Olympics: The Morning After

It’s been quite a week in Rio de Janeiro. Some people question whether tennis should have a place at the Olympics – I think the last seven days have proved not only how much the chance to win medals means to the players themselves, but just how exciting tennis can be as a sport. The woes of losing the top seeds in the first few days, instead of ruining the fun, left the tournaments open for some stunning performances. So – here are some of the highlights of the week.

  1. Andy Murray became the first player, male or female, to defend an Olympic gold singles medal. The Scot is having a stellar year, having made the final of both the Australian and French Opens, won Wimbledon, and now double Olympic champion.
  2. Monica Puig came out of absolutely nowhere to become the first Puerto Rican to win a gold medal at the Olympics. She beat Angelique Kerber – who is having a fantastic season – in the final, and went through two-time Wimbledon champion and bronze medalist Petra Kvitova, French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza, and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on her path to the podium. A truly exceptional week from a woman playing lights-out tennis. I only hope she brings the confident, powerful game we saw in Rio to the rest of her season.
  3. Juan Martin Del Potro knocked out Novak Djokovic in the first round – and then backed it up with a magnificent run to the final. His semi against Rafa Nadal was one of the best matches I’ve seen in years, with the two injury-plagued stars fighting all the way to a close third set tiebreak. DelPo was understandably shattered in the final, but still pushed Murray incredibly close. Both men were in tears shortly after the final shot was played, having truly given their all.
  4. Speaking of Rafa Nadal, he and his close friend Marc Lopez beat the Romanian pair of Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea to the men’s doubles title in what was perhaps the happiest event ever seen on a tennis court. Rafa is now the first man to have won all four Grand Slams, and gold medals in both singles and doubles at the Olympics.
  5. The men’s bronze medal match was marked by Kei Nishikori taking an inexplicably long bathroom break immediately after Rafa Nadal came back from a set and two breaks down to force a third. Nadal became increasingly agitated as the break stretched to 12 minutes. Whatever Kei was doing in there worked, as he cleaned up the third set and bronze medal pretty rapidly after that, but I’m not sure how many fans it’s won him.
  6. Venus Williams fought her way onto the podium once again, collecting a 9th Williams sister Olympic medal over 4 Olympic Games – this time, a silver in mixed doubles partnered with Rajeev Ram. She and Serena crashed out early in both singles and doubles, but Venus’ impromptu entry into the mixed draw gave her her fifth medal.
  7. Martina Hingis finally won an Olympic medal, taking silver with Timea Bacsinszky behind the Russian pair of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. The Swiss pair managed a narrow escape in the semis, with Hingis smacking a volley back at their Czech opponents down match point. The ball caught Andrea Hlavackova in the face, and has fractured her eye socket.
  8. With the exception of poor Hlavackova, the Czechs had a pretty successful tournament. They cleaned up on the cheap medals, with Petra Kvitova taking the women’s bronze, Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova taking third in the women’s doubles, and Hlavackova‘s partner Lucie Hradecka teaming up with veteran Radek Stepanek for the same medal in mixed.
  9. Andy Murray, feminist superhero, struck once again as John Inverdale said to him that he was the first player to win two Olympic golds – reminding the gaffe-prone broadcaster that the Williams sisters have four each.
  10. I discovered this extraordinary Tumblr account – http://hugsfromdelpo.tumblr.com/ – and I suggest that you bookmark it to fend off sadness forever.

 

With thanks to @doublefault28 for all the outstanding .gifs! 

Olympic Upsets

The first round of the Olympic singles and doubles have seen some surprising results. Here’s a roundup of the action so far.

Men’s Singles:

Well, the biggest shock of the tournament so far has been Novak Djokovic losing to Juan Martin Del Potro, 7-6(4) 7-6(2). The world number one was unquestionably favourite for the gold medal, despite his tough first round draw against the Argentine, a repeat of the 2012 bronze medal match. Following his shock loss at Wimbledon, the Serb returned in Toronto to claim the Rogers Cup title, and was looking strong. With an apparent left wrist injury hindering his backhand, though, he could not come up with the goods to beat the 2009 US Open champion, and left the court in tears.

