Friday, February 26, 2016

South Tyrol's Finest : Andreas Seppi Interview

Here is an interview that had been planned for a couple of years but for whatever reasons hadn't happened until the Australian Open this year.

Andreas Seppi is an example of a player who has made the most of his talents. He has won 3 titles on grass, clay and indoor hardcourt and has reached number 18 in the ATP rankings. There are players with more natural talent but don't have the dedication or work ethic to maximise their potential which is all one can ask at the end of their careers.

Seppi is from Kaltern in South Tyrol which is a region more famous for winter sports, hiking and where the majority of its citizens speak German as a first language which Seppi does along with Italian and English.

Seppi on the left

You're from South Tyrol. How did you start playing tennis in a region which is famous for skiing. How did your interest in tennis evolve?

Actually I was skiing until I was 14, I was also playing football and tennis. No one in my family was playing tennis. My father was playing ice hockey and the tennis courts were close by, so I saw them and wanted to try.

Then a good friend of mine who was playing, we are the same age and started playing tennis together. That was the beginning.

Massimo Sartori has been your only coach on tour. How did you meet and how long have you been working with him?

He was playing club matches where I grew up and the club president asked him once he retired whether he would do some coaching at the club. He lives 2 hours away from South Tyrol, he agreed and moved to the region in 1996. I’ve known him since I was 12, it’s a long time, he’s like a second father for me. When you’re travelling 30-40 weeks a year it’s very much like that.

When you started playing on the tour, how difficult was it to find a sponsor to help with the initial costs? Did you ever have thoughts of giving the game away in the most difficult times?

It was very tough, you know. At the beginning when you play a lot of Futures or Satellites when I started out. For us it was very difficult, you had to find someone to help you out, there was a bit from the federation.

With the federation once you made the top 100 you had to pay back the money. It was good when you are young to get some sponsorship, because there are a lot of expenses.

When you were starting out how advantageous was it to have a lot of tournaments in Italy ?

For sure, we always tried to travel by car, also in Germany and Austria where there were a lot of tournaments. We never took the plane to South America or somewhere else where it was easier to get points. It was too expensive, so we travelled by car to events that were closer to us.

Do you remember your first Futures title ?

Yes, it was in Germany in 2003 when I was 18 and a great feeling.

Once you graduated from Futures level, you played more main ATP Tour qualifying events instead of Challengers. What was the reason behind that?

My coach wanted me to practice with better players. Even if I lost in the qualifying of an ATP tour event I’d stay around for the week and practice to improve my game. I think it was a very important point to do it this way.

What were your earliest memories on tour and when did you realise that you could make a career on the ATP Tour?

After high school when I was 19 or 20 I started to have some better results. I was feeling comfortable on court and then I realised I can make a living through tennis.

What are your favourite tournaments?

Monte Carlo and the clay season leading up to Roland Garros, the grasscourt season. Wimbledon is my favourite tournament and playing in Rome is always special.

What’s your worst hotel experience and why?

Not sure if should I say (laughs). I played twice in Casablanca but didn’t enjoy it too much. The food was tough and especially us Italians we’re used to good food. There I was going crazy and the hotel wasn’t the best. I’ve just played twice and in the last ten years I haven’t gone back there.

How would you summarise the current state of Italian tennis?

It’s at a good point. We have some good players Fognini, Bolelli, Lorenzi, Cecchinato, we have 5 top 100 players. We’re at a good level, of course we are missing a big champion. In Davis Cup we can do well especially if we stay together and are focused. We have some young players coming up, so we’ll see.

What do you remember of the Bobby Reynolds match at the Australian Open which finished at 3.49 am?

Ja, I remember it was a long day I was supposed to be 3rd match on, but it was so hot that they suspended play. They didn’t start again until 9pm in the evening, there was still one match before mine and we started at midnight.

Of course it was a long match that went 5 sets and finishing at 3.49 am. It was very tough after of course you have some adrenalin. You can’t sleep straight away and ended up sleeping at 7 am, so yes it was tough.

It must have been awful for the next match?

Yes, you sleep 4-5 hours and then you practice a bit, but it’s tough to get into rhythm. It was a nice win.

How do you describe your win over Roger Federer in the 2015 Australian Open and the feelings after the match?

Of course it was the best win of my career for sure. I think beating him in a Grand Slam is very difficult you know. In the last 10 years he was always in the quarters and semis, so beating him was something special for sure.

I’d have to say this was a match where I was very calm and in the important moments I didn’t get very nervous. It’s hard to find that feeling again as I don’t know how it happened. I was feeling very calm and never had that feeling before on the court, so it was a strange situation and that’s how I could beat him.

The ATP awarded your match against Stanislas Wawrinka the most exciting comeback of the year. What are your memories from this dramatic match in Rome?

Yes, maybe emotionally this was one of the best matches. The crowd was crazy, it was almost like playing Davis Cup. Beating him from 6 match points down with the crowd was for sure something special. Of course doing it in Rome made it even better.

What was the worst ever match you played?

(Laughing) There were a lot of bad matches in my career. It’s tough to say, in the last 3-4 years not so much but before there were too many.

Can you describe your feelings when you won your first ATP title in Eastbourne 2011, especially after the tough loss against Mathieu at Gstaad in your previous final?

That first final in Gstaad was very surprising for me, because I came from a very tough moment. I wasn’t playing very well at all and it was the first time that I was outside of the top 100.

Just went there struggling trying to find my game. I played a Challenger the week before in Torino losing in the 2nd round. I went to Gstaad to play qualies, I won some tough matches 7-6 in the 3rd set twice and then I was in the final. I started to play some good tennis, but maybe I wasn’t ready mentally to play that final. I was leading 5-3 in the 3rd, maybe I was too nervous as it was very unexpected. It was tough to lose 7-5 in the 3rd but it was a good week as I made it back to the top 100.

Eastbourne was a strange final I was leading 5-3 in the 3rd set also, serving for the match and Tipsarevic retired It’s good to have one title in the pocket.

Seppi Eastbourne

2012 was your career best year winning Belgrade and Moscow, Finalist in Eastbourne and Metz, plus your best ever Grand Slam performance at Roland Garros taking Djokovic to 5 sets. What were the reasons behind your career best year?

