Saturday 31 December 2011

Best birthday presents for a tennis fan

I got them today!

Thanks Ronit!

Tuesday 27 December 2011

"I dreamt of being the first in the world" - An Interview With Novak Djokovic

The Israeli newspaper "Maariv" picked Novak Djokovic to be the sportsman of the year - no small feat in a soccer-dominated country, where tennis is rarely mentioned in the mainstream news. I bring here the translation of the interview conducted by Maariv's tennis journalist, Almog Sarid.

- Anna


 Djokovic: "I dreamt of being the first in the world"

Novak Djokovic's 2011: 70 wins, 3 Grand Slams, and more than $12 million in the pocket. In a special interview from Abu Dhabi to nrg-Maariv, the Serb explains how it happened, talks about the full trophy shelf, and doesn't forget the Israeli connection. The no. 1 refreshes the targets list: "I won't rest until I reach the level of Federer and Nadal"

By: Almog Sarid, Dec 27 2011

Djokovic: "I dreamt of being the no.1" (Photo: Reuters)
We caught up with Novak Djokovic in Abu Dhabi this week, while he's preparing for the 2012 season. 'Nole', too, chose to train in the comfortable climate of the Persian Gulf, shortly before going on the flight that will take him to the opening of the season in Australia.

He spends eight hours a day on the courts or in the gym, to make himself fit for the toughest season of his career, in which he'll have to defend all the points he's won this year, and to prove that the coup he made on the ATP tour - displacing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to ranks 2 and 3 in the world - wasn't a passing phenomenon.

The phone call from Israel, informing him about winning Maariv Sports editorial staff's "Sportsman of the year" title, surprised him very much. "If even in Israel I'm the sportsman of the year, it means that this season was really something special," said Djokovic in a special interview for Maariv, and promised that he'll find a place on the shelf for the modest decoration. You know, between the Wimbledon trophy and the US Open one.

With the risk of sounding too provincial, it won't be an exaggeration to say that the Jewish brain has a part in the success. The Israeli former player Amit Naor, one of the strongest people in the global tennis community, and an agent of many top players (Andy Murray, Mikhail Youzhny, Tomas Berdych and Dinara Safina are on the list) recognized the young Serbian talent in the beginning of his way. Naor surrounded the Serb with a Blue-and-White [The colors of the Israeli flag - Anna.] professional team, which included Yona Meir and the fitness trainer Ronen Bega, who'd worked with him for many years before going on to work with Safina and then with Gulbis.

In the beginning of the year, he realized that besides the brain, we can also offer the technology, and asked Tamir Kfir - the Israeli insoles maker who works with many sportsmen - to fit him with special insoles. We could all see the results this year. [You might remember that after winning the AO, Novak threw his shoes to the crowd - not before making sure he kept the insoles to himself - A.]

"It's not a secret that Israel is one of my favourite countries, and I'm not saying it just to be politically correct," says the no. 1 player in the world. "I know the country from my many visits there. It's an amazing place with warm people. Jerusalem is one of the most important places. Tel-Aviv is exciting and full of life. When I was in Israel, everybody told me that the Israeli and Serbian mentalities are very similar. I have many contacts in the country, and I hope to come back as soon as possible."

"A year of making dreams come true"

For many years, the tennis world has been looking for a new star who could bring some renewed interest in the sport, which had been exclusively dominated by Federer and Nadal in recent years. Those two held the no. 1 ranking for eight straight years, and shared 24 Grand Slam titles out of 28 granted between 2004 and 2010.

But Djokovic wasn't satisfied by only sharing the glory with Federer and Nadal. He simply crushed them and became the sole ruler of the circuit. He won ten titles, three out of them - Grand Slams, and five more Masters titles (the first to do so), beat Nadal in all six of their meetings, ended with an amazing win/loss ratio of 70-6 (three of those losses - in the last month of the season, when he was playing through injury) and won $12.6 million (an all-time record for one season).

Statistically, there had already been seasons that could rival the one Djokovic has had, like Federer's 2006 (12 titles, 92-5 ratio) or McEnroe's 1984 (only 3 losses). But considering the professional, physical and mental completeness, the suitability to all surfaces, and the fact that nobody predicted the breakthrough, this season becomes the best ever in the eyes of many.

"I did something incredible this year," the talent confirms. "From the first moment I stepped on the tennis court as a child, the goal was being the no. 1 in the world. That's how it is in my life, I aspire being the best in everything I do. Other kids dreamt of winning Wimbledon or Roland Garros. I dreamt of being the first in the world. Therefore, when I achieved it this year, it was the happiest moment of my life. It was a year of making dreams come true. A year in which I succeeded in bringing my tennis to the highest possible level."

Roger Federer: "Want to get to his level" (Photo: Reuters)
- Which sporting moment will you remember most of all?
"Without a doubt, winning Wimbledon. It's the tournament that I've always wanted to win the most, for its uniqueness and its magic. Also the way I won it, after beating Nadal in the final, and the fact that as a bonus for winning I also rose to the first place in the world, all those make the achievement an unforgettable one for me."

- How do you explain the significant leap?
"It's a long process which I've been through in the last years, in order that one day everything will connect for me and will burst out. I always knew I had the abilities, and the basis was there. I just needed to bring it all together. And that's what happened this year. I changed as a person and as a tennis player, I matured, I gained a lot of confidence and I felt almost unbeatable for a large part of the year. And most important - I enjoyed every minute of it. I've never felt fed up. I've always wanted more wins, more titles and more successes.

In the same breath, I'm taking it all in proportion, I understand that one good year doesn't mean anything. Only now I can appreciate Federer and Nadal much more, for keeping up that level for so many years straight. I still have a lot of work to do to catch up to them, and I still don't consider myself on the same level with them. I'll do everything, I'll double the training and won't rest until I truly get to that level."

Novak and Nadal. "It was a great moment beating him at Wimbledon" (Photo: AP)
And now, a gold medal

- What's your goal for 2012?
The next year will be much tougher than the previous one, because now I already have much more expectations and pressure on my shoulders. I need to prove that last year wasn't a one-time appearance, and it's an almost impossible mission to repeat what I did in 2011. But that's exactly the reason why I worked so hard in the training camp here, and I will continue to work hard until the season starts. I have lots of motivation to prove myself in the upcoming season.

I'm a person who likes challenges, so I don't panic but rather take it as a chance. If we, sportsmen, didn't have new challenges and new goals to aspire to, we wouldn't have anything to play for. To be specific, the Grand Slams and the Olympics are the most important to me, and I want to play my best tennis there."

Before we let Nole go for another exhausting training session in the United Emirates, along with Federer and Nadal - against whom he'll play today [The tournament starts on Thursday - A.] in the traditional exhibition tournament in the principality to mark the beginning of the season - we asked him to play the role of a fan, and pick his sportsman of the year.

"In tennis, I'd give the award to Petra Kvitova. In the beginning of the season, she wasn't even in the top 20, and not many people counted her, but she reached the top of the top, won the big and important tournaments (Wimbledon and the Year End Championships in Istanbul), and I think she has a bright future ahead of her. In the world sports I'd pick Leo Messi, who proved this year, too, that he's a different class, and Sebastian Vettel, whose dominance in the Formula 1 races makes him in my opinion one of the best sportsmen in the world."

Petra Kvitova. "My sportsperson of the year" (Photo: EPA)

Friday 25 November 2011

Are those Jo Wilfried Tsonga's comments?

Yannick Noah's wild accusations of doping in all Spanish sports were widely criticized this week, including reactions from all the top Spanish tennis players, Rafael Nadal among them. Nadal also added that French players Michael Llodra and Jo Wilfried Tsonga apologized to him on behalf of their compatriot.

Today, barely minutes after Jo Wilfried Tsonga's 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3 win over Nadal in the final Round Robin match of Group B in the ATP World Tour Finals, the following words were posted on Tsonga's official twitter, @tsonga7, via his official Facebook page (both are connected, so that FB posts are automatically posted on twitter):
Tout çà pour montrer que les Espagnols sont pas dopés , merci Rafa t'es un vrai champion ;-)

Translated to English (helped by Google Translate), this means:
All this to show that Spaniards are not doped, thank you Rafa, you're a true champion ;-)
The (in my opinion) inappropriate tweet was deleted less than a minute after being posted.

Tsonga himself doesn't tweet at all from his account, and both his Twitter and Facebook accounts are run by his PR team, which mainly posts results and photos from official tour events. Sometimes, however, the photos posted on the page have a more personal touch to them (Example A, example B, note the ";-)"). Until today, I personally thought that occasionally Tsonga himself uses his FB page, but I'll be the first to admit that it's not more than a speculation.

In any case, somebody obviously posted this comment to the wrong account. Whether it was written by the player himself (for a possible personal account) or by a member of the PR team (for a personal account of his own) - we cannot know.

What I do know, however, is that such a comment is completely out of place. An apology, or at least an explanation, is expected.

Monday 31 October 2011

2011 ATP World Tour Awards Nominations

Every year, during the World Tour Finals, the ATP presents outstanding players of the year with several possible awards.

Two of the awards are determined by year-end ranking - the No. 1 Singles Player, which will go to Novak Djokovic, and the No. 1 Doubles Team, the winner of which is still undetermined as of today.

Most of the awards are based on the players' own votes. Here are the different awards, the nominations, and my picks for them:

Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award

According to the ATP, this award is given to "the player who, throughout the year, conducted himself at the highest level of professionalism and integrity, who competed with his fellow players with the utmost spirit of fairness and who promoted the game through his off-court activities."
In 2011, the nominees are Djokovic, Federer (won it for 6 straight years - 2004-2009), Nadal (won in 2010) and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, and I'll let my loyal readers guess who my pick is ;)

Most Improved Player of the Year

This award is given to the player who had the most significant leap in the rankings, and who showed a great improvement in his on-court performance during the last year. The nominees, with their ranking a year ago and today, are: Alex Bogomolov Jr. (166/36), Mardy Fish (16/8), Kei Nishikori (98/31), Janko Tipsarevic (49/13).
Those are all very worthy nominations, in my opinion (as opposed to some of the other categories), and I could make a case for each and every one of them. Though my heart lies firmly with Janko, my pick is Alex Bogomolov Jr., whose sudden career-best performance at age 28, after almost quitting the pro career for a coaching job, is probably the most inspiring of them all. It's worth mentioning that only one of those (Nishikori) is a young player - the others are of age 28, 29 and 27, respectively.

Newcomer of the Year

This is a similar award, but given to new faces on the tour. The nominees and their rankings changes are: Matthew Ebden (196/79), Ryan Harrison (173/75), Milos Raonic (156/28), Bernard Tomic (208/42).
In my opinion, it's a bit of a toss between Harrison and Raonic - the former has much more to improve, while the latter reached better results, but with a slightly one-dimensional game. However, my pick goes to Milos Raonic, who could reach even higher if not for the unfortunate injury at Wimbledon that hampered the second half of his season. His final in Memphis against Andy Roddick left a lasting impression on me, even if he ended up losing it by a narrow margin.

Comeback Player of the Year

This award is given to a player who came back from a long lasting injury, and reinstated himself at the top of the rankings. The nominees and their ranking are: Juan Martin del Potro (258/15), Gilles Muller (134/49), Gilles Simon (41/12), Dmitry Tursunov (197/39).
First of all, I have absolutely no idea why Simon is even on that list, since he wasn't even sidelined with an injury, as far as I know. While this is indeed a comeback closer to the top-10 ranking he had in 2008, it's hardly the same as Del Potro or Tursunov who deserve this award much more. Once again, I'm not sure which one I'd pick, since most of the arguments are relevant to both, but I think that Del Potro has a slight edge here, and my pick goes to him.

Two additional awards are given by the ATP themselves - the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award and the Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award (given to a journalist, not a player). Here, we don't have a list of candidates to consider.

The last two awards will be based on fan votes. You are encouraged to cast your vote (*cough*for Novak*cough*) on the ATP's Facebook page. Roger Federer (2003-2010) and the Bryan Brothers (2005-2010) won those awards since practically forever ;)

The nominations for favourite singles player are:
Nicolas Almagro,
Marcos Baghdatis,
Tomas Berdych,
Juan Martin Del Potro,
Novak Djokovic, 
Alexandr Dolgopolov,
Roger Federer,
David Ferrer,
Mardy Fish,
Richard Gasquet,
Lleyton Hewitt,
John Isner,
Jurgen Melzer,
Gael Monfils,
Andy Murray,
Rafael Nadal,
David Nalbandian,
Kei Nishikori,
Milos Raonic,
Andy Roddick,
Gilles Simon,
Robin Soderling,
Janko Tipsarevic,
Viktor Troicki,
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,
Dmitry Tursunov,
Fernando Verdasco,
Stanislas Wawrinka.

The nominations for favourite doubles team are:
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
Michael Llodra/Nenad Zimonjic
Max Mirnyi/Daniel Nestor
Mahesh Bhupathi/Leander Paes
Jurgen Melzer/Philipp Petzschner
Robert Lindstedt/Horia Tecau
Rohan Bopanna/Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi
Eric Butorac/Jean-Julien Roger
Mariusz Fyrstenberg/Marcin Matkowski
John Isner/Sam Querrey
Marcelo Melo/Bruno Soares
Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram

You can see the list of previous years' winners right here. Who would you pick this time?

