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: