opponents

The WTA Tour Goes Samurai Style at the Toray Pan Pacific!

Anyone ever noticed the similarities between tennis and Samurai sword fighting? It both takes a lot of skill to begin with.  With powerful swings and skill and elegance you try to find a way to tear down your opponents defense while at the same time you give nothing away.

That’s what I was thinking of when I saw the pics of the ladies at the Toray Pan Pacific tournament.

Gisela Dulko, Jelena Jankovic both participated.

The Toray Pan Pacific always has a strong field and this year isn’t any different.  US Open runner up Vera Zvonareva, US Open semifinalist Caroline Wozniacki as well as former winners Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina and Kimiko Date-Krumm will also play in Tokyo.

Serena Williams retracted from the Toray Pan Pacific tournament due to the slow recovery process of her right foot that forced her out of the US Open as well as other events.

We wish her the best.

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Extra bonus pics of Maria Sharapova practicing in Tokyo:

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And please take a vote in our poll:

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US Open: Why Top Players Lose

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

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

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

Kei Nishikori of Japan. September 2, 2010

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

Americans Ryan Harrison and Beatrice Capra

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

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

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

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

Tomas Berdych. September 1, 2010

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

US Open Men’s Draw Analysis and Picks — Nalbandian, Fish, Nadal?

The 2010 US Open Men’s Draw was announced just hours ago, but there are already stories and predictions circulating the scene. Even though the qualifying tournament is still in progress, I’ll break down some of the potential matchups, great first- and second-rounders, and announce my picks, starting with the quarterfinalists!

First off, let’s take a look at where the top four seeds have landed in the draw. #4 Andy Murray finds himself in the top half with #1 Rafael Nadal, while #2 Roger Federer has #3 Novak Djokovic in his half of the draw.

Nadal’s 1/8

Nadal probably won’t face much opposition until the third round where he could meet Gilles Simon or Philipp Kohlschreiber. Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Ljubicic are then the only other seeded opponents left for Nadal to meet in the fourth round, but he hasn’t had much trouble with any of these players. Ljubicic has been pretty quiet this season having only had two matches on hard courts this summer. And while Lopez did make a run to the semis in Los Angeles last month, he continues to be wildly inconsistent having lost in the first round of both Toronto and Cincinnati.

Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal
Verdasco’s 1/8

Fernando Verdasco may find himself in trouble from the very first round, where he’ll meet his Wimbledon nemesis, Fabio Fognini. Fognini took out Verdasco in a tight four sets in the first round of Wimbledon this year — can he do it again in New York? If Verdasco does get past him, he’ll be rewarded with a newly resurgent David Nalbandian in the third round.

In the top half of this section, David Ferrer may also face a cruel first round opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov. “Dolgo” is a fresh face and took Ferrer to three sets in Cincinnati just a couple of weeks ago. He has a unique playing style and could easily gain good rhythm that may take him to the third round. Here, he could face Ernests Gulbis, a player with a load of talent, but it’s anybody’s guess if his mental state is in the right drive to make a run here.

With Nalbandian’s first two rounds being fairly straight-forward wins, I see him overcoming both Verdasco and Gulbis in this section.

Quarterfinalist: David Nalbandian

Murray’s 1/8

Andy Murray’s first test may come in the third round when he faces #25 Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka has recently changed coaches, but he may not even be a valid threat as he failed to reach a third round in any hard court tournament this summer. He may even find himself ousted in the second round by Yen-Hsun Lu, who defeated Andy Roddick at this year’s Wimbledon.

In the bottom half of this section, the most likely third rounder may be between Sam Querrey and Nicolas Almagro. Almagro, known for his clay court game, and Querrey, having another successful summer on the hard courts, should have a quick match with Querrey moving on. He will then face Murray but lose in a close four sets.

