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Tenaciously Tennis


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.

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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.

Querrey and Venus Advance; Isner Falls in Four

Sam Querrey and Venus Williams won their respective third and fourth round matches at the US Open, while John Isner fell in four tight sets to Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny. The news comes a day after Americans James Blake and Beatrice Capra failed to advance in their own matches.

Here’s what to make of the American’s results, and what to look forward to in future action at the year’s final major.

Querrey’s straight sets win over Nicholas Almagro sets the stage for speculation over the American’s strong form going into his next match. His opponent, however, Stanislas Wawrinka cannot be written off. He recently beat Andy Murray, the tournament’s 4th seed, in a surprising 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 victory. With a tied head-to-head record, this is a tough match to call. I’m going with Querrey in five sets.

Getting into the quarterfinals was Venus, who advanced in another straight sets victory. This time, she beat Israel’s Shahar Peer 7-6 (3), 6-3. Her next opponent: Francesca Schiavone. Schiavone’s form seems to be back after a roller-coaster couple months after winning the French Open. The Italian plays some beautiful tennis, reminiscent of Tsvetana Pironkova’s brand of game, which knocked out Venus in the Wimbledon quarters. In the end, however, this is a hard court. I take Venus advancing in two. With a 7-0 head-to-head against Schiavone and a chance to reach her first US Open semifinal since 2007, Venus wants the win very badly.

Although Isner served 33 aces in his match against Youzhny, he lost 6-4, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5), 6-4. With a staggering number of errors, Isner’s game wasn’t up to par, and he suffered as a result. Let’s hope the American giant makes some real noise at the Grand Slam events next year by getting deep into a major — quarters or better. He’s certainly had some dramatic runs in 2010, but they’ve been cut a little too short for his ability.

Harrison and Capra Win, Roddick and Oudin Fall in Second Round

American Teen Ryan Harrison secured the biggest win of his young career during one of, if not the, biggest tournaments. Harrison routed 15th-seeded Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the US Open. Another young American talent to look out for is the 18-year-old wild card Beatrice Capra, ranked 371 in the world. A changing of the guard, however, welcomes these two Americans into the equation as veteran Andy Roddick lost to Janko Tipsarevic in four disheartening sets, while Melanie Oudin, last year’s breakout American star, lost to Alona Bondarenko  6-2, 7-5.

Harrison next draws a strong player in Sergiy Stakhovsky, who won his fourth title at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven last week. Stakhovsky, currently ranked a career-high of 36, won’t have the crowd’s support, but he does have the form needed to get to the third round and end a good run by the youngest man left in the draw. Then again, Stakhovsky could be fatigued after winning the title. Plus, he escaped an intense first round match against Peter Luczak. Stakhovsky needed four sets, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, to advance.

As much as I like Harrison, and what he means for American tennis, I’m going with the Ukrainian to reach his career-best major showing. Harrison, on the other hand, has a bright future. We’ll see what kind of tennis he produces tomorrow, and if he can handle the pressure associated with scoring a big upset in the previous round.

The Maryland-native Capra, who trained at College Park’s Junior Champions Tennis Center before heading to Chris Evert’s tennis academy, defeated the 18th seed Aravane Rezai 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Her next opponent: Maria Sharapova. Can Capra channel Oudin, who had success over the Russian champion last year, to get to the fourth round? I’m guessing not. Sharapova’s on a mission: her strong US Open Series and dominating performance in the first two matches of the US Open show she means business.  I don’t see Capra overcoming Sharapova anymore than I expected Oudin’s run. But, of course, Cinderella stories do happen in tennis, and they’ve happened quite frequently in the majors this year, especially on the WTA tour.

On the flip side, it’s sad to report that both Roddick and Oudin failed to meet expectations. While Roddick was outplayed by a sharp Tipsarevic, Oudin looked lost in the first set against Bondarenko, before putting up a fight in the second. She looked shaky thoughout, not holding serve effectively, while committing a staggering 38 unforced errors to only nine winners. She has the game, she’s proven that. Now, it’s all about coming to terms with the pressure success brings. It’ll happen one day. Look for Oudin to reemerge in 2011 with the same belief and courage that got her to the 2009 Wimbledon fourth round and the quarters at the US Open.

In other news:

  • Robin Soderling defeated Taylor Dent 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
  • The 19th-seeded Mardy Fish advanced against Pablo Cuevas 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.
  • Wild card James Blake fended off Peter Polansky 6-7 (1), 6-3 6-2, 6-4.

US Open Predictions – ATP Tour

The US Open is finally upon us. The stage has been set, the qualifying is over, and the last major of the year is underway. Here’s my review of each section of the draw.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter:

This section of the draw is owned by one man: Rafael Nadal, the number one player in the world, and the winner of both the French Open and Wimbledon. He’s primed to take home his first US Open title on paper, but his US Open Series has been severely lacking, raising some questions about his most recent form on the hard courts. Regardless, this is a major tournament, and there’s no one that enjoys the grind more than Nadal.

The first real test for the Spaniard seems to be Ivan Ljubicic, but even that’s a stretch. I’m going for Nadal to get through to the quarterfinals in dominating fashion.

Other notables: Ryan Harrison, the young American qualifier, plays Ljubicic in the first round. Can he get the upset? Probably not.

Fernando Verdasco’s Quarter:

Verdasco and David Ferrer, both Spaniards, own this section of the draw. There is, however, a very dangerous 31st seed in the Argentinian David Nalbandian. Something about Ernests Gulbis, the 24th seed, is also enticing. I’ll pick Gulbis to face against Nalbandian for a spot in the quarters. In that match, I’m going with Nalbandian to find himself across the net from Nadal.

Other notables: None. I’ll just stress that Gulbis and Nalbandian are ones to watch.

Andy Murray’s Quarter:

With a strong US Open Series, including his win over both Nadal and Federer in Toronto, I like the looks of Murray going into this event. And his path doesn’t look to difficult until getting to the fourth round. There, I’m going with Sam Querrey to fight for the chance at the second week.

Murray, however, will win in three or four sets. He’s too masterful of a tactician to get shocked by Querrey’s power.

Other notables: Can the 14th seed Nicholas Almagro make any noise by defeating the home favorite Querrey in the third round?

Tomas Berdych’s Quarter:

The tennis world hasn’t heard too much from Berdych since his stunning run to the Wimbledon finals, where he was promptly dominated by Nadal. This section of the draw won’t make a repeat performance any easier. With Mikhail Youzhny, Xavier Malisse, and John Isner looming in the background, Berdych will need to prove he’s ready to continue his success at the majors. He made the semifinals at the French Open, too. Can he keep up the form when the pressure’s really on?

I’m going for the compelling match-up featuring Isner and Berdych. Although Isner’s health looks questionable, get injured in the last tournament he played, I’m looking for a good showing for the American giant. In the fourth round, however, Berdych stops the big guy without a problem.

Other notables: Youzhny could very well break my prediction with some inspired play against Isner in the third round. Watch out.

Nikolai Davydenko’s Quarter:

While this is called Davydenko’s section — he’s the sixth seed?! — it really belongs to Andy Roddick. Davydenko has been suffering recently with injury, and while Roddick isn’t doing too much better health-wise with his mono, he’s proven he’s on the fast track to recovery. I say it’s already a thing of the past.

Roddick shouldn’t have too much trouble making it to the fourth round. Gael Monfil had a lot of trouble in his first round match, barely getting by Robert Kendrick in the first round. I predict Roddick gets into the quarterfinals.

Other notables: The Frenchman Richard Gasquet may very well have the form to take out Davydenko early on. Even so, I’d say Roddick can dispatch Gasquet without too much trouble.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter:

This section also reads incredibly tough on paper. While Djokovic stands out as the heavy favorite to get through by seeding, one American, Mardy Fish, has been playing some incredible tennis recently. At the top of the quarter, the 16th seed Marcos Baghdatis is more fit than ever before. I call Fish advancing in a tight and dramatic four-setter against the Cypriot. The winner faces Djokovic without a doubt.

Other notables: Wild card James Blake and Robby Ginepri might become inspired by the home crowd. Both made the US Open quarterfinals a few years ago.

Robin Soderling’s Quarter:

Although Soderling, the 5th seed, looked shaky in the opening round, he gains confidence as the tournament progress. He’ll make the fourth round without dropping another set.

Marin Cilic finds good form — he looked good in practice when the qualifying tournament was going on — and doesn’t drop a set on his way to play Soderling. That is, unless one Japanese qualifer doesn’t get in his way (explained below) In the probably match Cilic-Soderling, however, Soderling prevails in five sets.

Other notables: Qualifier Kei Nishikori, who made the fourth round before injury set in, has looked sharp so far in his four matches. With a withdrawal after two sets in the first round, he’ll have the extra rest to do some damage. He may give Cilic a real test in the third round. In fact, I hope he does.

Roger Federer’s Quarter:

This section, of course, belongs to Federer. He’s gunning for his second major in a year and number 17 in total. After losing in two straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, he’s hungry for the win. With Paul Annacone as his full-time coach and his new, aggressive brand of tennis, he’s looking very, very good. Federer cruises into the quarterfinals in straight sets all the way.

Other notables: Jurgen Melzer and Lleyton Hewitt are promising, but there’s no way either can get past Federer in a major tournament.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Nadal defeats Nalbandian in four, while Andy Murray loses to Berdych in five sets. In the semis — a rematch of Wimbledon — Nadal dispatches Berdych, although this time in four sets.

In the bottom half, Roddick faces Djokovic, a player he’s beaten four times in a row. He continues the streak to make the semis. There, he faces Federer, the winner versus Soderling to avenge his quarterfinal defeat at Roland Garros. Federer beats Roddick in three.

Wozniacki Wins in Toronto; New Haven Tournament Begins

Caroline Wozniacki, the number two player in the world, needed to win two matches in one day to take the title in Toronto. She did, quite easily. In the morning, she outplayed a recently resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-3. Just a few hours later, Wozniacki took to the courts again, ousting an error-prone and emotional Vera Zvonareva. The Dane’s crisp strokes proved too much for the Wimbledon finalist — she won 6-3, 6-2, putting an end to a tournament re-scheduled due to rain.

The question becomes this: Can Wozniacki, who’s going to be seeded first at the US Open with Serena Williams’ withdrawal, take advantage of the field to win her maiden major title? Last year, she made the finals. This year, she’s on fire, winning three titles already. With numerous others hampered by injury, including Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams, and possibly last year’s champion Kim Clijsters, the field currently looks like hers for the taking.

In New Haven, the Pilot Pen tournament got underway with a strong effort by the struggling Dinara Safina on the WTA tour. Safina ousted this year’s French Open winner, the third-seeded Francesca Schiavone of Italy 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, as a wild card. Also victorious: Elena Dementieva over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova over fan favorite Melanie Oudin.

For the men, wild card James Blake, who’s been struggling on tour with injury this season, dominated Pere Riba 6-0, 6-1. Americans Donald Young and Taylor Dent also advanced: Young won with a 6-1, 6-2 drubbing of Stephane Robert, while Dent needed three sets to beat Eduardo Schwank.

Injury Timeout — How the Big Name Pros are Faring

The fourth major is almost upon us. And, fitting with the final few months of the season, players on the ATP and WTA tours feel the burn. For many, however, it’s not just a burn, but an injury, curbing their success on the tennis court. Here’s a partial list of who’s feeling the aches and pains preventing play, and who’s back trying to salvage the year.

  • After suffering a foot injury just after her Wimbledon win, Serena Williams has been sidelined for the US Open Series. It’s still inconclusive whether or not the 13-time Grand Slam champion will play in the US Open. My call: She does, but doesn’t have the match experience to win.
  • While her younger sister is out of action, Venus Williams has been doing schoolwork for her interior design classes. Oh, and she’s also missing from the tour with a nagging knee ailment. She skipped the tournaments in Cincinnati and Montreal to recover. Unlike her sister, she’s publicly committed to playing at the US Open. After losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, and then having not picked up a racket since then, Venus isn’t a favorite for the title.
  • Just as Maria Sharapova looked ready to crack into the top ten for the first time in a couple years, injury set in. This time, during the final of Cincinnati against Kim Clijsters. The Russian sustained pain in her heel, forcing her to go through the motions for the rest of the match. After holding match points, Sharapova lost in three. On her website, she wrote, “I felt some pain in my foot late in the second set which kind of scared me so I have been forced to pull out of Montreal. I am hoping I just need a few days of rest.” Here’s to that wish being realized! In my mind, she’s a big contender to win the US Open title if physically fit.
  • Dinara Safina isn’t having a good year at all. Currently ranked 70 in the world, the former top-ranked woman and three-time Grand Slam finalist has suffered from a back injury on and off for most of the season. Now, however, she’s won a couple matches in Canada. The question: Can she keep it going, both physically and mentally?
  • Justin Henin looked ready to punctuate her comeback  with a major title at some point this year. After diving for a ball against Clijsters at Wimbledon, however, she hurt her elbow, damaging ligaments. Since then, she’s been out recovering. Henin recently announced that she won’t play for the rest of the reason.
  • Ana Ivanovic’s health has been on and off for a while now. In Cincinnati, she made it all the way to the semifinals, before getting hurt once more. On her website, she wrote, “I had almost non-stop icing for two days, to prevent swelling. My ankle has reacted quite well to the treatment and I still hope to play in New Haven next week.” Hopefully, Ivanovic keeps up the high level of play that finally got her far in a tournament.
  • James Blake, now ranked outside the top 100, cites injuries as the main reason for his poor play. He recently lost to Denis Istomin in Cincinnati 6-3, 6-0. The American, however, will be playing in New Haven and the US Open in an attempt to get back on track.
  • John Isner is one of the latest big names to get hurt on tour. In the second round of Cincinatti, he retired against David Nalbandian with an ankle injury.
  • Although he probably won’t defend his US Open title, Juan Martin Del Potro’s wrist seems to be recovering well. Since his wrist injury at the beginning of the season, Del Potro hasn’t played on tour. It’s a shame the Argentine won’t make it back to his best major result. He’ll drop out of the top ten as a result, too.

Roddick Returns After Mono Scare

Any Roddick returned to the tour after a scare of mononucleosis, the same disease that wracked Roger Federer’s system in 2008. Roddick, entered in Cincinnati, punctuated his comeback with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1 win over Sergiy Stakhovsky. He looked poised to win in straight sets after leading 5-2 in the tiebreak when things started to fall apart. Roddick threw his racket, let off the steam, and never looked back. He steamrolled in the final set, playing what he considers some of his best tennis of the season.

After the match, he said, “I don’t feel perfect, but good enough. That third set was actually a blessing in disguise. That’s the best I’ve played in months.” That’s a great sign going into the next round, although I don’t think he’s ready to take on the big guns in the tournament, such as Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Andy Murray.

Here are other things to think about on the WTA and ATP tours:

  • Federer doesn’t have Paul Annacone with him at the tournament. Is something wrong already? Was it only a short-term gig? Or is Federer a little annoyed that lost to a coach-less Murray at the Rogers Cup? None of the above, apparently.
  • Murray’s definitely not getting a new coach until after the US Open. Good choice.
  • Venus Williams committed to playing the US Open. Now, how about Serena?
  • How will Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova fare after getting injured at Cincinnati?
  • Jelena Jankovic continues to be a big question mark, losing in the first round to Iveta Benesova, while Svetlana Kuznetsova rebounded after a tough loss to Sharapova last week. She beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a semifinalist at Cincy, in three sets. What’s next for Jankovic? Is she going down, Ivanovic-style? Or, will she be another Elena Dementieva? She’s had her chances to win a major, defaulting, being dramatic, or injured every time.
  • James Blake, a former top ten American, will receive a wild card into the US Open. Is it worth it?

Headline Round-Up: Fish, Zvonareva, and Safina Win

After some exceptional American success last week, a string of big headlines are signaling the start of another busy seven days on the ATP and WTA tours. Here’s a round-up of the current events around the sport this week.

  • Mardy Fish continues his winning streak, notching match number 11 over Viktor Troicki. The American has swept the field since a second round loss at Wimbledon. He won two titles in Newport and Atlanta and looks primed to continue his success after dropping 30 pounds.
  • Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva beat Dominika Cibulkova in a tough 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 to get her first win since losing to Serena Williams. Zvonareva seems to have recovered from the mysterious ankle injury that forced her to retire from the Bank of the West Classic last week.
  • Dinara Safina’s free-fall in the rankings and with her form finally picked up a little after she won a match — her first win in seven tries. The former world number one and three-time major finalist beat Alyona Bondarenko 6-1, 7-6 (2) in San Diego.
  • Serena Williams and John Isner are set to take part in the Hopman Cup, an international tournament that serves as a warm-up for the Australian Open. As an Associated Press article writes, “Williams and Isner will join the Serbian pair of Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, Belgium’s Justine Henin, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt and France’s Gael Monfils in the mixed teams tournament which runs Jan. 1-8.” Time will tell if the big-name players keep their commitments to this progressive event.
  • James Blake continues his poor form, this time losing to the qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Blake is now ranked 105th. At the same event, David Nalbandian is back after a hamstring injury, winning over Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-0.
  • Speaking of players recovering from injury, US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is back on the courts. Although he probably won’t make it back in time to defend his title, or at least be a threat to win the event, it’s good to see he’s back. Click here to see the picture he posted on his Twitter account, apparently proving his return.
  • Back for more: Ivan Lendl will debut on the ATP Champions seniors’ tour in Paris this October.
  • Ones to watch, maybe: 22-year old Alexandra Mueller, ranked 447th, received a wild card into the US Open qualifying after defeating Alina Jidkova in the USTA playoffs. She handily beat Jidkova 6-0, 6-3. The last time Mueller played at the qualifying, she was 16. Jelena Dokic also made news for winning her second straight title on the ITF tour.

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).

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