Monday, 13 July 2015

Novak Djokovic Supreme

Despite his compelling achievements over the past several years, many are still reluctant to afford the best male tennis player on the planet his due full credit.  Amazingly some writers continue to couch the Djokovic stats in terms of a tired "Big Four" picture.  But more of that later.

The 2015 final was the second in a row fought between seven time winner Roger Federer and the world number one Novak Djokovic who has won all the big tournaments in which he has competed this year, bar Roland Garros.  Would he be able to put the massive disappointment of failure again in Paris behind him and repeat his famous 2014 Wimbledon win over Roger?  The question apparently took on more weight given the thrashing dished out to Andy Murray by Federer in the semi final.

Djokovic eased into another final - his third straight - still breathing a sigh of relief following his fourth round escape against Kevin Anderson.  Experts were divided, but enough were swayed by hope that Federer could capture another GS title, such a success having eluded him for three years.

The Swiss star opened best, attacking with flair and limiting the avenues for effective Djokovic replies.  Serving at 4-2, the first set surely was Roger's.  However, if one player is capable of dealing with the Federer serve it is Novak, and he struck back in timely fashion, breaking for 3-4 and readying himself for a tie break.  He almost didn't reach the breaker, needing two big serves at 5-6 to avoid going a set down.  Instead, after levelling at 6-6, the top seed raced away, losing only a single point in the tie break, and receiving a double fault from Roger for a 7-6 first set win.

Set two saw no service breaks in the first nine games, but a double fault from Federer at 4-5 30-30 gave Djokovic a set point.  This was saved, as was a break point on Djokovic's next serve, and another tie break eventually arrived.  At 3-6, things appeared bleak for Roger but he held strong, winning his two serves and requiring Novak to serve for a two set lead.

We were only half way as it turned out, both players providing one of the finest pieces of tie break entertainment in living memory.  Federer staved off set points before finally grabbing his chance, serve volleying to win the set 7-6, 12-10 in the breaker.

Djokovic was visibly angry, mostly with his feet which he assaulted heavily with his racquet.  Those feet moved pretty well in response in the third set, assisting a service break in the fifth game, the last played before a rain delay.

Once back from the interruption, Novak did not drop serve again and the set was his 6-4.

Federer was finding less time to react to the Djokovic ground strokes, with the number one standing closer in at the baseline and hitting with a winning precision.  The fifth game of set four was déjà vu, with the Swiss serve broken and the match effectively over.

Roger could not make sufficient impact on the solid Serb serve, and in an instant he himself was at the line serving at 3-5 to stay in the contest.  It was too overwhelming, and a stunning backhand return to bring up two match points, followed by a forehand winner, concluded the match.

Novak Djokovic had won a third Wimbledon crown 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-3.

Of the past 20 Grand Slam tournaments, Djokovic has won 8 (15 final appearances), Nadal 6 (10), Murray 2 (6), Wawrinka 2 (2), Federer 1 (4), Cilic 1 (1)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Serena's Sweet Sixth Wimbledon

It may not have been her best tennis match, but when you have set a standard as high as Serena Williams over her illustrious career, anything offered on a tennis court now would be difficult to rate as the best, and after all, winning a Grand Slam tournament is all about defeating your opponent, not necessarily having to play perfect tennis, but the type of tennis for the occasion.

Garbine Muguruza, the 21 year old Spanish player, featuring in her first GS level final, pushed Williams hard, her powerful serve and ground strokes able to match those of the top seed for the first half of the opening set.  Of course, the Sharapova-like donation of 3 double faults in the first game, contributing largely to the ultimate service break, provided just the impetus for Muguruza to race to 4-2 and tantalisingly close to a set lead.

Serena, though, has teased a lot over the past month or so, giving hope to many players at Roland Garros and Wimbledon while trailing by a break, or a set, or both, and then dashing those hopes by emerging from the compromised situations and icing the matches.

Serena switched things up a little after the sixth game, paying more attention to the placement of her own ground strokes, and also requiring more from those of Garbine, who in the eight game stumbled enough to allow the best of her generation (and maybe all time) to achieve the break back for 4-4.

Serena steamed to a 5-4 lead, and Garbine had a game point to level.  Here, the pressure told and a double fault signalled the Williams intervention, the next two points and first set wrapped up by the American.

