semi finals

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London Ready for Grand Tennis Finale

Roger Federer

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was dragging myself out of bed nice and early ready and eager for the Australian Open to kick off. Ten months later and the 2010 tennis season is ready to draw to a close.

There is much talk at the moment about the shortening of the tennis calendar. In return for a longer winter break to recuperate, many tournament organisers want a halt put to the money-spinning off-season exhibitions which many stars partake in.

If such plans go ahead, then these ATP Finals will become THE final say in the tennis season, but maybe at an earlier date. As it is, mid-November is the time for the top eight players from the last forty-odd weeks to battle it out for the final big scalp of the year.

While many argue that the lineup picks itself, there is always a surprise and who would have placed David Ferrer or Tomas Berdych in the mix at this point last year? We take a look at the eight hopefuls and run the rule over their chances of finishing the year on the highest of highs.

Group A:

Rafa Nadal:

Finished the year as the world No. 1 and waded in to the “GOAT” debate after finalising the career Grand Slam with victory, at last, at Flushing Meadows. He has nine Majors, has reached the semi finals of this tournament in 2006 and 2007 and holds an Olympic Gold from Beijing.

He is many people’s favourite for London and rightly so. However, his form has been a little erratic since that victory in New York and many still question his ability compared to Federer’s on the hard courts.

However, doubt Rafa at your peril. The man also equalled Andre Agassi’s record of 17 ATP Masters titles this year and is more than adept at bringing his A-game when it really matters. But the bookies acknowledge that Rafa has never won this tournament so he is installed as 3/1 second favourite.

2010 Titles: Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, Tokyo

2010 Finals: Doha

Novak Djokovic:

The nearly man. Since that 2008 Australian Open it just hasn’t quite happened for the Serb who has often been derided for his collapses on court and his perceived exaggeration of injuries to escape tricky opponents early.

While his on-court manner has undoubtedly toughened and the tears and early exits are becoming less of a problem he still has not secured that second major. His big enemy continues to be consistency. That dramatic victory over Federer in the US Open semis succeeded by a rather empty performance in the final against Rafa due to fatigue.

The two-time French Open finalist won this tournament in 2008 and after a relatively quiet period following Flushing Meadows maybe he is rested enough to quietly negotiate his way to a second triumph, leading to perhaps that second major? He is the 4/1 third favourite.

2010 Titles: Dubai, Beijing,

2010 Finals: US Open, Basel

Tomas Berdych:

Despite complaining about the increased pressure which followed his Wimbledon finals appearance it has been a great year for Czech star Tomas Berdych. The 25-year-old reached a career-high No. 6 in October as well as that first Slam final at SW19.

He also reached the semifinals at the French and is debuting in the end-of-year Championships. His fast pace and aggressive play is sure to delight the locals that got behind him back in the summer although winning this may be a step too far.

The only man here not to lift a title in 2010, Berdych is available at 25/1, placed last alongside Ferrer.

2010 Titles: none

2010 Finals: Miami, Wimbledon

Andy Roddick:

It has been a fairly difficult year for A-Rod who has battled with losses of form as well as illness throughout the season. But the 2003 US Open winner looks back to full fitness and with three semifinals placings in these championships he is somebody with the experience to repeat that feat.

With the likes of John Isner, Sam Querrey and a rejuvenated Mardy Fish challenging his placement as America’s No. 1, Roddick will have to remain at the top of his game to keep ahead of the pack and what better way to do that than victory here?

However, he only qualified due to Verdasco’s end-of-year collapse and lost some big matches to the likes of Soderling and Federer who he would need to beat here if he was to see success. Roddick is available at 20/1 with only Berdych and Ferrer below him.

2010 Titles: Brisbane, Miami

2010 Finals: San Jose, Indian Wells

Group B:

Roger Federer:

With critics questioning his temperament after squandering five match points against Gael Monfils at Paris it is up to R-Fed to shut them up as he has continually throughout his glittering career.

Statistically the greatest of all time, Federer lifted the Australian Open in January but has failed to reach a Grand Slam final since. But who would be stupid enough to bet against the man who has 16 Grand Slams and four ATP Finals to his name?

However, Federer hasn’t won this trophy since 2007 which shows the competition at the top of the sport. Even so, he is still the favourite with the bookies at 5/2. Could it be a return to form?

2010 Titles: Australian Open, Cincinnati, Stockholm, Basel

2010 Finals: Madrid, Halle, Toronto, Shanghai

Andy Murray:

The wait for the Grand Slam continues as he defeated Federer in two of the three finals they met in this year but the important one, Australia, was taken by the Swiss.

Murray made the semifinals of this tournament in 2008 and will hope to go one better, but the latter half of 2010 has not been too good for the Scotsman. A shock loss to Stanlislas Wawrinka at the US Open has been followed by some not-too-flattering results across Asia and Europe, Shanghai aside.

But with the home crowd behind him you cannot dispel him as the British public have helped roar him to two Wimbledon semifinals before this. Murray is available at 9/2.

2010 Titles: Toronto, Shanghai

2010 Finals: Australian Open, Los Angeles

Robin Soderling:

The pantomime villain of tennis, nobody can argue with Soderling’s ability on a court. Always there or thereabouts in the major tournaments nobody likes to play him.

