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Andy Roddick conquers qualifier and reveals birthday wish for US Open

Andy Roddick in action at day two of the US Open

By Romi Cvitkovic

Andy Roddick prevailed in straight sets over qualifier Rhyne Williams, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 at day two of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, hitting 20 aces and clocking his fastest serve at 141mph.

“I haven’t hit 140mph for about three years, so that was nice,” Roddick beamed during his on-court interview.

Though Roddick hasn’t had great success on the summer hard court season this year, getting booted in the first and third rounds of Cincinnati and Winston-Salem, respectively, he looked in form today.

The 20th seed won 90% of all first serves and 23-of-32 net approaches. His movement wasn’t hampered by the tricky windy conditions as he hit 37 winners for the match, and finished with a 127mph ace out wide.

With his 30th birthday only two days away, Roddick has a birthday wish in mind.

“I want to be around until next week,” he smiled. And what if he accomplishes that feat? “Then, we’ll re-negotiate!”

Turning professional in 2000, Roddick has now improved his record at the US Open to 41-11. And nobody has won more matches on Arthur Ashe stadium — not even Roger Federer.

Williams, ranked No. 289 in the world, made his Slam debut by blasting through the qualifying tournament last week, only to meet Roddick on tennis’ biggest stadium for his first main draw match.  But hey, don’t feel bad for him. He still won $23,000 for losing in the first round.

US Open 2012 – Who’ll make up the big four?

John Isner

By Ian Horne, editor of Live-Tennis.com and US Open Tennis Live Stream

The US Open begins shortly and there’s a growing sense of expectation in the tennis world. We seem to be poised for one of the best slam events of all-time, featuring an outstanding cast of world-beaters. Amongst these are Roger Federer, Andy Murray and defending champion Novak Djokovic.

There’s no doubting that these three will be the main title contenders. Federer looks red-hot right now, Djokovic is still in scintillating form, and Murray might just be ready to enter the slam-winners circle following his Olympic gold glory at the All-England Club. There seems to be one question going unanswered though, and that is ‘who will replace Rafael Nadal in the big four at Flushing Meadows?’

With Rafa sidelined due to Hoffa’s syndrome, a space has potentially opened up for one of the ATP’s other stars to step up to the plate. Here’s a look at some of the players who could shoot to prominence in the next two weeks.

Live-Tennis.com‘s feature writer Ian Horne takes a look at the players who could fill-in for Nadal at the US Open

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Tsonga is perhaps the biggest threat to the big four and the man with the best credentials to take up Rafa’s mantle. Back-to-back semi-final appearances at Wimbledon in the last two years and a runner-up finish at the 2008 Australian Open are amongst the Frenchman’s achievements. Tsonga is more than just a popular outsider. His forehand is amongst the most lethal shots on the tour and his all-round athleticism makes him a hard man to beat, especially when he rushes the net.

Juan Martin Del Potro

Del Potro earned a reputation as one of the ATP’s elite players when he won the 2009 US Open. Sadly, his rise to the top was hampered for the next two years due to a subsequent injury to his right wrist. The 2012 season has marked a welcome return to the big time for Del Potro. He’s performed well in all of the slams this season, capping his achievements with a bronze medal at the Olympics.

John Isner

2012 has been a great year for John Isner. The 6’9” American has cracked the top ten for the first time in his career. Big guys like Isner are often caricatured as lumbering powerhouses that can’t hold their own in a rally. This isn’t true of Isner, who possesses an array of effective ground strokes. His movement isn’t at all bad either. Surprisingly, slam performances have been disappointing from Isner this season. Expect more from the 2011 quarter-finalist in Flushing Meadows. He tends to excel in front of the New York crowd.

Milos Raonic

Raonic is a bit unique in this group of players due to the fact that he’s never been beyond round one in this event. Don’t let this fool you. The Canadian is the ATP’s most exciting young gun. Like Isner, there’s more to Raonic than meets the eye, but it’s often difficult to see beyond his rocket serve. It’s hard to believe that they find people willing to stand behind the baseline as a line judge when this guy is playing. There’s still a lot more for Raonic to learn, but there are few players out there with such great potential.

