the US Open final again.

Nadal meanwhile had a relatively straightforward ride into the big one after proving yet again that his game is more complete than an improved Andy Murray.

And so the world's top 2 ranked players fought out the final, as they had at Wimbledon a couple of months earlier.  Although the scoreline suggests a similar domination by Djokovic, this final was anything but dominated from game to game.  The 2 sets to love advantage was obtained through managing to outlast the Spaniard in the important points, but the competition for the points was intense and far tighter than on the grass at Wimbledon.

That Nadal fought back to win the third set tie breaker, after Djokovic had failed to serve out the match leading 6-5, was credit to the fighter within him, and also reward to the crowd who deserved a great final, considering the rain interruptions that the tournament had experienced.

Djokovic sustained a back injury that didn't seem to hamper his court movement but clearly impacted his serve - in days gone by he may have retired in a match given similar circumstances, but this year he worked within the constraints, slowed his serve markedly but placed it well enough to retain it as a strength - Nadal began to miss the lines and Djokovic continued to hit winners.  A four set winner, 3 majors for the year, and 10 titles altogether, including 6 finals wins over Nadal in the process.

The season from heaven may not have finished in calendar terms but the top players often assess their years following the US Open, and Novak could stop right here and claim his year to be one of the all time best.  Only the team glory of Davis Cup means as much to Djokovic, but individually he has proved to be the dominant force in the mens game for 2011. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My European Curse

Yes my recent tennis trip abroad has just now felt it's impact in the most negative manner at Flushing Meadows - at least for the successful female winners of the tournaments I attended.

Kvitova & Bartoli - finalists at Eastbourne
 but making early exits from US Open
I had the pleasure of witnessing Li Na triumphing at Roland Garros, and at the US Open she fell in the first round, a straight sets victim of Romania's Simona Halep, and a continuation of her poor form since the French Open.

Eastbourne was a grass court delight for France's Marion Bartoli, but the eighth seed was turned into French toast in round two by American Christina McHale, who is making a habit of taking top ranked players to the cleaners. (just ask the world's number one). Again the result achieved in the minimum required number of sets.

After Eastbourne it was more grass court action to provide my tennis fix at the All England Club, and one of the highest of highs came with the Wimbledon victory achieved by Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic.  New York did her no favours either, with another Romanian, Alexandra Dulgheru dispatching her without any bother in the first round shock of shocks.

However, the biggest surprise of all has been the fact that New York managed to host the US Open at all, and on time, considering Hurricane Irene had just belted the place.

Some things stay the same though, and Serena continues to shine in Arthur Ashe stadium.  As too does Federer, Nadal and the dominant player of the year Novak Djokovic.  Andy Murray is flexing his tennis muscle very early in proceedings, and home town hero, the other Andy, even won a match. Roddick has had a lousy year, and his position as American number one male player, previously without contention, has been lost to a resurgent Mardy Fish.  Fish opened the tournament and did it emphatically with a straight sets mauling of unfortunate German Tobias Kamke, leaking only 5 games in the process.

As much as I'd love to be in New York at the moment, I am enjoying the extensive coverage in the early hours in Australia, damaging though it tends to be to my sleeping pattern.  Speaking of Australians, we currently have one through to the second round of mens singles, Bernard Tomic, the youngest player in the draw.  Three women are still standing - 9th seed Samantha Stosur already into the third round, and Jarmila Gajdosova and Jelena Dokic with second round matches hoping to join her there.

The last Grand Slam tournament is alive and well, tempered by the absence through injury of defending champion and 3 time winner Kim Clijsters, and the withdrawal through illness of Robin Soderling and Venus Williams from the mens and womens draws respectively.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Serena Superior - as if there was a doubt!

Serena at Wimbledon this year
It is quite remarkable to consider how quickly Serena Williams has returned to the very top of women's tennis, even for her.  After a year off the circuit, two grass court tournaments away from home (one just outside of London a little bigger than the other) served her sufficiently for an all out assault once she jumped onto the hard courts back in the States.

It does not matter that this remarkable athlete was unseeded at Stanford, and required the sensible provisions of a protected ranking to enter the draw. (I think the organisers may have squeezed her in irrespective!).  The better player of the two outstanding tennis siblings thrives on meeting the top players early in a draw, as shown in 2007 when she dominated the Australian Open after returning from injury ranked 81 in the world.

Stanford 2011 was an absolute clinic as Serena established her credentials once again as the preeminent female tennis player on the planet when fit, and one of the top few sportswomen across the entire spectrum.  The victims included Wimbledon finalist Maria Sharapova, thrashed in the quarter final, Wimbledon semi finalist Sabine Lisicki for the loss of just 3 games in the semis, and Marion Bartoli in straight sets in the final (sweet revenge for having lost in the 4th round to the French player at Wimbledon)

With a ranking now back to 80, the Rogers Cup Premier 5 event in Toronto beckoned for Serena, and the form continued pretty much unabated.  The worry for the top ranked players in the world was that the US Open is near, and the younger Williams ranked 80 would be unseeded and therefore a potential first or second round opponent at Flushing Meadows.  Well Serena has torn that scenario to shreds in Canada.

Despite losing the first set to both Zheng Jie and Lucie Safarova in the third round and quarter final respectively, SW never lost her composure and had deep reserves of talent to draw on to ensure victories and a showdown in the semis against 4th seed Victoria Azarenka.  This, potentially her biggest test, was a walk in the park as she shot down the young Belarusian star in two awesome sets.

Samantha Stosur, who had found some long overdue form and confidence to reach the final, ran into a rampant Williams who proceeded to trample all over the Australian 6-4 6-2 and leap to 31 in the world, guaranteeing a seeding for the final Grand Slam tournament of 2011, with even more points to gain in Cincinnati before then.  This is of slight relief to the Wozniackis and Zvonarevas of the world, for they will not have to meet Williams until the third round at the earliest in New York.  Still that is too early.  With Serena in the form of the moment, there is not a single female holding a tennis racquet that can lay legitimate claims to favouritism in any match against the American.  

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Simon impresses post Wimbledon

Frenchman Gilles Simon is an accomplished player as evidenced by his history as a top ten player for 12 months consecutively from October 2008 to October 2009.  Injury and inconsistency throughout 2010 saw the ranking drop as low as 52 before ending the year around the 40 mark.
Gilles Simon at the French Open 2011
This year has seen the revival of his career - Simon is an exciting player to watch in full flight and his performances at the French Open capped off an excellent comeback into the world's top 20.  He won in Sydney, made the quarters in the Miami Masters event before retiring against Federer, and bowing out to Soderling in the 4th round at Roland Garros was no disgrace.

A third round exit at Wimbledon should be placed in context also, given that he lost the first two sets in close tie breaks, and his opponent was the ever dangerous floater in the draw - Juan Martin Del Potro. 

First outing after the grass courts was in Stuttgart where a tough 3 setter went to Spain's Albert Montanes, a disappointing but not totally unexpected result given the ability of his opponent on the surface.

However one week later, still in Germany, the Hamburg tournament presented Gilles with his finest collection of wins for the year - following a bye in the first round, he proceeded to knock over Stakhovsky and Nieminen (both around the top 50) before 3 set wins over the tournament's top seed Gael Monfils, 4th seed Russian Michael Youzhny, and in the final world number 14 and 3rd seed Spain's Nicolas Almagro.

With the tournament triumph, Simon is now back to 11 in the world, and is every chance to be within the top ten by the time the US hard court season swings into gear.  Another demonstration of how commitment to a responsible training discipline invariably will see the best players return to their rightful place in the rankings after injury, because talent is not lost overnight.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Back from Overseas and reporting again

Apologies for the delay in correspondence since the Wimbledon finale but then you probably needed a rest from my constant ramblings.
Back in Australia, I'm paying particular interest to the cycling event which happens to be finishing in Paris where I just spent a wonderful part of my trip, but I of course cannot miss out on the important events in the world of tennis now that those minor tournaments in London and Paris have been done and dusted.

Davis Cup ties were played seemingly straight away with Spain charged with an away challenge to overcome the USA, something it would have to achieve minus one Rafael Nadal.  Such is the depth of Spanish mens' tennis,  they could have dragged a trainee matador from a third rate bull fight to play singles and still the Americans would have only the Bryan brothers doubles partnership as a start up favourite to win a match.

Australia battled through another stage in its attempt to make it back to the World Group, and with Bernard Tomic continuing to shine from his Wimbledon form, the Aussies remain alive and have earned the right next to meet Switzerland (which I found out last night is the country with the longest name to not contain any repeated letters).

