Monthly Archives: March 20, 2023

The United Kingdom had been waiting for the match between Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon and when it arrived, it was better than anyone expected.

I only managed to pick three of the eight quarterfinalists at Wimbledon but who knew that Marat Safin would be here for the second week of Wimbledon and Novak Djokovic would not.

I did get two picks correctly, I’m proud to say: Marin Cilic beat Paul-Henri Mathieu in the third round and Andy Murray rallied from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet in the fourth round, and that’s where we’ll spend all our time today because, so far, it comes closest to matching the sports hysteria we saw in Euro Cup 2008. The people of the United Kingdom are a happy bunch tonight and rightly so.

After Murray saved the first break point of the match at 3-4 in the first set, Gasquet hit one of his wondrous backhands down the line and out of reach. That backhand is a pain in the butt. Gasquet wraps the racket around his head in the backswing without telegraphing the direction of the shot. That same motion can also turn into a drop shot and he has no trouble whatsoever picking up slices and other low lying grass court balls and turning them into winners.

Murray saved the game with two drop shots – no surprise there – but it’s Gasquet who’s applying all the pressure and it’s hard to see how drop shots will stand up to hard flat winners on grass.

With Murray serving to stay in the set at 5-6, he hit a few errors and a double fault to give Gasquet two set points. He saved the first one and on the second, Gasquet hit another backhand down the line followed up by a drop shot. It took forever but Murray got there and put the ball away then launched into his own version of Llleyton Hewitt’s fist pumping lawn mower celebration. On his third set point, Gasquet got to the net again – see a pattern here? – and hit a volley that sent Murray scampering one way then the other and ended with Murray hitting a running backhand passing shot that sent Gasquet into a futile dive. Murray celebrated with his home crowd while Gasquet lay sprawled on the court.

Gasquet finally cashed in on his fourth set point as Murray sent a drop volley wide but you can see the huge and obvious difference between these two young and talented players: Murray relishes the opportunity to get his home town fired up while Gasquet would rather toil under more low-key conditions. And Murray has the greater pressure by far. Gasquet has all kinds of French tennis players to share his tennis wunderkind burden with and Murray has only 242nd ranked Alex Bogdanovic.

Gasquet got another break point on Murray’s first service game in the second set when Murray fooled around with a cute approach shot that went into the net. Gasquet got the break to go up 2-0 and held onto the break to take a two sets to none lead. Serving at 2-2 in the third set, Murray faced another break point and saved it with an ace. He fought off two more break points with serve and volley tennis – a much better strategical response than those cutesy drop shots. If Murray wasn’t going to hit a few hammer backhands down the line himself, at least he could get to the net.

Murray won that game and the United Kingdom let out a huge sigh of relief but the Kingdom was still a bit worried about their boy. Could he actually play aggressively when he really needed to? Not quite. He held his serve in fits and starts and fought off more break points until he finally gave out to go down another break at 4-5 in a game which he started off with another cute shot into the net.

Gasquet now served for the match and Murray finally hit a few solid ground strokes and broke Gasquet for the first time. I’m tempted to say that Murray had hung around just long enough for Gasquet to start making errors. After hitting only three errors in each of the first two sets, Gasquet hit nine in the third and one of them was a double fault on that break point. But it wasn’t quite like that. Murray fought off more break points to hold in the next game and Murray’s resolve seemed to deflate Gasquet.

Gasuet hit two errors in succession to go down 0-3 in the third set tiebreaker. He fought back but then came the coup de grace and it was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. On his first set point, Murray hit a short return that pulled Gasquet to the net. Murray followed that up with a short response and Gasquet hit a volley at such a sharp angle that Murray ended up teetering on the edge of the stands by the time the point was over. Before he got there, though, he flicked a backhand that went well behind Gasquet and ended up almost in the middle of the court.

