Only one member of the top 10 takes the court in next week’s two ATP tournaments. But he’s someone who might merit your attention.
Top half: After his second-round loss at Wimbledon, Roger Federer admitted that he needed to regain his rhythm and poise at key moments in matches. Taking a wildcard into Hamburg, which he won as a Masters 1000 tournament, Federer seeks his first title of the season above the 250 level. That triumph came at the grass event in Halle, so the world No. 5 will hope to make it two for two on German soil. Home favorite Daniel Brands could prove an intriguing opening test, considering the challenge that Brands posed for Rafael Nadal in a Roland Garros four-setter. But the headline match of the quarter, or perhaps the half, comes in the next round with Ernests Gulbis. Defeating Federer on clay in Rome before, Gulbis has taken at least one set in all three of their previous meetings. Most of the other players in this section, such as Feliciano Lopez or Nikolay Davydenko, have grown accustomed to Federer’s superiority.
All four seeds in the second quarter reached a quarterfinal at a major this year, rare for an event of Hamburg’s diminished stature. Jerzy Janowicz and Fernando Verdasco both launched their surprise runs at Wimbledon, and Verdasco extended his surge from grass to clay by winning his first title since 2010 last week. In his first tournament as a member of the top 20, Janowicz has built his ranking less on consistency than on a handful of notable achievements at key tournaments. Similarly, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy has struggled to string together momentum and has secured just one semifinal berth since that breakthrough. An all-Spanish quarterfinal might await if Verdasco and Roland Garros quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo use their superior clay expertise to halt the higher-ranked Janowicz and Chardy, respectively. Federer never has lost to any of these men, or to anyone else in a section where Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar also lurks.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Verdasco
Bottom half: The sight of Nicolas Almagro and Mikhail Youzhny in the same vicinity calls to mind their Miami clash five years ago. Youzhny famously won that match with blood dripping down his head after banging his racket on it repeatedly. Undefeated in their previous meetings, Youzhny stopped Almagro in another three-setter this spring without reacquainting his racket with his head. While the Spaniard has faltered after a promising start to 2013, he still holds the surface edge on his nemesis. This section also contains four unseeded players who have reached clay finals this year. Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol could derail Almagro straight out of the gate, while Bucharest runner-up Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sets his sights on Youzhny. A champion in Nice, Albert Montanes could eye a rematch of his final there against Gael Monfils, but only if the latter can upset defending champion Juan Monaco. The Argentine won a clay title in Dusseldorf on the day that Montanes won Nice, his fourth on clay in 2012-13.
Second seed Tommy Haas usually shines on German soil during these latter stages of his career. Winning Munich on clay and taking a set from Federer in a Halle semifinal, Haas finished runner-up to Monaco in Hamburg last year. On the verge of the top 10, he showed some traces of fatigue by falling early in Stuttgart as the top seed. A semifinalist at that tournament, Victor Hanescu could face Haas in his opener, while Bastad runner-up Carlos Berlocq looms a round later. The other side of the section exudes a distinctly Italian flavor, bookended by Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini. A semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Fognini started his campaign there by defeating Seppi in three sets, and he has enjoyed far stronger clay results than his compatriot this year. Of minor note are Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, just 4-14 since that breakthrough, and Rome quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, who owed that result in large part to Andy Murray’s retirement.
Semifinal: Monaco vs. Haas
Final: Federer vs. Monaco
Top half: Not since the Australian Open has Janko Tipsarevic won more than two matches in a tournament. The beleaguered Serb saw his ranking slide out of the top 10 this summer, unable to salvage it even with several appearances at the 250 level. Another such effort to gobble up easy points as the top seed unfolds in Bogota. This draw looks more accommodating to Tipsarevic than others in which he has held that position. A pair of Colombians, Alejandro Falla and a wildcard, join a pair of Belgians and Australian serve-volleyer Matthew Ebden in his vicinity. If he can rediscover the tennis that brought him to the top 10, Tipsarevic should cruise. If he plays as he has for most of the year, anything could happen.