Quarterfinalist: Andy Murray

Berdych’s 1/8

Tomas Berdych comes in with a ‘slam high’ having made the semis in Roland Garros and finals in Wimbledon this year already. His first round against Michael Llodra could be a tricky one, as he plays a serve-and-volley game predominantly. Berdych likes hard fast balls and Llodra’s pace may throw him off. If Berdych survives he may meet another Frenchman Julien Benneteau or countryman Radek Stepanek in the third round.

The top half of this section may see a potential matchup between Mikhail Youzhny and John Isner. Isner is still questionable for the US Open due to an ankle injury he sustained in Cincinnati two weeks ago. If he is fully healed, he could be facing Berdych in the fourth round, but if not, it will be Mikhail Youzhny. Either way, this section’s quarterfinalist is set.

Quarterfinalist: Tomas Berdych

Davydenko’s 1/8

Nikolay Davydenko usually keeps a low profile while still winning, so it should be no surprise he is the #6 seed. Somehow, it still perplexes me he has managed to stay this high in the rankings. Davydenko’s first tough encounter may be as early as the second round, where he could face Richard Gasquet and his elegant one-handed backhand. Thomas Bellucci, with his steady results and great runs in the last two slams, could face Davydenko in the third round and come out victorious.

The bottom half of this section may be the biggest draw for fans. Andy Roddick will most likely take on Janko Tipsarevic in the second round. Tipsarevic has taken players (including Roger Federer) deep into the fifth set in past slams and he could easily tire a player like Andy out, who is still recovering from mono. The winner will get the treat to play the skilled acrobat, Gael Monfils in the third round. I’m optimistic with my choice for this section, but here it is.

Quarterfinalist: Andy Roddick

Djokovic’s 1/8

This section of the draw may be the most interesting. Novak Djokovic is a clear favorite, or is he? He complains of asthma-like lung problems in the heat and humidity, so he may not fare as well this year as in the past. He’ll quickly be challenged by his comrade and friend Viktor Troicki in the first round. If he survives, he’ll face Philipp Petzschner in the second round. Petzschner is a skilled player, having not only hoisted the Wimbledon doubles trophy this year, but also took Rafael Nadal to five sets as well at the same tournament. The only positive is that the third round opponent may be a breather, as potentials may be either James Blake or Juan Monaco.

The top half of this section boasts a potentially great matchup in the third round between Marcos Baghdatis and Mardy Fish. Both have had breakthrough summers and are near the top of the list in hard court wins on the year. For this to happen though, Baghdatis must overcome Arnaud Clement in the first round and probably Robby Ginepri in the second round. Fish, on the other hand, should have no trouble in his first two rounds. While Baghdatis has played five tournaments in a row coming into the US Open, Fish took a smart break after Cincinnati and should be ready to overtake Baghdatis. Fish will come in much fresher than Djokovic into their fourth round encounter, and while it’ll go five sets, the winner will be clear.

Quarterfinalist: Mardy Fish

Soderling’s 1/8

In the biggest cakewalk of the draw, Soderling has five qualifiers in his section, with one of them being his first round opponent. Imagine to get through three grueling rounds in qualifying only to find out you’re playing the world #5 in your first main draw round. Ouch! Soderling should breeze through Taylor Dent in the second round and not even be challenged in the third round by Fernando Gonzalez who is still recovering from injury.

Marin Cilic is Soderling’s greatest threat in the fourth round. But he must first overcome Evgeny Korolev in the second round and possibly Australian Carsten Ball in the third. Although, Korolev has had great results in the warmup tournament in New Haven so we could see an upset as early as the second round here.

Quarterfinalist: Robin Soderling

Federer’s 1/8

And in the second biggest cakewalk of the draw, Roger Federer may not be challeneged until the third round where he faces Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt retired with an injury several weeks ago in Washington, DC and has recently split with his coach. Will this change of events take over Hewitt or will he put up a great fight and possibly overcome the champion?

In the top half of this section, we see Jurgen Melzer taking on Dmitry Tursunov, a player who has a protected ranking and decided to enter the US Open under that exemption. Melzer could then face tough young American Ryan Sweeting in the second round and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third. The match then between Melzer and Federer should be as straight forward as it was in Wimbledon this year.

Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer

Now, that my quarterfinalist picks are in order, let’s quickly breakdown my predictions to the semifinals!

Quarterfinal #1: Rafael Nadal d. David Nalbandian

Nadal has pretty much been unstoppable this season. He’s healthy and happy: no “broken abdominals” or knees, no familial problems and he finely-tuned his schedule to allow himself enough rest and recovery during the summer. Although Nalbandian is a confident competitor and his angles may blow some players off the court, he simply won’t last in a five-setter in the heat against Nadal.

Quarterfinal #2: Andy Murray d. Tomas Berdych

Berdych has a strong game and is a very powerful competitor if his mental stamina holds up. Andy Murray is known to complain and simply lose a match because of his own temper. It’s a tough draw between the two opponents, but Murray’s footwork will outlast Berych’s serve. Get ready for an even more grueling battle if Murray decides to be aggressive in his tactics.

Quarterfinal #3: Mardy Fish d. Andy Roddick

Fish has never been more fit and Roddick is coming off of a tough summer. On top of that, Fish has won their last two encounters within the last couple of months. Many are calling Fish the “darkhorse” this year and I’m jumping on the bandwagon. As much as Roddick has stayed consistent in his rankings the last six years, his results haven’t given much inspiration lately.

Quarterfinal #4: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling

This is another tough one to call, but Soderling’s lackluster summer will catch up with him in New York and he’ll see himself crash out to Federer in a tough four sets. Although Soderling’s game is more suited to the hard courts, you can’t discount Federer’s run here the last six years. Elegance and precision will overcome power and grit.

In the semifinals, the matchups between both Nadal vs. Murray and Fish vs. Federer will be epic performances as each player could beat any other on any given day. It’s hard to predict the winner of each and I’ll leave that up to you. But for now, my vote is with Rafael Nadal, 2010 US Open Champion. It’s about time to add another flame to his Babolat bag and Nike shoes.

Happy watching and cheering!

Sam Querrey: Another Victim Of The Casino Curse – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Order Restored – Just a few final thoughts as the doors close on another memorable two weeks at SW19. After one of the more unpredictable Wimbledon Championships in recent memory, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal restored some order by not only living up to their status as the heavy favorites in the finals, but doing so in emphatic fashion. For Serena, it marked her 13th major title, moving her closer to rarefied air. It may still be a big ask for her to catch Margaret Court, but Chrissie’s number of 18 is certainly looking assailable. As for Nadal, it marked his 8th major and a successful return to the hallowed grounds of the All England Club where he missed the opportunity to defend his title through injury in 2009. But the bigger payoff for Nadal in winning the title may be that between his clay and grass court seasons, he’s reestablished some of his invincible aura. He’s also coming in with a better plan for the hard court season, and he’s never been in a better position to start his campaign to take the US Open title, the lone major he has yet to add to his résumé.

More to Come? Credit also needs to be given to the losing singles finalists at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. Both Vera Zvonareva and Tomas Berdych are talented players who have struggled to put it together between the ears, so to see them both realize their talents and make the final stage of a Grand Slam was satisfying. And while neither played at their best in their first major final, much of that must be attributed to the fact that they took on champion opponents who never allowed them to get any kind of foothold in the match. What will be interesting to see is how both follow it up during the summer hard court season, particularly the US Open. Zvonareva, though talented, is still prone to emotional meltdowns. Berdych on the other hand, who very nearly made the finals of the French a month ago, seems to have achieved a tighter grip on his emotions, much of that probably coming courtesy of his new coach. For me, Zvonareva is still a question mark, but expect to see Berdych contesting more Grand Slam finals down the road.

