STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 038 Ė TUESDAY 1ST FEBRUARY 2011
By Stuart Fraser

Djokovic the deserved winner

For many in Britain who only watch tennis for two weeks a year in the summer and occasionally at other times when Andy Murray reaches the latter stages of one of the overseas grand slams, the Scotsman was expected to win.  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were out. ďMurray has to winĒ, they said.

However for many who keep a watchful eye on professional tennis all year round from all the grand slams down to ATP 250 events, and even further down to Challengers and Futures in some cases, they knew better.  Novak Djokovic was the favourite.  Murray had a chance but would have to bring his A-game to have any hope.

Djokovic had a tremendous second half of 2010.  A five set victory over Federer in the US Open semi-finals was followed by a valiant effort in a four set final defeat to an in-form Nadal.  And what better way to round off the year than helping Serbia to a historic Davis Cup victory on home soil in Belgrade.

Coming into 2011, Djokovic was a man in form and clearly content with life off court.  It showed in his performances at the Hopman Cup and in the early rounds of the Australian Open.  He then moved up a couple of gears in his stunning straight sets defeat over Federer in the semis.

Pat Cash said in his article in the Sunday Times before the final that Djokovic was the best player in the world and that he struggled to see how Murray was going to come out of the final with the trophy in his hands.

Cash called it.  Djokovic duly delivered and clinched his second grand slam title in truly stunning style.

Murray will be desperately disappointed that he didnít bring his best tennis on the day.  In saying that though, the first set was closely contested and Murray had a chance to earn a couple of break points in the third game but a missed overhead put paid to that.

After that, you always felt he was up against it. 

Once Djokovic broke in the crucial tenth game, he had the momentum and despite Murrayís efforts, the Scot just could not find a way past the Serbís incredible retrieving from all areas of the court.  How many times did we see a Djokovic defensive lob from a near impossible position land right on the baseline?

Murray didnít seem too sure of the right gameplan to use as the match went on.  Attempts at being aggressive often resulted in the ball hitting the net, going wide or going long.  It just wasnít his day.

It is a slight worry that he hasnít won a set in any of the three grand slam finals he has played in his career so far, but those writing him off are too premature with their words.

Those calling him a typical Scottish failure need to think again.  He has had tremendous success on the ATP Tour, especially at Masters level, and reaching the showpiece match of three slams at the age of 23 is no mean feat.

Those who blame his failure on his haircut and colour of shirt he was wearing are clueless.

And as for those dishing out unnecessary abuse and personal attacks on social networks and in newspaper columns, well they donít even warrant further mention.

Murray will continue to train and work hard and will put himself in more positions to win a grand slam title.  None of us can say that he will definitely win one. 

But one thing we can be sure of is that he has the talent and work ethic to continue to be a contender in tennisí showpiece events.

As for Djokovic, he has impressed immensely with his recent performances and is now in a position where he is more than capable of adding several more grand slams to his current total of two.

The US Open will be a big aim for him with hard court being his favourite surface plus he has already reached the final there on two occasions, whilst Wimbledon and Roland Garros are also realistic targets with two semi-final appearances in both.

And what about the domination in the menís game of Federer and Nadal? Between them, the pair have won 21 of the last 24 grand slams but is their duopoly coming to an end? Time will tell but I think there will still be plenty of tales still to come of the Federer and Nadal rivalry over the coming year or two.

My prediction of a Federer victory, a prediction I was never comfortable with making anyway, may have been proved wrong, but thanks to Kim Clijsters for ensuring I got at least one right.  It was great to see Aussie Kim finally lay true claim to that title by winning in Melbourne for the first time.

And she also proved the strange notion wrong that wearing a green shirt automatically means you are doomed to fail in a grand slam final.

Big week for GB ladies

After the intense fortnight of another excellent Australian Open comes a big week for Britainís women players who are in Fed Cup action this week.

The city of Eilat in Israel hosts the Europe/Africa Group I round in which Britain are in Pool A alongside Switzerland and Denmark.  The top spot in the pool is the aim for the three countries who would then face another of the pool winners for a place in the World Group II play-offs in April.

These play-offs will be the aim for each team competing, but relegation is also a danger this week with two ties taking place between the four nations finishing bottom of each pool to decide who will go down to Europe/Africa Group II next year.

Britain take a decent side to Israel featuring Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson.  Jocelyn Rae has also been drafted in following the withdrawal of Laura Robson through injury.

Despite currently being the British No.16, Rae has been handed a great opportunity by team captain Nigel Sears who was no doubt impressed by her performance on the doubles court at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October when she won gold for Scotland in the mixed event with Colin Fleming.

British womenís tennis is currently on a relative high but will find it tough going against difficult opposition this week.  Denmark have world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki playing this week, but she is the only member of their team to be ranked within the top 500.

With each tie being the best of three matches, two singles matches followed by a doubles decider, the tie between Denmark and Great Britain on Friday could well come down to who performs better on the doubles court.

Switzerlandís team is the most impressive in Pool A on paper and they will be the favourites to finish in top spot.  Patty Schnyder is currently the world No.42 whilst Timea Bacsinszky is only ranked four places below. 

Staying in this group will be the main aim for Great Britain this year, although earning the chance of promotion to World Group II would be a pleasant bonus.  We wish them luck.

Ivanisevic returns

Whilst doing my weekly check of the ATP doubles draws for the week ahead, one name stood out to me in particular.  Playing with Marin Cilic at the PBZ Zagreb Indoors this week is the one and only Goran Ivanisevic.

The Croat pair were rightfully handed a wild card for the doubles draw in their own country but narrowly lost to the Slovakian pair of Filip Polasek and Igor Zelenay in the first round 7-6 (7-4) 6-4.

39-year-old Ivanisevic is of course a regular on the ATP Champions Tour, the circuit for former tennis professionals, but donít expect him to join Thomas Muster in competing concurrently on both the Champions Tour and the ATP World Tour.

The former Wimbledon championís one-off return was a favour to help promote the ATP 250 event and despite currently suffering from a leg injury, he still turned out on court today and put up a brave effort for the many locals who would have turned out to watch him and Cilic in action.

Fun appearances in the doubles events like this are nothing but good publicity for tennis.  News broke yesterday that the Australian Open finalists Djokovic and Murray may possibly team up in Indian Wells which would be another great story.

And if a suitable opportunity arises this year, donít be too surprised if Federer and Nadal team up.  Two greats of the game teaming up in a tour event would truly be something to savour.

A name to watch

It was a big weekend for Scottish tennis with Murray reaching the final in Melbourne, whilst at home the Scottish Open Indoor Championships took place at Scotstoun.

There were no surprises with top seeds Alan MacDonald and Mhairi Brown winning the Menís and Ladiesí Singles events.  Both names you may recognise as Alan is Jamie Murrayís former travelling coach and Mhairi was a member of Scotlandís Commonwealth Games tennis team in Delhi last year.

But hereís a name you may come to recognise in the future.  15-year-old Jonny OíMara, from Arbroath, reached the final of the Menís Singles without losing a set and put up a brave effort against an opponent 16 years his senior, losing 6-3 6-4 after being broken once in each set.

After the final, as well as receiving his runnerís up prize, Jonny also collected the Tennis Scotland Junior Player of the Year award for 2010 after a fantastic year which included victory at the British Junior National Championships in the boys 16 and under event.

Judy Murray assists with his coaching and his progress is being followed with interest by many involved in the game in Scotland.  Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent for The Times, even found it worth his while to travel north of the border last year and visit the National Tennis Centre at Stirling University to produce a substantial article on the young Scot.

Itís well worth a read if you want to find out more about Jonny.  Those with an online subscription to The Times can access it at the following link: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/tennis/article2780067.ece