Dmitry Tursunov

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Insider’s Look at Super Saturday at the Citi Open with Del Potro, Dimitrov, Petkovic

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Set against the backdrop of downtown Washington, D.C., this week’s Citi Open has brought some of tennis’ most recognizable names to the tournament, including Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and the youngest player in the women’s draw, 17-year-old newcomer and American Taylor Townsend.

It was a full schedule on tap with both men’s singles semifinals set on stadium court, along with one women’s semifinal and one men’s doubles semifinal. The rest, including the women’s doubles final, was scheduled on the first grandstand court.

There has been some discussion in player press conferences this week regarding scheduling differences between the men’s and women’s draws, and how the women are not being scheduled as equally on stadium court. It seems though that most players understand why. The men’s event is a 500-level while the women’s is a lower-tiered International-level, and several players — including females — commented that men tend to bring a bigger draw and whoever the tournament believes would be a bigger draw will be the match scheduled on stadium court. Logical enough but still questionable reasoning on some level.

That being said, the men’s doubles semifinal between the pairing of Julien Benneteau and Nenad Zimonjic against University of Virginia alumni and Citi Open defending champions Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, took precedence over the women’s doubles final between 2012 Junior Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles champions Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend and Shuko Aoyama and Vera Dushevina.

In front of a decent-sized crowd, the first-time partnering of Aoyama and Dushevina were crowned champions in women’s doubles.

After the match, the only ones called into press were the runners-up, Bouchard and Townsend, as the media room was mostly empty and at the men’s doubles match. The winners gave no press conference.

With her longer history on tour than her counterpart, Bouchard was visibly disappointed in the presser but still sincere in answering questions. Townsend, on the other hand, looked as if she was on cloud nine. She seemed to have just been excited to reach a pro final and was relishing the moment despite the quick loss. I asked her about the contrast in the presence of young players on tour between the men’s and women’s side and she gave an insightful and rather mature answer.

“I think it’s a lot different for the men than the women,” Townsend replied.”The men mature at an older age and we mature younger. So I think it’s a lot easier for us — at a young age — to hang with the older players because our bodies mature faster. The men are so strong and it takes them a few more years to get caught up to that level, especially to get into that top shape.”

As the first men’s doubles semifinal started between top American John Isner and a newly-resurgent Dmitry Tursunov on stadium court at 3:00pm to looming clouds, doubles partners Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra (and his youngest son, Teo!) took to the practice courts.

As the Bulgarian stretched, a shirtless Llodra kicked a soccer ball around with his 6-year-old son. All week, the youngster could be spotted on the tennis court hitting some impressive shots and his soccer head-butting and kicking skills didn’t disappoint. After Dimitrov finished his stretching, he jumped into the mini-soccer game and ended up losing — happily obliging to do push-ups on court as the loser.

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Heading onto stadium court for Isner-Tursunov, the first set was dead even, and ended up going to a tiebreak. Four exchanges of serve and some patience by the Russian and he got the unexpected upper hand, taking the first set. Tursunov diminished his double faults count from his matches earlier this week, and ran Isner laterally until the American hit long or into the net. On several occasions, Tursunov bullied the American’s backhand before pulling the trigger forcing Isner into an error with a running forehand.

During the changeover, sprinkles began falling but the players decided to continue on without any exchanges with chair umpire Magdi Somat. As the drops increased in intensity during the first game, Isner had a break point on Tursunov’s serve and slipped, slamming a forehand into the net. Instinctively, Isner yelled in the umpire’s general direction and Tursunov had also already began walking towards the chair. Play was called and the players taken inside as the 80-minute rain delay began.

At around 5:00pm, Juan Martin del Potro made an appearance on the practice courts to packed stands on court one. As play was suspended, fans still had the opportunity to enjoy a light hit by the Argentine for about 30 minutes.

Play shortly resumed on stadium court and after breaking Tursunov to go up 4-1, the American took the second set 6-3. The baseline play among both players was incredible to watch. After so many matches between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, you forget how powerful (and consistent and precise) other men on tour can hit, and the two held some extended jaw-dropping rallies. In the end, the American broke Tursunov again to take the final set, 6-4.

DSC_07870001Isner GSM saturday

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Walking back to the media center, I heard loud cheers coming from grandstand court and realized that the other men’s doubles semifinal went on at the same time as the singles match on stadium. That’s one of the problems with a rain delay — you don’t quite always get to watch everything you hope to. Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek took out fan favorites, Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra, and with that, the Citi Open crowds will have American men in both the men’s singles and doubles finals. On the opposite side of the grounds on grandstand court two, women’s semifinalist Andrea Petkovic was practicing in front of a small group of fans.

At 7:20pm, Isner walked into press with ice on both knees for precautionary reasons. He’s one of the few to constantly have ice on some joint on his body so it’s not so much a surprise anymore.

Ten minutes later, the Isner presser was completed, and as we looked to the TV in the media center, we saw that Tommy Haas had just broken Juan Martin del Potro to go up 3-1 – a bit of early trouble for the two-time tournament champion.

Without much of a breather, Tursunov commenced his low-key presser, where he analyzed his loss but felt there really weren’t any holes in his game. A pretty fair analysis as he never once held break point, but stayed in the match much of the time.

As I prepared to go out and finally watch the Del Potro – Haas match, I realized the score was frozen at 4-1. Of course, another rain delay.

I looked at the live scoreboard and noticed that the women’s semifinal between Magdalena Rybarikova and Ekaterina Makarova was still going on though, and questioned what was going on. Rybarikova went on to win three games in a matter of minutes before play was finally suspended. But I guess the weather can be funny sometimes!

During the nearly three hour rain delay, the illustrious third edition of the “Citi Open Rain Delay Media Spelling Bee” commenced, where contestants had to correctly spell various ATP and WTA player names within the top 200. What started out with eight people in the first few minutes grew to nearly 20 and included photographers, bloggers, long-time wire writers, event staff and even Tour staff. Thanks to gracious contestant Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover, we have footage of Ben Rothenberg’s winning moment, having successfully defended his title from 2012.

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The tournament media staff had some fun and sweetly made the winner his own notable trophy. How thoughtful!

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The Del Potro – Haas match continued with the Argentine quickly picking up momentum, and later in press admitting that the rain delay helped him. Haas, conversely, came into press and was quite short, stating he was “aggravated and annoyed” during the rain delay and it reflected in his straight set loss, 7-6(4), 6-3.

Despite the lateness of the hour — the men’s semi had finished at 12:15AM — there had been no earlier talk of opening up play of the second women’s semifinal on a third court. Instead, Alize Cornet and Andrea Petkovic were set to follow on whichever court had finished first. Inevitably, organizers seemed to have waited to see if the men’s semi would finish shortly after the first women’s semi would, and they were lucky.

At 12:35AM, the second women’s semi finally took place to a crowd of still several hundred people. The sheer match ups of Cornet and Petkovic’s style could have made this match the highlight of the women’s draw so far, but the lateness of the hour prevented it from reaching grand proportions. However, both ladies impressed with full court-coverage, suspenseful rallies and looked — incredibly enough — quite fresh.

After being down 3-0, then getting broken twice while serving for the set, Petkovic finally took the first set, 7-5. She then made quick work of the French woman, taking it 6-3 in the second and delighting the crowd with her famous “Petko Dance.”

Petko dancing

The evening finally ended at an “early” 2:15AM, with the women’s singles final scheduled for exactly 15 hours later. Talk about a quick recovery for both ladies!

Back Into the Top 50: The Resurgence of Dmitry Tursunov

DSC_01470001Dimitry Tursnov friday-2

DSC_01470001Dimitry Tursnov fridayWASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly twenty years ago, Dmitry Tursunov stepped off the plane from Russia, ready to take on the tennis world at the tender age of twelve. His father was determined to make a tennis champion in the family and the talented Tursunov obliged with a move to the United States.

Despite rising to a career-high ranking of world No. 20 in 2006, it wasn’t always an easy road for the Russian as he was forced off tour multiple times with injuries and surgeries, and a strained relationship with his father did not help his confidence.

Tursunov himself calls his career a bit of a “rollercoaster,” but his most memorable win came against an American great in 2006, as he won 17-15 in a fifth set.

“Most people might say that the highlight of my career was beating Andy Roddick on clay during Davis Cup — on a surface he doesn’t really like,” joked Tursunov exclusively to Tennis Grandstand. “But it was a good match for the fans and it had a lot of suspense.”

After breaking into the top 100 exactly ten years ago, it was another three years before the Russian’s ranking steadied within the top 40. Over the next three years, he won six tournaments and defeated a top 10 opponent on seven occasions. At about this time, injuries started to creep in and they took him out of the game as he fell outside of the top 500.

“With every injury, you also have doubts, and the last couple of injuries have been probably more difficult than the first ones,” admitted Tursunov. “They always give you a scare and you’re never sure if you’re going to be or not going to be playing again. But for some reason the last couple [of injuries] were kind of hard to get through.”

The expectation with injury recovery among athletes is that once your body has healed, you will be able to return to your previous prime quite quickly. But that is rarely the case and often times you begin to question your game.

“When you’re coming back [from injury], that’s the hardest thing,” Tursunov continued. “Because when you’re coming back, you don’t have much confidence in anything. You’re constantly in doubt and you’re taking bad results closer to the heart … When you’re taking hits and you’re down, it’s a lot harder to get through those. You just suck it up or call it quits.

Despite his rocky time with the sport, the Russian who now trains in California never doubted his place in tennis.

“I felt there is not much I could do outside of tennis … As much as I sometimes hate being on court when I’m not playing well, I understand that it’s much better than being in the ‘real world’ and having a 9-to-5 job … I would rather be a player on tour than even a coach.”

Tursunov got his start on a tennis court at a very early age, under the careful tutelage of his father.

“[My father] had a tremendous belief in me from the very beginning,” stated Tursunov. “He put 150% of his energy into my tennis. Any money he had was not going to the family, it was going to my tennis. He essentially gambled quite a lot on my tennis.”

With a father so involved with his budding career, it was only inevitable that this strained their own relationship off the court.

