A big man who just got a bit bigger: Andy Murray and Great Britain win the Davis Cup over Belgium

Olympic gold medalist Murray begins his 2013 Aussie campaign.


DAVIS CUP, Nov. 29 – The 2015 tennis season is over, and it may have ended on the shot of the year. Andy Murray has steered Great Britain to its first Davis Cup title since 1936, the last of the golden years British tennis enjoyed before Fred Perry retired. Murray beat David Goffin of Belgium 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 to win the Davis Cup for the 10th time and set his own record for the most live rubbers won in a year.

If great drama is made by confounding expectations, this would not count as great drama. The British were expected to win 3-1, and they duly did. But if drama can also be finding the most breathtaking shot at the most crucial moment, then Andy Murray’s lob on match point was one of the shots of the year.

It was the Scot’s second match point. On the first he had dumped a backhand return into the net off a nervy second serve. On the second he got into a long rally, which Goffin appeared to be controlling. On the 17th shot, Goffin drove a forehand into Murray’s forehand corner. Murray did well to get it back. Goffin stepped in for the kill, driving his forehand to the Murray backhand. But Murray read it, stepped across and played the most exquisite lob on the 20th stroke to seal the trophy for the British. A short worthy of the moment!

Anyone not in the stadium or watching on television would note the result as exactly what most people expected. But Goffin played well. His performance was vastly better than his paltry display three weeks ago when Murray beat him 6-1, 6-0 at the Paris Masters, and while he lacked the presence to seriously threaten Murray, he offered a constant reminder that he was good enough to seize the initiative if Murray’s level dropped.

But then Murray has been outstanding all year. Because of the ITF’s custom of counting dead rubbers as part of Davis Cup records, Murray’s 11 wins this year leaves him still behind John McEnroe and level with Michael Stich and Ivan Ljubicic. But three of McEnroe’s 12 wins in 1982 were dead rubbers, and one of Stich’s in 1993 was; Ljubicic’s 11 wins in 2005 were all live, but he lost his final match to Dominik Hrbaty on the final day of the final. By contrast, Murray has won 11 out of 11, all live, and only didn’t play against the Bryan twins in March’s first round because James Ward had beaten John Isner on the Friday so Murray was rested for the doubles. He can therefore count as the most successful Davis Cup player in a single year since the World Group began in 1981, and following this triumph Ljubicic tweeted that Murray’s achievement in 2015 is greater than his from 2005.

If that feels like a trick with statistics, there’s no doubting Murray’s colossal status as a team player. Although he is the best tennis player the British have ever produced (with the possible exception of Perry, but the level of competition was so much less intense in the 1930s), he is not the only top-level British player since the second world war. Before tennis went open there were Mike Sangster and Mike Davies. Just after it went open, there was a generation of Mark Cox and Roger Taylor, who were closely followed by John and David Lloyd. The Lloyd brothers joined with Cox and Buster Mottram to reach the final in 1978, but that’s as close as the British have come since Perry. Even the twin-flag-carriers Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, both of whom reached fourth in the rankings, never got beyond the first round of the world group.

Much as this triumph is a single-handed one for Murray, the energy he brought to the team even five years ago has been very important. The appointment of Leon Smith as captain in 2010 was significant, in that Smith had coached Murray from age 11 to 15, so there was a trusting relationship there. Smith’s first tie in charge was to avoid relegation to the bottom tier of the Davis Cup, and Murray made it clear he would not always be available to play so he expected Britain’s other players to carry some of the load.

Only in September 2013 did Murray commit fully to playing every tie. By then the British were the playoff round for the world group, having rallied from 0-2 down to beat Russia in April 2013, with James Ward and Dan Evans winning clutch rubbers on the final day. So when Murray talks about this Davis Cup triumph being a team effort, he is not being polite or parading false modesty – he is genuinely aware of the contribution made by the players ranked lower than him.

It was a point he regularly emphasised in Great Britain’s 2015 run. Having won Olympic gold, the US Open and Wimbledon, the Davis Cup was his next target, and he recognised very early that this was a team pursuit, however dependent the British were on him. And not just the other players, but also the backroom staff of coaches, physios, etc.

The word ‘team’ is more important than ‘patriotic’ in Murray’s context. He represents two countries – Scotland and Great Britain – and is a very proud Scot. Although he didn’t have a vote in last year’s referendum on Scottish independence (because he lives in England), he let it be known late in the campaign that he had been inspired by the independence campaign and would have voted to secede from the United Kingdom if he’d been so enfranchised.

Yet here he was crying his eyes out in emotional triumph for the entity he’d have voted to break away from. In that respect it was more like a golfer winning for the European Ryder Cup team than for a player winning for his nation, more a triumph for the team backed by a geographical entity than for any sense of patriotism. When asked after his win over Goffin who the passion was for, he talked much more about his team-mates than about his country.

