Marcos Baghdatis

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Adidas Men’s Fall Preview: Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco

Barricade and Adizero 2013 US Open Murray Tsonga

Adidas has released its men’s fall preview outfits, complete with more vibrant colors for the Adizero line as well as newly-refined colorblocking for the Barricade line, and athletes such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray, and Marcos Baghdatis will be wearing these kits throughout the fall and US Open series.

Andy Murray: The Scot keeps it simple once again in this adidas Men’s Barricade Murray US Open Crew, fully equipped with a “Band-of-Power” across the chest and rubberized stripes on the sleeves. It comes in Hi-Res Red (left), Blue Beauty (middle), Black (right), as well as two version of White.

Andy Murray Fall 2013 adidas

Marcos Baghdatis, Gilles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny: The polo version of the Barricade crew takes on a bit of a soccer or polo club feel with the partial “Band-of-Power” across the chest, and is simple yet inventive. It comes in White with Black, or Black with Hi-Res Red.

All of the men wearing the Barricade line will also be sporting the adidas Men’s Fall Barricade Woven 9.5″ Short in Black, White or Blue Beauty, as well as the adidas Barricade 8 White/Silver/Blue Men’s Shoe.

Baghdatis, Simon, Youzhny adidas Fall 2013

 

Andy Murray Fall 2013 adidas Barricade 8 shoes

 

Novak Djokovic: The Serb recently signed with adidas for a footwear deal (as his clothing sponsor Uniqlo does not make tennis shoes), and he’ll be exclusively sporting the adidas Barricade 7 Novak Men’s Shoe in Red/White for the US Open series.

Novak Djokovic Barricade 7 US Open men's shoe

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Monaco: The Frenchman and Argentine are slated to wear the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Polo in either Hi-Res Red w/Hero Ink and Orange (top, below), Hero Ink with Hi-Res Red and Orange (second below, left) White with Hero Ink (second below, right).

The blue as well as the vibrant colors and lines are an extension of adidas’ spring/summer line seen most recently at the French Open, except that this time, the designs are more contained to the upper chest and back.

Tsonga and Juan Monaco Fall 2013 adidas
Tsonga and Juan Monaco Fall 2013 adidas 2

Fernando Verdasco, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Jurgen Melzer: Most of the other adidas athletes will be sporting the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Crew in various colors. The bold styling of the tee once again matches today’s aggressive game, with the graphics only on the chest and upper back.

All of the athletes wearing the adizero tops will also be donning the adidas Men’s Fall Adizero Bermuda Short as well as two color combinations of the adidas adizero CC Feather II Men’s Shoe in Red/Blue (left, bottom) or White/Blue/Red (right, bottom).

Verdasco, Dolgopolov, Melzer adidas Fall 2013

Verdasco, Dolgopolov, Melzer adidas Fall 2013 2

 

Adizero 2013 Fall Men's Shoe

 

What do you think of the adidas men’s fall and US Open styles?

No Mirage Are These Four: ATP Indian Wells Draw Preview

Federer couldn't defend Rotterdam or Dubai, but can he cling to Indian Wells?

For the first time since Wimbledon 2012, all of the Big Four convene at the same tournament.  We take a detailed look at a balanced Indian Wells ATP draw.

First quarter:  Twice a champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic brings a perfect 2013 record to the desert following titles at the Australian Open and Dubai.  Having faced Federer at neither tournament, he could face the Federer facsimile Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.  While his one-handed backhand certainly spurs thoughts of the Swiss star, this young Bulgarian continues to alternate encouraging results (Brisbane final) with disappointing setbacks (first-round loss in Melbourne).  The towering serve of Isner ultimately undid Djokovic in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, and Querrey’s similar game toppled him at the Paris Indoors last fall.  Now the Serb can eye an opportunity for revenge in the fourth round, where he could meet the latter and will hope to stay mentally sturdier than he did against Isner here.  A higher-ranked potential opponent does loom in Juan Monaco, but the world #14 has not won a match this year outside the Davis Cup as injuries have sapped his confidence.  Among the intriguing first-round matches in this section is serving leviathan Karlovic against future American star and forehand howitzer Jack Sock.

Winless against the top eight from the start of 2012 until last month, Tsonga may have gained confidence from finally snapping that skid against Berdych in the Marseille final.  On the other hand, he also lost immediately in Rotterdam to an unheralded opponent and thus still seems less trustworthy than most of those ranked around him.  Rarely has he made an impact on Indian Wells, outside a near-upset over Nadal in 2008, but his draw looks accommodating through the first few rounds.  Returning American Mardy Fish, a former finalist here, surely cannot sustain the level of tennis necessary to discomfit Tsonga at this stage of his comeback if they meet in the third round.  In the opposite side of this eighth lies Milos Raonic, tasked with outslugging the more balanced but less intimidating Marin Cilic in the third round.  Lesser players of note in this area include French serve-volleyer Michael Llodra, who upset Tsonga in Dubai, and Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, who has not won a match since stunning Nadal there.  Although Tsonga obtained considerable success early in his career, his results against him have tapered so sharply of late that one might think Raonic the sterner test for the Serb.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

Second quarter:  Assigned probably the smoothest route of any top-four man, Murray cannot expect much resistance at a tournament where he reached the final four years ago.  Nevertheless, early losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his last two appearances illustrated the Scot’s struggle to recover from his annual late-round disappointment in Australia.  Murray will want to bounce back more smoothly this time on a slow hard court that suits his counterpunching so well.  Looming in the fourth round is Memphis champion Kei Nishikori, who faces a potentially edgy opening test in Tursunov.  Resuscitating his career in February, the Russian reached the Marseille semifinals as a qualifier and qualified for this draw as well.  The mercurial Dolgopolov, the second-most notable player whom Murray could face in the fourth round, has floundered throughout 2013 and probably lacks the steadiness to threaten either Murray or Nishikori.

