Category: US Open


AFP PHOTO JACQUES DEMARTHON

Roger Federer is a five-time champion at the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals, and will be making his tenth consecutive appearance.  He is the third player to qualify for the year end championship for 10 or more consecutive years, joining Ivan Lendl (12) and Pete Sampras (11). He will arrive to London on a 12 match winning streak, and the defending champion from 2010.

Many consider 2011 to be a down year for Federer. He did not win a Grand Slam title for the first time since he first won Wimbledon in 2003, however, he is victim to his own high standards.

Federer opened the 2011 ATP World Tour season exactly where he left off 2010. He was clearly the best player on tour to close out 2010, and picked up his first title in 2011, at his first tournament in Doha. He would not lose a set in five matches and defeated Nikolay Davydenko 6-3 6-4 in the final.

Federer arrived to the 2011 Australian Open as the defending champion, and looking like the player to beat.  Federer would eventually fall in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. The loss would mark Federer’s second consecutive loss to Djokovic in the semifinal of a Grand Slam.

Federer would reach the finals in his next tournament, The Dubai 500, where he would once again meet Djokovic, who was just beginning his unprecedented start to his own 2011 season. Djokovic would defeat Federer 6-3 6-3 in the final.

In March, during the North-American hard court season,  Federer would reach the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells semifinals losing to none other than Djokovic, 3-6 6-3 2-6 for the third consecutive tournament, which also saw him slip to World No. 3. At the next tournament in Miami, Federer would again reach the semifinals and lose, this time to Rafael Nadal, in a somewhat lopsided match 3-6 2-6.

Federer would begin his clay season at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte Carlo, losing in the quarterfinals to then World No. 9 Jurgen Melzer, Federer’s first loss on the year to a player not named Djokovic or Nadal.  At his next tournament at the Masters 1000 Madrid, Federer would again reach the semifinals, losing yet again to Nadal, 7-5 1-6 3-6, dropping his head to head vs his main rival to 8-16.

At Roland Garros, Federer played arguably his best ever tennis on the red clay. Djokovic was in the midst of what was slowly becoming one the great all time winning streaks in tennis history. Djokovic had defeated Federer in three consecutive finals, and would face him yet again in the semifinals of the French. In what might go down as the best match of the year, in a year where Djokovic won everything, Federer would stand victorious. Federer defeated Djokovic, handing him his first loss of 2011, in a thrilling four set match. However, the high of defeating Djokovic would only last for one day, as he lost to Nadal 7-5 7-6(3) 5-7 6-1 in the final.

Wimbledon, a place where Federer made his home in past years, was again, for the second consecutive year; his worst Slam result. He fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-6 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the quarterfinals, letting slip away a two sets to love lead for the first time; previously holding a 178-0 Grand Slam win-loss record when winning the first two sets.

Federer would again meet Tsonga in the third round of the ATP Masters Montreal, and again Tsonga would win. In Cincinnati, Federer would reach the quarterfinals, before losing to Tomas Berdych.  Not the ideal preparations for the upcoming US Open, but at this stage in his career, he is looking to peak when it matters most.

At the 2011 US Open, all eyes were again on Djokovic, the new World No. 1; and his chances of winning his third Grand Slam title of 2011. Federer displayed near flawless tennis throughout the rain soaked two weeks, leading up to and half way through his semifinal encounter with Djokovic. Federer looked like he was primed for another upset of Djokovic, and held two match points. Federer squandered those, and wound up losing 6-7(7) 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5. This tournament will be remembered because of the ridiculous shot Djokovic hit to save the first match point, even more so than the eventual outcome.

Following an extensive break, and pulling out of the entire Asian fall swing, Federer would end a 10-month title-drought winning his hometown Basel tournament for the second straight year. Federer would follow that result by winning his first ever ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Paris title, with a revengeful beating of Tsonga 6-1 7-6(3) in the final.

Federer is in the same group as Rafael Nadal for the Round Robin stage of the Barclay’s World Tour Finals, for the first time. The two met in the final of the 2010 event, where Federer won in impressive fashion. It seems that the indoor hard courts, are now Federer’s favorite surface, and suits his game favorably. For the second straight year, Federer will arrive to London as the favorite to win his record sixth year end championship.

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Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

David Ferrer will be making his 3rd appearance at the Barclay’s World Tour finals, coming into London ranked World No. 5. Like Novak Djokovic in 2010, Ferrer arrives at the year end championships with a larger goal looming ahead, as he looks to peak for the Davis Cup finals against Argentina.

Ferrer started 2011 ranked No.6 and won his opening tournament of the year at Auckland, a title he had also previously won in 2007, his 10th ATP Tour title. Ferrer would reach the semifinal of the Australian Open by defeating fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in straight sets. That would mark Ferrer’s second career semifinal appearance in a Grand Slam.

Ferrer would suffer a disappointing early loss at Rotterdam, before successfully defending his title at Acapulco, beating yet another fellow countryman, Nicolas Almagro in the finals.

The North-American hard court season would see Ferrer ousted in the first round at Indian Wells (l. to Karlovic), and a quarterfinals appearance in Miami, where he would run into a resurgent Mardy Fish.

During the European clay season, Ferrer showed his clay court roots by reaching his second career ATP Masters 1000 Final in Monte-Carlo (l. to Nadal), and followed that with a finals showing in Barcelona (l. to Nadal). He would make the quarterfinal of the Madrid Masters (l. to Djokovic), prior to his French Open campaign.  Following a very successful preparation to the French, he would lose to Gael Monfils in the fourth round, and judging by his previous clay results, that had to be considered a disappointment. His overall impressive results would help him jump to World No. 6 in ATP Rankings.

At Wimbledon, Ferrer would lose in the third round to Bernard Tomic, who some might say, came of age at Wimbledon; with the victory over Ferrer being a signature win on the youngster’s resume.

Ferrer would withdraw from the Montreal Masters, and in his return to the Tour in Cincinnati, he would lose in the 3rd round.

At the US Open, Ferrer would post another somewhat disappointing result at a Grand Slam, losing in the fourth round to Andy Roddick.

Following the US Open, as the tour turned to Asia, Ferrer would become victim to Andy Murray. He would lose in the semifinals of Tokyo, and the finals of the Shanghai Masters, to Murray on both occasions.

In 2010, Ferrer went 0-3 in the round robin stage of the Barclay’s World Tour Finals, but also owns a runner-up finish in 2007 (l. to Federer). He should never be overlooked, however, with the Davis Cup Finals still to come, he may be the one over looking the field.

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AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will make his second appearance at the Barclay’s World Tour Finals, ranked at a career high World No. 6. He is the only Frenchmen to qualify, and in my opinion, one of the more intriguing qualifiers for the year end championships.

Tsonga’s year began with a semifinal appearance at Doha, where he would lose to eventual champion [Roger] Federer. That promising start to his 2011 campaign was followed up with a very disappointing performance at the Australian Open, losing  in the third round. Tsonga was a former finalist in Melbourne, and has yet to return to a Grand Slam final.

Tsonga plays a very unique style of tennis, combining his ability to hit a heavy, powerful ball, with variety, that is typical of his French background. When he is playing with confidence he certainly has the ability to beat anyone in the game. Nevertheless, those results have been far and few between because of his inconsistency week in and week out. During the North-American hard court spring, he would lose in the Round of 64 at Indian Wells (l. to Malisse), and in the Round of 32 in Miami (l. to Dolgopolov).

He would carry the poor performance on the hard courts, over to the European Clay season, entering in five tournaments overall, and posting a very middle of the pack 6-5 match record, never advancing past the Round of 32 at any of the clay events. That includes yet another early exit at Roland Garros, in front of his home crowd.

As the season switched to grass, a light bulb must have turned on inside the head of Tsonga.  His grass court performances were very impressive with a finals appearance at the Queen’s Club and a very impressive semifinal showing at Wimbledon, having to come back from two sets down in the quarterfinals against Federer to advance.

As the year progressed his results seemed to become more consistent. His run to the semifinal at the Montreal Masters marked a second consecutive victory over Federer. Tsonga would return to World No. 10 for the first time in almost exactly a year.

At the 2011 US Open, he would get to the quarterfinals before being beaten by a revengeful Federer.

Post US Open, Tsonga would go on to win his only two titles of 2011, at Metz and Vienna, and kept the momentum going with a finals appearance at the Paris Masters. He would again face an in form Federer, who would deny the Frenchmen a title in front of the home crowd.

Tsonga is a legitimate threat at the Barclay’s World Tour Finals, and could make life difficult for his group. He will face Federer yet again, on Sunday, in a rematch of the Paris Masters Final.

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AFP PHOTO JACQUES DEMARTHON

Tomas Berdych will make his second consecutive appearance at the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals, presently ranked at No.7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga overtook him by reaching the finals at the Paris Masters in the past week. Berdych should have no shortage of confidence as he beat Andy Murray in a thrilling quarterfinal of the Paris Masters, and also owns a win over Roger Federer (Cincinnati).

Berdych started the year at World No.6 and reached the semifinals at the Chennai Open (l. to Wawrinka). He kept that momentum going to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, where he ran into the eventual champion Novak Djokovic losing in straight sets.

Although Berdych has been fairly consistent in 2011, he has had trouble getting past the quarterfinal round. He would reach back-to-back quarterfinals in Rotterdam (l. to Tsonga) and Marseille (l. to Cilic) before finally going one better with a semifinal showing in Dubai. However he was forced to retired with a left quadriceps injury in the third set against Djokovic.

When the tour transitioned to the North-American hard court swing, Berdych would lose in the 3rd round of Indian Wells (l. to Wawrinka), before returning to the quarterfinals in Miami, losing in three sets to then World No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-2 3-6 6-3.

On the red clay (soon to be blue in Madrid), Berdych would reach the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. At Roland Garros, Berdych would see the low point of his 2011 season, when he fell to Stephane Robert 3-6 3-6 6-2 6-2 9-7 in a 1st round upset. This would see him fall to World No. 7.

At Wimbledon, coming off a run to his first final in a Grand Slam in 2010, Berdych would crash out in the Round of 16, in a loss to then World No. 9 Mardy Fish.

