The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta. Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York. But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles. For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.
Top half: The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20. Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison. The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta. Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions. He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.
Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American. Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise. On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise. Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand. His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles. Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt. A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.
Semifinal: Isner vs. Hewitt
Bottom half: The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months. Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic. Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable. The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion. Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues. Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.
Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude. They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta. Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.
Semifinal: Fish vs. Anderson
Final: Hewitt vs. Anderson
Top half: As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw. Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though. Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week. Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal. But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.
A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title. The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half. Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg. Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Monaco
Bottom half: Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol. Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring. But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him. The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true). Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well. The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.
That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez. Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section. Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder. Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Semifinal: Granollers vs. Wawrinka
Final: Federer vs. Wawrinka
Top half: Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw. He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later. Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises. The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking. Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.
In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad. This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker. An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year. Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Semifinal: Gasquet vs. Fognini
Bottom half: Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon. Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad. A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there. The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.
The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos. While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there. Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi. On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.
Semifinal: Robredo vs. Berlocq
Final: Fognini vs. Robredo
Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall. This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half. Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.
7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3
During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite. First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo. Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1. When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled. Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished. Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris. (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)
6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)
Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club. An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals. That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10. Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday. Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better. Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.
5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2
Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back. He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized. Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set. A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth. All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently. Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013. Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.
4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5
Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012. Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years. Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition. To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset. But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges. He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.
3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3
Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications. Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why. Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic. Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation. We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.
2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year. The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent. Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began. Or so we thought. A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment. Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return. The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt. Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments. Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.
1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7
The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line. One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced. Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth. Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line. Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph. While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb. Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.
Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.
by James A. Crabtree
Return of the Serve and Volley?
John Newcombe, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Todd Woodbridge have been saying it for years. And for the first time in years they were proved correct. Dustin Brown and Sergiy Stakhovsky proved you can play aggressive while rushing kamikaze to the net, and most likely received a thankyou card and box of chocolates from legends turned commentators.
The 1980’s were back, minus the short shorts and mullets. All that talk about the limited time to rush to the net, players hitting too much spin, the returners being too sharp, was halted. Well, halted for a day. All the guys who produced the massive upsets failed to find the adrenaline rush that caused the upset and thus lost. Where does that leave us? Pretty much back to where we were at present day baseline tennis, but with a more recent memory of the old days and a little proof that it can be effective.
Thank God For The Roof
It used to really suck when it rained, now there is a roof Are you listening Roland Garros?
Keep Off The Grass?
Lets not hope the powers that be get their knickers in a twist and decide that the grass is bad after the carnage of that Wednesday. Okay, so everybody wearing shoes fell over, seven players were lost including seeds Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner. But it was all just a freak occurrence (although most falls were on a similar spot on the baseline and during a similar change in direction) no matter which court right?
But the grass is good, and lets remember the game was born on it and the majority of the slams used to be played on it.
Ol’ Boris summed it up best.
“A short grass court season is definitely part of the problem with the injuries. Grass court tennis is different to other surfaces, it is only two weeks of action after a long clay court season. Players need to give themselves more of chance. The grass is the same, the groundsman is the same.”
Nadal and Federer Finished?
Are the Spaniard and the Swiss finished or is this just one freak tournament where some players we assumed were finished are making comebacks and the old guard just got trounced? As bad as it is for the faithful Federer and Nadal fans it is great for the likes of Verdasco, Youzhny and Kubot to get some time in the sun, well London clouds but you get the picture. It would be hard to imagine that Nadal and Federer will not reach the same heights again. Nadal definitely has developed grass demons or hates being in England paying the extra tax, and Federer seriously has trouble producing the blistering winners he used to be able to conjure from nowhere. The U.S. hard-court season will pose some fascinating questions, especially if Federer is ranked as low as 5.
Bernie started the year on a tear, won a tournament and then ran into Federer at the Aussie Open. Since February he hasn’t put together more than two wins in a row and his personal life has been in disarray much in thanks to his father/coach John and all those issues we wont get into. At Wimbledon this year he as won three matches in a row already beating Sam Querrey, James Blake and 9th seeded Richard Gasquet, all whilst father/coach has been banned form attending. So is Tomic playing well for his dad who cannot attend or because his dad cannot attend. Either way the formula is proving a successful tonic and it would be hard to bet against Tomic in his next match against twitter sensation Berdych.
