Saturday, February 06, 2016

'Santina' Slam on the horizon

MELBOURNE, Australia - Less than a year after World No.1 Serena Williams won a second "Serena Slam" at the 2015 Wimbledon Championships, Co-No.1 doubles team Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza are one major win away from a non-calendar year Grand Slam of their own, a "Santina Slam."

Hingis and Mirza first paired up at the BNP Paribas Open last spring, starting a 15-match winning streak that took them to titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston. Now on a 36-match streak - the longest since 1990 - Santina have not lost a match since the 2015 Western & Southern Open, and have won the last three major titles in a row dating back to Wimbledon, where they recovered from a 2-5 final set deficit to defeat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina for the first Grand Slam title as a pair.

The Indo-Swiss duo followed that up with an efficient run to the US Open title a few months later, and didn't drop a set through six matches. Capping their near-perfect season with the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global title - also without dropping a set, even more impressive at a tournament comprised solely of the Top 8 doubles teams - Hingis and Mirza began 2016 in earnest by winning titles in Brisbane and Sydney before their Australian Open victory.

"Our fairytale continues," Hingis told press after she and Mirza defeated "Silent Hs" Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 7-6(1), 6-3. "It's amazing since winning Wimbledon. After that we only lost two more matches. It keeps going.

"It's been always great to start the year here in Australia. Like Sania said, it's a very player-friendly environment in Australia. They're very knowledgeable about tennis. They love their players. They support them. It's great to come out here and have this mood, like this tennis mood, the environment gives you, and the setting.

"Whether it's Rod Laver Arena or Margaret Court it's just a cozy atmosphere, and it's so nice to play out there."

All that stands between Santina and a fourth straight Grand Slam title is the French Open, historically each woman's least successful Slam tournament. A 21-time Grand Slam champion, Hingis has only one the French Open twice - in 1998 en route to the last Calendar Year Grand Slam of any kind with Jana Novotna, and 2000 with singles champion Mary Pierce - and remains the only singles and mixed doubles major to elude her. Mirza has only one French Open title to her name, the 2012 mixed doubles crown with compatriot Mahesh Bhupati.

"It's a Grand Slam for a reason, and the reason is that it's so tough to win even one in your lifetime,"Mirza told WTA Insider after she and Hingis won in Brisbane. "If it happened, it would be amazing, but it's not something we're focusing on, to be honest.

"We're just trying to focus on playing well. Every time we step on the court, we have to keep our level because everyone comes out playing great because they have no pressure - especially now that we keep winning, and everyone want to be the team to beat us.

"It's normal because they have nothing to lose. We're privileged to be in this position, really. I don't mean that in a cocky way at all

"We're just trying to take it one match at a time. Every match is tough; we're just going to go there, focus on one match at a time, and hopefully get into the Slam.

"If we win it, great. If we don't, we move on."

Friday, February 05, 2016

The "Laver Cup" - Roger Federer's new event - is set for September 2017 debut

Team8, who represent Roger Federer, are the agency behind a Ryder Cup-style exhibition event – the Laver Cup – that is scheduled to begin in September 2016.

Pitting a team of tennis players from Europe against a 'Rest of the World' team, this Ryder Cup-esque event is named after the great Rod Laver – winner of 11 Grand Slam titles. The tournament will last for three days, and take place every year bar that of the Summer Olympics.

With Rio 2016 just around the corner, the first edition of the Laver Cup will launch in 2017. It is a men's event, offers no ranking points, and will not yet be considered an ATP tournament.

Teams will consist of six players each, with four have qualified through ATP rankings, while the last two are picked by team captains. Singles and doubles matches will be played during the event.

Unlike the off-season's IPTL, which got off the ground by paying top players to participate, there will be no appearance fees paid to the competitors. Prize money, however, will be awarded.

It is planned that once the tournament has debuted on European indoor hard-courts, it will transfer between international and European venues in ensuing years.

This whole idea – based on golf's Ryder Cup, which pits Europe against the USA – was apparently the brainchild of world no. 3 Roger Federer, whose respect for tennis legend Rod Laver is mirrored in the impending tournament's name.

“Rod Laver is always someone I've thought of as very inspiring,” Federer commented.

“I think it's important to leave a legacy for the legends, and Rod Laver to me stands out because of his achievements and his character and everything."

