Philipp Kohlschreiber

From Continent to Continent: ATP Washington and Kitzbuhel Previews

While the WTA divides its action between two coasts this week, the ATP spans the Atlantic Ocean with events on two different continents and surfaces.  The 500 tournament in Washington, part of the US Open Series, takes center stage.

Washington:

Top half:  A champion in Washington four years ago, Juan Martin Del Potro holds the top seed at the 2013 edition.  The Wimbledon semifinalist hopes to rediscover his torrid form against one of two men who shone in Atlanta.  Producing semifinal runs there last week, Lleyton Hewitt and Ryan Harrison will square off in one of the most intriguing first-round matches.  Nor can Del Potro relax if he survives the winner.  A strong grass season, highlighted by a second-week appearance at Wimbledon, will have restored Bernard Tomic’s confidence.  Although he continues to cope with controversy surrounding his father, Tomic has plenty of ways to disrupt Del Potro’s rhythm if the Argentine returns rusty from a leg injury.  A more straightforward test awaits from Kevin Anderson, seeking his third semifinal in three weeks.  Before he meets Del Potro in the quarterfinals, Anderson may find the returning Mardy Fish an opponent worthy of his steel.

If power dominates the top quarter, flair defines much of the second quarter.  The flamboyant shot-making of Tommy Haas favors precision over physicality, while the graceful one-handed backhand of Grigor Dimitrov has a vintage appeal.  Haas reached the final in Washington last year, perhaps using his training at the Bolletieri Academy in Florida as experience for coping with the humidity.  But power never lags far behind in a draw filled with Americans.  Sam Querrey will face one of two Atlanta quarterfinalists, Denis Istomin or Santiago Giraldo, in the second round.   A contrast of styles would await if Querrey advances to face Dimitrov and then Haas, although a 5-8 record since April leaves a deep run far from guaranteed.

Semifinal:  Del Potro vs. Haas

Bottom half:  Filled with question marks, the third quarter could produce a surprise semifinalist.  The favorite at first glance would seem Milos Raonic, by far the most powerful of the seeds.  Raonic’s massive serve could sizzle on a hot hard court, but he has accomplished little since winning yet another San Jose title in February.  Neither has fellow seed Nikolay Davydenko, who has struggled historically against possible second-round opponent James Blake.  Some of Gilles Simon’s best results have come in North America, including a Miami quarterfinal this spring, and the fifth seed’s steadiness might suffice to ease him past the erratic men around him.  Among them is former champion Radek Stepanek, who looks forward to American collegiate star Steve Johnson in his opener.

One might lose sight of defending champion Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth quarter.  Not a threat for most of 2013, Dolgopolov faces an arduous route towards a title defense.  Home hope John Isner looms in the third round if he can revive his energy after a draining title run in Atlanta.  An easier route to the quarterfinals beckons for Kei Nishikori, who won a North American 500 tournament at Memphis this year.  Bogota runner-up Alejandro Falla faded quickly in Atlanta, as did American teenage sensation Jack Sock.  The clean, balanced baseline game of Nishikori should carry him past either of those opponents, after which a first meeting with Isner could await.

Semifinal:  Simon vs. Isner

Final:  Del Potro vs. Isner

Kitzbuhel:

Top half:  An assortment of Europeans and clay specialists have headed to this Austrian event before venturing into the steamy American summer.  German top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber aims to move one round further than he did at another clay 250 event.  The finalist in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, Kohlschreiber can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Spanish dirt devil Marcel Granollers.  This Rome quarterfinalist will welcome the opportunity to erase memories of an epic loss in Gstaad last week.  Between them stand Horacio Zeballos of Nadal-defeating fame and Wimbledon surprise Kenny de Schepper, who reached the second week there.

A greater Wimbledon surprise than de Schepper came from Fernando Verdasco, who would not hold the third seed here if not for his quarterfinal appearance at the last major.  To his credit, Verdasco parlayed that breakthrough into a strong July, highlighted by victories over Nicolas Almagro, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jerzy Janowicz.  An all-lefty matchup against Brazilian clay specialist Thomaz Bellucci should not detain him for long en route to a rematch of the Bastad final.  At that Swedish tournament, Verdasco fell to Carlos Berlocq, who faces an extremely challenging assignment as the fifth seed.  Days after defeating Federer, the ominous Daniel Brands sets his sights on the Bastad champion.  Also in this deep section is Robin Haase, arriving from a series of morale-boosting wins in Gstaad.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Verdasco

Bottom half:   A week of mixed omens for Albert Montanes in Umag included an upset over world No. 9 Richard Gasquet and a tight loss to Gasquet’s compatriot Gael Monfils.  Twice a semifinalist on clay already this summer, Victor Hanescu finds himself on a collision course with Montanes, who won a clay title in Nice just before Roland Garros.  The winner should feel confident heading into the quarterfinals, although home hope Jurgen Melzer will have most of the audience behind him.  Melzer reached the second week of Wimbledon but has lost five consecutive clay matches dating back to Monte Carlo.

