The forehand is perhaps the most the most destructive weapon in the sport of tennis. Who in the history of the game had – or has – the best forehand of all time? Steve Flink, tennis historian and journalist and author of the book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME (available here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346763283&sr=8-1&keywords=Greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time) ranks the top five forehands of all time as part of his book. The list is exclusively excerpted below.
Top Five Forehands of All Time – Men
- ROGER FEDERER Some hit the ball more mightily off the forehand side, and others were flashier, but Federer’s forehand is the best I have ever seen. His capacity to station himself inside the baseline and shorten the court for his opponent has surpassed all others. Once he is inside the court, he can go either way—inside-in or inside-out—and hit winners at will. In top form, he clips more lines with his majestic forehand than anyone and yet he makes very few mistakes for someone so adventuresome.
- RAFAEL NADAL The Spaniard’s forehand has always been his trademark shot. Nadal tortures his rivals with his rhythmic precision off the forehand. The hop he gets on the forehand with the heaviest and most penetrating topspin of all time is almost mind boggling. He can go full tilt for hours on end and hardly miss a forehand, but it is not as if he is pushing his shots back into play; he is pulverizing the ball and weakening his opponent’s will simultaneously. He sends his adversaries into submission with a barrage of heavy forehands, weakening their resolve in the process. His ball control off the forehand is amazing. I give Federer the edge over Nadal for the best forehand ever, but it is a very close call.
- IVAN LENDL The former Czech who became an American citizen transformed the world of tennis with his playing style, most importantly with his signature inside-out forehand. There were an abundance of serve-and-volley competitors along with more conventional baseline practitioners during his era, but Lendl changed it all, serving with impressive power to set up his magnificent semi-western, inside-out forehand—the shot that carried him to eight major titles. Lendl’s power and accuracy with that forehand had never been witnessed before.
- BILL TILDEN Over the course of the 1920’s, when Tilden ruled tennis and studied the technique of the sport with all-consuming interest, the American influenced the sport immensely. He had an estimable first serve and he improved his backhand markedly, but the forehand was Tilden’s finest shot. He drove through the ball classically and confidently and it was a stroke that would not break down under pressure. The Tilden forehand was a shot made for the ages.
- BJORN BORG, PETE SAMPRAS and JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO Although many observers took more notice of the Swede’s two-handed backhand because he joined Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert to popularize that shot in the 1970’s, his forehand was in many ways superior. Borg ushered in a brand of heavy topspin that was unprecedented and the forehand took him to the top of the sport. He passed particularly well off the backhand and disguised his two-hander adeptly, but the Borg forehand defined his greatness more than anything else. Sampras had the most explosive running forehand of all time and he could do quite a bit of damage from the middle of the court off that side as well. His magnificent forehand was relatively flat and it was awesome when he was on. Del Potro is changing the face of the modern game with his explosive flat forehand, the biggest in the sport today. It is a prodigious weapon, released with blinding speed. More than anything else, his sizzling forehand was the reason he halted Federer in a five-set final at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Top Five Forehands of All Time – Women
1 . STEFFI GRAF This was among the easiest selections to make among the best strokes ever produced. Considering how much pace she got on this explosive shot, it was made all the more remarkable by her grip—essentially a continental, on the border of an eastern. She would get into position early and with supreme racket head acceleration she would sweep through the ball and strike countless outright winners with her flat stroke. She had little margin for error, yet the forehand seldom let her down. In my view, it stands in a class by itself as the best ever.
- MAUREEN CONNOLLY A natural left-hander who played tennis right-handed, Connolly had a beautifully produced one-handed backhand that was a shot which came more easily to her. The fact remains that Connolly’s forehand paved the way for her to win the Grand Slam in 1953. She placed the same value on fast footwork as Graf. Her inexhaustible attention to detail and sound mechanics gave Connolly a magnificent forehand.
- HELEN WILLS MOODY Brought up on the hard courts of California, taught to play the game from the baseline with steadfast conviction, realizing the importance of controlling the climate of her matches, Wills Moody was not called “Little Miss Poker Face” without good reason. She was relentlessly disciplined in her court craft, making the backcourt her home, refusing to make mistakes yet hitting her ground strokes hard. Her flat forehand—hit unfailingly deep and close to the lines—was far and away the best of her era and one of the finest ever.
- MONICA SELES Authorities often debated whether Seles was better off the forehand or the backhand. Both were left-handed, two-fisted strokes. Each was taken early. She could explore the most acute crosscourt angles or direct her shots within inches of the baseline off either side. Unlike most of her peers, Seles’s forehand was not one dimensional.
- SERENA WILLIAMS On her finest afternoons, when her timing is on and her concentration is sharp, Williams can be uncontainable off the forehand. She covers the ball with just enough topspin and takes it early, often from an open stance. It is the shot she uses to open up the court, to either release winners or advance to the net. She can be breathtaking off that side at her best, but her ranking is not higher because her brilliance off that side can be sporadic.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Argentine Juan Martin del Potro returned to Washington, D.C. after a three year hiatus to claim his third Citi Open title against American John Isner, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. (Finals gallery at bottom)
“It’s amazing, I’m so happy to win here once again,” the 24-year-old stated after the final. “When you win a tournament its special, its big. After Wimbledon to be my first time on hard court it means a lot. I am looking forward to Montreal, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open. It gives me a lot of confidence to keep trying and get closer to the top guys.”
The soft-spoken Argentine struggled returning Isner’s solid serves and baseline shots in the first set, and realized that he needed to step further back out of the court in order to play his own game. He then kept Isner to only one ace per set for the remaining two sets.
Though disappointed, the American didn’t take the loss hard. After playing nine matches in eleven days, Isner admitted that his body wasn’t as fresh as he’d like it to be.
“I was a little tired out there,” said Isner. “It was one of those things where my body felt fine but my legs weren’t quite there. I wish I felt a little bit better out there but at the same time I could have been a 100% and still could have not won that match. That just speaks on how good he is. He was better today and my hats off to him. He was the better player.”
When asked about where Del Potro stacks up to the current top four ATP players, without hesitation, Isner praised the Argentine’s game, saying he was just a hair behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the third favorite to win the U.S. Open.
In Del Potro’s press conference, he was told what Isner had commented regarding his chances at this month’s Slam, and the Argentine almost looked embarrassed, sweetly and sincerely returning the favor.
“He’s going to be a favorite too, for sure,” Del Potro said. “On the hard court, Isner is really good player. His game is improving day by day. He has a good advantage to take the opportunities to go farther.”
In the women’s singles final, Magdalena Rybarikova successfully defended her title defeating a newly-healthy Andrea Petkovic, 6-4, 7-6(2). On court, the Slovakian called Washington, D.C. “home” after never having lost a match on the surface, and admitted it was not an easy run.
“This year when I saw the draw I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be very tough,'” Rybarikova said. “I would have been happy to make the quarterfinals and play Kerber. But every match I was playing better and better, then I beat Kerber, which was a huge win for me. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Petkovic meanwhile reached her second final of the year after Nurnberg and feels her game is in a better place.
“It was a pretty good week – all in all I’m quite satisfied,” Petkovic said. “I would have loved to win the title here to really feel like I’ve completely come back, but I’m really okay. She played really well.”
“Magda was really stepping up her game, not missing a lot and not giving me many free points. It was a really difficult match but all the credit to her, she really deserved to win the title today.”
In the men’s doubles final, the duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau won their second doubles title as a team against Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek.
“It feels really great to win such a big tournament,” said Zimonjic. “It’s a 500 series, and not just that, it was a really strong field. It didn’t have easy matches here. Very good teams played. To come after a long break, to come this strong and win the tournament without losing a set is really the best way you want to come back to the tour.”
“It was a lot of fun for both of us to play. We had a great time here on the court, off the court, and hopefully this will help us for the upcoming three tournaments that we’ll play.”
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Super Saturday at the Citi Open saw John Isner and Juan Martin del Potro defeat their respective opponents, Dmitry Tursunov and Tommy Haas to reach the men’s singles final. Andrea Petkovic also defeated Alize Cornet and will meet Magdalena Rybarikova in the women’s final.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Set against the backdrop of downtown Washington, D.C., this week’s Citi Open has brought some of tennis’ most recognizable names to the tournament, including Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and the youngest player in the women’s draw, 17-year-old newcomer and American Taylor Townsend.
It was a full schedule on tap with both men’s singles semifinals set on stadium court, along with one women’s semifinal and one men’s doubles semifinal. The rest, including the women’s doubles final, was scheduled on the first grandstand court.
There has been some discussion in player press conferences this week regarding scheduling differences between the men’s and women’s draws, and how the women are not being scheduled as equally on stadium court. It seems though that most players understand why. The men’s event is a 500-level while the women’s is a lower-tiered International-level, and several players — including females — commented that men tend to bring a bigger draw and whoever the tournament believes would be a bigger draw will be the match scheduled on stadium court. Logical enough but still questionable reasoning on some level.
That being said, the men’s doubles semifinal between the pairing of Julien Benneteau and Nenad Zimonjic against University of Virginia alumni and Citi Open defending champions Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, took precedence over the women’s doubles final between 2012 Junior Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles champions Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend and Shuko Aoyama and Vera Dushevina.
In front of a decent-sized crowd, the first-time partnering of Aoyama and Dushevina were crowned champions in women’s doubles.
After the match, the only ones called into press were the runners-up, Bouchard and Townsend, as the media room was mostly empty and at the men’s doubles match. The winners gave no press conference.
With her longer history on tour than her counterpart, Bouchard was visibly disappointed in the presser but still sincere in answering questions. Townsend, on the other hand, looked as if she was on cloud nine. She seemed to have just been excited to reach a pro final and was relishing the moment despite the quick loss. I asked her about the contrast in the presence of young players on tour between the men’s and women’s side and she gave an insightful and rather mature answer.
“I think it’s a lot different for the men than the women,” Townsend replied.”The men mature at an older age and we mature younger. So I think it’s a lot easier for us — at a young age — to hang with the older players because our bodies mature faster. The men are so strong and it takes them a few more years to get caught up to that level, especially to get into that top shape.”
As the first men’s doubles semifinal started between top American John Isner and a newly-resurgent Dmitry Tursunov on stadium court at 3:00pm to looming clouds, doubles partners Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra (and his youngest son, Teo!) took to the practice courts.
As the Bulgarian stretched, a shirtless Llodra kicked a soccer ball around with his 6-year-old son. All week, the youngster could be spotted on the tennis court hitting some impressive shots and his soccer head-butting and kicking skills didn’t disappoint. After Dimitrov finished his stretching, he jumped into the mini-soccer game and ended up losing — happily obliging to do push-ups on court as the loser.
Heading onto stadium court for Isner-Tursunov, the first set was dead even, and ended up going to a tiebreak. Four exchanges of serve and some patience by the Russian and he got the unexpected upper hand, taking the first set. Tursunov diminished his double faults count from his matches earlier this week, and ran Isner laterally until the American hit long or into the net. On several occasions, Tursunov bullied the American’s backhand before pulling the trigger forcing Isner into an error with a running forehand.
During the changeover, sprinkles began falling but the players decided to continue on without any exchanges with chair umpire Magdi Somat. As the drops increased in intensity during the first game, Isner had a break point on Tursunov’s serve and slipped, slamming a forehand into the net. Instinctively, Isner yelled in the umpire’s general direction and Tursunov had also already began walking towards the chair. Play was called and the players taken inside as the 80-minute rain delay began.
Isner gets break point then nets FH. Yells, “WHY are we playing right now?! I’m NOT playing!” Magdi calls play, players go inside.
— Romi Cvitkovic (@RomiCvitkovic) August 3, 2013
At around 5:00pm, Juan Martin del Potro made an appearance on the practice courts to packed stands on court one. As play was suspended, fans still had the opportunity to enjoy a light hit by the Argentine for about 30 minutes.
Play shortly resumed on stadium court and after breaking Tursunov to go up 4-1, the American took the second set 6-3. The baseline play among both players was incredible to watch. After so many matches between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, you forget how powerful (and consistent and precise) other men on tour can hit, and the two held some extended jaw-dropping rallies. In the end, the American broke Tursunov again to take the final set, 6-4.
Walking back to the media center, I heard loud cheers coming from grandstand court and realized that the other men’s doubles semifinal went on at the same time as the singles match on stadium. That’s one of the problems with a rain delay — you don’t quite always get to watch everything you hope to. Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek took out fan favorites, Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra, and with that, the Citi Open crowds will have American men in both the men’s singles and doubles finals. On the opposite side of the grounds on grandstand court two, women’s semifinalist Andrea Petkovic was practicing in front of a small group of fans.
At 7:20pm, Isner walked into press with ice on both knees for precautionary reasons. He’s one of the few to constantly have ice on some joint on his body so it’s not so much a surprise anymore.
Ten minutes later, the Isner presser was completed, and as we looked to the TV in the media center, we saw that Tommy Haas had just broken Juan Martin del Potro to go up 3-1 — a bit of early trouble for the two-time tournament champion.
Without much of a breather, Tursunov commenced his low-key presser, where he analyzed his loss but felt there really weren’t any holes in his game. A pretty fair analysis as he never once held break point, but stayed in the match much of the time.
As I prepared to go out and finally watch the Del Potro – Haas match, I realized the score was frozen at 4-1. Of course, another rain delay.
I looked at the live scoreboard and noticed that the women’s semifinal between Magdalena Rybarikova and Ekaterina Makarova was still going on though, and questioned what was going on. Rybarikova went on to win three games in a matter of minutes before play was finally suspended. But I guess the weather can be funny sometimes!
— Kelsey Anderson (@KelseyOAnderson) August 3, 2013
During the nearly three hour rain delay, the illustrious third edition of the “Citi Open Rain Delay Media Spelling Bee” commenced, where contestants had to correctly spell various ATP and WTA player names within the top 200. What started out with eight people in the first few minutes grew to nearly 20 and included photographers, bloggers, long-time wire writers, event staff and even Tour staff. Thanks to gracious contestant Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover, we have footage of Ben Rothenberg’s winning moment, having successfully defended his title from 2012.
The tournament media staff had some fun and sweetly made the winner his own notable trophy. How thoughtful!
The Del Potro – Haas match continued with the Argentine quickly picking up momentum, and later in press admitting that the rain delay helped him. Haas, conversely, came into press and was quite short, stating he was “aggravated and annoyed” during the rain delay and it reflected in his straight set loss, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Despite the lateness of the hour — the men’s semi had finished at 12:15AM — there had been no earlier talk of opening up play of the second women’s semifinal on a third court. Instead, Alize Cornet and Andrea Petkovic were set to follow on whichever court had finished first. Inevitably, organizers seemed to have waited to see if the men’s semi would finish shortly after the first women’s semi would, and they were lucky.
At 12:35AM, the second women’s semi finally took place to a crowd of still several hundred people. The sheer match ups of Cornet and Petkovic’s style could have made this match the highlight of the women’s draw so far, but the lateness of the hour prevented it from reaching grand proportions. However, both ladies impressed with full court-coverage, suspenseful rallies and looked — incredibly enough — quite fresh.
After being down 3-0, then getting broken twice while serving for the set, Petkovic finally took the first set, 7-5. She then made quick work of the French woman, taking it 6-3 in the second and delighting the crowd with her famous “Petko Dance.”
The evening finally ended at an “early” 2:15AM, with the women’s singles final scheduled for exactly 15 hours later. Talk about a quick recovery for both ladies!
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday at the Citi Open saw two-time champion Juan Martin del Potro, French woman Alize Cornet, defending women’s champion Magdalena Rybarikova, Marinko Matosevic and Sorana Cirstea among the winners. Others in the gallery include Alison Riske, Milos Raonic and more.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With his run to the semifinals of Atlanta last week, and his straight set win over veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Citi Open on Tuesday, American Ryan Harrison seems to already be benefitting from a recent coaching switch on his team.
The 21-year-old Louisiana native served up three straight aces in his second service game alone and continued dominating, breaking the Aussie three times to book a second round match up against Juan Martin del Potro.
“It was a good win,” said Harrison. “I felt good out there. I played a really good first set. And then when (Hewitt) fought hard to break me back, I was still able to stay ahead and stay on serve and finally get that break there at 5-all.”
After training at the Austin Tennis Academy, Harrison partnered up full-time with one of it’s lead coaches, Tres Davis, last Fall as the American was looking to take his game to the next level.
The partnership itself seemed to work out for the two who call each other “close friends,” but the results didn’t quite translate onto the court as Harrison most recently fell outside of the top 130.
“Tres and I are close friends,” Harrison spoke candidly to Tennis Grandstand. “He’s been involved, and we still communicate about tennis. But it got to a situation where we had to reevaluate after the first six months of the year. Ultimately, he wants what’s best for my career, just like I want what’s best for my career.”
After deciding to part ways, Harrison brought the head of men’s tennis for the USTA, Jay Berger, back into the coaching team, as well as former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert. The choice was made to train out of the USTA center in Boca Raton, FL where the “competitive crop of guys they have down there was going to be the best situation for me,” commented Harrison.
“Jay and I have always had an extremely close relationship, and been very proactive and involved in my tennis every since I met him really,” he continued. “I had a really good training week down there after I lost in Newport, and played well last week (in Atlanta). And Brad being involved is nothing but beneficial. He’s obviously got an extremely talented mind. I’ve had some advice from him and it’s been nothing but good.”
Given that his recent good form occurred just after his coaching switch, it’s not unreasonable to suggest the two might be correlated.
“You never really know what is going to happen,” said Harrison. “I also was down 1-2 break point in the third set of the first round of Atlanta – those are just moments that could change here and there … (But) I believe that the work I put in that week-and-a-half down in Boca certainly helped out in my Atlanta run and getting a good win here today.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.
Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
While the WTA divides its action between two coasts this week, the ATP spans the Atlantic Ocean with events on two different continents and surfaces. The 500 tournament in Washington, part of the US Open Series, takes center stage.
Top half: A champion in Washington four years ago, Juan Martin Del Potro holds the top seed at the 2013 edition. The Wimbledon semifinalist hopes to rediscover his torrid form against one of two men who shone in Atlanta. Producing semifinal runs there last week, Lleyton Hewitt and Ryan Harrison will square off in one of the most intriguing first-round matches. Nor can Del Potro relax if he survives the winner. A strong grass season, highlighted by a second-week appearance at Wimbledon, will have restored Bernard Tomic’s confidence. Although he continues to cope with controversy surrounding his father, Tomic has plenty of ways to disrupt Del Potro’s rhythm if the Argentine returns rusty from a leg injury. A more straightforward test awaits from Kevin Anderson, seeking his third semifinal in three weeks. Before he meets Del Potro in the quarterfinals, Anderson may find the returning Mardy Fish an opponent worthy of his steel.
If power dominates the top quarter, flair defines much of the second quarter. The flamboyant shot-making of Tommy Haas favors precision over physicality, while the graceful one-handed backhand of Grigor Dimitrov has a vintage appeal. Haas reached the final in Washington last year, perhaps using his training at the Bolletieri Academy in Florida as experience for coping with the humidity. But power never lags far behind in a draw filled with Americans. Sam Querrey will face one of two Atlanta quarterfinalists, Denis Istomin or Santiago Giraldo, in the second round. A contrast of styles would await if Querrey advances to face Dimitrov and then Haas, although a 5-8 record since April leaves a deep run far from guaranteed.
Semifinal: Del Potro vs. Haas
Bottom half: Filled with question marks, the third quarter could produce a surprise semifinalist. The favorite at first glance would seem Milos Raonic, by far the most powerful of the seeds. Raonic’s massive serve could sizzle on a hot hard court, but he has accomplished little since winning yet another San Jose title in February. Neither has fellow seed Nikolay Davydenko, who has struggled historically against possible second-round opponent James Blake. Some of Gilles Simon’s best results have come in North America, including a Miami quarterfinal this spring, and the fifth seed’s steadiness might suffice to ease him past the erratic men around him. Among them is former champion Radek Stepanek, who looks forward to American collegiate star Steve Johnson in his opener.
One might lose sight of defending champion Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth quarter. Not a threat for most of 2013, Dolgopolov faces an arduous route towards a title defense. Home hope John Isner looms in the third round if he can revive his energy after a draining title run in Atlanta. An easier route to the quarterfinals beckons for Kei Nishikori, who won a North American 500 tournament at Memphis this year. Bogota runner-up Alejandro Falla faded quickly in Atlanta, as did American teenage sensation Jack Sock. The clean, balanced baseline game of Nishikori should carry him past either of those opponents, after which a first meeting with Isner could await.
Semifinal: Simon vs. Isner
Final: Del Potro vs. Isner
Top half: An assortment of Europeans and clay specialists have headed to this Austrian event before venturing into the steamy American summer. German top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber aims to move one round further than he did at another clay 250 event. The finalist in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, Kohlschreiber can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Spanish dirt devil Marcel Granollers. This Rome quarterfinalist will welcome the opportunity to erase memories of an epic loss in Gstaad last week. Between them stand Horacio Zeballos of Nadal-defeating fame and Wimbledon surprise Kenny de Schepper, who reached the second week there.
A greater Wimbledon surprise than de Schepper came from Fernando Verdasco, who would not hold the third seed here if not for his quarterfinal appearance at the last major. To his credit, Verdasco parlayed that breakthrough into a strong July, highlighted by victories over Nicolas Almagro, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jerzy Janowicz. An all-lefty matchup against Brazilian clay specialist Thomaz Bellucci should not detain him for long en route to a rematch of the Bastad final. At that Swedish tournament, Verdasco fell to Carlos Berlocq, who faces an extremely challenging assignment as the fifth seed. Days after defeating Federer, the ominous Daniel Brands sets his sights on the Bastad champion. Also in this deep section is Robin Haase, arriving from a series of morale-boosting wins in Gstaad.
Semifinal: Granollers vs. Verdasco
Bottom half: A week of mixed omens for Albert Montanes in Umag included an upset over world No. 9 Richard Gasquet and a tight loss to Gasquet’s compatriot Gael Monfils. Twice a semifinalist on clay already this summer, Victor Hanescu finds himself on a collision course with Montanes, who won a clay title in Nice just before Roland Garros. The winner should feel confident heading into the quarterfinals, although home hope Jurgen Melzer will have most of the audience behind him. Melzer reached the second week of Wimbledon but has lost five consecutive clay matches dating back to Monte Carlo.
Arguably the softest section, the base of the Kitzbuhel draw lies at the mercy of second seed Juan Monaco. This recent member of the top 10 has shown altogether too much mercy in 2013, helplessly watching his ranking decline. All the same, Monaco has produced at least somewhat respectable tennis this summer on clay, his best surface. Three qualifiers and a wildcard offer little competition, so any challenge would need to come from one of two Spaniards. While Daniel Gimeno-Traver has struggled on clay this year, Roberto Bautista-Agut retired last week in Gstaad. Monaco thus looks safe unless he implodes, admittedly not unthinkable.
Semifinal: Montanes vs. Monaco
Final: Verdasco vs. Montanes
Play is already in full swing as qualifiers took to the courts for their matches, and top players like Juan Martin del Potro, Andrea Petkovic and Tommy Haas hit the practice courts on a hot weekend in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Citi Open.
Check out the full gallery from opening weekend, including other players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Irina Falconi, Jessica Pegula, Rhyne Williams, Donald Young, Christian Harrison, Caroline Garcia, Matt Ebden, and Sloane Stephens.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
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.