Ricky Dimon

ATP New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!

That’s another way of saying, “Yes! The 2009 ATP season is just days, hours, minutes away!” So let’s the kick off the new year by taking a look at some of the men’s new year’s resolutions. Well, these are at least what their resolutions SHOULD be.

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Rafael Nadal – Play a lighter schedule to preserve his body for the fall indoor season and the Masters Cup. (Note: there is not much Nadal can do about this due to mandatory tournaments, but limiting his clay-court events to the Masters Series and French Open and nothing else would be a  good start).

Roger Federer – Take back Wimbledon. Take back the No. 1 ranking.

Novak Djokovic – Win back the U.S. Open crowd. (Note: borderline impossible).

Andy Roddick – Get back his mojo.

Gilles Simon – 1) Get in the weight room. 2) Come up big, for once, in the Slams. 3) Other than that, do exactly what he did in 2008.

Juan Martin Del Potro – See Simon (especially part 3).

Andy Murray – Win a Slam. Other than that, do exactly what he did in 2008.

Ernests Gulbis – Get a brain. Or–if he has one–use it.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Stay away from the infirmary.

Mario Ancic – See Tsonga.

Tommy Haas – See Ancic.

Marcos Baghdatis – See Haas.

Lleyton Hewitt – See Baghdatis.

Robin Söderling – Do something of significance at a tournament that’s not indoors.

Nicolas Almgaro – Do something of significance at a tournament that’s not on clay.

Marat Safin – Either play or retire. No more playing like he would rather be retired.

Fernando Gonzalez – Admit when balls hit his racket before going out.

James Blake – Get over the Gonzalez Olympic controversy.

Fernando Verdasco – Be as successful on the court as he was off the court in 2008.

Tomas Berdych – Beat someone ranked ahead of him.

Mikhail Youzhny – Refrain from self-inflicted harm.

Well, there’s the new year’s resolution list. If any applicable player was left off, let’s hear who it is and what his–or her–resolution should be (in the comments section below). With the 2009 season just days away, it won’t be long before we find out which players are prepared to make the necessary changes.

Happy New Year to all tennis fans and here’s to another great season on the ATP Tour!

Federer falls to Murray, Simon in semis

Gilles Simon is often referred to as “Simple Simon” due to his style of play that is far from flashy but rock-solid and almost always mistake-free. And after all of that complicated analysis of who could make the Masters Cup semifinals and how, it turned out to be, well, simple.

Simon defeated Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-4 and Federer lost to Andy Murray 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 on Friday in Shanghai. That leaves Simon at 2-1, Federer at 1-2, and Stepanek 0-2 behind red group leader Murray. So Simon is in and Federer is out. No ties. No tiebreakers necessary. Simple.

Simon’s match, as already discussed, was irrelevant to the outcome of the red group, but his victory at least rendered the tie-breaking rules unnecessary and left fans with no need to try to understand why a certain player reached the semifinals. Simon made it simple, and his win over Stepanek was quite simple as well. Stepanek should get a break, however, since he was on vacation in Thailand and had no ideas whatsoever of participating in the prestigious year-end tournament. Of course, that was before Andy Roddick pulled out of the event with an ankle injury sustained during practice in between his first and second round-robin matches. After all the possible alternates ranked ahead of the Czech declined invitations to fill in, Stepanek jumped at the opportunity and literally borrowed Murray’s shoes and Novak Djokovic’s rackets in order to play.

The loans were not enough, however, to take down Simon, who had stunned Roger Federer in three sets on Monday. Simon went down to Murray in his second match, but he righted the ship by easing past Stepanek in two.

That quickly set the stage for Murray, who had already secured a place in the semifinals, and Federer, who needed a victory to advance and knock Simon out.

For a while, things looked good for the second-ranked Swiss. He broke Murray at 5-4 in the opener to take the first set 6-4. Federer even had a chance to finish the match off in straights as the second set featured four breaks of serve en route to a tiebreaker. Clutch play from the Scot and several scorching backhands leveled the match and forced a decisive third. Federer came out following treatment for his bad lower back and at first it did not cooperate. Murray sprinted to a 3-0 lead and a lame Federer appeared done. Yet somehow, Federer won the next four games to go up a break 4-3. In a final set that featured more twins and turns than you can possibly imagine, it was then Murray’s turn to regain momentum. The world No. 4 broke right back and held for 5-4, forcing Federer to serve to stay in the match-and the tournament. Federer did, but not before saving an incredible seven match points in dramatic fashion.

