Edmund leads British desert Invasion

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The British players arrived in the desert early this year, notably with the appearance of No. 1 Kyle Edmund in the Oracle Challenger this week.

Edmund captured the title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

But it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. The field was high quality, and included players with significant resumΓ©s and/or notable wins.

Edmund defeated Tommy Robredo in the second round, Lukas Rosol in the third, and Yannick Maden of Germany in the quarterfinals – all in straight sets.

In the semis, he came up against No. 5 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa, and dropped his only set of the week in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 victory.

Another early arrival was the comebacking Dan Evans, who came straight from an impressive and exhausting effort at the Delray Beach event the previous week. 

Two years ago this week, Evans was at a career high No. 41 in the rankings. And then, his issues began as he served a doping suspension.

Evans’s 2019 season has been a win fest so far. He won three rounds in qualifying in Australia before losing in the second round of the main draw to Roger Federer. He then went to France and reached the final of the Quimper Challenger. After that came the run from the qualifying in Delray, with wins over John Isner, Frances Tiafoe and Andreas Seppi before losing a heartbreaker in the third-set tiebreak to Rabu Albot of Moldova.

Evans reached the semifinals, losing to Rublev and falling one match short of making the men’s singles final an all-Brit affair.

Evans began the season ranked No. 190. With the five spots he gained in the desert this week, he’s back in the top 100 – at exactly No. 100.

Brits noshing together

If you hadn’t noticed from this pic, Edmund is an absolute dead ringer for his dad.

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Even better, we didn’t see him without a smile on his face the entire week. And judging by the genes, his son will be in good shape.

The boys brought Heather Watson along for the ride, as well.

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Boulter and Konta

For 22-year-old Katie Boulter, just a few spots off of a career-high singles ranking of No. 82 reached a few weeks ago, this will be an Indian Wells debut.

She’s the No. 6 seed, and will play American Allie Kiick in the first round of the qualifying. If she wins, she could face Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland. Golubic is on a roll after posting a crazy comeback win over Jennifer Brady of the U.S. in the Oracle Challenger women’s singles final Sunday.

Here’s what she looked like during a practice session with Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium.’

Watson, the No. 18 seed in qualifying, will play Sara Errani of Italy.

As for Johanna Konta, ranked No. 45 this week, she’ll be unseeded when the main draw gets under way on Wednesday.

Her best Indian Wells effort was her first main-draw appearance in 2016, when she won two matches before losing to Karolina Pliskova in three sets.

Konta’s coach, Dimitri Zavialoff, has not arrived yet. So Konta was flying solo, with the assistance of an Ellesse-clad hitting partner.

Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 22, 2019

Michael Chang (USA), 47

The American banked nearly $20 million in his career, and got to No. 2 in the world.

After retiring, he played some exhibitions, some senior tennis, got married (to former player Amber Liu) and became a father several times over.

He also was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008, and although he’s American, his Chinese roots did a lot to raise the profile of tennis in that part of the world – and look where it is now.

Of major note, Chang became a coaching consultant to top Japanese player Kei Nishikori just over five years ago, on hand when the Japanese star reached the U.S. Open final in 2014.

It is one of the longer-lasting “super coach” relationships. And it’s very much under the radar.

Chang collaborates with day-to-day coach Dante Bottini, who also probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. With all the musical chairs happening on the coaching front these days, this team has remained remarkably solid.

Feb. 22

Chang won the French Open at age 17 in a shocker. The biggest standout moment came when, cramping severely, he served underhand to a flummoxed Ivan Lendl – and then moved way up and crowded the service box, baiting Lendl into a double-fault on match point.

And then, of course, there was the infamous moonball sequence.

Chang also reached the Australian Open and US Open finals in 1996 – seven years later.

Ross Hutchins (GBR), 37

The handsome Brit reached No. 26 in doubles in the summer of 2012 – then, a tough blow.

Hutching was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma late in 2012. He had treatment, and came back for awhile only to retire rather abruptly.

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Hutchins wrapped things up in the summer of 2015 – an immediately became the tournament director for the event at Queen’s Club, just before Wimbledon.

That he had no experience of any kind never seems to work against former players with these types of jobs. In his footsteps followed Tommy Haas at Indian Wells and James Blake in Miami – two far bigger tournaments.

Hutchins was mostly responsible for the player relations side (more or less, making sure Andy Murray kept attending), and picked up the rest from there.

It was only a one-year deal. A few months later, Hutchins was appointed vice-president of player relations (the alphabet soup of tennis organizations are really big on fancy-sounding job titles).

He is in the slightly unenviable position at the moment of being somewhat of a conduit between the ATP Player Council and CEO Chris Kermode, a president a faction of the players’ council wants to not be confirmed for another term in the job.

Gigi FernΓ‘ndez (USA), 55

Fernandez is the best player ever to come out of Puerto Rico, and one of the better doubles players to come along in the women’s game.

She was never quite calm enough, or quite fit enough, or quite consistent enough to really do major damage in in the singles era in which she played. To clarigy, that was the Evert-Navratilova era – so much like the current men’s era, there wasn’t much left for anyone else. And even great players were made to seem not nearly as good as they actually were.

Notably, Fernandez teamed with Natasha Zvereva to dominate the doubles court for a number of years.

GigiFernandezNatashaZvereva

Fernandez won two singles and … whoa, 69 doubles titles in her career.

She got to No. 1 in doubles, obviously, and a very credible No. 17 in singles. She also won the gold medal in doubles with Mary Joe Fernandez in Atlanta in 1996.

Seventeen of those tournament titles were Grand Slams. Twice – in 1993 and 1994 – she and Zvereva won the first three legs of the Grand Slam, only to have their hearts broken at the U.S. Open when trying to complete it.

In 1993, they lost in the semis to Sanchez Vicario and Sukova. In 1994, it was Katerina Maleeva and Robin White in a rather major upset.

Since then, she’s had a family (twins Karson Xavier and Madison Jane) with her partner, former golfer Jane Geddes, has gotten involved in business, has been the director of tennis at the Chelsea Piers Club and is involved in coaching clinics and online seminars.

Olga Morozova (RUS), 70

The Russian who lives in the U.K (she moved there 25 years ago to work as a national coach), was a trailblazer from her country back in the early pro days of women’s tennis.

OlgaMorozova

Morozova got to the French Open and Wimbledon finals in 1974 (she won junior Wimbledon nine years prior), but never won a Grand Slam in singles.

She did team up with Chris Evert to win the doubles in Paris that year, the first major title for a Russian.

But she did win earn eight titles and got to No. 7 in the world.

Her career ended at age 28; according to Wikipedia, the Soviet Union’s policy against its players competing against South Africans was a big factor. A few years ago, she coached Svetlana Kuznetsova.  

Tom Okker (NED), 75

All the Dutch players who came after him had an awful lot to live up to, as Okker, who was 24 when the Open era began in 1968, won 26 titles (and reached 23 other finals).

He got to No. 3 in the world, and reached the first truly “open” U.S. Open final in 1968, losing a tough five-setter to American Arthur Ashe.

Tom OkkerBut in addition to those 26 singles titles, he won 68 doubles titles and got to No. 1 in the world.

Surprisingly, not many of those were Grand Slams. Okker and Aussie John Newcombe won the French Open in 1973 and he won 1976 U.S. Open (on Har-Tru) with American Marty Riessen in 1976.

Okker was a friend of Canada, too. He won the Canadian Open in 1973 and reached the 1971 final. He also won a WCT event in Quebec City (did you even know there once was a WCT event in Quebec City) and reached a final in Vancouver. 

The Dutchman played until he was 37, and was the Dutch Davis Cup captain for two years.

He now owns an art gallery.

Bedene gives up on British dream

Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene and the British Lawn Tennis Federation spent years trying to lobby for an exception so he could play Davis Cup.

Bedene, a UK resident since 2008 and a citizen since 2015, announced Friday he’d given up. 

From Jan. 1, he will represent Slovenia again, as he did from 2010-12.

