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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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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.

US Open Qualifying: Day Three

The skies opened up, and a beautiful day of tennis ensued at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On my second visit to the home of the year’s final major, I made my way through throngs of fans to find some of the most promising American talent.

After arriving in the early afternoon — missing Jesse Levine’s heartbreaking loss to Brazil’s Caio Zampieri due to retirement — I arrived at Court 7. The match featured the 21st seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy against the 15-year old Madison Keys of Florida. Keys began her Grand Slam debut firing away to capture an early break against Camerin. Nerves, however, set in with the players trading breaks until Keys pulled away to take the first set 6-3.

The young American, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, hit crisp backhands, while sporting a powerful serve and a strong mental game. Errors started to creep in Keys’ game as Camerin found her form — although never her serve. While the young American lost in the next two sets, bowing out against her 28-year old opponent3-6, 6-3, 6-4, expect success from her in the future once she finds increased consistency.

Also noteworthy about the match and the US Open atmosphere in general: after the first couple games finished, I looked up to see Keys’ mother enter the stands. Another arrival: Tom Gullikson, the brother of Tim Gullikson, who was Pete Sampras’ former coach. I suspect Tom works with Keys in Florida, the state in which he resides. Sightings like this happened for most of the day, once again highlighting the wonderful atmosphere for which the qualifying tournament shines.

With that match over, I went to Louis Armstrong stadium, catching Gael Monfils hitting. In the nearby court, the Australian Open finalist and world number four Andy Murray was practicing with the 25th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Talk about a fan-friendly experience — for free!

On the way to see the men practicing, I ran into Melanie Oudin — my second sighting of the Georgia teenager at the qualifying event. In fact, over the course of the day, I saw Oudin a number of times, supporting her compatriot Sloane Stephens and other Americans, among others.

I caught most of the 17-year old Stephens’ match, and I can safely say that she’s another one to watch. Currently ranked inside the top 300 in the world, Stephens enjoyed a good run at the BNP Paribas Open during which she advanced to the second round after qualifying. Although she fell  in the second round the US Open Qualifying for the second straight year — this time to veteran Zuzana Ondraskova 6-3, 7-5 — Stephens hits hard and with passion. She’s still streaky, especially on the forehand side, but with Venus and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters as self-proclaimed idols, a good volleying technique and a powerful backhand, the Florida-native looks poised to one day get into the top 100.

Once finished, I went to Court Four, which is notable for its easy-viewing access to the practice courts. There, I yet again saw Oudin along with Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Donald Young, and personal favorite Patty Schnyder.

I next scanned the courts for another match to view, making it in time to see Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac close out the first set against Guillermo Alcaide. Bozoljac, known for taking a set from Roger Federer in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon, is an exciting player to watch. He hits a big serve, rips backhand winners, and surprises with his tricky slice and two-handed forehand. After winning 6-3 6-2, a person in the audience — presumably a friend — mentioned his match against Federer to which he replied, “One set and one point.” Meaning: he only needed to win one more set and one more point against the greatest of all time to win the match and move on to the third round. Bozoljac will remember that fact for the rest of his life.

I ended the day by watching parts of Sania Mirza’s match against Elena Bovina. The former top 30 Mirza looked sharp, hitting winners and powerful groundstrokes to win 6-3, 6-3. I also caught Wimbledon junior winner Kristyna Pliskova — identical sister to this year’s Australian Open junior winner Karolina Pliskova and — beat the 18th seed Aranxta Rus. Are the Pliskova sisters the next Williams sisters? It’s too soon to say, but it will be interesting to see how the sisters’ games develop in the coming years.

My second trip to the qualifying tournament ended by viewing Ryan Harrison versus 10th-seeded Rui Machado. The young American advanced in a riveting 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 match filled with heavy support from the home crowd under the blazing lights of the US Open.

Querrey, Murray, Sharapova, and Azarenka Advance to Finals

Andy Murray and Sam Querrey will meet in the Farmers’ Classic final as the number one and two seeds, respectively. As for the WTA event in Stanford, Victoria Azarenka ousted Sam Stosur in two quick sets, while Maria Sharapova beat Agnieszka Radwanska in three.

Murray looked incredibly sharp in the first set against Lopez, closing the Spaniard out easily with a bagel (6-0). In the second set, however, Lopez brought his game up a few notches, winning 6-1. The third saw Murray get back on track to finish 6-4. Amid a switch in coaches and a late entry into the tournament, he’s looking great to get to the finals of the event. His opponent across the next seems to have luck on his side (along with a ton of skill and confidence going into the event).

