Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nadal, Djokovic, Ferrer, Murray, Wawrinka, Tsonga... Who would win that 100m sprint?

Photo courtesy of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship

As the six top-10 players who are playing in Abu Dhabi this weekend (Nadal, Djokovic, Ferrer, Murray, Wawrinka, Tsonga) lined up on Yas Marina Circuit Thursday morning, posing for a photoshoot like they were about to come out of the blocks for a race, the question just had to be asked - Which one of them would win a 100m sprint race against one another?

I've asked some of the players and here are the responses:

Novak Djokovic:  "That's a good question (laughs). Andy asked everyone that question, who would win a race against each other and he gave the advantage to Tsonga and I gave an advantage to Ferrer. We didn’t try it but we might in the next few days, for fun."

Andy Murray: "Who have you asked? ... 100m, I think Jo (Tsonga) will probably win. Once he gets going he’s very very fast."

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: "I can’t believe you’ve got to ask this question." (sorry Jo, my bad!)

Stanislas Wawrinka: "It depends on the distance, if it’s 100m maybe Ferrer would win."

David Ferrer: "Me? I'm 31 years old, the oldest one of those guys, no way I would win. Maybe Rafa or Nole."

What do you guys think?

MWTC: Murray positive despite defeat in Abu Dhabi

 Photo credit: Reem Abulleil (c)

Andy Murray is feeling positive about his physical state despite the straight sets loss he suffered at the hands of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night.

Playing for the first time since last September, after which he underwent back surgery, the world No4 was eager to see how his body would react in real match conditions and while the Scot appeared to struggle on serve at times, he feels he moved well enough for his first outing of the season.

“I thought I moved well in the first set, once I got into the rallies I moved well so that was pleasing. I didn’t feel slow at all in the first set,” said Murray after his 7-5, 6-3 defeat. 

“Second set maybe I slowed down slightly but that’s something that’s going to get better by playing matches. I can’t expect to feel great for long periods of matches when I haven’t played for a while.

“I think I moved pretty well, I just need to be able to do it over longer periods. I hit some big serves, I haven’t lost any power on my serve. I just felt like I haven’t played a match for a while but my body felt reasonably good.”

Tsonga, also returning from injury, appeared to have fully recovered from his knee problems which forced him out of the US Open a few months ago, as the Frenchman exploded onto the court, firing huge serves and charging the net any chance he got, which didn’t allow Murray to find his rhythm.

“Playing in front of a crowd and playing at that intensity, I’m playing against - he’s a very big server, he comes to the net. So it’s a lot of quick movements, changing direction, that’s just things that will get better with playing matches. I’ve trained a lot, I’ve practiced a lot but it’s very different when you get on the match court,” added Murray.

The world No4 explained he isn’t taking anti-inflammatories and will not work on his body too much tonight to see how he feels on Friday, where he takes on Stanislas Wawrinka in the fifth-place playoff. 

“It’s actually best for me to try and not do too much recovery just now so when I wake up in the morning how everything feels. So I won’t do loads tonight and see how it feels in the morning,” said Murray.

The Wimbledon champion says the focus now is to get enough match play ahead of the Australian Open and he revealed he will be playing both singles and doubles in Doha next week, partnering Nenad Zimonjic.
He says the forced break from tennis gave him a chance to stay home and spend time with family but he realized he missed the grind of the tour as well.

“I feel fresher. It is an 11-month season, we do a lot of travelling, but when you’re just playing you get a bit tired of being away and being at hotels and airports but when you’re away for a few months you realize that you enjoy that. I’ve been doing it my whole life and I miss it. I’m happy to be back,” said the 26-year-old from Scotland.
Photo courtesy of the MWTC

Meanwhile, Tsonga says he felt good physically and was happy with every aspect of his game. It was the Frenchman’s first ever win in three appearances in Abu Dhabi and he says he was happy with how the crowd reacted to his aggressive game.

“Today I was happy with everything. It’s not easy because the court is really quick so it’s tough to play from the baseline so I chose to play offensive, I just played good tennis because it’s not every day you beat Andy in two sets, so it was a good match,” said Tsonga, who faces Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Friday.

