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Photo Feed: Jeremy Chardy in Bucharest

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BCR Open Romania: Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, eighth seed at this week’s BCR Open Romania in Bucharest, is through to the third round and faces top seed Albert Montanes in the quarters. (Draw)

A ring on his left finger, hmmm?

(photo by Anca Tudosa from the BCR Open Romania website)

Polansky Gives Canadian Tennis A Big Boost

Peter Polanski

It’s safe to say that when you’re ranked outside of the top two hundred and find a way to defeat a guy ranked 15th in the world it’s likely the biggest win of your career. Such was the case Monday night with 22 year old Canadian Peter Polansky who defeated a big-time player in Jurgen Melzer.

Playing in the first match of the evening session, Polansky delighted the home town fans with a stirring display of shots worthy of a player far more experienced than he.

With both players staying on serve throughout the first set, a tiebreak was required to decide the opening frame. Unbelievably it would take Polanksy eight set points to gain the upper hand in the match and close out the set. In the process he saved one set point against him.

After the match I asked him if he was starting to sweat it after failing to capitalize on the first seven of those set points.

“Yeah, those were a little bit tought, I mean, having all those set points. But I knew even if it went to a breaker I was just going to stay with him. Even if I lost that first set, I was going to try not to let it get to me. I don’t think it was going to. I knew no matter what, he would have been in for a long match, because I was going to stay right there with him.”

With that huge boost of confidence Polansky kept the ball rolling by breaking Melzer in the opening game of the second set. His pre-tournament practice session with Roger Federer must have taught him a thing or two as he continually made shots you’d expect from a much higher ranked player.

Any nerves or jitters that Polansky was feeling were well hidden as he won four straight points leading 5-4 on serve to secure the 7-6(6), 6-4 victory.

After the match Polansky revealed that despite his struggles of late, he was inspired by some positive results in practice the past few days. During that time he revealed that he took a practice set from Tommy Robredo of Spain and split sets with Frenchman Arnaud Clement.

Next up for Polansky is 54th ranked Victor Hanescu. The Romanian toppled one Canadian hope earlier today in Milos Raonic and Polansky joked that he might text Raonic for some inside information before his second round match.

“…Milos and I are friends, so I’ll get some tips from him. And the whole Tennis Canada staff, they were watching as well. I’m sure they’ll have something to say. I mean, regardless, I’m going to go out there playing my game and doing what I can.”

For now Polansky can take a big sigh of relief at the ranking points he defended from his first round win a year ago in Montreal and hopefully also find time to enjoy the moment before his next match here in Toronto.

Almagro And Montanes Put Spain In Winner’s Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEDERER SHOWING HE’S CLOSER TO END OF CAREER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Shaky Start – One man who can be glad that Grand Slams are best-of-five is current reigning champ Roger Federer. Federer was expected to cruise through his opening round having defeated Alejandro Falla twice in the last month, but the Colombian had other ideas. Playing a spectacular match for four sets, he nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history. All credit to the Federer who dug deep and found a way to win, but he was right when he said he was lucky to have won that match. He didn’t look solid in his second-round match either. But nearing his 29th birthday, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. All reigns eventually come to a close and Federer’s career is definitely closer to the end than to the beginning. But he is still Roger Federer. He’s still a 16-time Grand Slam champion. He may no longer dominate as he once did, but only a fool would write him off now. He still has the hunger, desire, and heart, and as long as he has that, he still has a few more Grand Slam titles in him.

Marathon Men – The first week is coming to an end, and already it has been a Wimbledon to remember.  One of the biggest stories in sports this week (aside from World Cup drama), was the marathon match between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner. An 11-hour contest that shattered a multitude of records, it will undoubtedly be the match of the tournament. And as cliché as it sounds, in this case, I’ve never felt it more true that it was a shame someone had to lose. Both men are to be commended for the heart they showed, particularly Mahut who successfully stepped up to serve to stay in the match over 60 consecutive times before finally cracking to lose the match 68-70. Some will view this match as a case for instituting a fifth set tiebreak or making the first week of a major best-of-three, but I’m inclined to disagree. There weren’t necessarily a ton of rallies, but it was high drama. It got everyone talking about tennis. And at the end of the day, when you see how this unfolded, it would have been a shame to see all of that wiped out by a single tiebreak, something that more often than not gives the edge to the bigger server and could be decided by one errant backhand.

