Tennis/Real Tennis

The World Cup of tennis

I’ve just returned to an icy London after a wonderful five-day trip to Malaga, where the weather was in the mid-20s and locals were swimming in the sea. The Christmas lights were turned on one evening, cheered by hundreds, most of whom were sporting t-shirts. This really is a great place to catch some winter sunshine. And it’s such a vibrant city with so much to do and so many bars and cafes. While Londoners huddled in the cold, malagueños basked in the outdoor cafes. Read More

Wimbledon postmortem: nerves and the new rivalry

What a cracking men’s final that was on Wimbledon Centre Court on Sunday. In comparison, the women’s final was a letdown.

The Tunisian favourite, Ons Jabeur, froze on the brink of realising her dream of lifting the Wimbledon trophy. This is the third Grand Slam final she has lost and it was her best chance. She had some fantastic scalps along the way, including getting her revenge against Elena Rybakina in a replay of last year’s final, but that’ll be of little consolation. The so-called “Minister of Happiness” looked pretty tortured on that final day against the unseeded Czech left-hander, Markéta Vondroušová, who won fairly comfortably in straight sets. It’s not so much the losing but the manner of losing. Jabeur basically blew it with nerves, playing well below her best. She will find it hard to forgive herself. Read More

Anyone for great tennis? Try Roehampton

This week, I went on one of my favourite summer outings: to the Wimbledon qualifying event at Roehampton, tucked down a leafy lane that leads to the National Tennis Centre. This event is a bargain at £15 per ticket. It’s quiet, has several small stadiums and hosts some amazing players. Take your deckchair and your picnic and you can camp right on top of your chosen court.  It’s all incredibly civilised, as though from a bygone era. There’s a food court with a large seating area and, incredibly, virtually no queues. Read More

Farewell, Rafael Nadal

We are now coming up to the finale of the clay court swing at Roland Garros, the French Open.

The holder, Rafael Nadal, has won this tournament an extraordinary 14 times. Alas, the “King of Clay” is injured and won’t be competing this year. Neither will Roger Federer, having retired from the game last September. It will be the first time since 1998 that neither of these monumental players will be gracing the “red dirt” in Paris. Read More

Alcaraz vs Tsitsipas: tennis on clay is back in Barcelona

The European clay court season is now in full swing, leading up to the grand finale – the French Open fortnight in Paris, which kicks off on 28th May. Players are as divided on the subject of playing on the “red dirt” as they are about playing on the Wimbledon grass. Each of those surfaces has its specialists. Read More

Comeback Novak

Today Novak Djokovic is once again world number one in men’s tennis, after he claimed a record 10th Australian Open singles title at the weekend. He overcame the Greek player, Stefanos Tsitsipas, in straight sets by 6-3, 7-6, 7-6.

At the end of the match, the Serbian player was a blubbering mess, shoulders shaking, sobbing into his towel and gasping for air. He later said it was the “biggest victory of my life”. There are a number of reasons why he might have expressed the sentiment.

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Federer’s farewell




Roger Federer played his final competitive match at the Laver Cup in London on Friday night in front of a capacity crowd, many of whom were virtually in tears at seeing their hero for the final time. Despite it being more an exhibition event than a truly competitive one, tickets for this night session were rumoured to be selling at £50,000 apiece.

The Swiss maestro has had three knee operations, none of which have been successful enough to allow him to continue to compete at the highest level. He chose to play alongside his old adversary on the court and good friend off it, Rafael Nadal, in a doubles match against the Americans, Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.

One could see why he had opted out of playing singles – he was clearly too tentative to lunge for volleys or take quick sprints either forwards or sideways. This was a strange sight, since he has always been famed for his light and swift footwork. Read More

Flushing Meadows hails a new champion: Carlos Alcaraz

We have a new tennis world number one and US Open champion: the 19-year-old Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz.