Winning the second title in Belgrade was very important and for sure 2012 was one of my best years. If not my best year winning 2 titles and making 2 finals doesn’t happen so often.

What's your opinion on Davis Cup. Do you think they should give ranking points for playing?

I like the competition of course and it’s a pleasure to play Davis Cup. In the last few years we have had some good results and when we play at home we are very dangerous.

Not sure if it’s good or bad, but it’s ok they give some ranking points.

What do you think about the length of season?

It’s ok, in the end you can make your own schedule. Yes, there are some events you have to play, but you can find some weeks for rest and preparation. You just have to be smart with the scheduling.

The ATP is meant to be a joint union between players and tournament directors but it seems to favour tournament directors more so. Are the ATP improving in this field?

In the last few years they have improved a lot. They are listening more to the players and are more receptive to our needs. It’s improving year by year, that they are doing a good job now.

Most of the players are making their money through prizemoney and not sponsorship. How can they improve conditions for these players?

The ATP need to do more as it’s very tough for a guy ranked 200 to travel a lot just playing Challengers it’s tough to make a living. If they improve prizemoney and get more players trying to make it on tour it’s good for the sport.

What's your opinion on the ATP reducing the differences in the surface speeds, Do you think they can make some surfaces quicker or are you happy as it is?

Now it’s ok unlike 3-4 years where it was very slow. They slowed it down too but now it’s getting better. The courts are a bit faster and now here (Melbourne) it’s a good speed.

What do you think about doping on the tour and have you been tested at an unreasonable hour?

There is this WADA thing where every player fills in a form, where you state your whereabouts so you are available for at least an hour a day. It’s good to have doping control but a bit stressful for us players as well.

Willy Cañas said “The ATP practices discrimination from an economic standpoint, like any multinational corporation. It’s just another of millions that there are in the world. Point being that I accept it, but I'm not buying into it that it is a group of players that decide (players union) because it isn't like that”. Do you believe that Willy is correct on this particular issue?

Yes, it was like that but in the last 3-4 years they have improved a lot in this way. They listen more to the players which is a positive thing.

You got engaged recently. How did that come about?

We met three years ago and we’ll get married in September. So that’s another step in my life.

So you’re going to be a dad soon. Maybe, you can ask Massimo for some tips?

(Laughing) Not yet.

Word Association. I give you name or a subject and you have to name the first thing that comes into your mind.

Kitzbühel - Ski resort

Ferrero Rocher - Very good chocolate

Mario Balotelli - Crazy

Andrea Pirlo - Genius

Båstad - Blond girls

Silvio Berlusconi - Idolo

Denis Istomin- 5 sets

What shouldn’t be on pizza- Pineapple

I'd like to thank Andreas for giving up his time with this interview. He was a pleasant and an articulate subject which was to be expected. If anyone wants to translate or use this interview. Please ask me and credit the author don't pass it off as your own work.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day 4 : The Mailman delivers the goods

It has been a long and rewarding day so if these reports make less sense than usual, then that’s the reason. Today there were 5 matches today that I was interested in. Managed to see 4 of them and it ended up 4-1 which was fantastic.

Sousa vs. Giraldo

This was the most difficult match out of the 5 as the feisty Joao Sousa lined up against the likable big hitting Colombian Santi Giraldo. Sousa started off solidly and in a strange twist didn’t complain much at all. Normally Sousa is very grumpy on court questioning every little thing.

Giraldo, while he has some big shotmaking skills he has a few clear weaknesses which have prevented him progressing and stabilising within the top 30. These were highlighted today, Santi doesn’t defend well at all, when he is out of position he goes for the spectacular winner. In contrast Sousa is an excellent mover and knows how to defend. Sure it’s great to have big weapons but it counts for nowt if you can’t defend when needed.


Sousa had nine break chances and managed to convert one which was enough to take the 1st set. Giraldo served well on those break points but eventually couldn’t hold out any longer. The second set was more of the same, the highlights were made by Giraldo but Sousa was just more solid went it counted.

In the 3ed set Geraldo played better made less errors whereas Sousa had a letdown. Once Sousa got his concentration back it ended up a comfortable win for the pork and cheese.

Robert vs. Ram

What to say about a match that should have been won easily and then ends up in a 5 set battle. That’s the fun with animated Frenchman Robert, he makes shots that no one has tried and misses the easy ones.

It was all so comfortable with Robert leading a set and served for the 2nd set. Once he dropped this gave Ram an opportunity to regroup which he did successfully taking the 2nd set. From there on Ram served better and was on a hot hitting streak especially on the forehand. Rampras continues to hold serve and is dictating in the rallies protecting his lack of speed around the court. Robert plays a poor game to lose the 3rd set.

A group of young kids sit behind Robert’s chair and Stephane talks to them trying to get them to cheer for him. The 4th set was a mix of Robert feeling good, Rampras hitting big forehands, using his slice backhand. Robert was defending his service games well amongst Rampras teeing off and gets the 4th set.

Momentum was with Robert at the start of the 5th, he breaks early with some clean hitting down the line, passing shots off the back foot. After he broke serve, he has forgot the golden rule of tennis. It’s not a break of serve unless it has been confirmed. Robert missed too many first serves and Ram was able to get the effective first strike in.

As the set develops Robert has to fight a lot in his service games but manages to hold whereas Rampras was holding with more ease in spite of Robert getting more returns into play.

In the 12th game Robert manages to hit some good returns and he’s feeling the love this is when he plays his best tennis. When there is nothing to think about, a big stage and this was his time to strike. On the second match point he hits the winning shot and lets out a great roar to the delight of the majority of fans who were cheering the Frenchman.

Millman vs. Muller

This one turned out to be a journey and thankfully it was a happy ending which doesn’t happen very often.

The match started in bright sunshine and the quicker courts were advantageous to Muller on who was dialled in on the serve. Millman played one poor service game in the 1st set and Muller made him pay by breaking him and taking the set.

Muller has an early break in the 2nd set and the same pattern is continuing. The Luxembourger serving well, Millman not getting into the match until a game where Muller was 40-0 up and Millman makes a couple of returns putting Muller under pressure where he cracks and is broken back. Millman gets momentum and breaks him again levelling at 1 set all.

