Nicolas Mahut

Nicolas Mahut Attempts to Rewrite History with Already-Memorable 2013 Season

Nicolas Mahut will probably be remembered for one thing and one thing only.

After all, he has been on tour for 15 years and has been inside the top 50 for a whole 6 months. He has been a top 300 player for about 12 years running, but top 300 players don’t usually make the annals of tennis history. No, Nicolas Mahut’s career, as it stands now, has one memorable moment.

Let’s be honest, losing the longest match in tennis history is not something you want to be remembered by.

Sure, Mahut reached the finals of Queens and Newport back in 2007. And a Queen’s Club final is nothing to scoff at. But both of those pale in comparison to his marathon match against John Isner.

However, in 2013, at the age of 31, Mahut is trying to rewrite his tennis memoirs.

An injury-riddled and poor 8 months stretch at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this year saw Mahut’s ranking drop outside the top 200 for the first time since February of 2010. Fortunately for him, though, it was still high enough to get him into qualifying at Hertogenbosch and into Wimbledon before the entry deadline. Whether it’s because of his big serve or his ability to get to balls very close to the ground, Mahut is strongest on grass.

Nicolas Mahut wins first titleMahut proved that quite well when he qualified for Hertogenbosch, beating Lukasz Kubot (a strong grass player in his own right) along the way. Then Mahut went on to win the tournament without dropping a set, upsetting Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.

Mahut couldn’t carry his momentum past Tommy Robredo in Wimbledon, losing to the Spaniard in straight sets in the second round. Mahut flew through the draw in Newport though (which he needed a Wild Card to get into), once again reaching the final without dropping a set. He lost the first set of an exciting final to Lleyton Hewitt, and took full advantage to come back and win the match after Hewitt couldn’t serve it out at 5-4 in the second set.

Now Mahut is riding the best 2 months of his career into the summer hard court season. He has won 14 out of his last 15 tour-level matches, including 3 qualifying rounds at Hertogenbosch. He is currently getting adjusted to the hard courts as the second seed in the Granby Challenger, where he won his first-round match in 3 sets.

Now Mahut has a chance to have a real season to be remembered by. He has two ATP tour-level titles already this year and his ranking is high enough to get him directly into the US Open. Whatever he does for the rest of the year, Mahut now has something to tell his grandkids about other than losing the longest match in tennis history. And who knows? Maybe he can ride this momentum even further and pick his ranking up even higher, achieving even more to cap off his career.

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Bastad, Stuttgart, Newport Draw Previews

A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.

Bastad:

Top half:  The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament.  Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area.  Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.

Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge.  The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona.  On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris.  A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year.  While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.

Bottom half:  The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open.  Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here.  Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him.  The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals.  Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.

Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco.  Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets.  Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay.  Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco

Stuttgart:

Top half:  Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis.  The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time.  But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess.  In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar.  All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.

Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan.  Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises.  Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances.  He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game.  Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.

Bottom half:   Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces.  Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round.  Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon.  Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them.  Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke.  Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.

Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych.  Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability.  Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue.  While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.

Final:  Haas vs. Paire

Newport:

Top half:  Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories.  Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon.  But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there.  A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests.  Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.

Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently.  The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros.  But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.

Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year.  The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club.  Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold.   A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.

Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner.  The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals.  Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.

Final:  Querrey vs. Hewitt

Roland Garros Day 14: Links Roundup with Williams, Mahut, Nadal, Murray and more

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: After losing the first set, snatching the second, and having the upper hand several times in the third including up 4-2 in the tiebreak, Nicolas Mahut and Mike Llodra lost a tough battle to Mike and Bob Bryan in the men’s doubles, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4). Mahut was the only man on the court appearing in his first Slam final, so it’s no surprise that emotions overcame the Frenchman after their heartbreaking loss.

Toni Nadal says eighth French Open title could be “Nadal’s prized moment”: As Reem Abulleil of Sport 360 writes, “Toni Nadal believes a Rafael Nadal win in the Roland Garros final on Sunday against David Ferrer could be considered his nephew’s greatest success to date considering everything they had to overcome to return to a major final.” Toni Nadal appears to be both shocked and grateful that his nephew has been able to reach a grand slam final.