Arguably the softest section, the base of the Kitzbuhel draw lies at the mercy of second seed Juan Monaco.  This recent member of the top 10 has shown altogether too much mercy in 2013, helplessly watching his ranking decline.  All the same, Monaco has produced at least somewhat respectable tennis this summer on clay, his best surface.  Three qualifiers and a wildcard offer little competition, so any challenge would need to come from one of two Spaniards.  While Daniel Gimeno-Traver has struggled on clay this year, Roberto Bautista-Agut retired last week in Gstaad.  Monaco thus looks safe unless he implodes, admittedly not unthinkable.

Semifinal:  Montanes vs. Monaco

Final:  Verdasco vs. Montanes

ATP Stuttgart: Fognini Captures First Career ATP Title

(July 14, 2013) In the morning of the final day at the Mercedes Cup, tournament director Edwin Weindorfer reported a positive outcome of this year’s tennis event in Stuttgart.

“With about 44,000 spectators who have attended the tournament throughout the week, we achieved a new record in terms of visitor numbers. This is very important for us … (and) a milestone for the Mercedes Cup,” Weindorfer announced.

WeindorferHe also added three reasons for this boom: “We did the same job like the years before but also tried to improve the tournament every time. The weather was great during the week, a thing which is impossible to control, and of course, Tommy Haas has fostered the sale of tickets in preparation of the tournament. He didn’t make it to the final but with Philipp Kohlschreiber, we had another German in the draw until the end of the week.

Weindorfer is also convinced that top 10 players will return again to the Weissenhof club once the tournament makes its transition to grass.

“That’s the reason why we made this decision (to switch from clay to grass). We already have the commitment from the players to participate here in 2015. So we will not see a player like Rafael Nadal here in 2014, but hopefully one year later.”

Tennis action started with the doubles final where the first-time pairing of Facundo Bagnis and Thomaz Bellucci faced the Polish tandem of Tomasz Bednarek and Mateusz Kowalczyk.

The Argentine-Brazilian combination played their first career ATP World Tour doubles final and they have had a good run in Stuttgart so far, eliminating the top and fourth seeded teams in the draw.

After defeating the tournament’s second seed in the first round, the Poles on the other hand benefited from a walkover into the final. Bednarek and Kowalczyk also had the better start into today’s encounter.

Bagnis lost his serve twice in the opening set, which went in favor of the Poles with a score of 6-2 after 25 minutes. The turning point of the match took place in the sixth game of the second set when Kowalczyk missed a forehand volley and therewith the chance to gain a break and a possible 4-2 lead. The inevitable happened as Bednarek lost his serve in the following game and Bellucci closed the set out in the tenth game.

In the match tiebreak, the South Americans saved one match point before they eventually celebrated their victory with the help of a double fault, winning the third set 11-9.

Bednarek & Kowalczyk Doubles ceremony Bagnis & Bellucci IIIn the singles final, the tournament’s second seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, who had a short practice session with Markus Wislsperger two hours before the match including some tennis-football, eyed his fifth career ATP World Tour title. The German reached his third final of the year with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Victor Hanescu yesterday and another victory in straight sets against Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals, which represented his 100th career clay court win.

Kohlschreiber warming upConversely, Fabio Fognini was aiming for his first career title on the ATP World Tour. The Italian previously played two finals before but lost both in Bucharest and St. Petersburg last year. Fognini has played a solid clay court season so far with good results like reaching the semifinals at the ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo and he also achieved his personal best result in Roland Garros by reaching the third round. Here in Stuttgart, the fourth seed reached the final without losing a set including victories over top seed Tommy Haas and Roberto Bautista-Agut.

In the beginning of the match, both players had some problems finding their rhythm and showed inconsistent performances plenty of nervous unforced errors. In the first six games, both players broke each other’s service four times. In the twelfth game, it was Kohlschreiber, who gained the decisive break to take the first set after 45 minutes of play.

KohlschreiberWith the beginning of the second set, Fognini improved his groundstrokes and took an early break in the first game. In the following game, the 26-year-old from San Remo was able to defend the advantage until the end of the set to serve it out in the tenth game.

The quality of the match improved with better rallies and more emotions on court. Fognini broke serve in the third game of the final set as well as the in the fifth. The German had a chance to gain one break back and the atmosphere on center court heated up but it didn’t help.

The Italian sealed the victory winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 after two hours and six minutes to finally claim his maiden title on the ATP World Tour.

“I’m really really happy playing like this during the entire week here to finally win my first title. I knew that I had to be careful when Philipp gained the break back. I tried to stay calm and just thought of my next service game. This is what worked for me!” stated a visibly excited Fognini.