Querrey came back from the edge of defeat once more against Janko Tipsarevic. After being unable to close out the first set in the tiebreak, Querrey evened the score in the second after the tiebreak went his way 7-6 (5). He fended off a 5-1 deficit to take the set, boosting his belief to take the third 6-4. With a ranking of 20, one spot shy of his career-best of 19, a home crowd advantage, and three titles in single to his name this year, everything’s going right for the American. It’ll be a battle out there, and I see the upset occurring with Querrey defeating Murray in three tight sets.

For the WTA tour, Azarenka looked back to top form in her 6-2, 6-3 domination of Stosur, a player she hasn’t had trouble with in the past. Stosur, however, is a different player these days with her excellent French Open. For Azarenka to push that confidence aside and player her game means she’s ready to take on anyone once again.

Regardless, her opponent, Sharapova, might just have the answer. After a three-set battle against Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals, it looked like she might have an easier time against Radwanska. That wasn’t the case at all. With a beautiful display of finesse, spins, angles, and penetrating groundstrokes, Radwanksa kept Sharapova from getting a rhythm in the first set. In the second, Sharapova got focused winning almost all of the points on her serve. In the end, her mental toughness and desire to win got her the match. Sharapova prevailed 1-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Also noteworthy, Lindsay Davenport and Liezel Huber made it to the doubles finals after their semifinal opponents retired. As wild cards, they’ll face the second-seeded Chinese pair of Yung-Jan Chan and Jie Zheng.

Cahill to Coach Murray? Maybe, Probably Not

With Andy Murray recently splitting up with full-time coach Miles Maclagan, the British press wants to know just who will take over for their number one player.

According to Cliff Drysdale, during Murray’s match against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, along with an article for The Guardian and another in The Mail, Darren Cahill might just be the man for the job. During the broadcast, however, Cahill refuted the idea, albeit not very convincingly. He told Drysdale, “It didn’t take very long to bring me up, did it?”

He continued that “it depends what he wants,…if [Murray’s] looking to employ a full-time coach that can’t be me. I’m not in the position to be anybody’s full-time coach with my commitments here at ESPN, and also a consultant at Adidas.” He continued that if he ever went back to being a full-time coach, he probably would’ve stayed to see if Roger Federer wanted him for the job. Cahill worked with Federer over the past couple years.

Despite the Australian seeming to say “no,” The Guardian stated, “The Australian Darren Cahill, who guided Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, is favoured to take over, but Murray will wait until the US Open finishes in September before deciding. Cahill, who is attached to Murray’s chief sponsor, Adidas, currently works as an analyst for ESPN.”

The Mail writes, “Murray, in co-ordination with his mother Judy, still his most trusted adviser, placed Cahill at the head of his wish-list to coach him when they decided Maclagan’s days were numbered after Wimbledon, as exclusively revealed in The Mail on Sunday four weeks ago. ”

There’s a lot still up in the air. Personally, it’d be good for Murray to have Cahill at his side. With a career-high ranking of 22 in1989, Cahill has the history both on and off the court to do great things for Murray, who has yet to win a Grand Slam title.

Wimbledon Predictions – The ATP Tour

Roger Federer’s loss to Lleyton Hewitt last week and a tough draw for Rafael Nadal signify a tough time for the two previous champions. Can both overcome the tough challenge that lays ahead of them? I think so. Let’s take a systematic look at the draw and crack this year’s Wimbledon code.

The First Quarter:

Notables – Roger Federer (1), Tommy Robredo (30), Feliciano Lopez (22), Jurgen Melzer (16), Tomas Berdych (12), Stanislas Wawrinka (20), Victor Hanescu (31), Nikolai Davydenko (7)

In this section, the obvious person to pull through is Federer, the five time champion. I see him advancing to the fourth round without much trouble. Once there, however, I see a tough test against Tomas Berdych in the future. Also noteworthy, Lopez of Spain, who beat Nadal a couple weeks ago. While Federer didn’t play too sharply against Hewitt in his pre-Wimbledon warm-up, it’s a different story in a Grand Slam. Watch Davydenko, whose been having a tough year so far, falter before the fourth round.

The Final Four: Federer faces Lopez, and Berdych handily defeats an ailing Davydenko.

The Second Quarter:

NotablesNovak Djokovic (3), Taylor Dent, Albert Montanes (28), Gael Monfils (21), Lleyton Hewitt (15), Marin Cilic (11), Mardy Fish, Ivan Ljubicic (17), Philipp Kohlschreiber (29), Andy Roddick (5)

This is a difficult part of the draw for Roddick, the guy I’m rooting for. He’s had some poor results this past few months, including a basically non-existent clay court season. Yes, he made it to the third round, which is as good as a showing as any for the top male American, but his third showing at Queens Club was his worst ever. Hopefully, this 2009 Wimbledon finalist can recall the drive and belief that took him to a fifth set against Federer last year. That match his to win. I see Roddick making it to the fourth round without losing a set. There’s no one to do any damage to his exceptional serving game and strong baseline rallying capabilities. The rest these past few months might also help. If anything, he’s fresh. It’s all up to the Roddick serve. Once he makes it there, I see a tough match against Marin Cilic in his future. He should, however, pull through.

