In the early rounds of most tournaments, you can expect the main stadium matches to be blowouts. They generally feature low ranked players against the very best and often turn out to be some of the least interesting matches. Tuesday’s schedule featured third and fourth round matches on the main stadium, just about the right time for the matches to get competitive. On paper, the main stadium match ups for Day 7 should have been no trouble for the higher ranked player and while all of them won, the matches provided some pretty entertaining tennis.
Novak Djokovic d. Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(4) 6-1
Novak Djokovic hasn’t lost a match yet this year. The Australian Open champion is the number 1 player in the world and very rarely troubled by anyone outside the Top 4. Grigor Dimitrov has been steadily working his way up the rankings and the 21 year old now sits at a career high 31 in the world. It looked like he came with his A game when he broke Djokovic in the first set. He had the chance to serve it out at 5-3 and it seemed like almost a sure thing, but that’s where experience comes into play. Dimitrov served up four double faults in that game to put them back on serve. Things dropped off quickly from there. Djokovic held and Dimitrov doubled faulted to open the tie break, which he ended up losing 7-4. The second set slipped away just as fast. Djokovic didn’t have to pull out his usual extraordinary play because Dimitrov was beating himself. “He started off well today, but then, you know, I think he gave me the break with four double faults. You know, I haven’t done much really in the match in the second set when I made two breaks. It was all of his unforced errors, so I just needed to hang in there and try to be patient” said Djokovic in his post match press conference. Dimitrov has plenty of talent to make a splash over the next few years, but today the more experience player definitely had the upper hand.
Maria Sharapova d. Lara Arruabarrena Vecino 7-5 6-0
Are you unfamiliar with the name Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino? You’re not alone. The 20 year old from Spain is currently ranked 87 in the world. No one thought she had much of a chance against Sharapova, the number 2 seed. Sharapova was stumped when asked about Arrubarrena-Vecino after her last match, saying, “well, I hope my coach was out there watching the end of that one.” Sometimes the unknown players can provide the best challenge and despite being broken early in the first set, Arrubarrena-Vecino was able to come back. Once again, the wheels fell off after the lower ranked player lost the first set and Maria Sharapova was able to roll through the next set 6-0. Sharapova explained her early slips, saying, “I think maybe I was going for the lines a little bit more than I had to, especially in the first few games when you haven’t really don’t know too much about your opponent or haven’t played her.”
Jo Wilfried Tsonga d. Mardy Fish 7-6(4) 7-6(0)
The score line may not be lopsided but the tie breaks certainly were. Perhaps the closest match of the day on paper, this one did not disappoint. A year or two ago, these players would not have met so early in the tournament as they were both Top 10. Mardy Fish is playing his first tournament back after an extended break for health reasons and was seeded number 32 at this event. As it should have been the match was extremely close, but it came down more to Fish’s errors than Tsonga’s winners. After losing the first set tie break, Fish went up a quick 4-0 in the second set before being broken back twice. When asked if those breaks could be attributed to lack of match play, Fish responded, “maybe. I mean, I usually don’t lose 4-0 sets very often. I can’t remember the last one. So, yeah.” Fish was visibly disappointed with the loss, admitting it would’ve been a different story if he had lost 3 and 2. In the long run, this isn’t such a shabby start to Fish’s comeback. There’s certainly no shame losing to a player of Tsonga’s calibre. Tsonga will play Milos Raonic in the fourth round.
It hasn’t been often over the last year that Ernests Gulbis has been faced with a room full of reporters after a match. More often than not, he’s been packing a bag and heading off to the next tournament. That’s how few and far between his wins had become. The 24 year old Latvian, whose ranking peaked at 21 in 2011, had bottomed out at 159 in October of 2012, a ranking that often relegated him to playing challengers or qualifying for the ATP events. Perhaps the biggest low came just last month in Bergamo, Italy where Gulbis fell to world number 234, Michal Przysiezny, in the opening round of a challenger. Gulbis said he mother had a suggestion after that particular loss, “she told me that I should quit tennis. I told her, give me one more month. So now at least she’s happy.” She’s not the only one that’s happy these days. Gulbis has displayed his charming grin all week in press, getting all sorts of questions about his win streak, which has now reached thirteen matches, including qualifying and winning the Delray Beach tournament and qualifying and subsequently reaching the fourth round here in Indian Wells.