In the almost-inevitable end, however, Federer’s back ultimately failed him in the crucial moments. Murray won the final two games easily for the 7-5 win, finishing off Federer’s 2008 season and setting the stage for the semifinals….

…Which will pit Murray (red group winner) against Nikolay Davydenko (gold group runner-up) and Djokovic (gold group winner) against Simon (red group runner-up).

Federer controls own destiny at Masters Cup

Only at the Masters Cup can someone else’s match be more important than a player’s own match. And that is exactly the case with Gilles Simon heading into the last stage of round-robin play in the red group on Friday.

Here’s the deal: Simon is 1-1 in matches and 2-3 in sets (he beat Roger Federer in three and lost to Andy Murray in two). Federer is 1-1 in matches and 3-2 in sets (he lost to Simon in three and beat Radek Stepanek in two). Stepanek is 0-1 in matches and 0-2 in sets.

With Federer playing Murray and Simon playing Stepanek, three men (actually four since the Masters Cup standings somehow show Stepanek and Andy Roddick as essentially the same person! Stepanek subbed in when Roddick pulled out of the tournament with an ankle injury shortly before his scheduled showdown against Federer) can finish round-robin action with a 1-2 record behind Murray’s 3-0 mark. That would be the case if Murray upends Federer and Stepanek downs Simon.

In that scenario, Stepanek (who is eliminated regardless of the two outcomes) would be out due to the fact that he has played fewer matches than Federer and Simon. Number of matches played is the key tiebreaker and renders replacements almost irrelevant (Roddick played one match, losing to Murray, before his withdrawal). So it would come down to Federer and Simon. Now that it’s no longer a three-way tie (with Stepanek history), Simon would get the semifinal nod over Federer due to his head-to-head victory over the Swiss. So, as we see, Federer is done if he loses to Murray, even if Simon loses to Stepanek.

There’s also a chance three men could finish with a 2-1 record ahead of Stepanek’s (slash Roddick’s) 0-3 clip. That would be the case if Federer takes out Murray and Simon gets past Stepanek. With a three-way tie, a head-to-head ‘breaker is inconceivable since Murray beat Simon, Simon beat Federer, and Federer beat Murray (under this scenario). So it would come down to percentage of sets won. The worst Murray could end up with is winning 4 of 6 sets (if he loses to Federer in straights). The worst Federer could end up with is winning 5 of 8 eights sets (if he beats Murray in three, and remember he MUST beat Murray in for this scenario to be relevant). The best Simon could end up with is winning 4 of 7 sets (if he beats Stepanek in straights). So, as we see, it is impossible for Simon to advance if three men finish 2-1. That means Federer must lose in order for Simon to advance.

If you followed all that, you now know that Simon’s match is absolutely meaningless in determining the semifinalists. It all comes down to Federer and Murray. If Federer wins, he is in and Simon is out. If Federer loses, he is out and Simon is in.

To put it in simple terms: Simon could win 6-0, 6-0 and still be out. He could lose 6-0, 6-0 and still be in!

Got it?

Victory for Venus at year-end championships

Venus Williams ended her 2008 campaign in perfect fashion, capping off a flawless week at Doha, Qatar’s Sony Ericsson Championships with a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Vera Zvonareva on Sunday. Both Williams and Zvonareva went undefeated in round-robin play and Williams continued her run with a three-set win over Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. Zvonareva outlasted fellow Russian Elena Dementieva in three sets in her semifinal.

The title match also had three sets written all over it dating back to the end of the first frame of play. Zvonareva stormed out to a 5-2 lead (and even held three set points serving at 5-3, 40-0), but Williams erased the deficit to get back on level terms at 5-5. Known for her mental fragility, Zvonareva somehow managed to overcome that minor meltdown to take the ensuing tiebreaker seven points to five.