Sunday 23 October 2011

Ajde Srbija!

If anyone had any doubts about the effect of winning the 2010 Davis Cup on the Serbian players, today those doubts were surely put to rest. Interestingly, it has (for once) nothing to do with Novak Djokovic.

In a first all-Serbian ATP tour final ever, Janko Tipsarevic won the Kremlin Cup with a convincing 6-4 6-2 over his friend Viktor Troicki, clinching his second title of the month, year, and career.

Troicki, who has lost 7 out of 9 matches before coming to Moscow, went on a good run as the defending champion of the tournament, including a tough 3:38 hours match in the quarterfinals against Alex Bogomolov Jr.

Meanwhile, Tipsarevic lost both first rounds following his first title in Kuala Lumpur, earlier this month. He, too, bounced back in Moscow, losing only the first set on his way to the title, and beating three Russian opponents during the week.

The top two seeds had a nervous match, but in the end - the trophy passed from one Serb to another, with both players hugging and smiling.

2011 hasn't yet ended, and Serbia already has 12 ATP tour titles in its posession. Starting their year ranked #3, #28 and #49, the Serbian trio of Djokovic, Troicki and Tipsarevic are now #1, #17 and #13, and going upwards. Will they join Spain in having two top-10 players by the end of the year? In about a month, we'll know the answer to that question.

P.S. Meanwhile, Djokovic does this:

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Poll: Who has the best hair on the ATP?

Today, as I was watching a stream of a Spanish TV program hosting David Ferrer, I wondered aloud (read: on twitter) whether he was the player with the best hair on tour. I quickly got some responses telling me about some other players who are sure candidates in the category. So obviously, I decided to create a poll checking this very important question.

The choices are basically all the Top 5 + suggestions I got on twitter, so don't be surprised if your idea of the perfect hair isn't on here - just tell us who you think it is in the comments!

On to the poll:

Who has the best hair on the ATP?
 Novak Djokovic
 Rafael Nadal
 Andy Murray
 Roger Federer
 David Ferrer
 Gael Monfils
 Janko Tipsarevic
 Viktor Troicki
 Feliciano Lopez
 Juan Monaco
 Nicolas Mahut
 Fernando Verdasco (Before he cut it)
 Fernando Verdasco (After he cut it)
 Other (Tell us who, in the comments section!) free polls 
Cast your votes now!

Thursday 13 October 2011

"Amen Sela" - An Interview With Dudi Sela

I haven't blogged for a long time, even though I didn't really take a break from watching tennis since the US Open ended. What woke me up from my blogging hibernation was an interview that Dudi Sela gave to the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot. I found it quite interesting and refreshing, and I bring the full translation here.

Dudi Sela leaves for the USA. No, not for good, only to get a good serve at his career, which suddenly dropped from the top to a flop. A moment before boarding the plane, Israel's No. 1 tennis player explains why the following year will be crucial for him, and what it has to do with a note he got from the psychologist. And he also talks to the [female] fans in the stands: Don't bother - there's already one Lady Racquet who fills his life.

There are nights when Dudi Sela wakes up and doesn't know where he is. It doesn't have to be a hotel, the name of which he can't remember, in a city where he had been two months ago, and where he'll return three months later. Sometimes it happens when he sleeps in his apartment in Tel Aviv. "I get up to use the bathroom, open the door and walk into the closet," he says with a smile embarrassed enough to make you believe he's telling the truth. 

How many nights in a year you don't sleep in your own bed?
"Something like seven months."

And how many of those are in shitty hotels?
"Today I already arrive at good hotels. When you enter the top 100, your life gets drastically better. But there was a time when I used to come to places where you look at the room and don't believe it. All kinds of holes in Russia, where you stand in the shower and have to press the shower-head to every corner of your body in order to feel a little bit of water. In moments like that, you're asking yourself 'What the fuck am I doing here'. There are players that get stuck until they're 30 at the limbo of the #250 rank. A lot of them are very good players, and they just can't make it out of there. In those cases you don't make a lot of money, and if at the end of such a day you arrive to a hotel which you wouldn't suggest to a cockroach, the thoughts start to play tricks with your mind. It can drive you crazy."

Were you close to going crazy?
All in all, I came out of those [ranking] areas pretty quickly, but at the beginning of my way I was close to despair. I was just 19, injured for a long period, didn't have a penny to my name, and no one helped me financially. I was really close to throwing it all away. Today when I think about it, I break out in a cold sweat. How did it even cross my mind to quit the thing I love the most in the world?

And what do you love, besides tennis?
Nothing? You're practically Moshe Sinai.
"Sinai the footballer? Why?"
When he was about your age, they asked him what he likes apart from football. He answered in half a second: 'English football'.
"So ask me again what I love besides tennis."
What do you love besides tennis?
Professional tennis.

The only times I cried

And indeed, to be Dudi Sela you have to love both tennis and professional tennis. Precisely because he doesn't hang out in Novak Djokovic's neighbourhood, precisely because his career is a very extreme roller-coaster, precisely because there are sometimes weekends like the Davis Cup tie against Canada in the last month, which he finished without a breath of air in his lungs or in his soul. And precisely because he knows that with today's tennis, not a lot needs to happen for him to find himself back in the shower-less hotels. Just two years ago Sela reached the 29th place in the world. Think about it for a second. There was one moment when in the whole world there were only 28 people better at what they did than Dudi Sela. In Israel, they celebrated with him for a day or two, and rushed to demand a top 10 ranking. Sela didn't argue. Quite the contrary. He got in the car, and sped up. Straight into the abyss.

"You get such a momentum," he explains, "that you're sure you're unstoppable. You play week after week, they give you respect everywhere, main stadiums, crowds. Everything looks open to you, and on these levels the money is very big. The body and mind tell you that you're pushing it too far, that you need to stop and rest a little, but you don't hear anything, you're feeling high. Until one day, there comes a kid who fears nothing, fights like crazy and beats you. It gives you a little crack in the confidence, and if you go on and lose twice more, then all the power you accumulated during the year is gone."

And that's what happened to you then.
"Yes, I disintegrated completely. When I ended that year, I was finished, and it continued into the next year. In a few months, from the expectation of making it to the top 10, you go down to being 110. You start analyzing and blaming yourself - if you had only missed this tournament or that, if you'd rested for a week, all of this wouldn't have happened. But inside I know - at that point, I'd do the same again. You can't resist the temptation, it's stronger than you."

Is everything about the money?
"Absolutely not. Do you think Roger Federer needs more money?"