“I don’t know why we are here. In Sao Paolo, or in Vina Del Mar, we had so many problems and we thought that it would be difficult to be again here in the final. I thought it would be very difficult to be at the top again because the moment was not good, he had problems in his knee and altogether we had doubts whether he can go or not.”

Andy Murray’s French Open absence could be a game changer: Kevin Mitchell of the Guardian has been documenting Andy Murray’s recovery from the back injury that caused him to miss the French Open. Murray says he watched Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s semifinal match at Roland Garros and that not playing the French Open was “a hard decision but that sort of match is the reason why I wouldn’t be playing at the French Open.” Murray believes his French Open withdrawal may be “a blessing in disguise” and that he “feels really good and took maybe eight or nine days’ full rest doing nothing and has had no setbacks practicing.”

Serena Williams captures French Open title: Of course the biggest news of the day is Serena Williams claiming her 2nd French Open title (first since 2002) and her 16th grand slam overall placing her 6th on the all-time list. Greg Garber of ESPN notes that Serena “could catch Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18 each) as early as this year’s US Open.” Serena talked about how losing in the first round last year helped her enter this particular tournament with a relaxed state of mind.

“I think losing in the first round definitely helped me realize I had no points to defend. I have nothing to lose. I can just kind of relax and just do what I want to do here.”

While Serena may have not been telling the truth when she said she had nothing to lose she certainly looked like she was in cruise control for the vast majority of the tournament.

Bryan Brothers dash French hopes in doubles final: “Ten years ago, Bob and Mike Bryan were establishing themselves as a rising doubles pair when they shockingly ran to the title at Roland Garros, their very first major title” Nick McCarvel writes for the Roland Garros official website. The Bryans ended a not so shocking 2013 French Open campaign by taking down the French tandem of Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra in a third set tiebreaker. The Bryan’s were down 4-2 in the third set tiebreaker and managed to capture the final five points and escape with the victory. Afterwards, they admitted to having lady luck on their side to which Bob Bryan stated, “These guys are two of the greatest guys on tour. You played unbelievable today, we were lucky. It could have gone either way today. Today we were pretty fortunate.”

Christian Garin wins boys’ singles title: Christian Garin of Chile took down the younger brother of ATP professional Mischa Zverev, Alexander Zverev, in the boys singles final. Garin, as Guillaume Willecoq describes on the Roland Garros official site, gives “Chilean fans something to shout about once again a year after Fernando Gonzalez retired.”

Wheelchair winners: This Roland Garros featured video highlights the wheelchair tennis competition, one of the most impressive and inspiring competitions that takes place during the French Open but is unfortunately one of the most overlooked.

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Wawrinka, Azarenka, Kvitova Start Campaigns on Day 3

Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.

ATP:

Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin:  The baby-faced Belgian spurred a flurry of headlines last year when he reached the second week of Roland Garros and took a set from Roger Federer there.  Goffin has mustered barely any quality wins since then, losing to Grega Zemlja in Dusseldorf last week.  An enigmatic Masters 1000 clay season behind him, Djokovic hopes to resemble the man who defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo more than the man who lost to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid.

Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic:  Just about anyone has managed to knock off Tipsarevic this year, from Dmitry Tursunov to Guido Pella.  Struggling for confidence and fitness, the Serb briefly slumped outside the top 10 before currently returning to its edge.  Mahut has not won a main-draw match at the ATP level all season, losing to such unremarkable figures as Laime Ouahab and Romain Jouan.  An ugly encounters on both sides could ensue, in which Mahut could gain strength from the vigorous show-court crowd.  A second top-ten upset by a Frenchman in two days still seems like a long shot.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Thiemo De Bakker:  An untimely muscle tear in Wawrinka’s thigh cast his participation here into doubt.  The Madrid finalist has defeated four top-eight opponents on clay this spring, and his high volume of matches might have contributed to his injury.  De Bakker should not challenge a healthy Wawrinka, so this match will offer a barometer for the Swiss No. 2’s health.

Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez:  On Sock’s shoes are written the names of two friends who recently passed away, extra motivation for him this fortnight.  He will look to extend the encouraging and unexpected trend of American success here against Bucharest finalist Garcia-Lopez, less of a clay threat than most Spaniards.  Big servers also have fared well here in general from Querrey and Isner to Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson.

