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.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

What lunacy is required to put together the Wimbledon draw?

I know to some I seem repetitive when complaining about tennis draws at the professional level but once again those that cobbled together something that resembles a draw but is anything but fair to many of the entered players for the third Grand Slam tournament of 2011 have motivated me to write a few lines of disappointment.

The example will centre on the ladies draw. Once again, and this is so not just at Wimbledon, the seedings are not set properly through the 128 players, if weighting is to be given first to the the number one seed then progressively down to the number 32 seed. The way the seeded players are treated by juggling their positions in such a huge tournament where much is at stake including points to defend, prize money from round to round and of course prestige, is abhorrent.

In an equitable system, the third round match ups, should seeded players win their respective matches, would include number 1 Wozniacki playing 32 Pironkova. No, instead she has the troubling prospect of meeting 27 seed and a player that made the fourth round here last year Gajdosova.
16 seed Goerges should play 17 but who does she get? 24 seed Cibulkova. Meanwhile 14 seed Pavlyuchenkova, ranked higher than Goerges is expected to play the 17 seed Kanepi. One may ask what did she do to deserve that apart from be the wrong seed drawn out out of the hat.

Then we come to the round of sixteen and hopefully things have corrected themselves but no not a chance - it's the lucky number 8 seed Kvitova who should be in the battle of her life with 9 seed Bartoli but is drawn to play 12 seed Kuznetsova, who also must be smiling to think that the number 5 seed she should be playing is former champion and favorite Maria Sharapova.

The quarters is where it should be easy - the top seed has earned the right to play the lowest seed at that point and so on - 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6 and 4 v 5

Instead we have 1 v 5 (not much reward for the top seed there) 2 v 8, 3 v 7 and 4 v 6.
And naturally the semis are not 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 either but by then all the damage caused by draw inequity with seeding placement would have been done.

Whether you are with me or not on the seedings placement issue, the placement of the other 96 players is a worry and I will mention the following as an example.

Francesca Schiavone is the current French Open runner-up and seeded 6 at Wimbledon but has been drawn to play Jelena Dokic in the first round - Dokic could very well come into the tournament on the back of a win - OK luck of the draw. However on the same side of the draw we have two instances of qualifiers playing each other in first round matches and these players don't even know who they are yet. At least 2 of them are into the second round at Wimbledon and we don't know whether they are yet in the draw.

Quality players like Schiavone and Dokic have earned direct entry and are only guaranteed first round loser prize money. Why on earth should we guarantee that one qualifier, let alone two, be assured of featuring in round two of the main draw, simply by letting them play against each other. That is what the idea of managing the placement of additional entries to those already directly accepted, is all about. Not making a mess of it. Daniela Hantuchova is potentially a winner. Her first two opponents, yet unknown, we do know will be qualifiers.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Eastbourne semis set up while Clijsters out of Wimbledon

Sad to see Aussie Kim succumb to an ankle injury and unable to compete at the Championships next week. Interesting that the powers that be have given Serena Williams the number 7 seeding although her ranking is in the twenties. Her sister also has been bumped up into a seeded position, not so prominent, but at least protected for a few rounds from the "name" players.

In Eastbourne Thursday morning, I was ready to receive the promised precipitation from above as I took my morning walk. It failed to arrive for about an hour but when it did, I was thankful that I had never unpacked an umbrella purchased for a 2008 trip still in the suitcase wherever I had travelled since, and still unopened.

The rain never actually delivered with any conviction - more it was of nuisance value to windscreen wipers and tennis tournament organisers. The delay to starting time extended to around 45 minutes before Venus Williams and Daniela Hantuchova took to Centre Court in variable conditions. The one constant - it was blustery. As with the rain Venus delivered with little conviction in the first set while Hantuchova continued her vein of top form by not trying to defeat the wind but to respect it and play her style of game within the environmental parameters given both players.

Whereas Venus would try to hit too powerfully, Hantuchova could often use the speed off the Williams racquet to her advantage. Before early damage could be repaired Williams found herself down too far to be able to capture the first set, instead attempt to steady, better react to the conditions and control her big weapons. 6-2 to a very impressive Hantuchova, who was just a week ago finalist at Birmingham.

Despite the match improving, while the weather remained windy, Venus could not make initial headway in the second set, and the ground strokes and thinking about each point from Daniela made it hard to see where a breakthrough could come for the American. Almost down another double break the fight came and Venus shone to storm through the remainder of the set and level the match 2-6 7-5.

However, this was a chance for Hantuchova to beat Williams for the first time in a million attempts and after a careful start to the final set, she exploded, dominating the final four games and winning a spectacle marred by the wind but still featuring fine tennis 6-2 5-7 6-2

The other quarter final on Centre Court featured top seed Vera Zvonareva against 7th seed Samantha Stosur. The wind was still a factor, and Vera was running late, running out for the toss and warm up in something somewhere between a pair of pajamas and a ski suit. Fortunately this attire did not rate number one choice for the match proper.

Sam served first and formidably, and then wasted a few minor chances to perhaps threaten the Russian's serve. The only service break for the set was in the next game when a combination of poor racquet work at the net by Stosur and more consistent ground strokes and better placement by Zvonareva resulted in a 2-1 lead to the latter.