No, but Dudi Sela does.
"That's right, I make my living out of it, but I also want to believe that in the end of the day - Federer and I are playing tennis for the same reasons."

You played against him last month. Center court in the US Open, crowds, television, just like you like it. It wasn't a great fight. You lost in 77 minutes.
"Right, I wasn't playing well."

Were you nervous?
"A little bit, but it's not a big deal anymore. There was a time when I couldn't sleep before those matches, today I don't have a problem with it. Also, Federer is a nice guy, he doesn't play dirty tricks on you."

Who does?
"Let it go, they don't deserve the honour. There aren't many who act that way on the tour anymore."

Act how?
"There are sometimes things that happen during warm up and the crowd sees, but doesn't understand. The warm up should be just light hitting for fun, helping each other getting into the groove a bit, nothing more. But there are those that would hit one ball to you, one ball into the corner, one to you, one into the corner, like you're not even there. It's supposed to scare you. Nonsense. In the end, those are the matches that you want to win the most. Precisely in those matches you often find your perfect moment."

What's a 'perfect moment'?
"Sometimes it can be just one shot, after which you understand why someone decided you should be a tennis player. There are moments when you see the ball as big as a basketball. You don't know why this moment comes and why it goes. It's really weird. It's like they gave you a few seconds to touch the sky, in the height of your potential. It happens so rarely, that on one hand - it's very frustrating, but on the other - you're willing to kill yourself to feel it again."

At these moments, do you hear what's happening around you? Do you know the result?
"I hear everything, I even know what's the result on the adjacent court. Those who say they're so focused they can't hear anything are just babbling. I hear all the tsu-tsu-tsu of the crowd. They're not pleased, they don't get why they paid the money. During Davis Cup, for instance, you want to win the most, and you hear people shouting 'Wake up!' What 'wake up', I don't sleep for two weeks because of those matches. It's annoying."

Sela's nerves are still tight about this. In the two weeks after that fight against Canada, for promotion to the World Group, he didn't really sleep. He was expected to win both his matches, to bring two points, but in the first match everything already fell apart. Israel didn't qualify, a lot of it because of him. "I played badly," he admits. "Truth is, I didn't play well for the whole month before that."

Was the pressure too much?
"Not more than usually, but it was the first time that I lost a match I really should have won."

When you enter such a period, when nothing works for you, do you try psychological treatment?
"I'm under treatment now. I've been to psychologists before, and it never helped me. Today I'm working with someone who gets my head in order. I never had superstitions or just some mental routine like many tennis players have, but now I read once in a while a note my psychologist gave me, where I described the biggest dreams I had as a child. Sometimes, there are matches where I'm just not there, I know that I'm not there even before the match. Each match like that kills me for two-three weeks. So this note reminds me that when I was a kid this was my big dream, and now I'm fulfilling it, and I need to be there all the time."

Even at the Davis you weren't there?
"During the Davis I'm always there."

Lucky. You can sometimes not be there when you play hundreds of matches a year. But not being there during Davis Cup, in Israel, you know it's almost unforgivable.
"You're telling me? The only times I cried in my career were after Davis matches. But I learned to live with that pressure. I stay away from talk-backs, I don't read what's written about me. Very few people in the country really understand tennis. Understand what it means playing every week in this sport. I hear so many people who have no clue. How many people in the country know Harel Levi? And that's someone who was 30 in the world. Leave the #30, do you know what it's like being #150 in the world in tennis today? Millions of people dream, try, eat the courts to try and be maybe #100. And here, someone who was #30 doesn't get any of the respect he deserves. Do we have a football player who's 30 in the world? There's no sport culture here, and now - no role models, either. Past players retire and they're not taken to train the juniors, because there's no money for that. How do people want to raise stars here, if nobody invests anything in it?"

Sela will pass the next months in the USA, living close to his brother in Dallas, Texas. He plays most of his tournaments in the land of stripes and stars, and the new base will make it easier for him. "It's better for me in terms of my schedule, and mentally I need some quiet," Sela explains. "It's not that I'm moving there permanently, but people already said to me 'We heard that you're leaving the country'. They like it, because it lets them deal with supposed scandals. It's more interesting than the tennis itself. So what, I start explaining that this is the schedule that I have, that it's more convenient and right for me to be in the US for a few months? It's annoying, but I don't want to deal with it right now. Let them say what they want."

Oh, they're definitely going to say what they want, but Sela's decision to put some distance is justified on every level. The pressure that an international-level Israeli sportsman has to deal with is disproportionate to his colleagues around the world. And Sela knows that he's getting into the most important year in his career, the one after which, or maybe even during which, he'll know whether that moment in the 29th place was something real or just a teasing by the tennis gods. Age 26, in the current reality, is considered almost over the peak. Once, a top tennis player had 6-8 years during which he knew that if he'll keep his fitness and concentration, he could keep his standing in the world ranking. Today that range has diminished considerably. Rafael Nadal is 25, and he might've not passed the peak yet, but he's probably already reached it. Sela, who was ranked 95 when these lines were written, doesn't let this new reality make him despair. "I know I can go back there, be at least in the top 50. I can't explain it, I just know it," he says.

I'm a good boy

Dudi Sela was born in Kiryat Shmona and moved to Tel Aviv at a young age. He's been playing tennis almost since he was born and he always was the one everyone were waiting for, and who took some time to arrive. Until today, he's earned $1.5 million from tennis, he has 12 Challenger titles, and he still dreams about a first Tour-level title.

At his best, Sela is a player who's a pleasure to watch. Energizer with a talent for big shots, which are sometimes lifting-stadiums and are highlights material. But when he's turned off - and his light has been flickering for a while now - he can be frustrating to watch. And it can be much more frustrating being him, knowing your talent is worth more than what your results are expressing. Now, he'll have to make his comeback in the period when the depth of the good players - even if not the best - in pro tennis is almost unprecedented. They're all polished, well programmed machines, looking on him from above. Really from above.

Around Amos Mansdorf, who reached a ranking of #18 in his peak, there was a consensus during the happy 80s that if he had ten more centimeters, maybe even five, he'd surely be a top-ten player. Even today, in retrospective, this consensus still exists. The talent was there, so was the game wisdom, the mental toughness - almost, but a player who's 1.73m tall works so much tougher on every point than tall players, that his body runs out much quicker, and the spirit disappears almost immediately afterwards.

Sela is surely the biggest talent that has been here since Mansdorf, but he, too, is just 1.74m, and the world's top looks like a basketball team compared to him. "In ten years, all the tennis players will be 1.95m or higher, and everyone will be great athletes. Even today, the top 100 has maybe five players below 1.80m. My parents are short, I'm short, but my brother, Ofer, is 1.90m. It drives me crazy. Maybe he's adopted."

