‘One for the boys’ as Federer captures Davis Cup title

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The Davis Cup … finally in the Swiss trophy case.

LILLE, FRANCE – And so the fairy tale has come true. The final missing piece from Roger Federer’s trophy cabinet, the one that seemed so out of his reach largely through his own neglect, has finally been captured. The great man has a Davis Cup title, after he rubbed Richard Gasquet’s nose in the red dirt of Lille to give Switzerland it’s first ever team title.

Eyebrows may be raised at how quickly Federer recovered from the back injury that put him out of the ATP Finals a week ago, but backs are strange things, and for all his denials of the Davis Cup’s importance to him, Federer really wanted this to celebrate a team trophy rather than an individual one. “We wanted this clearly very badly,” he said. “It was definitely one of the better feelings in my career, no doubt about it.  So much nicer to celebrate it all together – this is one for the boys.”

The Swiss may be a two-man team of Federer and the Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, but they were the better team this weekend. Although the French organised this final superbly, the one missing element was a happy camp in the home locker room. What exactly happened to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the course of the weekend is still unclear, but whether it’s an injury or a loss of confidence, the French were left clutching at straws when they entered the final day needing to beat an essentially fit Federer in the first of Sunday’s matches.

The job was given to Richard Gasquet, who has twice beaten Federer on clay but whose confidence is not exactly high. The French part of the world-record 27,448 crowd did what it could for him. They tried their hardest to hate Federer for the day, but found how difficult it was. They booed Federer’s practice shots, and when Gasquet walked into the arena to a massive fanfare with lights, music and cheers from over 20,000 French mouths, he was walking into a theatre from which he could emerge triumphant. Changes may be on the way for the Davis Cup, but it would be a real loss if atmospheres like this generated by a stunningly colourful home-and-away tableau were to be lost, as would happen in an all-teams-in-one-place format.

It’s easy to forget this was a golden opportunity for Gasquet as well as Federer. At nine he was on the front of France’s leading tennis magazine as the future of French tennis, and at 16 he was heralded as a prodigy for winning a round at a Masters-1000 tournament. Yet another 16-year-old called Rafael Nadal soon eclipsed him, and he has struggled to find the limelight since. This was his moment, but he never looked as if he believed he could seize it. As he walked down the stairs onto the court, his face betrayed the signs of someone who was petrified, and despite a wag in the crowd having shouted during Saturday’s doubles “Lift up your head, Richard,” he walked onto the court with his chin drooped and his shoulders hunched.

A good start would have told Federer he had a fight on his hands, but the match was effectively decided in the third game. Gasquet led 30-0, but Federer came back at him. At deuce Federer played the kind of point he would never have played before teaming up with Stefan Edberg. He hit a backhand slightly off the frame, realised late how good it was, ghosted into the net, and won the point with an improvised half-volley. A forehand winner down the line on the next point broke Gasquet’s serve, and punctured his fragile confidence.

From then on Federer was in control. There were some great points, and plenty of occasions when Gasquet got the better of them. But he was having to work so hard to hold serve, and he never had a single break point. He plays essentially the same game as Federer, but Federer does it so much better. Federer won the first set in 44 minutes and broke twice in the second. Early in the third Gasquet twice had 15-30 on the Federer serve, but Federer just went up a level to snuff out the danger. And then he twice broke Gasquet to win 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 53 minutes.

The end showed what it meant to Federer. At 5-2 40-0 he served down the middle, followed it up with a drop shot that Gasquet didn’t get near, and collapsed in triumph onto his tummy in the red dirt. It was also a relief for the French, particularly for the crowd who could finally allow themselves to celebrate with the great man who speaks their language, and his teammate Wawrinka who also has a high profile in France.

A career of true achievement

So Federer’s trophy cabinet is complete, but realistically the golden era in Swiss tennis has started to end. Federer is 33, the support team of Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer, who were with Federer on the junior circuit, are 33 and 32, and Wawrinka as the youngster will be 30 early next year. There are few Swiss youngsters on the horizon. “This is an amazing day for sports in our country,” he said. “We’re a smaller country. We don’t win big events every other week, so it’s a big day. I hope it can create things for the future, in tennis but even for other sports, to inspire a generation and get other people to invest more into sports.”

Federer wouldn’t say whether he will play Davis Cup next year. He needs to play one more weekend in 2015 or 16 to be allowed to play in the Rio Olympics, but it will be a case of a weekend with his mates rather than a strategic assault on winning the cup.

As the Swiss celebrated with Dwight Davis’s silver salad bowl, one man to get himself into the photos was René Stammbach, the president of the Swiss Tennis Association. He is one of the front-runners to succeed Francesco Ricci-Bitti as president of the International Tennis Federation next year. That may be how Switzerland exercises its influence on world tennis once Federer and Wawrinka hang up their rackets in a couple of years’ time.

