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Tenaciously Tennis


Wozniacki Wins; Harrison Qualifies for US Open Main Draw

Caroline Wozniacki beat Elena Dementieva in the semifinals of the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven to make her third straight US Open Series final, winning the event as a result. In an exciting, drama-filled match, Wozniacki played just a little more consistently in the final few games to win in the deciding tiebreak. She advanced 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

After Dementieva looked to be in control of the final set with an early break, she served for the match at 5-4, but failed to convert. Wozniacki then held multiple match points at 6-5, but couldn’t win as Dementieva raised her game. In the end, Wozniacki lived up to her number two ranking in the world, showing she’s meant to be the US Open’s number one seed as well.

The Dane next faces Nadia Petrova, who shook off negativity and errors in the beginning of her match versus Maria Kirilenko to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Petrova, ranked 19th in the world, is actually a wild card in the event after Ana Ivanovic declined it. Petrova entered last minute, and she’s probably very glad as this result is her first final all season.

I predict Wozniacki cruising to take the title for her third time. Petrova needed a lot to beat Kirilenko mentally, and she has a much tougher opponent in Wozniacki. Basically, Wozniacki plays Kirilenko’s game, but much better. Therefore, I see Petrova melting down a little as her shots miss and Wozniacki’s consistent, counter-punching style overwhelms.

At day four of the US Open Qualifying Tournament, American Ryan Harrison got into the main draw after defeating Ricardo Hocevar 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. This win shows a positive sign for the teenager’s young career and the future of the sport here in the US. Hopefully, he continues playing at this high level and gives it everything in the first round.

Other qualifying matches of note: Nicholas Mahut, who lost to John Isner in the longest match ever, is one step away from qualifying. He beat Uladzimir Ignatik 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Wild card Blake Strode lost, joining the 14th seed Ilija Bozoljac in defeat.

In the WTA event, Michelle Larcher de Brito dominated Anastasiya Yakimova 6-0, 6-0, and Sania Mirza qualified for the main event with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 win against Catalina Castano.

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Isner Wins in Atlanta; Other Americans Advance, Too

As the US Open Series gets underway with the ATP’s Atlanta and Lexington events, a slew of American men advanced, signifying a strong start on home territory. John Isner, seeded second in Atlanta, won his first match back on tour since his marathon Wimbledon win over Nicholas Mahut. James Blake, however, fell to Taylor Dent in three sets in the tournament’s first round– indicative of his lackluster year. Let’s take a look at the results.

Isner, the winner of the longest match in tennis history, deserves to go far in Atlanta after his historic result (followed by a quick three-set loss in the major’s second round). Isner beat Gilles Muller 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7)  in his first match back.

Blake, a former top ten player with a career-high rank of four in 2006, hasn’t been in form for over a year now. The last time he made it past the third round of a major was at the 2009 Australian Open. Once a threat at Grand Slams, his results this year include a second round result at the Sunny Slam and a loss in the first round of Wimbledon. Blake didn’t play at the French Open. With the way things are going, Blake isn’t looking sharp heading into his best major — the US Open. There, he made it to consecutive quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006.

Regardless, it’s great to see Dent advance. Prone to injury, Dent, who reached a career-high ranking of 21 in 2005, looks poised to get back into the top 50 if he keeps excelling. Currently ranked 94, I see the California native building off his second round results at the past three majors to get a good showing at the US Open, an event he made it to the fourth round in 2003. If his draw is kind, look for a repeat performance of that result. After beating Blake in the round of 32, Dent won against the fourth-seeded Horacio Zeballos in three sets, including a bagel in the third, to get to his first ATP quarter-final since 2005.

At the same event, longtime friends and doubles partners, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish advanced in two sets. Look for the duo to take home the title. Both Roddick and Fish are into the final 16 in singles, too. After an early loss at Wimbledon, Roddick could definitely use the win, especially on home turf. As the event’s top seed, look for a smooth ride into the finals, including over Rajeev Ram in the next round. The main competition in his quarter — Xavier Malisse in the semis.

Fish next meets compatriot Robby Ginepri, an opponent noteworthy for getting to the fourth round at this year’s French Open — a rare result for an American man. I see Ginepri pulling off the upset.

Wild card Donald Young won his match against Israel’s Dudi Sela along with Michael Russell, who beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker. At the Lexington tournament, Jesse Levine overcame a tough test from Brydan Klein to win 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8).

Clijsters Claims Win Over Serena with Biggest Crowd Ever

When Justine Henin withdrew from the “Battle of the Belgians,” Serena Williams took her place to meet Kim Clijsters. That decision didn’t work out quite so well for the American, who lost to Clijsters 6-3, 6-2 in Brussels on Thursday.

