Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Category Archives: Players

Agnes Szavay Ponders Retirement

After nearly five years of chronic back issues, it appears the sad career of 24 year-old Agnes Szavay will likely be coming to an end as she makes the final decision between risky surgery or retirement. So says the Hungarian media:

According to the news Szavay will decide within days: she’ll choose to either continue her career (despite) the risks associated with surgery or a more relaxed and pain-free life. True, for the time being she cannot even imagine what to do with his life without the sport (she has played) since the age of five.

The timeline of Szavay’s career - if her brief cameo on the WTA can even be called such a thing - is borderline depressing. It was 2007 that she broke through on the WTA as a bright 18 year old with huge talent and even huger, flowing swings with a penchant for delicate variety. She announced herself as even a possible slam champion after that meteoric rise from outside of the top 200 in January 2007 to number 20 by year’s end, reaching a slam quarterfinal and capturing one-and-a-half (the half being her retirement to Kuznetsova whilst a set up in the New Haven final) Tier II titles plus a further lower WTA title in the process.

Already by 2008 she was forced to re-work and shorten her service motion due to the emergence of these back issues, robbing her of one of her prime weapons. After continued back pain in the years that followed, it was in 2011 that she broke down in tears whilst explaining to reporters that the vertebral stress fractures in her back had been discovered too late. Since then, her only presence on the WTA has been only a couple of failed comeback attempts - most recently last year between the London Olympics and US Open. The option of surgery has been on the table since 2011 but she was rightfully hesitant and has since attempted just about every other possible avenue of recovery.

Now it seems surgery is the only option. Despite the great loss her presence and beautiful style of tennis is to the WTA, I personally hope she decides to hang up her racket if there is any possibility that the surgery could worsen her back and have repercussions in her regular life. But, hey, my name isn’t Agnes Szavay. We’ll soon see which decision she comes to.

Bernard Tomic Loses License, Remains An Endless Source Of Entertainment

Everyone’s favourite future greatest player of all time-slash-adrenaline junkie has once again been caught up with the law, this time losing his license after speeding whilst on probation. Not sure which is funnier - that it took him barely over a month after being placed on probation to land himself back in trouble; the fact that he made such a big deal over selling his obnoxiously orange BMW, only to replace it with an even more obnoxious yellow Ferrari with a ‘Sincity’ number plate; or else his tear-stained pleas to a reporter upon the arrival of the media: “I represent you guys. I play for this country. Yet you pick on me.” Keep on keepin’ on, Bernie T.

Quotable Quotes of the day: Dimitrov’s Date With Federer, Petkovic update, Djokovic’s turning point

Grigor Dimitrov on Federer comparisions:

“We recently had lunch together in Australia. We spoke a lot about this issue and straightened it out. The good thing was that we agree.”

David Nalbandian indirectly referencing Delpo’s DC absence

“When you have to represent the country, we must try to be. I played with 20 or more partners, with five captains, and was always available to represent the country, more than anything”

Andrea Petkovic on her knee surgery and (fourth) comeback:

“I was now just one week at Klaus Eder in Regensburg to rehab and have already made ​​great progress. I have hardly any pain and you almost can’t that I had surgery - except for a little swelling. [the swelling] needs to reduce more before I return to the court, but I’m patient. [...] I hope my good progress [will allow a] return in Indian Wells and Miami. If I’m back in shape sooner, I might even play a smaller tournament before on the ITF Pro Circuit!”

Novak Djokovic and Marian Vajda describing the Serb’s 2010 Roland Garros loss to Melzer from two sets and a break up as the turning point in his career:

“Even after he came back to me I wanted to work more and he was sometimes escaping. But then when we came to the court, he was focused, he was winning the important points, basically he was a fighter, he would never give up any ball. And then, after he lost to Melzer from two sets up in 2010, he looked at himself. Since then, he has had the momentum.”

“I lost that match and then from Wimbledon on, in the second part of the year, I started playing much better and being more confident on the court. I felt I got a huge relief mentally rather than anything else. My serve was coming back, and then the Davis Cup title came at the right moment for myself and my country and all of my colleagues, because that’s when I got a strong wind in my back, and it switched momentum.

John Isner on watching the Australian Open whilst injured:

“I haven’t watched any of it. Not one second. I normally don’t watch too much tennis to begin with. But when I’m home during a Slam, I just can’t watch. I know I should be there because I’ve earned my spot. I’ve worked and got my game to a certain level, and sitting home is tough to swallow.”

Video Vault: The Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, Starring Serena Williams

Last week, the Mouratoglou academy’s Mauritius feature premièred on French Eurosport. Finally (as in three days ago now), it has made its way to youtube, and the short documentary makes for interesting and entertaining viewing. A few thoughts:

- The entire video puts into perspective the massive change Serena has undertaken since that fateful French Open match, and it’s truly astonishing. For most top players and champions, once they reach a certain age a stubbornness sets in. It becomes about preserving what is left rather than making changes that could possibly hasten their decline - why would they change a system that has reaped so many past rewards?

Then you think about Serena’s upbringing, the much-discussed “us against the world” mentality Richard instilled in her and Venus from so little. Though both have worked with many coaches in the past, it was always Richard, the family and later the sisters who retained autonomy. Again, for her to cede so much power to this new academy - not to mention one completely alien to the rigours and needs of a top favourite for every slam either tour - was retrospectively such a bold and shocking move. Evidently, it worked out fairly well.

- I should probably learn how to spell ‘Mouratoglou’ sometime soon.

- There will never come a time when I don’t get a kick out of seeing a WTA player owning an ATP player, as Serena did during her hit with Jeremy Chardy. Sorry. Suddenly, Chardy’s quote on their time training together makes sense:

- I see you Nastia, Dasha and Yulia

- Serena and Martina reminiscing together on the golden years. Is there anything on the entire planet more perfect? I think not.


Quotable Quotes: Three Ankle Sprains Too Many For Serena

Over the past week, it has been stressed so often that the only thing standing in the path of Serena and her sixth Australian Open is herself and injury. So, in a way it should come as no surprise that injury is exactly what has struck. And not just any old injury, but an eerily similar ankle sprain to the one that wrecked her entire Australian season last year. Though she eventually continued and hilariously managed to inflict a double-bagel on Edina Gallovits-Hall despite the injury, it is still certainly still a large concern, as she later stressed.

Q. The fact you came in with no crutches on is a good start for us. How is the leg?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I haven’t had enough time to assess it yet. Saw the doctor again. We’re just gonna see how it is in a few hours from now.

Q. So Thursday is too early to call, whether you can play Thursday?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, I’ll be out there. I mean, unless something fatal happens to me, there’s no way I’m not going to be competing.

I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine.

Q. When you went over, did it remind you of Brisbane last year?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Absolutely. It reminded me a lot of Brisbane. I thought, Oh, not again. But, you know, I’ve had such a good year that I don’t think it’s anything negative. I just think that I was definitely a little bit in shock and I was thinking, I hope it’s not as serious, because it was really serious last year.

Q. Is there any pain or swelling there now?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Obviously there’s pain. Obviously there’s swelling. So it’s going to be really important to see how the next few hours unfold.

It reminded me a lot of Brisbane. I thought, Oh, not again. But, you know, I’ve had such a good year that I don’t think it’s anything negative. I just think that I was definitely

It’s easy to forget that Serena also sprained her ankle during doubles at the US Open last year which also threw that title campaign into doubt. That’s three sprained ankles in essentially one year. If there is ever a time for Serena’s team to ensure that her own footwork or movement isn’t heightening the likelihood of these ankle sprains, now is probably it.

However, if one thing is certain, it’s that without the extensive taping on Serena’s ankle, the injury would have been dramatically worse. Why don’t more players protect themselves by protecting their ankles?

Shot of The Day: Steve Johnson’s Little Improv

As the draw previews were pumped out earlier this week, a couple of Americans suggested that Steve Johnson could pose a considerable threat to Nicolas Almagro. I laughed. Though he eventually qualified handily, it was only a handful of days ago that he pitifully choked at least three times before barely scraping past 758-ranked 16 year old Thanasi “The Kid” Kokkinakis 6-4 6-7(4) 17-15 in the first round of qualies. In what world could he ever rise from that level to challenging the 10th seed within a week?

Well, apparently on planet Earth, as he pushed the Spaniard all the way to five entertaining sets, producing some quite spectacular shotmaking throughout. None, however, were more outrageous than this exhibition of rapid reflexes and deft touch as he turned an unlucky net cord into a winning shot on game point. Stellar.

Three Qualifiers To Watch In Melbourne

By now, all draws have been studied and previewed to within an inch of their lives. People have made their predictions and picks - some bold, others predictable - and are all set and ready to go. But, hey, there’s always room for one more.

