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What a Difference a Year Makes: Madrid in Blue vs. Madrid in Red

Should Madrid's experimentation really have made the ATP see red?

After the outcry caused by the audacious rhapsody in blue last year, the ATP essentially twisted the arm of the Madrid tournament into returning to its red roots.  But did the traditional surface really make a difference in the results of either the men’s or the women’s draw?  An analysis could use multiple angles, of which this article chooses just two.  First, it looks at the upsets of seeds by unseeded players in the first two rounds of Madrid over the last two years, the first on blue clay and the second on red clay.  Second, it looks at who ultimately reached the semifinals in both draws over those years.  This comparison between 2012 and 2013 aims to explore whether the change in surface correlates to significant differences in result patterns.

Of course, any single year can produce a skewed sample, so one could argue that singling out the current edition of Madrid does not fairly represent the overall trends of the event’s history on red clay.  That history remains quite young, however, for this year marks only its fourth on the surface.  And the blue-clay experiment lasted only a single year, so it seems appropriate to compare equal sample sizes highlighted by a comparable group of elite players.

 

Let’s start with the upsets angle, and with the WTA.  (Numbers refer to seeds.)

2012:

Lucie Hradecka d. 3 Petra Kvitova

Sorana Cirstea d. 7 Marion Bartoli

Petra Cetkovska d. 10 Vera Zvonareva

Varvara Lepchenko d. 11 Francesca Schiavone

Roberta Vinci d. 14 Dominika Cibulkova

Carla Suarez Navarro d. 15 Jelena Jankovic

Ekaterina Makarova d. 16 Maria Kirilenko

Almost half of the seeds (seven of sixteen) lost in the first or second round, a high number for an event of this quality.  On the other hand, five of the seven came from the 9-16 bracket, and Cirstea knocking off Bartoli on clay does not come as a huge surprise.  The latter has struggled regularly on the surface outside that single Roland Garros semifinal run in 2011, while the former earned her best result of any major with a quarterfinal there in 2009.  Another result that jumps out from this group, the Hradecka-Kvitova match, seems less startling in retrospect with the wild oscillations in Kvitova’s form over the last two years.  Kvitova also has made a habit of faltering against lower-ranked countrywomen, but this match still should raise an eyebrow because she was the defending champion in Madrid and fell to a heavy server, not a clay specialist.

Of the 9-16 upsets, Lepchenko defeating Schiavone surprises the most, and in fact the American ultimately reached the quarterfinals at this event.  That said, Madrid has witnessed other such unexpected results on red clay before, for which one need look no further than Aravane Rezai’s title in 2010.  Lepchenko also went back to work on the Italian battalions here this year, as you’ll see below.  Like Schiavone, Jankovic floundered through much of last season, so one should not read too much into her loss to rising clay talent Suarez Navarro.  Russians Zvonareva and Kirilenko usually have not enjoyed their clay seasons, and Vinci’s victory over Cibulkova looks merely like one clay specialist ousting another.  On the other hand, hindsight may dilute the magnitude of this upset, now that the Italian has risen above the Slovak in the rankings a year later. 

2013:

Ekaterina Makarova d. 3 Victoria Azarenka

Laura Robson d. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska

Madison Keys d. 5 Li Na

Daniela Hantuchova d. 8 Petra Kvitova

Carla Suarez Navarro d. 9 Sam Stosur

Yaroslava Shvedova d. 10 Caroline Wozniacki

Svetlana Kuznetsova d. 11 Nadia Petrova

Varvara Lepchenko d. 12 Roberta Vinci

Sabine Lisicki d. 15 Dominika Cibulkova

What comes around goes around for Vinci, it seems, an upset-maker in 2012 and the victim of an upset in 2012.  Kvitova also has found the Magic Box a house of horrors since winning the title here two years ago, her first career loss to Hantuchova this year adding some context to the Hradecka debacle last year.  And there’s just no curbing Lepchenko’s appetite for Italian cuisine in Madrid, while Cibulkova doesn’t seem to enjoy her time here in any color.  The heavy-hitting Lisicki’s upset of her in two tiebreaks suggests the impact of the Madrid altitude on amplifying serves, relevant no matter the surface.

