Saturday, January 30, 2010

Federer obliterates sorry Tsonga - Day 12

Roger Federer rolled back the years in delivering an absolutely scintillating performance in demolishing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to make it to his 18th Grand Slam final in the last 19 events.

Federer broke Tsonga in the 6th game of the first set to take the lead and broke again in the final game as he gave away just five unforced errors. The second set followed the same pattern as Rog broke the Frenchman in the 6th game of the set and an outrageous forehand down the line helped him consolidate his break for a 5-2 lead. Two games later and it was two sets to love for the Swiss champion in under an hour.

Federer was like a sniper in this semi-final, going for the kill at every opportunity, and displaying the grace of a gazelle in all of his lethal execution. And it didn't take him long in the third set to gain the upper hand. Federer produced a glorious backhand overhead volley and three points later he had broken the beleagured Tsonga again and the end was drawing rapidly near.

A Tsonga double fault gave Federer a double break in his next service game and the Swiss marched into a 5-1 lead, shortly wrapping up the match in under an hour and a half.

There was a reverential silence around the Rod Laver arena as this champion utilised all of his skills to the utter detriment of Tsonga who looked on helplessly as the spectators sat in awe. The biggest gasp came when Federer shanked a forehand in the third set. Even the commentators were at a loss for words. "I wonder who'll change the nappies tonight?" was the best Alan Wilkins came up with. And after yet another glorious winner from Federer's racquet, Vijay Amritraj apologised, "I'm sorry to be gasping so much, because I don't have any more words to say! It's just a gasp."

Having taught Tsonga a severe lesson on the court, the great Swiss master then taught him a valuable lesson off court by humbly waiting for the Frenchman to gather his belongings so they could walk off the court together, shoulder to shoulder in equality. This big-headed, arrogant Frenchman could do with taking note as he usually takes no thought for his opponent, being too occupied with promoting himself by pointing to his back whilst jumping around the court like some jack-in-a-box. I'm grateful that I didn't have to bear watching that awful celebration again.

Federer's post-match interview was just as colourful as his on-court display. He was clearly delighted to have won this match so convincingly and smiled vividly as he related his best memories of 2009 and his analysis of Sunday's final with Murray. He had the crowd in stitches when, asked by Jim Courier about Andy Murray's Grand Slam hopes, he wiggled his hands mockingly in the air and said,"He'd like to win the first for British tennis in what is it, a hundred and fifty thousand years?!"

This semi-final demolition job was a clear message to Andy Murray to remind him of the task that awaits him in Sunday's final. For Federer is no mood to be lenient when it comes to Grand Slam finals.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Semi-final action - Day 11

Two contrasting women's semi-finals were played out on Thursday afternoon in Melbourne. Two unheralded Chinese players had the possibility of meeting in the final of the Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific, but they were up against two champions of the game, in Serena Williams and Justine Henin.

First up was Li Na, who had beaten Venus to get here, and would have to beat sister Serena, the defending champion, to progress further. It was an extremely close match which was ultimately decided by two tiebreaks. Serena it was who played the bigger points better to emerge victorious, although Li Na has nothing to be ashamed of.

Then it was the turn of Zheng Jie to tackle the graceful terrier that is Justine Henin. In contrast to the first semi-final, this one was a no-contest as Zheng crumbled to the overwhelming force of the Belgian. Henin ran away with a 6-1, 6-0 scoreline and is looking good for a come-back Grand Slam triumph.

The first of the men's semi-finals was played in the night session between marathon man Marin Cilic and Briton Andy Murray. Cilic had contested 3 five-setters on his way to the last four whilst Murray had yet to drop a set en route to his penultimate match of the Open.

For the first set and a half, Cilic dominated, sweeping Murray from one side of the court to the other with some devastating forehands and gruelling rallies.

