Posts Tagged 'tennis'

In the spotlight: Hyeon Chung

© ATP World Tour

As we move onto the Asian swing, the attention turns to Asia’s No. 1 male tennis player in Kei Nishikori. The Shimane native has consolidated on his success from last year with titles in Memphis, Barcelona and Washington. The current World No. 6 became a superstar in his home country with a finals appearance at the 2014 US Open, knocking out World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on route to the title match. As Nishikori has proven, one man is all it takes to inspire a new generation of tennis aspirants for a country renowned for it’s football success.

Prior to Nishikori’s rise, there was of course Paradorn Srichaphan who became the first Asian born man to reach the top 10 of the men’s rankings and won five ATP World Tour titles before retiring in 2010. More recently on the women’s side, there was Li Na a former Australian and French Open winner. Young Asian tennis stars have been hard to find but they are slowly emerging from the unlikeliest of countries. One player is Hyeon Chung, a 19 year-old Korean who has solidified his court craft in the challenger tour.

YTR Hyeon Chung

The current World No. 55 has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past three years and now sits on the cusp of becoming the highest ranked South Korean in history (Hyung-Taik Lee reached a career high 36 in 2007). At 6’1″ and 183lbs, the Suwon native isn’t your typical Asian tennis player and definitely has the physique to make it to the top. 2015 has been an immensely successful year for Chung on the Challenger tour, with titles in Burnie, Savannah, Busan and Kaohsuing.

The talented teenager has also had his first taste at Grand Slam level, making appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open, losing in the first and second round respectively. Game play wise, Chung is solid on both wings with strong court movement to support his game. For someone of that height, his serve does need additional work in order to win more free points. He has already demonstrated that he has the mental strength to hold himself together and rebound from adversity.

Not making the headlines early on his career could be a positive thing for Chung as he continues to strive the best he can be and when the time comes, he can grasp the opportunity with both hands. While he may not be as well known as his fellow teenagers Coric, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, Chung will be someone you will definitely hear of in the years to come.

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The beauty of the hawk-eye challenge system

About a decade ago, the International Tennis Federation deemed hawk-eye suitable for professional tennis use and we have seen this technology applied to other sports for e.g. cricket and association football. Not unexpectedly, this system does have its critics, most notably Roger Federer. For those that don’t remember, Federer famously asked umpire Carlos Ramos in the Wimbledon 2007 final to have the system turned off after a call that was deemed out was reversed upon Nadal’s challenge.

But hawk-eye does have many positives. Chair umpires have the support of such a system that would help justify the decisions they make on court and in turn, they have become better umpires. It does make me wonder how tennis would of been like if hawk-eye were around during the times of John McEnroe. The crowd reception has generally between positive to the hawk-eye challenge system, which helps them to engage and builds the widely felt suspense during a line call.

Over the years, we have seen many players use hawk-eye to their own advantage along with the occasional controversy. A match that springs to mind is the epic five setter Andy Roddick played against Fernando Gonzalez at the 2010 Australian Open.

© DEMURY

Gonzalez was leading two sets to one with the match clearly going his way until a crucial moment in the fourth set changed everything. The retired Chilean was down set point and stopped mid rally to a Roddick forehand that he judged to be out. Upon Roddick challenging, the ball was judged to be in and the American was awarded the set. Despite Gonzalez’s protests, the umpire made the right decision in that Gonzalez had stopped and then the line judge called out.

Hawk-eye has proven that it does work both ways and you don’t just have to challenge when a ball is called out that you judge to be in. Take for instance, Andy Roddick challenging to fault his serve.

© Firas Bayram

Roddick didn’t react after Monfils’ return and correctly challenged his serve to be out even though it was called in. Not something that the crowd would expect but its definitely a thrill. Talk has already turned as to whether lines people and umpires are even required with such a system in place. John McEnroe has certainly made it clear that he would like to see such a change as it would broaden tennis appeal. Unfortunately, it is still early days and such a move would be premature and damaging to the game. Umpires are there to restore law and order and to provide a personal view not a biased view as to whether a ball is in or out. I’m all for the status quo and a strong believer that tennis would not be where it is today without hawk-eye.

Juan Martin del Potro: The forgotten man

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At the age of 20, Juan Martin del Potro had the world at his feet. He won his first Grand Slam title at the 2009 US Open, defeating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the semi-final and final respectively. As of 2015, he remains the last non-European player to win a Grand Slam. He rounded out 2009 with an appearance at the Barclay’s World Tour Finals, making the final before succumbing Nikolay Davydenko. Then the problem of the left wrist set in. But the tall Argentine refused to budge, soldiering on before opting for surgery in mid-2010.

With the problem seemingly fixed, del Potro made a full-time return to tennis in 2011, winning two titles and finishing just outside the top 10 in the year end rankings. 2012 would prove to be another fruitful year for the now 27 year-old, reaching three Grand Slam quarter-finals, winning four titles and taking bronze at the Olympics. Arguably his semi-final against Federer at the Olympics was the best match of 2012 and one of the biggest of his career. A return to the top 10 was inevitable, finishing at No. 7.

In 2013, the Tandil native once again reminded us why he deserved to be in the conversation when discussing potential Grand Slam winners, pushing Djokovic to five sets at Wimbledon. Apart from his performance at SW19, he also captured four ATP World Tour 500 titles and reached the final in Indian Wells and Shanghai. Fast forward to 2014, the problem of the left wrist flared up again forcing del Potro into rehabilitation. There have been cameos in early 2015, but to little success.

