Archive

Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category

Novak Djokovic’s Dream Year

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Novak Djokovic has enjoyed an amazing 12 months, probably about as good a 12 months as any sportsman ever has.

His 2011 season saw him rack up a record of 70-6 (a win percentage of 92.1), making it one of the best seasons in tennis history. Of those six defeats, four came after the US Open, by which point the Serbian had arguably already checked out mentally. Djokovic did not lose until Roger Federer defeated him in the semi-final at the French Open in May, a remarkable 43 match winning streak. Although he lost at Roland Garros, Djokovic won the remaining three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open) and achieved a record of five Masters 1000 event wins (Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Rome and Madrid). His season winnings of $12.6 million was just another in a long line of records Djokovic smashed in 2011.

What was most impressive was his dominance over the world’s top players. He went 6-0 against Rafael Nadal (all wins were in finals) and he bested Roger Federer 4-1. This saw him rise to become world number one and undoubtedly become the man to beat.

Tennis fans have known for years that Djokovic is extremely talented and he actually won his first Grand Slam in 2008 at the Australian Open. He did however, always seem to be operating on the rung of the ladder just below Federer and Nadal and looked set for a long stay as the world’s third best player. There were question marks over his conditioning as breathing difficulties and poor physical fitness led to numerous retirements. Furthermore, his mental strength was also doubted as he showed a propensity to become frustrated, which often manifested itself in Djokovic breaking rackets. In 2011, the Serb turned all of this on its head and his record of 10-1 over the two men who have dominated men’s tennis in the last decade is the biggest proof of this. So, what has changed? Well, it depends who you ask.

On one side of the fence you have those who point to clear technical improvements in Djokovic’s game, most notably his serve. In the past, this had been seen as the one clear weakness in his game, now it is a weapon. In years gone by, the world number one had a tendency to serve a fairly high number of double faults. Experts put this down to poor technique, noting that the elbow on his serving arm was very low, causing him to ‘bowl’ rather than strike the serve. This has now been rectified and Djokovic’s serve looks solid and he has become very difficult to ‘break.’ His second serve is also much improved and so there is less pressure on his first serve. In this year’s Australian Open final, Djokovic won 63% of points on second serve. His opponent Rafael Nadal won just 45%, a clear advantage for the Serb and probably the difference between winning and losing.  He has also improved his forehand and it is now arguably the most feared shot in tennis. Djokovic hits forehand winners that seem to defy the laws of physics almost at will and he is the only player on tour who seems to have found the perfect way of countering Nadal’s top spin and high bouncing forehand. He also looks much fitter. It is true that he has lost some weight and that he is consequently perhaps slightly weaker than he was before but during his record breaking season, Djokovic displayed unfathomable athleticism. There does not seem to be a spot on the court that the 24 year old cannot reach. He shows great speed and flexibility to reach shots that would be winners against anybody else. Rafael Nadal seemed as baffled as anybody else by Djokovic’s ability to return almost any shot and proclaimed: “It’s something unbelievable how he returns, no? His return probably is one of the best of the history. I never played against a player who’s able to return like this. Almost every time.” All of these technical and physical improvements have contributed to Djokovic becoming the world’s best tennis player, but some argue that the biggest factor behind his rise lies elsewhere.

The ‘Novak Djokovic Diet’ has become the stuff of legend, causing some to speculate that the days of sportsmen indulging in so-called ‘carb-loading’ may be over. In January 2010, Djokovic’s nutritionist discovered that his client suffers from a gluten allergy and subsequently removed it from the Serb’s diet. As mentioned already, Djokovic has lost some weight but he says that he has felt the benefits of the new diet right from the off, stating that he feels much better on court. Djokovic notes that his movement on court is much sharper and that he feels great physically, while world famous tennis coach Brad Gilbert has gone on record saying that he has never seen anyone move better on a tennis court. Given what we saw in 2011, it is impossible to disagree with either of them.

David Levitsky, Professor of Nutrition and Psychology at Cornell University in the US, feels that the gluten-free diet argument is over-played and that it is a case of mind over matter. Levitsky claims that “if you believe in a cause of your disorder, it becomes the cause.”

Whether or not this applies in the case of Novak Djokovic is anybody’s guess, but what is not in any doubt is the result. His trophy-laden year saw him deservedly crowned ATP Player of the Year, Ace of the Year by GQ magazine, ITF World Champion, BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year and he also won the highly prestigious Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year.

Djokovic has continued the form of 2011 in to 2012 as he won the Australian Open in a five set thriller against Rafael Nadal. In truth, Djokovic looked a class above for large parts of that match. If he can maintain his current level, he is more than capable of dominating for years to come and maybe even of topping the achievements of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Advertisements
Categories: Tennis

Wimbledon 2011 Preview

June 20, 2011 2 comments

The most prestigious tournament in tennis got underway today, almost inevitably accompanied by rain. That has not, however, stopped some thrilling opening day action including home favourite Andy Murray labouring against Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver. Every year Wimbledon comes around and every year the press here in Britain becomes obsessed with whether a British man can finally follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry and win a singles title at the All England Club. In Murray, the journalists and fans finally have somebody worthy of their boundless optimism, but can he finally go the extra mile and beat Nadal, Federer and Djokovic?

