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Sam Stosur blasts pass Dominika Cibulkova to reach Roland Garros semifinals for third time

Samantha Stosur into the Roland Garros semifinals (JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/GettyImages)

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Sam Stosur and Dominika Cibulkova both have good records at Roland Garros as each player reached the semifinals in 2009 and Stosur went one better as runner-up in 2010. Prior to their quarterfinal meeting at the French Open, Stosur won the only match they have ever played against each other back in 2009.

To reach this stage of the tournament, Stosur defeated Elena Baltacha, Irina Falconi, Nadia Petrova and Sloane Stephens, winning all matches in straight sets. Cibulkova defeated Kristina Mladenovic, Vania King, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and world number one Victoria Azarenka.

In the first set, both players held serve for the first four games. During Cibulkova’s third service game, the umpire overruled an incorrect line call, which would have given Stosur a winner on break point but instead the point was replayed. Not distracted by the missed opportunity, Stosur won the game two points later. The girls then stepped up the attack during the sixth game, which went to deuce six times before Stosur won, giving her a double break at 5-2.

Stosur then served for the set but failed initially. At this point the match was starting to feel similar to her fourth round match against Stephens, when Stosur had a double break but twice failed to serve it out. But that’s where the similarity ended. During her second attempt Stosur successfully served for the set, saving three break points and winning 6-4.

Cibulkova came out firing in the second set with Stosur having to save three break points to hold serve during the second game. But then Stosur took control and went on to win the next four games. With Cibulkova double faulting to bring up the first match point, Sam confidently took the second set 6-1, winning the match in one hour and 25 minutes.

During the on court interview after the match, Stosur commented:

“I’m very, very pleased with the way I played today and to get through. The last few years have been very good to me in Paris. I love playing on this court and it doesn’t get any better than this.”

When asked about being the highest seed in her part of the women’s single draw, Sam replied simply:

“In the semifinals at Roland Garros that doesn’t mean much, whoever you play it’s going to be tough.”

Stosur has yet to drop a set during the tournament and will play 21st seed Sara Errani of Italy in the semi final on Thursday.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on all the Australian players’ progress throughout the main draw of the French Open.

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.

Arvidsson Takes Memphis Title

(REUTERS/Nikki Boertman)

by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Unseeded Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden won her second WTA title on Saturday in Memphis of all the places, the same city where she won her first.

Arvidsson downed fourth-seeded Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-3, 6-4 to take the championship of the Memphis International WTA event.

The 28-year old Swede used a strong first serve and deep ground strokes to keep Erakovic off balance most of the match. Erakovic jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening set, but a slew of backcourt errors let Arvidsson back in the match.

This was Arvidsson’ s 18th career match win in Memphis, more that she has at any another tournament. She only committed two unforced errors in the final match and she couldn’t be happier with the way she played and how she is treated in Memphis each year.

“I just love to play here,” stated Arvidsson. “I love the fans and I play well here.”

The two had met once previously on the WTA circuit, with Erakovic prevailing in straight sets last year in Stanford.

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology. He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta. You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

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.

Jim Courier Takes the Reins – The Friday Five

Jim Courier

By Maud Watson

Taking the Reins

A week after Australia named the appointment of Patrick Rafter as its new Davis Cup captain, the United States followed suit. On Wednesday it was announced that Jim Courier would be replacing Patrick McEnroe at the helm of the U.S. team. Courier will have some big shoes to fill, as McEnroe did much to turn around the fortunes of the U.S. Davis Cup squad, which included a title win in 2007. But Courier, a four-time Grand Slam winner, brings plenty of experience to the table, including serving as a member of the 1995 victorious U.S. Davis Cup squad. And, as an added bonus, reports seem to indicate that there’s a slight chance Mr. Courier’s new appointment could entice a healthy Andy Roddick to devote time to Davis Cup duty once again.

Muster Wobbles

Thomas Muster made his comeback debut at the main ATP World Tour level in his native Austria this week, and unfortunately, it didn’t have a fairytale ending. The 43-year-old succumbed to his native countryman Andreas Haider-Maurer in straight sets in the opening round, though it should be noted that the second set ended in a tiebreak. Perhaps Muster is still polishing off some of the rust, but it is a little difficult to see him putting in another two good years as he stated he hopes to do. Still, judging by the crowd’s reaction to his efforts, there’s little doubt that his comeback is still bringing plenty of smiles to fans’ faces.

