Thursday, June 30, 2011

WIMBLEDON: Divemaster Tsonga pulls off upset of his career... Smiles his way past Federer

Before the match, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said:

"I have the chance to play a game that will be engraved in my life. If I beat Federer on Wimbledon Centre Court it will count as a match in my career."

And then he walked on the court the next day and did it! After he trailed two sets to love nonetheless. What exactly do we call that? Rising to the occasion? That's just trivial compared to what he did. Sky-rocketing to perfection? Nah too blah! Gladiating performance? Federer was no lion in the last three sets...

Words are failing me at the moment. For now, enjoy the Frenchman's post-match interview above.

Keep on smiling, Jo!

Monday, June 27, 2011

WIMBLEDON VIDEO: Djokovic's ode to Marat Safin

For those who didn’t catch Novak Djokovic’s masterpiece of a tantrum following an amazing point which he inexcusably lost to Marcos Baghdatis in the third round, here’s what you missed…

Clearly the tantrum worked – Marat Safin would be proud – because Djokovic plays his fourth round match at Wimbledon today against Michael Llodra.

WIMBLEDON: I've Got A Feeling...

As we throw week 1 of Wimbledon behind our backs, and focus on week 2 that starts today, I have this eerie feeling that I just can't shake.
While Rafael Nadal has been explosive at many points during the past week, and Roger Federer is floating in another galaxy not just planet, I can't help but "feel" (whatever that means) that Andy Murray will win Wimbledon.

I really think that the tennis gods will be kind to the Brits for the first time since 1936.

I don't think I have a real technical explanation for my psychic "premonition"...

Maybe because Murray played an awesome clay season but there was no way he was going to beat Rafa at the French, that's just against the laws of the universe but Wimbledon is a place where such an act is at least plausible!

Or maybe because I keep remembering his performance from 3 weeks ago against Andy Roddick and imagine him repeating that bulldozing form in his upcoming 4 matches?

I also know that Murray can take the ball early if he wants to, and attack very well particularly with his backhand, which he can use to hurt Roger and Rafa (like he has in the past) he just needs to remember to do that. Maybe the entire Centre Court needs to hold banners saying one word: ATTACK! That way he won't forget.

Something else that gave me those pro-Murray vibes was the Scot's match against Ivan Ljubicic. Murray was in trouble in that match especially when his first serve was at a lame 46% in the second set. Ljubicic was very annoying with his walnut-shaped bald head reflecting light from every source around the arena, and his majestic one-handed backhand, hitting those return winners with absolute ease but Murray was somehow unfazed.

He made adjustments, pushed his first serve to the high 60s and came up with a solution in a timely manner.

When Murray was serving for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set, some poor serving as well as a bad overrule from the umpire, allowed Ljubicic to break back and level the set, something that could have easily thrown Murray off his game, but still the 24-year-old managed to put the match to bed, grabbing the tie-break 7-4.

Granted Rafa, Fed or Djokovic could have reacted in the same way, so why do I feel that Murray has any advantage over them? Maybe cuz I feel he's REALLY hungry for that trophy much more than he ever was, and maybe cuz I feel his mentality at Grand Slams compared to the top 3 has never measured up and now I'm looking for signs to prove he actually is mentally stronger this time around.

Anyone making predictions now is really just speculating at best, because to be honest the Awesome Foursome are all as strong as ever, and all we can really do is wait for every match to pass to draw more conclusions and try to spot a weakness amongst a stream of perfection.

All I have is an inkling that Murray will win this whole thing and put to bed the whole no British winner since Fred Perry once and for all cuz honestly I'm so sick of that line, yet I keep repeating it myself!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pre-Wimby Thoughts: Sensing a legendary Wimbledon

Wimbledon starts today and I could have sworn that Isner-Mahut three-day match took place a month ago not a whole freakin' year?! And just to make things more confusing for me, the irony of the tennis gods has pit John Isner and Nicolas Mahut against one another in the first round at SW19 this year.

My first reaction when I saw the draw was just what Isner said he thought: that the draw was definitely rigged! But then I realized how silly that sounded and instead took a moment to appreciate those small delicious coincidences life throws at us from time to time.

Too bad for "Isnut" though. Both players have been trying to shake off that marathon match shadow all year and just like that, the shadow is back to haunt them for perhaps a whole other year to come.

Moving along to the serious stuff... How awesome is it that we come to this Wimbledon with the top four at a level of strength never maintained before heading into the Championships?