He said he doesn’t want to miss out on competing in Davis Cup and the 2020 Olympics.

There were other consideration. Bedene’s new wife wanted to return to Slovenia, per the BBC. As well, twin brother Andraz is now Slovenia’s assistant Davis Cup captain.

What’s next for … Willis and Clarke?

British journeyman Marcus Willis had a Wimbledon moment for a lifetime in 2016.

He got through a pre-qualifying event, the qualifying tournament at Roehampton, and won a first-round match in the main singles draw.

He then got to face Roger Federer on Centre Court.

It was an exposure opportunity he exploited a little bit. But the now 26-year-old came back to Wimbledon in 2017 only slightly ahead of where he had been when he left it a year before.

Ranked just inside the top 400, Willis had played little. He got married, had a baby, and probably skipped a few gym sessions.

Willis seemed poised to repeat his main draw appearance, after getting through his first two qualifying rounds in singles at Roehampton. But he came up with a bum knee in the final round against Illya Marchenko, and that was that.

A shot in doubles

He already had secured a wild card for the Wimbledon main draw in doubles, with 18-year-old Jay Clarke. Clarke, ranked No. 15 in the ITF junior rankings a year ago on the strength of excellent doubles results, had a heartbreaker in the final round of the singles qualifying.

Up two sets to none against Austrian Sebastian Ofner, he fell in five. Ofner ended up beating Jack Sock in the main draw and losing to Alexander Zverev in the third round.

Here were the two after their losses, downcast in defeat as they talked to the British media.

Willis

It turned out, these two – who basically come from different tennis generations – had a shining moment to come.

Willis and Clarke – underdogs

The pickup team came back from two sets to none down to defeat Jared Donaldson and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan 6-3 in the fifth.

The best moments? Their pure joy from their parents, Cathy and James Willis ((a grade-school teacher and accountant), and Earol Clarke (a retired social worker) and his wife, a teaching assistant. Just the most regular folks you could find. According to this story, the Clarkes don’t even own a car and had to battle to try to get support for the promising youngest son’s training.

Willis

The parents wouldn’t even have known each other before this week. There was hugging and kissing and grins as wide as the English Channel. They even joined the players’ post-victory press conference.

Willis and Clarke upset the No. 2 seeds and defending champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hughes Herbert, 6-3 in the fifth set. They fell to eventual finalists Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic in the third round.

Willis

What’s next for Willis and Clarke?

Willis’ doubles ranking jumped from No. 708 to No. 256, which will help him get into tournaments. Clarke’s doubles ranking jumped from No. 882 to No. 283.

The singles picture is a little muddier, especially for Willis.

Clarke’s singles ranking moved up 39 spots, to a career-high No. 329. But Willis’s singles ranking dropped 152 spots to No. 532, because of the loss of those points earned in winning a round in the main draw a year ago.

That will get you into lowly Futures events. But not much more than that.

Clarke went right from the dizzying moments at Wimbledon to a lowly Futures event in Gubbio, Italy. He went from grass to read clay.

Willis
Jay Clarke went straight from the grass to the red clay at a low-level Futures in Italy this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

 

Clarke is the No. 1 seed, and one of only five non-Italians in the 32-player draw. Two wins later, he’s in the quarterfinals. He and his older brother Curtis lost in the first round of the doubles.

Willis? He had been entered in a pair of $25,000 Futures events in Ireland this week, and next week. But he withdrew from both of them the day of the final round of qualifying in Roehampton.

Instead, he’s a substitute on the New York Empire World Team Tennis squad.

No doubt he’s trying to get his knee right, after running on adrenaline during the Wimbledon doubles. He’s also arguing with people on Twitter. πŸ™‚

There’s a series of three $15,000 Futures events in Great Britain in September. Despite the highs of his Wimbledon efforts the last two years, he’ll have to start all over again.

No. 2 baby for Murray, as hip improves

WIMBLEDON – The rumour was true, as it turns out.

Andy Murray and wife Kim are expecting their second child.

“We’re both obviously very happy and looking forward to it,” Murray said during a press conference Sunday. 

