September 30, 2013
Let me talk to you, Novak.
How are you doing? Well scratch that, I’m sure you’re ecstatic today. You and Jelena Ristic have decided to take the next step in your relationship and are now engaged, as per what you have written on Instagram and your other social media platforms.
The union that exists between a man and a woman is one that’s much more important than that between this same man and a tennis racquet, and you’ve always understood that. What I mean to say, Novak, is that you’ve always understood that your life wasn’t dependent on your results on the tennis courts and that your life’s worth needed to fuel the on-court results, not the opposite.
I’m proud of you, Novak. Not that this means anything coming from me, but I am. I haven’t talked to you in some time, since April actually, because I wanted you to be fully focused on the season.
It’s been a rough year otherwise though, am I right?
Let me talk to you, Novak, and let me explain why I say that. The pretend-psychologist that I am thinks that you had three goals entering this season. You aced the first one, overtaking the King of Clay in your backyard in Monte-Carlo for the Rolex Masters. But it’s Rafael Nadal who had the last laugh, barely beating you in the semifinal at the Porte d’Auteuil in Paris. A win there would have given you the career Grand Slam, but I know that you know that already—it was probably good payback in his mind for your equally agonizing win in Australia in 2012.
But of course, through it all you have remained the No. 1-ranked player on the ATP World Tour…but barely. That was probably your third goal this season, and you’ll probably fail at this one too. Because he has been the best player on Tour this year, Nadal is only 260 points behind you right now. And because he was injured a year ago and didn’t play after Wimbledon, he has absolutely no points to defend until 2014, making it extremely likely that he will surpass you.
It’s okay, though. Let me tell you, Novak, that your place in history is already assured. You have six Grand Slam titles, and counting, as well as a banner 2011 season—and both of which sound even more impressive considering that for all we know, Roger Federer and Nadal might be the two best players of all time.
(Plus, look at it this way. It’s possible, also, that once next year rolls around you’ll be the one who will overtake Nadal and be back as the alpha male as he’ll have about 12,944,926,346,888 points to defend from this 2013 season. A step back can lead to two steps forward right, Novak?)
Let me talk to you, Novak. I don’t know that you ever listen when I speak, but let it be known that it’s helping me make sense of my fandom. These letters give me the chance and time to reflect on the season at hand and on my feelings toward it. It helps me put things in perspective and that I should never care more than you do. It’s therapeutic, in that way.
I thought I’d reach out to you today, as the season is winding down. It’s not over, of course not, but in North America it might as well be. By now you’ll know that the Rogers Cup rolled around, and that it was hosted in my native Montreal. What you probably don’t know is that I was covering the tournament in Toronto rather than Montreal.
Novak, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m a columnist with Tennis Connected and, though the gig doesn’t help me put food on the table (i.e. it is unpaid right now), it does allow me a lot of freedom in the assignments and features that I choose to pursue. If I didn’t go to Montreal, it’s in part because I decided not to. Our website already had two journalists on hand and, though I’m a native of the place, I decided to stay here, in Toronto, to cover the women’s Rogers Cup. (Here’s what I wrote about the experience, fyi.)
I’ll stop boring you with tennis right now, though. I see that you’re an author too, now, though I must confess that I haven’t read Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence yet. I just haven’t had the time, to do anything beyond work and the odd writing project here and there, honestly. I know you’ll understand. My birthday and Christmas are coming right up in December and do believe that I’ll put the book on the list I send to Santa.
There’s more to life than tennis, and you above anyone else understand this. I’m not stupid enough to think that you listened to me, but here’s what I said when I first wrote to you last year. “Hold on tight to Jelena Ristic, but you already know that because you’re that dude. You two are great together, and you have done well for yourself in the same way that she has for herself. I tend to prefer brunettes, but I can’t say anything against her. I’m sure you’d say that she’s your driving force and that she keeps you calm and stable, because that’s the sign of a smart man–and you’re a smart man.”
Let me talk to you, Novak, and let me tell you that I’ve had my share of heartaches over the years, but that it only hurts if you decide to dwell on it. There’s no need to go into specifics, as no one would want to read about that. It’s that old classic—not every battle is worth fighting for, but once you find one that is, that’s when you step up. That’s when you step up and make sure you will not hurt anymore, heartache or not.
