Thursday, 15 November 2012


A seventh Wimbledon championship, five ATP titles, an Olympic silver medal and a 16-week spell as world No.1, breaking the record of Pete Sampras for most weeks at the top spot.  Not a bad year for a 31-year-old.

It has been another memorable season for Roger Federer.  By his high standards, it might not be up there with 2006 when he posted a 92-5 match record, winning 12 titles in the process, but it is a remarkable effort from someone who is supposed to be reaching the twilight of his career.

It was just a few weeks ago after being defeated in the final of his hometown tournament, the Swiss Indoors in Basel, by Juan Martin Del Potro that some rather hastily wondered once again if we were witnessing the beginning of the end for the great champion.

Federer provided the perfect response with his performances at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.  He followed up his impressive win over Andy Murray in the semi-finals by playing his part in a match against Novak Djokovic which produced some of the best tennis seen this year.  Federer may have lost but showed he can still compete at the highest level.

As much as players maintain they don’t take any notice of what is in the newspapers, the doubts from some about Federer’s capability to win the biggest titles will not have gone unnoticed within his camp.  After his win over Murray in the Wimbledon final this year, you couldn’t help feel that he was just as, if not more satisfied about proving so many wrong people wrong as he was about the records he was breaking in the process.

“I reflect in a nice way,” Federer said as he looked back on 2012.  “I think it’s been a fantastic season to be part of.  Four different Grand Slam champs.  Then having the Olympics, as well, was obviously very unique.  I’m very happy I stayed injury-free throughout.  That allowed me to basically play a full schedule almost.

“I’m very pleased that I was able to pick up my performance at the end of the season, like I played now this week [in London].  So [it] obviously gives me confidence for next year.”

Ranked No.2, Federer is still right up there and in the mix at any tournament.  His astounding record of reaching 34 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals – which is still ongoing – is a testament to his consistency and longevity.

Some still feel to this day that if Federer plays his best tennis, he will win any match against any opponent.  That may or may not be the case, but the fact is that these days he does not play his best tennis as regularly as he may once have done.

Having achieved just about everything in the sport and with a wife and two young children to look after, what fuels the motivation to continue playing?

“I think it’s the love for the game, the appreciation I get from the crowds, I guess playing for records from time to time, playing against different types of generations and playing styles,” he said.  “The game has evolved sort of over the last, what has it been, 13 years I’ve been on tour, 14 maybe.  It’s changed quite a bit ever since.

“I think you need inspiration, motivation from different angles to keep you going because it ain’t that simple just to wake up every morning and go for another travel around the world, another practice, all these other things, another fitness workout, another stretch.

“It’s always nice, but you need to have some success and you need to have the right reasons why you’re doing it.  I think I’ve always been able to do that and I really enjoy myself out on the court.”

Competing against Djokovic, Murray and Nadal in what is generally regarded as the strongest ever era in men’s tennis also helps to keep the fire burning.  “It’s part of the puzzle that makes me motivated, trying to play against them,” said Federer.  “But Novak, Andy and Rafa are not the only guys out there.  I’m trying to play against many other guys.

“I love playing against particularly young guys as well just because too many sometimes I’m an idol, which is very strange to me, to be honest.  But it is nice seeing them grow, see what the next generation comes up with, what kind of playing style.”

Federer has seen quite a contrast in the playing style from his early days on tour in the late 1990s to now.  With fast courts now as rare as an ice cube in the Sahara, serve and volley is near extinction, something which Federer is clearly saddened about.

“It’s only on this type of slow courts that you can defend the way we are all doing right now,” he said.  “I think it’s exciting, but no doubt about it, it’s tough.  What you don’t want is that you hit 15 great shots and at the end, it ends up in an error.

“So I think sometimes quicker courts do help the cause.  I think it would help from time to time to move to something a bit faster.  That would help to learn, as well, for many different players, different playing styles, to realize that coming to the net is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.

“Then again, the tour has to decide, the tournament directors have a big say in it.

“I’ve played on all different speeds.  But I think some variety would be nice, some really slow stuff and then some really fast stuff, instead of trying to make everything sort of the same.  You sort of protect the top guys really by doing that because you have the best possible chance to have them in the semis at this point, I think.

“But that should be the goal? I’m not sure.”