The Final Four: Hewitt looks to be a difficult opponent with his win against Federer. I say he dismantles Djokovic. In the bottom half, Roddick proves to be too much for Cilic.

The Third Quarter:

Notables – Fernando Verdasco (8), Julien Benneteau (32), Nicholas Almagro (19), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10), Juan Carlos Ferrero (14), Sam Querrey (18), Gilles Simon (26), Andy Murray (4)

Out of this slew of players, the only one that I feel holds a chance at victory is Sam Querrey, which is surprising given his lackluster Grand Slam performances in the past. With his best performance coming in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open, and only making it to the second round at Wimbledon last year, he has a lot to prove. Regardless, his career high ranking and win over compatriot Mardy Fish in the finals of Queens Club shows he’s ready to do well on grass. With three titles to his name already this year, I see at least a quarterfinal run for the giant American. It won’t be easy with Murray as a potential fourth round opponent, but I like his chances. A lot.

The Final Four: Tsonga surprises Verdasco in five close sets in the top half. In the bottom section, Querrey gives everything to take out Britain’s hope Murray in another five set blockbuster to make his first quarterfinal showing in a Grand Slam.

The Fourth Quarter:

Notables – Robin Soderling (7), Robby Ginepri, Thomaz Bellucci (25), Marcos Baghdatis (24), David Ferrer (9), Mikhail Youzhny (13), John Isner (23), Philipp Petzschner (33), James Blake, Rafael Nadal (2)

Notice Nadal’s section as probably one of, if not the, most difficult in all four sections. I think he needs to watch out for John Isner big time. There’s no saying how Isner will play on a given day. But if he’s at his best, and his baseline game mirrors his wicked serve, the American can take out anyone, even Nadal. I’m not saying that’s probable, but it’s a slim possibility. On the top section, Soderling has a difficult match afainst Ginepri to go through. Other than that, it should be an easy time to make it to the fourth round. There, I see him facing Marcos Baghatis.

The Final Four: Soderling defeats Baghdatis in three sets, and Nadal faces a test against Isner in four.

Second Week Predictions:

  • Federer fends off Berdych
  • Roddick stops Hewitt’s string of grass wins in three
  • Querrey, assuming he plays the match of his life against Murray, faces a pumped up Tsonga. Querrey wins in five for a second straight top ten victory.
  • Nadal notches another win against the Swedish Soderling in a three set repeat of the French Open final.

In the semifinals, I don’t see Roddick repeating the excellent play against Federer. I think he’ll bow out in four sets, much to my chagrin. As for Querrey (or Murray with a serious asterisk), Nadal’s too much to handle in a Grand Slam semifinal. Get ready for much-needed Federer – Nadal final. We’ll leave that prediction for another day — it’s just too close to decide in my mind.

For the men’s official draw, look here.

Riske Reaches Semifinals, ATP Upsets Ensue

Alison Riske, a nineteen year old from the United States, strung together an impressive number of wins to land herself in the Birmingham semifinals against the much more well-known champion, Maria Sharapova. Having never won a WTA tour level match before this week, Riske is showing Melanie Oudin-like promise with these recent victories. Making it to the semifinals, the young Pennsylvanian took out Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium in a three set affair. Riske won the last two sets 6-4, 6-3, showing an impressive ability to fight through a disappointing first set tiebreak defeat.

While not much is known about Riske, the only highlight on her WTA profile is a 2005 finals showing at a Miami ITF doubles event, her ranking and popularity will surely raise immensely. With a current ranking of 185, look for Riske to rapidly improve within the coming weeks leading up to Wimbledon, probably the first Grand Slam she’ll get to play at in the main draw if given a wild card.

I see Sharapova knocking out the teenager easily to get to the final. Riske is likely to be starstruck and nervous, while Sharapova looks to be on a roll and feeling at home on the turf that gave her international recognition in 2004. Back then, at Wimbledon, she was only a little younger than her semifinal opponent. Go figure.

On the ATP side at the Queen’s Club event, the upsets continued with Rafael Nadal succumbing to Feliciano Lopez and Andy Murray checking out against a strong Mardy Fish. Of the results, I’d have to say Nadal’s carries a lot more weight. Expected to make the Wimbledon final, he has a lot to prove in these tournaments leading up to it. Congrats to Lopez for getting his first win against Nadal in quite some time. It’s important to note that Lopez snapped Nadal’s winning streak of 24 matches, too.

Look for Fish and American Sam Querrey, now the event’s highest remaining seed at number seven, get to the finals.


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