losing streak

London ATP World Tour Finals: Who’s Your Pick?

This week kicks off the culminating event for the world’s top eight ATP players. The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals are taking place in London’s prestigious O2 Arena where the winner could walk away with a cool $1.63 million and up to 1500 points. Play has already begun, so let’s take a look at the potential matchups and breakdown their hard court head-to-head ratios at the bottom!

Group A Breakdown

Group A consists of world number 1 Rafael Nadal, Serbian comedian Novak Djokovic, breakthrough Czech Tomas Berdych, and American stalwart Andy Roddick. Berdych and Roddick were among the last two to qualify for the event, but they could prove to be heavy roadblocks for the other players even if they don’t make it to the finals.

Djokovic has had a strong showing at tournaments this year reaching several semifinals, but the second half of the season has been especially rewarding. He reached a career-high number 2 after his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, won Dubai in February but stayed relatively quiet until his finals’ appearance at the US Open. Since then, he’s led Serbia to it’s first-ever Davis Cup finals, won Beijing, and lost to Roger Federer in the finals of Basel after being up a set. He holds a winning head-to-head ratio on hard courts against Nadal, Soderling, and Ferrer, but his tilted losing streaks to both Federer and Murray on the hard courts may be of concern if he meets them in the semifinals. All in all, not bad for a guy with ailing asthma problems and who used to find his best form in the beginning of the season when he was freshest. Since pumping up his workout schedule this year, he’s seen improvements in both his stamina and strength. He’ll continue his good form and find himself in the semifinals.

How far Roddick will go is anyone’s guess, but what seems more likely is his impending retirement. Although he has not given any formal announcements, I don’t see him leaving the tour on a losing streak. He is, however, guaranteed a top 10 finish for the ninth straight year — a feat not many can claim, not even Federer. He’s had a relatively successful year, winning his opener in Brisbane and following that up with his Masters Title in Miami en route defeating both Nadal and Berdych. Since his fourth round shock exit at Wimbledon to Rendy Lu, he has yet to advance past the semifinals of any tournament. His power is still present and his backhand has gained consistency, but his younger opponents have the edge on better footwork.

After years of unsuccessful targeting of Berdych as the ‘next big thing,’ he finally emerged from his dismal cocoon and exhibited his new mental strength this year. Other than his semifinals appearance in Roland Garros and finals appearance at Wimbledon, his results have been mediocre. But the points that he did accrue from those tournaments has been the distinction. Since losing in the first round of the US Open to Michael Llodra, he has gone 2 for 10 in the last eight events. Having reached his career-high of number 6 just last month, it seems that he is content with where he is. But that is where his err lies. In the tennis community, it is never enough to just reach your goal and then ‘checkout’ mentally, as is the case with Berdych. Players are implanted with the notion that there is always someone better than you that you have to defeat in order to progress. But Berdych has taken a break and his best tennis this year is in the past.

Nadal. No words are needed to express the steadiness, passion and pure talent that are encompassed in the Spaniard and his drive to win in London. His calculated scheduling and win at the US Open are examples of Nadal’s maturity, and it’s likely that maturity may take him all the way to the title here. If his tendonitis doesn’t creep up and he continues blasting his new serve, he may be unstoppable once again.

Group A Semifinalists:

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

Group B Breakdown

Group B consists of Swiss king Roger Federer, shaggy-haired Briton Andy Murray, windmill Swede Robin Soderling, and diminutive Spaniard David Ferrer. This group boasts most rivalry and competition amongst the players, and each have recently scored some big wins.

Soderling can be a nightmare for most anybody these days if he wants to be. While he is a hothead on court, it’s still a 50/50 chance whether this fierceness will hurt or help him during any given court battle. In the greatest wins of his career defeating both Nadal and Federer on French clay, his cool anger propelled him to win. On more heated occasions like during his first round loss to Marcel Granollers at the Australian Open this year, his temper forced him into error-prone shots. He’s had the most successful year of his career, reaching his personal best of number 4 in the world just this week, and adding onto that several finals appearances and a title at the Paris Masters most recently. He could be ready to go home and call it a season, but he may just put in a great fight against the next guy and find himself in the semifinals.