Murray said they’d known for awhile and the family knew as well, although he didn’t want to get into specific dates.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the biggest news topic is the state of the defending champion’s hip.

Murray skipped a pair of planned exhibition practice matches at the Boodles, although he has been practicing all week with some younger players, including 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov and 16-year-old Aidan McHugh, the second-ranked junior player in Great Britain.

Murray
16-year-old Aidan McHugh is getting his 15 minutes of fame after practicing with Andy Murray several times this week. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Murray not too hip this week

What’s the matter with the hip, specifically?

“I’ve had hip problems since I was very young. You know, it’s not something new to me. It’s just been very sore the last few weeks. It was giving me quite a lot of trouble moving to certain shots and getting into certain positions. So that was why I needed to take the break, to try and give it a chance to settle down, calm down a bit,” Murray said. “It’s felt much better the last few days.”

Murray said he’d not been in this position too often, of having a physical concern just a few days before a Grand Slam.

It’s always risky to jump to conclusions, but as bloomy as Mrs. Murray looked at Queen’s two weeks ago, it wasn’t tough to surmise the big news.

“Obviously this is an extremely important tournament, so you worry a little bit. It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practice for a few days, you really want to be preparing, you know, training as much as you can to get ready and make you feel better – especially when you hadn’t had any matches,” he said.

“Just tried to think positively. I tried to make the best decisions along with my team to give myself the best chance to feel good on Monday. I feel like I’ve done that.”

The Brit admitted he’s human. Being the one to essentially kick off Wimbledon, on the first Monday, at 1 p.m., when he walks on court as the defending men’s champion, does add a few nerves.

But he’s been in this position before, so he figures he’ll be able to handle those.

As for the baby, if you caught a glimpse of Murray’s wife Kim Sears at the Queen’s Club event two weeks ago, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. She was, as they say, blooming.

Two Saturday sessions

Here’s how Murray looked on the practice court, in two sessions Saturday.

As he was walking up from his court at Aorangi Park after the first one, he definitely looked to be a little limpy. But since a lot of players look like they’re walking on hot coals when they’re off the court, or between points – and suddenly, when they’re chasing the ball, run like the wind – you wouldn’t read too much into it.

Bubbly Bublik makes Wimbledon debut

As for his first-round opponent, lucky lower Alexander Bublik of Ukraine, Murray will have to feel it as he goes, watch some video to try to make some sense of the 20-year-old whimsical, improvisational game. But he has talk to some people about him.

“He’s obviously a big personality. You know, he’s not a quiet guy. Yeah, from what I’ve heard, he’s pretty entertaining on the court in terms of the way he plays, how he is. You know, quite unorthodox. He plays a lot of unexpected shots, a lot of drop shots, mixes his game up a lot, takes chances, tries some more sort of shots that guys may play in exhibitions, he tries when he’s out there. That’s what I’ve heard,” Murray said.  

When you hit a tweener in the third-set tiebreak of a second-round qualifying match, with only Stefano Napolitano between you and a French Open main draw if you win, you’re loose.

Tennis.Life ran into Bublik along St. Mary’s Walk, after his session with a pack of reporters in a small interview room. You can see a glimpse of that in his GoPro video above.

I asked him if he’d ever talked to that many reporters at once. He laughed and said no, and added they’d probably be there after his match as well.

He didn’t say it, but if he loses, that session is probably going to be a lot less enjoyable. Then again, this kid seems to be enjoying all of it.

Then, unprompted, Bublik asked: “Do you think I can win ?”

My answer, “If you don’t think you can, don’t get on the court at all.”

He stood there, pondered that, nodded, and walked away.

From Russia, to Kazakhstan … to the AELTC

Bublik was born and raised just south of St. Petersburg Russia. But he is now playing for Kazakhstan. He will walk out into the game’s most famous cathedral on Monday promptly at 1 p.m., with the defending champion. 

It will be his first Wimbledon, after his first qualifying effort. And it’s only his second Grand Slam tournament after he qualified in Australia this year, and upset Lucas Pouille of France in the first round.

