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Navratilova Edges Evert to win Australian Title – On this day in Tennis History

Martina Navratilova

With tennis being in its off-season – wait, tennis has an off-season? – we thought we would give you daily content courtesy of Randy Walker’s book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, so you can have your daily tennis fix. ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), makes for an ideal companion for the tennis fan and player. It fits perfectly under your tree or in a stocking for the Holidays. The following are events that happened ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY….

December 7

1985

Martina Navratilova defeats Chris Evert Lloyd 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to win the Australian Open in Melbourne for her 17th victory over Evert Lloyd in the last 19 matches and her third career Australian singles title. “That was tough on the nerves,” says the 29-year-old Navratilova after the match. “It seems Chris and I always play great matches. Even though I lost the second set, I felt in control. I knew this was it. I knew it was for the No. 1 ranking. I was going to go after it, and I did.” Navratilova previously wins inAustralia in 1981 and 1983. Says Evert, the defending champion, “After the second set, there was a lot of pressure on both of us, and she handled it better.” In men’s singles, Mats Wilander advances into the final, finishing up a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 rain-delayed victory over unseeded Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia. The other men’s singles semifinal between Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg is suspended due to rain after only 10 minutes of play, Edberg leading 2-1.

1987

Ivan Lendl defeats Mats Wilander 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to win the year-end Nabisco Masters Championship for a fifth time. Says Lendl, ”Today may have been the best I hit the ball and moved. I think I still can get better, though. I can work on new shots and my physical strength and conditioning.” Wilander implements a more aggressive strategy against Lendl, coming to net more often and using his one-handed chip backhand in an attempt to close the gap between he and Lendl. Earlier in the week, Wilander says that his goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world. Says Wilander, “I tried to come in on his backhand, but that didn’t work. After a while, you don’t know what to do. A couple of times I was thinking, ‘he’s just too good for me.’” Says Lendl of his goals and how he can he can improve his game, “”There are millions of ways I could improve. There are new shots, new ways to hit the shots, ways to become more flexible, stronger…There are still so many things I want to do. Everyone in tennis would like to win a Grand Slam…I paid my dues on and off the court and now I’m enjoying the fruits of it.”

1980

December 7 becomes a day of infamy for Pam Shriver as the American blows seven match points in losing to Wendy Turnbull of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the final of the New South Wales Open in Sydney. Turnbull trails 6-2 in the final-set tie-break against the 18-year-old Shriver.

Clijsters and Venus Serve up Spectacular

Well, given Venus’ penchant for a double fault last night I’m not too sure if that is the correct title.

Fans of beautiful tennis may not have been heavily impressed by the first two and a half sets but those who appreciate sheer guts and determination would have been gripped to their TV sets like never before.

The sporting cliché “refuses to lay down and die” was whipped out by both players who looked like two ageing stars playing their last Slam in terms of grit and determination to stay in the competition.

Then, with Clijsters 4-3 and 30-0 up in the third set the match exploded in to one of the most breathtaking and clinical displays of tennis seen this fortnight.

Venus showed some trademark Williams grit and clawed her way back to 4-4, courtesy of a horrifying Clijsters miss with an over-hit volley.

At this point it looked curtains for Belgian Kim. Surely her wits were abandoning her and it was time to return to baby Jada while Williams slugged it out with Vera Zvonereva for the title? Not a chance!

Putting pressure on Venus’ serve Kim began finding some impossible angles with that backhand and then produced one of the most sumptuous lobs I have ever witnessed to fight back and put Venus to the sword.

At 5-4 and Clijsters serving for the set Venus looked perilously close to tears. She, more than anyone else, was wondering how this had happened.

Venus had looked dominant taking the first set off the two-time defending Champion and when Clijsters threw away a 2-0 lead in the second it looked like Venus was to stride home in straight sets.

But Kim showed the fighting spirit which has epitomised her comeback from becoming a mother and those who claim that tennis now plays second fiddle to her family probably haven’t watched her play too often. This was definitely pride in tennis. A pride in her career and a will to give Jada something to be immensely proud of as she grows older.

The records are waiting for her. She is now unbeaten in 20 consecutive US Open matches which equals Venus’ best effort as well as Monica Seles, Margaret Osborne du Pont and Martina Navratilova. Only Chris Evert stands ahead of her on 31. Three more titles Kim and then you can stop.

Awaiting her is Wimbledon finalist Zvonereva who is gunning for her first Slam. Kim has a 5-2 record over the No. 7 seed but Vera has won both matches since Kim’s return to the tour.

A few people are backing Vera after she toppled the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki but for me it is written for Kim to lift this. I have been wrong (many times) before but I will be gunning for Kim to keep the flag flying for working mothers above Flushing Meadows.

“I just tried to make the points and when I felt I had an opportunity to step up and accelerate I tried to take advantage,” Clijsters said in typical modest fashion.