(June 26, 2013) Sergiy Stakhovsky came into his second round match against Roger Federer with a game plan: He was going to turn back the clock on Federer’s career, and pulled off the biggest upset in recent Wimbledon history by defeating the defending champion, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.
Federer had been in the top four for exactly a decade. The last time he had been No. 5 in the rankings was coincidentally June 26th, 2003, right before he won his first Wimbledon. Since then, Federer has reached 36 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, and the last time he failed to do so was at the French Open in 2004. That 2004 French Open was also the last time Federer lost to a one-handed backhander in a Slam.
Stakhovsky didn’t only turn back the clock on the stats and record book, though. He went back to the 1990’s with his style of play. It was a tremendous performance of serve-and-volley tennis. He attacked the net at every opportunity and it paid dividends.
The most incredible thing, perhaps, about the upset was that Stakhovsky was not pulling off incredible shots to beat Federer. Yes, he hit some highlight-reel volleys that will be watched for a long time. But those aren’t what won him this match. Stakhovsky won by serving consistently and by dominating at the net. Stakhovsky approached the net a whopping 94 times in this match, winning the point on 64% of those. Yes, maybe a dozen or so of those were insane volleys, but it was being there and playing consistently that got him this win.
It was a different type of loss than we are used to seeing from Federer here. Since 2003, Federer has lost to only three people at Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal beat Federer the same way he always does, by getting balls back in play and attacking that backhand with his heavy topspin. Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, though, did it by just beating Federer off the court. They brought attacking games and massive groundstrokes in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and each took Federer out in the quarterfinals.
Stakhovsky didn’t have that strong of a ground game though, and nobody expected another upset. It was apparent in many rallies when his forehand just couldn’t get past Federer’s defense. So he played the perfect game to make up for that. He served-and-volleyed. He attacked the net whenever he could. He played the perfect match on grass and used his grass-court strengths to cover up his other weaknesses superbly.
That, perhaps, is what we should take away from the match. That is what Stakhovsky did that no one else has been able to do for the last 10 years.
Stakhovsky is not as talented as Federer. He is not as good of a tennis player. But he brought a game plan that allowed him to beat Federer and executed it to perfection. He didn’t back down when he got behind. And he didn’t back down when he was in the lead. He brought out huge serves and clutch volleys on big points.
The match itself was entertaining from the start. It was strong grass-court tennis the way it is meant to be played. Stakhovsky said after the match that it’s always a challenge coming in against Federer because it’s like facing two opponents out there—the actual Roger Federer and Federer’s reputation and aura of greatness. Stakhovsky didn’t show it at all, though, holding serve and opening up some break chances.
Stakhovsky’s first real chance came when he had a break point at 5-5 in the first set. He had an open court but instead hit the volley right to Federer, who took the point and held. When Federer won the first set in a tiebreak, it did not seem like Stakhovsky could hold on. But Stakhovsky came back in the second, holding his serve over and over until he could take the second set in a tiebreak.
The third set looked like it was heading to a tiebreak like the first two, but Stakhovsky played a strong defensive game while Federer was a little loose and broke for a 6-5 lead. He held for the set and when he broke early in the fourth, we knew that we might be on the cusp of history here. Federer broke back for 3-3 though and Stakhovsky finally looked nervous. He managed to save set points and bring it to a tiebreak, though, and it looked like it was all-or-nothing. Stakhovsky took a minibreak for 4-2 and had a match point on his racket, serving at 6-4. Federer saved it with a great passing shot but an errant backhand the next point handed Stakhovsky the biggest win of his career.
Is this the end of an era for Roger? It is certainly the end of several historic streaks. But the end of an era? Federer says he plans on playing for many more years. And, since he won this tournament just last year, we’d be foolish to count him out so early.
