legg mason

Stepanek bests “Superman” Monfils in Washington; best shots from the final

Czech Radek Stepanek ran away with the title at this year’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. versus entertainer extraordinaire Gaël Monfils, 6-4, 6-4. Both players were on their best behavior as they showcased brilliant tennis and provided lots of goofy photos (below)!

Stepanek strolled into the media interview room and began downing not a refreshing bottle of Gatorade or water, but instead, his drink of choice was a Pepsi. Content and relaxed about his week, he stated that it was two years since he’d played this well, the last time being his title run in San Jose in 2009. At age 32, he is the oldest player in the top 100 but states that “it’s not age, it’s how you feel” that determines how long you can play this sport. With the age of top players increasing steadily into their late-20s, he cites that players like him “are like a wine, the older we are getting, the better we are.” He was feeling so good in fact, that he did his trademark dance move on court after his win, The Worm. “The emotions are there … especially after a year of struggling … and a lot of injuries. I still believed in myself, in hard work … and I do The Worm only when I win tournaments, so that’s why I did it today again.”

He commended his opponent Monfils who fought for every point on the court. With an acrobatic and “Cirque de Soleil” style of tennis, Monfils is a true entertainer on court attracting the crowds. He is any photographer’s dream subject as evidenced by the shot below. But what the photo doesn’t show it how quick and agile he is in retrieving and running down every single ball.


Today, however, Monfils was quick to point out that he was a bit unlucky with the scheduling this week, having to finish his three-set semifinal match against John Isner at 1:15am the night before. “I think I was a fraction slower today” than usual. He claimed to be “seeing the ball a fraction late” on Stepanek’s serves as well.

Even while ranked #7 in the world, Monfils is only 3-for-14 in ATP tour level finals as of today. With his aggressive style of play, it makes one wonder why the discrepancy exists. Monfils comments: “I had two opportunities [in past finals] that I didn’t make it … I’m unlucky [to win a title], last year I twisted my ankles in the finals. Today I finished at 1:15am, and I never had a chance to get a good rest.”

Even though he served better than Stepanek, Monfils was broken in the Legg Mason finals twice, both at early parts of each set. “Superman” Monfils was showcased during several points, flying through the air, but rarely won those entertaining points, again showing that it was the steady game of Stepanek’s that really dictated play. There was a rhythm to the match with a slight favor toward Stepanek, but Monfils was threatening him with up-to two aces per game at times. Even as a spectator, it really is a workout tracking Monfils’ every move on court.

At 4-3, 15-all in the second set, Stepanek double-faulted giving Monfils his first glimpse of breaking back. Monfils jumped ahead of himself and powered a backhand just wide, screaming in frustration nearly pounding his racquet to the ground. Even on Stepanek’s next serve, which happened to be a second serve, he still somehow controlled the point and ran Monfils around so much that he slipped and skidded his elbow on the ground, tumbling. Monfils laid silent for several extended seconds (probably catching his breath) before he emerged. But he was clearly shaken up and couldn’t convert the early break. Stepanek won the final game easily, approaching the net four-out-of-five times, and took it 6-4 in the second.

With the awards’ ceremony following, both players showed great sportsmanship and laughed with each other, showing that you can still be friendly even in defeat. In fact, Monfils was caught giggling even bigger than Stepanek at one point – not sure what made him happy, but we’ll take it. For a sport that requires the “loser” to stand up and analyze his game right after a loss, it can be both difficult and therapeutic. You don’t see the Miami Heat being asked why they lost in the NBA Finals 15 minutes after the buzzer, but tennis is different. The stress put on a player doesn’t cease after the last ball is played , it continues for several hours as they are grilled by the media, commentators, and possibly their team on “what went wrong.” But Monfils’ effort today was valiant and humbling: no matter how much work you put in, there’s always more you can do. And he stated that earlier in the week when he said “When I do two hours of practice, I need to add 30 minutes more. I need to feel something inside to go further. I think I show too much respect to my opponent. Maybe I can be more selfish.”

The best (and goofiest) shots from the finals are below. You can follow me on twitter as well for more tennis coverage! @TennisRomi


Behind-the-scenes ‘rain delay’ fun of Monfils vs. Isner

What do you do in a rain delay at a tennis tournament? If you’re a player, you play scrabble, watch “Shark Week” or take a nap. If you’re a spectator, you get drenched unless you’re lucky enough to enjoy the downpour from your own private suite. If you’re media, you’re either productively working hard to get stories out … or you compete in the first ever Legg Mason Tennis Media Spelling Bee.  There’s so much to do behind the scenes, you’re sure to enjoy passing the time somehow – even if the tennis has to wait.

