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Tenaciously Tennis


Final Previews: Kuznetsova, Baghdatis, and More

It’s championship match time as the hard court summer swing heads into the second half. Surprises are everywhere with top seeds exiting early in some events, especially the American men, and familiar faces making their way back to the later stages of tournaments. If anything, this has been a refreshing week for tennis, showing that it’s never right to count out any player on any given day. Upsets happen, and they happen frequently in this sport.

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic:

With a win over Xavier Malisse, Marcos Baghdatis makes his first tour final since taking the title in Sydney at this year’s start. The Cypriot won 6-2, 7-6 (4). He next plays the resurgent David Nalbandian, who breezed by Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2. This compelling match puts two solid shot-makers against one another. Both men want this win for reaffirmation. They’ll both fight with a lot of heart and spirit. In the end, I’m calling Baghdatis to win over Nalbandian. He’s in better shape and might just want the title that much more. I call it going the distance — three sets in Baghdatis’ favor.

The e-Boks Danish Open:

This is Caroline Wozniacki’s tournament to win. She’s got the home advantage against Klara Zakopalova, who’s currently ranked just inside the top 50. Furthermore, Zakopalova doesn’t have the game to hurt Wozniacki, and her results at majors show that. Her best run at a Grand Slam tournament came at this year’s Wimbledon — she made the fourth round.

I see Wozniacki shaking off the ankle injury that’s plagued her this year to get a title, cementing her return to strong form before her best major — the US Open. She made the finals last year against Kim Clijsters, and I’m betting she’s inspired to get into the second week again this year. My prediction: Wozniacki wins in two sets.

Vancouver:

Taylor Dent, the tournament’s first seed, faces Dudi Sela of Israel, the third seed. It’s nice to see both guys doing well. I’ll go with the American Dent to take it in three. He’s been impressive in his comeback, and there’s no reason why he can’t get a title, too. This would be his first in approximately seven years.

The Mercury Insurance Open:

Svetlana Kuznetsova needs to win this tournament in order to salvage an otherwise abysmal year. As last year’s French Open champion, she isn’t doing much to show her capabilities so far. Whatever the reason for this poor form, the Russian has the ability to overpower Agnieszka Radwanska in the finals to claim her first title of the season. Kuznetsova beat the fifth seed, Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-0 — a telling result.

Radwanska, regardless, is a tricky opponent. Plus, her form has been excellent going into this match, pulling Maria Sharapova to three sets last week. At the same time, Kuznetsova owns their head-to-head 6-3, including the last two wins. The last one went her way easily at the finals of Beijing: 6-2, 6-4. I don’t, however, think it’ll be decided so soundly. Radwanska’s been playing too well for that in the last couple weeks. Instead, I’m saying it goes Kuznetsova’s way in three roller-coaster sets.

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Isner Wins in Atlanta; Other Americans Advance, Too

As the US Open Series gets underway with the ATP’s Atlanta and Lexington events, a slew of American men advanced, signifying a strong start on home territory. John Isner, seeded second in Atlanta, won his first match back on tour since his marathon Wimbledon win over Nicholas Mahut. James Blake, however, fell to Taylor Dent in three sets in the tournament’s first round– indicative of his lackluster year. Let’s take a look at the results.

Isner, the winner of the longest match in tennis history, deserves to go far in Atlanta after his historic result (followed by a quick three-set loss in the major’s second round). Isner beat Gilles Muller 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7)  in his first match back.

Blake, a former top ten player with a career-high rank of four in 2006, hasn’t been in form for over a year now. The last time he made it past the third round of a major was at the 2009 Australian Open. Once a threat at Grand Slams, his results this year include a second round result at the Sunny Slam and a loss in the first round of Wimbledon. Blake didn’t play at the French Open. With the way things are going, Blake isn’t looking sharp heading into his best major — the US Open. There, he made it to consecutive quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006.

Regardless, it’s great to see Dent advance. Prone to injury, Dent, who reached a career-high ranking of 21 in 2005, looks poised to get back into the top 50 if he keeps excelling. Currently ranked 94, I see the California native building off his second round results at the past three majors to get a good showing at the US Open, an event he made it to the fourth round in 2003. If his draw is kind, look for a repeat performance of that result. After beating Blake in the round of 32, Dent won against the fourth-seeded Horacio Zeballos in three sets, including a bagel in the third, to get to his first ATP quarter-final since 2005.

