Robin Soderling used to be one of the most misunderstood players on the the ATP World Tour. Nowadays, however, he’s just one of the most missed.
Earlier this week Soderling, who has been off of the tour since July fighting mononucleosis, withdrew from the Australian Open. He tweeted that he was hoping to be able to return to the tour in February. It was heartbreaking news for myself and the rest of the tennis community. Though we haven’t always fully embraced and appreciated the shy but unyielding Swede, the thought of a Soderling-less January just seems completely wrong. Something’s missing, and it hurts.
How did we get here? Did absence make our hearts grow fonder? Did we not know what we had until it was gone? Are we just feeling sympathy for an ailing athlete, or is this group heartache a symptom of something else? Is it possible that, without even realizing it, we all fell a bit in love with Robin Bo Carl Soderling?
The Early Years
What did we know about Robin Soderling the morning of May 31, 2009? Dedicated tennis fans knew him primarily as an indoor-tennis-specialist, a rare breed of player who’s only significant results came when the stadium was closed off from the outside world. He had been in nine finals and won three titles, all indoors on either hard-court or carpet. Unfortunately outside where the rest of the tennis players lived he was seen as an underachiever, another in the endless parade of players who seem destined to never live up to their potential.
He also had a reputation as a, well, to put it nicely- a brat. In a 2007 Wimbledon five-set match against Rafael Nadal he made waves by mocking the French Open Champion and playing mind games (seen in the video below). This ruffled the Spaniard so much that in his post-match interview Nadal made some uncharacteristically harsh comments about his opponent, calling Soderling “strange”, and saying that he had a hard time finding anyone in the locker room with nice things to say about him. Those comments would follow him around for years to come.
I’m not sure that “breakthrough” is a strong enough word for Soderling’s 6–2, 6–7(2), 6–4, 7–6(2) defeat over Rafael Nadal on May 31, 2009 in the fourth round of the French Open. In fact, I’m quite certain it’s not . That match is the tennis world’s “Where were you when…” moment. I’ll never forget the surreal, uncomfortable, queasy feeling I had sitting on my couch that morning watching the upset unfold. Some things in life were certain- death, taxes, and Rafael Nadal winning the French Open. Robin Soderling and his monster forehand knocked the entire tennis world off it’s axis that day. It was as exhilarating as it was terrifying.
As we all tried to gather our breath and find our footing again in this strange new world, Soderling steamrolled through Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals and survived an epic five-setter against Fernando Gonzales in the semifinals to make it all the way to the French Open final. The man who had never been past the Third Round of a Major and who had never made a Final outdoors on any surface was now facing Roger Federer in the French Open Finals.
Though Soderling lost rather meekly to Federer that day, he shocked the tennis world again during the trophy presentation. His speech was one of the most memorable runner-up speeches ever- sincere, funny, and incredibly endearing. He “yoked” his way into our hearts that afternoon, and showed that his personality was just as complex and surprising as his game had become. (His speech starts at 7:20 in the clip, everything before that is crying Federer.)
So many players are defined by their breakthroughs that the word has become rather transparent. Not Robin Soderling. After the 2009 French Open he was not intimidated by his new-found fame or astronomically increased expectations. He finished 2009 ranked number eight in the world, his first Top Ten finish ever, and powered his way to the Top Five in 2010. He showed no fear going into the 2010 French Open where he had the bulk of his points to defend. He made it all the way back to the final and he did it in style, defeating a guy named Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Rafael Nadal got the best of him in the final that year, but one thing was for sure- Robin Soderling 2.0 was not a fluke. He was here to stay, and it was time for the rest of us to get used to it.
Things came full circle in he fall of 2010 when he went back to his beloved indoor courts to win the biggest title of his career, the Paris Masters, by defeating hometown favorite Gael Monfils in the Final.
Despite only playing for seven months and battling nagging injuries and illness for most of the spring, Soderling still managed to win four titles this year. Four!
Tennis is a scarier place when Robin Soderling is around. He has the potential to beat any player on any surface at any time, and he’s proven that he’s not too scared or intimated to do it. Tennis needs that. We as fans need that. This sport is at it’s best when it’s knocked off balance, when it feels like anything is possible, when there are dynamites in the draw.
