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By Stuart Fraser

Murray’s Rotterdam return

The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam provided the scene for Andy Murray’s return to action last week after his Australian Open disappointment.  Some felt it was too soon.  And after his early first round exit from the singles, Murray may have felt so too.

But at the end of a week in which he had notched up a couple of confidence-boosting wins with his brother Jamie in the doubles and had plenty of fun both on and off the court, there was no doubt that his time in the Netherlands could well play a crucial part in the healing process after his third grand slam final defeat.

The manner of his straight sets loss against Novak Djokovic will have hurt.  Look at the fallout from his loss to Roger Federer at the same stage in Melbourne last year.  It wasn’t until Wimbledon that Murray got past the quarter-finals in a tournament.

That is something he will be desperate to avoid this year.  His defeat though against Marcos Baghdatis in the first round last week will be a worry for those who feel another poor spell of form could be on the cards.

But let’s not over-analyse that too much.  He returned to court only ten days after defeat in Melbourne and only eight days after he landed back in the UK after the tiring long haul flight from Australia.  The fast court in the Ahoy Arena didn’t help either for someone who would understandably not be feeling too sharp.

In fact, one of the journalists who had been in Melbourne commented on how he himself was still feeling the effects of a spell in Australia and he hadn’t even picked up a racket in his time over there.

Murray had the look of a weary figure in the post-match press conference after his loss to Baghdatis.  Tiredness not only at his defeat, but possibly also at the fact he had to face a room full of strangers probing him for reasons on why he had performed so poorly.

But then came the arrival of his brother Jamie.  He and Andy were desperate to get a place in the doubles before the tournament, requesting a wild card and also trying to get in with their combined ranking, but they were unsuccessful with both.

Ernests Gulbis’ withdrawal was a stroke of luck though for the Scottish pair which, as the next alternates, meant they took the place of the Latvian and his partner Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

And what a stroke of luck it was.  Andy had the look of a rejuvenated figure on court alongside his brother and was clearly in the mood to go far, picking up some valuable practice and helping Jamie earn some crucial ranking points.

An entertaining win over Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was followed by an impressive knock-out of the third seeds, Mahesh Bhupathi and Marcel Granollers, the victory celebrated with both brothers doing an on-court penguin walk in tribute to the video they had posted online during their time in Melbourne.

It wasn’t just on the court that the brothers were having fun.  Off the court, both of them were in good form during their after-match interviews, arguing in jest over who was better at imitating a penguin.

Andy even relished the opportunity to question Jamie for BBC Scotland and produced an excellent interview which put the rest of us to shame.  Definitely potential there for a future career post-retirement.

The run came to an end in the semi-finals against Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner on Saturday night.  No shame losing to last year’s Wimbledon champions though who were in excellent form, particularly on service returns.

But despite the defeat, the brothers were still in good spirits for their post-match interviews.  It was clear that they had enjoyed each other’s company and Andy was clear that the week had been good for him.

He said: “I want to be enjoying myself and I really enjoyed playing in the doubles with Jamie.  It was good fun being around him as we don’t get the chance to play together that often.”

Tournament director Richard Krajicek also expressed his thanks and delight that Murray came to Rotterdam barely over a week after his defeat in Australia.  The 1992 Wimbledon champion said: “I was very happy he came.

“I thought he played great tennis in the first three games of his singles and then I think he just felt the effects of the tough month he had in Australia.  But then he came back for the doubles which was good.  He played good doubles and showed good spirit.”

As a result, Andy now goes away from Rotterdam with mostly positive memories from his return to action.  He has honoured his tournament commitments, helped his brother earn some ranking points and had some fun along the way.

Robin Soderling’s victory in the final denied Murray a rise up the rankings to No.4 which would have been another positive aspect, but he will have more chances to move back up in the coming months as he has only 685 points to defend up until the end of the French Open in June compared to the Swede’s total of 2320.

Murray can now move forward into the next few months with enthusiasm.  The good times he had in Rotterdam last week will have hopefully helped to overshadow any lingering negative thoughts after the Australian Open.  Onwards and upwards.

French Open stays at Roland Garros

Just before the singles final in Rotterdam began on Sunday, news came through that the French tennis federation had voted to keep Roland Garros as the home of the French Open.

Three other sites had been bidding to host the only clay court grand slam from 2016 onwards, including the location which is home to Disneyland Paris.

But in the end, members of the federation went for the choice with history and tradition.  Location also seems to have played a part in the decision as the other three potential venues were outside of the city.

The Roland Garros venue will be upgraded and extended, but the French Open will certainly not have the capability to expand and grow as much as it would have had it went to any of the other three venues.

It has provoked a barrage of mixed opinion on the subject.  The traditionalists are happy.  The people with vision in the future for change and more space are not.

Some interesting reaction on the subject was provided from three individuals in Rotterdam on Sunday who all have close links to the French Open.

Krajicek, semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 1992, said: “I think the decision is very good.  I think bigger is not always better.  The location is very unique and the centre court has a lot of history.

“As a tennis fan and a former player, I would find it a big shame if it had moved.  I have been to Disneyland two times and it is far away from Paris so I don’t think it would capture the spirit of the French Open.”

Soderling, French Open runner-up in the past two years, agreed: “It is a very old tournament and I am happy it stayed where it is.  It is a very nice tournament, not just because I played well there, and I think it is special that you play in the city.

“I think tradition is important especially for the grand slams.  There is a lot of tradition in every one of them.  They are all different in their own special way.”

Frenchman Tsonga didn’t seem too sure though of his opinion on the decision about his home slam.  Asked for his thoughts, he said: “I don’t know.  In ten years, it could be the same problem so we will see.”

One thing is for sure though, the decision has been made.  The French Open is staying at Roland Garros and despite the lack of space and facilities, the tennis itself will always remain the same.

New kids on the block

Men’s tennis seems to have had a lack of new names coming through over the past few years.  The current top 20 consists of players we have all known about for a considerable while.

But recent results suggest that there is a new batch of names on the way.

20-year-old Canadian Milos Raonic showed his future promise by lifting his first ATP World Tour title in San Jose last week, beating world No.9 Fernando Verdasco in the final.  After a run to the last 16 in Australia, Raonic has climbed up 97 places in the rankings since the start of the year to No.59.

The Canadian has a huge game by all reports, with his massive serve being his best weapon.  Andy Roddick’s world record of the fastest serve of 155mph may even be under threat.  In a fun competition last week, Raonic hit a serve of 151mph which only just went long.

One of my tips at the start of the year, the Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, is also on the rise.  He reached the quarter-finals in San Jose but lost out to Raonic.  Like the Canadian, Berankis is also aged 20 and is set to continue moving up the rankings in the coming months.

Alexandr Dolgopolov is a name most people came to know when he took a set off Murray in the Australian Open quarter-finals and impressed with his unorthodox shots.  He continued his run of good form last week at the Brasil Open, finishing as runner-up to the top seed Nicolas Almagro.

At the age of 22, the Ukranian isn’t as young as Raonic and Berankis, but is presently ranked much higher with last week’s run to the final taking him into the top 30 at No.29.  The top 20 surely beckons.

Add in three more players in Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison and Bernard Tomic and we have an interesting crop of young players to follow this year.  We watch their progress with interest.

Dodig shows nerves of steel

How about this for holding your nerve?

To set the scene, Ivan Dodig is serving for his first ATP World Tour title in front of his home crowd at the PBZ Zagreb Indoors in Croatia a week last Sunday.

He has a match point at advantage. What follows is possibly the most bizarre conclusion to a match that I have ever seen.

Check it out: