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Fortnightly Review 07/11/2012 - 10:42 AM

TpWe’ve seen the best from Wimbledon. Here’s the rest. There’s a lot to remember from this one. I’d pretty much forgotten Gilles Simon was even there—sorry to remind you. That’s how the majors work, each story is erased by the one that comes along the next afternoon, until the first few days feel like they happened in another century. Hopefully that’s how Bernie Tomic and John Isner feel about their performances by now. 

Usual caveats: I can’t cover everyone or everything, and players don’t get failing grades just for losing tennis matches. 

***** 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
He lost his semi with Andy Murray, but he made their fourth set the best of the tournament. I don’t know whether he’s getting closer to a breakthrough or not, but he doesn’t need to win to be worth watching. Maybe that’s part of his problem. Good show from Jo. A- 

Angelique Kerber
We know about winning ugly, but Kerber may have been the first player to win a match sarcastically. That’s how she treated the third set of her Sturm and Drang quarterfinal with countrywoman Sabine Lisicki, after she’d blown match points in the second. Yet Kerber won anyway. A- 

Victoria Azarenka
She got her season back in gear by making the semis, and did what she could against Serena in a very good two-setter. A- 

Yaroslava Shvedova
A golden set, an athletic game, an exciting challenge to Serena, a laugh at mom doing the Wave. Here’s hoping we see a much more of her. A- 

The Grass
Hopefully now that Roger Federer is the Wimbledon champion again, we’ll hear a little less in general about how the grass is too slow and the sport’s surfaces are all the same. This year the turf was torn as usual, even in the spots where the ball kids kneel, and it led to more tumbles than we saw in Madrid. Otherwise, though, it brought out players’ creative and proactive sides; net-rushing was up across the board among the men. This version of the grass may not inspire much pure serve and volley, but it’s certainly different from clay, and it gives the sport a logical and manageable amount of variety. We had two worthy champions in Paris, Nadal and Sharapova, and two different but equally worthy champions at Wimbledon. Playing styles of all types—from Serena’s power, to Aga’s finesse, to Tsonga’s acrobatics, to Ferrer’s grit, etc.—had a chance to thrive. A- 

David Ferrer
Speaking of Ferru, he and Murray also gave us one of the tournament’s best matches. Their three-tiebreaker quarterfinal made the sedulous look entertaining. As always, he was exemplary in victory and defeat. B+ 

Petra Kvitova
You can copy most of Azarenka’s write-up and put it here, except that Kvitova faced Serena in the quarters. Petra and Vika, two young Slam winners, each made good efforts, and then got reality checks. B+ 

Mardy Fish
Fishy came back strong after his heart problem, and he was playing some of the most aggressive and interesting tennis I’ve ever seen him play against Tsonga, until the rains came. B+ 

Tamira Paszek
Judging from her horrid 2011 record, Paszek’s quarterfinal run was the surprise of the women’s side. Suddenly, when a match was close, she couldn’t miss. She’s engaging, too. Now don’t disappear on us. B+ 

Brian Baker
Is he for real? He got a little realer over the fortnight, anyway. Like Ferrer, exemplary in victory and defeat. B+ 

The Roof
It had a bigger effect than ever. On the one hand, it was the reason the tournament finished on time, with surprisingly little chaos—it's amazing what a single roof can do. On the other hand, it turned this Wimbledon into something it was never meant to be, a largely indoor tournament. Balancing those two things will never be easy. B+

Lukas Rosol
His fifth-set freak show against Nadal was unlike anything I’d ever seen. This Czech with the triple-digit ranking created the template for how to face up to the Top 3. I don’t get the feeling anyone is going to follow it.

Marcos Baghdatis
He and Murray played a nice, slicey, dicey, third-rounder. Upped a notch for contagious enthusiasm. B 

Novak Djokovic
A startlingly poor performance from a world No. 1 against Federer in the semis. He never gave himself a chance. Now he’s back at No. 2; hopefully he’s not back at 2009 as well. B- 

Julien Benneteau
It was fun to watch his flashy backhand against Federer, until he missed it when it mattered. He gathered himself for the fourth set, but he shouldn’t have let that fall in the third throw him so far off. B- 

Ernests Gulbis
A great first-round win over Berdych, and even better quotes afterward. He said he didn’t choke, “for once.” Apparently things returned to normal in his second match. C+ 

Maria Sharapova
She learned one of the perils of winning the French: It’s tougher to get ready for grass. She never looked ready. C+ 

Rafael Nadal
For the first time since 2005, and like his fellow French champ Sharapova, he couldn’t make the transition from clay to grass. Most consequential roof closing in history? C 

Ana Ivanovic
I said she was due for a big win. I wasn’t right.

Kim Clijsters
I don’t know whether to criticize her for showing no fight at all in her final Wimbledon match, or sympathize with her mortifying defeat. Either way, it was sad to see her walk away, head down, as quickly as possible. C 

Milos Raonic
He said himself that he didn't play his match with Sam Querrey with grit. We know he can serve. Now the focus may shift to the other side of the net. Can he return? C- 

Gilles Simon
I’m for equal pay at the Slams, though whether it makes sense at the other combined events, where the tours provide the prize money, is an issue for another day. If Simon believes that, behind the scenes, the men want this addressed, then he owes it to them to bring it up, or at least have a conversation with them about it. But not in public, not so aggressively, and not in your first interview as a member of the player council. D+ 

John Isner
“I’m my own worst enemy out there. It’s all mental for me, and it’s pretty poor on my part.” Upped a notch for desolate honesty. D+ 

Bernard Tomic
“I have sort of lacked off a little bit, and look what it’s costing me.” Also upped a notch for honesty. And for not being able to remember his age. D+

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All England A-List 07/09/2012 - 5:40 PM

RFThese days every Grand Slam produces a surplus of memorable stories, so many that by the end only a few stick in your mind. But this Wimbledon had something extra. It had resurgent champs and rookie runners-up; a valiant local hero; an epic upset and a perfect set; late-night drama and gender-charged controversy. There was no shortage of intrigue over the two weeks. Tennis really does keep getting better, doesn’t it? Even Ernests Gulbis played his part. Remember his first-round win, way back when? Yes, it happened at this tournament. It’s been a good two weeks, and it’s been a long two weeks. Time to make our assessments; I’ll start with the A-list. 

(To see my Racquet Reactions on both the men's the women's finals, go here.)

***** 

Roger Federer
Last week I noted that Federer had been dominant against his own generation of players, but had struggled against the cream of the next generation, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray. That wasn’t true this time around, as he beat two of those three youngsters convincingly for his seventh Wimbledon title. Suddenly it seems like the last two and a half years, which had appeared to be the early stages of decline for Federer, could end up looking like a period of re-adjustment, a period when Federer did what was necessary to meet the challenges of his younger rivals, and of playing and traveling with a family. New father Jimmy Connors went through something similar, at a similar age, before getting back to No. 1 in 1982 and remaining competitive until the mid-80s.

