Jerzy Janowicz

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Hamburg and Bogota Previews

Only one member of the top 10 takes the court in next week’s two ATP tournaments.  But he’s someone who might merit your attention.

Hamburg:

Top half:  After his second-round loss at Wimbledon, Roger Federer admitted that he needed to regain his rhythm and poise at key moments in matches.  Taking a wildcard into Hamburg, which he won as a Masters 1000 tournament, Federer seeks his first title of the season above the 250 level.  That triumph came at the grass event in Halle, so the world No. 5 will hope to make it two for two on German soil.  Home favorite Daniel Brands could prove an intriguing opening test, considering the challenge that Brands posed for Rafael Nadal in a Roland Garros four-setter.  But the headline match of the quarter, or perhaps the half, comes in the next round with Ernests Gulbis.  Defeating Federer on clay in Rome before, Gulbis has taken at least one set in all three of their previous meetings.  Most of the other players in this section, such as Feliciano Lopez or Nikolay Davydenko, have grown accustomed to Federer’s superiority.

All four seeds in the second quarter reached a quarterfinal at a major this year, rare for an event of Hamburg’s diminished stature.  Jerzy Janowicz and Fernando Verdasco both launched their surprise runs at Wimbledon, and Verdasco extended his surge from grass to clay by winning his first title since 2010 last week.  In his first tournament as a member of the top 20, Janowicz has built his ranking less on consistency than on a handful of notable achievements at key tournaments.  Similarly, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy has struggled to string together momentum and has secured just one semifinal berth since that breakthrough.  An all-Spanish quarterfinal might await if Verdasco and Roland Garros quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo use their superior clay expertise to halt the higher-ranked Janowicz and Chardy, respectively.  Federer never has lost to any of these men, or to anyone else in a section where Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar also lurks.

Semifinal:  Federer vs. Verdasco

Bottom half:  The sight of Nicolas Almagro and Mikhail Youzhny in the same vicinity calls to mind their Miami clash five years ago.  Youzhny famously won that match with blood dripping down his head after banging his racket on it repeatedly.  Undefeated in their previous meetings, Youzhny stopped Almagro in another three-setter this spring without reacquainting his racket with his head.  While the Spaniard has faltered after a promising start to 2013, he still holds the surface edge on his nemesis.  This section also contains four unseeded players who have reached clay finals this year.  Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol could derail Almagro straight out of the gate, while Bucharest runner-up Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sets his sights on Youzhny.  A champion in Nice, Albert Montanes could eye a rematch of his final there against Gael Monfils, but only if the latter can upset defending champion Juan Monaco.  The Argentine won a clay title in Dusseldorf on the day that Montanes won Nice, his fourth on clay in 2012-13.

Second seed Tommy Haas usually shines on German soil during these latter stages of his career.  Winning Munich on clay and taking a set from Federer in a Halle semifinal, Haas finished runner-up to Monaco in Hamburg last year.  On the verge of the top 10, he showed some traces of fatigue by falling early in Stuttgart as the top seed.  A semifinalist at that tournament, Victor Hanescu could face Haas in his opener, while Bastad runner-up Carlos Berlocq looms a round later.  The other side of the section exudes a distinctly Italian flavor, bookended by Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini.  A semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Fognini started his campaign there by defeating Seppi in three sets, and he has enjoyed far stronger clay results than his compatriot this year.  Of minor note are Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, just 4-14 since that breakthrough, and Rome quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, who owed that result in large part to Andy Murray’s retirement.

Semifinal:  Monaco vs. Haas

Final:  Federer vs. Monaco

Bogota:

Top half:  Not since the Australian Open has Janko Tipsarevic won more than two matches in a tournament.  The beleaguered Serb saw his ranking slide out of the top 10 this summer, unable to salvage it even with several appearances at the 250 level.  Another such effort to gobble up easy points as the top seed unfolds in Bogota.  This draw looks more accommodating to Tipsarevic than others in which he has held that position.  A pair of Colombians, Alejandro Falla and a wildcard, join a pair of Belgians and Australian serve-volleyer Matthew Ebden in his vicinity.  If he can rediscover the tennis that brought him to the top 10, Tipsarevic should cruise.  If he plays as he has for most of the year, anything could happen.

