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TALKING BALLS 010 – MONDAY 2ND NOVEMBER 2009
By Stuart Fraser
Astonishing Agassi admission
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Boris Becker and Piers Morgan. All have had their say on the revelation last week that Andre Agassi lied to tennis authorities about his use of crystal meth to escape a ban after failing a drugs test.
OK, Piers Morgan is not exactly a name synonymous with tennis but comments from the Britain’s Got Talent judge just highlights the fact that this is no normal piece of tennis news. This is a truly global sports story.
Agassi is the only ever male to win what is known as the Career Golden Slam which is every singles grand slam plus the Olympic gold medal. Add to this his Davis Cup wins with the USA in 1990, 1992 and 1995 and you have one of the game’s all-time greats.
His exuberant lifestyle and showman type antics in his younger days on tour are not forgotten but by the time he retired in 2006, he was one of the most likeable players on the tour and many who were lucky enough to meet him described him as a true gentleman.
His charity work has been well documented and an interview on BBC’s Inside Sport TV programme earlier this year showed him to be someone extremely happy in retirement.
Why then has Agassi made this confession 12 years after taking the drug? Financial reasons have been suspected considering the admission was revealed in a newspaper serialisation of his forthcoming autobiography entitled ‘Open’ which is due out next Monday.
But surely the man who made over $30 million in prize money during his career does not have to rely on sales of his book. The quote which reveals a possible insight into why he confessed comes in a promotional video where Agassi says: “I felt my story was one from which many people could learn”.
The American is someone who has learned from his mistakes in the past and through his charity work today, is helping others to achieve their goals in life. Perhaps this confession is just a lesson Agassi wants to pass on to others to prevent them going down a similar dark path that he went down during the 90s.
Agassi’s career is long over and any retrospective action from tennis authorities would be very surprising. The real concern though is the suspicion that is now hanging over the sport again and the thought that there may be other players who have escaped action in the past.
For using a recreational drug such as crystal meth, he should have received a three month suspension. Instead, the authorities accepted his untrue explanation and cleared him to continue playing the game.
If it has happened once, it is very possible that it has happened again. It is a worrying thought and something that I am sure will be considered when the authorities deal with any future positive drugs tests.
Other revelations in Agassi’s autobiography include a humorous story on his wig falling off the night before his first grand slam final at the 1990 French Open and another surprising admission of his lifelong hatred of the sport.
Despite all his confessions, he will still be one of the game’s all-time greats but this book has added yet more aspects to an already intriguing character.
Flemski on a roll
Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski continue to astound. The pair picked up their second ATP World Tour title in St. Petersburg on Sunday and on the way, notched up an impressive win over the Israeli pair of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram in the semi-finals.
Out of the five top level events they have played this year, they have a win/loss record of 11-3. Add this to their consistency in challengers and that is why Skupski & Fleming have risen to career high rankings of No.50 and No.53 respectively this week.
Thanks to the St. Petersburg Open website live stream, I saw them in action for the first time in both their semi-final and final matches and what impressed me was their energy on court. As well as showing clear signs of being a tactically astute doubles team, the pair were so positive in their body language which helped them fight back from a set down against Jeremy Chardy and former singles world No.7 Richard Gasquet to win 10-4 in the match tie-break.
It’s actually a shame we are almost at the end of the tennis season for 2009. It would be great if the pair could carry their momentum on in more ATP events over the next few weeks but they narrowly missed out on a place in the main draw of the 500 event in Basel this week and are still not ranked high enough to earn a place in the Paris Masters next week.
The pair will appear on home soil at the Jersey challenger next week in an attempt to retain the title and ranking points that they won last year. After that, there are a few more challengers in Europe that they have the option of entering which could earn them a few more points and also give Colin the chance to play some singles and improve his ranking which has fallen in recent weeks due to his focus on doubles.
