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The Murray Mafia

Joshua Mason

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The Murray Family may sound like an adorable folk band or murderous Californian cult, but it is not. Instead Andy, Judy and Jamie, who came out of a small town, have taken over British Tennis and are now setting their sights high, infiltrating all areas of the game. Andy Murray could make it another major in Australia this month as one of the favourites and with a child on the way, the family is only getting bigger. Much like the Cosa Nostra in their quest for expansion of the New World, the Murray’s are taking over Tennis, and it seems they are profiting hugely from their ‘raqueteering’.

 

Don’t Hate the Players

On the playing side, the Murray’s have two world beating foot-soldiers. Andy was always going to be the star child once he left for Barcelona as a teenager. He grew up there playing Djokovic and Nadal, which gave him the schooling he needed to get to where he is today. And today is certainly looking good – two Olympic medals, one US Open, a Davis Cup and  the Wimbledon win. It has not been an easy ride however, there have been plenty of losing battles too. Being a runner-up of 5 majors, Andy has experienced plenty of trials, but it is always about how you react. Murray has become a record breaker in British Tennis and given hope to a nation who have lived in the shadow of almost-man Tim Henman for too long.

Jamie is often the forgotten brother, (Jelena Jankovic didn’t even know who he was when she met him in Miami. He asked her to partner him at Wimbledon 2008) but has forged a road all on his own in Doubles, and like his brother, has seen unprecedented success for British Tennis. Jamie won the 2008 mixed doubles at Wimbledon and has also been the first brit in decades to reach a US Open doubles final too. He has always been at the side of his family, and at the 2015 Davis Cup he played an important role, winning the Doubles matches alongside Andy. Jamie Murray has achieved 13 ATP tour titles and will no doubt be at the forefront of the doubles game even after his playing career is over.

 

Mamma Mia

Like all good Mafia families there is a strong matriarchal character – enter Judy Murray. Born to a professional football player Roy Erskine, who played for Stirling and Cowdenbeath in the 50’s, Judy was always destined for a sporting life. Unfortunately for her it wasn’t going to be her. Despite a short stint as a pro in 1976 and playing against the likes of Debbie Jevans and Mariana Simionescu, she failed to make the grade. She could not stay away from the court long though and has lived her passion through her sons. She was their coach before finding success, and has continued her coaching to this today. She is currently helping Heather Watson as her interim coach and captains Great Britain’s Fed Cup team.

She seems to be the business brain of the Murray’s too, with an extravagant plan for a development near her hometown of Dunblane. The development which would include a Tennis Academy, Museum, Hotel and Visitor Centre would be a true legacy of the Murray’s achievements. Crucially though it was being built on greenbelt land, and the council have shown little enthusiasm for it, rejecting the initial bid. The plans also hid the fact there would be a golf course and 19 luxury homes in the development, which drew 1,000 complaints from residents. This has not stopped the Murray’s pushing for a change in the decision with a likely appeal pending. Like any self-respecting Mafia they brought in their celebrity pals to help, no not Frank Sinatra, but Sir Alex Ferguson and Colin Montgomerie who have put their backing to the idea. They will be hoping to give the council an offer they can’t refuse.

 

Keeping It In La Famiglia

Family is always number one in Mafia and the Murray’s are no different. Andy not satisfied with the amount of tennis in his life married into it this year. Kim Sears may seem like an another beautiful WAG, but her and Andy actually met through her father Nigel Sears – a British Tennis coach. He has worked with the likes of Amanda Coetzer, Daniela Hantuchová and Ana Ivanovic in his career, and his daughter Kim Sears married Murray in april last year in Dunblane.

Andy has claimed that he will fly home from the Australian Open if his wife goes into labour, as he understandably wants to be there for the birth. With the Murrays excelling in every side of singles, double, coaching and business, it is scary to think about the potential of any new member to the family. One thing is for sure, they have had an incredible impact on British Tennis and dragged the fans with them, creating a whole new level of optimism in Britain. It seems the next step will be creating a legacy, and with more Murray’s on the way, not even their rival Tennis family the Williams’ can compete at the moment.

