In Sunday’s Pacific Life Open final, #3 Novak Djokovic took on unseeded Cinderella story Mardy Fish. Fish started out a bit sluggish and perhaps nervous. Djokovic won the first six points of the game and got out to a 3-0 start before Fish started finding his range. He drew it back on serve to 3-2, but then lost the next three games to drop the set 6-2. Djokovic went up 4-2 in the second set and looked like he would be well on his way to easy victory but Fish was able to break back to level the set at 4all. They continued on serve, until seemingly out of nowhere, Fish managed to sneak out a break at 5all before serving out the set 7-5 to take it to a decider.
At the start of the third set it looked like Fish was going to keep it up as he quickly got a 0-40 lead on Djokovic’s service game. But Djokovic saved the three break points with three aces and squashed Fish’s early hopes. Djokovic would break in the next game and take a 3-0 lead. Fish would have no more real chances to get the break back and the two men held until Djokovic served out the set and the match 6-3. For Fish, his sluggish movement and untimely unforced errors (44 to only 29 winners), in addition to his low first serve percentage (40% for the match but only 33% in the third set), proved to be fatal. For Djokovic, he was steadier with the same 29 winners, but only 33 unforced errors.
And so, Djokovic’s fairytale and nearly perfect start to the 2008 season continues with his second title and third ATP Masters Series title overall. He puts a further dent into the points difference between he and Nadal, and, like Erlich and Ram in the doubles, has taken both of the required events that have been played this season thus far. For Fish, he will rise from the brink of falling out of the top 100 to #40 and will be the #3 ranked American once again. Hopefully he will be able to stay healthy – something he has had trouble doing – and keep this form up as he has very few points to defend until the summer.
In their speeches on court after the match, Fish thanked the crowd for getting him through several of his matches this week and proclaimed it is one of his favorite tournaments on the tour. Djokovic gave credit to Fish for his outstanding run and said he should be ranked higher than his current ranking.
The first ATP Masters Series event of the year kicks off in the California Desert. Boasting a 96-player field (which gives all 32 seeded players a bye), the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells should be home to some fantastic tennis over the next week and a half or so. Here’s our take on the draw.
The first quarter is arguably the toughest, as it arguably contains three of the five biggest favorites going into the tournament: #1 Roger Federer, #6 Andy Roddick, and #11 Andy Murray. Federer, coming off of mono and a disappointing opening-match loss here last year, will be looking to do well, and should advance to the quarterfinals without too much drama. We’ll go out on a limb here and say his opponent will be named Andy. Which Andy, we cannot say. Murray and Roddick are projected to face each other in the fourth round. Murray might have a tough third round match against Ivo Karlovic, and Roddick might have to get by Tommy Haas (or in-form Julien Benneteau) and Fernando Verdasco. Interestingly, if Roddick and Verdasco face each other, it will be the third time in four years they will play at this tournament.
While it perhaps doesn’t contain as many title favorites as the top quarter, the second quarter of the draw is still full of potential threats in #4 Nikolay Davydenko, #7 David Nalbandian, and former champion Lleyton Hewitt. It will be interesting how local boy Sam Querrey, fresh off winning his first title last week in Las Vegas, handles himself in a much larger tournament. A second round match between him and Hewitt could be interesting, as could a third-round match Nalbandian and in-form Radek Stepanek. While Davydenko should make the quarterfinals, he faces potential threats in compatriot Mikhail Youzhny. As for who Davydenko or Youzhny (or Hewitt or any one of the other solid players in that section) might face, the obvious favorite would be Nalbandian, but who knows which Nalbandian will show up, so we could easily see Stepanek or Fernando Gonzalez (if he can find his form in time) in the quarterfinals instead.
Last year’s winner, #3 Novak Djokovic, and Finalist #2 Rafael Nadal head up the bottom half of the draw. In the third quarter, which contains Djokovic and also #5 David Ferrer, doesn’t have as many lower-ranked threats, but there are still some interesting potential matchups to look forward to. An intriguing fourth round match could pit Ferrer against #10 Tomas Berdych. The winner of that match should face Djokovic in the quarterfinals, but the defending champ faces a potential test in the third round against Philipp Kohlschreiber and might have a difficult match against Guillermo Canas, who made a name for himself last year as a lucky loser who upset Federer in the second round. Still, we expect to see Djokovic in the quarters here, and probably farther.
In the last quarter of the draw, Nadal seems the obvious favorite to make it through his section, but this quarter of the draw is full of players who have the game to beat the Spaniard on hardcourts. His first test could come as early as the third round, where he will likely face serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez, his occasional doubles partner. Lopez is coming off his impressive final showing in Dubai, where he beat a slew of top ten players before losing in the final. It won’t get easier from there for Nadal, as whoever wins the potential match between Frenchmen Paul-Henri Mathieu and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who took Nadal out of the Australian Open, could pose problems for Nadal. Should Nadal advance to the quarterfinals, he could face yet another player who has given him difficulties, James Blake or Richard Gasquet. Blake has had particularly good success against Nadal on hardcourts, but if Gasquet were to get his backhand firing and make it to the quarterfinals, he could also pose a tough test for Nadal. Also in that section is Robin Soderling, and while his results outdoors are not as good as indoors, he has the potential to post good results and his powerful baseline game can give any of these top players trouble if he finds his form.
As you can see, the first Masters Series event of the year is full of potentially fascinating matches and hopefully some upsets here and there! Our blogger Debra will be at the event this weekend and will have lots of pictures and reports to share when she gets back!
A comprehensive preview for the tournaments that are being played this week. First up is Dubai that features prominent players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. And then there is the tournament in Las Vegas. It doesn’t have the starpower of Dubai but it’s still an interesting one feating Fernando Gonzalez among others.
