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Pro Tennis Right Now Is Boring – Bring On The U.S. Hard Court Season

Cincinnati

By Thaddeus McCarthy

 

The tennis world at this time seems to be quite boring.

Some articles are still coming out concerning Novak Djokovic’s epic win over Federer in the Wimbledon final, which is quite surprising seeing that it was over two weeks ago, an article that recently came out discussed how Boris Becker called Federer the Greatest of All Time (yawn). Another article was out recently concerning how Boris does not call himself a friend of Novak’s. But rather than chattering about supposed coach/player relationships or the monotonous GOAT debate, what I will discuss today is the real business that should concern the tennis world right now, which is the upcoming American hard court swing.

Novak Djokovic has effectively lined himself up as the favourite to have the most successful US Open Series. Nadal is not going away any time soon, and will arguably be more of a threat on hard courts than he was through the short grass season. In terms of points to defend, Nadal has by far the most. There is a lot of doubt though, that he will be able to repeat his effort this year with what he did last year and win the US Open series (Cincinnati, Toronto and US Open). I would not put him as the second favourite this year, just because he has never traditionally performed well in the second half of the season. Last year was an odd occurrence in that respect.

The culprit for the second favouritism position this year could rest with Andy Murray, who has no points to defend and is coming under the radar. His performance at Wimbledon was encouraging after his long down period since his Wimbledon win last year. His strongest surface is perhaps hard courts, which is demonstrated by his 2012 US Open title and 3 Aussie Open final showings. Stan Wawrinka could perform well this summer, but since the Aussie Open has not looked like a Grand Slam winner. Jo Tsonga is another contender, but I think he will only do well enough through a week (or 2) to win one of the American summer tournaments, if any. I have always felt that Jo is the sort of player who is able to play lights out tennis for a period. And he could do this at any time.

The real second favourite though, should be Roger Federer, who has traditionally performed well on the American hard courts and is in resurgence this year. And the fact he lost the Wimbledon final could be good, because unlike in 2012, there will be a feeling this year that he still has something to prove. Last year he was having back problems, and so I think that it is not fair to compare his 2013 with 2014. The level he is playing at is similar to 2012, and the Wimbledon final in particular was reminiscent of Wimbledon 2009.

All things considered, Novak Djokovic should have the best period in the next couple of months. If all players are playing at their best on hard courts, I believe Novak is king. Unlike on clay, where I think Nadal still has the edge. Novak has only the one US Open title and will be hungry to grab another. However, the danger of the young up-and-comers will be more persistent this summer than any other time in recent memory. The showing of Nick Krygios (and Milos Raonic) at Wimbledon is a direct example of this.

But Novak and the rest of the tennis world should never count out Rafael Nadal, as he is the greatest competitor and most tenacious player in tennis history. And will be fighting hard to defend his titles. The field lining up against him is led by Novak, but is flanked by some notable old names and exciting new comers. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams Still Lead The Pack For The US Open

Novak Djokovic

With Wimbledon now complete, the tennis season is now focused in the United States and towards Flushing Meadow with the US Open just several weeks away.

The men’s competition is looking likely to be extremely competitive as all three of the dominant figures of men’s tennis have reason to believe that they have a good chance of victory in New York. Although he won the title five years in a row, Roger Federer has not lifted a US Open trophy since 2008. However, Federer will go into the US Open off the back of an impressive Wimbledon, where he  nearly won an eighth Wimbledon title, falling just short against Novak Djokovic in a thrilling five set final. Djokovic himself regained the world No. 1 ranking, and under new coach Boris Becker, he will be confident of a second US Open title, following his lone triumph in 2011. And then there’s Rafa Nadal, who suffered major disappointment at Wimbledon with an early exit after his perennial French Open win. The Spaniard will be keen to show that Wimbledon was just a blip and that he’s ready to bounce back and defend his title.

While the usual suspects will likely dominate the men’s tournament, the women’s competition looks extremely open. The tennis betting odds at William Hill and elsewhere make Serena Williams the favourite and with good reason. She has won the US Open for the last two years and with the tournament on home soil, it has special meaning for the 32-year-old. However, Serena recently suffered the shock of two second round exits at both the French Open and Wimbledon, where she appeared especially out of sorts. She will be determined to prove her worth once more in her ‘home’ major.

