Around the corner

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal Favorites For The US Open

by Michael Lemort

The US Open starts in late August and the favorites are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal without a doubt. Not really a surprise as we know how huge those two champions are, but more than a year ago, who would have thought that the balance inside the Big Four would be so different than it is today!

Novak Djokovic was the invincible number one for several years and he had just won majors in a row in between two years after winning the French Open. But five months later, he gave up his throne to Andy Murray. The British player won Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Masters Cup in London and became the last member of the Big Four to be number one at the ATP rankings. Nadal and Federer, injured and obviously getting older, had withdrawn for the end of the season.

Today the Serbian has lost his four majors crowns, he hasn’t won a Masters 1000 this year and he is ranked number 4. Moreover he has just announced this week that he will withdraw for the rest of the season to heal an elbow injury and get some time off to take care of his family and get ready for next year!

Andy Murray, like Djokovic, hasn’t won a Major neither a Masters 1000 in 2017. Exhausted by his achievements of last year and also weakened (hip injury), he is about to lose his supremacy. Federer and Nadal, fresher than ever, are just behind him and have almost no ATP points to defend until the end of the season. Aged 36, the Swiss is more aggressive than he has ever been. He looks more impressive than he was back 10 years ago when he was at his top. He won the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Halle and Wimbledon (without dropping a set!) and he beat Nadal three times in a row for the first time of his career. The Spaniard won his tenth French Open (a record) after triumphing in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. Both of them have shared the big trophies this year and they will probably race against each other for the number one ATP ranking until the end of the season. Who would have thought about that a year ago?

Everybody also thought that, besides Murray or Djokovic, a new member of the next generation would hold some big trophies in 2017. But except Alexander Zverev in Roma (the only big tournament that Nadal and Federer haven’t won so far this year), they will have to wait some more as «  the old Roger and Rafa » still hunger for success and are not retired yet. Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov represent the best chances but after Nadal crushed the Austrian at Roland Garros and Federer did the same with the Canadian and the Bulgarian in London, on their favorite surface, the way to the top doesn’t seem that close. Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios have been injured too much and their body seems fragile. Also Borna Coric, Frances Tiafoe and Andrey Rublev, all members of the teen « Next Gen », are getting better and tougher each year but they will probably need some more time to compete with the Top 10.

So Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seem to have the best chances to hold the trophy at Flushing Meadows. But as we saw the turnover that happened between last year and this year, some more surprises, comebacks and upsets can happen very soon. And don’t forget that the defending champion hasn’t been mentioned yet ! Only player to have won several Majors besides the Big Four in the last 15 years, the other Swiss player, Stanislas Wawrinka, even though he is quite inconstant, could perfectly win two US Open back to back!

 

ATP Around the Corner: Clay court tennis previews in Casablanca and Houston

The clay court season will have its work cut out for it in terms of matching the fast paced start to the 2012 season on the ATP World Tour.

We are just over three months into the grueling professional tennis schedule but have already witnessed some outstanding performances and intriguing story lines.

World number one Novak Djokovic has won the first Grand Slam of the year and seems prepared to continue the brilliance we saw from a year ago.

Roger Federer has improved upon his end to 2011 and compiled a 44-3 record since the U.S. Open in September. Suddenly being thirty doesn’t seem so bad does it?

John Isner seems poised to carry the weight of American tennis hopes after nearly ten years of dominance from Andy Roddick.

Andy Murray is still a mystery containing all the talent one could hope for, yet waiting for his first Grand Slam triumph that many thought would have happened by now. Perhaps teaming with former eight time major champ Ivan Lendl will see him over that barrier.

Rafael Nadal’s season is already surrounded by question marks as his knees are once again threatening to stall the great heights he is capable of attaining. Will we see the king of clay this spring?

The shift in surface will force everyone to adjust and soon we’ll see if the players above can continue to dominate the headlines in the tennis world.

Gran Prix Hassan II: Casablanca, Morocco

This level 250 event has Pablo Andujar as its defending champion from a year ago. With plenty of clay court events coming up over the next two months, many players see no hurry to dive into the field, which explains why this one is certainly weaker than what we will witness in the weeks to come.

The number one seed here is an under-whelming one with Florian Mayer from Germany holding the pole position. Mayer was never able to reach the same heights as Nicolas Kiefer and Tommy Haas were able to attain and he clearly is not the second coming of Boris Becker.