It’s funny how life works out honestly. We become fans of athletes, but it’s when these athletes step up for causes or moments in their lives that have nothing to do with their athletic feats that we feel the proudest.
You’ve stepped up, Novak. Those of us who are fans of yours are damn happy for you today. You’re a man—and most importantly, you’ve got your woman. It’s for life. The real life, the one that counts.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG
January 27, 2013
by: Tom Cochrane
Novak Djokovic became the first male in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Open championships on Day 14, the world number one defeating Andy Murray in 4 sets to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the fourth time in his career.
Day 14 Recap
Very little separated the two players in the opening two sets, with the third seeded Murray looking more aggressive than in previous encounters against Djokovic and once again demonstrating his much-improved serve. Murray took the opening set in a tiebreak, 7 points to 2, and Djokovic seemed rattled by the Scot’s impressive start to the match.
Murray had his chance to stretch his lead early in the second set, with the top seeded Djokovic down 0-40 on his serve in the second game of the set. Murray was unable to secure the break, fluffing an easy backhand on one of the break point opportunities, and it was a moment that both players looked back on after the match as having been decisive. Like the first set, the second set featured no breaks, but this time it was Djokovic who come out on top in the tiebreak, levelling the match at a set apiece.
Murray called for the trainer at the end of the second set, the reigning US Open champion bothered by some sizeable blisters on his right foot. No doubt feeling the effects of his 5-set victory over Roger Federer on Friday night, Murray refused to throw in the towel, hanging tough in the third set as Djokovic started to step inside the court and began dictating more and more of the points. However, after 34 games in the match and eight in the third set, the dam wall finally broke, Djokovic breaking the Scot before holding to love to take a critical 2 sets to 1 lead.
Losing the third set seemed to deflate Murray mentally, and the world number one could sense that he wasn’t far away from the finishing line. With Murray’s movement slightly impaired from the blister problems, Djokovic took full advantage, establishing a commanding 5-1 lead in the fourth set before Murray held serve to make the Serb serve for the championship. Djokovic made no mistake, securing a 6-7(2) 7-6(3) 6-3 6-2 victory in 3 hours and 40 minutes.
For Djokovic, it was a history-making achievement and one that cements his position as the best player in the men’s game right now. The Serb will now be setting his sights firmly on Roland Garros as he seeks to complete a career Grand Slam. With Rafael Nadal still on the way back from injury, 2013 may well represent Djokovic’s best chance to date to claim his first French Open title.
For Murray, it’s undoubtedly another hard loss to take, his third failure in the final in 4 years at Melbourne Park, but the Scot was philosophical after the match, admitting he had failed to seize his chances in the second set yet acknowledging that the last 6 months have produced the best tennis of his life. If Murray can maintain this rich vein of form, I’m sure there will be plenty more majors around the corner for the world number 3.
That’s it for today. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage of this year’s Australian Open and I’ll be back with some more serves later in the season.
January 26, 2013
by: Tom Cochrane
Victoria Azarenka is the 2013 Australian Open women’s champion, the Belarusian defending her title at Melbourne Park with a thrilling 3-set win over Li Na.
Day 13 Recap
The world number one entered Saturday night’s final as a heavy favourite, and it appeared early on as if the Belarusian was burdened by that favouritism, with crowd favourite Li Na racing out to an early lead. Taking the ball incredibly early and jumping all over Azarenka’s second serves, Li Na took the opening set 6-4 as the crowd started to sense a boilover.
Azarenka appeared tense in the opening set and seemed to struggle to find the appropriate balance between aggressive shot-making and more conservative play. Unfortunately for Li, a rolled ankle in the second set seemed to halt the sixth seed’s momentum, opening the door for Azarenka to climb back into the match. With Li still going for her shots but starting to miss somewhat more frequently, Azarenka levelled the match at a set apiece, taking the second set 6-4.
There was more drama in the final set, with the players trading service breaks before Li again fell over on her ankle, this time hitting her head on the court, which triggered an injury time-out and much concern all around. Undeterred, the Chinese star continued to fight but the world number one was not to be denied, grabbing the decisive break to lead 5-3 before breaking Li in ninth game to seal the win in 2 hours and 40 minutes and claim back-to-back Australian Open championships. It was clear how much the win meant to the top seed, with Azarenka bursting into tears after winning the final point.
