volley

Clijsters and Venus Serve up Spectacular

Well, given Venus’ penchant for a double fault last night I’m not too sure if that is the correct title.

Fans of beautiful tennis may not have been heavily impressed by the first two and a half sets but those who appreciate sheer guts and determination would have been gripped to their TV sets like never before.

The sporting cliché “refuses to lay down and die” was whipped out by both players who looked like two ageing stars playing their last Slam in terms of grit and determination to stay in the competition.

Then, with Clijsters 4-3 and 30-0 up in the third set the match exploded in to one of the most breathtaking and clinical displays of tennis seen this fortnight.

Venus showed some trademark Williams grit and clawed her way back to 4-4, courtesy of a horrifying Clijsters miss with an over-hit volley.

At this point it looked curtains for Belgian Kim. Surely her wits were abandoning her and it was time to return to baby Jada while Williams slugged it out with Vera Zvonereva for the title? Not a chance!

Putting pressure on Venus’ serve Kim began finding some impossible angles with that backhand and then produced one of the most sumptuous lobs I have ever witnessed to fight back and put Venus to the sword.

At 5-4 and Clijsters serving for the set Venus looked perilously close to tears. She, more than anyone else, was wondering how this had happened.

Venus had looked dominant taking the first set off the two-time defending Champion and when Clijsters threw away a 2-0 lead in the second it looked like Venus was to stride home in straight sets.

But Kim showed the fighting spirit which has epitomised her comeback from becoming a mother and those who claim that tennis now plays second fiddle to her family probably haven’t watched her play too often. This was definitely pride in tennis. A pride in her career and a will to give Jada something to be immensely proud of as she grows older.

The records are waiting for her. She is now unbeaten in 20 consecutive US Open matches which equals Venus’ best effort as well as Monica Seles, Margaret Osborne du Pont and Martina Navratilova. Only Chris Evert stands ahead of her on 31. Three more titles Kim and then you can stop.

Awaiting her is Wimbledon finalist Zvonereva who is gunning for her first Slam. Kim has a 5-2 record over the No. 7 seed but Vera has won both matches since Kim’s return to the tour.

A few people are backing Vera after she toppled the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki but for me it is written for Kim to lift this. I have been wrong (many times) before but I will be gunning for Kim to keep the flag flying for working mothers above Flushing Meadows.

“I just tried to make the points and when I felt I had an opportunity to step up and accelerate I tried to take advantage,” Clijsters said in typical modest fashion.

But play it down all she likes this girl is dynamite. And come 3am tomorrow morning (British time) Kim will be lifting her third consecutive crown and taking all the plaudits once more.

Zvonereva is a quiet player with efficient and effective shot selections. She has snuck in to this final through the back door as all the talk has been of other stars. This makes her extremely dangerous. But Kim knows all about doing that from last year’s Championship. This will give her the upper hand and she’ll be too much for young Vera.

Kim to take it in three.

Legg Mason QFs: Press Conferences & Analysis of Berdych, Verdasco, Baghdatis, Nalbandian

It’s quarterfinals Friday here at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC and the last eight singles players were all in action today vying for a spot in the semifinals. Two upsets were in full-effect as we saw the #1 seed Tomas Berdych go down as well as #3 seed Fernando Verdasco.

The first match of the day was between top seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Belgian Xavier Malisse.

The match saw a surprise winner in Malisse, ranked #62 in the world, topping Berdych in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. The wind seemed to be the biggest factor in the first set for Berdych as he couldn’t rely on his serve, getting broken twice before going down 1-5. Malisse also outplayed Berdych hitting more winners off both sides. The second set was much closer statistically before Malisse double-faulted allowing Berdych to serve the set out, which he did, fist-pump jumping in the air.

The third set saw two breaks of serve and a bit of drama in the second game. Malisse hit a cross-court forehand that just clipped the line. Expecting it to be a bad call, Berdych challenged. Hawkeye review showed it ‘out’ by less than 1 millimeter, but recall that Hawkeye is only accurate within 3 millimeters. Berdych was, of course, surprised and started walking up to the umpire exclaiming: “That is not accurate! It’s not in and you know it!” Played continued but Berdych was visibly frustrated even into the following point when he pointed again to the mark with his racquet and shook his head. However, Berdych stayed collected enough to win the game. Berdych lost his next service game, followed by three backhand down the line misses bringing the score to 4-1 for Malisse. Berdych has a strong backhand and it seemed to be working for him more than his forehand during the match. But he continually would run around his backhand to hit a forehand and then send it straight into the net because of insufficient backswing. An easy forehand volley into the net by Berdych gave Malisse match point and that it all he needed to break Berdych again and win the match.

