Favourites to beat Croatia in September…Maybe?

Last weekend marked a momentous occasion for men’s tennis in this country. In 83 years, no British Davis cup team had ever come back from two rubbers down to win a tie. This includes great names like Fred Perry, John Lloyd, Tim Henman and so on. Instead it featured James Ward and Dan Evans, two players that are not even ranked within the top 200 tennis players on the ATP tour. Yesterday, they were drawn against Croatia for a place in the world group in September.

Great Britain v Hungary - Davis Cup Previews

Left to right: Ross Hutchins, Andy Murray, James Ward, Colin Fleming, Leon Smith.

At first glance this sounds a daunting tie, which it is. It will be a hostile environment for the players to deal with and they will need to adapt quickly.

There is a glimmer of hope however. It is likely that Andy Murray will return to the team for a trip to Zagreb, as it is the glamour match he has been hoping to be involved with. The last significant match he played was a trip to Buenos Aires in 2008. The Argentines won 4-1 and pushed Great Britian back out of the World Group immediately after gaining promotion.

Good omens do surround the meeting of these two nations. It was in fact a victory over Croatia which sealed there return to the World Group that year. Murray played and won two of the rubbers, including a thrilling five set victory over Marian Cilic (Croatian Number 1) at Wimbledon, to stamp his authority on the world stage at the tender age of 20 years.

Both players careers have parallels. They were making big impacts on the tour as teenagers, whilst carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders from such a young age. Cilic beat Murray on the way to the French Open junior title in 2005 but since then, the giant Croat has only been victorious once in nine meetings. They last played in the quarter finals of the Miami Masters at the end of March, where Murray marched through in straight sets on his way to the title and to number 2 in the World rankings.

If all goes to plan this would be the crucial match in the tie.

Croatia, who were winners as recently as 2005, have a fantastic reputation over such a short history of independence but the players who were crowned champions have since retired. No more Ivan Ljubicic or Mario Ancic, leaving the rest of the squad running a little thin. The two other likely selections are in the latter stages of the career but are ranked highly. Ivan Dodig is number two and ranked just outside of the top 50, whilst the ever dangerous big serving Ivo Karlovic can be a threat to anyone on his day. Standing over 2 metres tall it is no wonder he has held the records for fastest first and second serve at some point. On the contrary he is also one of the most immobile tennis players ever, so a player akin to Andy Murray will stifle his serve and drag him around the court like a rag doll.


A rag doll

Looking closer to home, the likely team selected by captain Leon Smith will be similar to that which came back to beat Russia.

Tim Henman has been quoted as calling the state of men’s tennis as ’embarrassing’. No players in the top 200 is a shambles for the governing body the LTA. For such a big organisation and the funding they give out to players, they are getting little back. The national tennis centre at Roehampton, that opened in 2007, has been seen as perfect setting for developing talented players. Its results have been severely questioned by many. The lack of talent has been questioned in the media but it is those who are coming through the junior circuit now, which are providing optimism for future success. Oliver Goulding and Liam Broady have both seen success on these fronts and as they develop onto the World circuit, the first real results of the academy, will be analysed stupendously.

No one has come through to the World stage in the country via the LTA since Henman in the 90’s. Andy Murray famously took his own route through Barcelona to get himself to the top of the game, whilst at the same time bemoaning the inefficiency of the ruling organisation. The World number 2 has a point. It is an extemely expensive way of developing your own talent. Only wealthy families can push there children through, making it an exclusive hobby. The great lengths of travelling to get to tournaments and events, drives the younger generation away. Nobody wants to travel mile after mile to get to a decent training camp or their nearest tournament, especially as a youngster. Interest is lost easily and is harboured into other sports which are cheaper and nearer. Things need to be done to prevent future talent from wandering into other fields.

I seem to negate the effectiveness of the LTA but this is merely through frustration. They have however, given great cause for belief in Croatia due to their emphasis on doubles play in all competitions. Any casual player at a club will spend the vast majority of time play with a partner rather than solo. Through my experience of playing, I know of one such national league which fuses both throughout its denominations into regional and county levels.

The success of this can be seen in the ATP doubles rankings. Seven players within the top 100, with six of these reaching the top 50 at some stage of their career. There are two winners of majors; Jamie Murray and Johnathan Marray, with the latter reaching the semi-finals of the end of year championships too.

There is great belief in the British camp that they can prevail in any doubles match due to the number of specialised players now in the ranks and I would support this. It similarly removes strain from the key man Andy Murray during a Davis Cup weekend. He now no longer has to be put through potentially three five set matches in consecutive days, which will benefit him physically in the long term.

With the new confidence in the team, coupled with the success of the junior players, the future is rather less embarrassing than first feared.


Greuter Furth and the future

Guten Abend mein freunds. This is just a quick post to mark out the future posts and ideas which I have been working on since my last publication.

I have generally been quite busy of late, doing overtime at work to fund a trip to Denmark next month and of course indulging in the release of FIFA 13, but I have been contemplating what is next for this blog.

Firstly, I have decided to split between two projects, one for each of the two loves; football and tennis.

So for starters, I am going to get heavy into the future of the ATP tour. This is key to maintain interest in a sport which has seen it’s most competitive age since the 1980’s. Where is the talent coming from and who will hopefully fulfill their potential? The first post will be soon and it will be on the subject of Grigor Dimitrov. A brilliantly talented Bulgarian who has yet to really kick on fully from the junior stage.

All is exciting here for the reader and for me. I really enjoying following great talent rise ever since the great tales of Arjen Robben, Kim Kallstrom and Alberto Gilardino from Championship Manager 01/02. FYI I still play this game…a lot.

