Archives for 2015

The top 32’s in 2015: Questions for Azarenka & JJ, Monfils & Fabio

Azarenka IW 15 TR MALT7393



No. 24

Andrea Petkovic

The delightful German loves to speak and she is very bright, but on court she slumped this season, getting hurt once again and she was over-playing. She is a big hitter and she can be steady at times, but she gets frustrated and needs to calm down if she is ever going to reach the top 10 every again.

No. 23

Ekaterina Makarova

The Russian has been very effective on the hard courts at the majors, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open once again.

After that though, she began to slide, being frustrated when she wasn’t kissing the lines. She got hurt after the US Open and wasn’t able to play the rest of the season. She is under rated, and she can kick the heck out of the ball, but in 2016, the 27-year-old has to add more variety.

No. 22

Victoria Azarenka

In the first match of the year in Brisbane, the former No. 1 Azarenka lost a marathon against Katarina Pliskova, but it looked like she was thrilled to be back on court and ready to rumble. She has looked extremely effective at times, nearly knocking off Serena Williams and going down against Simona Halep in a classic quarterfinal at the US Open. She was right there and had she bested Halep, she could have won it all. The two-time champion has been hurt at times this year and she knows that if she wants to become No. 1 again, she has to reset her mindset. If she does not, she may be left out of the cold.

No. 21

Jelena Jankovic

The veteran Serbian has been around a very long time (15 years to be exact)and clearly she has been aging. However, once in a while, she will play great, rushing around, crushing her phenomenal backhand and smiling widely. She is ‘only’ 30 year old, so ‘JJ’ will stay around until she realizes that she isn’t strong enough to knock off the big girls anymore.


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Monfils combines great athleticism and inconsistency. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

No. 24

Gael Monfils

When the Frenchman is on, he can be the most fun, delightful player around. But when he isn’t, well, he becomes pretty shaky. He did have a few good moments, like Marseille, Monte Carlo (he upset Roger Federer) and Roland Garros, when he won two dramatic five-setters but then he finally fell again … to Federer. After that, he did very little and once again, he was hurt frequently. When he is healthy and he is feeling right, he can go very deep. But can the 29-year-old ever win a major? Doubtful.

No. 23

Ivo Karlovic

The 36-year-old Croatian is still in the top 25 in singles, which is pretty darn good, considering that most of his contempories have already retired. The 6-foot-10 Karlovic hits a huge first serve, he can bang a forehand and he isn’t bad when he gets to the net. Clearly, he isn’t that fast and his backhand is nearly atrocious, but he plays almost every week and he doesn’t back off. Who knows, if he stays healthy, he could continue playing until 40. Not bad at all.

No. 22

Victor Troicki

After being in top form from July 2013-2104, he came back, starting from zero. That was very difficult, but in 2015, he was more calm and he was very respectable. Sure, he didn’t play particularly well after the grass season (he reached the final at Stuttgart), but the Serbian played a ton of tournaments and he didn’t quit. Given what occurred, he is back on court, pushing to the limits – that is good enough.

No. 21

Fabio Fognini

Without a doubt, the Italian had some spectacular moments, shocking Rafa Nadal at the US Open after being down two sets, and besting Rafa in Buenos Aires in three sets early this year. He was tricked by Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 in the third set in Madrid, but a week later at home in Italy, he blasted the Bulgarian 6-0 in the third. Yes, he can lose frequently, but he has gorgeous shots and, if he continues to improve, he could reach the top 10 in 2016.

The top 32’s in 2015: Will Dimitrov and Sock rise again, are Stosur & Kuznetsova ready to push





No. 28

Grigor Dimitrov: In 2014, it looked like the now 24-year-old was coming up rapidly. He has tremendous variety, he is fairly quick and driven. But in 2015, he was all over the place and he was admittedly confused. If he wants to return into the top 10, the Bulgarian has to be more patient and calm.

No. 27

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The veteran has played a ton of tournaments, and while he was unable to grab any big events, the Spaniard did snare Croatia (hard courts) and Romania (clay). He is a big hitter and while he will never win a major, he has improved and if he managed to avoid the so-called Big 4 plus 1 early on (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal and Wawrinka), he can reach a major semifinal. He will be very pleased indeed.