Among the most intriguing names in the second quarter is rising Canadian star Vasek Pospisil. Depending on how fast the courts play in Bogota, Pospisil could deploy his serve and shot-making to devastating effect against less powerful opponents. Australian journeyman James Duckworth showed his mettle in two epics at his home major this year, while Aljaz Bedene owns a win over Stanislas Wawrinka—but not much else. A finalist in Delray Beach, fourth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin hopes to halt a four-match losing streak. At least Mr. Bye cannot stop him in the first round.
Bottom half: Surprising most observers by reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Adrian Mannarino came back to earth with a modest result in Newport. At an event of similar caliber, he will hope to build on his momentum from grass while it still lingers. The same motivation probably spurs third seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon after bursting on the scene with a victory over Tsonga in February. Back into action with a quarterfinal showing in Newport, Ivo Karlovic brings his towering serve to an altitude ideal for it. At 7,000 feet above sea level, Dr. Ivo might be nearly unbreakable if his fitness weathers the thin air.
Also armed with a massive serve, second seed Kevin Anderson eyes a cluster of Colombians. Two home hopes meet in the first round, but Santiago Giraldo will fancy his chances to reach the quarterfinals. Near him is Kazakh loose cannon Evgeny Korolev, who oozes with talent while lacking the reins to harness it. Anderson has won all three of his meetings with Korolev and his only previous encounter with Giraldo, so his path to the weekend looks clear.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Anderson
Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall. This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half. Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.
7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3
During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite. First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo. Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1. When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled. Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished. Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris. (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)
6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)
Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club. An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals. That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10. Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday. Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better. Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.
5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2
Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back. He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized. Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set. A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth. All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently. Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013. Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.
4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5
Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012. Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years. Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition. To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset. But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges. He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.
3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3
Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications. Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why. Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic. Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation. We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.
2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year. The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent. Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began. Or so we thought. A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment. Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return. The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt. Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments. Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.
1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7
The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line. One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced. Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth. Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line. Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph. While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb. Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.
Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.
A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.
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
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
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
Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6
Miraculously after the rain on Thursday and Friday, Wimbledon has set all of its fourth-round matchups for Manic Monday. More than half of the top-ten players there (five men, six women) fell in the first week, and Saturday featured its share of drama despite the welcome sunshine.
Match of the day: Even with the cloud of his father hanging over him at a distance, Bernard Tomic has compiled an outstanding Wimbledon campaign. The enigmatic Aussie has upset two seeded players to reach the second week, most recently No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet. Showing his taste for drama, Tomic played five sets in the first round against Sam Querrey and reached 5-5 in every set against the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist.
Upset of the day: Few tennis fans knew much about Kenny de Schepper entering this tournament. The 26-year-old Frenchman benefited from a Marin Cilic walkover in the second round and made the most of the opportunity. Not losing a set in the first week of Wimbledon, de Schepper upset No. 20 seed Juan Monaco to reach this stage at a major for the first time.
Comeback of the day: Imperfect in his first two matches, world No. 4 David Ferrer predictably fell behind the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov two sets to one. After Dolgopolov steamrolled him in the third set, though, Ferrer regrouped immediately to drop just three games in the next two sets. His far superior stamina gave him a valuable advantage against an opponent who struggles with sustaining energy or form.
Foregone conclusion of the day: There’s death, there’s taxes, there’s Nadal winning on clay, and there’s Tomas Berdych beating up on poor Kevin Anderson. Nine times have they played since the start of 2012, including at four majors, with Berdych winning all nine. At least Anderson took the first set this time and kept the match more competitive than most of its prequels.
