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David Ferrer is Exactly Where He Wants To Be

David Ferrer (Credit: Christopher Levy/Tennis Grandstand)

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

David Ferrer is exactly where he wants to be. Over the past few years he has made himself into the most consistent player in the game outside the “Big 4”. He is a warrior on the court who plays a dogged, determined defensive game that frustrates and wears down his opponents. He rarely loses matches to lesser opponents. His tenacity and consistency has brought him up to a career-high ranking of World #4, and he can honestly be within striking distance of #2 in the coming months.

Aside from his hard-working, fighting play, Ferrer is also known (unfortunately) for not being able to beat the top players. He doesn’t have the power to hit past Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, and their consistency, weight, and depth of shot really gets past Ferrer. Djokovic and Nadal do the same thing Ferrer does, only better. Federer , one of the cleanest ball-strikers in tennis history, is just a terrible matchup for Ferrer’s style.

As we saw in their tough duel on Sunday, Murray is really the only one of the “Big 4” that Ferrer can beat. Ferrer can go toe-to-toe with Murray from all over the court and can find a way to wear Murray down or even hit the winning shot in a rally, something he can’t do against the other three top players. Being seeded against Murray has been Ferrer’s dream draw for the past few years, because it greatly increases Ferrer’s chances of getting that one round farther in a big tournament.

Ferrer probably benefited the most from Nadal’s absence in the second half of 2012. First of all, it meant that a player who Ferrer basically can’t beat on even terms wouldn’t be competing. Second of all, it gave Ferrer a chance to have his own quarter of the draw and not worry about meeting the other “Big 4” members until the semifinals. And Ferrer took full advantage of this, reaching the semis of both Slams in which he was a top 4 seed. Also, by winning the Masters 1000 tournament in Bercy he gave himself a nice boost to pass Nadal in the rankings before Rafa returned.

This is where we reach the important part. Ferrer saw an opening that he was granted and, like he almost always does, took it. He has basically solidified his position ahead of Nadal until Wimbledon (as long as he doesn’t do incredibly poorly at the clay Masters events). This means that he only has a 25% chance of meeting Nadal before the semifinals at the big clay tournaments. If he can avoid having Nadal drawn in his quarter, he will be a strong favorite to reach the semis at Monte-Carlo (which Federer is skipping so he can’t meet Nadal earlier anyway), Rome, Madrid, and Roland Garros.

What might be even more important than that to Ferrer, rankings-wise, actually occurred because he lost to Miami final to Murray. That win allowed Murray to move to World #2. If Djokovic and Federer are the top 2, then Ferrer will meet one of them in a semifinal. But with Murray ranked ahead of Federer, Ferrer now has a 50% chance of being drawn in Murray’s half. Murray is better than Ferrer, but head-to-head Ferrer is a slight favorite on clay. This means that, if the current rankings hold until the French Open, Ferrer actually has a chance to avoid all of Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal until the final of a Masters or a Slam.

The draw has always been big for Ferrer. It was always about avoiding those other top players that provide a near-impossible matchup as long as possible. Now, though, the draw could be Ferrer’s best friend. The odds are that he will get his dream draw at least once out of the 4 big clay tournaments coming up (the three clay Masters and the French Open). It is likely that, at least once, Ferrer will be able to reach a big final and be relatively well-rested in doing so. And maybe, just maybe, in a one-match situation the warrior can produce some more of the magic that we’ve grown to love.

Argentina Could Evade Underdog Status in the Davis Cup Final

Juan Martin Del Potro speaks to the media

It wasn’t so long ago that players from Argentina dominated the ATP rankings, with Guillermo Canas, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, Mariano Puerta and David Nalbandian all spending time in the top 10.

The only one of those players still active today is Nalbandian, and he’s going for something again that he and his compatriots weren’t able to achieve, a Davis Cup title. But the final obstacle to achieving that goal is a longtime tennis powerhouse in its own right: Spain, led by top-five players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.

Pulling off the upset against the host nation will be a difficult task for Argentina, but there are some things that could work to their advantage:

A Top 10-Caliber Player of Their Own

Juan Martin del Potro will be leading the singles effort for Argentina. This has been a year to remember for the 23-year-old as he rebounded back from wrist surgery, returning his ranking to the top 15. He’s a force on all surfaces, particularly clay, which the players will be doing battle on this week.