Whatever they decide to do over the next few weeks, their recent performances have put them in a great position to compete regularly on the main tour next season. They have also just about assured themselves of a place in the main draw at the Australian Open which must be an exciting prospect.
Their success is also a huge bonus for British Davis Cup captain John Lloyd. The doubles rubber is often crucial and Lloyd’s doubles picks in our last few ties have not worked out. An established doubles team in Fleming & Skupski must be music to his ears and they will surely be fielded in our next tie away to Lithuania in March.
Looking at this week’s ATP doubles rankings, it actually makes good reading for British fans. Jonathan Marray has entered the top 100 to join Ross Hutchins, Fleming and Skupski. Jamie Murray has dropped below the 100 mark again but his recent performances in challenger events have given cause for optimism that he can again join his compatriots in the top 100 club over the next few weeks.
On the subject of Murray, heard some interesting news this week that he will pair up with Hutchins for a challenger in Helsinki later this month. With both currently looking for regular partners, could this be another future British partnership?
Anyway, back to the rankings and this week’s list shows signs of progress considering that on the 31st of August, we only had one player (Hutchins) ranked within the doubles top 100. Can our singles players now follow suit?
Federer & Murray back in action
Great news for tennis fans with the return of world No.1 Federer and No.4 Andy Murray to the tour this week. Both have been out of action since the Davis Cup weekend in September and whilst both return in separate indoor events, it sets things up nicely for the Paris Masters next week and the ATP World Tour Finals later this month.
Murray returns at the Valencia Open with a first round tie against Spain’s Daniel Gimeno Traver who is ranked at No.77 and is a clay-court specialist. Considering that the Spaniard has lost his only three hard court matches at ATP level and has never played an indoor match on the main tour, then Murray is clearly the overwhelming favourite to win his first match back after injury.
It is an ideal match, and tournament, to ease Murray back into action and if he wins, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Nikolay Davydenko are among some of his potential future opponents. Not easy but a good opportunity considering none of the rest of the world’s top 5 are in Valencia this week.
Murray fell below Novak Djokovic once again in the rankings during his time off but the next few weeks provides an ideal opportunity for him to claw back some or all of the 1,250 point gap. The Serb has 1,300 points dropping off on the 16th of November compared to the Scot’s 600. Considering the fact that Murray’s next three events are all indoors where he has an impressive record, then it’s very possible that we could be seeing another switch between the pair in the rankings by the end of the year.
Federer isn’t someone who has to worry about any possible ranking change this year. The Swiss returns in his home city of Basle this week at the Davidoff Swiss Indoors and appears to be more relaxed than ever as we approach the end of another season.
This year alone, he has won the French Open which some thought was not going to happen considering Nadal’s dominance on clay since 2005 and he broke Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slam singles titles at Wimbledon. Add to that his marriage to wife Mirka and the birth of his twin daughters, Charlene and Myla and you must have someone extremely happy and content with life.
Considering he hasn’t played since September, he must be feeling refreshed and raring to go in Basle this week. He has won his home tournament for the past three years and I’m not placing any bets on him not making it four in a row come Sunday.
Talking of Basle, one of Federer’s possible challengers, Tommy Haas has pulled out after contracting Swine Flu. The good news though is that he is recovering and is expected to compete in Paris next week which I’m sure his French female fans will be glad to hear!
Serena wins in Doha
Well done to Serena Williams who rounded off the year perfectly with a win at the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha which clinched her the year-end world No.1 ranking.
Well deserved considering that Serena won three of the four grand slams in 2009. Some had questioned whether previous No.1 Dinara Safina really deserved to be at the top of the rankings but that’s an argument that can now be forgotten about during the off-season.
Serena defeated sister Venus twice during the course of the week in the round-robin group stage and the final. She has now won the last four meetings with Venus on-court and now seems to have the edge in this sibling rivalry.
With the return of Justine Henin to the tour next year and also the continuing comeback of Kim Clijsters, 2010 is already shaping up to be an exciting year in the women’s game.