It wasn’t so long ago that players from Argentina dominated the ATP rankings, with Guillermo Canas, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, Mariano Puerta and David Nalbandian all spending time in the top 10.
The only one of those players still active today is Nalbandian, and he’s going for something again that he and his compatriots weren’t able to achieve, a Davis Cup title. But the final obstacle to achieving that goal is a longtime tennis powerhouse in its own right: Spain, led by top-five players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.
Pulling off the upset against the host nation will be a difficult task for Argentina, but there are some things that could work to their advantage:
A Top 10-Caliber Player of Their Own
Juan Martin del Potro will be leading the singles effort for Argentina. This has been a year to remember for the 23-year-old as he rebounded back from wrist surgery, returning his ranking to the top 15. He’s a force on all surfaces, particularly clay, which the players will be doing battle on this week.
A Top 15-Caliber Player, Too
The likely second singles spot will go to Juan Monaco. “Pico” has been ranked as high as 14 in the world and has a winning record against Ferrer. All three of Monaco’s career singles titles have come on clay, so surface shouldn’t be a factor. He’s also on one of his best stretches in years: reaching the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, the finals in Valencia and the quarterfinals at the Paris Indoors event.
While Nadal and Ferrer were facing the best of the best at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, the Argentine players were able to start preparing for the year’s final event a little earlier. Ferrer was able to win two of his round-robin matches relatively easy, but did have a battle against Tomas Berdych at the 02 Arena. Nadal didn’t advance out of group play, but did go three sets with Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With the way Nadal and Ferrer play, any extended matches add more wear-and-tear on their bodies.
The (Good and Bad) Experience Factor
While Argentina has yet to win the Davis Cup, the team has advanced to the finals twice since 2006. Nalbandian and Juan Ignacio Chela were both members of those squads, and have played during years where the team was the odds-on favorite to win the whole tournament. Those two are entering the latter stages of their careers, and more than likely will end them without Grand Slam glory. But they’ve seen almost everything the tour has to offer, and could be a steadying hand when the pressure is on in the final tie of 2011.
Andy Murray vs. Donald Young
American Donald Young will attempt to keep his best-ever Grand Slam showing moving along as he faces fourth seeded Andy Murray in the opening match on Arthur Ashe stadium at 11am. It is hard to believe that Young is only 22 years old as it seems he has been struggling on the ATP World Tour for years already. Actually, he has been struggling on the Tour for years as he rushed into his professional career at the tender age of 15.
Young has slowly begun maturing and making some strides this year that have signalled he is ready to move towards the expectations the tennis world has held for him for so long. Earlier this year he defeated Murray on the hard courts of Indian Wells. More recently he made the semi-finals of a level-500 tournament in Washington, D.C. as well.
That meeting in March was the only career encounter between Young and Murray, but expect a much different result on Tuesday. Young has been riding an emotional roller-coaster in New York with big wins over Stan Wawrinka and Juan Ignacio Chela, but faces a player of an entirely different calibre in Murray.
The Scotsman has amped-up his game over the past month and is not playing at the same mediocre level he was at earlier in the season when they first met.
Young can take home a lot of confidence from New York but he won’t take another victory.
Prediction: Murray in three
Gilles Muller vs. Rafael Nadal
No-doubt recovered from his press-conference cramping incident from Sunday that was highly and uncomfortably covered by television cameras, Rafa Nadal will be feeling just fine as he faces severe under-dog Gilles Muller.
Nadal has yet to drop a set in the tournament and the defending champion rarely bows-out of a Grand Slam early. While I still have doubts about his ability to defend his title from a year ago, I can’t see him getting bounced by Muller.
The pair have a career head-to-head record of 2-1 in Nadal’s favor, but Muller’s win was back in 2005 when Nadal was still discovering his game on hard-courts. More recently, they met at Wimbledon this summer with Nadal prevailing 7-6, 7-6, 6-0.
Muller has performed well in New York before, making the quarter-finals in 2008. He may give Rafa a challenge for a set, but otherwise will have to come up with the best tennis of his career to cause an upset.
Prediction: Nadal in four
John Isner vs. Gilles Simon
In a match that will offer fans a real contrast in styles, bit serving American John Isner will take-on the hustling baseline game of Frenchman Gilles Simon. This will be the first meeting between the two and the result is really anyone’s guess.
