walkover

The Friday Five: Danish Sensation Caroline Wozniacki is Top Seed at US Open

Back on Track – Last week in Cincinnati, Roger Federer righted the ship, going one better than he did in Canada to take the coveted Masters 1000 title. Not surprisingly, many of the pundits have quickly jumped back on the Federer bandwagon, with several of them declaring him the man to beat in Flushing. There’s little doubt that Federer is starting to play the brand of tennis that won him his 16th major earlier this year, and of the top four players in the world, he had the best overall two weeks across Canada and Cincy (though admittedly, he had an easier road than the other three in Cincinnati thanks to a retirement and walkover). So while Federer may not be deserving of the heavy favorite status that was due to him the last few years going into the Open, one would be a glutton for punishment to bet heavily against him winning his 17th Grand Slam singles title in a few weeks time.

The Great Dane – Heading into the US Open where she achieved reaching her first Grand Slam singles final just a year ago, life is looking very good for Danish sensation Caroline Wozniaki. She showed great patience and steady nerves as she waited out the rain to take out Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis and Vera Zvonareva in the finals (dropping just five games in each match!), to take the top tier Roger Cup title. As an added bonus, Wozniaki will enjoy her first stint as the top seed at a Slam, with the honor coming as a result of Serena Williams being forced to pull out of the US Open. While many are still tipping the likes of No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters as more of a threat to take the title, keep an eye on this Dane. With a positive attitude, a steady game, and a great work ethic, a major title could be very near on the horizon.

Return of a Champion – It’s not as early as she and many in the tennis world had hoped, but Serena Williams has announced that she intends to make her comeback later next month in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific Open. Both fans and Serena will get a chance to see how quickly she finds her game after the injury layoff, with eight of the world’s top ten currently entered into the star-studded field. Irrespective of what you feel about her, there’s an undeniable added buzz when she’s in the competition. So enjoy the Open but look forward to what could shape up to be a competitive fall and exciting end to the 2010 WTA season.

In a Flash – The woes of James Blake in 2010 are many and well known, but for one brief match, everything went right for the veteran American. Blake took young Spaniard Pere Riba out of the Pilot Pen in New Haven with the loss of just a single game in what was the fastest match on the tour this year. And while Riba is a man who currently has predominantly made his living on the challenger circuit and is most at home on the dirt, there was some hope that the 35-minute clinic Blake put on in his win over Riba would instill more confidence as he went on to face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Blake in that match, but at least there was something positive to take away from this week. And while it is unlikely that Blake will need any extra motivation as he prepares for the US Open, a venue where he has enjoyed some of his most spectacular moments as a professional, it would be wonderful if he could channel this small positive in New Haven into some vintage Blake play that sees him end 2010 on a respectable high as he heads into what could be a permanent hiatus from the game.

Great Idea – Hats off to the people behind getting the US Open draw televised on ESPN2 with live streaming available on ESPN3.com. The concept of the US Open Series has been a phenomenal hit, with ratings continuing to be strong, and this latest wrinkle only enhances the fan experience leading into Flushing Meadows. Can’t wait to see what feature they incorporate next!

By Maud Watson

The Weekly Debrief – Federer praises Fish; Microphones in player boxes at US Open?

In this week’s Debrief, I catch you up on Sunday’s final in Cincinnati where Roger Federer fistpumped his way into a victory, touch on Mardy Fish’s current mental attitude, update you on the 2012 Olympics, and analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly about a new fan enhancement in effect at this year’s US Open, microphones in the player boxes. Wait, really? Yes. But first …. Federer.

Top Five

Roger Federer is once again the forerunner of this year’s US Open after taking the title Sunday in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. He defeated American Mardy Fish in a tight three-setter, 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 6-4.

What makes Federer’s run in Cincinnati so alluring is that he had only played a total of 37 minutes to reach the quarterfinals, and only 3 hours and 26 minutes to reach yesterday’s final. Compare that to Fish’s time on court prior to the final, 10 hours and 22 minutes, and the disparity is staggering. How could this have happened at a Masters 1000 event? And exactly how lucky is Federer? Well, Fish entered as a wildcard and proceeded to play all six rounds, with his quarterfinal and semifinal matches each going to three sets. Federer, however, had a first-round bye, a second-round retirement victory over Denis Istomin, and a third-round walkover from Philipp Kohlschreiber. Exactly how lucky IS Federer? Well, of the tournament’s four retirements, two came as a direct benefit to Federer.

This was only Federer’s second title of the season, as he had fallen in his last three finals in Madrid, Halle and Toronto.

This is a breakthrough of sorts for a champion whose tennis genius has been challenged by several players this year alone. The wide gap that once existed between the “King” and the rest of the players has diminished, allowing the upcoming US Open to have one of the deepest fields in recent times. Federer could come out crushing in Flushing Meadows, but he could also come out crashing as he did in Wimbledon, struggling from his very first match. Either way, he is fully prepared to attain that coveted trophy again.