His win in four sets over the quietly understated Norwegian, Casper Ruud, was one hell of a feat — especially considering the number of playing hours the Spaniard had put in over the course of the tournament. He played no fewer than three consecutive five-set matches in the lead-up to the final. He may be just 19, but that is still some serious staying power. Ruud, meanwhile, moves into 2nd place in the rankings, also leapfrogging Nadal, Medvedev and Djokovic.

The Spaniard’s sensational quarter-final exhibition against the 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, in which he saved a match point, had to be one of the most dramatic and high-level contests of the year. Slugging ground strokes, many reaching speeds of 100 plus mph, balls mostly landing millimetres inside the lines, along with near-impossible retrieving was a jaw-dropping spectacle. This is surely the start of an exciting future rivalry. Read More

Farewell to Serena

At the US Open, last year’s teenage finalists went out early in the tournament in straight sets. The British player and holder, Emma Raducanu, lost to the Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. Leylah Fernandez lost in the second round to the Russian player Ljoedmila Samsonova 6-3 7-6. And yet those early shock exits barely made a ripple in the news.

That’s because all eyes were on Serena Williams. She had more or less stated that this was to be her final tournament. Except that she has consistently refused to use the word “retire”, preferring “evolve”, implying that she was moving in a new direction.

As ever on the feminist bandwagon, she explained that she wanted to extend her family. “I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be saying this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”

Except that she turns 41 this month. How many players are at the top of the singles game at that age? None. 41 is an age well after most players retire, which made her statement sound somewhat ridiculous.

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Emma Raducanu goes into the US Open Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows, New York, this week as the defending champion. Last year, she had an extraordinary run, battling through three rounds of qualifying and going on to win the title without losing a single set on the way.

At the start of Wimbledon last year, the Brit came into that tournament with a world ranking of 343. As a result of her US Open title, she is now ranked no 11 in the world.

However, Raducanu may be the holder of that US Slam, but she’s had a dismal time of it since. Chopping and changing coaches, a number of injuries and an apparent loss of confidence has meant she has had 14 wins and 15 losses this year. The signs don’t look good for the holder who has in excess of 2000 ranking points to defend. Her tally of 2717 was mostly accumulated from her maiden Grand Slam victory last year. If she loses in the first round next week to the highly-experienced French player, Alizé Cornet, she could plunge to 85. It would be a long way back to being in a seeded position at future Grand Slams and would mean a reliance on wild cards in the more minor tour events with smaller draws. Read More

Nick Kyrgios, the bad boy of tennis

Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the semi-final of Wimbledon, citing a 7mm abdominal tear. It was clear during his match against Taylor Fritz that something was up and most of us, seeing him doubled up in pain,   half expected him to retire. Nadal dug in, as he always does, and managed to eke out the win in a fifth set tie break. Should he have quit during the match, knowing he wouldn t be fit enough to play the next round and deprive both his opponent and ticket holders of a semi-final? It s a fair question. Read More

Farewell, Sue Barker — the face of Wimbledon

Sue Barker, broadcaster and the face of the BBC at Wimbledon, is finally retiring, after 30 years on the job.

It s hard to imagine Wimbledon without her and difficult to think who could fill her shoes. Sue is knowledgeable, incredibly natural, with a great sense of humour, all of which make for a brilliant broadcaster and interviewer. She is also seen as strongly maternal by many of the players – her on-court interview with a devastated and tearful Andy Murray after his loss to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final, for example, was handled with enormous tact and kindness

But you don t get to be such a success without grit — and an element of ruthlessness.

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Billie Jean King, the game-changer

I dont know how many readers watched Amol Rajan interviewing the former tennis number one, Billie Jean King, on BBC2 last Wednesday 22 June. For those who didnt, I really recommend seeing it on BBC iPlayer.

Billie Jean holds an incredible 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 singles, 16 doubles and 11 mixed doubles. But she has been far more than just a top tennis player. She was also a serious social activist off the court. Its down to her that women earn the same as the men today in the Grand Slams.