This was an unusual crowd for a match involving an Australian. It helped that Tomic and Hewitt were playing at the same time. So there were no Fanatics or the other boorish types who think they are funny when in reality they are as funny as shaving your bikini line with a blunt razor. This crowd were having fun and giving the Mailman great support.

Millman continues where he left off at the end of the 2nd set as the conditions start to change with the lights starting to take effect making it slower and heavier which favoured the Mailman. He runs through the 3rd set easily, returning well and playing in the court dominating the baseline rallies.

As the 4th set progresses Muller is starting to get more aggressive as he realises he is being pushed around and during this time his groundstrokes are holding up. Millman is playing more defensively as Muller gets the break then serves it out to take it to a decider.

Millman’s temperament and body language have been excellent in the match especially from the first break he got in the 2nd set. He hasn’t won a 5 setter before losing to Ito on this same court and Baghdatis in Melbourne. There is a first time for everything.

The Mailman starts the set out in a positive manner and is in an excellent returning groove off the high quality Muller serve. He gets an early break but can’t consolidate as it gets back on serve straight away.

It’s tough playing a big server in many ways the best thing is to take care of your own service games and if there is a small window then take the chance when it comes along. Hitting with Wayne Arthurs who could hit 100 serves off the same toss was very helpful to Millman in preparing for this match.

Muller staying in the match with his serving and the forehand is the one that crumbles under pressure. Millman is stepping into the court getting the balance right between attack and defence. The crowd are loving it and spurring him on. There was the chant “I believe, I believe, I believe he will win” and the Mailman delivered a great victory in the end.

This was a great win under the circumstances, coming back from extended layoffs with injuries, unsure about his future in the game. He was never the prodigy, didn’t have the agents fighting to sign him. So him making the 3rd round here is a great achievement.

Millman is very popular among his peers and yes I’ll admit to personal bias in this case. In a sport where there are a lack of natural characters, yes I mean media trained to point of sucking out anything that resembles their true personality. Millman is refreshing in that he is honest, well spoken and definitely does things his way which is great.

Other stuff

Dudi Sela aka Hebrew Hammer is a great story. He never had too much money and he lifts for Davis Cup ties plus the Slams. He was lucky that Verdasco took out Nadal since the Nadal forehand would break down Sela’s backhand like he did last time.

Dudi Sela

Verdasco had a letdown after his big moment but Verdasco has plenty of parties to go to and plenty of women to meet. Dudi or maybe that’s Daddy Sela since he has two children now. If he can he’ll only travel 3 weeks at a time, so he can spend more time at home. Huge chance for a 4th round spot against Kuznetsov.

Lukas Rosol that was an impressive straight sets win over Jack Sock. So far Rosol has played 6 close sets either 7-6 or 7-5 and won four of them. The big Czech is looking to rebuild this year and a solid start so far.

Today was long and rewarding, but it was worth it as to witness John Millman making the 3rd round of a Slam. This is an individual who’d be easily top 3 when it comes to quality people on the tennis tour. I’m always happy to see good people doing well and maximising their potential.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Mad World of Day 2 Melbourne style

Day 2, the fun day where there were so many matches that I wanted to see but couldn’t. Thankfully there was help in the form of Sammy. It’s usually not problematic when the matches are on close courts, this wasn’t the case today.

Robert vs. Fratangelo

This was a brilliant performance from Robert, the shotmaking was on fire from both sides. As he hits the ball so flat when he’s on then it’s a joy to watch. He has cat like movement, it looks like he is not in position and then pow a forehand or backhand down the line winner. Thankfully there were plenty of them.

Fratangelo was just smoked and he knew it. Next round for Robert who plays the Rajeev Ram who was the beneficiary of a Kevin Anderson retirement who was doubtful before the event. So a huge opportunity for both in the next round.

Millman vs. Schwartzmann

Mailmain broke in the first game but Schwartzmann broke back immediately. The match was hard fought until the dramatic and unfortunate ending.

Schwartzmann settled better and controlled the rallies for the first two sets with clean hitting especially backhands down the line. Millman retreated to at best a passive position in the court or at worst negative. Apart from staying injury free the biggest factor in his improvement is the greater weight of shot, it’s when to use it.

Millman had chances in the 2nd and couldn’t convert. It looked like a straight sets win for Schwartzmann but Millman is known for his fighting tendencies. He hit with some better length, scrapped his way to the tiebreaker and managed to win it.

Schwartzmann gets some treatment on his hand and then halfway through the third game he collapses with cramp and heat exhaustion. Since players can’t get treatment for cramps at a non change of ends, then those games are forfeited. When the umpire called time Schwartzmann not being able to move, he conceded another two games hence the 5-0 scoreline.


It was so disappointing for Schwartzmann that he had to retire and sure Millman got the W, you don’t want to win it like that. He apologised to Schwartzmann, his coach Prieto and showed genuine sportsmanship which is everything to be expected from Millman. Schwartzmann will be fine and that Aussie sun is a brutal beast.

Gimeno-Traver vs. Smyczek

Smyczek is the classic solid American hardcourt player. He’ll do well in Challengers, have a couple of good runs at ATP events to keep his ranking.

While DGT has superior weapons, the big serve and forehand but as the courts are much quicker than in previous years he struggled with his timing. Smyczek is the player you have to beat, not someone who will fade away when struggling.

The second set was the only time where Gimeno-Traver was able to serve well enough and use the forehand to push Smyczek back. The 3rd set was close until some very cheap errors including an easy mid court forehand which the American took advantage of. Once he held for the 3rd set there was only one winner from there.

Giraldo vs. Young

This was on a very small court but with some boisterous Colombian fans providing some fun atmosphere. Giraldo actually played quite well apart from the set he lost.
He was thinking he could just tee off on the groundies when he was in no position to do so. In other words classic Giraldo but after the match he was very receptive to the Colombian fans afterwards which was great.

Rosol vs. Daniel

This was a very close and high quality match for the first 4 sets. This was the first time I’ve seen Taro Daniel play in the flesh. Can definitely tell he went to the Spanish school of tennis, this is not a bad thing. The forehand is big and the backhand is solid. The serve he doesn’t use his height effectively and he can get rushed on the forehand side.

