Romi’s Raves at Legg Mason – Troicki Flips Out, Nalbandian Hot & Sweaty

As I approached the grounds of the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, I was surprised to see the parking grounds almost full. And it was only noon. The first day of qualifying was already underway, but I didn’t expect such a turn-out. Then I remembered. Not only were three locals in the draw, teenagers Denis Kudla and Junior Ore, as well as UVA alum Michael Shabaz, but it was also Kid’s Day, moonbounces and all.

The weather was near perfection, warm with partly cloudy skies. But the courts were a different story. They felt least 40 degrees warmer. Each player that stepped off the court was drenched in sweat and even the surprisingly dry heat wasn’t cool enough for these pros. Enough about the weather, let’s check out what was happening around the grounds today

  1. The first player I spotted was Croat Marin Cilic practicing. He was on-hand for the draw ceremony yesterday that included DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, who named the week of July31-August 8 as “Tennis Week.” Cilic was sporting new red Fila shorts and they popped with color. I approve.
  2. Behind me a crowd started gathering and I noticed a legend, well, a legend to me at least. 28-year-old David Nalbandian was hitting with Viktor Troicki. I only caught the end of their session, but while Troicki looked like he could go on for another 3 hours, Nalby was dying in his own sweat. His fitness has definitely improved and his forehand is as strong and dominating as ever, but he still needs better footwork and to lose those ‘last few pounds.’ Later in the day, I spotted him practicing again with Radek Stepanek. Not sure how to read Stepanek’s game today. He would fire 10 aces in a row, hit some great down the line shots, and then come up empty for the next 10 minutes. I’m still not decided on whether being a newlywed is helping or hurting his game.

  3. Gilles Simon was on the practice courts for quite a while. Surprisingly, he looks much stronger in person and his game is much more explosive standing 15 feet away. The camera does not do him justice. He was friendly and personable taking ten photos with fans and stopping to sign autographs. With each photo, he didn’t just stand there like most players. He reached his hand around and practically gave each person a hug. He is a hugger, ladies! This warms my heart. Girls got giddy around him, men stood staring in confusion, and I was happily enjoying viewing a former top 10-er in person.
  4. I then checked out some of the Devin Britton/Brian Dabul match and I was startled when Britton stood in at tall 6’4’’ next to me. Somehow he always looked smaller to me on camera, but not today. And his eyes are a piercing blue color. Sadly, he is still very much a serve-and-volleyer. If he hasn’t changed his tactics by now, he may not for a long while. Point proven: he lost today after being up a set to Dabul.
  5. I then had more French action. A shirtless Michael Llodra was practicing with Julien Benneteau and they were enjoying themselves and the heat. I would try to analyze their play, but I was in awe of Llodra sun-glistening. I had forgotten how good tennis players look sans shirt.
  6. Kevin Anderson won his 1st round qualifying match earlier today, but his coach got him back on the horse. He was out working on his cross-court forehands and down the line backhands. At one point his coach said was trying to tell him to make his point-of-contact with the ball more in front of him, but it came out like this: “Take a smaller swing on your forehand so you can go through the motion more.” Anderson tried this new tactic with hesitation and the next ball went straight into the net. Coaching fail. Anderson then exclaimed: “I’ll just prepare earlier!” and he went on his way to hit winners. Whatever works.
  7. I was able to sit in on center court for a while because a friend happened to have box seating his family bought 20 years ago. Now, that’s my fail not knowing this in years past. Anyway, I watched Michael Shabaz stay neck-and-neck with youngster Donald Young. Young has been the talk of the town for the past few years, but his talents never translated into a higher ranking than 73 two years ago. Maybe that will change this year as he won this matchup.
  8. The #1 seed of the tournament, Tomas Berdych, was on the grounds today. As I was watching Troicki practice with Kei Nishikori (more on that hilarity later), a friend told me to turn around. To my shock, it was Berdych. In full view, with his coach. If you know me, you know I follow his game and love his style on- and off-court. As I walked closer to take a photo, I noticed not a single spectator was around him. Did they not know who was standing 10 feet from them?! How could they not realize that the Wimbledon finalist was right there!? Well, I’m sure most people are as concerned about this as me, but when I started taking photos, people finally started asking if it was Berdych. I coolly replied “Yes” trying to at least not seem like a fangirl. He was doing squats with resistance bands. And I’m not just talking about those dingy resistance bands you and I have, no. His were heavy-duty, dually-strapped silver magic bands. I now no longer have to wonder how he gets those legs into such amazing shape. It’s those damn bands. I’m making my boyfriend buy some. Well, if I had a boyfriend. Moving on …
  9. As Berdych was practicing with Niskikori, I stood in awe yet again. Berdych continues to embody balance in tennis. Some may think his open stance, that looks as if he’s almost sitting in chair, is “awkward.” Not me. It takes so much strength to look like that and still keep your balance and poise. And he does it all with a smile. What’s not to love?
  10. Back to the Troicki incident and the best moment of the day. We all know Troicki is hot-headed, but perhaps more so if you’re Serbian or Croatian and understand his obscenities. As he was hitting with Nishikori, balls kept rolling across his side of the court from the neighboring court occupied by Andrey Golubev. He was as patient as any man could be on a hot day in the sun, but after the 20th ball rolled across, he walked towards it and started yelling and swearing at the ball. In Serbian. And it was beautiful. He said something to the effect of “$#@ the $#*)* in the %#*)$+ ball %(*#_)@ every time!” On the next point on Golubev’s court, guess what happened? Yes, the ball started rolling onto Troicki’s court. What followed next was even more impressive than Troicki’s outcry. Golubev started swearing at the ball for about 10 seconds. In Russian. This moment was pure gold and only a few understood what even happened.

