Rogers Cup

Novak Djokovic seems to have found a way to keep his magical results going all year long – Around the corner

As the Rogers Cup is set to wrap-up this weekend in Montreal with the men, the draw for the second consecutive Masters 1000 event has just been released in Cincinnati. With the U.S. Open just two weeks away now, players will be looking to fine-tune their games and round into form for the finalGrand Slam of the year.

How will Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray rebound after poor showings in Canada? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the draws they have received as well as how they deal with their mental and physical short-comings from this past week.

World number one Novak Djokovic will enjoy the benefits of a first round bye at the Western and Southern Open and gets the winner of American Ryan Harrison and Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. The progress that Harrison has made this year has been quite positive and he is giving U.S. tennis fans some real hope as they continue to search for the successor to Andy Roddick. Harrison should get by Chela, a player whose game is never really that dangerous on hard-courts.

Djokovic also has Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils in his section of the draw. Both of those players made the quarter-finals in Montreal this week. Djokovic can handle either, especially evidenced by his 6-2, 6-1 beating of Monfils on Friday evening.

Andy Roddick makes his return to the ATP World Tour after some injury issues of late. Currently ranked 12th in the world, Roddick could see his ranking start to fall quickly if he cannot put together some results this summer. Roddick has not played since a Davis Cup loss to David Ferrer on hard-courts in early July. He will open in Cincy against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a tricky opponent to be sure.

Djokovic should be able to advance through this section but having too much success just prior to the Open could be problematic down the road. A player does not want to peak too early, although it seems that Djokovic has found a way to keep his magical results going all year long.

In the following quarter of the draw, Roger Federer is not going to have an easy run. While he was fortunate to draw Canadian wildcard Vasek Pospisil in Montreal, his first adversary in Cincy will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Andreas Seppi. No offence to Seppi, but it would be shocking if he could get by the 6’6” Argentine.

Federer will be pushed to the limit by Del Potro and could see his U.S. Open preparations seriously harmed if he’s not on top of his game. Federer holds a 6-2 advantage in their career head-to-head, but Del Po has won the last two encounters.

Tomas Berdych is also in this section of the draw as the 8th seed, but you can never get your hopes up with this guy. It seems like a mix of quarter-final and semi-final appearances this year are all we are going to get out of the talented but enigmatic Czech. He hasn’t beaten a quality opponent all year long, so I wouldn’t expect that to change now. This guy must drive his coach nuts!

On the other side of the draw Rafael Nadal will try to get things back on track after a surprising second round defeat to Ivan Dodig. While Federer losing to Tsonga in Montreal was always within the realm of possibility, I don’t think anyone really saw that Dodig loss coming for Nadal.

The Spaniard will play either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or a qualifier in his opening match. That should be the perfect prescription to get things going to him. A quarter-final match against Mardy Fish is a possibility for Nadal, although with Fish going deep in Montreal I wonder how much energy he will want to expend in back-to-back weeks.

Keep an eye on the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov who opens against Richard Gasquet in this quarter as well as Fernando Verdasco and veteran Xavier Malisse as a longshot who can still play the game quite well.

Finally, Andy Murray will try to find his form against the winner of David Nalbandian and a qualifier. Nalbandian can’t seem to catch a break as he opened against Wawrinka in Montreal. Murray should be a good bet to dispatch of the veteran Argentine and hopefully the doubles action he saw with his older brother Jamie in Montreal will help him out here.

David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also in this section and are fantastic hard-court players who could go deep here if Murray is still working out the kinks in his game.

Of the top-twenty players in the world, only Sweden’s Robin Soderling is missing in action.

My picks for a final four this week will be Djokovic vs. Del Potro and Murray against Dolgopolov. I don’t see Federer getting by his first opponent and something just didn’t seem right with Nadal while practicing or playing in Montreal this past week.

Let the speculation for the U.S. Open continue. It will be here before we know it!

It’s Sam Stosur versus Serena Williams in the finals of the Rogers Cup 2011

Agnieska Radwanska’s attempt to go on a Novak Djokovic-like winning streak came to an end today at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. After nine consecutive victories she was defeated today by 10th seeded Samantha Stosur 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

Broken three times in the first set it was a tough-go for Radwanska initially. She had not dropped a set thus far in the tournament and until today had looked like she was carrying over her momentum from her tournament win in Carlsbad, California from last week. Instead, she appeared to be sluggish today on the court against Stosur.

In the second set, the pressure got to Stosur, as it often does, when serving at 5-6. She would lose all four points on her serve in that game, culminating with a double fault to hand the set over to her Polish opponent.

In the third set Stosur would get the chance she needed to pull away. Radwanska got down 0-40 when serving at 2-2. The Australian would capitalize on the second break chance she got to take a 3-2 lead. After holding her own serve with ease, Stosur would then break Radwanska again to increase the margin by a score of 5-2 and get a chance to serve for the match.

There were no nerves this time around as Stosur would close out Radwanska without any difficulty. She advances now to her second WTA final of the year and her first on hard-courts. The last time Stosur won a title was in April 2010.

In the night match, Serena Williams came through in fine style as she defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 to advance to play Stosur in the Rogers Cup final.

Williams played a remarkably clean game for someone who is only playing in her fourth tournament back after missing a year from the WTA Tour. There are very few players, man or woman, who could accomplish such a quick return to the top of the game.

Azarenka was coming in playing some terrific tennis as she had only dropped six games through three matches in the tournament. While she started strong in the opening few games against Williams, she could not sustain the same level of play tonight that we have seen all week long.

Williams broke to go up 4-2, yet Azarenka was able to promptly break her right back. Instead of then building on that momentum, the fourth ranked player from Belarus dropped her serve again to allow Serena to serve for the first set at 5-3. The American won all four points on her serve in that important game and took the opening frame 6-3 with an ace.

In the second set Azarenka was never able to mount a real challenge and could not break Serena’s serve. She would double fault at 3-3, 15-40 to give Serena the break she would need to move on towards victory.

While Azarenka has many great skills on the tennis court, her soft second serve was far too easy for Williams to pounce on tonight.

The final score was 6-3, 6-3, which was a cleaner victory than many expected in this match-up. Williams was happy with the progress she has been making here this week yet feels she still has another gear to reach. Just what the rest of the tour wanted to hear, right?

“I feel like…I still can do a little better,” Serena said. “But overall, I’m almost maybe where I was almost (before the time off), but I want to exceed that level.

Looking forward to the final against Stosur, Williams had the following assessment:

“Well, the last time we played, she got the best of me. It was an intense match, and she played really well. So being ranked 10th in the world…I think that, you know, she definitely has an opportunity to take it all. She’s been playing well. I think this court really suits her game. We’ll see. I have nothing to lose, and I’m happy to have gotten this far. Hopefully if I take another title, that would be great. If not, you know, hey, there’s next week.”

Despite holding only a 3-2 record against Stosur, the way she is playing right now, it is hard to imagine Serena losing tomorrow. With her stellar play of late, coupled with Stosur’s lackluster 2-8 record in WTA finals, expect Williams to win her second tournament in-a-row and head towards the U.S. Open as the definitive favorite.

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Roger Federer makes triumphant return at the Rogers Cup

Tennis fans in Montreal were in-store for a great day on Wednesday with the world’s top three players slated to hit Centre Court. Everyone was wondering how Djokovic, Nadal and Federer would respond after such a long layoff. Would there be any upsets as we saw yesterday with Andy Murray?

In the opening match of the day, Roger Federer made his return to the courts since a quick Davis Cup appearance in early July for Switzerland. He has not seen any tournament match-play since a shocking quarter-final loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the All-England Club in June.

Today was one of those rare days where Federer did not have the whole crowd behind him as he was matched-up against young Canadian Vasek Pospisil. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this kid as this was the first main-draw ATP World Tour event of his career.

Only having just recently turned 21 years of age and ranked 155th in the world, Pospisil had failed to qualify for the Rogers Cup in his previous two attempts. This year, due in part to his strong play for Canada in the Davis Cup, he was granted a wild-card into the main draw. He did not disappoint yesterday as he advanced to the second round with a gutsy three-set win over 22nd ranked Juan Ignacio Chela.

Although Pospisil managed to stay with Federer today through the first ten games of the opening set, nerves kicked in when serving at 5-6. Pospisil knew this would be a factor coming into the match as Federer was his idol growing up. He dropped four straight points to hand the set over to the world’s number three player.

In the second frame, Federer seemed to find his game and the pace picked up quickly. Pospisil could  not match it and looked somewhat helpless as his hero walked away with it 7-5, 6-3. The young Canadian admitted he had never before seen shots like Federer’s in his short professional career.

“I mean, I knew he plays fast. But it’s another level of fast, to be honest. I’ve never felt a ball that goes through the court as fast as his does, especially his forehand.”

Still, the result was a promising one for Pospisil who will now see his ranking reach an all-time high of roughly 145th in the world according to ATP stats guru Greg Sharko.

“My plan was just to concentrate on my own game, kind of hit my targets, try to play the ball rather than the occasion and the player,” Pospisil said after the match had ended. “Obviously it’s a lot easier said than done when you step on the court and you have Federer in front of you.”

Federer will advance to a terrific third round match that everyone was hoping for against Tsonga. The Frenchman defeated rising Australian star Bernard Tomic today in straight sets 6-3, 7-6(1). I asked Tsonga if Federer had lost some of his intimidation after beating him both here in Montreal two years ago as well as at Wimbledon this summer.

“Anyway, (he’s) still the best player ever for me. So it’s still tough to play against him. And I think the win I had in the past, you know, they will help me, of course. But like when I lost against him, because I lost many times, I think all these matches will help me a lot.”