“Always when I’ve played Davis Cup, since I was 17, I’ve been unbelievably passionate,” he said. “I loved it when I played the doubles against Israel [his debut]. That hasn’t changed, but also I know all this team extremely well, and because we’ve been together for such a long time there’s a stronger bond between us than there has been in the past, and I think all the players get on with each other, respect each other, and a lot of us are close friends, so it means a lot to do it with them.”

Murray’s biggest problem remains that his on-court persona endears him to so few people. Even his country folk sometimes find it hard to warm to him, yet he is held in the highest esteem by those who know him off-court. The Belgian captain Johan van Herck said after this final, “I’m very pleased for Andy. He deserves this both as a sportsman and as a human being. I’ve known him since he was a junior, and while he sometimes pushes things to the limit when he’s on court, he is always a very decent man off the court, always interested in people. He’s a big man.”

And as the last member of the ‘big four’ to win the Davis Cup, he’s a bit bigger now.



Murray brothers take doubles, up 2-1 over Belgium

Andy Murray

Andy Murray has the second of three wins he’s looking for in Ghent. Mal Taam/MALT Photo

FROM THE DAVIS CUP FINAL IN GHENT, BELGIUM – By all economic logic, doubles as a spectator sport ought to be dead by now. The gulf between public interest in singles and doubles seems to grow each year, and the ATP has only saved the doubles circuit by a change in the scoring system that effectively limits the length of matches.

And yet the corpse continues to breathe, especially in Davis Cup where the doubles can still be pivotal, despite making up just 20 percent of a weekend’s action. The doubles in this final was a case in point, not just pivotal, but a very watchable match. Great Britain’s Andy and Jamie Murray’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Belgium’s Steve Darcis and David Goffin is unlikely to be memorable as a great contest, but it was a fascinating tactical encounter which had some great points, and the result makes it hard to see anything other than the British claiming a tenth Davis Cup title on Sunday.

And yet there was something unsatisfying about it. The weakest link among the four was, by some way, Jamie Murray. He looked almost out of his depth at times, and his kid brother had to bail him out on numerous occasions. Darcis and Goffin, playing together for just the fifth time (including two Challengers), targeted the left-handed Murray, and allowed him no confidence on his returns, many of which he lobbed more in hope than expectation.

Eventually Jamie woke up, most noticeably after dropping serve early in the third set, and by the end his volleys were sharp. But his serve was always shaky, and Andy was the only member of the quartet not to be broken.

And yet, if one looks at the doubles rankings, Jamie is seventh, while Andy is at 180, Goffin at 378, and Darcis 596. And the reason Andy, Goffin and Darcis played when higher-ranked doubles players were available is that they are better players – they just don’t play enough doubles to have better rankings. In effect, when it comes to Davis Cup, singles rankings generally are a better guide to doubles prowess than doubles rankings.

That is not to knock doubles on the tour. The doubles competition at the recent ATP World Tour finals produced some great matches and human interest stories, capped by a 34-year-old from the Caribbean, Jean-Julien Rojer, reaching the top of his profession having grown up with self-taught strokes in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, with very little help until the Grand Slam Development Fund picked him up at 13. Tour doubles has clearly found its niche, serving a useful purpose as a sub-tour to the singles stars.

But Davis Cup regularly shows that a top-100 singles player generally trumps a doubles specialist. Goffin and Darcis were Belgium’s best option, and with Darcis holding the pair together with some delightful touches at the net, Belgium could easily have won until Darcis faded badly in the fourth set. But a tactical adjustment initiated by Andy proved the Belgians’ undoing.

The Murrays took the first set, but the match seemed to turn when Jamie was broken in the third game of the second. With the Belgians targeting Jamie, Andy had to take a lot of risks to cover for his brother. When Jamie was broken at the start of the third set, the Belgians looked the likelier winners, but at that point Andy started staying back while Jamie was returning, thereby giving his brother a bigger target to aim for and making it harder for the Belgian at the net to hit volley winners.

Combined with the Belgians’ failure to come in after their serves, the effect proved dramatic. It allowed Jamie to push his returns and charge in to the net. As his reflex volleys found their range alongside Andy’s cultured volleys, the visitors wrested the initiative from the hosts, and turned the match back in their favour. There was a flurry of breaks: Jamie, Darcis, Goffin, Jamie again and Darcis again, but thanks to Andy’s service holds the British took the third set.

With Darcis broken in the third game of the fourth, and tiring badly, Jamie’s confidence grew, and he was a more convincing player at the end as the Murrays ran out winners in two hours, 49 minutes. Andy paid tribute to his brother at the end, saying, “I trust Jamie on a doubles court so much, and even if he started slow, I knew he would get it going. He loves playing in big matches. He tends to perform very well on big occasions, and this year in all of the ties, he’s performed extremely well. I trust him when he’s next to me on the court, not just because he’s my brother but because he’s an exceptionally good tennis player.”

