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Updated: 22 min ago

Novak, Andy Take It To The Limit

Sat, 01/30/2016 - 1:12pm

Prior to one of the 30 matches Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have played over the past decade, a reporter asked Murray, “Is this a rivalry wrapped up in a friendship or just a rivalry wrapped up in an intense rivalry?”

The question, though perhaps a bit too Churchillian for your everyday tennis pro, was a valid one. The Scotsman and Serb had practically grown up together, after all. Born within a week of each other in May 1987, they met when they were just 12 and came up through the junior ranks together. They’ve practised together. They’ve played doubles together. They’ve played the occasional game of pick-up basketball. Now 28, both married and Murray poised to join his counterpart in fatherhood, they insist they’re good friends to this day.

But one naturally must wonder if the lopsided FedEx ATP Head2Head, tilted in Djokovic’s favour at 21-9, has taken a toll on the relationship.

“We've played a lot in the last couple of years,” said Murray, who on Sunday will face Djokovic in a rematch of the 2015 final, the fourth time they will have played for the Australian Open crown in the past six years. “Last year here is a good match for me to look at because the tennis, in my opinion, wasn't miles apart. It was a very close match for three sets [7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-0]. Same thing in Miami when we played there [7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0]. A couple sets were very tight. French Open was close, as well [6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1]. I managed to get the win in Canada in another very close match [6-4, 4-6, 6-3]. The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That's my challenge on Sunday.”

“It's always a special kind of challenge because we have the rivalry that goes back for a long time,” said Djokovic, who has reached more Aussie Open finals (six) than any other player in the Open Era. “It's always very physical, also very psychologically demanding. We push each other to the limit.”

On Sunday, they will contest their fourth Australian Open final against each other, Djokovic having prevailed on each previous occasion. The World No. 1 has won 10 of his past 11 matches against Murray, and he’s 6-2 against the Scot at the Grand Slams, 3-2 in major finals. The only player Djokovic has beaten on more occasions than Murray at the Slams is Roger Federer (nine times).

There’s no denying that Djokovic has played somewhat unevenly at times this year in Melbourne. His 100-error outing against Gilles Simon resulted in a narrow five-set 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 escape in the fourth round. But if Djokovic can pull off second-week wins at the Slams even when he’s not playing his best ball, what kind of message does that send to his opponents?

Even Simon was taken aback after his near-upset of the 10-time Slam champ. Said the Frenchman, “He's improving year after year. That's terrible to say because he's already No. 1.”

“It's not a very pleasant feeling when you're not playing well,” noted Djokovic, who is coming off one of the most dominant season in tennis history, one on which he went 82-6 and won three of the four majors. “But certainly it's a good feeling when you win not playing well.”

He certainly rediscovered his form in the semi-finals against the No. 3-seeded Federer, defeating his longtime rival 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and going as far as to say he thought the first two sets were the best he'd ever played against the Swiss legend. And that's saying something, considering they have now met 45 times. 

Murray, meanwhile, is looking to become the first man in the Open Era to win the Australian Open title after losing four finals. (He finished as runner-up to Federer in 2010, and to Djokovic in 2011, 2013 and 2015.) At the same time, he’s looking to avoid becoming only the second man in the Open Era to lose five Grand Slam finals at any one major. His former coach Ivan Lendl is, for the moment, the lone man on that list, having come up empty at the US Open from 1982-84 and 1988-89 (the Czech-American did win three straight between 1985 and 1987).

But if you’re looking for the father-to-be to come in as defeatist, you’ll be disappointed. Murray has long underlined the pride has had in his achievements in Melbourne Park, though they have yet to result in the trophy, aka the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.

“Five finals is a great achievement. You can't take that away from me,” he said. “I should be happy about that. There's very few players that will have made five Australian Open finals, so I have to be proud of that achievement. Obviously, when you get to the final, you're disappointed if you don't win. But I've played very good tennis here. I've given myself many opportunities to reach the finals. Seven straight quarter-finals, as well. I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis. I need to do it for long enough to have a chance. I'm aware of that. I don't think many people are expecting me to win. I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it. Doesn't matter what's happened in the past, really. It's about what happens on Sunday. There's no reason it's not possible for me to win.”

The good news for Murray? In five of the past eight years, the man who played his semi-final second, as he did, has gone on to win the final. But the two-time Slam champ (US Open 2012, Wimbledon 2013) will likely rely more on his always-improving arsenal than some statistical fortuity.  In many ways his game and that of his oft-opponent Djokovic aren’t far apart: elite return game, exacting fitness regimen, punishing ground-strokes, plenty of heart. This one might just come down to who can out-think the other. 

Players Take The Vegemite Taste Test

Sat, 01/30/2016 - 12:26pm
What is the reaction when the likes of Gilles Simon, Fabio Fognini, Taylor Fritz and the Bryan brothers try Australian delicacy, vegemite?

Australian Open 2016 Final Preview

Sat, 01/30/2016 - 11:52am
Legends Rod Laver, Magnus Norman, Mats Wilander and Martina Navratilova preview the 2016 Australian Open singles final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray

AO Doubles Final One For The Purists

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 5:57pm

Jamie Murray was five years old when Daniel Nestor made his pro debut in 1991. Much has happened since. Nestor, now 43, has partnered with a variety of players — most notably Mark Knowles, Nenad Zimonjic, Max Mirnyi and Sebastien Lareau — to win eight Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, four Barclays ATP World Tour Finals crowns, 28 ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, and an Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. He’s also occupied the No. 1 slot in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, making the Serbian-born Canadian one of the sport’s most accomplished achievers.

“Daniel’s had an amazing career,” said Jamie Murray, who with brother Andy Murray became the first siblings to reach finals in both men’s singles and doubles at a major since Reggie Doherty/Laurie Doherty at Wimbledon in 1906. “He won his 1,000th match in Sydney. He’s been a great role model for me. He’s somebody who I’ve looked up to from a young age when I started playing doubles.”

Now 29, Murray is about to face his role model in the final of the 2016 Australian Open. The Scotsman and partner Bruno Soares of Brazil will take on Nestor and another veteran, 37-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek, on Saturday night in Rod Laver Arena.

“They’re a very strong team, a very experienced team,” observed Soares. “Nestor is one of the all-time greats in doubles. Both of them, they’ve won here before, so they know what it feels like to win the Aussie Open final.”

The Murray/Soares partnership is a new one, launched only weeks ago. This is just their third tournament together. They kicked off 2016 by reaching the semis in Doha (l. to Lopez/Lopez), before taking the title in Sydney (d. Bopanna/Mergea). En route to the Melbourne final, the No. 7 seeds dispatched Marray/Qureshi 6-4, 6-4; Fyrstenberg/Janowicz 7-5, 6-3; No. 11 Inglot/Lindstedt 6-3, 6-4; No. 13 Klaasen/Ram 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(3); and Mannarino/Pouille 6-3, 6-1. Murray has now reached the final of the past three Grand Slams, the first two with Australian John Peers. But he’s still seeking his first major title.

For their part, Nestor and Stepanek advanced with wins over Hsieh/Yang 6-1, 7-5; No. 10 Kubot/Matkowski 7-6(4), 6-1; Andujar/Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-4, 6-4; No. 14 Huey/Mirnyi 6-4, 6-4; and Cuevas/Granollers 7-6(11), 6-4.

“It’s Jamie’s third Slam final in a row, so we have to expect a very tough match,” said Stepanek, himself a two-time Slam champ in doubles (2012 Australian Open, 2013 US Open, both with Leander Paes).

“For me, it took a couple of Grand Slam finals to get through,” said Nestor. “I imagine they’re going to play their best match. They’ve experienced this already, so they’re going to be very tough to beat.”

Saturday’s match-up will likely come down to which team can play the more aggressive tennis and assert themselves at the net. Experience is most certainly on the Nestor/Stepanek side, but Murray/Soares have shown that they can hang with the big boys, too.

“It’s going to be a pure doubles game, everyone trying to take control of the net,” Soares asserted. “We’re going to have to try to do that before them. We’ll try to make a lot of returns, pressure their serves.”

“They’re going to be very tough to beat in this situation because they’ve been there and done it before,” said Murray. “We’ve also been to Grand Slam finals but we haven’t won, so I guess that’s an edge they’d have over us.”

Raonic "Heartbroken" After Murray Loss

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 3:35pm

Milos Raonic cut a forlorn figure on Friday night as he began to dissect his five-set semi-final loss to Andy Murray in the Australian Open semi-finals.

"[It's] probably the most heartbroken I felt on court," admitted Raonic, who suffered an adductor injury midway through the third set. "I think maybe that's why I sort of lashed out... at the start of the fifth set. I guess that was sort of just the whole frustration of everything sort of getting out."

Raonic's injury, which affected him pushing off on his leg on serve and change of direction, had been initially triggered en route to the Brisbane title, earlier in the month.

Leading Murray two sets to one, he suffered a relapse but continued to battle in his second Grand Slam championship semi-final. Despite hitting 72 winners, he ultimately lost 4-6, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2 in four hours and three minutes.

"I'm in a much better state than where I was 18 months ago, when I was in my first semi-final of a Grand Slam," said Raonic, who reached the last four at 2014 Wimbledon. "I think I was giving myself chances and I was fighting hard. I was doing things right.

"I'm happy with where my tennis is at, I just wish I could play...tennis."

Earlier this week, InfoSys ATP Beyond The Numbers revealed how Raonic has stepped up a level in the first few weeks of 2016, which includes his eighth ATP World Tour crown at Brisbane (d. Federer). His performances against 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open fourth round and against Murray highlighted the significant threat he now poses on serve, but also on return of serve.

Australian Open Doubles Final Preview

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:50am
Look ahead to the Australian Open doubles final between Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares and Daniel Nestor/Radek Stepanek.

Murray Into Fifth Australian Open Final

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:30am

Andy Murray will face Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final after coming from behind to beat Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2 in a gripping semi-final on Friday night in Melbourne.

Murray will contest his fifth final at Melbourne Park and will face Djokovic for the fourth time, having finished runner-up to the Serb in 2011, ’13 and ’15. He also missed out against Roger Federer in 2010.

"Last year here is a good match for me to look at because the tennis, in my opinion, wasn't miles apart," said Murray. "It was a very close match for three sets. The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That's my challenge on Sunday.