Warwrinka, healthy Federer snare Davis Cup doubles victory

Gasquet will face Nadal

Gasquet can’t raise his level in doubles.

LILLE, FRANCE — The Roger Federer magic finally emerged on the second day of the Davis Cup final, he and Stan Wawrinka taking the doubles to give Switzerland a 2-1 lead going into the final day. But while it keeps alive Federer’s dream of capturing the one top-level title he has never won, the architect of this victory was Wawrinka, who is rapidly becoming the Swiss hero this weekend.

It’s been a mystery why Federer and Wawrinka have had such a poor record in Davis Cup since winning Olympic doubles gold in Beijing six years ago. When they lost to Golubev-Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan in April’s quarter-finals, they looked as shaky as a scratch pairing. But both brought missing pieces to today’s party – Federer brought the volleys he has honed in recent months with more forays to the net in his singles, while Wawrinka brought the overt confidence he developed during the ATP Finals in London and that clearly has not been shaken by his heartbreaking defeat to Federer a week ago. They have also been working this week with David McPherson, the Bryan brothers’ coach,  who Switzerland’s captain Severin Lüthi brought in to help maximise the Swiss pair’s potential.

The result was a superb display by the two men in red, one Federer described as “the best doubles Stan and I have ever played”. While Federer picked up the low volleys that would beat most people and swooped like a gazelle for some high backhand volley interceptions, Wawrinka provided the raw aggression from the back of the court. For two sets the French pair of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet stuck with them, but once Gasquet was broken in the 11th game of the second set, the French spirit seemed broken, and the Swiss bludgeoned their way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 victory in two hours 10 minutes.

With all the focus on Federer, in particular following the back problem that forced him to forfeit last Sunday’s ATP final against Novak Djokovic, the focus has failed to pick up that the French are far from the happy camp they have seemed to date. At French practice on Saturday morning, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga spent the whole time practising alongside Gasquet, and as it was Tsonga-Gasquet who beat Berdych-Stepanek in the doubles of September’s semi-final at Roland Garros, many expected Tsonga-Gasquet to be France’s pair. The French sports
daily L’Equipe even announced on its website that Tsonga would replace Benneteau.

But he didn’t. Benneteau played, and Tsonga didn’t turn up on the French bench until late in the second set. That has left question marks hanging over who will play singles against Federer in Sunday’s first reverse singles. After Tsonga’s pallid showing against Wawrinka on Friday, if he has a problem – whether to do with confidence or health – he could be cannon fodder. France’s other options are Benneteau or Gasquet, but Gasquet was picked on mercilessly by the Swiss in the doubles so his confidence won’t be high, while Benneteau had to have treatment on a thigh or lower back problem late in the third set. It does not look good for France.

The French pair pulled up the drawbridge when asked about Tsonga’s health. ‘We always expected to play the doubles,’ Benneteau said. He also denied rumours that Tsonga has a wrist problem, and said the only reason Tsonga practised with Gasquet on Saturday morning was that it fitted the time at which each player wanted to hit. Believe it if you will.

Although Benneteau and Gasquet have played together several times and won an Olympic bronze medal in 2012, Gasquet’s refusal to play in the deuce court meant Benneteau had to take that role. Benneteau has done that in the past, notably partnering Michaël Llodra, but he has played the past season in the advantage court partnering Edouard Roger-Vasselin. And if you break the match down, the French were undone by their inability to return well enough.

Federer served first, to send the signal that he wasn’t having to tread carefully with his back, but Wawrinka was the dominant player in the first set. He ran Nadal-like back to the baseline after the coin toss, he pummelled his returns, and he did most of the talking. It was like the younger brother finally losing his awe of the illustrious big brother.

The match was of very high quality. All four players came in behind every serve, there were some acrobatic volleys, which produced scintillating rallies. It was in many ways the ultimate in doubles and illustrates one of the unheralded jewels Davis Cup can often produce.

If the French were to make any headway they had to take control in the second set. They had a break point on a shaky Federer service game, they then had two break points in each of Wawrinka’s next two service games, while holding their own serve with ease. But by the time the Swiss had levelled at 4-4, the French were 0-5 on break points, and it cost them. They survived two break points at 4-4, but at 5-5 Wawrinka’s aggressive returning opened up an opportunity the Swiss were determined to take, and minutes later the visitors were 2-0 up.

After that it was all Switzerland, and at one point in the third set Federer and Wawrinka were both left with broad smiles after winning a glorious rally. By then they were unstoppable – Gasquet saved two break points at 1-1 after leading 40-0, but that proved the last game the French won, as the Swiss reeled off the last four games to seal a deserved victory.

Benneteau was doing his best to keep French spirits up. “Tomorrow could be one of the most beautiful days in French tennis,” he said, “so we have to keep the spirit up.” But ominously for the French, Federer, answering what he said would be his last question on the subject of his back, said “Whatever it feels like, I feel at 100 per cent now, and I expect to be that way tomorrow.”

If it is, there looks to be only one winner.

The last of the great Davis Cup finals? 

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Will the rift blamed on Mirka Federer hinder Switzerland’s chances?

Christmas has come early for the International Tennis Federation. No, make that 10 Christmases have come at once for the ITF, the owner and administrator of the Davis Cup. In fact not since the Davis Cup celebrated its centenary 15 years ago has it had such a fillip as this weekend’s final.

Whatever the health of the Davis Cup – and it has a mixed diagnosis depending who you’re talking to and which country you’re in – there’s no doubt it’s vital to the health of tennis’s primary governing body. An estimated 50 per cent of the ITF’s running costs come from Davis Cup profits, of which the sponsorship by the Paris-based international bank BNP Paribas accounts for a sizeable share.

That dependence has left the ITF vulnerable to criticism that it refuses to countenance changes in the Davis Cup’s format for fear of threatening its own income stream, criticism that is not always fair. Davis Cup’s current structure is aimed at growing the sport in the lower leagues and not just focusing on the 16-nation World Group. But there’s no question that the Davis Cup has suffered the problem in recent years of too many people saying it has a problem. So, to have a weekend in which the eyes of the world are on the final and a piece of genuinely interesting history is set to be made, is manna from heaven for the beleaguered federation.

Roger, The Man

The reason this year’s final is so big is all to do with one man: Roger Federer. The Swiss has won 17 majors, Olympic gold and silver medals, most of the Masters-1000 tournaments and plenty of other accolades. Only one historically meaningful title has still to elude him, the Davis Cup.

The reasons for this are many and varied, and include the self-inflicted. In the semi-finals of the 2003 competition, Federer led Lleyton Hewitt by two sets and 5-3 in the Rod Laver Arena, only for the indefatigable Aussie bounce back to win in five. That seemed to break Federer’s spirit, partly because he came so close and lost, but also because even if he’d won, the chances are Switzerland would still have lost because it didn’t have a second singles player. (The fifth rubber would have been Mark Philippoussis against Michel Kratochvil). In fact the pattern was establishing itself that if Federer didn’t win two singles and the doubles, Switzerland’s chances were almost hopeless. He played again in 2004, but when France’s Nicolas Escudé and Michael Llodra beat Federer and Yves Allegro in the doubles, the same syndrome set in: Escudé’s straight sets win over Kratochvil giving France the win in the fifth.

After that, Federer decided that his measured build-up to the frantic French-Wimbledon-US swing was more important than going somewhere exotic for the Davis Cup first-round. Even when Switzerland developed a second player in Stan Wawrinka, who made it to the top 10 in mid-2008, Federer still didn’t play a first-round tie, and despite Wawrinka’s best and most loyal efforts, Switzerland couldn’t win without him. Federer often played the play-off round in September after the majors were over, but that was largely to keep Switzerland in the World Group (and keep open Federer’s eligibility for the Olympics, which was important to him).

Only in 2012 did he agree to play in the first round, but it all went badly wrong. The Swiss used home advantage to lay a clay court in Fribourg for the visit of the USA. The bumpy court was a leveller, and with Mardy Fish beating Wawrinka in five and John Isner beating Federer in four on the opening day. Then the Swiss team splintered in internecine acrimony, Wawrinka not even showing for the final day because he was offended by Federer’s comments.

Time to get down to business

But this year it has been different. Federer committed to the first round, he won the decisive fifth point for Switzerland in the quarter-finals against Kazakhstan, and from there there was no turning back. Now he and Wawrinka face the French in Lille, a French city that ought to be too small for the final, but which halfway between London and Paris on a high-speed rail line, and which has a new soccer stadium whose grass can be folded in half to leave space for a 27,000-seater makeshift tennis arena.

Three days ago there were fears that the great event would fail to live up to the hype, as the Swiss once again appeared to be descending into civil war. In Saturday night’s semifinal at the ATP Finals in London, Wawrinka got angry with verbal comments made during the match by Federer’s wife, Mirka. There had clearly been an altercation between the two when they came into press (Wawrinka at half past midnight, Federer at five to one), and Federer then pulled out of the London final with a back problem he could pinpoint no more precisely than “probably back spasms.”

In truth, Federer had recognised the damage done during the match, got together with Wawrinka before anyone had too long to stew (which explains why both players were so late coming to their press conferences) and cleared the air.

