defending champion

The Three Tiers of Triumph at Roland Garros

At the start of every major tournament, a draw of 128 randomly placed names can be daunting to even the most experienced of tennis fans. It helps to know how to separate the melting pot of names into three categories, thereby organizing them by expectation.

The favorites and the also-rans make up the extreme ends of this three-tiered cake gauging Slam success. The favorites, small in number, backload the pressure they might feel if they enter the event with sufficient confidence in the belief that they will have to eventually defeat a co-favorite for the title.

The also-rans make up the majority of the draw, though most will be gone within the first few days of any given event. Free from expectation of any kind, winning seven matches in two weeks is rarely on the menu for this kind of player, but that freedom can catalyze a good story and an even better run if things go right early on.

As in tennis draws as in families, the middle tier is where a tournament experiences most of its angst. Occupying a space just above the also-rans (but significantly below the favorites) the darkhorses arguably have the most pressure from the get-go, as by definition these are the players tagged to do that which often contradicts their ranking or prior results. However, if they can get on a roll, that seemingly insurmountable weight of expectation lifts with each match won, and finds itself more and more on the favorites’ shoulders, whose mettle will finally be tested after a week-long warm-up.

The best part about the early rounds of a Slam, then, is getting to see all three kinds of player compete not only at once, but against one another, and how each deal with the presence (or lack) of expectation.

One potential darkhorse who appeared not ready for primetime in Paris was German sensation Julia Goerges. The former Stuttgart champion, tapped by many as a legitimate contender for the title in 2011, has been struggling with bouts of dizziness and a GI illness, both of which hampered her progress throughout the clay court season. Faced with the opportunity to play an unranked veteran in the first round, Goerges must have liked her chances despite the cloud of misfortune that had followed her into the event.

But Zuzana Kucova had other ideas. Playing Roland Garros as a way of saying goodbye to tennis (the 30-year-old Slovak plans to retire by tournament’s end), Kucova played inspired tennis, first to out-gut Goerges in an extended first set tiebreak, then to bagel the German, who failed to find much of a rhythm on her extreme-gripped forehand. In her last tournament, Kucova finds herself in the second round of a Slam main draw for the first time, and while the win hardly elevates her to “darkhorse,” it makes for a great story, and what makes the Grand Slams so special.

Another player exhibiting few signs of pressure was defending champion and second-favorite to repeat (behind nemesis Serena Williams) was Maria Sharapova. Playing a similar warm-up schedule to last year, the Russian has felt at home on the terre battue in the last few years in a way that feels both shocking and refreshing. Once a “cow on ice,” Sharapova has conquered a surface that once gave her fits. If the draw suddenly lacked Williams, she would be the overwhelming favorite to defend the title that earned her the career Slam a year ago.

The American’s presence in the draw serves two purposes for Sharapova. While it decreases her eventual odds of winning, the accompanying decrease in expectation frees her up to play (dare I say it?) Kucova-like tennis. Against a familiar opponent in Hsieh Su-Wei, Sharapova played a perfect match, holding serve throughout, cracking more winners than errors, and led the star from Chinese Taipei in all stats except double faults; in what was the biggest upset of the day, Sharapova served none.

For all of the “feel good” stories a Slam brings, however, there must always be some element of tragedy. Such was the case for two darkhorses, Carla Suarez Navarro and Simona Halep. Both had fantastic results coming into Paris, the former with a run to the finals of Oeiras and the quarterfinals in Rome. By contrast, Halep had saved all of her magic for the Foro Italico where, as a qualifier, she stunned three current and former top 2 players (Kuznetsova, Radwanska, Jankovic) to reach the semifinals. Both were expected to do big things at the second Slam of the year provided, of course, one defeated the other in their first round match.

