Monthly Archives: June 2014

Wonderful Little Story from Wimbledon Court 17

… And it’s entitled: In case you wondered what “choking” looks like!

In the clip below, you will see the 19-year-old Smitkova play a 15-40 point on her opponents’ serve at 7-6 in the final set. In other words it’s a match point for her after over 2,5 hours of play on Court 17 at Wimbledon. But read this before you watch the clip!

Smitkova entered top 500 in the world only two years ago, and top 200 only two months ago. Now she is 175 in the world. She came from qualifying rounds here, and has NEVER been to the main draw of a Slam tournament before this week! In fact, she has won only one match in the main draw of any WTA Tour event prior to this week! Not only did she make it to the main draw but she won two rounds to get to this match. Her career earnings for all the hard work through her teenage years is $75,562! If she wins this match point, she is guaranteed to make $200,000 at least!! This is what is on the line, this is a career moment for her. So when you watch the clip and see her return the ball, hit a couple of ground shots, and then make a terrible error on an easy forehand put away, you can understand why she chokes on the same shot that she has used numerous times during the match to hit winners. Now here is the clip, then come back and read the better half of the story!

Click here to download and watch Smitkova choke the 1st match point away (18.2 mb)

The misery does not end there! She also makes an easy error in her 2nd and 3rd match points, and loses the game to get to 7-7! Furthermore, she loses her own serve to go down 7-8 and she literally starts crying on her way to sit down in the bench on that 7-8 game change. She stays alone sitting on the bench for one minute and cries really hard with the towel on her face.

But then, guess what?

She gets up, wipes the tears off and gets back to the court. She keeps fighting. She breaks back to get to 8-8. After almost three hours of play, she wins the third set and the match 10-8 in the final set. This time she has tears of joy in her eyes. She won, after choking three match points, in a match that could make or break her career. She did it alone, nobody on the bench to pat her back or calm her down, no coach to tell her what to do, nobody can talk to her. She knew how to dig deep and pick herself back up all on her own!

This is what champions are made of, this is why tennis players learn quickly how to handle adversity on the court and in life!

Tennis is a beautiful game…
Smitkova is already a champion in my eyes…

SAM_2465

June 23: Day 1 at Wimbledon in Pictures

The most prestigious tournament in tennis, namely Wimbledon, got underway today at the courts of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club with first-round singles matches. Around one month ago, in one of my Roland Garros updates, I decided to let the pictures do the talking and I was suprisingly pleased to hear that many of you enjoyed it. So, what better way to start the Wimbledon updates than with pictures to tell the tale of Day 1? Here we go…

SAM_2300Be ready to trim the fat off your wallet for tickets. At the time of this article, 1 GBP is worth 1.703 Dollars, or 1.252 Euros. You do the math.

SAM_2302Stunning statue of legendary British player Fred Perry, Wimbledon’s winner in 1934, 1935, and 1936.

SAM_2308Henman Hill already in full gear with Andy Murray’s opening match of the tournament.

SAM_2313Two days after losing in the finals of the AEGON International ATP 250 tournament in Eastbourne, the 13th-seed Richard Gasquet practices under the watchful-eye of his Coach Sebastien Grosjean (now-retired 4-time Slam semifinalist and ex-world number 4) – to prepare for his first round match tomorrow against the Australian James Duckworth.

SAM_2310Gasquet’s practice partner was Marsel Ilhan of Turkey, one of the qualifiers to make it to the Main Draw. He practices under the guidance of coach Alberto Nunez and his physical trainer (in blue) to prepare for his match tomorrow against another qualifier Denis Kudla of U.S.A.

SAM_2362Around 2:30 PM…

SAM_2326(Caption) – Ball Girl: “Hmmm, should I ask him how I could get my hair to do that?”

SAM_2346Surely Marcos Baghdatis did not miss this put away, did he?

SAM_2360Around 3:44 PM… Note: Courts 14 and 15, seen here, are out of commission until the 2015 edition of Wimbledon.

SAM_2365Samuel Groth may have lost to Dolgopolov in a tight 7/5 7/6 7/6 match today, but I will gladly hire him as my bodyguard if tennis does not pan out! He has one of the biggest serves in the ATP Tour and has a bright future as a big hitter.

