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By Stuart Fraser

Murray hits form

What a difference 12 days can make.

We were at a loss to describe why Andy Murray had put up such a lacklustre display against world No.35 Kevin Anderson in Montreal just under a fortnight ago.  For some, the panic button was being pushed already when considering his US Open chances.

But the Scot’s victory over Novak Djokovic yesterday to clinch the Cincinnati Masters came at the culmination of a week in which he served notice that he is indeed a contender to win the final grand slam of the year.

At times during the week, Murray wasn’t at his best.  But he did what he does best in making it so tough for opponents to beat him.  Just about every ball came back and as one of the fittest players on tour, he was outlasting the rest in what can be absolutely brutal conditions in Ohio.

To not drop a set in five matches all week was very impressive.  Particularly when his opponents included David Nalbandian, the US Open series winner Mardy Fish and Djokovic, the man of the moment.

Don’t let the fact that Djokovic retired midway through the second set take the shine off Murray’s victory.  It was indeed a shame that Murray did not get to close out the final on his own terms.

But Murray has played enough tennis last week to know that his game is in a good place ahead of the start of the US Open a week today.  In Montreal, he struggled to find his rhythm.  By the end of the week in Cincinnati, his rhythm was back and his game was looking in top shape.

Despite the premature end to the final, he will have been pleased by how he performed in what was a very competitive first set against Djokovic.  His ground strokes were consistent and deep and he appeared confident in his own game after, at times, appearing a bit tense earlier in the week.

One thing he will look to work on during his preparation for next week will be his serve.  The amount of times his serve was broken in some of his matches in Cincinnati will have disappointed him, particularly in that second set against Fish on Saturday.

If Murray has a first serve percentage of 65% or above, then it is likely that his serve will not be broken much, if at all.  But last week, it was hovering around the 50% mark which meant that he was not getting anywhere near as many free points as he would have liked.

In saying that though, it perhaps makes it even more impressive that he was able to win five matches without dropping a set.  A sign, as mentioned previously, that his groundstrokes are in good order.

Djokovic may now head to New York with a dodgy shoulder, but after some rest and recuperation during the next day or two, he will no doubt be in fine physical shape come next Monday.

It was a lot to ask of him to win Montreal and Cincinnati back to back.  Since the Masters Series came into existence in 1990, only three players – Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter and Andy Roddick – have achieved that feat. 

And when you consider Djokovic’s match record this year, then it really is no surprise that he fell short in the end.

A run to the final where he lost only his second match in 59 this year is nothing to be sniffed at.  Rightfully, he heads to Flushing Meadows as the clear favourite with the bookies’.

Rafael Nadal arrives in the Big Apple under a cloud of uncertainty.  His defeat to Crotia’s Ivan Dodig in his opening match in Montreal was baffling, especially when you consider that the Spaniard led 6-3, 3-1 and also served for the match at 5-3 in the deciding set.

It was no shame to lose to an in-form Fish in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati, but there were so many uncharacteristic errors from Nadal which is causing concern. 

Mind you, he went out at the same stage last year before going on to produce some scintillating tennis to win his first US Open title three weeks later.  It could easily happen again this year.

And what of the great Roger Federer?  The Swiss has won five times at Flushing Meadows, but tame defeats to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych in Montreal and Cincinnati means that he is barely getting a mention when discussion focuses on potential contenders in New York.

It is dangerous to write such a great like Federer off, especially when he is still clearly motivated to add more titles to his grand slam total.  But when you are not performing well in normal tour events, it is hard to switch it on all of a sudden when you face a tough challenge at the slams.

His defeat against Tsonga in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon from two sets to love up told us a lot.  And his defeats in the past two weeks have merely served to show us even more that the air of invincibility he once had has gone.

More US Open chat coming up next week where I focus on the potential matches the draw has produced.  But before then, do not ignore the ridiculously large odds of 150/1 which SkyBet are offering for David Ferrer to win.

This is a man who is a former US Open semi-finalist and this week became the world No.5.  How can they make him 20th equal on the odds list?

I’m not saying that I think he will win the tournament.  But if you have a spare quid lying about, then surely it’s worth sticking an each-way bet on the Spaniard.

Opportunity not to be wasted

There is not a more passionate person in the country when it comes to growing tennis and getting more kids involved.

