Last year Marin Cilic surprised most of the tennis world by winning the US Open, whilst charting a route through Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori. This year he may have surprised tennis again by not winning another title since—or even advancing to a final. A few months of that drought can be attributed to the cloud of a shoulder injury that now appears to have cleared. And that timing is good, as his path to the semifinals also is relatively clear, with Novak Djokovic being the only other Top 10 player left in the top half of the men’s draw. Cilic’s 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 Sunday victory over Jérémy Chardy brings him into the quarterfinals, where he’ll face No. 19 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com
The 2014 US Open was known for many surprises. While Serena Williams lived up to her reputation and claimed yet another Grand Slam title, over on the men’s side, Marin Cilic surprised us all by going all the way to the top. At just 25 years old, he managed to beat some of the world’s best recognised tennis stars including Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, and has now cemented himself as an up and comer to rival today’s ‘big four.’
Cilic may have surprised us all, but there were a few other golden moments which will not be forgotten in a hurry. Here’s a look back at some of the best moments of the US Open 2014.
Kei Nishikori breaks a personal record
While Marin Cilic was raising a few eyebrows and getting bookmakers at www.bettingsports.com talking, Kei Nishikori was another young prodigy to stun at this year’s US Open event. The 24-year-old made it all the way to the final, but while he did not take the title, he did have one extraordinary achievement. After beating Stan Wawrinka, he became the first Japanese player to reach a semi-final since Ichiya Kuamagae in 1918.
Andy Murray bows out once again
After his Wimbledon success in 2013, Andy Murray suffered a huge fall from grace this year as he exited Wimbledon early and failed to take the title at the US Open. While some say that he was plagued with back injuries, it could just be that world number one Novak Djokovic was too much for him. The quarter final saw Murray’s sensational exit this year as Djokovic beat him 7-6 (7-1) 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 6-4.
Caroline Wozniacki has a bad hair day
Recent break ups with golf champions were the least of Caroline Wozniacki’s worries as she went head to head with Aliaksandra Sasnovich on August 27th. The Danish beauty managed to get her hair caught in her racket during play, making for a memorable photo opportunity for the hundreds of spectators watching her. Thankfully, she managed to progress to the final, but was ultimately overwhelmed when it came to meeting champion Serena Williams.
The fall of Roger Federer
It’s becoming more and more likely that the ‘big four’ – Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, (who was out due to a wrist injury) Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are soon to be replaced by today’s younger stars. This is particularly true for Roger Federer, who, at 33, was overwhelmed by this year’s champion, Marin Cilic, in the semi finals.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Andrea Petkovic believes that doping cases should be somewhat personalized. John Isner backs the implementation of a biological passport in tennis. Grigor Dimitrov comments that players have the resources to ask questions any time of day regarding supplements. Mardy Fish insists on checking every substance that goes into his body with his trainer for approval beforehand.
No matter what player you ask on tour, it seems everyone has an opinion about the
anti-doping system and the recent doping allegations surrounding tennis players Viktor Troicki and Marin Cilic, the first who was suspended for 18-months on a negative test, whereas the latter was suspended for three months on a positive test.
This week during the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., doping and player education of doping policies were a popular topic in various player press conferences.
American John Isner commented that although he has not spoken with either player, he has read about what happened.
“Those situations are unfortunate,” commented Isner. “I don’t know really what to think of it. You hear [in the media] that the ATP or [World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA] don’t educate us [players] enough – I don’t think that’s the case. For me, in particular, anytime I take something, I do check it out. I don’t try to buy any supplements outside of that. So I think the ATP actually does a good job with informing us about what we can and cannot take.”
Despite having been some 15 years since Mardy Fish’s original training regarding matters like doping as part of the ATP University, he says that there is a continual stream of updates to ensure players are aware of changes and expectations.
“We do get updates, we get notifications,” he states. “There are things constantly coming through in your email about updates on player regulations … or prohibited [substance] lists. We have updated versions at all times.”
Grigor Dimitrov also echoes both American’s words, stating that he feels players are educated about the policies, procedures, and rules surrounding several “important things such as doping … There is actually a 24-hour [hotline] that you can call about doping” and inquire about any supplements or substances.
For Fish, he ultimately decided to be directly involved in what goes into his body in terms of supplements and other players might be wise to take heed amid recent allegations.
“In my experience, my trainer and I took [doping] very seriously. I ask him about every single thing [whether] it’s in pill form, or cream form that we’re using, to make sure that something like that would never ever happen [to me].”
As an added measure, Isner also believes the implementation of a biological passport in tennis would be beneficial to discourage doping as it has in other sports. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, “the fundamental principle of the Athlete Biological Passport is based on the monitoring of selected biological parameters over time that will indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself.” Thus, it would use baseline physiological levels for each athlete to compare all past, present or future samples to.