Other potential high-flyers

This group of players could be added to. For instance, 2003 champ Andy Roddick could feature in the latter stages. It will be a case of rolling back the years for the former world No. 1 if he’s to achieve anything. Sam Querrey might also be capable of reaching the latter stages. He’s been getting better and better since returning from elbow surgery.

There are also a few highly ranked players worth mentioning. David Ferrer is one of the world’s most consistent performers. He’s a former semi-finalist, but has never quite looked capable of winning a slam. Tomas Berdych could also be worth watching. For some reason, the Czech has always faltered in New York earlier than expected. Maybe he’ll make amends over the next two weeks.

Analyzing Time of Match Between Djokovic-Nadal

Nadal and Djokovic lean over in exhaustion after the Australian Open final

by Matthew Laird

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic contested their third consecutive Grand Slam final at the recently concluded 2012 Australian Open. It was by a wide margin their most competitive and exciting meeting at this stage. There was a great deal of high drama, multiple swings in momentum, and no shortage of stellar shot-making from both players. It was an epic match and will surely be remembered among the most exciting Grand Slam finals of all time. The match also had its place in history assured because it shattered the previous record for the longest Grand Slam final of all time, breaking the previous record set by Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl at the 1988 US Open by nearly an hour.*

It should come as no surprise that the length of the Nadal-Djokovic final, which was seven minutes short of six hours, was not due entirely to the quality of play. Both Nadal and Djokovic are known for their pace of play, which is – not to put too fine a point on it – quite slow. There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the amount of time taken between points, and Nadal and Djokovic are usually at the center of these complaints.

For anyone who may not be aware, there is a rule in both the ITF and the ATP rulebooks that states “play shall be continuous” and that limits the amount of time a server should be allowed between the end of one point and the beginning of the next to either 20 or 25 seconds, depending on which set of rules is being followed during the match (Grand Slam matches take place under ITF auspices). Both Nadal and Djokovic routinely go over this time constraint.

It is difficult for a casual tennis observer to try to figure out whether or not these delays are truly egregious, because the amount of statistical data that we have easy access to is severely limited. We cannot see precisely how much time is expended by each player in between points, how long points take on average, or any number of other stats that would be useful in trying to parse the seriousness of these concerns.

I’ve come up with a simple, blunt method of estimating the amount of time taken between points, using only data that’s available on either the ATP or Australian Open websites. To find the average length of a point, just take the match length and divide it by the total number of points. Granted, this includes the amount of time that the ball was actually in play in addition to the time taken in between points, so it is not as sophisticated a measurement as I would prefer, but it is the best method that I could come up with, given the information available.

Given that there were 369 points played over 5 hours and 54 minutes, the average length of each point in the Nadal-Djokovic final was 57.4 seconds – nearly a minute per point played. This is the longest amount of time per point for any Grand Slam final since the ATP started keeping track of these statistics. To fully understand whether or not that is an unusual stat, more historical data is necessary.

Prior to 2009, the seven slowest finals had all taken place at the French Open, which is as it should be, considering the court conditions at Roland Garros lead to more long, drawn-out rallies than at the other majors. The slowest-played finals up to that point were Nadal-Federer in 2006 and Kuerten-Corretja in 2001, which both took about 47 seconds per point. The fastest-played finals have been at Wimbledon (again, no surprise there), where Sampras-Becker in 1995 took 29 seconds for each point, Agassi-Ivanisevic in 1992 took 27, and Sampras-Ivanisevic in 1998 took 25.5 seconds.

The trend over the last twenty years has generally been towards slower matches. This is partly because the serve-and-volley game has become significantly less common, so that almost all points are decided by baseline rallies, which necessarily take up more time. But I don’t think that fully explains the extent to which the pace of play has dropped.