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What Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Monte Carlo Win Tells Us About The Upcoming Clay Season

The Greek produced some brilliant tennis in Monte Carlo and also had some luck on his side. The question is how will Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and others respond over the coming weeks ahead of the French Open?

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The 2021 clay court campaign was officially launched last week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, and surprisingly the greatest clay court player in the history of the game did not win this prestigious tournament. Rafael Nadal was upended 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 by the Russian powerhouse Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. To be sure, the Spaniard was far from his zenith, playing abysmally at times, serving no fewer than five double faults in a nightmarish opening set, fighting himself as well as an inspired opponent who was potent, unrelenting and patient.

 

Nadal’s departure virtually ensured a final round clash between Rublev and the Greek stylist Stefanos Tsitsipas, and that is exactly what transpired. Tsitsipas glided through the week without ever being stretched to his physical limits, conceding only 28 games in five matches, performing with both verve and consistency. This highly charged individual kept his emotions under control and clearly enjoyed his tennis over the course of the week, putting on one remarkable shotmaking display after another.

He was not only good and perhaps great, but also lucky. Removed from the Greek’s potential semifinal path was none other than Novak Djokovic, who had not yet lost in 2021. Djokovic was not the favorite in Monte Carlo because only Nadal could wear that label on the red clay, but the Serbian was looking at the very least for a good run. Like Nadal, he was playing his first tournament since the Australian Open, and the long layoff was not beneficial.

Djokovic did play a solid and disciplined match in his initial appearance after a first round bye, colliding with the enormously promising Jannik Sinner in the second round. Sinner had come off his first final round showing at a Masters 1000 event in Miami, and Djokovic clearly took his contest with the 19-year-old Italian upstart very seriously. He clipped Sinner 6-4, 6-2 with a first rate performance. His defense was especially impressive. The soon-to-be 34-year-old frustrated Sinner time and again with his anticipation, wing span, uncanny ball control and a cluster of backhand drop shots that were all highly effective. He treated that match like a big semifinal or final.

Yet Djokovic was in an entirely different frame of mind when he took the court to face Dan Evans in the round of 16. He had never played Evans before. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with the British player’s game was detrimental to Djokovic on this occasion, but the fact remains that his duel with Sinner was also a first time meeting. Djokovic seemed devoid of his usual intensity and purpose against Evans. He was not bearing down on the big points. Evans was beating him to the tactical punch. Moreover, Djokovic was defeating himself with far too many unprovoked mistakes. Before he knew it, Djokovic was down two service breaks in the opening set, trailing 3-0, looking listless and somewhat dazed.

He managed to bounce back to 4–4, only to drop two games in a row to lose the set. In the second set, Djokovic led 3-0 but was still not really finding the range off the ground and failing to locate his serve with the precision he needed. A wily Evans rallied to reach 4-4 but Djokovic had a set point with the British player serving in the tenth game. That point symbolized his uneven performance that day; Djokovic was set up for a routine backhand and drove his two-hander inexplicably into the net. Evans stopped Djokovic 6-4, 7-5.

The British competitor then accounted for David Goffin in the quarterfinals, but Tsitsipas picked him apart ruthlessly 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals. Rublev had a much tougher road to the final. He narrowly moved past the ever tenacious workhorse Roberto Bautista Agut in a three set, round of 16 encounter that set the stage for his battle with Nadal. Rublev exploited Nadal’s serving woes in the first set and took it easily before moving in front 3-1 and 4-2 in the second. He had break points in both the fifth and seventh games, but could not convert as a bold Nadal would not buckle under pressure.

On a run of four games in a row, Nadal took the match into a third set, but Rublev stood his ground commendably and came away with a 6-2 4-6, 6-2 triumph, breaking Nadal three times in the opening set and three more times in the third.  Then Rublev halted Casper Ruud in straight sets for a place in the final. 

On paper, the Tsitsipas-Rublev title round contest seemed certain to be a hard fought and close battle. They had split six prior head to head appointments. But Rublev was seemingly spent after a hard week’s work while Tsitsipas was fresh, confident and in utter control from the baseline with his much greater variety of shots. Tsitsipas deservedly ousted a somber and below par Rublev 6-3, 6-3.

