Tennis finale kicks off "golden decade"

Monday, November 30, 2009

The awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London in 2005 signified the beginning of a campaign to bring to Great Britain what Prime Minister Gordon Brown described as a "golden decade" of sport.

Alongside the Olympics, the United Kingdom has also been awarded the 2015 Rugby World Cup, 2019 Cricket World Cup and is bidding for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, all among a host of other events to be staged on the isles.

The hope is that all of these will help leave a greater legacy of participation among the British people, not to mention bringing them the chance to see the best sporting talent in the world up close.

In the case of the latter, this has definitely already begun with the arrival of tennis' ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena this past weekend, bringing to Britain a sport and its best players that are usually confined to the first days of summer.

"I think it has surpassed anything that we thought it could be in year one," tournament director Chris Kermode told CNN.

"We started this project two years ago and everyone kept telling us that tennis market was just Queens and Wimbledon, just in the summer, I think we demonstrated that there is a huge audience out there in this country that knows a lot about tennis."

Statistics back this up with around 260,000 people visiting the O2 over the course of the tournament's week-long run, a huge increase on the 103,941 in Shanghai in 2008.

Neil Harman, tennis correspondent of The Times, says it is hard to think the event could have been more successful with fans eager to take up the opportunity to see the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal outside of Wimbledon.

"In a sense, everything you could fit into a week of tennis they've had here," said Harman.

"Crowds have been exceptionally good and the atmosphere great, I think you've seen a new breed of tennis fan as well. Different people coming in than you would normally see at Wimbledon, a different range of supporter and I think it's been brilliant for the sport."

The fans have certainly reacted positively to the tournament that saw Nikolay Davydenko become the first Russian to win the ATP World Tour Finals when he defeated Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 6-4.

"All the big stars, it's good to have them here in London," said Rob from North London with his friend JJ describing it as the "Champions League of tennis; they all really want to win it."

Many fans at the O2 were pleased with Davydenko's victory and the surprises this brought along the way, Kermode agrees and believes the Russian's performances were the highlight of the tournament.

"I think people are just amazed at his balance and speed of footwork, and beating Federer and Nadal and these sort of players was unbelievable.

With Andy Murray being Britain's sole representative at the tournament and only current prospect for the sport's grand slams, Harman feels that the most important benefit of the event's residence in London could be in the opportunity to capitalize on the interest and boost participation in a sport low on players compared to others.

"British tennis has got to seize the opportunity to build on the success that the tournament has generated. The question is, does Britain have the wherewithal to offer these people the chance to go off and keep playing and keep their interest up.

"That is the only way we will ever get the kind of numbers playing to five us the chance to develop more players from those numbers, that to my mind is the Lawn Tennis Association's big task after this event."

With the ATP World Tour Finals held in London now until 2013 there is certainly time to get this right.

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Roger Federer reclaims year-end No. 1 ranking

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LONDON — Roger Federer has reclaimed his spot at the top of the tennis world, securing the year-end No. 1 ranking for the fifth time.

The record 15-time Grand Slam champion is closing in on Pete Sampras' all-time mark of six.

"It means a lot to have returned to No. 1 and to finish the year again at No. 1," Federer said Wednesday after accepting a trophy on court at the ATP World Tour Finals. "It was an incredible year for me both on the court and off the court and to be able to break the all-time Grand Slam record and finish the year on top is amazing."

Federer earned the top year-end ranking after winning his opening two matches at the season-ending tour finals at the O2 Arena. Rafael Nadal, who ended Federer's five-year run as the end-of-season No. 1 last year, had a mathematical chance of overtaking Federer for the top spot but lost his opening match.

Federer struggled in the 2008 season, but reached all four Grand Slams finals yet again in 2009 and won two titles. The first championship came at the French Open, making the Swiss player only the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam.

At the All England Club, he reclaimed the Wimbledon title by defeating Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set and surpassing Sampras with his 15th major title.

