Matt Ebden

Gallery: Opening Weekend at Citi Open with Del Potro, Petkovic, Raonic, Haas and More

Play is already in full swing as qualifiers took to the courts for their matches, and top players like Juan Martin del Potro, Andrea Petkovic and Tommy Haas hit the practice courts on a hot weekend in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Citi Open.

Check out the full gallery from opening weekend, including other players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Irina Falconi, Jessica Pegula, Rhyne Williams, Donald Young, Christian Harrison, Caroline Garcia, Matt Ebden, and Sloane Stephens.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

[nggallery id=144]

Li Na and Andy Murray on the Cusp of Breakthrough — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Thrice as Nice

They call it the “Happy Slam,” and no one seems happier to compete in Oz than Novak Djokovic. The Serb became the first man in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open singles titles, with his latest coming over Andy Murray. It was a classic match from Djokovic. He bounced back from the disappointment of losing a tight first set, scraped by in the second, and then found the confidence to play top-flight tennis to win the next two with relative ease and secure his sixth major singles title. As he did last year, Djokovic has announced his goal is to capture that elusive singles crown at Roland Garros, and just as was the case in 2012, his win in Melbourne has given him the perfect start to mount such a campaign. But unlike last season, he doesn’t have the 41-match win streak to defend, nor does he have the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated streak against Nadal. He should be able to play with less pressure, which arguably makes 2013 his best chance yet to win Roland Garros. It may be months away, but many, perhaps none more so than Djokovic, are already gearing up for springtime in Paris!

Unsettling

That’s one of the ways to describe the feel of the Australian Open women’s final and ending result, as Victoria Azarenka defeated Li Na to successfully defend her 2012 crown. The crowd was always going to be in Li’s corner, but at after the controversy that followed Azarenka’s win in the semis, they were firmly entrenched in the Li camp. They let Azarenka know it, too. She entered the stadium to a chorus of boos, and the crowd was quick to jump on her if she so much as put a toe out of line. Ironically and fittingly, Azarenka also had to endure three delays – one for fireworks and two for medical timeouts for Li. But Azarenka overcame it all, and as she won the final point, she broke down in tears. The dream was realized, the nightmare over. She’ll likely never be a fan favorite, but the way she was made to earn that final victory helped with damage control. Many were impressed that she didn’t crumble under the media frenzy or lose her way after the extended breaks, and there was no denying that she had handled the bigger moments better than Li. Her genuine tears were also a nice touch. For her part, Azarenka stated she would always remember the court and hinted that she, too, had learned an important lesson that fortnight. Hopefully she does take away more than just a trophy from Melbourne and we can look forward to better things from the WTA No. 1.

On the Cusp

They both fell short at the final hurdle, but Murray’s and Li’s deep runs in Australia bode well for their chances in 2013. Playing in his first slam since becoming a major champion, Murray handled the added pressure and expectations admirably. In the final, it was evident that Djokovic still has the edge in the mental department, but the days of Murray turning into a shrinking violet in the biggest matches are over. He’s firmly a member of the Big 4, and with the current landscape of the ATP, is also looking more and more likely to be the Serb’s chief rival for the sport’s grandest prizes. A trip to the Aussie Open championship match represented an even bigger breakthrough for Li, as it’s the first time she’s reached a slam final since winning at Roland Garros in 2011. She’s still struggling to play clutch tennis when it matters most, but with her fitness, game, and overall consistency improving since bringing Rodriguez onboard, it’s only a matter of time before she catches up in the mental toughness department, too. Another major title looks well within the realm of possibility for the endearing woman from China.

Double the Pleasure

It got overshadowed by the singles, but the doubles competition in Oz provided plenty of feel-good and historical moments. The wildcard pairing of Gajdosova and Ebden pulled off a string of upsets to give the home crowd something to cheer about by taking the mixed doubles crown, and the crafty Italian duo of Vinci and Errani blazed a path to the final – one that included a win over the Williams Sisters – to take their third major championship as a team. But the biggest story belonged to the Bryan Brothers. They defeated the unseeded pairing of Haase and Sijsling for their 13th major to break the tie they shared with Newcombe and Roche and become the most successful men’s doubles team in Grand Slam history. With the twin Americans announcing that they hope to play until Rio in 2016, it would be a stunner if we didn’t see them continue to add to their legacy.