Both players started within themselves and playing many extended rallies. Rosol does strike the ball cleanly but his early attempts at dropshots were almost Igor Andreev like landing on the service line and they were duly punished.


Rosol takes the first two sets as the conditions became a bit slower and cooler which helped Daniel who was unfazed by losing the sets. He served fairly well and was hitting some excellent backhand as Rosol’s level dipped slightly.

Daniel fighting hard manages to break eventually in the 3rd set. He’s getting more confidence and Rosol for the most part was solid mentally, though of course he was doing his usual niggly tactics with questioning any call.

The Japanese youngster has a solid match temperament which is an underrated skill. Both of them besides being tough to break, made some challenges that even Federer would have been embarrassed by they were so awful. Daniel manages to take it to a 5th set and the crowd are loving.

Rosol plays some good shots to get the early break and keep the crowd from riding Daniel home. The early break took the wind out of Daniel’s sails and the extra experience of Rosol was enough to get the job done.

Other stuff

Great to see Brian Baker on court after the injuries. He wasn’t here for tourist purposes. Showed some excellent tennis and just hope he doesn’t have any more injury issues.

Tommy Robredo is tougher than $2 steak.

Today this video is the perfect way to end this entry and as a tribute to Rafael Nadal.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cuevas and Seppi get it done on Day 1

Day 1 of the main draw of a Slam is normally pretty fun before the usual things that annoy you come back. The people who think they are instant experts on something that they don’t follow all year round. The gronks who walk around like stoned cattle and find it strange that players get pissed off and then there is the lovable drunk bogan.

Enough of that annoying stuff and onto some tennis. Wasn’t sure of what matches I was going to see besides Seppi and Cuevas but more of them later.

Thiem vs. Leo Mayer

Not sure what Mayer was on at the start of the match but it wasn’t helping. He gave away his first service game. Thiem was quite steady and really didn’t have to press too hard in the 1st set. Alligator wasn’t handling the fast conditions too well. There was one huge air swing he took on the backhand side and it was not as if the ball hit a line.

In the 2nd set Mayer started playing better or maybe he was just less shit. Thiem was playing well within himself and took the 2nd set tiebreaker. The young Austrian dropped the 3rd set which was more due to a lack of concentration than a huge improvement from Mayer.

The match plodded along and Thiem got the business done easily enough in the 4th set tiebreaker.

Brands vs. Estrella Burgos

Big Daniel Brands is a gentle giant but can hit some really good shots though mental strength isn’t one of his best qualities. He was one of the better qualifiers to make it to main draw. He is coming back from injury and a loss of form and this draw was excellent for him.

Estrella Burgos

Last year Estrella Burgos came to Melbourne for tourism purposes just showed up collected the prizemoney and did nothing. This year he played a lead up tournament and fought hard but was outgunned by Brands.

Estrella Burgos was just scrapping whereas Brands was hitting huge. The bigger game of Brands took the first 2 sets and it was looking like a straight sets win as he was up a break in the 3rd. Then Estrella was able to break back and break again to take the 3rd. He was pumped up but even then there was no real feeling of a shift in the momentum of the match. Brands broke in the opening service of game and Estrella Burgos and ran out the match comfortably. Good to see Estrella put some effort instead of the performance last season.

Almagro vs. Benneteau

Wasn’t sure how this match was going to play out since Benne hasn’t played much after being out injured. Almagro had a quiet 2015 played pretty much a full season but didn’t have any huge results.

Almagro was serving very well, he has an underrated serve for sure. It’s very heavy and got some juice on it as well, he was having a lot of success on the wide serve. Benneteau, while he doesn’t have the greatest technique on shots is quite fun to watch as he is prepared to mix it up.

There were some extended rallies that in most cases were won by Almagro with the huge backhand down the line and the forehand was working well. It looked like it was going to be comfortable for Almagro after the 1st set, one thing Benneteau is known for is scrapping hard and was able to take the 2nd set.

It wouldn’t be an Almagro match if he wasn’t irritated about something and there were these two drunk Aussies who were giving him some verbal. Almagro was giving them the glare but managed to settle down and concentrate on the match.

Benneteau tried to come to the net more, this tactic worked to an extent in shortening the points since it was unsure whether he could go 5 sets. Almagro for his part used the 1-2 combo and didn’t rip the first passing shot on the big points. He placed at Benne’s feet forcing to volley up and made a couple of big backhands.

Once Almagro took the 3rd there was only going to be one winner and at the end of the match. Almagro celebrated towards the drunk hecklers, classic Nico.

Cuevas vs. Nishioka

Definitely not the best match Cuevas has played. Nishioka apart from his speed doesn’t have a lot of weapons has the Mariano Puerta style forehand without the clembuterol. It was one Cuevas should have won in straight sets and thankfully he did, this was a kind draw and had to take advantage.

Cuevas was up an early break in the 1st and then got very nervous as he was serving the set out. A couple of double faults with some tight shots and Nishioka was able to break back. The tiebreak wasn’t great in terms of quality but it was close and Cuevas eventually took it 7-5.

He settled down in the 2nd set, serving much better and working the point with the heavier and more powerful groundstrokes to the corners running out the 2nd easily. The same pattern was continuing into the3rd but Cuevas got nervous again and failed to serve the match out. Thankfully he was able to break for the match.

Some days just have to find a solution to get it done.

Seppi vs. Gabashvili

The big Russian started strongly and was into the groove quickly as Seppi was nervous plus the South Tyrolean is not a great starter at the best of times. Cañas looks like he is still juicing, the guy is massive.

Gabashvili deservedly took the 1st set, then after that Seppi eases into the match and while not playing great is able to grind, make more balls into the court. Gabashvili still trying to be aggressive though it’s more difficult as Seppi is hitting better length on the groundstrokes.

The second set tiebreaker was crucial from the point of how the match would play out. There was a call that looked a bit wide and was not called against Gabashvili who was unimpressed with the linesperson and then went off at the umpire having a rant in Spanish. That was the moment steady Seppi stepped up to take the 2nd set.