Semifinal Saturday started out typically humid enough for Washington, D.C., but the grounds were abuzz as young American Donald Young was set for his first semifinal against the veteran Radek Stepanek. The match began at 3PM without a hiccup and ESPN2 was on hand to cover it. While showing signs of brilliance and creativity with his forehand, Young was just not experienced enough to close out big points and got broken three times on his serve. On his second match point, Stepanek hit a service winner to take the match, 6-3, 6-3.

The evening session was set to begin at 7PM and held the starpower of a final, with John Isner and Gaël Monfils as the marquee singles matchup. But the weather would not cooperate to allow a sensible start time. By the time the third game of the match was played at 10:30PM, the players had already warmed up three separate times – each time only getting a couple of points in before the heavens opened up again. Even at that hour, a great crowd was present. What was expected to be a pro-Isner crowd being on U.S. soil was surprisingly balanced, as people cheered for the acrobatics of Monfils nearly as much as for the aces of Isner.

Over the course of the evening, even though the rain hampered play it didn’t dwindle spirits. With the initial wave of torrential rain, the media tent (yes, a tent and not a concrete structure) began to flood with rain seeping in from the ground as well as dripping from the roof. Writers and photographers alike scrambled away from the edge of the tent to a more interior space trying to save their equipment and stay dry. I was ready to jump on a table and cover myself with an umbrella in case the whole tent decided to give way as had part of the corporate hospitality tent on the other side of the grounds.

Amidst the chaos, while Monfils mentioned that he and Isner watched “Shark Week” during the rain delay, Ben from the @DailyForehand planned an epic Legg Mason Media Tennis Spelling Bee. It was a single-elimination ATP name-spelling tournament featuring bloggers and reporters alike, including Lindsay (@linzsports), Jen (@RacquetRequired), Mariya (@MariyaKTennis), Kelyn (@KelynSoong), Nathalie from MiamiTennisNews, Jim from AFP Sports and myself (@TennisRomi). What started out innocently enough spelling Adrian Mannarino and Rui Machado, turned into an all-out battle between Mariya and me having to spell Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Diego Junqueira. I was down to Edouard Roger-Vasselin and I asked for a lifeline. But as there’s no on-court coaching in the ATP, I double-faulted misspelling his first name. Mariya outplayed me and won the coveted flower trophy. I got the cold Evian water as runner-up, but I didn’t mind; it was hot out.

As much fun as it was, the courts were dry and the players were back, warming up for the fourth time that evening. During the initial rain delay, Monfils seemed to take no notice of the rain as he jumped onto a wet outside court, hitting soaked balls with his coach in front of a small crowd. I’m not sure if that’ the smartest thing to do, but luckily he sprained no ankles and seemed to be in a good mood despite the situation.

But back on court, as both players got more comfortable and confident with their serves, the quality of play increased steadily. In the second game of the second set, the point of the tournament took place, seeing Isner repeatedly trying to put a ball away as Monfils did everything in his power to keep it in play: sliding, tumbling, sprinting and even switching to hit a left-handed forehand. The entertainer in him came out to play and he applauded “Johny” (as Monfils warmly referred to Isner in the press conference) for the point. Janko Tipsarevic was correct earlier in the week when he said that when you play Monfils “the point is never over until you see the ball bounce twice.” See the shot of the tournament below (at 1:44):


(YouTube video courtesy of ATPWorldTour)

In the fifth game of the second set, with Isner up 3-1, he sent a 107MPH serve down the middle, accidentally smacking a woman in the face who was sitting in the front row. As Isner grimaced upon contact, a gentleman sitting three chairs away from me shot up out of his seat as if he were Superman to the rescue and announced that he was an eye doctor, running clear across the stadium to help.

Isner later stated that he was told the woman was ok. Just prior the start of the next point, Monfils held his arms up and smiled at Isner as if to say “Please not me next!” During the changeover and on Isner’s next service game, Monfils turned to the crowd on the opposite end and warned them with a “Watch out.” As I was sitting on the baseline, I noticed the lady in front of me came prepared; she brought a 451-page book to use as a shield just in case. Not a bad idea at all for an Isner match.

