Philipp Kohlschreiber

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Portugal, Munich Previews

As consecutive Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome loom on the horizon, the 250 events in Portugal and Munich provide a pleasant diversion.  Many of the men entered in each will hope to use their less star-studded surroundings to bounce back from ongoing slumps and build momentum for the rest of the Road to Roland Garros.

Portugal:

Top half:   After he played his worst match in years at Miami, Novak Djokovic bounced back with sparkling efforts in Davis Cup and Monte Carlo.  After a similar debacle in the opening round of Barcelona, David Ferrer hopes for a similar turnaround.  The disappointment of losing the Miami final after holding a match point may continue to weigh heavily on him, but he faces an even friendlier draw here than in Barcelona.  Imposing servers Gilles Muller and Igor Sijsling, the latter of whom earned a top-10 win in February, should threaten him less here than on hard courts.  While Benoit Paire nearly took a set from Rafa in Barcelona, his wild oscillations in form should allow Ferrer to grind past him in the quarterfinals.

Not far ahead of defending quarterfinal points in Rome, third seed Andreas Seppi must improve on his desultory start to the clay season.  Seppi exited early in both Monte Carlo and Bucharest, so he will look to build confidence in a section surrounded by fellow clay specialists.  Among them is Colombia’s Alejandro Falla, who has caused players more elite than Seppi to furrow their brows before.  One of three Spaniards could meet the Italian in the quarterfinals, including the last two Casablanca champions.  This year’s winner there, Tommy Robredo, extended his encouraging form to a Barcelona quarterfinal appearance after he upset Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych.  A heavy underdog there, Robredo must adjust to the position of a favorite as the eighth seed.

Semifinal:  Ferrer vs. Robredo

Bottom half:  Seppi may have felt relieved not to face compatriot Fabio Fognini in an early round, having become his first victim en route to a Monte Carlo semifinal.  That first such result at the Masters 1000 level, which included victories over Berdych and Richard Gasquet, does not necessarily signal a breakthrough for a habitual underachiever.  But Fognini still looks clearly the most convincing clay player in this section.  Paolo Lorenzi once took a set—and nearly a match—from Rafa in Rome, granted, and David Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year.  All the same, neither man sustained what look increasingly like fluke results, while fifth seed Julien Benneteau prefers faster surfaces.  A fine opportunity beckons for Fognini to keep accumulating points and rising in the rankings.

Oddly absent from last week’s action in Barcelona and Bucharest, the second-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka did not miss another chance to collect victories on his best surface.  Wawrinka faces a compelling opener against either Carlos Berlocq, a Davis Cup hero for Argentina and a semifinalist in Vina Del Mar, or Barcelona quarterfinalist Albert Ramos, an underrated lefty.  The route might grow smoother for the Swiss No. 2 after that stage, though, for Nadal-killer Horacio Zeballos has tumbled precipitously since his notable triumph.  After suffering some acute disappointments this year, Wawrinka might bounce back here.

Semifinal:  Fognini vs. Wawrinka

Final:  Ferrer vs. Fognini

Munich:

Top half:  Trudging wearily from one tournament to the next and one week to the next, top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic has not played inspired tennis since his victory over Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Australian Open.  In his section stand two players who have fared well at Roland Garros before, former semifinalists Jurgen Melzer and Gael Monfils.  While Melzer has watched his talents dwindle with age, despite reaching a Miami quarterfinal this spring, Monfils has grown frustrated with a series of injuries that have dulled his athletic panache.  He retired from Bucharest last week, just as Tipsarevic’s possible opening-round opponent Thomaz Bellucci retired from Barcelona.  The Serb has battled injuries himself this spring, which means that this quarter could become a contest of who can stay physically fit the longest.

Impressed by his tight three-setter against Djokovic in Monte Carlo, I thought that Mikhail Youzhny could reach the Bucharest final.  That thought proved short-sighted when he exited the tournament early, reverting to his usual unimpressive clay form.  Most of the players in his section have struggled recently, from Viktor Troicki to the nearly vanished Marcos Baghdatis.  A surprise semifinalist in Barcelona, Philipp Kohlschreiber might advance deep into the draw at a home tournament.  The crowd helped propel Tommy Haas to notable upsets here last year, so his fellow German shot-maker can expect a similar boost.

Semifinal:  Melzer vs. Kohlschreiber

Bottom half:  The aforementioned Haas returns to Munich as the third seed, seeking to build upon his Miami semifinal performance after a well-deserved respite.  No such respite awaits him at the start of this draw, where he will meet either Ernests Gulbis or Jarkko Nieminen.  Although not at his best on clay, Gulbis has taken significant steps forward in recent months, and Nieminen reached the Monte Carlo quarterfinals with wins over Milos Raonic and Juan Martin Del Potro.  That possible battle of veterans between the 31-year-old Nieminen and the 35-year-old Haas would offer the latter a chance to avenge his five-set loss to the Finn at the Australian Open, where he squandered a match point.  Next might await an all-German quarterfinal against Florian Mayer, who has lost all of his matches with Haas.

Almost as intriguing is the fourth quarter, where the two seeds should find themselves sternly tested.  Former Roland Garros semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko might pose a second-round threat to Marin Cilic, since the Russian held a match point against Berdych at Barcelona last week and defeated Cilic at this tournament two years ago.  The other seed, Alexander Dolgopolov, has resembled Tipsarevic in his persistent underachievement this year.  His nemesis might emerge in the form of Dmitry Tursunov, a stunning victor over Ferrer in Barcelona.  Long ago abandoned as a relevant contender, the Russian began to reassert himself in February with strong results at Marseille and Dubai.

Semifinal:  Haas vs. Davydenko

Final:  Kohlschreiber vs. Haas

Check out the preview of WTA action this week published just above this article.

Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic

Wizards of Oz (VI): Murray, Monfils, Kuznetsova, Stephens, and More on Australian Open Day 6

Our colleague James Crabtree will tell you everything that you want to know about the looming Federer-Tomic collision in a separate article, while we preview the other matches of note as the first week ends.

ATP:

Berankis vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena):  Recording his best performance to date here, Berankis cruised through his first two matches in straight sets and yielded just six games to the 25th seed, Florian Mayer.  The bad news for him is that Murray has looked equally impressive in demolishing his early opponents, and his counterpunching style suits these courts better than the Lithuanian’s high-risk attack.  Shorter than the average player, Berankis can pound first serves of formidable pace and crack fine backhands down the line.  So far in his career, though, he has not done either with the consistency necessary to overcome an opponent of Murray’s versatility in a best-of-five format.

Simon vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena):  Odd things can happen when two Frenchmen play each other, and odd usually equals entertaining in the first week of a major.  Monfils should feel lucky to have reached this stage after tossing nearly 40 double faults in a bizarre start to his tournament, where the nine sets that he has played may hamper him against an opponent as fit and durable as Simon.  His compatriot has looked fallible as well, meanwhile, dropping first sets to third-tier challengers Volandri and Levine.  Against the quirky arsenal of shots that Monfils deploys stands Simon’s monochrome steadiness, which can look unglamorous but has proved superior in three of their four meetings.

Seppi vs. Cilic (Court 2):  A second-week appearance at a hard-court major would mark a fine start to 2013 for Seppi in the wake of his breakthrough 2012, accomplished mostly on his favored clay.  For Cilic, the achievement would come as less of a surprise considering his semifinal here three years ago and the ease with which his elongated groundstroke swings suit this surface.  Near the middle of last season, he too signaled a revival by winning two small titles and reaching the second week at Wimbledon.  Cilic has looked more likely than Seppi this week to build on last season, winning all six of his sets as the Italian narrowly escaped his second round in five.