Unseeded Albert Montanes and Guillermo Garcia Lopez represent the strongest clay court opponents in this half of the draw, and I’d bank on one of them making it to the finals rather than Mayer.

In the bottom half, second seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov might state that clay is his favorite surface, but over the previous year where he has risen into the top thirty in the world, I’ve seen little evidence that he should be feared on the red dirt with the exception of a small tournament victory in Umag. That being said, I suppose this is the perfect type of tournament for him to step-up at.

The previously mentioned Andujar is the third seed and will surely be confident he can win a few matches once more at this venue. Ranked 39th in the world, Andujar lost five of his first six matches of the year, but recently took a set off Novak Djokovic on hard courts in Indian Wells before falling 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-2 in their fourth round encounter.

U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship: Houston, Texas

Why anyone would waste their time playing on the har-tru courts in Houston has always been beyond me, yet there is decent field vying for the $79,000 winner’s check.

Seeded first is Mardy Fish who did not participate in this weekend’s Davis Cup victory over France due to exhaustion. I wouldn’t bet for Fish to go too far due to the surface here. He gets a first round bye which also likely won’t do him much good when he potentially faces Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who is a decent clay court player.

Juan Monaco is seeded fourth and is my pick to navigate his way through to the finals. Monaco has had a good run lately on hard courts where he surprisingly made it to the semi-finals of Miami. Look for that confidence to translate into further success on clay as well.

The bottom half of the draw is fairly wide open. I’d expect for the confident John Isner to continue to build on his break-out season. Isner has made his first ATP Masters final in Indian Wells and has performed quite well on clay as well, with huge Davis Cup victories over Roger Federer and the Swiss as well as Jo Wilfried-Tsonga and the French.

Feliciano Lopez is seeded third but has been his usual inconsistent self of late, while big-serving Ivo Karlovic is always a threat even on a slower surface like this one.

Fans of American veteran James Blake might want to check him out in what I’m sure will be his last season on the pro tour. Blake is currently ranked 74th in the world but has been plagued by injuries for the past few seasons and I can’t see him continuing to trudge along for much longer in this state. He opens against sixth seeded Carlos Berlocq.

After this week, things will heat up with the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 event that will surely draw all the big names back into the mix. Enjoy the transition and the build-up to next month’s French Open!

Around The Corner: Life After The Davis Cup

With the opening round of the Davis Cup wrapping up on Sunday, the ATP World Tour will now shift back into form with three tournaments in Rotterdam, San Jose and Sao Paulo. Here’s a closer look at the draws from all three events and some analysis on who stands the best chance of making it to the final weekend.

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament

The largest of the three being played this week, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament is a level 500 event. An indoor hard-court event, Roger Federer will be looking for the surface to bring him some much needed success. A disastrous Davis Cup showing at home on clay has left Federer clearly confused about the status of his game. Rather than admit he played poorly, Federer instead shifted the blame onto country-man Stan Wawrinka. It was a rare moment of bad judgement from Federer. He opens with Nicolas Mahut from France and then could potentially face a dangerous opponent in Mikhail Youzhny who won the title recently in Zagreb.

The always tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov is also in the same quarter as Federer. The two have only played once, with Federer winning in Basel two years ago. Dolgopolov has come a long way since then and with the way Roger played this past week, you’d have to think this could be a great QF match.

Richard Gasquet, Feliciano Lopez and former top-ten presence Nikolay Davydenko are in the following quarter of the draw. I’d give a well-rested Gasquet (he did not travel to Canada for Davis Cup) the best shot of emerging here.

Juan Martin Del Potro is the third seed and should be able to navigate his way through the third quarter of the draw. He opens against Michael Llodra of France who has to get all the way from Vancouver, Canada to Rotterdam in the next twenty-four hours.

At the bottom of the draw is second seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic who has had some success lately with a big win in Montpellier over Gael Monfils. Berdych had a very solid 2011 where he won one event and reached eight tournament semi-finals and seven tournament quarter-finals. He is really starting to find that consistency that will make him a mainstay in the top-ten. A meeting in the second round with Marcos Baghdatis looms, but otherwise Berdych should be able to set-up a semi-final encounter with Del Potro that would be highly entertaining.

Regardless of the results, the tournament is guaranteed a new winner this year as Robin Soderling is not yet healthy enough to defend the title which he has held for the past two years. I’m gonna give the nod to Berdych in this one and I have a feeling that Federer’s recent troubles might continue with an early exit this week.

