Tag Archives: Andy Murray

What’s next for British tennis?

In the early part of this decade, the likes of Andy Murray and Laura Robson were making waves in tennis.

However, with Murray’s career now tailing off after injury problems, where is British tennis heading and will we need to wait a further 70 years for another grand slam victory?

Great Britain’s Davis Cup win in 2015 was one of the highlights of Murray’s career, with GB winning the competition for the first time since 1936.

Without the three-time slam winner and double Olympic gold medallist fighting so hard for every point across the doubles and singles matches, GB wouldn’t even have reached the final.

But where is the new Murray as the old one edges closer to retirement following his latest round of hip surgery?

There have always been problems in cultivating the raw talent of young tennis players in the UK and turning them into champions.

Too much choice? 

One reason for this could be the number of sports that are accessible to British children. At high school in Scotland, I played not only tennis but, football and dabbled in rugby and boxing.

If British youngsters were able to focus on one sport instead of many they would be able to refine the skills that are needed to be successful at tennis. Murray and younger sibling Jamie started playing at around the age of four and tennis was their focus.

Another big issue is cost. For example, to rent an indoor court in Edinburgh – and it needs to be indoor because it rains a lot in Scotland – for an under-16 is £7.50 an hour. The only indoor courts that are owned by the council are six miles from the city centre and are hard to get to by public transport.

Such factors don’t help Scotland’s search for the next Murray, and young players across the UK – particularly those from poorer backgrounds – face similar problems.

Who do you play against?

Murray moved to Spain at the age of 14 so that he could compete against some of the best players in his age group. Among those he faced as a teenager were Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

But in Britain, the national tennis centre is in Roehampton, an expensive suburb of south-west London.

National Tennis Centre

Can the Lawn Tennis Association realistically move the best young talents away from their homes in their early teens and coach and train them at this facility?

Yes, but it remains an under-utilised resource because of its location and the financial costs of accommodating these future stars.

Spain has one of the best youth tennis set-ups with high-quality academies around the country, constantly pitting the most talented youngsters against each other.

There is no surprise that they generally have at least 10 male players in the top 100 at any given time.

Tennis on TV

The LTA has launched various initiatives in recent years with the aim of capitalising on Murray’s success and International profile.

The Scot has inspired thousands of children to pick up a racquet and give tennis a go. But there is a problem in maintaining their initial enthusiasm.

Tennis on TV has increasingly become something you need a subscription to watch. Wimbledon continues to be screened by the BBC but other events have migrated to Sky Sports and, more recently in the case of the US Open, Amazon Prime,

If the UK wants to produce more top players, tennis surely has to be more accessible. British kids can’t fall in love with a sport they can’t see.

Other players carrying the torch

Murray has not been doing it all on his own in recent years. For starters, brother Jamie has won several grand slam titles as a doubles player.

Laura Robson, the winner of the Wimbledon Junior title in 2008, looked on course for the top but has only played a handful of matches since 2016 after wrist and hip surgery.

Heather Watson is another player who seemed destined for great things but has been derailed by persistent poor form, whilst Johanna Konta’s issues with building on her Wimbledon and Australian Open semi-finals have been well documented.

In the men’s game, Dan Evans is rebuilding his promising career after a drugs ban, but he turns 29 in May.

Kyle Edmund needs to show more consistency after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals in 2018, whilst Cameron Norrie is another British prospect expected to make an impact.

Women’s singles also have some exciting prospects with Katie Boulter and Katie Swan having impressive starts to their careers, with 11 ITF titles between them.

British tennis may yet have many happy days to come. Norrie and Edmund have grand slam potential, while Boulter and Swan can capitalise on the fluidity at the top of the women’s game.

But if Britain is to have further success, it is going to have to enhance the way it develops players from a young age.

Photo by Carine06 via Flickr Creative Commons under licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My love for Andy Murray

Twice in my life has sport truly broken my heart. The first was on July 8th, 2012, watching Andy Murray lose to Roger Federer in his first Wimbledon final. The other was seeing him announce his plans to retire and breaking down in his press conference ahead of the Australian Open.

Being Scottish and a sports fan is hard. It could be one of the hardest things about being from Scotland. The constant defeat in football and an occasional glimmer of hope in rugby union. But generally, it’s not great. To quote Edinburgh author Irvine Welsh: “It’s shite being Scottish.”

But since the summer of 2005 we’ve had something to treasure as one of our own blasted onto the world tennis stage. Murray reached the third round of Wimbledon at the age of 18, easily dispatching 14th seed Radek Stepanek along the way, and we finally had someone to cheer on.

Tennis has always had a feeling of being a sport for the middle classes, but the boy from Dunblane’s emergence sought to change that.

Raised by his mother Judy, who was now a coach after her own brief playing career, he moved to Spain at the age of 15, determined even at that tender age to take his tennis education to the next level.

As Murray said “it was a big sacrifice to move away from your family,” but it was a risk that paid off, and he soon began to show he could compete against the likes of Roger Federer and his immediate contemporaries, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Between them, this formidable quartet has dominated the men’s game for more than a decade.

Tears then cheers

Early in his career, Murray was treated harshly by sections of the British media. Asked in an interview who he would be supporting in football’s upcoming European Championship in the absence (yet again) of Scotland, his tongue-in-cheek response was “anyone but England.”

Winning in New York was one thing – what the British sporting public really craved was its first Wimbledon men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1936

This endeared to him to those north of the border but seemed to generate real hatred from the south. Murray was seen as surly and miserable while also being prone to fits of temper on the court when matches weren’t going his way. There were allegations of an overbearing mother and frequent questions about his choice of coaching staff.

But that first day when sport broke my heart began to turn things around. Having lost in four sets to Federer, he broke down on the court while thanking the fans. Through his tears he promised “I’m getting closer” and the Centre Court crowd finally warmed to him.

Just a few weeks later, he would meet Federer again on the same court in the Olympic final, dismissing the Swiss legend in three sets to win gold.

Now on a roll, Murray clinched his first Grand Slam title at that year’s US Open, beating Djokovic in an epic final that lasted nearly five hours.

Winning in New York was one thing, though – what the British sporting public really craved was its first Wimbledon men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1936.

Endearing

That long-awaited triumph finally came in 2013 when Murray again reached the final, this time facing Djokovic. He performed flawlessly to win in straight sets, and once again the emotions on display in victory endeared him to his now-adoring British public.

He went on to win the Wimbledon title again in 2016, also defending his Olympic crown in Rio the same year. The naysayers might see his total of three Grand Slams as ultimately disappointing and point to all the finals – including five at the Australian Open – that he reached only to lose.

But Murray’s feats have to be placed in context, and he was competing in an era featuring three of the all-time greats of men’s tennis in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

In total, he won 45 ATP titles and spent 41 weeks occupying the No.1 spot in the world rankings. Towards the end of 2016, he won 24 consecutive matches.

His victories will be remembered for a long time in the heart of tennis fans around the world, but it’s his work off the court which has really cemented his status in the sport and beyond.

Championing equality

In 2017, after he had ended his season early due to the hip injury which would ultimately end his career, he staged an exhibition match in Glasgow, playing against Federer, raising £70,000 for children’s charities.

He has been a huge supporter of equal rights, which has earned him praise from the icons of the women’s game such as Serena Williams and Billie-Jean King.

The Scot was once asked if he was he was a feminist; his response was “If being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then, yes.”

He was the first top male player to hire a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo. He discussed the reaction he received for this by bringing equality to the forefront of the discussion.

“I didn’t realise that Amelie would find herself up against such criticism and prejudice. The staggering thing was that she was slated every time I lost, which is something my former coaches never ever experienced. It wasn’t right.”

As soon as Murray confirmed his impending retirement in Australia, tributes poured in from his colleagues and rivals.

King tweeted: “You are a champion and off the court…Your voice for equality will inspire future generations.”