Raonic vs. Kohlschreiber (Court 3):  Seeking his second fourth-round appearance at Melbourne, Raonic passed the ominous test of Lukas Rosol with flying colors.  That effort improved greatly upon his uneven effort in the first round, allowing him to conserve energy for his meeting with a flamboyant German.  Defying national stereotypes, Kohlschreiber loves to throw caution to the wind by unleashing his cross-court backhand and inside-out forehand at the earliest opportunity, which will test Raonic’s vulnerable two-hander.  In this first meeting, he may find the rising star’s serve too great a frustration to keep his composure as he battles to match hold for hold.

WTA:

Vesnina vs. Vinci (Margaret Court Arena):  Fresh from her first career title in Hobart, Vesnina has brought that confidence to the brink of the second week.  Solid in most areas but outstanding in none, she faces a crafty Italian who coaxes errors from the unwary with unusual shots like a biting backhand slice.  Vinci has become the best women’s doubles player in the world by virtue of an all-court game that compensates in variety for what it lacks in power.  Her experience also should earn her a mental edge over the notoriously fragile Vesnina if the match stays close.

Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 2):  This match lies very much on Kuznetsova’s racket, for better or for worse.  Armed with one of the WTA’s more picturesque backhands, Suarez Navarro upset top-eight foe Errani and then outlasted a feisty assault from newcomer Yulia Putintseva.  But Kuznetsova has cruised through her first two matches with the same brand of controlled aggression that fueled her strong week in Sydney.  She lost to the Spaniard on a particularly feckless day at Indian Wells, showing her tendency to cross the line from bold to reckless too easily.  Showing that Suarez Navarro has no answers for her best form are the routs that she recorded in their other encounters.

Stephens vs. Robson (Court 2):  An encore of a match that Stephens won in Hobart, this battle offers Robson a chance to build upon her epic victory over Kvitova—provided that she can recover in time for another draining match.  The Brit showed remarkable resilience despite her youth in that 20-game final set against a Wimbledon champion, although her level fluctuated throughout in a way that Stephens rarely does.  Steadily climbing up the rankings, the American also has shown self-belief against even the most elite contenders, so a clash of wills awaits when the serves and forehands of the volatile lefty shot-maker meet the smooth, balanced groundstrokes of the counterpuncher.

Date-Krumm vs. Jovanovski (Court 2):  The oldest woman remaining in the draw faces the potential next face of Serbian women’s tennis, young enough to be her daughter.  A straightforward power baseliner in the traditional WTA mold, Jovanovski once lost a challenger final to Date-Krumm as she probably struggled to solve the sharp angles of the evergreen Japanese star.  Many thought that Date-Krumm would have ended her second career by now, but she has proved them wrong this week with two decisive victories that place her within range of a truly remarkable feat:  reaching the second week of a major as a 42-year-old.  With much to gain and little to lose, each woman should rise to the occasion in a match of high quality.

 

The Way the Body Works: Players Recovering from Stomach Bug Expected to Play Better at the Sony Ericsson Open

The top tennis players in the world converge this week for the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in pristine Key Biscayne, Florida. As the world’s premier tournament outside of the four grand slams, these next two weeks are sure to bring many storylines and possibly some surprise winners on both the ATP and WTA tours.

Last week during the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament saw several high-profile players pull out due to a sweeping 48-hour long stomach bug that effected players, coaches and fans alike. One theory not yet tested in tennis is just how successful these same players will be in the week after their bodies and immune systems have had to fight off a vicious virus. That being said, will the players affected by last week’s stomach bug perform better or worse than their healthier counterparts this week in Key Biscayne? The answer: much better, and here’s why.

When the body is forced to fight an infection or virus, the immune system is initially compromised. But because of immunological memory, the body becomes more alert and “remembers” the pathogen it previously killed. You may have experienced this added alertness after recovering from a cold – you are less likely to contract another cold or virus directly after your initial cold because your immune system is more alert to foreign pathogens.

