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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, Week Two

With the final eight men and women set, it’s time to revise predictions for the 2011 Australian Open tournament’s future path on both the ATP and WTA tours. Here’s a look at the last men standing.

Previously predicting that we’d see Rafael Nadal facing David Ferrer; Robin Soderling against Andy Murray; Nikolai Davydenko against Novak Djokovic; and Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, I wasn’t too off the mark with five-of-eight advancing. A claim to perfect picking, however, was dismantled early in the tournament with Davydenko’s first round loss to Florian Mayer. Soderling succumbed in the fourth round to Alexandr Dolgopolov, while Roddick got served a straight sets loss by Stanislas Wawrinka.

For the next three rounds, my picks are as follows:

Nadal versus Ferrer:

Despite the recent announcement that he’s still suffering from sickness, no one’s looked better than Nadal in the tournament. The Spaniard looks poised to defeat his compatriot Ferrer in straight sets. Not only did the world’s 7th-ranked player hit a lot of balls against the up-and-coming power-player from Canada, Milos Raonic, in the last round, he also has a losing record to the world number one. Nadal’s won 12-of-15 matches against Federer, including the last six in straight sets. He can’t get much more dominant than that. Expect the same here.

Bottom Line: Nadal advances in three.

Murray versus Dolgopolov:

Last year’s finalist Murray has looked strong, too, in his run to this year’s quarterfinals. Without dropping a set, he now faces the tricky Dolgopolov, the winner over Soderling. The Ukrainian, ranked just inside the top 50, however, has played ten sets in his last two matches. Although he has no pressure versus Murray, look for him to wilt against the fifth seed.

Bottom Line: Murray counterpunches his way to the semifinals in four sets after a strong early push from Dolgopolov to cap the Hungarian’s excellent Australian Open.

Berdych versus Djokovic:

I didn’t see Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych advancing this far in the tournament given his slow end to 2010. He has, however, emerged as a contender for the title with excellent performances in his last four matches, especially against Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round. In that match, everything was working for him in the straight sets victory. He’s dropped only one set so far.

Djokovic, however, looks like just the guy to stop Berdych from making a deeper run into the tournament. With a 4-1 head-to-head, a nine match winning streak, a Davis Cup title, and a need for revenge after losing to Berdych in the Wimbledon semifinals, the Serb wants this badly. He’ll get that victory, provided his fitness holds up against his opponent’s onslaught of power and precision.

Bottom Line: Djokovic edges Berdych in a four-set, grueling test of athleticism.

Federer versus Wawrinka:

In a match-up between the 2008 doubles gold medalists, we should see some good competition for a place in the semifinals. Although Federer leads his head-to-head against Wawrinka, the world number 19 hasn’t lost a match this year. Of course, neither has Federer. The difference: Wawrinka hasn’t lost a set this tournament, even against the higher-ranked Gael Monfils and Roddick. It’ll be a test for Federer, but he’ll overcome it with emotion. He wants to repeat his win Down Under last year, badly. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he leads 8-1 against Wawrinka.

Bottom Line: Federer breaks down the Wawrinka game to make the semifinals.

Road to the Finals:

With Nadal against Murray and Djokovic facing Federer, it’s so tempting to say we’ll see the Nadal-Federer rivalry renewed for the first time in a major since the 2009 Australian Open. I want to see it, and so do many tennis fans around the world.

Bottom Line: Nadal and Federer face-off in the final.

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.

Nadal, Federer Advance to Abu Dhabi Final

Posted in Rafael Nadal,Robin Soderling,Roger Federer,Tomas Berdych by Ben on December 31, 2010

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will meet in the final of the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament once again. To get to the final two, Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-4, while Federer fended off Robin Soderling in three sets. He pulled out the win 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinal match.

Last year, Nadal won the tournament, while Soderling defeated Federer.

This latest match comes just after Nadal and Federer recently announced that their charity matches in Zurich and Madrid raised about $4 million. According to a report from Tennis.com, “The day after the match in Zurich, Federer announced that the event had raised $2.5 million for his foundation to support projects in Africa. On Thursday, Nadal’s foundation said the Madrid event brought in $1.32 million, a figure that will increase once pieces of the court have been sold off.”