Simon’s best Grand Slam result was the quarter-finals of the Aussie Open in 2009 while Isner has made the fourth round at three majors including this one.
Both players have solid winning records on the Tour this year while Isner came into the Open with a tournament win in Winston-Salem. Both have had to beat top-level players in their journey here so far, with Isner defeating Marcos Baghdatis in the fist round and Simon just coming off a victory against Juan Martin Del Potro.
I see this one going the distance with at least a couple of tie-breaks given Isner’s outstanding service game. Could go either way but I’ll take a leap and go with Isner thanks in-part to the crowd support he’ll receive.
Prediction: Isner in five.
Andy Roddick vs. David Ferrer
In the opening match of the evening session, the third American man in action on Tuesday will be 2003 champion, Andy Roddick.
Roddick has finally found his game after struggling with injuries and consistency issues all summer long. He dispatched Julien Benneteau in routine fashion in the previous round and the Frenchman had been playing some great tennis coming in. Things are about to get a whole lot harder against Ferrer.
The Spaniard can hang on any surface and will never, ever, get tired. Ferrer holds a 5-3 advantage over Roddick in their prior matches and defeated him this year in Davis Cup play in straight sets on hard-courts. For those who don’t know Roddick well, he is a guy who lives for representing his nation. He gives 110% in Davis Cup matches, so you can imagine how well Ferrer must have been playing to attain the victory on that day.
While I feel that Andy may yet have a crack at going deep in another Grand Slam before the end of his career, I don’t see it happening here with Ferrer standing in his way.
Prediction: Ferrer in four.
Let’s take a quick look at the matches set for Sunday at the U.S. Open on the men’s side. The third round is set to finish-up and there are some great battles to keep an eye on.
Alex Bogomolov Jr. is having a career year and has made the third round of his second consecutive Grand Slam. At the age of 28 he is a career high of 44th in the world and that is likely going to rise even further following the completion of this tournament. Just how well has Bogo been playing this year in comparison with his previous years on tour? In this one season alone he has amassed almost a third of his career earnings!
Bogo’s run will likely come to an end against John Isner who is also having a terrific summer and has had more success in big-time matches. Isner has won both their career head-to-head matches on the ATP World Tour and both of those victories were earlier this year. I’ve got Isner in straight sets in this one.
Juan Martin Del Potro will continue to strive for another strong showing at the Open as he faces 12th seeded Gilles Simon of France. Despite being seeded 18th himself, Del Po will be considered the favorite in this one. Del Potro has lost to Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic and Roger Federer this summer and has yet to get on a roll since Wimbledon ended. Still, those are all quality opponents and he is no-doubt feeling comfortable at the site of his only Slam win.
Del Potro has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against Simon and beat him here in New York in 2008 as well as in June of this year at the All-England Club. I’ll take the Argentine in four sets.
Donald Young is having the break-out moment of his career here at the Open as evidenced in his stunning come-from-behind victory over Stan Wawrinka in the second round. Young is going to take-down Juan Ignacio Chela in the next round to continue on his impressive form. Four sets is likely, but Chela could use his experience to push to five in a failing effort.
Andy Murray came back with a vengeance against Robin Haase in a strange second round encounter. He pulled out the victory in five sets and with a day to rest should be ready to go against Feliciano Lopez. Murray in three this time.
David Ferrer saw-off a potentially tough challenge from James Blake in the previous round. He’ll face Florian Mayer, a player who is having career-best results but ultimately is not talented enough to take it any further. With Ferrer’s tenacity and game that is tailor-made for best-of-five sets, the Spaniard will breeze through this one in three.
Andy Roddick has admitted he is still not back to where his game is capable of being, yet he finds himself in the third round against French vet Julien Benneteau. Andy should be able to use the home-crowd to his advantage, but Benneteau did reach the finals at Winston Salem a week ago and could be capable of an upset. Roddick’s serve will have to be sharp and he cannot hesitate to charge the net when the timing is right. Roddick holds a 3-1 advantage against Benneteau but the duo have not played each other in three years. I’ll take Roddick in four, but would not be shocked if Benneteau comes up with a surprise.