Of all the seeds whom he could have faced in the third round, Del Potro surely would have wished to avoid Australian Open nemesis Jeremy Chardy.  The Frenchman receded into obscurity again after reaching the quarterfinals there, but he may hold the mental edge over Del Potro should each win his opener.  Not since his first appearance in the desert five years ago, though, has the Tower of Tandil tumbled to anyone other than Federer or Nadal, and he has taken care of business against lower-ranked players with impressive consistency over the last year.  One of the most compelling third rounds in the men’s draw could pit Almagro against Haas in a clash of exquisite one-handed backhands and volatile shot-making arsenals.  The eleventh-seeded Spaniard has produced an early 2013 campaign inspiring and deflating in equal measure, but his Australian Open quarterfinal (nearly a semifinal) reminded viewers what a threat he can pose away from clay with his underrated serve.  Accustomed to wearing down mentally dubious opponents, Murray should handle either Almagro or Haas with ease, and he compiled a flawless hard-court record against Del Potro even during the latter’s 2009 heights.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Third quarter:  The section without any member of the Big Four often offers the most notable storylines of the early rounds, although Ferrer succeeded in living up to his top-four seed at both of the majors where he has held it.  Never at his best in the desert, however, he may find his transition from clay to hard courts complicated by the two towering servers whom he could face at the outset in Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling.  The latter upset Tsonga and nearly Cilic last month, while the former started the year impressively by reaching the second week of the Australian Open before injury sidelined him.  Curiously, the fourth round might hold a less formidable test for Ferrer because his grinding game matches up more effectively to the two seeds projected there, Simon or Kohlschreiber.  The quirky Benoit Paire and the lanky lefty from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, add some individuality to an otherwise monochrome section, as does the invariably entertaining but terminally fading Verdasco.

Berdych may loom above the opposite eighth, considering his two February finals in strong fields at Marseille and Dubai.  But an equally intriuging storyline may come from Jerzy Janowicz, still attempting to find his footing in the crucial post-breakthrough period when players encounter scrutiny for which they are not yet prepared.  The next several months could prove critical for Janowicz in consolidating his seeded status, and he will deserve credit if he emerges from a neighborhood filled with diverse talent.  Nalbandian could await in his opener, and the trio of Bellucci, Tomic, and Gasquet will vie for the right to face the Pole in the third round.  Twice a titlist in 2013 already, the last of that trio has retained his top-ten ranking for a long time without scording a signature victory.  Such a win could come in the quarterfinals if he can solve Berdych, unlikely to expend much energy before that stage against the likes of Troicki and Florian Mayer.  The heavier serve of the Czech should propel him through on a hard court, though, as it should against a fourth seed who has not played as crisply this year as his results suggest.

Semifinalist:  Berdych

Fourth quarter:  Defending champion Federer can anticipate his first quarterfinal meeting with archrival Nadal in the history of their rivalry, but a few obstacles await before then.  Like Del Potro, the second seed probably drew the least auspicious third-round opponent imaginable in Benneteau, who nearly upset him at Wimbledon last year and succeeded in finishing the job at Rotterdam last month.  Federer obtained avenge for a February 2012 setback against Isner at Indian Wells a month later, so he can seek similar revenge this year.  A rematch of last year’s final beckons against Isner himself in the fourth round, although little about the American’s recent form can infuse his fans with confidence that he even can reach that stage.  Much more consistent this year is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss #2 who played the most thrilling match of the Australian Open against Djokovic and backed it up with a February final.  This section also features the most curious match on Thursday, an encounter between the battered Hewitt and the one-match wonder Lukas Rosol that should offer a clash of playing styles and personalities.  Despite falling short of the final in his first three tournaments, Federer looks fully capable of sealing his side of the rendezvous with Nadal.

Not in much greater doubt is Rafa’s side of that appointment, for he could face no opponent more intimidating that Tipsarevic through the first four rounds.  Young American Ryan Harrison looks set to become Nadal’s first hard-court opponent of 2013 (exhibitions aside), and his woeful results of the last several months intersect with a non-competitive effort against Djokovic in Melbourne to suggest a lack of confidence fatal here.  While Youzhny has enjoyed several successes and near-successes against the Spaniard before, the Russian has left his prime several years behind him and lacks the power to outhit him for a full match.  Hampered by injuries recently, the ninth-seeded Tipsarevic never has tested Nadal in their previous meetings and should count himself lucky to reach that projected meeting.  The Serb’s current four-match losing streak could reach five in an opener against lefty serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez or Delray Beach champion Gulbis, who carries a ten-match winning streak of his own.  Either the winner of that first-round meeting or the unpredictable Baghdatis seems a safer bet than Tipsarevic to meet Nadal one match before Federer.  Afterwards, the Swiss should repeat his victory in their semifinal last year.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Check out the companion piece that we wrote yesterday to preview the women’s draw if you enjoyed this article.

If You Pay Them, They Will Come

Federer Dubai 2013 -2

Not all tennis tournaments are created alike, even those of allegedly equal standing. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships awards precisely the same number of ranking points as the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis last week, since both are ATP500 events. There the similarities end.

Dubai awards considerably more prizemoney, offers appearance fees only expressible using scientific notation, and an opportunity to be photographed in front of some of the world’s least restrained architecture. These factors doubtless account for the superiority of the field. The sixth seed in Dubai this year – Janko Tipsarevic – would have been the top seed in Memphis last week, had he bothered to show up. It also goes some way towards explaining why Dubai is voted best 500 level tournament nearly every year.

