Kei Nishikori

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The Best Moments of the 2014 US Open

Marin Cilic

 

The 2014 US Open was known for many surprises. While Serena Williams lived up to her reputation and claimed yet another Grand Slam title, over on the men’s side, Marin Cilic surprised us all by going all the way to the top. At just 25 years old, he managed to beat some of the world’s best recognised tennis stars including Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, and has now cemented himself as an up and comer to rival today’s ‘big four.’

Cilic may have surprised us all, but there were a few other golden moments which will not be forgotten in a hurry. Here’s a look back at some of the best moments of the US Open 2014.

 

Kei Nishikori breaks a personal record

While Marin Cilic was raising a few eyebrows and getting bookmakers at www.bettingsports.com talking, Kei Nishikori was another young prodigy to stun at this year’s US Open event. The 24-year-old made it all the way to the final, but while he did not take the title, he did have one extraordinary achievement. After beating Stan Wawrinka, he became the first Japanese player to reach a semi-final since Ichiya Kuamagae in 1918.

 

Andy Murray bows out once again

After his Wimbledon success in 2013, Andy Murray suffered a huge fall from grace this year as he exited Wimbledon early and failed to take the title at the US Open. While some say that he was plagued with back injuries, it could just be that world number one Novak Djokovic was too much for him. The quarter final saw Murray’s sensational exit this year as Djokovic beat him 7-6 (7-1) 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 6-4.

 

Caroline Wozniacki has a bad hair day

Recent break ups with golf champions were the least of Caroline Wozniacki’s worries as she went head to head with Aliaksandra Sasnovich on August 27th. The Danish beauty managed to get her hair caught in her racket during play, making for a memorable photo opportunity for the hundreds of spectators watching her. Thankfully, she managed to progress to the final, but was ultimately overwhelmed when it came to meeting champion Serena Williams.

 

The fall of Roger Federer

It’s becoming more and more likely that the ‘big four’ – Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, (who was out due to a wrist injury) Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are soon to be replaced by today’s younger stars. This is particularly true for Roger Federer, who, at 33, was overwhelmed by this year’s champion, Marin Cilic, in the semi finals.

 

Gallery: Opening Weekend at Citi Open with Del Potro, Petkovic, Raonic, Haas and More

DSC_85690001Del Porto-2

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.

Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6

This draw is wide open!

Miraculously after the rain on Thursday and Friday, Wimbledon has set all of its fourth-round matchups for Manic Monday.  More than half of the top-ten players there (five men, six women) fell in the first week, and Saturday featured its share of drama despite the welcome sunshine.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Even with the cloud of his father hanging over him at a distance, Bernard Tomic has compiled an outstanding Wimbledon campaign.  The enigmatic Aussie has upset two seeded players to reach the second week, most recently No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet.  Showing his taste for drama, Tomic played five sets in the first round against Sam Querrey and reached 5-5 in every set against the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist.

Upset of the day:  Few tennis fans knew much about Kenny de Schepper entering this tournament.  The 26-year-old Frenchman benefited from a Marin Cilic walkover in the second round and made the most of the opportunity.  Not losing a set in the first week of Wimbledon, de Schepper upset No. 20 seed Juan Monaco to reach this stage at a major for the first time.

Comeback of the day:  Imperfect in his first two matches, world No. 4 David Ferrer predictably fell behind the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov two sets to one.  After Dolgopolov steamrolled him in the third set, though, Ferrer regrouped immediately to drop just three games in the next two sets.  His far superior stamina gave him a valuable advantage against an opponent who struggles with sustaining energy or form.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There’s death, there’s taxes, there’s Nadal winning on clay, and there’s Tomas Berdych beating up on poor Kevin Anderson.  Nine times have they played since the start of 2012, including at four majors, with Berdych winning all nine.  At least Anderson took the first set this time and kept the match more competitive than most of its prequels.

Gold star:  Considering Kei Nishikori’s promising start to the tournament, Andreas Seppi merits special attention for his five-set battle past the Japanese star.  Like Ferrer, Seppi trailed two sets to one before digging into the trenches and holding his ground with an imposing fourth set that set the stage for a tight fifth.  As a result of his efforts, Italy leads all nations with four players in the second week of Wimbledon, an odd achievement for a clay-loving nation.

Silver star:  One day after demolishing an unseeded opponent, Tommy Haas overcame a much more worthy challenger in Eastbourne champion Feliciano Lopez.  Haas bounced back from losing the first set to prevail in four, arranging an intriguing Monday meeting with Novak Djokovic.  The German has won both of their previous grass meetings—four years ago—but lost to Djokovic at Roland Garros.

Wooden spoon:  At a minimum, one expected some entertaining twists and turns from a match pitting Ernests Gulbis and Fernando Verdasco.  The firecrackers fizzled in a straight-sets victory for the Spaniard, who now eyes his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with de Schepper awaiting him on Monday.  Gulbis joined a string of unseeded players unable to follow their notable upsets with a deep run.

Stat of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray cannot face a top-20 opponent until the final.  (No. 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny, his Monday opponent, is seeded higher than his ranking because of the grass formula used in making the draw.)

Question of the day:  Top seed Novak Djokovic seems to grow more formidable with each round, dismantling Jeremy Chardy today for the loss of only seven games.  Can anyone slow his path to the final?  Juan Martin Del Potro, the only other man in this half who has not lost a set, might have the best chance.  He defeated Djokovic earlier this year at Indian Wells and on grass at the Olympics last year.

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of many players who rallied to win after losing the first set, Li Na rushed through a second-set bagel against Klara Zakopalova but then found herself bogged down in a war of attrition.  Li finally opened the door to the second week in the 14th game of the final set.  She continues to show more tenacity at this tournament than she has in several months.

Upset of the day:  Sabine Lisicki’s victory over the grass-averse Samantha Stosur came as a surprise only on paper.  In fact, the greater surprise may have come from Lisicki dropping the first set before dominating the next two.  Lisicki has reached the second week in four straight Wimbledon appearances, proving herself the epitome of a grass specialist.

Comeback of the day:  British hearts quailed when Laura Robson started a winnable match against Marina Erakovic in dismal fashion.  The feisty home hope did not quite recover until late in the second set, when Erakovic served for the match.  Needing some help from her opponent to regroup, including a string of double faults, Robson asserted control swiftly in the final set and never relinquished the momentum once she captured it.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There was no Williams déjà vu at Wimbledon, where Kimiko Date-Krumm could not repeat her epic effort against Venus Williams there two years ago.  Notching her 600th career victory, Serena surrendered just two games to the Japanese star as she predictably reached the second week without losing a set.  Since the start of Rome, the world No. 1 has served bagels or breadsticks in nearly half of the sets that she has played (15 of 31).

Gold star:  In trouble against Eva Birnerova when Friday ended, Monica Puig rallied on Saturday to book her spot in the second week.  Unlike most of her fellow upset artists, she used a first-round ambush of Sara Errani to light the fuse of two more victories.  An almost intra-American match awaits between the Puerto Rican and Sloane Stephens.

Silver star:  Tsvetana Pironkova extended her voodoo spell over these lawns with a third second-week appearance in four years.  A non-entity at almost all other tournaments, Pironkova could not have chosen a better place to plant her Bulgarian flag.  thou

What a difference a day makes:  Shortly before play ended on Friday, Petra Kvitova had lost seven straight games to Ekaterina Makarova and narrowly avoided falling behind by a double break in the final set.  When she returned in the sunshine of Saturday, Kvitova won five of the last six games to abruptly wrap up a match full of streaky play from both sides.

Americans in London:  Also able to collect herself overnight, Sloane Stephens recovered from a second-set bagel to outlast qualifier Petra Cetkovska.  Stephens became the only woman outside the top four to reach the second week at every major this year.  Nearly joining her was Madison Keys, who gave 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska all that she could handle in a tight three-setter.  The impressive serve and balanced baseline power of Keys suggest that we will see much more of her at future Wimbledons.

Question of the day:  In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Sabine Lisicki halted the previous month’s Roland Garros champion at Wimbledon.  Can she do to Serena what she did to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, and Maria Sharapova?  Plenty of massive serves will scar the grass on Monday.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Smooth Sailing for Djokovic, Serena, Berdych, Del Potro, Radwanska, and More on Day 4

If the grass is slippery, simply rise above it.

After the turmoil of Wednesday, a tranquil Thursday came as a welcome respite.  Rain forestalled several of the matches at Wimbledon, but most of the familiar names managed to take the court—and live to fight another day.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The grass on the outer courts continued to score victories in its ongoing rivalry with those patrolling it.  Two Frenchmen, Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu, added themselves to the accumulating body count with retirements.  As the tournament unfolds, one wonders whether the specter of so many injuries will cause many players to move more tentatively, undermining the quality of tennis.

Upset of the day:  Only one top-20 player on either side fell on Thursday, but he fell with a resounding thud.  No. 17 Milos Raonic exited in straight sets to Igor Sijsling, forcing only one tiebreak.  Unimpressive on grass throughout his career, Raonic has not followed in the footsteps of other huge servers from Balkan origins who have shone at Wimbledon.  To his credit, Sijsling unleashes plenty of power himself, as an upset of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier this year showed.

No, not again:  For the second straight day, one of the Big Four reached a first-set tiebreak on Centre Court against an unremarkable opponent.  In contrast to Federer-Stakhovsky yesterday, though, Novak Djokovic’s encounter with Bobby Reynolds grew less rather than more intriguing after the first set.  The world No. 1 settled down with discipline to surrender just four games over the next two sets as his challenger faded.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes for Tomas Berdych, who has brushed aside the memories of his first-round exit at Wimbledon in 2012.  Berdych halted Daniel Brands in straight sets, impressive considering the effort that Brands mounted against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.  When Berdych last defeated Brands at Wimbledon, with much more difficulty, he reached the final.