Taking stock of the larger view, the carnage this week was staggering and becomes even more staggering considering the relative consistency that has developed at the top of the WTA over the last eighteen months or so.  Granted, Azarenka just returned from an injury absence and never plays her best on clay, nor does Radwanska.  But one would have expected the latter to win more than four games from a raw Laura Robson, even amid her recent slump, and Makarova did not topple Azarenka based on her superior clay-court expertise.  Madison Keys shares Robson’s and Makarova’s preference for faster surfaces, so her first-round rout of Li Na may have registered the greatest shock of all.  Just two years removed from her Roland Garros title, Li has continued to shine on clay with marquee finals in Rome last year and Stuttgart this year.  Any of those three upsets, though, came as a greater surprise than any of those in 2012.

The remaining upsets of top-10 players, those over Stosur and Wozniacki, spoke more to the recent struggles of both women and came at the hands of two players accomplished on clay.  They don’t add much to the overall picture.

The VerdictBoth years featured plenty of upsets, nearly half of the seeds falling in 2012 and over half of the seeds falling in 2013.  Three of the top ten fell last year and a ghastly six of the top ten this year in an even larger implosion.  Since most of the top women prefer somewhat faster surfaces to red clay anyway, that difference might actually demonstrate a point that the blue clay’s detractors cited:  the blue played more like other blue courts (e.g., hard courts) than like other clay courts.  Even so, seeing the best in the game play their best may matter more than any other goal, and last year offered more in that regard than this year did.

Let’s next see how the men fared in the upset category.

2012:

Marin Cilic d. 8 John Isner

Jurgen Melzer d. 13 Feliciano Lopez

Not much to see here, just two upsets before the final sixteen and both of men whom one would expect to exit early on clay.  In fact, these results counter perceptions of the blue clay as a much faster surface than the red, which the tournament’s later rounds would encourage.  Losses by Isner and Lopez, players built around explosive serves and short points, surprised much less than the upsets in the WTA draw in the same year.  I found the dearth of upsets by non-seeds in the ATP draw quite surprising, in retrospect, for it seemed amid the general tumult at the time that many more fell in the early rounds.

 2013:

Grigor Dimitrov d. 1 Novak Djokovic

Daniel Gimeno-Traver d. 8 Richard Gasquet

Juan Monaco d. 9 Janko Tipsarevic

Pablo Andujar d. 10 Marin Cilic

Mikhail Youzhny d. 11 Nicolas Almagro

Fernando Verdasco d. 12 Milos Raonic

In contrast to the previous year, the 2013 draw harvested a plentiful crop of upsets, including three members of the top ten.  The name looming above the list, of course, belongs to one of the two superstars who criticized the blue clay so vociferously.  We never will know how much a lingering ankle injury or the consequent lack of practice contributed to Djokovic’s opening-round loss.  Note, however, that he brought the injury and minimal practice to Monte Carlo two weeks before—and, surviving two early three-setters, ultimately won the title from Nadal.  While his slips, stumbles, and mishits on blue clay showed his discomfort with that surface, Djokovic slipped, stumbled, and mishit plenty of balls across three ragged hours of tennis.  Those parallels supported what some have observed over the last few years:  Madrid’s problems come not from the surface’s color but from its hasty, uneven preparation.

The second-most surprising result in my view came from Youzhny’s victory over Almagro, in which a seeded clay specialist near the top 10 fell to a rapidly fading fast-court specialist twenty slots below him.  That’s exactly the type of result that one might have expected on the blue clay, so its occurrence on the red reminds us that these counterintuitive results can happen there too.  Gasquet’s early loss also stands out (to a lesser extent) because of his past successes on clay and overall consistency in 2012-13.  All the same, Gimeno-Traver became the seventh player outside the top 30 to defeat the Frenchman since the US Open, showing that Gasquet remains more vulnerable to upsets than most of the top ten.