Robin Soderling continues to dominate all the smaller tournaments he plays, the most recent of these being his home comp.  If only he could convert that winning form - 4 titles this year alone - into significant results at grand slam and masters level.

Not only the Spanish men are dominating the tennis rankings at present but the girls are in fine touch too - Maria José Martínez Sánchez and Anabel Medina Garrigues, who have had enjoyed doubles success together of late, both won singles titles subsequent to Wimbledon which puts each of their rankings into the top 40, and as they approach 30 years of age, the trend for women to play career best tennis as they mature continues.

Italian Roberta Vinci defeated Australian Jelena Dokic prior to Wimbledon on grass, and backed that result up with another title in Palermo, Sicily - she also won the doubles with fellow Italian Sara Errani.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Novak now a Grass Master

Even given the wonderful success that Novak Djokovic has enjoyed this year, especially the four Masters final victories over Rafa Nadal on hard court and clay, the edge for the potentially classic 2011 Wimbledon Final still was the Spaniard's, earned legitimately through his four finals and two wins on this very court.

My heart was with Djokovic because he was the last man who could exact revenge for what Nadal did to Roger in Paris but my wallet suggested the extremely talented Spaniard in four maybe five close sets.

I had one thing correct in the opening stages - it indeed was tight.  Novak served first and confidently placed the first game on the board.  The ground strokes from both players was no less than you would expect from the two best players in the world, and service comfortably held all the way to 4-4.  One thing was noticeable though.  Djokovic was playing from the baseline while Nadal swung from a metre behind.  This gave the Serbian more options for placement of his shots and created greater margin for error on any wide swipes cross court from the Spaniard.  Nadal's all round class managed to cover for this in his first four service games, but after Novak once again held serve to lead 5-4 and place the scoreboard pressure heavily on Rafa, the problems of court positioning caught up with the champ, and he surrendered a 30-0 lead with some uncharacteristic errors, a combination I'd suggest of Djokovic consistency and Nadal mental lapse.  The shot to lose serve and set would normally be a forcing shot to the Serbian forehand demanding an effective response; instead it meekly floated out and the first time finalist led 6-4.

Not only did Djokovic now have a set lead and momentum, he had the first serve in the second set and could again place the pressure on Nadal to play catch up tennis, providing his solid serve maintained it's reliability.  Well it took some time and effort but Novak won his serve to take the 1-0 lead in the second set, and then it became Nadal to fall victim again to errors thrown in just when ill advised.  As Sharapova had done in her final, a number of Nadals's mistakes came from desperately going for winners and instead finding the net.  2-0 to Djokovic and this now deserved to be analyzed as vastly more serious than the Murray poor start that Rafa experienced in the semi final.  He could feel himself being pushed up against the ropes and copping lefts and rights to the body, most of them scoring punches.

Although Novak raced to 3-0, Rafa needed quickly to register in his head that this was just a single serve break, and also realise that he was the defending champion and could mount comebacks of the grandest style.  Maybe he did understand these things, but his opponent clearly did not allow the understanding to be translated into a scoring comeback.  The placement of the Serbian serve was immaculate, and limited the Spaniard in what damage he could inflict with his potentially lethal returns.  Despite Rafa holding his serve, it still became 4-1 to Novak with huge importance on the next Nadal serve if this set had any chance of changing it's direction from east to Serbia all the way south to Spain.

Djokovic sensed his chance to grab a double break, and with some generosity from Rafa early  in the game, then ripped some returns to set up a break which virtually sealed the set.  Rafa knew the score well enough not to fight the impossible in the next game, and Novak rolled through to take a two set lead 6-4 6-1.  The Spaniard was saving any reserves he had for a three set masterpiece that he now required to display to the shocked fans if a third Wimbledon were to come his way today.

Vitally, for the first time today, Rafa had first serve in a set.  Taking full advantage of this he raced through the game to take a lead in a set for the first time 1-0.  Some of the regular Rafa could be seen in the brief microcosm that was this game and fans had a feeling that perhaps a famous comeback could be underway.
For the first time, the Serbian ice man showed signs of a melt down as his shot making went astray, and coupled with some luck with the net that Rafa enjoyed all match, the break occurred, and it was the Spaniard now with a lead and a break and the crowd fully behind this mini comeback that most wanted to develop into a five set classic.

For awhile Novak stay with Rafa, still a break of serve behind but knowing he had the sets on the board and any slip by the Spaniard could mean disaster, but a mirror image of the second set developed with Nadal growing in confidence by the minute, his shots finding the mark as they should, and the antithesis the case for Novak.  Whether or not this was just a drop of concentration from the Serb was irrelevant.  Two things were happening - Nadal was emerging from a rut into the dangerous player we know he is, and Djokovic was becoming the victim.

The second break of serve came as almost a relief in hindsight because it put beyond doubt where the third set was going to be assigned and Novak could once again devote himself to a single set where he would have first crack at serving.  If solid on his own serve, then ultimately Rafa would be serving to stay alive.  So 6-1 Rafa the third and the crowd erupted, now assured of four sets between these warriors and possibly even a fifth.

Novak opened proceedings in the fourth and with every ounce (I should use the imperial measure whilst in London) of care held his serve to place the first morsel of scoreboard pressure on the Spanish star.
Nadal faltered immediately with a double fault followed by an unforced error and then some out of this world returning by Djokovic confirmed the break and a 2-0 lead.  The Championship was so close he could almost taste it.

Rafa took the simmering saucepan away when he broke straight back for 1-2 and held firmly for 2-2.

What could the Serb do in this pressure cooker situation?  Hold serve may be a good place to start, and this he did and did again, as did his adversary, and the crowd was holding its collective breath awaiting the next shift in course in an amazing final.

All the while we were captivated by not just the drama of a final at Wimbledon between the best in the business, but by the almost unprecedented ability of two players to turn shots that appeared to be winners against them into damaging return threats in their own right.  Never has such desperation been converted into brilliance on such a regular basis by two players in the one match.  Nadal does it time and again in matches against hapless opponents but today both were doing it and we were the paying beneficiaries.

Almost unexpectedly at 3-4, Rafa stumbled.  It happened at the worst possible moment of the match, because serving second any lapse after the sixth game would give Djokovic the opportunity to serve out the match.

No guarantees of course when serving for such a prize but apart from a very nervous first point, Novak did the job like a champion should, and the new World Number One confirmed that position by unseating the former number one on the biggest stage of them all - Wimbledon.

Djokovic in four entertaining sets 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 and this rivalry could be the one in men's tennis for years to come.   One thing is certain - Nadal will be back fighting harder to regain his former position.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Petra solves the problem that's Maria

This time last year, Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic won her first grass court match at the highest level and the another four on the way to becoming a Wimbledon semi finalist. This year, she improved sufficiently to reach the final, proving that her lead up form as runner-up at Eastbourne was genuine and reliable.

However, her opponent in the final had done this before - as a 17 year old in 2004, against Serena Williams no less and apart from that Wimbledon has won twice since at Grand Slam tournament level. Clearly Maria Sharapova began this final as favorite, but it promised to be an attractive match, with the best current left hander playing one of the best stroke makers in the women's game with a return to negate most powerful serves.

In the semis Petra gained a flying start against Azarenka while Maria was slow out of the blocks against Lisicki. In the final, Petra served first and nervously, dropping her opening game, an action repeated immediately by Sharapova who proved in the beginning that she hadn't exhausted her plentiful supply of double faults, and the question was raised as to whether they may play a part in her ability to hold serve at crucial times. In the semi she covered the deficiency beautifully with all other parts of her game working to perfection against a slightly lesser opponent. The final would be a greater test.

Petra served for the second time with authority and led the match 2-1, delighting the crowd with what have become almost signature forehands but also looking more solid off the other side. Now feeing in a position to attack, the Czech girl did, and Maria was caught off guard going down a break of serve confirming the momentum shift to Petra had indeed been established.

As Sharapova settled onto her rhythm, both girls put on a display worthy of a Ladies Final at Wimbledon, and to her credit the more experienced Russian pressured Kvitova all the way. Plaudits then to the debut finalist for soaking up the pressure and handing as much back as the ground shots from both racquets continued thrilling the crowd.

The expectation of a Sharapova interlude to play herself back into the set was an undercurrent within many in the crowd born mostly of hope rather than logic, especially given the application that Kvitova was devoting to the important task at hand. Unfortunately errors from Maria found the net a little often to maintain sufficient heat on the Czech serve, and the first set played out 6-3 in Petra's favour.