Gabshvili still pissed off with the call drops his level and Seppi was being his steady self was able to take advantage winning the 3rd. The Russian is making more errors and not hitting as well. Seppi breaks and had some easy chances to make it a double break in the 4th and this was the setting for where the shenanigan started to happen.

Seppi serving for sets and matches is always an interesting thing. Traders have been known to back the opponent in this game and not do poorly. Yes, it was classic Seppi he struggled to get first serves in and was hitting a lot of short second serves which Gabashvili was teeing off on and manages to break back.

There was the rare sight of Seppi having a discussion with the umpire on some calls. One of them was on the other side, but then he overruled one and it was wide. Seppi is calm and even his discussion with the umpire was measured. If it was the Fog, there’d have been animated gesticulations.

Now we come to the tiebreaker, which was a mix of some quality tennis though not when the player was leading and some major passive play from Seppi especially on the match points. Seppi wasn’t able to make many first serves, he hit a couple of good second serves though others were just fodder.

It was fitting in a way that the match ended on a double fault, though I was happy that this doesn’t go 5 sets. As they say, you don’t any extra points for winning in style.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Australian Open 1st Round preview

The first Slam of the year has come around again, well that didn’t take long. When you are younger, all you wanted to do was get older for all the really fun stuff, then you realise when you get there it’s not always good. The only that moves quicker is time.

In the interest of fairness and also the fact that there should be more writing on this blog, this will be a preview of some sort. Though it’s pretty obvious that who I’ll be picking to win the overall event.

Seppi vs. Gabashvili


The South Tyrolean maestro was the unlucky guy to draw the Djokovic seeding, but as they say someone had to do it. This match against the Georgian born, Spanish based man playing for Russian with an Argentinian coach has some potential to be interesting.

Gabashvili is quite unpredictable then when your nickname is “tsunami” that can explain a few things. Ever since linking up with Cañas who is looking huge and not in the eating too many asado way, it has overall helped Gabashvili’s game.

As it’s meant to be hot for the first round and according to some players the courts a bit quicker than in recent years. The balls will fly through the air quicker and on Gabashvili’s worst days he resembles a baseballer. They’ve played a few times and I think Seppi will get up in 4 sets in this one, will be too steady overall though Gabashvili is capable of having one of those big days.

Thiem vs. Leo Mayer

This is an interesting match and one that Thiem knows he won’t find too easy. They’ve played 3 times all on clay and two of them were very close matches. Sure Thiem is better on the hardcourt but the Aligator Mayer is no clown on this surface.

When Mayer is on, he works the points well with the serve and the heavy groundies but he is a bit slow so Thiem can expose that with his big shots. The draw for Thiem does represent an opportunity for his best Slam performance. It will be interesting to see how the youngster handles the oppressive conditions tomorrow.

Almagro vs. Benneteau

Two guys who are on the southern parts of their career. Last season Alamgro was coming back from injury but really didn’t have a big result and Benneteau is here on a protected ranking. It seems like Benne’s best chance of prolonging his career is becoming a doubles specialist.

Bautista-Agut vs. Klizan

Bautigol will want to avenge an average performance against Muller last year. He won Auckland beating some good opponents, this plus Klizan is a gronk, the poor mans Melzer and will likely retire as he hates the heat.

Tuesday Matches

Robert vs. Fratangelo

The French youngster qualifies for another main draw and plays the lucky loser who is named after Björn Borg. Lucky losers can be dangerous well Robert made the fourth round taking a set off Andy Murray in a great run.

Stephane Robert

Just hope the Robert that shows up is the one who is loving life, having fun and playing that entertaining tennis. The first two are a given but the latter isn’t always the case when he is off, he is missing a lot and his second serve is fodder.

Gimeno-Traver vs. Smyczek

Not the worst draw for DGT, at the same time he is vulnerable to the hardcourt specialist. Ideally Gimeno-Traver would be getting plenty of kick off the serve and his forehand bouncing very high to push Smyczek back off the baseline where he is not at his best.

Maybe DGT should get some tips from his Bautista Agut on how to play Smyczek since he loves playing him. Gimeno-Traver started Chennai badly, played quite well in Canberra. He has a solid first half of the year to defend a lot of points.


Rosol vs. Daniel

Big hitting Rosol against a smaller player who trains in Valencia. This normally means a win for the smaller guy though as much as Taro Daniel has certain traits shared with David Ferrer, he isn’t at that level.

Rosol on a good serving day should have too much for Daniel who on the hardcourts is vulnerable on the second serve and backhand side. The forehand is heavy and Rosol could mishit some balls, since the big man doesn’t have the most compact swings. Though experience will get the job done here.

Taro Daniel

Millman vs. Schwartzman

Two guys I like but clearly Team Millman on this one. Millman has improved his forehand from before where it used to be a rally shot to set the backhand down the line up to a shot where he can hit winners from.

Blackman looks like a ballkid who has excellent timing on his shots. If Millman doesn’t hit with good depth or penetration then Boca Juniors fanatic will make the Mailman run and run. Millman is a huge favourite for this one, though while I hope he wins, those odds were a bit ludicrous.

Both have little niggles but will be fine come match day. Though Millman has a back condition that can flare up anytime, just hope it’s not here unlike last season.

Fognini vs. Muller

Muller has started the season well, he has that quality serve and steady backhand. The forehand breaks down under pressure and as for The Fog it depends on what mood he is in.

The Fog could easily win in straight sets or tank and lose in less than 2 hours. At least with the Fog it will be done in his own unique style.

Other points

Brian Baker has been sighted and no he hasn’t withdrawn yet. Just hope he gets through the match and has no more serious injuries.

Dimi Tursunov is back as well, yes he’ll lose in the 1st round to Wawrinka there should be some big ballbashing in this one.

It’s Hewitt’s last event before he becomes Australian DC captain a role that he is so suited to. Duckworth a guy who looks up to Hewitt and has received help from him is his first opponent. Don’t think Ducky will beat Hewitt and it’ll be David Ferrer that ends Hewitt’s career.

As for the tournament winner. This little story sums it up very well. Marinko Matosevic and Novak Djokovic were warming up and Matosevic was drilling one backhands at Djokovic who was at net.

