andy murray in form ahead of ATP Tour Finals

Andy Murray’s rise to the top of world tennis was the culmination of years of hard work and dedication but 2014 has arguably been his hardest year of all. Having seemed certain to miss out on this year’s ATP Tour finals in London (so certain, in fact, that he was not included in the giant posters advertising the event) the Brit has gone on one of the most remarkable winning runs in recent times and enters the tournament in some of his best ever form. The 27 year old’s form is reflected in his odds and he is now third favourite for the event with Betfair offering a tempting 7/1 on an outright win.Andy Murray

Fall from Grace

When defeated by Novak Djokovic at the quarter final stage of the US Open back in September Murray dropped down to 12th in the World rankings. This was the first time he had been out of the top 10 since 2008 and, having started 2014 up at 4th in the rankings, was an indication of just how far he had fallen and what a significant impact the back surgery that he had at the end of last year had made on his form. At this stage many players would holed up for winter, got back on the practice courts and attempted to come back stronger than ever in 2015…but not Murray. He decided to embark on a punishing schedule of tournament play in a last ditch attempt to secure enough ranking points to re-enter the top nine (Rafael Nadal has withdrawn due to appendix surgery so his spot will go to the ninth ranked man).

Hectic Schedule

Murray’s decision to enter six tournaments in six weeks ahead of the ATP Tour Finals saw him take on his most hectic schedule since his early days on the tour as an 18 year old but his gamble paid off and his place in London is secured. Unbelievably the Brit won three of the six tournaments- first taking the Shenzhen Open (his first title in 14 months), then the Vienna Open and finally the Valencia Open. In the process of winning the finals in both Valencia and Shenzhen he saw off five match points against the luckless Tommy Robredo of Spain demonstrating that his old steel and determination is well and truly back.

Aiming for Hat-Trick

Before winning the Shenzhen Open title, Murray’s last tournament victory had been at Wimbledon back in 2013. His victory over Novak Djokovic in the final delivered the first British men’s singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936 and came hot on the heels of his impressive win at the 2012 Olympics. Since that famous victory Murray has switched coaches, moving from Ivan Lendl to Amelie Mauresmo in June, and has undergone surgery to resolve a disc problem in his back forcing him to miss last year’s ATP Tour Finals event. For the man from Dunblane, victory in London would complete a memorable hat-trick of home wins and would prove many of his doubters wrong.

Man to Beat

Despite Murray’s impressive form, a win in London is still hard to envisage, with the world’s best players all vying for one of the sport’s biggest prizes. Novak Djokovic, who beat Murray comprehensively in Paris last week, will be desperate to hold on to his title and he looks to be the man to beat. Thankfully Murray has avoided the Serb in the group stages, being drawn alongside Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, but if he is to win his first ever ATP Tour finals title then he looks certain to have to beat the 27 year old at some stage. If he could do that then there would be no doubting whatsoever that he was back to his best.

ricoh arena named venue for uk davis cup tie

 LTA Announces Ricoh Arena as site for 2013 Davis Cup tie between Team GB and Russia

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has today announced that the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie between the Aegon GB Davis Cup team and Russia will take place at the Ricoh Arena in the city of Coventry in the United Kingdom. The top player for Great Britain, reigning U.S. Open champion and 2013 Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, will not be participating in the tie.

The Europe/Africa Zone Group I second round tie will take place April 5-7, 2013, with the winners to compete in the 16-nation World Group Play-offs from September 13-15.  Great Britain secured promotion to Group I during their 2011 campaign and have received an opening round bye in this year’s competition.

Leon Smith, Captain of the Aegon GB Davis Cup Team, said: “We are very excited to be taking Davis Cup to Coventry and taking advantage of strong home support.  It will be tough against Russia, who are arguably the strongest team in our group, but we’ll be giving it our best shot.”

Gavin Fletcher, LTA Tournament Director added: “Both the city of Coventry and the team at the Ricoh Arena have made us very welcome.  It’ll be great bringing the Davis Cup back to the Midlands, where we’ve  enjoyed tremendous support in the past. I know the team is looking forward to playing in front of a very vocal crowd against Russia.”