A Top 15-Caliber Player, Too

The likely second singles spot will go to Juan Monaco. “Pico” has been ranked as high as 14 in the world and has a winning record against Ferrer.  All three of Monaco’s career singles titles have come on clay, so surface shouldn’t be a factor. He’s also on one of his best stretches in years: reaching the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, the finals in Valencia and the quarterfinals at the Paris Indoors event.

Fresher Legs

While Nadal and Ferrer were facing the best of the best at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, the Argentine players were able to start preparing for the year’s final event a little earlier. Ferrer was able to win two of his round-robin matches relatively easy, but did have a battle against Tomas Berdych at the 02 Arena. Nadal didn’t advance out of group play, but did go three sets with Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With the way Nadal and Ferrer play, any extended matches add more wear-and-tear on their bodies.

The (Good and Bad) Experience Factor

While Argentina has yet to win the Davis Cup, the team has advanced to the finals twice since 2006. Nalbandian and Juan Ignacio Chela were both members of those squads, and have played during years where the team was the odds-on favorite to win the whole tournament. Those two are entering the latter stages of their careers, and more than likely will end them without Grand Slam glory. But they’ve seen almost everything the tour has to offer, and could be a steadying hand when the pressure is on in the final tie of 2011.

Estoril Open: Top seed Robin Soderling struggles but wins, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loses

Robin Soderling

By Luís Santos

Top seed Robin Soderling got into all sorts of trouble in his first clay match of the season.

Soderling started strong claiming an easy first set 6-1. As the second set rolled on, the Swede fell behind 0-3 as errors crept into his game. Chardy didn’t waste any time going up 5-2. However, Soderling was not done. The top seed stormed to 4-5, and promptly saved Chardy’s two set points.

Players went with serve into the tiebreak but again Soderling lost his accuracy misfiring time and time again. Chardy fired some unreturnable serves and closed the tiebreak 7-4.

When asked about his second set struggles: “Of course I wanted to win in straight sets but I’m never disappointed when I win and I won so.” “I think I was a bit unlucky in that first game of the second set where I couldn’t get the break. Then I think the level of both players dropped. I’m happy I pulled myself together in the end”.

Soderling also denied that his injuries during the North American hardcourt swing had any role today. “No it didn’t bother me today. After Miami I went home for two weeks for rest and physio and now I feel fine”.

When looking ahead to the claycourt season the Swede pointed out: “The way for me to win confidence is by winning matches so I’m happy to have won and have another chance tomorrow”. On his looming encounter with Del Potro, Soderling was diplomatic saying: “I take every match as a final. He’s a great player but I try to focus on myself and playing my best”.

Finally on his choice of playing the Estoril Open and the upcoming tournaments, the number 5 of the ATP rankings said: “I heard great things about this tournament and I like to try different places. I wasn’t expecting it to be so nice, however. It’s a good tournament to boost your confidence for the upcoming tournament, I’m playing Rome, Madrid and then of course Paris.”

Next up for Soderling will be Argentinian number 8 seed Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro was in devastating fashion against Alejando Falla and won 6-2 6-1 in one hour and ten minutes.

Del Potro leads the head-to-head against Soderling 3-1 including a 6-3 6-2 win a few weeks ago in Miami.

But Soderling wasn’t the only one suffering to reach the quarterfinals. Number six seed Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil had to labor almost three hours has he disposed of Eduard Roger-Vasselin. The French even held match points but couldn’t close out his higher ranked opponent.

Bellucci started by winning a routine first set where he broke once to win 6-3. Second set progress steadily up until the Brazilian broke for 5-4 only to drop serve 2 minutes later. Roger-Vasselin didn’t look back and claimed the next two games to draw level 7-5.

Third set saw players battling it out ferociously under sweltering conditions going with serve until 5-5. Bellucci then stepped up play to break for 6-5. After five deuces, the Brazilian would finally win 6-3 5-7 7-5.

Last singles’ match on Centralito saw Jo-Wilfried Tsonga falling at this first hurdle at the hands of Pablo Cuevas. Cuevas raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set, allowing only two points to the Frenchman. Tsonga finally put his name in the scoreboard but there was little he could do as he fell behind 6-2.

After some well-fought first few games, Tsonga jumped to his own 5-2 lead. But Cuevas didn’t let go and clawed his way back into the set, eventually forcing a tiebreak. Once in the tiebreak Cuevas was relentless and finally put the number 3 seed away 6-2 7-6(0).