Comeback Bug

In addition to Muster, the ATP World Tour may see the return of yet another veteran in Australian Mark Philippoussis. After securing two wins on the Champions Series seniors’ tour, the veteran Australian has stated that he has found his hunger once again and is contemplating a return to the main tour level. While there are many fans who would love to see Scud see his plan through, it’s certainly questionable on Philippoussis’ part. It’s not as though this is the first time he’s considered such a comeback, and while those who compete on the Champions Tour are champions in their own right, they are retired from the main tour for a reason. The difference in the caliber of play is wide, and Philippoussis is kidding himself if he thinks success on one tour means it will translate to success on the ATP World Tour. Sadly, one has to wonder if Philippoussis’ considerations for a return don’t stem from the fact that he squandered his talent during his prime by choosing to live the good life instead putting in the time necessary to remain more injury-free and to realize his full potential. But then again, if Muster thinks he can do it in his 40s, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for the Aussie to do it in his 30s.

Consolation Prize

Few would argue that 2010 has been the year of Rafael Nadal. With the No. 1 ranking sewn up, three of the four majors to his name, and achieving the career Grand Slam, it has been his banner year. But Roger Federer, despite the subpar results by his high standards, has still managed to achieve yet another milestone, as he tied Sampras’ record of 64 singles titles with is win in Stockholm last week. At this stage in the game, Connors’ 109 still seems untouchable and McEnroe’s 77 a doable but lofty goal, but look for Federer to add to his total and use this mini-milestone as a springboard to better things in 2011.

Gossip Fill

In case you missed your daily dose of gossip, it’s worth noting a story that broke late last week followed by one earlier this week. The first concerns the engagement of Maria Sharapova to LA Laker Sasha Vujacic. More than once Sharapova has commented that she couldn’t see herself playing till she was 30, and if her results don’t drastically improve in 2011, don’t be entirely surprised if she hangs up the racquet and decides to permanently soak up the California sun. Then there’s Lleyton Hewitt, who became a father for the third time as he and wife Bec welcomed a baby girl last weekend. The whole charging for texts to find out the baby girl’s name is a little odd (and someone please let me know if that goes to some kind of charity), but congratulations are in order for the Hewitt’s. Don’t look for a third child to have a negative impact on Hewitt’s game either. It’s his body he’ll need to worry about.

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s Fairy Tale Run at Toray Pacific Open – The Friday Five

Kimiko Date-Krumm

By Maud Watson

Comeback Cut Short – The much-anticipated return of Juan Martin del Potro and his potential third-round clash with Rafael Nadal were quickly derailed as little Ollie Rochus cut down the big Argentine (who stands a foot taller than the Belgian) in straight sets in the opening round of the PTT Thailand Open 7-6 (7), 6-4. Despite the loss, there was still much to cheer about for Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing his first match in eight months. For those lucky enough to see the match, it was apparent that he wasn’t afraid to go after the ball, as he appeared to be clocking many of his ground strokes with the same ferocity that took him to the US Open title. He wasn’t without his chances either, holding a set point in the opening set, though lacking in match play, he can hardly be blamed for feeling a few extra nerves at those crucial moments. But the biggest positive of all is that Juan Martin del Potro reported that his wrist felt perfect at the conclusion of the match and is looking forward to working in another 5-6 tournaments before the 2010 season is officially in the books.

A Very Happy Birthday – Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the interesting storylines over the course of this season, but this week, she was truly one of the feel good stories. Playing in her native Japan, Date Krumm collected one of the biggest scalps in her comeback to-date, taking out defending champion Maria Sharapova in three sets on the eve of her 40th birthday. Bouncing back from her grueling victory, she then celebrated her birthday by defeating Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova was forced to retire with a shoulder injury down 0-4 in the third set. Sadly, Date Krumm’s fairytale run came to a halt at the hands of 2010 Roland Garros Champion Francesca Schiavone, but keep an eye on the Japanese veteran. The odds are still highly stacked against her, and it’s certainly going to take the right kind of field with a little bit of luck, but Date Krumm may just break Billie Jean King’s record and soon become the oldest female to win a title on the WTA Tour.

