regions morgan keegan

Women Grab Some Limelight From Men in Memphis

by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand

With names like Isner, Roddick and Raonic in the men’s draw at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships this week, it’s easy to overlook the WTA’s Memphis International also going on through Saturday in Memphis.

A deep and international field came together on the women’s side and close matches throughout the week have been the rule rather than exception at the Racquet Club of Memphis.

In quarter-final play, Marina Erakovic of New Zealand held off a stubborn Michaella Krajicek 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 to reach Friday’s semis.  Erakovic was dominant on serve in the decisive set winning 71% of her first-serve points and a whopping 73% of her second-serve points to take the win.  Up next for Erakovic is 89th ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia.  Dushevina defeated Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a two-hour match Thursday morning.

The remaining semi will feature Italian Alberta Brianti who was a straight set winner over Varvara Lepchenko, the last American in the draw and former Memphis champion Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden who was a 6-2, 7-6 winner over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine Thursday afternoon.

Two very competitive women’s semis will be on tap for Friday in Memphis.  Memphis’ favorite son Elvis had a hit in 1962 called “Good Luck Charm”, these four girls will be looking for their good luck charm and a spot in the finals on Saturday.

 

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

Andy Roddick Makes his Best Shot ever

It’s been hours since the end of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championship final match between Andy Roddick and Milos Raonic, and yet, I’m still amazed by what I saw. From the moment the second semifinal ended on Saturday, I knew that the final was going to be something special. How often do you get to see two of the biggest servers in the game play each other in a championship match? It was the veteran versus the rookie, the American versus the Canadian.

Coming in to the match, I knew that the points were going to be short. Both guys serve huge and rack up aces at an alarming rate and both guys are also fairly quick between points. Roddick barely even sits down on the changeovers. He’s ready to go before the umpire even calls time. True to form, the first set looked more like a serving exhibition than a normal tennis match. But, it was incredible to watch. Milos even managed a 150mph ace.

Neither man was playing his best tennis today. Andy Roddick has clearly been struggling this week. We’ve heard him coughing in his press conferences and even occasionally out there on court. In his match against del Potro, he received treatment on his shoulder/neck for a possible pinched nerve. In the final, it looked like everything caught up with him at once. After the match, Andy told us he wasn’t even sure he would play the final match, saying, “honestly, today at about 1:15/1:30, I didn’t like my chances of going out there. I woke up from a little nap at 2:30 and said I might as well go for it.” He certainly went for it. I was absolutely shocked that he didn’t lose his serve in the first set. He was leaning over between points and coughing into his towel on every changeover. He could barely win a single return point, and yet somehow, he managed to hang in there until the tiebreak and then do one better to actually win the set. In terms of his game plan, Andy said he told Larry [Stefanki], “I’m going to serve and try to slop together something.” He has a great deal of respect for everyone involved in a tournament from spectators right up to his opponent and he didn’t want to let anyone down by not playing in the final, but he also mentioned that he felt it would be more insulting to go out there and not give it his all, which is why it was such a tough choice to play. I’m glad he did and I’m sure he is as well.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so stressed out while watching a match live. Both players were just giving it their all and leaving themselves out there so it was tough to see either one lose. It would’ve been hard not to respect what both of them were doing on court yesterday. I was convinced that if the match went three, Andy’s health would eventually fail him and Raonic would find a way to capitalize on his opponent’s handicap. But Andy’s a champion, there’s no doubt about that. The third set appeared to be headed towards yet another tiebreaker, until Andy carved out a few championship points on Raonic’s serve.

Milos hit what appeared to be a winning volley to bring the game to deuce, but Roddick was ready to get out of there. He mustered one last burst of energy and literally threw himself at the ball. He wasn’t even really close to it. The ball miraculously flew past a stunned Raonic and into the open court. With regards to the point, Roddick said, “I don’t really remember much else besides the fact that I went for the ball and I hit it and I didn’t really think much of it. I was already, you know, in my head, there’s no way, and then I heard people cheering and I was like, ‘no, there’s no way that went in.’ I guess it did.” Roddick honestly looked stunned for the better part of 10 minutes. He went so far as to call this, “the best shot I’ve ever hit in my life, considering the circumstance.” I could barely believe it myself. The crowd was on its feet the second the ball hit the court and you couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of what just happened. Concerning what I will now refer to simply as “the shot,” Milos said, “ personally I thought he was far off and I didn’t think he was going to dive. I just stopped because I thought I had the point and his legs were not close to it, so he threw his whole body at it and he got it.”

I’ve said this all week, but Raonic is incredibly likeable. He was so gracious about the loss and was really quite upbeat in his post-match press conference. When I asked him whether he got any satisfaction from playing such a close match against a player of Roddick’s quality even though he lost, he was incredibly positive, saying, “I tried my best today and I got close with a Top 10 player so I can only be smiling and happy about that.” He’s had a great attitude all week, but it’s easy to be a gracious winner, it’s a completely different story when they drag you to the press room minutes after losing your second final match ever.

I could go on about this match for days. This was honestly one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. If you missed it, please look up the match point video. It’s worth it just for the looking on Andy’s face when he realizes it actually worked and he won the tournament.

Juan Martin Del Potro is on the Comeback Trail

After weeks of anticipation, I finally arrived at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee today. This is my first tournament as credentialed media and I have a feeling that’s going to take some getting used to. It’s a little overwhelming to be bombarded with so many options. Do I watch from the media room and write? Or do I go out to the stadium court for a singles match? Or Grandstand for doubles? Or do I go to a press conference? Anyway, more on that later. What’s important now is that I opted to attend a presser with Juan Martin del Potro after watching his singles victory against Ivan Dodig, for a place in the quarterfinals. As far as press conferences go, this had to be a good one. Who doesn’t have questions for a guy who’s recently returned from nearly a year off because of injury? You can all look up the video, so I’m only going to hit the high points.

Let’s start with the most important takeaway. The wrist is ok. To me, it didn’t sound like he was feeling 100% yet because he did say he felt some issues after Australia, but it’s clearly not keeping him from playing and better yet not keeping him from playing well. In terms of fitness, he’s still lacking a little. It’s tough to come back from such a long break and be match tough. Del Potro mentioned he was working with his physical trainer to get back into his best form and be less tired after matches. More match play will also help with this.

Del Potro was asked about his wrist injury and whether, at the time, he believed it could have been career ending, to which he replied, “when I was with my wrist problem, I see everything black.” He also mentioned that he had a tough time with the injury because it took four months to find a doctor who could actually diagnose it and even longer to decide on a method of treatment.

One of the more interesting points in my opinion was that, without prompting, del Potro said that he has no goals for this season, particularly in terms of ranking. I find it hard to believe that somewhere inside his head, he doesn’t have a target, but I like the attitude. It’s more important to stay healthy and comeback slower than to risk another injury.

Aside from winning his match against Dodig today, Juan Martin and his partner Radek Stepanek lost in doubles. When asked whether he planned to play more doubles, del Potro said probably not because he was not a “specialist” as kind of a joke. It went over well. For real, del Potro said he likes playing doubles but doesn’t do it very often. He enjoys playing with Mardy Fish and looks forward to possibly teaming up for some tournaments in the European clay season.

In terms of general demeanor, del Potro was ridiculously endearing. He seems really quiet and shy, but at the same time didn’t seem to mind answering questions. He’s super tall in person, but does seem to hunch a bit, which also contributes to his introverted appearance. My guess would be that he would be significantly less awkward if he were being interviewed in his native language. I know I’d be tentative to respond if someone wanted to interview me in Spanish.

Del Potro plays the last match on Friday, where he will take on Michael Russell, the surprise American quarterfinals. I like Delpo’s chances of making the semis this week, or possibly even the finals depending on how well he holds up. I think he’s definitely on the right track to returning to his former glory.

