Andrey Golubev

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Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Tomas prepares to defend his first Davis Cup title as plenty of intriguing ties await.

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic

10 Reasons to be Excited for Davis Cup Weekend

Switzerland's Davis Cup team member Federer speaks to Wawrinka during a practice session in Fribourg

The time has come!  While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.

 

10. The Newcomers

It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group.  For Japan it’s been 27.  In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns.  Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.

 

9.  Fedmania!

In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend.  To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.

8. Russian Roulette

The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover.  Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player.  Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place.  Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder.  All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.

 

7. Veterans Day

Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others.  Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.

 

6. The Battle of the Misfits

One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan.  The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine.  It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.

 

5. Tommy Haas

Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we?  Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

 

4. The Other Groups

Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means).  Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko).  You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.

 

3. The New Heroes

Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes.  Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players.  Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.

2. Double Trouble

Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different.  This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.

1. The Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis.  It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us.  Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.

Raonic, Haase Could Get Company From Compatriots in Top 100 in ‘12

Rogers Cup

It can be lonely in the top 100, especially if you’re Andy Murray, Ernests Gulbis or Jurgen Melzer.

They’re just three of the 21 players that are their nation’s sole representative among that ranking benchmark. But while some of them, such as Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis, might not be getting any company from their compatriots any time soon, there are some national number-twos who could be backing up or surpassing their higher-ranked countrymen in 2012. Here’s a look at five of them.

Izak van der Merwe

Second-ranked player from South Africa behind Kevin Anderson

Over the course of the past four years, van der Merwe’s year-end ranking has improved—from 302 to at the end of 2008 to his current, and career-high, 113. In 2011, the 27-year-old South African won two Challenger titles on hard courts, and made the finals of another. He also advanced to the quarterfinals at the ATP World Tour 250 event in Johannesburg, where his countryman Anderson won their “home” tournament. Solid results at the start of 2012 could land van der Merwe alongside Anderson in the top 100.

Vasek Pospisil

Second-ranked player from Canada behind Milos Raonic

If it seems like Raonic appeared out of nowhere in 2011, the opposite should be expected of Pospisil in the year ahead. Big things are expected from the 21-year-old, who improved his ranking by nearly 200 points over the year. His most impressive feat in the past year was lifting his country into World Group play for the 2012 Davis Cup. Improving his place in the standings could be his next big accomplishment.

Go Soeda

Second-ranked player from Japan behind Kei Nishikori

The veteran reached his career-high ranking in 2011—90—with his best ATP Tour-level result coming in Thailand, where he reached the quarterfinals out of qualifying. He played in the main draw of three of the four Grand Slams during the year, and also won two Challenger events. Soeda had a solid finish to the year with quarterfinal finishes in two of his last three tournaments, giving him something to build upon in 2012.

Thomas Schoorel

Second-ranked player from the Netherlands behind Robin Haase

It’s been quite some time since the days of Richard Krajicek, Jan Siemerink and Paul Haarhuis. But a Dutch renaissance appears to be in effect based on the play of Haase and Schoorel behind him. The 22-year-old Schoorel cracked the top 100 in 2011, before finishing at 133, based on strong Challenger results, winning two tournaments in a row on clay. He also picked up wins over perennial top-100 players Jarkko Nieminen and Jeremy Chardy during the year, and made the second round of the French Open.

Andrey Golubev

Second-ranked player from Kazakhstan behind Mikhail Kukushkin

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for Kazakhstan’s former number one in 2011. After winning his first career title at the ATP World Tour 500 stop in Hamburg and making the finals in Kuala Lumpur in 2010, Golubev—whose career-high ranking is 33—notched a 6-26 record in the just-concluded season. Most of those wins came during the summer on outdoor hard courts, a sign that he began to rediscover some of his form after a rough start. A good run in the beginning of ’12 could help him fully put the memories of ’11, and that lower ranking, behind him.

