Tales from tennis’ fifth major

April 5, 2011

Greg Rusedski writes exclusively for Reuters thanks to Thomson Reuters’ sponsorship of the Lawn Tennis Association.

The Sony Ericsson Open tournament is considered the fifth major by most of the tennis fraternity. It became a week with many story lines:

– Could Andy Murray regain form?
– Would Juan Martin del Potro continue his great comeback form?
– Would there be a new American number 1?
– Would Roger Federer be in the mix for his 2nd title this year?
– Could Rafael Nadal win Miami for the first time?
– And finally could Novak Djokovic continue his unbeaten season?

Murray was even worse than last week and lost to Alex Bogomolov Jr. in straight sets in his first match. This is now two weeks in a row losing to players outside the top 100. Following his defeat he parted company with his part time coach Alex Corretja. He said by Monte Carlo there would be a new coach appointed who has won a major or coached a player to a major. There has been lots of speculation from Lendl to Connors to Wilander, nobody knows. Also on April fool’s day Murray announced on twitter that his friend and doubles specialist Ross Hutchins would be his new coach. Sky Sports, BBC and the world press ran with the story and were not impressed by his Aprils fool’s joke because of the proximity to his parting of company with his coach. I believe he needs to stay away from these sorts of games and appoint a top coach or top psychologist to get back to his best. This is turning out to be a very difficult period in his career. It is only going to get more difficult with clay court season about to start. He needs to just concentrate on his tennis.

Andy Murray of Britain walks back to the sidelines during his match against Alex Bogomolov Jr. of the U.S. at the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida March 25, 2011.     REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Juan Martin del Potro continued his great comeback form this week by defeating world number 4 Robin Soderling. It is great to see one of the best strikers of a tennis ball and former US Open Champion getting back in the mix. He will only continue to get better with Clay court season about to begin, having grown up on clay in Argentina. Unfortunately he lost a very tight match to Mardy Fish in the 4th round, but is getting better each week. This is great for men’s tennis because we need more players in the mix at the top with Djokovic and Nadal dominating.

From the American point of view with defending Champion Andy Roddick going out early, Mardy Fish would become the new American number 1 if he could get to the semi-finals. It would be a first for the American. Mardy Fish made it to the semi-finals and at 5-3 down in the first set to Djokovic he had 2 break points and should have broken. Djokovic looked tired for the first time in his incredible run at 5-3 up, but managed to hold the game to win the set 6-3 and then mentally he ignored his fatigue from there to win 6-1 and win his 23rd match in a row this year to make the finals. Fish had a great week and became the American number 1 for the first time in his career which is a great accomplishment. It is great to see a player attacking and coming to the net. A style I miss seeing on tour.

Mardy Fish of the U.S. eyes a return during his match against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina at the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida March 29, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Federer on the other hand a smooth run to the semi-finals where he played Rafael Nadal. Lots of people were expecting a classic but Nadal destroyed Federer 6-3 6-2 to make the finals versus Djokovic. For Federer these are worrying signs losing to Nadal and Djokovic the past few weeks and months. He can’t keep up with them from the back of the court and both players just hurt him on the backhand side too much. At the moment I see him staying at number 3 in the world. I believe the changes to coming forward and transitioning should have happened 2 or 3 years ago. It is hard to make those changes when you are 29. I hope I am wrong because Federer is such a class act and a great champion.

Fans watch and take photos of Rafael Nadal (R), of Spain as he towels off after defeating compatriot Feliciano Lopez at the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida March 28, 2011.     REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Nadal versus Djokovic became a rematch of last week with many pundits not believing Djokovic when he said he was not fatigued going into the finals. It was an extremely windy day which suits Nadal because he likes playing in the wind with his heavy top spin. Nadal raced out to a 5-1 lead, but then the wind died down and Djokovic hit back and became more aggressive to get back to 5-4. Ultimately Nadal won the set but the momentum turned early in the 2nd set and Djokovic won the 2nd set 6-3. Both players raised their game in the third and they went to a final set tie breaker with Djokovic winning 7-4 to take his fourth title of the year and keep his unbelievable run of 24 match wins in a row going.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after defeating Spain's Rafael Nadal in a tiebreaker in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida, April 3, 2011.   REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Djokovic went after it more than Nadal in the last 2 sets and hit through the ball and took it earlier. Nadal on the other hand really struggled to hit through the ball but also was not allowed to by Djokovic. From a neutral point of view it makes the clay court season more interesting because people are starting to believe Djokovic could possibly beat Nadal on the clay. We will see but I still think the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, will win almost everything on clay. He is going for 7 Monte Carlo Masters titles in a row. Last year he only dropped 13 games to win the title. This year it could be a little more difficult.

Djokovic at the moment looks like he could be number 1 by the end of this year. He has it all.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates by holding the trophy after defeating Spain's Rafael Nadal (L) in a tiebreaker in the finals of the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida, April 3, 2011.    REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

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