Malisse’s press conference was light and quick. He is quickly becoming a favorite presser of mine because of his unexpected easy-going personality. During the first set and some of the second, he was intentionally twisting his right leg and foot as if something was bothering him. I asked him about it and he replied that it was just a small bone under his big toe that flares up from “time to time” but that it wasn’t anything to worry about. It’s more of an “annoyance” than any real injury. He also reflected that he was “returning well” in the first set and that the “third set was one of the best sets I’ve played.” He responded to a question asking about the quick time turnaround from yesterday’s matches lasting until the early morning hours and starting today already at noon. He replied that he much more preferred to play at noon than at 3 P.M. when the heat was stronger.

Berdych was up next and his interview was much more telling of his condition. He came in sulking and looked disappointed. I thought it was because of his performance today. It was, but there was more to the story. He said that he felt “sleepy” in the entire first set and that’s why his serve was broken twice. Mind you, his match yesterday finished around the same time as Malisse’s but he did say he finally got to bed at 2 A.M. His next comment then stopped me in my tracks because of it’s honesty. He was hoping that being the #1 at a tournament you would have a better schedule than this. Being up first today after playing so late into the night yesterday frustrated him and he expressed his disappointment in the tournament. He was then questioned if he had taken this issue up with the staff and he simply said: “No. But maybe I’m not going to come next year. If you like the tournament, if you like the place, then you always want to come back. But if you get an experience like that, we will see.” I have to agree with him here. He was the #1 seed and he wasn’t even scheduled on stadium court or grandstand because other Americans were still in the draw. He was on an outside court and the atmosphere is very different there, more intimate but trickier with the noise. Recall that yesterday he stated he doesn’t enjoy night matches because of the lights. But he didn’t like being up first either. The best solution would probably have been to put him up first for the night session instead.

The second matchup of the day featured #3 seed Fernando Verdasco and #8 seed Marcos Baghdatis, who dueled it out in a tight two sets before Baghdatis come out on top, 7-6(3), 6-4.

The match lasted just 1 hour and 42 minutes, but it felt much longer with the heat and inconsistent play from both players. Considering how long these two players have been on tour, it was surprising that this was their first meeting. Neither player went on any real ‘run’, neither served well and the changing wind didn’t help either. The first set tiebreak alone saw several double faults from both players. In the second set, Verdasco seemed frustrated as he sent ball after ball either straight into the net or flying past the baseline.He couldn’t quite find his rhytmn in his return game either, especially on the backhand side. Play was inconsistent and it was very tough to read tactics. The turnaround point came when Verdasaco sent a deep forehand down the line to pull Baghdatis back — almost to the stadium banners — which Baghdatis retrieved and sent across the net. Verdasco then moved in on the ball to send flying, but at the last minute changed his grip and tipped a drop shot across. Baghdatis, however, read the shot (almost before Verdasco had made up his mind), and began running for the net. He guessed correctly, made contact with the ball and put away the crosscourt winner. Baghdatis then broke Verdasco to go up 5-4 and serve out the match, which he did successfully. The best part of the match was something that came right after the last point was won. Baghdatis walked over to the other side of the net, got down on his hands and knees near the service line and kissed the court. He truly loves this game and there is no denying it.

In Verdasco’s press conference, there were a few things of note. He felt that he “didn’t play well” and that it was “tough to play” because the “wind was changing” and the “bounce of the court was irregular.” All in all, he was “not feeling the ball good.” He was asked how last night’s late end affected him today and if he felt tired. He responded that it was indeed a factor with not enough rest. He went further on and said that all week the earliest match starts at 4 P.M. so you wake up, eat, and get to bed much later. Then today, the time was pushed up to the early afternoon and he needed to change when he got up and ate. That change is never easy when your body gets into a rhythm. He also talked about how much he enjoyed the D.C. crowd and that he felt the support right away. He said there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people in this area and it felt great to hear them cheer for him. The last thing he talked about was his upcoming schedule and his plans post-US Open. He talked about wanting to do well in Toronto next week and improving on his first round loss in Cincinnati last year. He also wants to make a better appearance at the US Open by going beyond his quarterfinal appearance last year. “I push myself to be in [the] best shape.” He then went on to say that he will take some time off after Flushing Meadows to workout. And hopefully take a well-deserved vacation, but he didn’t say.

Baghdatis’ press conference came after his doubles’ loss with partner Stanislas Wawrinka, but he was still in a happy mood. Even in the doubles match, he was enjoying the absolutely packed stands on Grandstand court and he flourished with the cheers from the crowd. In the interview room, he was candid and smiling, making eye-contact with each questioner. He was first asked about what was tough about the match. He responded: “Everything.” He said that playing at night was not the same as the day because the humidity changed in D.C. He also said it different playing on Stadium versus an outside court and that “today I felt like the balls were flying a bit so I couldn’t control them very well.” He also recently changed coaches and has been in the ‘new’ partnership for only two weeks now. I put ‘new’ in quotes because it is the same coach he had when he was 17-20s years old, “so it’s not a big change for me.” In fact, he said, it’s “perfect.” Something that players have been getting asked since Andy Roddick crashed out last night was their thoughts on the American men falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 1973. He gave a heartfelt answer saying that playing this high caliber tennis is very tough and takes a lot of energy. But this was golden: “I didn’t know it was th first time since 1973 … That’s a long time!” He feels fit and healthy and ready to move on to the next challenge.

The third singles match of the day was between Roddick-killer Gilles Simon and wildcard David Nalbandian, who was playing in his first tournament since April due to an injury.

Nalbandian came out on top with a score of 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 but not without plenty of drama and superb shot-making. Simon came out swinging and took a commanding lead to go up 3-0, breaking Nalbandian’s service game easily. Nalbandian was only able to win one point on Simon’s serve. It seemed that this match would be over quickly. However, Nalbandian pushed it up a gear and won the next three games. Things were starting to heat up, but Simon was still playing more solidly and moving better than Nalbandian. Nalbandian had only lost 9 games in the entire tournament going into today’s match, so the scoreline was staggering when Simon took the first set 6-3 in just 33 minutes. But, just as quickly as Simon had won the first set, he lost the second. There were four breaks of serve before Nalbandian went up 4-1. He was starting to look like the strong precise hitter we know, and the points won on his first serve nearly doubled in the second set. He began to play more freely and was very solid at the net. Nalbandian understood the pressure he put on his opponent and knew when to execute approach and drop shots. He also found the angles exceptionally well flustering his opponent to start yelling in French into the sky. In fact, both players were yelling and cheering themselves on, bringing more inspiring play onto the court, and getting the crowd even more involved.

The beginning of the third set saw the best tennis of the day so far. As quick and adept as Simon is, it was surprising that Nalbandian came out the winner on the night’s longest rally. Both continued hitting the ball incredibly low and quick, Nalbandian penetrating the back corners with precision each rally. On one rally Simon sent a deep shot that would normally be a winner and followed it up to the net. Nalbandian read his movement and sent a beautiful overhead lob past Simon that hit the baseline. Simon scrambled to get back but the ball bounced out of his reach. Nalbandian was on fire, taking a 2-0 lead, and couldn’t miss. But then, he did.Simon put away a tricky forehand volley and Nalbandian seemed to be running out of steam. The score evened at 2-all. Then, all momentum was lost seeing each player dominate for a few points before being easily defeated the next, and on each other’s serves. In the ninth game, Nalbandian was serving for the match and he started hitting forehand bombs and took a chance on every shot. He closed the match with two aces. This is Nalbandian’s first time in a semifinal this year and it was well-deserved.

Gilles Simon unfortunately never made it to do the press conference, but it came as no surprise. He was fiery and irritated with himself in the second and third sets and clearly his head was not in the right place at the end of the match. He has great shot-making abilities from the baseline and his backhand finds angles on the court to stress his opponents. His serve was inconsistent and probably proved to be his downfall as he became more agitated with himself.

Nalbandian was caught up with the television crews, but eventually made it over for an interview with the media. He was easy-going even playing with his phone when he first came in. He joked about having to actually HOLD the microphone as he spoke. It was entertaining. He then got down to answering questions. He spoke about picking his game up in the second set and serving better: “When you’re serving good it is much easier to play more offensive.” He also mentioned that although he is not 100% healthy, he is “feeling good enough” and takes it as a positive. “I try to win every match I play.” It was also his first time in D.C. and he was asked why he decided to come back here: “I wasn’t playing enough tournaments and I needed to play matches to be prepared for Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open. I just enjoy every time I play.”

The last match of the day was between Serb Janko Tipsarevic and Croat Marin Cilic.

Cilic held the 4-0 head-to-head prior to coming into the match and he followed it up with a 7-6(4), 6-4 win tonight. Both players held their serve in the first set and were pretty even. For a guy that measures in at just 5’11’’, it was surprising to find Tipsarevic still getting even lower on his backhand side. Tipsarevic let the tiebreaker slip away from him when he loss a crucial point at 3-all that ran both players into all corners of the court for the most exciting rally of the day. In the second set, Tipsarevic continued playing more defensively but putting an insane amount of topspin on his forehand. But it was to no avail as he seemed to be just trying to keep up with Cilic’s movement and coverage. At 3-4 ad-out, Tipsarevic challenged a ball still in play that he thought was long, but he was wrong and lost his service game. Both players then held serve before Cilic held three match points before he finally converted on the fourth attempt. Since the match finished late and because of the tough scheduling from yesterday, neither player came for media interviews. Both players put in a valiant effort that saw Cilic come out the victor.

The day was full of suspenseful matches that saw the top two seeds go down in surprising fashion. The top seed left in the tournament is Marin Cilic who will face David Nalbandian Saturday evening at 7 P.M., while Xavier Malisse will face Marcos Baghdatis at 1 P.M. for a spot in the finals.

