Thursday, 5 March 2009

Another year... another Davis Cup

The 2009 Davis Cup begins this weekend; a bizarre event in tennis. I am always surprised by the number of top players prepared to travel around the world to play a couple of matches where no result really matters until they have arduously made it through to the final. Of course that is the same in a normal ATP tour event but they take place over one week and not a year.

The event has always been a bit of a sideshow in Britain simply because we seem incapable of having more than 1 good player. I suppose if Britain had the depth of France, Spain or Argentina then the interest would be significantly higher. Murray has pulled out injured for the tie vs Ukraine, though his emphusiasm for the Davis Cup must be small after he won both his matches last Autumn yet Great Britain were still relegated. I doubt he sees much importance in the Davis Cup and why should he? If there is no one capable of winning the other three matches is there any point him turning up?

I didn't follow much of the Dubai Open as I was busy trying to ski in the French Alps. There is something slightly worrying about being a quarter of the way down a piste before realising that you are nowhere near good enough to make it to the bottom! Cue spending the next hour falling over as you try to make your way to the end. Skiing must be one of the most exhausting things you can do and I think I will need a week to recover!

Monday, 16 February 2009

A guide on how to shoot yourself in the foot

Female Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer has been refused entry into the United Arab Emirates. She was scheduled to play Anna Chakvetadze in the first round but will now be on her way home. Although the border control have not given any reason, it is pretty obvious that it is because she is an Israeli citizen and the U.A.E do not recognise Israel.

The whole situation is so ridiculous in the extreme that it seems surreal. Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries have been so desperately trying to attract sports such as tennis and formula one that they have been prepared to pay way over the odds. It is therefore astonishing that they would throw that all away by not ensuring that all the players would be allowed into the country!

The incompetence of all involved is breathtaking. The organisers of the tournament knew when they made the draw that Peer would be playing. They also must have known that she was Israeli yet could not make sure she was allowed into the country!

It looks likely because of this that the event will be dropped from next year's WTA Tour. It will be interesting to see how the mens' tour responds to these events.

On a better note, well done Andy Murray for winning Rotterdam. What a shame he could not have won in Melbourne instead!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Australian Open Review

And so the first slam of the year is over. Two weeks of sun-drenched tennis in one of the hottest slams in history. The Australian Open was like an all consuming virus that wears you down and saps your energy. I'm not just talking about the players in either. With play starting at midnight London time and ending around 11am, staying awake for the big matches requires real dedication! There were many matches (including Andy Murray vs Fernando Verdasco), where I fell asleep in the middle of an epic encounter, only to wake to find that I had missed the end. I don't know about other UK tennis fans, but the Aussie open has completely destroyed my sleeping pattern!

The tournament itself was not the best in terms of quality, though I admittedly missed Nadal vs Verdasco which I've heard was a classic. The heat took its toll on some players and there were a surprisingly high number of retirements for so early in the season. Monfils, Djokovic and Azarenka all threw in the towel, with Azarenka a particular disappointment. For a set she comprehensively outplayed Serena Williams, hitting a wonderful array of winners from both sides. Alas a few games into the second set she could barely move and broke down in tears. Hopefully she will be back stronger later on in 2009 as she definitely has the game to win slam titles.

Despite the heat and the injuries, there were some excellent matches, though almost all of them were in the men's tournament. Hewitt vs Gonzales contained amazing drama, with the Aussie home favourite forcing the match into a fifth set through sheer will and determination, only to run out of steam at the finale. Gasquet vs Gonzales was a fantastic battle of Gonzales' monster forehand vs Gasquet's great backhand. I was not particularly surprised to see Gonzales come out on top; Gasquet did not crumble like at Wimbledon last year against Andy Murray, but he still seems too mentally fragile to win big, tight matches. Unless he sorts this out quickly, it seems unlikely that he will ever win a major title. When the going gets tough, Gasquet goes wandering.

Despite all the talk of Murray claiming his first major title, he failed to do justice to himself and the final brought another titanic struggle between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. The match itself did not disappoint. For four sets the two players traded some of the most wondrous shots ever seen on a tennis court. Unfortunately for Roger Federer, his game does not match up well vs his great rival. He has a great backhand, but not a hard one. As Rafa Nadal is left handed, the Spaniard can use his massive forehand to repeatedly target Federer's backhand time and time again. Once Federer is on the attack with his forehand, he usually hits lots of winners but vs Nadal he gets few opportunities to do so, and many of them come back with interest. Nadal seems able to run down any ball and hit a great passing shot just as his opponent believes they have won the point.

Like the Wimbledon final, Federer was able to come back from being seemingly down and out to force a final set, yet at the crucial moment he hit an array of unforced errors and double faults. It was a sad sight to see; a great player (maybe even the greatest) falling apart. Federer has had so many heartbreaking defeats vs Nadal in the last year that he now seems unable to cope mentally with the Spaniard. Like the Wimbledon final last year, Federer had loads of break points which he failed to convert. Nadal did hit some spectacular winners on many of those points, but I still feel that Federer was playing too safe or not aggressive enough on the key points.

It is hard to see where Federer will go from here. This match has solidified Nadal's position as the world number one. He has now beaten Federer and won a slam on every major surface. Federer is getting old in tennis terms. If he continues to lose to Rafa Nadal in slam finals, he will surely lose his love of the game and his determination to carry on playing. Federer only needs two more slam titles to overtake Pete Sampras' record and be able to call himself the greatest tennis player ever. How he comes back from this defeat will dictate if he can do it.

Finally, Serena Williams won another Australian Open (03, 05, 07, 09!!!). It was only in the final that she played her best tennis. Until then she lumbered through from one match to the next, playing just enough to win the crucial points. This tournament was not a very good advert for women's tennis. Some of the quality was atrocious and many of the top players such as Ivanovic and Dementieva played terribly at the times when they should have been performing at their best. The return of Dokic was a great story and some of the younger players came through but overall this is a tournament to forget (unless you are Serena Williams!), and hope that 2009 will bring some better matches.

What was your favourite matches of the Australian Open and how do you see the rest of 2009 panning out? Please leave your views on my message board.