It probably helps that it gives the players an opportunity to venture outside, having been confined to indoor arenas in Western Europe for a few weeks now. (There is of course a whole other clay tour presently meandering through Latin America.) I certainly enjoy the sudden shift. Each year Dubai feels like a gust of warm clean air I hadn’t even realised I’d yearned for. It could just be a matter of convenience. From my vantage ten time zones ahead of Greenwich, it’s a treat to watch tennis matches that end before midnight. As I write, Tomas Berdych is mauling Tobias Kamke. The second round is already underway. Here’s how the first round went.

No less an authority than Lleyton Hewitt has anointed Marcos Baghdatis a ‘tremendous striker of the ball’. If balls are to be struck, then ‘tremendously’ is certainly high on my list of preferred ways to go about it (although I’m also partial to ‘infrequently’, depending on the circumstances). Faced with fourth seed Juan Martin del Potro, Baghdatis played more or less though he had nothing to lose, until he gained a break of serve in the third set. Then he had a break to lose, and duly lost it. A short while later he had three match points to lose, and he lost those as well, although I shouldn’t be quick to discount his opponent’s contribution. If Baghdatis grew tight at the key moments, then the Argentine grew loose, finally striking some tremendous balls of his own. Once the third set tiebreaker came round, del Potro’s victory was more or less assured; he has now won his last ten deciding set tiebreakers. It sealed a fine comeback from the world number seven, and a fine and dramatic match from both.

On paper, Nikolay Davydenko versus Tipsarevic was a first round encounter to savour. On court, it wasn’t, at least not if you were in a hurry. The first two games took thirty-one minutes, and both went to the Russian. So did the next four, in a mere nineteen minutes, delivering one of the most laboriously prepared bagels in the sport’s history. It was intriguing, although not from a strictly technical point of view, since the tennis was mostly poor. Davydenko later admitted to feeling exhausted after the opening games, and that he’d merely tried to steer the ball safely up the middle of the court. This proved to be more tactically prudent than Tipsarevic’s approach of spraying balls all over the place.

To be fair, he did land plenty of them in. Indeed, he won 34 points in that opening set, but no games. This provides a useful counterpoint to those commentators who believe they’re demonstrating a useful principle by converting points into games, i.e. ‘Isner has served sixteen aces – that’s four entire games worth!’ Really they’re proving little beyond their ability to reliably divide by four.

Having been bagelled, the Serb reconsidered his approach, and made some effort at landing even more shots within the confines of the court, and ensuring that enough of the points he won occurred consecutively. This had the happy result of putting him ahead a double break in the second set. Based on recent results, this was clearly an unfamiliar situation in which to find himself, and so he reverted to his earlier strategy, the one he’s been working on since the Australian Open. It yielded the usual result of losing in straight sets.

By some coincidence, Malek Jaziri also won 34 points in his opening set against Roger Federer, which turned out to be seven entire games worth, thus yielding him the set. This inevitably turned out to be more of a story than Federer’s eventual comfortable victory. Federer would insist, if anyone bothered to ask him anymore, that he never takes any opponent for granted, but I can’t help but wonder whether he initially saw Jaziri as a realistic threat. The defending champion was patchy in form, and frequently experimental in approach, charging the net, and volleying deep when a drop volley would have worked better by exposing his opponent’s suspect movement. Jaziri isn’t the spryest of contenders. Powerfully built, he has the presence (and features) of a low-level enforcer from The Sopranos.

But he’s a nice guy, and by his own admission he idolises Federer. All else being equal, Jaziri would undoubtedly have preferred to win, since he has to earn a living. Nonetheless I suspect he was quite satisfied to grab a tight set, and then to experience what it felt like once Federer’s forehand found its usual range and pace. For young players who grew up dreaming of facing Federer, deep down I’m sure they’d rather encounter him in decent form. The Swiss romped home 6-0 6-2, each set proving rather shorter than Tipsarevic and Davydenko’s opening pair of games.

It was also about as long as it took for Bernard Tomic to contract a crippling ‘general illness’ against Victor Hanescu. There was no word on whether this was an actual medical diagnosis. Requests for more detail have been rebuffed. Requests for less detail have been impossible to meet. The official word is that ‘something might have happened’ and that Tomic will recover ‘after rest probably’ or ‘some kind of surgery, maybe.’ At least it answers the question – which I posed elsewhere – of whether the young Australian’s fighting loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Marseilles last week will turn out to be a crucial moment in his development.

I submitted that it had been more crucial for Tsonga, since he’d gone on to win the Marseilles title in rather grand style, earning a disappointingly ordinary trophy and a peck on the cheek from a three year old. Before his cheek had even dried, Tsonga was off to Dubai, where Roger Rasheed was lurking in wait. Rasheed has already warned his charge (via the miracle of Twitter) that the hard work was about to begin. I’m not sure what was said in private, but upon taking the court Tsonga was a new man, one ready to turn around a six game winning streak against his opponent, Michael Llodra. He did this from a break up in the first set. An ace on game point was disallowed, the point was bafflingly replayed, confusion briefly reigned and Tsonga surrendered the break in a flurry of double faults. From there he looked truly lost. Afterwards he blamed the umpire, publicly. I suspect Rasheed will have words about that.

Anyway, Berdych has now finished off Kamke, Daniel Brands has seen off Mikhail Youzhny, and del Potro is tearing strips from Somdev Devvarman, all in brilliant sunshine. And it isn’t even midnight.

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Previews of Dubai, Acapulco, and Delray Beach

Has Djokovic recovered from his champagne hangover yet?