Fognini II Fognini III

With the win, the Italian earned €74,000 in prize money, and of course, the coveted Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG, ‘Edition 1’ car. The white Mercedes was driven on court by Henri Leconte, who won the tournament in 1984.

LeconteAlthough it happened to be the birthday of the Italian’s girlfriend, Fognini didn’t seem to be willing to give it to her as a present.

“I think we can share it,” he laughed. “The car will stay at home, so she will have the opportunity to use it but I also want to enjoy some rides with my friends in my town.”

Fognini inside the car

ATP Stuttgart: Kohlschreiber to Take on Fognini in Final; Mercedes Cup to Switch to Grass

(July 13, 2013) Another sunny and hot day in Stuttgart began with a fully-packed program off the courts.

In the morning, the organizers of the Mercedes Cup presented their “Vision 2015”, the year when the tournament’s surface will switch from clay to grass. Themed by “Mercedes Cup serves green”, a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony took place with tournament director Edwin Weindorfer along local politicians, sponsors, guests like Boris Becker and Toni Nadal as well as officials from the ATP and the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, which supports the replacement at the venue with their know-how during the coming years.

Ground breaking Ground breaking II“We were delighted when Stuttgart came very fast out of blocks in terms of expressing their interest in converting the tournament here from clay to grass,” said the club’s Chairman, Philip Brook. “We are very excited as Stuttgart will be a very important tournament ahead of the All England Championships.”

The Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart has been the only candidate so far, where the ATP accepted the tender for the new calendar structure featuring a three weeks grass court season before Wimbledon. Other applicants like the tournaments in Gstaad and Umag have to readjust their candidature.

Laurent Delanney of the ATP congratulated the tournament on their decision: “I think it is a great success for Stuttgart and the fans!” Right after the end of this year’s edition of the Mercedes Cup the alteration work on the first three courts will start.

Delanney CEO ATP EuropeAnother off-court highlight was a tennis practice session for kids on Centre Court under the special direction of Toni Nadal and Andrea Petkovic.

Practice session with Petkovic & NadalThe Spanish coach has attended the entire week here in Stuttgart to take part in a project called “Making of a Wimbledon Champion.” Moreover, a junior tournament took place with a couple of German youngsters in which the 18-year-old Maximilian Marterer took the title. Properly more important for him is the fact that he will be granted a wild card for the 2015 grass court premiere of the tournament.

In match play, the first contest of the day took place between Fabio Fognini and Roberto Bautista-Agut. The Italian, who knocked out top-seed Tommy Haas in the round before, played his 11th career ATP World Tour semi-final of which he only reached three previous finals.

Bautista-Agut played his second career semi-final after reaching the stage of the last four in Chennai earlier this year. Today, both players made a nervous start and the match began with three breaks in a row. Fognini, however, managed to find his rhythm quickly. The Italian had better length in his shots, put more variety in his groundstrokes and became the more dominant player throughout the match.

Fognini gained two more breaks in the fifth and seventh game to close the first set out after 22 minutes. Bautista on the other hand remained to be an unforced error machine in the second frame as well. Consequently the 25-year-old Spaniard lost his first service game and was only able to hold one after 35 minutes in the fourth game of the second set. It was the time when you might have thought that this could work as a wake-up-call for Bautista, as he could gain the break back in the seventh game but still couldn’t stabilise his play in general. Most of the time Fognini just needed to keep the ball in play to win the rallies.

The 26-year-old Italian broke serve in the eighth game to close the match out winning 6-1, 6-3 after 55 minutes. Fognini has joined his countryman Andrea Gaudenzi as only the second Italian to reach the final in Stuttgart since 1994.

FogniniAfter the encounter, Fognini was understandably happy. “During the first days it was difficult with the transition from grass to clay court but I improved day by day,” said the Italian. “Today, I think I played very solid and I hope to play like this in tomorrow’s final.”

He also told his thoughts about playing on grass here in two years time. “It’s strange and I can’t really imagine it by now. When you have a look around everything is red but when I come back in two years it will be on grass and that’s ok, as I like the courts and the hospitality.”

Fognini IIHe also enjoyed playing in front of the German crowd, which seems to like his style of play and supports him, but he was quick to note his next opponent’s advantage. “If I play Kohlschreiber in tomorrow’s final, I think it will change but nonetheless I hope that I can finally win my first title on the Tour”.

In tomorrow’s final Fognini will have to face the German. Philipp Kohlschreiber broke a five-match losing streak against Gael Monfils yesterday and continued his success today defeating Victor Hanescu in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.

In front of a fully packed centre court with 4,200 spectators, the 29-year-old from Augsburg showed a consistent baseline game, broke his opponent’s service in the fifth and ninth game of the opening set. In the following game, Kohlschreiber had to fight harder and it became an even encounter when Hanescu played up his game.