Federer Ties Nastase; Soderling and Murray Also Win Tourney Titles

BASEL

Roger Federer drew level with Ilie Nastase on 57 career titles after beating 6-3 6-4 David Nalbandian in the final between the Top two seeded players. Federer never faced a break point and won in Basel third straight year. “It feels great to win at home. Once you had it you want more of it and you want to do it over and over again.” said Federer who improved 10-8 against Nalbandian and 29-6 lifetime record in his hometown.

LYON

Robin Soderling has finally won his 3rd ATP tournament. The Swede has been waiting more than three years for another title, losing meanwhile 4 consecutive finals, three this year (Rotterdam, Memphis, Stockholm). Soderling is one of the biggest indoor specialist, he has played 9 finals in career, all of them indoor. On Sunday needed three sets to upset Julien Benneteau and his home-crowd 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1. Soderling broke the Frenchman’s serve in the 7th game of the second set but lost his own serve in the following game – it was the only game of the match with break points for Benneteau who lost his second ATP final. “As a player you always have the goal to reach the Top 100,” said Soderling who next week will be for the first time in career a Top 20 player. “Once you get there, you want to get to the Top 50. Reaching the Top 20 feels great. It has been my goal for two or three years already.” Thanks to this triumph Soderling creates theoretical chances to play in Masters Cup. He needs to win in Paris next week on the assumption that Gilles Simon and David Ferrer don’t make QF, and anyone else behind Simon and Ferrer doesn’t make the final.

St. PETERSBURG

The Russian-born but Kazhstan representative, Andrei Goloubev was able to win only two games in his first ATP final against defending champion Andy Murray. The British No. 1 converted five of 8 break points and saved two break points in the match which lasted just 58 minutes. It was the shortest final on the ATP circuit this year, and the second shortest final in terms of games (14) after Mikhail Youzhny defeated Rafael Nadal 6-0 6-1 in Chennai. Murray won 8th title in career (5th in European indoor) and became the first British player to win back-to-back titles since Mark Cox in March 1975. “I’m happy to defend my title in St Petersburg,” said Murray. “I like to play indoors. I reached my first ATP final indoors in Bangkok and then won my first ATP title in San Jose.”

Basel – Final

(1)Roger Federer (SUI) d. (2)David Nalbandian (ARG) 6-3 6-4

Lyon – Final

(7)Robin Soderling (SWE) d. Julien Benneteau (FRA) 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1

St. Petersburg – Final

(1)Andy Murray (GBR) d. (q)Andrei Goloubev (KAZ) 6-1 6-1

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.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Naturally We Are Annoyed

STARS

Roger Federer won the Davidoff Swiss Indoors, beating David Nalbandian 6-3 6-4 in Basel, Switzerland

Andy Murray beat Andrey Golubev 6-1 6-1 to win the St. Petersburg Open in St. Petersburg, Russia

Robin Soderling won the Grand Prix de Tennis De Lyon by beating Julien Benneteau 6-3 6-7 (5) 6-1 in Lyon, France

Ana Ivanovic beat Vera Zvonareva 6-2 6-1 to win the Generali Ladies Linz in Linz, Austria

Elena Dementieva stopped Carolina Wozniacki 2-6 6-4 7-6 (4) to win the FORTIS Championships in Luxembourg

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Julie Coin 6-4 6-3 to win the Internationaux Feminins de la Vienne in Poitiers, France

Hyung-Taik Lee won the Samsung Securities Cup Challenger in Seoul, Korea, by beating Ivo Minar 6-4 6-0

Jim Courier beat Thomas Enqvist 3-6 6-4 10-8 (Champions tiebreak) to win the Stanford Championships in Dallas, Texas

SAYINGS

“There was a bit of disappointment but I gave a good fight for almost five years, so I’m proud of that, and I think Rafa deserves it this year because he’s played consistently well.” – Roger Federer, admitting he’s disappointed about not finishing the year as the number one player.

