Radek Stepanek

Citi Open Finals Gallery: Del Potro, Rybarikova Capture Titles in Nation’s Capital

DSC_13410001JuanWASHINGTON, D.C. — Argentine Juan Martin del Potro returned to Washington, D.C. after a three year hiatus to claim his third Citi Open title against American John Isner, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. (Finals gallery at bottom)

“It’s amazing, I’m so happy to win here once again,” the 24-year-old stated after the final. “When you win a tournament its special, its big. After Wimbledon to be my first time on hard court it means a lot. I am looking forward to Montreal, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open. It gives me a lot of confidence to keep trying and get closer to the top guys.”

The soft-spoken Argentine struggled returning Isner’s solid serves and baseline shots in the first set, and realized that he needed to step further back out of the court in order to play his own game. He then kept Isner to only one ace per set for the remaining two sets.

Though disappointed, the American didn’t take the loss hard. After playing nine matches in eleven days, Isner admitted that his body wasn’t as fresh as he’d like it to be.

“I was a little tired out there,” said Isner. “It was one of those things where my body felt fine but my legs weren’t quite there. I wish I felt a little bit better out there but at the same time I could have been a 100% and still could have not won that match. That just speaks on how good he is. He was better today and my hats off to him. He was the better player.”

When asked about where Del Potro stacks up to the current top four ATP players, without hesitation, Isner praised the Argentine’s game, saying he was just a hair behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the third favorite to win the U.S. Open.

In Del Potro’s press conference, he was told what Isner had commented regarding his chances at this month’s Slam, and the Argentine almost looked embarrassed, sweetly and sincerely returning the favor.

“He’s going to be a favorite too, for sure,” Del Potro said. “On the hard court, Isner is really good player. His game is improving day by day. He has a good advantage to take the opportunities to go farther.”

In the women’s singles final, Magdalena Rybarikova successfully defended her title defeating a newly-healthy Andrea Petkovic, 6-4, 7-6(2). On court, the Slovakian called Washington, D.C. “home” after never having lost a match on the surface, and admitted it was not an easy run.

“This year when I saw the draw I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be very tough,’” Rybarikova said. “I would have been happy to make the quarterfinals and play Kerber. But every match I was playing better and better, then I beat Kerber, which was a huge win for me. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

Petkovic meanwhile reached her second final of the year after Nurnberg and feels her game is in a better place.

“It was a pretty good week – all in all I’m quite satisfied,” Petkovic said. “I would have loved to win the title here to really feel like I’ve completely come back, but I’m really okay. She played really well.”

“Magda was really stepping up her game, not missing a lot and not giving me many free points. It was a really difficult match but all the credit to her, she really deserved to win the title today.”

In the men’s doubles final, the duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau won their second doubles title as a team against Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek.

“It feels really great to win such a big tournament,” said Zimonjic. “It’s a 500 series, and not just that, it was a really strong field. It didn’t have easy matches here. Very good teams played. To come after a long break, to come this strong and win the tournament without losing a set is really the best way you want to come back to the tour.”

“It was a lot of fun for both of us to play. We had a great time here on the court, off the court, and hopefully this will help us for the upcoming three tournaments that we’ll play.”

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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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

Live Updates: Sharapova, Isner, Azarenka Lead Player Injuries on an Unprecedented Day 3 at Wimbledon

(June 26, 2013) Players, fans, media members, Wimbledon trainers, and even my goldfish are all scratching their heads on this unprecedented injury-filled Wednesday.

Within the first 90 minutes of play, five players had already been forced to withdraw due to injuries sustained on the slippery grass, and more continue throughout the day. As Darren Cahill states, the grass is typically more slippery in the first four days while the back court gets worn down, but the rainy days prior to the start of the tournament haven’t helped the already wet conditions.

