Tenaciously Tennis

Late Night Reflections on the 2012 Australian Open’s Start

It’s that time of the year again for the first Grand Slam in the sunny land of Australia to kick off. Injuries prevail among both tours as was the case last year — and why shouldn’t they with such a short off-season? A little tennis has been watched and a lot of guilt has been felt for not writing sooner. That aside, let’s get down to talking some tennis.

I caught a few matches last night, failing to fall asleep before 5am because, sure, Roger Federer’s match against …who? (Goes to look it up)

Oh, yes, Federer’s match against World No. 176, or something, Alexandre Kudryavtsev (apparently no relation to Alla Kudryavtseva) was just that interesting. Okay, so maybe not, but the later played decently enough, striking some booming backhands that pierced angles of the court in a very, well, Federer-esque way. Regardless of the spots of brilliance from his opponent, Federer prevailed easily, winning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

In other matches broadcast to my liking were Aussie heir apparent Bernard Tomic against Fernando Verdasco as well as last year’s champion and Down Under’s adopted daughter Kim Clijsters versus another nobody (will check name).

Tomic looked sharp in all his cat-like glory, moving the ball around beautifully against the No. 22 seed, while hitting perfectly timed slices over and over again to take the pace, put it in a blender, and then proceed to cut Verdasco’s confidence to pieces. In short, Tomic came back from two sets down for the win. Verdasco completely choked at the end, allowing the teen to advance to the second round 5-6, 6(3)-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.

For Aussie Kim, the win looked a little uneasy at the start. She let her opponent control play too much, but ultimately dominated by the end. She took out Maria Joao Koehler 7-5, 6-1. Should the Belgian’s body hold up, and she doesn’t do one of those surprising disappearing acts for which she’s known, we’ll get a rematch of last year’s final against Li Na in the Round of 16.

How’s that for strange?


First Week of Historic Wimbledon Comes to a Close

The first week of the 2010 Wimbledon has finished, and it’s been one of the most talked about events in tennis history with a slew of stories intriguing both on and off the court. Here’s a rundown of the events that have collectively turned this year’s Wimbledon into one to be remembered for years.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal Begin with Shaky Results:

With order relatively restored to the top rankings, and a “healthy” Nadal back at Wimbledon, audiences everywhere expected the top two seeds to advance easily to make it to the second week. In fact, I’m calling for there to be a rematch of the 2008 Wimbledon final.

However, both have played their fair share of dangerously close matches. In the first round, Alejandro Falla pushed Federer to the limit, forcing him to come back from two sets down. Federer, the 2009 champion, prevailed with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0 win.

While many thought he’d refocus in the second round with a straights sets win, the qualifier Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia, proved otherwise. The 153rd player in the world used his two-handed swings, powerful game, and wacky serve to unnerve Federer. Bozoljac, who calls himself “Bozo,” took Federer to four sets before losing, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.

In the third round, however, Federer won easily in straight sets against Arnaud Clement to set up a match with French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer.

Nadal has had an equally, if not more, difficult path to the second week. After a quick win in the first round over Kei Nishikori, Nadal needed five sets over Robin Haase, ranked 151st in the world. In the third round, Nadal was also pushed to the brink of defeat when Philipp Petzschner of Germany played an inspired second and third set. Nadal, warned for accepting coaching repeatedly and after taking a questionable medical timeout, beat the 39th ranked Petzschner 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2. 6-3.

Nadal will next play against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, who ousted the 13th seed Mikhail Youzhny, in the second round.

John Isner and Nicholas Mahut Play the Longest Match Ever:

Not just the best match of the tournament so far, the 11 hour and five minute battle between Isner and Mahut is ensured to be one of the best matches for years to come. The atmosphere must have been phenomenal, and the poise both players showed at the 70-68 conclusion in Isner’s favor is to be applauded as one of the best instances of sportsmanship.

For a more detailed post on the match, click here.

While Isner lost in the second round in ironically the shortest men’s match of the first week, the American and Mahut, who qualified to get into the main draw, showed a level of dedication and passion unmatched so far. Both deserve to take the time to regroup. It’ll be exciting to witness their renewed form by the time the US Open rolls around in August.

The Queen of England Pays Wimbledon a Visit for the First Time in Decades:

On Thursday, Queens Elizabeth II watched Andy Murray beat Jarko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 before having lunch with Federer. She also met with many other players including: Andy Roddick, Venus and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Billie Jean King, and Martina Navratilova. The visit was her first at Wimbledon in 33 years.

The Williams Sisters Look Sharp in Singles and Doubles:

In contrast to the shoddy play of both Federer and Nadal, Serena and Venus look ready to take Wimbledon by storm — again. The younger sister came through the first three rounds bagel-ing her opponents in the first set each time. Her next obstacle to the finals, however, is much harder. Williams shouldn’t expect a 6-0 set against her next opponent: Maria Sharapova. Regardless, look for Williams to get the win, albeit in three sets.

Venus, while getting just one bagel set in her three rounds, looks just as good. Up next for her is the much less well-known Jarmila Groth, who’s currently ranked 92nd in the world. Expect Venus to trounce the Australian in two painless sets to make it to the quarterfinals.

In doubles, the sisters are well on the way to taking home a fifth consecutive major doubles title, improving upon their “Williams Slam.” Read more about that here.

Under the Radar – Murray and Robin Soderling Poised for Success:

With all of the drama going on, relatively little attention has been paid to the players flying through the field. Murray and Soderling, who’ve fought their way through the rounds in straight sets,  can safely be considered dark horse picks for the title with the first round scares from Federer and Nadal.

In the fourth round, both need to continue stepping up their games. Murray faces Sam Querrey, who I previously picked getting into the quarterfinals. We’ll see if that’s still the case given Murray’s fantastic play. Either way, I see that match going the lengths.

Soderling’s next match, against David Ferrer, will also be a test. Soderling’s been on fire these past few weeks, and I see no chance of this coming to a conclusion just yet. That is until he meets Nadal in the quarterfinals.

The WTA Tour is Full of Surprises:

Along with the Williams sisters and Sharapova swinging their ways easily into the second week, a bunch of surprise players are also showing their stuff. Players to look out for include: unseeded Petra Kvitova, ranked 62nd, who took out Victoria Azarenka in the third round, Klara Zakapalova, ranked 66th, and qualifier Kaia Kanepi, ranked 80th.

The draws opened wide when the French Open finalists Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur bowed out in first round upsets.

Props to the Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters for making their way to a 25th meeting in the fourth round. I see Henin coming through with the win in three.

Lindsay Davenport Wins First Round in Mixed Doubles:

Three-time major title winner and mother of two Davenport is back, yet again. This time, the 34-year old American played and won her first round mixed doubles match with Bob Bryan. The two won over Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Alla Kudryavtseva 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Davenport mentioned that she’ll also be playing two other doubles events during the season leading up to the US Open. Without much pressure, look for Bryan and Davenport to sweep through the rounds and win the title.

The Curious Cases of Victor Hanescu and James Blake:

In weird fashion, both Blake and Hanescu suffered on-court drama before falling in their respective rounds. Blake, once a top ten player, now currently ranks outside of the top 100. During his match, he reportedly heard ESPN commentator Pam Shriver talking about his dismal playing, prompting some harsh remarks  during the match. Blake lost to Haase 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Read more here.

Hanescu, who made it to the third round, was heckled by the crowd. His response? To spit. Afterward, he allegedly didn’t do his best. Hanescu foot-faulted, double-faulted, and complained his way before retiring against Germany’s Daniel Brands. The Romanian has been fined $15,000 as a result.

World Number Ones Advance Easily on Day Two; Others Lose Sets, but Win

On the second day of action at Roland Garros, the world number ones Serena Williams and Roger Federer dispatched their opponents to advance to the second round. Serena defeated Stefanie Voegele 7-6(2), 6-2, while Federer took out Peter Luczak, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Although a little hiccup in the first set, the score in the second presents a bright future for the younger Williams sister. For Federer, things couldn’t get any better.

In other WTA matches, Caroline Wozniacki won her match against Alla Kudryavsteva, 6-0, 6-3, Jelena Jankovic, a favorite to potentially win the event beat Alicia Molik, 6-0, 6-4, and Elena Dementieva of Russian ended Petra Martic’s journey, 6-1, 6-1.

On the ATP side, hiccups ensued as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Fernando Gonzalez, and Gael Monfils all dropped sets in their first round matches to move on. Murray of Great Britain had an especially difficult time against Richard Gasquet of France, taking five sets to win, 4-6, 6 -7 (5), 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. According to an Associated Press article, Gasquet was in firm control at the beginning of the match, until he let up after being up two sets and a break in the third. This, the article continues, mirrors another battle between the two when “Murray…rallied from two sets down to beat Gasquet at Wimbledon to reach the quarterfinals in 2008.”

For Murray to win so easily in the remaining two sets should give him confidence going into the next round. It would be wise to discount the first two sets in the upcoming rounds. We’ll be seeing a lot more of Murray yet. And Serena and Federer for that matter.

