Robin Haase

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

To Each Their Own: Previews of ATP Atlanta, Gstaad, and Umag

The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta.  Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York.  But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles.  For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.

Atlanta:

Top half:  The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20.  Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison.  The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta.  Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions.  He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.

Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American.  Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise.  On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise.  Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand.  His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles.  Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt.  A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.

Semifinal:  Isner vs. Hewitt

Bottom half:  The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months.  Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic.  Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable.  The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion.  Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues.  Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.

Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude.  They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta.  Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.

Semifinal:  Fish vs. Anderson

Final:  Hewitt vs. Anderson

Gstaad:

Top half:  As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw.  Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though.  Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week.  Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal.  But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.

A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title.  The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half.  Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg.  Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.

Semifinal:  Federer vs. Monaco 

Bottom half:  Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol.  Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring.  But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him.  The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true).  Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well.  The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.

That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez.  Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section.  Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder.  Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Wawrinka

Final:  Federer vs. Wawrinka

Umag:

Top half:  Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw.  He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later.  Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises.  The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking.  Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.

In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad.  This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as  recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker.  An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year.  Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

Semifinal:  Gasquet vs. Fognini

Bottom half:  Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon.  Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad.  A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there.  The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.

The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos.  While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there.  Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi.  On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.

Semifinal:  Robredo vs. Berlocq

Final:  Fognini vs. Robredo

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Sharapova, Li, Stosur, Nadal, and More Set to Shine on Day 5

Our Thursday preview discusses eight matches from each singles draw, starting this time with the WTA.

WTA:

Kristina Mladenovic vs. Samantha Stosur:  Her opening victory over Kimiko Date-Krumm looked impressive on paper with the loss of just two games.  Now, however, Stosur must face a Frenchwoman much more worthy of her steel.  Mladenovic caught fire on home soil in February when she reached the semifinals of the Paris Indoors, although she faces an uphill battle against an opponent more accomplished on clay and much more experienced at this level.

Maria Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard:  Teenagers have troubled Sharapova in the first week of majors before, from the Melanie Oudin catastrophe at the US Open to a hard-fought encounter with Laura Robson at Wimbledon and a narrowly avoided stumble against Caroline Garcia here.  Bouchard reached the semifinals of Strasbourg last week, where she threatened eventual champion Alize Cornet.  On the other hand, the 19-year-old Canadian eked out only two games from the woman who designs her Nike outfits when they met in Miami this spring.

Francesca Schiavone vs. Kirsten Flipkens:  Logic suggests that the second round marks the end of the road for Schiavone, who faces a seeded opponent there.  Her history at this tournament suggests that we should not lean too heavily on logic and give her a fighting chance against a young Belgian more successful on faster surfaces.

Li Na vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands:  When they met in Stuttgart this spring, the 2011 Roland Garros champion eased past her fellow veteran.  Mattek-Sands pulled off a series of impressive victories that week, reaching the semifinals as a qualifier.  The indoor conditions in Stuttgart fit her game better than the outdoor terre battue here, and Li looked much crisper in her opener against Anabel Medina Garrigues than she had earlier this clay season.

Marion Bartoli vs. Mariana Duque-Marino:  Surviving the grueling three-hour trainwreck in her first-round match may have liberated Bartoli to swing more boldly henceforth.  Or Colombian clay specialist Duque-Marino might finish what Govortsova started, capitalizng on the double faults that continue to flow.  Bartoli cannot count on the Chatrier crowd to rescue her this time.

Ashleigh Barty vs. Maria Kirilenko:  Both women enter this match in excellent form, the Australian teenager having scored her first career victory at a major and the Russian having yielded just a single game.  This tournament has offered a fine showcase for some of the WTA’s rising stars, although Kirilenko’s consistency should leave Barty few options.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Garbine Muguruza:  Continuing her clay success this spring, Jankovic won more of the key points than she often does in fending off occasional nemesis Daniela Hantuchova.  A heavy-hitting Spaniard awaits in Muguruza, who knocked off another Slam-less No. 1 this year in Caroline Woznacki.  Consecutive fourth-round appearances at Indian Wells and Miami suggested Muguruza’s readiness to take the next step forward on a hard court, but her clay results have lagged behind.

Petra Kvitova vs. Peng Shuai:  Yet another three-set rollercoaster defined Kvitova’s path to the second round.  While she looks invincible at her best, seemingly anyone will have a chance against her on her vulnerable days.  Far from just anyone, Peng won a set from Kvitova on a hard court this year and another set on grass last year.  Last week, she reached a Premier final in Brussels, by far her most notable result since her career year in 2011.

ATP:

Lucas Pouille vs. Grigor Dimitrov:  Never has Dimitrov advanced past the second round of a major.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, that streak of futility should end here.  Ranked outside the top 300, Pouille has spent most of his limited career at the challenger level, although he did win his first match in straight sets.  Dimitrov aims to set up a third-round rematch of his Madrid meeting with Novak Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal vs. Martin Klizan:  Unable to deliver a strong opening statement in his first match, Nadal instead revealed some notable signs of frailty.  He should settle into a groove more smoothly against a less explosive opponent, using the opportunity to reassert his clay supremacy.  Few players bounce back from a shaky effort better than Nadal.

Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic:  In their most significant match to date, Tipsarevic held match points against Verdasco at the 2011 Australian Open before tanking the fifth set when the fourth slipped away. The Serb remains an enigmatic competitor who has struggled through a barren season, but he did win their two meetings since then.  Also in dismal form for most of 2013, Verdasco appeared to raise his confidence over the last month.  He demolished his first opponent and should hold a clear surface edge.

Tommy Haas vs. Jack Sock:  The raw American won his first main-draw match at Roland Garros in scintillaing fashion after notching three wins in qualifying just as easily.  Fourteen years his senior, Haas shares Sock’s preference for faster surfaces.  He has produced some solid clay results this year, though, whereas his opponent lost five straight matches before arriving in Paris.  If Sock maintains a high first-serve percentage, this match could become very competitive but still probably not an upset.

Lukas Rosol vs. Fabio Fognini:  With the winner almost certianly destined to face Rafael Nadal, this match bears the whiff of intrigue over the possibility of a Wimbledon rematch.  Fognini’s superior clay game should snuff out Rosol’s hopes for another chance at the Spaniard, especially across a best-of-five match.  The Italian reached a Masters 1000 semifinal in Monte Carlo, although his results have tapered since then.  For his part, Rosol won his first career title in Bucharest, defeating Gilles Simon en route.

Ryan Harrison vs. John Isner:  Rare is the all-American match in the second round of Roland Garros, created this time by an odd quirk of the draw.  Harrison defeated Isner at Sydney just before the older American withdrew from the Australian Open, the start of a disastrous season for him outside a small title in Houston.  Nor did the upset launch Harrison’s season in style, for he fell outside the top 100 this spring and has won just two main-draw matches since that January victory over Isner.  The latter can draw inspiration from his five-setter here against Rafael Nadal in 2010.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Horacio Zeballos:  One of these men barely finished off his match on Tuesday, while the other needed to return on Wednesday for two more sets.  Both Wawrinka and Zeballos defeated marquee Spaniards to win clay titles this spring, Zeballos stunning Nadal in Vina del Mar and Wawrinka dominating Ferrer in Portugal.  The Swiss No. 2’s achievement marked merely one episode in a general upward trend, though, whereas the Argentine’s breakthrough has remained an anomaly.

Robin Haase vs. Jerzy Janowicz:  Haase recently collected the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost, halting at the same number as Roger Federer’s record of major titles won.  The floundering Dutchman might play a few more tiebreaks against a man who can match him hold for hold.  The clay-court savvy of both men languishes relatively low, causing them to battle the surface as well as each other.

 

Players Lounge Diary: A Look at the Intimate Side of the BNP Paribas Open

Lauren, sister of ATP pro tennis player Tim Smyczek, blogs from Indian Wells, CA as Tim competes at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open, and takes us through two typical days on Tour.

By Lauren Smyczek

Thurs, March 7th — 6:00 am Woke up this morning a bit later than usual during our stay here in Indian Wells. I think I’m drained from all the sun yesterday even though I downed 3.5 Nalgene canisters of water — the desert air just sucks it right out of you! Mom and I are here supporting Tim this week on the road, and we are all staying off-site at a house of one of Tim’s friends; it was so generous of her to offer her place! Before the rest of the group wakes up, mom and I tiptoe out of the house and go for a long walk in the neighborhood. It’s surprisingly chilly in the mornings, but really a must before sitting all afternoon at the tournament site. If I’m being good, I throw in some yoga poses to get the blood flowing.

7:00 During our walk, we head over to the local coffee shop. My whole family are coffee snobs. Our favorite is Milwaukee’s Alterra but today we have to settle for other beans since Alterra hasn’t come to California … yet. I text Tim to see if he’s awake and ready for coffee, and mom and I chat at the shop until he texts back. Even at the beginning of the day, there seems to be a lot of “waiting around” when it comes to tennis players, but you get used to the random nature of the scheduling pretty quickly.

7:30 We head back to the house and my mom makes breakfast for Tim and Billy Heiser, his coach. Today, it’s every tennis player’s dream breakfast of eggs and chicken followed by Greek yogurt with jelly and my mom’s famous home-made granola. It takes a lot of nutritious food and calories to keep your energy all day as a player, so a balanced breakfast is a must.

8:15 Thanks to our hosts, Tim and Billy don’t need to head on-site for morning drills just yet. The family’s backyard is equipped with a tennis court, so they are able to get started bright and early with little hassle.

10:00 After drills, we all tune into the TV and quickly settle on watching The Golf Channel. This makes Tim itch to get out on the greens. He lives on a course back in Tampa, FL so we joke that he goes into withdrawal on the road when he doesn’t have access to a golf course.

10:30 We finally head over to the site for their morning hit, and on the way there — as every good partnership can attest to — Tim and Billy bicker over predictions on the outcome of today’s matches.

11:00 Once at Indian Wells, Billy grabs a coke from the locker room for my mom, and as we’re leaving the players’ area, a sweaty Stan Wawrinka walks past (he’s one of my favorite players right now). Across from the entrance to the players’ area is a big field for warming up and working out, and a game of pickup soccer is taking place with several players participating in the fun.

Today it’s colder and more cloudy than usual, and while I optimistically wore shorts, I also brought jeans which I gladly switch into. I walk around the grounds to catch some match play as the first round started today. The first match I catch is on Court 7, Viktor Troicki vs David Goffin. Long rallies, fist pumps, and a huge break for Troicki to get him back on serve at 3-4.

It’s only Day One, but the crowd is excited and ready for some great tennis. The early days of big tournaments like Indian Wells are always a lot of fun as there are so many great matches on, and perhaps even some surprises. The momentum of this particular match though, is going back and forth — it’s just incredible to see from both Troicki and Goffin just how much focus this game takes. You let up for even a single point and you’re in trouble.

We then move to watch some of Bernard Tomic vs Thomaz Bellucci, but find ourselves heading back to Court 7 for an enticing third set. With all the excitement on the grounds, I accidentally missed Tim’s afternoon practice, so I just keep on watching the matches. Tim will text when he’s done with the trainer and his ice bath. Glad I don’t have to “enjoy” those frigid ice baths — will leave it for the players!

3:00 pm It’s now been a few hours, but still no word from Tim in the locker room. We don’t like to bother Tim and Billy so we just wait. Who’s complaining though when you’re at an awesome event surrounded by world-class tennis?! I’m guessing that back in the massage line or trainer room, Tim is reading — or maybe even more likely — scrolling through his Twitter feed.

4:30 We hit some nasty traffic on the way back to the house. Shopping plans for the day? Nixed. Uhh … more Golf Channel?

7:00 We have dinner  with a group of Tim’s friends who are hosting a new Challenger starting off in Sacramento this Fall. It’s an exciting and riveting conversation, but my eyes are failing me and closing at the table. Tim, though, has extra helpings — have to stay fueled up!

10:30 Finally time for some shut-eye.

***

Friday, March 8th — 6:00 am No walk this morning as it’s surprisingly raining in the desert!

7:00 Off to get that coffee again to start the day right. Same routine as yesterday.

8:20 The rain was short-lived as the sun makes it’s appearance, even though the meteorologist called for more rain. Go figure!

9:15 My mom and I head out to do a little walking around and shopping now that it’s nice out. Tim is fifth up today for his match against Yen-Hsun Lu, so we won’t need to head to the site for a few hours.

1:30 pm Once we do arrive at the site, we catch some of the Jack Sock vs Ivo Karlovic match. What a tough loss for Jack after holding match points. Sometimes matches just don’t work out how we want them to.

3:00 We head over to watch some of Tim’s pre-match warmup, before seeing some of Jelena Jankovic vs Svetlana Kuznetzova. Once the sun starts to set though, mom and I realize that it would be better to spend a few hours inside so we’re not frozen popsicles by the time his match rolls around later in the evening.

4:45 Luckily, we were able to find in a nice corner of the players lounge where I can discretely do a little yoga — stiff from shivering all afternoon.

James Blake strides in smiling after his win over Robin Haase. Then from across the room, I see Haase discussing his loss with his coach and a cloudy look of disappointment on his face. With the constant flux of familiar tennis player faces walking in and out, it’s hard to not be distracted. But, of course, when you’re in the players lounge, you just play it cool — no staring, even if you are a little starstruck.

Stadium 3 is hosting a women’s match before Tim’s (Bartoli v Scheepers), so it feels like they’re trying to set a record for number of deuce games. Part of me — oh wait, all of me, is dreading going back out into the ever-extending frigid night.

6:00 We finally head out to Stadium 3 to shiver for a few more hours and watch Tim’s match against Lu. Tim came out of the gate strong, but Lu is known to be hot and cold. Sure enough, Lu got the break to start the second set, and then really started playing on all cylinders. Tim didn’t play poorly, but he can definitely play at a much higher level than this, and suffers a heart-breaking three-set loss, 6-2, 2-6, 2-6. Never easy to see a match slip through your hands after having had control.

9:00 After the cool down and some talk with his coach, it’s a quiet car ride back to the house as expected. I wish it could have gone better for Tim, but it was a heck of a time in Indian Wells and I’m incredibly grateful to have been along to support my brother! It’s the losses that show us our true strengths and I know Tim will bounce right back, looking for his next win.

As a bonus, Tim also shot his Tennis Channel “Bag Check” this week, so look for that in the weeks to come!

Until next time!
Lauren

Gallery: Del Potro Defeats Monfils as Gulbis Overcomes Haase; Baghdatis/Dimitrov Falter

ROTTERDAM (Feb. 12, 2013) — Last year’s finalist Juan Martin del Potro was among the winners on Tuesday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The Argentine dispatched of Frenchman Gael Monfils in 71 minutes, never having really been tested in his 6-3, 6-4 win.

Del Potro will next take on qualifier Ernests Gulbis who handed Robin Haase his fourth straight first round defeat in Rotterdam, winning 6-2, 6-1 in only 50 minutes.

During his on-court interview Gulbis apologized to the audience for defeating the country’s highest-ranked player: “Sorry Holland. Too bad for the spectators that I defeated a Dutchman.”

In doubles’ action, the team of Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov lost to last week’s Zagreb titlists Julian Knowle and Filip Polasek, 7-6(4), 6-1, while the French tandem of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet defeated the tournament No. 2 seed Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer.

Other singles players through to the first round include wildcard Thiemo DeBakker (when Mikhail Youzhny retired), Julien Benneteau, and Jarkko Nieminen.

(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)

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Wizards of Oz (XIII): Previewing the Australian Open Women’s Final and Men’s Doubles Final

On the penultimate day of the tournament, the 2013 Australian Open will crown its women’s singles and men’s doubles champions.  Read about what to expect from those matches.

Azarenka vs. Li:  Meeting in a final on Australian soil for the fourth time, these two women of similar styles have battled to a very even record.  Both can hammer magnificent backhands for winners to anywhere on the court, while the forehands of each can falter under pressure despite providing plenty of firepower at times.  Neither wins many free points on serve, although each has improved in that department lately, and both relish pouncing on an opponent’s second serve.  For these reasons, their previous meetings usually hinge on execution rather than tactics, as well as on the ability of Azarenka and Li to shoulder pressure deep in the tight sets and matches that they have played.  After the Roland Garros champion dominated the early stages of their rivalry, winning four of the first five, the defending champion here has reeled off four straight victories.  But two of those have reached final sets, including the Sydney title tilt last year.

The more impressive of the two in fortnight form, Li has echoed her 2011 surge in Paris by defeating two of the top four women simply to reach the final.  Convincing victories over Radwanska and Sharapova, the latter of whom had troubled her lately, left her record immaculate without a single set lost.  In fact, Li has won 14 of her 15 matches this year in yet another display of the brisk start with which she often opens a season.  Also accustomed to starting seasons on hot streaks before her body breaks down, Azarenka has mounted a creditable albeit not overpowering effort in her title defense.  She has not faced anyone ranked higher than 29th seed Sloane Stephens en route to the final, but she defeated the dangerous Kuznetsova with ease in the quarterfinals and has yielded only one set.  What most may remember from her pre-final effort here, unfortunately, happened in the closing sequence of her semifinal victory.  A dubious medical timeout just before Stephens served (unsuccessfully) to stay in the match incited disdain from throughout the tournament and Twitterverse, which may ripple through the response to her on Saturday.

In an ironic twist, any hostility towards Azarenka might well inspire her to produce her most motivated, relentless effort of the tournament.  The world #1, who will remain there with a title, usually thrives on the negativity of others and can excel when barricading herself inside a fortress of “me against the world” attitude.  For her part, Li Na will hope to show greater poise than she did in this final two years ago, letting a mid-match lead slip away to Clijsters.  The coronation that followed at Roland Garros just a few months later and the steadying presence of coach Carlos Rodriguez should help the Chinese superstar channel her energies more effectively this time.  Thus, one can expect a high-quality match with plenty of passion on both sides, a fitting conclusion to the many intriguing WTA narrative threads that unwound at the year’s first major.

Bryan/Bryan vs. Haase/Sijsling:  Finalists here for a fifth straight year, the Bryans hope to emulate women’s doubles champions Errani and Vinci in atoning for their disappointing runner-up finish to an unheralded team in 2012.  Equally unheralded is the duo of Dutchmen across the net, who have not lost a set since tottering on the brink of defeat in their first match.  Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling needed a third-set tiebreak to elude that initial obstacle, but they have compiled an ominously impressive record in tiebreaks here, which bodes well for their chances in a match likely to feature few break points.  Their relative lack of experience would seem a clear disadvantage against the Bryans, superior in chemistry to virtually every imaginable team.

All the same, the surprising Australian duo of Barty and Dellacqua posed a severe threat to women’s top seeds Errani and Vinci in the corresponding final, so the Bryans cannot take this team too lightly in their quest for a record-extending 13th major title.  They have earned their most consistent success in Melbourne, where they have reached nine total finals, but the twins looked slightly more vulnerable this year in losing sets to the teams of Chardy/Kubot and Bolelli/Fognini.  Neither of those duos can claim anything remotely comparable to the storied accomplishments of the Americans yet still challenged them.  As with those matches, this final will test the conventional belief that two capable singles player can overcome the most elite doubles squads.  Both inside the top 70, Haase and Sijsling have gained their modest success almost entirely in singles, whereas the specialists across the net know the geometry of doubles as well as any team ever has.  That comfort level should prove the difference in a triumph that extends the stranglehold of the Bryans on history.

Quarters for Your Thoughts: 2013 Australian Open Men’s Draw Preview

Looking for a jumbo preview of the Australian Open men’s draw that breaks down each section of the brackets?  Look no further.  We take one quarter at a time in tracing the route of each leading contender, locating the most intriguing matches, projecting the semifinalists, and identifying one notable player to watch in each section.

First quarter:  Seeking the first men’s three-peat Down Under of the Open era, Djokovic will want to conserve his energy during the first week and probably will.  Although rising American star Ryan Harrison could threaten briefly in the second round, he lacks the experience to test the Serb in a best-of-five format, while potential third-round opponent Stepanek lacks the consistency to do so as his career wanes.  Among the other figures of note in this vicinity are two resurgent Americans in Querrey and Baker, destined to meet in the second round.  The winner may fancy his chances against Wawrinka, more comfortable on clay, and Querrey in particular could bring confidence from his upset of Djokovic in Paris to another clash with the Serb when the second week starts.

The quarter’s lower section features several men who share Wawrinka’s affinity for clay, such as Monaco and Verdasco.  While the Spaniard’s career has sagged over the past year or two, the Argentine enjoyed his best season to date in 2012 as he reached the top ten for the first time.  His reward lies in a  clear route to the second week and an appointment with the enigmatic Berdych.  Always susceptible to ebbs and flows, the world #6 ended last season optimistically with a semifinal at the US Open, where he upset Federer.  But then Berdych started this season miserably by falling in Chennai to an opponent outside the top 50.  He has won just one of his twelve career meetings with Djokovic, although the only victory came in one of their most important matches:  a Wimbledon semifinal.  While Berdych’s route to the quarterfinals looks comfortable, then, only a superb serving performance can shield him from the Serb’s more balanced array of weapons when he arrives there.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

Player to watch:  Querrey

Second quarter:  The only section without a clear favorite proliferates with question marks but also with talent and intriguing narratives.  In the draw’s most notable first-round match, Hewitt will open his 17th Australian Open campaign against the eighth-seeded Tipsarevic.  A mismatch on paper, this encounter could develop into one of the late-night thrillers that have become a Melbourne tradition, and the home crowd might lift their Aussie to an improbable victory over an opponent less untouchable than those ranked above him.  Other storylines include the apparent emergence of Grigor Dimitrov, previously familiar only for his facsimile of Federer’s playing style but now a Brisbane finalist.  While the Bulgarian never has reached the third round of a major, his recent accomplishments and his desire to impress romantic interest Maria Sharapova might inspire him.  He faces a challenging initial test against Benneteau, who fell just short of his second straight Sydney final.

Awarded his first seed in the main draw of a major, Jerzy Janowicz looks to continue his momentum from last fall when he reached the final at the Paris Masters 1000 tournament.  Unlike Dimitrov, his route through the first round or two looks clear, and projected third-round opponent Almagro does not pose an insurmountable obstacle.  Unless Janowicz improves upon his January efforts so far, however, Almagro can look ahead to the second week and perhaps even a quarterfinal against compatriot Ferrer.  The highest seed in this section, the latter Spaniard will reach the top four after the tournament no matter his result.  His fitness should carry him past erratic opponents like Baghdatis or Youzhny, although the titanic serve of Karlovic has troubled him before and merits watching in their second-round match.  Having recorded multiple victories over Ferrer on marquee stages, Nishikori poses his most convincing pre-quarterfinal threat.  But he has struggled with injury recently and may prove no better able to grind past the Spaniard in the heat than Almagro, who never has defeated him.  If Tipsarevic reaches the quarterfinals, on the other hand, he will aim to reverse the outcome of their US Open quarterfinal last year, which he lost to Ferrer in a fifth-set tiebreak.

Semifinalist:  Ferrer

Player to watch:  Dimitrov

Third quarter:  Never has a man won his second major immediately after winning his first.  Never, however, in the Open era had a British man won any major at all, so this bit of history should not intimidate the reigning US Open champion.  Murray will start his campaign by reprising an odd encounter with Robin Haase at the 2011 US Open, which he rallied to win in five sets after losing the first two.  The lanky Dutchman behind him, he will face nobody over the next few rounds with the firepower to discomfit him over this extended format.  Throughout his section lie counterpunchers like Simon or Robredo or tactically limited players like Mayer and Stakhovsky.  The two exceptions who could threaten Murray will meet in the first round.  Reviving his career with solid results in Doha and Auckland, Monfils will pit his momentum against fellow showman Dolgopolov in a match likely to showcase plenty of electrifying shot-making.

Perhaps of more interest is the route traced by Del Potro, the most likely title contender outside the top three seeds.  In the second round, the Tower of Tandil could meet surprising Slovakian Aljaz Bedene, who reached the Chennai semifinals to start the year and nearly upset Tipsarevic there.  Owning more than enough weapons to dispatch the passive baseliner Granollers afterwards, Del Potro would open the second week against Marin Cilic.  The Croat developed around the same time as the Argentine and honed a similar playing style to complement his similar physique.  But Cilic has disappointed those who anointed him a future major champion and top-10 fixture, appearing to content himself with a lesser level of accomplishment.  He must brace himself for an opening battle against home hope Marinko Matosevic, who took him to five sets in New York last fall.  If Del Potro can reverse his 2009 loss to Cilic in that projected fourth-round encounter, he also must halt his winless hard-court record against Murray.  The task does not loom as large as it might appear, for he has won sets in all four of those matches.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Player to watch:  Del Potro

Fourth quarter:  What a pity that leading Aussie hope Bernard Tomic can play only two rounds before descending into the maw of the GOAT, as he did in the fourth round here last year.  All the same, Tomic will have the opportunity to knock off a seeded opponent in Martin Klizan while praying for a miracle from Federer’s second-round opponent, Nikolay Davydenko.  (Those who saw their match at the 2010 Australian Open will remember how impressive the Russian looked against the Swiss—for a set and a half, after which he utterly collapsed.)  Perhaps more formidable than the momentum of Tomic is the mighty serve of Milos Raonic, which nearly toppled Federer three times last year.  In each of their matches, Federer managed to win the crucial handful of points late in final sets, but can he continue to escape so narrowly?  The younger man cannot look too far ahead too soon, however, for a second-round match against Lukas Rosol lurks, and everyone knows what Rosol has done in the second round of majors.

