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Home   News   Tebbutt: A hard way to clay

Tebbutt: A hard way to clay

Apr 07, 2015
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Novak Djokovic’s tennis shoes will not be squeaking on tennis courts again until sometime after Wimbledon finishes on July 12.

The world No. 1’s lead in the ATP rankings is now 4,260 points on second place Roger Federer after his 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 win over Andy Murray in Sunday’s final on the hard courts at the Miami Open.

Combined with his title in Indian Wells two weeks ago, he now has a record three back-to-back victories (2011-14-15) at the Masters 1000 events in California and Florida.

He leaves behind American Plexipave and Laykold surfaces and the high-pitch noise his shoes make on them and will almost surely not be squeaking again until the Rogers Cup in Montreal from August 8-16.

His next tennis will be on quieter “scuffle-shuffle” clay through the French Open, on grass through Wimbledon and then back onto clay again for a Davis Cup quarter-final (with the winner playing whoever advances in the Canada – Belgium quarter-final) in Argentina from July 17-19.

Djokovic currently has twice as many ranking points (13,205) as the each of the players ranked 3 (Andy Murray), 4 (Kei Nishikori), 5 (Rafael Nadal) and 6 (Milos Raonic).

But it may be a tough transition to clay for him because he basically just has a week before Monte Carlo begins and he’s pretty well obligated to play there because it’s where he is officially a resident.

Novak Djokovic

He looked tired and jaded at times in Miami and Tuesday he tweeted the picture here (apparently from Monte Carlo) with the words “Jetlag go away!!!” Last week there were stressful moments in his matches against Martin Klizan in the third round, Alexander Dolgopolov in the quarter-finals – he was a point away from trailing by a set and 4-0 in the second set – and John Isner in the semifinals. Even against Murray in the final, he appeared vulnerable but Murray was simply too error-prone at key junctures to capitalize.

Maybe he’s feeling it after a great start to 2015 that includes winning the Australian Open and the first two Masters 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami, or maybe it’s his recent fatherhood and turning 28 next month on May 22, but he was surprisingly philosophical after his win on Sunday: “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and also utilize this time of my career where I’m probably playing the tennis of my life and feeling confident and physically fit. That’s what I’m thinking about right now. I am aware that this cannot go on forever. There is going to be eventually a change of generations, some players that are going to start playing better and be stronger. But until that time comes, I’m going to try to stay as long as I can on the top and fight for the biggest titles.”

Novak Djokovic

© Mauricio Paiz

With a lot of pressure ahead in eight weeks when he begins his quest for a victory at Roland Garros, the only Grand Slam he has not won, it would have seemed preferable for him to take a longer break and build up slowly for the moment of truth in Paris.

If Djokovic is a little weary, then Roger Federer should be in a totally different mental and physical space heading into Monte Carlo. He will be coming off three weeks away from the tour and should be primed for the “terre battue” of the Monte Carlo Country Club. The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters remains one of two (with Rome) Masters 1000 events he has not won, although he has been runner-up four times, including to compatriot Stan Wawrinka a year ago.

Nadal, an eight-time winner but beaten by David Ferrer (quarter-final) and Djokovic (final) the past two years, will also have a bit more time to prepare after losing 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to Fernando Verdasco in the third round on the middle Sunday in Miami.

Milos Raonic

© Mauricio Paiz

Raonic, who is another resident of the Mediterranean principality, will likely be seeded fourth in Monte Carlo. A year ago he reached the quarter-finals before losing 7-6(5), 6-2 to eventual champion Wawrinka. Overall in 2014, Raonic was 11-5 on European clay highlighted by a semifinal in Rome and a quarter-final at Roland Garros, losing both times to Djokovic.

Looking back at Miami – Raonic lost 6-7(3), 7-6(6), 7-6(5) to John Isner in a round-of-16 match that had no service breaks and only four break points, three of them held by Raonic. Huge serving and big hitting predominated. Ultimately the contest came down to a Raonic forehand error into the net with him serving at 4-5 in the final set tiebreak.

The most notable absentees next week in Monte Carlo will be Murray and Nishikori.

In the meantime, the ATP clay-court season officially gets underway with events in Houston and Casablanca this week. The fields are short on big names – with Feliciano Lopez as top seed in Houston and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez heading the entry list for Casablanca.

A final reflection on a somewhat sketchy Miami final with Djokovic having a winners to unforced errors ratio of 28/37 and Murray being 29/48. At times it seemed that if either could volley as well as Federer, they would have been able to finish off a few more points at the net. Overheads were also a problem for both, but there were a few too many volleys that just weren’t struck cleanly enough after the point had been well constructed. It was one disappointing aspect of a match that, overall, provided pretty good value between two players whose styles are just too similar to create the very highest level of entertaining tennis.

Serena soars to 8th title

Serena Williams

© Mauricio Paiz

It’s becoming more and more of a truism in women’s tennis – beat world No. 1 Serena Williams early in a tournament or you’re probably not going to beat her at all.

Last Saturday, Williams won her eighth (see fingers and thumb above) Miami Open with a 6-2, 6-0 demolition of Carla Suarez Navarro in a 56-minute final.

A stat on ESPN revealed her dominance of late – she is 46-0 in her most recent Premier Mandatory tournaments, even if that includes a few, such as Indian Wells, where she had to withdraw part way through.

There were two moments this writer remembers about Williams at the 2015 Miami Open. In the first set against Sabine Lisicki in the quarter-finals, Williams was two points from losing it when she hit a breath-taking backhand cross-court winner at a seemingly impossible angle. Two points later, facing set point, she calmly laced a forehand winner as if it was just another ho-hum point. She beat Lisicki 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-3 and then Simona Halep 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the semifinal. That match was very competitive but, as with most of her matches these days, it was hard to convince yourself that Williams would actually lose – and she did not.

About the only criticism of Williams would be how angry she gets at herself when things are not going well. The intensity of it is unbecoming a great champion. Sure Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and even Federer get upset during matches, but they never do it to the same extreme degree that Williams does. It detracts from her brilliant play and it seems, as it was with John McEnroe in his heyday, that she often can’t summon her finest tennis without a moment of rage.

All this brings to mind Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage – “grace under pressure.”

It would be nice to see a bit more of that from Williams, especially as it becomes increasingly obvious that she is the best women’s player of all time.

Gut check in Charleston

Eugenie Bouchard

© Mauricio Paiz

Genie Bouchard will try to surpass her modest record as a WTA top seed when she plays this week’s tour event, the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C.

In her two previous events with that status – Linz, Austria, 2014 (injury withdrawal after a first-round win over Patricia Mayr-Achleitner) and Antwerp, Belgium, 2015 (a first-round loss to Mona Barthel) – she only played one match.

In her first Charleston match after a bye, Bouchard will face fellow 21-year-old Lauren Davis of the U.S. on Wednesday. Bouchard defeated Davis 6-2, 6-2 in the third round of the 2014 Australian Open in their only previous meeting.

If the world No. 7 advances, she could face more match-ups with American rivals from her generation – possibly No. 40-ranked Sloane Stephens, 22, in the round-of-16 and No. 20-ranked Madison Keys, 20, in the quarter-finals.

A year ago in the Charleston semifinals, Bouchard was totally dominating eventual champion Andrea Petkovic before the 27-year-old German took advantage of some lapses to pull out a 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Considering Bouchard’s recent struggles, doing as well as she did last year might be considered success.

Pospisil passes Nestor

Vasek Pospisil Daniel Nestor

© Tennis Canada – Kyle Clapham

With his runner-up finish with Jock Sock – losing 6-3, 1-6, [10-8] to top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan – at the Miami Open last Saturday, Vasek Pospisil has overtaken Daniel Nestor in the ATP individual doubles rankings.

Pospisil is now No. 5 while Nestor has dropped to No. 7. (Sock is No. 9.)

That ended Nestor’s streak of 14 years and four months as the top Canadian in the rankings. On November 20, 2000, Nestor rose to No. 15, replacing Sébastien Lareau who had been No. 15 the previous week but fell to No. 17. Nestor had camped out as the top Canadian, uninterrupted, ever since.

The next few months will be interesting as Nestor has to defend 2,000 points in May after earning 1,000 points each at Madrid and Rome a year ago when he and then partner Nenad Zimonjic won both those Masters 1000 titles. Pospisil also has a block of 2,000 to defend – as champion with Sock at Wimbledon when The Championships roll around in June.

Nestor, 42, will be playing with the lightening reflexes of Leander Paes, 41, starting next week in Monte Carlo.

In February 2006, John McEnroe, 46, won the San Jose ATP tournament with Jonas Bjorkman, then 32. That’s a combined total of 78 years.

If Nestor and Paes are able to win a tournament together, they would beat that with a joint total of 83 years. Nestor and Paes already were both 40 (80 years) when they won the Winston-Salem title in August 2013.

As for Pospisil and Sock, ranked No. 59 and No. 46 respectively in singles, they both maintain that their focus is singles. It’s questionable whether they will be able to get into singles main draws of Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome next month. But they do plan to make their next doubles appearance in Madrid.

In Sunday’s final, Sock was the more erratic player in the early going but once he settled down the match was extremely competitive. In the final decisive match tiebreak, Pospisil and Sock rallied from 6-1, 7-2 and 8-4 deficits to make it 8-all. Then Sock missed a forehand down-the-line into an open court that he pushed long and, on the ensuing match point, Pospisil let a Mike Bryan shot through the middle go and watched as it landed good inside the baseline. The loss ended a nine-match winning streak for Pospisil and Sock that extended back to their win in Indian Wells last month.

The POTUS plays

Barack Obama

© USTA/Jose Argueta

American President Barack Obama is probably more popular in Canada than he is in his own country.

Now he has gained some admiration from tennis lovers both north and south of the border by playing some Kids Tennis with Caroline Wozniacki, among others, during the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

Golf has been the sport of choice for most American presidents but George H.W. Bush enjoyed playing tennis and George W. Bush was known to hang out with former ATP No. 1 John Newcombe of Australia.

Andy’s not selling out

Kim Sears Andy Murray

Andy Murray, who turns 28 on May 15th, will marry longtime girlfriend Kim Sears, who had her 27th birthday last December, next Saturday in his hometown of Dunblane, Scotland.

The current world No. 3 and his fiancée have decided not to sell pictures of their wedding for profit. Read about that here.

Sears is quite an accomplished portrait artist, but not of human beings. There’s more about her specialty here.

BTW – Murray is not playing the Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo, which begins two days after his wedding. Obviously, that would have made for a very limited honeymoon.

Muguruza moonwalks

Garbine Muguruza of Spain, a 21-year-old who currently ranks No. 19, is one of the more popular emerging young players. Here is a fun video of her training recently – be sure to watch right to the end!