What can we really say about this tournament except that money talks. When you have 8 of the top 10 players and a cutoff of 57, this tournament is almost tougher than a Masters Draw, in the sense that the top seeds can face people at the top of the game in the first round. This is no more obvious than at the very top of the draw, where #1 seed and record four-time champion Roger Federer has to open against none other than Andy Murray, ranked #12. With so many fascinating early matchups in this draw, it would take us all day to really do it justice. But here’s a more realistic preview. The toughest opponent in Federer’s quarter is arguably Murray. Should he get past that, he would likely face friend and compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka or #5 seed Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals. Of course, it’s Federer, so it’s hard to see him losing before the semifinals, at least. This is Federer’s first competition since losing in the Australian Open semifinals, and he said today that he is rested, ready to go, and that the break has been good for him.
The second quarter is highlighted by #4 seed David Ferrer against Tommy Haas. Haas had a good run in Dubai last year, making the semifinals before losing to Federer. But considering the bad losses Haas has had since coming back to the tour a few weeks ago in Delray Beach, we see Ferrer winning this one comfortably. This quarter is chock full of solid players who, should they find some form, could produce some upsets; Jarkko Nieminen, Feliciano Lopez, Janko Tipsarevic, and Olivier Rochus are all capable of showing up on the big stages against the very top players. #8 seed Tomas Berdych opens against Gael Monfils, playing his first match since last September, when he retired due to injury.
Things get no easier in the bottom half. #7 seed Richard Gasquet opens against Dmitry Tursunov. Though Gasquet might be the favorite on paper, he is 0-2 against Tursunov, including a loss in their most recent meeting earlier this year in Sydney. Another interesting match in this quarter is last year’s runner-up Mikhail Youzhny against 2002 Dubai champion Fabrice Santoro. Should Youzhny make it through that match, we would likely see an intriguing second round between Youzhny and #3 seed Novak Djokovic. Though this quarter is an excellent one, Djokovic should advance to the semifinal if he has fully recovered from the flu that plagued him during Davis Cup.
And to the final quarter of the draw, where things get no easier. Making a rare appearance overseas when there is a US tournament to pick from, #6 seed Andy Roddick makes his debut in Dubai against 2001 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. Roddick, however, is 3-0 against Ferrero, all matches on outdoor hardcourt, and should fancy his chances if he is not too jetlagged after the long trip from Memphis. This section contains local wildcard Mahmoud Nader, who isn’t worth mentioning except that he’s so obscure that he doesn’t have a ranking and is not even mentioned on the ITF website. Rounding out the draw is #2 Rafael Nadal, who has a tough opener in Philipp Kohlschreiber. A Roddick/Nadal quarterfinal should be in the cards, and we can hope that should that match come to fruition that Roddick would play better than in their match at Indian Wells last year, which was played under similar conditions.
In stark contrast to Dubai, Las Vegas’s Tennis Channel Open lacks major starpower but still has a respectable field that includes three top 20 players. And the draw still holds plenty of interesting matches. Right at the top of the draw, #1 seed Fernando Gonzalez, returning after a short injury layoff, will look for revenge against Dudi Sela, who beat Gonzalez last year in Israel in a memorable Davis Cup playoff tie. Surely, the loss still stings for Gonzalez and he will be looking forward to the chance for revenge. Also in this section is American wild card John Isner and #6 seed Michael Llodra, who has already won two titles this year. A quarterfinal between Gonzalez and Llodra would be an interesting contrast in style.
The stronger 2nd quarter of the draw is headed by #3 seed Marcos Baghdatis, who has a tricky opening meeting with always-entertaining Vince Spadea. Right below them is an interesting matchup between two players trying to rebuild their form and ranking – wild card entry Robby Ginepri and Xavier Malisse. Rising star Ernests Gulbis is in this section and Robin Soderling, coming off his two consecutive indoor final appearances, will try to take his sky-high serve toss outdoors to windy Las Vegas.
In the bottom half, the third quarter contains several players who came from the Latin American claycourt swing who will try to get their hardcourt feet before the two masters events coming up. Potito Starace will take on fellow claycourter Carlos Berlocq, and #4 seed Guillermo Canas has an interesting opener against Thomas Johansson.
The bottom quarter has undoubtedly the most interesting first round match of the event – and quite a shame considering the relatively weak field – between defending champion and #2 seed Lleyton Hewitt and last year’s semifinalist (he lost to Hewitt then) Marat Safin. Also in this section, #8 seed Nicolas Kiefer plays only his second event of the year, and the highest ranked American in the draw – Sam Querrey – will try to make an impact.
The 7th week of the ATP Tour is coming up and so here is another preview. The preview includes Buenos Aires (Argentina), ABN Amro in Rotterdam (Netherlands), San Jose (USA).
The South American claycourt swing heads to Buenos Aires this week and all the usual suspects are there to try to win this title. Three of the top four seeds are hometown players looking to claim their first title of the year – #4 seed Juan Ignacio Chela especially will be looking to turn around an abysmal start to the year but faces a very tough opener in Santiago Ventura. We will have to wait and see if this is one of the weeks #1 seed David Nalbandian decides to care about tennis (though we’d like to think he’d care at his home tournament), and it is #2 seed Juan Monaco’s first tournament back after a pretty serious ankle injury that dashed his hopes for a title two weeks ago at Vina del Mar; he also faces a tough opener in Agustin Calleri. Also joining the party and poised to make deep runs are this week’s Brasil Open finalists Nicolas Almagro and Carlos Moya, depending on how they rebound physically. Filled with claycourters and possible upsets, it’s really impossible to know how this one might turn out.