Despite tricky tosses with the wind, each girl managed to hold serve for the remainder of the set, and 6-4 was the score in favour of Vera.

Sam served first in the second and needing to make a statement straight away, played a shocker. Now behind a set and a break, she had to summon something if anything was to be taken away from the match.

Apart from that game, once again the tennis was of quality standard given the wind, and games were on serve until Zvonareva served at 4-3. Stosur's obvious tactic of attacking the net more to take a volley may have worked a treat against a young improver such as Jovanovski, but not against Vera who can pass on both sides if the approach shot is the slightest bit inadequate.

Game 8 Stosur did finally break the Russian serve - the first time in 9 attempts. Serves were held for 5-5, with Zvonareva saving one set point, and then the longest game of the match on Stosur's serve. 11 deuces I counted during this epic game, during which the tide at Eastbourne had time to go out and then come back in again.

Eventually Stosur held serve, as did Zvonareva in reply, and a tiebreaker was required. Down 4-2, it seemed that the match was Vera's for the keeping, but the resolve of the Queenslander showed tough and Samantha won the key points and subsequently the tiebreak 7-6.

Vera fell apart in the decider, losing her opening two service games. At 5-2 Stosur could serve it out. Wait, no she could not!
Now Vera had to serve to stay in the match. That task complete, back to Sam at our end to try once more to serve for the semis. No worries this time with a couple of aces thrown in for good measure.

Stosur to play Bartoli

Hantuchova to play Kvitova

According to the locals that's a moot point because it will be rained out on Friday!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Climate Change affects Eastbourne Tournament

It had to happen. Sport to this point somehow had remained immune from the evil clutches of climate change. However, in the seaside town of Eastbourne around 6.15pm Wednesday 15 June 2011, it rained whereas previously it had not, and a tennis match was interrupted. Now finally the climate change sceptics will sit up and take notice. Certainly Rainer Schuettler from Germany and Kei Nishikori from Japan will. They have to come back tomorrow and have another crack at battling through their second round match, and the winner will be required to play a quarter final later the same day.

All the fun and games await, and that depends on whether the rain clears for Thursday - perhaps Mr Schuettler should have chosen a more suitable first name.

What did we establish today? One Williams sister is still in Eastbourne while the other packed her bags and the last I saw of Serena was waving goodbye from the taxi after I shouted her 4 pounds for her fare to the station. Venus impressed (apparently, because I didn't see the match) by defeating Ana Ivanovic who was yesterday's impresser. The reason I wasn't taking watch over that match? I was guarding a seat court side at court 3, prime position for Sam Stosur's round two match, and to do that I needed to be there for the preceding men's match.

That started out to be a fizzer, with Russia's Igor Kunitsyn simply outclassing unhappy qualifier Illya Marchenko from the Ukraine. Illya must have had a bad night and seemed to want to be anywhere but England or at least this part of it. Then remarkably after a healthy tantrum, racquet toss or two, the first set domination was turned on its head in the second with the still miserable Marchenko barrelling through to tie things up with a third and final set to play. Both Europeans were playing clay court shots to perfection, oblivious that under their footwear was carpet smooth lawn.

Although Marchenko achieved the early break in the final set, it wasn't decisive and the more accomplished Kunitsyn proved the steadier, winning the last several games and the match.

An Aussie to watch an Aussie - maybe the Hewitt curse would not extend to Stosur. Early signs appeared to relay that hope clearly. Sam raced to 5-0 against young Serbian Bojana Jovanovski, who with Viktor Troicki belies the myth that all Serb tennis players should have surnames ending with "vic". It must be the rebel in her, but today she was a rebel without much of a cause - Stosur's serving was right on the money, her forehand sharper than in recent times and she found opportunities to move to the net and shorten points, a tactic that must be employed if Wimbledon is to be enjoyed more than one round as last year.

Apart from one dreadful service game, the first set was prim and proper 6-3 and the second pristine. Sam was through to a quarter final against Serena Williams or Vera Zvonareva, which match I was to see the conclusion of next.

Serena was a set and a break to the good, so I thought this mere preparation for the next men's match, then out of the blue serving for the match the best serve in women's tennis failed. 5-5 progressed to a tie-break which the Russian won and with the momentum also ran out a 5-2 third set lead. Twice Vera could not serve for the match, but after aching hard work and wonderful shot making to twice break back, Serena Williams let it all slide in a dog of a service game. A third chance would not slip the grasp of top seed Zvonareva 3-6 7-6 7-5
Her record against Sam Stosur recently is not good but on grass she is the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up.

Radek Stepanek from the Czech Republic is like a hibernating animal - hides away during the cold seasons then comes out around grass court season to cause trouble. His record over the years is pretty good, a former top ten player who this time last year was top twenty or thirty. Although he is now around the fifties in the rankings it is not a true measure of his competence, and today Jo-Wilfried Tsonga felt the full brunt of it. The top seeded French player was completely shut out, losing his opening serve, and not improving any from there. Stepanek played perfect grass court tennis, moving naturally forward and volleying making Tsonga look all at sea.

The match was over quicker than we expected had we expected a Tsonga loss, but he will bounce back from the straight sets defeat better than some of those balls that were hit today. Stepanek could well be a nuisance in the first week at Wimbledon.

While Centre Court devoted much time and effort to taking care of the Williams siblings, other craziness occurred on outside courts - Li Na, this year's winner at Roland Garros, lost to Daniela Hantuchova and the conquered French Open finalist, Francesca Schiavone, also bowed out, her problems caused by Agnieszka Radwanska. Top seeds moving through included Azarenka and Kvitova.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

International tennis up close

When you apologise for almost bumping into someone at the tennis and you immediately realise that it is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga heading to the same Centre Court that you are moving to in a bid to watch him play, then it is clear that Eastbourne is putting on a special pre-Wimbledon show for it's fortunate spectators, counting me among it's numbers.

I wished Tsonga all the best, and of course he responded "sure thanks Tony see you for drinks afterwards" but not before I'd witnessed two women's matches on Centre Court. Now my seasons ticket included seats in Centre Court for all days, which also allowed access to the other courts should my presence at any one of them be demanded for a particular reason.

Today and tomorrow my seat is in row G, and for the final 3 days row AA, BB and AA. Now I am used to single letter rows meaning lower deck closer to action and double letter rows upper deck farther away so I was a little disappointed until I found out the truth in this neck of the woods. AA through to DD are the very front rows and instead of plastic seats include cushioned back and bottoms. Thank you very much - now we only need the weather to stay fine. It did today so we are off to a great start.

So is Ana Ivanovic who showed just how much talent she can wield with that racquet as she dispensed in straight sets with German top twenty star of the very near future Julia Goerges. Ana was at her brilliant best returning the dangerous Goerges serve with immaculate passing shots and placement that reduced the follow up shots to sometimes farcical. Julia tried valiantly to compete and become part of the match but this was not her day - there will be plenty of others though and Wimbledon will be yet another step in the learning process. Grass is a surface foreign to most.

Next the moment we had waited for - the return of the best female player in the game for the past decade, and Serena after the expectedly warm welcome delivered in return a first set that was as rusty as an old bucket. Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova played some wonderful shots all over the court and Serena just struggled to put her game back together. The pieces were there but only occasionally. Five games to none and finally the proud younger Williams sister held serve ultimately surrendering the first set 6-1. The match really began to ignite in the second set as Serena exerted her will to dominate, despite the continued fine efforts from Pironkova. A third set was required, and it could have gone either way but a champion finds the way through and almost 12 months down the track from her last tournament, Serena won - just!

Andy Murray had given Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a disappointment with the defeat in the Queens final so it took some guts to front up at Eastbourne the following day to play Denis Istomin in the first round. We received our usual dose from the French talent - booming serve, pace around the court, passion in all his endeavor and many classy tennis shots - the first set over very quickly but to Istomin's credit 7-5 in the second a much fairer reflection of the difference in standard between the two. Still no problem for Tsonga.

Then the only downer for the day - Lleyton Hewitt, in his first outing at Eastbourne, was being thrashed by Belgian Olivier Rochus 6-2 and more of the same, before he called it quits citing an injury. We hadn't noticed anything but he certainly was not playing to the level that one would expect against a clay courter like Rochus. Hope he is OK for Wimbledon, because he already missed Roland Garros.

Lastly, I saw the final stanza of recently crowned French Open champion Li Na winning her match against Austria's Tamira Paszek before England's own James Ward shared sets with Serbian Janko Tipsarevic. Everyone agreed it was a little too dark to continue so we all went back to our homes hotels or wherever, some to come back again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

From Southern France to Southern England

That was a trek and a half - this morning started in Marseille, by train to Paris, Eurostar to London, then another train to Eastbourne, with a few connecting rides included for good measure. Good news is I am here and have caught up with all the results of the tennis.

Sam Stosur won her opening match against Nadia Petrova and Venus Williams was successful in her comeback disposing of 8th seed Andrea Petkovic in three sets. Little sister is on Centre Court tomorrow having waited for my arrival in town before serving up her storm.

Accommodation is fairly average - overlooking the water - but a seaside walk in the morning will have to do I guess. And the 5 minutes to Devonshire Park to watch the stars compete will also strain me no doubt but I will go the extra kilometre if it means seeing the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hitting tennis balls the way he is at the moment. Runner-up to Andy Murray at Queens is no mean feat, given Murray's excellent form.

Kim Clijsters is anxious to gather up some easy points so she is playing where most of the top girls are not - in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. No that is unfair - it is good to see these tournaments supported by the best players. Caroline Wozniacki played in Copenhagen, her home tournament last week just as Novak Djokovic did in Belgrade before the French Open.

