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Tenaciously Tennis


French Open Predictions 2011: ATP Tour

Novak Djokovic has owned this year so far with a staggering number of consecutive wins, including a handful over the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. The question of the tournament, therefore, becomes: Can Djokovic take this all-time high confidence to a Grand Slam on Nadal’s own turf? That is, if both make it that far. How about Roger Federer, once a contender for any and every title on tour? With Andy Roddick and 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero out, the field looks a little wider (although whether or not those two could have significantly swayed the flow of competition also comes into question). Regardless, here’s a preview of the second Grand Slam of the year on the red clay of Paris.

Rafael Nadal’s Section:

He may be struggling to defeat Djokovic on clay in the Masters events. Roland Garros, however, is Nadal’s Grand Slam comfort zone. With the best-of-five set format, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in this section of the draw who can put a dent in his aura of clay court invincibility. Except for one guy. That’s none other than Robin Soderling, who defeated Nadal in the fourth round in 2009, as the no. 23 seed. The Swede then went on to make the finals, falling to Federer. In 2010, he came out swinging again by repeating the result. In the end, however, Nadal got his revenge in straight sets, winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

With a potential (and highly probable) clash in the quarterfinals, it’ll be Nadal making good on his performance last year against Soderling. He’ll win again in three sets, although by a closer margin.

One to Watch: The one name other than Nadal and Soderling who sticks out as a potential giant-killer is Gilles Simon. With a fourth round match against the Swede a distinct possibility, it’ll be interesting to see in what shape the victor advances. Nadal looms for him right after. Additionally, American Mardy Fish also appears in Soderling’s section to make things even more interesting.

Bottom Line: Nadal faces a tougher test against Soderling in the quarterfinals, but ultimately seals a solid win to get to the semifinals.

Andy Murray’s Section:

Since making it to the Australian Open finals, Murray lost the spark for competition and regained it with some solid clay results leading up to this event. His first tough test comes with a potential third round meeting against Milos Raonic, the Canadian who shocked all with his trip from the qualifying to the fourth round. Since then, he’s held success on tour, winning his first title on the hard courts of San Jose. On clay, he’s held modest success, despite losing in the first round of his last two events at Madrid and Rome.

While Murray and Raonic have yet to meet, it’ll be tough for the young Canadian to take out the Scot in the best-of-five setting. That possible match will be decided in four sets.

Ones to Watch: While the Murray / Raonic combo grabs most of the hype in this section of the draw, watch out for Gilles Simon, who exhibited flashes of brilliance in an epic, five-set match again Roger Federer during the second round of the Australian Open. He shouldn’t pose to much of a threat here, however, given his latest, sketchy results on clay, including losses to both Murray and Raonic in Madrid, Monte-Car (to Murray) and in Estoril (to Raonic).

Also making this section of the draw a little trickier is last year’s semifinalist, Jurgen Melzer, who eventually bowed out to Nadal. Quite notably, he took out Djokovic in the quarters in five. Nicholas Almagro, too, has been having a strong clay season and has the game to take out Melzer in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Murray makes the fourth round after a tough test from Raonic. There, he’s likely to face Melzer. Murray wins in five.

Roger Federer’s Section: Federer’s section constitutes a heavy part of the draw, filled with talented players, such as David Ferrer, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of course, if anyone can handles these players to get to the quarters, it’d be Federer. Although he does face Feliciano Lopez in his opening round, a solid player, who he owns a 8-0 advantage over in head-to-head meetings. Regardless, Federer’s been off these days, losing early to Richard Gasquet and Melzer in two tournaments.

Ones to Watch: All the men listed above have the ability to make it deep in a Grand Slam, although Nishikori may be the one with the least experience at this point in his young career.

Bottom Line: Look for a quarterfinal match pitting Ferrer, who played well in his first three clay tournaments before falling to Nadal twice and Djokovic, against Federer.

Novak Djokovic’s Section: He’s owned the tour this year, taking the first Grand Slam of the season. Can he grab the second, too? It’s his to win with Nadal the only one truly standing in his way. Of course, he’s defeated Nadal in four finals this year, including the last two on clay. His main competition comes in the form of the number six seed, Tomas Berdych, who hasn’t been too successful on clay this year. He did, however, make it to the semifinals of the French Open last year, losing to Soderling. He then proceeded to make it to the Wimbledon final.

Ones to Watch: Marin Cilic, Mikhail Youzhny, Richard Gasquet, and Juan Martin del Potro all reside in this section of the draw. While none of them have the ability to touch Djokovic at this point in his career, they may give Berdych difficulty. Look for Rome semifinalist Gasquet to put up a fight against Djokovic in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Djokovic defeats Gasquet to get to the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Nadal taking on Soderling; Murray against Melzer; Ferrer against Federer; and Berdych against Djokovic.

In the Semifinals: Here, I see Nadal facing Murray and Federer against Djokovic to round out the final four.

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All-American Affair Hits Italian Open Doubles Final

There may not be any Americans in the top ten for the men or women, but at least there’s a strong US presence in doubles at the Italian Open this week. For the men, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish advanced to final with a huge upset over Bob and Mike Bryan in the quarterfinals. Meeting them in the championship match will be Sam Querrey and John Isn.

And who said US talent can’t play on clay? Step aside, Michael Chang.

What’s exciting about this marquee match-up is that it symbolizes the older wave of American talent taking on the young guns. Both Roddick and Fish have been in the top ten (with Fish actually replacing Roddick for a brief period before a recent slip in the rankings). Meanwhile, Querrey and Isner have the talent, but not the results quite yet when it counts most.

Therefore, it’ll be a fascinating display of tennis and a potential coming-of-age if the Querrey-Isner combo can overcome the favorites, Roddick and Fish.

My thoughts? It’s not quite their time yet. Roddick’s serve will match up well with Isner’s, so it should go into at least one tiebreak in this best-of-three format. I’ll give Fish the edge over Querrey on groundstrokes.

It’ll be a battle, but the older guys will prove to be just a little stronger in the end.

Excerpt of ‘That’s a Wrap: Re-hashing Davis Cup’ on Tennis Served Fresh

Here’s another post I wrote for the blog Tennis Served Fresh about the Davis Cup results from earlier this month.

Good job, team America. Andy “The Closer” Roddick pulled through against Chile under the guidance of new Davis Cup captain Jim “The Rock” Courier. And a new American frat squad has been born.

The real story, however, lies in the following five moments that mattered most. Sorry, Judy Murray, this weekend’s high intensity was a far cry from your beef with a future tie being in “Eazzzztbourne.”

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Excerpt of ‘Davis Cup: Feeling the Heat in Chile’ from Tennis Served Fresh

Here’s another contribution to the blog Tennis Served Fresh about the Davis Cup tie between the United States and Chile.

”The Rock” takes on clay:Jim Courier’s now in charge of the US Davis Cup team since Patrick McEnroe’s resignation late last year. While McEnroe did a great job in his decade at the top (including a title win in 2007), we’re looking forward to what Courier brings to the table. Aside from holding the top spot in the ATP rankings, Courier also helped his Davis Cup team to victory in 1992 and 1995. This could be key to getting the US guys winning again. That is, if they’re all still standing. (Get well, Sam!) Oh wells, at least we have Andy.

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

American Tennis Analysis: Why Does Sam Querrey Keep Losing?

A loss at the Davis Cup last year, Beijing, Basel, Paris, and twice in Australia. Then, a straight sets defeat in California as the third seed.

These are all American number three Sam Querrey’s most recent first round defeats.

To paint an even clearer picture, the California native, 24, has won just two of his last 11 matches. If he wants to stay in the top 20 and one day take over from Andy Roddick, whose career can’t last forever, Sam needs to make a move. He needs to start winning again.

Despite matching his career-best showing at last year’s US Open by getting to the fourth round, and taking home four titles in 2010 on all the surfaces, Querrey’s had a tough time reclaiming the consistency needed to win. He’s proven he has the firepower and the belief in the past, but this needs to happen more regularly to make a move into the top 10.

30-year-old Mardy Fish, like Roddick, can’t hang on at this level much longer, despite holding the 16th spot. The younger Americans must step in and play big to claim their rightful spot as the next wave of American tennis talent. And with 23rd-ranked John Isner, another US hope, at 6’9, and with Querrey at 6’6, they certainly don’t lack the physicality necessary for success.

The rest is mental, and Querrey’s time to prove this strength starts now.

Serena Williams to Play Exhibition: Why Tennis Needs Her Now

Serena Williams needs to get better, quickly. Skipping out of the last couple majors with a foot injury sustained after her win at Wimbledon in July, it’s been long enough.

