Federer at 2014 crossroads; Serena eyes history

Updated 24 December 2013
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Federer at 2014 crossroads; Serena eyes history

PARIS: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray open the 2014 season in Abu Dhabi on Thursday with Roger Federer hoping his absence isn’t an indicator of more misery ahead.
World No.1 Nadal provided the comeback story of 2013, winning 10 titles, including a record eighth French Open and a second US Open, which took his majors haul to 13.
Djokovic defended his Australian Open crown while Murray claimed Britain’s first Wimbledon mens’ title in 77 years.
But while the big three start their new campaigns with a leisurely three-day stroll in the Gulf, record 17-time major winner Federer begins his 17th season as a professional in Brisbane and with his career at a crossroads.
In 2013, the world No.6 failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002 and his second-round defeat at Wimbledon ended his run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances.
Federer will turn 33 in August but is acutely aware that his great hero, Pete Sampras, quit at 31 and at the top of his game, having secured a fifth US Open.
His record against the sport’s big three also makes for worrying reading — he is 10-22 against Nadal having lost all four matches against the great Spaniard this year and 9-11 when up against Murray, losing their one clash in 2013.
He is still ahead in his rivalry with Djokovic at 16-15 but lost both their meetings this year while the Serb has taken six of their last eight matches.
The Swiss goes into 2014 having severed his ties with long-time coach Paul Annacone, one of a number of players to have tweaked their back-up teams over the winter.
“For me, it’s pretty simple: this is what I used to do as a little boy. It’s something that always is there in your DNA,” said Federer, who will be playing a warm-up tournament in Australia for the first time in 11 years.
After Brisbane, where he is top seed, Federer heads for the Australian Open, a title he has captured on four occasions but where he has fallen in the semi-finals on his last three visits.
Nadal missed the UAE tournament in 2012 as well as the Australian Open as he nursed a knee injury for seven months, but he had a record-setting 2013, losing just seven times in 82 matches.
The 27-year-old is now just four majors behind Federer and with five years on his long-standing rival, is widely expected to pass the mark of the Swiss whose last major was the 2012 Wimbledon title.
Djokovic stunned tennis by hiring Boris Becker as his new head coach, a decision prompted by his desperate desire to improve a record that reads six Grand Slam titles but also six defeats in finals at majors.
As well as defending his Australian Open title, Djokovic also has another big date lined up for early in the new year, marrying longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic to whom he got engaged in September.
Murray missed the closing tournaments of 2013 to undergo back surgery and once his Abu Dhabi stint is over he will join Nadal as the leading attraction in Doha, which, along with Brisbane and Chennai, opens the competitive season.
“I know how hard it is to win the majors,” Murray, who lost his first four Grand Slam finals, told Sky Sports News.
“It may never happen again, I might not win another one but I just want to give myself the best chance to do that. Hopefully I’ll give myself an opportunity to win another one.” The WTA Tour starts in Brisbane and Auckland and will conclude with a new home in Singapore for the season-ending championships.
Six of the world’s top 10 will be in Brisbane led by defending champion Serena Williams.
The American will be 33 in 2014 but her rock-solid confidence and iron will are as intimidating as ever.
Williams ended 2013 with 11 titles while triumphs at the French and US Opens took her Grand Slam haul to 17, one off the mark shared by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and just five away from Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22.
Williams enjoyed a match record of 78 wins against just four defeats, claimed the season-ending WTA Championships title and became the oldest No.1 player.
Victoria Azarenka, comfortably Williams’ biggest rival, also features in Brisbane as does Maria Sharapova who was forced to shut down her 2013 campaign at Cincinnati in August because of a shoulder injury.
Sharapova has hired Sven Groeneveld, the former coach of Monica Seles, in an effort to knock Williams off her perch.
However, Sharapova has a 2-14 record against the American with both those wins coming way back in 2004.
World No.2 Azarenka has won just three of her 16 meetings against Williams, although she split their four clashes in 2013 and for a second successive season took her great rival to three sets in the US Open final.


LIVE: Tunisia 1-4 Belgium. Double for Lukaku puts Eagles of Carthage on brink of early exit.

Updated 1 min 25 sec ago
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LIVE: Tunisia 1-4 Belgium. Double for Lukaku puts Eagles of Carthage on brink of early exit.

4.30PM: It's starting to look like a training game for Belgium now, who are finally showing the sort of form we expect from such a talented squad. Best two displays from one team of the World Cup so far? We think so...

