The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta. Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York. But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles. For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.
Top half: The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20. Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison. The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta. Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions. He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.
Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American. Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise. On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise. Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand. His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles. Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt. A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.
Semifinal: Isner vs. Hewitt
Bottom half: The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months. Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic. Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable. The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion. Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues. Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.
Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude. They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta. Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.
Semifinal: Fish vs. Anderson
Final: Hewitt vs. Anderson
Top half: As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw. Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though. Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week. Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal. But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.
A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title. The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half. Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg. Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Monaco
Bottom half: Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol. Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring. But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him. The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true). Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well. The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.
That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez. Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section. Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder. Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Semifinal: Granollers vs. Wawrinka
Final: Federer vs. Wawrinka
Top half: Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw. He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later. Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises. The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking. Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.
In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad. This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker. An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year. Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Semifinal: Gasquet vs. Fognini
Bottom half: Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon. Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad. A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there. The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.
The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos. While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there. Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi. On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.
Semifinal: Robredo vs. Berlocq
Final: Fognini vs. Robredo
Only one member of the top 10 takes the court in next week’s two ATP tournaments. But he’s someone who might merit your attention.
Top half: After his second-round loss at Wimbledon, Roger Federer admitted that he needed to regain his rhythm and poise at key moments in matches. Taking a wildcard into Hamburg, which he won as a Masters 1000 tournament, Federer seeks his first title of the season above the 250 level. That triumph came at the grass event in Halle, so the world No. 5 will hope to make it two for two on German soil. Home favorite Daniel Brands could prove an intriguing opening test, considering the challenge that Brands posed for Rafael Nadal in a Roland Garros four-setter. But the headline match of the quarter, or perhaps the half, comes in the next round with Ernests Gulbis. Defeating Federer on clay in Rome before, Gulbis has taken at least one set in all three of their previous meetings. Most of the other players in this section, such as Feliciano Lopez or Nikolay Davydenko, have grown accustomed to Federer’s superiority.
All four seeds in the second quarter reached a quarterfinal at a major this year, rare for an event of Hamburg’s diminished stature. Jerzy Janowicz and Fernando Verdasco both launched their surprise runs at Wimbledon, and Verdasco extended his surge from grass to clay by winning his first title since 2010 last week. In his first tournament as a member of the top 20, Janowicz has built his ranking less on consistency than on a handful of notable achievements at key tournaments. Similarly, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy has struggled to string together momentum and has secured just one semifinal berth since that breakthrough. An all-Spanish quarterfinal might await if Verdasco and Roland Garros quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo use their superior clay expertise to halt the higher-ranked Janowicz and Chardy, respectively. Federer never has lost to any of these men, or to anyone else in a section where Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar also lurks.
Semifinal: Federer vs. Verdasco
Bottom half: The sight of Nicolas Almagro and Mikhail Youzhny in the same vicinity calls to mind their Miami clash five years ago. Youzhny famously won that match with blood dripping down his head after banging his racket on it repeatedly. Undefeated in their previous meetings, Youzhny stopped Almagro in another three-setter this spring without reacquainting his racket with his head. While the Spaniard has faltered after a promising start to 2013, he still holds the surface edge on his nemesis. This section also contains four unseeded players who have reached clay finals this year. Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol could derail Almagro straight out of the gate, while Bucharest runner-up Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sets his sights on Youzhny. A champion in Nice, Albert Montanes could eye a rematch of his final there against Gael Monfils, but only if the latter can upset defending champion Juan Monaco. The Argentine won a clay title in Dusseldorf on the day that Montanes won Nice, his fourth on clay in 2012-13.
Second seed Tommy Haas usually shines on German soil during these latter stages of his career. Winning Munich on clay and taking a set from Federer in a Halle semifinal, Haas finished runner-up to Monaco in Hamburg last year. On the verge of the top 10, he showed some traces of fatigue by falling early in Stuttgart as the top seed. A semifinalist at that tournament, Victor Hanescu could face Haas in his opener, while Bastad runner-up Carlos Berlocq looms a round later. The other side of the section exudes a distinctly Italian flavor, bookended by Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini. A semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Fognini started his campaign there by defeating Seppi in three sets, and he has enjoyed far stronger clay results than his compatriot this year. Of minor note are Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, just 4-14 since that breakthrough, and Rome quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, who owed that result in large part to Andy Murray’s retirement.
Semifinal: Monaco vs. Haas
Final: Federer vs. Monaco
Top half: Not since the Australian Open has Janko Tipsarevic won more than two matches in a tournament. The beleaguered Serb saw his ranking slide out of the top 10 this summer, unable to salvage it even with several appearances at the 250 level. Another such effort to gobble up easy points as the top seed unfolds in Bogota. This draw looks more accommodating to Tipsarevic than others in which he has held that position. A pair of Colombians, Alejandro Falla and a wildcard, join a pair of Belgians and Australian serve-volleyer Matthew Ebden in his vicinity. If he can rediscover the tennis that brought him to the top 10, Tipsarevic should cruise. If he plays as he has for most of the year, anything could happen.
