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Roundtable: ATP Tour hot topics

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Andy Murray

Andy Murray has won two majors and Olympic gold in the last year. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

What are the biggest takeaways from the Wimbledon men’s tournament? Which ATP Tour players are the ones to watch during the summer hard-court season? How much will Rafael Nadal play the rest of the season? A panel of tennis writers — Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand, Amy Fetherolf of The Changeover and Erik Gudris of Adjusting the Net — joined me to discuss these topics and more. Check back Friday for our look at the state of the WTA Tour.

Making sense of Wimbledon

Nguyen: Let’s start with a simple question about the men’s tournament at Wimbledon: What the heck was that???

Fetherolf: The men’s side was crazy during the first week. Rafael Nadal’s first-round loss was shocking, given his great form at Roland Garros. Roger Federer’s second-round loss was an even bigger shock. The second week brought a historic all-Polish quarterfinal between Jerzy Janowicz and Lukasz Kubot, too. But the fact that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met in the final was actually predictable in the end. The tournament started out really weird, but ended pretty much how you might have expected when the draw came out.

Gudris: I agree with Amy that once Nadal and Federer exited, the men’s event became more or less predictable. I still feel that Federer’s loss was more of a surprise. All credit to Sergiy Stakhovsky for sticking with his game plan and embracing the moment of playing Federer on Centre Court. But I think many kept waiting for the 17-time Grand Slam champion to “flip that switch” and show Stakhovsky, “This is Roger Federer you are playing.” But it never happened. It was like Federer was one of the spectators watching Stakhovsky come to net time after time. We had already seen Federer have these lulls in early-round matches this season. But to witness it at Wimbledon was almost disturbing. Wimbledon is, in many ways, Federer’s “house,” but he wasn’t home that day.

Dimon: Well, I certainly don’t think many expected Murray to win the tournament. Nadal is a terrible matchup for both Federer and Murray on anything other than a fast indoor hard court, so the trendy pick had to be Nadal beating Federer and then Nadal taking care of Murray before another Djokovic-Nadal showdown. Obviously, when Federer and Nadal lost, Murray became the favorite in the bottom half … but not before that. Also, nobody could have expected Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro to result in the match of the tournament and one of the best matches of the year.

Fetherolf: Hey, I predicted that Murray would win the tournament, Ricky!

Nguyen: So which was the bigger story: Federer’s loss or Murray’s win?

Gudris: Murray’s win is the big story.

Murray’s one word to describe Wimbledon title is …

Nguyen: Federer hadn’t lost before the quarterfinals in 36 consecutive majors. Great Britain hadn’t won the men’s singles in — I don’t know if you’ve heard — 77 years. So, yeah, my vote goes to Sir Andrew Murray.

Dimon: It’s Murray’s win by several furlongs. In fact, it is already assured of being the biggest story of the entire tennis season, not just of Wimbledon. Federer’s loss was monumental, but its predecessor (Nadal’s stunner against Steve Darcis) made it less surprising in a way, and the ensuing events (Djokovic vs. del Potro and Murray’s triumph) made Federer’s exit a thing of the past.

Fetherolf: Yeah, jury’s still out on The Fed. I try to reserve judgment about players and recognize that things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Still, it’s been a worrisome year for Federer so far.

Gudris: So much of Murray’s career was defined by angst. Can Murray win a major? Can he fulfill his potential? Now that he’s won Olympic gold, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in a 12-month span, is there no more angst for Murray? Does that make him a more or less compelling player to watch?

Nguyen: It’s a great question, Erik, and one that’s been on my mind since we saw him actually smile during his Centre Court celebration. The three-legged puppy who trailed the Big Three is now on the verge of being the Big Dog.

Fetherolf: “Can he get to No. 1?” will be the next piece of Murray angst. (I think he will, for the record.)

Dimon: The U.S. Open win made Murray less compelling to watch (aside from at Wimbledon), because it took away the aforementioned angst. But I don’t think the Wimbledon win or Olympic gold makes the rest of his career any less compelling. What it does do is take away a storyline (or should I say, the storyline) from all future Wimbledons. Unless Andy Roddick comes out of retirement (ha!), Wimbledon will no longer have a tragic hero like it did with Goran Ivanisevic (until 2001), Tim Henman and Murray.

