Roger Federer

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Roger Federer’s First U.S. Open Title

Roger Federer

In 2004, Roger Federer entered the US Open after a disappointing showing at the Olympic Games in Athens, losing in the second round of both singles and doubles. He had won twice at Wimbledon and secured one title at the Australian Open, but had to conqueror the concrete courts of the Flushing Meadows. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION, $19.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) takes readers back to the 2004 US Open in this book excerpt.

 

The US Open is known as one of the most chaotic of the Grand Slam tournaments and a tournament that many find too difficult to win, including Björn Borg. “The US Open is the Grand Slam tournament that is the most difficult to win,” said Andre Agassi. Many others agree with him. “Somebody could stand up in the grandstands and play saxophone and it wouldn’t bother anybody,” Boris Becker noted in his younger years.

Federer shed his once chronic lack of success in the United States by winning two of America’s four biggest titles at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston and the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. Like at Wimbledon, he arrived early in New York in order to calmly prepare for the tournament. Besides his practice sessions and workouts, he spent his time going to such Broadway musicals as Beauty and the Beast and The Boy from Oz. He also conducted pre-event media interviews and kept up with his sponsor obligations.

He even supported his fellow Swiss Davis Cup team members, watching them compete in the US Open qualifying tournament—a very unusual thing for the world’s No. 1 player to do.

The weaknesses that he showed in Cincinnati and at the Olympics were not evident at the US Open. Was it perhaps due to the fact that his hair began to grow back? In any case, he had little trouble advancing into the quarterfinals, where he faced Agassi, now age 34. After a European summer highlighted by physical problems and unexpected defeats, Agassi found his groove on the American hard courts, defeating both Roddick and Hewitt to win the title in Cincinnati—his first title in over a year. Agassi’s confidence was high.

In one of the US Open’s celebrated night matches, Federer and Agassi battled on Wednesday evening, September 8, and Federer immediately found his rhythm. He was leading 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 when it began raining and play was postponed. The match resumed the following afternoon and the players were greeted with gale force winds—as part of the weather front that swept through New York as a leftover from Hurricane Frances that battered Florida earlier in the week. Federer described the wind swirls as being the worst conditions that he ever played under. “Just five years ago I would have gone nuts playing in such a wind,” he said.

The wind forced Federer to change tactics. He no longer tried to go for winners and display his usual aggressive style, but concentrated on getting the ball and his serves over the net and simply into play—which in the windy conditions was itself a challenge. “I played just like at practice and that was the right recipe,” he said. A 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over Agassi put him into the semifinals of the US Open for the first time, where he would face an old acquaintance, Tim Henman. The 30-year-old Brit won six of his eight career matches with his Swiss rival, but Federer was a different player than many of the previous matches, with more self-confidence and stamina. As in March in Indian Wells, Federer encountered little resistance with Henman, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to advance into the championship match at the US Open for the first time.

Awaiting him in the final was another of his past nemeses, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. The Australian skipped the Olympic Games, but won the two ATP tournaments played concurrently to the Olympics in Washington, D.C. and in Long Island. Entering his match with Federer, he won his last 16 matches and did not surrender a set in his six-match run to the final.

It only took 17 minutes for Federer to hand Hewitt his first lost set of the tournament, losing only five points in a near perfect execution of tennis. When Hewitt won his first game of the match after Federer led 6-0, 2-0, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Federer continued to be the much stronger player, until a lapse of concentration and a run of errors and missed serves allowed Hewitt to win four straight games after trailing 2-5 in the second set.

“If he had managed to win the second set, it would have turned out to be an entirely different match,” Federer said. “I forced myself to keep positive. I said to myself that I only got this break because I was playing against the wind and I was serving with old balls. When I changed sides, everything actually did go easier.”

Federer held serve at 5-6 to force the tiebreak and won that 7-3. The two-set lead broke Hewitt’s resistance and Federer plowed through the final set 6-0 to win his first US Open championship.

“First I was surprised that Lleyton was no longer getting to the ball,” Federer said of his moment of victory. “Then I was suddenly lying on my back, looking into the sky at the lights of the stadium. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ Once again I was close to tears.”

Alarm Calls for Roger Federer as Martina Hingis Storms Back into Tennis — The Friday Five

Roger Federer on a losing streak

By Maud Watson

Roger Federer on a losing streakTailspin

Another tournament and another surprising early exit for Federer, as the Swiss goes out in two routine sets to Daniel Brands in Gstaad.  The good news for Federer fans is that the Maestro has never been one to quickly panic and shows no signs of looking like he’s getting ready to throw the towel in anytime soon.  In fact, he’s already committed to Brisbane next season.  But this latest loss undoubtedly has some alarm bells sounding in Federer’s head.  He’s having some issues adjusting to the new racquet and is also unsure which stick he’ll be using on the summer hard courts.  In addition to Federer being in limbo regarding his racquet, his mental toughness has also taken a hit. You can read the increasing doubt on his face, and that doubt is creeping into his game as evidenced by the unforced errors that continue to mount in each match.  To say that the next few months are “do-or-die” might be an overstatement, but they are certainly critical.  How he fairs the remainder of 2013 could have a major impact on how long it takes him to right the ship and determine whether or not he hangs around for Rio in 2016.

Heartbreak

Another sentimental favorite who suffered a tough loss this week was Mardy Fish.  The American was in Atlanta, making just his fourth appearance since the US Open last season.  Up a set, it looked like Fish might be able to start his return to competition with a win.  But a rain delay and a refusal to fold from veteran Michael Russell saw the lower-ranked American upset his countryman and advance at his expense.  The defeat itself was understandable.  Fish played well all things considered, but he had been out of the game for over four months.  With no substitute for match play, nerves likely helped play a part in his loss.  What was troubling about Fish’s loss, however, was that he wasn’t available for comment afterwards – something that has happened in the past just prior to Fish taking an extended leave of absence.  American tennis fans will wait with baited breath to see how Fish follows up this latest setback and whether it will include the commitment to carry on or hang it up for good.

Give and Take

Thanks to an overwhelming 47-1 vote by the New York City Council, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been approved for a $500 million expansion.  Not surprisingly, a large part of the expansion will be devoted to the renovation of the older facilities “that have reached the end of their useful lives.”  But the USTA isn’t the only one benefiting from the deal.  In exchange for the approval, the USTA has agreed   to start a non-profit group to help fund Flushing Meadows, host a yearly job fair for the residents in Queens, serve as a potential host to high school graduation ceremonies, and provide tennis coaching programs for area children.  All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Changing Tunes

John Tomic has finally been brought to court for the much-publicized events that took place before the start of the Madrid Masters, and depending on who you believe, is possibly changing his story, along with his son, from what they originally told police back in May.  Bernard Tomic is claiming his father told him the day of the incident that it was the hitting partner, Drouet, who hit him.  John Tomic is also insisting that it was Drouet who started the fight and doesn’t “know how” Drouet fell down.  Both Tomics are blaming the alleged misunderstanding on police officers who had a poor grasp of English.  Time will tell if there really was a misunderstanding or if this is just John Tomic trying to weasel his way out of trouble – and given his track record, the latter seems more plausible.  If that is indeed the case, Bernard Tomic had better wise up, or the court is going to give him a lot more to worry about than his forehand.

Stay Awhile

It appears that Martina Hingis’ decision to play doubles with Hantuchova in California won’t be just a one-off.  The former No. 1 is planning to play doubles in some other big events this summer, including Toronto, Cincinnati, and the year’s last major, the US Open.  Say what you want about Hingis from a personal standpoint, but from a tennis perspective, there are few in the modern game who can match her court craft and guile.  What she lacks in size and power she makes up for with impossible angles and exquisite touch.  With any luck, these summer hard court events will be the start of something bigger, but if not, get your tickets and take the opportunity to see some of the greatest hands in the game work their magic one more time.

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

Twice a champion in Atlanta, Fish goes for the three-peat this week.

