Monday, January 16, 2017

Australian Open Day 1: Where it all begins


Yes, it’s the first day of the main draw and overall it was a mixed day results wise though for others it may have been fantastic.

As it was warm today, the courts are quicker with the balls much harder than usual making the conditions quicker than usual at the Aus Open. Nadal would have had fun with his forehand getting the ball to jump high to the opponents backhand.

Naturally all the matches I wanted to see where on at the same time, so as per usual I managed to get some help with some matches which is always appreciated.

Estrella Burgos vs. Bedene

Wouldn’t say this was my first choice of an opener but we take what we’re given. This match was between the out of form and the underdone. Towards the end of last season Estrella Burgos was in very poor form hardly winning matches and Bedene seemed to have some injury issues.

All things considered this wasn’t a bad match which essentially came down to whose weaknesses would hold under pressure better. Estrella Burgos for a small guy has a good serve and a heavy forehand which was getting some good bounce but he slices that backhand almost as much as Emilio Sanchez.

Bedene is the much better overall player but he was struggling especially on the forehand side. It would be a case of two or three forehands, then an error into the net and the odd one long for some variation.

Estrella has never won a match here and the first set was key for this to happen. Both players were very tight but the Dominican manages to take it. After this his self belief grows, he is opening the court up well with his forehand using the slice backhand to stay in the point most of the time.



While the Dominican’s confidence grows there is still the feeling that the extra class of Bedene especially on this surface will get him through but Estrella Burgos gets the 2nd set has a letdown in the 3rd and Bedene strolls through it to love, there is definitely a bit of tanking going on.

Bedene had an early break in the 4th but Estrella Burgos has switched back on mentally, fighting hard making Bedene hit extra shots and his forehand is really just breaking down which Estrella Burgos is taking advantage of just getting one more ball back.

Estrella Burgos eventually takes the match and delighted with his first ever win in Australia. Sure it always seemed that Bedene would get this done, it’s great the veteran Estrella Burgos got the victory and Bedene left the court swearing loudly in Slovenian as he knew this was a lost opportunity.

Robert vs. Lajovic

This is a big year for Stephane Robert to back up his great 2016 season and this on paper was a winnable match, though anyone with a functioning brain cell knows matches aren’t won on paper.

Lajovic started well and was able to adjust to the faster and higher bouncing courts using his forehand to dominate in the rallies. The enigmatic Frenchman who has gone back to his original coach was struggling to deal with the balls flying and since he has a low margin of error, the adjustments that needed to be made weren’t.

The Serbian who had a loud but fair fan base were cheering him on and he was enjoying the conditions not making many errors. Robert wasn’t serving well enough, not able to hit the groundstrokes with enough penetration often enough to trouble Lajovic.

There was an incident at 30 all in a service game of Lajovic where a ball girl fainted on court. Straight away Lajovic grabbed the girl and took her into the shade, made sure she was looked after before continuing play.

After the break in play the match continued in the same pattern with Lajovic solid from the baseline being the aggressor. Robert was too inconsistent to put pressure on Lajovic and when he managed to break in the 3rd he lost it straight away.

There were a couple of shocking overrules against Robert at vital times, one of them was on his break point, the ball was clearly long which would have given Robert the break. Who knows whether that changes the momentum or not, but there has to be a clear mistake for an overrule, except it was a ball width out, yet called in.

It wasn’t a great performance by Robert but Lajovic was just too good overall.

Jaziri vs. Soeda

This match report comes via my friend Sammy since I have not been cloned and can’t be in a few places at once.

Jaziri has definitely slimmed down significantly and was able to have a solid 2016 through playing mostly on the main tour with some Challengers. He was playing well and was able to expose the Soeda forehand, he is in many ways the typical Asian hardcourt player bar Nishikori or Daniel where there isn’t much margin for error in their groundstrokes. When it’s on, then it’s very difficult to play but when off it’s a festival of errors.


Jaziri

The Tunisian is a very talented player when it comes to ball striking and creativity with the ball, but was never the fittest or best trainer around. He has managed to lose some of the beef in the second set he served for it, he played a poor game and was broken. Jaziri was able to overcome that setback and now plays the talented young Russian Bublik who is representing Kazakhstan who upset Pouille.

Cuevas vs. Schwartzmann

There really isn’t that much I can say about this match that is positive for Cuevas. The Boca Juniors fanatic Schwartzmann is now coached by Chubby Chela, so his grinding skills should improve and Chela is someone while not the most exciting to watch was able to maximise his ability which is all you can ask for a player.

Schwartzmann was very solid from the baseline and this pressured Cuevas into error. Some players enjoy when they are pressured whereas others like Cuevas tend to struggle plus he is much better on slower hardcourts. The last set just wasn’t good enough.

Chela summed it up well. “Yes, Diego played well but Pablo was really really bad”. Though after doubles Cuevas will have some time for surfing, definitely it won’t be at St Kilda beach.

Seppi vs. Mathieu

You knew it was coming there is no Aus Open report from here without some Seppi coverage. Both of these lads got married at the same time, definitely Mathieu is in the southern part of his career and Seppi might not be too far away.

This was Seppi’s first match of the season after getting married, growing a magnificent beard. He decided to take a 1 month holiday to Fiji and New Zealand with his new wife. He has played so many tournaments over the years that the extended break will work.

It wasn’t a great match but it was good for Seppi to get a hitout though Mathieu wasn’t exactly giving rhythm. It was ballbashing Paul-Henri style though with less patience than before after 3 strokes he’d go for the huge winner, there were times when it was happening and others where it was on the back fence.


Seppi


There was a memorable moment in the 3rd set when Mathieu won a point with a drop shot then he reverted back to the “Hands of Stone”. Seppi was never in any danger of losing this match, yes he had to save some break points but Mathieu was never going to be consistent enough to take advantage.

Seppi was glad to get through and for the first match of the season it wasn’t bad but don’t see him really challenging Kyrgios at all, though would love to be wrong.

Sela vs. Granollers

It’s not the Aussie Open without David Dudi Sela aka “The Hebrew Hammer” battling on the outside courts. Sela loves coming to Melbourne, every person that speaks Hebrew in Melbourne comes out to support him and he thrives on it.

Granollers can be a tricky customer with his defensive skills, sneaky forehand, and willingness to come to the net. They split the sets both of these guys will provide chances to break serve. The third set was going to be very important as I expected this one to go five.

Sela who won the Canberra Challenger last week, played well in Chennai in the first week has started the season strongly. Granollers is the guy who can play well from nowhere but Sela who thrives in loud atmospheres and the Israeli fans provide that. He was able to seize the initiative in the 3rd set not making errors, hitting deep and punishing the short balls from Granollers.


Dudi Sela

Sela who was willed on by the boisterous but fair Israeli crowd was loving it and steamrolled Granollers in the 4th set who didn’t even grunt on the slice backhand which he is famous for. The last set was just the Sela show.

After the match it took Sela at least 30 minutes to leave the court. He made sure he took photos with the fans on both sides of the court, shook as many hands as possible. He does this even when he loses but Sela has always been a likeable guy.

Sela will plays Lacko next and couldn’t get two more contrasting characters or games but that makes tennis interesting this plus it’s a brutal sport with no hiding when things are tough.

On a side note “The Mailman” John Millman is here working in the media doing commentary while doing rehab on his hip injury. Yes, he will be taking a Protected Ranking as he recovers.

That ends the grinding for Day 1 and same as it ever was.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Australian Open Qualifying : The circus has come to town

This is a bit delayed but this was due to technological failings. A laptop battery that was worse than Gimeno-Traver’s backhand on his worst day and a camera giving me more attitude than Fabio Fognini. So it wasn’t laziness this time but these issues have been fixed and since we have a rain delay it’s the time to update on my findings so far.

Qualies are among the best times to visit Slams unlike the others the Aussie Open qualies are free, this in addition the venue which keeps expanding, with courts disappearing and some existing ones getting upgrades. Apart from the coaches, spouses, the spectators tend to be the diehards, gamblers or people with little to do. This is where the simmering starts, the final day of qualies bring some heat as there is so much on the line. There is the extra purse, the additional points for making a main draw and if they are lucky win a match or two which can help kickstart the season.

1st Round

Kavcic vs. Donati: This wasn’t much of a match. While Kavcic had an excellent week in Bangkok, the foot has been playing up and in his own words he was lucky that Donati was injured. There were some back issues, he was hitting out a bit in the second set but went up for a serve, then retired.

Daniel vs. Setkic : Daniel after the Sevilla Challenger struggled to finish outside the top 100. He is definitely good enough to be solid lower end top 100 player with the odd big run in a 250 clay event though he does need to be more aggressive.


Taro Daniel

Setkic served for the set, but Daniel broke and once he managed to take the 1st set he was never in danger of losing. There are times when you play well and don’t win, an example I’ll expand on later in this piece and then there are the days where you only need to be less shit than the opponent. I like Taro Daniel he is a pretty cool guy, hope to interview him eventually. He has a tough one against Melzer next.

Ghem vs. Souza : Matches between fellow countrymen are never easy unless you’re the guy who is so much better than everyone else. There is a dynamic that makes it different to regular matches. Ghem started well but Souza was fighting hard and ready to pounce on any lapses by Ghem, which duly came in the 2nd set.

The third set was some good tennis thankfully it wasn’t marred by an overrule from Pascal Maria. In the game where Souza got the break it was 0-15, Ghem hits a skyhook smash which lands right on the baseline and Maria overrules to which Ghem isn’t amused.


Andre Ghem

Souza is serving for the match and Novo Hamburgo’s finest starts to become more aggressive especially as he was match point. Ghem starts playing closer to the service line which is what he should be doing, since he’s not exactly the fastest man around the court. At least a Brazilian is through.

Ruud vs. Gabashvili: The legend of Norwegian tennis and father of Casper Ruud is here, the great man Christian who made it to number 39 in the world. This is definitely a case of the kid having more talent, but best of all he has a good attitude on court for the most part.

For those people who don’t know Christian Ruud make the 4th round of the Aus Open on the old Rebound Ace he played against Goran Ivanisevic on a 43 degree day it went for ages as well. It was least 50 on the court, those were the days.

Gabashvili was hardly hitting his second serve and Ruud was taking advantage. It was a solid performance but he wasn’t happy with it, that’s a good sign he knows he can get better. At this age it’s about getting the experience. It wouldn’t surprise if he finished in the top 100 at the end of the year barring injuries. The match ended on a note when Gabashvili smashed a ball of court and it almost landed in Hisense.

Conflicting Emotions

Ghem vs Kibi : Novo Hamburgo’s finest started very slowly maybe he was thinking about the situation where it’s a huge opportunity instead of focusing on the job at hand. He lost the first set easily which was enough to wake Ghem up who was able to step up his game and win easily in the end. Credit to Tennisportalen for the photo below


Ghem through to the final round


Stepanek vs. Kavcic : The best match on paper and it was easily one of the best qualie matches I have seen. Next week there won’t be many first round matches better. Both of these guys without injuries are easily top 100 players. Stepanek, the man is so crafty someone who has made the most of his talent which is something to be admired. Kavcic the dogged fighter who hasn’t had a full year on the circuit for 3 years at least. He was battling foot problems, it’s a different issue to the foot which was operated on.