Downward Spiral – In case anyone missed it, James Blake and commentator Pam Shriver had a bit of a tiff during his first-round loss to Robin Haase. Blake could overhear Shriver’s courtside commentary, and he made it known to Shriver that he didn’t care for what she had to say. I sympathize with Blake to a point. It is a distraction if you can hear the courtside commentary and the fact that he was losing couldn’t have helped matters any. I also understand he’s dealing with what may ultimately be a career-ending knee problem, and he’s a former top player who has seen his ranking slip to outside of the top 100. Not much is going right for Blake at the moment. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he overreacted to Shriver (and had he been winning at the time that he overheard her, I doubt he would have even acknowledged hearing her commentary). It’s also not the first time he’s overreacted in a match. Earlier in the year, he went ballistic on a chair umpire, accusing the chair umpire of possibly costing him $25,000 due to his poor officiating, which he felt was attributing to his losing the match. Blake has always had the reputation for being one of the classier competitors on the ATP World Tour. If the game is no longer fun and Blake can’t keep his emotions in check, then he is right to seriously consider hanging it up. It would be a shame to see him tarnish his reputation at this stage in the game.

Tough Transition – Paris elation didn’t carry over to London for either Francesca Schiavone or Sam Stosur. While Schiavone has enjoyed some good results at Wimbledon, her early exit wasn’t a shocker, but that of Sam Stosur was. With a huge serve and a great all-around game, the Aussie’s strokes should have translated well to the lawns of the All England Club, but it was not to be. Hopefully this is just a minor blip and not a hangover from the loss in the French Open final. Sam has had such a great first half of the year, and it would be a travesty to see her lose her footing and confidence now.

Royal Audience – The grounds were abuzz with the fact that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended Wimbledon Thursday, the first time she had attended since watching Virginia Wade win the title in 1977. The tournament organizers did their part, scheduling Andy Murray as the first match on Centre Court. Much credit should go to Murray, who has been struggling with his form ever since reaching the finals of the Australian Open. He played one of his best matches in recent memory, and hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

59-59?!? THE LONGEST MATCH IN TENNIS HISTORY

By Peter Nez

“I have almost no words anymore watching this,” defending singles champion Roger Federer said about the Isner-Mahut match on court 18. “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen and could imagine. I don’t know how their bodies must feel the next day, the next week, the next month. This is incredible tennis.”

I don’t think I have ever heard a broadcasting team, with the likes of zany Brad Gilbert, and Mr. Hello! Patrick McEnroe, scramble for words harder than they did today on day three of Wimbledon to describe the match etched in history between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, wiry, goofy faced, and grass savvy, against the giant from the south, American Bulldog John Isner. A match that just wouldn’t end, and as I am writing this is going into the eighth hour, tied 30-30 in the fifth set at 41-42 in favor of the 6’9” Isner. This has ceased to be an epic, a battle, a clash of warriors, a feud between unwavering wills, it has now become, as it is tied now, with Mahut holding at 42-42 in the fifth set, a ridiculous labyrinth of surreal proportions bordering on an overdone farce; the groundhog day of tennis, where the clock moves forward, and scoreboards shift numerical value, but the players are locked in psychological time warfare with physical impediments all brushed aside. These guys aren’t playing for a spot in the third round anymore, but for immortality.

Their play was suspended due to darkness the day before, after the fourth set, but nobody could’ve anticipated this… play suspended yet again at 59-all in the fifth, with much trepidation on both players parts (maybe more so with Isner, who looked like he wanted to continue), after 7 hours and 6 minutes of play in the fifth set alone on day three. Mahut first addressed the fading light issue, but Isner, who looked ready to collapse a few times, sluggishly agreed and the longest match in tennis history has a possibility of going even longer. “This will never happen again,” Isner said in his post-postponement interview. I think it’s safe to say that truer words were never spoken.

Shattering every known record in Wimbledon and tennis history combined, the two immortals are due first on court 18 Thursday. What is going to be the final score? What will the engraved stats procure at the end of it all? Who will end up winning? Is there actually a winner and a loser in a match like this? A match unlike any match in sports history; a contest that defies categorization. Well, you know where I’ll be first thing in the morning. The question is will I have to call in sick for work?