While the most recent Grand Slam final was the slowest-played on record, it is important to note that the top six slowest are also the six most recent. The 2011 Djokovic-Nadal US Open took 56 seconds per point, their 2010 US Open meeting took 52.4, the 2011 Australian Open between Djokovic and Murray took 51.8, the 2011 Djokovic-Nadal final at Wimbledon took 50.2, and the 2011 French Open between Nadal and Federer took 48 seconds for each point.

Before the 2010 US Open, no Grand Slam final had been ever played at a pace of 50 seconds per point or slower. Since then, all of them except one have. That one involved Roger Federer, who is a very quick player and was able to bring the average down, even though he was playing on the red clay of Roland Garros. The other five finals all involved Djokovic, Nadal, and Andy Murray, all of whom take their time between points.

In all of these finals, there were many long, grinding rallies. All three of the players I just mentioned are fantastic defenders, but I have trouble believing that the rallies in all of these recent finals were so historically lengthy, on average, that they should be solely responsible for the unprecedented slow pace of the last half-dozen Grand Slam finals. It has to come down to the amount of time that these players are taking in between points.

I do not recall a single instance in the final of the umpire giving either Nadal or Djokovic a warning about taking too much time. Honestly, I can’t remember that happening in any of the six most recent finals. This is not a situation like what is happening with grunting in the women’s game, where people are saying that there ought to be a rule to deal with this behavior. There is a rule, it’s just being ignored.

There are some commentators (like Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim) who find the pace of play on the men’s side to be as frustrating as the grunting or shrieking on the women’s side. I think there’s an argument to be made that the time limit as it currently stands is no longer appropriate. The game has gotten significantly more athletically-demanding in the last ten or fifteen years, so perhaps players do need more recovery time between points. However, I do think that the ATP and the ITF should either change the rule or enforce it, because simply ignoring it because the game’s top players flout it so consistently is not an appropriate response.

Del Potro Back in the Top 10—and Poised to Climb Higher

delposhot

Rafael Nadal’s post-Davis Cup prophecy appears to be on its way to becoming a reality.

After defeating Juan Martin del Potro in the first reverse rubber, Nadal predicted the Argentine would be back in the top four at some point in 2012.

Del Potro has taken a huge step in that direction by hitting the top 10 in this week’s rankings, his first appearance back among the game’s elite in nearly a year and a half. This comes on the heels of the just-concluded Australian Open where he made the quarterfinals—the farthest he’s advanced at a Slam since his title-winning effort at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Since that time, it’s been a series of lows and highs for the 23-year-old: His ranking plummeted to the 400s after a serious wrist injury. That was then followed by a triumphant 2011, when he won two titles and worked his way back to the top 15.

Now, del Potro has made another huge step, and there’s a strong possibility that he can go even higher.

For one, there are a few players ranked above him that you would have to like his chances against. He has a winning head-to-head record against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic. Plus, based on current form, del Potro more than likely would be favored if he had to play Mardy Fish—whom he actually has a losing record against.

While potential wins against those players could give del Potro a ranking boost, facing members of the top five would be a different story. Against Novak Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and David Ferrer, del Potro has a combined 9-27 record.

Still, though, he has beaten all of the top five at least once—and he’s well-equipped to do so again. Del Potro possesses one of the biggest forehands in the game, as well as a punishing serve. He’s had success on all surfaces, ranging from reaching the semis at the French Open to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. And, of course, there is that U.S. Open win.

Winning another Grand Slam title might not happen this year, given the way Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray have made a habit of locking down the spots in the final four in the Majors. But there’s still plenty of ways del Potro can make his move back into the top four: mainly by posting consistent results at the game’s biggest events, such as the ATP Masters Series 1000 tournaments.

If he does that, del Potro will have made a true fortune teller of Nadal after all.

Djokovic Wins Epic Final Over Nadal to Take Australian Open Title

Novak Djokovic captures his third Australian Open title

by Lisa-Marie Burrows, Special for Tennis Grandstand

World No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic was victorious once again on Rod Laver Arena in a spectacular Australian Open Final to win his third straight major championship after defeating Rafael Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 at Melbourne Park.

