The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA). More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati. As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.
1. Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?
The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open. Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two. While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada. A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York. So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era. Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward. Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.
2. Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?
The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors. Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon. One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano. The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon. That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three. For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors. Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.
3. Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?
On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy. Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open. For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes. That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11. He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros. Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent. The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open. They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.
4. Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?
Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat. The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover. Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull. She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup. Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.
Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major. Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts. Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.
5. What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?
About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger. On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee. The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four. World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.
Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon. Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned. Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series. Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months. Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.
6. Will home soil inspire the American men?
At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted. With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity. Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman. The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years. Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US. The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there. The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.
7. Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?
In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer. The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10. Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year. And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.
The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts. One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena. Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys. American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success. Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.
(July 16, 2013) With the U.S. Open looming in the near future, what does the summer hard court season hold for the ATP top 5? Nick Nemeroff recaps the players’ recent results and gives an outlook into the season going forward.
2013 has been quite the lackluster season for Roger Federer. The Swiss has only one title to his name (Halle), and has failed to reach the final in all five of the tournaments where he entered as the reigning champion. Federer is 1-5 against the top 10 this season, including two demoralizing losses to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells and the final of Rome.
In all of Federer defeats this season (Andy Murray, Julien Benneteau, Tomas Berdych, Nadal twice, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sergiy Stakhovsky), he was entirely unsuccessful in controlling the middle of the court and found it hard to neutralize the offensive weapons of his opponents. Moving forward, I would anticipate Federer to be less inclined with working his way into points, a strategy highly uncharacteristic of the distinctive first-strike tennis which guided him to 17 grand slams.
Federer’s summer schedule is highly dense as he has entered Montreal, Cincinnati, and of course, the U.S. Open. But what has come as a bit of a surprise to many, Federer is playing on the clay of Hamburg and Gstaad in what appears be an effort to get more match play in before the hard court stretch and to gain back some of the confidence he lost earlier in the season.
With Nadal, the lingering questions always revolve around his ever so fragile knees. Following his opening round defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon, Nadal expressed that the stress and pain put on his knees is amplified on grass due to the consistently lower positions he must execute in order to properly strike the ball.
Though the tour is transitioning from grass to hard, Nadal’s knees will continue to be tested. Despite the fact that hard courts yield higher bounces which mean the Spaniard will see more balls in his desired strike zone thus less bending and lunging for lower balls, hard courts are called hard courts for a reason—they are hard—especially on Rafa’s knees.
Before the U.S. Open, Nadal will be playing in both Montreal and Cincinnati, two events that will surely allow him to gauge the status of his knees. If Nadal can remain healthy, as he proved in the seven tournaments he has won in 2013, he can be absolutely devastating. Remember, besides the six clay court tournaments he won, Nadal also won Indian Wells defeating Federer, Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro en route to the title.
David Ferrer has reached the semifinals of 4 of the last 6 grand slams, including a career best run at this year’s French Open where he overcame his grand slam semifinal struggles getting to the final before losing to Nadal.
Undeniably, Ferrer’s premier surface is clay. Ferrer is often praised for his speed, consistency, retrieval abilities, and his fighting spirit. The narrative around Ferrer often clouds one of the most overlooked and important aspects of his game that being his aggression. For one of the smallest guys on tour, Ferrer really injects a mountain of energy into each and every shot and certainly can put a significant amount of pace on the ball.
Ferrer will be less inclined to grind on hard courts and as a result, his underestimated finishing power should be on full display.
Regardless of what Andy Murray does for the rest of the season, his 2013 will be remembered for his triumph at Wimbledon. Despite it being one of the most bizarre tournaments any of us have ever witnessed, the British fans’ 77 years of agony finally ended.
The joys of success must be quickly celebrated as Murray has a whopping 2000 points to defend from his U.S. Open title last year. Murray should feel less pressure in the U.S. Open warm-up even tournament as he only has 180 points to defend in Montreal and Cincinnati.
Over the past several years, Murray’s game has evolved leaps and bounds under the careful supervision of the ever stoic Ivan Lendl. In prior years, Murray game was characterized by inexplicable passivity and constant mental battles. Today, Murray has flip the switch on that characterization and has learned to better control the myriad of thoughts running through his head and utilize his powerful groundstrokes in a manner that is more proactive rather than reactive.