Picture this: Rafael Nadal arrives to Wimbledon having won a sixth French Open where he defeated both Andy Murray and Roger Federer en route to the title.

Federer arrives to Wimbledon having outclassed Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semis, ending the Serb's unbeaten run. Djokovic built that streak over 6 months and it came to a tumbling end at the hands of the master himself!

Djokovic arrives to Wimbledon having won 7 out of his first 7 tournaments in 2011. In his own words, the 24-year-old has never had such a strong build-up to the third Slam of the year. His confidence is through the roof, irrespective of his loss to Federer, who is a 16-Slam champion after all!

Murray arrives to Wimbledon off a very strong clay court season. The Scot took Rafa to three sets in Monte Carlo, almost beat Djokovic in Rome, and overcame some tough mishaps in Paris to make the semis before an imminent fall to "Roi Rafa". I don't know about you but this Murray is a different Murray from the mopey one we know.

Forget the clay, Murray on grass is my favorite kind of Murray. His performances at Queen's Club were as poetic as they were brutal. While his form against Roddick was certainly the most devastating of the week, the way he deconstructed Tsonga is just as admirable.

Indeed never have the top four been this hot coming to the All England Club.

Djokovic said in his press conference that he still places Nadal and Federer ahead of the pack when it comes to Wimbledon, and I don't blame him.

The facts are: Federer has won a record 5 straight Wimbledons, six in total. Nadal has not lost at Wimbledon since his final loss to Federer in 2007 (missed 2009 with injury). His winning streak is currently at 14 at SW19. Federer and Nadal have shared the last eight titles at Wimbledon (Fed 6, Rafa 2).

So yes, it's only human that one would place Rafa and Fed ahead of the pack but this year is unlike any other year and I think it's time experience and stats are tossed out the window.

This is a year Britain can have its first male Wimby champion since 1936. It's a year Djokovic could win his first major on grass. It's a year Murray could not only silence the British media, but earn himself a much-deserved Slam. It's a year Nadal can make the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double for a third time - only Borg has done that. It's a year Federer can equal Pete Sampras' record of 7 Wimbledon titles.

Too many possibilities, none are far-fetched! One thing we take from this is that this will be a legendary Wimbledon!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

ROLAND GARROS: Face of the Day - Ons Jabeur - French Open Junior Champion

Ons Jabeur carrying the Tunisian flag on Court 2 at Roland Garros after winning the Juniors title

Na Li may have made history for Asian tennis yesterday but today it was the Arabs' turn to triumph as 16-year-old Ons Jabeur claimed the Roland Garros Juniors Championship with an emphatic 7/6 6/1 victory over Puerto rican, Monica Puig, to become the first girl from North Africa to win a Grand Slam Juniors title.

No similar feat has been achieved by a North African, since Ismail El Shafei of Egypt won the 1964 Wimbledon Boys' singles title, eight years after Tunisian Mustapha Belkhodja won the French Open boys' singles title in 1956.

Jabeur had made the final at Roland Garros last year but fell short at the last hurdle and she came to Paris this fortnight on a specific mission to fulfill her dream and win a title in a tournament that is ever special to her.

"Last year's loss helped. I didn't want to go through that again," said Jabeur after her win on Sunday.

"But the hardest thing was the five months I was off the courts with a wrist injury. The tendon is still weak, but I made sacrifices and it was worth it. It is amazing to win at the French Open. I hope Tunisia is proud of me."

Jabeur will next take part in the Wimbledon Juniors Championship, where she reached the semifinals in doubles last year partnering Puig, her defeated opponent today.

TWIT WITS: 'Deliciano' Talk!

Now that's what I call "twittertainment"! Feliciano Lopez causing raucous on Twitter amongst the ladies. Namely Judy Murray and Andrea Petkovic.

And that's yet another reason why we don't like having our parents on the internet :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

ROLAND GARROS: Ons Jabeur - A Ray of Light in Arab Tennis

There is an Arab tennis player in the finals at Roland Garros... The Juniors Championship at Roland Garros to be precise, and she's Tunisian, 16, and fierce!

Ons Jabeur will be playing on Sunday her second straight French Open Girls' Singles final and this year, she'll try to go a step further than last and win the trophy.

Jabeur toppled several tough opponents along the way including the tournament top seed, Daria Gavrilova, and French favorite, Caroline Garcia, who had taken a set off Maria Sharapova in the ladies' singles draw.