When asked what had gone wrong, Tsonga said: “Nothing. He was perfect; the court was perfect, the conditions were perfect, not too sunny.”Asked if he could have done anything different, the French replied: “My opponent was just too good today. When I break in the second I set I played just perfect”.

On his Roland Garros chances and the comparison to Yannick Noah (who won there in 1983): “I hope it will happen to me. I just play tennis to reach a goal like this, winning grandslams, beating top ten players, winning tournaments. I hope this is good practice for that. I hope to play my best tennis in Roland Garros. I’ll continue to practice and work hard.”

Cuevas will now play number 6 seed Bellucci for a place in the semifinals, while Tsonga will head to Rome for the Italian Open.

Pride Over Points; Ana Ivanovic Turns Down Wildcard For Montreal – The Friday Five

Ana Ivanovic

By Maud Watson

First Time for Everything – One of the big news items this week was the fact that for the first time since the ATP rankings began, no American man is in the Top 10. The United States has always had one of the richest tennis traditions, producing some of the game’s greatest, from Sears, Tilden and Trabert, to McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi. So, the absence of a rep for the Stars and Stripes in the Top 10 is certainly worth noting, but it’s not the big crisis that some of the national sports pundits make of it. Tennis has become a much more global sport over the last few decades, and there’s no doubt that the depth has greatly increased. The other aspect that needs to be considered is that the United States is still producing world class players…they just don’t always represent the United States. The same Nick Bollettieri Academy that produced tennis greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and has also produced other top players like Tommy Haas (Germany) and Maria Sharapova (Russia). Besides, at the end of the day, assuming he’s healthy, the odds are still in favor of Roddick finishing the year in the Top 10, and other guys by the names of John Isner, Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish aren’t doing too shabby either.

The Ailing American – It was Andy Roddick’s departure from the Top 10 that sparked the bit of panic about the status of American men’s tennis, but the worries for Roddick are far from being about the ranking. After suffering an early exit in Washington, the American admitted to feeling lethargic and stated he would be undergoing some testing to try and discover the possible problem. He has since pulled out of the Toronto Masters citing his being too ill to play, though no word yet on the health issue that may possibly be plaguing him. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Roddick. After one of his better spring seasons that seemed to hint at a possible resurgence, the American has suffered a steady decline that now sees him at one of his worst lows in recent memory. The fingers are crossed that he can reverse this trend at what has historically been one of the most successful junctures of the season for him and give the people back home something to cheer about.

Nalbandian on the Rise – A man on the flip side of what Roddick is experiencing is David Nalbandian. Though just really starting to fully come back from his long injury layoff, it hasn’t taken the Argentine long to polish the rust off his game. He looked in devastating form as he stormed his way to the title in Washington, and he’s continued his ruthless play this week in Toronto. He’s spent a lot of time out of the game, and for sure playing best-of-three vs. best-of-five makes a big difference. But if Nalbandian continues is form of late, and you factor in his records against both Nadal and Federer, it’s hard to not label him one of the outside dark horses to make a deep run at the US Open.

Pride over Points – The offer of a wildcard, one initially denied to the struggling Ana Ivanovic, was put on the table earlier this week, but the young Serb refused it. Her reason? She didn’t like what tournament director Eugene Lapierre had to say in The Montreal Gazette regarding his initial reasons for denying the wildcard to her earlier this summer. There’s right and wrong on both sides of the equation in this one. Lapierre raised many valid points in his reasons for initially denying the wildcard, but Ivanovic was right to think that he certainly could have been more diplomatic in presenting those points, and definitely a little more discreet as far as stating the number of reasons he initially denied her the wildcard other than that she’s “not Canadian.” With Ivanovic playing Cincinnati and also scheduled to play New Haven (through a wildcard), skipping Montreal most likely works in her favor anyway. But I have to applaud Ivanovic for having the guts to stick to her own personal principles instead of taking the tempting wildcard and the potential to earn some needed points at one of the most prestigious events on the WTA calendar.

Sponsorship Terminated – In order to comply with the laws in several countries which put heavy restrictions on tobacco advertising, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament will be enjoying its swan song in 2010 as the tobacco company will be forced to end its 17-year sponsorship of the popular indoor stop. This is out of the ATP’s hands, and the current global trend to reduce the amount of tobacco and tobacco-related products advertising is understandable for obvious reasons. But this was still a bit of a head shaker given how hard it can be for tournaments to find title sponsors, and in this specific case, we are talking about a sponsor who didn’t just step in for a few years, but had been faithfully sponsoring the tournament for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, those are the breaks that come with being at the 500-level. Hopefully given the quality of the field that tends to show up in Basel year after year, the Swiss Indoors won’t find it too much of a struggle to find a replacement sponsor.