Djokovic screams out to the media and others there “Did you see that? He’s trying to take me out. You saw it”. Then Matosevic replies dryly “It’s the only way anyone else has a chance in the tournament”.

Apart from a red hot Wawrinka, it really looks like Matosevic is right.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stephane Robert and Radek Štěpánek turn back time at the Aus Open qualies

Lack of sleep, weather plus a few technical difficulties. Yes, here is a qualie summary,

Robert vs. Bolt

That was the first match that I made it to. Robert started slowly as he has been having some back issues and also he was struggling to read Bolt’s leftie serve.

Robert didn’t panic and once he was able to fix the return issues. In the process he was playing better from the back making less errors which helped him on serve as Bolt pressed too hard as he wasn’t getting the free points as he was in the first set.

Robert definitely doesn’t have much margin for error on the groundstrokes but the timing on the backhand down the line. It would be good for the game if he qualified.

Weintraub vs. Saville

This was on the next court to the Robert/Bolt match. Due to the presence of about 15 Israeli fans it was easy to know who won the point which was helpful.
Managed to make it over there halfway through the 2nd set. Saville just doesn’t have the game at this level on hardcourts, he is one of those guys that would love a longer grass season.

Weintraub was just hitting bigger and the single hand backhand down the line was working well in the hot conditions. He struggles when playing Challengers, but when there is a crowd especially of his own fans he raises his level as can be seen in his Davis Cup exploits.

After Weintraub got the break in the 3rd, he was down 0-40 but managed to hold serve through a combination of good attacking play and Saville not really putting the pressure on.

Khachanov vs. Zemlja

This was one of those tough match ups and the conditions played a factor for sure. Playing a huge server in hot conditions isn’t fun especially when they are having a huge serving day.

Khachanov was serving very well, plenty of pace and hitting good spots. For a tall guy he moves well, yes the forehand is a big shot but he seems to be very sound in temperament. The 50-50s were going his way, the mishits were landing on the line or good spots.

Zemlja wasn’t playing too badly but couldn’t make a proper impression of the Russian’s serve. The game where he got broken in the 1st set was just a dumb service game of errors and the only break that was needed. It’s always playing against guys who give no rhythm and serve bombs.

The second set was more of the same with Khachanov hitting massive serves and forehands. Zemlja being steady but not really penetrating from the ground. Zemlja lost his serve in the 11th game and that was pretty much the end of the match.

Galo Blanco is doing some work with Khachanov who is a good mentor to have for a younger player trying to find his way on the tour.

Stepanek vs. Satral

Sexy Steps was at his cunning best in this one. He doesn’t have the prettiest game but he has a lot of variety which has kept competitive at the advanced age in a tennis sense plus he’ll pull out whatever tricks to win.

There was the timewasting in between points and at the final game where he broke Satral for the match. As Satral was serving at 30-40, Steps put the hand up and said sorry he wasn’t ready.

Come ons thrown directly at the opponent, there was some classic tubing at the net. This all thrown in with the lights going out during the 3rd set and Radek getting on the umpires case. This was a triumph of experience over youth.

Brown vs. Novak

No comment.

Ghem vs. Menendez

This was a frustrating match for the Brazilian. Didn’t start so well but turned it around in the 2nd set with some good serving and big backhands.
Ghem had the momentum but a combo of the heat, a few scattered showers, the wind and Menendez’s typical Spanish tenacity in the very poor man’s Jordi Arrese kind of way managed to frustrate the gaucho.

Both were holding fairly well in the 3rd but the game where Ghem was broken was in reality not great play from Menendez who was getting pissed off with himself. He unlike Ghem put that out of his mind when the point was being played.

Ghem was 30-0 up in the game, but the turning point was a massive gust of wind was blowing. Ghem took his time, but unsure whether he was over. The umpire didn’t indicate during the match that Ghem was taking too much time or told him to hurry up.

Then boom we get the time violation call. Ghem didn’t react very well and lost serve. Menendez holds easily and wins. After the match Ghem was giving it to the umpire and the ATP officials on hand.

Final Round of qualies

Stepanek vs. Alejo Gonzalez

Hard to say much about this except Radek was too sexy, didn’t even need the antics to put off an opponent who didn’t have the game to trouble him.

Yes, Stepanek is just that smooth.

Robert vs. Khachanov

The young Russian started out very well. He was just smashing serves, hitting huge groundstrokes and pounding Robert’s short second serves to race through the 1st set. It was more like when and not a question of if he won the match.

Thankfully it’s never until win you last the point. The turning point was early in the 2nd set where Khachanov had break points on the Robert serve. He missed easy backhands and Robert managed to hold serve while not landing any first serves.

After that Robert was able to get into Khachanov’s service games and reading the returns well. He was able to expose the weaker backhand of the big Russian with some quality timing especially on the backhand side.

Robert takes the 2nd set and then starts feeling the love. He was swinging but not just brainless ball bashing making sure he’s return serve before getting back into the neutral position. He got on the momentum train and it terminated at the platform of success.

Yes, I am delighted that Stephane Robert qualified. He doesn’t have too much time left in the game. The fact he comes from another era in the way that tennis is still clearly fun, not had the flair coached out of him and plays the sport with a smile on his face.

Ah! tennis what a sport it is.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Unfinished Business : Grega Žemlja Interview

Yes, it has been a while since there was an update but I hope it was worth the wait. Here is an extensive interview with Grega Žemlja the first Slovenian male to make the top 50 in the ATP Rankings and also to make the 3rd round of the US Open and Wimbledon.

Žemlja is on the comeback trail after being diagnosed with mononucleosis not long after his breakthrough year in 2012. We speak about this and many other subjects in this interview. For those who want to know more about Grega here is his site Grega Žemlja
Also, I'd like to thank Grega for taking his time to speak clearly with me and in his third language it is much appreciated.

How old were you when you started playing tennis and what were your earliest memories?

I started when I was 6 or 7. My parents built a tennis court on artificial grass in front of our house. This is actually how we started, my parents were big tennis enthusiasts.

My sister and I started to have some fun actually in the beginning. After that we got our first coach. Then I went to our club near our home and started playing there.