Bernard Tomic vs. Victor Hanescu:  Without his father to monitor him relentlessly, Tomic enjoys his first taste of independence.  Off-court distractions should undermine his focus on his weakest surface, though, and he is still nowhere near the player outside Australia that he is on home soil.

Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Andujar:  On the heels of reaching the Madrid semifinals as a wildcard, Andujar reached the semifinals of Nice as well.  He did not defeat anyone more notable than Gilles Simon at either tournament, but he will hold the surface advantage against Youzhny.  The Russian did win a set from Djokovic in Monte Carlo before recording consecutive victories over clay specialists Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro in Madrid.

Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov:  Despite the increasing threat that he poses to the ATP elite, Dimitrov never has won more than one match at a major.  Questionable fitness may cost him in the best-of-five format, or these events may expose his lack of experience more starkly.  A duel with a Colombian dirt devil could test Dimitrov’s resilience two rounds ahead of a rematch with Djokovic.

WTA:

Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka:  With the other top-four women’s seeds advancing so convincingly, Azarenka needs to keep pace with a statement of her own.  After a 10-1 start to 2012, Vesnina has cooled off and lost in the first round at three of four clay tournaments.  Azarenka started cooling her off by dismissing her in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where Vesnina lacked the weapons to threaten her.  Never past the quarterfinals in Paris, Vika should conserve energy with some quick early wins in a weak section of the draw.

Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai:  Three long years have passed since Rezai won the Premier Mandatory title in Madrid over Venus Williams.  The fiery Frenchwoman with a fondness for flamboyant outfits has won just one main-draw match since last year’s clay season.  Kvitova has made a habit of struggling at the most unexpected moments against the most anonymous opponents, so a three-setter would not surprise in this slugfest of wildly erratic shot-makers.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova:  This match struck me as the most interesting of the women’s first round, partly because of the history between them.  Meeting more than once in the fraught environment of Fed Cup, the two have collaborated on several tight encounters and have played their last five matches on clay.  Jankovic has regained traces of her vintage clay form by winning Bogota and upsetting Li to reach the Rome quarterfinals, while Hantuchova upset Kvitova in Madrid.  Both lost to Simona Halep in the wake of those top-ten ambushes, though, showing how much they struggle to sustain momentum as they age.

Kristina Mladenovic vs. Lauren Davis: After American women posted a perfect record on Day 2, Davis hopes to continue that trend despite winning just two clay matches this year (one against Christina McHale).  That task will prove difficult against a Frenchwoman who shone on home soil in February, reaching the semifinals of the Paris Indoors.  Mladenovic has struggled almost as much on clay as Davis has, but she won sets from Maria Kirilenko and Dominika Cibulkova in difficult early-round draws.

Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi:  A tireless counterpuncher with a vulnerable serve, Zakopalova has extended both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to final sets at Roland Garros.  She came closer than anyone to threatening Sharapova’s surge to the career Slam, and her retrieving should test Kanepi’s patience as well.  Returning impressively from injury last month, Kanepi won Brussels on Saturday after collecting six wins at her two previous tournaments.  To continue defending her quarterfinal points, she will need to take control of rallies immediately with serve and return.

Jamie Hampton vs. Lucie Safarova:  The small American won three consecutive three-setters over higher-ranked opponents, including Roberta Vinci, to earn a semifinal berth in Brussels.  Limited in her clay experience, Hampton attracted international attention by severely testing Azarenka in the first week of the Australian Open.  Flaky Czech lefty Safarova also arrives with momentum after winning her home challenger in Prague and taking a set from Sharapova in Stuttgart.

The Greatness of Gonzo

Not every story has fairy tale ending.  The final match of Fernando Gonzalez’s career- a 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 loss to Nicolas Mahut in the first round of Miami- took place without a television camera in sight. It ended in the worst way possible- on a double fault.

“I was a little bit tired at the end.” Gonzalez admitted afterwards.

He had every right to be tired. In his thirteen year career the Chilean played 571 ATP singles matches and 207 ATP doubles matches. He won a combined 479 of them (370 in singles), earned 11 singles titles, and amassed over 8 million dollars of prize money. He made it to the finals of the Australian Open in 2007, the semis of the French Open in 2009, and won three Olympic medals- one of each color.  He amassed all his accolades in signature style- with fun, flair, and a famously ferocious forehand.

