match of the day

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Serena Williams takes hard fought victory, Radwanska wins versus Petkovic while Stosur edges Vinci – A Rogers Cup quarterfinals wrap up

Andrea Petkovic and Agnieszka Radwanska

With both the men’s and women’s tournaments running simultaneously in Canada this year, members of the media had to make some big decisions about how to cover this virtually combined event for the first time.

I had planned ahead of time to do the first half in Montreal watching the men and then to transition to Toronto to catch the women finish things off and also take-in the Legends tournament with Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Jim Courier and John McEnroe. I just arrived in Toronto today in time to see the four quarter-final matches and it took a few matches before the level of play picked-up.

Sam Stosur took out surprise quarter-finalist Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-4, 6-1 in the opening match of the day. It was the end of a good run by Vinci who knocked off some serious competition in Yanina Wickmayer, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic one after another. Vinci’s loss brings an end to the blog she was keeping while here in Toronto.

In the second match of the day, fourth seeded Victoria Azarenka had no trouble in dispatching qualifier Galina Voskoboeva with ease by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Azarenka was doing her best impression as the tournament favorite. She raced out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back. Whatever Voskoboeva had going for her they day before against Maria Sharapova was no longer in effect. She looked like a shell of what she brought on court Thursday.

In a mid-afternoon match, 11th seed Andrea Petkovic took on 13th seed Agnieska Radwanska. The pair played a semi-final match last week in Carlsbad where Radwanska prevailed in three sets. Despite bringing more fire-power onto the court, Petkovic made a few too many unforced errors while Radwanska played a very consistent and balanced game. The lack of power in her game did nothing to prevent her from prolonging the rallies and waiting forPetkovic to make a mistake. Radwanksa would win by a routine 6-3, 6-4 final score. She has now won 9 consecutive matches and joked on court after the match that she was trying to emulate Novak Djokovic’s streak from earlier in the year.

Petkovic seemed pretty relaxed after the match and was upbeat with the media in her press conference. Despite the fact that she is now 0-4 against Radwanska in her career she had the following to say:

“Well, actually, I really enjoy playing her, because I always think it’s a good match to watch for the audience.”

In assessing her strategy Petkovic said that, “…today I just felt like, I don’t know, I needed to overpower her, which was the wrong approach.”

Radwanska meanwhile just seems content to approach the top ten but doesn’t strike me as having the killer-instinct necessary to actually contend for a Grand Slam championship.

In the evening match Serena Williams was up against Lucie Safarova. Tennis fans were finally treated to some drama in this one as the match would go the distance. From the get-go it was apparent that Safarova was not simply going to roll-over or submit to nerves as some other Serena opponents have done this week. See Bondarenko, Alona for evidence of the above. Safarova played with tons of confidence and would break to go up 4-3. Later, she easily held her final service game of the first set at love to take it 6-4.

Serena refused to quit, which should come as no surprise. Her game began to find the mark and she started to find some incredible angles on the court. Safarova was still giving it her all and both players applauded each other on more than one occasion. The display of sportsmanship was appreciated by the Toronto crowd.

Serena would break to go up 3-1 and never looked back. She would take the second set as well as the third to win the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

You gotta hand it to the American, she has the drive of a true champion. When asked if she was exceeding her expectations so far during her come-back she did not hesitate to respond, “I was hoping to win Wimbledon, so no, I’m not exceeding my expectations.”

She was in a pretty positive mood overall and joked with the media on several topics including her fitness level: “I’m still not super fit, because I always have cream sodas at night.” And also her thoughts on turning 30 in September: “No, Baby, I’m 26. I’m turning 27 this year.”

The semi-finals are now set for Saturday. Sam Stosur will first take-on Agnieska Radwanska in the daytime match. At night, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka will meet. The winner of the late match won’t have as much time to recover for Sunday, but which ever player wins between those two will certainly be considered the favorite.

Legends Michael Chang and John McEnroe will meet before the first semi and Andre Agassi will face Jim Courier after the second one. A great day of tennis is on deck. Stay tuned for more coverage here at Tennis Grandstand.

Photos credit by © Bob McIntyre

Schiavone Wins Worst Match of the Day: 2010 US Open Opening Day

Francesca Schiavone, the No. 6 seed and reigning French Open champion, defeated Ayumi Morita of Japan 6-1, 6-0 in 58 minutes in the WORST MATCH OF THE DAY of Day One at the 2010 US Open.