Slovenia is known for its winter sports especially ski jumping and skiing. What made you choose tennis over skiing?

Skiing was basically first my sport when I was 9 or 10. Afterwards my parents were the factor where I started playing more tennis and didn't do so much skiing.

I'll always like skiing, my father was a ski jumper. Of course Slovenia has plenty of mountains and we live in that part of the country where skiing is the major sport. I went for tennis and I don't regret it.

You were among the first generation of Slovenians to grow up in an independent country. Did your parents or grandparents ever speak about the old days in Yugoslavia?

No, not too much. I mean I'm aware of that it used to be one country and different times they were, I never got the comparisons or some story from Yugoslavia. Maybe, it's better not to talk about it.

Slovenia wasn’t known for producing players. Yet, Kavčič and yourself came through at the same time? Did the federation provide any financial assistance or help in any way?

In some way yes, let's say in a small way. Actually the club helped me where I practicsed and did everything. They gave me much bigger support than the federation.

I got the finances from Davis Cup and that's about it. Nowadays, I don't have a problem with the association or blame them for anything. We have good relations and I play every Davis Cup. My parents were the most supportive factor when I was young and before I came a pro. That was the biggest help that I got.

Žemlja and Kavčič

How important was it to have Kavčič there as a rival in those days?

Not really we started competing against each other when we were 15 or 16, then we played really a lot against each other. In tennis, you are always on your own, I don't see him a guy who pushed me forward or to a good ranking.

I see it more as development as I was playing good, then Luka Gregorc was playing good and Blaz was playing good. Still, there was a time when none of us were really good and then somebody came up. In the end it's up to an individual to do certain things properly.

Without a powerful federation and a big agency behind you. How difficult were the early days when trying to establish yourself on tour, for example in relation to getting sponsors?

As I said earlier my parents and the club in some way were the biggest helps financially. Those were difficult times in Slovenia before 2009 the best ranking was 195, so for every ATP point people were getting excited about.

Basically I won my first point winning a Futures title. It was a huge thing and everybody was getting excited. In those winning Futures, playing Futures and Challengers was amazing. Now, we don't see that like we used to, in that time we were really excited.

In regards to sponsors, I never got one. Yes, I had Babolat for stuff and clothes but for financial help I didn't get any.

When did you realise that you were able to make it as a professional player?

I wouldn't say there was a particular result that pushed me up or make me believe. There were a few times in my career where I beat a really good player. I wasn’t really thinking about it, I was just following the steps and not over exaggerating about things. I wasn’t really euphoric about my results and I wasn’t too down after a tough loss.

When I made top 100 that was an important moment in my career, that was actually when I didn’t fear anyone at this stage.

What have been your experiences of playing on the Futures & Challenger Tour? Do you have any funny stories to share?

When I started playing it was still the Satellites which became Futures. I started playing in the Croatian part of Istria near the Slovenian border. So many players there, but I played the same guy 3 times in a row and lost to him three times.

Then I played doubles with my coach and I was so pissed off from losing in singles, that I was tanking the doubles. The coach was really angry and we split up. Next tournament I won the tournament. Yes, now we can look back on it and laugh, I was being the problem guy throwing racquets but it ended ok.

You have made the 3rd round of Wimbledon and the US Open. How do you rate those achievements?

Yes, of course they were big results. For me it’s always fun to play at Grand Slams and I play my best tennis there. It just special when I came to the tournament it’s as big as it gets.

I had my biggest wins at Wimbledon and the US Open, so yes of course I’m proud of that result.

In 2012 you made your first ever ATP final in Vienna as a qualifier. What do you remember from that great week?

That was a good story. I started out as a qualifier, the number 1 seed in qualies. And was first out in Vienna, Moscow and Stockholm. In the end I decided to go to Vienna, I qualified and won 7-6 in the 3rd set of the 1st round.

In the second round I remember my shoes were completely done. In one part there was a complete hole. I hated new shoes, as it was so tough for me to play in new shoes. I got my shoes fixed and played every match in these shoes. These were my lucky shoes, I was playing good and moving unbelievable it’s a good story.

My family and friends came to watch me as Vienna is quite close. I t was an unbelievable week and definitely one of my favourites.

You were the first Slovenian to make the top 50 and what contributed to your breakthrough year?

Of course I’m proud it’s a big thing for a Slovenian to be top 50. Years ago, we never expected to make it this far but in the end I got sick with mono and there was a problem after that.

I wanted to build on that success and wasn’t allowed to because of that disease. Immediately as I got my highest ranking I had to stop.

You had a serious case of mono and how frustrating was it that you were unable to enjoy and build on your success?

It was frustrating as I wanted to play some tournaments I retired two or three times, then took a break for 2-3 months but I never fully recovered.

I had the wrong treatment because none of the doctors knew what was really going on. It became more of a mental thing, you’re playing, you’re not playing, you have problems, and you don’t have problems.

Some weeks it was fine, then other weeks it wasn’t. I played at 80% sometimes that was good enough and other times not. I wasn’t satisfied because at 80% because at the highest level it has to be 100%. Then I decided to stop for one year and fully recover.

How did you spend your extended time away from the game? Did it change your perspective in any way?

Yes, it did but mostly I had fun. I was enjoying things playing ice hockey, windsurfing and was finding different sports, things about that life which I had to put aside when I was playing and practicing hard.

It was a good moment in my career, well good in regarding that side I was enjoying life and once I recovered from the mono I was 100% ready to go back to tennis.

In a way I was richer for this experience which impacted on my tennis career.

The ITF haven’t raised the Futures prize money from 15k since the 80s. Challenger prize money at its worst has decreased 30% from 1995, now it has been increased slightly. What can be done to readdress some of the balance?

There are some steps in this direction, though I am not sure I heard by 2017 there’ll be no more 10K Futures and Challengers will have to have hospitality. There won’t be anything lower than 50 or 75K Challenger.

The problem I think is the top 20 and from players 100-200. There is a really big bridge between those players, they should do more there to ease the financial gap.

Do you believe that the current ATP Player Representatives doing enough to ensure that the players who earn the vast majority of money through prize money and not sponsorship are able to survive playing the sport?

