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The Final Countdown – Doha

Samantha Stosur

By Rishe Groner

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed the dawn of the 2010 tennis season by rushing with joy to our seats in Melbourne Park, pushing away the crowds for Presidential seats at Hit for Haiti.

It’s been quite the year, as my aversion to any court that wasn’t bright blue was quelled as my travels enabled me to experience the life of a tennis jetsetter, from gate-crashing the semis at Roland Garros, to combing the streets of Barcelona for tennis during the height of the World Cup, to invigorating Flushing Meadows with my own brand of Aussie as a Smashzone volunteer.

As the WTA season draws to a close, we’ve put the boys on hold for a week consider the ladies, getting hot and sticky in Doha. Doha, for those of you who don’t know, is in Qatar. Qatar, for those of you who don’t know, is a nation that Australia played in a soccer friendly, which was my first ever soccer match. Just sharing the love. So now we have eight ladies left in the game, and they’re going to show us who really did best this season. (In case we still didn’t realise that Caro owns the universe, because she does.)

Love it or hate it, the WTA is unique for its, well, uniqueness. You never know who is going to win from one day to the next, and while some cringe at the unpredictability, others revel in it for the laughs, the dramas, and the gloriously bizarre on-court coaching. This year’s top eight is markedly different from last year’s, which says a lot about the nature of the tour. That’s all I’m going to say – you can read the grown up tennis blogs for all the commentary. But Caro owns the universe, did I mention? And I love Sam.

CARO

The girl played her heart out this year, and deserves every accolade she can get. She’s no Serena in star power, not to mention, well, power, but she has something else that few others in the WTA do: She’s a role model. In a world where girls go gaga over Miley Cyrus, here’s someone who knows where she’s at, works hard, stays fit, smiles and laughs, and does her best.

VERA

Vera first popped onto my radar this year when, falling asleep in a pool of my own drool as Sam battled her way to her first title of 2010, I espied a rather handsome looking young man in Ms Zvonareva’s box. It was the modelistic Sergey, Vera’s coach and essentially, the primary reason you should tune into any of her matches, unless you are like me and also love a good racquet smash. But that aside, this girl has had a helluva year. While the Grand Slams have shown up lots of surprise semifinalists and finalists (hello, Chinese ladies. Petra Kvitova? I’d forgotten about you..) we had Vera showing up at both Wimby and the USO, making it all the way. Well done. You now have Number Two, now go away and let Caro keep number one. I really couldn’t bear another “Slamless Number One” discussion, and I’m not going to defend you this time.

KIM

I love Kim. I really do. She made me very sad earlier this year when she “couldn’t find her racket” playing Nadia in Melbourne, but then all of a sudden it surfaced somewhere from the bottom of Jada’s toybox and she played like the champion she is all over again. Kim is as veteran, she owns the universe (look at her playing record against the rest of the Doha field, for example) and she’s also the grandma of this tourney. Which means she can’t win it, because it belongs to Caro. Did you hear me say, CARO! (Or Sam. But Caro needs the validation.)

FRAN

Wish this woman wasn’t so likeable, because honestly, what she did to me and other Sam fans should have put her on the crap-list forever. Instead, I kinda like her, and seriously how pretty was she at the player party? That’s all I can say about you, Frannie. I know you’re cool, but give me a bit of time to get over the hurt, okay?

SAM

Sam is the best, chuck out the rest. Last season she was all chokey and hadn’t had a few wins in a while, thanking her lucky stars for the top 20 seeding that gave her a decent run into the AO. In January, Channel Seven cut away from her destruction at the hands of Serena to avoid an Aussie embarrassment (we don’t like to realise we’re not good at anything). By June, the Aussie media were singing her praises and giving away free posters of our girl. And seriously, with her brilliant Aussie contingent penning songs to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemites,” how could you not love the girl? (Oh right, the biceps.)

JJ

Stop sulking, Jelena, and go home. We know you don’t want to be here, and there are about 800 women who would kill to be in your place. Let Na Li bounce her ponytail in here and show us her stuff, because you sure haven’t been.

LENA

Hi, Lena. Remember me? I was that girl screaming like a crazy woman when Justine whipped your butt in Melbourne. I’m that girl who always talks about how good you are, even when we sit there trying to fathom how you’ve hung around for so long and not accomplished that much. Here’s the deal, Lena. You won the Olympics, which means you can win this. Go ahead. Just, like, lose to Kimmy and Caro and Sammy, because they’re my true loves.

VIKA

After a tough year, Vika’s back in the top 10 which is a monumental effort considering the struggles she’s had, including her horrifying collapse on the court in the US Open. Whatever it is making her struggle in the heat, let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in Doha, because this girl’s persistence is going to be good to see in the round robin matches. Cos that’s as far as she’ll go. We’ll see you again next year, Vika.

Weekly Debrief – Djokovic’s Raindance, Verdasco Gold, “Indo-Pak Express”

As the US Open unfolded and the player field began to dwindle, storylines were made, but none more so than the unexpected win by Novak Djokovic in the semis and his ensuing raindance. Fernando Verdasco also had his celebratory dance after his win over comrade David Ferrer. And the Indian Pakistani duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi made their mark for peace. I leave you off with a little known locker room video that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. Let’s take a look at this week’s top stories in tennis!

Novak Djokovic as a True Contender

The biggest story this week may be Novak Djokovic’s defeat of the king of tennis himself, Roger Federer, in the semifinals of the US Open, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Federer not only had a winning head-to-head ratio against Djokovic (10-5), but he was 184-6 after winning the first set in a grand slam. Djokovic overcame all odds and pulled off the greatest win of his young career.

As the two weeks in Flushing Meadows were unfolding, it seemed like there was a natural pull for a Federer-Nadal final, something that had never happened here before. It was as if all the pleading by journalists, fans and commentators was paying off. Well, until Djokovic came out from “under the radar” and spoiled the party.

It’s slightly disconcerting that the #3 player in the world was given little thought for a run to the title here. He has been a steady member of the top 4 for the last three years, yet his respiratory problems and tendency to fold under pressure situations made him seem like just another bump along Federer’s route to the final. In Federer’s post-match press conference he even acknowledged that “The guys who overlooked [Djokovic] don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.” What makes the story more comedic is that CBSNews’ twitter feed had this up even before the Djokovic-Federer semi was over: “Rafael Nadal Reaches First U.S. Open Final, Moves on to play Roger Federer for Championship and Career Grand Slam.”

But enough of the hilarity, let’s get back to the tennis.

While easily dropping the second and fourth sets, it seemed that Federer had turned it around and was on his way to a ‘W.’ He held two match points on Djokovic’s serve, up 4-5, 15-40 in the fifth but allowed the Serb to dictate both points. If you are a Djokovic fan, you know to await disappointment because he succumbs to the do-or-die moments 95% of the time. However, this day was different. He not only won both rallies convincingly, he did it on his own terms: blasting forehand winners on both occasions to bring the score to deuce. He then earned the only break of the set at 5-all and sealed the win when Federer’s forehand went wide on match point. Djokovic stood there stunned, staring at his box, almost not convinced he had just beaten the Great Federer.

In his post-match press conference, he revealed exactly what was going on in his head during the match: “I got a bit nervous end of the first and third set, and that’s why I lost those sets. But anything except that, I think I played overall a great game, fighting really and being aggressive when I had chance, and defending well. I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it. Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for the shots. I was lucky.” Very lucky indeed.

Furthermore, Federer struggled at the net in the two sets he easily lost and his first serve percentage wasn’t even hitting 50% until more than halfway through the match. On the other hand, Djokovic was more consistent on his first and second serves percentages. And if you don’t believe me that Djokovic has been serving extremely well during this whole US Open, take a look at this stat: he’s #6 on first serve percentage with 69%. What’s more is that all of the other men on the list only played 1, 2, or 3 matches each for these high percentages, Djokovic played 6 matches. (Source: http://www.usopen.org/en_US/scores/extrastats/f_srv_pct_ms.html )

Djokovic Must Have Done his Raindance

In what turns out to be the third-straight year the Men’s Singles final will be played on a Monday due to rain, there is increased talk about the US Open having a covered stadium to avoid this. While Roland Garros doesn’t have the need for a roof as clay dries faster, the Australian Open and Wimbledom both jumped on the track and built roofs atop their marquee stadiums. So, why not the US Open? One of the reasons is that Arthur Ashe stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world and estimates are that it would cost around $150 million dollars to build. Tough obstacle.

But Novak Djokovic doesn’t seem to mind the final has to be pushed back one day. After his grueling on-court battle yesterday against Roger Federer, he welcomes the delay, and even his fellow female player knows it! As Djokovic had just learned of the postponement, he was leaning against a wall in the locker room, smiling. A Russian player currently vying for the Women’s Doubles trophy, Nadia Petrova, walked past him and said, “You are lucky! Seriously lucky!” Djokovic just stood there nodding and replied, “Another day in New York.”
When Rafael Nadal was questioned, he diplomatically responded: “There’s nothing you can do about this; it’s New York in the rain. For sure it’s fairer like this. I think it’s better for both of us to have a day of rest.” I’m not so sure I agree with him as he didn’t have a tough semifinal match with only 20 hours to recover. If the final had been played Sunday, it would have favored Rafa for sure. And his uncle, Toni, seems to agree: “For us, it would have been better that it had not rained today, because Djokovic might have been a bit more tired. But it was fairer like this.”

The two opponents share the same publicist, Perez Barbadillo, and he jokingly said: “Obviously, Rafa would have preferred to play today, and Novak was praying for rain, so I suppose what I take out of things is that God is Orthodox,” referring to Djokovic’s Serbian Orthodox faith. “He’s been listening to Novak.” (Read the full New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/sports/tennis/13tennis.html )

To further spark conflict for the US Open title, it seems that the ATP website has already picked it’s winner — even before the match has been played! (I took a screenshot knowing very well it would be corrected within a couple hours.)

Rafael Nadal’s faster serve

Imagine playing tennis since the age of 4, turning professional at 15, and playing the same heavy-topspin lefty game until you break the top 10 at the tender age of 18 and achieve #1 just three years later. If this were my track record, I wouldn’t look to change anything about my game. Not only is there no need, but technically-speaking, if the change brings a worsening in results, it may be hard to revert back to the old ways.

This is not the case with Rafael Nadal, who, two days prior to the start of the US Open, changed the grip on his serve.

