Friday, 2 December 2011


While Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic sit back on a beach in the Maldives this weekend relaxing after another long and tough season, the work continues for Rafael Nadal as Spain take on Argentina in the final of the Davis Cup.

For us here in the UK, the competition has lost a bit of its shine in recent years as Great Britain languished in Euro/Africa Zone Group Two, but that certainly isn’t the case for the 27,000 fans who will generate a raucous atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium in Seville for today’s opening singles rubbers.

This is the place where, in 2004, Nadal really did make the world stand up and notice.  He was only an up-and-coming 18-year-old ranked outwith the top 50 at the time, but Spanish captain Jordi Arrese opted to field him ahead of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero for an opening day clash against the then world No.2 Andy Roddick.

It was a decision which raised the eyebrows of many and understandably made Ferrero feel slightly aggrieved, despite the close unity of the Spanish side. 

Even Nadal was unsure that his captain had made the right choice.  Perhaps not the best mentality to approach the biggest match of your fledgling career, but in the end he claimed a famous win over the American and instantly became a national hero as his country went on to clinch the cup.

It will be of no surprise to the many fans who were at the stadium that weekend that Nadal returns to Seville seven years later having won ten grand slam titles, an Olympic singles gold medal and numerous ATP tour titles.

Nadal does not return to Seville in form, though.  The world No.2 has not won a tournament since he beat Roger Federer on the clay of Roland Garros back in June.  Furthermore, the five defeats he has suffered at the hands of Djokovic this year have been a blow to the confidence, and his comments in London last week that he has “a little bit less passion for the game” were worrying.

But he has been in similar situations before.  After winning the Rome Masters in May 2009, he went 11 months without winning a title before ending his drought when he returned to the clay in Monte Carlo the following year.

He also immediately put behind his damaging defeat by Djokovic in the US Open final this year to concentrate on duties for his country.  Less than 18 hours after stepping off the court in New York, he was back on the court in Cordoba practicing for the Davis Cup semi-final against France, a tie in which he lost a combined total of just ten games in his two straight-sets victories over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.

Returning to clay seems to provide some form of relief for Nadal on the back of tough times.  It is the surface he knows best and he will be glad to feel the red stuff under his feet again as he steps onto court to face his good friend Juan Monaco in today’s opening rubber.

There is no doubt that Spain are overwhelming favourites to lift the Davis Cup for the fourth time in 12 years.  Nadal’s record in the competition is quite incredible – he has never lost a match on clay and has only lost one of his 18 matches, which was a defeat on carpet on his debut against the Czech Republic’s Jiri Novak back in 2004.

Statistics like that make it appear that Nadal winning his two matches this weekend is almost as guaranteed as the sun rising and setting every day.  It is today’s second rubber between David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro which will be pivotal for Argentina if they are to have any hope of winning the Davis Cup for the first time in their history this weekend.

The fact that Del Potro pretty much gave up on his chances of qualification for last week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London to concentrate on preparing for the final shows how much this weekend means to him and his country.

The 2008 final between the two countries in Mar del Plata was one which hit Argentina hard.  At home on a hard court, they were the favourites against a Spanish side without Nadal.  In the end, though, it was Spain who claimed a famous 3-1 victory.

David Nalbandian was a member of the team that day and three years later, he and his fellow countrymen come to Seville looking for revenge against all odds.  It is also regarded as one of Nalbandian’s last chances to win the competition as his ranking continues to drop slowly and his 30th birthday on New Year’s Day 2012 fast approaches.

Nalbandian is regarded as a sort of Colin Montgomerie-type in his homeland – a top class player who has failed to win any of the major tournaments, yet seems to thrive in the environment of team competition.

This weekend, he has a crucial role to play in the doubles rubber with Eduardo Schwank which is the critical rubber for Argentina if they are to have any hope of winning this weekend. 

Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco will provide tough opposition for the Argentinian duo, although the Spaniards’ straight-sets defeat, in which they only won three games, by Michael Llodra and Tsonga in the semi-final will give the away side some hope.

However, the fact that Spain haven’t lost a home tie in the Davis Cup since 1999 sums up the enormity of the task facing Argentina this weekend.  It would be nothing short of unbelievable if Nadal, Ferrer, Lopez and Verdasco were to end up on the losing side in Seville.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


To follow-up on my tweets on the subject earlier – if Andy Murray was to fulfil ALL his mandatory requirements, Davis Cup commitments and have the full possible amount of tournaments counting towards his ranking (best 18 + Tour Finals and Olympics counting as an extra tournament, although that is still to be confirmed by the ATP), here is a possible POTENTIAL schedule for the world No.3 next year:

January 1-8: Brisbane (ATP 250)
January 16-29: Australian Open (Grand Slam)