At the same time, the exhibition was successful. In fact, it’ll be known as the most successful match since the famed “Battle of the Sexes” epic between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs decades ago. While not the longest match in history by about 10 hours, it was the most attended.

According to an Associated Press article, “The crowd of 35,681 at King Baudouin Stadium on Thursday surpassed the previous record of 30,472 set in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome in the Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.” The match was chaired by Martina Navratilova.

The implications of such a historic match are astounding. The parallels between this match and the John Isner and Nicholas Mahut marathon, especially occurring so close to one another, many things for tennis — yet to be seen. The longest match, and the most attended — both in one month’s time? Then, to have a tennis player — Serena Williams — on the cover of the one of the most, if not the, most widely read sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, sends a clear message: tennis is set for a popularity boom.

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m not using statistics. Sure, people widely consider those the definitive statistics necessary to calculate whether or not tennis is being played more frequently, and thus boasts future popularity gains. But I’m going on a more basic, emotional level. The game is getting good. It’s getting really good, very quickly.

There’s drama now: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal aren’t the only ones doing major damage at the Grand Slams. Okay, so Federer won the Australian Open and Nadal took the other two. Fine. But they’re being tested, and that’s a great thing for the sport.

On the women’s side, variety is creeping back into the game. Caroline Wozniacki, a player that can get hit off the court (think about her lopsided loss to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon) is holding her own. She’s ranked three in the world. There’s also Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, and a slew of other players poised to keep power at bay and put spin, sharp angles, and sound tactics ahead of brute force. Francesca Schiavone won the French Open at 30 — an amazing feat. We’re seeing great confidence surging throughout the lesser-tiered players — Kaia Kanepi and Tsvetana Pironkova played their hearts out to win the big matches despite being ranked outside the top 50. Tomas Berdych on the men’s side is back in a big way.

There’s a changing of the guard in the game of tennis, and it’s an exciting one to witness. I’m saying it does wonders for popularity, too. And if not, who cares? The current fans couldn’t be happier. Well, this fan couldn’t be happier.

Mega Monday Brings High Drama to Wimbledon

The best day in tennis didn’t fail to surprise. Big names left stunned, great battles were fought, and Wimbledon remains left with a whittled down number of eight men and women. Let’s look at the fourth round action.

The ATP Tour:

  • Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal look solid with both winning in three relatively easy sets to advance to the quarterfinals. It looks like they’re on course for a collision in the finals. Federer took out French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer, while Nadal ousted Paul-Henri Mathieu.
  • Up next for the number one and number two? Nadal plays Robin Soderling in a rematch of the French Open. Soderling, who didn’t lose a set until his match today against David Ferrer, needs to muster all his energy to eliminate a revived Nadal in this second week. He isn’t the same player that lost two sets to relative unknowns. He’s in it to win. Federer will next have his hands full with Tomas Berdych, who’s given him trouble in the past. I don’t see that happening here. He’s just too good.
  • But before the two settle themselves into the final, Andy Murray is poised to stand in the way of Nadal. Murray, who has the crowd distinctly on his side, took control against the American Sam Querrey, and continues to play without dropping a set. He won 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 and will next face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Tsonga beat a fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau in four sets to continue his run under the radar. I see Murray winning in four.
  • Also looking particularly sharp today was Novak Djokovic. Despite my prediction that he’d lose to Lleyton Hewitt in a major upset, the Serb took the match in four sets, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. He next takes on Yen-Hsun Lu, which brings me to my next point.
  • Yup, that’s right. Andy Roddick, last year’s finalist, is out. Lu took out the defending finalist in five sets with a 9-7 win in the fifth — the match was the second longest of the season trailing only the John Isner – Nicholas Mahut marathon. It’s a sad result for Roddick, who really looked set for another semifinal showing at Wimbledon at the least. Everyone was hoping for him to face off against Federer. But Lu played better tennis in the end, capturing the only break in the match. He becomes the first Asian man in the quarterfinals of a major in 15 years. Congratulations are certainly due.

I’ll update this post with the women’s results tomorrow.

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.

How the Match of a Lifetime Will Change Tennis

Posted in Andy Roddick,John Isner,Nicholas Mahut,Roger Federer by Ben on June 25, 2010

Thoughts and reflections on the longest match ever.

How do you properly sanctify the heart of a match brimming with so much vitality? How do you put into realistic terms a battle of epic proportions so endless  and exhilarating — so completely abstract and otherworldly? And yet one so mammoth and physically strenuous for the inspired gladiators, who placed their all into tennis — pure fight? It’s done with an air of serious disbelief hand and a mind unsure of  a comprehending reaction. Yes, even after the epic match between John Isner of the United States and Nicholas Mahut is a foregone conclusion, little can be summed up to begin to adequately graze the top of such a deeply mysterious and extraordinary display of stamina, longevity, and life.