In what was ultimately the bad luck of the draw, the two darkhorses came out on a non-televised court, played three sets of high quality tennis (both hit more than 20 and less than 30 errors over three sets), only for Halep to find herself on the losing end of the tussle. Suarez Navarro evidently played stunningly perfect clay court tennis, but sympathy must lie with the Romanian who, on Day 2 of Roland Garros, is out of a tournament where she was expected to do well with nothing tangible to show for it.

This dynamic of favorites, darkhorses and also-rans may seem complicated, but how all three forces come together over a two week span is what gives a Grand Slam tournament much of its “epic” qualities. While the field may decrease with each passing day, the three tiers of triumph help serve both dramatic tennis and compelling stories.

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

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.

Around the Corner: Home Stretch – Valencia and Basel

While the WTA has almost wrapped up its season, the ATP World Tour still has a few more events to go before we have reached the elusive “off season.”

As November is now upon us, the men’s tour will turn this week to two 500 level events in Valencia, Spain and Basel, Switzerland. Let’s have a closer look at what is around the corner at both locations.

Valencia Open 500

Andy Murray returns as defending champion and is also the number on seed this year. Murray has claimed two tournament victories this season, both over Roger Federer, but would no-doubt call 2010 an off year. Still waiting for his first Grand Slam victory, there is really no way for Murray to salvage his year at this point. Anything less than a Slam at this point of his career is a let-down.

Murray opens against lefty Feliciano Lopez and could face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals and then Fernando Verdasco in the semis. Nikolay Davydenko is also in the top-half of the draw as the 6th seed but has been miserable during the second half of the season.

In the bottom half, Mikhail Youzhny is the player to beat the way he has played of late. The Russian played great at the U.S. Open and has followed that up with a victory in Malaysia and a loss in the finals of St. Petersburg just this past week.

Gael Monfils and Robin Soderling will try to emerge from the bottom quarter of the draw.

For any Canadian tennis fans out there, youngster Milos Raonic fell in the first round of qualifying to Pablo Cuevas by a score of 1-6, 6-4, 7-5. Hopes of cracking the top one hundred in the world rankings will have to wait for next year for Raonic.

Swiss Indoor Basel

Former tournament ball boy Roger Federer will be trying for his fourth career title in his hometown. Seeded first, Federer will try to avenge his loss from a year ago to Novak Djokovic. Prior to that result, Federer had won the event three years in a row.

The Swiss great will open against a tricky opponent in Alexandr Dolgopolov. This is the first career meeting between the two and I feel it has upset potential written all over it. Dolgopolov is a talented youngster who has yet to have his break-out moment or victory. He plays a game with a ton of variety, has a deadly serve that is hard to read and displays great touch with his frequent drop-shots. If Roger is not on his game he could find himself in a real battle here.

Beyond Dolgopolov, Federer could face Janko Tipsarevic and Jurgen Melzer in successive matches.

In the second quarter American Andy Roddick will face compatriot Sam Querrey in an entertaining first round. I put this one at 50/50 given Roddick’s questionable health of late. David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic are also lurking in this difficult section of the draw.

In the bottom half, look for number two seed Djokovic to emerge to the finals. It would be great to see him and Fed go at it again. The Djoker will have to navigate around big serving John Isner in his quarter, and then potentially Ivan Ljubicic or Tomas Berdych in order to make it back to the finals.

After this week the Paris Masters is on the horizon, followed by a brief hiatus prior to the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. Enjoy the tennis while it is still here and talk to you again next week.

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s Fairy Tale Run at Toray Pacific Open – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Comeback Cut Short – The much-anticipated return of Juan Martin del Potro and his potential third-round clash with Rafael Nadal were quickly derailed as little Ollie Rochus cut down the big Argentine (who stands a foot taller than the Belgian) in straight sets in the opening round of the PTT Thailand Open 7-6 (7), 6-4. Despite the loss, there was still much to cheer about for Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing his first match in eight months. For those lucky enough to see the match, it was apparent that he wasn’t afraid to go after the ball, as he appeared to be clocking many of his ground strokes with the same ferocity that took him to the US Open title. He wasn’t without his chances either, holding a set point in the opening set, though lacking in match play, he can hardly be blamed for feeling a few extra nerves at those crucial moments. But the biggest positive of all is that Juan Martin del Potro reported that his wrist felt perfect at the conclusion of the match and is looking forward to working in another 5-6 tournaments before the 2010 season is officially in the books.

A Very Happy Birthday – Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the interesting storylines over the course of this season, but this week, she was truly one of the feel good stories. Playing in her native Japan, Date Krumm collected one of the biggest scalps in her comeback to-date, taking out defending champion Maria Sharapova in three sets on the eve of her 40th birthday. Bouncing back from her grueling victory, she then celebrated her birthday by defeating Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova was forced to retire with a shoulder injury down 0-4 in the third set. Sadly, Date Krumm’s fairytale run came to a halt at the hands of 2010 Roland Garros Champion Francesca Schiavone, but keep an eye on the Japanese veteran. The odds are still highly stacked against her, and it’s certainly going to take the right kind of field with a little bit of luck, but Date Krumm may just break Billie Jean King’s record and soon become the oldest female to win a title on the WTA Tour.

Proud Papa – Struggling with knee injuries, the bulk of 2010 has been a nightmare of a year for young Frenchman Gilles Simon, but he’s had much to smile about as of late. He and his fiancée recently celebrated the birth of their first child together, and instead of acting as a further stumbling block to his career, as his fiancée feared it might, the new addition seems to have rejuvenated Simons’ game. He belatedly entered the Metz tournament in his home nation, and with his family there to cheer him on, he rolled to his first title of the season, trouncing Mischa Zverev 3 and 2 in the final. It’s still too early to tell, but hopefully this win means Simon has righted the ship and will once again become the contender he showed promise of over a year ago.

Plight Update – The women of Spain have taken their stand, it appears that the Spanish Tennis Federation has been forced to take notice. In an unprecedented move, the National Tennis Congress stated that there would be an upcoming conference in Pamplona devoted solely to hashing out the issues facing Spanish women’s tennis, including training opportunities for the top players and raising young talents. Of course, it’s too early to see what will or won’t come of this meeting, but it is a positive sign that the Spanish Federation is setting aside the time to seriously take a look at the issues. Given their success in the men’s game, there’s no reason to think that perhaps with a little bit more time and effort, they couldn’t see an increase in success achieved on the women’s side as well.

Injury Report – Foot injuries continue to make headlines as Belgian Kim Clijsters announced that she was forced to pull out of the China Open due to a foot infection she acquired after having a mole removed. This comes on the heels (no pun intended) of Serena Williams also calling off her whole Asian tour as a result of her own foot issues. And on the men’s side, Robby Ginepri will be forced to call off his season early due to a broken arm he sustained from a biking accident. Injuries are never a good thing, but at least these are not related to the length of the season.

Maria Sharapova’s Stay in Tokyo is Short but Sweet

Even though it’s still early in the tournament , the Toray Pan Pacific has been very surprising already so far. Before this tournament started I had high hopes for a good series in Tokyo but Sharapova never really launched at this year’s Toray Pan Pacific. She lost in the first round to WTA Tour veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm.But Sharapova ended up losing in the first round in three sets 7-5 3-6 6-3.

As you may know, Maria Sharapova has been struggling ever since her shoulder surgery back in ’08.  She has won three Grand Slam tourneys but after that operation nothing ever really was the same for Sizzlin’ Sharapova.

Said Date-Krumm: “Playing against a player who used to be number one and the defending champion I knew I had to play my best. I just got back from Korea yesterday and felt really tired but my body felt a little better today.”

And what did Sharapova about her 40 year old opponent:

“It’s incredible,” said Sharapova. “It just shows you how she has stayed in such great shape while away from the game. She is incredibly fit.”

But at least Sharapova had some fun at Kids Day:

And here are some photos of the first round match between Maria Sharapova and Kimiko Date-Krumm

[nggallery id=88]

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.

