aisam ul haq qureshi

Weekly Debrief: Nadal as King of Outdoors, France & Serbia Win in Davis Cup, Qureshi as a “Hero”

Although the week after a Grand Slam is quieter than most, there was still plenty of action with the semifinals of the Davis Cup seeing France and Serbia winning their respective rubbers in surprising fashion. I also take a look at Rafael Nadal’s greatest weakness. Surprise! He has one! Even after winning 9 grand slams, there is still one thing missing from his collection. We’ll also take a look at Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi’s hero’s welcome in his native Pakistan. Finally, I’ll leave you off with a tip from a friend: it’s an extended (and funnier) version of Roger Federer’s Lindt “Airport” Commercial.

Davis Cup Semifinals Action

As there were no ATP-level tournaments scheduled the week after the U.S. Open, each nation had the opportunity to play their best players in Davis Cup action this past weekend.

For those not familiar with Davis Cup, some commentators and fans don’t see the necessity of the event saying it just adds to the athlete’s already-full schedule or that the event has lost its appeal because of a yearly redundancy. (Imagine if the World Cup of Soccer was played every year instead of every four, it would lose its hype and draw for fans.) The players, however, take a completely different stand in the knock-out event: they love the chance to play as part of a team representing their home country. Where every other tennis event is based off of individual performance, Davis Cup draws on a best-of-five rubbers format that includes 2 singles, 1 doubles, and 2 reverse singles matches. Some players are even known for finding their best game come Davis Cup time.

The main highlight this week was obviously France’s unexpected domination of Argentina, winning all 5 of their rubbers, and Serbia’s come-from-behind mentality to take out the Czech Republic 3-2. The two big players for each winning nation were, Gael Monfils and Janko Tipsarevic, respectively.

France: After Michael Llodra of France took out Juan Monaco in convincing fashion in the ties first rubber, all eyes were on the Gael Monfils-David Nalbandian match. Naldandian is one of those players I mentioned before who brings his best to Davis Cup. He usually has shaky results during the course of the year, but is often integral in bringing Argentina far in Davis Cup. In fact, for his last 9 singles rubbers, he’s only lost 1 and it was to a top 10 player. This weekend, however, notched another loss to his record. After a very solid performance by Monfils, Nalbandian could pull out no hat trick to close the deal this time and was taken out in four sets.

Gael Monfils showcases his new love, breakdancing.

Players spray captain Guy Forget

France Tennis Federation Jean Gachassin is sprayed by Michael Llodra and Richard Gasquet

Serbia: Following his stellar performance at the U.S. Open, expecting Novak Djokovic to travel halfway across the world and recover in 72 hours to play one of the most important Davis Cup rubbers in the country’s history would have been nearly impossible. As luck would have it, Djokovic pulled out of his first rubber citing a case of gastroenteritis, pitting Viktor Troicki against Czech Radek Stepanek. Stepanek walked away with the win, but Serb Janko Tipsarevic took a commanding lead against Tomas Berdych in the next rubber. After playing uninspiring tennis, Berdych somehow looked like he was going to force a 5th set, but Tipsarevic broke through a won the 4th in a tiebreak. The Serbian duo of Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic then had a hard time in the doubles rubber against the expert precision team of Stepanek/Berdych. The Czechs took the doubles rubber, but it would be the last match they would win. After Djokovic stepped in and took out Berdych in the 4th rubber, Tipsarevic won the deciding 5th rubber in three straight sets against Stepanek. Never in Serbia’s 15 year history as a country has the team gotten this far.

Believe it or not, this is Janko Tipsarevic after clinching the deciding 5th rubber against Radek Stepanek!

This Novak Djokovic after winning a point. Is it me or do these Serbs celebrate a victory with fierceness!?

The celebrations from both teams were grand! I can’t decide who I would rather party with!

Serbia will be looking for its first-ever Davis Cup title while France will be looking for its tenth. The final will be played the week following the year-end championships in December.