As the two take to the courts, I pick the Spaniard to prove his number one ranking and further distance himself in their career head-to-head. In non-exhibition matches, he leads 14-8. I see Nadal winning in three close sets, especially as he had the easier time in the semifinals. Plus, he defeated Federer in their last meeting in Madrid, giving him further momentum.

Click here to view the Nadal-Federer head-to-head from the ATP’s official website.

Also, check out the video below for a cool tribute to their intense rivalry over the year.

ATP World Tour Finals Predictions

With the last few events on the ATP tour underway, the tennis world will soon find itself transfixed by the World Tour Finals. A top-class effort will be fought out by the season’s best, which has been split into two groups, A and B. Here’s a breakdown of how I see this year-ending event play out.

In Group A, we have Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Andy Roddick. Djokovic will play Berdych to start in a match I see being won by Djokovic. It is, however, important to note that the Serb might have some trouble focusing on getting the job done given his country’s place in the Davis Cup finals against France.  In a recent Associated Press article centered on his thoughts about the upcoming Davis Cup final, Djokovic said, “Honestly my biggest goal is to win the Davis Cup….I have had opportunities to be part of this event before and hopefully in the future I will be a part of it again, but the Davis Cup final at home, maybe it’s only one time.”

Additionally, Djokovic has won his five singles matches to help secure Serbia’s success in Davis Cup. Along the way, they took out the USA, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Serbia’s final opponent, France, will be especially difficult with it’s nine-time Davis Cup championships.

At the same time, Djokovic said he’s excited for playing in his fourth World Tour Finals. “Just being part of this tournament is a great success for me. Any match I win here is going to be satisfying,” he said.

I’m counting on Djokovic to win over Berdych in straight sets. While Davis Cup might take precedence in his mind, he’ll play some of the tennis that got him a win over Federer in the semifinals of the US Open.

In the other match, I’m going with Nadal to take out Roddick, despite recent worries over the former’s shoulder and his last place showing at the 2009 event. Nadal’s proven his level of play is at its best this year with his wins at Wimbledon, the French Open, and most recently at the US Open. Although he’s been struggling with injury since collecting his first major title on the hard courts of New York City, he’s got the advantage over most — if not all — of the competition now that he’s rested and hungry for the title. He’ll overcome the tricky court surface, any doubts from last year, and the competition to advance.

I’ll go with Nadal easily taking out the struggling Roddick in straight sets to set up a match with Djokovic.

Along with Group A’s top talent,  Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, David Ferrer comprise Group B. In the first match, Murray plays against Soderling. I’ll take Soderling to advance in a well-fought battle. He’s had the stronger year, although their head-to-head is locked at 2-all. While Murray notched the last two wins, both have been especially close, setting it up for a competitive match, which will end up in Soderling’s favor.

For the other match, I’m going with Federer in straight sets over Ferrer. Federer owns a 10-0 head-to-head over the Spaniard, and wants to salvage a year that started off strong with a major title at the Australian Open. If he can just win this title, he’ll restore a lot of the confidence he’s last these past few months.

In the semifinals, I choose Nadal to beat Djokovic and Federer to win against Soderling in compelling three-set affairs.

That’s right, I’m calling for a Nadal-Federer final. What do you think?

Soderling Defeats Monfils to Claim First Masters Title

Robing Soderling of Sweden beat France’s Gael Monfils in a relatively routine 6-1, 7-6 (1) match to take home his first Masters 1000 title. The tw0-setter comes right off two phenomenal three-set matches by Soderling and Monfils in the semifinals. Both went to at least two tie-breaks on the way to having their respective matches decided.

Along with the supreme satisfaction of winning one of the biggest tournaments in the game — and one which has alluded even Roger Federer’s distinguished career — Soderling will replace Great Britain’s Andy Murray as the fourth-ranked player in the world. The win, therefore, caps off an excellent season in which Soderling made his second straight consecutive final at Roland Garros, followed by quarterfinals showings at Wimbledon and the US Open. The victory should also feel pretty good going into the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals in London.

In the semifinals, Soderling saved three match points against France’s Michael Llodra. He advanced with a 6-7 (0), 7-5, 7-6 (6) win.

