Thursday, 7 February 2013

Davis Cup.

Following an enjoyable weekend of Davis Cup action, there are a few comments to be made. Firstly, it is sad that the first round has to follow on so closely from the first slam of the year. The severe physical demands of the modern singles game mean the top players are almost guaranteed to miss out. A tipping point has now been reached; should two out of the top five withdraw, the others are surely to follow, such will be the perceived wisdom. Handing out advantages early in the season is not to be recommended.
 Clearly, the Davis Cup has become a poor relation in the tennis calendar over the past few years. The top-level absenteeism has ensured a rapid deterioration in the status of the tournament in recent years, yet popularity is not necessarily on the wane. Davis Cup has now become an opportunity for lesser lights to shine in the pursuit of playing for their country. It provides an excellent (and usually cheap) way for provincial areas to get a hold of top-level tennis. The format is enjoyable, often leading to a winner takes all final session rubber. It affords doubles players to bond with singles players and allows tennis to absorb some of that 'football crowd' mentality and hysteria, particularly in the latter round ties.
Unless the sport changes to provide a less crowded calendar with longer recovery periods, the top names will continue to boycott, at least until the more important ties. Spain's players are the latest to turn their backs on the trophy; although Canada played great stuff to win (a win which was reported on the front page of Canadian papers) the sheen is tarnished by the fact that Spain were heavily weakened. Does it matter? Perhaps not. The tournament will always have its place and the current re-positioning of Davis Cup is quickly evolving by necessity. John Hovis would suggest some changes to the format which could help stop the slow degradation.

  • Reduce singles rubbers to best of three sets, except the final.
  • Ensure no players in the first day singles play in the doubles.
  • Reduce the tie to two days, with doubles starting the second day's session. An eleven or twelve start on day one, couples with a slightly later start on day two would allow 24 hours for singles players to recover.
Talking of marathon matches, here's another pic from Cilic v Querrey from Wimbledon 2012.  Copyright John Hovis.
There are some other changes I would make to the format, key amongst them being a bye for the holders who don't get much time to enjoy their success! There are other discussions to be had, perhaps getting rid of the Fed Cup and making the Davis Cup a male+female tournament, perhaps with six singles and three doubles rubbers. Imagine a three day event, just as it is at present, with three best-of-three singles on day one, one best of five men's doubles, a best of three women's doubles and a best of three mixed doubles on day two, with three more singles on day three. Bang, crash, wallop. True team tennis for a modern age.

Back to the current Davis Cup. Fantastic tie between Switzerland and Berdych. I love Stan and can't stop feeling sorry for him. Hopefully this doesn't negatively affect his season. The doubles tie was madness, although I can't help but think matches really shouldn't last that long; what tends to happen is that players begin to focus on conserving energy for their service games. Subsequently, the tennis becomes staid as players refuse to expend energy attacking. Final set tie breaks are probably the right way forward across the board, much as it pains me to say it. Tennis shouldn't be about crazy acts of stamina and stubbornness  It isn't 'Touching The Truck'.

And finally. My Davis Cup prediction? France. That's France's chances utterly scuppered.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Australian Open Postscript

John Hovis was deeply depressed following the Australian Open, only now does he feel up to providing his thoughts on the climax of the tournament.

Firstly, the men's final. It was boring. Watching two muscle-bound athletes hammering the ball from behind each baseline is not my idea of what tennis should be. The startling lack of variety when Murray and Djokovic play is now sickening. Granted, there is some skill involved. However, huge forehands, huge double handed backhands, the inevitable defensive lob, the smash, the dig-out, then a winner. That's the constant pattern.
'Isn't Djokovic a tremendous athlete, the ablilty to hunt down all these lost cause balls?'
Yes, he is, though if courts were quicker (as they should be) he wouldn't be getting all these balls back, great athlete or not. For a player to be able to consistently return smashes from opposite ends of the baseline is just wrong. The point should be over and done with. SPEED UP THE COURTS ITF/ATP!! Make all the slams DIFFERENT as they used to be, not all slow to medium paced. End the tyranny of of the dull grinders! Interestingly, Brad Gilbert stated that the outside courts were noticably quicker this year, yet the show courts remained slow but perhaps very slightly quicker than last year. Could we be witnessing the incremental change John Hovis wants? Let's hope so. Oh, and play with faster balls too. Let's see what Djoko and Murray are really made of.

The best match of the tournament by a long way was the Federer/Tsonga QF. Variety, guile, attacking tennis, smiles, enjoyment, the crowd on its feet throughout. Compare it to the second best match, Djokovic v Wawrinka...a fine match, though for very different reasons. Although bitterly disappointed for Stan, there can't have been many people who, even at the darkest moments for Djoko, thought Stan would win. And therein lies the problem for tennis at the moment. Djoko and Murray can outgrind everyone on the tour. And that, my friends, does not make for good tennis or decent competition.