Serena had grabbed the momentum of the match and ran with it to take a 5-1 advantage in the second, winning the last twelve points to reach that position of dominance.  Serving for the title, Serena stumbled badly, losing the game to love, and a slim ray of light began to shine for Garbine.  Still very much on the edge, not having held serve for some time, the 20th seed did what was required, and after surviving a nervous deuce moment the score line was 5-3 to Williams.

The ninth game of set two was riveting.  Serena double faulted and Garbine then donated a brilliant backhand to the applause of all, including Serena herself.  0-40 came thanks to a splendid off backhand return and the number one had lost her last seven points on serve, all while serving for the title.  

The response?  Save the break points, two with aces, and for good measure throw down another ace to bring up the first championship point.  Surely this would be the moment - Serena had survived the madness and was sealing the deal.

Not so fast said the girl at the other end, as her next withering ground stroke brought it back to deuce and annoyed Serena immensely.  Another break point was negotiated, but Serena failed to deal with the fifth of the game and thanks to another forehand winner Muguruza had sensationally broken back again for 4-5 with the chance to level the set.

Sadly a double fault and an unlucky net cord conspired against Garbine and from 0-30 she contributed two more errors to conclude proceedings.  Serena had become Wimbledon Queen for the sixth time, her 21st Grand Slam Singles triumph. 6-4 6-4.  Not much more can be said about the astonishing Serena Williams when words become inadequate.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Muguruza and Gasquet add spice to semis

The top three men's seeds have manoeuvred their ways to Wimbledon 2015 semi final spots, while the fourth seed threw away a two sets to one lead.  The top women's seed will do battle with the fourth seed in one semi and the other finalist will come from a fight between a debut semi finalist at GS level and the thirteenth seed who was runner up three years ago on the Wimbledon grass.

Federer's progress has been ho hum and Murray has delighted his home fans but provided little interest for anyone else on his way to the inevitable clash with the Swiss former number one.  Andy has the chance to avenge his 2012 final loss to Federer, and I believe that he will - Murray is clearly the second best performed player on tour this year; his progress in GS and Masters events has only ever been blocked by Djokovic, while Federer has won lots of events, but only outside of the big ones.

Roger is at his most dangerous on grass, but so increasingly is Murray, and his returning can cause enough problems to see him reach the final.

Novak Djokovic had a huge wake up call when down two sets to love against Anderson in the fourth round, but other than that he has been impeccable and nothing but the very best of Gasquet will be enough to go close to preventing a third successive final for the world number one and a chance to defend his title.

Serena Williams has another battle with Maria Sharapova, a task with which she has dealt successfully since losing to the 17 year old version of Maria in the 2004 final here.  No evidence has been presented to suggest that the Russian fourth seed will block Williams in her quest for GS title number 21.

Of tremendous interest is the second semi final where exciting Spanish player Garbine Muguruza has the firepower to worry Agnieszka Radwanska.  Neither were expected to last this long in the tournament but they have performed with style and class, and in Muguruza's case plenty of raw power.  It is the power which, if harnessed properly, can be the factor to drive the 21 year old to a surprise final appearance against Serena, and who knows what may occur after that.

As I write, Radwanska has taken the second set to level the first semi final against Muguruza - a great start to Women's Semi Final Day.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Kyrgios - still to deliver

For all the controversy surrounding talented young Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, and those that are willing to forgive his regular indiscretions because of his on court feats, his achievements have really not been that special.

Yes, for a nineteen year old, the fourth round win over Nadal last year at Wimbledon was memorable and perhaps a portent of future success, but his output since has been anything but stellar.

Nick has yet to break into the world top twenty - in fact is still only the number two ranked Australian. His 2015 was jump started with a quarter final result at the Australian Open, and all kinds of predictions  were being thrown around for his rise in the game.

However, his only success against players ranked in the top twenty have been wins against Federer and Raonic, both great triumphs but immediately followed by disappointing losses to Isner and Gasquet respectively.

Six of his eleven losses for the year have been to players in the top twenty, while 14 of his 16 wins have come against those ranked 27 or lower.

No one can reasonably deny the promise of Kyrgios, and the probability that he will eventually realise much of his potential, but to continue to be accepted with all his faults, he does need to deliver some on court success beyond the occasional great match.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Women's Draw in Tatters

Rest day at Wimbledon 2015 gives everyone a chance to take a few breaths and analyse what has happened over an amazing first three rounds of singles play.