Players such as Maria Sharapova are calling the courts “dangerous,” while the All England Club told ESPN this afternoon that the grounds are in “excellent condition.” Clearly, all the injuries, slips and retirements have infiltrated the players’ mindset and many would be wise to be cautious in their movement. Not surprisingly, the conditions have balanced the competition and no top player is safe as seen by Sharapova’s early exit.

Friend of Tennis Grandstand, @MariyaKTennis, tweeted the following:According to @ITF_Tennis, this is believed to be the most singles retirements/walkovers on a single day at a Slam in the Open Era.” So, there we go.

Here is a run down of the player walkovers, as well as various other injuries sustained throughout day three of play.

Retirements

John Isner: In the opening game of his match against Adrian Mannarino, Isner was serving and came down hard, tweaking his left knee. After getting it taped up, Isner tried to continue but ended up retiring only points later.

John Isner
John Isner 2
John Isner 3
Victoria Azarenka: Nobody’s day one tumble looked worse than Azarenka’s against Maria Joao Koehler, where she slipped and twisted her right knee. Despite an MRI showing no structural damage, Azarenka pulled out prior to her match, giving opponent Flavia Pennetta a walkover to the third round.

Victoria Azarenka

Radek Stepanek: A mere six games into his match against Jerzy Janowicz, Stepanek received a medical timeout and heavy strapping on his left thigh. He continued but was forced to retire down 6-2, 5-3.

Radek Stepanek

Marin Cilic: The No. 10 men’s seed pulled out prior to his match against Kenny de Schepper due to a lingering left knee injury which was worsened during his win over Marcos Baghdatis in the opening round.
“I started to have difficulties with my knees during Queen’s. During last week I was feeling it already in practice. Then on Sunday I felt it really bad in my serve … Yesterday it felt it much, much worse. It was difficult for me to put weight on left leg which is where the pain is.”

Steve Darcis: Rafael’s Nadal conquestor also pulled out prior to stepping on court for his second round match. The Belgian said he had hurt his right shoulder when he fell during the first set against Nadal on Monday.

The 29-year-old posted on Twitter: “Had to withdrawn after a win like this!?THE most difficult thing i had to do!!!#triedeverythingtoplaybutdidntwork!!!!”

Yaroslava Shvedova: The Russian-born Kazak was added to the withdrawal list as she pulled out with an arm injury before her match against No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: After losing the second set to Ernests Gulbis, Tsonga got his left knee taped despite there being no clear indication of when the injury happened. His movement seems to be severely hampered and he retired after losing the third set.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ernests Gulbis

Injuries and Other Tumbles

Maria Sharapova: After taking a pretty bad tumble during her warm-up, Sharapova slipped an additional three times during her match, the last of which required an injury timeout to her left hip. Sharapova repeatedly told the chair umpire that the conditions on court were “dangerous” and these tumbles seemed to have affected her focus and play. Her opponent Michelle Larcher de Brito ended up pulling off the ultimate upset, and in straight sets no less, 6-3, 6-4.

Embedly Powered

Caroline Wozniacki: Despite having taped her right ankle, the 9th seed slipped on the grass twisting her left ankle. She was able to finish out the match but lost to Petra Cetkovska in just over an hour, 6-2, 6-2.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki 2

 

Footage of some of the tumbles that Wozniacki, Eugenie Bouchard, Julien Benneteau, Mikhail Youzhny and Ernests Gulbis took.

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Julien Benneteau: The Frenchman took his own slip against Fernando Verdasco that required a trainer examining his right leg. The 31 seed eventually lost 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Julien Benneteau 3

Julien Benneteau
Julien Benneteau 2

Roland Garros Rewind: Monfils Stuns, Nadal Survives, Sharapova and Radwanska Cruise

Welcome back to your daily review of the studs and duds at Roland Garros 2013.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Five sets and four hours.  Three tiebreaks and a 7-5 final set.  A two-set lead squandered by the man who eventually won—after saving triple break point midway through the fifth.  A home underdog firing 26 aces and 66 winners on his nation’s biggest stage to upset a top-eight seed who hit 72 winners of his own.  Rarely is the match that looks like the best of the day in the first round actually the best of the day, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych put on perhaps the best show of any men’s match that we will see all week.  The section has opened a bit for Monfils if he can defuse the equally dangerous dark horse Ernests Gulbis in the second round.  That match looks like the highlight of Thursday, although it has a hard act to follow.