Despite Williams Sisters Withdrawal, US Fed Cup Team Defeats Russia to Reach Final

In a surprise showing of spirit for their country, the Serena and Venus Williams-less US Fed Cup team featuring teenage sensations Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Liezel Huber defeated the Russian team, 3-2. With the win, the US advances to the finals against Italy, their opponents last year.

If the team can rally together once again and put in the same energy and drive that put them over the edge against the tricky Russian team, they will take home the title for the first time since 2000. According to an Associated Press article, “U.S. Beats Russia 3-2; Will Face Italy in Fed Cup Final,” much of the Americans’ success points to the powerful and patriotic play of Mattek-Sands, who is currently ranked outside of the top 100. Her performance, however, speaks more to her career-high ranking of 37, which occurred in March of last year.

Mattek-Sands beat Ekaterina Makarova “6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in the second match Sunday to keep the U.S. title hopes alive in the best-of-five contest. The match was all but over after Mattek-Sands got mad over a fault call on a first serve in the final set. She then double-faulted but responded with a nifty drop shot to go up 4-1, sticking her hands out palms-up and wriggling her fingers to the fans,” reported the article. Moreover, Mattek-Sands clinched the final point of the Fed Cup tie when she teamed up with Huber, the experienced doubles specialist, in a 6-3, 6-1 shut out of the newly formed team of Elena Dementieva and Alla Kudryavsteva.

Oudin, although she beat Dementieva during her run to the quarterfinals of last year’s US Open, proved unable to clinch the third set she typically dominates in her matches. She lost to Dementieva in two hours and thirty-seven minutes.

With this new drive and the wave of energy surely felt by this eclectic group of Americans, maybe the title can finally be brought up. In many ways, this was a much needed win not only for the purposes of Fed Cup, but for American women’s tennis in general. Not everything needs to be decided by the Williams Sisters. Unless, of course, we’re talking about a Grand Slam title.

Oudin Out in Style, Poses for Tennis Magazine

Numerous tournaments are well underway on the tennis circuit with one particular semifinal match catching my attention: Elena Dementieva’s defeat of American Melanie Oudin at the Paris Indoors Tournament.

Oudin’s success, and strong show against Dementieva, sparks interest for her developing future. In fact, the young Georgian recently posed for the cover of Tennis Magazine.
While she faded out of the Australian Open to Alla Kudryavstava much earlier than expected, big things are coming for the US Open quarterfinalist much sooner than expected.

After her debilitating loss, which should have ended in her favor given the vast lead she secured, things were looking down for Oudin. However, with two wins over France in Fed Cup over Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-4 and Julie Coin 7-6(3), 6-4 combined with the semifinal run in Paris, the teenager just might be ready to take on the red clay of the French Open.

It seemed likely that the expectations were getting to her after the surprise US Open run, but Oudin truly does believe, and has what it takes.

Oudin Outlasted in Three; Henin in It to Win

The string up upsets, especially regarding my blackhorse picks on the WTA side, are continuing to keep things interesting at the Australian Open. On day one, surprise US Open quarterfinalist American Melanie Oudin looked strong in her first round match against Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia. That is until she was serving to win it at 6-2, 5-4. Oudin, known for her shocking, consecutive three set wins at the US Open against Elena Dementieva in the second round, Maria Sharapova in the third round, and Nadia Petrova in the fourth, was unable to close out this latest Russian opponent.

Since her fairytale run, things have been going downhill for the 17-year old counter puncher. Although illness and fatigue were probably the issue, Oudin should not have lost this match. The pressure is getting to her now, but she has the goods to go deep into a Slam. I see her having a tough next couple tournament as she finds the her focus, and improving to the top twenty by the US Open. Can Oudin have another magical winning streak? Only if the teen holds the same belief in herself as the world saw in September.

The second round of the Sunny Slam saw a much different, more positive story in Justine Henin’s impressive, 7-5, 7-6 defeat of the fifth-seed, Elena Dementieva of Russia. With the first tough test out of the way for the seven-time Grand Slam champion, Henin next faces the 27th seed, Alisa Kleybanova. I see Henin going through in two. In fact, with such a high profile win in such a short comeback, Henin will make it through to the quarterfinals easily, where she’ll then battle Belgian compatriot, and fellow comeback star, Kim Clijsters. That match is sure to be one of the best of the tournament, given their recent three-setter in Sydney during which Clijsters barely prevailed.

Link to look at:

“Melanie Oudin Continues to Struggle” by Joe Drape of The New York Times

“Henin Ousts No.5 Dementieva in Second Round” by the Associated Press

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