As competitive as the points were, the players continued to be interactive with both each other and the crowd.  While the crowd began to get drunk and feisty, the players had their own drama on court. On Monfils’ second match point, the most severe failure of Hawkeye line review technology in recent memory occurred. Monfils challenged an Isner ace thinking it was out. Unfortunately, the video could not be viewed and the original call stood. Monfils got slightly stirred up and throwing his racquet to the ground and planted his hands on his hips to contest. He began conversing with Mohamed Lahyani the chair umpire, as Mo called both players to cool off for a moment at their chairs mid-game. As Isner walked behind Monfils, Monfils turned around and gave “Johny” a big smile and fist-bumped him as if to say “It’s all good.” True sportsmanship from both men.

With a match that saw nearly every style of tennis on display, Monfils walked away the winner at 1:15AM on match point #3 in the third set tiebreak with a score of 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6). Isner had this to say about Monfils’ ability to cover the court: “It’s a lot of pressure; he makes the court feel smaller. A lot of the time, he kind of forces you to go for the line, so you feel like that’s the only place you can get the ball past him.” The two had a personal moment at net as they embraced, smiling.

The match was reminiscent of their 2007 semifinal here in Washington, D.C. during Isner’s breakthrough summer, in which he called it as being one of his best and most memorable matches. There was only one key difference: Monfils walked away the winner this time.

Within fifteen minutes of the match being over, Monfils strolled through the media tent high-fiving a French cameraman and gave a thoughtful presser. What’s even more impressive is that Isner followed suit directly after. Not having won, he was down but not out, recalling that his confidence has multiplied in the past several weeks after having dismal results for much of the season.

And with the final ball played, the rain-filled Saturday was over at 2:00AM, and a new day would begin as Monfils was scheduled to take on Stepanek just 13 hours later for the championship match.

Follow me all week on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic! @TennisRomi

Serbian Fatalism at Legg Mason Tennis Classic: Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki

Serbian fatalism was in full swing at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. last night as the two remaining Serbs, world #15 Viktor Troicki and #25 Janko Tipsarevic went out to John Isner and Gael Monfils, respectively. Being from the former Yugoslavia myself, I have an intimate look into the way Serbians, as a culture, are hard-wired and these two young men are no exception. Perhaps, they are the example.

After losing the first set, 7-6(5), Troicki could have easily faded away thinking Isner was serving just too well for any opportunities to arise. Instead, he took advantage of Isner’s fading confidence and broke him to go up 3-0 in the second set. As Isner became increasingly negative with his own movement, Troicki’s belief and body language surpassed any inkling of doubt he may have had earlier in the match. He began to play like a dangerous top player and won 91% of his first serves pushing Isner into a hole. Isner himself even stated that in the second set, he was “either missing wildly or missing weakly into the net” and that was a true tale of the type of pressure Troicki was putting on him.

Then the third set began to unfold and with it, Troicki began to doubt. After a resurgence, his performance plummeted as his serve and return percentages dwindled, and he created a large gap in the deficit for his winners to unforced errors. Likewise, Tipsarevic stayed with Monfils for the majority of the match, but when the point was on his racquet, he succumbed, looking to his box and simply saying “nemogu,” or “I can’t” in Serbian, when referencing getting broken in the first game of the second set.

The word ‘fatalism’ is commonly used to refer to an attitude of resignation in the face of some event which is thought to be inevitable, as in the case of a loss. Even if a player believes he can win and does well initially, disbelief creeps in and takes hold, refusing to let go. In the case of both Troicki and Tipsarevic, good friends that fell out of the tournament in the same evening, it shows how contagious the doctrine actually is: they feel powerless to do anything other than what they actually do, because they are bound to lose in the end, no matter how much they put into the match. And although this type of attitude can be witnessed in other players who dismantle mentally on-court, it’s the Serbian political history that gives the greatest context. From the assassination of Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand by a Yugoslavian nationalist to launch World War I, to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict last decade, Serbians and Croatians alike, have had a turbulent history that seems to be against our own best interest. As a culture and nation, we strive to be better people, and we achieve success, but the dark cloud still hangs over us and we doubt our abilities, even if we don’t want to admit it.

In his press conference, Tipsarevic referenced that the reason he lost wasn’t his “forehand or backhand, it was more my lack of concentration. I was getting so frustrated, that I couldn’t win free points off my serve and couldn’t finish off the points as I wanted to, and as I did in the previous two matches.” Fatalism isn’t always present, but it appears in the most inopportune times, making us believe that acceptance is appropriate, rather than resistance against inevitability.