Speaking of Mardy Fish, he’s had quite a decorated summer himself. Despite losing to Federer in a match that could have gone either way, he also improved to 2-0 in the year against Andy Roddick and 3-0 against Andy Murray.

His newfound game is most directly a result of his weight loss, but as with any change in a person’s life, their mental attitude tends to be even more telling of their physical state. Take, for example, John Isner’s recent annoyance about “still” being questioned regarding his second-round Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut. Or Francesca Schiavone’s “so over it” attitude concerning how her life has changed after her Roland Garros win this year. Fish, on the other hand, has been constantly questioned about his weight loss and how it’s affected his game. He began his regimen when he went in for knee surgery in September of 2009. He then changed his diet, lifestyle, and obviously mindset because, almost a year later, he still doesn’t mind the reporters and fans asking him the same question about his weight loss. He’s proud of his commitment and it has paid off, why not enjoy it?

In Federer’s presser after his win over Fish, he applauded him for his “great serve,” accuracy and mixing up his shots and pace to keep Federer on his toes. “He’s got a great serve,” Federer remarked. “He keeps you guessing. His first serve is particularly hard to read and get any proper play on it. I saw the stats against Roddick, and he had 95% first serve winning percentage, not only here, but in Atlanta.” Although it looks like Fish will be seeded in the US Open, he will likely be at the top of many people’s lists for a possible upset of any of the top four men in the field.

On the heels of Serena Williams’ announcement that she has withdrawn from the US Open, last year’s men’s titlist, Juan Martin del Potro, has also withdrawn citing a recovering right wrist injury. To most avid tennis fans, this isn’t really “news,” but when it’s officially stated, it still stings.

Del Potro’s only tournament this year came at the Australian Open where he made a run to the fourth round. Currently, at number ten in the world rankings, after the US Open he is expected to drop out of the top 30. No doubt, a plummet in the rankings hurts del Potro’s return. However, it will also alleviate some of the expectations that people have of him coming back and winning every tournament he enters right away. “It would have been a pretty tall task for him to come back and [at] his first tournament be a major player,” said Andy Roddick. “That’s something that’s built up over time.”

So, the ugly injury list continues. We now add del Potro to an already-growing field of withdraws: Mario Ancic, Ivo Karlovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Haas. Here’s to hoping this list doesn’t grow any longer, but with the intensity of today’s tennis game and players being in a perpetual state of injury and pain, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two more players withdrew.

The 2012 Olympics in London are still two years away, but there are already announcements coming from tournament staff concerning the dress code at the tennis games. While Wimbledon is known for its all-white dress attire, the All England Tennis Club has decided to suspend the dress code for the London games which will be played at the same venue. “We have been very supportive to the Olympic organizers throughout the process,” stated AELTC chief executive Ian Ritchie. “We hope to some extent there will be a different type of audience. It is not a repeat of the Championships. It will be its own competition, have its own style and it will play out in its own way.”

Another change will be that only 12 of the available 17 courts will be in use, bringing down crowd capacity from 40,000 to 26,000. The question I have is whether there will still be a desire from fans to watch tennis a mere 20 days after the completion of Wimbledon, especially when there are so many sports at the London Games. The 2012 tennis event will also be the first to have mixed doubles, bringing the medal count to five: men’s and women’s singles as well as men’s and women’s doubles. If nothing else brings in the money, the mixed doubles may. It will be interesting to see possible new pairings such as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, or Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

Last week, the USTA announced that it is expanding its “fan enhancements” for the 2010 US Open. It began with the inaugural US Open National Playoffs earlier this summer and will continue with venue improvements in Flushing Meadows, as well as online.

After reading about all the enhancements, I realized that one stood out unlike the rest. “Microphones in the Players Boxes.” Wait, is this what I think it is? “For the first time, microphones have been installed in the player boxes in Arther Ashe Stadium, which will help viewers get even closer to the emotion and drama of the US Open by adding perspective of the players’ guests as matches unfold.”

Can I admit that I’m a bit surprised this is allowed? As much as I would enjoy getting into the head of a player’s coach or parent, I wonder if every player and their guests are aware of this new “enhancement.” Some players don’t talk about their personal lives much, and many don’t disclose what they need to improve on in their game specifically. This lack of privacy that this new enhancement allows simply can’t be what they signed up for. Although I’m sure there will be player guests and teams that don’t cheer or say much during a match, others are quite vocal. Taking it one step further, who will be monitoring their conversations? The ESPN2 and Tennis Channel staff? They’re already armed with more information than the typical fan needs sometimes, why further disrupt the privacy of a player’s team by granting us access to their guests? I think a line needs to be drawn now or soon there may be a new “enhancement” that forces coaches to wear microphones at all times while they’re coaching so we can get “added perspective” as fans. Come on, enough is enough. Let us just watch what we signed up for: the beauty of the game.