Adrian Mannarino
24 years-old

As with seemingly every other male French tennis player on the planet (well, not all of them. Sorry Gilles), Adrian Mannarino falls under the ‘incredibly entertaining yet ultimately harmless’ category of tennis player. He has variety, a quick mind, a delightfully effortless and style of play and both his tennis and hair are the source of endless entertainment and confusion in equal measure. After an abominable 2012, it appears the flairsome Frenchman has arrived in 2013 with a completely clean slate and fresh mind. Already he has captured his first challenger title in Noumea and has carried this momentum with him into Melbourne, qualifying without the loss of a single set, with two beatdowns in his final two qualifying rounds.

He efforts have hardly been rewarded, however, with a disastrous first round match against fifth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro on the horizon. But if his two previous meetings with Delpo are anything to go by - a win at Queens in 2011 and an extremely tight four-setter at this venue last year - his imaginative tennis should provide more problems for the title contender. And if not, he’ll still entertain. Watch him. That’s an order.

Ricardas Berankis
22 years-old

Pocket Rocket is perhaps the most unintentionally inappropriate nickname in the history of unintentionally inappropriate nicknames, but what else can we call young Rikkie B? He stands at somewhere around 4ft1 yet is capable of serving in excess of 130mph, thanks in a large part to his distinct service motion - the motion uncoiling at the speed of light as his stocky legs launch him clear into the hair. The rest of his game is interesting too, with the talented Lithuanian armed with speed around the court (I said he was 4ft1, after all), an impressive forehand and a penchant for variety.

Since breaking the top 100 back in 2011, the former junior US Open champ has been plagued by a myriad of frustrating injures which have sidelined him during his most important development period and left him floundering while the Raonic, Dimitrov, Tomic, Harrison generation consolidated their places in the top 100. However, he is back and has been slowly regaining his old form and more. He qualified as the second seed with aplomb and has been handed a winnable first round against good ol’ Sergiy Stakhovsky. Should he defeat the mouthy journeyman, the ever-funky Florian Mayer will likely await with the chance to show off his skills on the big stage against a looming Andy Murray in the third round. Watch him too.

Daniel Brands
25 years old

Ah, the Brandwagon. The most mindlessly delusional fan following in tennis…until it wasn’t. Against all odds and despite those ironic declarations from fans of future ATP glory, Daniel Brands’ year kicked off in immense style as he braved his first ATP semi in Doha, defeating Chardy and a returning Monfils to cap off the second best week of his career. Brands previously held a reputation as a player who, at 6ft5, relied mostly on his serve, but he showcased the best of his thunderous forehand and deft touches at the net en-route to his Doha semi-final.

There hasn’t been a let-up since his surprise run. After a tight three-setter in the first round of qualies, the German strolled through his remaining two in straight sets. He has been placed in perhaps the most interesting early section of all, with a first round battle against Klizan and the ever-humble Bernard Tomic a potential second-rounder. Realistically, all three could advance to a third round match with Roger Federer. Only time will tell which player does.


Though I caught brief glimpses of her earlier in her career, my first vivid memory of a full Dominika Cibulkova match dates back to her breakthrough tournament at Amelia Island in 2008. Not only was I taken aback at the fact that she stood at just over 3ft8, I was also shocked to see her game wasn’t the scrappy ten-inches-behind-the-baseline retriever it seemed destined to be. Sure, her style of play then revolved around her lightning-quick feet and strong defence, but the shocking part was when she found an opening or a short ball. That’s when she would launch both feet off the ground whilst simultaneously rotating her entire body as she unleashed one of her now trademark nuclear forehands for a screaming, clean winner. During those nice, innocent years, her game was pleasant marriage between defence and offence.

Nearly five years on and in a post-Zeijko Krajan world, adjectives like “pleasant” and “nice” are merely antonyms of the player she is today. Today, she is angry, she is scrappy and she is gritty. She has attitude and she is unafraid to “POME!” in her opponents’ faces with all the authority of a Sharapova or Azarenka nearly double her height. Above all, her sole aim, intention and tactic in tennis these days is to crush every forehand and backhand with seemingly every single muscle, fibre and ounce of effort in her being. That’s how Dominika Cibulkova plays tennis today.

With this new style of play, her scalps and achievements have been undeniable. In addition to finally ending her comically long wait for her first title, she has scaled as high as a slam semi in addition to reaching the quarters of a slam every year since 2009 whilst defeating current and former #1s such as Azarenka, Wozniacki and Sharapova. Even this week she disposed of two top eight players with the loss of only five games before ousting top 5 Kerber to reach the final. At the very least, she was primed to give top-seeded Radwanska a test, right?

Wrong. Instead, she was subjected to an embarrassing and humiliating double bagel.

To Radwanska’s credit, the Pole was on top of the match from the very beginning (well, she hit a double fault on the first point, but you get what I mean). As usual, along with the standard craftiness, she was consistent and sensible and her plan of action was clear; she looked to either cut off Cibulkova’s angles with central balls or else initiated crosscourt rallies, tempting Cibulkova into attacking down-the-line and almost inevitably committing an error. Lather, rinse and repeat. She also read Cibulkova’s groundstrokes like a children’s book. By the end, the Slovak had a shocking 36 (THIRTY SIX) unforced errors in 12 games, even scarier considering the figure probably doesn’t account for the countless botched service returns which usually fall under the forced error category.

The most abhorrent aspect of a result like this isn’t even the score or Radwanska managing to extract a Li-esque error count out of the Slovak. It happens. The biggest issue is that many players who stand inside the baseline and play this unwaveringly aggressive style of tennis have absolutely no choice but to do so, often because their biggest weaknesses are easily exploited in neutral and defensive positions. As mentioned above, this is far from the case with Cibulkova. Her height may leave her susceptible to bigger players overpowering her, but against a player like Radwanska there is no excuse for not once stepping back and at least attempting to tread water a little whilst searching for other ways to insert her aggression and penetrate the Radwanska defence.

And yet, she didn’t. Instead, she finished the match just as it begun - the final game sealed with a smash error, a forehand error, a backhand error, and finally a double fault to complete one of, if not the worst loss of her career. If Cibulkova really wants to bridge the currently realistic gap between her current ranking and the top 10, this must change immediately.

Bernard Tomic: The Hall Of Famer

In the iconic and legendary words of Justine Henin: “Now It’s Time.” Now it’s time to formally induct Bernie Tomic into the Hall of Fame for the most quotable tennis players in history. The Australian has always been candid and entertaining in press - remember when he blasted the Australian Open organizers in 2010 for scheduling his match so late? There was also him laughably claiming in 2011 that he would break into the top 10 a year later, and who can forget last year’s US Open when he hilariously issued a reporter with a The Godfather-style threat. Rarely has he shied away from offering himself a gratuitous self-pat on the back, but over the last few months he has taken this over-confidence to new, unheard of levels. And. It. Is. Brilliant.

It all kicked off mid-December when Pat Rafter and Tennis Australia booted him out of Australia’s first Davis Cup tie in 2013. He responded by essentially branding them liars, before then claiming in all seriousness that he was back on course to being “the greatest player, one day, to [ever] play the game.” He has quite simply hit a Peak Mary Pierce-esque purple patch of quotable quotes and so far in Sydney, plenty of his comments appear to something a top 5 player would utter, rather than someone ranked a glorious 64th on the ATP rankings.

But he’s not all talk.

The year and even this week may be young, but it’s difficult to see how Tomic could have started 2013 any more positively. Though an exhibition, his tennis impressed at the Hopman Cup. Firstly, he dug out an uncharacteristically gritty victory over Tommy Haas, before straight-setting the world number one and finishing with a 3-0 singles record overall. He later noted that Djokovic approached him afterwards, telling him “Good stuff. You were serving really well. I couldn’t do anything. Off the ground you were playing well.” This undoubtedly only reinforced his likely belief that he is God’s gift to mankind.

So far in Sydney it has been much of the same. A straight-sets win over current Aussie #1 Matosevic in the first round, followed by a hugely impressive performance over a nemesis in 2012, Florian Mayer. The improvement in Tomic’s serve has been immediately noticeable, and even more-so in his intentions off the first ball following his serve. Previously, he enjoyed easing into points slowly with a slice or a higher percentage strike, but today every single time his serve presented him with an opportunity to immediately shorten the point against Mayer, he grabbed it with both hands and attacked mercilessly.

He also appears to have a far clearer understanding of how to construct points. For a player who prides himself on his court sense and tennis IQ, his shot selection would often appear so random and illogical. Perhaps it was pure arrogance rather than naivety or a lack of awareness, but he would so frequently be seen monotonously slicing shot after shot while the point was free to be won, then slapping around inane winner attempts when pushed out of position with no realistic chance of making them. Such reckless decision-making was passable in juniors, but easily dealt with by most top 50 players in 2011 and 2012. He hinted that he has worked on specific shot patterns, and his unique strokes are certainly combining far better in 2012 while still maintaining the changes of pace, spontaneity and unpredictability in his shotmaking that makes him both dangerous and entertaining to watch.

Most importantly, he actually looks like he gives a damn. Of course, we will wait with baited breaths to see whether he will turn up and care tomorrow, let alone further down the line once the yearly attention and celebrity he enjoys in January dies down. We will also wait to see just much progress this so-called “new” Bernie T makes on the self-confessed “revenge tour” that is his 2013. But one thing’s for sure, triumph or trainwreck, all of Australia (and the tennis world) will be watching.

Grigor Dimitrov - When Style Is Mistaken For Substance

Fact. Regardless of the channel, country or tournament in question, Grigor Dimitrov’s tennis receives more love than most seasoned pros. Commentators bow to his image, comparing the Bulgarian to the greatest player of all time, essentially professing their undying love for his game whilst seemingly wanting nothing more than to take his forehand, backhand or serve out on a lavish date. This was certainly the case during last week’s Brisbane final, in which the Aussie commentators spent much of the contest adoringly narrating his every move - their eyes probably assuming the shape of hearts. During the final, one of the commentators even went as far as to say: “He’s a good looking player, and I say that because he does look good.” Well, nice to know.

I mention this because the hype, predictions and expectations placed upon him are essentially based on just that - his style and the superficial similarities to Federer’s game. It certainly isn’t his negative tour win-loss record or the fact that he is yet to grace even the third round of Grand Slam or win a title. One would expect the career of Richard Gasquet to serve as a cautionary tale towards those quick to launch the “Baby Federer” hype machine, but apparently those covering Grigor Dimitrov missed the memo. Instead, people are quick to falsely equate the style that Dimitrov’s tennis exudes with the actual substance and level required to reach the top echelons of the game.

Having said that, there was much to be impressed about from Dimitrov against Murray. The match itself was both engrossing and disappointing. On one hand, it featured entertaining, rapid all-court tennis. However, it was also frustrating in its utterly predictable mental collapse from the Bulgarian. He arrived on fire and looked to have the better of Murray until serving for the first set. Then, after a nervy collapse whilst leading 5-4 with a break, he briefly recovered only to fall apart in even more dramatic style in the tiebreak. The second set saw Murray’s level fall off the face of the earth, but once again Dimitrov squandered yet more chances and hammered the final nail to his coffin. It had the potential to be an entertaining and tight contest, but instead closer resembled a damp squib.

What impressed was the brand of tennis the 21 year-old exhibited. In the past, his athletic gifts and raw all-court style have shone brighter than any other aspect of his game, but Sunday made for completely different viewing as it was the finer aspects of his game that demanded attention. Most notable was his notoriously weak backhand. Murray unsurprisingly focused most of his attention to that wing early on, but rather than the backhand breaking down easily as usual and offering mostly ineffective slices and a weak spot for Murray to smother, Dimitrov responded by showcasing such impressive and improved variety on his backhand wing. He infused his driven backhand with powerful and flatter blows, weightier topspin, some loopier balls and the occasional angle. His slice too appeared a completely new stoke as he combined a variety of different types of slice - deep floating slices, more penetrating slices, and short and low slices with no pace. Rarely did the Bulgarian execute the same shot twice and this elaborate variety caught Murray off-balance, with the Scot unable to settle into any rhythm and forced to find solutions himself.

He also impressed with his instincts around the court. Court sense is generally an innate, natural talent and certainly an area in which Dimitrov has previously left much to be desired. But against Murray he approached the net at the correct moments and made sensible, logical decisions around the court. He also appeared especially observant of how Murray dealt with different aspects of his game. An example being in the first set when Murray began to struggle with short and low slices to his forehand. Dimitrov wasted no time in mercilessly exploiting that weakness with a slew of dropshots and no-pace low slices to Murray’s forehand side. In other words, he looks like he’s growing up and maturing before our eyes.

The question remains just what this maturity is and how far it will take him. Just a couple of days later he arrived in Sydney and shamelessly tanked the match away, quickly reminding us of exactly what we’re dealing with. Hype won’t reveal his true potential, but time will, and 2013 promises to be the year that tells us all we need to know about Grigor Dimitrov.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,541 other followers