Proud Papa – Struggling with knee injuries, the bulk of 2010 has been a nightmare of a year for young Frenchman Gilles Simon, but he’s had much to smile about as of late. He and his fiancée recently celebrated the birth of their first child together, and instead of acting as a further stumbling block to his career, as his fiancée feared it might, the new addition seems to have rejuvenated Simons’ game. He belatedly entered the Metz tournament in his home nation, and with his family there to cheer him on, he rolled to his first title of the season, trouncing Mischa Zverev 3 and 2 in the final. It’s still too early to tell, but hopefully this win means Simon has righted the ship and will once again become the contender he showed promise of over a year ago.

Plight Update – The women of Spain have taken their stand, it appears that the Spanish Tennis Federation has been forced to take notice. In an unprecedented move, the National Tennis Congress stated that there would be an upcoming conference in Pamplona devoted solely to hashing out the issues facing Spanish women’s tennis, including training opportunities for the top players and raising young talents. Of course, it’s too early to see what will or won’t come of this meeting, but it is a positive sign that the Spanish Federation is setting aside the time to seriously take a look at the issues. Given their success in the men’s game, there’s no reason to think that perhaps with a little bit more time and effort, they couldn’t see an increase in success achieved on the women’s side as well.

Injury Report – Foot injuries continue to make headlines as Belgian Kim Clijsters announced that she was forced to pull out of the China Open due to a foot infection she acquired after having a mole removed. This comes on the heels (no pun intended) of Serena Williams also calling off her whole Asian tour as a result of her own foot issues. And on the men’s side, Robby Ginepri will be forced to call off his season early due to a broken arm he sustained from a biking accident. Injuries are never a good thing, but at least these are not related to the length of the season.

Clijsters and Venus Serve up Spectacular

Well, given Venus’ penchant for a double fault last night I’m not too sure if that is the correct title.

Fans of beautiful tennis may not have been heavily impressed by the first two and a half sets but those who appreciate sheer guts and determination would have been gripped to their TV sets like never before.

The sporting cliché “refuses to lay down and die” was whipped out by both players who looked like two ageing stars playing their last Slam in terms of grit and determination to stay in the competition.

Then, with Clijsters 4-3 and 30-0 up in the third set the match exploded in to one of the most breathtaking and clinical displays of tennis seen this fortnight.

Venus showed some trademark Williams grit and clawed her way back to 4-4, courtesy of a horrifying Clijsters miss with an over-hit volley.

At this point it looked curtains for Belgian Kim. Surely her wits were abandoning her and it was time to return to baby Jada while Williams slugged it out with Vera Zvonereva for the title? Not a chance!

Putting pressure on Venus’ serve Kim began finding some impossible angles with that backhand and then produced one of the most sumptuous lobs I have ever witnessed to fight back and put Venus to the sword.

At 5-4 and Clijsters serving for the set Venus looked perilously close to tears. She, more than anyone else, was wondering how this had happened.

Venus had looked dominant taking the first set off the two-time defending Champion and when Clijsters threw away a 2-0 lead in the second it looked like Venus was to stride home in straight sets.

But Kim showed the fighting spirit which has epitomised her comeback from becoming a mother and those who claim that tennis now plays second fiddle to her family probably haven’t watched her play too often. This was definitely pride in tennis. A pride in her career and a will to give Jada something to be immensely proud of as she grows older.

The records are waiting for her. She is now unbeaten in 20 consecutive US Open matches which equals Venus’ best effort as well as Monica Seles, Margaret Osborne du Pont and Martina Navratilova. Only Chris Evert stands ahead of her on 31. Three more titles Kim and then you can stop.

Awaiting her is Wimbledon finalist Zvonereva who is gunning for her first Slam. Kim has a 5-2 record over the No. 7 seed but Vera has won both matches since Kim’s return to the tour.