The crowd will be holding its collective breath (it does that a lot, with British players), hoping Murray’s hip is as fine as he says it is. 

It will be fascinating to see how a kid who is already developing a reputation for being loose as a goose on court, never appearing to take it too seriously, will react to one of the most elegant moments in tennis.

Brit Evans announces positive cocaine test (updated)

When Dan Evans, the No. 50 player on the ATP Tour and the No. 3 Brit behind Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, announced a press conference for Friday afternoon, the first thought was that he was pulling out of Wimbledon.

That’s not normally grist for a full press conference. But a week before the big event, in London, it made sense. He had already pulled out of Queen’s Club this week and next week’s tournament in Eastbourne, allegedly due to injury.

But Evans had far bigger news to announce. 

He was found positive for cocaine during an anti-doping test back in April, at the Barcelona ATP Tour event.

He read from a statement at the Novotel Hammersmith, a hotel near where the Queen’s Club tournament is going on this week (via the Daily Mail)

‘This is a very difficult day for me and I wanted to come here in person and tell you face-to-face I was notified a few days ago that I failed a drugs test in April, where I tested positive for cocaine.

“It is really important that you know this was taken out of competition and the context completely unrelated to tennis. I made a mistake and I must face up to it. And I do not condone for one second to anyone that this was acceptable behaviour. I have let a lot of people down – my family, my coach, my team, sponsors, British tennis and my fans.

“I can only deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart. It is a sad and humbling experience. I hope you understand I will not be taking any questions and I thank you for your support of my career to date.”

Here is the statement from the ITF:

Evans

So Evans is only suspended as of Monday – which may well have been when the ITF planned to announce it. But, like Maria Sharapova before him, the Brit decided to get ahead of the curve and announce it himself.

Evans is only the second well-known player to test positive for cocaine and get the book thrown at him. He follows in the infamous tracks of Martina Hingis, the former No. 1 who, a year into a comeback as a singles player in 2007, also announced a positive test for a small amount of the illegal substance. The test occurred, as it happened, during Wimbledon. She was issued a two-year ban.

That seems to be the standard time frame. So it’s likely what Evans is looking at.

France’s Richard Gasquet failed a test for cocaine in 2009. But he was able to convince the independent tribunal of the “unique circumstances” (it’s a good story) and ended up being suspended just 2 1/2 months.

Hingis insisted she was innocent.

“I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 per cent innocent. The reason I have come out with this is because I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities,” she said at the time. “Because of my age and my health problems I have also decided to retire from professional tennis. … I have no desire to spend the next seven years fighting doping officials. I’m frustrated and angry. Accusations such as these don’t provide me with the motivation to continue.”

Hingis, of course, returned and later became No. 1 in doubles.

Evans did not deny it. And he does have some history

Early patterns changed – until …

Nearly a decade ago, he and fellow Brit Daniel Smethurst were caught out partying at a club at 3 a.m., the night (morning?) before their junior doubles match at Wimbledon. The censure wasn’t all that serious – a four-month suspension of his funding from the British Lawn Tennis Association. Although that was a record. It probably wasn’t the smartest move to hang at a club in the centre of Wimbledon village – where the population of tennis people swells to gigantic proportions during the Championships, and where he was sure to be seen by someone.

Then again, Evans made plenty of bonehead moves in his youth. But after years of seeming not to take his tennis seriously enough, he has come on and reached a career best singles ranking of No. 41 back in March.

The 27-year-old reached the fourth round at the Australian Open after reaching the final of the Sydney tuneup event the week before. Since then, he has won more than one match at an ATP Tour-level event only once.

Ironically, that came in Barcelona, where he failed the doping test.

Andy Murray offers some perspective

Andy Murray took a break during practice at Queen’s Club to thank the fans for their support, and point out that during some tough times in Great Britain, there’s a big world out there beyond the fuzzy yellow ball.

“It’s important to remind yourself of that sometimes,” he said. 

“We sometimes live in our own little bubble where we think just about how well we’re playing, how the practices are going. But there are obviously many things that are a lot more important than just our tennis.”