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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.

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.

Federer Escapes First Round Upset

Roger Federer beat Alejandro Falla, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-0, in a surprising uphill battle from the start. The six-time Wimbledon champion looked set for defeat after losing the first two sets. However, he started playing at a new level in the last three sets, deflecting Falla’s impressive shot-making. In the final set, Federer reigned supreme and didn’t lose a game.

The question is: Can Federer overcome this scare and make it to his eighth Wimbledon final in a row? It won’t be an easy route. I see him dropping more sets over the course of the tournament, especially in the projected match against Berdych in the quarterfinals. Being Federer, however, his game will continue to improve as the tournament progresses. Hopefully, there aren’t any more scares of the sort.

By the way, congrats to Federer for earning his 200th win. It was well deserved.

Other notable five set escape artists: Novak Dkokovic (over Olivier Rochus) anad Nikolai Davydenko (against Kevin Anderson).

Noteworthy Winners: Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent, Florian Mayer (over Marin Cilic), Lleyton Hewitt, and Tomas Berdych.

In other news, the French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost in the first round to Vera Douchevine, while Melanie Oudin reclaimed some Grand Slam success by breaking her first round curse at the majors. She beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 6-3, 6-0.

Speaking of young Americans, Alison Riske, who made it to the semifinals at her Wimbledon warm-up event lost to Yanina Wickmayer in three sets. I see a big future for her in the coming majors. The US Open perhaps?

Sadly, a personal favorite, Patty Schnyder, faltered against Yung-jan Chan of China in two sets.

Other noteworthy wins: Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli, Shahar Peer (over Ana Ivanovic), Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, and Ekaterina Makarova.

Wimbledon Predictions – The ATP Tour

Roger Federer’s loss to Lleyton Hewitt last week and a tough draw for Rafael Nadal signify a tough time for the two previous champions. Can both overcome the tough challenge that lays ahead of them? I think so. Let’s take a systematic look at the draw and crack this year’s Wimbledon code.

The First Quarter:

Notables – Roger Federer (1), Tommy Robredo (30), Feliciano Lopez (22), Jurgen Melzer (16), Tomas Berdych (12), Stanislas Wawrinka (20), Victor Hanescu (31), Nikolai Davydenko (7)

In this section, the obvious person to pull through is Federer, the five time champion. I see him advancing to the fourth round without much trouble. Once there, however, I see a tough test against Tomas Berdych in the future. Also noteworthy, Lopez of Spain, who beat Nadal a couple weeks ago. While Federer didn’t play too sharply against Hewitt in his pre-Wimbledon warm-up, it’s a different story in a Grand Slam. Watch Davydenko, whose been having a tough year so far, falter before the fourth round.

The Final Four: Federer faces Lopez, and Berdych handily defeats an ailing Davydenko.

The Second Quarter:

NotablesNovak Djokovic (3), Taylor Dent, Albert Montanes (28), Gael Monfils (21), Lleyton Hewitt (15), Marin Cilic (11), Mardy Fish, Ivan Ljubicic (17), Philipp Kohlschreiber (29), Andy Roddick (5)

This is a difficult part of the draw for Roddick, the guy I’m rooting for. He’s had some poor results this past few months, including a basically non-existent clay court season. Yes, he made it to the third round, which is as good as a showing as any for the top male American, but his third showing at Queens Club was his worst ever. Hopefully, this 2009 Wimbledon finalist can recall the drive and belief that took him to a fifth set against Federer last year. That match his to win. I see Roddick making it to the fourth round without losing a set. There’s no one to do any damage to his exceptional serving game and strong baseline rallying capabilities. The rest these past few months might also help. If anything, he’s fresh. It’s all up to the Roddick serve. Once he makes it there, I see a tough match against Marin Cilic in his future. He should, however, pull through.

The Final Four: Hewitt looks to be a difficult opponent with his win against Federer. I say he dismantles Djokovic. In the bottom half, Roddick proves to be too much for Cilic.

The Third Quarter:

Notables – Fernando Verdasco (8), Julien Benneteau (32), Nicholas Almagro (19), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10), Juan Carlos Ferrero (14), Sam Querrey (18), Gilles Simon (26), Andy Murray (4)

Out of this slew of players, the only one that I feel holds a chance at victory is Sam Querrey, which is surprising given his lackluster Grand Slam performances in the past. With his best performance coming in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open, and only making it to the second round at Wimbledon last year, he has a lot to prove. Regardless, his career high ranking and win over compatriot Mardy Fish in the finals of Queens Club shows he’s ready to do well on grass. With three titles to his name already this year, I see at least a quarterfinal run for the giant American. It won’t be easy with Murray as a potential fourth round opponent, but I like his chances. A lot.

The Final Four: Tsonga surprises Verdasco in five close sets in the top half. In the bottom section, Querrey gives everything to take out Britain’s hope Murray in another five set blockbuster to make his first quarterfinal showing in a Grand Slam.

The Fourth Quarter:

Notables – Robin Soderling (7), Robby Ginepri, Thomaz Bellucci (25), Marcos Baghdatis (24), David Ferrer (9), Mikhail Youzhny (13), John Isner (23), Philipp Petzschner (33), James Blake, Rafael Nadal (2)

Notice Nadal’s section as probably one of, if not the, most difficult in all four sections. I think he needs to watch out for John Isner big time. There’s no saying how Isner will play on a given day. But if he’s at his best, and his baseline game mirrors his wicked serve, the American can take out anyone, even Nadal. I’m not saying that’s probable, but it’s a slim possibility. On the top section, Soderling has a difficult match afainst Ginepri to go through. Other than that, it should be an easy time to make it to the fourth round. There, I see him facing Marcos Baghatis.