The upsets of Tipsarevic, Cilic, and Raonic registered little surprise because all three fell to players with much greater aptitude on clay.  By conquering the latter two, Andujar and Verdasco showed that the altitude perhaps does not offer massive servers as much of an advantage as some had thought.  Despite his top-ten ranking, Tipsarevic has lost to virtually every opponent imaginable this year as his dismal form has dogged him across all surfaces.

The Verdict:  In both quantity and quality, the Madrid men’s draw produced more notable upsets early in the week this year than last year, as did the women’s draw.  However you choose to interpret that difference, it certainly does not suggest that the traditional surface caused a return to normalcy—but quite the opposite.  Nevertheless, some more subtle thinkers might argue that rankings, and thus seedings, reflect a player’s performance on faster surfaces disproportionately compared with performance on clay.  Since the ATP still has plenty of clay specialists who make their living on the surface, the lack of upsets in 2012 ironically may suggest that the blue clay played more like a hard court, as many complained, since the seedings based predominantly on hard-court results dictated outcomes.  Food for thought…

Now let’s switch to the other angle of comparison and compare who reached the semifinals of Madrid in 2012 and 2013, ladies first.

2012:

1 Victoria Azarenka (d. 8 Li Na)

4 Agnieszka Radwanska (d. Varvara Lepchenko)

Lucie Hradecka (d. 5 Samantha Stosur)

9 Serena Williams (d. 2 Maria Sharapova)

To state the obvious, the top half played exactly according to form.  In fact, the only top-eight seed who did not reach the quarterfinals in that half was the aforementioned Bartoli, usually expected to underperform on any sort of clay.  Despite her ninth seed, Serena should be favored over Sharapova on any surface and merely extended her dominance in that rivalry.  Few would have been surprised to see her eliminate the higher-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in a three-setter a round before.  Having lost to Wozniacki in Miami earlier that spring, Serena was not going to let the Dane down her twice.

The only odd name in this lineup does pop the eyeballs a bit, even after we became acquainted with her in the upsets section.  Hradecka delivered the biggest shock there, and she built upon that run with another upset of the then-healthy and somewhat dangerous Stosur in two tense tiebreaks.  The serve-a-thon semifinal in which she battled Serena certainly departed from expectations for a clay match.  On the other hand, a single unseeded semifinalist has burst through the bracket into an otherwise studded lineup at many WTA tournaments over the past few years.  It’s unexpected but no more astonishing than Rezai two years before.

2013:

1 Serena Williams (d. Anabel Medina Garrigues)

8 Sara Errani (d. Ekaterina Makarova)

16 Ana Ivanovic (d. 6 Angelique Kerber)

2 Maria Sharapova (d. Kaia Kanepi)

This lineup makes considerably more sense for a clay tournament than what we saw at the same stage in 2012.  All four of these WTA semifinalists have reached Roland Garros finals, three of them winning the title, so their talents on the surface rise beyond doubt.  The only constant between the two years, Serena, has not shone in Paris for several years but still has accomplished far more there than fellow 2012 semifinalists Azarenka, Radwanska, and Hradecka.  And the narrowness of her victory over Medina Garrigues captured the ability of an unheralded clay specialist to challenge someone of far greater talent here.  The only quarterfinal upset, Ivanovic over Kerber, plays into the theme of surface expertise with a woman whose greatest exploits have come on clay toppling a higher-ranked woman who has built her career on hard courts.

The Verdict:  While the 2012 semifinalists comprised arguably a more accomplished group overall, the 2013 semifinalists more accurately align with expectations for clay.  The transition back to the red thus coincided with arguably more desirable results later in the week after the implosions earlier in the week.  What was lost at the beginning may have been gained at the end.

And now for the ATP comparison. 