"I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis. I don't think many people are expecting me to win on Sunday. I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well. There's no reason it's not possible for me to win." 

With his brother, Jamie Murray, in the men’s doubles final alongside Bruno Soares, the Murrays are the first brothers in the Open Era to reach the finals in both the men's singles and doubles at a Grand Slam championship. 

"For it to be the first time to happen is incredible really," said Murray. "I never would have expected that. I mean, even at the beginning of last year Jamie had only maybe made one quarter of a slam before Wimbledon. Now that he's made three in a row, he's playing great tennis and is moving right up to the top of the rankings. So very proud of him.

"Obviously it's something that's going to be extremely rare. You're not going to see it very often. We should enjoy it and be proud of it because it's a tough thing to do."

The 28-year-old Murray will look to win his third Grand Slam championship, adding to titles at the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon, beating Djokovic in both. The Scot has a 9-21 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Djokovic, winning just one of their seven meetings in 2015.

Murray had to give it everything to reach his ninth Grand Slam final. He was pushed all the way by Raonic, who twice led in the match.

Showing no signs of nerves in his seventh FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with Murray, Raonic started the stronger, breaking Murray in the first game. The right-hander then held from a 0/40 deficit to secure the break and did not look back, striking 14 winners to just four from Murray to claim the opening set in 36 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

But Murray had Raonic under pressure on serve throughout the second set. With Murray starting to pick Raonic’s serve, the Canadian fended off a break point in the second game and again in the sixth game. But the Toronto native blinked in the clutch 12th game. Facing set point at 30/40, he came in behind his serve but netted the backhand volley.

Murray had allowed Raonic no opportunity on his serve, making 80 per cent of his first serves and winning 20 of those 24 points. The Scot also benefitted from 20 unforced errors from Raonic in the second set, while only committing five himself.

Both players dominated on serve for the first half of the third set, with five love service games to open proceedings. The first sign of danger for Murray came in the ninth game, when he held from 0/30 for a 5-4 lead. Raonic again had Murray under pressure in the 11th game, but was denied on the only break point chance of the set as Murray held for 6-5.

In the ensuing tie-break, Raonic struck first with a fearsome forehand return winner to take a 3-2 lead. He quickly stretched the advantage to 5-2 and didn’t falter on his first set point at 6-4, sending down an unreturned serve.

Raonic left the court for a medical timeout after only three games of the fourth set. With the Canadian’s movement slightly restricted, Murray pounced, breaking to love in the seventh game. A messy game ensued, with Murray surrendering a 40/15 lead to face a break point courtesy of three unforced errors. But the Scot attacked the net and was rewarded, ultimately holding for a 5-3 lead.

After saving a set point in the eighth game, Raonic received more treatment on his upper right leg at the changeover and went on the attack with his forehand in the following game to earn two break back points. Murray found his best tennis when it was needed to reel off four straight points, though, and secure the set.

Clearly impeded by his injury, Raonic never got a foothold in the decider. Murray benefitted from a double fault to break in the opening game and quickly raced to a 4-0 lead. Raonic showed grit to save five break points in the fifth game, but was afforded no opportunity to get back into the match as Murray went on to serve out victory in just over four hours on Rod Laver Arena. Murray had committed just 28 unforced errors in the contest, 50 less than Raonic.

"When you play against someone who is tough to break like Milos, you need to protect your own serve to put pressure on them," said Murray. "I think at the end of the fourth set I did very well. I won some of the break points I faced. I came up with some good second serves. I changed the position of the second serves on a few points. Served close to the lines. That was big.

"Obviously if the injury affected him significantly at the end, then that's tough, especially at this stage of an event. As the player, it's obviously very tough when that happens. I've been in that position myself many times before, as well. It's not easy."

After upsetting former champion Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round and backing it up with victory over Gael Monfils, Raonic was contesting his second Grand Slam semi-final, having fallen in the semis at Wimbledon two years ago (l. to Federer).

The Toronto native saw his nine-match winning streak at the start of 2016 come to an end. The right-hander had opened his campaign by winning his eighth ATP World Tour title in Brisbane (d. Federer). A change to his coaching set-up this season has seen the Canadian employ former World No. 1 Carlos Moya, with former coach Ivan Ljubicic taking up a position in Roger Federer's camp.

"It was just a difficulty to push off my leg with my adductor midway through the third set," said Raonic, addressing his injury. "That's what it was. It's unfortunate. Probably the most heartbroken I felt on court, but that's what it is. I'm happy with where my tennis is at, I just wish I could play...tennis."

Murray vs. Raonic Semi-final Preview

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 10:33pm

We’re impatient, tennis fans. When we catch a glimpse of the next so-called can’t miss/sure thing, the next teen phenom with pro-style stuff who’s sure to take the world by storm, we want results. And we want them now.

When Canada’s Milos Raonic, 6-foot-5 frame and loping, what-me-worry confidence, first burst onto the scene in 2011, we were convinced we were witnessing the start of a great Grand Slam career. His first ATP World Tour title came in an arena better known as The Shark Tank, home to the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

Where better for a Canadian to break though than on a converted hockey rink?