And with that disadvantage to begin with, you can find yourself playing in 35 degrees, two sets down, and in front of you stands an ogre with a serve of 230 km/h. Despairing.
"There are situations when you sit between games and you tell yourself 'I'm dying to go home'. And there were matches when I thought that way and won in the end. But I always count upon my physical fitness. Only in the last four years I understood which level of physical commitment you have to achieve. During the off-season I'm working on fitness for four hours a day during two weeks, without touching a racquet. During the season I play four hours of tennis a day, and add to that gym, sprints, I'm ripping myself. It took me time to understand it."

And what do you do when you don't feel like practicing?
"I don't go."

Ah, great.
"It doesn't happen too much, I'm a good boy."

Are you a good boy after losses, as well?
"Usually. In Wimbledon this year I lost a match that I should have won. A good draw, lots of money, I had to win, and I lost. I came down to the locker room and I was so angry. I didn't leave a thing in place. I broke the racquets, the cellphone, everything. Other players stand around, see me going crazy, but they don't care. It's something that happened to every one of them."

What do you do when you're not playing tennis?
"There's no such thing. There are barely two weeks a year when I can think about something else."

Don't tell me you never get bored by it. It will sound very implausible.
"Sometimes, when I have to wait hours for a match or I'm in a particularly boring place, I can knock my head against the wall."

And you say you're enjoying it.
"I love it. I love the frustrations, too."

Speaking of love - do you have one?
"I have a girlfriend for many years, on and off. She's studying in Italy now. It's difficult to have this kind of relationship, but she understands me. If I weren't with with her, I suppose it would be very hard to maintain a relationship. The goodbyes, the distances, if there isn't someone who travels with you constantly, when it's her life too, then it's very difficult."

Not even talking about the temptations out there.
"No, I told you I'm a good boy."

Yeah, like it's not nice for your ego knowing that there are women in the crowd who can't keep their eyes off you.
"I swear that I don't think about it."

So it's not important for you to look good when you go on court?
"What am I, Federer? Nadal? They're always perfect, but I don't care if I'm not shaved and my clothes are plain white. Sometimes I see at the locker room girls standing in front of the mirror, applying make up, doing their hair, and I think to myself - 'What for? In five minutes all the make up will be smudged from the sweat'."

How long are you going to play for?
"Until I drop off my feet."

Even if you're ranked 300 and the shower doesn't have any water?
"Yes. Tennis is my life."


Note: The title of the interview, "Amen Sela", is a Hebrew expression of biblical origin that roughly means "Amen forever".

(Thanks to @TennisRomi for the picture)

Tuesday 20 September 2011

US Open, Extra Day

Here I was in New York, thinking that my US Open experience was all over, almost ready to return home. Monday was supposed to be my last day in the city, and I already had some plans (which were already cut back somewhat due to the "lovely" Irene).

Then, on Sunday evening, I saw this...

... and my eyes lit up. Novak on Armstrong? I couldn't miss it. Changing my plans completely (tons of *thanks* to my friend, who was great and didn't kill me for leaving her), I quickly bought a grounds pass for the following day.

As it was Labor Day, I knew the place would be filled with people - so my plan was to catch a good seat as soon as possible, and to stay there for as long as it takes. Turns out I had the right idea - at 10:30 (half an hour before the first match), Armstrong was already full, and I later read that the queue to get into the stadium, which was locked down, was unbelievably long.

The first match, between Janko Tipsarevic and Juan Carlos Ferrero, was a good match. Its only problem was that it was long, and it was clear that large parts of the audience were there to see Novak up close. You could almost hear the collective sigh as the players split the first two sets (but maybe I just heard myself sighing).

In any case, I very much liked seeing Janko win (in four sets) and go through to his first ever Slam quarterfinal. It was clear how happy he was about it, and it also took him to a career-high ranking of #13.

Finally, it was what we've I've been waiting for.

The first set was nerve-wracking for me. Dolgopolov was the first to go up a break, but Nole immediately broke back, as I had no doubt he'd do. But then it came to a tiebreak. I never liked tiebreaks before, but this one... Well, with a final result of 16-14 (to Nole, thankfully), you can imagine how many set points there were, for both sides.

Yeah, that's how I felt too, Nole...

Dolgopolov, by the way, has the weirdest serve I've ever seen from a player. It's one thing to see it on TV, but up close it's even stranger.

I had a great time, finally being able to cheer on Nole from a proper distance :) I even sneaked in my "Even Irene Can't Stop Nole" sign (generally, banners aren't allowed on the grounds), and made sure to lift it up on every changeover. I sat across from the players' chairs, so there is a tiny chance that he saw it... Though I have no idea if it was readable. Since the first match was really long, and I had to get back to Manhattan by a certain time, I had to leave Nole's match when he was leading two sets to love. On the last changeover before that, a scary-looking security guard came to me and told me that if he saw that sign of mine again, he'd "kick me off the grounds". I have to say, he had perfect timing, as I was about to get out after the following game anyway ;)

No doubt, it was the best way to end my US Open visit, and my whole trip to NYC. I hope to go back next year!

(For more photos of that day, check the facebook album)

Monday 19 September 2011

Davis Cup: Israel-Canada - Days 2,3

After a promising start to the Israel-Canada tie, with Amir Weintraub's win over Milos Raonic, the meeting ended up on a disappointing note for Israel.

The point we've been counting on - the doubles match - ended with a defeat, as Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich lost 6-4 3-6 4-6 4-6 to Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil.
I've arrived a bit late to this match, and managed to get into the stadium when AndYoni were leading 4-3 (on serve) in the first set. After breaking and taking this set, the crowd (which filled almost the whole stadium) was very optimistic about the match, but things went downhill from there. Still, even as they lost the second set, I felt that the crowd didn't do enough to energize the pair - as if everyone was confident that they'll pull out the win.

Unfortunately, Erlich & Ram couldn't capitalize on any of the 4 break points they had in one of the games of the third set, and eventually lost it too. The Canadians broke again in the fourth set, and at 5-4, Pospisil served for the match.

At this point, the crowd finally woke up. The cheering was ear-splitting, and the Israelis saved 4 match points, and had 3 break-back points in a very long final game. That didn't stop the guests, who eventually finished the match on the 5th match point.

The third day started with a match between the confidence-lacking Dudi Sela and Canada's replacement player, Peter Polansky, who came in instead of Milos Raonic. The match wasn't too pretty to watch, but Dudi showed occasional flashes of his talent amid all the baseline-slugging points. He ended up winning it with the nice score of 6-3 6-3 6-3, sending the tie to a deciding fifth match.