Hoping for good weather tomorrow and good tennis - Centre Court begins with a great match first up between Ana Ivanovic and Julia Goerges and then other matches feature Serena Williams, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lleyton Hewitt. Beats being frozen in Melbourne!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Fine art in Aix-en-Provence as Murray thrashes Roddick

While some of the elite tennis players applied themselves on various courts across Europe in either their last or second to last tournaments leading into Wimbledon, I visited another French provincial town and became an instant art fan. After struggling (eventually successfully) to convince security that the bag containing my passport, wallet, camera, IPad, travel documents and other assorted important things was not leaving me for some locker while I wandered through a museum - despite it having already passed the bag check at entry - I enjoyed a surprisingly fruitful few hours spent inside protected from the woeful sunny weather being offered by the town of Aix-en-Provence.

The Musée Granet is not the first recommended spot for tourists so belligerent me went there initially, and the Jean Planque Collection just happened to be in town. Planque was not a big name painter - made a living post WW2 marketing a concentrate for pig feed that he had invented - but he knew all the biggies and established excellent rapport with them - Auberjonois, Berger, Dubuffet, Picasso among others.

Fortunately in his death, the legacy of his collection lives on and the works of Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, etc can be seen at various art museums around Europe.

Externally, Aix-en-Provence is everything that you should expect a French town in this region to be with only one negative that I could find - directions for strangers in town are Aix-bysmal.

Andy Roddick has been in London, attempting to find some form on grass, because he certainly had lost it all on clay. Today it was semi final time against Andy Murray who had regained his form on clay making it to the semis in Paris losing to eventual champ Nadal. The latter Andy obliterated the former losing just four games, and it may be that the Scot has some claims for this Wimbledon title. Could be true were a Swiss guy not fit and firing.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Rafa's winning streak ends - me still stuck in Marseille

In spite of the obvious stress that this is placing on me, I am yet again beside the water in Marseille drinking cold liquid after another searching day.  My plans fell into place for once and I did catch the train to Arles - about an hour away - and it satisfied somewhat the Italian void in my trip.  Yes those ruins of the Roman kind can take you back centuries and remove all sense that in fact you may be straddling the Rhone in France.

The river was in fine form, as were the buildings, looking just as old as they ever did, in fact more so.  Hopefully the significant restoration underway will ultimately demand an even greater level of care available from the increased tourist dollar.  

Van Gogh was said to have spent some time in Arles, but that fact bears little consequence when stacked up against the news that the Gipsy Kings are natives of this town.  Who'd have thought it?  And to add to the flavour, my IPod shuffle randomly selected one of their hits as I was leaving the train station to head home to Marseille.  Oops, I said home a bit too easily didn't I?

While I am doing little of value here, some of the world's tennis players are doing even less.  Only kidding, they do try hard.  All the Australians are now beaten in current singles tournaments - Lleyton Hewitt the last to go a short time ago at Halle.  It was the right thing for Hewitt to lose to the local player Kohlschreiber - doesn't help his ranking but won't lose him friends.

Meanwhile my latest find is a brasserie with 4 large screens all tuned to Eurosport and showing quarter finals from Queens, London.  Nadal and Tsonga were trading service games until the Spaniard took the tie break.   A turn of events saw both drop their opening serves in the second set before steady as you go and 4-4 was achieved.  

Funny  watching the game played on grass - better become used to it I suppose.  Nadal then cracked, the Frenchman broke and held to take the set 6-4 and from there never looked back.  That would be silly anyway playing tennis - you would lose most points with that attitude.

Of course all the while I was eating my honeyed duck breast extremely slowly in order to catch the final result which was 6-7 6-4 6-1 on all 4 screens for Tsonga who I will be seeing at full confidence at Eastbourne next week maybe as winner of Queens.

Have to go now - time to spend a few precious more euros on hydrating myself.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Another boat trip

Another day in paradise, another boat to take - this one to Les Iles du Frioul some 30 or so minutes away from the hectic life of Marseille proper.  A chance to wander around up down in and out and appreciate the natural things that this small treasure offers.  There is geography - coincidentally a Calanque or two to view from the different perspective to which I alluded yesterday.  Also history including after some climbing the first hand view of what was the Fort Ratonneau.  In itself fascinating, but at the top of the island the view was spectacular for a full 360 degrees.

Unfortunately weather conditions prevented the boat from taking us to one of the islands - If - where the famous Chateau d'If presents itself.  It's fame predominantly lies with being the place of imprisonment for the Count of Monte Cristo.  Still the photos from afar of the island are pretty worthwhile.  Another chance to visit there before I leave.

Lunch was enjoyed back in Marseille tempered sadly yet again by the ever present requests from beggars to those eating at outside tables.  Sad to see this from those in need, but  I have also seen groups of these people assemble early in the day to plan their "work" on tourists so level of sympathy varies with what is genuine.

Tomorrow after becoming completely sick of Marseille (joking) I've decided to venture to Arles and see what it can offer.  I will leave my things here and return just to give Marseille another couple of days to confirm it's impressiveness.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Serena is back!

Yeah I know the rest of the Solar System already knows but it is wonderful news that we will have both of the sisters back on grass this year - playing tennis on it I mean.

What's more it will be the Eastbourne tournament where we have the chance to see the ladies strut their stuff and for Serena it has been almost 12 months since any strutting - last year at Wimbledon in fact. I will be there live to report on the comeback for you.