Steps made a solid start and Kavcic was finding it more difficult to hold on serve and this cost him in the end. In the 1st set the game he lost on serve apart from one shot was through a donation of errors.

Kavcic started playing better in the 2nd set he was able to hit better length on his shots making it more difficult for Stepanek to reach the net. In the early part Kavcic was hitting his backhand pass exclusively down the line, which the crafty Stepanek was awake to. They were playing some quality extended rallies opening the court up with Steps trying to get to the net as often as possible while Kavcic hit a couple of outstanding backhands lobs to keep him on his toes.

The Slovenian played a quality tiebreaker and was able to take it on probably the only backhand Stepanek missed for the match. At the start of the 3rd set he took a timeout to check on his foot, not sure that was the time to do it. Kavcic takes the early break but he has been serving issues with hitting faults into the net, the toss got too far out in front and or he wasn’t able to reach up to it.

They continue with the extended rallies with many angles, plenty of slices to vary it up and Steps threw in some well timed dropshots which worked to throw Kavcic out. The crafty Czech breaks back and he was playing well as he hit some clean forehand winners in this set.

Both players are really into the match, the crowd are entertained which is why the ending was so disappointing for the level they played. In a final set advantage when the player is a worse server it’s always better to serve first. Kavcic’s serve just fell away in the final game served 2 double faults and one on match point.

Overall it was an outstanding match, tennis is a brutal sport can’t hide behind a team mate. There are sometimes you play well and lose, then there are times when you play shit and win. You don’t get style points for winning or winning well. If Kavcic can get over the foot issues have a solid 3-6 months then the ranking will look after itself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Campeones! Campeones! Olé! Olé! Olé! Argentina are your 2016 Davis Cup Champions


2016 is the season where the sporting curses have been buried on a global and local level. Chicago Cubs in the baseball, Cleveland Cavaliers in the basketball, Portugal beating Germany and France to win the Euro football champs. In local Australian sports, Cronulla never won a rugby league title and Footscray hadn't won since 1954.

Argentina continued the vein of breaking sporting curses. This was a wonderful achievement at their fifth attempt, best of all they won every tie away from home which magnifies the achievement Davis Cup is taken seriously in Argentina and until yesterday they were the best country never to win it.

No I in team, but there is in winners

Sure Juan Martin del Potro is going to get most of the credit but this was a team effort and huge kudos to Daniel Orsanic one for getting him back into the fold and two he was able to blend the group of players into a unit. Leonardo Mayer who won the final match in the semi finals against the Brits. Fede Delbonis who lifts for Davis Cup played brilliantly against Italy and then was playing lights out in the final rubber to bring the final home. This was definitely the triumph of the collective than the individuals.






The Failures

Argentina had a golden generation of players Nalbandian, Coria, Gaudio, Chela, Calleri, Cañas and Zabaleta but weren't able to win it. Yes, there was a lack of a reliable second singles player on faster surfaces back in those days which were much faster than today's equivalent. As much as this is a factor, the biggest issue was they couldn't function as a team, it takes a special kind of DC captain to keep these strong personalities focused into playing for each other. Unfortunately it wasn't able to happen for them, but these guys helped paved the way for this generation as Vilas had done for them.

There have been some great meltdowns in Argentine Davis Cup history. In 2002 when Gaudio was 5-2 40-15 up against Kafelnikov in Moscow and on the second match point that clown posing as an umpire Jorge Dias didn't overrule a corrupt linesman who had hooked Gaudio with the ball landing in. Yes, this was the time before Hawkeye, then Gaudio was mentally crushed going down 2-0 on Day 1 and couldn't be pulled back.

Malaga 2003 when Coria and Nalbandian were easily the two best players in Argentina but both didn't play due to injuries. Gaudio who was hideously out of form had his lowest moment when he lost 14 games in a row against Ferrero on Day 1. Zabaleta playing so well in first 2 sets cramped up due to the tension, then we have Calleri who made the world number 1 Ferrero look like a child. In the final match Gaudio crumbles and cops a lot of shit for his awful performances when he returns home. Argentine fans are magnificent at creating atmosphere and support, but they will give you plenty of crap and acerbic comments if a player doesn't perform.



Worst of all was the Mar del Plata final farce. Nalbandian who was the star of the team wanted the final to be played in Cordoba but El Presidente Morea and the AAT thought Mar del Plata was a better option even though it was a much smaller venue. That created tension that was always simmering which tends to be forgotten about when you are winning. They thought it was going to be the big coronation moment, they forgot to realise that preparation is important and didn't respect the opponent. What should have been their moment was taken away by Spain.

Davis Cup Is Unique, Keep It That Way

With all the previous failures it makes the first Davis Cup title all the more special. Argentina has a great tennis tradition, they understand the unique nature of Davis Cup unlike Ben Rothenberg and some others who foolishly believe that Davis Cup should be played at a neutral venue and best of 3 sets. What's the point of these ludicrous ideas? They will not improve thhttp://www.daviscup.com/en/news/245925.aspxe competition or the sport, which is what innovation and positive rule changes can do.