Among the most intriguing names in the second quarter is rising Canadian star Vasek Pospisil.  Depending on how fast the courts play in Bogota, Pospisil could deploy his serve and shot-making to devastating effect against less powerful opponents.  Australian journeyman James Duckworth showed his mettle in two epics at his home major this year, while Aljaz Bedene owns a win over Stanislas Wawrinka—but not much else.  A finalist in Delray Beach, fourth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin hopes to halt a four-match losing streak.  At least Mr. Bye cannot stop him in the first round.

Bottom half:  Surprising most observers by reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Adrian Mannarino came back to earth with a modest result in Newport.  At an event of similar caliber, he will hope to build on his momentum from grass while it still lingers.  The same motivation probably spurs third seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon after bursting on the scene with a victory over Tsonga in February.  Back into action with a quarterfinal showing in Newport, Ivo Karlovic brings his towering serve to an altitude ideal for it.  At 7,000 feet above sea level, Dr. Ivo might be nearly unbreakable if his fitness weathers the thin air.

Also armed with a massive serve, second seed Kevin Anderson eyes a cluster of Colombians.  Two home hopes meet in the first round, but Santiago Giraldo will fancy his chances to reach the quarterfinals.  Near him is Kazakh loose cannon Evgeny Korolev, who oozes with talent while lacking the reins to harness it.  Anderson has won all three of his meetings with Korolev and his only previous encounter with Giraldo, so his path to the weekend looks clear.

Final:  Unseeded player vs. Anderson

 

 

Why I Am Not Yet Sold on Jerzy Janowicz

Jerzy Janowicz(July 11, 2013) Jerzy Janowicz just played the best tournament of his career. He reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, the best result of his career. He reached a career-high ranking of World No. 17. He has a massive serve, good ground game, and already moves well enough to be a top player. The whole tennis world is expecting great things from Janowicz in the near future.

But I’m not ready to expect much from him just yet.

Am I being unfair? Am I being ridiculous? After all, the entire tennis world just saw him take Wimbledon by storm. We saw him produce tennis on a high level. Why wouldn’t I expect us to see it on a consistent basis?

The answer lies in that very question. Janowicz has developed the game to be a great player. He has the talent to be a great player? So why is he only now breaking in to the top 20?

Yes, every player has to start from somewhere. Every player gets better and better until he can reach the top of the game. But Janowicz has had this talent and ability for more than just two weeks. He played this well in reaching the final of the Masters tournament in Paris last November. So why was Janowicz not able to reach a single semifinal in the 7 months between those two tournaments?

I will be fair. Janowicz also played very well in the Masters tournament in Rome, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet before falling to Roger Federer. Even that doesn’t change the point I am trying to make.

Janowicz is a top 20 player right now, but he has done that by playing great tennis for three weeks out of the past year. He currently has 2,154 ATP ranking points. A combined 1,345 of those came from Paris and Wimbledon. He would not even be in the top 50 without those. If you ignore Rome as well he would fall out of the top 100 at the end of this week.

So what is my point? Paris, Rome, and Wimbledon did happen. You can’t just ignore them. But the fact is that they say something. Janowicz made himself from a fringe top 100 player into a top 20 player in 4 weeks. But if Janowicz is going to reach the top 10 or top 5, or even No. 1 someday like people are expecting of him, he will have to compete at his best level for more than 4 weeks out of the year.

He has shown us that he has that level. He has shown us that he can sustain it for most of a tournament. But he is going to have to do it for a much larger chunk of the season. Otherwise, where he is now may very well be the highest he can get.

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Semifinals

We can anticipate a blockbuster meeting between two members of the Big Four in the Wimbledon final after all.  The route getting there took some intriguing twists and turns, however.  Here are some reactions to Friday’s action.