Rafael Nadal, in his first match since pulling out of the French Open in June, looked in fine form. He dissected Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 6-2 6-1, and will meet Italy’s Andreas Seppi in the next round.

Team GB’s flagbearer and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray made quick work of a potentially challenging encounter with Serbian Viktor Troicki, dismissing him 6-3 6-1.

 

Women’s Singles:

Venus Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska were the highest seeds to fall on the women’s side. Venus lost to Dutch player Kirsten Flipkens4-6 6-3 7-6(5) while Radwanska went down 6-4 7-5 to 22-year old Zheng Saisai of China. There were early losses too for seeded players Roberta Vinci and Timea Bacsinszky.

Elsewhere, Serena Williams outlasted a tough challenge from young Australian Daria Gavrilova, and Britain’s Jo Konta breezed past her first round opponent to set up a meeting with Caroline Garcia.

 

Men’s Doubles:

Two huge shocks in the first round of the men’s doubles, as the top two seeds fell in quick succession.

French pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert are currently the top-ranked pair in the world, and current Wimbledon champions. They lost in straight sets to the Colombian pair of Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

Andy and Jamie Murray were supposed to be in with a good chance of a medal, but they lost 7-6(6) 7-6(14) to the Brazilian pair of Thomaz Bellucci and Andre Sa.

The other Brazilian pair, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares are now the highest seeds left in the men’s draw, and will face Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic. Argentina’s Del Potro and his partner Maximo Gonzalez will take on the Spanish pair of Marc Lopez and Rafael Nadal.

 

Women’s Doubles:

The three-time gold medalists, the top seeds, the most famous siblings in sport. The 2016 Wimbledon champions. The winners of 14 Grand Slams as a doubles pair. The winners of a combined 29 Slams individually. Venus and Serena Williams are unparalleled. They are also out of the Olympics.

They lost their first round match to the unseeded pair of Barbora Strycova and Lucie Safarova6-3 6-4. While most people expected the Williams sisters to win, the Czechs were worthy opponents. Both play doubles far more frequently than their opponents, and Safarova has two Slam doubles titles to her name.

The second seeds, too, had a bad day. Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic lost 6-0 0-6 6-4 to Japanese pair Misaki Doi and Eri Hozumi in a wildly unpredictable match.

 

Check back after the second round to see how your favourites are doing, and for previews of the mixed doubles.

Olympic Tennis: Preview

The opening ceremony for Rio 2016 is tonight, and the tennis will get underway tomorrow. Here’s a look at who’s in, who’s out, who’s flagbearing, and the more interesting points of the draw.

Who’s playing?

  • Novak Djokovic: The world number one is the favourite for this title. Following his shock exit at Wimbledon, he returned last week with the Rogers Cup title in Toronto, beating Kei Nishikori.
  • Serena Williams: The gold medallist from 2012, Serena also has three doubles golds to her name.
  • Rafa Nadal: It was touch and go, but the 2008 champion has shaken off a wrist injury to come back for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open back in June.
  • Caroline Wozniacki: Like Nadal, Wozniacki has struggled with injury lately. The former number one missed out on the qualifying requirements and had to appeal to get her place in the Games.
  • Andy Murray: Now with three Grand Slam titles and two medals from the 2012 Olympics (gold in singles, and silver in the mixed doubles), Murray comes into this among the favourites.
  • Some lesser-known players get into the Olympics, because they’re the highest ranked representative of their country. Look out for Radu Albot (Macedonia), Darian King (Barbados), Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia), Stephanie Vogt (Liechtenstein), Cagla Buyukakcay (Turkey), and Galina Voskoboeva (Kazakhstan).

Who’s missing?

  • Roger Federer: It has long been suggested that Federer hadn’t yet retired because he was waiting for Rio. An Olympic gold is one of the very few accolades missing from his cabinet. Instead, he’s taking the rest of the season off, in the hope that he can return in 2017. It’s not looking good for our hero.
  • Stan Wawrinka: The lesser of the two Swiss maestros pulled out after tweaking his back during Rogers Cup last week.
  • Vika Azarenka: Somewhat unexpectedly, the former number one has announced that she’s pregnant, and is taking a break from tennis for the time being.
  • Milos Raonic: The first-time Wimbledon finalist pulled out in July, citing concerns over the Zika virus.
  • Simona Halep: The Romanian has chosen not to travel for the same reasons as Raonic – a shame, perhaps, as she was voted WTA Player of the Month for July.