Raonic, who is set to face Andy Murray on Friday night in the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals, would go on to win three straight titles in San Jose, his concussive serve turning heads and leading some, including 2011 runner-up Fernando Verdasco, to mutter, “When he serves all the time at 140 miles per hour, and every time there’s a chance it’s going to hit the line, you cannot even play tennis.”

Soon everyone was talking about the power-balling sensation who had moved from his native Montenegro to Canada when he was just three, nicknames fluttering around him like a good Ontario snowfall: Maple Leaf Missile, Bombardier Milos, The Big Leaf. But despite his steady rise in the Emirates ATP Rankings, his year-end mark inching toward the Top 10 (he reached a career-high No. 4 in May 2015), the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and Grand Slam titles weren’t piling up as quickly as we once believed they would.

The truth is he was still so young, his return game, his court sense still developing. Now 25, he’s become a much more complete player. Earlier this month, he scored only his second win over Roger Federer in 11 FedEx ATP Head2Heads, taking the Brisbane title. And adding ‘98 Roland Garros champ Carlos Moya to his team (he still works with Riccardo Piatti) seems to have brought a fresh perspective, a new on-court aggression that has Raonic building smarter points, attacking mid-court balls and even putting pressure on his opponents’ serves.

“I feel like I'm finding answers,” said Raonic, who is bidding to become the first Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final. “I'm taking care of my serve. I'm creating opportunities on the return. I'm reacting much better, getting a lot more returns back in, putting more pressure on my opponents, so eventually the opportunities are coming to me. So I think it's just really about keeping that cycle going forward. It's not a question of will I create opportunities. I feel like I'm playing good enough tennis. I feel like I can. The question is will I make use of them?”

Into only the second major semi-final of his eight-year professional career (‘14 Wimbledon), the injury-free Raonic has perhaps never been better equipped to deliver on the big stage. But to reach his first Grand Slam final, he’ll first have to get past World No. 2 Murray. He’s done it before, including a fourth-round win over the Scotsman at Indian Wells in 2014, but never at this level. They’ve met at a major only once before, Murray winning in straight sets on his way to his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2012.

Raonic is 1-12 against Top-2 opposition overall, with his only victory coming against Federer in the quarter-finals in Paris in 2014. He has lost all three of his career meetings with Top-2 players at the Grand Slams in straight sets.

Murray, a four-time finalist in Melbourne, is still seeking his first Australian Open trophy. He finished as runner-up to Federer in 2010, and to Novak Djokovic in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

“Raonic is a big server and tries to play short points,” said Murray. “Milos started this year extremely well. He was unfortunate last year with some injuries. Had a few physical issues. I played him in Madrid and he was struggling a little bit there. Then I think he had the surgery on his foot and missed the French and maybe Wimbledon as well. He's obviously fit and healthy now and playing well.”

Murray, of course, is one of the tour’s premier returners. He is more than capable of neutralising a power server like Raonic and bringing points back to neutral ground. So the Canadian will have to prove himself on the ground against the always-fit 28-year-old Brit, showing us that he is, in fact, the player we always thought he could be.  

Novak: ‘You Battle Yourself The Most’

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 8:09pm

When you’ve gone from hunter to hunted, as Novak Djokovic has since getting his first intoxicating taste of No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings back in July 2011, you learn to deal with pressure in ways you never imagined.

Not everyone is built for it over the long haul.

Chile’s Marcelo Rios spent six weeks at No. 1 in 1998. Spain’s Carlos Moya, who recently joined Milos Raonic's coaching team, lasted two weeks in ‘99; countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero eight in ‘03. Of course, most players never even get a sniff at No. 1. But Djokovic, now in his 183rd week atop the charts, has shown that he is indeed up for the task. As he’s said, the more he achieves in this sport, the more the expectations, the pressures — both from himself and from others — mount. In his words, they come “in big portions.” But whether it was his upbringing amid war and uncertainty; marriage, fatherhood or just the natural maturity that comes at 28 after years of globetrotting as a touring pro, the Serb has found a way to deal with all that lay before him.

Video courtesy AusOpen.com

“I think Djokovic is certainly mature and conditioned to all the pressures that are in tennis today,” Hall of Famer Rod Laver told ATPWorldTour.com. “And there’s a lot more pressure today than when I was playing.”

Much attention is paid to Djokovic’s record against his chief rivals. Following Thursday night’s 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 defeat of Roger Federer in the Australian Open semis, he has the upper hand against the Swiss at 23-22 in FedEx ATP Head2Heads. He’s 24-23 against Rafael Nadal, his dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over the Spaniard in the Doha final coming “as close to perfection as it can get.” He's 21-9 against Andy Murray; 19-4 against Stan Wawrinka. But it’s his performance against a more ethereal opponent that may matter the most.

“At the end of the day, you’re battling yourself the most,” Djokovic asserted. “There are so many players out there that are hitting the ball well. Whether or not you're able to cope with the pressure in these particular moments, fighting against some of the best players in the world for the major trophies, there's a lot at stake. Emotions are going up and down. It's important to keep it together. You go throughout the match, and even before the match, through different thought processes. Even though sometimes it seems unnatural, you need to keep pushing yourself to be on the positive side.”

A prime example of that positive thinking is the way he stayed in the moment against Federer in last summer’s US Open final. It sure sounded as if all 24,000 Ashe Stadium ticketholders were pulling for his ever-popular opponent, but Djokovic kept his composure en route to a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 triumph.

