Section: players

Tennis: Wozniacki and Venus Cruise in Auckland

Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams made very impressive starts to the 2015 season with straight set victories at the ASB Classic

Former No.1s Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams made fantastic starts to their 2015 seasons on Tuesday, winning their ASB Classic openers handily in straight sets.

The No.3-seeded Williams was the first of the pair to move through, blasting 10 aces and needing just 52 minutes to get a little bit of family revenge on Jana Cepelova, 6-1, 6-0. Cepelova had beaten Serena Williams at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston last year – this one was no contest though.

This is Williams’ second time playing the ASB Classic, going all the way to the final here a year ago before falling in three grueling sets to Ana Ivanovic. It would propel the American to her best season since 2010, winning the Dubai title and reaching another two finals in Montréal and Québec City.

“I felt very welcome when I came back on the court today – it was like I picked up where I left off last year,” Williams said afterwards. “The fans appreciate every point here. They’re very appreciative of all the effort the players give. And that feels good when you don’t hit the best shot out there!

“But it went well for me today. To get to the final I’ll have to play five days in a row, so I definitely don’t want to play super long matches. It’s much easier on me to play shorter matches like this.”

Wozniacki, the No.1 seed, had a slightly tougher challenge in the feature evening match but still managed to move through relatively unscathed, outdoing Israeli qualifier Julia Glushko, 6-3, 6-2.

“Maybe it wasn’t the prettiest match, but I got through and I won it,” Wozniacki commented. “The first match is always tough. I served well, but I want to keep playing better as the week goes on.

“I love the crowd here, though. They made me feel very welcome. I love everybody here.”

This is Wozniacki’s second time playing the ASB Classic too – she was a quarterfinalist in 2009 – and during a pre-tournament shopping trip the Dane talked about how glad she is to be back here.

“I love it here,” Wozniacki commented. “I haven’t been back to Auckland for many years, but it’s such a great place to start the season, and I’m excited to play and get the 2015 season going here.”

There were mixed results for the other two seeds in action, with No.5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova falling to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka in a two-hour-and-25-minute grinder, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, but No.7 seed CoCo Vandeweghe dropping 11 aces en route to a 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Roberta Vinci.

Read more at WTA

Tennis: Andy Murray beats Rafael Nadal in Abu Dhabi

Andy Murray beats Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-0 in the semi-final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

The Scot, 27, was too strong for Nadal, who displayed signs of rust in his first match since October.

He faces Novak Djokovic, who he beat to win Wimbledon, in Saturday’s final.

Murray said: “It was closer than the score suggests. While he had a lot of break points I won the important ones.

“You never know how you will get on until it comes to match conditions, but it seems that all the pre-season hard work is paying off.”

The six-man exhibition event is the unofficial season opener with top seeds Nadal and Djokovic receiving byes to the semi-finals.

Murray had beaten another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, 7-6 5-7 6-4 in Thursday’s opening match and that outing clearly benefited the world number six, who looked far sharper than his opponent.

Nadal was playing his first match since losing to 17-year-old Borna Coric in the Swiss Open, and his lack of game time was evident as he failed to convert any of his 12 break points.

Murray raced into a 3-0 lead and broke Nadal twice as he comfortably took the first set.

The Scot broke again in the second game of the second set and after saving five break points in the next game, broke again to take a 4-0 lead.

He was struggling with his first serve, but Nadal again failed to convert another four break points in the next game before Murray broke the Spaniard for a fifth time to seal victory.

In the other semi-final, world number one Djokovic played his first game in six weeks but continued his impressive 2014 form as he restricted last year’s Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka to just three games in an impressive 6-1 6-2 victory.

Read more at BBC Sport

Tennis: Murray signs £15m Under Armour deal

Andy Murray has signed a four-year deal worth £15 million with American sportswear giant Under Armour.

Under Armour will replace Adidas as the 2013 Wimbledon champion’s principal kit sponsor.

Murray was expected to announce the deal after inadvertently being pictured in Under Armour’s gear when posing with fans during training sessions ahead of the Australian Open.

“I am very honoured and excited to be joining Team Under Armour and to help them tell their story globally,” Murray said in a statement issued by Under Armour.