Venus has played some tennis, but neither has been assisted by health issues, and their rankings have slid as a result. Serena, if fit for Wimbledon, will not likely be given a discretionary seeding higher than her current 25 in the world, which scarily could place her in a third round clash against a top ten ranked player. There will be more than a few shaking in their boots wondering how the champion's practice form is.

The problem ranking wise is that Serena must win Wimbledon to retain her number of points (add any she may gain at Eastbourne which she did not play last year).
The good thing is that if she can be available for the rest of the tournaments that matter this year, she will have zero points to defend and will just rack them up week after week.

On top of that we know how good Venus is on this surface having won five titles at the All England Club.

Womens' tennis has received a shot in the arm with the sisters returning - indeed a double shot.

Just Keep Walking

One of the first things I learnt about Marseille, apart from how glorious the weather is, and how appealing the water looks (the grapevine suggested that Melbourne may be providing somewhere in the region of 11 degrees max) is that the budget does not extend to provision of public seating to any level one would expect. Especially so, if that expectant were of the tourist species.

Whilst in the second or third stage of being local map reading-challenged, yours truly managed to walk in the direction that I stubbornly believed would be what the compass would advise (should I have one of those things), for around 2 kilometres before something resembling a seat was used to park me while I confirmed that indeed my status of not being where I should was now compounded by some 2 kilometres.

One place where there are some seats is at the underground Metro stations, and from where I now found myself a train was the most useful tool. The other tool present was me and not so useful. Using my IPad Maps App - wow what a great idea. Planning and thinking. Hope I have those two sorted out or I won't make it out of France and into England for the next tennis stage of my trip.

Then again I could stay here - it's raining on and off in London - I could always do the tennis by remote control. Nah - where's the joy in not being able to say you have experienced Wimbledon rain and a little tennis in between?

Last night was a change in pace though from Paris - sitting by the water, drink in hand, nothing on my mind except - no I was right nothing - watching 10-12 locals with a fishing line dropped in the water (one each) determined to catch something, fish preferably, accompanied I believe by someone else's choice, by a lone dog whose determination in seeing that no fish were caught was more successful.

Today I was ready to hit the water, and with so many boats in port I took it upon myself to ensure that one would take me as ordered, for a price. With control of this vessel, my demands were simple - take me and the rest of these people here on a 3 hour tour (then I quickly checked that the SS Minnow was not painted on the side) so I may finally see the Calanques between Marseille and Cassis, of which I'd been aware for at least a few months now.

Well they certainly were impressive in their rockiness but among the million shots that I took between nearly losing my camera overboard a few times the most impressive thing that I noticed, and we were navigated pretty darn close to these things, was the variation in trees and shrubs associated with rock formations that may be only short distances apart. Then of course there were the caves formed in a number of the Calanques - another time it would be tremendous to take a land tour and gain a different perspective.

For an afternoon thrill I decided to deny my feet the opportunity of resting and walked all the way to Notre-Dame de la Garde, which is so my Catholic sources tell me a minor basilica, which leads me to wonder what something major would look like, cause this is impressive. Although not traditionally "old" in the sense that it is a nineteenth century replacement for a church originally constructed centuries earlier, it is something to take in, maybe two visits worth. The standout feature, is a bell tower which is sat atop by an 11 metre plus copper statue of Madonna and Child (guilded with gold leaf)

The walk to the basilica was mostly up because at something like 150 metres it sits on the highest natural point in Marseille. It can be truthfully said then that I was high in Southern France because of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Rainstorm in Paris after the Open

Before leaving my home of a fortnight, I had planned to reacquaint myself with some of the city that I met up with previously. However, the Men's Final affected not only the atmosphere within the crowd at Rolamd Garros, but the atmosphere over the entire populace that night. Paris was subjected to a spectacular rainstorm complete with lightning as special effects. Was it tears of joy from the Almighty, after backing Nadal or an angry outburst at his favourite son being defeated?

However it is sunny in Marseille where I am heading today, and from where I will deliver more riveting tennis dispatches as we lead into Wimbledon. Of course these will not be from first hand viewing, but will rely on sitting back on water's edge, drinking and eating and calmly tapping into the reports on my cool live scores IPad app or watching the live coverage on screens where available.

Life in the south of France will be hard to stomach so spare a thought for me while I grit my teeth and bear it!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Rafa Reigns again on Roger's parade

For two weeks, things had happened in Paris, on an off the tennis court, but when it all washed up we once more had the stubbornness of possibly the greatest male player of all time to have yet another crack at the modern day owner of Court Philippe Chatrier.

Before the tournament, the widely held expectation was that the French Open 2011 vintage would be a wine produced by either Rafael Nadal or his nemesis this year Novak Djokovic. Not many expected that the grapes from one of Roger Federer's vineyards would be the season's surprise packet.

Already established as one of the two form players of the tournament before the semis, along with Nadal, Roger is now being talked seriously in terms of cover of Time for what he dished up against Djokovic on Friday. However it was defending champion Nadal who entered the match as bookies favourite, although the crowd may have been leaning just a little Roger's way.