We’ll see. I’m not predicting Federer’s return to mid-2000s dominance, though more Grand Slam titles seem certain. Was he helped by the roof closings against Djokovic and Murray? Yes, Federer himself he said he played better under it in the final than he had in the open air, and we know how good he is indoors in general. At the same time, though, Djokovic and Murray have also won big indoor titles over the years. Whatever happens going forward, Federer’s win, after 12 months of Slam finals between Nadal and Djokovic, was invigorating for the ATP.

At the moment, Federer looks eternal. Closing in on his 31st birthday, he has reclaimed Wimbledon, extended his career lead in Grand Slams, and taken over No. 1 again. Just as impressive was the way he did it. In the final, he found an element to his game—outstanding net play—that hadn’t been there earlier in the tournament. In that sense, this win was something like his first title, in 2003, when he rushed the net consistently.

Also reminiscent of his early years, as well as all the years in between, was the way Federer reached every one of Murray’s drop shots, usually in time to do damage on the next ball. The way he broke out of the blocks and gobbled up the grass so quickly could be a metaphor for his current state: In his agile movement, in his versatile play, in his sky-high ranking, in his consistent Grand Slam success, in his victories over younger opponents, Federer remains in full flight, defying gravity. A+ 

Serena Williams
Q: What could top this now? What more do you want from life?

Serena Williams: Are you kidding? The U.S. Open, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon 2013, the Championships.

In many ways, this was the long-awaited return of the old Serena to Grand Slam glory. She refused to lose in two early-round nail-biters, against Jie Zheng and Yaroslava Shvedova. She sternly closed out high-quality matches against title contenders Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova. And she made her serve, already the all-time best, even better. 

SwIn another way, though, this was a different Serena from the one we had seen in the past. The only time I can recall her panicking—Serena’s word—while trying to close out any match, the way she did trying to finish the final against Agnieszka Radwanska, was in her first-round loss to Virginie Razzano at Roland Garros last month. 

What’s important isn’t that Serena showed vulnerability again. It’s that this time she had the resources to do something about it. We think of her as a power player, and she is. But in the third set against Radwanska, she realized that her normal power game was going to be too risky for where she was mentally, against this clever opponent, on this occasion. So she slowed down, played with more control, regained her confidence, and won going away. On the final shot, she let loose with a vintage backhand winner down the line. New Serena, meet old Serena. You should make a formidable team. A+ 

Jonny Marray
I had never heard of the 31-year-old Englishman before, and when I saw his name on Twitter last week, I assumed that the first “a” in his last name was meant to be a “u.” I was amazed by his out of nowhere, wildcard doubles title with Frederik Nielsen of Denmark, which made Marray the first Brit to win the men’s doubles since 1936. 

Marray topped himself in my eyes when, in the third-set tiebreaker in the final, he hit the net with his racquet on a volley, stopped the point, and told chair umpire Eva Asderaki, who hadn’t seen the infraction, that he was conceding the point. It was the right thing to do, the only thing to do, but it was still a shock to see that kind of pure sportsmanship in such a pressurized moment. Fortunately, this was one good deed that went unpunished. Marray and Nielsen won the tiebreaker, and the match. Good, good show. A+ 

Andy Murray
Murray was right, in his sober assessment after the tournament, that once the tears and cheers had ended, the “main thing” was that he had played better in a major final than he had before. Just a single set better, yes, but he has to take it one small step at a time against the Big 3. 

The fact that Murray became the first Brit to make the Wimbledon final since the 1930s obscured the fact that all he had really done was go one round farther. He hadn’t beaten any of the players who typically beat him at the Slams—Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer. Still, there was progress, in the way he hung in against iron man David Ferrer, and the way he put together two of the best sets of his career against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis, came down to earth, yet still found a way to win. It wasn’t the pressure of the moment that eventually got to Murray, but the pressure from his opponent in the final. He might have seized his second-set chances against Federer, it's true, but after that there wasn't a whole lot he could have done. Murray at his best is not as good as Federer at his best.

Along the way, though, Murray made the tournament more fun—more mad. When it was over, he apologized to Federer for crying, saying that he didn’t mean to take over the moment. Murray didn’t need to apologize. Federer of all people knew the tears were genuine and uncontrollable, and we knew how much of his heart Murray had put into it, for himself and his team and everyone watching in Great Britain. I was impressed with the way Murray held his own against Federer. I was just as impressed that he held his own, and kept it together, against those other final-day opponents that every loser must face at Wimbledon, Sue Barker and the listening world.

Agnieszka Radwanska
She won’t always get a draw like this—no Vika, no Maria, no Petra, Venus bowing out a round before they were supposed to play. But Radwanska put a needed stamp of Grand Slam legitimacy on her year-long rise in the rankings, and she showed that when they’re done right, there’s always a place in tennis for finesse, touch, craft, and old-fashioned court sense. I’m glad she made the final competitive, and I’m glad she’s not going to be No. 1 without a Grand Slam title. That’s the last thing any player needs. A 

JmESPN
The network broadcast Wimbledon from start to finish for the first time, and it rose to the occasion. Two channels on the dial gave it much more flexibility in what it could show, and if you were lucky enough to be able to see the half-dozen other matches on ESPN3 online during the day—a big if, I know—you really did feel like you were there. I would never have seen Jonny Marray’s great sporting gesture if the network hadn’t stayed live on the men’s doubles final on Saturday afternoon, even when there were no Americans involved.

ESPN will never do it exactly as we hardcore fans would like. The commentators still talk too much—nothing is left unsaid—and while one of its outside studio pros (Mike Tirico) was a good fit, another (Hannah Storm) wasn’t. I was torn by the feature on Andy Murray’s hometown of Dunblane, and the school murders that he survived. On the one hand, it was powerful and well-made. I’d never seen Judy Murray talk about that day, let alone Murray’s grandparents. Everyone in the town came off as extremely dignified—I doubt anyone watching wasn’t in tears. But seeing it during the rain delay in the middle of the final left me with a weird and solemn feeling through the rest of the match. I wish I had caught it another time.

Still, this was a tremendous, overstuffed Wimbledon, and ESPN’s all-out effort for two weeks did it justice. That’s saying something. A

*****

I'll be back tomorrow with the rest of the best, and worst, from the A-minuses on down.

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Keeping Tabs: July 9 07/09/2012 - 11:45 AM

DBWimbledon is over, but there’s no way it could end here without one last Keeping Tabs for the road. One last, sad, Keeping Tabs for the road. As much as the papers and the general public in Great Britain may rip him, you do get the sense that the nation was behind Andy Murray in his quest, that his win would have been in part their win. That wouldn’t happen in the gigantic and splintered USA; even, I’m guessing, after a 74-year title drought at Flushing Meadows. As big an event as the U.S. Open is, it doesn’t mean what Wimbledon means in the U.K.

The laments for Andy Murray and the praises for Roger Federer in the London press are, as always, conducted with restraint, perspective, and good taste. 

***** 

Watering the Grass
The Sun, which had been off its game over the fortnight, gets a little of its mojo back for the big moment with this series of headlines, all of which cover the same story. If you have a good headline, you have to use it, right? 