Coin-toss in the Gilles Muller vs. Igor Kunitsyn match. This should have been a Mikhail Youzhny vs. Jurgen Melzer match if the seedings had held true, but neither of those players were able to fend off their challengers.
Most casual tennis fans won’t be too familiar with these two guys, so here’s a quick breakdown:
Kunitsyn is 29 years old and is ranked 62nd in the world. He reached a career-high of 35th in the world in 2009 and attaining the third round here is his best result at a Grand Slam.
Muller is best remembered for stealing Andy Roddick’s mojo at the Open back in 2005. He is 28 years old and ranked 66th in the world at the moment. His career high ranking is 59th which he reached back in 2005. His best Slam result was here at the U.S. Open in 2008 when he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Roger Federer.
Kunitsyn leads their previous matches by a 1-0 margin coming by way of a victory in Washington earlier this summer. I’m going to go with Muller in this one due to his previous Slam experience and results but it’s gonna go the distance for sure.
Last but not least we have a match that would have been a whole lot of fun to watch about four or five years ago. Talented but oft-injured David Nalbandian takes on 2nd seeded Rafael Nadal.
Nalbandian has again struggled with injuries this season and has been burdened with lacklustre results all summer long. Nadal has been less than his usual stellar self since reaching the finals of Wimbledon, but has still performed decently on hard-courts leading up to the Open.
While Nalbandian is one of the few players who boasts a solid record against Nadal, he is in over his head Sunday. The pair stand tied at two wins each, with all four matches coming on hard court. Nalbandian has lost the last two however and has not beat Rafa since 2007. Nadal will take this one in three relatively easy sets.
Enjoy the long-weekend tennis everyone. Check back with us again soon for more updates and analysis.
Novak Djokovic seems to have found a way to keep his magical results going all year long – Around the corner
As the Rogers Cup is set to wrap-up this weekend in Montreal with the men, the draw for the second consecutive Masters 1000 event has just been released in Cincinnati. With the U.S. Open just two weeks away now, players will be looking to fine-tune their games and round into form for the finalGrand Slam of the year.
How will Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray rebound after poor showings in Canada? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the draws they have received as well as how they deal with their mental and physical short-comings from this past week.
World number one Novak Djokovic will enjoy the benefits of a first round bye at the Western and Southern Open and gets the winner of American Ryan Harrison and Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. The progress that Harrison has made this year has been quite positive and he is giving U.S. tennis fans some real hope as they continue to search for the successor to Andy Roddick. Harrison should get by Chela, a player whose game is never really that dangerous on hard-courts.
Djokovic also has Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils in his section of the draw. Both of those players made the quarter-finals in Montreal this week. Djokovic can handle either, especially evidenced by his 6-2, 6-1 beating of Monfils on Friday evening.
Andy Roddick makes his return to the ATP World Tour after some injury issues of late. Currently ranked 12th in the world, Roddick could see his ranking start to fall quickly if he cannot put together some results this summer. Roddick has not played since a Davis Cup loss to David Ferrer on hard-courts in early July. He will open in Cincy against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a tricky opponent to be sure.
Djokovic should be able to advance through this section but having too much success just prior to the Open could be problematic down the road. A player does not want to peak too early, although it seems that Djokovic has found a way to keep his magical results going all year long.
In the following quarter of the draw, Roger Federer is not going to have an easy run. While he was fortunate to draw Canadian wildcard Vasek Pospisil in Montreal, his first adversary in Cincy will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Andreas Seppi. No offence to Seppi, but it would be shocking if he could get by the 6’6” Argentine.
Federer will be pushed to the limit by Del Potro and could see his U.S. Open preparations seriously harmed if he’s not on top of his game. Federer holds a 6-2 advantage in their career head-to-head, but Del Po has won the last two encounters.
Tomas Berdych is also in this section of the draw as the 8th seed, but you can never get your hopes up with this guy. It seems like a mix of quarter-final and semi-final appearances this year are all we are going to get out of the talented but enigmatic Czech. He hasn’t beaten a quality opponent all year long, so I wouldn’t expect that to change now. This guy must drive his coach nuts!
