rallies

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Dream Finale

In a fitting end to the 2010 season, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off in the finals of the ATP World Tour Championships. While not as intense as some of their previous encounters, there were some absolutely fantastic rallies and scintillating shot making. When the last ball was struck, it was Federer who came out on top. The loss shouldn’t take away from Nadal’s season, as with a stellar clay court run and three majors in his back pocket, it was clearly his year. But for Federer fans, the performance he put on over the course of the last week is extremely encouraging. Coach Annacone has done wonders with the Swiss Maestro, and he was producing plenty of vintage Federer tennis throughout the tournament. It has certainly set things up for an intriguing start to 2011 as Nadal looks to complete a “Nadal Slam,” Federer looks to regain his hold at the top of the sport, and the rest of field tries break the stranglehold these two have had on the game.

Parting Ways

Earlier this week it was announced that Robin Soderling and Magnus Norman will be ending their partnership as player and coach. The parting was amicable, with Norman wanting to spend more time on his personal life and Soderling, understandably, needing a coach who can be with him full time. The split has the potential to be a setback for Soderling, who has seen his game and ranking improve in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Norman. At only 26 with his game improving and confidence growing, however, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be able to find some experienced coach willing to step up to the plate and try to take the big-hitting Swede to the next level.

Awarding Excellence

The WTA listed its award winners this week, and the top honor went to Kim Clijsters, who was named the player of the year. While some might have made a case that Serena should have received the honor with two majors (a season that admittedly most players would gladly take), it’s a tough argument to win when she only played six tournaments over the course of the entire year. In addition to player of the year, Clijsters also received the player service award, and her fellow Belgian Justine Henin brought more honor to their home nation by being named the comeback player of the year. The remaining awards fittingly went to Maria Sharapova as humanitarian of the year, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko as doubles team of the year, and Petra Kvitova as the newcomer of the year.

Convenient Duty

Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev has to be feeling confident of Russia’s chances in the 2011 Fed Cup, having named Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Sharapova for the first-round tie against France in February. The real steal in that lineup is Sharapova, though a source from her team as alleged that Sharapova has stated she is only “very likely” to play as opposed to being a sure a thing. Sharapova has only competed for Russia once, that time coming in 2008 in order to be eligible for the Olympics. She is in a similar situation here, having to make herself available for Fed Cup duty at least once in order to be eligible for the 2012 Olympics. In many ways, her participation is similar to that of the Williams Sisters for the United States, and while you can’t fault a coach for wanting to put his best talent forward, it seems unfair to bypass another player who has continually put in the time (especially with a country like Russia, that has a deep pool to pull from) just so that someone like a Sharapova wants a shot at Olympic glory. Perhaps the system needs to be tweaked and force a player to be available for duty on more than one occasion if they want the top honor of representing their country in the Olympics.

Taking a Stand

Former pro and Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge released a statement earlier this week stating that three players, Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly, have been barred from contesting the December playoffs for the chance to earn a spot in the Australian Open. All three (and certainly not surprisingly in Klein’s case), have received the bans due to their “numerous accounts of unacceptable behavior at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months.” Given the promise some of these juniors have shown, as well as the fact that Lleyton Hewitt is the only Australian male in the Top 100, it’s admirable that Tennis Australia is doing the right thing taking a tough stand with its players, even if it might temporarily hold back their development. Hopefully these guys will turn it around and prove fruitful prospects for a nation that has one of the richest tennis traditions in history.

Murray Gets Wimbledon Revenge on Nadal

Andy Murray enjoyed a little post-Wimbledon revenge on Saturday at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as he handled world number one Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the finals.

Murray played as crisp tennis as I’ve seen from him since the Australian Open in January and appeared composed and prepared from the very opening game.

After a quick three games to start the match, the rallies began to lengthen and both players brought some of their best tennis for the Toronto crowd to enjoy.

Though the crowd was slightly more pro-Nadal, they cheered Murray as well and seemed to pull for either player when they faced a break point.

At 3-3 in the opening set, Nadal had two break point opportunities at 15-40, but Murray would bail himself out with timely serving to hold for 4-3.

Murray used that energy to break the Spaniard in the very next game and then held easily to close out the first set 6-3.

The fact that Nadal was down by a set did not seem to phase him nor the crowd. It is not exactly a rarity to watch him fight from behind and still manage to emerge victorious.

Murray apparently did not get the memo that he was supposed to hand over that second set, as he broke early to go up 2-1.

Nadal would use his lethal forehand to rip a winner to get back on serve and tie things up a bit later at three games apiece.

With Murray serving later at 3-4, he double faulted to hand Nadal a chance at 15-40. Again he would maintain his composure and use his serve to get back into the game and even the score at 4-4. I was most impressed with how Murray never seemed to lose his cool during the match, even when it appeared that the momentum was about to shift in Nadal’s favour.

As a few very light rain drops began to fall at 4-4, Nadal inexplicably played some loose points and gave Murray a 0-40 score to work with. The Scot would seize the moment and with a Nadal backhand into the net he jumped ahead with the break to 5-4. He would win all four points in the next game to take the match and get one step closer to defending his Rogers Cup title.

By virtue of advancing to the finals, Murray will hold on to his world No. 4 ranking. A loss would have allowed Sweden’s Robin Soderling to overtake him in that position.

Murray will face the winner of tonight’s match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The winning player will then hold the number two ranking in the world.

Check back later for a full report on the outcome of this world class match-up.

FEDERER SHOWING HE’S CLOSER TO END OF CAREER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Shaky Start – One man who can be glad that Grand Slams are best-of-five is current reigning champ Roger Federer. Federer was expected to cruise through his opening round having defeated Alejandro Falla twice in the last month, but the Colombian had other ideas. Playing a spectacular match for four sets, he nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history. All credit to the Federer who dug deep and found a way to win, but he was right when he said he was lucky to have won that match. He didn’t look solid in his second-round match either. But nearing his 29th birthday, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. All reigns eventually come to a close and Federer’s career is definitely closer to the end than to the beginning. But he is still Roger Federer. He’s still a 16-time Grand Slam champion. He may no longer dominate as he once did, but only a fool would write him off now. He still has the hunger, desire, and heart, and as long as he has that, he still has a few more Grand Slam titles in him.

Marathon Men – The first week is coming to an end, and already it has been a Wimbledon to remember.  One of the biggest stories in sports this week (aside from World Cup drama), was the marathon match between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner. An 11-hour contest that shattered a multitude of records, it will undoubtedly be the match of the tournament. And as cliché as it sounds, in this case, I’ve never felt it more true that it was a shame someone had to lose. Both men are to be commended for the heart they showed, particularly Mahut who successfully stepped up to serve to stay in the match over 60 consecutive times before finally cracking to lose the match 68-70. Some will view this match as a case for instituting a fifth set tiebreak or making the first week of a major best-of-three, but I’m inclined to disagree. There weren’t necessarily a ton of rallies, but it was high drama. It got everyone talking about tennis. And at the end of the day, when you see how this unfolded, it would have been a shame to see all of that wiped out by a single tiebreak, something that more often than not gives the edge to the bigger server and could be decided by one errant backhand.

Downward Spiral – In case anyone missed it, James Blake and commentator Pam Shriver had a bit of a tiff during his first-round loss to Robin Haase. Blake could overhear Shriver’s courtside commentary, and he made it known to Shriver that he didn’t care for what she had to say. I sympathize with Blake to a point. It is a distraction if you can hear the courtside commentary and the fact that he was losing couldn’t have helped matters any. I also understand he’s dealing with what may ultimately be a career-ending knee problem, and he’s a former top player who has seen his ranking slip to outside of the top 100. Not much is going right for Blake at the moment. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he overreacted to Shriver (and had he been winning at the time that he overheard her, I doubt he would have even acknowledged hearing her commentary). It’s also not the first time he’s overreacted in a match. Earlier in the year, he went ballistic on a chair umpire, accusing the chair umpire of possibly costing him $25,000 due to his poor officiating, which he felt was attributing to his losing the match. Blake has always had the reputation for being one of the classier competitors on the ATP World Tour. If the game is no longer fun and Blake can’t keep his emotions in check, then he is right to seriously consider hanging it up. It would be a shame to see him tarnish his reputation at this stage in the game.