Sunday’s singles key is Murray vs. Goffin

Nice words, and no doubt heartfelt to a brother and teammate. Nonetheless, the match strengthens the impression that the British team is Andy Murray plus a couple of helpers, and Murray is likely to seal victory for Great Britain – and make it 11 wins out of 11 for him in Davis Cup this year – when he takes on David Goffin in Sunday’s first reverse singles.

That match is not a foregone conclusion. Goffin can afford to be more relaxed than he was against Kyle Edmund in Friday’s singles, and while he has never taken a set off Murray in two previous meetings, they have yet to play on clay, which is Goffin’s best surface. But Belgium’s problems appear to go beyond the unlikelihood of Goffin beating Murray. Darcis admitted to tiring in the fourth set of the doubles, and while he said he’d be available for a fifth rubber if necessary, he looks out of the running having used up his reserves in the doubles.

Inadvertently, this doubles may have acted as an advertisement for next year’s Olympic doubles tournament. The allure of Olympic medals means the best singles players are often willing to turn out for doubles in the Olympics, indeed it has been known for players to default from the singles if they feel they have a better chance of a medal in doubles. The theory that the Olympics have the best doubles tournament in today’s tennis – because so many top singles players turn out – appears to have been boosted by Saturday’s action at this Davis Cup final.

Davis Cup, Great Britain vs Belgium: ‘A rare local derby final’

davis cup SD petco

This year’s Davis Cup final between Belgium and Great Britain harks back to the early years of the team competition. But, as Chris Bowers explained earlier this year, the historical perspective serves as a trigger for looking forward to some possible imminent changes in the Davis Cup format.

Here’s a quiz question – which is the only country to have taken part in the Davis Cup every year it has been staged?

Most people would answer the USA. After all, Dwight Davis was the US nationals champion when he founded the competition in Boston, and the Davis Cup remained the property of the US Tennis Association until 1979 when the International Tennis Federation took it over.

But they’d be wrong. The only nation to have played every year is Great Britain, albeit until 1912 the Brits were known as the British Isles (a term coined in the days when Ireland was ruled from London). After losing to the British in the 1903 Challenge Round, the USA couldn’t afford the trip to Wimbledon in 1904. So the British asked who wanted to take the Americans’ place, and received expressions of interest from France, Belgium and Austria. Ultimately the Austrians couldn’t afford the trip either, so Belgium and France played the first-ever Davis Cup tie on British soil for the right to play the Brits in the final, a right won by the Belgians who were then hammered 5-0.

It’s worth remembering this, because while the British endured a notorious 76-year wait for their first Slam champion since 1936, a 77-year wait for their first Wimbledon champion since 1936, and now a 79-year wait for a first Davis Cup title since 1936, the Belgians have waited 111 years to avenge their drubbing by the Doherty brothers and Frank Riseley at the old Wimbledon courts in Worple Road.

Both the Davis Cup and the world are very different places now. The inclusion of new nations in just the fourth staging of the competition meant the Davis Cup quickly grew from an Anglo-American affair to an international team competition. And the genteel conviviality that characterised those early years disappeared long ago, in fact much of it evaporated in the 1930s when the British had their last golden age of tennis.

The leading figure was Fred Perry, an affable, jocular and extremely confident man from a working class background in the north of England, whose father was a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party. Perry was barely tolerated by many British tennis establishment figures that resented his determination to win. Before his death in 1995, Perry delighted in telling the story of how he overheard an official of the All England Club suggesting to Jack Crawford, whom Perry had beaten in the 1933 Wimbledon final, that the wrong man had won. Crawford may have been an Aussie, but he played by the etiquette Wimbledon expected, whereas Perry’s competitiveness reinforced the fact that he had gone to a state school, not a private school.

When critics say today’s British team is over dependent on Andy Murray, they overlook the fact that the 1930s British team was heavily dependent on Perry, despite the presence of an accomplished second singles player in Bunny Austin. When Perry turned professional at the end of 1936, Britain’s golden era ended, and the same may happen when Murray hangs up his rackets in a few years.

If the British can be labelled a one-man team, so can the Belgians. David Goffin has played the Murray role all year, and Belgium’s second-highest ranked player – Steve Darcis at 85 – is only 14 places ahead of Britain’s likely second player Kyle Edmund. That’s why Murray’s 6-1, 6-0 win over Goffin at the Paris Masters two weeks ago was such a shock to the Belgians – Goffin has to win his singles on day one, but with the chances of him beating Murray very low, he may well play in the doubles which Belgium has to win.

Unless Murray suffers some kind of injury or finds the transition from the hard courts of London to the makeshift clay of Ghent difficult, it’s hard to see anything other than a 10th British title, and an end to the 79-year wait. Murray would then have reset the British tennis clock in every respect, having won Olympic gold, the US Open, Wimbledon and the Davis Cup. His country should expect nothing more of him, and treat the remainder of his career as a bonus.