Matters of the Heart

Tennis fans, and particularly American tennis fans, have anxiously been awaiting the return of Mardy Fish to the ATP circuit. Unfortunately Fish, who was supposed to compete in San Jose, has been forced to withdraw with the same heart issues that have kept him sidelined since he pulled out of his Round of 16 clash with Roger Federer at last year’s US Open. At age 30, Fish doesn’t have a lot of time left, but he also needs to exercise plenty of caution. Hearts issues are obviously more serious than blisters or joint pain. Hopefully his withdrawal turns out to be nothing more than a short, temporary setback, but if is something more, Fish may be forced to make his absence from the ATP World Tour into a permanent one.

Australian Open Grounds Pass: Beatlemania with Federer and “Team” Dimitrov

Jesse Pentecost is on the grounds of the Australian Open, covering matches and practice sessions and giving you an intimate behind-the-scenes look of the tennis season’s first Slam.

By Jesse Pentecost

I would be overstating the case to say that more than a minority believed Grigor Dimitrov to defeat Julien Benneteau. Even among those of us who predicted it, the prediction was for an upset, which by definition entails a lesser player beating his or her ostensible superior. But it was widely felt Dimitrov had a chance. After all, the two men are only ranked six places apart, and it was only by the grace of Rafael Nadal and John Isner’s knees that the Frenchman is actually seeded. Either way, it was sure to be a close match, and well-worth the meager effort of loitering next it.

Following an hour’s flânerie around the practice courts – I can declare with some authority that Dominika Cibulkova is shorter than Ana Ivanovic – I ensconced myself courtside for the match. The court was Court 13, and there was no camera, meaning I had one of the best views in the entire world of the famous upset destined to unfold at some unspecified time after 11am. I found myself seated next to Dimitrov’s coach and fitness trainer. I asked his trainer what ‘Come on’ was in Bulgarian. He didn’t know, but did concede he was nervous.

It’s never a bad idea to embed yourself with the support staff, if only so that when their charge begins glaring beseechingly at his coach, you can pretend he or she is looking at you. It also heightens the vibe. It probably would have heightened it even more had Dimitrov won, or even won a set. Word came through that Maria Sharapova had delivered the tournament’s first double bagel, against the appropriately named Olga Puchkova. Unfortunately this word didn’t reach Dimitrov, who clearly needed more inspiration than his support team and I could collectively muster. What he didn’t need was more backhand errors, although I suspect he’d already cornered the world’s supply. Benneteau, a true professional, was unrelenting in exposing that wing, and the Bulgarian seemed powerless to stop him.

I recommenced my ambling. The toilet block beside Court 14 had malfunctioned, and a noisome musk blanketed the far corner of the grounds. I fled to Court 8, where Sorana Cirstea was seeing off Coco Vanderweghe, the most American-sounding athlete since Misty Hyman. With time to kill before Ryan Harrison and Santiago Giraldo materialised, I loafed over to the practice courts, stopping briefly to see Victor Hanescu break Kei Nishikori back, eliciting a roar of stony silence from the predominantly Japanese crowd. Caroline Wozniacki was practicing nearby, perfecting the technique of scurrying backwards after returning serve, while Alexandr Dolgopolov had was hitting up with Marcel Granollers, for some reason.

I swung by Court 16 – the practice court of champions – in order to observe the purportedly fraught moment when Roger Federer made way for Bernard Tomic, an event that was apparently scheduled and symbolic. Lest you’ve missed the beat-up: Switzerland and Australia’s best male players have allegedly been engaged in a war or words, although from reading the press transcripts it seemed less like a war than an amiable cup of tea. Naturally the media had obtained one of the teacups, and discovered that it contained a storm. The storm was that, when asked about a possible third round encounter, each man pointed out that the other guy would have to get there first. This unremarkable point was immediately apprehended, and duly repurposed as a mortal insult. The only question really was who would throw the first punch.

I arrived to discover 4,700 less disinterested people had gotten there first. Federer was hitting up with Gilles Simon, who’d unfortunately misplaced his coach. Since the Swiss has two, he lent Severin Luthi to the Frenchman, which I thought generous. I did wonder precisely how usefully this would prepare Federer for Benoit Paire. I decided that nothing can usefully prepare one for Paire, so there’s no use even trying.