Yes, they probably could do more but in a way it’s tough to be a smartarse now and say what they should do. We all need to take steps in that direction, there are so many territories where we should maximise this.

What do you remember of your first Challenger title?

It was a nice one in Cancun, Mexico on the green clay. It was the last tournament of the year and I was enjoying every moment. It’s a touristy place, lot of people there, the hotel was nice, and the courts were amazing. It was the perfect play, they don’t have this tournament in the calendar anymore for which I am sorry about.

I was winning all the matches very easy and in the final it was 6-2 6-1 over Martin Alund. I played unbelievable there and it was one of the great moments in my career. Winning a tournament is maybe even better than playing 3rd or 2nd round of a Grand Slam, because you beat everyone and know you could not have done better. It was a special moment for sure.

What are your favourite tournaments?

Grand Slams and Vienna.

Who are your best friends on tour?

I’m always hanging out with the Slovenians but I have many friends in the tennis world. I don’t cause trouble, carry grudges and think I behave ok on court. I get on with most people.

Biggest jerk on the tour?

No comment.

What’s the worst place you have stayed in so far on tour?

I remember two places. One was in Saransk Russia, where I was playing a Challenger, that place was tough. The hotel was in the middle of being renovated, there were some floors that were disasters. We managed to get a better floor and room.

There was one bed for my coach and I it’s tough being in bed with someone both of us are pretty big and everyone needs his own space.

The other was in China, I can’t remember the place but it was hot and humid. There were problems with hygiene, few English speakers, the parts that weren’t associated with the club or hotels weren’t good. I had some bad memories in Russia and China

Name the best and worst matches you have played in your career so far?

Best: Where I beat Monaco in Roland Garros plus in Vienna against Tipsarevic and Haas.
Worst: I’ve had many bad ones. One was recently in Fairfield where I lost to Liam Broady that was bad.
My second tournament back I played a Turkish Futures where I got a wildcard and lost to a guy ranked 600 lost 6-2 6-0 that was even worse.

Apart from skiing and ice hockey. What other sports do you like outside of tennis?

Windsurfing, I enjoy it so much now.

Which football team do you support?

I watch a lot of Premier League and follow Manchester United. Before it wasn’t so much but in the last couple of years I’ve followed it more closely.

Should Man Utd keep Van Gaal?

Nooo, I don’t think so.

Who would be the ideal replacement?

Pep Guardiola, but I think he’s going to Man City. Everyone’s talking about Mourinho. I don’t think he’s the ideal one but definitely better than van Gaal who is destroying the club with this football. Even if it’s successful it’s not the type that I enjoy watching.

What do you think about the length of season?

It’s too long.

What solutions would you propose for the calendar to reduce or maybe not reduce the amount of tournaments?

For sure they could squeeze it and there should be more than two months break. Now the season finishes in November and they could reduce it by a month.
Two and a half to three months off makes sense because if you want to do a proper pre season and improve which every player wants, which leads to better quality tennis. You need those three months to have a proper pre season and be fully prepared. Now with all the tournaments it’s tough to do that and leading to more injuries.

The ATP is meant to be a joint union between players and tournament directors but it doesn’t to favour tournament directors more so. Are there ways to improve the organisation to have a better representation and reputation among the players?

I’ve lost touch with that since I didn’t follow all the meetings that took place lately, since I was away. In the past I knew there were problems with that and there are still are.

In the end tournament directors have the last word, because of the sponsors they have the last say and big influence. It’s tough to join the parts.

Willy Cañas said “The ATP practices discrimination from an economic standpoint, like any multinational corporation. It’s just another of millions that there are in the world. Point being that I accept it, but I'm not buying into it that it is a group of players that decide (players union) because it isn't like that”. Do you believe that Willy is correct on this particular issue?

Yes, he’s right in that we are a part of it, but we don’t like it as it is. From the time he said it to where we are now, there have been some changes.

As it is I haven’t following the financials and the economics lately because I didn’t care about it. I’ll pay more attention to it now

How widespread do you believe doping is on tour?

Yes, I think it does when I look at some players and how they perform. How they do these tests, but behind the scenes there is a lot to it. It’s always tough to guess, you need to have some facts.

Have you ever been tested out-of-season/at an unreasonable or ridiculous hour?

I was tested five times in a row at tournaments. It’s right they do it, but it needs to be better. I never been tested at a strange hour nor needed to give them the schedule.

Since the Tennis Integrity Unit has existed do you believe match fixing has been on the decrease or are they smarter about it?

A good question, for sure they got smarter. I think there is less than before but betting is so popular and it’s tough to eliminate the problem.

Davis Cup

What’s your opinion about the Davis Cup?

I like it and always found of these weeks to represent my country and will continue to do it. Players think they’ll lose 2 or 3 weeks of the year but it won’t destroy their careers. In a way it should be an obligation to play for your country.

Do you think offering ranking points for Davis Cup participation is a good idea?

Yes, it should be more spread and not just to the World Group.

Do you think Slovenia can make World Group?

We can, but we all have to play. If we play with one player or maybe two then that’s not enough. We need a full squad and then we’re a chance.

There are makings of a good team but luck never seems to be there in relation to having all the players fit at the same time?

That’s true we played Israel. I had mono, Kavcic was injured and Rola was the only one fit enough to play. One year without these issues then we have chances.

What are the positives of playing league events during the year?

The French league was good, I was playing well, having fun with the team and it was good preparation for the Australian Open.

What are your hopes and goals for 2016?

To comeback where I was before suffering mono.

Word association to finish of course.

Grasscourt tennis - Fast tennis, low bounce, serve volley.
Slovenia being confused as Slovakia - I hate that, lack of intelligence.
Olimpija Ljubljana - Basketball.
Blaz Kavčič - Lot of ego.
Melbourne - Nicest Grand Slam.
Poker - Tough, unpredictable but unbelievable fun game to play.
Jota - Traditional food, but I don’t like it.
Zlatko Zahovic - One of the biggest Slovenian sportspeople.
Anže Kopitar - Really nice guy, love to watch him, respect for everything and all the best to him.

I'd like to thank Grega once again for giving up his time with this interview. If anyone wants to translate or use this interview. Please ask me and credit the author don't pass it off as your own work.