I can’t remember anyone so visibly and expressively lift himself and everyone else in a stadium as Murray did in those last few games. If we end up looking at a very successful career when he retires, the image of his upturned howling head and the tangible desire after every saved break point will end up characterizing him as a player. And the comparison is compelling because here is Gasquet, who is just recovering from a bout of “why am I out here?” giving away a two set lead to someone who would never think to ask such a question.

Murray kept rolling. He broke Gasquet to go up 2-1 in the fourth set and actually started scorching a few ground strokes. He broke Gasquet one more time to win the set 6-2 but Gasquet didn’t go away. He fought off four break points before giving up a break in the first game of the fifth set and he fought off four more break points in the set. But he couldn’t break back and Murray had come through. This was the feature match as far as his home crowd was concerned and Murray not only got there but he played the match of his life to win it.

After Murray won the last point of the match, he lifted his sleeve and showed off his noticeable right bicep just to remind everyone that his strength and conditioning are just fine, thank you very much. Gasquet complained about the crowd noise and the dying light in the fifth set in what was a show of frustration more than anything, but his recovery is going well and I’d like to think that he’ll mature into his prodigious talent just as Murray seems to be figuring out how to play this game. If so, then we’ve just seen a preview of a rivalry waiting for us when the current Wimbledon rivalry has passed.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 206 user reviews.

Allya Kudryavtseva, Janko Tipsarevic, and Zheng Jie wiped out their top ten opponents at Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova was down 2-5 and serving to stay in the first set when she looped a high forehand to her opponent, Alla Kudryavtseva. Kudryavtseva took the looper and slammed it for a winner. What was Sharapova doing footsying around when she was barely hanging in the match? On the next point she unaccountably sent a routine backhand wide to give Kudryavtseva a set point.

It seems to me that I asked this question earlier this week – was it during the Marat Safin/Novak Djokovic match? I think so. I think it came after Djokovic managed to break Safin only to slide back into oblivion and lose the third set, and match, with very little of his trademark fight or orneriness. So here’s that question again: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Here’s the answer: there’s a disease going round this year’s version of Wimbledon. The disease renders its victims incapable of finding rhythm on grass and, in the more seriously afflicted, strangely unable to dredge up their fighting spirit. Djokovic and Sharapova are known as fighters above all else.

On set point, Sharapova hit a hard serve right on the service line – unusual enough in itself because she’d already had five double faults by this time – and Kudryavtseva shanked the ball. Unfortunately the shanked ball turned into a wicked drop shot that took Sharapova wide and Kudryavtseva had the first set.

The origin of the disease isn’t hard to track down. Kudryavtseva could have coughed up that point. Balls that bounce off the chalk and die on the grass can throw off your rhythm, but it’s the lower ranked players who are dealing well with the conditions, not the top ten players. Take double faults for instance: Kudryatseva had three of them in the first game of the second set and went down a break immediately but it didn’t seem to throw her game off.

She kept going for shots and played more than credible defense – not a skill that Sharapova has in spades and also the slightest hint that these younger players have, if not an all-round game, more than enough power and defense to knock off anyone. And they’re not shy either. Check out this exchange between the 154th ranked Kudryavtseva and a journalist at her post-match media session:

Q. How significant was it, especially to beat Sharapova?
ALLA KUDRYAVTSEVA: It’s very pleasant to beat your — you know, Maria.

Q. Why?
ALLA KUDRYAVTSEVA: Why? Well, I don’t like her outfit. Can I put it this way?

Whoa, throw down some smack why don’t you? Meanwhile, Sharapova kept hitting double faults as if she was suffering from a group hysteria brought on by the trauma of the depth and breadth of competition in tennis today. And it isn’t just coming from the younger players.

Janko Tipsarevic is 24 years old and just keeps getting better. Tipsarevic pushed Roger Federer to 10-8 in the third set at the Australian Open before losing and this week he went one better by winning the last three sets of his match with Andy Roddick. Roddick hasn’t looked good here. His shoulder isn’t 100%, true enough, but he hasn’t gone past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon since 2006 and grass is his best surface.

