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State of the Union

Ryan Harrison - The American hope?

by James A. Crabtree

What a disappointment the American men currently are.

For a country that is so rich in tennis history it is heart breaking to see a power house such as the United States limp through the season.

True, some players have been playing well. Sam Querrey has displayed a mild resurgence, James Blake is attempting one last hurrah, Jack Sock could well be a diamond in the rough and Mardy Fish is back at Indian Wells but hasn’t played since the 2012 U.S. Open. Outside of the top 100 Tim Smyczek looks to be a hustling player making waves. The players hanging in the bottom half of the top 100 such as Brian Baker and Michael Russell, are those with heart whilst the majority of the new batch, thus far, are all hype.

The real disappointment lies with the supposed new generation of stars. Granted, they do all talk a good game, profess their commitment to hard work and assure us that they are just that one big win from joining the elite. At this point none look like worthy candidates to propel the stars and stripes forward during the teenage years of this decade and for the most part lack true grit.

Ryan Harrison is still only twenty years old, and players tend to show their potential at around twenty two these days. Impressively Harrison has the skills to battle with the elite, just not the temperament to outclass anybody notable so far.

In 2011 Donald Young reached a career high ranking of 38, the fourth round of the U.S. Open and made the final of a 250 event in Thailand. The John McEnroe prophecies were starting to ring true until 2012, when Young pressed the self-destruct button and lost seventeen matches in a row. 2013 hasn’t been so bad, but Young is way off in the rankings.

Back in the early eighties many players from the eastern bloc looked to defect their homeland for the American dream. These days the reverse is happening. After some financial disputes with the USTA, Russian born Alex Bogolmov Jnr decided he was more Russian than American in 2012. Jesse Levine is another with eyes on being part of a Davis Cup team, having aligned with Canada, the country of his birth. Reportedly both players still live in Florida.

None of the current crop look poised to make a leap.

For those who can remember, rewind ten years prior and it was a much different story.

Pete Sampras was sailing off into the distance after his fourteenth slam. Andre Agassi had recently collected his fourth Australian title, and Andy Roddick was only months away from cracking the big time.

In many people’s eyes Roddick didn’t win enough, mainly because he failed to win a second slam. It must be remembered that his second chance was always going to be a lot tougher thanks to a certain Mr Federer who spoilt many careers. Now with the oft-criticised Roddick gone, and enjoying retirement, the torch as America’s best player hasn’t been passed onto a worthy candidate.

Now before the stomach acid of the Isner fans starts churning let’s remember that big John does very little outside of the U.S. or Davis Cup duties and has been looking rather out of sorts this year. Is it too soon to count him out?

And when was the U.S. this unsubstantial? Certainly not twenty years ago when the Americans were surely the majority in any draw.

So what has happened in the years since? Is the college system watered down, do the Academies need a revamp, is American tennis stuck in the past or just stuck in a lull?

As much as champions are formed at the grass root level, the formative years are spent idolising a hero. Naturally, an idol a young player can relate to will only help to cultivate progression.

With so many tournaments stateside, roughly 18% of the total tour, it is bad for tennis to have a weak America. And with so few American contenders a sense of complacent mediocrity can set in quickly.

The Best Live Match Ever

Novak-Djokovic-rips-shirt

by James A. Crabtree

I was talking with a fellow tennis fanatic the other day and the conversation shifted to the best live match we had ever seen. The fellow fanatic in question has rather deep pockets and could recount epics played throughout the world and the great corporate seats they had and blah blah blah. Well, enough about them, they were rather annoying.

I am not going to get snobby and say “You had to physically be there.” That is absurd and unfair to those of us with mortal salaries.
And by no means does this epic matchup have to be a final.

You simply have had to watch the match live, been engrossed in it, unable to draw yourself away from the drama that unfolded in front of your eyes..