NEW BAWLS PLEASE
Andy Murray turned on the waterworks after his Wimbledon dream was shattered 

MURRAY IS FED AND BURIED
Murray crashes, but vows he’ll win Slam 

CURSE OF THE LIVING FED
Roger Federer has brutally proven why he is one of the greatest sportsmen—let alone tennis players—of all time 

Satisfied that Murray is deep enough in the ground, the Sun turns around to praise him, and lets the public in on a little trade secret in the process: 

ANDY MURRAY CAN HOLD HIS HEAD HIGH
“We often describe great British sporting defeats as heroic failure. Normally, though, we don’t really mean it. It’s usually just to make the latest, battered Brit feel a bit better about himself. And us, too. But Murray truly was heroic in defeat. The boy from Dunblane gave it everything he had.” 

Thankfully, after that strange misstep, the Mirror is there to get things back on track with their main headline:

SO TEAR, SO FAR
Andy takes first set in a Slam final, but ends with another sob story 

***** 

Roofed?
Three former pros, Brad Gilbert, Virginia Wade, and Tim Henman, weigh in on what went wrong for Muzz in the Mail

THE EXPERT VIEW: MURRAY MISSED HIS CHANCES 

That isn’t exactly a fair headline. The experts do mention the break points that Murray couldn’t convert in the second set, but the consensus is that Federer was too good overall.  

Asked whether the roof helped Federer in the last two sets, Gilbert and Henman both say yes—Brad mentions that Federer’s average serve speed was 5 m.p.h. faster with it closed. But Our Ginny, she of the tough love for Murray, disagrees. 

“I don’t think the roof changed the match,” says Wade, the only Wimbledon champion of the three. “It’s just an excuse some people use. The momentum of the match had already changed by then.”

It’s true, Federer is probably the world’s best indoor player, but Murray has typically been very good in those conditions himself. 

—Elsewhere, the Mail goes in search of new, more glorious ways of describing Federer: 

MURRAY LOST TO A MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE, THE TENNIS EQUIVALENT OF PELE OR ALI
“We will tell our grandchildren about him,” Martin Samuel writes. “Maybe Murray will, too. Once he stops crying.” 

***** 

Golden Era vs. Golden Era 
The Telegraph reports that Federer-Murray drew an average of 11.4 million viewers in the U.K., with a peak of 16.9 million. It’s the highest rating for a British tennis player in history, surpassing all of Tim Henman’s many marathons. 

Still, even at its peak, Federer-Murray couldn’t match the average viewership—17.3 million—for the record-holder, the 1980 final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.  

***** 

Area Man Makes Good
You think the Brits lay it on thick, imagine what happens in Switzerland when Federer wins his first major in more than two years. Here’s the Geneva Tribune’s reaction: 

FEDERER NEARLY A SAINT
This victory, which seemed improbable a year ago, is a sort of rebirth of a champion, the biggest in tennis history, who can only be worshipped and even venerated. Except Roger Federer is no saint. At least not yet

Not yet? What’s it going to take? How many Grand Slam titles did St. Barnabas win, exactly? 

***** 

Chokingly Good
The Telegraph’s Oliver Brown had the queue beat for the day. He wasn't impressed: 

BEDRAGGLED ANDY MURRAY FANS LEFT UNBOWED BY WRONG RESULT AND HEAVY RAIN
There is something stunningly masochistic, and ineffably British, about queuing all night in Biblical downpours for a match you are not actually going to see 

Brown points up the oddity of waiting to sit in Court 2 and watch the match, not on a big screen, but on a small scoreboard in the corner of the court, where fans “had to crane their necks and squint their eyes just to check whether a ball had hit the line.” 

Brown also comes up with a phrase to describe Federer’s play that I had never heard before: 

“Federer’s excellence was asphyxiating, eliciting the odd astonished gasp...” 

KP***** 

Skunks and Goat-Herders
The Independent deploys Grace Dent to describe the local celebs inside Centre Court on Sunday. She does it with snarky gusto:

WE WERE ALL IN IT TOGETHER (BUT CLIFF RICHARD WAS ON HIS OWN WITH THAT JACKET)

Some highlights:

I didn’t see the aforementioned Richard’s outfit, but it must have been something. Dent claims that, “Cliff was dressed as an 18th Century colour-blind Austrian goat-herder.”

Kate and Pippa were “fragrant and inoffensive,” though Dent laments that Pippa didn’t stand up longer and “display her sumptuous behind to all of us.”

“John McEnroe, as always, was an informative, smooth, safe pair of punditry hands, made funnier as his malevolence toward mankind is forever slenderly on a leash.”

Political leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg, “Took some time out from healing the country to enjoy some of the best seats in the court, not being remotely all in this together with the ticketless oafs outside on Murray Mount suffering from trench foot and a lack of sense to leave.”

“Beckham Inc. arrived; him looking a lot like a cartoon skunk playing a musketeer, her channeling trademark sullen/elegant.”

***** 

Timely End
We could go on. There are enough puns and barbs in today's papers to fill this column for a week. But I’ll cut to the chase, by closing with the columnist of record for this moment, Simon Barnes of the Times. He wraps up the fortnight with the appropriate and expected mix of poetry and bombast: 

“Ah, well,” Barnes begins. “Maybe we’ll get another chance in 74 years. And there was a long, lovely moment when it even seemed possible—when the tears fell like rain and the rain fell like tears and on the opposite side of the net there was a man playing in the way that God does when He brings His A-game.” 

*****

Thanks to Lana for helping me see the Times over the last two weeks (and no thanks to their malfunctioning website). I’ll be back later today with final grades from a special Wimbledon.

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Keeping Tabs: July 7 07/07/2012 - 5:46 PM

AmThink of the pressure heaped on the shoulders of that lonely Briton at the All England Club on Friday, as he strode away, deep in thought, from Centre Court after an afternoon of sun-drenched triumph. I refer not, of course, to Andy Murray, who could always distract himself with a few hours of Playstation, or by playing a practical joke on Ivan Lendl. I refer instead to Murray’s most famous narrator, Simon Barnes of the Times of London. History had just been made before his eyes. Would the historian live up to the moment?

When something momentous happens in tennis, pressure shifts from player to writer. You want to do it justice, so you rack your brains a little harder to find the poetry. If you’re the lead sports columnist for the Times, you also know that for thousands of people, part of the pleasure of Murray’s win yesterday was thinking, once the immediate excitement was over, “I wonder what Simon Barnes is going to say about this.”

Here’s what Barnes came up with on a big day for British tennis. His opening words were on the front page of the Times:

“A nation unites in disbelief; for the impossible has taken place before our eyes. Nothing so humdrum as Elvis playing at the Dog and Fox in Wimbledon Village or a flight of Gloucester Old Spots over the Wimbledon Common: there is a Brit in the Wimbledon singles final, first time a man has been there since 1938 and Bunny Austin.

The player following in Bunny’s pawprints is Andy Murray, who won his semifinal yesterday with a measure of brilliance, the traditional moment of attempted sporting suicide, the usual national angst, and finally such old-fashioned things as determination and belief and seriously bloody good tennis.

Not too shabby for what must have been a fast deadline, even if I don’t know what Gloucester Old Spots are, and I'm not exactly sure who was attempting suicide or suffering angst in the second paragraph. I like the reference to Austin, because it makes me realize that the U.K. will no longer have to be reminded each year that it once called one of its best tennis players Bunny. 

