Top fives 2012

The tennis review takes a look at the top five winners and losers of tennis 2012.

Let’s start with the winners:
1. The ATP and WTA tours. While the ATP has had a solid top 4 for a good few years now with the much desired revenue creating rivalries, the WTA finally, after nearly a decade in the wilderness, got all its major winners back to the top of the rankings. With Azarenka, Maria and Serena taking the big prizes and the top three spots, the WTA distanced themselves from the criticisms that come with having top-ranked majorless players. While there is still some work to do on the rivalry front, with Serena handily dominating the top two, Vika and Maria did at least put on a couple of good shows in their matches in New York and Istanbul, but perhaps not enough to scent over the stinkers of Australia, Indian Wells and Miami. Still, it will be baby steps for the WTA to recover from the abyss that was 2007-2011 (some might argue it goes back further than that, to 2004) but they are definitely heading in the right direction. As for the ATP, the top four put on some epic shows in the big matches and though criticism abounds about tennis being more a grindfest than a game of tennis skill, fans are regularly treated to awesomely competitive matches with spellbinding rallies. The athleticism on display in matches between the top four, notably their battles in the semis and the final in Australia, and the ferocity of the rallies has been, at times, electrifying. It might not be tennis as the purists yearn for but it is definitely a game worth tuning in to.

2. Anti-grunters. The WTA finally caught on to the catalogue of complaints about the assault on the ears which is a match between some of its stars. An initiative has been put forward to spread the word among coaching academies and the pro ranks that grunting above a certain level is not acceptable and plans are in place to put gruntometers on courts so that offenders will be punished. It only took them two decades to decide to do something about what is one of the most ridiculous elements of modern tennis. Now, if only they would start to clamp down on time taken between points, too, then all the grumps would stop going on about that, too.

3. Anti-blue clayers. The Madrid blue ‘clay’ only lasted a tournament.
Players complained it was not clay as they slipped and made early exits.They had a point. It was too fast for clay with the winners being Federer and Serena, the best fast-courters on their respective tours and with no red clay results between them the past few years. ,The ATP listened and, much to Ion Tiriac’s displeasure we imagine, duly got rid of the much maligned attention-grabbing surface.

4. British tennis. Andy Murray’s victory at the US Open, Heather Watson’s title at Osaka and Robson’s run at the US Open gave Britain its most successful year since…time began? One woman is to be credited of course, Ms. Judy Murray. Not only has she given birth to two Major champions but her influence in the Fed cup and its overspill onto its squad’s performance has been huge and she should be damed asap. She is the one reason why I would vote for Scotland to stay part of Britain.

5. Olympic tennis. Murray’s success in the Olympics brought tennis a huge home audience and the excitement generated by the competitors must
have spilled over to other world’s media. That excitement and that of the fans showed the sporting world that tennis does matter in the Olympics. Granted, it is not the pinnacle of the sport, but the respect it garners the medalists and the contribution it makes to the event makes it worthy of inclusion.

Top five losers.
1. Women’s tennis fans in European regions. The announcement that
Eurosport will not show women’s tennis outside of the majors was a blow
to tennis fans throughout Europe. The free-to-air service provided many a tennis fan with an enjoyable afternoon in front of the box and now they have to be lucky enough to receive a satellite channel that airs matches and probably have to pay for it. The rumour is that the WTA wanted more money than Eurosport were willing to pay. Surely, the WTA needs to look into getting its own TV channel or online subscription service, or the tennistv service needs to show WTA outside of the US. Whatever happens the WTA needs to act fast. After a resurgent 2012, it would be a pity, nay a crime to tennis, if the WTA could not get its ‘product’ to the audience who have been both keeping it afloat and loyally waiting to see it get back on its feet.

2. Officials. This year saw some absolutely horrendous officiating. Starting in Australia with that dreadful decision against Nalbandian and going on right through the year, the professional standard of the officiating was not level with the professional standards demanded of the players by the different tours. With millions of dollars being generated by the game, one would think that quality officials would not be hard to come by. Granted,there is always going to be human error, but during the course of the season as we watched one horrendous officiating call after another it seemed a lot more erroneous than the percentages would allow. It’s time to hook the umpires up with TV screens, allow instant replays for bad calls even if the player is a little late in making the call and time to start inflicting
penalties for officials who make lousy calls more than they humanly should just as the tours penalise their players when they screw up their job.

3. American men’s tennis. With Roddick now gone, and a 27 year old Isner still not breaking through to the second weeks of Majors, where is the next Amercian star? The women have a couple who might break through but the men’s field is looking decidedly bleak. With America hosting a whole host of tournaments and with a huge potential fan base, the USTA needs to get a move on with developing the next big stars.

4. ATP World tour finals attendees. One singles match and one doubles
match a session? In Istanbul, the WTA YEC goers are getting three singles matches. And paying between a third to half the price for the pleasure.

5. The US Open. 2012 and still roofless. With THE biggest stadium on the circuit but with that stadium being empty come the last stupid, sorry, super Saturday due to the wind and rain, the US Open continues to look like the bucket shop run by a crew of drunks of the Majors, (closely followed by the French who once again seem to be sipping bucket loads of champers during the championships but cannot seem to get lights installed when every year play is suspended due to bad light). Yes, we know its open tennis and all, but it is also 2012 and with almost all of the rest of the game having been tinkered with the last 20 years, what harm would there be in getting a roof so the players can have some security in their schedule and perform their best? Aaah, that’s it. That stadium is just too huge for a roof. Ok, now whoever made that decision to build that stadium, put down
the bottle and get yourself down to AA.

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Mandy mown down by Federer in SW19

Federer

Photo courtesy of http://sannags.blogspot.jp

Mandy, a winner of zero major titles, broke Federer, the winner of sixteen, in the opening game of the Wimbledon Final 2012. Mandy and the home crowd could not have asked for a better start. And though Federer broke back, Mandy did not choke as he has done in other major finals. Instead it seemed that it was Federer who was struggling as he hit an unusual number of errors while Mandy played the tennis he is supposed to play to win these Big Matches. He moved forward, he hit his forehand aggressively and he hit his first serve in. Breaking again at 4-4, Mandy served for the first set and a winning volley, an ace and a service winner all helped him to seal the set and had the thrilled audience made up of the likes of Pippa Middleton, David Cameron and the Beckhams on their feet, porcelains as shiny as that Winner’s trophy on show on the court.

It was Mandy’s first set in a major final, his fourth. His opponent had won 57 sets in major finals. The second set saw Roger’s forehand hitting its mark and Mandy still continuing with his fine attacking play. This was very much the Mandy we had been waiting for in big matches although the old Mandy was still rearing his head now and then. The clutching at his back or his hamstring after a long point Mandy. The grimmacing Mandy. The shouting at himself Mandy. The come-oning on his opponents errors Mandy. But in a fight between the cool and attacking Mandy we were seeing and the old Mandy, the former seemed to be winning out against the latter as the set went with serve until 5-6 with Murray serving to stay in the set. It was at this point that Roger did what these great Champions do at the business end of the set. They force the issue. For Roger, aware that he was only a tiebreak away from falling two sets to love behind, this was the moment to break and serve first in the next set. This was where he had to take control of this match, a match in which he was the better grass court player. Murray played the attacking tennis that saw him get so close to that two sets to love lead but a missed volley at 30-30 saw him go set point down. It was this point, the biggest of the match so far, that we saw the difference between the Man with the record for most majors won and the man who had just broken his Major final set winning duck. The players moved each other around the court, looking to get the other on the run and to attack, and it was Roger, cool as you like, who moved in and put a volley away to seal the set. One set all. His fifty-eighth in a major final.

At 1-1, the rain came and play was suspended. This was what Mandy did and did not need. He definitely needed to see his coach to discuss how not to let the next two sets slip away so suddenly like the second did, but he did not need to face the Greatest Indoor player of all time in an Indoor Grass Major Final where said Greatest Indoor player of all time (and record holder of the most majors) has won six titles.

