hamburg germany

Around The Corner: Hamburg And Atlanta Hit It Off This Week

The International German Open – Hamburg, Germany

The German Open offers European clay-court specialists another opportunity to pad their ranking point totals for the year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is seeded first but given his play as of late I wouldn’t expect much in terms of results here. Struggling to find his game after returning from injury, Davydenko was bounced in the first round in Stuttgart last week and is 3-4 since returning from a three month layoff. While Davydenko is the returning champion, he will have considerable difficulty in defending this time around.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fifth and is always dangerous on red clay. The Spaniard just captured the title in Bastad, his first of 2010, and has a favorable draw here in Hamburg. One knock against Almagro however is that he usually disappoints after a big result. Consistency is lacking and it will be a challenge for him to put together back-to-back titles.

Veterans Juan Carlos Ferrero and Tommy Robredo are both in the draw and have the ability to raise the trophy as does Albert Montanes who won in Stuttgart last week.

Third seeded Jurgen Melzer has performed well at the last two Grand Slams, where he made the semis at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon, but then bowed-out 4-6, 1-6 to Montanes a week ago on clay.

Second seeded David Ferrer is my favorite here and performed well in Bastad where he lost just a few days ago in the semi-finals to Robin Soderling in three sets.

The Atlanta Tennis Championships – Atlanta, Georgia

The city of Atlanta gets to host an ATP event for the first time since 2001 when Andy Roddick won his first ATP tournament. Previously this tournament was held on green clay, but returns as a hard-court event leading up to the U.S. Open. The city is no stranger to big tennis events as it hosted the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Roddick gets a first-round bye and could face Xavier Malisse in the third round. Roddick holds an 8-0 career advantage against the 58th ranked Belgian, who is climbing his way back up the rankings as of late.

If you’re a fan of American tennis you’ll want to keep a close eye on the second quarter of the draw. There you’ll find a quartet of aging American players who will fight for the chance of facing Roddick in the semi-finals.

Twenty-nine year old Taylor Dent gets an opening round match against thirty year old James Blake that should be a crowd pleaser. Blake has dropped out of the top-hundred while Dent is working on moving back towards the top-fifty. Blake is taking his departure from the upper-echelon of the game with much difficulty and has talked recently about how this could be his last year on tour if things do not improve.

Also lurking in this section are twenty-seven year old Robby Ginepri and twenty-eight year old Mardy Fish. I would look to Fish to have the best chance of breaking out of this section of the draw as he won the title in Newport, Rhode Island just over a week ago.

Third seeded Lleyton Hewitt should be able to have a solid run in Atlanta and his presence here indicates to me that he is serious about taking a good run in Flushing Meadows. The veteran from Australia can still hit a good ball and is always a threat when healthy.

In the bottom quarter look for second seeded John Isner to advance quite deep in the draw. I’d imagine that Isner has more than recovered from his epic first-round victory at Wimbledon over Nicolas Mahut. Let’s hope that Isner has found some time to practice around his recent media blitz that included reading the top-ten list on Late Night with David Letterman and winning an ESPY award for greatest record-breaking performance.

RAFA’S RECORD OF CLAY

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the king of clay.

The “rey” of clay, so to speak.

Back on May 29, 2006, as documented in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), Rafa put himself in the “clay” record books with a win over Robin Soderling, as document below. Soderling, ironically, would play another historic match with Nadal three years later at Roland Garros, handing the Spanish lefty his first career French Open loss in the fourth round.

2006 – Rafael Nadal wins his 54th consecutive match on a clay court, breaking the Open era record set by Guillermo Vilas, defeating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open in Paris. Nadal is honored for his achievement with an on-court ceremony featuring Christian Bimes, the President of the French Tennis Federation, and Vilas himself, who won 53 straight matches on clay in 1977. Says Nadal of the record, “Obviously, the record is something just extra. It’s something you want. You want to go for it, but the first round in a Grand Slam tournament is always difficult. The first round in any tournament is difficult, but in a Grand Slam, there’s a little more pressure.“ Vilas was not even aware that he held the record for most consecutive clay court victories until weeks before the record was broken. He was, however, well aware of his Open-era records for consecutive victories, regardless of surface (50) and for tournaments won in a year (16) – all accomplished in 1977. Says Vilas, “I’m not sad to lose the minor record, but I’ll be mad if he breaks the others.” Nadal’s streak begins in April of 2005 at the Monte Carlo Open. The streak ends at 81 on May 20, 2007, when Roger Federer beats Nadal in the final of Hamburg, Germany.

Vamos Rafa!