However, there will be plenty of contenders ready to snatch the women’s crown if Williams is not up to the task. Maria Sharapova will come to Flushing Meadow with a French Open title already under her belt this season. Li Na and Simona Halep are also contenders, as is Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. However, all eyes will likely be on Canadian 20-year-old sensation Eugenie Bouchard, who entered the top ten having finished runner-up at Wimbledon. Not only does she have star quality, Bouchard also has the talent to make a major impact in New York.

Novak Djokovic

Gun Shots, Protesters, Bomb Scares and Religious Fanatics – The Most Unusual Delays In Tennis History

Rafael Nadal

By Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

 

There is nothing worse than when you are locked into playing – or watching – a great tennis match and there is a delay in play. Rain and sometimes darkness are the most commons delays in play but in the history of tennis, there have been some rather unusual ways where play was delayed.

Here are six of the most unusual delays as documented in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, which is also a mobile app (www.TennisHistoryApp.com) listed in no particular order. Which one do you think is the strangest? Please share any other worthy episodes in the comment section below or via TennisGrandstand@gmail.com.

 

March 18, 1984 – A bomb scare forces the Rotterdam men’s singles final between Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors to be called off. Lendl sweeps through the first set, 6-0, and breaks service in the first game of the second set when the police, reacting to an anonymous telephone call, order the evacuation of the Ahoy Sports Hall. The caller, claiming to represent an anti-capitalism movement, tells the police that a bomb had been placed close to center court. A search does not yield any suspicious articles, and spectators are then allowed to return to their seats. However, the crowd is then informed that Lendl and Connors would not be resuming their match. Wim Buitendijk, the organizer of the Grand Prix tournament, fails to persuade Lendl to stay and finish the match. He says Connors may have been persuaded to resume the game but ”Lendl was not prepared to take any risks.”

March 30, 1980 – Bjorn Borg dominates Manuel Orantes 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 in the final of the Nice Open in France in a match delayed by 25 minutes when a group of local physical education students storm the court and stage a “sit-in” to protest their department being closed by the French education ministry.

April 16, 1977 – Anti-apartheid protestors spill oil on court to protest the United States competing against South Africa and disrupt the doubles match between Stan Smith and Bob Lutz and Frew McMillan and Byron Bertram in Newport Beach, Calif.  U.S. Captain Tony Trabert hits one of the two protestors with a racquet before police apprehend the culprits. After a 45-minute delay to clean the oil, Smith and Lutz defeat McMillan and Bertram 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to give the United States an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the South Africans.

April 27, 2006 – The only thing bothering Rafael Nadal during his 6-4, 6-2 second round match with Spanish qualifier Ivan Navaro-Pastor at the Barcelona Open is a female intruder, who bursts onto the court and handcuffs herself to the net post. Nadal is leading 6-4, 4-0 when the woman enters the court and a brief delay ensues while the protester is cut loose and taken away by security guards.

September 4, 1977 – James Reilly, a 33-year-old resident of New York City, is shot in the left thigh as a spectator at the John McEnroe – Eddie Dibbs third-round night match at the U.S. Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. The shooting, from a .38 caliber gun, occurs at the start of the match near Portal 8 in the north section of the stadium and delays play for about six minutes as Reilly is taken from the stands to the first aid station and then to nearby St. John’s Hospital. Most of the 6, 943 fans in attendance are not aware that a shooting had occurred. Police conclude it was likely a shot that came from outside the stadium. McEnroe wins the best-of-three set match 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

October 20, 1985 – A religious fanatic walks on the court, serves drinks to Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte and preaches a sermon in the middle of the final round match of the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. In the ninth game of the third set, the man, wearing a caterer’s uniform, walks onto the court with a tray with two glasses of orange juice and religious pamphlets that he presents to both Lendl and Leconte. Reports the Associated Press of the incident, “To the astonishment of the players, officials and crowd, he put the tray down in the center of the court and proclaimed loudly, ‘I would like to bring these gentlemen two drinks.’ He then began babbling about the evil of credit cards and the devil before being escorted away by embarrassed officials. The tournament was sponsored by a credit finance company.” Says Lendl of the incident, “I was really, really mad at that. Not for the security reason, but because they were too gentle with him. They should have been rougher with him.” Lendl wins the match from Leconte by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 margin.

