TEBBUTT: ROGER AVENGES LOSS TO MILOS
Milos Raonic’s debut in the year-end ATP World Tour Finals, against six-time event champion Roger Federer, had a shockingly poor beginning and disastrous ending on Sunday.
In between, he played some sound tennis and definitely dominated the second set until matters unraveled in the tiebreak in a 6-1, 7-6(0) loss. Lately the master of tiebreaks, Raonic got shut out in a tiebreak for the first time since a loss to Ivan Dodig in Barcelona in 2011.
“It’s obviously disappointing, very disappointing, the way I finished off the second set,” Raonic said about the 7-0 whitewash, which included a double fault trailing 3-0.
After a first set that was as one-sided as the score – and which began with a straight-forward break to 30 for Federer in Raonic’s opening service game, the second of the match – the play definitely turned the 23-year-old Canadian’s way in the second set.
Leading 2-1, he had two breaks points. Federer played aggressively on the first and finished it was a smash, but on the second Raonic mishit a forehand badly.
There would be another break point in the sixth game and a break/set point in the final game of the set with Raonic ahead 6-5. But afterward it was the botched forehand on the second break point in the fourth game that bothered him the most. “The second one of those when I shanked that forehand wide,” he would remark about the one that hurt most. “I don’t think it was a really difficult forehand. I just should have stayed down and through it a little more.”
He did give credit to Federer, noting, compared to his 7-6(5), 7-5 win over the Swiss in Paris eight days earlier, “he was a lot more consistent on his return games. In Paris, okay, I’d get free points when I hit aces, but today the big difference was when he would get his racquet on the ball, he would make me play all the time. In that sense, he was giving me some shots in Paris, some quicker points.
“He played better today. I believe I started off not playing nearly as well, but I think I sort of found that Paris level that I had against him come the second set. That’s why I was able to create some opportunities.”
The first question at Federer’s media conference was, “can you calculate how many millions (of dollars) you’ve earned with that low cross-court backhand slice of yours?”
His reply: “It’s true that it has become one of my signature shots to drag the opponent in, keep the ball low, get myself back in the point. I guess if you have a one-hander, automatically you go for the slice because it’s a shorter backswing.”
During the French portion of his media conference, Federer said he and coach Severin Luthi had studied video of the match with Raonic in Paris. “I had a lot of trouble with his second serve in the ad court,” Federer observed about Raonic. “I think I only won one point in the first set. He’s got a mega-kick on his second serve but the court is a little slower here and I was able to handle it.”
It’s not easy to make your first appearance at an event as big as the World Tour Finals in a stadium as large and imposing (and absolutely packed to the rafters) as London’s O2 arena (entrance above on left) and against an opponent who is a living legend.
Earlier, after his 6-4, 6-4 win over Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, another player making his first appearance at the London season-ender, spoke about being at the World Tour Finals and in the O2 Arena. (It must be noted that the progress the 24-year-old Japanese has made with his English and expressing himself in the language is almost as remarkable as the form that he has displayed in reaching the US Open final and currently a career-best ranking of No. 5.)
“The court is the same as in Paris (two weeks ago), so I was a little bit used to it,” Nishikori said. “But the stadium is huge. I try not to look up too much because there was too many people on the top.”
Raonic had his own take on the event and the whole feeling of the World Tour Finals. “It is a bit different. I think that the biggest difference (is) trying to demand a high level right from the get-go. There’s a few more perks, you get treated different than you would necessarily at other events. But the fundamentals of the event are no different than anywhere else.”
Canada’s Davis Cup leader was impressive in expressing himself during his media conference, giving thoughtful replies on a number of subjects, including about the poppies people wear in Britain (and in Canada) at this time of year. “I have a very good understanding of what it exactly means back home in Canada,” Raonic said. “I’m not sure if the storyline is a bit different or if it’s the same here. But I definitely know what it represents.”
His most perceptive answer was to a question about how he thought French fans will react to the beloved Federer when he leads the Swiss against France in the Davis Cup final in Lille from November 21-23. “I think people are going to be very patriotic up in the north of France,” Raonic said. “And I think the thing that’s unique about Roger is people will support the home players when they face Roger. But Roger is very tough to cheer against. Whereas (with) quite a few other players, people will try to sort of get on top of them, get down on them. I have not seen a situation where people have tried to do that – at least since I’ve been on tour – to Roger.”
Next for Raonic will be Murray on Tuesday evening. Sunday night, after a very uneven performance in the loss to Federer, he said, “I get pretty angry when I lose so…I’m going to have to learn how to slap myself out of it.”
Raonic has a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over Murray but lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to the 27-year-old Scot in the round-of-16 at the 2012 US Open when Murray broke through for his first Grand Sam title.
