world cup of soccer

Weekly Debrief: Nadal as King of Outdoors, France & Serbia Win in Davis Cup, Qureshi as a “Hero”

Although the week after a Grand Slam is quieter than most, there was still plenty of action with the semifinals of the Davis Cup seeing France and Serbia winning their respective rubbers in surprising fashion. I also take a look at Rafael Nadal’s greatest weakness. Surprise! He has one! Even after winning 9 grand slams, there is still one thing missing from his collection. We’ll also take a look at Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi’s hero’s welcome in his native Pakistan. Finally, I’ll leave you off with a tip from a friend: it’s an extended (and funnier) version of Roger Federer’s Lindt “Airport” Commercial.

Davis Cup Semifinals Action

As there were no ATP-level tournaments scheduled the week after the U.S. Open, each nation had the opportunity to play their best players in Davis Cup action this past weekend.

For those not familiar with Davis Cup, some commentators and fans don’t see the necessity of the event saying it just adds to the athlete’s already-full schedule or that the event has lost its appeal because of a yearly redundancy. (Imagine if the World Cup of Soccer was played every year instead of every four, it would lose its hype and draw for fans.) The players, however, take a completely different stand in the knock-out event: they love the chance to play as part of a team representing their home country. Where every other tennis event is based off of individual performance, Davis Cup draws on a best-of-five rubbers format that includes 2 singles, 1 doubles, and 2 reverse singles matches. Some players are even known for finding their best game come Davis Cup time.

The main highlight this week was obviously France’s unexpected domination of Argentina, winning all 5 of their rubbers, and Serbia’s come-from-behind mentality to take out the Czech Republic 3-2. The two big players for each winning nation were, Gael Monfils and Janko Tipsarevic, respectively.

France: After Michael Llodra of France took out Juan Monaco in convincing fashion in the ties first rubber, all eyes were on the Gael Monfils-David Nalbandian match. Naldandian is one of those players I mentioned before who brings his best to Davis Cup. He usually has shaky results during the course of the year, but is often integral in bringing Argentina far in Davis Cup. In fact, for his last 9 singles rubbers, he’s only lost 1 and it was to a top 10 player. This weekend, however, notched another loss to his record. After a very solid performance by Monfils, Nalbandian could pull out no hat trick to close the deal this time and was taken out in four sets.

Gael Monfils showcases his new love, breakdancing.

Players spray captain Guy Forget

France Tennis Federation Jean Gachassin is sprayed by Michael Llodra and Richard Gasquet

Serbia: Following his stellar performance at the U.S. Open, expecting Novak Djokovic to travel halfway across the world and recover in 72 hours to play one of the most important Davis Cup rubbers in the country’s history would have been nearly impossible. As luck would have it, Djokovic pulled out of his first rubber citing a case of gastroenteritis, pitting Viktor Troicki against Czech Radek Stepanek. Stepanek walked away with the win, but Serb Janko Tipsarevic took a commanding lead against Tomas Berdych in the next rubber. After playing uninspiring tennis, Berdych somehow looked like he was going to force a 5th set, but Tipsarevic broke through a won the 4th in a tiebreak. The Serbian duo of Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic then had a hard time in the doubles rubber against the expert precision team of Stepanek/Berdych. The Czechs took the doubles rubber, but it would be the last match they would win. After Djokovic stepped in and took out Berdych in the 4th rubber, Tipsarevic won the deciding 5th rubber in three straight sets against Stepanek. Never in Serbia’s 15 year history as a country has the team gotten this far.

Believe it or not, this is Janko Tipsarevic after clinching the deciding 5th rubber against Radek Stepanek!

This Novak Djokovic after winning a point. Is it me or do these Serbs celebrate a victory with fierceness!?

The celebrations from both teams were grand! I can’t decide who I would rather party with!

Serbia will be looking for its first-ever Davis Cup title while France will be looking for its tenth. The final will be played the week following the year-end championships in December.

Nadal as an Outdoor Specialist

Gone are the days when Rafael Nadal was considered a clay court-specialist. After winning 5 French Opens, 2 Wimbledons, and an Australian and U.S. Open, the King of Clay has taken on a new kingdom: King of Outdoors. After clinching the year-end #1 for the second time in three years, Nadal is set to surpass Roger Federer on several records, including possibly most Slams won.

But there is still one thing on Nadal’s resume that is lacking: Indoor titles. Of Nadal’s 42 ATP titles, only 1 has come on the indoor hard courts and that was back in 2005 when the Madrid Masters were played indoors. At the same time, Nadal has been a finalist 12 times in his career and only 2 of those were indoor hard courts (Paris Masters in 2007 and Rotterdam in 2009). Now you may be thinking he simply doesn’t play enough indoor tournaments to win them, but that is not the case. Since 2006, he has lost in the quarterfinals or earlier in 5 of his last 9 indoor tournaments. That statistic now looks a bit more perplexing for the champion, doesn’t it?

Why all the fuss about indoor tournaments anyway? Well, if you recall, there is a very small and negligible tournament at the end of the year that just happens to pit the eight best ATP players against each other on indoor hard courts. Oh right! It’s the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals held in London, England at the end of November! Although Nadal has qualified for the last four years, the further he has gotten was in his first two appearances (2006 and 2007) when he lost in the semifinals to Federer in straight sets both times. He lost all three round robin matches in 2008 without winning a set, and in 2009, he pulled out with knee tendinitis.

Now that Nadal has overcome one of his biggest obstacles by staying healthy long enough to win the U.S. Open, his eyes should be set on clinching the last major trophy he has yet to touch: the WTF trophy played on quick indoor courts, his weakness. Let’s see if Nadal can win and show us what he is really made of.