Comeback of the day:  Last week’s Dusseldorf champion Juan Monaco looked well on his way to a routine victory when he won the first two sets by single-break margins and reached a tiebreak in the third.  Perhaps aided by his opponent’s fatigue, Daniel Gimeno-Traver thrust himself back into the match by snatching that tiebreak and stormed all the way back to an upset over the seventeenth seed.

Surprise of the day:  It was not an upset in the end,  but Daniel Brands surely turned more heads than anyone when he came within a tiebreak of leading Rafael Nadal by two sets to love.  The master of Roland Garros had not lost the first set in a first-week match there since 2006, although he once  survived a five-setter against John Isner.  Brands channeled his inner Soderling in explosive serving and bullet forehands that thrust Nadal on his heels for far longer than anyone could have expected.

Gold star:  Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios gave his nation something to cheer amid the latest Bernard Tomic controversy.  Kyrgios defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks, saving several set points in each of the last two.  The 53 total tiebreak points played might survive as a tournament record.

Silver star:  Allez les bleus.  While Nadal battled with Brands on Philippe Chatrier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled through in straight sets on Suzanne Lenglen.  Later in the day, second-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet did the same, and even Julien Benneteau won a match on clay for just the second time this year.  Combined with the Monfils upset, these victories added up to an excellent day for the hosts.

Wooden spoon:  When Andy Murray withdrew, Marcel Granollers moved up from unseeded to seeded position.  That promotion served him no benefit as he lost his first match to countryman Feliciano Lopez in five sets and two days.  By contrast, Tommy Robredo profited from the seed that he received with Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal by advancing further into the section vacated by Berdych.

Americans in Paris:  John Isner and Ryan Harrison, both of whom have struggled for most of the year, each notched comfortable straight-sets victories.  Assigned Nice champion Albert Montanes, Steve Johnson battled gallantly into a fifth set as he had against Nicolas Almagro at the Australian Open.  American men have no reason to feel shame so far at historically their worst major.

Question of the day:  Who comes out of Berdych’s section of the draw to reach the quarterfinals?

Question of the day, II:  Does Nadal’s first-round frailty reduce your confidence in him as a title threat?

WTA:

Match of the day:  None could compete with Berdych-Monfils or with Urszula-Venus the day before.  This award goes to a battle between two clay-courters who have produced outstanding recent results.  Rome semifinalist Simona Halep won the first set from world No. 20 Carla Suarez Navarro, but the Spaniard rallied with the form that brought her to two clay finals this year.  A pity that the draw forced them to meet in the first round, and a pity that the match was not scheduled on a televised court.

Comeback of the day:  Channeling a little of her inner Monfils, Garbine Muguruza scorched 46 winners and dropped serve just twice in three sets to ambush fellow power-hitter Karolina Pliskova.  The Venezuelan-born citizen of Spain recorded her first career win at Roland Garros barely a year after her first appearance in a WTA main draw.

Statements of the day:  Although they fell a bit short of Serena’s suffocating brilliance, top-four seeds Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska started the tournament in emphatic style.  Defending champion Sharapova conceded just three games to top-50 opponent Hsieh Su-wei, while Radwanska yielded just two games to former top-15 player Shahar Peer.  The latter result came as a mild surprise because of the newly blonde Pole’s struggles on clay this year.

Gold star:  Everyone thought that Laura Robson would knock off world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, and everyone thought very wrong.  Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by dominating the British teenager from start to finish.  Perhaps a movie night with Rory McIlroy the day before (they saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) allowed her to forget her recent futility.

Silver star:  The most unsurprising surprise of the day came when the 2009 Roland Garros champion dispatched compatriot Ekaterina Makarova.  In Serena’s quarter, Kuznetsova could meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open three-set thriller.  Sveta bounced back impressively from one of the worst losses of her career in Rome.

Wooden spoon:  Outstanding performances on grass last year meant that Tamira Paszek received a seed at Roland Garros despite winning only one match in 2013.  When the slightly less moribund Melanie Oudin dispatched her with ease, Paszek will head to the grass season with the vast majority of points at stake.  Early losses at Eastbourne and Wimbledon will push her ranking down an elevator shaft.

Americans in Paris:  In addition to the aforementioned Oudin, several other women from the United States fared well on Day 2.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands set up a second-round meeting with Li Na, while newer talents Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys cruised.  Vania King also advanced in straight sets to complete a perfect record today for the USA.

Question of the day:  Which American woman of those who won day will go furthest?

Question of the day, II:  Should we feel more impressed by Wozniacki or more disappointed by Robson?

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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From Canucks to Kazakhs: Previewing the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals

Balanced among four continents, the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals illustrate the diversity of excellence in this sport.  From Vancouver, Canada to Astana, Kazakhstan, each of the ties contains multiple storylines that we discuss in a preview.

Canada vs. Italy:  Choice of surface often plays a crucial role in handing the home team a Davis Cup advantage, and such may prove the case again when a nation of fast-court players hosts a nation of clay specialists.  While Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini excel on the prevailing surface of Europe, the edge swings to the massive serves of Milos Raonic and the similarly aggressive style of Vasek Pospisil on the indoor hard court that Canada has laid in Vancouver.  Thumping Davis Cup superpower Spain in this arena to start 2013 World Group play, Raonic and his compatriots should have gained a valuable boost of confidence, albeit a little mitigated by the Canadian No. 1’s recent illness.  If Pospisil’s youth undoes him against the more experienced Italians, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor might suffice to supplement Raonic’s effort in propelling Canada through.  He has accumulated more renown in that area than any of the Italians, although Pospisil may be the weakest link of the four on the court.  The Canadians certainly will hope to win in three or four rubbers, for nobody wants to gamble on what Italian No. 2 Fognini can produce when inspiration strikes him.

Winner:  Canada

USA vs. Serbia:  With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic towering ominously above this tie, Team USA must rest its hopes on winning the three rubbers that he does not play.  Or must they?  Both of the American singles players, Sam Querrey and John Isner, defeated Djokovic on hard courts last season.  Querrey’s victory came on fast indoor courts in Paris, perhaps similar to those in Boise, while Isner’s triumph came on the marquee stage of Indian Wells, illustrating his tendency to excel on home soil.  Appearing to nurse an abdominal strain in Miami, Djokovic produced one of his least impressive performances on the spring hard courts in years and can fluster under the pressure of overpowering serves.  Much less impressive all season are the two American giants, however, so sustaining a Djokovic-stifling level of play in a best-of-five format seems beyond their grasp.  Instead, they will hope to win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan and pounce on Serbian #2 Viktor Troicki.  Despite a first-round setback against Brazil, the Bryans almost always deliver for Team USA.  But Troicki holds a 5-2 edge over Querrey and Isner, so they will need all of the assistance that the home crowd can give them to make it 5-4.