You never know which Soderling is going to turn up though and every great defeat can be matched to a despairing loss throughout his career. He will be hoping the former turns up as he did in Paris last week.

The two-time French Open finalist has also reached the semifinals here and will be looking to go one further. Soderling is available at 10/1.

2010 Titles: Rotterdam, Paris

2010 Finals: Barcelona, French Open, Bastad

David Ferrer:

As he showed by turning up in a grey suit to Downing Street while everyone else wore black you just cannot ignore David Ferrer. As this year’s last minute late surger in to the finals everybody will be looking elsewhere for a winner. But as a successful 2010 clay season showed he can beat anyone.

Spanish players are so many that they have to perform at the highest level consistently to remain above the parapet. Ferrer has done so. While only reaching one Grand Slam semi final he lost the 2007 ATP Tour Final to Roger Federer and nobody will relish playing him.

Placing him at 25/1 alongside Berdych shows the bookies have little faith in him but this will not bother the diminutive star one bit.

2010 Titles: Acapulco, Valencia

2010 Finals: Rome, Beijing

Dementieva’s Shock Retirement, Clijsters wins in Doha and ATP Finals Chase is on

Kim Clijsters

*29-year-old world No. 9 Elena Dementieva has shocked the tennis world by announcing that she will retire from the sport following the WTA Championships in Doha. She reached the finals of the French and US Opens in 2004 as well as the semi finals in Australia (2009), Wimbledon (2008, 2009) and at the WTA Chmps. (2000, 2008) whilst also holding both an Olympic Gold (Beijing) and Silver (Sydney) medal. In 2005 she starred for Russia in their Fed Cup triumph and currently stands as their most successful competitor ever in the competition and in 2009 she reached a career-high No. 3 in the world. But she says it was at the beginning of the year she made her decision and that, despite her family’s best attempts, she’s sticking to her guns. “This is my last tournament,” she told the Doha crowd after her group-stage defeat to Francesca Schiavone. “Thank you to all of the people that I have worked with for such a long time. I would like to thank all of the players for an amazing experience. It’s very emotional. I would like to thank all of the people around the world for supporting me through my career. And I would like to thank my family, especially my mum.” For more from Dementieva as well as reaction from her fellow pros visit the BBC Tennis website as well as the WTA site.

*Belgian super mum Kim Clijsters defeated Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki to lift the WTA Championships for the third time in Doha. The 27-year-old fought to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory despite having not played since lifting the US Open at Flushing Meadows back in September. “I’m glad I won and it must be disappointing for Caroline, but I don’t know how many more years I’m going to keep doing this,” said Clijsters. “It was just a great battle, great fitness and I think we showed the crowd some great women’s tennis.” Wozniacki said: “This has been a fantastic week for me. Kim just played amazing today and she deserves to win. In the third set it was very close. She played really well, especially in the important moments. Definitely the experience mattered a little bit today.” Gisela Dulko and Flavia Penetta won the doubles.

*The men’s season isn’t quite over yet but time is seriously running out for the remaining hopefuls looking to qualify for the ATP Finals in London later this month. Andy Roddick returned from a three-week layoff in Basel and defeated compatriot Sam Querrey 7-5, 7-6(6) to keep up his finals charge but there was not such good news for Tomas Berdych and Fernando Verdasco. Over at Valencia, Verdasco lost to Frenchman Gilles Simon in just fifty-seven minutes which deals a major blow to his finals hopes. Simon was on fire, winning an astonishing 81% of points off of his first serve. It was even worse for Wimbledon finalist Berdych. He went down 4-6, 1-6 in Basel to German lucky loser Tobias Kamke and now his qualification chances will be severely dented too.

*There’s an early Davis Cup final setback for France as world No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has withdrawn from the squad to face Serbia due to his recurring knee problems. He ruptured his tendon once more playing at Montpellier last week having only returned to action a few weeks previously. The 2008 Aussie Open finalist will also miss the Paris Masters next week where he would have been hoping to push his way in to the ATP World Tour Finals to be held in London later this month.

*Great scenes in St. Petersburg last week as world No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin humbled top seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6(2) to break his ATP Tour title duck. “For me it’s just incredible, this feeling, because I never think that I can win a tournament right now because I was ranked around 90,” he said. “When I came here I didn’t think I can even play quarter-finals, semis here. I was just concentrating on every match.” It was also his first final on the tour. A full interview with the Kazakhstani star can be seen at the ATP website.

*Caroline Wozniacki of course had already secured her berth as the year-ending world No. 1 but what did Doha mean for the rest? Kim Clijsters’ win has seen her climb back to No. 3 in the world meaning Serena finds herself sat at No. 4 as her injury woes continue. Aussie Sam Stosur finds herself back at No. 6 while much further down the scale, Croatia’s Karolina Sprem finds herself back up to No. 97 in the world having sat at 106 last week.

*The Christophe Rochus doping row has taken the interest of many tennis fans this week and it once again brings tennis in to contact with that horrible term and concept. There is an interesting debate on the issue over at Tennis.com between Steve Tignor and Kamakshi Tandon.