Winless against top-eight opponents in 2012, former finalist Tsonga hopes to turn over a new leaf in 2013.  To snap that streak, though, he must survive the early stages of the tournament against dangerous lurkers like Llodra and Bellucci.  Tsonga has struggled at times against compatriots and has a losing career record against Gasquet, his projected fourth-round opponent.  Fresh from his title in Doha, the world #10 never has plowed deep into the Australian draw and may not benefit this time from the weak first-week slates that he received at majors last year.  Eyeing a possible upset is Haas, another artist of the one-handed backhand who has collaborated with Gasquet on memorable matches before.  But the question remains whether any of these men currently can compete with Federer across a best-of-five match, and the answer seems clear.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Player to watch:  Tomic

Final:  Djokovic vs. Murray

Champion:  Novak Djokovic

Come back tomorrow for the women’s preview, designed with the same level of detail!

All of Tennis Grandstand’s exclusive 1-on-1 interviews with ATP/WTA players from the Sony Ericsson Open

Missed any of Tennis Grandstand’s one-on-one interviews with a particular player during the Sony Ericsson Open? Or just want to laugh along with the players as they answer funny and tennis-related questions? Well, you’re in luck as below you’ll find a full list of interviews from Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Janko Tipsarevic, Sabine Lisicki, Sam Stosur, Milos Raonic, Maria Kirilenko, Flavia Pennetta, Yanina Wickmayer, Robin Haase and Vania King.

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ATP Spotlight on Robin Haase

During the Sony Ericsson Open, I sat down with Dutch ATP player and current world #53, Robin Haase to chat memorable moments, the perks of being a tennis player, the players he would most want to party with and Novak Djokovic as the toughest opponent he has ever faced.

Even though he was running late to the interview, he was apologetic and friendly, showcasing his signature curls and inviting smile. I made sure to take full advantage of his good attitude after defeating Australian Marinko Matosevic earlier in the day, 6-3, 6-4. He will next face 22nd-seed Jurgen Melzer in the second round.

What is your most memorable moment on-court?

It’s a tough one. It’s always tough to say that because you are always in a different time of your career – and you have many moments. I can go back to when I was 12, the most important thing was to win the national championships. Of course, that’s not my most memorable moment, but it’s always tough to say what is. I had a great experience almost beating Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon [in 2010] — took him to five sets, on center court. He was defending champion and #1 in the world, and of course, to play on the nicest court of the tennis world was a great experience. Also, last year I won my first ATP event and I think that’s, of course, a memorable moment.

What’s the best part of being a tennis player?

The best part is that I made tennis, which is my hobby, as my job. I think that not a lot of people can say that they do what they love to do, every day, day in and day out. But it’s not as easy as people think. It’s not just as glamorous a life as people think. It’s also a hard life but I enjoy it every day.

What’s the toughest part?

The toughest part is the many weeks of travelling, playing a lot of tournaments, having to go to almost all the continents. That’s not easy. You lose almost every week, so every week you have to recover from disappointment. That’s hard.

Do you have any superstitions on court?

No, not really. I think there’s also a big difference between superstition and rituals, so I have the same kind of warm up to prepare for the match. But it’s not like Nadal with the bottles, or stepping on lines. I don’t have that. Sometimes I take the same ball and sometimes I don’t.

If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?

I think I would pick the ones I am closest friends to. With friends you go to parties and dinners. One of the guys would be Jarkko Nieminen. I think almost everyone would invite him, he’s a great guy. I know Marin Cilic from juniors too. I get along with, for example, from the States, Michael Russell. There are a lot of guys, of course, but there are some guys you kind of practice more with, have dinner with. So I think these guys are it.

Who’s the toughest opponent you have ever faced on-court?

Of course, it’s the top 3 or 4 players. It’s always tough to play them. I wouldn’t say Nadal is the toughest for me to play because I took him to five sets. For me, it’s Djokoivc. I played him twice and didn’t even have a chance to get close to winning a set. So that’s probably the toughest guy for me to play. But outside of that there is also Soderling, Berdych, Del Potro — these kinds of players are tough to beat.