And not only for the purposes of her own career — Serena recently dropped out of the top ten for the first time in about four years –, but also to resuscitate the current state of American tennis. Andy Roddick didn’t do too hot at the Aussie Open, neither did Sam Querrey or John Isner on the men’s side. For the women, there’s sister Venus, who retired in the third round and is currently sidelined with injury after hurting her hip during her second round match against Sandra Zahlavova. US Open sensation Melanie Oudin continues to disappoint, too, with a first round loss at the Australian Open.

It’d be nice to get the WTA-dominating force that is Serena back on the big stages. Kim Clijsters pretty much owns that role now in unchallenged fashion. Remember, she dropped just one set at the Sunny Slam and that came in the final against Li. Justine Henin’s retirement also leaves more room for the Belgian to keep conquering competition.

But, apparently, things are starting to look up for the younger Williams sister as she’ll be (potentially) playing in March at a Nike exhibition with other big names Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. United States Fed Cup captain Mary Jo Fernandez also said Serena would be available to playing in a possible April tie. Given her track record, I wouldn’t count on it, although she’d needs to be around for two to play in the 2012 Olympics.

The real thing is: We need Serena at majors again. Sure, this year’s Australian Open was a feel-good story featuring the lovable mom Aussie Kim triumphing over Chinese sensation Li Na in a high-stakes, historic match. The whole tournament, however, wasn’t the same without Serena. Plus, who wants to keep a Grand Slam singles title count at an unlucky number 13?

Also, Serena’s absence is making mother Oracene antsy. She recently went Twitter-crazy, writing, “Will some one tweet me who is in the final on the women’s side?” and after getting the answer, “Thank you I hope Na is not to nervous to kick some butt,” among many other comments. Poor Oracene, she wouldn’t have to stoop to that level. If only she should could just enjoy her daughters’ success at majors.

Well, the drought continues, but let’s hope for not much longer. When March rolls around, let’s see an in-shape Serena on court, who’s back to stay.

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: ATP Tour, Week Two

With the final eight men and women set, it’s time to revise predictions for the 2011 Australian Open tournament’s future path on both the ATP and WTA tours. Here’s a look at the last men standing.

Previously predicting that we’d see Rafael Nadal facing David Ferrer; Robin Soderling against Andy Murray; Nikolai Davydenko against Novak Djokovic; and Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, I wasn’t too off the mark with five-of-eight advancing. A claim to perfect picking, however, was dismantled early in the tournament with Davydenko’s first round loss to Florian Mayer. Soderling succumbed in the fourth round to Alexandr Dolgopolov, while Roddick got served a straight sets loss by Stanislas Wawrinka.

For the next three rounds, my picks are as follows:

Nadal versus Ferrer:

Despite the recent announcement that he’s still suffering from sickness, no one’s looked better than Nadal in the tournament. The Spaniard looks poised to defeat his compatriot Ferrer in straight sets. Not only did the world’s 7th-ranked player hit a lot of balls against the up-and-coming power-player from Canada, Milos Raonic, in the last round, he also has a losing record to the world number one. Nadal’s won 12-of-15 matches against Federer, including the last six in straight sets. He can’t get much more dominant than that. Expect the same here.

Bottom Line: Nadal advances in three.

Murray versus Dolgopolov:

Last year’s finalist Murray has looked strong, too, in his run to this year’s quarterfinals. Without dropping a set, he now faces the tricky Dolgopolov, the winner over Soderling. The Ukrainian, ranked just inside the top 50, however, has played ten sets in his last two matches. Although he has no pressure versus Murray, look for him to wilt against the fifth seed.

Bottom Line: Murray counterpunches his way to the semifinals in four sets after a strong early push from Dolgopolov to cap the Hungarian’s excellent Australian Open.

Berdych versus Djokovic:

I didn’t see Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych advancing this far in the tournament given his slow end to 2010. He has, however, emerged as a contender for the title with excellent performances in his last four matches, especially against Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round. In that match, everything was working for him in the straight sets victory. He’s dropped only one set so far.

Djokovic, however, looks like just the guy to stop Berdych from making a deeper run into the tournament. With a 4-1 head-to-head, a nine match winning streak, a Davis Cup title, and a need for revenge after losing to Berdych in the Wimbledon semifinals, the Serb wants this badly. He’ll get that victory, provided his fitness holds up against his opponent’s onslaught of power and precision.

Bottom Line: Djokovic edges Berdych in a four-set, grueling test of athleticism.