Silver star:  The eighth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro usually finds grass his worst surface, but he has cruised through the first two rounds without dropping a set.  After hitting a flashy around-the-netpost winner in his first match, Del Potro earned the chance to shine on Centre Court against Jesse Levine.  He did not disappoint despite a second-set lull, starting and finishing with conviction.

Caution light:  Extended to four sets in his first match, world No. 9 Richard Gasquet again spent longer than necessary on court in finishing off Go Soeda.  Having lost just three games in the first two sets, Gasquet lost the plot temporarily and let the third set slip away in a tiebreak.  His best result at a major came at Wimbledon with a 2007 semifinal, but he looks vulnerable this year.

Americans in London:  RIP, this category, after just two rounds of the main draw.  Bernard Tomic followed his upset of Sam Querrey with a predictably dominant effort against James Blake, while Ivan Dodig dispatched Denis Kudla in straight sets.  The last man standing at Wimbledon 2013, Bobby Reynolds, stood no real chance against Djokovic.  Andy Roddick, where hath thou gone?

Question of the day:  Far from the spotlight, Kei Nishikori quietly has strung together a pair of solid victories.  He lurks in the section of Ferrer, mediocre in his first match and defeated by Nishikori on grass last year.  Could Nishikori mount an upset or two to reach a quarterfinal or semifinal?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Much superior to her opponent, Jana Cepelova, the 11th-seeded Roberta Vinci could not dispatch her in straight sets and nearly paid the price.  Cepelova nipped at her heels until 7-7 in the final set, when the Italian reeled off one last burst to cross the finish line and keep her Wimbledon campaign alive.

Upset of the day:  Court 2 has started to acquire the reputation of the preceding Court 2 as a haven for upsets, at least in the women’s draw.  Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki fell there yesterday, and today it witnessed the demise of No. 24 Peng Shuai at the hands of Marina Erakovic.  Granted, few fans will remember that result after the tournament.

Top seeds sail:  Facing Caroline Garcia in the second round for the second straight game, Serena Williams generously gave her two more games than she did in Paris.  Stingier was world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who has lost fewer games through two rounds than any other women’s contender.  Like Del Potro, Radwanska made the most of her Centre Court assignment and should return there later this fortnight if her form persists.

Gold star:  With an Eastbourne title behind her, Elena Vesnina entered Wimbledon with more momentum than most players.  All of that momentum crumbled when she collided with grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, a quarterfinalist or better in her last three Wimbledon appearances.  Lisicki’s impressively dominant victory moved her within two rounds of an intriguing collision with Serena.

Silver star:  The oddest scoreline of the day came from the fifth seed, Li Na, who defeated Simona Halep 6-2 1-6 6-0.  Not unfamiliar with such rollercoasters, Li managed to stop Halep’s 11-match winning streak, which had carried her to two June titles on two different surfaces.  The Chinese veteran drew a formidable early slate of opponents, but her route looks smoother from here.

The story that never grows old:  Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sara Errani have departed Wimbledon.  Kimiko Date-Krumm has not.  The Japanese veteran reached the third round, although now she must face Serena.  Date-Krumm took Venus deep into a third set at a recent Wimbledon, defying the power gap between them.

Americans in London:  Rain postponed Alison Riske’s match against Urszula Radwanska, but Madison Keys beat both the rain and 30th seed Mona Barthel with ease.  Up next for Keys is Agnieszka Radwanska in an intriguing contrast of styles.  While an upset seems like a bridge too far for Keys at this stage, she can only benefit from the experience of facing a top-five opponent at a major.

Question of the day:  Usually feckless on grass, Samantha Stosur has wasted little time in dispatching two overmatched opponents.  She next faces occasional doubles partner Lisicki in a battle of mighty serves.  Can she overcome Lisicki’s substantial surface edge, or were these first two wins a mirage?

When the Red Dust Settles: Favorite Memories of Roland Garros 2013

We have reached the end of the red brick road for another year.

Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens.  But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.

Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.

The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.

Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.

Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.

Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.

Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.

Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.

John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.

Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.

Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.

Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.

Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.

Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.

Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.

Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.

Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.

Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.

Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.

Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.

Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.

Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.

Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.

Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.

Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.

Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.

Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.

Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.

Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.

David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.

Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.

Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.

Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.

Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.

Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.

Roland Garros Rewind: Wawrinka Wins Thriller; Djokovic Finishes Strong; Sharapova, Azarenka, Nadal Cruise on Monday

Tommy Robredo showed me how.

From 256 players to 16, the Roland Garros draws keep shrinking.  We keep returning to keep you updated on the latest attrition.

ATP:

Match of the day:  After Richard Gasquet had won his first eleven sets of the tournament, he lost the plot just long enough for Stanislas Wawrinka to reset himself.  Once again, Gasquet allowed a two-set lead to evaporate at a major.  But he battled valiantly to the end, only succumbing 8-6 in the fifth as Wawrinka reached his first Roland Garros quarterfinal.

Most improved:  The outlook is not bright for Wawrinka in the next round, however, for he faces a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal.  The birthday boy celebrated turning 27 with his most emphatic win of the tournament, finally delivering sustained quality from start to finish.  Nadal will have one more tune-up before the Friday battle with his archrival.

Least improved:  That is, assuming that Novak Djokovic reaches that stage.  The death of his former coach predictably took its toll on his game in a four-set victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber, who converted only two of thirteen break points.  Djokovic asserted that his motivation to win here had risen rather than dulled, but he rarely has produced his best tennis in situations of personal turmoil.

Stat of the day:  Not since 1971 had a man as old as Tommy Haas reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros.  But the German achieved that feat for the first time in 12 appearances, crushing Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets two days after saving a match point against John Isner.

Question of the day:  Haas dominated Djokovic in Miami this spring.  Can he repeat the feat when they meet in the quarterfinals?

WTA:

Match of the day:  None.  All of the higher-ranked women won in straight sets to leave Svetlana Kuznetsova the only unseeded quarterfinalist in either draw.

Most improved:  Into her third quarterfinal here, Victoria Azarenka improved to 11-0 at major this year by sweeping nine straight games from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone.  Azarenka had descended from second-round frailty to third-round fecklessness, so this authoritative fourth-round display came as a welcome relief to her fans.  She will seek her first Roland Garros semifinal against Maria Kirilenko.

Americans in Paris:  Down they went like dominoes, none able to win a set from their fourth-round opponents.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands could solve Li Na but not Maria Kirilenko, while Jamie Hampton could solve Petra Kvitova but not Jelena Jankovic.  When Tuesday dawns in Paris, Serena Williams will fly the stars and stripes all by herself.  To be honest, though, nobody would have expected any Americans other than Serena to reach the middle weekend.

Stat of the day:  Marching ever further into her title defense, Maria Sharapova recorded her 33rd consecutive victory on clay (and 43rd in her last 44 matches) against opponents other than Serena.  The best clay winning percentage of any active woman got a little better when she swatted Sloane Stephens aside with a much stronger serving display than in her previous two matches.

Question of the day:  All of the top four women have reached the quarterfinals, three without losing a set.  Can any of their opponents forestall a semifinal convergence?

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Nadal, Sharapova, Azarenka Highlight Day 9 Action

Big girls need big bottles.

On the second Monday of Roland Garros, the remaining quarterfinal lineups take shape.  We continue our comprehensive look at the round of 16.

ATP:

Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber:  Four long years ago, Kohlschreiber stunned the future No. 1 in the third round here, their only clay meeting.  Never have they met since Djokovic became the Djuggernaut in 2011, so that history offers little guide.  Growing more impressive with each round, he demolished Grigor Dimitrov to reach the second week without dropping a set.  Kohlschreiber has played only two matches here, receiving a second-round walkover, but he too has shone in limited action and appears to have recovered from a recent injury.  Highlighted by his elegant one-handed backhand, the German’s shot-making talent should produce flurries of winners and an ideal foil for Djokovic’s court coverage.  But he lacks the consistent explosiveness to hit through the Serb from the baseline.

Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny:  Two veterans wield their one-handed backhands in hopes of a quarterfinal rendezvous with Djokovic.  Far from a clay specialist, Youzhny may have surprised even himself by reaching the second week here, although he did win a set from the Serb in Monte Carlo and compiled a solid week in Madrid.  A week later, he halted Haas routinely in Rome for his second win of the clay season over a top-20 opponent.  Youzhny’s third such victory came over Janko Tipsarevic on Saturday, perhaps aided by the Serb’s fatigue in playing the day after a grueling five-setter.  Meanwhile, Haas found the stamina to win a five-set epic from John Isner on Saturday without a day of rest, putting younger men to shame.  Able to weather the adversity of twelve match points squandered, he looks as physically and mentally fit at age 35 as he ever has.

Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori: After Nadal lost a set to the Japanese star in their first meeting five years ago, he has swept their remaining three meetings without losing more than four games in any set.  None of them has come on clay, which should tilt the balance of power even more clearly in Nadal’s favor.  If he brings his flustered, disheveled form of the first week into the second week, however, Nishikori has the coolness, consistency, and belief to punish him.  The last Asian player left in either draw recently defeated Federer on the Madrid clay, and he owns a victory over Djokovic as well.  Nadal needs to start this match more solidly than he did his three previous matches, or he might dig an early hole for himself again.  Even if he does, Nishikori’s vanilla baseline game should play into Rafa’s hands eventually.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet:  The Swiss No. 2 could have renamed himself “Wowrinka” after a clay season in which he surged back to the top 10.  Just outside it now, he seeks to reach his first Roland Garros quarterfinal with a fifth victory over a top-ten opponent this spring.  This match will feature a scintillating battle of the two finest backhands in the men’s game, Wawrinka’s the sturdiest and Gasquet’s the most aesthetically pleasing.  A strong four-set victory over fellow dark horse Jerzy Janowicz will give the former man valuable momentum for tackling an opponent who did not lose a set in the first week.  Once fallible when playing in or for France, Gasquet has improved in that area during this mature phase of his career.  He remains highly unreliable when sustained adversity strikes or when a match grows tense, as this match should.