Still, what he did or did not need was irrelevant. It was happening and Mandy’s deal was to deal with it and to get his first major on his resume. The roof on, the two players came out. Roger held serve to love in an ominous start for Mandy and the home fans. Mandy held and then Roger held again, to love. The serve was back on. At 2-3, Federer forced the issue again, using his forehand and his variety to get no less than ten break points in an eighteen minute game against the Scot who could not find his first serve on the deuce points. On the tenth break point, Mandy could not fight off Federer any longer as Roger hits a lob on the tenth deuce that Mandy cannot chase from falling down. On the break point, Mandy cannot find the first serve he desperately needs, and as good as firing a blank, he sends over a second serve which Roger, his ground strokes on maximum power, moves Andy around, opens the court and then fires a flat and deep forehand, one of his very best, into the open court to break for 4-2. This is what Champions do. They hold their serves and then put pressure on their opponent and that pressure is even easier to apply if your opponent is only getting in fifty percent of their first serves. Roger had no problems holding serve the next two games to take a two sets to one lead.

Federer had the rhythm now, the rhythm of winning. Having not won a major since the Australian Open in 2010, where he beat Mandy, coming back from 2-5 down in the third to win it on a tiebreak, the memories of those sixteen major wins must have been flooding back. How Roger felt though, we had no idea. His face was as pokerish as ever. How Mandy felt we were in no question. Jubilant when the shots were landing in, the points going his way and things going against his opponent, anguished when he was on the receiving end of a winner or his shots were not finding their mark. And Federer would have been aware of how his opponent’s emotions were wearing him down. Fed, whose emotions were quietly driving him to his seventeenth major title, kept those emotions firmly in check in another crucial game at 2-2 in the fourth. Having just flown through his service game, Federer passed Mandy at the net to seal that all important match winning break. Up 3-2 and his serve firmly on, the formality of the match caved in on us all as we resigned ourselves to watching another regal procession toward the throne from the GOAT while his opponent, tumbling around on the court and punishing himself mentally for his failure to beat an all time Great, fell to the side and was only good for dropping petals in the champion’s way.

At 5-4 Federer, the players sat on the change of ends and the crowd was in wild applause for them and chanting Mandy’s name. When time was called, the two made it to their places and as each point passed, the two of them moved even closer to their rightful places in the tennis heirachy: Champion and challenger. Federer reached double Championship point with an ace. A second serve and a fine return from Mandy to Federer’s backhand that he could pick up. Then, on his second match point, Federer hit to Murray’s forehand and the crosscourt forehand from Mandy was called out. Federer fell onto the grass and then picked himself up to meet Mandy at the net where they embraced before a standing ovation.

They both deserved it. We could not have asked for more from Mandy. No one knows better how to win Major titles than Federer. No one. And to lose to him, well it was not even so much that he lost to him. Federer knows how to win these matches and he won. Plain and simple. Andy was beaten.

And then we asked too much from Mandy. The BBC’s Sue Barker put a microphone in his face and told him how well he had played. This was probably not what Mandy, facing the crushing disappointment of losing his fourth major final in a match in which, had he kept his emotions in check and executed his plan better in the second, he might have been able to win. With all this and the pain of seeing his professional dreams crushed by someone else being better than him, again, even though he had worked his guts out to compete with him, with all of this spinning round in his mind, on the biggest of tennis occassions, with emotion running high, he has a microphone in his face and he has to speak. And he can barely do it for the tears. He congratulates Roger, says he is not bad for 30, and he cannot look at his box for fear of more tears, so he thanks them while looking the other way, and then he thanks the crowd who he says make it easier to play, not harder, and then he walks away, while Sue moves after him a little, but he does not look back. fearful for his blood.

Then it is Roger’s turn. And while Roger has just broken his own record of major titles won and will now be back at number one and break Pete’s, his ‘hero’ he says in his speech, record of weeks at number one and equalled his slew of Wimby crowns, he is not asked about these things, but is asked about Andy instead. Sue tells him what a great challenge he faced and how he must understand all the pressure Mandy is under from having seen the papers.

‘I don’t read the papers’, says Roger.

There is some laughter from the audience. Roger does not read the papers about tennis. Roger is not like us. He is a player, not a spectator. While we sit around reading about who will win, speculating, analysing, Roger is busy playing. And winning. While we are ‘reading’ about Mandy this, Mandy that, Roger is practicing and working out how to beat him. Roger is not one of us. No, no. He is Roger Federer, the Greatest Tennis Player of all time. Continuing the interview, The GOAT gives Mandy the credit he deserves and then he gives himself the chance to do what those microphones are for, to talk; he talks about his emotions at winning the title, what it means to him and how special it is to do it in front of his daughters.