Day 2 of Legg Mason – Roddick, Fish, Berdych & Benneteau Practice Shirtless, Isner Gets Lost, Verdasco & His Twin

The last day of qualifying and the first day of the main draw here at the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament in Washington, DC has come and gone. With it, we welcome six well-deserved qualifiers to an already full list of notable names lined up in the main draw. Let’s recap some of the excitement around the practice courts today!

  1. The first practice session I walked into was the world #1 doubles’ pairing of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor. Sometimes fans are so focused on the top singles players, we forget how truly amazing the top doubles’ game is. As I was watching Nestor hit from the baseline and Zimonjic volley, I was struck by two things: Nestor’s lefty forehand is strikingly powerful and Zimonjic’s forehand volleys are so precise and crisp. I started wondering how these guys weren’t better singles players in their time.

  1. As I was snapping their pics, John Isner was roaming the grounds behind me until he appeared to my left. “There he is!” yelled Isner, pointing to Nestor, “What court is this?” Nestor jokingly replied: “You’re on the other side, aren’t you? Isn’t that where the big guys hang out?” Cue crowd laughing.

  1. Nestor obviously knows his way around the grounds unlike Isner, who continued looking for his court until he nearly made a round-trip back to where he started. But then we got a glimpse of the big man in his yellow ‘Livestrong’ t-shirt. I had forgotten how extended his elbows are when he makes contact with the ball on the backhand side. Look unreal!

  1. He was in good spirits, but it took him a while to loosen up his right shoulder. Hopefully it’s not an indication of any kind of injury. Isner then took on his coach in a game utilizing only the cross-court backhand slice. First one to hit out loses, and they played some points. The video below is some of the fun footage.

  1. Radek Stepanek was waiting for his court by doing some in-place running drills, swinging his arms while increasing the speed.

He practiced with Xavier Malisse who had a first round match later that afternoon, which he ended up winning in three sets. Nothing really of note on their practice other than the fact that Stepanek was sporting a red, white and blue racket. Looked like he was supporting Team USA — isn’t he Czech?!

  1. Other notable players waiting for a court: Tomas Berdych, Julien Benneteau, Benjamin Becker and Rendy Lu.

Berdych seemed to be the only one actually stretching. Maybe that’s how you get to be the #1 seed in a 500-level tournament like Legg Mason. Boys, take notes!

  1. When Berdych walked over to the middle court, he promptly took off his t-shirt. And it stayed off the entire practice. The sun was fairly strong but not strong enough to burn from it. He then seemed to dare Benneteau to take his off as well, which he willingly accepted. For such tall slender-looking men, they are very fit and lean. Their practice session covered all the shots and when they took breaks, they chatted up a storm, along with Berdych’s coach.

  1. The next stop in my day was one of the best sights I have yet to see in tennis. Andy Roddick was taking on Mardy Fish in a grueling set. Recalling that Fish had recently beaten Roddick in Atlanta, this was any tennis fan’s highlight. Fans were pouring in on all possible sides and I was lucky enough to get a bird’s eye view to catch all the action. There were laughs, jokes, yelling, high-fiving, and, as the theme of the day seems to be, both were shirtless as well. Sidenote: Roddick’s left, yes, LEFT arm is ripped! Mardy Fish, on the other hand, is looking quite slender. Yes, he has lost 30 pounds in the last year, but seeing it in person, I’m starting to think he needs to bulk up a little.

Near the end of their session a hilarious moment occurred to top it all off. Roddick, loving being the center of attention, shot a 1st serve that was a questionable line call. Roddick kept asking what his next serve should be “1st? 2nd? 1st? 1st?” wanting to try again for an ace. Fish got ready to receive, and then asked: “Wait, 1st or 2nd?” “2nd, 2nd,” Roddick repeated. Fish then moved in closer to the baseline. Unfortunately, Fish doesn’t seem to realize he’s playing against a trickster, and Roddick fired an explosive serve down the line … which Fish miraculously returned while standing just inside the baseline. Roddick followed behind his serve and tried to volley the return, but his attempt went straight into the net. Karma. The crowd roared in laughter. What a sight to behold!

Here’s footage of the best video I was able to capture. This point was brilliant. Roddick was hitting winner after winner, but Fish was able to return each one. His footwork is evident here and the crowd clapped in amazement at the level of both players’ play.

  1. I then made my way over to the Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki practice session on the opposite side of the grounds. Both players looked strong, but were all about business. Seeing as these two speak the same Serbo-Croatian language and played each other in Davis Cup recently, it was surprising to see once again, that not many words were exchanged between the two. I remember them practicing last year with each other, so they must be friends, but on-court, you would think they were simply matched together for a hit due to space constraints. Either way, it was fun to be reminded of the wind-up to Cilic’s serve. It’s surprising his legs muscles are not bigger for the incline he takes in preparation.