The Davis Cup itself may be about to change. The current World Group format was introduced in 1981 to reduce the Davis Cup commitment by the top players to a maximum of four weeks a year from the previous six. That breathed new life into the competition, but during the 16 years of Francesco Ricci-Bitti’s reign as ITF president, he had to fend off constant suggestions that the players were a bit half-hearted about Davis Cup. That’s somewhat unfair, most players love the honour of playing for their country, and a study commissioned by the ITF in 2009 suggested the Davis Cup generates an annual economic impact of $184 million worldwide. But with many marquee players picking and choosing their ties, there has been the perception of a problem.

Now Ricci-Bitti has made way for Dave Haggerty, an American who makes no secret of his fondness of the ‘final four’ format where the four semi-finalists meet in one city and play semis and final in one week. Haggerty is making all the right noises about the need to respect the magic of the home-and-away format, and the importance of the lower tiers to the growth of tennis in a number of countries, but he is clearly eyeing up a change in the Davis Cup’s culmination, which is the jewel in the ITF’s crown. He may find it hard to get all his changes through the ITF’s legislative process, and the earliest any changes would come into effect would be 2018, but the winds of change look set to blow through Dwight Davis’s 115-year-old competition.

It means this final may be one of the last in which one team is guaranteed to be at home. And with the British just a couple of hours’ train or boat ride away from the hosts, the 2015 final has all the makings of a rare local derby final.

Murray falls to Nadal, wants to win first ATP World Tour Final

Murray IW 13 TR MALT7820

FROM THE ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS IN LONDON – Andy Murray was not furious on Wednesday, but he wasn’t thrilled either. Rafael Nadal tore him apart, winning 6-4, 6-1. The Spaniard is getting better and better, while Murray dropped down, at least on that day, when his forehand was spotty, he didn’t serve particularly well and he wasn’t able to control the baseline.

In once sense, it doesn’t really matter, not when you can still win the ATP World Tour Finals title. Now, Murray is 1-1, having beaten David Ferrer and then losing against Nadal, who is now by the way, 16-6 head to head vs. the Scot.  Stan Wawrinka is also 1-1, having also lost against Nadal, but he beat Ferrer in straight sets. On Friday night, Murray will face Wawrinka, and the winner will reach the semi and go up against Roger Federer, who went undefeated by over-coming Kei Nishikori 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a terrific contest.

For about 20 minutes, Wawrinka was way off against Ferrer, banging his racket. Soon, he picked up, found the lines, dominated with his phenomenal one-handed backhand and then he took him down quickly, 7-5, 6-2. The fast Swiss is now ready to out-stroke the irritated Murray.

For the past couple of months, Murray was considering not playing at the ATP Finals, because next week, he will go to the Davis Cup final on clay in Belgium, and he wants to make sure that he is 100 percent and not be hurt or exhausted. But now, he is locked in the 02 London Arena and he wants to show the locals and the other players that he can actually win this event, to beat the best. He was asked whether he wasn’t that upset after Nadal pounded with his ferocious forehand. Murray knew that he still has an opportunity to reach the semis, so he didn’t feel down in the dumps, but he was a little angry.

“I think the way the format is, almost every game is important,” Murray said. “Rather than thinking like, ‘Oh, well, I can just lose this set, it’s fine.’ Maybe in the last round if you need to win one set to qualify, it’s a bit different. But every year when I’ve played matches, pretty much where I needed one set to get through—I played Tsonga [in the ATP Finals in 2012] and won that match in two sets. I played Roger in Shanghai a few years ago where I already qualified [for the ATP Finals] and played near a three-hour match with him. I’ve never looked at any of the matches like that. You certainly don’t want to lose to one of the guys that you’re competing against in the biggest events for the biggest titles in the sport quickly in the second set.”

Murray is currently ranked No. 2, which is very good, but he has not been spectacular all year, which is why he did not win a major, but he did grab two ATP Masters Series events, at Madrid and Montreal.

The 28-year-old has 37 titles, which is pretty darn good, having won two Grand Slams (the US Open and Wimbledon), the 2012 Olympics and a slew of ATP 1000s, but he has yet to reach the final at the ATP World Tour Finals. At home in the UK when he is up against the so-called Big 4-plus 1 (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, himself and Wawrinka), the competition about as good as it gets.

Perhaps Andy Murray has been saying that the Davis Cup Final is more important, because Great Britain has not won since 1936, when Fred Perry lead their charge. Perry was the last British winner at Wimbledon and a couple of years ago, Murray raised the trophy on SW19, breaking the drought. He was heroic.

Next week, when he and the boys head to Belgium, they will be super intense and ready to go. However, this week is substantially important. If he can take out Wawrinka – who won Roland Garros this year – the 17-time major winner Federer, and either No. 1 Djokovic or the 14-time Slam champ Nadal, that would be one of his best titles ever. With all due respect, beating the No. 16 David Goffin, No. 85 Steve Darcis and No. 105 Ruben Bemelmans of the Belgium won’t count for as much as a title here.