Rafa swung by the commentators’ booth in Arthur Ashe stadium during the Gael Monfils-Novak Djokovic quarterfinal and chatted with ESPN’s Brad Gilbert and Chris Fowler about the change. “I am trying to serve a little bit more like Wimbledon because the ball here is very soft,” said Rafa. “It is not getting a lot of topspin, I try to play a little bit more flat. And for that reason, I am serving faster, that’s it.” Changing his grip didn’t happen overnight though as the media would have you believe. While hitting his fastest serve ever at 134 MPH in Flushing Meadows, Rafa is quick to say that “I worked a lot to serve well during my career and I have to keep working hard.” It looks like then that there is no such thing as a quick-fix — hard work is still what achieves results.

Fernando Verdasco’s Golden Moment

Although the fourth round featured some great matchups, the duel between Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer on Louis Armstrong stadium was pure heart on full display. And I wouldn’t expect any less from the passionate Spaniards. Both men won 70% of their first serves and hit a combined total of 23 aces, not something that either is usually known for. However, Verdasco had 73 winners to Ferrer’s 38.

Even though the match lasted well over four hours, aggressive play with plenty of marathon sprints to and from the net were seen up through the last point from both players. Ferrer had quickly gone up 4-1 in the fifth set tiebreaker, visibly frustrating Verdasco. His run ended there, however, as he never converted another point. Verdasco pulled off the shot of the tournament with his sprinting forehand volley that looped around the net pole and into the deuce corner on Ferrer’s side. Verdasco fell on his back in joy, and after shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire, proceeded to continue his excited 12-year-old celebratory dance. As he double fist-pumped his way into the hearts of fans, he dropped to the ground on both knees and slapped the court seemingly giving gratitude to the tennis gods, all the while yelling “Yes! Yes!” I even heard from a friend they could hear Verdasco yelling all the way up in Canada. Dude, gets around!

Check out Verdasco’s match-winning point:

“Indo-Pak Express” Leaves Mark

Even though the Bryan Brothers came through for American fans in capturing the US Open Men’s Doubles title, their opponents in the finals received perhaps even greater recognition globally. The duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi began their “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign back in Wimbledon as part of the effort to support peace between the two embattled countries they come from, India and Pakistan, respectively. They have quickly gained not only the support of fans, but the leaders of their countries as well for showing there can be great respect and partnership between the two countries.

The “Indo-Pak Express” as the two are fondly called, had a great run only dropping one set before going out in two hotly-contested tiebreakers in the final. In his post-match presser, Bob Bryan said that “This has been the best match we ever played. These guys played incredible. We had to step up and match their energy.”

With United Nations ambassadors Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan sitting together in the audience, the crowd cheered and gave Bopanna and Qureshi a standing ovation during the trophy ceremony for their peace-loving efforts. Qureshi went on to say that he was dedicating his share to the 21 million flood victims in Pakistan and thanked the Bryan brothers for donating a portion of their winnings to the Pakistan flood victims as well. In the interview room of Ashe stadium, the UN ambassadors from India and Pakistan presented the Bryan brothers with ceremonial Pakistani garments called ‘ajraks’ and thanked them for their benevolence. “A lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street,” Mike Bryan stated. “Sport can bring people together.”

ATP BONUS

And if you haven’t had enough of Djokovic yet, check out the Bryan Brothers Video Blog in the locker room of Ashe stadium with the ‘Djoker’. He’s not only shirtless and ‘buffed up,’ but he’s doing pushups and shaking hands with Jimmy Connors in his skivvies! Eat it up, Djoker fans, he’s a world-class chatter.

http://www.tennischannel.com/video/index.aspx#4d172bf3-e066-4881-bd16-f2c938b89707

The Friday Five: Danish Sensation Caroline Wozniacki is Top Seed at US Open

Back on Track – Last week in Cincinnati, Roger Federer righted the ship, going one better than he did in Canada to take the coveted Masters 1000 title. Not surprisingly, many of the pundits have quickly jumped back on the Federer bandwagon, with several of them declaring him the man to beat in Flushing. There’s little doubt that Federer is starting to play the brand of tennis that won him his 16th major earlier this year, and of the top four players in the world, he had the best overall two weeks across Canada and Cincy (though admittedly, he had an easier road than the other three in Cincinnati thanks to a retirement and walkover). So while Federer may not be deserving of the heavy favorite status that was due to him the last few years going into the Open, one would be a glutton for punishment to bet heavily against him winning his 17th Grand Slam singles title in a few weeks time.

The Great Dane – Heading into the US Open where she achieved reaching her first Grand Slam singles final just a year ago, life is looking very good for Danish sensation Caroline Wozniaki. She showed great patience and steady nerves as she waited out the rain to take out Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis and Vera Zvonareva in the finals (dropping just five games in each match!), to take the top tier Roger Cup title. As an added bonus, Wozniaki will enjoy her first stint as the top seed at a Slam, with the honor coming as a result of Serena Williams being forced to pull out of the US Open. While many are still tipping the likes of No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters as more of a threat to take the title, keep an eye on this Dane. With a positive attitude, a steady game, and a great work ethic, a major title could be very near on the horizon.

