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Wimbledon Preview

Much like the surface, the grass court season has been very fast paced and short, lasting only a couple of weeks as we now head into the 128th edition of Wimbledon, the pinnacle of tennis. The oldest and most prestigious tournament in the ATP calendar, Wimbledon will be played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club from the 23rd of June to the 6th of July.

With such limited time, players have fully embraced and taken advantage of the few grass tournaments on offer. Dimitrov was successful in capturing his first grass title in Queens, while Federer won his seventh Halle title. Lopez and Bautista Agut were also title winners.

Andy Murray made history last year by capturing the Wimbledon title, the first British man to do so since Fred Perry in 1936. He will arrive as the defending champion with an immense amount of pressure from the British media and his rivals.

The surface

Grass court is completely different from any other surface in that rallies are shorter and the ball travels extremely fast and low. Players like Federer and Murray have been successful here in the past because they take the ball early, standing well inside the baseline to do so. A simple flowing technique allows players to combat the ball as it skids dangerously through the court. A player that can serve and volley will be dangerous on this surface.

Seeds

1. Djokovic

2. Nadal

3. murray

4. Federer

5. Wawrinka

6. Berdych

7. Ferrer

8. Raonic

9. Isner

10. Nishikori

11. Dimitrov

12. Gulbis

13. Gasquet

14. Tsonga

15. Janowicz

16. Fognini

Draw (32 seeds in total, 16 qualifiers)

Note – Wimbledon seeds its player’s based on grass court performances as well as ranking.

First quarter

Big names – (1) Djokovic, (14) Tsonga, (12) Gulbis, (6) Berdych.

Djokovic is seeded one due to his final showing in last years Wimbledon, and highlights the top section of the draw. He has a reasonable first round match against Golubev. There are some other prominent grass court players occupying this section, with Berdych and Tsonga looming around. Djokovic and Tsonga could meet in the fourth round. Gulbis is also a danger.

Second quarter

Big names – (3) Murray, (11) Dimitrov, (7) Ferrer.

Murray, the defending champion will start proceedings at this year’s Wimbledon, as is tradition. He faces Goffin, with no real threat until the quarterfinals. There he could face Ferrer or recent Queens champion Dimitrov. Whoever pulls through would surely trouble the Scot. The draw has paved out to be quite favourable for Murray, he would need a stern test if he wants to challenge for the title again.

Third quarter

Big names – (5) Wawrinka, (19) Lopez, (15) Janowicz, (4) Federer.

Seven-time champion Federer is looming as a major threat this year, he has a particularly favourable passage to the quarterfinals, but he could meet Hewitt in the fourth round if the Aussie can pull consecutive wins together. Wawrinka is seeded fifth but isn’t playing all to well, as is last years semi finalist Janowicz. Lopez is also a threat.

Fourth quarter

Big names – (8) Raonic, (13) Gasquet, (2) Nadal.

After a first round defeat last year, Nadal will cement his World No. 1 ranking no matter what the result in the next two weeks. He faces a tricky test against fellow left hander Klizan. Monfils could be a potential fourth round opponent, which would make for a very entertaining encounter. Raonic is playing well and could trouble the players in this quarter.

R16 picks

Djokovic v Tsonga

Verdasco v Berdych

Murray v Anderson

Dimitrov v Ferrer

Wawrinka v Isner

Hewitt v Federer

Raonic v Nishikori

Monfils v Nadal

Quarterfinal picks

Djokovic v Berdych

Murray v Dimitrov

Wawrinka v Federer

Raonic v Nadal

Semifinal picks

Djokovic v Murray

Federer v Nadal

Final pick

Murray v Federer

Grinder’s pick

It’s a shame that the grass court season only lasts for a couple of weeks because our sport has so many great champions that can compete well on this surface. Murray, Djokovic and Federer are my picks to go far in this year’s Wimbledon. I want to say Nadal but after his early loss in Halle, I’m a bit hesitant to back him. He will be playing with a bit less pressure because he has no points to defend.

Grinders

Dimitrov and Lopez are recent champions on this surface. They both have great draws, with Dimitrov looming as a possible threat to Murray in the quarterfinals. That would be a massive match.

The British attack

Besides the presence of Murray, the British don’t really have much to cheer for with only six players competing for them. Most of them have received wildcards and aren’t expected to trouble most of the players. All British eyes will be on Murray and rightly so as he is the defending champion.

The Aussies

We’ve had such a rich history at Wimbledon with Aussie champions like Newcombe, Laver, Emerson and Hewitt lifting the Wimbledon trophy in past tournaments. Led by Hewitt, we have eight Aussies staking their claim this year. Hewitt opens against a Polish qualifier, and has a good draw where he could come against seeded players who aren’t really accustomed to the grass. He could meet old mate Federer in the fourth round.

