The clay courts of the Madrid Open have provided some shock exits in the first round this week, with Justine Henin, Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova falling like dominos to the dismay of tournament chairman Manuel Santana, who breathed a sigh of relief as top seed Serena Williams managed to survive a match point to get through her first match of the tournament against Vera Dushevina, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 – lasting a mammoth 3 hours and 26 minutes.

The American world No. 1 looked on her way out of the clay event when the unseeded Russian had a match point at 6-5 in the second set. Visibly chastising herself on court and appealing wildly to her father and coach Richard Williams in the stands, she miraculously summoned her enormous willpower to claw her way back and take the deciding set despite having a long treatment break for what appeared to be right thigh and lower back problems. She revealed “After so long on the court, I was saying to myself, ‘You’d better win this thing’”.

After squandering one match point with a wild backhand at 6-4 on the third set tie break, a ninth ace on the next point provoked a primal cry of joy from the 28 year old, who said “When I shout like that, it’s just to get energised. I need my emotion to help me play better.” She is now on course to meet Russian sixth seed Elena Dementieva in the last eight. Her sister, fourth-seeded Venus Williams also downed Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-2 to proceed.

Meanwhile, Aravane Rezai of France beat Justine Henin. 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, who revealed she had not fully recovered after falling ill following her win at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart last weekend, her first title since coming out of retirement.

Lucia Safarova of the Czech Republic defeated Russian bombshell Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 to the disappointment of her male fans in Madrid. The leggy blonde commented “It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm…I thought she played really solid, good tennis and did everything she needed to win the match. More solid than me anyway.”

Israel’s Shahar Peer recorded the biggest upset, defeating the reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 after the Russian dropped serve six times in the match and said “I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the year. Even the matches I’m losing, it’s just a point here and a point there. I’ve been working very hard on my game the last two years and I saw the fruits starting to come last summer. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Dinara Safina’s preparations for the French Open took a serious knock after she lost 7-6, 7-6 to Czech qualifier Klara Zakopalova in the first round. The defending champion claimed seven breaks of serve, but the 28-year-old from Prague dominated the tiebreaks only allowing Safina one point in the first, and three in the second. Despite being the runner up in the last two French Open finals, Safina struggled on the clay and has slipped from three to five in the updated WTA rankings on Monday.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.


The 2010 ATP tennis season is set to begin at three locations across the globe this week and plenty of big-name players are getting ready to fine-tune their games as the first slam of the year approaches. It’s hard to believe that in less than three weeks we’ll already be watching the action at the Australian Open. Such is the way the ATP tour continues to operate and therefore players can ill-afford to skip the early part of the season.

Here’s a look at the competition in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha.

Brisbane International:

For those players looking to get accustomed to the Aussie heat and limit any last minute travel leading up to the Open, Brisbane is the place to be.

American Andy Roddick is seeded number one in the tourney and should advance to the finals without any major opponents in his path. Sure Richard Gasquet might give him a workout in the quarters, but it’s not like he has to face a Federer or a Nadal at any point. Tough to say who he might encounter in the semi’s, but if Marcos Baghdatis is ready to go, he could certainly make it to that stage. Baghdatis is never in super shape, and that might explain why he typically has such good results in January – nobody else is ready either!
The bottom half of the draw is pretty sparse, so look for defending champion Radek Stepanek to make it through to the semi-finals at least with relative ease.

An interesting opening match-up has 5th seeded Sam Querrey against unseeded James Blake. Blake is accustomed to being the number two ranked American behind Roddick, but we’re seeing a younger group like Querrey and John Isner start to challenge. I really feel like 2010 is the year where Blake either has to make some tactical adjustments or kiss the top-fifty goodbye for good.

Aircel Chennai Open:

The draw in Chennai is quite wide-open so look for some unfamiliar names to potentially have a small breakthrough here. Sweden’s Robin Soderling is the number one seed here and deservingly-so after his accomplishments in 2009. Soderling already has an exhibition win over Roger Federer this year, so he should perform well. A potential semi-final opponent is Stan Wawrinka who should be able to gather a few wins in Chennai.

In the bottom of the draw don’t be surprised if either wildcard Carlos Moya or Somdev Devvarman makes a splash. Moya has won this tournament twice before and will be looking for a fond farewell as 2010 is likely his last on tour. Devvarman is a former NCAA standout and has performed well since joining the pro ranks a year and a half ago. He will certainly have plenty of support from the local crowd.
Second seeded Marin Cilic should also not be forgotten. The big-serving Croat should be able to maneuver into the finals.

Qatar Exxon Mobil Open:

So exactly where are all the big fish to start the 2010 season? Look no further than Doha, Qatar where the $1 million-plus prize purse has attracted Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko. Imagine potential appearance fees on top of that and you can see why this tournament has nabbed the world’s number one and two players. There is a big drop-off in talent after these three players however, and perhaps this is due to the distance between Qatar and Australia. It’s a bit out of the way for players without a legitimate shot of advancing.
Roger has a good draw in the top-half and will likely face Davydenko in the semi’s. After breaking the all-time Grand Slam record in 2009 and having his focus divided between being a family man and a professional tennis player, Roger is going to be tested more than ever in 2010. While Nadal and Murray have had Fed’s number over the years, there may be new players that emerge as regular threats to his game. Davydenko defeated him for the first time at the season-ending championships in November, and Soderling did the same a day ago in Abu Dhabi.
In the bottom-half of the draw, look for Nadal to find his way easily to the finals, where he would face Mikhail Youzhny if the draw holds true to form. You never know what you’re getting with Youzhny however, so don’t be surprised if someone else surprises.

Federer Rallies To Defeat Ferrer In Cincinnati; Murray, Nadal Advance

World No. 1 Roger Federer rallied from a break down in the final set to edge past unseeded Spaniard David Ferrer, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in extremely windy conditions Thursday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

Federer, who is one victory away from winning his 200 win at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, quickly broke the Spaniard in the opening game of the match but was then broken back in the fourth game. Ferrer followed it up by breaking Federer’s serve in the eighth game, before holding serve to win the opening set.

Federer, who lost to Ivo Karlovic last year in the third round in Cincinnati, remained steady despite being down a set and was able to secure a break at 4-3, before holding serve to take the match to a deciding set.

“I think at the beginning maybe my footwork was just a touch off,” said Federer, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in July after winning Wimbledon for a sixth time. “After that I think I got it together and started to play better and better.”

In the final set, the 27-year-old Spaniard jumped ahead 3-1 but could not consolidate the break. Ferrer, who had beaten Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 14 seed Marin Cilic earlier in his first two matches, then smashed his racquet in frustration after not being able to take a 4-1 lead.

Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam singles titles, picked up his game tremendously after leveling the match at 3-3. The momentum shifted towards Federer as the Swiss broke Ferrer in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. Federer then served out the match at ease to advance to his tenth quarterfinal of the season.

“I thought he played a good match,” said Federer, who has won three titles this season.

Federer, who improved to 9-0 against Ferrer, smashed six aces and just two double faults compared to three aces and two double faults by the Spaniard. Federer won 75 percent of first serve points and was able to break serve on four of nine opportunities. Ferrer, who reached the finals earlier this year in Barcelona and Dubai, won 69 percent of first serve points and broke serve on three occasions.

Federer will next face unseeded Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who edged past American Sam Querrey, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3, in one hour and 26 minutes in the final match of the day session on Stadium court.

Also on Stadium Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland, who overtook the No. 2 ranking earlier this week from Rafael Nadal, rolled past No. 16 seed Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 16 minutes.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the defending champion in Cincinnati, broke Stepanek’s serve in the second game of the opening set, but was broken on his own serve when he tried serving out the set at 5-3 up. Despite the hiccup near the end of the set, Murray quickly broke back to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I started the match very well, serving well and not giving him any chances,” said Murray, who won the Masters 1000 Montreal tournament last week. “The wind picked up at the end of the first set and he managed to break me. But I played a good game to break back.”

In the second set, Murray had little trouble keeping the momentum on his side, as he broke Stepanek in his first two service games of the set before winning the match on his serve to advance.

Murray, who improved to 3-0 against the 30-year-old Czech Republic native smashed eight aces and won 29 of 38 first serve points. Stepanek, who has won titles earlier this year in Brisbane and San Jose, didn’t have his best serving outing, hitting three aces, three double faults and winning just 51 percent of first serve points.

The Scot, who has won five ATP World Tour titles this year, will next face lucky loser Julien Benneteau, who edge past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4), in a three hour and three-minute thriller on the Grandstand court.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal recovered from a 0-3 deficit to roll past Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, 7-5, 6-2, in one hour and 55 minutes.

The Spaniard was able to break serve on four of 12 opportunities, while smashing five aces and winning 32 of 41 first serve points. Mathieu was only able to break Nadal’s serve once, which occurred in the early stages of the opening set. The Frenchman hit three aces, three double faults and won 33 of 49 first serve points.

Nadal, who improved to 9-0 lifetime against Mathieu, will take on Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych on Friday night for a place in the semifinals. Nadal leads the head-to-head 4-3, winning most recently in 2008 in the semifinals in Miami.

Other Winners on Thursday in Cincinnati
Third Round
No. 4 Novak Djokovic def. Jeremy Chardy, 7-5, 6-3
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4
Tomas Berdych def. Chris Guccione, 6-4, 6-3