Nguyen: I saw one headline in a British paper that read, “We can finally enjoy Wimbledon.” I mean …

PHOTOS: Murray makes headlines across the globe

Gudris: Ricky, David Ferrer is now playing the role of “tragic hero” with no understudies in sight.

Dimon: I’m pretty sure that less than 10 percent of Brits know who David Ferrer is.


Another Slam for Federer?

Roger Federer

Roger Federer has fallen to No. 5 in the ATP rankings. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Nguyen: Getting back to Federer: If you had to bet your paycheck on whether he’d win another Slam title, which way would you go?

Gudris: I would still bet on Federer As we’ve seen, anything can happen with these draws, and as long as he stays healthy and motivated, he just might have a Pete Sampras-like end to his career.

Fetherolf: I guess I’ll bet on him. That’s usually the way to go with Federer. If he plays for another three years and has good luck with health, I could see him possibly (though not definitely) winning another Slam. If he retires in a year, then no, because that would give him only another handful of chances.

Dimon: “Not winning” is closing the gap, but “winning at least one more” is still well ahead. Federer schedules too well, stays too healthy and has too many chances (at all three Slams other than the French Open) not to win another one. Furthermore, the pool of contenders is too small to deny Federer. It’s always all up to Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. Even del Potro is still on the fringe of Slam contention. There is not enough there to hold off Federer from now until his retirement.

Federer slips to No. 5 in rankings

Nguyen: I’d have to bet against Federer. It’s not like it’s his biggest rivals who are ending most of his Slams lately. He lost to Murray in the Australian Open semifinals this year, but in his three other majors since winning Wimbledon last year, he’s lost to Tomas Berdych at the U.S. Open, Tsonga at the French Open and Stakhovsky at Wimbledon. I’d be more inclined to back him if he were winning outside the Slams, but he’s not. His in-match inconsistency has worsened and, most important, I question whether his body can withstand seven best-of-five matches over two weeks.


Summer attractions

Juan Martin del Potro

Juan Martin del Potro made the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Nguyen: Given what you’ve seen at Wimbledon and in the first six months of the season, who do you have your eye on as we turn to the North American hard courts?

Fetherolf: If he’s healthy, I’ll be expecting del Potro to do some damage. He’s always a dangerous player on hard courts, and his confidence is building against the top players. I remember what happened the last time that was the case.

Dimon: Juan Martin del Potro. Period. End of story. He was hitting 2009 U.S. Open-type forehands at Wimbledon and it got him to the semifinals of a major on his least favorite surface while not even being 100 percent. If del Potro gets healthy and stays that way through the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, you may be looking at the U.S. Open champion. As for flops, Murray may have a Wimbledon hangover and Nadal is in danger of becoming a non-factor on fast hard courts. I also feel that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (his French Open scalp of Federer notwithstanding) is soon to be greatly surpassed by guys like del Potro and Berdych.

Nguyen: Do you really think del Potro is back, though? I thought so last year, when he beat Federer twice in a row at the end the season. But then, like the big bear that he is, he went back into hibernation (for the most part) until Indian Wells, where he beat Murray and Djokovic and pushed Nadal to three sets in the final. Then he disappeared again until he made the Wimbledon semifinals despite dealing with a knee injury. I just don’t know what to expect from him on hard courts.

Fetherolf: I think he’s been back for a while. I’m not sure he was ever the consistent player we want him to be. He’s a streaky player, and that was true in 2009, too.

Gudris: I feel the summer hard-court season is all about Nadal. Does he play a full schedule? If he does well in Montreal, then does he reconsider his plans for Cincinnati? If he holds up physically at both ATP 1000 events, then he is a serious threat in the U.S. Open. But an iffy or short lead-up would just spark more questions about his knee not only for the end of this season but also for 2014.

Fetherolf: How about Bernard Tomic? After a horrible clay season filled with drama with his dad, he made a good run at Wimbledon, beating Richard Gasquet on the way to the fourth round. I’m not sure if he’s really back on track or if it was just a fluke. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Dimon: Tomic? His run was entirely due to grass. And the fact that his nearest top seed was Gasquet. He will be an afterthought during the U.S. Open Series … at least on the tennis court.