Let’s face it, we didn’t fall in love with tennis because of the security it provided. That’s not who tennis fans are. We love the heart-attacks, the unpredictability, the nauseating knowledge that nothing is a given. We love the underachievers, the floaters, and especially the villains.
Get well soon, Robin. We can’t wait to have you back.
(Thanks to my twitter followers for sharing their favorite Soderling moments with me this week, especially @A_Gallivant and @ptenisnet for the links to the videos above.)
*There were fabulous scenes in Belgrade on Sunday as Serbia defeated France to lift their first Davis Cup title and none bettered that of the Serbian players shaving their heads on court after the final rubber. It was Viktor Troicki who sealed the dramatic victory and he described it as: “…the most unbelievable moment of my life. Seriously, I think we all did a great job this year. I would like to thank everyone, the whole team. We truly believed that we could do it, even though we were 2 1 down. I’m without the words. This is the most easiest [way] to explain. I’m without the words. No words can describe my feeling right now.” World No. 3 Novak Djokovic was adamant that what they had achieved would take a while to set in: “It’s historic. This is our biggest success as individuals, as a team, as a country. We are not even aware of what we have done. This is the best moment of my career and probably of my nation. This is like winning the World Cup for us.” He also added the beautiful sentiment that it was “a team effort that won the title.” Serbian coach Bogdan Obradovic added: “My players showed that they are mentally the strongest team in the world. We showed we are number one.” Serbia are the thirteenth nation to win the much-rejuvenated tournament.
*World No. 5 Robin Soderling has split with his coach Magnus Norman after two years working together. Norman, a former world No. 2, joined forces with the top-ranked Swede when he was ranked No. 35 in the world. A statement on Soderling’s official website stated that Norman wished to focus more on his personal life and other projects. “I’ve had the two best years of my career so far with Magnus as a coach,” said 26-year-old Soderling. Norman added: “I look back on a fun and fantastic 26-month-long period of time together with Robin.” The Swede has replaced Norman with Claudio Pistolesi.
*Aussie star Sam Stosur believes she can one day reach the pinnacle of the sport. The current world No. 6, who reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this year (losing to Francesca Schiavone), said: “I’d love to get to that spot and even though six seems pretty close, there is a long way to go before you could ever contemplate being No. 1. But I guess you’ve got to be able to put those little steps in place and be able to kick off those short-term goals to try to get there. I believe in myself and my tennis enough that maybe one day it is possible, but it’s not going to happen without doing a lot of things correctly for a long time. I’ve been in the Top 10 for nearly a year now and I think that’s a good first step.”
*The doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi have been awarded the 2010 Grand Prix of Peace & Sports at the fourth International Forum Peace and Sport in Monaco. The pairing, whose slogan is “Stop War, Start Tennis,” have pleaded for the ending of hostilities between their native India and Pakistan. The citation of the award said, “Their commitment to promoting peace between the two countries and their conviction that peace was possible was shown amply during the year. In the US Open tournament they managed to bring together the ambassadors of India and Pakistan to support the same team.”
*Juan Martin del Potro will continue his comeback from injury at the Sydney International in January after accepting a wildcard in to the tournament.
*Former world No. 4 Jelena Dokic has received a wildcard in to Brisbane, the first tournament on the 2011 WTA calendar.
*The ATP have named their ‘Top 5 Newcomers’ for 2010. Tobias Kamke of Germany, Lithuania’s Richard Berankis, Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker, Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mikhail Kukushkin of Russia are the lucky recipients.
*The WTA have announced their player of the year awards for 2010. Kim Clijsters was voted Player of the Year for the second time in her career while Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta were voted Doubles Team of the Year. Petra Kvitova won Newcomer of the Year and Franchesca Schiavone was instated as Most Improved Player. The full list of winners and the reasons behind the selections can be viewed at the WTA Website.