Davis Cup has its issues and it's mostly with scheduling this is something they can't or won't get it right. One suggestion maybe would drop the teams in World Group to 14, so the finalists can get a bye into the quarter finals. From there, only the semi finalists onwards would be guaranteed places in the World Group and the other places will be decided as they are now with 10 places instead of 8. It was through Davis Cup that I became a fan of tennis and wanted to explore it more. There is more than enough homogenisation especially within the surfaces and an increasing globalised world, there needs to be some points of difference. If the nations are prepared to cede home ties and the revenue that it raises so ITF can have Davis Cup ties at neutral venues. Then it's a case of turkeys voting for Christmas.




Playing home ties creates such a better atmosphere for the players. The final in Zagreb was brilliant and the players lifted for the occasion, look at the 4th match where del Potro rallied from 2 sets down to defeat Cilic to give Delbonis the chance to win it. The interviews from the players and captains talk about this Interviews There was a hot crowd and they played a match befitting the audience. This is not going to happen in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, Foot Fault City or Tashkent Uzbekistan for match involving neutral countries.


On a positive note, this was a brilliant way to end the tennis season. It's party time in Buenos Aires as they welcome home the champions and they deserve a week of celebrations.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Roland Garros Review : Novak Djokovic creating history

Novak Djokovic creating history was enough to bring back the blog.


Believe it or not it rained a bit in Paris during these past two weeks, maybe the Sunday start isn't such a bad thing. No, that's not true, but the organisers managed to get the event finished on time so that was an achievement. As the premier clay event in the world, it should have the best facilities but this sadly not the case. The beast of French bureaucracy is not an easy one to defeat. Roland Garros was outdated when I visited the event which is when Gaston Gaudio qualified for the main draw and Thomas Muster's last event. That should give you an idea that they need to expand, ideally they should have floodlights as well, but we know it's all about the roof. The tournament deserves it and maybe it will happen, then again we could always have some tennis surfaces which have variety unlike the homogenous state tennis is in at the moment.




Thiem rocking the zebra

So what were the other highlights of Roland Garros. The young Austrian Dominic Thiem into his first Slam semifinal and making it into the top 10 for the first time. It's an outstanding achievement, he has a lot of improvement as well, once he matures and knows his game. Thiem is strong off both sides, can construct points with patience and then be very aggressive. He has to learn when to go for it but that will come with maturity, best of all he has an excellent work ethic and is analytical about his performances which bodes well. On a side note Gunther Bresnik his coach knows how to prepare players, he got Gulbis and Thiem into the top 10, plus the late Horst Skoff and Koubek into the top 20, so Thiem is in good hands.



Thiem vs. Goffin QF

Odds and Ends

Ernests Gulbis decides he wants to play again and has a good tournament. He'll just do what he wants and possibly lose 7 first round matches in a row. Gulbis has the talent but not the desire, so he will have his fleeting moments and play for the fun of it. Ramos-Vinolas somehow makes the quarter finals, it's never the guys you really want to do it that get these surprise runs.


Bernie Tomic won a match on clay that is always a cause for celebration, this is the part of the year where he is on vacation. The fact that he lasted longer in the event than Fabio Fognini the man who has trolled Roland Garros on numerous occasions is strange in itself. Speaking of characters it was great to see Stephane Robert win a match in Paris. In an age where sportspeople with personalities are crucified because if they say nothing, they are boring and when they do, the media for the most part totally overreact. Robert dances to his own tune, plays an unorthodox game and at 36 doesn't look like stopping soon. The personable nature and also he actually likes to see the places where he is playing and not just room service. Good to see the game hasn't killed them off.

Stephane Robert vs. Kevin Anderson

Murray not a clay pigeon no more

Enough of the fun stuff and onto what this entry was meant to be about. First of all glad to be proved wrong about Andy Murray making a Slam final on clay. I didn't think he would be able to do it as the better claycourt players could outhit him, expose the forehand which is much easier to do on clay than the faster surfaces. It was a tremendous achievement taking out the defending champion Stani Wawrinka who was off his game and Murray weathered that challenge fairly easily in the end.

Djokovic and Murray finals generally aren't the most interesting. Some match ups just aren't that good unless you're specifically a fan of the player who is dominating. The final went the way that most expected, it was going to be a tall order for Murray on his worst surface to beat Djokovic on his second best one in a Slam final. It would need Djokovic to be 5-7% down and Murray to at the top of his game for an extended period of time.

Final

Djokovic got the early break but Murray broke back immediately and started off very aggressively. He was taking risks on the forehand, the second serve was solid which helped his court positioning which forced Djokovic into error and pushed him around. Murray is more consistent than Wawrinka, but Wawrinka has a bigger game and more of a shotmaker so in the 2015 final he was able to pin Djokovic further from the baseline and break down his defence which Murray wasn't able to do here.

Once Djokovic settled down into the match and got into that mode where I am not going to miss, hit down the lines and make you run. The confidence grew as he was on or just inside the baseline dictating the play, you know he is playing well when he is making volleys and there weren't any funny Djokosmashes. Yes, there was a bit of fun at the end when Murray got one of the break backs in the 4th set but it didn't feel like we were seeing a 2004 Coria choke, which is still the best or at least strangest Grand Slam final.


Djokinho

Now Novak Djokovic has the "Nole Slam" along with Laver and Don Budge to hold the 4 titles simultaneously. For the record I don't think he'll get the calendar Slam but that counts for now in reality. Djokovic has always been seen as the 3rd wheel in comparison to Federer and Nadal. Federer is the last link to the game when there were clear differences between the various surfaces and played the classic game. Nadal appealed to the demographic that didn't want to see Federer dominating, sure it was more teeny bopperish and Justin Bieber like initially, but others were drawn to his energy.