February 10-12: Davis Cup Euro/Africa Zone Group 1 1st Round vs Slovak Rep. at Braehead
February 13-19: Rotterdam (ATP 500)
February 27-March 3: Dubai (ATP 500)
March 8-18: Indian Wells (Masters 1000)
March 21-April 1: Miami (Masters 1000)
April 6-8: Davis Cup Euro/Africa Zone Group 1 2nd Round vs Belgium at home*

April 16-22: Monte Carlo (Masters 1000, although counts as a 500)
May 7-13: Madrid (Masters 1000)
May 14-20: Rome (Masters 1000)
May 28-June 10: French Open (Grand Slam)

June 11-17: Queen’s (ATP 250)
June 25-July 8: Wimbledon (Grand Slam)
July 28-August 5: Olympics

August 6-12: Toronto (Masters 1000)
August 13-19: Cincinnati (Masters 1000)
August 27-September 9: US Open (Grand Slam)
September 14-16: Davis Cup World Group Play-off - I know, I am being a bit hopeful here ;)

October 1-7: Tokyo (ATP 500)
October 8-14: Shanghai (Masters 1000)

October 29-November 4: Paris (Masters 1000)
November 5-11: London (ATP World Tour Finals)

*Great Britain would only play a Davis Cup tie on April 6-8 if they beat the Slovak Republic in February.  Also, there would be no DC tie in September if GB beat Slovak Rep but lost to Belgium in April.  There is also the possibility of GB playing a relegation play-off away to Israel or Portugal on October 19-21 if GB lost to Slovak Rep., Slovak Rep. beat Belgium in April and Belgium beat GB in September.
As you can see, there is not much room for manoeuvre.  It is not mandatory that Murray competes in the two ATP 250 events in Brisbane and Queen’s, but these are useful tournaments for preparing for the upcoming grand slam events, and he can use a maximum of two 250 events to count towards his ranking.

The Davis Cup ties are also not mandatory so he could choose to miss these, but would no doubt incur the wrath of a number of British tennis fans if he were to do so.

In previous years, Murray has went to Miami in July for a mid-season training block ahead of the US Open series, but this is not likely next year as the Olympics start at the All England Club less than 3 weeks after the conclusion of Wimbledon.

A tough ask for the players competing in the Olympics will be to go to Toronto straight from London.  With the Olympics being played on grass, it will be tough for the players to adjust to hard courts so quickly.

A hotly debated topic in recent weeks has been the fact that the ATP World Tour Finals is straight after Paris next year.  There is no gap week for practice and general PR and marketing, which is a shame and a bad mistake by the ATP in my opinion.

This does mean, though, that the players will have the benefit of an extra two weeks to rest and recuperate at the end of the season ahead of 2013.

And it will be needed as 2012 is an extremely busy year.

***I must stress that Andy Murray is yet to confirm his full schedule for 2012.  This potential schedule that I have created is based on tournaments he has played in previous years.***

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


ANDY MURRAY has decided to begin his 2012 season at the Brisbane International ATP 250 event.

The world No.3 will head to Queensland for the first time to begin his preparations for the Australian Open in the joint ATP and WTA tournament which begins on January 1.

Murray had played in the ITF Hopman Cup mixed team exhibition event in Perth in the last two years with teenager Laura Robson for Great Britain, and the pair reached the final in 2010, losing narrowly to Spain.

It was regarded by Murray as perfect preparation for the first grand slam of the year, and subsequent runs to the final in Melbourne in 2011 and 2010 vindicated his decision to start the season on the west coast of Australia.

But after it was revealed last month that Murray would not be returning to Perth next year, speculation had mounted as to where the 24-year-old would begin 2012, with ATP 250 events taking place in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha in the first week of the calendar.

In his early years on tour, Murray started the season in Doha, but despite winning the event in both 2009 and 2008, the Scot felt he struggled to acclimatise to the conditions in Australia after arriving from the Middle East.

This made Brisbane the insiders’ favourite to be Murray’s first event of 2012 and his participation was confirmed today.

Murray said: “I love coming to Australia, but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Queensland before.

“I’ve heard only good things about the Brisbane International tournament, so I am looking forward to competing in January.  With a quality field it is the perfect way to begin my Australian campaign.”

Murray will also likely have the option of playing an exhibition match at the AAMI Kooyong Classic, which is held in the suburbs of Melbourne in the days leading up to the start of the Australian Open on January 16.

Other players competing at the Brisbane International include Marcos Baghdatis, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Florian Mayer, Kei Nishikori, Gilles Simon and home-favourite Bernard Tomic.  The wild cards are still to be awarded and tournament organisers may hope they can attract world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who has not entered in Chennai or Doha.

Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer begin their season at the lucrative Mubadala World Tennis Championship – a rather grand title for an exhibition event – in Abu Dhabi from 29-31 December.