Monfils faced a particularly tough tests against Federer, who’d hoped to win the only Masters-level event that escapes him. The Swiss champion proved painstakingly close to advancing to the finals. After all, he had five match points to close the match while Monfils served at 5-6 in the third set. Monfils, however, denied him every time, showing a level of mental strength that has previously been viewed absent from his career at the later events of major tournaments. He beat Federer 7-6 (7), 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4).

The results of both matches prompted the following response from Federer, according to an Associated Press article, “There were two quite extraordinary matches today,” said Federer. “You could have had a Federer-Llodra final and it became a Soderling-Monfils final. “What’s disappointing is that I was in control of the situation and had a break in the third set. But I know that on a surface so quick, it can turn very quickly,” he continued.

Depending on Rafael Nadal’s form, I like Soderling to claim the year-ending championships in London. He’ll be confident and ready to go the distance with the form that has earned him this accomplishment in Paris.

Harrison and Capra Win, Roddick and Oudin Fall in Second Round

American Teen Ryan Harrison secured the biggest win of his young career during one of, if not the, biggest tournaments. Harrison routed 15th-seeded Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the US Open. Another young American talent to look out for is the 18-year-old wild card Beatrice Capra, ranked 371 in the world. A changing of the guard, however, welcomes these two Americans into the equation as veteran Andy Roddick lost to Janko Tipsarevic in four disheartening sets, while Melanie Oudin, last year’s breakout American star, lost to Alona Bondarenko  6-2, 7-5.

Harrison next draws a strong player in Sergiy Stakhovsky, who won his fourth title at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven last week. Stakhovsky, currently ranked a career-high of 36, won’t have the crowd’s support, but he does have the form needed to get to the third round and end a good run by the youngest man left in the draw. Then again, Stakhovsky could be fatigued after winning the title. Plus, he escaped an intense first round match against Peter Luczak. Stakhovsky needed four sets, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, to advance.

As much as I like Harrison, and what he means for American tennis, I’m going with the Ukrainian to reach his career-best major showing. Harrison, on the other hand, has a bright future. We’ll see what kind of tennis he produces tomorrow, and if he can handle the pressure associated with scoring a big upset in the previous round.

The Maryland-native Capra, who trained at College Park’s Junior Champions Tennis Center before heading to Chris Evert’s tennis academy, defeated the 18th seed Aravane Rezai 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Her next opponent: Maria Sharapova. Can Capra channel Oudin, who had success over the Russian champion last year, to get to the fourth round? I’m guessing not. Sharapova’s on a mission: her strong US Open Series and dominating performance in the first two matches of the US Open show she means business.  I don’t see Capra overcoming Sharapova anymore than I expected Oudin’s run. But, of course, Cinderella stories do happen in tennis, and they’ve happened quite frequently in the majors this year, especially on the WTA tour.

On the flip side, it’s sad to report that both Roddick and Oudin failed to meet expectations. While Roddick was outplayed by a sharp Tipsarevic, Oudin looked lost in the first set against Bondarenko, before putting up a fight in the second. She looked shaky thoughout, not holding serve effectively, while committing a staggering 38 unforced errors to only nine winners. She has the game, she’s proven that. Now, it’s all about coming to terms with the pressure success brings. It’ll happen one day. Look for Oudin to reemerge in 2011 with the same belief and courage that got her to the 2009 Wimbledon fourth round and the quarters at the US Open.

In other news:

  • Robin Soderling defeated Taylor Dent 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
  • The 19th-seeded Mardy Fish advanced against Pablo Cuevas 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.
  • Wild card James Blake fended off Peter Polansky 6-7 (1), 6-3 6-2, 6-4.

US Open Predictions – ATP Tour

The US Open is finally upon us. The stage has been set, the qualifying is over, and the last major of the year is underway. Here’s my review of each section of the draw.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter:

This section of the draw is owned by one man: Rafael Nadal, the number one player in the world, and the winner of both the French Open and Wimbledon. He’s primed to take home his first US Open title on paper, but his US Open Series has been severely lacking, raising some questions about his most recent form on the hard courts. Regardless, this is a major tournament, and there’s no one that enjoys the grind more than Nadal.

The first real test for the Spaniard seems to be Ivan Ljubicic, but even that’s a stretch. I’m going for Nadal to get through to the quarterfinals in dominating fashion.