Djokovic and Murray are peers, they eventually started catching up to the big 2. Djokovic in his younger years had great theatrical skills looking like he was injured and coming back to win matches.. Yes, there were the impressions, the wanting to be loved but it not quite happening. Underneath all that there was the steely resolve to improve, hiring Thomas Muster's former fitness trainer, the egg chamber, the diet. He managed to start beating the others, yet it wasn't as spectacular as the other two.


Bossman Vajda

Once Djokovic returned to Marian Vajda after a bad stint with Todd Martin. Vajda was the calm father like figure he needed, they rebuilt his serve and improved his forehand to such a level that it's only slightly behind the backhand. This with the improved fitness levels were the main factors in Djokovic reaching the top of the tree. Naturally winning is a wonderful habit and having the self belief to win when things are difficult is a skill very few possess.

Career Slam

It's good that Djokovic does have the career Slam now and while this is a fantastic achievement like Nadal and Federer. For one it's deserved and it would have been disappointing if he didn’t manage it especially in this area. Which leads to the next point as someone who loathed Andre Agassi from the start to the end, the fact he won the career Slam is far more impressive than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Yes, it’s true when Agassi won the career Slam, the grass was very fast, low bouncing, skidding unlike the grass at Wimbledon today where the only similarities are the colour. The clay well they use a lighter ball these days but there is only so much you can alter the clay courts as they are more dependent on weather than the other surfaces.

As for whether Djokovic is a contender for the GOAT. This is really is a stupid narrative in reality as it can’t be effectively judged. So if the bean counters want to solely use stats, then that will always be flawed like anything just based on numbers. Each player can only exist in their generation, as it’s impossible to create the same conditions as time doesn’t stand still. There are achievements which will always be great. Borg winning the RG-Wimbledon double three times in a row when the surfaces were so different. Nadal winning so many RG titles, Federer with the weeks at number 1, the Wimbledon titles, the Nole Slam, Luis Horna not getting a break point at all against Flavio Cipolla.

Federer said it himself “Anyway, every surface is very similar today, otherwise we couldn't have achieved all these things on all these different surfaces so quickly, like him and myself”. This now applies to Djokovic. It’s still accurate, in spite of this it’s admirable what Novak Djokovic is doing and it’s irrelevant that he doesn’t get the love that Federer and Nadal do from press and fans alike, but he finally got some love from the French crowd.

Friday, February 26, 2016

South Tyrol's Finest : Andreas Seppi Interview

Here is an interview that had been planned for a couple of years but for whatever reasons hadn't happened until the Australian Open this year.

Andreas Seppi is an example of a player who has made the most of his talents. He has won 3 titles on grass, clay and indoor hardcourt and has reached number 18 in the ATP rankings. There are players with more natural talent but don't have the dedication or work ethic to maximise their potential which is all one can ask at the end of their careers.

Seppi is from Kaltern in South Tyrol which is a region more famous for winter sports, hiking and where the majority of its citizens speak German as a first language which Seppi does along with Italian and English.


Seppi on the left

You're from South Tyrol. How did you start playing tennis in a region which is famous for skiing. How did your interest in tennis evolve?

Actually I was skiing until I was 14, I was also playing football and tennis. No one in my family was playing tennis. My father was playing ice hockey and the tennis courts were close by, so I saw them and wanted to try.

Then a good friend of mine who was playing, we are the same age and started playing tennis together. That was the beginning.

Massimo Sartori has been your only coach on tour. How did you meet and how long have you been working with him?

He was playing club matches where I grew up and the club president asked him once he retired whether he would do some coaching at the club. He lives 2 hours away from South Tyrol, he agreed and moved to the region in 1996. I’ve known him since I was 12, it’s a long time, he’s like a second father for me. When you’re travelling 30-40 weeks a year it’s very much like that.

When you started playing on the tour, how difficult was it to find a sponsor to help with the initial costs? Did you ever have thoughts of giving the game away in the most difficult times?

It was very tough, you know. At the beginning when you play a lot of Futures or Satellites when I started out. For us it was very difficult, you had to find someone to help you out, there was a bit from the federation.

With the federation once you made the top 100 you had to pay back the money. It was good when you are young to get some sponsorship, because there are a lot of expenses.

When you were starting out how advantageous was it to have a lot of tournaments in Italy ?


For sure, we always tried to travel by car, also in Germany and Austria where there were a lot of tournaments. We never took the plane to South America or somewhere else where it was easier to get points. It was too expensive, so we travelled by car to events that were closer to us.

Do you remember your first Futures title ?

Yes, it was in Germany in 2003 when I was 18 and a great feeling.



Once you graduated from Futures level, you played more main ATP Tour qualifying events instead of Challengers. What was the reason behind that?


My coach wanted me to practice with better players. Even if I lost in the qualifying of an ATP tour event I’d stay around for the week and practice to improve my game. I think it was a very important point to do it this way.

What were your earliest memories on tour and when did you realise that you could make a career on the ATP Tour?

After high school when I was 19 or 20 I started to have some better results. I was feeling comfortable on court and then I realised I can make a living through tennis.

What are your favourite tournaments?


Monte Carlo and the clay season leading up to Roland Garros, the grasscourt season. Wimbledon is my favourite tournament and playing in Rome is always special.

What’s your worst hotel experience and why?

Not sure if should I say (laughs). I played twice in Casablanca but didn’t enjoy it too much. The food was tough and especially us Italians we’re used to good food. There I was going crazy and the hotel wasn’t the best. I’ve just played twice and in the last ten years I haven’t gone back there.

How would you summarise the current state of Italian tennis?

It’s at a good point. We have some good players Fognini, Bolelli, Lorenzi, Cecchinato, we have 5 top 100 players. We’re at a good level, of course we are missing a big champion. In Davis Cup we can do well especially if we stay together and are focused. We have some young players coming up, so we’ll see.

What do you remember of the Bobby Reynolds match at the Australian Open which finished at 3.49 am?

Ja, I remember it was a long day I was supposed to be 3rd match on, but it was so hot that they suspended play. They didn’t start again until 9pm in the evening, there was still one match before mine and we started at midnight.

Of course it was a long match that went 5 sets and finishing at 3.49 am. It was very tough after of course you have some adrenalin. You can’t sleep straight away and ended up sleeping at 7 am, so yes it was tough.

It must have been awful for the next match?

Yes, you sleep 4-5 hours and then you practice a bit, but it’s tough to get into rhythm. It was a nice win.



How do you describe your win over Roger Federer in the 2015 Australian Open and the feelings after the match?

Of course it was the best win of my career for sure. I think beating him in a Grand Slam is very difficult you know. In the last 10 years he was always in the quarters and semis, so beating him was something special for sure.

I’d have to say this was a match where I was very calm and in the important moments I didn’t get very nervous. It’s hard to find that feeling again as I don’t know how it happened. I was feeling very calm and never had that feeling before on the court, so it was a strange situation and that’s how I could beat him.


The ATP awarded your match against Stanislas Wawrinka the most exciting comeback of the year. What are your memories from this dramatic match in Rome?

Yes, maybe emotionally this was one of the best matches. The crowd was crazy, it was almost like playing Davis Cup. Beating him from 6 match points down with the crowd was for sure something special. Of course doing it in Rome made it even better.






What was the worst ever match you played?


(Laughing) There were a lot of bad matches in my career. It’s tough to say, in the last 3-4 years not so much but before there were too many.

Can you describe your feelings when you won your first ATP title in Eastbourne 2011, especially after the tough loss against Mathieu at Gstaad in your previous final?

That first final in Gstaad was very surprising for me, because I came from a very tough moment. I wasn’t playing very well at all and it was the first time that I was outside of the top 100.

Just went there struggling trying to find my game. I played a Challenger the week before in Torino losing in the 2nd round. I went to Gstaad to play qualies, I won some tough matches 7-6 in the 3rd set twice and then I was in the final. I started to play some good tennis, but maybe I wasn’t ready mentally to play that final. I was leading 5-3 in the 3rd, maybe I was too nervous as it was very unexpected. It was tough to lose 7-5 in the 3rd but it was a good week as I made it back to the top 100.

Eastbourne was a strange final I was leading 5-3 in the 3rd set also, serving for the match and Tipsarevic retired It’s good to have one title in the pocket.


Seppi Eastbourne

2012 was your career best year winning Belgrade and Moscow, Finalist in Eastbourne and Metz, plus your best ever Grand Slam performance at Roland Garros taking Djokovic to 5 sets. What were the reasons behind your career best year?

Winning the second title in Belgrade was very important and for sure 2012 was one of my best years. If not my best year winning 2 titles and making 2 finals doesn’t happen so often.

What's your opinion on Davis Cup. Do you think they should give ranking points for playing?

I like the competition of course and it’s a pleasure to play Davis Cup. In the last few years we have had some good results and when we play at home we are very dangerous.

Not sure if it’s good or bad, but it’s ok they give some ranking points.

What do you think about the length of season?

It’s ok, in the end you can make your own schedule. Yes, there are some events you have to play, but you can find some weeks for rest and preparation. You just have to be smart with the scheduling.

The ATP is meant to be a joint union between players and tournament directors but it seems to favour tournament directors more so. Are the ATP improving in this field?

In the last few years they have improved a lot. They are listening more to the players and are more receptive to our needs. It’s improving year by year, that they are doing a good job now.

Most of the players are making their money through prizemoney and not sponsorship. How can they improve conditions for these players?

The ATP need to do more as it’s very tough for a guy ranked 200 to travel a lot just playing Challengers it’s tough to make a living. If they improve prizemoney and get more players trying to make it on tour it’s good for the sport.

What's your opinion on the ATP reducing the differences in the surface speeds, Do you think they can make some surfaces quicker or are you happy as it is?

Now it’s ok unlike 3-4 years where it was very slow. They slowed it down too but now it’s getting better. The courts are a bit faster and now here (Melbourne) it’s a good speed.

What do you think about doping on the tour and have you been tested at an unreasonable hour?


There is this WADA thing where every player fills in a form, where you state your whereabouts so you are available for at least an hour a day. It’s good to have doping control but a bit stressful for us players as well.

Willy Cañas said “The ATP practices discrimination from an economic standpoint, like any multinational corporation. It’s just another of millions that there are in the world. Point being that I accept it, but I'm not buying into it that it is a group of players that decide (players union) because it isn't like that”. Do you believe that Willy is correct on this particular issue?

Yes, it was like that but in the last 3-4 years they have improved a lot in this way. They listen more to the players which is a positive thing.

You got engaged recently. How did that come about?

We met three years ago and we’ll get married in September. So that’s another step in my life.

So you’re going to be a dad soon. Maybe, you can ask Massimo for some tips?

(Laughing) Not yet.





Word Association. I give you name or a subject and you have to name the first thing that comes into your mind.