She could not, however, recover from an absolutely disastrous second set. Williams ran her opponent ragged en route to a 6-0 drubbing that evened the clash at one set apiece. The American never looked back and eased through the third 6-2. She left her Zvonareva in tears on several occasions throughout the final set.

“I’m so excited,” Williams said. “That was a hard-fought match, every point, right down to the end.”

The two lowest-ranked players heading into the event, Williams and Zvonareva will each climb two places in the rankings. Williams will finish the season at No. 6 and Zvonareva will end up at No. 7 in the world. “I know I can go higher in the rankings,” added Williams, and who’s to say she can’t after her awesome conclusion to the year?

Williams had qualified for the year-end WTA Championships on seven previous occasions, but had never captured the title.

Said Williams: “It was missing, this one.”

Venus sets up all-undefeated title match

Venus Williams survived Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in the semifinals of the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar on Saturday. Williams, who went undefeated in group play, will meet Vera Zvonareva in Sunday’s final. Zvonareva is also without a loss this week.

Williams dismantled sister Serena on Thursday and she used that momentum to get off to blistering start against Jankovic. The American took set one with ease, but she seemed to go away from her game-plan as Jankovic started to dictate play in the second.

A decisive third set was closer than the score indicated. Williams went up an early break but had to save five break points in order to consolidate it for a 4-2 lead. She held serve the rest of the way to secure the victory.

“My game is about being aggressive and taking chances,” Williams said, and that’s exactly what she did in sets one and three.

Despite the loss, Jankovic  will hold onto her No. 1 ranking and finish the year in the top spot. “I can go to vacation with a smile on my face,” said the Serb. “It will be really weird not to have my rackets with me.”

Williams and Jankovic were preceded by an all-Russian affair between Zvonareva and Elena Dementieva. Zvonareva emerged victorious over the Gold medal winner 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3. An emotional first-set tiebreaker saw Zvonareva blow a 5-1 lead before saving a set point en route to a 9-7 win.

Zvonareva is producing her best tennis at just the right time before the conclusion of 2009. A baseline slugfest, not unlike the two semifinal showdowns, will be in store again on Sunday. Williams has won the last five encounters with Zvonareva and that should give her a slight edge.

Serena out of WTA Championships

Still alive for a berth in the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Championships despite her crushing loss to sister Venus, Serena Williams pulled out of the season-ending event in Doha, Qatar with a stomach injury on Friday. Serena would have played Elena Dementieva for the final semifinal spot out of the maroon group. Both women were 1-1 in group play.

While it comes as a bit of shock since Serena still had realistic title hopes, it is not too surprising based on what she said after the 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 setback to her big sister. “This was definitely the worst match I’ve played this year by far,” Serena lamented. “I didn’t even look like a top eight player. Maybe top 600 in the juniors perhaps. I just couldn’t keep a ball in play. I couldn’t keep more than two balls over the net. I couldn’t serve. I couldn’t hit a backhand. I couldn’t hit a forehand. I couldn’t even volley.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played like that. I mean, I’ve never been in a situation where I just feel like I can’t do anything. Just everything was off and it was very frustrating out there. It was just terrible, terrible, terrible tennis.”

Serena refused to subject herself to more terrible tennis on Friday and instead withdrew, allowing replacement Nadia Petrova to play against Dementieva, who clinched the last semifinal position when Serena called it quits. Petrova made the most of her surprise appearance, but she ultimately fell to her Russian compatriot 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Agniezska Radwanksa also seized a replacement spot when Ana Ivanovic withdrew before her match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, citing a virus. “It’s obviously very hard for me,” said the Serb. “Yesterday I didn’t feel good and today, even worse.” Unlike Serena, Ivanovic had already been eliminated from semifinal contention with an 0-2 record. Kuznetsova also had an 0-2 mark in white group play, rendering the match mostly meaningless. Radwanska, however, took advantage of her opportunity and scored a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Kuznetsova.

Vera Zvonareva, 3-0 in the white group, and Jelena Jankovic (2-1) had already assured themselves of semifinal appearances. In Saturdays semifinals, Zvonareva will play Dementieva, the maroon No. 2 seed, and Jankovic will take on Venus, maroon No. 1.

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Venus beats Serena to stay perfect in Doha

Venus Williams defeated little sister Serena 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 on Thursday night in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar. The victory ensures Venus, a perfect 3-0 in pool play, the No. 1 seed out of the maroon group heading into the semifinals. Venus beat Dinara Safina in straight sets and Elena Dementieva in three earlier in the tournament.

The Williams sisters, who won Olympic gold in doubles this summer, waged a spirited battle throughout the first set. Serena secured the decisive break of serve at 6-5 to take the opening frame of play. From then on, however, it was all Venus. She dominated play from all over the court as Serena’s game-especially mentally-fell apart.

Serena’s loss leaves her at 1-1 in group play; she took out Safina in two sets earlier in the week. A win over Dementieva on Friday will be necessary in order for Serena to secure the No. 2 seed behind Venus out of the maroon group.

In the white group, meanwhile, Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic have already secured semifinal berths. They are both 2-0, whereas Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic are both winless at 0-2. Kuznetsova has not won a set in two matches, although she was extremely competitive in a 7-6(6), 6-4 setback at the hands of Jankovic on Thursday afternoon. Ivanovic seemed to have emerged from a brutal slump with a recent title, but that proved not to be the case this week. The Serb, so far, has lost to countrywoman Jankovic in straight sets and Zvonareva in three.

Friday’s showdown between Jankovic and Zvonareva will only determine seeding. The winner will be No. 1 out of the white group and will play either Serena or Dementieva. The loser will be No. 2 and faced with a daunting clash with in-form Venus.

Fitting End to a Wild Year

Well, it all comes down to this.

It’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. David Nalbandian not only for the Masters Series Paris title, but also for the last spot in the year-end Masters Cup. The winner is in. The loser is out. It’s as simple as that.

Sure Tsonga could still get in with a loss if Nalbandian decides not to play, and the Argentine has said that he won’t, choosing instead to focus on Davis Cup. Still, there’s something to be said for legitimately qualifying as a member of the prestigious top eight as opposed to getting in through the back door.

Regardless of whatever transpires in the aftermath of Sunday’s final showdown, it’s without question a monumental meeting between Tsonga and Nalbandian. And it’s one heck of an appropriate end to a chaotic 2008 season on the ATP Tour.

In recent years, Roger Federer dominated everything other than the clay-court swing and Rafael Nadal dominated the dirt. There was little left for anyone else and little suspense for fans. That’s not to say a dominant Federer and Nadal are bad for the game (quite the contrary!), but it does mean that tennis fanatics knew exactly what to expect and could bet their life savings on almost every outcome of every tournament.

In 2008, the only thing to expect was the unexpected.

Nadal owned the game for a while this season, but a lot of new contenders took turns capturing the imagination of the tennis world. Federer came out of the gates hindered by illness and Novak Djokovic took the Australian Open and the Masters Series Indian Wells. Then it was Nadal’s turn to roll through the clay-court campaign in record fashion. He followed that up with massive titles at Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Juan Martin Del Potro emerged thereafter, winning every single one of the four tournaments he played in between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. In New York he finally fell to Andy Murray, the next man in line to steal the show. The Scot reached the final in Flushing Meadows after winning the Masters Series Cincinnati, then he captured a second straight Masters Series shield by hoisting the Madrid trophy. A week later he successfully defended his St. Petersburg crown.

Adding the craziness in 2008 were plenty of surprise winners and finalists. Tsonga started the trend off by finishing runner-up at the Australian Open. The Frenchman is a borderline superstar, but that run still came out of pretty much nowhere. Sergiy Stakhovsky won in Zagreb, Kei Nishikori won in Delray Beach, Steve Darcis won in Memphis, Marcel Granollers won in Houston, Victor Hanescu won in Gastaad, Albert Montanes won in Amersfoort, and Igor Kunitsyn won in Moscow.

Even Philipp Petzschner won in Vienna. Who? Andrey Golubev finished runner-up in St. Petersburg. Who?

Gilles Simon, once known as tennis’ ultimate “pusher,” is now heralded as a fighter of Spartan-esque proportions. Nobody can say they saw Simon being the second alternate for Shanghai coming!

