grass court tennis

Sabine Lisicki’s Wimbledon Magic; History Beckons for Bryan Brothers — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Sabine+Lisicki+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+csqLAjHl1htx-1Wimbledon Magic

No matter how poor her results coming into or after Wimbledon, for that fortnight, Sabine Lisicki plays like a Top 5 talent.  She’s defeated the reigning French Open champion four of the last five years (she didn’t play in 2010), and her winning percentage against Top 10 players on the lawns of the All England Club is quite impressive.  But unlike in years past, Lisicki has managed to find enough consistency to book herself a place in her first major final.  She’s in with an excellent shot against Bartoli to produce a little more magic to claim her maiden slam title.  Irrespective of what happens Saturday, however, it will be a disappointment if Lisicki fails to follow up the rest of her season with stellar results.  She has a powerful, all-around game and far too much talent not to be vying for the game’s biggest titles on a consistent basis.  She also has an affable personality that the WTA could use right now, so here’s to hoping that this Wimbledon final is just the first of many major titles the German will be competing for.

Second Chances

In 2007, Marion Bartoli shocked Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final where she lost to Venus Williams.  Now, six years later, Bartoli has once again defeated a Belgian in the final four to reach a Wimbledon final where she’ll face another talent with a big serve, powerful game, and brings her best on the grass.  But things are a little different in 2013, too.  Bartoli thrashed Flipkens in the semis instead of escaping by a hair, and her opponent in the final, Lisicki, is even less experienced at this stage than her.  And despite struggling with her game for the past several months, Bartoli is looking like the Top 10 player that she can be once again.  She showed no signs of nerves in the semis, not only relentlessly attacking virtually every ball with laser-like precision, but she showed a willingness to mix it up by coming forward.  Assuming she doesn’t let the occasion get to her and is able to play at this high level on Saturday, tennis fans are going to be in for a real treat.

History Beckons

The Bryan Brothers have done almost anything there is to do in doubles, breaking records right and left.  On Saturday, they’ll have the chance to add one more feather to their caps as they vie for the Wimbledon doubles crown.  Should they win, they’ll have a “Bryan Bros.” Grand Slam and will become the first doubles duo in the Open Era to hold all four majors at once.  Also, should they taste victory in London, look out when Flushing Meadows rolls around.  The twins would then be going for a calendar-year Grand Slam, one of the rarest feats in the sport.  They’ve managed to do just about anything else in the world of doubles, so why not this?

Still Standing

For all of the dramatic upsets and withdrawals that have unfolded the last two weeks, the top two favorites in the men’s field, Djokovic and Murray, are still standing.  Both still have a little more work to do if they hope to contest the championship match on Sunday, but make no mistake, they’re heavy favorites to live up to their seeding.  On paper, Djokovic has the more difficult of the two semis, with del Potro as his opponent.  The two split meetings earlier this year, and the Argentine got the better of Djokovic on these same courts at the Olympics in 2012.  But in this semifinal, you have to figure Djokovic’s experience will prove a major X factor.  There’s also the knee issue that’s plaguing del Potro, and trying to defeat the Serb at less than 100% is a big ask.  Janowicz will also have to come up with some spectacular answers if he’s to disappoint an entire nation by upsetting Murray.  The Pole did get the better of Murray last year at the Paris Masters and has a monster serve.  He’ll also go in knowing that Murray was less than steady in his quarterfinal clash with Verdasco.  But Murray has far more experience in these situations, is the steadier of the two, especially in the mental department, and will have virtually all of the fans on the Centre Court in his corner.  Both should be entertaining affairs, but expect Djokovic and Murray to set up a blockbuster final.

The Basics

After a stunning early loss at Wimbledon, Federer appears to be going back to the drawing board.  In lieu of his usual break following the conclusion of Wimbledon, the Swiss will be adding two clay court events to his schedule.  He’s set to contest Gstaad – the tournament that offered him his first wildcard – and Hamburg, which he’s also won more than a few times in the past.  It may be interpreted by some as a troubling sign from the ageing veteran, but in many ways, Federer’s decision is one to be admired.  He’s not letting his pride get in the way, and he’s smart to try and pick up a few events between now and the summer hard court season.  He could use the rankings points, a chance to get his game clicking, and more than anything, a chance to gain some confidence.  Hopefully he’s able to get it going so that he can be fully back in the mix come the US Open.

Juan Martin Del Potro Looks to Further Improve on his Best Wimbledon Ever

Juan Martin del Potro in Wimbledon semifinals png

(July 3, 2013) For years now, I have dismissed Juan Martin Del Potro on grass. And it wasn’t without reason. He is very tall and has long legs, and the low bounce on grass makes it difficult for him to get down to hit balls comfortably. His movement on the surface has never been great. Most of all, though, even when he played his best tennis, the results just weren’t there on the green stuff.

I should have started paying attention last summer, when a great run at the London Olympics took Del Potro to the a victory over Novak Djokovic and the Bronze Medal. I should have noticed in the earlier rounds of this tournament, when his level of play was higher than it has ever been on grass.

Well, I finally noticed when he hit David Ferrer off the court.

This is the Juan Martin Del Potro that a terrible wrist injury has deprived us from seeing for 4 years. Sure, he’s shown flashes of his old self the past 2-3 seasons or so. But there has been no consistency at that level and no reason for us to think that he could sustain it again.