Kitzbühel - Ski resort

Ferrero Rocher - Very good chocolate

Mario Balotelli - Crazy

Andrea Pirlo - Genius

Båstad - Blond girls

Silvio Berlusconi - Idolo

Denis Istomin- 5 sets

What shouldn’t be on pizza- Pineapple

I'd like to thank Andreas for giving up his time with this interview. He was a pleasant and an articulate subject which was to be expected. If anyone wants to translate or use this interview. Please ask me and credit the author don't pass it off as your own work.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day 4 : The Mailman delivers the goods

It has been a long and rewarding day so if these reports make less sense than usual, then that’s the reason. Today there were 5 matches today that I was interested in. Managed to see 4 of them and it ended up 4-1 which was fantastic.

Sousa vs. Giraldo


This was the most difficult match out of the 5 as the feisty Joao Sousa lined up against the likable big hitting Colombian Santi Giraldo. Sousa started off solidly and in a strange twist didn’t complain much at all. Normally Sousa is very grumpy on court questioning every little thing.

Giraldo, while he has some big shotmaking skills he has a few clear weaknesses which have prevented him progressing and stabilising within the top 30. These were highlighted today, Santi doesn’t defend well at all, when he is out of position he goes for the spectacular winner. In contrast Sousa is an excellent mover and knows how to defend. Sure it’s great to have big weapons but it counts for nowt if you can’t defend when needed.


Sousa

Sousa had nine break chances and managed to convert one which was enough to take the 1st set. Giraldo served well on those break points but eventually couldn’t hold out any longer. The second set was more of the same, the highlights were made by Giraldo but Sousa was just more solid went it counted.

In the 3ed set Geraldo played better made less errors whereas Sousa had a letdown. Once Sousa got his concentration back it ended up a comfortable win for the pork and cheese.

Robert vs. Ram


What to say about a match that should have been won easily and then ends up in a 5 set battle. That’s the fun with animated Frenchman Robert, he makes shots that no one has tried and misses the easy ones.



It was all so comfortable with Robert leading a set and served for the 2nd set. Once he dropped this gave Ram an opportunity to regroup which he did successfully taking the 2nd set. From there on Ram served better and was on a hot hitting streak especially on the forehand. Rampras continues to hold serve and is dictating in the rallies protecting his lack of speed around the court. Robert plays a poor game to lose the 3rd set.

A group of young kids sit behind Robert’s chair and Stephane talks to them trying to get them to cheer for him. The 4th set was a mix of Robert feeling good, Rampras hitting big forehands, using his slice backhand. Robert was defending his service games well amongst Rampras teeing off and gets the 4th set.

Momentum was with Robert at the start of the 5th, he breaks early with some clean hitting down the line, passing shots off the back foot. After he broke serve, he has forgot the golden rule of tennis. It’s not a break of serve unless it has been confirmed. Robert missed too many first serves and Ram was able to get the effective first strike in.

As the set develops Robert has to fight a lot in his service games but manages to hold whereas Rampras was holding with more ease in spite of Robert getting more returns into play.

In the 12th game Robert manages to hit some good returns and he’s feeling the love this is when he plays his best tennis. When there is nothing to think about, a big stage and this was his time to strike. On the second match point he hits the winning shot and lets out a great roar to the delight of the majority of fans who were cheering the Frenchman.


Millman vs. Muller


This one turned out to be a journey and thankfully it was a happy ending which doesn’t happen very often.

The match started in bright sunshine and the quicker courts were advantageous to Muller on who was dialled in on the serve. Millman played one poor service game in the 1st set and Muller made him pay by breaking him and taking the set.

Muller has an early break in the 2nd set and the same pattern is continuing. The Luxembourger serving well, Millman not getting into the match until a game where Muller was 40-0 up and Millman makes a couple of returns putting Muller under pressure where he cracks and is broken back. Millman gets momentum and breaks him again levelling at 1 set all.

This was an unusual crowd for a match involving an Australian. It helped that Tomic and Hewitt were playing at the same time. So there were no Fanatics or the other boorish types who think they are funny when in reality they are as funny as shaving your bikini line with a blunt razor. This crowd were having fun and giving the Mailman great support.

Millman continues where he left off at the end of the 2nd set as the conditions start to change with the lights starting to take effect making it slower and heavier which favoured the Mailman. He runs through the 3rd set easily, returning well and playing in the court dominating the baseline rallies.

As the 4th set progresses Muller is starting to get more aggressive as he realises he is being pushed around and during this time his groundstrokes are holding up. Millman is playing more defensively as Muller gets the break then serves it out to take it to a decider.

Millman’s temperament and body language have been excellent in the match especially from the first break he got in the 2nd set. He hasn’t won a 5 setter before losing to Ito on this same court and Baghdatis in Melbourne. There is a first time for everything.

The Mailman starts the set out in a positive manner and is in an excellent returning groove off the high quality Muller serve. He gets an early break but can’t consolidate as it gets back on serve straight away.



It’s tough playing a big server in many ways the best thing is to take care of your own service games and if there is a small window then take the chance when it comes along. Hitting with Wayne Arthurs who could hit 100 serves off the same toss was very helpful to Millman in preparing for this match.

Muller staying in the match with his serving and the forehand is the one that crumbles under pressure. Millman is stepping into the court getting the balance right between attack and defence. The crowd are loving it and spurring him on. There was the chant “I believe, I believe, I believe he will win” and the Mailman delivered a great victory in the end.



This was a great win under the circumstances, coming back from extended layoffs with injuries, unsure about his future in the game. He was never the prodigy, didn’t have the agents fighting to sign him. So him making the 3rd round here is a great achievement.

Millman is very popular among his peers and yes I’ll admit to personal bias in this case. In a sport where there are a lack of natural characters, yes I mean media trained to point of sucking out anything that resembles their true personality. Millman is refreshing in that he is honest, well spoken and definitely does things his way which is great.