WTA:

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Maria Kirilenko:  When they collided on hard courts this spring, the Russian prevailed uneventfully.  That result captured the relative status of their games then, Mattek-Sands struggling to gain traction in the main draws of key tournaments and Kirilenko arriving from a semifinal at Indian Wells.  The gap separating their trajectories has narrowed during the clay season, where Mattek-Sands suddenly has emerged as a credible threat.  A victory over Sara Errani launched her toward a semifinal in Stuttgart, while an upset over Li Na here has catalyzed this second-week run.  The American will dictate the terms of this engagement by attempting to bomb winners down the line before Kirilenko settles into the rallies.  Against someone who defends as adeptly as the Russian, that tactic could reap mixed results for someone whose accuracy ebbs and flows.

Francesca Schiavone vs. Victoria Azarenka:  In a bizarre head-to-head considering their histories, Azarenka has won both of their clay meetings and Schiavone their only match on hard courts.  Those trends do not reflect the surface advantage that one would hand the Italian, once a champion and twice a finalist here.  Azarenka never has ventured past the quarterfinals, by contrast, and has struggled both mentally and physically with the demands of clay.  She may need more experience on it to solve its riddles, but Schiavone could confront her with an intriguing test.  A player who prefers rhythmic exchanges from the baseline, Azarenka can expect to find herself stretched into uncomfortable positions and forced to contend with an array of spins and slices.  If she serves as woefully as she did against Cornet a round ago, Schiavone might have a real chance at another miracle.

Jamie Hampton vs. Jelena Jankovic:  It looks like a clear mismatch on paper, and it could prove a mismatch in reality.  A three-time Roland Garros semifinalist and former No. 1 confronts an American who never has reached a major quarterfinal or the top 20.  But Hampton will bring confidence from her upset of Petra Kvitova, an opponent with much more dangerous weapons than Jankovic can wield.  The bad news for the underdog is that the Serb also will have brought confidence from her previous round, a three-set comeback against former Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur.  Jankovic often follows an excellent performance with a clunker, though, as she showed in Rome when she collapsed against Simona Halep after upsetting Li Na.  And Hampton won their only prior meeting last year at Indian Wells.

Maria Sharapova vs. Sloane Stephens:  The defending champion looked a few degrees less than bulletproof in the second sets of her last two victories.  Perhaps Sharapova relaxed her steeliness a bit in both when she won the first sets resoundingly from her overmatched prey.  While she deserves credit for finishing both in style, future opponents may find hope in those lulls.  On the other hand, Sharapova struggled on serve throughout her match against Stephens in Rome—and lost a whopping three games.  Her experience buttressed her on the key deuce points, which she dominated, while her return devastated the Stephens serve.  The 20-year-old American has surpassed expectations by reaching the second week here again, although she has benefited from a toothless draw.  Needing help from Serena to stun the world in Melbourne, Stephens will need help from Sharapova to stun the world in Paris.

Roland Garros Rewind: Djokovic, Nadal Thrive; Haas, Isner Thrill; Sharapova, Azarenka Survive

Yes, I remember you well.

The remaining second-week lineups fell into place on Saturday at Roland Garros.  Here’s a look back at the studs and duds.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Returning to the battlefield after playing an 8-6 fifth set yesterday, John Isner outdid himself in the effort department.  The American giant rallied from two sets down against Tommy Haas, saving twelve match points in the fourth set.  Isner even claimed a 4-1 lead in the fifth set as a second comeback in two days from losing the first two sets loomed.  Somehow managing to break and saving a match point at 4-5, Haas hung on until Isner finally cracked at 8-8.  The thirteenth match point proved the charm.

Unsurprising surprise of the day:  Also back in action a day after an 8-6 fifth set, Janko Tipsarevic predictably responded less impressively than Isner did.  The eighth seed fell to Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets.  Whoever thought that Youzhny would reach the second week of Roland Garros and have a real chance at a quarterfinal berth deserves a glass of Champagne’s finest.

Nice story of the day:  Overshadowed this tournament by someone else from Switzerland, as he usually is, Stanislas Wawrinka posted a solid four-set win over the dangerous Jerzy Janowicz.  Wawrinka had not known whether he would participate in Roland Garros this year because of a leg injury, so he will feel confident that he made the right decision.

Scandal of the day:  A set point against Kei Nishikori awaited Benoit Paire—or so it seemed.  Umpire Enric Molina took away the opportunity with a coaching code violation, resulting in a point penalty.  An infuriated Paire argued his case at length, but Molina appeared to have ruled correctly.  Probably spurred by the incident, Paire bludgeoned his way to win the set anyway, although he lost the match.

Gold star:  Like fellow Head endorser Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic always fancies a taste of revenge.  He ravaged Grigor Dimitrov’s serve without mercy just weeks after finding it nearly invulnerable in Madrid.  Toppled in three sets that time, Djokovic lost just seven games here.

Silver star:  Baby steps for Rafael Nadal, who looked far from his overwhelming King of Clay self again but at least advanced in straight sets.  Nadal had thrashed third-round opponent Fabio Fognini in Rome.  This match proved much more competitive but never really in doubt once he survived a slow start to win a first-set tiebreak.