The a glimpse of the future was given during the final week of the AO. The Djoko night matches didn't sell out, and few, it seemed had much interest in watching Murray or in backing him within the arena. Murray's camp moaned about the lack of night matches. It was pointed out that he doesn't shift tickets. Djoko tries hard to be a huge character and the new global figurehead of tennis; sadly for him, his brand of tennis doesn't really get the average punter's juices flowing. The Murray / Djokovic duopoly really doesn't whet the appetite of tennis fans, let alone the occasional observer. Returning to the final, Murray's lack of ability to change it up and become more aggressive when required has cost him dear again. It may be that Djoko is now inside his head just at the time when he seemed to get several monkeys off his back. He's still got a lot of work to do.
Murray signing stuff following a Davis Cup tie. Copyright John Hovis.

What of the other players during the final stages of the AO? Sadly my women's picks were all wrong...mainly due to injury. Serena was untouchable: bad luck thwarted her. The women's game still has a long way to go to come close to her. As for Sharapova Nova, again her flawed serve and temperament on the big occasion let her down. Well done to Azarenka for retaining her title...fairly uninspiring tennis though.

As for the gents, those pundits who have long championed Ferrer's achievements need their heads examined. Again, when he gets close, he's got nothing. His distance from the top four remains enormous, as he himself admits...Ferrer admitted that with the big four in a slam, he's got no chance of winning it. That the world No.4 admits to having no chance at Slams shows that tennis has some serious strength and depth problems. As for the GOAT, Fed showed that his tennis is still fabulous and he's in good shape. A tiny touch slower, not as powerful as the top two hulks and a little more erratic with age. He's still a major threat and with more consistency throughout the final week of Slams could easily allow him to take home more titles. As Fed gets older and looser in the latter stages with the career pressure now being off, the Murrays and Djokos won't want to face him in SF's. With the courts still so slow, Wimbledon, with shorter points should still be his best hope. Also good to see a resurgent Tsonga, playing good stuff, entertaining and with stiffer resolve. Could be a good year for him with Rasheed at the coaching helm. Disappointing from Berdych, Delpo, Tomic, Raonic, Nishikori and especially Dmitrov. Long way to go for these guys to get near the top four. More work, more belief and stronger stomachs for the battle required. A very surprising tournament from Simon, Monfils, Chardy and Almagro. Yet again, the lack of self belief and the unwillingness to dig in and battle is stark. Almagro's loss in particular should have his coaching staff in tears.

Next up: Davis Cup aftermath.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Fabulous Fed.

What a performance from Fed v The Missile earlier today. Utterly imperious. Now I want everyone to view this shot of the day...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Aussie Open Mid Point Thoughts.

Very little to say which hasn't already been said many times elsewhere across the globe. Top seeds hammering through the draw, with one exception...John Hovis invested many hours of his life watching one of his favourite players today. Stan the Man took the kitchen sink and chucked it at the Djoker and can't believe he lost. When watching the top seeds play foes from outside the top five, one knows deep in one's soul how it will end; it's a tragedy of modern tennis. Stan wasn't merely a victim of a final laspe of self-belief: he was a victim of circumstance. He outplayed his opponent on the whole and forced Djokovic to do what sickens me to death about what tennis has become in the age of Nole and Nadal: grind, defend and grind some more.
Stan tired badly which probably cost him the final points against the ludicrously fit Djoko. The real sickener for me was the poor call on break point with Djokovic serving at 4-4 final set. It turns out the ball WAS IN. Stan should have been serving for the match. That's not to say he would have won...although it would have changed the delicate momentum of the match.
All is done now. The effort should have a detrimental effect on Djokovic. Berdych must take advantage if he is to be taken seriously as a top ten player. Murray will be chortling, especially as he is playing Simon who himself states that he doesn't expect to win due to his tiredness following his own marathon match.
Tennis is a cruel sport. My sadness for Stan has yet to evaporate and the punch in the guts I received at the conclusion had yet to subside. Very grudging congrats to Nole...however, Stan's play at times was sublime. The laser-like single-handed backhand is a thing of true beauty. He's a player's player. If he can become more consistent throughout matches and believe in the manner of a Djokovic, Stan could reach the top ten this season.
The only thing left to say is...speed up the courts and banish the grinders!

Here are some short highlights of the best match of the Aussie Open 2013 thus far...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Aussie Open