2012:

7 Janko Tipsarevic (d. 1 Novak Djokovic)

3 Roger Federer (d. 5 David Ferrer)

10 Juan Martin Del Potro (d. 16 Alexander Dolgopolov)

6 Tomas Berdych (d. 15 Fernando Verdasco)

Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge the massive Mallorcan elephant in the room.  Barring injury or its aftereffects, Rafael Nadal never will fail to reach the quarterfinals of a Masters 1000 tournament on clay during his prime without raising questions about the tournament.  It felt especially awkward because Madrid is the most important Spanish tournament, the place where Nadal should have the opportunity to bask in the adulation of his compatriots.  A petulant side less attractive than his usual sportsmanlike self emerged there last year, but one could understand his frustration at the opportunity denied him.

One could make an almost equally compelling argument that Djokovic should reach the semifinals at every clay Masters 1000 event that he enters, again subject to injury and related matters (see this year’s case above).  Or, at least, he should not lose in that situation to Janko Tipsarevic, nobody’s idea of a clay specialist and someone characteristically content to play second fiddle to Nole.  While I hesitate to ever question someone who won a six-hour major final for lack of effort, I felt strongly that Djokovic held back his best in that quarterfinal.  As with Nadal, that attitude did not reflect especially well on him.  As with Nadal, it tarnished the tournament nonetheless.

 

Federer’s eventual victory offered Madrid the best possible resolution under the circumstances, and its top brass must have felt fortunate that he dodged the opening-round bullet of Milos Raonic in a third-set tiebreak.  Without Federer, the weekend designed as the tournament’s climax would have descended into chaos.  Quality players with plenty of accomplishments, Del Potro and Berdych illustrated all too clearly how much faster the blue clay appeared to play than its red cousin.  Their semifinal cost the tournament more of whatever credibility still clung to it, decided as it was by a style of tennis more common on hard courts than clay.  So was the final between Federer and Berdych, despite its entertaining twists and turns.

2013:

15 Stanislas Wawrinka (d. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga)

6 Tomas Berdych (d. 3 Andy Murray)

5 Rafael Nadal (d. 4 David Ferrer)

Pablo Andujar (d. 14 Kei Nishikori)

Just looking at the seedings of the survivors, the end of the tournament appears as chaotic as the beginning.  The lower-ranked man won every quarterfinal, and none of the top four seeds reached the semifinals, unusual for a Masters 1000 tournament.  But a closer inspection reveals that each of these results fits with our expectations of how the distinctiveness of red clay affects results.  In all four quarterfinals, the man with superior expertise on the surface prevailed, just as in the 2013 women’s draw.  Granted, Rafa came within two points of defeat against a compatriot whom he long has throttled on this surface, recalling the stunning ambush by Verdasco last year.  Fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar also had struggled to win any matches at all over the last several months, so his sudden semifinal appearance with upsets over two seeded opponents astonishes.

The two non-Spanish semifinalists possess strong credentials on this surface with Wawrinka once coming within a set of the Rome title and Berdych within a set of the Roland Garros final.  Berdych is the only man who reached the Madrid semifinals in both of these years, an intriguing comment on how well his game adapts to various surfaces—or perhaps a comment on how much the altitude assists it.  A slow-court player, Wawrinka showed how the more physical, grinding attributes of a clay specialist’s game can prevail over a mercurial shot-maker like Tsonga.  Last year, that result may well be reversed.

The Verdict:  As with the women’s draw, the men’s draw crystallized late in the week this year into a more characteristic set of semifinalists than what we saw on the blue clay.  Nadal’s appearance in the semifinals backed up his arguments last year about that surface’s flaws, and Wawrinka makes a more credible surprise semifinalist on a slow court than Tipsarevic did.  While the route to this stage earlier in the week was less than ideal, and certainly more volatile than in 2012, the marquee rounds have unfolded along more familiar lines.

***

Two patterns thus emerge from comparisons between the Madrid men’s and women’s draws of the last two years.  The red clay produced more upsets in the first two rounds, and in general upsets of greater significance.  By the semifinals, though, the rubble had settled into a form more recognizable for this season than what the blue clay produced.

As the years unfold, we will observe whether those trends continue, or whether the altitude at this tournament continues to create chaos.  Another possible contributing factor, unrelated to the surface color, will improve in 2014 when the clay becomes permanent in Madrid rather than laid down shortly before the tournament each year.  The slipperiness that has troubled an array of stars during its brief history as a spring event should dwindle after that change, pleasing players and fans alike.

 

 

 

 

Grigor Dimitrov: Slow and Steady Leads to Greatness

Grigor Dimitrov earns career best win over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid.

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

During Wimbledon 2011, three young players that were expected by many to someday be top tennis players were all playing their second-round matches at the same time. Two of them were competing in what many thought would be their coming-out parties. One was playing quite poorly against a middling opponent.

The names in reference are Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic. Harrison was fighting tooth and nail in an epic clash against David Ferrer. Over the course of two days, Ferrer would win in a tough five-setter that showed that Harrison did not quite have the mentality to compete at the top levels but that he would get there someday. Dimitrov was playing top-level tennis against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and looked like he could beat just about anyone in the world. Unfortunately it was not to be his day and Tsonga and his nearly-unbreakable serve prevailed. And Tomic was down two sets to none to Igor Andreev before Andreev faltered and Tomic came back to win in five.

What happened to these players since then? Tomic went on to the quarterfinals where he took a set off of Novak Djokovic. Since then, he has done nothing really of note aside from winning his first career tournament in Sydney right before this year’s Australian Open. Harrison has also not really done much, showing flashes of brilliance amidst a lot of mediocrity and now mostly competing back on the Challenger tour. Dimitrov likewise also faded into relative anonymity, but of the three, has managed to improve with each passing tournament seeing his ranking slowly and steadily rise, week by week.

After Tuesday’s valiant display in Madrid though, Dimitrov is anonymous no more. He battled world no. 1 Novak Djokovic in what turned out to be a flawless and epic match by the Bulgarian in the second round. Dimitrov overcame a few mental hiccups, second-set cramps, and the best opponent in the world in what was without a doubt the biggest win of his young career so far.

Fans (and detractors) of Dimitrov will say that he is finally utilizing his talent. He is blessed with great abilities and has finally sustained the top level that he can play at and won a big match. And, more importantly, this will allow him to move forward and win future big matches and tournaments. The sky is the limit for young Grigor and he proved it by beating the best player in the world.

And I agree; Dimitrov has nowhere to go but up. But the notion that he could have been winning like this for two years now—since he first showed this potential in that Wimbledon match—is foolish. Maybe we have been spoiled by the great players who burst on to the scene at a young age and were there to stay. Maybe we expect the great talents to reach the top 10 as a late teenager or in their early 20s and be a top player for their career.

Not everyone can do what Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and others have done. Not everyone can immediately assert their dominance on a strong tour and do it on a consistent basis. Everyone is waiting for players like Tomic, Harrison, and Dimitrov to suddenly be in every discussion. These insane expectations do nothing but hurt these players.

Tomic and Harrison haven’t really realized this. They pick up flashes of interest by showing flashes of greatness but really don’t do anything noteworthy on a consistent enough basis. They are still young players and have incredible talent, but they are not really moving forward in their careers yet. They are stuck wherever they are, which means being decent players on average that can throw in a great match or run here and there.

Dimitrov, on the other hand, is doing things the right way. He is consistently playing well and getting better and more confident as each season moves along. He almost took a set off Djokovic in March. He came close to beating Nadal in April. And now he has beaten Djokovic in May. This victory, the biggest of his career so far, is not the culmination of many hard years of work nor the showcasing of a great hidden talent. It is just one step on a long, slow, and gradual journey that could someday lead to greatness.

Photographs from the Rome Masters 1000 Open

Venus feature

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

After an action-packed week on the red dirt of Rome, the finals Masters 1000 Series tournament before Roland Garros threw up some exciting matches, entertaining press conferences and an opportunity for memorable photographs to be snapped. Here is a collection of some of those events for you to enjoy featuring many of the players from the WTA and ATP Tour.