Murray is a class act on the court and could prove to be a lead contender for the title. After his tough loss in the finals of the Australian Open to Federer, he lost his focus for several months. He continued training to be more aggressive in his play, but it was to no avail losing in the quarterfinals or earlier for the next eight tournaments. Although he became more exciting to watch as an attacker, he seemed to lose sense of his game and would revert back to counterpunching mid-point. He finally found his balance when he realized that he will always be a pusher with attacking capabilities, but never an attacker exclusively. When he instilled this new confidence in himself, he went on to resolutely beat Federer in the finals of both the Toronto and Shanghai Masters. If he continues strong mentally, there could be very little the other players could do to stop him.

Ferrer has always been a streaky, but brilliant, player. Sometimes he comes out firing, keeping his energy high and beating the best players in the world back-to-back. At other times, he seems to take a back seat to the stars and be fine with it. The only winning head-to head ratio that he hold against another player in the London field on hard courts is against Berdych, but it’s not likely they’ll both make it to the semifinals. Otherwise, Ferrer has had a commendable year, especially as of late taking home the Valencia title just last month. Although not one known to win many hard court tournaments, he was runner-up here in 2007 and he knows how to push players all over the court.

Federer. What can be said about the Swiss that hasn’t already been said? Well, to begin with he’s had a stellar year by many standards winning all four of his titles this year on the hard courts, so that should be a confidence-booster. The only mild bump in the road could be his losing head-to-head record on the hard courts against Murray (5-8) and his even ratio against Nadal (3-3). He should be a shoo-in for the semifinals but it could get tricky if Nadal makes it there as well.

Group B Semifinalists:

Roger Federer and Andy Murray

To further help analyze each player’s chances at the World Tour Finals, I have compiled a table with hard court head-to-head ratios only for all the players. Some interesting things can be visualized by viewing the table below. Who’s your pick to win it all?

HEWITT A THREAT AT SW19: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Blast from the Past – My biggest praise this week goes to Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Not only did he defeat six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the final of Halle, but he did so after having undergone two hip surgeries. The match had more than shades of the old Hewitt who was at the top of the game nearly ten years ago, with the Aussie chasing down everything that Federer threw at him. While it has to be said that Federer’s game did go off, there’s no doubt Hewitt played a large part in making it so. Down a set and 0-40 at four-all in the second, Hewitt refused to succumb. Federer clearly became a bit rattled and began to press, ultimately resulting in Hewitt snapping his 15-match losing streak against the Swiss. Wimbledon is a different prospect with the matches all being best of five, but given his status as a former Wimbledon champ and his current run of form, Hewitt’s suddenly looking like a decent pick to go deep at SW19.

Back on Track – After the dismal circumstances under which Sam Querrey made his exit at Roland Garros, it was nice to see him quickly back on the horse and in the winner’s circle this past weekend at the Queen’s Club. Querrey held his nerve to take a tight two-set victory over compatriot Mardy Fish, whom it also has to be said put together one of the nicer weeks of tennis he’s had in awhile. And as a sidebar to Querrey’s win and Hewitt’s, I think it’s safe to say that while it’s tough to bet against the big boys at the majors, this Wimbledon feels a little more wide open than it has in recent memory.

Undecided – Well, the Swiss Miss may not be done after all. No, Martina Hingis isn’t contemplating making yet another comeback to the singles game, but she is seriously considering the possibility of coming back to play doubles on the WTA Tour, naming American Lindsay Davenport as her current choice of partner. Hingis has already committed to playing 14 matches in World Team Tennis for the New York Buzz this summer, and given her level of talent, it’s hard to imagine it will take her long to shake the dust off her game. She’ll also be teaming with former partner Anna Kournikova to play the Legends Doubles event at Wimbledon, and I’m sure many are hoping that a potential return of Hingis to WTA Tour doubles will entice Kournikova to eventually follow suit.

Salt to the Wound – Brit Alex Bogdanovic has made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t thrilled when he learned he wouldn’t be receiving one of the Wimbledon main draw wildcards despite the fact that he meets the ranking criteria. But he didn’t give up hope at having another shot at winning a main draw match and opted to take his chances in the qualies. It was there in the second round that he came up short against talented Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, losing by a heartbreaking 24-22 in the third. I’m not a huge Bogdanovic fan, and I perfectly understand the logic behind not granting him a wildcard. But at 24-22 in the third, you gotta feel a little sympathy for the guy.

More Returns – This week has marked the return of a couple more players to the main tour just in time for the Big W. Eastbourne has seen Belgian Kim Clijsters bounce back nicely from the foot injury that kept her out of Roland Garros, as well as Frenchman Gilles Simon, whose absence from the 2010 season has been long and frustrating. While it’s a big ask for either to set high expectations for Wimbledon (Simon much more so than Clijsters), it’s great to see them notching some wins under their belt and gaining some momentum as they’re shortly to head into the heart of the summer season. And in case anyone missed it, former No. 1 and French Open champion Thomas Muster will be making a return to the Challenger Circuit at the age of 42. I’m not quite sure what the thought process was behind this return other than for love of the game, but to each their own.  Maybe he was inspired by Kimiko Date Krumm.

US OPEN DARLING MELANIE OUDIN BACK ON TRACK?

Is Melanie Oudin, the darling of last year’s U.S. Open, finally back on track? The 18-year-old Georgian busted out of a six-match losing streak to be the heroine of the U.S. Fed Cup team’s 4-1 upset win over France over the weekend.

Oudin beat France’s Julie Coin 7-6 (3), 6-4 on indoor clay in Lievin, France to clinch victory for the United States and send Captain Mary Joe Fernandez’s squad into the semifinals against Russia in April in the United States.

Oudin gave the USA a 2-0 lead on Saturday when she beat Pauline Parmentier of France 6-4, 6-4.

Since her celebrated run to the quarterfinals of the 2009 US Open, Oudin has registered only a paltry 1-6 record, losing her last six matches entering this Fed Cup series. Her two match wins against France was her best win streak since she beat in succession at the US Open Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova, before losing to eventual finalist Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the quarterfinals. Her U.S. Open success earned her media opportunities on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” among others but not many more match victories.

Will her inspired effort in France lead to more success on the WTA Tour?

Kops-Jones Loses In Opening Round at US Open

The US Open is where Fresno native Raquel Kops-Jones first burst into the spotlight last year, but she bowed out quietly this year in a surprising first round loss.

Seeded No. 15 in the women’s doubles draw with fellow Californian Abigail Spears, the American team never managed to find the range on their shots, falling 6-4, 6-1 to the all Russian team of Vera Dushevina and Anastasia Rodinova.

With all the players holding serve early on, Kops-Jones missed a forehand in the first break point of the match on Rodionova’s serve to go up 4-2. The Americans lost that game and then Kops-Jones committed two double faults in losing her own service game.

“That was one of the big turning points in the match,” said Spears. “We played decent tennis, but they were solid and didn’t miss many balls.

An ace by Dushevina gave the Russian pair the opening set, 6-4. Kops-Jones won her service game to start the second set, but the Americans began to make unforced errors early on in the rallies. Spears quickly lost her serve with the set tied at 1-1, and Kops-Jones soon lost hers to send the American pair down 4-1. Kops-Jones and Spears had two break points on Rodionova’s serve to break the losing streak, but failed to convert on their chances, missing two volleys to trail 5-1. Three points later, a low forehand winner from Rodionova sent the Russian pair into the next round.

Kops-Jones and Spears reached their first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open last year, and came within two points of reaching the semifinals. The result spurred on the best result of Kops-Jones’s career. She won two WTA Tour doubles titles during the spring in Estoril and Warsaw, in addition to reaching the finals in Birmingham. The results have brought her to a current ranking of No. 33, two spots away from her career high of No. 31, which she achieved this May.

“There was definitely pressure to defend our points from last year, but there’s pressure no matter what,” said Kops-Jones. “We were more focused on just playing well as opposed to winning or losing.”

Since the beginning of 2009, Kops-Jones has also largely cut back on her singles events, primarily becoming a doubles specialist on the WTA Tour.

“I was having better results in doubles and ultimately making more money there,” said Kops-Jones. “After not being able to defend a lot of points at the beginning of the year, my singles ranking really fell and I couldn’t really get into WTA events anymore.”

Both Kops-Jones and Spears are heading to Asia for a series of WTA events in Guangzhou, Seoul, and Beijing. Kops-Jones will go to Europe directly from there, where she will compete in tournaments in Moscow, Luxembourg, and Linz.