Svetlana Kuznetsova

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From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

Can Cibulkova make it two straight titles with a Carlsbad defense?

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.

Carlsbad:

Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Washington:

Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens

Nadal’s Wimbledon Seeding; Stepanek-Kvitova Rumors — The Friday Five

Petra Kvitova and Radek Stepanek at a photoshoot earlier this month in Prostejov for her sponsor Steilmann

By Maud Watson

Broken Record

As with Roland Garros, the question of whether to seed fifth-ranked Nadal at No. 4 or No. 5 was one of the hottest topics heading into Wimbledon.  The verdict is in, and the seeding committee has opted to leave him seeded fifth.  The decision has left some, like John McEnroe, scratching their heads, but it was the right decision.  Wimbledon has a standard mathematical formula for determining the men’s seeds.  The formula factors in grass court results over the last two years, with those of the previous 12 months weighted heavier than those of the past 24 months.  Nadal had a dismal grass court season in 2012, and though he reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2011, he had a poor showing in his Wimbledon tune-up that year as well.  Additionally, though he has won Wimbledon twice, it is not like he has dominated at SW19 anywhere near to the same extent as he has in Paris.  If the folks in Paris were willing to seed him fifth had Murray not withdrawn, Wimbledon is definitely within its right to do the same.  Would it be a surprise if he won the title here?  Not overly.  But he definitely doesn’t deserve an edge in his quest to do so at Ferrer’s expense.

Familiar Territory

Serena Williams is no stranger to controversy and thanks to some insensitive comments made a couple of months ago, she finds herself mired in it once again.  In an interview with Rolling Stone, Serena made some off-the-cuff remarks regarding the infamous Steubenville rape case, which have many up in arms.  Few would argue that, outside of something being slipped into her drink, the young victim acted irresponsibly.  But Serena’s decision to carry it a step further by unmistakably insinuating that the victim was mostly to blame for what transpired and was even “lucky” that it wasn’t worse was off base.  She further dug herself into a hole when she seemed to suggest that the primary perpetrators were potentially treated too harshly.  To her credit, Serena has since backed off those comments.  It would have been nice had she taken full responsibility for them instead of insinuating that her remarks were misrepresented (a scenario that seems somewhat unlikely given that the reporter used a recorder, and Serena isn’t outright accusing the reporter of misquoting her), but her damage control efforts and willingness to reach out to the victim’s family are admirable.  It’s certainly an improvement over how she handled the 2009 US Open debacle, and hopefully this controversy won’t prove a distraction with Wimbledon around the corner.

Injury Woes

Wimbledon has yet to get underway, but the women’s competition has already suffered a couple of blows.  Both Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams have withdrawn with injuries.  Kuznetsova is undoubtedly disappointed to have to forgo the Championships thanks to an abdominal strain she suffered at Roland Garros.  The Russian has worked hard to rebuild her ranking, and after a quarterfinal showing in Paris where she was the only player to have Serena on the ropes, her inability to even attempt to build on that momentum is a disappointment.  Venus, too, has fallen victim to a lingering injury, with her back still causing her fits.  Grand Slam champions deserve to go out on their own terms, and as players like Serena and Federer have proven time and time again, it’s dangerous to write them off.  But many, including Venus herself, have to wonder how much longer she’s going to be out there after this latest setback.  The injuries and health issues are piling up, and the results haven’t been there for some time.  She also looks far more distressed, annoyed, and upset than in years past when matches aren’t going in her favor.  If the back doesn’t heal fast, Venus may be packing it up sooner than many anticipated.

Glass Half-Full

One of the game’s most dangerous underachievers, David Nalbandian, will be out indefinitely after undergoing both hip and shoulder surgery.  The Argentine still remains on crutches and has yet to test his shoulder.  Despite the growing frequency of his injuries, however, the 31-year-old veteran isn’t ready to hang up the racquet just yet.  Perhaps inspired by the likes of Haas, Robredo, and Baker, Nalbandian still feels he can produce stellar tennis.  A trip back to the upper echelons of the game is unlikely in the cards, but it would be nice to see him have at least one more good go at it.  He was one of the few players capable of giving all of the top players a run for their money, and when he’s on, he has a beautiful game to watch.  Here’s to hoping he makes a full recovery and dazzles us again.

The Swap?

Czech newspapers are reporting that Radek Stepanek and former WTA pro Nicole Vaidisova are calling it quits after three years of marriage.  The newspaper rumors were confirmed by Czech Davis Cup Captain Karel Tejkal.  It always did seem odd, especially with the age gap (Stepanek is 34 and Vaidisova 24), that these two walked down the aisle in the first place, so news of their divorce isn’t really a shock.  What is a shock, however, is that Stepanek, who has also previous dated Martina Hingis, is now rumored to be dating former Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova – a player even younger than Vaidisova.  Kvitova has acknowledged awareness of the rumors but has yet to confirm their validity.  She has merely asked all to respect her private life so as to avoid further outside distractions at the year’s third major.  That’s all fine and well, but she’s living in a fool’s paradise if she thinks she’s heard the last of this, which given her recent struggles, doesn’t bode well for her chances of picking up Wimbledon title No. 2.

When the Red Dust Settles: Favorite Memories of Roland Garros 2013

We have reached the end of the red brick road for another year.

Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens.  But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.

Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.

The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.

Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.

Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.

Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.

Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.

Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.

John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.

Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.

Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.

Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.

Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.

Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.

Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.

Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.

Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.

Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.

Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.

Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.

Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.

Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.

Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.

Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.

Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.

Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.

Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.

Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.

Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.

David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.

Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.

Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.

Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.

Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.

Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.

Roland Garros Day 11: Links Roundup with Sharapova, Djokovic, Tsonga and more

Victoria Azarenka reaches for a lob against Maria Kirilenko during Day 11 action.

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Victoria Azarenka reached her first semifinal at Roland Garros by easily dispatching of Maria Kirilenko in the quarterfinals in just under two hours with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.

Mats Wilander on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Annabel Croft sits down with Mats Wilander as the former world No. 1 analyzes and dissects Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s progression under Roger Rasheed. Mats dives into Tsonga’s more relaxed forehand, consistent backhand, and increased confidence and explosiveness on court.

Novak Djokovic confident but knows what lies ahead: In his press conference following his straight sets quarterfinal victory over German Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic talked about the rarity and difficulty of facing players with one handed backhands, the slick and quick conditions of Suzanne Lenglen, how he feels about the current state of his game, and the challenge of playing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

“Now I have a big challenge in front of me. I’m ready for it.  I’m playing well. I know this is the biggest challenge for me at Roland Garros. No doubt about it.”

Maria Sharapova leaves the bagel store just in time: After an egregious, error-strewn opening frame which she lost 6-0 to Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova cleaned up her act to collect the final two sets 6-4 6-3. Sharapova’s victory sets up a blockbuster semifinal with Victoria Azarenka, with the winner likely facing Serena Williams in the finals on Saturday. Sports Illustrated reports that while “Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by Sharapova,” Maria still felt confident.

“I still felt like I was in the match. And I was,” Sharapova stated. This type of confidence and mental fortitude coming from Sharapova should surprise no one and is what may lead her to back to back Roland Garros titles.

Players on the receiving end of gamblers’ frustrations: After his opening round defeat at the hands of Frenchman Lucas Pouille, American Alex Kuznetsov, a slight favorite in the match, received, as Ben Rothenberg describes in his piece for Slate, “a tweet with an impolite rhetorical question.” Rothenberg goes on to describe how tennis players often bear the brunt of hateful and threatening messages on twitter following losses. These messages are often from gamblers because “in countries where online sports betting is rampant and legal, tennis is one of the most attractive sports to bet on.” Tim Smyczek talks about his experiences with gamblers over social media even citing incidents where he’s “gotten messages after Challenger doubles matches.”

Enjoy Svetlana Kuznetsova while you have the chance: I could try to put in to words what Svetlana Kuznetosva means to tennis fans, but it would it pale in comparison to how Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover described the phenomenon that is Sveta. Here’s a taste of Lindsay’s take on Kuznetsova following her quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams:

“The truth is that the sky pattern on the clothes is fitting for the Russian–the sky is the limit for her, but she keeps that limit close to her …

She makes us all want to pull our hair out, but she also keeps us watching …

Because on days like today when the conclusion is foregone, when the ending seems inevitable, she reminds us that it’s not. She reminds us that there are players like her who can get under the skin of Serena Williams. She reminds us that there’s not just one right or one wrong way to do things. Occasionally the Sveta way works too.”

Rafael Nadal as focused as ever: Rafael Nadal has seven titles and a lone defeat at Roland Garros. Yet, David Cox of the New York Times designates Nadal’s practice etiquette as being “markedly different from any other player.”

“While Roger Federer likes to joke around, sometimes mimicking his partner’s service action, Nadal is deadly serious, his focus as unrelenting as he rehearses the drills he believes will make all the difference as he seeks his 12th career title in a grand slam event.”