“This season has been hard, long and punishing. I will be very happy when I lose in Bercy.” – Richard Gasquet, after losing in Lyon, France, and talking about this week’s tournament in Paris.

“To see him give up mentally beforehand is quite simply abnormal. It is disrespectful vis-à-vis the public who he is counting on supporting him at Bercy. Naturally we are annoyed.” – Patrice Dominguez, national technical director of the French Tennis Federation, referring to Gasquet’s comment.

“This year has been a very positive year for me and I am looking forward to continued success in Doha.” – Venus Williams, after qualifying for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha.

“It has been awhile since I last played and it feels wonderful to be one of the best eight players of the regular Sony Ericsson WTA Tour season.” – Vera Zvonareva, who qualified for the Sony Ericsson Championships.

“You could never forecast that he was going to miss that shot. If he lets it bounce, he could hit it with the butt cap and make it and I wouldn’t be there. That was as improbable as it gets, but that’s why we play sports. The whacky happens.” – Jim Courier, after Thomas Enqvist shanked an easy overhead on match point.

“I think I was just too casual. It’s what you tell an amateur when you play the pro-ams with them, that sometimes they do those mistakes. They take their eye off the ball. I think I did that.” – Thomas Enqvist.

“For the first set and a half we were completely outplayed. At 4-3 down in the second set Bopanna double-faulted at 40-40, and after that the momentum shifted our way.” – Travis Parrott, after teaming with Filip Polasek to win the doubles at St. Petersburg, Russia.

“I’m really disappointed with how I played today. I had no concentration at any stage of the match. Maybe today I finally paid for all of the traveling and the many matches I’ve played over the last several weeks.” – Vera Zvonareva, after losing to Ana Ivanovic in the title match of the Generali Ladies Linz.

“Rafael Nadal has donated the racquet he used to win the 2008 Wimbledon final, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi both donated tennis racquets, while Roger Federer gave us the shirt off his own back.” – Lleyton Hewitt, on items donated to help raise money for a charity, Cure Our Kids.

SET FOR DOHA

The final two spots in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships have been clinched by Vera Zvonareva and Venus Williams. The women’s tour will wind up with world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams in Doha, Qatar, November 4-9. It will be the third time Venus Williams will compete in the season-ending event, but her first since 2002. Others in the field include Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams, Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

SIGN OF RESPECT

The new tennis center in Brisbane, Australia, has been named for two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter. The 5,500-seat Rafter Arena will open in January for the Brisbane International men’s and women’s hard court championships. The tournament is a warm-up for the Australian Open, which is held in Melbourne. Novak Djokovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Ana Ivanovic are confirmed for the event, the first international tennis tournament to be played in Brisbane since 1994.

SWEDE VICTORY

When Robin Soderling captured his second Lyon trophy, he became the first Swedish player to win an ATP title in almost three years. The last Swede to capture a tournament on the men’s tour was Thomas Johansson at St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2005. The victory over Frenchman Julien Benneteau will move Soderling into the top 20 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time. At Lyon, Soderling beat two top-ten players, Andy Roddick and Gilles Simon.

SWISS STAR

Roger Federer won his third straight Davidoff Swiss Indoors crown in his native Basel, Switzerland. He also has been runner-up twice in his nine appearances in Basel. And his 57th career title moves Federer into a tie with Ilie Nastase on the ATP list. He is now three titles behind Andre Agassi. Basel was Federer’s fourth title of 2008, highlighted by his fifth consecutive US Open win. This one came over David Nalbandian, the 2002 Swiss Indoors winner and the tournament’s number two seed. It was the first time since 1993 that the two top seeds have reached the final at Basel.