That was…expected:  For the seventh time in ten years, the Wimbledon final will feature the top two men in the world.  When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal tumbled by the first Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray became overwhelming favorites to reach the second Sunday.  Credit to them for taking care of business and ensuring a worthy climax to the tournament.

But also better than expected:  With Djokovic’s semifinal opponent injured and Murray’s semifinal opponent highly inexperienced, two routs could have unfolded on Friday.  Instead, a captivated crowd saw more than seven and a half hours of high-quality tennis, courtesy of underdogs who showed determination and resilience.  Credit to Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz for battling the favorites bravely.

Marathon man:  The world No. 1 played the longest major final ever last year at the Australian Open, and this year he played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.  Novak Djokovic’s super fitness and physical style of play predispose him toward these epics, as do the ebbs and flows that still characterize his emotions.  His five-set victory over Del Potro lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just five minutes shorter than the Federer-Nadal classic in 2008 and longer than the Federer-Roddick thriller in 2009.

The march of grass revenge continues:  Having defeated his 2009 Wimbledon nemesis in the fourth round and 2010 Wimbledon nemesis in the quarterfinals, Djokovic avenged his loss on grass to Del Potro in the bronze-medal match of the 2012 Olympics.  In the final, he will get a crack at the man who denied him a chance at the gold medal there.

That was then, this is now:  Djokovic’s Wimbledon semifinal followed almost exactly the opposite pattern of his Roland Garros semifinal.  He took an early lead, let it get away, took another lead, let that get away in a fourth-set tiebreak, but then closed the fifth set in style by winning his opponent’s last service game.  With just a month between those memorable matches, the similar situation combined with the contrasting result should give him even more confidence for the final.

E for effort:  Deep in the fourth set, Del Potro cracked an unthinkable 120-mph forehand, a speed comparable to the average first serves of many players.  He also saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before forcing a final set.  The Tower of Tandil came to play despite a painful knee injury, and he willed himself to retrieve more balls and survive longer in rallies than anyone could have asked of him.  Fans could see why he had not lost a set en route to the semifinal, where he made his most impressive statement at a major since winning the 2009 US Open.

But Z for zero:  On the other hand, Del Potro remains winless against the Big Four of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and Federer at majors since the start of 2010, with at least one loss at each major.  He has won at least one set in four of those six losses, but an 0-6 record is what it is.  Players don’t get points or trophies for “almost” in this cruel sport.

Murray’s mulligan:  For the second time, Andy Murray reached the final at consecutive majors.   The previous do-over did not end well when he lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, a year after falling to Federer.  Losing last year’s final at his home major likely taught the Scot some valuable lessons that he can apply to his second chance, though, and he came much closer in his first attempt than he did in Melbourne.  One can expect Murray to shed tears for one reason or another on Sunday, and the British fans will do their best to facilitate a happier ending to the remake.

Guru of grass:  Great Britain should count itself fortunate in producing not only a remarkable champion in Murray but one suited to succeed at his home major.  Murray has won 17 straight matches and reached four consecutive finals on grass, including the Olympics gold medal and the Queens Club title earlier this month.  He will hold the surface advantage against Djokovic on Sunday with his superior first serve and stronger forecourt skills.

Contrasting paths:  Just as in the women’s draw, one finalist has survived a significantly more difficult route than the other.  Like Lisicki, Djokovic has halted three top-15 opponents en route to the final, including two top-eight seeds.  Like Bartoli, Murray has not faced a top-16 seed in his first six matches.

Contrasting trajectories:  In each of his last three matches, Djokovic has started impressively in winning the first set and then stumbled in the second set.  He rallied to win that set from Haas and Berdych anyway, but he trailed the German 2-4 and the Czech by a double break.  In contrast, Murray has started slowly in each of his last two matches, dropping the first set before roaring back to win.  If this trend continues, the final could become a best-of-three affair after the first two sets.