Other notables: Ryan Harrison, the young American qualifier, plays Ljubicic in the first round. Can he get the upset? Probably not.

Fernando Verdasco’s Quarter:

Verdasco and David Ferrer, both Spaniards, own this section of the draw. There is, however, a very dangerous 31st seed in the Argentinian David Nalbandian. Something about Ernests Gulbis, the 24th seed, is also enticing. I’ll pick Gulbis to face against Nalbandian for a spot in the quarters. In that match, I’m going with Nalbandian to find himself across the net from Nadal.

Other notables: None. I’ll just stress that Gulbis and Nalbandian are ones to watch.

Andy Murray’s Quarter:

With a strong US Open Series, including his win over both Nadal and Federer in Toronto, I like the looks of Murray going into this event. And his path doesn’t look to difficult until getting to the fourth round. There, I’m going with Sam Querrey to fight for the chance at the second week.

Murray, however, will win in three or four sets. He’s too masterful of a tactician to get shocked by Querrey’s power.

Other notables: Can the 14th seed Nicholas Almagro make any noise by defeating the home favorite Querrey in the third round?

Tomas Berdych’s Quarter:

The tennis world hasn’t heard too much from Berdych since his stunning run to the Wimbledon finals, where he was promptly dominated by Nadal. This section of the draw won’t make a repeat performance any easier. With Mikhail Youzhny, Xavier Malisse, and John Isner looming in the background, Berdych will need to prove he’s ready to continue his success at the majors. He made the semifinals at the French Open, too. Can he keep up the form when the pressure’s really on?

I’m going for the compelling match-up featuring Isner and Berdych. Although Isner’s health looks questionable, get injured in the last tournament he played, I’m looking for a good showing for the American giant. In the fourth round, however, Berdych stops the big guy without a problem.

Other notables: Youzhny could very well break my prediction with some inspired play against Isner in the third round. Watch out.

Nikolai Davydenko’s Quarter:

While this is called Davydenko’s section — he’s the sixth seed?! — it really belongs to Andy Roddick. Davydenko has been suffering recently with injury, and while Roddick isn’t doing too much better health-wise with his mono, he’s proven he’s on the fast track to recovery. I say it’s already a thing of the past.

Roddick shouldn’t have too much trouble making it to the fourth round. Gael Monfil had a lot of trouble in his first round match, barely getting by Robert Kendrick in the first round. I predict Roddick gets into the quarterfinals.

Other notables: The Frenchman Richard Gasquet may very well have the form to take out Davydenko early on. Even so, I’d say Roddick can dispatch Gasquet without too much trouble.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter:

This section also reads incredibly tough on paper. While Djokovic stands out as the heavy favorite to get through by seeding, one American, Mardy Fish, has been playing some incredible tennis recently. At the top of the quarter, the 16th seed Marcos Baghdatis is more fit than ever before. I call Fish advancing in a tight and dramatic four-setter against the Cypriot. The winner faces Djokovic without a doubt.

Other notables: Wild card James Blake and Robby Ginepri might become inspired by the home crowd. Both made the US Open quarterfinals a few years ago.

Robin Soderling’s Quarter:

Although Soderling, the 5th seed, looked shaky in the opening round, he gains confidence as the tournament progress. He’ll make the fourth round without dropping another set.

Marin Cilic finds good form — he looked good in practice when the qualifying tournament was going on — and doesn’t drop a set on his way to play Soderling. That is, unless one Japanese qualifer doesn’t get in his way (explained below) In the probably match Cilic-Soderling, however, Soderling prevails in five sets.

Other notables: Qualifier Kei Nishikori, who made the fourth round before injury set in, has looked sharp so far in his four matches. With a withdrawal after two sets in the first round, he’ll have the extra rest to do some damage. He may give Cilic a real test in the third round. In fact, I hope he does.

Roger Federer’s Quarter:

This section, of course, belongs to Federer. He’s gunning for his second major in a year and number 17 in total. After losing in two straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, he’s hungry for the win. With Paul Annacone as his full-time coach and his new, aggressive brand of tennis, he’s looking very, very good. Federer cruises into the quarterfinals in straight sets all the way.