Winner:  Serbia

Argentina vs. France:  Arguably the best Davis Cup team on paper, France enjoys the rare balance of star power and depth not only two top-15 singles players but an elite doubles squad in Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Still, all of the Frenchmen will confront the challenge of playing on their worst surface against a team playing on its best.  Hoping that home-court advantage will narrow the talent gap, Argentina welcomes them to the Parque Roca with clay specialists Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq.  The former man has watched his ranking skid this year as he has not won a match outside Davis Cup, but he did sweep his two first-round rubbers against Germany.  Playing above his usual level in that tie, Berlocq defeated French No. 2 Simon twice in three clay meetings last year, which could offer the Argentines an edge if the tie reaches a fifth rubber.  To do so, and circumvent French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they likely would have to win the doubles match with their seasoned pair of Horacio Zeballos and David Nalbandian.  Those two have played many a Davis Cup thriller before and usually rise to the occasion, but Benneteau and Llodra usually do too, so the doubles could be the highlight of the weekend.

Winner:  France

Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic:  If this regularly overachieving group of Kazakhs stunned a Czech team in their native Ostrava two years ago, they must feel sanguine about their chances against the Czechs in Kazakhstan. More important than the location of the tie, moreover, is the absence of Czech #1 Tomas Berdych, which leaves a massive void in the visitors’ singles lineup.  Stepping into the gap, Lukas Rosol hopes to recapture the magic that he found on a single day at Wimbledon but that has eluded him since then.  Neither Rosol nor the other Czech singles entrant, Jan Hajek, boasts much experience of success in Davis Cup.  In contrast, this same Kazakh team has delivered surprise after surprise against favored opponents in this competition.  Lurking in the doubles and perhaps in the Sunday reverse singles, Radek Stepanek must fill the leadership role for the defending champions, but the 34-year-old’s energy is limited and skills fading.  Without a single man in the top 150, the home team should reach the World Group semifinals for the first time.  Whether this reflects poorly or well on Davis Cup is open to debate.

Winner:  Kazakhstan

Wizards of Oz (V): Sharapova, Djokovic, Ivanovic, Ferrer, Li, and More on Australian Open Day 5

A plethora of intriguing encounters awaits audiences as the third round begins at the Australian Open.  Foremost among them are two in the women’s draw, which we include in our latest preview.

WTA:

Kerber vs. Keys (Rod Laver Arena):  Long hovering on the horizon, the 17-year-old Madison Keys has soared into the consciousness of the tennis world by winning four main-draw matches in the last two weeks.  Moreover, she has won most of them decisively, including routs of top-20 opponent Safarova in Sydney and the 30th-seeded Paszek here.  The teenager’s serve could prove a crucial weapon against Kerber, whose superior steadiness and experience should prevail in rallies unless Keys can find a way to unsettle her, which she could with a strong start.  Featured on the show court of a major for the first time, she seems more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the weight of the moment.

Li vs. Cirstea (RLA):  Familiar with both rising and crumbling in spectacular style, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up split her two meetings with Cirstea at majors last year.  Li defeated the heavy-hitting Romanian at Roland Garros but lost to her at Wimbledon before battling past her in a Cincinnati three-setter, so she will know what to expect.  While Cirstea defeated Stosur in the first round here last year and can hope to capture that magic again, the moderately paced hard court in Australia would seem to favor Li’s more balanced game.

Sharapova vs. Williams (RLA):  Scanning the WTA elite, one might not find two champions more similar in playing style than these two legends of first-strike tennis.  Both Sharapova and Venus can hammer lethal missiles from both groundstroke wings, and both compete with the ferocity of women whose lungs illustrate their loathing for losing.  Both have the ability to win free points in bunches with their serves, but both also can lose control of that shot beyond repair amidst cascades of double faults.  Both have survived significant bouts of adversity, Sharapova by battling back from a career-threatening shoulder surgery and Venus by battling back from a career-threatening illness.  While the American has accumulated a richer title haul, the Russian owns the more balanced resume.

Their record reflects much of the above, neatly balanced at 4-3 in Sharapova’s favor but skewed 4-1 in her favor away from Wimbledon, where Venus has claimed her greatest achievements.  Not dropping a single game through her first two matches, Maria can expect a steep elevation in her opponent’s quality and must come as prepared to elevate her own quality as she did five years ago here against Davenport.  Like her sister, Venus has produced some of her most dazzling surges when least expected, and she has looked quietly impressive if less overtly overpowering so far.

