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.

Great Britain and Belgium all square 1-1 in Davis Cup Final



NOVEMBER 27, DAVIS CUP FINAL – In Day One from Ghent, Belgium, the home country and Great Britain are knotted at 1-1.

After an hour and 11 minutes of this final, one of the tennis stories of the year was two-thirds written. Kyle Edmund, a 20-year-old born in Johannesburg but who has lived most of his life in England, was threatening to make one of the most impressive Davis Cup debuts ever, and to kill off this final within two hours of it starting. He led David Goffin 6-3, 6-1, having had a set point to win his first set in Davis Cup as a bagel.

At that point, the British captain Leon Smith could feel not only vindicated in giving his youngster the second singles slot after Andy Murray, but confident about the rest of the weekend. If his No 2 player could so utterly dominate the world No 16, then even if he went on to lose the match he would still be highly fancied to win a fifth rubber against either the world No 84 (Steve Darcis) or No 108 (Ruben Bemelmans). Yet, by the time Edmund did lose the match, Smith would have been decidedly less rosy about the rest of the weekend.

Edmund was outstanding for two sets. In a 12-minute first game, he looked a little nervous, perhaps because he’d been kept waiting a long time in an otherwise highly impressive opening ceremony. But once he’d saved two break points, he was out of the blocks, and Goffin did well to stave off a 6-0 set. Goffin was clearly feeling the weight of expectation, and in the second set his serve disintegrated as he double-faulted three service games away.

But the match began to turn after he stopped Edmund’s impressive streak at seven games. Edmund played a poor third game of the third set, and Goffin was in. The Belgian wasn’t playing particularly well, but Edmund’s drop in level allowed Goffin to find his way to some form. Soon Edmund was looking physically weak. He admitted after the match that he was struggling with tiredness and cramping in the fourth and fifth sets, and he crumbled, losing the last 12 games as Goffin won 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. Yet it wasn’t a long match – two hours 47 minutes in total – so the Brit was basically saying he began to wilt after two hours.

More importantly, when asked on three occasions whether he would be mentally and physically ready to play the fifth rubber on Sunday if needed, he said he’d be physically fit but didn’t talk about the mental side. While there was nothing he said that could be held against him, he didn’t sound like a man who believed he could win. And his physical condition must be a worry – this is the player who beat Stéphane Robert in five sets in the first round of the French Open in May, but then couldn’t take to the court to play Nick Kyrgios two days later because his body had rebelled. He may simply not be ready for two best-of-five matches in three days.

Murray’s reliability

Goffin’s win threw the spotlight back on Andy Murray. It was always expected that Murray had to win three matches for the British to lift their first Davis Cup since 1936, so his best scenario was a straight sets win. He got one – he beat Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 – but it took half an hour longer than it needed to after Murray was docked a point for a second audible obscenity at 2-2 in the third set.

Both captains were warned before this final that the umpires would be very strict about audible obscenities, and Murray is a serial offender. It’s a wonder that television picture directors persist in showing close-ups of Murray’s face after he misses a shot, as the camera regularly catches him mouthing words that wouldn’t be heard in polite society, for which few lip-reading skills are required. So it was no surprise that Murray was warned early in the third set.

What was a surprise was that he did it again just two games later, and right under the nose of the umpire. He claimed afterwards not to have heard the first warning because of the crowd noise, and joked that he found it hard to believe the umpire had heard the words he had used for the same reason. But with his record, it was a pretty feeble excuse, and he had effectively put himself in a straitjacket for the rest of the match. So when he was broken to trail 2-4, he couldn’t let out the angst with his usual flurry of unpublishable terms. He was clearly very wound up.

Murray eventually recaptured control of the match. He let out an animalistic “yeah!” when he saved at set point at 4-5, then broke for 6-5 on three magnificent forehands, and served out a victory that always looked likely. But the whole thing took two hours 24 minutes, the third set taking almost half of it, and the extra half-hour could come back to bite him in Sunday’s singles against Goffin if Saturday’s doubles goes long.

There seems little doubt that the Murray brothers, Jamie and Andy, will play for the British on Saturday, but the Belgians had a lot to discuss over their Friday dinner. The nominated pair of Steve Darcis and Kimmer Coppejans is merely that: a nomination. Darcis seems likely to play, but probably partnering Goffin or Bemelmans. Belgian’s captain Johan van Herck said he didn’t know what his pairing would be but accepted that Goffin with either Darcis or Bemelmans was “a possibility.”