In the end it was the second seed, who gained the decisive break in the eighth game to eventually close the match out after 80 minutes of play. Kohlschreiber becomes the first German to reach the final in Stuttgart after Tommy Haas did so in 1999.

KohlschreiberKohlschreiber was glad that he was able to stick to his game tactic. “I played aggressively with a lot of spin in my shots,” said the German after his win. “That’s what (Hanescu) obviously didn’t like. I’m really satisfied with my performance today and that I could win the decisive points.”

About his opponent in the final he added, “Fognini has played a strong season so far this year, in particular on clay where he reached the semis in Monte Carlo amongst others. I think there will be no favourite in tomorrow’s final.”

Kohlschreiber also mentioned the Mercedes for the champion with a smile, “Maybe the possibility of winning the car might be the right incentive for me.”

In the second doubles semi-final Facundo Bagnis & Tomaz Bellucci defeated Dustin Brown & Paul Hanley winning 6-7, 6-4, 10-6 after one hour and thirty minutes of play.

Bagnis & Bellucci

Florian’s Travels: Haas, Paire Fall in Stuttgart; Fognini Thru

Centre Court

(July 13, 2013) Four of the five top seeds, including three Germans, were in action at Friday’s quarterfinals at the 35th edition of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.

In the first match of a beautiful sunny day at the Weissenhof Club, two unseeded players met each other for the first time. Roberto Bautista-Agut faced Michael Berrer, who was born in Stuttgart and entered the tournament by a wild card. The German played aggressively right from the beginning and tried to find his way to the net as often as possible. The Spaniard needed some time to respond to the attacking style of his opponent.

Bautista Agut

In the sixth game Bautista broke Berrer’s serve for the first time when he hit some nice passing shots. With another break in the eighth game, the Spaniard took the opening set 6-2 after just 29 minutes. During the changeover, Berrer took a medical time-out and received some treatment to his left elbow and arm. This seemed to help the German break serve in the first game of the second set, but that’s where his luck ended.

After this short feeling of success, however, Berrer was forced to retire.

“I felt pain in my elbow when I was serving and so it was useless to go on,” explained Berrer in his press conference. “Yesterday, I noticed it for the first time and I got treatment but this morning I could hardly brush my teeth.”

Berrer

For the tournament’s local player, it was bitter decision.

“There were so many people here in Stuttgart who wanted to see me play,” Berrer continued. “I could have given at least seventeen tickets away to friends. This also means that I’m out for the qualification in Hamburg but I hope that it will be better in four to five days.”

Berrer also had to withdraw from his scheduled doubles semifinal with his partner Andreas Beck thereby giving their opponents, Tomasz Bednarek and Mateusz Kowalczyk, a walkover into the final on Sunday.

In the second match of the day, Victor Hanescu extended his head-to-head advantage against tournament No. 4 seed, Benoit Paire to 4-0. The Romanian won the encounter after 71 minutes with a score of 7-5, 6-2.

Hanescu

The Frenchman lost an even opening set when he faced his first break points of the match, and let it get away from him. As a consequence and in typical Paire style, the Frenchman hit the ball clear out of center court, also giving him an expected warning by the chair umpire.

Paire never really recovered from that and lost his service in the fourth game of the second set with a double fault. From then on the “Big Paire-show” began in terms of moaning, complaining and even smashing his racket, which meant the 24-year-old was given a point penalty.

After the match, Hanescu admitted that it might have been the key to his win that he stayed focused during Paire’s tantrums — when he wasn’t really sure about what was going on, on the other side of the net. The Romanian added: “Sometimes I wasn’t really sure if he was playing on or just making show.”

In the afternoon, it was time for the marquee match of the day which featured top seed Tommy Haas against No. 5 seed Fabio Fognini.

Given that Tommy Haas’ manager, Edwin Weindorfer, is also the Mercedes Cup’s tournament director, it was no surprise to find the German’s face plastered on every poster, t-shirt and cap.

Tommymania

On an almost fully packed center court, the 35-year-old Haas appeared in his ninth ATP World Tour quarterfinal of the year facing Fognini for the first time. The Italian had a great start and began to hit some nice backhand winners. The German veteran was under pressure in every service game. Consequently, he lost his serve in the third and seventh games, allowing Fognini to close the set out in only 31 minutes.

Fognini

Seven minutes later Haas gained his first break point of the match but couldn’t capitalize on it. So it was the fifth-seeded Italian again who got the break in the seventh game. Fognini served the match out 6-2, 6-4 after 74 minutes and finished the “Haas-hype” in Stuttgart.

“It wasn’t my best day for sure,” said a calm Haas after the encounter. “I tried to find a rhythm and I fought for that. There were also some unlucky calls today. It is always difficult with the umpires on clay. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go on for me here in Stuttgart.”