Ivanovic vs. Jankovic (Hisense):  Those who appreciate tennis largely from an aesthetic perspective may wish to cover their eyes in a pairing of two women who sprayed disheveled errors to every corner of the court in their previous matches.  Meanwhile, those who fancy their tennis served (or double-faulted) with a dollop of drama should enjoy this battle between two countrywomen who have feuded chronically but bitterly.  The superior player by most measures, Ivanovic has dominated their head-to-head as her versatile forehand has hit through Jankovic’s baseline defense.  So high do the emotions run in these matches, though, that one never knows what to expect from one point to the next.

ATP:

Djokovic vs. Stepanek (RLA):  In addition to their five-set epic at the 2007 US Open, Stepanek has troubled the Serb on two other occasions.  He won a set from him at Wimbledon last year by using his idiosyncratic style to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm.  Even as his career has faded, Stepanek continues to revel in the spotlight and ended 2012 on a high note by winning the decisive match in Davis Cup.  That momentum probably cannot lift him high enough to disturb Djokovic in Australia, where he looks as dominant as ever in all facets of his game.

Ferrer vs. Baghdatis (RLA):  The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, Ferrer can falter at times with the distractions caused by partisan crowds.  Supported vociferously by Melbourne legions of Greeks and Cypriots, Baghdatis hopes to revive the memories of his charge to the 2006 final.  At this tournament two years ago, he became the first man ever to win after losing the first two sets to Ferrer at a major, surprising in view of their relative fitness.  The fourth seed looked vulnerable in stretches against an overmatched opponent in the last round, while Baghdatis did likewise in another mismatch.  His flat, net-skimming groundstrokes should offer an intriguing contrast to Ferrer’s safer topspin.

Anderson vs. Verdasco (Hisense):  Reprising their meeting at the Hopman Cup this month, this match pits a rising against a fading star.  Like Baghdatis, Verdasco has failed to duplicate his breakthrough performance in Melbourne (a 2009 semifinal), and he should count himself fortunate to escape a five-setter to start the tournament.  On the other hand, Anderson followed his strong results in Perth with a final in Sydney, where he showed poise under pressure.  Expect plenty of quick holds as each man struggles to crack the other’s serve.

Benneteau vs. Tipsarevic (MCA):  Which Tipsarevic will show up here?  The man who fired his way past Hewitt with a blizzard of electric shot-making, or the man who barely edged past Lacko in an unimaginative performance?  Tipsarevic looked a bit drained after the heroics of his opener, and he may pay the price if he enters this match flat, for Benneteau rolled past trendy dark horse pick Dimitrov in the first round.  Although streaky, the Frenchman represents a clear notch upward in quality from Lacko.

Querrey vs. Wawrinka (MCA):  The lanky American with the casual power got a little too casual early in each of his first two matches, dropping the opening sets in both.  Against Wawrinka, a natural grinder who thrives on long rallies, Querrey should discipline himself to eliminate such gifts.  Having lost both of his previous meetings to the Swiss, including a US Open five-setter, he will need to maintain a higher first-serve percentage this time and aim to end points more efficiently.

Almagro vs. Janowicz (Court 3):  In the wake of a bizarre five-set comeback against Devvarman, one wondered whether to praise Janowicz for his tenacity in roaring back after losing the first two sets, or to linger on his immaturity for letting his emotions run astray early in the match.  Without that costly burst of petulance, the match likely would not have lasted as long as it did.   Similarly, Almagro needed much longer than expected to dismiss American neophyte Steve Johnson in another five-setter.  Between the Spaniard’s backhand and the Pole’s forehand, fans should see risky, flamboyant shot-making as each man hopes to exploit a weak section of the draw.