There is no denying that Rafael Nadal is “El Rey de Clay” as the Spanish lefty and world No. 1 eyes his unprecedented fifth straight French men’s singles title. It was on May 29 back in 2006 that Rafa won his record breaking 54th straight-match on clay, beating Robin Soderling in the first round of the French Open. The following documents this event – and others – from the May 29 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY by Randy Walker ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com)

2006 – Rafael Nadal wins his 54th consecutive match on a clay court, breaking the Open era record set by Guillermo Vilas, defeating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open in Paris. Nadal is honored for his achievement with an on-court ceremony featuring Christian Bimes, the President of the French Tennis Federation, and Vilas himself, who won 53 straight matches on clay in 1977. Says Nadal of the record, “Obviously, the record is something just extra. It’s something you want. You want to go for it, but the first round in a Grand Slam tournament is always difficult. The first round in any tournament is difficult, but in a Grand Slam, there’s a little more pressure.” Vilas was not even aware that he held the record for most consecutive clay court victories until weeks before the record was broken. He was, however, well aware of his Open-era records for consecutive victories, regardless of surface (50) and for tournaments won in a year (16) – all accomplished in 1977. Says Vilas, “I’m not sad to lose the minor record, but I’ll be mad if he breaks the others.” Nadal’s streak begins in April of 2005 at the Monte Carlo Open. The streak ends at 81 on May 20, 2007, when Roger Federer beats Nadal in the final of Hamburg, Germany.

1990 – For the first time ever in a major tournament, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are both eliminated in the first round. Stefan Edberg, the No. 1 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion, is defeated by little-known 19-year-old Spaniard Sergi Bruguera 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, becoming the first No. 1 seed in the 99-year-history of the tournament to lose in the first round. About four hours later, Boris Becker, the No. 2 seed and reigning U.S. Open champion, joins Edberg on the sidelines, losing to little-known Yugoslav Goran Ivanisevic 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. “I say, ‘Bruguera beat Edberg, why cannot I beat Becker,’ you know,” Ivanisevic says. “I say, ‘Come on, (it) is your chance. He is not playing well, he is not confident.'”

1996 – Andre Agassi is defeated in the second round of the French Open by unheralded fellow American Chris Woodruff 4-6, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-2. Agassi, so dejected by the loss, skips the mandatory post-match press conference and is fined $2,000. Says Woodruff of Agassi to the media following the match, “I’d never met him before, and before we went out on the court he said, ‘How ya doing; my name is Andre.’ As if I didn’t know.”Also during the day, Pete Sampras posts one of his most impressive clay court wins, defeating 1993-1994 French Open champion Sergi Bruguera 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 2-6, 6-3 also in the second round. ”This match had a lot of everything,” Sampras says. ”It gives me some confidence that I can play with the Brugueras and whomever, and that’s one thing I haven’t had before coming into this tournament.”

2006 – For the first time in the history of tennis, a major tournament starts on a Sunday as the French Open starts play a day earlier than the traditional Monday start. Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova saves three match points and comes back from 2-5 down the final set to defeat No. 97-ranked Mashona Washington 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 in the first round in the most exciting match played during the day.

1998 – For the first time in the Open era history of major championship play, a qualifier defeats the defending champion at a major event as 18-year-old qualifier Marat Safin from Russia defeats defeating champion Gustavo Kuerten 3-6, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round of the French Open. Safin, ranked No. 114 and playing in his first ever major tournament, defeated Andre Agassi in five sets in the first round. Says Kuerten, ”This year I think I had a chance to go far and try to repeat, but there are many dangerous guys in the way, and today he played hard and he played strong and I couldn’t finish my work. If the other guy has a great day and you don’t have such luck, you can lose to anyone here.” Says Safin, who goes on to win the U.S. Open and become the No. 1 player in the world in 2000, ”I feel bad for Guga because he’s defending champion, but this is tennis life. What can we do? Everybody wants to beat him: a lot of points, money, everything.”

2001 – Pete Sampras avoids an embarrassing first-round loss at the French Open but hangs on to save three match points and defeat No. 250 ranked qualifier Cedric Kauffmann 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 8-6.

2006 – Juan Antonio Marin of Costa Rica loses to Carlos Moya of Spain in the first round of the French Open to drop to a 0-17 career record in Grand Slam tournament play. No man has ever lost as many Grand Slam matches with a victory. Says Marin, “Given my stats, I don’t know if I am going to win. … I’ll keep on trying.:Marin, the only player from Costa Rica to play in a major tournament, never plays another major tournament match.

2000 – Pete Sampras is sent packing in the first round of the French Open, losing 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 8-6 to Australia’s Mark Philippoussis.