Tough Transition – Paris elation didn’t carry over to London for either Francesca Schiavone or Sam Stosur. While Schiavone has enjoyed some good results at Wimbledon, her early exit wasn’t a shocker, but that of Sam Stosur was. With a huge serve and a great all-around game, the Aussie’s strokes should have translated well to the lawns of the All England Club, but it was not to be. Hopefully this is just a minor blip and not a hangover from the loss in the French Open final. Sam has had such a great first half of the year, and it would be a travesty to see her lose her footing and confidence now.

Royal Audience – The grounds were abuzz with the fact that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended Wimbledon Thursday, the first time she had attended since watching Virginia Wade win the title in 1977. The tournament organizers did their part, scheduling Andy Murray as the first match on Centre Court. Much credit should go to Murray, who has been struggling with his form ever since reaching the finals of the Australian Open. He played one of his best matches in recent memory, and hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

Safina Stumbles but Survives

NEW YORK – It was not a performance to cherish, but it was one to celebrate. After all, Dinara Safina survived –barely.

Just before becoming the first top-seeded woman to be ousted in the opening round of the US Open, Safina pulled her game together enough to escape a wild-card entry from Australia, Olivia Rogowska. And it wasn’t pretty.

Even Safina called Tuesday’s 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-4 win “ugly,” but added, “I pulled it out, and that’s what counts for me.”
Her “pull” was aided greatly by her opponent’s mistakes and miscues.

Safina is the world’s top-ranked player; Rogowska, who gained a wild card entry into the US Open through an agreement between the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and Tennis Australia, is 167th in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. But they had one thing in common: both were seeking their first Grand Slam tournament title. Now only Safina still is in the running to do that this year.
The 18-year-old Rogowska matched Safina stroke for stroke, even, unfortunately, double fault for double fault in the sloppily played contest.

Never before has the women’s top seed fallen in the opening round at America’s premier tennis tournament. But it appeared as if Safina would do just that as Rogowska won the first three games to begin the third set. The two then took turns breaking each other’s serve before Safina held at love, the last point on her first ace of the day, to level the set at 4-4.

Rogowska fell behind 0-30 with two unforced errors – two of her 65 in the match – before winning the next three points. But her 12th double fault of the day took the game to deuce. Then came one of the most critical points of the day, one that was a glimpse at why Safina won and Rogowska lost the 2-hour, 35-minute battle.

The point began like most of the day’s battles were contested – long-range baseline rallies with both players using the entire court, keeping their opponent on the move while probing for an opening. It was Safina who blinked first, chipping a shot short, bringing Rogowska to the net.

The Australian replied by chipping a backhand down the line with plenty of spin. Safina caught up with the ball and returned a running forehand crosscourt. There was Rogowska, waiting at the net, but she failed to put away the volley and gave Safina another chance.
This time Safina threw up a short defensive lob. Rogowska again failed to hit a winning smash, and instead popped a weak overhead back across the net.

Safina needed no more chances. She rifled a backhand crosscourt pass that caught Rogowska making an off-balance stab at the net. The youngster sat down on the court and both watched the point while it was being replayed on the giant screens atop Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“When it comes like this tight, it’s not easy to swing,” Safina said. “I saw like her volley was not good. I was like, OK, so she’s not so comfortable. First of all, she had an easy smash and she didn’t went for it. Then when I made it, it was like, ‘OK, come one. Make this break now.’”

Yet another forehand error by Safina made the score deuce again, and again Rogowska followed with a double fault. There was one more deuce, earned with a sharply hit inside-out forehand, before Rogowska made her 34th and 35th forehand unforced errors of the match.

Four points later, Safina had a spot in the second round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where she will take on Germany’s Kristina Barrios, a 6-4 6-4 winner over Urzula Radwanska of Poland.

“It doesn’t matter how I’ll play, but I will run and I will stay there forever,” said Safina. “I will do everything to win the match.”
In the day matches, two seeded players failed to make it into the second round. Sixteenth-seeded Virginie Razzano of France was ousted by Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer 6-4 6-3, while 32nd-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary fell to Israel’s Shahar Peer 6-2 6-2.
Among the seeded players joining Safina in the winner’s circle Tuesday included Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Sorana Cirstea, Caroline Wozniacki, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Alona Bondarenko, Sabine Lisicki, Patty Schnyder, Alisa Kleybanova and Zheng Jie.

