Archives for March 2020

‘Hand of God’ Touches Nadal as He Upsets Roddick

Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

SEVILLA, SPAIN – Andy Roddick has never fought harder in a Davis Cup match and has never experienced a team loss like he did in his 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (6) 6-2 defeat to Spanish 18-year-old Rafael Nadal on Friday in the US-Spain Davis Cup final. Roddick pushed, pulled, sweated and strained to dictate the action on the super slow clay in the three-hour, 38-minute contest, but the lightening quick lefty had too much from him from the backcourt. The extremely nationalistic and emotionally involved crowd of 27,200 cheered Roddick’s every fault. He was restrained for a man who usually makes his living debating the finer points of line-calling with chair umpires. He cut loose on the balls instead, but Nadal chopped him down nonetheless.

“Emotionally I’m pretty down,” Roddick said. ” I wanted to get one for the team. I leave everything out there, and I take a lot of pride in that. I just ran into a guy today that was too good. I couldn’t have tried any harder.  I gave it everything I had.  It just wasn’t enough on the day.”

As a result of Roddick’s dramatic loss and Fish’s routine 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Carlos Moya in the opening match, the US will go into Saturday’s doubles in a 0-2 hole. It’s a hole as deep as they’ve ever been in and one they are not likely to climb out of.

For most of the match against Nadal, Roddick went above and beyond his capabilities on the surface. He’s never hit that many half-volley winners in his life. But in the end, the US’ big gun had his power muted on the wet clay by an 18-year-old with a world of spunk and shotmaking abilities. 

Roddick and Nadal contested two of the most athletic and spectacular tiebreaker of the year. Both men dove, reflexed volleys and pulled off hooking passing shots that caressed the lines.  In the first set breaker, Roddick came back from 3-5 down when the youngster got nervous and committed a series of errors. At that moment, it seemed like the 2003 US Open champion might have a shot at winning the contest based on experience alone.

But as one Spanish journalist said as they walked off the court, the hand of god touched Nadal. Gone was his youthful erratic swings and mental letdowns. In the tradition of his uncle, Miguel, who was nicknamed “The Beast” when he raged for the Barcelona soccer team, the now muscular Rafael was a lion. He hammered and hooked his forehand every way possible, and powered his once weaker backhand deep and with authority. He displayed remarkable touch with his sleight of hand drop shot. Roddick kept charging and serving bullets, but Nadal sped around with hungry determination, consistently getting returns in play and waiting for a chance to dip balls at Roddick’s feet and then swipe a passes beyond the reach of taller and equally ferocious American.

“He played well.  It’s very impressive,” Roddick said.  “Every once in a while people come along and they’re big-match players.  He apparently looks like he’s a big-match player. He’s come through. This is the third time this year he’s stepped up in singles [in Davis Cup] and played well.  I think you either have it or you don’t, regardless of age.  Maybe it helps him in a way.”

With the fans sounding like a group of wasps on a mosquito hunt, the match turned in the third set. Nadal had eight chances to break Roddick, but the American team leader came up with tape-snapping serves and ambitious volley winners. Roddick fought off seven of the eight break points with winners, earning himself another nail biting tiebreaker. He was inches from winning the third set and had he done so, may have won the contest. Up 5-4 and with two serving points on his racket, Roddick doubled faulted to 5-5. He quickly responded by scooping up a low volley and forcing Nadal into a forehand error. On set point at 6-5, Nadal went to his drop shot, Roddick charged, and couldn’t lift a forehand passing shot over the net cords. The Spaniard then crushed a swing volley winner and a backhand crosscourt to win the set.

“Obviously that was going to swing the momentum either way – and fast,” Roddick said.  “You were playing those two points for the next two sets. They were pretty crucial.  I just missed that [set point], so that was big.”

The match essentially ended there as Roddick’s confidence level plunged and Nadal soared along with the crowd. Roddick slowed considerably and Nadal became the new darling of Spanish tennis, celebrating like he won the Grand Slam.