“I had a difficult relationship with my dad because of tennis,” commented Tursunov. “Tennis was basically the link that bonded us together. And for a very long time, when I was practicing – when I was little – I didn’t see myself as anything other than a tennis player because it was so engrained into my lifestyle. There was no speculation about what I would become when I’m older. Everything was around tennis.”

If this story sounds familiar, you might be right.

Andre Agassi, in his book “Open,” also heavily commented on the difficult relationship he had with his own father on the tennis court, and many aspects of his and Tursunov’s relationships run in parallel.

“Some people might say that he vicariously lived through me, but as a parent, I don’t really believe you think of it this way. You always want your child to succeed,” stated Tursunov. “I also don’t believe my dad abused our relationship and dynamics, like some press have said.”

He continued: “Yes, he was fanatical about it. … If anything, I wish that we had found a common ground earlier. … The last few years, he finally started asking me about life outside of tennis and how I’m doing.”

With his father’s passing last year, Tursunov is playing with a renewed determination. Though he admits to “wearing [his] emotion on [his] sleeve” on court and often being quite negative, his new coach repeatedly reminds him to be more optimistic and positive, and it seems to be resulting in some good wins.

This year already, Tursunov has defeated two top-10 opponents, including David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic, and just this week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. he ousted 2011 champion Radek Stepanek and tournament fifth seed Gilles Simon. His ascension back to world No. 61 has been a sweet affair, and his semifinal appearance this week will propel him back up to at least No. 43 in the rankings.

At thirty years old, Tursunov is now near the twilight of his tennis career, but he finds inspiration in a fellow ATP player who has defied age stereotypes.

“Tommy Haas is giving a lot of hope to all of us to play far into our thirties,” stated Tursunov. “I think in general you can see the trend of older players playing longer into their careers … I’d like for the last two to three years of my career – whenever that may be – to really make it count. Not just win one, two rounds but win tournaments.”

With his semifinal against John Isner at the Citi Open on Saturday, there may be no better time than now to announce his comeback.

Citi Open Friday Gallery: Cornet, Tursunov, Petkovic and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friday at the Citi Open brought plenty of good tennis action to the District of Columbia. Players in the gallery below include Angelique Kerber, Dmitry Tursunov, Marinko Matosevic, Alize Cornet, Andrea Petkovic, Magdalena Rybarikova and more!

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

Fashion Review: Fila Introduces Stylish, Durable and Comfortable New Tennis Shoe, The Sentinel

Julia Goerges Fila Sentinel_1

(June 21, 2013) Long time tennis and sports brand Fila has just released its first tennis shoe in years, the Sentinel, and we at Tennis Grandstand were given a sneak peak into the brand’s newest creation.

Fila has marketed the Sentinel as a “modern silhouette with comfort, durability and traction in mind and engineered to endure the rigors of match play” for all levels of tennis players, from juniors to professional. I’ve been on the market for a good tennis shoe, so naturally I wanted to test it out for myself.

(Available directly from Fila.com for $100, shop the women’s or men’s Sentinel shoe now.)

Fila Sentinel shoe review, Tipsarevic, Goerges, Jankovic, Tursunov

When I first took my white/Hawaiian ocean blue test pair out of the box, I was immediately captivated. The sleek lines, seamless pattern shifts of the varying mesh materials, and incorporation of color were perfectly in balance. By the look and feel alone, it felt like a sturdy and durable shoe. Design-wise, this is one of my favorite shoes on the market currently, and it comes in three color combinations for women and four for men. Time to put it on and really test it out!

Style – 5/5 stars

***

Fila Sentinel Shoe review_1My feet haven’t always easily and comfortably fit into all the differing Nike and adidas tennis shoes on the market over the years. So, when I put these bad boys on for the first time, it fit like a glove. The inside cushioning has a slight upward deflection around the heel area, as well as the inner and outer arches, allowing your feet to almost mold with the design. The cushioning also has a slight give, letting your feet rest comfortably in the shoe.

Taking my new kicks out onto the tennis courts, I was ready to play. Running up and back, and laterally, I felt that there was sufficient room for my feet to be comfortable, and nothing was pinching. The tongue also has an internal elastic strap, which prevents it from moving around, and it was a really nice addition. By the end of match play, my feet didn’t feel tired or cramped, and I could still feel the welcome extra cushioning of the memory foam lined heel collar.

Comfort – 5/5 stars, but I would like to give it more stars!

***

Fila Sentinel Shoe review_2The true test of any shoe is not only comfort, but for the tennis-centered mind, a durable shoe that performs well and let’s you play your tennis as opposed to hindering or distracting you.

The modified herringbone outersole provided good traction on the hard courts, and though Fila offers a 6-month guarantee on it, based on my use, I would expect a longer life than that for the average club player. The extra toe protection that Fila also incorporated doesn’t overwhelm visually, but gives those who like to slide, enough material to do so without wearing the shoe down quickly. The same goes for the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) support on the sides of the shoe, which provides good foot stability, as well as durability for sliding or quick stops. My movement didn’t feel hindered by the shoe in any way, and it is lightweight measuring at around 12.3 ounces for the women’s shoes, and 14.6 ounces for the men’s shoes. The shoe is also fairly true to fit, not really expanding with use, and if anything, is perhaps a half-size big.