In the men’s singles, American qualifier Jesse Witten upset 29th-seeded Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4 6-0 6-2.

“Last couple weeks I’ve been playing well and I’m not even sure why,” Witten said. “I’m just going to roll with it.”

Other early winners in the men’s singles included Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Gonzalez, Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey and Viktor Troicki.

NCAA Champion Cecil Loses In Opening Match at US Open

Despite losing in the first round of the US Open, Spartanburg native and NCAA champion Mallory Cecil chalks it all up to a learning experience.

Playing in front a packed crowd on Court 8, Cecil, who received a wild card into the main draw for winning the NCAA championships earlier this summer, found herself overwhelmed by the occasion and her opponent’s game. Committing 38 unforced errors, the American never managed to impose her game as she lost 6-0, 6-1 to Tathiana Garbin, the veteran player from Italy.

“I’m just really lacking experience at this point,” said Cecil. “This is all new to me and matches like these show me what I need to do to play against players at this level.”

Cecil, who turned professional this summer on August 14th, opened the match with two unforced errors as Garbin seemed content to guide down the ball the middle of the court, allowing Cecil to dictate the tempo of the match.

The American held a game point on her serve early on in the first set and held a break point one game later, but backhand errors cost Cecil the chance to get on the scoreboard, allowing Garbin to run take the first set, 6-0.

“With players like Garbin, it’s pretty much all up to you,” said Cecil. “I was trying to control the points, but also hitting shots I didn’t necessarily need to go for. It was tough to do anything with her slice because it stayed so low, but in order to be a top player, you have to learn how to handle anything.”

Cecil held serve to level the second set at 1-1, but it would be the only game she won in the contest. Committing unforced errors early in the rallies, Cecil dropped serve two more times before a missed drop shot sent Garbin into the second round on her first match point.

“I’ll obviously talk about the match with my dad and my coach, but obviously I need to try and put this behind me as quickly as possible,” said Cecil.

Despite the loss today, Cecil has shown potential this summer as she looks to break through the pro ranks. She reached the quarterfinals of a $50,000 challenger in Texas, and in the first round of a $50,000 challenger in Kentucky, served for the match against No. 63 ranked Julie Coin before losing in 3 sets.

“I can definitely compete against players in the top 100, but those were smaller tournaments and there wasn’t perhaps as much as attention as there was in this match,” said Cecil. “I’m just in a bit of a slump and need to try and move past it.”

Cecil said she plans to either play several challenger events in the US this fall, or head to France for a five week stretch of challengers. By this time next year, she plans to be in the US Open off merit, rather than a wildcard.

“By this time next year, I want my ranking to be high enough to get into the US Open qualifying (approximately No. 250) and then qualify into the main draw. Having a wild card was great, but I want to be able to do this on my own.”

Kendrick Moves Into Second Round of US Open

Taking advantage of a visibly injured opponent, Kendrick crushed groundstroke winners in front of a packed crowd on Court 4, easily moving into the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Martin Vasallo-Arguello of Argentina.

Vasallo-Arguello, a clay-court specialist known primarily for his retrieving skills, looked to be moving lethargically throughout the match. Standing well behind the baseline, his shots lacked power and depth, allowing Kendrick to dominate the rallies.

Kendrick broke Vasallo-Arguello in his first service game, holding on to the lead throughout the set before winning it, 6-3. In the second set, Kendrick increased his first service percentage and showed more of a willingness to come into the net, taking advantage of his opponent’s limited power.

“I had a good warm-up this morning and came out playing well from the first point,” said Kendrick. “I try to take control of the points anyway, but with his style of play, I knew this was my match to win or lose.”

Kendrick raced to a 4-0 lead into the second set and had game points for 5-0 before Vasallo-Arguello held serve with a well-timed drop shot. Kendrick fired off aces in each of his next service games to take the second set, 6-2.

A winning lob by Kendrick gave him an early break to the third set as a dejected Arguello threw his racket to the ground. Kendrick gave himself an extra break at 3-1 with a winning forehand volley, and an ace on his first match point sent him into the second round.