There is a glimmer of hope on Saturday, because Nadal might be tired when he and Tommy Robredo go up against the Bryan Brothers, former Roland Garros champions who might be able to pull out a win. But even if that occurs, Sunday looms. To think that the Bryans will emerge victorious and Roddick and Fish can both win their singles matches on Sunday is wishful thinking, but if you’re a US fan, there’s nothing left to ponder. In the 104 years of Davis Cup competition, an 0-2 comeback has happened only once in the World Group, in 1939, when Australia came back to shock the US.  It’s only happened eight times in the World Group period and here’s a shocking fact: the hard court bred boys of the US have never pulled it off on clay.  They did it once in an inter-zonal match in 1934 against Australia on grass. The US is 1-30 when they are 0-2 down. They are underdogs of the scraggly and wounded variety.

With the temperatures dropping into the mid 40s, US captain Patrick McEnroe nearly froze sitting five hours courtside. But he needs to gets his team fired up as quickly as possible because the last thing the US wanted coming here was to travel across the Atlantic, spend all week get used to sliding on dirt and have their buts kicked in a shutout.

“We know our backs are against the wall,” McEnroe said. “But we’re going to come out and we’re going to fight for every point. We’re going to come out and hopefully play a great doubles match.  And Sunday will be a new day. There’s no big mystery of what we need to do. We came here knowing the difficulty and knowing the challenge.  We’re still going to relish the opportunity.  We’ve still got an opportunity to make history.”

Sloane Stephens believes, shocks Serena

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

MELBOURNE – There was almost no one going into Sloane Stephens’ quarterfinal at the Australian Open against the great Serena Williams who thought she had a serious shot to pull an upset. 

Oh sure,  the 19-year-old Stephens had played her tough enough in a straight-set loss in Brisbane two weeks ago for analysts to think she could stay competitive for two sets. 

But an upset of a five-time Australian Open champion who was on a 20-match winning streak, who had won the last two majors, and the Olympics, and who had only lost one contest since late May? 

Nearly unthinkable. 

Except to Stephens and her USTA Player Development coaches David Nainkin and Troy Hahn. “I think deep down she believed she had a shot and so did I,” said Nainkin after Stephens 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 stunner over Williams in the quarterfinals. “Everyone thought if she played well she’s going to push her, but you can’t just orchestrate that kind of win overnight. That goes back to the practice courts, going over shots time and time again, getting your body strong and eventually it happens. But you can’t just give someone a pep talk the night before and expect that kind of win to happen.” 

Stephens had put in the hard yards in the off-season at theUSTA Training Center – Westin Carson, Calif. For more than two months, six days  a week from Monday to Saturday, she did fitness, drilled and played practice matches. Nainkin said that if it rained or she happened to miss a day for any reason, she would have to show up on Sunday. 

She didn’t miss a day. 

Stephens’ talent level has been obvious since she reached the third round of the US Open in 2011. But she has had trouble staying healthy and missed the entire fall of 212 season nursing an abdominal injury. So Nainkin and the USTA fitness crew first made sure she was healthy and then they worked on polishing up her very bright and sharp gem of a game. Stephens is very fast and has ample power, and has a lot of variety for her age. 

But she needed a better understanding of how to win matches. She had to develop a Sloane Stephens-style of winning. Nainkin’s approach was appropriately general,getting her to dictate with her forehand, being more aggressive with her second serve returns, and coming to net more.

 “She’s great to work with,” he said. “She doesn’t have any weaknesses so  to speak. It was giving her a clearer idea what to do with her game and keeping it simple.” 

When Stephens stepped on court against Williams, she began to listen to the PA announcer listing Serena’s many titles. But she did not lose her focus like young Assume Bernard Tomic said he did early against Roger Federer. “I was like, Do they really have to read all of her championships?,” Stephens said. “I literally was thinking in my head, ‘Is he seriously reading every single tournament she’s won?  It was okay.  I thought about it for two seconds, but it was fine.” 

Serena started fast, but Stephens stayed with her off the ground in the first set. She couldn’t find a way to break her, but patiently waited for  an opportunity and it came when Williams aggravated a back injury in the second set. Stephens grabbed the set as Serena had trouble serving and the teenager was running everything down and sending it back with authority. 