Nadal and Federer will then head to Doha for the Qatar Open, an event in which they have both competed in the past three years.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Roger Federer’s year, up until a fortnight ago, read as follows; Runner-up at Roland Garros, a run to the semi-finals of the Australian and US Opens and the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, winner in Doha, runner-up in Dubai and appearances in the semi-finals of the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid.

Two titles, in Basle and Paris, have been added to that list in the last two weeks.  It really does make you wonder how some had the audacity to say that he was “past it”.

There is no doubt that the 30-year-old’s days of domination in the tennis world are over.  Gone are the times when he was winning more than 10 titles a year.  But Federer has never really gone away, has he? 

The past fortnight has not been the “return of the king” as some may have billed it.  It is not as if Federer has experienced an almighty downfall akin to when Andre Agassi dropped out of the top 100 in September 1997, just 19 months after he was the world No.1, before he fought back to reclaim the top spot two years later.

Since Federer lost the No.1 spot in June of last year, he has remained in the mix.  Although he currently sits at his lowest ranking, No.4, for over eight years, he is still regarded as one of the ‘big four’ – the game’s elite who, between them all, have claimed every Grand Slam and Masters title on offer this year.

So it should be of no surprise that, after a six-week break following Switzerland’s Davis Cup victory away to Australia, Federer has won back-to-back titles in Basle and Paris and displayed some of the form that he became renowned for as he regularly picked up Grand Slam titles during the mid-noughties.

Federer is one of, if not the greatest tennis player of all time.  As you grow older, you may lose a bit of pace around the court and your level of consistency may not be as extraordinarily high as it was during your peak, but you do not lose the talent overnight that took you to 16 grand slam titles.

The Swiss is still in great physical condition and remains highly motivated to win more tournaments.  His reaction after winning in Basle - which even included a few tears - and Paris said it all.

You get the sense that he feels there is still more work to be done.  2012 could provide him with yet more achievements to add to the CV, with another chance to win that elusive Olympic singles gold medal and the opportunity to help Switzerland won the Davis Cup for the first time in their history as they return to the World Group once again.

But for now, the focus is on the O2 Arena in London for next week's ATP World Tour Finals where Federer returns as the defending champion and bookies’ favourite, after a fortnight in which he only dropped one set in ten matches and also became only the seventh man in the Open era to record 800 career match wins.

While speaking during the Swiss Indoors in Basle, Federer seemed unperturbed about the fact he had recently lost his world No.3 spot to Andy Murray.  But you can’t help get the feeling that he would gain a slight extra sense of satisfaction if he was to go into the off-season having reclaimed that position ahead of the Scot.

The amount of different possible scenarios created by the round-robin format at the O2 means that there is not just one clear-cut way that Federer can return to No.3.  The simplest scenario, though, would be if Federer was to be unbeaten in London, Murray could only prevent a rankings drop by reaching the final with at least two group wins.

The format also means that today’s draw, which is live on BBC Radio 5 live, will guarantee at least two meetings between members of the “big four” before we even reach the semi-final stage, something which we have been starved of since the US Open with the final in Tokyo between Murray and Rafael Nadal being the only time any of them have met since the final Grand Slam of the year.

For Federer, London provides the chance to prove the doubters wrong again.  In his eight meetings this year against other members of the top 4, he has only won one – his four-set semi-final victory against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

For all that he has not gone away, he still has something to prove against his fellow competitors at the very top of the game.  So far this year, they have got the better of him.

Federer will no doubt, though, relish the task ahead of defending his World Tour Finals title.  His work is not done.  “The King” is most certainly not dead.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Roger Federer revealed yesterday that he played a part in choosing the surface of indoor clay for Switzerland’s Davis Cup clash with the USA next year – but still refused to confirm that he will play.

The World Group first-round tie will take place in the town of Fribourg on February 10-12 next year and it was no real surprise that the Swiss have chosen clay, considering that the USA have won seven of their past eight ties on surfaces other than the red stuff.

“I was part of the decision, so obviously it is the right choice,” Federer joked, after his semi-final victory against compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka at the Swiss Indoors in Basle.  “Otherwise, I am a bad guy if I say it is a bad decision.

“Clay is the right choice as it takes the more dangerous guys out of the equation for them.  They already have good players, but they are very good indoors or on hard, and I think clay makes the trip that much tougher for them.

“I believe it plays in our favour, especially for Stan.  And if I do play, I can play on anything anyway, so we all thought, after no hesitation, that it was the right choice.”

The 16-time grand slam champion has not played in a World Group first-round tie since 2004, but considering that a Swiss Davis Cup victory is one of the few things missing from his list of achievements in tennis, it is expected that he will fully commit himself next year in an effort to help his country win the competition for the first time in its history.

But Federer is holding off making any announcement on his participation at the moment.

He said: “I still haven’t decided on my schedule at the start of next year yet.  I am still putting everything together but I hope I can announce something in the next couple of weeks.”