Titanic Survivor’s Journey To The U.S. Singles Final 100 Years Ago

Final of 1913 U.S. Championships

There was a lot different about the US Open 100 years ago than it is today. For starters, it was not called the U.S. Open, but the “Nationals” in the era before tennis was professional. It was also held on grass courts in the quiet, quaint confines of the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island, the modern-day home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But the 1913 U.S. Nationals in Newport was the scene of the unfolding of what some call the greatest story in the history of the sport.

A year earlier in 1912, Dick Williams was en route to the United States from Europe to enroll in Harvard when he survived the sinking of the Titanic in incredible fashion, enduring the night in the frigid North Atlantic water while hanging onto a collapsed lifeboat. Seventeen months later, fresh off leading the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory against Britain, Williams reached the final of the modern-day US Open. Williams played U.S. Davis Cup teammate Maurice McLoughlin in the U.S. singles final on August 26, 1913 – 100 years to the day of the start of the 2013 U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows.

Lindsay Gibbs narrates the singles-final run of Williams 100 years ago in her book TITANIC: THE TENNIS STORY ($12.95, New Chapter Press, available here: http://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Tennis-Story-Lindsay-Gibbs/dp/1937559041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377217682&sr=8-1&keywords=Titanic+The+Tennis+Story) in this book excerpt.

 

Nevertheless, later that month, just a few days off the boat, he went into the 1913 Nationals at Newport … believing that it was his year and that he could earn that trophy. He knew what he was doing this year. Nothing was a surprise to him. He was a stronger player, more used to his public profile and a better man than he had been a year ago. He could close his eyes and see himself holding that trophy. He could feel the waves of closure flowing through his body, making everything worth it.

He had a close match against Gustave Touchard in the second round that almost cost him an early exit from the tournament, but just like in the Davis Cup match against Dixon, he was able to dig deep and take the fifth set 7-5. It didn’t hurt that when Touchard was serving at 4-3, 40-30 in the final set he was called for a foot fault, after which, rattled, he double faulted and then really blew his stack. Still, for Dick a victory was a victory. He was sure he could carry the momentum to win the title.

Aside from a close four-setter in the fourth round against William Johnston, the Californian with the big Western topspin forehand, Dick had an easy time after Touchard, making it all the way to the final, where of course his new friend and teammate Maurice McLoughlin waited for him. Mac was trying to win the title for the second year in a row and continue his run as the best player in the country. For Dick, the championship had special symbolic value. He yearned to finish the journey he started sixteen months earlier when he boarded the Titanic with his father.

After having played against each other almost every day for the past three months, both players knew each others’ game as well as their own. Dick was able to handle the forceful serves of his Davis Cup teammate like no one else and often dictated play off his own racket. After losing a hard-fought first set 6-4, Dick continued his aggressive play and was able to steal the second set 7-5 – becoming the first player to secure a set from Mac at the tournament. The tennis was some of the most dazzling play that the Newport fans had ever seen. After some tense play early in the third set, the match was up for grabs. As the crowd grew louder and louder after every point and they started to move in between points, leaning on the edge of their seats to see every shot, Dick started to struggle. He tried to focus in, to block the world out with his tennis like he had been doing for the past year and a half, but it wasn’t working. The clapping began to sound like the ship breaking into two. Cheers sounded like cries. The memories he was trying so hard to block out came crashing down on him at one of the worst times possible. Mac took control of the match mid-way through the third set and eased to a four-set victory 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1. “The California Comet” had another trophy for his shelf and Dick had to wait another year for another chance.

Roger Federer’s First U.S. Open Title

Roger Federer

In 2004, Roger Federer entered the US Open after a disappointing showing at the Olympic Games in Athens, losing in the second round of both singles and doubles. He had won twice at Wimbledon and secured one title at the Australian Open, but had to conqueror the concrete courts of the Flushing Meadows. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION, $19.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) takes readers back to the 2004 US Open in this book excerpt.