What are two things you couldn’t live without?

(Long pause) Air? (laughs) I’m not really materialistic, I don’t care about a lot of “stuff.” But of course, friends and family, and health, that’s most important in life. Just recently in Indian Wells, a family member of mine died, so that’s most important, and all the other “stuff” are extra.

How did you handle the personal loss during Indian Wells on the emotional side?

That was fine. I knew it was going to happen. I decided to go and play, so for me was ok. I was almost happy that it happened because it was better that way [because of the suffering].

And to end on a fun note, what is your biggest indulgence?

I’m not really the gadget guy, don’t wear watches. So I can’t think of something.

A type of food, maybe?

You can always wake me up for good Japanese or Italian. I love to eat. Every day I go out to restaurants. As a tennis player, you get to see a lot of good restaurants so you get really picky. So certainly, that’s something I look forward to every day. You’re always practicing, so going out for dinner for one, two, or even three hours at a time, you can have fun and enjoy.

ATP Rotterdam Day 2 Results & Photos: Troicki, Youzhny Win, Haase Ousted

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 day two action.

The biggest news of the day came when eighth-seed Marcel Granollers was ousted by Philipp Kohlschreiber and doubles fourth seed Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were eliminated by Alex Bogomolov, Jr. and Dick Norman.

In other surprising (and possibly history-making) news, Mikhail Youzhny took the first set from Igor Kunitsyn in just under TWELVE minutes, 6-0, before winning in three sets. He could face top seed Roger Federer in the second round, should the Swiss defeat Nicolas Mahut on Wednesday.

Viktor Troicki made easy work of wildcard Thiemo De Bakker before stating that “We both had a tough start because we came here late, coming from Davis Cup. I think I handled it well. I got lucky in the first set I think. He played well, but he did not use his set points and I started playing better in the second set. I’m happy that I won through and am in the second round.”

Even though Roger Federer hasn’t played his first match of the tournament, his practice sessions this week have been a show of their own, and today was no exception. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwfIyq6FIyE

Full Tuesday results and Wednesday schedule are below.

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RESULTS – TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY, 2012

Singles – First Round
[7] V Troicki (SRB) d [WC] T de Bakker (NED) 76(6) 60
P Kohlschreiber (GER) d [8] M Granollers (ESP) 61 16 64
M Youzhny (RUS) d I Kunitsyn (RUS) 60 67(4) 60
J Nieminen (FIN) d [WC] I Sijsling (NED) 61 67(7) 75
N Davydenko (RUS) d R Haase (NED) 75 62
A Seppi (ITA) d [Q] R De Voest (RSA) 16 76(5) 62

Doubles – First Round
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) / D Norman (BEL) d [4] M Bhupathi (IND) / R Bopanna (IND) 64 36 10-6
J Del Potro (ARG) / P Petzschner (GER) d F Cermak (CZE) / F Polasek (SVK) 75 63

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SCHEDULE – WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY, 2012

CENTRE COURT start 11:00 am
[Q] M Bachinger (GER) vs M Baghdatis (CYP)
L Rosol (CZE) vs [2] T Berdych (CZE)

Not Before 1:30 PM
M Llodra (FRA) vs [3] J Del Potro (ARG)
[WC] T de Bakker (NED) / R Haase (NED) vs M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL)

Not Before 7:30 PM
[1] R Federer (SUI) vs N Mahut (FRA)
[Q] P Mathieu (FRA) vs N Davydenko (RUS)

COURT 1 start 11:00 am
[3] R Lindstedt (SWE) / H Tecau (ROU) vs O Marach (AUT) / A Peya (AUT)
J Nieminen (FIN) vs L Kubot (POL)

Not Before 4:00 PM
R Gasquet (FRA) / I Ljubicic (CRO) vs A Qureshi (PAK) / J Rojer (AHO)
J Nieminen (FIN) / V Troicki (SRB) vs [WC] T Schoorel (NED) / I Sijsling (NED)

COURT 2 start 1:00 pm
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR)
[Q] K Beck (SVK) vs P Petzschner (GER)

Not Before 5:00 PM
[1] M Mirnyi (BLR) / D Nestor (CAN) vs M Granollers (ESP) / M Lopez (ESP)

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

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