But play it down all she likes this girl is dynamite. And come 3am tomorrow morning (British time) Kim will be lifting her third consecutive crown and taking all the plaudits once more.

Zvonereva is a quiet player with efficient and effective shot selections. She has snuck in to this final through the back door as all the talk has been of other stars. This makes her extremely dangerous. But Kim knows all about doing that from last year’s Championship. This will give her the upper hand and she’ll be too much for young Vera.

Kim to take it in three.

Murray Gets Wimbledon Revenge on Nadal

Andy Murray enjoyed a little post-Wimbledon revenge on Saturday at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as he handled world number one Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the finals.

Murray played as crisp tennis as I’ve seen from him since the Australian Open in January and appeared composed and prepared from the very opening game.

After a quick three games to start the match, the rallies began to lengthen and both players brought some of their best tennis for the Toronto crowd to enjoy.

Though the crowd was slightly more pro-Nadal, they cheered Murray as well and seemed to pull for either player when they faced a break point.

At 3-3 in the opening set, Nadal had two break point opportunities at 15-40, but Murray would bail himself out with timely serving to hold for 4-3.

Murray used that energy to break the Spaniard in the very next game and then held easily to close out the first set 6-3.

The fact that Nadal was down by a set did not seem to phase him nor the crowd. It is not exactly a rarity to watch him fight from behind and still manage to emerge victorious.

Murray apparently did not get the memo that he was supposed to hand over that second set, as he broke early to go up 2-1.

Nadal would use his lethal forehand to rip a winner to get back on serve and tie things up a bit later at three games apiece.

With Murray serving later at 3-4, he double faulted to hand Nadal a chance at 15-40. Again he would maintain his composure and use his serve to get back into the game and even the score at 4-4. I was most impressed with how Murray never seemed to lose his cool during the match, even when it appeared that the momentum was about to shift in Nadal’s favour.

As a few very light rain drops began to fall at 4-4, Nadal inexplicably played some loose points and gave Murray a 0-40 score to work with. The Scot would seize the moment and with a Nadal backhand into the net he jumped ahead with the break to 5-4. He would win all four points in the next game to take the match and get one step closer to defending his Rogers Cup title.

By virtue of advancing to the finals, Murray will hold on to his world No. 4 ranking. A loss would have allowed Sweden’s Robin Soderling to overtake him in that position.

Murray will face the winner of tonight’s match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The winning player will then hold the number two ranking in the world.

Check back later for a full report on the outcome of this world class match-up.

Federer Defeats Djokovic to Advance to Rogers Cup Final

While it wasn’t quite as dramatic as his match last night against Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer still required three sets to narrowly dispose of Novak Djokovic tonight at the Rogers Cup. Federer defeated Djokovic 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to advance to the finals where he will meet defending champion Andy Murray.

To say that one player is more deserving of another is perhaps not a fair statement – but in this case Federer was clearly the more consistent player despite the close margin on the scoreboard.

The first set was an embarrassment for Djokovic as he barely looked like a top-hundred player, let alone top five. He kept spraying his forehand long and his backhand into the net while Federer looked like his vintage self. His errors were not just a little off the mark, as his shots were hitting the bottom of the net and about one to two feet long at the baseline. The tennis player inside of me cringed multiple times watching him fumble around the court.

Roger won the first set in a mere 25 minutes, causing one fan to yell out, “That’s the Roger we know!” It certainly does seem like he is starting to round into form.

At the start of the second set the crowd broke into a cheer for the defeated Rafael Nadal who was standing courtside. Other than that outburst it had been fairly quiet on Centre Court with the throng of Serbian fans silenced as their star player slept-walked through the match to that point.

Federer continued to control the match by breaking in the opening game of the set. Djokovic at this stage was even shrugging his shoulders after winning a point. At this stage I could not comprehend how this guy ever hoped to seriously compete for another Grand Slam to add to the one he holds from 2008. There was no evidence of a killer instinct at all from Djokovic.

Things began to change when Djokovic barely held his second service game of the set to avoid going down by two breaks. He chuckled as he walked back to his chair and emerged playing a much different type of tennis. He broke Federer to tie things up at 2-2 and the rallies between the two resembled what you would expect from two high-level players such as these.

The crowd livened up and the chants of “Go Roger” and “Go Nole” became indistinguishable as the fans were clearly divided in their allegiances. Part of me felt sorry that Tomas Berdych could not enjoy any such support last night.

After a 15 minute game that contained 8 deuces, Djokovic would hold for 4-3. As has been so often the case here in Toronto this week, the player who was almost broken then broke his opponents serve and suddenly Novak was up 5-3. He would hold his serve in the next game and even things up at one set apiece.

I said hello to tournament Media and Communications Head Mike Cvitkovic just prior to the start of the third set and asked him his thoughts on the match, to which he replied, “Roger Federer is going to cost me my marriage!” It was certainly starting to look like another long, dramatic evening match at the Rexall Centre.