You didn’t just see Fernando Gonzalez hit a forehand- you felt it.

I only had the pleasure of seeing him play live once, but it was the most memorable tennis match I have ever attended. It was a 4th Round clash at the 2009 U.S. Open. Fernando took on Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a late afternoon into the evening match on Louis Armstrong Stadium.  It was a perfect storm of greatness- two of the most entertaining players on tour, a rowdy New York crowd (with Chilean and French fans to spare), and a beautiful sunset providing relief from the mid-day September sun.

The match was sensational (check out the highlights below), and Gonzalez was in rare form. Down a break in the first set- and naturally unhappy with his play- he nonchalantly handed his racket to an elated woman in the front row (1:54 in the video).  Later in the same set, when Jo had a great look at an overhead smash, Gonzalez turned his back and ducked (3:30).  At various points throughout the evening he smashed his racket, pumped up the crowd, and applauded his opponent’s crafty shots.  I was so used to tennis players putting up a wall when they came out onto the court, but with Gonzalez it was the opposite.  I felt like I knew what he was thinking and feeling at all times- almost to the point where I thought I was on the court running around right beside him. And every single time, without fail, that he unleashed the fury of his forehand I got chills– no small feat in the New York summer heat.

http://youtu.be/_ReQmejWYy4

Eventually Gonzalez won that match 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-4.  He went on to face Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and I left Flushing Meadows that evening with a greater understanding and appreciation for what tennis could be.  Tennis wasn’t merely a sport when Gonzalez was on his game- it was a theatrical experience that transcended country club stereotypes, pushed boundaries, and often defied logic.

Many pundits throughout his career wondered why he couldn’t- or wouldn’t- tone down the histrionics. It was often said that if he could stop with the outbursts and the racket smashes and learn to keep his composure that he would have had an even more decorated career. But that’s just not who Fernando Gonzalez was. He gave it his all- for better or for worse. There were no filters, no falseness, no reigning it in. It’s what made the forehands so chill-inducing and the dramatics so head-scratchingly entertaining. He held nothing back. It was exhilarating, maddening, and why he captured the hearts of so many tennis fans.

But at the end of the day- in his 571st ATP singles match- there was nothing left to give.  His body had been breaking down often over the past year and a half, clearly paying the price for laying it all out there every single time.  The endless cycle of pain and rehab had left him fatigued. Simply put, when he could no longer give his matches 100%, he decided to call it a day.

After he hugged Nicolas Mahut, flashed his trademark smile, and soaked in the applause from the crowd, Gonzalez turned his attention to the big screen.  The ATP played a tribute video for him where Roger Federer, David Nalbandian, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal (among others) sang his praises.  He was clearly moved by the video- these weren’t just his competitors, they were his friends. “I think (it) is much better to remember as a person than as a tennis player,” he told the press afterwards.

Of course, that’s the greatest thing about Gonzo- the person and the tennis player were always one in the same.

http://youtu.be/0khJUxEVaDw

Rotterdam Results & Exclusive Photos: Federer, Del Potro, Baghdatis

It was a thrilling day in Rotterdam as the top three seeds, including Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro all claimed a spot in the second round of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament, including a first ever win for del Potro at this event – but not without some drama.

Top seed Roger Federer picked up where he left off seven years ago, as the 2005 champion won 13 of the last 14 points with his win over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 6-4. Federer’s expected second round opponent Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with a foot problem sending the Swiss straight into the quarterfinals on Friday against Jarkko Nieminen, who beat Lukasz Kubot earlier in the day.

“Any win is a good win,” stated Federer. “Frankly I’m glad to be in the quarterfinals. It’s always tough to make the change from clay but after losing my last two singles matches [for Davis Cup], a win is great.”

For more exclusive Roger Federer content on his top three grand slam wins, mental strength, his toughest opponent, and thoughts on retirement, go here.

Second seed Tomas Berdych also had a routine win over fellow Czech countryman Lukas Rosol, 6-4, 6-2. Berdych also didn’t shy away from admitting it was “a tough transition from Davis Cup. Our court was much faster with lower bounce. I didn’t really have much time to train, but I coped with it pretty well. I was able to find my rhythm quite fast and was able to play my game.”