Return of a Champion – It’s not as early as she and many in the tennis world had hoped, but Serena Williams has announced that she intends to make her comeback later next month in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific Open. Both fans and Serena will get a chance to see how quickly she finds her game after the injury layoff, with eight of the world’s top ten currently entered into the star-studded field. Irrespective of what you feel about her, there’s an undeniable added buzz when she’s in the competition. So enjoy the Open but look forward to what could shape up to be a competitive fall and exciting end to the 2010 WTA season.

In a Flash – The woes of James Blake in 2010 are many and well known, but for one brief match, everything went right for the veteran American. Blake took young Spaniard Pere Riba out of the Pilot Pen in New Haven with the loss of just a single game in what was the fastest match on the tour this year. And while Riba is a man who currently has predominantly made his living on the challenger circuit and is most at home on the dirt, there was some hope that the 35-minute clinic Blake put on in his win over Riba would instill more confidence as he went on to face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Blake in that match, but at least there was something positive to take away from this week. And while it is unlikely that Blake will need any extra motivation as he prepares for the US Open, a venue where he has enjoyed some of his most spectacular moments as a professional, it would be wonderful if he could channel this small positive in New Haven into some vintage Blake play that sees him end 2010 on a respectable high as he heads into what could be a permanent hiatus from the game.

Great Idea – Hats off to the people behind getting the US Open draw televised on ESPN2 with live streaming available on ESPN3.com. The concept of the US Open Series has been a phenomenal hit, with ratings continuing to be strong, and this latest wrinkle only enhances the fan experience leading into Flushing Meadows. Can’t wait to see what feature they incorporate next!

By Maud Watson

US Open Men’s Draw Analysis and Picks — Nalbandian, Fish, Nadal?

The 2010 US Open Men’s Draw was announced just hours ago, but there are already stories and predictions circulating the scene. Even though the qualifying tournament is still in progress, I’ll break down some of the potential matchups, great first- and second-rounders, and announce my picks, starting with the quarterfinalists!

First off, let’s take a look at where the top four seeds have landed in the draw. #4 Andy Murray finds himself in the top half with #1 Rafael Nadal, while #2 Roger Federer has #3 Novak Djokovic in his half of the draw.

Nadal’s 1/8

Nadal probably won’t face much opposition until the third round where he could meet Gilles Simon or Philipp Kohlschreiber. Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Ljubicic are then the only other seeded opponents left for Nadal to meet in the fourth round, but he hasn’t had much trouble with any of these players. Ljubicic has been pretty quiet this season having only had two matches on hard courts this summer. And while Lopez did make a run to the semis in Los Angeles last month, he continues to be wildly inconsistent having lost in the first round of both Toronto and Cincinnati.

Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal
Verdasco’s 1/8

Fernando Verdasco may find himself in trouble from the very first round, where he’ll meet his Wimbledon nemesis, Fabio Fognini. Fognini took out Verdasco in a tight four sets in the first round of Wimbledon this year — can he do it again in New York? If Verdasco does get past him, he’ll be rewarded with a newly resurgent David Nalbandian in the third round.

In the top half of this section, David Ferrer may also face a cruel first round opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov. “Dolgo” is a fresh face and took Ferrer to three sets in Cincinnati just a couple of weeks ago. He has a unique playing style and could easily gain good rhythm that may take him to the third round. Here, he could face Ernests Gulbis, a player with a load of talent, but it’s anybody’s guess if his mental state is in the right drive to make a run here.

With Nalbandian’s first two rounds being fairly straight-forward wins, I see him overcoming both Verdasco and Gulbis in this section.

Quarterfinalist: David Nalbandian

Murray’s 1/8

Andy Murray’s first test may come in the third round when he faces #25 Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka has recently changed coaches, but he may not even be a valid threat as he failed to reach a third round in any hard court tournament this summer. He may even find himself ousted in the second round by Yen-Hsun Lu, who defeated Andy Roddick at this year’s Wimbledon.

In the bottom half of this section, the most likely third rounder may be between Sam Querrey and Nicolas Almagro. Almagro, known for his clay court game, and Querrey, having another successful summer on the hard courts, should have a quick match with Querrey moving on. He will then face Murray but lose in a close four sets.

Quarterfinalist: Andy Murray

Berdych’s 1/8

Tomas Berdych comes in with a ‘slam high’ having made the semis in Roland Garros and finals in Wimbledon this year already. His first round against Michael Llodra could be a tricky one, as he plays a serve-and-volley game predominantly. Berdych likes hard fast balls and Llodra’s pace may throw him off. If Berdych survives he may meet another Frenchman Julien Benneteau or countryman Radek Stepanek in the third round.

The top half of this section may see a potential matchup between Mikhail Youzhny and John Isner. Isner is still questionable for the US Open due to an ankle injury he sustained in Cincinnati two weeks ago. If he is fully healed, he could be facing Berdych in the fourth round, but if not, it will be Mikhail Youzhny. Either way, this section’s quarterfinalist is set.

Quarterfinalist: Tomas Berdych

Davydenko’s 1/8

Nikolay Davydenko usually keeps a low profile while still winning, so it should be no surprise he is the #6 seed. Somehow, it still perplexes me he has managed to stay this high in the rankings. Davydenko’s first tough encounter may be as early as the second round, where he could face Richard Gasquet and his elegant one-handed backhand. Thomas Bellucci, with his steady results and great runs in the last two slams, could face Davydenko in the third round and come out victorious.