Instead of falling behind 1-4 tonight in the third, Federer raced out to a 4-1 lead. Later while serving at 4-2, Roger double faulted for 40-A and then a poor drop shot attempt allowed Djokovic to put it away and break serve to get back into the match.

At 5-5 Federer would flirt with disaster by falling behind 15-40 on his serve. Fortunately he could count on Djokovic to continue with his somewhat puzzling inconsistencies and got the game to deuce. A point later at Djokovic’s advantage and the Serb netted a return of serve to negate his third break opportunity. Federer let out an exuberant scream of, “Come on” while Djokovic busted up his racquet for – surprisingly – the first time all night.

At this point I’ve got no idea whatsoever of what will happen next. Isn’t that the beauty of tennis?

The pressure got to Djokovic as he served a 5-6 and after another deuce, two bad backhand errors handed Federer the victory.

When the two player shook hands after the final point, Djokovic appeared to take an extra moment with Roger and share a laugh. Federer was asked in his post-match press conference about these comments and revealed that Djokovic told him that he should have won the match earlier and therefore deserved the victory.Federer had the press room laughing as he followed that up by saying, “I was like, yeah, I kind of agreed!”

Despite the tense nature of his past two wins, Federer is on the cusp of his first tournament title since the Aussie Open in January. One immediate benefit to winning today is the fact that he will leap-frog Djokovic in the rankings and return to a somewhat more familiar position of number two in the world.

The forecast calls for rain and thundershowers on Sunday, but all things being equal we will have the Federer-Murray final beginning at 1:30pm ET.

Murray leads their head-to-head 6-5 although Federer has won all the big-money matches that occurred in tournament finals. Two of those victories were Grand Slam finals when the outcome mattered the most.

Federer revealed the respect he has for his next opponent by stating that Murray was, “…very good at a very young age. I knew that the very first time I played him in Bangkok in the final that he was one who was going to fight for the world No. 1 and for Grand Slam titles.”

Regardless of the outcome, this is the best tennis that both players have shown us in quite some time. In fact the pinnacle of 2010 for Murray and Federer came back at the Australian Open when they met in the final. Both are working hard towards coming full-circle with a potentially strong bookmark ending at Flushing Meadows in two weeks time.

Legg Mason QFs: Press Conferences & Analysis of Berdych, Verdasco, Baghdatis, Nalbandian

It’s quarterfinals Friday here at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC and the last eight singles players were all in action today vying for a spot in the semifinals. Two upsets were in full-effect as we saw the #1 seed Tomas Berdych go down as well as #3 seed Fernando Verdasco.

The first match of the day was between top seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Belgian Xavier Malisse.

The match saw a surprise winner in Malisse, ranked #62 in the world, topping Berdych in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. The wind seemed to be the biggest factor in the first set for Berdych as he couldn’t rely on his serve, getting broken twice before going down 1-5. Malisse also outplayed Berdych hitting more winners off both sides. The second set was much closer statistically before Malisse double-faulted allowing Berdych to serve the set out, which he did, fist-pump jumping in the air.

The third set saw two breaks of serve and a bit of drama in the second game. Malisse hit a cross-court forehand that just clipped the line. Expecting it to be a bad call, Berdych challenged. Hawkeye review showed it ‘out’ by less than 1 millimeter, but recall that Hawkeye is only accurate within 3 millimeters. Berdych was, of course, surprised and started walking up to the umpire exclaiming: “That is not accurate! It’s not in and you know it!” Played continued but Berdych was visibly frustrated even into the following point when he pointed again to the mark with his racquet and shook his head. However, Berdych stayed collected enough to win the game. Berdych lost his next service game, followed by three backhand down the line misses bringing the score to 4-1 for Malisse. Berdych has a strong backhand and it seemed to be working for him more than his forehand during the match. But he continually would run around his backhand to hit a forehand and then send it straight into the net because of insufficient backswing. An easy forehand volley into the net by Berdych gave Malisse match point and that it all he needed to break Berdych again and win the match.

Malisse’s press conference was light and quick. He is quickly becoming a favorite presser of mine because of his unexpected easy-going personality. During the first set and some of the second, he was intentionally twisting his right leg and foot as if something was bothering him. I asked him about it and he replied that it was just a small bone under his big toe that flares up from “time to time” but that it wasn’t anything to worry about. It’s more of an “annoyance” than any real injury. He also reflected that he was “returning well” in the first set and that the “third set was one of the best sets I’ve played.” He responded to a question asking about the quick time turnaround from yesterday’s matches lasting until the early morning hours and starting today already at noon. He replied that he much more preferred to play at noon than at 3 P.M. when the heat was stronger.

