STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 031 Ė TUESDAY 21ST SEPTEMBER 2010
By Stuart Fraser

Rafa is the man in NY

It is perhaps a sign of the era tennis is going through when we see two men complete their career grand slams within 16 months.

Rafael Nadal stormed to the US Open title in New York last week and there wasnít going to be anyone who stood in his way.

In fact, even if Roger Federer had taken one of the two match points he had against Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, you have got to feel that the Swiss would have done well to match the Serbís effort of taking one set off Nadal in the final.

Having showed semi-decent form in the hard-court events in the run-up to the US Open, Nadal turned it on big-time in New York.  After another impressive French Open & Wimbledon double, he clearly felt that this was his chance to complete his set of major titles, just like Federer did in Paris last year.

What was most notable though about his play over the past fortnight was the difference in his serve.  Deliveries were recorded at up to 135mph and in the whole tournament, he only dropped serve in five games.

Combine this with his sensational play from the baseline and there is the reason why he has conquered all four slams at the age of 24.

Naturally there is already discussion over who the greatest player of all time (GOAT) is.  Federer put in a solid case for the crown last year, but already he is looking behind his back at the raging bull of Majorca.

In my opinion, this discussion is slightly premature considering that Federer has 16 grand slam titles compared to Nadalís nine.

However, the Spaniard is well placed to better or at least match this.  He is a year ahead of Federer in winning nine slams and completing the career grand slam at such a young age eases any pressure that he might have experienced had he been looking to complete this at a later age.

Also on Nadalís roll of honour, and distinctly lacking on Federerís, is an Olympic singles gold medal and two Davis Cup titles.

Consider also Nadalís 14-7 head-to-head record over Federer and, well, maybe it is no wonder that people like Brad Gilbert are already proclaiming him as the GOAT.

Anyway, for now, Nadal sits proudly on top of the world rankings with a massive total of 12,025 points, just under 5,000 ahead of Djokovic in second place.  Itís a lead which is enough to already clinch him the 2010 ATP World Tour Champion title, effectively the end of season No.1 spot.

Djokovic has a bit of work to do yet to clinch the end of season No.2 ranking as he is just over 400 points ahead of Federer.  However his form in New York puts him as the favourite for sure.

In his semi-final against Federer, you would have thought that Djokovic was the 16-time grand slam champion in the way he played when match point down, not the other way about.

Some of his play, including a couple of unbelievable forehands, towards the end of that match was incredible.  Had it not been Nadal he played in the final, you have got to feel that Djokovic would have been this yearís champion.

After a topsy-turvy period since winning his first grand slam title in Australia in 2008, it is the first time I have believed that he can add a second slam to his resume.  He is well worthy of the No.2 ranking he currently holds and it will be interesting to see what he does in the final months of the season.

Looking back at this yearís US Open as a whole, although perhaps not consisting of as many exciting matches as the other slams this year, it was still an enjoyable tournament with the fourth round match between Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer being the highlight for me.

But in the end, it was Nadalís fortnight.  A truly stunning performance which was a joy in itself to watch.

Great Davis Cup scenes in Belgrade

Although perhaps not exactly too fair on the players, one of the joys of the crammed tennis season is that you donít have to wait too long for the next dose of on-court action.

On Monday night, Djokovic was playing in the US Open final.  By Thursday lunchtime, he was in Belgrade at the Davis Cup semi-final draw preparing for a weekend which was undoubtedly the biggest in his countryís short tennis history.

There are those that may question Federer and Andy Murrayís dedication to the cause of their country having skipped Davis Cup ties in the past, but there is no questioning Djokovicís commitment having gone through a gruelling week in order to help Serbia earn their place in the final at home against France in early December.

He may have missed the opening day against the Czech Republic due to a bout of gastroenteritis, but that didnít stop him from sitting on the bench and cheering on his countrymen.

He will have been disappointed with his performance in the doubles on Saturday with Nenad Zimonjic.  Having won the first set, the pair capitulated and it was an easy victory in the end for Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek.

This meant Serbia had to win both rubbers on the Sunday to get through to Decemberís final.  At a set down against Berdych, it wasnít looking good for Djokovic and his country.

But once again, he displayed that battling quality seen in New York last week, and fought his way back to win the next three sets and set up a deciding rubber between Stepanek and Janko Tipsarevic.