“I’m a huge fan of the biological passport,” commented Isner. “I just know from the Lance Armstrong case that he sort of got in trouble because of that. I think that if the testing can improve and you still have those [past] samples, absolutely go back and test that out.”
Despite the surge in recent doping cases though, Fish feels that players have very little wiggle room due to the doping whereabouts program.
“Our doping system is extremely tough, I know that,” he commented. “I have to give an hour every single day of my life to doping.”
Isner agreed, citing his own experiences as evidence of how strict the doping system could be.
“I really do think tennis compared to other sports – other team sports really – we get tested quite a bit,” the American continued. “We get tested a lot during competition, and I know I’ve in particular gotten tested a lot out-of-competition, and that’s not just urine. That’s blood as well. I even one time got tested twice in one morning, within 30 minutes of each other.”
Although Andrea Petkovic agrees “that the rules are strict because obviously we all want to fight doping,” she believes that doping really wouldn’t improve a tennis player’s performance.
“I’m also one that says doping doesn’t really help you in tennis,” the German commented. “You can be the fittest guy in the world and lift 200 kilos in weightlifting, but it doesn’t make you a better tennis player. It doesn’t give you the feeling of the court, the placement.
But the 25-year-old, who has battled back from multiple injuries in her career, also believes that doping decisions like the one with Troicki should be somewhat personalized. She cited that she has known the Serbian since they were kids and is aware of his fainting spells due to needles.
“I think it’s good that the rules are strict, but in cases like Viktor, you have to be able to look past the rules and you have to be able to make decisions that are personally indicated on that person,” she concluded.
The recent increase in doping cases in tennis makes one wonder whether more athletes are doping, unknowingly ingesting prohibited substances, or simply that there are more resources now available to more seriously crack down on doping abuse.
One thing is for sure. Wayne Odesnik’s case in 2010 seemed to have opened a pandora’s box of sorts for the sport.
A wild Wednesday swept through the All England Club. We glance back through the avalanche of upsets that rendered some sections of both draws almost unrecognizable as a major.
Roger rolled: 36 straight quarterfinals at majors. Seven Wimbledon titles in the last ten years. None of his legendary opponent’s credentials mattered to the 116th-ranked Sergei Stakhovsky, who became the lowest-ranked man to defeat Roger Federer in a decade. His moment of truth came in the fourth-set tiebreak, as crucial for the underdog as it was for the favorite considering the momentum that Stakhovsky had built by winning the second and third sets. Federer had started to reassert himself late in the fourth, and he surely would have secured the fifth set if he had reached it.
Unlike Alejandro Falla in 2010, and Julien Benneteau in 2012, Stakhovsky made sure that the Swiss did not survive the crossroads. A barrage of unreturnable serves early in the tiebreak, a clutch backhand down the line, and a sequence of magnificent lunging volleys brought him to match point on his serve. Sure enough, Federer saved it with a pinpoint passing shot. But Stakhovsky kept his composure through what felt like an interminable rally with the champion serving at 5-6 in the tiebreak. Finally, a Federer backhand floated aimlessly wide as time seemed to stand still on Centre Court, where things like these never happen.
Maria mastered: Off the WTA radar for years, former prodigy Michelle Larcher de Brito had gained most of her publicity from distinctively elongated yodels. She entered the main draw as a qualifier, though, which meant that she had accumulated more grass matches than her heralded opponent. Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has stumbled early in the draw there more often than not in recent years. Slipping and skidding around the site of her first major breakthrough, she never found her rhythm or range from the baseline in a loss that recalled previous Wimbledon setbacks to Alla Kudryavtseva and Gisela Dulko.
The finish did not come easily for de Brito, as it never does against Sharapova. The girl who long has struggled with her serve deserves full credit for standing firm through deuce after deuce as five match points slipped past until the sixth proved the charm.
Vika victimized: Injuring her leg during her first-round victory, world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka never reached her scheduled Centre Court rendezvous with Flavia Pennetta on Wednesday. Azarenka withdrew from Wimbledon while blasting the All England Club for creating unsafe playing conditions. She now needs only a retirement or walkover at Roland Garros to complete a career injury Slam, and she will hand the No. 2 ranking back to Sharapova after the tournament.
Jo-Wilfried jolted: Also on the retirement list in a day filled with injuries, world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga handed Ernests Gulbis a ticket to the third round after losing two of the first three sets. A semifinalist at Roland Garros and at Queen’s Club, Tsonga had seemed one of the tournament’s leading dark horses at the outset. But Gulbis, the most dangerous unseeded man in the draw, eyes an open route to a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.