But the reward will come one day for these two players, as it has for current #1 Novak Djokovic. After winning the Australian Open in 2008 at age 20, it took him three full years to win another grand slam. The time in between was filled with drama of apologies about on-court antics to a pronounced and immense struggle with his serve. And then a breakthrough occurred, and he became unstoppable. He was able to shun away any mental strife and play for himself, and for his country in the Davis Cup finals, winning it for the first time in Serbia’s existence. What was a handicap turned into the ultimate asset: Djokovic learned how to direct his energy to attain his goals, and even surprised a few people on the way up to the top of the men’s tennis game. Hopefully, Tipsarevic and Troicki can follow in his steps, but not without drama of their own.

In what was sadly seen as offensive, a photo and corresponding caption posted by Tipsarevic of him holding up a plastic gun at Djokovic with his hands in the air and reading “How much $$$ would Rafa gief … ;)”, stirred up a storm on the internet recently. Ben Rotherberg of The Daily Forehand got the full scoop by asking Tipsarevic to comment on the situation. Tipsarevic stated that “it was a bad joke. We were really happy that we won Davis Cup. We were at dinner … I think it was a plastic gun … it was a bet and a stupid joke. At the time it seemed funny because the joke was about how dominant Novak is [on tour], that nothing can stop him this season. The next day, I took it off Facebook and Twitter. As I heard later, it was all over the internet, people were blaming me for thinking that ‘I hate Rafa.’ I called Novak and Rafa the next day. I spoke to them and they were fine about it. They told me to be careful because of social networking and [how] people can get things like this in a wrong way.” This is Serbian fatalism at its finest, ladies and gentleman. But all credit to Tipsarevic for realizing how grave of a situation it really was and commenting whole-heartedly on it.

Tipsarevic finished appropriately with: “I still blame myself.  I think it was a bad, bad joke. You can make a bad story out of anything if you want to. I apologize to anyone that thinks it was offensive to anybody on tour.” To a non-native speaker, expressing sincerity may be tough, but the aura surrounding Tipsarevic’s response ensured all those present that he meant what he said. And remember too, that he had just lost a tough match to Monfils not even an hour before.

For the full clip, Jen from Racquet Required has it on Youtube.

Hopefully, one day in the near future, these two young Serbians will be able to channel their energy into attaining the goals that their talents are capable of. Until then, we can struggle in their drama-filled journey with them.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi

Donald Young: Cinderella run to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic semifinals

Young American Donald Young took full advantage of Marcos Baghdatis’ depleted energy and was able to continue the biggest run of his career, winning 6-3, 7-6(4) and reaching his first ATP tour level semifinal on Friday evening at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Baghdatis had played two 3-setters yesterday and was simply outplayed by the 21-year-old in the crucial moments, unable to convert any of the three opportunities he had of taking the second set.

Young has been a consistent underachiever on tour since turning pro in 2004. He has received innumerable amounts of coaching help through the USTA Player’s Development program, but the dominant role his family members have taken have caused conflict between the two parties. As he walked into the press conference, his posse was noticeably bigger than the previous day’s, and it will surely continue to grow going into the weekend.

Young broke through in 2008, reaching a career-high 73, but he had never won more than two ATP matches in a row until today, citing his “attitude towards playing” as the difference. “I feel like I actually can do it, … and not just a hope of ‘Maybe I can do it.’” Earlier this year, he beat Andy Murray in the second round of Indian Wells, but fell apart in the next round against Tommy Robredo, losing 6-0, 6-4. Consistency has never been his strong suit.

This week has been a revelation to the potential his game holds. He dominated with his forehand painting lines and shoving Baghdatis further and further back, taking away any kind of game plan he might have had. While Baghdatis served only 37% for the match, Young hovered in the mid-60’s. Baghdatis referenced his drop in play partly to his hands being “a bit tight … I couldn’t hit the ball [as good as yesterday].”

After taking the first set, Young was quickly broken to go down 0-3, but came back fist-pumping his way to take the next four games. At 5-6, he held serve and fired an explosive forehand down-the-line to force a tiebreaker. As Baghdatis tried forcing Young to hit from his backhand side, he himself unsuccessfully ran around his backhand, only to clobber the ball into the net. At 6-4 in the tiebreak, Baghdatis hit a defensive lob allowing Young to hit an easy overhead shot to take the match. Young pounded his chest and smiled in joy looking to his box, hardly believing the results himself; the crowd roared with him.

When asked about if he ever doubted his abilities of being on tour and making a run like this, he answered honestly: “Sure. For every year that it didn’t happen, you think ‘Oh, it’s another year; is it going to ever happen?’ … I’m not really where I want to be yet but this is just a step moving forward and hopefully I can continue having these results.”

He’ll next take on Radek Stepanek who is a tricky player, exceptionally comfortable at both the net and slugging away at the baseline. He’ll be another true test of Young’s abilities.

Follow me on twitter all week as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic! @TennisRomi

Xavier Malisse on playing U.S. Open with Mark Knowles, update on Anti-Doping court case

After defeating #4 doubles’ seeds Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi with partner Mark Knowles at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, I was able to sit down with world #42 singles’ player Xavier Malisse and discuss his busy summer as well as plans to double up with Knowles for the U.S. Open.

Malisse had a breakthrough run here last year in the singles draw, reaching the semifinals, and followed that up with final appearances in Chennai later in the year and reaching the 4th round of Wimbledon this year. On the doubles’ tour, he’s excelled as well, winning the 2004 French Open with countryman Olivier Rochus, and just last week winning Los Angeles with Mark Knowles.

He informed me that he decided to officially pull out of Montreal, but will still play Cincinnati in two weeks and then the U.S. Open in September. Malisse retired in his singles’ match yesterday due to a sore right arm saying “it hurts a little, [with pain] going up and down,” but was back on court today in doubles. He felt “lucky that we got cancelled last night [due to weather] because I couldn’t have played. I got some treatment, tried to work it out.” He went on to say that “the muscle is just hurting” and cited nothing more severe. “I’ve been playing so much. I’ve played 7 out of 8 weeks and I’ve never done that, so I need a rest.” He commented that he feels as if he’s a “half-a-step slow on all the balls in singles.”  However, he stated that “he played well today actually. It was a fun match to play.”

“Fun” is also the word he used when talking about his doubles’ partnership with Alexandr Dolgopolov, with whom he won Indian Wells with back in March. “I had a lot of fun, and we’re still good friends. But Mark [Knowles] has been asking [for me to play with him] and we’ve been trying to hook up for almost a year, I think. So we finally worked it out.”

Fellow Belgian Dick Norman, whose doubles partner recently retired, has expressed the possibility of him and Malisse teaming up as a permanent doubles tandem. Malisse mentioned that “it’s on the verge. We’ve talked about it for [this past] French Open but then we couldn’t get in. And then we had the US Open … [which] I was going to play with Dick, but now I’m playing with Knowles [since Los Angeles], so I’ll have to talk with Dick about it.”

Malisse stated that “I’ll play Cincinnati with Knowles and also the U.S. Open .”

In 2009, Xavier Malisse failed to provide three mandatory “whereabouts” within an 18-month period to the World Anti-Doping Angency, by two “filling failures” and one missed test. He appealed and his one year ban was lifted pending the appeals’ outcome. According to the Belgian news site Clint, Malisse’s court date is set for September 12, 2011. When asked about the details, he nonchalantly commented “Oh, yea” as if it were distant history. He then went on to elaborate: “Well, to be honest, I try to let the lawyers do their work. It’s gotten so complicated … I don’t know too much about it. They do their thing, I focus on tennis. Hopefully, we’ll get a good result out of it.”

When I asked him if he’s thought about how the verdict might affect his career, he responded with “Not yet. I’ll try to see how it works out … I tried filling my whereabouts and that’s all I do for that. And they do their job and I try to do my job on the court.”

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi

Baghdatis defeats Devvarman in a three-set “dog fight”

With a Thursday schedule that could rival any grand slam tournament’s, the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. began with an early session due to a washout Wednesday evening. The matches that were supposed to take place last night, instead took place today starting at noon, making it necessary for some players to play their second and third round matches within hours of each other. It’s a difficult task winning one grueling three-set match, not to mention having the energy and stamina to win two matches in a single day.

In the day session, Marcos Baghdatis defeated Somdev Devvarman, 6-2, 0-6, 7-5, after squandering several match points at 5-4 and 5-5. Baghdatis’ movement on court was lacking and his serving percentage plummeted as the match went on. After serving 83% in the first set, he served 36% and 38% in the second and third set, respectively. The hiccup set in the middle saw him winning only 1-of-8 first return points and going 0-for-3 in break points saved.

Baghdatis had this to say in his post-match interview: “Tough match for sure. [Devvarman] is a tricky player to play against and conditions were tough in the end and it was pretty hot out there. I wasn’t feel that great for a first match for me. The most important thing is that I found the solution to win and I’m pretty happy to win.”

But all credit to Devvarman who outplayed his opponent in the second set with a game outside of his own, approaching at key moments and forcing the pressure on Baghdatis by hugging the baseline and hitting some exceptional forehands. Baghdatis tried to pull Devvarman out to his backhand for most of the match, but Devvarman became more comfortable and responded with extra speed on his forehand when he had the chance. With only four total points distinguishing the winner from his opponent, it was a test of will power and perseverance.

Devvarmen is a University of Virginia stand-out alumnus and the stands reflected the home crowd feel. In a sea of orange, Devvarman was supremely confident and not lacking in mental strength. In his post-match interview, he hinted that they both played well, but that Baghdatis simply was too good in “the dog fight. It was really close at the end and could have gone either way.”

Baghdatis, a finalist here last year and currently ranked #26, is looking for his first title since Sydney in 2010. But he is optimistic with a new coach in tow, Miles Maclagan, the former coach of Scot Andy Murray. The two have been working together since last month. Other than reaching the quarterfinals in Brisbane and s-Hertogenbosch, Baghdatis’ results have been dismal, but he will get a chance this evening to take on Thomaz Bellucci as they battle for a spot in the quarterfinals.

After match point, discarding his typical “kiss of the court” on his hands and knees, he bent over and instead wrote something meaningful on the DecoTurf court.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi

Ryan Harrison on Andy Roddick’s influence, deciding to turn pro, and becoming a top 50 player

On a day filled with American men dominating in their respective matches, rising teenager Ryan Harrison defeated Mischa Zverev in 3 lop-sided sets, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1. In his post-match press conference, he pinpointed specific times in the match where momentum changed and even talked about the role Andy Roddick has played in the development of his mental game.

Harrison has had a breakthrough summer plowing to a career-high #82 in the world after becoming pro as a 15-year-old and signing with the prestigious IMG management group. With his semifinal runs in Los Angeles and Atlanta recently, his confidence is soaring. And he expected nothing less, recalling that he always “wanted to be a pro so badly. I wanted that to be my profession. Everyone talked to me about the college experience, the college life, and my answer was: ‘Why do I need that when I want to be a professional tennis player?’ It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” He touches on discussing the decision with his parents but came to a conclusion very quickly and “it was a no-brainer. I said ‘I want this. I’m going to make it happen.’ That’s just the way I am. If I want something, I’m either going to get it or die trying.”

And get it he did on Tuesday evening, but not without a set-long drop in play. “At the beginning of the match I thought I was actually doing good. I started off well, I was serving well. It was frustrating at the beginning as I was returning really good … I felt it was opportunity after opportunity to get on top, and he was just hanging around.  I never really got that break that I was looking for. Then, finally I snuck out a break at 5-4 in the in the first set. I was relieved to get it. At the same time you’re happy to break, but you’re disappointed that you couldn’t close it out sooner. At the beginning of the second set, he started swinging out. Once he broke, he just loosened up… He started swinging out on a couple of balls and he connected. It just got away from me really quickly. I just started getting physically drained because of a lot of traveling, just getting used to the new time zones. But I got a second wind. At the beginning of the third set, I picked my energy level up and was able to get back on top.”

Zverev attacked the ball, rushing to the net any opportunity that he got, and that proved to be the difference in the second set. However, as Zverev’s mis-hits increased, his play decreased, and with it Harrison got the momentum back. When reflecting on how his year has been so far, he responded “I’ve been having some of the most exciting moments of my career, and it’s exciting to be playing.”

His goals going into the U.S. Open is to become a top 50 player and he thinks that it’s definitely possible. “ I’m 25 to 30 spots away right now … with a deep run here, good showing in Cincinnati, and in Winston-Salem , they could all do that for me. At the US Open I know I can play well; I played well last year but lost a heartbreaker in the second round. I don’t want to say any round goal I want to get to. I honestly believe that no matter who I draw, at the end of the day, I have a shot to win. It’s about putting it together and making consecutive match wins is going to be the trick.”

And speaking of tricks, Harrison admitted to be a very coordinated tennis-loving kid, having started playing tennis at the age of 2. “I don’t really have any memory not involving tennis. I had good coordination from a young age, I was able to hit the ball over the net by the time I was 3; we have it on video… Tennis was just something I was passionate about and I was really motivated to be good at it.”