A wonderful first set in her first final, absolutely littered with winners off her forehand, but surprising Maria with a few more than expected off the opposite backhand wing. Tactically I noticed Petra change up her forehand a few times - when going for the winner it has usually been down the line and sensational, and players including Maria have come to expect that - today Petra on occasion went cross court, not always successfully, but enough to set a doubt in Sharapova's mind, and add another string to the bow for the young rising star.

For the Centre Court crowd she perhaps had become a star on this very day, a set up and then a break up in the second set. Now we knew Maria would not go away peacefully - she would be here for the dog fight if necessary. A careless Petra let the break advantage at 2-0 slip from her grasp and a more fluent and clear thinking Maria levelled things in the set at 2-2.

Then for awhile neither girl wanted to hold serve - after the terrific effort to return games back on serve, Maria failed once more and Kvitova pounced over everything to achieve the lead 3-2. What Sharapova needed was to consolidate a break and take the lead in the set but the younger player was denying her the chances in a most mature exhibition, something like what Sharapova showed against Serena Williams seven years ago as a teenager.

Once more the occasion and exuberance forced an adrenalin rush on Petra's serve, while Maria's calculating tennis brain found another method of breaking down the efficient spin serve problems she had faced for most of the match. 3-3 and Maria to serve for the lead. Suspicions were growing that this could go to three sets and that scenario may favour the Russian markedly.

Yet again Kvitova rose to the challenge and with assistance from a poor handful of shots from Maria at the inopportune time, another break of serve set the scene for a final sprint to the line with Petra leading 4-3 and serving.

Just to be different serves were held for the next two games, most courageous of these Maria Sharapova when serving at 3-5 to stay in the match. However, this left the door open for Petra Kitova to create history and become the first Czech girl to win at Wimbledon since Jana Novotna in 1998, coincidentally the last year I visited London.

No drama in this service game especially the last delivery which was an ace, the perfect finish to the fairytale tournament for the player Fred Stolle has termed appropriately the breath of fresh air for women's tennis.

Both girls should be proud of their achievements in the tournament - Maria, though disappointed in defeat was most gracious and will continue to improve after her return from shoulder problems.

Petra Kvitova is going places fast and with some fine tuning and improved shot selection may very well challenge for the pinnacle of the women's game over the course of the next few years.

Rafa rolls on - Brits must wait again

Much anticipation over the second semi final and nearly all of it to do with Andy Murray and his quest to win a grand slam tournament. Here it is virtually a preoccupation of people to discuss the latest in the Murray assault on Wimbledon, and now that he faced the world's number one and reigning champ Rafa Nadal the interest was at fever pitch.

Andy began the match impressively, holding serve confidently - a habit he needed to very quickly fall into if wished to maintain some pressure on the top seed. The two players both predictably were strong off the ground and the points were intense and hard hitting. Andy particularly impressed with his forehand and his willingness to attack the Nadal serve. For eleven games, though, no returning could achieve a break for either of the two.

Twas 5-6 when Nadal strode to the service line that Andy pounced. Aided by some unexpected and unprecedented unforced errors off the Spanish racquet, Andy broke serve to take the opening set 7-5 and the Centre Court crowd went absolutely delirious with joy.

That delirium may well have continued early into set two had the Scot - who on Wimbledon semi final day is adopted by all Brits it seems - converted a relatively simple chance to go ahead 15-40 on a Nadal serve and maybe taken the game to lead 3-1. However, he didn't and if you don't take the rare chances made available to you in a match like this, it can hurt.

Nadal did the hurting in no uncertain terms. Going on a game winning spree and treating the Scottish serve with contempt almost, the world number one took little time to even the match by winning the second set 6-2. Murray's frustration was palpable as the struggle to stop the Spanish Armarda continued into the third set. Because Nadal had decided to close his unforced error production factory early, Andy felt the need to push for winners but inevitably went either too soon, too big or too wide, or a combination.

The match that began with such promise now was slipping away from Murray and rather quickly. The third set had gone 6-2 as well to Rafa, and the termination of the match came ever closer as Andy dropped serve in the opening fourth set game. Most of the crowd were now resigned to Murray's fate, although a glimmer of hope flickered when he had break points on Nadal's second service game to try and level at 2-2. The glimmer was blown out with Rafa remaining steady through that long game, as he did for the rest of the match, and the 2010 champion earned the right to defend his crown as king of Wimbledon after a stylish 5-7 6-2 6-2 6-4 victory over a plucky Andy Murray.

The Scot's challenges each year do not diminish his potential to one day win this title.
There are some weaknesses in his game that can be addressed, and tactically he is just a little behind the top three in executing some of these matches.

So we have a mouth watering Sunday main course featuring the top two seeds and two best performed players of the year. Novak Djokovic will be statistically number one irrespective but would rather prove it on court and take the title - his first at Wimbledon, while Rafael Nadal would dearly love to make it grand slam tournament number 11, equalling the likes of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A new number one - now the chance to justify !

The nature of ranking points now has Novak Djokovic as World number one at the conclusion of Wimbledon irrespective of the outcome of Sunday's final. No one would dispute his entitlement to the top dog tag if he can claim to have won two of the first three grand slam titles, made the semis in the other, and won everything else entered for this year including four Masters finals against Rafa Nadal.

Why are we speculating in this fashion. It is because of what happened on men's semi finals day at 2011 Wimbledon.

First combatants on Centre Court were Swiss killer Jo-Wilfried Tsonga attempting to do another shock assassination on the most successful player so far this year Serbian Novak Djokovic. The brilliance with which the Frenchman disposed of Federer over the final three sets of their quarter final was still stirring within the strings of his racquet in the opening stanza of the semi final and Novak suffered a service break early, in fact his very first attempt. From that point he felt a similar frustration to that suffered by Roger - unable to dent the French serve.

Not until Smokin' Jo actually served for the set did the doubts begin to appear, and the canny Serbian seized on these and returned everything possible to place immense pressure on Tsonga, a quantity to much for him to absorb, and the break of serve materialised. 5-5 and it may have been chance gone for Tsonga.

However, the two reached a compromise and the terms included completing a tie break to determine the first set result. With the French serve, who knows what a lottery this would be?
The Serbian serve held strong throughout and the consistent Djokovic, who had yet to unleash the supreme form of his 2011 season in the match so far, managed to escape with the first set which for the most part "belonged" to Tsonga.

The ll of a first set coming his way and being stolen at the last breath seemed to be a weight as heavy as London's peak hour traffic around poor Jo-Wilfried's neck. The second set was a mere walk through Kensington Park for Novak, as he'd grown tired of wandering the golf course at Wimbledon during the early rounds. Jubilation displayed by Tsonga, a rejoice only too happily shared in by his fans, turned quickly to regular bouts of desolation, precipitated by inaccuracy and injudicious shot selection from the French player.

Two sets to love, and the memory wound back 48 hours to the Federer comeback, but dismissed it as a mere one-off and not a possible precedent given Tsonga's current state of misery. 7-6 6-2, and Novak assured, it seemed of a debut final on the hallowed grass. More so once the break in the fourth set came, this time on the back of a woeful service game from Tsonga. No revival anywhere in neighboring villages to be cited let alone near Centre Court where the weather change was required most.

Still the French player could stun with some magical tennis and at 4-3 as Djokovic was serving for the second last time, he assumed, Tsonga ripped through a pretty ordinary game from the Serb and it was 4-4. Serves were held and then Tsonga reverted to his lesser self in order for Djokovic to achieve a break and serve for the match and the final at 6-5.

Once more, he tightened, and some free hitting from the excited and exciting Tsonga led to a tie break. This eventually became one of the most exhilarating tie breaks of the tournament lasting twenty points and giving match points to Djokovic and set points to Tsonga, many saved with brilliance and rallies of length and class. The last element of class belonged to the Frenchman who stole the set just as he might feel he had had set one stolen from him.

We now had a match with Tsonga starting his quest for a repeat of the Federer conquest.

The utterly undisguised manner with which Tsonga showed his delight at winning set three may have proven a little too much and premature. Ever consistent and confident, if not a little annoyed at letting a chance slip, Djokovic simply went back to the hard work of winning games, and began with the first three of set four, effectively placing the match beyond the reach of a gallant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

7-6 6-2 6-7 6-3, and the crowd was entertained because both players were willing to go for everything, and sometimes the impossible worked. Rallies reached fever pitch at times given the increasing velocity with which the balls were rebounding off both racquets and the variable directions they were taking.