Performance – 5/5 stars

***

Truth be told, I was really trying hard to find something wrong with this shoe over time because it seemed too good to be true. But I failed miserably in my endeavor. The durability, comfort, breathability, style and performance of the Sentinel were worth the wait since Fila’s last tennis shoe years ago.

The Fila tennis pros themselves have already been testing out the Sentinel for months now, so don’t take my word for it. See what Janko Tipsarevic, Andreas Seppi, Julia Goerges, Dmitry Tursunov and Marina Erakovic have to say!

Janko Tipsarevic
“Tennis shoes are very important to professional players. It is important that the shoe is lightweight so we can be quick on our feet, yet stable so we do not slip or slide on court. The Sentinel feels low to the ground without sacrificing comfort and cushioning.  The traction is excellent and the shoe is very durable for the hours that I put in on the tennis court.  All in all, this is my favorite Fila tennis shoe in recent years.”

Andreas Seppi
“I have been wearing the Sentinel since late last year and I really like the shoe because they are light, extremely durable and very comfortable on-court. The Sentinel is now my favorite Fila shoe that I have worn in all the years we have been together on tour!”

Julia Goerges
“The Sentinel is very light, but at the same time, the shoe is very stable which is important for your ankles! It is so comfortable wearing these shoes!”

Dmitry Tursunov
“I have been wearing this shoe during the clay court season and it’s an extremely lightweight shoe but this benefit does not come at the cost of comfort. The Sentinel is very stable and gives good feedback. It’s one of the best shoes Fila introduced in recent years.”

Marina Erakovic
“The Sentinel is very lightweight, supportive and has great cushioning, but my favorite thing about the Sentinel is the secure fit on my feet. I don’t think about slipping or rolling because the Sentinel is so stable on my feet.”

Roland Garros Rewind: Memorable Moments from a Rainy Day 3

For the second straight day, a home hope survived a thriller on Chatrier.

Welcome back for the overview of a rainy Tuesday in Paris, where a shortened order of play unfolded.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The first two days had featured plenty of five-setters but no matches that reached 6-6 in the fifth set.  On a non-televised court, journeymen Ivan Dodig and Guido Pella finally produced the first overtime of the tournament.  Dodig deserves the lion’s share of the credit, for he trailed by two sets to one, trailed by a break early in the fifth set, and saved a break point at 5-5.  Pella then escaped a situation when he stood two points from defeat and eventually earned the decisive break at 10-10.

Comeback of the day:  Nobody rallied from two sets down to win, so this award goes to Mikhail Youzhny for winning three relatively routine sets after dropping the first frame to Pablo Andujar.  Consecutive semifinals in Madrid and Nice had ranked the Spaniard among the tournament’s dark horses, whereas Youzhny usually struggles on clay.

Surprise of the day:  Bookended by two 9-7 tiebreaks was Dmitry Tursunov’s straight-sets upset of Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Tursunov had stunned David Ferrer on Barcelona clay last month to continue an encouraging early 2013, but he had lost a two-tiebreak match to Dolgopolov in Munich.  The mercurial Ukrainian fell in the first round for the second straight major.

Gold star:  Playing with the initials of two deceased friends on his shoes, the 20-year-old Jack Sock won the first Roland Garros match of his career.  Sock knocked off veteran Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets despite his relative inexperience on clay.

Silver star:  Another Spanish dark horse in the same section as Andujar, Fernando Verdasco cruised through an uncharacteristically uneventful victory over local hope Marc Gicquel.  A path to the second week or even the quarterfinals could lie open for Verdasco if he maintains this form (always a big “if”).

Last stand of the day:  Trailing two sets to love against much superior clay talents, Thiemo De Bakker and Vasek Pospisil won third-set tiebreaks to extend their matches.  De Bakker would lose a tight fourth set just before darkness, while Pospisil parlayed the momentum into an early fourth-set lead that he will carry into Wednesday’s completion.  We’re curious to see if he can come all the way back.

Americans in Paris:  Counterbalancing Sock’s breakthrough was the disappointment suffered by the recipient of the Roland Garros reciprocal wildcard, Alex Kuznetsov.  After he had toiled through three April challengers to earn this main-draw entry, Kuznetsov lost to unheralded Frenchman Lucas Pouille.  Still, he should feel proud of earning the wildcard for its own sake rather than as a means to an end.

Question of the day:  Four men retired from first-round matches in singles on Tuesday, a high number for a single day.  Did the increase of prize money for first-round losers dissuade players from withdrawing who knew that they were unfit to compete?

WTA:

Match of the day:  A former semifinalist at Roland Garros, Marion Bartoli survived 12 double faults (not a shocking quantity for her these days) in a three-hour drama on Court Philippe Chatrier.  Having propelled Monfils to victory the day before, the Paris crowd redoubled its energies to help the top-ranked Frenchwoman edge Olga Govortsova.  Bartoli struck fewer winners and more unforced errors than her opponent, won fewer total points, and failed to achieve all three of the supposed “keys” that the IBM Slamtracker identified for her.  Tennis is a strange sport sometimes.