So how are we to interpret what happened in Monte Carlo in terms of what to expect from this juncture forward on the clay as the players look to peak at Roland Garros? Let’s start with Tsitsipas. There is no doubt that he had a terrific week and this important triumph was in many ways long overdue. Back in 2018, he was the runner-up to Nadal at the Masters 1000 tournament in Canada, upending Djokovic for the first time along the way. That was only his seventh Masters 1000 tournament appearance and he sparkled all week on the hard courts. In Madrid the following year, Tsitsipas stunned Nadal on the clay in the semifinals before losing the final to Djokovic. At the end of that memorable 2019 season, Tsitsipas captured the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals in London.

Last year, as the pandemic disrupted the world, Tsitsipas only had the opportunity to play three Masters 1000 events and his best showing was a semifinal appearance in Cincinnati. We must remember that he has been a consistent danger to everyone at the Grand Slam tournaments as well, reaching his first major semifinal at the Australian Open in 2019, ousting Federer in Melbourne before losing to Nadal. Last year at Roland Garros, Tsitsipas was a force again, cutting down Rublev, reaching the semifinals and taking Djokovic to five sets. And just a few months ago in Melbourne, Tsitsipas made it to his second Australian and third Grand Slam tournament semifinal, bowing out there against Daniil Medvedev.

And so, ever since 2018, Tsitsipas has shown over and over again that he is a player built for big occasions and eager to put himself on the line against the best players in the world. This win in Monte Carlo is no guarantee that he will be around for the latter stages of Roland Garros 2021, but the view here is that he is a superb all surface practitioner who can play top of the line tennis anywhere he wants. No matter how he performs between now and the start of Roland Garros at the end of May, by virtue of his Monte Carlo breakthrough victory at a Masters 1000 event Tsitsipas has positioned himself as a very serious contender in Paris. He will have the belief that his chances are as good as anyone’s outside of Nadal and perhaps Djokovic.

https://twitter.com/steftsitsipas/status/1383817000275779584

How should the other leading candidates be assessed as Monte Carlo fades into the background and the other clay court tournaments unfold? I don’t believe Nadal will be down in the dumps after his loss to Rublev. He knows it was one of those days when he came upon an opponent bludgeoning the ball ferociously on an evening when the air was cool and the wind was burdensome. Nadal can handle swirling winds as well as anyone in tennis, but the colder air hindered him considerably and took the “hop” out of his signature forehand. He could not make Rublev play enough shots from up above his shoulders.

This week, Nadal is the top seed back home in Barcelona. I fully expect him to be the victor at one of his favorite tournaments for the twelfth time. Rublev and Tsitsipas are both entered in the Spanish tournament as well, and could meet in the penultimate round. Nadal’s draw leads me to believe he can’t lose in Barcelona prior to the final. Moreover, having just come off a loss in Monte Carlo, Nadal would be awfully eager to either avenge his loss to Rublev in Monte Carlo or strike back at Tsitsipas, who surprised the Spaniard in a five set quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Nadal was up two sets to love in that skirmish and lost from that position for only the third time in his illustrious career. Roger Federer rallied from two sets down to overcome Nadal in a scintillating 2005 Miami final, and a madly inspired Fabio Fognini did the same thing to Nadal under the lights at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Djokovic is also back in action this week at the ATP 250 event in Belgrade. Performing in front of his home fans should inspire Djokovic to make amends for Monte Carlo and perhaps come away with his 83d career title on the ATP Tour. There will be some formidable players in Belgrade joining Djokovic, including Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, the surging American Sebastian Korda and the Italian No. 1 Matteo Berrettini.   The field is reasonably strong, but Djokovic surely has a significant opportunity to take the title and ignite his clay court campaign.

Originally, Dominic Thiem was supposed to be in Belgrade but he pulled out. The Austrian will wait for the Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome to perform on the clay after a disconcerting start to 2021. Having claimed his first major at the U.S. Open last September before suffering a hard fought loss to Medvedev in the final of the ATP Finals a few months later, Thiem seemed certain to be pushing hard to supplant Djokovic and Nadal at the top in the ATP Rankings.