Rubber match:  Djokovic and Murray have contested three of the last four major finals, equal to any span compiled by Federer and Nadal.  The rivalry between the top two men has not quite caught fire yet, although they split those two previous matches in New York and Melbourne.  Perhaps extending their clashes beyond hard courts will raise the successor to Federer-Nadal a notch higher in intrigue.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Overlooked amid the drama on Centre Court, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty reached their second doubles final in three majors.  The two Australians defeated two of the top five teams in the world to reach the final, where they will face Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.  Their Fed Cup team will have a solid pairing on whom to rely in decisive doubles rubbers moving forward.

My picks for the singles finals:  I’m taking Lisicki in two and Murray in four.  This Wimbledon has belonged to the underdogs, and I think that it will stay that way.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Quarterfinals

The top two men stayed on course for a Sunday final, although in dramatically contrasting fashion.  Joining them in the semifinals are two men who never have advanced this far at Wimbledon.

Closer than it looked:  The straight-sets scoreline of Novak Djokovic’s victory over Tomas Berdych suggested yet another routine win for the world No. 1.  In reality, either of the first two sets could have tilted toward the underdog with just one or two more key points in his ledger.  Berdych took the first set to a tiebreak, losing it by a single mini-break, and led Djokovic by a double break in the second set.  The more easily ruffled version of the Serb from earlier in his career might have crumbled under that pressure.  But nothing has disturbed the top seed’s equilibrium this fortnight.  Reaching a fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal on his weakest surface, Djokovic eyes a second title in three years.

What a difference a year makes:  When Juan Martin Del Potro faced David Ferrer at Wimbledon last year, he won just eight games in an embarrassing rout.  One year later, Del Potro earned his revenge by straight-setting the Spaniard for his first victory in their rivalry since 2009.  Wimbledon remains the only major where Ferrer has not reached the semifinals, although an ankle injury may have played a role in his valiant but fallible performances throughout the tournament.  For his part, Del Potro continued to cope with a knee injury that flared up early in this battle of the walking wounded.  He now has reached the semifinals at every major except the Australian Open.

Something has to give:  Neither Djokovic nor Del Potro has lost a set at Wimbledon this year, heading into their marquee semifinal.  Del Potro has dropped serve only twice in the tournament, which should give him confidence as he aims to repeat his Indian Wells upset of the world No. 1.  It will not come easily, for Djokovic looks much sharper at Wimbledon than he did in that earlier tournament.

Heart attack for the home crowd:  British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted good luck to Andy Murray in advance of his quarterfinal against Fernando Verdasco.  Infamous for jinxing his nation’s contestants in all endeavors, Cameron nearly pulled off the impossible on Verdasco’s behalf.  The last Spaniard left in singles swept the first two sets from a flustered Murray, whom he had defeated en route to an Australian Open semifinal in 2009.  A second, even more implausible semifinal lay within Verdasco’s grasp, and a wide-open path to the title for Djokovic.  The seventh comeback of Murray’s career from a two-set deficit, culminating with a 7-5 fifth set, kept alive the prospect of a blockbuster final on Sunday.  Before that match, someone may need to deactivate Cameron’s Twitter.

Pole vaults Pole:  The least eventful quarterfinal of the day came from the section where most expected the thriller of the second Wednesday when the draw appeared.  From the quarter of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer emerged Jerzy Janowicz into his first major semifinal.  Never having reached the second week of a major before, Janowicz cruised past compatriot Lukas Kubot in straight sets.

Week of revenge?  Fourth-round opponent Tommy Haas defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2009.  Quarterfinal opponent Berdych defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2010.  Semifinal opponent Del Potro defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Likely finals opponent Murray also defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Judging by the fates of the first two, the world No. 1 could spend his week serving a heaping helping of revenge to his recent grass nemeses.

Nada, not Nadal:  For the second straight year, no Spaniard reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.  At least one Spanish man reached the semifinals at all of the other majors in 2012-13.  Expect that trend to continue with so little time separating Roland Garros from Wimbledon and most of the top Spaniards aging with few replacements on the horizon.

Question of the day:  Can Verdasco build upon his excellent result, his best performance at any tournament of significance since 2009?

Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Jerzy Janowicz Ready to Rise Above the Rest

(June 30, 2013) Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Bernard Tomic have been commonly touted as being the next generation of great champions. If the ATP World Tour was a movie, these three men are believed to be its future leads.

While I do agree these three players have voluminous potential, I believe one young man—Jerzy Janowicz—is ready to rise above them all.

Let’s take a closer look at the 22-year-old Pole’s game to see what separates him not only from the young stars of the ATP World Tour but also from the other giants of tennis.

The most glaring aspect of Janowicz’s game is his imposing serve, which he unloads with herculean strikes and in the process prevents his opponents from grasping even the slightest glimpse of the ball. Janowicz delivers his devastating, heat-sinking missile of a serve from a soaring height. At 6”8’, the Pole is not only one of the tallest players on tour but is actually one of the few players that is able to look over the net and see his opponent’s baseline (you must be 6”7’ to do so).

Janowicz’s serve of course comes with much power but it also possesses ample variation. On the deuce side, as was demonstrated in the Paris Indoor Masters last fall, Janowicz is able to slide his racket head across the outside-edge of the ball producing a side-spin serve that not only moves out and away from his opponents but also lands short in the box making it nearly unreturnable. In terms of his second-serve, Janowicz is able to torpedo up the back of the ball and produce uncanny amounts of topspin making it more of a weapon than a starting shot.

Many big men on tour such as John Isner, Milos Raonic, and Kevin Anderson can absolutely crank their serves and are able to hold quickly and often. This is all fine and dandy until you realize that winning every set in a tiebreaker is not only an unrealistic expectation but really the last thing anybody wants to be doing. Unfortunately enough, this is what a lot of tall guys on tour end up having to do because they simply cannot break serve.

No shortage of individuals have correctly pointed out that big men on tour often find themselves retreating and backtracking on second serves to give themselves more time to set up and execute the return. This puts them into highly defensive positions and exploits their poor movement.

The explanation I find more revealing of the poor returning of big men is much grimmer: These guys have inadequate reactionary prowess and will probably never be anything more than average returners because they need more time than is allotted to hit meaningful returns. If you examine a player like John Isner, you’ll find out quickly that he loves running around his backhand and taking massive cuts on his forehands—granted he has time. Milos Raonic is much the same in that while he may be a big ball striker, he thrives when given time and often crumbles when rushed. This necessity for time during rallies extends to the return of serve.

Janowicz, unlike several of his towering contemporaries, takes a fearless and aggressive stance when returning serve. Against Andy Murray in Paris last year, Janowicz was almost standing on top of the baseline for first serve returns and was inside the baseline on countless second serve returns. Needless to say, Andy Murray’s serve is no pushover. Janowicz is able to establish such a proactive return stance for multiple reasons. One, Janowicz has speedy reactions and is able to anticipate and pick up on where his opponents are serving. Secondly, Janowicz’s forehand and backhand do not have protracted swing paths thus when returning, he is used to producing the abbreviated swings needed to deflect back powerful serves.

Speaking of Janowicz groundstrokes, the Pole’s forehand and backhand are undoubtedly some of the flattest strokes on tour. Janowicz drives through the ball with low-margin, enterprising and authoritative linear strikes. Janowicz’s forehand grip is also one of the most extreme on tour. He uses a full eastern grip approaching a continental grip which helps to explain the flat nature of his groundstrokes. Despite Janowicz’s groundstrokes being very high-risk, he is able to stay in elongated rallies because his swings are short and simple thus he is not going to be breaking down mechanically when under pressure.

The commanding power Janowicz possesses is beautifully contrasted by his out of world feel. The tennis world was shocked when the big man started pulling out the most deft and well-timed of drop shots in Paris last fall. This feel is translated to his net play which is assisted by his extremely long wingspan.

I would also be remiss to exclude the fact that Janowicz possesses absolutely shocking movement for a guy of his height. His court coverage and all-around speed are unbelievable and frankly unprecedented for a guy of his stature.