Other stuff


Dudi Sela aka Hebrew Hammer is a great story. He never had too much money and he lifts for Davis Cup ties plus the Slams. He was lucky that Verdasco took out Nadal since the Nadal forehand would break down Sela’s backhand like he did last time.


Dudi Sela

Verdasco had a letdown after his big moment but Verdasco has plenty of parties to go to and plenty of women to meet. Dudi or maybe that’s Daddy Sela since he has two children now. If he can he’ll only travel 3 weeks at a time, so he can spend more time at home. Huge chance for a 4th round spot against Kuznetsov.

Lukas Rosol that was an impressive straight sets win over Jack Sock. So far Rosol has played 6 close sets either 7-6 or 7-5 and won four of them. The big Czech is looking to rebuild this year and a solid start so far.

Today was long and rewarding, but it was worth it as to witness John Millman making the 3rd round of a Slam. This is an individual who’d be easily top 3 when it comes to quality people on the tennis tour. I’m always happy to see good people doing well and maximising their potential.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Mad World of Day 2 Melbourne style

Day 2, the fun day where there were so many matches that I wanted to see but couldn’t. Thankfully there was help in the form of Sammy. It’s usually not problematic when the matches are on close courts, this wasn’t the case today.

Robert vs. Fratangelo


This was a brilliant performance from Robert, the shotmaking was on fire from both sides. As he hits the ball so flat when he’s on then it’s a joy to watch. He has cat like movement, it looks like he is not in position and then pow a forehand or backhand down the line winner. Thankfully there were plenty of them.

Fratangelo was just smoked and he knew it. Next round for Robert who plays the Rajeev Ram who was the beneficiary of a Kevin Anderson retirement who was doubtful before the event. So a huge opportunity for both in the next round.

Millman vs. Schwartzmann

Mailmain broke in the first game but Schwartzmann broke back immediately. The match was hard fought until the dramatic and unfortunate ending.

Schwartzmann settled better and controlled the rallies for the first two sets with clean hitting especially backhands down the line. Millman retreated to at best a passive position in the court or at worst negative. Apart from staying injury free the biggest factor in his improvement is the greater weight of shot, it’s when to use it.

Millman had chances in the 2nd and couldn’t convert. It looked like a straight sets win for Schwartzmann but Millman is known for his fighting tendencies. He hit with some better length, scrapped his way to the tiebreaker and managed to win it.

Schwartzmann gets some treatment on his hand and then halfway through the third game he collapses with cramp and heat exhaustion. Since players can’t get treatment for cramps at a non change of ends, then those games are forfeited. When the umpire called time Schwartzmann not being able to move, he conceded another two games hence the 5-0 scoreline.


Sportsmanship

It was so disappointing for Schwartzmann that he had to retire and sure Millman got the W, you don’t want to win it like that. He apologised to Schwartzmann, his coach Prieto and showed genuine sportsmanship which is everything to be expected from Millman. Schwartzmann will be fine and that Aussie sun is a brutal beast.

Gimeno-Traver vs. Smyczek

Smyczek is the classic solid American hardcourt player. He’ll do well in Challengers, have a couple of good runs at ATP events to keep his ranking.

While DGT has superior weapons, the big serve and forehand but as the courts are much quicker than in previous years he struggled with his timing. Smyczek is the player you have to beat, not someone who will fade away when struggling.

The second set was the only time where Gimeno-Traver was able to serve well enough and use the forehand to push Smyczek back. The 3rd set was close until some very cheap errors including an easy mid court forehand which the American took advantage of. Once he held for the 3rd set there was only one winner from there.

Giraldo vs. Young

This was on a very small court but with some boisterous Colombian fans providing some fun atmosphere. Giraldo actually played quite well apart from the set he lost.
He was thinking he could just tee off on the groundies when he was in no position to do so. In other words classic Giraldo but after the match he was very receptive to the Colombian fans afterwards which was great.


Rosol vs. Daniel


This was a very close and high quality match for the first 4 sets. This was the first time I’ve seen Taro Daniel play in the flesh. Can definitely tell he went to the Spanish school of tennis, this is not a bad thing. The forehand is big and the backhand is solid. The serve he doesn’t use his height effectively and he can get rushed on the forehand side.

Both players started within themselves and playing many extended rallies. Rosol does strike the ball cleanly but his early attempts at dropshots were almost Igor Andreev like landing on the service line and they were duly punished.


Rosol

Rosol takes the first two sets as the conditions became a bit slower and cooler which helped Daniel who was unfazed by losing the sets. He served fairly well and was hitting some excellent backhand as Rosol’s level dipped slightly.

Daniel fighting hard manages to break eventually in the 3rd set. He’s getting more confidence and Rosol for the most part was solid mentally, though of course he was doing his usual niggly tactics with questioning any call.

The Japanese youngster has a solid match temperament which is an underrated skill. Both of them besides being tough to break, made some challenges that even Federer would have been embarrassed by they were so awful. Daniel manages to take it to a 5th set and the crowd are loving.

Rosol plays some good shots to get the early break and keep the crowd from riding Daniel home. The early break took the wind out of Daniel’s sails and the extra experience of Rosol was enough to get the job done.

Other stuff

Great to see Brian Baker on court after the injuries. He wasn’t here for tourist purposes. Showed some excellent tennis and just hope he doesn’t have any more injury issues.

Tommy Robredo is tougher than $2 steak.

Today this video is the perfect way to end this entry and as a tribute to Rafael Nadal.