Later on Wednesday, American John Isner came out and quickly finished-off Marcos Baghdatis in a match that was postponed due to rain Tuesday evening. Isner was up 6-3, 1-0 when play resumed and was not challenged by Baghdatis as he would close out the match 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the next round. Isner won’t get much rest as he plays Viktor Troicki later in the day.

Next up the world got its first look at newly crowned world number one Novak Djokovic. It took a while for Djokovic to look the part as he quickly found himself down by two breaks against Nikolay Davydenko. The Russian used to be a top-ten stalwart but has seen his game hampered since a wrist injury that kept him out for a good stretch in 2010. Davydenko came ready to play today though and his crisp ground-strokes were finding their mark deep in the court.

Just when Twitter was starting to buzz with talk of an upset, Djokovic came back into the first set thanks in part to some errors on Davydenko’s part. The 30th ranked player in the world then crumbled in the second and the victory was Djokovic’s 7-5, 6-1. Disaster averted.

Life won’t get any easier for Djokovic as he will next play either Marin Cilic or Juan Martin Del Potro who were on-serve at 3-3 in the first set when rain halted play just after 5pm ET.

Other final results from today in Montreal:

Monfils d. Bogomolov Jr. 6-2, 7-6(5) (Le Monf pleases the French fans here)

Berdych d. Dolgopolov 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 (Nice recovery by Berdych against a tough early-round opponent)

Gasquet d. Bellucci 6-1, 6-4 (Gasquet looking great through two matches here so far)

Wawrinka d. Russell 6-3, 6-2 (Wawrinka also breezing through opponents)

Almagro d. Stakhovsky 6-2, 7-6(5) (Good result on hard-court for Almagro, but Gasquet up next)

Karlovic d. Petzschner 6-7(0), 7-6(2), 7-6(6) (Five out of six sets have been tie-breaks for Ivo so far)

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Andy Murray crashes out on day two of Rogers Cup

Two-time defending champion Andy Murray was sent packing in his opening match at the Rogers Cup by big-serving Kevin Anderson of South Africa. Anderson pulled off the second top-ten victory of his career with relative ease as he advanced by a score of 6-3, 6-1 in only one hour and nine minutes.

Blame it on the media, myself included, for confidently predicting a top-four semi-final finish here in Montreal. Of course we should have realized that with five weeks off since Wimbledon, anything was capable of happening.

Murray said he has been training hard in Miami to acclimatize himself with the hot summer conditions that often accompany this time of year in North America. Instead today the weather was relatively mild with cloud coverage permeating the skies.

The Scotsman did not hold back in his own assessment of his play today. “I just felt very slow,” he mentioned. “The game seemed to be going so fast. Yeah, I mean, it’s happened to me already once this year. I’ve trained really hard to get ready for the tournament. I’ve always played very well here. Today I couldn’t get anything going. I started both sets really, really badly which doesn’t help against someone that serves like Kevin. I was down a break early. Yeah, didn’t get anything going at all.

On the bright side for the world number four, he will be playing doubles here this week with his older brother Jamie. While normally merely using the doubles to hone his singles game he revealed that he always tries to put a bit more into his efforts when supporting his brother.

“When I play with Jamie, I obviously want to try to win because that’s his career, where he makes his money,” Murray said. “Tournaments like this, there’s a lot of big ranking points which aren’t at stake at some of the other tournaments he plays. If we can do well here, it’s really good for his ranking. I always try and play my best when I’m playing with Jamie.”

They will open Wednesday against the all-Canadian duo of Erik Chvojka and Pierre-Ludovic Duclos. If all goes according to plan Murray can get the match play he obviously still needs while also helping big brother with his own career ambitions.

The loss of Murray opens of his section of the draw leaving 6th seeded Mardy Fish along with perhaps the 14th seeded Stan Wawrinka as the leading candidates to advance.

In other daytime action completed today, Richard Gasquet of France got things started off on Center Court by soundly defeating Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-2. The pair had a closely contested Davis Cup match a month ago where Gasquet had to battle back from being down two-sets-to-one, but things were much more routine today. Gasquet will next face Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil.

Canadian prospect Vasek Pospisil ranked 155th in the world had the second biggest upset of the day as he sent 22nd ranked Juan Ignacio Chela home early by a score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Pospisil was down a break in the third but managed to use the home crowd support to his advantage and claw his way back into things. Life won’t get any easier for Pospisil as he will next face Roger Federer in the world number three’s first match on tour as a thirty year-old.

Other completed results today go as follows:

Philipp Petzschner d. Gilles Simon 7-5, 6-2

Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 7-5

Michael Llodra d. Mikhail Youzhny 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4)

Viktor Troicki d. Michael Yani 2-6, 6-3, 6-1

Michael Russell d. Albert Montanes 7-5, 6-2

Janko Tipsarevic d. Alejandro Falla 7-5, 6-1

At 8:20pm ET the night matches have all been postponed until Wednesday by constant rain fall.