The earlier match saw David Ferrer beat Stanislas Wawrinka, the man the Spaniard had lost to in his final match of the 2013 season. Ferrer was down a break in the first set but ran away with nine straight games to open up a 7-5, 5-0 lead and never looked back. Ferrer faces world No1 Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals on Friday.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Henman: I won't become a coach, but maybe Bjorn Borg should

 Henman faces an unlikely opponent in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Reem Abulleil ©

Tim Henman says he would like to see tennis legend Bjorn Borg coach a Swedish player and guide him to the top to help revive the sport in the Scandinavian country.

With Ivan Lendl proving a huge asset to recently-crowned Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, and Jimmy Connors teaming up with Maria Sharapova, Henman was asked which legend he would like to see help a player on tour and the 38-year-old Brit chose his idol Borg.

“I would like to see Borg help some of the Swedish players,” Henman told me during a short visit to Abu Dhabi. “They’ve had such a history and tradition and now their tennis is suffering. Now that (Robin) Soderling isn’t playing, it’s amazing how there’s no one coming through. So I’d like Borg to coach a young up and coming Swede and take him to world No1.”

Henman says he can’t see himself as a coach, adding: “The problem for me is I don’t want to travel and if you’re going to coach then you’re going to travel a lot of weeks. I like being at home, being with my family.”

The four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist has experience being a mentor though, having helped Murray during the early days of the Scotsman’s career, and Henman believes there is plenty more to come from him.

With the issue of knighthood arisen and many people saying it is too soon for Murray to receive that honour and worrying about how it would affect his career, Henman weighed in on the subject saying: “I don’t think in any way it would be a hindrance to his career.

“For me in my opinion, he will be knighted at some stage. Whether 26 of age is too young… I think it’s difficult to a certain extent the government or whoever makes the decision they’ve set precedent with a lot of people who have got knighthoods. So what will be will be, I’m sure it will happen at some stage. Whether it’s better to wait until perhaps the end of Andy’s career, who knows, but it’s a nice problem to have.”

Visiting Abu Dhabi for the second time this year already, having flown in with HSBC for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship earlier this season, Henman says he is fascinated by how much the Gulf region has developed in sport and he hopes to bring his family for another visit during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship this December, where Murray is due to join Novak Djokovic in a stellar field.

Henman has many memories in the region from his playing days, particularly in Doha where he has made the final twice. He says: “Funny enough I played in Doha and Dubai a lot. And I always played very well in Doha and I always played very averagely in Dubai and I have no idea why.

“The conditions were very much the same hard courts. I think I made quarter-finals a couple of times in Dubai but really had some disappointing results whereas in Doha I made my first final there, I think I made the final a couple of other times. I had some really good wins there.

“I’ve always enjoyed coming to this region. I think I first played Doha in 1997 when it was a new tournament and it was a real leader on the tour because we were so well looked after, great facility, very good hotel. Great for us to come from the winter in the UK and have some better weather on the way to Australia.

“And then the region has grown so much in all areas but the best for me is the sporting element now. It’s got great tennis events, it’s got great golf tournaments, it’s got Grands Prix, it’s got everything. I’ve been back to Dubai on holiday before and I’m sure it’s a region I’ll keep visiting for a long time to come.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

15-year-old Sandra Samir - A glimmer of hope in Egyptian tennis

 Photo credit: Reem Abulleil

The last time Egypt had a Grand Slam champion was in 1964 when a 16-year-old Ismail El Shafei won the Boys’ Singles title at Wimbledon as a junior.

El Shafei would go on to become the country’s highest-ranked player and the only one to crack the top 40 in the world rankings. Since then, Egypt has seen no top-100 players on either the women’s or men’s tennis circuits.

Last week at Roland Garros in Paris, however, there were signs that we might finally witness an Egyptian tennis champion in the near future.

On Court 14 at Stade de Roland Garros, only a few feet behind the magnificent Court Suzanne Lenglen where eventual finalist David Ferrer was playing his fourth round, Egypt’s Sandra Samir battled for three grueling hours to win her first round in the girls’ singles tournament.