Murray denied that the doubles would be as crucial as in some Davis Cup encounters, but he is probably talking up his team’s chances in a fifth rubber more than he actually believes in them. If it went to a fifth, the Belgians would be favourites, which is why Murray will know he really has to win on Saturday and Sunday to take the fifth rubber out of it.

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.

Domination: Djockovic beats Federer, wins ATP Final




ATP WORLD TOR FINAL – There was no out for Roger Federer. He couldn’t shake Novak Djokovic. Oh sure, he had a few opportunities, but he cannot out hit him backhand to backhand. The Serbian kept going there, sitting in the crosscourt, striking deep, hard and nearly being perfect angles.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer would mix it up, charging to the net, dragging him into his gigantic forehand, but Djokovic went going side to side and rarely floated long. At 4-5 in the second set, facing a match point. Federer stood up, tried to twist his kicker second serve on the line but it flew away. He knew he was beaten, with Djokovic winning the title 6-3 6-4.

“It’s hard to play at this pace all the time. Doesn’t need much,” Federer said. “We’re talking margins.
You don’t win a breakpoint, he does, vice versa, it changes the whole outcome of the match. You can’t always be on the winning side. Margins are small at the very top. That’s why this year of Novak’s is amazing. Rafa [Nadal] has been there. I’ve been there. We both know how hard it is to back it up year after year.
It’s not the first good year of Novak. Clearly he’s going into next year with massive confidence. He’s playing great. It’s going to be hard for him to play a bad year, that’s for sure. But this extremely good, it’s always tough”

Federer has had a very decent year, winning Brisbane, Dubai, Istanbul, Halle, the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, and Basel. He is the only man to defeat three wins over Djokovic – Dubai, Cincinnati, and the Round Robin earlier this week in London – but the 28-year-old has beaten the Swiss five times this season, including Wimbledon, the US Open and now the ATP Final.

Everyone can have a bad day, but the No.1 rarely plays badly. It is hard to find out exactly how to stop him. His two-handed backhand is the best in the business. His forehand has become heavier and sharper, let alone cracking it crosscourt. His first serve is super strong, and he can mix it up. His return is mind boggling because even when he it receiving, he seems to know where it is going and manages to punch it back every deep. Then it is 50-50 and he can grind them down.

The 10-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic has put together an incredible years, one of the best ever. He has won 11 titles: the majors at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the US Open; the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Shanghai and Paris/Bercy; the ATP 500 in Beijing; and now the ATP World Tour Final.

He has only lost six matches this season: four finals against Dubai (Federer) Roland Garros (Stan Wawrinka) Montreal (Andy Murray) and Cincinnati (Federer); the quarters against Ivo Karlovic in Doha in the quarters; and in the Round Robin against Federer a few days ago. But then he beat ‘Fed’ at the most important time in London.

He won’t be able to win every tournament in 2016, but unless he begins to falter, he will continue to beat the best of the best consistently.

Already, he is becoming one of the best top 10 players of all time. He is that good.

“Obviously with wins that I had this season and throughout my career, especially in the last five years, I put myself in a very good position, knowing that I made a lot of records and history,” Djokovic said.

“Of course, it does flatter me, inspire me. It makes me very satisfied and happy. I can’t predict the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen in next years to come. But what I can do for myself is continue respecting the kind of training regime and lifestyle that I had and keeping that mindset. Because of that package, I got myself in this position. I’m convinced with this dedication to the sport, I can achieve more..”

‘He is able to play with no mistakes ‘ Djokovic beat Nadal in semis

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ATP World Tour Finals – When Novak Djokovic is smoking his first serve, twisting around, hitting the lines, aiming wherever he wanted to do go, to be able to beat him these days, he is nearly untouchable.

On Saturday, Djokovic out-hit him and bested Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 to reach the final. Once the rallies began, the Spaniard was in there, but he couldn’t shake him. Not only was he unable to read his serve – try 0/0 on break points – but also he couldn’t knock him back for the most part.

Very few people are willing to go toe-to-toe against Nadal’s ferocious forehand, but Djokovic was just fine there. The righty moves quickly forward with his two-handed backhand and made sure that the lefty Nadal’s heavy forehand doesn’t go way up past his shoulder. Djokovic reads the ball coming up fast and he hits it before it goes into the sky. Without a doubt, it is impossible to be on top of every single shot against the 14-time Grand Slam Nadal, but he was more than good enough, and in reality, he was better on every turn.