Jacky Isaac, interim chief executive at the Ricoh Arena, said: “We are thrilled to be bringing world-class tennis to the Midlands by hosting the Davis Cup. We are confident there will be a great crowd at our top-class venue to cheer on Great Britain in their tie against Russia and this is another fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Coventry on a national and international stage.”

Councillor Phil Townshend, Cabinet Member for Sport, commented: “We have a national reputation for delivering successful events and this will be another high profile one which will attract local residents and people from a wider area who love Tennis.  To host sporting events such as this also sits well alongside our stated aim of building on the legacy from being a co-host city for London 2012 as well as encouraging people to take part in sport and physical activity.”

Although the full Aegon GB Davis Cup team selections haven’t been announced yet, British No. 1 Andy Murray will not be competing in the upcoming tie against Russia. Murray said: “It’s a shame to miss out on the Davis Cup, as I always enjoy playing. I speak to Leon and the team on a regular basis and will definitely be available to play the next Davis Cup tie later this year.”

Aegon Team GB Captain Smith added: “We totally understand Andy’s position. He has worked extremely hard on his game elevating it to another level and we have all seen the fruits of that since Wimbledon. Andy’s success continues to inspire more and more young people to take up the sport and we look forward to welcoming him back into the team in September.”

Tickets for the tie go on general sale on Monday, February 4th via https://www.theticketfactory.com/default/online or on 0844 338 8838.  For group bookings please call 0800 358 0058 and for accessible bookings, call 0844 581 0700. Full price tickets start at £17.

fashion focus: australian open highlight(er)s

The fashions on the courts of Australian Open are a little more subtle this year, but a few things have stood out, most notably the presence of bright yellows and greens — the highlighter shades — for match play.

Alexandr Dolgopolov - Gael Monfils - Andy Murray - 2013 Australian Open

Gael Monfils (center), now a member of the Asics stable (he was previously with K-Swiss), played in a sleeveless crew — the Frenchman’s trademark — as he upset 18th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-7(7), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. Andy Murray, on the right, is wearing this season’s Barricade crew, with the same shoulder detail that carried through from the end of last season.

Maria Sharapova - Nike - 2013 Australian Open

Grey was also the accent color of choice, with the straps on Maria Sharapova‘s Premier Tennis Dress from Nike in that shade (but we’re in love with the futuristic lines at the check and in the racerback), as well as the trims on the men’s adidas adiZero (on Dolgo) and Barricade (Murray) lines for the Australian summer.

More: Lisicki, Caro, Tomic, and the boys of Lotto all wear the brights — see ‘em  after the cut…

before london, andy tried a new game

Small court, big results. Before Andy Murray‘s London hopes got muddled because of injury, the Scot took to a British warehouse to play some Road Tennis. Not sure what that is? Nor were we. adidas explains:

[We invited the] Road Tennis Association of Barbados to London, to teach Murray how to play Road Tennis. A cross between traditional tennis and table tennis, Road Tennis is played on the street, with participants chalking out their own courts. Murray had never played the game before, and was given just one hour to pick up his wooden bat and attempt to master the game’s ins and outs, before we put him up against Barbados’ finest.

In the video above, Murray gets a “warm-up” with storied English boxer David Haye, who is now retired, and British rapper Example.

adidas noted that the Murray vid was the first of many to come for the brand over the next year: “The event marked the start of our new campaign, where we’ll be challenging some of the world’s best tennis players, around the biggest tournaments next year.” Excited? You bet we are!

As for who Murray gets a lesson from on the Road Tennis pavement? That’d be Sylvain “Lama” Barnett, a legend in Barbados and one of the Pro Road Tennis Association’s greatest players of all time.