Juan Martin del Potro struggled to close out the second set in a tiebreaker and was forced to win in three, against 2008 champion Michael Llodra, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4. “I was really nervous, especially in the last game, so it was nice”, Del Potro said durin his interview. He underlined that he was very pleased to be in Rotterdam and to see so many people coming out to support him.

Cheerful Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (looking surprisingly great in Adidas’ lastest fireball orange and blue kits, below) defeated qualifier Matthias Bachinger, 7-6(2), 6-2.

Nikolay Davydenko was also take to three sets before overcoming the “comeback kid” Paul-Henri Mathieu who had received a wildcard into the qualifying. After two-and-a-half hours of play into the evening hours, Davydenko prevailed, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1.

But another qualifier, Karol Beck, made a commotion as he took out Philipp Petzschner, 7-6(3), 6-3.

Alex Bogomolov, Jr. won when Sergiy Stakhovsky was forced to retire.

In doubles action, top seed Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor were ousted by Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, while  the tandem of Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic  were defeated, as was the duo of Viktor Troicki and Jarkko Nieminen.

Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes day three action, and the Davydenko-Mathieu match was shot with a 200mm f/2 lens Canon Nederland provided to our photographe Rick for the match. The photos are of the highest quality. Thank you, Canon!

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

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Around The Corner: Life After The Davis Cup

With the opening round of the Davis Cup wrapping up on Sunday, the ATP World Tour will now shift back into form with three tournaments in Rotterdam, San Jose and Sao Paulo. Here’s a closer look at the draws from all three events and some analysis on who stands the best chance of making it to the final weekend.

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament

The largest of the three being played this week, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament is a level 500 event. An indoor hard-court event, Roger Federer will be looking for the surface to bring him some much needed success. A disastrous Davis Cup showing at home on clay has left Federer clearly confused about the status of his game. Rather than admit he played poorly, Federer instead shifted the blame onto country-man Stan Wawrinka. It was a rare moment of bad judgement from Federer. He opens with Nicolas Mahut from France and then could potentially face a dangerous opponent in Mikhail Youzhny who won the title recently in Zagreb.

The always tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov is also in the same quarter as Federer. The two have only played once, with Federer winning in Basel two years ago. Dolgopolov has come a long way since then and with the way Roger played this past week, you’d have to think this could be a great QF match.

Richard Gasquet, Feliciano Lopez and former top-ten presence Nikolay Davydenko are in the following quarter of the draw. I’d give a well-rested Gasquet (he did not travel to Canada for Davis Cup) the best shot of emerging here.

Juan Martin Del Potro is the third seed and should be able to navigate his way through the third quarter of the draw. He opens against Michael Llodra of France who has to get all the way from Vancouver, Canada to Rotterdam in the next twenty-four hours.

At the bottom of the draw is second seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic who has had some success lately with a big win in Montpellier over Gael Monfils. Berdych had a very solid 2011 where he won one event and reached eight tournament semi-finals and seven tournament quarter-finals. He is really starting to find that consistency that will make him a mainstay in the top-ten. A meeting in the second round with Marcos Baghdatis looms, but otherwise Berdych should be able to set-up a semi-final encounter with Del Potro that would be highly entertaining.

Regardless of the results, the tournament is guaranteed a new winner this year as Robin Soderling is not yet healthy enough to defend the title which he has held for the past two years. I’m gonna give the nod to Berdych in this one and I have a feeling that Federer’s recent troubles might continue with an early exit this week.

Brasil Open 2012

Played on clay, the Brasil Open attracts some of the usual dirt-ballers one might expect to see. Nicolas Almagro is the defending champion and also won this event in 2008. He has played some pretty decent ball on hard-courts so far this year so we’ll see if that continues on his favourite surface. Almagro is seeded first and gets a bye into the second round. His quarter is pretty sparse which should help him get his clay-court wheels going.

Fernando Verdasco is the third seed and has a nice section in his quarter as well. Take a look at veteran Fernando Gonzalez from Chile if possible as he has already announced his retirement to take place in Miami this coming March. Injuries have really taken away Gonzo’s physical and mental endurance but hopefully he has a little magic left in him before he says goodbye.