After his second round win against 9th seed, Janko Tipsarevic, talked about some of his struggles, the highs and lows of reaching a peak so early in your career, saying, “so story of my life, you know. I reach something, and then I destroy it.” He spoke with the wisdom of someone who made childish mistakes but is finally starting to grow up. He seems dedicated to his routine. He’s hired a new coach, Gunter Bresnik, and the results speak for themselves. It appears he has no intention of destroying things this time around, what he considers more like a fourth chance than a second or third. “I hope it’s my last one. I hope that this is the one where I make it.” It’s a long climb back to the top, but it seems like he’s doing things the right way this time around. But, that doesn’t mean he’s being hard of himself about taking so long to figure things out, saying, “somebody doesn’t figure it out all his life. I figured it out after 24 years. I think it’s quick enough.”
The normally light hearted Gulbis turned serious in Saturday’s press conference when he was asked about the differences between playing tour level tournaments and challengers. He quickly shot back, “When was the last time you were in challenger? Go to it. Really.” There’s likely no greater difference than a tournament like the BNP Paribas Open, which pampers its players to the nth, and a 50k challenger housed in a college gym. Perhaps heading back to that world helped develop this new found drive for the Latvian, who has beaten three Top 20 players in his current streak, the longest of his career.
Certainly his next opponent will be the toughest challenge he has faced yet. His fourth round opponent is none other than Rafael Nadal, who received a walkover from Leonardo Mayer on Monday. Gulbis has a 0-4 record against the number 5 seed, who is playing just his third tournament this season after being sidelined with an injury since last July. Gulbis is confident that he has a good chance of beating Nadal the way he’s playing right now, but a loss would not be devastating because he’s on the right track. He said, “it doesn’t, okay, it matters if I win or not, but I want to play as much as matches as possible against these top guys. Sooner or later I’m going to win something, you know, it’s gonna give me extra confidence, and then just to keep it there, you know.”
Mardy Fish walked on court Sunday for his first professional singles match in six months and eight days, his first match since beating Gilles Simon in the third round of the 2012 US Open. He was forced to withdraw from his US Open fourth round match against Roger Federer last September when the heart condition he revealed earlier last year flared up once again. It’s been a long road back but Fish finally made his 2013 debut at the BNP Paribas Open, a short trip from his home base in Los Angeles. Fish was first up on Stadium 1 on Saturday against compatriot Bobby Reynolds. It wasn’t the cleanest or easiest match Mardy Fish has ever played, but he left the court victorious after three sets, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. He described it as a, “win just to get back out there.” Fish was the number one American player for much of 2011 and some of 2012, having taken the helm from Andy Roddick who would go on to retire last year. He is a much needed presence at a time when younger Americans like John Isner and Sam Querrey have been struggling.
When asked about his feelings after the match, Fish called it, “elation probably.” He went on to say it wasn’t just about winning, adding, “there has been a couple of people that have really been there for me through these past months, and it felt good to play for them, as well. My wife has been a rock at my side the entire time, so it’s been very difficult for her, as well.”
Sunday’s match actually wasn’t Fish’s first appearance on court at this year’s BNP Paribas Open. He teamed up with fellow American and good friend, James Blake, to take on Spanish duo David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco in doubles on Saturday. Blake said he was, “honored to be the one that’s out there with him when he comes back because I know how hard it’s been. It’s been a long journey for him, and I hope I really, really hope that it’s easier for him to be out there with me, with someone that you know, I like to think of myself as one of his good friends out here that cares about him more as a person than any results will ever speak to.” Perhaps playing with Blake did bring back some of the good old days because the pair won the match 6-4, 6-4.