*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has been nominated for the prestigious 2011 Laureus World Sportsmen of the Year Award. The Spaniard, who won the Newcomer Award in 2006, will face Formula One World Champion Sebastien Vettel, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta, among others. Academy Member Boris Becker said: “I can’t wait to see who the Media Selection Panel will vote for, but I would be amazed if Rafael Nadal and Sebastian Vettel were not at the top the list.” The full thoughts of Becker can be seen at the ATP Website.
*Tennis legend Pete Sampras has had much of his career memorabilia stolen from a storage facility in West Los Angeles. His first Aussie Open title, 64 Tour trophies and prizes from a further 24 finals have been pinched, including two Davis Cups, five ATP World Finals trophies, eleven Masters titles and an Olympic Ring. “I was like, ‘What?’” Sampras said. “I thought there were security cameras. I thought these things were locked up tight. I was shocked. I’m not one to gloat about trophies, or show them off. I’ve never been like that. I just want them for my kids to see. They didn’t see me play, but I’d like them to see these things.” The full story can be read at Kentucky.com.
By Maud Watson
In a fitting end to the 2010 season, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off in the finals of the ATP World Tour Championships. While not as intense as some of their previous encounters, there were some absolutely fantastic rallies and scintillating shot making. When the last ball was struck, it was Federer who came out on top. The loss shouldn’t take away from Nadal’s season, as with a stellar clay court run and three majors in his back pocket, it was clearly his year. But for Federer fans, the performance he put on over the course of the last week is extremely encouraging. Coach Annacone has done wonders with the Swiss Maestro, and he was producing plenty of vintage Federer tennis throughout the tournament. It has certainly set things up for an intriguing start to 2011 as Nadal looks to complete a “Nadal Slam,” Federer looks to regain his hold at the top of the sport, and the rest of field tries break the stranglehold these two have had on the game.
Earlier this week it was announced that Robin Soderling and Magnus Norman will be ending their partnership as player and coach. The parting was amicable, with Norman wanting to spend more time on his personal life and Soderling, understandably, needing a coach who can be with him full time. The split has the potential to be a setback for Soderling, who has seen his game and ranking improve in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Norman. At only 26 with his game improving and confidence growing, however, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be able to find some experienced coach willing to step up to the plate and try to take the big-hitting Swede to the next level.
The WTA listed its award winners this week, and the top honor went to Kim Clijsters, who was named the player of the year. While some might have made a case that Serena should have received the honor with two majors (a season that admittedly most players would gladly take), it’s a tough argument to win when she only played six tournaments over the course of the entire year. In addition to player of the year, Clijsters also received the player service award, and her fellow Belgian Justine Henin brought more honor to their home nation by being named the comeback player of the year. The remaining awards fittingly went to Maria Sharapova as humanitarian of the year, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko as doubles team of the year, and Petra Kvitova as the newcomer of the year.
Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev has to be feeling confident of Russia’s chances in the 2011 Fed Cup, having named Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Sharapova for the first-round tie against France in February. The real steal in that lineup is Sharapova, though a source from her team as alleged that Sharapova has stated she is only “very likely” to play as opposed to being a sure a thing. Sharapova has only competed for Russia once, that time coming in 2008 in order to be eligible for the Olympics. She is in a similar situation here, having to make herself available for Fed Cup duty at least once in order to be eligible for the 2012 Olympics. In many ways, her participation is similar to that of the Williams Sisters for the United States, and while you can’t fault a coach for wanting to put his best talent forward, it seems unfair to bypass another player who has continually put in the time (especially with a country like Russia, that has a deep pool to pull from) just so that someone like a Sharapova wants a shot at Olympic glory. Perhaps the system needs to be tweaked and force a player to be available for duty on more than one occasion if they want the top honor of representing their country in the Olympics.
Taking a Stand
Former pro and Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge released a statement earlier this week stating that three players, Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly, have been barred from contesting the December playoffs for the chance to earn a spot in the Australian Open. All three (and certainly not surprisingly in Klein’s case), have received the bans due to their “numerous accounts of unacceptable behavior at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months.” Given the promise some of these juniors have shown, as well as the fact that Lleyton Hewitt is the only Australian male in the Top 100, it’s admirable that Tennis Australia is doing the right thing taking a tough stand with its players, even if it might temporarily hold back their development. Hopefully these guys will turn it around and prove fruitful prospects for a nation that has one of the richest tennis traditions in history.