Jabeur is ranked 12th in the world juniors rankings and 746 in the WTA rankings.

In the interview below she was asked when she planned on making the transition to the WTA circuit and the Tunisian said she will play the juniors competition at Wimbledon first then she will try to switch her focus to the WTA.

She was also asked why she chose to play the Roland Garros Juniors competition again after she reached the final last year, and the Tunisian said it's been a dream of hers to win Roland Garros, regardless if it was in the girls or ladies category. She was disappointed that she lost last year and she'll do her best to win it this year.

Not in many contexts can you find 16-year-old's talking like mature adults but in sport, it's not only possible, but it's common. When Jabeur was asked if it was risky returning to Roland Garros after making the final last year, she replied with a smile saying, yes it was risky but she went through it because life is full of risks!

Jabeur's final is against Puerto Rican Monica Puig, who is ranked 314 in the WTA rankings and is one year her senior.

The match is scheduled second from an 11:00a.m start on Court 2 and it should be aired on Jazeera Sport 2. Best of luck to the Arab teen, who is definitely an inspiration to our youth.

And to those who don't think it's a big deal making the finals in the juniors competition at a Grand Slam, all I can say is that in Egypt, we've been bragging about Ismail El Shafei winning the Wimbledon Juniors title for the past 47 years.

None of the active Arab tennis players have matched Jabeur's feat and I hope she continues to excel, and makes a swift transition to the ladies' circuit!

ROLAND GARROS: Federer has never stopped believing... Have you?

It was a match that we will never forget. You know those matches we easily pull off the top of our heads when we're having an intense tennis conversation?

We'd be like 'hey, remember that Rafa-Fed Wimbledon final that went into the night? Or that Rafa-Verdasco semifinal in Australia that lasted all day? Or how about that Marat-Fed semifinal in Australia in 2005?'

Yesterday's Federer-Djokovic semifinal in Paris is one of those matches we will keep referring to for a very long time.

We're going to say 'remember when we thought Federer was done and then he beat Djokovic at Roland Garros and shook the tennis order?'

There was the French Open that Rafa won on debut, the French Open that Rafa lost to Soderling and Federer won to complete a Grand Slam... There was the Australian Open that Safin won, the Australian Open where Federer cried and now there is the French Open where Federer was seeded third and turned around back-to-back Grand Slams losses to Djokovic into an emphatic four-set win over the Serb at Roland Garros.

I personally never thought Federer was done with his Grand Slam glory days, but I never predicted he'd beat Djokovic fair and square that way last night. That was just too good to fathom.

He is undoubtedly the most talented man to ever hold a tennis racquet but he's been losing matches he never would have lost before, he's been Slam-less since the 2010 Oz Open and people were freaking out.

Now Federer is into his 5th French Open final. The Swiss phenom has made the final at each Grand Slam AT LEAST five times. Can you comprehend that kind of supremacy? Can you digest the fact that he's won at least one Grand Slam every year for the past 8 years (from 2003-2010)?

If Nadal and Borg are competing over the title of the best clay-courter ever (I personally think it's Rafa although I was a fetus the year Borg retired), Federer is undisputedly the one right behind them in that category.

Federer has 16 Slams and has wowed us countless times throughout the years, why are we raving about yesterday's match so much?

Well if anything, Federer did stuff yesterday we've never seen him do before.

There were some backhands that were almost poetic, hit with an intensity we've never seen from him before.

There were rallies he kept running down from start to finish as if he were Rafa, and his choking/giving up tendency apparent in most of his recent tournaments was not there. He pulled out the aces when he needed them the most and minimized the errors as much as he could.

Last night it was vintage Federer with a twist!

He was playing freely, but also with the kind of motivation that kept him pumped throughout the match. It's like he had a message to the tennis world and it was "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"

Djokovic may be the best player this season, but Friday night, he was schooled! There was a revival from the Serb in the third set but nothing was enough to stop the Roger Storm.

Is this all because of Paul Annacone? It's a fact that Federer has been more aggressive since he joined forces with the former coach of Pete Sampras.

His serve and backhand have been tweaked but has the American also helped Federer with his mental weaknesses against certain players? Namely Rafael Nadal?

Yesterday while I was watching the match (at a wedding I must add) I was surrounded by Federer fanatics and they were all waiting for their man to choke. They never saw that ace at match point coming. Is it perhaps a statement that the 29-year-old is now mentally tougher than we all think he is?