The bottom half of this section may be the biggest draw for fans. Andy Roddick will most likely take on Janko Tipsarevic in the second round. Tipsarevic has taken players (including Roger Federer) deep into the fifth set in past slams and he could easily tire a player like Andy out, who is still recovering from mono. The winner will get the treat to play the skilled acrobat, Gael Monfils in the third round. I’m optimistic with my choice for this section, but here it is.

Quarterfinalist: Andy Roddick

Djokovic’s 1/8

This section of the draw may be the most interesting. Novak Djokovic is a clear favorite, or is he? He complains of asthma-like lung problems in the heat and humidity, so he may not fare as well this year as in the past. He’ll quickly be challenged by his comrade and friend Viktor Troicki in the first round. If he survives, he’ll face Philipp Petzschner in the second round. Petzschner is a skilled player, having not only hoisted the Wimbledon doubles trophy this year, but also took Rafael Nadal to five sets as well at the same tournament. The only positive is that the third round opponent may be a breather, as potentials may be either James Blake or Juan Monaco.

The top half of this section boasts a potentially great matchup in the third round between Marcos Baghdatis and Mardy Fish. Both have had breakthrough summers and are near the top of the list in hard court wins on the year. For this to happen though, Baghdatis must overcome Arnaud Clement in the first round and probably Robby Ginepri in the second round. Fish, on the other hand, should have no trouble in his first two rounds. While Baghdatis has played five tournaments in a row coming into the US Open, Fish took a smart break after Cincinnati and should be ready to overtake Baghdatis. Fish will come in much fresher than Djokovic into their fourth round encounter, and while it’ll go five sets, the winner will be clear.

Quarterfinalist: Mardy Fish

Soderling’s 1/8

In the biggest cakewalk of the draw, Soderling has five qualifiers in his section, with one of them being his first round opponent. Imagine to get through three grueling rounds in qualifying only to find out you’re playing the world #5 in your first main draw round. Ouch! Soderling should breeze through Taylor Dent in the second round and not even be challenged in the third round by Fernando Gonzalez who is still recovering from injury.

Marin Cilic is Soderling’s greatest threat in the fourth round. But he must first overcome Evgeny Korolev in the second round and possibly Australian Carsten Ball in the third. Although, Korolev has had great results in the warmup tournament in New Haven so we could see an upset as early as the second round here.

Quarterfinalist: Robin Soderling

Federer’s 1/8

And in the second biggest cakewalk of the draw, Roger Federer may not be challeneged until the third round where he faces Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt retired with an injury several weeks ago in Washington, DC and has recently split with his coach. Will this change of events take over Hewitt or will he put up a great fight and possibly overcome the champion?

In the top half of this section, we see Jurgen Melzer taking on Dmitry Tursunov, a player who has a protected ranking and decided to enter the US Open under that exemption. Melzer could then face tough young American Ryan Sweeting in the second round and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third. The match then between Melzer and Federer should be as straight forward as it was in Wimbledon this year.

Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer

Now, that my quarterfinalist picks are in order, let’s quickly breakdown my predictions to the semifinals!

Quarterfinal #1: Rafael Nadal d. David Nalbandian

Nadal has pretty much been unstoppable this season. He’s healthy and happy: no “broken abdominals” or knees, no familial problems and he finely-tuned his schedule to allow himself enough rest and recovery during the summer. Although Nalbandian is a confident competitor and his angles may blow some players off the court, he simply won’t last in a five-setter in the heat against Nadal.

Quarterfinal #2: Andy Murray d. Tomas Berdych

Berdych has a strong game and is a very powerful competitor if his mental stamina holds up. Andy Murray is known to complain and simply lose a match because of his own temper. It’s a tough draw between the two opponents, but Murray’s footwork will outlast Berych’s serve. Get ready for an even more grueling battle if Murray decides to be aggressive in his tactics.

Quarterfinal #3: Mardy Fish d. Andy Roddick

Fish has never been more fit and Roddick is coming off of a tough summer. On top of that, Fish has won their last two encounters within the last couple of months. Many are calling Fish the “darkhorse” this year and I’m jumping on the bandwagon. As much as Roddick has stayed consistent in his rankings the last six years, his results haven’t given much inspiration lately.

Quarterfinal #4: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling

This is another tough one to call, but Soderling’s lackluster summer will catch up with him in New York and he’ll see himself crash out to Federer in a tough four sets. Although Soderling’s game is more suited to the hard courts, you can’t discount Federer’s run here the last six years. Elegance and precision will overcome power and grit.

In the semifinals, the matchups between both Nadal vs. Murray and Fish vs. Federer will be epic performances as each player could beat any other on any given day. It’s hard to predict the winner of each and I’ll leave that up to you. But for now, my vote is with Rafael Nadal, 2010 US Open Champion. It’s about time to add another flame to his Babolat bag and Nike shoes.

Happy watching and cheering!

Laid-Back Murray Anticipating First Grand Slam Title

Andy Murray was pretty easy-going during his pre-tournament press conference today at the Rogers Cup answering almost every question that reporters wanted to ask him. There was one area that was apparently off limits and that was anything relating to his recent departure from coach Miles MacLagan. Sarah Grossman, the Rogers Cup co-ordinator for communications and media relations, advised us that Andy did not want to answer any questions in that department. Well there goes the first one on my list!