Next year’s first-round of Davis Cup ties are being held three weeks earlier than usual, scheduled for a fortnight after the Australian Open and immediately before the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam, a tournament which Federer has already committed to playing.

But the Swiss denied that the change in the calendar would affect his decision, saying that it was more a “matter of priorities”.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail summed it up perfectly when he tweeted his reaction to last Thursday’s breaking news that Andy Murray was to play at the Swiss Indoors this week, saying: “That's what you call parking your tanks on Roger's lawn.”

Federer’s home city of Basle may not have been Murray’s first-choice destination this week, but after his request for a wild card in Valencia, where he was the singles champion in 2009 and won the doubles title with his brother Jamie last year, was, bizarrely, turned down, the Scot is instead in Switzerland to play the last of his four mandatory ATP 500 events in 2011.

His appearance here this week has further boosted an already stellar line-up, with Federer and world No.1 Novak Djokovic also competing.  It is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious 500 tournaments, with previous champions including Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

Murray has not played in this north-western corner of Switzerland since he reached the quarter-finals in 2005.  That was the tournament in which Murray beat Tim Henman in the first round, a significant victory which was then billed in Britain as the “changing of the guard”.

Six years on, Murray is a different prospect altogether, and it is he who comes into this tournament as the second seed and the in-form player on tour.  He has won all 15 matches he has played since the US Open, but faces a tough task if he is to keep the winning streak going this week as the draw has not been kind.

Murray’s opening first-round match this afternoon pits him against Robin Haase, the world No.40, who he knows only too well after being two sets to love down in their last encounter in the second round of the US Open.

Murray fought back to win the match in five that day, but he will not be afforded such an opportunity today if Haase is to win the first two sets of this best-of-three set encounter.

The good news for Murray is that the Center Court is not as fast as previous years – Federer reckons “it is a touch slower” – and that should help his cause against the big-hitting Dutchman, who has only won one match in five since that match at Flushing Meadows.

Murray would then face home-favourite Stanislas Wawrinka in the second-round tomorrow, before a potential quarter-final meeting on Friday with Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, who currently sits at a career-high ranking of No.13 having recently won tournaments in Kuala Lumpur and Moscow and finished runner-up in St. Petersburg last week.

It is not, by any means, an easy task for Murray to reach the semi-finals, but he should still be confident as he comes here in great shape and with more momentum than any other player on tour at present.

Murray said: ““Someone like Novak will tell you, when you’ve got momentum you want to keep playing.

“Right now I feel better than I did at this stage last year.  My body has held up better and that’s something I need to try and keep going for the next few years because it will hopefully add a year or two onto the end of my career if I can look after my body well like someone like Roger has done.

“I have played well recently.  At this stage of the season, everybody has niggles that you have to stay on top of, so you can’t expect to be 100 per cent fit.  But the advantage I have of playing in Asia is that I will have played some more matches and that always helps when you are match fit.”

A potential semi-final meeting with Federer in his own backyard on Saturday has the makings of a classic.  The fact that Murray has also recently moved ahead of the Swiss in the rankings to No.3 also adds more intrigue.

Federer looked rusty in his opening match against Potito Starace on Monday night, but that is to be expected after a break of six weeks.

It is this break which left the door open for Murray to become the new world No.3, but Federer has insisted this week that he is not overly concerned about his demotion to No.4, his lowest ranking since July 2003.

Federer said: “I don’t even know what it takes to regain the No.3 position.  My goal is to try and win when I am playing in the next few weeks.

“The focus right now is trying to play well here in Basel.  And if I’m three or four at the end of the year, we’ll see, but if I’m going to make a move I need to win tournaments and that’s what it’s going to take.”

Djokovic was also similarly rusty in his first-round match against Xavier Malisse, which he eventually came through in three sets.  Again, though, the Serb has also had a six week break from tennis due to a back injury which he said was the worst injury of his career and he has only started serving again in the last few days.

Expect his rhythm to build as the week goes on, though.  After the early exits of Viktor Troicki, Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish, there are no seeds remaining in his half and he may not be fully tested until he potentially meets either Murray or Federer in the final.

Murray is the only one of the top four singles seeds to also compete in the doubles this week and he teams up with brother Jamie once again after their success in Tokyo last month.  It’s a big week for Jamie with 500 points to defend after their success in Valencia last year, but a tough opener awaits later today, following the conclusion of Andy’s singles match, against second seeds Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, and Canadian Daniel Nestor.

Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins also play their first 500 event together here this week, which comes on the back of their success in St. Petersburg.  The British pair have received a kinder draw than their counterparts as they play the Swiss wild card pairing of Stephane Bohli and Marco Chiudinelli tomorrow. 

Monday, 17 October 2011


Andy Murray has made no secret of the fact that he would like to see an ATP World Tour event on Scottish soil at some point in the future.  There is certainly the enthusiasm for it north of the border, but there are a number of complex issues which means, for now, us Scots will have to make do with the occasional Davis Cup tie and three annual Futures events, two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh.