Federer versus Wawrinka:

In a match-up between the 2008 doubles gold medalists, we should see some good competition for a place in the semifinals. Although Federer leads his head-to-head against Wawrinka, the world number 19 hasn’t lost a match this year. Of course, neither has Federer. The difference: Wawrinka hasn’t lost a set this tournament, even against the higher-ranked Gael Monfils and Roddick. It’ll be a test for Federer, but he’ll overcome it with emotion. He wants to repeat his win Down Under last year, badly. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he leads 8-1 against Wawrinka.

Bottom Line: Federer breaks down the Wawrinka game to make the semifinals.

Road to the Finals:

With Nadal against Murray and Djokovic facing Federer, it’s so tempting to say we’ll see the Nadal-Federer rivalry renewed for the first time in a major since the 2009 Australian Open. I want to see it, and so do many tennis fans around the world.

Bottom Line: Nadal and Federer face-off in the final.

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: ATP Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the ATP tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

With just two days until the Australian Open begins, it’s time to predict the finalists with a bracket-by-bracket breakdown. Will a recently ailing Rafael Nadal overcome any physical woes to take his fourth straight major title? Maybe Roger Federer feels the need to get to his first Grand Slam final since his win Down Under last year. Then, there’s the rest of the tour aching for a title. Here goes the potential results of the year’s Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal’s Section:

As the top seed and winner of the 2008 Australian Open, Nadal has proven he can take the title once more, especially with the win at the US Open against Djokovic in September. Nadal has a relatively easy draw as his first match against a seeded player pits him against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, a man he owns in their career head-to-head. That is, if Lopez, who lost to Nadal in straight sets in the fourth round of the US Open, can even make it that far. He’s lost an astounding eight-of-ten matches, since losing to Nadal. Although the seventh-seeded David Ferrer looks formidable with a win over David Nalbandian in the Auckland finals, Nadal hasn’t lost to him since 2007.

The only foreseeable obstacle standing in the number one’s way, therefore, is Nadal’s own health. He lost in a lopsided affair to Nikolai Davydenko in the Doha semifinals, but came back to win the doubles title.

Ones to Watch: John Isner, who helped the United States win the Hopman Cup, could put together some wins to get to the fourth round. He’ll potentially meet Marin Cilic, last year’s semifinalist along the way. The tenth-seeded Youzhny also lurks in the bottom half. Lleyton Hewitt, who made it to the fourth round last year, also appears in the bottom half, but faces Nalbandian first.

Bottom Line: Nadal has a ticket to the quarterfinals.

Robin Soderling’s Section:

Fresh off a title, Soderling is a dangerous fourth-seed. Having never made it past the second round, there may be some doubts. That, however, should change with a pretty comfortable draw until he meets Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a possible fourth round match.

At the bottom of the section, Murray, last year’s finalist cannot be discounted. He won his last three matches at the Hopman Cup. He’ll be in the fourth round, where he might meet a number of solid-looking players.

Ones to Watch: Besides Tsonga, things look clear for Soderling at the top of this section. Murray’s half, however, seems stronger with 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis and the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro back after a wrist injury both present. Jurgen Melzer, seeded eleventh, may also put up a strong effort as his semifinal appearance at last year’s French Open and subsequent fourth round finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open illustrated.

Bottom Line: Soderling and Murray should get to the quarterfinals. There, it’s tough to say who will win. Murray edges Soderling with a recent victory at Barclays in their 3-2 career head-to-head. They’ve never played at a major, however, so endurance will also play heavily into the match. In that case, I see Murray advancing to join Nadal.

Novak Djokovic’s Section:

Things get tougher here with a slew of talented players. Djokovic, however, shines through, having won his last five matches between the Hopman Cup and the Davis Cup at the end of last year. His trip to the US Open final against Nadal also proves relevant along with his lone major title at the Australian Open in 2008. His biggest challenges come against Sydney finalist and compatriot Viktor Troicki in the fourth round. Djokovic, however, probably won’t have a problem. He’s defeated Troicki six straight matches in their seven match head-to-head.

Ones to Watch: For sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, a cast of characters could prevent him from getting far in the draw, such as the American Ryan Harrison, the resurgent Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori, who now has Brad Gilbert on his team. Nikolai Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco also loom in potential fourth-round matches.

Bottom Line: Djokovic looks like a clear favorite into the fourth round. For Berdych, that’s not the case at all. I’ll go with Davydenko defeating Verdasco as he boasts a 7-1 head-to-head against the ninth-seed.