Gudris: Amy, I think Tomic’s chances on the hard courts this summer are slight. I just don’t think his game is that great yet on U.S. outdoor hard courts.

Nguyen: For me, it’s Berdych. He’s had some good moments this year (the stunning comeback victory over Djokovic at the Italian Open comes to mind) after a very solid 2012, but overall he’s underwhelmed. If he can’t bounce back from his second-set collapse against Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and make a move during the U.S. Open Series, I’ll have to be content focusing on his weird tweeting.

Dimon: What do we think about Gael Monfils? The obvious negatives are that he will be unseeded for every tournament he enters and that he is playing on a surface that is terrible for his knees. On the bright side, he was awesome at the French Open (where he beat Berdych and Ernests Gulbis — yes, beating Gulbis these days is actually a decent win) until too many best-of-five matches caught up with his injury-plagued body. If Monfils can somehow stay 100 percent both physically and mentally (that’s a big “if”), I see him as a threat to reach the quarterfinals and semifinals in Montreal, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open.

Fetherolf: I think Monfils will play well enough to cause some early upsets, but then fizzle out because he’s Monfils.

Dimon: This is a very good reason for fizzling out. The best reason, in fact.

VIDEO: Gael Monfils being Gael Monfils

Gudris: How about Janowicz? Is he a short-term buy for the hard courts or more of a long-term wait and see? I say the latter.

Nguyen: I thought he was a wait-and-see player all year, but he impressed me at Wimbledon. He had a nice draw to make the semifinals, for sure, but at 22 there’s so much potential there. That said, I think the U.S. hard courts are just too slow for him. Plus, I’m very curious to see how he handles the pressure now that he’s kind of expected to be a thing now.

Fetherolf: I think Janowicz’s game will work on all surfaces. I was skeptical going into this year, but I’m not anymore. The guy moves incredibly well, and that serve will win him a lot of matches.

Dimon: Janowicz is one spot away from an all-important top-16 ranking. With few points to defend, he should have it in time for the U.S. Open and maybe even for Montreal and Cincinnati next month. A top-16 seed will give him every chance of advancing to the quarterfinals at those events.


Lean times for U.S. men

Johh Isner

John Isner entered this week’s tournament in Rhode Island with a 16-15 record for the year. (Sang Tan/AP)

Nguyen: How about some quick thoughts on the American men? Obviously, that stat about no American men making the third round of Wimbledon for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth was not exactly great. But if we’re allowed to use asterisks, I would argue that Isner, who had a favorable draw, would have saved the U.S. contingent if not for a bum knee that led to his second-round retirement. This year will be the 10-year anniversary of Roddick’s U.S. Open title. Should we be preparing ourselves for a 77-year drought?

Fetherolf: Well, Isner’s not the answer. Nor is Sam Querrey.

Dimon: There is no doubt in my mind Isner would have reached the quarterfinals had he not been injured against Adrian Mannarino (whom he just beat in straight sets in the second round of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships). In fact, he would have had a good chance of making the semifinals. That being said, he has a ton of points to defend starting right now and he may not even have a top-24 seed for the U.S. Open. Isner will rack up some points at the Newports, Atlantas and Winston-Salems of the world, but to say the jury is still out on him at Grand Slams would be putting it nicely. No American man currently on tour projects as a future Grand Slam winner.

Isner poses for ESPN The Magazine‘s Body Issue

Gudris: I don’t know if we should be storing water and bringing an old VHS copy of Roddick’s win with us into the bunker for a 77-year wait. But I would be surprised if a U.S. man wins New York in the next five years. This is still a transition period and it’s going to take awhile for that next player with all the tools needed to win to emerge.

Fetherolf: Luckily for Isner, he has about zero points to defend after Winston-Salem for many, many months. Almost literally.

Dimon: But that won’t help him until the Australian Open. And he also has basically no chance of gaining ground outside of the United States. In fact, Isner is the only person I can think of who is a country specialist as opposed to a court specialist. No matter what surface he is on, he wins in the United States. And no matter what surface he is on, he loses overseas.