Tomic should progress to the second round where he could face Berdych in a repeat of last years fourth round clash. Saville, Groth and Duckworth have played extremely well to qualify for the main draw after here tough matches. Duckworth will have a big task when he plays Gasquet. Aussie wildcard Kyrgios has a good first round match against Robert. Also in the main draw we have Matosevic and Ebden.

Sit back for the next two weeks as the holy grail of tennis unravels before our eager eyes.

Here are some highlights from last year’s championship final to get you keen.

Wimbledon 2014 – Ready… play.

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Hitting with the big boys – The tough transition for juniors

With Nick Kyrgios capturing his third Challenger title in Nottingham, and earning a wildcard into the Wimbledon main draw next week, the young Aussie seems to be making the transition from the junior ranks to pro quite smoothly, but this is not the case for the majority of juniors out there.

Young promising tennis players have one main objective in their young careers; to be World no 1. Reaching the top and maintaining success appeals to players looking to make that transition into the pro ranks. What juniors have to understand is that they no longer at the top of their respective field. Age is meaningless in the pro ranks.

The truth is, no player on the pro tour, no matter what ranking, is deterred by a successful junior looking to make their mark in tennis. Forget about junior grand slam titles, winning streaks, or sponsorships, a jump to being pro essentially means that you are playing for your livelihood. Money is on the line, sponsorships, and national pride. The pressures become more extreme, and the realities set in.

You have to go back nearly 15 years to the last junior grand slam champion to be then ranked number 1 on the ATP. This player was Andy Roddick. There have been a handful of other players before him;  Federer, Rios, Edberg and Wilander who have brushed aside this perception, or rather growing trend of juniors struggling.

Lets look at the last 5 years of tennis. In these 5 years, the highest junior grand slam champion ranked as of now is Jiri Vesely, at 68 in the world. The majority of the other junior champions are ranked well outside the Top 100. Some players, and tennis authorities believe that success in the juniors will transpire to the world of professional tennis.

I believe that it’s getting much tougher for juniors due to the era of tennis we are currently in. The last 8 or so years have been dominated by the Big 4, juniors are coming up against these types of players and don’t know how to respond. But I think the way in which a junior is taught, not so much the mechanics of tennis, but the way in which you professionally go about business, will help them later on in their careers.

Players are bigger, faster stronger, and essentially better at most aspects of the game in the senior ranks. They are elite professionals who are all striving for success. This can be a real eye – opener for juniors, but it is a necessary revelation.

I feel that juniors need to focus more on pro events rather then junior events. Indeed it is impressive if you are a world class junior, but once you turn 18, that is all soon forgotten. Yes, the first couple of years on tour will be tough, but ultimately, it will benefit the player. The transition is never easy, except in some extremely rare cases; you have to allow time to grow as a player, to feel your game out, and to get accustomed to living the life of a professional athlete.

The expectations of a nation definitely show why juniors are struggling. Upon winning a junior grand slam, suddenly you are thrown into the national limelight. When you turn pro, all of a sudden you are expected to crack your way into the top 10, and then win a grand slam the following year. It just doesn’t work like that. The governing bodies of tennis need to allow their respective juniors to grow.

In saying that, I’m liking some of the players making their way up the ranks. Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jiri Vesely, Alexander Zverev. All these players have impressed me with their transition into the senior ranks. Give them time to adapt, a few years on tour with little to no success will do them the world of good.

Lets give our juniors every opportunity to become successful on the ATP tour, but let’s be mindful that success takes time, it doesn’t occur overnight. There are great players coming through that need to be guided in a realistic and careful manner.

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Moving onto the grass

The European clay court season was an entertaining and eye opening period on the ATP tour calendar. We had constant changes to the top 10, breakout performances and the King of Clay made history yet again in Roland Garros. Our attention now turns to the short, but action packed grass court season. This period only goes for about a month or so, but it is a time in the ATP Calendar that I probably look forward to the most.

Playing on grass is very different than your normal surfaces like hard court and clay. The ball skids rapidly through the court when hit with power. Topspin doesn’t really work on this surface (tell that to Rafa), but more a free flowing aggressive style of play. Federer has been so successful on this surface because he stands up in the baseline and takes the ball on the rise. His technique is simple and flowing, which compliments the fast pace generated by the court surface.

I’ve always wondered why the grass court season isn’t as long as the clay or hard court. Back before the Open Era, three of the four grand slams, excluding the French, were played on grass, yet now we only have a handful of tournaments on the ATP Tour. I would love to see more tournaments played out on grass, and maybe even a Masters 1000 tournament. This surface has such history and prestige that it seems almost an injustice that we only see it during part of the season.

Five tournaments are played between June and July on the grass surface. Halle and Queens usually host the top players, and pave the way for future success at Wimbledon. Eastbourne and s-Hertogenbosch are played the week before Wimbledon. Andy Murray broke records and made history last year with his inspiring run to the Wimbledon title, where he beat Djokovic in straight sets. All the pressure will now be back on his shoulders as the British public watches every move that he makes.