As tennis players’ immune systems are no different than our own, it’s very likely that they will respond in the same manner: the players who pulled out last week from the BNP Paribas Open are less likely to contract any new virus this week, and thus more likely to have extra energy as their bodies should be fully recovered and their immune systems more alert.

The list of pull-outs is no short list, and includes Petra Kvitova, Francesca Schiavone, Gael Monfils, Vera Zvonareva, Vania King, Jurgen Melzer, Mike Bryan, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Magdalena Rybarikova. Meanwhile, even Roger Federer stated he felt “under the weather” at the beginning of the tournament.

As the players range anywhere from number 1 on the ATP rankings to number 86 on the WTA rankings, it will be interesting to see the players’ progression through the draw. As some will undoubtedly fizzle out due to other factors, it’s no certain science, but I would bet that at least a few of these players will have better than expected results during the next two weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schiavone or Melzer bust through with excellent runs, and now you would know why. It’s all thanks to their immune system.

Comebacks, Smiles and Wins: Tuesday at the Sony Ericsson Open

Day one of any tennis tournament can be overwhelming. But multiply that by 3 and add two 128-player draw for both the WTA and ATP and you have yourself a full-blown tennis party at this year’s Sony Ericsson Open held in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Although the women’s first round just began today and the men’s will begin tomorrow, there was still plenty of tennis around the grounds for fans to enjoy. From matches, to intense player practices, to fun off-court promotions, there was something in store for every age. The temperature was steady and warm, but the sun made it feel balmier than the 80 degrees that it registered.

Walking the grounds during the first couple of days of a tournament as large as this, you may be surprised to find the atmosphere calm, but therein lies the beauty. In order to see the elite practice, it’s best to come at the very beginning when there aren’t as many restrictions around the site and you have easy access to players.

Having never been to Crandon Park before while the Sony Ericsson Open was in session, the nature and palm trees nearly persuaded me into a vacation attitude. But I had work to do. I entered the media center and situated myself with my laptop, camera, chargers, schedule and personal flatscreen tv — all just steps away from stadium court. As I looked out over the stadium, top Serb Novak Djokovic was basking in the mid-day sun as he practiced against Xavier Malisse. Djokovic’s morning session took a more serious tone while his afternoon session near dusk was more light-hearted in order to please the fans that had converged to watch – which were numerous!

Also spotted were Maria Sharapova working on baseline shots extensively, and countless shirtless men sweating and playing to their hearts’ content on the practice courts. Needless to say, there were also many matches in progress, but the interest by fans was spread evenly between the practice sessions and the matches.

Highlights of the day

Venus Williams: In what turned out to be an emotional day on the WTA tour with the return of both Venus and Alisa (below), the former is back on court and practicing! Need I say more? Well, yes, actually. As wonderful and courageous as she has been, her Sjogren’s is something she will need to manage for the rest of her life. As good as she looks, she was visibly frustrated during her practice session, consistently hitting balls at wrong angles and sending them flying into neighboring courts. One thing is for sure though: she knows when to be fierce on court and when to smile once the work is done.

Alisa Kleybanova: In what has become the story of the day, Kleybanova came back after 10 months of being off the tour due to treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and basically rocked the tennis world off its axis. If you want to talk about a fighter and a strong woman, just use her as the example. She fought off world #64 Johanna Larsson in three mighty sets and afterward couldn’t stop smiling and hugging friends and coaches, and chatting up fans. If you ever needed a feel-good story in tennis, there you have it.

Milos Raonic and Jurgen Melzer: The Canadian in person looks even larger than his 6’5” frame would have you believe. The towering “Missile” is mostly legs though, as his normal-sized Lacoste shorts constantly ride up on his long legs. His left knee though is still alarmingly taped up. This is the same knee that was feared to be a serious injury which forced him to pull out of the Davis Cup. However, I hope the tape job is just precautionary. Melzer, on the other hand, looked great and invoked the same strategy in the practice set as he had used to beat Raonic in Memphis: pull Raonic to the net wide as quickly as possible and pass him into the open court with Raonic on the wrong foot to recover. Worked like a charm.

