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Florian’s Travels: Haas, Paire Fall in Stuttgart; Fognini Thru

Tommy Haas Mercedes Cup Stuttgary tennis

Centre Court

(July 13, 2013) Four of the five top seeds, including three Germans, were in action at Friday’s quarterfinals at the 35th edition of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.

In the first match of a beautiful sunny day at the Weissenhof Club, two unseeded players met each other for the first time. Roberto Bautista-Agut faced Michael Berrer, who was born in Stuttgart and entered the tournament by a wild card. The German played aggressively right from the beginning and tried to find his way to the net as often as possible. The Spaniard needed some time to respond to the attacking style of his opponent.

Bautista Agut

In the sixth game Bautista broke Berrer’s serve for the first time when he hit some nice passing shots. With another break in the eighth game, the Spaniard took the opening set 6-2 after just 29 minutes. During the changeover, Berrer took a medical time-out and received some treatment to his left elbow and arm. This seemed to help the German break serve in the first game of the second set, but that’s where his luck ended.

After this short feeling of success, however, Berrer was forced to retire.

“I felt pain in my elbow when I was serving and so it was useless to go on,” explained Berrer in his press conference. “Yesterday, I noticed it for the first time and I got treatment but this morning I could hardly brush my teeth.”

Berrer

For the tournament’s local player, it was bitter decision.

“There were so many people here in Stuttgart who wanted to see me play,” Berrer continued. “I could have given at least seventeen tickets away to friends. This also means that I’m out for the qualification in Hamburg but I hope that it will be better in four to five days.”

Berrer also had to withdraw from his scheduled doubles semifinal with his partner Andreas Beck thereby giving their opponents, Tomasz Bednarek and Mateusz Kowalczyk, a walkover into the final on Sunday.

In the second match of the day, Victor Hanescu extended his head-to-head advantage against tournament No. 4 seed, Benoit Paire to 4-0. The Romanian won the encounter after 71 minutes with a score of 7-5, 6-2.

Hanescu

The Frenchman lost an even opening set when he faced his first break points of the match, and let it get away from him. As a consequence and in typical Paire style, the Frenchman hit the ball clear out of center court, also giving him an expected warning by the chair umpire.

Paire never really recovered from that and lost his service in the fourth game of the second set with a double fault. From then on the “Big Paire-show” began in terms of moaning, complaining and even smashing his racket, which meant the 24-year-old was given a point penalty.

After the match, Hanescu admitted that it might have been the key to his win that he stayed focused during Paire’s tantrums — when he wasn’t really sure about what was going on, on the other side of the net. The Romanian added: “Sometimes I wasn’t really sure if he was playing on or just making show.”

In the afternoon, it was time for the marquee match of the day which featured top seed Tommy Haas against No. 5 seed Fabio Fognini.

Given that Tommy Haas’ manager, Edwin Weindorfer, is also the Mercedes Cup’s tournament director, it was no surprise to find the German’s face plastered on every poster, t-shirt and cap.

Tommymania

On an almost fully packed center court, the 35-year-old Haas appeared in his ninth ATP World Tour quarterfinal of the year facing Fognini for the first time. The Italian had a great start and began to hit some nice backhand winners. The German veteran was under pressure in every service game. Consequently, he lost his serve in the third and seventh games, allowing Fognini to close the set out in only 31 minutes.

Fognini

Seven minutes later Haas gained his first break point of the match but couldn’t capitalize on it. So it was the fifth-seeded Italian again who got the break in the seventh game. Fognini served the match out 6-2, 6-4 after 74 minutes and finished the “Haas-hype” in Stuttgart.

“It wasn’t my best day for sure,” said a calm Haas after the encounter. “I tried to find a rhythm and I fought for that. There were also some unlucky calls today. It is always difficult with the umpires on clay. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go on for me here in Stuttgart.”

Haas II

Haas will next play at the German Open in Hamburg and also revealed what he did with the car he won earlier this year at the BMW Open in Munich: “I sold it!” Luckily for Haas, he won’t have the problem of finding a buyer for the tournament winner’s car this time, a Mercedes.

All the German hopes have now switched to Philipp Kohlschreiber, the last remaining German left. The second-seed held a 1-8 career head-to-head disadvantage against Gael Monfils, but today the German was able to improve this stat.

Monfils

Kohlschreiber gained two breaks in the third and seventh games of the first set, and Monfils could only get one back. The Frenchman then had the chance to even the set at 5-5, but the German ended up serving out the set after 38 minutes.