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

Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova’s Big Changes — The Friday Five

Maria Sharapova

By Maud Watson

Big(ger) Changes

Champions are frequently known for their stubbornness.  Sometimes it refers to their unwillingness to surrender a loss quietly, but it also often refers to their refusal to re-tool any part of the game that has brought them so much success.  Unfortunately, that refusal can often hamper an athlete’s career, which is something that Roger Federer apparently plans to avoid.  Federer is playing this week in Hamburg with a new racquet.  His new stick features a 98 square-inch frame, which represents a significant change from the much smaller 90 square-inch frame he has used throughout his career.  The larger frame means a bigger sweet spot and additional power, both of which should help him better compete with the young guns on tour.  We’ll see how he fairs during this brief stint on the clay, but if he’s able to make the adjustment to the new racquet quickly, expect him to be right back in the thick of it for the summer hard court season.

Maria SharapovaTrue Grit

One of the more interesting off-court tidbits to hit the news this past week was the announcement of Jimmy Connors becoming Maria Sharapova’s new full-time coach.  The two briefly worked together five years ago but were unable to come to a financial agreement to make it a full-time gig.  Circumstances have changed in 2013, and the two are teaming up to become one of the most intriguing coach/player relationships in the game today.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Both have strong egos and like to get things done their way, so it could flame out early.  But both also share the same inherit drive.  They’re both fighters who refuse to rollover in a match and will go to virtually any lengths – sometimes perhaps a little over the line of what’s considered proper – to come away with the win.  Both could feed off each other in those respects and prove quite the successful combo.  Sadly, fans will have to wait a little longer for this new partnership to make its debut, however, as Sharapova was forced to withdraw from the upcoming event in Stanford with a hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon.  But make no mistake.  This will be one of the key storylines to watch this summer.

False Hope

The good news is that the USTA has established a potential timeline for putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium by August 2016.  The bad news is that you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than that timeline coming to fruition.  As usual, one of the biggest hurdles to putting a roof over Ashe Stadium stems from cost.  The USTA is already currently in the market for an owner representative for its $500-million expansion plan that doesn’t include a roof, meaning that if they were to shift efforts towards building a roof for Ashe, other projects, such as replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand would be put on hold.  That’s a scenario that’s all the more unlikely when considering that the other issue facing Ashe is that it may not be able to support the weight of the roof in the first place.  So, while we can appreciate the USTA’s efforts to keep the roof possibility in the discussion, this once again appears to be much ado about nothing.

Egomaniac

At the front part of the week, in an interview with David Nadal, Toni Nadal told to the world that he talks to Rafa during matches and sees nothing wrong with it, because he figures he shouldn’t have to hide anything at his age.  Look, it’s common knowledge that Nadal, like some other players, receives illegal coaching from the stands.  And you could argue that such coaching frequently has little impact on the outcome of a match.  But nobody wins when Toni Nadal announces that he has no problem being a cheat – and as the generally willing recipient of his instructions, one could argue so is his nephew by extension.  Such an admission shows disrespect to the ATP and its rules.  It shows disrespect to Nadal’s opposition.  It teaches young up-and-comers that it’s okay to cheat, and most importantly, it hurts Rafa Nadal.  As previously noted, Rafa is no doubt one of the best in the history of the game, and he doesn’t need to use cheap tricks to accomplish great feats.  Utilizing illegal tactics should be beneath him and his camp, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.  Though unlikely, it would be nice if after this admission, the ATP would enforce some sort of discipline on the older Nadal to show that nobody, no matter how big the star they coach or their age, is above the rules.

Back for More

The terrorizing doll Chucky is making a return to movies, and as it happens, so is the woman Mary Carillo once referred to as Chucky, Martina Hingis.  Whether to promote her relatively recent clothing line, provide a distraction from the cheating allegations leveled at her by her estranged husband, or just for love of the game, the newly-elected Hall of Famer is planning to team with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia at the Southern California Open.  Hingis continues to show that she has great hands around the net, and veteran Hantuchova has also proven worth her salt in the doubles arena as well.  If this partnership proves successful, perhaps we’ll be treated to a little more enthralling tennis from these two down the road.