But Murray managed to hang in there, and as Cilic began to tire, Murray gained greater control, hitting winners from all over the court. Murray will now compete in just his 2nd Grand Slam final on Sunday, but will he be facing Federer or Tsonga? Their showdown begins in around five hours' time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Semi-final match-ups

Serena Williams     vs     Li Na

Justine Henin     vs     Zheng Jie

Marin Cilic     vs     Andy Murray

Roger Federer     vs     Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Back from the dead - Day 10

Serena Williams' torrid start to her quarter-final with Victoria Azarenka which saw her a set and 4-0 down in the 2nd, almost condemned her to a humiliating defeat. She later admitted that she thought about returning home by Friday - but something seemed to click as she went on from that perilous position to win 12 of the next 15 games to stun her Belarussian opponent into submission. The final score read 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 to Serena and she was just thankful to have risen from the dead and still remain in the competition.

Azarenka was the overwhelmingly better player for a set and a half, and she must have wondered how on earth the match slipped from her grasp. Serena is famed as a fighter who never gives up the ghost and she demonstrated her battling qualities most admirably in front of a rapturous Rod Laver arena crowd.

The American was not the only one flirting with disaster on the Rod Laver arena. Swiss champion Roger Federer, playing after that ladies' singles contest, looked lethargic and completely vacant of ideas as he gave away the first set 6-2 with a flurry of errors from his racquet. After taking an unusually early bathroom break, he found himself behind again, this time dangerously trailing 1-3 in the 2nd. The Federer camp was worried, Mirka appeared to be having a migraine. But as soon as the sunlight disappeared from the court as afternoon turned into evening, Federer quickly clicked into gear and amazingly won the next 13 straight games to stun Davydenko and race into a commanding lead. He restricted the Russian to a measly 7 points in the entire 3rd set, such was Federer's domination.

The momentum had swung briskly and although Davydenko thwarted Federer's efforts to serve for the match at 5-4 with some remarkable returns and winners, the Swiss broke back immediately and made no mistake at the second time of asking. Nikolay Davydenko mentioned how he now believes he can beat Federer - but believing is one thing, actually transferring that faith into reality is an entirely different proposition.

The Swiss master has sent out a warning - his 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 triumph over the No.1 in-form player in the world should have rivals questioning their supposed belief in gaining his scalp. The best it seems they could hope for, is for the Sun to hang over centre court after hours, and that's asking for the impossible. Roger Federer has most certainly not finished yet.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in his match with 3rd seed Novak Djokovic, traded tiebreaks before losing the 3rd set, a 6-1 scoreline in favour of the Serbian. However, as Djokovic began to wilt with a stomach complaint and physical exhaustion, Tsonga looked as fresh in the 5th as he did in the 1st. The Frenchman prevailed 7-6, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. But he will need more than fitness when he takes on Federer in the semis.

Li Na made it two Chinese ladies in the Australian Open semi-finals when she came back from the brink to eliminate Venus Williams. A set down and with the American serving for the match, Li Na hung on, hitting some wonderful groundstrokes, and eventually came through a close final set to join compatriot Zheng Jie in the last four.

Henin motors on - Day 9

Seven-time Grand Slam champion and returning hero, Justine Henin, beat giant-killer Nadia Petrova in a close quarter-final in which the Belgian came through 7-6, 7-5. The "Roger Federer of women's tennis", as Todd Woodbridge labelled her, is looking better with each match, and will face Chinese Zheng Jie, who beat Maria Kirilenko, for a place in the final.

Andy Roddick got awfully lucky in his last 16 match with Fernando Gonzalez when the most outrageous umpiring decision saw Mr. Molina fail to replay a challenged point when the Chilean had a shot on the questioned ball. Roddick  was resultingly awarded the point, which just happened to be game point, break point and set point at a crucial moment in the match.

He wasn't so lucky against Cilic, when after coming back from two sets down, the young Croat blew him away 6-3 in the fifth.