Nadal as an Outdoor Specialist

Gone are the days when Rafael Nadal was considered a clay court-specialist. After winning 5 French Opens, 2 Wimbledons, and an Australian and U.S. Open, the King of Clay has taken on a new kingdom: King of Outdoors. After clinching the year-end #1 for the second time in three years, Nadal is set to surpass Roger Federer on several records, including possibly most Slams won.

But there is still one thing on Nadal’s resume that is lacking: Indoor titles. Of Nadal’s 42 ATP titles, only 1 has come on the indoor hard courts and that was back in 2005 when the Madrid Masters were played indoors. At the same time, Nadal has been a finalist 12 times in his career and only 2 of those were indoor hard courts (Paris Masters in 2007 and Rotterdam in 2009). Now you may be thinking he simply doesn’t play enough indoor tournaments to win them, but that is not the case. Since 2006, he has lost in the quarterfinals or earlier in 5 of his last 9 indoor tournaments. That statistic now looks a bit more perplexing for the champion, doesn’t it?

Why all the fuss about indoor tournaments anyway? Well, if you recall, there is a very small and negligible tournament at the end of the year that just happens to pit the eight best ATP players against each other on indoor hard courts. Oh right! It’s the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals held in London, England at the end of November! Although Nadal has qualified for the last four years, the further he has gotten was in his first two appearances (2006 and 2007) when he lost in the semifinals to Federer in straight sets both times. He lost all three round robin matches in 2008 without winning a set, and in 2009, he pulled out with knee tendinitis.

Now that Nadal has overcome one of his biggest obstacles by staying healthy long enough to win the U.S. Open, his eyes should be set on clinching the last major trophy he has yet to touch: the WTF trophy played on quick indoor courts, his weakness. Let’s see if Nadal can win and show us what he is really made of.

Welcome Fit for a Hero, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi became an overnight hero in his native Pakistan. After advocating and standing as the voice for Pakistani flood victims at this year’s U.S. Open, Qureshi was greeted by a multitude of happy, cheering fans at the Allama Igbal International Airport in Lahore, India on September 15, 2010. Although he failed to win Pakistan’s first Grand Slam title, he was both Men’s Doubles runner-up and Mixed Doubles runner-up. He is regarded as Pakistan’s most successful tennis player, securing a #6 doubles ranking with partner Rohan Bopanna of India.

Government and Pakistan Tennis Federation officials draped Qureshi with garlands as fans chanted “long live Aisam” and “our new hero.” The throngs of people for his homecoming are reminiscent of when pop stars visit foreign lands.

ATP BONUS

Many fans have seen Roger Federer’s 32 seconds Lindt “Airport” Commercial. However, many more haven’t seen the funnier extended version one below. It includes a ‘strip search’ and Federer spinning around while the two female security guards admire:

Female 1: Stop, right there.

Federer: What’s wrong?

Female 1: Nothing. Everything’s right.

Female 2: You move very well. You must work out a lot.

Fed finishes with a smile and remarks: You ladies are crazy.

But, as Fed is walking away, the females get the last word: I love you.

We love you too, Fed.

Weekly Debrief – Djokovic’s Raindance, Verdasco Gold, “Indo-Pak Express”

As the US Open unfolded and the player field began to dwindle, storylines were made, but none more so than the unexpected win by Novak Djokovic in the semis and his ensuing raindance. Fernando Verdasco also had his celebratory dance after his win over comrade David Ferrer. And the Indian Pakistani duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi made their mark for peace. I leave you off with a little known locker room video that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. Let’s take a look at this week’s top stories in tennis!

Novak Djokovic as a True Contender

The biggest story this week may be Novak Djokovic’s defeat of the king of tennis himself, Roger Federer, in the semifinals of the US Open, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Federer not only had a winning head-to-head ratio against Djokovic (10-5), but he was 184-6 after winning the first set in a grand slam. Djokovic overcame all odds and pulled off the greatest win of his young career.

As the two weeks in Flushing Meadows were unfolding, it seemed like there was a natural pull for a Federer-Nadal final, something that had never happened here before. It was as if all the pleading by journalists, fans and commentators was paying off. Well, until Djokovic came out from “under the radar” and spoiled the party.