The decisiveness of that win has overshadowed Raonic’s wins in Barcelona and Tokyo in 2012 and in Indian Wells earlier this year.
On Sunday, Murray may have been misled by very patchy play early in the match by Nishikori, but once the Japanese got on his game he was clearly the more aggressive and confident player.
Both Murray and Raonic know that a second loss in the round-robin format will pretty well end their hopes.
“You need to forget about today, work on some things tomorrow and hopefully play better on Tuesday,” Murray said.
Raonic claimed that the World Tour Finals are different than Wimbledon, also held in London, in that they are mainly about trying to finish off the year on a good note.
While it might not sound quite as strong as it was intended to, Federer, in his French media conference, stated that Raonic has made “un joli progres” (a nice little advance) this year. Coming, unsolicited, from the great man himself, that’s “un joli compliment” (a nice little compliment).
NESTOR LOSES IN DOUBLES
Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic were beaten in their first outing at the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday, losing 6-3, 7-5 to Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil.
The top seeds in Group B were re-uniting after ending their partnership going forward (2015 and onward) after the Shanghai Masters 1000 event last month.
“We’ve proven that we can play well together without spending much time together – we started the year well this year without having much time in preparation,” Nestor said about the uncommon situation. “And we won a tournament a couple of years ago (Basel in 2012) without having any matches at all.”
Specifically about the one hour and 16-minute match at the O2 Arena on Sunday, Nestor said, “today it was too many mistakes, double faults on key points, just too many mistakes we kind of gave them some points. They played well but we shot ourselves in the foot too much.
Zimonjic lost his serve in the second game of the match after first Nestor and then he missed volleys from 30-30.
Nestor lost his serve on consecutive double faults in the fourth game and again in the eighth after he and Zimonjic had succeeded in breaking Dodig when he served at 4-0.
The first set was a write-off but the second set was much more competitive. But a double fault again proved to be Nestor’s undoing – serving at 5-all, he saved consecutive break points at 15-40 with aces only to double fault on the sudden death point at deuce.
Melo held in the final game – applying the coup de grace with his team’s sixth ace, the same number as Nestor and Zimonjic.
In Tuesday’s second round-robin match at noon (7 a.m. EDT), Nestor and Zimonjic will take on Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 6-4, 6-4 losers on Sunday to Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez.
Asked about playing with a younger partner – the 42-year-old Nestor will play 34-year-old Rohan Bopanna in 2015 while his 38-year-old partner Zimonjic is slated to play with 34-year-old Michael Llodra, though Llodra’s status is up in the air at the moment do to an ongoing elbow injury.
“It always helps, getting a younger partner, nowadays,” Nestor said, “especially with the game is getting more physical. Definitely, two older guys probably doesn’t make sense.”
Nestor and Bopanna have only won a single match at three (Winston Salem, Basel and Paris) tournaments in the second half of 2014, and Nestor said about his disappointing results with the Indian, “I don’t know, I’m not winning with anyone lately, it’s hard to judge. It’s like today, there were too many mistakes, there’s times when I’m playing well and times when I’m just not coming through.”
THE MISSING MAN
Obvious by his absence at the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals is Rafael Nadal, who qualified third behind Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
You had to love the picture here of Rafa exiting the hospital after his appendectomy last week. He looks like any regular Joe leaving and wondering if the people, who are supposed to pick him up, are actually there!
THE CHELSEA ANTIQUARIAN BOOK FAIR
On Saturday, yours truly stumbled upon the Antiquarian Book Fair on the Kings Road in Chelsea.
I have a few old books, almost all about tennis, but I’m not a fanatical reader or book collector.
Still there was something cool about all these bookish types with stall after stall after stall displaying old books in a neat old edifice – the Chelsea Old Town Hall.
I set out to see if I could find any tennis books and, over more than an hour, I saw a couple of books on rugby, two books on golf and a whole stall of cricket books before I finally spotted two on tennis.
The main one was “Modern Lawn Tennis” by P.A. Vaile published in 1907 and selling for 75 pounds ($135 CDN). There was also “Tilden and Tennis in the Twenties” by Arthur Vose, published in 1985.
I also made a point of looking for books about Canada and wound up discovering two. The first one was “Sport and Travel in the Northland of Canada” by David T. Hanbury, published in 1904. It went for 250 pounds or $450 CDN.
There was also “The English Cricketers’ Trip To Canada And The United States In 1859.” That was published in 1860 and sold for 850 pounds ($1,350 CDN). Just in case that seems like easy money, I heard one book dealer saying that he was not even going to cover his expenses for being at the fair. And, at many booths, there was not much happening. Frequently the minder was…reading a book.
NOTE: Next blog on Tuesday following the Raonic – Murray match.