The amazing run of Marin Cilic has seen him conquer Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and now Andy Roddick, en route to his first Grand Slam semi-final.

There, he will meet Andy Murray who was on top of Nadal from the start, taking the first set 6-3 and then winning the 2nd set tiebreak in a largely impressive performance against the second best player in the world. Murray had an answer to everything Nadal came up with, and with the Briton leading 3-0 in the third, the Spaniard conceded the match, being troubled with yet another knee injury which flared up in the 2nd set.

However, Murray should be cautious of the dangerously impressive Cilic, who could yet spring another surprise at Melbourne Park.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Magical show from Federer - Day 8

Roger Federer made it into the quarter finals of the Australian Open 2010 with his 15th straight victory over Lleyton Hewitt with a magical display in front of the Aussie crowd. He thrilled his fans with winner after winner, one sensational shot after another, forehand crosscourt, forehand up the line, backhand crosscourt and backhand up the line. And it wasn't that Hewitt played poorly - he gave everything he had - he just ran into Federer in invincible form.

He next faces Davydenko, who himself is on a 13-match winning streak, but if he can duplicate the sort of performance he put on against Hewitt, he will surely be progressing to a 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semi-final. There were moments in the match where the Swiss took one's breath away with a stunning array of shots and winners, the elegance with which he did so, and the ridiculous backhand winners that were made to look so easy.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

A tennis feast! - Day 7

Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro put on a monumental show of big hitting in this fourth round match in which the scoreline swung back and forth throughout. I am absolutely delighted and relieved to tell you that the beast Del Potro was beaten, Cilic winning this marathon, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. Del Potro was a huge threat to Federer should he have reached the final.

Current Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal faced off against giant-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic in a close encounter. Nadal took the opener only for Karlovic to level in the next set. But nadal began reading the Croat's serve and was totally on top by the fourth set. He won 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Nadia Petrova continued her giant-killing act as she powered past 3rd seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets, the final score reading 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Belgian maestro Justine Henin came up against young compatriot Yanina Wickmayer. The youngster had been the surprise package of last year's US Open, and after losing a first set tiebreak, she went on to race through the second set 6-1. But Henin, seven times Grand Slam champion, kept her cool and put on another great exhibition of her skills, winning the decider 6-3 to set up a quarter final with Petrova. As much as Henin insists it is a great physical challenge for her after missing the last couple of years on tour, she nevertheless looks like she's never been away.

In the first match of the day, Andy Murray quite comfortably beat an inept John Isner in three straight sets. While the American has a serve to boast of, he possesses absolutely nothing else based on this performance, and was rather incapable of maintaining, let alone winning, a rally. Where does this leave Andy Murray? He has had four simple matches in which he hasn't been stretched in the least, and now he must be prepared to take on the second best player on the planet in Rafael Nadal. I think we will be seeing the Scot on a plane out of Melbourne in the very near future, perhaps on Tuesday.

Federer Sails into 4th round - Day 6

Roger Federer, the men's number one seed, made relatively light work of 31st seed Albert Montanes. Federer never really left middle gears as he saw off the Spaniard 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He's going along nicely and will next meet Lleyton Hewitt after Baghdatis retired injured early in the second set.

Big-head, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga unfortunately beat Tommy Haas to advance into a quarter final meeting with Nicolas Almagro. Haas had served for the 4th set but was broken and subsequently lost the match.

There were no other major upsets in the mens or womens draw.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Petrova Pulverizes Poor Princess - Day 5

Nadia Petrova stunned the Rod Laver arena audience into silence as she dismantled reigning US Open princess Kim Clijsters, 6-0, 6-1. Clijsters played poorly throughout, but Petrova deserves credit for playing a magnificent match when it mattered most. Nothing seemed to go right for the Belgian and this is a big setback in her climb back into the top ten. For Nadia Petrova, she will now go into a match against Svetlana Kuznetsova in full confidence of causing another upset.