(wednesday's) sunday survey: striking situation

Would these boys really do it? Strike. It’s not something tennis fans really want to think about, and even though Tennis Channel’s James LaRosa does point out some ways that a lack of tennis-playing might make fans’ lives better, we here at TSF would miss the weekly fashions (and trophies!) with great sadness. Andy Murray recently told the BBC that if the tennis bodies don’t step up then the players will, and Rafael Nadal echoed that players could take “strong action.” It doesn’t help that 2011’s king, Novak Djokovic, fell to the ground unable to continue during Davis Cup 10 days ago. Not the best image for the (functional) end of the tennis season, right?

Do you think a players’ strike could really happen? Weigh in below.

(photo by Getty Images)

adidas' barricades give murray some shape

The adidas Barricade collection for the 2011 U.S. Open — worn by Andy Murray in competition — has been doing a good job giving the lanky Scot some shape. (Well, more shape, since we know he doesn’t need the help). This bright red v-neck has details along the upper chest that accentuate his shoulders and collarbone; the black print down the sides breaks up the red, giving his torso a more toned look. These same concepts got lost in the noise a few seasons ago when every company used the trims; it’s refreshing to see it standing alone, succeeding at the optical illusion. (Buy: adidas Barricade Tee, $55, tennisexpress.com)

Other deets: And obviously, there’s that neon that we’re seeing everywhere…

Draw: The fourth-seeded Murray defeated Somdev Devvarman 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3 and will next play Robin Haase. They’re both in that bottom half of the men’s draw along with Rafael Nadal.

More: A few more photos of Andy in his Barricade Tee after the cut…

bracketology: the men of flushing (and how they’ll fare)

By Christopher Phillips


Cool and calm: Novak is the US Open’s top seed for the first time ever. (Getty Images photo)

More: See Christopher’s breakdown of the women’s side of things here.

Djokovic — Winner | Shoulder injury aside, you’d be hard pressed to not pick Novak. He opens with a qualifier then would play either Pere Riba or Carlos Berlocq, two dirtballers, in the 2nd round. His first challenge could be in the third round against Nikolay Davydenko. 13th seed Richard Gasquet, 22nd seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Kei Nishikori, Ivo Karlovic, and Fernando Gonzalez could all be waiting Novak in the 4th round.

Rafael Nadal –- Semifinals | Nadal’s road is quite a bit trickier than that of Djokovic. He opens against Andrey Golubev. The Kazakh is currently ranked no. 97, but the ATP’s Most Improved Player of the year for 2010 was as high as no. 33 in October of last year. Nadal should get through that match without too much difficulty, but could face former Top 5 players David Nalbandian or Ivan Ljubicic in the 3rd Round, then two-time Open Semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny or 17th seed Jurgen Melzer in the 4th round.

Roger Federer –- Semifinals | Federer opens against Santiago Giraldo, who hasn’t played a match on hard courts since Miami, and then could play the Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci, who just missed being seeded, in the second round. Ryan Harrison or 27th seed Marin Cilic should lie head in the 3rd Round with 23rd seed Radek Stepanek, 15th seed Viktor Troicki or Philipp Kohlschreiber potentially waiting in the 4th round.

Andy Murray –- Finals | This summer’s Cincinnati champion comes into New York in fine form. He’ll open against Somdev Devvarman in round one. Big-serving Robin Haase could challenge Murray in the second round and 25th seed Feliciano Lopez in the 3rd round could pose problems for Murray, but his solid return game should counter any danger there. | TSF Vault: Murray

David Ferrer — Quarterfinals | Ferrer reached the semis in New York back in 2007 and lost a thrilling fifth-set tiebreak to countryman Fernando Verdasco here last year in the 4th round. He also tasted a Major semifinal earlier this year in Australia. The only thing that brings about concern about Ferrer living up to his seeding is his lack of hard court match play this summer: an injury sat him out for every event save Cincy. To his credit, however, he beat Roddick and Fish in Davis Cup in early July — two giant wins on American fast courst. His biggest challenge to the quarterfinals will be 10th seed Nicolas Almagro or 21st seed (how strange is that number?!) Andy Roddick.