"After having a rough 2008, coming back this year and being able to dominate and play at the top when the depth in tennis is so, so great at the moment, I think it's a wonderful achievement," Federer said after beating Andy Murray on Tuesday. "It's a wonderful feeling."

Up next for Federer, who got married and had twin daughters this year, is trying to match Sampras with a sixth year-end No. 1 ranking. He's tied with Jimmy Connors with five apiece.

But this year's achievement was also special because Federer became only the second player to reclaim the distinction after losing it. Ivan Lendl, who was No. 1 from 1985-87, did it in 1989.

At the ATP World Tour Finals, Federer has twice rallied after losing the first set, first beating Fernando Verdasco on Sunday and Murray on Tuesday. He will face Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday to guarantee a spot in the semifinals of the season-ending tournament.

Del Potro, who is 1-1 in the round-robin tournament, beat Federer in five sets in the U.S. Open final.

"It could be a make-or-break match for us to get through," Federer said. "If that's the case, I'll give it all I have and try to beat him this time. Last time we played, it was a fantastic match in New York."

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Robin Soderling Upsets Novak Djokovic in ATP Tennis Group Stage

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Robin Soderling, the lowest-ranked player at this week’s ATP tennis finals, continued his run of upsets, defeating No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic in two sets in the group stage.

Soderling, who opened the tournament with a two-set victory over second-seeded Rafael Nadal, won 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 in London today. The Swede is the No. 8 seed in the eight-man, end-of- season event.

“I didn’t enjoy playing today’s match, that’s for sure,” Djokovic said. “He was serving really well. All credit to him.”

Soderling could have had an easier day. He had three set points on the Serb’s serve in the first set, leading 5-4 before he allowed Djokovic to come back and win the game. The set went to a tiebreaker, which Soderling was leading 6-4 when he hit a forehand return long. He hit an ace, one of 10 for the match, to take the set. He broke Djokovic early in the second set and cruised to victory.

Djokovic, the defending champion, said he was fatigued after going to three sets to beat Nikolay Davydenko in his first match. Soderling was added to the tournament when American Andy Roddick’s bad knee forced him to pull out. Soderling, who defeated Nadal in the French Open and lost in that event’s final to Roger Federer, beat the Spaniard in straight sets earlier this week in his first match of the tournament.

He will reach the semifinals if Nadal defeats Davydenko later today.

“He has nothing to lose,” Djokovic said about Soderling. “He won four straight sets, and absolutely deserved to qualify for the semifinals. He’s the best player so far in the tournament.”

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Del Potro Beats Verdasco in Three Sets at ATP Tennis Tournament

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina defeated Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in three sets in the group stage of tennis’s ATP finals in London.

The 21-year-old won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1) over the seventh- seeded Verdasco, a 26-year-old lefthander from Madrid.

The 6-foot, 6-inch Argentine made it more difficult than it had to be, allowing Verdasco to come back from 5-2 to even the match at 5-5 in the last set. The loss leaves Verdasco at the bottom of Group A without a win. Top-seeded Roger Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray, who both have one win, play later today.

“It wasn’t easy,” Del Potro said in a court-side televised interview. “I’m very happy, it’s great.”

He said he needs to play better in his next match to have a shot at making the semifinals. The Argentine failed to convert a match point when leading 5-2 in the third set. He let Verdasco back into the match, failing to convert a second match point leading 5-4, before taking his third in the tie-break as Verdasco hit a forehand wide.

Del Potro will play Federer and Verdasco faces Murray in the final Group A matches later this week.

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Roddick's injury 'coming along well'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LONDON - After missing the ATP World Tour Finals because of a left knee injury, Andy Roddick is already looking forward to the start of the 2010 tennis season.

Roddick, who was at London's O2 Arena yesterday to announce that he has renewed his sponsorship deal with French apparel maker Lacoste for another four years, said his knee was "coming along well."

"We're probably a little bit ahead of where we thought we would be," the 2003 US Open champion said. "I've been able to run, run in a straight line, and hopefully next week I'll be able to get back out on the courts and practice."