Among the most intriguing names in the second quarter is rising Canadian star Vasek Pospisil. Depending on how fast the courts play in Bogota, Pospisil could deploy his serve and shot-making to devastating effect against less powerful opponents. Australian journeyman James Duckworth showed his mettle in two epics at his home major this year, while Aljaz Bedene owns a win over Stanislas Wawrinka—but not much else. A finalist in Delray Beach, fourth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin hopes to halt a four-match losing streak. At least Mr. Bye cannot stop him in the first round.
Bottom half: Surprising most observers by reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Adrian Mannarino came back to earth with a modest result in Newport. At an event of similar caliber, he will hope to build on his momentum from grass while it still lingers. The same motivation probably spurs third seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon after bursting on the scene with a victory over Tsonga in February. Back into action with a quarterfinal showing in Newport, Ivo Karlovic brings his towering serve to an altitude ideal for it. At 7,000 feet above sea level, Dr. Ivo might be nearly unbreakable if his fitness weathers the thin air.
Also armed with a massive serve, second seed Kevin Anderson eyes a cluster of Colombians. Two home hopes meet in the first round, but Santiago Giraldo will fancy his chances to reach the quarterfinals. Near him is Kazakh loose cannon Evgeny Korolev, who oozes with talent while lacking the reins to harness it. Anderson has won all three of his meetings with Korolev and his only previous encounter with Giraldo, so his path to the weekend looks clear.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Anderson
A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.
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
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
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
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.
By Josh Meiseles, Special for Tennis Grandstand
Having grown up in a tennis-centric household just an hour’s drive from the USTA National Tennis Center in New York, ritual U.S. Open day trips were akin to my peers’ summer outings at the beach. Every August we’d make the mini-trek to Queens and marvel at Agassi’s baseline power, Kafelnikov’s precision, Chang’s agility and the serve-and-volley prowess of Sampras and Rafter.
My dad was a huge fan of Pistol Pete, so when he advanced to the final of the 2001 Hamlet Cup, a U.S. Open tune-up event now known as the Winston-Salem Open, we pounced at the prospect of seeing the 14-time Grand Slam champion on a more intimate stage than the cavernous bowels of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Standing across the net from Sampras that day was a spry 23-year-old German named Tommy Haas. Ranked just outside the top-10 at the time, Haas was less than a year from vaulting to a career-high number two in the world, while Sampras was embarking on his farewell lap around the ATP Tour. I was only a freshman in high school at the time, but I was nonetheless impressed by Haas’s attacking presence and crisp strokes from both wings, as he ousted Sampras in three sets for his third career ATP title.
Twelve years later and Haas is still a force on the Tour, perhaps playing the best tennis of his life. His stunning upset of Novak Djokovic in Miami, and subsequent run to the semifinals, set the stage for his title in Munich one month later and a remarkable quarterfinal finish at Roland Garros this past week.
Rewriting the record books seemingly every week, from becoming the oldest player to beat a world number one in 30 years to becoming the oldest French Open quarterfinalist since 1971, Haas is once again on the cusp of the top ten. Did I mention he recently turned 35?
Among all his astounding achievements over the past year, which also includes an upset of Roger Federer in the 2012 Halle final, the most impressive came in the third round of the French Open last week, when, after being denied twelve match points against John Isner, he maintained his composure and somehow prevailed in five sets. A presumably spent Haas went on to destroy Mikhail Youzhny two days later, dropping just five games. That’s a feat most 25-year-olds would struggle to accomplish after a grueling four-and-a-half hour match.
A top 20 player for the majority of his career, boasting a high of number two in the world in 2002, Haas implements an exceptional all-around all-court game, anchored by a beautiful one-handed backhand. Having reached his first Wimbledon semifinal in 2009, after a 2008 season riddled with abdominal, shoulder and elbow issues, the German was primed for a late-career push at the age of 31. Then, less than a year later, it was revealed that he would need hip surgery and the German would not be seen on court again until mid-2011. He has since reached five ATP finals, winning two, and just achieved his best result at Roland Garros in twelve appearances. Words cannot describe the significance of his resurgence with his career on life support less than two years ago.
Considering the growing physical nature of the game over the past decade, the fact that no player has enjoyed consistent success in their mid-30s since Andre Agassi is understandable.
Haas’s longevity is a testament to not only his work ethic and conditioning, but to his ability to adjust to the modern game and find new ways to be aggressive without employing a physically taxing style of play. The same can be said for Tommy Robredo, who, at age 32, reached the quarterfinals this week after being absent from the ATP Tour with a leg injury. A year ago, Robredo was ranked 470 in the world and playing a Challenger event in Italy and Haas was outside the top-100 battling through the Roland Garros qualifying tournament.
While I am in no way refuting the claims that advancements in tennis (i.e. string technology and more rigorous physiotherapy methods) are potentially detrimental to players’ health in the long term, there is no doubt that such developments in nutrition and conditioning contribute to prolonging careers as well.