By Maud Watson
One of the bigger casualties of Week 1 at the French Open was Caroline Wozniacki, who was dumped out in the second round by Bojana Jovanovski. The sad part is her loss wasn’t even a surprise. Her results this clay court season – and for the better part of the year – have been dismal. What’s even sadder is she seems blind as to how to reverse the trend. “It’s all about just momentum, I guess. Hopefully it will turn and I’ll start winning some more.” What she doesn’t seem to comprehend is that, as a general rule, that doesn’t just happen. And if it did, shouldn’t we have seen better results from her following her finals appearance at Indian Wells? The crux of the problem still remains that she needs a real coach to teach her how to better utilize her strengths and hide her weaknesses. But until she commits to that, cuts the strings with her father, and commits to re-tooling her game, she’ll continue her slump, and we’ll likely be hearing the same line again at the conclusion of the grass court season.
Bernard Tomic is another young player unwilling to part ways with his father/coach. Perhaps mercifully given all of the off court drama he faced coming into Paris, the young Aussie was forced to retire in his opening match thanks to a small tear in his right leg muscle. But his early exit didn’t allow him to completely avoid the topic of his father, who has been banned from attending a slew of professional tennis events for his alleged misconduct against Tomic’s hitting partner prior to Madrid. Tomic insists that his father will always be his coach, and it’s understandable how hard it can be to cut ties with a family member, especially a parent. But Tomic also doesn’t have to look far to see how past overbearing and abusive fathers have interrupted, hampered and sometimes completely derailed promising careers. At least Tomic is willing to add another voice to his camp, though he may have a tough time finding someone willing to step in as a second fiddle John Tomic. Hopefully for his sake the right person will come along to join his team and fix more than just his game. If not, his career may be over before it even gets off the ground.
Food for Thought
Former pro Marc Rosset didn’t mince words earlier this week when he declared men’s tennis “boring.” He felt it was too much about the Big Four, and that a large part of that was due to the current seeding system and homogenization of the playing surfaces. While suggesting that men’s tennis is boring is an opinion that likely goes too far, he does raise some valid points. The standardization of the surfaces has meant less variety in today’s game, with virtually the same game style getting it done on all surfaces (though the greats do make minor adjustments). But the current seeding system hasn’t really come under fire since they first opted to seed 32 at the majors, and maybe it’s time to revisit that decision. Seeding 16 instead of 8 at the Masters is acceptable. Those fields are already loaded due to the smaller draw size, which means a fair number of intriguing matchups early in the tournament. But also seeding just 16 at the majors might be a better way to go than the current 32. With a singles draw of 128, there are too many early matches that feel like mere formalities. Seeding only 16 would likely add some excitement early but still protect the higher-ranked players in their attempt to reach the business end of things. More often than not, the cream will continue to rise to the top, but making some of the suggested changes might make watching them do so a little more fun.
Say what you want about Ernests Gulbis, but one thing he’s not is dishonest. Of course, he’s not always wise either. In his interview following his loss to Monfils, the Latvian called out the Big Four for being boring interviews. Granted, Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal may have a tendency to play it overly safe for some, but it’s an approach that beats taking the risk of crossing the line from refreshingly honest to outright obnoxious. Furthermore, in case Gulbis hasn’t noticed, being blunt doesn’t yield success. In some cases, it can hamper it. Just look at the difference in Djokovic form when he first arrived on the scene to where he’s at today. Yes, his game and mental strength have evolved, but he also helped his cause by becoming more diplomatic to avoid generating off court drama for himself. It’s a fine line to walk, and Gulbis would be well served to take a few pointers from the Big Four to strike a better balance in his approach to the media and fans.
They often say fame comes with a price, and for Sergiy Stakhovsky, the price tag was $2,000. In his losing effort to home favorite Gasquet, Stakhovsky pulled out his phone to take a picture of a disputed ball mark. Instantly, the Ukrainian’s image was plastered all over the Internet and various sports shows. Unfortunately for him, the officials weren’t amused and hit him with a fine for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” He may have carried on longer than appropriate, but considering some of the other stuff that goes unpunished, the $2,000 seemed a bit steep. It amounted to roughly 7% of his overall prize money, which for a player of Stakhovsky’s caliber is a sizeable chunk. Talk about learning a lesson the hard way!
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
- Shot of the day: Gael Monfils’ surprise win over world No. 6 Tomas Berdych has been the result of the tournament so far. His four-hour, 7-6(8), 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-7(4), 7-5 win had the Parisian crowd on their feet, and commentators and fans alike dropping their jaws at the athleticism of both players, particularly the Frenchman.