One of these Futures takes place this week when the Scotstoun Leisure Centre welcomes a mixture of journeyman professionals and up-and-coming teenagers scrapping for every extra ranking point they can muster in an effort to climb up the world rankings.

While the tennis on show may not exactly live up to the standard of the classic US Open Final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal last month - the top-ranked men’s player at Scotstoun this week is world No.287 Marco Crugnola, of Italy - it is still of a high enough level for even the most casual of tennis fans to enjoy.

It is the raw nature of Futures events which can often make for compelling viewing.  The action is held on adjacent courts with one umpire, one line judge and no ball boys.  In fact, play in some matches can often be brought to a halt as a ball rolls onto court from the next one along.

Main draw first-round matches are where you can witness some epic battles.  Players at Scotstoun tomorrow will fight extremely hard to avoid being the loser who walks away on the first day with no ranking points and a cheque for just $176.25 which, for many, won’t even come close to covering travel and accommodation costs.

It’s not easy working your way up the tennis rankings, but the Futures circuit is where many of today’s top players have once plied their trade.  Murray was a previous winner of the Glasgow event in 2003 when he was just 16-years-old.

Australian Matthew Ebden provides a positive story of what can be achieved within 12 months.  Last year, he picked up a cheque for $1950 and 27 ranking points for winning the event at Scotstoun.  Last week, his run to the quarter-finals at the Shanghai Masters, where he was beaten by Murray, earned him $77,800 and 180 points, putting him in the top 100 for the first time today at No.80.

But while there are some, like Ebden, who have gone on to bigger things, there are players who return to Glasgow having achieved little progress in the rankings over the past year.  Britons Dan Cox, Dan Evans and Joshua Goodall are familiar faces at Scotstoun, and whilst it is nice to welcome them back to Scotland, if they had made the progress they would have hoped to achieve, they would not be back here this week.

One player who comes to Scotstoun with big hopes for the future is the US Open junior champion Oliver Golding.  There is a lot of talk surrounding the 18-year-old Brit after his success in New York last month, but there is still a lot of work to do as he makes the transition to the senior circuit.  These are just the early steps and it will be interesting to see how the young wild card entrant performs this week.

Sadly there is no Scottish interest in the men’s event as Glasgow’s Jamie Baker is competing at the Mansfield Futures in Texas this week, although we can surely claim, to some extent, the world No.785, Nicolas Rosenzweig.

The Frenchman moved to Broughty Ferry in Scotland with his family at the age of four and has, in the past, trained at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, Murray’s old training base.  The 25-year-old is one of these unique ambidextrous players who effectively plays a forehand off both sides and is surely worth a look for those who head along this week.

Also taking place at the same time at Scotstoun is the $25k women’s event, which is headed by Austrian Yvonne Meusberger, the world No.157.  There are no British direct acceptances, which is quite rare for a home event, although four Brits have received wild cards, including 16-year-old Emma Devine from Edinburgh.

Another player worth keeping a look out for is 18-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, of France.  You may remember her from this year’s Hopman Cup in Australia when she beat Laura Robson, before teaming up with Nicolas Mahut in the mixed doubles match to beat Murray and Robson in straight sets.  She also won the 2009 Junior French Open Girls’ Singles.

So not only do you get to witness professional tennis close up if you head along, you may also get to see a star of the future.  Entry is free with play starting at 10am each day.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Doubles is regarded by some as a form of tennis for those second-rate players who couldn’t quite make it in singles.  While that is perhaps an overly harsh analysis, there is no doubt that a clear gulf exists between singles and doubles in terms of worldwide appeal and importance.

However, Davis Cup is when doubles gets its rare chance to be on an equal footing with singles.  The sole doubles match in these ties can often prove to be such a crucial rubber, and it counts for one point in the best-of-five format, just as the other four singles rubbers each do.

That is why the development of Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins as a partnership on tour is so important to British tennis as the Davis Cup team moves back up the ladder.

Look at some of the key roles which other regular partnerships have played for their countries - the USA’s Bryan brothers are probably the best example having won 19 of the 21 Davis Cup matches they have played together.

Poland’s Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski have also proved to be a handy pairing, as Great Britain experienced when Hutchins and Andy Murray were defeated by the Poles in a crucial Euro/Africa Zone Group One relegation play-off in September 2009, which Britain went on to lose, succumbing them to the lowly depths of Group Two, the third tier of the competition.

Now that Britain are back in Group One, the hope is that Fleming & Hutchins will prove to be a reliable partnership in the doubles rubbers when they come up against tougher opposition as part of the quest to get back to the World Group.  It also takes a bit of pressure off the British No.1, Murray, who will not be required to play on all three days.

At Braehead last month, Fleming & Hutchins made their second appearance together in Davis Cup - their first since becoming a full-time partnership at the start of this year - and it was they who actually clinched promotion for Britain with victory over their Hungarian opponents.