We are seeing more and more players, such as the two Tommys, in the top 30 at the age of 30. A late-career injury should no longer be considered a career death sentence; rather it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. There is no denying that the collective accomplishments of both Haas and Robredo at Roland Garros are a sign of inspiration as well. They may lack an intimidating weapon like a Nadal topspin-laced forehand, Djokovic’s penetrating groundstrokes or Isner’s bazooka serve, yet they are proving that grit and determination are powerful tools to have in your arsenal.
A short-fuse has long been Haas’s Achilles heel throughout his career, but with age comes maturity, and for the 35-year-old, a new lease on his career has yielded a newfound lucid attitude towards his game. He seems more passionate now than he ever was and his fiery competitive spirit is unwavering. Attribute that to his 3-year-old daughter, Valentina. When asked if retirement was a viable option during his hip surgery rehab, Haas stated, “It is too early for me to come back, but I assure you my daughter will see her dad play tennis.” Whenever you have something, or someone for that matter, to play for other than yourself, it provides a fresh source of motivation to continue fighting. At his 2011 U.S. Open press conference Haas mentioned, “It gives me another reason to work hard and try to achieve some things.”
For athletes of all sports, the stronger and more personal the motivating factor is, the more driven they are. It may seem rather obvious, but it couldn’t be more relevant to Haas’s success. And if you think he is inspired, imagine how his fellow 30-Year Club members are feeling, particularly David Nalbandian, who is recovering from injury while recently welcoming his first children as well. Haas’s resurgence could even potentially be a game-changer for younger players who are looking to model their playing styles after someone with his durability. The trend toward the physical grinding game is a slippery slope and one that is not associated with career longevity.
Haas will look to defend his Halle title next week while Robredo isn’t currently on an entry list for a Wimbledon tune-up event. Despite their mediocre career results at the All England Club, with no points to defend both men will be playing with house money and should be considered dark horses to make the second week.
Plenty of fascinating events unfolded on the first day of quarterfinal action in Paris. Here are my thoughts on what happened.
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?
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?
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.
By James A. Crabtree
- Question- Can Serena Williams lose on current form?
- What do Jiri Novak, Christophe Van Garesse, Thomas Enqvist, Tommy Haas, David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Andy Murray all have in common?
They have beaten Federer in 5 set matches since his career began. Gilles Simon cannot be added to this list after losing his second five set match to Mr Federer in the fourth round at this years Roland Garros.
In other Fed news he appears to have bulked up or perhaps has a Batman costume beneath his shirt? And his shoes with that white bit at the back don’t look unlike old man slippers.
- John Isner needs to learn how to break serve, not just hold serve.
- A tennis purgatory exists for tour players who seem lost, unable to find their former glory. No player wants to end up here but those who find residence here are not losing drastically but are in an awful limbo land. They are not winning the tough matches that they once would; they are not improving and are far from retiring. Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Anna Ivanovic have continued their limbo form in Paris and have exited Roland Garros before Monday of the second week.
- Bethanie Mattek-Sands has already equaled her best slam performance, a fourth round at Wimbledon in 2008. Can she go one further?
- Question? Can Rafael Nadal lose at this years French Open?
Answer? Yes, but would you bet against him. Even when he is not up to his best his opponent seemingly crumbles
- Ryan Harrison needs a big win over a big player as much as I need to clear my overdraft.
- Former world number one and 2008 U.S. Open finalist Jelena Jankovic is seeking to leave the purgatory group and seems to be finding old form after bating Stosur. She next faces Jaime Hampton who ‘Is For Real’. She has been steadily improving; she is fun to watch and embodies a certain toughness that is endearing.
- Australian Open has a roof, is building another court with a roof and has lights. Wimbledon built a roof. U.S. Open has lights and plays until late. Roland Garros needs a roof. Roland Garros needs lights. Surely the people who live near Roland Garros can put up with this for two weeks a year?
- Nadal can get upset. Blame the rain and the lack of a roof Rafa, not the schedule.
- Bernard Tomic didn’t do anything to make us forget the daddy issue
- If everything goes to form and Victoria Azarenka meets Maria Sharapova in the semi, hope that Azarenka wins. Sharapova has not beaten Serena Williams since 2004 and has lost the last twelve matches to her.
- Gael Monfils could’a and should’a won against Tommy Robredo. Instead Robredo has won three straight 2 set down 5 set matches! What the! Incredibly Tommy is the first to do that since five-time champion Henri Cochet, one of the four muskateers. Of interest Cochet, a spruce little Frenchman won in Paris five times. He also beat ‘Big Bill’ Tilden in a 1927 Wimbledon semifinal after being down two sets and 1-5 before winning 2-6 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-3.
- Nicholas Almagro is making a name for himself as a choker against fellow Spaniards as he was 2 sets up and 4-1 against Robredo. Back in January Almagro was 2 sets up against David Ferrer then fell apart after having match points
- Ernets Gulbis comes from a wealthy family and is a bad tempered racquet thrower. He suffered a big defeat then went on to talk bad about the four best players in the game. Is Ernie a whiner, an heir to the throne or just Joffrey Baratheon?
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.”
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.
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?
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?