In the bottom-half of the draw, aging Juan Carlos Ferrero the eighth seed and Thomaz Bellucci the fourth seed will likely fight it out for a spot in the quarter, while the bottom quarter is the most interesting with David Nalbandian who is unseeded, Albert Montanes and second seeded Gilles Simon.

Almagro gets my vote of confidence to take this one based on his clay-court prowess and success at this venue in previous years.

SAP Open

A year ago the ATP World Tour took notice of fast-rising Canadian sensation Milos Raonic when he won his first-ever event here in San Jose. Unfortunately for Canadian tennis fans, a repeat will be very difficult to achieve for several reasons.

Firstly, Raonic was forced to pull-out of the Davis Cup tie against France on Sunday with pain in his knee that had been already taped throughout the event. Will he even be healthy enough to play in San Jose?

Beyond the injury debate, Milos has a tough draw that sets him up with first-seeded Gael Monfils in a possible semi-final match-up. He will also have to contend with having the entire draw gunning for him as the defending champ. Coming into an event as the title-holder is quite different from what he experienced a year ago.

In the bottom-half things will be pretty wide-open with Andy Roddick returning from an injury he suffered at the Australian Open and occupying the second seed. Who knows what kind of game the former American No. 1 will bring with him but his lack of match play will hinder his changes.

Underachieving Sam Querrey, aging Radek Stepanek and vet Julien Benneteau round-out the bottom half in terms of potential contenders. I’d look for one of them rather than Roddick to make their way to the finals against Monfils who appears to be over the knee problems that he was dealing with upon his arrival to Canada for the Davis Cup.

John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut – The sequel rarely lives up to the original

By Cynthia Lum

James Blake and Marcos Bagdatis, interesting match-up in today’s first round.  Both have seen better days.  Five years ago both were in the top ten, Blake number four, Baghdatis, number eight.  As recently as 2008 the American was still in the top ten at number 9 and one of the USA’s Davis Cup heros. Plagued with injuries, Blake, five years Baghdatis senior at 31 has seen his ranking take a nose dive to 102 while the Cypriot is currently ranked number 30.

A win here would have given James the boost he’s been hoping for in his quest for a comeback.  Beginning 2011 out of the top 150 for the first time since 2005, he fought his way back up to 102, playing in Challengers and ATP World Tour 250 series events.  This new series is the lowers tier of events on the tour with 250 ranking points going to the singles champions.

Although a comeback at 31 is unlikely, my guess is James hopes to make one more run and be able to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.  He’s had a rough ride with personal tragedy and physical challenges, the latest being his right knee.  However, he has always fought hard, played and lived with heart,  and come out a winner.

The match started badly for Blake, with Baghaditis breaking in he first game, and winning the first two sets.  I went to court 18 for the last set thinking that this might be the last chance for photos of JB at Wimbledon.  Down two sets to love and love 2 in the third, it didn’t look good for the New York vet, who doesn’t have a great record in 5 set matches. Bagdatis is a grinder, who will run down everything and keep you on the court as long as he can.

But James saw his opportunity when the Cypriot started making errors and JB pulled out the big gun.. his trademark giant stinging forehand.  Third set tie-break went to the American.  Very exciting! I have nothing against Marcos, but it would be wonderful to see our former Davis Cup singles guy go another round on the grass here in SW19.

Reluctently I left the court to go to the Isner Mahut match which I will talk about later.  On court 3 waiting for Ferrer to finish I checked my Blackberry for the scores and see that the 31 year old has won the fourth set!  OH MY WORD .. now what am I going to do?  If I leave court 3, I may not get a seat for the big rematch, but I’d love to see JB win a fifth.  In the end, I opt to stay on court 3, which may or may not have been a mistake.

On one side of the equation, the Isner/Mahut meeting was a fizzle rather than a bang, on the other hand it would have been hard to see one of my favorite players go out after such a bravely foght 5 setter.

