STUART FRASER

[ Home / Talking Balls Tennis Blog / Past Articles / CV ]

TALKING BALLS 025 Ė WEDNESDAY 9TH JUNE 2010
By Stuart Fraser

Rafa is Roland Garros champ

Normal service was resumed on Sunday as the King of Clay reclaimed his French Open title.

It was the completion of a stunning clay season for Rafael Nadal where he won everything he entered on the red stuff.  He was unbeaten in 22 matches and only dropped two sets out of the 53 he played in four tournaments.

A stunning record which shows that the Spaniard is back to his best, and the rankings seem to agree as Rafa reclaimed the world No.1 spot from Roger Federer thanks to his victory over Robin Soderling in the final.

It was sweet revenge for Nadal after his defeat by the Swede in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year, which was a result that fuelled doubts over his future in the game as reports came through that his troublesome knee problems had returned.

Even Nadal must have wondered himself at times.  After his 2009 exit from Roland Garros, he didnít win a title until Monte Carlo in April.  Itís a long barren spell for a multiple grand slam champion.

Considering all that, it really was a joy to see him back to his usual self at Roland Garros.  The outpouring of emotions from him at the end as he cried into his towel showed what it meant to him.

For the neutral fan hoping for a classic final, the comfortable straight sets victory for Nadal wouldnít have lived up to expectations.  There was no faulting Soderlingís effort but his best had already come in knocking Federer out in the quarter-finals.

Before the tournament, I had not expected Soderling to be anywhere near defending all his 1200 ranking points for reaching the final last year.  His form was pretty poor having only won one match in the three tournaments he played leading up to Roland Garros.

But fair play to him, he had another excellent tournament.  His hitting off both wings is hugely impressive when he is at his best, and I was even more impressed with his serving on the big points, particularly against Federer.

It will be interesting to see if he can carry this form into Wimbledon and the other slams.  Thereís no reason why he canít be a major threat on all surfaces, but previous results in the other slams suggest otherwise.

For Federer, the defending champion, it will have been a disappointing tournament as he would have expected to, at least, have reached the final.  However, his quarter-final exit lost him his world No.1 ranking and he now agonisingly lies one week short of Pete Samprasí record for weeks spent at the top spot.

And considering that he has 2000 points to defend at Wimbledon, whilst anything Nadal gains is a bonus, then it will be a few more months before he has a chance of regaining the No.1 ranking and breaking the record.

I wouldnít exactly call the 2010 French Open one of the classic grand slams but there are certainly a few moments that stick in the mind for the right and wrong reasons.

The smile on Francesca Schiavoneís face as she clinched her first grand slam title at the age of 29 was an image to remember.  It was one of the more memorable womenís grand slam finals in recent years, and Schiavone produced a magnificent performance to defeat the Australian favourite Sam Stosur.

Stosur will be disappointed to fall just short of the finishing line, but she can be proud of her run to the final which included victories over four-time French Open champion Justine Henin and world No.1 Serena Willliams.

Andy Murrayís first round match against local favourite Richard Gasquet was one of the matches of the tournament.  Gasquet was the dangerous unseeded floater that none of the seeds wanted and judging by his performance in the first two sets, you could see why.

However, even at a break down in the third set, you sensed that Murray could still come back, as he did against the same opponent at Wimbledon 2008, and the inevitable happened.  Gasquet sensed the finishing line, got tight and you just canít get away with that against the top players.

Although not helped by the weather at times, the scheduling came under close scrutiny, and no wonder when you had Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini attempting to finish a match in near darkness just before 10pm local time.

It prompted a great quote from ESPN Commentator Patrick McEnroe who described it as ďone of the most amazing sights I can barely seeĒ.  In truth, it should never have happened as referee Stefan Fransson should have pulled the players off 20 minutes earlier at 4-4 in the deciding set.

Another subject which prompted a lot of discussion was the suitability of Roland Garros as a grand slam venue.  Although I wasnít there, the general consensus seems to be that it is becoming too cramped and a venue change is being considered.