  1. I made my way back to the media center at this point to check on the scores of the qualifiers. “Nothing too surprising” I said to myself. I then went on twitter to upload some photos, and guess whose feed came up? Fernando Verdasco. “Going to practice in 30 minutes!” As I was walking up to the media desk to check what court he is slated to practice on, I crossed my fingers that he was actually IN town. To my relief, he was and the media desk did their magic and spewed out a court number to me.

I walked over to the court about 5 minutes before the hour and caught his hitting partner just arriving to the court, dressed in a grey Adidas shirt, white shorts and hat, and black Adidas shoes. I was the first one there and so I sat down and waited. A moment later, I happened to look up to my right, and there was Verdasco, walking in from the parking lot by himself on the other side of the fence. I nearly jumped out of my seat in anticipation.

He walked onto the court coolly and seemed to be in a good mood. He started hitting and then something made me laugh. Verdasco was dressed in the exact same clothes as his hitting partner! Twins! Only difference: Verdasco was in white shoes. Who raided who’s closet, here?!

I was surprised to see that it took about 5-7 minutes for fans to start showing up for his practice. But at the same time it was nice: not crowded, no kids trying to climb over me for a peek, nobody stepping on my toes. All-in-all, a pleasant hitting session to view. The tennis wasn’t bad either. I’m just kidding! I was completely taken aback by Verdasco’s forehand when he started to let it rip! He would hit a few strong forehands and backhands, and then all of a sudden, take flight and practically levitate off the ground with an explosive forehand winner. Each time he did this, “ooohs” and “aaahs” came from the crowd in admiration. By the time I left, it started raining and cut his practice short, but not before showcasing his incredible talent. I’m looking forward to seeing him play this week and expect him to go deep in the draw.

  1. And as a bonus (because I’m so nice), a close-up of hunk Michael Llodra. Shirtless, of course!

Enjoy the day and I will be back later this week with more coverage from Legg Mason. As the main draw begins, I will start focusing more on the actual matches. But don’t worry, the practice courts always have someone on them and I will be there to catch the action as well.

RODDICK OVERCOMES LLODRA IN TESTING ENCOUNTER

By Ritesh Gupta

Witnessing a contrasting duel where one thrives on pace while the other seldom offers the same is something one hardly comes across in the men’s tennis today. Deft touches, exchanges at the net, pulsating half-volleys…all this is a treat to watch especially on the hallowed courts at Wimbledon.

Such contrasting style of play came to the fore as France’s Michael Llodra tested Andy Roddick in the second round at Wimbledon today.

Though Llodra lost 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 6-7 (2-7), the left-hander won many hearts with his skillful play, with class written all over it. It was surely an exquisite performance from Llodra but he couldn’t carry the same form once he lost his serve to loose the second set.

It’s a rare sight to see somebody of Roddick’s calibre being hurried into strokes. Llodra, who won the Eastbourne tournament prior to this championship, posed a serious threat after bagging the first set. Be it for pushing Roddick wide off the court or his display at the net, Llodra produced some immaculate stuff during the initial stages.

To his credit, Roddick, though at the receiving end, hung on. After Llodra fired two aces to finish the first set, he earned two break points in the very first game of the second set. Llodra not only hustled Roddick with chip and charge but he also showed his class with subtle variations in pace to unsettle Roddick. This was perhaps the best chance but Llodra couldn’t break the serve.

The American, who has lost in final thrice here, gradually got into his groove and broke the shackles in the tenth game. An insipid service game from Llodra changed the course of the match. Llodra, who held his service with aplomb till then, came up with uncharacteristic missed drop volley and even Roddick, too, forced an error at a crucial stage with a wonderful low service return, which Llodra failed to retrieve at the net. Roddick made it one set apiece at this juncture.

Thereafter, Roddick sustained the tempo and took control despite facing breakpoints in a couple of games in the third set. He wrapped up the match by pressurising Llodra in the fourth set tie-break, reeling off five points in a row.

Roddick, who came so close to lifting this championship against Roger Federer last year, is surely a contender this year, too. For him, this victory augurs well as Llodra is one of the tougher players to play on grass.

In the run-up to the Wimbledon, Llodra had won eight matches in two tournaments. He had his chances against Roddick but he wilted under the pressure when it mattered the most.

ROGER FEDERER AND RAFAEL NADAL PICTORIAL AT THE MADRID OPEN

And he does it again. Ralf Reinecke managed to capture two of the best players in the world on cam in Madrid.  Earlier this week an interview with Roger Federer it was like he was giving Rafael Nadal a subtle swipe about his clay court dominance.

The interview was on Gototennis.com and Federer has the following to say:

On clay you don’t need a volley or a serve. You just need legs, an incredible forehand and backhand, and to run after every ball. I’m not trying to take anything from Rafa: He has been successful in other surfaces as well. But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game. I’m not saying it’s so simple, but it’s too easy.

Whether or not Federer is right remains to be seen. Until then I would suggest that you enjoy the pics.

[nggallery id=52]

“NO MORE DJOKING ABOUT MY STRENGTH” BLASTS NOVAK

Serbian Novak Djokovic and the big Croat Ivan Ljubicic take to the court Wednesday once more to do battle in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open ATP Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells.

It is the fifth time the two will duel over the net and the second this year, Djokovic coming from a set down to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 in Dubai.

In fact, Djokovic has won all four encounters between the two and that first set in Dubai is the only one the bald eagle of Croatia has managed to nip off his younger and more flexible opponent.

I watched match-up number three between these two, the first round of the 2009 US Open in New York. Sitting courtside in the blazing mid-afternoon heat I watched a man many were tipping as favorite dismantle his older foe without too much trouble in straight sets.

I had been talking the match up beforehand citing it as one of the potential big upsets of the early tournament matches. How disappointed I was when play came to fruition. Not so much with Djokovic. His tantalizing service game was too much for a man who often uses that weapon himself. But on this occasion Ljubicic’s serve was abandoning him and nearly every drive and volley was dropping an inch too long.

But it was the controversy with which the match finished that struck me most. With Ljubicic serving at 3-4 a ball dropped questionably close to the outside tramline to hand Djokovic a break and the chance to serve for the match at 5-3. Ljubicic challenged and we all sat with baited breath awaiting the all-seeing Hawkeye’s decision.

And waited.

And waited.

Hawkeye was asleep. So the players took up their positions once more to replay the point. “Game Djokovic,” came the booming voice of the umpire over the tannoy. Djokovic wasn’t going to argue and trotted to his seat. But Ljubicic was seething and launched in to an angry protest which lasted a good few minutes.

After the Croat was finally pacified play resumed and Djokovic served out the match.

Interestingly, I noticed that for the rest of the tournament the message “In the event of Hawkeye failing the official’s call will stand” was emblazoned on the big screens during breaks in play. I’m not surprised after that drama.

At 30, time is getting on for Ljubicic and his quest for a Grand Slam is coming to an end. His semi final placing at the 2006 French Open remains his best result and based on his much younger opponents these days I will put my money on it staying that way too.

Djokovic, however, is still desperately trying to add to his 2008 Aussie Open crown. At 22 he is still very young and with time and improvements on minor aspects of his game he will surely do so.

That victory over Ljubicic last autumn was a welcome one for the 6 ft. 2 in. Serb. Having received criticism for his perceived feigning of injury, too many early retirements from matches and a lack of respect shown for opponents through his jibes and impressions on court, he won over a lot of fans with his new more serious on-court demeanour.

“I’m in the transition,” Djokovic had said earlier that year. “It’s not easy because I’m very emotional. Some things really hurt me, and maybe I express myself a little bit too much – people didn’t get used to that. But at the end of the day, you sit and think to yourself, ‘I’ve reacted the way I felt that’s right.’ Maybe it’s wrong, but you learn from your mistakes. That’s why life is testing us all the time.”

It seems the media and crowds may be warming to him again somewhat. And for a player who obviously takes so much to heart that can only help him take his game back to the level which led him to that first Slam two years ago.

If he keeps this run over Ljubicic going then it will be the winner of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Juan Monaco in the quarters before a possible semi final against Rafa Nadal.

It’s tough going in modern tennis and only the headstrong survive. Only Novak knows if he has the mental stability to march onwards and upwards and that semi final could see a battle of two men that some corners of the media are already beginning to slate as finished despite their tender ages.

Isner Upsets Roddick In An Open Classic

With the crowd against him and Andy Roddick becoming more energized as the match progressed, John Isner dug deep to pull off the biggest upset of his career.

As day turned into night in front of a packed crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Isner hit a staggering 90 winners in his nearly four hour match with Roddick, bringing the crowd to its feet as he advanced into the 4th round with a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5) victory.

“Once I got the first set, I knew that I was in with a chance,” said Isner. “He wore me down and had me on a string when we played a few weeks ago (in Washington D.C.), so I knew I had to be more aggressive in this match.”

The first set went by in straightforward fashion, with each player holding their serve throughout. Isner went down 0-40 while serving at 3-3, but rallied with two aces and a forehand winner to eventually take the game.

A forehand into the net sent Isner down an early mini-break in the first set tiebreaker, but he immediately rebounded with a string of winners. A backhand passing shot gave Isner back the mini-break on Roddick’s serve, and he followed it up with four more consecutive winners to give himself four set points. A missed forehand erased one of them, but a 112 MPH second serve ace on the next point allowed Isner to take the opening set.

“You can’t teach 6’9”,” said Roddick. “He’s serving out of a tree and really dialed in with his ground strokes in that tiebreaker. I don’t know if I really did anything wrong out there. He just hit his spots when he needed to.”

Midway through the second set, with Isner leading 3-2, Roddick mistimed two forehands in a row to send go down double break point. One point later, Isner guided Roddick into the net with a drop shot and then sent a backhand pass up the line to take a 4-2 lead.