The LA Open Day 6: Semi Final Saturday

The Beach Boy does it again! Top seed defending champion Sam Querrey fights back yet again, showing some seasoned craftiness, testing his guts to the limit to ward off a match point and set sail for another final at the Farmers Classic LA Open.

It was hotter than yesterday, only by a few degrees, but in tennis everything is margins, inches, nanometers, and things sway by the slightest hitch in the universe, and today was no different. Sam’s opponent was the philosophical, wise beyond his years, Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, who is seeded sixth in the tournament. Janko has a tattoo of the nineteenth century Russian literary giant Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ on his person and when listening to him in the press conference, one gets the impression that tennis isn’t what Janko only thinks about, but when directing his lofty thoughts on the subject can offer an uncanny insight that is concise, just, well articulated (even in English, which isn’t is native tongue), and is devoid of any pretense. Most athletes when interviewed sound like terminator cyborgs, spewing off rehearsed answers to questions without the slightest note of feeling. If you’ve ever seen a Shaquille O’Neal interview, you know what I’m talking about. I walked into the press room and saw Janko seated in his chair at the head of the room with a look of calm discontent. He wasn’t sad, but he wasn’t thrilled either. I was surprised most of all that a player had actually arrived on time for their meeting of the press, a first for the tournament, and when Janko described the match, whereby he lost in a bitterly fought three setter, I was even more surprised to hear the free flowing candor and wisdom come from this young man. “I should not have lost this match,” Janko said, in response to the first question about his feelings, and he didn’t sound bitter or resentful at all, just right to the point and he supported his statement with a play by play account of what he “should” have done. “I was forcing the ball in big points, instead of returning the ball into play. I was going for too much when there really was no need.” The Serbian was steadfast in his assessment of his serve. “My serve was not there at all today. I don’t know what happened. My ground game was good, and I felt I could hit any ball back but my serve completely left me.”

Tipsarevic’s claim to fame was his long five set war with Roger Federer in the Australian Open of 2008 where the holy one barely got by in a grueling fifth set. One of the reporters asked Janko what he thought of Querrey’s game, and the Serbian spoke without hesitation. “I think he has top ten potential. He is a steady top twenty player, but to be top ten you have to have great results at grand slams and masters series events.” I agree with the soft spoken Serb. He should have won the match. But, I also think that Sam Querrey looked about as good as I’ve ever seen him. Aside from a mental snap toward the end of the first set, where a convincing ace registered for Sam was snuffed by the umpire who called it a let, Sam looked like he definitely could be a potential top ten player. His first serve consistently fired in the lower 130’s and even registered in at 139 once, his fastest for the match. His decision making, to my humble eyes, appeared to finally transcend that barrier between novice green to that of touring professional honing his craft and making choices, which have to be made in a matter of seconds, that provide evidence of a steady evolution. Steadiness, movement, well-timed aggression, and the ability to hold back when he needed to, were on display and Querrey even managed to shoot a few smiles toward his SAMURAI posse of shirtless hooligan supporters after a forehand winner or ace up the T. The fact that he has won two matches in a row that he was losing for the majority of the time, shows me that he is ready to make a deep run at a slam.

Murray and Lopez faced off for the second semi-final of the day under the lights, which makes me wonder how Murray will do playing in the hot afternoon sun against a Beach Boy born and bred under these conditions. All of Murray’s matches have been at night, and he managed to wiz past Mr. Beautiful with relative ease, even though he dropped a level yet again after a first set steamroll handing over the second like a platter of potato salad. Lopez was outmatched, outwitted, and out played. I think if he ever wants to be considered a serious threat he needs to acquire a backhand. The slice and dice game just won’t cut it against top players. Neither will the profile of Adonis. You relinquish too much control with the slice, and if it’s not picture perfect Roger Federeresque, you’re offering up a tee shot for your opponent. Murray was quick to pounce on the mismanagement of the Lopez slice, and turned a second set let down to a third set triumph.