And then the two of them, Champion and runner-up, go before the camera and hold aloft the trophy. After a short while, Mandy taps Roger on the shoulder, says something and then leaves him to the limelight. The limelight reserved for the winner. The limelight Mandy has to live under at Wimnbledon though he is not a major champion yet. The limelight that reduces him to tears. Let’s spare him it next year and let him get on with what he should be doing: playing tennis. And winning.

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Serverena back to Major-winning ways at Wimbledon

Serena Williams Wimbledon 2012

Photo courtesy of forum.b92.net

The first set between Serena and Aggie in the 2012 Wimbledon final was what we had all feared.

No, tennis fans did not fear Serena winning, not at all. (Neutral)Tennis fans are generally pleased to see Serena win. She is, without doubt, one of the Greatest women’s players ever and is generally much appreciated. No, what we feared was the first set score. 6-1. Thank God it was not a bagel. We wanted a competitive first set, not a blow out. There have been too many blow outs in Major women’s finals and they are not only a dissapointment but a shameful showcase for the sport on the most hyped day of a tournament with the most potential viewers.

Blowouts are, of course, in some ways understandable. There is a lot of pressure to play well before a worldwide audience of tennis fanatics, casual fans and your home country, and that bothersome side show, the Media, with all their cursed questions and criticisms. Sometimes the match is a blowout because there is just a bad match up, such as in this case, and that bad match up occurs on the worst possible surface for the ill-matched player. Blowouts will happen. It’s just that in tennis, they happen all too often. The last time we had a match which was not a blowout or a player did not choke was the Australian Open 2010. In fact, since 2005, when we saw the last classic major final between Venus and Davenport at Wimbledon, only two major women’s finals have gone the distance.Before that, from the French Open 1998 to the French Open 2005, nine matches had gone to three sets. That was during what many classify as the Golden age of Women’s tennis. Now, the current age is labeled as generation suck.

One of the members of the afore-mentioned generation, who was reportedly ill before the match, could not get on the scoreboard until 0-5 down in the first set when she managed to avoid the dreaded bagel which, one imagines, tastes oh so much staler in a major final when you are force-fed it before such a big audience, your disgraceful defeat falling out the sides of your mouth.

The brief setback to Serena’s march to the title did not set her back for long. Serena fed her a breadstick instead, serving out the set in a hurry to seal the set in 36 minutes as the rain began to fall.

After the break, Radwanska came out and won her first service game, which came as some relief to her and the crowd, who were even applauding Serena’s errors so eager to get the match we all craved. After all tickets to the final don’t come cheap and the rowd want some value for money. Particularly as it was not even as if Serena was playing lights out and we were witnessing an all time great performance. Serena was somewhat tentative in longer rallies and when Aggie went to her forehand, she struggled. Had Serena been in the form that she showed in the Australian Open finals of 2007 and 2009, then the crowd would have known they were seeing something special and felt lucky to be there. But this was anything but special. True there were some moments when Aggies hands delivered exquisite moments at the net and Serena worked her way into a point to end it with a glorious winner, but most of the time Serena was freepointing on her serve and taking advantage of her opponents subpar play that was uncharacteristically producing errors.

Serena held serve and then broke Aggie in her next service game to lead 2-1 and move closer to the tepid and inevitable conclusion. Aggie’s play did at least improve as Serena’s dropped, missing easy balls and her at times wonky movement betraying her. At 0-30, 2-3 down, Radwanska had a chance and a murmur of hope buzzed around the Center court.

Serena popped in a weak second serve and then hit rally shots until Aggie fed her a moonball but Serena whipped it away on the backhand with a vicious angle to scupper Aggie’s chance. 15-30. Another second serve. Serena won the point on a volley. This was the Serena we had seen many times since her first-strike Major winning heyday. This was Serena the patient, the point constructor. This was not first strike major winning form. 30-30 and the serve was back on. Serverena was back and she served her way to 4-2 and the clock read an hour.

Aggie had to hope that Serverena went away again, as she seemed prone to do that day. If Serverena was replaced by Rallyrena, then Aggie had more of a chance. Aggie is quite the point constructor herself. In the fifth game she showcased her very best as she moved Serena round the court with spin, slice, soft balls, and then a winning volley. Hitting deeper and painting the lines, Aggie moved to 40-15, served and volleyed and watched as Serena’s forehand flew long. Aggie was keeping herself close to Serena and the murmurs were growing louder.

4-3 and things were certainly looking more respectful for both the player and the game. The rallies were long and decorative. Some of them looking pretty against the backdrop of the grass. Still, though, the inevitable looked ominous. However, Radwanska had a few more things to say on the matter and pushed Serena to deuce, finally finding her skills, to rally with Serena, push her around and hit a winner down the line. A Serena forehand out and it was breakpoint Aggie. We expected Serena to ace her way out of trouble. The ace did not come, apparantly, according to the line judge. The serve was called out. But it was deservedly challegned and was proved well in. First serve again and the rain was falling. Then in a classic example of offense against defense, with Serena hitting brutal gorundstrokes to come in and miss on the forehand at the net that she took out the air and sent flying past the baseline.
4-4. We had a set on our hands. A match? Still unlikely, but a set at least. Serena upped her level now and with gritted teeth struck the ball to go up 0-30. Aggie fought back with good serving and coming to the net to force the error from Serena and then came out on top of another long rally to force the backhand error into the net from Serena to lead 5-4. Now there was no shame at all. No shame for the audience, the players, the game. Now we had a showcase where tennis could be shown off with pride.

At 15-0, Serena lost another long rally as Aggie sent a backhand past her at the baseline. Serena made sure to come forward after that and roared as she hit a forehand at the net for a winner. She would have to first-strike it to get her fifth strike on the grass. She did jut that and drew level to 5-5.

Aggie served out to love, in an improved display of serving and now the pressure was on Serena who was on the verge of her worst case scenario: being drawn into a long third set of rallies that did not go her way and saw Aggie emerge the winner.

On the first point of serving to stay in the set, Serena came in and netted the volley. A double fault. Were we going to see a similar meltdown to what we saw in Paris? On the next point, she moved in got the winner. 15-30. Then a powderpuff second serve was sent back with an angle and Serena hit the backhand at the net long.

Set point Aggie! A Serena error into the net off a slice ball from Aggie and it was one set all.

Blowout indeed! We had a match now. An actual three set match in a major final. Tennis fans the world over were elated. Aggie’s box were on their feet. Finally we had a tennis occassion that would deliver what sport should do: the question of who would win being asked until the final ball was struck or the final second counted.

With the advantage of serving first, Aggie saved break points in the first game, as Serena errored more than she winnered and Aggie bent down low to get back the deep and hard balls. Aggie won her service and now was the time, the momentum swinging strongly her way, to break and move ahead in the decider.

Serena the patient fought though. She rallied and waited for the opening for the winner. She found her first serve, she painted the lines and smashed for winners, she injected pace and ran down lobs. In the third game, both women showed how good rallies can be when the world’s best offense meets the worlds’s best denfense.

But a missed forehand and a double fault, and Radwanska was two break points down. This time an off forehand found the line. and a backhand taken out the air drew her to deuce. Another mid court forehand winner and it was advantage Aggie. And a backhand down the line error from Serena and it was 2-1 Aggie.

Acearena appeared in the next game as Serena hit four aces in a row to ace her way through a game.

2-2. Aggie continued to get every ball back and force Serena into error. But at 30-30, Serena was not having it and came forward after a long rally to take the ball out of the air for the winner. Unfortunately for Aggie, she could not find her first service and her second service was duly punished as Returnerena, who had been absent most of the championships, broke.

All Serena had to do now was click into Serverena again and serve her way through to the trophy. She did that to lead 4-2.

Aggie continued to play her game to frustrate Serena, saving two break points, but could not save the third as Serena pulled off the drop shot to break, raising her fist to her box.

Serena served out for the match but the aces did not flow straight off the racket. Somewhat tentative she netted a smash at 15-0 but then the ace came, followed by a service winner, and a backhand winner down the line and Serena yelled, fell on her back, covered her face before getting up and jogging to the net where she clasped hands with a smiling Aggie at the net.

Serena raised her arms to the crowd and, applauded by the audience which included the likes of Navratilova and old-foe Hingis, Serena made her way up to the players box where she hugged her team, most notably her sister Venus whose haul of five Wimbledon titles she had equalled by winning a match that though not the classic the game needed was more than worthy of satisfying the most ardent of tennis fans and perhaps drawing in a couple more. And for those who like some emotion from their sporting heroes there were some tears in both of the presentation speeches that would have had even the most objective of viewers wiping their eyes.

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Murray moves into final to face Federer

murray

Photo courtesy of www.mysportfeed.com

The men’s semis have been played and won and neutral tennis fans the world over will sigh in relief that another Nole-Rafa grind-fest slam final does not await them but instead they will be served up an intriguing contest between perhaps the Greatest player of all time and the best player never to have won a major title.

Andy Murray is that player. Three finals he has made but he has not even won a set in any of them. Now he has another chance to claim one of the games major prizes and a prize that many a tennis pundit believe he is MORE than good enough to win.

In his seventh major semi-final, Mandy played as good a first couple of sets as he ever has in a major match to take a two set to love lead over Tsonga in the Wimbledon semi-finals. In a battle of last year’s losing finalists, it looked as if Mandy might fly through drama-free to his first Wimbledon final. But, of course, that was never going to happen. Not at Wimbledon with the home fans in the stadium and on ‘Henman hill’, now titled ‘Murray Mountain’, and all the millions of viewers watching at home. And not when a British man has not reached the Wimbledon final for 76 years. Anything less than a dramatic match with the hamminess and overwriting of a Dynasty episode would not have done justice to this Mandy match.

And the players delivered the episode we drama queens, and they, the players, too, had been longing for. After a medical time Out at the beginning of the third set, Tsonga had more spring in his step, flew to the net and volleyed, at times sublimely, and took the Match to Murray, his reward being the third set. A sudden air of panic gripped Murray and the fans. It had been too good to be true. Murray was coasting. Now he was tighter. He was back to his passive self. He was waiting for Tsonga to implode. Worse, Tsonga, who had come back against Roger Federer of all champions from two sets to love down the year previous, was not in implode mode and was now playing the kind of attacking tennis he is capable of, the kind of tennis that can take you to a Wimbledon final.

The fourth set was one of the most exciting of the past two weeks as Tsonga and Murray battled it out. Mandy broke early, taking advantage of his opponent’s letdown, but Tsonga, inspired and as desperate as Murray for a shot at the final, broke back, ripping a return on break point. Luckily for Murray that as the match got deeper into the fourth the free swinging Tsonga could not get a return in and Mandy’s second floating serves went unpunished. And fortunately for Mandy, though Tsonga was hitting some winning volleys, he was netting as many as he sent low into the court.

Play went with serve until 5-6 with Tsonga serving. Tsonga, playing with the sun in his eyes, hit two errors, won a point on a smash and then somewhat predictably, netted a volley. On breakpoint, Mandy hit a fierce return that seemed to catch the line. Murray looked up at the sky in disbelief. Finally! Tsonga challended the call and the two men stood at the net as they waited for Hawkeye to deliver its verdict. In. The crowd erupted, the players embraced and a tearful Andy Murray sat in his chair and stared up to the heavens, no doubt thanking the Tennis Gods for finally seeing himn through to the final and wondering how the hell he was going to beat Six time champion Roger Federer in the final. We all know he can beat Roger, he leads their head to head 8-7, but Roger in major finals is a different beast and Mandy has already failed twice to fell him in the final match of a major. Still, the tennis Gods, having removed Nadal from his half, calling never-before-seen foot faults on his big serving opponents, calling curfews that work in his favor, tiring out his opponents in long fifth sets before they meet him, seem to be in favor of a Mandy victory on the grass. But standing before them is another God: The tennis God known as Federer.

Yes, waiting for Andy in the final is none other than a resurgent Roger Federer. True, Roger, if he wins the title, will be number one again and has been anything but quiet on the ATP tour winning titles left right and center, but Major wise, it has been a quiet year with this final appearance his first since Roland Garros 2011.

The Wimbledon King Roger Federer out-served and outhit Novak Djokovic, the man who has been sitting on the throne the last year, to reach his first Wimbledon final since 2009.

Federer, who claimed that the finals had just not been the same without him, not only gave himself the opportunity to extend his record haul of major titles but also earned himself the chance to take the throne again and to claim the record for weeks at number one currently held by Pete Sampras.

The semi-final got off to a pacy start as both men split the first two sets within fifty two minutes. Things slowed down in the third set as in the fifth game Federer pushed for a break.
Djokovic could not find his first serve and Federer had his forehand firing, Fed broke and held his next two serves to take the set.