Back on Track? – The Wimbledon fortnight also saw Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray put together a couple of nice runs to the semifinals. Murray’s run almost came out of nowhere and should provide some much needed confidence for the young Scot whose form since the Australian Open has been particularly dismal. Given the way both men meekly folded in their semifinal matches – each losing in straight sets – it’s difficult to determine just how much they may have righted the ship. But I prefer to put a positive spin on their lengthy Wimbledon campaigns in the hopes that they’ll be a factor in what could potentially be a highly competitive US Open Series.

Curse Continues – Despite his success in Queen’s earlier this year, American Sam Querrey was no match for the “Casino Curse,” as he fell in his second round match to Jamaican Dustin Brown in straight sets. Querrey’s loss continues the 35-year streak in which the top seed has failed to emerge as the victor on the fabled green lawns of the historic Newport Casino. Other notable early losses this week include American Taylor Dent and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, but at least Mahut was able to get one win under his belt after his devastating 68-70 loss to Isner in “The Match” at Wimbledon.

In the Hall – This coming Saturday, seven new inductees will take their place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But earlier in the week, Nicolas Mahut made his own way into the Hall of Fame, generously donating a shirt and racquet worn and used during his famous battle with John Isner in the first week of Wimbledon. Mahut stated he was honored to have something of his placed alongside memorabilia from some of the game’s greatest legends. While he’s no doubt mentally still smarting from the loss to Isner, the experience of seeing his shirt and racquet placed in the galleries of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum had to help slightly soften the blow.

Advanta WTT Pro League announces fines for Sportimes and Kastles

New York, N.Y. (July 23, 2009) — The Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League has announced additional reprimands for the on-court incidents involving members of the Washington Kastles and the New York Sportimes during a match on July 16 in Washington, D.C.

Following a League investigation, including review of the video and the umpire’s report, the League issued fines to the Kastles and Sportimes for the unprofessional conduct of several players – Leander Paes, Rennae Stubbs and Olga Puchkova from the Kastles; and John McEnroe, Robert Kendrick and coach Chuck Adams for the Sportimes.  In addition, Puchkova and Kendrick received individual fines for their actions.  Puchkova was fined for leaving the bench to come onto the opponents’ side of the court and verbally confronting another player.  Kendrick received a fine for his unsportsmanlike conduct when he hit a serve at the Kastles’ Leander Paes as he stood at the net while Paes’ partner was set to receive serve.

Previously the League had fined and suspended Sportimes Coach Chuck Adams for one match for violating the Coaches’ Code of Conduct.

Krystle Clear: Are tennis players all work and no play?

You are probably watching the Tennis Channel’s European tournament coverage this week.  Rafael Nadal in his muscle shirt!  Glamour and fame!  Fans!

What TV matches don’t tell you is what each guy out there goes through.

These guys have to miss a lot of school and times they could’ve spent  hanging out with friends as teens.  They train 9 to 5 days, sort of a  day at the office without paperwork.  Imagine if you had to run on a  treadmill over an hour, huh?  OK.  We all realize nobody likes to go to  the gym, and much less doing that for a living.

You don’t go out partying on weekends.  Nope.  You can’t drink too  heavily if you want to stay in shape.  Beer translates into more sugar
into your body, aka. fat.  Late nights out throw out your body’s schedule, so you might find the balance harder returning to regular  practice.  Movies?  Sure.  But be home early enough.  When traveling,  sight see, but you can’t taste the city like regular tourists do.  You have a day job to put on the next day at a match.

Forget about time off.  Travel is essentially part of your job.  Back  home, you can’t leave.  You must train.  You need to study your  opponents, learn new techniques to improve your serve.  It’s like taking a college course on tennis, graded F or A+ according to how you play at  your next tournament.

By the time you get done driving home from practice, you hang out, maybe talk with friends, listen to music, eat and call it a night.  You go on  the computer and watch as everyone else believes you’re blessed, which though you are as a pro player, you don’t get the spare time everyone  else does to be goofy, take time to discover what it is you want to do in life.  Because for now, your life is tennis, and if you want to succeed, it has to be.