Following two grand slam quarter-final appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open, it was another notable moment for the pair in what has, at times, also been a year of frustration.  Hutchins, aged 26 from London, has missed a number of tournaments at different points in the year due to wrist problems, which has forced Fleming to play with other partners to maintain his ranking.

“It has been very frustrating,” said Hutchins.  “I have had a couple of wrist problems in the past, but nothing like this which has kept me out for seven months on and off, four or five times, starting and stopping again.

“Colin has hid it very well from me, but I am sure he has been wanting to pull his hair out about why I can’t get my wrist strong.  It’s just frustrating that we haven’t been able to play more than six tournaments fit together this year.  But now I am on top of it, we can get a good run together and hopefully build a partnership which is long and successful.”

With Hutchins over his wrist problems, the pair are now in Russia for a fortnight of ATP 250 tournaments, beginning with the Kremlin Cup in Moscow this week and followed by the St Petersburg Open, where Colin won his second and last ATP title with former partner Ken Skupski two years ago.

Although the season is coming towards its end, it is a crucial time for the pair as they have a number of ranking points to defend before the year is out.  Fleming currently sits at a career high ranking of 41 and Hutchins is at 47, which allows them to get in most ATP 250 events, but the pair are hoping for much bigger things next year.

“We want to get into Indian Wells and Miami [both Masters 1000 events], so we have to be around 30 by March, and then we want to be seeded for the French Open”, said Hutchins.  “So that is a good aim for us and we are also strongly aiming to be in the London World Tour Finals by the end of next year.

“You have to be successful as a partnership as those rankings and criteria are done as a team, so Colin and I want to be in the top eight in the world as a team and we want to be competing in London for the prize of the No.1 team at the end of the year.”

It’s a big aim for the pair, especially when you consider that Hutchins, according to Wikipedia, works in the Registry Pub in Portsmouth when he is not on tour.  That particular bit of information is actually the work of a Wikipedia prankster, but there is no denying that there is indeed a substantial difference in the prize money which singles and doubles players can earn.
For example, Croatian Antonio Veic, the current singles world No.160, has earned $138,377 this year.  Compare that to Fleming’s 2011 earnings of $120,964.

Many players on tour will tell you that money is not the primary concern, but when travel costs have to be met, it must be an important consideration.  The cheque of £31,250 which Fleming & Hutchins received for reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals will have been a nice bonus, but how easy is it for doubles players to sustain a living on tour?

“Ross and I are certainly able to make a living out of what we do” said Fleming, the 27-year-old from Linlithgow.  “As you play in better tournaments, you also get more things for free as well.  It’s one of these things; when you need the things for free, you can’t get them and then when you almost have some money to pay for them, you start getting them for free.

“We are just enjoying it at the moment.  Obviously singles players earn more money, but we are able to do OK with what we are doing just now.”

Fleming and Hutchins were both speaking at last month’s launch of the new LTA Mini Tennis scheme, in association with Highland Spring, which was something that brought back memories for Fleming of playing with a sponge ball as he got to grips with tennis in his younger years.

In fact, he doesn’t have to go too far back to relive his sponge ball memories as he, Andy and Jamie Murray and a host of other friends all used to reunite, when they were home in Scotland at Christmas, for a fun indoor competition at their old training base.

“I think it was called the World Short Tennis Championships, even though it was only guys from Central Scotland”, said Fleming.  “We played it at Stirling University on Christmas Eve and we played with the sponge ball like we all used to when we were young.

“It’s a tough physical test because no one can hit a winner with the sponge ball, so you just go on forever.  But Andy even won it twice as he is so competitive and he just wouldn’t let anyone beat him at it.  It was good fun.”

Sunday, 9 October 2011


It is a shame that the only UK television coverage of Andy Murray’s matches during the Asian swing so far was a one hour highlights show on Sky Sports 3 tonight.  British tennis fans have been deprived of seeing the world No.4 in the form of his life on the hard courts of Bangkok and Tokyo.

Murray’s 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory over Rafael Nadal in this morning’s Japan Open final made for good viewing.  If he continues his rich vein of form by defending his title at this week’s Shanghai Masters, for which Sky will broadcast live coverage each day, the Scot will, perhaps sooner than expected, attain his end-of-season goal of becoming the new world No.3 ahead of Roger Federer.

While Murray, in the past, has sometimes struggled to deal with the aftermath of grand slam defeats in the latter stages – the post-Australian Open slumps both this year and last year being two examples – there has been no sign of any poor form or lack of motivation during the past month.

At the Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group Two promotion play-off between Great Britain and Luxembourg last month, Murray went about his work professionally and got the job done.  At the ATP 250 event in Bangkok last week, he was fully committed to winning a tournament which, in all honesty, makes little difference to his CV.