Berdych was up next and his interview was much more telling of his condition. He came in sulking and looked disappointed. I thought it was because of his performance today. It was, but there was more to the story. He said that he felt “sleepy” in the entire first set and that’s why his serve was broken twice. Mind you, his match yesterday finished around the same time as Malisse’s but he did say he finally got to bed at 2 A.M. His next comment then stopped me in my tracks because of it’s honesty. He was hoping that being the #1 at a tournament you would have a better schedule than this. Being up first today after playing so late into the night yesterday frustrated him and he expressed his disappointment in the tournament. He was then questioned if he had taken this issue up with the staff and he simply said: “No. But maybe I’m not going to come next year. If you like the tournament, if you like the place, then you always want to come back. But if you get an experience like that, we will see.” I have to agree with him here. He was the #1 seed and he wasn’t even scheduled on stadium court or grandstand because other Americans were still in the draw. He was on an outside court and the atmosphere is very different there, more intimate but trickier with the noise. Recall that yesterday he stated he doesn’t enjoy night matches because of the lights. But he didn’t like being up first either. The best solution would probably have been to put him up first for the night session instead.

The second matchup of the day featured #3 seed Fernando Verdasco and #8 seed Marcos Baghdatis, who dueled it out in a tight two sets before Baghdatis come out on top, 7-6(3), 6-4.

The match lasted just 1 hour and 42 minutes, but it felt much longer with the heat and inconsistent play from both players. Considering how long these two players have been on tour, it was surprising that this was their first meeting. Neither player went on any real ‘run’, neither served well and the changing wind didn’t help either. The first set tiebreak alone saw several double faults from both players. In the second set, Verdasco seemed frustrated as he sent ball after ball either straight into the net or flying past the baseline.He couldn’t quite find his rhytmn in his return game either, especially on the backhand side. Play was inconsistent and it was very tough to read tactics. The turnaround point came when Verdasaco sent a deep forehand down the line to pull Baghdatis back — almost to the stadium banners — which Baghdatis retrieved and sent across the net. Verdasco then moved in on the ball to send flying, but at the last minute changed his grip and tipped a drop shot across. Baghdatis, however, read the shot (almost before Verdasco had made up his mind), and began running for the net. He guessed correctly, made contact with the ball and put away the crosscourt winner. Baghdatis then broke Verdasco to go up 5-4 and serve out the match, which he did successfully. The best part of the match was something that came right after the last point was won. Baghdatis walked over to the other side of the net, got down on his hands and knees near the service line and kissed the court. He truly loves this game and there is no denying it.

In Verdasco’s press conference, there were a few things of note. He felt that he “didn’t play well” and that it was “tough to play” because the “wind was changing” and the “bounce of the court was irregular.” All in all, he was “not feeling the ball good.” He was asked how last night’s late end affected him today and if he felt tired. He responded that it was indeed a factor with not enough rest. He went further on and said that all week the earliest match starts at 4 P.M. so you wake up, eat, and get to bed much later. Then today, the time was pushed up to the early afternoon and he needed to change when he got up and ate. That change is never easy when your body gets into a rhythm. He also talked about how much he enjoyed the D.C. crowd and that he felt the support right away. He said there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people in this area and it felt great to hear them cheer for him. The last thing he talked about was his upcoming schedule and his plans post-US Open. He talked about wanting to do well in Toronto next week and improving on his first round loss in Cincinnati last year. He also wants to make a better appearance at the US Open by going beyond his quarterfinal appearance last year. “I push myself to be in [the] best shape.” He then went on to say that he will take some time off after Flushing Meadows to workout. And hopefully take a well-deserved vacation, but he didn’t say.

Baghdatis’ press conference came after his doubles’ loss with partner Stanislas Wawrinka, but he was still in a happy mood. Even in the doubles match, he was enjoying the absolutely packed stands on Grandstand court and he flourished with the cheers from the crowd. In the interview room, he was candid and smiling, making eye-contact with each questioner. He was first asked about what was tough about the match. He responded: “Everything.” He said that playing at night was not the same as the day because the humidity changed in D.C. He also said it different playing on Stadium versus an outside court and that “today I felt like the balls were flying a bit so I couldn’t control them very well.” He also recently changed coaches and has been in the ‘new’ partnership for only two weeks now. I put ‘new’ in quotes because it is the same coach he had when he was 17-20s years old, “so it’s not a big change for me.” In fact, he said, it’s “perfect.” Something that players have been getting asked since Andy Roddick crashed out last night was their thoughts on the American men falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 1973. He gave a heartfelt answer saying that playing this high caliber tennis is very tough and takes a lot of energy. But this was golden: “I didn’t know it was th first time since 1973 … That’s a long time!” He feels fit and healthy and ready to move on to the next challenge.

The third singles match of the day was between Roddick-killer Gilles Simon and wildcard David Nalbandian, who was playing in his first tournament since April due to an injury.