Who gets to carry a flag?

  • Andy Murray (GBR) gets a flag. As one of Team GB’s most successful athletes, as reigning Olympic champion, as freshly-crowned Wimbledon champion, this seems only fair.
  • Rafa Nadal (ESP) gets a flag. Without a doubt, Rafa is one of Spain’s greatest ever sportspeople. His career is almost certainly winding down now, but he deserves the honour.
  • Caroline Wozniacki (DAN) gets a flag. Just in case anyone was beginning to forget her.
  • Gilles Muller (LUX) gets a flag. One of the perks of being from a tiny country means that you get some pretty special honours. Gilles Muller will have carried the flag in an Olympic opening ceremony, and Serena Williams will never.

————————

The tennis at the Olympics is, for someone who watches it year-round, a little strange.

Nationality comes into which players are selected, so for example the USA women’s team has the maximum four singles players in the draw. The lowest ranked of these is Sloane Stephens, at number 22. Hsieh Su-Wei, on the other hand, gets automatic qualification as the highest ranked Taiwanese player – at 83.

More singles players get involved in the doubles, too – and pairs are decided based on nationality. Spain will have Garbiñe Muguruza and Rafa Nadal as its mixed doubles pair, while Andy Murray will play with his brother Jamie, for Team GB. Jamie was ranked #1 for the first time earlier this year.

 

Matches to watch:

  • Novak Djokovic – Juan Martin Del Potro: This first round clash is a replay of the bronze medal match from London. Del Potro won last time, but after serious injury woes, he’s no longer the player he was.
  • Genie Bouchard – Sloane Stephens: Two fairly young, extremely talented, temperamental players who have had real success before.
  • Marin Cilic – Grigor Dimitrov: Both can play outstanding tennis at times, but Cilic is definitely the most consistent of the two.
  • Garbiñe Muguruza – Jelena Jankovic: This pits the French Open champion against one of the WTA tour’s elder stateswomen, and should be fun.

 

The finals – including the bronze medal matches – will take place on Friday 12, Saturday 13, and Sunday 14.

Which tennis players would survive Game of Thrones?

Roger Federer would not survive. Elder statesmen come to sticky ends in Westeros. Grace and talent is not enough to keep a man on the Iron Throne.

Maria Sharapova would not survive. Icy queens can scheme their way to the top, but their end will come and it will be ugly. It is known.

Novak Djokovic would not survive. He is too dominant to be allowed to live, and one day someone will usurp him.

Garbiñe Muguruza would not survive. She challenged the queen, and the queen will not stand for it.

Rafael Nadal would not survive.He is too principled and naive, and his best years are behind him. He would be beheaded.

Genie Bouchard would not survive. Not even as the heir apparent to the blonde crown of Nike.

Grigor Dimitrov would not survive. A crown of gold to match his black heart, perhaps?

Victoria Azarenka would not survive. The Seven Kingdoms has not been kind to pregnant women in the past.

Nick Kyrgios would not survive. Likely to be poisoned at his own wedding.

Andy Murray would not survive. The King in the North is a cursed title.

Serena Williams would survive Game of Thrones.

 

 

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts on any other players? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

An Open Letter To Nick Kyrgios

Hi Nick,

Thanks for being so honest in press today. It’s refreshing to see. I’m sorry you don’t enjoy being a professional tennis player at the moment. I hope you figure out what you do enjoy, and that it gets better from here.

I don’t know anything about being a professional athlete – hell, I’m not sure I’ve ever been for a run. I don’t know what it’s like to stand on Centre Court against the favourite for the Wimbledon title and mess up a volley. I don’t know anything about having the eyes of the world on you. I don’t know what it’s like to have the international press asking you about your attitude day in, day out, or writing thinkpieces on you. I don’t know what it’s like to hear criticism from world-famous figures.

