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Nadia Petrova Goes Back to the (Live Score)Board

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Growing up as a tennis fan in the mid 2000s, I remember staying up past 3AM watching matches played in Australia. I remember matches I’ve seen in person around, from New York to New Haven. But if there has been one constant through my tenure in tennis fandom, it has been the omnipresent Live Scoreboard.

Like most who have followed a tournament in the last decade, I cannot tell you how many hours I have wasted staring at a pair of names, willing numbers to flash for one combatant or the other. I would skim the pittance of stats the scoreboard offered in the effort to create a mental picture of the match. How was the momentum swinging? Who was converting the most break points? Did refreshing the webpage make the scores update any faster?

Analyzing a match this way can be more difficult than guessing a meal based on five or six uncooked ingredients. Oh, and you’re blindfolded.

But the more you “watched” a player via the Scoreboard, the simpler it became to a trace certain seemingly minute patterns. Suddenly, why a player wins or loses becomes as black and white as, well, the Scoreboard itself.

Over the years, the technology that aids tennis fans has evolved, and marquee matches are indiscriminately broadcast on streams (legal or otherwise). But every so often, usually during big tournaments like Indian Wells, matches of interest get moved out of the spotlight, and spectators are once again subjected to that maddeningly numerical game of Pong.

Today, the flashing names in question were Nadia Petrova and Julia Goerges. While a match between these two naturally talented athletes would have been a joy to watch by court or by stream, this match-up was fascinating to dissect via the (almost) all-knowing Scoreboard. From years of following the tall Russian’s matches, I can attest that her serve, particularly the first delivery, makes all the difference.

Far from the Tour’s best mover, Petrova’s powerful serve literally makes or breaks her. Serving at a high first serve percentage, she can take advantage of short returns and finish points quickly with thundering groundstrokes or aggressive forays to the net. Forced to hit too many second serves, her biggest weapon is neutralized and big-hitters like Goerges can take control of rallies by getting the Russian on the run.

The first set was over in a flash, but the Scoreboard made it easy to see how Petrova was able to tame her German opponent. Serving at nearly 70% against an intimidating returner, the Russian veteran kept her service games short and efficient, without facing a single break point. With an apparent rhythm on serve, she was allowed to take risks on the return, breaking the Goerges serve three times in the process.

But anyone who has watched Nadia Petrova play (on any medium) in the last decade can tell you that her biggest hurdle is anything but technical. Blessed with immense physical gifts, the Russian has struggled to maintain composure at a match’s critical stages to the point where her career will likely be defined by its losses rather than its wins. A successful campaign to cap off the 2012 season came to an abrupt end when she split with coach Ricardo Sanchez in January, and her results have been middling all year.

Against Goerges, Petrova was clutch in the important moments. Facing six break points in the second set, she saved five. Faced with the opportunity to break Goerges’ serve six times, Petrova achieved a rare perfect conversion rate. Put those numbers together and the Russian easily dispatched the No. 21 seed 6-1 6-2 to set up a fourth round encounter with Caroline Wozniacki.

Theoretically, one has not seen Nadia Petrova hit a tennis ball, save for those who have been courtside. How can we, the tennis cognoscenti, know if she is playing as well as she was last November, when she last played (and beat) Wozniacki? The arcane system of live scoring can be frustrating at first, but taking a few cues from what it tells can help a fan uncover a match’s nuances, and be amazed by what the numbers truly show.

Rotterdam Behind-the-Scenes Look; Exclusive Photos of Federer, Berdych, Del Potro

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The seeds had no trouble advancing to the quarterfinals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam today, as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Viktor Troicki and Richard Gasquet all dispatched of their opponents, and Roger Federer was involved in an entertaining exhibition match for fans.

Second seed Berdych advanced to the next round after only 19 minutes on court as Marcos Baghdatis was forced to retire due to a left foot injury.

Del Potro had to overcome not only his opponent in another battle, but a slightly bloody nose near the beginning that required a medical timeout. He eventually prevailed over qualifier Karol Beck 6-4, 7-5.

“He played so fast and hits with such a low bounce, I really had to keep up,” said Del Potro of Beck. “It was tough. But I focused in the last game on trying to get an ace. I got one and I’m just glad that I’m through.”

Frenchman Richard Gasquet, seeded fifth, continued his steady progress at his second tournament appearance by defeating Alex Bogomolov, 6-3 6-2, while Andreas Seppi dispatched German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4 6-2. Viktor Troicki also defeated wildcard Jesse Huta Galung, 7-6(2), 6-3, but not before the match’s second game lasted a brutal 17 minutes.

Finally, what was supposed to be only a super tiebreaker between Roger Federer and Igor Sijsling turned out into an all-out battle, but with plenty of smiles from both players. Federer was given a place in the quarterfinals after his second-round opponent Mikhail Youzhny had to withdraw the day previously. Federer finally prevailed 6-7(2), 6-4, 11-9.

Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes not only day three action, but a behind-the-scenes look at Ahoy Rotterdam, the indoor arena the tournament is held in.

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

Nadal Edges Del Potro Giving Spain the Victory – Live from the Davis Cup

Spain Argentina Davis Cup 2011

by Stephanie Neppl

Being at a Davis Cup Finals tie is unlike any other tennis experience I have ever personally been a part of. In addition to the players coming together to represent their countries, another personality is often on court with them: the crowd.

The Davis Cup crowd during the Spain versus Argentina final in Seville this weekend was electric. The tennis often felt like the supporting act as fervent supporters of both teams tried to out-chant, out-cheer and out-spirit the other. Whether it was shouting during serves, delaying play with the stadium wave or starting up what felt like a percussion band in the middle of a game, there was constant noise from beginning to end. It really was fabulous for those of us lucky to be present.

During today’s match between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro, the crowd was certainly a major player. Play was interrupted time and again. It didn’t matter who was serving; games were delayed, even second serves were delayed and despite some fans (and players, coaches, teammates) getting irate it just didn’t stop. Whether it was done due to pure excitement or to distract one of the players (or both), the cheering, drums and horns were just part of the action. Both team captains got into discussions with the chair umpire and it wasn’t until the Argentineans were given a warning did the crowd scale it back a bit.

For the first time in his storied Davis Cup career, Nadal was in the position to clinch the Davis Cup for his team and as expected he won his 20th straight singles match in Davis Cup play (he hasn’t lost since his debut in 2004). But Del Potro certainly was no pushover and the match looked likely to go to a fifth set when the Argentinean battled back from a break down to serve for the fourth set at 5-3. At that stage in the match, Del Potro had wrestled back the momentum and the Argentinean fans saw their hopes return as Del Potro bounced around the court with a new fire.

The next five games would be an emotional rollercoaster for all 24,000 fans in the Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla as Del Potro lost three straight games before breaking Rafa as he served to seal victory for Spain. But Del Potro’s legs seemed to be gone and the tiebreak ended 7-0 in Nadal’s favour. The Spaniard’s final forehand winner sent him flat on the court in joy.

After the match, Nadal acknowledged how amazing the Davis Cup crowd can be. “The atmosphere is really, really unbelievable so thank you very much all the Spanish crowd, all the Argentina crowd that makes this confrontation really really special and unforgettable.”

That ambiance is what makes Davis Cup so special. In tennis, it can be rare to see such emotional cheering throughout an entire match, let alone four or five matches. It’s what makes Davis Cup so special and challenging for fans and players alike. It makes each point seem so vital. Whether a double fault or simple missed return, each point won is celebrated as if a set was won. And that is incredible to experience.

Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.

(Del Potro and Spanish team via Getty Images; Nadal photo via AP)

Federer Creates History with His Sixth ATP World Tour Finals Title – Live Coverage

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by Ahmed Ibrahim

The stage was set as the O2 Arena filled with 17,500 spectators ready for the climax of the 2011 season that pitted Roger Federer against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. This was the third consecutive Sunday that both players would meet on a tennis court; Roger Federer emerging victorious in all three recent encounters, although nothing quite compares to the resounding victory Tsonga had over the Swiss Maestro in Wimbledon last June when he clawed back from two sets down to win in dramatic style.

Both players had a great week in London: both bested Nadal in the round robin of the group, and Federer beat David Ferrer in straight sets in the Semi-Final while Tsonga did the same to Tomas Berdych. It was fitting that both players would meet again in the Final.

The O2 Arena expected a big show from both players, after all, this was the Final of the ATP World Tour Finals and the last ATP match of 2011. The rapturous applause and loud cheers as the players walked on to court was deafening and cheers in equal measure for both players echoed around the arena.

Federer and Tsonga were in no mood for giving each other the break as they both held serve showing off the hard hitting and fast court coverage that has seen them take down the best this year. The crowd, at various times, was held in awe as Tsonga dropped some very gutsy drop volleys and ferocious crosscourt winners. Federer, although playing second-best in the first set, wowed us with his abilities to use the court to great effect and return hard hitting groundstrokes from Tsonga.

The break came when Tsonga was serving 3-4 and a rare sloppy play gave Federer a 0-40 advantage which he capitalized and, despite Tsonga’s valiant efforts to break, served out the first set on the second set point in 35 minutes.

Tsonga almost gave away an early break in the second set at 1-1 when his serve seemed to have departed the O2. Two consecutive double-faults put him on the back foot but he managed to dig himself out and hold from 15-40. Federer was getting hungry and managed to secure a break at 2-2 when he had Tsonga on the ropes at 30-40 facing a second serve. Running around the backhand he unleashed a monstrous inside-in forehand to break and take the 3-2 lead.

The crowd went wild, Federer was fist pumping, Tsonga could not believe it. As the crowd cheered for Federer many turned their support to Tsonga; the O2 crowd loves to support a player who can keep his head when faced with a mountainous task.

Federer had the opportunity to serve for his sixth ATP World Tour Finals titles at 5-4 but lacked the concentration that has seen him serve out for championships many times in his 69 victories. Facing triple break point he recovered to 30-40 when an aggressive Tsonga got a little too aggressive and hit long before sending a forehand into the net. Federer was unable to salvage the third break point as Tsonga smashed his way to 5-5.

This is often the moment when the momentum can shift. Tsonga was pumped up, the crowd was getting behind him and he was feeding from the energy. Federer was his usual self not letting it show where others would probably stand on the court with their hands on hips, racquet to the floor in disbelief. Perhaps by 30 you’ve learned a lot about holding back your emotions and keeping that ‘poker face’ trying not to show your opponent that you have taken a hard whack on the nose.

Fittingly this match would go to a tie-break. Lots in the crowd wanted this to go to three sets. “Jo, we’ve paid a lot of money for today, make this worth it!” yelled the lady behind me. If going to a tie-break in such a situation was not worth the money we were in for a tense one.

The tie-break started nervy with Tsonga giving away the immediate mini-break. But Federer yielded back and snatched a 4-2 lead making it look like one-way traffic on court; all he had to do was hold onto his service points. Tsonga was not going to go down without a fight despite trailing 3-5 when he fought back with three straight points. Federer reached Championship Point with an ace but would have to work past the bullet Tsonga serve. Saving Championship Point with a mid-court winner and hitting an unreturnable serve, he nailed a ferocious forehand return of serve direct at the feet of Federer to take the second set.

Needless to say the crowd went beserk and was firmly rooting for Tsonga who, by now, was gathering momentum and confidence. Federer, who remained his cool un-phased self, started the third set by serving first. This is where he often turns up the heat as he had done against Tsonga and Mardy Fish over the past week.

