Beware The Underdog

Jan 21, 2009

As I turned on the tennis this morning, the sight of the first competitors of the day standing at the net reminded me again what it is about this game that is so great.

There on one side was Ana Ivanovic, the glamourous Serb standing well over 6″ and with $6 million in match winnings by the age of 21.

Her opponent for the day was Alberta Brianti, a diminutive Italian qualifier dwarfed by her opponent in stature and rankings, who at the age of 28 is in the form of her life. With lifetime earnings of less than $400,000 and a rank well outside the top 100, there would seem to be a mis-match of epic proportions on show.

Except no one told the Italian. While the scoreboard will forever show a comfortable win for Ivanovic, at times the Italian traded shots with her opponent like a player of ability higher than her rank would suggest. Playing on the main court at a major against a top five player will forever be something she remembers with pride.

And while there was to be no upset today, the possibility is always there. For the underdog there is always the belief that today is going to be your day. Today you are going to topple a giant and reveal to the world what you knew all along…that you belong on this stage.

Throughout every major, and especially so in Australia with the New Year not far gone, it is commonn to see run’s deep into the tournament by an unknown that defies their rank and perceived ability. Last year it was Tsonga, two years before that more »

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Can Djokovic Keep His Crown?

Jan 20, 2009

Those who knew Djokovic as a player would have been surprised to see him leave Wimbledon so early last summer. He was amongst the three big players to be in the running for the title of Men’s Wimbledon 2008 Champion; with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer the other two. Unfortunately, the race became a two-man contest;  Djokovic was beaten when he came up against Marat Safin and lost in the second round.

Since then, he has managed to pick up the pace and set his own standards; winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai set a precedent for 2009. Adding in the fact that this year begins with the tournament in which he previously steam-rolled Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga to win, the Australian Open is a vital Grand Slam for Djokovic.

There are a few more contenders for his crown which can be added to last year’s list. First there are the new hopes, including Andy Murray. There are also those who are have set a high standard in their first round matches, notably Fernando Gonzalez who dispatched Leyton Hewitt in the first round, and the 16-year-old Australian prodigy Bernard Tomic.

more »

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Courts Pass The Test

Jan 20, 2009

I’m not sure if you remember, but there was plenty of talk at last years Australian Open about the new court surface being used for the first time. The Rebound Ace that had been a fixture of the tournament for the last twenty years was replaced with a more modern surface known as Plexicushion.

The Rebound Ace was known to have a bounce that varied with the court temperature, while this new surface is meant to have a more consistent bounce across all temperatures.

There was however one question about the new surface that was not tested last year, but it has certainly been tested over the first couple of days of this tournament.

Doubts had been raised about the ability of the new material to withstand extreme heat. Apparently the softening point of the resin was thought to be around fifty degrees celcius (122 F). For the court to get this hot, the air temperature would need to get close to forty degrees celcius (104 F). If this melting point is reached it would result in a surface that grabs the player’s shoes a little more, greatly increasing their risk of injury.

I have heard it mentioned that the maker’s of Rebound Ace were praying for a day of sustained high temperature – their melting point is much higher at around eighty degrees celcius (176 F), and the quality of their court surfaces have improved in the last twenty years. Any defects in the new court surface could see them ripped out and replaced by the Rebound Ace.

With the mercury hitting close to the more »

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The Heat Is On…

Jan 19, 2009

…And it’s only just begun. It was always going to be a tournament of intense heat and passion, and the first round lived up to the expectations worthy of Grand Slam first rounds. Those players who were expected to bow out early did so, whilst others made a name for themselves within the competition (some good examples are the young Aussie Bernard Tomic, and Jelena Dokic with impressive first round performances). At the other end of the scale, the more long-lasting competitors showed their metal, and what we should expect in further rounds.

There was an overriding theme, however, in the post-match interviews. The heat. The heat was rumoured to have had some effect on the courts, but it is its damage to the players which can be heartbreaking to watch.  Jelena Jankovic  had issues with the heat during today’s match, the court causing the soles of her feet to need treatment with ice: “Today it was so hot, my feet were really burning. If I’m going to go very far I have to deal with it.”

This, to come fro more »

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He’s Just A Kid…

Jan 19, 2009

Imagine if you will…you’re 16 years old and playing your first ever grand slam match. It happens to be in your home country and there are 6000 vocal countrymen there to cheer you on. You are playing against a man who has been ranked as high as 27 in the world and you storm home to win in 4 sets, becoming the youngest ever male winner of a match at the Australian Open.

Sounds like the stuff of dreams right?

Well today for young Australian Bernard Tomic, this was not a dream. In fact if you look at his rise through the junior ranks you’ll see that this was just one more step on the long journey to the top.

While he is young his talent has been well recognised by tennis insiders for quite a while. He was signed to a UK management group at the age of twelve, and had a sponsorship deal signed with Nike a year later. Nike don’t go throwing money at any thirteen year old.

He was a prodigious winner of international junior tournaments and announced himself to the Australian public last year by claiming the boys version of the major in which he is now involved as a man.

Standing 6″2′ at the age of 16 means there is not much there but skin and bones, so as he develops so too will the weapons that he currently lacks. When these are added to the skills he already posseses he will be a formidable foe.

He is renowned as having court sense far beyond his years, with an ability to move his opponent around using great variety on his ground strokes. He has a lovely slice more »

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