Schiavone won each set in 29 minutes in the opening match on the Grandstand court. If you waited on line for the bathroom or had trouble getting your Amex Radio, you probably missed this match (which would be good!)

Morita hit 17 unforced errors, which is nearly a set in itself and hit six winners. Schiavone hit an impressive 28 winners.

“It was a good match, because I was really fast when I hit the ball,” said Schiavone. “She couldn’t hit so easy the ball, but she is good…Maybe the score, you say, 6-1, 6-love, but nothing is easy. I played very good points. Sometimes we went to deuce.”

Schiavone may face American teenager Melanie Oudin in the third round.

Top Four Players Advance to Rogers Cup Semi-Finals

The top four players in the world took to the court today in Toronto offering fans a terrific line-up of ATP action. By the end of the day, they did not disappoint.

During the day session reality set for David Nalbandian as his career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian’s ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. It was a case of too much tennis in a short period of time as he admitted to after the match.

“I feel a little tired for all the weeks, for the last week and this one, and I didn’t get a rest,” Nalbandian said.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I’d have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.

On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week’s time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet Rafael Nadal a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second match of the day.

Nadal struggled in making the transition to the daytime session as his previous two singles and one doubles match have come after sun-set.

Kohlschreiber stunned the crowd by taking the first set 6-3 and utilizing his one-handed backhand to his advantage.

As he so often does, Nadal fought back hard in the second set and broke early to go up 2-0. The Spaniard always seems to find a way to play his best when he is behind in a match or even within a specific point. He turns his defence into offence just when you think he might be on the edge of losing. He pulled the match even at one set apiece and there was little doubt at that point that he would continue towards the finish line.

Kohlschreiber was having success when he would come to the net and pressure Nadal to hit a perfect passing shot, but unfortunately for the German he chose that strategy to few times during this match. As his backhand began wavering, Nadal broke him for a 4-3 lead and eventually won on triple match point when a Kohlschreiber backhand hit the net. The final score was 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the evening session, the match of the day on paper and in execution was clearly the Wimbledon re-match between Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer.

With the suddenly confident Czech having won their last two encounters, the buzz around the press room was leaning towards a Berdych victory.

While Roger has gotten past Juan Ignacio Chela and Michael Llodra with relative ease this week, they represent a cake-walk for a player of Roger’s calibre. Tonight was the true test of where Federer’s game is at and the result would have an enormous impact on his chances moving forward to the U.S. Open.

Should Federer win it would represent a confidence boost for him personally and also for the media with regards to his chances at taking a run at his second Slam of the season. Another loss to Berdych and he would have been taken to task for another missed opportunity and as a glimpse into his continued decline. Talk about pressure!

Federer played wonderfully in the first set mixing up his shots and appearing as composed as ever. For his part, Berdych was struggling with his serve, and ended up down 0-30 during each of his four service games. Mentally he appeared to be totally unprepared for the match.

Tape on his left knee and thigh made me wonder if he was struggling with the physical part of his game as well. That injury – which he would not discuss following the match – was sustained yesterday in his third round victory over Alex Dolgopolov.

Just when it looked liked the old Roger was back, things turned in Berdych’s favour. He finally had an easy hold to take the first game of the set and generally began to serve a much higher first serve percentage. Midway through the set the impact of Berdych’s groundstrokes was also felt across the net for the first time in the match.

At 5-6 and after several tenuous holds for the world No. 3, Federer would double-fault twice en-route to handing the second-set to Berdych.

Things then fell apart quickly for the Swiss player in the third set. Federer had a crucial chance when Berdych was serving at 1-1, 0-40, but he squandered all three break points. As is so often the case in tennis, Federer then came out and was unable to hold his own serve following his golden opportunity. Berdych then held serve and before the crowd could comprehend what was happening it was 4-1.

With Federer serving at 2-5, the crowd tried its best to inspire their hero. As one fan aptly screamed, “this is Roger’s Cup!”

A rare chant of, “Don’t give up Berdych” was followed by, “Give up Berdych!”

