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Tenaciously Tennis


Kuznetsova, Nalbandian Nab First Titles of 2010

After courting with disaster, Svetlana Kuznetsova pulled through her match against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska to win her first tile since in ten month. Her last title, which she won in Beijing, was also over Radwanska — a player who hasn’t hoisted a trophy since 2008 (despite some impressive and consistent play over the years). The Russian edged out the match in a close 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3 affair. Kuznetsova wasted four match points along the way.

On the ATP tour, wild card David Nalbandian announced his presenc ewith a comfortable win over the flashy Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis. The 117th ranked Nalbandian, who’s back after missing months of tennis with various injuries, won 6-2, 7-6 (4) at the Legg Mason final.

The wins reflect the re-emergence of two champions on the tour. Kuznetsova, who won in France last year and Nalbandian, known for being a giant killer. These players will surely deepen the field further if they can continue to play well. Of course, both are known for being shoddy in the consistency department. Will they return day in and day out both in the mental and physical departments? That’s  a story that needs to develop as the months go by.

I’m predicting that Kuznetsova shows flashes of the brilliant tennis that’s won her two major titles in the coming months. She might just make the second week at the US Open, where she made the final against Justine Henin in 2007 and won the title in 2004. It’ll be a tough test for Kuznetsova, but one that she can handle if she looks into herself and finds that powerful game.

Another notable winner: Caroline Wozniacki, who’s also been struggling to a degree since making a run to the US Open final in 2009. Wozniacki, injured on and off this season, beat Klara Zakopalova 6-2, 7-6 (5) to win the first Danish Open. This was Wozniacki’s second title of the year. The win should give her the confidence necessary to make a strong run at this year’s US Open, where she’ll be defending a great deal of ranking points.

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Final Previews: Kuznetsova, Baghdatis, and More

It’s championship match time as the hard court summer swing heads into the second half. Surprises are everywhere with top seeds exiting early in some events, especially the American men, and familiar faces making their way back to the later stages of tournaments. If anything, this has been a refreshing week for tennis, showing that it’s never right to count out any player on any given day. Upsets happen, and they happen frequently in this sport.

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic:

With a win over Xavier Malisse, Marcos Baghdatis makes his first tour final since taking the title in Sydney at this year’s start. The Cypriot won 6-2, 7-6 (4). He next plays the resurgent David Nalbandian, who breezed by Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2. This compelling match puts two solid shot-makers against one another. Both men want this win for reaffirmation. They’ll both fight with a lot of heart and spirit. In the end, I’m calling Baghdatis to win over Nalbandian. He’s in better shape and might just want the title that much more. I call it going the distance — three sets in Baghdatis’ favor.

The e-Boks Danish Open:

This is Caroline Wozniacki’s tournament to win. She’s got the home advantage against Klara Zakopalova, who’s currently ranked just inside the top 50. Furthermore, Zakopalova doesn’t have the game to hurt Wozniacki, and her results at majors show that. Her best run at a Grand Slam tournament came at this year’s Wimbledon — she made the fourth round.

I see Wozniacki shaking off the ankle injury that’s plagued her this year to get a title, cementing her return to strong form before her best major — the US Open. She made the finals last year against Kim Clijsters, and I’m betting she’s inspired to get into the second week again this year. My prediction: Wozniacki wins in two sets.

Vancouver:

Taylor Dent, the tournament’s first seed, faces Dudi Sela of Israel, the third seed. It’s nice to see both guys doing well. I’ll go with the American Dent to take it in three. He’s been impressive in his comeback, and there’s no reason why he can’t get a title, too. This would be his first in approximately seven years.

The Mercury Insurance Open:

Svetlana Kuznetsova needs to win this tournament in order to salvage an otherwise abysmal year. As last year’s French Open champion, she isn’t doing much to show her capabilities so far. Whatever the reason for this poor form, the Russian has the ability to overpower Agnieszka Radwanska in the finals to claim her first title of the season. Kuznetsova beat the fifth seed, Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-0 — a telling result.

Radwanska, regardless, is a tricky opponent. Plus, her form has been excellent going into this match, pulling Maria Sharapova to three sets last week. At the same time, Kuznetsova owns their head-to-head 6-3, including the last two wins. The last one went her way easily at the finals of Beijing: 6-2, 6-4. I don’t, however, think it’ll be decided so soundly. Radwanska’s been playing too well for that in the last couple weeks. Instead, I’m saying it goes Kuznetsova’s way in three roller-coaster sets.

WTA Post-Wimbledon Roundup

We’ve taken a look at the ATP tour, now it’s time to examine the WTA ranking moves. Who benefited from the two weeks on grass, and who suffered? Here’s a breakdown of the WTA tour position switch-ups.

  • Serena Williams took home the Wimbledon trophy for the second year in a row to break away definitively from the pack. Serena deserves the top sport for a long time. Should she win the US Open crown, too, she’ll be unstoppable.
  • While Serena is the strongest world number one in a while, the number two and three players are shaky. Both Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki ascended to the spots, respectively. Do they deserve the positions? Certainly due to the fact that both play matches and win. Furthermore, both are Grand Slam finalists. But there’s no feeling that they really own those spots, or are likely to keep them for any significant amount of time. No one else really does.
  • Venus Williams, meanwhile, the world number two before the tournament dropped as a result At number four, things are looking glum for the five-time Wimbledon champion. Let’s hope she picks up her Grand Slam game at the US Open.
  • Finalist Vera Zvonareva battled herself and her opponents to make her way to the match against Serena. She’s also now back inside the top ten at the number nine spot. Let’s see if she can get her head back in the game and continue to surprise us with the poise that brought her to the finals, not the self doubt that she showed afterward.
  • Victoria Azarenka and Nadia Petrova both got bumped a few spots. The two former top ten players now find themselves at number 18 and 19, respectively. Look familiar? Well, that’s the same as John Isner and Sam Querrey on the men’s side. The Americans’ stories, however, are ones of which to be proud.
  • Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova both had fairytale runs to the semifinals. With their success, they now enjoy career high rankings. I foresee both within the top twenty by the year’s end. They have the games to do it, albeit drastically different ones.
  • Dinara Safina continues to sink. She dropped eleven spots to fall to number 33 in the world. Things aren’t going her way these days and probably won’t for quite some time. I don’t see an end-of-the-year turnaround for the Russian.
  • The Italian qualifier Kaia Kanepi boosted her ranking 42 positions to number 38, while Klara Zakpalova, who made it to the fourth round, shot to 43.
  • Melanie Oudin, Ana Ivanovic, and Sorana Cirstea all dropped, but yet look so promising to make good showings at the US Open. Ivanovic, of course, has the biggest potential to make it back to the final rounds if only she could find her game again. Oudin, on the other hand, proved she could do it last year when she made it to the quarterfinals. Cirstea has the game. Is the belief there? She did, after all, make it to the quarterfinals of the 2009 French Open. Thus, she knows what’s it takes to go far.

Monday Mayhem on the Women’s Tour

Action on the women’s tour was at it’s finest yesterday with a slew of major upsets. Here’s a look at the wins and losses.

  • Serena Williams ousted Maria Sharapova in a rematch of the 2004 Wimbledon final. With superb serving, the younger Williams sister didn’t let Sharapova into the match after coming back from behind in the first set tiebreak. She won in two tight sets to make it to the quarterfinals. Sharapova didn’t play badly by any means, despite the two set loss. Serena simply played better as she does in the second week of major. Next up for Serena is Na Li of China, a player who Serena beat in another close match in the Australian Open semifinals. Li took out Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, which is nothing like playing Serena. I see Serena taking Li out yet again in two sets.
  • In another highlight match of the day, the third seed Caroline Wozniacki succumbed to the unranked Petra Kvitova in a lopsided match. Wozniacki lost in just 46 minutes to the 20-year old, 6-0, 6-2. Now, I knew Kvitova was someone to look out for from the beginning. Did I think she’d excel quite this much? No way. Am I happy to see her in the quarterfinals? Definitely. Her powerful baseline game is a thing of beauty to watch, and she was simply too much for Wozniacki, who plays a defensive, counter-punching style. Kvitova has a very winnable match in the quarterfinals against the qualifier Kaia Kanepi. Kanepi beat Klara Zakopalova.
  • On the opposite side of the draw, the much awaited battle of the Belgians took place. In the 25th meeting of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, Clijsters edged Henin to win in three sets. Henin, however, did fall in the second set, badly hurting her elbow. While this can’t be used as an excuse for the surprising defeat, I’m counting it as a factor.
  • Clijsters’ next opponent is Vera Zvonareva, who won when Jelena Jankovic of Serbia retired after trailing in the second set due to a back injury. Yet again, Jankovic continues to disappoint at major events. Yes, it’s due to injury this time, but what will the next reason be? It’s sad to say that her chance to win a major shrinks with each new problem. Once number one, I don’t see her regaining that spot, especially with the Williams sisters in full force. As for Zvonareva, she’ll have a tough time against Clijsters. The Belgian leads their head-to-head 5-0. Look for the sixth win to occur in straight sets.
  • In the bottom section of the draw, Venus Williams, the five-time champion at Wimbledon, won over Australia’s Jarmila Groth in two difficult sets. She won 7-6, 6-4.  Her next opponent is Tsvetana Pironkova of Austria, a player noted for beating Venus in the 2006 Australian Open. The counter-puncher shocked all when she pulled out that win in a 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 match. I don’t see anything of the sort in the quarterfinals, despite her exceptional play against the Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the last round. This is, after all, Wimbledon. And everyone knows that Wimbledon belongs to Venus. It’s a great result for Pironkova, who hasn’t won a title on the WTA tour. Her serve, apparently, is working wonders. She’ll get stopped in two sets.

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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