It’s slightly disconcerting that the #3 player in the world was given little thought for a run to the title here. He has been a steady member of the top 4 for the last three years, yet his respiratory problems and tendency to fold under pressure situations made him seem like just another bump along Federer’s route to the final. In Federer’s post-match press conference he even acknowledged that “The guys who overlooked [Djokovic] don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.” What makes the story more comedic is that CBSNews’ twitter feed had this up even before the Djokovic-Federer semi was over: “Rafael Nadal Reaches First U.S. Open Final, Moves on to play Roger Federer for Championship and Career Grand Slam.”

But enough of the hilarity, let’s get back to the tennis.

While easily dropping the second and fourth sets, it seemed that Federer had turned it around and was on his way to a ‘W.’ He held two match points on Djokovic’s serve, up 4-5, 15-40 in the fifth but allowed the Serb to dictate both points. If you are a Djokovic fan, you know to await disappointment because he succumbs to the do-or-die moments 95% of the time. However, this day was different. He not only won both rallies convincingly, he did it on his own terms: blasting forehand winners on both occasions to bring the score to deuce. He then earned the only break of the set at 5-all and sealed the win when Federer’s forehand went wide on match point. Djokovic stood there stunned, staring at his box, almost not convinced he had just beaten the Great Federer.

In his post-match press conference, he revealed exactly what was going on in his head during the match: “I got a bit nervous end of the first and third set, and that’s why I lost those sets. But anything except that, I think I played overall a great game, fighting really and being aggressive when I had chance, and defending well. I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it. Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for the shots. I was lucky.” Very lucky indeed.

Furthermore, Federer struggled at the net in the two sets he easily lost and his first serve percentage wasn’t even hitting 50% until more than halfway through the match. On the other hand, Djokovic was more consistent on his first and second serves percentages. And if you don’t believe me that Djokovic has been serving extremely well during this whole US Open, take a look at this stat: he’s #6 on first serve percentage with 69%. What’s more is that all of the other men on the list only played 1, 2, or 3 matches each for these high percentages, Djokovic played 6 matches. (Source: http://www.usopen.org/en_US/scores/extrastats/f_srv_pct_ms.html )

Djokovic Must Have Done his Raindance

In what turns out to be the third-straight year the Men’s Singles final will be played on a Monday due to rain, there is increased talk about the US Open having a covered stadium to avoid this. While Roland Garros doesn’t have the need for a roof as clay dries faster, the Australian Open and Wimbledom both jumped on the track and built roofs atop their marquee stadiums. So, why not the US Open? One of the reasons is that Arthur Ashe stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world and estimates are that it would cost around $150 million dollars to build. Tough obstacle.

But Novak Djokovic doesn’t seem to mind the final has to be pushed back one day. After his grueling on-court battle yesterday against Roger Federer, he welcomes the delay, and even his fellow female player knows it! As Djokovic had just learned of the postponement, he was leaning against a wall in the locker room, smiling. A Russian player currently vying for the Women’s Doubles trophy, Nadia Petrova, walked past him and said, “You are lucky! Seriously lucky!” Djokovic just stood there nodding and replied, “Another day in New York.”
When Rafael Nadal was questioned, he diplomatically responded: “There’s nothing you can do about this; it’s New York in the rain. For sure it’s fairer like this. I think it’s better for both of us to have a day of rest.” I’m not so sure I agree with him as he didn’t have a tough semifinal match with only 20 hours to recover. If the final had been played Sunday, it would have favored Rafa for sure. And his uncle, Toni, seems to agree: “For us, it would have been better that it had not rained today, because Djokovic might have been a bit more tired. But it was fairer like this.”

The two opponents share the same publicist, Perez Barbadillo, and he jokingly said: “Obviously, Rafa would have preferred to play today, and Novak was praying for rain, so I suppose what I take out of things is that God is Orthodox,” referring to Djokovic’s Serbian Orthodox faith. “He’s been listening to Novak.” (Read the full New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/sports/tennis/13tennis.html )

To further spark conflict for the US Open title, it seems that the ATP website has already picked it’s winner — even before the match has been played! (I took a screenshot knowing very well it would be corrected within a couple hours.)