Unsurprisingly, talk as turned as to whether he should switch to a one-handed backhand to restrict the use of his left wrist. In my opinion, that is completely absurd because it was his two-handed backhand that makes him the player he is today. His height and left hand gives him the leverage to return high topspin balls which is why he has had success against players like Nadal. What he should be focusing on is healing his left wrist and getting it as strong as possible.

At 27, he is still relatively young and with the likes of Wawrinka winning Grand Slams in his late 20s and early 30s anything is possible. There is no doubt in my mind if del Potro has the will and courage, he will return to the tennis court successfully and reclaim his spot in the top 10. His presence and game play still instills fear in the big 4 tennis players having recorded multiple victories against them in the past. For now in his words “there doesn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel” as his left wrist threatens to completely derail his successful career.

In the spotlight: Elias Ymer

© Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

Over the past 50 years, the likes of Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Thomas Johansson and Robin Soderling have graced Swedish tennis. However, not since 2011 has Sweden had a top male tennis player in Robin Soderling, who reached two French Open finals and other than Novak Djokovic the only player to beat Rafael Nadal on the Parisian clay. Fast forward to 2015, enter Elias Ymer. The 19 year-old won his first ATP World Tour Challenger title in Italy and recently came through the qualifying rounds of Wimbledon.

The son of Ethiopian immigrants, Ymer is quietly confident that he can restore tennis fortunes in Sweden and embraces the pressure and expectation. He already has a victory over fellow youngster Nick Kyrgios and lauded by David Ferrer as having a “brilliant future ahead.” Coached by former Spanish professional, Galo Blanco who was previously affiliated with Milos Raonic, Ymer is in good hands. Additionally, he is also part of Magnus Norman’s tennis academy, a former World No. 2 and respected tennis player himself.

The World No. 133, lists Americans Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson as his idols and looks to their killer instinct every time he walks out onto the tennis court. The likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have started to take notice and even invited him to their training sessions. Along with the likes of Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Tiafoe and Coric, Ymer will definitely be a household name for years to come. Swedish tennis is still in the doldrums, but they are quietly optimistic that they will have to no longer turn to semi-retired players to fill their ranks.

It doesn’t get any better than this

© Getty Images

Wimbledon has just about come and gone and once again, Djokovic and Federer find themselves at the opposite sides of the net as they play for the grand prize. It is virtually impossible to pick a winner at this stage, even though the odds have Djokovic as the slight favourite. For the first time in his career, the Serbian has reached the final of the first three Grand Slams of the year, dropping only two sets on route to the final.

On the other hand, Federer produced a scintillating performance on Friday to beat local hope Andy Murray in straight sets. The Swiss is through to his 10th Wimbledon final and hoping to erase the pain of last year with an eighth title, steering clear of Renshaw and Sampras. Leading up to Wimbledon, the 33-year old won the Gerry Weber Open for a record eighth time, becoming only the third player to win the same tournament that number of times.

Few would know how Djokovic would rebound from such a crushing defeat to Stan Wawrinka just weeks earlier at the French Open but he is mentally resilient and has demonstrated that he can overcome them. Nevertheless, 2015 has been a very fruitful season for Djokovic, with titles in Australia, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome. Only two other players apart from Wawrinka have had his measure this year, Ivo Karlovic and Federer.

The key for Federer in this match would be to do exactly what he did to Murray in the semi-final, keep the rallies short, serve big and be aggressive. But of course that is easier said than done because Djokovic doesn’t have a weak second serve and enjoys offense more than defense. Long drawn out rallies will only favour his opponent and before he knows it, he’ll be down two sets to love and serving to stay in it.

Regardless of Federer’s performance, Djokovic is going to have to play at a very high level if he is to capture his third title at the Championships. Despite being the heavy favourite going into last years final, Djokovic bucked at various stages, most noticeably in the fourth set, enabling Federer to send it into a decider. The things that are going for him are that he is the younger of the two, the more superior on the back of the court and the one in form.

Prediction: Federer d. Djokovic in four sets

A warrior’s journey comes to an end

© Reuters

If I had to describe Lleyton Hewitt in three words, it would be: charismatic, tenacious  and feisty. It is Hewitt’s 17th and last year on the professional circuit and never have we doubted for a moment, his willingness to succeed and his determination to beat the odds. His storied Wimbledon career came to a close last night with a five set loss to Jarkko Nieminen 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 11-9. He has carried Australian tennis for the best part of 10 years and now is the time to pass the baton to a new generation of Australians.

By the time he draws the curtain at next year’s Australian Open, he will undoubtedly be Australia’s greatest player since John Newcombe. His commitment to Davis Cup has been phenomenal, winning in 1999 and 2003 and is currently the captain in waiting. I find it harsh to describe Hewitt as a stop-gap player, by that I mean his best years fell between the times of Sampras/Agassi and Federer/Nadal. He was unique in his own professional way, yelling his famous “cmons”, his vicht salutes and lawnmower pulling.

Several injuries should of ended his career, including a toe reconstruction in 2012, but time and time again he soldiered on and proved the doubters wrong. It is very reassuring to hear that Hewitt is interested in mentoring Australia’s next generation, including Kyrgios and Tomic who are still several years from realizing their potential. Both men are currently inside the top 30 and five in total in the top 100. That is in stark contrast to 2011, when there were no Australian men in the top 100. Lleyton Hewitt has left Australian tennis in safe hands for the next five years at least and left behind an enduring legacy.