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Tenaciously Tennis


Roland Garros Wrap-Up with No Rhyme or Reason

The French Open finished Sunday with a sixth title for Rafael Nadal, beating none other Roger Federer (or as the commentators repeatedly called him during his semifinal match against Novak Djokovic: grandpa) in the process. Meanwhile, Na Li triumphed over Francesca Schiavone to become the first Chinese player to win a major title. How’s that for some pretty nifty results at a tournament that this year featured an interesting parallel: the four top-seeded men advanced to the semifinals, while their female counterparts couldn’t quite cut it to even deep in the second week.

The tournament also brought the farewell of personal favorite Patty Schnyder, whose style of game will be missed. Meanwhile, one game got back on track as Maria Sharapova, the self-proclaimed “cow on ice” didn’t get tipped until the wind seemingly knocked her knowledge of serving against Li in the semis. Too bad for Maria, but she’ll manage fine at Wimbledon, I’m sure.

Even with a draw unknown, look for Sharapova to get to the semifinals, provided the weather stays on course. I mean, really? Double-faulting on match point? That’s not the Sharapova of 2008. But glimpses of brilliance were there. Think the match against Andrea Petkovic, for example. A little revenge for that loss at the Australian Open, no doubt.

Djokovic’s streak got snapped, and he looked mighty dejected for most of the match. Wozniacki succumbed to pressure and poor play, as did 2010 finalist Sam Stosur. Will Wimbledon raise their games back to levels of success and dominance, or will they wilt under the weight of even more expectations? How about the Williams sisters? When will they be back?

Time will tell, and, thankfully for the fans, that time is rapidly approaching. Let’s leave behind the drama of Roland Garros and experience the tradition of Wimbledon.

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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.

Djokovic, Sharapova Take Italian Open Titles Before French Open

Novak Djokovic has cemented his dominance over the ATP tour, including world number one Rafael Nadal, by beating the Spaniard in straight sets to claim the Rome title. The 6-4, 6-4 win earned Djokovic a 37-0 streak, making him the only man to defeat Nadal on clay twice in a year, including a win in the Madrid Openfinal. He’s defeated Nadal four times in finals this year, too.

For Djokovic, the victory couldn’t come at a better time, positioning him as an even heavier favorite as Roland Garros begins next week. He’ll likely take this confidence with him and make it deep in the tournament, if not win it entirely. Of course, while defeating Nadal on clay in a best-of-three match setting is extremely impressive, it’ll a whole new test attempting to take out the king of clay in best-of-five sets. There’s also the possibility of Djokovic taking the top spot in the world at the French Open.

He’s incredibly focused, too, saying, “I definitely am amazed with my playing. But there’s no time to enjoy it—I’ve got to get ready for Roland Garros.” Now, that’s pretty Terminator-style, isn’t it? Djokovic isn’t messing around in the least these days. (Think back to all those happy-go-lucky impressions, right? More on that below.)

Sharapova’s 6-2, 6-4 win over Stosur shows that the Russian might prove strong enough to advance deep at (or win) the Roland Garros tournament, the only Grand Slam title escaping her.

At the trophy presentation, Sharapova said, “This is just the beginning of many things to come. This is just the start of everything,” Sharapova said during the trophy presentation.” That’s the Maria we’ve all come to know and love. She’s back in the top ten and, like, Djokovic, she’s all business.

Check out this recent Tennis.com article for more.

Also, for a look at the days of Djokovic poking fun at his fellow players, and the (in)famous impressions of Nadal and Sharapova from the US Open, see below.

Djokovic’s 35-0 Streak: What the Wins Mean

It’s been one of the biggest stories for ATP tennis these past few months, and it’s for a good cause.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic started the year off pretty impressively by claiming his second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Since then, he’s forgotten how to lose. With a recently cemented number two ranking above Roger Federer, Djokovic looks poised to one day overtake even Rafael Nadal as the world’s best player in the world. Well, at least by the computers.

But, the truth of the matter is, does Djokovic deserve to be called the best in the world? Sure, he’s won the last 35 matches, trailing only tennis legend John McEnroe’ s record 42-0 wins in 1984. Now, that’s a huge achievement for the Serb. My feeling: Not quite yet.

The simple truth: six titles this year and counting or not, Djokovic needs to keep the wins going on the biggest stages. He’s already proven he can handle Nadal on clay and Federer on hardcourts. Now he needs to have some repeat performances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon to solidify his awesome play of the past few months.

He’s obviously got the talent to collect more Grand Slams, it’s just a matter of when.

For more, check out this recent article on Tennis.com.

Excerpt of ‘Tennis Goes Cross-Country’ from Tennis Served Fresh

Check out a recent post I wrote for the blog Tennis Served Fresh about Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s soccer game for Japan relief, Roger Federer’s recent loses and Dominika Cibulkova’s break into the world of reality television.

Bottom’s on top: It’s official! The classy poster of a woman scratching her derriere in flattering tennis whites has been posted as one of the all-time best-selling posters, according to a recent article in the Guardian. Model and poster will soon be reunited after 35 years for an upcoming event celebrating tennis art, writes Patrick Kingsley. Pictured above, Fiona Walker, now 52, tells all in a piece from the Telegraph. (ed. note: Meanwhile, how cute is Patrick??TSF is always looking for more freelancers… )

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Harrison Beats Raonic in Battle of Rising Stars

It was a match pitting two wild cards again one another: one from the United States and the other from Canada.