Nadal’s amplified practice intensity should not be viewed as response or as an antidote to his lackluster form during the first week. Rather, it should be seen as Rafael Nadal being Rafael Nadal. He plays every point like it’s his last and treats every practice likewise.

Miles Maclagan to coach Laura Robson: As Simon Briggs of The Telegraph reports, “Laura Robson has a new coach in the familiar shape of Miles Maclagan, who worked with Andy Murray between 2007 and 2011.” Though Maclagan admits that he “needs to learn more about the women’s tour and Laura’s game” he knows “she has the mind for the big stadiums and for the big time which is exciting for a young player with a lot of firepower and the ability to take on the top players.”

Roland Garros Day 10: Links Roundup with Federer, Haas, Williams, Gasquet and more

Bryan Brothers make it through to the quarterfinals in no time.

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: No.1 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan had an easy time of it for their third round doubles match against Oliver Marach and Christopher Kas. The German-Austrian team retired after just a single game.

Serena Williams narrowly escapes Svetlana Kuznetsova: Serena Williams lost her only set of the French Open to Russian Svetlana Kuznetsov and was in danger of falling down two breaks in the third set before winning 6-3 in the third. As ESPN reports, “In a post-match on court-interview, Williams seemed spent.”

“I’m very happy to have won this quarterfinal because the whole night I was afraid of my quarterfinal match. It was a very tough match today, but it’s good for me because, I don’t know, but it’s very good. I am exhausted.”

Tommy Haas talks fashion, relives Australian Open monologue: The ATP World Tour writes that German Tommy Haas was “called out for his mismatched color scheme in Miami” and that “Haas’s fashion choices came under fire again following his fourth-round dismissal of Mikhail Youzhny.” Haas responded saying, “Today my laundry wasn’t ready. I was happy to have clothes to wear. But I think I have done a better job I think since Miami.” After witnessing Youzhny’s meltdown yesterday, Haas was asked about the rant he went on during his 2007 Australian Open match with Nikolay Davydenko admitting that “It’s funny, because Roger Federer and I actually joke about the video quite a bit, and we know it pretty much by heart now.”

Roger Federer’s quarterfinal streak quantified: Though he was overwhelmed and outmatched in his quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer’s quarterfinal streak at majors lives on. Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal puts Federer’s 36 consecutive quarterfinal streak into numerical perspective including facts such as 15 being “the number of times out of 36 that Federer reached the quarterfinals without dropping a set.”

Stanislas Wawrinka makes unusual request: In his fourth round match with Richard Gasquet, Stanislas Wawrinka was irate over several calls made by the line judge and requested the line judge to be removed. Wawrinka became so incensed that it prompted Gasquet to say “Take it easy, take it easy” in French.

“The ball’s there and he says nothing. He says nothing. Yes, yes…replace him at the next changeover. Come on, there is 20 people. That’s not a small mistake, that’s a big, big mistake.”

Tips for managing your tennis game as you get older: Time will ultimately prevail—this is a basic concept that most humans accept and identify with. Tennis stalwarts Serena Williams, Kimiko Date Krumm, Tommy Haas, Tommy Robredo, Roger Federer, and David Ferrer despite being incredibly resilient and physically fit will eventually succumb to the passing of time. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’ll stop playing forever and neither should you.  If you are interested in seeing how players like Roger Federer and Kimiko Date Krumm deal with their ageing, The Tennis Space has you covered with the “Top 10 anti-ageing tips for tennis player” which includes sleeping a lot and not forgetting to have fun.

Richard Gasquet’s bad luck in the fourth rounds: Richard Gasquet has a certain prowess for reaching the fourth round of majors.  This prowess for reaching the fourth round is matched by an inability to grab the three sets required to cement a quarterfinal position at grand slams. Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover has crafted this extremely detailed and revealing account of Gasquet’s failures in fourth round matches. Lindsay sums up the sentiment probably felt by most people after reading her piece.

“This is getting depressing. And ridiculous. Le sigh.”

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dominates Roger Federer: As mentioned earlier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga whipped Philippe Chatrier into a frenzy as he dismantled Roger Federer 7-5 6-3 6-3 conceding serve only twice in the match while breaking the Swiss six times. Piers Newbery of the BBC covered the match and documented Tsonga’s reactions following the match.

“It’s extraordinary to be here and to have won. I never dreamt of this moment. Today was my moment against a champion who has won everything. It’s here at Roland Garros, in France, on a big court with a lot of people, middle of the afternoon, and I just beat Roger Federer.”

Roland Garros Rewind: Thoughts on Tuesday’s Quarterfinal Action

Gracious in victory, gracious in defeat.  No more than what one expects from either.