Look for Murray’s second serve to be a key shot as he looks to defend his U.S. Open crown especially if he ends up facing either Ferrer or Djokovic, two of the best returners in the game.
Shock and disbelief were coursing through my veins during the Wimbledon final as Novak Djokovic put forth one of the most substandard performances of his career. Coming from a guy who usually steps up in the biggest moments and has ice running through his veins, Djokovic surely was not expecting such an outright defeat.
Having lost two of his last three major finals to Murray, the Serbian will enter the hard court swing looking to restore the form that catapulted him to the number one ranking, a level of play far distant from what we saw in the Wimbledon final.
The next several months will be a key stretch for the Serb as he looks to maintain a grasp of the top ranking. In 2012, Djokovic won Canada and reached the final of Cincinnati and the U.S. Open meaning he has serious points to defend.
Only one member of the top 10 takes the court in next week’s two ATP tournaments. But he’s someone who might merit your attention.
Top half: After his second-round loss at Wimbledon, Roger Federer admitted that he needed to regain his rhythm and poise at key moments in matches. Taking a wildcard into Hamburg, which he won as a Masters 1000 tournament, Federer seeks his first title of the season above the 250 level. That triumph came at the grass event in Halle, so the world No. 5 will hope to make it two for two on German soil. Home favorite Daniel Brands could prove an intriguing opening test, considering the challenge that Brands posed for Rafael Nadal in a Roland Garros four-setter. But the headline match of the quarter, or perhaps the half, comes in the next round with Ernests Gulbis. Defeating Federer on clay in Rome before, Gulbis has taken at least one set in all three of their previous meetings. Most of the other players in this section, such as Feliciano Lopez or Nikolay Davydenko, have grown accustomed to Federer’s superiority.
All four seeds in the second quarter reached a quarterfinal at a major this year, rare for an event of Hamburg’s diminished stature. Jerzy Janowicz and Fernando Verdasco both launched their surprise runs at Wimbledon, and Verdasco extended his surge from grass to clay by winning his first title since 2010 last week. In his first tournament as a member of the top 20, Janowicz has built his ranking less on consistency than on a handful of notable achievements at key tournaments. Similarly, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy has struggled to string together momentum and has secured just one semifinal berth since that breakthrough. An all-Spanish quarterfinal might await if Verdasco and Roland Garros quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo use their superior clay expertise to halt the higher-ranked Janowicz and Chardy, respectively. Federer never has lost to any of these men, or to anyone else in a section where Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar also lurks.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Verdasco
Bottom half: The sight of Nicolas Almagro and Mikhail Youzhny in the same vicinity calls to mind their Miami clash five years ago. Youzhny famously won that match with blood dripping down his head after banging his racket on it repeatedly. Undefeated in their previous meetings, Youzhny stopped Almagro in another three-setter this spring without reacquainting his racket with his head. While the Spaniard has faltered after a promising start to 2013, he still holds the surface edge on his nemesis. This section also contains four unseeded players who have reached clay finals this year. Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol could derail Almagro straight out of the gate, while Bucharest runner-up Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sets his sights on Youzhny. A champion in Nice, Albert Montanes could eye a rematch of his final there against Gael Monfils, but only if the latter can upset defending champion Juan Monaco. The Argentine won a clay title in Dusseldorf on the day that Montanes won Nice, his fourth on clay in 2012-13.
Second seed Tommy Haas usually shines on German soil during these latter stages of his career. Winning Munich on clay and taking a set from Federer in a Halle semifinal, Haas finished runner-up to Monaco in Hamburg last year. On the verge of the top 10, he showed some traces of fatigue by falling early in Stuttgart as the top seed. A semifinalist at that tournament, Victor Hanescu could face Haas in his opener, while Bastad runner-up Carlos Berlocq looms a round later. The other side of the section exudes a distinctly Italian flavor, bookended by Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini. A semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Fognini started his campaign there by defeating Seppi in three sets, and he has enjoyed far stronger clay results than his compatriot this year. Of minor note are Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, just 4-14 since that breakthrough, and Rome quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, who owed that result in large part to Andy Murray’s retirement.
Semifinal: Monaco vs. Haas
Final: Federer vs. Monaco
Top half: Not since the Australian Open has Janko Tipsarevic won more than two matches in a tournament. The beleaguered Serb saw his ranking slide out of the top 10 this summer, unable to salvage it even with several appearances at the 250 level. Another such effort to gobble up easy points as the top seed unfolds in Bogota. This draw looks more accommodating to Tipsarevic than others in which he has held that position. A pair of Colombians, Alejandro Falla and a wildcard, join a pair of Belgians and Australian serve-volleyer Matthew Ebden in his vicinity. If he can rediscover the tennis that brought him to the top 10, Tipsarevic should cruise. If he plays as he has for most of the year, anything could happen.
Among the most intriguing names in the second quarter is rising Canadian star Vasek Pospisil. Depending on how fast the courts play in Bogota, Pospisil could deploy his serve and shot-making to devastating effect against less powerful opponents. Australian journeyman James Duckworth showed his mettle in two epics at his home major this year, while Aljaz Bedene owns a win over Stanislas Wawrinka—but not much else. A finalist in Delray Beach, fourth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin hopes to halt a four-match losing streak. At least Mr. Bye cannot stop him in the first round.
Bottom half: Surprising most observers by reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Adrian Mannarino came back to earth with a modest result in Newport. At an event of similar caliber, he will hope to build on his momentum from grass while it still lingers. The same motivation probably spurs third seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon after bursting on the scene with a victory over Tsonga in February. Back into action with a quarterfinal showing in Newport, Ivo Karlovic brings his towering serve to an altitude ideal for it. At 7,000 feet above sea level, Dr. Ivo might be nearly unbreakable if his fitness weathers the thin air.
Also armed with a massive serve, second seed Kevin Anderson eyes a cluster of Colombians. Two home hopes meet in the first round, but Santiago Giraldo will fancy his chances to reach the quarterfinals. Near him is Kazakh loose cannon Evgeny Korolev, who oozes with talent while lacking the reins to harness it. Anderson has won all three of his meetings with Korolev and his only previous encounter with Giraldo, so his path to the weekend looks clear.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Anderson
By Maud Watson
Who to Watch
With Wimbledon wrapped and the summer hard court season upon us, it’s worth taking a look at some of the storylines to keep tabs on as the rest of the year unfolds. We’ll start with who to watch, and after her run at Wimbledon, Sabine Lisicki is the player to follow on the WTA. As previously noted, she’s got a big game, but she also possesses touch and feel and still has youth on her side. She’s never played consistently well outside of SW19, but after breaking new ground at the All England Club by reaching the final, perhaps she’s ready to do the same at other venues across the globe. On the men’s side, you have to like what you saw from Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon. He gave Djokovic all he could handle before bowing out in five enthralling sets in the semifinals and after that defeat, stated he felt he was ready to be back in the mix with the Big 4. As an added bonus, del Potro managed to engage the crowd much more by conversing with spectators and even joking throughout the course of that important match. He may have ultimately lost that semifinal, but he won a lot of fans sure to watch him going forward.
Who Will Feel the Love
After holding her nerve to grab the opportunity of a lifetime, newly-crowned Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli deserves some serious respect. The Frenchwoman has been better known for her quirks and some unfortunate disparaging remarks regarding her looks, but she deserves to be known for her game. Her relentless attacking style makes her a tough customer for the game’s best – as she proved six years ago – and with the confidence that comes from winning a major, she should be solidly back in the thick of it this summer. She also has a delightful personality that should have fans warming to her. For the men, it’s about time Ferrer got some kudos. He’s now in the top three, and he’s not there by accident. He consistently shows up week in and week out and just reached his first major final a month ago in Paris. At 31, he doesn’t have the same kind of upshot as a del Potro, but with the Spaniard likely to continue to produce throughout the remainder of 2013, it’s about time he was fully appreciated and respected for the tenacity and consistency that have played a big part in him surpassing Nadal and Federer in the rankings.
How Will They Respond?
Despite winning Roland Garros, Serena was undoubtedly unhappy to fall short at Wimbledon. To be fair to her, Lisicki did play a great match. But Serena also looked nervous. It’s unclear if that had to do with fear of Lisicki’s ability or if the pressure of defending her title – and a heavy favorite to do so – was getting to her. If it was the latter, things could get tricky for the American in the second half of 2013. She has a boatload of points to defend thanks to a stellar second half of 2012, and particularly if she wants to maintain the top WTA ranking, the pressure will only mount. She’s responded well to adversity before, but at 31, she’s bound to feel it a little more. As for the ATP, it’s a tossup as to whether it’s Federer or Nadal facing more questions going into the second half of the season. Both suffered shocking early exits at Wimbledon. Federer is looking to get back on the horse immediately by playing a couple of European clay court tournaments before heading to North America. How things transpire at those events will likely dictate just how freely he’s swinging as he preps for the US Open. In regards to Nadal, it’s unclear when he will return and how much the knee may or may not be hampering him. How his knee responds, as well as how mentally confident he feels about his game and body on the hard courts will determine just how much success he’ll enjoy the remainder of the season.
Will They Return?
The two players facing this question both represent the Stars and Stripes. Venus Williams continues to battle a back injury and is questionable for the US Open. It will all depend of if she is healthy enough to play a tune-up event before Flushing Meadows. If you factor in her age and other outside interests, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if we see little to no play from her until the autumn or even 2014. Mardy Fish is the other player struggling to make a comeback, though he is set to compete in both Atlanta and Washington DC in the coming weeks. Fish remains upbeat about his chances of tasting success, citing the recent resurgence of veteran Tommy Haas as a point from which to draw inspiration. But as Mardy has admitted, so many of his issues have stemmed from the mental side of things. He’s also already suffered a couple of comebacks that have failed to get off the ground this season. Again, at his age, you have to wonder how many setbacks he’s willing to overcome before he decides to hang it up.
Race for No. 1
It’s a three-way race on both tours. For the WTA, it’s your top three, with Serena, Sharapova, and Azarenka the most likely candidates to finish in the top spot. On paper, Serena has a bit of a cushion, but she has more to defend than the other two. Still, if she stays healthy, you have to like her odds of defending the bulk of her points from 2012. If not, with Azarenka struggling with injuries, this could prove a great opportunity for Sharapova to step it up. On the men’s side, it’s looking like a race between Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal. Similar to Serena, Djokovic has an apparent cushion but also has a number of points to defend. The good news for Djokovic is that World No. 2 Murray also has a large share of points to defend, and particularly with his early loss at Wimbledon, Nadal has to log exceptional performances at a number of the bigger events throughout the remainder of 2013. Assuming he doesn’t fall apart, Djokovic is still the favorite to finish atop the rankings.
(July 11, 2013) Jerzy Janowicz just played the best tournament of his career. He reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, the best result of his career. He reached a career-high ranking of World No. 17. He has a massive serve, good ground game, and already moves well enough to be a top player. The whole tennis world is expecting great things from Janowicz in the near future.
But I’m not ready to expect much from him just yet.
Am I being unfair? Am I being ridiculous? After all, the entire tennis world just saw him take Wimbledon by storm. We saw him produce tennis on a high level. Why wouldn’t I expect us to see it on a consistent basis?
The answer lies in that very question. Janowicz has developed the game to be a great player. He has the talent to be a great player? So why is he only now breaking in to the top 20?
Yes, every player has to start from somewhere. Every player gets better and better until he can reach the top of the game. But Janowicz has had this talent and ability for more than just two weeks. He played this well in reaching the final of the Masters tournament in Paris last November. So why was Janowicz not able to reach a single semifinal in the 7 months between those two tournaments?
I will be fair. Janowicz also played very well in the Masters tournament in Rome, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet before falling to Roger Federer. Even that doesn’t change the point I am trying to make.
Janowicz is a top 20 player right now, but he has done that by playing great tennis for three weeks out of the past year. He currently has 2,154 ATP ranking points. A combined 1,345 of those came from Paris and Wimbledon. He would not even be in the top 50 without those. If you ignore Rome as well he would fall out of the top 100 at the end of this week.
So what is my point? Paris, Rome, and Wimbledon did happen. You can’t just ignore them. But the fact is that they say something. Janowicz made himself from a fringe top 100 player into a top 20 player in 4 weeks. But if Janowicz is going to reach the top 10 or top 5, or even No. 1 someday like people are expecting of him, he will have to compete at his best level for more than 4 weeks out of the year.
He has shown us that he has that level. He has shown us that he can sustain it for most of a tournament. But he is going to have to do it for a much larger chunk of the season. Otherwise, where he is now may very well be the highest he can get.
Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall. This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half. Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.
7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3
During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite. First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo. Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1. When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled. Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished. Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris. (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)
6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)
Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club. An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals. That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10. Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday. Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better. Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.
5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2
Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back. He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized. Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set. A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth. All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently. Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013. Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.
4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5
Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012. Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years. Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition. To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset. But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges. He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.
3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3
Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications. Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why. Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic. Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation. We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.
2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year. The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent. Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began. Or so we thought. A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment. Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return. The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt. Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments. Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.
1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7
The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line. One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced. Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth. Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line. Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph. While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb. Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.
Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.
By Maud Watson
No matter how poor her results coming into or after Wimbledon, for that fortnight, Sabine Lisicki plays like a Top 5 talent. She’s defeated the reigning French Open champion four of the last five years (she didn’t play in 2010), and her winning percentage against Top 10 players on the lawns of the All England Club is quite impressive. But unlike in years past, Lisicki has managed to find enough consistency to book herself a place in her first major final. She’s in with an excellent shot against Bartoli to produce a little more magic to claim her maiden slam title. Irrespective of what happens Saturday, however, it will be a disappointment if Lisicki fails to follow up the rest of her season with stellar results. She has a powerful, all-around game and far too much talent not to be vying for the game’s biggest titles on a consistent basis. She also has an affable personality that the WTA could use right now, so here’s to hoping that this Wimbledon final is just the first of many major titles the German will be competing for.
In 2007, Marion Bartoli shocked Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final where she lost to Venus Williams. Now, six years later, Bartoli has once again defeated a Belgian in the final four to reach a Wimbledon final where she’ll face another talent with a big serve, powerful game, and brings her best on the grass. But things are a little different in 2013, too. Bartoli thrashed Flipkens in the semis instead of escaping by a hair, and her opponent in the final, Lisicki, is even less experienced at this stage than her. And despite struggling with her game for the past several months, Bartoli is looking like the Top 10 player that she can be once again. She showed no signs of nerves in the semis, not only relentlessly attacking virtually every ball with laser-like precision, but she showed a willingness to mix it up by coming forward. Assuming she doesn’t let the occasion get to her and is able to play at this high level on Saturday, tennis fans are going to be in for a real treat.
The Bryan Brothers have done almost anything there is to do in doubles, breaking records right and left. On Saturday, they’ll have the chance to add one more feather to their caps as they vie for the Wimbledon doubles crown. Should they win, they’ll have a “Bryan Bros.” Grand Slam and will become the first doubles duo in the Open Era to hold all four majors at once. Also, should they taste victory in London, look out when Flushing Meadows rolls around. The twins would then be going for a calendar-year Grand Slam, one of the rarest feats in the sport. They’ve managed to do just about anything else in the world of doubles, so why not this?
For all of the dramatic upsets and withdrawals that have unfolded the last two weeks, the top two favorites in the men’s field, Djokovic and Murray, are still standing. Both still have a little more work to do if they hope to contest the championship match on Sunday, but make no mistake, they’re heavy favorites to live up to their seeding. On paper, Djokovic has the more difficult of the two semis, with del Potro as his opponent. The two split meetings earlier this year, and the Argentine got the better of Djokovic on these same courts at the Olympics in 2012. But in this semifinal, you have to figure Djokovic’s experience will prove a major X factor. There’s also the knee issue that’s plaguing del Potro, and trying to defeat the Serb at less than 100% is a big ask. Janowicz will also have to come up with some spectacular answers if he’s to disappoint an entire nation by upsetting Murray. The Pole did get the better of Murray last year at the Paris Masters and has a monster serve. He’ll also go in knowing that Murray was less than steady in his quarterfinal clash with Verdasco. But Murray has far more experience in these situations, is the steadier of the two, especially in the mental department, and will have virtually all of the fans on the Centre Court in his corner. Both should be entertaining affairs, but expect Djokovic and Murray to set up a blockbuster final.
After a stunning early loss at Wimbledon, Federer appears to be going back to the drawing board. In lieu of his usual break following the conclusion of Wimbledon, the Swiss will be adding two clay court events to his schedule. He’s set to contest Gstaad – the tournament that offered him his first wildcard – and Hamburg, which he’s also won more than a few times in the past. It may be interpreted by some as a troubling sign from the ageing veteran, but in many ways, Federer’s decision is one to be admired. He’s not letting his pride get in the way, and he’s smart to try and pick up a few events between now and the summer hard court season. He could use the rankings points, a chance to get his game clicking, and more than anything, a chance to gain some confidence. Hopefully he’s able to get it going so that he can be fully back in the mix come the US Open.
It may still be the grass court season, but Nike has already released what several of their key male athletes will be wearing come fall, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro.
Rafael Nadal: The Spaniard will be adding a pop of color to Nike’s lineup, sporting the Nike Men’s Fall Premier Rafa Crew in Sonic Yellow with Armory Navy accents. The same modern scooped V-neck he donned at Wimbledon will stick around. A sublimated graphic print on the chest, as well as a laser-perforated graphic on back keep the shirt design fairly subtle — the though the “X” on the front alludes to superhero status. The top will be paired with the Nike Men’s Fall Premier Rafa Woven Short in Armory Navy.
Roger Federer: The Swiss maestro will attempt to go for his sixth US Open title in a newly-refined polo, the Nike Men’s Fall Premier RF US Open Polo in Light Armory Blue. A contrast self fabric collar and subtle side panels make this one of Federer’s most elegant looks, and the pale grey/blue palette adds just enough color to not oversimplify the top. He’ll combine it with with the Nike Men’s Fall Premier RF Twill Short in White.
Not to be forgotten, Federer also has his own line of practice RF tees, including the Nike Men’s Fall RF Trophy V-Neck T-Shirts in Armory Navy or Wolf Grey (left and middle). The Nike Men’s Fall Graphic T-Shirt (right) will also bring a light-hearted smile for all Nike athletes donning the shirt. It comes in Armory Navy (pictured below), Sonic Yellow and White.
Juan Martin del Potro: The Tower of Tandil has regularly taken a low-key approach to his outfits, and the fall season is no different. He’ll be wearing the Nike Men’s Fall Advantage UV Crew in Light Armory Blue (pictured below), Dark Armory Blue and Sonic Yellow, as well as the Nike Men’s Fall Gladiator 10″ Plaid Short in Light Armory Blue (pictured below), Vintage Green, Geyser Grey, and Armory Navy.
Other tops that could potentially be worn by the rest of the Nike athletes also have some great designs, including the Advantage UV Graphic Crew (left), Advantage UV Graphic Polo (middle) and Rally Sphere Stripe Polo (right).
(June 28, 2013) As a follow-up to their inventive and humorous incognito ads with Roger Federer and Serena Williams, Wilson Tennis is now showcasing their “generation next” players, including ATP players Milos Raonic and Andrey Kuznetsov, as well as Laura Robson and Madison Keys who are both through to the third round of Wimbledon.
Typical teenagers can be seen hitting the concert scene on a Friday night, but every fan knows tennis players work around the clock perfecting their game. So it’s no surprise that these four rising stars ditch normal Friday night plans, and instead hit the practice courts — even at night.
Wilson Tennis keeps it youthful and fresh in their newest video, showcasing the fun side of the younger players with their quirks, giggles and funny gestures any age can have a lighthearted laugh at.
The video is part of the BE NEXT campaign that Wilson Tennis started a few weeks ago with Federer. The campaign also includes a contest giving fans the opportunity to meet Federer at the US Open. Other prizes include a Wilson racquet, footwear, apparel, bags and more.
