Tenaciously Tennis

Soderling, Jankovic Upset; Sweet Victories for the Unexpected

Watch out tennis world, there’s a dangerous floater in David Nalbandian in the field. The Argentine most recent win: over world number five Robin Soderling in three sets, including a dominant performance in the third. He won4-6, 6-4, 6-1 over the fifth seed.

After missing the last six major events, Nalbandian is back. After taking out Marcos Baghdatis last week to win his 11th title in Washington, Nalbandian improved his current match winning-streak to 11. With that win, he surged through the rankings by 72 spots and is currently ranked 45th. With the win over Soderling, he’s poised to be seeded once the US Open begins in two weeks.

Although fitness has been a problem for Nalbandian in the post, according to ESPN commentator and former player and coach Brad Gilbert, he’s in pretty good shape after the injury layoff. In the match versus Soderling, the backhand was spot on, too. Nalbandian would hit a blister backhand crosscourt, nailing Soderling into the corner, and then surprise with a world-class down-the-line backhand for a crisp winner. With this shot-making capability, and the belief that comes along with such results, Nalbandian can beat any player on any given day. In fact, over at ESPN, they were calling him one of the favorites at the US Open, behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but potentially before Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the number two and four ranked player in the world, respectively.

And while Soderling was simply outplayed in that match, he wasn’t the only one. Top seed Jelena Jankovic in the Cincinnati tournament was ousted by qualifier and 114th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova in a lopsided 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round. The Serb is back after taking time off to heal her ankle, an injury sustained during the second round of the tournament in Slovenia. It seems like she’ll be needing some more time to recover physically and mentally after this tough defeat. Adding insult to injury, the win was Amanmuradova’s first over a top ten player.

Also losing in the third round in Cincinatti, third-ranked Caroline Wozniacki succumbed to Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1. Bartoli’s impressive play is highlighted further by the fact that Wozniacki is coming straight off a win in her home country last week. She should, therefore, be in strong form. Could it be the jet-lag? Bartoli simply being the better player? Who knows. The question now: Can the 2009 US Open finalist put together another deep run this year? That remains to be seen.

In other matches:

  • Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousted Israel’s Shahar Peer 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
  • Roger Federer fended off a tricky Michael Llodra, who employed an underhanded serve during the second set. Federer won 7-6 (2), 6-3 after a slow start and inspired play from his long-time friend, the veteran Frenchman.
  • Kim Clijsters easily advanced against the struggling Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. Will the former world number one ever get back on track?
  • Ana Ivanovic, another former top player, continued her good form by beating Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-3.
  • Maria Sharapova didn’t waste time in her win against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who’s been having an excellent summer so far. She looked confident serving and powering the ball in the quick 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Pavlyuchenkova Win Big

Coming fresh off a big seesaw victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova advanced easily over Andrea Petkovic to get to the round of 16 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s event in Cincinnati, Ohio. She won 6-3, 6-1 in the dominating performance. Other strong performers included Ana Ivanovic, who knocked out Victoria Azarenka in the previous round, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the winner over third-seeded Elena Dementieva in two sets.

Sharapova’s last two victories prove she’s regaining the top form that others on the WTA tour should fear. With every match, there’s more of that champion’s spark that brought her to three major titles, beginning at 17. I’ve hinted at it in the past few weeks, but this win only solidifies my sentiments: Sharapova’s prepared to go deep at the US Open. She’ll be seeded well within the top 20, and I see her taking out some other big-time threats to get to the major’s second week.

Her results this year are on an upward trend: first round at the Australian Open, third round at Roland Garros, and a tough loss to Serena Williams in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here’s her chance to break through past the quarterfinals since her 2009 French Open showing. Sharapova’s next opponent? The tricky shot-maker, Agnieszka Radwanska, who’s having a great US Open Series so far, having made it to the semifinals and final of her last two events. I don’t see Sharapova letting up against Radwanska. She’ll win in two close sets.

Compared to Sharapova, Ivanovic’s results at the majors seem wildly unexceptional. She’s only made it to the second rounds at the Australian and French, falling in the first round at Wimbledon. And, yet, things are looking up (even if just slightly) with that win over Azarenka. She followed the upset with a straight sets victory over Yaroslava Shvedova, a quarter-finalist at this year’s French Open, and the winner of the doubles title with American Vania King at Wimbledon. Ivanovic needs to soak up the win and channel the confidence in her next round. She faces Elena Vesnina, the winner over a struggling Francesca Schiavone. I’m taking Ivanovic over Vesnina in three sets.

Pavlyuchenkova’s drubbing of Dementieva secures a huge step for the younger Russian to get to the semis of this event. That is, if she can take out Israel’s Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals. I see Pavlyuchenkova winning that match in three sets. She has the bigger game, and a good deal of experience so far throughout this summer season.

Bracket Breakdown:

In the top half, Jelena Jankovic will get to the semis despite some shaky play. She’ll potentially face Ana Ivanovic in the quarters.