Zheng Jie thrashed number one ranked Ana Ivanovic, 6-1, 6-4, and Ivanovic was defending semifinal points. Ivanovic already had the disease: but for a fortuitous net cord, she should have lost to 97th ranked Natalie Dechy. Zheng is ranked number 133 herself but she’s been as high as number 27. She missed the second half of last year with an ankle injury.

I’m looking around to see if there are any other upsets on the horizon. Who’s left in the top five? David Ferrer went out to Mario Ancic but that wasn’t much of an upset, so Federer is the next best guess because no one is steamrolling Nadal. Marion Ancic beat Federer on grass in 2002.

It couldn’t happen again, right?

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 210 user reviews.

Marat Safin dropped so low in the rankings that he had to go through qualifying to get into the Hamburg Masters event. Somehow, though, he managed to resurrect himself long enough to take out Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.

Omigod, Marat Safin beat Novak Djokovic in the second round at Wimbledon today! What is going on? Is Marat a bit chuffed that his baby sister Dinara Safina just played the grand slam of her life at the French Open? Was he afraid that his sister might overtake his slam total of two? Does he want to send a reminder to the top three that he was once Roger Federer’s main competitor?

Maybe he read that Nole signed up with CAA (Creative Arts Agency) – the Los Angeles based uber-talent agency that currently represents David Beckham, George Clooney, and Marilyn Manson, among many others – and it pissed him off because he never signed with CAA and he has the same manager as Nole.

Maybe, but the wind, a bit of idolatry, the pressure, and some mental fatigue also helped.

The wind made it hard to find a rhythm and Nole never did find his rhythm. He was broken at love to go down 3-4 in the first set and by this time Nole had already hit four double faults and traded breaks with Marat. It wasn’t just Nole screwing up, though; he went for big second serves because Marat was eating up his second serve. On the other hand, Nole hit ten double faults in the match so clearly he wasn’t feeling so good. Marat held on to the break to win the first set 6-4.

Jeez, Marat has the prettiest two-hander in the game and I have missed that shot so much since he’s devolved into the 75th ranked player on tour. It’s the most efficient stroke in tennis. He simply takes the racket back and follows through with a short, sweet stroke. That shot kept him even in the second set as neither player was broken

In the tiebreaker, Nole looked out of sorts. He sent a forehand long and followed that up with an easy backhand into the net to go down 1-4 but, again, he had help. Safin put a very good wide serve back into play. By now Nole should have been expecting that but he wasn’t and he got some bad luck too. He hit a shot that landed on the baseline but was called out and, on the replay, Marat his a pretty drop volley.

Marat Safin was now up two sets to none over Novak Djokovic and we were starting to look for explanations. Nole had a mix of contradictory emotions going through his head. He had the pressure of keeping up with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He’d played, and lost, to Nadal in his last three tournaments and they were critical matches because he could have passed Nadal in the rankings had he won.

The pressure led to mental fatigue, which he admitted after the match, and he was also playing a man he’d idolized:

I looked at him as one of the greatest players, one of the idols. I admired the way he plays. …I have a lot of respect for him. Maybe that played a roll today in the match.

He not only idolized Marat but he has yet to win a set off him. Nole won only three games in their only previous match at the 2005 Australian Open. He was 17 at the time and it was his first slam so that match shouldn’t count, but I’m looking for anything to explain Nole’s lack of fight. He won two games in the third set and ended the match with a double fault as Marat won the match, 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2.

There’s the opposite side of pressure too. Nole knew that Marat had seldom put consecutive wins together this year and he was thrown off when a different Marat turned up on court. And it was a Marat who had no pressure at all because no one expected anything of him. He hadn’t even looked at his draw beyond Nole. Why should he? He acted like he took a tranquilizer before the match. Except for a few swings at the ball after an error, there was no mental instability to be found. After the match, same thing. Not even an impish grin. All you saw was a tennis player under control.