The break of serve would be all that the Greensboro native needed. A volley winner while leading 5-3 gave Isner two set points. On his first one, Isner hammered down his 17th ace of the match at that point and took a commanding two set lead.

At 1-1 in the third set, Isner had triple break point on Roddick’s serve after the former US Open champion’s backhand began to betray him. With the crowd now squarely on Roddick’s side, he erased all three points and then hit a 128 MPH ace to deny a fourth chance for Isner to break.

With Isner serving down 3-4, Roddick began to display a retrieving ability normally uncharacteristic of his style. He returned an Isner overhead to force a volley error, giving him two break points. On his second opportunity, Roddick ran down an Isner volley and hit a forehand winner up the line to lead 5-3. He quickly held serve, hitting an ace on his first set point to take the third set.

The effects of the match began to take their toll on Isner. He began moving more slowly and started stretching his left leg during the changeovers. Roddick had a chance to break Isner’s serve at 3-3, but the former NCAA champion bravely knocked off a volley winner and eventually kept the match on serve.

With Roddick serving at 4-5, he hit his first double fault of the match to give Isner a match point. What looked to be the finish ended up being the last point that Isner would win in the set.

A 121 MPH ace by Roddick brought the game back to deuce and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Two more big serves leveled the match at 5-5. With the sold-out stadium chanting “Let’s go Roddick,” Isner appeared overwhelmed by the occasion. He missed two routine forehands and then hit an overhead well beyond the baseline to go down triple break point in the game. A forehand pass by Roddick gave him the break, and he leveled the match at two sets each with a 130 MPH serve.

“I wasn’t too upset about it because there wasn’t anything I could do,” said Isner. “I might have thought about it differently if it was a missed overhead or an easy shot, but he aced me. It was just too good.”

Isner went down 0-30 in his opening service game, but ended his losing streak at 13 consecutive points with an ace, eventually holding serve to start the 5th set. Despite taking an early lead, Roddick still looked fresh as the match wore on, while Isner began gingerly around the baseline, eventually calling for the trainer at 3-2.

“I was cramping a little bit late in the match,” said Isner. “He was definitely the fresher of the two of us out there, but I knew that I was still in the match.”

The two players traded service holds to force a deciding tiebreaker after nearly four hours of play. With Isner up 3-2 on Roddick’s serve, he hit one of his only cross-court passing shots of the day to grab the mini-break and a 4-2 lead.

“That’s when you have to tip your hat,” said Roddick. “I was covering the line because he had been going there all day, and you don’t expect to see a low dipping crosscourt shot at a moment like that.”

A successful serve and volley play on Isner’s second serve, followed by a drop volley winner, gave Isner two match points at 6-3. Roddick removed the first two match points with aces of his own, forcing Isner to serve it out. Coming in behind a short backhand by Roddick, Isner’s first volley forced Roddick to hit a forehand into the net. Isner dropped to the ground in celebration as the crowd rose to their feet, cheering for the arrival of a new American star.

“I don’t know if (the win) has really sunk in yet,” said Isner. “It’s by far the biggest win of my career, hands down. Nothing even comes close. And I kind of knew that if the match went a little bit long, it would turn into a night match and I really wanted to be in that atmosphere. The crowd was giving me goose bumps at times.

Ranked well outside the top 100 just three months ago, Isner will find himself just outside of the top 40 with his first ever appearance in the second week of a Grand Slam.

“If you had told me this would happen a month ago, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Isner. “Being out with mono for a month, you’re not even sure if you’ll be able to play the US Open, let alone do well. You can definitely say I’m a bit surprised by all of this.

With a fourth round showdown against No. 10 seed Fernando Verdasco scheduled for Monday, Isner said he’s looking forward to going even further in the tournament.

“It’s a great win to have, but I still feel like I can do some damage,” said Isner. “I’m not satisfied just yet.”

Kendrick crashes out to Haas in US Open

Coming into the US Open, Fresno native Robert Kendrick hoped to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time, but his dreams were cut short on Thursday morning.

Facing an in-form Tommy Hass, the No. 20 seed in the event, Kendrick was unable to break Haas’s serve while facing break points in over half of his own service games, falling 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3) on the Grandstand court.

“He doesn’t give you very many chances out there, and I wasn’t able to use the ones that I had,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick had two break points in Haas’s first service game to go up 2-0, but Haas saved them both with aces. They were the only chances that Kendrick had in the set as Haas unleashed a flurry of forehand winners, eventually breaking Kendrick at 3-3 and riding that lead to a 6-4 opening set.

An ace by Kendrick on game point at 3-3 was ultimately called a fault after Hawkeye (the electronic challenge system used at the US Open) overruled the call. Two points later, A mistimed lob by Kendrick sent him down 4-3 as he smashed his racket to the ground.

Down two set points at 3-5, Kendrick hit two service winners to win that game and make Haas serve out the set. Kendrick had two points to level the set at 5-5, but a winner by Haas and a mistimed forehand by Kendrick erased them. An ace by Haas on his fourth set point gave him a commanding two set lead.

“That was probably the turning point,” said Kendrick. “If I had won one of those points, anything could have happened.”

Kendrick soon found himself scrambling to stay in the match, fighting off a break point in his opening service game with a 126 MPH ace, and again at 2-2 with a forehand winner. Two groundstroke errors found Kendrick down break point at 4-4, but he hit two service winners to eventually hold for a 5-4 lead. Down break point once more at 5-5, Kendrick hit a volley winner to erase the deficit and eventually hold serve.

The third set tiebreaker was a one-sided affair. A volley into the net sent Kendrick down an early mini-break, and Haas soon took a 3-0 lead. An overhead by Haas on his first match point sent him into the third round.

Kendrick said he will head to Asia next to play a three week series of ATP events in the fall.

Ditty Wins Opening Doubles Match at US Open

With a new coach and training base, American Julie Ditty believes her best tennis still to come.

Playing with Liga Dekmeijere of Latvia, the duo reeled off six consecutive games and held the lead for the entire match as they advanced into the second round of the US Open, defeating the team of American Meghann Shaughnessy and Alicia Molik of Australia, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

“I think Liga and I are a good pair on the court,” said Ditty. “Because I’m left-handed, it helps to play with a right-handed player. I like to set up the points up more for my partner, and she can be aggressive with her shots.”

Dekmeijere and Ditty were playing against a team who are both coming back from long-standing injuries and illnesses, but who have both reached the top 5 in the doubles rankings. Molik is also a two-time Grand Slam winner in doubles (at the Australian Open in 2005 and Roland Garros in 2007).

“It helped me to talk to people who saw them play their match last week in New Haven,” said Dekmeijere. “Of course, I’m focused on my game, but I needed to know some pointers, and what their strengths or weaknesses were.”

After breaking Molik’s serve while leading 3-2, Ditty served for the set at 5-3, only to have her seen broken with a Shaughnessy forehand that clipped the line. In the tiebreak, two overhead winners by Dekmeijere sent the American-Latvian pair up an early minibreak. On their first set point while leading 6-4, a forehand volley winner by Ditty gave the pair the opening set.

Molik held serve in a 9 deuce game to start the second set, but it was the last game the American-Australian duo would win in the match. Finding the range on their ground strokes and volleys, Dekmeijere and Ditty never faced another game point for the rest of the match, as a mistimed forehand by Shaughnessy sealed the match.

Although she has struggled on the singles court in 2009, Ditty has been producing the best doubles result of her career and currently sits at a career high ranking of No. 66. She reached the semifinals in doubles at a WTA event in Auckland and won a round in Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the latter with Dekmeijere. The highlight of her year came during Fed Cup in February, where she helped the US win the final match of their first round tie against Argentina, playing an instrumental role in helping the US Fed Cup team reach the finals this year.

“I still feel like things are getting better and still feel like I’m working towards something,” said Ditty.

Part of Ditty’s improved attitude can largely be attributed to her new coaching situation. Having traveled alone for most of the year, Ditty recently started traveling with a new coach, Carlos Drada. After playing more tournaments than almost anyone on tour last year (36) and spending time training in different cities including Seattle and San Francisco, Ditty moved to Lexington, Kentucky, at the beginning of August and intends to make the city her new base.

“I’m so much happier now,” said Ditty. “I have a great coach and Lexington is really close to my family. It’s great to have everything that I need right there.”

Ditty and Dekmeijere await the winner of a first round doubles between Lucie Safarova and Galina Voskoboeva, and the No. 12 seeds, Vania King and Monica Niculescu.

Video Of Near Brawl At World Team Tennis

John-McEnroe3-WTT

This is Must See TV as Comcast Sports Net shows the near brawl Thursday night as John McEnroe and New York Sportimes nearly go to blows with Leander Paes and the Washington Kastles as seen in this link –  http://www.comcastsportsnet.tv/common/global_flash/player/spe.swf?flv=vidcast_11025&sid=102&d=www.comcastsportsnet.tv. During men’s doubles, the Kastles’ Paes hit Robert Kendrick of the Sportimes with a volley at the net.  Kendrick tagged Paes, who was not the receiver, with a first serve a few points later.  McEnroe and New York coach Chuck Adams crossed the net to exchange verbal volleys with Paes, and received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The Kastles’ bench joined the fray with Olga Puchkova and Rennae Stubbs both being issued code violations and a point penalty for abuse of officials.  The Sportimes pulled out a 5-4 win in men’s doubles and went on to a 20-19 Supertiebreaker victory over the Kastles to extend their Conference lead over Washington to three matches. Read more details about the story by clicking here on the Washington Kastles website – http://www.washingtonkastles.com/teams/article.aspx?article_id=1463