In the fourth set, there was no letdown for Federer and there were points that were worthy of a major final let alone a major semi with Fed hitting all the shots in the book: forehands down the line, inside out forehands, backhand slice, backhand top spin, volleys, smashes. We saw, once more, how the grass compliments his natural all court game. This game, when in full flow and when Federer takes risks with it, has proved over the years to be too much for other players, and though it has been underwhelming the last few years, it was well and truly overwhelming for Novak yesterday. Fed frontran as good as he ever has and Novak’s shot erred out more than in and all the running in the world from the Serbian was not going to be enough to stop the Great man in his tracks. At 5-3, Federer served for the match and on match point fired down a service winner that put him into the final and the opportunity to claim his throne and wear his crown once more on the grassy top of Mount Olympos.

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Aggie to square off against Serena in first Major final

wimbledon

Photo courtesy of ivies.pinger.pl

The Wimbledon center court crowd were treated to two superb performances from the upcoming women’s finalists, strong competition from their vanquished opponents and two matches that were almost mirror opposites regarding pace and style.

WTA tour fan favorite, Aggie Radwanska, came back from 1-3 down in the first set against Angie Kerber, the recent Eastbourne runner-up, to win the next five games and take a one set to love lead in her first major semi-final.

Playing coolly and calmly as you like, as if she had played major semi after semi throughout her career, Aggie served out for the first set confidently, moving forward whenever the opportunity arose and getting her first serve in, even sealing her set point with an ace out wide. Playing better than she ever has on the surface, the former Eastbourne champion sent a message out to whoever would be her final opponent that she could play on grass and would not be a bye in the final as some critics have suggested.

In the second set, serve was held until 2-2 when a Kerber unforced error gave Aggie a break point. In the next point, Kerber had no answer for Aggie’s depth and netted a forehand of a ball that landed at her feet on the baseline to hand Aggie the break.

With her back up against the wall, Kerber went up a gear and began to hit with more pace and aggression. However Aggie’s defense proved impenetrable as she ran down every ball getting her racket on all of them and sending them back for winners. In a hotly contested game, one terrific rally at game point Aggie saw both players tearing around the court with both players even moonballing to stay in the rally. As Aggie’s backhand down the line went out, Kerber raised her arms aloft as if to celebrate not being undone again by the Polish woman’s all court prowess. In the next point Kerber’s pace on her forehands were too much for Aggie earning Kerber a break back point and a chance to get back into the match. Aggie was not to buckle under the pressure and she saved the break point with a deep second serve to Kerber’s body. Continuing to play with confidence, Aggie moved forward on the next point and took the ball out of the air to put away the forehand. On game point, Aggie served out wide and repeatedly hit rally shots to Kerber’s forehand in the middle of the court which led a frustrated Kerber, who could not hit the winner she so wanted and needed, netting a forehand to hand Aggie the game.

In the next game, Aggie piled on the pressure to take it to deuce but a rare error as she came into the mid court saw Kerber gain advantage point which she won with a winning forehand. It was clear that Kerber was not going to fold and Aggie would have to hold serve to move closer to her first major final; a feat she achieved smoothly, serving her next game out to 15. Kerber did not go away though and continued to give a good account of herself, holding easily.

Thus it was the moment of truth for Aggie. Could she keep serving with clever placement and variety and serve her way into the Wimbledon final?

A beautiful opening rally where Aggie asked Kerber’s forehand and backhand question after question only for Kerber’s backhand to finally answer with an adamant yes as the German struck a cross court winner meant it was not going to be easy.But Aggie won the next point by forcing the issue as she moved in. A fluffed return from Kerber followed by a missed forehand from the German and Aggie was match point up. Another error of the backhand from Kerber as Aggie moved in and Aggie was into her first major final.

In a year which has seen Aggie climb to number three in the world(and she will be either 1 or 2 depending on the final result), win Premier titles in Beijing and Miami, Aggie’s first appearance in a major semi-final and now a final were due.

Before the tournament she had been criticised for her ‘pushing’ game and inabilty to beat the very best of the game but she certainly played this match aggressively and has adapted to the grass court well. Neither did she freeze on the big stage. Hardly any errors came off of her racket and it was a performance that bodes well for her chances in the final.

In the final she will meet four time champion Serena Williams who played Vika Azarenka in Serena’s second consecutive contest against one of the new Queens on the block. Once again, Serena proved that though she may not be in her prime, she is still the very best competitor on the big stage. Though Serena’s movement and accuracy may have been compromised by age, her increased years have only served to make her tougher than anyone else in the women’s game as when she knuckles down and serves like she has been, then on grass only the greatest players are going to beat her.

The first set saw a supremely focused Serena serve expertly, as she had done throughout the tournament, with power and precision to take it 6-3.

The level of Serena dropped a little and Vika’s rose as the crowd were treated to a more competitive second set where both women struck the hell out of the ball and Serena roared come on as she broke in the third game of the second set firing a winning return and then fought off a challenge from the Belorussian to hold her serve. In the next Serena service game she saved a break point with an ace. However a backhand hit on the rise mid court was hit out by the American and the break point was won by Azarenka as Serena shanked a backhand off a return from Vika that landed at her feet.
Serena got another chance to break right back though but she netted the forehand return. She got another chance after a hard hitting rally where the two competitors went toe to toe until an error from Vika ended the point. But a forehand error from Serena saw them back at deuce. This time it was Vika whose serve sorted her out as she won the next two points to lead 4-3.

Vika’s serve proved to be as sturdy as Serena’s as the two of them held serve to contest a tiebreak. On match point Serena, she brings Vika in with a drop shot but the subsequent lob was out. 6-6. A netted backhand from Vika and 7-6 with Serena to serve. Serena takes her time. She serves a record breaking 24th ace then pumps her fist, keels over and looks to her box before jumping in the air and waving her arms to the crowd.

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Revved up Murray motors on into the semis

murray

Photo courtesy of www.ziarelive.ro

David Ferrer, playing in his first Wimbledon quarter-final, was leading Andy Murray (Mandy), making his fourth consecutive appearance at this stage of the tournament, by a set and a break and about to serve for a commanding two sets to love lead.

And it was a lead that few had predicted. True, Ferrer had got the better of Mandy at the same stage of the French Open four weeks ago but that was on clay, and yes, their head to head is even at 5-5, but four of those Ferrer victories had come on Clay while Andy Murray, the superior fast court player, had won all his matches on hard courts. And while the center court is a little slower in the second week, it is still grass and rewards those with the skills to play on this dying surface.

Mandy was the heavy favorite on a surface that rewards his slice and his variety of shot. But Mandy had come out playing his passive pushing worst and Ferrer had come out the more aggressive, ripping into Mandy’s second serve and relentlessly running down every ball.

Then, serving for the set, Ferrer did what Mandy had been pushing for. He played a nervous game and dropped his serve. Ferrer’s mind had done what Mandy had failed to do, beaten him. Ferrer, though bruised, did not buckle completely. The two found themselves in another tiebreak with Murray coming back from a mini break down and finishing the tiebreak with a forehand winner in the middle of the court and a service winner to take the set and then rode the momentum to win the third set 6-4 to grab a two set to one lead.

Seemingly comfortably ahead, Mandy, as he is wont to do when frontrunning, began to play better more attacking tennis, saving break points at 3-4 15-40 with a backhand volley and then shot down a 131mph serve out wide which he followed in to volley the floater. The fans cheered to see him playing so proactively, all too aware, as Andy is too, that only this kind of play is going to see him lift the title.

In the fourth set break, Mandy took charge, hitting a backhand down the line winner, moving forward to put pressure on Ferrer who netted the passing shot, hitting a forehand down the line winner and pounding down three aces to hit his way through to a semi-final where he will play the aggressive and powerful Tsonga against whom he has a 5-1 head to head lead. Nevertheless he needs to assert himself from the beginning against an in-form opponent who if he has an ‘on’ day could blow Mandy away. Mandy has to move forward and serve well, staying close to Tsonga who will serve big and come in, and then take his chances on the return if he is to have any chance of breaking his Wimbledon semi-final duck.

In the other semis, Federer and Novak thrashed Youhzny and Mayer respectively while Tsonga squeezed past Kohlschreiber in four on a day that did little to support Gilles Simon’s comment earlier this tournament that the women did not deserve equal prize money.

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