The new Laver Cup is not, however, likely to introduce itself without some commotion. Besides the fact that it has been plunged into a highly busy tennis season, there is the likelihood that it will clash with the Davis Cup – a longstanding tennis team event that has been resurrecting popularity in recent years. Federer, of course, is well aware of this.

“Obviously, everything you add to a schedule, take away from a schedule, always has an impact. That's the craziness of tennis,” the Swiss stated as he addressed the matter. “But that doesn't mean it's negative necessarily.

“I think the Davis Cup with its history is incredible. It's never going to go away. I don't think [the Laver Cup and the Davis Cup] are going to rival each other very much, to be quite honest. One is over four weeks and it carries through the entire year, while this is for only like a weekend. Other than it's a team competition, I don't see any other similarities, really.”

And the tennis great has a high-profile vision for the tournament.

“The prospect should be very exciting in itself. I've never played doubles with Rafa, Novak or Andy, so that could be a first there maybe: Us supporting one another, high-fiving each other. I think it could be very cool.”

Australia's Rod Laver tends to agree.

“It's just a great honour that my name is going to be on this,” the 77-year-old commented on Friday. “I think it will be fair competition and very competitive. It's in golf, and it's been successful any time they've done it with the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. It's a unique concept in tennis.”

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Roger Federer not afraid of facing Djokovic despite another Grand Slam Semi-Final loss

It’s fair to say that Roger Federer hoped for a lot more when he stepped onto Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night to face Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals. It wasn’t to be for the Swiss. Subjected to a staggering display from Djokovic, especially in the first two sets, the racquet was largely taken out of his hands.

But Federer’s self-belief is far from dented after the four-set defeat.

“I have self-confidence as well,” said the Swiss. “That doesn't fade away very quickly. I know it's not easy [facing Djokovic]. I never thought it was easy.

“It doesn't scare me when I go into a big match against any player who's in their prime right now. But of course you need to prove yourself. You need to have all that going. It's disappointing, but at the same time I'm going deep in slams right now. I'm having great runs. I thought I had a tough draw here, so I'm actually pleased where my level's at at the beginning of the season.”

Federer has been beaten by Djokovic in his past three Grand Slam outings, finishing runner-up to the Serb in the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. He was also defeated by Djokovic in the 2014 Wimbledon final. Indeed, if it weren’t for Djokovic dominating on the ATP World Tour in recent years, Federer could well have added to his Grand Slam haul of 17 trophies.

“Novak right now is a reference for everybody,” said Federer. “He's the only guy that has been able to stop me as of late, and Stan [Wawrinka] when he was on fire when he was in Paris. It's okay. I wish I could have played a bit better [tonight], and who knows what would have happened. Today Novak was very, very good. There's no doubt about it.”

The crowd on Rod Laver Arena were stunned into near-silence by Djokovic’s performance in the first two sets of his 45th meeting with Federer. In his finest performance of the tournament so far, the Serb was worlds away from his fourth-round battle with Gilles Simon, in which he made 100 unforced errors. For the first two sets against Federer, Djokovic committed just six unforced errors and gave the Swiss no break point opportunities.

Once the Serb had the first set, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Federer, who had only once before in 22 wins against Djokovic come from a set down.

“I know how important the first set is against Novak, especially at this time right now when he's World No. 1. When he gets on a roll, it's tough to stop. He's always played very well throughout his career with the lead. Even more so now when his confidence is up.

“Of course I wanted to do well. Of course I had a game plan. Of course I had ideas what I should do. I couldn't quite get it done. Maybe parts of my game, maybe parts of his game just matched up in a tough way and the first set ran away very quickly.”

What Federer can credit himself with is managing to halt Djokovic’s momentum - when he was barely missing a ball - and clawing his way back into the match, much to the delight of the crowd.

“I've seen Novak play this well before,” said Federer. “It's tough when it's from the start because obviously you’ve got to try to stop the bleeding at some point. He returns very well, like Andre Agassi. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly.

“Before you can really do something, a lot of tennis is being played and it's tough to get back into it. I found a way. Started to play better myself. Made a bit of a match out of it, which was nice.”

Once again Federer fans are left looking at the bright side,  Federer at 34 is still making the second week of a Grand Slam. 