To enter the Wilson BE NEXT contest, go here: www.wilson.com/benext
By Maud Watson
One of the two biggest upset of Week 1 at Wimbledon was that of Rafael Nadal losing to Steve Darcis. Nadal meekly succumbed to the inspired play of the Belgian in the opening round, leaving many questioning his future in the game. The knees are the obvious first concern. That his knees could deteriorate as quickly as they appeared to in that first match after the performances he’s put on the past five months seems a stretch. But his condition is a tricky one, and the grass does force his knees to work harder. There are also rightfully questions about his scheduling – both before and after SW19. Before Wimbledon, he put in a lot of tennis for someone with documented knee issues who had sat out seven months. Post Wimbledon presents the question of how much more mileage Nadal will be willing to put on those knees, since it will primarily come on hard outdoor and indoor surfaces. But the other question that has to be asked is how much of this is also between the ears. When Nadal walked out onto Centre Court, it was likely with the bad memories of 2012. The slightest niggle is also apt to have a major impact on his level of play, which given his injury history, is understandable. It also explains why he has become noticeably more irritable when things aren’t “just right” for his needs/wants (like his uncharacteristic griping about scheduling at Roland Garros). No matter how you slice it, what we saw from Nadal at Wimbledon was troubling. We know he can play on surfaces outside of clay, but he has to 100% believe his body will allow him to the second half of the season, or being a factor on anything outside of clay may just be a pipe dream.
The other upset vying for the biggest shocker of the tournament is that of Roger Federer by Sergiy Stakhovsky. If ever there was a moment when it felt Federer was truly in decline, it was this match. It’s the first time in nearly a decade that the Swiss has lost before the quarters of any major, let alone Wimbledon. But the days of Federer being able to consistently find his best or escape from the jaws of defeat with great frequency are behind him. It happens with age, and Federer’s is finally starting to catch up with him. It doesn’t mean he will never win another major (see Sampras, Pete in 2002), and Federer insists he doesn’t view himself as in decline. He still feels he has the game to win the big ones, and bottom line, his belief is the only one that matters. So though he’ll likely need some help to win the slams, don’t be too quick to send him off into the sunset. He still has game, and there are still some moments of pure genius left up his sleeve.
One of the biggest controversies at this year’s Championships has been the condition of the courts. There have been many slips and falls, with some alleging that the courts are dangerous, while others simply chalk it up to typical grass court tennis. Though the weather has possibly had a negative impact on the grounds, there are a few things to consider before condemning Wimbledon and its grounds crew. First, the bulk of the complaints have come from the losers, while the winners (many of whom have managed to stay upright) see no real issue. Additionally, many of the withdrawals and retirements were due to either freak accidents or pre-existing injuries the players picked up in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon. And perhaps the biggest culprit of all is the players’ movement on the court. As Darren Cahill pointed out, many of the players are guilty of not taking enough of the tiny steps, which you have to do on grass, to maintain balance. Video footage of many, but not all, of the tumbles shows players hitting the turf after taking a large, wide step or getting completely wrong-footed. It’s a perfect storm that has left the folks at Wimbledon to do damage control, but hopefully going forward, especially with an extra week between Wimbledon and the French beginning in 2015, we’ll see far less of these unfortunate events.
Love is blind. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard. It’s also a phrase that we typically think of as relating to romantic love, but it applies to other types of love, too. Sometimes it can refer to familial love, as is the case with Bernard Tomic. The Aussie, who had an impressive five-set win over Sam Querrey in the opening round, lashed out at the ATP for banning his father due to pending assault charges dating back to Madrid. He feels that they’re hurting his game by not just banning the man that is his father, but the man that he still views as his coach. It’s understandable where Tomic is coming from, but it’s a sad situation. His dad is too physical with others, including his own son. With any luck, Tomic will find success without his father by his side so that he can see he doesn’t need him to enjoy a fruitful career. And hopefully, he’ll one day look back and realize what a favor the ATP has done for him by putting its foot down.
Bring It On
Event organizers’ brains are probably just whirling with the possibility of a showdown between Andy Murray and Serena Williams in what could once again be billed as an intriguing “Battle of the Sexes.” The Scot responded to a Twitter follower who introduced the idea that he should take on Serena Williams, and it turns out the Scot is game. When Williams heard about it, she also expressed enthusiasm at the idea. It’s of course all in good fun, but if organizers can find a way to turn this talk into a reality, it’s a guaranteed success. And better yet, stage it in Vegas as Murray suggested. It would be a spectacular show sure to bring plenty of good publicity to tennis.