He speaks respectfully of Andy Roddick and the role he has played in the young Harrison’s life during his climb up the ranks. “I’ve gotten a lot of advice from Roddick, especially, because we’re similarly wired and the fact that we’re both high-strung and very intense. So he’s talked to me about how he learned to channel his energy and it’s been very helpful to me to the start of my career.” Roddick is surely an interesting character to be receiving mental advice from, but perhaps this gives Harrison a head-start to develop his character in a positive light to fans – something that has taken Roddick years to achieve.

Harrison even went so far as to add that in two to three years he sees himself as a “grand slam champion. Multiple grand slam champion.” Watch out, Federer, there’s a new king on the rise.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi

James Blake on Odesnik: “Oh, is he American?”

James Blake knocked out defending champion David Nalbandian, 6-2, 6-4, from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. Tuesday evening. He was looking like his former top 10 self and claimed to have served better than any time in the “past 2 years.” But a deeper story lied within his after-match press conference.

Aside from detailing his great play this evening, he was the second American of the night to specifically call out Wayne Odesnik for carrying banned performance enhancing drugs. Ryan Sweeting had called Odesnik out in his own presser earlier in the evening as well.

Romana Cvitkovic: Speaking of friendships on tour, and Robert Kendrick being in the media recently, testing positive for a performance enhancing drug, what’s your take and have you rallied behind him?

James Blake: “Yea, I’ve talked to him and I’ve written a letter to help him in his appeals’ process. He’s a great guy. I grew up in juniors with him; I go way back … I played him the first time when I was about 14 years old. He’s always been a generous and great guy. I know there s no ill will in what he did. He was trying to get over jet lag, something that he thought was completely legal, and… he wasn’t doing anything performance enhancing to put him out for a year. For all intents and purposes, to end his career, I think is pretty harsh. I don’t know all the details of the appeals’ process … but I do think it’s harsh. I’d love to see him back on tour; he’s a great guy. And that would be a terrible way to end his career. I was faced at times with my career possibly ending not on my terms and for him to possibly end it not on his terms, is unfair, after a career that he’s put a lot of hard work into, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And to go out this way, I don’t think it’s fair. Especially when we got a guy who’s playing in this tournament that I think has done a lot worse.”

A follow-up question by Ben at the Daily Forehand dealt with his allusion to Odesnik above and Odesnik’s status in American tennis: “Oh, is he American? Oh, I didn’t even know that. (laughs) I wouldn’t say he’s at our dinner table too often, or at our card games too often. I actually don’t think I’ve really said a whole lot to him since he’s been back. I didn’t agree with what he did, and as I think he said, I saw some article about him where he even admitted that he probably wasn’t that close to a lot of the Americans before all this happened. And now that it has happened, it’s probably even more of a divide. He’s never really been on the forefront of any of our minds as a guy to call and really support and go out and cheer for. [All the other Americans] are out there cheering for me, I can’t say that I ever seen Wayne doing the same for us.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week. @TennisRomi

Sweeting wins in Washington, D.C., calls out Odesnik

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC is featuring some very candid and thoughtful up-and-coming American men. Among them, is 24-year-old Ryan Sweeting who gave elaborate details and opinions on Robert Kendrick’s current situation, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”

Sweeting defeated a tired-looking Alex Bogomolov, Jr in straight sets 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday evening. Bogomolov had just traveled from the Los Angeles Farmers’ Classic tournament where he was a semifinalist and he seemed sluggish because of it on-court.

After the match, Sweeting arrived to his presser calm and composed, but engaging. After responding to the typical questions, he talked about his dominant performance: “I felt I got to see the ball really big today. Most importantly, I served well. I’ve been struggling with my serve a little bit this summer. It’s something I’ve been working on a lot … I feel being aggressive on my second serve was a strength … and I competed well.”

He then referenced his serve at the Australian Open compared to his serving today: “That’s been my main priority this whole year. I want to get back on track. A few years ago, I relied on my serve and used it as a weapon but somehow it got away from me a little bit. It’s something I’ve been working on … today I have to credit my win to my serve, definitely.”

He also touched on his upcoming match against #1 seed Gael Monfils: “It’s going to be a tough match. I’ve never played him before. Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of his matches … definitely the fastest person I’ve ever seen in most sports. I’m going to have to play well and stay aggressive. If I hit a great shot, I have to expect it to come back … he’s going to get every ball back. If I just sit back he’s going to run for days and make me look like an idiot (laughs).”