And after 11 hours and five minutes, after 980 points in five sets of a first round match at Wimbledon on court 18, the story unfolds of two unlikely competitors rewriting records and giving something greater than themselves to be remembered for ages beyond their finest years. And, sure, Isner prevailed with his 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 win over Mahut, but in the end their play will long be defined as the match of the 2010 Wimbledon. It will be kept in the record books of eternity as the longest match in the Open Era, and the history of the sport. Other professionals, just try to mirror this match.

In eight hours and 11 minutes, 138 games were played. Sure, Isner had his chances, but they were quickly erased by the French qualifier. Decimating the previous record of six hours and 33 minutes, the record won’t be changing anytime soon, if ever.

And it’s the grandeur and magnitude of this match that begs the question, no, deserves the question to be asked: How will tennis be changed as a result? In what ways will the perception of the sport be altered? How will the match be perceived: As an abstract concept? As a fight? As better than the rest by far? Or a dismissed as a strange fluke? Maybe it questions this: What are our limitations when so much can transpire if the passion and hunger and drive are all present? Maybe anything is possible after all.

Belief goes a long way, and this case, it went on almost endlessly. No longer can the player complain of the need to go that extra game in the third or fifth set to win 7-6 or 7-5. That number means nothing; it’s inconsequential. No longer does it seem impressive that Roger Federer and Andy Roddick fought the Wimbledon final of 2009 until Federer prevailed 16-14 in the end. Yes, it’s still something, and it captivated the audience at the time. But, it was no Isner-Mahut marathon. It’s a real performance game-changer, isn’t it?

It’s fun speculating these ideas — trying to guess how public opinion will form as a result of a kind as this beckons for thoughts to be planted in the public’s mind and debate to be sown.

First, as a tennis player, I’m humbled. With just a paltry sum of matches under my belt, I can only begin to fathom the fifth set. To try and bring the concept of the fifth set all the way up to the number 70 renders me paralyzed with wonder. There’s no vocabulary in my tennis-experience arsenal to actively speak to the physically strenuous situation, the mental taxation, or anything much for that matter. And, so, I’m left to appreciate the fight and belief of the American and the Frenchman. For they’ve shown millions all over the world what it means to give it your all when you’re doing something you love.

As for this match in the context of the rest of the tournament? It trumps all by lengths insurmountable. Whatever the outcome on the men’s side, the women’s side, doubles, or mixed doubles, nothing can come close to this Mount Everest of a match. When all’s said and done, this really wasn’t just one match, anyway. It was a tournament in itself. The honors at its conclusion were well-deserved, and should be thought of as meaningful as hoisting that Grand Slam trophy at the end of two weeks.

Okay, that might be asking too much, but I wholeheartedly feel that there’s in many ways a lot more gained from this match than hoisting up this year’s title and the check attached to it. There’s a sense of dignity and self-respect. And not only that, but recognition and respect from fellow players and fans of tennis worldwide. Who can count how many stories were shared between fans in awe? And if just one kid finds the inspiration to take up tennis from this first round match at Wimbledon, than it’s even more special and significant than anything else.

So what if Isner doesn’t win his next match, or Mahut leaves as a qualifier that deserved to go much further? The hell and heart they left out on the court resonates with passion so rich and with a tone so resounding it is a match of an era, for the ages, forever.

Day Three Results Rundown

Day three proved to be filled with upsets and sharp play from the top tier of the current tennis all-stars. Here’s a brief summary of noteworthy results.

The WTA:

  • Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, and Maria Sharapova all record easy victories in their first round matches.
  • Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka advance with their 6-3, 6-3 wins. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova only needs one more again to beat Iveta Benesova.
  • French Open finalist Sam Stosur joins Francesca Schiavone in defeat after straight sets loss to Kaia Kanepi.
  • Na Li and Jie Zheng make it to round two in straight sets.
  • Petra Kvitova, a player I have my eye on, takes out Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-2.
  • American Vania King set to play decisive match against Daniela Hantuchova tomorrow.
  • Serena and Venus Williams team up to continue their doubles major title string up success. They’re shooting for five in a row.

The ATP:

  • Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Sam Querrey, and Robin Soderling advance in three sets.
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga comes back strong in first match after retiring at the French Open.
  • Seeds Nicholas Almagro, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marcos Baghdatis fall, while unseeded American James Blake continues to struggle. Fabio Fognini upset Fernando Verdasco, too.
  • John Isner’s match is held at two sets apiece against Nicholas Mahut.

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