Andy Roddick was certainly paying attention to his good friend Mardy’s return on Sunday, tweeting, “Hell yes @mardyfish !!!” just after the match’s completion. Fish was asked to comment on the absence of his good friend Roddick who wasn’t playing the tournament for the first time in over ten years. Being the same age, the two players grew up together on tour. The two even attended the same high school. The biggest difference for Fish? “I miss the free meals from him because he has way more money than we all do.” Just kidding. On a more serious note, Fish said he missed the “silent cheering from afar for us both” and having a breakfast companion. The two would eat breakfast together every morning at this particular tournament.
Mardy Fish is taking things slow. He will play Miami and then assess whether he wants to continue on to the clay court season. As for this tournament, Fish will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round, who took out James Blake on Sunday night.
“Not great.” That’s how John Isner described his season to date in press on Saturday after losing his opening match 7-6, 3-6, 4-6 to Lleyton Hewitt. After today’s defeat, Isner has a 6-6 win/loss record for the 2013 season thus far. After the Indian Wells event last year, the American had a 14-5 record and his finals appearance here at the BNP Paribas Open sent him into the Top 10. Saturday’s loss will catapult him out of the Top 20… The American’s troubles started early this season when he had to sit out the Australian Open with a knee injury; however, Isner is adamant that his current struggles have nothing to do with health, it’s all about the confidence.
After his five set loss to Thomaz Bellucci in last month’s USA-Brazil Davis Cup tie, Isner said, “For me, you know, my confidence, it sort of comes and goes very quickly for me it seems like. I think a lot of that out there today was between the ears.” He uttered similar sentiments in press after his Indian Wells defeat saying he’s been practicing well but can’t seem to bring that momentum into his matches. When asked why, he quipped back, “You tell me. I don’t know.” Confidence certainly wasn’t the only factor in the match considering Isner’s opponent, Lleyton Hewitt, is a two time Grand Slam champion and well known for his ‘never say die’ attitude on the court. The Australian veteran may be ranked 98 in the world, but there is no sure thing when it comes to facing Hewitt. At 32, he can still give even the best players a run for their money. As Isner put it, “there’s no shame in losing to him, certainly.”
John Isner isn’t ready to throw in the towel on this season quite yet, saying, “I believe things will get better. As long as I continue to believe that, then you know, I just hope that things will get better, and I do believe that they will. Just gotta keep plugging away.” He’s only defending 45 points in Miami (1 match win) so that’s a great chance for Isner to win back some of the points that will drop off after his poor showing this week in Indian Wells. Isner was unwilling to comment on the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Serbia, which will take place in Boise, Idaho from April 5th-7th. After his disappointing loss in Jacksonville, a good showing against Serbia could be just the confidence boost he needs.
Sharapova shows no mercy against fellow French Open champ Schiavone
In what was seemingly one of the trickier second round match-ups, Maria Sharapova had no trouble beating veteran Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-1, despite the cold, windy conditions to kick off her 2013 BNP Paribas Open campaign. Schiavone may not have been playing her best tennis, but Sharapova knew better than to discount her, saying, “no matter where she is in the rankings, she has experience, has a Grand Slam, you know, behind her back. She likes those center court matches. She lives in those opportunities.” Sharapova will face Carla Suarez Navarro in the next round. Of course, a Maria Sharapova press conference wouldn’t be complete these days without a few questions about her off-court enterprise, Sugarpova. Business savvy Sharapova says that her gourmet candy line will be expanding from twelve flavors to fifteen in the next few weeks.