Federer held his serve and then it was up to Berdych to close it out while serving at 5-3. Instead, Berdych allowed Federer a total of four break point chances in that game, and on the fourth one he hit a forehand wide which sent the crowd into a frenzy as Federer was suddenly back from the dead.

A final set tiebreak was then upon us and Roger mounted a 4-0 lead before faltering and allowing Berdych to tie it all up at 5 apiece.

A Berdych backhand then gave Federer his first match point at 5-6. Berdych was serving on the next point but it didn’t matter as Federer pressured him into sending the ball long. Miraculously Federer avoided his third successive defeat against Berdych but it sure was close.

The usually polite Canadian crowd got a bit unruly at times throughout the match. Serving at 0-4 in the tie break, someone yelled just as Berdych was about to serve, “Berdych are you nervous?”

Asked about it after the match, Berdych was unwilling to make up excuses or use the crowd’s intimidation as a crutch.

“…it’s all right. I’m happy that so many people just come to see, and they were enjoying, so just let them enjoy, and that’s it,” he concluded.

The final match of the night was unfortunately a dud as Novak Djokovic sent Jeremy Chardy packing 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and twelve minutes. If only all of the Serb’s matches could be played in such cool conditions.

The day’s results allow Canada to have the top four players in the world in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup for the first time in tournament history.

The Nadal/Murray match goes Saturday at 3pm and the Federer/Djokovic will be at 7pm.

While the Soderling’s and Berdych’s of the world are making the top-ten more competitive this year, the top-four are showing us this week that they are still the serious contenders for the final Slam of the season.

Check back soon for semi-final analysis and of course you can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

Photos by Bob McIntyre © 2010.

Nadal & Djokovic To Play Doubles: Are You Kidding Me?

Novak Djokovic & Rafael Nadal

The song ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ was unfortunately the most over-played tune from Sunday in Toronto as the Rogers Cup was forced to deal with plenty of precipitation as the qualifying tournament approached its end.

The first match of the day on Centre Court between Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan and Marius Copil of Romania began shortly after 10am local time and finally ended just after 3pm with Lu prevailing 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3. Rain halted progress for a lengthy period of time at the start of the second set and forced competitors and fans alike to play the waiting game at the Rexall Centre.

I took the time to test my serve at one of the popular interactive fan attractions on the grounds and walked away humbled by my 136 kilometre per hour attempt. Gonna do a few bicep curls and come back stronger for tomorrow.

The second match on the main stadium was between Canadian hopeful Philip Bester and veteran American Michael Russell. Bester – who looks strikingly similar to Max Mirnyi – was unable to perform like the beast he had hoped to and was beaten by the 32 year-old Russell 6-2, 6-2 in front of his home fans. Bester made good on his promise to, “go out guns blazing,” as he was the more aggressive of the two players. Unfortunately his shots were often off the mark which sent his unforced errors tally spiralling out of control. As the sun finally broke through the persistent cloud coverage it became clear that Bester was not going to get the reprieve he so-badly needed.

Of the six Canadians admitted into the qualifying draw, none have advanced to the main tournament that begins Monday. Don’t worry Canadian tennis fans, we still have four of our own represented this week so you’ll have plenty to cheer for.

Youngster Milos Raonic gets first dibs on Monday’s schedule and will face 53rd ranked Victor Hanescu on the Grandstand court at 11am. Despite giving up about ten years in age, the 19 year-old Raonic has a decent shot against a player mostly known for his clay-court prowess. One stat that may buoy Raonic’s hopes is the three straight first-round losses that Hanescu has accumulated this summer.

In the evening session top-ranked Canuck Peter Polansky gets the unenviable task of taking on Jurgen Melzer who has had the best results of his career in 2010. The Austrian made the semi-finals at Roland Garros and followed that up with a fourth round showing at Wimbledon. Not bad for an eleven year vet who had never previously advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

The doubles draw also offers some Canadian content as Frank Dancevic and partner Adil Shamasdin will face the duo of Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley on the more intimate court 1.

There are tons of great singles matches set for day one at the Rogers Cup but the real show-piece no doubt will feature Raonic and partner Vasek Pospisil against the ‘are-you-kidding-me’ tandem of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That match will close-out the evening session on Centre Court with some fireworks that will truly impress.

