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Ferrer Wins Thriller as Nadal Schools Monaco – Live from the Davis Cup

Spain Argentina Davis Cup

by Stephanie Neppl

Words won’t do justice to try and convey what the atmosphere of a Davis Cup Final feels like. Even an hour before play started at Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla on Friday afternoon, the Argentinean and Spanish chants had begun and they would only intensify through the day and what would become a late night.

This was never going to be a quiet affair, but Spain versus Argentina was beyond loud. The crowd was boisterous, it was mischievous, it was ecstatic. Drums, brass instruments and horns were allowed inside the venue and they were used often, and not always appropriately.

When the ceremony began, I got goosebumps as the players were announced onto the court. Such applause, such appreciation and such idolatry particularly for David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal. Rafa was of course the last of all players to be introduced and he was lovely in acknowledging his home country.

The first match, as expected, was very one-sided. Rafa  has been a big match player for most of his career, and he had the massive advantage of playing on his favourite surface in his home country. It wasn’t at all that Juan Monaco played badly, Rafa was just vintage Rafa on clay. It is amazing to watch this Rafa – the way he moves the ball around, the great way he is able to defend. This is just one example why it is so hard to put Rafa away on clay:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVdmcm0oqno

In the end, there was nothing Monaco could do as the King of Clay put Spain up 1-0 with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 win.

The second match would turn into those Davis Cup matches fans hear about and read about but few are lucky enough to see live. Well last night 26,000 of us got to witness Davis Cup greatness and the matchup was ideal. The young, tall Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro versus the veteran, much less statuesque, David Ferrer. Del Potro can annihilate the tennis ball but is not the greatest mover on court, particularly on clay. In the first set, Del Potro looked quite hopeless at times. His heavy shots were returned, and returned well over and over again and when he did venture to net things got ugly.

Somehow, Del Potro was able to turn the tide and starting hitting with much more conviction, actually winning some of the longer rallies that earlier he was unable to do. Del Potro would led two sets to one. The Spanish bench was looked tense, the Argentinean fans much more alive after they had little to cheer for in the first match. Alberta Costa was visibly tense and started to complain to chair umpire Carlos Ramos about the noise the Argentinean fans were making (particularly during a player‘s serve).

All bets were off by this stage of the match. The Spanish fans loudly cheered when Del Potro missed a first serve, horns were blown at will and the crowd was on its feet after most points. It’s no wonder the match lasted nearly five hours.

Most fans knew that if Argentina was to keep itself in this tie Del Potro would need to win his match in four. David Ferrer would be a clear favourite to win should the match go five sets – he is the epitome of fitness. And when Del Potro was broken to give Ferrer the fourth set, it all seemed over.

Ferrer raced to a 5-1 lead and though Del Potro won two straight games to stay alive, fatigue had set in and Ferrer would clinch a 2-0 lead for Team Spain with a 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The celebration by Ferrer, the Spanish team and the crowd was an explosion of joy. One can only imagine what emotions will be shown on court today should Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco clinch a Spanish victory in the doubles as they take on David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank today.

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

 

(Ferrer and stadium photos via Getty Images; Nadal via AP)

Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

Roger Federer

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

Decoding Doha

Caroline Wozniacki

Alright, so I know I’m a little late to the party. The Year End Championships are half way through and soon women’s tennis will be (almost) done for the year and we’ll move on to men’s World Tour Finals. However, Doha is the most exciting thing happening in tennis this week and I can’t help but think that some fans are a little hazy on the details. I know my twitter feed has been full of what ifs involving the Doha tournament and player rankings. Now it’s possible that you don’t watch tennis every minute of every day and haven’t been looking forward to the YEC since September, which might leave you a little confused about the unorthodox format. Well, here’s your guide to Doha 2010. Think of it as an FAQ of sorts.

What’s the Format of the YEC?