Here’s what I do know. I know what it’s like to be 21. I know what it’s like to be doing something I’m good at, but don’t particularly enjoy. I know what it’s like to not know what else I could possibly do. I know what it’s like to get in your own head when things start to go wrong. I know what it’s like to have my attitude criticised for not putting my heart and soul into something that it just isn’t in. And I know what it’s like to be told I should feel grateful for what I do have, rather than wondering whether I’d be happier having something else.

I know that all of this sucks.

From a fan’s perspective, it’s a privilege to watch someone with your talent. You’re an extraordinary player, although I think you know that. It’s also uncomfortable to hear commentators and former pros tear strips off you, even when yes, you did look like you wanted to be anywhere but on court today.

Compared to someone like Rafa Nadal aged 21, sure, your attitude sucks. Compared to 21 year olds I know – ones who haven’t lived their entire life trying to excel at one thing, ones who have interests outside of their jobs – it all seems pretty par for the course. You seem unusually normal.

People like John McEnroe and Kitty Chiller appear to struggle with that. You don’t behave like a professional athlete should behave, in their eyes – and in the eyes of a fair chunk of the press and public. I can’t imagine how demoralising that must be. Sitting up in front of a room full of people after a bad day on court. Answering questions that are baited traps. Going on Twitter and seeing so many critical opinions. Honestly, I really feel for you.

“Professional athlete” seems like a weird, weird life. You’re held up as an idol, and slated if you don’t live up to those expectations. Your words are picked over. Your attitude is picked over. Even your body language is picked over as a way to guess your attitude. People who have never done what you do feel entitled to have opinions on how you could do your job better.

To be honest, I get the impression that you have a lot more self-awareness than many of the other players. Also the honesty – I really respect that, and I don’t think I’m alone.

It would be a shame if you walked away from tennis, but it would be a shame if you kept playing and it made you miserable. I hope you find the right solution. I hope you have the right people around you. I hope the rest get off your back. I hope you prove them wrong. I hope you become happier.

Good luck, and thanks for all of it,

Oonagh – A Sympathetic Fan

Wimbledon 2016: The Men

It’s that time of the year again. The BBC has been trailing the green and purple for weeks, I’m having a Pavlovian response every time I hear the music, and the first ball will be served on Centre Court in a matter of hours. So – what’s going to happen? What are the best upcoming matches? Who have I picked to make it through? Can anyone PLEASE challenge Novak Djokovic?

The Draw:

Djokovic definitely has the easiest path of the top 4 seeds. But Djokovic would have the easiest path no matter his draw. Raonic could challenge him in the quarters, but unless the McEnroe Effect is truly exceptional, Djokovic will make the final. And win it.

Federer’s draw is not especially nice, particularly not for a geriatric with back pain. However, I think he’ll play himself in, and make the semis. It’s Wimbledon, he’s Roger Federer, and he’d darn well better make the third round because I’m camping on Thursday night.

The third quarter is sticky. Wawrinka’s due one of his classic early tumbles. If not, I’ve got him up against Tomic in the R16 – I flirted with backing Tomic to come through that, but I just couldn’t stomach it. He’ll then come up against one of (I expect) Berdych, Thiem, and Zverev. I’m picking Thiem for the QF spot, because the boy appears to be running on something other than human energy, and I think he’ll edge Stan for the spot in the semis.

Murray’s going to make the final. The fourth quarter has some absolutely delicious potential for fireworks, and I’m pencilling Kyrgios-Murray into the fourth round. This is dependent on Nick making it past Radek Stepanek, Dustin Brown, and one of Fognini or Lopez, but I think it’ll happen. Then I’m sticking my money on another angsty scrap with Gasquet in the quarters.

First Round Matches:

I have to say, there are fewer R128 matches filling me with breathless anticipation than in Grand Slams past. The ones that I am excited for, though, should be cracking.

  • Jack Sock [27] v. Ernests Gulbis
  • Borna Coric v. Ivo Karlovic [23]
  • Fernando Verdasco v. Bernard Tomic [19]
  • Stephane Robert v. Juan Martin del Potro
  • Taylor Fritz v. Stan Wawrinka [4]
  • John Isner [18] v. Marcos Baghdatis
  • Nick Kyrgios [15] v. Radek Stepanek [W]

Britwatch:

I foresee three British men making it out of the first round, and one making it further.

