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US Open Fourth Round Preview

The final week of Grand Slam play for 2010 is about to begin and there are sixteen players left in the men’s draw. Noticeable absentees include the Andy’s (Murray and Roddick) and Tomas Berdych. Other than that I suppose David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis bowed out slightly earlier than we had thought, but there are still several big names left in the draw.

Rafa Nadal has been rolling alo

ng just fine on the hard courts so far in this tournament. He’ll get compatriot Feliciano Lopez next. Lopez took him out of the grass court tune-up event at Queen’s Club in June so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. Nadal will raise his game when required however and we all know how hungry he is to complete the career slam with a win in New York. I’m going with Nadal in straights.

Another all-Spanish battle features Fernando Verdasco the 8th seed against number 10 seed David Ferrer. Verdasco impressively knocked off Nalbandian in the third round while Ferrer advanced against a lesser-known hard court player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver. I’m looking at a tough five set Verdasco victory which would give us a nice re-match of the Nadal/Verdasco tilt from the Australian Open that went the distance in 2009.

American hopeful Sam Querrey and Swiss understudy Stan Wawrinka both have the opportunity to make their first career Grand Slam quarter-final. Querrey has had a great year at the lower-level tournaments winning three ATP Tour 250 events, and one 500 event. Let’s see if he now has the game to make a splash on a bigger stage. Wawrinka just beat one of the U.S. Open favorites in Andy Murray. Can he keep that level up? I’m picking Wawrinka in four sets due to experience.

Mikhail Youzhny took out American John Isner in the last round and will now face veteran Tommy Robredo. Normally I’d go with Youzhny hands-down but I’ve learned to never count Tommy out. Just when you think his career is on the downward swing, he tosses in an excellent result. Still, talent wise, you gotta think Youzhny will pull this one out in four.

Monday gives us the four bottom-half matches, starting out with Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils. This match should be one of the most entertaining between Gasquet’s beautiful backhand and Monfils’ colorful court antics. The all-French match holds a 2-2 career head-to-head with all meetings on hard court. Could go either way really as neither has enjoyed much success on this surface this summer, but LeMonf has my vote in a five setter.

Mardy Fish is likely wishing that the heat would return to Flushing Meadows in time for his match against Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately cool temperatures are in the forecast giving Djokovic the ideal conditions he needs to succeed against the American. While Fish has had a great summer and has made the quarter-finals in New York once before, the Djoker has been picking up his game this week and looks ready to advance. Djokovic in four.

Robin Soderling gets the easiest match on paper as he takes on clay-court specialist Albert Montanes. A straight set wins for the Swede should be in the cards, making him a very dangerous and well-rested player to face Roger Federer in the next round.

Federer gets resurgent Jurgen Melzer who has had the best season of his career for sure. The 29 year old had never before advanced past the third round of a Slam before 2010 and has now made the semi’s at Roland Garros, the fourth round at Wimbledon and now again the fourth round at the U.S. Open. His run is about to end at the hands of Federer who will have one last routine victory before having to face a serious test in Soderling. Federer in straights.

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

With the short grass court season already over, the ATP Tour turns to a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe this week.

Stuttgart:

The chance at redemption to a multitude of players who have missed significant portions of the tennis season due to injury is offered at Stuttgart this year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Stuttgart and will try to improve on his semi-final appearances here in 2004 and 2005. Ranked sixth in the world, Davydenko is still struggling with his game since returning from a wrist injury in June. After missing three months he returned in time for Halle and Wimbledon and lost both times in the second round on his least favorite surface of grass. Davydenko gets a first round bye and will then play the winner of the Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jeremy Chardy match. Chardy won his first career title here a year ago but will be hard-pressed to repeat.

Frenchman Gael Monfils is seeded third and has a fairly easy looking quarter of the draw that is littered with qualifiers. Monfils also missed some time earlier in the year with injury issues and has yet to post any significant results in 2010. This tournament offers the perfect opportunity for Monfils to reach his first final of the season.

Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could meet up with veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third quarter-final. Simon will be have trouble living up to this seventh-seed status as he too was out of action for three months between March and June with injuries and is not yet where his game is capable of being.

In the final quarter, clay-court specialist Albert Montanes the fifth seed will likely meet up with second seeded Jurgen Melzer if they can get through the opening two rounds. Melzer is experiencing the season of his career thus far at the age of 29 by making it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Austrian had never before advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

Bastad:

In Bastad, Sweden, local hope Robin Soderling will look to defend his title from a year ago. Soderling was the first Swede to win the singles title in Bastad since his current coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000.

Third seeded David Ferrer won the title in 2007 and is still capable of strong results on clay. This year he has won the title in Acapulco, made the finals of Buenos Aires and the Masters-Series tournament in Rome as well as the semi-finals of four other tournaments.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fourth and is an able clay-court player. His section seems quite routine and he should be able to find his way deep into the draw.

The bottom quarter features two tough players from Spain in veteran Tommy Robredo, who has won the Bastad title twice before (2006, 2008), and second seeded Fernando Verdasco. Robredo holds a 23-7 career record at this tournament and has a 4-4 head-to-head against Verdasco.

One interesting note when looking at the list of former doubles champions is that Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won here on seven separate occasions and with six different partners.

WILL NADAL BE ABLE TO RETURN TO THE TOP? THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Return of the Bull – Rafael Nadal says that he is planning to return to tennis in the desert at the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event, the BNP Paribas Open. He states that his knee is healing nicely, and furthermore insists that he can return his body to peak physical condition. Nadal is a fierce competitor, and I sincerely hope that he’s right about that last part. But given his brand of physical tennis and refusal to take an extended break to allow his body to completely heal, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever be able to sustain his top form for any length of time. I’ll be the first to admit if I’m wrong on this one, but I disagree with Nadal’s strategy to forgo the extended break and tweak his game to make it less physical.

Welcome to the Main Event – After the surprising news that Marat Safin would be playing an event on the Champions Series senior circuit in March, there then came the news that the lovable Russian is going to be playing an exhibition on April 10 in Atlantic City at Caesar’s Palace. Perhaps the only thing more shocking is that the Caesars Tennis Classic exhibition is also going to feature Ivan Lendl, who hasn’t played a match since 1994. The field will be rounded out with Andy Roddick and Mats Wilander, with Venus Williams playing the hostess. With the spectacular tennis those men are able to produce, coupled with their mesh of personalities, it’s a safe bet that a good time is in store for any lucky enough to get a ticket.

Back at Last – It wasn’t as soon as he had hoped, but it had to feel good to Argentine David Nalbandian to finally make his return to competitive tennis in his home country at the Buenos Aires Copa Telmex event. Nalbandian opened his campaign with a solid straight sets win over Italian Potito Starace before giving the home crowd something to cheer about with a nail-biting win over Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, 9-7 in the third set tiebreak. Given Nalbandian’s talent and ability to upset the big boys in tennis, I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping this is just a sampling of the good things to come.

Seizing the Opportunity – It was just last year when Israeli Shahar Peer was denied a visa to compete in Dubai. This year, she was allowed entry, and she’s making the most of it. After having never taken a set off of 2009 US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, the compact Peer cruised her way to a routine victory over the Dane in straight sets. Perhaps the only downside to the match was that it was forced to be played on Court 1 instead of Center Court, as Court 1 was more secure. Credit to Wozniacki who had the class to acknowledge that while the court speed was different on Court 1 as compared to Center, the conditions were the same for both players and did not blame the switch for her loss.

Kournikova in the News – But this time, it isn’t Anna K. It’s her mother, Alla. In one of the more bizarre scandals to come up in tennis news this week was the case of Alla Kournikova, who is being charged with felony child neglect. She allegedly left her five-year-old son home alone while she ran some errands. Neighbors spotted the child outside and then called authorities. When questioned, the five-year-old son claimed that he had gotten outside by jumping out of a second story window (but was uninjured). Alla could face up to five years in prison. I somehow think the next time Anna K does a press conference, the questions aren’t going to be about her latest modeling gig.