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Rafa looking for more duels with Federer, Soderling believes he can crack rivalry and Murray out to break his own duck

Rafael Nadal

*2010 ended with the Top 2 doing battle at the o2 Arena in London in the final of the ATPWTFs. They also kicked off 2011 by rallying on water, and then going head to head in the final of the Doha Championships, which Rafael Nadal took in straight sets. Now the Spaniard wants more chances this year to do battle with his biggest foe. “I would love to play against Roger Federer this year a few more times because when we play each other it’s in the final, so that’s already a very good result for both of us to be in the final of important tournaments,” Federer, who came out on top in that big London clash, echoed the sentiment. “We only played twice last year in Madrid and the ATP World Tour Finals in London, which was a great end for both of us,” he said. “There’ll be huge hype going into the new season with him going for his fourth Grand Slam in a row and me trying to defend the Australian Open title. So right off the bat we’ll have some excitement.” More from the two great Champions can be read over at the ATP website.

*World No. 5 Robin Soderling believes he is ready to break the Federer-Nadal dominance at the Grand Slams in 2011 and finally lift one of his own. The two-time French Open finalist has never advanced past the quarterfinal stage at any of the other three majors. But the 26-year-old will be hoping that he can improve that record under the watchful eye of new coach Claudio Pistolesi. He has never advanced past the second round Down Under and insists this must improve. “I still feel I can improve and become a better player,” said the Swedish No. 1. “If I can do that then I’m pretty sure I have a good chance to do well this year. [During the off season] I tried to do a few things. I tried to work on playing a little bit more aggressively, coming into the net a little bit more.” He also laughed off the supposed gulf in class between the Top 2 and the chasing pack. “I never felt that the gap was very big,” said Soderling, who defeated Nadal (2009) and Federer (2010) en route to his only Slam finals appearances. “There are a lot of very good players and I think there are 10 or even 15 guys who can win the big tournaments like the Grand Slams. Of course, Roger and Rafa will always be the favourites in every tournament they play in, but I think there are a lot of players who have a chance to beat them.”

*In yet another season-opening promise to break his Grand Slam duck world No. 4 Andy Murray claims he needs to improve his serve if he is to finally take a major home to Scotland. It is almost a year ago that he collapsed in straight sets to Roger Federer in the final of the Aussie Open and he wants to recapture that early season form and go one step further. “I’ve worked a lot on my serve and I’ll keep working on it,” said the 23-year-old. “I think from the baseline I’ve matched up well with Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] but I’ll need to serve well and return well if I want to beat them. Last year’s Aussie Open was one of the best events I’ve played in my life…so I’ll have to play even better if I want to win, because Rafa and Roger are playing so well just now.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.

*Former world No. 4 Nicolas Kiefer has announced his retirement from tennis at the age of 33. He reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in 2006 and the final at the ATP Masters Toronto in 2008 but the past two years have been dogged by injury and loss of form. His greatest achievement was partnering Rainier Schuettler to the silver medal berth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

*Former tennis star Andre Agassi has labelled the Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer rivalry as “more compelling” than the one he fought with his compatriot Pete Sampras. At the time it was considered one of the greatest in history. But now all the talk is of the Spaniard and the Swiss as both have completed career Grand Slams and Federer has overtaken Sampras’ record haul of 14 Grand Slams by lifting 16 of his own. “Tennis is at an amazing time when you’ve got two of the best players ever to play the game,” said Agassi. “You can argue the two very best playing in the same generation. It’s a rivalry I think that we’ve never seen in our sport.” John McEnroe also spoke this week of how he sees the domination lasting for a few more years until Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray improve sufficiently to crack it. That can be read at Tennis.com.

*Juan Carlos Ferrero has officially withdrawn from Auckland and the Australian Open after failing to overcome the knee and wrist surgeries he underwent in October.

*In their first meeting since that eleven-hour epic at Wimbledon last year John Isner took only 90 minutes to secure a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over Nicolas Mahut at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia.

*Roger Federer has once again unveiled his masterpiece, “The Tweener,” in Doha. Facing 21-year-old Dutchman Thomas Schoorel, Federer sprinted back towards the baseline before unleashing a mesmerising winner through his legs, over the net and in to the corner. “It’s one of the best shots again of my career, one I’m going to look back on and smile, of course,” said the 29-year-old. It is the fifth occasion that the 16-time Grand Slam winner has unveiled the trickshot, having done so previously at the 2009 and 2010 US Opens, in Shanghai last year and also at the 2007 Dubai Open.