Kohlschreiber

The second set became a copy of the first, with Kohlschreiber again up two breaks up. He eventually sealed victory after 70 minutes, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his first ever semifinal in Stuttgart.

Check back Saturday and Sunday for full semifinal and final coverage from Stuttgart!

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Bastad, Stuttgart, Newport Draw Previews

Returning to home soil should raise Sam Querrey

A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.

Bastad:

Top half:  The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament.  Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area.  Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.

Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge.  The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona.  On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris.  A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year.  While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.

Bottom half:  The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open.  Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here.  Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him.  The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals.  Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.

Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco.  Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets.  Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay.  Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco

Stuttgart:

Top half:  Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis.  The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time.  But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess.  In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar.  All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.

Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan.  Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises.  Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances.  He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game.  Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.

Bottom half:   Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces.  Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round.  Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon.  Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them.  Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke.  Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.

Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych.  Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability.  Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue.  While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.

Final:  Haas vs. Paire

Newport:

Top half:  Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories.  Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon.  But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there.  A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests.  Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.

Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently.  The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros.  But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.

Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year.  The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club.  Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold.   A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.

Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner.  The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals.  Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.

Final:  Querrey vs. Hewitt

When the Red Dust Settles: Favorite Memories of Roland Garros 2013

We have reached the end of the red brick road for another year.

Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens.  But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.

Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.

The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.

Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.

Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.

Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.

Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.

Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.

John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.

Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.

Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.

Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.

Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.

Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.

Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.

Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.

Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.

Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.

Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.

Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.

Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.

Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.

Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.

Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.

Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.

Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.

Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.

Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.

Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.

David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.

Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.

Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.

Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.

Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.

Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.

Roland Garros Day 7: Links Roundup with Haas, Federer, Sharapova, Schiavone and more

Rafael Nadal during his third round win over Fabio Fognini.

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Rafael Nadal sets up for a serve on Philippe Chatrier court as the crowd cheers him on. It may have been a straight set 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-4 victory, but the Spaniard allowed his opponent Fabio Fognini to get too comfortable, threatening each and every game from the first ball. Nadal will have to step up his game if he wishes to raise the trophy again.

ATP News: In this ATP World Tour article, Roger Federer discusses his life as a dad, Kevin Anderson talks about the future of tennis in Africa, John Isner reveals his increasingly healthy eating habits (sans beer), Grigor Dimitrov dresses up as a clown, Martin Klizan dishes on his calf tattoo, and Ryan Harrison explains his admiration of LeBron James. Who said the ATP is boring?

American women march on: Serena Williams, as comes to no surprise to anyone, will be sticking around for the second week in Paris. Joining her, less expectedly, are Sloane Stephens, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Jamie Hampton. ESPN’s Tennis section discusses the victories of these three women in addition to the victories of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic. Moving forward, things are only going to get tougher for the Americans to which Sloane Stephens stated, “This is my favorite tournament but winning it would be a long shot.”

Viktor Troicki looks back: After an impressive first week which included victories over James Blake, Daniel-Gimeno Traver, and Marin Cilic, Viktor Troick took time out with the Roland Garros team. In this video, Troicki talks about his first time playing tennis, his first match as a kid, his first tournament won, and several other firsts in his tennis career.

Sharapova, Bryans want Hawkeye at the French: Taking a position on a debate which I’m sure is going to be hotly contested in years to come, the Bryan Brothers and Maria Sharapova, as Douglas Robson of USA Today reports, “called for the use of Hawkeye after coming out on the losing end of calls.” Sharapova’s main concern was over “the fact that the umpire did not recognize that the mark he pointed out was about a foot away from the actually mark” in a dispute over a call during her third round match against Zheng Jie.

Bob Bryan pulls a Stakhovsky: As a corollary to the USA Today article and as Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated reports, Bob Bryan took a page out of Serigy Stakhovsky’s book during his second-round doubles match Saturday. Bob felt the chair umpire missed a call and was so irritated that he took it upon himself to take out his cell-phone and take a picture of the disputed mark. Not sure if this trend will continue, but the debate over using Hawkeye on clay, as clearly demonstrated, certainly will. 

French Fury: After being issued a point penalty for coaching on set point in the second set of his third round match with Kei Nishikori, Benoit Paire began to angrily argue with chair umpire Enric Molina of Spain. This came after Paire had already received a code violation for breaking a racket. Following the match, which Paire lost in four sets, the Frenchman further ripped into Molina as Sports Illustrated reports. 

“I think that the chair umpire wanted to be a promotion. I think if Rafael Nadal or some good player do the same thing, for sure he doesn’t put warning [penalty point].”

Francesca Schiavone dashes French hopes: In a marvelously played match against Marion Bartoli, Francesca Schiavone eliminated the final Frenchwoman from the tournament. Bartoli applauded the efforts of her Italian opponent stating, “On clay she is a terrific opponent.  On clay this is a player who is very, very dangerous.”

Tommy Haas discusses victory: German Tommy Haas was unable to convert any of the 12 match points he had in the fourth set in his third round match against American John Isner. After falling behind a break in the fifth set, Haas rallied, saved a match point, and took out the American on his 13th match point. In his press conference, Haas commented on the fourth set match points asserting, “The way he was saving those match points, serving the way he did there’s really nothing I could have done.”

Angelique Kerber delighted to advance: David Cox of the New York Times described Angelique Kerber’s reaction after defeating Varvara Lepchenko in the third round as a “primal scream” in which “relief, joy, and pure adrenaline combined to create a spine-tingling moment.” Kerber attested to the thrill this victory gave her saying, “It meant a lot. It was very tough and close match and I had a lot of up and downs so I was so happy to win.”

Jelena Genic passes: In extremely sad news, Novak Djokovic’s childhood coach, the first coach of his tennis career, Jelena Gencic, passed away at the age of 76 as USA Today reports. After crushing Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in his third round match Saturday, the Serb cancelled his post-match interview.

“After his victory over Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic learned of the death of his first coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away today in Belgrade,” a statement released by French Open officials said. “Clearly affected by this sad news, Novak Djokovic feels unable to give a press conference this evening. He would like to send his apologies to the media.”

Roland Garros Rewind: Djokovic, Nadal Thrive; Haas, Isner Thrill; Sharapova, Azarenka Survive

Yes, I remember you well.

The remaining second-week lineups fell into place on Saturday at Roland Garros.  Here’s a look back at the studs and duds.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Returning to the battlefield after playing an 8-6 fifth set yesterday, John Isner outdid himself in the effort department.  The American giant rallied from two sets down against Tommy Haas, saving twelve match points in the fourth set.  Isner even claimed a 4-1 lead in the fifth set as a second comeback in two days from losing the first two sets loomed.  Somehow managing to break and saving a match point at 4-5, Haas hung on until Isner finally cracked at 8-8.  The thirteenth match point proved the charm.

Unsurprising surprise of the day:  Also back in action a day after an 8-6 fifth set, Janko Tipsarevic predictably responded less impressively than Isner did.  The eighth seed fell to Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets.  Whoever thought that Youzhny would reach the second week of Roland Garros and have a real chance at a quarterfinal berth deserves a glass of Champagne’s finest.

Nice story of the day:  Overshadowed this tournament by someone else from Switzerland, as he usually is, Stanislas Wawrinka posted a solid four-set win over the dangerous Jerzy Janowicz.  Wawrinka had not known whether he would participate in Roland Garros this year because of a leg injury, so he will feel confident that he made the right decision.

Scandal of the day:  A set point against Kei Nishikori awaited Benoit Paire—or so it seemed.  Umpire Enric Molina took away the opportunity with a coaching code violation, resulting in a point penalty.  An infuriated Paire argued his case at length, but Molina appeared to have ruled correctly.  Probably spurred by the incident, Paire bludgeoned his way to win the set anyway, although he lost the match.

Gold star:  Like fellow Head endorser Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic always fancies a taste of revenge.  He ravaged Grigor Dimitrov’s serve without mercy just weeks after finding it nearly invulnerable in Madrid.  Toppled in three sets that time, Djokovic lost just seven games here.

Silver star:  Baby steps for Rafael Nadal, who looked far from his overwhelming King of Clay self again but at least advanced in straight sets.  Nadal had thrashed third-round opponent Fabio Fognini in Rome.  This match proved much more competitive but never really in doubt once he survived a slow start to win a first-set tiebreak.

Stat of the day:  The twelve match points saved by Isner were the most ever saved by any man in a match at a major.

American men in Paris:  None reach the second week.  RIP, this category.

Question of the day:  Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber has advanced routinely to this stage and upset the Serb here in 2009.  Can he make things interesting on Monday?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Just like Monfils-Berdych, the Stosur-Jankovic duel of veteran clay specialists lived up to its billing.  Jankovic repeated her Stuttgart upset of the world No. 9 after losing the first set and closing out a long, tight decider.  Her clay revival this year should lead to her first major quarterfinal in recent memory,…

Surprise of the day:  …although Jamie Hampton might have something to say about it.  The small American who gave Victoria Azarenka a scare in Melbourne bundled Petra Kvitova out of the tournament. Facing little resistance early, Hampton needed to navigate a long second-set tiebreak to prevent the advantage shifting back to the favorite in the third set.  Kvitova has lost before the quarterfinals at three straight majors.

Nice story of the day:  Perhaps the nicest story of the tournament, in fact.  2010 champion and 2011 finalist Francesca Schiavone returns to the second week in Paris despite a disappointing season, finishing off top-ranked Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli without much ado.

Top seeds show frailty…:  Victoria Azarenka barely could hold serve at all for a set-plus against Alize Cornet, dropping a break at love to concede the first set to someone with a 24-match losing streak against top-30 opponents.  After an emphatic first set, Maria Sharapova suddenly lost the plot and fell behind by a double break to the persistent but faded Zheng Jie amid serving struggles.

…but finish strong:  Once adversity struck, both top women showed their spine.  World No. 3 Azarenka raced through a 6-1 third set, while world No. 2 Sharapova swept six of the last seven games.  If you want to score a huge upset, you cannot afford to labor as consistently on serve as Cornet and Zheng did.  That is too much additional pressure stacked on top of the pressure created by the circumstances.

Adieu, les bleues:  Barely wobbling through her two previous matches, Bartoli followed Cornet to the exit as the last Frenchwomen faded from the draw in the first week.  Credit to each of them for fighting bard, but France simply is not a first-tier tennis power in the women’s game.

Stat of the day:  Sharapova converted all eight of her break points against Zheng, who held serve exactly once in the match.

Americans in Paris:  Who would have thought that the stars and stripes would supply a quarter of the women’s final sixteen on the clay of Roland Garros?  In addition to Hampton and Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from losing the first set for the second straight match to dominate clay specialist Paula Ormaechea late.  Sloane Stephens took advantage of a soft draw to repeat her second-week result here from last year.  Now 8-1 at majors and 11-1 at non-majors, Stephens saves her best for when it means the most.

Questions of the day:  Can Schiavone flap the visibly flappable Azarenka on Monday?  And how many women’s quarterfinalists will the USA produce?  All but Serena will be underdogs next round.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Azarenka, Sharapova, Stosur, Nadal, Gasquet and More Highlight Day 7

Will Nadal start looking more like the King of Clay?

While Yeshayahu Ginsburg focuses his spotlight on the marquee clash between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov, this article focuses on nine other matches to watch as the first week concludes in Paris.

WTA:

Alize Cornet vs. Victoria Azarenka:  The champion in Strasbourg last week, Cornet has won seven straight matches in her home nation on her favorite surface.  She faces a daunting test against a woman whom she lacks the power to hit through her with either serve or groundstrokes.  Simple and steady should suffice for Azarenka, who looked crisp in her first round and shaky in her second.  The wildcard in this match could consist of the French crowd, likely to try anything possible to fluster her.  If Vika can keep her composure and perhaps draw energy from the hostility, she should reach the second week in a feisty mood.

Maria Sharapova vs. Zheng Jie:  A massive height advantage should help the defending champion collect some free points against the last Chinese woman left in the draw.  Zheng has a winning record against top-10 opponents this year and a victory over Sharapova at Indian Wells in 2010, but her meek serve will cause the WTA’s most vicious returner to salivate.  If she can dig herself into some rallies, her groundstroke depth could make this match competitive, like their other meetings.  Sharapova fell a few notches short of flawless in the second round, wobbling slightly near the finish line, and Zheng owns a reputation for never going away.

Marion Bartoli vs. Francesca Schiavone:  The top-ranked Frenchwoman probably should consider herself fortunate to have reached this stage.  Bartoli saved two match points in a three-hour match to start the tournament and came from behind in both sets of her second-round match after her opponent served for both.  While she has underachieved for her ranking, Schiavone has overachieved in upsetting top-30 player Kirsten Flipkens.  She holds a clear surface edge over Bartoli, whom she defeated in a 2011 semifinal here.  Less clear is whether her serve can withstand the double-fister’s return well enough to secure the holds that eluded Bartoli’s previous challengers at key moments.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Samantha Stosur:  Also a rematch of a Roland Garros semifinal, this match offers Jankovic the opportunity to avenge a rout at the Australian’s hands here in 2010.  On the other hand, it offers Stosur a chance to secure retribution for a loss to the Serb in Stuttgart this spring.  These two women wield weapons almost mirror images of each other, from Stosur’s forehand to Jankovic’s backhand and Stosur’s serving power to Jankovic’s movement.  Both have found contrasting ways to shine on clay, the Aussie utilizing heavy topspin and a kick serve while the Serb bolsters her counterpunching with sliding retrievals.  Both have looked especially crisp this tournament by advancing in straight sets, Stosur more convincingly but Jankovic against stronger opposition.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Paula Ormaechea:  Both women enter this match riding a wave of momentum from upsetting a seeded opponent.  While the Argentine clay specialist bounced Yaroslava Shvedova, one of last year’s quarterfinalists, the American power-hitter knocked off 2011 champion Li Na in the surprise of the tournament so far.  This match will come down to whether Mattek-Sands can continue to strike her targets relentlessly or whether Ormaechea can find ways to survive her opponent’s first strikes and lengthen the points.  Almost nobody would have expected either to reach the second week of a major when the season began.