As you might expect, Andy-mania runs rampant through the London papers today. By "Andy-mania," of course, I mean the widely held belief in Great Britain that their man has no chance.

***** 

Good Hunting
You knew the Sun would come up with something speical for the occasion, something riotously over the top. Yes, they certainly outdid themselves this time: 

MURRAY INTO WIMBLEDON FINAL

See what I told you, naturally they would exaggerate the...wait, what? That’s the headline? What happened to the Ruthless Bravehearted Gladiator from the North? This is how you celebrate after 74 years? “Murray into Wimbledon final”? I know they say never get too high or too low about anything, but...

The Sun does achieve a modest share of redemption with a second headline, for a piece about Murray’s chances against Roger Federer: 

ANDY: I’M NOT ROGER’S RABBIT 

***** 

With Friends Like These
Is it just me, or is the Mail just a little bit more in awe of Murray’s opponent than they are of the local boy:

MAGNIFICENT FEDERER STILL THE MASTER AS SWISS ACE CHASES SAMPRAS RECORD
If Federer wins a seventh Wimbledon title, equalling the record of Pete Sampras, he will return to the top of the rankings. It would be a remarkable achievement 

And for the Murray headline? 

PAY ATTENTION AND GIVE RESPECT TO THE MAN FROM NOWHERE

“Do you know the most wonderful thing about Andy Murray?” Martin Samuel of the Mail asks. “He’s Scottish. Now a lot of people don’t agree with that. They think Murray’s monotone brogue, his roots, his loyalties, are absolutely the worst of him. They do not understand, and they will never understand, that it is precisely Murray’s otherness, his uniqueness, his outsider status, that has taken him to where he will be on Sunday."

***** 

That’s the, Er, Spirit
The Telegraph reports from the Wimbledon queue, where fans have been lining up since yesterday to snag an 8-pound grounds pass (the 5000-pound Centre Court tickets were apparently a tad steep). These fans appear to be a dedicated lot, if not an especially optimistic one.

“I came here straight from work yesterday,” said Sarah Locke, 28. “It’s such a great atmosphere, everyone here is so lovely. I don’t think Murray will win, but I don’t think he’ll go out in straight sets.”

—Elsewhere in the Telegraph, writer Rod Gilmour extracts two lessons for Murray from his two straight-set losses to Federer in Slam finals.

From the 2008 U.S. Open: “You can play well throughout a tournament, but the level of pressure and intensity takes a big hike when a Grand Slam title is at stake.”

From the 2010 Australian Open: “You can’t afford to let a lead slip [Murray was up 5-2 in the third set] against a talent like Federer, because he won’t give you a second chance.” 

The obvious message for Murray: After you've lost the first two sets, Andy, if you get a lead in the third, do your best to keep it.

*****

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs
The British press will stop at nothing. The fact was proven yet again yesterday, when an exhausted Murray staggered into the press room and was greeted with this hard-hitting query:

Q: What is the contribution of Maggie and Rusty to this quest now for the championship?

Who are Maggie and Rusty, you ask? Murray’s parents, or his coaches, or his trainers? No. These are the names of his dogs.

Murray, to his credit, instead of asking, "I make the Wimbledon final and this is what I'm talking about?" tried to come up with an answer. He really must have been in a good mood.

“I don’t think they necessarily influence the match that we’ll play on Sunday,” he concluded. 

*****

Roger’s Biggest Fan
That would be Oxfam, a British charity that will collect 102,000 pounds if Federer wins tomorrow. Why? In 2003, a man named Nick Newlife bet that Federer, after he won his first Wimbledon that year, would go on to win at least six more. Bookmakers William Hill offered Newlife 66/1 odds. Newlife died in 2009, leaving his estate, the wager included, to Oxfam.

Shortsighted, it seems, of William Hill. So how do the bookies see tomorrow’s final?

13/8 for Murray; 8/15 for Federer.

Is there anyone who thinks their boy can win?

*****

Let me finish by asking the same question. Does Murray have a chance? Yes. He has a winning career record against Federer, 8-7, he's serving as well as he ever has, he's coming off two excellent wins, and he says the crowds have been helping him. Still, in the last 24 hours I’ve tried to envision him winning three sets from Fed tomorrow, and I can’t do it. 

Maybe it’s Muzz's performances in his other three Slam finals. We were supposed to see a new, more mature Murray in those matches, but each time he froze instead. Maybe it’s the fact that, while he is a round farther than he’s ever been here, and his wins over Ferrer and Tsonga were impressive and resourceful, he hasn’t really done anything new. They were still wins over Tsonga and Ferrer, not Djokovic or Nadal. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t see Federer being particularly tight or nervous tomorrow; I'm sure he’ll savor being part of this moment, and obviously be motivated not to squander his best chance at a Slam, and the No. 1 ranking, in two years. Maybe it’s because, despite their overall head to head, Federer is 2-0 against Andy at majors, and hasn’t dropped a set in either of those matches. Maybe it’s because, as calm and tough as Murray looked in his semifinal, Federer looked calmer and tougher, against a better opponent, in his.

Maybe I see Federer winning because he is, still, Roger Federer. You just can't change some people, can you?

Federer in three.

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Thrills, Chills, and Spills 07/06/2012 - 5:13 PM

AM3If Friday’s semifinal between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic could have been billed as a Clash of the Grand Slam Titans, Andy Murray vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the Fight of the Flawed Talents. Each man is on the short list for the dreaded Best Player Never to Win a Grand Slam Award. Each produces head-spinning winners when they’re feeling confident. Each has struggled with pressure situations. Each has brought hope to his country—Great Britain and France, respectively—only to dash it. 

Murray and Tsonga were also both stopped in the semis at Wimbledon last year. It was hardly surprising that when they put all of their conisderable talents and flaws up against each other in an effort to break the semifinal barrier here for the first time, they produced a predictably unpredictable, slightly mad, and wholly entertaining four sets of tennis on Centre Court. With their thrills, chills and many spills, the Talents outshone the Titans.

For two sets, it appeared that Murray had solved all of his old problems overnight. The Moaner had become the Mover—Murray left the sarcastic self-chatter behind and played with businesslike dispatch. Passive had become Aggressive—Murray gunned 40 winners against 12 errors on the day; he went after his returns and came up with forehand winners on big points; and he had Tsonga, as ESPN commentator Darren Cahill put it, “baffled” by his serve. With a stunning lack of drama, teeth-gnashing, and curse-dropping, Murray rolled through the first two sets 6-3, 6-4. He hit three forehand winners to close the first set, and two service winners in the final game of the second.

“In the beginning it was tough, because he played well. I mean, he didn’t give me one chance,” Tsonga said, exaggerating only slightly. “He didn’t miss one serve. He was really, really good.”

Murray said he “played one bad game,” when he threw in three errors and was broken to start the third set, but that was enough of an opening for Tsonga to charge through. Rushing the net—Tsonga was 45 of 76 up there on the day—and controlling rallies with his forehand, Tsonga saved three break points at 3-1 and ran out the set 6-3. By the fourth, he was playing circus tennis, and making it work. Tsonga, who recently swore off diving, threw himself at everything today. At one point, he took one hand off of his two-handed backhand and whipped a passing shot winner with it.