At the 2011 US Open, Berdych was forced to retire in the Round of 32, in what would end a very disappointing year in the Grand Slams.

Although consistently reaching quarterfinal stages of almost every Masters level tournament this season, the question of when Berdych will take that next step still remains.  He has the big hitting game to compete with the top players on tour, however, his level seems to take a dive on the big stage.

He won his only title of 2011 in Beijing, at the China Open, after coming back from a set down to beat Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Berdych will be making his second consecutive appearance at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals after qualifying for the season finale at the Paris Masters tournament, last week. He eventually lost in the semifinal to Roger Federer.

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Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Mardy Fish will make his debut at the ATP World Tour Finals as the lone American, having taken over as the No. 1 ranked US player; a title that has been held by Andy Roddick over the last decade. Fish is well deserving of qualifying for the year end championship, and it has been an amazing two years in the making for the late blooming veteran.

Mardy Fish started the year in Brisbane ranked No. 17. He had a very disappointing appearance at the 2011 Australian Open, losing in the second round to Tommy Robredo. However, Fish would attack the North-American hard court swing with consistent performances, with the lone blemish being an early round loss at Indian Wells. He would make three semifinal appearances, including the Miami Masters 1000, which in turn reflected in his rise up the rankings. On April 4th, 2011 he became the No. 1 ranked American player for the first time.

Typical of American tennis players, clay proves to be Fish’s least favorite surface, and it showed. He would make a quarterfinal appearance in Houston losing to Kei Nishikori, and at Roland Garros, Fish would lose in the Round of 32 to Gilles Simon. Despite the poor clay season, he would rise to a career high ranking No. 9.

Having lost early at the first two slams of the year, it was imperative for Fish to have a successful two weeks at Wimbledon. He would reach the quarterfinal of Wimbledon for the first time in nine appearances, losing to then No. 1, defending champion, Rafael Nadal in a tight four set match.

As the ATP Tour returned to the North-American summer hard court swing, Fish would win his sixth ATP Tour title in Atlanta,  successfully defending his 2010 title in a rematch against John Isner. He would then reach consecutive finals in Los Angeles and the Montreal Masters 1000, where he would fall to Novak Djokovic in a tough three set match. In Cincinnati, Fish would defeat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, before losing to Andy Murray.

At the 2011 US Open, Fish would hold the American hopes for the first time in his career, but the expectations would see him lose to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in a thrilling five set match in the fourth round.

A healthy Mardy Fish would normally be a tricky opponent for the other World Tour Finals qualifiers, however Fish comes in after having to retire from consecutive tournaments with a hamstring/groin injury. It would be exciting to see whether Fish can raise his game to match the high level and standards set by the others.

Qualifying for this tournament was a long time coming for Mardy, and he has proven he can compete with the best players in the world.

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I was just taking a “quick” look at the Federer vs. Djokovic head to head rivalry through the years when I noticed something.. This rivalry is a lot better then most people realize. Also, it very well might become more and more significant if Djokovic truly manages to  go on an  extended long term run similar to that of Federer and Nadal.

The two players routinely trade wins and losses, typically always play close matches, and both have a genuine animosity towards the other – A key ingedient to a good rivalry.

AP Photo/Christophe Ena

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

In the early part of the young rivalry, Federer managed to jump out to a 4-0 record on the younger Djokovic, however that was in 2006. We all know in 2006 – most of the planet owned a “zero” in the record column against Federer. However, I want to focus mainly on post 2006 (4-0 H2H).

When taking a look at Djokovic’s career arc, 2007 was a significant year in his career. Most people point to his breakthrough performance at the 2007 Masters in Montreal, where he earned his first win over Federer (4-1 H2H). It marked the first time a player would defeat the World No. 3 (Andy Roddick) No. 2 (Rafael Nadal) and No. 1 (Roger Federer) in succession to win a title since 1994. That was also the first season most of the tennis world started to consider Djokovic’s true potential to win future Slams.

2007 US Open – Final

Following that first defeat to Djokovic, Federer would go on to get his revenge at the 2007 US Open on the way to his fourth consecutive US Open title (5-1 H2H). Djokovic in his first Slam final, held five set points in the first set and two in the second set, but would lose them all before being defeated by the top-seeded Federer in straight sets. All seemed right in the tennis world. Federer was still Federer, and Rafael Nadal was his main rival, and nemesis. Djokovic was still “Djoker” and Andy Murray had no Slams.

2008 Australian Open – Semi-Final

The monopoly that Federer and Nadal held was threatened for the first time in awhile. Things were begining to change, ever so slightly. Djokovic playing the best tennis of his life to that point would emerge to defeat the two time defending champion, Federer, in the semi-finals en route to his first Slam title (5-2 H2H). This marked the first time since the 2005 Australian Open that a Grand Slam singles title was not won by Federer or Nadal.

That loss seemed to sting, and Federer didn’t take too kindly to losing that match, or his Australian Open crown. Djokovic with his new found confidence was expected to make the jump into what was still the big two at the top of the rankings. However, Djokovic would fade – this was still the “Djoker” of old, not nearly Djokovic 2.0 of 2011.

Federer and Nadal would continue their dominance of tennis, as their rivalry gained profile with each passing slam, Djokovic was still grouped in the next tier of up and comers. He was a threat at each tournament, but never enough to steal any headlines. It was all about Federer and Nadal. Djokovic was an after thought, and realistically, that’s how Federer thought of him as well.

Federer and Djokovic would next meet on the clay in Monaco, where Djokovic would retire , giving Federer the win(6-2 H2H). This loss was part of the period where Djokovic was building his reputation as a player who was more willing to quit rather then play out a match, if he felt he wouldn’t win.

US Open 2008 – Semi-Final

Federer would again defeat Djokovic in the semi-final round in a smooth yet exciting four set match. Federer would go on to win his 5th consecutive US Open (7-2 H2H). This would be the second straight year that Federer would end Djokovic’s run at Flushing Meadows.

At the 2008 US Open, Djokovic began to regain some of the confidence he had lost after the 2008 Australian Open. His season was up and down, however he did manage to win some important titles. He became the public enemy, posing himself in a “me against the world” attitude, culminating with his infamous Roddick match in New York late in the year. That attitude is something I truly believe helped him gain a necessary chip on his shoulder.

Djokovic would post back to back wins over Federer in 2009 at Miami (7-3 H2H), and Rome (7-4 H2H). It seemed that Djokovic’s all court defensive game was starting to really match up well with Federer’s, and Federer showed his frustrations when he smashed his raquet in anger during the Miami loss. However, Federer would eventiually find his game again in Cincinnati; and after a tough summer, he would end the Djokovic personal winning streak against himself at two – once again in the semi-final stage of the tournament (8-4 H2H). In typical Federer fashion he positioned himself to peak at the US Open.

Despite not having met at the 2009 Auistralian Open, the rivalry definitely picked up steam. Federer had just come off court following his dismantling of Juan Martin Del Potro, and responded to the news of Djokovic’s retirement from his quarterfinal match against Roddick.

When asked if he was surprised about the Serb’s physical problems, Federer responded:

“It’s happened before, he’s not the guy who’s never given up in his career… That’s kind of disappointing to see when you got two top guys playing each other and you give up. Andy probably would have run away anyway with the match.”

Even when they weren’t playing each other on the court, they were playing mind games off the court.

2009 US Open – Semi-Final

At the 2009 US Open, Federer would again go on to defeat Djokovic in the semi-finals for the third consecutive year (9-4 H2H). Federer would reach match point on what I am going to call “The Shot: Part I.” After a nervous Djokovic had slipped to 0-30, Federer chased down a lob and hit a shot between his legs that flew cross-court past the Serbian at the net. Djokovic could only smile at such an outrageous winner, and Federer followed it up with an unstoppable forehand return on match point to clinch victory.

Djokovic would later say: “In these moments he comes up with some great shots. That shot. You heard the crowd. What can you say? You say well done. Too good. What can you do?”

It is eerie to think how similar their matches have been at the US Open over the years.

It was beginning to feel like Federer would take all his Nadal problems out on Djokovic. Federer genuinely enjoyed beating him. This was becoming a trend, and Djokovic was on the losing end more often then not, when it mattered most – at the Slams.

"The Shot: Part I" - US Open 2009

Djokovic and Federer would trade wins in the next two matches. Djokovic would defeat Federer in Switzerland at Federer’s hometown tournament in Basel (9-5H2H).  Followed by Federer responding again in their next meeting in Toronto (10-5 H2H).

2010 US Open – Semi-Final

The 2010 US Open put Federer and Djokovic on the same side of the draw yet again. Shocking, right? Federer and Djokovic were on course to meet in the semi-final for a fourth consecutive year.

Here is where I get slightly confused…

In no way is this meant to be a slight on Djokovic, and in the same breath, it is also not meant to pump Federer’s tires. Either way, my point is.. it is almost forgotten that, had Federer converted on one of the two match points he had, he would have stopped Djokovic’s run at the US Open for the fourth consecutive year. Either we have short memories, or we can only remember the last two years.

In the semifinals, he faced Federer, the very same player he had lost to in the 2007 final, and the 2008 and 2009 semi-finals. Djokovic was literally on the brink of defeat, however he saved two match points at 5–4 down on his serve in the final set. Djokovic would go to win 5–7 6–1 5–7 6–2 7–5. That win would be Djokovic’s first victory over Federer at the US Open in four attempts, and his first victory over Federer in a Major since the 2008 Australian Open, making him one of only two players to hold more than one victory over Federer in Grand Slam tournaments since Federer first became World No. 1 (the other being Nadal).

This is why I am officially entering the Federer vs Djokovic rivalry into one of the “best rivalries” conversation. They have stolen the show on numerous occasions, and their matches generate a special buzz. People know their history, and know they do not want to lose to the other. We can talk “Djokovic vs. Nadal” at another time. That rivalry has earned it’s own analysis.

Following the 2010 US Open, Federer was visibly letting his competition know he was unhappy about his loss. He did so by hammering everyone he faced. Including Djokovic in the next three consecutive matches. Beginning in Shanghai (11-6 H2H), followed by Basel (12-6 H2H), and at the 2010 Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals (13-6 H2H).

Djokovic 2.0

It is hard for me to make my point that the “Federer vs. Djokovic” rivalry belongs in the same “Federer vs. Nadal” or recently the “Nadal vs. Djokovic” conversation, solely based on the head to head. We all know the arguments regarding Nadal’s head to head record against Federer. Nevertheless, “Federer vs. Nadal” is a truly beautiful rivalry, based on classic matches, and usually in finals. That being said, there is zero animosity. The “Federer vs. Djokovic” rivalry has all the classic matches, in semi-finals or better, with all the animosity.

2011 Australian Open – Semi-Final

This has been a very remarkable year for tennis. At the 2011 Australian Open, Djokovic 2.0, was just beginning what is now obviously a season for the ages. He would defeat defending champion, Federer, in the semi-finals for the second consecutive time at a Slam, going on to capture his second Slam title (13-7 H2H).

He would follow that up with a win in Dubai (13-8 H2H), and again at Indian Wells (13-9 H2h).

The gap was beginning to close between the two rivals. I am not one to use Federer’s age as an excuse, because he still has the game to beat Djokovic on any given day. They match up so well against each other, that to make a legitimate pick is a waste of time. Based on level of play going in to any upcoming matches, Djokovic should be favored; but Federer’s ability to confuse Djokovic, makes him a threat each and every time.

2011 French Open – Semi-Final

Djokovic was in the midst of what was slowly becoming one the great all time winning streaks in tennis history. Roland Garros was Nadal’s home. Nadal is the “King of Clay”. He had recently been defeated by Djokovic in two consecutive clay court finals, and four consecutive finals overall. “Djokovic vs. Nadal” has become the new big rivalry in tennis. Playing under the radar at a major for the first time in a decade, Federer decided he would put a stop to all the hype, all the streaks, and answer a few questions of his own.

In what might go down as the best match of the year, in a year where Djokovic won everything, Federer would stand victorious. Federer defeated Djokovic, handing him his first loss of 2011 (14-9 H2H).

US Open 2011 – Semi-Final

This tournament will be remembered because of “The Shot: Part II”, even more so than the eventual outcome. Roger Federer was serving for the match up 40-15. The crowd in Flushing Meadows roared for Federer, it was clear who they favored. Novak Djokovic seemingly already accepting his fate, acknowledged the crowd, nodded a few times, and realized the circumstances. Then he ripped an incredible cross-court winner off of Federer’s serve, “the shot.” He sarcastically looked to the crowd, as if to say “are you not entertained,” and never looked back.

He broke Federer’s serve and went on to win the match, 6-7 4-6 6-3  6-2  7-5  (14-10 H2H).

"The Shot: Part II"

Going forward, Djokovic has proved his ability to stand alongside Federer and Nadal, in the discussion of all time greats; but he still has a long way to go. I am of the belief that the emergence of Djokovic was more about learning to defeat Federer. Knowing that he possesses the game to defeat Federer, has helped develop Djokovic into the player he is today. Their rivalry in the grand scope of tennis will certainly go down as one of the better rivalries the sport has seen. It may not have the prestige of “Federer vs. Nadal”, but I do believe it has had a huge impact on the “Djokovic vs. Nadal” rivalry as well.

If Djokovic can manage to go on a sustained run at the slams, like both Federer and Nadal have done; it will only raise the status of these personal rivalries. The two have already played 24 times, and their matches lately at the slams have been played at an entirely different level of intensity. Here is to hoping the two players meet again at each of the next few slams. I personally want to see them play at Wimbledon.

Here is a look at the head to head match by match: 

Year Tournament & City Surface Round Winner & Score
2011 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 Stats
2011 Roland Garros
France
Clay S Federer, Roger
7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) Stats
2011 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells
CA, U.S.A.
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
6-3, 3-6, 6-2 Stats
2011 Dubai
U.A.E.
Hard F Djokovic, Novak
6-3, 6-3 Stats
2011 Australian Open
Australia
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
7-6(3), 7-5, 6-4 Stats
2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals
London, England
Hard S Federer, Roger
6-1, 6-4 Stats
2010 Basel
Switzerland
Hard F Federer, Roger
6-4, 3-6, 6-1 Stats
2010 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Shanghai
Shanghai, China
Hard S Federer, Roger
7-5, 6-4 Stats
2010 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 Stats
2010 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Canada
Toronto, Canada
Hard S Federer, Roger
6-1, 3-6, 7-5 Stats
2009 Basel
Switzerland
Hard F Djokovic, Novak
6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Stats
2009 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard S Federer, Roger
7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5 Stats
2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Cincinnati
OH, U.S.A.
Hard F Federer, Roger
6-1, 7-5 Stats
2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome
Italy
Clay S Djokovic, Novak
4-6, 6-3, 6-3 Stats
2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Miami
FL, U.S.A.
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
3-6, 6-2, 6-3 Stats
2008 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard S Federer, Roger
6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 Stats
2008 ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo
Monaco
Clay S Federer, Roger
6-3, 3-2 RET Stats
2008 Australian Open
Australia
Hard S Djokovic, Novak
7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) Stats
2007 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard F Federer, Roger
7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-4 Stats
2007 ATP Masters Series Canada
Montreal, Canada
Hard F Djokovic, Novak
7-6(2), 2-6, 7-6(2) Stats
2007 Dubai
U.A.E.
Hard Q Federer, Roger
6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3 Stats
2007 Australian Open
Australia
Hard R16 Federer, Roger
6-2, 7-5, 6-3 Stats
2006 SUI v. SCG WG PO
Switzerland
Hard RR Federer, Roger
6-3, 6-2, 6-3
2006 ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo
Monaco
Clay R64 Federer, Roger
6-3, 2-6, 6-3 Stats

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Fall Frenzy

The annual ATP World Tour Finals has a special place in tennis lore for many fans and players alike. However, it is a topic of heated debate, as gripes surrounding scheduling at the end of a long year, seem to be an annual event as well. Critics and detractors of the event often cite that the significance of the tournament should not be on even footing with the Grand Slam events, when considering career resumes between the all-time greats. Some prefer Davis Cup titles, others just prefer to either diminish the tournament or raise it’s importance, simply in an effort to portray their favorite players in a better light.

So my question becomes – What is the true significance of the ATP World Tour Finals? I like the idea of a year ending tournament, a kind of “playoff” for tennis, comparable to the very successful FedEx cup in golf, however, I’m not sure all of the players take it seriously. In 2010, question marks surrounded Novak Djokovic’s true motivation, because he was preparing for a Davis Cup final a few days later. Are we supposed to expect that same attitude from Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer in 2011?

Rafael Nadal has never won a ATP World Tour Final, and it’s a slight hole on his career resume, depending on who you are asking. He made a strong case in 2010, and let it be known that he had his sights set on winning in London. Will he be as focused this year, as Spain prepares to take on Argentina in the Davis Cup Finals?

The Calendar

As we are all familiar with by now, the players (Murray, Nadal) are unhappy. Talks of a strike are dominating the tennis headlines, and the threats appear to be real, although nobody has formally met at this point. Leading the charge are Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. While I am of the opinion that a player strike is bad for the sport, I do think having a players union might be a progressive move in the right direction.

Murray’s threats of strike might be a little premature, but his frustrations stem from the annual ATP calendar and the strict requirements. Sixty-seven events are played on the men’s calendar across 32 countries on six continents. Events are classified as Grand Slams (four in a year), ATP World Tour Masters 1000 series (9), Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (WTF; season-finale event), ATP World Tour 500 series (11) and ATP World Tour 250 (42). This is excluding the Davis Cup. In accordance with ATP rules, players are ranked on the basis of the past 52 weeks’ performance.

A player’s total points from four Grand Slams, nine Masters 1000 series, the Barclays ATP WTF (if he qualifies) are accounted for, in addition to the best four and best two results from any of the ATP 500 events and ATP 250 events, respectively. In all, he needs to play at least 18 events to prop his rankings.

The ATP calendar is admittedly long, and despite the unusual spike in retirements at the 2011 US Open, statistics* show that overall retirements were down in 2011 compared to years past.  There had been 187 withdrawals this year leading up to the US Open, against 378 in 2006, 270 in 2007, 256 in 2008, 242 in 2009, and 309 in 2010.

I found that number to be very interesting, and led me to question what the complaints were all about. Was it just a bad day at the office, that led to some misplaced thoughts, that maybe Murray shouldn’t have aired in public forum?

One telling stat is the number of matches played by the top players each year. Since 2005, Andy Murray has never once played more then 80 matches in one season.

Murray has played an average of 58.85 matches per year, his highest being 77 in 2009. During that same time period, Nadal has played an average of 81.57 matches per year, his highest being 93 in 2008. Federer has played an average of 78.85 matches per year, his highest being 97 in 2006; and finally, Djokovic has played an average of 70.42 matches per year, his highest being 97 in 2009. Of all the people to be most outspoken, Murray has played the least amount of tennis since 2005.

AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

Tennis at the highest level, is a grind, which makes the 30-year-old Federer’s staying power all the more remarkable. He has had recurring back problems in the past and had mononucleosis in early 2008, however, he has not missed a Grand Slam tournament in the last decade and has played in the tour championships every year in which he has qualified, beginning in 2002. Federer is the exception not the example. His longetivity is something to be admired, and something today’s generation willl most likely not be able to emulate. The physical toll Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal put on their body, will not allow for the type of run Federer has endured.

“It means a lot to him,” said Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick. “Not enough for him to go chase the points in Asia when he was hurt and risk further injury. Guys don’t seem to take a lesson from Roger in terms of giving their body a break. But Roger wants this.”

The lesson here is that a player’s true legacy is marked by winning. Whether it be a Masters 1000, or an ATP 250, a Grand Slam, or the World Tour Finals.

So when considering the significance of the ATP World Tour Finals, I come back to motivation. What motivates a player at the end of a grueling season to compete in November?

I think it’s a player’s legacy, or his foot print on the game in the grand scheme of things. It is often forgotten, that when fans, media, John McEnroe, etc,  hand out report cards; or make claims to the “best season ever,” that we are still currently entrenched in that season, or that era.

Why not wait to make those claims. Let it play out. Write that chapter, once the current chapter is closed. I don’t think it is fair to compare Federer’s 2005-2008 with Djokovic’s one great season, or Nadal’s 2010. It is a larger picture that needs painting. Imagine if a construction company quit building a 10 story building after the 2nd floor, because they were so inspired by that floor. It would not only look incomplete, but it would be incomplete.

Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

The World Tour Finals draw includes only the Top 8 players of that year – essentially starting the tournament in the quarterfinal stage, where the top 8 players are “expected” to end up in a Grand Slam draw anyways.

The tournament itself has somewhat of a forgotten past. It has changed names numerous times, and spanned different continents during it’s extended history. However, one thing has remained the same. Each year it crowns a champion from among the year’s top players.

The tournament can trace it’s roots back to 1970, when it was called The Masters. Later it become the ATP Tour World Championship in 1990, when it was transported from New York’s Madison Square Garden to Frankfurt. It was renamed the Tennis Masters Cup in 2000.

In 2009, it was rebranded again as the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and moved to London’s O2 Arena. Despite the challenge of locating the tournament from year to year, and the ever changing names; there has been very few weak links in its roster of champions. In the 41 years of existence, only three men have won the tournament, who have also never won a Grand Slam singles title: Alex Corretja in 1998, David Nalbandian in 2005, and Nikolay Davydenko in 2009. The three men who have won it most are Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, and Roger Federer, each with five titles.

It is the last scheduled ATP Tour event on the long calendar, and allows for players to see a finish line. Players at that point can make a decision mentally to give it their full dedicated efforts, prior to the upcoming vacation; or check out mentally because they have visions of beaches, clouding their minds.

In 2010, Federer had by far the best fall among all the players. After losing to Djokovic at the 2010 US Open, Federer took a month off. Then he went on a 21-2 run for the fall, losing only to Murray (final of Shanghai) and Gael Monfils (semis of Paris Bercy). Looking back, it now seems that perhaps the only major difference between Federer and Djokovic in 2010 and 2011 was nothing more complicated than one or two shots at a time, in Federer’s case, two match points at a time. Djokovic lost to Federer three times last fall (in Shanghai, the final of Basel, and the semis of the ATP World Tour Finals), but has since developed into Djokovic 2.0 – losing only 3 times since his semifinal loss to Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals.

The X-factor in this situation becomes the Davis Cup. If Djokovic didn’t face the Davis Cup final immediately following the World Tour Finals, I wonder if he would have given Federer a better match. That’s not to say Federer didn’t deserve the win, he was clearly the best player on tour last fall. But the timing does have a factor in preparation.

In light of the schedule talks, and the idea of forming a players union, Jim Courier may have summed it all up best. He told Tennis Grandstand the schedule needed to be changed because it would keep the top players on the court longer, which benefits everyone. “But let’s be clear, that everyone in this sport, since Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith fought for Open tennis, we’ve all been overpaid, grossly overpaid, for what we do. So let’s be clear that this is not a pity party, but I don’t think that player representation is necessarily a bad thing.”

He added, “It’s not about the immediacy of we want this or we want that because we need immediate gain, and the off-season is a no-brainer, it needs to happen, but we’ve been saying that for thirty years and it hasn’t happened.”

The irony of all of the schedule talks is that current (not for long) ATP executive chairman and president, Adam Helfant, announced last year that the off-season on the men’s tour would be seven weeks, up from four weeks presently, starting 2012. So with that said, they are actually getting the longer off season they desire.

I hope that the fall portion of 2011 brings even a fraction of the excitement that 2010 had. The main issue here is that the focus has shifted from the tennis on the court, to the issues off the court. Change takes time.

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*Source: ATP World Tour

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images for USTA

It seems odd that the players are considering going on a strike. The current state of the ATP tour is in such a place that the tournaments are giving away the largest total prize money ever, and attendance numbers are at an all-time high. Yet the players are unhappy. They complain of a long season, and too many mandatory events. The thing is, nobody is forcing the players to take part in all these tournaments, and much of their individual schedules are dictated around the big pay days they receive for participating at smaller events.

In my opinion, this would be an absurd situation for the players to put themselves in; it would just make everyone turn their backs on them and laugh. Why would we, or in that case, why should we feel sorry for the players? The top players are multi-millionaires, taking home huge prize money, and endorsement deals. Would they be willing to strike, if the endorsement money was put on hold during that time as well?

The US Open proved that the players are suffering, with a record number of retirements. Perhaps there is too much play leading up to the final Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows, but most of these players are building their games to peak at exactly that moment.. when they show up exhausted. Is that a scheduling issue or a schedule management issue?

It began with Andy Murray at the U.S. Open, deep down in a tunnel where nobody could hear him, except everyone could hear him. He complained about the players being pushed around. It was a valid argument at the time – regarding the rain, and players being put on court in unsafe conditions. However, days later at the suggestion that the U.S. Open might consider a 15-day event, Murray also declared that he would want to see prize money increased “substantially.”

