Archives for June 2013

The goals for Britain’s ‘Big Summer’


Murray IW 13 TR MALT7820

Tennis hit the headlines for the wrong reasons this week as Sport England warned the LTA it risks losing funding unless success is found at the top and bottom of the national sport.

betfairAccording to Sport England director, Phil Smith, the LTA must improve their performances at a basic participation level in order to retain their much-needed funding for future years, a target that can only be reached if the professionals succeed and inspire a new generation.

“They’ve got a big summer ahead,” Smith told BBC Sport. “The track record of participation in tennis has been pretty poor. The crunch time is December.”

Sport England have already reduced annual tennis funding from £24.5m to £17.4m until 2017 and a further cut would greatly hamper the current crop of young teenagers who have the potential to make it at pro level.

What the LTA need are more kids playing the sport and the best way to inspire them is by boasting a champion player who can win several tennis events in the year.

Andy Murray is a magnificent example of professionalism and sporting brilliance that got kids on the courts last summer when he won Olympic gold, while the women’s draw is growing stronger each month as Heather Watson and Laura Robson rise through the WTA ranks.

Yet simply competing is not enough to inspire the next set of British players. We desperately need a wealth of champions to come through and make tennis a more watchable sport for kids, which is why these next few months are so important.

The goals this summer should therefore be to have a British player crowned Wimbledon champion – most likely Murray, who is favourite in the Betfair odds – and to boast tournament champions in the WTA.

Watson broke a 24-year drought last October when she became the first woman since Sara Gomer to win a tour event. The media frenzy was great but short-lived and we title success to become commonplace if the news is to make the back pages and start attracting kids attentions.

Success is everything in tennis and for too long Britain has had little to boast about. The LTA is on the brink of something special if this trio of talents impress this summer and the future of its funding may rest on that alone.

The views expressed here are by and do not represent those of

Big 4 batten down the hatches

vesnina iw_08_fh_400

Elena Vesnina took down Ana Ivanovic at Eastbourne

Perhaps there will come a time this summer when a big tournament is about to kick off and a player outside of the top 5 will be mentioned a having a serious chance of winning the title. After Roger Federer won Halle and Andy Murray took Queens on Sunday, all was standard in the ATP tennis universe again.

Rafael Nadal stormed through the clay court season, managed to tip his top rival in the Roland Garros semis in Novak Djokovic and then thumped his fellow Spaniard, now No. 4 David Ferrer, in the final. But No. 2 Murray didn’t play RG due to a back injury and Federer was out hit by Jo Wilfried Tsonga.

So if Federer didn’t respond on grass in Halle and if Murray did not play well in Queens, then perhaps the 2012 Wimbledon finalists could be taken down a notch when it comes predicting final four candidates at the 2013 version of the Big W.

But not now, as Federer took care of two fine veterans in Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny, and Murray stopped a terrifying twosome Tsonga and Marin Cilic. So now the Big 4 are once again the favorites to reach the Wimbledon semis. Ferrer isn’t good enough on grass to get there, so the dark horses would be Tsonga – even though he was vacuous in his loss to Ferrer at RG—Tomas Berdych and possibly Juan Martin Del Potro if his health improves. Other potential semifinalists would be Cilic, Haas, Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz and Grigor Dimitrov and much of their hopes depend on their draw,

Boring? Not so much if you like great rivalries and the Big 4 has plenty of that, but if you are tired of watching the same men play for big titles over and over again, consider this: the depth of the ATP World Tour in 2013 is over rated. It’s been that way for a good three years now.

Queens and Halle are more significant tournaments than the WTA had last week, but was nice to see veteran Daniela Hantuchova come through and win Birmingham because she’s a super committed player who almost never gives up on herself, even when many others have. She took down 16-year-old Donna Vekic in the final, which made for an attractive match-up given that by reaching the final that the tall and powerful Vekic showed that she clearly has top-20 stuff. Beyond that, I’m not sure of her upside at this point, but given how rare it is to see baby teens make an impact at WTA events, Vekic’s results point way upward.