Gold star: Considering Kei Nishikori’s promising start to the tournament, Andreas Seppi merits special attention for his five-set battle past the Japanese star. Like Ferrer, Seppi trailed two sets to one before digging into the trenches and holding his ground with an imposing fourth set that set the stage for a tight fifth. As a result of his efforts, Italy leads all nations with four players in the second week of Wimbledon, an odd achievement for a clay-loving nation.
Silver star: One day after demolishing an unseeded opponent, Tommy Haas overcame a much more worthy challenger in Eastbourne champion Feliciano Lopez. Haas bounced back from losing the first set to prevail in four, arranging an intriguing Monday meeting with Novak Djokovic. The German has won both of their previous grass meetings—four years ago—but lost to Djokovic at Roland Garros.
Wooden spoon: At a minimum, one expected some entertaining twists and turns from a match pitting Ernests Gulbis and Fernando Verdasco. The firecrackers fizzled in a straight-sets victory for the Spaniard, who now eyes his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with de Schepper awaiting him on Monday. Gulbis joined a string of unseeded players unable to follow their notable upsets with a deep run.
Stat of the day: World No. 2 Andy Murray cannot face a top-20 opponent until the final. (No. 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny, his Monday opponent, is seeded higher than his ranking because of the grass formula used in making the draw.)
Question of the day: Top seed Novak Djokovic seems to grow more formidable with each round, dismantling Jeremy Chardy today for the loss of only seven games. Can anyone slow his path to the final? Juan Martin Del Potro, the only other man in this half who has not lost a set, might have the best chance. He defeated Djokovic earlier this year at Indian Wells and on grass at the Olympics last year.
Match of the day: One of many players who rallied to win after losing the first set, Li Na rushed through a second-set bagel against Klara Zakopalova but then found herself bogged down in a war of attrition. Li finally opened the door to the second week in the 14th game of the final set. She continues to show more tenacity at this tournament than she has in several months.
Upset of the day: Sabine Lisicki’s victory over the grass-averse Samantha Stosur came as a surprise only on paper. In fact, the greater surprise may have come from Lisicki dropping the first set before dominating the next two. Lisicki has reached the second week in four straight Wimbledon appearances, proving herself the epitome of a grass specialist.
Comeback of the day: British hearts quailed when Laura Robson started a winnable match against Marina Erakovic in dismal fashion. The feisty home hope did not quite recover until late in the second set, when Erakovic served for the match. Needing some help from her opponent to regroup, including a string of double faults, Robson asserted control swiftly in the final set and never relinquished the momentum once she captured it.
Foregone conclusion of the day: There was no Williams déjà vu at Wimbledon, where Kimiko Date-Krumm could not repeat her epic effort against Venus Williams there two years ago. Notching her 600th career victory, Serena surrendered just two games to the Japanese star as she predictably reached the second week without losing a set. Since the start of Rome, the world No. 1 has served bagels or breadsticks in nearly half of the sets that she has played (15 of 31).
Gold star: In trouble against Eva Birnerova when Friday ended, Monica Puig rallied on Saturday to book her spot in the second week. Unlike most of her fellow upset artists, she used a first-round ambush of Sara Errani to light the fuse of two more victories. An almost intra-American match awaits between the Puerto Rican and Sloane Stephens.
Silver star: Tsvetana Pironkova extended her voodoo spell over these lawns with a third second-week appearance in four years. A non-entity at almost all other tournaments, Pironkova could not have chosen a better place to plant her Bulgarian flag. thou
What a difference a day makes: Shortly before play ended on Friday, Petra Kvitova had lost seven straight games to Ekaterina Makarova and narrowly avoided falling behind by a double break in the final set. When she returned in the sunshine of Saturday, Kvitova won five of the last six games to abruptly wrap up a match full of streaky play from both sides.
Americans in London: Also able to collect herself overnight, Sloane Stephens recovered from a second-set bagel to outlast qualifier Petra Cetkovska. Stephens became the only woman outside the top four to reach the second week at every major this year. Nearly joining her was Madison Keys, who gave 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska all that she could handle in a tight three-setter. The impressive serve and balanced baseline power of Keys suggest that we will see much more of her at future Wimbledons.
Question of the day: In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Sabine Lisicki halted the previous month’s Roland Garros champion at Wimbledon. Can she do to Serena what she did to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, and Maria Sharapova? Plenty of massive serves will scar the grass on Monday.
(June 25, 2013) Ernests Gulbis’ best performance at Wimbledon has been reaching the second round on four separate occasions, including already this year. Unfortunately for Gulbis, his draws have been anything but strawberries and cream. The first three of these contests have all ended in defeat for the Latvian, and it has come at the hands of Rafael Nadal in 2008, Andy Murray in 2009, and Jerzy Janowicz in 2012. Can Gulbis turn around his luck this year?
Despite Gulbis’ stellar 2013, he enters unseeded and Wimbledon still isn’t doing him any favors as his draw pits him against the No. 6 seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the second round.
On paper, Tsonga is the overwhelming pick to win in this match. Tsonga not only leads the head to head 3-0, but he also has reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2011 and 2012 whereas Gulbis is 7-12 in his career on the grass.
While their grass court resumes may be abundantly different, the ever-confident Latvian will certainly believe he has a fighting chance in this match. He should draw inspiration from the fact that Steve Darcis had an 11-11 record on grass before his match against Rafael Nadal and had only made it past the opening round once.
From a tactical perspective, Gulbis will be looking to maximize the amount of backhand-to-backhand rallies as this specific pattern of play matches up Gulbis’ strongest wing against the infamously frail Tsonga backhand.
Tsonga’s premier strategy will be to throw the kitchen sink at Gulbis’ protracted and wrist reliant forehand. The Frenchman’s ammunition off the forehand side in particular should allow him to rush and pressure Gulbis into an array of forehand errors. In addition, Tsonga’s slice backhand should make it increasingly difficult for Gulbis to set up and take the powerful cuts he is used to taking.
Both guys possess tons of power from the ground and off the serve. When this type of matchup arises, the player who is better able to maintain depth and pace and not allow their opponents to take huge swipes at the ball will have the best opportunity to win.
Ultimately, Tsonga should come away with the victory as he possesses an all-court style of play which provides him with a great number of options by which to win and close out points. Not only can he power down aces and crush winners from the baseline but he has the unique and ostensibly archaic capacity to move forward and end points at the net.
However this match ends up, if you’re going to Wimbledon on Wednesday and have the ability to see this match, it definitely is a must-see blockbuster as far as a second round match goes.
Prediction: Tsonga in 4 sets
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.
By Maud Watson
One of the bigger casualties of Week 1 at the French Open was Caroline Wozniacki, who was dumped out in the second round by Bojana Jovanovski. The sad part is her loss wasn’t even a surprise. Her results this clay court season – and for the better part of the year – have been dismal. What’s even sadder is she seems blind as to how to reverse the trend. “It’s all about just momentum, I guess. Hopefully it will turn and I’ll start winning some more.” What she doesn’t seem to comprehend is that, as a general rule, that doesn’t just happen. And if it did, shouldn’t we have seen better results from her following her finals appearance at Indian Wells? The crux of the problem still remains that she needs a real coach to teach her how to better utilize her strengths and hide her weaknesses. But until she commits to that, cuts the strings with her father, and commits to re-tooling her game, she’ll continue her slump, and we’ll likely be hearing the same line again at the conclusion of the grass court season.
Bernard Tomic is another young player unwilling to part ways with his father/coach. Perhaps mercifully given all of the off court drama he faced coming into Paris, the young Aussie was forced to retire in his opening match thanks to a small tear in his right leg muscle. But his early exit didn’t allow him to completely avoid the topic of his father, who has been banned from attending a slew of professional tennis events for his alleged misconduct against Tomic’s hitting partner prior to Madrid. Tomic insists that his father will always be his coach, and it’s understandable how hard it can be to cut ties with a family member, especially a parent. But Tomic also doesn’t have to look far to see how past overbearing and abusive fathers have interrupted, hampered and sometimes completely derailed promising careers. At least Tomic is willing to add another voice to his camp, though he may have a tough time finding someone willing to step in as a second fiddle John Tomic. Hopefully for his sake the right person will come along to join his team and fix more than just his game. If not, his career may be over before it even gets off the ground.