Federer Racquet – What A Racquet

Roger Federer playing in Hamburg

by James A. Crabtree

Roger Federer playing in Hamburg

Roger Federer’s switch to a new racquet has made more news stories worldwide than a lunar landing. And so it should. When the world’s most successful assassin changes his most trusted weapon, this is big news.

Federer has made minor adjustments over the years, from the Pro Staff 85 6.0 he used in 2001 to defeat Sampras (the same racquet Sampras used). He then went to the Hyper Pro Staff which looked like a paint job of the previous.

If you painted your old Porsche and told everyone it was a new model would they believe you? Well, lets just assume your friends are gullible. And you would argue it is still a Porsche and should be driven with care. Both the Porsche and the Pro Staff are tough to handle.

By 2003 Federer was using a racquet with a 90 sq. inch frame and winning slams. This was the most dramatic adjustment and to many an observer the racquet has barely changed since. Just subtle paint jobs and a twinge on the marketing with a new name to keep mugs like myself trying to emulate our Swiss hero. The nCode range followed, then the nSix-One Tour 90, K Factor Six One Tour, Six.One Tour BLX and up until Wimbledon 2013 the BLX Pro Staff Six.One.

This is a tough racquet to play with. It may also be the least friendly racquet for your regular club player, as it doesn’t allow for errors. It’s a pure players racquet for Samurai’s who have mastered the craft.

So is it the same old Pro Staff that has been around for Eon’s. Well it is and it isn’t. The racquet has been moulded and adjusted to fit the player, rather than the other way around. Federer has made detailed and minute changes to his racquet and although it may look like the one in the shops it would feel and play totally different. The model, which has the same shape and hard edges would vary in weight, balance, swing weight, composite material, grip and strings whether you chose the version played by Sampras, Edberg, Courier or Federer. Regardless, it can still account for 41 slams.

Irrespective of the intricacies the Pro Staff, a racquet initially designed for Jimmy Connors, is now gone. The replacement looks like the Blade that Monfils has been using, but is now suspected to be a prototype. Whatever racquet it is, the switch has laid to rest the most successful racquet in grand slam men’s tennis history.

Usually when players change racquets it is for money, such as Djokovic to Head or more recently Wawrinka and Tomic to Yonex. When players switch model within the same company more often than not it is a paint job. Federer’s latest racquet is definitely more than just a façade.

Federer lost one surprise match at Wimbledon and it’s not unreasonable to think he has overreacted. He has had a horrid year thus far, with only one tournament win and no victories over a top 10 player. On top of this his confidence has taken a hit. He has dropped in the rankings, and showed inconsistency with his various game plans. Is a new racquet just a desperate shot in the dark to find form, or another experiment that could plummet his woes further?

Is Federer learning from Pete Sampras, who never changed his racquet throughout his career but suggested perhaps he should have. Or is coach Paul Annacone in his ear, having been there at the end of both the careers of Sampras and Henman.

Federer has stated he is happy with the new racquet, and the greater sq. inches it provides should add a little more power and help with the various shanks we have become accustomed to seeing. The new racquet hasn’t yet experienced a loss or been put up against a considerable opponent. His arm may have been tested, but not his ability to deal with the underlying psychological aspects it will undoubtedly present.

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

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.

 

From Djokovic to Federer, What’s Ahead in the Summer for the ATP Top 5?

Federer, Nadal, Ferrer, Murray, Djokovic

(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.

Roger FedererRoger Federer: World No. 5

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.

Rafael NadalRafael Nadal: World No. 4

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_cropDavid Ferrer: World Number 3

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.

Andy MurrayAndy Murray: World No. 2

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.

Novak DjokovicNovak Djokovic: World No. 1

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.

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Hamburg and Bogota Previews

Fed up.

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.

Hamburg:

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

Bogota:

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

 

 

Juan Martin Del Potro One to Watch; Returns for Mardy Fish and Venus Williams — The Friday Five

Juan Martin Del Potro_600

By Maud Watson

Who to Watch

Juan Martin Del PotroWith 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.

Why I Am Not Yet Sold on Jerzy Janowicz

Jerzy Janowicz

Jerzy Janowicz(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.

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