Comeback of the day:  None.  The woman who won the first set won every match, and only two of ten completed matches reached a third set.

Oddity of the day:  After rain postponed the majority of the women’s singles schedule, top-eight seeds Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova will not make their Roland Garros 2013 debuts until Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament.  Azarenka opens play on Chatrier at 11 AM after organizers had scheduled her to end play on Chatrier today.

Gold star:  Les bleus may have struggled today, but les bleues more than compensated.  While Guillaume Rufin and Florent Serra fell, and Benoit Paire dropped his first set in an incomplete match, Strasbourg champion Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic followed Bartoli into the second round.

Silver star:  Three times a Roland Garros semifinalist, Jelena Jankovic started her 2013 campaign in promising fashion by winning a tight two-setter from Daniela Hantuchova.  Jankovic saved set points in the second set when another of her tortuous three-setters loomed.  Her ability to close bodes well for her future here in a year when she has shone sporadically on clay.

Statement of the day:  Kimiko Date-Krumm stood little chance from the outset against the weaponry of Samantha Stosur, who bludgeoned everyone’s favorite old lady in 64 minutes.  Stosur needed just 21 of those minutes to serve a first-set bagel, extending her streak of consecutive matches with at least one bagel or breadstick to four.

Americans in Paris:  After the undefeated record to which they soared on Monday, Tuesday brought everyone back to earth with a salutary if unwanted dose of reality.  Coco Vandeweghe and Lauren Davis each ate first-set bagels en route to losses, although Vandeweghe did swipe a set from 2012 quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova.  On the other hand, neither Vandeweghe nor Davis ranks among the front ranks of American prospects.

Question of the day:  Could Bartoli’s victory become the moment that turns her season around?

 

Sony Open In Photos: Robson, Tursunov win, Lisicki, Putintseva, Sock out

Laura Robson Sony Open_600

MIAMI, FL (March 21, 2013) — Wednesday at the Sony Open was filled with great three-set wins, tumultuous matches and even some rain. Here is your full breakdown of results and a “best shots of the day” gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy at bottom.

Notable winners on Wednesday:

WTA
Donna Vekic (CRO) d Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 76(4) 60
Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) d Mallory Burdette (USA) 62 64
Laura Robson (GBR) d Camila Giorgi (ITA) 62 46 63
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) d Shahar Peer (ISR) 46 61 64
Simona Halep (ROU) d Sabine Lisicki (GER) 62 36 75
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) d Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 62 64
Madison Keys (USA) d Allie Kiick (USA) 60 60

ATP
[WC] L Hewitt (AUS) d J Sousa (POR) 61 76(3)
[Q] D Tursunov (RUS) d [Q] T Smyczek (USA) 76(4) 75
M Llodra (FRA) d B Paire (FRA) 76(7) 62
[WC] J Blake (USA) d R Harrison (USA) 62 62
J Melzer (AUT) d R Berankis (LTU) 36 63 76(1)
L Rosol (CZE) d G Muller (LUX) 75 64
S Devvarman (IND) d E Donskoy (RUS) 46 76(5) 62

No Mirage Are These Four: ATP Indian Wells Draw Preview

Federer couldn't defend Rotterdam or Dubai, but can he cling to Indian Wells?

For the first time since Wimbledon 2012, all of the Big Four convene at the same tournament.  We take a detailed look at a balanced Indian Wells ATP draw.

First quarter:  Twice a champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic brings a perfect 2013 record to the desert following titles at the Australian Open and Dubai.  Having faced Federer at neither tournament, he could face the Federer facsimile Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.  While his one-handed backhand certainly spurs thoughts of the Swiss star, this young Bulgarian continues to alternate encouraging results (Brisbane final) with disappointing setbacks (first-round loss in Melbourne).  The towering serve of Isner ultimately undid Djokovic in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, and Querrey’s similar game toppled him at the Paris Indoors last fall.  Now the Serb can eye an opportunity for revenge in the fourth round, where he could meet the latter and will hope to stay mentally sturdier than he did against Isner here.  A higher-ranked potential opponent does loom in Juan Monaco, but the world #14 has not won a match this year outside the Davis Cup as injuries have sapped his confidence.  Among the intriguing first-round matches in this section is serving leviathan Karlovic against future American star and forehand howitzer Jack Sock.

Winless against the top eight from the start of 2012 until last month, Tsonga may have gained confidence from finally snapping that skid against Berdych in the Marseille final.  On the other hand, he also lost immediately in Rotterdam to an unheralded opponent and thus still seems less trustworthy than most of those ranked around him.  Rarely has he made an impact on Indian Wells, outside a near-upset over Nadal in 2008, but his draw looks accommodating through the first few rounds.  Returning American Mardy Fish, a former finalist here, surely cannot sustain the level of tennis necessary to discomfit Tsonga at this stage of his comeback if they meet in the third round.  In the opposite side of this eighth lies Milos Raonic, tasked with outslugging the more balanced but less intimidating Marin Cilic in the third round.  Lesser players of note in this area include French serve-volleyer Michael Llodra, who upset Tsonga in Dubai, and Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, who has not won a match since stunning Nadal there.  Although Tsonga obtained considerable success early in his career, his results against him have tapered so sharply of late that one might think Raonic the sterner test for the Serb.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

Second quarter:  Assigned probably the smoothest route of any top-four man, Murray cannot expect much resistance at a tournament where he reached the final four years ago.  Nevertheless, early losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his last two appearances illustrated the Scot’s struggle to recover from his annual late-round disappointment in Australia.  Murray will want to bounce back more smoothly this time on a slow hard court that suits his counterpunching so well.  Looming in the fourth round is Memphis champion Kei Nishikori, who faces a potentially edgy opening test in Tursunov.  Resuscitating his career in February, the Russian reached the Marseille semifinals as a qualifier and qualified for this draw as well.  The mercurial Dolgopolov, the second-most notable player whom Murray could face in the fourth round, has floundered throughout 2013 and probably lacks the steadiness to threaten either Murray or Nishikori.

Of all the seeds whom he could have faced in the third round, Del Potro surely would have wished to avoid Australian Open nemesis Jeremy Chardy.  The Frenchman receded into obscurity again after reaching the quarterfinals there, but he may hold the mental edge over Del Potro should each win his opener.  Not since his first appearance in the desert five years ago, though, has the Tower of Tandil tumbled to anyone other than Federer or Nadal, and he has taken care of business against lower-ranked players with impressive consistency over the last year.  One of the most compelling third rounds in the men’s draw could pit Almagro against Haas in a clash of exquisite one-handed backhands and volatile shot-making arsenals.  The eleventh-seeded Spaniard has produced an early 2013 campaign inspiring and deflating in equal measure, but his Australian Open quarterfinal (nearly a semifinal) reminded viewers what a threat he can pose away from clay with his underrated serve.  Accustomed to wearing down mentally dubious opponents, Murray should handle either Almagro or Haas with ease, and he compiled a flawless hard-court record against Del Potro even during the latter’s 2009 heights.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Third quarter:  The section without any member of the Big Four often offers the most notable storylines of the early rounds, although Ferrer succeeded in living up to his top-four seed at both of the majors where he has held it.  Never at his best in the desert, however, he may find his transition from clay to hard courts complicated by the two towering servers whom he could face at the outset in Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling.  The latter upset Tsonga and nearly Cilic last month, while the former started the year impressively by reaching the second week of the Australian Open before injury sidelined him.  Curiously, the fourth round might hold a less formidable test for Ferrer because his grinding game matches up more effectively to the two seeds projected there, Simon or Kohlschreiber.  The quirky Benoit Paire and the lanky lefty from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, add some individuality to an otherwise monochrome section, as does the invariably entertaining but terminally fading Verdasco.

Berdych may loom above the opposite eighth, considering his two February finals in strong fields at Marseille and Dubai.  But an equally intriuging storyline may come from Jerzy Janowicz, still attempting to find his footing in the crucial post-breakthrough period when players encounter scrutiny for which they are not yet prepared.  The next several months could prove critical for Janowicz in consolidating his seeded status, and he will deserve credit if he emerges from a neighborhood filled with diverse talent.  Nalbandian could await in his opener, and the trio of Bellucci, Tomic, and Gasquet will vie for the right to face the Pole in the third round.  Twice a titlist in 2013 already, the last of that trio has retained his top-ten ranking for a long time without scording a signature victory.  Such a win could come in the quarterfinals if he can solve Berdych, unlikely to expend much energy before that stage against the likes of Troicki and Florian Mayer.  The heavier serve of the Czech should propel him through on a hard court, though, as it should against a fourth seed who has not played as crisply this year as his results suggest.

Semifinalist:  Berdych

Fourth quarter:  Defending champion Federer can anticipate his first quarterfinal meeting with archrival Nadal in the history of their rivalry, but a few obstacles await before then.  Like Del Potro, the second seed probably drew the least auspicious third-round opponent imaginable in Benneteau, who nearly upset him at Wimbledon last year and succeeded in finishing the job at Rotterdam last month.  Federer obtained avenge for a February 2012 setback against Isner at Indian Wells a month later, so he can seek similar revenge this year.  A rematch of last year’s final beckons against Isner himself in the fourth round, although little about the American’s recent form can infuse his fans with confidence that he even can reach that stage.  Much more consistent this year is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss #2 who played the most thrilling match of the Australian Open against Djokovic and backed it up with a February final.  This section also features the most curious match on Thursday, an encounter between the battered Hewitt and the one-match wonder Lukas Rosol that should offer a clash of playing styles and personalities.  Despite falling short of the final in his first three tournaments, Federer looks fully capable of sealing his side of the rendezvous with Nadal.