Dare I make a prediction? But of course… Sam in three. The defending champion repeats. I will be there for finals Sunday, please join me at tennisgrandstand.com for all the latest.

The LA Open Day Five

Quarterfinal day at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles and the big names were all tested. Querrey, the defending champion, not known for his ability to muster comebacks, and has yet to prove that he has the heart of a potential champion, looked to be on the brink of defeat against German senior citizen Rainer Scheuttler. Rainer’s biggest run at a tournament came in 2008 when he climbed the ladder of impossibility and made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon losing to a red hot Rafa in straights. Since then, the icy German has been culminating some matches in the win column demanding respect from all the players on tour; a bona fide danger opponent swimming through the draws.

Querrey, who looks as though he would have fit perfectly as a member of the Beach Boys, slumbered around the court with a Kermit the Frog mouth that is perpetually shaped in a half smile, won the first set decisively, utilizing his big serve and capitalizing on break opportunities. He looked to be too much for the German. I expected the second set to be a repeat. But I was wrong again, as I have been for most of this tournament. Scheuttler gained some rhythm and began to feel out Querrey’s serve, and broke the top seeded American, leveling the match at a set a piece. Scheuttler continued to pound pressure on the American’s serve and had a perfect opportunity late in the third to close out the match. Then the ever elusive mistress of momentum shifted once again, as Querrey fought back. “I was pretty frustrated the whole time, but I did a great job of playing the 5-4 and 6-5 games,” said Querrey. “I played great points on those games and really battled back well.” The world no. 20 Querrey gained a mini-break lead in the third and took the match. He will next face Tipsarevic in the semis.

Andy Murray faced a trial on Friday night when he faced a streaky player, possibly a future top twenty player, Alejandro Falla who bounced back Thursday after being down a set to upset Ernests Gulbis. The top seeded Murray entered the Farmers Classic with his very first visit to the City of Angels, and has played both his matches under the lights. The first set was tight, with both players feeling each other out. Falla told reporters yesterday, when asked what he thought his chances were against the world number four, that he felt good about his chance to beat the top Brit. “I know I can play against these type of players. I played great against Federer at Wimbledon.” It appeared that Falla was intimidated by the spotlight and almost edged out Murray, who saved three set points to finally take the first set in a tiebreaker. The second seat was a steam roll, as Falla showed signs of fatigue, being run around the court by the craft and variety of Murray, who slammed the second set 6-1. “I feel much better than I did yesterday,” said Murray. “I had the same sort of thing earlier in this year after the Australian Open when I didn’t play for a few weeks. Then I played in Dubai, I was really sore after the first match, and then each match after that I started to feel a lot better. Hopefully that’ll be the case here.” Murray will next play Feliciano Lopez in the semi-finals, someone he has beaten twice in a row. The odds are in favor of a Querrey vs. Murray final, but don’t ask me. The way this tournament is going I need to take my crystal ball to the mechanic.

Tennis People – Murray And Federer Looking At New Coaches, Del Potro May Make US Open And Golubev Another “Tennis First”

*World No. 4 Andy Murray and coach Miles Maclagan have parted ways after nearly three years working together. Maclagan has always been reportedly uneasy with Murray’s insistence on keeping Alex Corretja as an advisor although the split is reported to be amicable. “I’ve had a great relationship with Miles over the past two-and-a-half years and I want to thank him for his positive contribution to my career,” said Murray. “We have had a lot of success and fun working together.” Maclagan said of the situation: “It’s been a privilege to work with Andy as his coach and I’m happy to have played my part in his career. I also want to thank the team for all their hard work over the years and I will miss working with them and Andy on a day-to-day basis. Andy is a great player and I know he will continue to have the success his talent and hard work deserves.” Murray was No. 11 in the world when the pair began working together in 2007 so the success has been plain for all to see. Murray will work with Corretja until the US Open later this year and then review the situation further.