What it did do, though, was give him the confidence to go to Tokyo and continue with the aggressive intent that had served him so well the previous week.   And that showed in all of his matches in Japan, particularly in his 6-2 6-3 semi-final win against David Ferrer, who you would not believe, on the basis of watching that match, was ranked just one place below Murray.

All these matches in Asia before the final in Tokyo were ones which Murray was expected to win anyway.  The big test of his positive approach and mindset would come against Nadal, the world No.2 who had a 13-4 head-to-head record over Murray and had beaten him in the semi-finals of the last three grand slams.

It was a test, though, that Murray clearly relished, and it showed.  Despite a nervy start in which he was broken in his opening service game before Nadal went on to take the opening set 6-3, Murray did not get frustrated, remained patient and took his chance on his fourth break point of the match at 2-1.

A good indicator of how Murray is currently feeling on court came when, at 0-40 down in the next game, he served three consecutive aces before crucially holding serve.  That was perhaps the defining point of the match as, from then on, Nadal went on to win just one more game.

The bagel set which Murray delivered in the decider was perhaps the best set I have ever seen the 24-year-old play.  It was a devastating performance with Murray hitting huge winners at ease off both wings.

It is not the first 6-0 set Murray has won against Nadal, having done the same in the final set when he won the final of the Rotterdam tournament in 2009.  That day though, Nadal was injured and was basically on one leg.

There were no such problems with Nadal today.  He was simply overwhelmed by Murray’s hitting and managed to win just four points in that final set.  It was a tame end to the defence of his Japan Open title and the stat remains that Nadal has never defended a non- clay court title in his career.

On the back of his singles victory, Murray rounded off the perfect week by going back on court to win the doubles event with brother Jamie as they defeated Frantisek Cermak and Filip Polasek 6-1, 6-4 in under an hour. 

Despite being a regular instance 30 years ago, players winning the singles and doubles titles in the same week doesn’t happen all too often on the tour these days and Andy became the first player since Juan Ignacio Chela in September 2010 in Bucharest to do the double at an ATP event.

Jamie will no doubt be grateful to his younger brother for helping him out.  The 25-year-old is still struggling to find a permanent partner on tour, but the 500 points gained this week should help as it will take him to a new career high ranking within the top 25 tomorrow.

While Jamie has a break this week before heading to Moscow to play with Frenchman Julien Benneateau at the Kremlin Cup, Andy heads straight to Shanghai in buoyant mood.  It will be interesting to see if the exertions of the past two weeks catch up with him or perhaps, like we have seen with Novak Djokovic, the confidence of winning matches will help take him to yet another title.

Some may point out that it is very well doing this in the ATP Tour events, but Murray is still yet to do it at a grand slam.  That may be the case, but such a devastating performance against a fully fit world No.2, who has denied him at the majors on so many occasions in the past, may just help give Murray that extra little bit of belief he needs.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


For some, there may be a feeling that the tennis season is all but over after the US Open, the final grand slam of the year, concluded last month with Novak Djokovic claiming victory.

But while there may be no more major titles to win this year, there is still plenty to play for as the tour heads to Asia where lots of points are up for grabs, which is of particular importance to those looking to secure a place at the ATP World Tour Finals in London next month.

The Asian swing is a period of the season which can often throw up a few shock results, as well as withdrawals and retirements due to injury and fatigue.

A glance at the China Open’s entry list this week highlights this.  The top three seeds – Djokovic, Robin Soderling and Gael Monfils – all pulled out beforehand which would have been a hammer blow to those who run the tournament in Beijing.

Djokovic’s back injury, which he sustained during Serbia’s Davis Cup semi-final loss to Argentina last month, looks set to also rule him out of next week’s Shanghai Masters, a tournament in which Roger Federer has already withdrawn to “rest and recuperate”.

Juan Martin Del Potro has also withdrawn from Shanghai as part of his plan to be in top shape for Argentina’s Davis Cup Final against Spain in December.  He will play three consecutive weeks, starting later this month, in Vienna, Valencia and Paris, and with it, has significantly diminished his chances of qualifying for London next month.

The absence of many top players inevitably demeans the importance of the Asian swing to some extent, but it offers a great chance for others to pick up some ranking points, although they will still have Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to contend with, both of whom have made the lengthy trip from Europe and look in fine shape, as you would expect.

Nadal opened up his Asian campaign at the Japan Open today and the top seed eased past home hope Go Soeda in a 6-3 6-2 win. 

The Spaniard arrived in Tokyo from Taiwan where he had taken part in an exhibition match last week with David Ferrer, something which understandably further raised eyebrows amongst those who are already unhappy with the players’ complaints about the schedule being too long.

That is a discussion for another week though.  In fact, the players’ meeting on the subject, which was due to take place in Shanghai next week, is now in doubt due to the absence of Federer and the likely withdrawal of Djokovic.