Nalbandian came out on top with a score of 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 but not without plenty of drama and superb shot-making. Simon came out swinging and took a commanding lead to go up 3-0, breaking Nalbandian’s service game easily. Nalbandian was only able to win one point on Simon’s serve. It seemed that this match would be over quickly. However, Nalbandian pushed it up a gear and won the next three games. Things were starting to heat up, but Simon was still playing more solidly and moving better than Nalbandian. Nalbandian had only lost 9 games in the entire tournament going into today’s match, so the scoreline was staggering when Simon took the first set 6-3 in just 33 minutes. But, just as quickly as Simon had won the first set, he lost the second. There were four breaks of serve before Nalbandian went up 4-1. He was starting to look like the strong precise hitter we know, and the points won on his first serve nearly doubled in the second set. He began to play more freely and was very solid at the net. Nalbandian understood the pressure he put on his opponent and knew when to execute approach and drop shots. He also found the angles exceptionally well flustering his opponent to start yelling in French into the sky. In fact, both players were yelling and cheering themselves on, bringing more inspiring play onto the court, and getting the crowd even more involved.

The beginning of the third set saw the best tennis of the day so far. As quick and adept as Simon is, it was surprising that Nalbandian came out the winner on the night’s longest rally. Both continued hitting the ball incredibly low and quick, Nalbandian penetrating the back corners with precision each rally. On one rally Simon sent a deep shot that would normally be a winner and followed it up to the net. Nalbandian read his movement and sent a beautiful overhead lob past Simon that hit the baseline. Simon scrambled to get back but the ball bounced out of his reach. Nalbandian was on fire, taking a 2-0 lead, and couldn’t miss. But then, he did.Simon put away a tricky forehand volley and Nalbandian seemed to be running out of steam. The score evened at 2-all. Then, all momentum was lost seeing each player dominate for a few points before being easily defeated the next, and on each other’s serves. In the ninth game, Nalbandian was serving for the match and he started hitting forehand bombs and took a chance on every shot. He closed the match with two aces. This is Nalbandian’s first time in a semifinal this year and it was well-deserved.

Gilles Simon unfortunately never made it to do the press conference, but it came as no surprise. He was fiery and irritated with himself in the second and third sets and clearly his head was not in the right place at the end of the match. He has great shot-making abilities from the baseline and his backhand finds angles on the court to stress his opponents. His serve was inconsistent and probably proved to be his downfall as he became more agitated with himself.

Nalbandian was caught up with the television crews, but eventually made it over for an interview with the media. He was easy-going even playing with his phone when he first came in. He joked about having to actually HOLD the microphone as he spoke. It was entertaining. He then got down to answering questions. He spoke about picking his game up in the second set and serving better: “When you’re serving good it is much easier to play more offensive.” He also mentioned that although he is not 100% healthy, he is “feeling good enough” and takes it as a positive. “I try to win every match I play.” It was also his first time in D.C. and he was asked why he decided to come back here: “I wasn’t playing enough tournaments and I needed to play matches to be prepared for Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open. I just enjoy every time I play.”

The last match of the day was between Serb Janko Tipsarevic and Croat Marin Cilic.

Cilic held the 4-0 head-to-head prior to coming into the match and he followed it up with a 7-6(4), 6-4 win tonight. Both players held their serve in the first set and were pretty even. For a guy that measures in at just 5’11’’, it was surprising to find Tipsarevic still getting even lower on his backhand side. Tipsarevic let the tiebreaker slip away from him when he loss a crucial point at 3-all that ran both players into all corners of the court for the most exciting rally of the day. In the second set, Tipsarevic continued playing more defensively but putting an insane amount of topspin on his forehand. But it was to no avail as he seemed to be just trying to keep up with Cilic’s movement and coverage. At 3-4 ad-out, Tipsarevic challenged a ball still in play that he thought was long, but he was wrong and lost his service game. Both players then held serve before Cilic held three match points before he finally converted on the fourth attempt. Since the match finished late and because of the tough scheduling from yesterday, neither player came for media interviews. Both players put in a valiant effort that saw Cilic come out the victor.

The day was full of suspenseful matches that saw the top two seeds go down in surprising fashion. The top seed left in the tournament is Marin Cilic who will face David Nalbandian Saturday evening at 7 P.M., while Xavier Malisse will face Marcos Baghdatis at 1 P.M. for a spot in the finals.

Day 4 of Legg Mason – Fish, Verdasco & Malisse Press Conferences, Tipsarevic’s DNA, Friendships on Tour

Another day has set on the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and with it we find a quickly diminishing field as only the best players move through. Two seeded Frenchman, Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau, crashed out but the rest of the seeds prevailed. Let’s catch up on the day’s happenings around the grounds and on the practice courts.

  1. First up, I stumbled upon the end of Stan Wawrinka’s practice with Andrey Golubev. What caught my eye more was that Richard Gasquet was sitting in the stands, watching and waiting to take the court next. As soon as Wawrinka sat down, Gasquet strolled over to him and the two started chatting. Gasquet then picked up a racquet of Wawrinka’s and started feeling it out. Both players use a Head racquet, so I started wondering if Gasquet was looking to switch models. Will be interesting to see.