Federer has a good chance to do well in Wimbledon, especially after his shock second round exit last year, as does Nadal who fell at the same hurdle. Our own Lleyton Hewitt is a former Wimbledon champion, and a four-time winner of Queens, so always expect him to trouble players on this surface.

We are now just a couple of weeks out from Wimbledon. All the top players will have to adapt after a long clay court season to the faster conditions of the grass. Good luck to all in these coming weeks.

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Roland Garros Championship Final Preview

The two heavyweights of tennis have grinded it out through two weeks of long, arduous rallies, windy playing conditions, and hopeful contenders to progress to the Roland Garros championship final. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two top ranked players in the world will battle it out today for the French Open crown.

Both players are chasing a bit of their own tennis history – eight-time champion Nadal is looking to add to his collection of grand slam titles by clinching his 14th major title, which would pull him level with the great Pete Sampras. He would become the first man in history to win nine titles at any grand slam event, and the first to claim five successive crowns at Roland Garros.

Djokovic is seeking to complete the career grand slam with the elusive Roland Garros title. Also, if he were to claim victory over Nadal, he would ascend back to the World No. 1 position, as he did in the Wimbledon final in 2011.

So much on the line for these two great champions. Let’s take a look to see what they have to do in order to be part of history.

Rafa Nadal

His form leading up to his beloved French Open suggested he wouldn’t challenge for the title, but after some extremely solid and impressive victories over top playesr, Nadal has emerged as a grand slam finalist yet again. His intensity and weight of shot is just unrivalled, except maybe Djokovic of course. Nadal is always looking to pepper the backhand of his opponent, especially on the AD side. He uses this to open up the court and finish with his forehand.

Against Djokovic, I think he has to continue on this way, but mix it up a bit more. He’s playing one of the best returners and retrievers in the world – he has to keep Djokovic guessing. He has to look to constantly attack with his forehand, always looking for a possible short ball. I think the longer the rally, the better it is for Nadal because he can consistently hit the deep corners of the court. He’ll be looking to end a run of four straight losses to Novak.

Novak Djokovic

You have to say he was definitely the form player leading into this year’s French Open. He captured the title in Rome with an impressive display of all court tennis against his opponent today, Rafael Nadal. What he did there was target the forehand of Nadal to open up the rest of court.

He stood inside the baseline when it was appropriate and pinned Nadal on the forehand wing. He has to continue on from that match and remain aggressive. He can outhit Nadal but he doesn’t want to get into long rallies with him – the shorter the better for Djokovic. His defence is the best on tour, and against one of the best attacks, it will make for an interesting match.

I’m struggling to pick a winner because Djokovic has had Nadal’s measure the last four times they have met, but they have all been the best of three matches. Over five sets and on the red clay of Paris, I’m a bit hesitant to back Djokovic, because it’s hard to keep up a successful level of tennis against Nadal over five sets – but if anyone can do it, Djokovic can

Djokovic in four sets.

Ale boys.

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Djokovic sets up blockbuster final against Nadal

The semi finals were played out today at the French Open, with Nadal taking on Murray and Djokovic battling Gulbis. Nadal is looking to capture the French Open for a record 9th time (five times in a row), while Djokovic will become World No. 1 if he wins the crown. So much on stake for these players, lets see how play unfolded.

(2) Djokovic (SRB) d (18) Gulbis (LAT) 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3

So much focus has been on the Serb this week. If he was to win the Roland Garros title, he would reclaim the World No. 1 position off Nadal, and complete the career slam, only the eighth man to do so. His form has suggested that he will go on to achieve this, but standing in his way today was the confident Gulbis. This man had sensationally knocked out Federer and dismantled Berdcyh in straight sets to book his first semi final at a grand slam. This match would be an interesting tussle.

Gulbis started promising enough, earning two early break point opportunities, only to be denied by a steady defensive performance from Djokovic. Gulbis was finding good range on his groundstrokes. But errors would cost him as Djokovic secured the first break at 3-2. Djokovic would earn another break at 5-3 to take the set on the back of a strong serving performance (86% of service points won).

Djokovic was not being pushed by Gulbis, and always looked in control after wining the first. He kept the pressure up on his return of serve, winning 66% of his return points. He broke when Gulbis hit a backhand long at 3-4, and took the set in much the same fashion as the first. Gulbis left the court, presumably to regather himself; whatever happened seemed to awaken the Latvian. He broke the Djokovic serve for the first time to take a 5-3 lead. A few minutes later, he fired down an ace to take the third set. Djokovic’s serve statistics were ordinary compared to the previous sets.