SHORT DAY

Andy Murray needed only 56 minutes to successfully defend his St. Petersburg Open title by defeating qualifier Andrey Golubev 6-1 6-1. It was the shortest final on the ATP tour this year, and the second fewest games in a title match since Mikhail Youzhny crushed Rafael Nadal 6-0 6-1 at the Chennai Open in January. Now ranked fourth in the world, Murray becomes the first British player to win consecutive titles since Mark Cox did it in March 1975. The Scott has won five titles this year, second only to the eight captured by Nadal. Murray is on a 12-match winning streak and has won 18 of his last 19 matches since losing in the first round of the Beijing Olympics to Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun.

SHORT STAY

For the second straight year, Nikolay Davydenko made a brief appearance at the St. Petersburg Open. This time he injured his left wrist during a first-round victory over Chris Guccione, and then pulled out of the tournament. “I was able to finish the match, but today I felt a lot of pain and I just can’t play,” Davydenko said. Last year, the Russian was fined USD $2,000 by the ATP for not trying hard enough during his loss to qualifier Marin Cilic in a second-round match. The fine was overturned on appeal. Davydenko’s victory over Guccione was his 50th match win of the season, the fourth straight year he has won at least 50 matches.

STAYING ON TOP

Despite what happens the rest of the way, Jelena Jankovic will end the season as the number one player in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. Jankovic has a commanding points lead over Dinara Safina and will remain in the top spot regardless of the outcome of the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha. She secured the year-ending ranking by winning 12 straight matches en route to three consecutive titles in Beijing, Stuttgart and Moscow. She lost in the US Open final and reached the semifinals of two other Grand Slam tournaments.

SITTER MISSED

Holding match point at 9-8 in the Champions tiebreaker, Jim Courier sent a high defensive lob that just made it over the net in the final of the Stanford Championships in Dallas, Texas. But Thomas Enqvist, standing right on top of the net, elected not to let the ball bounce and shanked the overhead straight down off the frame of his racquet, giving Courier his sixth career Outback Champions Series title, 3-6 6-4 10-8 (Championships tiebreak). “I think I was too casual,” Enqvist said, while Courier said the missed overhead was “one of the nuttiest match points I’ve ever been a part of.”

SEASIDE TENNIS

Four top players will lead a five-day tennis “fantasy camp” on Maui, Hawaii, in November. Lindsay Davenport, Tom Gullikson, Robby Ginepri and Corina Morariu will participate in the four days of instruction and free play. Gullikson is the former US Davis Cup captain and Olympic coach, while Davenport was ranked number one in the world in both singles and doubles. She is one of only four women – joining Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – to have been the year-ending number one at least four times. Ginepri is one of the top five American players currently on the ATP tour, while Morariu was ranked number one in the world in doubles before being diagnosed with leukemia. She made a complete recovery and was named Comeback Player of the Year on the WTA Tour. The “fantasy camp” is for adult tennis players ranging in skill from recreational to tournament-level.

STRIKING PAIR

Hall of Famer Michael Chang and women’s tennis pro Amber Liu are now husband and wife. Matthew Cronin reports the pair was married at Lake Hills Community Church in Laguna Hills, California, with the reception and dinner taking place at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, California. Among those in attendance were Chang’s brother and coach, Carl; his cousin James Wan, who plays for Stanford University; John Austin, Anne Yelsey, Dick Gould, Lele Forood, Eliot Teltscher and Peanut Louis.

STRONG SALES

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships will have some people in the seats, if ticket sales are any indication. According to tournament officials, more than 95 percent of the premium seats have been sold for the season-ending event that features the world’s top eight women’s singles players and top four doubles teams. The Championships will be held November 4-9 at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex in Doha, Qatar.

STANDING TALL

Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec have begun a month-long fundraising auction with proceeds going to Cure Our Kids, an organization which supports children with cancer and their families at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in New South Wales, Australia. The auction includes items donated by the Hewitts as well as from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Ana Ivanovic, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff, among others.