 

The US Open is known as one of the most chaotic of the Grand Slam tournaments and a tournament that many find too difficult to win, including Björn Borg. “The US Open is the Grand Slam tournament that is the most difficult to win,” said Andre Agassi. Many others agree with him. “Somebody could stand up in the grandstands and play saxophone and it wouldn’t bother anybody,” Boris Becker noted in his younger years.

Federer shed his once chronic lack of success in the United States by winning two of America’s four biggest titles at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston and the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. Like at Wimbledon, he arrived early in New York in order to calmly prepare for the tournament. Besides his practice sessions and workouts, he spent his time going to such Broadway musicals as Beauty and the Beast and The Boy from Oz. He also conducted pre-event media interviews and kept up with his sponsor obligations.

He even supported his fellow Swiss Davis Cup team members, watching them compete in the US Open qualifying tournament—a very unusual thing for the world’s No. 1 player to do.

The weaknesses that he showed in Cincinnati and at the Olympics were not evident at the US Open. Was it perhaps due to the fact that his hair began to grow back? In any case, he had little trouble advancing into the quarterfinals, where he faced Agassi, now age 34. After a European summer highlighted by physical problems and unexpected defeats, Agassi found his groove on the American hard courts, defeating both Roddick and Hewitt to win the title in Cincinnati—his first title in over a year. Agassi’s confidence was high.

In one of the US Open’s celebrated night matches, Federer and Agassi battled on Wednesday evening, September 8, and Federer immediately found his rhythm. He was leading 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 when it began raining and play was postponed. The match resumed the following afternoon and the players were greeted with gale force winds—as part of the weather front that swept through New York as a leftover from Hurricane Frances that battered Florida earlier in the week. Federer described the wind swirls as being the worst conditions that he ever played under. “Just five years ago I would have gone nuts playing in such a wind,” he said.

The wind forced Federer to change tactics. He no longer tried to go for winners and display his usual aggressive style, but concentrated on getting the ball and his serves over the net and simply into play—which in the windy conditions was itself a challenge. “I played just like at practice and that was the right recipe,” he said. A 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over Agassi put him into the semifinals of the US Open for the first time, where he would face an old acquaintance, Tim Henman. The 30-year-old Brit won six of his eight career matches with his Swiss rival, but Federer was a different player than many of the previous matches, with more self-confidence and stamina. As in March in Indian Wells, Federer encountered little resistance with Henman, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to advance into the championship match at the US Open for the first time.

Awaiting him in the final was another of his past nemeses, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. The Australian skipped the Olympic Games, but won the two ATP tournaments played concurrently to the Olympics in Washington, D.C. and in Long Island. Entering his match with Federer, he won his last 16 matches and did not surrender a set in his six-match run to the final.

It only took 17 minutes for Federer to hand Hewitt his first lost set of the tournament, losing only five points in a near perfect execution of tennis. When Hewitt won his first game of the match after Federer led 6-0, 2-0, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Federer continued to be the much stronger player, until a lapse of concentration and a run of errors and missed serves allowed Hewitt to win four straight games after trailing 2-5 in the second set.

“If he had managed to win the second set, it would have turned out to be an entirely different match,” Federer said. “I forced myself to keep positive. I said to myself that I only got this break because I was playing against the wind and I was serving with old balls. When I changed sides, everything actually did go easier.”

Federer held serve at 5-6 to force the tiebreak and won that 7-3. The two-set lead broke Hewitt’s resistance and Federer plowed through the final set 6-0 to win his first US Open championship.

“First I was surprised that Lleyton was no longer getting to the ball,” Federer said of his moment of victory. “Then I was suddenly lying on my back, looking into the sky at the lights of the stadium. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ Once again I was close to tears.”

Alarm Calls for Roger Federer as Martina Hingis Storms Back into Tennis — The Friday Five

Roger Federer on a losing streak

By Maud Watson

Roger Federer on a losing streakTailspin

Another tournament and another surprising early exit for Federer, as the Swiss goes out in two routine sets to Daniel Brands in Gstaad.  The good news for Federer fans is that the Maestro has never been one to quickly panic and shows no signs of looking like he’s getting ready to throw the towel in anytime soon.  In fact, he’s already committed to Brisbane next season.  But this latest loss undoubtedly has some alarm bells sounding in Federer’s head.  He’s having some issues adjusting to the new racquet and is also unsure which stick he’ll be using on the summer hard courts.  In addition to Federer being in limbo regarding his racquet, his mental toughness has also taken a hit. You can read the increasing doubt on his face, and that doubt is creeping into his game as evidenced by the unforced errors that continue to mount in each match.  To say that the next few months are “do-or-die” might be an overstatement, but they are certainly critical.  How he fairs the remainder of 2013 could have a major impact on how long it takes him to right the ship and determine whether or not he hangs around for Rio in 2016.