“I try not to focus on that,” he said. “I feel like I'm enjoying lots of support around the world. When I play Roger, it's something that is expected in a way considering his career and his greatness on and off the court, what he has done for the sport. He's loved. He's appreciated. He's respected around the world. For me, it's normal in a way. I'm trying to enjoy my time, to do the best that I can with the tennis racquet, but also focus on the positive energy rather than negative, rather than getting frustrated for that. There's no reason.”

Djokovic admittedly has had an up-and-down run to the 2016 final in Melbourne, where he’s shooting for his sixth title in nine years. He didn’t drop a set through three rounds, then committed an uncharacteristic 100 unforced errors in clawing his way past France’s Gilles Simon in five sets 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. He was hardly at his best in dismissing Kei Nishikori in the quarters. But he clearly found his form against Federer, especially in the first two sets, which he wrapped up in a mere 54 minutes.

“I've had matches where I've played similar tennis,” he said. “But I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I've played against him overall I think throughout my career. I've had some moments against him in sets where I've played on a high level, but this was a different level than from before.”

“Psychologically, I did not allow myself to have big oscillations,” he added. “Your best changes day to day. It's not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you're playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger's resume, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that matchup than most of the other matches. So that's why I came out with a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I mean, I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it.”

Can the 10-time Grand Slam champion maintain this dominance in the years to come?

“It's hard to say what the future brings,” Djokovic said on Thursday. “Obviously, tennis is different from what it was when I was coming up 10 years ago. It's more difficult for young players to break through and actually challenge the best players in the world. It's more physical nowadays and more demanding from each and every aspect.

“There are cases and players like Boris Becker and [Michael] Chang, who were 16-, 17-, 18-year-old Grand Slam winners. It's hard to say if we're going to have that or not in the future. It just really depends. The future is not in our hands. It's expected to see new faces, a new generation of players, guys like [Nick] Kyrgios, [Alexander] Zverev. Those are players who are showing some big game, big tennis, and they are able quality-wise to challenge the top players. But to sustain that level and throughout the year to be actually consistent requires a lot more than just a good game. I'm going to try to stay here as long as possible. That's from my perspective what I can influence, what I can do. Whether or not I'm going to be dominant in the years to come, I don't know. I cannot give you an answer on that. I can try to do my best to try to keep playing on this level.”

Murray/Soares React To Reaching Australian Open Final

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 5:26pm
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares react after an emphatic semi-final win on Thursday at the Australian Open.

Stepanek/Nestor Through To Australian Open Final

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 2:22pm
Radek Stepanek and Daniel Nestor react after reaching the Australian Open final, where they will face Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.

Judy Murray Talks Sons' Success And Rivalry

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 2:09pm
Judy Murray talks about the progress her son, Jamie, has made in the past 18 months and what Andy and Jamie were like as children.

Federer Not Afraid Of Facing Djokovic

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 1:08pm

It’s fair to say that Roger Federer hoped for a lot more when he stepped onto Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night to face Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals. It wasn’t to be for the Swiss. Subjected to a staggering display from Djokovic, especially in the first two sets, the racquet was largely taken out of his hands.

But Federer’s self-belief is far from dented after the four-set defeat.

“I have self-confidence as well,” said the Swiss. “That doesn't fade away very quickly. I know it's not easy [facing Djokovic]. I never thought it was easy.

“It doesn't scare me when I go into a big match against any player who's in their prime right now. But of course you need to prove yourself. You need to have all that going. It's disappointing, but at the same time I'm going deep in slams right now. I'm having great runs. I thought I had a tough draw here, so I'm actually pleased where my level's at at the beginning of the season.”

Federer has been beaten by Djokovic in his past three Grand Slam outings, finishing runner-up to the Serb in the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. He was also defeated by Djokovic in the 2014 Wimbledon final. Indeed, if it weren’t for Djokovic dominating on the ATP World Tour in recent years, Federer could well have added to his Grand Slam haul of 17 trophies.

“Novak right now is a reference for everybody,” said Federer. “He's the only guy that has been able to stop me as of late, and Stan [Wawrinka] when he was on fire when he was in Paris. It's okay. I wish I could have played a bit better [tonight], and who knows what would have happened. Today Novak was very, very good. There's no doubt about it.”

The crowd on Rod Laver Arena were stunned into near-silence by Djokovic’s performance in the first two sets of his 45th meeting with Federer. In his finest performance of the tournament so far, the Serb was worlds away from his fourth-round battle with Gilles Simon, in which he made 100 unforced errors. For the first two sets against Federer, Djokovic committed just six unforced errors and gave the Swiss no break point opportunities.

Once the Serb had the first set, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Federer, who had only once before in 22 wins against Djokovic come from a set down.

“I know how important the first set is against Novak, especially at this time right now when he's World No. 1. When he gets on a roll, it's tough to stop. He's always played very well throughout his career with the lead. Even more so now when his confidence is up.

“Of course I wanted to do well. Of course I had a game plan. Of course I had ideas what I should do. I couldn't quite get it done. Maybe parts of my game, maybe parts of his game just matched up in a tough way and the first set ran away very quickly.”