Hantuchova has seriously struggled with injuries over the past year, even falling out of the top 75. For a former top 5 player who really did believe she could reach No.1, that is very uncomfortable spot to be in. Throughout her career, the Slovak was more of a top- 20 player than a top 5 competitor, reaching only one Slam semifinal at the 2008 Aussie Open. She’s fine ball striker, a dogged competitor (she’s the queen of 3 setters), but she is pretty slow, especially moving horizontally and that has largely proved to be the reason why she has been unable to raise a big trophy. But can she reach another Slam quarter of even a semi? Sure she could with the right draw.

Simona Halep has had some good results over the past few months and on Saturday won Nuremberg on Clay over Andre Petkovic. The 21-year-old Romanian is a big hitter who can go in and out of matches, but if she can stay injury free and more calm on court, the top 20 isn’t out of the questions. Petkovic got a well-deserved WC into Wimbledon.

The WTA’s biggest pre Wimbledon warm-up tournament takes place in Eastbourne and once again it has an excellent field. While none of the WTA ‘s Big 3 are playing there – Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka – six of the top 10 are, including top seed Aga Radwanska, 2011 Wimby champ Petra Kvitova and new No. 10 Maria Kirilenko, who bested the talented Bojana Jovanovski 7-6(5) 6-1.

But there was another Russian who had a bigger win, Elena Vesnina, who rather quietly has become a solid singles player and a standout doubles player, as she and Ekaterina Makarova won their first Slam together in doubles at Roland Garros a little more than week ago, stunning top seeds Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani. That was a very special win on clay, not just because of the size of the occasion, but because it serves notice to the Italians that should the Fed Cup final go down to the doubles that it’s no Slam dunk.

In Eastbourne, Vesnina took down Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. Recall that last year at Wimbledon, she upended Venus Williams (who turned 33 today) in the first round. It was a big win for the 36th-ranked Vesnina, as she had a rough stretch on clay in singles. But she’s a better fast court player than she is on the slow stuff and with her firepower and ability to volley, she’s capable of threatening a number of seeded players on grass. However, the 26 year old  can be extremely erratic, so it’s very hard to gage whether her very good or very bad side will show up on particular day. She’ll face Britain’s Heather Watson in round two.

The Pliskova twins faced of again, with the lower ranked Karolina besting he higher-ranked Kristyna  7-6(5) 3-6 6-3 in the final round of qualifying. Kristyna is the lefthander and Karolina the right-hander. The Czech twins don’t yet appears to be another version of the successful Bryan twins as they have yet to win a doubles title together, but they should improve with time. The twins  are now 4-4 in their career head-to-heads. Jaime Hampton also qualified. Other main draw winners were 
Marion Bartoli  and Yanina Wickmayer.

Given that  the Eastbourne’s women’s field is far stronger than the men’s, it’s surprising that three ATP matches are scheduled on Centre Court on Tuesday and only two WTA contests.

I get starting with Britain’s James Ward vs. Bernie Tomic
 and ending with local hero doubles with Jaime Delgado/Ward vs. Colin Fleming/Johnny Marray, but how does one put what should be a good but not great match between Kevin Anderson and Julien Benneteau ahead of say Tamira Paszek vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber vs. Sorana Cirstea or top seed Aga Radwanska vs. Jamie Hampton (all will be played on Court 1)? And really, while it’s appropriate to  put Laura Robson’s match against Yulia Beygelzimer on Centre, I’m not sure I would go with  Alize Cornet vs. second seed Li Na as the other WTA match there.  In fact, I would take any of the other  aforementioned Court1 matches over that because Cornet may really struggle transitioning from clay to grass.  I’d also might put the match of Court 2 between Samantha Stosur and Nadia Petrova
 on Centre over the guys’ match. That is very quirky scheduling.