  1. When Gasquet finally took the court, I could tell right away he was not feeling the ball well. He had just played a final in the cold of Gstaad, Switzerland on Sunday and was already slated to play a match in the 90-degree humidity of Washington, DC two days later. Suffice it to say that his hitting hand was even cramping mid-hit. One thing struck me in particular. As fluid as his backhand looked, his forehand seemed off-balance and forced. The placement of his left hand is even more awkward up-close and actually takes away from his power. Not sure if it was just the day and conditions, but he’s looked better. Sadly, he had to retire from his match later in the day after losing the first set 6-3 to Kristof Vliegen.

  1. Lo, and behold, who do I find now watching Gasquet practice? None other than newly-minted tweeter Janko Tipsarevic, eating a banana.

A girl sitting close to me taping Gasquet’s practice, started getting really fidgety when she saw Tipsarevic. I couldn’t tell it she was being bitten by bugs or suddenly realized she had lost her passport. Thankfully, she figured out there were people around her and she quickly asked me “Can I borrow your pen?!” I said “Sure” knowing full well it would become her souvenir if Tipsarevic were to sign an autograph with it. I watched as she ran over to him, got his signature with my pen and took a photo. She then proceeded to walk back towards me and extended her hand holding my blue pen. “Thank you so much!” she exclaimed. I was stunned. I actually got my pen back. Not only that, but with Tipsarevic’s DNA on it. I wonder if I could clone him …

Shortly, Tipsarevic took the court and practiced with another player. He mostly did serves and wanted to work on his returns, but was frustrated when his practice partner was struggling getting serves in. Luckily, Tipsarevic went on to win his match against Arnaud Clement in fairly easy fashion a few hours later. What was most entertaining was that he looked like Darth Vader from Star Wars in his all-black Fila kit and Oakley sunglasses. Pretty intimidating if you ask me!

  1. First match of the day that I watched was between Marco Chiudinelli and Brian Dabul. Although Chiudinelli struggled in his match and his left knee was still tightly wrapped up, his coach was cheering him on in crucial moments and he seemed to be happy to get through. He seemed limited in his lateral movement in the back court, so he tried approaching the net more frequently. However, his opponent was quick and could retrieve most balls. It took some adjusting but Chiudinelli came out victorious with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.

And look who I find on my way out of the match: compatriot Stan Wawrinka and his coach, Peter Lundgren watching Chiudinelli.

  1. I next made my way over to a hotly-anticipated doubles match, played on Grandstand instead of Stadium Court. It was the match-up between doubles world #1 Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic vs. Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek. The stands were packed and the tennis was top-notch. I didn’t feel bad missing the Fish/Troicki blow-out on stadium court when this doubles match had everything a tennis fan wanted: amazing rallies, bad calls, umpire disputes, ‘Ajde’-ing and on-court laughter and embarrassment when a shot was miserably calculated. The pairing of Berdych/Stepanek was like peanut butter and jelly: Berdych is smooth, fluid and strong, while Stepanek has shot variety and nutty surprises at the net. Even though Berdych/Stepanek won 6-4, 4-6, 10-8, it says a lot about the doubles game and how they can compete with top singles players and only narrowly lose in a matchup.

  1. My next two stops were the press conferences of Xavier Malisse and Mardy Fish, who knocked out Julien Benneteau and Viktor Troicki, respectively.

Malisse was very personable and engaging, detailing how his past injuries kept him away from top form. I don’t think I realized how many injuries he has had in the last 3 years: left wrist, then right wrist, then twisted right knee, then left wrist again. But today he said he is “playing well and feeling healthy.” This looked to be the case when I peaked in on his match against Benneteau. He was running him all over the court! Hopefully, this will continue and we’ll see him once again climb in the ranks.

Mardy Fish was next and he was light-spirited and pleasant as well. He talked about how quickly he lost weight, going from 203 lbs. to about 170-3 lbs. currently. He thankfully feels that he hasn’t lost any energy or precision in his shots or serve, but hopes to gain some muscle in the off-season and not lose any more weight. Since he didn’t have any points to defend, he wanted to stack his summer up with tournaments and see how he fared.

Fish was asked about the other Americans in tennis and how it feels to play a friend in a match, like Andy Roddick 2 weeks ago. He stated that you pretty much have to put the friendship aside, “just play the match, and you’ll be friends after the match.” He also paid compliments to John Isner saying that his serve is “probably one of the best in the world.” Fish’s current coach, David Nainkin, is also the long-time coach of Sam Querrey. Fish had praise for Querrey’s character as well: “I’m lucky Sam is who he is to let me share [Nainkin].” Quite a humble guy, and not taking his new-found game for granted. He’s worked hard to get in the best shape of his life and I hope he continues strong.