Q&A with Andy Roddick

In a little less than two weeks, I will be attending the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee. The event will be headlined by players like Andy Roddick, Fernando Verdasco, Gael Monfils, Juan Martin del Potro, and Sam Querrey. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take part in a Q&A conference call with Andy Roddick. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite questions and answers from yesterday’s call.

Q: Andy, how do you feel like you played in the Australian? Analyze that a little bit.

A: I played okay. I think I played better in Brisbane than I did in Melbourne. The conditions were a little weird. It was colder, so everything was playing a little bit slower which is not going to benefit me against some of the guys. Obviously I was disappointed with the last match I played. But, you know, made a final in Brisbane, made the second week in Australia. Like I said before, I think my biggest thing was the first kind of stretch of tennis where I’ve been healthy since May of last year. That was a good thing, that my body held up. So that’s something encouraging to take from it.

Q: Last year Sam Querrey and John Isner in the final. You’ve been kind of the class of American tennis for a while. What do you think about some of the guys that are coming up behind you that are going to be your competition in this tournament and probably for a while to come?

A: Yeah, I mean, Isner and Querrey had a good start to last year. They probably haven’t been playing as well as they wanted to recently. It’s always telling. Getting into the top 20 is one thing. I think getting into the top 10, the top 5 takes another level of commitment. I’m going to be interested to see how they progress from where they’re at right now.

Q: Jim Courier is coming to town for an exhibition right before Memphis. Could you talk about your feelings for him with his being named Davis Cup captain, what you think he might bring.

A: I’m excited. You know, there’s only a handful of guys who are Grand Slam champions that have been at the top of the sport. So to be able to kind of pick the brain of a another guy who’s done that always excites me. Jim and I have been friends for a long time. He’s always supported me. I was certainly happy with his selection as our new Davis Cup captain.

Q: You participated in the Rally for Relief at the Australian Open as well as donated quite a bit of your own money in Brisbane. How important do you see it, giving back to the community?

A: Well, I think it’s huge. That’s the one thing that’s great about the global nature of tennis. We kind of get to see different areas. The Queensland floods down in Australia were tragic. I think they covered a space bigger than Germany and France combined. The one thing I’ve always been proud of as far as this tennis family, we come from a long line of guys and girls who have been willing to give back, starting with Billie Jean, Arthur Ashe, Agassi. The group now are all on the same page as far as if we can help, we’ll try.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model for younger players coming up through the juniors?

A: I don’t know. That would be a question for them. I’m certainly available for any of the upandcoming kind of highlevel juniors, and I always have been. I’m certainly not going to force my opinions on anybody. But I’m willing to help. I certainly have always accepted the responsibility of kind of being I guess the figurehead of American tennis right now.

Q: You obviously played Novak a bunch of times the past couple of years. Generally some good results. Talk about Novak. What made him step up and prevail in Melbourne? Can he leapfrog Roger and Rafa and become a consistent No. 1?

A: I think you have to become No. 1 before you can become a consistent No. 1. We’ll see. It’s funny to me how things, kind of the way they’re presented in the media, change quickly. When I was in Australia, it was pretty much like Roger and Rafa existed and everyone else was kind of like a peon. Well, now it’s like judge things on a threemonth cycle as opposed to a threeweek cycle. He’s certainly capable. I think he’s proved it. I think the big thing with Novak over the last six months or so since he’s been playing better, he looks a lot better, a lot more consistent. He was going through a little bit of a funk for a while on his serve. His forehand isn’t going off. He’s playing aggressively in tight moments.

Q: Does that mean that Michael Chang and Lleyton Hewitt are going to have a tougher time going forward?

A: Maybe. But guys like that, you know, I feel like a Michael Chang or a Lleyton Hewitt would find a way to be successful regardless. You can’t really put a height requirement on the amount of heart that someone has.

Q: There’s a women’s tournament in Memphis going on at the same time as the men’s tournament. How good are the women compared to the men? If you took the serve out of the game, could a top woman take a game, a set or nothing at all off of a top man?

A: I’m going to break this down for you. There is no way that I can answer this question and have it come across good, so it is really not even worth me commenting.