Then came his buddy, Rafael Nadal, following up with complaints that the season is too long, warning that the players might take “strong action” if the calendar isn’t overhauled. The world No. 2 pointed his criticism toward the timing of Davis Cup.  Nadal had a right to be tired because he’s played 70 matches this year. However, he’s played Davis Cup only three times in the past two years.

Murray admitted that the ATP demands mandatory participation in tournaments only 18-weeks a year (I work around 50 mandatory weeks, because I have a job). Rankings are computed on the basis of 18 tournaments total, but nobody is forcing players to show up at tournaments to help his ranking. The players choose to show up because it helps their endorsements and or ability to be marketed, because they are ranked higher. And what is most disturbing to me, is guys like Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, and even Federer (to a lesser degree in his older age), participate in numerous exhibitions, and take the huge appearance fees paid by smaller ATP 250 tournaments.

Of the players participation in those events, Murray says: “When we play the Masters Series and the Slams, we’re playing against the best players in the world every time. Sometimes it’s nice to go to a tournament like an ATP 250, with its lavish guarantees, when you don’t have to kill yourself in every single match.”

Former Wimbledon champ Michael Stich, told the BBC: “Perhaps the players need to look out for their bodies and pick their tournaments better? It’s not a dream world out there. It’s a job and if you take that on you have to deal with the situations you find.”

Roger Federer has made scheduling his year a work of art over the last decade. He remains one of the fittest, and consistent players on tour, and recently passed the dreaded age of 30.

He knows the value of rest, and has managed to find time away from tennis throughout his career. There are times that players can find breaks. The top players can take almost a full month off after Wimbledon, and also after the Australian Open.

A strike would hurt the sport, in a time where fans are treated to a level of play we have never seen before. As Federer passes the torch to Nadal, and Djokovic prepares to steal it, and Federer tries to take it back – the players are considering alienating themselves from a loyal fan base, that pays to watch them play.

In the end, it is the players who would be effected most, because the sport would come back changed. They need to really think this strike business through, for the betterment of the game they play, and in doing so, remember that they play a game.

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Switzerland vs Australia World Group Qualifying Playoff

Swiss Davis Cup Team Arrives in Sydney

New Australian No.1 Bernard Tomic opens against Swiss No.2 Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup World Group playoff on Friday, while former No.1 Lleyton Hewitt and Current No. 3 Roger Federer resume their Davis Cup rivalry in a the widely anticipated second rubber.

In their last Davis Cup encounter, the 2003 semifinal at Melbourne Park, the two played in what would turn out to be one of the classic matches of the competition. Hewitt roared back to win from two sets and a service break down – a loss that Federer has said cut deeper than his weekend loss to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the US Open.

In four previous Davis Cup meetings, the Swiss have never beaten Australia. But their pairing of Federer and Wawrinka, ranked No.3 and No.19, and the reigning Olympic gold medalists in doubles, have the Swiss coming in as favorites. Switzerland has never before played a Davis Cup on grass.

Ranked no. 59 in the world, Tomic will like his chances against Wawrinka who comes into the tie nursing a foot injury and with less than stellar record on grass. Tomic enjoyed his career breakthrough at Wimbledon, where he went from qualifier to quarter-finalist. The Australians are banking on Tomic to defeat Wawrinka in their match, for them to have a chance against the favored Swiss.

Six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer has a 17-8 record against Hewitt, but Hewitt did enjoy a rare win in their last match on grass, at Halle in 2010.

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Rubber 1

No. 59 Bernard Tomic will take on No. 19 Stanislas Wawrinka in the first rubber.

Tomic has won a lot at the challenger level and managed to qualify at Wimbledon, where he made it to the quarterfinals, losing to Novak Djokovic.

Wawrinka has had a relatively consistent year so far. He started off with a title in Chennai and then followed with a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open.

Both players have never met before.

Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

Rubber 2

No. 3 Roger Federer will take on No. 199 Lleyton Hewitt in the second rubber.

Federer did not play in 2010 Davis Cup playoffs, when Kazakhstan defeated Switzerland. However, with a 5-0 win over Portugal in July this year, the Swiss have returned to the World Group playoffs.

When asked about his preparation following his run at the US Open Federer said, “I’m not sore – sorry to disappoint you. I’m feeling good, really good actually.” He further added, “Usually we never have that much time to get used to the grass anyway, that’s how we have to deal with it every year for the grass season.”

On the other hand,  Hewitt said, “It’s been what I’ve been working towards in terms of getting my game up to scratch and my body as close to 100 percent right to take on one of the greats.” He further added that “It’s going to be a tough match — hopefully Bernie (Tomic) can get us off to a good start against Stan on the grass tomorrow and then I can go out there and take Roger on.”

Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will be taking on each other for the 26th time. In head-to-head, Federer leads 17-8, including 3-2 on grass.

The winner of the tie advances to the Davis Cup World Group for 2012 while the loser will be relegated to zonal qualifiers for a chance to enter the elite competition again in  2013.

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Roger Federer will return to all Black at the 2012 French Open. This look is reminiscent of his 2007 US open look.

Roger Federer 2012 Paris Nike Kit

 

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