  • James Ward has Novak Djokovic first. ‘Nuff said.
  • Kyle Edmund has been playing well lately and I think he should beat Adrian Mannarino.
  • Bryden Klein is up against Nico Mahut, who is a very good grass court player. Bye, Bryden.
  • Alexander Ward has 11th seed David Goffin, so that’s probably the end of the road.
  • Marcus Willis is 25 years old, ranked #775, and plays part-time. I wish him all the luck in the world against Ricardas Berankis, because if he beats him he will almost definitely have the privilege of being destroyed by one Roger Federer on Centre Court. I don’t see it happening, though.
  • Dan Evans might beat Jan-Lennard Struff.
  • Aljaz Bedene could trouble Richard Gasquet. He should not beat him.
  • Andy Murray will make the final, where he will lose to Djokovic.

Quarterfinal Picks:

Novak Djokovic [1] v. Milos Raonic [6]

Roger Federer [3] v. Marin Cilic [9]

Dominic Thiem [8] v. Stan Wawrinka [4]

Richard Gasquet [7] v. Andy Murray [2]

The Final:

Novak Djokovic [1] v. Andy Murray [2]

Winner: Novak Djokovic

The first two Slams of the season have shown that it doesn’t matter if a shocking scandal disrupts your sport, or if Biblical storms come streaking through the grounds. However crazy the two weeks of the event, on Sunday afternoon Novak Djokovic will cause Andy Murray to unravel once again.

The United Kingdom may have disintegrated, London may be in flames, an asteroid could have hit Westminster – for all I know, Murray could be representing the proud nation of Scotland by next Sunday. But – barring an exceptional intervention from everyone’s favourite court jester Ivan Lendl – Centre Court will be turned into a dentist’s surgery.

Murray will bare his teeth in that awful patient’s grimace once again, and Djokovic will be smiling with those dead, clinical eyes so reminiscent of the ones you see above the mask as a sterile hand reaches into your mouth and lies to you that you won’t feel a thing…

The final will not be an expression of joy or sportsmanship or the best of Britishness, in a month where that seems so long forgotten. It will be cold, it will be precise, and it will be brutal.

I am dreading it already.

Roland Garros Review

Looking at the results, this year’s French Open could easily be mistaken for a fairly unsurprising fortnight. In the men’s tournament, the uniquely dominant No.1 Novak Djokovic beat second-ranked Andy Murray to win his first Roland Garros title.

Novak-Djokovic-French-Open-Roland-Garros-2016-Seiko-Astron-GPS-Solar-Dual-Time-Novak-Djokovic-Limited-Edition-2

Novak Djokovic with his first Roland Garros trophy

 

On the women’s side, rising star and 4th seed Garbiñe Muguruza dethroned Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam, having lost to her in the final of Wimbledon in 2015.

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Muguruza with her first Grand Slam trophy

 

The full two weeks of the tournament, though, were anything but predictable.

 

Early Rumblings

A cloud has hung over tennis this year. First the betting scandal (link) which broke during the Australian Open, then the spotlight turning to doping following Maria Sharapova’s ban for the use of meldonium. The negative trend carried over into the run up to this year’s French Open.

Roger Federer pulled out on the day of the draw due to a recurrence of his back injury, bringing to an end a remarkable streak of 65 consecutive Grand Slam appearances dating back to 2000. Flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils announced his withdrawal the following day with a viral infection – a real sadness for the home crowd, as the acrobatic star has had an uncharacteristically consistent start to 2016.

The blows to the men’s side kept coming, as nine-time champion Rafa Nadal was forced to withdraw from his third-round match against compatriot Marcel Granollers with a wrist injury – though some on Twitter were quick to suggest that he’d got out just in time, given his well-documented fear of storms.

 

Disruptions

As the middle weekend approached, it began to look as though nobody could steal Novak Djokovic’s thunder as he picked up steam on his march toward a fourth Roland Garros final, and hopefully his first title.

Unfortunately, the gods took that as a challenge. Torrential rain caused all play to be cancelled on the Monday – the first washout since 2000. Fears grew that the finalists would have to play for four consecutive days, or the matches would have to be moved to the Monday.

Fortunately, the skies slowly began to clear, and the tennis got back underway – with some unexpected results.