Up-and-comer Ryan Harrison took on Australian Open sensation Milos Raonic in the third round of Indian Wells. The two have generated a lot of attention on the ATP tour these past few months, lauded for their big games, their young ages and fierce competitive streaks. It’s great to see it transferred to a stage as large as Indian Wells, widely considered the fifth major.

With the match that ensued, let’s hope the upward progress continues.

Closely fought throughout, Harrison ended up on top with a 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 victory. As Harrison, 18, and Raonic, 20, took to the court and preceded to give it their all, it’s safe to say one thing: the next generation of tennis sensations have arrived.

Sure, they still have Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray to contend with on tour. At the same time, they’re young and fresh — and hungry. That counts for a lot, and it’ll be interesting to see in what ways their confidence increases to the point where they can really take it to the biggest guns.

And, who knows? Maybe a rivalry has been born between Harrison and Raonic. It’d definitely make sense. They’re close enough in age and talent. It’ll be interesting to see in what ways future matches between the North Americans pan out.

Is this the next Nadal – Federer? Let’s hope.

Excerpt of ‘Goodbye, Counselor’ from Tennis Served Fresh

Here’s another contribution to the blog Tennis Served Fresh about what’s going on in the tennis world.

Forget becoming an esthetician, Serena Williams is taking on a new career as a lineswoman. The sidelined former no. 1 won’t be playing in a much-anticipated return at the Nike exhibition on March 8. Instead, she’ll be a referee. That’s tough luck for the 12,000 fans expecting to see the 13-time major champion’s form alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. Citing the foot injury that’s been kept her out since after Wimbledon, Serena released the following statement: “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play … as I had anticipated. I’m thrilled, however, to still be able to participate … in the exhibition as a referee during the mixed doubles.”

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Juan Martin Del Potro’s Return to the Top

He’s back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena Williams Won’t Play Nike Exhibition: Now a Referee?

Serena Williams, scheduled to play a Nike exhibition in Oregon on March 8, withdrew, citing the foot injury that has kept her off tour since July.

In a statement, she said, “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play at the NIKE Clash of the Champions as I had anticipated. I’m thrilled, however, to still be able to participate in the Family Tennis Festival and in the exhibition as a referee during the mixed doubles.”

Going along with that nugget, she also wrote the following on her twitter yesterday:

While it probably doesn’t refer to her foot, it sure should given all the chaos its caused the WTA tour, the tennis community, and Serena’s own career.

On her website, no such statement has been posted. The last tennis-related one? Her withdrawal from the Hopman Cup and the Australian Open, which she announced on November 24, 2010.

So, now what: Serena’s not playing, but she’s refereeing? Tell that to the 12,000 fans who bought tickets in hopes of seeing the younger Williams sister alongside other champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova — on court. Not beside it.

Apparently, tickets for the stadium sold out almost completely within 11 minutes.

A recent post by AOL Fanhouse columnist Greg Crouch, however, analyzed Nike’s language announcing the exhibition even before Serena pulled out. The statement suggests that some dishonesty may have been involved in selling the tickets. He writes, “But this one was weird. The press release announcing the field spelled it out prominently, right in the second paragraph: ‘Under certain circumstances, it is possible that one or more of the advertised athletes will not be able to participate in the NIKE Clash of Champions.’ I called it The Serena Clause. It was as if they knew something.” He might be on to something with this theory. Of course, nothing much can be done about it now.

Stepping in for Serena is Victoria Azarenka, who although a fine player and a good fighter, simply doesn’t have the record or the draw of the 13-time American major champion. Then again, no one does these days.

Serena Williams to Play Exhibition: Why Tennis Needs Her Now

Serena Williams needs to get better, quickly. Skipping out of the last couple majors with a foot injury sustained after her win at Wimbledon in July, it’s been long enough.

And not only for the purposes of her own career — Serena recently dropped out of the top ten for the first time in about four years –, but also to resuscitate the current state of American tennis. Andy Roddick didn’t do too hot at the Aussie Open, neither did Sam Querrey or John Isner on the men’s side. For the women, there’s sister Venus, who retired in the third round and is currently sidelined with injury after hurting her hip during her second round match against Sandra Zahlavova. US Open sensation Melanie Oudin continues to disappoint, too, with a first round loss at the Australian Open.

It’d be nice to get the WTA-dominating force that is Serena back on the big stages. Kim Clijsters pretty much owns that role now in unchallenged fashion. Remember, she dropped just one set at the Sunny Slam and that came in the final against Li. Justine Henin’s retirement also leaves more room for the Belgian to keep conquering competition.

But, apparently, things are starting to look up for the younger Williams sister as she’ll be (potentially) playing in March at a Nike exhibition with other big names Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. United States Fed Cup captain Mary Jo Fernandez also said Serena would be available to playing in a possible April tie. Given her track record, I wouldn’t count on it, although she’d needs to be around for two to play in the 2012 Olympics.

The real thing is: We need Serena at majors again. Sure, this year’s Australian Open was a feel-good story featuring the lovable mom Aussie Kim triumphing over Chinese sensation Li Na in a high-stakes, historic match. The whole tournament, however, wasn’t the same without Serena. Plus, who wants to keep a Grand Slam singles title count at an unlucky number 13?

Also, Serena’s absence is making mother Oracene antsy. She recently went Twitter-crazy, writing, “Will some one tweet me who is in the final on the women’s side?” and after getting the answer, “Thank you I hope Na is not to nervous to kick some butt,” among many other comments. Poor Oracene, she wouldn’t have to stoop to that level. If only she should could just enjoy her daughters’ success at majors.

Well, the drought continues, but let’s hope for not much longer. When March rolls around, let’s see an in-shape Serena on court, who’s back to stay.

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