Photos credit by Bob McIntyre

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An Ivo Karlovic interview

Q: Today’s match against Monaco must be a big confidence boost the way you’ve been struggling lately. Are you hoping this is going to turn the season around for you?

A:Yes, I mean in the last few months you know it wasn’t easy because I was losing a lot. I was also losing my confidence. So this win it will help me to know that it is not that bad, that life is not that bad you know? Hopefully I will continue winning and with every win your confidence grows. Winning it is the only thing that can boost your confidence.

Q: What things have you been working on specifically in your game to get back to the level you know you can play at?

A: Well you know I was working on almost everything. You cannot work only on one thing. You must work on everything because tennis is really a complex game and everything has to be good. So I was working on my strengths as well as my weaknesses which are moving and my return game. But you know, as I said with winning everything improves better.

Q: Other than your serve which you are known for obviously what part of your game are you most proud of?

A: I think you know it’s my volleys. I think in today’s game there is not a lot of volleyers so I think I am doing a pretty good job. Also everybody thinks that I don’t move as well but for my height and my weight I think I am pretty good at it.

Q: Whose serve on tour gives you the most problems?

A: The most difficult to return was Roddick definitely.

Q: Even in today’s game?

A: Well I mean I didn’t play against him since 2009. So I don’t really know now how it is but like always if I played him it was difficult to return.

Q: Have you seen Canadian Milos Raonic and his serve?

A: Yes I did and it’s unbelievable also, yes. We never actually played a match, so it was only one exhibition I think. But I don’t know in the match how difficult it is to read and return his serve.

Q: You must get asked to be a hitting partner often with players who want to work on their return games? Do you have a lot of requests and how do you decide who to hit with in practice?

A: No, it is not you no. It is a little bit weird that they don’t want to practice a lot their return game. Which is for me also good, because if I play against them they are not used to it.

Q: In terms of nicknames, I’ve heard “Dr. Ivo” from the Austin Power movies. Do you have any other nicknames that you’ve acquired over the years?

A: Karlo and Karluchi.

Q: What are some of the good things about being 6’10’’ and what are maybe some negative aspects to being so tall?

A: Well it is good because I can overlook everything. When I walk down the street I can see a mile away even though my eyes are not as good as when I was young but I can still see a lot more than everybody else. I don’t know, it’s just, you know, I’m used to it so for me everything is good. The only thing which I don’t like is I cannot buy a car which I like. I like sports cars but I cannot drive them. I tried once to fit in a Lamborghini and it didn’t go that well.

Q: I guess a Mini is out of the question as well?

A: A mini I don’t know, I never even tried!

Q: What would you have become to do you think if you hadn’t become a professional tennis player?

A: When I was thirteen I was playing a little bit of basketball and the coaches were like really interested in me. After like two months of practicing they were asking me to come to the national team. I didn’t go. Then they were like almost every day they would call my house to see if I’d to go because I was already pretty tall, almost like now. Every day they were like calling me, calling me until I was eighteen. So like for five years every day they would call me. But I was like, I liked tennis you know? But if I would have gone the other way who knows how it would have gone, my career.

Q: Do you get recognized often as a tennis player or do people sometimes think you are a basketball player of some sort?

A: Yeah, I mean always, all the time they ask me what’s my height and then they ask if I am a basketball player. Only once somebody asked me if I was a rower, which I don’t know how they got that idea from my height.

Q: You’re pretty active with Twitter which the fans like to follow. One of your recent tweets was, “I looked at my hands and they appeared to be of an old man.” Do you sometimes at the age of 32 feel like one of the older men on tour?

A: Yeah, I mean of course. I remember when I turned thirty years old it was the most depressing day of my life, so I know how Roger must feel now. But you know, on the other hand I’m also grateful that I played this long because a lot people don’t.

Q: How much longer to you see your career lasting and what are your hopes?

A: Well I don’t know it depends on injuries, motivation and everything. For now I think I could still play for a few more years.

Q: Thanks very much for the time and good luck with the rest of the tournament and with the U.S. Open coming up.

A: No problem, thank you very much.

Juan Martin Del Potro refuses to speculate on facing Novak Djokovic

Day one from the Rogers Cup offered up some quality first round matches in Montreal. Some were able to meet expectations while others did not.

Falling into the category of the latter would be David Nalbandian against 16th seeded Stanislas Wawrinka. While the world’s second ranked Swiss player held a solid 5-3 record against Nalbandian heading into the match, the Argentine won their last encounter with ease a year ago by a score of 6-1, 6-3.

Nalbandian has had a tough year, one that once again has been negatively impacted by health issues. Requiring not one, but two separate surgeries to his left leg/groin areas, Nalbandian missed three months on the tour and returned just in time for the brief grass-court season. He lost in the third round of both Queen’s (Verdasco) and Wimbledon (Federer) before falling to James Blake in the first round of Washington where he was the defending champion. His inability to defend those ranking points sent him plummeting 24 spots in the ranking to his current spot of 51st in the world.