The remaining women’s fourth round matches, between Sam Stosur and Simona Halep, and Agnieszka Radwanska and Tsvetana Pironkova, ended in upsets, with Stosur making her first Slam quarter final since 2012 and 102nd-ranked Pironkova beating Radwanska.

Halep and Radwanska were both unhappy with the court conditions in their matches.

 

Halep, a former finalist on the red clay, described it as “impossible to play”, while Radwanska admitted to being “surprised and angry” that the matches had taken place.

 

The top half of the men’s draw, too, had fallen far behind. The Djokovic jinx at the French  was in the back of everybody’s mind as he restarted his match a set down to clay talent Roberto Bautista Agut. He prevailed in four sets, but Murray and Wawrinka looked considerably fresher going into their respective quarterfinals.

 

Normal Service Resumes

The men’s quarters went according to plan, with gifted young Austrian Dominic Thiem taking Nadal’s place, while Djokovic once again cruised past Tomas Berdych. Wawrinka blew through surprise package Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and Murray broke the spirit of talented but fragile Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

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Rain delays well spent

 

Djokovic demolished Thiem in straight sets in the first semifinal, while Murray prevailed in four against a slightly flat Wawrinka. Last year’s unexpected champion had built up momentum throughout the tournament, but simply did not turn up against the Scot. The lethal backhand that pulled him through the 2015 final against Djokovic was frequently wide of the mark, and his frustration even outdid the grumblings of Murray.

Serena faced an unusual challenge in her quarterfinal against the expressive Yulia Putintseva. The Kazakh had good chances to win as she led with a set and a break, but the 21-time Slam champion pulled through, eventually breaking Putintseva’s confidence as completely as her serve. Kiki Bertens pulled off yet another shock, with the No.58 beating last year’s semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky. Shelby Rogers’ dream run eventually came to an end, as she lost to eventual champion Muguruza in two tight sets. The most unexpected quarterfinal of the lot went the way of veteran Sam Stosur, who beat Tsvetana Pironkova to reach her first semifinal since 2012.

In the semis, Muguruza confidently headed off the challenge from former Slam champion Stosur to reach her second major final, beating the Australian 6-4 6-2. Serena, meanwhile, was up against the entirely unheralded Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens. Both players were carrying injuries, and Bertens was broken at 5-3 serving for a tight, scrappy first set. The eventual tiebreak went the way of the No.1 – after that, Bertens’ resolve crumbled a little, and Serena cleaned up easily in the second set to make her sixth Slam final of the last seven. 

RG

Court Philippe Chatrier

 

Finals

Muguruza bt. Williams: 7-5 6-4

Saturday’s match between Muguruza and Serena truly seemed like the changing of the guard. The WTA tour is less wholly dominated by a particular group of players than the ATP, but Muguruza looked like a star finding her feet. She played fearless, intelligent tennis throughout. Despite taking a huge number of match points to close out the championship, she rarely lost her cool. The straight sets victory and the charming speeches afterwards were an absolute delight to watch.

The search for #22 continues for Serena.

Djokovic bt. Murray: 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4

For the first time, Novak Djokovic won Roland Garros. Not for the first time, Andy Murray got sucked into the black hole which is the No.1’s extraordinarily rigid defence, and snuffed out his own opportunities. It was a match we’ve all seen before. Murray starts well. Djokovic starts fine, but not his best. Murray then develops a hint of a doubt, Djokovic chooses this precise moment to up his level. Murray implodes. The match becomes painful viewing. A late fightback gives fans hope. It is too late. Djokovic wins.

On the podium, the Serb seemed overwhelmed to have won the only major title he was missing, and the Scot a little dazed by the beating he’d taken.

For Djokovic, the title cements his place in history. With titles at all four Grand Slams to his name, and an exceptional streak of dominance at the top of the men’s game, the No.1 can finally file his application for ‘Greatest Of All Time‘ with no asterisks.

 

 

 

 

 

Resuscitation – Again

Well, it’s almost a year since I last wrote something on here, with all the good blogging intentions in the world, and then promptly vanished.

Time for an update, then. I decided I couldn’t get a job in a pub for a year, and that I’d go mad if I tried. I also decided that yes, actually, I really did want to be a journalist.