As ever, Federer’s practice session ended early, so that he could spend time appeasing the adoring masses. And a mass they were. I remarked at the time that it was like Beatlemania. There was a particularly hysterical timbre that female squeals attained whenever the Fab Four took the stage, an exaggerated ululating shriek that had gone unheard since primordial times. Young people were making exactly that noise today whenever Federer strayed within arm’s reach. Federer, working his way along line, took it in his stride as teenage girls swooned and cascaded to the ground in his wake. He knows as well as anyone that their adulation has little to do with his craft, and everything to do with his fame, and it’s to his credit that fame hasn’t overly insulated him from the appropriate human reaction. He hides his bemusement well, but it’s certainly there. Seated across the court, Simon’s bemusement wasn’t hidden at all – it was clear in his sardonic grin. Tomic turned up, but Federer was still being feted elsewhere, and I couldn’t see that they exchanged words, let alone blows. I am confident someone will spin it as an icy dismissal.

Next to me a boy proudly showed his friends the oversized souvenir ball whose value Federer had marginally enhanced by adding some ink to it. He wasn’t a young boy, and I’m not convinced a signature is something genuinely worth craving. But his friends’ awe was genuine enough, and the boy was authentically swept away. Directly behind me Xavier Malisse was easily accounting for Pablo Andujar. In 2002 I recall explaining to anyone who’d listen that Malisse was the next big thing, unlike Federer, whose game I found attractive even as I decried its inconsistency. It has been a long eleven years. Malisse won comfortably, but there was no squealing. Sam Stosur won, and there were merely long, shuddering sighs of relief, rippling across the grounds.

Harrison was by this time marshalling his forces on Court 8. Through a scrappy set and half the disparate components of his outrage were separately rehearsed, although he had yet to combine them all in a full-blown tantrum, as he is contractually obliged to do at least once per match. He dropped the first set to Giraldo – his proto-nemesis – then gradually climbed on top during a second set short on highlights, bar the backhand pass up the line with which the American finally broke and levelled the match. Since he looked to be going on with it, I left him to his toils.

From there I looked in Stan Wawrinka, who as expected was delivering stern lessons to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. Upon losing Stebe tore off his ridiculous yellow headband, and stormed from the court with newfound purpose, knocking elderly spectators flying. Agnieszka Radwanska, after briefly flirting with the possibility of playing the odd tight set – and thus causing concerned journalists to quibble at her recent schedule – thought better of it and went back to dishing out bagels.

Margaret Court Arena was now free, and thither I sauntered, reflecting as I did that I was running dangerously short on similes for walking casually. Luckily the two men walking out onto MCA were Mikhail Youzhny and Matt Ebden, and they were about to commence a five set classic. I wouldn’t be casually walking anywhere for a while.

For the second year in a row, Ebden fell to a seed after holding a two set lead. Last year it was Nishikori, and this year it was heartbreaking, through being closer. Youzhny saved a match point late in the fourth, before forcing the fifth. It was tremendous, although I was quick to note that most of the crowd, extravagantly bunted in Australia’s flag and given to unharmonsied chanting, found the outcome less inspiring than I did. But they were generous in applauding the Colonel as he saluted them. He’d earned it. They’d earned it.

I strolled out, elated, and discovered someone had stolen my bicycle helmet. So it goes.

ATP Brisbane Preview: What players will shine?

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

The 2013 ATP World Tour season kicks off this week with three different events. There are 250-level tournaments in Brisbane, Doha, and Chennai. And while Doha has carried the most star power of those three tournaments in the past few years, this year that really isn’t so true. I’m not going to compare the strength of the draws, but the top players competing this week are definitely more spread out than they have been in the past few years.

Last year, Brisbane carried with it a bit of a tease. James Duckworth, a then-19-year-old Australian player, received a Wild Card into the Main Draw and really played well. He pulled off a great upset of Nicolas Mahut in the first round and really pushed Gilles Simon in the second. He followed that up with a win at the Australian Open in Melbourne but has really fallen off of form since then. He was losing to bad players in Challengers and Futures at the end of 2012 and just lost in the second qualifying round in Brisbane this year. I saw his talent last year and am still waiting for him to break through, but it won’t be in Brisbane this year.

The question, though, is what can Brisbane teach us this year? What young players can showcase the beginning of their season and what veterans can impress us moving into the Australian Open? The answer to that latter question is a bit tricky, actually. Because on some level, sometimes it’s not so good to see players exert themselves so much right before a Slam. For example, a great run by Jurgen Melzer here would not bode well for his time in Melbourne because he is playing in Auckland next week as well.

So who am I looking at? For starters, there’s a first-round match between David Goffin and Matthew Ebden. Goffin really came into form last summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) and ended with an impressive season. At the young age of 22, he looks like he can be a top 20 player or higher if he can sustain the form he brought to Wimbledon last year. Ebden, meanwhile, has been an up-and-comer so long that he is risking becoming a journeyman. He has the talent to break through and be a solid top 50 player, but will probably never really challenge for Slams. This match can tell us a lot more about Ebden than Goffin right now, but Goffin is the one to keep an eye on if you want to see someone with future Grand Slam potential.

I am also keeping an eye on Brian Baker. Baker returned to tennis from years of injury and surgeries and won his first 7 (including qualifying) tour-level matches to reach the final in Nice. Exhausted, he still took Gilles Simon to 5 sets in the second round at Roland Garros and followed that up by winning 6 matches at Wimbledon to come through qualifying and reach the fourth round. He could not equal that success the rest of the year and only won two more Main Draw matches in tournaments the rest of the year. He actually has top 10 potential and this could give us a good indication as to whether he will be able to compete at a high level when we watch Melbourne in two weeks.

There are very few of the top seeds that I am worried about seeing this week. For them, these pre-Slam tune-ups are about finding a rhythm and getting used to match play again after an extended break, and not so much about winning. It’s always nice to win, of course, but their main goal is to prepare themselves to do their best at the Australian Open. So when I’m watching the top 5 seeds here, I’m not so worried about their intensity level so much. I just want to see consistency and no major flaws in their form. I’m not so worried if players like Murray, Simon, or Nishikori lose early, even to bad players, as long as their loss comes more from disinterested play than poor play.

The one player who I want to see play as much as possible but who I just feel bad about pulling for is Lleyton Hewitt. I see Hewitt play against the top players and I just always realize that he can still compete as long as his body holds up. Once fatigue hits, though, he doesn’t stand a chance against anyone. So I want to see him work his way into form here so that he can have another miraculous run at the Australian Open. But I know that the more he plays here the more likely it is that he won’t be able to compete as long in Melbourne. The best warm-up he can have here for his Australian Open would be a tough, well-played, straight-sets loss to Andy Murray in the third round. He can’t go as deep as any of the top players anymore, but counting him out of any match is always a bad idea.

Stosur powers past Falconi into the third round of Roland Garros

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Number six seed Sam Stosur powered past Irina Falconi in straight sets to set up a third round match against Nadia Petrova.

Stosur broke Falconi’s first and second service games to comfortably win the first set 6-1 in 25 minutes. During the second set, both players held serve until Stosur broke in the fifth game, a break that she held to win the set 6-4 in 38 minutes. Although she double faulted on the first match point, and Falconi was able to get a few break point opportunities during the match, Stosur looked powerful and in control.

Update on Aussie action from Round 1: Tomic and Gajdosova through to 2nd Round

It was perfect weather for tennis on the opening Sunday of Roland Garros as Stosur kicked off the first match on Court Philippe Chatrier, serving up a strong performance to beat British No.1 Elena Baltacha 6-4, 6-0.

After taking only an hour to complete the match, Stosur left the court smiling and looking relaxed.

Stosur and her supporters will be hoping the stunning weather continues, which it has so far.

“If it’s not sunny, it plays dead. If it’s sunny, it’s great for Sam,” commented Stosur’s coach David Taylor.

Casey Dellacqua won the first set against 21st seed Italian Sara Errani before losing in three sets. Likewise Anastasia Rodinova lost to French player Mathilde Johannson in a tough three set match.

Despite his will to win and the support of the crowd, Lleyton Hewitt lost in four sets to Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic. Hewitt plays next on grass as a wildcard recipient at Queens.

Matthew Ebden lost his first ever match at Roland Garros in four sets, to German 24th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.

After the match Ebden took a positive approach on his Facebook page:

“Played a good match today and improved lots of things but couldnt quite get there Phillip served and played very well. Quite disappointed of course but excited with all the improvements I have to make.”

Bernard Tomic had more success, achieving his first ever win at Roland Garros by defeating Austrian qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer in three sets. Tomic plays Santiago Giraldo in the 2nd round.

Although wild card recipient Ashleigh Barty was beaten by Wimbldeon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets in less than an hour, the sixteen year old gained a lot from the experience, tweeting:

“Tough day yesterday. Was a great experience to play Petra on such a big occasion! I’ve learnt a lot and can’t wait to play again next here (hopefully :)

Jarmila Gajdosova progressed through the draw after Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova retired in the second set due to a spine injury. Gajdosova plays number nine seed Caroline Wozniaki in the 3rd round.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on all the Australian players’ progress throughout the main draw of the French Open.

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.