JWTBut the key to the day, to Murray’s win, and maybe to his chances on Sunday, was the way he handled the Tsonga surge. Despite getting nervous and testy and falling out of the zone he was in for the first two sets, Murray kept going about his business, kept making his serves, and kept going after his forehand. He knew Tsonga, fellow flawed talent, would come down from the clouds just as he had. 

“In terms of focus,” Murray said, “that was probably one of the hardest matches in that respect. When you do win a couple of sets comfortably and you’re getting close to the final of a Slam, it’s really hard just to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of yourself.”

When Tsonga fell from his acrobatic heights in the fourth, Murray was there to take advantage. With the Frenchman serving at 5-6, Murray began with a good backhand return, and followed it with another low pass at 15-30. With two match points, Passive became Aggressive again. This player who has often been criticized for being too cautious threw caution to the wind. He let a forehand crosscourt return fly for a winner, and for a trip to...

Or was it in? The ball landed near the sideline and Tsonga challenged. If you want to get an idea of the spirit in which this match was played, all you had to see was this closing scene. The two players had fought for something each wanted desperately, so desperately that earlier Murray had—accidentally—hit Tsonga in a . . . highly vulnerable spot from close range, sending Jo to the ground. Now the two of them smiled like old friends as they waited for the Hawk-Eye ruling. The ball had been in. Jo embraced Murray and offered his congratulations.

“For me it was a good moment,” the philosophical, and irrepressible, Tsonga said. “Even [though I] lost, I’m still proud of what I did. At the end of this match, I will say, OK, I lost it, but I did my best. Maybe next time, I will have a chance and maybe I will go through.” 

Jo is flawed in his game, perhaps, but not in his words, or his sentiments, or in the life he brings to tennis.

AM1“For me,” he said, “it is always fun to be on the court, and fight, and try to get every ball. I’m not the most talented on the tour but I like to go to war. I enjoy every time on the court.”

When it was over, Murray closed his eyes, but tears flowed through them anyway. After all of the criticism and second-guessing and disappointments and years of effort, he had become, as he didn’t have to be reminded, the first British man to reach the final of his home Slam in 74 years. This man of exceedingly high standards had weathered the pressure, both internal and external.

“You don’t really think about it that much,” Murray said of that pressure. “I think subconsciously at the end of the match, it was obviously very emotional. I haven’t been like that [in tears] before in a semifinal match, so obviously it meant something to me.”

By the time he left the court, Murray was, as always, back on even emotional keel. Where Tsonga expressed his bittersweet emotions with a smile, the monotonic Murray kept whatever joy he felt safely behind the competitor’s mask. Unlike Jo, after all, he was still in the tournament.

“You know,” Murray said, “I spoke to Ivan [Lendl, his coach] after the match.”

What did Ivan the Terrible have to say on such an occasion? Did he let out some of his own bottled-up emotion, reveal the sappy side of the Terminator? Did the tears flow for him, too? Not exactly, it seems.

“Good job,” Lendl told Murray. “You did really well. What time do you want to practice tomorrow?”

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Keeping Tabs: July 6 07/06/2012 - 9:38 AM

JWTIt’s a rare occasion when a match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic is the warm-up act in a semifinal bill. But it wasn’t going to be any other way today, with Andy Murray playing in the afternoon's other match, against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tennis days don’t get much bigger, at Wimbledon, in the U.K., or anywhere else. 

I wondered yesterday whether the tabs had gone a little soft recently, especially the Murdoch-owned Sun. I think I may have been on to something. Today the Telegraph refers to a tabloid headline from 2002, the year that Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi both went out of Wimbledon early, leaving Tim Henman in a similar situation to what Murray has faced since Rafael Nadal was upset last week.

Here's an example of what Our Tim heard from the tabs back then:

NO PRESSURE TIMBO, BUT CHOKE NOW AND WE’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU 

*****

“Making Them Differently”
That’s what Simon Briggs of the Telegraph—not to be confused with Simon Barnes of the Timessays about the French in general, and about Jo-Wiflried Tsonga in particular.

“While Tsonga might not play an instrument,” Briggs writes, comparing Jo to his countryman Yannick Noah, “he is an equally unique figure in the locker room. In a world where top players go to great lengths to maintain their game face, he wanders as happily and dreamily as Basil Fotherington-Thomas from the 'Molesworth' books: “Hello clouds, hello sky!"

This is not a criticism. In fact, that aspect of his character is refreshing. You would be surprised how many players have fallen out of love with the sport since it became their sole means of income.

I’ll have to take Briggs’ word for it on the Molesworth observation. But it’s interesting how quickly the perception of a player’s attitude and demeanor can change when his results change. Tsonga has been beaten up over the years for being too loose, and thus too changeable and erratic; now his joie de vivre is helping him hold up under the pressure. 

Both observations have their grains of truth. On the one hand, being happy and loose would seem, at least theoretically, to be incompatible with a killer instinct. On the other, being happy and loose would seem, at least theoretically, to keep you from getting too anxious. All of which makes me think that, in this tennis version of chicken versus egg, it’s execution that comes first, then demeanor, not the other way around. 

***** 

Loyalty to a Fault?
The Telegraph canvasses journalists from Croatia, Argentina, Brazil, Holland, the U.S., Germany, Italy, and France for their picks in the Murray-Tsonga match.  

WORLD’S PRESS BACK ANDY MURRAY TO BEAT JO-WILFRIED TSONGA, EXCEPT BRAZIL (AND FRANCE, OBVIOUSLY)

The Brazilian, Renan Justi of Tennis View, doesn’t pull any punches. He gives two reasons for his choice: (1) “Tsonga will come through because he is better prepared”; and (2) "British sportsmen do not win when it comes to the final matches.” 

That’s some cold logic.

The Frenchman, Julien Laurens of the Le Parisien, has no doubts at all about his pick. It's faintly ridiculous to even ask: 

“Of course I’m backing Tsonga,” he snaps. 

***** 

Be Careful Who Your Idols Are 

ANDY MURRAY: I’M LIKE A BOXER
Andy Murray has compared himself to notorious boxer Floyd Mayweather ahead of his Wimbledon semifinal

“I like talking to other athletes,” Murray says in the Telegraph, “especially individual athletes, because the mindset is similar to that of a tennis player. I know quite a few boxers and I’ve spoken to them at length.” 

Still, as the paper notes, there are limits to those similarities. Mayweather is currently in jail. 

***** 

Story Time with Ivan
Lendl and Murray, in the words of the Telegraph, “have struck up a quasi-paternal relationship, meeting the evening before each match to run through their tactical approach for the next day.”

Or, as the Independent puts it: 

IVAN LENDL’S BED-TIME STORIES FUEL ANDY MURRAY’S DREAM

Lullabies from Lendl. That’s an interesting concept. I think I know how the first one began: 

“A rude little boy named John McEnroe was standing helplessly at the net, so a little boy named Ivan Lendl—who some people said was very mean, but who was really just doing his job—lined up his forehand and . . .”

One interesting tidbit about how Lendl has changed Murray’s preparation: 

“I hit a lot less serves than I used to,” Murray said yesterday. “Ivan thinks you need to rest your shoulder and make sure it’s loose, not tired, because over the course of two weeks you hit thousands of serves. That may be a reason why I am serving well deeper into the tournament.” 