Roger Federer’s Section:

Federer, like Nadal, won’t have it too hard to get into the second week of the Sunny Slam. He’ll need to beat a number of Americans to do it, but that shouldn’t pose any threat. He owns Andy Roddick (21-2), Sam Querrey (2-0), and Mardy Fish (6-1) in their respective head-to-heads.

Ones to Watch: Gael Monfils and Chennai winner Stanislas Wawrinka also appear in Federer’s section.

Bottom Line: This is Federer’s chance to advance to the quarterfinals without dropping a set. Can Andy Roddick fight through, too?

In the Quarterfinals:

With these predictions, we’ll see Nadal facing Ferrer; Soderling against Murray; Davydenko against Djokovic; and Federer versus Roddick.

In the Semifinals:

Here, I see Nadal against Murray and Federer versus Djokovic to emerge as the final four.

Federer, Soderling Win Australian Open Warm-Ups

Roger Federer and Robin Soderling won their Australian Open warm-up events, beating Nikolai Davydenko and Andy Roddick, respectively, in straight set matches. Federer beat Davydenko 6-3, 6-4 in Qatar to become the first player ever to win the event three times, while Soderling defeated Roddick 6-3, 7-5 at the tournament in Brisbane.

With the Australian Open starting next week, the wins should help boost both players’ confidence. For Soderling, ranked fifth in the world, the added confidence could prove highly beneficial to his play at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. Until now, he hasn’t advanced past the second round — his worst result by far. Last year, he lost in the first round to the unseeded Marcel Granollers in five sets. With another final at Roland Garros under his belt and quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open, he’s poised to make a move in Australia.

For Federer, however, he’ll need to not only sustain his current level of play, but do even better to match last year’s win over Andy Murray in three sets. I think Federer has an excellent chance to get to the finals again this year. He’s been playing some exceptional tennis these past few months, including his win at the Barclay’s year-ending event. Plus, with two quarterfinals and a semifinal showing at his last three majors, there’s no questioning just how much Federer wants the victory.

Too add to his possible success at the Sunny Slam, Rafael Nadal hasn’t been feeling well recently. The top-ranked Spaniard succumbed to Davydenko in the Qatar semifinals 6-3, 6-2 (although he later won the doubles championship in straight sets with partner Marc Lopez). While Nadal is likely to recover in time for the Open, every detail counts when a rivalry is as intense as his and Federer’s.

In other results, Stanislas Wawrinka and Petra Kvitova won their tournaments, too, to begin the 2011 season with a bang.

What Brad Gilbert Can Do for Nishikori in 2011

Brad Gilbert, the former coach to Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick will be Kei Nishikori’s traveling coach for 2011. After some rough results due to an elbow injury, Gilbert’s world-class coaching could be just what Nishikori needs to get his form back.

Currently ranked 98 in the world, Nishikori enjoyed a career-high ranking of 56 in February 2009 before sustaining the injury that has plagued his career since. Nishikori put together some strong wins to get that respectable ranking. He surprised many after qualifying for the Delray Beach tournament as the 244th-ranked player in the world. Then, he Bobby Reynolds and Sam Querrey among others before  beating the top seed James Blake in the finals. The title meant a Japanese man’s first in 16 years. A few months later, he advanced to the fourth-round showing at the US Open in his debut there.

Nishikori has the ability and the drive to take his game to the top. He made it to the third round of this year’s US Open, and it’ll be interesting to see Gilbert’s influence on his game. At just 20, Nishikori still has a long time left on tour. It’ll be important for him to exercise every aspect of his game with Gilbert in case the relationship doesn’t last past the 15 tournaments in 2011.

According to a recent Tennis.com piece, “Nishikori will also continue to travel with his full-time coach, Dante Bottini, but will spend a week at Gilbert’s home in California before heading to the tournament in Chennai, which begins at the start of 2011. Gilbert will not coach him there, but will be with him at the tournament in Adelaide and at the Australian Open.”

Therefore, Gilbert is starting with the biggest events with Nishikori. Should he continue his strong form from the US Open and make a breakthrough at the Australian Open — his best showing is the first round — expect strong showings throughout the year to prove Nishikori’s back.

It’s always a great story when a player comes back from injury, makes big changes, and succeeds. I think Nishikori will embody that feel-good story in the coming months.

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