Heartbreak

Another sentimental favorite who suffered a tough loss this week was Mardy Fish.  The American was in Atlanta, making just his fourth appearance since the US Open last season.  Up a set, it looked like Fish might be able to start his return to competition with a win.  But a rain delay and a refusal to fold from veteran Michael Russell saw the lower-ranked American upset his countryman and advance at his expense.  The defeat itself was understandable.  Fish played well all things considered, but he had been out of the game for over four months.  With no substitute for match play, nerves likely helped play a part in his loss.  What was troubling about Fish’s loss, however, was that he wasn’t available for comment afterwards – something that has happened in the past just prior to Fish taking an extended leave of absence.  American tennis fans will wait with baited breath to see how Fish follows up this latest setback and whether it will include the commitment to carry on or hang it up for good.

Give and Take

Thanks to an overwhelming 47-1 vote by the New York City Council, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been approved for a $500 million expansion.  Not surprisingly, a large part of the expansion will be devoted to the renovation of the older facilities “that have reached the end of their useful lives.”  But the USTA isn’t the only one benefiting from the deal.  In exchange for the approval, the USTA has agreed   to start a non-profit group to help fund Flushing Meadows, host a yearly job fair for the residents in Queens, serve as a potential host to high school graduation ceremonies, and provide tennis coaching programs for area children.  All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Changing Tunes

John Tomic has finally been brought to court for the much-publicized events that took place before the start of the Madrid Masters, and depending on who you believe, is possibly changing his story, along with his son, from what they originally told police back in May.  Bernard Tomic is claiming his father told him the day of the incident that it was the hitting partner, Drouet, who hit him.  John Tomic is also insisting that it was Drouet who started the fight and doesn’t “know how” Drouet fell down.  Both Tomics are blaming the alleged misunderstanding on police officers who had a poor grasp of English.  Time will tell if there really was a misunderstanding or if this is just John Tomic trying to weasel his way out of trouble – and given his track record, the latter seems more plausible.  If that is indeed the case, Bernard Tomic had better wise up, or the court is going to give him a lot more to worry about than his forehand.

Stay Awhile

It appears that Martina Hingis’ decision to play doubles with Hantuchova in California won’t be just a one-off.  The former No. 1 is planning to play doubles in some other big events this summer, including Toronto, Cincinnati, and the year’s last major, the US Open.  Say what you want about Hingis from a personal standpoint, but from a tennis perspective, there are few in the modern game who can match her court craft and guile.  What she lacks in size and power she makes up for with impossible angles and exquisite touch.  With any luck, these summer hard court events will be the start of something bigger, but if not, get your tickets and take the opportunity to see some of the greatest hands in the game work their magic one more time.

Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova’s Big Changes — The Friday Five

Maria Sharapova

By Maud Watson

Big(ger) Changes

Champions are frequently known for their stubbornness.  Sometimes it refers to their unwillingness to surrender a loss quietly, but it also often refers to their refusal to re-tool any part of the game that has brought them so much success.  Unfortunately, that refusal can often hamper an athlete’s career, which is something that Roger Federer apparently plans to avoid.  Federer is playing this week in Hamburg with a new racquet.  His new stick features a 98 square-inch frame, which represents a significant change from the much smaller 90 square-inch frame he has used throughout his career.  The larger frame means a bigger sweet spot and additional power, both of which should help him better compete with the young guns on tour.  We’ll see how he fairs during this brief stint on the clay, but if he’s able to make the adjustment to the new racquet quickly, expect him to be right back in the thick of it for the summer hard court season.