Andy Roddick versus Roger Federer, 2009 Wimbledon Final

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ivf3TOUY78

Tough call here because the Federer versus Nadal epics in 2007 and 2008 were pretty special. But the choice goes to this five setter simply because, like many, I started the match cheering for Roger and finished going for Andy. Fed, at the time, was going for his fifteenth slam which would make him the most successful player in history, and Andy has had to bear witness to every slam in Fed’s career. But on this day Andy Roddick really looked like he could it. He was a set up, then 6-2 in the second set tie break, but Federer levelled it. Roddick lost the third but rebounded in the fourth. The thirty game fifth set, well that’s just part of Wimbledon lore. Do I really need to mention that Federer won it?

Stephen Edberg versus Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros Final

This was an absolute heartbreaker, especially if you were a diehard Edberg fan. Anyway, the gentleman Swede was attempting to become one of only a handful of true volleyers to pick up the title. In the fifth set he was a break up and looked like he would serve and volley his way into destiny, on clay. Unfortunately for Edberg fans he was up against a seventeen year upstart who had famously underarmed served in the fourth round against Lendl, the world number one. Michael Chang, with destiny on his side, took the title and secured his place as the youngest ever grand slam winner.

Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, 2012 Australian Open final

This epic final knocks out of the list the 2009 Verdasco/Nadal semi-final. Although still a very recent memory the relentless fight these two players showed proved why they will be remembered as legends in a match that lasted twice as long as Lord of The Rings. Let’s remember both players were coming off emotional wins, Rafa over Roger and Novak over Andy. The final included some of the most gruelling baseline hitting in recent memory, Nadal falling to his knees in jubilation after winning the fourth set and Djokovic’s infamous Hulk inspired shirt rip after his victory. Most of Melbourne awoke after this match with a very painful tennis hangover.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa2JPWwSqdI&feature=related

Boris Becker versus Johan Kriek, 1985 Queen’s Club Championships

Little can be said for the quality of the tennis as I simply don’t remember because I was only five years old at the time, but this was my first ever tennis match. I do remember it being very hot, and standing with my parents in line for the bar behind the biggest and most ginger human in the world.

This list did take a lot of deep thought, with so many games to recollect. The 2012 Aussie Open Marco Baghdatis versus Stan Wawrinka racquet smash bonanza was one of the most intriguing matches I’ve ever seen and now rewritten as a Greek tragedy. Brad Gilbert versus David Wheaton at Wimbledon 1990 was a strategical masterpeice. It is easy to recall the Sampras and Agassi bouts, Henman near misses, Davis Cup upsets including Lleyton’s 2003 two set down comeback against Federer. But the battles royale that take precedence within the memory banks cannot be dislodged.

Roddick recaptures the magic; Wimbledon gets a splash of color — The Friday Five

Olympics Tennis - Previews - Day - 3

By Maud Watson

Breaking New Ground

Before he jetted off to London, Juan Monaco was in Hamburg, Germany, where he picked up his sixth singles title. But this title run meant more than the previous five, as the win propelled him to No. 10 in the rankings – the highest the Argentine has ever been ranked in his professional career. While some may question his decision to not only compete in a tournament so close to the Olympic Games, but one that was staged on clay no less, I somehow think it’s a decision he won’t regret. Winning, like losing, is a habit. There’s no substitute for confidence, and Juan Monaco ought to be feeling pretty decent about his chances of making a run in London, even if it is on grass.

Recapturing the Magic

Much like Monaco, pundits may question Andy Roddick’s logic in choosing to play Atlanta before he made the trip to London, but this was a smart move on the American’s part. After finding some success during the brief grass court season, Roddick knew he would be best served to attempt to continue to gain momentum during the time of year that has typically served as his bread and butter – the American summer hard court season. He played some impressive tennis in Atlanta, which included wins over John Isner and the always dangerous Gilles Muller. Much like with Monaco, there’s no substitute for that winning feeling. Couple that confidence with Roddick’s grass court résumé, and he could be a tough out for anybody during the London Games.