A few people are backing Vera after she toppled the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki but for me it is written for Kim to lift this. I have been wrong (many times) before but I will be gunning for Kim to keep the flag flying for working mothers above Flushing Meadows.

“I just tried to make the points and when I felt I had an opportunity to step up and accelerate I tried to take advantage,” Clijsters said in typical modest fashion.

But play it down all she likes this girl is dynamite. And come 3am tomorrow morning (British time) Kim will be lifting her third consecutive crown and taking all the plaudits once more.

Zvonereva is a quiet player with efficient and effective shot selections. She has snuck in to this final through the back door as all the talk has been of other stars. This makes her extremely dangerous. But Kim knows all about doing that from last year’s Championship. This will give her the upper hand and she’ll be too much for young Vera.

Kim to take it in three.

Caroline Wozniacki Talks

After the exciting match between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova, which Caroline won in straight sets 6-2, 7-5,  Wozniacki sat down with  Next Contenders for an exclusive interview.

Here is an excerpt of the interview and you can find the article at American Express’ NextContenders.com

Sweet Caroline did it again on Wednesday night, knocking out her quarterfinals opponent, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, in just two sets 6 2, 7 5, and continuing her impressive run of not dropping a single set at the Open, despite the windy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I’m happy to be through definitely, it was a tough one,” Caroline told me when we caught up after the match. “The wind was not easy to cope with. It was just about getting it in. I wasn’t really thinking to place it anywhere special, I was just thinking about getting it in. But a win is a win and I’m happy to be through to the semifinals.”

Next up, Caroline faces seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who she beat in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month in straight sets, and who also made it to the finals of Wimbledon this year.

“She’s a tough player. She’s a good competitor,” Caroline said. “She takes the ball and really tries to be aggressive all the time. So it’s going to be a tough match.”

Of course, Caroline’s game has improved greatly since her last Open, which she’s not shy about admitting. “I definitely think I’m a better player now than I was before,” she said, to which I asked how exactly she upped her game.

“Well, the fitness definitely has been a big part of it— boxing, running, a lot of cardio. I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been, I think, and that’s helped me to get into the right positions for my shots and that’s a good feeling to know that you can just continue.”

And they also provided us with some great videos:

Caroline Wozniacki – Language lessons and loose lips

Caroline on being the face of Stella McCartney’s Adidas line

Caroline says hello to the city of New York

What to wear? The fashionable Caroline Wozniacki tells us what it takes to win it all

Around The Corner: More Masters 1000 From Cincinnati

It’s back-to-back Masters 1000 events on the ATP Tour as the focus shifts to Cincinnati this week. One last major tournament before the U.S. Open is upon us and one last chance for the top players to find their game and show us who the front-runner might be for the final Slam of the year.

As was the case in Toronto this past week, the top eight seeds benefit from a first round bye. That comfort seemed to treat the top players well at the Rogers Cup and I’m sure the top-four will benefit from the few extra days rest after their strong showing in Canada.

In his quarter of the draw, Rafael Nadal will play either Feliciano Lopez or a qualifier in his first match. Nadal fell to a very sharp Andy Murray in Toronto in straight sets and will be looking, by his own admission, to tighten up his serve. Another early round encounter with Stan Wawrinka looks likely and a meeting with Tomas Berdych would make for a great quarter-final match-up.

Despite having the No. 2 ranking back in his possession, Federer has the No. 3 seed and is in Rafa’s half of the draw. He will play either a qualifier or James Blake in his opening match and has a nice path for the first few rounds. An unpredictable Gael Monfils and a struggling Nikolay Davydenko are in his section of the draw but should not trouble him with his current rediscovery of form. Philipp Kohlschreiber may be the toughest opponent in Roger’s vicinity, but even he should not pose much of an obstacle, especially given Federer’s 5-0 career advantage against him.

In the third quarter of the draw, Andy Murray will face either Jeremy Chardy of France or a qualifier in the second round. Fernando Verdasco is the 8th seed and could meet Murray in the quarters but after his meltdown versus Chardy in Toronto the other day I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Mardy Fish gets the wildcard and has been on fire this summer. It will be interesting to see how he measures up against some stiffer competition. The talented but inconsistent Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis are also lurking in this section of the draw.