So – as you do – I sent off a Hail Mary application to Cardiff University’s News Journalism MA programme, and then promptly got on a plane to China for a month. Returned from Shanghai on August 20th, had an interview on the 28th, and moved to Wales on September 19th.

I’ve been in Cardiff since, and it’s been pretty busy. I’ve been occupied learning how to write properly, how to talk to strangers without clamming up, what makes a good story, how to contact a council’s press office, and that I should really stop swearing on social media.

Unfortunately, this means I’ve not watched as much tennis as I’d have liked. With actual mornings now happening – requiring I be out of the house before 9 a.m. more days than not –  I wisely haven’t tried to justify staying up to all hours to watch whatever’s going on in Melbourne or Shanghai overnight.

As happens every year though, tennis is back in Europe. Just as I have exams, naturally. For the 5th consecutive year, the French Open finals landed on my Most Important Revision Weekend.

Reader, I watched them.*

Anyway, exams are wrapping up on Friday, tennis is back in a reasonable timezone, and I want to write about it again. So I shall.

*more on that shortly

Wimbledon 2015: Grounds Pass Highlights

Being, for one short, blissful summer, out of education, unemployed, and almost entirely without constraints, I’m getting seriously stuck in to the Championships this year. Despite being on site every day last year, my position as ‘Night Housekeeper’ pretty much scuppered any and all chance of watching the tennis. I’m making up for lost time in 2015.
I went up on Tuesday and got in the queue at around 2.30, having absolutely nothing better to do with my afternoon. Wasn’t feeling too hopeful when handed a card marked 10482, but found myself waiting in great company – as has happened every year; either the knowledge that you’re going to be stuck with your neighbours for several hours forces people to bring out the best of their social skills, or committed tennis fans really are a pleasant bunch.
We made it in shortly after 5.30; I’d got quite invested in predicting queue movement and my theory was proved right – Murray’s victory provoked a mass exodus among the grounds pass holders, and we were crossing the bridge to the turnstiles within half an hour.

Once in, I found enough excellent women’s matches and saw enough to easily justify both the £18 post-5pm entrance cost and my conviction that the first week of any Slam is, without a doubt, the better half.

Wandering around, I ran into Sabine Lisicki, double faulting her way through an unexpectedly tough match – there wasn’t a seat available and I’m not tall enough to peer over heads and fencing, so I moved on.

Next up, I found Alizé Cornet and Ana Konjuh, warming up for a brief match. The light was horrible, so only Konjuh proved photographable. Again, it was pretty busy, so I left them to it.

Finally, I found a home for myself. Sesil Karatantcheva (autocorrect has been somewhat aptly changing her first name to “Desolation”) had just dropped the second set to Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and there were plenty of empty seats and a notable Spanish contingent in national football shirts. So I settled in. The tennis was fairly unremarkable, except that the set proved to be one of those in which “hold of return” (term courtesy of The Tennis Island team) became key. After 7 consecutive breaks, Soler-Espinosa clinched it. To anyone who had kept an eye on Karatantcheva’s body language, this was not a massive surprise. Nor was it a surprise to my neighbours, a large group of Spanish fans who appeared to have put money on their own player – all apart from one, who was getting thoroughly slated by his mates. Anyway, the match ended, and I wasn’t ready to go home.

Onwards to the queue for Court 3. Madison Keys is one of my favourite players, and I was desperate to get in to see her. I stuck with the match as she grabbed the second set back off a fairly vocally supported Stefanie Vögele, but it was called for light early in the third.

And that was the end of my impromptu day out at the tennis. Hopefully I’ll be back next week!

Eastbourne Semifinals – Highlight Reel

So, I made it to the semifinals at Eastbourne, which was a really wonderful day out! It was my first time at live tennis other than Wimbledon and the ATP World Tour Finals, and I loved it. It’s so nearby for me, and I’ll definitely be there again next year.

The first match – Radwanska-Stephens – was a brilliant 3 set tussle, but the second was a bit of a letdown, with Bencic getting through after a Wozniacki retirement, and me missing the first (and only) three games due to an unreasonably long queue for water.

I got some fairly decent (iPhone) pictures though!