Gudris: Are there any current U.S. men who really like playing overseas aside from Bob and Mike Bryan? That does seem to be a factor in why we aren’t seeing better results from American guys throughout the season.

Nguyen: Brian Baker …

Dimon: Not unless you consider Tommy Haas and Kevin Anderson American, no. But nobody is a country specialist to the extent that Isner is.


Issue No. 1

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has held the No. 1 ranking all year. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Nguyen: The race for year-end No. 1 looks like it’s between Djokovic, Murray and Nadal. Who you got?

Fetherolf: Djokovic.

Gudris: Djokovic. Unless he falls apart physically.

PHOTOS: Celebs come out for Djokovic fundraiser

Nguyen: Yeah. Murray did not help himself (well … actually he did) by losing early at the Italian Open (via a retirement) and pulling out of the French Open. Not sure he can catch Djokovic.

Dimon: Djokovic. Nadal won’t be getting too many points from now until the end of the year.

Nguyen: How many tournaments do you think Nadal will play the rest of the season?

Gudris: Five — Montreal, Cincinnati, U.S. Open, China Open and ATP World Tour Finals in London. If Nadal reaches the Montreal final, then I think his chances of appearing in Cincy would be very slim.

Dimon: Five — Montreal, U.S. Open, the two fall Masters events (Shanghai and Paris) and the World Tour Finals. Nadal will lose in the Montreal semifinals and withdraw from Cincinnati. Take it to the nearest bank.

Fetherolf: I’ll say four. I think he plays it safe with the knees for the rest of the year.

  • Published On Jul 11, 2013
  • 11 comments
    dknight_98
    dknight_98

    "..I question whether his body can withstand seven best-of-five matches over two weeks." - Nguyen.

    Where does Nguyen get her tennis IQ? Im beginning that the only reason why she bashes Roger is just to get hits for her column. Which leads me to her "expert" opinion: Who among the tennis players can withstand 7 best of five matches in two weeks? Even Rafael Nadal's physique will give up. Thats the reason why players play the short points as much as possible because you intend to reserve your energy for the next match. 

    I can bet against Roger winning another grand slam. But at least I would give a more convincing reason like the current top three has really stepped up with their games and consistency. Or just say he can no longer pull the trigger like he used to. But that last statement from Ms. Nguyen is as idiotic as the dodo bird. 


    dknight_98
    dknight_98

    "...I question whether his body can withstand seven best-of-five matches over two weeks." - Nguyen



    Michael9
    Michael9

    The race for Year-end No.1 is likely to be an interesting battle between Djokovic and Murray, though Djokovic is likely to retain the No. 1 so long as he doesn't get too many bad draws in the final months of the season.


    Nadal knows -- just as he knew last year -- that his Wimbledon loss means he is unlikely to end the year No.1 because he is unlikely to make much points after Wimbledon on the faster hardcourts compared to Djokovic and this year Murray. In other words, for Nadal there is really no point wasting his body competing in other events except for the US Open and World Tour Finals. In 2012 Nadal chose to take the second half of the season off, even though in his last match against Rosol he showed no visible signs of injury and was moving well. This year he cannot choose to take another break, so he'll probably withdraw from one to three tournaments (probably Cincinnati and Paris) to save himself for the 2014 clay season. For Nadal, I think not only will he try to make a run at the US Open but also the World Tour Finals -- because he has nothing to lose and is running out of opportunities to win these titles having played over 750 matches in his career.


    No one mentioned that Nadal, despite all his whining about his knees and hard courts, has chosen to play Basel's indoor hardcourts in the Fall for a big appearance fee (Nadal has charged $1.2 to $1.5 million appearance fees for Vina del Mar, Bangkok and Halle)... despite the tournament organizer Brennwald's attempts to squeeze Federer of his appearance fees for carrying that event for ten years. Nadal is likely to use Basel for a few rounds of practice for the World Tour Finals (doubt if he wants to play Federer in the Basel final), and will likely withdraw from Paris (which is the week before the WTF). Or Nadal might do what Murray did last year -- withdraw at the last minute from BAsel.

    http://www.swissindoorsbasel.ch/

    http://tinyurl.com/l7dfo4s


    Michael9
    Michael9

    Nguyen: "I’d have to bet against Federer (winning another slam)."

