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.


Juan Martin Del Potro’s Return to the Top

He’s back.

Although a wrist injury sidelined Juan Martin del Potro for 2010 soon after his victory over Roger Federer in the US Open finals, the Argentine is out no longer.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Del Potro has returned to winning form by collecting the Delray Beach title against Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic. He won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

And, now, the ATP tour has a real threat on its hands. Del Potro closed out the first set with the champion’s mentality that won him the major title and seven other tour-level events. Tipsarevic claimed the lead — up 4-1 — before del Potro raised his level, clawing his way to victory. That’s huge for del Potro’s confidence.

With Federer on something of a decline with his recent losses to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal’s knee injury and Andy Murray’s hurt wrist (and sore mental game), there’s more than enough room for del Potro to reclaim his rightful place in the top ten.

If he can keep healthy, there’s no stopping him.

Watch below to relive the moment of del Potro’s upset of Federer at the US Open.

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.

Azarenka’s Collapse – What It Means for Tennis

With a fiery personality, a big game, and a desire to win, Victoria Azarenka looked poised to make a deep run at the US Open, if not win it all together. The 10th-seeded Azarenka, however, fell to an opponent other than Gisela Dulko in the major’s second round. She, instead, succumbed to a phantom culprit: the combination of energy-sapping heat, humidity, and — quite probably– a physically debilitating tennis schedule.

Now, the debate about tennis’ long season — from January to November — has been raging for a while now. More recently, John McEnroe expressed some controversial concerns that the women in particular “should be required to be in less events,” garnering criticism from many.

While I believe the comments were demeaning, there’s truth to what he’s saying. I think, however, that it isn’t just the women John McEnroe should have targeted. The men, too, — think (last year’s) Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to name a few — are suffering. Injury shouldn’t be so prevalent on tour, and it certainly shouldn’t get to the point where promising young players collapse on court.

Instead, the season’s schedule needs some trimming. Cut down the required number of events, allow professional play to end sooner, and do what it takes for health and player safety — not fan enjoyment and corporate satisfaction — to reign the WTA and ATP tours. By consolidating the schedule, creating higher energy men and women combined events, and weeding out tournaments that aren’t garnering fan support, everyone benefits.

A lot is being done in the tennis world to solve these problems, I’m not saying there aren’t steps being taken. In fact, in January, Novak Djokovic, Nadal, and Roger Federer stated the desire to curb the Davis Cup, cutting down some weeks from the schedule in the process. Maybe this isn’t the best solution — Davis Cup is a heavily grounded tradition in tennis. The problem is: Since then the topic has been somewhat of an elephant in the room. It shouldn’t take such an extreme case, such as Azarenka’s dramatic retirement, to get the conversation really going with purpose.

Let’s hope the remainder of the US Open — and the rest of the season — survives without this scary manifestation of a harsh (and physically daunting) reality that professional tennis players of both sexes sadly face.

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.

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.

Del Potro Set for Wrist Surgery, Clijsters Sidelined by Foot Injury

Posted in Juan Martin del Potro,Justine Henin,Kim Clijsters by Ben on May 4, 2010
In a sad state of affairs for Juan Martin del Potro, the US Open winner will remain sidelined quite a while longer with wrist surgery in his future. Del Potro, unable to play since the Australian Open in Janruary, might remain immobile for months more. Without a date set for the Argentine’s return, the seriousness of the injury is magnified, especially with the troubling way in which the information was relayed to the public.

In Peter Bodo’s “The Oracle of Delpo,” he writes that the message was relayed in an “unusual fashion” during a pop and rock radio show. A letter accompanied the announcement making reference to accusations of the Argentine possibly facing depression. The unprofessional way that this matter was handled coupled with the unsettling idea of depression strikes that everything is going awry for the one-time Slam winner. Who knows if he’ll be able to reclaim the title of champion again? His actions and problems off the court don’t suggest such.

In another case of injury, Kim Clijsters of Beligum was forced to pull out of the Madrid Master series event due to a left foot injury. According to the Associated Press article “Clijsters Pulls Out of Madrid with Foot Injury,” she was hurt during Belgium’s recent Fed Cup match with Estonia.

With a longer period of time necessary before properly healing, hopefully the setback will not affect her play at Roland Garros too severely. With a lack of experience on the red clay of Paris for quite some time, Clijsters might find herself rusty for the French slam. In that case, it would be wise to discount Clijsters as a major contender for the title, which makes her compatriot Justine Henin look even stronger, especially given her recent win at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix tournament in Stuttgart, Germany.