One of the strongest  ATP 500 tournaments on the calendar, Dubai follows its Premier women’s event by hosting six of the top ten men in the first significant outdoor hard-court tournament since the Australian Open.  This tournament claims pride of place in our weekly preview, although events in Acapulco and Delray Beach also feature key storylines that relate to what we can expect at Indian Wells.

Dubai:  A three-time champion at this event, world #1 Djokovic did not bring his best tennis to the Persian Gulf last year in the wake of a draining Australian Open.  The medium-paced hard court showcases his game splendidly, though, so he might bounce back in 2013 with a less exhausting Melbourne marathon behind him and a comfortable quarter ahead of him.  Not since his first meeting with Troicki has he lost to his compatriot, and rarely in the current twelve-match winning streak has the other Serb seriously troubled him.  That said, Djokovic did drop a set when they met here in 2010.  Also unlikely to threaten him on a hard court is the seventh-seeded Seppi, while Lukas Rosol does lurk but so far remains a one-upset man.

While three qualifiers form a soft center to the second quarter, its edges might feature some intrigue.  Seeking to avoid a third straight first-round loss here, former semifinalist Baghdatis faces a tall task in Del Potro, but he has won their last two clashes.  That battle of flat groundstrokes and inspired shot-making should offer some of the first round’s best entertainment.  Of lesser note is the encounter between the eighth-seeded Youzhny and rising Slovene Blaz Kavcic.  How much does the aging Russian with the graceful one-handed backhand have left?

Like the second half overall, the third quarter looks stronger than the two above it.  Top-eight threats Tsonga and Berdych bookend it, the former of whom faces a stern test in compatriot Michael Llodra.  Neither of those Frenchmen will relish the relatively slow courts here, nor will potential second-round opponent Tursunov.  A smart wildcard choice after his astonishing charge to the Marseille weekend as a qualifier, he ranks among the draw’s most notable dark horses.  Two comfortable rounds await Berdych, who excelled in Marseille as well as Tsonga and Tursunov.  Not known for his consistency, the Czech has maintained some of his steadiest tennis to date over the last several months, and he should fare better against Tsonga on an outdoor hard court than on the fast indoor court where he lost to him on Sunday.

After the hubbub last year when the tournament declined to offer Malek Jaziri a wildcard, the organizers may have smirked a bit when, having received that privilege this year, the Tunisian has landed adjacent to Federer.  More worthy of Swiss steel, surely, is the resurgent Tomic in a sequel to an Australian Open encounter closer than the score showed.  Never a man to doubt his own chances, the brash Aussie will feel confident of toppling whoever emerges from the Tipsarevic-Davydenko opener.  Although that match could present a battle of crisp two-handed backhands, both men have struggled this year and would enter a meeting with Tomic at a significant height disadvantage.  Realistically, however, only one man will come out of this quarter.

Final:  Djokovic vs. Federer

Acapulco:  Of the four top-ten men not participating in Dubai, two lend their illustrious presence to the clay 500 tournament in Mexico.  The end of the South American February swing, Acapulco usually offers an opportunity for top-seeded David Ferrer to bolster his rankings points.  While the presence of Nadal at the base of the draw will complicate his quest, the man who displaced Rafa as the top-ranked Spaniard brings momentum from winning Buenos Aires and faces no significant clay threats in his quarter.  Starting against left-handed compatriot Albert Ramos, Ferrer might face flaky Frenchman Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals, but another Spaniard in Pablo Andujar looms just as large.  Outside Nadal, the top seed has enjoyed plenty of success against his countrymen.

The last victim of Ferrer in Buenos Aires, Wawrinka faces a much more intriguing series of tests to secure a rematch in the semifinals.  Opening against Fabio Fognini of the famous eyebrows and unpredictable temperament, he might encounter the returning Nalbandian afterwards.  A finalist in the first tournament of his return, Sao Paulo, Nalbandian took a set from Ferrer at his home tournament last week before his stamina waned.  The fifth-seeded Jurgen Melzer has struggled this year outside a run to the Zagreb final on an indoor hard court, so Colombian clay threat Santiago Giraldo might seem a plausible dark horse to reach the quarterfinals.

Denied by Wawrinka in Buenos Aires, Almagro still looks to steady himself after that strange combination of breakthrough and breakdown that he endured in Melbourne.  His draw looks comfortable in its early stages, featuring nobody more dangerous than the long-faded Tommy Robredo.  In the quarterfinals, Almagro could meet one of three players who have recorded a strong result each during the South American clay season:  Vina del Mar champion Zeballos, Sao Paulo semifinalist Simone Bolelli, or Vina del Mar semifinalist Carlos Berlocq.  But Zeballos has not won a match since that stunning upset over Nadal, while Berlocq should struggle to match Almagro hold for hold despite winning a set from Nadal in Sao Paulo.

The easiest pre-semifinal route of all would seem to belong to the man who needs it least, or is it most?  Far from bulletproof in his two-week swing through Vina del Mar and Sao Paulo, Nadal managed to scrape out results that looked stronger on paper than on television.  He cannot face anyone of note in his first two matches, however, and the week-long respite may have freshened his body and spirits.  The heavy left-handed groundstrokes of sixth-seeded Thomaz Bellucci might pose a threat in view of the Zeballos result.  All the same, the Brazilian has accomplished nothing during this month’s clay tournaments so far and probably lacks the belief to threaten Nadal.

Final:  Ferrer vs. Nadal

Delray Beach:  In his last tournament before Indian Wells, where he defends finals points, top-seeded John Isner desperately needs to halt a slide that has seen him lose 10 of his last 17 matches.  Although a semifinal at San Jose hinted at a resurgence, he dropped a lackluster straight-setter in Memphis, where the indoor hard courts should have suited his massive serve just as well.  Fortunate to receive a modest first-round opponent in Jesse Levine, Isner then could meet Memphis semifinalist Marinko Matosevic.  The Aussie upset similarly powerful American giant Querrey last week and the talented Dolgopolov, so he brings much more momentum into this match than the top seed.  Before he succumbed to injury, Kevin Anderson enjoyed an excellent January by reaching the Sydney final and the second week of the Australian Open, the first South African to do so in a decade.  He could match Isner serve for serve, or more likely surpass him if his pre-injury form revives.

Quite a contrast to Isner’s week in Memphis was the breakthrough delivered by Jack Sock, who upset second-seeded Raonic in the most significant victory of his career.  Sock received a reward in a wildcard here, although he may not fancy a second-round rematch with the man who finally stopped him last week, Feliciano Lopez.  The American will have gained experience in facing a serve-volleyer in an opener against Aussie Matthew Ebden, which could stand him in good stead against Lopez.  And a third straight could loom in the quarterfinals if Karlovic can solve former champion Nishikori.  Suggesting otherwise is the recent form of both men, for Nishikori has produced generally solid results so far in a 2013 where Karlovic’s age and nagging injuries finally may have caught up with him.

A semifinalist in San Jose and gone early in Memphis, like Isner, third-seeded Sam Querrey inhabits a section filled with his compatriots.  That quirk of fate seems auspicious for him in view of his preference for straightforward opponents who allow him baseline rhythm and lack impressive retturns.  Surely able to overpower battered veterans Russell and Blake, he may need to raise his motivation a notch for the ever-impassioned Ryan Harrison.  That youngster has accomplished even less than Querrey lately, though, and a recent illness may have dulled his energies.  The other seed in this section, Xavier Malisse, retired last week in Memphis.

Also withdrawing from Memphis was San Jose runner-up Tommy Haas, who holds the second seed here but faces an intimidating opener against Igor Sijsling.  The Dutchman suddenly has burst into relevance after reaching the Australian Open doubles final, upsetting Tsonga at his home tournament in Rotterdam, and nearly toppling the top-seeded Cilic in Memphis.  If Haas can weather Sijsling’s impressive serve, he must slow the surge of Denis Istomin’s second straight sold February.  Ever an enigma and ever an entertainer, the fifth-seeded Dolgopolov rounds out this quarter and shares Tommy’s predicament of a dangerous first-round opponent.  As his 2011 victory over Nadal proved, Ivan Dodig can trouble anyone on the occasions when his high-risk game explodes rather than implodes.

Final:  Nishikori vs. Querrey

Gallery: Benneteau Stuns Federer; Del Potro and Dimitrov Advance to Semis

Juan Martin del Potro presser

ROTTERDAM (Feb. 15, 2013) — While one player notched his 200th career win, the other notched his 200th career loss — but the order is not what you might expect, as world No. 39 Julien Benneteau shocked Roger Federer to reach the semifinals with an 80 minute 6-3, 7-5 win.

“Benneteau deserved to win”, Federer admitted. “He played strong and created more chances than I did.” This is not something you expect of the Swiss’ game, but all champions have off days no matter their degree of preparation. Federer continued: “I had a fine preparation, but that’s no guarantee for success. It is unfortunate for the people who hoped to see me play on Saturday and Sunday. Instead, I’m now going to South Africa to promote my foundation. Hopefully I will meet Nelson Mandela.”

But that’s not a bad way to spend one’s weekend either.

In other singles’ news, world No. 41 Grigor Dimitrov dispatched of his good friend and doubles partner Marcos Baghdatis, 7-6(4), 6-7(0), 6-3 and not without a few insane runs, slides and falls by the young Bulgarian.

As Baghdatis’ final ball went long, the 21-year-old celebrated his victory by jumping over the net and warmly embracing the Cypriot.

“That was the last bit of energy I got left in me “, Dimitrov joked afterward. “Fortunately, I didn’t hurt myself. I’m tired after this tough fight as it’s always difficult to play against a good friend.”

Dimitrov will next face Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals who defeated Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets. The other semifinal will pit Benneteau against fellow countryman Gilles Simon who progressed through when Martin Klizan retired due to cramping.

(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)

Gallery: Federer, Dimitrov, Gasquet, Baghdatis Win in Rotterdam

Marcos Baghdatis Rotterdam

ROTTERDAM (Feb. 13, 2013) — In just his first match after the Australian Open, defending champion Roger Federer dispatched of Slovene Grega Zemlja 6-3, 6-1 in just under an hour.

“I love playing here,” stated Federer after his match. “Last year I received a great welcome in this stadium after a long absence. And I won the tournament for a second time, it was a wonderful experience.”

And he’s already looked forward to his third round match against Thiemo De Bakker. “I will not underestimate him. He is an excellent player and with support of his home crowd he will probably step up his game.”

In other singles news, 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov lost only four points on his first serve, defeating Nikolay Davydenko, 7-5, 6-3.

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis also progressed as Benoit Paire was forced to retire at 6-0, 6-7(3), 4-0 with back trouble and sickness.

N0. 4 seed Richard Gasquet also notched his sixteenth win of the season by defeating Viktor Troicki, 7-6(3), 6-1.

“The victory in the tiebreak was crucial”, stated Gasquet. “At 5-3 I got one set point, but still lost my service. Luckily I kept fighting. It would have been very bitter if I had not won that set. But with the advantage of that set win, I got more confident.”

(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)

Gallery: Del Potro Defeats Monfils as Gulbis Overcomes Haase; Baghdatis/Dimitrov Falter

Gael Monfils loses to Juan Martin Del Potro

ROTTERDAM (Feb. 12, 2013) — Last year’s finalist Juan Martin del Potro was among the winners on Tuesday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The Argentine dispatched of Frenchman Gael Monfils in 71 minutes, never having really been tested in his 6-3, 6-4 win.

Del Potro will next take on qualifier Ernests Gulbis who handed Robin Haase his fourth straight first round defeat in Rotterdam, winning 6-2, 6-1 in only 50 minutes.

During his on-court interview Gulbis apologized to the audience for defeating the country’s highest-ranked player: “Sorry Holland. Too bad for the spectators that I defeated a Dutchman.”

In doubles’ action, the team of Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov lost to last week’s Zagreb titlists Julian Knowle and Filip Polasek, 7-6(4), 6-1, while the French tandem of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet defeated the tournament No. 2 seed Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer.

Other singles players through to the first round include wildcard Thiemo DeBakker (when Mikhail Youzhny retired), Julien Benneteau, and Jarkko Nieminen.

(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)

The Return of Rafa Nadal, and More: What to Watch in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina Del Mar

Rafael Nadal digs back into his beloved clay this week in Chile.

Each Monday morning, I will break down ATP and WTA draws quarter by quarter with a prediction of who may meet in the final and perhaps the semifinals.  Fans can look forward this week to three ATP 250 tournaments in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina del Mar.  The most significant storyline concerns the highly anticipated return of Rafael Nadal in the last of those events, but the other two merit the attention of dedicated fans too.

Montpellier:  After a weekend satisfying but exhausting, Berdych travels from a Davis Cup tie in Switzerland to neighboring France and one of his most productive surfaces:  an indoor hard court.  Clearly the best player in his half and probably the best in the tournament, the top seed might face an intriguing quarterfinal test in Nikolay Davydenko, also proficient on this surface.  A champion in Doha last month, the Russian owns a stunning 9-2 record against the Czech.  But most of Davydenko’s success comes from before 2010, the year when his decline and Berdych’s breakthrough began.  The greatest pre-semifinal obstacle for the top seed probably lies in his ability to recover from the longest match in Davis Cup history, which spanned a remarkable 422 minutes.

As one would expect in a draw littered with Frenchmen (10 of the 24 direct entrants), the home crowd should find plenty of reasons to cheer.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second quarter, where Gasquet could meet Monfils in the second round.  Both men shone at the Australian Open by their standards, as did occasional upset threat Julien Benneteau.  While all of these French stars have faltered on home soil at times, they also can point to notable achievements from Gael’s two appearances in the Paris Masters final to Julien’s upset of Federer at the same event.  Like that doubles specialist, the third-seeded Gasquet will bring momentum from a commanding Davis Cup effort on French soil.

Less impressive is the lower half of the draw, spearheaded in the third quarter by Gilles Simon.  The fourth seed shares Gasquet’s task of surmounting the compatriots scattered around him.  A group that features Benoit Paire, Adrian Mannarino, and Paul-Henri Mathieu includes no challenger of a competitive will comparable to Simon.  This Frenchman’s first real test should come in the semifinals against the winner of a tantalizing all-Serbian quarterfinal.

While the second-seeded Tipsarevic has produced much better tennis than Troicki lately, the former arrives from an injury and the latter from a fine Davis Cup performance in Belgium.  In a small, fervently patriotic nation like Serbia, rivalries among compatriots can prove more tightly contested than their relative talents would suggest.  Hoping to disrupt that projected clash, the aging Michael Llodra seeks to rekindle his former magic from the Paris Indoors with a net-rushing style that reaps rewards on these courts.  If Tipsarevic does advance, he will need to reverse a poor history against Simon, not an easy task in view of his unimpressive recent form.

Final:  Gasquet vs. Simon

Zagreb:  Twice a titlist at his home tournament, top-ranked Croat Marin Cilic has started to knock on the door of the top ten again after an encouraging campaign in the second half of 2012.  He holds the top seed in a draw that features several rising stars from the region, including Blaz Kavcic and Aljaz Bedene.  The former reached the third round of a major for the first time at the Australian Open in the wake of a five-set, five-hour marathon, while the latter reached a semifinal in Chennai by defeating Wawrinka (more impressive in retrospect) and winning a set from Tipsarevic.  If the winner can survive the mercurial Marcos Baghdatis, an exciting quarterfinal with Cilic would beckon.

Among the most notable figures in the second quarter is seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, assigned a difficult opening assignment against serving leviathan Ivo Karlovic.  The young player popularly likened to Federer endured a January of extremes that lurched from his first career final in Brisbane to a first-round exit in straight sets at the Australian Open.  Beyond Karlovic, another local threat in Ivan Dodig would unleash his first-strike power against the maturing Dimitrov, which should test his focus.  The third-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, well past his prime, looks less intimidating in a quarterfinal that could showcase two elegant one-handed backhands.

Another aging veteran in lefty Jurgen Melzer holds the fourth seed in a tournament near his native Austria, where he will attempt to raise his level from an unimpressive Davis Cup display in Kazakhstan.  Explosive upset artist Lukas Rosol might test him in the quarterfinals should he survive another Lukas, the eighth-seeded Lacko.  The latter Lukas nearly upset Tipsarevic at the Australian Open, so he may fancy his chances against the Czech Lukas or a Polish Lukasz (Kubot), better known in doubles but dangerous in singles with his pinpoint serves and returns.

The bottom quarter may hold the least interest for local fans, since the only Croats received wildcards to compensate for their low rankings.  But its two seeds, Martin Klizan and Andreas Seppi, enjoyed their best seasons to date in 2012.  Seppi in particular has hinted at building upon that momentum in 2013 by reaching the second week in Melbourne, although this surface does not much suit his patient style.

Final:  Cilic vs. Melzer

Vina del Mar:  The toast of Chile when he arrived last week, Nadal celebrated his return to professional competition after a six-month absence by basking in a ceremonial welcome from the nation’s president and noted tennis stars.  Fans throughout the world, even those who never especially admired him, should welcome the return of a warrior whose presence injects much more intrigue into the ATP elite.  While Nadal probably will not find his finest form immediately, he may not need to find it here to win a title on the clay that he relishes so deeply.  Nobody in his quarter should muster the nerve to contemplate stopping the Spaniard, including compatriot Daniel Gimeno-Traver  and home hope Nicolas Massu, a former Olympic gold medalist.

The only clay tournament in a week otherwise spent on indoor hard courts, Vina del Mar has attracted a host of players from South America and the Mediterranean.  Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy will seek to shift his momentum from hard courts to clay, a surface that could reward his asymmetrical baseline game but not his preference for shortening points in the forecourt.  The third seed in Chile, this Frenchman might encounter veteran Spaniard and clay specialist Tommy Robredo in the quarterfinals.  Or perhaps Chardy will meet Lorenzi, who once nearly upset Nadal in Rome.

Often neglected among Spanish men, fourth-seeded Pablo Andujar occasionally drifts within range of an ardent fan’s radar during the clay season.  This week, he could collide with a compatriot ranked just six slots below him in Albert Ramos, who looked rather crisp at the Australian Open in a five-set loss to Baghdatis.  South Americans Rogerio Dutra Silva, Leonardo Mayer, and Horacio Zeballos add some local interest without heightening the level of competition significantly.

Like his fellow second seed Seppi in Zagreb, world #12 Juan Monaco produced a season far more productive last year than any before it.  A veteran clay specialist, he notched his greatest success last year on hard courts, where he reached the Miami semifinal.  But he regained his groove on his favorite surface while contributing to Argentina’s Davis Cup victory over Germany this weekend, and he often has excelled during the February South American clay swing.  Fellow Argentine Carlos Berlocq, known as the worst server in the top 100, should pose little threat in a weak section.  Can Monaco test Nadal in the final, as he has Djokovic and Murray on clay?  We will know better once the tournament unfolds.

Final:  Nadal vs. Monaco

I will return on Friday morning to look at the first round of Fed Cup.  Ahead on next Monday are previews of ATP events in Rotterdam, San Jose, and Sao Paulo, in addition to a more detailed preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha.

Ferrer Moving On, Baghdatis Packing His Bag

Marcos Baghdatis reacts after a point during his match with David Ferrer

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE – If you have ever had a Greek or Cypriot friend you can usually assume they are going to show up late, then stay around till the early hours for a damn good time. Sadly Marco Baghdatis failed to live up to this stereotype, losing before he even had a chance to get started.

The cries of “Mar-COS-Bagh-DA-Tis” rang out well before the colourful Cypriot had taken the court. In fact the cries of his fateful followers echoed through the Rod Laver Arena in the match prior, between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.

Melbourne, which reportedly has the biggest Greek population outside of Athens, is a home away from home for Baghdatis and can count nine uncles and twenty cousins who live in the country.

Undeniably, Baghdatis was looking for revenge for the last time he had played Ferrer, a loss in Cincinnati in 2010. Ferrer was looking for payback for the last time they played in Australia, a five set defeat also in 2010.

The game had the prefect billing. Cyprus and Spain, souvlaki or paella, Baghdatis versus Ferrer.

From the outset David Ferrer’s plan was simple, outlast and outclass. From deep inside his own backhand side he was ripping forehands, with the quickness to cover his open court or venture forward if necessary.

Ferrer was in control from the beginning, taking the first set with relative ease. Baghdatis meanwhile planned a similar tactic, attempting to grind out each point without the recognition of who he was up against.

We expected it to be tough; we expected exceptional baseline play from two of the finest ball strikers in the game. Sadly it didn’t live up to its billing. Ferrer was too in control, like an older child who didn’t want someone younger to play his game.

Simply, workmanlike Ferrer plays the baseline grind better than almost everybody. He moves the ball and keeps it in play, a simple strategy with the focus of that of a Russian chess master.

There is a reason Ferrer led the tour last year in total wins and captured trophies.

Before the Marcos Baghdatis fans could really find their voice, Ferrer was in control reading his opponents serve early whilst rarely being troubled on his.

The third set was a mere formality for Ferrer, who appeared from beginning to end to want victory more than his opponent, running out with a score line of 6-4 6-2 6-3.

Afterwards Ferrer reflected that he is very much on form and where he wants to be. “Of course tonight it was my best match of this week. I’m very happy for that. For to win in three sets, Marcos, is difficult, no? And I did.”

Next up for Ferrer is an enticing encounter with Kei Nishikori. “It’s going to be a very physical match, no? Because he has a very good shots, very powered on all his shots. So I will be fast in my legs, no?” Ferrer told reporters before adding, “Of course, I will have to play my best tennis for to beat him because he’s a very great player. He’s younger player, and, of course, I think Kei is going to be a top 10 soon.”

Wizards of Oz (V): Sharapova, Djokovic, Ivanovic, Ferrer, Li, and More on Australian Open Day 5

Sharapova's shadow has loomed over the women's draw through the first two rounds, but will that trend continue?

A plethora of intriguing encounters awaits audiences as the third round begins at the Australian Open.  Foremost among them are two in the women’s draw, which we include in our latest preview.

WTA:

Kerber vs. Keys (Rod Laver Arena):  Long hovering on the horizon, the 17-year-old Madison Keys has soared into the consciousness of the tennis world by winning four main-draw matches in the last two weeks.  Moreover, she has won most of them decisively, including routs of top-20 opponent Safarova in Sydney and the 30th-seeded Paszek here.  The teenager’s serve could prove a crucial weapon against Kerber, whose superior steadiness and experience should prevail in rallies unless Keys can find a way to unsettle her, which she could with a strong start.  Featured on the show court of a major for the first time, she seems more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the weight of the moment.

Li vs. Cirstea (RLA):  Familiar with both rising and crumbling in spectacular style, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up split her two meetings with Cirstea at majors last year.  Li defeated the heavy-hitting Romanian at Roland Garros but lost to her at Wimbledon before battling past her in a Cincinnati three-setter, so she will know what to expect.  While Cirstea defeated Stosur in the first round here last year and can hope to capture that magic again, the moderately paced hard court in Australia would seem to favor Li’s more balanced game.

Sharapova vs. Williams (RLA):  Scanning the WTA elite, one might not find two champions more similar in playing style than these two legends of first-strike tennis.  Both Sharapova and Venus can hammer lethal missiles from both groundstroke wings, and both compete with the ferocity of women whose lungs illustrate their loathing for losing.  Both have the ability to win free points in bunches with their serves, but both also can lose control of that shot beyond repair amidst cascades of double faults.  Both have survived significant bouts of adversity, Sharapova by battling back from a career-threatening shoulder surgery and Venus by battling back from a career-threatening illness.  While the American has accumulated a richer title haul, the Russian owns the more balanced resume.

Their record reflects much of the above, neatly balanced at 4-3 in Sharapova’s favor but skewed 4-1 in her favor away from Wimbledon, where Venus has claimed her greatest achievements.  Not dropping a single game through her first two matches, Maria can expect a steep elevation in her opponent’s quality and must come as prepared to elevate her own quality as she did five years ago here against Davenport.  Like her sister, Venus has produced some of her most dazzling surges when least expected, and she has looked quietly impressive if less overtly overpowering so far.

Ivanovic vs. Jankovic (Hisense):  Those who appreciate tennis largely from an aesthetic perspective may wish to cover their eyes in a pairing of two women who sprayed disheveled errors to every corner of the court in their previous matches.  Meanwhile, those who fancy their tennis served (or double-faulted) with a dollop of drama should enjoy this battle between two countrywomen who have feuded chronically but bitterly.  The superior player by most measures, Ivanovic has dominated their head-to-head as her versatile forehand has hit through Jankovic’s baseline defense.  So high do the emotions run in these matches, though, that one never knows what to expect from one point to the next.

ATP:

Djokovic vs. Stepanek (RLA):  In addition to their five-set epic at the 2007 US Open, Stepanek has troubled the Serb on two other occasions.  He won a set from him at Wimbledon last year by using his idiosyncratic style to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm.  Even as his career has faded, Stepanek continues to revel in the spotlight and ended 2012 on a high note by winning the decisive match in Davis Cup.  That momentum probably cannot lift him high enough to disturb Djokovic in Australia, where he looks as dominant as ever in all facets of his game.

Ferrer vs. Baghdatis (RLA):  The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, Ferrer can falter at times with the distractions caused by partisan crowds.  Supported vociferously by Melbourne legions of Greeks and Cypriots, Baghdatis hopes to revive the memories of his charge to the 2006 final.  At this tournament two years ago, he became the first man ever to win after losing the first two sets to Ferrer at a major, surprising in view of their relative fitness.  The fourth seed looked vulnerable in stretches against an overmatched opponent in the last round, while Baghdatis did likewise in another mismatch.  His flat, net-skimming groundstrokes should offer an intriguing contrast to Ferrer’s safer topspin.

Anderson vs. Verdasco (Hisense):  Reprising their meeting at the Hopman Cup this month, this match pits a rising against a fading star.  Like Baghdatis, Verdasco has failed to duplicate his breakthrough performance in Melbourne (a 2009 semifinal), and he should count himself fortunate to escape a five-setter to start the tournament.  On the other hand, Anderson followed his strong results in Perth with a final in Sydney, where he showed poise under pressure.  Expect plenty of quick holds as each man struggles to crack the other’s serve.

Benneteau vs. Tipsarevic (MCA):  Which Tipsarevic will show up here?  The man who fired his way past Hewitt with a blizzard of electric shot-making, or the man who barely edged past Lacko in an unimaginative performance?  Tipsarevic looked a bit drained after the heroics of his opener, and he may pay the price if he enters this match flat, for Benneteau rolled past trendy dark horse pick Dimitrov in the first round.  Although streaky, the Frenchman represents a clear notch upward in quality from Lacko.

Querrey vs. Wawrinka (MCA):  The lanky American with the casual power got a little too casual early in each of his first two matches, dropping the opening sets in both.  Against Wawrinka, a natural grinder who thrives on long rallies, Querrey should discipline himself to eliminate such gifts.  Having lost both of his previous meetings to the Swiss, including a US Open five-setter, he will need to maintain a higher first-serve percentage this time and aim to end points more efficiently.

Almagro vs. Janowicz (Court 3):  In the wake of a bizarre five-set comeback against Devvarman, one wondered whether to praise Janowicz for his tenacity in roaring back after losing the first two sets, or to linger on his immaturity for letting his emotions run astray early in the match.  Without that costly burst of petulance, the match likely would not have lasted as long as it did.   Similarly, Almagro needed much longer than expected to dismiss American neophyte Steve Johnson in another five-setter.  Between the Spaniard’s backhand and the Pole’s forehand, fans should see risky, flamboyant shot-making as each man hopes to exploit a weak section of the draw.

 

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