But the most honest and intriguing response of the day came at the very end of his interview. I didn’t anticipate how much heart he would show in his answer as I referenced American Robert Kendrick, who recently tested positive for a banned substance and was sentenced to a year away from the tour. I asked Sweeting if he’d been in touch with Kendrick or rallied behind him given his current situation. As his answer went on, he became more fired up reflecting on the situation. He responded:

“I’ve been in touch with him; we’re speaking every day. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous he’s gotten 1 year … the tribunal agreed and believed he took a pill for [jet lag] … granted, we have to be careful about what we injest; it’s our responsibility … however, the punishment he received compared to punishments other players received is absolutely absurd … when [Wayne] Odesnik got caught smuggling performance enhancing drugs into another country and he got 6 months. Richard Gasquet tested positive for cocaine, said that he kissed a girl, and I don’t think he received any punishment. For a 31-year-old to take 1 pill for jet lag and receive a year ban, I just don’t understand. I don’t understand the logic behind it and all the players know this and all the players are wondering what the hell is going on. It’s just unfortunate because everybody knows that Rob has never taken a performance enhancing drug his entire life. He’s a good guy … It’s just really sad that this had to happen.”

He calls out Odesnik with no hesitation, and it seems to be the norm among the other American players, including former world #4 James Blake.

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Muscles, sweat, and skin: players’ funny practices

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic has been flooded this week with players from all around the world as they compete to pocket a cool $264,000 and 500 ranking points.  I’ll catch you up on all the intricate behind-the-scenes happenings and special events so far this week.

If there’s one partnership of players you should catch practicing together on court, it’s the duo of Bulgarian 20-year-old Grigor Dimitrov and his headband-wearing Russian comrade Dmitry Tursunov. Their off-court friendship translates into pure comedy gold on-court for the fans.

Dimitrov is at his highest ATP ranking of #57 and claimed two junior grand slam titles in 2008, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He is best known for his fluid strokes and one-handed backhand reminiscent of Roger Federer’s, and is often likened unto him. Tursunov, on the other hand, is a veteran, having turned pro in 2000. He quickly ascended up the rankings before succumbing to an ankle injury that required surgery and took him off the circuit for eight months. Even with his bumpy road back since 2010, he’s currently sitting comfortably at #45, and he displays that confidence on court.

The two players chatted up a storm, with Dimitrov’s coach Peter McNamara joining in on the fun and giving his pupil the nickname “Muscles,” while calling Tursunov “Mother.” What makes the exchange even better is that McNamara has a thick Australian accent, and well, everything sounds cooler in Australian. Between the smiles and teasing, the two had their serious moments as they got frustrated when they sent a ball long or shanked it into the net.

At one point, because Tursunov was sweating through his blonde curls, he planted a bright red headband on his head and called himself “Justin” joking how he looked like Timberlake. A few indecent nicknames were exchanged. For a full recap and video, click over to Rachel’s post from OnTheGoTennis.

Dimitrov also enjoyed a funny and engaging practice with Tommy Haas out on Stadium Court. Dimitrov seems to thrive off of the attention and there are some candid rundowns and goof-ups below:

Speaking of quirky headbands, American Phillip Simmonds was sporting the look on court yesterday as well. Think Tursunov would approve?

Also practicing on court two days in a row together were Farmers’ Classic semifinalists Ryan Harrison and Alex Bogomolov, Jr., who are both having breakthrough years. Harrison warmed up by throwing around a football and then jumped on court for an intensive hit. To see his forehand in person is revelatory to his unique style of play. His swing and follow-through are especially distinctive with a quick, almost unnatural, motion. But it gets the job done, as he is currently plowing his way through reaching #82 in the rankings.

Last year’s champion, Argentine David Nalbandian, was also on court hitting with Nikolay Davydenko in the hot afternoon sun. Equipped in a neon yellow t-shirt, he was looking noticeably fitter and moving much better than last year. With his uncanny feel for the ball and perfectly-placed backhand, he is again one that players need to watch out for. He won as a wildcard last year after being off tour for several months due to a right leg injury, and this year is primed to be an even better one for him.

24-year-old American Ryan Sweeting hasn’t had any big runs at the grand slams yet, but he’s steadily climbed to a career-high #65 in the world this week. If his physique is any testament, the hard work must be paying off on the court. He was seen practicing against John Isner and hitting the ball exceptionally well. As a fun tidbit, I spotted two tattoos, one on each oblique spelling out two very distinctive concepts. The more captivating one spells out the word MAYHEM within the whole of the tattoo: siMplicity, peAce, Youth, Hope, lovE, and memories, while the second one stands for “blood, sweat and tears.”

Catch more of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic as I cover it live all week. Follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information and photos! @TennisRomi