Despite losing world #3 Novak Djokovic before the draw was made, this tournament is clearly still the strongest of the week, as it boasts half of the world’s top ten (in fact, all eight seeds are in the top 20) and 125 ranking points more than Buenos Aires or San Jose. This means there are no easy draws, evidenced by the fact that #1 seed Rafael Nadal must open against tough Dmitry Tursunov right away in the first round and a potential second round with Lleyton Hewitt. In the very same first quarter of the draw, Marcos Baghdatis faces no easy task in first round opponent and indoor monster Robin Soderling.
Headed by #4 seed and defending champion Mikhail Youzhny and #7 Juan Carlos Ferrero, this quarter is easily the weakest of the four, and Youzhny is the obvious favorite to make it through to the semis from this section, but Ferrero should not be counted out either. This quarter is not without dangerous floaters, though. Gilles Simon or Feliciano Lopez could make for a tricky second round match for Youzhny, and while not his favorite surface, the fact that Tommy Robredo is ranked 19 in the world and is unseeded just shows just how strong this draw is.
The third quarter of the draw is where things really get interesting. Fresh off his uh, challenger win this week, last year’s finalist Ivan Ljubicic sees himself unseeded and thus will have his hands full – very full – with #5 seed Tomas Berdych in the first round. Right next to them in the draw is perhaps the funniest-looking match on the ATP tour with pint-sized Olivier Rochus taking on the giant Ivo Karlovic. #3 Ferrer’s draw to the quarterfinals appears to be a fairly smooth one, but he cannot overlook Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
In the final quarter of the draw, #6 seed Andy Murray, fresh off his Marseille win, should make it through to the quarterfinals, where he’d also be favored against #2 seed Nikolay Davydenko. Also lurking in this quarter is Michael Llodra, who could be a formidable player indoors if he gets his serve-volley game working, and local players Robin Haase and Raemon Sluiter, who announced that he is making this Rotterdam event his last ATP appearance.
What can we really say except that this is Roddick’s tournament to lose (which means he probably will). Stopped by Andy Murray the past two years in the semifinals and champion the two years after that, Murray’s decision to play the European indoor swing, as well as Ivo Karlovic’s, conbined with the absence of Fernando Gonzalez, leaves this tournament Roddick’s for the taking. Whether he will take it, we will have to wait and see. He faces lucky loser Chris Guccione, a late replacement Vince Spadea, in the first round and could face Delray Beach champ Kei Nishikori in what would be a most intriguing second round. At the bottom of the draw, James Blake will have to rebound quickly from the disappointment of losing the Delray Beach final and could face Robby Ginepri again, if Ginepri makes it there (he opens in a rematch of last week’s match against Michael Russell).
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this event is something not even related to the tournament draw at all. Tomorrow night, Pete Sampras will play an exhibition against Tommy Haas and the following night, the entire US Davis Cup team will be present with the trophy itself, which is making a stop in San Jose, for a nice celebration.
All the important news from the first round of play in this week’s three events!
Costa do Sauipe
In the last match on Monday, Carlos Moya had some trouble beating Santiago Ventura and had to go three sets to get the job done. Today, third seed Igor Andreev’s poor start to 2008 continued when he lost badly to qualifier Eduardo Schwank , who played a solid match. Looks like the Russian just plays well when he thinks he should… Second seed Nicolas Almagro beat Nicolas Massu in straight sets. Surprisingly, Massu didn’t look interested in winning the match. After his awful loss in Davis Cup to Jamie Baker, Agustin Calleri lost again, this time to Sergio Roitman in two easy sets. Potito Starace came back from his ban and lost to Ivo Minar in three sets. One of the biggest upsets of the day was Sebastien Decoud’s win over countryman Jose Acasuso. It was Decoud’s first win on the ATP tour.
But the biggest story today is that Guillermo Coria won his first match after quite a long time. His last official win was against Calleri in Amersfoort Quarterfinals in 2006. He beat qualifier Francisco Aldi in straight sets, the second one having an unbelievable eleven breaks of serve and 18 double faults. Despite the hilarity of the stats, the win was an important one for Coria, who called it the “happiest day” of his career. okayyyyyy.
Tuesday also saw Gustavo Kuerten play his last match in his home country. Guga fought valiantly against Carlos Berlocq, playing him very tight in the first set and even having an early break. Unfortunately, after losing the first, he had to see the trainer and simply was unable to keep competing at that high level. But come back tomorrow for a special piece about Guga and his last matches in Brasil. Such a special player deserves special attention, and we will bring it to you tomorrow!
Here are the full results from Tuesday’s play in Costa do Sauipe:
Singles – First Round
 N Almagro (ESP) d N Massu (CHI) 63 62
[Q] E Schwank (ARG) d  I Andreev (RUS) 63 62
I Minar (CZE) d  P Starace (ITA) 64 46 62
 F Volandri (ITA) d [Q] D Munoz-De La Nava (ESP) 62 64
S Roitman (ARG) d  A Calleri (ARG) 63 62
[Q] S Decoud (ARG) d  J Acasuso (ARG) 63 16 76(3)
G Coria (ARG) d [Q] F Aldi (ITA) 64 75
P Luczak (AUS) d [WC] M Daniel (BRA) 75 64
O Patience (FRA) d J Brzezicki (ARG) 63 75
C Berlocq (ARG) d [WC] G Kuerten (BRA) 75 61
O Hernandez (ESP) d P Cuevas (URU) 76(5) 64
Doubles – First Round
 F Cermak (CZE) / L Friedl (CZE) d J Brzezicki (ARG) / H Zeballos (ARG) 36 63 10-8
N Almagro (ESP) / M Vassallo Arguello (ARG) d O Hernandez (ESP) / S Roitman (ARG) 63 64
 M Granollers-Pujol (ESP) / R Ramirez Hidalgo (ESP) d P Luczak (AUS) / B Pashanski (SRB) 63 62
L Arnold Ker (ARG) / S Prieto (ARG) d N Devilder (FRA) / O Patience (FRA) 64 61
In Delray Beach, the opening day provided that the tournament will have a new champion this year as both former champions in the field, Xavier Malisse and Tommy Haas, lost on Monday night. After his loss to Diego Hartfield in his first match of 2008, Haas commented that his shoulder was okay but he was feeling weak – his serve had trouble getting over 110mph, but it is good news that he is not in pain. Malisse’s downfall is that he was only able to convert 2 of 17 break points. He admitted afterwards that he just played badly and had no confidence and that the windy conditions made it even more difficult.