Q: Is [Roger] less dominant?

A: Listen, they had him dead and buried after the Open. He won the Masters. There was a thing in ’08 where you were asking me the same question. Is he less dominant than the year he went 873? Probably. But that was arguably the best year in tennis of all times. If that’s what the comparisons are going to be drawn to, he’ll most likely come up short. But would it surprise me if he won three majors over the next two years? No, it wouldn’t. One thing I don’t spend much time doing is worrying for Roger.

AROUND THE CORNER

Open 13 – Marseille, France

With six players in the top-fifty of the ATP rankings system, France is certainly well represented in the upper echelon of the men’s game. The tournament in Marseille enjoys a significant French presence that starts with number two seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The defending champion from a year ago has had a solid start to 2010, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open where he lost in straight sets to Roger Federer. France enjoyed a sweep in this tournament a year ago with Arnaud Clement and Michael Llordra taking the doubles title as well.

Top seed Robin Soderling will be trying to prevent a Frenchman from hoisting the trophy and is currently experiencing a deep-run in Rotterdam where he knocked-off Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals. Soderling has a first-round bye in Marseilles, and could encounter Marcos Baghdatis in the quarter-finals.

Other locals to keep an eye on include Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon.

Expect a Frenchman to hoist the trophy in a week’s time.

Regions Morgan Keegan Championships – Memphis, Tennessee

Andy Roddick will make the move from San Jose to Memphis for back-to-back hard court tournaments. With so many top players skipping these smaller events, it is nice to see regular appearances from Andy. The only World Tour 500-level tournament this coming week, there is some serious prize money to be had and I’m surprised we are not seeing more top-ranked players in attendance.

Roddick faces fellow-American James Blake in a tough first round match. Blake has dropped to 52nd in the world and is realizing how tough it is to enter tournaments without a seeding. He faced Del Potro in the second round of the Aussie Open, and Baghdatis in the first round last week in Rotterdam. Things do not get any easier for him here in Memphis.

Roddick leads their career head-to-head meetings 6-3, however Blake has won their last three matches in a row. They have only met once in the last three years, with Blake winning by default at the Queen’s tournament in 2009 when Roddick pulled-out with injury at 4-4 in the first set. With the way he has played thus far this year, Roddick should prevail in straight sets in this one.

Fernando Verdasco is the number two seed and has a pretty good draw in the bottom half. He;ll have to keep an eye on big-servers John Isner and Ivo Karlovic as well as veteran Tommy Haas. Haas has not looked sharp thus far in 2010, and faces a stiff challenge from veteran Xavier Malisse in the first round. The German might finally be showing his age – although he has won this very tournament three times before, in 1999, 2006 and 2007.

Copa Telmex – Buenos Aires, Argentina

David Ferrer takes the pole position in Buenos Aires but has lacked the consistency so far this year to lead him to the title. Ferrer has lost to lower ranked players such as Stephane Robert, Marcos Baghdatis and Arnaud Clement in his three tournament appearances up to now.

The tournament has quite the interesting mix of players including clay court specialists such as Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro, Albert Montanes and even wildcard entry Gaston Gaudio. Having dropped off the radar in recent years, Gaudio’s name still pops up from time to time on the challenger circuit and he is obviously benefiting from the hospitality of his local Argentinian Tennis Federation. He’ll always have his lone Grand Slam title to look back on, from Roland Garros in 2004.

Gaudio isn’t the only former French Open winner present, as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya are also in the draw. Richard Gasquet is also lurking, which is a surprise since you would think he would be playing in his home country’s tournament in Marseille. Perhaps he is not yet ready to face the French press over his doping suspension from a year ago.

Also showing in the draw as of right now is Argentinian David Nalbandian who has been off the tour since May 2009 due to a serious hip injury. Nalbandian was supposed to return to play a month ago at the Australian Open but had to withdraw after sustaining an abdominal injury in practice. Nalbandian will ease back into competition with a favorable first round opponent in Italian Potito Starace.