Tomas Berdych

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What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Bastad, Stuttgart, Newport Draw Previews

Returning to home soil should raise Sam Querrey

A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.

Bastad:

Top half:  The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament.  Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area.  Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.

Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge.  The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona.  On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris.  A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year.  While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.

Bottom half:  The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open.  Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here.  Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him.  The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals.  Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.

Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco.  Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets.  Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay.  Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco

Stuttgart:

Top half:  Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis.  The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time.  But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess.  In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar.  All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.

Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan.  Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises.  Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances.  He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game.  Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.

Bottom half:   Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces.  Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round.  Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon.  Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them.  Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke.  Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.

Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych.  Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability.  Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue.  While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.

Final:  Haas vs. Paire

Newport:

Top half:  Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories.  Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon.  But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there.  A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests.  Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.

Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently.  The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros.  But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.

Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year.  The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club.  Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold.   A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.

Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner.  The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals.  Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.

Final:  Querrey vs. Hewitt

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Quarterfinals

Thank God, not David Cameron.

The top two men stayed on course for a Sunday final, although in dramatically contrasting fashion.  Joining them in the semifinals are two men who never have advanced this far at Wimbledon.

Closer than it looked:  The straight-sets scoreline of Novak Djokovic’s victory over Tomas Berdych suggested yet another routine win for the world No. 1.  In reality, either of the first two sets could have tilted toward the underdog with just one or two more key points in his ledger.  Berdych took the first set to a tiebreak, losing it by a single mini-break, and led Djokovic by a double break in the second set.  The more easily ruffled version of the Serb from earlier in his career might have crumbled under that pressure.  But nothing has disturbed the top seed’s equilibrium this fortnight.  Reaching a fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal on his weakest surface, Djokovic eyes a second title in three years.

What a difference a year makes:  When Juan Martin Del Potro faced David Ferrer at Wimbledon last year, he won just eight games in an embarrassing rout.  One year later, Del Potro earned his revenge by straight-setting the Spaniard for his first victory in their rivalry since 2009.  Wimbledon remains the only major where Ferrer has not reached the semifinals, although an ankle injury may have played a role in his valiant but fallible performances throughout the tournament.  For his part, Del Potro continued to cope with a knee injury that flared up early in this battle of the walking wounded.  He now has reached the semifinals at every major except the Australian Open.

Something has to give:  Neither Djokovic nor Del Potro has lost a set at Wimbledon this year, heading into their marquee semifinal.  Del Potro has dropped serve only twice in the tournament, which should give him confidence as he aims to repeat his Indian Wells upset of the world No. 1.  It will not come easily, for Djokovic looks much sharper at Wimbledon than he did in that earlier tournament.

Heart attack for the home crowd:  British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted good luck to Andy Murray in advance of his quarterfinal against Fernando Verdasco.  Infamous for jinxing his nation’s contestants in all endeavors, Cameron nearly pulled off the impossible on Verdasco’s behalf.  The last Spaniard left in singles swept the first two sets from a flustered Murray, whom he had defeated en route to an Australian Open semifinal in 2009.  A second, even more implausible semifinal lay within Verdasco’s grasp, and a wide-open path to the title for Djokovic.  The seventh comeback of Murray’s career from a two-set deficit, culminating with a 7-5 fifth set, kept alive the prospect of a blockbuster final on Sunday.  Before that match, someone may need to deactivate Cameron’s Twitter.

Pole vaults Pole:  The least eventful quarterfinal of the day came from the section where most expected the thriller of the second Wednesday when the draw appeared.  From the quarter of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer emerged Jerzy Janowicz into his first major semifinal.  Never having reached the second week of a major before, Janowicz cruised past compatriot Lukas Kubot in straight sets.

Week of revenge?  Fourth-round opponent Tommy Haas defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2009.  Quarterfinal opponent Berdych defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2010.  Semifinal opponent Del Potro defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Likely finals opponent Murray also defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Judging by the fates of the first two, the world No. 1 could spend his week serving a heaping helping of revenge to his recent grass nemeses.

Nada, not Nadal:  For the second straight year, no Spaniard reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.  At least one Spanish man reached the semifinals at all of the other majors in 2012-13.  Expect that trend to continue with so little time separating Roland Garros from Wimbledon and most of the top Spaniards aging with few replacements on the horizon.

Question of the day:  Can Verdasco build upon his excellent result, his best performance at any tournament of significance since 2009?

Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

The grass snake stings, then smiles.

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Can Tomas Berdych Upset the Immovable Object that is Novak Djokovic?

Tomas Berdych

Tomas+Berdych+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+DksPskhJNqBx

(July 1, 2013) For all the mayhem that this Wimbledon brought, we have chalked in the quarterfinals for the top half of the draw, and the most-hyped match will definitely be the one involving the World No. 1.

Novak Djokovic leads the career head-to-head against Tomas Berdych 13-2. Berdych, however, won the last time they met, taking 3 sets to upset Djokovic in Rome. Berdych also won the only time they met at Wimbledon, in the 2010 semifinals. That, of course, was the match following Berdych’s historic upset of Roger Federer.

Both Djokovic and Berdych have been playing some very good tennis all tournament. Bernard Tomic managed to throw Berdych off his game in their fourt-round match, but Berdych was just too solid and too good overall, even if he hit some bad errors. Djokovic’s level of defense has been superb and he has moved from defense to offense beautifully. He has been moving on the grass here like he’s playing on clay and doing it successfully.

This match for Berdych could honestly feel similar to that 2010 match against Federer. This will all be about trying to hit the ball past Djokovic’s defense. Djokovic will get balls back into play and try to counterattack. If Berdych is to be successful here, he needs to hit big and easily shake it off when Djokovic wins insane defensive points—something that definitely will happen. Berdych will be tempted to try and wrong-foot Djokovic when possible if he doesn’t have a bit shot available, but watching Djokovic this tournament it just doesn’t look like that will work.

Djokovic, on the other hand, just needs to play his solid game for an entire match. Berdych will win points by hitting the ball past him. He needs to ignore those and insert himself in enough points to rattle the big Czech. He needs to win those points and just always make Berdych hit the extra shot.

This should be an exciting match because the two players have such very different strengths and will each be trying to dictate throughout the match. Both players will need to concentrate on their own games and ignore their opponents. This match will be all about who can sustain momentum. Berdych has the ability to win and lose chunks of points very quickly, either by slapping winners or spraying errors.

This match will not completely rest on Berdych’s racket. Djokovic has the ability to dictate rallies as well and keep Berych from hitting his huge groundstrokes. Still, if Berdych can keep momentum and hit the ball cleanly throughout the match he will have his chances. Berdych will get to dictate more than Djokovic will. If he wants to win, he will have to stay consistent and go for his winners. Most of all, though, he can’t let Djokovic’s defense or his own nerves get to him.

Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6

This draw is wide open!

Miraculously after the rain on Thursday and Friday, Wimbledon has set all of its fourth-round matchups for Manic Monday.  More than half of the top-ten players there (five men, six women) fell in the first week, and Saturday featured its share of drama despite the welcome sunshine.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Even with the cloud of his father hanging over him at a distance, Bernard Tomic has compiled an outstanding Wimbledon campaign.  The enigmatic Aussie has upset two seeded players to reach the second week, most recently No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet.  Showing his taste for drama, Tomic played five sets in the first round against Sam Querrey and reached 5-5 in every set against the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist.

Upset of the day:  Few tennis fans knew much about Kenny de Schepper entering this tournament.  The 26-year-old Frenchman benefited from a Marin Cilic walkover in the second round and made the most of the opportunity.  Not losing a set in the first week of Wimbledon, de Schepper upset No. 20 seed Juan Monaco to reach this stage at a major for the first time.