Lisa-Marie Burrows covered the Masters 1000 Series at the Mutua Madrid Open last week at the Rome Open.  Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

 

Magical Moments from Madrid: The Photographs

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By Lisa-Marie Burrows

After spending a very busy and exciting week in Madrid and Rome, I have compiled a collection of the best photographs of your favourite tennis players from all the events in Madrid – showing happy moments, times of desperation, disappointment and of course photos from some of the explosive press conferences. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did being there to take them!

Lisa-Marie Burrows covered the Masters 1000 Series at the Mutua Madrid Open last week at the Rome Open.  Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams are still on top of the game

Roger Federer, 30, is into the quarterfinals at Rome after winning the title in Madrid last week. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)

By Kelyn Soong

Over the last couple years both players have been dismissed as past their primes, too old to dominate the game they once owned.

But Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both 30, have been turning back the clock these past few weeks, conquering the blue clay at the Madrid Open and continuing their win streaks at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Italy.

With the title – his third in Madrid – Federer surpassed rival Rafael Nadal for the world No. 2 spot and Williams moved up three positions to No. 6, her highest ranking since 2010.

Federer, owner of 16 Grand Slams, continues to deliver on the big stages – showing consistency that few, if any, other players possess. Thirteen-time major champion Williams appears to be returning her dominating form, with convincing straight sets wins over former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova and current world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in Madrid.

Seeded third in Rome, Federer has battled his way into the quarterfinals and will play crowd favorite, Italian Andreas Seppi next. Seppi saved six match points in his fourth round encounter with Federer’s compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka.

No. 9 seed Williams has reached the semifinals in Rome after Italy’s Flavia Pennetta retired while being down 4-0 in the first set due to a right wrist injury. Williams awaits the winner of 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova and eighth seeded Li Na. Older sister Venus will face No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova in a quarterfinal matchup.

Whether it’s the blue clay of Madrid or the classic red clay of Rome, both players are rising to the occasion and are still on top of the game that was once undisputedly theirs. It wasn’t long ago that some fans and analysts began writing Federer and Serena off as no longer contenders, but these champions continue to prove skeptics wrong.

And these two are just getting warmed up for the main show that begins May 22 at Roland Garros.

Serena Williams crowned champion at the Madrid Open

Serena feature

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – The new world No.6 Serena Williams stormed to victory against world No.1 Victoria Azarenka with a dominating 6-1, 6-3 victory that lasted only 64 minutes to win yet another title to add to her collection of 41.

Azarenka and Williams stepped out on court under the blazing sun and the two heavy-hitters of the WTA Tour lived up to their reputation, but it was Serena Williams who dominated rallies and was in full control from the onset.

The American hammered down 14 aces in the match, 41 in total during her five matches in Madrid this week and never really let Azarenka into the match. She broke her opening service game with scorching returns, which unnerved the Belarusian, as she then struck 3 double faults.

The second set did not see much of an improvement as the 13-time Grand Slam champion stepped up her game even more and offered few unforced errors.

Serena Williams needed only an hour and 4 minutes to lift the trophy and she was clearly delighted. On the stands Serena Williams held up her trophy and beamed from ear to ear and struck different poses with her prized possession.

The Mutua Madrid Open champion joked in the press conference about how she has handled the clay surface well this week, as have most of the WTA ladies on Tour in comparison to the men:

“Women are way tougher! You guys could never handle kids! We’re not going out there and being weenies!”

Serena Williams still has her ranking at the forefront of her mind and as always she would love to get back to the top spot once again:

“I don’t play to be No.2, we’re all playing to be the best. If that’s No.1, that is my ultimate goal.”

With Roland Garros a few weeks away, Williams would love to make a big impression at Rome and the French Open to continue climbing up the rankings, which she doesn’t attempting to do on clay:

“It’s a big myth, I love the clay. I have won the French Open. Actually, I like it more than the grass.”

After her victory today, Williams has now won her 41st title match and recorded a 13-0 winning record on clay this season and as always will be a big threat at Rome this week.

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Azarenka and Williams set up final clash at the Madrid Open

Azarenka point

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – World No.1 Victoria Azarenka recorded her sixth victory this year against Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-4 to progress to her sixth final this year where she will meet Serena Williams after she defeated qualifier Lucie Hradecka 7-6, 6-0.