SAD NEWS

A former top-100 player from Italy, Federico Luzzi, is dead at the age of 28. Luzzi died at a hospital in Arezzo, Italy, of leukemia. He was hospitalized after retiring a few days earlier from an Italian league match, citing a high fever. He reached a career-high ranking of number 92 in 2002 before a shoulder injury plagued him the rest of his career. In February, Luzzi was suspended for 200 days and fined USD $50,000 by the ATP for betting on tennis. In 2001, he beat Ville Liukko of Finland 14-12 in the fifth set to complete a 4-hour, 35-minute victory, the longest Davis Cup match ever played by an Italian.

SO LONG

Bill Rusick, an All-American college player and later tennis coach and co-owner of a tennis club, has died at the age of 51. Rusick led Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville to two national championships and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. He coached at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, and served as club pro and co-owner at St. Clair Tennis Club. He suffered from pancreatic cancer.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Basel: Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles beat Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-3

St. Petersburg: Travis Parrott and Filip Polasek beat Rohan Bopanna and Max Mirnyi 3-6 7-6 (4) 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Lyon: Michael Llodra and Andy Ram beat Stephen Huss and Ross Hutchins 6-3 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Seoul: Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach beat Sanchai Ratiwatana and Sonchat Ratiwatana 7-5 4-6 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Linz: Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama beat Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-4 7-5

Luxembourg: Sorana Cirstea and Marina Erakovic beat Vera Dushevina and Mariya Koryttseva 2-6 6-3 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Poitiers: Petra Cetkovska and Lucie Safarova beat Akgul Amanmuradova and Monica Niculescu 6-4 6-4

SITES TO SURF

Paris: www.fft.fr/bnpparibasmasters//

Quebec: www.challengebell.com

Bratislava: www.stz.sk

Busan: www.busanopen.org/

Cali: www.tennisegurobolivar.com/

Doha: www.Sonyericsson-championships.com

Sunrise: http://www.championsseriestennis.com/arizona2008/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$2,450,000 BNP Paribas Masters, Paris, France, carpet

$125,000 Seguros Bolivar Open, Cali, Colombia, clay

$100,000 Busan Open Challenger, Busan, South Korea, hard

WTA TOUR

$175,000 Bell Challenge, Quebec City, Quebec, hard

$100,000 Ritro Slovak Open, Bratislava, Slovak Republic, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

WTA TOUR

$4,450,000 Sony Ericsson Championships, Doha, Qatar, hard

$100,000 ITF women’s event, Krakow, Poland, hard

ATP

$106,500 Tatra Banka Open, Bratislava, Slovakia, hard

SENIORS

Cancer Treatment Centers of America Championships at Surprise, Surprise, Arizona

Andy Murray Cruises Into Second Straight Final

BASEL

Roger Federer for the fifth time (third in a row) advanced to the final of his home-event in Basel after convincing 6-3 6-2 over in-form Feliciano Lopez. “It’s great to play back-to-back semifinals and reach the final,” said Federer. “I have some points to defend but that is not what my life is about anymore, I hope to win titles. My game has really come along this week and I’m serving well this week.”

In the second semifinal between two Argentinians, David Nalbandian outplayed Juan Martin del Potro 6-4 6-4. Nalbandian is also a Basel specialist. He has played three finals there, won one of them, six years ago, in his first attempt (beating Gonzalez in straight sets in the final).

LYON

Gilles Simon has finally lost a three-setter. He was beaten by the hands of the indoor specialist Robin Soderling. Simon was losing 4:5 (15-30) in the first set but won 10 points in a row and the first set 7-5. The next two sets Soderling won 6-3 and reached third indoor final this year (after Rotterdam and Memphis).

Julien Benneteau defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 7-5 despite 2:5 down in the first set. Benneteau later saved set point at 5:6 with subtle volley. In the similar style he won his first set point in the tie-break as well.

St. PETERSBURG

Andy Murray has won 17 of his last 18 matches. In the Satursday’s semifinal British No. 1 demolished Fernando Verdasco 6-0 6-3. Last year in the final Murray playing against Verdasco lost only two games more. “I played a solid match and he got off to a slow start, making some mistakes and I was able take advantage of that,” said Murray.