But he commenced 2021 dismally. After a 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 round of 16 defeat at the hands of Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open when he was apparently dealing with an injury, Thiem won only one match combined in Doha and Dubai. He has not played since. His match record for the season is 5-4. And so how he fares in Madrid and Rome en route to Roland Garros could be critical to his fortunes for the rest of the year. Of his 17 career ATP singles crowns, ten have been on clay. Moreover, the big hitting and industrious Austrian has been in two French Open finals. But now he seems to be struggling immensely with his confidence. He is clearly at an emotional crossroads.

I must reaffirm my feeling that Nadal will be the victor in Barcelona and Djokovic will be the champion in Belgrade. The leading players will then have a week off before heading to Barcelona and Rome. Those will be fascinating clay court festivals. I believe Tsitsipas will make a strong bid to win one of those titles, as will Rublev. In that crucial two week stretch, Sascha Zverev will prove once more how capable he is on the clay. The German won his first Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome four years ago. He will be in the thick of things again this year in both Madrid and Rome. 

Thiem will make his presence known significantly in at least one of those tournaments. But what are we to make of Medvedev? All ten of his career titles have been secured on hard courts; he has yet to win a clay court tournament. Moreover, he had to pull out of Monte Carlo with COVID-19. Perhaps the world No. 2 will be back next month to compete favorably on the clay, but it is doubtful that he will be at peak efficiency.

Nadal has always had issues with the altitude in Madrid. It is surely his least favorite of all the important clay court events. He has won Monte Carlo and Barcelona eleven times each, and Rome nine times. Across his sterling career, he has taken 60 of his 86 career titles on the clay (producing an astounding 447-41 match record), including an unimaginable thirteen French Opens. But he has won Madrid only four times on clay (adding one more title in that town indoors on hard courts). So I am picking someone else to be victorious in Madrid this time around. It may come down to Djokovic, Zverev and Thiem as the three main contenders. Sinner will be in the mix as well.

Rome? Although Djokovic took his fifth title there last year, I am looking for Nadal to claim his tenth title this year. Meanwhile, Roger Federer is returning to the clay in Geneva for the ATP 250 event the week after Rome, followed by his 19th appearance at Roland Garros. The 2009 French Open champion is surely not going to secure a second title this year. But Federer loves playing at Roland Garros. He can reach the second week with the right kind of draw, but will likely lose either in the round of 16 or quarterfinals, with an outside chance to make the semifinals.

That is as far as I will go with my Roland Garros projections. I want to see how the top players fare in Madrid and Rome before making any serious predictions for Paris. In the mean time, I can’t wait to watch what transpires over the next month as the leading competitors go into head to head combat on a surface which brings out the best and most artistic tennis from many in the upper regions of the sport. This is when it all comes alive in the world of tennis.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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‘Huge Parts Are Lost’ – Dominic Thiem Opens Up On Struggles With COVID-19 Restrictions

The tennis star says ‘beautiful things’ have been taken away due to the virus as he sheds light on his own experiences.

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Reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem says he is finding it tough playing on the Tour during the COVID-19 pandemic and has hinted that his approach to the game could change in the future.

 

The world No.4 hasn’t played since the Dubai Tennis Championships last month where he lost his opening match to South Africa’s Lloyd Harris. The Austrian then opted to have a break from the Tour. He has pulled out of this week’s Belgrade Open due to pain in his knee but is targeting a return at the Madrid Open.

2021 has been a bit of a roller-coaster for Thiem who has won five out of nine matches played so far. Although he has only won back-to-back matches in one tournament. Besides the added expectation of being one of the sports top players, Thiem has to contend with the ongoing pandemic and various regulations which are in place. Including tournament bubbles, playing being closed doors and regular testing for the virus.

Huge parts are lost. Corona has taken beautiful things, starting with traveling and moving freely. The bad things stay,” Thiem told Der Standard.
“It’s difficult to play through week after week in these circumstances. There are guys who can take it, for whom life in the bubble is probably an advantage, for example (Dan) Evans or (Alexander) Bublik. They have problems focusing on sport in normal times. It’s great for them, they concentrate exclusively on tennis, there is nothing else.’
“It was extreme in Dubai, we were locked up, but outside of it there was normal life. You were let out of the hotel at 9 p.m. and allowed to enter an empty stadium. That’s not so great.”