The Belarusian has reached the final for the second year running, which saw her miss out on the title last year to Petra Kvitova and will be looking to go one step further tomorrow and lift the title for the first time and record her 7th title victory this year.

During her 6-2 6-4 defeat over Agnieszka Radwanska, the 22 year old struck 29 winners and looked confident during her encounter on the Manolo Santana court.  She was able to dominate rallies and had great movement around the court, comfortably covering all areas. The Australian Open champion was out on court for only 79 minutes and sealed the match with a drop shot on her second match point.

During the press conference Victoria Azarenka was pleased with her performance and said that she feels she has been performing well. With the Rome Masters 1000 Series just around the corner Azarenka was informed of her draw and that she has another potential clash with the Agnieszka Radwanska, much to the horror of the world No.1 she said she didn’t want to know, as she never likes to know her draw in advance.

She had a special request for the journalists in the press room:

“Put it in the headline: I DON’T READ THE DRAW!”

In the clash she has set up with Serena Williams, she is aware that she will be a tough opponent, but the times that she had played against her before, she was ‘much younger.’

“She is one of the best players in the world, one of the toughest to play against. It is the first time I play her on clay.”

The second semi final of the day saw American Serena Williams taken to a tie-break in the first set of her game against Czech qualifier and world No.105 Lucie Hradecka.

The first set proved to be challenging for the world no.9 as they both went toe-to-toe during their rallies and big serves were fired on court. Williams eventually took the first set on her third set point.

The second set was less competitive as the former world No.1 marched through the games, breaking Hradecka three times for a convincing 7-6 (7-5) 6-0 victory.
I informed Serena Williams during her press conference that she will now be world No.6 and with her arms raised she threw her head back and said:

“Get out! Yessss! I have reached my goal. I didn’t think I’d reach it. I’ve been working really hard but I don’t want to stop at No.6 obviously, I want to keep continuing on to do better.”

Going into the final tomorrow Serena feels she has ‘nothing to lose’ and will give it everything out there to win.

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Novak Djokovic loses at the Madrid Open and says ‘no blue clay’

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By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid - It was evident when walking into the press room that Novak Djokovic was not a happy man. He clearly felt that his loss was due to the courts, claiming he ‘wants to forget this week as soon as possible and move onto the real claycourts.’

When the notion of a the use of a fluorescent ball was put to the fiery Serb, he simply scoffed and said:

“They can do whatever they want, I will not be here if this clay stays. This is what is in 2012 and if in 2013 they come up with fluorescent balls or whatever I will not be here for sure.”

Djokovic reminded everybody that he has been here over a week now trying to adjust to the courts and get in to some of these matches and he does not consider the surface as clay, but as something totally different.

Djokovic was still angry with the ATP as he looked around the packed press room with a stern look on his face and repeated once again that it is their fault and has nothing to do with the tournament organizers or director, only the ATP:

“I hope the ATP will strongly consider what we feel and what we think. If the ATP has protection for their players and back them up, there is no way they would use the blue clay. I don’t need to meet anybody [and talk about it] it’s simple in my eyes – no blue clay.”

The defending champion pointed out that he was here to do exactly that – defend his title – which he has now failed to do and wishes not to put any pressure on his body and worry about getting injured, as the court is so unpredictable in his eyes. His point of view was that ‘it is the players who are the losers this week.’

After reiterating that it is not the fault of the tournament, the organizers or its director – Manolo Sanana – Djokovic spoke once more about his loathing towards the ATP and their decisions at this time:

“We had a couple of discussions about this last year and we were more than clear that we didn’t want it. This is a clear example of how our system does not work in favour of players. I cannot blame the new president because he came here in January and started his presidency, he did not make the decision, the old one. It’s very simple, he was going away he knew that his contract is not renewed and he made this decision on his own. I will not go into what was going on behind closed doors but something was going on definitely because he didn’t care about tennis and what the players think, only himself and his own interests.”

