STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 019 Ė TUESDAY 2ND FEBRUARY 2010
By Stuart Fraser

Great fortnight in Melbourne

It was a great fortnight rounded off with a truly great display by the greatest player of all time.

Roger Federer had talked the talk in the lead-up to the final against Andy Murray, and delivered a stunning performance to diminish any doubts there may still be over who is the GOAT.

He clinched his sixteenth grand slam title with a perfect gameplan where he was patiently aggressive.  He knew had the ammunition to overcome Murray, but the Scotís defensive skills meant that the Swiss had to choose exactly the right time to attack.

Juan Martin Del Potroís comeback against Federer in last yearís US Open Final made us wonder if Federer, the new dad, still had that burning desire to win when he has already broken just about every record that he can.  These thoughts were cast away by his performance against Murray on Sunday.

He glided around the court as if he didnít have a care in the world.  And he doesnít I suppose.  Last year, he became French Open champion to clinch the career grand slam and broke Pete Samprasí record of total grand slams won.  The pressure is off as anything achieved from now on is a bonus.

The Federer we saw on Sunday is the man who was at his peak during the mid-noughties.  The forehand was hit with stunning execution.  The backhand, which had been known to crumble under pressure in recent years, was solid and his composure when facing break or set points was tremendous.  Could this be the first part of a possible calendar grand slam in 2010?

The talk is that Federer is aiming for Olympic gold at Wimbledon in 2012, by which time he will be 30-years-old.  Between now and then, there are another ten grand slams.  Who would bet against Federer winning at least half of these?

Despite being outclassed on court on Sunday though, Iím sure Murray will have a say in that.  Itís been a superb month for the Scot in Australia where not only has his game hit new heights, his image has won him new fans, not just down under, but across the globe.

Yes, the 74-year wait for a British grand slam singles champion goes on.  But, do you really believe that by the time Murray hangs up his racket, that he will not have at least one grand slam trophy in the cabinet?

Just look at some of his performances in the lead-up to the final.  He remained patient and calm in a tight match against John Isner.  He outplayed Rafael Nadal in the first two sets before the Spaniard had to retire through injury. 

And two amazing shots, one of which clinched the Scot the ĎShot of the Tournamentí award for me, helped him comeback from a set down against Marin Cilic to book a place in the final.  I am responsible for at least 1,000 of the 22,253 views on the YouTube video of his shot around the net post.  Unbelievable!

It was one of the many memorable moments for me from this yearís Australian Open, which was kicked off this year by the ĎHit for Haitií exhibition led by Federer.  Some of the biggest tennis stars got together in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena to do their bit for the victims of the devastating earthquake.  This, combined with major donations from the ATP, WTA, ITF and Grand Slam Committee means that nearly £400,000 was raised.

There was also a fair share of five set matches to enjoy.  Mikhail Youzhnyís first round comeback against Richard Gasquet from two sets down was one to remember.  At one point, you werenít sure who was going to finish the match with both suffering from cramp on court.

Cilic V Bernard Tomic, Del Potro V James Blake and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga V Nicholas Almagro were also quality contests.  Itís matches like these which make it worth staying up all night.

There were plenty of funny moments as well.  Some of Nikolay Davydenkoís quotes in press conferences made us realise that the Russian is a bit of a character, just like his compatriot Marat Safin.  The photo of a ball-boy colliding with Nadal also springs to mind, where it looks as if the ball-boy is challenging him to a fight.

There is nothing like a grand slam for creating so many memorable moments over the space of a fortnight.  Roll on Roland Garros!

Womenís tennis is back

The Australian Open will be remembered as the tournament at which the spice returned to womenís tennis. 

Letís be honest.  The womenís game has always played second fiddle to the men.  It may be harsh but crowd attendances and TV coverage confirm this to be the case.

In recent years however, the gap between the womenís and menís games has widened even further.  The WTA would be delighted to even half-fill a stadium these days.

But after watching an Australian Open where Justine Henin returned to compete alongside other great players such as Kim Clijsters and Serena and Venus Williams, I have a feeling that there will be more bums on seats at the womenís events this year.

Especially when Heninís backhand is on display.  It is a truly awesome sight to see.  The menís game included, is it the best shot in tennis?