In the third set as Serena began to recover, Stephens didn’t back off. When they met in Brisbane it was Serena who kept coming forward and who took control of the match. On Wednesday in Melbourne Stephens wanted to show her Fed Cup teammate that she could be use her legs to defend and be fierce on offense. Nainkin pointed out two things he wanted Stephens to do in the match: hit her second serve bigger, which she did as she averaged a respectable 91 MPH, and  try and take over the net, which she did brilliantly, converting 18 of 20 of her approaches. “I wanted her to come forward to the net as far as bringing an intimidation factor, so she could put pressure on Serena,” he said. 

As she always does, Williams battled gamely and as her back injury began to feel better in the later stages of the third set, she took it right  to Stephens with a massive ground attack and big retruns.“Serena raised her level and Sloane responded  100 percent,” Nainkin said.

Williams actually broke the youngster to 4-3, but Stephens didn’t quiver as she was winning most of their forehand battles and was more consistent off then ground. It’s nearly impossible to get a ball past her when she’s on.

Three games later, a mentally tired Serena committed  slew of errors and  at 19 years, 10 months and three 3 days old, Stephens became the youngest American to reach a Grand Slam singles semifinal since Serena advanced to the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals at 18 years, 9 months and eight days old. After she came off court, she and Nainkin exchanged a hearty high five.  

“Last night I was thinking about it and someone asked me, ‘Do you think you can win?  I was like, Yeah, I think so,’ but I wasn’t like too clear about it,” Stephens said. “Then this morning when I got up, I was like, Look, dude, like, you can do this.  Like, go out and play and do your best.” 

Stephens may have played like a veteran, but when later discussing the win, she went into teenager mode Her twitter followers had more than doubled from 17,000 followers to more than 35,000 in a matter of a few hours. 

Singer John Legend tweeted her as did NBA standout Dirk Nowitski. “I’m just excited,” she said with a wide smile. “I want John Legend to sing at my wedding.  I was like, Oh, my God.  He tweeted me.’”But there is business to be taken care of on Thursday, as she has to face defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the semis.  Back- to-back wins over Serena and the world No. 1 would be mind blowing. Stephens said she’s going to do what she does best Nainkin thinks that the quick turnaround won’t bother her.“She won’t lose her focus,” he said. 

2012 US Open: Murray’s win shows British they can be winners

Andy Murray

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

There was never a guarantee that Andy Murray would win a Grand Slam singles title, as good as he was when he first arrived on tour back in 2005. Plenty of talented players have fallen short before and having to exist in an era with three all-time greats in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic made it even more difficult for the smart and creative Scot to come through on the world’s biggest stages.

Four times he fell short in Grand Slam finals, but not on Monday at the 2012 US Open when the stars seemed to aligned for him. It had been 79 years to the day that fellow Britain Fred Perry had won his first US Championships. Murray had brought in a new coach, Ivan Lendl, who also needed five majors to win his first Slam crown.  Scotland’s most famous actor, Sean Connery came to support him, as did the famous Scottish soccer coach Sir Alex Ferguson. 

There was a palpable feeling around the US Open grounds that this was his time. Murray had declared the tournament his favorite major from the time that he won the by championships in 2004. Even though he has British mannerisms, he is a perfect fit for New York: very gritty, workmanlike and dedicated to his craft. He is resilient under fire.

After a record-tying four hours and 53 minute final, he overcame his friend and defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2. He complained of having jelly legs in the third set, but kept trying to keep them churning. He matched the world’s most admired defensive player sprint for sprint, big blow for big blow, and charge for charge. 

He was the more aggressive player for the most of the match, the cagier player, the one who was willing to try and shift his strategy when the match began to slip out of his hands.

He needed six set points to win the first set tiebreaker and even though he threw in a few errors, he kept the faith and finally boomed a 117-service winner  to win it.

He let go of a 4-0 lead in the second set and lost five of the next six games but did not mentally fade and managed to scrape out the set. 

Djokovic charged extremely hard in the third and fourth sets and looked stronger then he did and more than prepared to pull off a remarkable comeback. But Murray was advantageous early on, grabbed thee breaks and while the Serbian – who had beaten him in similarly long match in Australia 7-5 in the fifth this year—began to have groin trouble, he managed not to cramp. He served bigger, returned deeper and finally wore tennis’ bionic man down. Djokovic tried for a miracle outright forehand return of serve winner on Murray’s second match point like he successfully pulled off against Roger Federer in the semifinals last year, but it was not to be.