Murray has opted to play three consecutive weeks of tournaments in Asia this year – Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai.  A decision which seemed rather strange at first, but made perfect sense when he explained that he was playing Bangkok in order to help get over the jet lag a bit sooner, having struggled in previous years.

It was a perfect start for Murray in Thailand last week as he won his 19th ATP Tour singles title in fine fashion.  The Scot was in great form all week and impressed with his high first serve percentage, aggressive intent from the baseline and consistent application.

I heard someone unfairly and misguidedly describe the Thailand Open, an ATP 250 event, as a “diddy tournament”.  It is true that it may not rank high on Murray’s list of achievements at the end of his career, but it will have provided him with a sense of satisfaction and, crucially, confidence to take into further tournaments.

It’s a busy period for Murray who is now in Tokyo, not just for singles, but also for doubles with elder brother Jamie.  The pair got off to a fine start, winning their first round match against Pablo Andujar and Milos Raonic, and will fancy their chances against the local wild card pairing of Tatsuma Ito and Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals.

Andy will be desperate to help out Jamie who has a large number of ranking points to defend between now and the end of the season.  The fact the Japan Open is an ATP 500 event means that it is a great opportunity to rack up some of these crucial points.

But while Andy will hope to do his brother a favour, his main focus will be the singles in which he gets his campaign underway tomorrow in a testing first round match against Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, last week’s runner-up in Kuala Lumpur, who has a 3-1 head-to-head record over the Scot.

As the second seed, Murray is the clear favourite though and will be hoping for another good week, perhaps another title win, to help him achieve his goal of finishing the year as the world No.3 ahead of Federer.

And with the Swiss not due in action again until the ATP 500 event in his hometown of Basel at the end of the month, it’s a fair bet that Murray will do just that, although Federer, being the competitive great that he is, will no doubt have other ideas.  Who said the tennis season was over?


It has been a tremendous period recently for Britain’s junior boys, culminating with victory in the Junior Davis Cup in Mexico at the weekend.

Captained by Greg Rusedski, the trio of Luke Bambridge, Kyle Edmund and Evan Hoyt – all aged 16 – put in an impressive performance from start to finish to live up to Great Britain’s top seeding by winning the event for the first time in its 26-year history.

This is one of junior tennis’s most prestigious competitions.  Rafael Nadal won the event with Spain in 2002 and Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Marat Safin have all turned out for their respective countries in years gone by.

It is yet another sign that all is rosy with Britain’s junior players after 18-year-old Oliver Golding won the US Open Boys’ title last month, with his compatriots, Edmund and George Morgan, also reaching the semi-finals.

What struck me as I watched, on a grainy online Facebook stream, the closing moments of Kyle Edmund’s decisive win against his Italian opponent in the final on Sunday was the manner in which he closed his victory out. 

There was no sign of any nerves or tightness as the youngster served out a 6-3 6-4 victory in confident fashion.  Judging by all accounts, that is the manner in which the British juniors performed all week which bodes well.

Rusedski is doing a great job as a mentor to Britain’s young players.  His positive thoughts and enthusiasm is clearly rubbing off on them and they all speak highly of the impact he has had.

When speaking to Jonny O’Mara, the young Scot who was a part of the British team, also captained by Rusedski, which won the Tennis Europe Winter Cup in February, he enthused about the inspiration he had gained from working with the former world No.4.

A man of Rusedski’s experience knows though that this is only the beginning for this young group of Brits.  There is many a player in the past who has showed promise at a young age, only to fail to fulfil it.

The transition to the senior game is the critical stage.  The most encouraging thing about the British junior success recently is that it appears we will have a number of players all pushing each other on as they make these crucial steps forward.


The recent launch of the new public courts at Brodie Park in Paisley brought to my attention an alarming situation across Scotland.

I couldn’t quite believe it when someone told me that, until the new facility in Paisley was opened just over a fortnight ago, there were no courts to play on in Scotland’s second largest town with a population of around 74,000.

What was more staggering was what I discovered when researching the amount of public courts in some of Scotland’s other big towns.  Some large towns did not have any courts.  Some had very few.  Others had courts lying in a state of disrepair.

All this at a time when we should be taking full advantage of the Andy Murray boom.  We have such a great opportunity to grow the sport at this time, yet we do not have enough places to play in some of our biggest towns for those who want to give tennis a try.

The lack of indoor courts in Scotland also comes to the fore as we approach winter.  The LTA and Tennis Scotland assure us they are working on resolving these issues.  Let us hope so before it is too late.

If you want to read more on this, check out my piece in last week’s Herald which includes quotes from Judy Murray and David Marshall, Chief Executive of Tennis Scotland:

You may have to register to see the full story, but it only takes a minute plus it’s free and worth it as the Herald covers tennis in-depth throughout the year.

On a similar theme, BBC Scotland’s David McDaid has also produced an excellent feature on participation and facilities in the country which is well worth a look: