TEBBUTT: LONDON TALKING
The men doing the talking on Friday at the O2 Arena in London were the eight participants in the year-end ATP World Tour Finals which begin on Sunday.
Tomas Berdych did a terrific job taking the selfie above, with the only unfortunate aspect being that Milos Raonic was pretty well blocked out of the picture.
The 23-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., is making his WTF debut and does so coming in fresh from a runner-up finish at the Paris Masters 1000 event last week.
It was a fight to the finish for Raonic, needing a 7-6(5), 7-5 quarter-final victory over Roger Federer (and a loss by David Ferrer) to clinch a spot in the prestigious year-ender.
A Canadian reporter joked to Raonic during his media conference on Friday that he had a distinctive “London voice,” which was a round-about way of saying that it sounded like he had a cold. But he seemed chipper and colds often sound worse when they are in their past-their-peak phase. He just smiled at the suggestion.
“I think it was great the things I was able to produce in Paris with my back up against the wall,” he said about his runner-up showing (to Novak Djokovic) at the BNP Paribas Masters event. “Knowing that I was behind and that I had to fight to give myself the possibility to be here. But for me the focus here is, which is different from any other event, finding my best focus from my first match.”
The virus that affected his play in Shanghai, Moscow and Basel at least had the beneficial effect of not making him too tired. “The most physically straining week I had, as far as tennis, was Paris,” he said. “Other than that, I had quite a bit of time to recover for a few weeks.”
Raonic has been given no gift by the London schedule makers, with his first match on Sunday evening (3 p.m. EDT in Canada) against Federer.
“I don’t think it really does,” he replied to a question about whether their previous encounter just being eight days earlier affects the match-up. “It’s just like I don’t think the other two matches (a 6-2, 6-3 loss in the Cincinnati quarters and a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 defeat in the Wimbledon semifinals) had a big affect on Paris. It’s a brand new match. I think the thing that’s quite different is that the last three times we played this year was many matches into those events. This time it’s from the get-go that you have to find it. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, because he’s done it here many times. So I have to find a way to find myself and find my game.”
One Italian reporter was asking some players an off-the-wall question about who they would most like to go out to dinner with among the other competitors in London. “I’d probably pick Roger (Federer) because of the stories he could tell,” Roanic said. “Since when I came on tour he’s always had family and he’s always been a little on the aside of things because he’s always had a family. So you never get to hear some of the more exciting stories.”
Federer was also asked about the re-match with Raonic, especially coming off a loss. “Definitely you can catch guys in spells like when it’s No. 1 and No. 8, No. 2 and No. 7 (at the WTF),” he said. “You’d play them very often (at a regular tournament) in the quarters if a draw matches up that way. Like when I played Jo-Willie (Tsonga) on three straight Sundays here (2012 final in Paris, round-robin in London and final in London). The good thing is I’m not feeling badly. I lost because he (Raonic) played well and you’ve got to accept that and try to accept that and then try to react to it. It’s definitely harder to react to it than going into the match than like Milos and saying ‘I’ll do the same thing and that’s hopefully going to be enough again.’ So it’s definitely more up to me than up to him, potentially. As I’m feeling good, I’m happy I get a chance for a re-match. If I wasn’t feeling well physically or confidence wise, it would be much more difficult to back it up against somebody you just lost against. I look forward to the match.”
Federer has vast experience at the year-ender and observed about playing opening matches, “the first round is difficult because you don’t know the conditions so well yet. Everybody struggles in the first round. It is difficult on Fridays (the first day) in Davis Cup as well, everybody expects you to play this final-like level of match, which is not possible. Last year when I played Novak [in the first round at the WTF with Djokovic winning 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2] we both didn’t play very well. We fought with what we had. That’s where I think it’s so hard so us – all eight guys have to play a top-10 player in the first round. That’s why I do believe it’s crucial to get the first win.”
Federer will lead Switzerland in the Davis Cup final Nov. 21-23 in Lille against the French, but insists that is not on his mind. “I’m totally not in that mood, when I walked past French people or French players I don’t think of it. So that’s a good thing and it shows that I’m totally mentally and focused on the World Tour Finals. The only time that I could see that potentially even slightly creeping in is a semi or a final. Then you know the Davis Cup is close but still right now I feel like it’s still somewhat far away and during the round-robin matches there’s no way it’s going to distract me.”
Andy Murray was obviously the centre of much attention, as the photographers in the picture above suggest.
In an article in Friday’s Evening Standard, he was quoted as saying, related to the back operation he underwent in September 2013, “it took me much longer than I expected to come back from the surgery, and it was an extremely tough first half of the season. The surgeon was one of the best in the world and it was the right thing to do and he did a great job. My team have also been incredible. They’ve been patient, stuck by me throughout the whole recovery process. I wouldn’t have been able to get back to where I am now if it wasn’t for their support.”
Murray, after slipping outside the top-10, has a real shot at finishing No. 4 with a good performance in London.
He was also asked the question about which of the players in the O2 Arena event he would choose to go out to dinner with and gave a surprising, and typically independent-thinker Andy Murray-type response. “I would go for dinner with one of the doubles players – Jean-Julien Rojer (of the Netherlands), who’s a good friend of mine,” he said. “I spend a lot of time with him in Miami. (Smiles) I’m assuming you were hoping I give a name like Roger and give a very interesting answer…but I’ll stick with that one.”
Murray has lost to Roger Federer, whom he is guaranteed to play in the round robin, three times at home at the London event. A British reporter asked him about his lack of success against the 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I think that the reason that it’s hard to beat him is that he’s incredibly good on these courts,” Murray said. “He’s a fantastic indoor player, he has been his whole career. Obviously when you play indoors there are no elements to deal with – he’s one of the most talented players, best shot-makers, so when there’s no wind or anything, or sun or whatever that can throw him off, and when he’s on his game, he’s extremely tough. He has a great record in this competition as well, he obviously likes it. He enjoys this competition a lot. He’s a great tennis player, in my opinion that’s why he’s very difficult to beat here. But hopefully I’ll be able to do it this week.”
To interject a personal note here – I initially thought Murray was unwise to come out and take a position on the referendum on Scottish independence in September because he would basically alienate half of his British compatriots. But since then I’ve revised my opinion and respect him for taking a position. He’s a 27-year-old guy and, like anyone else, he’s entitled to his opinion.
Since the WTF is the first time he’s played at home in Britain since that famous tweet endorsing the separatist side, a British reporter asked him what he thought the reaction of the crowd would be at the WTF – did he expect an adverse reaction?
“I haven’t so far,” he answered. “But look, the crowd has always given me very good support when I played here, and at Wimbledon and Queen’s throughout my whole career. I hope this week, that’s the same. But if not, I’ll do my job, I’ll give my best effort regardless, hopefully win back some fans this week.”
Murray is not one of the players featured in the picture above in the entrance way to the O2 Arena – but he could be a major factor before it’s all over.