The two current greatest players in the world locked horns for an epic 5 hours and 53-minutes in a match that had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, finishing at 1:37am local time. It was a war of attrition, physicality and mental strength between the rivals, but it was the defending champion, Djokovic, (who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open last year) that was victorious and retained his title in a marathon match.

The fitness of Novak Djokovic was questionable at the start of the match, as he needed almost five hours to fend off Andy Murray in the semifinals, but the Serb refused to give in to any aching limbs or fatigue in the long dual.

The opening set took an exhausting 1 hour and 20-minutes in which the level of play soared and dipped, as neither player was near their best. – yet. It had moments of sparkling shots and then inconsistency. Both players were finding their feet and settling into the occasion. Djokovic was adjusting to the immense spin generated from the Spaniard’s racquet, whilst Nadal was staring at his biggest rival of the season, seeking a way to end the torment of losing to him once again for a seventh time.

Eventually, it was the world No.2 who maintained the momentum to break serve in the 11th game at 7-5 and the Djoker looked slightly weary and temporarily out of sorts as he struggled with his rallies and the level of aggression from Nadal.

At the start of the second set, the change of shirt to a black top seemed to clear the mind of Djokovic as he turned into the beast in black. He became the dominant force, the hunter of the ball and he took his prey. Pressuring Rafa in the rallies and with outstanding service returns, the top seed seemed more at ease and quickly broke to go up 4-1. Nadal’s aggressive game plan faltered and he watched in awe as he saw Djokovic’s incredible return of serve frequently sail past him, as quickly as the set at 4-6.

Nadal’s confidence deteriorated in the third set and so did the range and depth of his shots. Perhaps thoughts of his previous three Grand Slam final defeats plagued his mind as he had no answer to the blistering backhands and fiery forehands flying off the Serb’s racquet. Nadal was pushed to his defensive limits, but to no avail, as Djokovic comfortably stole the set 6-2 after a thunderous forehand down the line.

The world No.2 showed to those who doubted his capability of winning at that point his strength, determination and true grit as he fought back in the fourth set. The crowd was delighted to see the match return to its highest quality of tennis. Nadal faced three break points at 3-4 but staved them off after returning back to his initial game plan: aggression. The Spaniard continually painted the lines with wide, deep balls, pulling Djokovic from one side to the other and the crowd roared with delight as the set was taken to a tiebreak. Both players achieved a mini-break, but it was Nadal who clinched it at 7-5 after Djokovic hit a forehand wide into the tramlines.

Nadal’s exquisite game climaxed as he continued to play immaculately. He broke to go up 4-2 in the fifth set as Djokovic began to look fatigued but was gifted a lifeline after an unusually sloppy game from the Spaniard, who hit a backhand long enabling the Serb to break back.

Djokovic was in the ascendency after staging his comeback in the fifth and with adrenaline pumping through his veins, he broke Nadal one further time for a 6-5 lead. He saved a break point before finally claiming the win and becoming crowned the Australian Open champion once again.

The 24-year-old Djokovic dispelled of all fatigue and soreness in his body and used his last piece of strength to tear off his shirt in celebration at the end after one of the most tumultuous and dramatic finals in the history of the game. He not only fought against the odds, he achieved one of the hardest quests possible in tennis- successfully defending a Grand Slam title.

It is very rare to see standing ovations for individual points, but thus was the quality of tennis by two superior athletes who showed irrepressible mental stamina as well as physical stamina. Neither player required medical attention and showed no signs of cramping. The match showed their superhuman efforts to fulfil a dream in the longest dual in history at the Australian Open. What other sport plays for more than 6 hours at this intense level?

Both players showed great heart, great character and are outstanding ambassadors for the sport. Their speeches were gracious in victory and defeat and after a long, fantastic two weeks of the tournament, the winner may have been Novak Djokovic, but the real champion is tennis, for having these two, remarkable sportsmen in it.