Comeback of the day:  Imperfect in his first two matches, world No. 4 David Ferrer predictably fell behind the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov two sets to one.  After Dolgopolov steamrolled him in the third set, though, Ferrer regrouped immediately to drop just three games in the next two sets.  His far superior stamina gave him a valuable advantage against an opponent who struggles with sustaining energy or form.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There’s death, there’s taxes, there’s Nadal winning on clay, and there’s Tomas Berdych beating up on poor Kevin Anderson.  Nine times have they played since the start of 2012, including at four majors, with Berdych winning all nine.  At least Anderson took the first set this time and kept the match more competitive than most of its prequels.

Gold star:  Considering Kei Nishikori’s promising start to the tournament, Andreas Seppi merits special attention for his five-set battle past the Japanese star.  Like Ferrer, Seppi trailed two sets to one before digging into the trenches and holding his ground with an imposing fourth set that set the stage for a tight fifth.  As a result of his efforts, Italy leads all nations with four players in the second week of Wimbledon, an odd achievement for a clay-loving nation.

Silver star:  One day after demolishing an unseeded opponent, Tommy Haas overcame a much more worthy challenger in Eastbourne champion Feliciano Lopez.  Haas bounced back from losing the first set to prevail in four, arranging an intriguing Monday meeting with Novak Djokovic.  The German has won both of their previous grass meetings—four years ago—but lost to Djokovic at Roland Garros.

Wooden spoon:  At a minimum, one expected some entertaining twists and turns from a match pitting Ernests Gulbis and Fernando Verdasco.  The firecrackers fizzled in a straight-sets victory for the Spaniard, who now eyes his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with de Schepper awaiting him on Monday.  Gulbis joined a string of unseeded players unable to follow their notable upsets with a deep run.

Stat of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray cannot face a top-20 opponent until the final.  (No. 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny, his Monday opponent, is seeded higher than his ranking because of the grass formula used in making the draw.)

Question of the day:  Top seed Novak Djokovic seems to grow more formidable with each round, dismantling Jeremy Chardy today for the loss of only seven games.  Can anyone slow his path to the final?  Juan Martin Del Potro, the only other man in this half who has not lost a set, might have the best chance.  He defeated Djokovic earlier this year at Indian Wells and on grass at the Olympics last year.

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of many players who rallied to win after losing the first set, Li Na rushed through a second-set bagel against Klara Zakopalova but then found herself bogged down in a war of attrition.  Li finally opened the door to the second week in the 14th game of the final set.  She continues to show more tenacity at this tournament than she has in several months.

Upset of the day:  Sabine Lisicki’s victory over the grass-averse Samantha Stosur came as a surprise only on paper.  In fact, the greater surprise may have come from Lisicki dropping the first set before dominating the next two.  Lisicki has reached the second week in four straight Wimbledon appearances, proving herself the epitome of a grass specialist.

Comeback of the day:  British hearts quailed when Laura Robson started a winnable match against Marina Erakovic in dismal fashion.  The feisty home hope did not quite recover until late in the second set, when Erakovic served for the match.  Needing some help from her opponent to regroup, including a string of double faults, Robson asserted control swiftly in the final set and never relinquished the momentum once she captured it.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There was no Williams déjà vu at Wimbledon, where Kimiko Date-Krumm could not repeat her epic effort against Venus Williams there two years ago.  Notching her 600th career victory, Serena surrendered just two games to the Japanese star as she predictably reached the second week without losing a set.  Since the start of Rome, the world No. 1 has served bagels or breadsticks in nearly half of the sets that she has played (15 of 31).

Gold star:  In trouble against Eva Birnerova when Friday ended, Monica Puig rallied on Saturday to book her spot in the second week.  Unlike most of her fellow upset artists, she used a first-round ambush of Sara Errani to light the fuse of two more victories.  An almost intra-American match awaits between the Puerto Rican and Sloane Stephens.

Silver star:  Tsvetana Pironkova extended her voodoo spell over these lawns with a third second-week appearance in four years.  A non-entity at almost all other tournaments, Pironkova could not have chosen a better place to plant her Bulgarian flag.  thou

What a difference a day makes:  Shortly before play ended on Friday, Petra Kvitova had lost seven straight games to Ekaterina Makarova and narrowly avoided falling behind by a double break in the final set.  When she returned in the sunshine of Saturday, Kvitova won five of the last six games to abruptly wrap up a match full of streaky play from both sides.

Americans in London:  Also able to collect herself overnight, Sloane Stephens recovered from a second-set bagel to outlast qualifier Petra Cetkovska.  Stephens became the only woman outside the top four to reach the second week at every major this year.  Nearly joining her was Madison Keys, who gave 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska all that she could handle in a tight three-setter.  The impressive serve and balanced baseline power of Keys suggest that we will see much more of her at future Wimbledons.

Question of the day:  In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Sabine Lisicki halted the previous month’s Roland Garros champion at Wimbledon.  Can she do to Serena what she did to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, and Maria Sharapova?  Plenty of massive serves will scar the grass on Monday.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Smooth Sailing for Djokovic, Serena, Berdych, Del Potro, Radwanska, and More on Day 4

If the grass is slippery, simply rise above it.

After the turmoil of Wednesday, a tranquil Thursday came as a welcome respite.  Rain forestalled several of the matches at Wimbledon, but most of the familiar names managed to take the court—and live to fight another day.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The grass on the outer courts continued to score victories in its ongoing rivalry with those patrolling it.  Two Frenchmen, Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu, added themselves to the accumulating body count with retirements.  As the tournament unfolds, one wonders whether the specter of so many injuries will cause many players to move more tentatively, undermining the quality of tennis.

Upset of the day:  Only one top-20 player on either side fell on Thursday, but he fell with a resounding thud.  No. 17 Milos Raonic exited in straight sets to Igor Sijsling, forcing only one tiebreak.  Unimpressive on grass throughout his career, Raonic has not followed in the footsteps of other huge servers from Balkan origins who have shone at Wimbledon.  To his credit, Sijsling unleashes plenty of power himself, as an upset of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier this year showed.

No, not again:  For the second straight day, one of the Big Four reached a first-set tiebreak on Centre Court against an unremarkable opponent.  In contrast to Federer-Stakhovsky yesterday, though, Novak Djokovic’s encounter with Bobby Reynolds grew less rather than more intriguing after the first set.  The world No. 1 settled down with discipline to surrender just four games over the next two sets as his challenger faded.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes for Tomas Berdych, who has brushed aside the memories of his first-round exit at Wimbledon in 2012.  Berdych halted Daniel Brands in straight sets, impressive considering the effort that Brands mounted against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.  When Berdych last defeated Brands at Wimbledon, with much more difficulty, he reached the final.

Silver star:  The eighth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro usually finds grass his worst surface, but he has cruised through the first two rounds without dropping a set.  After hitting a flashy around-the-netpost winner in his first match, Del Potro earned the chance to shine on Centre Court against Jesse Levine.  He did not disappoint despite a second-set lull, starting and finishing with conviction.

Caution light:  Extended to four sets in his first match, world No. 9 Richard Gasquet again spent longer than necessary on court in finishing off Go Soeda.  Having lost just three games in the first two sets, Gasquet lost the plot temporarily and let the third set slip away in a tiebreak.  His best result at a major came at Wimbledon with a 2007 semifinal, but he looks vulnerable this year.

Americans in London:  RIP, this category, after just two rounds of the main draw.  Bernard Tomic followed his upset of Sam Querrey with a predictably dominant effort against James Blake, while Ivan Dodig dispatched Denis Kudla in straight sets.  The last man standing at Wimbledon 2013, Bobby Reynolds, stood no real chance against Djokovic.  Andy Roddick, where hath thou gone?

Question of the day:  Far from the spotlight, Kei Nishikori quietly has strung together a pair of solid victories.  He lurks in the section of Ferrer, mediocre in his first match and defeated by Nishikori on grass last year.  Could Nishikori mount an upset or two to reach a quarterfinal or semifinal?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Much superior to her opponent, Jana Cepelova, the 11th-seeded Roberta Vinci could not dispatch her in straight sets and nearly paid the price.  Cepelova nipped at her heels until 7-7 in the final set, when the Italian reeled off one last burst to cross the finish line and keep her Wimbledon campaign alive.

Upset of the day:  Court 2 has started to acquire the reputation of the preceding Court 2 as a haven for upsets, at least in the women’s draw.  Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki fell there yesterday, and today it witnessed the demise of No. 24 Peng Shuai at the hands of Marina Erakovic.  Granted, few fans will remember that result after the tournament.

Top seeds sail:  Facing Caroline Garcia in the second round for the second straight game, Serena Williams generously gave her two more games than she did in Paris.  Stingier was world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who has lost fewer games through two rounds than any other women’s contender.  Like Del Potro, Radwanska made the most of her Centre Court assignment and should return there later this fortnight if her form persists.

Gold star:  With an Eastbourne title behind her, Elena Vesnina entered Wimbledon with more momentum than most players.  All of that momentum crumbled when she collided with grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, a quarterfinalist or better in her last three Wimbledon appearances.  Lisicki’s impressively dominant victory moved her within two rounds of an intriguing collision with Serena.

Silver star:  The oddest scoreline of the day came from the fifth seed, Li Na, who defeated Simona Halep 6-2 1-6 6-0.  Not unfamiliar with such rollercoasters, Li managed to stop Halep’s 11-match winning streak, which had carried her to two June titles on two different surfaces.  The Chinese veteran drew a formidable early slate of opponents, but her route looks smoother from here.

The story that never grows old:  Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sara Errani have departed Wimbledon.  Kimiko Date-Krumm has not.  The Japanese veteran reached the third round, although now she must face Serena.  Date-Krumm took Venus deep into a third set at a recent Wimbledon, defying the power gap between them.

Americans in London:  Rain postponed Alison Riske’s match against Urszula Radwanska, but Madison Keys beat both the rain and 30th seed Mona Barthel with ease.  Up next for Keys is Agnieszka Radwanska in an intriguing contrast of styles.  While an upset seems like a bridge too far for Keys at this stage, she can only benefit from the experience of facing a top-five opponent at a major.

Question of the day:  Usually feckless on grass, Samantha Stosur has wasted little time in dispatching two overmatched opponents.  She next faces occasional doubles partner Lisicki in a battle of mighty serves.  Can she overcome Lisicki’s substantial surface edge, or were these first two wins a mirage?

Wimbledon Demons, Wizards and An Absurd Amount of Hope

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By James A. Crabtree

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As usual this Wimbledon is about the big 4, just not the top 4 seeds.

This is the first Wimbledon since 2008 a slightly altered group make up those positioned for a meeting in the semi-finals. Back then Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were the top seeds and Nikolay Davydenko was the fourth. Andy Murray was way back as the 12th seed, making it to the quarterfinals where he was defeated at the hands of that years champion, Nadal.

This year 5th seed Nadal, on current form, is more than suspected of just reaching the semi. Many believed the legendary Majorcan would be bumped up in the seedings, but to relegate current 4th seed David Ferrer would have been bad form. Incredibly the Majorcan has seemed invincible since returning to action in February and would relish nothing more than lifting the title he last won back in 2010. The question is can Nadal lose this year, on current form? Well, it was the grass that aided the Nadal disappearance act contributed by two surprise losses last year, firstly Kohlschreiber at Halle and Rosol at Wimbledon. It will be interesting to see if it’s demons that remain or a quest for vengeance that prevails. Either way a quarterfinal clash with Federer should be enough incentive to push him through the draw even though a potential fourth round with Stan Wawrinka (or Hewitt for the more romantic) should cause some fireworks.

Federer, after a slow start seems to be finding form ahead of his attempt at an 8th Wimbledon crown. With that sort of record it’s strange to think we are even considering anybody else for the title. That being said his 2013 Wimbledon journey is lined with traps including ‘2012 Nadal tamer Rosol’ and Poland’s Janowicz.

After winning Halle Federer now has 77 titles, tying him for third on the career ATP list with John McEnroe, behind only Ivan Lendl with 94 and Jimmy Connors’s 109. But has Federer found form too late? 2013 has been tough and to date Federer has only beaten one top ten player this year. Federer returns to Wimbledon as champion but strangely having lost the last match he played on Centre Court.

The match Federer lost was the Olympic final against Andy Murray. The great Scot is the first Brit to win a slam in 76 years but to the more picky home fans only a Wimbledon title will suffice. They remember well that Murray was in control in last years Wimbledon final and very close to taking a commanding two set lead. This picky bunch want more than last years gold and fresh strawberries. This picky bunch envision, after 77 years, sipping a celebratory drink greater than Pimms. In truth these particular fans bring not only added pressure but also the strange desperate phenomenon known as hope. An attribute that is enough to will their man through a tough five sets (possibly Robredo or Youzhny) but three big successive victories that could be Tsonga, Federer or Nadal and then Djokovic is a big ask.

2011 champion Novak Djokovic is the number one seed and world number one, but has the unique possibility of flying beneath the radar. Strangely whenever Djokovic is not playing at his 2011 level people tend to doubt him in favour of the others but this is becoming his magic trick. With all the hoopla and stories surrounding the others the superb Serb could sail through the draw until at least a fourth round meeting with old man Tommy Haas then a quarterfinal with Berdych. When it comes to five sets Djokovic’s hunger, resolve and retrieval expertise are unmatched meaning he could be the safest bet for this years title. As long as he doesn’t stay too long in cruise control.

Serena Williams Stirs Up a Storm: Calls Out a WTA Top Five Player; Comments on Steubenville Rape Victim [UPDATED]

Serena Williams at Burberry fashion show in London

(June 18, 2013) Serena Williams has made the news over the last 24 hours for playing ping pong with fans at the Heathrow airport, and for being impeccably dressed during a Burberry fashion show in London. Now, from the other side of the emotional spectrum, a quotes controversy has come to light from an upcoming Rolling Stone profile on the tennis star. And it’s not pretty.

As Deadspin reported, Williams was quite vocal during a recent Rolling Stone interview with the author Stephen Rodrick. The first hot topic? Her thoughts on the 16-year-old Steubenville rape victim. Take a deep breath.

“We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV—two high school football players raped a 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. ‘Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.’”

But the controversial quote machine that is Serena didn’t end there. She went on, calling out one of her fellow WTA players.

“There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean seriously, give it a rest.” Serena exits the car and the conversation moves on to a Top Five player who is now in love. “She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’—it’s so boring,” says Serena in a loud voice. “She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

Whoa.

Since when was Williams so open with the press? At times, you would be lucky to get a few sentences out of her in her post-match press conferences. The author, Rodrick, goes on a limb and takes an “educated guess” that the player in question is Maria Sharapova, who is currently dating fellow tennis player Grigor Dimitrov. However, there is another top five female player currently in a public relationship … Victoria Azarenka and her beau RedFoo. So which couple is it?

In March 2012, Williams and Dimitrov seemed to have a friendly relationship, so much so, that Williams cheered on the Bulgarian when he defeated Tomas Berdych at the Sony Open for his first top-10 win. After the match, Dimitrov was asked about his friendship with the American.

Q: We saw Serena up there rooting for you right now.  Can you talk about that friendship a little bit?

“What do you want to know?  No, I’m kidding.  No, she’s a good friend of mine.  She came after in the locker room – not in the locker room, the fitness room to congratulate me.  It was very nice of her, yeah.”

What changed from one year ago if the “black heart” Williams is referring to is indeed Dimitrov’s? Perhaps there is a deeper history between the two than we are familiar with … and maybe it’s not Dimitrov and Sharapova that Williams was referring to.

Another option is that somehow Williams’ quotes were misrepresented or completely out of context, and she has yet to publicly respond to the article and quotes.

One thing is for certain though: Williams will probably be more hesitant sharing much insight with the press this week in Wimbledon again.

[UPDATE] Williams released a statement on her official website on Wednesday, apologizing for the controversial comments in the Rolling Stone article about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case.

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved — that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.”

“I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields — anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”

The Fab Five: Previewing the Wimbledon Men’s Contenders

Roger Federer hopes to keep a step ahead of his rivals again.

At the Australian Open and Roland Garros this year, one man entered the tournament as a clear favorite to extend his mastery over it.  Wimbledon presents a much blurrier and thus more intriguing picture, for any of the top four men will have a real chance to win.  Here is my best shot at an early ranking of contenders ahead before the draw.

1) Roger Federer:  The man who has won seven of the last ten men’s titles at Wimbledon probably enters as a slight favorite because of those credentials alone.  While Federer has not defeated nemesis Rafael Nadal there (or at any major) in six years, he claimed consecutive victories over his other two rivals en route to the 2012 title.  Defeating both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, he showed how the best serve and best forecourt skills of the Big Four can trump the superior physicality and consistency of the others on grass.  Federer recaptured the Halle title last week despite some concerning stretches of fallibility against opponents whom he would have dominated in his prime.  He still owns just one victory over a top-10 opponent this year, and he will need to win efficiently in the earlier rounds to conserve energy for more demanding competition.

2) Rafael Nadal:  A two-time Wimbledon champion, Nadal did not lose before the final there between 2006 and 2011.  When Lukas Rosol snapped that streak last year, he continued a trend in which unheralded men with massive serves have troubled the Spaniard in the first week.  Take a careful look at his early draw, then, but prepare for him to raise his level several notches if he survives any early tests.  The grass slows during the course of the fortnight, especially behind the baseline where Nadal prefers to play, and that factor should aid him in the second week.  No questions remain about his ability to recapture championship form in his comeback, including on surfaces other than clay.  Nadal’s Indian Wells title, built upon victories over three top-eight opponents, proved the latter point.  Dominant at Wimbledon against Andy Murray, he holds the momentum in key rivalries against Djokovic and Federer.

3) Novak Djokovic:   The world No. 1 may attract the least scrutiny of the Big Four heading into the season’s third major.  Federer defends the title, Nadal seeks to complete a third Channel Slam, and Murray bears the hopes of the host nation on his shoulders.  A Wimbledon champion two years ago, Djokovic will finish the tournament in the top spot regardless of his result and may arrive at the All England Club in an emotional lull.  Revenge on Nadal for his heartbreaking loss to the Spaniard at Roland Garros might offer the Serb some motivation, or he may need time to regroup emotionally.  His reliance on extended baseline rallies and vulnerability at the net may hamper him on grass, although Djokovic acted wisely to choose rest rather than preparation ahead of Wimbledon.  Strangely, he has played only three matches against the rest of the Big Four on grass, winning just one.

4) Andy Murray:  And so it begins, the quest to become the first British man since the Second World War to win Wimbledon.  For the first time, though, Murray plunges into the cauldron of scrutiny as a proven major champion, which might relieve the pressure on him even as it may raise expectations.  He arrives at Wimbledon fresher than the other contenders, having cut short his clay season after a back injury in Rome.  Murray reaped the rewards of that decision immediately when he reclaimed the Queen’s Club title that he won in 2011.  He defeated both Djokovic and Federer at the All England Club last year when it hosted the Olympics, another experience that should help settle his nerves, and he also now knows the feeling of playing the Wimbledon final.  Murray will hope to avoid Nadal, from whom he has won one set in three Wimbledon meetings.

5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  Realistically, one struggles to imagine anyone other than the Big Four lifting the Wimbledon trophy.  Extending beyond that group, 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych might seem the most logical contender as the only active man other than the four above to reach the Wimbledon final in the last decade.  But Berdych has disappointed for most of the last few months, outside a victory over Djokovic in Rome, and he has only one quarterfinal in eight other Wimbledon appearances.  A more plausible threat could come from a man whose explosive serving and deft touch at the net positions him for success on grass.  Tsonga defeated Federer at Wimbledon two years ago, an upset that he repeated at Roland Garros last month, and he has won sets from Murray and Djokovic there.  The short points on this surface reward his shot-making talents while camouflaging his impatience and lapses in focus.

***

In a day or two, I will return with a similar article on the women’s contenders.  Constructing the hierarchy of their title chances oddly came more easily than it did for the men.

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.

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