On the women’s side, the host nation has no such grounds for optimism, but this year’s tournament is one of the most open in living memory. Sport Report takes a look at the serious contenders.

Men’s

Rafael Nadal (Spain)

World Ranking: 1

Seeded: 1

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Won (2008 & 2010)

Rafael Nadal has achieved an unbelievable amount for a man who turned 25 only two weeks ago. He has won every Grand Slam tournament (10 in total), an Olympic Gold Medal, won the Davis Cup three times and held the number one world ranking. The current world number one and defending champion is rightfully the favourite.

 

Rafael Nadal with Wimbledon Trophy (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Rafa, as he is affectionately known, is not as dominant on grass as he is on clay but the days of labelling him a clay court specialist are long gone. He is an extremely aggressive baseline player who relentlessly pounds the ball with a great deal of top spin and whilst this has brought him a great amount of success, his volley is underrated. This is a key factor at Wimbledon. As I write this, the Spaniard is already sitting pretty in the second round following a straight sets win over American Michael Russell. He was not at his best and there are question marks over his form following his recent early exit at Queens. It should not be forgotten though that it was only two weeks back that he sealed a sixth French Open title with an excellent display against the great Roger Federer. As ever, people are doubting Nadal’s fitness but then again, when have they not? The defending champion simply has to be favourite to retain his title, but it is far from a foregone conclusion.

Novak Djokovic (Serbia)

World Ranking: 2

Seeded: 2

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Semi-Finalist (2007 & 2010)

Quite simply, Djokovic is in the form of his life. He won 41 matches to start the season, winning seven titles along the way and looking sensational doing so. Every aspect of his game has improved: he is serving beautifully, returning well and his backhand and forehand are working like clockwork. The 24 year old Serb has Grand Slam pedigree having won the Australian Open earlier this year and in 2008. He is also a two-time US Open runner-up. In this respect he does not have the mental barrier that has proved such a problem for Murray, but it should be noted that SW19 has not been a happy hunting ground for Djokovic. He did reach the semi-final last year, but needs to improve if he is to go one better. For all the hype around his winning streak, he did lose to Federer at Roland Garos and these are the kind of matches he will need to win if he is to add Wimbledon to his list of tournament victories. Can he do it? You would be a fool to write him off.

Roger Federer (Switzerland)

World Ranking: 3

Seeded: 3

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2009)

Simply put, the greatest player of all time. The Swiss has won 16 Grand Slam titles, including six at the All England Club. There is no doubt therefore, that he is a man for the big occasion. We know all about Federer’s game: accurate serve, formidable backhand, a forehand which is a work of art and a fantastic net player. He looked fantastic at the recent French Open where he lost in the final to King of Clay Nadal, but not before he gave the Spaniard a hell of a game. Between 2003 and 2007 the Fed Express was unstoppable at SW19, racking up five consecutive titles. He lost arguably the greatest match of all time in the 2008 final before bouncing back the following year in another epic final against Andy Roddick. Whilst he is still capable of beating anybody on his day, he is not the Federer of three or four years ago. However, class is permanent and if there is one word to describe him it is class. Whilst he may not be the shoe-in favourite, he is still very much in with a chance of making it seven Wimbledon titles.

Andy Murray (Great Britain)

World Ranking: 4

Seeded: 4

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Semi-Finalist (2009 & 2010)

When you look at Andy Murray’s game, you can see no reason why he has continually come up short in Grand Slam tournaments. A supremely fit athlete, Murray is one of the best returners in the game. Recent work in the weight room has added zip to an already accurate serve and at Queens last week; all cogs of his game seemed to be meshing beautifully as he won the tournament. The Scot has been somewhat unfairly written off as a failure in Britain, but that is a measure of his own success. He is the only Briton in history who has reached three Grand Slam finals and despite the fact that he lost all three, they are proof that he can compete at the very highest level. His mental strength is not up to scratch however and has let him down time and time again. He seemed overawed in his three final appearances and he has a tendency to become highly frustrated with himself when he makes mistakes. This causes him to lose focus and become his own worst enemy. If he is to end Britain’s wait, he will need to maintain a cool head.

In all likelihood, the winner will be one of the above four, although there is a possibility that a Roddick, Soderling or fit again Martin del Potro could spring a surprise.

Sport Report Prediction: Rafael Nadal to retain his title

Women’s

The women’s competition is much less clear cut as it lacks a dominant player and is missing one of its favourites in Kim Clijsters who has been forced to withdraw with an ankle injury. There are however a few stand-out contenders.

Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

World Ranking: 1

Seeded: 1

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Fourth Round (2009 & 2010)

 

World Number One and Number One Seed Caroline Wozniacki (This image is the property of Getty Images)

 

The 20 year-old Dane is the current world number one and top seed for the tournament. This seeding has been criticised given Wozniacki’s past poor showings at Wimbledon. In fact she has underperformed at Grand Slams in general, apart from a final appearance at the US Open in 2009 (lost in straight sets to Clijsters). The youngster plays a predominantly defensive game and relies on an excellent two-handed backhand. She is unquestionably talented enough to win but can she make the step and actually deliver?

