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NADAL STILL THE HEAVY FAVORITE AT ROLAND GARROS

As the quarter-finals at the French Open are set to begin Tuesday in Paris, all eyes will be focused on front-runner Rafael Nadal. When looking at the remaining men left in the draw, this guy is the overwhelming favorite.

World-number two Nadal is the four-time champion and has been on-fire once again this year on clay. Undefeated on the dirt so far this year, he won all three Masters 1000 level clay-court tournaments and appears to be once again unbeatable at RolandGarros. A match against clay-specialist Nicolas Almagro might push him to four sets, but a quick victory in three is still likely.

His next opponent will be Novak Djokovic who could test him for sure – test him, but ultimately not defeat him in Paris. Djokovic faces Jurgen Melzer, a first time Grand Slam quarter-finalist. This is, in fact, Melzer’s first time past the third round of a major. Time for a reality check against Djokovic.

In the top-half, world number-one Roger Federer will face Robin Soderling in a rematch of last year’s final. Soderling looks to be playing quite sharp and will not have the same nerves he did a year ago versus Roger. While Federer has stepped it up once more in a Grand Slam, I think he’s going to face a stiffer test from Soderling this time. Soderling is his most difficult opponent in this tournament thus far and I think we could see a four or five set battle between them. Roger should prevail – but do not count out the upset factorwith Soderling. He is the only man to have ever defeated Nadal at this tourney.

Somewhat forgotten is the match between Mikail Youzhny and Tomas Berdych. Flip a coin in this one folks, it could go either way. Berdych has just knocked off fourth seeded Andy Murray, while Youzhny advanced when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired after just one set. I give Berdych the edge here as it seems he may finally make-good on some of that potential we have all been talking about for years. This is only the second Grand Slam quarter-finalof his career.

Ultimately everyone is no-doubt hoping for a Rafa vs Roger final. That is the most competitive final we can hope for, but even then the odds are heavily stacked inNadal’s favor. For now, enjoy some true competition as we build towards the final on Sunday.

AROUND THE CORNER: MEN READY FOR BATTLE IN INDIAN WELLS

Alright everybody it’s time again for some tennis that really matters at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Both the ATP and WTA Tour’s are in the house and that should make for a great week of coverage for our sport. This has always been a terrific event and it set the record for attendance outside of a Grand Slam event in 2008 with over 300,000 spectators during a twelve day period.

Let’s have a look at the men’s draw and see how things shape up.

Roger Federer is back on the scene for the first time since his Australian Open title at the end of January. The world number one has just overcome an apparent lung infection and coupled with his recent inactivity I don’t think we should expect all that much from him. Yes, he will likely make it deep into the draw, but I would be surprised if Roger made it past the semi-finals here this year. Roger gets a first round bye as do all thirty-two seeded players in the tournament. His first capable opponent could be Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Also in the top-half of the draw are the two Andy’s – 4th seeded Murray and 7th seeded Roddick. Murray tanked in Dubai in his only appearance since losing in the finals of the Aussie Open to Federer, while Roddick has played a fairly heavy schedule on the hard-courts of North America.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also lurks in the top-half while David Nalbandian seems ready to return to tournament play. Coming back in February after nine months away from the game due to hip surgery, Nalbandian withdrew before his third round match in Buenos Aires with a leg injury. The talented Nalbandian played the role of hero this past week in Davis Cup play as he closed out a victory over Sweden with a four set win over Andreas Vinciguerra. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, look for Nalbandian to quickly return to his typical top-twenty form.

The bottom-half of the draw contains 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic who recently defended his title in Dubai and seems poised for a bigger result here on the Masters Series stage. Right behind him is 3rd seed, Rafael Nadal, who returns to the tour after a recurring knee injury forced him to withdraw in Australia where he trailed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. Expectations are low for Nadal as he has been away from the game for over a month and let’s just hope he can finish the tournament on his own terms. Defending his title in India Wells from 2009 is simply not going to happen.

Playing on fire so far this year and also in the bottom section is hard-serving John Isner of the United States and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Isner won his first career title in Auckland in January and then was a finalist in Memphis, while Ferrero won back-to-back clay events in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Also worth watching is Nikolay Davydenko who is likely still kicking himself for self-destructing against Federer in Melbourne and youngster Marin Cilic who made the semi-finals down-under and is ready to assert himself as a top-level threat in every event he enters.

I feel that with players like Federer, Nadal and Davydenko dealing with recent injuries or illnesses we are in for a Djokovic/Roddick final in Indian Wells. Those are my picks in the ATP World Tour Fantasy Challenge that begins Thursday at 2pm ET. Who will you choose?

DAVYDENKO’S LONGEST WIN STREAK; TSONGA’S FIRST FIVE-SETTER; FEDERER’S HEWITT RIVALRY IS EPIC

* Nikolay Davydenko has been on a tear of late and now it is officially the best run of his career. The Russian’s almost four-hour 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7(5), 6-3 win over Fernando Verdasco Monday in the Australian Open fourth round was 13th win in a row, besting his previous best ATP winning streak of 12 set last year. “In the fifth set I was fighting my serve, just winning my serve,” Davydenko said. “It was also not so easy beginning [of the] fifth set, but it’s good fighting for me. It was four hours, and some good points in the fifth set.” Davydenko now sets up a highly-anticipated quarterfinal match with world No. 1 Roger Federer, whom he has beaten the last two times after losing the first 12 meetings with the Swiss maestro.