On the other side of the draw Rafael Nadal will try to get things back on track after a surprising second round defeat to Ivan Dodig. While Federer losing to Tsonga in Montreal was always within the realm of possibility, I don’t think anyone really saw that Dodig loss coming for Nadal.
The Spaniard will play either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or a qualifier in his opening match. That should be the perfect prescription to get things going to him. A quarter-final match against Mardy Fish is a possibility for Nadal, although with Fish going deep in Montreal I wonder how much energy he will want to expend in back-to-back weeks.
Keep an eye on the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov who opens against Richard Gasquet in this quarter as well as Fernando Verdasco and veteran Xavier Malisse as a longshot who can still play the game quite well.
Finally, Andy Murray will try to find his form against the winner of David Nalbandian and a qualifier. Nalbandian can’t seem to catch a break as he opened against Wawrinka in Montreal. Murray should be a good bet to dispatch of the veteran Argentine and hopefully the doubles action he saw with his older brother Jamie in Montreal will help him out here.
David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also in this section and are fantastic hard-court players who could go deep here if Murray is still working out the kinks in his game.
Of the top-twenty players in the world, only Sweden’s Robin Soderling is missing in action.
My picks for a final four this week will be Djokovic vs. Del Potro and Murray against Dolgopolov. I don’t see Federer getting by his first opponent and something just didn’t seem right with Nadal while practicing or playing in Montreal this past week.
Let the speculation for the U.S. Open continue. It will be here before we know it!
Tennis fans in Montreal were in-store for a great day on Wednesday with the world’s top three players slated to hit Centre Court. Everyone was wondering how Djokovic, Nadal and Federer would respond after such a long layoff. Would there be any upsets as we saw yesterday with Andy Murray?
In the opening match of the day, Roger Federer made his return to the courts since a quick Davis Cup appearance in early July for Switzerland. He has not seen any tournament match-play since a shocking quarter-final loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the All-England Club in June.
Today was one of those rare days where Federer did not have the whole crowd behind him as he was matched-up against young Canadian Vasek Pospisil. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this kid as this was the first main-draw ATP World Tour event of his career.
Only having just recently turned 21 years of age and ranked 155th in the world, Pospisil had failed to qualify for the Rogers Cup in his previous two attempts. This year, due in part to his strong play for Canada in the Davis Cup, he was granted a wild-card into the main draw. He did not disappoint yesterday as he advanced to the second round with a gutsy three-set win over 22nd ranked Juan Ignacio Chela.
Although Pospisil managed to stay with Federer today through the first ten games of the opening set, nerves kicked in when serving at 5-6. Pospisil knew this would be a factor coming into the match as Federer was his idol growing up. He dropped four straight points to hand the set over to the world’s number three player.
In the second frame, Federer seemed to find his game and the pace picked up quickly. Pospisil could not match it and looked somewhat helpless as his hero walked away with it 7-5, 6-3. The young Canadian admitted he had never before seen shots like Federer’s in his short professional career.
“I mean, I knew he plays fast. But it’s another level of fast, to be honest. I’ve never felt a ball that goes through the court as fast as his does, especially his forehand.”
Still, the result was a promising one for Pospisil who will now see his ranking reach an all-time high of roughly 145th in the world according to ATP stats guru Greg Sharko.
“My plan was just to concentrate on my own game, kind of hit my targets, try to play the ball rather than the occasion and the player,” Pospisil said after the match had ended. “Obviously it’s a lot easier said than done when you step on the court and you have Federer in front of you.”
Federer will advance to a terrific third round match that everyone was hoping for against Tsonga. The Frenchman defeated rising Australian star Bernard Tomic today in straight sets 6-3, 7-6(1). I asked Tsonga if Federer had lost some of his intimidation after beating him both here in Montreal two years ago as well as at Wimbledon this summer.
“Anyway, (he’s) still the best player ever for me. So it’s still tough to play against him. And I think the win I had in the past, you know, they will help me, of course. But like when I lost against him, because I lost many times, I think all these matches will help me a lot.”
Later on Wednesday, American John Isner came out and quickly finished-off Marcos Baghdatis in a match that was postponed due to rain Tuesday evening. Isner was up 6-3, 1-0 when play resumed and was not challenged by Baghdatis as he would close out the match 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the next round. Isner won’t get much rest as he plays Viktor Troicki later in the day.
Next up the world got its first look at newly crowned world number one Novak Djokovic. It took a while for Djokovic to look the part as he quickly found himself down by two breaks against Nikolay Davydenko. The Russian used to be a top-ten stalwart but has seen his game hampered since a wrist injury that kept him out for a good stretch in 2010. Davydenko came ready to play today though and his crisp ground-strokes were finding their mark deep in the court.
Just when Twitter was starting to buzz with talk of an upset, Djokovic came back into the first set thanks in part to some errors on Davydenko’s part. The 30th ranked player in the world then crumbled in the second and the victory was Djokovic’s 7-5, 6-1. Disaster averted.
Life won’t get any easier for Djokovic as he will next play either Marin Cilic or Juan Martin Del Potro who were on-serve at 3-3 in the first set when rain halted play just after 5pm ET.
Other final results from today in Montreal:
Monfils d. Bogomolov Jr. 6-2, 7-6(5) (Le Monf pleases the French fans here)
Berdych d. Dolgopolov 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 (Nice recovery by Berdych against a tough early-round opponent)
Gasquet d. Bellucci 6-1, 6-4 (Gasquet looking great through two matches here so far)
Wawrinka d. Russell 6-3, 6-2 (Wawrinka also breezing through opponents)
Almagro d. Stakhovsky 6-2, 7-6(5) (Good result on hard-court for Almagro, but Gasquet up next)
Karlovic d. Petzschner 6-7(0), 7-6(2), 7-6(6) (Five out of six sets have been tie-breaks for Ivo so far)
Andy Murray resumed his epic round of 16 encounter with Viktor Troicki at Roland Garros today and completed his comeback after coming back from 2-5 down in the deciding set.
He is through to the quarter-finals for the second time in his career and now faces unseeded Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela for a place in the semis.
It completed a fantastic turnaround for the world number four who had trailed by two sets yesterday before pulling it back to 2-2 in the descending dusk of the French capital.
But any signs of the ankle injury which had contributed to his slow start on Court Suzanne Lenglen yesterday were not forthcoming, although the Scot will be far from happy with his start to today’s deciding set.
Murray had two chances to break Troicki early on but failed to take either as the Serb played the pressure points extremely well.
Game six then started in controversial style when a ball boy encroached on the court just as he dispatched a smash to go 0-15 up. The umpire demanded a replay of the point, which Murray then won. But the 15th seed rallied to force Murray in to sending a forehand long to give Troicki the break, before moving 5-2 ahead after saving a Murray break point with a luscious drop shot.
But his nerve faltered when serving at 5-3 for the set. At 30-30, a desperately poor back hand and an attempted drop shot in to the net saw Murray break back and within the blink of an eye it was 5-5.
The set passed the hour mark, and Murray let slip a 40-0 lead when serving for the match, but a superb cross-court backhand on his fourth match point somehow fell in and the comeback was complete.
On Court Philippe Chatrier, Francesca Schiavone completed a comeback of her own to overcome Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and take her place in the semi finals.
With so many seeds having fallen already she will have taken great self belief from her ability to grind out the win when it mattered and she is now well-fancied to make it two French Open titles in a row after her victory over Sam Stosur twelve months ago.
She started terribly, Pavlyuchenkova’s decisive play allowing her to storm to the first set 6-1.
But the Italian fifth seed showed a resilience many of the top stars have been lacking. Trailing 1-4 in the second, she fought back magnificently, taking advantage of the teenager’s obvious nerves to set up a third.
Schiavone’s full arsenal was now on display, but this match between the oldest and youngest members of the Top 20 wasn’t finished yet. With the reigning champion leading 5-1 Pavlyuchenkova again started finding winners and clawed it back to 5-5.
Yet the momentum swung again and despite the 19-year-old Russian saving two match points Schiavone dispatched her third to secure what had looked an unlikely victory.
With the dust still settling in our memories over the stunning year that was 2010 the new tennis calendar is already upon us. It seems not too long ago that Federer was dismantling a shattered Rafa Nadal at London’s o2 Arena in the ATP Tour Finals. But with Christmas coming and going with its ever-rapid characteristics Down Under has opened its tennis season with aplomb.
Everyone has their favourite star and their own pantomime villains. And everyone has an ideal year mapped out in their mind with their top men and women coming out trumps at all the major tournaments, myself included.
So, as a year-beginning blog I have decided to look ahead to the 2011 men’s tour and predict, not entirely seriously, what may (or probably not) happen throughout the year ahead…
The early hard court season jumps in to life at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha building up to the first slam of the year in Australia. Andy Murray falls in the second round blaming the heat and a low-flying seagull and promptly sacks his coach. Juan Martin del Potro is still suffering with his troublesome wrist but plays his way to the quarter finals using only his good hand. The final is slightly predictable with Rafa and Roger battling their way there but to spruce things up after their recent exhibition exploits on water, centre court is flooded and the pair do battle in full scuba gear. Roger comes out as winner in four sets. As January winds down in Santiago, Chile, Juan Ignacio Chela wins the Movistar Open and is touted as this year’s big hope to challenge Rafa in the clay season.
As the early hard season slowly slides in to clay, Thomaz Belluci lifts his home Brasil Open title while Gael Monfils dances his way to the Open 13 in Marseille where he celebrates with a perfectly executed Moonwalk across court. Four Americans reach the semifinals at Memphis and again at Delray Beach. Wayne Odesnik wins both tournaments which causes mass outrage throughout the sport. He is touted for a Davis Cup call but Jim Courier decides to take a seething Mardy Fish instead.
The first Masters events of the year begin and fresh off Davis Cup victory Andy Roddick, Fish, The Bryans and John Isner are on fire. A sulking Sam Querrey falls early in both. Andy Murray comes out on top at Indian Wells beating Roddick in the final but then typically falls early at Miami and promptly sacks his coach. Nadal faces Robin Soderling in the final who has been slating the ‘Big Two’ all year. Rafa takes it with two bagel sets bringing tears and tantrums from the egotistical Swede.
April begins with Rafa rubbing his hands and licking his lips at the prospect of another clay season. Young Yank Ryan Harrison takes the title at Houston and is the latest star to be labelled ‘the next Sampras.’ Rafa takes Monte Carlo as expected with a straight set win over Fernando Verdasco in the final. Most notably throughout the tournament he seems to be multitasking while on court, even seen filing his nails whilst rallying with his compatriot. There is no real sign of Chela. Novak Djokovic again takes the Serbia Open in Belgrade and is installed as ruler of the nation for his achievements. He decides to sit out the rest of the 2011 season to concentrate on his new role.
Madrid and Rome are again taken by Rafa who now appears to be growing bored on court. Whilst dismantling Marcos Baghdatis in the final in Rome he appears to give interviews to Spanish television during the match. As everyone arrives in Paris the shocking news emanates that Rafa has decided he is bored of lifting the French Open with such ease and has decided to umpire the tournament instead to see who else can win it. With the new celebrity chair the French players really kick on in the race to be crowned their nation’s new hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retires from his first round match injured while Michael Llodra comes through an epic five set semi with R-Fed to face Monfils in the final. The marathon man then takes Monfils through six hours of stupendous Gallic play and the greatest French Open final of all time ends with Monfils on the floor in a tantrum pounding the floor with his fists. Llodra is crowned the saviour of France.
As the ATP Tour comes to Britain tennis stars snap up as much Royal Wedding memorabilia as they can get their hands on as the traditional Wimbledon plate is switched for a porcelain edition bearing the faces of beloved Wills and Kate. Andy Murray takes both Queens and Eastbourne and is believed to be a dead cert for Wimbledon. But he crashes out in round three and promptly sacks his coach. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut somehow weave their way to the final and the tents are brought out in preparation for the impending marathon. Isner wins in three sets. Roger Federer makes some possible unsavoury comments about Mahut after he overcame the Swiss God in the semis and the world’s media call him unsporting and a scurvy dog for the next six months before involving him in another betting scandal claiming he and Rafa betted on many of the matches the Spaniard had chaired at the French Open.
Serbia’s Davis Cup title defence ends at the quarter final stage and King Djokovic has the entire team executed for letting their nation down. Federer re-hits form late on again by taking Bastad and Gstaad while Roddick is doing well by taking Hamburg and Los Angeles. The Americans work themselves in to a fervour over the home prospects for the US Open and many pundits are with them because of the top form of A-Rod, Harrison and Isner. David Nalbandian wins in Atlanta and everyone once again remembers who he is. There is talk of a possible push in New York. Surely not…
Nalbandian again wins at the Legg Mason Classic. He takes a marathon final against Baghdatis, his other eternally injured friend. Andy Murray loses in the second round in Montreal and sees his title slip away. He again blames a lack of love for tennis and promptly sacks his coach before announcing his retirement from the sport. Roger takes the title before losing the Cincinnati final to Roddick. America is literally on the edge of its seat. Rafa ruptures the tendons in both knees in the third round at Cincy against Ernests Gulbis and will miss the rest of the season.
The final Slam of the year in New York explodes in to life with the partisan crowd firmly behind Roddick. He finally puts all the pain behind him by overcoming Federer at last in the semis in five sets. Federer is immediately written off by the world’s media, again. In the other semi Soderling falls to a resurgent Nalbandian and America gears itself up to crown Roddick their new leader. But he falls apart. His serve leaves him, his ground strokes are erratic and Nalbandian triumphs in four to become the second Argentine in three years to silence Arthur Ashe court. He quickly sees his title switch from the best player of the last decade not to win a major to the sixth best player of the last decade to win one.
With no Rafa, Murray or Djokovic to compete with Federer once again silences his critics by beginning a clean sweep of the late tournaments. He takes the China Open, Shanghai, the Kremlin Cup, Vienna and Basel without losing a set. Over in Valencia David Ferrer shoots to the final after a quiet year where he meets the marathon man Llodra. Ferrer takes the final in five much to the delight of the home fans. Murray decides he was wrong to be so hasty and announces his return to tennis, promising he will win that first Slam in 2012. Djokovic declares that all Serbian children will take karaoke lessons as well as practice tennis at school as of 2015.
In Paris, Federer finally runs out of steam and drops a set against Brian Dabul. Critics are again on his back saying he is finished. He manages to reach the quarter finals where he falls to Ryan Harrison. The American youth then falls to Del Potro in the semi who in turn loses to Soderling in the final. The Swede moves to No. 3 in the world and says he is ever so close to breaking the Top 2 but nobody is listening anymore. The ATP Finals kick off with a somewhat decimated lineup. Federer, Soderling, Roddick, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Isner, Ferrer and Verdasco do battle in London with the eyes of the tennis world watching on. Ferrer, Verdasco, Nalbandian and Roddick fall at the group stage leaving Soderling and Federer to battle it out in the final after overcoming Del Potro and Isner respectively. Federer triumphs in straight sets and the Swede storms off court refusing to take part in the ceremony, predictions in tatters. The USA take the Davis Cup home after defeating Russia in the final and it is seen as a victory for politics rather than tennis.
Well, stranger things have happened!
With the dust settling on yet another fantastic Indian Wells event Ivan Ljubicic will slowly be coming to terms with his first record-breaking ATP Masters title and I bet that smile hasn’t faded one inch on those rugged, ageing lips.
Almost as soon as one showcase finishes, another is set to begin: such is the modern game of tennis.
Miami is the stage this time around as the Masters makes its way across North America before leaping over the Atlantic to Europe.
Featuring 16 of the world’s top 20 players it promises to be as vivacious and tantalizing as its western brother just gone and all eyes will be on the big stories of the last two weeks.
Can Andy Murray build on his 2009 victory? Will R-Fed be looking to banish the ghosts of Marcos Baghdatis? Will Rafa finally return to the form we know he can so breathtakingly produce? Can Ljubicic become only the seventh player since Jim Courier to win these two titles back-to-back? Now that would really be turning back the clock for the Croatian freight-train.
The four quarters of the draw make your mouth simply gush water as you cast your eyes through each one.
Starting with the first, we see that the potential of a Federer-Cilic quarter final is on the cards. Holy smokes! Having only met once before on the hard courts of Paris in 2008 Federer holds the advantage. Yet two years has seen the young Croat grow in stature to match his vast frame and his performances Down Under in January certainly make this no easy feat for the greatest player of all time.