Legg Mason QFs: Press Conferences & Analysis of Berdych, Verdasco, Baghdatis, Nalbandian

It’s quarterfinals Friday here at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC and the last eight singles players were all in action today vying for a spot in the semifinals. Two upsets were in full-effect as we saw the #1 seed Tomas Berdych go down as well as #3 seed Fernando Verdasco.

The first match of the day was between top seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Belgian Xavier Malisse.

The match saw a surprise winner in Malisse, ranked #62 in the world, topping Berdych in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. The wind seemed to be the biggest factor in the first set for Berdych as he couldn’t rely on his serve, getting broken twice before going down 1-5. Malisse also outplayed Berdych hitting more winners off both sides. The second set was much closer statistically before Malisse double-faulted allowing Berdych to serve the set out, which he did, fist-pump jumping in the air.

The third set saw two breaks of serve and a bit of drama in the second game. Malisse hit a cross-court forehand that just clipped the line. Expecting it to be a bad call, Berdych challenged. Hawkeye review showed it ‘out’ by less than 1 millimeter, but recall that Hawkeye is only accurate within 3 millimeters. Berdych was, of course, surprised and started walking up to the umpire exclaiming: “That is not accurate! It’s not in and you know it!” Played continued but Berdych was visibly frustrated even into the following point when he pointed again to the mark with his racquet and shook his head. However, Berdych stayed collected enough to win the game. Berdych lost his next service game, followed by three backhand down the line misses bringing the score to 4-1 for Malisse. Berdych has a strong backhand and it seemed to be working for him more than his forehand during the match. But he continually would run around his backhand to hit a forehand and then send it straight into the net because of insufficient backswing. An easy forehand volley into the net by Berdych gave Malisse match point and that it all he needed to break Berdych again and win the match.

Malisse’s press conference was light and quick. He is quickly becoming a favorite presser of mine because of his unexpected easy-going personality. During the first set and some of the second, he was intentionally twisting his right leg and foot as if something was bothering him. I asked him about it and he replied that it was just a small bone under his big toe that flares up from “time to time” but that it wasn’t anything to worry about. It’s more of an “annoyance” than any real injury. He also reflected that he was “returning well” in the first set and that the “third set was one of the best sets I’ve played.” He responded to a question asking about the quick time turnaround from yesterday’s matches lasting until the early morning hours and starting today already at noon. He replied that he much more preferred to play at noon than at 3 P.M. when the heat was stronger.

Berdych was up next and his interview was much more telling of his condition. He came in sulking and looked disappointed. I thought it was because of his performance today. It was, but there was more to the story. He said that he felt “sleepy” in the entire first set and that’s why his serve was broken twice. Mind you, his match yesterday finished around the same time as Malisse’s but he did say he finally got to bed at 2 A.M. His next comment then stopped me in my tracks because of it’s honesty. He was hoping that being the #1 at a tournament you would have a better schedule than this. Being up first today after playing so late into the night yesterday frustrated him and he expressed his disappointment in the tournament. He was then questioned if he had taken this issue up with the staff and he simply said: “No. But maybe I’m not going to come next year. If you like the tournament, if you like the place, then you always want to come back. But if you get an experience like that, we will see.” I have to agree with him here. He was the #1 seed and he wasn’t even scheduled on stadium court or grandstand because other Americans were still in the draw. He was on an outside court and the atmosphere is very different there, more intimate but trickier with the noise. Recall that yesterday he stated he doesn’t enjoy night matches because of the lights. But he didn’t like being up first either. The best solution would probably have been to put him up first for the night session instead.

The second matchup of the day featured #3 seed Fernando Verdasco and #8 seed Marcos Baghdatis, who dueled it out in a tight two sets before Baghdatis come out on top, 7-6(3), 6-4.

The match lasted just 1 hour and 42 minutes, but it felt much longer with the heat and inconsistent play from both players. Considering how long these two players have been on tour, it was surprising that this was their first meeting. Neither player went on any real ‘run’, neither served well and the changing wind didn’t help either. The first set tiebreak alone saw several double faults from both players. In the second set, Verdasco seemed frustrated as he sent ball after ball either straight into the net or flying past the baseline.He couldn’t quite find his rhytmn in his return game either, especially on the backhand side. Play was inconsistent and it was very tough to read tactics. The turnaround point came when Verdasaco sent a deep forehand down the line to pull Baghdatis back — almost to the stadium banners — which Baghdatis retrieved and sent across the net. Verdasco then moved in on the ball to send flying, but at the last minute changed his grip and tipped a drop shot across. Baghdatis, however, read the shot (almost before Verdasco had made up his mind), and began running for the net. He guessed correctly, made contact with the ball and put away the crosscourt winner. Baghdatis then broke Verdasco to go up 5-4 and serve out the match, which he did successfully. The best part of the match was something that came right after the last point was won. Baghdatis walked over to the other side of the net, got down on his hands and knees near the service line and kissed the court. He truly loves this game and there is no denying it.

In Verdasco’s press conference, there were a few things of note. He felt that he “didn’t play well” and that it was “tough to play” because the “wind was changing” and the “bounce of the court was irregular.” All in all, he was “not feeling the ball good.” He was asked how last night’s late end affected him today and if he felt tired. He responded that it was indeed a factor with not enough rest. He went further on and said that all week the earliest match starts at 4 P.M. so you wake up, eat, and get to bed much later. Then today, the time was pushed up to the early afternoon and he needed to change when he got up and ate. That change is never easy when your body gets into a rhythm. He also talked about how much he enjoyed the D.C. crowd and that he felt the support right away. He said there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people in this area and it felt great to hear them cheer for him. The last thing he talked about was his upcoming schedule and his plans post-US Open. He talked about wanting to do well in Toronto next week and improving on his first round loss in Cincinnati last year. He also wants to make a better appearance at the US Open by going beyond his quarterfinal appearance last year. “I push myself to be in [the] best shape.” He then went on to say that he will take some time off after Flushing Meadows to workout. And hopefully take a well-deserved vacation, but he didn’t say.

Baghdatis’ press conference came after his doubles’ loss with partner Stanislas Wawrinka, but he was still in a happy mood. Even in the doubles match, he was enjoying the absolutely packed stands on Grandstand court and he flourished with the cheers from the crowd. In the interview room, he was candid and smiling, making eye-contact with each questioner. He was first asked about what was tough about the match. He responded: “Everything.” He said that playing at night was not the same as the day because the humidity changed in D.C. He also said it different playing on Stadium versus an outside court and that “today I felt like the balls were flying a bit so I couldn’t control them very well.” He also recently changed coaches and has been in the ‘new’ partnership for only two weeks now. I put ‘new’ in quotes because it is the same coach he had when he was 17-20s years old, “so it’s not a big change for me.” In fact, he said, it’s “perfect.” Something that players have been getting asked since Andy Roddick crashed out last night was their thoughts on the American men falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 1973. He gave a heartfelt answer saying that playing this high caliber tennis is very tough and takes a lot of energy. But this was golden: “I didn’t know it was th first time since 1973 … That’s a long time!” He feels fit and healthy and ready to move on to the next challenge.

The third singles match of the day was between Roddick-killer Gilles Simon and wildcard David Nalbandian, who was playing in his first tournament since April due to an injury.

Nalbandian came out on top with a score of 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 but not without plenty of drama and superb shot-making. Simon came out swinging and took a commanding lead to go up 3-0, breaking Nalbandian’s service game easily. Nalbandian was only able to win one point on Simon’s serve. It seemed that this match would be over quickly. However, Nalbandian pushed it up a gear and won the next three games. Things were starting to heat up, but Simon was still playing more solidly and moving better than Nalbandian. Nalbandian had only lost 9 games in the entire tournament going into today’s match, so the scoreline was staggering when Simon took the first set 6-3 in just 33 minutes. But, just as quickly as Simon had won the first set, he lost the second. There were four breaks of serve before Nalbandian went up 4-1. He was starting to look like the strong precise hitter we know, and the points won on his first serve nearly doubled in the second set. He began to play more freely and was very solid at the net. Nalbandian understood the pressure he put on his opponent and knew when to execute approach and drop shots. He also found the angles exceptionally well flustering his opponent to start yelling in French into the sky. In fact, both players were yelling and cheering themselves on, bringing more inspiring play onto the court, and getting the crowd even more involved.

