semi finals

AUSSIE OPEN WOMEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The women’s qualifying draw packs more heat than on the men’s side for one main reason: Yanina Wickmayer. Despite being ranked 16th in the world, the Belgian is being forced to grind it out through three qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main draw.

Wickmayer was suspended by the Flemish Anti-Doping Tribunal in her home country in early November for apparently failing to report her whereabouts at certain times during the season.

The twenty year old rising star appealed the decision and had it overturned by a civil court in Belgium. Unfortunately for Wickmayer the new ruling came after the December 7th cut-off date for entries into the Australian Open.

That left Wickmayer with the option of applying for a wild-card from the tournament, but when it was not extended, it left her with no other option but going through the qualifying draw.

It’s disappointing that such a talented player is being forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for the main draw. While I certainly feel that Wickmayer will make it through the qualies, it will place a greater physical strain on her body ahead of an already grueling Grand Slam schedule. Hopefully it will instead serve as a motivator for her and help her gain some momentum for a memorable tournament. She is obviously seeded number one in the qualifying draw and won a tough opening match on Thursday by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Aside from Wickmayer, the qualifying draw has a few other players worth following.

Alexandra Stevenson will best be remembered for her surprising run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999. That was a long time ago and Stevenson never built upon that success. Several injuries would creep up in 2002 and slow her progress and then a right-shoulder injury would derail her career at the end of 2004 and cause her ranking to plummet. Stevenson has been back to playing a full schedule for a couple of years now, but has not been able to regularly make it past qualifying draws and challenger-level tournaments.

Fifteen year old Laura Robson teamed up with Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup earlier this month and acquitted herself quite well. Born in Australia (Melbourne in fact) but playing for Great Britain, Robson lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year, her first appearance at a Grand Slam. The youngster will turn sixteen during the Aussie Open and represents the future of female tennis in the U.K.

Canadians: I have to give a shout-out to the numerous Canadian women who are represented in the qualifying draw in Melbourne this year including, Valerie Tetreault, Heidi El Tabakh, Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman. Our country does not have much representation in the upper rankings of the tennis world, but these ladies are showing that Tennis Canada does have some talent in the mix just below the surface.

AUSSIE OPEN MEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The 2010 Australian Open officially begins on Monday but important matches have already begun in the qualifying draw.

The 128-player draw will work its way down to a fortunate group of 16 players who will advance to the main draw of the tournament.

Seeded first in the qualifying draw is Xavier Malisse of Belgium who advanced to the second round of the qualies with a 6-2, 7-6(5) win against Alex Kuznetsov of the United States. Malisse is a talented but under-achieving veteran who reached a career-high of 19 in the world in 2002, the same year he reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Currently ranked 92nd, Malisse does not necessarily have to win all of his qualifying matches to advance into the tournament. Should any player who is entered in the main draw withdraw from their opening match ahead of time, Malisse would become the first lucky-loser to fill-in due to his ranking.

Other names of interest in the qualifying draw include former American phenom Donald Young who won his first match 7-5, 6-0 against Marc Lopez of Spain. At only twenty years of age, the possibility of Young reaching his enormous potential still exists, although it seems his game is at a stand-still at the moment ranked 194th in the world.

Former NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman holds the 27th seed amongst qualifiers and won his first match easily 6-2, 6-1 against local Australian James Duckworth. Going to school at the University of Virginia, Devvarman won the NCAA title in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008. He defeated current top-fifty ATP played John Isner in the 2007 final so the kid certainly has skill. Perhaps this is the year he finally breaks out on tour.

Canadian youngster Peter Polansky fell in the opening round 1-6, 2-6 to Marsel Ilhan of Turkey. The 21 year old is my home country’s best hope for a top-fifty player in the future and is currently ranked 186th in the world. It is a tough break for Polansky, as he made the main draw in Australia a year ago and even pushed Igor Andreev to a fifth set in the first round before falling. Polanksy actually qualified for three Grand Slam tournaments in 2009, losing in the first round of each in five sets.

The main draw will be announced this Friday.

THE ATP 2010 SEASON KICKS OFF!

The 2010 ATP tennis season is set to begin at three locations across the globe this week and plenty of big-name players are getting ready to fine-tune their games as the first slam of the year approaches. It’s hard to believe that in less than three weeks we’ll already be watching the action at the Australian Open. Such is the way the ATP tour continues to operate and therefore players can ill-afford to skip the early part of the season.

Here’s a look at the competition in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha.

Brisbane International:

For those players looking to get accustomed to the Aussie heat and limit any last minute travel leading up to the Open, Brisbane is the place to be.

American Andy Roddick is seeded number one in the tourney and should advance to the finals without any major opponents in his path. Sure Richard Gasquet might give him a workout in the quarters, but it’s not like he has to face a Federer or a Nadal at any point. Tough to say who he might encounter in the semi’s, but if Marcos Baghdatis is ready to go, he could certainly make it to that stage. Baghdatis is never in super shape, and that might explain why he typically has such good results in January – nobody else is ready either!
The bottom half of the draw is pretty sparse, so look for defending champion Radek Stepanek to make it through to the semi-finals at least with relative ease.

An interesting opening match-up has 5th seeded Sam Querrey against unseeded James Blake. Blake is accustomed to being the number two ranked American behind Roddick, but we’re seeing a younger group like Querrey and John Isner start to challenge. I really feel like 2010 is the year where Blake either has to make some tactical adjustments or kiss the top-fifty goodbye for good.

Aircel Chennai Open:

The draw in Chennai is quite wide-open so look for some unfamiliar names to potentially have a small breakthrough here. Sweden’s Robin Soderling is the number one seed here and deservingly-so after his accomplishments in 2009. Soderling already has an exhibition win over Roger Federer this year, so he should perform well. A potential semi-final opponent is Stan Wawrinka who should be able to gather a few wins in Chennai.

In the bottom of the draw don’t be surprised if either wildcard Carlos Moya or Somdev Devvarman makes a splash. Moya has won this tournament twice before and will be looking for a fond farewell as 2010 is likely his last on tour. Devvarman is a former NCAA standout and has performed well since joining the pro ranks a year and a half ago. He will certainly have plenty of support from the local crowd.
Second seeded Marin Cilic should also not be forgotten. The big-serving Croat should be able to maneuver into the finals.

Qatar Exxon Mobil Open:

So exactly where are all the big fish to start the 2010 season? Look no further than Doha, Qatar where the $1 million-plus prize purse has attracted Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko. Imagine potential appearance fees on top of that and you can see why this tournament has nabbed the world’s number one and two players. There is a big drop-off in talent after these three players however, and perhaps this is due to the distance between Qatar and Australia. It’s a bit out of the way for players without a legitimate shot of advancing.
Roger has a good draw in the top-half and will likely face Davydenko in the semi’s. After breaking the all-time Grand Slam record in 2009 and having his focus divided between being a family man and a professional tennis player, Roger is going to be tested more than ever in 2010. While Nadal and Murray have had Fed’s number over the years, there may be new players that emerge as regular threats to his game. Davydenko defeated him for the first time at the season-ending championships in November, and Soderling did the same a day ago in Abu Dhabi.
In the bottom-half of the draw, look for Nadal to find his way easily to the finals, where he would face Mikhail Youzhny if the draw holds true to form. You never know what you’re getting with Youzhny however, so don’t be surprised if someone else surprises.