Whomever wins the Davis Cup tie, it will turn just a few heads (especially in the UK). But 10 years from now, when everyone is discussing what occurred and who pulled off the biggest matches of 2015, if Murray upended the Big 4-plus 1, that will be when Andy had risen once again.

Fed Cup Final: Kvitova & Sharapova both win, faceoff Sunday

Czech’s Petra d Pavlyuchenkova, Maria d Pliskova, locked at 1-1


Petra Kvitova with the Fed Cup, won in 2011.

PRAGUE – It was going to come to this, wasn’t it? Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova both won their contests on Saturday in the Fed Cup Final, with the Czech starting off the tie and besting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6 6-1 6-1 and then the Russian beating Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-3. The tie is knotted 1-1.

On Sunday, they will clash first, starting at 12 PM. Whomever wins, it still won’t be over as their homeland has to win three matches. Still, Kvitova and Sharapova are not only that the best players out there, but mentally, they are the ones who their teammates will look for guidance.

On Saturday, both Kvitova and Sharapova sounded self-assured.

But, without a doubt, the 25-year-old Kvitova needs to find some patience.Kvitova was off. Way, way off. In the first set, she couldn’t put a ball in play, not to the left or the right, or short or deep. She was bad and, then, worse. She was so nervous that it didn’t matter whether which way she was aiming, because the ball was headed in the net or extremely wide or long. She couldn’t crack her first serves, either.

Pavlyuchenkova was fairly consistent, and she really didn’t have to do much. The Russian tossed up some big first serves, she rolled her forehands deep and she spanked her backhands, which was good enough. Down 5-2, Kvitova was trying to get herself going, yelling at herself, but she wasn’t quite there and Pavlyuchenkova won the first set by charging forward, lifting her backhand off and sweetly touching her racket just over the net for a winner.

Clearly, Kvitova knew that the match had a long way to go. In the first game of the second set, she smacked a couple accurate returns and she was ready to rumble. Instead of falling backwards, she was leaning forward. She knew when it was time to attack. The lefty was more patient and she was in control. Kvitova raced through the second set, finishing it off with a twisting ace.

“I was a little down on myself,” Pavlyuchenkova said.

It appeared that the third set would be extremely tight, as they had played eight times before and most of the contests were pretty close (six to two for Kvitova). However, very quickly, the Czech raced away. Kvitova knew that she was in a comfortable zone and she figured that on the fast courts, she would out-hit the Russian.

The Russian couldn’t move her strokes around and she couldn’t go down the line effectively.

Later, Pavlyuchenkova said that she was gone mentally. The Russian didn’t think she could come back.

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to be there anymore,’ ” Pavlyuchenkova said.

Kvitova admitted that her start was rough. “I was nervous, I was so tight and my body was so heavy,” Kvitova said. “But I got a break to start the second set and that was the key.”

Sharapova starts on a roll

Sharapova is set for a matchup vs. Kvitova. JIMMIE48 TENNIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sharapova is set for a matchup vs. Kvitova. JIMMIE48 TENNIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sharapova came out super aggressive and didn’t stop. Pliskova has improved a ton this year, especially in the first half. Her improvement stalled after reaching the final of Stanford in early August and then she fell apart until last week in November in Zhuhai.

She can hit her first serve about as hard as anyone out there, but she can falter fast. When she is on, she can smoke the lines with her forehands and backhands, but she does not move particularly well going side to side. Plus, the 23-year-old needs to improve her returns.

Pliskova certainly had a few good moments/ Even though Sharapova was a bit off with her strong first serves, Pliskova could not figure her out.

The 28-year-old Sharapova nailed a number of winners down the line when Pliskova didn’t know which way she was going, likely because the two had not faced off before.

In Prague, the packed fans were working to help Pliskova raise her game to her highest level. Down a break at 3-4 in the second set, Pliskova was up 0-40, but then Sharapova crushed a couple serves, rushed to the net, swung with her forehand that was coming down from the top of the ceiling and put it away. She held, she breathed a sigh of relief and ended up winning 6-3 6-4.

“The courts were faster,” Sharapova said. ‘“She likes the fast ball and hits it deep and hard and try the angles, and make her move a little and some defense. The returns helped because I didn’t serve at all. When it mattered, I stayed up.”

Two weeks ago in Singapore, Kvitova and Sharapova played in the semis. The Czech won by the Czech as she edged the Russian in two tight sets. Sharapova is 6 to 4 head to head, having beaten Kvitova in two semifinals at the 2012 Australian Open and Roland Garros. But let’s not forget that in 2011, Kvitova stunned Sharapova in the Wimbledon final.

Sharapova has won five majors, while Kvitova has taken only two. Over the years, the Russian has been more successful, but in Prague, the Czech has to be given an edge, as she has been lights out in the Fed Cup. However, even though Sharapova said that she was nervous during the entire match against Pliskova, she wasn’t shaking. Perhaps she will be on Sunday, but we all know that Kvitova will be, too.