The next day, the 15-year-old won her first round in doubles. Read the full article here...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Carlos Bernardes Interview: A view from the top of the chair

There are a few chair umpires in the tennis world who have resonated with fans and have become household names just as much as the players are. Carlos Bernardes is one of those umpires and the popular Brazilian with the infectious smile has been ruling the court for over 20 years.
I caught up with Bernardes in Paris during the French Open to know what the view is like from the top of that chair on court.

How long have you been a tennis umpire and how did you get to become one?
More than 20 years. We had a tennis event in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, it was the Federation Cup. And I was a tennis teacher at the time and they put in the newspaper ‘we need 129 umpires urgently’, because it was a big event. It was the old format with 16 countries. So I signed up and I was there and I liked it. I started to do more events. And then at one point they asked me what I was going to do because I was travelling a lot to the tennis and we need you as a teacher and I found myself choosing to become an umpire.

Did you ever play when you were younger?
I played a little bit but not professionally. Just some tournaments for fun, nothing special. What do you think is the biggest difference in tennis now compared to 20 years ago when you started your career as an umpire? The speed of the ball has increased a lot and the players they are much fitter than before. There’s more technology working for the tennis, for the racquets, the courts, the balls. This changed a lot. If you look at the matches 20 years ago and look now it’s amazing. The speed is fantastic. Of course you have to adapt like the players. You get to the match and you see that the ball is much faster. You adapt before the situation. Like the hard courts and the grass. Like next week will be grass courts, then you adapt and you know things will be faster than clay.

How did the introduction of technology like hawk-eye for example affect your job?
The hawk-eye just came to help everybody. Because now the players are correct only 30 per cent of the complaints when they appeal. So let’s say if there are three complaints in a match, only one will be correct. I think this is good for everybody, for the players, for the people who are watching and maybe one day all the courts will have that. Now only just one tournament can do that. I think it’s helping us. Because of the speed and the technology I talked about before, something like hawk-eye is really helpful. The players can complain, see the result, then continue to play tennis.

What about the fact that some players complain that umpires are less likely to overrule now because they just wait for the players to challenge the call. Do you feel that you overrule less now?
No, at the beginning it was like I said, you adapt to the situation. But now everybody works like the normal courts. What happens now is that there are some very close calls and everybody hesitates a little bit. But we still work in the same way. And the statistics prove that things didn’t change too much. It just helps the players calm down a little bit, because now if they complain, they need to ask. And sometimes they ask too much and they are wrong and they need to calm down because they know they are running out of challenges.

What about the time violation rule, some umpires have spoken out and said they don’t like it but they have to call it, what your take on it?
They are trying to use the rule that is already there and they are trying to help even the players because now with the new one, you still have the second serve to play. This helps a lot because the players are faster. If you look at the matches last year, and the matches this year, you see that the players are playing a lot faster because of this rule. They have adapted to play faster and this is good. I think by the end of the year everybody’s going to be on the same page.

Which players do you feel give you the hardest time on the court?
Sometimes you’d think that can happen but it could be the nicest player in the world, depending on the situation. I always say that it’s not the player that’s the problem it’s the situation that put him to do whatever he does. Because the player they can’ t be crazy all the time, they cannot get into the court and start doing something. They have rules to follow to, but it’s more the situation.

What about the players taking out their phones on court these days and snapping photos of marks and things like that, do you think that should be allowed?
It is a violation, it’s in the rule book and everything. The problem is that sometimes they want to do something creative but then they need to pay. It’s fun though. The guy is creative, it’s funny.

What happens when you make a mistake, do you talk to the players after the match and apologise?
Mistakes, we make them every time. We try to be honest with the guys and say ‘listen, I made a mistake, what can I do? I saw it this way and we need to move on’. And that’s the best way to handle the situation, you can’t keep thinking about it because then it would be worse. We sit together with the players and talk about it. After the match, it’s another life, you move on. The match is over and nothing is going to change.

What were the most memorable matches for you as an umpire?
Many many matches. One special one was the first final of the US Open, because it was the first Grand Slam final for me. For an ATP chair umpire, it’s like an honour to be part of that. And Wimbledon 2011 was a special one because it was like a dream. My first tournament to watch on TV was Wimbledon then it was like ‘I’m here and I’m doing the final’.