Maria SharapovaTrue Grit

One of the more interesting off-court tidbits to hit the news this past week was the announcement of Jimmy Connors becoming Maria Sharapova’s new full-time coach.  The two briefly worked together five years ago but were unable to come to a financial agreement to make it a full-time gig.  Circumstances have changed in 2013, and the two are teaming up to become one of the most intriguing coach/player relationships in the game today.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Both have strong egos and like to get things done their way, so it could flame out early.  But both also share the same inherit drive.  They’re both fighters who refuse to rollover in a match and will go to virtually any lengths – sometimes perhaps a little over the line of what’s considered proper – to come away with the win.  Both could feed off each other in those respects and prove quite the successful combo.  Sadly, fans will have to wait a little longer for this new partnership to make its debut, however, as Sharapova was forced to withdraw from the upcoming event in Stanford with a hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon.  But make no mistake.  This will be one of the key storylines to watch this summer.

False Hope

The good news is that the USTA has established a potential timeline for putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium by August 2016.  The bad news is that you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than that timeline coming to fruition.  As usual, one of the biggest hurdles to putting a roof over Ashe Stadium stems from cost.  The USTA is already currently in the market for an owner representative for its $500-million expansion plan that doesn’t include a roof, meaning that if they were to shift efforts towards building a roof for Ashe, other projects, such as replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand would be put on hold.  That’s a scenario that’s all the more unlikely when considering that the other issue facing Ashe is that it may not be able to support the weight of the roof in the first place.  So, while we can appreciate the USTA’s efforts to keep the roof possibility in the discussion, this once again appears to be much ado about nothing.

Egomaniac

At the front part of the week, in an interview with David Nadal, Toni Nadal told to the world that he talks to Rafa during matches and sees nothing wrong with it, because he figures he shouldn’t have to hide anything at his age.  Look, it’s common knowledge that Nadal, like some other players, receives illegal coaching from the stands.  And you could argue that such coaching frequently has little impact on the outcome of a match.  But nobody wins when Toni Nadal announces that he has no problem being a cheat – and as the generally willing recipient of his instructions, one could argue so is his nephew by extension.  Such an admission shows disrespect to the ATP and its rules.  It shows disrespect to Nadal’s opposition.  It teaches young up-and-comers that it’s okay to cheat, and most importantly, it hurts Rafa Nadal.  As previously noted, Rafa is no doubt one of the best in the history of the game, and he doesn’t need to use cheap tricks to accomplish great feats.  Utilizing illegal tactics should be beneath him and his camp, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.  Though unlikely, it would be nice if after this admission, the ATP would enforce some sort of discipline on the older Nadal to show that nobody, no matter how big the star they coach or their age, is above the rules.

Back for More

The terrorizing doll Chucky is making a return to movies, and as it happens, so is the woman Mary Carillo once referred to as Chucky, Martina Hingis.  Whether to promote her relatively recent clothing line, provide a distraction from the cheating allegations leveled at her by her estranged husband, or just for love of the game, the newly-elected Hall of Famer is planning to team with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia at the Southern California Open.  Hingis continues to show that she has great hands around the net, and veteran Hantuchova has also proven worth her salt in the doubles arena as well.  If this partnership proves successful, perhaps we’ll be treated to a little more enthralling tennis from these two down the road.

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

From Djokovic to Federer, What’s Ahead in the Summer for the ATP Top 5?

Federer, Nadal, Ferrer, Murray, Djokovic

(July 16, 2013) With the U.S. Open looming in the near future, what does the summer hard court season hold for the ATP top 5? Nick Nemeroff recaps the players’ recent results and gives an outlook into the season going forward.

Roger FedererRoger Federer: World No. 5

2013 has been quite the lackluster season for Roger Federer. The Swiss has only one title to his name (Halle), and has failed to reach the final in all five of the tournaments where he entered as the reigning champion. Federer is 1-5 against the top 10 this season, including two demoralizing losses to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells and the final of Rome.

In all of Federer defeats this season (Andy Murray, Julien Benneteau, Tomas Berdych, Nadal twice, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sergiy Stakhovsky), he was entirely unsuccessful in controlling the middle of the court and found it hard to neutralize the offensive weapons of his opponents. Moving forward, I would anticipate Federer to be less inclined with working his way into points, a strategy highly uncharacteristic of the distinctive first-strike tennis which guided him to 17 grand slams.