Murray had outplayed him, so Murray finally got to raise a big trophy.

“Even during the match you’re still questioning yourself a bit and you’re still doubting yourself a little bit,” Murray said. “I just managed to stay tough enough today and get through.”

Because Murray was so obviously talented, the pressure on him to win a major was enormous. Other British players since Perry — who before Murray was the last British male to win a major in 1936 – were also targeted as guys who had Slam winning potential and underachieved, but John Lloyd, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were clearly not as good or as accomplished as Murray, who coming into the 2012 US Open havinh already won eight prestigious Masters Series titles as well as the gold medal at the Olympic among his 23 overall crowns.  But like them, he had been unable to win a major.

He was a week older than Djokovic and looked just as good as the he did until the Serbian went on his great 2011 run when he captured three Slams and took the No. 1 ranking. At the start of this season it appeared that Murray had fallen behind. 

And when he went to close out the match on Monday evening, there were still plenty of folks around the world who thought there was still a chance that he would fail. After all, isn’t that what some many other British players had done?

“When I was serving for the match, there’s a sense of how, how big a moment that is in British tennis history really,” Murray said. “So that obviously adds to it.  I know more than most British players, I have been asked about it many times when I got close to winning Grand Slams before.  I get asked about it more and more even after I won the Olympics.  I still got asked, ‘When are you going to win a Grand Slam? So it’s great to have finally done it, and I hope now it inspires some kids to play tennis and also takes away the notion that British tennis players choke or don’t win or it’s not a good sport.”

This is the first time since 2003 that four different men have raised Grand Slam trophies and they are all familiar names: Djokovic (Australia), Nadal (Roland Garros), Federer (Wimbledon) and Murray (US Open). Before Monday, there was constant debate as to whether Murray belonged in tennis’ so-called “Big 4,” or whether or not it was really just a “Big 3,” since he hadn’t won a Slam. That debate has noe been muted. Big 4 it is.

“I proved that I can win the Grand Slams,” Murray said. “I proved that I could last four-and-a-half hours and come out on top against one of the strongest guys physically that tennis had probably seen especially on this surface. But [I learned] to not doubt myself physically and mentally from now on. I’m sure that would have a positive impact in the future.”

In the final at the U.S. Open: Expect the unexpected

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

NEW YORK – For whatever reason, despite evidence to the contrary that great champions actually do lose matches, there was  perception coming into the US Open that it was impossible for Serena Williams to go down to defeat.

How Serena has built this aura of invincibility around herself is confounding, because while she is without question the great player of her generation and a top 5 singles player ever, she has lost plenty of times at the majors. Sure, she has also won 13 Grand Slam titles, but just because she had a fine hard court summer  coming into the US Open, winning Stanford and Toronto and beating a slew of good players did not mean that on one day in New York she wouldn’t be a little off and that an experienced, much improved and powerful player such as Samantha Stosur wouldn’t be to hit through her on one evening.

So now it has happened when Stosur played the match of the life and won the US Open with a 6-2, 6-4 thumping of Serena.

The unexpected occurred and perhaps it should have been expected, because this season, the unusual  has become commonplace.

Outside of Kim Clijsters run to the 2011 Aussie Open crows, exactly what could be called expected results at the Slams?

Former clay courter hater Li Na’s run to the Roland Garros title. Don’t think so.

The wet behind the ears, shy and wildly inconsistent Petra Kvitova’s  takedown of Maria Sharapova to win Wimbledon. Don’t see it.

The sometime capable, some times less than confident winning Stosur just her third title of career at America’s Grand Slam over Serena, who all tournament long looked fast, powerful and composed. Not at all.

But maybe the tennis world should be expecting the unexpected, because if there’s one thing we do know is that since Generation Martina Hingis – the Swiss herself, Serena and Venus  Williams, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin —  began to travel  down tennis roads unknown, the tour has fallen into a bit of chaos, similar to the start of the  second set of the Serena vs. Stosur final, when somehow, just two years after she imploded in the US Open semis against Clijsters and was fined and nearly suspended, Serena thought it might be OK after a controversial decision by Chair Umpire Eva Asderaki to tell her that if she saw her in the hallways, she better hightail the other way.