The semi final form was fresh for the Swiss player as he took little time in racking up a 2-0 lead over the surprised yet unperturbed Spaniard. With Roger serving well Rafa needed to remain patient and where he could keep the points long - on clay this would ultimately occur.
Each player was thrilling their fans as the match began to take shape, and Roger, with a break and serving first found himself at 5-2, and even better for him with set point. Rafa could only watch helplessly and then breathe a huge sigh as Roger's drop shot slipped wide.

Rafa held for 3-5, and we all believed that Roger would continue his good serving and take the set - enter some serving problems to spoil that theory. Add to that the Spanish resolve and the break point presented was gladly accepted and we had 4-5 with Nadal to serve next. With all the running, Rafa lifted his game and made Federer play longer points which tested Roger's patience. His inability to put away winners, mainly a product of Rafa's extraordinary desperation to chase everything and be prepared at the end of the chase with racquet in perfect position to return a potential point winning stroke, made it nigh on impossible to break the Nadal serve. The causal effect was to pressure the Federer serve which had been so solid until 5-5.

Rafa exploded in this game, pouncing on every opening that appeared and taking the break opportunity to lead 6-5 and be serving inexplicably for the first set, with the final 5 games to do so. This he did with consummate ease, and the body language from the other end, which to be honest, had been anything but pumped up while doing the front running, was now downright depressing to us who had our support behind the champion.

Things became bleaker in set two with Roger simply being outplayed from the back of the court - Nadal broke straight away, led 3-1 and could almost have had a second and fatal break but for some great fight and champion qualities from Federer. Still when more serves were held and the games reached 4-3 with Rafa to come to the line again, a change was needed to the direction of a final which was steadily slipping out of the grasp of the 16 time grand slam tournament winner.

As if his brain registered that moving forward to take net position and volley occasionally may break the game apart somewhat, the body obeyed, and Roger thwarted Nadal's hitherto successful crosscourt and down the line slashing winners and error forcing blasts. Back on serve and we had ourselves a final once more.

Roger was still calm - his demeanor unchanged since the start of the match. One would not have thought that he had just brought him himself back from maybe the brink. The facial expression more befitted the result of his next service game which was anything but memorable. After asserting himself so well to come back, the ease with which Roger surrendered the break back immediately suggested that this set was all but gone the same way as the first.

Rafa had set point but at 40-30 rain began to become an issue, so much so that the players were forced to leave the court, but not before Nadal had granted one parting gesture to his opponent by committing an error and leaving the score tantalizingly at deuce.

Back from the rain break - only a short one - and it was the Swiss player who adjusted better quicker and managed to break yet again for 5-5. Roger had the ominous look for the first time since early in the final as he races to 6-5, but Nadal wanted the tie breaker and so the umpire granted his wish. This umpire by the way was an embarrassment - I will not give him too much space here, but he was impotent when the crowd needed controlling, never once requesting silence at appropriate times, out of respect for the players. All chair umpires are trained to be alert to close line calls and any disputes arising. He just announced the score and demonstrated the most inept display at a Grand Slam tournament that I have witnessed, let alone in a Men's Final which demands the best officials. There enough said.

Roger's tie break efforts against Djokovic were superb and match winning - in the second set breaker in the final Nadal was leading 4-0 in a flash. Too much to respond to, and that gap was maintained to the end which saw Nadal holding a 7-5 7-6 lead and a firm grip on French Open title number six.

Nothing early in the third changed the universal view that Roger was in deep trouble, this trouble compounded when Nadal broke service to lead 4-2. More fight in the Federer tank as he hit his straps in the very next game to break back for 3-4. On serve until as in set one we had 5-5. This time Nadal was serving, and the scoreboard pressure was all on Federer. As long as Nadal held, a slip by Roger would be the match over. So the master played his best returning game of the match to easily break the Spanish serve and have the chance to serve for his first set of the final.

To his supporters' rapture, Federer won the third set 7-5 and at last some reward for his efforts in the match had come his way. Only, the glory for him in set 4 was limited indeed. With Rafa serving first, again Roger could ill afford a slip, especially in the later stages of the set. So Roger attacked Rafa with everything at his disposal including a kitchen sink if my eyes didn't deceive me. 0-40, and surely this was the break needed to progress to a two sets all position.

The 2011 French Open was decided in the next game and a half. Rafa saved all of the break points in a stretch of 5 straight to hold serve and mentally destabilise Federer. It arose through Nadal lifting his game to another level, attacking in a Federer-like fashion where Federer had been reticent to do, and giving us an entree to the best set of shot retrieval one would ever hope to see.

Federer from this point was in a different match to Nadal who was playing in his own special universe. Nadal serving first with a break stretched the lead to 4-1, and Roger needed to hold serve to stay alive. As much as Roger tried, Rafa had already had the engravers begin their work on the silverware as he cruised through, breaking for a second time, and serving the final set out with comfort.

So number six at Roland Garros for Rafa, and yet another success over Roger in a Grand Slam tournament final. Roger will be pleased with the tournament but be regretting missed early chances in the final. Wimbledon could be the scene of another title for the Swiss star.

Rafa stays number one for a little while longer and must rate himself a fair chance of defending his Wimbledon title

Congratulations to all the players in all the matches - especially Li Na with her breakthrough and of course Rafa for equalling Bjorn Borg's record of six titles here.

