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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.

Nishikori Kicks Off Year with Win Over Cilic

Posted in Brad Gilbert,Kei Nishikori,Marin Cilic by Ben on January 4, 2011

Kei Nishikori, who recently hired Brad Gilbert as coach, upset the second-seeded Marin Cilic in the first round of the Chennai Open. Nishikori won 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2. Cilic was the tournament’s two-time defending champion.

A recent Associated Press article quoted Nishikori: “I was nervous, first match for me … new coach, new trainer. It was a good match today.”

About changes to his game, Nishikori continued that his goal is “not to miss easy balls, not doing crazy stuff… (to play) more percentage tennis. In the second set I tried to make most of my first serves… I was making him move.”

As another article about the match states, “The world number 98 improved his head-to-head against the Croatian to 2-1, adding to his upset win at the 2010 US Open in five sets.”

While it’s too soon to praise Brad Gilbert’s coach for the win, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nishikori continues his strong play into the next couple rounds (and probably beyond, too). As his surprise run to the 2008 US Open fourth-round showed, and even his third-round showing in 2010, Nishikori has the ability to beat the best. If he remains injury-free, he might just join the ranks of the ATP’s top-tier soon enough.

Watch the video below for Nishikori’s five-set win over Cilic in the second round of the 2010 US Open.

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.

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.

US Open Qualifying: Day One

I just got back from the first day of the US Open Qualifying tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Although rain delayed play for a few hours, the tournament eventually commenced pitting former top players hampered by injury, rising young talents, and journeymen dedicated to the sport despite rankings hovering in the 200s, and more, against one another in the windy, rainy conditions.

A dog fight ensued, to say the least, and a lot of passion filled the New York City air — both on the court and off. Here’s what happened during my first day back at my favorite tournament of the season.

With the inclement weather, not too many fans showed up to see the inaugural action for the 2010 tournament. Those that did manage to get to the free event, however, embodied the die-hard fan, among a slew of officials, players, and media people.

You could feel the excitement in the air, the crowd’s energy was palpable. Almost everyone looked happy to be there, despite the annoying drizzle that hit the courts just enough to halt action. Personally, I’m always amazed by the energy, and the intensity around the grounds — the players fighting it out on court, players, trainers, vendors, and more rushing to courts, and other obligations, fans hurrying to get see matches, and other activities that fill the time in between.

After taking in the scene — and despite the rain — it was fun just taking it all in and people watching, eating a pretty good vegetarian crepe, and waiting for the rain to subside, workers took to the courts to start the process of drying. With squeegees and other equipment, matches resumed around 2pm.

The first match I watched presented one of the United States’ future hopefuls, Ryan Harrison against Jonathan Dasnieres De Veigy of France. Harrison, currently ranked 219, looked sharp in his first round qualifying match. Despite a shaky season so far, the 18-year old played with a impressive variety from stinging slices, high topspin lobs, and wicked forehands that put the French journeymen on the defensive for most of the match.

Near the beginning of the first set, I looked to my left and saw none other than Sam Querrey, the fourth-ranked American after Andy Roddick, John Isner, and a recently resurgent Mardy Fish. The 22nd-ranked Querrey, who’s having a strong US Open Series leading up to the US Open, looked to be supporting the young American, which was refreshing to see.

Harrison, probably inspired by the New York City crowd that heavily on his side, and Querrey, closed out Dasnieres De Veigy 6-1, 6-4.

After taking in some of Katie O’Brien’s match against Lesya Tsurenko — she won in three sets — I got the chance to simultaneously view the end of Anna-Lena Groenefeld’s match against Rika Fujiwara and the start of Michelle Larcher de Brito’s versus Karolina Pliskova.

Groenefeld looked ready to close out the match easily in the second, she was up 4-0. Her serve, however, got shaky, while Fujiwara improved her play with compact swings and raw emotion. The former top 20 player Groenefeld, who’s now ranked 129 in the world, eventually regained her form with poise to close out the match 7-5, 6-3. Seeing Groenefeld brought me back a few years to watching her on television. It was the first tennis match I’d ever watched, and it was fitting I got the chance to see her again today after about six years of watching, playing, and writing about tennis.

In the other match, Larcher de Brito impressed from the start with powerful forehands and a Maria Sharapova-like intensity. After trading service breaks with Pliskova, Larcher de Brito grunted her way to a 6-4, 6-4 win. Near the end of the first set, however, I’d be remiss to forget mentioning another player-sighting — none other than crowd favorite Melanie Oudin, who wowed fans with her surprise quarterfinal run at last year’s event. I was star struck to say the least. Let’s see how Oudin handles the pressure at this year’s tournament with her less-than-stellar results at other events so far this season.

Other matches of note I caught bits and pieces of as the day of tennis continued included: American Bobby Reynolds’ win against Chris Guccione, Sloane Stephens’ victorious match over Anais Laurendon, and Kei Nishikori’s successful play after an elbow injury hampered most of the season versus Paul Capdeville.

First Week of Historic Wimbledon Comes to a Close

The first week of the 2010 Wimbledon has finished, and it’s been one of the most talked about events in tennis history with a slew of stories intriguing both on and off the court. Here’s a rundown of the events that have collectively turned this year’s Wimbledon into one to be remembered for years.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal Begin with Shaky Results:

With order relatively restored to the top rankings, and a “healthy” Nadal back at Wimbledon, audiences everywhere expected the top two seeds to advance easily to make it to the second week. In fact, I’m calling for there to be a rematch of the 2008 Wimbledon final.

However, both have played their fair share of dangerously close matches. In the first round, Alejandro Falla pushed Federer to the limit, forcing him to come back from two sets down. Federer, the 2009 champion, prevailed with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0 win.

While many thought he’d refocus in the second round with a straights sets win, the qualifier Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia, proved otherwise. The 153rd player in the world used his two-handed swings, powerful game, and wacky serve to unnerve Federer. Bozoljac, who calls himself “Bozo,” took Federer to four sets before losing, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.

In the third round, however, Federer won easily in straight sets against Arnaud Clement to set up a match with French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer.

Nadal has had an equally, if not more, difficult path to the second week. After a quick win in the first round over Kei Nishikori, Nadal needed five sets over Robin Haase, ranked 151st in the world. In the third round, Nadal was also pushed to the brink of defeat when Philipp Petzschner of Germany played an inspired second and third set. Nadal, warned for accepting coaching repeatedly and after taking a questionable medical timeout, beat the 39th ranked Petzschner 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2. 6-3.

Nadal will next play against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, who ousted the 13th seed Mikhail Youzhny, in the second round.

John Isner and Nicholas Mahut Play the Longest Match Ever:

Not just the best match of the tournament so far, the 11 hour and five minute battle between Isner and Mahut is ensured to be one of the best matches for years to come. The atmosphere must have been phenomenal, and the poise both players showed at the 70-68 conclusion in Isner’s favor is to be applauded as one of the best instances of sportsmanship.

For a more detailed post on the match, click here.

While Isner lost in the second round in ironically the shortest men’s match of the first week, the American and Mahut, who qualified to get into the main draw, showed a level of dedication and passion unmatched so far. Both deserve to take the time to regroup. It’ll be exciting to witness their renewed form by the time the US Open rolls around in August.

The Queen of England Pays Wimbledon a Visit for the First Time in Decades:

On Thursday, Queens Elizabeth II watched Andy Murray beat Jarko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 before having lunch with Federer. She also met with many other players including: Andy Roddick, Venus and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Billie Jean King, and Martina Navratilova. The visit was her first at Wimbledon in 33 years.

The Williams Sisters Look Sharp in Singles and Doubles:

In contrast to the shoddy play of both Federer and Nadal, Serena and Venus look ready to take Wimbledon by storm — again. The younger sister came through the first three rounds bagel-ing her opponents in the first set each time. Her next obstacle to the finals, however, is much harder. Williams shouldn’t expect a 6-0 set against her next opponent: Maria Sharapova. Regardless, look for Williams to get the win, albeit in three sets.

Venus, while getting just one bagel set in her three rounds, looks just as good. Up next for her is the much less well-known Jarmila Groth, who’s currently ranked 92nd in the world. Expect Venus to trounce the Australian in two painless sets to make it to the quarterfinals.

In doubles, the sisters are well on the way to taking home a fifth consecutive major doubles title, improving upon their “Williams Slam.” Read more about that here.

Under the Radar – Murray and Robin Soderling Poised for Success:

With all of the drama going on, relatively little attention has been paid to the players flying through the field. Murray and Soderling, who’ve fought their way through the rounds in straight sets,  can safely be considered dark horse picks for the title with the first round scares from Federer and Nadal.

In the fourth round, both need to continue stepping up their games. Murray faces Sam Querrey, who I previously picked getting into the quarterfinals. We’ll see if that’s still the case given Murray’s fantastic play. Either way, I see that match going the lengths.

Soderling’s next match, against David Ferrer, will also be a test. Soderling’s been on fire these past few weeks, and I see no chance of this coming to a conclusion just yet. That is until he meets Nadal in the quarterfinals.

The WTA Tour is Full of Surprises:

Along with the Williams sisters and Sharapova swinging their ways easily into the second week, a bunch of surprise players are also showing their stuff. Players to look out for include: unseeded Petra Kvitova, ranked 62nd, who took out Victoria Azarenka in the third round, Klara Zakapalova, ranked 66th, and qualifier Kaia Kanepi, ranked 80th.

The draws opened wide when the French Open finalists Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur bowed out in first round upsets.

Props to the Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters for making their way to a 25th meeting in the fourth round. I see Henin coming through with the win in three.

Lindsay Davenport Wins First Round in Mixed Doubles:

Three-time major title winner and mother of two Davenport is back, yet again. This time, the 34-year old American played and won her first round mixed doubles match with Bob Bryan. The two won over Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Alla Kudryavtseva 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Davenport mentioned that she’ll also be playing two other doubles events during the season leading up to the US Open. Without much pressure, look for Bryan and Davenport to sweep through the rounds and win the title.

The Curious Cases of Victor Hanescu and James Blake:

In weird fashion, both Blake and Hanescu suffered on-court drama before falling in their respective rounds. Blake, once a top ten player, now currently ranks outside of the top 100. During his match, he reportedly heard ESPN commentator Pam Shriver talking about his dismal playing, prompting some harsh remarks  during the match. Blake lost to Haase 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Read more here.

Hanescu, who made it to the third round, was heckled by the crowd. His response? To spit. Afterward, he allegedly didn’t do his best. Hanescu foot-faulted, double-faulted, and complained his way before retiring against Germany’s Daniel Brands. The Romanian has been fined $15,000 as a result.


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