SAM_2372Can Dolgopolov please look at least once like he is not bored on the court? So much talent, yet so casual…

SAM_2380And…. the day ends with the rain interrupting the last round of matches. Should we be surprised?

Stay tuned for further updates!
Mertov’s T-Desk is also on Twitter !

Ending Tale of Roland Garros 2014

Clay Court Sweep
Roland Garros ended with two usual characters holding the winning trophies. Ironically, it will remain as one of the most upset-filled Slams in recent memory. Through all the upsets and the unexpected twists, the men’s number one and two seeds kept coming to a collision that all tennis fans expected since the beginning of the tournament. On the women’s side, once the top 3 seeds, Williams, Li Na, and Agnieska Radwanska, lost in the early days of the tournament, Sharapova and Halep were the two names that they predicted for the finals before any other name.

No need to go into details of each match, since most tennis fans have either watched them or read about them. It is worth noting however that for the first time in many years of worth of Slams (and yes, it’s “Slams” and not “Grand Slams”, a whole write-up needed for that mistake that keeps getting repeated over and over), the final weekend of the women’s draw witnessed as much excitement as the men’s, contained more dramatic matches with extremely tight finishes. The semifinals on Thursday – Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard and Halep vs. Andrea Petkovic – undoubtedly provided more thrills for the spectators than the dull Friday of the men’s semifinals in which both matches remained sub-par in quality, and above-par in disappointment in terms expectations. Ernests Gulbis and Novak Djokovic played mediocre tennis for the most part, piling up the unforced errors. Djokovic’s physical condition deteriorated as the match went on and Gulbis could not raise his level of play to take advantage of it. The second match between Nadal and Andy Murray went from start to finish at maximum warp speed as Nadal totally outclassed Murray for a one-man-show that lasted 1 hour and 38 minutes.

On Saturday, Sharapova and Halep brought their “A” games to Philippe Chatrier and provided the crowd, as well as the millions in front of their TV screens, with a spectacle to be remembered for a long time to come. It made me think back to the last three-set-final at Roland Garros, some 13 years before Saturday, when Jennifer Capriati confirmed her comeback year that started at the Australian Open with a thrilling victory, 1/6 6/4 12/10, over the young newcomer Kim Clijsters of Belgium. It was a high flying period for the WTA with the Williams sisters in the beginning of their dominance, with Capriati and Martina Hingis challenging them, the Belgian duo Clijsters and Justine Henin joining the race and Sharapova getting in the mix in the mid-2000s. That match on Chatrier between Capriati and Clijsters was the stamp on the envelope that contained the sealed confirmation that WTA was a highly popular product among tennis fans. Around late 2000s, the product got old and stale, with many of the stars who built it, retiring or losing their skills. Yet, the new crop of players never managed to take over the few remaining names that kept dominating most tournaments. Saturday’s final match was not only a thrill in terms of quality of tennis played but also the stamp that the WTA desperately needed to confirm that it is on its way back. Sharapova may have lifted the winner’s trophy but the fresh crop of players such as Halep, Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza, Ajla Tomljanovic, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Garcia, and few others are not going anywhere, and will stay around for a long time. WTA has a golden opportunity to capitalize on a new, radiant group of players, and it could not have asked for a better Slam final match to launch their product.

The men’s final lacked nothing with regards to hype. The two best players in the world met at the highest stage of clay court tennis. The first two sets matched the expectations in quality and competition. Djokovic and Nadal traded blows, with each attempting to gain control over the other’s baseline game through aggressive shots. In the first set, Djokovic managed to stay inside the court and push Nadal around. In the second set, Nadal began going for winners much more often and succeeded in taking the middle of the court away from Djokovic. With the first two sets split, everyone expected a thrill ride the rest of the way. It never happened, due to two things. First Nadal completely found his rhythm and remained on high gear for the next hour, only to come land from space down to earth for the last few games of the match. Second, Djokovic’s physical state rapidly deteriorated from about 4-3 in the second set to 2-0 in the third set, to the point where he began shaking and stretching his legs and arms between points to relax and recover, stretching for balls to avoid extra steps, and as the usual result of fatigue, increasing the number of unforced errors in abundance. It was only after the middle of the fourth set, when the clouds came and the wind picked up, that Djokovic found a way to get back into the match – and Rafa had a hand in it too, with a few unexpected unforced errors. Yet, it was too little too late, as Djokovic did not have enough reserve in the tank to match the quality of his tennis from the first set. Nadal remained the king of clay and the number one player in the world, improving on his record of French Open titles and adding a new one to his expanding resume: he is now the only player in tennis to have one at least one Slam title for ten years in a row.