How about Djokovic when he was cracking his first serve: try 25/28 points won on his first serves. The Serbian nailed nine forehand winners, and the Spaniard hit four forehand winners. Djokovic wailed nine backhands, while Nadal’s weaker backhand only had one winner.

Djokovic hit three incredible rolling lobs after Nadal was right on the top of the net and couldn’t jump high enough. In the last game, Djokovic could sense that he should jump on him now. He attacked immediately, going down the line with a backhand and then a forehand. It was over, the fourth time that Djokovic has beaten him this year, at the ATP Masters 1000 Monte Carlo, Roland Garros, Beijing and now the ATP World Tour Finals. The Serbian has won all nine sets.

Now, head to head, they are tied up 23-23. It’s the first time that the 28- year-old Djokovic and the 30-year old Nadal are tied. Nadal beat him back in 2006 at Roland Garros. It took a very long time to catch up.

“Obviously after 46 matches and 10 years of professional tennis, I managed to tie my head-to-head score with Nadal,” Djokovic said. “It took a lot of time. I think I was a few levels under him at the beginning of my career when I started playing professional tennis. Nadal was alongside Federer dominating the tour. I just couldn’t really do much against him. But because we played so many times I had a chance to really shorten the gap, and now even the score.”

Nadal has been better at the end of this year. He was hurt during the second half in 2014, and he returned in 2015, but he wasn’t 100 percent. But gradually, he became slightly more confident. He was unable to win any of the majors or the ATP 1000s, but he did beat Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and David Ferrer at the ATP World Tour Finals. Pretty close, but no cigar. In fact against Djokovic, he is a long way off.

“Hitting amazing. Well, the return always amazing,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “This year he serving great, I think. And then he is able to play with no mistakes and changing directions so easy, playing so, so long. He’s doing everything good. He was better than me and he deserved to do what he did during the whole season. He played just fantastic. When somebody’s doing like this, just the only thing I can do is congratulate him.”

Nadal will go home in Mallorca. It’s a long time that he was able to play from January to November. At the very least, he can practice every day and when he arrives at Australia Open, maybe he will be closer against Djokovic.

“My body is healthy, is strong. I feel good physically,” Nadal said. “I am able to practice a lot. I am able to compete great in long matches, too.
Today I am not worried about my body. I was much more worried when I started this season than how I am today. I played the full season with not many problems. I finished the season healthy, with good health.

That’s so important for me to keep practicing, have confidence in my body, my movements, and another important thing: if you want to improve your game, you need to practice.”

Djokovic to meet Roger Federer

While Stan Wawrinka almost knocked off Roger Federer in the semifinals here last year, he wasn’t to be, losing 7-6(6) in the third. This time, he started quickly, but then Federer was on top of him, smacking his forehand, chipping him around, and attacking his second serves. He grabbed it 7-5 6-3.

Wawrinka is now done for the season, too, winning Roland Garros for the fist time. He was incredibly good on clay in Paris, but the 30-year-old still have work to do against the Big 4 boys. When he goes up against Federer, Wawrinka is up and down, he is not secured at the net, and he can get sullen.

This year, even though he was unable to win a Grand Slam this season, Federer appears to get better and better at the net cords. Against Wawrinka, he went 24/32 at the net points in two sets – pretty darn good.

He will have to do much the same against Djokovic. Yes, Federer did upend him early this week in the round Robin, but the final is another story. The Serbian wants to win badly as he will end this season nearly perfect. But the same goes with Federer, who has won six titles at the ATP Final and who loves indoors. It’s a pick-em, really.

ATP Finals: Wawrinka out-hits Murray, to reach semi vs. Federer

Stanislas Wawrinka


FROM THE ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS IN LONDON — When Stan Wawrinka starts well enough, he is in it. Even though he was a bit shaky at the end, he overcame Andy Murray 7-6(4) 6-4 to reach the semis against Roger Federer. The 30-year-old Swiss was more aggressive and his one-handed backhands were authoritative. Both players went toe-to-toe with their spinning forehands. In the end, Wawrinka’s first serve was heavier.

Murray was fairly enthusiastic, but he was angry with himself, not able to hit his groundies deep so he could come into the net. He was down 2-5 and two breaks in the second set, but he kept trying while Wawrinka almost disappeared for a few minutes. Murray had a huge chance, he had two break points at 4-5, and he couldn’t go further, so he destroyed his racket. Shortly after, his ball went wide and Wawrinka had moved on, quite happily.