Singles: There are 8 players in the YEC and two alternates. The players are divided into two groups and the first four days of the tournament are played in a round robin. Each player in Group 1 plays each of the other players in Group 1, and likewise for Group 2. This year’s groups are White and Maroon which are the colors of the Qatari flag. The top 2 players from each group move on to the semifinals, where the number 1 woman from the Maroon group will play the number 2 woman from the White group and the number 1 woman from the White group will play the number 2 woman from the Maroon group. Clearly, the winner of each semifinal moves on to the championship match.

Doubles: I’m going to preface this with the fact that the doubles format is stupid and just further evidence that no one cares about doubles. There are only four teams in the doubles draw, which makes the doubles tournament boring. The doubles draw starts play on the same day as the singles semifinals. This draw works the same as the tail end of any tournament. There are two semifinals followed by a championship match. They just skipped the beginning.

The Field

Singles:

Caroline Wozniacki – playing to defend her number 1 ranking and shut up some of the skeptics

Vera Zvonareva – ending what’s been an amazing season with a chance to become number 1

Kim Clijsters – hasn’t played much recently but has a winning record against just about everyone

Francesca Schiavone – making her YEC debut after winning her very first (and likely only) Grand Slam

Samantha Stosur – also making her YEC debut and has already clinched a win against Wozniacki and Schiavone (it’s a shame she couldn’t pull that off at the French)

Jelena Jankovic – I have no idea how she even got here. First match against Zvonareva was embarrassing.

Elena Dementieva – back after an ankle injury and did not look good in her debut against Wozniacki.

Victoria Azarenka – won last week’s Kremlin Cup

Li Na (Alternate)

Shahar Peer (Alternate)

Doubles:

Dulko/Pennetta – won 6 doubles titles together this year

Peschke/Srebotnik – I’m not even going to pretend to know anything about these two

Raymond/Stubbs – reunited this year after a four and half year break, but have previously won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open

King/Shvedova – the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open champs

Llagostera/Martinez (Alternate) – 10 points to anyone who can tell me who these people are

I noticed that the Williams sisters aren’t playing, should I still watch?

Yes! There’s been a ton of talk surrounding the lack of Williams in Doha, drowning out the buzz about the players that actually are competing. Believe me, we’re better off this way. Now we actually don’t know who’s going to win.

I don’t get the tennis channel, how can I watch the YEC?

If you’re willing to shell out $19.99, you can buy a one month subscription to tennistv.com, unless you live in Europe or several parts of the Middle East and Africa. There’s no good answer to this one. I can’t explain the weird territorial restrictions of tennistv. If you do live in Europe, you can check out the Eurosport Player. When I lived in London, the subscription was only about £4 and they played tons of tennis, including matches on demand. Make sure they’re airing the YEC before you purchase though.

Is this the last tournament of the year?

No, next week another eight ladies will be playing in Bali. These eight include the six players with the highest rankings who have won international tournaments this year, but did not qualify for the YEC as well as two wild card players. You’re probably wondering why they would have this event after the YEC. I have absolutely no idea.

Who can be #1 at the end of this tournament?

Caroline or Vera. Caroline would have to lose all of her matches and Vera would have to win all of hers. I don’t see both of these things occurring, so Caro will likely end the year as #1.

Why would Jankovic play in this form? Why not give one of the alternates a chance instead?

Even if she doesn’t win a single match, Jelena gets 210 points and $100,000.

How does the WTA describe the YEC?

Here’s a quote from the WTA website. “The WTA Championships is the most prestigious and important tournament in professional women’s tennis. It is the final event on the WTA calendar, contested by only the very best players in the world.” These are both false statements. First, I would in no way consider the YEC as prestigious as a Grand Slam, although the prize money is comparable. Second, apparently even the WTA forgot that there’s a tournament in Bali next week.

Alright, there’s you guide to the 2010 Year End Championships. Maybe next time I’ll get around to writing it before they actually start.

Roger Federer Named in Lawsuit

Roger Federer

From the Australian Open to the US Open, I couldn’t get enough tennis. It seemed like there was a constant stream of news. I was attending tournaments almost monthly and if I wasn’t watching in person, I was glued to the TV. For those of you in Europe, I highly recommend a subscription to the online Eurosport player. They provide great tennis coverage, much better than what we have here in the US. Anyway, the last month has been tough for me, not because of my crazy schedule or copious amounts of work, but because I’m going through tennis withdrawal. My favorite blogs are only updated every few days, my twitter feed is as silent as I’ve ever seen it, and if I want to watch a match I have to stay up until 3am.

Luckily, next week the ATP tour moves back to Europe and I can stop being nocturnal. Even better, there’s actually been news. The last few weeks have been pretty boring. Rafa won another tournament. Yeah, that’s not really news anymore. Serena Williams claimed she was coming back at Linz and then tweeted that she was actually wrapping up the year instead. I guess that’s kind of news, but who didn’t see that coming?

Anyway, let’s talk about some of this week’s developments.

First up, Caroline Wozniacki has reopened the infamous WTA #1 debate. After winning the Beijing tournament Caro topped Serena Williams for the number one spot even though Wozniacki remains winless at Grand Slam events. I thought we exhausted this debate when Jelena Jankovic was #1, and then again when Dinara Safina was #1, but I was wrong. Everyone had to weigh in all over again and I was actually quite surprised by the overwhelming criticism of the adorable Dane. As far as I’m concerned the numbers don’t lie. She won the points and deserves the credit. Plus, Caroline Wozniacki has won as many tournaments this year as Serena Williams has played. Don’t tell me she doesn’t deserve this.

Nadal lost in Shanghai. I think there was actually more press about his loss to Jurgen Melzer than the fact that he won last week’s tournament. Frankly Nadal can afford to spread the wealth a little when it comes to winning and this was pretty darn impressive for Jurgen Melzer, who has never beaten Rafa before. Also, a great way for Melzer to underscore the point I made in my article a couple of weeks ago that the older players keep getting better. If he keeps playing this way, Jurgen actually has a reasonable chance of making the World Tour Finals.

Roger Federer was named in a betting lawsuit. Apparently the owner of IMG, Fed’s management firm, upped his bet on Fed to win the 2006 French Open final based on a tip. The IMG guy may be guilty or he may not, but I honestly don’t believe Fed had anything to do with this. Roger addressed the situation in his latest press conference, saying he was unconcerned as there was no truth whatsoever to the claim.

Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic are parting ways next year. If you don’t follow doubles, this means nothing to you. However, these guys are the number two doubles team and have won three Grand Slam titles together. Nestor will play with Max Mirnyi next year and more interestingly, Zimonjic will pair up with Michael Llodra. I’m pretty intrigued by this second pair. Nenad only plays doubles so I’m a little surprised he chose a partner that is currently a high ranked singles player.

Andy Roddick is injured, again. Poor Andy just can’t catch a break. He was forced to withdraw from his first match in Shanghai against Guillermo Garcia Lopez with a leg injury. He hopes to be back for Basel and almost certainly for Paris, but it’s going to be an uphill battle to make it to the World Tour Finals this year. Roddick looked pretty torn up about his withdrawal in Shanghai and I can’t blame him. Andy’s bestie Mardy Fish is also out, with some kind of ankle injury. Hopefully they both make a full recovery and we’ll see an American back in the Top 10 soon.

In weird tennis news, Ana Ivanovic was docked an entire game worth of points during a match in Linz. Apparently she had to leave the court to throw up but wasn’t given permission. It turns out the game was insignificant since Ana won quite convincingly, but you’ve got to think this was a little unfair. Would the ref have preferred she throw up on court?

Well, that’s a wrap for this week’s tennis news. Plus, it’s 3am and I’d really like to catch the Djokovic/Garcia Lopez match. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with something a little more interesting.

Maria Sharapova’s Stay in Tokyo is Short but Sweet

sharapova-toray-pan-17

Even though it’s still early in the tournament , the Toray Pan Pacific has been very surprising already so far. Before this tournament started I had high hopes for a good series in Tokyo but Sharapova never really launched at this year’s Toray Pan Pacific. She lost in the first round to WTA Tour veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm.But Sharapova ended up losing in the first round in three sets 7-5 3-6 6-3.

As you may know, Maria Sharapova has been struggling ever since her shoulder surgery back in ’08.  She has won three Grand Slam tourneys but after that operation nothing ever really was the same for Sizzlin’ Sharapova.

Said Date-Krumm: “Playing against a player who used to be number one and the defending champion I knew I had to play my best. I just got back from Korea yesterday and felt really tired but my body felt a little better today.”

And what did Sharapova about her 40 year old opponent:

“It’s incredible,” said Sharapova. “It just shows you how she has stayed in such great shape while away from the game. She is incredibly fit.”

But at least Sharapova had some fun at Kids Day:

And here are some photos of the first round match between Maria Sharapova and Kimiko Date-Krumm

US Open Fourth Round Preview

The final week of Grand Slam play for 2010 is about to begin and there are sixteen players left in the men’s draw. Noticeable absentees include the Andy’s (Murray and Roddick) and Tomas Berdych. Other than that I suppose David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis bowed out slightly earlier than we had thought, but there are still several big names left in the draw.

Rafa Nadal has been rolling alo

ng just fine on the hard courts so far in this tournament. He’ll get compatriot Feliciano Lopez next. Lopez took him out of the grass court tune-up event at Queen’s Club in June so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. Nadal will raise his game when required however and we all know how hungry he is to complete the career slam with a win in New York. I’m going with Nadal in straights.

Another all-Spanish battle features Fernando Verdasco the 8th seed against number 10 seed David Ferrer. Verdasco impressively knocked off Nalbandian in the third round while Ferrer advanced against a lesser-known hard court player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver. I’m looking at a tough five set Verdasco victory which would give us a nice re-match of the Nadal/Verdasco tilt from the Australian Open that went the distance in 2009.

American hopeful Sam Querrey and Swiss understudy Stan Wawrinka both have the opportunity to make their first career Grand Slam quarter-final. Querrey has had a great year at the lower-level tournaments winning three ATP Tour 250 events, and one 500 event. Let’s see if he now has the game to make a splash on a bigger stage. Wawrinka just beat one of the U.S. Open favorites in Andy Murray. Can he keep that level up? I’m picking Wawrinka in four sets due to experience.

Mikhail Youzhny took out American John Isner in the last round and will now face veteran Tommy Robredo. Normally I’d go with Youzhny hands-down but I’ve learned to never count Tommy out. Just when you think his career is on the downward swing, he tosses in an excellent result. Still, talent wise, you gotta think Youzhny will pull this one out in four.

Monday gives us the four bottom-half matches, starting out with Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils. This match should be one of the most entertaining between Gasquet’s beautiful backhand and Monfils’ colorful court antics. The all-French match holds a 2-2 career head-to-head with all meetings on hard court. Could go either way really as neither has enjoyed much success on this surface this summer, but LeMonf has my vote in a five setter.

Mardy Fish is likely wishing that the heat would return to Flushing Meadows in time for his match against Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately cool temperatures are in the forecast giving Djokovic the ideal conditions he needs to succeed against the American. While Fish has had a great summer and has made the quarter-finals in New York once before, the Djoker has been picking up his game this week and looks ready to advance. Djokovic in four.

Robin Soderling gets the easiest match on paper as he takes on clay-court specialist Albert Montanes. A straight set wins for the Swede should be in the cards, making him a very dangerous and well-rested player to face Roger Federer in the next round.

Federer gets resurgent Jurgen Melzer who has had the best season of his career for sure. The 29 year old had never before advanced past the third round of a Slam before 2010 and has now made the semi’s at Roland Garros, the fourth round at Wimbledon and now again the fourth round at the U.S. Open. His run is about to end at the hands of Federer who will have one last routine victory before having to face a serious test in Soderling. Federer in straights.

US Open: Why Top Players Lose

At the start of every tournament, a player’s slate is cleaned. Whether they’ve won the previous week’s tournament or failed to even qualify, in tennis, everything can change in a week. Player’s go on hot-streaks as well as cold-runs, losing to lower-ranked opponents who simply took advantage of the opportunity to play a big name in a big stadium at a big tournament. And this was the case in the opening rounds at this year’s US Open, where several seeds took early surprise exits.