That being said, the stars of the last weekend of this Slam were the women. It was the first time in many years that women’s matches outclassed the men’s matches in excitement, thrill, and in quality. Unlike in men’s matches, there were no ‘empty moments’ in the three women’s matches of the last weekend, no one-sided shows, and plenty of quality shot making. Unlike in the men’s matches, each of the three women’s matches remained hard to predict all the way to the very last few points. Roland Garros 2014 was the recipe that the WTA desperately needed, the injection that rejuvenated a stale product.

I hope you enjoyed the series of updates from Paris.
Let the grass court season begin…

Women’s Final Preview: Sharapova vs. Halep

Since the eliminations of the top 3 seeds Serena Williams, Li Na, and Agnieska Radwanska in the early days of Roland Garros, the few left who were still daring to make predictions called on two names to meet in the finals: Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep. To their relief, the two players stayed the course and reached tomorrow’s final match, although not without some difficulty in Sharapova’s case.

Logic would dictate that with all her previous Slam titles and her mental toughness, Sharapova should overcome yet another challenge by a newcomer to the elite world of “big time” in WTA in the form of Halep. She has already held off challenges by the so-called the ‘new generation’ by recording remarkable comeback wins against Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard, and one other against a proven player in Samantha Stosur. She came back to win in three sets after losing the first against all three. Especially her win against Bouchard deserves special mention.

The 48 hours leading up to the match, a photo of Sharapova taken with an 8-year-old Bouchard circulated all over the social and main stream media, courtesy of the editor at TV Guide who initially posted it on Twitter. The effects of this picture, coupled with Bouchard’s reference to Sharapova as her idol – ‘back then’ Bouchard specified, adding that they are “not friends” now – when asked about it, transformed the match into the image of a champion who stands to cede her younger rival the status of the revered champion and let the newcomer take her place. This was reminded to her more than once in the form of direct question – how did she feel about playing someone who took her as an idol when she was young? –, and in the form of newspaper articles and TV spots, in case she followed the media. She even had to respond to the last-second question by the colorful French TV personality Nelson Monfort on screen right before she walked on the court. He asked her how she felt about being the favorite and Sharapova, probably sick of the hype, bluntly answered that there could be no favorites in a match like this, and walked out. If she lost she would drop out of top 10, and Bouchard would enter it. Thus, it was under tremendous pressure that the Russian took her first steps to the court. To exasperate things further, the Philippe Chatrier crowd overwhelmingly supported Bouchard throughout the match. In short, Sharapova played a match where all the elements worked against her and she had everything to lose, while Bouchard stepped on the court as someone who had everything to gain from a victory.

So, one can understand when Sharapova celebrated her victory as if she won the tournament after her courageous comeback from a set down again. It was not happiness or contentment that she manifested. It was relief! I am not a big Sharapova fan, but I admired her tenacity, her sheer will to find a way to win, or refusal to lose. I believe that she will enter the court much more relaxed against Halep, an recently established top 5 player. She has already passed the toughest mental tests against Muguruza and Bouchard. She will play a match in which she is not the clear-cut favorite, although she is the slightly on paper. Her main advantage is her experience and her awareness that she can accomplish what is necessary when clutch moments arrive.

In contrast, Halep has steamrolled through the tournament, just as she has steamrolled through the last 12 months. If one was to pick the best player on the WTA Tour without a Slam title in the last 12 months, it would be Halep without a doubt. Yet, she has never been to this stage in a Slam tournament. Will that be a factor? It sure did not in her first semifinal in a Slam against Andrea Petkovic. She played the best tennis of the tournament by any player in the first set of that match. Her biggest strength is her footwork. She is able to move around the ball in small steps and get in position better than anyone in the current generation and probably better than any player since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain, the French Open winner of 1989, 1994, and 1998. Her forehand is lethal and she does not seem to have a clear weakness.