Rafael Nadal’s faster serve

Imagine playing tennis since the age of 4, turning professional at 15, and playing the same heavy-topspin lefty game until you break the top 10 at the tender age of 18 and achieve #1 just three years later. If this were my track record, I wouldn’t look to change anything about my game. Not only is there no need, but technically-speaking, if the change brings a worsening in results, it may be hard to revert back to the old ways.

This is not the case with Rafael Nadal, who, two days prior to the start of the US Open, changed the grip on his serve.

Rafa swung by the commentators’ booth in Arthur Ashe stadium during the Gael Monfils-Novak Djokovic quarterfinal and chatted with ESPN’s Brad Gilbert and Chris Fowler about the change. “I am trying to serve a little bit more like Wimbledon because the ball here is very soft,” said Rafa. “It is not getting a lot of topspin, I try to play a little bit more flat. And for that reason, I am serving faster, that’s it.” Changing his grip didn’t happen overnight though as the media would have you believe. While hitting his fastest serve ever at 134 MPH in Flushing Meadows, Rafa is quick to say that “I worked a lot to serve well during my career and I have to keep working hard.” It looks like then that there is no such thing as a quick-fix — hard work is still what achieves results.

Fernando Verdasco’s Golden Moment

Although the fourth round featured some great matchups, the duel between Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer on Louis Armstrong stadium was pure heart on full display. And I wouldn’t expect any less from the passionate Spaniards. Both men won 70% of their first serves and hit a combined total of 23 aces, not something that either is usually known for. However, Verdasco had 73 winners to Ferrer’s 38.

Even though the match lasted well over four hours, aggressive play with plenty of marathon sprints to and from the net were seen up through the last point from both players. Ferrer had quickly gone up 4-1 in the fifth set tiebreaker, visibly frustrating Verdasco. His run ended there, however, as he never converted another point. Verdasco pulled off the shot of the tournament with his sprinting forehand volley that looped around the net pole and into the deuce corner on Ferrer’s side. Verdasco fell on his back in joy, and after shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire, proceeded to continue his excited 12-year-old celebratory dance. As he double fist-pumped his way into the hearts of fans, he dropped to the ground on both knees and slapped the court seemingly giving gratitude to the tennis gods, all the while yelling “Yes! Yes!” I even heard from a friend they could hear Verdasco yelling all the way up in Canada. Dude, gets around!

Check out Verdasco’s match-winning point:

“Indo-Pak Express” Leaves Mark

Even though the Bryan Brothers came through for American fans in capturing the US Open Men’s Doubles title, their opponents in the finals received perhaps even greater recognition globally. The duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi began their “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign back in Wimbledon as part of the effort to support peace between the two embattled countries they come from, India and Pakistan, respectively. They have quickly gained not only the support of fans, but the leaders of their countries as well for showing there can be great respect and partnership between the two countries.

The “Indo-Pak Express” as the two are fondly called, had a great run only dropping one set before going out in two hotly-contested tiebreakers in the final. In his post-match presser, Bob Bryan said that “This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy.”

With United Nations ambassadors Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan sitting together in the audience, the crowd cheered and gave Bopanna and Qureshi a standing ovation during the trophy ceremony for their peace-loving efforts. Qureshi went on to say that he was dedicating his share to the 21 million flood victims in Pakistan and thanked the Bryan brothers for donating a portion of their winnings to the Pakistan flood victims as well. In the interview room of Ashe stadium, the UN ambassadors from India and Pakistan presented the Bryan brothers with ceremonial Pakistani garments called ‘ajraks’ and thanked them for their benevolence. “A lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street,” Mike Bryan stated. “Sport can bring people together.”

ATP BONUS

And if you haven’t had enough of Djokovic yet, check out the Bryan Brothers Video Blog in the locker room of Ashe stadium with the ‘Djoker’. He’s not only shirtless and ‘buffed up,’ but he’s doing pushups and shaking hands with Jimmy Connors in his skivvies! Eat it up, Djoker fans, he’s a world-class chatter.

http://www.tennischannel.com/video/index.aspx#4d172bf3-e066-4881-bd16-f2c938b89707