 

 

4.15PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM: Any hopes Tunisia had of saving their World Cup have been snuffed out by Eden Hazard, who strikes home with the goalkeeper beaten to put Belgium 4-1 up. Unless Panama pull off a miracle tomorrow, you feel Tunisia are out...

4.10PM: Tunisia with a promising attack, but the move breaks down at the vital moment. Tunisia doing the right thing here, they have to attack and find two goals. Quickly...

3.48PM: HALF-TIME - While they had their moments, Tunisia were second best during that first period. Belgium could have perhaps got a couple more and the Eagles of Carthage have it all to do now. 

3.47PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM - Moments after he should have got a goal Lukaku finds the back of the net, with a neat dink over the Mustafa following a great ball from Meunier. 

3.40PM: Again there is a lot to like about this Tunisian performance. Khazri is coming more and more intot he game and they are showng more ambition in the first 40 minutes than they did in the entire match against England. 

3.37PM: LOTS OF SUPPORT BACK HOME

 

 

 

3.32PM: TUNISIA COMING BACK INTO IT - Sassi and Khazri both have good shots saved during a period of dominance for Tunisia. Things are looking better for the North Africans. 

3.30PM: The Tunisia defence is being opened up at will here. Lukaku should have got his second and Belgium's third but a heavy touch proves his undoing. 

3.25PM: COMEBACK ON THE CARDS?

 

3.22PM: SUBSTITUTION -  Bronn is down hurt after blocking a shot, it looks like his knee buckled at a horrible angle. He is replaced by Hamdi Naguez.

3.17PM: GOAL FOR TUNISIA -  What a response! Bronn gets his head on the end of a Khazri freekick - GAME BACK ON! 

3.15PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM -  It is all too easy for Belgium as Lukaku makes a pretty simple run yet finds himself in acres of space before drilling the ball leftfooted into the bottom corner. THis is not the start Tunisia were looking for. 

3.11PM: Almost another for Belgium as Lukaku does well down the right to set uop Hazard whose poor shot is easily saved by Mustapha.

3.10PM: FRUSTRATED FAN

 

3.08PM: Tunisia now know what they need to do, they cannot just sit back and wait for things to happen, they need to take the game to Belgium or face an early exit. 

3.05PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM. Hazard makes no mistake from the spot, slotting the ball home for his 23rd international strike and an early lead for the favorites. 

3.05PM: PENALTY TO BELGIUM. Ben Youssef faouls the rampaging Hazard on the right side of the area and the referee has no hesitation to point to the spot. It's referred to the VAR who confimrs the bad challenge took place in the area. 

3.01PM: Twenty seconds gone and already Tunisia have dished out a hard challenge on Hazard, setting their stall out for the rest of the match. Belgium waste the resulting free-kick. 

3PM: The nationals anthems are being sung with gusto in Moscow. Can the passion in their voices be matched by passion and panache on the pitch? 

2.45PM: THE MEN TUNISIA NEED TO STOP - Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne are the main threats facing the Eagles of Carthage today. Can they keep them quiet? 

 

 

2.42PM: Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul swapped his goalkeeper with Farouk Mustapha taking over from Mouez Hassen, who played in the opening 2-1 defeat to England, failing to stop Kane scoring the late winner for the Three Lions.
In the only other change, Troyes midfielder Saif-Eddine Khaoui replaced Naim Sliti in the middle of the park for Tunisia.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez started with the same team which beat Panama for Saturday's World Cup group match against Tunisia in Moscow.
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is looking to add to the two goals he scored in their opening 3-0 rout of Panama for the clash at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

2.40PM: TEAMS ANNOUNCED. 

BELGIUM - Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco; Eden Hazard (capt), Dries Mertens; Romelu Lukaku

TUNISIA - Farouk Mustapha; Syam Ben Youssef, Yassine Meriah, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Dylan Bronn, Ellyes Skhiri, Ferjani Sassi; Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Wahbi Khazri (capt), Anice Badri

2.30PM: The Eagles of Carthage suffered last-minute heartache against England on Monday, when a Harry Kane header in injury-time sealed a 2-1 win for his side in the opening clash of Group G.

Nabil Maaloul’s men now face highly fancied Belgium knowing another defeat would end their interest in the tournament after just one game. They looked solid, without ever being spectacular against England. Can they find another gear and cause a shock against Eden Hazard and Co?