Kuznetsova overcomes bagel to bounce Jankovic
Former Indian Wells champion Jelena Jankovic raced to a quick 6-0 lead against Svetlana Kuznetsova in their second round match. This would appear to spell the end for Kuznetsova, but with these two players, it’s never quite that simple. But the pants came off in the second set and the momentum turned around. Kuznetsova was wearing leggings in the first set to deal with the unseasonably cold weather, but apparently pants just don’t suit her. Asked about the weather, she responded, “it’s very difficult to play in cold weather because even I tried to play in the long tight pants the first set, I cannot.” After two lopsided sets, things got interesting once again as it looked like the players were headed to a third set tiebreak. However, Kuznetsova was the one to draw first blood, breaking Jankovic to win the match 0-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Blake into 2nd round, has gained perspective from being a dad
33 year old James Blake scored a much needed first round win on Thursday over Robin Haase. Blake underscored the importance of getting match wins in gaining back confidence. He described it as, “sort of the chicken or the egg, which is first? If I’m not confident I’m going to play a little more passive, and if I’m playing too passive it’s tough for me to get confident.” Blake hasn’t had much luck in singles this season, and turned to doubles to boost his victory count, which he says helped him build some confidence coming into this tournament. Another motivating factor? Family. Blake credits his newborn daughter with helping put things in perspective, saying, “the things that she does are more important than the things that I do now. That’s something that’s probably been foreign to me for most of my career, because most athletes are so selfish. For a good reason. We sort of have to be to be successful with our career.”
Sock falters after missing match point
Young American Jack Sock faced a difficult first round opponent in Ivo Karlovic. Sock started the match well, winning the first set 6-3. Karlovic upped his game in the second set, but he still found himself facing match point in the tiebreak. Unfortunately for Sock, that’s where things started to unravel. One missed backhand and it was a whole new game. He ended up losing the deciding set 6-2. Asked about that spiral, Sock explained, “when you have match point, seems like it’s pretty much in your hands. Pretty routine backhand up the line to make, and I missed it by a couple of inches and missed a simple forehand to lose the set.” Understandably disappointed, Sock still isn’t putting any numbers on his game. Rather than targeting a specific ranking, Sock is happy just to compete, saying, “I mean, for me just to stay out there and stay healthy and feel like I’m improving, if I feel like I’m a better tennis player at the end of the year than I am right now, I would say that’s a pretty successful year.”
Players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Victoria Azarenka took time out of their busy schedules on Thursday evening to walk the “green” carpet at the IW Club for the annual BNP Paribas Open players’ party. This years theme? Disco. But don’t expect many disco themed outfits. As usual, the green carpet saw everything from players in jeans and sweatshirts to mini skirts and six inch stilettos. Let us know what you think of the players’ fashion.
If the USA wins a hotly contested, live, fifth rubber against Brazil, and no one’s there to see it, did it still happen? This past weekend’s first round Davis Cup tie is a fine example of why you can never count on anything in tennis. On paper, the USA should’ve had no trouble dispatching the Brazilians. Not only did they have the privilege of choosing the venue and surface, Team USA has two Top 20 singles players and the best doubles team in the world. Surely it should’ve been no problem to win three matches against a team whose singles players were ranked 36 and 141 and are generally considered clay court specialists. But that’s the magic of Davis Cup.
While the United States rushed to an easy 2-0 lead on Friday, Saturday’s doubles rubber brought the drama. The Brazilian doubles team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares played lights out in the five set match to keep their team alive. Suddenly Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd and there was a real Davis Cup atmosphere going in the stadium, complete with drama between the two teams. Could the Brazilians maintain focus and possibly carry their winning momentum into Sunday’s reverse singles?
Sunday had a decidedly more reserved atmosphere, possibly due to the sparse crowd. It was Super Bowl Sunday after all… John Isner had the first chance to clinch the tie for the US and set up a second round tie against 2010 Davis Cup champions, Serbia. After winning the first set against Thomaz Bellucci 6-2, the momentum should’ve been securely with the Americans. They were just two sets away from victory. All of the sudden it looked as if the weight of the world was dropped on the American’s shoulders. He simply didn’t look like a man who intended to win a tennis match. Although, with John Isner that can mean anything. He’s spoken to the fact that his body language is often misconstrued as negative. That wasn’t quite the case here as Bellucci came back to take the second set. Rinse and repeat as the two once again exchanged sets and the match went to the decisive no tie break fifth set. As it would happen Bellucci wouldn’t have needed the tie break anyway, as he broke Isner to take the set 6-3. This was a devastating blow to the US team, who had once had a 2-0 lead in the tie and was now facing a live fifth rubber at 2-2.