Food for Thought
Former pro Marc Rosset didn’t mince words earlier this week when he declared men’s tennis “boring.” He felt it was too much about the Big Four, and that a large part of that was due to the current seeding system and homogenization of the playing surfaces. While suggesting that men’s tennis is boring is an opinion that likely goes too far, he does raise some valid points. The standardization of the surfaces has meant less variety in today’s game, with virtually the same game style getting it done on all surfaces (though the greats do make minor adjustments). But the current seeding system hasn’t really come under fire since they first opted to seed 32 at the majors, and maybe it’s time to revisit that decision. Seeding 16 instead of 8 at the Masters is acceptable. Those fields are already loaded due to the smaller draw size, which means a fair number of intriguing matchups early in the tournament. But also seeding just 16 at the majors might be a better way to go than the current 32. With a singles draw of 128, there are too many early matches that feel like mere formalities. Seeding only 16 would likely add some excitement early but still protect the higher-ranked players in their attempt to reach the business end of things. More often than not, the cream will continue to rise to the top, but making some of the suggested changes might make watching them do so a little more fun.
Say what you want about Ernests Gulbis, but one thing he’s not is dishonest. Of course, he’s not always wise either. In his interview following his loss to Monfils, the Latvian called out the Big Four for being boring interviews. Granted, Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal may have a tendency to play it overly safe for some, but it’s an approach that beats taking the risk of crossing the line from refreshingly honest to outright obnoxious. Furthermore, in case Gulbis hasn’t noticed, being blunt doesn’t yield success. In some cases, it can hamper it. Just look at the difference in Djokovic form when he first arrived on the scene to where he’s at today. Yes, his game and mental strength have evolved, but he also helped his cause by becoming more diplomatic to avoid generating off court drama for himself. It’s a fine line to walk, and Gulbis would be well served to take a few pointers from the Big Four to strike a better balance in his approach to the media and fans.
They often say fame comes with a price, and for Sergiy Stakhovsky, the price tag was $2,000. In his losing effort to home favorite Gasquet, Stakhovsky pulled out his phone to take a picture of a disputed ball mark. Instantly, the Ukrainian’s image was plastered all over the Internet and various sports shows. Unfortunately for him, the officials weren’t amused and hit him with a fine for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” He may have carried on longer than appropriate, but considering some of the other stuff that goes unpunished, the $2,000 seemed a bit steep. It amounted to roughly 7% of his overall prize money, which for a player of Stakhovsky’s caliber is a sizeable chunk. Talk about learning a lesson the hard way!
(May 29, 2013) In an interview with L’Equipe, the ever-vocal Ernests Gulbis took to the presses once again, this time calling out the ATP “Big Four” consisting of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
“I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak and Murray, but for me, all four player are boring,” Gulbis stated. “Their interviews are boring. Honestly, they are boring.”
According to Gulbis, when it comes down to it, “Federer set this trend,” which gives the spectators a “polite” game and not “war, blood and emotions” as in boxing, he says. He believes that “people want to see broken rackets and hear the on-court bursts. ”
Basically, Gulbis wants players to be more like, well, him.
I can’t really argue with the last point about the game, but boring? I wouldn’t necessarily call Djokovic boring. He has had his fair share of code violations for swearing in Serbian on court and smashing more racquets than I can count. Murray too.