*Ana Ivanovic and coach Heinz Gunthardt have parted ways despite Ana’s recent resurgence. Gunthardt couldn’t commit to a full-time coaching role and Ana has decided to find somebody who will be able to follow her more permanently.

*It’s retirement central currently with American Taylor Dent hinting he may quit if results begin to slip. After overcoming terrible back injuries over the past few years the former world No. 21 has been fighting to climb the ladder again and save his career. “If I feel like I’m making headway, I’ll keep going,” Dent told the Charlottesville Daily Progress ahead of this week’s Charlottesville challenger. “If not—if I’m floundering or taking steps backward—then I’ll make that decision [to retire] sooner rather than later.”

*Another American is talking pipes and slippers, this time Rennae Stubbs. She says she plans to call time on her career in February after the Aussie Open and America’s Fed Cup tie against Italy. “If we win [in] Fed Cup and get to the semis, there’s a small possibility that I’d still like to be a part of that journey, having been on the train for so long,”’ the 39-year-old doubles specialist told the Melbourne Age. “But the plan is that Fed Cup will probably be it.”

*Dustin Brown is now competing under the German flag, having earlier represented Jamaica and expressing interest in representing Great Britain. He has clashed with the Jamaican tennis authorities over a perceived lack of support and famously travelled between tournaments in a camper van to save funds. He was born in Germany to a German mother and Jamaican father.

*There has been a lot of fuss made this past week about the fact that Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt announced the name of his new baby daughter via a paid-for text message service which fans could subscribe too. Hewitt, of course, is defending his “service” available to fans but many of the world’s press think badly of the venture. Although the argument is a little old now, there is a great tongue-in-cheek article on The Star website looking at the whole debacle from a typically Aussie perspective. Check it out, it’s a good read!

Around the corner: Baghdatis is the top seed in New Haven

Only a week to go before the final Grand Slam of 2010 and there is one last stop on the tour before we get to Flushing Meadows. This week offers the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven where Marcos Baghdatis is the number one seed. The ATP World Tour 250 level tourney offers some lower ranked players a chance to get some match play in before the U.S. Open. While it is often a gamble to play so close to the start of the Open, it is a necessary chance that some struggling players must take in order to gain some much needed momentum.

After having a quiet mid-season stretch up until August, Baghdatis has rediscovered the game that brought him to his only Grand Slam final in Australia in 2006. He made the finals in Washington where he lost to David Nalbandian and then the semi-finals this past week in Cincinnati where he was defeated by Roger Federer. I’m a bit surprised that Baghdatis is going to play this week as he has had plenty of matches under his belt recently. Maybe he simply does not want to lose any of the progress he has been making.

Other players in his section of the draw to lookout for are Sergiy Stakhovsky and Taylor Dent. The Ukrainian Stakhovsky has been quiet of late, but did win a grass court tournament in June in the Netherlands. Dent meanwhile, continues to make small improvements in his game and played a tough match against Rafael Nadal in Cincy last week where he fell in the second round. Either one could emerge from this quarter of the draw in New Haven, especially if Baghdatis pulls out.

Mardy Fish is supposed to be the fourth seed but I would be absolutely shocked if he played. Appearing in the finals in Cincy on Sunday and playing six matches in seven days is too much tennis to then push it the week before a Slam. That leaves Germany’s Michael Berrer as the likeliest candidate to emerge from this section of the draw. The big serving Berrer impressed me in Toronto two weeks ago with his powerful game and had promising results on hard courts earlier in the season.

On the other side of the tournament we might get an intriguing second round encounter between rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov and struggling American veteran James Blake. Dolgopolov is the youngest player in the top one hundred in the world and possesses a very diverse game and lethal first serve. Blake has had a summer from hell and most recently was bounced in the first round in Cincinnati by Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-0. I pick Dolgopolov as a good darkhorse selection to be the eventual champion in New Haven

Fernando Gonzalez is also in this quarter, and the third seed is arguably the most talented player in the entire draw. Coming back from a left calf injury, it will be interesting to see how he handles himself.

The final quarter in New Haven has Xavier Malisse and second seeded Tomaz Bellucci as the favorites. I liked Malisse’s chances given his experience and hard-court talent.

Regardless of who advances this week, there will be a new champion in New Haven. Defending champion Fernando Verdasco is not present this year, allowing somebody else to hoist the trophy. While I wouldn’t put any faith in the eventual winner to go deep in New York, it could give them some confidence to at least win a few rounds and trouble some of the big guys.

Top Four Players Advance to Rogers Cup Semi-Finals

The top four players in the world took to the court today in Toronto offering fans a terrific line-up of ATP action. By the end of the day, they did not disappoint.

During the day session reality set for David Nalbandian as his career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian’s ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. It was a case of too much tennis in a short period of time as he admitted to after the match.

“I feel a little tired for all the weeks, for the last week and this one, and I didn’t get a rest,” Nalbandian said.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I’d have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.

On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week’s time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet Rafael Nadal a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second match of the day.

