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Berdych, Nalbandian and Federer All Prevail At Rogers Cup

The day session has wrapped-up here at the Rogers Cup on Thursday and the tournament has been fortunate thus far to avoid any major upsets. While there have been some tense moments and momentum swings that could have progressed to that level, things are still on course for the anticipated Nadal/Murray and Djokovic/Federer semi-finals this weekend. In the meantime here are a few quick hits from the action today.

Comebacks:

David Nalbandian is certainly making some waves since returning from yet another injury layoff. Today he beat Robin Soderling 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 for his 11th consecutive win. A brief lapse in concentration where he double-faulted twice in a row while trying to serve for the first set at 4-5 would ultimately cause Nalbandian to lose the opening frame. After that he seemed to regain control of the match and breezed in the third set past the 5th ranked player in the world.

It would be hard to categorize the result as an upset, despite the fact that Soderling has been quite consistent over the past year. Nalbandian lead their head-to-head 5-1 coming into the match today and has the game that can hang with the Swede shot for shot.

Future-Stars:

Lookout for Alex Dolgopolov folks, this kid has got some serious game. Appearing small in stature today against the 6’5” Tomas Berdych, Dolgopolov nearly toppled the giant by using a wide variety of shot selection and never appearing to be in awe of the 2010 Wimbledon finalist.

The youngest member of the top one hundred players in the world at age 21, Dolgopolov is a player on the rise. You wouldn’t have guessed that he was playing in his first hard court tournament since early February and I’m somewhat confused as to why he has seemingly avoided playing on the surface for so long.

This week in Toronto he managed to lose the first set in all three of his matches. Against both Philipp Petzschner and Mikhail Youzhny he failed to show up in the opening frame and fell 1-6 each time. In the second set he suddenly sprung to life against all of his opponents and especially today against Berdych where his first serve appeared to be unable to miss.

Dolgopolov’s serve is one of his real strengths as it is almost impossible to read. His toss is non-existent and he makes contact with the ball while it is still on the rise.

Also on the rise is the young Ukrainian’s ranking which since January 2009 has lept from 309th in the world to its current position at No. 49.

The variety in Dolgopolov’s game is what has impressed me the most this week. This is not your typical baseline basher and I would imagine all of his time playing on clay courts has helped develop this aspect of his play. Well timed drop-shots and lobs are a regular part of his repertoire, and his backhand slice is also quite lethal.

Against Berdych it appeared as though a final set tie-break would be required to settle the score, but Dolgopolov made a couple of tactical errors when serving at 4-5. He chose a poor time to approach the net and watched a Berdych shot whiz by him for 0-30. Berdych then charged the net during the following point which appeared to throw Dolgopolov off and force an error for 0-40. Then, in the ultimate disappointment, Dolgopolov had two first-serve lets, before double faulting to hand the match to Berdych, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4.

Still, winning two rounds at a Masters level tournament will give Dolgopolov a few ranking points that should help him progress towards the top-thirty. While I doubt a seeding at the U.S. Open is in the works, Dolgopolov will likely be on the list of players most would rather avoid at Flushing Meadows.

I’ll be keeping an eye on his progression the rest of the year and would encourage anyone attending any ATP tournaments to make the effort to check this guy out. Watching an up and coming player like Dolgopolov on the outside courts is a treat you can talk about one day if he makes it big.

Having Some Fun:

Finally, for fans looking for some good ol’ fashioned serve and volleying with a side of the absurd, look no further than the Centre Court match that took place between Roger Federer and Michael Llodra.

These two apparently have quite a friendly history from their junior days when they were both very familiar with each others games. Since that time they have only played one professional match prior to today, and that came back in 1999 at a Challenger tournament in France where Federer prevailed in straight sets. The result was the same today with Roger winning 7-6, 6-3.

Llodra didn’t manage to take a set from the world No. 3 player, but he did walk off with his shirt. The Frenchman asked Federer for it at the end of the match and revealed that he did it because, “You know, for me, you know, Rogers is (a) legend, so it’s a good present for my kids.”

After fighting back in the first set and recovering from being down a break, Federer cruised in the tie-break while Llodra seemed to implode with a variety of double-faults, poorly executed drop shots and volleys that missed the mark as well.

In the second set when it appeared inevitable that Federer would take the match, Llodra even tried to surprise him with a rarely seen underhanded serve.

Asked if he had ever done that before, Llodra replied, “Yeah. But not in the match!”

Federer was all smiles in the post-match press conference where he revealed that, “It’s the first time I got an underarm serve; third time somebody asked me for the shirt.”