If that wasn’t shocking enough, there were also his motor skills. He hasn’t played well since returning to the tour from a knee injury in 2006. Before the injury he was ranked in the top five but he hasn’t gone above number 22 since. He just doesn’t have the explosiveness he used to have and he’s never played well on grass.

We can explain away the grass by remembering that grass ain’t what it used to be. It’s much slower now and Marat gave thanks for that after the match. But how do we explain his court coverage and dead on return of serve?

Throw in a bad day for Nole and a resurrection for Marat and that will have to do.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 218 user reviews.

Andy Murray won his first round match at Wimbledon today. Can he get to the quarterfinals?

Wimbledon is in full bloom and I see that our favorite player here at Tennis Diary, Benjamin Becker, took Nikolay Davydenko out in straight sets in the first round. With Becker’s huge serve, that’s a match he should win and we’ll all be pretty happy if he gets back to winning matches like that because his ranking should be in the top fifty. I feel bad because I’ve stopped following his career but he’s gotta give me some reason to follow it and I think he eventually will.

Meanwhile, I want to see if Andy Murray has what it takes to get to the quarterfinals this year which is what I’m expecting him to do. At first, I thought about answering the question: Can Murray win Wimbledon, but it’s pretty clear he can. He has a good record on fast surfaces and he has the single-minded competitiveness you need to win a slam. He also has the orneryness you need to deal with the U.K. media – in other words, he’s not too nice.

Okay, so what about the quarterfinals, his probably endpoint as his opponent in that round would be Rafael Nadal? Here are the variables:

Injures: I think Murray will always be dogged by injuries. He fell on his thumb, for heaven’s sake, at Queen’s, but it appears to be alright. If it doesn’t rain too hard, he should be able to get through five matches this year without splitting his pants and possibly straining something else, and next year there’ll be a roof over center court and since he’s Britain’s great hope, he can expect to play on that court much of the time. In fact, Fabrice Santoro played the first match in his 19 year career on center court at Wimbledon by dint of drawing Murray as his first round opponent.

Serve: Good enough. He popped a 136mph (219kph) in his match with Santoro. In didn’t go in but so what?

Aggression: Murray’s former coach, Brad Gilbert, thinks Murray should be more aggressive and that’s good enough for me. Here is the golf metaphor he used while watching Murray play Santoro:

He has the ability to be aggressive and he sometimes, under pressure, keeps that club in his bag.

Instead on aggression, Murray prefers the drop shot. He’d won the first two sets and was even at 4-4 in the second set when he got an open court to hit to. Instead of flattening the ball out and putting the ball away, he floated a short drop shot over the net. Murray won the point but it left a ball in play that should never have been in play. It’s also a stroke that might work against a 35 year old player at the end of his career – Santoro, but isn’t likely to scare someone like Nadal in the least.

In the next game, Murray had Santoro down 0-30, one point away from getting a match point, when he sent a wayward, high-floating drop shot beyond the sideline. You could hear a collective groan from the crowd that fairly cried out, “Andy, would you please just hit the damn ball!” Maybe this is why he doesn’t do it: at deuce, he had an open court down the line but he swung hard with the two-hander and hit nothing but net.

He repeated the pattern in the third set tiebreaker only worse. At 2-2 in the tiebreaker, he dipped down to one knee to hit a low drop shot that skipped off the top of the net and managed to land just a few inches inside the lines. It was an entirely stupid choice on a point that could have put him down a minibreak. On his second match point, he slammed a soft second serve from Santoro right into the net. I would need to see a whole more of those slammed shots make their way over the net and a larger percentage of those shots make up his repertoire before I’m willing to crown him with a Wimbledon title.

He did get aggressive in one area, however. He made 35 appearances at the net and converted 69% of those points which is a good set of numbers.

Temper: Santoro can drive the most sane tennis player crazy with his two-handed forehand slice and net approaches on return of serve, but Murray kept his cool.