***** 

Ratcheting Up the Pressure
That’s what the Mail does today, with articles quoting two former players, each of whom believes that Murray can do it this time:

IT’S IN YOUR HANDS, ANDY! HENMAN TIPS MURRAY TO LAY GHOSTS OF DISTANT PAST AGAINST TSONGA 

Laying ghosts of distant past. Can’t say that sounds easy.  

“He is a better player than I ever was,” Henman says of Murray, “better equipped to go further. He is ready. Given the intensity of his last match and the way he stuck in there, it was his best performance at Wimbledon.”

Wow, that just sounded like a massive jinx, didn't it?

Asked if he had offered Murray any advice, Henman says they’ve spoken, but “the last thing he needs is another opinion.”

Now he tells us. 

—The other expert in Murray’s corner, not surprisIngly, is his former coach, Brad Gilbert.  

WILLY’S WONKY BACKHAND IS A MURRAY BONUS

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loves to feast,” BG writes, sounding distinctly like BG, “on what I call tennis’ Surf and Turf menu—he loves to bang in a big serve and follow it up with a big forehand to either eat up the point or dominate the rally.

The one-two combination is what Murray has to defend against, but the good news for British tennis fans is that he seems more than up to the task in my eyes.” 

***** 

Think of the Pressure On Us, Andy

This the plea of Simon Barnes in the Times, speaking for a nation turning its lonely eyes to a man named Muzz.

“Has Murray ever considered how tough it is, willing him to win?” Barnes asks. “Has he paused to calculate the amount of psychic energy that goes into the national attempt to will one of his flakier attempts at a drop shot over the net?”

“It’s worse this year,” Barnes concludes gloomily, “because winning is not something that could happen on a good day, it’s something that should happen on a normal day. A classic Wimbledon shock took Nadal out, so instead of a Spanish deity, Murray is faced with a French fruitcake.”

In other words: NO PRESSURE ANDY, BUT CHOKE NOW AND WE’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU

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Aga Goes Gaga 07/05/2012 - 2:58 PM

ARMost tennis players today bounce around a lot. Some do little hop steps before each serve and return. Some turn their backs away from the court and jitter side to side. Others get in a vicious practice cut or two while they wait. 

Agnieszka Radwanska doesn’t do any of those things, or at least she doesn’t do them often. Instead, once a point is over, Radwanska walks—flat-flooted and a little slump-shouldered—to the other side of the court. There she casually sets her feet in her return position, bends down a little, and watches her opponent get ready to serve. That’s about it. Today, at the end of her semifinal with Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon, at the end of the biggest match of her career, Aga waited at the baseline looking about as wound up as someone waiting to cross a street.

That, of course, is one of the Radwanska secrets, one of the many that help this unprepossessing young woman outfox her more powerful opponents. When things get tighter, she looks, if anything, more distanced from it all; at times, she doesn’t seem to be concentrating all that hard. But when she begins to frown and walk listlessly, that’s when you better watch out. Serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, a few points from making, as she said later, “a dream come true,” Radwanska watched as Kerber floated an easy backhand long. This was the type of free point in a crucial situation that would have had most of her peers straining every muscle to the breaking point in celebration. Radwanska, as the ball sailed past her, slumped her shoulders a little more and made her most characteristic facial gesture: She scrunched up her nose.

So it was almost surprising to hear Radwanska come off the court and say that the last two weeks had been the best of her life, that she was so nervous to start that her “racquet was shaking a little,” and that making a Wimbledon final had been a dream of hers for the “almost 18 years” that she had been playing tennis. 

She made it there by doing what she’s been doing for most of those 18 years—a lot with seemingly very little. In one sense, Radwanska was lucky that she faced Kerber, a friend and fellow newbie to the Wimbledon semis. But Aga’s performance was still representative of what has, against most people’s odds, put her within striking distance of the No. 1 ranking. Few players pull off as many pleasing, improvised, quietly unique plays in a routine two-setter as she does. Here’s a partial rundown of today’s: 

—In the second set, Radwanska ran forward and, without stopping to set up or taking much of a backswing, poked an inside-out forehand approach that eventually won her the point. There was really nothing to the stroke except the contact.

—A little earlier, Radwanska was at one corner of the baseline, watching Kerber run forward for what appeared to be a sure forehand winner. Before Kerber began to swing, though, Radwanska was already moving crosscourt. She caught up to the ball and bunted a backhand—again, the stroke was nothing but contact—into the open court for a winner. 

—Up a break in the second at 3-2, Radwanska moved into position for a swing forehand volley at the service line. She was well over on her forehand side, and the obvious direction was to send the ball crosscourt. But Aga saw a different angle down the line, and managed to thread the ball along it and past a surprised Kerber.

As Radwanska summed it up afterward, in her always-concise way: “I think I did a great job today.”

As for Kerber, she said that Radwanska “moved very well and made not so many mistakes,” and that she couldn't make much headway with her aggressive game plan against her. That was true; Radwanska hit 20 winners against six errors, and connected on 78 percent of her first serves. She's not known for getting free points with her serve, but that shot got her out of a few jams today.

It was a tame ending for Kerber after her demolition of Kim Clijsters in the fourth round, and her wildly emotional win over her fellow German Sabine Lisicki in the quarters. But she can’t be too disappointed. In the last year, this once obscure player has made nothing but headway and established herself as a threat to anyone. Two things stick out to me about Kerber's game: The extreme angles she can create with her two-handed backhand, and the unvarnished, straight-armed way she hits her forehand—hits it for winners, that is.

When it was over, after Radwanska’s final well-crafted sequence of shots had won her the match, the first Polish women’s finalist in Wimbledon history jumped in the air. Not too high in the air, but she got off the ground. Then she jumped again. Then she walked to the net. It could be that she didn’t want to celebrate too much because she could see what was coming. And I wouldn't blame her. At that moment, Radwanska knew she was going to get either Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka in the final, each of whom would likely keep her from weaving her deceptive web out there, and send her home with the runner-up trophy. It turns out that her opponent will be Serena. An in-form Serena. A 24-ace-hitting Serena. A hungry Serena.

Uh . . . better not to think about that right now. Because however it ends, the one thing that had been missing in Radwanska’s rise was a deep Grand Slam run—this was her first semi at any major, and now it’s her first final. It’s nice to see this thoughtful throwback find a way to succeed, and find new ways of keeping her longtime fans—I’ve been on the bandwagon for years—surprised and entertained. And it was even nicer to see jump—OK, bounce—for joy a second time when it was over. She must have been saving that one for when her dream came true.

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Keeping Tabs: July 5 07/05/2012 - 10:35 AM

AmOver the last two weeks he’s been Andy Murray the moaner, the ruthless, the efficient, and the curfew breaker, among many other names that have been forgotten in the daily London press morass. Today, a day after Muzz’s grueling quarterfinal win over David Ferrer, the Mail provides a new and more glorious (and complicated) description of him:  

ALL HAIL MURRAY THE GLADIATOR! MURRAY’S 135 MPH COUP DE GRASS BLOWS FERRER AWAY IN SW19
He finished it the only way he could. An ace, 135 mph, straight down the middle. Tennis’s equivalent of the stake through the vampire’s heart 

Poor David Ferrer. You keep your head down and your mouth shut and you run hard all day and what do they call you for it? Count Dracula. 