The light-hearted questions continued for Federer as he was later asked about the pink shirt he’s sporting this week here in competition.

“I don’t know where my head was when I chose pink, but I like it, you know. Honestly I’ve gotten a lot of praise for it. People apparently like it…so that’s a good thing. It’s only for, unfortunately or luckily, only for two tournaments because I’m going to be changing again for the Open, and I thought it was going to be something fun for the summer. That’s kind of how it goes.”

Roger will be hoping that his fun summer includes another U.S. Open title in September. His first true test since returning from a six week layoff will be tomorrow night at 7pm ET as he faces Berdych in a re-match of their Wimbledon quarter-final tilt that was won by the Czech.

Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand for full coverage of that match and the other quarter-finals as well.

FEDERER-NADAL: HOW OFTEN CAN THEY PRODUCE CLASSIC MATCHES?

By Ritesh Gupta

Over the past week or so, reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and 2008 winner Rafael Nadal have been queried about their chances of winning the 2010 edition.

The beauty of all the projections for any major title not only lies in choosing the winner, but also in whether we would get see another epic Federer-Nadal battle.

How often can these two meet and that too for the big summit clashes?

The possibility of these two going all the way may not be as strong now especially considering the indifferent form displayed by Federer of late.

Federer might have survived an early exit at the Wimbledon tennis championship with his five-set win over Colombian Alejandro Falla, but he needs to show some of the vintage stuff sooner than later to amend some of the dented impressions. It’s not that Federer can’t have an off-colour day or a  slow start in any major championship, but no one is used to seeing the Swiss champ being challenged in the first round of a Grand Slam in such a fashion.

To some extent, the onus lies on Federer to show the same ruthlessness.

Still, for those, who follow the sport and perhaps the most intriguing tennis rivalry seen ever, digging deeper and deeper or anticipating who would win the battle everytime they face each other is quite fascinating.

On top of it, after achieving so much, the two have reached a stage where everytime a Grand Slam is about to begin, there is talk of new records and comparisons inevitably lead to talk of unparalleled success in this sport.

In all, there have been 21 matches between the two. Nadal has won 14 times.

But what about these two players themselves?

There are two facets which clearly stand out in equal proportion in these two players i. e. self-belief and respect for each other.

The fact that there has hardly been any other pro other than these two to emerge as a strong contender for a title of Wimbledon’s stature, too, reflects the mindset of Nadal and Federer to a large extent. But still, if we look around the way the likes of Maradona and Pele have reportedly indulged in verbal volleys during the ongoing FIFA World Cup, it is quite amazing to see the way Nadal and Federer conduct themselves and never get perturbed by the incidents around them.

In case of Federer, the recent unexpected loss to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, has hardly dented his pride. Just days before this loss,  Federer saw his streak of a record 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals come to an end at Roland Garros.

For one, who would be trying to win his seventh Wimbledon title – a record currently shared by William Renshaw (1881-86, ’89) and Pete Sampras (1993-95, ’97-2000), Federer’s demeanour oozes simplicity. He categorically says his game is made for grass and even though he hasn’t performed the way he was expected to after winning the Australian Open this year, Federer says he is ready to defend his Wimbledon title again. He has also talked about his love for lifting the Wimbledon trophy and leaving a record which would be tough to beat.

Federer says he is happy to see Nadal competing again after missing out on the last year’s edition. And for himself, Federer still feels its important to win the first round and try to make all the expectations simple for “yourself”.

On the other hand, the only man who has managed to beat Federer in the past seven years at the All England Club, Nadal, too, never stops giving away any credit to the Swiss prodigy.

Nadal may have put the onus on Federer by labelling him as favourite, but at the same time, he says he is ready too.

The Spaniard pointed out that before the commencement of the clay court season, questions were being raised whether he would be able to reach the pinnacle again. After a troublesome 2009, Nadal’s hunger has only got stronger and stronger.

Even if Nadal fails to win the title at the All England Club this year, he will leave London at the top of the rankings.

For Federer, one comment from Sampras comes to mind.

“The reason I play tennis is to play in these big tournaments,” Sampras had said after his loss to Federer in the fourth round of the same championship in 2001.

Federer, too, lives for tournaments of such stature. Let’s see whether Federer can go all way this time around!

LOOKING AT THE SONY ERICSSON OPEN IN MIAMI

With the dust settling on yet another fantastic Indian Wells event Ivan Ljubicic will slowly be coming to terms with his first record-breaking ATP Masters title and I bet that smile hasn’t faded one inch on those rugged, ageing lips.

Almost as soon as one showcase finishes, another is set to begin: such is the modern game of tennis.

