Dubai tennis coach, Clark Francis, gives Time Out the tip off on this year's top players
Chris Lord and Emily McCarrick
What do you think are going to be the grudge matches this year? It’s too early to say as the draw hasn’t come out yet. The only grudge match I could imagine would be Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic because of what happened at the Australian Open. Djokovich said that Murray wasn’t the favourite to win while all the bookies were tagging him, then of course Djokovich came out of the tournament earlier than Murray. They’ve both got a lot to prove.
Why do you think the press touted Murray as favourite in the Australian Open? Because he’d won the exhibition match in Abu Dhabi and was on top of his game, but he still had to prove that against the top three. How could he really be favourite over last year’s champion, Rafael Nadal who was on fire, or champion like Roger Federer?
Who do you think are the big personalities – the John Mc-Enroes and Goran Ivanisevics of this generation? Those four I’ve just mentioned really. We don’t get people like McEnroe coming along any more. Tennis players have to give their life and soul to tennis and if they don’t they can’t even think of being in the top 10 or 20 ranks. There’s just not enough activity off the court for them to be deemed personalities any more.
Do you think the game’s changed for it? The levels of fitness and the level of movement required on all surfaces have really increased. These people spend more time preparing for their matches than ever before. If they don’t, they get overtaken. One of the highlights of last year’s Dubai event for me was being on the court while Nadal practiced when no one else was around him. Just to see the ferocity of his practice session was fantastic. We’re arguing that he could really go on to be the next Pete Sampras.
Rafael Nadal Rank: 1 Country: Spain Age: 22 The winner of the recent Australian Open, Nadal is a left-handed player and is currently one of tennis’s most formidable players. He is noted for his heavy topspin on groundstrokes, especially forehand, and excellent power, consistency, and placement. Clark says: How can you bet against Nadal when he’s just won the Australian Open? The guy is unstoppable and he’s proven it on all surfaces; you’d be a mug to honestly say anybody could beat him at the moment.
Roger Federer Rank: 2 Country: Switzerland Age: 28 After winning the Australian Open in 2006, he won his fourth consecutive Wimbledon title, beating Rafael Nadal in July of the same year. A brilliant shotmaker, Federer is noted for his exceptional touch and accuracy. Clark says: Everybody is hoping that Federer’s not on his way down. I’d like to think he’s as good as he ever was but Nadal and Murray are on their way up and evolving to be better. For me, if you put Federer and Nadal on a court it’s almost 50-50.
Novak Djokovic Rank: 3 Country: Serbia Age: 22 Novak played at the US Open in 2005 and 2006. He also played at Wimbledon and reached the semi-finals in 2006. In 2007, he was part of the semi-finals at the French Open but was defeated by Rafael Nadal. Clark says: Djokovic has done very well in Dubai in the past and he’s got a big following here. On a good day he’s very much in that top four group, but out of the four I’d give him the fourth best chance to win.
Andy Murray Rank: 4 Country: Great Britain Age: 22 At the age of 12, Murray won the Orange Bowl competition in Florida and was proclaimed Britain’s youngest Davies Cup player in 2005. His five titles are Doha, Marseille, Cincinnati Masters, Madrid Masters and St. Petersburg. Clark says: Murray was on top of his game in the Australian Open but ran into an incredibly on-form Fernando Verdasco. He even gave Nadal a run for his money, so it was no bad thing for Murray to lose. I think he’ll win the Dubai event. He’s still hungry, smarting from his loss at the Open and ready to put everything aside to win this.
Serena Williams Rank: 1 Country: USA Age: 27 A string of world-class wins saw Serena take the Australian Open in 2003, 2005, and 2007; Roland Garros in 2002; Wimbledon in 2002 and 2003; and the US Open in 1999, 2002 and 2008. A fierce right-handed player, Serena has outstanding power on her serves and a tenacious court manner, which earned her a win at the Australian Open title earlier this year. Clark says: Serena came out of nowhere at the Aussie Open, she’s not had the best of years to be honest, but she came out and blew Safina away in the final. She wasn’t one of the favourites to win, but she’s beaten all in front of her. Don’t under-estimate her.
Dinara Safina Rank: 2 Country: Russia Age: 22 A runner-up in this year’s Australian Open, when she was beaten by Serena Williams, Safina also made it to the final of Roland Garros (The French Open) last year. She has a mighty two-handed backhand and is supremely confident on court for her age. Clark says: It’ll be interesting to see how she takes the loss in the final of this year’s Australian Open, after being absolutely battered by Serena. But having met Safina I know she’ll give 100 per cent for this event. She’d definitely be in my shortlist for the top three.
Jelena Jankovic Rank: 3 Country: Serbia Age: 23 Jelena Jankovic lost in the final of 2008 US open to Serena Williams. A right-handed player with a two-handed backhand, she’s noted for her powerful swing and her court coverage. Clark says: What a mover. I saw her here three years ago and she’s a fantastic athlete. She loves Dubai and has a great history here. If she were a racehorse she’d be a course and distance winner, and certainly in my top three.
Elena Dementieva Rank: 4 Country: Russia Age: 27 The current Olympic champion has made finals at the US Open and Roland Garros. She has a powerful forehand, a solid backhand and speed and determination. Clark says: She’s notoriously nervous on her serve, but if she can hold up through the tournament she’s definitely capable of beating anyone.