Roger Federer Faces Doubts In Toronto

Roger Federer

Roger Federer held his first tournament press conference at the Rogers Cup on Monday and was bombarded by questions about his current slip to the No. 3 position in the ATP rankings. Such is the reality the Swiss star faces wherever he goes these days as his game has dropped a notch in recent months.

After making a record 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, Federer’s streak was snapped at Roland Garros in May where he lost to surging Swede Robin Soderling. Then at Wimbledon, a tournament he has owned the past seven years, he lost to Tomas Berdych in four sets. Having just turned 29 years old on Sunday, fans and media alike are both starting to question Federer’s tenure at the top of the men’s game.

In fact, this is not the first time that Roger has been faced with a barrage of doubts about his grip on the upper echelon of the ATP tour. In 2008, after falling to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Federer would go on to lose the finals of both the French Open and Wimbledon to Rafa Nadal. This time two years ago in Toronto he was bounced in his opening match to Gilles Simon and then the vultures were really out to get him.

Federer rebounded of course by winning three of the next four Slams. He triumphed at the U.S. Open that September and then won his first French Open title last year, followed by another Wimbledon title. Could Federer have some late season magic up his sleeve for Flushing Meadows again this year?

One sign that Federer is serious about re-establishing his dominance is the new partnership he is testing out with Paul Annacone, former coach of Pete Sampras. The relationship began shortly after Wimbledon with a visit from the American tennis coach to Roger’s home in Switzerland and the Rogers Cup offers the first tournament action to test out their short-term progress.

“I’ve always gotten along very well with Paul,” Federer said. “Him being obviously the coach of Sampras and Henman who were sort of friends to me and I know very well. So I thought it was a good time to do a test, and this is our first test tournament we’re doing. We’re taking it slow, and we’ll see what happens next week.”

As for all the media attempts to speculate about his demise, Federer quipped that the press sometimes rushes their judgments and forgets some of the obstacles he has faced over the past year and a half. He also stated that Nadal had to endure the same type of negativity a year ago as he battled his injury issues.

“…the press gets too carried away too quickly. It’s understandable with our success we’ve had, Rafa, myself, you know, the last couple of years…I had mono, the lung infection, I had back issues a couple of times.”

Excuses aside, it is coming to the time where Federer is going to have to let his results do the talking. A strong start to his summer hard-court season here in Toronto would certainly put some of the doubts aside.

Federer takes to Centre Court this evening against Juan Ignacio Chela to try to take that first step forwards.

AROUND THE CORNER

Fernando Verdasco

Open 13 – Marseille, France

With six players in the top-fifty of the ATP rankings system, France is certainly well represented in the upper echelon of the men’s game. The tournament in Marseille enjoys a significant French presence that starts with number two seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The defending champion from a year ago has had a solid start to 2010, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open where he lost in straight sets to Roger Federer. France enjoyed a sweep in this tournament a year ago with Arnaud Clement and Michael Llordra taking the doubles title as well.

Top seed Robin Soderling will be trying to prevent a Frenchman from hoisting the trophy and is currently experiencing a deep-run in Rotterdam where he knocked-off Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals. Soderling has a first-round bye in Marseilles, and could encounter Marcos Baghdatis in the quarter-finals.

Other locals to keep an eye on include Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon.

Expect a Frenchman to hoist the trophy in a week’s time.

Regions Morgan Keegan Championships – Memphis, Tennessee

Andy Roddick will make the move from San Jose to Memphis for back-to-back hard court tournaments. With so many top players skipping these smaller events, it is nice to see regular appearances from Andy. The only World Tour 500-level tournament this coming week, there is some serious prize money to be had and I’m surprised we are not seeing more top-ranked players in attendance.

Roddick faces fellow-American James Blake in a tough first round match. Blake has dropped to 52nd in the world and is realizing how tough it is to enter tournaments without a seeding. He faced Del Potro in the second round of the Aussie Open, and Baghdatis in the first round last week in Rotterdam. Things do not get any easier for him here in Memphis.

Roddick leads their career head-to-head meetings 6-3, however Blake has won their last three matches in a row. They have only met once in the last three years, with Blake winning by default at the Queen’s tournament in 2009 when Roddick pulled-out with injury at 4-4 in the first set. With the way he has played thus far this year, Roddick should prevail in straight sets in this one.