“We know each other so well,” Sharapova said. “She’s very tough, it will be a great atmosphere, and she’s a great player.”

Whoever wins, there will be a fourth match, between the Russian Pavlyuchenkova (assuming the somewhat hurt Ekaterina Makarova comes in at the singles) versus Pliskova (assuming Lucie Safarova will be healthy and can play singles). That is a toss up.

It could be 2-2 and the Fed Cup Final could go be the last contest in the doubles: maybe the fine, highly-ranked team of Makarova/Elena Vesnina against the talented Safarova/Barbora Strycova.

As the Russian captain Anastasia Myskina said, “There is a lot of pressure.”

And how.

Shocker? Radwanska d. Murguruza, Kvitova d. Sharapova to reach final in WTA Finals



SINGAPORE – For the first time at the WTA Finals, two players who went 1-2 in the groups have now reached the finals: Aga Radwanska surprised the up-and-coming Garbine Muguruza 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, while Petra Kvitova out-hit Maria Sharapova 6-3 7-6(3).


The 22-year-old Muguruza, who is ranked No. 3, was worn down in the season’s final tournament. Even

though she was tired after a tough week as she was competing in singles and doubles, she nearly came though.

“I just wanted to give everything I had, and doesn’t matter how long I was going to be able to keep it. I just went out there, and if I die on the court, I die, but at least I go out from there happy,” the Spaniard said.

Like Muguruza, Sharapova was 3-0 entering the semifinal. She had beaten Kvitova five of the last six times, but the Czech couldn’t let her breath. She came right at her and didn’t stop. Sharapova knows that when Kvitova is on fire, it’s hard to handle her.

“She’s a very aggressive player. She has a lot of depth and power. She goes for her shots. I think when she commits to her game and she executes, it’s a very powerful game,” Sharapova said.

Somewhat amazingly, Kvitova and Radwanska have played eight times, with the Czech owning with a 6-2 edge. However, the 25 year olds have played four WTA Finals, in 2011, when Kvitova won the title, beating the Pole in straights in the Round Robin in Istanbul; in 2012, when Radwanska won in straight sets in a Round Robin; in 2013, with the Czech winning in straight sets and in 2014, when ‘Aga’ won easily last year in the Round Robin at Singapore.

They are tied up in the WTA Finals. While Kvitova has been a better player overall, Radwanska is on a roll. The contest should be very close.

“It’s difficult opponent, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She’s very smart. I think she has a lot the variety on the court. She getting so many balls, so sometimes it feels that she’s never‑ending story on the court.

So it’s really about the patient and still be kind of sharp, but playing a lot of shots and rallies. It’s difficult. So both of us will leave everything.”


Halep is all done for the year: Radwanska hung in there, made semis


Simona Halep is first to be eliminated in Singapore. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Simon Halep is now gone from the rest of the year and really, since she quickly lost against Flavia Pennetta in the US Open semis, she was mentally disturbed and couldn’t calm her frayed nerves .

On Thursday, Aga Radwanska took her down 7-6(5) 6-1. Halep was up 5-1 in the tiebreak, but the Pole kept running as at top speed. Somehow, someway, she got to 6-5. Both Radwanska and Halep went side to side, foreward and backward, under and over, way up high in the sky and touching their rackets well above their heads. Finally, Halep bent down, her legs were wobbly, and she tried to hit a forehand volley and went wide. Without a doubt, it was one of the best point of the year.

But Radwanska was revived and jubilent, while Halep folded quickly.

“I was done. No energy anymore,” Halep said. “I was tired. I felt that I lost the chance to win the first set and probably I lost the chance to win the match in that moment. My coach [Darren Cahill] was telling me many things, but I couldn’t hear because I was done and I was very nervous there.”

Later, the Pole could have hung her head, too. This week, she lost a brutal contest against Maria Sharapova on Sunday, and then lost a tough contest match against Pennetta on Tuesday, but when she went on court, she decided that she wasn’t going home yet. She would just swing away when she could and have a little bit of fun. Radwanska did, especially in the second set, when she was as aggressive as she can be.

But she was asked whether had she lost in the first set, would have she thought that it had been a long year, it was time to say good‑bye. She was leaving. See ya.

“You were just reading my mind actually,” she said. “That was it. I went on court, and to be honest I didn’t practice yesterday. I was really tired and I’m falling apart a little bit as well. So what I had yesterday, it’s half an hour in the gym, two sessions of treatment. What I wanted to do is really play my best tennis today. Like you’re saying, it’s been a really long trip and I lost already two matches. I think that works for me. I think I will have to take more of the day off,” she said with a smile.

Halep says that on Monday, she will announce that she and her coach, Cahill, will continue on next year.

The Romanian says that she has had a pretty good season, which she said there were “ups and down” with her higlight winning Indian Wells, and her low light being upset early at Roland Garros.

She is one of the fastest players on tour who runs and runs and runs, but not in Singapore this week. Her legs were pooped. “Today I couldn’t breathe anymore in the second set,” she said.