On this big of a world stage, anything can happen: youngsters take out veterans and darkhorses, players finally fulfill their potential and take out higher-ranked opponents, and heat favors the mentally strong ones. But why do the game’s elite succumb to players sometimes ranked 200 spots below them? It is simply nerves? Yes and no.

After a loss, we sometimes hear the top-seeded players give the easy answer: blaming the wind and crowd, grasping at any phantom injury they could think of, and overall citing their games’ weaknesses instead of their opponents’ clear strengths as the deciding factor. What they fail to mention, is the state of their psyche. For a sport so dependent on mental strength, it seems strange that players don’t talk about that more often. Mental fortitude was clearly the culprit that kept Tomas Berdych from breaking through until earlier this year in Miami. Like him, many players have the talent, the tennis I.Q., the physical strength, yet simply lack the stability in the mind to come back from 0-5, 0-40 down. After all, tennis players are still human, though as fans, we tend to build them into superheroes. But, as evident by Roger Federer’s struggles this year claiming only two titles, even superheroes can falter.

Kei Nishikori of Japan. September 2, 2010

Take, for example, Kei Nishikori’s second round defeat of #11 Marin Cilic yesterday. Not only did the match almost break the record for the longest match at the US Open at a whopping 4 hours and 59 minutes, but Nishikori handed Cilic a breadstick in the fifth set, 6-1. Cilic is no slacker however. He overtook both Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick at the year’s first slam, the Australian Open, to reach the semis, beat Rafael Nadal in Beijing last October, took out Andy Murray in straight sets at last year’s US Open, and has been firmly planted in the top 20 since January of 2009. Nishikori, on the other hand, is ranked #147 in the world and even fell out of the rankings earlier this year due to an elbow injury sustained last year. He’s on a comeback trail and clearly using his experiences away from tennis to fire himself up in his game. After the 3-hour mark of a match, fitness can no longer be cited as the culprit for a player’s loss, as clearly both are fit to last the scorching New York sun. After 4 hours, it’s all about mental strength and who can stay focused and ‘win ugly’ better. With the first four sets being marginally close, the 6-1 score in the fifth set is pretty telling of who lasted longer mentally.

Americans Ryan Harrison and Beatrice Capra

Then, there are those youngsters who have absolutely nothing to prove and walk away with a great victory over a top player. Ryan Harrison’s defeat of #15 Ivan Ljubicic in the first round, or Beatrice Capra’s advancement to the second round including a win over #18 Arvane Rezai shows another side to why seemingly great and capable players lose to relative nobodys. After having lost her chance to get a wildcard into the US Open by losing in the Girls’ 18 national tournament, Capra went home to Ellicott City, MD to “chill.” She then received a call from the USTA to play in their wildcard playoff tournament and voila, she got into the main draw as a wildcard after all. Harrison, on the other hand, went through the qualifying tournament and had match-play under his belt when he took on Ljubicic. With both Rezai and Ljubicic, you could say the heat and nerves were a factor as neither had played a match in days and perhaps weren’t acclimated. But with their gutsy defeats, Harrison and Capra say the rest is “just bonus.” The youngsters had more time on court, nothing to lose, and increased confidence in their game. Their competitors simply weren’t prepared and couldn’t study their opponents in time.

World #214, Andreas Haider-Maurer. August 30, 2010

And that brings up another reason why top players struggle in the opening rounds: the relative lack of knowledge about their lower-ranked opponents’ game. The elite play each other week-in and week-out, and know what to expect in another’s shots, playing style and strategy. Journeymen, however, travel the futures and challengers circuits struggling to win but tend to have a strange familiarity with the top players’ games when they are slated against each other. The journeymen already know the ins and outs of the top opponent’s play, as they’ve either watched them live, on tv, or perhaps even grown up admiring them. The top dog, on the other hand, may never have even heard of his opponent. Now, how do you study and learn someone’s game who you’ve never even heard of? Well, if you have a smart enough coach, you would scope out the player’s previous match. This can be time-consuming and even often prove unreliable since players at that level are inconsistent and may simply win by default because of their opponent’s more aggressive, but error-filled, play. All in all, if you’re a ‘Djokovic’ taking on a ‘Jesse Witten’ like in last year’s third round at the US Open, you may become easily frustrated when your 276-ranked opponent is blowing you off the court with his forehand and unexpected lateral speed. Four days ago, we saw a similar pattern in Robin Soderling’s opening match against 23-year-old Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer. Haider-Maurer, currently ranked 214, not only won the third set tiebreak but also won the fourth set, forcing a fifth. He barely lost 6-4 in the fifth to a man who has commandingly beaten both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in recent times. It’s interesting watching Haider-Maurer stay cool and collected while Soderling scrambled to figure out his opponent.

Another factor during a match also includes the high heat and humidity, but which player does this favor, the journeyman or top dog? In short, neither. While it’s easy to think that the top players have gotten to the top precisely because their fitness overcame the heat, in reality, fitness almost becomes null at this level of the game. It’s a strange concept to analyze, but it makes more sense when you realize that the scorching heat envelopes everyone’s lungs, legs and head in the same way. Rarely do players have the upper hand when play gets heavy, dragged out, sloppy and almost slow-motion. The big guys, like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling seem to be exceptions and all have speed, strength and stamina. But how do players like Michael Llodra outplay and outwit ones like #7 Tomas Berdych in the first round? Or how Robert Kendrick was able to take Gael Monfils to 6-4 in the fifth set, or Viktor Troicki take Novak Djokovic to 6-3 in the fifth as well? Or even how newly-fit Mardy Fish was forced to five sets against Jan Hajek, even while winning three of them 6-0, 6-0, 6-1? Tennis is a strange sport and it is hard enough picking winners on any given day when the weather is mild. Throw in 140-degree temperatures on-court with not a single cloud in the sky, and you have the recipe for any top player’s nightmare. At these temperatures it’s hard to argue that a win comes about because of fitness or physical capabilities when neither player retires from the match. Instead it seems to favor the one who is able to squeak by with a few more winners and more playing experience on a big stage. Both players are battling the same demon and this is when mental toughness sets the two players apart.

Tomas Berdych. September 1, 2010

The first three days at the US Open were filled with storylines about cinderella stories and other notable exits by top players, such as Andy Roddick going out to Janko Tipsarevic in surprising fashion. But as tennis fans we expect this sort of drama to happen. In fact, it’s almost a pre-requisite to viewer involvement; it’s what makes tennis so exciting and unpredictable. But then one question still remains for me: why do we insist on calling all of these losses ‘surprise exits’ if we expect them to inevitably happen? What’s your take?

Novak Djokovic Makes Funny Analogies at the US Open; Fan Fight During Djokovic Match

I was going to write about the Meaning of Life today, but I put it aside when I got a hot tip to write about Novak Djokovic’ match versus Viktor Troicki that went down on the opening days of the last major tournament of the year 2010.

Novak Djokovic had a hard time earlier this week playing in the hot hot sun at the US Open.  He was down two sets versus fellow countryman Viktor Troicki and it didn’t seem like The Djoker was able to turn the tables this time. Not with the full sun heating up the court.

Troicki must have thought that he had bagged the match already when an epiphany struck  The Djoker. With the sun going down and the shades providing cool air,  The Djoker rallied and turned the tables and bagged the match in five.

Brad Gilbert asked him what the shade felt like and The Djoker just gave the perfect analogy:

And this is what The Djoker had to say at the press conference:

Q. Did you see the replay or the actual live shot of [Roger Federer's] tween the legs shot last night?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No. I’ve seen it live last year passing next to me (smiling). That’s enough traumatic experiences for me. Today when Viktor tried to do the same thing, I said, No, no, please. He was running for the ball between the legs. Please miss it. Please don’t embarrass me again.

Q. As somebody who does very good imitations, is that something you can imitate?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, definitely not. I am not as good as he is in that. I’d like to be very careful with my racquet (smiling). You know what I mean.

Q. You made a comment about sleeping with your girlfriend out on the court. What was that analogy to?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t know. He asked me for the comparison of the feeling, what kind of feeling was it to feel the shade. The sun came down and I didn’t have any more heat, what kind of feeling was it. It just came up to me. It’s one of the best feelings, I guess, when you’re sleeping with your close one. So I compare it to that.

Q. Must have felt good.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It felt unbelievable (smiling). Let’s get back to tennis now (laughter).

In other Djokovic news it seems that some attendants of his match versus Germany’s Philip Petzschner could have used some shade as well when things heated up and they got in a fight.

The horrors of having to witness that.

Update! The video of the incident can be seen below:

Paul Annacone Joins Team Roger Federer Full Time – The Friday Five

Player Down – In one of the scarier moments at the US Open in recent memory, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka collapsed on court near the tail end of the first set during her match encounter with Gisela Dulko. Heat was initially deemed the culprit behind the collapse (and it probably did add to the situation), but it was later confirmed that Azarenka was suffering from a mild concussion, which came as a result of a fall she had taken earlier in the day. In hindsight, Azarenka should recognize the foolishness of her actions in staying on the court. Health should never be that severely compromised, and there were plenty of signs that she needed to throw in the towel well before she collapsed. But at the same time, I have to applaud Azarenka. Many a player has retired from a match for far less than she was experiencing, and while she did push the limits too far, I do admire her attitude of wanting to try to find any way to cross the finish line, even when things aren’t going well.

It’s Official – It’s probably no surprise, but Roger Federer did confirm prior to the start of the US Open that Paul Annacone would be joining his team full time. While Annacone is with Federer in New York, Annacone will not be able to go full time with Federer until he finishes his commitment with the LTA later this year. Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi will also remain a part of the Federer team. All are in agreement that having Annacone in his corner is likely to pay some big dividends for Federer down the road, and it would appear that Annacone’s advice is already creeping into the “Maestro’s” game, with Federer finding his way to net with increasing frequency. There’s still plenty of tennis to be played, but a major win in their first Slam together as official coach and pupil could be in the cards for Annacone and Federer.

Hall Bound? – Earlier this week, the International Tennis Hall of Fame announced the names of those individuals who will be on the ballot for possible 2011 induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the spotlight belonged to Andre Agassi. There were a few grumblings about the Hall putting Agassi forth as a candidate after he had confessed in his autobiography Open to using drugs, but Agassi’s situation is not the same as the performance-enhancing drug problem that baseball currently faces and should not stand in the way of his candidacy for induction consideration. Hard to imagine he won’t make the cut at the first time of asking, so expect to see him take his place among the legends next July.

Roddick Bounced – A few upsets have already occurred at the 2010 US Open, including the loss of Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych to tricky Frenchman Michael Llodra in his opening match on Wednesday. But later that same night, in a men’s second round encounter, Janko Tipsarevic caused an even bigger upset, bouncing crowd favorite Andy Roddick in four sets. While this match did go down as an upset (and certainly a disappointment to the home crowd), it wasn’t a total shocker. Tipsarevic has shown he can produce phenomenal tennis, as few will forget his memorable five-set encounter with Federer at the 2008 Australian Open. That was the kind of spectacular brand of tennis Tipsarevic brought to the court this past Wednesday, and coupling that with the fact that mono prevented Roddick from being match tough going into the Open proved a recipe for disaster for the veteran American. The question to keep an eye on for now will be how Tipsarevic follows up that win in his next round.

Spare a Thought – A former Top-10 player, who along with countryman Nicolas Massu brought glory to Chile at the 2004 Summer Olympics, Fernando Gonzalez now finds his career in a freefall thanks to a niggling knee injury. The Chilean had only been able to compete in one other tournament since Wimbledon, and it showed. After dropping the first set in a tiebreak in his first round match with Ivan Dodig, Gonzalez appeared just a shadow of his former self, quickly surrendering the second set before retiring from the match down 1-0 in the third. A colorful character who hits his forehand as big as anybody, my fingers are crossed that his body cooperates and allows him to have at least one more go near the upper echelons of the game.

By Maud Watson

Azarenka Collapses on Court: A Strange and Terrible Saga

So this article will be short today. I am in a foul mood.  I always had a thing for Victoria Azarenka ever since I watched her play at the Australian Open 2009. Watching YouTube videos and reading Fastscript interviews followed quickly after that to feed my infatuation. Every interview I could find of her, I read.  And every tournament she played, I would check the draw to see if she’s got a half decent chance of winning it.

I am not asking for much but a win, much like the one she recorded at Stanford a few weeks ago, every now and then would be great. Especially with a victory over fellow Russian countrywoman Maria Sharapova.

With the Stanford win in her pocket, a good run at the US Open 2010 seemed very very possible. I secretly even dreamed of her winning the 2010 edition of the final major of the year.

Alas, this afternoon while I was surfing the net and keeping scores in my browser I received the notification  that Azarenka had collapsed and was wheelchaired off the court during her match versus Argentinan Gisela Dulko. Azarenka trailed 5-1 in the first set.

Of course, major panic struck on the court. Her trainer and tournament officials came rushing to check if Vika was still breathing.

“I was scared,” Dulko said. “She went to the floor. I was worried for her. I went to see her, brought some ice, did whatever I could do to help.”

The weather has been incredibly hot at the US Open since the start. With temparatures during the day rising to mid 90s.  But tournament officials did not activate the Extreme Weather Policy which allows for icebags and a request for a 10-minute break amongst other things during changeovers.

“It’s tough to play out there,” Dulko said. “It’s really hot, really humid. You sweat so much, sometimes it’s impossible to hold the racket.”

And Dulko is pretty much right. Playing under these circumstances is tough and for a player who has a history of not being able to cope with heat like Azarenka (retired match versus Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2009) it must be even tougher.

But then tweets started to appear about Azarenka bumping her head prior to the match. If that is so, then why did no one even do a quick medical examination before the match started? Just to see if she can actually play.

And John Koblin from The Observer wrote the following from the pressroom:

The early consensus in the press room seems to be that this was likely related to her fitness, and not exclusively a reflection of the heat out there. It’s just over 90 degrees now, and it was hotter at times yesterday.

Yes, hotter at times yesterday. But she didn’t play yesterday. She may have practiced but that’s different from a match.

The WTA was asked for a comment but they were quick to say that it is up to the USTA. The USTA came with the following statement:

US Open Tournament Referee Brian Earley said in a statement following the match: “Victoria Azarenka retired from her match with headache-like symptoms. She was taken to a nearby hospital for diagnostic testing. Out of respect to her privacy, we cannot give any more details. However, we can say that this does not seem to be primarily a heat-related illness.”

Greg Couch of Fanhouse was quick to Tweet that all this may be a cover up. But then again, a cover up for what? Surely something must be at stake, if there are any cover ups in the first place.

Azarenka wobbling from the start in high heat. WTA won’t comment. USTA gives odd statement she had a headache-like. That passes smell test? – Greg Couch

With temparatures rising up until 90 degrees, things outside decay quicker. Let’s hope that this one doesn’t and that we get a full explanation in either a  press release or a press conference.

An early conclusion based on the reports I have read is that her collapse on the court could very well be a combination of two things: The heat and her bumping her head prior to the match. But then the question still remains: Why wasn’t there a medical examination before she started her match versus Dulko?

Azarenka’s official statement is as follows:

“I was warming up in the gym prior to my match against Gisela Dulko when I fell while running a sprint,” Azarenka later said in a statement. “I fell forward and hit my arm and head. I was checked by the medical team before I went on court and they were courtside for monitoring.

“I felt worse as the match went on, having a headache and feeling dizzy. I also started having trouble seeing and felt weak before I fell.

“I was taken to the hospital for some medical tests and have been diagnosed with a mild concussion.”

Check the gallery and video to see how Victoria Azarenka lays on the Grandstand court and later is wheeled off in a wheelchair.

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