Wednesday, November 21, 2012

VIDEO: Rafael Nadal back practicing on court after long injury lay-off

One of the happiest sights I've seen in a while is Rafael Nadal back hitting on a tennis court.

I saw a tweet the other day that listed the Spaniard's entire 2012 season in 140 characters. It almost broke my heart. But that's what you get when you don't play a single match since losing the second round at Wimbledon.

It feels like forever since we last saw him compete so watching Toni feed him some balls to serve is 36 seconds I'm so grateful to watch and repeat.

Nadal is set to play either Andy Murray or Janko Tipsarevic in Abu Dhabi on December 28. I can't wait to see him hit and make sure he's really recovered with my very own eyes.

In the meantime, enjoy that forehand racquet speed in the video below... 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: Day Six Diary - Class act Federer feels for Ferrer

Sport is sometimes cruel and tennis is no exception.

Yesterday at the O2 we witnessed a scenario where one of two players in Group B was going to move into the semi-finals and the other was not, even though there weren’t on opposite sides of the net.

Those two where Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer.

Advancing from a round robin group is nothing new to sport but it’s not common in tennis, which was evident in the widespread confusion over the possible scenarios for various players to qualify throughout the past few days.

Yesterday’s schedule however resulted in quite a bizarre scenario where the result of the early match between del Potro and Roger Federer made the result of the night match obsolete, and meant that whatever Ferrer did against Janko Tipsarevic at night only determined the semi-final fixtures, which both players would not be involved in.

It meant Ferrer was the subject of many people’s sympathies at the O2 yesterday especially considering how he beat del Potro in his opening match and fought hard against Federer in his second. But the Spaniard’s fate was decided before he even stepped on court last night, thanks to a determined del Potro.

It was quite a sad ending for Ferrer and even Federer said he felt for him. “I was thinking more about David Ferrer than I was thinking about Andy and Novak to be honest,” said Federer after his loss to del Potro. I really wanted to give him a chance.

“I am more disappointed for him than I am about losing today to be honest.” Classy stuff from Federer who said it was a given he would give 100 per cent in his match even though he was already guaranteed a place in the semis, but he just wanted to give Ferrer a fair chance.

Things took a lighter tone though after that when Federer asked about why Andy Murray managed to beat him quite easily in the Wimbledon finals only three weeks after the Scot had lost to him at Wimbledon. The Swiss response was: “Why not? He’s not like a country club player. He’s very good!” At least now we know that Federer’s got Murray’s back if anyone was to ever doubt his abilities.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: Day Five Diary - Djokovic has some advice for Tomic

 Photo via Andy Murray's Facebook Page

Another eventful day at the O2 as Group A wrapped up their round robin matches but there was plenty happening off-court as well.

The name Bernard Tomic came up during the Novak Djokovic press conference and the world No1 had a thing or two to say about the young Australian’s ongoing shenanigans – that include run-ins with the traffic police, court cases and tanking allegations – saying Tomic should try to focus more on his game.

“I’ve seen what he has been doing,” Djokovic said with a sarcastic smile. “It’s definitely not the right thing for him at this moment, at this stage of his career. He needs to try to find a way to focus on tennis if he wants to become one of the best players in the world. I honestly think, and he has proven, that he has the ability and quality, he has a great talent. That’s not everything that is necessary for somebody to play this game on the top level.” Advantage, Nole!

Meanwhile, Tomas Berdych directed a snide comment to the Spaniards in the build-up to their looming Davis Cup final in Prague when a journalist told him some Spaniards were concerned that the surface of the court is too fast. Berdych responded defensively saying: “Probably the Spanish don’t know there are some rules that you cannot make the surface actually as fast as you want. That’s the rule of the speed of the court. So the court is going to be (within) the rules.” Well I’m sure now they know, Tomas.