Itís a shame when venues like this that have so much history are forced to call it a day, but sometimes it just has to be done. Take a look at the Australian Open for example.  The same happened there in the late 80s when Kooyong was deemed too small.  It was moved to Melbourne Park and the tournament has not looked back since.

So that was the French Open 2010.  Itís always a shame when a grand slam comes to an end, but the blow is softened slightly when you know there is another one just two weeks around the corner.

Grass court season gets underway

How do you know when the British grass court season is underway?  When Alex Bogdanovic and the LTA are the subject of the headlines in several national newspapers.

Itís always the same.  The time of year when the mainstream media realise there is something wrong with the British tennis system, when the rest of us could tell you that at any point in the other 11 months of the year.

Although to be fair, Great Britainís Davis Cup defeat to Lithuania in March didnít exactly go unnoticed by the countryís media.

Itís funny how we always demand the British players do better than usual just because itís grass.  For some reason, it is seen as the surface best suited to British players.

In reality though, the Brits probably play on it as much as their foreign counterparts.  There are very few players who will have grown up on the surface and itís unrealistic to expect players ranked between 150 and 400 to all of a sudden perform at a level higher than what they are used to, just because itís grass.

But letís focus on the positives rather than the negatives.  The AEGON Trophy in Nottingham was the curtain-raiser last week for the grass court season, and it was a decent start for the Brits with four local champions in total.

Elena Baltacha won the womenís $50k title without dropping a set on the way, whilst Sarah Borwell was also successful in the doubles event with American partner Raquel Kops-Jones.

On the menís side, Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski picked up their first title of the year in the doubles.  Itís a much needed boost for the pair who have struggled for consistency this year, and hopefully this bodes well for some good results on the grass in the coming weeks.

Also worth a mention is 20-year-old Alex Ward, ranked world No.531, who reached the quarter-finals of the singles.  Ward came through three qualifying matches to earn a place in the main draw where he had two impressive victories over Ryler DeHeart and Taylor Dent.

So for the men, itís now onto Queenís this week.  Itís been an interesting first couple of days in London, but unsurprisingly Andy Murray is the only Brit left flying the flag.

He had a solid test in his first match on the grass against Spaniard Ivan Navarro, who I think pleasantly surprised us all with his old school serve and volley style.  Itís different these days but always refreshing to see.  Next up for Murray is Mardy Fish.

It was also good to see Andy teaming up with his brother Jamie in the doubles.  A first round victory for the pair against Scott Lipsky and Sam Querrey was sadly followed by a second round exit at the hands of Fish and Mark Knowles, but it will have been good extra practice on the grass for both ahead of Wimbledon.

If you havenít seen it already, check out the coverage of Queenís on the BBC HD channel.  Grass court tennis is absolutely stunning in High Definition and itís definitely up there with the Masters Golf at Augusta.

Koellerer & Koubek

I noticed Crazy Dani Koellerer in the draw at Queens this week.  In fact, had he beat Navarro in the first round, he would have played Murray in the second round which would have been interesting.

For those of you who havenít came across Crazy Dani from Austria in the past, he is famous for his on-court antics and was once the subject of a petition being circulated by players asking for him to be thrown off the ATP tour.

Well, it appears that he is still up to his antics after seeing a video of him having his throat grabbed by fellow countryman Stefan Koubek during a Bundesliga match in Austria last week. 

Reports are that the two of them have never seen eye-to-eye in the past, and whatever Dani said during the match, it was enough to incite Koubek to do this which earned him an instant disqualification from the tie.

The footage can be checked out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIYdC4TX_G8

Bode Miller attempts to qualify for US Open

American skier Bode Miller finally won that coveted Olympic gold medal he was after in Vancouver earlier this year, and now it appears that the US Open title is next in his sights.

OK, it might be a slight exaggeration to suggest that Miller realistically thinks he has a chance of winning the US Open, but itís no lie that he competed in qualifying for the final grand slam of the year last week.

Miller entered the sectional play-offs in Honolulu after the USTA agreed to bankroll his trip and donate money to his charity in exchange for him playing.

However, Miller was knocked out in his opening match, losing 6-4, 6-2 to Erik Nelson-Kortland.