Brasil Open 2012

Played on clay, the Brasil Open attracts some of the usual dirt-ballers one might expect to see. Nicolas Almagro is the defending champion and also won this event in 2008. He has played some pretty decent ball on hard-courts so far this year so we’ll see if that continues on his favourite surface. Almagro is seeded first and gets a bye into the second round. His quarter is pretty sparse which should help him get his clay-court wheels going.

Fernando Verdasco is the third seed and has a nice section in his quarter as well. Take a look at veteran Fernando Gonzalez from Chile if possible as he has already announced his retirement to take place in Miami this coming March. Injuries have really taken away Gonzo’s physical and mental endurance but hopefully he has a little magic left in him before he says goodbye.

In the bottom-half of the draw, aging Juan Carlos Ferrero the eighth seed and Thomaz Bellucci the fourth seed will likely fight it out for a spot in the quarter, while the bottom quarter is the most interesting with David Nalbandian who is unseeded, Albert Montanes and second seeded Gilles Simon.

Almagro gets my vote of confidence to take this one based on his clay-court prowess and success at this venue in previous years.

SAP Open

A year ago the ATP World Tour took notice of fast-rising Canadian sensation Milos Raonic when he won his first-ever event here in San Jose. Unfortunately for Canadian tennis fans, a repeat will be very difficult to achieve for several reasons.

Firstly, Raonic was forced to pull-out of the Davis Cup tie against France on Sunday with pain in his knee that had been already taped throughout the event. Will he even be healthy enough to play in San Jose?

Beyond the injury debate, Milos has a tough draw that sets him up with first-seeded Gael Monfils in a possible semi-final match-up. He will also have to contend with having the entire draw gunning for him as the defending champ. Coming into an event as the title-holder is quite different from what he experienced a year ago.

In the bottom-half things will be pretty wide-open with Andy Roddick returning from an injury he suffered at the Australian Open and occupying the second seed. Who knows what kind of game the former American No. 1 will bring with him but his lack of match play will hinder his changes.

Underachieving Sam Querrey, aging Radek Stepanek and vet Julien Benneteau round-out the bottom half in terms of potential contenders. I’d look for one of them rather than Roddick to make their way to the finals against Monfils who appears to be over the knee problems that he was dealing with upon his arrival to Canada for the Davis Cup.

Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick in Tuesday action at the US Open

Andy Murray vs. Donald Young

American Donald Young will attempt to keep his best-ever Grand Slam showing moving along as he faces fourth seeded Andy Murray in the opening match on Arthur Ashe stadium at 11am. It is hard to believe that Young is only 22 years old as it seems he has been struggling on the ATP World Tour for years already. Actually, he has been struggling on the Tour for years as he rushed into his professional career at the tender age of 15.

Young has slowly begun maturing and making some strides this year that have signalled he is ready to move towards the expectations the tennis world has held for him for so long. Earlier this year he defeated Murray on the hard courts of Indian Wells. More recently he made the semi-finals of a level-500 tournament in Washington, D.C. as well.

That meeting in March was the only career encounter between Young and Murray, but expect a much different result on Tuesday. Young has been riding an emotional roller-coaster in New York with big wins over Stan Wawrinka and Juan Ignacio Chela, but faces a player of an entirely different calibre in Murray.

The Scotsman has amped-up his game over the past month and is not playing at the same mediocre level he was at earlier in the season when they first met.

Young can take home a lot of confidence from New York but he won’t take another victory.

Prediction: Murray in three

Gilles Muller vs. Rafael Nadal

No-doubt recovered from his press-conference cramping incident from Sunday that was highly and uncomfortably covered by television cameras, Rafa Nadal will be feeling just fine as he faces severe under-dog Gilles Muller.

Nadal has yet to drop a set in the tournament and the defending champion rarely bows-out of a Grand Slam early. While I still have doubts about his ability to defend his title from a year ago, I can’t see him getting bounced by Muller.

The pair have a career head-to-head record of 2-1 in Nadal’s favor, but Muller’s win was back in 2005 when Nadal was still discovering his game on hard-courts. More recently, they met at Wimbledon this summer with Nadal prevailing 7-6, 7-6, 6-0.

Muller has performed well in New York before, making the quarter-finals in 2008. He may give Rafa a challenge for a set, but otherwise will have to come up with the best tennis of his career to cause an upset.

Prediction: Nadal in four

John Isner vs. Gilles Simon

In a match that will offer fans a real contrast in styles, bit serving American John Isner will take-on the hustling baseline game of Frenchman Gilles Simon. This will be the first meeting between the two and the result is really anyone’s guess.

Simon’s best Grand Slam result was the quarter-finals of the Aussie Open in 2009 while Isner has made the fourth round at three majors including this one.

Both players have solid winning records on the Tour this year while Isner came into the Open with a tournament win in Winston-Salem. Both have had to beat top-level players in their journey here so far, with Isner defeating Marcos Baghdatis in the fist round and Simon just coming off a victory against Juan Martin Del Potro.

I see this one going the distance with at least a couple of tie-breaks given Isner’s outstanding service game. Could go either way but I’ll take a leap and go with Isner thanks in-part to the crowd support he’ll receive.

Prediction: Isner in five.

 Andy Roddick vs. David Ferrer

In the opening match of the evening session, the third American man in action on Tuesday will be 2003 champion, Andy Roddick.

Roddick has finally found his game after struggling with injuries and consistency issues all summer long. He dispatched Julien Benneteau in routine fashion in the previous round and the Frenchman had been playing some great tennis coming in. Things are about to get a whole lot harder against Ferrer.

The Spaniard can hang on any surface and will never, ever, get tired. Ferrer holds a 5-3 advantage over Roddick in their prior matches and defeated him this year in Davis Cup play in straight sets on hard-courts. For those who don’t know Roddick well, he is a guy who lives for representing his nation. He gives 110% in Davis Cup matches, so you can imagine how well Ferrer must have been playing to attain the victory on that day.

While I feel that Andy may yet have a crack at going deep in another Grand Slam before the end of his career, I don’t see it happening here with Ferrer standing in his way.

Prediction: Ferrer in four.

A Sunday match preview of the US Open – Around the corner

Let’s take a quick look at the matches set for Sunday at the U.S. Open on the men’s side. The third round is set to finish-up and there are some great battles to keep an eye on.

Alex Bogomolov Jr. is having a career year and has made the third round of his second consecutive Grand Slam. At the age of 28 he is a career high of 44th in the world and that is likely going to rise even further following the completion of this tournament. Just how well has Bogo been playing this year in comparison with his previous years on tour? In this one season alone he has amassed almost a third of his career earnings!

Bogo’s run will likely come to an end against John Isner who is also having a terrific summer and has had more success in big-time matches. Isner has won both their career head-to-head matches on the ATP World Tour and both of those victories were earlier this year. I’ve got Isner in straight sets in this one.

Juan Martin Del Potro will continue to strive for another strong showing at the Open as he faces 12th seeded Gilles Simon of France. Despite being seeded 18th himself, Del Po will be considered the favorite in this one. Del Potro has lost to Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic and Roger Federer this summer and has yet to get on a roll since Wimbledon ended. Still, those are all quality opponents and he is no-doubt feeling comfortable at the site of his only Slam win.

Del Potro has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against Simon and beat him here in New York in 2008 as well as in June of this year at the All-England Club. I’ll take the Argentine in four sets.

Donald Young is having the break-out moment of his career here at the Open as evidenced in his stunning come-from-behind victory over Stan Wawrinka in the second round. Young is going to take-down Juan Ignacio Chela in the next round to continue on his impressive form. Four sets is likely, but Chela could use his experience to push to five in a failing effort.

Andy Murray came back with a vengeance against Robin Haase in a strange second round encounter. He pulled out the victory in five sets and with a day to rest should be ready to go against Feliciano Lopez. Murray in three this time.

David Ferrer saw-off a potentially tough challenge from James Blake in the previous round. He’ll face Florian Mayer, a player who is having career-best results but ultimately is not talented enough to take it any further. With Ferrer’s tenacity and game that is tailor-made for best-of-five sets, the Spaniard will breeze through this one in three.

Andy Roddick has admitted he is still not back to where his game is capable of being, yet he finds himself in the third round against French vet Julien Benneteau. Andy should be able to use the home-crowd to his advantage, but Benneteau did reach the finals at Winston Salem a week ago and could be capable of an upset. Roddick’s serve will have to be sharp and he cannot hesitate to charge the net when the timing is right. Roddick holds a 3-1 advantage against Benneteau but the duo have not played each other in three years. I’ll take Roddick in four, but would not be shocked if Benneteau comes up with a surprise.