On court, retired former world No1 Juan Carlos Ferrero received a special recognition ceremony from the ATP which saw Spaniards Marc Lopez, Marcel Granollers, David Ferrer, Alex Corretja, Nicolas Almagro, along with Djokovic join him on court to honour the 2003 French Open champion. The screens all around the O2 showed tribute messages to Ferrero, saying: “Thanks for the memories”. Ferrero said becoming world No1, winning the Davis Cup and the French Open were his best memories and that Lleyton Hewitt was his toughest rival.

Meanwhile, ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel made an appearance at the O2 supporting his fellow Dane Frederik Nielsen, who lost his doubles match with Jonny Marray last night. Long-time tennis fan Kevin Spacey showed up for Andy Murray’s night match with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so did Fabrice Muamba.

Friday, November 9, 2012

ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: Day Four Diary - Mata and Aguero make an appearance at the O2

Kun - Del Potro from SergioAgueroTV on Vimeo.

Something I love about the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 is how such a huge arena is almost packed to the brim in every session, day or night, from the very beginning of the tournament.

Having 17,000 people in attendance on a week day at 1pm is no mean feat and perhaps that’s why I’m not upset that it’s staying in London for another three years, even though that deprives other countries from hosting the event – countries who could probably use an event like this to get more of their people involved in the sport.

Today Chelsea’s Juan Mata was present at the O2 and he was sitting with David Ferrer’s team. His fellow Spaniard may have lost but Mata seemed to enjoy his time and was nice enough to give countless fans the time for autographs and photos.

 From @juanmata10 on Twitter

British adventurer and TV presenter Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild also stopped by and he met up with Andy Murray, who wasn’t playing today but practiced on the courts in the fan zone area.

Another thing that makes this tournament interesting is it’s round robin format, which is almost unique to this event compared to others on Tour but it does get kind of complicated when it comes to figuring out which two players will get to move on to the semi-finals because the number of sets won by each player are taken into consideration.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been in countless conversations with fellow journalists, or even players, who were trying to figure out what needs to be done for a certain player to advance.

It seems that most of the players don’t really care how it happens and are just trying to focus on winning their next match. Tomas Berdych was the most concise: “I hate mathematics,” joked the Czech No1.

And Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has the slimmest of chances in making it through said: “I don’t care about the different scenarios. I will just try to win my next match.” Perhaps we know that tennis players are not the brainiest of bunches so we’ll have to forgive them if they can’t figure this out on their own.

The day ended on a pleasant note when Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero stepped on court with Juan Martin del Potro for some footy tennis after the Argentine won his match against Janko Tipsarevic. Aguero was a special guest of Del Potro, who also hit with his friend Carlos Tevez on the very same court back in 2009.

Aguero’s tennis skills may have been slightly better than those of Tevez from three years ago but let’s just say it’s good those two don’t need to hold a racquet for a living.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: Djokovic's "calm mind" helps him edge past Murray in London

Novak Djokovic rallied back from a set down to defeat home favourite Andy Murray 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in yet another thriller between the No1 and No3 players in the world in London yesterday.

Djokovic, who won the ATP World Tour Finals in 2008, remains on course for a second title at the elite top-eight event as he captured his 27th win in his last 30 matches, showcasing nerves of steel when it mattered the most. “A calm mind always wins. I guess that’s the answer,” stated the smiling Serb after his victory.

“It was important for me after dropping the first set to stay mentally tough and believe that I can get my opportunities and when they came to try to step in and use them. That’s what I’ve done.”

Murray commenced the match in fierce form, serving impeccably to win a jaw-dropping 100 per cent of the points on his first serve and dropping a mere three points on his second.

The Scot broke Djokovic in the very first game and cruised through the opening set without facing a single break point.

“I don’t think I played bad in the first set,” explained Djokovic. “It was him playing really well, serving extremely well.”

The third game of the second set, Murray got his hands on a break point when Djokovic’s shot clipped the net and sailed wide but the Serb responded to the disappointment with an inch-perfect forehand winner that barely touched the line, and the opportunity for Murray to edge ahead was gone.