The hunger returned for the Serb in the fourth. He broke early on, but he would lose serve, perhaps frustrated in his inability to close it out in straight sets. At 3-4, Gulbis missed three first serves and was broken easily, to almost hand Djokovic another Roland Garros finals appearance. All in all a very entertaining match, Djokovic moves on to face an old nemesis in the final.

(1) Rafael Nadal (ESP) d (7) Murray (GBR) 6-3, 6-2, 6-1

Murray has performed extremely well this week considering that he’s playing on a surface that doesn’t really suit his style of play. His flat hitting and attackable mindset has proven to be successful in this year’s Roland Garros, but he would have to lift to a different level if he wanted to beat the King of Clay.

Nadal seemed very comfortable on court in the early stages of the match. He was consistently finding the corners of the court with his forehand. Murray struggled to cope and went down an early break. The Spaniard continued to pepper Murray’s backhand on his serve to open up the court. This ploy was apparent, sometimes boring, but it worked as Nadal comfortably took the first set. His rich vein of form continued throughout the second set, even when Murray tried to adjust his court positioning on the return of serve. Nadal broke twice to claim the set 6-2. He did not drop a point on serve.

Constantly being pushed beyond the baseline, Murray tried desperately; but couldn’t get himself into the match. He was landing the ball way to short, and with Nadal in the kind of form that he’s in, he stood no chance of asserting himself in the rallies. Nadal finished the match off with a smash winner, claiming his 15th win over Murray.

So the stage is now set for a blockbuster Roland Garros final. This was the matchup that everyone was hoping for, and now that it has come to place, we can sit back and watch some history unfold from both champions. Ale Rafa and Novak.

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Roland Garros – Nadal disposes of Ferrer, Murray battles through

After stellar wins for Djokovic and Gulbis yesterday, it was time for the likes of Nadal and Murray to take center stage on an exciting Day 11 at Roland Garros. Nadal would meet Ferrer in a repeat of last year’s championship final, while Murray was tasked was to play the villain against home favorite Monfils.

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) d. [5] David Ferrer (ESP) 46 64 60 61
 After a very ordinary clay court season by his immense standards, Nadal has gone quietly about his business so far this week. All the attention has been with Djokovic and the possibility of ascending to the No. 1 spot and completing the career slam, which I think has helped Nadal so far this tournament. He has reaffirmed his title as the King of Clay by playing aggressively and consistently – Ferrer would prove no easy challenge; Nadal has lost two of his last three encounters with Ferrer dating back to last years Roland Garros final. Play was consistent and entertaining in the first set, the pair traded breaks before Ferrer drew ahead with another break to clinch yet another set off Nadal. His weight of shot was troubling Nadal and he seemed to be moving on to yet another win over his Spanish compatriot. The defending champion cooled down a bit in the second, as did the playing conditions, racing to a 3-1 lead. He reeled off break point chances form his opponent to take the set 6-4. Ferrer struggled with errors after the loss of the second, and this ultimately told, as he would not win a single game in the third. Ferrer held triple break point in the second game of the fourth set, but was unable to capitalize. Nadal was brutally dictating play at his own free will now. Despite a fight back from Ferrer, Nadal closed out in the match in four sets. He has now beaten Ferrer in the last three French Opens.

[7] Andy Murray (GBR) d. [23] Gael Monfils (FRA) 64 61 46 16 60 Murray has impressed me so far in Paris. After winning an epic five setter against Kohlschreiber (over two days), he came together to dismantle Verdasco in three entertaining sets. His mindset, although visibly frustrating at times, has remained fierce and aggressive, with the results showing this. His opponent is the always entertaining, flamboyant Frenchman, Monfils. He had his own epic five setter against Fognini, a similar player in personality and game style. His tennis has delighted the French faithful so far, but Murray would be his toughest challenge yet. Contested in windy conditions, Murray broke first in the second game. Content with now rallying, Murray remained consistent in his weight of shots, having the luxury of a break of serve. He soon closed out the first set 6-4 despite a late comeback from Monfils. The French crowd were subdued after Murray broke early in the second, racing to a 5-0 lead. Monfils avoided a 6-0 set but soon conceded to go down two sets to love. To Monfils’ credit he remained aggressive and it began to tell as he went up 5-4. Murray was to drop serve for the first time in the match as Monfils somehow clawed his way back into the match. An aggressive Monfils ran away in the fourth set, attacking at every given opportunity. The crowd, spurred on by this comeback, could sense something. The atmosphere was electric as the match headed to a deserved decider. But Monfils would win just a measly six points in the decider, going down 6-0 in 24 minutes. Murray now moves onto the semi finals here for the second time, while Monfils drops to 21-9 for the season.   The semi final spots are now complete. Nadal will take on Murray, while Djokovic battles it out against Gulbis. I think we’d all like to see the Nadal v Djokovic final, but be weary of our other semifinalists. Good luck boys.

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