It's time for serious tennis once again. It's also time for John Hovis to give some thoughts on the draw, remind everyone of his predictions and provide nuggets of wisdom on the tournament. Down to business.
The heat will have a huge bearing on the outcome, not only of the final but in key matches of the early rounds. Certain players adapt well to extreme heat, e.g. Serena, Djoko, Fed, Murray. Others seem to struggle, particularly the younger players. It is worth keeping tabs on the weather and who gets the plum evening matches...
The courts appear to be marginally quicker this year, although weather will play a role in this area too. Heat and humidity will again be a key factor.
Form going into the tournament does not necessarily mean the guarantee of a good tournament. Davydenko, Dmitrov, Radwanska, Tomic and Ferrer have all been playing very competent tennis recently. Davydenko and Tomic may well come up against Fed. Ferrer has a tough draw, as does Dmitrov.
I expect some surprises. Fed hasn't hit a ball in anger and is notoriously slow out of the blocks. He may not even reach the quarters for the first time since 1934. I suspect that it won't be seen as a disaster within the RF camp should that happen. Del Potro may have a tough time going deep into the tournament, as may Raonic despite heavy expectations this year. John Hovis can see early exits for Azarenka & Kvitova.
Finally, having watched the warm-up tournaments, JH will reiterate his predictions. Murray and Serena. I would like Fed to win one more Aussie Open but a combination of rustiness and a very tough draw will put paid to that.
Another of the JH Wimbledon photos, from the Murray v Baghdatis match.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Weekend Victories

In the searing Australian summer heat, Andy Murray and Serena Williams climbed to the top of the greasy pole in their respective tournaments. Serena made short work of her opponent, despite a high error count. Disgust at anything less than perfection show the desire which motivates her at the moment. Williams is so far ahead of the field at present that it is difficult to predict anything less than a clean sweep of slams. Should she remain free of illness and injury, no woman can stop her.
The Brisbane final was far less comfortable for Murray despite the result. Grigor Dmitrov's performance, although flawed, demonstrated the tactical guile and talent which should take him towards the top ten. Murray overcame significant breaks and punishing spells of Bulgarian domination to overcome through power, will and effort, showing why he is now a true slam contender.
Dmitrov's performance was the real interest here. Using the slice to mix up his play, he pulled Murray around the court effortlessly. A mixture of guile and tactical nous allowed the Bulgarian to draw Murray away from the baseline and unbalance him. Clever play around the net had the Scot scrambling.
Clearly, Grigor's new coaching team had been watching footage of Fed's victories over Murray; the use of the Rogeresque backhand slice and the precisely timed attacks had his opponent reeling.
Unfortunately, a lack of self-belief coupled with Murray's physical superiority meant it was all for nothing. This may well be the breakout season for Dmitrov: whether this match heralds a new dawn remains to be seen. The young Bulgarian needs deeper reserves to draw upon.
Andy Murray during a past Davis Cup tie...another John Hovis exclusive pic.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Stick

John Hovis has taken the plunge and bought a new back-up bat. My hammer of choice is the BLX Blade Lite which provides excellent control and spin. I did want to have a back-up racquet which provides more control and power than my unwieldy N 6.3, which is cumbersome. Having suffered a catastrophic string break before an away tie in the West Of Scotland doubles league last year, I didn't want to be in the position of pressing the n6.3 into service again. (Don't worry, we won the rubber 2-1...but lost the match 5-4 due to choking in the lower orders).
A lengthy absence from the courts due to a wrist injury has led to a new tact...looking for a racquet even lighter than my Blade Lite. I found one...The Pro Lite BLX.
255g unstrung, the bat is very head light, putting minimal strain on my wrist. Seems to lack a bit of 'pop' and felt a bit soft, though probably just need to get used to it. I've hardly hit a ball in anger since October. I'll review both of my sticks in the fullness of time. By the way, the Pro-Lite was a bargain at £59.99. John Hovis approves of low, low prices.

Ross Hutchins

Unfortunate news for Ross Hutchins. Hopefully, as a young fit guy he will get over his illness and be back on court soon. An excellent doubles player, I enjoy watching him play with Colin 'Flembo' Fleming. Hard work has afforded them the opportunity to rise steeply in the rankings over the past couple of years and it wouldn't be a huge leap of the imagination to see them eventually grab a slam title. Here's looking forward  to a swift recovery.
Ross Hutchins at Wimbledon 2012 with Heather Watson in the mixed dubs.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Predictions 2013...Part One.

As this blog will be an eternal record of my betting shame, John Hovis will now display tremendous fortitude by projecting his tennis predictions for the 2013 season. Starting on the back foot, I will say that making predictions of a whole year in tennis is stupidly difficult as injury, form and illness distort the season as it progresses. If necessary J.H will amend his predictions at will throughout the season. There's NOTHING you can do about it at all.
The season will be split into three; the first two slams, the second two THEN random others scattered like my first serve across the court.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN - Men - Andy Murray /  WOMEN - Serena Williams
FRENCH OPEN - Men - Rafa Nadal /  WOMEN - Serena Williams

During the first half of the season I believe that DJOKOVIC will win the majority of clay tournaments including Madrid. MILOS RAONIC will win at least one ATP title. KEI NISHIKORI will win at least one ATP title. I also predict that Spain will lose early in the Davis Cup.

End of part one.

 Here's another of my Wimbledon photos from 2012.
Jo Wilfred Tsonga on the practise court. I predict another poor year from the big man.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year.

Coming up soon...predictions for 2013. Hopefully some equipment to review soon. I want a new racquet to back up my trusty BLX Blade Lite. I would like something with a touch more power but plenty of control. Must be light. Any suggestions? John Hovis is currently considering a Wilson Steam.