After mainly playing on the challenger circuit for most of his career, Kendrick has almost exclusively played ATP Tour events in 2009. He has posted solid results including a 3rd round finish in Miami and winning a round at Roland Garros. His most memorable match came in the first round of Wimbledon, where he took a set off then world No. 3 Andy Murray on Center Court before losing in first sets.

Kendrick, who will play No. 21 seed Tommy Haas of Germany in the second round, is now seeking to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.

“I’m not too worried about the match,” said Kendrick. “I’ll have a day off before and know that I can play with anyone if my game is on.”

Clijsters continues winning ways; Jankovic survives as Ivanovic falls in Cincinnati

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters continued her remarkable comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with a second consecutive win over a Top 20 player, this time defeating world No. 20 Patty Schnyder, 6-2, 7-5, on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the third round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Quickly getting in front 3-0 in the opening set, Clijsters eventually took the opening set 6-3, backed by winning 15 of 16 first serve points and breaking serve twice in the 23-minute set.

“I’m very happy that I’m starting the matches off well,” said Clijsters, a winner of 34 career singles titles including the 2005 US Open. “

The 26-year-old Belgian continued showing the signs of consistent tennis and superb fitness that was clear during her first round triumph over No. 12 seed Marion Bartoli.

“The main thing I was happy with today was the first serve percentage was a lot better than in the first match,” said Clijsters.

Schnyder picked up her game in the early stages of second set, before Clijsters broke in the 12th game and never looked back.

“She just had a great start,” said Schnyder, who won the title in Cincinnati in 2005. “She’s striking the ball great. It was really tough to get the rallies going and to get some advantage in the rallies.”

Clijsters’ was able to win the match without facing a break point on her serve, while smashing four aces and only two double faults. Schnyder, who was making her fourth appearance in Cincinnati, falls to 2-6 lifetime against Clijsters.

Next up for the newest mother on tour, is a third round match-up against reigning Roland Garros champion and No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Clijsters has dominated Kuznetsova in the past, winning six of seven meetings.

In other matches, No. 5 seed Jelena Jankovic saved two set points in the opening set tiebreak to edge past Russian wild card Maria Kirilenko, 7-6(6), 6-3, in one hour and 45 minutes. A match full of serving problems featured 13 service breaks and a combined 10 double faults.

“First match for me, it’s never easy,” said Jankovic, who finished the 2008 season as the top-ranked player in the world. “You know, I had trouble holding my serve, especially in that first set. I was returning well, but I wasn’t putting many first serves in, and kept playing with the second serve almost throughout the whole first set.”

Jankovic will next square off against No. 9 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus for a place in the quarterfinals. Azarenka stormed past Russian Anna Chakvetadze, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 21 minutes. Jankovic leads the head-to-head 2-1, winning both matches on hard courts in 2007.

Eleventh seed Ana Ivanovic’s struggles since winning the 2008 Roland Garros title continued, as she was bounced by in-form Melinda Czink, 7-6(6), 7-5. Ivanovic struggled with her ball toss for the second straight match, hitting 11 double faults and dropping her serve five times. The loss marked the second early exit in as many weeks, after losing in the third round last week to Samantha Stosur in straight sets in Los Angeles.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Serena Williams sailed past Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-3, 6-2. Williams, who won her 11th Grand Slam singles title earlier this summer at Wimbledon, smashed 12 aces, while dropping just three points on first serve. The Florida native was also able to break serve on three of six occasions. Williams will next clash with Sybille Bammer in the third round. Bammer won the only previous meeting in three sets in Hobart in 2007.

Other winners on Wednesday in Cincinnati:
No. 4 Elena Dementieva def. (Q) Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3
No. 7 Vera Zvonareva def. Alisa Kleybanova, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5
No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki def. Aleksandra Wozniak, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Sybille Bammer def. No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-0, 7-5
No. 14 Flavia Pennetta def. Agnes Szavay, 6-2, 6-2
Sorana Cirstea def. Anna-Lena Groenfeld, 6-3, 6-2
Daniela Hantuchova def. Alona Bondarenko, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4
Peng Shuai def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchzez, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1