*American Wayne Odesnik has spoken publicly after last week having the second year of his ITF pro tennis ban scratched for trying to smuggle HGH in to Australia last January. “It’s been, obviously, the hardest six months of my life, this last year,” Odesnik told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “[I was] depressed. This experience has humbled me. I realize how lucky I am to be out here making a living on what we love to do, even if I have to start back again. I’m ready for it and looking forward to the challenge.” Many players condemned his actions at the time of being found guilty and just last month his compatriot Mardy Fish was very vocal about his disgust at Odesnik being allowed to rejoin the tour.

*Former doubles world No. 1 Daniel Nestor has been appointed a Member to the Order of Canada for his achievements within the sport and in raising money for charity. The 38-year-old has won more doubles titles than any other active player (71) including all four Grand Slams, all ten Masters Series events and the Olympic Gold in doubles at Athens in 2000. “[I'm] definitely a little bit surprised,” said Nestor. “It’s one of the greatest honours you can achieve as a Canadian. For me, I’m very proud. I wasn’t born in Canada [he was born in Belgrade and emigrated aged four] but something I’ve realised playing the tour and travelling so much is how appreciative I am to be Canadian and the great opportunity the country has given me. It’s a great honour for me.”

*Andre Agassi and Marit Safin have agreed to contest a series of matches taking place across Taiwan. The exhibition tournaments will also include Russian world No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny as well as Asia’s No. 1 player Lu Yen-Hsun and his compatriot Jimmy Wang. They will be chaired by former ATP World Tour umpire Romano Grillotti and take place on January 6 and 8 in both Taipei and Kaohsiung.

*Doubles team Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, affectionately known as the ‘Indo-Pak Express,’ have launched their new range of ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’ clothing at the Aircel Chennai Open. The pair have often campaigned for an end to hostilities between their native India and Pakistan and this is the next step. Some of the proceeds will go to the pair’s chosen charities. “What started out as a simple statement has now become a world-wide campaign,” said Bopanna. “This is a great opportunity for us to connect with our fans and we are thrilled to finally launch the merchandise.”

*Former world No. 6 Chanda Rubin is looking for pastures new after a severe fire destroyed her River Ranch, Acadiana home. The Aussie Open semifinalist escaped unharmed after lightning was said to strike the 5,500 square-foot pad. Much of her playing memorabilia is said to have been lost but she was able to salvage a few trophies. She was surprisingly philosophical about the whole thing: “Family and health, those things are number one,” she told KLFY TV 10 Eyewitness News. “Stuff is just that and I kind of have to keep that in mind.”

*The results are in for the 2010 TennisReporters reader’s polls. Without spoiling the surprise, head over now to see who was voted male and female Player of the Year as well as our sexiest stars.

Adios Carlos Moya – The Friday Five

Carlos Moya

By Maud Watson

Baby Steps

Well, the bad news is that the USTA isn’t putting a roof on any of their courts…yet. The good news is that they have approved a more than $300 million budget to begin making a string of much-needed upgrades to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The first change to be made is the immediate construction of a mini-stadium that will be adjacent to the hospitality area. It is expected to be ready to go no later than the 2012 US Open and may even be given the green light for the 2011 championships. The bigger change, however, which isn’t slated to begin for another six to eight years, will be tearing down the beloved Louis Armstrong and Grandstand stadiums to create two new stadiums. When all is said and done, approximately 3,000 – 5,000 seats will be added between the two new Armstrong and Grandstand courts. And while neither stadium will have a roof, they will at least be “roof ready.” Of course the USTA has still not yet listed a solution to the no-roof over Ashe issue, but this latest bit of news is encouraging that they are moving in the right direction.

Adiós Amigo

It wasn’t a shocker, but it did become official. On Wednesday, Carlos Moya, the first Spaniard to reach the number one ranking since the Open Era rankings began in 1973, announced that he is retiring from the game. The 1998 Roland Garros champion stated he was forced to arrive at this decision due to a niggling foot injury that doctors have been unable to agree on how best to heal. It’s unfortunate that the retirement did not go as Moya had planned, which was to have the opportunity to say his good-byes at some of the grandest venues in the game, but with a Slam, the number one ranking, and a Davis Cup title to his name, he should have no regrets.