    I'm betting Nguyen was one of those pundits who, in 2011 and early 2012, also bet against Federer winning another slam or ever returning to No.1.


    What's the big picture?


    Just 11 months ago, Federer was in one of his peaks. In the 10 months from 2011 Basel to 2012 Cincinnati Masters, 30-year old Federer's winning percentage was 91% (73-7), he won 9 of 16 tournaments (including Wimbledon the premier Grand Slam, Year-End Championship, four Masters 1000 titles), won tournaments on all three surfaces (clay, grass, hardcourt). Federer last won at least 9 titles in his 2006/2007 prime. Federer reached finals/semifinals in 6 of the 7 tournaments he lost. Federer had a 2-1 record against Nadal, 2-1 against Murray, 2-2 against Djokovic. In mid-August, 2012, Federer became the only player in ATP history to win a Masters 1000 title without dropping serve and without dropping a set (he even bageled Djokovic 0-6 in the straight sets final). In early September 2012, Federer was the No. 1 player with 12,165 ranking points -- achieving this in the era that Nadal, Djokovic and Murray were at their peak (Nadal's career best ever was 12,450 points at year-end 2010).


    What makes these accomplishments even more amazing was the context and conditons that Federer played under: First, Federer played four Davis Cup ties in 2011 and 2012 (two away ties in Australia and the Netherlands; three of the four ties were on surfaces different from that part of the season; Federer played both singles and doubles) -- on the other hand, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray did not win even one Davis Cup match among them (only Djokovic played one weak singles match and one weak doubles match in Davis Cup). Davis Cup basically added four tournamnets to Federer's schedule -- as Federer and other players have said, playing a Davis Cup tie is similar to putting another tournament on the player's body. Second, during the Grand Slam and Masters tournaments, Federer was not focused only on tennis, unlike the other players -- Federer-the-ATP-Player-Council-president was distracted and working hard to negotiate huge prize money increases for all players. That Federer still regained the No.1 ranking at his age and under these conditions just shows the depth of his capacity when he is motivated to accomplish his goals.


    By Cincinnati Masters in mid-August 2012, Federer had accomplished or knew he was soon going to accomplish all his goals for his career: 7 Wimbledon titles (the premier slam), 17 Grand Slam titles, 302 weeks No.1. [In March 2012, Federer was acclaimed the greatest player of all time by Tennis Channel on the strength of 16 slams and 285 weeks No.1, and just six months later he had raised the bar on his own GOATness with 17 slams, 7 Wimbledons and 302 weeks No.1]. Since 2009 French Open, when Federer was acclaimed the GOAT, it has all been icing on the cake for him. And last year he did it while improving the lives of all players and playing Davis Cup and Olympics.


    After winning Cincinnati Masters, it appears Federer was too satisfied. He did not even bother to chase the year-end No.1 in Fall 2012, even though he was still in a position to do so after the US Open (opting not to play Tokyo/Beijing and Paris). Federer has been coasting the past 11 months beginning with 2012 US Open. In 2012, Federer cut back on his schedule, referring to this as his "transition year". For Federer, the crown jewel of the past 11 months has been his $14 million exhibition tour in South America last December -- it's a business model for his future. Like me, some Swiss analysts also suggested that Federer's pre-occupation with his exhibition tour in December resulted in him coming into the 2012 season underprepared and underfit -- thereafter the piling losses affected his confidence.


    After Indian Wells, I calculated that Federer would have his lowest ranking points in early May since 2002 (Federer has been at this 2001/2002 level since May). 

    But given the bigger context, it's understandable why Federer lost several big matches in the past 11 months... compared with his level of performance up to 2012 Cincinnati. Federer played the US Open below his performances level in Cincinnati... got a R16 walkover from Mardy Fish (Federer chose to take the day off instead of practicing)... then in the quarterfinal Roger played flat and poorly against Berdych (I'd love to know how much time Federer spent in negotiations for prize money increases during the US Open).  At the Australian Open, Federer played very well against the young guns (motivated not to lose to any of them), then got sloppy against his exhibition tour buddy Tsonga in a five setter... yet he still pushed Murray to a five setter semifinal on slow hardcourts. At the French Open, in Federer's loss to his buddy Tsonga, Roger played as if his bags were packed for Halle, where he has a lifetime contract (probably hoping Tsonga would get to the final to challenge Nadal/Djokovic). Stakhovsky at Wimbledon is a head scratcher on paper, even though Federer played well enough to beat most second round opponents (but not well enough against Stakhovsky playing the best match of his life) -- but it's plausible that Federer's colleagial relationship with Stakhovsky on the Player Council made Federer soft, tentative and unwilling to crush the Ukrainian  (Roger should have smothered Stakhovsky from the get-go instead of giving him hope and allowing him to get into his zone).


    At this stage of Federer's career, he's not like Djokovic or Murray chasing after every big tournament. He's like Andre Agassi from 2000 to 2006 -- picking his spots in the season where he wants to peak. It's not an exact science, and Federer will go through some setbacks.


    Should Federer regain his hunger and motivation again, it would be silly to bet against his track record of success. The fact that Federer has added two events in July with the aim of giving him match practice and confidence indicates he is serious about making a run at the US Open. We'll see. For Federer it's all gravy now. There are so many players past 30 years old still ranked in the top 100 (Tommy Robredo even played three straight five setters at the French Open, Tommy Haas at 35 is showing amazing resilience) which is a good sign for him. The formerly superfit Federer probably still has the body to withstand seven best-of-five matches over two weeks (as long as he does not get stuck in sloppy five setters) -- but he hasn't put in the fitness work on his body. Only Federer can choose to get motivated to put in the work on his fitness and game. 

    pamperofirpo
    pamperofirpo

    I am not sure what the answers are for US Men's Tennis. We have had doldrums before (after Connors/McEnroe; before Sampras/Courier/Agassi). But, we have never had an extended period of substandard play as we do today.Whatever happened to projected superstars like Donald Young? Or was Donald Young just wishful thinking? Clearly, there will be no American that penetrates the current Big 4. The question is whether an American can emerge five years from now or so.

    Tom14
    Tom14

    For the men The USTA needs to look and use the NCAA College programs to develop more playrs/

    Tom14
    Tom14

    Very good discussion on the state of tennis. The US Open should be fun. Without a go to shot he is susceptible to 5 set matches in the later rounds. The hard surface will be a test to Nadal and Del Potro with both the US Open Series and 2 weeks in New York. Roger will not make any drastic changes for the remainder of the year but he might look to enlarge the hitting space of his racket, nothing drastic but he needs some changes to compensate his age and his precision.

    Love the return of serve and volley tennis like to see more of it.

    aachooo11
    aachooo11

    I think Nadal and Del Potro are the most unpredictable-no surprises no matter what happens. But it seems that there isn't enough talk about Tsonga-sure he was upset in the previous year in the US Open by Klizan and he bowed out early to Gulbis from injury in Wimbledon but his game has reached a new level. He was utterly dominating Gulbis before his injury-which I think says a lot about his potential and he's more serious and ambitious as a player in contrast to his fickleness in the past. Definitely someone to watch out for in the near future. I imagine he'll be a much more serious threat to the  top players-and not just to Federer.

    TheFanChild
    TheFanChild

    like it short and snappy. Great read, all of you.

    attheapollo
    attheapollo

    It's hard for me to think Andy will get to No. 1 with Novak in the way for the rest of his prime. Novak will accumulate points on clay that Andy will never get. They're both equally dangerous on hard courts, but even then I give the edge to Novak.

    aachooo11
    aachooo11

    @attheapollo It seems you're right but you never know how people and things change. Murray has won Wimbledon,US Open,Olympics within the time span of the one year. He's definitely gaining ground. Somehow I always felt that it was Murray and not Nadal who had the most potential among the 'top 4'. Djokovic is an awesome player. I could repeat that again.  But I don't see him making leaps and bounds in terms of improvement.  Murray (for me)already has a clear advantage over Djokovic in 5 set matches and he still has obvious things to improve-like his lack of agression-still there I'm afraid.