But the Gulbis fun doesn’t end there – not even close. Never one to shy away from voicing his talents on and off the court, he continues with two more captivating quotes from his L’Equipe interview:
1. “I do not want to hear in an interview a guy – who I will not name, but who I know well, that he thinks all his opponents are assholes – putting on an act” in his pressers.
Without naming the player, Gulbis is calling someone out — and I bet they know exactly who they are even if they are not reading his interviews. In truth, it piques my curiosity, and now I, strangely, want to know who it is, too. But will we ever find out or will the truth die on Gulbis’ lips?
The fact that he forces us to pose questions like this is precisely what makes the Latvian so intriguing and frustrating. Even if you don’t want to listen, he makes you listen. Whether it’s on a tennis court or in a presser, his character is hard to ignore. It makes you wonder just how many players actually pay attention to what he says, given how consistently he dishes it out. It seems like quite a few, in fact, including Feliciano Lopez who says that “Gulbis is a nice guy but always says things that can create some interest.” Clearly, fans and media are not the only ones being baited.
2. “The system is much too bureaucratic. The top guys need to talk so things can change, but they’re pretty happy that (lower-ranked) players are treated like shit and do not have enough money to pay for good coaches.”
Do the selection of words coming out of the Latvian’s mouth even surprise anymore? In a way, yes. His constant stream of opinion is refreshing, but there are many who would rather tennis be without Gulbis. Both sides have enough footage to use as support.
He not only calls the “top guys” boring, but also insists that despite all their talks for higher compensation at tournaments, equality and change in the men’s game, it essentially doesn’t matter to them because they are above it. And how bold of Gulbis to use the word “happy” when describing how the top guys must feel when looking at their counterparts being treated badly by the system. That’s either stupid or takes guts to stand up against if true.
However, given Gulbis’ trajectory up the rankings, he may soon find himself in one of those top positions as well. What then? Will what he says in defense of lower-ranked players then be also a sham when he’s holding the mic and talking of change, or will he have enough influence to actually contribute to making these changes?
In an interview with Sport 360, Gulbis commented that despite all his off court opinions, he’s still a tennis player first.
“I can sometimes be somewhat disrespectful in some press conferences but when I play I really want to respect the opponent. I don’t want to take medical timeouts. I don’t like to screw up the other player’s rhythm. I don’t like this. I want that the better player wins without any screwing games.”
Gulbis was an intriguing figure when he first came onto the scene as a fresh 19-year-old defeating then world No. 8 Tommy Robredo in three easy sets at the US Open, and he is still an intriguing figure today.
True to his extravagant nature, Carole Bouchard of L’Equipe reveals that after his loss to Gael Monfils on Wednesday, the Latvian stuck around the press center eating a banana, and even requested a copy of his L’Equipe interview from the newspaper. This guy, indeed!
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There are two types of “tennis” that invariably never fail to draw our attention. The first is just plain good tennis. Watching the best players in the world compete at a high level is just difficult to turn away from. When players like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, etc. step on to the court, you know that you will be in for a high-quality treat. No, none of them are perfect. But when their games are on — which is far more often than not — then missing out is not an option.
The second, though, is entertaining for an entirely different reason. This is what you get when players like Fabio Fognini step on the court. It is crowd-pandering, showmanship, joking around, and still good tennis while they’re at it. This keeps us ooh-ing and ahh-ing, but also laughing a bit while we watch too. So when two of the most talented showmen in tennis took the court in the second round of Roland Garros, we knew it would be a can’t-miss event.
Gael Monfils is an incredible talent. He was a top 10 player in 2011 before being sidelined with an injury for much of the past year. But he can be frustrating to watch for both fans and coaches alike. His decision-making on court can be questionable at times, to put it nicely. He is well-known for his showman-like slides and jumping backhand. He is fun to be a fan of, but you are left with disappointment more often than joy in the end of the day when he loses winnable matches. He has, not unfairly, been described as a “headcase”.
If that is the story of Gael Monfils, then Ernests Gulbis takes it to another level. Gulbis is one of the purest talents we’ve seen in a long time. And when he finds his game, it is a beauty. He burst onto the scene six years ago, challenging the top players in the world. Then he sort of stopped caring and disappeared from the stage of top-level tennis. He is now making a slow comeback and seems to be fixing his attitude, but he is very much a work in progress. And, like Monfils, his on-court decision-making can leave you scratching your head.
So tennis fans around the world set up to watch Monfils and Gulbis fight it out on Philippe Chatrier, not knowing what the outcome would be but knowing that it would be amusing getting there. And the match did not disappoint, not in the slightest.
I won’t go too much into specific points, other than noting that watching highlights of this match would be time well spent. For a while, it felt like every other point followed the same trajectory: strong baseline hitting with great defense, some crazy angle or drop shot that required lots of movement, amazing gets, only to be ended by a silly error when the court was wide open. The number of brilliant shots in this match was beyond counting. The number of terrible errors to end points was an equally astounding.
The match was entertainment at its finest. Gulbis’s offense was brilliant for long stretches of time. Monfils’s defense was impeccable, chasing down every ball and not letting up. Gulbis would have stretches of absolute offensive ineptitude, missing even the easiest of shots by wide margins. When Monfils would attack, his baseline game was strong as usual and Gulbis’s defense would be up to the task.
Both players ended up playing awkwardly around the net due to Gulbis’s penchant for well-timed but poorly-hit drop shots. Both players would scramble like crazy, making impossible returns in some of the situations set up by being at the net. Gulbis also seemed fond of hitting volleys on balls that are clearly going out. He lost half a dozen points by hitting errors on such shots or smashing them straight to Monfils.
But it’s not just the individual points that made this match so much fun to watch. The overall trajectory of the match was almost predictable in its insanity. No break could be consolidated. Monfils was serving for the third set at 5-3, had 40-0, and managed to squander 5 set points and get broken. This didn’t surprise anyone. Nothing in this match surprised anyone. It ended in four sets when Gulbis self-destructed a little, but the points were still fun then too.
And then there was the changeover prior to the fourth set. Waiting on Gulbis, Monfils whipped out his iPhone to pan the crowd doing the wave. Then, as Gulbis returned from his bathroom break, he walked past Monfils chatting and laughing with him. The friendly exchange continued as the Frenchman then walked by Gulbis on his way to the court and stopped for an extended laugh and chat. For a few moments, it felt more like a practice session between friends than the second round of a Slam.
Sometimes tennis entertains us because it’s a battle of the best in the world playing at their highest levels. And sometimes it’s just plain old fun. And Monfils against Gulbis was a bit of both.
Welcome back to your daily review of the studs and duds at Roland Garros 2013.
Match of the day: Five sets and four hours. Three tiebreaks and a 7-5 final set. A two-set lead squandered by the man who eventually won—after saving triple break point midway through the fifth. A home underdog firing 26 aces and 66 winners on his nation’s biggest stage to upset a top-eight seed who hit 72 winners of his own. Rarely is the match that looks like the best of the day in the first round actually the best of the day, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych put on perhaps the best show of any men’s match that we will see all week. The section has opened a bit for Monfils if he can defuse the equally dangerous dark horse Ernests Gulbis in the second round. That match looks like the highlight of Thursday, although it has a hard act to follow.
Comeback of the day: Last week’s Dusseldorf champion Juan Monaco looked well on his way to a routine victory when he won the first two sets by single-break margins and reached a tiebreak in the third. Perhaps aided by his opponent’s fatigue, Daniel Gimeno-Traver thrust himself back into the match by snatching that tiebreak and stormed all the way back to an upset over the seventeenth seed.
Surprise of the day: It was not an upset in the end, but Daniel Brands surely turned more heads than anyone when he came within a tiebreak of leading Rafael Nadal by two sets to love. The master of Roland Garros had not lost the first set in a first-week match there since 2006, although he once survived a five-setter against John Isner. Brands channeled his inner Soderling in explosive serving and bullet forehands that thrust Nadal on his heels for far longer than anyone could have expected.