There Will Always Be Room for a Lleyton Hewitt Type in Men’s Tennis

Lleyton Hewitt still in the game

Lleyton Hewitt put on one of the most impressive performances of the 2012 Australian Open by making it to the fourth round and actually taking a set off defending champ Novak Djokovic.

And while he might be far removed from his glory days, one thing’s for sure: You can never count Hewitt out.

But why is that the case?

Surely with his game—built around court coverage and flawless groundstrokes—would lead to him getting blasted off the court by bigger and more powerful opponents. But as has been the case throughout the former number 1’s career, he’s been able to prove that line of thinking wrong. Hewitt has won 28 singles titles, including two Grand Slams: the ’01 U.S. Open and ’02 Wimbledon—all while suffering a significant size and weight disadvantage most of the time.

That’s something Australian Open quarterfinalists David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori can relate to. When those two take the court against 95 percent of the bigger boys on the ATP World Tour, they have to rely on their foot speed and baseline play to enable them to stay in the point, as well as pop off a carefully constructed winner.

And the old phrase “defense wins championships” is exemplified by Ferrer and Nishikori, as well as Hewitt. It’s nearly impossible to hit through or past any of the three as they’re all willing to chase everything down: forehand blasts, overhead smashes, drop shots—whatever it takes to get the point won.

Ferrer has been the best practitioner of this over the years: His career-high ranking is 4 and he’s won tournaments on clay, grass and hard courts. He’s No. 5 right now, and while it may be extremely difficult for him to crack the “Big 4” considering the way they’ve dominated. But Ferrer is so entrenched in his position right now, it would be hard to imagine how the players ranked below him can knock him out of that spot.

With what he’s shown at the Australian this year, Nishikori appears to be ready to take on that challenge. He made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, knocking off one of the hottest players—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—in five sets. And it’s not too far-fetched to like his chances against Andy Murray as both play with a similar style.

That “style” is reminiscent of what Hewitt brought—or rather “brings”—to the table. It’s how Michael Chang before him ended up with a place in Newport, RI, at the Tennis Hall of Fame. Hewitt will find himself there after his career is over, and perhaps when it’s all said and done, the same will be said of Ferrer and Nishikori.

On the Grounds: Australian Open Days 4 & 5

Andy Roddick

by Pey Jung Yeong, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Day 4 of Australian Open found itself as the battleground for two veterans and familiar rivals with Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick taking the centre stage, while Day 5 was the stage for two up and coming stars, but yet not so unfamiliar rivals – Bernard Tomic and Alexandr Dolgopolov. Whilst both matches ended on a sad note for me personally, both matches also lived up – to an extent – of the excitement and tension that they promised.

Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick had both been on the Tour for over 10 years, and had played each other 13 times (head to head 7-6 in Roddick’s favour) before this second-round encounter. Hewitt had the upper-hand in their early days, beating Roddick in the French Open, US Open and Australian Open before the American gained upper hand and starting beating Hewitt more comprehensively in their later years. Their matches were always closely-fought matches – their last match on the stage of a Grand Slam was in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon 2009, where Roddick prevailed in 5 sets.

Both were former world no.1s and Grand Slam winners. However, both were not quite the players they used to be, with injuries taking their toll. But both were still spirited fighters with a lot of heart and determination, and this encounter will showcase exactly that.

With the Australian crowd firmly behind their countryman, and quite a number of American supporters in the crowd, the second-match was a sell-out event, the arena packed full. The first set went to Roddick, with the American serving very well, and managing to take advantage of his chances in Hewitt’s service game to secure a break and the set.

The second set was a much closer affair – breaks were exchanged, Hewitt rallying very well, hitting shots to force Roddick to move all over the court. And then it happened – an injury. Roddick stretched himself to retrieve a shot, and awkwardly twisted the right side of his body, causing a hamstring injury. At that time, no one knew that would determine the outcome of the match, not even when Roddick went off court to receive treatment.