They have been visibly harmonious in Lille this week, and Federer’s back seems to have benefited from the involuntary rest he gave it on Sunday.

So all is set for Wawrinka to help Federer win the one title to elude him, and for Federer to help Wawrinka win the title that means most to him and that he has so often fought for in a vain single-handed attempt. Both have to be fit – while France’s captain Arnaud Clément has an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Switzerland’s third player Marco Chiudinelli (a boyhood friend of Federer’s from Basel) is only just ranked inside the top 200. Chiudinelli may play in the doubles, but only if the Swiss strategy is to seek victory through wins in three of the four singles.

With the ITF due to choose a new president next year to end Francesco Ricci-Bitti’s 16-year reign, the Davis Cup could be about to change, either cosmetically or drastically. This might therefore prove to be the last great final.

That is … if Assuming Federer and Wawrinka stay fit.

Chris Bowers is the author of ‘Federer’, the first English-language biography of Roger Federer (John Blake Publishing)

Federer unable to play ATP Final due to bad back

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Federer looks beyond London to Davis Cup final.

LONDON – Roger Federer pulled through an historic event when he fought off fourth matches and overcame his friend, Stan Wawrinka, 4‑6, 7‑5, 7‑6 in the semis on ATP World Tour Finals Saturday. But by the time he woke up, he was way too sore and, although he tried, he couldn’t loosen it up and give it a go. The Swiss couldn’t walk on the court against Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday and compete. The world No. 1 Djokovic walks away with another title. Once again, he advances himself as a legend of the fall season.

Federer did not want to risk it because next week the Swiss will face France away in the Davis Cup final. Perhaps he would have played in London on Sunday. But given that Djokovic had played excellent this week, he would have had at least being able to compete say at 80 percent. Against the Serbian who was ready to rumble, he didn’t have much of a chance.

But No. 2 Federer wanted a real chance, as the 33-year-old does is still aiming to reach No. 1 someday for the last time. But, today, he decided not risk it.

“I am sorry to announce that I cannot play the finals tonight vs. Novak,” Federer said on his Facebook page. “I hurt my back late in the match yesterday against Stan.”

He later said, “I try all year to be ready for the ATP World Tour Finals, and I didn’t want it to end this way. But I tried everything I could last night, also today, painkillers, treatment, rest and so forth, warm-up till the very end. But just I can’t compete at this level with Novak. It would be too risky at my age to do this right now and I hope you understand.”

Federer may not say it, but the Davis Cup final in gigantic for him. The Swiss have never won the Davis Cup, and given knowing exactly what will occur during the entire season, that is very difficult to predicut who is healthy and who is hurt. If you are healthy and decided all year long to make Davis Cup a priority, then reaching the final is an important goal. This time around, the Swiss finally did.

However, no one really knows whether Federer will be able to play at all. But what we do know is that he will try to get healthy by Friday in Lille and hope that he can stand up, run around and out-think the assumed foe of Gael Monfils on clay.

France’s Monfils runs like the wind, but he is 2-8 against Federer and the Swiss has taken him down three times at Roland Garros. While Monfils pushed Federer to a fifth set in the US Open quarters – which the Swiss won – with Federer physically hurt, you may has well throw out the window.

Federer might be able to play for three hours and win, but he it is highly unlikely to play in Saturday for doubles. Perhaps he will be OK with a day’s rest and compete on Sunday, assuming that he or Wawrinka (who will face Jo Tsonga on Friday) or Swiss to have won at least a tie going into the final. Who knows, Federer could win two matches in Lille and celebrate one of the last pieces to his incredible resume. Or hurt his back hurt again and pulled out. If Federer can’t play next weekend, you may as well give the trophy to France.

Djokovic just can’t be beat indoors

Djokovic recalled his roots

Djokovic reaches ATP Finals final against Fed.

LONDON – Novak Djokovic loves indoors, perhaps because when he was a little kid he went up into the mountains and exercised long and hard. He raced down the snow, and let us forget, he could strike tennis balls, even if he was freezing.

The Serbian will win outdoors, but on a streak, he is even better indoors.

This week in London, it wasn’t very cold or wet. In fact, in the middle of November, it’s been positively respectable, rubbing your hands to keep them dry, and loosing up your fingers and squeezing them oh-so-tight.

In Saturday, Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 to advance to the final. Djokovic has now won 31 matches indoors, which is pretty fair considering that the man isn’t super tall, or a huge server that will goes for ace after ace. No, that is not it. He is willing to play super-fast courts or slow ones. He can kiss the lines on his first serve, jump inside the baselines with his forehand and backhands, or retrieve falling back. He’s got that type of diverse skills.The No.1 makes it on his terms.

Nishikori stunned Djokovic in the semis of the US Open, but this time around, he said that he wouldn’t miss. He wouldn’t go to crazy early, and wouldn’t be too passive.

“The conditions indoor and outdoor, where I lost to him in US Open, are quite different,” Djokovic. “I’m feeling pretty confident playing now, as well as he. So it’s going to be a good, high‑class tennis.”

Djokovic started the match very well as he knows both of them are both extremely fast. Still, both have to put plant on their feet. He was pretty predictable with his backhand crosscourt, which allowed Djokovic to sleight down the line. The 25-year-old Nishikori looked unsure of himself and there was no way he had a real chance if he could not get early but lost the first set 6-1.

In the second, US Open finalist got it together, leapt around, took his chances and finally grabbed a break. When Djokovic rushed the net, Nishikori went backwards. The Serbian could only nudge an overhead and the Japanese wailed a forehand winner. He broke at 5-3 and held to grab the set 6-3. It looked like they were going to have an excellent contest in the third.

But, no … Nishikori folded, oh so quickly. The younger kid had a huge shot at breaking in the first game of the third set, with Djokovic serving at 15-40. He had a two big chances but he couldn’t deliver: he missed a forehand and then his backhand under-cooked. Djokovic took a deep breath and then ran over him, 6-0 in the third.

Nishikori had a chance to finish the year ranked No. 4, but will stay No. 5. He has had a very good year, but he is not ready to break into the top 4 yet.

“The second set I start playing well,” Nishikori said. “He got little bit tight. I took some risk. Everything worked well in the second. I was playing well. Even first couple points in third set, I thought I had it. I think I start thinking too much about he’s No. 1 player, Novak. I think I risked too much. I think I did too many unforced errors first couple games. Then he start playing better. It’s very disappointing because I think, if I little bit change, I could be I think little more closer in the third set.”

Djokovic was apparently upset that a few of the fans nearby were yelling for Nishikori and he lost his head for a little while. He regained his composure and raced ahead to win the contest, but when he finished he wrote on a camera lens that he stuck it to them.

This was indoors and Djokovic wants to be the top dog all the time, even after a win.

“It was my fault that I allowed it,” Djokovic said. “I cannot blame the crowd. The crowd has a right to do what they want, to cheer for whoever they want. Some individuals that were going over the line throughout the whole match, some provocations that I usually don’t react on, but I did. It was my fault. I lost the concentration. I lost the break because of that. I allowed myself to be in the situation to lose the set, maybe even lose the match. So generally it was my fault and I should know better.”

Nishikori raises the bar on his way to the semis

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On to the semis for Nishikori.

LONDON — Milos Raonic was gone even before he started on Thursday, when the Canadian pulled out with a quad injury against Kei Nishikori. Even though Raonic was played very tight against the two younger guys, he knew that Raonic was a bit hurt so maybe he could run into the court him and run him around very quickly.

But he has to face David Ferrer instead, who was in a sub, and while the Spaniard had no chance at moving into the semis, he fought anyway, even if he had not played extremely well this year.

Nishikori was 1-1, taking out Andy Murray and losing to Roger Federer. He had a good chance reaching the final based on his two victories in the round robin, losing only two Federer. He has playing very well and seemingly not thinking about a faceoff with the likes of Djokovic and the Swiss.

The 25-year-old has been the youngest singles player at the ATP Finals this season, not only because he reached the US Open final, but because he knocked off a number of fine players. One was the former No. 4 Ferrer, who he beat him on three occasions and all three sets in Masters Series events: 7-6(9) in Miami; 6-3 in Madrid; and 6-4 in Paris, just two weeks ago.

Nishikori is about as fast as any player, and while he was running and hitting the corners as hard as he could, Ferrer was very good overall and jumping on top of his forehands. Both men can go either which way, but the Japanese is more creative when it comes to his backhand. Ferrer likes to grind out points, but he decided to counterpunch his foe on Thursday. So when Nishikori was banging away, the Spaniard looked calmer and it showed as he kissed his lines and won the set 6-4.

But Nishikori regrouped and he began to charge. He set up inside the baseline, cleaned up his backhands and served with more speed. He decided that — win or lose — he was going to swing as hard as he could. He did and after he won the second set 6-4. From that point, he was flying. He won the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, dancing with a big grin.

“It’s never easy playing against David because he’s very consistent from the baseline,” said Nishikori. “If I want to win, I have to do something to break his tennis. From the second set, I was more aggressive. The final set was almost perfect.”

Now Nishikori will play on Saturday against Novak Djokovic, who destroyed Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-2 and clinched the yearend No. 1 for the third time in four years. Nishikori has said that someday he would like to reach No. 1 someday, but he is a long way off. Still, if he can whip Djokovic, then we will begin to discuss 2015.