BTW the top male seed in Eastbourne is No. 15 Milos Raonic. Ryan Harrison scored a big win over Paul Henri-Mathieu on Monday, but James Blake fell to Albert Ramos. In the Netherlands, John Isner fell to Evgeny Donskoy 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4, while Carlos Berlocq bested Marcos Baghdatis  6-2 6-4, who is in a slump.

The new issue of Tennis-Journal will be out this week with plenty to chew on.

Eight Roland Garros titles not enough for Nadal

Rafael-Nadal2_2957179nadal wins barcelona 13” alt=”Rafael-Nadal2_2957179″ width=”660″ height=”350″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-10960″ />

First time Slam final for ferocious Ferrer

ferrer rg 2012

Sweet 16: Serena wins Roland Garros & her legend grows


Sharapova: Oh so close but yet so far

Sharapova IW 12 TR MALT9209

Nadal shatters Djokovic’s dream in classic semifinal

nadal_djokovic rg 13 _seitz

Can Sharapova overcome biggest hurdle in Serena?

Sharapova IW 12 TR MALT9247

Finally, a Slam win for Sharapova over Azarenka



sharapova wta champ 12 3sharapova wta champ 12 3


PARIS – Without a doubt, Maria Sharapova’s 6-1 2-6 6-4 semifinal win over Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros meant a tremendous amount to her. Sharapova has lost their previous two Grand Slam clashes, as the Belarussian blew her out in the 2012 Australian Open final and then tipped her in the 2012 US Open semis.

But this time, they were playing on the defending champion’s court, on a surface, red clay, that the Russian is more comfortable on. Sharapova whipped huge forehands at Azarenka all day long, exposing her foe’s weaker side and when she didn’t grow briefly wild at the end of the second set and wasn’t double faulting, she served much better and in the clutch, was a more forceful return of server and stronger off the ground. She would not allow the match to become a track meet and in the third set, with Azarenka gamely hanging in the match she kept swinging away.

When Sharapova was in rhythm, she looked like the better player. When she was not, Azarenka was able to jab at her and get her out of position. Azarenka battled hard down 2-5 and fought off four match points, and after Sharapova committed four unforced errors in the next game, it appears that she might falter against a player who has largely had her number during the last two year. But Sharapova came off her chair and stung three winners. two of which were aces, including on her fifth match point.

“I’m really happy with the way I came out from playing a tough match yesterday,” said Sharapova, who also needed three sets to best Jelena Jankovic. “Turned it around and came today and the way I played the first set ‑ I wish I could have carried that through in two ‑ but I did the job and I’m happy from where I was in the beginning of the tournament to where I am today. I just hope that I can improve for the next one.”

That next one will be against Serena Williams, who crushed Sara Errani. Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams in their past 12 matches.

Read about both their thoughts here.

Here is what Sharapova’s former coach Michael Joyce told me about why she has such trouble against Serena. There is much more in Tennis-Journal, but here is a taste

“Maria is way too predictable against Serena. She never serves at her body anymore and plays her forehand way too much. She never hits hard down the middle anymore.

“It’s not a good match up for her no matter what. Serena is just much better, but Maria has got to give herself a shot. When Maria she was 17 and 18, she was 2 or 3 steps faster and defended much better. She may never be able do that again.

“Of course when you lose to someone for almost 10 years in a row it’s going become a little mental, but I think most of the mental is because Serena  is only player she can’t dictate to and play the way she wants all the time.

“Plus [her father and occasional coach ] Yuri has told me a million times that Maria can’t win a Grand Slam unless Serena loses, so I’m sure that rubs off on her.”


Novak Djokovic seems a bit more confident than Rafael Nadal going into their semifinals clash. Here are his thoughts.


Here is what Nadal thinks, and my take on what he must do to best the Serbian.


For a full look at both their strengths and weaknesses on clay and how they match up, I did a big expose in Tennis-Journal.



Serena eyes second French crown as Huber eyes retirement

serena wins wta champs 12 contin