short grass

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

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

Stuttgart:

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

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

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

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

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

Bastad:

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

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

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

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

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

HISTORY FOR SCHIAVONE AND NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

A Veteran’s Historic Moment – Francesca Schiavone is not a household name to the casual sports fan. Her run to the Roland Garros women’s final was a quiet one that included a retirement from her opponent Elena Dementieva in the semis. Her foe in the final was Sam Stosur, the woman who had taken out Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic in three consecutive matches to reach the final. Stosur also owned a 4-1 win-loss record against Schiavone. The Aussie came in equipped with a bigger serve, more powerful groundstrokes and a better 2010 season leading up to that point. But on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Paris, none of that mattered. Schiavone earned a lot of fans that day, including myself, as she played a spectacular match littered with positive emotions from beginning to end to become the first Italian woman to ever win a singles major title. What made her performance all the more impressive was that Schiavone herself admitted she never thought she would be in a position to win a Slam and to go out there playing that brand of stellar tennis, realistically knowing that it might be her one and only chance to ever win one of the top four prizes in the sport, is truly admirable.

Back on Top – A name a little more familiar to sports fans is that of Rafael Nadal, who sent a message to the rest of the field during his stay in the French capital. The Spaniard was in a ruthless mood as he cruised to the Roland Garros title for the fifth time in six years, doing so without the loss of a set. His defense against the powerful groundstrokes of Soderling in the final was phenomenal and clearly broke the spirit of the big-banging Swede. The added bonus for Nadal is that the win also propelled him back to No. 1 in the rankings ahead of Roger Federer.  Nadal has gotten that winning feeling back, and it’s set up him nicely going into the short grass court season where he can play with relatively less pressure given that he has no points to defend from 2009.

Double Trouble – While both of the Williams sisters crashed out earlier than either would have liked in the singles competition at the French Open, they didn’t allow that to impact their doubles game. The sisters took the title on the terre bateau, marking their 12th major doubles crown and their first in Paris since 1999. Their run at Roland Garros also assured them the top ranking in doubles, so the Williams sisters now rule the top spots in both the singles and the doubles. Given that when the Williams sisters enter the doubles draw its no secret that everyone else is unofficially playing for second, it’s nice to see them achieve the No. 1 doubles ranking. And love them or hate them, you have to applaud the Williams sisters’ staying power at every level of the game.

Comebacks Abound – The start of the grass court season is seeing its share of comebacks, at least in a manner of speaking. First, there is the return of Nikolay Davydenko, who last played in early March, marking his comeback with a win over Simon Greul in Halle. Given the Russian’s form coming in to the 2010 season, here’s hoping he quickly finds his game and shakes things up at the top of the pack. It was also announced that American Lindsay Davenport would be making a bit of a return to the game, teaming with Bob Bryan for the mixed doubles competition at Wimbledon, as well as with Liezel Huber for some women’s doubles later this summer. Finally, Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, who left the game last year, will be returning, but not as a player. Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champion, will be acting as an advisor to fellow compatriot Michel Llodra this grass court season.

Record Set To Be Broken – There were murmurs of it earlier in the year when it was announced that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin would be facing off in an exhibition to be played post-Wimbledon. Now those murmurs have become official shouts of triumph for the exo organizers, as it was announced that based on the ticket sales, the attendance for the Belgian showdown slated for July 8 will total 30,670. That total will top the previous record of 30,472 that was set during the famous “Battle of the Sexes,” match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King 37 years ago. Congrats to the two Belgians and organizers, and if the match is anything like some of their previous tussles, spectators are in for a real treat.

AROUND THE CORNER: ROGER FEDERER GOES HALLE WHILE ANDY MURRAY PLAYS LONDON

Less than twenty-four hours after Rafael Nadal’s impressive French Open victory and the ATP Tour is switching gears from the red clay of Roland Garros to the green grass of Halle and London. The short grass-court season is now upon us and over the next month we will witness a very different and exciting brand of tennis. Let’s take a closer look at what’s around the corner at the first two tune-up events for Wimbledon.

Gerry Weber Open – Halle, Germany

Halle will crown a new champion this year as veteran German player Tommy Haas is out with injury issues. In 2009 he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-1 for the title in his home country.

Roger Federer will be the number-one seed this year although he officially loses his number-one ranking on Tour on Monday as Nadal has surpassed him once again. Federer has won Halle five times before, from 2003-2006 and more recently in 2008. His first round opponent will be Jarkko Nieminen from Finland. The unfortunate Nieminen holds a 0-10 record against Federer and has never before taken a set off of him.

Interestingly enough, Federer signed a lifetime deal with the tournament on Sunday agreeing to participate in the event for as long as he is still playing professional tennis.

Federer could face the tricky Radek Stepanek in the quarter-finals and then either Juan Carlos Ferrero or Marcos Baghdatis in the semis. Both of those players have had success on grass, with Ferrero twice making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon while Baghdatis made the semi-finals in 2006.

In the bottom half of the draw Lleyton Hewitt is the 8th seed and opens against fellow Aussie Peter Luczak. Seeded second is Nikolay Davydenko who will be making his first appearance on the Tour since a wrist injury in mid-March.

One first round match worth noting is veteran Nicolas Kiefer against Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Kiefer is still struggling to find his game after injuries kept him from playing most of 2009.

AEGON Championships – London, England (aka Queen’s Club)

Four time champion Andy Roddick brings a 29-4 career record into Queen’s Club this year. Who can forget just how close the American came to finally capturing Wimbledon a year ago, where he fell 16-14 in the fifth set to Roger Federer. Roddick has not played much tennis in the past two months, but will be looking to regain his form on his favourite surface.

As of right now, Rafael Nadal is seeded first in the tournament. He does have a first-round bye so hopefully that will give him enough of a rest after winning Roland Garros. Nadal won this event in 2008 – the year he won his first and only Wimbledon title. Nadal opens by playing the winner of Marcos Daniel vs. Blaz Kavcic – a nice way to open his grass-court season wouldn’t you say? Nadal has the most favourable quarter of the tournament with the highest seed he could face being Feliciano Lopez who is the number-eight.

Andy Murray is the defending champion as he won in 2009 against James Blake 7-5, 6-4. Murray could meet up with Marin Cilic in the quarters. The pressure to win his first Grand Slam is growing and Murray will be looking to gain some momentum heading towards the grass at Wimbledon.

In the bottom half we have potential quarter-finals of Novak Djokovic against Sam Querrey. It will be interesting to see how Djokovic responds after blowing a two set lead over Jurgen Melzer at the French. Since winning his first and only Slam in Australia in 2008, Djokovic has consistently disappointed in the majors.

The last quarter offers us a potential Andy Roddick versus Richard Gasquet meeting – a rematch of their epic five-set Wimbledon battle from 2007 where the American was up by two sets before falling 8-6 in the fifth.

For any Canadian tennis fans, Frank Dancevic makes his first tournament appearance of 2010 after missing many months recovering from back surgery. After winning three matches in the qualies he advances to face Dustin Brown of Jamaica in the opening round. Dancevic is an able grass-court player and made the finals of Eastbourne last year where he fell to Dmitry Tursunov.

Don’t expect many surprises in either of these two tournaments as the big-names will be setting the tone for the month-long grass court season. I expect Federer to win his first non-Slam tournament of the year in Halle while I feel Andy Murray is due to put up some serious results in front of his home fans in London.