Plenty of fascinating events unfolded on the first day of quarterfinal action in Paris.  Here are my thoughts on what happened.

ATP:

Major breakthrough:  Not since 2011 had Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated a member of the ATP top eight, much less one of the Big Four.  He had lost a five-set heartbreaker in the same round here last year to Novak Djokovic, and he had lost a five-setter in the same round at the Australian Open to the man whom he faced today.  When Tsonga fell behind early in the first set, the narrative looked all too familiar.  But the flamboyant French shot-maker has shown far more resilience this fortnight than he has in years, and he stormed back from early adversity to dominate Roger Federer as few men ever have at a major.  Give the Paris crowd credit for abandoning their usual adulation of Federer and relentlessly exhorting their home hero to knock him off.

Pumpkin time for Cinderella Tommy:  All of those grueling comebacks finally caught up with Tommy Robredo, who won just four games from David Ferrer in a listless quarterfinal.  When he looks back at this tournament, though, Robredo will remember it as one of the highlights of his career.  Normally a reserved, unassuming character, he stole the spotlight for several days on a grand stage for the first time.  Nobody would have expected it of him a few months ago.

Crossroads for Federer:  Despite the 36-quarterfinal streak at majors, one would have to rate the first half of 2013 a serious disappointment for the Swiss.  Federer has no titles, one final, and one victory over a top-eight opponent (Tsonga at the Australian Open).  Now, Federer must seek to defend his Wimbledon title or possibly face the prospect of dropping outside the top four.  His occasional flickers of brilliance this spring simply will not suffice unless the draw implodes, which rarely happens at a major.

When David becomes Goliath:  The fourth seed reached his second straight Roland Garros semifinal and fourth semifinal in five majors by losing just nine games in his last six sets.  Tsonga cannot overlook the small Spaniard on the eve of a possible final against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.  Granted a fine  draw that placed him in the opposite half from both of those nemeses, Ferrer has made the most of it.  He could reach his first major final without facing any of the Big Four, a golden opportunity.

All eyes on the top half:  With Federer gone, the winner of the projected Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal semifinal blockbuster will be heavily favored against whomever he faces in the final.  That match looms larger than ever, assuming that both men can take care of business tomorrow.

No time like the first time:  Neither Tsonga nor Ferrer ever has reached the final here.  Neither man even has lost a set in reaching this stage, a first for both.  Who will handle the pressure better on Friday?

WTA:

Forza Italia:  For the fourth straight year, an Italian woman reaches the Roland Garros semifinals.  Sara Errani hit neither an ace nor a double fault in a characteristically gritty win over Agnieszka Radwanska, concluding with a 67-minute second set.  Defeating Radwanska in a WTA main-draw match for the first time, she exploited her much greater comfort on the surface but also beat the world No. 4 at her own game.  A leisurely 11-break contest with long points and relatively few winners normally plays into Radwanska’s hands.  Not this time.

No déjà vu, thank you:  Facing Svetlana Kuznetsova on the same court where she lost to her in this round four years ago, Serena Williams seized control with an emphatic first set that extended her usual pattern this tournament.  History then threatened to repeat itself when Kuznetsova rallied to take the second set and claimed an early break in the third.  Struggling with both her serve and her groundstroke technique, Serena looked much less like the dominant contender of the early rounds than the woman who had not reached a Roland Garros semifinal for a decade.  Sheer willpower finally ended that drought and a four-match losing streak in quarterfinals here as the world No. 1 forced herself to find her range in an unexpectedly hard-fought victory.

Crossroads for Radwanska:  In some respects, the newly blonde world No. 4 has enjoyed a strong year, matching her best result ever at the Australian Open (quarterfinal) and achieving a new best result at Roland Garros (also quarterfinal).  A few other results have impressed as well, including a Miami semifinal.  But Radwanska has shown little real evolution this year that would encourage one to believe in her as anything more than a serial quarterfinalist at majors.  She will defend finals points at Wimbledon, the only major where she has gone past that round.  Like Federer, her top-four status might crumble if she falls well short there.

No eyes on the bottom half:  With Serena still in the draw, the matches down there offer an entertaining diversion but lack real title implications.  The top seed has bageled or breadsticked all four of the bottom-half quarterfinalists on clay this year and holds a 32-4 career record against the three not named Jelena Jankovic.  When JJ holds your best hope for a competitive final, avert your eyes.

Rewind to Madrid:  Nudged within two points of defeat by Anabel Medina Garrigues in a quarterfinal there, Serena escaped and then rocketed past her last two opponents to the title.  She will face Errani in the semifinals here, as she did there.  Will the parallels continue?

 

 

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Radwanska, Serena, Ferrer Highlight Tuesday’s Quarterfinals

The road to the title goes through me.

The first four Roland Garros quarterfinals unfold on Tuesday, featuring Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Serena Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska.  Colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg will break down Federer’s marquee bout with home hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in plenty of detail.  You can find succinct previews of the other three quarterfinals here.

Tommy Robredo vs. David Ferrer:  Classic clay specialist Robredo radiated with elation after he rallied from multiple deficits to upset compatriot Nicolas Almagro for his first quarterfinal here in four years.  Two days later, he will need all of the energy that remains in his legs to defeat the second-ranked Spaniard.  The clay specialist par excellence in the ATP, Ferrer has cruised through five matches without dropping a set and befuddled a wide range of opponents.  Robredo does nothing that the fourth seed cannot do, and do better, so the matchup presents serious problems unless the favorite’s forum tumbles down an elevator shaft.

To leave any impact on the match at all, the underdog must start more effectively than he has in previous matches.  Masked by the heroism of his record-setting comeback trilogy was the uninspired play that required the heroism.  Ferrer is no Almagro or Gael Monfils, instead an excellent front-runner against lower-ranked opponents who rarely lets an advantage slip away once he sinks his teeth into a match.  Robredo last defeated him in 2008, when they stood much closer in the rankings, and Ferrer has won six of seven overall since losing their first meeting.  An all-Spanish quarterfinal at Roland Garros always produces a welcome display of vintage clay tennis.  But this quarterfinal should not produce much drama.

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sara Errani:  The only quarterfinal in either draw between two top-five players features two women who prefer the counterpuncher’s role.  The winner can count on occupying that role in the semifinals, no matter who she faces there, but it will be intriguing to see whether Radwanska or Errani steps out of her comfort zone to take the initiative. Both have displayed sparkling form here, suggesting that a high-quality match should lie ahead.  Radwanska faced the single most challenging test of their eight opponents in Ana Ivanovic, while Errani’s victories came against a higher level of opponent on average.  The Italian labored through a difficult three-setter against Carla Suarez Navarro, a heavier burden than any placed on Radwanska this fortnight.  She overcame breathing issues in that match too, showing her underrated toughness.

Neither of these stubborn women relaxes her focus when at her best, so we can expect an absorbing battle waged in all areas of the court.  We also can expect plenty of service breaks from these antitheses of Serena’s first-strike power.  Radwanska wins more free points on her serve than she did earlier in her career, but she remains a competitor who makes her living with excellent consistency and inspired finesse.  Those two traits define the core of Errani’s success as well, pitting strength against strength here.  Their history extends back to several meetings in challengers and qualifying draws, which the Pole has dominated in addition to claiming their three WTA main-draw encounters.

Serena Williams vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova:  Other than a few games here or there, the top seed’s opponents have offered little more than glorified batting practice.  Which Kuznetsova decides to show up on Tuesday will decide whether the batting practice continues, or whether the level of competition spikes.  After all, the Russian has won as many Roland Garros titles as Serena has, and hers came more recently.  In the same round here four years ago, she outlasted an edgy, error-prone Serena in three pulsating sets before proceeding more smoothly to her second major title.  Kuznetsova also served for the match when they met at the Australian Open that year, a tournament that the latter eventually won.  Overall, she has won at least one set in five of their eight meetings and taken Serena to a tiebreak in two others.  Few women can boast such a fine record against the greatest player of their generation.

An area in which Kuznetsova can come closer to Serena than most women is her natural athleticism, which enables her to transition smoothly from defense to offense.  Years of training in Spain have honed her clay skills, moreover, leaving her a more natural mover on the surface than even this sensational version of Serena.  An area in which Kuznetsova remains more vulnerable than many women to the world No. 1, meanwhile, is her serve.  This shot contributed to her downward spiral in 2011-12, partly because of shoulder trouble and partly because of a general lack of confidence that emerged through double faults.  To plant a flicker of doubt in Serena’s mind, an opponent cannot sustain relentless pressure on her own serve.  Kuznetsova will bring belief from her three-set upset over world No. 8 Angelique Kerber, but belief alone cannot revive her 2009 form.

Roland Garros Day 8: Links Roundup with Williams, Robredo, Nadal, Errani and more

Viktor Troicki and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga switch sides during their fourth round match.

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Viktor Troicki in the most routine match on the men’s side, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. The Frenchman next takes on Roger Federer who escaped a five-set battle against another Frenchman, Gilles Simon.

Roger Federer avoids monumental upset: After falling behind two sets to one to Frenchman Gilles Simon, Roger Federer’s 2013 French Open campaign and his quarterfinal streak at majors (35) were in imminent jeopardy of being shot down. After breaking for 4-2 in the fourth set, Federer was able to pick up the momentum Simon had seized in the second and third sets to ultimately win in five sets. Federer reveled in his victory following the match as EuroSport.com reports.

Juniors take the court: The burgeoning stars of the future began their quest for a Roland Garros crown Sunday as the French Open Junior Championships kicked off. If you’re looking for more info on the junior competition, Collette Lewis of Zoo Tennis has you covered with a preview of the Boys and Girls singles draw.

Svetlana Kuznetsova triumphs Angelique Kerber: In case you missed the 11am match, fourth round match between Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova and German Angelique Keber, Peter Bodo of Tennis.com wrote an extremely detailed account of Kuznetsova’s three set victory. Kuznetsova’s reward for defeating Kerber is a date with Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. Bodo advises Kuznetsova to “return to Hogwarts and see what else Dumbledore can cook up before that meeting takes place” after earlier commenting that Kuznetsova’s outfit was “an outfit designed by Albus Dumbledore” as it was “dark blue with a pattern suggesting clouds in the moonlight lacking only a wand as an accessory.”

Serena Williams talks on court emotions: In her post-match press conference, Serena Williams talked about the emotions she exhibited in her straight sets victory over Italian Roberta Vinci. Williams was asked, among other things, about her displays of anger in the early stages of the second set. One member of the media went as far as to say that Serena “looked like she was frustrated and was going to cry.” Serena appeared to be thrown off by the question and responded saying, “I’m fine, I’m totally fine, I’m really intense, I don’t remember that.”

Robin Soderling discusses absence: Having been absent for almost two years after being inflicted with the Epstein-Barr virus which leads into mononucleosis, Robin Soderling is still attempting to stage a comeback as LZ Granderson of ESPN reports. Soderling told ESPN, “There’s not much the doctors can do and I’ve been to quite a few of them. They all tell me that my body has to work through it, to do what I can. Now, if I train too much it takes me two days to recover.” Interestingly and surprisingly enough, Soderling told Granderson that he was “more satisfied with the win against Roger [at the 2010 French Open]” than he was with his victory over Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open.

Video analysis becoming critical tool: Christopher Clarey of the New York Times describes how video analysis is becoming an increasingly important tool in tennis using Gilles Simon as a case study.

“Tennis has long been slow to embrace the game-film culture pervasive in other professional sports. But that is changing.”

“Simon will have multiple weapons at his disposal against Federer including his speed, backhand, and ability to absorb pace. He will also have, if he so chooses, the benefit of extensive video analysis of Federer’s tactical patterns and tendencies.”

Tommy Robredo Rallies: For the third consecutive match, Spaniard Tommy Robredo erased a two sets to love deficit to win in five sets, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1927. Greg Garber of ESPN calls Robredo “one of tennis’ most tenacious survivors.” Following the match, Robredo was overcome with emotion stating, “And today, again, my emotions were so strong they were overpowering.  There was a lot of tension before the match, and then at the end of the match I wanted to find a way out from my emotions.”

Rafael Nadal acknowledges early round struggles: Rafael Nadal’s form in this year’s French Open has certainly been of lower quality than in years past. The Spaniard has acknowledged this fact in anticipation of his fourth round match with Kei Nishikori of Japan.

“I have to play better. If I want to have any chance, I really need to play better. But it is always the same story. When you without playing your best, you have the chances to play better. If you don’t fight when you have tough or negative days, then you don’t have all the chances for the future.”

Sara Errani overcomes injury, Carla Suarez Navarro: After battling through what she called “a stabbing pain under her ribs” that prevented her from breathing at 5-5 in the first set, Sara Errani rallied from a set down to beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in three sets. Errani was extremely satisfied with the outcome and commended Suarez Navarro stating, “For me to be in quarterfinals is unbelievable. She’s an amazing player and it’s always tough to play against her. I’m very happy to have won.”

Roland Garros Rewind: Serena, Ferrer, Radwanska Thrive; Federer, Errani, Kuznetsova Survive

Don't worry, I'm still here.

The schedule of play in singles has shrunk to two courts as the second week starts at Roland Garros.  Categories have started to shrink as well in the latter stages of these recaps.

ATP:

Match of the day:  That pesky Gilles Simon just won’t do the decent thing and retreat respectfully from Roger Federer, bowing every two steps.  Simon has defeated Federer twice and now taken him to a fifth set in both of their major meetings.  Reeling off 10 of 13 games in one stretch, the Frenchman even led the former champion by two sets to one until Federer compiled a seven-game surge of his own and eased through the final set without drama.

Comeback of the day:  Maybe we should rename this category the “Tommy Robredo Comeback of the Day.”  The Spanish veteran became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive matches at a major after losing the first two sets.  At least Robredo did not need to save match points this time, as he did against Gael Monfils, but he trailed Nicolas Almagro by a break in both the fourth and fifth sets.  Of course, this was Nicolas Almagro.

Gold star:  Assigned the tallest man in the draw, David Ferrer trimmed him down to size with a clinical efficiency worthy of Procrustes.  Serena Williams also would have appreciated Ferrer’s demolition of Kevin Anderson and his massive serve, which ended with consecutive breadsticks.  Alone among the men in his half, he has not dropped a set or played a tiebreak through four matches.

Silver star:  Like Ferrer, Tsonga has not lost a set en route to a second straight quarterfinal here.  His victory over Viktor Troicki produced a routine scoreline like those before it, a departure from his usual trends but good news for his future here.

Stat of the day:  By rallying against Simon, Federer extended his streak of consecutive quarterfinals at majors to 36.  That’s nine years, reaching back to Wimbledon 2004.

Question of the day:  Tsonga threw quite a scare into world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the quarterfinal stage here last year, holding four match points in the fourth set.  He took Federer to a fifth set in the same round at the Australian Open this year.  Does another heart-stopping epic lie in store?

WTA:

Match of the day:  A 48-winner barrage from Svetlana Kuznetsova avenged a loss in Madrid to world No. 8 Angelique Kerber.  Kuznetsova has reached the quarterfinals at both majors this year, something that at least half of the WTA top ten cannot say pending tomorrow’s results.  Unseeded former champions plowing deep into the draw always adds an extra layer of interest to the second week of a major.

Comeback of the day:  Her first three matches had tumbled into the win column almost too easily.  Like Federer, Sara Errani encountered her first serious test of the tournament today against Carla Suarez Navarro and nearly flunked it.  She regrouped to secure her tenth win at Roland Garros in the last two years, having won one match in four previous appearances.  Predictably, neither woman hit an ace.

Gold star:  Never at her best on clay, Agnieszka Radwanska seemed ripe for an early upset when she lost early at the key clay non-majors and withdrew from Brussels last week with a shoulder injury.  Radwanska thus has surprised by reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set, comfortably knocking off 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic to set up an intriguing clash with Errani.  All of the top four women are still in the draw.

Silver star:  To Roberta Vinci’s credit, she gave Serena Williams something to ponder in the second set as she stayed level until 3-3 and made inroads toward a break in the seventh game.  Unwilling to throw her opponent a lifeline, Serena snuffed out the threat, broke, and then served out her 28th straight win.  Four matches, ten games lost.

Stat of the day:  In five years and 20 majors since she won her in 2008, Ana Ivanovic has reached one major quarterfinal.

Question of the day:  Four years ago, Serena and Kuznetsova combined on a quarterfinal thriller that the Russian snatched late in the third set.  Could we see a worthy sequel in the same round on Tuesday, or is Serena simply too bulletproof at present?

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Tsonga, Federer, Ferrer, Serena, Ivanovic-Radwanska and More on Sunday

No Nadal in my half?  Yum!

Now that the second week has arrived, you can find previews of every match on this site.  This article covers all eight on Sunday.

ATP:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Viktor Troicki:  While their head-to-head stands more evenly balanced than you might think, Tsonga has won both of their clay meetings convincingly.  Troicki has sandwiched a tortuous five-set win over a clay specialist between two straight-sets victories, the latter an upset of Marin Cilic.  For a man with a losing record this season headed into the tournament, an appearance in the second week marks an excellent step forward.  The bad news for Troicki is that Tsonga has not lost a set through three matches, showing uncommon discipline and purpose.  With the French crowd behind him on the biggest tennis stadium in his nation, he should make short work of a man who often gets rattled in hostile or tense environments.

Gilles Simon vs. Roger Federer:  When they first started to collide in the second half of 2008, Simon seemed to have Federer’s number.  He rallied from losing the first set to grind past him twice that year on the hard courts of the Rogers Cup and the year-end championships.  Surely chagrined that his stylistic flights of fancy could not trump a mechanical counterpuncher, Federer labored to finish him off at the 2011 Australian Open after squandering a two-set lead.  Rome this month marked the first time that he finally seemed to solve his “Simon problem.”  Displaying his superior clay skills, Federer yielded just three games to a Frenchman who lost his first two sets at his home major and needed to come from behind in the third round as well.  Simon lost 23 games in his last match.  Federer has lost 23 games in the tournament.  Not even the crowd, which adores Federer, will give him a meaningful edge.

Kevin Anderson vs. David Ferrer:  The tallest man in the draw faces the shortest man in the draw.  On clay, though, David Ferrer looms much larger than does Kevin Anderson despite the South African’s appearance in the Casablanca final this spring.  Ferrer has dominated all of his first three opponents without dropping a set, pouncing on a weak draw after Madrid and Rome assigned him quarterfinals against Nadal.  The Spanish veteran has made a living out of defanging huge servers like Anderson, using his deft reflexes and compact swings to blunt their single overwhelming weapon before outmaneuvering them along the baseline. Anderson bounced Ferrer from the second round of Indian Wells in March, but that victory may have owed something to Ferrer’s busy South American clay schedule just before and the deflating loss to Nadal that ended it.

Tommy Robredo vs. Nicolas Almagro:  This all-Spanish battle should feature plenty of traditional clay tennis with extended rallies from behind the baseline.  A former member of the top ten, Robredo launched an impressive comeback from injury this spring by winning the Casablanca title and upsetting Tomas Berdych in Barcelona.  He has emerged from one of the draw’s most star-studded nuggets, which included not only Berdych but Gael Monfils and Ernests Gulbis.  Saving match points against Monfils in the last round, Robredo has rallied from losing the first two sets in each of his last two matches.  By contrast, Almagro has grown famous for choking away huge leads.  But he has won all five of his meetings with Robredo, all on clay, while losing one total set.  Look for him to control the rallies as Robredo slips into retrieving mode.

WTA:

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Angelique Kerber:  Two of their three previous meetings have gone deep into a final set and ended with almost identical scores, the most recent in Madrid this spring.  Kerber’s burst from anonymity into the top 10 occurred near the same time that Kuznetsova plummeted from trendy dark horse to forgotten woman.  True to those trends, the German lefty has won both of their matches this year.  Kuznetsova should hold a clear surface edge, however, and she showed by reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals that she still can bring her best tennis to the biggest tournaments.  An upset of Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros last year suggests that Kerber has plenty to fear, although she will bring momentum from gritting through a hard-fought contest with dirt devil Varvara Lepchenko.  This match may hinge on whose forehand does the dictating.

Serena Williams vs. Roberta Vinci:  Headlines would ripple through the tennis world if somebody merely stands up to Serena, much less defeats her.  A canny veteran with plenty of clay skills, Vinci will resist more tenaciously than most of her previous victims.  Serena will deny her the time to construct her artful combinations, though, and handled her doubles partner Sara Errani with ease.  This match could develop some intrigue if the world No. 1 struggles with her timing on her return, which can happen on clay.  But otherwise Serena should break serve too consistently and land too many punishing punches with her own serve to feel any serious pressure.

Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Sara Errani:  The answer to Robredo vs. Almagro in the men’s draw features a contest between two clay specialists of the sort rarely witnessed in the WTA these days.  Errani routed Suarez Navarro in the Acapulco final, which makes sense.  In no area of her game is the tiny Spaniard better than the small Italian, who even aced her in Acapulco.  On the other hand, Suarez Navarro scored a stunning upset over Errani in the first round of the last major, signaling an appropriate start to the best year of her career.  The two women combined for just a handful of service holds in that match, a pattern that could resurface.  Having conceded only nine games through three matches, barely more than Serena, Errani has looked as dominant as a woman without weapons other than drop shots ever will.

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Ivanovic:  To state the obvious, the most important shots of a point are the first and the last.  (If you’re Serena Williams, it’s often the same thing.)  In the language of the WTA, that means penetrating first serves, aggressive returns, and the ability to finish points with clean winners.  Ivanovic has struggled in both of those categories during her current six-match losing streak to Radwanska over the last three years.  Earlier in her career, she controlled her matches with the Pole by excelling in both of them, but the tide turned in 2009 when the Serb let a 4-0 lead slip away in a third set.  The pace of her serve and forehand has dwindled since she won Roland Garros five years ago, although Ivanovic has grown more comfortable in the forecourt with time.  Beyond tactics and technique, though, her main challenge lies in believing that she can defeat a top-five woman at a major.  The last time that Ivanovic did?  Two days before she lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

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