Tipsarevic had already defied the rankings to produce a stunning performance on the opening day, beating Berdych to keep his country in the tie after Viktor Troicki had lost the opening rubber to Stepanek.

Born and bred in Belgrade, it was a huge moment for Tipsarevic to play the deciding rubber for a place in the Davis Cup final in his home city.

When heís on the top of his game though, Tipsarevic is easily a top 10 player, and he held his nerve to win the match in straights.  It sparked wonderful scenes of celebration in the Belgrade Arena which really showed what it meant to the Serbian team and supporters.

The Davis Cup may have its critics but there is no doubting that the grand slams do not match its atmosphere.  Roll on the final in December.

British Davis Cup draw

Whilst Serbia look forward to the final against France in December, all Britain have to look forward to in Davis Cup terms this year is the draw for the 2011 Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 ties tomorrow.

Itís amazing to consider the different paths Serbia and Great Britain have went down since they faced each other in Group 1 back in April 2006 at the Braehead Arena.

It was Serbia & Montenegro who won that tie 3-2, but despite the split between the two Balkan countries, there were still three members of the Serbia team who played in the semi-final last weekend who also played against Great Britain in 2006.  Namely Djokovic, Tipsarevic and Zimonjic.

Since then, they worked their way up into the World Group and, as you know, now have a chance to win the competition in December.

Andy Murray is the only member of that Great Britain team still playing to this day, but understandably does not represent the team on a regular basis given their present position in the third tier of the competition.

To be fair to Great Britain, they did reach the World Group in 2008, but since then it has been a steady downfall for the team with a run of five defeats in a row finally halted this summer with a 5-0 home win against Turkey.

That sees us in Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 for tomorrowís draw.  We are seeded first for the draw which means in March we could play Hungary, Luxembourg, and Morocco at home or we could either be at home or away to Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece and Tunisia.

Hardly great tennis nations I hear you say, but then again, neither are we.  At this present time, this is our level but hopefully the long path back to the World Group starts here.  It would be wonderful to one day witness similar scenes in Britain to the ones we saw in Belgrade on Sunday.

But thatís a long way down the line.  For now, we wait to see who we get drawn against tomorrow.  You can hear the draw live tomorrow morning from Brussels at 11:30 BST on Davis Cup radio at www.daviscup.com

Britwatch

It may currently be a quiet spell for top level action in the tennis world at present with the next Masters 1000 event not taking place until the 10th of October in Shanghai.

But there is still plenty of action involving some of the Brits across the globe as the search for crucial ranking points continues.

It was encouraging to see a number of the British men giving ATP qualifying a go over the weekend at the 250 event in Bucharest.  Dan Smethurst was the most successful in making it to the second qualifying round whilst Alex Slabinsky and Alex Ward went out at the first stage.

Some might question the choice of playing ATP qualifying over challengers, but the experience of giving ATP World Tour events a go is very useful, and if you can string a few wins together, the ranking points are well worth it.

At the 250 event in Metz, Ken Skupski, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins are in town for the doubles and the latter two also gave the singles qualifying a try.  Fleming unfortunately lost his first match but Hutchins impressively won his in straights before unsurprisingly losing to the world No.159 Igor Sijsling.

The pair will now focus on the doubles event in which Fleming and Skupski are defending champions.  They had a good start today beating Arnaud Clement & Nicolas Mahut whilst Hutchins gets his campaign underway tomorrow with American Scott Lipsky.

James Ward is in Bangkok this week for a challenger and is already through to the second round with his opponent retiring in the deciding set.  Ward is slowly climbing up the rankings, currently sitting at No.230, and a good performance this week will see him push closer to the top 200.

After a short break from tennis, Dan Evans has recently returned to the Futures circuit and has reached two successive finals in Cumberland and Nottingham, losing both.

Evansí conqueror in Nottingham, Joshua Milton, is currently on a high after winning last week and reaching the semi-final in Cumberland the previous week.  The 20-year-old now sits within the top 500 and it will be interesting to see how he performs at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi next month for Wales.

And finally, we canít forget our shining light in the womenís game, Elena Baltacha, who is currently within the top 50 after reaching her career high ranking of No.49 last week.

Baltacha is playing at a $220k event in Seoul this week and has got off to a solid start, defeating local wildcard So-Jung Kim in straight sets.  A run to the latter stages would do her the world of good with a number of her ranking points due to drop off this week.