Now lets talk about the greatly anticipated rematch .  In the post match press conference, one of the reporters commented, “The sequel rarely lives up to the original”, to which Big John replied, “Yeah,, nothing’s going to live up to that match”.  Too true.  Photographers started filling up the twelve seats on court 3 at the end of the Ferrer match, remembering from last year that it became impossible to get a seat once the match got into the fifth set.  The fact is, that it was pretty obvious from the start that the 6’9″ American was going to win.  The first set was tight, with neither player being able to break, and Isner winning in a tie-break, but there really wasn’t much atmosphere. The stands were packed but the fans weren’t really as excited as everyone expected.  I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because with the tall guy’s big serve the points are short so there aren’t a lot of nail biters. after loosing the first set Nicolas was decidedly down, but pulled it together in the third and took it to another tie-break.

Mahut take on today’s match was a bit sad, I felt bad when I read the transcript. ” If you talk want to talk about the atmosphere, it was not as huge as we was waiting for”. Then later in the interview, ” I think this match change a lot.  All my career change after that match.  Much more attention. More expectation as well.”  “I’m sure you’re all disappointing about today”.  Well, in a way this is true.  That’s the problem with so much hype before a match.  It’s hard for the players not to read the papers, watch TV and hear the commentary.  But the 26-year-old Frenchman has nothing to hang his head about.  Apparently he went into a deep depression after last years match and wrote a book about the whole affair.  On the positive side, he’s gained a great new friend in Isner, has honed his writing talent,  gained recognition and made tennis history.  Not really a bad year when you tally it all up.

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So this is it for today, rain is predicted for tomorrow .. so what else is new?

Arriving at Wimbledon

By Cynthia Lum

The car service picked me up at Heathrow at 12:30 PM today,  it is now  4:30 PM and I have not taken even one photo.   What I have done is the usual organization when you arrive at a tournament. Pick up my credential, find my desk get a locker, and find out what I’ve forgotten.  Yes, no matter how many lists I make there is always something that got left behind.  This time it’s my ethernet cord.  We have wifi here, but it is SSSSSLLLLLOOOWWW, and when I do finally start taking photos I want them to go with out me sitting at my computer tapping my foot and getting crazy because it’s taking so long.

The truth is, there is no one playing right now who I have the least interest in shooting, plus I’m more than a little tired after a ten-hour flight from Los Angeles.

The big thing that everyone is buzzing about here, is the rematch of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round tomorrow. What are the chances of that happening? If you recall last years match which stretched over a period of three days, set records for longest match, longest set , most aces, lasted a total of 11 hours and 5 minutes. and was finally won by Big John 70-68 in the fifth.

After seeing the draw, Isner said, ” It’s weird, almost cruel”, and Mahut commented that he hopes they aren’t scheduled for court 18 again where the history making match took place last year.  This is, however a very real possibility.  While everyone is hoping and talking about it being on Center Court, referee Andrew Jarrett was quoted as saying “There is every possibility we could schedule it for Court 18 again.”  Wow, how strange would that be .. and I’m wondering how they can even think about putting that match on a court that seats just under 800 fans.. I think it’s something like 780, plus there is only space for 10 photographers on 18.  That would be a nightmare.  I remember sitting on hat seemed to be the never-ending match last year for FIVE hours.  It was dark and my batteries were running down,  no food, no water and you couldn’t even leave to go to the loo as the match could end plus there were 50 photographers waiting outside for someone to leave.

Mahut said he was in the locker room when he heard a huge NOOOOOOOOO !! from other players as the draw came up on the TV screen,  shortly thereafter, Isner sent him a text of a sad face.

I read somewhere that the odds of two players meeting in the same event two years in a row were 10,000 to one, I wonder what the odds are that this second match will be another epic three-day battle?

It’s going to be interesting to see how this one goes down.  There will of course be a lot more pressure and attention.  Isner has the edge of course with the win last year and currently holds an ATP ranking of 31 while Mahut is 94, but I think the sentiment is going to be with the Frenchman, and that often can inspire a player and pull him through tough times.

Meanwhile, welcome to England! It’s raining hard here and they’ve just announced that all matches on the outside courts are canceled.  While some are happy that they may get out of here early, I’m not pleased with the fact that there will be a lot of matches to make up and things could get backed up if this weather continues. The forecast is not looking good,  with showers predicted for Wednesday, Thursday and hard rain on Friday.The roof is closed on Center court but there are only so many matches that can be played on one court. The worst thing that could happen is they have so many matches to make up  that there is play on Sunday.  Our precious day off.  That is too horrible to contemplate, and I’m not even going to put that thought out in the Universe.