Petra Kvitova vs. Jamie Hampton: The American’s two victories could not have differed much more from each other.  First winning a three-set thriller from the 25th-seeded Lucie Safarova, Hampton then eased past a qualifier comfortably.  She may or may not have a chance to affect the outcome of this match, depending on which Kvitova shows up.  The bad Petra flirted with first-round disaster by spraying groundstrokes aimlessly midway through the match, while the disciplined and focused Petra returned for a victory over Peng Shuai.  Kvitova’s weapons will overwhelm Hampton if she sustains her accuracy, but this underdog has the talent to exploit one of her feckless days.

ATP:

Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini:  Never having faced the Italian before this month, Nadal now will meet him for the second time in two tournaments.  His Rome rout of Fognini mutes the intrigue of this match despite the short rest for Rafa, forced to play best-of-five matches on consecutive days.  Fognini maintained his regular schedule and will need all of the rest to prepare for a competitor in some ways the antithesis of him.  While both men play their best tennis on clay, Nadal views it as trench warfare and Fognini as art form.

Benoit Paire vs. Kei Nishikori:  Outside a wobble late in the second set of his second match, Nishikori has not defeated his opponents so much as annihilated them.  While he stunned Roger Federer in Madrid, this imposing form still surprises from someone who has accomplished little on clay, losing to Jeremy Chardy and Albert Ramos this spring.  Barely ten ranking slots behind Nishikori, Paire had not loomed any larger in more extensive clay action—until he suddenly reached the semifinals in Rome.  He has won nine of his last ten matches against opponents other than Federer and Rafael Nadal, although he never has reached the second week at a major.  Nishikori won their only meeting last fall, also in Paris, but the indoor hard courts of Bercy bear scant resemblance to the terre battue of Roland Garros.

Nikolay Davydenko vs. Richard Gasquet:  While Davydenko holds the stronger career record at Roland Garros, having reached the semifinals here before, Gasquet has found much stronger form this year.  Among his more notable accomplishments was a Doha final in which he rallied from within a tiebreak of defeat to overcome Davydenko.  They have not met on clay since 2005, but both have advanced convincingly so far.  In contrast to the earlier stages of his career, Gasquet has won most of the matches that he should win over the past twelve months.  This match belongs in that category, although the contrast between the elongated one-handed swing of the Frenchman’s backhand and the streamlined two-hander of the Russian merits watching alone.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Jerzy Janowicz:  After he played four sets on Friday, Janowicz finds himself at a fitness disadvantage against one of the ATP’s premier grinders.  Wawrinka brought some physical issues of his own into the tournament with a muscle tear in his leg, issues that have receded as he has settled into the tournament.  These men number among the leading dark horses in the men’s field, and the winner would stay on track to meet a fallible Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.  Janowicz’s heavy serve and flat groundstrokes should allow him to take the initiative in most points, which he will want to finish quickly before fatigue descends.

 

Roland Garros Day 6: Links Roundup with Nadal, Paire, Djokovic, Isner and more

Tommy Robredo after his win over Gael Monfils

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Newly-resurgent Spaniard Tommy Rebredo collapses on the court from exhaustion after his 3 hour 46 minute match against Frenchman Gael Monfils. Robredo came back from two sets down to win it 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-2.

Benoit Paire dissects his game: Benoit Paire possesses some of the most unique strokes in all of tennis. In this French Open feature video, the Frenchman discusses his eccentric backhand, his incessant use of drops, and the evolution of his weakest shot that being the forehand.

Novak Djokovic answers all: Novak Djokovic sits down to answer questions from his fellow ATP contemporaries Andy Murray, Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy, Richard Gasquet, and Marin Clic. Murray and Gasquet both inquire about their first ever match in the juniors against Djokovic and Jeremy Chardy takes a leap of faith and asks the world the No. 1 the secrets to beating him.