Robin Soderling –- Second Round | The Swede hasn’t played a hard court match since early losses to Juan Martin del Potro and Kohlschreiber in Miami and Indian Wells, respectively, but follows Djokovic with the second-most hard court championships this year (three). Soderling’s lack of play this summer could send him out early to rising American veteran Alex Bogomolov Jr.. Bogomolov beat Soderling 2 and 2 in Indianapolis in 2004, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.

Gael Monfils –- Quarterfinals | Of the top eight, Monfils has the toughest draw into the quarterfinals. He’ll open against potential future star and current heartbreaker Grigor Dimitrov, before possibly meeting former USO finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero in the 2nd round. 31st seed Marcel Granollers, Albert Montanes or Xavier Malisse could wait in the 3rd round before a potential match-up with 9th seed Tomas Berdych — who’s never made it past the 4th round here — or Montreal semifinalist 20th Janko Tipsarevic in the 4th round.

Not filleted: Fish is riding a strong summer coming into the USO. (Getty)

Mardy Fish –- Round of 16 | Opening against German Tobias Kamke, Fish should have pretty smooth sailing to the 4th round where he’s likely to meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga could come through in that match-up, but potential matches against big servers Thiemo De Bakker in the second round and Kevin Anderson or 29th seed Michael Llodra in the third round could give Fish the extra batting practice he needs to beat the Frenchman. | TSF Vault: Fish

Dark Horses | Potential winners? Probably not. But these boys could pull a few upsets and find themselves in week two at Flushing.

11th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga | Tsonga’s play has been one of the most exciting to watch this year. Assuming he’s regrouped and healed since his retirement against Novak in the Montreal semifinals, he’d meet slumping 19th Fernando Verdasco in the third round followed by “your country’s eyes are on you for a change” 8th seed Fish in the R16. Should Tsonga make it through both of those, he’ll face 3rd Federer for the 5th time this year and will be going into that match with some serious momentum beating the Swiss in their last two meetings.

16th seed Mikhail Youzhny | Youzhny has twice been a semifinalist in New York before: last year and in 2006. Despite a relatively easy loss to Nadal here last year, he did get the better of the Spaniard in 2006. He’s set to meet Nadal in the 4th round this year and — given the Spaniard’s unimpressive summer — it’s highly possible that Youzhny could find himself in the semifinals for a third time in six years.

18th seed Juan Martin del Potro | Well… in as much as a former champion can be considered a “dark horse.” JMdP has underperformed this summer, with second round losses to Federer and Cilic in Cincinnati and Montreal, respectively. Perhaps he’s just saving himself for the big show? The Argentine’s first challenge would be against 12th seed Gilles Simon in the 3rd round (Simon has never been past the round of 32). A potential 4th rounder versus 28th seed and Winston-Salem champ John Isner or Soderling would come next.

20th seed Janko Tipsarevic | The Serb loves the big stages and they don’t get bigger than Arthur Ashe Stadium. Janko opens against a qualifier and would face 9th seed Berdych in the 3rd round. Tomas’ track record in New York isn’t very good, so Janko could see himself in the 4th round against Monfils. And depending on the Frenchman’s form that day, perhaps even into the QFs to take on countryman Djokovic.

TSF Vault: US Open | Bracketology

First-Round Matches to Watch:

Youzhny vs. Ernests Gulbis | The Latvian was at his career peak at no. 21 in the world earlier this year, but has done little this summer since upsetting del Potro and Fish on his way to the Los Angeles title. He got the better of Youzhny at the Masters tournaments in Paris and Madrid last year.

23rd seed Radek Stepanek vs. Kohlschreiber | The dancing Czech dropped out of the top 70 earlier this year, but his title in Washington bodes well for him. The German has seen better days — but he’s always capable of an upset.

Harri situation? Ryan’s always an eye-brow raiser. (TSF)

Cilic vs. Harrison | Can the young (hot) American continue his hot summer?

Isner vs. Marcos Baghdatis | Just about anytime the Cypriot is on court, it’s going to be a fun match.

32nd seed Ivan Dodig vs. Davydenko | The Russian and former world no. 3 missed being seeded by a few spots, but twice a semifinalist here, he knows how to get it done.

Fernando Gonzalez vs. Ivo Karlovic | It’s great to see the Chilean back in action. Combined ages? 63.

See the full men’s draw here | Qualies

Predictions | 4th round:
Djokovic d Gasquet
Monfils d Tipsarevic
Federer d Stepanek
Tsonga d Fish
Del Potro d Isner
Murray d Wawrinka
Ferrer d Almagro
Nadal d Youzhny

QFs:
Djokovic d Monfils
Federer d Tsonga
Murray d Del Potro
Nadal d Ferrer

SFs:
Djokovic d Federer
Murray d Nadal

Finals:
Djokovic d Murray – 4 sets

trophy watch: two wrongs don't make a trophy

Clay is meant for playing on. Well, we could be wrong… that might not be clay. But does that much matter? Whatever the trophies that Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray hoisted yesterday are made of whatever material has been sacrificed to the gods of Midwest art (read: too much Sears’ sale collection, not enough Ikea faux trendiness). But, we understand: trophies don’t have to be trendy. But could they at least illicit some sort of excitement from the winners? We’re guessing Sharapova was told: “Don’t worry, Maria! This one doesn’t have a lid! But it’s full of some guy from Toledo’s ashes! CONGRATS!”

Now Maria and Andy can add their names (more confidently) to the list of US Open hopefuls as the year’s final major is set to start in just one week’s time. Maria’s conquering of Jelena Jankovic in Cincinnati is rather significant in the sense that Sharapova double faulted to finish out the first set. Game, set and match? Not quite. Nice to see Maria fight back to win 4-6 7-6 (3) 6-3. And — nice to see Jelena fight back herself. Just a week ago, 37% of TSF readers voted that JJ would “settle into the top 20 to 40″ with the way she’s performed in the recent past. Is she herself a valid candidate for the title in Flushing? 2008 calls.

And the boys, too. For Murray it was a great end to a rather underwhelming summer. The Scot showed us flashes of his post-Australian Open slump, including a 6-3 6-1 loss to Kevin Anderson in Montreal last week. But this week he was the man who didn’t succumb to the heat, an injury, himself or just plain, bad tennis. A recipe for success in New York City? Certainly could be. A 6-4 3-0 win over an injured Novak Djokovic (shoulder) puts Murray with Roger Federer as one of two gents to beat Djoko this year. More importantly? The top four all have legit shots to win a seventh match inside Arthur Ashe.

TSF Vault: Trophy Watch | US Open

(Photos by Getty Images)

short balls: wimbledon crumbs

Clean-plate club: As Wimbledon begins to wrap up, we’ve been scooping up the best little bits of the tourney yet to get big play on the TSF stage before you all run for the parks and beaches and the great outdoors post Sunday afternoon. The WTA has the above video, which we find strangely fascinating. Too bad strawberries and cream isn’t a more popular snack in the States! Just the right balance of good- and bad-for-you, right?

Draws: How Kvitova and Sharapova got there | Djokovic and Rafa, too

Wimbledon stylings, for you: Esquire has churned out a clever how-to for us regular folks on wearing Wimbledon whites. Our favorite parts of their six-step process? “Hats, not headbands. Never headbands” and “Lose the socks. Those should never be white. Unless you’re actually winning Wimbledon.”

Lego Andy: This may be one of our favorite finds of The Championships. It’s Lego Andy (Murray) who greeted fans in the queue in the early goings of the tournament. The three-foot model was built by England’s only certified professional, Duncan Titmarsh, (didn’t know there was such a thing) and was completed with 13,000 Lego pieces over six days. Oh, and that’s Fred Perry that Lego Andy is wearing, not adidas. Guess he’s a little nostalgic, no?


Gift for (hearing) grunts?
Seriously. If you haven’t tried this brilliant Slate.com test on matches the players to audios of them grunting, you must! TSF East was a nine of ten. Can you match such a score? Beat it?! Click on the image above to play.

(Lego Andy image by the Kingston Guardian; screen grab via Slate.com)