Okay, here is the latest on the John and Nicolas show.  The schedule just came out and  are 4th match on show court 3.  Hmmmm, well this is better than court 18, but it is still one of the smaller courts with limited seating for the press. I’m going to have to go for the end of Ferrer who is third on to make sure I get a seat. See the problems of being a photographer here? There are many things to think about other than taking photos.

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Isner v Mahut II: who are you rooting for?

Can a social media monitoring tool give a flavour of which of the marathon men tennis fans will be supporting in Isner v Mahut part II?

My favourite story about last-year’s epic 11-hour, three-day tennis match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut concerns some of the spectators.

Played on Wimbledon’s humble outside court 18, the 700 seats for the contest between two unseeded players were, on day one, not hot tickets.

 

But by the final day of the contest, a famous ex-tennis player was so keen to see the conclusion that he allegedly pulled the “Do you know who I am?” trick to nab a seat originally claimed by a long-queuing member of the public.

News that Isner and Mahut have drawn each other again provoked a ripple of astonishment which spread far beyond the locker rooms. How could this match possibly live up to the 2010 one, which Isner clinched 70-68 in a deciding set four hours longer than the previous-longest tennis match in history?

I used the Brandwatch social media monitoring tool to measure reaction to news of the re-match and to try and gain some Hawkeye-sharp insights into who might have more support.

From June 13 to June 16th the graph showing the number of mentions of the two players was as flat and level as the top of a tennis net, averaging about 100 mentions per day.

Then on Friday, June 17th, Wimbledon’s draw commitee, amid Masonic levels of secrecy, mysteriously paired the two together. This resulted in mentions of Isner suddenly bouncing as high as one of his kick serves – to 2,773. Mahut, as he always does, ran Isner close – garnering 2,700 mentions.

The sentiment relating to mentions of Isner were 12 per cent positive and five per cent negative (83 per cent were neutral).

Mahut’s sentiment was also five per cent negative but he just edged Isner as 13 per cent of his mentions were positive. It’s always nice to support an underdog – especially one who served 62 times to stay in the match before losing!

The mild nature of the negative statements posted about Mahut reveal the affection that tennis fans feel for both players. Ellen Sinclair tweeted: “Hope Isner wins as I have the biggest tennis crush ever on John Isner”. Ellen was keen to stress: “I have nothing against Mahut but really want Isner to be around Wimbledon for as long as possible”

Greg Rusesdski’s assessment was a little more professional, the Canadian tweeted: “Just heard I might be doing Mahut v Isner. Say it isn’t so. That means I will only need to do one match from Tuesday.”

Overall, the reaction on Twitter was as quick as a blocked Agassi service return (Twitter produced about 86 per cent of the total response across social networking sites and news outlets).

Cooney 83 reflected many people’s opinions by saying: “Court 18 again, please put Layani as chair umpire too, but plan a couple of bathroom breaks this time.” Perhaps they could have the same spectators too?

Allballsallowed on wordpress.com worked out the odds of them being drawn together: “I can confirm it is 142.5/1.”

Exicanha Dancer, a top contributor on Yahoo Answers, posed a thought that many of us tennis cynics hadn’t dared say out loud: “I think Wimbledon is trying to fix the draws. They were probably going to put Serena vs Venus in the 3rd round (seeded 8 and 24) but Kim Clijsters had to withdraw.”

On June 18th, mentions of the two players plummeted like a cunning drop shot to 799 but it is sure to be a different story on Tuesday, when the two friends and rivals step on court again.

So based on the social media monitoring, who will have the most support?

Overall, Mahut was mentioned 4,954 times, whereas Isner was mentioned 5,006 times.

But if you factor in the fact that Mahut has a name which is more difficult to spell and that Isner is higher-seeded and (apparently) scores more highly on the eye-candy scoreboard, the Frenchman could claim a pyrrhic victory.

But Mahut is unlikely to pay much heed to statistics. He actually won 34 more points during the course of that historic match and still lost!

Author: James Christie

Content writer at No Pork Pies – Social Media Agency