ATP Bonus
Two greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were interviewed by Cincinnati.com junior journalists last week. They ask Rafa how he celebrates after a great win and Roger on his cooking skills. These girls are asking great questions and better than some professional media out there!

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP Tour. We’ve got you covered!

FEDERER NEARS EDBERG RECORD; KUBOT SHINES BRIGHT FOR POLAND

* October 13, 1986 – this is the date when Wojtek Fibak, the best player in history of Polish tennis, was a top 100 player for the last time in his long career. Twenty-three years later, on Nov. 16, 2009, Lukasz Kubot became the second player from Poland to rank in the top 100 in the ATP rankings. In the third round at the Australian Open 2010, a doubles specialist Kubot, got a walkover from Mikhail Youzhny (right wrist) and advanced to his first-ever “sweet sixteen” singles appearance at a major. It’s the best result for a Polish player ever in Melbourne. Fibak, a four-time major quarterfinalist, played only once Down Under, reaching the third round in 1978. Kubot, ranked No 86, is the lowest ranked player in the last 16 this year, with Ivo Karlovic being the second-lowest at No. 39. Kubot will play Novak Djokovic Monday.

* “I started to feel it against [first-round opponent] Gasquet in the last set a little bit,” Youzhny said. “The next day was worse and worse little bit,” said Youzhny of his wrist injury. The Russian wasn’t the only player who did not advance due to injury or illness in the third round. Marcos Baghdatis and Stefan Koubek each retired in their matches after the first set. Koubek because of illness (against Fernando Verdasco), Baghdatis due to right shoulder (against Lleyton Hewitt). It was very tough especially for the Cypriot because he had been in great form winning 17 of last 18 matches. For the first time in tournament’s history three players defaulted in the last 32.

* Roger Federer overcoming Albert Montanes 6-3 6-4 6-4 won his 50th match at the Australian Open. In the history of the tournament only two-time champion Stefan Edberg won more matches – 56. But given the precentage, Federer is better – 50 wins, 7 losses (87%), Edberg 56/11 (83%).

* The two tallest guys on the tour (Ivo Karlovic and John Isner) advanced to the fourth round after thrilling four-setters, and lead in the ace department. The Croatian has already served 93 aces (34, 26, 33 respectively), the American 81 (34, 21, 26). Record holder, Joachim “Pim Pim” Johansson served 126 aces in four rounds five years ago.

* Jarkko Nieminen, the greatest player to ever come out of Finland, lost a heart-breaking second-round match, falling to Florent Serra, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 5-7. The Finn had two match points in the fourth set, but was unable to convert. Serra’s win was his fifth in a row over Nieminen. The Frenchman reached the third round at the Australian Open for the first time in his sixth attempt, but lost handily to Andy Murray.

* Among the five qualifiers who had played in the second round, only the veteran Stefan Koubek (quarterfinalist in 2002) advanced to the last 32 after beating the other qualifier, Ivan Dodig of Croatia. According to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, the farthest a qualifier has advanced in the Australian Open was the semifinals, Bob Giltinan turning the trick in the (December) 1977 Australian Open. After Koubek’s loss to Verdasco, Giltinan remains in the record book.

* James Blake lost his five-set match to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round despite being a break up at the beginning of the final set. The American’s five-set record has slipped 4-13 in his career, with only Ivo Karlovic holding a worse five-set record among active players. The 30-year-old Blake hasn’t yet won in his career in a match that goes beyond 6-6 in the final set, losing on all five occasions, as outlined below.

4-6 7-5 8-10  to Yaoki Ishii – Australian Open 2000, 2nd rd, qualifying match;
3-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 9-11  to Richard Krajicek – Wimbledon 2002, 2nd rd;
7-6(5) 6-0 6-7(2) 4-6 8-10 to Fernando Gonzalez – Davis Cup 2006, QF;
6-4 5-7 9-11 again (!) to Fernando Gonzalez – Beijing 2008, SF;
4-6 7-6(3) 7-5 3-6 8-10 to Del Potro – Australian Open 2010, 2nd rd

* American Robby Ginepri posted a revealing blog on the USTA’s website – www.usta.com. We encourage you to read the entire blog from Ginepri and other Americans, but here is some of what he said; “It’s been almost five years since I reached the US Open semifinals. It looks like maybe I peaked then. I hate to think that, but at some point you have to be realistic. I have to find a way to enjoy my career again. I ‘m not enjoying the travel grind and living out of suitcases as much any more, and it’s getting to me a little. I spent five weeks in Asia and Russia at the end of the fall, and at the beginning of this year I went to India, which was a very long trip, and then took another long trip to Australia, and I regret doing that. I’ve got to take it one day at a time and see if I can get this thing figured out. Playing healthy is the main thing, as it’s no fun to practice and play matches in pain. I’m a young guy at 27, and I stay fit and do the right things, and if things still aren’t working out, it takes a lot of wind out of your sail.”