The Friday Five – Marat the Enigma

Goodbye Marat Safin!

By Maud Watson

Farewell, Marat! – In a city that he loved, and at a tournament where he had always enjoyed great success, Marat Safin played his last professional match at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.  He lost to current US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in a tight three-set struggle that featured vintage Marat Safin, with smiles, cries of anguish, and yes, a broken racquet. Having won two Grand Slam singles titles, achieving the No. 1 ranking, and winning the Davis Cup, Safin accomplished more in his career than most players ever will. Despite these accolades, however, many critics have called him an underachiever. For the amount of talent Safin has, maybe those critics are right…but then again, his erratic play is what made him the enigma that is Marat Safin.  And that enigma has been a fan favorite wherever he went. Because at the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether or not Safin was playing top-flight tennis. What mattered was that he treated it like a game. He let you know what he was feeling, he was brutally honest on and off the court, and he always had a certain charm and wit about him. Marat Safin broke the mold, he will be missed, and he should be congratulated on a successful career.

Loose Lips – Within the next month, Frenchman Richard Gasquet will learn whether or not he’ll be serving a longer ban from tennis for testing positive for cocaine. Earlier this year, Gasquet served a 2 ½-month ban when he tested positive for the recreational drug, a substance he alleged entered his body when he kissed a woman in a nightclub who supposedly had cocaine in her system. Hopefully Gasquet’s case will be decided on its own merits, and not on pressure put on the CAS to make up for what happened with Agassi 12 years ago.

Stop the Madness – It would seem that the WTA and the ATP Tours have finally said enough is enough when it comes meting out punishments relating to doping in tennis. The reason for this chatter stems from the fact that Belgians Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse have each been handed a one-year ban for violating WADA’s “whereabouts” rule, which has long been considered one of the sport’s most controversial rules. As Stacey Allaster, the new WTA Chairman and CEO explained, it’s difficult for players to tell WADA three months in advance where they will be for one hour out of each day during competition, as they don’t know when their match will be scheduled, when they will practice, etc. It’s murder on the players, and it’s a joke that a player can lose an entire year of his or her career without even testing positive for any banned substance.

Molto Bene – In all the hullabaloo of the Agassi interview on 60 Minutes, the fact that Italy defeated the U.S. in the Fed Cup final was lost.  Hats off to Italy who claimed just their second Fed Cup title since the competition began in 1963.  Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are putting Italian tennis back on the map, and for Pennetta, who earlier this year became the first Italian female to reach the Top 10, it was the perfect way to cap off a stellar year.

It’s On! – In a dramatic day three at the Paris Masters, Rafael Nadal saved five match points to advance to the third round, while Roger Federer suffered a shock loss to elated Frenchman Julien Benneteau.  Federer’s early loss coupled with the fact that Nadal can only gain points at the ATP World Tour Finals means that the year-end No. 1 ranking is still up for grabs.  Who says that there isn’t a little bit of excitement at the end of a long tennis season?

The Friday Five: Agassi Should Not Be Left Off The Hook

The Agassi Admission

By Maud Watson

The Agassi Admission – The big story this week was Andre Agassi’s shocking admission that he not only used crystal meth back in 1997, but that he lied to the ATP about it in order to avoid punishment.  While many are justly questioning the ATP’s actions, I think it’s wrong how many are praising Agassi for his honesty and easily letting him off the hook.  First, it doesn’t matter that it was a recreational drug vs. a performance-enhancing drug, and if there’s any doubt, see the examples of Martina Hingis and Richard Gasquet.  Second, the timing of Agassi’s announcement leaves much to be desired. Over the last two years, tennis has been rocked by gambling and drug scandals. Agassi has kept quiet for 12 years. Why he couldn’t wait until things had settled down more before making his admission is beyond me…but oh that’s right. He has a new book coming out, and making such an admission is a great way to drum up publicity to increase book sales. Maybe if Agassi had confessed during his “second career,” at a time when he still could have been given a meaningful punishment for his actions and given the ATP a chance to redeem themselves for their prior actions, I might not be questioning the sincerity of his confession now. In closing, I think it’s wrong that Agassi got away with crystal meth use in 1997, but it’s even more wrong that he can profit from it now while the ATP is left holding the bag. Hopefully the ATP will use this as an incentive to do what they should have done 12 years ago and punish Agassi, irrespective of his star power.(Watch the Agassi video on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m28SCG9B8T1990 )