As the president of the ATP Players Council, Federer has a key role as the elder statesman off the court representing his fellow professionals.  He was one of the leading voices in the calls for a longer off-season, which was granted with an extra two weeks from this year onwards.

But with an increasing amount of exhibitions popping up over the next two months, some now question the real motives of the players in wanting more time off.  Over the course of the next month, Djokovic plays in Slovakia and Brazil, Murray in Miami and Federer himself will play a four-date South American tour.

“That’s the beauty of an off-season, you’re allowed to do whatever the hell you want,” he countered.  “I think that’s what’s nice, instead of having such a congested space where you can just barely take enough rest.

“Now if players want to play some matches, wherever it may be, that’s their choice.  If you want to rest for six weeks, just don’t do anything, you can do that as well, which was not possible in the past.  I think it’s definitely good.

“Now obviously it’s the responsibility of the players to not make errors and keep on playing, never to rest, all those things.  But at least it’s their choice, I find, which is a good thing

“I know I’m playing exhibitions, but I think my situation is pretty unique.  I’ve never been to South America as a professional tennis player.  Couldn’t be more excited now for that trip.  But I made sure I have a two-week vacation before that.

“So for me that is even the beginning of the build-up and the workouts.  And on top of it, it’s a lot of fun.  Plus I’m not playing any exhibitions after that, like I have in the past.  I’m not playing the first week of the year either.

“Basically I’ve given myself enough space.  It’s about just making sure you manage your schedule correctly.”

Federer has still to confirm his tournament schedule for next year.  Having turned 31 this year, played 600 matches and served 12 years on the tour, he will have the luxury of being able to play as many or as few Masters 1000 events as he wants.  It will be interesting to see how he works that into his schedule.

There is the possibility that he may not play a tournament before the Australian Open, having opted out of Doha where he traditionally warms up for the first grand slam of the year.  It shall also be intriguing to see if he commits to Switzerland’s Davis Cup World Group tie against the Czech Republic which takes place in Geneva just five days after the conclusion of the Australian Open.

“I first have to make sure I create my schedule so it makes sense for my practice schedule,” said Federer.  “I need to practice a whole lot more next year, because this year, I hardly did have an opportunity to do.  I have some catching up to do in that standpoint.”

Monday, 5 November 2012


Back to London once again it is.

In what has been quite a year for sport in the city, it is somewhat fitting that a memorable season in men’s tennis shall conclude here over the coming eight days at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic may arrive at the O2 Arena with a few aches and pains after a long and demanding year, but none are lacking in motivation to give it one last push to finish on a high at the end-of-season championships, which this year immediately follows the Paris Masters 1000 event.

The removal of the seven day gap between Paris and London was not ideal.  Paris particularly suffered as only one of the eight players who had qualified for London made it past the quarter-finals, while the fact the eight-man field was not confirmed until Thursday created new challenges for tournament organisers in London.

The schedule is always a notable topic of conversation around this stage of the season, and although it has predictably come up during the course of numerous press conferences, it is the theme of drug testing which appears to be most prominent after Murray’s comments in Paris in which he called for more blood testing in tennis.

Murray then spent part of this week defending himself on Twitter against cycling fans who had taken issue with his comments on the lower level of skill required in cycling compared to tennis.  But while he may have upset some of the cycling fraternity, he will be happy to have received the backing of Federer who agreed with his thoughts on the lack of testing in tennis.

Federer said: “I feel I am being less tested this time now than six, seven, eight years ago.  I don’t know the exact reasons why we are being tested less.  At this moment, I agree with Andy.  We don’t do a lot of blood testing during the year.  I am OK having more of that.

“I think we should up it a little bit or a lot because I think it is key and vital that the sport stays clean.  It has got to.  We have got a good history in that and we have got to make sure it stays that way.”

The attention will turn to the court today when the action gets underway with Murray vs Berdych in Group A.  The nature of the format means that the Brit cannot afford a slow start in a group also containing Djokovic and Tsonga.

It is rare for Murray to let a winning position pass him by, but that is exactly what has happened in his three tournaments since winning the US Open in September.  In Tokyo vs Milos Raonic, Shanghai vs Djokovic and Paris vs Jerzy Janowicz, Murray has had match points in all three before going on to lose.

It is something Murray will have no doubt discussed with coach Ivan Lendl who is in town this week.