Heather Watson, his doubles partner at the Olympics in Rio, said: “I know all of us girls in the locker room are in awe and so grateful for how you always fight our corner! Thank you so much for that. You inspire me in so many ways.”

Nadal, his rival all the from childhood, tweeted: “Congrats @andy_murray for all your achievements all these years. It was great to play against you all these years. Good luck with everything!”

Unity

The talented but wayward Nick Kyrgios was quietly mentored by Murray, who saw past his bad boy antics on court, and the Aussie paid heartfelt tribute on Instagram.

‘In tennis, it is not the opponent you fear, it is failure itself, knowing how near you were but just out of reach’ – Sir Andy Murray.

“You will always be someone that impacted the sport in so many different ways.  You took me under your wing as soon as I got on tour and to this day you have been someone I literally just look forward to seeing… I just want you to know that today isn’t only a sad day for you and your team, it’s a sad day for the sport and everyone you’ve had an impact on.”

Murray may feel disheartened as he has watched Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all come back from serious injury lay-offs and return their peak levels. Who knows how many Slam titles he would have won in a time less blessed with amazing talents in the men’s game?

We will never know, but what I will never forget is sitting in a park in Scotland in 2013 watching his final against Djokovic – I used up my whole data plan on my phone in one sitting. The cheers at our work summer party and the unity that you brought to Scotland – and the rest of the UK.

Another memory I’ll have is from a Wimbledon Championships video in which top players are asked how they like to eat strawberries. Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Federer all replied “with cream,” but the Scotsman’s bone-dry sense of humour ran through his response of “with my fingers.”

We’ll miss him…

Feature image courtesy of Carine06 via Flickr Creative Commons under licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Australian Open 2018 preview

The Australian Open serves up the first Grand Slam action of the year when it gets underway on January 15th, but the question is: who will actually be playing?

The build-up to the tournament has been been hit with with major pull-outs and injury scares.

Britain’s Andy Murray has undergone hip surgery and is out of action until the summer, whilst Serena Williams – eleven months on from winning her seventh Melbourne title – will also be missing, having had her first child in September.

Victoria Azarenka, who won the title in 2012 and 2013, will also be missing as a legal custody battle over her son continues.

Djokovic returns after an injury-hit 2017

World No.1 and last year’s runner up Rafael Nadal is by no means a certainty to play down under, with a knee injury that has been hampering the Spaniard since the end of last year. He is, at least, in Melbourne and due to play a Tie-Breaks Ten in preparation.

Novak Djokovic, six-time winner of the Australian Open, is also a doubt. He missed the last six months of 2017 with a persistent elbow injury and will use a couple of exhibition tournaments to see if he is fit enough.

Last year’s Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza is 50/50 after pulling out of the Brisbane tournament with intense cramp.

Britain’s female leading light Johanna Konta is also a doubt after pulling out of the Brisbane event with a hip injury, although the 26-year-old did play in Sydney this week, but was knocked in the first round.

With no Murray, as well as Dan Evans serving a drugs ban and Aljaz Bedene swapping his nationality to Slovenia, Kyle Edmund is Britain’s best hope of male success.

The 23-year-old made the second round last year, but has a tough first round tie against US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, who has beaten Murray and Milos Raonic.

Defending champion Roger Federer starts his defence against Bedene. Nadal starts his run with a match against veteran world No.83 Victor Estrella Burgos.

Djokovic faces Donald Love, whilst last year’s semi-finalist Raonic faces world number 44 Lukas Lako. Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 winner, plays Ričardas Berankis. Home hopes rest on Nick Kyrigos, who encounters Rogério Dutra da Silva

In the women’s section, Konta faces American world No.92 Maddison Brengle, whilst Heather Watson meets 50th-ranked Yulia Putintseva. Last year’s runner-up Venus Williams takes on Belinda Bencic.

Favourites

Since 2011, Serbian Djokovic has won five titles down under, but with injury plaguing him since last year, this tournament may come too soon for him. He is 5/1, as is last year’s runner-up Nadal.

No surprises then that the favourite is Federer. The 19-time Grand-Slam winner had one of the best season’s of his career in 2017 as he claimed both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles.