Do You Believe in Magic? – It looks like Frenchman Fabrice Santoro does. The player affectionately known as “the magician,” has admitted that he is now considering the possibility of competing in the 2010 Australian Open. The reason for his potential change of heart came when a reporter informed him that by competing in Melbourne, Santoro would become the first player to compete in a Grand Slam tournament across four decades. Now that’s some feat!

The British are Coming! – Taking a page out of the books of Novak Djokovic and Marat Safin, both of whom played the Hopman Cup before winning the Australian Open, Andy Murray has announced that he will also be making the trip to Perth to use the event as his Australian Open tune-up. He’ll be partnering with junior sensation Laura Robson, who will be looking to use the event as a chance to test her game against some of the WTA’s best. It’s a golden opportunity for both, and it’s a positive sign for British tennis that it can now field a team at this mixed event.

A Downward Spiral – After pulling out the WTA Tour Championships, it was revealed that the severity of Dinara Safina’s injury may force her to miss the Australian Open. This is just salt in the wound for a player who has helplessly watched the wheels fall off her game ever since Wimbledon. I personally feel for Safina who appears to have cracked under the unjust pressure put upon her by the critics claiming she never deserved the No. 1 ranking due to her lack of a major title. It doesn’t seem right that a player can support the tour by consistently playing the big tournaments and then be criticized for reaping the points she justly earned. Fingers crossed she can put all of this negativity behind her, get healthy, and start fresh in 2010.

Serena Wins the War – All year long there have been many battles for the No. 1 ranking, and in the end, it is Serena Williams who will take the top honor for 2009.  The deal was sealed Wednesday at the WTA Tour Championships when Dinara Safina was forced to retire from her opening match and withdraw from the tournament with a back injury. The No. 1 ranking is the icing on the cake for Serena who also added another two majors to her storybook career.

Chang And Enqvist To Clash In Final

Michael Chang

Michael Chang and Thomas Enqvist booked their places in the final of the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy in Paris on Saturday after both men won their final group matches to finish unbeaten at the top of their respective groups.

In the first match of the day, Enqvist had to come through a lengthy struggle against an in-form Thomas Muster 6-3, 3-6, 10-5 (Champions’ Tie Break). Elsewhere, Chang walked on court knowing he had already booked his place in Sunday’s final but he still completed a clean sweep of round robin victories with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) victory over Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch.

Chang is thrilled to have reached his first ever final on the ATP Champions Tour.

“It feels really good to be in my first ATP Champions Tour final,” he said. “Today was definitely a tough one against Arnaud so I’m pleased I was able to hang in there. I’m really enjoying being here in Paris this week with my wife Amber and it’s been great to play some good tennis as well.”

Enqvist is equally pleased to be playing in his second ATP Champions Tour final in two events.

“It’s great that I’m in the final,” he said. “I think today against Thomas it was a tough match and I was lucky to get through in the Champions’ Tie Break in the end. I’ve played well this week so hopefully I will go all the way tomorrow.”

Since making his debut in Sao Paulo earlier this year, Enqvist has remained unbeaten on the ATP Champions Tour, winning the title in Brazil and now reaching the final in Paris. Despite being on a seven-match winning streak, the Swede is modest about his achievements.

“It’s been pretty close this week. Yesterday against Cedric (Pioline) and today against Thomas were both tough matches that I could have lost. Hopefully the run will continue for another day because I’d like to win another title but I’m certainly not feeling invincible. I saw Michael play against Stefan (Edberg) and he looked really good. He still moves well and he still plays really good so it’s definitely going to be an interesting match.”

Chang starts  the match with a 1-5 win/loss record against Enqvist, having never beaten him on clay.

“Thomas has always been a difficult opponent for me over the years,” he said. “I’ve definitely lost more than I’ve won against him so tomorrow’s not going to be an easy match and I’ll have to play my best that’s for sure.”

The match to decide the third and fourth place positions will be contested by Cedric Pioline and Stefan Edberg after both men won their final round robin matches to finish second in their respective groups. Pioline sped through his match against a tired-looking Yevgeny Kafelnikov, winning 6-1, 6-2, while Edberg had a slightly sterner test against Guy Forget, coming through 6-3, 6-4.

Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner.

After Paris, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Chengdu for the inaugural Chengdu Open (November 5-9), and after that will arrive in Turin, Italy for the city’s first ever ATP Champions Tour event (November 11-14). The Tour culminates in London at the AEGON Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall, 1-6 December.

To view the order of play and the round-robin groups, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/results.html

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV BLOG – Part One

Yevgeny Kafelnikov is back in Paris, the scene of his Grand Slam breakthrough in 1996, and as well as playing in the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy this week, he is also writing an exclusive blog for ATPChampionsTour.com.

In part one, the Russian, who also won the Australian Open title in 1999, talks about how he has felt to be strolling the streets of Paris again, and the memories that the trip has brought back to him.

In part two, which will be published soon, Kafelnikov gives his reaction to Kim Clijsters’ recent US Open triumph, his thoughts on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, and how the current era compares to his own.

To read part one of Kafelnikov’s blog, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/blog5.html

Murray Survives Scare To Advance In Cincinnati; Federer, Nadal Advance

Andy Murray

Defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland rallied from a set and break down in the second set to edge past lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and 11 minutes on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the new No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after winning the title last week in Montreal, struggled to find his form after breaking to take a 3-2 lead. Following the service break, the 27-year-old Frenchman immediately broke Murray’s serve to level the match at 3-3 before winning three of the next four games to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Benneteau, who got in the main draw when Juan Martin del Potro withdrew after the draw was made.

Benneteau, who is currently ranked No. 55, secured an early break in the second set to go ahead 2-0 and looked to have a big edge on Murray, who looked out of sorts on all his shots.

The turning point occurred in the next game when Murray won a thrilling 53-shot rally and quickly broke back to get back on serve. The Scot, who has now won a record 53 matches this season, insisted the 53-shot rally changed the rest of the match.
“Oh, it made a big different,” said Murray, who has won five titles this year in Doha, Rotterdam, Miami, Queen’s Club and Montreal. “I think he was very tired after that rally. I managed to stay strong after that.”
The momentum shifted immediately and it was all Murray from that point on, dropping just two more games en route to victory.
“You know, he’s been around a long time and he’s very experienced and obviously made it very difficult today,” said Murray, who has reached five of the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals dating back to his victory in Cincinnati last August.

Murray, who earned his 72nd career win in a Masters 1000 event, smashed seven aces, won 70 percent of first serve points and broke Benneteau’s serve on six of 13 opportunities. Benneteau hit four aces, three double faults, won 59 percent of first serve points and was able to break Murray’s serve three times.

Murray’s semifinal opponent on Saturday afternoon will be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who eased past former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, in 70 minutes.

Federer, who earned his 200th career win at a Masters 1000 event, was in complete control from start to finish, breaking serve once in each set to win convincingly. Federer’s serve was superb, winning 24 of 27 first serve points, smashing 11 aces, while not facing a break point the entire match.

The 15-time Grand Slam singles champion insisted holding serve against Hewitt is an important thing to accomplish during a match with the fiery Aussie.

“I think that definitely helps against Lleyton, who once he gets his teeth into your serve it can get quite tricky,” said Federer, who improved to 9-1 in quarterfinal matches this season.

Hewitt, who reached the finals in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2004, only managed to hit two aces and win 69 percent of his first serve points.

Federer improved to 15-7 against Hewitt, winning the last 13 meetings.

“He’s beaten me so many times in the past that I didn’t expect myself to all of a sudden go on such a great run against him,” said Federer, whose loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Montreal was his first loss since losing at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in May.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain continued his impressive return from a knee tendinitis injury, dispatching Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 41 minutes.

Nadal, who has won six Grand Slam singles titles including four French Open titles, was impressive on serve throughout, hitting two aces and winning 35 of 41 first serve points. The 23-year-old Spaniard was also able to break serve twice on six opportunities.

The former world No. 1 will face No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic in the night match on Saturday. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match by defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to his second straight semifinal in Cincinnati.

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