Plethora of Proposals

With so many other thrilling storylines as the season nears its close, the possibility that the French Open might be forced to leave its current Parisian venue was put on the backburner. It’s come back as one of the top stories this week, however, with the news that the city of Paris has presented the FFT with a plan to build a new (albeit small) stadium across the street from the current site. This new court would replace the current Court 1, affectionately known as the “Bullring,” which is slated to be torn down. The proposal will be competing with three additional proposals from other Paris suburbs. In the end, fans and players will want what’s ultimately best for the second Grand Slam event of the year, but it would be hard to see it move from its current historic venue.

Notes from Paris

The season may be nearing its conclusion, but there’s still plenty of good tennis left to be played in the final week if the Paris Masters was any indication. With Rafael Nadal the only name in the top five who didn’t play, the field in Paris was plenty strong. The semifinals were thrilling to the end, and included home crowd favorite Gael Monfils saving five match points against Roger Federer to reach the final where he eventually lost to the big-hitting Swede, Robin Soderling. It will be interesting to see if the win spills over as Soderling competes in London this coming week. No doubt the players could use a longer off season (and we may just hear about that next week), but hats off to the players for still delivering a quality product after a long year.

Now That’s Determination

The next time someone complains about ticket prices, just think of Gayus Tambunan. The Indonesian tax official not only shelled out over $40,000 in order to walk out of prison to watch the WTA’s Bali event, but he donned a wig when he did it. It was one of the quirkier stories of the week, and definitely one of the more amusing anecdotes. Tambunan stated his reasoning behind going to see the Bali event was due to stress at being detained and the need for a vacation to deal with that stress. Still, it would be nice to think he brought a new meaning to the phrase “for love of the game.”

Nadal Expects to play London, Federer and Murray Call for Longer Winter Break, Wozniacki on Player Council

Rafael Nadal

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal expects to be fit for the ATP Tour Finals in London despite pulling out of the Paris Masters this week with injury. “I am not worried at all about London,” said the Spaniard. “It was not an easy decision [to pull out of Paris] because Paris is a special city for me. But I have played all the season’s Masters and Grand Slams. I will be back to practice soon, before next Sunday.” Nadal had an awful experience at the o2 Arena last year, being eliminated at the Group Stage without taking a single set. “I’m going to do all in my hands to play well there,” said the man who has won this season’s French Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles.

“It’s my goal to improve the image of last year in London.” The full interview, in which he discusses his latest injury, can be seen at the BBC Tennis site.

*Roger Federer is calling for the current four-week ATP Tour winter break to be increased to six to protect players from possible burnout. This debate has been going on for years as more and more tournaments crop up on the circuit and there have even been mentions of a possible fifth Grand Slam in Asia to dip in to the Eastern market. “I think it’s time we shifted back a bit and we get a proper off-season,” said the 29-year-old before he went in to battle at Paris this week. “Four weeks is just not enough. I think six is much better as you can take two weeks off… practise three, four weeks which is a lot for us in our world.” Federer has also this week firmly denied he has had any part to play in the IMG betting scandal surrounding many sports currently. IMG executive Ted Forstmann is accused of betting millions on sporting events including the 2007 French Open final with Federer lost to Rafa Nadal. “I reached out to him and told him I want to know everything about it, how this came about,” Federer told the New York Times. “And he’s been, you know, nice enough obviously to tell me from his side and has been very open in the press already. So that’s OK.”

*Andy Murray is another calling for a longer break. He believes the current length of the tour will curtail many players’ careers before their time. “There’s no time for you to take a break to get rid of an injury,” The British No. 1 told The Sun newspaper. “Instead players end up playing through it and that actually shortens careers. There should be fewer mandatory tournaments because you get punished so much for being injured and I don’t think that’s fair.” Recent examples of Murray’s points are 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro and Serena Williams.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will replace the outgoing Patty Schnyder on the WTA Players’ Council. She joins the Williams sisters, Franchesca Schiavone, Akgul Amanmuradova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands as the players’ representatives.

*American Taylor Dent has become the latest star to announce their retirement from professional tennis. The Newport Beach native staged an amazing comeback in 2009 from a debilitating back injury for which he was nominated for the 2009 Comeback Of The Year award after climbing nearly 800 ranking slots to finish the year at No. 76 in the world. “I had the privilege to compete at the highest level for 12 years, see places in the world I would have never been able to see without tennis, and meet people along the way that have become lifelong friends,” said 29-year-old Dent.

“I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, especially with my wife Jenny [Hopkins, former tennis pro] and our son Declan. I want to continue to stay active in the tennis industry and I am excited to explore opportunities in the world of tennis that my full tournament schedule never allowed me to do.” 38-year-old doubles specialist Martin Damm has also announced his retirement from the sport due to poor results coupled with his age. He will now coach American starlet Ryan Harrison.

*World No. 4 Andy Murray has said it is “a possibility” that he may play on without a full-time coach if he feels happy with his current form and set-up. The British No. 1 has not had a full-time coach since parting ways with Miles McLagan in July but has been working closely with former world No. 2 Alex Corretja in that time. “I just have to decide to see what to do next year,” said the 23-year-old. “If I like the way things are going and I feel like I’m improving, then I’m not scared of playing some tournaments on my own, trying out being on my own for a little bit. But I need to make sure I’m improving. If I’m not improving, then I’m not going to keep just trying to make it work without a coach.” You can read, or watch, the full interview including Murray’s views on his recent form at the ATP website.

*Italy became the sixth nation to win three or more Fed Cup titles with their victory over the USA in San Diego. Understandably, Flavia Pennetta was on cloud nine. “It’s amazing to win a match like this,” Pennetta said of her victory over Coco Vandeweghe in their singles rubber. “I was feeling really good on the court and I think all of the team is very happy now. It’s amazing to be here. This will be with me all my life so it’s really nice and really exciting.”

*The Bryan brothers clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking in doubles with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-3 victory over long-time rivals Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic at the Swiss Indoors Basel on Sunday. It was title number eleven for 2010 and they now have a 11-0 record in finals this year. They have achieved this feat once before (2007) and have the chance in either Paris or London to take a career-record twelfth title of the season.

*Pat Rafter has outlined Plan A in bringing Davis Cup success to Australia: healing the very public rift between Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic. It began at Wimbledon 2009 when Tomic and his father and coach, John, snubbed requests by Hewitt to be his hitting partner. It then exploded last summer when Hewitt questioned whether Tomic was ready for Davis Cup play. With many seeing Tomic, 18 last month, as the future of Aussie tennis, Rafter is keen to heal the damage. “I think after the Australian Open would be a nice time for us all to sit down. Both boys have to agree,” Rafter told the HeraldSun. “I spoke to Bernard recently and we had a really good conversation with both him and his father. That’s been a great thing. Obviously he is really important to us. He’s a great player, a great talent and he’s got a good opportunity of making it. He’s someone, with me being Davis Cup captain, who will definitely come into the fray.” For a great interview including Rafter’s views on Aussie tennis and how kids should have “more mongrel” on the tour, as he puts it, check out the Herald/Sun website.

*Former world No. 20 Katarina Srebotnik has announced her retirement from singles tennis to focus fully on the WTA doubles tour. The 29-year-old Slovenian suffered badly with injuries throughout 2009 and so has decided to focus on her more prosperous doubles exploits. In January 2008 she reached No. 3 in the world in doubles and she hopes to recapture some of that form in her twilight years. “I practiced very hard in the off-season in 2009 to prepare to play my best in singles and doubles in 2010. My career goal was always to do well in both,” Srebotnik said. “Because I was still doing very well in doubles, I used my special ranking in singles at bigger events, so I could play doubles there too.” Speaking about the end of her singles career she said: “I was in a situation. I was No. 228 and couldn’t even make the qualies of the US Open. Everything was pointing to a new direction.” You can read the full interview at the WTA website.

*The Paris surface has received a thumbs up from many of the top stars this week. Check out their views at Tennis.com.

Vera Zvonareva’s Run at US Open and Wimbledon Was no Fluke – The Friday Five

Vera Zvonareva

By Maud Watson

A Familiar Face & a First – When the last ball was struck at the final major of the year, the fans at Flushing Meadows saw two of the game’s biggest stars crowned the victors in what was an historic US Open. On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters secured her third consecutive US Open title, putting on a clinic as the pre-tournament favorite easily brushed aside Russian Vera Zvonareva without even breaking a sweat. Hopefully Clijsters will be able to use this experience and find her way to another major title at one of the other three Grand Slam events. But as great as Clijsters’ championship run was, the bigger praise has to go to Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had a mediocre summer by his lofty standards, but he saved his best for when it really counted. His win in New York saw him complete the career Grand Slam, and at the age of just 24, he’s the youngest to have accomplished the rare feat. The standout player of 2010, fans can only look forward to seeing what he’ll do for an encore in 2011.

Second Fiddle – While few ever remember those who finished second, it’s worth recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of both US Open singles finalists Vera Zvonareva and Novak Djokovic. Many thought that Vera Zvonareva’s run to the Wimbledon final was a fluke, but her finalist appearance in New York seems sure to suggest that she has officially put it together and is a legitimate threat to win a Slam. As for Djokovic, he’s essentially been the forgotten man for the better part of the year, despite his ranking always being within the top 2-4. With his captivating win over Federer in the semifinals and new-found fighting spirit, he’s reminded the rest of the tennis world that he is a major champion, and a second championship title may not be too far around the bend.

Double the Fun – In what has to be described as the best summer of their careers, the Bryan Brothers ended the Grand Slam season where they began – in the winner’s circle. They took their ninth major doubles title (3 behind the all-time leaders of Newcombe/Roche, and 2 behind Open Era leaders the Woodies) over the highly-praised pairing of Pakistani Aisam-Ul Haq Qureshi and Indian Rohan Bopanna. Still the top-ranked doubles duo, odds are good that they may yet break the record for most majors as a team. On the women’s side, the less known combination of American Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan triumphed in their second straight major, dismissing both of the top two seeded teams en route to the title. So while American fans may be lamenting the state of tennis in the United States, there appears to be plenty to still smile about in the doubles arena.

Best Few have Seen – Many are aware of the multitude of streaks compiled by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, etc., but even the longest of win streaks by any of these stars pales in comparison to what Dutch player Esther Vergeer has managed to accomplish. The sensational wheelchair tennis star defeated Daniela di Toro love and love to not only win her fifth US Open Championship, but her 396th consecutive match! Her incredible run has done much to continue to raise the profile of this fascinating sport, and if you haven’t had a chance to see it, take the first opportunity that you can to do so. These athletes are truly an inspiration to all.

Raise the Roof – A hurricane wasn’t the culprit this time around, but for the third straight year, the men’s final was postponed to Monday. To make matters worse, Monday’s final suffered yet another lengthy rain delay that forced it to a second television network in the United States, and very nearly a third. Needless to say, there have been further grumblings about the need for a roof. Rumor has it that the USTA is looking at the possibility of building a new stadium with a retractable roof, and tennis enthusiasts around the globe sincerely hope that the USTA will see this through. It can’t afford more of these Monday finals, nor can it afford to lag behind the other majors.

ATP Tidbits – Verdasco & Murray as models, Federer’s CGI question & a Serbian dinner invitation

Summer in the Eastern US signifies 100 degree temperatures and 95% humidity. So it’s no surprise that two of the hottest tennis stars around recently each did photoshoots in preparation for the summer’s hottest sporting ticket, the US Open. Roger Federer, always trying to set the standard, one-uped the two men by making a viral video for his sponsor Gillette. Finally, I leave you with a dinner invitation from the Serbian team. Well, sort of.

Newly resurgent Andy Murray stepped into the life of a male model for a day as famed photographer Mario Testino setup shop in Murray’s garage for a VOGUE photoshoot. The photos were taken in his garage because it also doubles as his weight room. Testino wanted to convey the consuming hours a top athlete devotes to his sport by shooting him “in here, where he works.”