Kuznetsova was a set and a break down in her 3rd round match with qualifier Angelique Kerber, before battling her way to victory in 3 sets, the winning scoreline reading 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Sweating profusely, she showed why she is a Grand Slam champion by turning around this match as it was beginning to slip away.

In the mens draw, Rafael Nadal encountered an intense match with German Philip Kohlschreiber, who was going for winners all over the court. Nadal fought out the first two sets, but Kohlschreiber's persistence was repayed when he pulled one back. However, Nadal also put on a powerful show and emerged with the victory in 4 sets to set up a clash with Giant Croat Ivo Karlovic.

Andy Roddick and Fernando Gonzalez both won and will meet in a mouth-watering clash in the last 16. Andy Murray enjoyed another easy win and big-serving American, John Isner, overcame the charismatic Gael Monfils of France. Murray and Isner will meet in the last 16 in what should be the Scot's first big test in Melbourne.

Sadly, Britain's Elena Baltacha came to the end of the road when she was comprehensively beaten by Dinara Safina, who herself has been quietly making her way through the draw, as she looks for her first Grand Slam title.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Baghdatis army marches on - Day 4

You either love him or you hate him. No, I'm not talking about Gary Neville, or Novak Djokovic. Instead I am describing my dilemma with Marcos Baghdatis. In his 2nd round match with Spain's David Ferrer, we saw his dirty side - spraying saliva and snot all over the court was not too pleasant at all. Neither was his lame attempt to fake injury as he was serving for the match, and superhumanly overcome it to hit some of the best shots he hit all match.

He did however, demonstrate his fighting spirit, coming back from a two-set deficit to take the match in five and set up a showdown with Lleyton Hewitt. I sometimes wonder how good of a player he would be minus his boisterous army of Cypriot fans.

Our second story today comes from the land of beauty queens who should be tennis players. Ana Ivanovic, following in Maria Sharapova's footsteps, will now be going all the way back home to Serbia or wherever she lives, as she was dumped out at the 2nd round by diminutive Argentinian Gisela Dulko. Dulko won in 3 sets, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4.

Roger Federer was back on court sharing centre stage with Victor Hanescu of Romania. But it wasn't his opponent who gained most of Federer's attention. The Swiss champion won the match very comfortably, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Prince William, future King of England was in the stands watching the current King of tennis entertain us with his fluidity and elegance. When Jim Courier invited Roger to formally welcome the Prince to Australia, Federer seemed a little flustered, perhaps more amused, before composing himself and saying, "Your Royal Highness, welcome to the world of tennis, and thanks for coming." A truly magical moment which didn't involve Federer's racquet had the Prince looking a little flushed in the face. I wonder if Sir William will be viewing Andy Murray's upcoming match, or will he just stick to watching quality?

Djokovic, Haas, Verdasco, Davydenko and Tsonga all came through their matches, as did the Williams sisters, Azarenka, Li Na and Wozniacki. The draw is beginning to take shape and the matches are going to be getting a whole lot bigger as we move into the second week of action. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A gripping match of the highest quality was played out between these two athletes on Rod Laver arena Wednesday. Services were frequently exchanged throughout the contest. Both competitors literally had to hit the lines to win a point, so fine were the margins, and so lofty were the standards of play.

However, it was Henin who decisively broke in the 11th game of the opening set to serve out a 7-5 winning margin.

Henin served for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd, Dementieva saving a match point before levelling at 5-5. Such was the fluctuating momentum between these two stars in the most intense match so far.

Henin broke again to serve for the match a second time following an exquisite backhand winner pushed up the line to set up break point, and a following Dementieva netted volley to give the Belgian the balls on her racquet.

But Henin failed to hold once more, duplicating the pattern of both players struggling on serve. And so to a tiebreak it went. Dementieva, at 6-5, had the opportunity to send the match into a deciding set, but Henin produced her most glorious tennis when it mattered, to save the set point. Henin then drew the Russian into the net the following point, forcing Dementieva to send her attempted drop-shot into the net. Justine then tucked away a volley for the triumph.