Federer’s summer schedule is highly dense as he has entered Montreal, Cincinnati, and of course, the U.S. Open. But what has come as a bit of a surprise to many, Federer is playing on the clay of Hamburg and Gstaad in what appears be an effort to get more match play in before the hard court stretch and to gain back some of the confidence he lost earlier in the season.

Rafael NadalRafael Nadal: World No. 4

With Nadal, the lingering questions always revolve around his ever so fragile knees. Following his opening round defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon, Nadal expressed that the stress and pain put on his knees is amplified on grass due to the consistently lower positions he must execute in order to properly strike the ball.

Though the tour is transitioning from grass to hard, Nadal’s knees will continue to be tested. Despite the fact that hard courts yield higher bounces which mean the Spaniard will see more balls in his desired strike zone thus less bending and lunging for lower balls, hard courts are called hard courts for a reason—they are hard—especially on Rafa’s knees.

Before the U.S. Open, Nadal will be playing in both Montreal and Cincinnati, two events that will surely allow him to gauge the status of his knees. If Nadal can remain healthy, as he proved in the seven tournaments he has won in 2013, he can be absolutely devastating. Remember, besides the six clay court tournaments he won, Nadal also won Indian Wells defeating Federer, Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro en route to the title.

David Ferrer_cropDavid Ferrer: World Number 3

David Ferrer has reached the semifinals of 4 of the last 6 grand slams, including a career best run at this year’s French Open where he overcame his grand slam semifinal struggles getting to the final before losing to Nadal.

Undeniably, Ferrer’s premier surface is clay. Ferrer is often praised for his speed, consistency, retrieval abilities, and his fighting spirit. The narrative around Ferrer often clouds one of the most overlooked and important aspects of his game that being his aggression. For one of the smallest guys on tour, Ferrer really injects a mountain of energy into each and every shot and certainly can put a significant amount of pace on the ball.

Ferrer will be less inclined to grind on hard courts and as a result, his underestimated finishing power should be on full display.

Andy MurrayAndy Murray: World No. 2

Regardless of what Andy Murray does for the rest of the season, his 2013 will be remembered for his triumph at Wimbledon. Despite it being one of the most bizarre tournaments any of us have ever witnessed, the British fans’ 77 years of agony finally ended.

The joys of success must be quickly celebrated as Murray has a whopping 2000 points to defend from his U.S. Open title last year. Murray should feel less pressure in the U.S. Open warm-up even tournament as he only has 180 points to defend in Montreal and Cincinnati.

Over the past several years, Murray’s game has evolved leaps and bounds under the careful supervision of the ever stoic Ivan Lendl. In prior years, Murray game was characterized by inexplicable passivity and constant mental battles. Today, Murray has flip the switch on that characterization and has learned to better control the myriad of thoughts running through his head and utilize his powerful groundstrokes in a manner that is more proactive rather than reactive.

Look for Murray’s second serve to be a key shot as he looks to defend his U.S. Open crown especially if he ends up facing either Ferrer or Djokovic, two of the best returners in the game.

Novak DjokovicNovak Djokovic: World No. 1

Shock and disbelief were coursing through my veins during the Wimbledon final as Novak Djokovic put forth one of the most substandard performances of his career. Coming from a guy who usually steps up in the biggest moments and has ice running through his veins, Djokovic surely was not expecting such an outright defeat.

Having lost two of his last three major finals to Murray, the Serbian will enter the hard court swing looking to restore the form that catapulted him to the number one ranking, a level of play far distant from what we saw in the Wimbledon final.

The next several months will be a key stretch for the Serb as he looks to maintain a grasp of the top ranking. In 2012, Djokovic won Canada and reached the final of Cincinnati and the U.S. Open meaning he has serious points to defend.

Andrea Petkovic Dishes on Her Most Embarrassing Moment, Her Greatest Strength and Her “Other Big Love”

Andrea Petkovic Nurnberg 2_600

(June 12, 2013) Possessing one of the most charming and entertaining personalities in professional tennis, former world No. 9 Andrea Petkovic is back on her way up. [Wednesday gallery at bottom]

Riddled with injuries during her career, she admitted earlier this week that she briefly contemplated retirement after a tough loss during the French Open qualifying rounds. Her coach lovingly laughed it off, and the 25-year-old German followed up her heartbreak by winning the following tournament in Marseille, en route not dropping a set.