No. 26

Jack Sock: Slowly but surely, the American is rising up. He is ‘only’ 23 years old, and while he has been unable go very deep at the Grand Slams or the ATP 1000s, he did win Houston on clay, and he reached the final at Stockholm (upending Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet). Outside the top 10, he has beaten a number of fine players, but inside the top 10, he has shocked the top competitors such as Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Will he be ready to take down the big boys in 2016?

No. 25

Robert Bautista Agut: There are so many good, solid Spaniards. Last year, Bautista reached No. 14 and looked like he was prepared to jump into the top 10 and pound the opponents. In 2015, he was pretty close, but when push came to shove, he went backwards. Try, try, try again – in 2016.


No. 28

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Let’s be positive about the Russian: She did win a tournament at Linz and then reached the final at Moscow, which was terrific. But, when she went to the Fed Cup Final against the Czech, she lost all three matches and they went down. Now, she has won eight titles since she began on the tour in 2005, which is admirable, but is she consistent enough to go very deep at the Slams? Doubtful, but give her another chance in 2016.

No. 27

Samantha Stosur: The veteran may have slipped downward, but the Aussie keeps working and she has improved her so-so backhand. She says that someday, she could win another major (she won the 2011 US Open), and perhaps she can, but first and foremost, she cast off any nervousness in Australia. She has lost to numerous average players over the years at the Aussie Open, Sydney and Brisbane. If she goes deep in Melbourne, the entire world will stand up and cheer.

No. 26

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova: Slovakia has had a decent amount of solid players over the years, but few expected that the 21-year-old Schmiedlova would crack the top 30 and make heads turn. She won two small events in Poland and Romania, which is commendable, but she didn’t do much at all during the Slams. She is pretty young though, so in 2016 if she continues to get better, she might threaten the big girls.

No. 25

Svetlana Kuznetsova: If Serena Williams won three Slams this year when she was 33 years old, then maybe ‘Sveta’ can do the same thing — revive. The Russian is 30 years old now and while she isn’t quite as fast as she did when she won the 2004 US Open and 2009 Roland Garros, she does mix it up now and she is very bright. If she wants to move back into the top 10 in 2016, she has to improve her backhand and her volley.

The top 32’s in 2015: Who did what, and who will rise in 2016




No. 32

Sabine Lisicki

It is nearly impossible to figure out which way she is going. The German can bomb her first serves, and she loves the grass, but even though she can rake it near the baseline, she can totally disappear. Its hard to believe that such a talent is stuck at the bottom of this list.

No. 31

Irina-Camelia Begu: The Romanian was pretty quiet this season, but she didn’t back off, winning Seoul. She did manage to stun Angie Kerber in the first round of the Aussie, perhaps her best win in 2015.

No. 30

Sloane Stephens: Beginning this year, the 22-year-old said that she was ready to crack the top 10. She did play a little better than in 2014, but this year, she was a bit shaky, especially in the fall. Sloane has all the tools; the question is whether she really wants to commit to her sport.

No. 29

Kristina Mladenovic: The fairly young Frenchwoman has been a pretty decent year, in the singles, doubles and mixed. She is pretty muscular, she likes the net and she can move forward. If she can improve mentally, she can certainly crack the top 20.


No. 32

Steve Johnson: The American keeps grinding and now he is very close to crack the top 30. Can the former USC undefeated star reach a quarterfinal at a Slam in 2016? Sure he can.

No. 31

Jeremy Chardy: The veteran Frenchman can hit the heck out of the ball, and he can be super aggressive, but he isn’t fast enough or have enough variety. He is streaky.

No. 30

Nick Kyrgios: The 20-year-old has been up and down this season, as he is thrilling on court, but he has been lost control and shows off his angry side way too often. The Aussie can smoke his first serves, his forehand and backhand. He can be patient, too. If he matures in 2016, he can go very deep.

No. 29

Andrea Seppi: The Italian shocked Roger Federer during the Australian Open with a lot of variety. The 31-year-old will never win a major, but he can mix it up and he is over due to win a title for the first time – any title.

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

Olympic gold medalist Murray begins his 2013 Aussie campaign.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Murray brothers take doubles, up 2-1 over Belgium

Andy Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s singles key is Murray vs. Goffin

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

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

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

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

Djokovic IW 15 TR MALT7710


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.”