And who would write off Marcos Baghdatis after his exploits over the past two weeks? He seems to revel in being the underdog, the unknown. Perhaps people talking up his chances once more may be detrimental. Or maybe I’m being a little hard on a guy whose career has been tragically ravaged by injury.
Should he make it that far and overcome the likes of Cilic, Fernando Verdasco, Jurgen Melzer and Juan Ignacio Chela then Victor Hanescu could meet Federer again in that quarter final.
In the second quarter, third seed Andy Murray will begin his defense by facing the winner of Mardy Fish and Leonardo Mayer. Certainly not an easy ride, such is the strength of the men’s draw these days. Overcoming that he could face Lukas Lacko, Michael Berrer or the Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
Stanlislas Wawrinka, Nicolas Almagro, Mikhail Youzhny, Fernando Gonzalez and Murray’s Indian Wells conqueror Robin Soderling also provide exciting prospects for a quarter final berth.
Rafa and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga head a very talented third quarter which also includes American of the moment John Isner and returning Argentinean wildcard David Nalbandian.
A possible third round match between Isner and Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero is on the cards with the pair never having met before. Ferrero has arguably had the better start to 2010 with two titles and a record of 15/4 but many will be excited by the battle of strength vs. panache.
The final quarter gives us a possible fourth round Ljubicic-Andy Roddick rematch but A-Rod must first overcome possible encounters with Igor Andreev and no. 32 seed Julien Benneteau. Ljubicic may also face Spaniard Tommy Robredo in round three.
Brazilian Thomaz Belluci is looking to build on his impressive start to 2010 at Miami but could face a tough second round encounter with James Blake before the prospect of Novak Djokovic in round three.
Argh! I’m shaking with excitement already. So, being a betting man, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, my neck on the block. Predictions time!
Roger Federer v Marin Cilic
Andy Murray v Juan Monaco
John Isner v Rafael Nadal
Tommy Robredo v Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer v Andy Murray
John Isner v Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
But then, how many predictions have I got wrong this year? OK, so I’ll make a safer one: Miami is going to be damn good! And with Sky Sports broadcasting so much of the Masters Series in to British homes this year I canny wait for Saturday. Bring it on!
Now that the first Grand Slam of the year is behind us, it is time to turn our focus to multiple locations and the resumption of the 250 level tournaments. The three stops this week include Vina de Mar, Chile, Zagreb, Croatia and Johannesburg, South Africa. While Nadal, Federer and many of the big boys are taking some time off, there are still some notable names in action this week.
The first clay court tournament of the year will be underway at the Movistar Open in Vina del Mar, Chile. Many of the usual names you would expect on the red dirt will be present, including Juan Monaco, Augustin Calleri, Jose Acasuso and Juan Ignacio Chela. As I was going through the draw I was half-expecting to see names like Mariano Puerta, or Gaston Gaudio, but no such luck. Mariano Zabaleta is making a return to the pro tour here after making his way through two tough qualifying matches. The thirty year old is trying to resurrect his once solid career after being plagued by injuries in 2008.
Look for top seeded Fernando Gonzalez to go deep in the draw, as he has won the tournament three times before – in 2002, 2004, and a year ago as well.
For those of Croatian ancestry or simply looking to avoid the outdoor elements, then the indoor hard court tournament in Zagreb is for you!Won a year ago by lucky loser Sergiy Stakhovsky , expect a more familiar name this time around. With the draw sprinkled with homegrown talent, the deck is heavily stacked in their favor. MarioAncic, Ivan Ljubicic, Marin Cilic, and Ivo Karlovic are all lurking in the draw. I would expect one of them to give the home crowd something to cheer about come next weekend.
A brand new stop on the tour this year is in Johannesburg. The draw is very weak with the exception of three bigger names who have made the journey; Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga, David Ferrer and Marcos Baghdatis. Tsonga leads the charge as number one seed, and I would not be surprised to see him face number two seeded Ferrer in the final. This could be a good opportunity for Baghdatis to put a few much needed wins under his belt or for a relatively unknown player to pick up some points and confidence. Rik De Voest is the strongest local hope with a wild card entry. Oddly enough a photo of Gael Monfils remains on the tournament website – perhaps a late withdrawal.