While the top half of the women's draw has remained reasonably intact, apart from the disappointing early departure of seventh seed Ana Ivanovic, the dominance of Serena Williams was almost shattered by local Heather Watson who came within two points of ousting the champ.

The second week will begin with yet another Williams sisters clash, and with Maria Sharapova and Lucie Safarova still looming large for quarter final action.  Another Grand Slam tournament specialist who is beginning to make a move after a struggle coming back from injury is Victoria Azarenka.  The 23rd seed, and 2011 semi finalist here, appears set to play a quarter final against the surviving Williams sister and that should be a top match.

The bottom half is simply seed carnage.  Jelena Jankovic turned back the clock to shock the defending champion Petra Kvitova in three thrilling sets, and the second seed followed Simona Halep, Ekaterina Makarova, and Angelique Kerber as top ten players out of the tournament before the round of sixteen.  The highest seed surviving is number 5 Caroline Wozniacki and her next match is a tough one against young Spanish sensation Garbine Muguruza.

Of the remaining eight players in the lower half, no one has won a major, whereas the top half has four players who have won 34 between them.

If Serena is to achieve the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, she will have well and truly deserved it, because she will in all likelihood need to defeat two, maybe three, fellow GS title winners in the process.

The men's draw has not been without its share of damage either, with Nadal the biggest name to fall, joining 8th seed Ferrer and 5th seed Nishikori (albeit the latter by walkover).  Last year's semi finalist Milos Raonic is gone too, at the hands of young Australian Nick Kyrgios.  The 20 year old is acting like a ten year old at times but is thrilling crowds with his tennis.  Hopefully his inflated opinion of himself and where he is in the game, is lowered soon, and he can be a player we like, as well as like to watch.

The sideshows being produced by the likes of Kyrgios and Dustin Brown have not done a thing to rock the worlds of the top four seeds who have not shown the slightest sign of deviating from their respective routes to semi final action.  Sure, Federer and Murray each donated a set in winning third round matches, but the results were never in question.

Karlovic could be the best chance of upsetting the apple cart, but Murray is on home turf and very comfortable.  Only Cilic is left outside of the top four to have won at the highest level, so possibly he and previous finalist Berdych may cause some issues should they make it to the final eight.

For me though, a Djokovic v Murray finale still looks the best bet.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Round one done - lessons learned

What have we gained from watching the first round of singles matches at Wimbledon 2015, apart from the beginnings of a fortnights insufficient sleep ?

We now know that Petra Kvitova has found her path to a title defence, and third Wimbledon crown much clearer with the shock dismissal of third seed Simona Halep.  Eugenie Bouchard, last year's runner-up, also departed in round one, but that sadly has become her MO for 2015.

Kvitova, Kerber, Lisicki and others wasted little time in parcelling up the necessary two sets and earning second round spots, while recent top ten debutant Carla Suarez-Navarro, proved that grass is not her surface by leaving the singles competition immediately to concentrate on her doubles obligations.

Serena lost more games than Venus, who actually gave away none, and the two sisters could meet in the fourth round.

Not as much to be put in the knowledge bank from the men's openers, other than confirmation for the thousandth time of Lleyton Hewitt's fighting abilities.  After losing the fourth set 6-0 to Nieminen, the Aussie didn't fade away, grinding out the final stanza for twenty games only to lose the match but not any admirers.  I especially liked Sharapova's remarks in praise of Hewitt's contribution to the game over two decades.

Another Australian, John Millman, removed Spain's Tommy Robredo, seeded 19, in a straight sets upset, but it should be noted that Tommys Wimbledon record is hardly memorable - his best effort in 14 attempts was a fourth round loss last year.

The top seeds performed well, and in reality, the practice hitting partners may have provided greater opposition for Novak, Andy etc. (apologies to Kohlschreiber whose effort against the defending champion deserves some praise)
Tsonga and Nishikori each did struggle for five sets before deciding to stick around for a little while longer, while others of lesser ability donated five setters which were just excruciating.

Second round contests promise continued surprises and more great tennis - hopefully the standard of the press conferences lifts because the players deserve more intelligent and relevant questioning.