Haas II

Haas will next play at the German Open in Hamburg and also revealed what he did with the car he won earlier this year at the BMW Open in Munich: “I sold it!” Luckily for Haas, he won’t have the problem of finding a buyer for the tournament winner’s car this time, a Mercedes.

All the German hopes have now switched to Philipp Kohlschreiber, the last remaining German left. The second-seed held a 1-8 career head-to-head disadvantage against Gael Monfils, but today the German was able to improve this stat.

Monfils

Kohlschreiber gained two breaks in the third and seventh games of the first set, and Monfils could only get one back. The Frenchman then had the chance to even the set at 5-5, but the German ended up serving out the set after 38 minutes.

Kohlschreiber

The second set became a copy of the first, with Kohlschreiber again up two breaks up. He eventually sealed victory after 70 minutes, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his first ever semifinal in Stuttgart.

Check back Saturday and Sunday for full semifinal and final coverage from Stuttgart!

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

Wimbledon Rewind: Favorites and Fifth Sets (Mostly) Dominate on Day 2

The first round concluded at Wimbledon today without any seismic shock similar to Day 1 but with many more tightly contested matches than yesterday.  Check out the intriguing events below.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The top-ranked American squared off against the top-ranked Australian in a five-set rollercoaster of two giants.  After Bernard Tomic eked out the first two sets in tiebreaks, he characteristically lost the plot and allowed Sam Querrey to win two routine sets.  But Tomic got the last word, repeating his 2012 Australian Open victory over the American by zoning back into the action for the final set.  When he catches fire, he can ignite a draw.

Comeback of the day:  An Eastbourne semifinalist last week, Ivan Dodig fell behind 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber two sets to none and came within a tiebreak of losing in straights.  Dominating that tiebreak, Dodig carried that momentum through the fourth set and reaped the reward of his perseverance when Kohlschreiber retired early in the fifth.

Trend of the day:  The first day featured only one five-setter, but the second day brought fans no fewer than nine.  Five Americans played fifth sets.  In four of those nine matches, one player won the first two sets before letting the opponent back into the match.  None of the nine extended past 6-6 in the final set, however, and two ended in fifth-set retirements, a strange anticlimax.

Symmetry of the day:  On the same day that Tomic defeated Querrey, a different American defeated a different Aussie in the same manner.  Denis Kudla won the first two sets, lost the next two, and then recovered to win the fifth from James Duckworth.  Taken together, those results accurately reflect the superior promise of Australian tennis at the top and the superior depth of American tennis overall.

Gold star:  A three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a champion at Eastbourne, Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on grass.  He extended his winning streak to the All England Club by knocking off the tenacious Gilles Simon in straight sets.  The upset recalled Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday, in which an unseeded grass specialist also defeated a seeded counterpuncher.

Silver star:  The volatile game of Florian Mayer does not make the easiest way to settle into a major, especially for a man who had not played a match on grass this year.  In his first match since the epic Roland Garros loss to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stood tall as the Wimbledon top seed in dispatching Mayer uneventfully.

Americans in London:  Beyond the previously noted Querrey and Kudla, the stars and stripes produced mixed results on Tuesday.  Ryan Harrison unsurprisingly fell to Jeremy Chardy, although he did win a set, while James Blake unexpectedly dominated Thiemo de Bakker for the loss of just six games.  Bobby Reynolds cannibalized Steve Johnson, who now has lost a five-setter in the first round of every major this year.  Court 9 saw the little-lamented departures of Wayne Odesnik and Michael Russell to a pair of fellow journeymen.

Question of the day:  While rivals Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro all advanced in straight sets, David Ferrer struggled through a four-setter against an unheralded South American.  He also lost his opener last week at the Dutch Open.  Do these struggles suggest an early exit for the other Spanish finalist at Roland Garros, or will Ferrer find his grass groove with time?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi sought to continue building her momentum in a comeback from a long injury absence.  Home hope Tara Moore sought to justify her wildcard and earn her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.  The two waged a relentless 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 duel in the confines of Court 17, which ended in hope for Kanepi and familiar heartbreak for Moore.

Comeback of the day:  The pugnacious Barbara Zahlavova Strycova refused to fade after dropping a tight first set to Magdalena Rybarikova.  Over the next two sets, the Czech yielded one total game to the Slovak who had reached the Birmingham semifinals (and won that tournament before).  Compatriot and Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova also fell to a Czech opponent in Klara Zakopalova as the western half of the former Czechoslovakia held their neighboring rivals in check.

Upset of the day:  Not the highest-ranked player to lose today, Nadia Petrova suffered the most surprising loss in falling to Katerina Pliskova in two tepid sets.  Petrova owes her top-15 status to a series of strong results last fall, but she could not consolidate them this year and now has little margin for error in the second half.

Gold star:  Thorny draws often have awaited Laura Robson at Wimbledon, and this year proved no exception with world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko awaiting her on Court 1.  The leading British women’s hope delighted her compatriots with her second victory over a top-ten opponent at a major this year.  Robson now eyes a relatively open draw after that initial upset, although she cannot relax her guard.

Silver star:  Both of last year’s finalists advanced with ease, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska losing six games between them.  But perhaps even more impressive was the double breadstick that Li Na served to Michaella Krajicek, a player whose massive weapons could threaten on grass.  Li has struggled for most of the spring, and she has not shone on grass since 2010, so this victory might raise her spirits for the challenging road ahead.

Wooden spoon:  A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year, Tamira Paszek fell in the first round this year to the anonymous Alexandra Cadantu.  She has dropped nearly 1,000 points in two weeks, combining Eastbourne with Wimbledon, and will plummet from the top 30 in May to outside the top 100 in July.

Americans in London:  Outside Serena, most of the main American threats are (or were) in the other half of the draw.  Two youngsters suffered contrasting fates on Tuesday, Madison Keys dismissing British talent Heather Watson and Mallory Burdette falling short in a tight three-setter to Urszula Radwanska.  The only other American woman in action, Birmingham semifinalist Allison Riske, earned an upset of sorts over clay specialist Romina Oprandi when the latter retired in the third set.

Question of the day:  It’s grass season, which means that it’s Tsvetana Pironkova season.  The willow Bulgarian, twice a quarterfinalist or better at Wimbledon, routed top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just one game.  How far can Pironkova’s grass magic carry her?

Roland Garros Rewind: Wawrinka Wins Thriller; Djokovic Finishes Strong; Sharapova, Azarenka, Nadal Cruise on Monday

From 256 players to 16, the Roland Garros draws keep shrinking.  We keep returning to keep you updated on the latest attrition.

ATP:

Match of the day:  After Richard Gasquet had won his first eleven sets of the tournament, he lost the plot just long enough for Stanislas Wawrinka to reset himself.  Once again, Gasquet allowed a two-set lead to evaporate at a major.  But he battled valiantly to the end, only succumbing 8-6 in the fifth as Wawrinka reached his first Roland Garros quarterfinal.

Most improved:  The outlook is not bright for Wawrinka in the next round, however, for he faces a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal.  The birthday boy celebrated turning 27 with his most emphatic win of the tournament, finally delivering sustained quality from start to finish.  Nadal will have one more tune-up before the Friday battle with his archrival.

Least improved:  That is, assuming that Novak Djokovic reaches that stage.  The death of his former coach predictably took its toll on his game in a four-set victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber, who converted only two of thirteen break points.  Djokovic asserted that his motivation to win here had risen rather than dulled, but he rarely has produced his best tennis in situations of personal turmoil.

Stat of the day:  Not since 1971 had a man as old as Tommy Haas reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros.  But the German achieved that feat for the first time in 12 appearances, crushing Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets two days after saving a match point against John Isner.

Question of the day:  Haas dominated Djokovic in Miami this spring.  Can he repeat the feat when they meet in the quarterfinals?

WTA:

Match of the day:  None.  All of the higher-ranked women won in straight sets to leave Svetlana Kuznetsova the only unseeded quarterfinalist in either draw.

Most improved:  Into her third quarterfinal here, Victoria Azarenka improved to 11-0 at major this year by sweeping nine straight games from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone.  Azarenka had descended from second-round frailty to third-round fecklessness, so this authoritative fourth-round display came as a welcome relief to her fans.  She will seek her first Roland Garros semifinal against Maria Kirilenko.

Americans in Paris:  Down they went like dominoes, none able to win a set from their fourth-round opponents.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands could solve Li Na but not Maria Kirilenko, while Jamie Hampton could solve Petra Kvitova but not Jelena Jankovic.  When Tuesday dawns in Paris, Serena Williams will fly the stars and stripes all by herself.  To be honest, though, nobody would have expected any Americans other than Serena to reach the middle weekend.

Stat of the day:  Marching ever further into her title defense, Maria Sharapova recorded her 33rd consecutive victory on clay (and 43rd in her last 44 matches) against opponents other than Serena.  The best clay winning percentage of any active woman got a little better when she swatted Sloane Stephens aside with a much stronger serving display than in her previous two matches.

Question of the day:  All of the top four women have reached the quarterfinals, three without losing a set.  Can any of their opponents forestall a semifinal convergence?

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Djokovic, Nadal, Sharapova, Azarenka Highlight Day 9 Action

On the second Monday of Roland Garros, the remaining quarterfinal lineups take shape.  We continue our comprehensive look at the round of 16.

ATP:

Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber:  Four long years ago, Kohlschreiber stunned the future No. 1 in the third round here, their only clay meeting.  Never have they met since Djokovic became the Djuggernaut in 2011, so that history offers little guide.  Growing more impressive with each round, he demolished Grigor Dimitrov to reach the second week without dropping a set.  Kohlschreiber has played only two matches here, receiving a second-round walkover, but he too has shone in limited action and appears to have recovered from a recent injury.  Highlighted by his elegant one-handed backhand, the German’s shot-making talent should produce flurries of winners and an ideal foil for Djokovic’s court coverage.  But he lacks the consistent explosiveness to hit through the Serb from the baseline.

Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny:  Two veterans wield their one-handed backhands in hopes of a quarterfinal rendezvous with Djokovic.  Far from a clay specialist, Youzhny may have surprised even himself by reaching the second week here, although he did win a set from the Serb in Monte Carlo and compiled a solid week in Madrid.  A week later, he halted Haas routinely in Rome for his second win of the clay season over a top-20 opponent.  Youzhny’s third such victory came over Janko Tipsarevic on Saturday, perhaps aided by the Serb’s fatigue in playing the day after a grueling five-setter.  Meanwhile, Haas found the stamina to win a five-set epic from John Isner on Saturday without a day of rest, putting younger men to shame.  Able to weather the adversity of twelve match points squandered, he looks as physically and mentally fit at age 35 as he ever has.

Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori: After Nadal lost a set to the Japanese star in their first meeting five years ago, he has swept their remaining three meetings without losing more than four games in any set.  None of them has come on clay, which should tilt the balance of power even more clearly in Nadal’s favor.  If he brings his flustered, disheveled form of the first week into the second week, however, Nishikori has the coolness, consistency, and belief to punish him.  The last Asian player left in either draw recently defeated Federer on the Madrid clay, and he owns a victory over Djokovic as well.  Nadal needs to start this match more solidly than he did his three previous matches, or he might dig an early hole for himself again.  Even if he does, Nishikori’s vanilla baseline game should play into Rafa’s hands eventually.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet:  The Swiss No. 2 could have renamed himself “Wowrinka” after a clay season in which he surged back to the top 10.  Just outside it now, he seeks to reach his first Roland Garros quarterfinal with a fifth victory over a top-ten opponent this spring.  This match will feature a scintillating battle of the two finest backhands in the men’s game, Wawrinka’s the sturdiest and Gasquet’s the most aesthetically pleasing.  A strong four-set victory over fellow dark horse Jerzy Janowicz will give the former man valuable momentum for tackling an opponent who did not lose a set in the first week.  Once fallible when playing in or for France, Gasquet has improved in that area during this mature phase of his career.  He remains highly unreliable when sustained adversity strikes or when a match grows tense, as this match should.

WTA:

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Maria Kirilenko:  When they collided on hard courts this spring, the Russian prevailed uneventfully.  That result captured the relative status of their games then, Mattek-Sands struggling to gain traction in the main draws of key tournaments and Kirilenko arriving from a semifinal at Indian Wells.  The gap separating their trajectories has narrowed during the clay season, where Mattek-Sands suddenly has emerged as a credible threat.  A victory over Sara Errani launched her toward a semifinal in Stuttgart, while an upset over Li Na here has catalyzed this second-week run.  The American will dictate the terms of this engagement by attempting to bomb winners down the line before Kirilenko settles into the rallies.  Against someone who defends as adeptly as the Russian, that tactic could reap mixed results for someone whose accuracy ebbs and flows.

Francesca Schiavone vs. Victoria Azarenka:  In a bizarre head-to-head considering their histories, Azarenka has won both of their clay meetings and Schiavone their only match on hard courts.  Those trends do not reflect the surface advantage that one would hand the Italian, once a champion and twice a finalist here.  Azarenka never has ventured past the quarterfinals, by contrast, and has struggled both mentally and physically with the demands of clay.  She may need more experience on it to solve its riddles, but Schiavone could confront her with an intriguing test.  A player who prefers rhythmic exchanges from the baseline, Azarenka can expect to find herself stretched into uncomfortable positions and forced to contend with an array of spins and slices.  If she serves as woefully as she did against Cornet a round ago, Schiavone might have a real chance at another miracle.

Jamie Hampton vs. Jelena Jankovic:  It looks like a clear mismatch on paper, and it could prove a mismatch in reality.  A three-time Roland Garros semifinalist and former No. 1 confronts an American who never has reached a major quarterfinal or the top 20.  But Hampton will bring confidence from her upset of Petra Kvitova, an opponent with much more dangerous weapons than Jankovic can wield.  The bad news for the underdog is that the Serb also will have brought confidence from her previous round, a three-set comeback against former Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur.  Jankovic often follows an excellent performance with a clunker, though, as she showed in Rome when she collapsed against Simona Halep after upsetting Li Na.  And Hampton won their only prior meeting last year at Indian Wells.

Maria Sharapova vs. Sloane Stephens:  The defending champion looked a few degrees less than bulletproof in the second sets of her last two victories.  Perhaps Sharapova relaxed her steeliness a bit in both when she won the first sets resoundingly from her overmatched prey.  While she deserves credit for finishing both in style, future opponents may find hope in those lulls.  On the other hand, Sharapova struggled on serve throughout her match against Stephens in Rome—and lost a whopping three games.  Her experience buttressed her on the key deuce points, which she dominated, while her return devastated the Stephens serve.  The 20-year-old American has surpassed expectations by reaching the second week here again, although she has benefited from a toothless draw.  Needing help from Serena to stun the world in Melbourne, Stephens will need help from Sharapova to stun the world in Paris.

Roland Garros Day 3: Links Roundup with Nadal, Sock, Gulbis, Stephens 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: A stormy view of Suzanne Lenglen court where Tommy Haas took out  Guillaume Rufin in straight sets “while sick and on antibiotics” as tweeted by his proud wife, Sara Foster.

Rain, Rain, Go Away: Day 3 of the French Open commenced with an unfortunate 2.5 hour rain delay. The lengthy delay not only pushed back the third day of opening round matches, but it puts players such as Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova at disadvantage because as the Associated Press reports, “They won’t begin until at least Wednesday, three days after some players were already into the second round.”

Philipp Kohlschreiber tells all:  In this Road to Roland Garros feature, German Philipp Kohlschreiber discusses the prospect of serving up a triple bagel, his favorite movie and actor, his goals when entering a match, and even dresses up in a Viking costume.

Nick Kyrgios poised and patient:  In an interview following his first round victory over Radek Stepanek, Australian Nick Kyrgios said “playing juniors has been a major step in being so confident” but he realizes thinking too far ahead can spell trouble.  His coach, Simon Rea, echoed this sentiment stating, “I don’t view this as a skyrocketing path to the top 50 for Nick (but rather) an important step on his journey.”

Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal demonstrate erratic nature of tennis:  As Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated describes, Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens have had markedly different results since the Australian Open but their first round matches would indicate otherwise. 

Given his form coming in, he figured to make quick work of Daniel Brands, a German journeyman of little regard” but as any tennis player and fan can attest to and as Wertheim articulates “there are no sure bets in tennis.” Nadal fans held their breath for nearly two sets before the Spaniard ran away with the win in four.

“Since Australia, it’s been tough sledding for Stephens … (but) on Monday, with efficiency and deceptively hard hitting, she pushed aside Karin Knapp 6-2 7-5.”

Jack Sock playing in the memory of friends: In a picture American Jack Sock posted via twitter, he indicated he is “not only playing for myself but for two friends that passed away in the last couple of weeks.” Sock penned in the initials of his two friends on the shoes he would presumably be wearing during the French Open: Brian Boyd from his high school days and Alex Rovello from their years playing in the juniors, who was a University of Oregon tennis player and died in a tragic accident recently. Today, Sock recorded his first ever victory at the French Open over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain in straight sets.

Ernests Gulbis discusses future, on court etiquette: In an article written by Reem Abulleil of Sport 360, Gulbis stated that recognizes the lack of pressure he will deal with for the rest of the season. He said, “I have no points to defend until the end of the year.  I think ranking wise I’m probably in the best position of anybody.  Step by step we’re going to get somewhere.”  Although Gulbis may display animosity toward his opponents on and off the court he told Sport 360 “I can sometimes be disrespectful in some press conferences but when I play, I really want to respect the opponent.”

Bernard Tomic injured, forced to retired, comments on father: Bernard Tomic was forced to retire in his opening round match of the French Open against Victor Hanescu claiming that he felt his “leg sort of tear and didn’t know what it was.” Not wanting to talk about the incident in Madrid with his father, Tomic only said “my dad’s still my coach, and he’ll always be, because, you know, I grew up with him and he knows me better than everyone else.” Tomic said in regards to injury that he is “lucky it’s not huge” and that he should be ready in time for Wimbledon.

19-year-old Lucas Pouille scores massive win: Lucas Pouille, a 19-year-old French wildcard, won his first ever tour level match, defeating American wildcard Alex Kuznestov in three convincing sets.  In an article (translated) written by Lucas Apulia of francetv, Pouille stated, “It was fabulous, I had an incredible time. When I finished the game, I was really happy.”

ATP Munich Gallery: Dodig Defeats Cilic; Dolgopolov and Kohlschreiber Also Thru

MUNICH (May 1, 2013) — Defending BMW Open champion Philipp Kohlschreiber took just 63 minutes to defeat world No. 195 Evgeny Korolev in his opening match, 6-2, 6-4. Croat Ivan Dodig also found himself in the quarterfinals after ousting tournament No. 2 seed and fellow Croat Marin Cilic in an easy two sets, 6-4, 6-2. Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Dmitry Tursunov, 7-6(2), 7-6(3) as Viktor Troicki took out Radek Stepanek, 6-4, 6-4.

Full gallery of the day’s matches by photographer Moana Bauer below.

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