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By Stuart Fraser

Djokovic on form

Is there any end to Novak Djokovic’s stunning run of form?

Well there has to be at some point.  And I sense it may come in Miami.  Although he may just prove me wrong, just like he has done to the many critics who felt that he wasn’t capable of a sustained run of form like this.

Djokovic’s victory in last week’s Indian Wells Masters improved his 2011 match record to 18-0.  His Davis Cup win for Serbia in December appears to have given him some sort of new found confidence and he is currently unstoppable on court.

His performance in Indian Wells last week showed off all the improvements he has made in recent months.  His serve, which was often labelled a liability, is much more stable and his fitness has markedly improved.

Djokovic’s all-court game was truly on display last week, particularly in his back-to-back victories over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  Whilst he is capable of playing aggressively from the baseline, his defensive retrieving can be incredible at times.

With all that put together, he is now an extremely difficult player to hit through on court.  Andy Murray experienced that difficulty in January’s Australian Open final.

So Djokovic now heads to Miami with his head held high and his chest puffed out.  He really is the man of the moment, but surely it would be a big ask for him to win there as well.

With the prestigious Indian Wells and Miami Masters 1000 events being held back-to-back, it can be a tiring period for the players.  Djokovic not only has to contend with the effects of this, but he also travelled to Bogota in Colombia for an exhibition match against Nadal on Monday night.

And as well as the singles, Djokovic played doubles with fellow countryman Viktor Troicki in Indian Wells and has entered in Miami with Murray.  Never mind playing, I am tired just thinking about it.

The partnership between Djokovic and Murray is an interesting one.  Miami isn’t hugely renowned for having the top singles players giving doubles a shot as well, but after not getting the chance to play together in Indian Wells when Andy teamed up with his brother Jamie, this year’s two Australian Open finalists have got round to giving it a go this coming week.

Here’s hoping that they fare better than Djokovic’s “dream team” partnership with Nadal in Toronto last year.  The top two players in the world teamed up for the first time but suffered a surprise first round defeat to the Canadian wildcards Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic, although the latter’s recent form suggests it may not have been as much of a shock as we first thought.

In the singles, Djokovic and Murray could meet as early as the quarter-finals in Miami this week, although the Scot will have to perform much better than he did in his defeat to Donald Young in Indian Wells, with John Isner and Fernando Verdasco potential opponents en route.

Providing though that Murray has found his form once again and Djokovic keeps the tank running, it really could be an intriguing match-up if the two good friends are to meet in the quarter-finals.  Could that be the point in which Djokovic’s 2011 unbeaten run ends?

Tennis stars pull their football boots on

Yet again, the tennis fraternity did their bit for charity when a number of ATP stars teamed up on the football pitch in Miami on Wednesday night to take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a professional North American Soccer League side, to help raise money for the Red Cross relief efforts in Japan following the devastating tsunami.

Murray, Djokovic, David Ferrer and Marcos Baghdatis were amongst some of the players who swapped their racquets for football boots, but there were to be no shocks as Fort Lauderdale ran out 5-2 winners in an entertaining 40 minute match played in front of a very enthusiastic crowd.

Baghdatis and Murray were the tennis players who deservedly got on the scoresheet - Baghdatis with a penalty early in the second half and Murray who took advantage of a rebound within the six yard box.

Murray showed signs of his footballing prowess from his teenage years when he played the sport regularly.  The Scot had the chance to train with Rangers at the age of 15 but turned the opportunity down in favour of tennis, which has clearly proved to be the right choice.

But Murray wasn’t the only Scotsman on the pitch on Wednesday night.  Midfielder Grant Kerr, a recent signing for Fort Lauderdale, played the second half and the 26-year-old, who ironically went to school at Linlithgow Academy with Colin Fleming, was impressed by Murray’s football skills.

Kerr said: “He played up front like a big target man and he was technically good.  I was chatting to him a lot of the time because I was playing as a defensive midfielder and he was playing up front.  I know he is a big Hibernian fan and I am a Kilmarnock fan so we had a bit of a laugh about that.

“I think he was surprised by how good some of the guys in our team were.  He spends a lot of time here in Miami and he wants to come and watch some of our games.”