Match of the Day – Day 14
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Contesting their second successive Grand Slam final against one another, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are seeking to cement a slight changing of the guard in the men’s game.
The great Roger Federer was finally defeated by Andy Murray at Grand Slam level, losing a compelling 5-set semi-final on Friday night. Although the Swiss master is still near the top of the sport, it’s probably fair to say that his best tennis is behind him. Rafael Nadal returns to the ATP Tour next month, and it remains to be seen if the 11-time Grand Slam champion can avoid injury to return to the apex of the men’s game.
In the meantime, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have become the two most dominant players in the game. The Serb has asserted himself at the top of the tree over the last 24 months and Murray has been right there beside him in the last half a year, making the Wimbledon final, winning the Olympic gold medal and also claiming his maiden major title at Flushing Meadows. The third seed outlasted Djokovic in 5 sets to win that historic first Grand Slam, and the Scot will now be determined to become a multiple major champion and not a one-Slam wonder.
That win in New York will have given Murray an incredible amount of confidence heading into this final, as the Scot now truly knows he has what it takes to be a Grand Slam champion. Djokovic leads Murray 10-7 overall in career meetings, but very little separates the two of them. Djokovic was dynamic against Ferrer in his semi-final, but Murray was just as impressive in slaying the great Federer. I think this final should be another classic. I’ll go with Djokovic given his incredible success on Rod Laver Arena in the past, but it’s a 50-50 call to my mind. Djokovic in 5.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve to wrap up the men’s final tomorrow.
January 26, 2013
Top seed Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, defeating No. 6 seed Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
In a match that saw both players hit more unforced errors than winners and break serve on many occasions, it was Azarenka’s competitive spirit that finally came through in the end to give her the victory.
Li, who fell on the court and hit her head during the match, was attempting to win her second grand slam after capturing the French Open in 2011.
Monday’s rankings on the WTA will see Azaranka as world No. 1, Serena Williams as No. 2 and Maria Sharapova as No. 3.
January 25, 2013
by: Tom Cochrane
Andy Murray will face world number one Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s men’s final after outlasting 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in an absorbing 5-set tussle on Day 12. In the women’s tournament, world number one Victoria Azarenka and sixth seed Li Na go head-to-head for the women’s championship in tonight’s final.
Day 12 Recap
A capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena was treated to another thrilling encounter between two members of the Big Four in the men’s game, as Murray came out all guns blazing against the Swiss great in the opening set. A break point opportunity to Murray in the opening game proved to be a sign of what was to come, with the Scot firing down 5 aces to Federer’s none as the third-seeded Murray claimed the opening set.
The second set was a tight affair, with no breaks of serve leading in to the tiebreaker. Federer took the early lead in the tiebreaker, only for Murray to rally and level the breaker at 5-all. From there Federer steadied to level the encounter at a set apiece before Murray again made the front-running in the third set, eventually taking a 2 sets to 1 lead over the second seed.
Federer looked to have the ascendency in the fourth set as he went up a break before the Scot broke back and broke again to put himself in a position to serve for the match. Undeterred, Federer broke back to force the tiebreaker, which he claimed to send the match to a decider. Unflustered by losing the fourth set, Murray exhibited his exemplary fitness and stamina, taking the fifth set 6-2 to set up a 2011 Australian Open final rematch against the top seed Novak Djokovic.
Match of the Day – Day 13
Li Na vs. Victoria Azarenka
Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka enters tonight’s women’s final as the heavy favourite, having seen her main rivals Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova get bundled out of the tournament. The Belarusian faces a very tough opponent in Li Na however, and the world number one must also respond to a couple of issues that came out of her semi-final victory over Sloane Stephens.
The first of those issues relates to Azarenka’s physical shape, with the top seed apparently battling ankle and knee ailments. The second issue is of a mental nature, with Azarenka being the subject of much controversy for taking a 10 minute break at a critical stage of the second set against Stephens, allegedly to combat “breathing difficulties”. Many observers have hit out at Azarenka for what they consider to be an act of gamesmanship, although Stephens herself shied away from making any such accusations.
Azarenka will need to block out such noise if she is to claim her second career Grand Slam, and she will also need to adopt a far more aggressive and positive mindset in the final than what she showed in the latter stages of the semi-final. Whether it was gamesmanship or a legitimate injury break, the fact remains that Azarenka tightened up significantly as the young American Stephens started to find her range in the second set.
Li Na was in stellar form against Sharapova in her semi-final, and the partnership with Carlos Rodriguez, her coach since August last year, appears to already being paying dividends for the sixth seed. Having won the 2011 French Open (becoming, in the process, the first ever Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title) and made the 2011 final at Melbourne Park, Li Na won’t be overwhelmed by the occasion and, just as importantly, won’t feel the immense pressure to win a major that preceded her previous major final appearances. Li Na also seemed to become heavily burdened with off-court distractions after winning that historic first major, and her form suffered as a result, but the sixth seed now appears fitter and more confident, and critically, seems to be enjoying her tennis once more.
Also in Li Na’s favour is the fact that Azarenka, like Sharapova, really only knows one style of game, which is to hit hard from the back of the court. In other words, there’s not really a “Plan B” for the top seed. The Chinese star likes a fast ball and generally plays better against the power hitters than she does in matches where she has to generate all of her own pace.
The best player in the world for the first half of 2012, Azarenka was eclipsed by Serena Williams in the second half of last year, but the Belarusian was merely points away from capturing the title at Flushing Meadows and, along with Williams, stands head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the WTA at her best.
To my mind, this final will come down to whether Azarenka can produce her best tennis when it really counts. Not much separates the pair – both have decent serves, move well and can generate tremendous power off both wings, although Azarenka has more variety and consistency off the forehand side. I’ll back Azarenka to shrug off the controversy over her semi-final match to pull through in a hard-fought final. Azarenka in 3.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.
January 25, 2013
No. 3 seed Andy Murray reached his third straight grand slam final on Friday in Melbourne, Australia, defeating No. 2 seed Roger Federer in five sets, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2.
Needing four hours to survive, Murray dominated Federer in every major statistical category. Hitting 21 aces, winning 75 percent of his first points and more surprisingly 63 percent of his second serve points, Murray remained even-tempered throughout the encounter against the 17-time major winner.
Never defeating Federer in grand slam action prior to their latest contest, Murray will next face top seed Novak Djokovic for the title on Sunday. Djokovic was a straight sets winner over David Ferrer on Thursday evening. Djokovic and Murray have played on 17 occasions with the Serb winning 10 times. The pair have also locked horns twice at the Australian Open, with Djokovic winning both.
January 22, 2013
Defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the semifinals of the Australian Open on Tuesday, defeating No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Showing no ill effects from his five set marathon with Stanislas Wawrinka in the previous round, Djokovic will next face David Ferrer for a spot in the finals. Ferrer won his 500th career match and improved to 13-0 against Nicolas Almagro by dismissing his countryman, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4), 6-2. Almagro, who served for the match on three separate occasions, has never made it past the final eight in a major. Djokovic and Ferrer have met on 14 occasions, with the Serb leading their head-to-head 9-5.
Wednesday’s action in Melbourne will feature Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray vs. Jeremy Chardy.
Singles – Quarter-finals
 N Djokovic (SRB) d.  T Berdych (CZE) 61 46 61 64
 D Ferrer (ESP) d.  N Almagro (ESP) 46 46 75 76(4) 62
January 20, 2013
During Roger Federer’s smooth beatdown of upstart Bernard Tomic in Melbourne Friday night, Patrick McEnroe said at one point, “Is Federer even breathing?” He then added, “I mean, heavily?”
He could have stopped at the first question. There has always been a curious otherness about Roger Federer, regardless of rankings or match results. When Federer’s on, he’s a whole other Matrix-level on, where bending a spoon with your mind seems less impressive than what Federer can do on the court.
On the trippy occasions when Federer is struggling, his bewilderment is palpable and infectious. It’s weird to watch him lose because he rarely looks like he’s doing anything wrong and he’s not used to doing anything wrong.
Prior to Federer’s third round match of the year’s opening major tournament, his 20-year-old Australian opponent was confident. Tomic had just won his first ATP title in front of a hometown crowd in Sydney, and he felt he had momentum coming into Melbourne. Tomic said that it was “the perfect time to play him,” in reference to Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Tomic’s confidence proved to be false, however. All that Federer was, is and can be was on full display for the young player, who noted that the adulatory intro the Swiss slam champ got was enough to rattle him.
“You lose belief before you even get to the match,” said Tomic, after the match. “They mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion six times, six time times US Open champion… and then I was just, aw crap, it’s Roger. I try to block out who’s on the other side of the net but I couldn’t quite do it after that announcement.”
Tomic’s facts might be off (Federer won Wimbledon seven times and the US Open five), but the effect is understood. Milos Raonic of Canada will have to keep that in mind while also shaking it free when he takes the court against Federer in Melbourne on Monday night for their fourth round match. Raonic is 22 and tall, known for his serve. He’s got swagger but doesn’t appear as brash as Tomic, who perhaps got a lesson in growth on and off the court from his straight set loss to the 31-year-old star, saying, “I learned a lot…He is the best player and greatest of all time, and I’m gonna continue to work hard and it’s just a matter of time before I get up to the big group of boys in the top ten, I’ve gotta believe.”
Raonic had his own version of big stage growing pains when he lost in straights to Andy Murray at the 2012 US Open. Raonic was a little dazed after that loss. “Not much I could do,” he said. “I tried everything. … When I did get far ahead on criticial moments and on quite a few moments, he just did something I really have no answer for, something I haven’t really experienced.”
Much ado is made over Federer’s age but he has exactly what Tomic and Raonic point out they are still acquiring – belief and experience.
Raonic and Federer have played each other three times but never in a Grand Slam. All three matches have gone three sets (ATP events are best of three) and have been close. Federer’s 4 and 0 result against Tomic was more lop-sided, with Tomic managing just one set in all of their meetings. When Raonic and Federer played back in March of 2012 in Indian Wells, another hard court tournament, Federer won, but lost the first set in a tiebreak. After the match, he described Raonic as someone who will, “install himself very easily and nicely in the top 30, and then make his move up the rankings.” Raonic’s progress has been fast; he’s seeded thirteenth in Australia, and is fifteen in the world.
Federer had similar musings on Tomic, who entered the tournament unseeded, “He knows I guess, I hope he knows, what he needs to do over the few weeks, months, and years ahead because this ain’t just a two months tour…but he seemed like a very good player today to me, so you would definitely expect him to rise in the rankings…get more consistent and confident.”
Federer, the man with the most weeks at number one, is practiced at making difficult things look easy, belief and confidence included. He rattles off lines of insight and analysis the same way he glides a backhand crosscourt winner into the corner. As he said in Indian Wells last year, “I guess my experience helped me to stay calm and just weather the storm. If that’s experience, I guess that’s what it is, you know… My confidence got me through as well… I think that was maybe the difference tonight.”
Raonic will have to hope that something else makes the difference this Monday night in Melbourne instead. Or, if he can, actually believe.
Follow @lyrapappin for more Australian Open coverage.
January 19, 2013
Montreal, January 19, 2013 – Milos Raonic (Thornhill, ON) advanced to the fourth round on Saturday at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the tennis season in Melbourne.
Raonic, seeded no. 13 in the men’s draw, posted a 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4 victory over world no. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany to book his place in the round of 16 at a Major for the third time in his career and for the second time in three years in Melbourne. Raonic also made the second week in his first main draw appearance at the Australian Open in 2011.
In his win over Kohlschreiber, Raonic hit 23 aces, 44 winners, and did not face one break point in the match. He also earned service breaks early in the second and third sets to secure a straight sets triumph over his first time opponent.
Raonic vs. Federer in round four
Raonic’s win over Kohlschreiber sets up a round of 16 encounter against world no. 2 Roger Federer of Switzerland who beat Aussie Bernard Tomic in the third round. The 22-year-old Canadian has played the 17-time Grand Slam champion on three previous occasions. Despite losing all three matches, Raonic has won a set in each. This will be their first meeting at a Grand Slam.
Meanwhile in doubles, Daniel Nestor (Toronto, ON) and Mahesh Bhupathi of India reached the third round thanks to a 6-1, 7-6(8) win over Victor Hanescu and Martin Klizan. They will next face the Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini.
January 19, 2013
World No. 2 Roger Federer won his 250th career grand slam match at the Australian Open on Saturday after he defeated Bernard Tomic in three sets. Federer, who is bidding for his fifth title at the year’s first grand slam, will next face Milos Raonic in the round of 16. Federer won his first career grand slam match at the Australian Open in 2000 against Michael Chang.