Rafael Nadal still seeking top form: Rafael Nadal’s confidence coming into the French Open could not have been higher. After dropping the first sets of his two opening round matches, the King of Clay is still looking for the level of play that propelled him to seven Roland Garros crowns. As Greg Garber of ESPN reports, Nadal believes he had “a good reaction of the second, playing—even if I didn’t play fantastic—I played the way that I had to play, with intensity, with passion.”

Rafael Nadal condems French Open scheduling: As Matt Cronin of Tennis.com reports, Rafael Nadal expressed his discontent with the scheduling and organizing of his second round match after his second round match was forced back a day due to the rainy conditions in Paris on Thursday.

“I cannot play third after men’s and girls when our possible opponents play second after girls. That’s not fair. The excuse they told me was because [opponent of Fabio Fognini, Lukas] Rosol have to play doubles. I am sorry, but that’s a joke. You have one more week to play doubles if you want to play doubles.”

Monumental year for the Americans in France: It has been an awesome year for the Americans in France—relatively speaking of course. Since 2003 when 11 Americans reached the third round of the French Open, the United States has had no more than 6 Americans reach the third round. This year with Serena Williams leading the way, there are seven Americans in the third round which “is the best the Americans have produced in the past decade” Greg Garber writes in his piece for ESPN.

John Isner overcomes five-set drought at slams: In 2012, American John Isner was defeated in all four majors in five set matches. After the first two sets, it didn’t even look like Isner was going to make it to a fourth set, let alone a decider. In Peter Bodo’s account of the match, he quotes Isner’s coach, Mike Sell, as saying, “Ryan was pretty much in charge there in the first couple of sets, but it turned around when John began to hit through the court. He did a good job keeping that pressure on right to the end there.” After Harrison broke what Bodo calls the first commandment of tennis, which is “Thou Shou Not Double Fault Away a Break Point” at 6-6 in the fifth set, Isner successfully served out the match to win 8-6 in the fifth.

Maria Sharapova finishes off Eugenie Bouchard: After building a 6-2 4-2 lead for herself against Canadian upstart, Eugenie Bouchard, Maria Sharapova was sent off court as the Paris rains proved insurmountable on Thursday evening. Sharapova came back Friday and was able to quickly close off any resistance for Bouchard and take the match 6-2 6-4. Sharapova said that “it was a pretty long day yesterday” but handled the situation with positivity stating, “At 8:45 last night, when it was still raining, it was pretty tough to continue. But I was happy to play part of the match and get myself in a good position to come out again today and finish it off.”

Youth being served: As Christoper Clarey of the New York Times tells us, “At the moment, there is not one teenager in the top 100” in the ATP. In addition, “the three [teenagers] who made it into the French Open draw did so through wildcards or qualifying. Fabrice Santoro believes the drastic dip in success among teenagers in the ATP is due to the fact that “the average level of play is higher now than ever” and “the high physical level of the top players is one that a 19-year-old cannot have.”

French Open Funnies: Check out the most exciting and entertaining moments of the French Open thus far in this 80-second bit.

Roland Garros Rewind: Djokovic, Dimitrov, Azarenka, Stosur Beat the Rain on Thursday; Li Falls

Not even rain could stop the world No. 1 today, much less Guido Pella.

For the second time in three days, inclement weather limited the action in Paris.  This rewind tilts more towards the women’s side, which featured more headlines and more matches overall.

ATP:

Match of the day:  In a sequel to the Battle of the Sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Mother Nature confronted a host of ATP players today and defeated most of them.  Fewer than half of the scheduled men’s matches finished on Thursday.

Gold star:  Probably aware of the rain clouds overhead, Novak Djokovic lost no time in disposing of Guido Pella in 86 minutes.  The world No. 1 lost just four games and gains a timing advantage over rival and semifinal opponent Rafael Nadal, who never took the court because of the rain.

Silver star:  Grigor Dimitrov reaches the third round of a major for the first time, dispatching home hope Lucas Pouille in straight sets.  Granted, Dimitrov would have had nobody to blame but himself had he failed to knock off the 324th-ranked Pouille, but a milestone remains a milestone.  And the rematch with Djokovic looms on Saturday with both men on full rest.

Most improved:  Also beating the raindrops was Benoit Paire, who regrouped from an unsteady four-setter against Marcos Baghdatis to oust Lukas Kubot in straight sets.  People called Lukas generally had a bad day, though, as…

Rematch that won’t happen:  Lukas Rosol fell to Fabio Fognini in four sets, the expected outcome but not the outcome that many of us wanted.  With a mini-upset, Rosol would have faced Rafael Nadal in a bid to repeat his staggering Wimbledon upset.

Anticlimaxes of the day:  The trickle of injuries continued to flow from the men’s draw with a walkover by Yen-Hsun Lu, advancing Philipp Kohlschreiber, and a retirement by Dmitry Tursunov, sending Victor Hanescu through.

Tough luck:  Suspended within three games of a comfortable victory over Horacio  Zeballos, Stanislas Wawrinka must come back tomorrow.  His ability to finish off Thiemo De Bakker just before darkness in the previous round looks even more clutch now.

Question of the day:  How much difference does it make that Djokovic can maintain his regular schedule, while Nadal will not?

WTA:

Awards sweep of the day:  Match of the day?  Check.  Comeback of the day?  Check.  Surprise of the day?  Check.  Across three sets and two rain delays, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from a disastrous start against 2011 champion Li Na to oust the sixth seed.  The upset bolsters a surprising resurgence on clay by the American veteran and ends a deeply disappointing clay season for Li, who fell short of the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome before exiting Paris in the second round.   For Mattek-Sands, the door lies open for a deeper run in this relatively weak section of the draw.

Gold star:  Building on her comfortable first-round victory, Samantha Stosur cruised past home hope Kristina Mladenovic on Court Philippe Chatrier.  Stosur held the status of the heavy favorite in that match, but one could have imagined the difficult weather conditions and the challenge of playing a Frenchwoman on a show court might have flustered her.  Not the case.

Silver star:  Beating the rain more easily than anybody, Jelena Jankovic also built on a solid start to the tournament by dropping just three games to Garbine Muguruza.  Like Stosur, Jankovic has reached three semifinals here, so she will bear watching as the tournament reaches its midpoint.

Lesser surprises of the day:  A meager 2013 for Dominika Cibulkova continued when the former Roland Garros semifinalist fell in three sets to Marina Erakovic.  Much less skilled on clay than her opponent, Cibulkova could muster fewer excuses for her loss than could the recently injured Yaroslava Shvedova.  Last year’s quarterfinalist will lose plenty of ranking points after falling to qualifier Paula Ormaechea.

Most improved:  After she wobbled through three sets against Aravane Rezai, Petra Kvitova advanced much more efficiently against a far more creditable opponent in Peng Shuai.  This section of the draw has become fascinating with Stosur set to face Jankovic and the winner due to meet Kvitova.

Least improved:  Dominant in her first match, Victoria Azarenka struggled to finish off the overmatched Annika Beck in two sets closer than they looked.  Perhaps the rain derailed Vika’s rhythm.  The good news of the day for her is that she cannot face anyone ranked higher than No. 12 Maria Kirilenko en route to the semifinals.

Tough luck of the day:  Defending champion Maria Sharapova stood six points from victory at 6-2 4-2 deuce before the tournament suspended play for the night.  Sharapova will need to return tomorrow for the coup de grace.  On the other hand, she can thank Djokovicfor finishing his match so swiftly that she could play as much of her match as she did.

Good luck of the day:  Top Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli would have faced Mariana Duque-Marino on an outer court had she played on Thursday.  Following the rain and the rescheduling, she will return to Court Philippe Chatrier to start Friday’s matches.  That setting and the amplified crowd support should boost Bartoli as she attempts to work through her serving woes.

Americans in Paris:  Sloane Stephens pulled rank on Vania King, moving within one victory of a second straight appearance in the second week here.  If you just look at majors, Stephens has compiled an excellent season.  The rest of the American contingent stood at deuce, with Jamie Hampton a comfortable winner and Melanie Oudin a resounding loser to Zheng Jie.

Question of the day:  After Li’s loss, who is most likely to face Azarenka in the quarterfinals?

 

The ATP Quarterly Review

Rafael Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

 

So it’s April and that means two things. The first quarter of the year is over and the European clay court season is about to begin.

So what have we learned?

Well, rather a lot.

December 2012

The beginning of the tennis year started in December 2012. With this the whole of Australia became hysterical after Bernard Tomic went nuts at the Hopman Cup and beat both Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. After that young Bernie continued the streak and won his first title in Sydney prompting some to feel, including probably Bernie himself, that the second coming of Rod Laver was upon us. He did of course become unstuck at The Australian Open, after much hoopla, in a one sided loss to a certain Mr Federer. Bernie hasn’t done much since and it’s doubtful the European clay will help his cause.