Nalbandian looked ordinary on Center Court against Wawrinka today and could not make a dent in his game. He looked somewhat lethargic and allowed Wawrinka to win easily 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the second round where he will now face the winner of the Michael Russell vs. Albert Montanes match scheduled for tomorrow.

Wawrinka was moving well on the court today and never seemed bothered by Nalbandian’s game. His assessment of his opponent was pretty much to the point as he said that, “With him, you never know.  Today he was not playing really good. I think he’s not really ready.” He pointed out that perhaps at Nalbandian’s age he is not quite as fit as he needs to be. “But maybe with the year (age), he’s 29 now, maybe it’s not easy for him to play many matches at the top level.”

Nalbandian was practicing on the weekend with big-serving Ivo Karlovic – perhaps not the best player to prepare for a groundstroke battle with an all-round player like Wawrinka.

In the second match of the day on the main stage, the ever-present Juan Carlos Ferrero took on enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. JCF held a 1-0 head-to-head advantage coming into the match and had looked strong lately on clay in winning his sixteenth career title in Stuttgart. Ferrero’s season has been a trying one however as he did not play his first tournament until April due to wrist and knee injuries. He was then out between May and July when those same ailments began acting up once again. Today was his first hard-court action of the year and he got off to a good start by taking the opening set 6-3.

Gulbis has been playing some of the best tennis of his career as of late as the 22 year old won his first title of the year and second of his career in Los Angeles against Mardy Fish. Could it be that Gulbis is finally going to deliver on his enormous potential? He dug deep today against Ferrero to comeback and win 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Next on the horizon will be a match against the winner of tomorrow’s match between Mikhail Youzhny and Michael Llodra.

Other matches of note on the outside courts included the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov, who survived a scare from Erik Chvojka of Canada who is ranked 290th in the world and was entered in the draw thanks to a wildcard from Tennis Canada. Dolgopolov had to battle to win 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Big serving Ivo Karlovic snapped out of a funk that has seen him lose seven of his last eight matches on the tour. He prevailed today against Juan Monaco 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(5) for only his second win since May. Speaking with him afterwards, Karlovic recalled that when he turned thirty it was, “the most depressing day of my life, so I know how Roger must feel now.”

American Alex Bogomolov Jr. continued his surprising play of late by dispatching Adrian Mannarino in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6(4).

Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil knocked-off Andrey Golubev 7-5, 7-6(6). Golubev has now lost eighteen straight matches. He is quickly approaching the all-time losing record of Vince Spadea who at one point in his career lost twenty-one consecutive matches. Talk about having your resolve to keep playing thoroughly tested.

Marin Cilic, who it seems to me is due for some sort of breakthrough this year, was able to dispatch of Andreas Seppi 7-5, 6-4.

Nikolay Davydenko defeated Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 6-3 to advance to an interesting second round encounter. Davydenko will now face world number one Novak Djokovic in the second night match on Tuesday in Montreal. While a shell of his former self, Davydenko will be a tricky opening opponent for Djokovic. The Serb has not played yet due to a first round bye.

At night, Juan Martin Del Potro easily handled Jarkko Nieminen by a margin of 6-4, 6-0. I’ve personally stopped feeling any sympathy for Nieminen ever since he trounced Andre Agassi in the last two sets of the American’s last appearance at the French Open. In that match in 2005, Agassi was up two sets to one until his back acted up and he was beaten 7-5, 4-6, 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-0.

The 19th ranked Del Potro is on a collision course to face Djokovic in the third round in what would be a marquee match-up that early in the event. The 2009 U.S. Open winner has been making some solid progress since missing most of the 2010 season due to injury and is certainly going to be back in the top ten, perhaps even top five if he continues at this rate.

Del Potro refused to speculate on facing Djokovic and gave the classic “one match at a time” answer when pressed.

“Yeah, I know that. But first I will have to play against Cilic. Will be very difficult match for both.  We know each other since juniors. We play many, many times. It’s really difficult match for me because he knows everything about my game, and I know many things about his game, too. But first I have to beat him and then I will thinking if I have another match. Before (Djokovic), Cilic in the next round.”

The final match of the night was between fan-favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fabio Fognini. The Frenchman advanced with some second set difficulty but was able to make Fognini the third in a trifecta of Italians to be bounced from the tournament. The final score was 6-4, 7-6(0). Tsonga was visited by the trainer in the second set when down a break and appeared to have – no joke – his head checked. Tsonga stuck around after the match to hit a few balls with a local wheelchair tennis player in a nice moment to end the evening.

One noticeable no-show today was birthday boy Roger Federer. With a bye in the first round he is not scheduled to play until Wedneday so we will have to wait until then to discuss how he feels about turning the big 3-0.

No doubles team up between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at this year’s Rogers Cup – Around the corner

After a five week hiatus from the ATP World Tour, the superstars of the circuit are ready to make their presence felt as the Rogers Cup in Montreal is set to begin play on Monday.

Newly crowned number one Novak Djokovic was on site Saturday for a brief media appearance alongside Rafael Nadal to christen, oddly enough, some new green clay courts that Tennis Canada has built on-site. The courts will serve to aid young Canadian players develop confidence on a surface that they rarely succeed on.

Djokovic and Nadal will not be playing together in doubles as they did a year ago when the men played in Toronto. While they were ranked one and two in the world at the time, their rivalry has taken a more serious dynamic with Djokovic beating Nadal in their five previous encounters.

The draw is a tough one for just about everybody in this format, where players will be on court almost every single day. With rain in the forecast early in the week the potential for double-duty also presents itself.

In the top quarter Djokovic will begin the event with a bye followed by a difficult match potentially against Nikolay Davydenko who opens against a qualifier. While Davydenko has been a shell of his former self since returning to the tour following a lengthy layoff in 2010, he still has the ability to test any of the top players and has a respectable 2-3 career head-to-head against the Serb.

Djokovic’s maiden appearance in Canada in 2007 was a self-described key point in the Serb’s ascension to the top of the game. There he beat the top three players in the world one after another in Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Speaking on his past success at the Rogers Cup, Djokovic said, “I have very nice memories especially from Montreal where I won the title in 2007 and in some ways started this great four years in my career.”

Beyond Davydenko things do not get any easier as Juan Martin Del Potro is his likely third round opponent. Del Potro has steadily been improving since he returned from his own wrist injury which kept him off the tour for eight months in 2010.

Gael Monfils, John Isner and Viktor Troicki are all included in this very difficult top quarter in Montreal. An opening round match between the big-serving Isner and former Aussie Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis is sure to be one worth watching.

In the next quarter we find Roger Federer, a man who is going to be facing dozens of awkward questions about his birthday Monday, where he will officially break into his thirties. Never-mind the fact that the world number three has made the semis in Australia, the finals in Paris and the quarters at Wimbledon – he is sure to be hounded with queries about his inevitable demise.

Federer is eager to finish the year strong and cap it off with a Grand Slam just as he did in 2008. That year he had been unable to win a Slam as well by this point in the season, but finished solid in New York and then returned to form in 2009 by winning his first French Open and another Wimbledon.

He opens in the second round here in Montreal against the victor between clay-courter Juan Ignacio Chela and Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil (who defeated the duo of Djokovic/Nadal last year with partner Milos Raonic in doubles).

In the third round Roger might have to deal with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga again in a rematch of their Wimbledon quarter-final. Bernard Tomic is also in the realm of potential third round opponents while Richard Gasquet is the likely quarter-final challenge for him. Eighth seeded Nicolas Almagro is the other player with a bye in Federer’s quarter, but usually only excels on the red dirt of Europe.

In the other half of the draw we have Andy Murray and Mardy Fish receiving first round exemptions in their quarter. Fish will get the winner of Radek Stepanek (a finalist at the moment in Washington) or Feliciano Lopez. Murray will see either Pablo Andujar (a wildcard) or more likely big-serving Kevin Anderson. Given Murray’s string of two consecutive Rogers Cups, I’d say he has the definite edge to emerge from this part of the draw.

This section is also littered with veterans like David Nalbandian (who won a practice set today 7-6(4) against Ivo Karlovic), and Juan Carlos Ferrero (seen practicing with Tomas Berdych). Other talented players include Mikhail Youzhny, Ernests Gulbis and Stan Wawrinka. The first round match to keep an eye on here would be Nalbandian vs. Wawrinka. Gulbis vs. Ferrero could also be entertaining while serve and volleyer Michael Llodra could give Youzhny some fits.

Finally at the bottom of the entire draw is where world number two Rafael Nadal finds himself. He will open in the second round against either Ivan Dodig or Jeremy Chardy – a good way to ease back into competition. Nadal looked to be at times favoring his foot during a practice session with Juan Monaco earlier today. He will be available to the media on Sunday and we’ll try to get some more info on that.

Nadal could have fellow-Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round while a quarter-final against Berdych, the 7th seed, seems possible. Berdych will have to contend with Alexandr Dolgopolov perhaps in round two and Gilles Simon in round three. Any of those three players could equally emerge to face Nadal.

Ok, if you’re looking for picks here I’m going to choose the predictable route. How can you not after the way the top-four have been playing? Djokovic has been on fire all year long with the exception of his one loss to Federer in Paris, so he’s almost a sure-shot to make it to the semis. Federer has a great draw and I’m certain he’s itching for another crack at Tsonga. A Djokovic/Federer hard-court semi-final will be the dream of fans and tournament organizers alike here in Montreal. I think they’ll get it.

On the other side, Murray’s performance in the past in Canada and the lead-up to the U.S. Open is well known and should continue. Fish has played a lot of tennis this summer and might not be able to put in 110% with some lingering soreness from Los Angeles. I’d pick Murray over him even if Fish was feeling perfectly rested.

Nadal is giving me some doubts with his behavior in practice today. If his body holds up then you have to think he’ll be in the final four as well, but if not look for Simon or Berdych to take his place instead.

Djokovic taking down Murray in the finals is the best you’ll get out of me. Regardless, we’re about to have a fantastic week of top-level tennis from the fabulous city of Montreal. Enjoy the Rogers Cup everyone and let the speculation for the U.S. Open begin!

 

Rogers Cup: Novak Djokovic speaks

Appearing to be quite well rested and in good humor as well, new world number one Novak Djokovic met with the press in Montreal to do some pre-tournament coverage for the Rogers Cup.

Limited by time constraints to only a few questions, it was tough to get in-depth with the Serbian star. He did briefly touch upon life as the top player in the world and his outlook on the first big summer event leading up to the U.S. Open.

Djokovic sounded quite level-headed about his new status at the top of the rankings. When asked how it might change him he replied, “Well I try not to change anything in particular, I’ve tried to keep the things very simple the way I have practiced and the way I have approached my tennis career in general up to the moment where I was number one. And from this moment was the same. So, it is true that some things change. The world is maybe treating me differently but I treat myself and my team exactly the same.”

It’s obviously too soon to really say how his new status might affect him since he has yet to play any tournaments since reaching the pinnacle of the sport. It will be very interesting to watch how he handles himself now that there is a giant target painted to his back. Even though he has been ranked in the top-three for what seems like an eternity, there’s a different twist to being above everyone else.

The scrum got a bit of a laugh when Djokovic was asked if it was difficult to stay on top. The poor guy hasn’t even had a chance to defend any points since he took the pole position from Nadal.

“That is something that I will find out,” he said with a grin, “and hopefully that I can stay as long as I can. I will try to go the distance but it’s definitely not going to be easy.”

Djokovic did not reveal too many specifics when I asked him about his post-Wimbledon celebrations but did mention that he found the time to celebrate, “in the Serbian way.” What does this actually mean? For Djokovic it meant, “A lot of fun, a lot of dancing and things like that.”

After building so much momentum over the first six months of the season, Novak talked about how the five week post-Wimbledon break might affect his progression in a season that has seen him go a remarkable 48-1. He chose to focus on the positive in his answer instead of dwelling on how it might bring him back down to earth.

“Well look, you know, I think the break came at the right time for me and for most of the top players. We’ve had an exhausting six months of the year, especially myself. I’ve played so many matches and I was very successful, I cannot complain, you know, but right now I have recharged my batteries and I am ready for the upcoming couple of months.”

With a first round bye and the forecast calling for steady rain in Montreal for the next few days, it might not be until Wednesday before we see how the time off has treated Novak’s game. He opens against the winner of Nikolay Davydenko and a qualifier.

One last bit of Novak info is that he did reveal that he will be entered in the doubles draw with fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic. There will not be a repeat of last year’s partnership with Nadal as their rivalry has truly risen to another level in 2011.

The Stories that weren’t

Now that it’s officially the off-season, which is all of one month long, you’ve probably seen many many retrospectives and “Best [insert tennis topic here] of 2010” lists. So, instead of doing my own “best of” this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the 2010 storylines that didn’t quite pan out.

It’s Finally Andy Roddick’s Year

The Rationale: Last year, Andy Roddick took part in one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals of all time. At 27, most people thought his chances of winning a second Grand Slam were slim, but he powered through the field, defeating hometown favorite Andy Murray in a great four set semifinal. Just like 2004 and 2005, Roddick would face Roger Federer in the final; however, unlike those two times, Andy went after the title with a vengeance, giving us an epic fifth set. Well, a 16-14 fifth set was epic before Isner-Mahut and for a championship match I still consider it pretty incredible. Anyway, we all know how that turned out. Poor Andy went home empty handed once again. Even though he didn’t win, reporters jumped at the idea that Andy was on the right track. So, when Andy posted a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open and backed that up with a finalist appearance at Indian Wells and a win in Miami during the US hardcourt season, a lot of people felt that he was on track to finally win Wimbledon.

The Reality: Unfortunately Roddick crashed out to Yen-Hsun Lu in the 4th round of Wimbledon. After losing in the round of 16 at Legg Mason in early August, Andy fell out of the top 10, leaving no Americans in the top 10 for the first time since the ranking system was instituted. He later confirmed that he was suffering from mononucleosis and had to skip the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The disappointments continued when he lost in the 2nd round of the US Open to Janko Tipsarevic. Then, he was forced to retire from his 2nd round match in Shanghai. However, Andy worked incredibly hard in Basel and Paris to salvage his spot in an eighth consecutive year end championship and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

Nadal’s Winning Ways Are Over

The Rationale: Rafael Nadal is pretty much the King of the French Open and in 2009, for the first time since he started participating, he didn’t take home the trophy. In fact, Nadal lost rather shockingly to Robin Soderling in the 4th round. Suffering from tendonitis in both knees, Rafa was unable to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title and eventually lost in the semifinals at the 2009 US Open. Rafa failed to defend his Australian Open title after being forced to retire in the quarterfinals against Andy Murray. Nadal’s last title came in Rome in April of 2009. By April 2010, he still hadn’t won a single title.

The Reality: Nearly one year after his title in Rome, Rafa decimated Fernando Verdasco in the Monte Carlo final. Proving his Monte Carlo title was no fluke, Nadal blew through the clay court season, winning Rome and Madrid, and capping it all off with his fifth French Open title. After that, Rafa went on to win his second Wimbledon title and completed a career Grand Slam at the US Open. After a slow start to the year, 2010 actually ended up being all about Rafael Nadal.

Justine Henin’s Magical Comeback

The Rationale: After a two year retirement, Kim Clijsters came back to win the 2009 US Open in just her third tournament back from retirement. So, when Justine Henin announced that she too would be returning to professional tennis, the expectations were high. Not to disappoint, Henin defeated Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, and Zheng Jie en route to the Australian Open final. She lost to Serena Williams in three sets, but was off to a good start considering this was her second tournament back from retirement. She reached the semifinals at the Sony Ericsson Open in March before losing to compatriot Kim Clijsters in three sets, but managed to crack the top 25 after starting the season unranked.

The Reality: Justine has won the French Open four times, but fell to Sam Stosur in the 4th round of this year’s tournament. No matter, Justine had mentioned that the purpose of her comeback was to finally win Wimbledon. Justine is a two time finalist and three time semifinalist at the grass court tournament and it is the only trophy keeping her from completing a career Grand Slam. Henin was seeded 17th by the start of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships but was set on a course to meet fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the 4th round. It was one of the most anticipated match ups of the tournament and Kim prevailed in three sets. The real disaster was not the loss, but a fall Justine took in the first set. After sustaining an elbow injury, she was forced to end her season after her Wimbledon loss. Henin is set to return to tennis at the Hopman Cup in January, and this story may very well become relevant again.

Ernests Gulbis Is Ending His Slacker Ways

The Rationale: Ernests Gulbis is only 22, but he’s already compiled quite a reputation on tour for having lots of untapped talent, but little motivation. Some days he looks absolutely inspired and some days he looks anything but. However, 2010 started off as a great year for the young Latvian. In February he reached the semifinals at the Regions Morgan Keegan event in Memphis and went on to win his first ATP title at Delray Beach. At the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Gulbis reached his first semifinal at an ATP Masters 1000 event. The real story from Rome was that Gulbis beat World No. 1 Roger Federer in the second round. While he eventually lost the semifinal to Rafael Nadal, he was the first player to win a set against Rafa in the 2010 clay season.

The Reality: Gulbis was forced to retire in the first round of first round of the French Open and skipped out on this year’s Wimbledon. He proceeded to lose in the first round of the US Open as well. Articles popped up everywhere in May about Gulbis’ new dedication to tennis, but as soon as he started losing consistently again, those articles were nowhere to be found. He ended the year without progressing past the 1st round of any major. However, he did manage to finish the season at a career high No. 24.

Clearly this is just a small sampling of the stories that weren’t quite right. We aren’t psychic so journalists can only go off the information they have at hand. All of these stories made sense at the time but fortunes change and injuries occur. Since this is certainly not a comprehensive list, feel free to send me some of your favorite false stories of 2010.

Caroline Wozniacki Talks

After the exciting match between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova, which Caroline won in straight sets 6-2, 7-5,  Wozniacki sat down with  Next Contenders for an exclusive interview.

Here is an excerpt of the interview and you can find the article at American Express’ NextContenders.com

Sweet Caroline did it again on Wednesday night, knocking out her quarterfinals opponent, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, in just two sets 6 2, 7 5, and continuing her impressive run of not dropping a single set at the Open, despite the windy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I’m happy to be through definitely, it was a tough one,” Caroline told me when we caught up after the match. “The wind was not easy to cope with. It was just about getting it in. I wasn’t really thinking to place it anywhere special, I was just thinking about getting it in. But a win is a win and I’m happy to be through to the semifinals.”

Next up, Caroline faces seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who she beat in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month in straight sets, and who also made it to the finals of Wimbledon this year.

“She’s a tough player. She’s a good competitor,” Caroline said. “She takes the ball and really tries to be aggressive all the time. So it’s going to be a tough match.”

Of course, Caroline’s game has improved greatly since her last Open, which she’s not shy about admitting. “I definitely think I’m a better player now than I was before,” she said, to which I asked how exactly she upped her game.

“Well, the fitness definitely has been a big part of it— boxing, running, a lot of cardio. I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been, I think, and that’s helped me to get into the right positions for my shots and that’s a good feeling to know that you can just continue.”

And they also provided us with some great videos:

Caroline Wozniacki – Language lessons and loose lips

Caroline on being the face of Stella McCartney’s Adidas line

Caroline says hello to the city of New York

What to wear? The fashionable Caroline Wozniacki tells us what it takes to win it all