The little Belgian now becomes a serious title contender as she looks like she's never been away.


The final night match finished after 2am in the morning, featuring Marin Cilic and Australian youngster, Bernard Tomic. The first four sets were exchanged evenly, and it was at 4-4 deep in the fifth that the 17-year-old dropped his serve, allowing Cilic to finish it off for a 6-4 scoreline in the final set. However, the signs look good for Tomic and he can walk away from this one with his head held high. He put on a great performance but experience came through in the end.

Another marvellous match was fought out between the Argentinian beast Juan Martin Del Potro, and America's James Blake. Del Potro fought from two sets to one down, to eventually prevail 10-8 in the decider. He has now dropped three sets in two matches and against a better opponent in the later rounds, he may struggle more. But it was a great fight-back from the current US Open champion and he will take confidence from that.

Now, a mention for Britain's Elena Baltacha. When was the last time a British female reached the third round of a Grand Slam? I too have absolutely no idea. So her achievement in disposing of 30th seed Kateryna Bondarenko, is all the more laudable, and she now has a dream match-up with three-time Slam finalist, Dinara Safina.

Meanwhile, Roddick, Murray, Nadal, Clijsters and Kuznetsova have all smoothly progressed to round 3 where they are hoping to build some good momentum for the later stages of the competition.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Federer Battles Through - Day 2

It has been six years since Roger Federer last dropped a set in the first round of a Grand Slam event. Against Igor Andreev he did just that in perhaps the toughest opener he has ever had since he drew Kafelnikov at Wimbledon 2000. Andreev started the brighter, taking the opening set 6-4, but Federer has the ability to up his game a few levels when needed, and he did precisely that to even up the match with a 6-2 2nd set scoreline. He admitted after the match to Jim Courier that he was extremely lucky to win the 3rd set. It was hard to see him coming through it at the time, especially when Andreev had the set on his racquet, serving at 6-5. However, Federer managed to claw out a service break when he needed it, and charged through the tiebreak as the Russian's forehand completely collapsed.

With a 2-1 lead, the pressure visibly lifted from the Swiss master's shoulders as he romped through the 4th in a 6-0 whitewash, looking more like his real self. The match turned on the 3rd set and Federer was fortunate this time. Later in the tournament he may need to start off matches at the level he displayed in the 4th set here. And it was fitting that he praised his opponent by stating that Andreev "is a wonderful player." How can anyone NOT like this man?

Home favourite Lleyton Hewitt safely made it through to the 2nd round to remain on collision course with Roger Federer in a possible fourth round meeting. Unfortunately, fellow Aussie Alicia Molik failed to progress, experiencing a mid-match collapse as she bowed out to a fighting Julie Coin.

Today's surprise came in the men's draw as 8th seed Robin Soderling, last year's French Open finalist, lost to Marcel Granollers, after having won the first two sets. This opens up the draw for Djokovic and Tsonga, who both enjoyed straight-sets wins in their openers.

Venus and Serena predictably thrashed their respective first round opponents as they look as menacing as ever and are on course for a semi-final showdown of sisters.

Mikhail Youzhny endured a mammoth five-setter against the cocaine-kisser, Richard Gasquet, eventually prevailing 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 in a gruelling first round tie.

I'm looking forward to the huge match between Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin which means that unfortunately, one of these two wonderful players will be going home all too early this year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Behind the scenes

Whilst the Federer's and Nadal's busily entertain their die-hard fans, I would like to note some valuable work that goes on behind the scenes.

Imagine a football match with no half-time show.

Imagine an F1 race with no build-up before or after the race.

Imagine a snooker match without a professional voice explaining the strategies and positioning of each pot.

Imagine a complicated rugby match without a commentator to describe the action.