What do you enjoy the most about your job and what do you enjoy the least?
I enjoy a lot the way the players are playing. They are playing some fantastic tennis. You saw the Nadal-Djokovic semi-final it was incredible. I enjoy tennis, I enjoy sports. Maybe the travelling is the most difficult. The calendar is long, we travel like 30 weeks a year, this is the worst part. I will not do the US Open this year, will take some time off.

You’re off for a few days here in Paris, what will you do?
I’ll try to be a tourist. We have some paper work to do for tennis but I try to enjoy the place. It’s fantastic. I try to know a little bit more the people and the city.

Do you like making the trip down to Dubai for the ATP event there?
I’ve been to Dubai three times. Dubai is fantastic, it’s a great place. I hope I come back one more time. I want to see after so many years of not going there how different the city is. I want to see the buildings and the hotels and everything. That club is beautiful. I played golf over there and it was funny because I hit the ball and almost broke a window. I was so bad.

A version of this interview appeared in the daily newspaper Sport360 on June 13 2013. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Radwanska: What happened in Eilat was disappointing and unfair

World No4 Agnieszka Radwanska says that what she was exposed to during last weekend’s Fed Cup matches in Eilat, was unfair and disappointing.

Poland had a successful campaign in Israel and booked themselves a play-off against Belgium to stay in World Group II, but a video surfaced on YouTube after the tie, where a clearly irritated Agnieszka was extremely short with reporters in the press room and the whole press conference barely lasted 90 seconds.

Reports have indicated that both Agnieszka and Urszula might have been insulted by the Israeli crowd and while the Polish star did not give details, she says that what happened there was unacceptable.

“To be honest I was really disappointed,” Radwanska told reporters in Doha after she won her second round match 6-3, 6-2 over Anastasia Rodionova.

“I didn’t really expect something like this to happen on the tour, especially that I think a lot of teams were there and a lot of top players, and, yeah, a couple of things happened.

“It's always sad and always unfair, as well. I think it's not a responsible way to behave.”

Here is the video from her presser in Eilat:


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

QATAR OPEN: Egypt's Mohamed Safwat wins first career ATP match

Photo credit: Sayed Omar

Egypt's top player and Arab No3 Mohamed Safwat could not have had a better New Year's Day as the 22-year-old won his debut match in an ATP singles main draw 6-0, 6-0 to advance to the Qatar Open second round on Tuesday.

Safwat showed no mercy against his opponent, an 18-year-old Qatari wildcard, Jabor Mutawa, and wrapped up the win in 41 minutes.

When I asked him of his reaction when he saw the draw and knew had a big chance of making the second round, Safwat said he was finding it hard to believe that he was in the main draw to begin with.

The Egyptian has been predominantly playing on the Futures circuit with a few appearances in Challengers but is yet to make that extra push to compete on the ATP World Tour. He is currently ranked 456 but thanks to his win over Mutawa, is expected to break the top-400 again, after peaking at 365 six months ago.

“This is my first match of the year, I hadn’t played in two months. I stopped after the African Championships in November in Senegal, and I haven’t played since. So to do this in my first tournament, in my first match is great," Safwat told me after his first round win.

“Since we left Egypt, I was telling my coach (Mohamed Nabil) that I had the feeling that I wasn’t really in the main draw. I told him I won’t relax until I see my name in the draw with my own eyes. I was finding it hard to believe.

“It wasn’t about tennis pressure, but more of mental pressure. I’m expecting myself to win this match and I know I have a very big chance of winning it and it’s the first match of the year, and there were many things I changed during my preseason and many aspects of my game I want to try out. So thankfully things turned out the way I wanted them to."

Safwat had a turbulent 2012 where he relocated from Alicante to Cairo after feeling he wasn't getting the right coaching in Spain. He also suffered some health problems with his eyes and teeth towards the end of the season, but he believes he has turned a new leaf and says he had a great preseason training with Mohamed Nabil at Wadi Degla Club, who are his main sponsor. He still needs more funding though in order to have a fuller calendar and can afford to pay his coaches travel expenses.

“2012 was such a tough year for me, with so many problems I’ve had to overcome. But the way 2013 has started, this is definitely a good omen," Safwat added.