With a wild card entry into this week’s WTA event in Nurnberg, Petkovic took out countrywoman and long-time friend Julia Goerges on Wednesday, and will return to the top 100 for the first time since the fall of 2012. The last time previously that Petkovic was outside the top 100 was in June 2009, where a similar run in Marseille again launched her back into the top 100. It was also announced today that Petkovic has been granted a main draw wild card for this month’s Wimbledon Championships.

After her win over Goerges in Nurnberg, Petkovic sat down to dish on her funniest fan encounter, most embarrassing moment involving a certain tennis legend, and what she would be doing if she weren’t a tennis player. Learn more about the always smiling “Petko” below!

What is your most memorable tennis moment?
My most memorable tennis moment is probably the first time I played quarterfinals in a Grand Slam (at the 2011 Australian Open). I beat [Maria] Sharapova in the fourth round, and it was a really really good match of mine. She didn’t play her best definitely, but I played really well.

How did you first start playing tennis, or what is your earliest tennis memory?
My dad is a tennis coach, so he brought me to tennis. My earliest tennis memory is at the club where I played. There was also field hockey there and all the cool girls were playing hockey, and I was hitting balls against the wall with my tennis racket. (Laughs)

What is your greatest strength?
I think my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness, as it is often in life. Because I am very ambitious, people sometimes say I’m over ambitious. I’m never satisfied with the way I play, with the way I win matches. I always want more, which is really good for tennis. But sometimes it can also be very bad for my body, as everybody could see with my injuries. I think I learned from it, but I still try to keep this ambitious (attitude).

What is the strangest or funniest encounter you have had with a fan?
Oh, I just had a really nice encounter! There were actually three or four fans and they all dressed up as me. (Laughs) They had these wigs and it was now in Paris. They gave me a book where they had all the pictures they collected of me, I think, over the last three or four years. And they called themselves the “crazy-razzis” because I’m Petkorazzi. They were really nice girls.

What is your most embarrassing tennis moment?
There are so many! Well, I think the most embarrassing is definitely when I played against [Vera] Zvonareva (in the fourth round) at the 2010 US Open night session on Arthur Ashe stadium. And before my warm-up, John McEnroe came to me and he was like, “Good luck, Petko.” I was so nervous. He said to me, “I’m going to be commentating on your match.” I was so nervous that I lost 6-1, 6-2. I didn’t put in one ball! I was just thinking about John McEnroe during the entire time of the match!

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
I would definitely invite Gael Monfils, Novak Djokovic because he’s really funny, and Ana Ivanovic for the beauty.

If you were not a pro tennis player, what would you be doing?
That’s a good question. Well, I studied literature and philosophy and also had some interest in journalism, so maybe I would have gone to journalism school. But there was a big chance I could have studied law as I was also very interested in law.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I would definitely learn to draw because I think I’m a big big fan of art and I always love to go to museums and galleries. I picture myself in a nice garden with the sun, doing expressionist art. But unfortunately, I cannot draw at all, so I would love to be able to draw.

What is the one thing that scares you?
After my injuries, I definitely have to say, more injuries because it was the toughest time in my life. I love tennis so much and it was just taken away from me. That was one of the most bitter memories in my life, so I’m definitely afraid of injuries.

What are two things you could not live without?
Definitely, definitely my family is one because I’m very close to my family, especially my sister. And on the other hand, I couldn’t live without books because they are my “other life” that I live. I really like to read and I always carry three or four books around with me. That’s my other big love.

What is the most extravagant thing you ever bought with your tournament prize money?
I’m not a big buyer of designer (things) but I really like the Helmut Lang jacket. And after I played the quarters at the US Open, I bought it, and it was quite expensive – I won’t tell the price! But I’m still happy with it, although I never wear it because I don’t it to be dirty! (Laughs)

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?
After my injuries, I really don’t have any goals. I just take it day by day, and I’m so happy to be back on court and just be playing. I’m just trying to find my old strength again and feeling good on court, and that’s all!

Wednesday match play photos by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.

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