  1. The last match I watched was between Fernando Verdasco and Michael Berrer. I have a separate post on Verdasco and his press conference (http://www.tennisgrandstand.com/archives/6953), but I’ll sum up a little here, including the tiebreaker point-by-point.

Verdasco struggled in the first set and even faced two match points down 5-2 in the second set. He finally found his rhythm and won the next five games. All he had to do was wear Berrer out and he couldn’t do it. It seemed that from the first ball, Berrer was wearing HIM out. Verdasco seemed drained and tired on the court and his footwork was lacking. He was miscalculating shots and overhitting them and couldn’t seem to return most of Berrer’s first serves. The most alarming aspect of his game during the match was his erratic toss. He would throw it too far behind him, let it drop, and then try again. He blamed it on the wind and the crowd, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was a deeper problem.

The third set reached a tiebreak. It was high energy, exhilarating, with lots of crowd cheering and clapping. Two unfortunate shots that clipped the net and went out, brought the score to 4-3 for Verdasco. Another backhand mishit from Verdasco, brought it to 4-4. An ace from Berrer make it 4-5 for Berrer. A fearless backhand approach winner from Verdasco evened the score again. Verdasco then fired a service winner that Berrer was not able to place, making the score 6-5 for Verdasco. The next rally brought fear and doubt to the crowd as they watched Verdasco approach the net for a volley and fall to the ground, grabbing his left foot. He took his shoe off, shunned ice away, and got the trainer. A few moments passed. To the applause of the crowd, he eventually got up and jogged to the other side for the changeover. (He later stated it was just the plastic in his shoe that hurt his big toe with a great deal of pain, but that it was nothing to worry about.) The score was now 6-6. As the crowd, we still didn’t know what exactly happened to cause the fall and if he would be able to close this out. However, Berrer never scored another point and Verdasco went up 7-6 with a big “VAMOS!”, and then finished it off at 8-6 to the cheers of the crowd.

Check out the video below and find more of my videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/kiki52484#g/u

It was a great day showcasing all the top seeds in either singles or doubles and the tournament has indeed started well on its way. I’ll be back for more later this week!

STOSUR SURGES AT ROLAND GARROS

By Blair Henley

A surging Sam Stosur took out four-time French Open champion and No. 22 seed Justine Henin 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Monday, snapping the Belgian’s streak of 24 straight matches won at Roland Garros.

“My nerves were simply not strong enough today,” Henin explained. “I felt very nervous, very upset, which is normally not the way I am. Maybe today I was feeling some nervous fatigue. Maybe that nervous fatigue prevented me from seeing things in a calmer way.”

After a slow start, 26-year-old Stosur used her heavy groundstrokes to keep her opponent stuck scrambling behind the baseline, and in the third set, Henin’s picturesque backhand was nowhere to be found. She dumped three into the net in the final game.

Stosur, seeded seventh, squandered her first match point with a nervous double fault, but took advantage of a short, bouncing overhead on her second try.

“I just tried to shake it off and tried to have a laugh at myself, not worry about it and get the next one in,” Stosur said of the double fault.

It was so gloomy at Roland Garros Monday that the 26-year-old Australian was forced to remove her signature sunglasses, allowing fans to see the emotion in her eyes as she sealed one of the biggest wins of her career.

“I knew what I had to do,” Stosur said. “I kept going for it and I believed in myself.”

Stosur had more clay court wins this season than anyone else on tour coming into the French Open and she made it to the semifinals here last year, but her win over Henin still was still unexpected. The Australian lost to her earlier this month in Stuttgart.

The Aussie was known primarily as a doubles specialist before she decided to focus on her singles a couple of years ago. She has previously held the No. 1 ranking in doubles, but she entered the singles Top 10 for the first time just months ago.

Serena Williams easily beat No. 18 seed Shahar Peer of Israel 6-2, 6-2 to become the last American standing in the singles draws. She will take on Stosur in the quarterfinals.

It’s safe to say Peer doesn’t like playing the Williams sisters. She has now lost 5 times each to both Serena and Venus.

Tuesday No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki will take on No. 17 Francesca Schiavone, No. 5 seed Elena Dementieva will play No. 19 Nadia Petrova.

MURRAY REPEATS WIMBLEDON COMEBACK

By Melina Harris

At two sets to love down to Richard Gasquet in the first round of the French Open on a balmy court Suzanne Lenglen Monday, Andy Murray must have taken heart from his thrilling comeback against the young Frenchman at Wimbledon in 2008, when at two sets to love down, Centre Court erupted as he fought back valiantly to win the match in an epic five set battle, only to be annihilated by eventual winner Rafael Nadal.

