Federer Finally Finishes Victorious

16 06 2013

August 19, 2012.

This was the last time Federer won a tennis tournament. That statistic is no more.

Roger Federer took down unranked Mikhail Youzhny 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 at the Gerry Weber Open Sunday to claim his first title since he took down Novak Djokovic at the ATP Western & Southern Open 6-0, 7-6 (9-7) last August.

This German tournament showcased grass courts that Federer not only loves to play on but also used to prepare himself for Wimbledon, which begins in about a week. Of the seven Wimbledon titles Federer has claimed, four of them came after winning this German tournament.

No matter whether or not you’re a fan of the 31-year-old Swiss with 17 Grand Slams, this can only mean good things for the upcoming major tournament. Unlike other team sports, the individual sport of tennis is at its best when the powerhouses face off against each other and the no-name underdogs are taken down along the way.

Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer. Andy Murray (kind of).

These are the guys we want to see in the semifinals so we can experience tennis at its highest level.

With Federer’s title drought finally coming to an end, his confidence is assuredly much higher and his chances of making it far in Wimbledon for an eventual faceoff against one of his “Fab Four” counterparts are higher as well.

Ignite the Site!

Advertisements




Rafael Nadal: Set In Clay

9 06 2013

Rafa has done it again.

After his marathon match on Friday against Djokovic, Rafael Nadal was able to dispatch fellow Spaniard David Ferrer with relative ease today, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 and collecting another French Open trophy. With this win, he becomes the first male player to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event. This tournament truly belongs to Nadal as over the past nine years he has incredibly only lost one match. One. Furthermore, eight of his 12 major titles have come at Paris, and no one can deny that he truly is the king of clay.

Nadal has cemented himself among the all-times greats. If it weren’t for his persistent injuries, Nadal might be challenging Roger Federer on the all-time titles list. As it stands, he is tied for third with Roy Emerson, sitting two behind Pete Sampras and five behind Federer who has 17 total titles. However, recent history has shown that Nadal usually gets the best of his rival in Grand Slam matches, so if he can maintain his health for a couple more years, Roger’s record might be in jeopardy.

Ignite the Site! 

 





The Dynasty Known As Serena Williams…and the Spurs

8 06 2013

Just as all the greats can do, she has the ability to go into a different zone. She goes into a place where she can’t be stopped. She doesn’t see “losing” as a reasonable outcome.

Williams showed the French what it means to be a force of nature.

Serena Williams won her second career French Open title by taking down Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday. Just as Serena saved her fastest serve of the day—123 mph—for the last serve of the day when she claimed her 16th Grand Slam, the oldest ever #1 ranked female tennis player in the world seems to save her best tennis for the biggest of stages.

As much as the sports media loves to analyze the reasoning behind one player/team winning a championship over another player/team losing a championship, it can’t be done with this match. Sharapova played some great tennis and stuck with Serena throughout the entire match…but it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because Serena is on her own level of tennis that can’t be touched by any other woman playing the game. Sharapova is deservingly ranked No. 2 in the world and was the field’s best chance of taking down Serena. She might have played great tennis but Serena played flawless tennis.

At 31, Serena is sports-old. It would seem with the amount of pressure she puts on her body with her rough style of play, Serena would be on the decline, especially since she went through a plethora of injuries in 2011—including a life-threatening one—that kept her from winning a Grand Slam for that year for the first time since she went major-less in 2006.

But looking at Serena cruise through this French Open as she only lost one set the entire tournament, this tennis player is as dynamic and fit as she’s ever been. She no longer tends to sit back and pound the ball down her opponent’s throat while moving as little as possible. She’s chasing balls. She’s covering the baseline. She’s playing solid defense. She has become more active while still maintaining the strongest pair of arms in the game. By far.

Let’s take a second to reflect on what this Grand Slam means for Serena and just how the word “dominant” might not be enough to describe her tennis playing:

  • Won 31 consecutive matches
  • Holds a 16-4 record all-time in Grand Slam finals (two of those were lost to her sister Venus Williams)
  • One of only four women to win all four majors twice (Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chrissie Evert)
  • Since last year’s 1st-round loss in the 2012 French Open, has a 74-3 record
  • At 31, oldest woman to win a major title since Navratilova won Wimbledon at 33 in 1990
  • Only one Grand Slam away from matching Roger Federer‘s 17 titles.

So what does all of this mean?

It means Serena Williams is like the San Antonio Spurs.

Reader: Wait wait wait…you’re comparing a tennis player to an NBA franchise? You’re stretching things, Jay.

Let me explain myself.

Since the beginning of this millennium, San Antonio has won three championships (2003, 2005, 2007) and is currently up 1-0 in the NBA Finals. This team should be considered a dynasty, even though you must stretch the definition a bit.

Due to the fact that the Spurs’ big four—Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Gregg Poppovich—have won their championships over such a long period of time unlike other sports dynasties that gathered championship trophies all at once, they don’t necessarily define a certain period. You can’t say they define the 2000’s era of basketball when five other teams have taken home the title.

However, they persevered through an ever-changing league when it is an anomaly to keep hold of a core group of players. They persisted time and time again when they were proclaimed by experts as being too old and were advised to break up their core. They won three titles in a methodical manner with the same three players and head coach being the foundation to their success.

And now, these four men are on the verge of adding one more banner to their stadium—winning their first one exactly 10 years ago.

Serena has persevered through the same level of change and scrutiny. Since 2006, five men have won a major and two of them only won it once. During that same time period, 13 women have won a Grand Slam, including 2011 when four different women—none being Serena—won the four majors.

Obviously, these numbers make it seem as though no one woman has been able to take command of the game—how else can you explain Kuznetsova winning a Grand Slam in 2009? I mean, really?

Things eventually hit rock bottom for Serena in her own country in 2011 followed by two early exits in her next two Grand Slams in 2012. It seemed it might be time to start reflecting on her career and how impressive she had been.

But just like the Spurs, right when you think Serena is done being a force, she decides to prove you wrong. Winning three of the past four majors, Serena is right back atop of the women’s tennis world and doesn’t look to be coming down any time soon. San Antonio is up one game on the favored Miami Heat and is only three wins away from being atop the NBA world yet again.

(Also—Serena doesn’t get talked about very much because of the nation’s general lack of interest in her sport while the Spurs don’t get much press because of their style of play and location; neither of them get their deserved national media coverage.)

Both are more than dominant—they are resolute. When everything around them is changing and they are being talked about in the past tense, they continue to do the only thing they know how to do: win. There may be hard-to-swallow first round exits along the way (Spurs lost to the 8th-seeded Grizzlies in the 1st round of the 2011 Playoffs and Serena lost to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French Open), but that doesn’t deter these steadfast champions from continuing their course of superiority and success. They continue forward.

I have no doubt Serena will continue winning Grand Slams—at least one more this year. There’s no one standing in her way as she took down her toughest competition in straight sets Saturday. San Antonio has the right coach, game plan and original “Big 3” to take home another championship in the next few weeks. Could they win another one after that? It would be tough, especially in a league with Kevin Durant and LeBron James only getting better.

But before you say they’re too old and that this will be their last chance at a ring, remember the 2013 French Open women’s champion. Remember that some dynasties last longer than you think.

Some dynasties like Serena and the Spurs.

Ignite the Site!





Fun Fact Friday

15 02 2013

Serena Williams didn’t just rally from a 4-1 deficit Friday afternoon. By taking down Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open, 31-year-old Williams, who almost had to quit the sport a few years ago due to serious injuries, will now become the oldest woman to ever gain the world No. 1 ranking.

Ignite the Site!





Fun Fact Friday

25 01 2013

He may go down as one of, if not the best tennis player to ever play the game, but the Federer Express may be unable to finish his routes anymore. Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinals as Federer seemed to be one step behind the entire time, even though the match lasted five sets. This is the first time Murray has defeated Federer in a Grand Slam match while this is the third straight time Federer has lost in the Aussie semis. He has lost to the other players a part of Men’s tennis “fantastic four” each time (2011 – Novak Djokovic, 2012 – Rafael Nadal, 2013 – Murray.)

Ignite the Site!





Never Count Out the Heart of a Champ

8 07 2012

These two tennis deities have built tennis careers on consistently performing at a high level on the largest of stages, which has led to many viewing their careers soon coming to a close since 2010 was the last year each of them had won a Grand Slam.

Until they retire, though, you can never count these 30-year-olds out of a tennis tournament. Never.

 

Serena Williams has always been known as a powerful tennis player. When it comes to serves and groundstrokes, go no further than the younger of the two Williams’ sisters to see just this.

Yet, with her past few disappointments as she has been ousted by players she shouldn’t be losing to early on in major tournaments, her credibility has begun to spiral downward and the inevitable closing to her career seemed to become a prevalent topic of discussion. There were points in 2011 when it looked as though she couldn’t even move to get to shots not hit directly at her.

Her play at the All England Club put all this to the wayside.

Being the overwhelming favorite, Serena Williams finally looked like Serena Williams as she pounded and gritted her will and way to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska. This gives Williams her fifth Wimbledon championship (tying her with her sister, Venus Williams) and 14th major overall, most by any woman during her era of dominance.

Even though she lost the second set as the momentum seemed to shift to the young Polish player, it didn’t phase Williams whatsoever.

In any professional sport, the start and finish to a match can have a major impact on the end result. Well, Williams took this to heart Saturday.

Serena jumped out to a huge lead in this match, winning the first five games. What a statement. Since tennis is a sport in which you can’t make up for lost games or sets, staring directly into a 5-0 hole can throw off your mental game. Yet, Radwanska fought back to win the second set.

But then, Williams arrived. More accurately, her aces came out to play. After losing the third game to take a 2-1 deficit in the third set, she strung together four straight aces – a third of the amount of aces Radwanska had the entire tournament – giving her complete control of the crowd and the match at hand. She would go on to match her start by winning the last five games. She took command of these finals at the beginning and at the end, providing her with the sweet taste of Grand Slam victory.