Financial details of the deal with Lacoste were not announced. Lacoste CEO Christophe Chenut said Roddick brings "his human dimension" to the company.

"Andy will continue to be a major ambassador for the crocodile, thanks to his natural elegance, thanks to his fair play and smile," Chenut said.

Roddick had one of his best years on tour this season, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open and later losing to Roger Federer 16-14 in the fifth set of an epic Wimbledon final.

"As far as the disappointment of Wimbledon, I don't think I'll ever be happy with the result," Roddick said. "But I'll always want to win that tournament."

But with this season over for Roddick, he is focused on what is next. He said he is planning to start in Brisbane, Australia, in January and then move on to the Australian Open in Melbourne.

"I'm going to try to get down there probably earlier than I normally would, try to get used to conditions in heat," Roddick said. "Obviously, I'd love to get some sets in with these guys before it's all said and done."

The guys Roddick was referring to were the eight taking part in the ATP World Tour Finals, the season-ending event that runs through Sunday in London.

Top-ranked Federer, Rafael Nadal and US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro are among the competitors.

"It is a different dynamic for me to be here and to be talking with all of you, not playing," Roddick said. "It was a lot easier to deal with for me not being at this tournament when I was home. But to be able to come here and see just the energy that's around it, just the great event that's being put on, I definitely am envious towards those guys out there."

His disappointment didn't detract from his sense of humor, though.

Instead of answering yet another question about his chances of winning the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay, Roddick joked that he may use his contacts to get some things changed at Roland Garros.

"Well, we were talking earlier, and I said we have ... the Lacoste family here, a bunch of big players, big people in France. So we were talking about a surface change maybe for the French Open," Roddick said with a smile. "So we'll keep you updated on that. We're still in negotiations."

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Djokovic Looks Strong as Long Year Draws to Close

Monday, November 23, 2009
It has been a perplexing, exhausting, ultimately encouraging year to be Novak Djokovic.

There was a racket change along with all the usual time changes; 76 singles victories but no major tournament titles; tactical progress but no ranking progress, at least not yet.

Djokovic, a 22-year-old Serb who is ranked No. 3 in the world, has been showing unmistakable signs of vitality in recent weeks, winning three of his last four tournaments and beating No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal along the way.

While his rivals seem to be slowing down or breaking down at the end of a memorable tennis season, Djokovic appears to be bearing down. He has one more challenge remaining before he heads off on a short vacation: he will try to defend the title he won last year at the ATP Tour finals in Shanghai.

“Basically, I’m at this stage in the last two months where I feel very comfortable on the court,” Djokovic said in a telephone interview from London, the site this year of the ATP World Tour Finals, which started Sunday. “And I’m very confident as well, and I’m taking this confidence into the finals and just hoping to continue playing the same way, because this is clearly the way I imagine myself playing.”

“Unfortunately for me,” he added, “I’ve been through a period of seven, eight, nine months where I’ve had to learn a lot. There was a lot of mental instability, but still you learn from your mistakes, and I’ve taken it now to this period where I actually feel good and feel happy to play tennis and happy to give my 100 percent on the court.”

At 94 matches and counting, he has played far more than any other leading player this year. Nobody else in the top 10 has even broken the 80-match barrier. And in the past, Djokovic was not exactly an iron man; he has retired from several high-profile matches, most recently from his Australian Open quarterfinal in the heat against Andy Roddick in January.

“Only Novak knows his body and how he’s feeling at the moment,” said Darren Cahill, a coach and television commentator. “You’d think for someone who plays that many matches, he’d be tailing off a bit at the end of the year, but he is playing some of his best tennis at the end of the year and was doing it also last year.

“You’d say in normal circumstances, he’d played three or four too many tournaments, but only he knows. And if he’s handling it well at the moment, it’s a great sign for the work going on off the court.”

Last spring, Djokovic hired the physical trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch, an Austrian who once trained Thomas Muster, a former world No. 1. Djokovic has also added a second coach, the cerebral Todd Martin, a former American star, to complement his longtime coach, Marian Vajda. Djokovic has said he considers Vajda, a former Slovakian professional, his “second father.”

It is a sizable brain trust. Federer, in contrast, does not have even one regular coach.

Martin, whose ranking rose as high as No. 4 in 1999, began helping Djokovic in late August, before the United States Open, and has signed on for next season.

“It’s an exciting thing,” Martin said. “I had really launched into designing a charity program at full speed, and I had certainly deemed professional tennis to be at least in good part in my rearview mirror. And to do the amount of traveling that I am and will be doing, it needed to be an attractive opportunity. And to be able to work with somebody who’s got Novak’s potential certainly qualified as attractive.

“We’re still at the initial stages, and you don’t have to look past the last couple weeks to realize what the potential is.”

Djokovic, who struggled briefly after switching rackets in January, said he hired Martin largely to improve his attacking game and net play. But Martin sees his role as broader than that.

“I think this departmental coaching is, in my opinion, not efficient,” he said. “There’s no way you can have an impact in one part of the game without addressing how to get to that part of the game.”

Whatever the division of labor, Djokovic seems increasingly committed to pushing forward. He won the Paris Masters last week, his first victory in a top-tier ATP event this year after losing in four of the Masters series finals. Djokovic was selectively aggressive in a brilliant victory over Nadal in the semifinals. Then, despite losing a lead and momentum, he stuck to his acquired aggressive taste against Gaël Monfils in the final.

In a tie breaker in the decisive third set — when old habits would be most likely to resurface under pressure — Djokovic won three points at the net, two of them after lunging volleys.

“The nice thing I saw over the weekend was a much greater willingness to be aggressive and to control play,” Martin said. “He’s such a great athlete and a tremendous defender that it’s pretty understandable and reasonable for him to rest on his laurels a little bit and to play relatively defensive tennis. But I think as the years go by, it’s going to be more and more important that he takes some initiatives and tries to control play a little bit more. He did that flawlessly against Nadal.”

It is an interesting turnabout, considering that a loss to Nadal altered the course of Djokovic’s season. In the midst of his finest clay-court campaign, Djokovic was locked in an epic with Nadal in the semifinals in Madrid. The match went more than four hours, which is rare for a three-set match, and Djokovic lost despite holding three match points.

At his next tournament, the French Open, he was among the leading contenders, but Djokovic lost in dispiriting fashion to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. “Probably that’s the only match this year that I was quite bad on the day,” Djokovic said.

Cahill noted the significance of that Madrid semifinal, saying: “He’d been in three Masters finals in a row heading into Madrid. He had that incredible match with Nadal, one of the best of the year, not so much from a tennis perspective but from an emotional and spectacle perspective. But it really knocked the wind out of Novak’s sails.”

In retrospect, it did not help Nadal, either. The day after eliminating Djokovic, he lost in the final to Federer and has yet to win another tournament. But Nadal is in London and in the same round-robin group as Djokovic.

“Personally, I think Novak’s rediscovered his love of the game,” Cahill said. “It looked like he was playing with a big burden for a while.”

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Federer and Murray survive challenges in first round of ATP tennis at O2 arena

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 22,2009-Top seed Roger Federer, beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,500 at the O2 arena. Fourth-ranked Andy Murray earlier beat Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Both of the group A matches featured valiant attempts by Verdasco and Del Potro, but fell short.

Federer lost the opening game at love after a double fault on the first point. The Swiss champ concentrated on the Verdasco backhand. The lefty from Spain was not rattled and gained confidence as the set wore on, clinching it 6-4 with a strong backhand pass that shook Federer’s racquet.

The second set did not show Federer at his best but showed his resilience as he picked up his serving to keep ahead. With the set getting to the do or die stage, Federer raised his game and pounded Verdasco and it started to take its toll. Verdasco’s serve crumbled in the 12th game and Federer jumped on the chance with strong returns forcing errors from the Spaniard. The world number one had evened the set.

In the third set it was Federer’s forehands that started to hurt Verdasco as his errors increased. As Federer applied even more pressure, he raced through the set to a 5-0 lead before closing out a tough victory after one hour and 59 minutes.

In his match,Murray won the first five games before Del Potro got his bearings and started to unleash some huge forehand winners. Del Potro fought back to 3-5 and, although Murray finally won the set on his seventh set point, the momentum had shifted.

In the second set, Del Potro broke serve twice and continued to batter Murray with some bruising forehands that Murray could barely poke back defensively. Del Potro won the second set with an unrelenting crosscourt attack.

However, the barrage of Del Potro quickly lost its punch and Murray won the third set rather easily after breaking in the second game.

"He's got a big serve, long reach and goes for huge shots. You just have to try and get through it. Tactically I've always been fairly good so I found a way through today," Murray said.

On Monday, Rafael Nadal starts the group B action when he meets Sweden’s Robin Soderlin and Novak Djokovic goes against Nikolay Davydenko.

Today’s crowd of 17,467, which was 2,500 more than the capacity on Centre Court at Wimbledon, is the biggest ever to watch a tennis match in Britain.

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Niemeyer hangs up his racket

Thursday, November 19, 2009

MONTREAL — Frederic Niemeyer officially retired from professional tennis during a news conference Thursday, but he won't be leaving tennis altogether.

Niemeyer instead will join Tennis Canada as a personal coach for promising 18-year-old Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont. Niemeyer will train Raonic in Montreal and also will travel with the teenager 18 weeks a year on the pro tour.

Raonic made his ATP Tour debut at this year's Rogers Cup in Montreal, winning his first two matches against No. 77 Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia and No. 113 Michael Llorda of France to advance through the qualifying. He then delighted an overflow crowd at the BN grandstand court, taking 11th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez to the limit before losing 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4.

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Tennis, anyone? More people saying 'yes'

Thursday, November 19, 2009

 More Americans are playing tennis, with Hispanics and blacks showing a marked increase.

The U.S. Tennis Association said in a survey released Tuesday that 30.1 million people hit the courts this year. That's a 12 percent increase from 2008 and up 25 percent from six years ago.

The survey showed participation grew in all age groups under 50 and within all ethnic groups. The biggest increases were among Hispanics, with 32 percent more playing the game. Blacks had a 19 percent increase.

There were 7.1 million newcomers to the sport, a 19.5 percent increase from last year.

Regular players, those playing between four and 20 times a year, increased 26 percent this year to 14.8 million.   The sport is doing better at retaining players, with a 6.3 percent increase from the year before. Former players are returning to the game for the third year in a row, with nearly 7 million coming back this year. . . .

Andy Roddick is withdrawing from the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, which begins Sunday in London, because of a left knee injury suffered at last month's Shanghai Masters. The ATP said that French Open runner-up Robin Soderling will take Roddick's spot in the eight-man field. . . .

American Sam Querrey is back practicing for his return to the ATP Tour after he cut two muscles in his right forearm on Sept. 28 after sitting on a glass table that broke in Thailand. 

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Roddick Withdraws From London ATP Tennis Finals

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Andy Roddick has been forced out of the upcoming year-end London ATP Finals event according to the London Times.

“I am really disappointed to miss the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals,” Roddick said. “I love playing in London and I’ve heard so many good things about the venue. However, I have not fully recovered from my knee injury and I won’t be able to compete. One of my goals in 2010 will be to qualify for this event again.”

The World No. 6 has been recovering from a left knee injury he suffered during an opening round match against Stanislas Wawrinka at the Shanghai Masters last month.

The injury has since not sufficiently recovered enough for Roddick to compete. The American also missed the 2005 year-end tennis closer and withdrew after one match from last year’s event.

Roddick will be replaced by ATP No. 9 Robin Soderling. No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will assume the alternate role.

Groupings for the 8-man field will be announced Wednesday at London’s Millennium Eye. Play at the O2 Arena begins on Sunday. The Top 4 Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all expected to play.

Federer can secure the No. 1 ranking by reaching the final.

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