Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic faced each other at the Royal Albert Hall in London last night for the first time since their epic semi-final at Wimbledon in 2001. Ivanisevic broke the hearts of the British public by beating Henman in a thrilling five set match spread across three days due to the unpredictable British weather.
I clearly remember listening to the commentary secretly during lessons at my school in North London on my vintage Sony Walkman, nerves on edge. Arguably, this was Henman’s most promising opportunity to be the first British man since Fred Perry to lift the Wimbledon crown. With a certain American, Pete Sampras, knocked out in the fourth round by none other than recent ATP Tour Finals champion, Roger Federer, the path seemed clear or so we thought.
However, the stars were shining favourably on the charismatic Croat, who famously ate at the same table at the same restaurant every night during the Wimbledon fortnight. En route to his well deserved Wimbledon title, the pinnacle of any professional tennis player’s career, Ivanisevic won back the heart of the British crowd in his fairytale win against Aussie, Pat Rafter. Ranked world number 125 due to a recurring shoulder injury, Ivanisevic reached the final as a wild card entry and previously had three tough Wimbledon final losses to Andre Agassi in 1992 and Pete Sampras in 1994 and 1998.
He famously said to reporters: “If some angel comes tonight in my dreams and says: ‘OK Goran, you’re going to win Wimbledon tomorrow, but you’re not able to touch the racket ever again,’ I will say: ‘OK, I’d rather take that and then never play tennis again in my life.’”
Yet, the changeable Croat with dual personalities is back. And what a comeback it has been for the 39-year-old. A regular on the seniors tour, Ivanisevic has won two titles in Barcelona and Knokke this season and recorded his fastest ever serve this year. He was one of the many players who encouraged Henman out of retirement to join legends such as Stefen Edberg, John McEnroe and Britain’s own, Greg Rusedski on the ATP Champions Tour in a more jovial yet competitive atmosphere.
“I saw him at the World Tour Finals in London last year and I told him he should come back and play with us,” Ivanisevic said of Henman. “He’s a great tennis player and we miss players like him.”
The players certainly didn’t disappoint the animated crowd last night. In fact, with the pressure off, they produced an outstanding level of tennis, with Ivanisevic serving as well as I’d ever witnessed, winning the first set 6-4. Indeed, Henman said in the post match press conference that no one had ever served as well against him in his entire career in that first set. Heady praise for the Croat who revealed he is serving faster than ever before with the “new technology” of rackets these days.
With “good” Goran serving on all cylinders, this could have been a baptism of fire on the fast indoor court for Henman, only in his second match out of retirement. But, the Brit held his nerve well and showed many glimpses of his former glory, with great net play and feel around the court, winning the second set 7-5 and bringing the match to an exciting deciding Championship tiebreak.
Despite the hecklings of the old Tim faithful, Goran served his way to the match with an 11-9 victory in the Champions’ Tie-Break, looking impressively sharp on his backhand returns too.
Both looked exhilarated and liberated by the atmosphere of the ATP Champions Tour, particularly in the historic setting of London’s Royal Albert Hall. In the post match press conference Henman revealed his “body felt good” and was pleased with the “good quality of tennis out there.” Similarly, Goran was beaming as he said “today I felt great” and emphasized how much he is enjoying his tennis without the mental pressure of the tour. To my question of whether he still enjoyed playing up to his loveable villain reputation, he laughed and said: “People have always called me so many things. I don’t mind.”
Well, last night Goran, you were quite simply brilliant.
Follow Melina Harris’ coverage for MiamiTennisNews on twitter under the username @thetenniswriter
Today, Roger Federer claimed his fifth year-end ATP finals title with a superlative performance over a defiant, but defeated world number one, Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
In the 22nd meeting of an illustrious rivalry that will leave a great legacy for the game for years to come, Nadal and Federer captivated audiences world-wide with a final that sparkled with explosive shot making, drama and as many twists and turns as a Shakespeare play.
The world number one and two are polar opposites with one thing in common; an extraordinary will to win. While many began to question Federer’s mental strength following his failure to capitalize on two match points against an often mentally fragile Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the US Open earlier in the year, Federer seemed to have shrugged off any niggling doubts of his own authority in matches in the run up to the final.