Special thanks to Steve, Kathy and the gang for taking great care of us while we were in Paris - making sure we made it to matches on time and did not become lost and for generally providing wonderful hospitality.

Li Na breaks through

For years, Li Na has threatened to succeed at the highest level in tennis, but mainly due to the era, her contemporaries have won the spoils and knocked her out at quarter or semi final stages. In Melbourne this year she achieved her first final appearance at a Grand Slam tournament losing a close three setter to Kim Clijsters.

The French Open had given her another chance at the jackpot, due to a range of factors - an underprepared Clijsters who was defeated early, surprise exits in the first week by top seed Wozniacki, last year's runner-up Stosur and in-form German player Goerges. Li Na still had Azarenka to beat in the quarter finals but the Belarussian had never been past that stage of a major so Li Na had that in her favour.

As things transpired, Francesca Schiavone ended up as the highest seed left on her side of the draw after the carnage of the top seeds extended to Zvonareva. So the final was between the youngsters on tour 30 year old defending champion Schiavone and 29 year old Li. Judging from their semi finals, Li would need to be more inventive in order to break up the many facets that exist in the Italian's game.

Considering that 12 months previous Schiavone had raised the trophy in triumph, her start was anything but assured, whereas it was the Chinese girl who took the game up to Francesca, surprising her with her willingness to move forward at times rather than play the baseline role which had proved entirely sufficient against the limited Sharapova in the semis.

The big forehand remained the cornerstone of Li's attack, though, and she held serve early without any signs of trouble. Being one of the few players able to consistently handle Schiavone's wicked slice and spin, Li managed to pressure enough of the Italian ground strokes into unforced error, achieving the initial break of the match early in set one. The remainder of the set went with serve, an unusual occurrence in women's singles finals these days, but one which brought a half smile to the Chinese face as another Italian error presented her the set. Half a smile was all that Li would allow herself, because she knew that the job to this point had been half completed. The wounded champion must be all the more respected.

Francesca found herself in even deeper trouble at the beginning of set two, seriously wounded when broken in the first game. Li saved a break point with an ace and held serve which she would continue to do solidly. At 3-1, she had a golden opportunity to secure the match with a simple put away and a double break. However she netted the shot, and Schiavone took heart from the near death experience.

At 4-3, still in command but receiving much more of a contest from a Schiavone showing her more recognisable skills, Li served to be one game away from glory. However she faulted and the crafty Italian could sense a third set coming up as she equalled at 4-4. Both girls traded a full range of top notch tennis shots, Schiavone with her spin and devilish backhand, Li with the regulation brutal forehand. The trend was moving ever so slightly towards the Italian in general play and the shots from the Chinese racquet were a little more conservative. Li served to stay in the set at 4-5, and again at 5-6, both times with success, but without the assuredness of what we witnessed earlier.

In fact in the 12th game a controversial line call at deuce went in favour of the Chinese girl, and rather than have to face a break point she instead proceeded to win the game and dominate the tie breaker, not relinquishing a single further point to Schiavone for the match. Partly explained by Francesca's devastation at the chair umpire's decision, but more so by her opponent's capacity to step it up when it mattered most. Lobbing and volleying superbly and serving as expected in a match deciding position, Li Na triumphed in the 2011 French Open 6-4 7-6.

Francesca could be well proud of her title defense, and although she slips a spot in the rankings, that is simply a statistic belying the position she holds in world tennis. Li Na now moves ahead of Azarenka to her highest ever ranking of 4 and is China's first Grand Slam singles champion. She deserves all that comes with that.

As an Australian, living in a country that has a wonderful trading relationship with China, I put it to the powers that be that for some extra exports of valuable minerals, we gain Li Na as our latest import because our tennis stocks are in serious need of a boost!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

"The Match"

Some had said that Federer may find it difficult to win a major title again, a habit that he had developed to the annoyance of all the other players for most of his career. Last rites had been performed, obituaries written, statues started to be built in memory of the once great master of the game.

However there is something romantic about Paris not only in Spring but in the Summer of 2011. The romantic tale generated here to out sell all others is the rebirth of Roger. Rated a chance by most experts of reaching the semi finals but losing to the impregnable Djokovic, Federer defied all and sundry by playing the best tennis of the tournament to reach the semi final match up, and failing to drop a set on the journey there.

What we witnessed on Friday evening and into the night was every positive adjective one could find in a thesaurus and some more that have yet to be invented. Facing an opponent who had not lost to anyone since last November, Roger Federer played imperiously from the outset, forcing the Serbian star to come and join him on the ride to donate to the paying audience possibly the greatest semi final in mens Grand Slam tournament play since Federer's loss to Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open.

The surface was clay, but it may as well have been a kitchen floor because the shots that the players created made nonsense of any environmental determinants that may have existed. Despite exchanging service breaks, it was Novak who had to draw from the well more times to stay with the Swiss maestro, and yet all of a sudden the Serb stood at set point 4-5 on Roger's serve. But as Sampras used to do so immaculately, and Roger has continued in his footsteps to do, big points were played with the best tennis and Roger saved himself. A tiebreak was appropriate and Federer proved his capacity to control these better than the rest as he won through to take the set 7-6.