As expected, the last match was tight and much more enjoyable to watch. However, this too resulted in a Canadian win, as Pospisil beat Weintraub 6-2 7-6(3) 6-4, to promote Canada into the World Group. Amir was close to taking the second set - he was serving for it, had a set point, but a questionable call robbed him of it (according to those who were watching on TV, the call was wrong, but I didn't see it myself), and he eventually lost that game. Generally, the line calls often seemed wrong during the whole day, and I do wish we could afford to bring in Hawk Eye for those matches.

To sum up the tie, I think that Israel can be very proud of Amir, who had the best win of his career on Friday (even if Raonic wasn't in form). The crowd obviously loved him, and cheered for him a lot even after his loss in the last rubber.

Even more so, Canada should be extremely proud of Pospisil. I've watched him before - first against Federer in Montreal, then live at the US Open against F. Lopez - and I've been impressed then, already. But this performance was something else entirely. He spent a huge amount of hours on court, and still played his best game - wonderful serve, great forehand, and a clear mind. You really need nerves of steel to be able to serve as he did, against a very hostile crowd, for three days in a row, and I was especially impressed with his play during that last game of the doubles match. Many better players could have crumbled under the pressure of missing so many match points, but he stood up admirably, and pulled Canada through almost single-handed. Watch out, top 100, he's coming for you fast.

More pictures from those two days are on the blog's facebook page

US Open, Day 5

Originally, day 5 was supposed to be my last day at the tournament. Knowing that, I had exactly one target for the day - keeping my promise and getting Rafael Nadal's autograph for my brother.

With that in mind, I made sure to come into the grounds as early as possible, to try and find out when Rafa would be practicing. He had a match during the day session, so I knew he should be there sometime in the morning. At first, his name wasn't on the list for the near time-slots. Since there wasn't anything interesting on other courts at that point (it was before play started for the day), I came back to the practice courts about ten minutes later, only to see his name at the end of the list. I got into the mosh pit where people were waiting for players, before anyone else even realized when and where Rafa will be. Securing myself one of the best places possible there, it was clear to me that I was going to stay there for a very long time... The practice itself was scheduled in an hour, and I knew he'd only sign on his way out - making it at least two hours of waiting.

Those hours were hardly a waste of time, though. As each player only practiced for 45 minutes or so, players kept coming and going into and out of the courts, giving me plenty of opportunities for photos, autographs, and sometimes both. I saw B. Bryan, Jankovic, Wozniacki, Pospisil, Gimeno-Traver, Vania King, R. Haase, F. Lopez, T. Haas, Ljubicic, Verdasco, Nalbandian, A. Murray, Ferrer, Dulko, Pavlyuchenkova, Ivanovic and Youzhny. I also asked Nigel Sears (Ana Ivanovic's coach) to wish Ana good luck in her next match :)

Oh, and Rafa? Yeah, I saw him. Three times. Once when he came into the grounds, once when he came into practice, and once when he gave me 2 autographs :) I owe my thanks to a very nice guy who stood next to me and kindly gave me a great photo of Rafa for the autograph. And yes, he does sign them right-handed ;)

After that, I accidentally stumbled upon the notice that Juan Carlos Ferrero would be signing autographs in the ATP booth in 15 minutes. I was first in line, because everybody else were queueing for the WTA booth, where Ana Ivanovic was due to arrive.

I already had Ana's autograph, so I stayed where I was. Can't complain, really.

After that, I caught a bit of Jurgen Melzer's match (he eventually lost it in a fifth set tiebreak, which should be banned from the US Open, if you ask me).

Then I saw the first set of Feliciano Lopez vs. Vasek Pospisil. Apart from being a Feli fan, I was interested to see it, as Vasek was going to come to Israel for the Davis Cup (and we all know how that turned out... a post will be coming in the evening). I was definitely impressed - by his serve, in particular, but he has a good all-around game in addition to that.

Unfortunately, I decided to leave this match (I later regretted this), in order to secure myself a spot on Grandstand, for Ferrer-Blake, which was going to be my last match in the tournament (or so I thought). That also meant I caught the end of Lisicki-Falconi, which was nice, and I did sit through the whole Ferrer-Blake match. Of course, it was a good match, and I'm happy I got to see all of it, but I think that next time I'd rather stay with my favourites than go see a match in which I'm less invested (though I love David Ferrer).

That concluded my time at the US Open, and I left completely tennis-saturated... which didn't stop me from following the night matches from my hotel that evening :)

(Lots of pictures of different players are here)

Saturday 17 September 2011

Davis Cup: Israel-Canada, Day 1

Well, well, well. This was a day of unexpected results in the ISR-CAN Davis Cup tie, as both lower ranked players defeated those in the top 100.

The first match - Dudi Sela vs. Vasek Pospisil - was quite horrible, to be frank. There were lots of errors on both sides (but especially from Sela), too many double faults, many unnecessary breaks of serve. The crowd did all it could to lift Sela up, and for parts of the match it worked. However, he completely disintegrated in the third set, losing it 6-1 (after splitting the first two sets, 6-7 7-6), despite the momentum he should have had after winning the second set. The fourth set was better, as he managed to break back, take the set to another tiebreak, and win it forcefully (7-2). Sela even led by a break in the deciding fifth set, but once again went away, eventually losing it 6-3.

No doubt, it was disappointing. Sitting in the stadium for 5 hours (the match was 4:56 hours long), cheering your heart out for a player whom you witnessed beating Bellucci in five sets just two weeks ago... and then see him lose. At this point, all hope looked lost for Israel, as Milos Raonic was the heavy favourite against Amir Weintraub.

The second match was a different story altogether. This was high quality tennis, with some truly incredible points, and many winners. Of course, Raonic's serve is quite amazing to see in real life. I wish there was a speed camera to see how fast some of those were. However, Amir was serving extremely well himself - he started the match with 2 aces (on of them on second serve, if I'm not mistaken). When it came to rallies, Raonic had the edge at first - it was obvious who's the top-30 player on the court (well, 31, but let's not nitpick). He took the tight first set 7-5, after Weintraub got broken serving at 5-5. But as the match drew longer, the momentum shifted. Raonic, who was playing his first competitive match since Wimbledon (after being sidelined with a hip injury and operation), became more tired and didn't move as well as before. Amir, being cheered on by the small crowd that stayed on the stadium (it was about 9 pm already, when the tie started at 2pm), kept his nerves, went for his shots, drew some mistakes from Raonic and took the second set 7-5.

From that point on, the match continued in a similar way, and Weintraub clinched the rubber, taking the next sets 6-3 6-1, breaking Raonic's serve three times in the fourth set. I started out a "Happy birthday to you" song among the people standing in my section of the stadium, but it didn't catch up too well, until the court announcer invited everyone to wish a very happy birthday to Amir :)

(Photo: Nir Keidar)

I'm leaving for the doubles match soon, hoping for some good results for Israel there, as well. It is unclear which of the Canadian players will pair up with the experienced Daniel Nestor - Pospisil is probably very tired, playing the first full five-setter of his life yesterday, both he and Raonic need their energy for tomorrow's matches, and Peter Polansky is ranked well below any other player on any of the teams. We'll just wait and see!

More pictures here.

Thursday 15 September 2011

US Open - Day 4

As I came into the grounds, I met the lovely Steph, and we kept meeting up throughout the day, watching some of the matches together. Getting to meet people you know through twitter is really awesome, I have to say :)

After a routine scan of the practice courts (Monfils, Nadal, Melzer), I've had a very tight schedule, where I watched most matches for as long as I could.

The first match on the menu was Tipsarevic-Petzschner. I actually like them both, so it was tough to decide who to cheer for, but my heart was with Janko. I came to the court a little while before he gave Philipp a bagel (those Serbs do like their bagels and breadsticks...). Petz was obviously quite upset, and then cheered in mock celebration as he held his first game. Janko won the second set, and I was really hoping he could win it in three sets before I had to go - but alas, the match ended after four sets, and I left before that.

The reason was the "blockbuster" match between Roger Federer and Dudi Sela. My foolish hopes of an impossible upset were soon crushed by the 6-3 6-2 6-2 beatdown, but Dudi was the only loser on Ashe that day who managed to win more than 2 games in a set. Ashe saw 4 bagels, 3 breadsticks, and 4 sets of 6-2 on that Thursday, as the seeds demolished their lower-ranked opponents.

My next target was what turned out to be an epic 5-setter between Gael Monfils and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Many called it one of the best matches of the tournament, and rightly so - it had a little bit of everything, and a lot of amazing rallies and moments. I'm not sure if I came towards the end of the second set or in the middle of the third, but I sat on Louis Armstrong until the very end of the match, which Ferrero won with inhuman willpower, 7-6(5) 5-7 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4.

As soon as that match ended, I rushed to the adjacent Granstand, to watch Shahar Peer taking on American Sloane Stephens. Or rather, not taking on... Shahar lost the first set badly, then came back in the second, only to lose it in the tiebreak (after failing to serve it out). Thus, all the Israeli singles players were out in a matter of a few hours.

I stayed on Granstand and watched a little bit of Azarenka-Dulko, while waiting for the main dish of the day - my first Nole match of the US Open! I missed his first round, which collided with Shahar's, but here he played the last night match, so of course I stayed until the end.

Novak was playing against Carlos Berlocq. Or rather, he was playing with Berlocq, as if Berlocq was a puppet that Nole sent running all over the court. I was sitting next to a large family, and before the match they were playing the "Let's guess how many games will Berlocq win" game. The most common answer was around 7 - that was my guess, too. One person said 4, another said 3. With a final result of 6-0 6-0 6-2, we were all very far from the truth :D Quickly enough, the whole stadium just wanted Berlocq to have that first game. It took some time (not too much, the whole match was exactly 1h:30), but when he finally did, he got a lot of applause and cheering :) I won't lie, though, I kind of wanted it to be a triple-bagel at some point :P

On one hand, it was a little bit disappointing to see such a one-sided match. On the other hand, this match was somewhat exhibition-like at times, with some great points, and Nole obviously enjoyed himself :) He even hit that dreaded shot of all, the tweener, to bring up match point. Since it didn't stop him from winning the USO, I'll forgive him, but I hope that doesn't become a habit!

More pictures from day 4 are on my facebook page.

US Open - Day 3

Memo to self: if you don't write it right away, you're probably going to forget it.
Since I want to actually finish writing about my time at the US Open, I'm going to take a couple of shortcuts, and post brief summaries of my other days there.

Day 3
I arrived to Flushing Meadows very early, checked out the practice courts, and since there was nothing too interesting there (well, Serena far away), I went to catch me a seat for the first match of my day - Feliciano Lopez vs. Tatsuma Ito. There, I met Rachel from - it was my first ever "tweetup", and it was great :)

We watched about a set and a half of the match, and then headed to the doubles match of Erlich/Ram vs. Monaco/Kerr - I was there for the Israelis, and she - for the Argentines ;)

Once again, us Israeli girls were practically the only cheering squad Andy and Yoni had. But it was obviously good enough, as they won and gave us thumbs up after the match. I wanted to get a picture with both at the same time, but it was too complicated :P

That concluded my "Must do" part of the day, so from that point onwards I wandered from one match to another - saw the end of Murray/Devvarman on Ashe, caught the end of Shahar's doubles match (she lost it for the team, I have to say), watched about a half of Isner/Baghdatis, saw the very end of Tusrunov&Dimitrov playing doubles (poor guys were bageled in the last set), where I met Rachel and Jennifer, saw the beginning of the night session on Ashe - Roddick vs. Russell, and finally managed to see a couple of games in the mixed doubles - Ivanovic/Zimonjic. I kept missing Ana's singles matches due to collisions with other matches, so at least I got that. Of course, Ana got broken when she was serving... and they lost their first round of Mixed.

More pics of day 3 are right here.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

What if?

After Novak Djokovic's first loss of the year, in the semifinals of Roland Garros, I had a fleeting thought - "What if he manages to win both Wimbledon and the US Open? This could've been a chance to complete the Grand Slam". The thought evaporated quickly enough, as the prospect of winning both slams still seemed far at the time - more a dream than a possible reality.

The thought made a comeback some time after Wimbledon. "What if he can take the US Open title? How will we look back at the French open then?"

Suddenly, it didn't look so far fetched anymore. Surely it will be hard to find someone who can challenge Novak?

As the North American swing started, it became harder to imagine him grabbing three slams in one year. Djokovic looked shaky in most of his matches in Montreal, even though he won the title. Cincinnati was even worse. With an ailing shoulder, Novak only won the semifinal due to Berdych retiring, bothered by the same injury. In the final he suffered his second loss of the year, retiring against Andy Murray. Could he recover in time for the last Grand Slam of the season?

(Click to enlarge)

Turned out that he could. And now that he has won three out of four Grand Slam tournaments, beating Rafael Nadal for the sixth straight time, I'm sure many are saying - what if?

So, what if Novak could beat Roger Federer in that French Open semifinal? What would've happened then?