Finally we have Novak Djokovic as the second seed at the bottom of the draw. He will face either Radek Stepanek or fellow-Serb Viktor Troicki in his first tilt. This represents without a doubt the toughest quadrant in Cincinnati as it contains Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and a returning Andy Roddick.

Soderling was upset by Nalbandian in three sets this past week but looked terrific in practice. Hewitt is returning from a slight injury while Roddick apparently has been struggling with a mild case of mono for the past two months. Fans will hopefully be treated to some great matches if these guys are healthy and ready to go.

While the field in Cincy looks strong, there is always the possibility for upsets following a fantastic week in Toronto where the top four players in the world advanced to the semi-finals. Another deep run by all four as the U.S. Open approaches is not something I would bank on. While the top guys will all be trying to keep their momentum going, they are also less likely to push themselves to the brink and risk showing up at Flushing Meadows in less than perfect form.

Personally I like Berdych to go on a strong run following his heart-breaking collapse against Federer in Toronto. He took that loss very personally and I think that will motivate him to push hard this week. With Roger’s draw I think he will very likely advance to the semi’s this week and I also like Soderling’s chances.

Enjoy another week of great hard court tennis everyone and check back starting later in the week for some U.S. Open preview coverage.

LA Open Day Four

James Blake

It was a cool 77 degrees this summer afternoon at the LA Tennis Center at UCLA campus on Thursday, July 29th with a slew of 2nd round matchups on the schedule promising some good fighting and formidable challenges for top seeds. I reached the Grandstand for the first singles match between Mr. Beautiful, Feliciano Lopez taking on the Israeli Dudi Sela. Sela contested the first set with vigor taking it to a tiebreak, succumbing to Lopez 6-7 amidst a rancorous contingent of Israeli supporters in the crowd. Lopez, with his Spanish swagger of someone who has just created the Earth, looked out at spectators with that look of you-should-feel-privileged-to-be-in-the-same-hemisphere-as-me, was unfazed by the loud chants of Sela supporters going on to take the match in straight sets.

The next match pitted Latvian train wreck Ernest Gulbis against up and comer, Mr. I almost beat Federer at Wimbledon 1st round: Alejandro Falla. Gulbis is as much as an enigma as anyone on tour. He has a boat load of talent, a ripping, aggressive game; one of the best first serve and forehand one two punches around, and the captain doing all the steering is running around deck stumbling drunk, making choices that would make a Tennis mom wince. I just don’t understand it. Gulbis wins the first set comfortably, having never had his serve broken, and the first point of the second set he misses a forehand into the net, and the “other” Gulbis arises, turmoil legible in his stride, head sunken low, and constant looks to his coach’s box of dismay and dejection. I was seated next to a Latvian girl who was cheering Gulbis on in his language I assumed, and I couldn’t resist asking her, after Gulbis threw his racquet, (3 times total in the match) why he was so mad? She sheepishly replied, in a strong accent, “We all have temper from that part of the world.” Well, that temper led to a downward spiral that allowed Falla to relax and go for his shots, resulting in a plethora of mismanaged drop shots by Ernest who eventually fell to Falla in three sets. In the press conference afterward Gulbis began to look more like a young Cassius Clay than a Latvian up and comer. He was still fuming from the loss obviously, and maybe that had a lot to do with it, but hold back he did not. Questions parroted at him about his decision making and he snorted back with gusto. “It was a not a good match. I played terrible. I was really tired. I haven’t played for two months so I was not ready to win. If you don’t fish for two months, you going to catch fish?” The crowd seemed to bother Gulbis, especially in the third set tiebreaker, and he was quick to comment on the effect. “It bothers me. I can hear everything. When they boo me for throwing my racquet it is ridiculous. I am a professional. This is my job. I don’t go to your job and scream at you do I?” A very telling comment resonated with my observation of Gulbis and my overall assessment of his attitude. I always thought to myself, “This guy just hates to be out there. He does not look like he enjoys any bit of it, even when he wins.” My thoughts were confirmed when a reporter asked him if he had been enjoying his stay in Los Angeles. “There is no fun in tournament time, “ Gulbis said. “You play, you practice, you go hotel, eat, and then sleep. That is it.” I almost wanted to ask him where the invisible gun was that was pointed at your head?

The next match scheduled was a semi-injured James Blake, who has made it to the finals here before, taking on the stoic German Benjamin Becker. Blake has been a ghost on tour the last couple of years, the age wear showing more and more, and since 2008 watched his ranking drop out of the top 100. He had more to prove here than anyone. I actually picked Becker to take it in straight sets, but Blake didn’t read the script. As a matter of fact he burned it and wrote a whole new movie. With Celtic Superstar Kevin

Garnett watching (a friend of Blake’s), ‘All or Nothing’ James exhibited the hustle and fight of old, willing himself to victory, hitting his marks and paving his way to the Quarters with a straight set victory: 7-5, 7-6. In the press conference afterwards James said he felt better than ever. All of us press media awaited his arrival (he was twenty minutes late), and in he walked with a large bag of ice taped to his right knee. The first question was how the knee felt? James smiled and said, “On a pain scale of 1-10, it’s a one. It’s feeling better and better.” We shall see how it feels tomorrow, when he faces a confident Lopez aiming to make his deepest run.

The night match starred number four in the world, British hopeful, Andy Murray taking on American Tim Smyczek. The first set looked automatic for Murray. He looked like a potential grand slam winner, gliding across the court with ease, making all the right decisions, outwitting Smyczek, rotating between power shots and finesse, letting the tricks out of the bag at the perfect moment. Murray took the first set 6-1, and the energy of the crowd hushed and lulled. You could almost feel people planning their morning, drifting off from center court, texting and blackberrying, ready for an early departure. But Smyczek had other plans. He wasn’t going quietly into the night. He didn’t read the script either, and with brilliant movement and shot making took the second set 6-4, and the Los Angeles night crowd forgot about tomorrow and drifted back to center court with eagerness. This was a match again. Andy had never played this tournament before and maybe playing an American on foreign territory was getting to the Brit. I don’t think so. Murray, in his usual fashion, bounced back, employing all the maneuvering that got him to two grand slam finals, and put all the eagerness to bed with a comfortable 6-2 third set win, sending him to the Los Angeles night with a quarterfinal birth, where he will face Alejandro Falla.

WIMBLEDON DAY 5: FAMILIAR FEDERER RETURNS

By Peter Nez

“This is the Federer we’ve been accustomed to seeing,” long time commentator Dick Enberg stated in the third set when Roger was serving for the match, which became his first straight sets victory at the Wimbledon Championships thus far, having “struggled” in his first two rounds. I’m not convinced it was necessarily a struggle, even though he rarely goes five sets in a major, particularly on grass, even more bizarrely at Wimbledon, but I am of the opinion that the men’s game is so vastly talented and Federer is engaged in a constant staving off of young upstarts day in and day out, being one of the oldest on tour currently, dominating multi generational huddles, and as Mahut and Isner have proved, anything can happen on any given day. And what does Alejandro Falla and Bozo the clown have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Their impetus must be to go for broke, full throttle, no hesitation, and little thought for marginal play, or else what could be the only outcome possible? ‘Fortune favors the brave,’; an aphorism that parades the sports psychologists halls and sessions frequently, and to face that mind set every time you step out on court is something only the greatest athletes can relate to. Falla was the perfect embodiment, Soderling: a vision of execution, and Bozo was an anomaly at best. Clement was the perfect opponent for Roger to get back to Swiss precision and rhythm.

Federer is renowned for stepping up his play as tournaments progress, especially majors, and today was no different. The serve and movement was intact, the energy on court apparent, and with an opponent who is devoid of any perplexing weapons, Roger showed us all why he has six Wimbledon titles and counting. Greatness comes easy to those with an abundance, but without the proof of its prowess renewed continually on the world’s grandest stages, even past accolades can seem shadowed and distant. Federer thrives on confidence maybe more now than he ever did before and a match like this, taking Clement out in three seasoned sets, could give him the boost he needs with a draw that looms with hungry contenders. If Australia 2010 has showed us anything, when Roger’s game is on, nobody has a chance.

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