What does Murray do after Federer’s demolition?

Andy Murray

Murray must start beating the other “Big 4″ to stay in the elite group. Mal Taam/MALT Photo

LONDON – Everyone can have bad days. Every person has experienced one or another. But if you look at the greats in tennis, all of them have admitted that they had a lousy match and learned from it. Or forgot about it. Or just threw it in the trash.

But exactly what will happen to Andy Murray mindset after he went down 6-0, 6-1 to Roger Federer on Thursday in a packed house? Everyone wanted to see their countryman win. He was back and ready to knock down the other best players? But he was not even close. He wasn’t in the ballpark or, in this case, The O2.

Murray has been unable to beat the big guys again. Yes, he has played well enough to beat anyone outside of the Big 4 and he looked pretty well during the fall. He scratched up to No. 5, largely because he outworked David Ferrer in October and early November. But against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer during the season, that was another story this year. Murray entered the ATP Finals knowing that he had gone 0-8 of the three guys this year.

That hurt, but a chance to taking down Federer and Djokovic, and that would have made the season.

Somehow he went all wrong and quickly. Murray whacked the ball in the first four points, but after that, he could not find his rhythm. He was never there. Federer played very well, but he never had to play great, even though it seemed he couldn’t miss his forehands, backhands, slices, rushing into the net, digging in, smashing, and pocketing balls deep.

It did not really matter because Murray couldn’t get anything going. It was impossible to tell what his plans were, because he did not have anything at all. He was so out of it that the fans were shaking and were afraid. Down 6-0, 5-0, somehow Federer made a couple of errors and Murray won a game. One single game to 6-0, 6-1. The fans cheered and laughed. Andy didn’t smile for a second. Federer found it odd, shook his hand and did not to celebrate 6-0, 6-1. So much for classic contests.

“Not so cool because I wouldn’t want to be in that position,” Federer said. “I was happy to get it done. At the end I was happy I didn’t win the second to last game to be quite honest. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t know. I don’t like it.”

Murray admitted that he did not play well at all – obviously – and that Federer was quite good. But what has his show for it this season? He won three tournaments, which is fine, but they were not Slams or ATP Masters Series. At a few times in 2014 he looked as though he would return to his normal self. But, as he said, it has been very hard to come back easily after his back surgery.

“The first three, four months were tough,” he said. “It was hard. Going through surgery isn’t easy. Maybe I didn’t appreciate that so much at the time. I found it quite frustrating at the beginning of the year. But then once I accepted that it’s a hard thing to go through, and obviously in the middle of that period I switched ‑‑ obviously stopped working with Ivan [Lendl].

“The French Open [Rafa Nadal] and Wimbledon [Grigor Dimitrov], I played well, but when I got to the semis of the French and the quarters of Wimbledon, I didn’t feel like I played well.

“Obviously tonight,I’m disappointed with those matches. I don’t want to play matches like that obviously.”

Murray is hearted of the fall as he did win Shenzhen (over Tommy Robredo), Vienne (over David Ferrer) and Valencia (over Robredo), but if he is going to have any chance in Australia, he is going to have to change it up. If Murray wants to remain his “Big 4,” he is going to have to start beating them on occasion, especially as the younger players like Kei Nishikori and and Milos Raonic become more formidable foes. Right now, he has to figure out exactly why and what will his answers be. At the very least, he has to work harder than before.

“It’s not a nice way to finish the year,” said Murray. “But I know there’s obviously a lot for me to work on now. I didn’t feel like I was playing that badly going into the match. I’d had some good wins the last few weeks. Had played decent against Milos. So obviously in that respect I know I’m going to have to put in a lot of work on the tennis court, a lot of work in on my game. If I want to start the season, with an opportunity to win in Australia, I’m going to have to put in a lot of work, that’s for sure.”

Cilic comes down and blown out by Berdych: ‘Tough to handle’

LONDON – Marin Cilic completely changed after he won his first Slam at the US Open. The Croatian has not been played extremely well during the fall and, even though he has made it into the ATP World Tour Finals, the world No. 9 needs to show that if he ever wants to be No.1, he has to be very consistent.

Take a look at Cilic on Monday in Group A when he faced Novak Djokovic. He was blasted, knocked out 6-1, 6-1. He was not even close and, while he has said that he is hurt a bit, he has enough of a rest to be striking the ball and believing that he could disturb the Serb. But Djokovic was so much faster that evening that Cilic looked lost.

That is because the younger generation of top players can be excellent at times, but they have yet to prove that they can rise to the level of truly superior players. So even though the US Open winner Cilic and the finalist Kei Nishikori opened up our eyes when they stunned Roger Federer and Djokovic in the semis, they have yet to show that can beat the “Big 4” – the 18-time Slams champ Federer, 14-time champ Rafael Nadal, seven-time Djokovic and two-time victor Andy Murray – on a consistent basis.

