lefty

Day 2 of Legg Mason – Roddick, Fish, Berdych & Benneteau Practice Shirtless, Isner Gets Lost, Verdasco & His Twin

The last day of qualifying and the first day of the main draw here at the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament in Washington, DC has come and gone. With it, we welcome six well-deserved qualifiers to an already full list of notable names lined up in the main draw. Let’s recap some of the excitement around the practice courts today!

  1. The first practice session I walked into was the world #1 doubles’ pairing of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor. Sometimes fans are so focused on the top singles players, we forget how truly amazing the top doubles’ game is. As I was watching Nestor hit from the baseline and Zimonjic volley, I was struck by two things: Nestor’s lefty forehand is strikingly powerful and Zimonjic’s forehand volleys are so precise and crisp. I started wondering how these guys weren’t better singles players in their time.

  1. As I was snapping their pics, John Isner was roaming the grounds behind me until he appeared to my left. “There he is!” yelled Isner, pointing to Nestor, “What court is this?” Nestor jokingly replied: “You’re on the other side, aren’t you? Isn’t that where the big guys hang out?” Cue crowd laughing.

  1. Nestor obviously knows his way around the grounds unlike Isner, who continued looking for his court until he nearly made a round-trip back to where he started. But then we got a glimpse of the big man in his yellow ‘Livestrong’ t-shirt. I had forgotten how extended his elbows are when he makes contact with the ball on the backhand side. Look unreal!

  1. He was in good spirits, but it took him a while to loosen up his right shoulder. Hopefully it’s not an indication of any kind of injury. Isner then took on his coach in a game utilizing only the cross-court backhand slice. First one to hit out loses, and they played some points. The video below is some of the fun footage.

  1. Radek Stepanek was waiting for his court by doing some in-place running drills, swinging his arms while increasing the speed.

He practiced with Xavier Malisse who had a first round match later that afternoon, which he ended up winning in three sets. Nothing really of note on their practice other than the fact that Stepanek was sporting a red, white and blue racket. Looked like he was supporting Team USA — isn’t he Czech?!

  1. Other notable players waiting for a court: Tomas Berdych, Julien Benneteau, Benjamin Becker and Rendy Lu.

Berdych seemed to be the only one actually stretching. Maybe that’s how you get to be the #1 seed in a 500-level tournament like Legg Mason. Boys, take notes!

  1. When Berdych walked over to the middle court, he promptly took off his t-shirt. And it stayed off the entire practice. The sun was fairly strong but not strong enough to burn from it. He then seemed to dare Benneteau to take his off as well, which he willingly accepted. For such tall slender-looking men, they are very fit and lean. Their practice session covered all the shots and when they took breaks, they chatted up a storm, along with Berdych’s coach.

  1. The next stop in my day was one of the best sights I have yet to see in tennis. Andy Roddick was taking on Mardy Fish in a grueling set. Recalling that Fish had recently beaten Roddick in Atlanta, this was any tennis fan’s highlight. Fans were pouring in on all possible sides and I was lucky enough to get a bird’s eye view to catch all the action. There were laughs, jokes, yelling, high-fiving, and, as the theme of the day seems to be, both were shirtless as well. Sidenote: Roddick’s left, yes, LEFT arm is ripped! Mardy Fish, on the other hand, is looking quite slender. Yes, he has lost 30 pounds in the last year, but seeing it in person, I’m starting to think he needs to bulk up a little.

Near the end of their session a hilarious moment occurred to top it all off. Roddick, loving being the center of attention, shot a 1st serve that was a questionable line call. Roddick kept asking what his next serve should be “1st? 2nd? 1st? 1st?” wanting to try again for an ace. Fish got ready to receive, and then asked: “Wait, 1st or 2nd?” “2nd, 2nd,” Roddick repeated. Fish then moved in closer to the baseline. Unfortunately, Fish doesn’t seem to realize he’s playing against a trickster, and Roddick fired an explosive serve down the line … which Fish miraculously returned while standing just inside the baseline. Roddick followed behind his serve and tried to volley the return, but his attempt went straight into the net. Karma. The crowd roared in laughter. What a sight to behold!

Here’s footage of the best video I was able to capture. This point was brilliant. Roddick was hitting winner after winner, but Fish was able to return each one. His footwork is evident here and the crowd clapped in amazement at the level of both players’ play.

  1. I then made my way over to the Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki practice session on the opposite side of the grounds. Both players looked strong, but were all about business. Seeing as these two speak the same Serbo-Croatian language and played each other in Davis Cup recently, it was surprising to see once again, that not many words were exchanged between the two. I remember them practicing last year with each other, so they must be friends, but on-court, you would think they were simply matched together for a hit due to space constraints. Either way, it was fun to be reminded of the wind-up to Cilic’s serve. It’s surprising his legs muscles are not bigger for the incline he takes in preparation.

  1. I made my way back to the media center at this point to check on the scores of the qualifiers. “Nothing too surprising” I said to myself. I then went on twitter to upload some photos, and guess whose feed came up? Fernando Verdasco. “Going to practice in 30 minutes!” As I was walking up to the media desk to check what court he is slated to practice on, I crossed my fingers that he was actually IN town. To my relief, he was and the media desk did their magic and spewed out a court number to me.

I walked over to the court about 5 minutes before the hour and caught his hitting partner just arriving to the court, dressed in a grey Adidas shirt, white shorts and hat, and black Adidas shoes. I was the first one there and so I sat down and waited. A moment later, I happened to look up to my right, and there was Verdasco, walking in from the parking lot by himself on the other side of the fence. I nearly jumped out of my seat in anticipation.