Yes he may have gotten out played, but he's still the only player (aside from maybe Wawrinka) who's still consistently competing with Djokovic at his level. 

I'm not going to wax poetic about Novak Djokovic, because the media is doing that ad nauseam lately (as with Serena Williams). 

And please stop saying that Novak is ahead in their rivalry. He's one match ahead. I'm sure Mr. Federer will beat him in best of three throughout the rest of this year.

I skipped watching the match to spare myself a lot of frazzled nerves (and the fact the match was on at 3:30 am).  

Despite this loss, the year has just began.  This was only the first Grand Slam.  

Something tells me there'll be a few more if Mr. Federer has anything to say about it. 

Onward to the next tournament!.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Roger Federer & Lleyton Hewitt cartooned at Aussie Open

Ever wondered what it would be like to watch Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt in cartoon format? Well now you can. Bringing you two living tennis legends as you've never seen them before:

This is brilliant!. "I'm thinking, OMG, I'm crazy, but he's nuts!" LOL.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Martina Hingis & Leander Paes out of Aussie Open mixed doubles courtesy of her doubles partner Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza doesn't leave anything to chance. She just goes there and charts her own path. That's exactly what she did when she took her compatriot Leander Paes and Martina Hingis in the mixed doubles quarters of the Australian Open. Teaming up with Croatian Ivan Dodig, she ended the marathon run of Paes and Hingis, who had won the mixed doubles championship last year at Melbourne Park.

Sania and Dodig took exactly one hour and 10 minutes to get the better of Paes and Hingis in a 7-6(1) 6-3 win. The top seeded Indo-Croat pair will next face fifth seeds Elena Vesnina and Bruno Soares for a spot in the summit clash.

The Padma Bhushan award winner and Dodig got off to a sluggish start but fought back brilliantly to take the first set in 44 minutes in a one-sided tie-breaker, where the Indo-Croat pair just blew away their opponents. The second set turned out to be much easier for Sania and Dodig as one break of serve was enough for them to walk away with the set and the match.

For Sania, the prospect of two titles in Australian Open looms large as she along with Hingis takes on Czech seventh seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the women's doubles final on Friday to earn their eighth title on the trot. Perhaps, Hingis' loss with Paes opens up the chance for her to save her best game for the women's doubles finale, therein increasing Sania's chances of another Grand Slam title.

This will be Sania's first women's doubles final here after her previous best finish in 2012 when she reached the semis with Russian Elena Vesnina.

Game-changers: Who's best at the net?

Like gameshow contestants locked in isolation booths, we asked five members of the digital team to tell us which players have the most dominant strokes in the game today. This time it's the art of the volley, a stroke that two champions used on their rise to No.1...

Paul Moore's pick: Roger Federer

If you were going to come up with a signature shot, you'd want it to be called something cool, right? Something like… SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger). That's what Federer's sneak attack has been dubbed, and at the tail-end of 2015 it sent the tennis world into a frenzy. But while opinion remains divided over SABR, it's anything but about Federer's awesome abilities at the net. It doesn't matter how or when the Great One makes his way to the net, when he does he's nigh on unbeatable.

Matt Trollope's pick: Martina Hingis

No player possesses better hands at the net, or finer reflexes and anticipation to pick off winners when she's there. Hingis' volleying prowess explains her continued doubles success yet was also a feature of her major-winning singles career.

Michael Beattie's pick: Roger Federer

Volleying was thought to be a dead art when spin-happy baseliners began sweeping all before them, but some players have managed to thrive going forward in the singles game – none more so than Federer, whose SABR return is perhaps the best illustration of his commitment to net gains.

Vivenne Christie's pick: Martina Hingis

Hingis' deft touch at the net made her one of the most watchable women in a Grand Slam-winning singles career and now that she's returned as a doubles specialist, it's equally (if not more) impressive. With an uncanny ability for anticipation, Hingis also boasts perfect technique.

Nick McCarvel's pick: Martina Hingis

A lot of people make a living with their hands: masseurs, stenographers, bakers. But Martina Hingis might be the top of them all, from her debut as a major champion at the Australian Open in 1997 to her second – no, third! – "career" she's carved out on the doubles circuit. It's almost as if she knows a tennis court as well as she knows … the back of her hand.