If you look at the Big 4 and how well they have been year after year, they have been pretty darn good day after day. They have won Slams, ATP Masters Series, ATP 500s and even 250s. They went everywhere; they wanted to go and win time after time.

Berdych IW 11 MALT7689

Berdych made the most of Cilic’s poor play. Photo by Mal Taam/MALTPHOTO

But Cilic has not done yet and maybe he never well. He does have a huge first serve, can rip off both his forehands and backhands and is pretty good when he attacks on the net, but he mentally goes in and out. That is why the 26-year-old has won 13 titles, and other than the US Open, he has only won ATP 250 tournaments. He has never even reached a final of the Masters.

Look at the 27-year-old Murray, who is loved in London, even though he has not won as much as Fed, Rafa and Novak. But Murray has been very, very good and way much better than Cilic: Murray holds 31 titles, including two Slams, Olympic gold and nine ATP World Tours Masters.

So while Cilic has played much better this year, winning four titles and scoring over wins like Tomas Berdych, Federer and Nishikori – he should have entered London this week prepared to rack up significant victories.

But it appears that he is already gone, even though he has a small chance of reaching the semifinal.

On Wednesday, Berdych played fairly well and smoked Cilic 6-3, 6-1. Cilic only managed to hit 11 winners, but suffered 30 unforced errors. The 6-foot-5 big guy only managed three aces.

Berdych didn’t look well at all when he quickly lost to Stan Wawrinka on Monday. He recomposed and kept landing his shot deep and into the corners. The Czech outhit him by whipping his forehands, and he was able to guess which way Cilic was going with his heavy serves and popped them back the other way. Once Berdych began rallies, he was not going to be impatient, while he was dared Cilic to be accurate. The Croatian could not keep his balls in the court. He walked away quietly.

Now he says that he is hurting but wants to be there anyway. At least he is being honest, which is good. He may not make it in the semis, but says that regardless of what happens this week, he says that he is still thinking about how “amazing” he was in winning the US Open. Perhaps he can pull off another Slam at the 2015 Australian Open. Perhaps.

“It’s a little bit disappointing to play like this,” he said. “I was not expecting it. But sort of I feel a little bit tired, and body feels a little bit tired on the court.

“It seems that the things that I’m doing that are all basically going in a wrong direction. Especially with these guys at this kind of level, even small mistakes, or if you’re not at your best performances, the outcome is not going to be going in your favor.

“I haven’t also been playing last few weeks. Also, the body, of course, is not at the best possible shape. … I was looking forward to play here, to do well, to play good matches on a high level. But it’s a tough to handle, tough to look at. Both matches I’ve played, I didn’t play on a good level. That’s tough to handle, too.”

On fire again: Czechs Kvitova & Safarova out hit Germans

Kvitova IW 12 TR MALT1546

PRAGUE – Petra Kvitova began firing and she wouldn’t quit.

The 23 year old knew exactly what he would do on a super-fast hard court and she was swinging away. Yes, she did throw in a couple of sweet drop shots, but other than that, she banged the balls and believed that she would out hit Andrea Petkovic.

That is exactly what she did. Kvitova took down Petkovic 6-2, 6-4 to lead the Czech 1-0 over Germany in the Fed Cup final. Essentially she walked on the court, stared at her foe and said, “Can you slug it out harder than me?”

She could not. Although Petkovic moved much better in the second set, she was always behind. Petkovic had to deal with more pressure and, when she didn’t, she went down fairly quickly.

Kvitova decided that she wasn’t concerned about different tactics. The tall lefty hooked her serves that would swerve out wide. Petkovic would try to get the balls back in, but the Czech was all over the returns, which she powered out of the German’s reach.

The world No. 14 Petkovic is pretty fast, but the balls were racing like lightning. So it didn’t matter that should couldn’t get into the points. The German had to start attacking immediately but Kvitova punched her lights out.

Up 5-1 in the first set, Kvitova went into a walkabout and she was broken to 5-2, but she came right, smoking on a backhand down the line.

Petkovic pushed her hard in most of the second set, but could the German disturb Kvitova? She could not. Petkovic fought off break points serving at 3-4 with two terrific serves. In the next game Kvitova nailed a big ace to go 5-4.

Then the pressure rose and Petkovic could not settle down. With the 12,000 sold out screaming, at 30-all, the German missed a simple slice that flew away and a forehand that disappeared.

She was gone and Kvitova once again showed that more than anyone of the top 10, she has committed to Fed Cup time and time again.