I’ll leave you on this warm thought for today and will be back tomorrow to report more. It will be the second and final day of qualifying as well as the first two main draw matches consisting of Giraldo vs. Malisse and Przysiezny vs. Zeballos. Ciao!

Federer Rallies To Defeat Ferrer In Cincinnati; Murray, Nadal Advance

World No. 1 Roger Federer rallied from a break down in the final set to edge past unseeded Spaniard David Ferrer, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in extremely windy conditions Thursday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

Federer, who is one victory away from winning his 200 win at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, quickly broke the Spaniard in the opening game of the match but was then broken back in the fourth game. Ferrer followed it up by breaking Federer’s serve in the eighth game, before holding serve to win the opening set.

Federer, who lost to Ivo Karlovic last year in the third round in Cincinnati, remained steady despite being down a set and was able to secure a break at 4-3, before holding serve to take the match to a deciding set.

“I think at the beginning maybe my footwork was just a touch off,” said Federer, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in July after winning Wimbledon for a sixth time. “After that I think I got it together and started to play better and better.”

In the final set, the 27-year-old Spaniard jumped ahead 3-1 but could not consolidate the break. Ferrer, who had beaten Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 14 seed Marin Cilic earlier in his first two matches, then smashed his racquet in frustration after not being able to take a 4-1 lead.

Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam singles titles, picked up his game tremendously after leveling the match at 3-3. The momentum shifted towards Federer as the Swiss broke Ferrer in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. Federer then served out the match at ease to advance to his tenth quarterfinal of the season.

“I thought he played a good match,” said Federer, who has won three titles this season.

Federer, who improved to 9-0 against Ferrer, smashed six aces and just two double faults compared to three aces and two double faults by the Spaniard. Federer won 75 percent of first serve points and was able to break serve on four of nine opportunities. Ferrer, who reached the finals earlier this year in Barcelona and Dubai, won 69 percent of first serve points and broke serve on three occasions.

Federer will next face unseeded Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who edged past American Sam Querrey, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3, in one hour and 26 minutes in the final match of the day session on Stadium court.

Also on Stadium Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland, who overtook the No. 2 ranking earlier this week from Rafael Nadal, rolled past No. 16 seed Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 16 minutes.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the defending champion in Cincinnati, broke Stepanek’s serve in the second game of the opening set, but was broken on his own serve when he tried serving out the set at 5-3 up. Despite the hiccup near the end of the set, Murray quickly broke back to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I started the match very well, serving well and not giving him any chances,” said Murray, who won the Masters 1000 Montreal tournament last week. “The wind picked up at the end of the first set and he managed to break me. But I played a good game to break back.”

In the second set, Murray had little trouble keeping the momentum on his side, as he broke Stepanek in his first two service games of the set before winning the match on his serve to advance.

Murray, who improved to 3-0 against the 30-year-old Czech Republic native smashed eight aces and won 29 of 38 first serve points. Stepanek, who has won titles earlier this year in Brisbane and San Jose, didn’t have his best serving outing, hitting three aces, three double faults and winning just 51 percent of first serve points.

The Scot, who has won five ATP World Tour titles this year, will next face lucky loser Julien Benneteau, who edge past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4), in a three hour and three-minute thriller on the Grandstand court.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal recovered from a 0-3 deficit to roll past Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, 7-5, 6-2, in one hour and 55 minutes.

The Spaniard was able to break serve on four of 12 opportunities, while smashing five aces and winning 32 of 41 first serve points. Mathieu was only able to break Nadal’s serve once, which occurred in the early stages of the opening set. The Frenchman hit three aces, three double faults and won 33 of 49 first serve points.

Nadal, who improved to 9-0 lifetime against Mathieu, will take on Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych on Friday night for a place in the semifinals. Nadal leads the head-to-head 4-3, winning most recently in 2008 in the semifinals in Miami.

Other Winners on Thursday in Cincinnati
Third Round
No. 4 Novak Djokovic def. Jeremy Chardy, 7-5, 6-3
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4
Tomas Berdych def. Chris Guccione, 6-4, 6-3

The Robbie Koenig Blog: Can Anyone Beat Rafa In Paris?

Anyway, the clay court season thus far, one word….” NADAL”….the kid is from another planet!!! Mentally and physically, on this surface, he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen, and probably the best of all time…and he’s only just 23 (in a few days)!!!

For me, what makes him so good are a few things. Firstly, his ability to “compartmentalize” his thoughts. He NEVER gets ahead of himself. He only focuses on the present. He only ever talks about his next opponent, never who he might meet later in the draw and potential match-ups down the line, thereby giving respect to each guy he faces and taking nothing for granted. And on the match court, its more of the same. He rarely lets the previous point affect the next one and he has this ability to play each point like there was none before, or none to follow.
Secondly, he loves the battle more than anyone! It’s the “process” of winning that seems to consume all his effort and he constantly rewards himself with a “Vamos,” sometimes as early as the second or third game, if he’s had a tough hold. And coupled with the joy he takes out of each victory, again often early on in a tournament, is so refreshing and just goes to show how much he enjoys the “small” victories. Let’s face it, anyone can enjoy the big or classic wins!

From a physical point of view, his movement is “two days on horseback” ahead of his peers.(Must be said, Djokovic has been impressive with his challenge). I’m sure good genes help, given the athletic ability of his uncles, it obviously runs in the family. His footwork is the key to his shot-making, both in attacking and defending. It’s so easy to get a little slow with your feet when attacking because you generally got time on the ball, but Rafa never lets his intensity wane, and always makes sure he’s perfectly setup to pull the trigger!!!

Can anyone beat him in Paris? Not unless they cut off his left arm…and even then, he’s pretty damn good with the right one as we all know! The problem for the chasing pack is doing it over five sets. The semifinal against Djokovic in Madrid was an epic, but remember that was at altitude, quick clay courts and best-of-three sets and the Serb still couldn’t get the W!!! I can’t see him hanging with Rafa over five sets. I think Murray can hang with him over five sets, but he doesn’t move well enough on this stuff. Firstly, he’s gotta get far enough to meet Nadal, and secondly, I can’t see him handle the Spaniard, because Rafa will out-maneuver him over the distance. Hard court, different story, it just shows how important movement is at the highest level, and clay is unique in that regard!

What about Roger? I can’t see it happen. I don’t read much into the Madrid win for the obvious reasons already discussed. Wimby and the US Open are his best bets to bag another major, but even those are gonna be a lot tougher than previous years.

Djokovic is the main challenger, no question – the results don’t lie! Hopefully he and Nadal are in separate sections of the draw. That would be my preferred final.

Watchout for: Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic

Hope you all looking foward to Rafa being challenged at Rolland Garros as much as I am.