Fernando Verdasco is the number two seed and has a pretty good draw in the bottom half. He;ll have to keep an eye on big-servers John Isner and Ivo Karlovic as well as veteran Tommy Haas. Haas has not looked sharp thus far in 2010, and faces a stiff challenge from veteran Xavier Malisse in the first round. The German might finally be showing his age – although he has won this very tournament three times before, in 1999, 2006 and 2007.

Copa Telmex – Buenos Aires, Argentina

David Ferrer takes the pole position in Buenos Aires but has lacked the consistency so far this year to lead him to the title. Ferrer has lost to lower ranked players such as Stephane Robert, Marcos Baghdatis and Arnaud Clement in his three tournament appearances up to now.

The tournament has quite the interesting mix of players including clay court specialists such as Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro, Albert Montanes and even wildcard entry Gaston Gaudio. Having dropped off the radar in recent years, Gaudio’s name still pops up from time to time on the challenger circuit and he is obviously benefiting from the hospitality of his local Argentinian Tennis Federation. He’ll always have his lone Grand Slam title to look back on, from Roland Garros in 2004.

Gaudio isn’t the only former French Open winner present, as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya are also in the draw. Richard Gasquet is also lurking, which is a surprise since you would think he would be playing in his home country’s tournament in Marseille. Perhaps he is not yet ready to face the French press over his doping suspension from a year ago.

Also showing in the draw as of right now is Argentinian David Nalbandian who has been off the tour since May 2009 due to a serious hip injury. Nalbandian was supposed to return to play a month ago at the Australian Open but had to withdraw after sustaining an abdominal injury in practice. Nalbandian will ease back into competition with a favorable first round opponent in Italian Potito Starace.

FEDERER NEARS EDBERG RECORD; KUBOT SHINES BRIGHT FOR POLAND

* October 13, 1986 – this is the date when Wojtek Fibak, the best player in history of Polish tennis, was a top 100 player for the last time in his long career. Twenty-three years later, on Nov. 16, 2009, Lukasz Kubot became the second player from Poland to rank in the top 100 in the ATP rankings. In the third round at the Australian Open 2010, a doubles specialist Kubot, got a walkover from Mikhail Youzhny (right wrist) and advanced to his first-ever “sweet sixteen” singles appearance at a major. It’s the best result for a Polish player ever in Melbourne. Fibak, a four-time major quarterfinalist, played only once Down Under, reaching the third round in 1978. Kubot, ranked No 86, is the lowest ranked player in the last 16 this year, with Ivo Karlovic being the second-lowest at No. 39. Kubot will play Novak Djokovic Monday.

* “I started to feel it against [first-round opponent] Gasquet in the last set a little bit,” Youzhny said. “The next day was worse and worse little bit,” said Youzhny of his wrist injury. The Russian wasn’t the only player who did not advance due to injury or illness in the third round. Marcos Baghdatis and Stefan Koubek each retired in their matches after the first set. Koubek because of illness (against Fernando Verdasco), Baghdatis due to right shoulder (against Lleyton Hewitt). It was very tough especially for the Cypriot because he had been in great form winning 17 of last 18 matches. For the first time in tournament’s history three players defaulted in the last 32.

* Roger Federer overcoming Albert Montanes 6-3 6-4 6-4 won his 50th match at the Australian Open. In the history of the tournament only two-time champion Stefan Edberg won more matches – 56. But given the precentage, Federer is better – 50 wins, 7 losses (87%), Edberg 56/11 (83%).

* The two tallest guys on the tour (Ivo Karlovic and John Isner) advanced to the fourth round after thrilling four-setters, and lead in the ace department. The Croatian has already served 93 aces (34, 26, 33 respectively), the American 81 (34, 21, 26). Record holder, Joachim “Pim Pim” Johansson served 126 aces in four rounds five years ago.

* Jarkko Nieminen, the greatest player to ever come out of Finland, lost a heart-breaking second-round match, falling to Florent Serra, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 5-7. The Finn had two match points in the fourth set, but was unable to convert. Serra’s win was his fifth in a row over Nieminen. The Frenchman reached the third round at the Australian Open for the first time in his sixth attempt, but lost handily to Andy Murray.