Heninís run to the final in Melbourne was filled with rollercoaster moments.  Her stunning match with Elena Dementieva was worthy of a final rather than the second-round.  If thatís a sign of things to come on the WTA tour this year, then bring it on.

But then there was no sign of that brilliance in Heninís next match against Alisa Kleybanova, and the Belgian looked to be heading out at a set and a break down.

True champions find a way to win though and Henin did.  It spurred her on to go onto reach a mouth-watering final against world No.1 Serena Williams.

Although it didnít quite reach the heights of that match between Henin and Dementieva, it was still a great contest in which only five points separated the two women when the match finished in a victory for Williams.

It was a tournament which has set up a platform for the WTA to stand upon and raise the profile of the womenís game. 

With established players such as the Williams sisters, Henin and Clijsters competing alongside upcomers such as Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, the womenís game is in its healthiest state for several years.

Brits in action this week

The grand slam excitement is over and the big players now go into rest mode for the next few weeks.  For the majority of professional players around the globe though, thereís no time for a breather.

The hard work continues for all our British players, apart from Murray and Laura Robson who have a well-earned break after their exploits down under.  A quick look at the tournament calendar this week sees several Brits in action.

Itís a crucial time of the year with around three and a half months to go until the next grand slam.  Many of our players will be aiming to climb up the rankings with Mayís French Open in mind.

Some will be looking to get into a ranking which guarantees them direct entry into the main draw at Roland Garros.  Others will be hoping to at least get into a position which will guarantee participation in qualifying.  This should also afford them the same opportunity at Wimbledon, as the first serve is hit in London only two weeks after the final ball in Paris.

Our men will also be looking to clinch a place in Great Britainís Davis Cup squad for the tie away to Lithuania next month.  With Murray pulling out, there is an extra place up for grabs and captain John Lloyd will be desperate for players to show that they deserve a spot in the team.

Itís good to see some of the British men aiming high with eight in total competing at ATP World Tour events this week.  Although sadly Chris Eaton failed to come through qualifying in Johannesburg, whilst in Zagreb, it was the same story for Colin Fleming and James Ward.

Despite there now being no British interest in the singles in Zagreb, there is plenty in the doubles.  There are four teams with British representation this week, two of them being all-British in Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski, and Jonathan Marray and Jamie Murray.

The other two Brits competing are Ross Hutchins who pairs up with Aussie Jordan Kerr, and Jamie Delgado makes a welcome return to the ATP World Tour with Frank Moser of Germany.

Back to the singles though and Jamie Baker is over in Dallas this week for a challenger event before giving ATP qualifying a try in San Jose and Delray Beach later this month.  Letís hope that goes better for Baker though as he lost his final qualifying match last night in Dallas in straight sets to American Nicholas Monroe.

The Scot is considered by some to be a certainty for Davis Cup selection but as he said himself during a stint co-commentating on an internet stream of the action in Dallas, no one is certain yet of their place in Lloydís team.

Other potential picks include Dan Evans who is playing in France and Josh Goodall who is in Israel.  Both are top seeds in the Futures events and itís an ideal opportunity for them to get a few wins under their belt.

British women in Lisbon for Fed Cup

Whilst the men push for a place this week in their countryís team next month, the women are already wearing the national colours as our Fed Cup team competes in Lisbon this week.

Great Britain is amongst 16 nations gathered in Portugal in an effort to clinch a place in the World Group Two play-offs in April.  A round-robin format is used from Wednesday to Friday with four pools consisting of four nations each.  The four winners of each pool then go through to Saturdayís play-offs to decide which two nations get a chance to gain promotion later this year.

Anne Keothavong, Elena Baltacha, Katie OíBrien and Sarah Borwell carry our hopes, and will go into the week on a high after a successful Australian Open for British womenís tennis.

Baltacha and OíBrien had a great start to the year, both winning main draw matches in Melbourne whilst doubles expert Borwell won her first grand-slam doubles match.  All this will help boost confidence in the camp ahead of a highly competitive week in Lisbon.

Itís great to see the return of Keothavong who we havenít seen in action since she injured her knee in a first round doubles match in Stanford last July.  From a high of No.48 last February, 12 months later she has now dropped to No.127 in the world rankings.  Itís not easy to come back after such a long lay-off but Iím sure she will be raring to go.

Britainís group consists of Austria, Bosnia and Belarus, who have world number six Azarenka in their team.  Not an easy task for the Brits but we wish them all the best!