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Roland Garros diary

Friday, 9 June 2017

My Roland Garros tournament came to an unfortunate end at the hands of an injury this year.

After my nearly four-hour match with Kyle Edmund, the minor strain of my hamstring, which I had picked up in my first-round match, unfortunately got worse. The day after the five-setter, the reality is that I was only able to hit for around 10 minutes. I gave it my best shot to get ready for my fourth-round match against Marin Cilic. However, halfway through the first set I knew it wasn't going to hold up.

I really dislike not completing matches, but one of the lessons I learned last year is that pushing through matches when your body is hurt puts you at risk of further injury. I just didn't want to take that chance this time around.

It was a truly tough end to the tournament for me. I was feeling really good out on the court, and would have loved the opportunity to fight for a spot in the quarterfinals. Overall, I felt as though I made some very good progress competing in my first major of the year. It felt great getting through to the fourth round again – my best slam result since the 2015 US Open.

We are currently travelling home to the USA and the biggest focus now is on resting and rehabbing my leg. The grass court season is around the corner, and I want to be healthy and fit to play.

On the men's side of the draw there are two interesting semifinal match-ups. The first semifinal pits Stan Wawrinka against Andy Murray. The Swiss has not yet lost a set and is again playing some of his best tennis at the grand slams. Murray, after not playing to his usual level this year, has regained some form and most importantly, confidence.

However, for me, the most interesting semifinal is the clash between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem. They are the two most successful clay courters this year. The clay really suits Thiem’s game as it allows him time to set up for his heavy ground strokes.

Nadal is going to have to play aggressively to win. I’m expecting a very hard-fought match.

In the women's singles event, we have a newcomer to the scene in the form of Jelena Ostapenko. She is only 20 and, having already reached the final, absolutely has a very promising future ahead of her. She is up against Simona Halep, who denied Karolina Pliskova the world number one ranking by beating her.

Halep has proved the most consistent lady this clay court season and she will be eager to attain her first grand slam trophy.

Men and women alike have produced excellent showings this year for Roland Garros fans, and it’s going to be fun to see which two players walk away the victors.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Last Saturday on a packed court two at Roland Garros, Kyle Edmund and I pushed each other for three hours and 59 minutes, going all the way to five sets.

It was a physically demanding match, requiring each of us to push through levels of discomfort.

I got off to a good start, creating a few break point opportunities early on in the first set. However, I was unable to convert them. I ended up losing a close tie-breaker (8/6), which was understandably frustrating.

Sometimes in tennis you can more or less outperform your opponent, but still lose a set simply by losing the wrong points. For me, winning the next set was very important because there is a big difference between being locked at one set a piece as opposed to being down two sets to love. Like the first, set two was also decided by a tie-breaker, however, this time I was the victor (7/4).

Similar to set one, I created more opportunities in the third, but couldn't convert. Kyle took his chance at five games all to break me and I went down two sets to one. However, I took my early chance in the fourth set and ran away with it.

I was relieved to finally convert one of the many break point opportunities I had generated throughout the match. From there on, I was able to play more freely in the fourth set, with one break already under my belt, and it showed as I closed it out 6-1.

I knew the fifth set would be a battle. In general, I felt as though I did a very good job in terms of dealing with my emotions. I had created quite a few opportunities, but hadn't capitalised on them. This can certainly prove frustrating. However, I kept my focus and eventually capitalised and broke to go up 5-4 in the decider. I served it out to secure my spot among the tournament's final 16 men.

I felt really good winning the match for two reasons. Firstly, it was a battle and well-fought match and secondly, because it guaranteed my participation in the second week of a slam for the first time since the 2015 US Open.

My day yesterday was spent doing recovery work. I had a light practice, and then the rest of the day was spent doing treatment and relaxing.

I know my matches at the French Open only get tougher now. My next opponent, Marin Cilic, is a grand slam champion, having won the US Open. The Croat is a very tough and consistent player. However, as always, my focus is on my game and treating today as any other tennis match.

I play in the third match today on Court Suzanne Lenglen and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Thursday was not the first time I had played against the young and talented Australian, Nick Kyrgios. We actually faced off in Chengdu last year. I was able to win our first encounter in China, but it was a really close three-setter – 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-2 – in which I managed to save match point in the second set.

As the 18th seed in Paris, Nick has enjoyed a strong year so far and, heading into the second round, I knew that a very tough match lay ahead for me. When playing matches against opponents with big weapons such as Nick, for me, winning primarily comes down to taking care of my service games and remaining patient.

After going down a set and a break, I felt like I did a really good job of turning the match around and sticking to the two points mentioned above. I was able to hold serve throughout the rest of the match, but had to dig out of a few break points. I constantly applied pressure on his serve and capitalised on some break point opportunities. I took plenty of positives from the match. Mainly, I felt like I moved really well and did a good job returning to one of the best servers on tour.

Today in the third round, I come up against a completely different type of opponent in Kyle Edmund. Both of the tour’s up-and-coming ‘NextGen’ players, Kyle and Nick, have two extremely diverse playing styles. Kyle is a great competitor and he has done very well over the last couple of years.

I am going to approach the match just like any other clash and will be really focused on the kind of tennis that I want to play. There will be a few adjustments to make for the 22-year-old Briton, but because I have not played him before I will be getting a feel for things as the match progresses.

Aside from my own journey through the tournament, some other interesting matches took place yesterday. Rafael Nadal really put on a show, allowing only one game to be lost. His ruthless victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili has since been touted as his strongest-ever win to date at Roland Garros.

In contrast, reigning French Open champion Novak Djokovic was pushed all the way to five sets by Diego Schwartzman – a challenge few pundits predicted. Meanwhile, it was really tough for me to see David Goffin having to retire after rolling his ankle mid-match. David has proved one of the best players on the tour this year and I really hope he recovers quickly. Having also battled with a number of injuries, I know how difficult it is to be sidelined from the game owing to a physical impairment.

I am first up on court two today against Kyle. I often enjoy playing first because I don’t have to wait around and know exactly when the action will get underway. I’m well rested and ready to perform.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

I had played Malek Jaziri four times before heading into Tuesday’s match. I won the first three, but lost 7-6 in the third set the last time we played in 2016. The Tunisian is a tricky and talented player, especially because he has improved his game over the last few years.

Most noticeably, Malek has improved his backhand. While he always used to slice, he is now mixing it up well by hitting both spin and slice. The first set of our match on court 16 was a little up and down. Malek got off to an early break, but fortunately I broke back right away.

The rest of the set was pretty closely-fought. I had a couple of set points at 5-4, 15-40, which I frustratingly failed to convert. And my efforts weren't helped by the fact that we needed to replay one of the break points after an errant ball flew onto our court from the one next to us. Sometimes tennis results can change based on pure luck. Heading into the tie-break, he took an early lead at 4-2, but I played some good points to rally and claim the breaker 7-4.

During the second set, I felt as though I dominated. I broke him twice and at two sets to love up I had all the momentum, even though he was largely the fan favourite. Malek stuck with it and used the crowd's support to bolster him in the big moments. Throughout the third set I created opportunities, however, I couldn't break through on his serve. We found ourselves in another tie-break. It ended up being a repeat of the first – I was down 2-4 and won it 7-4.

After a tough first-round loss in Paris last year it feels great to get through my first match. I have my work cut out for me in round two, but as always my mantra is one match at a time.

My next match is against a very different type of opponent. Nick Kyrgios is one of the young up-and-comers on tour. The 22-year-old is very talented and has a big game. The Australian can prove unpredictable at times, however, I believe he tends to use that to his advantage.

I am going to approach the match like any other – my tactics and objectives won't change much. There are a few nuances when playing against Nick, but the trick is to stay patient throughout. I practiced for an hour yesterday with my coach Neville Godwin and we went over a few basics. Our focus was on recovery, so we tried to keep it easy and nothing too intense. I play the second match on court three today and look forward to a good clash.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Roland Garros is the only slam that plays the first round of matches over three days. From a spectator point of view, it’s great because they get to enjoy a further day of tennis.

However, from a player’s perspective, it's tougher because you have to prepare for a match as early as Sunday and may only end up playing on Tuesday. That is the case for me as my first-round match is scheduled for tomorrow.

As I feel very ready to play, my primary focus over the two days preceding my game against Malek Jaziri has been on general maintenance both on and off the court. I have practiced for an hour each day in order to maintain my timing and feel for the ball.

Meanwhile, I have also worked out for 30 to 45 minutes in the gym each day in order to keep my body activated. Doing nothing is the worst thing, but doing too much is also not good. Finding the perfect balance heading into big events is crucial.

Right before the tournament begins, I don't like doing sightseeing. I know it’s a good opportunity to explore, however, I often find such excursions really exhausting. Maybe it's because I am really tall, but walking around too much takes its toll on my back.

As such, the sights and sounds of Paris will have to wait for post-tournament! However, on Saturday night we made a point of visiting one of our favourite restaurants in Paris, Le Bistrot d'Indochine, which serves delicious Vietnamese food.

Yesterday I hit for an hour and thereafter completed 30 minutes of training in the gym. I then performed my recovery and treatment that night. Our apartment is nearby the courts and I can hear the crowd from Suzanne Lenglen, which is piquing my excitement as my first match fast approaches.

As always, there are a host of interesting storylines that will develop at Roland Garros over the next fortnight. Eyes will be fixed on Rafael Nadal as he attempts to accomplish what I would consider one of the most amazing feats in all of sport: annexing 10 French Open titles.

Meanwhile, many people are questioning whether Novak Djokovic can regain some top-notch form, with Andre Agassi in his coaching box for this tournament, and make a concerted push to defend his French Open title.

Moreover, there has been an emergence of a few new young faces, specifically Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. The pair have enjoyed strong seasons and are surely eager to prove themselves worthy of being grand slam champions.

On the opposite end of the age scale, everybody would have liked to have seen Roger Federer play, but I can understand the 35-year-old’s decision to sit out. He is focusing all of his efforts on grass court preparation, and perhaps feels that having already skipped the bulk of the clay court season, preparing for one event may come at a cost to his grass campaign.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

I am not sure of too many other sports with as quick a turnaround as tennis. I lost a very close match against Japan’s Kei Nishikori on Thursday 6-2, 4-6, 6-7 (8/6) at the Geneva Open and promptly headed for Paris on the TGV train.

The French Open schedule has been announced and I will be playing my first match on Tuesday – I could have played as early as Sunday. Fortunately, I have been in this game for a while now, so I can rely on my experience to make quick adjustments and deal with the frantic pace of life on tour.

As for my French Open preparations, I feel I have been playing some really good tennis this clay court season and have lost a few close matches against competitive opponents. With my ATP ranking having dropped, after suffering from injury last season, I’m no longer seeded at events.

As such, very tough matches early on in tournaments are inevitable. Nevertheless, my body feels strong and I am confident in my game. Staying patient is the key and week by week, I believe I am getting closer to achieving my goals.

As five-set matches bring a stronger element of endurance into play, I have been working tirelessly on my fitness throughout the lead-up events in order to build stamina. I have also been grafting diligently with my physiotherapist with the aim of keeping niggles and injuries at bay.

I’m looking forward to this year's Roland Garros. I had to skip the first major of the year (Australian Open) so this will be my first Slam of 2017. It is always a special tournament, and owing to its smaller facility it definitely feels like the most intimate of the Grand Slams. We are staying at an apartment nearby the stadium and I’m looking forward to settling into the Parisian lifestyle for a week or two.

My campaign begins against Malek Jaziri from Tunisia. He is one of the few other African players on the ATP World Tour and we have met a few times before. He has a tricky game, so I’m going to have to be ready from the start. Be sure to check back as I will be penning a diary during my time in Paris.

For top-end tennis instruction and a look at my training methods, head over to my website.

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