* Among the five qualifiers who had played in the second round, only the veteran Stefan Koubek (quarterfinalist in 2002) advanced to the last 32 after beating the other qualifier, Ivan Dodig of Croatia. According to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, the farthest a qualifier has advanced in the Australian Open was the semifinals, Bob Giltinan turning the trick in the (December) 1977 Australian Open. After Koubek’s loss to Verdasco, Giltinan remains in the record book.

* James Blake lost his five-set match to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round despite being a break up at the beginning of the final set. The American’s five-set record has slipped 4-13 in his career, with only Ivo Karlovic holding a worse five-set record among active players. The 30-year-old Blake hasn’t yet won in his career in a match that goes beyond 6-6 in the final set, losing on all five occasions, as outlined below.

4-6 7-5 8-10  to Yaoki Ishii – Australian Open 2000, 2nd rd, qualifying match;
3-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 9-11  to Richard Krajicek – Wimbledon 2002, 2nd rd;
7-6(5) 6-0 6-7(2) 4-6 8-10 to Fernando Gonzalez – Davis Cup 2006, QF;
6-4 5-7 9-11 again (!) to Fernando Gonzalez – Beijing 2008, SF;
4-6 7-6(3) 7-5 3-6 8-10 to Del Potro – Australian Open 2010, 2nd rd

* American Robby Ginepri posted a revealing blog on the USTA’s website – www.usta.com. We encourage you to read the entire blog from Ginepri and other Americans, but here is some of what he said; “It’s been almost five years since I reached the US Open semifinals. It looks like maybe I peaked then. I hate to think that, but at some point you have to be realistic. I have to find a way to enjoy my career again. I ‘m not enjoying the travel grind and living out of suitcases as much any more, and it’s getting to me a little. I spent five weeks in Asia and Russia at the end of the fall, and at the beginning of this year I went to India, which was a very long trip, and then took another long trip to Australia, and I regret doing that. I’ve got to take it one day at a time and see if I can get this thing figured out. Playing healthy is the main thing, as it’s no fun to practice and play matches in pain. I’m a young guy at 27, and I stay fit and do the right things, and if things still aren’t working out, it takes a lot of wind out of your sail.”

Tennis In The Commonwealth

Lleyton Hewitt

By Leigh Sanders

The following is Leigh Sanders’ weekly look at tennis headlines in “The Commonwealth” or the traditional tennis powerhouses that were former members of the British Empire, most notably Australia, South Africa, India, Canada and, of course, Great Britain.

The final line-up for the ATP World Tour Finals in London continues to take shape with only three places remaining for the elite eight-man tournament. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro have already qualified and France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took his third title of the season by winning the Japan Open on Sunday to move a step closer to being there. Andy Roddick looks set to be there also, providing the injury that has forced him to withdraw from the Shanghai Masters isn’t serious, but the final two places are fiercely being fought over. Any two of Tsonga, Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Simon, Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez could qualify depending on results between now and then. The tournament will be held at London’s O2 Arena from Sunday 22 to Sunday 29 November 2009.

Britain’s Ross Hutchins missed out on the second doubles title of his career at the Japan Open in Tokyo when, paired with Australia’s Jordan Kerr, they lost the final to Austrian pair Jurgen Melzer and Julian Knowle 6-2, 5-7, 10-8.

Australian star Lleyton Hewitt is out of the Shanghai Masters after losing to eleventh seed Gael Monfils of France, coached by Hewitt’s former mentor Roger Rasheed. After taking the first set Hewitt went down 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Hewitt did, though, climb three places to 23rd in this week’s ATP rankings, published October 12th. Compatriot Peter Luczak also climbed two places to 64th this week while another Australian, Chris Guccione, also jumped two places to 107th.

Canadian Daniel Nestor remained top of the doubles rankings (October 12) although he is tied on 10,760 points with Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic. He has played two tournaments less, however, which gives him the top berth. Australia’s Jordan Kerr climbs three places to 32nd following his finals appearance at the Japan Open but his compatriot Paul Hanley drops a place as a result to 34th. Another Australian, Stephen Huss, dropped twelve places to 46th.

Former world number one on the women’s side Justine Henin has been granted a wildcard for the 2010 Australian Open following her announcement she was returning to the professional tour. Will she repeat Kim Clijsters’ successful return to this year’s US Open? Her first competitive tournament will be the Brisbane International, which begins January 3, 2010.

Novak Djokovic will overtake Britain’s Andy Murray in the ATP rankings on October 19 following his 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) win over Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the final of the China Open on Sunday.