The tennis was gathering pace as both players hit the ball harder, deeper, and with more spin. Federer’s backhand was looking more fluid; Tsonga’s forehand resembled a heat seeking missile waiting for the moment to strike.

At 3-4 Tsonga would finally buckle as he was held on the ropes at 0-30. He fought back with three straight points but two forehand errors gave Federer a break point. Tsonga bravely saved by volleying a winner off a forehand approach he was facing another break point two points later but saved it again as he ripped a backhand crosscourt that left Federer stunned and the crowd erupting with cheers and applause. It was not until the third break point that Federer made the crucial break through as Tsonga hit a running forehand into the alley.

A roaring cry from a fist-pumping Federer, who stood a few feet below me, lifted the crowd into levels of mad hysteria for they knew this was his moment and history was only four points away. A love-hold by Federer who ended the match with a forehand volley winner leapt into the air with celebration for the 70th time in his career.

The trophy presentation spoke a thousand words as the confetti reigned down over Federer. Tsonga was extremely gracious in defeat; Federer humble as ever in his victory speech praised Tsonga’s great year. The crowd appreciative of what was put before them gave both players a standing ovation. Many are confident that Tsonga will grow from this experience; others are excited for whatever else Federer can accomplish.

This was a fitting way for Federer to end his 2011 season with a title win that lifts him to World Number 3 in the ATP Rankings while Tsonga retains his career high of Number 6.

Ahmed Ibrahim is the author of the website Tennis Addict. He is in London covering the ATP World Tour Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. Follow his ATP World Tour Finals updates on his personal twitter @TennisAddict_

Berdych Defeats Ferrer to Knock Djokovic out of London – Live Coverage

Berdych

by Stephanie Neppl

By the time the final round robin match was ready to begin at the ATP World Tour Finals on Friday night, the O2 crowd was truly energized. Not only were they promised an intriguing match between David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, but the result would decide whether Berdych or world #1 Novak Djokovic would advance to the semifinals.

Ferrer had been the in-form player coming into the match after defeating both Djokovic and Andy Murray in straight sets to lead his group. Berdych, on the other hand, saw both his previous matches decided by third set tiebreaks. He wasn’t able to close out Djokovic, but defeated Janko Tipsarevic after surviving a match point.

The O2 Arena delivers such an amazing experience when players enter the court. The lights dim, the blue court literally glows and superb graphics on the big screen and all around the court are dazzling. Add in the smoke machine and music and the tennis players must feel like grand celebrities. It’s an amazing sight and made this tennis player proud to be present to cheer on the ATP’s top stars during the week.

From the first point, Ferrer continued the form he’d shown all week and he fought off early break points to take the set 6-3. Berdych played evenly throughout the match, but it was Ferrer who was winning the rallies, which often ended on a Berdych error (43 in total).

But when serving up a break at 4-3 in the second set, the Spaniard tightened up and handed the break back. Seemingly from nowhere, Ferrer’s play, particularly his serve slumped and Berdych seemed to have an extra spring in his step throughout the third set. He sprinted to a 5-0 lead (winning seven straight games), before Ferrer held serve to escape a bagel, and then took the match 3-6,7-5, 6-1.

Watching a player as likeable and hard-working as Ferrer suddenly struggle to find his shots was not easy. But Berdych, who seemed an afterthought on the tour for much of the first half of the season, was delighted with the way he hung in there and he was rewarded for his perseverance.

“The turning point, I think, was just the one that I made on set point to win the second set, because all the time before I was down,” said Berdych. “When I made the second set, it just gave me a lot of confidence [and] energy. I started to feel really great on court.”

The Czech moves into the World Tour Finals semifinals for the first time, and will face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ferrer, who has already qualified after winning his first two matches, faces Roger Federer whom he has a 0-11 record against.

Stephanie Neppl is in London covering the ATP World Tour Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.

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