 

Li Na (China)

World Ranking: 4

Seeded: 3

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Quarter-Finalist (2006 & 2010)

The Chinese has become something of an overnight superstar having reached the finals of this year’s two Grand Slams. She lost the Australian Open Final to Clijsters but became the first Chinese woman to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garos as she defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. Na was however defeated in the second round at the AEGON International last week and this, coupled with an uninspiring record at Wimbledon, means there are question marks over her ability on grass courts. She is a superb baseline player but will need to improve her play around the net if she is to win at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams (United States)

World Ranking: 26

Seeded: 7

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2002, 2003, 2009 & 2010)

A four-time winner and the defending champion, Williams is one of the most dominant women’s players of all time. She has won all four Grand Slam events, so her pedigree is beyond doubt. When at her best, she is virtually unplayable: a monster server, highly athletic and capable of hammering the ball from the baseline. Serena won two Grand Slams last year but her current form is a mystery. In July last year, she stood on glass in a restaurant and required surgery. In March this year, she announced that she had suffered complications, namely a haematoma and life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Thankfully she is back to playing tennis, but has only played two matches since last year’s Wimbledon final. Can she produce some of the old magic? I fear the tournament may have come too early in her comeback.

Maria Sharapova (Russia)

World Ranking: 6

Seeded: 5

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2004)

Sharapova burst on to the scene at Wimbledon seven years ago when, as a 17 year old, she shocked defending champions Serena Williams to win the championship. She followed this up with a period of consistent quality performances and two further Grand Slam wins at the US Open (2006) and Australian Open (2008). Since then however, she has struggled with injury and a loss of form, falling off the radar somewhat. However, following a coaching change, she returned to the top 10 this year. The 24 year-old finished the clay season 12-2 and looked mightily impressive at Roland Garos before running into eventual winner Li Na. Sharapova is playing well and on her favourite surface may just repeat her 2004 triumph.

Sport Report Prediction: Maria Sharapova to win

Categories: Tennis

Roger Federer: In decline?

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Swiss superstar Roger Federer is considered by many to be the best tennis player of all time and his record would certainly seem to support such a viewpoint. He has dominated the sport for the last seven years, adding trophy after trophy to his collection. Four Australian Open titles, one French Open title, six Wimbledon titles and five US open titles give him a record 16 Grand Slam wins and make him only the third player in the Open Era to achieve a Career Grand Slam. As if this were not enough, he added an Olympic Gold medal in Beijing in 2008, winning the men’s doubles with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. He has reached 22 Grand Slam Finals and 25 semi-finals. His incredible of record of reaching at least the semi-final in 23 consecutive Grand Slams may never be broken.

This phenomenal run in Grand Slam tournaments was, however, brought to an abrupt end at this year’s French Open where Sweden’s Robin Söderling halted the Fed Express. The Express became a slow train as it spluttered its way to the Wimbledon quarter-final where Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic served as its terminus. All of a sudden people began to question whether these were merely unexpected results or whether they were more an indication that Federer’s superhuman powers were starting to desert him at the grand old age of 28 (he has since turned 29). So is this the case?

Roger Federer is still at the top of his game and more motivated than ever to stay there (This image is the property of The Daily Telegraph)

It is worth noting at this point that reaching the quarter-final of a Grand Slam is hardly a disastrous performance, unless you are Roger Federer. This in itself is testament to his ability and achievements as our high expectations make anything less than a finals appearance seem like a disappointment. Furthermore, the players who defeated him in the two semi-finals are top players in their own right and to dismiss them as flukes or shocking performances on Federer’s part would be to do them a disservice. Robin Söderling is currently the number five ranked player in the world and the only person to ever defeat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Tomas Berdych is ranked only two places below him and has had something of a breakthrough year in Grand Slams reaching the semi-final in France and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon. Rather than Federer being on the slide, it is more a case of other players upping their game in a bid to challenge the man who has dominated for so long. Players such as Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic have improved immeasurably in recent years and so have moved closer to Federer’s level. In short, R-Fed, as he is known, has raised the bar in the sport as a whole and forced others to improve or risk being left in his wake.

His record in 2010 does not paint the picture of a man on the way down. Let’s not forget he has won a Grand Slam this year (Australian Open) and he has performed well in the Masters Series. He finished runner up in both Madrid and Toronto before winning in Cincinnati last week. This serves as ideal preparation for the US Open which starts next Monday (30th August) and where the five-time champion will be looking to regain the title he lost in last year’s final against Martin del Potro. Do not bet against him doing just that and adding Grand Slam number 17 to the long list of career wins.

Categories: Tennis

Record prize money for Wimbledon winners

April 20, 2010 2 comments

It has today been announced that the winners of this year’s men’s and women’s singles at Wimbledon will earn record prize money of £1 million. Do you think that this is excessive?

Categories: Tennis