The Scot finished with 22 winners and 30 unforced errors, while Wawrinka finished with 27 winners and 29 unforced. Good enough.

For the No. 2 Murray, he has way too many errors and that cost him, dearly.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Stan. He serves big. At certain points in the match, he was hitting the ball very hard off both sides, playing sort of high-risk tennis, making a lot of winners,” Murray said.
“There was a period in the middle of the second set where he played extremely well, a lot of passing shots, hitting clean winners onto the line. There’s not much I can do about that obviously.

“Sometimes when you’re playing against the best players in the world, they can play great tennis. Just from my side on the important moments right now, I’m a bit disappointed with how I played them. If he had hit clean winners or played great points at 4-2 in the tiebreak, you come in and you say he was too good at that moment. But in the tiebreak, I made bad mistakes at the wrong time.”

Last year at the ATP Finals, Wawrinka and Federer met each other in the semifinals and put together an amazing match, with Federer winning 4-6 7-5 7-6(6). The two were so tired Saturday that Federer decided not to play at the final, largely because they wanted to play in the Davis Cup next week (which they won).

This time, they will go all out again. Wawrinka blasted him at Roland Garros in the quarters, while Federer took him in the semis at the US Open. Federer is favored, but slightly.

“He’s playing really well. It’s tough to play indoor, especially World Tour Final, he is always fit, always ready,” Wawrinka said. “Last year was an opportunity to beat him, didn’t took them.
Let’s see, I had a tough match now, two hours’ match with a lot of pressure. I also feel quite tired. I’m going to be focused on that, try to rest, try to recover and be ready for hopefully a good match.”

Djokovic very happy, but what if he loses vs Nadal in semis?

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AT THE ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS IN LONDON – For the past two months, Novak Djokovic has been asked whether or not he is truly happy when he wins, and can he continue to be very pleased even if he loses?

What if Djokovic goes down against Rafael Nadal in the semifinals at the ATP World Tour Finals on Saturday, ending the year when he would no longer be dominated?

What if?

But at least on Friday, he is grinning from ear to ear.

The Serbian has rarely lost this year and the only time that he was down in the dumps for a few minutes was when he lost against Stan Wawrinka in the final of Roland Garros. Had he upended against say Roger Federer or Nadal, he might have been upset longer, because while he is very respectful about both those them, they are not close friends off the court. But apparently, he and Wawrinka are. It’s possible they could play each other in the final. If the Swiss upends Djokovic once again, maybe he will just shrug and continue to be a happy man

“I feel like (I have) a very special relationship with Stan, I think like no other top player, honestly,” Djokovic said. “I do appreciate that. I do enjoy that good relationship we have. I think that was strengthened even more after Roland Garros final.”

It appears that it was. He won Wimbledon in an epic contest over Federer, dropped against Andy Murray and Federer at Montreal and Cincy, but then he won the US Open, by edging Federer once again. Then he won everything, at Beijing, Shanghai and Paris/Bercy. He was on-fire and he wasn’t sputtering at all.

Somewhat amazingly, he lost to Federer here in London at the O2 on Tuesday, but he picked right up, beating Tomas Berdych. Now he is in the semi of Saturday against Nadal.

If he loses that contest, maybe it will be a super disappointment. Or not.

The two have clashed so many times, with Nadal leading head to head 23-22. They have been so close on court, with so many intense rivalry matches. They are both so fast that they can go on for hours, like at the 2012 Australian Open final, won by Djokovic in 5 hours and 53 minutes. They never went down until the very end.

“In terms of amount of matches played, maybe some matches that were long and epic was against Rafa,” Djokovic. “I played against him longer matches, more exciting matches. Grand Slam finals I think were more exciting with Roger [Federer], especially in the last couple of years. So both of them. It’s been amazing rivalries I had with both of them.”

This year, obviously, Djokovic has beaten Nadal every time this year. Nadal is getting better and better, having a decent fall, going fairly deep every time out. Given that since 2005 until now, after the summers ended, his body fell apart. But, this season, after he returned from his injury in the second half of 2014, he has been injury free.

However, against Djokovic, he has been quicker, more powerful, smarter and secure. Last month, they faced off in the Beijing final and Djokovic clocked him 6-2, 6-2.

The court at the ATP Finals is fairy fast, but slower than it used to be. Nadal has won three matches, beating Wawrinka, Andy Murray and now David Ferrer, who he out-lasted him 6-7 6-3 6-4 in more than two-and-a-half hours on Friday.