During the 1970s, when the women earned much less than the men, she formed a separate womens circuit. She found a sponsor in Virginia Slims and enabled women professionals to earn both serious money and respect for the womens game, at a time when female players were more valued for their looks than for their playing ability. The misogyny of male commentators (which would go along the lines of: An attractive young lady, who if she took her glasses off and grew her hair”) was quite breathtaking.

King also had a turbulent private life, which was made very public by the press. There was a massive backlash when it came out that shed had an abortion — this was in 1971, before the Roe v Wade ruling. And then, on top of that, she was outedby a former female lover, with commercial endorsements lost overnight as a consequence.

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Should men and women tennis players get equal prize money?

“Women play about twenty-five percent as good as men, so they should get about twenty-five percent of the money men get.” Bobby Riggs, 1973.

Riggs was famous, or rather infamous, for his match against the top female player of the day, 29-year-old Billie Jean King, in 1973. By then Riggs was 55 years old. It was known as “The Battle of the Sexes”.

The point that Riggs was trying to make was that if a middle-aged man could beat the top-ranked woman, it was absolute proof that the women were inferior and therefore not deserving of equal prize money.

It’s difficult to know just how tongue-in-cheek he was with his remarks. He made some rather bewildering statements, such as “Women belong in the bedroom and the kitchen, in that order”. Yes, it was back in 1973 — but surely he wasn’t serious?

The match was huge: played in front of over 30,000 spectators and a worldwide TV audience of millions. King won in straight sets and took home $100,000 (equivalent to about $658,000 today). Riggs got nothing.

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Djokovic has left the tennis world to pick up the pieces

The Novak Djokovic debacle is finally done and dusted. He is out — deported, visa revoked for the second time, with the threat of being barred from entering Australia for the next three years.  

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How did Djokovic find himself playing pandemic politics in Melbourne?

The Park Hotel on Friday in Melbourne where Novak Djokovic is being detained at the state-run quarantine facility

In the words of the legendary Aussie tennis player, Rod Laver, in relation to the current Novak Djokovic debacle: “If he’s got a reason then . . . we should know it. Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?”

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“That” Weibo Post in case you missed it.

#Where is Peng Shuai?

On 2 nd  November, the former tennis star and two times Grand Slam doubles champion, 35-year-old Peng Shuai, dropped a bombshell via the Chinese Twitter-style platform, Weibo, in a social media post in which she accuses  former Vice Premier, 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, of coercing her into having sex about three years ago”. Read More

The Nearly Man: Novak Djokovic at the US Open

“I’m going to treat this match as if it’s my last one because it’s arguably the most important of my career. I’ll be giving it all I have possibly got in the tank,” said Novak Djokovic before Sunday’s US Open final. Despite being overshadowed, unusually, by the Women’s Final, the Men’s Final was hugely significant.

Significant, because were he to have won, he would have been the first man since Australian “Rocket” Rod Laver to win the Calendar Slam, all four majors in the same year. “Rocket,” who achieved this in 1969 and is now 83, may live in Australia, but he flew in to New York to witness the occasion. 






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We Have a New Star — let’s celebrate her properly

Last night, Emma Raducanu won the US Open Women’s singles title. The scoreline was 6-4, 6-3 which looks straightforward enough — except it was anything but.

At 18 years old, Raducanu is the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2004. She is also the only qualifier, male or female, ever to win a Grand Slam.

In the final, she was pitted against another wunderkind, the Canadian Leylah Fernandez, who is just a few months older and has also enthralled the New York crowds over the past fortnight.


In the end, Radcucanu was the one who held her nerve, despite overwhelming support for her opponent. That must have been unnerving for a player who until then had been the darling of the mainly New York crowds.

You’d think these two youngsters in their maiden Grand Slam final would be riddled with nerves on this huge occasion. Instead, we had a match of scintillating quality, with long, gruelling rallies – a match of extreme tension and a consistently high level of tennis.


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