He walked onto the court coolly and seemed to be in a good mood. He started hitting and then something made me laugh. Verdasco was dressed in the exact same clothes as his hitting partner! Twins! Only difference: Verdasco was in white shoes. Who raided who’s closet, here?!

I was surprised to see that it took about 5-7 minutes for fans to start showing up for his practice. But at the same time it was nice: not crowded, no kids trying to climb over me for a peek, nobody stepping on my toes. All-in-all, a pleasant hitting session to view. The tennis wasn’t bad either. I’m just kidding! I was completely taken aback by Verdasco’s forehand when he started to let it rip! He would hit a few strong forehands and backhands, and then all of a sudden, take flight and practically levitate off the ground with an explosive forehand winner. Each time he did this, “ooohs” and “aaahs” came from the crowd in admiration. By the time I left, it started raining and cut his practice short, but not before showcasing his incredible talent. I’m looking forward to seeing him play this week and expect him to go deep in the draw.

  1. And as a bonus (because I’m so nice), a close-up of hunk Michael Llodra. Shirtless, of course!

Enjoy the day and I will be back later this week with more coverage from Legg Mason. As the main draw begins, I will start focusing more on the actual matches. But don’t worry, the practice courts always have someone on them and I will be there to catch the action as well.

American Tennis Triumphs At The Farmers Classic

A Super Sunday for Southern California natives as the Bryan Brothers become the all time best doubles team in tennis history, and Sam Querrey repeats as champion trumping mopey Murray in three sets that thrilled the Los Angeles crowd as American tennis sets the US Open Series ablaze going two for two.
The first match was the historic one. Bob and Mike Bryan, twins, who personify synergetic, aggressive doubles tennis like no one else, take on the other guys on yet another perfect afternoon on the UCLA campus at the Farmers Classic Open. The first set was tight, and Bob later admitted that his arms felt like “spaghetti” throughout, as the other guys stood their ground, taking the initiative, looking as though they weren’t going to simply lay down and let the Brady Bunch script unfold without difficulty. Father Bryan, who instituted tennis to his twin sons at a very early age, was the MC of the event, and sat in the stands without objective restraint as he could be seen cheering his boys on with his signature enthusiasm. Fist pumps issued forth from father Wayne Bryan, and the crowd rallied as the Bryan brothers dropped the first set in a very tentative display by the twins, who were seeking their 62nd title, one ahead of the legendary team of Woodford/Woodbridge. Mark Woodford was on hand to see if his record would hold, and the other guys (Butorac/Rojer) looked to keep the Bryans at bay for at least another week. The first set wrapped in a weakly played tiebreak by the brothers Bryan, but what seems to be the going trend with the So Cal native sons, is the ability to bounce back and that they did. The Bryans easily took the second set 6-2, as the nerves subdued and the confidence returned. The custom for doubles, once it reaches a split, is to play a ten point super tiebreak. Did you expect anything less? Taking the quick lead 4-0, it looked like no. 62 was inevitable. The other guys fought back, and even broke the big serve of lefty Bob and the match was tied at 7-7. A few crucial mistakes, including an untimely double fault by Butorac gave the boys a match point and after putting away the volley the Bryans leapt into each other arms thrusting their names into the history books. Bob Bryan told reporters what he felt: “Sixty two brings a smile to our face. It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. Sixty one looked like it was on the other side of the moon. If you stay consistent, and never give up on each other – even in dry spells – anything can happen. We’ve never given up on each other.”

The singles championship was going to be decided after the Bryans match, between returning champion Sam Querrey, the local favorite and first time Los Angeleser Andy Murray. The battle ensued right from the get go, as the two men held nothing back. Querrey told reporters after his semi-final win that he needed to go for more against Andy, and take some chances. He certainly did just that. The American was going for his shots without delay and the first set slid Andy’s way mostly because Querrey wasn’t quite hitting his marks. Whether or not the nerves were a factor Andy held steady and was able to break Sam late in the set and hold for a 7-5 lead. This wasn’t new territory for the American number 20. Sam’s last three matches all went the distance and he trailed in all of them. But could he do it against a top player like Andy Murray? You wouldn’t have guessed so, but Andy was caught in familiar territory as well, as in all of his matches leading up to the final he started with a bang only to take a catnap in the second. He didn’t exactly sleep this set away but had some strong opportunities to dunk the trophy home in straights. But Sam showed what he has been showing for the past week: pure So Cal heart. I feel with this comeback, especially against a player of Murray’s caliber, can only send Sam across the ravine of steady, workhorse, blue collar man to white collar, trophy collecting, net jets flying, elite player. After a gritty tiebreak triumph in the second set, utilizing that big serve, big forehand one two to perfection, Querrey rolled on to wrap up the third and deciding set 6-3, and becoming one of the few to repeat in LA. With Mardy’s win in Atlanta, and now Querrey’s repeat, and Blake looking like his injuries have subsided, and Isner climbing the ranks steadily, and Roddick consistently re-proving his dominance on hard courts, this year’s US Open looks mouthwatering for American tennis. Could the flag of Spain, Switzerland, Serbia, and UK flap dead across the Hudson this August? Could the Unites States Open crown one of its own native sons? The tide of tennis is fickle, and if one were to venture a guess with the current shift, I would start singing the pledge of allegiance folks.

RAFA’S RECORD OF CLAY

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the king of clay.

The “rey” of clay, so to speak.

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

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

Vamos Rafa!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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