At the same event, longtime friends and doubles partners, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish advanced in two sets. Look for the duo to take home the title. Both Roddick and Fish are into the final 16 in singles, too. After an early loss at Wimbledon, Roddick could definitely use the win, especially on home turf. As the event’s top seed, look for a smooth ride into the finals, including over Rajeev Ram in the next round. The main competition in his quarter — Xavier Malisse in the semis.

Fish next meets compatriot Robby Ginepri, an opponent noteworthy for getting to the fourth round at this year’s French Open — a rare result for an American man. I see Ginepri pulling off the upset.

Wild card Donald Young won his match against Israel’s Dudi Sela along with Michael Russell, who beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker. At the Lexington tournament, Jesse Levine overcame a tough test from Brydan Klein to win 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8).

ATP Post-Wimbledon Ranking Roundup

Wimbledon ended yesterday with Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams collecting the titles of the particularly historic tournament. Along with taking the trophies, the world number ones are enjoying uncontested positions as the best in the world. Here’s a breakdown of the ATP ranking changes released today.

  • Rafael Nadal surges ahead to a dominant position as world number one with over 10,000 points. His exceptional play at the French Open and Wimbledon after a difficult 2009 makes him poised to hold the spot for the remainder of the year. If so, this will be his second year to end the season as number one.
  • In a severe shake-up of the rankings, Roger Federer fell to number three in the world. This is the first time in seven years he’s been at the position. I don’t see him reclaiming the number two spot from Nadal, although number two is definitely in his sights with a strong US Open Series showing. Novak Djokovic — now number two — leads Federer by only the slimmest of margins. At the US Open, Federer will need to make the finals or win the title to avoid losing any more points and salvage his worst year on tour in quite some time.
  • Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych also moved big in the rankings. The Czech is now inside the top ten for the first time since 2008. With his improved play and the confidence gained from making the semifinals at Roland Garros — going along with his first finals showing at a Grand Slam — I think he’ll continue to ascend. I predict a top five finish the year, especially if he can advance past the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in his career.
  • Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey both posted their best wins at Wimbledon. Isner won the longest match in tennis history to make it to the second round, claiming a well-deserved career-high ranking of 18. Querrey made it to the fourth round to come out just behind Isner at number 19. They meet compatriot Andy Roddick in the top twenty.
  • Yen-Hsun Lu, the man that beat Andy Roddick, raced up the rankings 40 spots after his quarterfinal showing. Let’s see if he can keep the momentum going through the hard court season.
  • Other notables include Daniel Brands, who will enjoy a career-high 66 after gaining 30 spots, while Dudi Sela of Israel — a player that made it to the 4th round of Wimbledon last year — dropped 25 spots after losing to Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the first round.

The women’s ranking changes will be highlighted tomorrow.

Roddick, Djokovic, Cilic Trounced Out of Tournament

Three of the top five seeds lost in the round of sixteen at the AEGON Championships in England. Andy Roddick (4), Novak Djokovic (2), and Marin Cilic (5) couldn’t muster the energy or drive to push past their respective lower-ranked opponents. Roddick, last year’s Wimbledon finalist opposite Roger Federer, lost to Dudi Sela of Israel, 6-4, 7-6 (8). Meanwhile, Djokovic choked in the third set against Xavier Malisse, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, while Cilic succumbed to Michael Llodra (12), 7-6 (2), 2.

With poor results from these possible contenders for the upcoming Wimbledon, it looks like an even better draw for Federer and Rafael Nadal to rematch their excellent 2008 affair. If the competition doesn’t step up, it’d be a great surprise for anyone else to claim the title other than the number one and/or number two player in the world.

Despite being pushed to a third set against Denis Istomin, look for Nadal to receive the trophy at the tournament. No one should be able to effectively intercept his run, especially without the big-serving Roddick. If Nadal can get enough experience on grass before Wimbledon and feel completely comfortable with the transition, there’ll be no stopping him until Federer stands in his way. Even that might prove to be a lesser challenge than in previous years.


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