Bernard Tomic: Where do I begin? Here we have a 19-year-old boy who gets speeding tickets yet has no problem being the only player of a group to stop, bend over to a young fan and sign autographs. One who is constantly bombarded by the media as having a rude or offensive demeanor, yet none of this was seen today. Instead, the focus of why Tomic might be viewed the way he is should fall on his father John (Ivica) who is originally from Croatia. Having myself been born there, I’ve stayed fluent with the language and so had the privilege of watching Tomic’s afternoon practice session on a side court and actually understanding what was being said. And boy, did it not disappoint. John hounded his son nearly the entire time from the chair on court – yelling, pointing, talking, or simply swearing in Croatian at his son’s inabilities. It was quite honestly disturbing and somewhat saddening. Tomic is one of the brightest youngsters on the tour, but to see the background he comes from makes me question how far he will really go before he cracks emotionally. Take away: get yourself a non-relative coach, Bernard.

Sloane Stephens: The young American continues to prove her place in the upper echelons of tennis as today she defeated former top-30 player Sania Mirza in two easy sets, 6-2, 6-4. At the conclusion of the match, fans busted out in a fun rendition of “Happy Birthday!” in honor of Stephens turning nineteen today. She instantly got shy and covered her immensely smiling face. A few minutes later she joked, “Why didn’t you bring me any gifts?!” Touche, Stephens.

Practice Courts C & D: Another personal highlight of mine was these two practice courts. To me, there was no better tennis for your buck than watching the practice sessions that took place there. At any one time, four ATP players and two WTA players would take the court and hit at the same time. Whether it was Marcos Baghdatis and Ivo Karlovic on the same side or Ryan Harrison and Viktor Troicki during another hour, these courts were not short on talent – or laughs! Don’t believe me? Check out the great candid shots of Baghdatis below!

Shirtless Men: Last, but definitely not least, the hot weather tends to bring out shirtless male players. Namely, Janko Tipsarevic, Gilles Simon and Philipp Kohlschreiber. I can’t complain.

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Rotterdam Behind-the-Scenes Look; Exclusive Photos of Federer, Berdych, Del Potro

The seeds had no trouble advancing to the quarterfinals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam today, as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Viktor Troicki and Richard Gasquet all dispatched of their opponents, and Roger Federer was involved in an entertaining exhibition match for fans.

Second seed Berdych advanced to the next round after only 19 minutes on court as Marcos Baghdatis was forced to retire due to a left foot injury.

Del Potro had to overcome not only his opponent in another battle, but a slightly bloody nose near the beginning that required a medical timeout. He eventually prevailed over qualifier Karol Beck 6-4, 7-5.

“He played so fast and hits with such a low bounce, I really had to keep up,” said Del Potro of Beck. “It was tough. But I focused in the last game on trying to get an ace. I got one and I’m just glad that I’m through.”

Frenchman Richard Gasquet, seeded fifth, continued his steady progress at his second tournament appearance by defeating Alex Bogomolov, 6-3 6-2, while Andreas Seppi dispatched German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4 6-2. Viktor Troicki also defeated wildcard Jesse Huta Galung, 7-6(2), 6-3, but not before the match’s second game lasted a brutal 17 minutes.

Finally, what was supposed to be only a super tiebreaker between Roger Federer and Igor Sijsling turned out into an all-out battle, but with plenty of smiles from both players. Federer was given a place in the quarterfinals after his second-round opponent Mikhail Youzhny had to withdraw the day previously. Federer finally prevailed 6-7(2), 6-4, 11-9.

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 not only day three action, but a behind-the-scenes look at Ahoy Rotterdam, the indoor arena the tournament is held in.