 

Wizards of Oz (III): Stosur, Venus, Sharapova, Djokovic, and More on Australian Open Day 3

The first day of the second round looks rather sparse in general, but we picked out a few potential diamonds in the rough.  Let’s start with the ladies for a change.

WTA:

Zheng vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena):  When they met a week ago in Sydney, the Aussie suffered from a slow start, rallied to reach a final set, and then let a late lead slip away in a match of unpredictable twists and turns.  Although Stosur improved on last year’s performance here by escaping the first round, her first victory of 2013 did not come without a series of wobbles such as donating an early break and failing to serve out the first set.  She won fewer free points from her serve than she usually does, which could spell trouble against Zheng again.  Despite her limitations on return, due to her short wingspan, the Chinese doubles specialist competes ferociously and should outlast Stosur from the baseline with her more balanced weapons.  But she struggled even more to survive her opener and had stumbled through a string of losses before that upset of the Aussie in Sydney.

Venus vs. Cornet (RLA):  At the 2009 Australian Open, Cornet stood within a point of the quarterfinals and a signature victory over then-#1 Safina.  Match point upon match point slipped away, confidence evaporated, shoulder trouble sidelined her soon afterwards, and the petite Frenchwoman remained too mentally and physically dubious to fulfill her promise as a junior.  The relatively slow court might suit her game more than the volatile, inconsistent style of Venus, but the American raised her level dramatically from the Hopman Cup while dropping just one game in the first round.  By contrast, the Frenchwoman struggled to hold throughout that match, especially under pressure, so only an implosion by Venus could repeat the Suarez Navarro upset from the same Australian Open in which Cornet faced Safina.

Sharapova vs. Doi (Hisense Arena):  On a late afternoon without many marquee matches, the Sharapova Show offers a decent way to end the day session.  The 2008 champion has blitzed almost all first-week opponents at majors since the start of 2012, but the caliber of those opponents often has prevented one from accurately judging her form.  Doi, who defeated Schiavone last year, may surpass expectations after defeating the more familiar Petra Martic in the first round.  In general, though, the value of this match comes from juxtaposing Maria’s form here against what Venus shows in the night session, two days ahead of their highly anticipated third-round collision.

Pervak vs. Watson (Court 8):  While Murray and Robson attract most of the attention currently circulating around British tennis, and justly so, Heather Watson may develop into a meaningful talent in her own right.  The Bolletieri-trained baseliner twice has taken sets from Sharapova and defeated fellow rising star Sloane Stephens last year before finishing her season with a title in Osaka.  Not lacking for durability, she won one of the season’s longest finals there and will attempt to grind down Pervak with a combination of depth and court coverage.  Teenagers have excelled in the women’s draw so far, eleven reaching the second round, so this youth movement might bode well for the 20-year-old Watson.

ATP:

Djokovic vs. Harrison (RLA):  The Serb has won all five of their sets and looked his usual imposing self in the first round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, showing off his elastic movement and transition game at the major that most rewards it.  For Harrison, who avenged his Olympics loss to Giraldo in four sets, an upset bid will require greater focus and competitive stamina than he has shown so far in his career.  Typical of his stop-and-start results was a week in Brisbane when he defeated Isner and lost meekly to Benneteau in the next round.  Harrison will need to take more chances earlier in the rallies than he did against Giraldo, especially on his forehand, to take Djokovic outside his comfort zone against an opponent who does nothing better than he does.  As with his match against Murray last year, this meeting offers a useful measuring stick to test Harrison’s progress.

Malisse vs. Verdasco (MCA):  Even in the twilight of his career, the Belgian defeated the Spaniard on the latter’s weakest surface at Wimbledon last summer.  Malisse still can unleash blistering backhands when he times his short swings effectively, and Verdasco looked thoroughly human in a five-set rollercoaster against David Goffin.  Both men have shown a tendency to alternate the sublime with the ridiculous, often finding the latter at the least opportune moments, but a comedy of errors could provide its own form of entertainment.