He has been injury free, playing well in the run-up unlike his aforementioned rivals and he is 7/4 to retain his crown. Federer’s Swiss compatriot Wawrinka, who made the semi-finals last year, has also been troubled by injuries and he is 25/1.

Raonic has made the quarter-finals three years in a row and has a better winning percentage than at any other tournament. This year could be the year he goes all the way and he is 50/1 to win.

Jack Sock is a dark horse contender

There’s always an underdog to be fancied and this year it is Jack Sock, the world No.8.

He’s never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam, but having won his maiden Masters 1000 title in Paris, he reached his highest ranking and made an appearance at the ATP World Tour finals, beating Marin Cilic and World number 4 Alexander Zverev en route to the semi-finals. He is a dark horse at 80/1.

In the women’s draw – and without Serena Williams creating a massive obstacle – it could finally be the time for Simona Halep the break her Grand Slam duck.

The World No.1 hasn’t made it past the quarters in Melbourne and has lost in two French Open finals, but is in good form and a decent 8/1 shot.

World No.4 Elina Svitolina is 17/2, while and sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova is 9/1.

Caroline Wozniacki is world No.2 for the first time since 2011 and won the WTA finals in Singapore at the end of last season. She goes in as one of the favourites at 10/1.

Venus Williams (22/1) will look to have a strong tournament again and without her younger sister in the way she may just be a strong force even at the age of 37. The 2016 winner Angelique Kerber is 11/1 to win again.

Sloane Stephens won the US Open last year, but hasn’t won a match since and doesn’t look like rediscovering the sort of form that would make her a contender. She is priced at 40/1 accordingly, while Keys, who she beat at Flushing Meadows, is 22/1.

One big name that shouldn’t be overlooked is Maria Sharapova, who has earned direct entry into the competition for the first time since her drugs ban. The 2008 winner has the experience and ability to go all the way and is 12/1.

Prize money

The men’s and women’s winners receive a cheque for £2.32m, whilst the runner-up gets £1.16m. Semi-finalists get £509k. Quarter-finalists earn £255k, whilst round one still pulls in a cool £28.9k.

Last year

The 2017 version was all about old rivals blossoming and romantic tales. For the first in a final since the 2011 French Open, Federer and Nadal faced one another again.

Despite the Spaniard having won more matches against the Swiss, it was Federer who prevailed in one of the best finals Australia has seen. In a topsy-turvy match, lasting three hours and 38 minutes, Federer won his 18th Slam.

He took the first set 6-4, but Nadal levelled up with a 3-6 win. Four-time winner Federer then took the third 6-1, before the now World No1 again took the fourth set 3-6. It came down to the final set, but with the crowd willing him on Federer took his first Grand-Slam in five years as he won it 6-3.

He went onto to triumph in SW19 in the summer, whilst a rejuvenated Nadal claimed the French and US Open.

Sisterly love? Serena Williams showed how ruthless she is to claim a record breaking 23rd Grand Slam and her seventh down under. She took the first set 6-4 in just 41 minutes against Venus repeated the score in the second to wrap up a relatively easy win.

Whilst Serena took time off on maternity leave, for Venus it was more disappointment as she lost 7-5 6-0 in the Wimbledon final to Muguruza.  

Australia’s hope: Nick Kyrigos

Kyrigos will fly the flag for the hosts

With Bernard Tomic claiming he was ‘’bored’’ at Wimbledon last year, his home fans have hardly been endeared by him.

After refusing to give him a wild card and Tomic not wanting to go down the qualifying route, their hopes rest on another turbulent performer, Kyrgios.

A talented player, the 22-year-old’s temperament has got him into much trouble on numerous occasions and he has admitted to giving up mid-match in the past.

He was fined last October for walking off during a Masters match in Shanghai with no explanation – the second year in a row he was reprimanded for his misdemeanours at the competition.

No doubt a supremely gifted athlete when he focuses, he has only made it to quarters once in his home country (in 2015) and hasn’t made it past the third round of a Slam since 2016. It’s hard to imagine he will cause an upset.

Prediction

Despite the return of Djokovic and Nadal, they’re not 100% fit and so I can only predict another win for a resurgent Federer.

There were remarks his career were coming to an end, but a sincilating 2017 saw him quash those who doubted him and I fancy him to win again down under.

The female draw is always so much harder to predict. Unlike the men’s side that is so vastly dominated by the Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray, literally anything can happen in the women’s game.

And with Serena missing, I think it’s time for Halep to deliver. Now World No.1, she is in good form and I think she will win her first Grand-Slam in Melbourne, although I wouldn’t rule out both Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams being surprise contenders.

Overall, though, I think Federer and Halep will prevail as winners.

Jack Sock

Jack Sock – ‘I shouldn’t have been here in the first place’

Few expected Jack Sock to perform as he did at the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2, where the top eight ranked players in the world contest the season finale.

Despite being the lowest-ranked player there, the American reached the semi-finals and lit up a tournament that was missing some of tennis’ biggest names.

The men’s game has enjoyed a golden era over the last decade, with four players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – peaking together and distancing themselves from the rest of the field.

There has only been one Grand Slam final since the 2005 Australian Open where none of this aforementioned quartet were involved. That was at the 2014 US Open, where Marin Cilic overcome Kei Nishikori.

But change is imminent. All four are 30 or over, Federer is nearer to 40 while the rest seem otherwise distracted by injury or personal issues.

High-class tennis players are emerging, such as the 20 year-old German Alexander Zverev, who is currently ranked No.3, but there will be four very big holes to fill once that elite group step off the circuit.

Those gaps appeared at the ATP Finals. Only Nadal and Federer participated, with the Swiss disappointed by his semi-final exit while the Spaniard’s knee could only last one match before forcing him to withdraw.

Late addition

But a personality did emerge. Sock only qualified at the last opportunity, his Paris Masters title coming days before the start of the tournament, and subsequently lifting him to No. 8 in the rankings.

 

“I shouldn’t have been here in the first place”, confessed the 25 year-old Nebraskan. Only a tournament victory in France would have been enough for Sock – who ended October ranked 24th – and defeating Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic in the final meant he took the final spot at The O2 at the expense of Spain’s Pablo Correno Busta.

And once in London, Sock captured the hearts of the crowd with his free-wheeling and sometimes thrilling tennis.

The final match of the Boris Becker group between Sock and Zverev was effectively a quarter-final, with the winner finishing second in the group and qualifying for the semis.

The German had the momentum heading into the deciding set, but Sock’s combination of power and delicate touches proved too much for the youngster.

Delightful drop shots were immediately followed by smash returns off Zverev’s serve. Sock’s 6-4 1-6 6-4 victory was well earned despite suggestions that Zverev choked.

Playing for fun

Tennis is a very calculated game, but Sock’s informal attitude seemed to be his trump card.

“I talked to my coach [Jay Berger] and we said, screw it, take the pressure off yourself, go have fun on court again.”

And fun was had. During his opening match – a 6-4 7-6 defeat to Federer, the American scooped up a ball for the world No.2 to easily volley for the point.

It was here that Sock turned round and ‘presented’ his behind as a target for the Swiss.

Decency

But while he may have a care-free attitude and is often seen sporting merchandise of his beloved Kansas City Chiefs or ploughing down the fairway on the golf course, Sock is far from the stereotypical jock we may imagine him to be.’

‘He can’t even legally drink a beer in the US’ – Sock on Zverev

Always respectful of opponents, Sock’s sensitivity was displayed during the press conference following his victory over Zverev. When asked whether he thought the German had choked, Sock was embarrassed, smiling awkwardly as Zverev was still fulfilling media commitments at the back of the room.

Not wanting to disrespect his opponent, the Nebraskan answered other questions before diplomatically responding once the young German had left the room and shut the door behind him.

“It’s tough. The guy is 20 years old. He’s played some absolutely outstanding tennis in his career. I mean, he can’t even legally drink a beer in the US and he’s three in the world”

Aside from his obvious ability as a tennis player, Sock showed his decency as a man.