Not in much greater doubt is Rafa’s side of that appointment, for he could face no opponent more intimidating that Tipsarevic through the first four rounds.  Young American Ryan Harrison looks set to become Nadal’s first hard-court opponent of 2013 (exhibitions aside), and his woeful results of the last several months intersect with a non-competitive effort against Djokovic in Melbourne to suggest a lack of confidence fatal here.  While Youzhny has enjoyed several successes and near-successes against the Spaniard before, the Russian has left his prime several years behind him and lacks the power to outhit him for a full match.  Hampered by injuries recently, the ninth-seeded Tipsarevic never has tested Nadal in their previous meetings and should count himself lucky to reach that projected meeting.  The Serb’s current four-match losing streak could reach five in an opener against lefty serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez or Delray Beach champion Gulbis, who carries a ten-match winning streak of his own.  Either the winner of that first-round meeting or the unpredictable Baghdatis seems a safer bet than Tipsarevic to meet Nadal one match before Federer.  Afterwards, the Swiss should repeat his victory in their semifinal last year.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Check out the companion piece that we wrote yesterday to preview the women’s draw if you enjoyed this article.

Muscles, sweat, and skin: players’ funny practices

Sweeting

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic has been flooded this week with players from all around the world as they compete to pocket a cool $264,000 and 500 ranking points.  I’ll catch you up on all the intricate behind-the-scenes happenings and special events so far this week.

If there’s one partnership of players you should catch practicing together on court, it’s the duo of Bulgarian 20-year-old Grigor Dimitrov and his headband-wearing Russian comrade Dmitry Tursunov. Their off-court friendship translates into pure comedy gold on-court for the fans.

Dimitrov is at his highest ATP ranking of #57 and claimed two junior grand slam titles in 2008, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He is best known for his fluid strokes and one-handed backhand reminiscent of Roger Federer’s, and is often likened unto him. Tursunov, on the other hand, is a veteran, having turned pro in 2000. He quickly ascended up the rankings before succumbing to an ankle injury that required surgery and took him off the circuit for eight months. Even with his bumpy road back since 2010, he’s currently sitting comfortably at #45, and he displays that confidence on court.

The two players chatted up a storm, with Dimitrov’s coach Peter McNamara joining in on the fun and giving his pupil the nickname “Muscles,” while calling Tursunov “Mother.” What makes the exchange even better is that McNamara has a thick Australian accent, and well, everything sounds cooler in Australian. Between the smiles and teasing, the two had their serious moments as they got frustrated when they sent a ball long or shanked it into the net.

At one point, because Tursunov was sweating through his blonde curls, he planted a bright red headband on his head and called himself “Justin” joking how he looked like Timberlake. A few indecent nicknames were exchanged. For a full recap and video, click over to Rachel’s post from OnTheGoTennis.

Dimitrov also enjoyed a funny and engaging practice with Tommy Haas out on Stadium Court. Dimitrov seems to thrive off of the attention and there are some candid rundowns and goof-ups below:

Speaking of quirky headbands, American Phillip Simmonds was sporting the look on court yesterday as well. Think Tursunov would approve?

Also practicing on court two days in a row together were Farmers’ Classic semifinalists Ryan Harrison and Alex Bogomolov, Jr., who are both having breakthrough years. Harrison warmed up by throwing around a football and then jumped on court for an intensive hit. To see his forehand in person is revelatory to his unique style of play. His swing and follow-through are especially distinctive with a quick, almost unnatural, motion. But it gets the job done, as he is currently plowing his way through reaching #82 in the rankings.

Last year’s champion, Argentine David Nalbandian, was also on court hitting with Nikolay Davydenko in the hot afternoon sun. Equipped in a neon yellow t-shirt, he was looking noticeably fitter and moving much better than last year. With his uncanny feel for the ball and perfectly-placed backhand, he is again one that players need to watch out for. He won as a wildcard last year after being off tour for several months due to a right leg injury, and this year is primed to be an even better one for him.

24-year-old American Ryan Sweeting hasn’t had any big runs at the grand slams yet, but he’s steadily climbed to a career-high #65 in the world this week. If his physique is any testament, the hard work must be paying off on the court. He was seen practicing against John Isner and hitting the ball exceptionally well. As a fun tidbit, I spotted two tattoos, one on each oblique spelling out two very distinctive concepts. The more captivating one spells out the word MAYHEM within the whole of the tattoo: siMplicity, peAce, Youth, Hope, lovE, and memories, while the second one stands for “blood, sweat and tears.”

Catch more of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic as I cover it live all week. Follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information and photos! @TennisRomi

ATP Tidbits – Nike, Adidas, Dunlop Player Parties, Players Complain of US Open Transportation, and Slow-mo Power-Hitting Beauties

Publicity was the name of the game this past week as players, sponsors and fans got ready for the official kick-off of the 2010 US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY. It began with another humorous ATP player joining the twitterverse while others complained of the US Open transportation. The week also featured three player/celebrity events and were held by Nike, Adidas and Dunlop. It was then concluded with Arthur Ashe Kids Day this past Saturday. During the madness, a slow-motion video made by the New York Times of current top WTA players was erected, displaying both the power and elegance in today’s game.

Dmitry Tursunov, hilarious twitter addict

The newest addition to twitter is none other than funnyman Dmitry Tursunov. Known for his tennis, killer physique and DJing skills, he now admits to quickly becoming a fan of twitter. He calls it “dedication” to his online “minions.” We call it an addiction, but same result.


When he was first learning to ‘retweet’ and ‘reply’ to people through twitter, Brad Gilbert was the first unsuccessful target. Gilbert said that “it’s all about the shoes” in an outfit, referring to Tursunov’s tweet jokingly stating that his own was a scandalous one at the US Open. Tursunov tried to respond to Gilbert by saying he’ll wear speedos and bow-ties, but it came out all wrong. I would try to describe what happened next, but Tursunov’s humor is A+. Take a look for yourself (start from the bottom of the picture and read up in chronological order). Try not to laugh at his humor and “genius”. I dare you!

Thank goodness for one of his “minions” giving him tips on how to retweet and reply to others. This will go down as a classic example of why player’s shouldn’t go ‘coachless.’ Catch Dmitry Tursunov at http://twitter.com/tursunovtales.

Players complain about US Open transportation via Twitter

The US Open is full of glitz and glam, so players should be able to get whatever their hearts desire, right? Wrong. Janko Tipsarevic opened up a Pandora’s box of sorts concerning US Open transportation services for players. Clearly frustrated and on a rain-filled day in New York, he tweeted that the “US Open is not givin car transportation to players if you are not on a list that they don’t know what depends on.” After a couple of exchanges with Feliciano Lopez, Lopez offers these words of wisdom: “try to get spanish passport so will be easier.” As awesome of any idea as that might be, it seems more likely that car transportation is dependent on a player being seeded at the tournament.

In fact, Tursunov himself tweeted about “climbing the fence to get to the cars” one evening after practice last week when he was initially denied, citing it was for USTA personnel and that players needed to take “shuttles.” He even offered Tipsarevic advice with his humor: “If u insist on getting a ride just accuse them of profiling Serbians.” Now, this was getting juicy. It was, of course, all in fun as these players chatted via Twitter, but it gave fans a look at how players chat amongst themselves in real life as well.

Vania King also put in her two cents about her hardships via twitter: “Already had a conflict with US Open transport and I’m not even there yet! US is the biggest yet least accommodating of all Grand Slams.” And that’s coming from a Grand Slam Doubles’ Champion. Ouch!

But be careful what you wish for though. Kim Clijsters set the story straight: “90 min from our hotel to the tennis! Traffic is such a waste of time.” Wiser words could not have been spoken by a true veteran. Whether you’re a player or fan, the subway and Long Island Railroad are by far the top choices for transport to the US Open.

Nike Pro/Am event featuring lots of giggles

This past Wednesday evening, Nike held its “Nike Primetime Knockout Tennis Event” at Pier 54 that included players Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, John McEnroe and MC Serena Williams (boot and all). The event not only revealed each player’s night match kit, but also took on a Pro/Am format that pitted Team Nadal (with super model Bar Refaeli) against Team Azarenka (with New York Giant Justin Tuck). And Team Sharapova (with actor Bradley Cooper) took on Team Federer (with New York Tennis League player Sami Ahmad).

There were plenty of fun light-hearted moments, including Williams distracting Federer by screaming while he served and also asking Rafa to reveal his abs. Sharapova even practiced her winning pose. Also check out Global Village Tennis News who attended and recorded a fun press conference the players did afterward:

http://blog.gvtnews.com/2010/08/25/nike-nyc-lights-on-lights-out–news-conference-with-nadal-federer-sharapova-and-azarenka.aspx

Adidas’ players and the giant shoe cake

On Friday evening, it was Adidas’ turn to celebrate in their Soho NY store with the 10th anniversary of their Barricade shoe. Although sidelined due to injury, Justine Henin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga attended the event, along with Andy Murray and Ana Ivanovic. The event seemed more casual than the Nike one — even down to the players uncoordinated clothes. But, the giant shoe cake makes up for it, don’t you think?

Dunlop players as bartenders, doesn’t get better than this!

On Saturday evening, Dunlop also held a party launching their new Biomemetic line of racquets, with their players posing as bartenders. While Dominika Cibulkova was the only WTAer present, there were plenty of ATP players pouring their drink of choice to fans and media at the Union Square Ballroom in New York City. The list included Nikolay Davydenko, Ross Hutchins, Jurgen Melzer, Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo. A moment of note occurred when John McEnroe introduced Fernando Verdasco and asked him what it would take to share some of his good looks. Verdasco handsomely replied, “Give me your volley.” Cue female admirers giggling like school girls.

Record-setting crowd at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day

Every year, Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is held on the Saturday just prior to the main draw start at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It consistently attracts thousands of fans, but this year’s attendance was a record 23,000! Fans got to enjoy tennis exhibitions by pros Kim Clijsters, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Melanie Oudin and the #1 wheelchair player in the world, Esther Vergeer. Celebrity guests also included Lindsey Vonn and singers Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers among others. The Bryan Brothers also took stage to perform two of their hit singles and even had help from newly-minted rap star, Djokovic, on their ‘Autograph’ song which he appeared in. All in all, a huge success and a great way to inspire young athletes to go for their goals.

Photo credit to Michael Alan at http://www.michaelalanphotos.com/

“Women who hit hard”

The New York Times showcases the top ladies dressed up and playing tennis — in slow motion! It displays the delicate beauty as well as the fearsome power needed to rule the women’s game today. It includes Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur, Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/08/29/magazine/womens-tennis.html?ref=magazine

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