Caro curbed: An Eastbourne semifinal aside, Caroline Wozniacki has struggled without respite since reaching the Indian Wells final in March. Another early loss thus comes as no great surprise for someone who lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Wozniacki secured just four games from Petra Cetkovska, not the first upset that the Czech has notched on grass.
Tall men toppled: Their opponents had nothing to do with it, but the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic and American No. 2 John Isner added themselves to the exodus of retirements. While Isner did not harbor real hopes for a deep run, Cilic reached the final at Queen’s Club barely a week ago and had reached the second week of Wimbledon last year. Of the top-16 seeds in the bottom half of the men’s draw, only Murray and Nicolas Almagro remain.
Serbs swiped: More comfortable on slower surfaces, former No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic departed in straight sets on Wednesday. Ivanovic’s loss came at the hands of rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, who may rival Laura Robson (or Larcher de Brito?) for the breakout story of the women’s tournament. The proudly patriotic Jankovic may take some comfort in the fact that her misfortune came at the hands of a fellow Serb. Her conqueror, Vesna Dolonc, is the only Serb left in the women’s draw.
Hewitt halted: The 2002 champion soared to a straight-sets victory over the 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, only to tumble back to earth against flashy Jamaican-turned-German journeyman Dustin Brown. Lleyton Hewitt’s defeat leaves Novak Djokovic as the only former champion and only No. 1 in the Wimbledon men’s draw.
And more…: The seeded casualties did not stop there. Fernando Verdasco bounced No. 31 Julien Benneteau in straight sets, No. 22 Sorana Cirstea lost two tiebreaks to Camila Giorgi, and No. 27 Lucie Safarova let a one-set lead get away against another Italian in Karin Knapp. Nadal’s nemesis, Steve Darcis, also withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.
Hanging on tight: In the women’s match of the day, No. 17 Sloane Stephens narrowly kept her tournament alive against Andrea Petkovic by surviving an 8-6 third set. Stephens will have a real chance to reach her second semifinal in three 2013 majors with both top-eight seeds gone from her quarter. Also extended to a third set were No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro and No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova, the latter of whom overcame rising Spanish star Garbine Muguruza. Meanwhile, men’s 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny needed five sets to survive Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil as hardly anyone escaped at least a nibble from the upset bug.
Rising above the rubble: But a few contenders did. Extending his winning streak to seven, second seed Andy Murray notched another routine victory as he becomes the overwhelming favorite to reach a second straight Wimbledon final. Murray’s pre-final draw might pit him against a succession of Tommy Robredo, Youzhny, Gulbis, and Benoit Paire or Jerzy Janowicz—hardly a murderer’s row, although the Gulbis matchup might intrigue.
In the wake of a difficult first-round victory, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova caught a break today when Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew. Kvitova becomes the only top-eight seed to reach the third round in the bottom half of the women’s draw. She could face a compelling test from Makarova on Friday, but her most significant competition might come from Stephens or Marion Bartoli in the semifinals. Struggling mightily for most of the spring amid coaching turmoil, 2007 finalist Bartoli has picked an ideal time to find some form again. She ousted Christina McHale in straight sets today and has become the highest-ranked woman remaining in her quarter.
Live Updates: Sharapova, Isner, Azarenka Lead Player Injuries on an Unprecedented Day 3 at Wimbledon
(June 26, 2013) Players, fans, media members, Wimbledon trainers, and even my goldfish are all scratching their heads on this unprecedented injury-filled Wednesday.
Within the first 90 minutes of play, five players had already been forced to withdraw due to injuries sustained on the slippery grass, and more continue throughout the day. As Darren Cahill states, the grass is typically more slippery in the first four days while the back court gets worn down, but the rainy days prior to the start of the tournament haven’t helped the already wet conditions.
Players such as Maria Sharapova are calling the courts “dangerous,” while the All England Club told ESPN this afternoon that the grounds are in “excellent condition.” Clearly, all the injuries, slips and retirements have infiltrated the players’ mindset and many would be wise to be cautious in their movement. Not surprisingly, the conditions have balanced the competition and no top player is safe as seen by Sharapova’s early exit.
Friend of Tennis Grandstand, @MariyaKTennis, tweeted the following: “According to @ITF_Tennis, this is believed to be the most singles retirements/walkovers on a single day at a Slam in the Open Era.” So, there we go.
Here is a run down of the player walkovers, as well as various other injuries sustained throughout day three of play.
John Isner: In the opening game of his match against Adrian Mannarino, Isner was serving and came down hard, tweaking his left knee. After getting it taped up, Isner tried to continue but ended up retiring only points later.
Victoria Azarenka: Nobody’s day one tumble looked worse than Azarenka’s against Maria Joao Koehler, where she slipped and twisted her right knee. Despite an MRI showing no structural damage, Azarenka pulled out prior to her match, giving opponent Flavia Pennetta a walkover to the third round.
Radek Stepanek: A mere six games into his match against Jerzy Janowicz, Stepanek received a medical timeout and heavy strapping on his left thigh. He continued but was forced to retire down 6-2, 5-3.
Marin Cilic: The No. 10 men’s seed pulled out prior to his match against Kenny de Schepper due to a lingering left knee injury which was worsened during his win over Marcos Baghdatis in the opening round.
“I started to have difficulties with my knees during Queen’s. During last week I was feeling it already in practice. Then on Sunday I felt it really bad in my serve … Yesterday it felt it much, much worse. It was difficult for me to put weight on left leg which is where the pain is.”
Steve Darcis: Rafael’s Nadal conquestor also pulled out prior to stepping on court for his second round match. The Belgian said he had hurt his right shoulder when he fell during the first set against Nadal on Monday.
The 29-year-old posted on Twitter: “Had to withdrawn after a win like this!?THE most difficult thing i had to do!!!#triedeverythingtoplaybutdidntwork!!!!”
Yaroslava Shvedova: The Russian-born Kazak was added to the withdrawal list as she pulled out with an arm injury before her match against No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: After losing the second set to Ernests Gulbis, Tsonga got his left knee taped despite there being no clear indication of when the injury happened. His movement seems to be severely hampered and he retired after losing the third set.
Injuries and Other Tumbles
Maria Sharapova: After taking a pretty bad tumble during her warm-up, Sharapova slipped an additional three times during her match, the last of which required an injury timeout to her left hip. Sharapova repeatedly told the chair umpire that the conditions on court were “dangerous” and these tumbles seemed to have affected her focus and play. Her opponent Michelle Larcher de Brito ended up pulling off the ultimate upset, and in straight sets no less, 6-3, 6-4.
Caroline Wozniacki: Despite having taped her right ankle, the 9th seed slipped on the grass twisting her left ankle. She was able to finish out the match but lost to Petra Cetkovska in just over an hour, 6-2, 6-2.
Footage of some of the tumbles that Wozniacki, Eugenie Bouchard, Julien Benneteau, Mikhail Youzhny and Ernests Gulbis took.
Julien Benneteau: The Frenchman took his own slip against Fernando Verdasco that required a trainer examining his right leg. The 31 seed eventually lost 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.
A sweeping slate of second-round and third-round matches filled the slate on Friday as the tournament caught up from a rainy Thursday. Here is a look back at the rapidly unfolding action.
Match of the day: Banished from the televised courts, Fernando Verdasco and Janko Tipsarevic continued their history of fascinating meetings with a five-set sequence of twists and turns. Tipsarevic appeared to have seized control for good when he dominated the second set after winning a tight first-set tiebreak. To his credit, Verdasco battled all the way back and took the eighth seed to 8-6 in the fifth. Vulnerable all year, Tipsarevic found just enough courage to ward off the massive collapse:
Comeback of the day. Tommy Robredo did it again. Not known for flamboyance or drama, the Spanish veteran did what his compatriot Verdasco could not and charged back from two sets down to halt home hero Gael Monfils. Fatigue from an overstuffed schedule may have hampered Monfils late in the match, for Robredo closed out the fifth set with surprising ease.
Surprise of the day: Third-ranked Serb Viktor Troicki had struggled to string together victories all season, so an upset of the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic on Troicki’s worst surface raised eyebrows. (Of course, clay is Cilic’s worst surface as well.) The key to this match may have come as early as the first-set tiebreak, which Troicki saved multiple set points to win 14-12 before dominating thereafter.
Tale of two Spaniards: Nine sets played, nine sets won for—not Rafael Nadal, but David Ferrer. None of his first three opponents have tested the second-ranked Spaniard, whereas his top-ranked countryman has dropped the first set in both of his first two matches. Nadal, who comes back to face Fabio Fognini tomorrow, looked strangely uncomfortable for much for his four-set victory against Martin Klizan despite his outstanding clay campaign.
Gold star: Tremors rippled through Court Philippe Chatrier when Roger Federer lost his opening service game, a departure from his routs in the first two rounds. Against chronic nemesis Julien Benneteau, however, Federer swiftly buckled down to business and never looked seriously troubled thereafter.
Silver star: Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his bulletproof progress with a surprisingly routine dismissal of compatriot Jeremy Chardy. Tsonga lost only eight games in staying on track to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their Australian Open meeting.
Americans in Paris: Winless in five-set matches, Ryan Harrison let a two-set lead escape him as his 2013 woes persist. At least his disintegration benefited fellow American John Isner, who snapped his own four-match losing streak in final frames. Less fortunate was the top-ranked American Sam Querrey, falling in five sets to Gilles Simon after coming within a tiebreak of victory. Also gone on Friday was Jack Sock, overmatched by Tommy Haas in a competitive but rarely suspenseful straight-setter.
Question of the day: Does the impressive form displayed by Tsonga and Ferrer suggest that they can challenge Federer more than they usually do?
Match of the day: Overcoming an 0-4 record against Varvara Lepchenko, Angelique Kerber withstood 46 winners from her fellow lefty to prevail 6-4 in the third. Lepchenko’s history of strong results on clay underscores the significance of Kerber’s victory as she reached the second week for the fifth straight major. Up next for her is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who recently played a thriller against her in Madrid.
Comeback of the day: Pounding more winners in two sets than Lepchenko did in three, Mariana Duque-Marino served for both sets against Marion Bartoli. The top-ranked Frenchwoman spent much of the match with her back to the wall, as she did in the first round, but she edged through a first-set tiebreak and swept the last four games of the second set to survive.
Surprise of the day: In a day with no notable upsets, a match between two unseeded players produced the greatest surprise. Brussels champion Kaia Kanepi failed to exploit a crumbling section of the draw, instead adding to the uncertainty caused by the exits of Li Na and Yaroslava Shvedova. Having won barely a single match on red clay this year, Stefanie Voegele ousted last year’s quarterfinalist 8-6 in the third as part of an excellent day for Swiss players.
Gold star: Top seed Serena Williams has dropped just six game in six sets here, extending the longest winning streak of her career. Her momentum and aura has built to the point where many opponents seem to lose hope before they even take the court. What a difference a year makes.
Silver star: All three Italian women in action today prevailed. Only slightly authoritative than Serena here, Sara Errani bageled imposing server Sabine Lisicki in a demonstration of how her clay-court skills can compensate for immense gaps in power. Less persuasive was second-ranked Italian Roberta Vinci, who weathered a second-set lull to survive in three. But the brightest headline of the day came from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, able to edge seeded opponent Kirsten Flipkens to reach the brink of the second week.
Most improved: After she had lost the first set in each of her first two matches, Carla Suarez Navarro navigated through her third more routinely. Perhaps Nadal should take a page from his countrywoman’s book.
Fastest finish: Defending champion Maria Sharapova seemed to spend more time warming up before and interviewing after the completion of her second-round match than she needed to play the match itself. About ten minutes of live action sufficed to move Sharapova past Eugenie Bouchard, although she needed a massive second serve to save a break point that would have leveled the second set.
Question of the day: Which former champion has a better chance to upset a top-eight seed, Kuznetsova against Kerber or Ana Ivanovic against Agnieszka Radwanska?
No sooner does the dust settle in Madrid than the action kicks off at the last clay Masters 1000 tournament on the Road to Roland Garros. In fact, the action in Rome’s Foro Italico starts on the day of the Madrid final, offering some extra entertainment for those unsatisfied with the prospect of just one ATP match in their Sunday.
First quarter: A bit of an enigma this clay season, Novak Djokovic has accomplished the most when the least was expected (Monte Carlo) and accomplished the least when the most was expected (Madrid). The world No. 1 has won two titles in Rome, one against potential third-round opponent Stanislas Wawrinka in 2008. Most fans will remember the five-set thriller that they contested at the Australian Open, and Wawrinka will bring considerable momentum to Rome after reaching the final in Madrid with upsets over two top-eight men. A third such victory does not lie beyond his reach, for he also has defeated Murray and Ferrer on clay this year. But Wawrinka has not defeated Djokovic since 2006, dropping 11 straight meetings, and he may have accumulated fatigue from not just Madrid but his Portugal title the week before.
The lower part of the quarter features Tomas Berdych and three towers of power. While Kevin Anderson collected a runner-up trophy in Casablanca, he has suffered a string of setbacks to Berdych in 2012-13 and has shown little sign of reversing that trend. Fellow giants Marin Cilic and John Isner exited early in Madrid, as they usually do on a surface that exposes their indifferent footwork and mobility. Berdych has thrived against opponents of a style similar to his, so his chances of meeting Djokovic or Wawrinka in the quarterfinals look strong. Never has he defeated either man on clay, however, and Djokovic has dominated him relentlessly, including two victories this year.
Second quarter: Much to the relief of his fans, Rafael Nadal will control his own destiny regarding a top-four seed at Roland Garros. The defending champion landed in the same quarter as compatriot David Ferrer for the second straight week, which means that he will pass him in the rankings if he wins the title. One feels a bit sorry for home hope Andreas Seppi, a quarterfinalist in Rome last year who seems likely to lose all or most of those points. Even if survives an opener against fellow Italian Fabio Fognini, which he could not in Monte Carlo, Seppi will become Nadal’s first victim in the next round. Finally gone from the top 10, a dormant Janko Tipsarevic meets an equally dormant compatriot in Viktor Troicki to start the tournament. Nadal demolished Tipsarevic in their previous clay meetings, while Troicki has threatened him only on the fast hard court of Tokyo. Neither Serb might even reach the Spaniard, though, if Monte Carlo quarterfinalist Jarkko Nieminen hopes to continue his unexpected clay success.
Blow after blow has fallen upon Ferrer on his favorite surface over the last few months, from two routs in clay finals to an opening-round loss in Barcelona to the painful collapse against Nadal last week. That Madrid match surely will linger in his mind if they meet in the same round here, although Fernando Verdasco might prevent it. This fading Spaniard looked suddenly improved in Madrid and has a handful of clay victories over Ferrer, but he has lost their last few meetings. A semifinalist in Barcelona, Milos Raonic should struggle to find the consistency necessary to outlast Ferrer here.
Third quarter: This section contains more intrigue than the others because the two bold-faced names who anchor it have struggled this clay season. Lucky to scrape through Madrid as long as he did, the third-seeded Andy Murray finds himself fortunate to find no clay specialists in his immediate area. The man who knocked Federer out of Madrid, Kei Nishikori, will look to follow up that breakthrough by defeating Murray for the first time. After he came within five points of upsetting Nadal in 2011, Paolo Lorenzi earned a wildcard into the main draw to become Nishikori’s opening test. Veterans like Nikolay Davydenko and Feliciano Lopez have sunk too deeply into decline to mount sustained runs.
Absent from Madrid and tepid in Monte Carlo, Juan Martin Del Potro hopes to recapture the form that saw him notch two top-five upsets (and nearly a third) at Indian Wells. He has earned successes on clay before, including twice taking Federer to five sets at Roland Garros and reaching a semifinal there in 2009. Del Potro must beware of Nicolas Almagro in the third round despite the latter’s struggles at Masters 1000 tournaments this year. Remarkably, the two men have not met at the ATP level, so it would be fascinating to see what their explosive shot-making can produce in unison. Either possesses stronger clay-court expertise than Murray, as does Almagro’s potential second-round opponent Juan Monaco. Regrouping from an early-season slump, Monaco has won a set from Djokovic and defeated Tipsarevic over the last month. He also stopped the Scot in Rome before and won his only clay meeting with Del Potro, albeit seven years ago.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Fourth quarter: The Foro Italico has witnessed some of Roger Federer’s most ignominious setbacks at events of this level, including losses to Filippo Volandri, Radek Stepanek, and Ernests Gulbis. Slowest of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, the surface left him more vulnerable than the others to the lapses in consistency that have increased as he has aged. Former nemesis Stepanek could meet him again in the second round, although Federer defeated him comfortably in the same round of Madrid. Also lurking in this section, with a wildcard, is Volandri. That particular ghost of Romes past probably will not have the chance to haunt Federer, for Tommy Haas should continue his current string of solid results to reach him in the third round. While Haas won their most recent meeting on the grass of Halle, he has lost all of their other matches since 2007, one of them after winning the first two sets at Roland Garros. Another man who has troubled Federer late in his career, Gilles Simon, might test the German’s consistency in the second round.
Perhaps the most compelling figure of those vying to meet Federer in the quarterfinals is neither of the two seeds but Grigor Dimitrov. Until now, though, Dimitrov has shown a tendency to alternate breakthroughs with breakdowns, so his upset of Djokovic in Madrid could precede a pedestrian effort in Rome. Both of Richard Gasquet’s clay victories over Federer have come at clay Masters 1000 tournaments, heightening the significance of what otherwise would seem an easy test for the Swiss to conquer. A shootout could unfold in the second round between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and powerful young server Jerzy Janowicz, but neither man should last long on a surface antithetical to their strengths.
Final: Nadal vs. Del Potro
Champion: Rafael Nadal
MUNICH (May 1, 2013) — Defending BMW Open champion Philipp Kohlschreiber took just 63 minutes to defeat world No. 195 Evgeny Korolev in his opening match, 6-2, 6-4. Croat Ivan Dodig also found himself in the quarterfinals after ousting tournament No. 2 seed and fellow Croat Marin Cilic in an easy two sets, 6-4, 6-2. Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Dmitry Tursunov, 7-6(2), 7-6(3) as Viktor Troicki took out Radek Stepanek, 6-4, 6-4.
Full gallery of the day’s matches by photographer Moana Bauer below.
As consecutive Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome loom on the horizon, the 250 events in Portugal and Munich provide a pleasant diversion. Many of the men entered in each will hope to use their less star-studded surroundings to bounce back from ongoing slumps and build momentum for the rest of the Road to Roland Garros.
Top half: After he played his worst match in years at Miami, Novak Djokovic bounced back with sparkling efforts in Davis Cup and Monte Carlo. After a similar debacle in the opening round of Barcelona, David Ferrer hopes for a similar turnaround. The disappointment of losing the Miami final after holding a match point may continue to weigh heavily on him, but he faces an even friendlier draw here than in Barcelona. Imposing servers Gilles Muller and Igor Sijsling, the latter of whom earned a top-10 win in February, should threaten him less here than on hard courts. While Benoit Paire nearly took a set from Rafa in Barcelona, his wild oscillations in form should allow Ferrer to grind past him in the quarterfinals.
Not far ahead of defending quarterfinal points in Rome, third seed Andreas Seppi must improve on his desultory start to the clay season. Seppi exited early in both Monte Carlo and Bucharest, so he will look to build confidence in a section surrounded by fellow clay specialists. Among them is Colombia’s Alejandro Falla, who has caused players more elite than Seppi to furrow their brows before. One of three Spaniards could meet the Italian in the quarterfinals, including the last two Casablanca champions. This year’s winner there, Tommy Robredo, extended his encouraging form to a Barcelona quarterfinal appearance after he upset Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych. A heavy underdog there, Robredo must adjust to the position of a favorite as the eighth seed.
Semifinal: Ferrer vs. Robredo
Bottom half: Seppi may have felt relieved not to face compatriot Fabio Fognini in an early round, having become his first victim en route to a Monte Carlo semifinal. That first such result at the Masters 1000 level, which included victories over Berdych and Richard Gasquet, does not necessarily signal a breakthrough for a habitual underachiever. But Fognini still looks clearly the most convincing clay player in this section. Paolo Lorenzi once took a set—and nearly a match—from Rafa in Rome, granted, and David Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year. All the same, neither man sustained what look increasingly like fluke results, while fifth seed Julien Benneteau prefers faster surfaces. A fine opportunity beckons for Fognini to keep accumulating points and rising in the rankings.
Oddly absent from last week’s action in Barcelona and Bucharest, the second-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka did not miss another chance to collect victories on his best surface. Wawrinka faces a compelling opener against either Carlos Berlocq, a Davis Cup hero for Argentina and a semifinalist in Vina Del Mar, or Barcelona quarterfinalist Albert Ramos, an underrated lefty. The route might grow smoother for the Swiss No. 2 after that stage, though, for Nadal-killer Horacio Zeballos has tumbled precipitously since his notable triumph. After suffering some acute disappointments this year, Wawrinka might bounce back here.
Semifinal: Fognini vs. Wawrinka
Final: Ferrer vs. Fognini
Top half: Trudging wearily from one tournament to the next and one week to the next, top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic has not played inspired tennis since his victory over Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Australian Open. In his section stand two players who have fared well at Roland Garros before, former semifinalists Jurgen Melzer and Gael Monfils. While Melzer has watched his talents dwindle with age, despite reaching a Miami quarterfinal this spring, Monfils has grown frustrated with a series of injuries that have dulled his athletic panache. He retired from Bucharest last week, just as Tipsarevic’s possible opening-round opponent Thomaz Bellucci retired from Barcelona. The Serb has battled injuries himself this spring, which means that this quarter could become a contest of who can stay physically fit the longest.
Impressed by his tight three-setter against Djokovic in Monte Carlo, I thought that Mikhail Youzhny could reach the Bucharest final. That thought proved short-sighted when he exited the tournament early, reverting to his usual unimpressive clay form. Most of the players in his section have struggled recently, from Viktor Troicki to the nearly vanished Marcos Baghdatis. A surprise semifinalist in Barcelona, Philipp Kohlschreiber might advance deep into the draw at a home tournament. The crowd helped propel Tommy Haas to notable upsets here last year, so his fellow German shot-maker can expect a similar boost.
Semifinal: Melzer vs. Kohlschreiber
Bottom half: The aforementioned Haas returns to Munich as the third seed, seeking to build upon his Miami semifinal performance after a well-deserved respite. No such respite awaits him at the start of this draw, where he will meet either Ernests Gulbis or Jarkko Nieminen. Although not at his best on clay, Gulbis has taken significant steps forward in recent months, and Nieminen reached the Monte Carlo quarterfinals with wins over Milos Raonic and Juan Martin Del Potro. That possible battle of veterans between the 31-year-old Nieminen and the 35-year-old Haas would offer the latter a chance to avenge his five-set loss to the Finn at the Australian Open, where he squandered a match point. Next might await an all-German quarterfinal against Florian Mayer, who has lost all of his matches with Haas.