Yes, pundits, commentators and presenters enrich the viewing experience dramatically, build tension and excitement, and fill us in on information relating to the spectacle.

I remember in my youth listening to Radio Five Live's coverage of Manchester United's matches which I couldn't see on TV thanks to Sky's expensive packages. I would huddle around the radio in the back room or in my bedroom and listen intently as Alan Green commented in such rich detail that I felt I was there in the stadium and I could picture precisely how the match was going. It was an absolute pleasure to hear Alan Green bringing the sounds, tension and elation into my ears.

Andy Gray now does an excellent job commentating for Sky TV on all the major Premier League football matches. We are fortunate enough here in Malaysia to have Sky TV's coverage and the voice of Andy Gray, who provides us with the most informative analysis of key moments in each match. His knowledge is power.

I remember watching World Snooker Finals being contested by Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White, John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan back in the day, and the voice of Clive Everton guided us through the match, frame by frame, ball by ball, as I watched on my tiny old TV set at 12 midnight in my bedroom.

And who can ever forget the great Murray Walker, commentator king of Formula 1. His energy, dedication, passion and excitement endeared us all to him and truly brought Formula 1 racing to life. Hearing him was just as good as watching the drivers whizz around the circuits at breakneck speed. How on earth would we have appreciated the complexities and felt the passion without Murray Walker?

Which brings me to the Australian Open 2010. For the first time this year, I became re-acquainted with Alan Wilkins and Vijay Amritraj as they brought us the night session live from Melbourne. Their camaraderie, banter and insights are infectious and I find myself as always, smiling and laughing with them as they bring us the tennis on the screen. In fact, their presenting in the studio and commentating from the booth is almost as good as the tacticians who delight us on the court. I always look forward to seeing them during each Grand Slam, especially how Alan Wilkins loves testing Vijay, albeit with a little jest, in the 'Vijay on the spot' segment. They have the humour, the knowledge, the information, and the ultimate passion and appreciation for sport. I would willingly watch them speak about tennis for hours.

They bring each Grand Slam to life with their vigour and enthusiasm. So here's to you, all presenters, and commentators, thanks for making our sporting viewing all the much greater!

Day 1 Australian Open

Day 1 has produced a huge upset which came in the very first match of the two-week banquet of tennis. Russian superstar Maria Sharapova was booted out of the tournament at the first hurdle by compatriot and good friend, Maria Kirilenko. Kirilenko is little heard of in the tennis world with most male supporters closely observing her body as opposed to her game. Yet she put on a performance worthy of a Grand Slam final to push Sharapova all the way.

She duly took the opening set on a tiebreaker after more than an hour's frantic play which saw numerous breaks of serve early on as both players tried to settle down. But every point was a slog, and Sharapova, who won here in 2008, was starting to commit too many double faults and unforced errors. She did rally in the 2nd however, taking it 6-3 to send the match into a decider.

But the errors continued and despite breaking Kirilenko's serve at 2-5 to hang on, she succumbed in her opponent's next service game, Kirilenko prevailing 6-4 to take the 3-hour plus match and dump out one of the pre-tournament favourites. Unfortunately for Sharapova, the new dress and special earrings have only graced the stage once and must now go back in the cupboard prematurely.

Belgian Kim Clijsters, the come-back mum, made quick work of her opening match, triumphing 6-0, 6-4 in just under an hour against qualifier Tretault.

In the men's draw, Andy Murray enjoyed an easy opener against giant Kevin Anderson, winning 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 at a canter. A nice start for the British hope, but there will be many more tougher assignments ahead.

I'm looking forward to the night session, with Rafael Nadal and home favourite Jelena Dokic in action. And of course tomorrow, Roger Federer begins his quest for a 16th Slam with a tricky first round tie with Igor Andreev, who took the Swiss to five sets in the 2008 US Open. Check back for all the latest news from the hottest Grand Slam of the year!


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