Could he have won the Roland Garros? On one hand, nobody beats Rafael Nadal at the French Open (unless your name is Robin Soderling, but 2009 was definitely an exception). On the other hand, Novak had already won against him twice on clay, and as we know now - he can also beat him in best-of-five format, repeatedly. Judging by his form during the tournament, and by his mental state against Djokovic in the next match they played (Wimbledon final), I think Nadal would probably have lost this final, as well. But then... what is the chance that Novak could go on as he did? The streak would've continued, and the pressure of "When will it end?" could reach such levels to make it impossible to deal with. He'd come to Wimbledon less relaxed, and the rest of the summer might look completely different.
(Then again, what would happen to Nadal's confidence if he lost RG? Too many 'if's here.)

At the end of the day, all of it doesn't matter. History knows no 'if's. We fans became gluttons for winning (insert a no-gluten joke here). Three slams? Not enough, we want all four. Two losses? That's 2 too much. But none of us could ever dream that 2011 will look like this. If anyone promised us on January 1st that Novak would have a Slam in his pocket - we'd sign on it in blood. In fact, choose any part of Novak's 2011 season, suggest it to any player on one of the tours - I'm sure they'd take it without hesitation. What else can we say, but "Novak, we're damn lucky to be your fans. Thank you!"?

And yet, as I went to sleep yesterday, thinking about how difficult it's going to be for him to complete a career Grand Slam next year (or ever), that pesky thought crept into my mind... What if?

(Photos: Getty Images)

Monday 12 September 2011

The Hindrance Rule

During yesterday's US Open Women's final, there was a lot of drama as Serena Williams reacted to the decision of chair umpire Eva Asderaki to award a point that Williams technically won to her opponent, Sam Stosur. Stosur went on to win the match, and was crowned as the new US Open champion.

The point in question was awarded to Stosur due to the fact that Williams let out a loud "Come on!" shout before the point was over. After all was said and done, I've seen some mentions on Twitter that the rule regarding this situation is different between the ITF (the governing body in Grand Slams) and WTA (who run the regular women's tournaments). Two related incidents were brought as an example - one in which the verdict was the same (in Marion Bartoli's match against Cristina McHale in this US Open), and an older one, involving both Williams and Asderaki, in which the point was replayed.

I decided to check the matter - and it seems that the "Hindrance Rule" is in fact very much alike in both sets of rules.

Here is the ITF version, which was relevant to the final match:
If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.
However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player’s own control (not including a permanent fixture).
This is the rule in the WTA rulebook:
If a player hinders her opponent, it can be ruled as either involuntary or deliberate.
1. Involuntary Hindrance
A let should be called the first time a player has created an involuntary hindrance (e.g., ball falling out of pocket, hat falling off, etc.), and the player should be told that any such hindrance thereafter will be ruled deliberate.
2. Deliberate Hindrance
Any hindrance caused by a player that is ruled deliberate will result in the loss of a point.
According to both those quotes, any deliberate hindrance will cause the player to lose the point, while any involuntary (note: this is not the same as "unintentional") hindrance will result in a let call and a replay of the point.

In any case, Asderaki's decision yesterday was correct. While I'm sure that Williams didn't intend to disrupt the point, the shout could not be considered "involuntary", no matter how you look at it.

Sunday 11 September 2011

"The History Book On The Shelf Is Always Repeating Itself" - US Open 2011 Semifinals

"Couldn’t escape if I wanted to"

The first three sets of the 2011 US Open semifinals between [1] Novak Djokovic and [3] Roger Federer were very much like the Roland Garros semifinal, if you only look at the scores.

In the first set, Roger Federer came out with his best shots, serving lights out, hitting blistering forehands and unreachable backhands. Without getting anywhere close to a break point, the set reached the inevitable tiebreak. Drawing a forehand error, Federer got a minibreak, and after an exchange of double faults and an unreturnable serve he had his first three set points at 6-3. An unreturnable serve and two forehand winners later, Novak Djokovic drew it for 6-6. He saved one more set point for 7-7, but got wrongfooted on the next point and ended up losing the set 7-6(7).

This set was already very different from the parallel first set of the Roland Garros, which began with two consecutive breaks of serve. However, the next one saw Federer getting an early break, which he practically held until the end, winning it 6-4. And so, with a 2-0 lead in sets, everyone couldn't help but think of the 183-1 win/loss record Federer had in Grand Slams when having such a lead. However, that single loss came just two months earlier, in his quarterfinals match against Jo Wilfried Tsonga. Meanwhile, Djokovic had only one comeback from two sets down in his career. One of those single match records was about to be changed.

Still, even as Djokovic managed to break Federer in a very long second game of the third set, keeping the lead and winning it 6-3, I couldn't escape the thoughts "This is just like in France".

"I tried to hold you back but you were stronger"

The fourth set couldn't be less similar to the French Open. Djokovic hit the gas pedal and got to a quick 5-1 lead, holding a set point for a possible 6-1 result. If he could have done that, he would be the first to serve in the fifth and deciding set, giving him a certain advantage. However, Federer managed to hold, forcing Novak to serve the set out and prepare to receive in the next one.

As much as Roger was the best player during the first two sets, so was Novak in the next two. With extremely high quality of tennis throughout it all, and commentators, such as Patrick McEnroe, already calling it "Match of the Year", it seemed like everyone was holding their breath to see what the deciding set would bring.

"I have met my destiny in quite a similar way"

If you expected Roger Federer to give up the fight after losing those two sets, you were very much mistaken. Raising up his level immensely, he was once again hitting untouchable serves. Djokovic managed to keep up for three of his service games. Then, in the most crucial eighth game of the match (Am I the only one who thinks it's more important than that seventh game the commentators are always talking about?), as he was serving at 3-4, he was broken to love. Roger Federer was serving for a place in the US Open 2011 Final, leading 5-3.

In 2010 Federer was in a very similar position. Then, too, he was in the semifinals of the US Open, having two match points in the fifth set against Novak Djokovic. But while in 2010 it was Djokovic serving, this time Federer was the one holding the tennis ball in his hand, 5-3 40-15 up. He made a great first serve.

The ball was returned with an unthinkable crosscourt winner. 40-30.
The next point had a ball hitting the top of the net, bouncing out of the court, for a deuce. Two match points, just like in 2010, have come and gone. On the following break point, Federer double faulted. (All objectivity aside, I was begging and praying for that double fault since the beginning of the game. When it actually happened, I couldn't believe my eyes.)

Novak was in full control from that point on, breaking again, and only needing one match point at 6-5 40-15, as Federer's return sailed long.

And so, after 3 hours and 51 minutes, Novak Djokovic was into his third Grand Slam final of 2011, winning 6-7(7) 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5.

Trying to describe my emotions throughout this match would be near impossible. But history does repeat itself, I guess.

In memory of September 11, 2001