- Li Na’s first round victory clouded by chaotic officiating: Serving a set down and 4-4 30-40 in the second set, Na’s opponent, Annabel Medina Garrigues hit a backhand down the line which was initially called out, overruled by umpire Louise Engzell, and then as Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times reports, “Engzell pivoted to face Medina Garrigues and told her she would lose the point because she softly said ‘no’ constituting hindrance” after Na argued with Engzell over the call. Medina Garrigues conceded the point and engaged Engzell in a lengthy debate over the hindrance rule on the changeover before losing the final game of the match. Oh, and she brought up Maria Sharapova’s grunting. Of course.
- Sergiy Stakhovsky moonlights as tennis’s newest photojournalist: Sergiy Stakhovsky was visibly frustrated over an out call in the first set of his opening match with Richard Gasquet so much so, that he took a picture of the mark in question and posted it for the twitter world to see. As Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated points out, Stakhovsky’s photography prowess has precedent as the Ukranian took a photo of a disputed call several weeks ago also in Munich. Will this become a monthly occurrence by the Ukranian?
- Zuzana Kucova’s Cinderella story marches on: A miraculous, must read story by USA Today’s Douglas Robson about 30-year-old, unranked Zuzana Kucova whose “goodbye tour” marched on today as she took out No. 24 seed Julia Goerges in straight sets.
- Nicolas Almagro goes deep: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, the third ranked Spaniard discusses his love life, on court rituals, and his plans for the future.
- John Tomic banned for good: Despite the International Tennis Federation permitting Bernard Tomic’s father from entering the French Open as paying spectator after he assaulted Bernard’s hitting partner in Madrid, the French Open organizers, as ESPN reports, “will not let Bernard Tomic’s father into Roland Garros, even as paying spectator.”
- Ana Ivanovic tells all: In an interview with the Roland Garros Quotidien daily magazine, the Serbian discussed her favorite music, what she looks for in guys, her biggest flaws, and much more. When asked what she wants to be remembered for, Ivanovic responded:
“That I was an honest person, that I always tried to look for the silver lining. And I hope people will say that I was a great tennis player, even if there are more important things in life.”
- Andy Murray does the WTA: At a time when Andy Murray’s greatest foes are clashing for a French Open crown, the sidelined Scot has turned his attention to the WTA. Murray clearly tuned in for the epic Venus Williams-Urszula Radwanska, commending the younger Radwanska on her fantastic lobs via Twitter.
- Laura Robson fails to impress: After a hotly-anticipated matchup, the British teenager was ousted in the opening round by Caroline Wozniacki. Peter Bodo of Tennis.Com was unimpressed with the lack of form and strategy Robson brought to the court against the struggling Dane criticizing Robson for “her catalog of transgressions including an erratic forehand, an ineffective and unsteady backhand, an unwillingness to attack.”
- American women flying high: Though Americans are usually not known for their clay court skills, the American woman had a stellar day at the French Open, going 6-1 on the day including wins by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin, who ousted 28th-seeded Tamira Paszek in straight sets. Lauren Davis, Coco Vandeweghe, and Jamie Hampton hope to repeat the success the American women had Monday as they take to the court for their opening round matches tomorrow.
- Junior World No. 1 upsets Radek Stepanek: In his Slam debut, 18-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios took out 34-year-old veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks. Stepanek applauded his younger adversary following the match:
“When you’re good in the juniors, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be good in men’s tennis,” Stepanek said. “But definitely he has some talent. He’s serving big and if he keeps working hard, he definitely has a chance.”
Check back on Wednesday for more “Roland Garros Roundup”!
By Kelyn Soong
Brian Baker’s biggest win on the ATP World Tour occurred in the first round of the 2005 U.S. Open, where he upset ninth-seeded Gaston Gaudio.
It would be more than six years and five major surgeries later before Baker would earn another ATP main draw victory.
After breezing through the qualifying rounds, the 27-year-old Baker defeated world No. 84 Sergiy Stakhovsky in the first round of the Nice Open in France and will meet fourth seeded Gael Monfils next.
The win continues the comeback story of the former junior phenom, who earned a USTA wild card into the 2012 French Open by winning the Savannah Challenger in Georgia last month. For Baker, it will be a return to the scene he once commanded.
Back in 2003, Baker reached the Boys’ Singles final at Roland Garros – losing to former top 10 player Stanislas Wawrinka. En route he defeated 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals and current world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals. The tennis world had its eyes on the tall, powerful American.
But injuries and surgeries – left hip, sports hernia, right hip, left hip again and a Tommy John elbow procedure – would rear its ugly head.
By the time Baker was 23, the Nashville, Tenn. native returned home and enrolled at nearby Belmont University, where he worked as an assistant tennis coach. He was majoring in business with a finance concentration and still has one more year to complete.
The degree may have to wait a little longer than planned.
Now world No. 216 and not far off from his career best of No. 172 from November 2004, Baker has jumped more than 200 spots since the beginning of the year.
In a career full of twists and turns, Baker now has the chance to make the biggest splash of them all – mounting a comeback that no one expected.
(Photo of Brian Baker by Kathy Willens, AP)
The time has come! While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.
10. The Newcomers
It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group. For Japan it’s been 27. In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns. Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.
In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend. To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.
8. Russian Roulette
The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover. Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player. Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place. Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder. All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.
7. Veterans Day
Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others. Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.
6. The Battle of the Misfits
One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan. The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine. It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.
5. Tommy Haas
Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we? Let’s just sit back and enjoy.
4. The Other Groups
Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means). Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko). You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.
3. The New Heroes
Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes. Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players. Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.
2. Double Trouble
Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different. This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.
1. The Cheerleaders
Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis. It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us. Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.
Juan Martin del Potro beat Andy Roddick 3-6 7-5 7-6 (6) to win the Legg Mason Tennis Classic title in Washington, DC, USA
Flavia Pennetta beat Samantha Stosur 6-4 6-3 to win the LA Women’s Tennis Championships in Los Angeles, California, USA
Feliciano Lopez won the ATP Open Castilla y Leon in Segovia, Spain, defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-4
Andreas Seppi beat Potito Starace 7-6 (4) 2-6 6-4 to win the San Marino CEPU Open in San Marino
Marcos Baghdatis beat Xavier Malisse 6-4 6-4 to win the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open men’s singles in Vancouver, Canada
Stephanie Dubois beat Sania Mirza 1-6 6-4 6-4 to win the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open women’s singles in Vancouver, Canada
“We play until the tiebreaker, and then I did the best service of my life.” – Juan Martin del Potro, who hit five of his 19 aces in the tiebreaker to beat Andy Roddick and win his second straight Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
“I kind of forced him to play high-risk tennis, especially with the heat. He was taking big cuts, especially for the last 30, 45 minutes we were out there, and he was connecting.” – Andy Roddick, after losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the final at Washington, DC.
“Every match I improved. I had a great chance in the second set and I took it, that’s why I won.” – Flavia Pennetta, who won the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.
“My whole career I’ve been trying to get to this point. It kind of looks like I’ve done it late, but I don’t worry too much about that. I took a little longer to develop.” – Samantha Stosur, after reaching the final of the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.
“I don’t have fear if I miss that important point. If you don’t take a risk, you don’t gain.” – Fernando Gonzalez, after beating Tommy Haas at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
“Did I hear the baby? My grandmother in Russia heard the baby.” – Maria Sharapova, after a baby started crying in the first set of her 6-4 (4) 6-4 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka at the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.
“I have to give him a lot of credit. He helped turn my mind around. I’m no longer looking at tennis as a matter of life and death.” – Philip Bester of Canada, speaking about his several sessions with sports psychologist Jim Loehr.
”I realized how much I missed it and how it made me sharper, and, in some ways, more focused. Then I realized I wanted it back.” – Ana Ivanovic, talking about the pressure of being number one in the world.
“Maybe some people think it’s too crazy, but I’m enjoying a lot. For me it’s not only for the ranking or always to win the tournament. It’s just to enjoy life.” – Kimiko Date Krumm, on returning to the WTA Tour after her 12-year retirement.
SECONDING THE CALL
After battling through 14 points in the final-set tiebreaker, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro waited at the net for the replay to tell them if their match was over. Del Potro appeared to win the match with a crosscourt forehand winner, but Roddick challenged the call. “I actually thought it might have been out, and I asked him and he said it might have been out,” Roddick said. “So imagine the disappointment when it wasn’t.” The disappointment was all Roddick’s as del Potro won his second straight Legg Mason Tennis Classic title in Washington, DC, edging Roddick 3-6 7-5 7-6 (6).