Gold star: Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios gave his nation something to cheer amid the latest Bernard Tomic controversy. Kyrgios defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks, saving several set points in each of the last two. The 53 total tiebreak points played might survive as a tournament record.
Silver star: Allez les bleus. While Nadal battled with Brands on Philippe Chatrier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled through in straight sets on Suzanne Lenglen. Later in the day, second-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet did the same, and even Julien Benneteau won a match on clay for just the second time this year. Combined with the Monfils upset, these victories added up to an excellent day for the hosts.
Wooden spoon: When Andy Murray withdrew, Marcel Granollers moved up from unseeded to seeded position. That promotion served him no benefit as he lost his first match to countryman Feliciano Lopez in five sets and two days. By contrast, Tommy Robredo profited from the seed that he received with Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal by advancing further into the section vacated by Berdych.
Americans in Paris: John Isner and Ryan Harrison, both of whom have struggled for most of the year, each notched comfortable straight-sets victories. Assigned Nice champion Albert Montanes, Steve Johnson battled gallantly into a fifth set as he had against Nicolas Almagro at the Australian Open. American men have no reason to feel shame so far at historically their worst major.
Question of the day: Who comes out of Berdych’s section of the draw to reach the quarterfinals?
Question of the day, II: Does Nadal’s first-round frailty reduce your confidence in him as a title threat?
Match of the day: None could compete with Berdych-Monfils or with Urszula-Venus the day before. This award goes to a battle between two clay-courters who have produced outstanding recent results. Rome semifinalist Simona Halep won the first set from world No. 20 Carla Suarez Navarro, but the Spaniard rallied with the form that brought her to two clay finals this year. A pity that the draw forced them to meet in the first round, and a pity that the match was not scheduled on a televised court.
Comeback of the day: Channeling a little of her inner Monfils, Garbine Muguruza scorched 46 winners and dropped serve just twice in three sets to ambush fellow power-hitter Karolina Pliskova. The Venezuelan-born citizen of Spain recorded her first career win at Roland Garros barely a year after her first appearance in a WTA main draw.
Statements of the day: Although they fell a bit short of Serena’s suffocating brilliance, top-four seeds Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska started the tournament in emphatic style. Defending champion Sharapova conceded just three games to top-50 opponent Hsieh Su-wei, while Radwanska yielded just two games to former top-15 player Shahar Peer. The latter result came as a mild surprise because of the newly blonde Pole’s struggles on clay this year.
Gold star: Everyone thought that Laura Robson would knock off world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, and everyone thought very wrong. Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by dominating the British teenager from start to finish. Perhaps a movie night with Rory McIlroy the day before (they saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) allowed her to forget her recent futility.
Silver star: The most unsurprising surprise of the day came when the 2009 Roland Garros champion dispatched compatriot Ekaterina Makarova. In Serena’s quarter, Kuznetsova could meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open three-set thriller. Sveta bounced back impressively from one of the worst losses of her career in Rome.
Wooden spoon: Outstanding performances on grass last year meant that Tamira Paszek received a seed at Roland Garros despite winning only one match in 2013. When the slightly less moribund Melanie Oudin dispatched her with ease, Paszek will head to the grass season with the vast majority of points at stake. Early losses at Eastbourne and Wimbledon will push her ranking down an elevator shaft.
Americans in Paris: In addition to the aforementioned Oudin, several other women from the United States fared well on Day 2. Bethanie Mattek-Sands set up a second-round meeting with Li Na, while newer talents Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys cruised. Vania King also advanced in straight sets to complete a perfect record today for the USA.
Question of the day: Which American woman of those who won day will go furthest?
Question of the day, II: Should we feel more impressed by Wozniacki or more disappointed by Robson?