By Ritesh Gupta
The ball went up in the air and the way it swirled in the cold windy conditions, it looked as if the server completely lost the connection with the ball for that split second. He decided not to connect and chose to have a re-go at it. Nothing unusual till this point, especially considering the playing conditions. But what stood out was the way all of this was taken in his stride by the server, without even a semblance of uneasiness. In fact, what he did before returning to his service stance, exemplified what the man, who happened to be Roger Federer, is all about.
As Federer took steps towards the service line, with his collar going up and down, and hair continuously being blown away, he chose to stretch his arms!
Now be it for being calm about intricacies of playing in such environment or focusing on the job at hand, Federer just goes about tennis as if nothing can come in between him and his sport.
All this happened during the early stages of the third set of his eventual 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win over Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals of the US Open.
Going by the style of play of the two players, especially the high service toss and the huge forehand swing of Soderling, one would be tempted to say that the Swede definitely was expected to have a tough time vis-a-vis his opponent. Even if one considers this, the way Federer served against Soderling was simply immaculate. Soderling served bigger, but Federer was much better in the same department. The Swiss maestro served 18 aces to Soderling’s two.
The service statistics for the match show how Federer adapted to the conditions. But for him, it was just another day.
In the post match, on-court interview, Federer said if he can’t serve in the windy conditions, after doing all this in his life, then there is definitely problem out there! He said be it for 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning, he can be taken out of the bed and he would still be able to serve. When a man of Federer’s stature says all this, it definitely isn’t arrogance. Its just sheer passion for the sport.
Other than his positive attitude, Federer looked in prime touch.
Soderling struggled and looked very unsettled at times. He missed four breakpoints in the first set. On the other hand, Federer converted on his first opportunity and that is all he needed.
Soderling broke Federer with a great defensive return followed by a passing shot early on in the second set. But the Swede was again broken in the following game. In fact, the slide was started by an error from Soderling to finish the game at 40-0 at 2-1. A high ball, which swirled, resulted in the Swede attempting a stroke in an awkward position. After that, his forehand deserted him twice. On the other side, Federer just went about his task the way he usually does.
Soderling exerted pressure in the third set but Federer soaked in all of it, in fact at times showing great defensive skills. The Swede did break in the eight game to go up 5-3. But Federer again broke back immediately, as Soderling netted two forehands at 30-30. Continuing in the same vein, the Swiss wrapped up the set and the match in the 12th game.
Federer is now 16-0 in night matches played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. This victory signals Federer’s readiness for the battle against Novak Djokovic for a place in the final. The triumph also resulted in a settling of scores as Soderling had beaten Federer in their last meeting at the French Open.
The day session has wrapped-up here at the Rogers Cup on Thursday and the tournament has been fortunate thus far to avoid any major upsets. While there have been some tense moments and momentum swings that could have progressed to that level, things are still on course for the anticipated Nadal/Murray and Djokovic/Federer semi-finals this weekend. In the meantime here are a few quick hits from the action today.
David Nalbandian is certainly making some waves since returning from yet another injury layoff. Today he beat Robin Soderling 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 for his 11th consecutive win. A brief lapse in concentration where he double-faulted twice in a row while trying to serve for the first set at 4-5 would ultimately cause Nalbandian to lose the opening frame. After that he seemed to regain control of the match and breezed in the third set past the 5th ranked player in the world.
It would be hard to categorize the result as an upset, despite the fact that Soderling has been quite consistent over the past year. Nalbandian lead their head-to-head 5-1 coming into the match today and has the game that can hang with the Swede shot for shot.
Lookout for Alex Dolgopolov folks, this kid has got some serious game. Appearing small in stature today against the 6’5” Tomas Berdych, Dolgopolov nearly toppled the giant by using a wide variety of shot selection and never appearing to be in awe of the 2010 Wimbledon finalist.
The youngest member of the top one hundred players in the world at age 21, Dolgopolov is a player on the rise. You wouldn’t have guessed that he was playing in his first hard court tournament since early February and I’m somewhat confused as to why he has seemingly avoided playing on the surface for so long.