Roddick returned to court but he obviously wasn’t moving as well as before. He lost the second set, and held up well in the third set even as he went down an early break. He had breakpoints on Hewitt’s serve to level the set, but Hewitt grittily held his serve, hence winning the third set, and that was it for Roddick. He stayed out on court for as long as he was able to, and he knew he wasn’t able to go to the distance. After a short conversation with the doctor and trainer at end of the third set, he approached Hewitt to shake his hand, and it was over.

It is always sad when a match ends in retirement, but even more so for me in this case, because I carry sentimental feelings towards both players, and was looking forward to them doing the battle, just one more time in the ring. In the end, Hewitt moved on, but Roddick matched him in the display of heart and will.

In the battle of the young guns, Dolgopolov and Tomic had played each other three times before this clash, and Dolgopolov won all three matches. Both players play a similar type of game, favouring slices, unusual pace and placement of shots. One would rightfully assume that Dolgopolov plays the game better – but Tomic’s game had improved significant in the last few months. Added to the fact that Dolgopolov was struggling thus far in the tournament, an upset seemed to be written in the cards.
Dolgopolov took the first set in a fairly commanding fashion, and it seemed that this fourth match-up would be heading the same way as all other previous matches, before Tomic upped his game significantly. He took the next two sets, powering through the second-set tiebreaker, not even allowing Dolgopolov one single point, and took the third set through a poorly timed Dolgopolov forehand.

Dolgopolov then hit back, reeling off an impressive display of shot-making to wrap up the fourth set and force a decider, his third 5-setter and Tomic’s second. Somehow, I sensed that Tomic had the upper hand. The crowd was supporting him – an entire arena cheering his name, and heckling at Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian – whom I once praised for being calm under pressurised situations – completely fell apart in the fifth set. He wasn’t nervous or panicky, but he was angry. His anger, however, didn’t translate positively into his game, and soon he found himself down a break. Dolgopolov never recovered from that, and Tomic powered through to set a 4th round encounter with Roger Federer.

These two matches – between the “old” and the “young” – made me realise that tennis is a game, a sport, but it is not merely that. The beauty of the game is not just two people hitting a little green ball back and forth across a net. The beauty of the game is the people behind it: the story of the person, the history of the match, and the destiny that each player forged within themselves, and with one another.
This Australian Open had seen the battle between two former champions in Hewitt and Roddick. And very possibly, this year’s Open had also seen the battle between two future champions in Tomic and Dolgopolov.

Pey Jung Yeong is in Melbourne covering the Australian Open and writes for the tennis blog All I Need is a Picket Fence. You can follow her updates on twitter here.

Around The Corner: Sydney, Auckland and the Kooyong Classic

Juan+Martin+Del+Potro+Serbia+v+Argentina+Davis

With just over a week until the start of the Australian Open, there is little time to tinker with one’s game for the first Grand Slam of the year.

While the top four players in the world will be taking the week to rest themselves in anticipation for a deep-run in Melbourne, there are plenty of other of the game’s great players who are in action.

The ATP has two tournaments, one in Sydney and another in Auckland, while the Kooyong Classic exhibition will boast a strong field as well. Here’s a closer look at what tennis fans can expect.

Apia Sydney International

Juan Martin Del Potro starts his year in Sydney as the top seed. After making a strong return to the circuit last season following a wrist injury, the 2009 U.S. Open champion is ready to make some noise this year. Del Potro is certainly capable of challenging anyone in the top four and I would put him in the  mix of the few serious contenders at the Aussie Open.

The Argentine could see Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters here and then Feliciano Lopez who is the fourth seed. I would however, put the winner of the first round match between Viktor Troicki and veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt to advance against Del Potro in this section of the draw.

Hewitt has won the even four times, in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Don’t expect a repeat as his career is clearly on the downward spiral and injuries have taken their toll on the two-time Grand Slam champion. This may be the last year we see Hewitt playing on the ATP Tour, so enjoy him while you still can.