What Federer can credit himself with is managing to halt Djokovic’s momentum - when he was barely missing a ball - and clawing his way back into the match, much to the delight of the crowd.

“I've seen Novak play this well before,” said Federer. “It's tough when it's from the start because obviously you’ve got to try to stop the bleeding at some point. He returns very well, like Andre Agassi. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly.

“Before you can really do something, a lot of tennis is being played and it's tough to get back into it. I found a way. Started to play better myself. Made a bit of a match out of it, which was nice.”

Murray To Challenge Raonic In Australian Open Semis

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 9:20am
Andy Murray will take on Milos Raonic in the second of the Australian Open semi-finals. While Murray is bidding to reach his fifth final at Melbourne Park, Raonic is hoping to make his first major final.

Djokovic Reaches Sixth Australian Open Final

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 9:14am

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is through to his sixth Australian Open final after producing a masterful display to defeat Roger Federer 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday night in Melbourne.

The Serb will face the winner of Friday night’s semi-final between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic as he bids to win his 11th Grand Slam championship. Djokovic has won the title at Melbourne Park in four of the past five years, with that reign only interrupted by Stan Wawrinka in 2014.

Djokovic v Federer highlights courtesy AusOpen.com

"I played unbelievable in the first two sets," Djokovic told Jim Courier in the on-court interview. "It was necessary against Roger, who was playing at a very high level during this tournament, only dropping one set. I knew he would be aggressive.

"I came out with the right intensity and executed everything perfectly. The two-set lead was comforting, but it was a battle in the end. At the end of the day, it's important that your convictions are stronger than your doubts."

Djokovic could barely put a foot wrong in a dazzling first-set display. The Serb committed just two unforced errors, compared to 12 from Federer. Federer elected to receive first, after winning the coin toss, and after starting on the front foot, Djokovic never looked back. The Belgrade native broke in Federer's first service game and lost only one point behind his first serve as he raced through the opener.

Federer tried to halt Djokovic’s momentum at the start of the second set, saving a break point to hold serve with a roar. But Djokovic didn’t flinch. In Federer’s following service game, the Serb broke to love and then a break to 15 in the fifth game all but sealed a two-set lead.

At the end of the second set, Djokovic had won 88 per cent of points (22 from 25) behind his first serve, and punished Federer’s second serve points won tally of just 26 per cent (5 from 19). Having committed an astounding 100 unforced errors in a five-set tussle with Gilles Simon in the fourth round, Djokovic made just six errors in the first two sets against Federer, compared to 22 from the Swiss. In a show of dominance, Djokovic won almost twice as many points as Federer (52 to 27) and did not face a break point.

But 17-time Grand Slam champions do not go away quietly. Federer saved a break point in the fifth game before going on the attack in Djokovic’s service game. With the majority of the crowd on Rod Laver Arena urging him on, the Swiss was thwarted on his first four break points of the match, but not on his fifth.

Federer engineered the opportunity by belying his 34 years to chase down a near-impossible get and dinking a forehand winner past Djokovic. He then converted by attacking Djokovic’s backhand corner with a rifled forehand. A nervy service hold in the ninth game saw him claw his way back into the match. Federer improved behind his second serve, winning seven of eight points, and hit 16 winners to just six from Djokovic.

The match was delayed at the end of the third set as the roof was closed due to a forecast of imminent rain. Djokovic kept his nose in front serving first at the resumption and the pressure ultimately told for Federer in the eighth game. At 15/30, the Swiss produced one of the points of the tournament as he chased down a Djokovic lob, then a smash, then a short volley to find the line with a remarkable backhand pass. But it would be the last point he won in the contest.

Djokovic opened up a 30/40 lead with a forehand pass that clipped the top of the net and went over Federer's racquet and then converted the break as he ripped a forehand return to the net-rushing Federer’s feet. A service hold to love saw him claim victory in two hours and 19 minutes.

"I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I've played against him overall I think throughout my career," said Djokovic. "I've had some moments against him in sets where I've played on a high level, but this was a different level than from before. I'm just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end.

"It's not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you're playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger's résumé, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that match-up than most of the other matches. So that's why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it.

"I knew that if I dropped my level or concentration or allowed myself to get distracted by anything that he would take the first opportunity, jump on me, and just take the lead of the rallies," continued Djokovic. "That's what he has done in the third. He just waits for a little drop from his opponent. That's why he's been so successful throughout his career.

"But I was aware of that before the match, so psychologically I did not allow myself to have big oscillations. Of course, there was a lot of excitement from the crowd, as well, towards the end of the third set. Then of course they got into it. It was a great atmosphere. But I've played in these particular situations before, and managed to use that experience."

Since the start of the US Open, Djokovic has been nigh on unstoppable. The right-hander has compiled a 37-1 match record, with his only defeat coming to Federer in the round robin stage of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals – he would beat the Swiss when they met again in the final later that week. In that spell, Djokovic has gone 16-1 against Top 10 opponents.

The 28-year-old Djokovic won three of the four majors last year and was only denied the calendar Grand Slam by an inspired display from Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final. The Serb is looking to add to the Australian Open titles he won in 2008 (d. Tsonga), 2011 (d. Murray), 2012 (d. Nadal), 2013 (d. Murray) and 2015 (d. Murray).