“I was very happy with my level of play today and it was a perfect match,” said Golubev, who won the final 10 games of his semifinal match against Victor Hanescu. “This will be my first ATP final and I will never forget this match and this tournament.”

Basel – Semifinals

(1)Roger Federer (SUI) d. Feliciano Lopez 6-3 6-2

(2)David Nalbandian (ARG) d. (3)Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) 6-4 6-4

Lyon – Semifinals

(7)Robin Soderling (SWE) d. (4)Gilles Simon 5-7 6-3 6-3

Julien Benneteau (FRA) d. (3)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(5) 7-5

St. Petersburg – Semifinals

(1)Andy Murray (GBR) d. (3)Fernando Verdasco 6-0 6-3

(q)Andrei Goloubev (KAZ) d. Victor Hanescu 6-3 6-0

Voo’s ATP Round-Up From Basel, Lyon and St. Pete

BASEL

Roger Federer after two difficult matches in early rounds, won easily his quarterfinal match against Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-2 6-3. “I’m very satisfied by how it went,” Federer said. “I tried to step up the pressure and so far that’s worked well.”

In the semifinal Federer will face Feliciano Lopez who knocked out James Blake 6-4 7-6(7). Blake had double setpoint at 6:5 in the 2nd set but Lopez saved it with second serve ace and forehand winner. In the tie-break Lopez led 6:3, then saved another set point (6:7) with service winner to convert finally 4th match point with excellent cross-court backhand passing-shot. “This one hurt,” Blake said. “I had a set point in the tiebreaker. If I expect to beat a lot of the guys out there I need to play well on those points and I didn’t do it today.” Lopez has won 10th tie-break in a row!

In the other semifinal will meet the two best Argentinians (Del Potro and Nalbandian) who played a match last week in Madrid – Del Potro won 6-4 6-2 in the last 16. “Last week I beat him (Nalbandian) in a great match, and tomorrow I’ve got to be in good shape if I want to do it again,” Del Potro said.

LYON

Two former champions Andy Roddick (2005) and Robin Soderling (2004) played a hard-service battle with no breaks of serve and two tie-breaks. Both tie-breaks had the same pattern – Roddick was leading 3:1 but Soderling won twice 7-5 thanks to unforced errors of American player. Roddick was better (22-20) in aces. Roddick doesn’t add points to Champions Race (he should have reached the final to do it) in contrary to Gilles Simon who has won for the first time in two weeks time a match in straight sets (6-3 7-5 against compatriot Ouanna). Simon could move within three points of sixth-placed Roddick if he wins the title.

In the bottom half of the draw, two Frenchmen (Tsonga and Benneteau) will fight against each other to reach the final. Benneteau advanced to the last four in impressive style – hasn’t lost 4 games in a set in three matches this week.

ST. PETERSBURG

Defending champion Andy Murray has won 10th consecutive match beating Janko Tipsarevic 7-6(5) 7-5 in two hours and 10 minutes. Murray sets up semifinal clash with Fernando Verdasco who qualified to St. Petersburg semifinal third straight year. Murray beat Verdasco 6-2 6-3 in last year’s final.

Andrey Golubev as a first player from Kazakhstan reached the ATP semifinal. Golubev in a duel of two qualifiers was better than Misha Zverev 6-7 6-4 7-6. 21 year-old Kazakh won match point after a successful challenge. He now face Victor Hanescu. The Romanian hadn’t any problems against 27 year-old Michail Elgin who won this week his 1st ATP match.

Basel – Quarterfinals

(1)Roger Federer (SUI) d. Simone Bolelli (ITA) 6-2 6-3

Feliciano Lopez (ESP) d. (4)James Blake (USA) 6-4 7-6(7)

(3)Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d. (6)Igor Andreev (RUS) 6-4 7-5

(2)David Nalbandian (ARG) d. (q)Benjamin Becker (GER) 7-6(4) 6-4

Lyon – Quarterfinals

(7)Robin Soderling (SWE) d. (1)Andy Roddick (USA) 7-6(5) 7-6(5)

(4)Gilles Simon (FRA) d. (WC)Josselyn Ouanna (FRA) 6-3 7-5

(3)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d. Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) 7-6(5) 6-1

Julien Benneteau (FRA) d. Steve Darcis (BEL) 6-3 6-2

St. Petersburg – Quarterfinals

(1)Andy Murray (GBR) d. Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) 7-6(5) 7-5

(3)Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. Rainer Schuettler (GER) 7-5 6-2

(q)Andrey Golubev (KAZ) d. (q)Michael Zverev (GER) 6-7(3) 6-4 7-6(4)

Victor Hanescu (ROU) d. (WC)Michail Elgin (RUS) 6-1 6-4

Second Round Round-Up – Basel, Lyon, St. Pete!

BASEL

Roger Federer hasn’t lost a set in 10 meetings against Jarkko Nieminen. The Finn was very close to win a set against former No. 1 this time. Nieminen had two set points at 5:3 in the first set, led 30-0 on serve in the next game and was 5:4 up on serve in the tie-break. Federer finally won the match in two tie-breaks.

Nieminen can’t win a set against federer, Philipp Kohlschreiber can’t win a match against Igor Andreev. The German has lost 7 match in a row to Andreev but for the first time in career was relatively close of victory. Andreev won 7-6 6-7 7-5 breaking Kohlschreiber’s serve for the first time in the last game of the match. Kohlschreiber lost tight matches in his last three indoor events (all of them 6-7 or 5-7 in the third set).

James Blake builds up chances to play in Shanghai after beating Oscar Hernandez. Blake surprisingly lost first set in a tie-break but won the next two sets comfortably 6-2 6-4, facing just one break point in the whole match. “I was serving well and that got me out of a lot of trouble,” Blake said who served 17 aces.

Kristof Vliegen saved with stunning backhand passing-shot a match point against David Nalbandian in the 12th game of the final set and was leading 4:3 in the tie-break but experienced in tight matches Nalbandian won the last four points of the match.

LYON

Marathon-man Gilles Simon still wins his matches in three-sets. In the second round he beat Andreas Seppi 7-6(5) 5-7 6-4. It has been 7th three-set win for Simon in the last two weeks and each of those matches lasted more than 2 hours (against Nadal more than 3 hours)!

Tennis Masters Cup qualification contender Andy Roddick needed two tie-breaks and 26 aces to overcome his compatriot Robby Ginepri. Roddick has to reach the final to add the points in Champions Race. He will now face Robin Soderling who served 20 aces in just 8 service games against one of the shortest player on the tour Christophe Rochus. Rochus received also 20 aces from Gilles Muller one round earlier.

ST. PETERSBURG

For the first time in history two players from Kazakhstan and Latvia reached second round of an ATP Tournament. From those foursome only Andrey Golubev won his match, easily surpassing Marat Safin 6-2 6-4. Unexpectedly Russia won’t have a seeded player in the quarterfinals (four seeded players at the start of tournament). The best Russian tennis player Nikolay Davydenko withdrew due to injuried left wrist. “In one of the games when I was receiving his serve I just snapped my wrist,” said Davydenko about his first-round match against Guccione. “I was able finish the match but today I felt a lot of pain and I just can’t play”.

Basel – Second Round

(1)Roger Federer (SUI) d. Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) 7-6(6) 7-6(1)

Simone Bolelli (ITA) d. Marcel Granollers (ESP) 6-4 6-2

(4)James Blake (USA) d. Oscar Hernandez (ESP) 6-7(4) 6-2 6-4

Feliciano Lopez (ESP) d. (8)Mardy Fish (USA) 7-6(9) 6-4

(6)Igor Andreev (RUS) d. Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 7-6(6) 6-7(0) 7-5

(3)Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d. (WC)Stephane Bohli (SUI) 6-3 6-3

(q)Benjamin Becker (GER) d. (LL)Andreas Beck (GER) 3-6 6-3 6-4

(2)David Nalbandian (ARG) d. (q)Kristof Vliegen (BEL) 6-4 5-7 7-6(4)

Lyon – Second Round

(1)Andy Roddick (USA) d. Robby Ginepri (USA) 7-6(5) 7-6(3)

(7)Robin Soderling (SWE) d. (q)Christophe Rochus (BEL) 6-1 6-2

(4)Gilles Simon (FRA) d. Andreas Seppi (ITA) 7-6(5) 5-7 6-4

(WC)Josselyn Ouanna (FRA) d. Nicolas Lapentti (ECU) 6-3 1-6 6-3

Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) d. (8)Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) 6-4 6-1

(3)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d. Fabrice Santoro (FRA) 6-2 5-7 6-3

Julien Benneteau (FRA) d. (5)Tommy Robredo (ESP) 6-2 6-2

Steve Darcis (BEL) vs (2)Richard Gasquet (FRA) 6-4 3-6 7-6(5)

St. Petersburg – Second Round

(1)Andy Murray (GBR) d. Ernests Gulbis (LAT) 6-4 6-2

Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) d. Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 6-4 7-6(3)

(3)Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. (WC)Karlis Lejnieks (LAT) 6-1 6-3

Rainer Schuettler (GER) d. Dominik Hrbaty (SVK) 6-3 6-3

(q)Andrey Golubev (KAZ) d. (8)Marat Safin (RUS) 6-4 6-2

(q)Michael Zverev (GER) d. (4)Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) 7-5 6-4

Victor Hanescu (ROU) d. (q)Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) 6-3 7-6(7)

(WC)Michail Elgin (RUS) d. (2)Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) w/o

St. Pete seeds lack Simon survival skills

The St. Petersburg draw is already in shambles after just two rounds of the tournament, as seeds are tumbling out at an alarming rate. No. 5 Marin Cilic, No. 6 Dmitry Tursunov, and No. 7 Mario Ancic were all upset in their openers. No. 2 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 4 Mikhail Youzhny, and No. 8 Marat Safin followed suit in round two, much to the chagrin of the Russian fans. Davydenko pulled out after his first-round win with a wrist injury, while Youzhny lost to doubles partner Mischa Zverev and Safin fell to qualifier Andrey Golubev.

The only seeds to reach the quarterfinals were No. 3 Fernando Verdasco and–not surprisingly–No. 1 Andy Murray. Murray won the Masters Series Madrid last week and has had no problems so far in St. Petersburg taking care of Viktor Troicki and Ernests Gulbis.

Pehaps the six unfortunate seeded players in St. Petersburg should be taking notes from Gilles Simon. The Frenchman won five matches in three sets–four in third-set tiebreakers–last week en route to the Madrid title match, and he is already up to his old tricks in Lyon. Simon recovered from being a set and a break down in the first round to outlast Juan Monaco in three. He went to three again on Thursday with Andreas Seppi, but was far too strong mentally and physically in the end for the Italian.

Simon will play countryman Josselin Ouanna, who got into the event as a wildcard, in the quarterfinals. Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also through, while Richard Gasquet got upset by Steve Darcis in the second round.

Over in Basel, top two seeds Roger Federer and David Nalbandian have been doing their best Simon impersonations. Federer struggled with Bobby Reynolds in his opener and lost the second set in a tiebreaker, but he outlasted the American in three. The Swiss then saw Jarkko Nieminen serve for the first set on Thursday, but Federer came back to win the match in two tiebreakers. Nalbandian cruised in his first match, but the Argentine needed a third-set breaker to overcome Kristof Vliegen.

James Blake and Juan Martin Del Potro are still looming large as potential semifinal opponents for Federer and Nalbandian, respectively.

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