The run ends

Inevitably, the American’s run had to end, losing 6-4 0-6 3-6 at the semi-final stage to the eventual champion, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

“When you play a guy [Dimtrov] of that calibre you can’t give him that many opportunities. He took advantage today… really stepped up his level and came up with some pretty crazy shots in the third set.”

“I nuked a return to his feet but he had an unreal pick-up. There’s a reason he has been playing consistently all year, that’s why he’s in the final.”

What next?

Next year could be the one when male American tennis finds its rhythm once again. Not since Andy Roddick, Sock’s fellow Nebraskan, has a player from the US made such an impact on the men’s game.

With the big four loosening their grip on their global dominance, breaking into the top 10 is only the start, with high ranking places and tour titles within reach.

But for Sock that is all the other side of a well-deserved break.

“I don’t want to talk about next year, I just want to go play golf.”

Ed Krarup worked in media liaison during the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2.

Feature image courtesy of Carine06 via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Roger Federer

Record eighth Wimbledon win still on for Federer

Not so long ago, the phrase ‘shock grand slam victory’ would never have been used in connection with Roger Federer.

The sublime talents of the Swiss star saw him amass 17 titles at the big four tennis tournaments – Wimbledon and the Australian, French and US Opens.

But he hadn’t won one since Wimbledon 2012 and, at the age of 35, retirement looked more likely than another slam triumph.

But surprise exits for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in Melbourne last month helped both Federer and old rival Rafael Nadal reach the final.

Federer beat the Spaniard 6–4, 3–6, 6–1, 3–6, 6–3 to make it slam No.18 – four ahead of Nadal and Pete Sampras.

But was his win simply an unexpected bonus? A lucky last hurrah for possibly the greatest player the men’s game has ever seen?

Underdog

You would be forgiven for thinking that his triumph at the Australian Open will be his last. Surely Federer’s physical abilities are only declining whilst the competition remains as fierce as ever?

“Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes”

He could, though, be a dark horse at this year’s Wimbledon, where a record eighth singles title at the famous tournament beckons.

Federer may need a bit of luck again, but he has show that on faster surfaces he is still a formidable foe.

He definitely won’t be the bookies’ favourite in SW19, but that is something that could play into his hands.

Weirdly, the Swiss suits the role of the underdog. An understated player, he has always gone about his business in a quiet, unspectacular but smoothly efficient manner, with an incredible ability to come back from the brink.

Less predictable

Athough Djokovic and Murray are still expected to dominate this year, they faltered in the early rounds in Australia on the new Plexicushion surface, which returned court speeds to that of the early 2000s.

And while Federer not have the legs he used to, he showed he still has intelligence which has made him so deadly across the 19-year span of his career.

Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes.

As Wimbledon’s grass courts get harder and more worn as the tournament progresses, they play faster, and the ‘Fed Express’ can still thrive on the green stuff.

Grass is also less predictable, and losses of concentration see upsets and giant-killings happen every year. The hugely experienced Swiss is still seemingly less susceptible to these – and is also capable of throwing a few surprises into his game.

Early exit

What’s fairly certain is that, ahead of Wimbledon, Federer won’t add another French Open crown to his sole victory at Roland Garros in 2009.

“Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…”

The clay courts in Paris are much slower and take away the advantage of a good serve, benefitting instead those who can slug it out in long rallies from the baseline.

An early exit there is likely for Federer, as it’s his least-favourite surface, but this will give him more time to prepare for Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, Djokovic, Murray and the rejuvenated Nadal, 30 – who has won a record nine French titles – are expected to go further, and potentially have to slog their way through several long, gruelling contests.

Adding to his grand slam tally is still going to be a big ask for Federer. He turns 36 in August, but is fresh after sitting out the second half of 2016 with the first serious injury of his career.

At 35, he certainly cannot match the speed of Murray or the power of Djokovic. But his speed of thought and grace under pressure mean he is still a threat.

Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…

Image @brendamaiy