* Against Davydenko, Verdasco served 20 double faults. According to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com) the most double faults ever hit in a me’s match at the Australian Open came when Gerald Patterson hit 29 in 1927. In the Open era Guillermo Coria holds the mark with 23 back in 2006.

* Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has finally played the first five-set match of his career and won it against Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7(6), 9-7, saving two break points at 6:6 in the fifth set. The 24-year-old Tsonga had played 19 four-set-matches prior to this match, posting a 13-6 record, but he surprisingly never extended to five sets. “The last set, I think he was serving unbelievable,” admitted Almagro. “I couldn’t do anything. He’s playing well. I think he has [a] chance to be on the semifinal or in the final.” Before his match against Tsonga, Almagro won six consecutive five-setters and now has a career five-set record of 6-6.

* No. 14 seed Marin Cilic beating No. 4 seed Juan Martin del Potro 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 after 4 hours 38 minutes gave him the distinction of being the only player outside Top 10 who advanced to the men’s quarterfinals. A similar situation occurred last year, then the only seeded player outside Top 10 in the last 8 was Fernando Verdasco, who was seeded with No. 14 as well. Verdasco’s higher-seeded victim was also the No. 4 seed, Andy Murray, whom he also defeated in five sets.

* Roger Federer has improved his record against former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt to 17-7 with his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win Monday night, his 15th consecutive wins against the Aussie future Hall of Famer. The Federer-Hewitt rivalry is the seventh longest head-to-head in the Open era in terms of number of matches. The top 10 are as follows

36 – Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe (21-15)
35 – Lendl vs. Jimmy Connors (22-13)
35 – Boris Becker vs. Stefan Edberg (25-10)
34 – McEnroe vs. Connors (20-14)
34 – Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi (20-14)
27 – Edberg vs. Lendl (14-13)
24 – Federer vs. Hewitt (17-7)
22 – Sampras vs. Todd Martin (18-4)
22 – Agassi vs. Michael Chang (15-7)
21 – Becker vs. Lendl (11-10)
21 – Federer vs. Andy Roddick (19-2)
21 – Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic (14-7)

Caroline Wozniacki Talks About Her Life

The US Open so far has been very surprising. Especially the women’s side of it. Yanina Wickmayer in the semi’s, Kim Clijsters making a strong come back, Caroline Wozniacki finally made her long awaited breakthrough and the big surprise of the tournament is ofcourse Melanie Oudin.  Oudin taught a lot of players some Russian. Steam course too.

It’s remarkable and amazing how far Oudin got in the tournament. But every tournament has such a story. A player coming in from nowhere being the underdog all of a sudden starts taking out big names.  It worked for Pete Sampras back in 1990, Marcos Baghdatis did it and so did Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Other remarkable things that happened during the tournament was the guy who kissed Rafael Nadal.  We had streakers at Wimbledon and many more wacky things. But a guy kissing another guy on court. Yah that was baffling.  Even though he made a lot of fans jealous, the kiss man is going to be charged for what he did. But what a stunt. I wonder how he got past security.  That’s something the US Open will have to work on.  But then again, it’s these kind of events that gives a tournament that little extra sensation.

Ofcourse how can you forget about the marketing machines revolving around the US Open.  We ,  at TennisGrandstand ,  have got many many press releases sent to us before the US Open even started.

Some of the pressreleases are really really good.  For instance the one they sent us about Caroline Wozniacki. It’s a three part video series where she talks about her life.

Enjoy the videos and the rest of the US Open tournament. The tournament which again is filled with many surprises.

For more Caroline talks and Caroline videos please visit: http://www.tennisgrandstand.com/archives/8203

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Random French Open Thoughts

The fun for viewers is seeing who makes the French Open as wild cards, who often become tomorrow’s top players.  Look at Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who a while ago nearly won the Australian Open as an unseeded player!  Look at him today advancing at Roland Garros with a great win over Juan Monaco.

I hate how experts judge the wild cards on TV, “He doesn’t stand a chance against (fill in the blank).”  How do you know if the person doesn’t, having never played someone?  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Unless someone’s playing a No. 1 or No. 2 players, why not?  And a No. 1 could possibly lose to an unseeded player.

Last year, I met a young gentleman normally playing doubles with the unfortunate experience of playing his first time as a singles player at the U.S. Open – against Roger Federer.  Talk about bad luck of the draw.  He did his best putting up a fight when he could’ve given up at the beginning.

On a positive, I’ve noticed a return of good commercials a la The Super Bowl in the Novak Djokovic in the stands gimmicks.  He’s very funny and natural in them, making me wonder how we could miss out on him as a sponsor.  It’s a very nice change from the boring silent commercials
with court clips.

Enjoy the French Open, wild card fans!  If you hurry to the right side of the stands, you may find a nice puppy dog balloon, gifted from Novak for your girlfriend…