Del Potro is moving very well around the grass courts, getting to balls with enough time, and just absolutely hitting the stuffing out of them. Del Potro has shown us a level of grit and determination this tournament that we haven’t seen from him since the US Open final in 2009.

2013 has not been a great year so far for Del Potro but he is really beginning to heat up now. The American hard courts are by far his best surface and he is primed for a great summer as long as he is healthy. He has looked lethal on the grass so far this year and there is really no reason that his grass season has to end this match.

Of course, his opponent might have something to say about that. Novak Djokovic is on a mission to win his second Wimbledon and he doesn’t want to let the last player to beat him on grass stop him now. Djokovic has been monstrous on defense all tournament and those elastic defensive skills will be tested against Del Potro’s power.

Djokovic is clearly the best player in the game right now. That being said, he has not been as dominant this year as in the past few and is nowhere near the untouchable level that he was back in the spring of 2011. He has no real weaknesses, but another talented player playing his best game for 2 or more hours can definitely beat him.

Obviously, even though there is never any shame in losing to the best player in the world, this match would be disappointing for Del Potro if he loses. He has played through nasty spills and terrible knee pain and it would be sad for him to lose. But this has been the best Wimbledon of his young career so far and it is a tremendous step moving forward to try and once again find the levels that won him a Slam already in his career. The Tower of Tandil is standing tall—and he will go as far in this tournament as his body lets him.

Can Ernests Gulbis Stop Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the Wimbledon Grass?

(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 

Is Grass Always Greener?

When the new International-level WTA event made its debut this week in Nürnberg, Germany, there was no shortage of quality story lines; although the draw featured no top 10 players, top seed Jelena Jankovic is always a walking headline and four Germans started off in the main draw. Nonetheless, the event has made headlines for completely unexpected reasons. Some have questioned the merit of the WTA holding a clay court event two weeks before Wimbledon, particularly in a country where the grass-court tuneup in Halle always attracts a star-studded ATP lineup.

The idea of arbitrarily placed clay court events on either tour’s calendar is nothing new. The WTA calendar also allocates space for four clay court events in the two weeks following Wimbledon: Budapest, Palermo, Bastad and Bad Gastein. Serena Williams is committed to play the clay-court event in Bastad for the first time in her career, and the event is held the week before her usual US Open Series tuneup in Stanford. Rafael Nadal returned from a seven month injury layoff and prepared for the North American hard court season by playing in Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco…on clay.

With the way that professional tennis has evolved over the years, the grass court season has become little more than a blip on the drawn-out tennis calendar; while players like Alison Riske and Tsvetana Pironkova might’ve found their lives a bit easier if three of the four slams were still contested on grass, career-defining results on grass are not the norm for most players. Is it really to a player’s benefit to waste time (and money) to travel and compete on a surface where she’ll reap such little reward for such a short time?

There is constant clamoring for players to schedule smarter and play the tournaments that are in their best interest. By putting these tournaments on the schedule, the WTA is allowing for that. There was little to no clamor about Nadal returning to action on his most preferred surface to get match play and confidence. This week in Nürnberg, the narrative was quite similar. The saga of Andrea Petkovic and her injuries over the past 18 months is well known. After losing in Roland Garros qualifying to unheralded Yi-Miao Zhou, Petkovic dropped down to the ITF Circuit and won a $100,000 event in Marseille on clay; among her scalps, Petkovic defeated in-form players Monica Puig and Paula Ormaechea, both of whom came off third round showings in Paris. After defeating Sofia Arvidsson in the first round in Germany, Petkovic assured her return to the top 100. Petkovic’s good form continued as she rallied past Annika Beck, her teenaged countrywoman, in nearly three hours to reach her first WTA semifinal since Luxembourg in 2012.

On the other side of the draw, Polona Hercog was making an injury comeback of her own. The Slovenian quietly played just one match this year at the Australian Open before requiring wrist surgery, and made her return to competition at a $50,000 ITF event in France before Roland Garros. No slouch on her beloved clay, where she owns two WTA singles titles, Hercog also fell in Roland Garros qualifying. Hercog’s greatest grass court success came as a junior, when she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2008. Since then, Hercog has avoided grass like the plague, and rightly so. The Slovenian’s game is far from effective on grass, and it didn’t take her long to figure that out. She’s played just a handful of matches on the surface in her career. Her only career win at Wimbledon came against Johanna Larsson, perhaps the only active WTA player less comfortable on grass than Hercog herself. Instead of moving on to grass, Hercog took the title at a $25,000 ITF event in her hometown of Maribor, reached the semifinals in Marseille and took out the No. 2 seed Klara Zakopalova en route to a quarterfinal showing in Nürnberg. With smart scheduling, Hercog got herself more match practice in a few weeks than she might have for nearly the rest of the year.

In a sport where so much is made of wins and losses, it’s much easier to adapt to an uncomfortable situation when you’re in good form. None of the WTA’s top three are entered in a grass court warmup event, and does anyone believe that this is a hindrance to their title hopes? The difference is that these players perform at a high level nearly every week and are rarely, if ever, short on confidence. Confidence and the ability to adapt comes from winning, and nothing else. Not everyone has the luxury to be able to have and do that on a dime. By holding simultaneous tournaments on different surfaces, both tours are allowing for the highest percentage of their players to succeed.