Radwanska made it to the semifinals and, depending on today’s outcome, she could face Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, or Angie Kerber on Saturday.

Little sad: Kvitova d Safarova; Muguruza clips Kerber at WTA Final


Kvitova reacts during WTA Finals match. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Petra Kvitova has had a difficult season. At the beginning of the year, it looked like she has a serious shot to become No. 1 for the first time. But once again, she dealt with injuries and she has been up and down ever since.

But on Wednesday at the WTA Finals, she took down her very good friend, Lucie Safarova, 7-5 7-5.   She was not perfect by any means, but she was forceful and she never became angry when she missed a few shots. The stronger lefty out-hit Safarova at the end, going hard at the white lines.

Kvitova will have to watch some tape in the next two days, as she will have to face Garbine Muguruza on Friday, who out-muscled Angie Kerber 6-4 6-4. The two have never met before, and Kvitova doesn’t want the 22-year-old to push her out of the event. The vets can cheer for them, but they don’t want them to beat them anytime soon.

When Kvitova was asked how difficult it was on court against Safarova, her eyes began to grow dark. Those two have known each other since 2007, when Kvitova was only 17 years old and Safarova was 20. Both had a tremendous amount of talent, but both had a long way to go. Now, they are much mature, which helps them on court, but it’s not easy to see her friend go down. On Wednesday, Kvitova and Safarova hugged each other, but it was hard to smile.

“Before the match we have the same locker room and we were just chatting normally, not like we go to play each other soon,” Kvitova said. “She’s good person and it’s just kind of sad that we have to play each other in the group already. We actually are good friend from the Fed Cup, so I’m really glad the Fed Cup is coming soon and we going to be colleagues and not opponents. It’s tough to play her for sure, not because she’s only like very good player right now, she’s in good form, but also playing friend it’s a little bit tougher with emotional and everything. So it’s not easy to handle all these kind of stuff.”

Kvitova is now 1-1 at the WTA Finals, falling against Kerber on Monday and beating Safarova. She has won the title before and although she is unsure if her body will feel A-Okay the rest of the fortnight, if she gets on the run, she has a legitimate chance.

“I feel tired right now. I think in the first match I was kind of probably nervous from the beginning of the match and I couldn’t really play what I wanted,” she said. “Today from the beginning I really was trying to be there and be focused on each point. Lucie know me well, so that’s why probably it was in my mind somewhere to be ready from the beginning. I know it’s like the final, this match. If I lost I’m probably going home soon. So I was really trying to, what I can.”

Muguruza is on a roll now. As the story goes, after she reached the final at Wimbledon, she began confused, as the fans were swarming at her for the first time as they had finally knew whom she was. She let go her coach and for about two months, she fell apart.

But in Asia, she had brought in a new coach, Sam Sumyk, was calm and composed and ready to rip it. A couple of weeks ago, she won Beijing, her first Premier 5. Any time she has a decent shot, she leaps. The 6-foot Muguruza is a very big hitter and given that she also plays doubles, she is pretty efficient at the net.

Kvitova is already impressed. If the Spaniard plays extremely well, she has a decent shot of taking down the two-time champion Kvitova.

“I think that she’s going to play very aggressively; going for the shots; have a good serve,” Kvitova said.“So I think I am going to play the same what I should play. It’s going to be about the returns and the serves. I know how she’s playing well right now. She had a great success in Asia as well. It’s going to be difficult match for sure. I’m looking forward. I never played her, so we see.”

Muguruza smashes Safarova; Kerber canes Kvitova


Super-aggressive Muguruza bashes Safarova. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Before the tournament began at the WTA Finals, it looked like every player amongst the top 8 had a real shot to win the title. But reality set in quickly when the more confident competitors won on Sunday – Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova – and on Monday, two players who have been looked intense in Asia, Garbine Muguruza and Angie Kerber, who won their contests.

Muguruza out-muscled Lucie Safarova 6-3, 7-6. The 22-year-old Spaniard has been on fire, winning Beijing, walking without fear and playing very smartly. Safarova has just come back due to a bacteria infection and, while at times she was striking the ball fairly deeply, she wasn’t as powerful as she did during the summer. Anytime she wanted to, Muguruza would attack. She was wasn’t playing perfect, but she was forceful. Both of them are in the doubles at the tournament, too, so they both are very confident at the net, and they can jump all over soft serves.

Muguruza was gutsy, and she was consistently better. She didn’t shake. Right now, she looks like she is super confident, just like in early July, when she was grinning all day, every day, when she reached the final at Wimbledon.

“I love the way she plays and her mentality,” said the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. “She’s a great player and person. It’s excellent.”

Safarova thinks that Muguruza is a “young very, very great player.” But for herself, the Czech isn’t quite there yet. She said that she was a little sad, because in the second set, she was very close, but physically, she wasn’t able to disturb her.

kerber 2013 pre champs

Angie Kerber won the all-lefty battle.