Positive Changes

Last week in California, the WTA saw a pint-size winner in Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovak with the deceptively big game persevered to take the title at the Mercury Insurance Open over Marion Bartoli in the final. The title comes nearly three months after she split with her previous coach of two years, Zeljko Krajan. Fans will remember Krajan as the coach of former No. 1 Dinara Safina. Safina frequently talked about how hard Krajan could be on her, and Cibulkova spins a very similar tale. While noting that Krajan was a “great coach,” she also admitted that he could be overly hard on her, which led to her mentally blowing any unforced error way out of proportion. She has since promoted her hitting partner, Peter Miklusicak, to head coach, and it appears the change is already paying dividends. Cibulkova has always had potential. With a little more consistency and a new mental approach to the game, there’s no reason she couldn’t be Top 10 material and give the game’s biggest names more than they bargain for.

Music to the Ears

Tennis fans in the United States were undoubtedly happy to hear that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has once again sided with the Tennis Channel in denying an appeal put forth by Comcast in its dispute with the sport network. Back in December, Tennis Channel won its case against Comcast, with the verdict being that aside from being slapped with a $375,000 fine, Comcast would also have to put Tennis Channel on the same tier of cable channels that included two of its own networks – Versus (now NBC Sports Channel) and the Golf Channel. Since being denied their appeal, Comcast has been told that they have 45 days to comply with the original December ruling, which hopefully means extensive tennis coverage that’s readily available will be just around the corner.

Splash of Color

The Olympics are rare enough given that they’re only staged every four years, but this year tennis fans are going to see something that may never happen again in our lifetime – color at Wimbledon. Photographs show the purple and lime green colors of the Olympics splashed around the grounds, and the players are free to wear whatever color strikes their fancy. While it’s understandable that the players may want to be decked out in the colors of their home nations, the colored backdrops are a bit much. In any case, the folks who have prepared the grounds have done a great job to do everything possible to ensure this feels like a whole different event and not just a second take at SW19.

San Jose: Istomin Upsets Roddick in Quarterfinal

Andy Roddick San Jose SAP Open

After barely scraping through his last match at the SAP Open, in which he rolled his ankle midway through the second set, fans were left with questions about whether Andy Roddick would be able to bring his best tennis to his quarterfinal against Denis Istomin. After a thoroughly lopsided match in which the former world number one came up short in almost every area of his game, Roddick found himself bounced from the tournament. Istomin won the match 6-2, 6-4 and will move on to the semifinals on Saturday.

Roddick seemed to be able to produce hints of the level of tennis that had kept him in the top ten for nine of the last ten years. He opened the match with a 135 mph serve, but it was a fault. He only made a single first serve in his opening service game, and Istomin managed to break at love. Shockingly, Roddick was unable to settle into a rhythm on his first or second serve for the whole match. He managed only five aces, and overall won just over 55% of his total service points.

While Andy was struggling, his opponent was not about to give him a chance to find his game. The 25-year old player from Uzbekistan moved exceptionally well and played highly aggressive tennis, banging winners from the baseline and not allowing Roddick to get any rhythm. Istomin took advantage of Roddick’s hampered mobility by going for the sidelines, which he was able to reach with impressive regularity. What may have been most surprising was how effective Istomin managed to be on his own serve, which he used to snuff out any chance the American had hoped to build of earning a break point. By the end of the match, Istomin had actually out-aced Roddick.

The crowd continued pulling for the three-time SAP Open champion to make a comeback, and he refused to give in until the last ball was struck, but it was clear that Andy was unable to produce the kind of tennis he would have needed to take the match that night. Surely injuries were bothering him – both of his ankles were braced, and even though he famously refuses to talk about his physical problems with any specificity, it is likely that he was still bothered by the hamstring injury that pulled him out of Australia. Ultimately, the crowd was appreciative of the effort that Andy put forth but recognized that Istomin simply played the better match.

In his post-match press conference, Roddick was clearly discouraged and frustrated. His answers were terse, but he was forthright about the issues that were bothering him. He was dogged both by his lingering injuries that have kept him from practicing as much as he would like, as well as by an inability to stay in tournaments long enough to feel himself getting match-fit. If he tries to play through his injuries, they could become even more serious, but he certainly wouldn’t be able to get any matches under his belt if he took an extended layoff. This has also been one of Roddick’s favorite parts of the calendar: the indoor American swing leading up to the twin Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami. Once those tournaments are done, it will be nothing but the daunting red clay – Roddick’s least favorite surface – until Wimbledon in late June.

Based on his health and the strength of the field, Roddick will have a tough time defending his title in Memphis next week. If he loses the points from that tournament win, his ranking will plummet to nearly 30 in the world by the beginning of March. Schedule management is a difficult issue for any player, but particularly for one who knows that his days on the tour may be numbered, unless he can find a way to resolve his problems with persistent injuries.

In other quarterfinal action, Julien Benneteau overcame a strong first-set challenge from Belgian Steve Darcis to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. Benneteau will play Istomin in the semis. The other semifinal will feature 19-year old Ryan Harrison, who breezed past qualifier Dimitar Kutrovsky 6-1, 6-4 in 62 minutes and defending champion Milos Raonic, who pulled away from Kevin Anderson in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6 (3).

San Jose: Andy Roddick Overcomes Injury and Denis Kudla to Win

Roddick playing a backhand return

There are times when it takes something special to invigorate a tennis tournament, to really make it feel like the competition has begun in earnest. Without question, the most thrilling and dramatic match in recent SAP Open memory came last night, when three-time champion Andy Roddick overcame a spectacular challenge from 19-year old qualifier Denis Kudla, 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-4. Under any set of circumstances, the match’s changes in momentum and stellar shot-making from both players would have had all the makings of a classic match. But it was an injury scare deep in the second set that raised the drama in this match to another level.

Roddick had started the match somewhat tentatively, which was cause for concern since the former world number one was playing his first tournament since withdrawing from the Australian Open with a hamstring injury. As the match wore on, it seemed to be more a result of a lack of match practice, rather than any lingering effects. Roddick found a serving rhythm, and while he was still not playing at his best, he was varying his shots effectively and moving well around the court.

It quickly became apparent that for Roddick, moving well would be an absolute necessity. His young opponent, who had to overcome some jitters at the start of the match, quickly settled into an extremely comfortable and surprising rhythm. Since Kudla is a newcomer to the ATP (he was playing in his ninth career tour-level match), not many of the viewers knew what to expect from him. Some had seen him play an excellent match in the first round against Jack Sock, in which he played solidly but largely beat the other young American with his consistency. He came out against the veteran with a much more difficult game plan.

Denis Kudla, who had reached the finals of the 2010 U.S. Open Junior tournament, played the majority of the match at a level that no one would have ever expected from a player ranked outside the top 200, except perhaps for Kudla himself. He had the confidence to go for shots that were for all intents and purposes, ridiculous. He would hit winners stretched wide to both his forehand and backhand side. He would blast shots up the line and rip cross-court winners. For a stretch, it not only seemed that Kudla was able to consistently paint the lines with his shots, it seemed that he was refusing to hit anywhere else on the court.

Roddick was clearly flustered by the flurry of winners coming off the 19-year old’s racket, and on many occasions when another cleanly-struck, line-licking ball flew past him, all he could do was roll his eyes in disbelief and get ready for the next point. This onslaught would have been enough to unsettle most players, but Roddick was clearly there to win. He may have only been playing, in his own words, “at 40%” throughout the first set, but he still managed to get it to a tie-break. Some aggressive play from his opponent in a key moment was enough to seal the set, and Roddick suddenly found himself down a set.

The second set saw Roddick up his intensity, buoyed by the crowd’s support and his own frustration. He started hitting his shots with more pace, while Kudla continued to swing freely, hardly concerned with the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be able to play that well for that long. Roddick was leading as the tail end of the set was drawing close, and the crowd was rooting for Andy to break and take the set. But when stretching out wide to return serve on the first point of the game at 4-5, Roddick rolled over on his ankle and screamed in pain as he rolled on the ground, covering his face with his hands.

The atmosphere in the arena was tense while the trainer evaluated the extent of Roddick’s injury. Ultimately, his ankle was put in a brace and took a few tentative steps. After the match, Andy admitted that he thought that the match might have been over, but he said in his press conference that he didn’t want to retire from another match with injury. He “was tired of doing that,” he said. Even when he returned to the court, it seemed like a long shot that he would be able to fight all the way back.

He was clearly moving a bit gingerly on his injured ankle, finding it difficult to push off that side. In his first service game after the injury, Roddick found himself in a love-forty hole. If he was broken there, surely Kudla would be able to serve out the match. It was at that point that the 19-year old first showed signs that he was feeling the pressure. Kudla had a simple cross-court pass that would have given him the break, but he pushed it slightly wide. Despite being slightly hobbled, Roddick seemed to detect the little waver in his opponent’s nerve, and he somehow managed not only to hold serve, but he also managed to eke out the tiebreak that followed.

Two hours in and the pair were tied at a set apiece. Each had held serve twelve straight times. Shockingly, the third set started with Kudla – who must have been severely disappointed that he hadn’t been able to wrap the match up already – finding a way to break Andy Roddick’s serve. It was at this point, once again, that Kudla blinked. He had the victory in his sights, and the pressure of beating a player who had inspired him while he was growing up proved to be too much. Kudla was broken twice, largely off of shots that he had been making for the first two sets, but were now landing well wide of the lines.

In the end, Roddick was happy to get the win and hopeful that his ankle would recover in time for him to play his best in Friday’s quarterfinal. But he believed that Kudla struggled with the prospect of winning the match, once the reality of it was so close. He knew that he’d been let off the hook, in some ways, by the younger American, and he understood the special kind of pressure that came with closing out a big upset.

Over the course of two hours and forty-two minutes, Roddick and Kudla played 257 total points. The match was so close that the final breakdown of points won was Kudla – 128 and Roddick – 129. The one extra point that Roddick won turned out to be the only point that mattered: match point.

If I Were The Tennis Santa

andy-santa-andy-murray-11654296-1024-768

I really feel bad for the tennis players over the holidays.  They work so hard for so little and barely have time to relax!  So if I were the Tennis Santa, what would I bring them to lighten their load and bring a smile to their faces during this season of cheer?

The first thing I would wrap up and put under the e-tree would be the Fountain of Youth. Did you know that it’s actually an Archaeological Park in Florida?  How cool! I’d pass out a lot of these since quite a few players are at or around the age of doom (30) and could use the assistance turning back the clock and prolonging their tennis primes. I wouldn’t give one to Federer though. He doesn’t need any help.

Speaking of turning back time, I’ve found the perfect gift to help Andy Roddick re-discover his days of glory- or at least his days of hair. The Afro-Visor!


For Andy Murray, I thought some “Understand Your Mother (Instantly) Breath Spray” might be helpful, considering his mother’s eternal wisdom and awesomeness.

I’d give this “Sharp-End Dog Pencil Sharpener” to Rafael Nadal, mainly just to see his reaction.  What’s the fun in playing Santa if you can’t be a little bit naughty?

 

On the other end of the spectrum Robin Soderling just got a new puppy, so I will certainly have to bring him an embarrassing costume for the adorable pet!

I thought I’d get the cerebral Sam Stosur something special to help those match to-do lists stay put. Sweat-bands and sharpies are too finicky of a combination for a Grand Slam Champion!  She’ll love these “To-Do Tattoos”.

 

I’ve decided it’s time for Agnieszka Radwanska to finally come out of the ninja closet.  This “Ninja Hooded Mask” will reveal her true identity in 2012. Watch out WTA!

 

For Mikhail Youzhny, and maybe the rest of his Russian compatriots, I’d like to try to eliminate the brain farts on the court.  Therefore, why not help them get out of their system off the court?  The “Brain Fart Whoopie Cushion” should do the trick.

 

And finally, I’d like to prolong the day that Jelena Jankovic inevitably runs out of entertaining excuses for losing tennis matches. With this “Instant Excuse Ball” the colorful Serbian should have material for years to come!

 

So that’s my list- what about you? What would you virtually gift to your favorite players if you were the Tennis Santa? Feel free to share in the comments section, or tweet me with your lists. And no matter what you celebrate, be sure to have a safe and happy Holiday season. There’s no time to be too naughty, the new tennis season is just around the corner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATP World Tour Finals set with Berdych, Tsonga, Fish; Ivanovic wins in Bali – The Friday Five

Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Mardy Fish

By Maud Watson

Blow to the Cause

The saying goes that “there’s no place like home,” and that was certainly the case for Roger Federer last week in Basel.  The Swiss Maestro won his home tournament for the fifth time, ending a 10-month title drought in the process.  But while the victory provides Federer some much-needed momentum and confidence going into the last remaining tournaments of the year, the bigger story was his comments pertaining to the recent gripes about the length of the ATP season.  Unlike many of his other high profile fellow competitors, Federer doesn’t see the schedule as a huge issue, putting more of the responsibility on the players to schedule themselves appropriately.  He is correct in saying that it’s better to have too many rather than too few tournaments, and players need to realize where they perform best and put themselves in the best position to peak at the right time.  So while there is definite merit to Murray’s suggestion of slightly reducing the number of required events, Federer is the one to have hit the nail on the head.  His sentiments are undoubtedly music to tournament directors’ ears, and his view will carry some weight against the opposing school of thought’s arguments.  Federer’s record speaks for itself, as you don’t win as many tournaments as he has without putting in a lot of court and travel time over the course of several seasons.  If he’s been able to do it with little complaint and little injury, there’s no reason why others should not be able to follow in a similar fashion.  And if they can’t, maybe they need to take a hard look at what else is causing their injuries aside from just the length of the season (such as poor personal scheduling, style of play, etc.).

One for All

The field is set for London, and it comes courtesy of Tomas Berdych’s win over Janko Tipsarevic on Thursday in Paris.  Berdych, who was next in line to qualify, had to dig himself out huge holes in both sets to secure the victory, and as happy as he was to earn the win, two others were equally as thrilled.  The Czech’s victory also ensured that the remaining two London berths went to Tsonga and Fish.  This may have proven key for Mardy Fish, who after blowing two match points against Juan Monaco in a second set tiebreak, ultimately had to retire from the match early in the third with a niggling left hamstring strain.  Fish will hopefully be able to take advantage of having the luxury to pull out of the match, knowing he was already London bound, in order to recuperate and be in the best shape possible for the final tournament of 2011.

Great Expectations

Fresh off her win in Bali for the second straight year, a confident Ana Ivanovic stated she thinks she has what it takes to get back to the top.  Ordinarily, this might be considered a pipe dream given her results the last couple of years, but with the current topsy-turvy nature of the WTA, it’s not impossible.  She’s quickly turning her game around since bringing on Nigel Sears, and with a victory to cap off her season, she’ll be looking to build on her results early in 2012.  And while her team admits it’s a big ask to return to the apex of the rankings, the WTA could use her in the latter rounds of the competition.  Here’s to hoping she’s back in the mix and on her way to playing Istanbul at the end of next year.

Now or Never

Andy Roddick’s 2011 campaign came to an abrupt end, as Andy Murray showed no mercy in dismantling the American’s game to win the match handily 6-2, 6-2.  But it will be more than just this loss that will be leaving a sour taste in Roddick’s mouth.  For the first time since 2001, he will finish outside of the Top 10.  For sure, going into 2012 Roddick is going to put in the time and effort, because he’s always been a fighter.  He also seems confident that his slump in form is due to needing to improve his fitness and movement.  But there’s no denying that he hasn’t seemed to be enjoying himself out there much of the season.  Nor does he have the personality of a Hewitt or a Ferrero, making it difficult to see him taking the approach of those two struggling veterans.  So, barring a favorable turnaround in results, it might be time to start asking ourselves if 2012 will be the final season for the man who has carried the American banner the last decade.

Cherry on Top

After a horrendous autumn, Petra Kvitova righted the ship in stunning fashion to finish the season strong with her win in Istanbul, making a very strong case to be named the WTA’s Player of the Year for 2011.  But the hard-hitting Czech wasn’t done yet.  She valiantly led her nation against Fed Cup powerhouse Russia to secure a sixth title for her country and first since 1988.  She certainly didn’t need the win to serve a springboard going into 2012, but it’s a great addition to her growing résumé.  If she can continue to play this way consistently, we may be witnessing the dawning of a new and fruitful era in Czech tennis.

US Open Fourth Round Preview

The final week of Grand Slam play for 2010 is about to begin and there are sixteen players left in the men’s draw. Noticeable absentees include the Andy’s (Murray and Roddick) and Tomas Berdych. Other than that I suppose David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis bowed out slightly earlier than we had thought, but there are still several big names left in the draw.

Rafa Nadal has been rolling alo

ng just fine on the hard courts so far in this tournament. He’ll get compatriot Feliciano Lopez next. Lopez took him out of the grass court tune-up event at Queen’s Club in June so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. Nadal will raise his game when required however and we all know how hungry he is to complete the career slam with a win in New York. I’m going with Nadal in straights.

Another all-Spanish battle features Fernando Verdasco the 8th seed against number 10 seed David Ferrer. Verdasco impressively knocked off Nalbandian in the third round while Ferrer advanced against a lesser-known hard court player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver. I’m looking at a tough five set Verdasco victory which would give us a nice re-match of the Nadal/Verdasco tilt from the Australian Open that went the distance in 2009.

American hopeful Sam Querrey and Swiss understudy Stan Wawrinka both have the opportunity to make their first career Grand Slam quarter-final. Querrey has had a great year at the lower-level tournaments winning three ATP Tour 250 events, and one 500 event. Let’s see if he now has the game to make a splash on a bigger stage. Wawrinka just beat one of the U.S. Open favorites in Andy Murray. Can he keep that level up? I’m picking Wawrinka in four sets due to experience.

Mikhail Youzhny took out American John Isner in the last round and will now face veteran Tommy Robredo. Normally I’d go with Youzhny hands-down but I’ve learned to never count Tommy out. Just when you think his career is on the downward swing, he tosses in an excellent result. Still, talent wise, you gotta think Youzhny will pull this one out in four.

Monday gives us the four bottom-half matches, starting out with Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils. This match should be one of the most entertaining between Gasquet’s beautiful backhand and Monfils’ colorful court antics. The all-French match holds a 2-2 career head-to-head with all meetings on hard court. Could go either way really as neither has enjoyed much success on this surface this summer, but LeMonf has my vote in a five setter.

Mardy Fish is likely wishing that the heat would return to Flushing Meadows in time for his match against Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately cool temperatures are in the forecast giving Djokovic the ideal conditions he needs to succeed against the American. While Fish has had a great summer and has made the quarter-finals in New York once before, the Djoker has been picking up his game this week and looks ready to advance. Djokovic in four.

Robin Soderling gets the easiest match on paper as he takes on clay-court specialist Albert Montanes. A straight set wins for the Swede should be in the cards, making him a very dangerous and well-rested player to face Roger Federer in the next round.

Federer gets resurgent Jurgen Melzer who has had the best season of his career for sure. The 29 year old had never before advanced past the third round of a Slam before 2010 and has now made the semi’s at Roland Garros, the fourth round at Wimbledon and now again the fourth round at the U.S. Open. His run is about to end at the hands of Federer who will have one last routine victory before having to face a serious test in Soderling. Federer in straights.

Players Hit Practice Courts At Rogers Cup

Nadal

The pros are getting ready for the Rogers Cup in Toronto with several of the big names having already had their first practice sessions at the Rexall Center.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both hit yesterday while Roger Federer appeared on Center Court today to hit with Canadian Peter Polansky.

While Nadal and Djokovic have decided to partner up for the doubles, there has been no word on whether Federer too will play in both draws this coming week. Federer last played doubles in Canada in 2008 with fellow Swiss player Stan Warinka. The two paired up again a month later to win the gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing. I wonder if the duo will unite again this year, or will Federer bring in Swiss pal and doubles specialist Yves Allegro? Maybe he will surprise us all and take his own big-time partner like an Andy Murray or Roddick?

In other news, Lletyon Hewitt has announced on his personal website that he is withdrawing from the Rogers Cup with a calf injury he sustained earlier this week in Washington. I wonder if Toronto has seen the last of the 29 year old Hewitt? He will be 31 the next time the city hosts the tournament.

Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand for all Rogers Cup updates. We will be present at the world famous CN Tower at 4pm ET for the official draw ceremony with Rafael Nadal. You can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates as well.

Don’t Sell Your Federer Stock Just Yet – The Friday Five

Roger Federer

By Maud Watson

The Tumble Continues – One of the big headlines at the All England Club this past Wednesday was the dismissal of six-time champion Roger Federer at the hands of Tomas Berdych.  Despite Federer’s history at SW19 and the difference in seeding between the two, I have trouble calling this a big upset. Berdych possesses a big game, he clipped Federer earlier this year, and over the past few months, Berdych has been the better player. There’s no doubt this was probably the most painful loss Federer has suffered since his 2008 defeat to Nadal, and the early loss also means that Federer will slip to No. 3 in the rankings, the first time he’s been out of the top two since 2003. It will take time for him to bounce back from this one, but I’m not ready to sell my Federer stock just yet. The fact is, any year you win a major is a good year. Plenty of players would still gladly trade places with Federer. It’s the nature of the beast that he has set the bar so high that any loss such as this is that much more monumental because it happened to one of the greatest players to have ever picked up a racquet. Fans of the man from Switzerland are going to have to get used to these losses coming with more frequency, but don’t stick a fork in him. He’s not done yet.

Roddick Rocked – Wimbledon has continued to see a few more shockers this week, and one of the biggest was Roddick’s exit to Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei. Lu played an incredible match beginning to end and most amazing is the fact that he found a way to cross the finish line even as he admitted that he never believed he was going to win the match. But as happy as one might have felt for Lu, there had to be some sympathy spared for Roddick. Had he been told prior to the match that he was going to hit more aces, less unforced errors, more winners, have more break chances, and win more total points, I’m sure he would have liked his odds at advancing.   But just as with last year’s final, it came down to a handful of big points and one crucial break in the final set. The loss isn’t as gut-wrenching as his 2009 final loss to Federer, but he’ll want to look to get something going fast on the hard courts, or he’s apt to start slipping into a slump.

Venus Vanquished – The women’s quarters also provided a surprise when Tsvetana Pironkova routinely upended Venus Williams 2 and 3. It was a lackluster display from Williams, who despite hitting 10 more winners than her younger opponent also hit 23 more unforced errors. The fact that the elder Williams never found a way to win the match wasn’t an entire surprise, as neither Williams sister is known for having game plan B when the wheels come off. The good news for her is that an early loss, irrespective of the tournament, rarely tends to have any hangover effect. She’ll still be considered a strong contender during the US Open Series and the final major of the year.

Double Trouble – I’d be remiss not to mention a couple of upsets in the doubles competition. The Williams sisters, on what seemed an inevitable path to becoming just the third team in history to accomplish the Grand Slam, lost to the hard-hitting combo of Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina. On the men’s side, Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman also denied seeing history made, at least for the time being, with their defeat over the American team of Bob and Mike Bryan. The Bryans were aiming to break their tie with the Woodies for most titles won as a team just a week prior to the induction of the Australian pair into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As disappointing as the losses must have been for each of these losing teams, they will be back with a vengeance in New York, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bryans standing atop the mountain alone for most titles won before the final major of the year.

Fine Time – Earlier this week, Rafael Nadal was slapped with a $2,000 fine for illegal coaching. Chair umpire Cedric Mourier could hardly be blamed for giving Nadal the warning, having given him an unofficial warning to stop the chatter with his box earlier in the match. The case was made even stronger given that in his defense of this particular incident, Nadal basically admitted to having received illegal coaching at other times.  But Nadal is not the only player guilty of this offense. Justine Henin is notorious for this, as is Maria Sharapova, and many more could be added to the list. I’m not naïve enough to think that illegal coaching will ever be completely eradicated, but it was refreshing to see someone have the backbone to try and enforce the rule and reduce it. Coaches are paid to scout the competition, and it’s up to the player and coach to devise a game plan prior to a match. Once a match starts, it should be one-on-one out there and up to the players to make the necessary adjustments to come out with a W. That’s one of the unique aspects of tennis. So I hope that the officials continue to do their best and enforce the rules at all levels of the competition and preserve the integrity of the game.

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