“He hit a drive volley on the back edge of the line, so what am I to do with that? Not much,” lamented Murray after the match.

Djokovic found his chance in the sixth game when Murray made an ill-advised choice to serve-and-volley on break point down. The Scot’s volley went long which earned Djokovic a 4-2 lead and that break was enough for him to seal the set with a wide service winner on his first set point.

“There are decisions that you make in matches. If they come off, you get told you’re a genius, if you miss them, then you’re an idiot,” said Murray, defending his net approach on break point.

The third set was a titanic battle between the 25-year-olds and saw the momentum shift as many times as the umpire moved his head throughout the contest. Djokovic got the first break to inch ahead 3-1. The Australian Open champion then could have gone a double break up not once, but twice, in that deciding set but some incredible resolve from Murray kept him in the match. With those missed opportunities hanging in the air over Djokovic, it was Murray’s turn to attack and he outrallied his athletic opponent to get the break and level to 4-4 but it wasn’t without some hawk-eye drama.

The tension rose across the full-capacity arena as Djokovic found himself serving to stay in the match at 4-5 and went down 15-30 but a fearless volley helped him out of that hole.

The world No1 then upped the pressure on Murray, who managed to save a break point the following game with a 133mph clutch serve but faltered on the next break point to give Djokovic a 6-5 lead.

And Djokovic held his nerves to serve out the match despite some clever shot-making from Murray, who believes the match could have easily gone either way.

When asked about the key moment of the match Murray said: “In about the last two minutes of the match probably. He broke from 15-40 and then I had 15-40 next game and didn’t break. So that was the moment that decided the match.

“I need to make sure that regardless of how tough a match this one was today, I respond well in the next one on Friday.”

Djokovic, who now has two victories from his first two matches in London will face Tomas Berdych in his last round robin match on Friday, while Murray takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has a very slim chance of qualifying to the semis after defeats to Djokovic and Berdych.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

AUDIO: Becker says Murray has slight edge over Djokovic in London clash

Boris Becker says we should expect another Murray-Djokovic classic on Wednesday, but it will come down to who wants it more...

ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: Boris Becker tips Berdych over Tsonga

On paper, a match-up between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych should be a tough one to predict yet leading up to this match, it appears Berdych may have the upper hand against the Frenchman.

After peaking at No5 in the rankings last summer, Tsonga has slipped to No8, retiring from his first round in Valencia with an injury and disappointing against David Ferrer in the quarters in Paris, where he lost to the Spaniard in straight sets.

The entertaining Frenchman may have made the final last year in London, before losing to Roger Federer, but this time around, Tsonga is in the group of death alongside Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Berdych, who owns a 3-1 record against him. Not to mention this is Tsonga’s sixth tournament in six weeks – a packed schedule seems to be hurting him.

So while Tsonga comes to London with several question marks around his fitness and form, Berdych seems to be hitting the ball cleanly, has won the title in Stockholm (over Tsonga) two weeks ago, and is enjoying a career-high No6 ranking.

“I liked Tomas Berdych’s style yesterday,” six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker told me on Tuesday. “I wasn’t really happy with Tsonga. I don’t like the way he’s been playing the last couple of weeks. He played better last year, and Djokovic did enough to win, but he didn’t play great. I think Berdych is a step up at the moment. For me Berdych is the favourite in that match.”

The one thing Tsonga has going for him, is that he beat Berdych at this very arena last year in the semi-finals of the World Tour Finals. How much will that have an effect on both of them is not exactly clear but it could help Tsonga play with more confidence.

Meanwhile Berdych could be distracted by the fact that he has the Davis Cup final against Spain in Prague next week but surely the Czech has been around long enough on Tour that he can focus on the task at hand.

“The next match will be really important for me. If I want to stay in the competition, I have to win it. I will give everything to do that,” warns Tsonga.