Speaking of aces, Williams didn’t just suddenly find her touch in this last match of the tournament – she has been hammering the ball down her opponent’s throat for two weeks now. With her 17 aces against Radwanska, she now holds the tournament record of 102, outdoing her previous record from 2010 when she had 89. This style might not be the most gracious way to go about playing winning tennis but it has most certainly become Serena’s way to win tennis matches.

With the lack of consistent high-quality play from the women’s side of tennis, this could only be the beginning of another monopolistic run for Williams.

From the time of the U.S. Open in 2008 to Wimbledon in 2010, she won five of her titles in the span of eight tournaments. Now, it might be farfetched to say she might go 0n a run comparable to this stretch at her current age… but why not? Now that she is finally past all the injuries, surgeries and emotions that have held her back the past few years and her footwork is just good enough to compliment her unmatchable strength, she has vaulted herself past all the competition. Unless a young hotshot appears out of nowhere, there isn’t a professional tennis player currently out there that can stop Williams from further bolstering a career comparable with the all-time greats.

 

The last time Roger Federer won a Major, his wife was pregnant with their soon-to-be twins. Now, the almost 3-year-old girls cheered with Mom as Daddy reminded Great Britain and the world why he might be the best tennis player we have ever seen.

This crowd was craving a win for jolly old Britain since Queen Elizabeth II might be the only Brit to remember the last time the Wimbledon crowd experienced a win for the home team. It has been 76 years since a male British tennis player (Fred Perry, 1936) came away from this tournament a champion. So, since Andy Murray was able to get through his side of the bracket without having to face Rafael Nadal, he had the chance – but don’t forget the stress, too – to finally win his first major after winning zero of nine sets through his first three major finals.

Yet, his opponent had a different kind of pressure. The man that has built a monument of diverse accolades and victories taller and wider than any other player during his generation has added very little over the past two years. In fact, with the recent surge of Novak Djokovic and the constant clay dominance from Nadal, he actually looked to be the third wheel of the men’s tennis Big 3.

Just like Williams, he has built a reputation of winning when it matters most and taking home some Grand Slam trophies every single year (he won at least two of the four Grand Slams four times from 2004-2009). So, in the reactionary sports world we live in today, many began to doubt that the supposedly aging Swiss man and his back had what it takes to make it all the way to the top of a major tournament’s mountain.

He gracefully climbed that mountain.

With stellar footwork, a mixture of drop shots and lobs, and a fluid forehand that won him many break points, Federer easily took down Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to achieve his seventh title on this grass court, tying him with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw for the record.

This record-building 17th Grand Slam title should finally put to rest any discussion of Rafa – who has 11 of his own – having the ability to surpass him. Nadal’s supremacy in France is a blessing and a curse since he has never been able to translate his assertive play to the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

When you think of Rafael Nadal, you think of playing way behind the baseline and muscling through opponents. When you think of Andy Murray, you think of blistering serves and an inability to succeed during prolonged rallies. This ability of tennis players to have specified strengths can be countered and used against them.

When you think of Federer and what he brings to the tennis court, there isn’t one quality that comes to mind. That’s his strength. He can approach each tennis match with the mentality to beat his opponent in whatever way necessary. Well, and he always brings deadly accurate angles and a composed demeanor to the court – two facets that can’t possibly have a downside.

There hasn’t been one other person in my lifetime to make their respective sport so exquisite. When you get the pleasure of watching this man play tennis, you get more than just a man playing a sport – you get an artist at work. It is as if you are watching John Williams in the act of becoming inspired to write an orchestral piece of music, compose the ins and outs of the work and eventually conduct the song in front of your very own eyes. It is truly a thing of beauty.

 

So, what have we learned today, folks? Once a champion, always a champion. And this isn’t referring to someone like Andy Roddick who found a way to win one Grand Slam and then fall back into irrelevancy. This is about the heart of a champion. This is about Federer and Williams understanding what it means to truly be a champion and having the intangibles (and tangibles) to win and win big 31 combined times.

The next time the discussion pops up whether or not one of these two or both might be finished winning Grand Slam tournaments, know that they will never be finished until the finish playing – and they both know it.

“I know there’s still more possible,” Federer said.

“I have never felt better,” Williams said.

Well said, champs.

Ignite the Site!





A Shot to the Shin

17 06 2012

At the Queen’s Club Championship on Sunday, David Nalbandian couldn’t quite get to a shot, and after losing the point, he kicked a small barrier out of anger. Unfortunately, in the process he also kicked the nearby line judge in the shin. Shortly after, the chair umpire disqualified Nalbandian thus giving the championship to Martin Cilic even though Nalbandian was actually leading in the match.

We see examples of this all the time across the professional sports spectrum. In football, tensions flair and a team might be punished with a 15-yeard penalty after a punch is thrown. In basketball, a technical foul is doled out when a frustrated player can’t quite control himself and shoves an opponent to the ground. Even in the more “elegant” sport of tennis, players sometimes just can’t restrain their emotions. Unfortunately, in this case the consequences cost Nalbandian a shot at the title.

Many times, passion is a good thing, as a focused sense of hunger and intensity can benefit a player. However, feeding off this passion in the right way is also a very important aspect of being a successful competitor.

Ignite the Site!