The reason for the Germanic greeting at the beginning will now be clarified.

Ever since ITV4 have begun showing the Bundesliga highlights on monday night I have seemingly become addicted. It’s not as if this is a new revolution. I have been a firm follower of Schalke 04 ever since the mighty Raul Gonzalez transferred here from the Santiago Bernanbeu. They are in fact my supported club on FIFA 13. However, this isn’t the news.

Through watching the highlights I have become obsessed with a team who are in the first season in the top flight; SpVgg Greuter Furth (phonetically Groyter Fert). Partly because it is their first season but also due to Henry Kissinger being a fan and also the acquisition of Gerald Asamoah.

Therefore, from now until the end of the season I will actively be following and supporting the Cloverleafs. This could be dramatic and as WE sit bottom of the table, progress needs to be made. (PS this is mainly due to my team being so dire it is ridiculous).

I hope you can be a passenger with me on both of these trips. You can follow the blog by clicking on the top of the page or on twitter via the bottom of the page.

Auf Wiedersehn.

Arise Major Murray?

London 2012 Olympic Gold winner Andy Murray in commemerative stamp mode.

Some remarkable feats have been accomplished over the last two weeks. Great Britain winning Olympic gold in non seated sports, Arsene Wenger has been opening his chequebook and of course Andy Murray finally gained revenge over Roger Federer.

The 5th August 2012 could forever be remembered as the day Andy Murray became a major force in tennis and not just the nearly man of several grand slam tournaments. The defeat of Federer in less than two hours, that included a nine game consecutive winning streak, was a stunning repost to the Wimbledon final of four weeks ago. Tim Henman stated that Murray had ‘not only beaten Federer, he (had) taken him apart.’ The combative approach from the Scot gave the Swiss no room for error. He was effectively forcing Federer to place each shot on the fringes of the playing surface. Even a player with the record of the world number one cannot consistently compete with the pressure of doing this. It did seem, however, that there were other mitigating factors amalgamated into the performance.

It became clear that Federer had been affected by his route to the final. Maybe the mammoth final set against Juan Martin del Potro (19-17) had taken its toll. The elation after the semi final showed the enormous degree of emotion it meant to have a duel in the sun for Olympic singles gold on Sunday. At Beijing, the supreme Swiss was defeated by the American James Blake in the quarters and in Athens, he only managed one win before succumbing to the then 19 year old Tomáš Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Throughout the final it was clear that there was something not completely right with the 17 grand slam champion. Fatigue would have taken its toll on the 30 year old but it seemed that Federer was losing a battle with himself. The pressure was solely on him after 4 weeks ago, giving Murray a freedom to swing. The only major title Federer has not claimed in his glittering career may burden him forever.

The outcome cannot be pressed upon the shoulders of a poor performer whilst ignoring the example set by the eventual winner. Minimal unforced errors, a catalogue of gigantic winners off both sides and a first serve percentage of a champion oozed from the sweat in the GB wristband of the man from Dunblane. The consistency of first serve has been the major problem for Murray. It is often wavered in key matches over his career; it has been known to slip below 55%, especially in games against the big three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and of course Federer. The catalyst for this may have been nerves and more likely a loss of confidence within himself as the big match appetite of these athletes kicks in. The approach on Sunday was to get on top of Federer as quickly as possible following the illustration set in the Wimbledon final.

The result of this was excellent for Murray until at 2-0 on his serve in the second set, there began a sequence of several deuces upon the Brits serve. The correlation between the two finals was remarkable as the same event occurred prior. This time the ending was different, leaving Murray to leave Federer in his wake. This was the impact of Ivan Lendl that many have been talking about. We were witness to the iceman approach to everything on a tennis court. Where previously Murray would have cursed towards his team in the stands, it was a case of focus and forget. There are instances where certain shots have completely derailed the performance of Murray. One such example is the 2011 Wimbledon semi final against Nadal. Having missed an easy volley to go a set and two breaks of serve up against the Spaniard, he didn’t win another game until the fourth and final set. The tenure of such meltdowns is clearly over for the foreseeable future and great praise should be given to Team Murray, in particular Ivan Lendl. With the winner of eight grand slams in your camp, it is highly likely that Murray will improve his all time number 7 ranking for winning the first set and converting it to a victory.

For Murray now, the next 3 weeks is integral. The US Open begins on the 27th August at Flushing Meadows, New York and the time from the Olympics to the Open has to be used sensibly. The Scot beat Flavio Cipolla before withdrawing with a knee injury in Toronto. The withdrawal from Toronto would be to recover his vigour in advance of defending the title in Cincinnati. Murray heads to Cincinnati next week to build some hard court experience. By beating Cipolla, Murray had already gained ranking points on last year. With Nadal’s fitness questionable, upon arrival in New York there is a real chance that the Spaniard will be replaced as the new number 3 in the World.

The return to imperious form of Juan Martin del Potro will strike fear into the field at Flushing Meadows.

The big threat to the big names at Flushing Meadows is the return of the Argentine giant del Potro. At 6’6 del Potro is one of the taller players on the tour but he is no lumbering oaf across the court. The 2009 US Open winner has footwork akin to a boxer and certainly contains similar strength and counterpunch mentality to these athletes. Blistering forehands and consistent serving brought home the bronze medal for Argentina in London. The upturn in form at the Olympics has sealed the progression back to the upper echelons of the ATP tour and it looks like the wrist injury that effectively saw him out of the game for the 18 months following his only grand slam victory has been forgotten. Del Potro is a real threat again and I for sure believe that there is an outside chance to claim glory at the US Open. The Argentinean is back on equal par with the big 4 in the mens game as they clamber for the trophy. So much so I may even take a trip to the bookies.