In today’s wind and rain-affected results, Gilles Muller beat rising American Jesse Levine in two tight sets. This marks Muller’s first ATP-level win since last year at Wimbledon. Michael Russell took advantage of Dudi Sela’s late withdrawal and beat lucky loser Alex Bogomolov Jr. losing only a single game. Mardy Fish somehow finished a match without double faulting or facing a break point, an astounding feat regardless of who his opponent was. At press time, three matches were left unfinished and several others were postponed as rain moved into Delray Beach again.
Here are the full results from Tuesday’s play in Delray Beach:
Singles – First Round
 M Fish (USA) d [Q] M Crugnola (ITA) 61 75
M Russell (USA) d [LL] A Bogomolov Jr. (USA) 61 60
G Muller (LUX) d [WC] J Levine (USA) 75 76(4)
I Kunitsyn (RUS) d B Becker (GER) 63 76(1)
[LL] M Mirnyi (BLR) d [Q] L Gregorc (SLO) 76(5) 62
 J Blake (USA) vs R Kendrick (USA) 32 – postponed due to rain
Y Schukin (RUS) vs  S Querrey (USA) 16 13 – postponed due to rain
 V Spadea (USA) vs D Gremelmayr (GER) 30 – postponed due to rain
D Young (USA) vs [Q] A Delic (USA) – postponed due to rain
[LL] A Bogomolov Jr. (USA) replaced  D Sela (ISR) – personal
**[LL] M Mirnyi (BLR) replaced  V Hanescu (ROU) – illness
Doubles – First Round
 E Butorac (USA) / T Perry (AUS) vs M Fish (USA) / M Knowles (BAH) – postponed due to rain
[Alt]S Huss (AUS) / A Kuznetsov (USA) vs  I Kunitsyn (RUS) / J Thomas (USA) – postponed due to rain
**[Alt]S Huss (AUS) / A Kuznetsov (USA) replaced D Sela (ISR) / P Capdeville (CHI)
In Marsellie, Monday only saw two main draw matches, one of which had a notable result. Robin Soderling made a successful return to the ATP Tour after an extended injury break with a hard-fought three-set win over Jarkko Nieminen.
The big guns hit the court today and lived up to expectations, Led by top seed Andy Murray, all seeds in action won, including Juan Carlos Ferrero, who beat Hyung-Taik Lee, and Marcos Baghdatis, who beat former tournament champion Arnaud Clement. Perhaps not so much an upset but a disappointment for the local French crowd, Stanislas Wawrinka beat Grosjean in three tough sets, and the aging Frenchman’s poor results sadly continue.
Here are the full results from Tuesday’s play in Marseille:
Singles – First Round
 A Murray (GBR) d [Q] J Huta Galung (NED) 64 64
 J Ferrero (ESP) d H Lee (KOR) 64 61
 M Baghdatis (CYP) d A Clement (FRA) 63 64
J Benneteau (FRA) d A Pavel (ROU) 62 10 ret. (lower back)
N Mahut (FRA) d [Q] M Elgin (RUS) 63 63
[Q] T Gabashvili (RUS) d M Berrer (GER) 76(5) 64
S Wawrinka (SUI) d S Grosjean (FRA) 36 64 64
Doubles – First Round
M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) d I Karlovic (CRO) / L Zovko (CRO) 75 64
S Bolelli (ITA) / A Seppi (ITA) d [WC] C Haggard (RSA) / N Mahut (FRA) 46 63 10-8
A comprehensive preview of this week’s ATP Tournaments. The preview includes Marseille, the Brasil Open and Delray Beach. Gustavo Kuerten makes his final appearance at the Costa do Sauipe.
Costa do Sauipe (Brasil Open)
As expected, the only ATP tournament played in Brazil is full of clay court specialists. Carlos Moya comes back to play there after missing it last year; he is the top seed. He has an interesting first round match against Santiago Ventura, but he’s the favorite to go through to the second round. Agustin Calleri is in his quarter and that should be a great match if both get that far, though the Argentine would have to beat tough guys like Sergio Rotiman and Pablo Cuevas. In the second quarter, Igor Andreev is by far the biggest favorite even though Jose Acasuso’s in the same section. Two Brazilians are also in that same quarter with tough first round matches. Marcos Daniel faces Peter Luczak, who’s played a semifinal at the Brasil Open before and Bellucci faces Nicolas Lapentti.
In the third quarter, Potito Starace’s back after his ban for betting on tennis matches. In the same quarter, we’d have to mention both Fabio Fognini and Gustavo Kuerten, who will open against Carlos Berlocq. In the last quarter, the favorites are second seed Nicolas Almagro, who has a good draw, and Filippo Volandri; both of these players really good on clay. Nicolas Massu and Guillermo Coria are both in this quarter as well.
This year’s tournament should be really interesting, considering it will be the last time the three-time Roland Garros Champion Gustavo Kuerten plays the tournament in his own country. It’s also important to remember that the tournament might be played in another city (São Paulo) in 2009, so it might be the last year for the event in Costa do Sauipe. Also, none of last year’s semifinalists are playing at ths year’s event.
While Delray Beach is typically the week right after the Australian Open, it was pushed back two weeks this year and instead follows the First Round Davis Cup ties; in fact, the draw is full of players who will be arriving from all corners of the globe.
Headliner and top seed James Blake is already on his way from Austria and will arrive home in Florida to see quite an easy draw. He opens against compatriot Robert Kendrick, but despite the inevitable jetlag, it’s hard to see him not coming through this section of the draw.
In the second quarter, although Dudi Sela is the highest-ranked player and #4 seed, he will be coming off a disappointing Davis Cup tie in Israel and faces potentially formidable competition in Robby Ginepri (if he’s healthy from the neck/back problems that plagued him during the Australian season) and #8 seed Mardy Fish (if he brings his brain down to Delray Beach).
The third quarter of the draw is led by American seeds Sam Querrey and Vince Spadea. It’s likely that the two will play each other in the Quarterfinals.
The fourth quarter is probably the most interesting. Tommy Haas is the #2 seed and makes his first appearance of 2008 after missing the entire Australian season due to his recovery from another shoulder injury. Whether he is 100% fit to play and fully recovered remains to be seen. If he wins, he could face another interesting story in defending champion Xavier Malisse, still coming back from injury after missing most of last year, who has had great success in Delray Beach in years’ past – it is where he was finally able to claim his first ATP Title in 2005 after a dismal record in finals. Malisse has also played two other finals in Delray and has won the doubles title. Florian Mayer will be coming from Davis Cup duties in Germany, giving rising American Donald Young a chance to finally make a splash in an ATP tournament.
Marseille is by far the strongest event of the week, featuring more prize money and a field that includes three top 10 players in Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet, and new top 10er Mikhail Youzhny, all coming off of Davis Cup play this weekend.
Novak Djokovic heads the draw but his fitness is in question after retiring in today’s Davis Cup match. If Djokovic is fit, he should make the quarters where he would face the always tough Paul-Henri Mathieu in a very intriguing match. This little section also contains tough Frenchmen Michael Llodra, Marc Gicquel, and defending champion Gilles Simon. In the second quarter, Andy Murray returns after leaving his country high and dry in Argentina due to a “knee injury.” Also in this quarter, 2007 Brazil Open runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero makes an interesting decision to play indoors instead of in Brasil on his beloved clay, and more tough Frenchmen including Nicolas Mahut and Sebastien Grosjean could be dangerous.
The third quarter of the draw is full of good players and potential title threats. Defending finalist Marcos Baghdatis, whose coach stepped down last week, faces a difficult second round match between either Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez, which should be an exciting encounter (not). Should Baghdatis make it through to the quarterfinals, he will likely face Youzhny in a rematch of an excellent quarterfinal match at this event last year. However, Youzhny has a tough opener in rising Croatian Marin Cilic, who has posted excellent results this year.
The stars of the fourth quarter are France’s top 2 players – Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who will be looking to meet in the quarterfinals, which would be an interesting rematch of their Australian Open Round of 16 match and quite a big deal in France. But first, Tsonga must get past Mario Ancic, a former top player who is trying to come back from various ilnesses and injuries. Also in this quarter, Robin Soderling returns to the tour after an extended injury break. Soderling will open against tough Fin Jarkko Nieminen, a semifinalist here last year.
A Davis Cup Round Up of Day three with the final scores between Russia-Serbia, Israel – Sweden and many others.
Russia vs Serbia
As we expected, Novak Djokovic attempted to play for Serbia to keep their hopes alive. Despite Djokovic not being 100% fit, Nikolay Davydenko played even worse and Djokovic was able to build a 2 sets lead and had 3-0 double break in the third set. Davydenko lifted his level of play in the third set, hitting 17 of his 26 winners in this set alone, but Djokovic still had 4*-3 40-0 when he threw in two double faults to give up all advantage. Davydenko was able to eke out the third set and Djokovic retired, exhausted and dizzy, thus handing the tie to the Russians. In the final meaningless dead rubber, Viktor Troicki, who acquitted himself so well in Friday’s match against Davydenko, produced a three-set upset of Dmitry Tursunov to leave the final score of the tie at 3-2.
Israel vs Sweden
In the first match between Dudi Sela and Thomas Johansson, Sela was trying to produce one more great result for his country and Thomas Johansson was trying to keep his team alive. The first set was a long and difficult one, with each player having multiple break points that neither could convert. Finally, Sela broke and served for the set at 5-3 but was broken to love. After an hour and a half or so of play and a see-saw tiebreaker, Johansson was able to eke out the first set. After an easy second set, Johansson built up a 3-0 double break in the third set but lost four games in a row. After saving a 0-40 game serving at 3-4, Johansson was able to break Sela in the 11th game of the set and serve it out easily for a tough straight sets win. Johansson was thus able to keep Sweden alive and send the weekend’s only tie to a live fifth rubber, much to the dismay of the boisterous Israeli crowd.
So to the weekend’s only live fifth rubber in World Group play, which pitted Jonas Bjorkman against Harel Levy. Levy got off to a tremendous start (probably more accurate to say Bjorkman got off to an abysmal one) by bageling Bjorkman, but Bjorkman came storming back, saved some break points in the second set and won it despite losing more points. In the fourth set, Levy had an early break and barely managed to hold onto his serve until serving for the set at 5-4 when Bjorkman finally reclaimed the break on a Levy doublefault and ultimately won a tight tiebreaker in the fourth. So, Bjorkman was able to complete Sweden’s stunning comeback ending in a 3-2 victory. And their prize is going to Argentina for the quarters….
Germany vs Korea
The only other live tie on Sunday saw Germany trying to wrap up a victory over Korea. Philipp Kohlschreiber played Hyung-Taik Lee in the first match. Kohlschreiber got off to an excellent start, handing Lee a bagel, and then got a little lazy in the second set, which Lee won after saving some break points when he tried to close it out. Kohlschreiber recovered and managed to take the next two sets, including a difficult and tight fourth set, to wrap up a 4-set win and Germany’s victory. In the final dead rubber, unknown Woong-Sun Jun upset Michael Berrer in three sets to finish the tie with a 3-2 score for the Germans.
No real need to talk in-depth about the ties that were completed yesterday after the doubles. In the Czech Republic, Belgians Steve Darcis and unknown Ruben Bemelmans were able to restore a bit of pride for Belgium, winning both the dead rubbers (the 2nd when Pavel Vizner retired), for a final score of 3-2 for the Czechs. Argentina ended up with a 4-1 victory after Jamie Baker somehow beat good claycourter Agustin Calleri in straight sets. So at least Great Britain can leave with a bit of pride after an otherwise painful weekend. In Peru, Spain completed its 5-1 whitewash over Peru with two straight-sets wins today. France also completed its 5-0 win over Romania with two wins from Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement.
Finally, the US ended up with a 4-1 victory in Austria. While America’s top two stars curiously and inexplicably left Vienna early Sunday morning to head back to the US, twin doubles stars Bob and Mike Bryan were left to complete the dead rubbers. Though Mike had not played a singles match in years and was in his Davis Cup singles debut, he acquitted himself quite well against Stefan Koubek until he suffered a hamstring strain and retired early in the 2nd set. In perhaps the most laughable result of the day, Bob Bryan slip-slided around the clay using his aggressive serve and forehand and wonderful volleys to beat Werner Eschauer in three sets (including a bagel in the first).
Zonal Group I Ties
Of course, this weekend saw many of the Zonal groups play. While the higher-ranked countries there have byes, a few notable countries were playing for the right to move to April’s 2nd round (with the winners there given a chance to play in September’s World Group playoffs against the World Group 1st round losers from this weekend – yes, we know it’s confusing). Anyway, in the Europe/Africa Zone, both Macedonia and Switzerland wrapped up their ties with comfortable victories. In the America’s Zone I, Canada wrapped up an easy victory over Mexico, despite playing without top player Frank Dancevic, and will play undesirable foe Chile in April.
In the tightest tie in zonal play, Colombia and Uruguay competed for the right to play Brasil in April. In a rain-affected tie, Uruguayan Cuevas played a heroic 10 sets on Saturday to give his team a 2-1 lead, including the doubles match ending at 8-6 in the fifth. Understandably, this monumental effort took a lot out of Cuevas, and he lost in three easy sets on Sunday to Alejandro Falla, who was able to send the tie to a live fifth rubber, won by Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo, unfortunately leaving Cuevas’s herculean effort all for naught. Finally, in the Asia/Oceania Zone I play, Australia wrapped up an easy 4-1 win over Chinese Taipei behind two wins from Lleyton Hewitt, Japan wrapped up a 5-0 victory over the Philippines, and Thailand and India each wrapped up 3-2 victories.
World Group Quarterfinal Preview
So, the Quarterfinals are now set. At the top of the draw, Russia will have the home advantage over the Czech Republic, which should be an interesting tie assuming both countries’ top players show up. The Czech Republic has solid players in Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek and a clear advantage in doubles with specialists Vizner and Dlouhy, but the Russians can never be underestimated, especially at home. Surface could be key for this tie. Next, Sweden will be the next victims of an Argentine home tie, which will surely be on clay. Argentina has not lost a home tie since 1998, and it’s hard to see Sweden breaking that streak, no matter who plays for each team.
The bottom half of the World Group draw features two very interesting quarterfinals. Spain will head to Germany, which could be a close tie especially if Tommy Haas is healthy and able to play. Look for the Germans to lay down a fast court. Spain will hope that its top two players in Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer show up to play; both stayed home for the first round tie. Finally, the US faces the toughest home tie as they will host France at the already-decided venue indoors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which held an excellent quarterfinal tie last year. We imagine the Americans will lay down a very quick low-bouncing court, probably one that plays similar to the US Open. With an excellent doubles team and two singles players having fantastic 2008 seasons, France will pose a formidable threat, particularly because their preferred surfaces are the same as the Americans so picking a favorable surface will be difficult for the defending champions, so they will have to rely on their top stars’ excellent home records and the crowd to pull through instead of any surface advantage if they hope to advance to the semifinals.
By the way, there was one fairly decent-sized Challenger event this week in Bergamo, Italy, and it was a good one for hometown player Andreas Seppi, who picked up the singles title with a good win over Julien Benneteau and the doubles title with Countryman Bolelli.
A Davis Cup weekend with some interesting matches between Russia – Serbia, Argentina – Great Britain and Austria – USA.
Russia vs. Serbia
The doubles was a must-win match for the Serbians to stay alive, so despite neither player being 100%, Serbia fielded its best possible team in Novak Djokovic and top doubles player Nenad Zimonjic (pictured right, click for larger). On the Russian side, Mikhail Youzhny replaced Marat Safin and paired up with Dmitry Tursunov. For the first two sets, the Serbians were in control of the match, but it got much tougher in the third set as the affects of their virus caught up to Djokovic and Zimonjic – after the match Zimonjic would say they were just trying to “survive” during the third set. In fact, the Russian served for that set at 6*-5, but they didn’t and the Serbians went on to win the tiebreaker, allowing their team to try to fight back on Sunday. After the match, Djokovic said he did feel somewhat better but not 100% and did not know if he would be able to come out on Sunday to play Davydenko.
Czech Republic vs Belgium
With their top two singles players, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek (pictured left, click for larger), back on court today for doubles, the Czech Republic clinched its spot in the World Group Quarterfinals with a marathon 5-set win that spanned almost 4 and a half hours. In a see-saw affair, the Czechs served for the first set but ultimately lost it in a tiebreaker. It was an interesting move by the Czechs to stick with their singles players instead of Dlouhy and Vizner, two excellent doubles players on the team. Down a set and a break to the Belgians Kristof Vliegen and Olivier Rochus, the Czechs made a fine comeback, taking the second set also in a tiebreaker. The match continued this back and forth progression through the fifth set, where the Belgians let slip an early break point only to lose it 6-4 in the end, sending the Czechs through to the Quarters.
Argentina vs Great Britain
The only real news we have here is that Great Britain finally made a set close, really close! The British team of Ross Hutchins and doubles specialist Jamie Murray were able to push David Nalbandian and Jose Acasuso (pictured right, click for larger) to a 13-11 second set tiebreaker. They even had at least one set point in that tiebreaker to give themselves their first set of the whole tie but were unable to convert. Of course then they were bageled in the third, but at least Britain made one set close… So, the Argentines breeze through to the quarterfinals
Israel vs Sweden
Coming off their historical first Grand Slam title, it was up to Israelis Erlich and Ram (pictured left, click for larger) to give Israel an all-important advantage going into Sunday’s singles tie, and they did not disappoint their home crowd. Starting off well and getting out to an early 3-0 lead, the Israelis were in control from the start. Excellent doubles in their own right, Sweden’s Aspelin and Lindstedt were able to keep the match close despite the straight-sets score. So Israel will head into tomorrow’s reverse singles with a 2-1 advantage and two very interesting matches on Sunday with Sela facing Thomas Johansson first up.
Germany vs Korea
Not a whole lot to say here as Korea interestingly did not play its top player Hyung-Taik Lee and instead played two relative unknowns in Jun and An. The German pairing of Philipps – Kohlschreiber and Petzschner (pictured right, click for larger) – easily dispatched the Korean team, giving the Germans a 2-1 lead going into tomorrow. The first reverse singles match will pit Kohlschreiber against Lee, which should be an interesting encounter.
Peru vs Spain
After pulling out of yesterday’s opening singles match with an injury, Peru’s only notable player, Luis Horna, managed to suit up for the doubles. Playing with Ivan Miranda, however, the team was still outclassed by a stronger Spanish team – Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez (pictured left, click for larger) – two singles players who still have excellent doubles prowess. Although the match was a straight-setter for the Spaniards, the third set was tight and went to a tiebreaker, which the Spaniards ultimately won. With the win, Spain wrapped up its victory and sails through to the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Peru can still be satisfied that it got to play in the World Group at all in the first place, and it now will look to a World Group Playoff match in September, where it will have to play for the right to be in the World Group next year.
Romania vs France
Hoping to keep themselves alive and also hoping to repeat their surprise upset of the same French team – Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra (pictured right, click for larger) – in the same round in Davis Cup play, Mergea and Tecau started slowly, losing serve in the opening game and blowing a 30-0 lead at 4*-5 in the second to lose the first two sets. but fought bravely to come back and win the next two to send the match to a deciding fifth set. In the third set, the Romanians were able to save some crucial break points to force a tiebreaker. And at 5all in the tiebreaker, Llodra, who was the better player of the two throughout the match, gave his partner the chances to end the match on his serve but he missed a volley and allowed the Romanians back into it. Looking like they had all the momentum, the R0manians had a chance to break early in the fifth but were unable to convert and from then on the French eased to victory and to a 3-0 sweep to the Quarterfinals where they will play away in the US.
Austria vs USA
And to the bottom of the draw, which actually provided the first team to move through to the quarterfinals after the Bryan twins (pictured left, click for larger) put on a dazzling display of doubles tennis to easily win what was, on paper, a difficult matchup for them, to sen the US team to the quarterfinals. Getting off to a flawless start, the Bryans took the opening set 6-1 behind some incredible volleying and returning. As the match wore on, it became more and more apparent that Melzer was still feeling the effects of his marathon against Roddick yesterday; the Bryans noticed this and started targeting him more and more to the point where, by the end of the second set, he could barely make a volley. After the match, the Austrians fully admitted they were simply beaten by two guys playing amazing tennis. And so, what more is there to say?
So, like they have done so many other times, the Bryans wrapped up their match easily in the third set and assured the defending champion Americans a place in the Quarterfinals, which will be held at home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The fact that the US wrapped up the tie today brings extra good news. Word from fans at the tie is that Roddick tweaked his knee at least once on the holey clay surface yesterday and that he was limping today on the sidelines; apparently, Blake was experiencing some back trouble as well. Luckily with the tie wrapped up, both of the Bryans can come out and play in their place tomorrow for the best-of-three set dead rubbers. And of course, hopefully Roddick and Blake aren’t hurt too badly.
After the fine form she showed in Australia – disregarding that wasteful semi final loss – even her biggest critics would have expected Daniela Hantuchova to continue such form at least in the short term. It was clear however that the Slovak has slumped back into the days of losing to players she really shouldn’t, and when she does win, it is far from easy. Now, this may seem harsh after just two matches since the first slam of the year, but although I am a huge fan of Daniela, these types of results have been going on for too long now.
A first round bye – never an advantage for Hantuchova who tends more often than not to play herself into form during a tournament, was followed by a second round match up with Katarina Srebotnik a wily and consistent player who has never beaten Hantuchova in their previous six meetings. A fine first set from both players was followed by a 6-1 drubbing by the Slovenian Srebotnik. Hantuchova’s game had deserted her and all of the mental frailties and clueless shot-making which has dirtied her game for the past few years reared its head once more. Daniela regained her composure and her winners, to seal the third but it was a tough game.
Agnes Szavay yet another ‘wonderkid’ this time from Hungary is a difficult player as Hantuchova herself, Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova all found out last year but her form has been indifferent in 2008 so far. Another huge lead was blown by Hantuchova in the first set (points for 5-1) and after losing the tiebreak it was a repeat of the Srebotnik second set drubbing 6-1.
Is the Slovak a little complacent now after cementing herself solidly in the worlds top 10? Perhaps, and if that is the case then the hope will be that over the years she has matured enough to conquer such feelings which no doubt contributed to her downfall in 2003 when she was at a similarly lofty ranking.
All around the world today, the First Round Davis Cup draw ceremonies were held. Here’s all the important news and photos from around the globe! We won’t bore you with the “who plays whom first” stuff that you can get easily at the Davis Cup website. Instead, here are a few things that we think are noteworthy or that give a particular team a strategic advantage.
Russia vs. Serbia
In what could turn out to be a pivotal blow to Serbia’s chances, rising Serb star Janko Tipsarevic is out of the first-round tie with Russia in Moscow because of a severe stomach bug and will be replaced by Davis Cup rookie Viktor Troicki. Fresh off his Australian Open win, Novak Djokovic will open the tie against Russia’s #2 player Mikhail Youzhny.
For Saturday’s doubles Marat Safin, amid rumors that he would pull out because some kind of serious injury, has been named to play alongside Dmitry Tursunov, apparently because next-in-line choice Igor Andreev was unavailable and Tarpischev felt any youngster he could call up would be unable to compete with the Serb team. Interesting. On the Serbian side, Djokovic was named to play doubles alongside doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic in an unsurprising move that would make Djokovic an absolutely crucial factor in his team’s success. In Sunday’s reverse singles matches, Davydenko is slated to take on Djokovic and Troicki would meet Youzhny.
LATE BREAKING NEWS: In what would surely be a tie-altering revelation, it seems that Djokovic has also contracted this “viral infection” that has plagued teammate Janko Tipsarevic. After all the Haas Hoopla last fall, it’s hard not to think of this as some kind of bizarre coincidence. Hopefully at least this time, these guys can be tested ASAP to put the conspiracy theories to rest! However, he has not officially withdrawn as of the time we are publishing this, so we’ll have to wait and see what the story is when we wake up!
Israel vs. Sweden
Perhaps not as high-profile or more lacking in top players than some of the other ties this weekend, Sweden vs. Israel might actually prove to be the most interesting tie of the World Group first round. The tie was made even more intriguing after today’s draw, which has the more interesting singles match of the two – Jonas Bjorkman versus Dudi Sela – first up. This makes the first match even more critical than it might have been because if Sela can put in a solid performance and give Israel a 1-0 lead, it will set the Israeli team up nicely for the doubles, allowing top team Erlich and Ram to play knowing they will have at worst a 1-1 tie. Had the tie worked out the other way, Sweden would likely have been up 1-0, thus putting more pressure on Sela and in our opinion, making a 2-0 sweep for Sweden on Friday more likely.
A couple of other interesting things from this tie. Before the tie, Andy Ram apparently said that Israel is the weakest team in the world group and that they should not be considered favorites against anyone. Whether that’s true humility or some kind of mind game, we cannot be sure, but with one solid singles player in Sela and a top doubles team, it’s hard to call this Israeli team “weak.” Also interesting is that Jonas Bjorkman, one of the best doubles players of all time, has been left off the Swedish doubles squad in favor of Robert Lindstedt, a younger doubles specialist, so that Bjorkman can focus on his singles matches. A very interesting strategy for Sweden that, if Sunday’s matches are live, could prove to be a very important decision.
Peru vs. Spain
Not that this is shocking, but Nicolas Almagro – slightly lower-ranked than Fernando Verdasco but probably a better clay-courter and perhaps tougher mentally – has been chosen as a singles starter for Spain. He will open against Luis Horna in a match that is absolutely critical to Peru’s chances. It is a must-win match for Horna; there’s no other way to put it. This match actually has quite the potential to be a marathon. Although Horna himself expected to play Almagro, others were surprised. Robredo acknowledged that although Spain is the favorite in the tie, they still have to go out there and win. Horna on the other hand, hopes that the rowdy Peruvian crowd might help lift his teammates to surprising heights.
Austria vs. USA
Perennial American #1 Andy Roddick will lay his 6-0 head-to-head record (with no sets lost) on the line as he suits up to face Austrian Jurgen Melzer in Friday’s first opening singles rubber, which will be followed by James Blake and Stefan Koubek on an indoor red clay surface at Ferry Dusika Hallenstadion in Vienna. Despite Roddick’s one-sided head-to-head, he admits this match will be a difficult one, considering it is on clay and in front of a hostile Austrian crowd. Saturday’s doubles match will pit American twins and World #1 Bob and Mike Bryan against Melzer and Julian Knowle. On Sunday’s reverse singles matches, we’re scheduled to see Roddick vs Koubek and Blake vs Melzer if the matches are live.
The US Team has to be pleased that Roddick will open the tie, considering his impatient personality and impressive record against Melzer; plus, one would think (or hope?) that Roddick to show the world that his game is still on track after his befuddling Australian Open exit. Despite some concerns about the surface being rough around the playing area, US Captain Patrick McEnroe is optimistic that the surface will be fine for play tomorrow. Additionally, Roddick flatly denied having a problem with the court, asking where the reporter heard him say he was unhappy with it and that whoever told him Roddick didn’t like the court “doesn’t know anything.” Ouch. But of course, Roddick has to expect to have much of the pressure, considering Blake has never won a live Davis Cup singles rubber on clay. Double ouch.
It’s not that the other ties are unimportant or don’t deserve attention, it’s just that we don’t really feel there’s anything too important about the draw ceremony to make you read. So instead, enjoy the pictures from the draw ceremonies and come back tomorrow for reports of all the matches from around the globe!