Kvitova scored 25 winners, while Petkovic only came up with seven.
Kerber upset by Safarova

World no. 10 Angelique Kerber of Germany went out to fast and furious, and was up 4-2 in the first set, but No. 17 Lucie Safarova had other plans. Safarova has been pretty good since 2007, when the now 27-year-old can knock out some of the better players, but she has rarely been a major factor in the Slams. However, the lefty reached the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal, which shows that she doesn’t mind if she has to bend low. In fact, she likes to move quickly, set up for a shot and swing it super hard.

Two years ago, Kvitova was ill and Safarova has to close out the Czech Fed Cup final in Serbia. Safarova was electric, crushing Jelena Jankovic to the win 2012 Fed Cup in Prague.

Now, she was ready again, knowing that she could knock out Kerber if she was willing to be more aggressive. The two had more rallies than Kvitova and Petkovic did, but which of the lefties would swing out? That was Safarova, who knew exactly where and when she should go for her shots.

 

At 5-4 on set point down, Kerber crushed her forehand and believed that Safarova wasn’t going to touch it. So Kerber yelled in delight, but Safarova had run over. Kerber said, “Come on” very loud. However, Safarova hit the ball and returned. The chair umpire calls it a hindrance, so Kerber lost her point and the set.

Kerber kept trying and broke, but Safarova rushed forward and was willing to hit out anytime she could. At 5-4 in the second set, Safarova cracked a forehand and nailed an overhead to get to match point. Kerber fought off two match points when the Czech was a bit wild. But Safarova finished her off, when Kerber rushed to the net and instead of crisply knocking it away, she lazily put it in the middle of set and Safarova stroked a forehand into the corner. Lucie grinned after another win, this time 6-4, 6-4.

The Germans were afraid, while the Czechs were dancing on their heads. Safarova ended with 20 winners, while Kerber could only manage 10.

The Czechs are up 2-0 and are ready to go on Sunday. Kvitova will start with either Kerber or perhaps Sabine Lisicki, who would sub in. Lisicki has fast burners, reaching on the 2013 Wimbledon final, but she has not played great this fall in the past six weeks. Her German coach, Barbara Rittner, might change another coach, but Kerber is there best player overall and she would be saddened if she had to sit.

Safarova will play after Kvitova if the top Czech is upset, but won’t care if she faces Petkovic or Lisicki. She has a healthy amount of ultra confidence.

Kvitova key to Fed Cup final between Czech Republic v. Germany

MVP Safarova proved more than a fine No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova

MVP Safarova proved more than a find No. 2 to No. 1 Kvitova in 2012.

PRAGUE — How many women love slick courts? Not many, that’s for sure.

But Petra Kvitova would prefer to hit as hard as she can … just booming it. Forget it about engaging 30-plus rallies; she would rather wipe her serves into the corner and break them way out wide. Even if it’s punched back by one of her opponents, she will step in and power her forehand for a winner.

Kvitova has won two Grand Slams, in 2011 and 2014 at Wimbledon. Her foes in the finals, Maria Sharapova and Genie Bouchard, couldn’t even blink as the Czech hit with power so quickly that they couldn’t touch her shots. That is exactly what Kvitova has done for the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup: She was her lights out, nailing the corners and winning two of the past three Fed Cup finals at home in Prague.

And guess what … she can do it all over again. Coming up this weekend in Prague, the world No. 3 will be favored again. The Czechs, including Lucie Safarova, were tough and aggressive in 2012 when they stomped Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to win the title. Kvitova was not perfect that weekend, as she was sick, and Ivanovic played well to grab one of the points. But, in the end, the Czechs won anyway because the left-handed Kvitova kept swinging and Safarova was on ultra-speed.

This is different though. Kvitova has become more mature during the last year or so, but she knows that she cannot go on a walkabout. They will play against Germany, led by Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic, both of whom say that they know to keep balls in play until the tall Kvitova grows tired and wild.

The 24-year-old Kvitova says she is faster than she was as a baby back in 2008 when she played her first time in Fed Cup. She could only split against Israel, but they won anyway. From then on, she kept on playing in the team competition.

Kvitova loves Fed Cup so much that she has played 15 times already. She has played twice against Germany before, in 2010 in World Group at home when she beat Petkovic and lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld but the came through anyway. Then she won a classic match in 2012 when the Germans chose hard courts, but Kvitova edged Julia Goerges 10-8 in the third set and then out-pushed Sabine Lisicki in the third set.

Goerges and Lisicki are on the German team this week and could play the doubles, or the 2013 Wimbledon finalist Lisicki, who also loves to bang the ball, may play in Sunday’s singles

But, it really doesn’t matter what strategy German captain Barbara Rittner employs. The key is whether or not Kvitova can make big swings and find the lines. If she does, the Czechs will win the Fed Cup again and Petra will once again be perfect.