And that takes us to this. There’s one day left of the regular season, and the Masters Cup picture is about as dark as the All-England Club was at the end of Nadal-Federer!

Masters Cup Picture Taking Shape

Look no further than center court at the Masters Series Paris to find out just what the Masters Cup means to the players…and the fans. Gilles Simon enjoyed Davis Cup-esque support on Wednesday afternoon throughout his straight-set win over Igor Andreev. Of course he is going to be a crowd favorite in Paris, as a Frenchman, playing against a Russian, but to that extent under normal circumstances? No way.

Simon entered Paris in the coveted eighth spot with 341 points. He got seven more automatically for reaching the second round via bye, and an additional eight by defeating Andreev. That leaves Simon with 356 points as of Wednesday evening.

Five spots have been clinched by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Nikolay Davydenko. Andy Roddick is in for sure if he reaches the Paris semifinals, but he will qualify regardless unless almost everything goes wrong for him elsewhere in the draw. Juan Martin Del Potro is in good shape 13 points ahead of Simon. Barring miracle runs by several of the distant contenders, the in-form Argentine will be a Masters Cup participant.

Simon’s victory over Andreev did not eliminate anyone who had not already been previously eliminated, but several would-be contenders eliminated themselves on Wednesday. David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka saw their hopes-which were extremely legitimate going into Paris-vanish with opening losses to Philipp Kohlschreiber and Tomas Berdych, respectively. Robin Soderling, who needed to win the Paris title after hoisting the Lyon trophy, fell to Roger Federer in two tough sets.

Other players who need to win the title to have any chance are Gael Monfils, Fernando Verdasco, and David Nalbandian (who has said he would no play in Shanghai anyway due to Davis Cup preparation). All three, however, are facing especially tough odds having to go up against brutal opposition in round three. Monfils meets Nadal, Verdasco gets Murray, and Nalbandian takes on Del Potro.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can still mathematically clinch a spot by reaching the title match, but he most likely needs to win it all and get help from Simon, Del Potro, and James Blake. Blake, who survived Simone Bolelli in a three-setter on Wednesday, needs to reach the semifinals at the very least.

Ana Ivanovic Ends Slump with Linz Title

Ana Ivanovic ended a dismal recent stretch by winning the WTA event in Linz, Austria on Sunday. Ivanovic crushed Verz Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in a mere 50 minutes to take the title.

The victory puts an end to a significant drought for Ivanovic that was most likely due-at least in part-to a thumb injury. After a remarkable first half of the season in which she won the French Open and became No. 1 in the world, Ivanovic’s 2008 campaign took a drastic turn for the worse. The Serb lost early on at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as well as in Montreal. She could not even play in the Beijing Olympics due to the thumb problem. Even after all that she went on to suffer shockingly premature exits in Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow.

Ivanovic started taking steps back to prominence, however, last week in Zurich, Switzerland, where she fell  to eventual champion Venus Williams in a close three-set semifinal. It was Ivanovic’s first semifinal appearance since Roland Garros.

She did a lot better than the semifinals in Linz and only had one real scare en route to the title. Ivanovic survived Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5 in the third set in their semifinal clash. Prior to that, the No. 1 seed eased past Sybille Bammer and in-form Flavia Pennetta.

Overall it was a tournament with very few surprises. Seven of the eight seeds reached the quarterfinals, the only woman failing to join the group being No. 4 seed Patty Schnyder, who was upset by Alona Bondarenko in the second round. Bondarenko fell in her next match to sixth-seeded Marion Bartoli, who was subsequently blown away 6-0, 6-1 by Zvonareva.

While Ivanovic took the title in Linz, two No. 1 seeds on the men’s side also hoisted trophies. Roger Federer got the best of David Nalbandian in Basel and Andy Murray crushed qualifier Andrey Golubev in St. Petersburg. Lyon’s top seed, Andy Roddick, failed to win the other ATP event, but that title was still captured by one of the tournament favorites. Indoor-court guru Robin Soderling took out Julien Benneteau in three sets. Soderling has appeared in nine ATP finals, all indoors.