Instead Murray revealed an optimism about the possibility of capturing his first Grand Slam later this summer and how his semi-final result at Wimbledon has encouraged him in that pursuit.

“I want to try and win my first Grand Slam but also the semis at Wimbledon is not a terrible result. It was good for me cause I had a few months since the Australian Open where I hadn’t played so well and playing so well at Wimbledon has definitely given me a confidence boost going into the U.S. stretch.”

Murray talked about his time off since Wimbledon and how it was important for him to take some time away from the game to stay fresh. He took two and a half weeks away from the court and went away on holiday. He returned to practice in Miami for a few days before then playing the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles where he fell to Sam Querrey in the final.

Murray will be pulling double-duty here in Toronto as he is participating in both the singles and doubles draws. He’ll partner with fellow Brit and good friend Ross Hutchins. Deep down I was kind of hoping he’d pair up with Federer to give the Nadal/Djokovic duo some competition in the publicity department. Murray and Hutchins almost defeated the Bryan’s brothers earlier in the year in Monte Carlo, losing in third set champions tie-break. They also played the Rogers Cup a year ago.

Earlier in the afternoon on Saturday Murray took part in a quasi-celebrity match on Center Court with a few Canadian news personalities and a couple of NHL hockey players. At one point he was accidentally hit in the back by a Daniel Nestor serve and re-told the story to us later with good humor.

“It’s typical, I expected it from him – I told him afterwards. I know him really well, we get on pretty well. It’s very mature for a 37 year old.”

Murray sounded sure about his chances this week. He said that coming back to a place where he has played well in the past tends to make him feel confident.

He also spoke about some of the perks that come along with having a higher ranking as opposed to when he first broke onto the ATP Tour.

“You play a lot of your matches on the bigger courts which is an added motivation, it’s nice playing in front of big crowds. Normally you avoid playing the top guys in the world until later in the draw because you got seeded. Obviously sometimes you get byes in the tournament which helps. You get a couple of extra days to practice. There’s a few things that you get, sometimes nicer hotel rooms, it’s a bit easier to get practice courts and things like that. So it definitely helps when you get yourself higher up in the rankings but it takes a lot of work to get there.”

With a tough draw in Toronto it looks like it will be challenging for Murray to repeat, but with all his talent one must think he is due to break through and capture his first title of 2010 at some point.

Murray’s first match will be during the day session on Wednesday where he will face the winner between veteran Xavier Malisse and Michael Berrer.

Photo by Bob McIntyre ©

Serena Williams Throws Twitter Tantrum – The Friday Five

Serena Williams

Mission Accomplished – For the better part of three months, Bob and Mike Bryan had been stuck on 61 doubles titles, the benchmark that had been set by the talented pair known round the world as the “Woodies.” But this past week, in the state they first called home, where they went to college and first showed promise of the tennis results to come, the chest-bumping brothers finally broke through and took their 62nd title at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. Their win was one of the biggest headlines in the sport over the weekend and should inject some life into the game of doubles. Also impressive was seeing a classy Mark Woodforde, who is based in California, cheering the Bryans on throughout the week. Best of all is that the Bryans have confirmed they are nowhere near ready to hang up their racquets. They still want to serve their country in the Davis Cup and still want to bag a few more Grand Slam titles. Congratulations to the twins and may they continue their assault on the record book as they wow audiences across the world and keep doubles on the map.

Back from the Brink – Another American who capped off a fine week at the Farmers Classic was Sam Querrey. The big American had to grind out each and every one of his wins, and that included saving match point in two straight matches, first in the semis against Janko Tipsarevic, and in the final against Andy Murray. The win over Murray, whom Sam had previously never taken a set from, had to help boost Querrey’s belief that he may just be ready to take that next step and start making a move for the Top 15 and possibly Top 10. And as disappointing as it had to be to lose the title after holding match point, Andy Murray did well to log a great week of tennis amidst all of the turmoil surrounding the sacking of Maclagan (though the Scot could still use a course in anger management).

California Dreamin’ – Stanford California saw dream weeks for many of the WTA’s top stars as well. Maria Sharapova put together one of the best weeks of tennis she’s had in awhile. Unfortunately for her, she ran into a woman who can match her stroke-for-stroke (and decibel-for-decibel) in Victoria Azarenka. Despite her being a head case and her recent struggles with injuries, Azarenka has shown she has the game and has posted the results to suggest she’s one of the WTA’s most promising young talents. If she’s got her game back on track, look for her to be a dangerous dark horse at this year’s US Open. And finally, we have the winners of the women’s doubles title, Americans Liezel Huber and Lindsay Davenport. With her play in Stanford, Huber regained the No. 1 doubles ranking, while Davenport was taking to the court for the first time in nearly two years. Not a shabby return to the game for the former World No. 1.

Twitter Tantrum – Perhaps the only person not smiling in California last week was Serena Williams (and okay, I’m sure the tournament

director and other officials couldn’t have been too pleased either). Serena Williams blasted the tournament officials of the Farmers Classic and advised all who read her tweets to boycott the event. The reason for the angry tweets stemmed from tournament officials requiring Serena to pay $100 for a ticket to the event instead of giving it to her complimentary – with this whole saga unfolding after Serena had done some promo work with James Blake for the event. It’s hard to make a complete judgment call on this one. Serena’s tweets suggest the promo work was done gratis, though to my knowledge, it’s never been confirmed if she was paid for the work or not. If she was, then all was square and the tournament can’t be faulted for charging Serena for a ticket if their policy is to charge all spectators, irrespective of fame. If the promo work was done for free, then show Serena a little love. But throwing aside the question of whether Serena should or should not have been charged for a ticket, she was still immature in her own response to the situation. $100 is nothing to her, and it was all about the principle, not the amount of the ticket, that Serena took issue with. Based on the posts I read from a number of individuals who reacted to this story, Serena could have won over more sympathizers had she taken the high road instead of living up to her reputation as tennis’ top diva…but then again, Serena probably doesn’t care how many people jump on her band wagon in this case.

It’s Official – Reports have been circulating of Juan Martin Del Potro’s return to tennis ever since it was announced he was on the preliminary entry list of participants in the US Open. Del Potro recently did post some video evidence that he is in fact hitting on the courts for the first time. It’s great to see the big Argentine hitting balls again, but I’m holding my breath a bit here. A rushed comeback could spell disaster down the road, but Del Potro has a good head on his shoulders and a good coach, so fingers crossed it all pans out for the young star, starting with a trip as returning champion to the Big Apple.

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.

Coach Changes For Federer and Murray: The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Coach Onboard – One of the two big news stories that broke earlier in the week was that Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer has announced that he’ll be working with American coach Paul Annacone. Paul Annacone is one of the most respected coaches in the sport, and his work speaks for itself. He’s had the experience of dealing with a legend of the game in Pete Sampras, as well as helping a guy discover his best form late in a career as shown in his work with Tim Henman. With the possible exception of someone like a Darren Cahill, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for Federer at this stage in his career. The move also represents just one more signal that Federer is still hungry and is committed to getting back to the top, and he’s not afraid to admit that he may not be able to do it solo. Annacone still has some lingering commitments to the LTA before the two can consider going fulltime, but this has all the makings of another positive turnaround in Federer’s career.

Coach Overboard
– On the opposite end of the coaching carousel is the news concerning Andy Murray and Miles Maclagan. Murray announced that after just less than three years, he is parting ways with Maclagan. Murray explained the reasons behind the split, with most of them stemming from MacLagan and Murray having differing opinions about where he is and how to get to where he wants to be. I’m inclined to see this as a very positive move for Murray, and it’s no disrespect to Maclagan. He’s done a great job with Murray, taking him to two Grand Slam finals and the No. 2 singles ranking. But there’s no doubt that Murray’s career has at best stalled, and at worst, has been in a steady decline since the Aussie Open final, excluding his unexpected run to the semis of Wimbledon. Murray is in no rush to replace Maclagan and will be staying with his part-time coach, former professional Alex Corretja, through the US Open before reevaluating the situation. Sometimes a ball of negative energy, Andy Murray can undoubtedly be a handful to coach, but there’s bound to be a nice selection of coaching candidates willing to harness that emotion and take a talented player like Murray to the next level. Stay tuned…

Fish Flying High – Confident coming off his win in Newport, Fish continued to accumulate the victories with his second straight tournament win in the inaugural ATP event in Atlanta. Battling the competition and searing summer temperatures, Fish hung on to take a third set tiebreak over fellow American John Isner in the final. It’s great to see Mardy’s hard work to get in better shape and bounce back from injury is paying dividends in a relatively short window of time. It’s also good to see him playing it smart, opting to withdraw from singles competition in Los Angeles in order to rest and give his tweaked ankle an opportunity to recuperate (and it’s probably not such a bad thing his attempt to win the doubles was abruptly cut short by the Bryan Brothers). If Fish continues to grow in confidence, he could be a dangerous floater this summer, and with his ranking jumping yet another 14 places after his performance in Atlanta, he may even earn a seed for the final major of 2010.


The Road Back?
– Less publicized over the weekend was former World No. 5 Anna Chakvetadze’s win over Johanna Larsson to win the Slovenia Open. Chakvetadze seems to have predominantly (and understandably) gone in a downward spiral ever since the traumatic robbery experience she and her family endured at their family home in Moscow in late 2007. With her ranking now outside the top 100, Chakvetadze has been a mere shadow of the Top 5 player she once was, but this win in Slovenia may just give the Russian the confidence she needs to get her ranking and her game going in the right direction once again.

Not Hanging it Up…Yet – Earlier in the year, James Blake looked all but ready to retire. He wasn’t enjoying himself on the court, the wheels had come off his game, and he was playing with pain and a lingering injury. Now, after playing without pain and earning a relatively routine win over Leonardo Mayer in his opening match L.A. , Blake is feeling much more positive about his game. His current approach couldn’t be better, setting small goals and just enjoying being out on the court. Blake has always been one of the better sportsmen in the game, and he’s had some great results in his career. Will he get back into the Top 20? Top 50? That’s hard to say, but it’s great to see that Blake may at least be able to go out on a positive note and on his terms when the time comes.

Check World Tennis Magazine’s Interview with James Blake:

The LA Open Preview

The Farmers Classic LA Open starts Monday July 26, one of the many US Open Series hard court tournaments lined up, touted as a ‘tune up’ event, one of many, preceding the Big Show at the end of the month in New York. Yours truly, the ubiquitous hooligan/tennis junkie/prominent writer for the ages (I’ll let you decide which one of those is not a cold hard fact) will be in attendance giving you the low down on every quirk, forehand, sigh, up the T ace, blistering hallway gossip, who’s who and who’s what, who’s doing this and who’s doing that, and a whole lot more…

The tournament boasts some hot talent attending with a couple of top ten players and a few rising to the occasion. British upstart Andy Murray, the no. 1 seed, and hungry as ever, will be playing the long standing event for the first time. Murray reached two slam finals losing both times to Roger Federer and seems ready to hoist a trophy on Super Sunday. Entering the LA Open confirms his will and desire to be at utmost preparedom for the pressure of getting there. But we all know getting there is only half the feat. Murray may face a tough first round opener if Russian Schizo Teymuraz Gabashvili wins his first match. The Russian may look like a typical plebian tennis player, making his way through some lower tier events into the second week, but lately has put together a potent all around game with gusto showing good runs at recent Grand Slams. Joining Murray in the top half of the draw is Ernest Gulbis, the eccentric Latvian, who looks like a grassy knoll hippie at times, but has put together an impressive resume of victims including Roger Federer this past clay court season in Rome.

The American contigent will be represented well with Sam Querry who has won the event prior, posing as the second seed, and Mardy Fish, who looks more like a top ten player lately than even Andy Roddick, who handed Roddick a straight sets defeat this past week in Alanta in the semis. James Blake enters as an all time low 14 seed who may be able to muster some momentum, but being placed on Murray’s side of the draw, less than likely. Some other notables include the most inconsistent tennis player in history, much to the chagrin of myself and others, Marcos Baghdatis, who has garnererd great results in the past on hard courts; Mr. Beautiful: Feliciano Lopez, and Argentinian high flyer Horacio Zeballos, who has been gaining some momentum as being the next big thing out of that land of tennis gold, which has produced the likes of the ever under achieving David Nalbandian, and 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro, who is still ailing from a wrist injury. Stay tuned everybody for it may be a rockstar gala event as only LA can conjure, and with yours truly carousing the aisles in the thick of it all, stands not to dissapoint.

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The Greatest Rematch Of All Time?

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

With the second week of Wimbledon producing a transfer of most of the expected field, the top four specifically, rumblings and chatter have all heightened to the point of jubilation as another bout between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer looks likely. But, is the rest of the field ready to allow that prized match up? The next two matches for the world’s top two looks anything but easy.

Federer has to go through a red hot Tomas Berdych, who took out the mighty one in a close battle in Miami earlier in the year. Berdych also took Roger to the brink in the 2009 Australian Open taking a two-sets-to-love lead, before Roger suited up in his Federer cape and rescued the show. If he gets through that hurdle, there may be a much renewed Novak “Djoker” Djokovic awaiting him in the semis, who has put together a grass game that looks sharper and sharper, hitting his marks, and stifling his mental demons. Novak has struggled to get an edge in majors against the maestro but in the three set format has proven his mettle. Let’s not forget that when the DJoker gets his cylinders pumping he can beat anyone on any given day, as the 2008 Australian Open has illuminated.

On the other side of the draw stands Rafa, who much like his nemesis has struggled in the early rounds but seems to have gathered some momentum, somehow evading the clutches of early round defeat and packed some wins behind him. He will next face Robin “Smoldering” Soderling in the semis, a rematch of the French Open final in May, and devoid of the comfort of clay, and its forgiving bounce, Rafa may find himself swimming in Mallorca a lot sooner than he wants. There is nothing Roger fans would love to see more on Super Sunday than Rafa wearing a bathing suit. If Rafa gets through that battle, the war may still be looming as Andy Murray could be mounting his front in the semis, armed with a nation and a return to a game style that wields craftiness and cunning mixed with well timed aggression. Murray was able to blast Nadal off the court in the 2010 Australian Open, something he couldn’t duplicate against Federer in the final, which I believe gives him all the more reason to take more risks and may even give him that extra angst, a bit more of an edge; Murray can sometimes come across as a petulant child, moaning and moping, chalk full of lofty expectations, showing improvement daily, and he really believes he deserves to be in the same room as Rafa and Roger. This may be the stage to prove that undeniably. I can’t think of a better stage than Wimbledon.

At this stage of a Grand Slam, at the business end of the tournament, the great ones are separated from the legends. Roddick, picked by many pundits to win it all, couldn’t make the cut, as he went out to underdog Lu, which I think is very telling. If you look at the track record for Federer and Nadal, what speaks to their legacy is the consistency, the will, the heart, the ability to win matches when their opponents are playing stratosphere tennis and they themselves are somewhere in the basement on that day. And on multiple occasions we’ve seen their basement ascension progress as the tournament trudges on. The second week is their moment to shine. Roger’s last two matches have brought replenished faith from loyal fans, walking off center court with straight set victories. In the Melzer match, we saw some vintage Federer with the movement and shot making at a normal level for him, an unreal level for most. This Sunday could be tennis’s version of the ‘Thrilla in Manilla.’ Or maybe the “Greatest Rematch of All Time”?

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