The Swiss are neutral but the crowd was anything but as they erupted when Roger grasped the significant early advantage. Of course early being the operative word. Still plenty with which to be concerned on the other side of the net. Federer had been dictating with his serve and the return of Djokovic, expected to expose Roger, had not reeked as much havoc as predicted.

A subdued Serb suffered at the hands of a rampant Roger early in the second set. Down a break, Roger did not want to let Novak back - a two set break would be a huge mountain to climb. At 2-5, Djokovic summoned all his willpower to struggle out of a service game of trouble and even then to have a chance to break Federer, but once more the Swiss superstar blocked the opportunity, and clinched a 6-3 second set to add to the earlier first set that he had collected.

Now there was a doubt whether the match could conclude should Novak make a comeback. No way could 5 sets be completed before darkness so we could have been back to watch more of this cracker of a match. As expected of a top player, Djokovic did make the comeback, and through exhilarating tennis that has been his trademark all season, he troubled Federer, reading his slice and handling his serve much better. Against all the crowd support, the Serb took the set 6-3, and the match was closer to back in the balance but still with Federer the favorite.

The fourth set couldn't be any better. Oh yes it could! We saw some of the best rallies of the tournament in this part of the match, including the single best rally I personally witnessed ended with an astonishing winner from Roger at a key stage of the set. Djokovic achieved the break in the ninth game due to the worst service game from Roger for the match, but when serving for two sets all, the pressure showed, and experienced Roger went for the kill and the break back for 5-5.

The two exchanged serves, but not before at 30-30 and 5-6 Novak played the bravest and best of drop shot winners to reach game point which could have set up a match point for Roger.

A tie break followed, and Roger led early again before the Serb fightback. An ace from Djokovic made it 5-6 giving Roger centre stage to serve for the match, having had 2 match points saved by Novak. What better way to place an exclamation mark on a famous victory in a tremendous match than to serve yet another ace.

Vintage Roger outplayed a player who may one day be classed in the upper echelons of the games, but only marginally. A year or so ago, these matches would have been over for Novak in a lot shorter time than the three and a half hours it took Federer to subdue him. Fight and talent are both key to the Serbian game now.

For Roger he has yet another date with Rafa in a Grand Slam tournament final - the first time they have met at such a stage since the 2009 Australian Open. If Sunday is anywhere near as great as that five setter, then we can expect another treat, and I love being spoilt here in Paris!

Now girls that is a hard act to follow!

As one who purchases tickets to every Australian Open, and now a couple of US Opens and this year Roland Garros, experience suggests that quarters, semis and finals can be slightly less inspiring than the potential that they demand.

However, we were pretty certain that Friday 3 June 2011 was not going to fall into that category. The final analysis will show that the top 4 men's players in the world gave us far more than even we could possibly have expected, the spectacular day ending as night was falling on Paris on breathtaking, pulsating tennis that the Women's Final will find difficult to follow.

First it was king of the clay - and while he is the French Open champ he remains king - Rafa Nadal to have a hit of tennis on his birthday with young mate Andy Murray who he'd invited over to one of the local courts he'd booked for a few hours. Being a good sport, Scotsman Murray granted Nadal first use of a break of serve in the match which had attracted quite a few onlookers from around the neighbourhood.

Andy seemed to be striking the tennis balls rather harshly, as if there was something personal against them, yet the Spaniard concentrated on retrieving almost all of them and sending them back to Scotland with interest, and the interest was great for us in the crowd. Murray could not make inroads into the match largely due to the arsenal which the Spaniard had brought with him, including one of the highest calibre legally available forehands, this latest model with the super top spin option included.

At 1-5, Andy needed to hold serve to at least keep Nadal honest and hold serve for the set which appeared headed his way. Not only did Andy keep his end of the bargain, but finally converted a break point in Rafa's next game. Despite having more chances as Nadal served a second time for the set, Murray could not succeed, and the big point winner took the opening set 6-4. Murray had made his statement, though - he was now playing well enough to win.

The second set was a smorgasbord of delightful tennis fare for which we went back for seconds and thirds - we could not have enough of the splendid rallies, highlighted by the power serving and deft touch of Murray and the running capacity of Nadal who reached all but a few of the Scot's ground strokes then adding some Spanish flavor of his own before returning over the other side in a usually more difficult form with which to deal.

Twice Nadal broke, only for Murray to break straight back, but at 5-5 the champ struck, and unfortunately Murray at 5-6 could not prevent Rafa serving to take a two set lead in a match that while close was feeling a million miles out of reach for Andy.

Any chance of an heroic comeback was dashed immediately in the third set when an apparent mental lapse led to a break of serve - yet again it required Andy to come from behind to win a set. More elite tennis from both players as the clock ticked over 3 hours - shots that surely are not meant to be made by mere mortals were being struck as if in practice by Rafa and Andy, but as much as the break points kept coming for Murray, so the conversion necessary to continue the match did not.

Rafa Nadal served his way into a sixth French Open final with a straight sets but anything but straightforward victory over gallant Andy Murray 6-4 7-5 6-4.