When asked by a journalist what he was wearing in the photoshoot, Murray simply replied that “the stuff was really nice. Really, really nice.” He is usually in sweats, t-shirts and shorts because tennis is on his mind 24/7. So when he was urged to expand on what made the tuxedo so ‘nice,’ he barely found the words. He said that there was a darker stripe down the side of the leg. Needless to say, the boy doesn’t know his fashion that well, but he is forgiven under the circumstances. The photos turned out great …. in his Burberry tux, of course.

To follow up on Murray’s photoshoot, there is an even saucier one in September’s GQ issue featuring Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, photographed in Madrid-Brajas’ Terminal 4. Words cannot express how well he fits the mold of a fiery masterful businessman. I should take more trips to the airport if this is what traveling salesman look like! Verdasco might be his own biggest fan though. He was beyond excited as he announced it on his twitter account: “Reading the us GQ of september! Guys you should buy it, there is a photoshoot of me in it!”

I like it, what do you think?  Murray or Verdasco?

Not to be forgotten, Roger Federer’s newest viral video for Gillette has received close to FIVE MILLION hits since being put up on Youtube one week ago. That many hits nears epic proportions!

In a video that seems to go “behind the scenes” of an actual ad, Federer displays his precision by hitting at a crew member’s head. Not directly AT his head, but at a tin can ON his head that Federer served at. With the camera crew and technicians as his audience, Federer targets the can precisely and knocks it off the crew members head without a scratch … and twice in a row!

The biggest question so far has been whether this video is real or CGI. During his second-round victory in Cincinnati, Federer was questioned about the famed video by a reporter.

“Q. Can I ask you about a serve that you didn’t make tonight, but that’s obviously being talked about a lot on the internet. Is that for real?

ROGER FEDERER: Oh, that thing? Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of the debate at the moment, you know. You know how it is with magicians. They don’t tell how their tricks work, you know. (Smiling.) I don’t do it that much, but yea, it was shot in one piece and it was — the guy took a chance. (Smiling.) It worked out. I’m happy.”

Knowing how Federer likes to keep people guessing about his game and life, his answer doesn’t really clear anything up. Some have speculated that he indeed says it’s real in this quote, but he refers to magicians as well. He worded it quite carefully and I’m still not sold it was for “real.”

Remember how I said there was a dinner invitation from the Serbian team at the beginning of this post? Well, true to my word, here it is:

Don’t they all look so inviting?! What’s wrong? Oh, you were thinking it was really a live sit-down meal? Well, if you were in Cincinnati you could have been lucky, but for the rest of us: bummer. Janko Tipsarevic teased the twitter universe with this photo of him and his wife Biljana, Ana Ivanovic, Nenad Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki eating dinner before catching the movie “The Expendables.” It seems that the Serbs really enjoy each other’s company and are quite photogenic — even in the poor lighting. I would have to argue that the Bryan brothers come in as a close second for their twitter photos with other tennis friends. Well, that is unless Verdasco gets the whole Spanish Armada in a photo at the US Open. Can it be done?

Murray Gets Wimbledon Revenge on Nadal

Andy Murray enjoyed a little post-Wimbledon revenge on Saturday at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as he handled world number one Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the finals.

Murray played as crisp tennis as I’ve seen from him since the Australian Open in January and appeared composed and prepared from the very opening game.

After a quick three games to start the match, the rallies began to lengthen and both players brought some of their best tennis for the Toronto crowd to enjoy.

Though the crowd was slightly more pro-Nadal, they cheered Murray as well and seemed to pull for either player when they faced a break point.

At 3-3 in the opening set, Nadal had two break point opportunities at 15-40, but Murray would bail himself out with timely serving to hold for 4-3.

Murray used that energy to break the Spaniard in the very next game and then held easily to close out the first set 6-3.

The fact that Nadal was down by a set did not seem to phase him nor the crowd. It is not exactly a rarity to watch him fight from behind and still manage to emerge victorious.

Murray apparently did not get the memo that he was supposed to hand over that second set, as he broke early to go up 2-1.

Nadal would use his lethal forehand to rip a winner to get back on serve and tie things up a bit later at three games apiece.

With Murray serving later at 3-4, he double faulted to hand Nadal a chance at 15-40. Again he would maintain his composure and use his serve to get back into the game and even the score at 4-4. I was most impressed with how Murray never seemed to lose his cool during the match, even when it appeared that the momentum was about to shift in Nadal’s favour.

As a few very light rain drops began to fall at 4-4, Nadal inexplicably played some loose points and gave Murray a 0-40 score to work with. The Scot would seize the moment and with a Nadal backhand into the net he jumped ahead with the break to 5-4. He would win all four points in the next game to take the match and get one step closer to defending his Rogers Cup title.

By virtue of advancing to the finals, Murray will hold on to his world No. 4 ranking. A loss would have allowed Sweden’s Robin Soderling to overtake him in that position.

Murray will face the winner of tonight’s match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The winning player will then hold the number two ranking in the world.

Check back later for a full report on the outcome of this world class match-up.

Top Four Players Advance to Rogers Cup Semi-Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Bob McIntyre © 2010.

Fan Watch: Rafael Nadal vs Stan Wawrinka

Lisa Grebe talks about Rafael Nadal’s first singles appearance at the Rogers Cup. After a tough and nailbiting first set versus Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka , Rafa picks up the pace and shows Stan who’s the man. He takes home the win with a 7-6 6-3 win. The tie break took 92 minutes and was the longest in the Spaniard’s career.

“My goal was to win,” Nadal said. “When you come back after (some) time without playing, tournaments are always difficult. I just tried my best and tried to find my rhythm.”

Rafael Nadal now faces Kevin Anderson on Thursday at the Rogers Cup.

Around The Corner – Rogers Cup Gives Canada The Tennis Spotlight

Rogers Cup

For a land known more for its on-ice accomplishments than on-court, Canada boasts one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the history of the game. Third behind Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in terms of longevity, The Rogers Cup seems to get better year after year.

A quality field once again descends upon Toronto this summer led by world number one Rafael Nadal along with the always dangerous Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. All are former champions here in Canada and possess an almost-equal chance of hoisting the trophy again in 2010.

The tournament benefits from an excellent window in the ATP World Tour schedule that has been void of any major tennis competition since Wimbledon wrapped-up in early July. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have all spent the past few weeks resting from match-play so it should be quite intriguing to see how they respond in their return to the court.

A change in surface should also provide some interesting results as the clay and grass court swings are now behind us. Once known more for his play on the dirt, Nadal has truly morphed into a master on every playing field as he mentioned on Friday at the tournament draw ceremony held atop the CN Tower.

“Sure I think I am a better player or more complete player now than in 2005 on every surface,” the Spaniard admitted. “If I play well I’m going to have the chance to have good results in every surface. If I play bad, on clay maybe I still have any chance, but on the rest of the surfaces I don’t have a chance to play at the top level. Yes I am more complete, but if I am not feeling at my best…it is going to be impossible because every match is difficult and the level between players is very close.”

That narrowing talent level between players has perhaps never been more distinguished than it is now. Joining the top four as legitimate threats this week are Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic.

Meanwhile, Canada will have a visible presence in the draw with the foursome of Frank Dancevic, Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Peter Polansky and Milos Raonic all benefiting from wildcards.

Of the four, Dancevic has experienced the most success since turning pro as was most evident with his quarter-final run at the event in Montreal in 2007. That year he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and took a set off Rafael Nadal before being defeated 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Health issues have side-tracked Dancevic’s progress, which peaked at 65th in the world in the fall of 2007. Recovering from back surgery kept him off the tour for the first six months of this year but since then he has reached the quarter-finals in Newport and made the semi-finals of the challenger event in Granby. A tough first round match against Stanislas Wawrinka looms but it is challenge Dancevic is equipped to handle.

While Canada has some limitations that may hinder the development of a strong contingent of players inside the top one hundred in the rankings, its fans will be out in full force to support the boys. The lack of suitable year-round outdoor weather, distractions from other sports such as hockey and lacrosse and the absence of a real big-gun to motivate youngsters might be part of the issue thwarting our own emergence on the world scene.

John McEnroe joked with me this past spring that Canada would have a top-ten player if tennis was played on ice. While I couldn’t help but chuckle at this slight jab at our tennis pride, I feel like the potential to realize tangible achievements is certainly on the horizon in our country.

A positive result from any of the four Canadians here in Toronto might just be the confidence boost that is needed for one of them to take that next step and it could also encourage the next Rafa Nadal to pick up a racquet within the boundaries of the true, north, strong and free.

The Weekly Debrief – Top Moments of the Week

In the week following any Grand Slam, and especially right after the Spring slam combination of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, news is usually sparse. Even for us dedicated tennis devotees, it can feel like tennis overload at this point in the season. However, this week was an exception with Davis Cup action, an ATP 250-level tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, and a small soccer tournament you may have heard of in South Africa, the World Cup. Here is my Weekly Debrief of the Top Moments of the Week.

Top Four

1. The World Cup of soccer was played in South Africa between Holland and Spain yesterday. “How is this significant to tennis?” you may ask. Well, be not dismayed. After Rafael Nadal held up the winner’s trophy at this year’s Wimbledon, he announced he would skip the Davis Cup quarterfinals, receive platelet-infusion treatments on his knees, and fly down to South Africa to support the Spanish team in the Finals.

Rafa with one of the biggest smiles in tennis. Here, with women’s Wimbledon winner Serena Williams.

Rafa must have been a good cheerleader as Spain won 1-0. After the win, he was quoted as saying:

“I cried like a baby. We have to celebrate for a whole year, because this is unbelievable. It is very difficult to repeat this.”

2. Rafa wasn’t the only Spaniard in action this week. The entire Spanish Armada consisting of Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, and Nicolas Almagro took part in Davis Cup this week in France. Spain was the defending champion so their 0-5 loss to underdog France was a shock. But it seems that tennis may not have been the primary sport on their mind. Should we still be surprised that they lost given this?

3. In other Davis cup action, Argentina defeated Russia 3-2, Czech Republic took out Chile 4-1, and in the most controversial matchup, Serbia beat Croatia 4-1 in a fiery environment in the coastal city of Split, Croatia. The sign below was found near the Spaladium Arena were the event took place. It roughly translates into “Hang the Serbs. Never forget. Never forgive.” in reference to the political and cultural differences that have plagued this region of Europe for decades. Having myself been born in Split, Croatia and raised with the Serbian language in the United States, it is heart-breaking to hear that such anger is still existent between the two nations.

Despite the atmosphere in the Spaladium Arena, Serb Novak Djokovic ranked #2 was just happy that he won:

“It’s sensitive circumstances that we play in and considering the situation between the two countries that they had 20 years back and, of course, it’s still very fresh [in the mind],” he said. “We are professional athletes and tennis players and we don’t involve politics in sport. We want to perform our best for the country and win; that’s what I did today and in the end I got a nice appreciation from the crowd for what I have done today so this is what I remember from the match.”

Croat Ivan Ljubicic ranked #16 and a good friend of Djokovic’s said he was also annoyed by the chants from the crowd:

“They affected my concentration just as they did his,” he said. “It was strange to see guys, the crowd, whistling on Serbian anthem and the players and so loud on ours. You could feel the tension; you could feel the emotion so it was really difficult for me to play the first couple of games.”

4. Back on US soil, a newly-fit Mardy Fish won his fourth career title in Newport yesterday at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships.

But the tournament wasn’t without controversy. The first-round matchup which saw #552 Richard Bloomfield take out #160 Christophe Rochus drew suspicion of a betting scandal. A UK-based agency, Betfair, reported unusual betting changes in the hours just prior to the match and a rather hefty wager of $1.5 million riding on the match. Bloomfield, who had only won one tour-level match before this week, found himself in the semifinals before he lost to eventual champion Fish. Whether Bloomfield had any part in the scandal or was even aware of it is unsure at this point. He did, however, have the run of his life rising 260 spots to sit comfortably at world number 292 in today’s released rankings.

Another memorable moment from Newport came at the beginning of the tournament. Remember that 11 hour marathon match at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round? Even though Mahut lost that encounter, he was granted a wildcard into the main draw here. He also stopped by the Hall to give a piece of tennis histroy: a signed shirt that he wore during that memorable Wimbledon match.

BONUS
Players usually drink electrolyte-infused water or some other liquid concoction to replenish their bodies on changeovers. On the Champions tour, they have come up with something quite different … beer. Watch as retired pro John McEnroe takes a few swigs before serving an ace to Goran Ivanisevic. If that’s the secret to serving in tennis, I’ll take a lifetime supply.

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by at the beginning of every week for a recap of the ATP tour. We’ve got you covered!

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