Stat of the day:  The twelve match points saved by Isner were the most ever saved by any man in a match at a major.

American men in Paris:  None reach the second week.  RIP, this category.

Question of the day:  Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber has advanced routinely to this stage and upset the Serb here in 2009.  Can he make things interesting on Monday?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Just like Monfils-Berdych, the Stosur-Jankovic duel of veteran clay specialists lived up to its billing.  Jankovic repeated her Stuttgart upset of the world No. 9 after losing the first set and closing out a long, tight decider.  Her clay revival this year should lead to her first major quarterfinal in recent memory,…

Surprise of the day:  …although Jamie Hampton might have something to say about it.  The small American who gave Victoria Azarenka a scare in Melbourne bundled Petra Kvitova out of the tournament. Facing little resistance early, Hampton needed to navigate a long second-set tiebreak to prevent the advantage shifting back to the favorite in the third set.  Kvitova has lost before the quarterfinals at three straight majors.

Nice story of the day:  Perhaps the nicest story of the tournament, in fact.  2010 champion and 2011 finalist Francesca Schiavone returns to the second week in Paris despite a disappointing season, finishing off top-ranked Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli without much ado.

Top seeds show frailty…:  Victoria Azarenka barely could hold serve at all for a set-plus against Alize Cornet, dropping a break at love to concede the first set to someone with a 24-match losing streak against top-30 opponents.  After an emphatic first set, Maria Sharapova suddenly lost the plot and fell behind by a double break to the persistent but faded Zheng Jie amid serving struggles.

…but finish strong:  Once adversity struck, both top women showed their spine.  World No. 3 Azarenka raced through a 6-1 third set, while world No. 2 Sharapova swept six of the last seven games.  If you want to score a huge upset, you cannot afford to labor as consistently on serve as Cornet and Zheng did.  That is too much additional pressure stacked on top of the pressure created by the circumstances.

Adieu, les bleues:  Barely wobbling through her two previous matches, Bartoli followed Cornet to the exit as the last Frenchwomen faded from the draw in the first week.  Credit to each of them for fighting bard, but France simply is not a first-tier tennis power in the women’s game.

Stat of the day:  Sharapova converted all eight of her break points against Zheng, who held serve exactly once in the match.

Americans in Paris:  Who would have thought that the stars and stripes would supply a quarter of the women’s final sixteen on the clay of Roland Garros?  In addition to Hampton and Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands rallied from losing the first set for the second straight match to dominate clay specialist Paula Ormaechea late.  Sloane Stephens took advantage of a soft draw to repeat her second-week result here from last year.  Now 8-1 at majors and 11-1 at non-majors, Stephens saves her best for when it means the most.

Questions of the day:  Can Schiavone flap the visibly flappable Azarenka on Monday?  And how many women’s quarterfinalists will the USA produce?  All but Serena will be underdogs next round.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Azarenka, Sharapova, Stosur, Nadal, Gasquet and More Highlight Day 7

Will Nadal start looking more like the King of Clay?

While Yeshayahu Ginsburg focuses his spotlight on the marquee clash between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov, this article focuses on nine other matches to watch as the first week concludes in Paris.

WTA:

Alize Cornet vs. Victoria Azarenka:  The champion in Strasbourg last week, Cornet has won seven straight matches in her home nation on her favorite surface.  She faces a daunting test against a woman whom she lacks the power to hit through her with either serve or groundstrokes.  Simple and steady should suffice for Azarenka, who looked crisp in her first round and shaky in her second.  The wildcard in this match could consist of the French crowd, likely to try anything possible to fluster her.  If Vika can keep her composure and perhaps draw energy from the hostility, she should reach the second week in a feisty mood.

Maria Sharapova vs. Zheng Jie:  A massive height advantage should help the defending champion collect some free points against the last Chinese woman left in the draw.  Zheng has a winning record against top-10 opponents this year and a victory over Sharapova at Indian Wells in 2010, but her meek serve will cause the WTA’s most vicious returner to salivate.  If she can dig herself into some rallies, her groundstroke depth could make this match competitive, like their other meetings.  Sharapova fell a few notches short of flawless in the second round, wobbling slightly near the finish line, and Zheng owns a reputation for never going away.

Marion Bartoli vs. Francesca Schiavone:  The top-ranked Frenchwoman probably should consider herself fortunate to have reached this stage.  Bartoli saved two match points in a three-hour match to start the tournament and came from behind in both sets of her second-round match after her opponent served for both.  While she has underachieved for her ranking, Schiavone has overachieved in upsetting top-30 player Kirsten Flipkens.  She holds a clear surface edge over Bartoli, whom she defeated in a 2011 semifinal here.  Less clear is whether her serve can withstand the double-fister’s return well enough to secure the holds that eluded Bartoli’s previous challengers at key moments.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Samantha Stosur:  Also a rematch of a Roland Garros semifinal, this match offers Jankovic the opportunity to avenge a rout at the Australian’s hands here in 2010.  On the other hand, it offers Stosur a chance to secure retribution for a loss to the Serb in Stuttgart this spring.  These two women wield weapons almost mirror images of each other, from Stosur’s forehand to Jankovic’s backhand and Stosur’s serving power to Jankovic’s movement.  Both have found contrasting ways to shine on clay, the Aussie utilizing heavy topspin and a kick serve while the Serb bolsters her counterpunching with sliding retrievals.  Both have looked especially crisp this tournament by advancing in straight sets, Stosur more convincingly but Jankovic against stronger opposition.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Paula Ormaechea:  Both women enter this match riding a wave of momentum from upsetting a seeded opponent.  While the Argentine clay specialist bounced Yaroslava Shvedova, one of last year’s quarterfinalists, the American power-hitter knocked off 2011 champion Li Na in the surprise of the tournament so far.  This match will come down to whether Mattek-Sands can continue to strike her targets relentlessly or whether Ormaechea can find ways to survive her opponent’s first strikes and lengthen the points.  Almost nobody would have expected either to reach the second week of a major when the season began.

Petra Kvitova vs. Jamie Hampton: The American’s two victories could not have differed much more from each other.  First winning a three-set thriller from the 25th-seeded Lucie Safarova, Hampton then eased past a qualifier comfortably.  She may or may not have a chance to affect the outcome of this match, depending on which Kvitova shows up.  The bad Petra flirted with first-round disaster by spraying groundstrokes aimlessly midway through the match, while the disciplined and focused Petra returned for a victory over Peng Shuai.  Kvitova’s weapons will overwhelm Hampton if she sustains her accuracy, but this underdog has the talent to exploit one of her feckless days.

ATP:

Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini:  Never having faced the Italian before this month, Nadal now will meet him for the second time in two tournaments.  His Rome rout of Fognini mutes the intrigue of this match despite the short rest for Rafa, forced to play best-of-five matches on consecutive days.  Fognini maintained his regular schedule and will need all of the rest to prepare for a competitor in some ways the antithesis of him.  While both men play their best tennis on clay, Nadal views it as trench warfare and Fognini as art form.

Benoit Paire vs. Kei Nishikori:  Outside a wobble late in the second set of his second match, Nishikori has not defeated his opponents so much as annihilated them.  While he stunned Roger Federer in Madrid, this imposing form still surprises from someone who has accomplished little on clay, losing to Jeremy Chardy and Albert Ramos this spring.  Barely ten ranking slots behind Nishikori, Paire had not loomed any larger in more extensive clay action—until he suddenly reached the semifinals in Rome.  He has won nine of his last ten matches against opponents other than Federer and Rafael Nadal, although he never has reached the second week at a major.  Nishikori won their only meeting last fall, also in Paris, but the indoor hard courts of Bercy bear scant resemblance to the terre battue of Roland Garros.

Nikolay Davydenko vs. Richard Gasquet:  While Davydenko holds the stronger career record at Roland Garros, having reached the semifinals here before, Gasquet has found much stronger form this year.  Among his more notable accomplishments was a Doha final in which he rallied from within a tiebreak of defeat to overcome Davydenko.  They have not met on clay since 2005, but both have advanced convincingly so far.  In contrast to the earlier stages of his career, Gasquet has won most of the matches that he should win over the past twelve months.  This match belongs in that category, although the contrast between the elongated one-handed swing of the Frenchman’s backhand and the streamlined two-hander of the Russian merits watching alone.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Jerzy Janowicz:  After he played four sets on Friday, Janowicz finds himself at a fitness disadvantage against one of the ATP’s premier grinders.  Wawrinka brought some physical issues of his own into the tournament with a muscle tear in his leg, issues that have receded as he has settled into the tournament.  These men number among the leading dark horses in the men’s field, and the winner would stay on track to meet a fallible Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.  Janowicz’s heavy serve and flat groundstrokes should allow him to take the initiative in most points, which he will want to finish quickly before fatigue descends.

 

The Glory That Is Rome: ATP Rome Draw Preview

Rafa and Novak can't divide the Rome hardware between them this year.

No sooner does the dust settle in Madrid than the action kicks off at the last clay Masters 1000 tournament on the Road to Roland Garros.  In fact, the action in Rome’s Foro Italico starts on the day of the Madrid final, offering some extra entertainment for those unsatisfied with the prospect of just one ATP match in their Sunday.

First quarter:  A bit of an enigma this clay season, Novak Djokovic has accomplished the most when the least was expected (Monte Carlo) and accomplished the least when the most was expected (Madrid).  The world No. 1 has won two titles in Rome, one against potential third-round opponent Stanislas Wawrinka in 2008.  Most fans will remember the five-set thriller that they contested at the Australian Open, and Wawrinka will bring considerable momentum to Rome after reaching the final in Madrid with upsets over two top-eight men.  A third such victory does not lie beyond his reach, for he also has defeated Murray and Ferrer on clay this year.  But Wawrinka has not defeated Djokovic since 2006, dropping 11 straight meetings, and he may have accumulated fatigue from not just Madrid but his Portugal title the week before.

The lower part of the quarter features Tomas Berdych and three towers of power.  While Kevin Anderson collected a runner-up trophy in Casablanca, he has suffered a string of setbacks to Berdych in 2012-13 and has shown little sign of reversing that trend.  Fellow giants Marin Cilic and John Isner exited early in Madrid, as they usually do on a surface that exposes their indifferent footwork and mobility.  Berdych has thrived against opponents of a style similar to his, so his chances of meeting Djokovic or Wawrinka in the quarterfinals look strong.  Never has he defeated either man on clay, however, and Djokovic has dominated him relentlessly, including two victories this year.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

Second quarter:  Much to the relief of his fans, Rafael Nadal will control his own destiny regarding a top-four seed at Roland Garros.  The defending champion landed in the same quarter as compatriot David Ferrer for the second straight week, which means that he will pass him in the rankings if he wins the title.  One feels a bit sorry for home hope Andreas Seppi, a quarterfinalist in Rome last year who seems likely to lose all or most of those points.  Even if survives an opener against fellow Italian Fabio Fognini, which he could not in Monte Carlo, Seppi will become Nadal’s first victim in the next round.  Finally gone from the top 10, a dormant Janko Tipsarevic meets an equally dormant compatriot in Viktor Troicki to start the tournament.   Nadal demolished Tipsarevic in their previous clay meetings, while Troicki has threatened him only on the fast hard court of Tokyo.  Neither Serb might even reach the Spaniard, though, if Monte Carlo quarterfinalist Jarkko Nieminen hopes to continue his unexpected clay success.

Blow after blow has fallen upon Ferrer on his favorite surface over the last few months, from two routs in clay finals to an opening-round loss in Barcelona to the painful collapse against Nadal last week.  That Madrid match surely will linger in his mind if they meet in the same round here, although Fernando Verdasco might prevent it.  This fading Spaniard looked suddenly improved in Madrid and has a handful of clay victories over Ferrer, but he has lost their last few meetings.  A semifinalist in Barcelona, Milos Raonic should struggle to find the consistency necessary to outlast Ferrer here.

Semifinalist:  Nadal

Third quarter:  This section contains more intrigue than the  others because the two bold-faced names who anchor it have struggled this clay season.  Lucky to scrape through Madrid as long as he did, the third-seeded Andy Murray finds himself fortunate to find no clay specialists in his immediate area.  The man who knocked Federer out of Madrid, Kei Nishikori, will look to follow up that breakthrough by defeating Murray for the first time.  After he came within five points of upsetting Nadal in 2011, Paolo Lorenzi earned a wildcard into the main draw to become Nishikori’s opening test.  Veterans like Nikolay Davydenko and Feliciano Lopez have sunk too deeply into decline to mount sustained runs.

Absent from Madrid and tepid in Monte Carlo, Juan Martin Del Potro hopes to recapture the form that saw him notch two top-five upsets (and nearly a third) at Indian Wells.  He has earned successes on clay before, including twice taking Federer to five sets at Roland Garros and reaching a semifinal there in 2009.  Del Potro must beware of Nicolas Almagro in the third round despite the latter’s struggles at Masters 1000 tournaments this year.  Remarkably, the two men have not met at the ATP level, so it would be fascinating to see what their explosive shot-making can produce in unison.  Either possesses stronger clay-court expertise than Murray, as does Almagro’s potential second-round opponent Juan Monaco.  Regrouping from an early-season slump, Monaco has won a set from Djokovic and defeated Tipsarevic over the last month.  He also stopped the Scot in Rome before and won his only clay meeting with Del Potro, albeit seven years ago.

Semifinalist:  Del Potro

Fourth quarter:  The Foro Italico has witnessed some of Roger Federer’s most ignominious setbacks at events of this level, including losses to Filippo Volandri, Radek Stepanek, and Ernests Gulbis.  Slowest of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, the surface left him more vulnerable than the others to the lapses in consistency that have increased as he has aged.  Former nemesis Stepanek could meet him again in the second round, although Federer defeated him comfortably in the same round of Madrid.  Also lurking in this section, with a wildcard, is Volandri.  That particular ghost of Romes past probably will not have the chance to haunt Federer, for Tommy Haas should continue his current string of solid results to reach him in the third round.  While Haas won their most recent meeting on the grass of Halle, he has lost all of their other matches since 2007, one of them after winning the first two sets at Roland Garros.  Another man who has troubled Federer late in his career, Gilles Simon, might test the German’s consistency in the second round.

Perhaps the most compelling figure of those vying to meet Federer in the quarterfinals is neither of the two seeds but Grigor Dimitrov.  Until now, though, Dimitrov has shown a tendency to alternate breakthroughs with breakdowns, so his upset of Djokovic in Madrid could precede a pedestrian effort in Rome.  Both of Richard Gasquet’s clay victories over Federer have come at clay Masters 1000 tournaments, heightening the significance of what otherwise would seem an easy test for the Swiss to conquer.  A shootout could unfold in the second round between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and powerful young server Jerzy Janowicz, but neither man should last long on a surface antithetical to their strengths.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Final:  Nadal vs. Del Potro

Champion:  Rafael Nadal

 

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