During the same period Janko Tipsarevic quietly won in Chennai, Gasquet in Doha and Andy Murray in Brisbane. More fuss was made of the emergence of Baby Fed Grigor Dimitrov who made the Brisbane final, and the fact Tomas Berdych lost in the quarters and was wearing unbranded clothing – the poor darling. He has since signed with Swedish fashion brand H&M.

January 2013

A week later and David Ferrer was up to his usual tricks – cleaning up at ATP 250 events, this time in Auckland. As a matter of fact Ferrer should be banned from 250 events or at least given some sort of handicap like favoured racehorses. He has won 20 career tournaments 12 of which have been ATP 250 events. Not bad for a labourer from Spain.

Two weeks into 2013 and it was already the Australian Open, which went very boringly to Novak’s script. Highlights included Federer in pink shoes and Stan Wawrinka’s battle where he managed to scare Novak in his silver shoes, in the fourth round.

Davis Cup followed the first slam of the year with the surprise elimination of understrength Spain at the hands of Canada and a certain Mr Milos Raonic.

February 2013

By February Frenchman Richard Gasquet was proving he is still a force, beating the rising Benoit Paire who has severe difficulty against his countrymen.

Down in Zagreb Marin Cilic won his first tournament since Umag in July last year. We bet he wishes the entire tour was played in Croatia as he would surely be the world’s number one player, having won 5 of his 9 tournaments on home soil.

The week, however, belonged to Rafael Nadal who made his comeback to the tour in Chile after what felt like a ten year absence. Nadal lost to Argentinian Horacio Zeballos in the final who was on fire for the week, prompting many to say that Nadal was indeed finished and would never return to his best.

Over in Rotterdam Juan Martin del Potro beat Julian Benneteau, who had taken care of childhood rival Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Sadly for Benneteau he lost his eighth successive ATP final, a streak he would surely like to break.

In Brazil Rafael Nadal seemed unfazed by his previous loss and romped to victory over taking out the ever moody David Nalbandian in the final. Nadal as usual bit the trophy he won and expressed how the win was dreamlike.

San Jose played out at the same time and for the last time with Milos taking out old and temperamental Renaissance man Tommy Haas, who may have found the secret of eternal youth.

Memphis indoors provided for Kei Nishikori his third title and hopefully some suede shoes. The Japanese star didn’t drop a set.

‘Allez’ in Marseille for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga where he ousted Tomas Berdych winning his tenth career title and fifth on home soil. Interestingly a player of Berdych’s stature has a pretty mediocre collection of titles with only eight since 2004.

In Buenos Aires David Ferrer picked up his second title of the year and probably breathed a sigh of relief that a certain Mr Nadal didn’t make the trip. A dream for him no doubt.

A week later and Berdych, after beating Federer in the semi’s, lost in another final this time in Dubai. This title went to Novak Djokovic, who was playing his first tournament since winning in Australia. Two out of two for the super Serb.

At Delray Beach the enigmatic Latvian Ernie Gulbis showed another glimpse of talent downing Edouard Roger-Vasselan in the final to win his second title there.

Meanwhile in Acapulco Nadal was playing havoc with Ferrer’s schedule and duly destroyed his fellow countryman in the final 6-0 6-2. Ouch.

March 2013

The onset of March brought two big tournaments and the end of the big hard court tournaments until after Wimbledon.

First was Indian Wells where Nadal was back to dreaming. Here he made it official he was back and could beat anyone after adding to Federer’s horrible 2013 with a quarterfinal win. He then outlasted Del Potro in the final. More than dream dream.

Over in Miami Andy Murray won his second tournament of the year and seemed more genuinely pleased than when he won the U.S. Open (insert Sean Connery accent – “where’s my watch”). Although it was a great win, the field was depleted with injuries and no-shows. One notable was Tommy Haas making his first 1000 event semi final since 1952 or something. The tournament should also be remembered for the first round squabble between Llodra and Paire that makes “Days of our Lives” look harmonious. And no, they won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list.

The Sum Up

The first three months has seen the emergence of new talent in Tomic, Dimitrov and Paire, and the revival of old in Haas and Gasquet. Most notably for the first time since 2004 Federer and Nadal are both ranked outside the top 3.

Only time will tell what the next quarter will bring.

Sony Open “Leftovers” with Murray, Petkovic, Tsonga, Paire and more

Sony Open Petkovic Seaquarium Murray Tennis

April 1, 2013 — The Sony Open may be over, but Tennis Grandstand’s stream of photos from the event is not. Below are all the photos we missed the first time around that are definitely worth a look.

We feature Andy Murray, Andrea Petkovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ajla Tomljanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Rhyne Williams, Benoit Paire, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Feliciano Lopez and more.

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