Murray and Verdasco shows off ahead of Wimbledon

andrewbinner 25/06/2015
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Just before the start of the Wimbledon tennis trick shot artist Stefan Bojic tries once more to prove the skills of tennis stars like Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco.









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Off The Net: Mourinho must manage Murray, Jurassic Rafa faces extinction

Ben Davies 25/06/2015
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Murrinho anyone?

When mankind first encountered grass, two things came to mind. One: this stuff would go really well with sabre-tooth steak and two: this would be the perfect surface for smashing a ball back and forth at ferocious speed. Indeed, it’s a little known fact that when man made the wheel its invention was solely intended for a makeshift umpire chair, and the very first human skeletons were found to be clutching a bowl of dusty strawberries.

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It’s no wonder then that Wimbledon has so much history. And the anticipation of the 138th instalment has been ratcheted up even further this year by extending the break between the French Open and Wimbledon from two to three weeks. It is the most high profile over-extension in tennis since the Pete Sampras Slam Dunk. We assume that call was made to give players a longer rest period or, more conceivably, John Isner requested privacy as he attempts to finish off a tie-breaker that began in 2010.

Federer still one Halle of a player

Last week, Roger Federer won the Halle open yet again. The grass tournament – which it has been claimed was established by Oscar award-winning actress Halle Berry – has now been won by Federer eight times. That’s enough wins to place a trophy on every planet in the solar system and that spacious approach to storage is well advised as the sparkling gold Halle trophy is absolutely ginormous. It’s the kind of thing a Victorian British archaeologist would pull from an Egyptian pyramid and haul back to a London museum for ‘safe-keeping’. 

As well as supreme upper body strength, the title also gives Roger momentum going into a tournament where his classy style fits in perfectly with the elegant surroundings. Federer arriving at Wimbledon is like a manicured intensely moisturized hand slipping into a tailored silk glove.

Blockbuster return for Rafa?

Rafa Nadal also picked up silverware by winning the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, his first grass-court victory since 2010, but just two days later was dumped out of the first round at Queens by Alexandr Dolgopolov.

Rafa is the Jurassic World movie of tennis right now. Depending on who you listen to, he is either just as good as the original or a fading shadow of his glory days. Indeed, there is something dinosaur-like about Nadal. The Spaniard used to have the speed, tenacity and voracious hunger of a Velociraptor but now resembles a fossil being paraded around tennis courts as a sign of a long lost era. Will this year’s Wimbledon bear witness to the extinction of Nadal’s slam-winning potential?

Murray King of Queens

Andy Murray has snaffled a pre-Wimbledon trophy too, becoming the Queen’s Club champion for the fourth time. His hugely impressive performances were graced by the presence of one of the biggest names in sport; Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager, who this week admitted he cried when Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, clearly has a strong bond with the world no.3. This got Off The Net thinking. With Murray’s coach Amelie Mauresmo set for maternity leave soon, should it be ‘The Special One’ rather than Jonas Bjorkman joining the Murray coaching staff as back up? Yes, Bjorkman has won 4 titles on grass, but Jose Mourinho has won a massive 22 on the green stuff. You can’t argue with those stats. The man is a grass specialist. Granted the rather rigid ‘1’ formation in singles tennis lacks the tactical nuances of a ‘4-3-2-1’, but the Portuguese would find a way to transfer his win at all costs mentality to help Murray grind out glory. If ‘Murrinho’ takes shape in the next two weeks, there’s a very good chance that the Scot will go on to become the first player to win Wimbledon whilst hitting both no winners and no unforced errors. The LTA may take issue, however, if a parked bus ends up ruining its luscious lawns. 

Serena on song

Both world number ones have once again avoided any pre-Wimbledon tournament exertion of note. The only thing we’ve seen of Serena is a video of her performing The Sound of Music classic ‘So Long, Farewell’ in training.

Though just a few seconds long, there’s more physical exertion on offer for Serena here than most of her successful slam campaigns. The only genuine threat to her dominating Wimbledon is the flu, a testy competitor that came out of nowhere at the French Open to claim a shock win over Maria Sharapova’s immune system in the fourth round before pushing Serena all the way in the Final. Judged on recent form, there’s no doubt the millenia old virus deserves the No.2 seed at Wimbledon. 

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A day with tennis ace Marcos Baghdatis

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The passion of Baghdatis: Marcos motivated more than ever.

He stormed on to the tennis scene when he made it all the way to the final at the Australian Open in 2006, before falling to Roger Federer.

– Wozniacki reaches Eastbourne last eight
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He reminded many of a young Andre Agassi at the time. Marcos Baghdatis then made the semi-finals at Wimbledon the same year – beating Andy Murray and Lleyton Hewitt en route – and rose to No8 in the world, becoming a national hero back home in Cyprus – a country that had never produced a tennis champion before.

He then made the quarters at Wimbledon in 2007 but hasn’t reached the same stage at a major since. His career has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency but at 30 years old, the talented and fiery Baghdatis is still fighting (he beat David Ferrer this week).

He dropped outside the world’s top 150 last year but went back to the Challenger Tour and won four titles to re-enter the top 100.

Sport360 caught up with Baghdatis at the French Open in Paris to discuss his current goals and reflect on his career highlights.

How do you feel when you’re back in Paris and especially at the French Open?

I spent a lot of my time here in Paris so it’s always special coming back here in Boulogne. I have family here – for me they’re family – so it’s always nice coming back to see them. Especially now that I have my own family, coming with them over here and meeting my ‘other family’ is really special. I feel great here, feels like home.

Andre Agassi wrote about your epic five-setter at the US Open in 2006 in his autobiography, calling it a “knife fight” and said you two lay on the physio table after the match watching the highlights and marvelling at the battle you went through. Did it feel like a loss after you put in all that effort?

For sure it felt like a loss. I was really disappointed. I think that match hurt me a lot. But Andre was my idol. I’ve watched him play when I was young, the first match I ever saw on TV was him and Goran Ivanisevic in the final of Wimbledon in 1992.

I was around seven, eight years old. I wanted Andre to win that match. It was kind of special, not that I lost to him, but that it was his very last US Open and I kind of accepted it a bit. I swallowed it I can say.

The way everything happened, at the end in the locker rooms, all of a sudden everyone was there then all of a sudden nobody was there. It was just me and him.

We were looking at the highlights of the match on TV and we just looked at each other and we shook hands. We actually held hands for a few seconds because it was emotional… really special. 

You had an incredible Australian Open in 2006 when you made the final. You must have a special relationship with that tournament?

For me Australia is always a really special place. I won it as a junior and playing the final in 2006 was, I think, the best thing that ever happened to me in my tennis career. It’s indescribable, it’s not easy to explain how I felt. I remember the semi-finals against David Nalbandian, I just remember the emotion, the feeling of everything, I felt drained, I felt empty.

Does it feel that it has been nine years since you finished runner-up there?

Sometimes when you think about it, you think it’s closer than that. You really feel it didn’t happen that long ago. But it is far, so you say ‘okay it was a long time ago’. 

What do you think happened to your career after that?

A lot of things. Now I think it’s not the time to talk about them… maybe do that after my career finishes. I would talk about some things, some mistakes I did. I should have avoided some things… I relaxed a bit and let go, which I shouldn’t have. But also I can understand the reasons why I let go.

All smiles: Baghdatis and Federer.

I had nobody experienced enough to tell me what not to do or what to do. So a lot of small things I could’ve done differently if I had more experience. 

You also had an incredible five-setter against Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2007. Did you think at the time he would go on and achieve everything he has?

Even at that time Novak – OK, maybe physically he was not that good – but tennis-wise, he was playing unbelievably. It was a five-hour-three-minute, something like that, match and I was on top of him in the fifth set. 

I had so many chances and at five-all he broke me, I remember very well, and he won 7-5 in the fifth set. He had the ability to play so good but to go and have the career he has had, it’s really special I think, not a lot of players can do it.

You’ve been through a lot in your career but you’re still fighting. Has your passion for the sport waned at all?

It was up and down for sure. Right now I feel that the passion is there, if not, I wouldn’t be here and doing all this.

Last year you went back to the Challenger Tour and ended up winning four titles in the lower tier of tennis… 

It shows my passion for the sport, winning four Challenger titles last year. All my life I went through it fighting and finding solutions alone. 

Challenger Tour champion.

I’m from a small country where it’s tough to find people who have in-depth knowledge about sports. I just figured that I needed to go through where I started from. That was the main goal and I wasn’t scared of going back and trying out. It paid off well so I’m really happy I’m back.

Where are you at now physically and what kind of goals do you have for the season?

It’s not the right thing to say that I’m preparing for next year, but every day I’m preparing myself to be better – a better player, a better person.

That’s my goal for now. I think when I do that I will have a lot of success in the future. I’m 30 years old, I think I have another four or five years in my legs. 

One thing that is typical for your matches, especially in Australia, is the atmosphere created by your fans from Cyprus and Greece. How does it feel to have such backing and being a pioneer in the sport in your country?

The proudest moment I have is bringing kids into tennis in Cyprus. Because taking them away from other bad things and bringing them into sport I think that’s the greatest thing I have ever achieved. 

The street (named after him back home) and everything else, all that is not very important for me. But this is. That’s why I’m proud of what I’ve done.

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