So when Judy Murray warns that we may be missing out on a massive opportunity to take advantage of the sport’s growing popularity, then it really is time to stand up, listen and do something about it.

Recently I took a trip down to Dunbar Tennis Club, a community facility in East Lothian, where Judy was helping out at a tennis camp for young children on their summer holidays from school.

It was yet another example to add weight to the belief that more kids than ever are willing to pick up a racket and give the sport a try.  There have been reports from all over Scotland that tennis courts are busier than they have ever been before.

But when chatting to Judy after, she revealed that the loss of a number of public courts in Scotland over the years, plus the lack of indoor facilities, means that she is beginning to ponder whether we may be left regretting a missed opportunity in years to come.

She said: “I feel very strongly about going to places like Dunbar and joining in to give some advice and tips.  It’s that feeling of being part of trying to help grow the game up here while we really have an opportunity to grow tennis.

“It is probably as important to me to get out and encourage community tennis as it is to try to produce the next Andy.  This is what it is all about – getting more people to enjoy tennis.

“I certainly think tennis is as popular as it has ever been during my lifetime.  Everybody is just so much more aware of tennis. The interest is there but to capture it, we have to make sure that tennis is accessible and affordable.

“This is the fifth year that Andy has been ranked in the world’s top five. In those five years, we have only had two new indoor courts built in Scotland and both of them were at Strathgryffe [in Houston] which is a private club.

“We are just not moving forward quickly enough in terms of facilities as there are not enough places for people to play.”

Run by enthusiastic and welcoming people, Dunbar was an excellent example of what a community facility should be all about.

But there simply aren’t enough of these public facilities in the country.  I have been alarmed in recent months by the lack of public courts in some of Scotland’s biggest towns.

Paisley, our biggest town with a population of around 75,000, has had no public courts for many years.  Thankfully though, that will change in a matter of weeks when the new facility at Brodie Park is completed.

It has also come to light in recent weeks that Cumbernauld, Scotland’s fourth biggest town with a population of just over 50,000, also has no public courts.  It truly is staggering.

I hear though that this has been brought to the attention of the relevant people in recent weeks and the ball already seems to be rolling to try and rectify this.

Hopefully now the LTA, Tennis Scotland and any other relevant authorities are working together to try and find other gap areas like this before it is too late.  Money doesn’t grow on trees I know, but the UK is certainly no cash-strapped country when it comes to tennis.

Ward on a high

It is well deserved for James Ward that he sits this week at a career high world ranking of No.139 after a summer in which he has delivered a number of performances to make us believe that another Brit really can join Andy Murray in the top 100 for the first time since September 2007.

Tim Henman was the last Brit other than Murray to be one of the world’s best 100 tennis players.  There have been times when we wondered if anyone would ever join the Scot, but now Ward is stepping up to the plate and creeping ever closer to what would be regarded as a fairly significant moment in British tennis.

There is no doubt that Ward’s success at Queen’s in June, when he reached the semi-finals, has been the catalyst to his success on the Challenger Tour in recent weeks. 

I was courtside for his quarter-final at Queen’s against Adrian Mannarino when he squandered seven match points in the second set tiebreak, and I sensed the moment was potentially massive for him when he eventually came through in the deciding set.

It can be moments like that which give you the belief and confidence that you can come through similarly tight situations in the future.  Although he then lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis, it was a week which would have made him feel he was capable of competing with the big boys.

The key test for him though was on his return back to the Challenger Tour.  And it’s a test he has passed with flying colours.

A run to the final in Lexington last month, where he lost to Wayne Odesnik, was followed by victory in Vancouver to earn him his second career Challenger title.  Home hope Vasek Pospisil and former US Open semi-finalist Robby Ginepri were some of the notable scalps he picked up along the way.

He could not repeat the success the next week in Binghamton though when he was knocked out in the second round.  Understandable though, especially when he was playing the experienced and higher-ranked Paul Capdeville.

Ward has remained in the States to continue training ahead of US Open qualifying which begins tomorrow.  After climbing up to a new career high ranking today, he has managed to secure a seeding of 16 which is a real bonus as it assures he will not face any higher ranked opponents this week.

The draw also provides him with a good chance of making it into the main draw.  World No.208 Michael Yani, of America, is his first opponent.  Also in his section is Rajeev Ram and the Australian Marinko Matosevic, but Ward will be confident that he can beat any one of them considering the form he is currently in.