There’s no getting around it, it’s a mostly Murray day in the papers 

***** 

Thistling While He Worked
The Mirror doesn’t waste any time throwing a few sprinkles on Murray’s parade:

TWO WINS FROM GLORY: ANDY MURRAY THROUGH TO WIMBLEDON SEMIFINALS AFTER NAIL-BITING CLASH—BUT KATE AND WILLS MISS THE EPIC ENDING
The Scot beat David Ferrer after coming from behind in a four-set thriller, but Kate and Wills had already left the Royal Box after meeting Roger Federer

Second fiddle to the Maestro again!

The Mirror later speculates that the Duke and Duchess, “may have had to leave early as Wills will tomorrow be installed as Knight of the Thistle—the highest honor in England—at a special service in Edinburgh.” 

With all due respect, the "highest honor in England" is really something called the Knight of the Thistle?

*****

Putting the Pedal Down
Boris Becker’s column appears in the Telegraph today, accompanied by a shot of the German looking not unlike his London namesake, mayor Boris Johnson.

Becker believes that Murray will win the tournament—if he plays the way he did yesterday. He sees some improvement in his mental stamina since the Australian Open.

“In the past,” Boom Boom booms, “Andy has had a problem with front-running. Remember that Melbourne semifinal against Novak Djokovic where he went up 2-1 in sets, and then went to sleep for half an hour? . . . In the third and fourth sets [yesterday], Andy never gave Ferrer the luxury of a weak game to bring him back into the match.

Becker also spots a little of Murray's coach creeping into his game. 

“The penultimate point of the match was a great example,” Becker says. “Andy ran around his backhand and pumped a big forehand winner up the line. It was a real Lendl trademark from a man who didn’t use [sic] to trust his forehand on big points.”

Interesting. Even more interesting: Boris Becker using the word “penultimate.”

***** 

Trounced, Royally
The scene shifts, briefly, from Murray to Federer over at the Times. No nation's press, perhaps not even Switzerland's, has crafted as many over-the-top odes to Fed’s angelic play as England’s, but Giles Smith still comes up with a pretty good phrase that I hadn’t heard before:

As Roger Federer cavalierly skewered Mikhail Youzhny yesterday, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, a realisation seemed to take hold around the Centre Court: that Rog is really quite good at tennis.

“Cavelierly skewered”: I’ll try to remember that. 

***** 

The Ol’ Double Teapot Semaphore Skirl
Simon Barnes brings the focus back to Murray, and he does it in his inimitable, even more over-the-top way:

“There were a few pouts,” Barnes writes of the man known as the Muzzard. “The classic double-teapot with bowed head, the wild semaphore in the general direction of the box, the glances at the sky—now God’s against me as well—and one or two muted roars. But he kept away from the full skirling despair we have heard too many times: self-hatred that can sometimes seem an easier option than victory. . . .

Perhaps that was the principle triumph of yesterday: That Murray managed to stay on speaking terms with himself even under the pressure of his own errors.”

The Barnes way: Sportswriting that reads like a nature poem you don't understand, but which sounds better than anything you've read about the match anyway.

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Breaking New Ground 07/04/2012 - 5:23 PM

RFWhen Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are interviewed before they play each other, they typically preface their remarks by saying something along the lines of, “We’ve faced each other many times, so...”

You can see why. On Friday they’ll play for the 27th time; all-time rivals John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg squared off on only 14 occasions. This will also mark the fifth time in the last seven Grand Slams that Novak and Roger have met in the semifinals. They know this drill exceptionally well.

Are there any new questions to ask in advance of Djokovic-Federer XXVII? Here are six.

***** 

Who Will the Surface Favor?
This is the first time that Djokovic and Federer will meet on grass. Federer has won here six times, while Djokovic is the defending champion. Today each was asked about facing the other on the surface, and what effect it would have. 

Actually, Djokovic, forever in the shadows of Rafa and Roger where the media is concerned, was asked, “What do you admire about the play of Roger Federer on grass?” (Another question from Novak's presser: "How would describe from your perspective what Roger's place in history is?")

“He has great variety in his game,” Djokovic answered about Federer's grass skills. “He uses his serve very well. He opens up the court. He uses that slice really well to get the balls to bounce low. . . He has a really smart game for this surface.”

Federer was first asked about what he “can do on grass which you can’t do on other surfaces”?

“It’s much harder to defend on grass, time and again, than on any other surface,” Federer said. “But it’s hard to set up sometimes. . . . On grass I think it’s worth it to go closer to the lines, use a lot of down the line shots, which aren’t easy to pull off on other surfaces.”

As far as his matchup with Novak, Federer says, “Obviously it helps that he won the last couple [of matches] against me. Again it is our first grass-court match. We don’t know quite what to expect. I feel it’s a bit of an even ground. . . . I feel good about the match.”

In a nutshell, Djokovic believes that Federer’s slice helps him on grass especially, while Federer will likely be taking more risks down the line than he does elsewhere. If either of them throws in any new surface-based wrinkles, it will almost surely be Federer. What he does tactically to try to change their recent results will be interesting. Whatever it is, he’ll need to be sharp with it. Djokovic has been gathering everything in and spitting it back out at Wimbledon so far.  

"This year," Novak said today, "I've been playing really well, constantly well, from the start of the tournament." Indeed, he's been calmer at Wimbledon than anywhere else I can remember in 2012. 

*****

What If the Match is Played Under the Roof?
The London forecast calls, naturally, for rain on Friday (90 percent chance, as of today, Wednesday). Wimbledon will do what it can to keep the match outdoors, but it will be finished either way. On the one hand, Federer is a famously good indoor player; on the other, Djokovic has spent much of his time under the roof over the last week, and he says he likes returning serve in those conditions. He said it took him some time to adjust to the elements in his quarterfinal against Florian Mayer. But Federer's long track record of indoor excellence should give him an advantage if the roof is closed.

*****

Is Federer “Due”?

Q: You feel your game is trending in the right direction?

Federer: Yes, I’ve been playing well for a year now

As Federer says, it obviously helps Djokovic that he’s won six of their last seven matches. The Serb knows that what he’s been doing has been working. But, as the quote above demonstrates, Federer also feels like his form over the past year has been very good, the implication being that it will pay off at a major sooner or later. Is there anything to the idea of a player being “due”?

I would say yes, that the breaks will go Federer's way eventually, and that if he gets to match point this time, he stands a better than 50 percent chance of winning. The problem is, the last time these two played, Federer didn't take a set from Djokovic. "The breaks" never had a chance to be a factor. Federer’s body of work over the past 12 months would mean more against anyone other than Djokovic. 

*****

NDDoes Either Player Have the So-Called Mental Edge?
Let’s start by saying that mental edges dull easily in these types of high-stakes matches. The way the two players feel when they start isn’t going to be the way they feel once one of them wins the first set. Federer said today that they’re on “even ground” to begin. 

Whether that's the case or not, Federer needs the opening set more than Djokovic does. Federer was still calm even after losing the first two sets to Benneteau at this tournament. At Roland Garros against Djokovic, though, he had the opposite reaction to the same situation—he played the third as if resigned to defeat. Federer needs some good things to happen early to avoid getting that sinking sensation against Nole again. He allowed him back into the second set in Paris, the same way he did Benneteau here. That can’t happen again.

As for Djokovic, I think he’ll begin with a sense that he should win, but he’ll have to negotiate some moments of tightness and nerves before he can let that confidence work for him fully, before he can swing out, “with no fear,” as Federer says. If Federer can employ a new grass-based tactic successfully early on, the dynamics will change.

*****

Does Their Personal Relationship Come Into Play?
I mention this primarily because Federer was asked today about “some forceful comments” he made about Djokovic in a past Davis Cup tie.

“I was just upset at him calling the trainer out for no obvious reason against my buddy Stan [Wawrinka] in a five-setter," Federer said. "That was it. We had a quick chat about it in Madrid after that, and things are cool since a long time between me and him. I’ve always respected him. Have I gone out for dinner with him? No. But he’s been nice to work with [in ATP meetings] . . . I have no issues with him, and I hope you believe me.”

I think for both of these guys, the motivation is Wimbledon, not anything personal. Federer was asked, “What would it feel like to win here?”

“Obviously it’s a big deal,” he said. “No denying.” 

*****

What Will Happen?
The beauty of a tennis match is that, no matter how many times two players have met, no matter how well their know each other’s games, their next match will be different from their last. For all of the predictions we make, and for all of things that we say this player or that player “must” do to win, by the end we’ll probably look back and realize that none of those things happened quite the way we thought they would.

Federer has had back troubles (he said he was fine today), while Djokovic has been in better overall form through the fortnight, and he has owned their head to head for the last year and a half. But I picked Federer to start, and will stick with him here. For whatever it ends up being worth, he’s due.

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Keeping Tabs: July 4 07/04/2012 - 10:24 AM

AKThere's been no shortage of second-guesses about its deployment over the last week, but it must be admitted that the roof has done its job. No one wants indoor tennis at Wimbledon, but it beats no tennis at all. Despite many days of rain, we look up and see that the event remains on schedule, and that Andy Murray is no worse for wear after being held over for a night.

So…what else is there to complain about?

***** 

With Friends Like These…
Andy Murray says he doesn’t read the papers during Wimbledon. Let’s hope he doesn’t accidentally get a glimpse of the Telegraph on the way to the courts today. The paper goes on a search for ways that Muzz can be beaten. 

MURRAY’S FIERCE TEST AGAINST IRON MAN FERRER
British No. 1 faces test of mettle in Wednesday’s quarterfinal against Spaniard

Yes, Ferrer is going to be a war. Still, the paper decides to look past Ferru anyway and prepare Andy for what might be coming if he survives him:

TSONGA LOOMS LARGE IN MURRAY’S PATH
Frenchman’s laidback nature makes him particularly dangerous opponent for Briton at Wimbledon

"Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looks the most menacing, if supremely affable, obstacle to Andy Murray reaching his first Wimbledon final. On Tuesday he floated like a butterfly, stung like one vicious bumble bee and was as relaxed as Muhammad Ali telling tales before a spellbound audience."

Whew, forget Ferrer, this guy is the one to worry about.

Perhaps believing it had distracted Murray, the Telegraph finishes by reminding him of the difficulty of the task at hand one final time:

FERRER MORE THAN CAPABLE OF SPOILING MURRAY’S PARTY
David Ferrer has struck a seam of such unalloyed talent in the autumn of his playing career that he has become tennis’ version of a human metronome

So, anyway, good luck with all of that Andy

*****

Fred Really Does Haunt the Grounds
Elsewhere, the Telegraph brings this—interesting?—piece of news:

REMAINS OF FRED PERRY SPENT A YEAR IN COLD STORAGE DURING WIMBLEDON ROOF WORKS

It seems that Perry’s ashes, at his request, have been sitting under his statue at the All England Club for all of these years—I thought he hated the place after being snubbed there as a young man.

Anyway, the ashes had to removed when construction began on the roof in 2008.

“When the roof project came to be planned,” said Ashley Jones of Wimbledon, “it was realized that we were going to need four exceedingly large cranes, and Fred was lying right where one of those cranes had to go. We approached his family and they agreed to allow him to be removed from the ground and put into the museum’s air conditioned storage.”

***** 

Pack a Sandwich
So says Nick Bollettieri in his preview of Murray-Ferrer today for the Independent. He also recommends a trip to the bathroom before the match starts, because, “this is going to go some.”

Nick’s pick? Murray in five. 

“This is going to be about small margins,” he says. “Murray knows it. Ferrer knows it.”

As I read that, I was sure that the next sentence was going to be, “And Nick knows it, too.”

It isn’t, but I know that’s what Nick wanted to say. Instead, he tells us the match will be decided “on a few lucky breaks.”

Sidenote: I’ve noticed that the man with the best name in sportswriting is still doing tennis at the Independent: Steve Tongue

*****

Favorite Headline of the Day…
Courtesy of the Express:

JO-WILFRIED TSONGA FRIES WET FISH

—Elsewhere in the Express:

Who is Rupert Grint? That’s my question. The question at Wimbledon yesterday was, Where is Rupert Grint? The actor, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, had his name removed from the guest list for the Royal Box yesterday.

The Express cleverly wondered, “An invitation to the Royal Box is not something you usually weasel out of, so perhaps there was something more to the disappearance of Grint from the guest list.”

—Serena Williams was in the news for a couple of reasons.

First there was her impressive win over Petra Kvitova. Then there was her quote afterward: “I had to weed out the riff-raff.”

Yesterday, ESPN, perhaps picking up a trick or two from the tabs, showed a clip of Serena saying those words, without giving any context to them. It sounded like the "riff-raff" were the players she had just beaten, including Kvitova. That, of course, would have made for an epic quote. Alas, it turns out Serena was just talking about her own game, and how she’s had to weed out its flaws.

***** 

You Can’t Go Home Again
I have to say that I’ve been a little disappointed in the performance of the Sun’s headline writers over the last week and a half—have they been tamer since the Murdoch affair last year? Today, though, the Sun made me laugh at this mental image:

KERBER’S GERIFIC
Angelique Kerber is leading a resurgence of German tennis and roared, “Now is our time.”

Kerber “roared” this in the interview room at the All England Club? Funny idea. Then I saw the photo above. Maybe it wasn't an exaggeration . . . 

It’s enough to make me wish that my paper, the New York Times, had a little tab blood in it. How does the Times describe the defeat of U.S. players Brian Baker and Mardy Fish yesterday? Anything about being scalloped or baked in the oven? Anything about Bionic Man Baker roaring vengeance? No, intead we get:

LAST TWO AMERICAN MEN EXIT THE STAGE

It is true, at least. As of July 4, the U.S. men are done, leaving an all-Euro quarterfinals. Is it a sign of hope that Baker and Fish made surprising runs to the round of 16? Or is it a sign of our diminished expectations that I find it hopeful in the first place? Something (not) to ponder on Independence Day.

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