The Draw: Richard Gasquet could be his fourth round opponent and he looked very sharp against Mardy Fish today. Murray is 0-2 against Gasquet on hard court and he’ll have a harder time coming to the net against him. At the moment, though, I’d say that Murray’s head is screwed on a lot tighter than Gasquet’s, so yeah, I think he can get to the quarterfinals. What do you think?

Here and There

Olga Savchuck was down 3-6, 0-5, to Jelena Jankovic when she took off to cover a forehand crosscourt and hit a running drop shot, no lie, and she didn’t even stop after she hit it. She never broke stride as she followed it up with a dash to the net to cover Jankovic’s response – which never came. Savchuck lost the set and the match but, wow, I’ve never seen that before.

Andy Roddick had no trouble getting past Eduardo Schwank in straight sets but I’m a bit unsettled about his chances of getting to the semifinals. He spent the Wimbledon run-up rehabbing a shoulder injury and when he talked about his shoulder after the match, he was noncommittal:

Shoulder feels all right. Yeah, I feel good. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to be perfect. But, you know, I did all right considering. You know, it pulled up all right. Yeah, I mean, probably as good as can be expected.

Jeez, make up your mind will ya? For my part, if I’m a gambler or – as I am – a fantasy tennis prognosticator, I want an MRI or at least an x-ray before I plunk my money down or pick him for my team. With a cranky shoulder and a less than perfect serve, he’ll have a harder time getting past his next opponent, Janko Tipsarevic. Remember Roger Federer’s muckup at the Australian Open that went to 10-8 in the fifth set? Federer may not have been feeling top level because he was suffering through a bout of mini-mononucleosis, but Tipsarevic refused to go away and a long match like that might be the end of Roddick.

Speaking of Benni Becker’s win over Davydenko: what was Davydenko thinking? He skipped the grass court tournaments to play on clay in Warsaw and he had fourth round Wimbledon points to defend. That means he’ll lose his number four ranking. By the way, in his post-match media session he was asked 17 questions and 11 of them were about match-fixing. It’s not like he’s the only player to have a suspicious betting pattern turn up in his match, you know?

The problem is that Betfair voided the bets on his match in Sopot, Poland, last year even though it had never voided all bets on a match before and it hasn’t done it since. Instead, if Betfair thinks a match is suspicious, it pays off the bettors and alerts the ATP to a possible problem. Meanwhile, the ATP has a list of matches with suspicious betting patterns and the names of players who’ve been involved in repeated suspicious matches thanks to Ben Gunn and Jeff Rees, the authors of the “Environmental Review of Integrity in Professional Tennis” which was released last month.

Davydenko’s match was definitely suspicious, but as long as the list of other suspicious matches is kept private, he’ll be the focus of all gambling questions and that’s rather unfair.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 184 user reviews.

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

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This week’s submission deadline is Monday, June 23, 7am (EST) in the U.S./1pm (CET) in Europe.

Yes it’s time for Wimbledon, the second grand slam event in the fantasy tennis season. We need eight players for our fantasy team so we need two players from each quarter – the quarterfinalists. Spend a lot of time picking your team because each slam pays more than twice as much as any other event on the schedule.

Wimbledon draw (grass, first prize: $1, 462, 500)

At a quick glance my job looks pretty easy today. All I have to do is pick Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Roddick then find four other players to round out my team. Let’s see if that’s true.

In the top half of Federer’s quarter, Lleyton Hewitt has lost his last 11 matches to Federer, Fernando Gonzalez is 1-11 against Federer lifetime, and Robin Soderling and Gael Monfils have never gone past the 3rd round here. Federer looks safe to get to the quarterfinals.

In the bottom half of Federer’s quarter, there are three players who have a good chance to get to the quarterfinals: Philipp Kohlschreiber, Mario Ancic, and David Ferrer. Tomas Berdych reached the quarterfinals last year but he hasn’t played well since coming back from injury. This is a tough choice. Ancic has reached the quarterfinals and semifinals here. Ferrer has never gone past the fourth round but he beat Ancic this week in s’Hertogenbosch and he’s 2-0 over Ancic. Kohlschreiber reached the final at Halle and has an excellent record on grass but he’s never gone past the third round here and he lost in the first round last year.

I’m going with Ferrer though I’m a bit nervous about it because that means that I’ll probably be picking five of the top eight seeds to reach the quarterfinals. There is a precedent: last year there were five top eight seeds in the quarterfinals; in fact, all of the quarterfinalists last year were seeded.

Djokovic looks safe in the top half of his quarter. Juan Martin Del Potro reached the semifinals at s’Hertogenbosch this week but he’s no match for Djokovic.

In the bottom half of Djokovic’s quarter there is one good possibility and a few questions. Marcos Baghdatis has reached the quarterfinals and the semifinals in the past two years and he got to the quarterfinals at Halle last week before losing to Federer. Ivo Karlovic and David Nalbandian are the questions. Karlovic won the Nottingham event this week, reached the quarterfinals before losing to Nadal at Queen’s last week, and regularly tears up the field at pre-Wimbledon events. And yet, the last time he went past the first round here was 2004. As for Nalbandian, these days you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. He reached the semifinals at Queen’s and beat Richard Gasquet along the way, but he just doesn’t look like he’s in shape.

I’m nervous about Baghdatis because his results are not good this year and he dropped out of the Surbiton grass challenger with an ankle injury. But he did well at Halle and he may have dropped out of Surbiton because he didn’t like the prospect of the playing the second round on indoor hard court where it was switched due to rain. I’m going with Baghdatis.

Will Roddick be the fourth semifinalist along with Federer, Djokovic and Nadal? Maybe not but he should get to the quarterfinals. Except for a third round loss to Andy Murray two years ago, he’s reached the quarterfinals or better the past five years. James Blake is in Roddick’s section and he beat him on grass two years ago but that was back when Roddick was struggling mightily. Dmitry Tursunov is a good grass court player but he’s never beaten Roddick on a fast court. Roddick has beaten Nicolas Mahut both times they’ve met and Mahut is having a terrible year on grass. Roddick it is.

The bottom half of Roddick’s quarter is a jumble. Paul-Henri Mathieu beat Maric Cilic – his possible second round opponent – in the first round at Queen’s last week. Then Cilic turned around and beat him in the first round at Nottingham this week. Jonas Bjorkman and Nikolay Davydenko are also in this section. Bjorkman reached the semifinals here last year but he’s not playing well this year and Davydenko is unreliable on grass.

I’m going to pick between Mathieu and Cilic. Mathieu beat Radek Stepanek, David Ferrer, and Ivan Ljubicic before losing to Roddick here last year but he’s 1-2 on grass this year. He also beat Cilic in Munich and Miami this year but all four of their matches have gone three sets. I’m going out on a limb and picking Cilic because Mathieu has a lifetime losing record on grass and I think Cilic is better on this surface. Cilic is also 2-0 over Davydenko and reached the semifinals at Nottingham.

Nadal is one obvious choice in his quarter. There isn’t anyone in his section who can threaten him.

In the other half of Nadal’s quarter, Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray look the strongest. Gasquet is recovering slowly from his recent malaise. He did reach the quarterfinals at Queen’s but only the second round at s’Hertogenbosch. Those are similar to his results last year and he followed that up with a semifinals here but I think he’s still in recovery so I don’t expect him to do as well this year. Murray has had his usual assortment of injuries recently – he fell on his thumb and withdrew after reaching the quarterfinals at Queen’s, but he beat Roddick here last year in the fourth round and I think he’s ready to move on to the quarterfinals so I’m picking him.

Federer, Ferrer, Djokovic, Baghdatis, Roddick, Cilic, Murray, Nadal.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 283 user reviews.