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Happiness for Serena Williams and disappointment for Fernando Verdasco at the Madrid Open

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By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – It was a tale of two different halves in Madrid today, as without a shadow of a doubt, the prize for best press conference this week has to go to the enigmatic Serena Williams who defeated Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 and the saddest of the day so far was Fernando Verdasco’s press conference after his defeat at the hands of Tomas Berdych 1-6, 2-6.

Serena Williams entered the press conference bright and breezy and very satisfied with her victory of today as she knew she ‘had to be ready.’

If next year at the Mutua Madrid Open they decide to use fluroscent balls, Serena Williams will be one happy lady as she is currently ‘living in the 80’s’ and with that said she promptly lifted up her leg on the desk to show the media room her bright yellow, fluorescent socks and declared:

“Fluroscent balls?? Hmmmm, interesting. I love fluorescent colours If we had that this year I would be completely excited!!”

(Sorry for the quality of the photo, I was laughing as I snapped a picture!)

Serena recently shot “Drop Dead Diva” and was asked what it was like to be a lawyer, with a smile on her face she laughed:

“I’m not a lawyer, but I’m good at arguing! The show was fun and I hope I did good. I was joking that I’m an Oscar winning actress behind the camera so whenever I give my lines it was unbelievable, but once the camera was on me I got a little nervous.”

On the other side of the happiness in the media room was the sadness felt by Fernando Verdasco. The man responsible for knocking out Rafael Nadal in the last round was clearly subdud and looked tired from the events of the last 24 hours:

“He [Berdych] played a really high level all of the match and physically was tough. Today I didn’t have the energy to play against the quality player like Berdych. One day you can be really happy and the next day something like today can happen.”

The world No.19 lifted his head up on occasion and said that he will try to remain positive after such a great week and look forward to Rome. However one thing that was clearly evident during his match was the amount of empty seats and dismal atmosphere around the stadium, Verdasco suggested maybe it was that the weather was too hot and people prefer to watch it on tv, but then poignantly added:

“I guess if it were Rafa here against Berdych, here there would be more people – because he’s Rafa.”

It was not all doom and gloom for the Spaniard as once again he was questioned about the blue clay and with a roll of his eyes he joked:

“I’m tired of talking about the blue clay. I’ve said it in Chinese, in English, Spanish, in Russian… The difference is only the colour. I respect the decisions and opinions of each player, but the only thing we need to make it better is to be safer for the players, it’s slippery.”

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Del Potro downs Dolgopolov for a place in the semis at the Madrid Open

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Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid - Juan Martin Del Potro had a straightforward day out on Stadium 3 today against Alexandr Dolgopolov recording a 6-3, 6-4 victory in front of a full crowd.

The Argentine fired his serves and hit weighty forehands to pull the Ukrainian from side to side throughout their encounter, but after the match, the question everybody wanted to know is if he will play here next year or whether he shares the same sentiments as the top two players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal?

He responded by admitting that these are the feelings of Nadal about not playing next year and added that ‘it’s more or less the feelings of everyone,’ as he confessed:

 

“They are here to their job [the ATP] as we are here to do our job, which is to play tennis.”

Del Potro has also experienced difficulties with his movement and confidence on the court and with a sad look on his face he said:

“We are all suffering and talking about mobility. Next year I don’t know what they will do, but I hope that they do the best for the players.”

Although Del Potro has confessed as to how slippery he has found the courts, he repeated what Nadal had said in his conference:

“The conditions are the same for everybody.”

Next up for Del Potro, is Tomas Berdych after he quickly dismissed of Rafael Nadal’s conqueror, Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 6-2 and the Argentine is aware that it will be a tough semi final encounter for him as Berdych ‘hits his strokes strongly’ and knows the match will be ‘complicated.’

Tomas Berdych eagerly awaits his encounter against Del Potro, but believes that the Argentine is the more experienced player:

“I expect a really tough one. We are in the last two matches to come up. He is a great guy and he knows how to win a Grand Slam and big matches.  I will try to do my best and play my game.”

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

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