Federer fell in the semi-finals in Melbourne for the fifth time in the past six years. The Basel native is a four-time champion Down Under, last hoisting the trophy in 2010 with victory over Andy Murray. The 34 year old was looking to win his first Grand Slam title since the 2012 Wimbledon crown this week.

"He definitely maybe dropped his level of play just ever so slightly [in the third set]," said Federer. "But that's all it takes. It's not easy to keep playing the way he was playing. You can't read all the serves all the time. I started to get a few more free points. I started to get more opportunities on his service games, as well.

"Margins are small out there. Even in a match like tonight where the first two sets run away. You can't get discouraged. You have to keep going, stay aggressive. I think my game started to come more and more.

"My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning. He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight." 

It's Murray/Soares vs. Nestor/Stepanek

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:27pm

No. 7 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, playing just their third event as a team, rolled into the Australian Open final on Thursday in Melbourne Park, defeating Frenchmen Adrian Mannarino and Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1.

Mannarino/Pouille, who two days earlier had scalped top seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the quarter-finals, would flinch first as action got underway in Rod Laver Arena. Serving at 2-3 in the opening set, they were broken at love as the Briton-Brazilian combo surged ahead to take the stanza in 32 minutes.

Murray/Soares didn’t waste time taking control of the second set, service breaks coming in the first, fifth and seventh games to seal the speedy 56-minute win. They were four for six in break-point conversions, and finished with 19 winners to six unforced errors. Murray and Soares kicked off their 2016 campaign by reaching the semis in Doha (l. to Feliciano Lopez/Marc Lopez), before taking the title in Sydney (d. Rohan Bopanna/Florin Mergea).

"To go out there and win 6-3, 6-1 gives us extra confidence for the final," said Soares. "We cannot ask for anything more. We played almost a perfect match.

Watch Murray/Soares Interview

"We came here feeling good, playing seven matches and winning one title. The conditions in Sydney are similar to Melbourne so we had a good feeling about this week. We knew we could do well. I hope we can do one more."

“I'm starting a new journey with Bruno here and it’s been a great two weeks for us," said Murray. "If we win one more match we can get over the final hurdle.

"You come into a new partnership with great intentions. Everyone wants to do great things. It doesn't always work out that way. But for us, from the first match we played we felt really comfortable on the court together. I seemed to really understand what Bruno was trying to do on the court. His strengths matched up pretty well with mine."

Jamie Murray and Andy Murray are the first brothers in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals in both the men’s singles and men’s doubles events at the Australian Open.

Their opponents in the final will be veterans Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek, who upset No. 16 seeds Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers 7-6(11), 6-4 in one hour and 42 minutes.

Watch Nestor/Stepanek Interview

The Canadian-Czech combo saved three set points in a wild first-set tie-break, and opened the second set with their second and final break of the afternoon. They won 36 of 47 (77%) of their first-serve points and totaled 20 winners.

Earlier this month in Sydney, Nestor, into his 26th season on the ATP World Tour, became the first player to reach the 1,000-win mark in doubles. He has eight men’s Grand Slam doubles titles on his resume. The 43-year-old Canadian will attempt to add a ninth on Saturday against Murray/Soares.

Federer, Djokovic Set To Resume Storied Rivalry

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 2:47pm

“There's a lot of tension. There's a lot at stake. I'm expecting a great fight in two days,” said Novak Djokovic as he looked ahead to his blockbuster Australian Open semi-final with Roger Federer, set for Thursday night on Rod Laver Arena.

Indeed, Djokovic and Federer will share the court for the 45th time, with their FedEx ATP Head2Head finely balanced at 22-22. Their past three Grand Slam meetings all came in finals and all were won by Djokovic (2015 Wimbledon & US Open, 2014 Wimbledon). The last time they played a semi-final was four years ago at Wimbledon. Federer won.

It has been an uphill struggle for Federer against Djokovic in recent years as the Serb’s dominance on the ATP World Tour has grown. Since that Wimbledon victory, Federer has beaten Djokovic seven times in 18 meetings. The challenges that he – and the rest of the tour – have faced against Djokovic would make victory on Thursday and ultimately an 18th Grand Slam championship even sweeter for the Swiss.

“It's part of the reason why I guess I'm still playing,” said the 34-year-old Federer. “I feel like I'm competitive at the top. I can beat all the guys on tour. It's nice now that in the last three slams that I've been as consistent as I have been.

“I'm playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway. I really enjoy being able to come to the net more like back in the day. So I'm very pleased. It would mean a lot to me, no doubt about it.”

Both Djokovic and Federer are bidding to reach their sixth Australian Open finals.

The 28-year-old Djokovic has never lost in a final at Melbourne Park, lifting his first Grand Slam trophy Down Under in 2008 (d. Tsonga) and returning victorious in 2011 (d. Murray), 2012 (d. Nadal), 2013 (d. Murray) and 2015 (d. Murray). Indeed, his 5hr., 53min., battle against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 finale would suggest he simply refuses to lose.

Federer first triumphed in Melbourne in 2004 (d. Safin) and reclaimed the trophy in 2006 (d. Baghdatis), 2007 (d. Gonzalez) and 2010 (d. Murray). He was runner-up to Nadal in the 2009 title match.

Djokovic is looking to reach his fifth successive Grand Slam final, having not lost prior to the title match at a major since the 2014 US Open, when he was beaten by Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals. Last year, the Serb won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open and fell just one match short of completing the calendar Grand Slam, losing to Stan Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final.

While Djokovic escaped a five-set scare in the fourth round against Gilles Simon, Federer has come through the draw largely unscathed – only dropping one set to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round - and having played three hours and 26 minutes less than Djokovic. Should Thursday night’s contest go the distance, though, Djokovic is backing himself to have a slight edge against Federer, six years his senior.

“Roger is playing really terrific tennis in the past two years,” said the Serb. “We played two Grand Slam finals last year. I know very well how well he plays, especially in the later stages of a major event.

“He always makes you play your best. My best is what is going to be necessary to win against him. Hopefully I'll be able to deliver. This is going to be a big challenge for both of us. The longer the match goes, maybe I have a slightly bigger chance. I still don't think it's something I can heavily rely on.”

Unquestionably, Djokovic rises to the occasion in the big matches. The Belgrade native has won 15 of his past 16 tour-level matches against Top 10 opposition. His only defeat in that time came to Federer in the round-robin stages at the 2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Furthermore, he has won 12 of his past 13 matches against Top 10 opposition at Grand Slams, with his only defeat coming against Wawrinka in the 2015 Roland Garros final.

Federer is looking to reach his 29th Grand Slam final, which would make him the oldest finalist at the Australian Open since 1972, when Ken Rosewall (37 years, 62 days) and Mal Anderson (36 years, 306 days) played the final. At 34 years, 176 days, he is already the oldest man to reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open since Colin Dibley (aged 35 years 105 days) in 1979

The Basel native will need to buck the trend of semi-final defeats he has endured at Melbourne Park in recent years, falling in the final four in 2011 (l. to Djokovic), 2012 (l. to Nadal), 2013 (l. to Murray) and 2014 (l. to Nadal).

Legends Preview Djokovic Vs Federer XLV

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 12:40pm
Legends Todd Woodbridge, Wayne Ferreira, Goran Ivanisevic and Thomas Enqvist, along with Andy Murray, preview the Australian Open semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Djokovic And Federer Collide In 2016 Australian Open SFs

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 10:07am
It's Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer for the 45th time. The two giants of the game get set to revisit their electric rivalry in Melboune.

Raonic Beats Monfils To Set Murray SF Clash

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 9:39am

He has been a trailblazer for Canadian tennis throughout his career and Milos Raonic carved out another slice of history for his country on Wednesday night in Melbourne as he became the first Canadian man to reach the Australian Open semi-finals.

The Toronto native defeated Gael Monfils 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to set a semi-final clash with Andy Murray, who earlier beat David Ferrer.

Raonic has a 3-3 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Murray, beating the two-time Grand Slam champion most recently in Indian Wells two years ago. Raonic holds a 19-41 record against Top 10 opposition, claiming his 19th win last weekend when he beat Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

The 25-year-old Raonic is bidding to reach his first Grand Slam final, to play the winner of Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer. The right-hander played his first major semi-final two years ago at Wimbledon, falling to Federer.

"It's a very positive thing if you look at the big picture," said Raonic. "Right now in this moment alone it's a great opportunity for me. I had a little bit of a disappointing semi-final two years ago, and sort of just want to change that story around and give myself another go with more experience and where I feel like I'm a better player than I was two years ago." 

Raonic highlights courtesy AusOpen.com

Having lost his only two meetings with Monfils, Raonic stepped out under a closed roof on the Rod Laver Arena with intent. The calmer of the two in the early exchanges, Raonic benefitted from tentative play by Monfils in the fourth game to break for a 3-1 lead. It was all the Toronto native needed to wrap up the first set in 35 minutes.

Monfils raised his level in the second set, though, and was rewarded with a service break in the sixth game. The Frenchman then saved a break point in the ninth game before holding on to level the match.

Raonic struck immediately in the third set and his early break proved decisive as he went on to reclaim the lead in the contest. A break in the fifth game of the fourth set put the Canadian well on his way to claiming victory in two hours and 17 minutes, having hit 46 winners to 35 unforced errors.

"I felt good, especially that I took care of the things I need to take care of," said Raonic. "I was dictating I felt most of the time. I was hitting my shots well. I was quite efficient off the baseline. When I had the chance, I came forward. Closed shots off there.

"Maybe I was a little bit passive in the second set, but in the third I sort of turned that around for the better. Could have been a little bit maybe more forthcoming in the fourth as well, but I have to be happy with the way I dealt with things, how I played, and how I backed up the performance from two days ago."

The 25-year-old Raonic is currently on a nine-match winning streak, having opened his 2016 ATP World Tour campaign with victory over Federer in the Brisbane final.

Monfils was bidding to reach his first major semi-final since a final four showing at Roland Garros eight years ago (l. to Federer). The Frenchman has not defeated a Top 20 player at a Grand Slam since the 2014 US Open (d. Dimitrov in R4).

"I think I showed quality and strength in this tournament, and I have a strong belief that I will keep going this season like this," said Monfils. "He played good. Very aggressive. But it was not a bad match from me. Happy I have been improving to play him next time."