John Isner did not mince words about his loss. He was quick to point out his not so stellar five set record, saying, “today was extremely disappointing for me. You know, can’t sugarcoat it with me. My five-set record is atrocious, it’s simple as that. It falls on me 100%. You know, I got to try to get better personally with that. I feel bad. I didn’t come through for the team today.” Isner was clearly pretty devastated by this loss, a match he was not only expected to win, a match that would’ve meant victory for his team. That’s what sets Davis Cup apart from regular tournament play. The players are dependent on each other. No one can win a Davis Cup tie on their own. At the end of his press conference, he was asked about his personal goals for the year and was quick to point out that his first responsibility was to his team in that moment, “I’m not thinking about my personal goals this year right now at all. Sam lost the first set, I don’t know if y’all know that. Got to try to pull him through. I didn’t do my part today, and that’s what’s tough about being on a team. It feels a lot worse than it does had this been a regular tournament.”
The good news was that the lost set Isner was referring to would be the team’s last. Sam Querrey came back to win the next three sets against Brazilian Thiago Alves, who made quite an impressive showing over the weekend. Post match, Querrey also wanted to point out the team effort that goes into Davis Cup, telling reporters, “I was thrilled I could help the guys out. It’s a team thing. We’re all moving on to the next round.” He’s absolutely right. Anyone can have a bad day and that’s what the other guys are there for. As captain Jim Courier put it, “That’s what these teams are all about, catching each other when we fall down, helping each other over the line.”
The Americans face a much tougher foe in their quarter final tie against Serbia, a team which will likely feature world No. 1, Novak Djokovic. The tie will be played April 5th-7th in Boise, Idaho.
With an impeccable 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles going into today’s match, most people had penned in a US victory for the Bryan brothers in yesterday’s doubles rubber against Brazil. But in tennis it’s never safe to count on the better team on paper. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares have had success playing the Bryans in the past, having beaten the brothers twice, although on clay. This was a whole new ballgame, playing to keep their country alive in the tie, on foreign soil, against the best doubles team in the world. It was almost inconceivable that Brazil could pull off such a victory under the circumstances.
Team Brazil came out to play from the first point, as Bruno Soares put in it the post match press conference, “to beat these guys, you have to be 110%. Today we showed we were 110%, most important for five sets. We didn’t drop for one second.” He was correct. Even when the team went down three set points in the first set tiebreak, they kept calm and were able to go on to win the breaker and take the first set. Things got more heated at the end of the second set tie break, won by the Americans, when their was some controversy over an exclamation by Bob Bryan, seemingly towards Marcelo Melo. The crowd made more of a fuss about the exchange than either team did.
Both teams played down the incident in their post match interviews. Bob Bryan cited the charged environment, saying, “Davis Cup is an emotional atmosphere. They got passionate after they thought they won the set. I got passionate to them. There were some words said. You know, no hard feelings, no grudges.” The sentiment was similar from the Brazilians. Marcelo Melo seemed a bit confused about what happened, saying, “Bob never did this before. We have really good relationship. I have him as a friend. In that moment I got in shock. How Bob did this, is not normal.” He mentioned he would have to review the footage later to see what really happened, but he seemed fairly certain that Bob meant no harm to him directly.
The overall atmosphere in the arena could not have been any more different from Day 1, where the crowd never seemed able to get into the singles matches. The crowd was firmly behind the home team, but there were a few Brazilian fans in the house which made for an even livelier air. The Americans on the Team USA bench were just as pumped up as the crowd, up on their feet as often as not. Ryan Harrison did a particularly good job getting the crowd cheering.
While Team USA would’ve been thrilled to capture the tie on Saturday, fans attending Sunday’s event somewhat benefit from Brazil’s doubles victory. What would’ve been dead rubbers will now be more exciting events. Sunday’s matches begin at 12PM EST and feature reverse singles John Isner v. Thomaz Bellucci followed directly by Sam Querrey v. Thiago Alves.
The USA Davis Cup squad got off to a quick start on Friday in their first round tie against Brazil. Sam Querrey easily overcame Brazil’s No. 1 player, Thomaz Bellucci, in straight sets. Sam Querrey served very well, but Bellucci definitely handed him a few games. He admitted to being a bit nervous in the first few games, but settled in after the first break.
This is the first home tie for both Querrey and Isner and this was Sam Querrey’s first victory in a live singles rubber. Unfortunately, the crowd for the first match was about as flat as Bellucci’s game. However, the sparse audience did a great job of supporting the home team. When asked about the crowd support, Querrey responded, “they got surprisingly loud there at the end for an arena that wasn’t full.” He also urged fans to come out tomorrow to watch the Bryan brothers, who he unequivocally deemed the greatest doubles team of all time.
The crowd had an easier time getting into the second match, which was surprisingly less one sided than the first. Where Thomaz Bellucci seemed resigned to lose, Thiago Alves maintained a very positive attitude against John Isner, a player ranked 125 spots higher than him. After losing the first set 6-3, Alves hung in there in the second and had plenty of chances against the American. All of the sudden the Brazilian bench was on its feet and Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd, forcing the US fans to step up their game.
Based on the players’ body language, an onlooker would have easily mistaken the score of the match in favor of Brazil. Alves was fist pumping after every winning point, while Isner lumbered around the court, a point he was quick to address in his post match press conference, saying, “ I don’t realize it when I’m out there, but I guess I am pretty slow and pretty deliberate, especially in a three-out-of-five-set match.” The good news was that the attitude had nothing to do with the knee pain that sidelined Isner during the Australian Open. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, John Isner stated that he plans to play the reverse singles rubber on Sunday.
Saturday’s schedule features Bob and Mike Bryan against Brazilian players Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. This match gives the brothers a chances to clinch the tie for the United States. The last time the Bryan brothers lost a Davis Cup match was 2008, but their not prepared to write in that “W” quite yet. In Thursday’s post-draw press conference, Bob Bryan said, “we have to go out there and play good tennis, have to execute. This is a team that has beaten us before. They beat us in a big match at the French. We really respect them. We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us.” It’s smart never to take the competition likely, but the Bryans have an impressive 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles.
By Andrea Lubinksky
On Wednesday morning, Novak Djokovic teamed up with UNIQLO CEO Shin Odake and Creative Direcor Naoki Takizawa to give the press a look at his new tennis apparel line. First, Odake explained how appointing Djokovic global brand ambassador is a key part of breaking into the US and global markets. Then the guest of honor joined Odake on stage to talk about his US Open kit and his partnership with the company. Creative Director Takizawa discussed his inspiration for the line, saying, “the national flag of Serbia inspired me when I was thinking about the color and design of his match wear. In particular, I was inspired by the shapes of the wings of the eagles that are on the flag, and with this in mind I began to draw lines in his match wear.” Djokovic demonstrated some of the more unique aspects of his US Open kit, which features a quick open zipper on the jacket and towel lined pockets.
Following the press conference, Djokovic hosted a photo session with fans, some of whom had waited in line for several hours. The 30 minute session started at 10:10am and by 10:40am, the line was still wrapped around the building and most of the way down 53rd Street. Excited fans were thrilled to get their photo taken with the tennis star. Some lucky fans got an autograph or a hug with their photo. The star was very accommodating. Djokovic’s longtime girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, even got in on the photographer action, snapping a few photos on her phone throughout the session.
The new collection features polo shirts and shorts in white, blue, navy, as well as track suits in white and navy. Prices range from $49.90 to $89.90 and the clothes will be available beginning August 27th at all three New York stores. All photos from Wednesday’s event are available on the UNIQLO USA Facebook page.