Welcome Fit for a Hero, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi became an overnight hero in his native Pakistan. After advocating and standing as the voice for Pakistani flood victims at this year’s U.S. Open, Qureshi was greeted by a multitude of happy, cheering fans at the Allama Igbal International Airport in Lahore, India on September 15, 2010. Although he failed to win Pakistan’s first Grand Slam title, he was both Men’s Doubles runner-up and Mixed Doubles runner-up. He is regarded as Pakistan’s most successful tennis player, securing a #6 doubles ranking with partner Rohan Bopanna of India.

Government and Pakistan Tennis Federation officials draped Qureshi with garlands as fans chanted “long live Aisam” and “our new hero.” The throngs of people for his homecoming are reminiscent of when pop stars visit foreign lands.

ATP BONUS

Many fans have seen Roger Federer’s 32 seconds Lindt “Airport” Commercial. However, many more haven’t seen the funnier extended version one below. It includes a ‘strip search’ and Federer spinning around while the two female security guards admire:

Female 1: Stop, right there.

Federer: What’s wrong?

Female 1: Nothing. Everything’s right.

Female 2: You move very well. You must work out a lot.

Fed finishes with a smile and remarks: You ladies are crazy.

But, as Fed is walking away, the females get the last word: I love you.

We love you too, Fed.

The Weekly Debrief – Top Moments of the Week

In the week following any Grand Slam, and especially right after the Spring slam combination of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, news is usually sparse. Even for us dedicated tennis devotees, it can feel like tennis overload at this point in the season. However, this week was an exception with Davis Cup action, an ATP 250-level tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, and a small soccer tournament you may have heard of in South Africa, the World Cup. Here is my Weekly Debrief of the Top Moments of the Week.

Top Four

1. The World Cup of soccer was played in South Africa between Holland and Spain yesterday. “How is this significant to tennis?” you may ask. Well, be not dismayed. After Rafael Nadal held up the winner’s trophy at this year’s Wimbledon, he announced he would skip the Davis Cup quarterfinals, receive platelet-infusion treatments on his knees, and fly down to South Africa to support the Spanish team in the Finals.

Rafa with one of the biggest smiles in tennis. Here, with women’s Wimbledon winner Serena Williams.

Rafa must have been a good cheerleader as Spain won 1-0. After the win, he was quoted as saying:

“I cried like a baby. We have to celebrate for a whole year, because this is unbelievable. It is very difficult to repeat this.”

2. Rafa wasn’t the only Spaniard in action this week. The entire Spanish Armada consisting of Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, and Nicolas Almagro took part in Davis Cup this week in France. Spain was the defending champion so their 0-5 loss to underdog France was a shock. But it seems that tennis may not have been the primary sport on their mind. Should we still be surprised that they lost given this?

3. In other Davis cup action, Argentina defeated Russia 3-2, Czech Republic took out Chile 4-1, and in the most controversial matchup, Serbia beat Croatia 4-1 in a fiery environment in the coastal city of Split, Croatia. The sign below was found near the Spaladium Arena were the event took place. It roughly translates into “Hang the Serbs. Never forget. Never forgive.” in reference to the political and cultural differences that have plagued this region of Europe for decades. Having myself been born in Split, Croatia and raised with the Serbian language in the United States, it is heart-breaking to hear that such anger is still existent between the two nations.

Despite the atmosphere in the Spaladium Arena, Serb Novak Djokovic ranked #2 was just happy that he won:

“It’s sensitive circumstances that we play in and considering the situation between the two countries that they had 20 years back and, of course, it’s still very fresh [in the mind],” he said. “We are professional athletes and tennis players and we don’t involve politics in sport. We want to perform our best for the country and win; that’s what I did today and in the end I got a nice appreciation from the crowd for what I have done today so this is what I remember from the match.”

Croat Ivan Ljubicic ranked #16 and a good friend of Djokovic’s said he was also annoyed by the chants from the crowd:

“They affected my concentration just as they did his,” he said. “It was strange to see guys, the crowd, whistling on Serbian anthem and the players and so loud on ours. You could feel the tension; you could feel the emotion so it was really difficult for me to play the first couple of games.”

4. Back on US soil, a newly-fit Mardy Fish won his fourth career title in Newport yesterday at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships.

But the tournament wasn’t without controversy. The first-round matchup which saw #552 Richard Bloomfield take out #160 Christophe Rochus drew suspicion of a betting scandal. A UK-based agency, Betfair, reported unusual betting changes in the hours just prior to the match and a rather hefty wager of $1.5 million riding on the match. Bloomfield, who had only won one tour-level match before this week, found himself in the semifinals before he lost to eventual champion Fish. Whether Bloomfield had any part in the scandal or was even aware of it is unsure at this point. He did, however, have the run of his life rising 260 spots to sit comfortably at world number 292 in today’s released rankings.

Another memorable moment from Newport came at the beginning of the tournament. Remember that 11 hour marathon match at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round? Even though Mahut lost that encounter, he was granted a wildcard into the main draw here. He also stopped by the Hall to give a piece of tennis histroy: a signed shirt that he wore during that memorable Wimbledon match.

BONUS
Players usually drink electrolyte-infused water or some other liquid concoction to replenish their bodies on changeovers. On the Champions tour, they have come up with something quite different … beer. Watch as retired pro John McEnroe takes a few swigs before serving an ace to Goran Ivanisevic. If that’s the secret to serving in tennis, I’ll take a lifetime supply.

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by at the beginning of every week for a recap of the ATP tour. We’ve got you covered!