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has appealed a ruling that essentially cleared Richard Gasquet, who said he inadvertently took cocaine by kissing a woman in a nightclub. The ITF is appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after an independent tribunal decided to exonerate Gasquet for a positive cocaine test. The Frenchman was allowed to resume playing after serving a 2½-month retroactive ban. The ITF is seeking a two-year ban under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code.
Tamira Paszek will not be suspended while officials investigate whether medical treatment the Austrian tennis player received for a back injury violated doping regulations. The disciplinary committee of Austria’s anti-doping agency said Paszek can continue to play on the WTA Tour until a verdict is reached in about seven weeks. Last month Paszek had blood taken for homeopathic enrichment, and then re-injected into her lower back. Re-injecting one’s own blood is banned under international anti-doping rules. It was Paszek herself who alerted the doping agency when she learned that her treatment may have been illegal. She hasn’t played a match since retiring in the first round of Wimbledon in June.
Andy Roddick reached another milestone at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC. When the Wimbledon finalist beat fellow American Sam Querrey in a third-round match, it was his 500th career match victory, making Roddick only the fourth active player and the 36th in the Open Era to win 500 matches. Roger Federer – no surprise there – leads the active players with 657 match wins, while Carlos Moya has 573 and Lleyton Hewitt 511.
An elbow injury did what an opponent couldn’t at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC. An injury to his right elbow forced Sweden’s Robin Soderling to withdraw from his quarterfinal match against second-seeded Juan Martin del Potro. Soderling reached the French Open final this year, losing to Roger Federer, then won the Swedish Open in Bastad, Sweden, in his last two tournaments.
After years of paying on consecutive weeks, men and women will compete for the Rogers Cup at the same time but in separate Canadian cities. The men and women take turns playing one year in Montreal, then the next in Toronto. This year, the men will play in Stade Uniprix at Jarry Park in Montreal this week; the women will play at Rexall Centre at York University in Toronto next week. But because of increased international pressure for more combined men’s and women’s tournaments, Tennis Canada will squeeze its two marquee events into the same week beginning in 2011. That’s the only way the Rogers Cup can be played three weeks before the US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Despite the two tours playing in separate cities, Tennis Canada will be calling it the world’s first “virtually-combined” tournament, melding the two events into one through the medium of television.
On her way to the court to play for the title, Stephanie Dubois noticed the photos of the previous winners of the Vancouver Open. “I visualized myself on that wall with the others,” said Dubois, a native of Quebec, Canada. “I worked very hard for this.” The 22-year-old Dubois made sure her picture will be added to the “winners’ wall” when she became the first Canadian to capture the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open women’s singles title by beating India’s Sania Mirza 1-6 6-4 6-4. The winner didn’t hold serve until 3-2 in the second set, then knotted the match at one set apiece when she cashed in on her sixth set point. “I’m very happy to have won,” Dubois said. “I came here with that objective.”
When he suffered a second-round loss at the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Ryan Sweeting had a few choice words to say to the chair umpire. The officials weren’t impressed by his choice of words and instead fined Sweeting USD $1,500 for verbal abuse of a chair umpire. The young American made his expensive speech after losing to Canada’s Philip Bester 6-4 6-3.
SIGN UP, PLEASE
Two tennis stars, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, have asked cricketers in India to sign the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code despite apprehension about the “whereabout” clause. “Lots of the tennis players had apprehensions early but we are all doing it,” Bhupathi said. The disputed clause makes it mandatory for athletes to disclose their whereabouts three months in advance. Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are two tennis stars who are the most vociferous critics of the clause, but both have signed it. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) supports its players and has asked the International Cricket Council, a WADA signatory, to explore the possibility of having an anti-doping agency of its own. “It would not be fair to all the other sports and sportsmen of the world to make exceptions to WADA’s rules, and I’m sure any doubts that the cricketers have can be sorted out amicably through consensus before they sign on the dotted line,” Sania said.
Roger Federer posted the first public photo of his twin daughters on the Internet. The Swiss tennis star wrote below the photo on his Facebook account that the girls and mother are “doing great,” and thanks friends and fans for their wishes. Federer and his wife Mirka are each holding a baby in the picture. Charlene Riva and Myla Rose were born July 23. Federer said the photo was taken by his father.
Jane Brown Grimes and John Reese are the 2009 recipients of the prestigious International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum (ITHFM) Chairman’s Award, which recognizes outstanding service by a board member. Brown Grimes opened the ITHFM’s New York office in 1977 and became the Hall of Fame’s executive director in 1981. In 1986 she became managing director of the Women’s Tennis Council, then returned to the Hall of Fame as its president and CEO in 1991, serving until 2000. A board member since 1983, Reese became executive vice president of the Hall of Fame board and later served in a number of positions, including president and CEO, chairman and CEO, and chairman of the executive committee. In 1998, Reese was inducted into the United States Tennis Association’s Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame.
Dinara Safina is the first player to clinch a spot in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be held October 27-November 1 at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex in Doha, Qatar. The world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams from the 2009 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour will compete for the year-ending title and a share of the record Championships prize money of USD $4.45 million. It will be Safina’s second trip to the Championships, having made her debut a year ago. The Russian reached the world number one ranking on April 20. Her 16-match winning streak is the best on the WTA Tour this season. She also has reached the final of the Australian Open and Roland Garros, while gaining a semifinal berth at Wimbledon. “Qualifying for the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships is one of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year,” Safina said. “I’ve accomplished a lot of milestones this season and am thrilled to be the first to qualify for the Championships.”
The United States became the first nation to win three straight World Junior Tennis titles when the 14-and-under girls beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final held in Prostejov, Czech Republic. Aneta Dvorakova beat Victoria Duval of Delray Beach, Florida, to begin the title competition. After Sachia Vickery of Miramar, Florida, beat Petra Rohanova 6-4 6-7 (3) 6-2 of knot the tie at one match each, the American doubles team of Duval and Vickery beat Dvorakova and Rohanova 6-2 6-7 (4) 6-1 to clinch the crown. Also on the winning team was Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Washington: Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski 7-5 7-6 (3)
Los Angeles: Chuang Chia-Jung and Yan Zi beat Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Segovia: Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat Sergiy Stakhovsky and Lovro Zovko 6-7 (4) 6-3 10-8 (match tiebreak)
San Marino: Lucas Arnold Ker and Sebastian Prieto beat Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 7-6 (4) 2-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Vancouver (men): Kevin Anderson and Rik De Voest beat Ramon Delgado and Kaes Van’t Hof 6-4 6-4
Vancouver (women): Ahsha Rolle and Riza Zalameda beat Madison Brengle and Lilia Osterloh 6-4 6-3
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$3,000,000 Rogers Cup, Montreal, Canada, hard
$120,000 Internazionali del Friuli Venezia Guilia Tennis Cup Cordenons, Italy, clay
$2,000,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, hard
Vale Do Lobo Grand Champions CGD, Algarve, Portugal, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$3,000,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, hard
$2,000,000 Rogers Cup, Toronto, Canada, hard
International Tennis Hall of Fame Champions Cup, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, grass
I am terribly sorry not updating my blog for so long but I just got these photos in. I asked Stephane Carter to use them on his but he didn’t want to so I am using these photos for the Weeklylinks instead. The photos are from Andy Murray who is currently in Dubai to compete. With many top players such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick out of the tournament the chances of winning for Andy have increased big time. He might even take home the title. Enjoy the photos!
Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships’ No.2 seed and ATP World Tour No.4, Andy Murray, made his maiden voyage aboard a luxury yacht off the coastline of Dubai today in advance of the tournament’s 1st round which begins tomorrow, Monday 23rd February.
It was the first time the Scot had stepped aboard a luxury yacht, and he did so in front of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel.
The 21-year-old boarded the 85-foot yacht at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel Marina. The outing headed towards the Palm Jumeirah before passing the Al Qasr hotel, The Madinat Jumeirah resort and Wild Wadi Water Park before returning to Burj al Arab.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been on a boat like this before,” said Murray. “It was great fun and probably the best player activity I’ve done whilst I’ve been on the Tour”.
Murray plays Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the Championships’ opening round tomorrow evening.
Photo credit: Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships