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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?

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Milos Raonic Wins SAP Open for First Career Title

The big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic upset top-seeded Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) at the SAP Open to claim his first title. With the win, he becomes the first Canadian to take home an ATP title since Greg Rusedski in 1995.

With a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open to start the season, the 20-year old looks to be on a quick upward trend in the rankings. At a career-high of 59th, Raonic has cemented his huge game by claiming the maiden title. The question is: Can he keep the momentum going, or will the pressure to succeed bear down? With his play these past few weeks, it seems like he’ll keep up the form.

Additionally, he had a tough road to the finals, beating Xavier Malisse, James Blake, Richard Berankis, and an ailing Gael Monfils. Verdasco, the player he defeated to take the title, was the tournament’s top seed. These solid wins should further boost his confidence going forward.

To make things even more interesting, Raonic is set for a rematch against Verdasco in their next tournament at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships next week. There, look for another close match between the Spaniard and Canadian with Raonic coming out the victor once more.

To see some of Raonic’s big game, check out this video of him playing Ivo Karlovic in an exhibition match at the SAP Open before the final below.

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.

Day Three Results Rundown

Day three proved to be filled with upsets and sharp play from the top tier of the current tennis all-stars. Here’s a brief summary of noteworthy results.

The WTA:

  • Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, and Maria Sharapova all record easy victories in their first round matches.
  • Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka advance with their 6-3, 6-3 wins. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova only needs one more again to beat Iveta Benesova.
  • French Open finalist Sam Stosur joins Francesca Schiavone in defeat after straight sets loss to Kaia Kanepi.
  • Na Li and Jie Zheng make it to round two in straight sets.
  • Petra Kvitova, a player I have my eye on, takes out Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-2.
  • American Vania King set to play decisive match against Daniela Hantuchova tomorrow.
  • Serena and Venus Williams team up to continue their doubles major title string up success. They’re shooting for five in a row.

The ATP:

  • Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Sam Querrey, and Robin Soderling advance in three sets.
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga comes back strong in first match after retiring at the French Open.
  • Seeds Nicholas Almagro, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marcos Baghdatis fall, while unseeded American James Blake continues to struggle. Fabio Fognini upset Fernando Verdasco, too.
  • John Isner’s match is held at two sets apiece against Nicholas Mahut.

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.

Nadal, Federer, or the Field – Who Will Win?

Well, I recently took a look at the WTA tour, and the potential winners for the French, deeming Justine Henin and Venus Williams as probably finalists based on their draws. However, the decision to name both was not an easy pick. On the men’s side, things are a little different. Okay, much different. Right now, I can say with some confidence that the final will once again be like the days of old. Yes, that’s correct. I’m going with the safe bet and betting on a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal final.

Just for the heck of it, we’ll take a look at the draw. Can anyone follow the lead of Robin Soderling last year, the David to Nadal’s Goliath? Probably not, but with tennis, or sport in general, you never really know.

The First Quarter: The players of note include – Federer (1), Gael Monfils (13), Marin Cilic (10), and Soderling (5).Without too much worry, I’m writing Federer into the quarterfinals. There, I see him facing Soderling. I seriously doubt, however, that Soderling can do the unthinkable and take out Federer before the semifinals of a Grand Slam. So, I won’t even entertain the thought. Yes, Soderling’s confidence will be at a high, but this repeat of last year’s final will see the same three set ending.

The Second Quarter: Here, we have Andy Murray (4), Marcos Baghdatis (25), John Isner (17), and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8). From these names, Murray is the obvious pick for the first spot, while Tsonga looks strong for the second. However, Murray will be the one with the much more difficult time with Baghdatis and Isner in his section. Look for the Brit to pull-out his magic against these two in four or five sets.

The Third Quarter: The only real names that can be a real threat to dethrone the Nadal-Federer rivalry are Andy Roddick (6) and Novak Djokovic (3). And those two won’t be able to pull it off anyway. I see them meeting in the quarterfinals with Djokovic coming out the victor. Roddick is highly susceptible to falling early in Paris and will probably do so with very little play on clay in the season leading up to Roland Garros. Actually, scratch that. Roddick hasn’t played on clay at all, or on any other surface since his win in Miami at the end of March.

The Fourth Quarter: Plain and simple – Nadal (2). Enough said. Good luck to compatriot Fernando Verdasco (7), Fernando Gonzalez (12), Ivan Ljubicic (14), and the veteran Lleyton Hewitt (28). They’ll all need it to put even a dent in Nadal’s superior clay game.

In sum the results will look something like this: Federer will beat out Soderling; Murray will take out Tsonga; Djokovic will dismantle a rusty Roddick (if the American can even make it that far); and Nadal will just win, probably against Verdasco, who really has no business being on the same court as the other Spaniard.

Federer will win in three against Murray and Nadal will beat Djokovic, unless the Serb retires from the match as he is accustomed to doing. Thus, we have ourselves a pretty clear-cut Grand Slam.

Take a look at the full draw here.

Nadal’s Needed Win Finally Found at Masters Event

Posted in Andre Agassi,Fernando Verdasco,Rafael Nadal,Roger Federer by Ben on April 18, 2010

Spain’s Rafael Nadal finally took home a title after months without a win. With his defeat of Fernando Verdasco, 6-0, 6-1 at the Monte Carlo Masters event final, the Spaniard takes home his sixth straight title at the tournament. According to the ESPN article, “Nadal Wins 6th Straight Monte Carlo Masters Title,” “The second-seeded Nadal overpowered Verdasco with a stunning display of attacking clay-court tennis to earn his sixth straight victory at Monte Carlo, but his first title since the Rome Masters in May 2009.”

Therefore, the win, his first in just under a year, ends the drought and elusiveness that Nadal has grown accustomed to, especially with the injuries plaguing his play. Further enhancing the importance of Nadal’s win, the article continues that he”is the only player to win six consecutive titles at the same tournament since tennis turned professional in 1968, and the 23-year-old has tied top-ranked Roger Federer with 16 Masters titles, one behind Andre Agassi’s record.”

With history already made and even more to come, hopefully Nadal can continue his sensational tennis and take home more titles. He deserves it.

Injuries Wrack Male Players in Third Round Action; Top Women Advance Easily

As the first week of the Australian Open came to a close, many of the matches on the ATP side were canceled due to injury. Mikhail Youzhny, Marcos Baghdatis, and Stefan Koubeck were all victims of various ailments, failing to make good on their impressive play.

While it was certainly a disappointment in the context of this particular tournament, the slew of injuries paints a greater picture of the problems with scheduling evident on the professional circuit. To have top players bowing out from major matches so early in the season means two things: a) the players themselves might not be in the best physical shape (Baghdatis), or b) many are still recovering from the stress of playing over a span of ten months non-stop.

As a recreational tennis player as well a member of a division three college tennis team, it is evident that the aches and pains associated with the sport are many. Intensifying the strain on the body as apparent on the professional level is, therefore, substantially higher. Therefore, it would be in the best interests of the ATP and WTA tours to cut out some of the lesser tournaments, possibly closer to the end of the year, in order to give the players more time for rest and relaxation. They deserve it.

What do the retirements mean for the remainder of the draw? Let’s see.

Lleyton Hewitt next faces Roger Federer in the fourth round. Despite the retirement from Baghdatis, expect the veteran Australian to bow out in straight sets to the world number one.

Next, Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who made great waves last year down under, including an epic five-set match against Rafael Nadal, will play Nikolai Davydenko. By only playing one set against Koubeck, the Spaniard should be ready to go against Davydenko,a blackhorse to breakthrough and win his first major. Prediction: Verdasco will summon the superb play that pushed Nadal to the brink last year, but come up short against the technical supremacy of the Russian. Davydenko will win in four.

Finally, Lukcasz Kubot of Poland, the man that won the walkover from Youzhny, should prove an easy match against the third seed, Novak Djokovic. The Serb is hungry for a title, and will end Kubot’s best Grand Slam run in three quick sets.

While many of the lower-ranked men were struggling physically, the top seeds on the WTA side advanced comfortably into the second week. Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, and Victoria Azarenka headlined play, reaching the fourth round in straight sets, including bagel sets from Serena, Wozniacki, and Azarenka. In the top half, look to see this quartet make good on their Sunny Slam success and battle it out between each other in the quarterfinals: Serena versus Azarenka, and Venus versus Wozniacki. The fighting will be fierce, and the drama at its highest.


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