Nadal struggled in making the transition to the daytime session as his previous two singles and one doubles match have come after sun-set.

Kohlschreiber stunned the crowd by taking the first set 6-3 and utilizing his one-handed backhand to his advantage.

As he so often does, Nadal fought back hard in the second set and broke early to go up 2-0. The Spaniard always seems to find a way to play his best when he is behind in a match or even within a specific point. He turns his defence into offence just when you think he might be on the edge of losing. He pulled the match even at one set apiece and there was little doubt at that point that he would continue towards the finish line.

Kohlschreiber was having success when he would come to the net and pressure Nadal to hit a perfect passing shot, but unfortunately for the German he chose that strategy to few times during this match. As his backhand began wavering, Nadal broke him for a 4-3 lead and eventually won on triple match point when a Kohlschreiber backhand hit the net. The final score was 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the evening session, the match of the day on paper and in execution was clearly the Wimbledon re-match between Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer.

With the suddenly confident Czech having won their last two encounters, the buzz around the press room was leaning towards a Berdych victory.

While Roger has gotten past Juan Ignacio Chela and Michael Llodra with relative ease this week, they represent a cake-walk for a player of Roger’s calibre. Tonight was the true test of where Federer’s game is at and the result would have an enormous impact on his chances moving forward to the U.S. Open.

Should Federer win it would represent a confidence boost for him personally and also for the media with regards to his chances at taking a run at his second Slam of the season. Another loss to Berdych and he would have been taken to task for another missed opportunity and as a glimpse into his continued decline. Talk about pressure!

Federer played wonderfully in the first set mixing up his shots and appearing as composed as ever. For his part, Berdych was struggling with his serve, and ended up down 0-30 during each of his four service games. Mentally he appeared to be totally unprepared for the match.

Tape on his left knee and thigh made me wonder if he was struggling with the physical part of his game as well. That injury – which he would not discuss following the match – was sustained yesterday in his third round victory over Alex Dolgopolov.

Just when it looked liked the old Roger was back, things turned in Berdych’s favour. He finally had an easy hold to take the first game of the set and generally began to serve a much higher first serve percentage. Midway through the set the impact of Berdych’s groundstrokes was also felt across the net for the first time in the match.

At 5-6 and after several tenuous holds for the world No. 3, Federer would double-fault twice en-route to handing the second-set to Berdych.

Things then fell apart quickly for the Swiss player in the third set. Federer had a crucial chance when Berdych was serving at 1-1, 0-40, but he squandered all three break points. As is so often the case in tennis, Federer then came out and was unable to hold his own serve following his golden opportunity. Berdych then held serve and before the crowd could comprehend what was happening it was 4-1.

With Federer serving at 2-5, the crowd tried its best to inspire their hero. As one fan aptly screamed, “this is Roger’s Cup!”

A rare chant of, “Don’t give up Berdych” was followed by, “Give up Berdych!”

Federer held his serve and then it was up to Berdych to close it out while serving at 5-3. Instead, Berdych allowed Federer a total of four break point chances in that game, and on the fourth one he hit a forehand wide which sent the crowd into a frenzy as Federer was suddenly back from the dead.

A final set tiebreak was then upon us and Roger mounted a 4-0 lead before faltering and allowing Berdych to tie it all up at 5 apiece.

A Berdych backhand then gave Federer his first match point at 5-6. Berdych was serving on the next point but it didn’t matter as Federer pressured him into sending the ball long. Miraculously Federer avoided his third successive defeat against Berdych but it sure was close.

The usually polite Canadian crowd got a bit unruly at times throughout the match. Serving at 0-4 in the tie break, someone yelled just as Berdych was about to serve, “Berdych are you nervous?”

Asked about it after the match, Berdych was unwilling to make up excuses or use the crowd’s intimidation as a crutch.

“…it’s all right. I’m happy that so many people just come to see, and they were enjoying, so just let them enjoy, and that’s it,” he concluded.

The final match of the night was unfortunately a dud as Novak Djokovic sent Jeremy Chardy packing 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and twelve minutes. If only all of the Serb’s matches could be played in such cool conditions.

The day’s results allow Canada to have the top four players in the world in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup for the first time in tournament history.

The Nadal/Murray match goes Saturday at 3pm and the Federer/Djokovic will be at 7pm.

While the Soderling’s and Berdych’s of the world are making the top-ten more competitive this year, the top-four are showing us this week that they are still the serious contenders for the final Slam of the season.

Check back soon for semi-final analysis and of course you can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

Photos by Bob McIntyre © 2010.

Berdych, Nalbandian and Federer All Prevail At Rogers Cup

Roger Federer

The day session has wrapped-up here at the Rogers Cup on Thursday and the tournament has been fortunate thus far to avoid any major upsets. While there have been some tense moments and momentum swings that could have progressed to that level, things are still on course for the anticipated Nadal/Murray and Djokovic/Federer semi-finals this weekend. In the meantime here are a few quick hits from the action today.

Comebacks:

David Nalbandian is certainly making some waves since returning from yet another injury layoff. Today he beat Robin Soderling 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 for his 11th consecutive win. A brief lapse in concentration where he double-faulted twice in a row while trying to serve for the first set at 4-5 would ultimately cause Nalbandian to lose the opening frame. After that he seemed to regain control of the match and breezed in the third set past the 5th ranked player in the world.

It would be hard to categorize the result as an upset, despite the fact that Soderling has been quite consistent over the past year. Nalbandian lead their head-to-head 5-1 coming into the match today and has the game that can hang with the Swede shot for shot.

Future-Stars:

Lookout for Alex Dolgopolov folks, this kid has got some serious game. Appearing small in stature today against the 6’5” Tomas Berdych, Dolgopolov nearly toppled the giant by using a wide variety of shot selection and never appearing to be in awe of the 2010 Wimbledon finalist.

The youngest member of the top one hundred players in the world at age 21, Dolgopolov is a player on the rise. You wouldn’t have guessed that he was playing in his first hard court tournament since early February and I’m somewhat confused as to why he has seemingly avoided playing on the surface for so long.

This week in Toronto he managed to lose the first set in all three of his matches. Against both Philipp Petzschner and Mikhail Youzhny he failed to show up in the opening frame and fell 1-6 each time. In the second set he suddenly sprung to life against all of his opponents and especially today against Berdych where his first serve appeared to be unable to miss.

Dolgopolov’s serve is one of his real strengths as it is almost impossible to read. His toss is non-existent and he makes contact with the ball while it is still on the rise.

Also on the rise is the young Ukrainian’s ranking which since January 2009 has lept from 309th in the world to its current position at No. 49.

The variety in Dolgopolov’s game is what has impressed me the most this week. This is not your typical baseline basher and I would imagine all of his time playing on clay courts has helped develop this aspect of his play. Well timed drop-shots and lobs are a regular part of his repertoire, and his backhand slice is also quite lethal.

Against Berdych it appeared as though a final set tie-break would be required to settle the score, but Dolgopolov made a couple of tactical errors when serving at 4-5. He chose a poor time to approach the net and watched a Berdych shot whiz by him for 0-30. Berdych then charged the net during the following point which appeared to throw Dolgopolov off and force an error for 0-40. Then, in the ultimate disappointment, Dolgopolov had two first-serve lets, before double faulting to hand the match to Berdych, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4.

Still, winning two rounds at a Masters level tournament will give Dolgopolov a few ranking points that should help him progress towards the top-thirty. While I doubt a seeding at the U.S. Open is in the works, Dolgopolov will likely be on the list of players most would rather avoid at Flushing Meadows.

I’ll be keeping an eye on his progression the rest of the year and would encourage anyone attending any ATP tournaments to make the effort to check this guy out. Watching an up and coming player like Dolgopolov on the outside courts is a treat you can talk about one day if he makes it big.

Having Some Fun:

Finally, for fans looking for some good ol’ fashioned serve and volleying with a side of the absurd, look no further than the Centre Court match that took place between Roger Federer and Michael Llodra.

These two apparently have quite a friendly history from their junior days when they were both very familiar with each others games. Since that time they have only played one professional match prior to today, and that came back in 1999 at a Challenger tournament in France where Federer prevailed in straight sets. The result was the same today with Roger winning 7-6, 6-3.

Llodra didn’t manage to take a set from the world No. 3 player, but he did walk off with his shirt. The Frenchman asked Federer for it at the end of the match and revealed that he did it because, “You know, for me, you know, Rogers is (a) legend, so it’s a good present for my kids.”

After fighting back in the first set and recovering from being down a break, Federer cruised in the tie-break while Llodra seemed to implode with a variety of double-faults, poorly executed drop shots and volleys that missed the mark as well.

In the second set when it appeared inevitable that Federer would take the match, Llodra even tried to surprise him with a rarely seen underhanded serve.

Asked if he had ever done that before, Llodra replied, “Yeah. But not in the match!”

Federer was all smiles in the post-match press conference where he revealed that, “It’s the first time I got an underarm serve; third time somebody asked me for the shirt.”

The light-hearted questions continued for Federer as he was later asked about the pink shirt he’s sporting this week here in competition.

“I don’t know where my head was when I chose pink, but I like it, you know. Honestly I’ve gotten a lot of praise for it. People apparently like it…so that’s a good thing. It’s only for, unfortunately or luckily, only for two tournaments because I’m going to be changing again for the Open, and I thought it was going to be something fun for the summer. That’s kind of how it goes.”

Roger will be hoping that his fun summer includes another U.S. Open title in September. His first true test since returning from a six week layoff will be tomorrow night at 7pm ET as he faces Berdych in a re-match of their Wimbledon quarter-final tilt that was won by the Czech.

Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand for full coverage of that match and the other quarter-finals as well.

The LA Open Day Five

Sam Querrey

Quarterfinal day at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles and the big names were all tested. Querrey, the defending champion, not known for his ability to muster comebacks, and has yet to prove that he has the heart of a potential champion, looked to be on the brink of defeat against German senior citizen Rainer Scheuttler. Rainer’s biggest run at a tournament came in 2008 when he climbed the ladder of impossibility and made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon losing to a red hot Rafa in straights. Since then, the icy German has been culminating some matches in the win column demanding respect from all the players on tour; a bona fide danger opponent swimming through the draws.

Querrey, who looks as though he would have fit perfectly as a member of the Beach Boys, slumbered around the court with a Kermit the Frog mouth that is perpetually shaped in a half smile, won the first set decisively, utilizing his big serve and capitalizing on break opportunities. He looked to be too much for the German. I expected the second set to be a repeat. But I was wrong again, as I have been for most of this tournament. Scheuttler gained some rhythm and began to feel out Querrey’s serve, and broke the top seeded American, leveling the match at a set a piece. Scheuttler continued to pound pressure on the American’s serve and had a perfect opportunity late in the third to close out the match. Then the ever elusive mistress of momentum shifted once again, as Querrey fought back. “I was pretty frustrated the whole time, but I did a great job of playing the 5-4 and 6-5 games,” said Querrey. “I played great points on those games and really battled back well.” The world no. 20 Querrey gained a mini-break lead in the third and took the match. He will next face Tipsarevic in the semis.

Andy Murray faced a trial on Friday night when he faced a streaky player, possibly a future top twenty player, Alejandro Falla who bounced back Thursday after being down a set to upset Ernests Gulbis. The top seeded Murray entered the Farmers Classic with his very first visit to the City of Angels, and has played both his matches under the lights. The first set was tight, with both players feeling each other out. Falla told reporters yesterday, when asked what he thought his chances were against the world number four, that he felt good about his chance to beat the top Brit. “I know I can play against these type of players. I played great against Federer at Wimbledon.” It appeared that Falla was intimidated by the spotlight and almost edged out Murray, who saved three set points to finally take the first set in a tiebreaker. The second seat was a steam roll, as Falla showed signs of fatigue, being run around the court by the craft and variety of Murray, who slammed the second set 6-1. “I feel much better than I did yesterday,” said Murray. “I had the same sort of thing earlier in this year after the Australian Open when I didn’t play for a few weeks. Then I played in Dubai, I was really sore after the first match, and then each match after that I started to feel a lot better. Hopefully that’ll be the case here.” Murray will next play Feliciano Lopez in the semi-finals, someone he has beaten twice in a row. The odds are in favor of a Querrey vs. Murray final, but don’t ask me. The way this tournament is going I need to take my crystal ball to the mechanic.

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

Nikolay Davydenko

With the short grass court season already over, the ATP Tour turns to a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe this week.

Stuttgart:

The chance at redemption to a multitude of players who have missed significant portions of the tennis season due to injury is offered at Stuttgart this year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Stuttgart and will try to improve on his semi-final appearances here in 2004 and 2005. Ranked sixth in the world, Davydenko is still struggling with his game since returning from a wrist injury in June. After missing three months he returned in time for Halle and Wimbledon and lost both times in the second round on his least favorite surface of grass. Davydenko gets a first round bye and will then play the winner of the Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jeremy Chardy match. Chardy won his first career title here a year ago but will be hard-pressed to repeat.

Frenchman Gael Monfils is seeded third and has a fairly easy looking quarter of the draw that is littered with qualifiers. Monfils also missed some time earlier in the year with injury issues and has yet to post any significant results in 2010. This tournament offers the perfect opportunity for Monfils to reach his first final of the season.

Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could meet up with veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third quarter-final. Simon will be have trouble living up to this seventh-seed status as he too was out of action for three months between March and June with injuries and is not yet where his game is capable of being.

In the final quarter, clay-court specialist Albert Montanes the fifth seed will likely meet up with second seeded Jurgen Melzer if they can get through the opening two rounds. Melzer is experiencing the season of his career thus far at the age of 29 by making it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Austrian had never before advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

Bastad:

In Bastad, Sweden, local hope Robin Soderling will look to defend his title from a year ago. Soderling was the first Swede to win the singles title in Bastad since his current coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000.

Third seeded David Ferrer won the title in 2007 and is still capable of strong results on clay. This year he has won the title in Acapulco, made the finals of Buenos Aires and the Masters-Series tournament in Rome as well as the semi-finals of four other tournaments.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fourth and is an able clay-court player. His section seems quite routine and he should be able to find his way deep into the draw.

The bottom quarter features two tough players from Spain in veteran Tommy Robredo, who has won the Bastad title twice before (2006, 2008), and second seeded Fernando Verdasco. Robredo holds a 23-7 career record at this tournament and has a 4-4 head-to-head against Verdasco.

One interesting note when looking at the list of former doubles champions is that Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won here on seven separate occasions and with six different partners.

Venus Williams Suffers Ironic Loss At Wimbledon

American Venus Williams, who had made 8 of the previous 10 Wimbledon singles finals, learned a hard lesson about irony today at the All England Club.

The number two ranked player in the world suffered a crushing defeat on the same day her book, “Come To Win” was released.

A few hours after being knocked off 6-2, 6-3 by Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, Williams was already promoting her new release on Twitter where she offered followers a chance to read passages from her book.

It would seem however that it was the little-known Pironkova who came to win today and in the process advances to the semi-finals of Wimbledon where she will next face Vera Zvonareva – a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Kim Clijsters.

The 82nd ranked Pironkova – a sure-shot to break into the top-fifty regardless of her next result – defeated Williams much to her own surprise.

“If I have to be honest: no,” she said about the possibility of making the final-four. “Coming here, I really just wanted to play a good game, to maybe win one or two rounds. But (a) semifinal looked, to me, very far.”

Maybe the number 82 is somewhat of a kryptonite towards American tennis players, as Andy Roddick was defeated by the 82nd ranked male player in the world, Yen-Hsun Lu, the day before.

The early exit by Venus is especially surprising given the solid year she has put together so far in 2010. In her post-match press conference however, she failed to give much credit to her able opponent.

“Yeah, you know, it’s very disappointing. I felt like I played some players along the way who played really well. You know, I think she played really well, too, but maybe not as tough as like my fourth round or my third round or even my second round.”

Instead she took a page out of her sisters book and claimed that her own short-comings were largely responsible for her early departure.

“You know, to not be able to bring my best tennis today and to just make that many errors is disappointing in a match where I feel like, you know, I wasn’t overpowered, you know, hit off the court or anything; where I just kind of let myself exit.”

In other women’s action, sister Serena moved past Li Na 7-5, 6-3, while Petra Kvitova defeated Kaia Kanepi by a much more grueling score of 4-6, 7-6(8), 8-6 while saving five match-points against her in the process.
The odds now clearly favor Serena when examining the Grand Slam experience of the remaining four players.

While the unknown factor of playing someone like Kvitova or Pironkova may offer some subtle challenges, the world’s number-one player should advance towards the title with little intrigue standing in her way.

Perhaps Venus can take some solace if her younger sister comes to win in her place.

AROUND THE CORNER: MEN READY FOR BATTLE IN INDIAN WELLS

Indian Wells

Alright everybody it’s time again for some tennis that really matters at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Both the ATP and WTA Tour’s are in the house and that should make for a great week of coverage for our sport. This has always been a terrific event and it set the record for attendance outside of a Grand Slam event in 2008 with over 300,000 spectators during a twelve day period.

Let’s have a look at the men’s draw and see how things shape up.

Roger Federer is back on the scene for the first time since his Australian Open title at the end of January. The world number one has just overcome an apparent lung infection and coupled with his recent inactivity I don’t think we should expect all that much from him. Yes, he will likely make it deep into the draw, but I would be surprised if Roger made it past the semi-finals here this year. Roger gets a first round bye as do all thirty-two seeded players in the tournament. His first capable opponent could be Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Also in the top-half of the draw are the two Andy’s – 4th seeded Murray and 7th seeded Roddick. Murray tanked in Dubai in his only appearance since losing in the finals of the Aussie Open to Federer, while Roddick has played a fairly heavy schedule on the hard-courts of North America.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also lurks in the top-half while David Nalbandian seems ready to return to tournament play. Coming back in February after nine months away from the game due to hip surgery, Nalbandian withdrew before his third round match in Buenos Aires with a leg injury. The talented Nalbandian played the role of hero this past week in Davis Cup play as he closed out a victory over Sweden with a four set win over Andreas Vinciguerra. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, look for Nalbandian to quickly return to his typical top-twenty form.

The bottom-half of the draw contains 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic who recently defended his title in Dubai and seems poised for a bigger result here on the Masters Series stage. Right behind him is 3rd seed, Rafael Nadal, who returns to the tour after a recurring knee injury forced him to withdraw in Australia where he trailed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. Expectations are low for Nadal as he has been away from the game for over a month and let’s just hope he can finish the tournament on his own terms. Defending his title in India Wells from 2009 is simply not going to happen.

Playing on fire so far this year and also in the bottom section is hard-serving John Isner of the United States and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Isner won his first career title in Auckland in January and then was a finalist in Memphis, while Ferrero won back-to-back clay events in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Also worth watching is Nikolay Davydenko who is likely still kicking himself for self-destructing against Federer in Melbourne and youngster Marin Cilic who made the semi-finals down-under and is ready to assert himself as a top-level threat in every event he enters.

I feel that with players like Federer, Nadal and Davydenko dealing with recent injuries or illnesses we are in for a Djokovic/Roddick final in Indian Wells. Those are my picks in the ATP World Tour Fantasy Challenge that begins Thursday at 2pm ET. Who will you choose?

AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEN’S PREVIEW

The first Grand Slam of 2010 is about to get started in Melbourne and with the draw announced we can now start to debate who will be crowned champion in two weeks time. Will it be someone from the usual suspects – a Federer or Nadal perhaps? Or will someone new like Fernando Verdasco or Andy Murray breakthrough and claim their first major? Let’s take a look at who has a strong shot at the title and some of the potential dark-horses as well.

The Favorites:

Every Grand Slam begins by looking at world number one, Roger Federer, and rightly so. Having “only” won the Aussie Open three times, Federer has not had as much success at the start of the year as you might imagine. He is three years removed from his last victory in Melbourne and with the draw he has in 2010 I wouldn’t expect Federer to be the last man standing. In fact, I think this is the Slam where his record of twenty-two straight Grand Slam semi-finals may finally come to an end. It has to at some point, right?

Who is the most likely man to take Federer out? Igor Andreev is hoping it might be him in the opening round, and Andreev is a tricky player who just might be up for to the task. The pair have only met twice before, but Andreev gave Federer a rough-go at the 2008 U.S. Open where he pushed him to five sets before losing 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Andreev is as inconsistent as they come, but has come up big in the past during high-stakes matches as he displayed in ending Rafael Nadal’s streak on clay back in 2005. This is not a guy that Roger wants to face in his opening match.

Federer may also have to face either Marcos Baghdatis or Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round, and potentially Fernando Verdasco or Nikolay Davydenko (who defeated him in Qatar two weeks ago) in the quarter-finals. Sure, Roger is still favored to make it deep in this tournament – but the potential for upset grows stronger each year.

Also in the top-half of the draw is third-seeded Novak Djokovic who has a nice section at this year’s edition. The first seeded player he may face is little-known Jeremy Chardy of France in round three and the only true opposition I can foresee would be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals. Tsonga actually leads their career head-to-head by a 4-2 margin, but Djokovic won their last encounter on hard courts easily in 2009.

Djokovic has not chosen to play any ATP tournaments thus far in 2010 which is puzzling. Instead he showed up at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament where he beat an aging Tommy Haas and then went down to Verdasco 6-1, 6-2 in an apparently meek effort. To make the start of his season even more troubling, Djokovic then played a friendly match against Australian Bernard Tomic and was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. These are not your typical Djokovic results but makes one question his off-season preparation.

Despite these early upsets and the fact that Djokovic’s frail physique is not meant for the brutal Aussie heat, he does have a good path in front of him to succeed. A couple of easy wins could boost his confidence and make him tap into the success he had here when he won his first and only Slam in 2008.

Fernando Veradsco is a player to watch and just came off a victory at Kooyong over Tsonga in the finals. Verdasco pushed Nadal to his limits at the Aussie Open in 2009 and came ever so close to defeating him before falling in the fifth set. His problem is that he usually does not trouble the top-fve and lost to all his matches at the season-ending championships in London to Federer, Del Potro and Murray in November.

The bottom-half of the draw contains some serious fire power with Andy Roddick, Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all lumped together. Picking one of those four players to make it to the finals is easier said than done – although it will without a doubt come from this talented pack of four. I would be shocked if anyone but these four made it to the quarter-finals in the bottom of the draw. I will be glued to my television for the expected Roddick/Del Potro and Murray/Nadal matches.

Roddick already won his first tournament of 2010 by defeating Radek Stepanek in Brisbane. Looks like he is healthy and should breeze through the early round matches.

Del Potro has broken through the Grand Slam barrier with his win over Federer in New York last year. His confidence should be high, but it remains to be seen if he is prepared to challenge at the Slams on a regular basis. Success can affect people in different ways, so Del Potro will want to start the year off strong so that everyone knows he is for real.

Andy Murray is aware that it’s time to show the world he is capable of winning a major. He set high hopes after making the finals at the U.S. Open in 2008, but his results at the Slams in 2009 left a lot to be desired. The talent is there with Murray, but we’ve yet to see the mental consistency on the big stage.

Finally, defending champion Rafael Nadal must also be mentioned – I mean, he did win the thing a year ago! With no titles in the past nine months and injuries that derailed his season in 2009, it is easy to forget about Nadal’s potential impact on the game in Australia. Due to last year’s circumstances, the pressure will not be very high for Nadal in Melbourne and he is a strong possibility to repeat as champion.

Anticipated First-Round Matches:

Mikhail Youzhny vs Richard Gasquet: These two have only met three times before, and you can ignore the results in that series. Youzhny defeated a sixteen year old Gasquet at this tournament in 2003, Gasquet won on hard-courts in 2005, and then Youzhny won a tight five-setter in 2007 on clay. Youzhny is the 20th seed, while Gasquet should be ranked higher if not for his suspension last year. A coin-toss that I’d give the edge to Gasquet based on recent results and a heck of a first round match to watch.

Marin Cilic vs Fabrice Santoro: Just when you thought the magician had retired he is coaxed back onto the court to become the only player to appear in four decades as a professional tennis player. This will also mark Santoro’s 70th career Grand Slam. The 37 year old has been training hard in order to make this a competitive appearance, but don’t expect him to defeat the 14th seeded Cilic. It will be their first career meeting and I’m sure the veteran will have some tricks up his sleeve that the young Croat has likely never seen before.

Radek Stepanek vs Ivo Karlovic: The 13th seeded Stepanek surely hoped for an easier starting match than big-serving Ivo Karlovic. This match will feature two completely-opposite styles of play and probably not too many lengthy rallies.

Darkhorses:

As I mentioned before, beware of Igor Andreev to give Federer a stern test in the first round. Qualifier Xavier Malisse could push through a few rounds and upset Nicolas Almagro in the opener as well.

Overall though, this does not look like a tournament where someone is going to surprise us and come from nowhere to make headlines. It is a strong field with a small cluster of top quality hard-court players. One of the regulars should be hoisting the trophy when the final Sunday comes around.

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