John Isner from the United Statesis the second seed. Patrick McEnroe recently stated that he feels Isner has the potential to reach the top ten in the ATP rankings. While I do not see that as being a realistic assessment for the 6’9” Isner just yet, this guy is certainly a strong top-thirty player who can cause incredible damage on a hard court due to his imposing serve. It will be Isner’s first action of the year so it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gate.

Isner could face either veteran Xavier Malisse or Radek Stepanek in the quarters and given his ranking he should be beating opponents like these. However, at this stage of the year anything is possible.

A likely semi-final opponent would be third seeded Richard Gasquet who had a solid week at the Hopman Cup where he defeated Fernando Verdasco, Lleyton Hewitt and Wu Di before falling to Tomas Berdych in the finals.

Heineken Open

All-court wonder and the always hustling David Ferrer is the number one seed in Auckland. Ferrer started the year off by making the finals of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and was the runner-up in that exhibition to Novak Djokovic. Ferrer starts his week off with a bye at the Heineken Open and will face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. In other words, a nice way to ease into the tournament.

Ferrer’s main opposition will be from third seeded Fernando Verdasco who has just competed in the Hopman Cup. There, the Spaniard defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, knocked-off Wu Di of China 6-3, 6-4 and was beaten by Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-4. So essentially, he won the two matches he was supposed to win and could not find a way to be competitive against a solid opponent in Gasquet. Never any consistency with Fernando, but he has the tools to go deep in any draw.

The second seed here is Nicolas Almagro, but unless we’re talking about a clay court match I wouldn’t count on this guy to get too far. While he did make the semi-finals in Chennai, the field was rather weak and he was no match for Canadian Milos Raonic who took him out 6-4, 6-4.

Look for guys like Philipp Kohlschreiber, Donald Young and perhaps Sam Querrey to enjoy some success in this draw. It is nice to see Young seeded in the tournament (7th) and hopefully able to build on a nice season in 2011. There is still so much potential with the American and he still has many years ahead of him despite already being a presence on the ATP Tour for several seasons.

AAMI Kooyong Classic

Always a high-quality exhibition tournament, the Kooyong Classic again boasts a strong field in 2012. Ten players make-up the draw that has both a championship and consolation side to it.

American Andy Roddick will be the most high-profile player involved and will make his season debut on the tennis court at Kooyong. Roddick’s buddy and current number-one American male tennis player, Mardy Fish, will also be present.

This year will be of the utmost importance to Roddick who struggled mightily a year ago. He needs to re-assert himself and prove to his fellow players that he is still relevant in the sport today. Usually a strong starter, Roddick will be one to watch closely here this week.

Continuing with North-American players, we have Canadian Milos Raonic who has just made the finals in Chennai. Raonic is going to be very exciting to watch this year, especially if he can stay healthy. This guy’s game is perfectly suited toWimbledonand it is no surprise that he grew up idolizing Pete Sampras.

The rest of the players here include Jurgen Melzer, Bernard Tomic, Tomas Berdych and recent Qatar finalists Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of all the stops this week, Kooyong will be the one I’m most interested in due to its very strong field.

Keep checking back with us all week long for updates and check out my Twitter feed as well if you like. Only one more week until the first Slam of 2012 so we have lots to look forward to!

The Importance of Week One

Roger+Federer+Rafael+Nadal+illuminated+candles+0IsCnmMxMnWl

With the 2012 season of the ATP World Tour just getting officially underway this week, tennis fans and media alike will be closely watching how the pros come out of the starting blocks.

The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (an exhibition) in Abu Dhabi last week and now regular events in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha, have provided an alphabetically-related quartet of venues whose results may or may not mean anything by the end of the year.

Players who struggle initially and suffer early round losses will attempt to quickly put those disappointments behind them, while winners will try to keep an even keel moving forward. Still, we should not be so quick to discount these early results when looking at the big picture.

The mental consequences of victory versus defeat in the early stages will certainly impact a players progress in the first few weeks on tour. Banking some points in January provides a confidence boost along with either a jump in ranking points or at the very least the ability not to drop in the standings.