More importantly, can he hold is own against Rafa on Philippe Chatrier at yet another French Open final? The last time those 2 played at that stage in Paris, Rafa humiliated Roger 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. But that was in 2008, the year Rafa made his inevitable ascension to the top of the world rankings.

Now we're at a stage where Federer is probably used to not being in the top spot and there is "some" concern over Rafa's mental strength after his back-to-back defeats to Djokovic and his wobbly few rounds at the French.

However I think Rafa's matches against Soderling and Murray were not plagued with those mental lapses and he was hitting the ball like his monstrous self with a few small problems with his movement, but that is probably cuz of the wind.

So who do I favor tomorrow? I think the Rafa-believer in me is forcing me to stick to the basics, to what I've learned over the past 7 years. Nadal does not lose to Federer at Roland Garros!

All am going to say is that I believe Rafa will win but if there was ever a year Federer could beat him on Philippe Chatrier, then this may as well be it!

If Annacone has a secret master plan for Federer that will make him play differently than how he normally does against Nadal, then there's a tiny window of opportunity there.

This is Federer and Nadal's 25th meeting. The silver anniversary of the best two players who have ever graced the game, and it's only fitting that it takes place at Roland Garros under these amazing circumstances. It's going to be huge!

"I’m aware that I’ve got to play some extraordinary tennis, but I never stopped believing..."-- Roger Federer speaks ahead of his final against Nadal

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Alizé Cornet interviews Bob Sinclar

French player, Alizé Cornet interviews acclaimed DJ Bob Sinclar for WTA's Xperia Hotshots. The French DJ is a huge tennis fan but clearly is interested in a lot more than just the game. He certainly gets his flirt on with Cornet!

Sinclar said he is luckier than many French tennis players because he got the chance to play on Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros while filming the video for his song with Martin Solveig, Hello.

If I'm not mistaken, this interview takes place at Kapital club in Madrid.

*Hit the CC button if you don't speak French.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ROLAND GARROS: Quote of the Day from Rafael Nadal

Question: What do you think about Djokovic/Federer semifinal?

Rafael Nadal: Well the best player of the world today against the best player of the history, so difficult to say more things.

Nice, precise and correct!

ROLAND GARROS: The Curious Case of Andy Murray

Photo via Andy Murray's official Facebook page

So Andy Murray pulled off a miraculous how-the-heck-did-he-do-that kind of comeback against Viktor Troicki on Tuesday and he did it with a torn ankle tendon nonetheless!

The Scot said he was on as many pills as Ozzy Osbourne probably was, and the way he played Troicki on both Monday and Tuesday (the match was resumed on Tuesday cuz of darkness) makes me wonder: was the bad ankle the reason for him not dominating from the start and suffering all those service breaks, or is it just another case of Murray digging himself a hole then killing our nervous system while we watch him climb out of it??

I wrote after Murray's match against Bolelli that it was getting extremely frustrating watching Murray defend from miles behind the baseline waiting for his opponent to make a mistake or simply get bored.

While Murray was closer to the baseline against Troicki at many points during the match he still gave the Serb the confidence to dictate many points and after rallying from two sets down, the Dunblane boy was suddenly down 3-5 and on the receiving end.

When Troicki went up 30-0 while serving for the match, I really believed Murray was gone, except what happened was a textbook choke from Troicki's side.

Murray managed to do against Troicki, what Djokovic had done against him (Murray) in the Rome semifinals a few weeks ago. He stayed calm and watched his opponent decompose.

But why was Murray in that position to begin with? He's not the first player to fight back from the brink of defeat, but does he realize he is way better than being the kind of player who only fights when he is almost out? One who only attacks once every new moon?

It's true the ankle could be affecting him a lot more than it seemed on court against Troicki (he was still running all over the court) but his current game plan is too risky for my liking.

The 24-year-old now plays clay-court specialist Juan Ignacio Chela. If he knows what's good for him, he'd do anything to shorten those points against the Argentine.

I realize I've forgotten to give credit to Troicki for his performance on Tuesday. Up until the choke, he played some brilliant tennis, but I'm sure he's beating himself up pretty bad right now and I don't blame him!

Only person I feel sorry for more than Troicki today is probably the ball kid who ran on court during a point which was clearly Troicki's but was replayed anyways. Poor kid had the luck of making a mistake in the middle of a packed Suzanne Lenglen arena, that was replayed countless times on televisions worldwide! Would never wanna be in his shoes that's for sure!

Make sure to check my daily column at Sport360° throughout the French Open.