Ultimately, if you compare Janowicz’s game to the other young phenoms on tour, it becomes evident the Pole’s game has more dimensions. He has more weapons on court than any of the other young talents and certainly can do more than almost all of the big guys. I could go on and on praising the ability of this guy, but I think he’d prefer to prove how good he is on court.

As we head into the second week of Wimbledon, Janowicz is two matches away from a likely semifinal encounter with Andy Murray. If Janowicz does end up facing Murray, expect the Pole to display his full repertoire of shot making backed by a supreme level of confidence for Centre Court on Friday.

Don’t look now, but a week from today, we could very well be watching Jerzy Janowicz step on to Centre Court as a Wimbledon finalist.

Can Anyone Stop Andy Murray From Reaching the Wimbledon Final?

(June 28, 2013) Andy Murray came out firing in his third-round match and Tommy Robredo didn’t know what hit him. Robredo played very strong tennis for much of the match and even hit some incredible shots. But at the end of the day, he stood no chance against Murray and lost 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.

And now, Murray is primed for a clear path to the finals against Novak Djokovic, as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have all been taken out already. But if this tournament has taught us anything, it’s that we should never take anything for granted about the top seed winning the match.

That being said, Murray has looked nearly unbeatable this tournament. His defense and depth of shot have been incredible. His movement has been crisp and his shot selection has been almost perfect. When Murray plays at this level it takes an incredible performance to stop him.

So who could Murray meet along the way that could derail his path to the final? For starters, he could meet a resurgent Viktor Troicki in the next round. Troicki’s level of play fell for much of last year, but he is playing well again and looks very comfortable on the grass. He is 0-5 in his career against Murray, but did win the first two sets in a match at Roland Garros two years ago. Of course, he has to get by Mikhail Youzhny first.

No quarterfinal opponent should pose any problems for Murray on grass, unless Ernests Gulbis decides to play out of his mind tennis for the rest of this tournament. Even then, though, Murray should be able to handle almost whatever Gulbis throws at him.

The only place that we can really see trouble for Murray is in the semifinals. Jerzy Janowicz has backed up his final at the Paris Masters last year with a great season and he is only getting better. The big Pole has been playing great tennis this tournament, bombing down huge serves and supplementing that with a lethal ground game.

Janowicz clearly has the talent and the style to trouble Murray’s game. His serve is big, accurate, and well-placed enough to nullify Murray’s amazing return game. Janowicz can also hit with—and hit through—Murray from the baseline, something that few players in the world today can do. Murray is still the better player, there is no doubt about that. But if someone is going to stop the Scot from reaching the final, Janowicz is your best bet.

Wimbledon Rewind: Murray Shines, Janowicz Soars, Kerber Crumbles, Ferrer Survives, Kvitova Wobbles on Day 5

The rain continued to make its presence felt on Friday as a mixture of postponed second-round matches and third-round matches unfolded.  Here are the studs and duds from the fifth day of Midsummer Mayhem, where no seed is safe.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The tremors of Wednesday’s earthquakes have not quite left Wimbledon.  In his second-round match, David Ferrer split the first two sets with compatriot Roberto-Bautista Agut and needed a tiebreak to salvage the third.  Perhaps emboldened by the feats of other underdogs, Bautista-Agut battled deep into the fourth set before the last Spanish man left in the draw limped through.  After arduous four-set victories in the first two rounds, though, blood is in the water around Ferrer, the victim of multiple turf tumbles.  His future opponents await their chances to pounce.

Upset of the day:  This upset mostly happened yesterday, in fact, when Grega Zemlja and Grigor Dimitrov exited the court locked at 9-8 in the fifth set.  The longest final set of the tournament in terms of games ended with Dimitrov excused to join Maria Sharapova at a sunnier location.  Despite his enormous promise, he still has not reached the second week of a major and continues to struggle in the best-of-five format.

Gold star:  A non-entity a year ago, Jerzy Janowicz hammered 30 aces against the 15th-seeded Nicolas Almagro to reach the second week of a major for the first time.  Janowicz has not dropped a set in the tournament and should be considered the favorite to reach the (gasp) semifinals in the quarter vacated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  He has shown far more discipline this week than at most previous tournaments this year.