Lacko vs. Tipsarevic (Court 2):  The eighth seed played his best tennis in months when he battled past Hewitt in a straight-setter closer than it looked.  Ripping winner after winner down the sidelines, Tipsarevic looked every inch the elite player that he has become and could charge deep into a draw where he inhabits the least formidable quarter.  He has struggled for much of his career with sustaining a high performance level from match to match, though, which makes a letdown a plausible possibility.  If he does, Lacko might have just enough talent to punish him for it.

Lopez vs. Stepanek (Court 3):  Aligned opposite each other are two net-rushers from opposite sides, the Spaniard from the left and the Czech from the right.  As a result, the tennis might trigger memories of decades past before baseline tennis established its stranglehold over the ATP.  Stepanek rallied from a two-set deficit in the first round to ambush Troicki, but a comeback would prove more difficult against a server like Lopez, who has won sets from Federer before.  While the Czech has dominated most of their rivalry, the Spaniard did win their last meeting on a similar speed of court in Montreal.

Querrey vs. Baker (Court 6):  The man who mounted a long-term comeback meets a man who mounted a more ordinary comeback that culminated last year when he rejoined the top 30.  Querrey typically has struggled at majors other than the US Open, however, and he lost a set to an anonymous, underpowered Spaniard in his opener.  If he can bomb a high percentage of first serves, Baker may not match him hold for hold.  On the other hand, a sloppy effort from Querrey would open the door for his compatriot to expose his meager backhand, one-dimensional tactics, and unsteady footwork.

 

The Fault of Untelevised Matches at the Australian Open

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

There was a lot of very good tennis scheduled and played on the first day of the Australian Open. Unlike other Slams, which split up the first round into three days, the Australian Open plays exactly half of the first-round singles matches on each of the first two days. That means 32 of each men’s and women’s matches on Day 1, with the same scheduled for Day 2. The problem with that, for myself and for every other fan not actually on the grounds in Melbourne, is that less than half of them are available to be viewed.

The tournament uses 16 courts on each of these first two days for singles play. Of those 16, only 7 of those have television cameras. If you want to watch a certain player or match, the first thing you have to do is check what court he or she is playing on. Unless you go to Melbourne, you can’t see the match if it’s not on one of those courts (Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena, Margaret Court Arena, and Courts 2, 3, 6, and 8).

Of course, it’s also not just about planning what matches you want to watch. Tennis is so unpredictable and amazing matches can come out of anywhere. We should have the availability of turning to those at any time should a compelling match come up. Three of the six 5-setters on Day 1 weren’t televised. Three matches went past 6-6 in the final set of Day 1 (two men’s and one women’s), two of which were on untelevised courts, including Radek Stepanek’s defeat of Viktor Troicki and Fabio Fognini’s loss to Roberto Bautista Agut. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I know that a match in a Slam is at 6-6 in the final set, I want to turn to it. People pay money for tennis packages so that they can watch every match. So why can’t the watch every match?

The real travesty in all of this, of course, is that the year is 2013. It’s so easy to have cameras on the courts. It doesn’t even have to be anything really special. Just put a camera there. This isn’t the 90s, where companies had only one channel and could only show one match at a time anyway. Cable could get you a second channel. This is the day of digital and satellite packages; with live streaming of every available court on the internet. Is it really so impossible to just put cameras on every court? No commentary is necessary; just have a camera at every match so fans can watch their favorite players or good developing matches.

The most disappointing thing of all is that it shows that the Slams refuse to learn from potential disasters. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if, in 2010, Isner/Mahut had been on untelevised Court 19 instead of Court 18? I’m sure there would have been some sort of mad scramble to get a camera crew and commentators to that court. But that’s not the point. It’s so easy nowadays to have everything televised. I just hope that it won’t have to take us fans missing out on a historic match before those in charge come to their senses.