Almost as intriguing is the fourth quarter, where the two seeds should find themselves sternly tested. Former Roland Garros semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko might pose a second-round threat to Marin Cilic, since the Russian held a match point against Berdych at Barcelona last week and defeated Cilic at this tournament two years ago. The other seed, Alexander Dolgopolov, has resembled Tipsarevic in his persistent underachievement this year. His nemesis might emerge in the form of Dmitry Tursunov, a stunning victor over Ferrer in Barcelona. Long ago abandoned as a relevant contender, the Russian began to reassert himself in February with strong results at Marseille and Dubai.
Semifinal: Haas vs. Davydenko
Final: Kohlschreiber vs. Haas
Check out the preview of WTA action this week published just above this article.
As the Sony Open nears its conclusion, Thursday will determine the leading ladies in Saturday’s women’s final, while the men still have some quarterfinal business to settle.
Maria Sharapova vs. Jelena Jankovic: Even on an afternoon when her serve chronically deserted, Sharapova found the will and the focus to fire past world No. 7 Sara Errani in two tortuous sets. If fourteen double faults cannot blunt her confidence, not many opponents can either. Jankovic has managed to chip away at Sharapova’s steeliness on a few previous occasions despite emerging triumphant only once in seven attempts. In their only completed meeting since 2008, when both women occupied the top five, a temporarily resurgent Serb came within a tiebreak of upsetting the Russian in the Cincinnati final two years ago. Not a single shot can Jankovic hit more impressively than Sharapova, so she relies on her superior movement and durability. Years of overstuffed schedules have undermined those strengths, and the 22nd seed enters the semifinal as a heavy underdog in view both of ranking and of recent form, which fluctuated wildly throughout her three-set victory over Vinci. Needing to recover from that rollercoaster within fifteen hours, Jankovic must hope for another erratic afternoon from Sharapova while refining her own consistency.
Marin Cilic vs. Andy Murray: Recalling the Sharapova-Jankovic rivalry, Cilic has won only one of nine meetings with his higher-ranked opponent. That lone victory came on a momentous stage, the 2009 US Open, but a wrist injury may have contributed to that upset. On the other hand, Cilic came close to repeating the feat at the same tournament last year when he nearly built a two-set lead, only to see Murray snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and ultimately run away with the match. Astonishingly, they never have met at an outdoor Masters 1000 tournament while colliding at each of the four majors. Cilic’s dominant serve and first-strike combinations often play into the hands of Murray’s crisp returning, alert instincts, and cleverly threaded passing shots. The Croat impressed in extending his tiebreak record this year to 8-1 when he ambushed Tsonga, but the highest-ranked man remaining has not lost a set here and has become the heavy favorite to claim the title.
Richard Gasquet vs. Tomas Berdych: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or so it seems in the case of Berdych. Thrust to the brink in each of his first two matches, he enjoyed a greatly needed respite in the third with a swift victory over Querrey in which he regained his rhythm. Quite the opposite was the last outing of the Frenchman ranked four places below him, an epic that ended in a third-set tiebreak that showcased his enhanced resilience under pressure. When this pair met at Indian Wells, Berdych earned a deceptively straightforward victory as his opponent converted just one of fourteen break points amid some dismal serving from both men. Unlike the histories among the other three pairs, however, their history stands deadlocked at 4-4 with Gasquet holding a slight edge on outdoor hard courts. If he can find Berdych’s backhand and extend the rallies, his more balanced groundstrokes and more flowing movement could compensate for his disadvantage in raw power on this slow Miami court.
Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska: A leg injury and a flurry of double faults raised question marks over the world No. 1’s health during an edgy, uneven victory over Li Na. Good enough to (narrowly) avoid a second straight three-setters, Serena now sets her sights on the defending champion in Miami, who has survived a string of long matches herself. Radwanska has played final sets in five of her last six matches, including consecutive comebacks from losing the first set here. Clearly below her 2012 form for most of 2013, she must hope to start more auspiciously against Serena, an excellent front-runner. But a disastrous start in the Wimbledon final did not stop Radwanska from clawing a path back into that encounter with the heavily favored American, the only occasion in their four meetings when she has won a set from her. In each of the other three, she has won four or fewer games, so this matchup may prove less compelling than their top-four rankings would suggest. Serena has not won a title since Brisbane in the first week of the season, and the hunger for something more prestigious surely gnaws at her, as does a determination to atone for last year’s embarrassing result here. If her body does not betray her, nor does her focus, she should rout Radwanska again. If either falters, the consistency and unpredictable all-court artistry of the Pole could keep her off balance and the outcome in doubt.