Silver star:  Last year’s runner-up has become the only top-15 man left in the bottom half of the draw.  Andy Murray dispatched Tommy Robredo methodically for a third consecutive straight-sets win.  He will enter every match until the final as an overwhelming favorite, adding to the pressure already on him at his home major.

One-hit wonder:  The man who slew Roger Federer fell victim just one round later, no more able to build on his accomplishment than the man who slew Rafael Nadal.  Sergiy Stakhovsky dropped a four-setter to Jurgen Melzer two days after Steve Darcis withdrew from the tournament with a shoulder injury.  But both of these men outside the top 100 will have a story to tell for the rest of their lives.

Question of the day:  Brought back today for the third and fourth sets of his second-round match, Jeremy Chardy returns tomorrow to face Novak Djokovic.  The French shot-maker reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year and could threaten the Serb on grass with his forward-moving attack.  But will he lack the energy to make a match of it?

WTA:

Upset of the day:  Six of the top ten women have started their midsummer holiday already, most exiting in uneventful fashion.  World No. 7 and 2012 semifinalist Angelique Kerber looked likely to survive the tsunami of upsets when she led the dangerous Kaia Kanepi, a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist, by a set and by 5-1 in the second-set tiebreak.  Undeterred by those odds, Kanepi swept five straight points and eventually the tiebreak.  She asserted control early in the final set against a reeling Kerber, who suffered the latest in a string of painful three-set losses this year.

Comeback of the day:  Still in the draw with Victoria Azarenka’s withdrawal, Flavia Pennetta has made the most of the opportunity.  The Italian veteran had earned mostly tepid results since returning from injury this spring, but she now finds herself in the second week of Wimbledon.  Pennetta dropped a first-set bagel to fellow clay specialist Alize Cornet, only to wrest away the momentum in a second-set tiebreak and cruise through the third.  Call it Kanepi-Kerber Lite.

Gold star:   Depending on the result of a postponed match, Marion Bartoli might find herself the highest-ranked woman in the bottom half of the draw when Monday arrives.  The 15th seed and 2007 finalist notched another straight-sets win over another mediocre opponent.  It is possible that Bartoli could reach the semifinals without facing anyone ranked higher than No. 70 Christina McHale, but one cannot fault her for the shortcomings of those around her.

Silver star:  The adrenaline of playing a top-ten woman at Wimbledon probably carried Laura Robson to her first-round upset of Maria Kirilenko.  Another rush of adrenaline arrived when Robson stepped onto Centre Court for her next match.  She used it to her advantage in a comfortable victory over Mariana Duque Marino.  With no seed left in her vicinity, a quarterfinal berth would not come as a shock.

One-hit wonder:  Like Stakhovsky, Michelle Larcher de Brito subsided meekly in the wake of her massive upset.  She fell to the equally unremarkable Karin Knapp, giving Italy at least two women in the second week pending Roberta Vinci’s match tomorrow.  The last supposedly rising star who defeated Maria Sharapova in the second round of Wimbledon, Alla Kudryavtseva, never went on to achieve anything more significant.  We will see whether Larcher de Brito can build something stronger from it.

Americans in London:  In a tale of two very different sets, No. 17 Sloane Stephens eked out a tiebreak against qualifier Petra Cetkovska—and then gulped down a bagel in the second set.  She will return tomorrow with one set to decide who reaches the second week.  If Stephens does, she would have advanced to that stage at every major this year, more than eight of the top ten women can say.  Meanwhile, Alison Riske avenged compatriot Mallory Burdette’s loss to Urszula Radwanska by battling past Agnieszka’s sister in three sets.

Question of the day:  Leading fellow lefty Ekaterina Makarova by a set and 2-1, world No. 8 Petra Kvitova lost seven straight games.  The easily flustered former champion now trails Makarova by a break in the final set as a golden opportunity to plow deep into a major draw threatens to slip away.  Can Kvitova collect herself when play resumes tomorrow?

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