Questions have also been raised about Nadal’s physical problems. A shoulder injury in his serving arm caused Nadal to take a five week break before the ATP Finals and his recurring knee problems are always a concern. Many wondered how Nadal’s body would cope after a grueling three set match against Britain’s Andy Murray in the semi-finals. The tennis world waited with baited breath to see how the latest act in tennis’ greatest rivalry since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras would play out.
In the opening set, Nadal described Federer as “unplayable” and it was evident from the outset that the Swiss Maestro was back to his absolute best. The players went tactically toe to toe until the seventh game when Nadal’s continued tactic of playing to Federer’s backhand backfired spectacularly. With a superb cross court winner from that wing, Federer gained the break of serve. Then, the former world number one closed out the first set 6-3 with a forehand winner in just 32 minutes.
But, with a dramatic swing of momentum, like an incensed lion released from its cage, Nadal characteristically pounced on Federer’s drop in form in the second set. By switching tactics, Nadal secured a break of serve in the fourth game through working the Federer forehand with spectacular success. Federer took a tumble in the fifth game following an unkind net cord for Nadal and so did his form, allowing the Spaniard to pull ahead with a comfortable 4-1 lead.
The remainder of the second set went with serve. Nadal held his nerve after losing the first point when serving out the set at 5-3 by finishing Federer off with a wonderfully executed backhand slice right at the master’s feet. Game on.
As 2007 draws to a close, the staff at MiamiTennisBlog.com would like to pay tribute to what we feel were the preeminent matches of the year. On the men’s side, the picks have been limited to five setters because undoubtedly, they were the most compelling.
#10 Maria Sharapova versus Justine Henin, Finals WTA Championships
After making the cut once Venus Williams pulled out due to injury, Maria whose serve had been affected all year by a shoulder problem, appeared to have regained her past championship form impressively dismissing higher ranked opponents to reach the finals. In a hotly contested match lasting 3-hours and 24-minute, Sharapova demonstrated she had “game” by winning the first set 7-5 and pushing Henin in the second set prior to loosing it 7-5. The contest came down to a final third set which was fiercely disputed, but Henin prevailed 6-3.
#9 Serena Williams Versus Justine Henin, Wimbledon Quarterfinals
After the drama of the previous round where she won despite a calf injury, Serena continued to battle against her archrival, Henin, taking the match to an ultimate set after loosing the first. Regrettably, Serena was not a 100-percent physically and went down 6-3 in the third. For her courage and effort, we must tip our hat to Serena.
#8 Robin Soderling versus Rafael Nadal, Third Round Wimbledon
Here are just a few reasons why this was a memorable match: 1) bad weather resulted in play spanning the course of four days. 2) Theatrics were the order of the day, when Robin decided that Rafa’s habit of constantly picking at his shorts between points was worthy of mimicry. And 3) this ended up being a five set marathon with great shots being made from both ends of the court. Nadal’s experience and physical strength were keys in aiding him to come out on top 7-5 in the fifth. It is doubtful that Robin and Rafa will be going out for drinks anytime soon.
#7 Carlos Moya versus Tim Henman, First Round Wimbledon
In his farewell Wimbledon match, Tiger Tim had fans atop “Henman Hill” on pins and needles with another five set nail-biter. The last set was dead even at 5-5 when play was suspended due to lightning. When Henman returned, he electrified the crowd with sensational shots and won 13-11 in the fifth. Sadly, the joy of his British compatriots would be short-lived as in the second round Henman would be defeated by another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez. Anxious for a home grown champion since 1936, the Brits will have to wait at least another year.
#6 Andy Roddick versus Richard Gasquet, Quarterfinals Wimbledon
As the higher ranked player and with his previous grand slam experience, Roddick had all the elements in his favor to proceed to the next round. He was leading two sets to love and with Gasquet having never previously come back from such a deficit; Andy’s fate appeared to be sealed. But destiny took a wrong turn as Gasquet found the means to work his way back into the match with spectacular backhand passes and eventually walked away with the upset, winning 8-6 in the fifth. A dazed and confused Roddick probably had nightmares for days following that one.
#5 Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams Finals Australian Open
Subsequent to an injury-filled year which resulted in her ranking plummeting to 81, it would not have been shocking for a visibly out-of-shape Serena to lose in the initial rounds of the tournament. Williams proved all the naysayers wrong when she reached the finals where she dominated the proceedings against Sharapova, who at the time was the second seed, and earned her third Australian trophy. In so doing, Serena placed the rest of the field on notice that she was back at the top of her game.