Murray said: “I am aware how hard it is to finish matches off.  It is not an easy thing to do.  I don’t feel in the match against Novak that I did too much wrong.  I was disappointed with last week [Paris], I don’t feel that I focused as hard I needed to when I was serving for the match.

“That’s something this week that I will make sure I play every point at a time, take my time and fight for every single point because they all count for the same at the end of the match.  I will need to try and do a better job of that.”

The draw guarantees episode 17 of the Djokovic vs Murray rivalry will be held in London.  Much has been made of this as the new leading rivalry in the sport ahead of Federer vs Nadal.  The crowd will be delighted if the encounter between the two 25-year-olds this week is anything like their epic meetings this year in Melbourne, New York and Shanghai.

Djokovic, who is guaranteed to finish the year as world No.1, arrives in London on the back of a shock defeat in his first match in Paris last week to Sam Querrey. The Serb admitted he is dealing with some “issues” at present, although he wished not to divulge any more details.  Reports from Belgrade last week said that his father was being treated in hospital for an acute respiratory illness.

Although Djokovic and Murray will be heavily fancied to progress, Berdych and Tsonga should not immediately be ruled out of the running.  A good week in London for Berdych would be the perfect confidence booster ahead of next week’s Davis Cup Final in Prague between Czech Republic and Spain, while Tsonga will be aiming to go one better after his three-set defeat to Federer in the final here last year.

Federer arrives in London as some begin to wonder again if this really is the beginning of the end for the great champion.  It may be unwise to think such a thing given that the 31-year-old proved so many people wrong just four months ago by winning his seventh Wimbledon title and reclaiming the world No.1 spot.

There are no easy draws at an event like this but it is acknowledged that Federer will be happy with how his group has turned out, although it will provide a rerun of the recent Basel final in which Federer suffered a surprise defeat on home soil to Del Potro in three sets.

While it was a sore one for the Swiss, it was a massive win for Del Potro, who has battled back after a number of injury setbacks, and it will give the Argentine the belief that he can do it again in London.

Ferrer arrives from Paris after winning his first Masters 1000 title at the age of 30, an achievement many in the sport feel is nothing short of well deserved, while Tipsarevic’s solid and consistent play all season has earned him a place after the withdrawal of Rafael Nadal.

Jonathan Marray ensures that there will be added home interest in this year’s doubles event as he and Danish partner Frederik Nielsen take their place in the draw, earned after teaming up as wild cards to win at Wimbledon, and the Brit will fear nobody after teaming up with Paul Hanley to beat Bob & Mike Bryan in Paris last week.

Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins are also on site as the first alternates.  Considering that it is 13 years since an alternate pairing played a match at the end-of-season championships, the chances of the British pair getting some match time may be remote, but the experience of being around the venue and the opportunities to practice with Murray can only be good.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Take a look at the results in British men’s tennis this week for an indicator of where the level of the game is currently at in this country.  It provides a more realistic view than solely judging it by results on the first two days of Wimbledon.

Jamie Baker’s first-round win in Bath today is just one of two Challenger singles main draw wins by British players so far in 2012 – the other was Alex Bogdanovic’s first-round victory in Dallas last month.

Three of the other four Brits in the main draw - 18-year-old wild card Liam Broady plays tomorrow - failed to win a set in their first-round matches.

In qualifying for Bath, which is one of four Challenger events to be held in the UK this year, just one Brit out of 18 reached the final qualifying round – Ed Corrie who failed to make it to the main draw.

To be fair to James Ward and Dan Evans, it was a tough task for the Davis Cup teammates to come through Miami Masters qualifying, which is a draw with effectively the same standard as a high-level Challenger. 

Ward had a good win over Andrey Golubev but failed to get past Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the final qualifying round, while Evans lost his first match to Bjorn Phau.

I am certainly not slating the British players.  If you look at the individual match-ups, many of their opponents were favourites by form and ranking.   I am just looking at the bigger picture.

Ward is actually the only Brit to have won a Challenger - two in Lexington and Vancouver last year - since Bogdanovic was the champion in Kolding, Denmark in October 2009.

The future admittedly does look brighter at junior level, but we will not be seeing any more British men joining Andy Murray in the top 100 until this barrier at Challenger level is overcome.