The Final Four: Soderling defeats Baghdatis in three sets, and Nadal faces a test against Isner in four.

Second Week Predictions:

  • Federer fends off Berdych
  • Roddick stops Hewitt’s string of grass wins in three
  • Querrey, assuming he plays the match of his life against Murray, faces a pumped up Tsonga. Querrey wins in five for a second straight top ten victory.
  • Nadal notches another win against the Swedish Soderling in a three set repeat of the French Open final.

In the semifinals, I don’t see Roddick repeating the excellent play against Federer. I think he’ll bow out in four sets, much to my chagrin. As for Querrey (or Murray with a serious asterisk), Nadal’s too much to handle in a Grand Slam semifinal. Get ready for much-needed Federer – Nadal final. We’ll leave that prediction for another day — it’s just too close to decide in my mind.

For the men’s official draw, look here.

Roddick, Djokovic, Cilic Trounced Out of Tournament

Three of the top five seeds lost in the round of sixteen at the AEGON Championships in England. Andy Roddick (4), Novak Djokovic (2), and Marin Cilic (5) couldn’t muster the energy or drive to push past their respective lower-ranked opponents. Roddick, last year’s Wimbledon finalist opposite Roger Federer, lost to Dudi Sela of Israel, 6-4, 7-6 (8). Meanwhile, Djokovic choked in the third set against Xavier Malisse, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, while Cilic succumbed to Michael Llodra (12), 7-6 (2), 2.

With poor results from these possible contenders for the upcoming Wimbledon, it looks like an even better draw for Federer and Rafael Nadal to rematch their excellent 2008 affair. If the competition doesn’t step up, it’d be a great surprise for anyone else to claim the title other than the number one and/or number two player in the world.

Despite being pushed to a third set against Denis Istomin, look for Nadal to receive the trophy at the tournament. No one should be able to effectively intercept his run, especially without the big-serving Roddick. If Nadal can get enough experience on grass before Wimbledon and feel completely comfortable with the transition, there’ll be no stopping him until Federer stands in his way. Even that might prove to be a lesser challenge than in previous years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look at the full draw here.

Henin Downed by Dulko; Sharapova Squeaks Through; Sevastova Surprises; Cilic Out

Wildcard Justine Henin, my pick to take home the Indian Wells title, was ousted by the thirty-first seed, Gisela Dulko in three sets in the first round, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. The score says it all: Henin let the first set slip away, came firing in the second, and then looked to clinch the win before falling in a close third set. With Henin out of the way, look for Elena Dementieva to capitalize on her section of of the draw. There, only Agnieszka Radwanska, the fifth seed, has a chance to touch Dementieva, although even that is questionable given the Polish player’s lack of power.

In other results, Maria Sharapova, a blackhorse selection, locked in a close three-set win over Vera Dushevina, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. While she isn’t playing at her best so far, I see Sharapova winning comfortably against the surprise Australian Open semifinalist, Jie Zheng in the next round. Although Zheng won her match easily, 6-3, 7-5, Sharapova has the tenacity and the hunger for a large title. Sharapova will need to make the first strike and take advantage of Zheng’s weak serve to ensure victory.

Another match of note is Latvian Anastasija Sevastova’s win over Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, 6-4. The win means that Sevastova has defeated both former Serbian world number ones within the same couple weeks. She recently took out Jelena Jankovic in the first round of the Monterrey Open before losing in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Anastasia Pavyluchenkova. Look to see Sevastova continue her strong showings on the WTA tour and put up a good fight against the number twelve seed, Vera Zvonareva in the round of 32.

On the ATP side, Marin Cilic, another of my blackhorse selections, bowed out in two lopsided sets, 7-6(1), 6-0, against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. With Gilles Simon of France also out, Novak Djokovic will have a much easier time making it to the quarterfinals, where he’ll meet Rafael Nadal. Although coming off of serious knee injury, Nadal looked strong in his 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Rainer Schuettler.

Federer and Nadal Question Marks at Indian Wells, Murray and Djokovic Bring Exclamation

With Roger Federer’s lung infection and Rafael Nadal’s knee problems, the ATP side of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells might be as open to new success as the WTA tour, where champions Serena and Venus Williams continue to abstain from play. Of course, just because injury has hampered both men in the past doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to take the title. In fact, the case can easily be made that since Federer lacks the pressure to win with his Grand Slam success and recent illness, he will continue to keep the tennis world in awe with a win at the fifth “Grand Slam.” In Nadal’s case, the Spaniard probably feels even more fired up than usual to show the tennis world that he truly is physically fit. The decision was difficult for him to retire against Andy Murray at the quarterfinals of Australian Open and to not play the recent Davis Cup tie. Therefore, look to see some aggressive, intelligent play coming from Nadal, who desperately needs a win to re-assert the confidence and at least a little of the dominance he showcased at the beginning of 2009.

However, while both men hold the skill and, obviously, the intensity required to take the title, a slew of other men are raring to show their worth, too. A couple obvious names and probable opponents are Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the champion in Dubai, and Great Britain’s Andy Murray. While Djokovic appears in Nadal’s bottom half as the number two seed, Murray could meet Federer in the semifinals.

My quick predictions: I see Djokovic taking the bottom half of the draw, while Murray makes good at the top. The final will be a fierce competition between them, with Murray prevailing in three.

Blackhorse picks include: The number eight seed, Marin Cilic, the Australian Open semifinalist who put up a good fight against Murray. He will probably meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals; American Andy Roddick, who needs to prove he continues to have the high level of play that took him to 16-14 in the fifth against Federer at the 2009 Wimbledon. There will be a potential re-match of that epic in the quarters; and the under-achieving fifth seed, Russian Nikolai Davydenko, who finally got a racket endorsement.

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