“I’m slowly back in my game, but of course you need the wins,” Safarova said. Yes she does, when she will have to go up against Petra Kvitova on Wednesday.

The other lefty Czech Kvitova also went down, losing against Angie Kerber 6-2, 7-6. Kvitova had beaten Kerber the last three times they played, all long three-setters, including at the 2013 WTA Finals, and last November, in the Fed Cup final when Kvitova came through 7-6 (5) 4-6 6-4. In Prague, the fans were delirious.

This time on Monday, Kerber was slightly better. The German was more composed, she wanted to engage as many rallies as she could and if Kvitova happened to hit short, Kerber jumped on them. Over the past four years ago, when they both became very good, Kvitova was more courageous, which is why she has won two majors and Kerber has yet to do so. The Czech has a substantially bigger serve and her forehand is more powerful. However, Kerber can be more patient, is faster, can go side-to-side and whack her sharp backhands. When Kvitova gets into a zone, she can out hit anyone, because she absolutely crushes the ball. But, once again, she isn’t feeling right physically and she went down.

“It’s really tough to describe,” Kvitova said about her health. “I was just talking with my fitness coach and I was trying to describe it and it’s very difficult. I mean, it’s just something what I really can’t do anything against. My blood test was not the best one. So I couldn’t really do the one I wanted to be prepared for everything. I felt I wasn’t able to stay in the kind of good rally what she played. I miss so early. From that time I started to hit a little bit harder and I made some mistakes, so it was a little difficult to find a balance like between rallies and winners and some kind of volleys and anything. She still played very good shots out there today, and I am going to try to do my best the next match.”

Kerber has been very effected during the Asian swing, so this time around, she didn’t decide that she could engage a marathon – which she loves to do – but she would be aggressive whenever she could. She also wanted to make sure that she could get the balls back anyway she could. Next up is Muguruza and Kerber will have to change it up, because the Spaniard has her number.

I lost to her in two Grand Slams and also in the Asia swing,” Kerber said. “I’m looking forward to play against her. I will try to take my revenge now and try to go out there to beat her. She had an amazing year. She played unbelievable this year, so it will be for sure a tough match. But at the end I know a little bit how she’s playing. I will try to go for it. That’s for sure.”

Halep always gets nervous, but this time on fire to beat Pennetta


Simona Halep dominated Flavia Pennetta at the 2015 WTA Finals. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

SINGAPORE – Simona Halep gets nervous – a lot. She also becomes very, very good when she is in a right space.

On Sunday, the opening day at Singapore, she walloped Flavia Pennetta 6-0 6-3.

What a turnaround, as not even two months ago, the Italian whipped the Romanian 6-1 6-3 in the semis of the US Open. Pennetta played fantastic, but Halep wasn’t really there.

This time, she came up firing and she was swirling around the court. Halep jumped on her balls early, she crushed her fabulous backhand down the line, she rolled her forehand and slugged her serves. Pennetta tried hard enough in the second set, but she couldn’t handle her range. Halep knew exactly when to attack and when she knew to back off. This time, she was full of confidence.

Here is the rub though: Halep has looked very shaky at the Grand Slams this year. She reached the quarterfinal of the Aussie Open and then admittedly became scared against Ekaterina Makarova and lost. In Roland Garros and Wimbledon, she went down hard and very early.

But at the US Open, once she reached the second week, she was vicious on court and she wouldn’t give up. She took down Vika Azarenka 6-4 in the third set in the quarters, perhaps their most exciting match of the year. But then when she came on court against Pennetta, her face looked glaced. She wasn’t in the match at all.

“I can say I was a little bit tired,” Halep said in Flushing Meadow. “Also nerves. Was first semifinals of US Open. I beat Flavia before in Miami and I knew that she can play good tennis. I knew that she’s very solid. Maybe that day that we had between the quarterfinals and the day when we played I think wasn’t too good for me. I was very tired after Azarenka match, and then I was like without energy Friday when we played. I just want to take the positive things from that match. I have learned about how to manage the situation when you play semifinals, and I hope to have many more and to pass that bad feeling.”

Why she was nervous was pretty bizarre. In 2014, the world met her for the first time; she reached the final at Roland Garros and she nearly upset Maria Sharapova in three sets. After that, Halep kept climbing up to the top charts, but on the majors, she was completely unpredictable.

Fortunate for her, at the last huge event, she reached the final at the WTA Finals in 2014. She stunned Serena Williams in the round robin, and they faced off again in the final. Williams won, but Halep wasn’t awful

Maybe she can reach the final again. And this time, she won’t be too nervous. However, that’s debatable.

“I need to do final for every Grand Slam, then I will be okay,” she said with a smile. “Every tournament is different. Every tournament I have nerves. Every match I have nerves. For me, it’s normal. But I have just to learn how to manage them. In every match I have different nerves, so it’s tough to explain. It’s just about my inside.”