*In other coaching news, Roger Federer is having a trial period working with former Pete Sampras and Tim Henman coach Paul Annacone. Federer is now ranked No. 3 in the world following being knocked out at the quarter final stage of the past two Slams and he said: “I’ve been looking to add someone to my team and I’ve decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone,” Federer told his official website. “As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test period. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences.” An LTA spokesperson told BBC Sport: “As outlined in Roger Federer’s statement, Paul will do a number of days with Roger as he winds down his work with the LTA.”

*The USTA is claiming that defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro is “expected” to return from injury at the US Open finals despite missing much of the year since his miraculous win over Roger Federer in the final. The player’s agent, Ugo Colombini, added that: “Del Potro is working and hopefully he will get back soon.” Del Potro has also spoken out saying he will play the Thailand Open starting September 27 so the three parties are offering differing opinions. “I am looking forward to playing the PTT Thailand Open on my return from injury,” said Del Potro. “I really enjoyed myself on my last visit to Bangkok and hope for good results at this year’s tournament.” World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has also been confirmed for the event.

*There has been yet another “tennis first” for 2010 with Andrey Golubev becoming the first player from Kazakhstan to lift an ATP Tour title by defeating the Austrian Jurgen Melzer in Hamburg. “I’m really excited,” he said. “I can’t believe what happens now in Kazakhstan. I’m really, really happy to make a page in the history of the country. I’m a little bit surprised but I believe in my game on all surfaces so that was the key.” A full interview with the beaming champ can be viewed now over at the ATP website.

*The lineup for the Malaysian Open, beginning September 25, is looking very tantalising. World No. 5 Robin Soderling, Nikolay Davydenko (6), Tomas Berdych (8) and David Ferrer (12) are the main draws. Mikhail Youzhny (14), Nicolas Almagro (18), popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (25) and Aussie Lleyton Hewitt (30) will also be big crowd-pullers.

*Two former World No. 1s have been talking about renewed faith in their games in the women’s game this week. Russian Dinara Safina has admitted that: “players aren’t afraid of me anymore,” in an interview with TennisReporters.net. “Now I have to earn back their respect. Now it’s a new time for me,” she continued. “I’m playing well but you need a breakthrough and in many matches I’m playing, I’m just not closing them up. I’m playing better and trying to win matches, but I need to start to cruise and I’m not there yet.” On the same website, the leaner-looking Serb Ana Ivanovic has been speaking in a similar vein. “I’ve been working a lot on foot work drills and that’s been something in my game that’s been lacking,” she said. “I’m better getting into balls into the corners and that’s important. I feel like I got the joy back like when I was 16 or 17 rather than feeling like I have so much pressure on me,” the 22-year-old continued. “I still think I’m very young. It all comes down to pressure because regardless of my ranking I still have a lot of expectations of myself. If I can reduce that it will be a huge step for me.”

*Maria Sharapova has announced that she is finally overcoming her troublesome shoulder problems and is able to serve with her old service motion more easily. “I knew eventually I would go back, I just didn’t quite know when,” said Sharapova, who underwent shoulder surgery in October 2008. “But I knew that if I was going to come back when I did last year, I had to start with an abbreviated motion. I’m just trying to work myself toward the U.S. Open,” she added. “I’m just happy to be back playing.”

*Jelena Jankovic expects to be fit for next week’s event in San Diego despite twisting her ankle in Portoroz. “Unfortunately, in my second round match, I was up 6-1, 2-0 and went running for a ball and twisted my ankle. I had to retire and I haven’t hit since then. I’m still recovering,” said Jankovic on her website. “I came back to Serbia afterwards and have a whole team of doctors helping me get healthy as fast as possible. I’m hoping to leave for San Diego in the next few days. I love it there. That’s where my new house is going to be. Next year in San Diego, I’ll be playing at home.”

*James Blake is now backtracking on the retirement thoughts he had after exiting Wimbledon following a vast improvement in his knee. “I’ve done a complete 180,” Blake was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. “Wimbledon was a pretty disappointing time. I wasn’t able to train, but now I’m feeling great, the knee is feeling good.”

Bottom of Form

*After the Dane Caroline Wozniacki recently turned 20 years old the mantle of top-ranked teen in the Sony Ericsson WTA rankings falls on the young shoulders of Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The 2006 ITF World Junior Champion took time out of her practice schedule to talk to the WTA website about her life on the circuit. “I was the best in juniors, and then everyone expected me to be the best in the pros quite quickly, which I did also expect,” said the 19-year-old. “But sometimes now I feel juniors doesn’t really matter so much – the real tennis starts after you stop playing those events. It’s a pretty tough step mentally, even for me. You just have to try to handle it and pass it.” You can catch up with the full interview here.

*Former tennis star Roscoe Tanner is reportedly wanted by the authorities once more for failing to pay maintenance on his many children from various relationships. The two-time Aussie Open champ has been in and out of prison over the last decade for various offences and has spent much more time in hiding from the law. A defendant of one of his ex wives said: “Mr. Tanner, I would say, is one of the most difficult people we have ever dealt with, just to comply with basic court orders.” You can see the full report at the American News Channel 9 website.

*In this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings Mardy Fish (No. 35, 14 places), Hamburg winner Andrey Golubev (No. 37, 45) and Florian Mayer (No. 40, 14) have all seen great rises in the rankings. Donald Young of the USA enters the Top 100 at No. 99 as does Pablo Andujar of Spain who leaps 19 places to No. 100.

*There are a few career bests in this week’s Sony Ericsson WTA Rankings following last week’s play. After winning in Bad Gastein, Julia Georges entered the Top 50 for the first time at No. 42 while Timea Bacsinszky, Georges’ victim, is now ranked No. 39, within touching distance of her career best No. 37. Portoroz runner-up Johanna Larsson of Sweden also achieved a career-best No. 66 after leaping from No. 84.

*The hottest player on the ATP Tour right now, Mardy Fish, has revealed it was a mixture of fatigue and an ankle injury which forced him to withdraw from the LA Open this week. “Due to fatigue and a sprained ankle in Atlanta, I am not in good shape to play,” the 28-year-old said in an official statement. “I need to rest in order to compete at a high level.”

*American star James Blake has been answering fans’ questions via the new ATP World Tour Facebook page. Giving his views on the perks of being a pro, his favourite female star and Lady Gaga he gives a range of insights in to his lifestyle. You can see the full Q+A at the ATP website.

Almagro And Montanes Put Spain In Winner’s Circle

Spain continues to reap athletic rewards as the Spanish duo of Nicolas Almagro and Albert Montanes won the two clay-court titles on the ATP Tour this past week.

Montanes defeated Gael Monfils 6-2, 1-2 in Stuttgart before the Frenchman had to retire with a right ankle injury. It was the second title of the year for Montanes.

“I twisted my ankle on the court and it was impossible to finish the match,” said Monfils. ”The week was good. I played pretty good tennis, a lot of confidence came back. To reach a final again was pretty exciting. I had a bad experience (today) but hopefully it will be better soon and I can get back to my best level and try to reach some other finals.”

Meanwhile in Bastad, Sweden, Nicolas Almagro defeated defending champion Robin Soderling in three sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 to capture the SkiStar Swedish Open. Almagro improves to an impressive 6-2 in ATP finals, although one wonders why we don’t see this more often from him on the red clay.

“I didn’t play very well in the 2007 final here, but today I fought very hard and I’m really happy with the physical and mental sides to my game,” said Almagro. “It was a big match, a big fight and we were both battling like gladiators. Robin is a great player and I’m sure he will have many more chances to win this tournament in the future.”

The victories are important for the ranking points that both Spaniards will add to their 2010 totals. With the North American hard-court swing about to start I wouldn’t expect we see any results like this from either player for some time. All of the 11 career titles between them have come on clay.