These usual times on the Tour has taken its toll on players mentally with Thiem admitting that he has been one of those affected. It is not the first time the 27-year-old has spoken out about bubble life and the drawbacks of not playing in front of fans.

Another issue is the unpredictability of the pandemic which threatened to disrupt the calendar at any point. The most recent victim is the French Open who has decided to postpone the start of their event by seven days. A move that has shortened the grass-court swing this season.

“I’ve had a completely planned life for as long as I can remember,” said Thiem. “Every day, every week, every month is divided. I feel better knowing what will happen the next day. That’s gone right now.”

‘Like a nuclear accident’

During the Australian Open, Thiem admits that he struggled to deal with a sudden change in circumstances. Midway through the tournament, Melbourne went into lockdown and subsequently fans were not allowed to attend the facility.

“I’m playing one of the most memorable matches in my life against local hero Kyrgios, I’m getting 2-0 down. The atmosphere in Melbourne was amazing, even though people didn’t stand by me. And suddenly there was a lockdown. I came into the locker room late at night, sweaty, and the facility was evacuated in the meantime – like a nuclear accident,” he recounts.
“The day after next against Dimitrov there was extreme midday heat in the loneliness. I didn’t make it pushing that through and dealing with the situation.”

Thiem also makes reference to football as being another sport heavily impacted by the virus. Saying he hasn’t watched the Champions League recently due to a lack of atmosphere and brands it as a ‘tragedy.’ Thiem is a Chelsea fan and has visited Sanford Bridge multiple times.

Of course, there is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to a rapid development of vaccines and better scientific understanding of how COVID-19 works. Like his peers, Thiem is eager to go back to a degree of normality but admits that his approach to the sport may be different.

I chased the big goal (of winning a Grand Slam) for 15 years without looking left or right. I achieved it – under weird circumstances, but that’s not that important to me,” he stated.
“In a way, some things fell by the wayside – private life, dealing with other things and broadening your horizons. You have to do something for your head, for your brain. There was only tennis. I want to change that a bit.“

Thiem has won 17 ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $28.5 million in his career.

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Roger Federer To Skip Two Masters Events But Still Plans To Play French Open

The former world No.1 has unveiled his plays for the clay swing this year.

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Following recent speculation Roger Federer has confirmed he will return to the clay this year where he is set to participate in one tournament leading up to the French Open.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion will miss both the Madrid Open and Italian Open. Two Masters tournament that is set to begin at the end of April with Madrid. Instead, Federer has confirmed he will be playing at the Geneva Open for the first time since 1998 when the tournament was classed as a Challenger event. It is now categorised as an ATP 250 event and has been since 2015.

“(I’m) Happy to let you know that I will play Geneva and Paris. Until then I will use the time to train. Can’t wait to play in Switzerland again,” Federer wrote on Twitter.

So far this season the 39-year-old has only played in one tournament which was the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili. Federer has missed more than a year of competitive tennis between 2020-2021 due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures. The second was conducted after the first failed to produce the desired results.

Reacting to the announcement, the tournament director of the Geneva Open has described Federer’s participation as a ‘dream come true.’ Thierry Grin told Le Matin that two factors proved decisive in the inclusion of the Swiss Maestro – Federer’s ongoing comeback from injury and the decision to delay the French Open by a week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s just exceptional; it’s our best dream come true,” said Grin.”Sport has suffered so much (due to the pandemic), it had to start again one day. But to relaunch with the return of Roger Federer in Switzerland, I find that this is a magnificent signal and a superb reward for all those who fought to keep sport alive during this pandemic.”

Coincidently the decision by Federer to participate in his home tournament comes a month after he agreed to be a brand ambassador for Switzerland Tourism. The objective for the tennis star is to help attract people to visit his country. Any appearance fees he makes for the ST will be donated to his foundation.

Gérard Tsobanian, who is the boss of GTP, has welcomed Federer’s return to Geneva. GTP is in charge of the running of the tournament.

“It is a magnificent reward to see Roger Federer place his trust in us,” Tsobanian commented.

The Geneva Open will begin on May 17th which is two weeks before the French Open. Denis Shapovalov and Fabio Fognini are also expected to play.

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