Djokovic is favored, but eventually, if he is 100 percent physically and mentally, Nadal will get him one day. But on Saturday, if he isn’t substantially aggressive, there is no way he can win. Djokovic can hit the ball back until he gets a good look off a short ball and he will swing away.

The Spaniard has to take some risks.

But maybe he won’t.

“I going to try to keep playing the way I am playing,” Nadal said. “Then maybe is not enough. But I cannot go crazy. I cannot go on the court and thinking that I have to do something that I cannot do it. I going to try to play my game. I going to try to play aggressive. I going to try to be strong mentally. I know the surface is better for him than for me obviously.  He plays in a very good surface for him. He plays a tournament that he won already couple of times. He come here after having an amazing season. All the positive things are for him.

“But for me is a motivation. I am here to try my best tomorrow. Then if is not enough what I have today, it’s fine. I going to keep working to keep improving the things that I need to do to try to be in better shape next time that I going to compete against him. Tomorrow is an opportunity for me to play well, to see how far I am.”

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.

Rafa Nadal: Very good, or very bad

Nadal IW 15 TR MALT0432

From the ATP World Tour Finals at LondonRafael Nadal is very intense. Obviously, he has not had a terrific year, not even close. He knew coming into 2015 that his body was pretty much done and he was in a fair amount of pain from wear and tear in the second half of 2014, But in January 2015, he was ready to go and he was hoping that he would be 100 percent.

But his recovery has been much longer than expected. The best news is he has been able to play all year. The bad news is that not only has the 14-time Grand Slam champion has not won a major, when he has not even reached to the semifinal. And how about this? At the ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, he did manage to reach the final at Madrid in 2015, but he has won 27 Masters 1000s since he began back in 2005, which has been quite a feat, so not winning at all this season, which has unglued him mentally.

“I think that I am playing in the toughest surface for me to play, indoor, and in the worst part of the season always for me, these last tournaments of the year,” Nadal said of the 02 Arena in London. “If I am able to play well here, I think that’s great news because that can be a good chance to start next year again with positive feelings,” he said.

But here is the good news: he has been pretty consistent this fall, reaching the final of Beijing, taking down Fabio Fognini in the semis (the Italian had stunned Nadal in five set at the US Open) and then falling against Novak Djokovic. He beat Stan Wawrinka in Shanghai in the quarters before going down against Jo Tsonga. In Basel, he beat Marin Cilic and Richard Gasquet before he fell against Roger Federer in the semis. In Paris, Wawrinka got his revenge and beat him in the quarters. For Nadal, at least he has been grinding, which is a positive. He is vulnerable, but he is not giving up.

“Then the results on Beijing, Shanghai, Basel, Paris confirms that I am playing much better, no? So happy for that,” Nadal said. “As I said in Beijing, my main goal is try to start next year with my level, with the level that I want to be. I am working to make that happen.”

On Monday, Nadal took out Wawrinka 6-3 6-2. He did not have to play fantastic, as the Swiss was way off, but he was directed, crushing his famous forehand. His serve isn’t massive andhis backhand is still landing too short. But, he still doesn’t believe that he can dominate with his volleys.

However, he is getting closer and closer, which is why he is ranked No. 5. That is not horrible at all.

Maybe in 2016, he will be ready to rumble again

“I don’t know what’s going on next year, but for sure the end of the season helps,” said Nadal. “The way I am playing at the end of this season helps to try to start the next year with a different energy than what I started last year. It’s obvious that I am working hard.”

However, Nadal has said that he doesn’t like the surface on the ATP Finals. Exactly what type of serves, who knows? Is it too fast? Too medium? Too slow?

“I never say that is fast here. Here everybody is saying that it’s slow. The court is not fast. The court is okay. But it’s obvious that I am playing against the best players of the world. I only won the first match. That’s important for me. I never say that is fast here. Here everybody is saying that it’s slow. It’s not that I’m saying it’s fast,” Nadal said.

The odd thing is that Nadal has won just about everything. He has won Australia, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. He has also pocketed Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Canada, Cincinnati, Tokyo (a 500) and Beijing (also a 500), among others. Without a doubt, Nadal can win on every surface if he is playing his absolute best.

But the reality is that after the US Open, or the summer overall, he has historically declined in the fall. He rarely went deep from October-November, but in 2013, he was on fire, reaching the ATP World Tour Finals. Maybe he is ready to pounce. On Wednesday, he wiped out Murray 64 61. Now, you are talking






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.