Coin-toss in the Gilles Muller vs. Igor Kunitsyn match. This should have been a Mikhail Youzhny vs. Jurgen Melzer match if the seedings had held true, but neither of those players were able to fend off their challengers.

Most casual tennis fans won’t be too familiar with these two guys, so here’s a quick breakdown:

Kunitsyn is 29 years old and is ranked 62nd in the world. He reached a career-high of 35th in the world in 2009 and attaining the third round here is his best result at a Grand Slam.

Muller is best remembered for stealing Andy Roddick’s mojo at the Open back in 2005. He is 28 years old and ranked 66th in the world at the moment. His career high ranking is 59th which he reached back in 2005. His best Slam result was here at the U.S. Open in 2008 when he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Roger Federer.

Kunitsyn leads their previous matches by a 1-0 margin coming by way of a victory in Washington earlier this summer. I’m going to go with Muller in this one due to his previous Slam experience and results but it’s gonna go the distance for sure.

Last but not least we have a match that would have been a whole lot of fun to watch about four or five years ago. Talented but oft-injured David Nalbandian takes on 2nd seeded Rafael Nadal.

Nalbandian has again struggled with injuries this season and has been burdened with lacklustre results all summer long. Nadal has been less than his usual stellar self since reaching the finals of Wimbledon, but has still performed decently on hard-courts leading up to the Open.

While Nalbandian is one of the few players who boasts a solid record against Nadal, he is in over his head Sunday. The pair stand tied at two wins each, with all four matches coming on hard court. Nalbandian has lost the last two however and has not beat Rafa since 2007. Nadal will take this one in three relatively easy sets.

Enjoy the long-weekend tennis everyone. Check back with us again soon for more updates and analysis.

Andy Murray has the perfect opportunity to attain that elusive first Grand Slam

As first round matches came to a close on Wednesday, thing appear to be progressing more or less according to plan thus far in the men’s draw at the U.S. Open.

Andy Murray advanced against former NCAA standout Somdev Devvarman by a score of 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-3. Murray mentioned he felt some early match nerves and when asked to explain gave a rather humorous response.

“Well, I mean, try being a British player going into a Grand Slam.  It’s not easy (smiling).”

With Roger Federer struggling this summer and Rafael Nadal also seeming less-than-perfect, Murray might have the perfect opportunity to attain that elusive first Grand Slam. He certainly seemed to be handling Novak Djokovic as well as anyone could in his first set against the Serb in Cincinnati. Djokvic would retire while trailing 0-3 in the second set of that match citing shoulder pain.

In other matches today, American John Isner beat a tricky opening round opponent in Marcos Baghdatis, 7-6(2), 7-6(11), 2-6, 6-4. With Robin Soderling withdrawing in this section of the draw due to illness, Isner has a great chance to make the round of sixteen and maybe even a quarter-final at a Slam for the first time in his career.

Isner will now face compatriot Robby Ginepri who only started his season in June after injury issues. He won today against Joao Suza in four sets. Many will remember Ginepri for his loss against Andre Agassi in the semi-finals here in 2005.

2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro destroyed Filippo Volandri 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. Known more for his clay-court exploits, Volandri has not won a match on hard-courts since 2007. Del Potro couldn’t have asked for an easier match in his return to Flushing Meadows.

Forced to miss defending his title a year ago due to a wrist injury, Del Po has returned to the top-twenty in the game and appears to have a good shot of advancing deep into the draw.

The Argentine mentioned several times after the match how happy he was to return to his favorite Grand Slam tournament following his inability to play a year ago.

“Well, I am feeling very special these couple of days, because I wasn’t here last year so I couldn’t see my name in the locker room,” DelPotro said. “That’s special, but are pretty little details. But, you know, it’s an honor be part of the champions of this tournament.”

Canadian Vasek Pospisil is giving fans in his country reason to cheer in the absence of Milos Raonic. The 20 year old Canuck won his first ever Grand Slam match against Lukas Rosol with ease 6-1, 6-2, 6-1. Pospisil will now face Feliciano Lopez the 25th seed.

12th seeded Gilles Simon survived a marathon five-set match against Ricardo Mello of Brazil, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. 3-6, 6-4. The Frenchman will now go up against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain who also required five sets to advance to the second round.

The only seeded player to fall on day three was Nicolas Almagro, the 10th seed, who was beat by French veteran Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. I’d hardly consider that result an upset since Almagro rarely performs on this surface while Benneteau made the finals a week ago of the inaugural event in Winston Salem where he was defeated by Isner for the title.

In the final match of the night amongst the men, Andy Roddick needed a four set struggle to finally overcome 33 year-old Michael Russell, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

Roddick seemed to be moving along quite well until Russell experienced a resurgence in the third set. It was not meant to be for the veteran however, as he fell to 0-7 in matches at the Open.

Roddick now moves on to face youngster Jack Sock who at the age of 18 is making just his second appearance in a major.

Roddick got a good laugh out of the crowd as he assessed his next foe in Sock.

“Well, I know he’s full of piss and vinegar and he’s from Nebraska. Sounds a little bit like an 18 year old I knew once upon a time. I like Jack a lot. He had a good win and I’m excited…I’ll take on the young American and I’ll enjoy it.”

It is nice to see Sock, along with Ryan Harrison and Donald Young emerging to form the next generation of American players. Thirty-one straight majors without a U.S. champion is a strange reality after so many decades of success. Perhaps one of these young guns can one day reverse this declining trend in tangible results at the Grand Slam level.

Roger Federer sails into the next – US Open day 1

The final Grand Slam of the year got underway on Monday in New York and with hurricane Irene no longer looming, the tournament was able to get through all of its scheduled matches.

On the men’s side we saw third seeded Roger Federer advance with relative ease against clay-court specialist Santiago Giraldo in straight sets by a score of 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Federer very likely could have closed his opponent out in a much more devastating manner but was off his game at times throughout the match. He fully admitted afterwards that he rarely plays his best tennis in the opening rounds and is happy to be through to the next round where he will face Dudi Sela of Israel.

Elsewhere, seeded players Alexandr Dolgopolov, Tomas Berdych, RIchard Gasquet Janko Tipsarevic, Marcel Granollers, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Radek Stepanek and Mardy Fish all advanced in straight sets as well.

Granollers, known more for his clay court exploits, dispatched tough veteran Xavier Maliss 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Monfils, the flying frenchman, took out a future star in Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4. He will next face 2003 finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero who needed five sets to get past Pablo Andujar. Ferrero is still capable of solid results on clay as evidenced by his recent title in Stuttgart, but forget about him making it far on the hard-courts here.

Another veteran player who had a decent result today was Germany’s Tommy Haas who advanced past French qualifier Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy (good thing tennis players don’t wear their names on the back of their shirts!) Haas has had a real tough-go since returning from a year long layoff earlier this year. He is currently ranked 475th in the world and has a record of 2-8 so far this season. Haas actually has a pretty good draw here and if he can get on a roll is someone you can never count out.

Mardy Fish looked every bit the part as the top-ranked American in the world as he easily defeated Tobias Kamke 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Fish has somehow managed to top his solid summer of 2010 and made the finals of the Masters 1000 event in Montreal and then the semi-finals in Cincinnati the week after that. Seeded eighth in this event, Fish is no longer going to be content with making the round of sixteen in a major. With the way he has been playing the past two months, he must be considered a title contender for perhaps the first time in his career.

The only upset on day one was to see Serbia’s Viktor Troicki be beaten by Alejandro Falla 3-6, 6-3, 4-7, 7-5, 7-5. Fortunately for fans of that nation, there is a guy who opens tomorrow who has a decent shot of going deep into the draw. Novak Djokovic will open against Conor Niland of Ireland, a man who will need all the luck of the Irish he can muster.

Andy Roddick is the top seed at the Winston Salem Open – Around the corner

With only one week left before the start of the U.S. Open, the Winston Salem Open provides tennis players with one final opportunity to prepare themselves for the final Grand Slam of the year.

Usually the top players in the world like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer take this week to rest-up before heading to New York, while the lower ranked players who are seeking a few more ranking points or preparation on their games can be found in the draw.

This is the first year of this event as it was previously held in New Haven, Connecticut. With Pilot Pen vacating their spot as tournament sponsor, the event could not find a suitable replacement and was forced to fold.

Let’s look at this week’s draw to see who might end up as the inaugural Winston Salem champ.

First Quarter:

Andy Roddick arrives here as the number one seed. Normally Andy would not be playing in the week leading up to the Open, but he is struggling to find his game this summer and needs all the help he can get. On Monday his ranking will drop out of the top-twenty, something that has not happened for him since August 2001. That was back when Roddick was on his way up in the rankings as a new tennis professional. He has done an amazing job at consistently being one of the top players in the world and will be very focused to get back there.

He opens with a first round bye and then is scheduled to face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. Either way this should be exactly the confidence boost that Roddick requires.

A tricky third round match could have him play against veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who is also trying to find his game after struggling with injuries this year. It’s sad in many ways to see these two former world number ones and Grand Slam champions having such difficulty with their games.

Second Quarter:

American John Isner is the 4th seed and will face either Dudi Sela or Filippo Volandri in the second round. This is a tournament that Isner should do quite well at and his only real competition could be in a quarter-final match against either Marcos Baghdatis or Dmitry Tursunov.

Isner defeated Baghdatis in Montreal this past week 6-3, 6-4 and the Cypriot has been quite mediocre of late. He has not advanced past the quarter-finals of any hard-court events this summer.

Third Quarter:

Enigmatic Alexandr Dolgopolov is seeded third and has also been playing under his talent-level for many stretches this year. After starting the 2011 season strongly by reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, he has failed to really build on his potential on hard-courts. He did win the event in Umag a few weeks ago but that was on clay. He could face either Grigor Dimitrov or Donald Young in the third round, but otherwise should be able to navigate his way to the quarter-finals.

There he could meet big-serving Kevin Anderson, who is the 6th seed, and has had a solid summer that was highlighted by a victory over Andy Murray in Montreal. He will likely face wild-card Ryan Harrison in the second round. The up-and-coming American faces Victor Hanescu in his opening match. James Blake is also lurking in this section and could face Anderson in the third round.

Fourth Quarter:

Jurgen Melzer is the second seed and will have the toughest opening match of the top seeds as he will face either Bernard Tomic or Igor Andreev. Tomic is a fast rising star on the ATP World Tour who showed his promise at Wimbledon this year by making the quarter-finals. Andreev is never an easy opponent and has skills on all surfaces. I’d call an upset over Melzer here a distinct possibility.

Nikolay Davydenko is the 5th seed and should be able to navigate his way towards the quarter-finals, but after a brutal 6-0, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Mardy Fish in Cincinnati, I wonder if his confidence is able to handle anyone at the moment.

I’m going to go with Roddick or Isner prevailing in this one. They are both great hard-court players and with their serves they are incredibly dangerous. This tournament could do wonders for their confidence as their home-country Grand Slam approaches.

Serena Williams makes big statement by winning the Rogers Cup

Serena Williams made a big statement in Toronto as she easily defeated Samantha Stosur to claim the Rogers Cup 2011 by a score of 6-4, 6-2. Williams looked every bit the champion that we have come to know over the years and is without a doubt the favorite as the U.S. Open approaches.

Few gave Stosur much of a chance to realistically win the match. With a 2-8 record in WTA finals, the Australian seems to lack the composure to play her best game during these types of moments. Add to the fact that Williams has been gaining confidence with every victory over the past two weeks and it was going to be awfully tough for anyone to beat her. Between her title in Stanford and here in Toronto she has now won 11 matches in-a-row.

The two players managed to hold their serves through the opening eight games and for a short while it appeared we might have a competitive final on our hands. Instead, Serena managed to break thanks to a beautiful cross-court volley to take a 5-4 lead. She would close out the set in the following game.

While the tournament did not provide a comparison of winners to errors I noted a lack of clear-cut winners from both players. That does not mean there were not some impressive points between the two, but rather that with Serena making such high-quality groundstrokes, Stosur was often forced into making errors.

Stosur did crumple however as the second set got going and could not seem to find a way to counter Serena’s powerful attack. Williams quickly found herself up 2-0 and would break again a bit later to take a 4-1 lead.

With dark clouds looming overhead and thunder rattling nearby, it looked for sometime that rain might halt play and give Stosur a chance to re-group. Instead it held-off just long enough to complete the match, which Serena did in her final service game thanks to four aces including one on match point.

In the post-match interview on court Serena showed off a different side from the one she revealed to Stosur during their hard-hitting rallies.

“I always wanted to win this trophy ’cause it’s so cute,” Williams gushed to the adoring crowd.

Not exactly what you’d expect from the winner of 13 Grand Slam titles, but you never do know what to expect from the American tennis legend.

After the match Williams alternated between answers that were at times modest and at others incredibly confident, perhaps even cocky.

On the one hand she said that she never doubted she would be able to return to playing this quality of tennis. On the other she claimed that she felt like the underdog coming into the Rogers Cup. Take what you want from her comments, at the end of the day she is suddenly the one to beat after nearly a year absence from the tour.

While Kim Clijsters truly shocked the tennis world two years ago with her victory at the U.S. Open following her first retirement from the sport, I don’t think that anyone will be surprised if Williams can pull-off a similar result in her comeback from injury and illness.

[nggallery id=151]

Novak Djokovic seems to have found a way to keep his magical results going all year long – Around the corner

As the Rogers Cup is set to wrap-up this weekend in Montreal with the men, the draw for the second consecutive Masters 1000 event has just been released in Cincinnati. With the U.S. Open just two weeks away now, players will be looking to fine-tune their games and round into form for the finalGrand Slam of the year.

How will Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray rebound after poor showings in Canada? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the draws they have received as well as how they deal with their mental and physical short-comings from this past week.

World number one Novak Djokovic will enjoy the benefits of a first round bye at the Western and Southern Open and gets the winner of American Ryan Harrison and Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. The progress that Harrison has made this year has been quite positive and he is giving U.S. tennis fans some real hope as they continue to search for the successor to Andy Roddick. Harrison should get by Chela, a player whose game is never really that dangerous on hard-courts.

Djokovic also has Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils in his section of the draw. Both of those players made the quarter-finals in Montreal this week. Djokovic can handle either, especially evidenced by his 6-2, 6-1 beating of Monfils on Friday evening.

Andy Roddick makes his return to the ATP World Tour after some injury issues of late. Currently ranked 12th in the world, Roddick could see his ranking start to fall quickly if he cannot put together some results this summer. Roddick has not played since a Davis Cup loss to David Ferrer on hard-courts in early July. He will open in Cincy against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a tricky opponent to be sure.

Djokovic should be able to advance through this section but having too much success just prior to the Open could be problematic down the road. A player does not want to peak too early, although it seems that Djokovic has found a way to keep his magical results going all year long.

In the following quarter of the draw, Roger Federer is not going to have an easy run. While he was fortunate to draw Canadian wildcard Vasek Pospisil in Montreal, his first adversary in Cincy will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Andreas Seppi. No offence to Seppi, but it would be shocking if he could get by the 6’6” Argentine.

Federer will be pushed to the limit by Del Potro and could see his U.S. Open preparations seriously harmed if he’s not on top of his game. Federer holds a 6-2 advantage in their career head-to-head, but Del Po has won the last two encounters.

Tomas Berdych is also in this section of the draw as the 8th seed, but you can never get your hopes up with this guy. It seems like a mix of quarter-final and semi-final appearances this year are all we are going to get out of the talented but enigmatic Czech. He hasn’t beaten a quality opponent all year long, so I wouldn’t expect that to change now. This guy must drive his coach nuts!

On the other side of the draw Rafael Nadal will try to get things back on track after a surprising second round defeat to Ivan Dodig. While Federer losing to Tsonga in Montreal was always within the realm of possibility, I don’t think anyone really saw that Dodig loss coming for Nadal.

The Spaniard will play either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or a qualifier in his opening match. That should be the perfect prescription to get things going to him. A quarter-final match against Mardy Fish is a possibility for Nadal, although with Fish going deep in Montreal I wonder how much energy he will want to expend in back-to-back weeks.

Keep an eye on the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov who opens against Richard Gasquet in this quarter as well as Fernando Verdasco and veteran Xavier Malisse as a longshot who can still play the game quite well.

Finally, Andy Murray will try to find his form against the winner of David Nalbandian and a qualifier. Nalbandian can’t seem to catch a break as he opened against Wawrinka in Montreal. Murray should be a good bet to dispatch of the veteran Argentine and hopefully the doubles action he saw with his older brother Jamie in Montreal will help him out here.

David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also in this section and are fantastic hard-court players who could go deep here if Murray is still working out the kinks in his game.

Of the top-twenty players in the world, only Sweden’s Robin Soderling is missing in action.

My picks for a final four this week will be Djokovic vs. Del Potro and Murray against Dolgopolov. I don’t see Federer getting by his first opponent and something just didn’t seem right with Nadal while practicing or playing in Montreal this past week.

Let the speculation for the U.S. Open continue. It will be here before we know it!