ATP World Tour Finals – Murray vs Berdych

Where: O2 Arena, North Greenwich, SE10
When: 05/11/12
Website: www.atpworldtour.com/Finals/
Twitter: @ATPWorldTour
Rating:

2012 has been pretty special for British tennis No 1 Andy Murray. A march to the Wimbledon final made him the first British man to reach the championship climax in SW19 for 76 years, where, despite taking the first set, he lost in four to Roger Federer. Revenge on the very same court must have been sweet just a few weeks later as Murray collected the Olympic gold medal by beating the Swiss without dropping a set. He also made the final of the mixed doubles with Laura Robson, getting his hands on the silver medal.

But his highlight of this year, and perhaps any other, must have been his epic night under the lights in New York. Taking on Novak Djokovic in the final of the US Open, he went two sets up before the Serb hit back to level at 2-2. Murray kept his head though, managing to go one better at Flushing Meadows than he had in south-west London. Staying up until 2am to watch a British man finally win a Slam, it was one of the best, and most brutal, matches I’d ever seen – both men looked broken as they hobbled off court.

On the back of his incredible year so far, I was overjoyed when Saturday’s draw for the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena placed Murray in the opening match on Monday afternoon – the session I had a ticket for. For some, the prospect of seeing the World Number Three in action is not attractive. Accusations of surliness and ungratefulness have often been levelled at him. However, I have always found him the most captivating of players. He works hard, he cares about tennis and most importantly he wins. It is the most peculiar of Britishisms that most would rather have a nice and smiley sportsman than one who actually succeeds (think nice guy Tim Henman or Greg “I’m Canadian” Rusedski who I spotted working on the match for TV).

And so it is with all that in mind that I am sitting here in North Greenwich writing the opening to this post as I watch Murray warm up with Ivan Lendl – the coach that has made such a difference to his game in the past 12 months…

… back at the iPad again after the appetiser proceeding the Murray main course: a good doubles match between Miryni/Nestor and Linstedt/Tecau – the former duo prevailing after a topsy-turvy encounter.

So it was then that Murray took to the court to play Tomas Berdych – the world number 6 from the Czech Republic and his opponent in the semis at Flushing Meadows on his way to the title. His announcement as the Olympic Gold Medalist and US Open Champion sent raptous applause around the O2 as he entered. If you’ve not been to the ATP World Tour Finals before it is a much more glitzy affair than Wimbledon, with flashing lights, dance music and “let’s get ready to rumble” style intros.

Seemingly buoyed by the home crowd welcome, Murray thundered out of the blocks setting up four break points in the first two Berdych service games, but without converting any. The disappointment told as Murray was broken in his next service game and went on to lose the set. In truth, the man from Dunblane looked tired and out-of-sorts at the end of his most successful season. Not even the cutest shout from a young boy – “Come on Olympic Champion” could overturn the torrent of shots coming from the Berdych end.

But Murray hasn’t had his annus mirabilis by rolling over and playing dead. Despite not being at the height of his considerable powers he scrapped away in the second set, going toe-to-toe with the Czech and nicked the second set to level things up. By this point I’d noticed a lot of Brits literally screaming and applauding when Murray guided a shot into the next or wide of the tramlines. Personally I don’t get it. Here is a man, a British man, playing in his home country and yet for some he is a pantomime villain.

Into the third set and Murray is equally tenacious. I have never seen a better returner of a serve – and boy can Berdych serve. The Scot will chase down anything in an attempt to get it back over the net and force his opponent to play one more shot. That kind of attitude saw him break Berdych again and cling on to grab the third, and deciding, set to claim a very hard fought victory. A victory that sent most of the crowd into a frenzy and was a deserved elbow in the ribs to the ridiculous.

Murray’s Monday victory encapsulates everything that makes him a great sportsman and backs up the skill that has taken him to such lofty heights this past summer. Long way it continue when the season starts up again in 2013.

Verdict:

A great day out, the end of season championship have found a fantastic home in SE10. It means that Londoners are guaranteed to see the best the men’s game has to offer, without having to go through the hoops of the Wimbledon ballot. The O2 put on a great show and now having been for two years in a row (seeing Nadal last time out) I can heartily recommend a trip if tennis is your thing. It is a shame that the staff outside the court can’t sort out their beer though!

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The Masters Snooker

Where: Alexandra Palace, N22
When: 15/01/12
Website: http://www.worldsnooker.com/page/TheMasters
Rating:

Snooker is sport’s answer to Marmite. For every person like me who loves it, there’s a significantly higher proportion of people who hate it. This merry band of disbelievers find the behaviour of people who can sit and watch 22 balls being knocked around a few square metres of baize mysterious at best. Others complain about their favourite daytime telly usurped by the sport on a handful of occasions throughout the year.

If you’ve reached this second paragraph then it should be safe to assume you, like me, are in the former, smaller group of snooker disciples. If so, you probably already know that the second most prestigious tournament in snooker is arguably The Masters – an elite, invite-only competition in London for the world’s top 16 players. No ranking points are offered in the capital; players compete for pride, glory and the £150,000 first prize.

The 2012 tournament sees The Masters depart from it long established home at Wembley and shift across North London to the lofty heights of Alexandra Palace. I sit here writing the start of this post from my seat in the audience before the opening match of the tournament – a mouth-watering clash between Chinese defending champion Ding Junhui and Ronnie O’Sullivan – snooker’s Mr Unpredicatable. That match will be followed by Williams vs Maguire tonight.

Having attended the Master’s twice before, at the Wembley Conference Centre in 2005 and Wembley Arena in 2011, my first impressions of the new venue aren’t good. I can’t help but feel the tournament has been downgraded. The inside of the arena, where the table is, looks identical. However the venue itself falls short. The box office is a table; the merchandise stall has all the appeal and organisation of a school tuck shop. There is insufficient catering for the 1,500 spectators and these have to be shared with members of the public. As do the 10 urinals and two toilet cubicles.

Hopefully these are fixable teething problems at a fledgling venue as it would be a shame to tarnish snooker’s showcase of the best of the best.

For the record:

O’Sullivan survived a late Ding comeback to clinch a 6-4 victory with a break of 125.

Williams soared to a 4-0 mid-session interval lead before Maguire fought back to trail 5-4, before being snookered by Williams who used the opportunity to take the win.

Verdict: Despite the concerns over the venue, I came here to watch some of the best snooker players do battle and for that the Masters is London’s only chance to witness their talents. At £25 for an all day ticket, taking in two matches, the value is brilliant. I ended up seeing 20 frames – £1.25 a frame. You’d struggle to play the game for yourself for that price. I’d take O’Sullivan’s meticulously compiled, match-winning century break over my mediocre mid-30s efforts any day.