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

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Around The Corner: Sydney, Auckland and the Kooyong Classic

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

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

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

Apia Sydney International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heineken Open

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

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

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

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

AAMI Kooyong Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Roddick loses it, Serena Williams withdraws, Wozniacki out of shape and is Venus Williams over? – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Losing It

Andy Roddick didn’t just lose a tennis match when he fell to German Philipp Kohlschreiber in three sets Monday night. He also lost his dignity. After two tightly contested sets, the third was a washout, stemming from the volatile American’s inability to let go of the fact that he was assessed a point penalty that cost him a break and put him down 2-0 in the decider (and for anyone who missed it, check it out on YouTube and see for yourself where chair umpire Carlos Bernardes made the difficult but correct call). Even at the conclusion of the match, Roddick continued to argue with the umpire while Kohlschreiber walked off the court shaking his head. Frankly, it was embarrassing the way Roddick carried on during and after the match. He’s entitled to his opinion as to whether or not tennis is too strict, but he knew the rules when he struck that ball into the stands. Furthermore, one of the beautiful things about tennis is that it is supposed to be one of the more civilized sports. The behavior of guys like McEnroe, Nastase, Connors, etc. is something to be frowned upon, not encouraged. Roddick needs to learn that when things aren’t going his way, that’s not an excuse to take it out on someone else. He’s not the first player nearing the end of a career to struggle with his game or injuries, and he won’t be the last. His tantrums are becoming all too frequent, and if he can’t conduct himself with more class, then maybe he should take a hard look at hanging it up before he makes an even bigger fool of himself.

Questionable Withdrawal

The fact that Serena Williams pulled out of Cincinnati was not entirely surprising. After her impressive win in Toronto, some probably half expected to hear of her withdrawal before Cincy got underway. After all, even when healthy, she rarely bothered to play a full schedule, so we could hardly expect her to do so after an 11-month injury layoff. But she surprisingly opted to play Cincy, only deciding to withdrawal ahead of her third-round match, citing a toe injury and a need to rest. Fans were none-too-thrilled to hear her re-match with Sam Stosur had been canceled and were only more annoyed when they learned the American spent the day having a fun time at Kings Island amusement park next door. A word to the wise to Serena. We know that hanging out an amusement park is not as taxing on the foot as playing a tennis match. But it’s still not a bright idea to go to an amusement park after you’ve just disappointed fans by citing the need to rest the foot and the body to be ready for the US Open. It kind of leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.

Fallout Continues

Caroline Wozniacki’s woes continue, as the current No. 1 was bounced out of a Cincy in straight sets by American Christina McHale. This isn’t to take away from McHale, who has shown some serious promise over the past few months, but this was still an inexcusable loss for Wozniacki. Her confidence couldn’t be any more shaken than it is at the moment as she prepares to head into the US Open. She desperately needs to string together a win or two in New Haven next week or she may prove an easy upset in Flushing. The situation is even more dicey at the moment, given that it has been reported she and her father have ended their player-coach relationship, and she now has a new coach. It’s always tricky breaking in a new coach, but this hopefully will be a move that will pay off for the young Dane sooner rather than later.

Is She Done?

Fans of the elder of the two Williams Sisters might be asking themselves that very question. Venus pulled out of both Toronto and Cincinnati citing a mysterious viral illness. She had been offered a wildcard into the New Haven event next week, but has opted to turn it down, meaning she will go into the US Open cold. The American has played very little tennis this year due to injuries and illness, and with her latest decision to turn down the wildcard, one wonders how much drive she has left in the tank. She has many other irons in the fire, so perhaps it won’t be long before we wear that Venus officially calls it a career.

Plea to the Powers at Be

Earlier this week, I attended the top tier event in Cincinnati – a great event that comes with my highest recommendations, especially after the spectacular changes they’ve made to accommodate becoming a duel event for the first time in their 113 year history. But while there, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves while attending it and any other tennis event I’ve gone to. It is annoying when people get up and move over the course of play instead of waiting for a changeover. The ushers are better at enforcing this at the box level, which I understand. That is in the line of sight of the players. But for those fans seated in the upper levels, their vision of the match may be obscured by other fans seat hopping or making a move for the exit (something many seem to do as slow as possible). Maybe those fans seated in the upper levels didn’t pay as much as the box holders for their seats, but they still paid good money. There’s nothing more annoying than a fellow fan cutting across your line of vision during an enthralling or crucial point. So please, if there’s someone out there with the power to enforce the no movement until changeover rule at any tournament, please do so. I can’t be the only fan annoyed by this trend.

Novak Djokovic seems to have found a way to keep his magical results going all year long – Around the corner

As the Rogers Cup is set to wrap-up this weekend in Montreal with the men, the draw for the second consecutive Masters 1000 event has just been released in Cincinnati. With the U.S. Open just two weeks away now, players will be looking to fine-tune their games and round into form for the finalGrand Slam of the year.

How will Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray rebound after poor showings in Canada? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the draws they have received as well as how they deal with their mental and physical short-comings from this past week.

World number one Novak Djokovic will enjoy the benefits of a first round bye at the Western and Southern Open and gets the winner of American Ryan Harrison and Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. The progress that Harrison has made this year has been quite positive and he is giving U.S. tennis fans some real hope as they continue to search for the successor to Andy Roddick. Harrison should get by Chela, a player whose game is never really that dangerous on hard-courts.

Djokovic also has Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils in his section of the draw. Both of those players made the quarter-finals in Montreal this week. Djokovic can handle either, especially evidenced by his 6-2, 6-1 beating of Monfils on Friday evening.

Andy Roddick makes his return to the ATP World Tour after some injury issues of late. Currently ranked 12th in the world, Roddick could see his ranking start to fall quickly if he cannot put together some results this summer. Roddick has not played since a Davis Cup loss to David Ferrer on hard-courts in early July. He will open in Cincy against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a tricky opponent to be sure.

Djokovic should be able to advance through this section but having too much success just prior to the Open could be problematic down the road. A player does not want to peak too early, although it seems that Djokovic has found a way to keep his magical results going all year long.

In the following quarter of the draw, Roger Federer is not going to have an easy run. While he was fortunate to draw Canadian wildcard Vasek Pospisil in Montreal, his first adversary in Cincy will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Andreas Seppi. No offence to Seppi, but it would be shocking if he could get by the 6’6” Argentine.

Federer will be pushed to the limit by Del Potro and could see his U.S. Open preparations seriously harmed if he’s not on top of his game. Federer holds a 6-2 advantage in their career head-to-head, but Del Po has won the last two encounters.

Tomas Berdych is also in this section of the draw as the 8th seed, but you can never get your hopes up with this guy. It seems like a mix of quarter-final and semi-final appearances this year are all we are going to get out of the talented but enigmatic Czech. He hasn’t beaten a quality opponent all year long, so I wouldn’t expect that to change now. This guy must drive his coach nuts!

On the other side of the draw Rafael Nadal will try to get things back on track after a surprising second round defeat to Ivan Dodig. While Federer losing to Tsonga in Montreal was always within the realm of possibility, I don’t think anyone really saw that Dodig loss coming for Nadal.

The Spaniard will play either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or a qualifier in his opening match. That should be the perfect prescription to get things going to him. A quarter-final match against Mardy Fish is a possibility for Nadal, although with Fish going deep in Montreal I wonder how much energy he will want to expend in back-to-back weeks.

Keep an eye on the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov who opens against Richard Gasquet in this quarter as well as Fernando Verdasco and veteran Xavier Malisse as a longshot who can still play the game quite well.

Finally, Andy Murray will try to find his form against the winner of David Nalbandian and a qualifier. Nalbandian can’t seem to catch a break as he opened against Wawrinka in Montreal. Murray should be a good bet to dispatch of the veteran Argentine and hopefully the doubles action he saw with his older brother Jamie in Montreal will help him out here.

David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also in this section and are fantastic hard-court players who could go deep here if Murray is still working out the kinks in his game.

Of the top-twenty players in the world, only Sweden’s Robin Soderling is missing in action.

My picks for a final four this week will be Djokovic vs. Del Potro and Murray against Dolgopolov. I don’t see Federer getting by his first opponent and something just didn’t seem right with Nadal while practicing or playing in Montreal this past week.

Let the speculation for the U.S. Open continue. It will be here before we know it!

Indian Wells: Upsets galore at the BNP Paribas Open

If you like to participate in bracket challenges, I can pretty much guarantee you didn’t predict what has happened so far to this year’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. I think last year’s surprise victory by veteran Ivan Ljubicic has given hope to players who previously had none. I mean it seems like losing early is the thing to do this week for top players, opening up the field for those lesser recognized guys and gals.

Biggest upset thus far? It’s still Andy Murray. I’m not even surprised that Andy Murray lost his first match in Indian Wells because frankly, I still think Australia is weighing on him, but he lost to Donald Young. I’m going to say that again in case you’re confused. Andy Murray lost to DONALD YOUNG. I think you’ve got it now. Anyway, Donald went on to play one of the most embarrassing sets of tennis I’ve ever witnessed yesterday against Tommy Robredo, losing the match 6-0 6-4. The crowd cheered each point he won like he was one point away from the match, rather than one point closer to finally holding a service game.

I don’t mean to beat up on Andy Murray, because he’s not the only big name that lost early on. David Ferrer, likely the biggest competition in Nadal’s quarter lost his first match to Ivo Karlovic, who followed that up with a win against Gilles Simon. Watch and learn Donald Young, watch and learn. When you take out the big player, you’re supposed to capitalize on the opportunity to play a lesser ranked player. Robin Soderling was one of the big names to topple yesterday, against Philipp Kohlschreiber. He appeared to be having some issues with his foot, so maybe we can chalk this one up to injury, but none the less, the number 4 seed has been taken out of a quarter already missing the number 5 seed.

Of the men remaining in the top half of the draw, Rafael Nadal is the only player in the Top 20. The bottom half of the draw has gone much more predictably, with no shocking upsets to speak of; however, they will be playing their 3rd round matches today, so we’ll see if the pattern holds.

The ladies’ draw hasn’t fared much better. The top half of the draw has already lost players like Li Na, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sam Stosur. Kuznetsova lost to Christina McHale, which is probably the most comparable upset to the Young/Murray match on the men’s side. McHale played amazing tennis this week and came very close to beating Nadia Petrova yesterday, but Petrova managed to hang on. The most interesting, although probably not the most surprising upset in this section was Sam Stosur’s loss to Dinara Safina. The former world No. 1, Safina, is still a long way from her old form and she probably wouldn’t have won this match without a little help from Sam. Safina served 16 double faults in the two set match, not exactly a stat most tennis players hope for. Regardless of how she won, Dinara was delighted. She was all smiles on court after her win and was funny and endearing in her press conference. The on court interviewer even gave her a hug. She plays Maria Sharapova later today.

The bottom half of the women’s draw is also missing a key player after world No. 3 Vera Zvonareva lost to Dominika Cibulkova on Sunday night. Possibly more surprising than Vera’s early loss was what a tough time Kim Clijsters had against Sara Errani. Clijsters is definitely favored to win here in Indian Wells because she’s been so dominant lately, but she did not look like the Aussie Open champ on Sunday. In the second set, her serve seemed to fail her and she ended up losing it 6-2. Honestly, I think this match was a kind of a fluke, and Kim should have no trouble dispatching Marion Bartoli today. Based on the look of the draw, I would not be at all surprised to see a Kim Clijsters/Caroline Wozniacki final. Both players are in fine form at the moment and even when they struggle, the rest of the field seems to struggle as well.