“They are committed to providing innovative apparel, accessories, and footwear, with an unmatched focus on training and performance.”

Under Armour director Ryan Kuehl added: “Signing Andy is really a special moment for the brand, as we continue to elevate and diversify our athlete roster and expand our international presence.

“Andy’s remarkable character, competitive spirit and unmatched ability make him the perfect fit for our family.”

Murray joins an Under Armour roster of world-class athletes including golf’s hottest young property, Jordan Spieth, skier Lindsey Vonn, and NFL superstar Tom Brady. The brand also has Premier League presence, making Tottenham’s kits.

Read more at ESPN

Tennis: Andy Murray gets engaged to Kim Sears

Tennis star Andy Murray has got engaged to his long-term girlfriend Kim Sears, his agent has confirmed.

Murray, 27, and Ms Sears, 26, have been a couple since 2005 and she regularly watches his matches.

It is thought the Wimbledon champion popped the question to Ms Sears last Wednesday.

Earlier this year Murray, from Dunblane in Perthshire, joked during a question and answer session with fans that he was getting married after Wimbledon.

About an hour later, Murray told his 2.3 million followers: “3 things.. I don’t smoke grass, I’m not getting married(yet) and I don’t want to kill rafael Nadal..”

It would appear that Murray has now proposed to Ms Sears, his partner of more than nine years.

Sussex-born Ms Sears, who is the daughter of former Lawn Tennis Association head of women’s tennis Nigel Sears, met Murray at the US Open in 2005.

She was once described by future mother-in-law Judy Murray as “the best thing to happen to Andy”.

Read more at BBC Sport

Tennis: Federer victory seals first Davis Cup for Swiss

Roger Federer defeated Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-2 6-2 in the first reverse singles match on Sunday as Switzerland won the Davis Cup final against France by taking an unassailable 3-1 lead.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion gave Switzerland its first title in the team competition and added the only big trophy in tennis missing from his collection.

Federer and Stan Wawrinka had put Switzerland into a 2-1 lead Saturday with a straight sets defeat of Gasquet and Julien Benneteau in the doubles. Federer was thrashed by Gael Monfils in his first singles match after struggling with a bad back but recovered as the weekend progressed and did not face a break point on Sunday.

“I’m happy I was able to stay calm and play a good match, and I’m really happy for the guys in the team, everybody worked incredibly hard to get me match ready,” Federer said.

“Stan has put in so much effort over the years and played an unbelievable weekend that gave me the opportunity today. I’m very much aware of that, this one is for the boys.”

It took 15 years for Federer to achieve glory in the Davis Cup after making his debut in the prestigious event in 1999. He fell on his knees after converting his first match point and laid face down on the court before hugging team captain Severin Luthi and his team-mates.

“It’s not for me, I’ve won enough in my career and did not need to tick any empty boxes,” Federer said. “I’m just happy for everybody else. I’m happy we could live a great tennis historic moment in our country.”

A favourite of fans when he plays at the French Open, Federer was treated to a hostile reception as he entered the clay court in the converted Pierre Mauroy football stadium. He was booed during his warm-up and large sections of the 27,448 spectators applauded the rare mistakes he made.

That did not prevent him from taking control of the match from the start. The Swiss hit an ace that travelled at 210kph (130mph) to win his first service game and never looked back. Moving well and varying with his backhand, Federer gave a tennis masterclass to Gasquet, who was overwhelmed in the rallies and struggled to read his opponent’s serve throughout.

Federer broke in the third game after hitting a subtle forehand half-volley and a stunning forehand passing shot, letting out a resounding “Come On!”

He kept piling pressure on his French rival with aggressive return games and closed out the set by holding at love, having lost just four points on his serve in the whole set.

Gasquet was made to pay for his mistakes at the start of the second set and handed another break to Federer when he netted a backhand in the net. The Frenchman gave an incredulous look when Federer hit a superb backhand return to move 0-30 on Gasquet’s serve in the seventh game before earning three new break points with a stunning forehand. Gasquet saved the first, but went long on the second.

Gasquet fought hard at the start of the third set to stay in the match by trying to come more often to the net, only to be destroyed by Federer’s pinpoint passing shots.

Gasquet finaly dropped his serve for the fourth time in the fifth game, cracking on his backhand after a baseline rally before Federer broke again for a 5-2 lead. The Swiss then held at love, sealing victory with a drop shot that Gasquet did not chase.

Read more at ESPN

Davis Cup: Federer shocked by Monfils

Despite a speedy recovery from a back injury to make it back for the Davis Cup final, Roger Federer looked a shadow of himself in a straight-sets loss to Gael Monfils as France levelled the tie at 1-1 on Friday.

Monfils triumphed 6-1 6-4 6-3 and posted his first win on clay over the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who decided to play despite the injury that forced him to pull out of the title match at the ATP Finals last Sunday.

Federer had only two short training sessions earlier this week and looked out of sorts while Monfils hit 44 winners including 10 aces. The Swiss, who is chasing a maiden win in the team competition, dropped his serve five times and could not convert the two break points he earned.

It was a stark contrast to Federer’s superb display in London last week, where he eased past opponents but hurt his back during his semi-final victory over Davis Cup team-mate Stan Wawrinka.

Monfils sealed his win in less than two hours on his first match point with a backhand down the line, getting a measure of revenge after his tough loss to Federer in the quarter-finals at the US Open in September. At Flushing Meadows, Monfils lost in five sets after going up two sets to one and failing to convert two match points.

Earlier, Wawrinka had put the Swiss ahead by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-2, which left the Frenchman upset by a lack of support from his home crowd.

Saturday’s doubles are set to pit French pair Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet against Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer. But if Federer is judged fit enough to play over three days, he is expected to be picked for the doubles alongside Wawrinka.

Read more at ESPN

ATP Finals: Federer pulls out of London final with back injury

Roger Federer pulled out of Sunday’s final at the O2 Arena with a back injury, handing Novak Djokovic his third consecutive World Tour Finals title.

Federer came out on court half an hour before the match was due to start and apologised to the crowd after revealing he was unable to play.

“I’m sorry I’m here in a tracksuit,” said Federer, 33. “Unfortunately I’m not match fit to play the match tonight. I hope you understand. Clearly I wish it wasn’t so. I didn’t want it to end this way.

“I did everything I could. I took pain-killers, had rest until the very end, but I just cannot compete at this level with Novak. At my age it would have been a risk.”

Federer, who is due to play for Switzerland in next weekend’s Davis Cup final against France, aggravated his back during the third-set tie-breaker of his semi-final win against Stan Wawrinka. The world No.2, who struggled with back problems in 2013, saved four match points before beating Wawrinka 4-6 7-5 7-6(6) in two hours and 48 minutes.

He did not finish his media duties after the win until 1am and reportedly did not leave his central London hotel until 3.30pm on Sunday, with the final due to start at 6pm, missing his scheduled afternoon practice session.

“It’s a very disappointing end to the season,” Federer added in his press conference. “I was playing so well here, had a great season so far. I was feeling great until yesterday’s tie-breaker. I felt all of a sudden the back was feeling funny.

“I tried to have treatment on it, medication on it, just tried to turn around as quick as possible really, but didn’t really feel that much of an improvement overnight.

Read more at ESPN

ATP Finals: Federer edges Wawrinka epic to set up Djokovic final

Roger Federer saved four match points before securing a dramatic 4-6 7-5 7-6(6) win against Stan Wawrinka to book a showdown with Novak Djokovic for the World Tour Finals title.

The world No.2 came from a set down to win a third-set tie-breaker against the man he will line up alongside for Switzerland in next weekend’s Davis Cup final.

At two hours and 48 minutes, it was by far the longest match at the tournament and just the fourth to go to three sets.

“I think I’m very lucky tonight,” said Federer. “Stan played better from the baseline. I kept believing, kept fighting. He did all the right things, it was tough. But I’m thrilled to be in another final here in London.

“I’ve saved a lot of break points, match points in the last few months. I thought, let’s try to do it one more time. I feel very lucky to be doing this interview right now.

“He [Djokovic] looks great, he’s playing fantastic. It was a great match against Kei [Nishikori]. He brings the best out of me. I hope I can do the same.”

Federer, featuring in a record-equalling 12th semi-final at the event, had saved all seven break points he had faced this week, however, Wawrinka managed to break him not once but twice for a 5-2 lead in the first.

The world No.2 pulled one break back, but Wawrinka held serve to close out the set in 35 minutes.

Wawrinka then managed to save three break points to keep the second set on serve at 3-3, though, serving to stay in it, he dumped a simple overhead into the net to gift Federer three set points. Federer duly took his first with Wawrinka planting a backhand into the net.

Federer, bidding for a ninth final at the event, was immediately broken to love in the decider, though, having remonstrated with the umpire at 0-40 after claiming he didn’t hear an overrule so challenged too late.

Wawrinka then denied Federer by saving two break points and going 5-3 up to close in on victory. A dramatic next game saw Federer save three match points before taking his second break point to stay in the match, with the O2 Arena erupting.

The drama didn’t end there. Federer was then forced to save two break points before going 6-5 ahead, with Wawrinka holding to ensure a tie-breaker.

Federer raced into a 2-0 lead before Wawrinka battled back to lead 6-5. However, Federer saved match point again before bringing up his first, taking the tie-breaker 8-6 to secure the win.

Read more at ESPN

ATP Finals: Djokovic survives Nishikori scare to reach final

Novak Djokovic earned himself a shot at a third consecutive World Tour Finals title after battling past Kei Nishikori in three sets in Saturday’s first semi-final at the O2 Arena.

After a litany of one-sided matches in the round robin stage, Djokovic looked set to continue the theme by easing through the first set but Nishikori stunned the world No.1 by taking the second to force a decider.

It was just the third time at these Tour Finals that the O2 Arena had seen a third set, and Djokovic regained his composure to eventually ease through it for a 6-1 3-6 6-0 win in one hour and 27 minutes.

“Honestly, today I found it a little bit difficult mentally to stay concentrated throughout the whole match,” Djokovic said in his press conference. “After emotional three matches I had, especially yesterday when I achieved the goal to finish as No.1 of the world, knowing that, I felt a little bit flat emotionally. I needed a little bit more time to kind of give myself a boost.

“I was fortunate because in the beginning of the third set, he had break points. If he broke me, the match could have gone either way. I managed to find that little bit of strength and get a win today.

“Tomorrow is the last match of the season. It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world, aside of the grand slams. This is already the biggest possible motivation. I will try to give everything I have.”

Read more at ESPN

ATP Finals: Novak Djokovic beats Tomas Berdych

Novak Djokovic crushed Tomas Berdych 6-2 6-2 to reach the last four of the World Tour Finals and clinch the year-end No.1 ranking.

Djokovic secured an immediate double break and wrapped up the first set in just 31 minutes, securing his place in the semi-finals at the O2 Arena.

The second set began the same way as Djokovic raced into a 4-0 lead before completing the rout in one hour and nine minutes, racking up his 30th straight win indoors, a streak which extends across three seasons.

“It’s a great deal of happiness knowing that what I’ve been through the entire season in order to get to where I am and finish the year as No.1,” said Djokovic. “I owe gratitude to my team, to all the people who were next to me.

“It’s one of the ultimate challenges. Being No.1 of the world is the pinnacle of the sport.”

It is the third time in four years that Djokovic has finished the year at No.1, as he chases a third consecutive World Tour Finals title.

In 2014, he claimed his seventh grand slam at Wimbledon, and has won other six titles, including four Masters crowns in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Paris.

“One of the highest and most difficult challenges is to be No.1 nowadays, especially because the tennis has become very competitive in the last five, 10 years, very physical,” added Djokovic. “To have a shot at No. 1 of the world, you need to be consistently healthy and successful throughout the year.

“Because [Rafael] Nadal and [Roger] Federer are so good for so many years, they always make you win at least one or two grand slams if you eventually want to be No.1, and of course with consistency, because they’ve been so consistent with their results. I know how difficult it is. It’s why I’m proud of this achievement.”

Djokovic now faces Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals on Saturday and is anticipating a battle.

Read more at ESPN