The beginning of the third set saw the best tennis of the day so far. As quick and adept as Simon is, it was surprising that Nalbandian came out the winner on the night’s longest rally. Both continued hitting the ball incredibly low and quick, Nalbandian penetrating the back corners with precision each rally. On one rally Simon sent a deep shot that would normally be a winner and followed it up to the net. Nalbandian read his movement and sent a beautiful overhead lob past Simon that hit the baseline. Simon scrambled to get back but the ball bounced out of his reach. Nalbandian was on fire, taking a 2-0 lead, and couldn’t miss. But then, he did.Simon put away a tricky forehand volley and Nalbandian seemed to be running out of steam. The score evened at 2-all. Then, all momentum was lost seeing each player dominate for a few points before being easily defeated the next, and on each other’s serves. In the ninth game, Nalbandian was serving for the match and he started hitting forehand bombs and took a chance on every shot. He closed the match with two aces. This is Nalbandian’s first time in a semifinal this year and it was well-deserved.

Gilles Simon unfortunately never made it to do the press conference, but it came as no surprise. He was fiery and irritated with himself in the second and third sets and clearly his head was not in the right place at the end of the match. He has great shot-making abilities from the baseline and his backhand finds angles on the court to stress his opponents. His serve was inconsistent and probably proved to be his downfall as he became more agitated with himself.

Nalbandian was caught up with the television crews, but eventually made it over for an interview with the media. He was easy-going even playing with his phone when he first came in. He joked about having to actually HOLD the microphone as he spoke. It was entertaining. He then got down to answering questions. He spoke about picking his game up in the second set and serving better: “When you’re serving good it is much easier to play more offensive.” He also mentioned that although he is not 100% healthy, he is “feeling good enough” and takes it as a positive. “I try to win every match I play.” It was also his first time in D.C. and he was asked why he decided to come back here: “I wasn’t playing enough tournaments and I needed to play matches to be prepared for Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open. I just enjoy every time I play.”

The last match of the day was between Serb Janko Tipsarevic and Croat Marin Cilic.

Cilic held the 4-0 head-to-head prior to coming into the match and he followed it up with a 7-6(4), 6-4 win tonight. Both players held their serve in the first set and were pretty even. For a guy that measures in at just 5’11’’, it was surprising to find Tipsarevic still getting even lower on his backhand side. Tipsarevic let the tiebreaker slip away from him when he loss a crucial point at 3-all that ran both players into all corners of the court for the most exciting rally of the day. In the second set, Tipsarevic continued playing more defensively but putting an insane amount of topspin on his forehand. But it was to no avail as he seemed to be just trying to keep up with Cilic’s movement and coverage. At 3-4 ad-out, Tipsarevic challenged a ball still in play that he thought was long, but he was wrong and lost his service game. Both players then held serve before Cilic held three match points before he finally converted on the fourth attempt. Since the match finished late and because of the tough scheduling from yesterday, neither player came for media interviews. Both players put in a valiant effort that saw Cilic come out the victor.

The day was full of suspenseful matches that saw the top two seeds go down in surprising fashion. The top seed left in the tournament is Marin Cilic who will face David Nalbandian Saturday evening at 7 P.M., while Xavier Malisse will face Marcos Baghdatis at 1 P.M. for a spot in the finals.

Chang And Enqvist To Clash In Final

Michael Chang

Michael Chang and Thomas Enqvist booked their places in the final of the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy in Paris on Saturday after both men won their final group matches to finish unbeaten at the top of their respective groups.

In the first match of the day, Enqvist had to come through a lengthy struggle against an in-form Thomas Muster 6-3, 3-6, 10-5 (Champions’ Tie Break). Elsewhere, Chang walked on court knowing he had already booked his place in Sunday’s final but he still completed a clean sweep of round robin victories with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) victory over Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch.

Chang is thrilled to have reached his first ever final on the ATP Champions Tour.

“It feels really good to be in my first ATP Champions Tour final,” he said. “Today was definitely a tough one against Arnaud so I’m pleased I was able to hang in there. I’m really enjoying being here in Paris this week with my wife Amber and it’s been great to play some good tennis as well.”

Enqvist is equally pleased to be playing in his second ATP Champions Tour final in two events.

“It’s great that I’m in the final,” he said. “I think today against Thomas it was a tough match and I was lucky to get through in the Champions’ Tie Break in the end. I’ve played well this week so hopefully I will go all the way tomorrow.”

Since making his debut in Sao Paulo earlier this year, Enqvist has remained unbeaten on the ATP Champions Tour, winning the title in Brazil and now reaching the final in Paris. Despite being on a seven-match winning streak, the Swede is modest about his achievements.

“It’s been pretty close this week. Yesterday against Cedric (Pioline) and today against Thomas were both tough matches that I could have lost. Hopefully the run will continue for another day because I’d like to win another title but I’m certainly not feeling invincible. I saw Michael play against Stefan (Edberg) and he looked really good. He still moves well and he still plays really good so it’s definitely going to be an interesting match.”

Chang starts  the match with a 1-5 win/loss record against Enqvist, having never beaten him on clay.

“Thomas has always been a difficult opponent for me over the years,” he said. “I’ve definitely lost more than I’ve won against him so tomorrow’s not going to be an easy match and I’ll have to play my best that’s for sure.”

The match to decide the third and fourth place positions will be contested by Cedric Pioline and Stefan Edberg after both men won their final round robin matches to finish second in their respective groups. Pioline sped through his match against a tired-looking Yevgeny Kafelnikov, winning 6-1, 6-2, while Edberg had a slightly sterner test against Guy Forget, coming through 6-3, 6-4.

Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner.

After Paris, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Chengdu for the inaugural Chengdu Open (November 5-9), and after that will arrive in Turin, Italy for the city’s first ever ATP Champions Tour event (November 11-14). The Tour culminates in London at the AEGON Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall, 1-6 December.

To view the order of play and the round-robin groups, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/results.html

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV BLOG – Part One

Yevgeny Kafelnikov is back in Paris, the scene of his Grand Slam breakthrough in 1996, and as well as playing in the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy this week, he is also writing an exclusive blog for ATPChampionsTour.com.

In part one, the Russian, who also won the Australian Open title in 1999, talks about how he has felt to be strolling the streets of Paris again, and the memories that the trip has brought back to him.

In part two, which will be published soon, Kafelnikov gives his reaction to Kim Clijsters’ recent US Open triumph, his thoughts on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, and how the current era compares to his own.

To read part one of Kafelnikov’s blog, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/blog5.html

From Slam Finals To First Round Losses…In Qualifying; Gaudio, Clement Crash Out

On a scorching Wednesday afternoon, 2004 Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio, and 2001 Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement crumbled in the heat, falling to little-known players in uninspired first round losses.

In front of a standing room only crowd on Court 8, Gaudio struggled to find the timing on his shots, quickly going down 3-0 as the Argentine fells 6-1, 6-4 to Julian Reister of Germany. The No. 167 ranked German, seeking to qualify for his first ever Grand Slam, snapped a four match losing streak with today’s win. Gaudio was competing in his first match on hard courts since the 2007 Nasdaq-100 Open.

Meanwhile, on Court 7, Frenchman Arnaud Clement came within two points of winning both sets of his match against American wildcard Tim Smyczek. The Wisconsin native, a former junior Wimbledon semifinalist, managed to hang tough and grind out a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3) victory. The loss marks the first time that Clement has failed to qualify for a Grand Slam since 1997.

In other men’s results, Juan Pablo Brzezicki of Argentina and American Donald Young also advanced into the 2nd round of qualifying with straight sets victories.

On the women’s side, 2008 junior Wimbledon champion Laura Robson won her first ever pro match at the Grand Slam level. The 15 year old Brit fought off an early first set deficit in defeating French veteran Stephanie Foretz 7-5, 6-1. Two former Grand Slam quarterfinalists also advanced in tough three set matches; Croatian Karolina Sprem defeated Nina Bratchikova of Russia 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, while Sesil Karantancheva of Kazhakstan lost the first seven games of her match before winning 12 straight games in defeating American Abigail Spears 0-6, 6-1, 6-0.

Thursday’s 2nd round matches will see 38 year old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, making her comeback to pro tennis after retiring in 1996, compete against fellow Japanese player Yurika Sema in the first match of the day on Court 7. Two players who have reached ATP finals in 2009, Somdev DevVarman and Carsten Ball, will be the first two featured matches on Court 13. The final feature match of the day on Court 11 will pit Donald Young against Guilermo Olaso of Spain.

All day sessions start at 11:00 a.m. Second round qualifying matches take place on Thursday, while final round qualifying matches start on Friday. For more information, please visit www.usopen.org

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