For the first 13 days of the tournament , Serena was on her best behavior, but in the final, she came very close to completely losing her cool to the point where she would have all but guaranteed herself a suspension. Thankfully for the sport, after calling Asderaki a choice name and telling her not to look her way anymore during a changeover, a frazzled Serena calmed down a bit.

Back at the start of the last decade, it was pretty clear that Gen Hingis, along with Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capraiti, were the class of the circuit,  but then they started either falling off the tour altogether or taking off significant stints of time off due to personal reasons or injures.

The swerving current that been running through the tour became rougher and harder to follow.  Venus went into slight decline; Serena went on and off the disabled list; Hingis retired came back again and retired again; Henin did the same, retiring, coming back,  and then quitting it again; and  Clijsters retired for stretch, came back, played occasionally and is now hurt again.  Those 

Those five players have combined for 35 Grand Slam titles in between 1999 and the start of 2011 and were in a sense the foundation of the tour. One of the  primary reasons why Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki became No. 1s and have yet to win a Slam is because those five were not around consistently enough.

So early this summer, with Clijsters wasting her ankle, Venus out due to injury and an autoimmune disease, and Serena still recovering form an injury and pulmonary embolism, the tour went every which way but rational.

Li, not any promising player with a love of clay courts, won Roland Garros. Kvitova, who had limited experience on the big stage faced down the experienced Sharapova.  

Wozniacki was unable to produce her best results at the majors, and two of her excellent player friends, Victoria Azarenka and Aga Radwanska, sputtered when big opportunities on their plates.

And then after a disappointing but not totally surprising loss to the capable Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon, Serena picked up steam during the US Open Series., beating  a slew of fine player including Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Bartoli, Julia Goerges, Azarenka and in the Toronto final, none other than Stosur. In the 11 matches she won prior to New York, she did go to three sets on three occasions, but won those third sets easily.

She was serving huge again, her groundstrokes were spanking clean, she was jumping on returns, and she was performing well in the clutch.

So even though she claimed to have nearly died last February and was still without a lot of match play, , coming, even amongst many tennis aficionados, the  common wisdom was that she was all but invincible and that there were only a handful of players who had even a small chance against her. 

But two times champ Clijsters pulled out, Li and Kvitova flamed early, Venus’ disease forced her to withdraw after just one match, and Flavia Pennetta ran Sharapova into the ground. 

Serena took care of four young and talented players who thought they came into their contests with her with shots:  Azarenka, former No.1 Ana Ivanovic, the streaking Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Wozniacki. 

She walked on court in the final ready to pocket No. 14 and there wasn’t an analysts on site who gave Stosur more than an outside chance. But then the female Atlas shrugged, the Aussie cranked up her serve and forehand and pounded her way past her, not even offering the US legend  a sniff at a comeback.

Serena’s star came back down to earth and a 27-year-old woman who was brought up in a humble neighborhood in Brisbane had shocked the world. 

But really, in the topsy-turvy WTA world, her victory was no surprise at all.

Coronavirus boots Indian Wells

These are tough days now. Not only in tennis, but millions of people are in need and we feel for them.

But, presently, all eyes are on the coronavirus as it spreads throughout the world. People are getting sick everywhere.

On Sunday night, at Indian Wells, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open was cancelled. No one could play on court against the fantastic competitors, like Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Ash Barty or Serena Williams. All the healthy players were already there, at Indian Wells when word came – practicing, smacking the balls, talking with their coaches. They were pretty surprised on Sunday that the owners did not want to take chances in this situation. Even though it was super sad that no one could go to watch at the matches, but at the same time, many people would are nodding. Since then, the infections numbers just keep rising.

The players, too, assuming that they learning about the coronavirus (like everyone else), know that it is dangerous to play. More importantly, it is even more dangerous to watch. Packing in thousands of spectators right now is not a smart move. In other sports and non-athletic events, cancellations are everywhere.

The Miami tournament will start in 12 days. The owners already have said that they will play, even though the coronavirus is spreading in Europe and North America. No one can predict what will happen; it’s very day-to-day. Everyone wants to watch Miami, another big tournament, but you just have to wait and see what happens. If you want to help, make sure to wash your hands … a lot! That would help, for sure. It is a crazy life, now.