If Tsonga can ever introduce some consistency to his raw talent, he can be a giant at the very top of the men's game, while Djokovic could very well win Wimbledon at least once and maybe even this year.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Petra and Maria Ova whelmingly

Yes the women's final field of two was decided and the Ovas have it between them. Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic improved from her semi final last year to reach her maiden grand slam tournament final with an enthralling performance against fourth seed Belarusian Victoria Azarenka. Seeded eighth herself, and runner up at the lead up Eastbourne tournament, Petra blasted out of the blocks, firing her left handed serve to great advantage and drilling forehand winners at will, many down the line which thrilled the crowd. The screaming from Vika was as expected, the only screaming from the silent assassin's end was from the brutalized tennis balls which will be charging Petra with willful assault.

The first set was a rout to be fair and 6-1 within the half hour gave no positive sign of things to come for Azarenka. Fickle is defined in some dictionaries as "the game of women's tennis", and so the hard hitting Belarusian began hitting her mark with the ground shot armoury we know she has, while Petra started to loosen her grip on the match with unnecessary heroics where simple rallying was the order of the moment.

The second set featured shot making from both women that exhilarated the crowd yet at times exasperated it for the brazen risk taking involved. Some of the errors were child like. On balance though the entertainment won through as did Vika, showing fine resolve to square the match at one set apiece. Could Petra find the first set momentum once again or was Victoria now going to be famous for reaching the final of Wimbledon in addition to be being David Beckham's wife and the second most populous State of Australia?

The answer arrived swiftly courtesy of the racquet of Petra Kvitova, who pounded countless more winners in a virtuoso display of tennis in the deciding set - it appeared that the second set represented a mere hiatus for the developing Czech star, and as much as Azarenka could throw at her, it was insufficient to prevent the inevitable 6-1 3-6 6-2 semi final win and an encounter on Saturday with either Maria Sharapova or Sabine Lisicki.

Lisicki started as well as Kvitova had, and Maria's double fault horrors from the semi finals at Roland Garros appeared early. 3-0 up and looking capable of running out the first set, Lisicki then became caught up in the Sharapova web spun with a combination of poise, experience, better choice of shot, and better execution.

Despite the regular shaky serving, Maria soon displayed why she remains favorite to take out the title this year. Returning the powerful German serve was always a key to this match and the Russian did it to perfection, breaking back twice and easing to a first set win 6-4.

The occasion then became too much for Lisicki whose confidence when serving deserted her for the rest of the match. This proved a bonus for Maria who herself was not immune from troubles at the delivery line. Even at 5-1, no one was putting money on the match ending soon. Sabine managed to hold and ask Maria if she could kindly do the honours and serve out the match. The tall Russian could not. The priority for Sharapova was to break the Lisicki serve and win the match and not have to try and serve for it again.

With some assistance from the German girl, and some tidy tennis of her own, three time Grand Slam tournament champion Maria Sharapova agreed to a date with destiny, with Petra Kvitova tagging along, on Saturday. 6-4 6-3

Nevertheless a great tournament for Sabine Lisicki.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rafa on course to cut the margin again to Roger

Mardy Fish had played perhaps his best sustained tennis over the past months, enabling his ranking to reach to ten in the world, and after his most successful Wimbledon, this will now be a career high of eight. Were his hopes to realistically challenge the world number one in the quarters? Maybe not. However, I'm sure he and his many fans would have been frustrated with the performance in the first two sets, where Nadal managed far too many free points on the way to a two set to love lead.

Of course, the Spanish superstar had something to do with the status of the match - his groundstrokes and return of the big American serve (apparently, because I did not see the first part of this match due to BBC preference for the Murray quarter final - hard to pick that decision!) were as usual exemplary.

When I switched on to watch the finish of the match, once the final rituals of the Murray destruction were complete, it was with quite a surprise to note that Fish had fought against the rod of Rafa to break free of the hook and swim off with the third set 7-5.

No fear for the Spaniard as he slipped into his second gear for the drive home, requiring just a lazy break of serve to polish off the last American singles player in the draw.

So now the 8 semi finalists had been decided - 4 women 4 men - and from 8 different nations. A quite amazing spread this year. Even in the quarters, the line up of 16 players represented 14 nations. Good for tennis interest around the world.

My predictions are not worth the cyberspace they would take up but for your amusement here they are:

Petra Kvitova to defeat Victoria Azarenka in three sets and meet Maria Sharapova in the final after the Russian wins over Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Rafa Nadal to prevail over Andy Murray in five sets after the Scot wastes six match points, four on his own serve. (the last bit is a joke aimed at the long suffering Brits)

Novak Djokovic to finally achieve the number one spot in the world by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four exciting sets, and then have the chance to prove he is number one by beating Nadal in a grand slam tournament final.

One Spaniard at a time for Murray

Yes if Rafa were to do the likely job on Mardy Fish, then Andy would have to find a way past 2 Spanish players to reach the Wimbledon final. One of those tasks had less difficult written all over it. Feliciano Lopez had no intentions of disguising which task he was assigning the dour Scot in the quarter final as he donated a host of points via unforced errors and rather ambitious attacking tactics which Murray dismissed rather off handedly by passing the tenacious if less talented Spaniard continuously.

The first set did not seriously test Andy, but gave him a chance to move his game into a sphere something near where Nadal used to be when he was a lesser player than the champion he is now. OK that is a little of an exaggeration - Murray has beaten Nadal before, but he would need to be much better equipped if the both of them reached the expected semi final confrontation awaiting them.

Lopez improved as the match wore on, but not as much as Murray, and the straight sets win came with little fanfare unless you were here in the UK. Murray would now have to face Nadal unless Mardy Fish provided the catch of the day.

Too Much for Tomic

This was the one quarter final that experts had decided would be a straightforward straight sets win to Novak Djokovic, and the reasons were hard to dispute. His opponent had exceeded all expectations to achieve the final eight at Wimbledon after being perilously close to elimination in first qualifying. Teenagers in Wimbledon semi finals are a handful including Becker, McEnroe and Cash, so it is rarified air that Tomic would be breathing and his tennis career is not as advanced as those esteemed names were at the same age.

Then there is the Djokovic factor. The Serb had won 45 of 46 matches this year coming into the quarter final against the Aussie, so that is a stack of match winning confidence to draw on.

Well we, my pint of Fosters and me, began viewing this match after BBC crossed from the Centre Court match and Tomic had been predictably taken to the cleaners 6-2 in the first set by Djokovic. So this would be wrapped up pretty smartly and we could proceed to Rafa and Mardy. However, 18 year olds can be precocious and young Bernard turned his fortunes around with a mature display of tennis in the second set, pouncing on a number of unexpected Serbian stuff ups. Even in the tight moments, the nerve held strong and Tomic served the set out 6-3 and tie things.

OK so he snuck one set. Now he can finish and fly back. No? He wasn't finished just yet - immediately Tomic broke in the third set and after a fantastic service hold for 3-1, seemed on track for a two sets to one lead. Here things went extremely pear shaped for the Queenslander. Novak became a mere spectator just hitting occasional tennis balls as he watched his opponent self destruct, losing five successive games, the set and all the momentum that he'd worked so hard to gain.

With the early service break in the fourth set, Novak was set to finish this off quickly, but once again the kid hit back, and returned a break of his own. The players fought through close games right to the end but it was Djokovic who managed to edge ahead with the final break at 5-5, and win the right to play Tsonga 6-2 3-6 6-3 7-5

So not the chance for Novak's revenge against Roger for the Paris episode, but a quality semi final with a red hot Frenchman upcoming. Meanwhile Tomic's Wimbledon should be applauded roundly.

Swiss Shock

Men's quarter finals day and I moved hotels and hastily had to find another bar where adequate screens displayed the tennis.  I was kindly guided in the correct direction and sat in the company of a smooth brandy and dry ginger ale.

We both awaited the first match - Federer v Tsonga - but before long the brandy had left and it was just  me to view the opening points.  Roger began as he usually does with the authority of a master and Jo-Wilfried I feared may be about to be playing his final 2011 Wimbledon singles match.  

Serving well and backhand in good nick as had been the case all tournament the Swiss star rolled through the first set 6-3 and then for some reason BBC decided to switch matches.  The powers that be must have deemed that one set up meant the end of the ball game and au revoir Tsonga.

Anyway once we tuned back to the Federer clash, knowing the progress score had him leading by two sets to love, the French talent had forced the issue and broken the Swiss serve in set three.  Roger found it impossible then to make inroads on the Tsonga serve and the set proceeded to be Jo-Wilfried's 6-4.

Although Federer did not play badly for the remainder of the match, his normal capacity to hit back at opponents when they have purple patches seemed much diminished, evidenced clearly when Tsonga grasped a single break in the fourth set and converted it also into a set win.  His serve was becoming more potent each time he went to the line and Roger seemed helpless, yet the feeling in the bar overwhelmingly was that this would be Swiss in the end.

The fifth set opening game shocked everyone as Federer suffered an unthinkable loss of serve.  Now Tsonga had victory in the nostrils.  His serving included so many free points through aces and unplayables that even Roger's abilities could not manufacture a group of points worthy of a break or anything resembling one.

While not cruising, it seemed a pleasant sail boat ride to the finish line for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as he dumped Roger Federer from Wimbledon at the quarter final stage.  Two years in a row Roger has left Wimbledon at this point and he is not at all happy.  France is, especially Tsonga who came from two sets down in the match of his life.

At last a semi for Vika

The London rain produced some disappointments on ladies quarter final day - the Court One ticket holders were disappointed because they only saw one match plus the first game of the second match, that being the quarter final between Victoria Azarenka from Belarus and Austrian Tamira Paszek.

That disappointment was shared by Tamira when after slugging it out for a set with the number four seed, albeit losing it 3-6, Vika destroyed the Austrian to reach her first grand slam tournament semi final 6-3 6-1. Azarenka displayed all the class you would expect of an elite player at the top of her game, but she will face a reality check when the hugely talented left handed Petra Kvitova challenges her for the right to play off in this year's final.

The only people not disappointed were Azarenka and the Centre Court crowd who saw an extra match once the quarter final was shifted under the roof.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Semis again for Petra

It took plenty of patience for Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova to wait through all the rain before ultimately dealing with their quarter final destiny on Court One. Pironkova had done the Venus Williams dismissal manoeuvre for the second year running and the winner of the match would be in the semis two years in succession.
The first set was all Petra with the left handed serve causing headaches galore for the Bulgarian and the forehand down the line winners absolute migraines.
The first set seemed to be over as appropriately as the final two syllables of Petra's surname and the last two quarter finalists were almost ready for their court appearance. Only Pironkova denied the speedy end to the match by gritting her Eatern European molars and playing a competitive set of tennis which had crowds on Court One and elsewhere captivated.

That it was won in a tie breaker seemed fitting, and Petra knew she needed to respond immediately. This she did, and by breaking serve early in the decider, the Bulgarian never had another look in. Kvitova into her second semi on a row at Wimbledon, and a testing quarter final just the preparation required for either Azarenka or Paszek.

Maria very engaging this year

As well as confirming her relationship status off court by obtaining a fiancee, Sharapova is going all the way on the tennis court to obtain another status almost as important to her, that of preeminent female tennis player on the planet.
Overcoming nagging shoulder complaints has been the genesis of a dramatic rise back up the rankings and much of this due to a remarkable run on her less preferred surface - clay. Semi finals at Roland Garros may have been extended had it not been for a woeful serving exhibition, but more at home on grass, Maria has looked more impressive each round.

Her opponent in the quarters was expected to be top seed Caroline Wozniacki, but for the second time this year, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova defeated the Dane, this time slashing Caroline's hope of adding credibility to her number one ranking by taking out a Grand Slam tournament.

Historically the win was Dominika's first in Grand Slam competition against a top ten player and her hope was for two in a row against the might of Sharapova, a 30cm taller racquet wielder. I guess most of Sharapova's myriad of winners were about the same distance from the diminutive Slovak's racquet, as she desperately but in vain attempted to stay within a bull's roar of the supremely confident Maria.

The return of serve was captivating to watch on the screen in the bar with gin and ice in hand but must have impressed more in front of the live Centre Court crowd.

Powerless, Cibulkova tried within the limited abilities assigned her on the day, but Maria knew within her heart and mind that she was now the firm favorite to win this title again and was demonstrating why this should be so. 6-1 6-1. Simply awesome, simply loud.

By way of coincidence, the first and last time Sharapova won Wimbledon, was the same year I was last in Europe. Although Maria should win through to the final, I am looking forward to her returns against a more formidable serve that Sabine Lisicki possesses. I will be there live to report on it for you. (not wishing to rub it in or anything!)

Germany Too Strong for French Resistance

In the fourth round it was hard for Bartoli or Williams to break each others service, but in the first quarter final on Centre Court the first three games went to the receiver and Sabine Lisicki raced to a 2-1 lead, an advantage that she retained for the next few games, even threatening to gain an additional break on a clearly worried Bartoli.

The unseeded German with the huge serve and bigger smile is a welcome return addition to the women's game which to be honest needs some young players with charisma to add to the innate ability - the Williams sisters have a limited shelf life and Sharapova cannot do it alone - and Lisicki can charm the blackness out of the clouds. Speaking of which for the quarters I did not present myself to Wimbledon and luckily so since I would have needed a Centre Court ticket. The rain was frequent and heavy and delayed Court One quarter final matches.

The roof was working OK though and the Bartoli mind was working too - overtime - seeking a way to combat the booming grenades thrown from the smiling assassin at the other side of the court. No answers were coming but the winners off Lisicki's racquet continued to come and the inevitability of the first set result had a 6-3 confirmation. There was going to have to be another miracle from the French star today.

The second set trend though somewhat similar, suggested that Bartoli could work a path back into the match. However she did not have the power to outgun her opponent and Lisicki broke serve with the chance at 5-4 on her own racquet to win in straight. Marion saved match points and eventually her courage delivered a break of serve of her own to level at 5-5.

One sensed that maybe an opportunity for the lower ranked player had passed because Bartoli played a smart tie break winning it seven points to four and moving into the deciding set with the momentum and knowledge that a Wimbledon semi final is a place I've been before.

The story played out completely the opposite as Bartoli folded under the barrage of Lisicki winners and quite possibly her own weariness, the legacy of a long campaign. Sabine Lisicki ranked number 62 prior to this tournament is a semi finalist and with that serve on grass is dangerous.

Top Women Seeds - find an outside court!

Just to weigh in on the question of bias towards the top male players with allocation of Centre Court and Court One for matches at Wimbledon, I agree with Serena Williams - not that she and Venus have been hard done by this year - they were seeded 7 and 23 and each still managed to play three of their four matches on either Centre Court or Court One, only once being asked to journey to remote show Court Two.

The slap in the face for women's tennis can be seen if you compare the venues assigned the top four seeds for the men and the women.

Without any surprise, and for very good reason, Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray played all their first four matches on Centre Court (11 in total) or Court One (5 in total).

However, top women's seed Caroline Wozniacki twice had to trek out to Court Two and only in her third appearance placed a footprint on Centre Court.
Second seed and last year's finalist Vera Zvonareva opened up with a Court One match before being banished to Court Two for the next two which were her last for the tournament.
Li Na, third seed only had the two matches but also experienced Court Two for one of them, a court which Roger and the others may very well not know exists.
Being fourth seed must be a curse if you are female - Victoria Azarenka started on Court Two, was asked to win next on Court Fifteen before someone remembered that she was a good player and her third match was on Centre Court.  Sanity was restored for the fourth round when she was thrown out to Court Three.

Yes at this moment the top four men command the audience and deserve the prime venues for their matches - maybe once really early in a tournament a remote show court might be worth a shot? - but the issue is the treatment of the top ranked women, who may not have the equivalent drawing power, but nevertheless deserve equivalent advantages in relative terms to the top men when it comes to playing on the courts where the quarters, semis and finals are played.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Farewell Williams Sisters - welcome Tomic!

The second Monday is the round of sixteen for men's and ladies singles at Wimbledon, providing that rain has not delayed the schedule, and so far things were as planned. I had another Court One ticket, and this allowed me the privilege of watching one of the most engrossing women's matches for quite some time. Defending champion Serena Williams, who had progressively shown why pundits were selecting her to win the title, had to navigate a way around French player and Eastbourne winner from a week ago, Marion Bartoli. Bartoli was a finalist here a few years back, and is currently enjoying a resurgence of form, as evidenced by reaching the semis at Roland Garros, and both she and Serena fought ferociously early in the match to gain any vital edge.

As much as Williams tried to break through Bartoli's serve, it stood up extremely well, with a very high percentage of first entries finding their mark. The inconsistency of Serena's forehand was not hurting her for awhile, but this with some mental errors contributed to a break of the powerful American serve in the sixth game. Bartoli held firm against the expected resistance from Serena, and served out the first set 6-3. The Eastbourne form was holding true, and Williams had a big fight on her hands.

Serena serving first in the second set was able to place a little scoreboard pressure on Bartoli, but the French girl was up for the any challenge today and games went with serve, and we witnessed some fine stroke play to comprise the points. After serving at 4-5 to stay in the set, Bartoli then astonishingly broke Serena's serve in the 11th game, and the unthinkable appeared likely - straight sets loss for the champ. However, the pressure of serving for a quarter final spot, and some excellent Williams tennis conjured up a reply service break which in turn meant a second set tie break. There must have been at least three match points that Serena saved.

The tie break basically went with serve, and Serena typically saved a match point at 5 points to 6 with an ace. However, Bartoli seized on a Serena mistake and proceeded to serve out the match with her fifth match point. 6-3 7-6 and Bartoli now on course for a semifinal with Sharapova, but with so many upsets in the women's draw, who can predict beyond the quarters with any confidence? All that can be said is that Bartoli is red hot on grass or any surface at present and you would have to fancy her chances of still being around in the last days of the tournament (not as a spectator either). For Serena, the effort was fantastic given virtually no preparation, and the remainder of the season should see her back to the top of the tree, if not in the rankings, maybe with another US Open.

Joining her sister on the sidelines was Venus, for the second successive year a victim of Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. Another huge shock was the dumping of world number one Caroline Wozniacki by Dominika Cibulkova, especially considering the Slovak had lost the first set 1-6 to Wozniacki in quick time. Four top ten players are amongst the eight quarter finalists - 4th seed Victoria Azarenka, 5th seed Maria Sharapova, 8th seed Petra Kvitova and 9th seed Marion Bartoli.

Of those left, only Sharapova has won a Grand Slam tournament and she has won three including Wimbledon in 2004.

Predictability has continued with the top men's players though, with Novak Djokovic the second seed clearly a class above his opponent in the second match on Court One. Michael Llodra likes the grass and his singles results over the past year or so belie his some times reputation as a doubles specialist. However, Novak has lost just the once this year, and it took possibly the greatest player ever, playing one of his greatest matches ever, to achieve that, so the mountain would always be around the Everest equivalent. Last year's semi finalist systematically took the Frenchman apart and cruised to a quarter final 6-3 6-3 6-3. Scarily, Djokovic is looking more at ease on this surface as each second passes.

The big surprise is Novak's opponent in the quarter final - Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic, who in the past has been the subject of criticism for enjoying too many wildcards and other acts of favouritism. Now everyone loves him because he has legitimately won his way through three qualifying rounds and four main draw matches to be in the last eight. Whatever happens now, his ranking will be no more than about 75 to 80, allowing direct entry to a multitude more tournaments around the world on the major tour. At 18, if managed properly, he certainly is a prospect for Australian tennis in the years ahead.

Roger Federer played the final match on Court One, and Mikhail Youzhny from Russia caused the Swiss sensation more than a few disturbances in the first set. The two looked very solid on serve and when the tie break arrived no one in the Federer camp was at all concerned given that Roger handles these OK. However the two forehands long and backhand wide to hand the Russian the set were entirely out of character, and definitely going to make Federer late for dinner.

As is so often the case, though with Federer's opponents, they have been going full throttle, while Roger has another several gears to shift through. In the remaining three sets, some of the tennis displayed by Roger required a change up of a gear or two and reminded us all why he may very well win his seventh crown here in 2011. 6-7 6-3 6-3 6-3.

With Nadal having the toughest win over Del Potro and Murray easing past Gasquet, the top four seeds are converging ever ominously towards semi showdowns.

With the utmost respect to the other four quarter finalists, Tsonga, Fish, Lopez and Tomic would be very big headlines should any of them manage a spot in the last four. That they have reached this far is a credit to them.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Court One in Comfort thank you

Saturday at Wimbledon the first time was a good one - at least it was once they opened the gates and let us in.  A security scare had us queued up for ages, something I had not envisaged having paid significant dollars for a Court One Debenture ticket.

Once in I confirmed that my seat was indeed excellent, not so much the construction and texture of it but the view of the court that it provided,  being in the lower reaches of Level 2.  The first match was a resumption of Nadal's third round encunter with Gilles Muller which Rafa led by a set.  Because the players were not due on court until 1.00pm, I could, and indeed did do some wandering around other courts to see who was in action sooner.

Mardy Fish and Robin Haase were to play at 12.00 on an outside court very close to Court One, but before that I tried out the Court One Debenture Ticket Holder Lounge - specifically the bar.  Initially I trialled a Chardonnay, but wasn't certain it had all the answers so I moved straight to a Guinness, the debut of that beverage for me on this excursion.

As Fish was proving elusive for the angling Haase, time to find my seat for the Nadal match.  First time I had seen him live since the Roland Garros triumph.  No signs of any lapse in form with surface differentiation.  However, Muller provided stiff opposition once more in set two, and again a tie break needed to separate the players.

Only the first slight error from the lesser  player was required for the world number one to seize the chance to win through the second set tie break and lead 7-6 7-6.  No contribution from Gilles unfortunately from that moment to our pleasure as Rafa rattled off six reasonably satisfying games to cruise into yet another Grand Slam tournament fourth round, to play a dangerous opponent as circumstances would dictate, Juan Martin Del Potro.

Nothing too dangerous around for Serena Williams, certainly of the female gender anyway.  Surely and not very slowly Williams the younger is finding power and touch and her hunger is frightening to see on court.  The prey today was pretty young Russian Maria Kirilenko, who had done nothing wrong except appear at the other end of the court from the raging defending champion.  If Rafa had been the Spanish bull released to charge at a defenseless matador in the previous match, then Serena was a female equivalent metaphor which I am not courageous enough to express even here - she scares me.

Kirilenko can play a good brand of women's tennis but that is about two or three times short of adequate when playing Serena in the form she displayed today.  The serve was booming and consistent, making it immediately a pressure cooker each time Maria went to the line for her turn.  Broken in her first game, she should have been the same in her second, but for some luck and resilience for which she should be given credit.  Merely staying on court with the champion took gumption.

The first set rolled by swiftly enough and the groundstrokes that we saw from the Williams racquet helped to almost erase the fact that the woman had not played competitive tennis for 12 months and underwent major emergency surgery not all that many months ago.

After scrunching Kirilenko up and throwing her in the waste disposal along with many other of her victims, Serena is now possibly looking for the next Maria problem to solve.  It could well be a tougher one if the two end up opposing semi finalists -  form suggests that may very well happen.

One Australian singles player remained in Wimbledon in the third round following the earlier defeat of Jarmila Gajdosova on Centre Court.  18 year old Bernard Tomic, who has promised more than a roomful of politicians at an election launch, this year earned his way through to this part of Wimbledon on the back of 3 wins in Qualifying and main draw wins over 2 Russians - Davydenko who sneezes if you even start to talk of grass, and the more impressive five set win (after dropping the opening two) against Andreev.

Court One today represented the biggest challenge - fifth seed Swede Robin Soderling, who had earlier crushed another Aussie's spirit by coming from behind to defeat Lleyton Hewitt.  Tomic served first and easily held, throwing in a couple of aces to thrill the five or six Australians in the crowd.  For the next quarter of an hour, the whole crowd was stunned, as nearly stunned as Soderling, when Tomic tore the heart out of the Swede's game.  

Not once looking in trouble on serve but breaking Soderling the first couple of times, it was 5-0 to the teenager, whose variety clearly troubled Soderling, and the brazen attitude annoyed the Scandinavian.  The  huge groundshots are normally expected to intimidate, but Tomic was handling them with aplomb, respecting the unplayables, but mixing up the rallies with fine shots of his own particularly from the forehand side.

In 17 minutes Tomic was a set to the good 6-1 and Soderling looked ill.  In fact he claimed he was, calling for assistance from the trainer.  Beware the player with the injury/illness look.  Nothing though would rattle the teenager today.  Of course Soderling is too good a player not to be more competitive and so the second set proved, but he could not break the Aussie serve.  Again Tomic found the slight opening to move ahead, and when asked to serve the set out, he gleefully accepted for the second time of the afternoon.

6-1 6-4. Surely not a straight sets win?  Soderling serving first in the third set heaped immense pressure on Tomic, and at times we expected that he would finally wilt under the barrage of firepower with which  the Swede was letting loose.  Credit to Tomic for remaining focussed and only concentrating on the things he could control.

The key was serving at 4-5, and Soderling had two set points.  Tomic responded with a marvellous serve and then would admit received some luck when Soderling missed the line by millimetres and missed out on taking the set.  Instead in the next game Tomic pounced on some wayward Soderling shots and broke for 6-5.

Serving for the match was a little nervy, but he managed it punctuating the sentence with an ace for 6-1 6-4 7-5.

Tomic into Wimbledon fourth round to play Belgian Xavier Malisse on Monday.  Go Aussie! 

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Things to do when not watching tennis

So no live tennis on Thursday or Friday - more exciting things like laundry duties and arranging third mortgage to get me by.  Of course I was keeping close attention to Wimbledon via Internet and the big screens at the various pubs, most often the Dickens.

The Williams girls were progressing nicely, which was more than I can say for the Aussie girls who's flag was solely being flown by Jarmila Gajdosova, now facing a third round contest with top seed Wozniacki.  Hewitt had gone within a whisker of shooting down fifth seed swede Robin Soderling after winning the opening two sets, but nice to see the old boy back playing some quality stuff on Centre Court.

Friday was the day to put my London tourist cap on and take the Big Bus tour - "hop on, hop off" concept.  I hopped on at Paddington and hopped off at The Eye not to take a ride this day but just to have a visual and to back track to Trafalgar Square via Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all those big crowded popular spots.  Why Trafalgar Square?  Apart from it's history and everything, I had a scheduled Beatles Walk starting from outside the National Gallery nearby.

A little disappointed that neither Ringo nor Paul could make the time, their replacement, Kevin, was entertaining as he showed us the old haunts and spun us the old stories as he led us through parts of Soho etc.  Lovely to see where Hey Jude was recorded, where Paul has his London office, where the final roof top live performance was held in Saville Row and other things that oldies like me can appreciate.  Amazing how many young people on the tour - many of their parents would not have been born when the Beatles broke up over 40 years ago.

Good news while the walk was on - Aussie Bernard Tomic had defeated his second straight Russian, Igor Andreev, coming from two sets down to reach the third round and face Robin Soderling on Court One, a match I will see live today, along with Nadal v Muller and Serena Williams v Kirilenko.

Surprise exits from Andy Roddick, Vera Zvonareva, Andrea Petkovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova before the first weekend makes this a very interesting Wimbledon,  but the men's big 4 still look solid.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Day Three - eventually some tennis and worth it!

So the queuing debut was a success, better in fact, with the desired ground pass turning into a Court Two reserved seat because of lower demand (maybe due to weather forecast).  Irrespective, I was happy to part with an additional 22 pounds for a guaranteed seat and the opportunity to see Mardy Fish play Denis Istomin and any other matches that may be played on the show court.

Clearly now an expert at Wimbledon maneuvering with my one day's experience, I knew exactly where to go once I has purchased the ticket.  Of course you are not allowed far at all initially - the ropes are dropped at 10.30 for us to venture off to the various parts of the ground that we wish to attend.

Seated ready, not too many rows from the court itself (ominously without net up at this point) and perfect view of the action starting at 12.00, the rain came.  The show courts have screens so I checked to see if the Centre Court matches starting at 1.00 would be shown on the screen on Court Two given that we did not have a roof but for the Venus Williams / Kimiko Date-Krumm match the Centre Court roof was indeed in place.

We watched a most entertaining women's second round match on the screen under umbrellas.  I thought to myself - this is living the Wimbledon experience.  Venus had an experience she would rather forget as the Japanese player who is almost eligible for the pension at 40 troubled the five time champ with her classy grass court display.  The American serve was broken twice and Date-Krumm had two chances to serve the set out which she wasted.  A tie break followed, and assisted by some Venus errors, and despite wasting four more set points Kimiko won the first set 7-6.

Venus asserted herself in the second set and the powerful forehand enabled her to comfortably hold serve and place pressure on Kimiko.  One early break was sufficient and 6-3 to Williams.

The decider must have been a beauty to watch (Williams won 8-6) but unfortunately we were unable to view it since the weather had cleared and we had to be content with live tennis on our court.  Mardy Fish from USA, ranked 9 in the world was playing a second round match against a player in the bottom quartile of the top 100 Denis Istomin from Uzbekistan.

The first set gave us big serving from both players but some careless points from the American coupled with some great passing shots courtesy of Istomin, resulted in Fish being a break down.  The fact that he fought back, and that he could proceed to win the set says a lot for the value of winning the big points, because at the end of the set we wondered "how did the better player not take that set?"

The tennis was of high standard - not just because there was some being played and we were convincing ourselves that it was worth our money and time - but some genuinely crisp shot making from both players and consistently good serving made it so.  Again against what we deemed to be the flow, Fish was able to place scoreboard pressure on Istomin and once again win the set.  The cliche "scoreboard doesn't tell the story" is probably apt here.  However scoreboards are not paid to relate fiction or non-fiction to an audience - they are there to relate the statistical reality.  Currently the reality for Istomin was a second round losers cheque unless something dramatic changed.

More of the same in what would be the final set - not much difference in output but an edge in class when it counts.  Mardy Fish through to the third round in straight sets.

The second match featured two Russians including last year's runner-up Vera Zvonareva.  Her opponent Elena Vesnina gave Vera slightly more trouble than the second seed's first round opponent, by taking one game off her in the first set.  Twenty three minutes was all it required and probably as many unforced errors by Elena.

In the first round despite taking the first set to love Vera ended up winning the match in 3 sets, and it seemed at many stages during the second set today that the same would be required.  Vesnina lifted the standard of her game and played some wonderful tennis shots, making attractive use of the drop shot and net approach to defy Vera's clear advantage in cross court rallying.

The girls forgot how to hold serve, once Vera failed to serve the match out and twice Vesnina failed to serve the set out.  It was always going to be a tie break.  Sadly a couple of cases of bad judgement and one of bad luck counted against Elena and Vera survived into the third round 6-1 7-6.

The longest day of the year enabled us to fit in possibly the best set of tennis for Court Two for the day.  Juan Martin Del Potro, still on the rise following his comeback to tennis after that long layoff, played Olivier Rochus, the veteran Belgian about half the size of the 2009  US Open Champ from Argentina.

The David and Goliath story rang true, as Del Potro regularly belted serves around the 200-205 kmh range and held serve quickly, handing back the responsibility of reply to Rochus who relied less on his power - AAA battery compared to 240 volts - but more on his tennis smarts, agility around the court, ability to read Del Potro's movements.  

In the tie break that came after twelve top class games of tennis,  we witnessed several momentum shifts, but the most important was the last, and that gave a surprise first set to the lower ranked Belgian who took the 7-6 lead in the match.

Too late for another set to be completed, the play was suspended for the evening.  We had been at Wimbledon, or it's surrounds, for about 14 successive hours.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Queuing for Day Three Ground Pass

It's Wednesday and Day 3 of Wimbledon - I am in the queue and have successfully gained my ticket for the queue ~ 7.00am.  7.30 and we are waiting for further developments, but because I arrived early enough I am guaranteed a ground pass for the day.

When we actually pass through security and can purchase the ticket is a few hours away but I will be making a bee line for Court 12 where there are 4 great matches scheduled, one or two which may be played between the also scheduled rain.

If I fail in my rush for a seat I will have the contingency of courts where Australians are in action first up, including Jarmila Gajdasova on Court 10 and Anastasia Rodionova on another court.  However Richard Gasquet on Court 12 is first priority and having already been to that court before I am not geographically challenged as much.

In the wisdom of the organizers I can take my IPad into the courts with me but if I use it, then they will remove it from me, so no more blogs until the tennis is over today and hopefully that is much later this evening!

Day One Wimbledon - part two with the rain

The second match I chose to watch was on Court 12 so I moved from Court 8 to see Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova against Zhang Shuai from China. Could I knock out two seeds in a row? It seemed on the cards after Svetlana was slow out of the blocks losing the first set 4-6.

I actually like watching Kuznetsova play - she is feisty, has beautiful shots and is passionate on the court without being objectionable. So I had my concerns and asked Sveta if she could kindly get her backside into gear and display some of the tennis that has her standing as a dual Grand Slam tournament champion. She reacted well, serving wonderfully, and playing wrong footing forehands and impossible to reach backhands in a set of tennis almost the opposite of the first one.

The decider was decided rather early as Zhang folded like a pack of cards after playing good tennis up to the end of the second set. As the first sprinkles of rain threatened, Sveta, with two breaks of serve, was broken, and we wondered whether the match may be completed before the rain threat became a reality. This time my request was more explicit - next service game 4 decent first serves please. She delivered 3 and that was enough to sew the match up in three sets 6-3 3-6 6-4.

The final piece of tennis was an epic encounter between Ivo Karlovic and Janko Tipsarevic which lasted one game and one point before the novelty of rain at Wimbledon occurred for me. This was a novelty that remained as such for about five minutes. If I don't see another cover rolled out this week or next then I will be happy. (no hope of that!) No more play on outside courts for the rest of the day.

So roof on Centre Court and once things were ready to resume there I positioned myself in the rain with a good view of the large screen to watch Jelena Dokic resume at a set all with Francesca Schiavone and proceed to a loss. Then I battled the weather with a small umbrella back to the hotel via the Charles Dickens Tavern where I watched Andy Murray who was on Centre Court at that stage. As I reach the end of my trip the Dickens is an appropriate venue for me - not just because free WiFi and plenty of screens showing tennis and other sport - but because soon I will only be able to afford gruel in the Dickensian tradition.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Day One Wimbledon - part one without the rain

Two nights in London now, and one day of Wimbledon to speak of - that day split into some tennis and some precipitation.  Two additional matches were played thanks to the roof on Centre Court.  More on that in a later expression.

I am located about a minute from Paddington Station - a perfect spot from which to shoot out to Wimbledon and anywhere else I may want to go while I am here, though where that may be I struggle to think.

Also that places me about a 5 minute walk from Hyde Park and Kensington Park which both straddle the Serpentine and provide such a peaceful retreat from the busy life of a Londoner.

As for the hotel accommodation it is cleaner than the two star in Paris, and that is the positive.  Oh and breakfast is included.  This room is adjacent to the lift which is tiny enough to warrant a circus performer license to fit luggage and owner of cases in at the one time and be able to open/shut door.

Only after I had managed all that did I realise my room was also a mere six or seven steps from ground level.  It must have been an interesting decision to turn the 3.5 square metres space left after installing the lift into a room. Lucky I didn't bring a cat cause I wouldn't have been able to swing it.  When I take the half step after arising from bed and hit my face on the window with a view, I notice the view is of a building six inches away - sorry I'm already talking non metric - half a foot away. Enough of my Lilliputian lease - it is of little importance, literally.

On the first day of the Championships my intention was to find out all the necessary information for when I would actually enter the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon.  With tickets for the semis and finals plus Court One for two other days already in my possession (and warranting extra security for my life) I wanted to queue for ground passes at least twice in the first week starting on the Tuesday or Wednesday.  However, after sorting out the trains, and working out directions once at Southfields Station, and checking what I could and couldn't take inside the venue, I found that hardly anyone had queued for day one and I virtually walked in and purchased a pass. That was  after all the security measures that the Lawn Tennis officialdom could muster, short of strip searching (that may be a week two requirement)

After the compulsory deep breath in awe of the place, it was down to some tennis watching.  With Centre Court and Courts One Two Three and Eighteen unavailable to ground pass holders,  the schedule and  I agreed to watch Israel's Shahar Peer play Russian Ksenia Pervak.  The 22 seed Peer reached the second round last year, and after a tough battle in the first set, her superior groundstrokes suggested that round two would be at least the destination once again.  7-5, and solid again in the early part of set two, in the face of the Russian lifting her game and the volume of her screaming.

Peer began to be inadequate for the power of shot chosen and executed by Pervak, and fell behind a break, and with an inability to find the legal region of the court on big points, that was sufficient for Ksenia to tie it up winning the second 6-4.

Things took a similar course in the third set and most were surprised that it was Shahar who failed to come up with the shots when required, and a seed left the tournament early, a great win for another screaming Russian 5-7 6-4 6-4.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

France and Italy share Eastbourne spoils

Saturday and the finals were due to be played at Eastbourne, but because rain insisted on consistently persisting on Friday, the semis still needed to be fought.  So the collective wisdom of the officials deemed an early start to be appropriate.  Accordingly at 11.15am, 45 minutes after the scheduled early commencement (due to overnight and morning rain of course) Marion Bartoli and Samantha Stosur were the first players to venture onto Centre Court to see what entertainment they could provide.

Plenty from the French girl, and some of it relating to her tennis.  Once upon a time her unusual in between point routines were just that, sometimes even comical.  Now she is annoying, and it appears as if it is gamesmanship being taken too far.  In my opinion what she does shows no respect for her opponent, but you will need to take a look for yourself to judge.  I may be being harsh.

Harsh is unequivocal however when it comes to what she was with her cross court shots, and Sam Stosur was ill equipped to handle them from the start.   Winners that were flowing from the Australian's racquet at the end of the quarter final against Zvonareva were errors today, missing wide regularly with her backhand and committing fundamental volleying mistakes that she would not have made as a school girl.

Bartoli played, and was allowed to remain in her comfort zone, and Stosur did not attack the net as she had previously done in the tournament.  If she did it was as a last resort and not part of a planned manouvre.

The single break of serve in the first Stosur service game was all that was required to differentiate the two girls on the scoreboard in the first set and it went to Bartoli 6-3.

Stosur opened the second set by holding her serve, and the hope was held that a better performance could be obtained from this stanza of the match.  No such luck - it became exponentially worse, and nothing positive can be said about the remainder of the match for Sam, and the scoreboard agreed, adding no more games to her tally.  For Bartoli, straight into the final later in the day, in what sadly (for fans, not Marion) was a mere warm up for her.  If Stosur had been saving some form for Wimbledon, she sure did not spend any of it today at Eastbourne.

Meanwhile on another court, the other women's semi had gone the way of Petra Kvitova, defeating Daniela Hantuchova 7-6 4-2 before Daniela retired.  Precautionary for Wimbledon we hope.

The men's semi final on Centre Court was also pretty much one way traffic with the number 3 seed Janko Tipsarevic defeating Kei Nishikori in straight sets.  The Serb had too many guns from both sides, and a serve working more consistently and prevented what would have been an upset from occurring.  After all at a ranking of 30 in the world Janko was easily the highest ranked player left in the men's draw.

When the women returned Marion introduced us to another hitting partner after Samantha Stosur had left unhappy following their last session.  It was Petra Kvitova, and the number 5 seed from the Czech Republic began the Women's final precisely the way Stosur had finished the Semi.  With Bartoli handling the controls and dictating the flow of each point, Kvitova showed no imagination or flair in attempting to break up the French girl's game.

6-1 the first set, and we thought the guys will be back soon.  First game of set 2 continued the ride to disaster and Bartoli led with a break.  Serves were held (indeed Bartoli had held serve about 15 times throughout her 2 matches without being broken yet) until Bartoli went to the line at 4-2.   

Here the match changed, both tactically and as a spectacle.  Kvitova hit some splendid returns but followed them up with surprises for Bartoli - not mere shots up the middle of the court that Marion had been dealing with at will, but piercing forehands down the the line, deft shots just passing over the net leaving Bartoli on the back of her heels, and other shots making the previously immovable object actually have to think where to move on this tennis court.

Petra broke, and she broke the set apart, taking it 6-4, forcing pundits to reassess the outcome of the match.

The final set brought the 5th and 6th seeds into a rigorous contest, where eventually at 4-4 it was Kvitova who played the bad game on serve, leaving Bartoli to serve for the title.  There remained one final twist, though, with the as yet not knocked out Czech girl bouncing back immediately with some terrific tennis to level at 5-5.

Looking like we may be heading for a tie breaker to decide the winner, Bartoli did her best to take that probability away by once again denying Kvitova on serve.  Just when she needed it, at the end it failed her twice.

Marion Bartoli served the match out to win 2011 Eastbourne 6-1 4-6 7-5.

For the record, the Men's final did finish before darkness and rain could stop it, and Italian Andreas Seppi defeated Janko Tipsarevic 7-6 3-6 5-3 (retired).
Unfortunately, as Seppi was leading 4-3 in the decider, and had won the opening point on Janko's serve, the Serb fell awkwardly  and although he came back after some treatment, it was clear he had restricted movement so he played the percentages, and retired hoping to address the injury in time for Wimbledon.

Seppi had played the better tennis, and was a deserving winner, this being his debut win on the ATP World Tour.