After being wiped out by Gasquet’s penetrating backhand in the first two sets, Murray managed to claw his way back with some impressive defensive tennis after his opponent began to show visible signs of fatigue following his impressive title victory against Fernando Verdasco last Saturday in Nice. Gasquet had requested more recovery time, but his appeal was declined, much to Murray’s favor who capitalized in the final three sets to win, 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, completing the victory with an ace into the corner of the advantage court. Gasquet was reflective after the match; “He [Murray] is always fighting, fighting, putting the balls in the court. Even if he is not playing so good, it is very tough to beat him.”

Once the game went into a fifth set, statistically there was only ever going to be one winner; for Andy Murray had won six of his previous seven five set matches, while Richard Gasquet had lost a miserable eight out of his past nine. The match lasted a lengthy 4 hours and 4 minutes, causing Murray’s troublesome knee to flare up after the match, which needed intensive icing. The world No. 4 has a bipartite patella (a split right knee cap) which he will have to cope with for the rest of his tennis career. Murray said after the match, “My [right] knee is sore, a four-hour match probably wasn’t the best thing for it. I have to manage the problems as best I can.  It hurts at different times of the year and there is nothing I can do about it because it was just something I was born with and I am going to have to deal with it for the rest of my career. It’s a lot worse than people think and hurts for the majority of the year.”

His knee issue is not the only problem he will have to overcome to continue further into the tournament, his low first serve percentage, delivering just 46 percent against Gasquet will have to be improved as it exposes a second serve that everyone in the game is well aware lacks penetration; a weakness that the clay court specialists will inevitably pounce on with devastating accuracy. However, Murray was brimming with confidence when asked about his second round clash with Juan Ignacio Chela, the Argentine he beat in straight sets in Madrid last week, stating “Chela is a very good player but I feel good going into the match and will be confident.”  He has an impressive one hundred percent record against the Argentine, winning each of the five encounters between the pair, so Murray can afford to go into the second round with a positive frame of mind, while British fans will still undoubtedly be holding their breath!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

ROGER FEDERER AND RAFAEL NADAL PICTORIAL AT THE MADRID OPEN

And he does it again. Ralf Reinecke managed to capture two of the best players in the world on cam in Madrid.  Earlier this week an interview with Roger Federer it was like he was giving Rafael Nadal a subtle swipe about his clay court dominance.

The interview was on Gototennis.com and Federer has the following to say:

On clay you don’t need a volley or a serve. You just need legs, an incredible forehand and backhand, and to run after every ball. I’m not trying to take anything from Rafa: He has been successful in other surfaces as well. But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game. I’m not saying it’s so simple, but it’s too easy.

Whether or not Federer is right remains to be seen. Until then I would suggest that you enjoy the pics.

WOMEN FALL LIKE DOMINOS IN MADRID

The clay courts of the Madrid Open have provided some shock exits in the first round this week, with Justine Henin, Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova falling like dominos to the dismay of tournament chairman Manuel Santana, who breathed a sigh of relief as top seed Serena Williams managed to survive a match point to get through her first match of the tournament against Vera Dushevina, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 – lasting a mammoth 3 hours and 26 minutes.

The American world No. 1 looked on her way out of the clay event when the unseeded Russian had a match point at 6-5 in the second set. Visibly chastising herself on court and appealing wildly to her father and coach Richard Williams in the stands, she miraculously summoned her enormous willpower to claw her way back and take the deciding set despite having a long treatment break for what appeared to be right thigh and lower back problems. She revealed “After so long on the court, I was saying to myself, ‘You’d better win this thing’”.

After squandering one match point with a wild backhand at 6-4 on the third set tie break, a ninth ace on the next point provoked a primal cry of joy from the 28 year old, who said “When I shout like that, it’s just to get energised. I need my emotion to help me play better.” She is now on course to meet Russian sixth seed Elena Dementieva in the last eight. Her sister, fourth-seeded Venus Williams also downed Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-2 to proceed.

Meanwhile, Aravane Rezai of France beat Justine Henin. 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, who revealed she had not fully recovered after falling ill following her win at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart last weekend, her first title since coming out of retirement.

Lucia Safarova of the Czech Republic defeated Russian bombshell Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 to the disappointment of her male fans in Madrid. The leggy blonde commented “It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm…I thought she played really solid, good tennis and did everything she needed to win the match. More solid than me anyway.”

Israel’s Shahar Peer recorded the biggest upset, defeating the reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 after the Russian dropped serve six times in the match and said “I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the year. Even the matches I’m losing, it’s just a point here and a point there. I’ve been working very hard on my game the last two years and I saw the fruits starting to come last summer. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Dinara Safina’s preparations for the French Open took a serious knock after she lost 7-6, 7-6 to Czech qualifier Klara Zakopalova in the first round. The defending champion claimed seven breaks of serve, but the 28-year-old from Prague dominated the tiebreaks only allowing Safina one point in the first, and three in the second. Despite being the runner up in the last two French Open finals, Safina struggled on the clay and has slipped from three to five in the updated WTA rankings on Monday.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

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