#4 Daniela Hantuchova versus Serena Williams, Fourth Round Wimbledon
After winning the opening set easily, Serena found herself battling in the second. While serving to extend that set into a tiebreaker, Serena literally went down when she began to experience pain in her calf muscle; speculation was that she was struck by a case of severe calf spasm. Once play resumed after a medical time out, a grimacing, teary-eyed Williams was unable to generate much power on her shots causing her to forfeit the second set. With her movement gravely hampered, Williams’ prayers for a reprieve were answered by a two-hour rain delay during which she received additional treatment for her problem. Guts, shear determination, and a befuddled Daniela, who was conspicuously uneasy with having to beat up on a wounded opponent, helped Serena pull out a 6-2 win in the third set. Therefore, for your die-hard attitude Serena Williams, we at HialeahTennis.com salute you.
#3 Justine Henin versus Marion Bartoli, Semifinals Wimbledon
You would think that having James Bond 007 (a.k.a. Pierce Brosnan) in the stands would make one nervous. Such a dapper and debonair presence in most cases might be a distraction, apparently not in the case of Marion Bartoli, to her he was a source of inspiration. Seeded 18th , Bartoli of France probably believed that she had no more than an outside chance to win against Henin, the world’s number one. After losing the first set 6-1, Bartoli should probably have discarded the idea of an “outside chance”. Yet, Marion stated that when she saw Brosnan, her favorite actor, in the stands she realized that she could not continue with such an embarrassing display. Bartoli started to perform better, propelling her to win the second set. On the other hand, Henin surprised by the turn of events essentially became unglued. Henin’s level of play took a nosedive. Shots which for her were usually a surety were converted into errors leading to her dismissal in the third set 6-1; Henin’s quest of obtaining her first Wimbledon trophy will have to be postponed yet another year.
#2 Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, Quarterfinals U.S. Open & Ranek Stepanek versus Novak Djokovic, Second Round U.S. Open
Tied for second place are these two matches on hardcourt for the quality of the shots although only one went the distance. Roddick could not have performed any better; his serve was phenomenal while his groundstrokes were dead on. Yet, Federer decked out in his Darth Vader evening attire had the force with him. The first two sets were decided by tiebreakers with Federer coming up with some surreal passing shots while Roddick tried all within his powers to stave off the assault. After loosing the first two sets, Andy was a broken man and fell in the third set 6-2. This match was reminiscent of his play at Wimbledon 2004, where as Andy stated he “threw everything at Roger but the kitchen sink” and still could not get the victory. So maybe next time, Andy will need to remember to bring the kitchen sink.
In what turned out to be a spectator’s dream for an opening round contest at a major, this five set thriller was jam packed with first class shot making from both Stepanek and Djokovic. This 4-hour and 44-minute marathon fittingly ended with a fifth set tiebreaker where Djokovic prevailed, the initial step towards his punching his ticket to his first grand slam finals.
#1 Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal, Finals Wimbledon
The hallowed grounds of tennis’ premiere tournament were the setting for this epic battle between these top-ranked contenders. For the first time since capturing the number one ranking several years ago, Federer was at risk of being displaced by Nadal. The match started out with Roger pulling ahead in a tough first set tiebreaker. In the second set, Roger had the chance to place further distance between himself and his opponent, but Rafael picked up his level of play and equalized the match. The third set was also a fiercely contested affair which saw Federer come out on top once more in a tiebreak. At that point, one thought that Federer would put the pedal to the metal and run away with the trophy, but much to Federer’s dislike, Nadal had more to say. Throughout the course of the match, Federer took exception with some of the calls that the electronic line monitor was making; repeatedly his challenges were proven wrong. A normally cool and composed player (let’s face it, the guy appears to hardly sweats on court), Federer almost went, ballistic, at one point asking the umpire to turn off what he felt was a faulty machine. Clearly, the tension was getting to Roger. A factor which probably contributed to his losing the fourth set 6-2. For the first time at his favorite grand slam, Roger would need to go to a fifth set to win. When Rafa took an injury time out, a rattled Federer was able to regroup and regain his composure; this permitted him to find his rhythm in the ultimate set where he broke Nadal twice to capture his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title.