Australian Samantha Stosur is through to the second round of the HP Open in Osaka, Japan. She is looking to improve on recent results that have seen her slip a place to 15th in this week’s WTA rankings, published October 12. Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak climbed four places to 31st while another Aussie, Jelena Dokic, also slipped one place to 69th.

In the doubles rankings (October 12th), Canadian Marie-Eve Pelletier climbed a place to 68th in the world while Natalie Grandin of South Africa rose from 83rd to 79th. Brit Sarah Borwell fell from 77th to 81st and another one to drop in the rankings was Sharon Fichman of Canada who now finds herself ranked 99th in the world.

British number three Katie O’Brien faces US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Japan Open after her first round victory over American Alexa Glatch on Monday. O’Brien is celebrating her career-high 94 on the rankings which has allowed her to enter some WTA tournaments alongside those on the second-tier of the ITF circuit.

Other British players with victories under their belts this week include Alex Bogdanovic, Sarah Borwell and Emily Webley-Smith. Bogdanovic is through to the second round of the ATP Challenger in Denmark while Borwell is through in the $220,000 event in Linz, Austria. Webley-Smith and partner Danielle Brown are through to the quarterfinals of the doubles at the $25k event at Port Pirie, Australia.

Guernsey-born 2009 US Junior Open winner Heather Watson says she is ready to turn professional. The 17-year-old has been in Britain battling it out in the Aegon Pro Series in Barnstaple but has now been eliminated from both singles and doubles play. Now living and training in Florida she says she aims to turn professional on her return there.

Brothers And Sisters At The US Open – The Richeys And Dinara And Marat

NEW YORK, Sept. 1, 2009 – The best brother and sister combinations in the history of tennis – Dinara Safina and Marat Safin of Russia and Nancy and Cliff Richey of San Angelo, Texas – are all in attendance at the 2009 U.S. Open. Safina begins play as the No. 1 seed in women’s singles Tuesday, the same day as Nancy Richey, a Hall of Famer and a U.S. Open singles finalist 40 years ago in 1969, returns to the U.S. Open for the first time in 15 years. Richey, who lost to Margaret Court in the 1969 U.S. Open women’s singles final, is attending the U.S. Open with her younger brother Cliff, a two-time Open semifinalist. Marat Safin will begin his final career major tournament Wednesday when he plays his first-round match against Jurgen Melzer of Austria.

Safin and Safina are the only brother sister combo to rank No. 1 in the world rankings. The Richeys are the only brother-sister pair to rank No. 1 in the United States and were called by tennis historian Bud Collins in his book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, prior to ascent of Safina, as “the game’s most extra-ordinary sister-brother combo.”

Nancy Richey was the first woman to win the first “open” major championship at the 1968 French Open (as an amateur, making her the only amateur woman to win a major singles title). She also won the Australian Open in 1967 and ranked as the No. 1 American in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969. Richey achieved a rare “six-peat” at a U.S. Tennis Association national championship – an effort that world No. 1 Roger Federer is attempting to do by winning his sixth straight U.S. Open men’s singles title this year – when she won the women’s singles title at the U.S. Clay Court Championships from 1963 to 1968. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003.

Cliff Richey won the year-end international professional points title in 1970 (a precursor to the ATP rankings), highlighted by semifinal showings at the French and U.S. Opens. He clinched the year-end No. 1 U.S. singles ranking that year defeating Stan Smith in a match that rode on the final point of the match – a winner-take-all on the final point of sudden-death nine-point tie-breaker – Richey winning the semifinal match at the Pacific Coast Championships in Berkeley, Calif. 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5-4). His book detailing his trials and triumphs with clinical depression will be released in the spring of 2010 by New Chapter Press.

A comparison of the top-line achievements of the best brother and sister combinations are as follows;

Marat Safin
• Two major singles titles (2000 US Open, 2005 Australian Open)
• Two runner-up showings at majors (2002, 2004 Australian Opens)
• World No. 1 for 9 weeks in 2000
• Led Russia to Davis Cup titles in 2002 and 2006
• Won 15 career singles titles

Dinara Safina
• Three runner-up showing at majors (2008, 2009 French Open, 2009 Australian Open)
• World No. 1 for 20 weeks
• Won 11 career singles titles
• 2008 Olympic silver medalist in women’s singles
• Led Russia to the Fed Cup titles in 2005

Nancy Richey
• Two major singles titles (1967 Australian Open, 1968 French Open)
• Four runner-up showings at majors (two-time U.S. singles finalist, 1966, 1969), French Championships (1966), Australian Championships (1966)
• Four major doubles titles (1966 Australian and Wimbledon doubles champion, 1965 and 1966 U.S. doubles champion)
• World No. 2 in 1969
• Led U.S. to Fed Cup title in 1969
• 69 career singles titles (in pro and amateur eras)
• Won a record six straight U.S. clay court titles

Cliff Richey
• Three-time major semifinalist (1970 French Open, 1970, 1972 US Opens)
• Pepsi-Cola Grand Prix point winner – unofficial No. 1 in the world – in 1970 (pre-ATP rankings)
• Lead U.S. to the Davis Cup title in 1970
• Won 45 career singles titles (in pro and amateur eras)

Said Cliff Richey of the dynamics of sibling rivalries, “When there are two that good in the same family, there is always good-natured needling and sometimes not so good-natured needling as to results and current form etc. But, of course, the best thing is that you always have a practice partner. My sister Nancy and I always felt we took advantage of that very much. We always felt that it was a big time advantage to have a built in practice partner.”

Said Nancy Richey of her relationship with her brother in the competitive world of international tennis, “Cliff and I are four years apart in age and we were both glad that we were relatively close age-wise so that we had pretty much coinciding careers. I never really felt that it was a rivalry but more a joint effort. Being of the different gender, it really eliminated the rivalry aspect as far as I was concerned – sister/sister or brother/brother seems to me would be more difficult.”

Murray Survives Scare To Advance In Cincinnati; Federer, Nadal Advance

Andy Murray

Defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland rallied from a set and break down in the second set to edge past lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and 11 minutes on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the new No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after winning the title last week in Montreal, struggled to find his form after breaking to take a 3-2 lead. Following the service break, the 27-year-old Frenchman immediately broke Murray’s serve to level the match at 3-3 before winning three of the next four games to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Benneteau, who got in the main draw when Juan Martin del Potro withdrew after the draw was made.

Benneteau, who is currently ranked No. 55, secured an early break in the second set to go ahead 2-0 and looked to have a big edge on Murray, who looked out of sorts on all his shots.

The turning point occurred in the next game when Murray won a thrilling 53-shot rally and quickly broke back to get back on serve. The Scot, who has now won a record 53 matches this season, insisted the 53-shot rally changed the rest of the match.
“Oh, it made a big different,” said Murray, who has won five titles this year in Doha, Rotterdam, Miami, Queen’s Club and Montreal. “I think he was very tired after that rally. I managed to stay strong after that.”
The momentum shifted immediately and it was all Murray from that point on, dropping just two more games en route to victory.
“You know, he’s been around a long time and he’s very experienced and obviously made it very difficult today,” said Murray, who has reached five of the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals dating back to his victory in Cincinnati last August.

Murray, who earned his 72nd career win in a Masters 1000 event, smashed seven aces, won 70 percent of first serve points and broke Benneteau’s serve on six of 13 opportunities. Benneteau hit four aces, three double faults, won 59 percent of first serve points and was able to break Murray’s serve three times.

Murray’s semifinal opponent on Saturday afternoon will be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who eased past former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, in 70 minutes.

Federer, who earned his 200th career win at a Masters 1000 event, was in complete control from start to finish, breaking serve once in each set to win convincingly. Federer’s serve was superb, winning 24 of 27 first serve points, smashing 11 aces, while not facing a break point the entire match.

The 15-time Grand Slam singles champion insisted holding serve against Hewitt is an important thing to accomplish during a match with the fiery Aussie.

“I think that definitely helps against Lleyton, who once he gets his teeth into your serve it can get quite tricky,” said Federer, who improved to 9-1 in quarterfinal matches this season.

Hewitt, who reached the finals in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2004, only managed to hit two aces and win 69 percent of his first serve points.

Federer improved to 15-7 against Hewitt, winning the last 13 meetings.

“He’s beaten me so many times in the past that I didn’t expect myself to all of a sudden go on such a great run against him,” said Federer, whose loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Montreal was his first loss since losing at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in May.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain continued his impressive return from a knee tendinitis injury, dispatching Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 41 minutes.

Nadal, who has won six Grand Slam singles titles including four French Open titles, was impressive on serve throughout, hitting two aces and winning 35 of 41 first serve points. The 23-year-old Spaniard was also able to break serve twice on six opportunities.

The former world No. 1 will face No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic in the night match on Saturday. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match by defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to his second straight semifinal in Cincinnati.

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