Miami is the stage this time around as the Masters makes its way across North America before leaping over the Atlantic to Europe.

Featuring 16 of the world’s top 20 players it promises to be as vivacious and tantalizing as its western brother just gone and all eyes will be on the big stories of the last two weeks.

Can Andy Murray build on his 2009 victory? Will R-Fed be looking to banish the ghosts of Marcos Baghdatis? Will Rafa finally return to the form we know he can so breathtakingly produce? Can Ljubicic become only the seventh player since Jim Courier to win these two titles back-to-back? Now that would really be turning back the clock for the Croatian freight-train.

The four quarters of the draw make your mouth simply gush water as you cast your eyes through each one.

Starting with the first, we see that the potential of a Federer-Cilic quarter final is on the cards. Holy smokes! Having only met once before on the hard courts of Paris in 2008 Federer holds the advantage. Yet two years has seen the young Croat grow in stature to match his vast frame and his performances Down Under in January certainly make this no easy feat for the greatest player of all time.

And who would write off Marcos Baghdatis after his exploits over the past two weeks? He seems to revel in being the underdog, the unknown. Perhaps people talking up his chances once more may be detrimental. Or maybe I’m being a little hard on a guy whose career has been tragically ravaged by injury.

Should he make it that far and overcome the likes of Cilic, Fernando Verdasco, Jurgen Melzer and Juan Ignacio Chela then Victor Hanescu could meet Federer again in that quarter final.

In the second quarter, third seed Andy Murray will begin his defense by facing the winner of Mardy Fish and Leonardo Mayer. Certainly not an easy ride, such is the strength of the men’s draw these days. Overcoming that he could face Lukas Lacko, Michael Berrer or the Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.

Stanlislas Wawrinka, Nicolas Almagro, Mikhail Youzhny, Fernando Gonzalez and Murray’s Indian Wells conqueror Robin Soderling also provide exciting prospects for a quarter final berth.

Rafa and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga head a very talented third quarter which also includes American of the moment John Isner and returning Argentinean wildcard David Nalbandian.

A possible third round match between Isner and Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero is on the cards with the pair never having met before. Ferrero has arguably had the better start to 2010 with two titles and a record of 15/4 but many will be excited by the battle of strength vs. panache.

The final quarter gives us a possible fourth round Ljubicic-Andy Roddick rematch but A-Rod must first overcome possible encounters with Igor Andreev and no. 32 seed Julien Benneteau. Ljubicic may also face Spaniard Tommy Robredo in round three.

Brazilian Thomaz Belluci is looking to build on his impressive start to 2010 at Miami but could face a tough second round encounter with James Blake before the prospect of Novak Djokovic in round three.

Argh! I’m shaking with excitement already. So, being a betting man, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, my neck on the block. Predictions time!

Quarter Finals:

Roger Federer v Marin Cilic

Andy Murray v Juan Monaco

John Isner v Rafael Nadal

Tommy Robredo v Novak Djokovic

Semi Finals:

Roger Federer v Andy Murray

John Isner v Novak Djokovic

Final:

Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic

But then, how many predictions have I got wrong this year? OK, so I’ll make a safer one: Miami is going to be damn good! And with Sky Sports broadcasting so much of the Masters Series in to British homes this year I canny wait for Saturday. Bring it on!

Hip-Hop Icon Jay-Z Designs Limited Edition Arthur Ashe Tee

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 1, 2009 – The USTA announced today that hip-hop icon and Grammy Award-winning artist Jay-Z has designed a t-shirt featuring Arthur Ashe that will be sold at the 2009 US Open. The limited edition Jay-Z t-shirt celebrates the USTA National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network’s 40th anniversary, and proceeds from the shirt will benefit the NJTL and the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS. The shirt will be available on-site at the Octagon and the Arthur Ashe Endowment Booth, and online at USOpen.org and ArthurAshe.org.

The design is part of Jay-Z’s Rocawear clothing line, which the musician founded in 1999.

“I am thrilled that someone of Jay-Z’s stature would take part in this project,” said Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Arthur Ashe’s widow who remains active in the USTA NJTL network and other charitable endeavors associated with her late husband’s legacy, including ArthurAshe.org. “This shirt will honor the legacy of my husband and remind people of his contributions to both the sport of tennis and this country’s underprivileged youth.”

Arthur Ashe’s legacy will be celebrated on Thursday, September 10, when he is officially inducted into the US Open Court of Champions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. That day also will feature the 40th anniversary celebration of the NJTL network, which Ashe co-founded in 1969 with Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder.

For more information on the Jay-Z tee, go to USOpen.org.

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