In the bottom half, we see the return of Kim Clijsters, and an impressive showing from the American teenager Christina McHale — the winner against Nadia Petrova. Clijsters easily beat an ailing Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. For McHale, her win over Ayumi Morita means she’ll probably face the Belgian. There, I see her getting overwhelmed by the shots and experience of Clijsters in straight sets. I’m calling Vera Zvonareva to meet Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

On the other side of the draw, I like Pavlyuchenkova to make the semifinals in the top half, although she has stiff competition by facing either Na Li or Yanina Wickmayer to make it there.

In the bottom section, look for Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki to battle it out for the last spot in the final four. I’m predicting Sharapova overwhelms Wozniacki in three sets.

Final Predictions:

Jelena Jankovic defeats Ana Ivanovic in the quarters; Clijsters gets revenge over Zvonareva, who defeated her at Wimbledon in the other match.

Pavlyuchenkova surprises to make the semis, where she’ll face a fiery Sharapova.

The last two standing: Clijsters and Sharapova — a dream match.

Berdych Beats Federer; Williams Sisters Lose in Doubles

In two of the biggest upsets at an already extraordinary Wimbledon, Roger Federer lost to Tomas Berdych, while Serena and Venus Williams succumbed in doubles to Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina. The quarterfinals were intense in score and emotion, and the doubles loss was equally dramatic. Here are highlights of day nine at Wimbledon.

1. Roger Federer versus Tomas Berdych

He took Federer to five sets over a year ago at the Australian Open, beat him in Miami, and finally did it. Yes, that’s correct, Berdych of the Czech Republic beat the reigning champion, and six time Wimbledon winner, in four sets to advance to his second straight Grand Slam semifinal. At the French Open, Berdych lost to Rafael Nadal in the semis.

But the question is: what happened to Federer? This is his second straight quarterfinal showing, something unheard of from him in the last five years. In his press conferences, he wasn’t very kind to his opponents skill, citing nagging injuries, and sounding bitter the whole way through. Sure, it’s understandable. But from Federer? I, for one, expect more.

Now, do I think this is the end of Federer, as surely most of the commentators are chattering about? No. In fact, I say he gets to at least the semis of the US Open, unless he meets Berdych on the way there. Credit needs to be given to the Czech giant, he played the match of his life, winning over Federer quite easily, despite a second set blip. In the third set? He won 6-1. That is impressive.

Now, Federer’s rank is another story. Having lost in the quarterfinals in the last two majors, it’s going to take a big hit. Last year, of course, he won both events. I remember hearing he’s slated to drop to number three in the world. Unheard of for the greatest of all time. If he can have a strong US hard court season leading up to the US Open and defend his title, maybe he has a chance to secure the number two spot again. But these are all big ifs. There are just too many variables and players that can take it to Federer that we’ll need to watch out for the results.

With Berdych in the semifinals, let’s look at the man in his way to make it to the finals.

2. Novak Djokovic versus Yen-Hsun Lu:

In a result reversal from the fourth round, Lu of Chinese Taipei succumbed quickly to a strong Djokovic in three sets. Djokovic looked sharp, and Lu was understandably fatigued from his five set battle with Andy Roddick. Judging by the score, he didn’t have much left in the tank. Will we be seeing more of Lu in the future? We’ll need to see just how his new found confidence takes his game to the next level.

In the Djokovic – Berdych match, both are looking incredibly sharp without a doubt. While Djokovic has the experience in the finals of majors, and the one title to his name at the Austrailian Open, Berdycj won the bigger match. His confidence is at an all time high, especially with his result at the French to back his result at Wimbledon. I’m going to say the upset occurs, and Berdych wins in four sets to make it to his first Grand Slam final.

3. Andy Murray versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:

Continuing to roll through the draw, Murray ousted Tsonga in straight sets to advance to the semifinals of his home Grand Slam event. Under the radar for most of the event, he continues to amaze both for his poise and brilliant shot-making. After a disappointing French Open for both players, it’s nice seeing them make it far into Wimbledon.

Murray has always been a personal favorite with his tactically genius counter-punching style. With his improved physique and added aggressiveness, he’s already made it to two Grand Slam finals. Both times he lost to Federer. Without him in the way, Murray’s chances haven’t looked better. Of course, before looking toward the final, we need to examine one last match.

4. Rafael Nadal versus Robin Soderling:

In the second meeting between Nadal and Soderling — the last at the French Open final — Soderling upped his level to take the first set from the 2008 champion. After that, however, Nadal steamrolled through Soderling to advance to the next round. With each major, I see more things I like about Soderling. Hopefully, he goes into the US Open proud of his accomplishments — not discouraged in the least. I believe he’ll hold up a major title one day, it’s just a matter of when.

The match between Murray and Nadal will be a marquee event. Whoever wins the match — and I can’t definitively predict who — will win the title in my opinion.

5. The Williams Sisters versus Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina:

Going for the calendar year Slam in doubles, the Williams sisters rolled through their first batch of matches, looking poised for another doubles victory. That, however, was not the case. Zvonareva and Vesnina played some fantastic doubles to knock out the number one seeds.

What a tough couple days for Venus. I wish her a great hard court season. With her success so far this year, there’s no reason to be discouraged.

6. Endnote:

So, Wimbledon is winding down. Look for Berdych to beat Djokovic in four sets, while the other semifinal is still up in the air. Whatever the final, it’ll be a great way to end such this historic 2010 tournament.

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