If the past was not considered and tennis history began in the last 12 months, it would be a 50-50 call. Halep has numerous titles on every surface, skyrocketed to the number 4 ranking. Sharapova recovered from an injury the latter part of 2013, and has won Stuttgart and Madrid. In Madrid and on clay, she did beat Halep in three sets. When the past and the aura are added to the equation, the balance tilts in Sharapova’s favor. She has been to this stage, and has won Slam titles. Halep will play in her first final. All indications show that it has the potential to be a final for ages. Let’s hope it turns out so.

SAM_2144a Friday evening – Trophy presentation ceremony rehearsal on Philippe Chatrier

Race to Finish the Matches!

It was around 4:45 PM in Paris when Andrea Petkovic and Sara Errani began warming up for their match on Philippe Chatrier and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Simona Halep began theirs on Suzanne Lenglen. Nobody at that time believed that all four quarterfinals scheduled on both courts would end by the end of the day. Yet, approximately five hours later, the semifinals on both draws were set. How did it happen?

This was the worst possible day for the rain to make a comeback. In every Slam tournament, this topic comes up. One side of the draw plays one day and the other side plays the next day. At some point in the second week, in order to bring all the rounds together to the same level, the players on one side of the draw get an extra day of break because the side that has been coming from behind needs a day to catch up and a day of rest. At Roland Garros this transition is executed between the quarterfinals and the semifinals. Today happened to be the day where the matches on the side of the draw that has been a day were to be completed in order to play the semifinals on the same day. If rain delays the matches, you sweat bullets as tournament organizers because you are left with players who will not get a day of rest playing against others who have been resting a day, or even two on the men’s side. Thus, you can imagine how worried they must have been around mid-afternoon when it was raining cats and dogs at Roland Garros.

However, they received help. Twice!

First help arrived when the rain that stopped around 4:30 PM, still allowing – thanks to Paris where it truly gets dark after 10 PM – over 5 hours of tennis-wise-safe daylight to get one women’s and one men’s match in on each court. Next help, though unintentional of course, came from the players. Petkovic and Halep defeated their opponents with identical scores, 6/2 6/2, in less than 1 hour and 20 minutes. The turnover from the end of the two women’s matches to the beginning of the two men’s matches was probably realized in record time. The usual end-of-the-match, on-court interviews with French TV were canceled (Halep looked like she had absolutely no problem with that), and even though they were not told directly, the movements of the ball boys and the referees made it very clear to the women players that they needed to get off the court quickly to allow for the men’s matches to commence. Just like that, in an hour and a half after the women took court, the men’s matches began. Although one went 4 sets and the other 5, none of the sets went to 5-5 and both matches featured last two sets that ended with either 6/0 or 6/1 scores. At the end, all quarterfinals were miraculously completed and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

I will finish with a few interesting observations.

- The Lenglen crowd was almost 100% pro-Halep. Strange that the 2009 winner Kuznetsova virtually received no love, although she has a larger arsenal of shots versus Halep’s solid baseline game with no variation. While it’s true that there were plenty of Romanian supporters (there were several Romanian flags), the French crowd overwhelmingly took Halep’s side. Considering the popularities of Bouchard, Petkovic and Halep, it confirms what I have felt for the last couple of years: women’s tennis fans are ready for a new crop of players to take over from Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and others that have been at the top of women’s game for many years.

- Gaël Monfils will probably close his career out as one of the most underachieving athletes to ever play the game. The guy is probably the most athletic guy on the ATP Tour, he can hit a big forehand as well as a big serve, and he has decent skills at the net. Yet, he remains 4-5 meters behind the baseline and reduces himself to an ordinary baseliner, only using a fraction of the arsenal of weapons that he possesses. Again today, he had Murray on the run and stretched him more times that I can remember, yet, he was content with waiting behind the baseline and letting the ball drop low to his ankles before hitting a regular baseline shot to put the ball back into play and let Murray recover. He is the kind of player that would be a nightmare to coach. He is the quintessential “almost” player that frustrates every coach. I imagine this is why he spends long periods of time without a coach throughout his career. They probably age quickly and go elsewhere. In fact, he played this French Open without a coach.

- As one media member said, Simona Halep gets into the “A-B-C’ of court tactics in her after-match press conferences more than any other women’s player. It’s refreshing to listen to her. She acts like she is talking to a large number of tennis coaches who understand the game well, rather than to a group of media members, many of whom have probably never played tennis.

Until next time!