Federer, Nadal In and Del Potro, Gonzalez Out

Despite recent illness from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s ailing knee, both champions have committed to playing the 2010 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. However, just when it looked like the top men would be well enough to compete together, word has reached that Juan Martin Del Potro and Fernando Gonzalez will be pulling out of the event. While Del Potro continues to suffer from a right wrist injury, Gonzalez will be staying in Chile to help out ongoing relief efforts from the recent earthquakes that wracked his country.

Gonzalez’s decision is to be applauded. His commitment to helping Chile is exceptional. Hopefully, the top players can band together as they did in wake of the Haiti earthquake and help out the Chilean relief effort, too.

As for Federer and Nadal playing the event, it will certainly amp up the competition’s level. Weeks previously, the tournament looked to be without these two players with only Serbia’s Novak Djokovic to seem the only contender left to take the tournament, especially in light of Andy Murray’s poor play in Dubai.

However, everything has changed now, for the better. It will be interesting to see if Federer’s lung infection has healed well enough to give the Swiss star a fighting chance. Moreover, can Nadal show that he’s ready to play his physical game once again and prevail? Only time will tell. Indian Wells just got a whole lot more interesting this year, that’s for sure.

Federer Defeats Murray, Acquires Sweet 16 in Three Sets

Roger Federer has done it again: persevering through two intense weeks for the sixteenth time to take home the trophy, and this time as a father. This Aussie Open win, his fourth title, pitted the Swiss champion against Britain’s Andy Murray, who is his country’s only hope to finally securing a Grand Slam trophy after decades of loss.

The match itself was pretty routine for Federer. He showed off his beautiful footwork, his sensational forehand, and the mental game that proved too much to handle for the fiery Murray. Despite the three-set score, there were many chances for Murray to take it to a fourth, including five in the tiebreak. However, he failed to capitalize, proving that, while Murray has the game to win a Slam at some point in the future, he isn’t quite there yet.

Federer’s impressive win announces that the father of two is not going anywhere any time soon. All around him, the top men are battling through injuries, such as Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who will now drop to number four in the world, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Roddick, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and numerous others. At the same time, even if the aforementioned individuals were completely healthy, they could do little to hurt Federer in a Grand Slam, except, of course, Nadal, who still holds the edge in major finals.

With that said, what is there to keep Federer from winning the Grand Slam this year? If he can take the French Open, assuming Nadal is still fighting off injury and the two don’t meet early given Nadal’s compromised ranking, I foresee Federer having an extremely successful year. After breaking Pete Sampras’ record, being married, having two children, and with little more to improve to the tennis world, Federer has absolutely no pressure, and is simply playing for the passion he has for the sport.

Start of Second Week Proves Surprising, Seeds Succumb to Pressure

The last couple of days brought about many surprises as the second week got underway down under. Matches of note: Marin Cilic’s win over reigning US Open champ, Juan Martin del Potro, Maria Kirilenko’s fortuitous advance into the quarterfinals after the number-two seed, Dinara Safina, retired due to injury, Nadia Petrova’s clutch battle with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Justine making good in her comeback against compatriot Yanina Wickmayer, and Na Li’s superb play in her match-up with the US Open finalist, Caroline Wozniacki.

Cilic has shown consistency in his past Grand Slam results, posting third round or better in his last four big stage events. His five set win over the Argentine proves that the 21-year old Croatian has what it takes to take out the big guns at a major. In the next round, Cilic faces American Andy Roddick, who had a tough five set battle of his own against the Chilean, Fernando Gonzalez. I see Roddick using his experience, and coming through in five.

It’s refreshing to see a new face emerge at the forefront on the WTA side of things, meaning Maria Kirilenko’s run to the quarterfinals. After securing the first big upset of the tournament in the first round, Kirilenko has proven her worth. Next up for the Russian, China’s Jie Zheng, who took out Alyona Bondarenko in three. Given that Kirilenko played only nine games against Dinara Safina, I see her going through in straight sets against the more fatigued Zheng.

Nadia Petrova is another surprise player into the second week, especially with her two set win over Kim Clijsters and, more recently, dismantling the reigning French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in three lopsided sets. Her win sets up a rematch of the Sydney tournament’s first round with Justine Henin. Justine’s drive and experience are unmatched by Petrova, who is known for her mental lapses and loss of focus, especially at the big stages. Henin has proven she is ready to get down and dirty on the court as most of her matches have gone the distance in her comeback. I pick the Belgian to advance in three.

Finally, the largest upset of this batch of round four wins: China’s number 16 seed Na Li took out the US Open Finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-3. An excellent win for Li, who next faces Venus Williams, a winner against Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. I see a Williams versus Williams match in the semifinals. Props to Li though for playing without pressure and going for her shots.

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