Losing yesterday in Doha to Roger Federer means that Nikolay Davydenko can kiss about 150 ranking points goodbye that he had accumulated in the same tournament a year ago. His current ranking of 41st in the world is about to take a big hit and he can clearly forget about any hopes of being seeded at the Australian Open in two weeks.

A player like American Sam Querrey will also be distraught about his opening round loss to Victor Hanescu in Chennai in the opening round. After missing three months midway through 2011 to elbow surgery, Querrey was no-doubt optimistic about starting on the right foot this season. On the plus side for Querrey, he suffered three opening round losses in-a-row a year ago, and thus has no ranking points to defend. There’s only one way for Sam to go in the rankings in January and that is up. Still, he must now regroup and move on to the next tournament hoping his luck will change.

For the top-four of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray, these first couple of week’s will be used to jostle for the available confidence and swagger required to conquer the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia. Putting the seed of doubt in an opponent’s head is of equal value to owning that self-confidence. We all know how Djokovic was able to get into Nadal’s head last season and reel-off six consecutive victories in ATP finals on three different surfaces. That kind of dominance goes a long way into determining the final outcome of a match between two foes and getting an edge early-on is what all of these guys are hoping for.

Djokovic has already sent that opening message to his opponents with a strong result in Abu Dhabi. After needing three sets to defeat Gael Monfils, he thrashed Federer 6-2, 6-1 and then beat David Ferrer in the finals by the exact same dominating score. Lookout everybody, because Novak came ready to play.

Federer will hope to shake-off the loss to Djokovic and then Nadal in Abu Dhabi and instead look back to his impressive 17-0 finish to the 2011 season where he won three consecutive tournaments. Still, his early defeats to Djokovic and Nadal can’t make him feel great.

With Federer and Nadal playing in Doha and Murray in Brisbane this week, we’ll see who is ready to join Djokovic as an early front-runner prior to the January 16th start date in Melbourne. Regardless of what players of any ranking say to the press, the importance of week one is something we cannot deny.

Teenagers Tomic, Harrison Facing Great — Perhaps Too Many — Expectations

Bernard Tomic

First things first: Win a singles title.

For teenagers and top 100 ATP World Tour players Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison, that should be the top priority going into 2012. But with the way both of them have shot up the rankings over the past couple of years, much more is expected from the 19-year-olds.

That’s what happens when you make the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, like Tomic did last year—becoming the youngest player since the legendary Boris Becker to do so. Or when you make back-to-back semifinals during the 2011 summer hard-court swing, like Harrison did. Those results helped solidify the hype over the two, which has been essentially building since before they hit their teens.

But is that hype too much?

The two have both openly about being future Grand Slam champions, and with some of the wins they’ve notched early on, there could be reason to believe. However, the ATP rankings have had more than its fill junior-championship winners who haven’t seen that success translate to the pros in recent years.

The fact that Tomic and Harrison come from two of the nations with the deepest tradition in the game—Australia and the U.S., respectively—doesn’t exactly ease the pressure the two are facing. Questions have been around for years about the state of the game for both countries, and Tomic and Harrison have been hailed as keepers of the flame. That can be an enormous burden for anyone, tasked to follow in the footsteps of Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick—not to mention the all-time greats that came before them, such as Rafter, Agassi or Sampras.

And despite the highlights of their 2011 campaigns, Tomic and Harrison both had some growing pains off the court: Harrison was criticized for offering his opinion on how Roger Federer could hold on to the number-one ranking and Tomic’s “hooning” incident made headlines around the world.

Plus, neither one of the teens would ever be considered a genteel type when things don’t go their way between the lines! Maturity could go a long way in deciding their future paths.

The 2012 season kicked off with mixed results for the pair in Brisbane, Australia, this week: Number-eight seed Tomic defeated Julien Benneteau in three sets, while Harrison fell to veteran Marcos Baghdatis in straights.

Those two scorelines probably won’t do too much to slow or speed up the hype machine for either player. Still, eyes should be kept on Tomic and Harrison over the next 12 months—but perhaps the expectations should be tempered.

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