This week in Toronto he managed to lose the first set in all three of his matches. Against both Philipp Petzschner and Mikhail Youzhny he failed to show up in the opening frame and fell 1-6 each time. In the second set he suddenly sprung to life against all of his opponents and especially today against Berdych where his first serve appeared to be unable to miss.
Dolgopolov’s serve is one of his real strengths as it is almost impossible to read. His toss is non-existent and he makes contact with the ball while it is still on the rise.
Also on the rise is the young Ukrainian’s ranking which since January 2009 has lept from 309th in the world to its current position at No. 49.
The variety in Dolgopolov’s game is what has impressed me the most this week. This is not your typical baseline basher and I would imagine all of his time playing on clay courts has helped develop this aspect of his play. Well timed drop-shots and lobs are a regular part of his repertoire, and his backhand slice is also quite lethal.
Against Berdych it appeared as though a final set tie-break would be required to settle the score, but Dolgopolov made a couple of tactical errors when serving at 4-5. He chose a poor time to approach the net and watched a Berdych shot whiz by him for 0-30. Berdych then charged the net during the following point which appeared to throw Dolgopolov off and force an error for 0-40. Then, in the ultimate disappointment, Dolgopolov had two first-serve lets, before double faulting to hand the match to Berdych, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4.
Still, winning two rounds at a Masters level tournament will give Dolgopolov a few ranking points that should help him progress towards the top-thirty. While I doubt a seeding at the U.S. Open is in the works, Dolgopolov will likely be on the list of players most would rather avoid at Flushing Meadows.
I’ll be keeping an eye on his progression the rest of the year and would encourage anyone attending any ATP tournaments to make the effort to check this guy out. Watching an up and coming player like Dolgopolov on the outside courts is a treat you can talk about one day if he makes it big.
Having Some Fun:
Finally, for fans looking for some good ol’ fashioned serve and volleying with a side of the absurd, look no further than the Centre Court match that took place between Roger Federer and Michael Llodra.
These two apparently have quite a friendly history from their junior days when they were both very familiar with each others games. Since that time they have only played one professional match prior to today, and that came back in 1999 at a Challenger tournament in France where Federer prevailed in straight sets. The result was the same today with Roger winning 7-6, 6-3.
Llodra didn’t manage to take a set from the world No. 3 player, but he did walk off with his shirt. The Frenchman asked Federer for it at the end of the match and revealed that he did it because, “You know, for me, you know, Rogers is (a) legend, so it’s a good present for my kids.”
After fighting back in the first set and recovering from being down a break, Federer cruised in the tie-break while Llodra seemed to implode with a variety of double-faults, poorly executed drop shots and volleys that missed the mark as well.
In the second set when it appeared inevitable that Federer would take the match, Llodra even tried to surprise him with a rarely seen underhanded serve.
Asked if he had ever done that before, Llodra replied, “Yeah. But not in the match!”
Federer was all smiles in the post-match press conference where he revealed that, “It’s the first time I got an underarm serve; third time somebody asked me for the shirt.”
The light-hearted questions continued for Federer as he was later asked about the pink shirt he’s sporting this week here in competition.
“I don’t know where my head was when I chose pink, but I like it, you know. Honestly I’ve gotten a lot of praise for it. People apparently like it…so that’s a good thing. It’s only for, unfortunately or luckily, only for two tournaments because I’m going to be changing again for the Open, and I thought it was going to be something fun for the summer. That’s kind of how it goes.”
Roger will be hoping that his fun summer includes another U.S. Open title in September. His first true test since returning from a six week layoff will be tomorrow night at 7pm ET as he faces Berdych in a re-match of their Wimbledon quarter-final tilt that was won by the Czech.
Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand for full coverage of that match and the other quarter-finals as well.
Bjorn Borg played his first match in the United States in 10 years Thursday night at the $150,000 Staples Champions Cup, part of the global Champions Series tennis circuit. He beat fellow Swede Mikael Pernfors 6-2, 2-6, 10-8 (Champions Tie-breaker).
It is interesting to see Bjorn playing tennis with a Dunlop tennis racquet – as opposed to the old Donnay racquets from all of those matches all of us remember so well (or have seen on YouTube if you are of a younger generation). You can’t help but notice the huge “B” on Bjorn’s shirt that he played in on Thursday. Does it stand for “Boston?” Since as a Swede, he grew up playing hockey and patterned his two-handed backhand after a slap shot, perhaps the B stands for “Bruins” as in the Boston Bruins, the NHL squad from Boston? Well, “B” stands for Bjorn or Borg and it is part of his Bjorn Borg line of clothing that is immensely popular in Europe. The Bjorn Borg line of underwear is available in the United States and is tremendously comfortable if you haven’t worn them.
Let’s hope John McEnroe can beat Mats Wilander Friday night so Borg and McEnroe can duke it out in the semifinals of the Boston event – for old times sake.
Michael Chang and Thomas Enqvist booked their places in the final of the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy in Paris on Saturday after both men won their final group matches to finish unbeaten at the top of their respective groups.
In the first match of the day, Enqvist had to come through a lengthy struggle against an in-form Thomas Muster 6-3, 3-6, 10-5 (Champions’ Tie Break). Elsewhere, Chang walked on court knowing he had already booked his place in Sunday’s final but he still completed a clean sweep of round robin victories with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) victory over Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch.
Chang is thrilled to have reached his first ever final on the ATP Champions Tour.
“It feels really good to be in my first ATP Champions Tour final,” he said. “Today was definitely a tough one against Arnaud so I’m pleased I was able to hang in there. I’m really enjoying being here in Paris this week with my wife Amber and it’s been great to play some good tennis as well.”
Enqvist is equally pleased to be playing in his second ATP Champions Tour final in two events.
“It’s great that I’m in the final,” he said. “I think today against Thomas it was a tough match and I was lucky to get through in the Champions’ Tie Break in the end. I’ve played well this week so hopefully I will go all the way tomorrow.”
Since making his debut in Sao Paulo earlier this year, Enqvist has remained unbeaten on the ATP Champions Tour, winning the title in Brazil and now reaching the final in Paris. Despite being on a seven-match winning streak, the Swede is modest about his achievements.
“It’s been pretty close this week. Yesterday against Cedric (Pioline) and today against Thomas were both tough matches that I could have lost. Hopefully the run will continue for another day because I’d like to win another title but I’m certainly not feeling invincible. I saw Michael play against Stefan (Edberg) and he looked really good. He still moves well and he still plays really good so it’s definitely going to be an interesting match.”
Chang starts the match with a 1-5 win/loss record against Enqvist, having never beaten him on clay.
“Thomas has always been a difficult opponent for me over the years,” he said. “I’ve definitely lost more than I’ve won against him so tomorrow’s not going to be an easy match and I’ll have to play my best that’s for sure.”
The match to decide the third and fourth place positions will be contested by Cedric Pioline and Stefan Edberg after both men won their final round robin matches to finish second in their respective groups. Pioline sped through his match against a tired-looking Yevgeny Kafelnikov, winning 6-1, 6-2, while Edberg had a slightly sterner test against Guy Forget, coming through 6-3, 6-4.
Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner.
After Paris, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Chengdu for the inaugural Chengdu Open (November 5-9), and after that will arrive in Turin, Italy for the city’s first ever ATP Champions Tour event (November 11-14). The Tour culminates in London at the AEGON Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall, 1-6 December.
To view the order of play and the round-robin groups, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/results.html
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV BLOG – Part One
Yevgeny Kafelnikov is back in Paris, the scene of his Grand Slam breakthrough in 1996, and as well as playing in the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy this week, he is also writing an exclusive blog for ATPChampionsTour.com.
In part one, the Russian, who also won the Australian Open title in 1999, talks about how he has felt to be strolling the streets of Paris again, and the memories that the trip has brought back to him.
In part two, which will be published soon, Kafelnikov gives his reaction to Kim Clijsters’ recent US Open triumph, his thoughts on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, and how the current era compares to his own.
To read part one of Kafelnikov’s blog, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/blog5.html
The Boston Red Sox may be looking for a new pitcher during its bid to reach the Major League Baseball Playoffs. Could that pitcher be tennis Hall of Famer Mats Wilander? The Swede threw out the first pitch at the Pawtucket Red Sox game Thursday night to promote the $150,000 Hall of Fame Champions Cup at the nearby International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Wilander lost to Pat Cash 7-5, 6-4 Friday in the quarterfinals of the event, and is celebrating his 45th birthday in Newport on Saturday by playing in an exhibition doubles match along with Mikael Pernfors, Jimmy Arias and Wayne Ferreira. Red Sox pitching ace Tim Wakefield pitched for Pawtucket on Friday night as he looks to return to form after injury and return to Boston during their playoff run. For more info on the Outback Champions Series, go to www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.
Photos courtesy of the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Former world No. 1 and two-time grand slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia erased two match points to edge past No. 12 seed Robin Soderling of Sweden, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes on Tuesday afternoon to advance to the second round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
Soderling, a finalist at this year’s French Open, got off to a quick start in the opening set winning 16 of 19 first serve points and breaking Hewitt’s serve in the fourth game to take control. The Swede also smashed six aces compared to just one by the 28-year-old Australian.
Deep into the second set tiebreak, Hewitt found himself down 5-6 before smashing an ace to even things. Then down 7-8, Soderling smashed a forehand long to level the tiebreak at 8-8. Hewitt never looked back, winning the next two points and taking the match to a deciding set.
“Second set tiebreak could have gone either way,” said Hewitt, a Sydney resident who has reached the Cincinnati final in 2002 and 2004.
The momentum stayed with Hewitt, as he broke serve to open the final set and never looked back. Winning 76 percent of first serve points and 70 percent of second serve points en route to victory.
“I played a good game the first game of the third set to break serve, and served well for the rest of that set,” said Hewitt, who improves to 3-0 lifetime against Soderling.
Hewitt will next face German Benjamin Becker on Wednesday night. The match will mark the first meeting between the pair.
In other matches, Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez held off countryman Fernando Verdasco, seeded 11th, in two tiebreak sets, winning 7-6(4), 7-6(4), in one hour and 45 minutes. The loss marked Verdasco’s fourth first round loss in Cincinnati.
Both players served exceptionally well and in the 125-130 M.P.H. range from start to finish. Verdasco smashed 11 aces and just two double faults compared to five aces and three double faults by Garcia-Lopez. Both players won 82 percent of first serve points and were able to earn one service break.
With the loss Verdasco, a finalist at Brisbane and semifinalist at the Australian Open, fell to 34-16 on the season. Garcia-Lopez , meanwhile improved to 22-18 on the season, a year that has included reaching a career-best ranking of No. 42 in June. Garcia-Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 53, is slated to face Russian qualifier Mikhail Youzhny for a place in the third round. The Spaniard leads the Russian 3-0 in series meetings, winning most recently on clay in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
In a battle of talented left-handers, Austrian Jurgen Melzer edged past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-6(7), in two hours and 47 minutes. A combined 26 aces were hit in the contest—16 by Lopez and 10 by Melzer—but it was the consistency in the later stages of the third set tiebreak by Melzer that earned him a spot in the second round.
Melzer, who improved to 3-1 against Lopez, won 70 of 91 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points. Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 37, just one spot behind Melzer at No. 36, won 56 of 67 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points throughout the match.
Melzer, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 26 in May, next faces lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France on Wednesday afternoon. Benneteau leads the head-to-head against Melzer, 3-1, with all his victories coming on hard courts.
Other winners on Tuesday in Cincinnati
Tomas Berdych def. No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, 6-4 ret. injury
Igor Kunitsyn def. James Blake, 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4
Mikhail Youzhny def. Victor Hanescu, 7-5, 6-2
Andreas Seppi def. Jan Hernych, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Chris Guccione def. Philip Kohlschreiber, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3
Philip Petzschner def. Simone Bolelli, 7-6(6), 6-3
John Isner def. Tommy Haas, 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(3)
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. Igor Andreev, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-1
David Ferrer def. No. 14 Marin Cilic, 7-6(4), 6-2