Stefanie Voegele

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Tsonga, Serena, Errani Shine on Friday

A sweeping slate of second-round and third-round matches filled the slate on Friday as the tournament caught up from a rainy Thursday.  Here is a look back at the rapidly unfolding action.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Banished from the televised courts, Fernando Verdasco and Janko Tipsarevic continued their history of fascinating meetings with a five-set sequence of twists and turns.  Tipsarevic appeared to have seized control for good when he dominated the second set after winning a tight first-set tiebreak.  To his credit, Verdasco battled all the way back and took the eighth seed to 8-6 in the fifth.  Vulnerable all year, Tipsarevic found just enough courage to ward off the massive collapse:

Comeback of the day.  Tommy Robredo did it again.  Not known for flamboyance or drama, the Spanish veteran did what his compatriot Verdasco could not and charged back from two sets down to halt home hero Gael Monfils.  Fatigue from an overstuffed schedule may have hampered Monfils late in the match, for Robredo closed out the fifth set with surprising ease.

Surprise of the day:  Third-ranked Serb Viktor Troicki had struggled to string together victories all season, so an upset of the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic on Troicki’s worst surface raised eyebrows.  (Of course, clay is Cilic’s worst surface as well.)  The key to this match may have come as early as the first-set tiebreak, which Troicki saved multiple set points to win 14-12 before dominating thereafter.

Tale of two Spaniards:  Nine sets played, nine sets won for—not Rafael Nadal, but David Ferrer.  None of his first three opponents have tested the second-ranked Spaniard, whereas his top-ranked countryman has dropped the first set in both of his first two matches.  Nadal, who comes back to face Fabio Fognini tomorrow, looked strangely uncomfortable for much for his four-set victory against Martin Klizan despite his outstanding clay campaign.

Gold star:  Tremors rippled through Court Philippe Chatrier when Roger Federer lost his opening service game, a departure from his routs in the first two rounds.  Against chronic nemesis Julien Benneteau, however, Federer swiftly buckled down to business and never looked seriously troubled thereafter.

Silver star:  Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his bulletproof progress with a surprisingly routine dismissal of compatriot Jeremy Chardy.  Tsonga lost only eight games in staying on track to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their Australian Open meeting.

Americans in Paris:  Winless in five-set matches, Ryan Harrison let a two-set lead escape him as his 2013 woes persist.  At least his disintegration benefited fellow American John Isner, who snapped his own four-match losing streak in final frames.  Less fortunate was the top-ranked American Sam Querrey, falling in five sets to Gilles Simon after coming within a tiebreak of victory.  Also gone on Friday was Jack Sock, overmatched by Tommy Haas in a competitive but rarely suspenseful straight-setter.

Question of the day:  Does the impressive form displayed by Tsonga and Ferrer suggest that they can challenge Federer more than they usually do?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Overcoming an 0-4 record against Varvara Lepchenko, Angelique Kerber withstood 46 winners from her fellow lefty to prevail 6-4 in the third.  Lepchenko’s history of strong results on clay underscores the significance of Kerber’s victory as she reached the second week for the fifth straight major.  Up next for her is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who recently played a thriller against her in Madrid.

Comeback of the day:  Pounding more winners in two sets than Lepchenko did in three, Mariana Duque-Marino served for both sets against Marion Bartoli.  The top-ranked Frenchwoman spent much of the match with her back to the wall, as she did in the first round, but she edged through a first-set tiebreak and swept the last four games of the second set to survive.

Surprise of the day:  In a day with no notable upsets, a match between two unseeded players produced the greatest surprise.  Brussels champion Kaia Kanepi failed to exploit a crumbling section of the draw, instead adding to the uncertainty caused by the exits of Li Na and Yaroslava Shvedova.  Having won barely a single match on red clay this year, Stefanie Voegele ousted last year’s quarterfinalist 8-6 in the third as part of an excellent day for Swiss players.

Gold star:  Top seed Serena Williams has dropped just six game in six sets here, extending the longest winning streak of her career.  Her momentum and aura has built to the point where many opponents seem to lose hope before they even take the court.  What a difference a year makes.

Silver star:  All three Italian women in action today prevailed.  Only slightly authoritative than Serena here, Sara Errani bageled imposing server Sabine Lisicki in a demonstration of how her clay-court skills can compensate for immense gaps in power.  Less persuasive was second-ranked Italian Roberta Vinci, who weathered a second-set lull to survive in three.  But the brightest headline of the day came from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, able to edge seeded opponent Kirsten Flipkens to reach the brink of the second week.

Most improved:  After she had lost the first set in each of her first two matches, Carla Suarez Navarro navigated through her third more routinely.  Perhaps Nadal should take a page from his countrywoman’s book.

Fastest finish:  Defending champion Maria Sharapova seemed to spend more time warming up before and interviewing after the completion of her second-round match than she needed to play the match itself.  About ten minutes of live action sufficed to move Sharapova past Eugenie Bouchard, although she needed a massive second serve to save a break point that would have leveled the second set.

Question of the day:  Which former champion has a better chance to upset a top-eight seed, Kuznetsova against Kerber or Ana Ivanovic against Agnieszka Radwanska?

 

WOMEN FALL LIKE DOMINOS IN MADRID

The clay courts of the Madrid Open have provided some shock exits in the first round this week, with Justine Henin, Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova falling like dominos to the dismay of tournament chairman Manuel Santana, who breathed a sigh of relief as top seed Serena Williams managed to survive a match point to get through her first match of the tournament against Vera Dushevina, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 – lasting a mammoth 3 hours and 26 minutes.

The American world No. 1 looked on her way out of the clay event when the unseeded Russian had a match point at 6-5 in the second set. Visibly chastising herself on court and appealing wildly to her father and coach Richard Williams in the stands, she miraculously summoned her enormous willpower to claw her way back and take the deciding set despite having a long treatment break for what appeared to be right thigh and lower back problems. She revealed “After so long on the court, I was saying to myself, ‘You’d better win this thing’”.

After squandering one match point with a wild backhand at 6-4 on the third set tie break, a ninth ace on the next point provoked a primal cry of joy from the 28 year old, who said “When I shout like that, it’s just to get energised. I need my emotion to help me play better.” She is now on course to meet Russian sixth seed Elena Dementieva in the last eight. Her sister, fourth-seeded Venus Williams also downed Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-2 to proceed.

Meanwhile, Aravane Rezai of France beat Justine Henin. 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, who revealed she had not fully recovered after falling ill following her win at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart last weekend, her first title since coming out of retirement.

Lucia Safarova of the Czech Republic defeated Russian bombshell Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 to the disappointment of her male fans in Madrid. The leggy blonde commented “It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm…I thought she played really solid, good tennis and did everything she needed to win the match. More solid than me anyway.”

Israel’s Shahar Peer recorded the biggest upset, defeating the reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 after the Russian dropped serve six times in the match and said “I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the year. Even the matches I’m losing, it’s just a point here and a point there. I’ve been working very hard on my game the last two years and I saw the fruits starting to come last summer. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Dinara Safina’s preparations for the French Open took a serious knock after she lost 7-6, 7-6 to Czech qualifier Klara Zakopalova in the first round. The defending champion claimed seven breaks of serve, but the 28-year-old from Prague dominated the tiebreaks only allowing Safina one point in the first, and three in the second. Despite being the runner up in the last two French Open finals, Safina struggled on the clay and has slipped from three to five in the updated WTA rankings on Monday.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Mondays With Bob Greene: It’s a great honor to reach the number one ranking

STARS

Jelena Jankovic won the Andalucia Tennis Experience by beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3 3-6 6-3 in Marbella, Spain

Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Florent Serra 6-4 7-5 to win the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco

Lleyton Hewitt defeated Wayne Odesnik 6-2 7-5 to capture the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas, USA

Caroline Wozniacki beat Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1 6-2 to win The MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA

Rui Machado won the STATUS Athens Open, beating Daniel Munoz-de la Nava 6-3 7-6 (4) in Athens, Greece

Karolina Sprem beat Viktoria Kutuzova 6-1 6-4 to win the Koddaert Ladies Open in Torhout, Belgium

SAYING

“It’s a great honor to reach the number one ranking an
d it is a dream every girl who has ever wanted to play professional tennis shares. It is even extra special for me since my brother Marat was able to reach the number one ranking and I am happy to share this achievement with him.” – Dinara Safina, who took over the WTA Tour’s top spot from Serena Williams.

“This is what all the hard work is for, to play weeks like this and have this kind of feeling at the end. It makes going through the surgery and all the hard work worth it, so it’s good stuff.” – Lleyton Hewitt, who won the US Men’s Clay Championships, his first ATP title in two years.

“I was trying to play my best tennis but the injury prevented me from reaching my top level.” – Serena Williams, after losing to Klara Zakopalova in her first clay-court match of the season in Marbella, Spain.

“This is a great start to the clay-court season, a really good start. I proved I can beat these better players.” – Caroline Wozniacki, after winning the title in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“I know I have not been playing well the last three months, but this win has given me back the confidence I need.” – Jelena Jankovic, after winning in Marbella, Spain.

“When I hit a good shot she hit a good shot back. I feel pretty good about going 3 and 2 with a top 10 player.” – Fourteen-year-old Madison Keys, after losing to top-seeded Nadia Petrova 6-3 6-2 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“I have to say that we were a bit lucky. In the semifinals we were close to losing and today we made it in the match tiebreak. It is my first title and it feels great.” – Lukasz Kubot, who teamed with Oliver Marach to win at Casablanca, Morocco, their first ATP doubles title in their third final together.

“We’re very happy with the first tournament of the clay court season. We are looking forward to going to Europe and we’re going to be over there for 14 weeks. It’s really important to win a title on the clay and getting your balance and a lot of confidence.” – Mike Bryan, after he and his brother Bob won the doubles at Houston, Texas.

“Before every match I try to isolate myself from everybody with my iPod. It’s like a ritual I have before playing and it’s absolutely necessary for me to listen to one of the songs from the ‘Phantom of the Opera.'” – Rafael Nadal, on how he prepares for a match.

“He kind of forces you into that the way he plays defense. It’s no excuse for some errors, especially the ones I made at key times. If you expect to win matches you have to put that around big points.” – James Blake, after losing to Guillermo Canas 6-4 6-4 in a first-round match at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas.

“In the tiebreak, it’s anybody’s match.” Sania Mirza, who teamed with Chuang Chia-Jung to win the doubles at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 6-3 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak).

“Mentally, when you lose 10 points in a row you have to tell yourself it’s going to be OK. That’s not easy. Some people can deal with it better than others, and I’m definitely a guy who struggles with staying calm mentally and just playing my game.” – Tommy Haas, who actually lost 11 straight points yet beat Marcel Granollers in three sets.

“I must be doing something right.” – Lleyton Hewitt, noting his career record on clay going into the US Men’s Clay Court Championships was a quite respectable 80-37. He ended up winning the tournament.

SWISS KNOT

Mr and Mrs Federer

Roger Federer and long-time companion Mirka Vavrinec are now Mr. and Mrs. The two exchanged wedding vows in Federer’s hometown of Basel, Switzerland. They first met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when both were competing for Switzerland. Vavrinec retired from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in 2002. Last month the two announced they are expected their first child later this summer. Federer was full of announcements. After telling of his marriage, he announced he would take a wild card and compete this week in Monte Carlo after earlier saying he planned to skip the event. Federer has reached the final at the last three Monte Carlo tournaments, only to lose each time to Rafael Nadal.

SAFINA ON TOP

Dinara Safina has pulled even with her brother in one respect. She is ranked number one in the world, replacing Serena Williams. The second Russian to be atop the women’s rankings, she is part of the first brother-sister combination to be ranked number one in the world. Her brother, Marat Safin, was ranked number one on the ATP Tour in 2000. Safina is the 19th player to top the women’s rankings. Last year she became the first player to beat three different reigning world number ones in the same season, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic. Safina has won four WTA Tour titles in the last 12 months and finished runner-up five times, including Roland Garros last year and the Australian Open in January.

STRUGGLING

After losing two straight matches and her world number one ranking, Serena Williams has withdrawn from this week’s Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, citing a left leg injury she originally suffered at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. “I need to give my leg injury time to heal,” she said. Williams was the defending Family Circle Cup champion. Williams lost to Victoria Azarenka in the Miami final, then was upset in Marbella, Spain, by Klara Zakopalova in her first clay-court match of the season

STAYING THE COURSE

It’s been a long time for Lleyton Hewitt, but he finally won his first tournament in two years when he stopped Wayne Odesnik 6-2 7-5 at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas. With his 498th career match victory, the Australian is just two match wins away from joining Roger Federer and Carlos Moya as the only active players with 500 or more victories. Hewitt, who ranks 35th on the career victories list, failed to win a tournament last year for the first time in his career while recovering from hip surgery. Hewitt won the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon the following. Ranked number one in the world in 2001, Hewitt went into the Houston tournament ranked number 88.

SUCCESS AT LAST

Jelena Jankovic finally lifted the champion’s trophy this year following a disappointing start to the season. She lost her number one ranking after losing early at the Australian Open. She then dropped her opening matches at Indian Wells, California, and Miami, Florida, two American hard court events. On the red clay in Marbella, Spain, Jankovic finally got things turned around, beating Carla Suarez Navarro in the title match 6-3 3-6 6-3. For Jankovic, who was down a break early in the third set, this was her 10th career singles title, with half of them coming on clay.

STILL IN THE HUNT

Lleyton Hewitt wasn’t the only one to turn back the clock on the ATP Tour. Juan Carlos Ferrero won the Grand Prix Hassan II tournament in Casablanca, Morocco, his first title since capturing the Madrid Masters in October 2003. That was the year he won Roland Garros and lost the US Open final to Andy Roddick. And 2003 was the year Ferrero was ranked number one in the world. It was Ferrero’s first clay court championship since his victorious French Open run in 2003.

STAYING HOME

An inflamed right shoulder is the reason Victoria Azarenka won’t be playing in this week’s Family Circle Cup. In her last match, Azarenka knocked off Serena Williams to win the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Williams went on to lose her next match, then also withdrew from the Family Circle Cup with an injury to her leg. “I am really sorry that I have to withdraw from the Family Circle Cup … due to an injury in my right shoulder,” Azarenka said.  “I was looking forward to returning to Charleston and building on the momentum that I have from the past few weeks.”

SWEPT CLEAN

The US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas, wasn’t pretty for seeded players. James Blake and Mardy Fish were the top two-ranked Americans and the top two seeds in the field. At least for the first round. For the first time since 2000, the top two seeded players in an ATP tournament failed to advance past the opening round. And until his win over Blake, Guillermo Canas had lost six straight first-round matches this year. That was only the beginning. For the first time since the Open Era began in 1968, no seeded players reached the quarterfinals. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, ranked 73rd in the world, was the highest-ranked player to make it out of the second round. The eventual winner, Lleyton Hewitt, was ranked 88th when the tournament began.

SENIOR SIGNEES

Goran Ivanisevic and Stefan Edberg are the first two entries for The Masters Tennis event to be played at the Royal Albert Hall in London in December. Six other players yet to be named will join the two Wimbledon champions in the ATP Champions Tour event. At least four of the six to be named will have been either a world number one, Grand Slam singles finalist or a Davis Cup winner in their careers. Ivanisevic played the Royal Albert Hall tournament in 2006, reaching the final, while Edberg played the senior event last year. Ivanisevic missed last year because of a knee injury.

STRENGTH AGAINST STRENGTH

Italy and Russia will battle for the fifth time when they meet in a Fed Cup World Group semifinal April 25-26 in Castellaneta Marina, Italy. The home team has never beaten the Russians in Fed Cup play, losing their last meeting in the 2007 final in Moscow. The last time the two nations met in Italy, in the 2005 quarterfinal, Italy won the first match before losing 4-1. In the last five years, Italy is the only nation other than Russia to win the Fed Cup, defeating Belgium in the 2006 final. That year Belgium eliminated Russia in the first round, the only defeat Russia has suffered in the last five years of the competition.

SWISS CHEESE

There will be a lot of holes in Switzerland’s lineup when it takes on Australia in a Fed Cup World Group II playoff April 25-26 in Victoria, Australia. Missing will be Switzerland’s top two singles players and their captain. Instead, Switzerland will rely on Stefanie Voegele, Nicole Riner and 15-year-old Mateja Kraljevic for the tie, which takes place on grass at the Mildura Lawn Tennis Club. The winning nation will stay in the World Group II for 2010, while the losing nation will drop to zonal competition. Christiane Jolissaint will replace Severin Luthi as captain for this tie. Luthi reportedly will be working with Roger Federer next week.

SIZZLING START

Fourteen-year-old Madison Keys made a successful Sony Ericsson WTA Tour debut by defeating Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia 7-5 6-4 in a first-round match at the MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Keys, who lives in Boca Raton, Florida, was given a wild card entry into the tournament. Her only other experience in a professional tournament came at a USD $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, last month. Keys is currently ranked number 37 in the International Tennis Federation World Junior Rankings. Kudryavtseva is number 81 in the world in the WTA Tour rankings. Unfortunately, her first-round victory advanced Keys to a second-round matchup against top-seeded Nadia Petrova, who beat the youngster 6-3 6-2.

SINO SWITCH

China’s top women players opted to leave the state-run system this year and keep their own prize money. So far, the money hasn’t come rolling in as neither Zheng Jie and long-time partner Yan Zi, nor Li Na and Peng Shuai have registered any notable wins. Each of the four players now has her own coaches, does her own scheduling for practices as well as tournaments, and has her own management team – all things that had been done and paid for by the state system in the past. Now, each player must pay their own expenses, including travel and hotels, out of their earnings. “This is a very difficult time for us because a lot of things have changed. We need time to get use to it,” Zheng said. “I hope we can get back in form as soon as possible.”

SISTERS

Serena and Venus Williams aren’t the only sisters battling it out on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine beat her younger sister Kateryna 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the second round of the MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Alona, who is two years older, trailed 1-3 in the second set before winning 11 of the last 15 games. “We have different styles, but we know each other well,” Alona said. “I have to play the long points and she doesn’t.” It was their sixth meeting on the WTA Tour – their first match since 2006 – and each has won three times. Polish sisters Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska are also on the tour, with Urszula beating her older and higher-ranked sister in their lone WTA Tour matchup.

SPONSOR

BNP Paribas has signed a three-year agreement to sponsor both the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour and the Invacare World Team Cup. BNP Paribas already is the title sponsor of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and Junior Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, as well as other tournaments. The company has supported wheelchair tennis in France since 1993.

STARTING UP

The inaugural International Tennis Federation (ITF) Beach Tennis World Championships will be held May 4-6 at the historic Folo Italico in Rome. The competition will be held alongside the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event being played in Rome the same week. Beach Tennis merges the disciplines of tennis and beach volleyball into a single sport and is usually played as doubles on a court of similar size to beach volleyball.

SWINGING

Kelly Gunterman is now the director of tennis at Amelia Island Plantation, a site where Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Martina Hingis have all won tournaments. Gunterman played tennis in college and has trained and taught with John Newcombe and Peter Burwash.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Casablanca: Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach beat Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley 7-6 (4) 3-6 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Houston: Bob and Mike Bryan beat Jesse Levine and Ryan Sweeting 6-1 6-2

Ponte Vedra Beach: Chuang Chia-Jung and Sania Mirza beat Lisa Raymond and Kveta Peschke 6-3 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Marbella: Klaudia Jans and Alicja Rosolska beat Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-3 6-3

Athens: Ramirez Junaid and Philipp Marx beat Jesse Huta Galung and Rui Machado 6-4 6-3

Torhout: Michaella Krajicek and Yanina Wickmayer beat Julia Goerges and Sandra Klemenschits 6-4 6-0

SITES TO SURF

Monte Carlo: http://montecarlo.masters-series.com/1/en/home/default.asp

Charleston: www.familycirclecup.com

Barcelona: www.barcelonaopenbancosabadell.com/

Sofia: www.bgtennis.bg/

Fed Cup: www.fedcup.com

Estonian Tennis Federation: www.tennis.ee/

Polish Tennis Federation: www.pzt.pl/

Belgium Tennis Federation: www.sport.be/fedcup/2009/belcan/fr/

Tennis Australia: www.tennis.com.au/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$600,000 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte Carlo, Monaco, clay

$100,000 Soweto Men’s Open, Johannesburg, South Africa, hard

WTA

$1,000,000 Family Circle Cup, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, clay

$220,000 Barcelona Ladies Open, Barcelona, Spain, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$2,645,000 Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell, Barcelona, Spain, clay

$112,000 Bulgarian Open, Sofia, Bulgaria, clay

FED CUP

(April 25-26)

World Group Semifinals

Italy vs. Russia at Castellaneta Marina, Italy, clay

Czech Republic vs. United States at Brno, Czech Republic, hard

World Group Playoffs

Spain vs. Serbia at Lleida, Spain, clay; France vs. Slovak Republic at Limoges, France, clay; Germany vs. China at Frankfurt, Germany, clay; Argentina vs. Ukraine at Mar Del Plata, Argentina, clay

World Group II Playoffs

Belgium vs. Canada at Hasselt, Belgium, clay; Estonia vs. Israel at Tallinn, Estonia, hard; Poland vs. Japan at Gdynia, Poland, clay; Australia vs. Switzerland at Victoria, Australia, grass