Kerr was even more impressed with Baghdatis though and thought he was the tennis team’s best player.  But he wasn’t so sure about the penalty that the Cypriot won early in the second half.

He said: “As soon as I came on, there was an organised thing where they were going to get a penalty because they hadn’t had a shot yet.  Baghdatis just dived in front of me and the referee gave a penalty.

“At that point, I had just come on and hadn’t even touched the ball.  I used to play in Cyprus and joked with Baghdatis that I knew what they were like and he was laughing.”

That incident was typical of the jovial manner in which the game was played.  Although there was a difference in class between the two teams, Kerr enjoyed the unique experience of mixing with world class athletes ahead of the upcoming American season which starts next month.

He said: ““These guys are total athletes and it was good to see them up close and play them at my sport although if we were to play them at tennis, it would not be as close a contest.

“We were sharing the locker room with them and I thought it might be awkward, but it was in fact awesome as they were really friendly.”

The latest word is that the event raised close to $100,000 for the Red Cross of Japan.  The result may not have went their way but once again, the tennis world can be proud of their fundraising efforts.

Targeting primary schools

As part of its tour across the country, the AEGON Schools Roadshow visited the David Lloyd club in Renfrew, near Glasgow, last week to provide an overview of the resources available to teachers who wish to deliver tennis lessons in schools.

It was an interesting morning which kicked off with a presentation followed by practical on-court sessions to demonstrate some of the activities that could be used in schools.

Whilst there were concerns in the past that school tennis lessons could only happen if someone tennis minded was delivering them, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case now as the Schools Programme helps provide useful resources and information for teachers which will crucially help to make the sport much more accessible for kids of a young age.

Judy Murray attended the roadshow to help deliver some of the practical sessions before taking a tennis lesson for 16 primary four children at Golfhill Primary School in Dennistoun in the afternoon.

Tennis sessions in primary schools are critical to growing the game and they undoubtedly help to create a solid base of people playing the game.  And Judy showed how accessible the sport can be by using mini tennis in Golfhill’s gym hall.

Judy said: “Mini tennis allows children to play and have an amount of success because the game becomes much easier when it is smaller.  When I was growing up, tennis courts were full size and the rackets were far too long and heavy, so it was almost impossible for young children to play the game.

“In mini tennis, we now have a big opportunity to introduce our sport to children of a young age.  You can get 30 kids in a school gym playing the early stages of tennis.  It does not have to be a big court and it does not have to be a flashy facility.”

Judy’s enthusiasm for helping the kids play tennis was obvious to see that afternoon in Golfhill.  She clearly senses a great opportunity to bring tennis to the masses by having more primary schools offering tennis.  But she also stresses that the country needs to have more facilities if the game is to grow.

Judy said: “I think we need to get more people playing but linked to that, we need more places to play and more people to teach them should they want to become better at it.

“The key for tennis is to transfer the interest of the kids who enjoy it into actually having them play the game at a local club or park.  That is really where a lot of work has got to be done, to improve those links between the schools and the local facilities.” 

Another notable attendee at the roadshow in Renfrew last week was Geoff Newton, a member of the committee of the All England Club, whose visit coincided with the first day of his new job as the Executive Director of The Tennis Foundation.

Davis Cup returns to Scotland

The news that the Braehead Arena is to host Great Britain’s next Davis Cup tie against Luxembourg in July has been welcomed north of the border.

There was disappointment when it was revealed last week that Stirling University’s roof was too low to hold the tie, but the despair turned to delight yesterday when the LTA confirmed that the Davis Cup will return to Braehead for a third time.

It is an exciting time for Scottish tennis.  A number of our players are competing at a high level – the top British male and female singles players and the top male doubles player are all from Scotland – and the game is experiencing a boom at grassroots level with plenty of kids keen to try out the sport.

With Andy Murray set to compete on Scottish soil for the first time since the Aberdeen Cup exhibition event in November 2006, there is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Braehead.  In fact, it is very possible that three of the four team members will be Scottish, led out by captain Leon Smith from Edinburgh.

Given that the tie will be held the weekend after Wimbledon, then it is the ideal opportunity for Scottish tennis to take advantage of a period when the sport will be at its most popular standing in the country.

And hopefully it can all convince the LTA to help build some more indoor courts in Scotland.  We have the enthusiasm.  All we need now is more facilities.