Other notables: Jurgen Melzer and Lleyton Hewitt are promising, but there’s no way either can get past Federer in a major tournament.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Nadal defeats Nalbandian in four, while Andy Murray loses to Berdych in five sets. In the semis — a rematch of Wimbledon — Nadal dispatches Berdych, although this time in four sets.

In the bottom half, Roddick faces Djokovic, a player he’s beaten four times in a row. He continues the streak to make the semis. There, he faces Federer, the winner versus Soderling to avenge his quarterfinal defeat at Roland Garros. Federer beats Roddick in three.

Serena Withdraws from US Open; Nadal and Murray Lose

Serena Williams will not be playing the US Open due to a foot injury after winning Wimbledon earlier this summer. Her absence leaves a good opportunity for a number of other players, including Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova (assuming they’re healthy).

For the men, both Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, who’s coming off a win in Canada, lost their matches. Andy Roddick and Roger Federer advanced to get to the semifinals.

Serena’s not playing and, although I didn’t see her winning the title given her absence on tour, she probably would’ve made a deep run into the second week. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to let another woman besides the 13-time Grand Slam titlist take center stage. I’m watching out for Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, last year’s finalist, too.

But for the men, it was an intriguing day. Nadal and Murray looked sluggish, spraying shots to let their lower-ranked opponents, Marcos Baghdatis and Mardy Fish, respectively, take advantage. Baghdatis beat the world number one 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, while the wild card Fish, who surprisingly leads his head-to-head against Murray 4-3, advanced 6-7 (7), 6-1, 7-6 (5). Although Nadal’s loss is surprising, Murray’s been playing a lot of tennis lately. I don’t really count the losses for either as anything to be concerned about going into the US Open. In fact, they’ll have more time to rest and will prove to be just that much more dangerous once the tournament begins.

For Roddick — the recent winner over Robin Soderling in a close three-setter — to then beat Novak Djokovic is impressive, especially with concerns over his health. Roddick announced just a couple weeks ago that he’s overcoming a bout of mono. Well, it seems to have worn off now, and it’s great to see the American notching big wins over the top guys on tour again. He beat Djokovic 6-4, 7-5 for his fourth straight victory over the Serb.

Federer has had an easy time thus far in the tournament after his previous two opponents retired. He won over Nikolai Davydenko with the same score as Roddick — 6-4, 7-5. He next faces Baghdatis, while friends Fish and Roddick will fight for the final.

I predict a Federer – Roddick final.

Soderling, Jankovic Upset; Sweet Victories for the Unexpected

Watch out tennis world, there’s a dangerous floater in David Nalbandian in the field. The Argentine most recent win: over world number five Robin Soderling in three sets, including a dominant performance in the third. He won4-6, 6-4, 6-1 over the fifth seed.

After missing the last six major events, Nalbandian is back. After taking out Marcos Baghdatis last week to win his 11th title in Washington, Nalbandian improved his current match winning-streak to 11. With that win, he surged through the rankings by 72 spots and is currently ranked 45th. With the win over Soderling, he’s poised to be seeded once the US Open begins in two weeks.

Although fitness has been a problem for Nalbandian in the post, according to ESPN commentator and former player and coach Brad Gilbert, he’s in pretty good shape after the injury layoff. In the match versus Soderling, the backhand was spot on, too. Nalbandian would hit a blister backhand crosscourt, nailing Soderling into the corner, and then surprise with a world-class down-the-line backhand for a crisp winner. With this shot-making capability, and the belief that comes along with such results, Nalbandian can beat any player on any given day. In fact, over at ESPN, they were calling him one of the favorites at the US Open, behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but potentially before Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the number two and four ranked player in the world, respectively.

And while Soderling was simply outplayed in that match, he wasn’t the only one. Top seed Jelena Jankovic in the Cincinnati tournament was ousted by qualifier and 114th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova in a lopsided 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round. The Serb is back after taking time off to heal her ankle, an injury sustained during the second round of the tournament in Slovenia. It seems like she’ll be needing some more time to recover physically and mentally after this tough defeat. Adding insult to injury, the win was Amanmuradova’s first over a top ten player.

Also losing in the third round in Cincinatti, third-ranked Caroline Wozniacki succumbed to Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1. Bartoli’s impressive play is highlighted further by the fact that Wozniacki is coming straight off a win in her home country last week. She should, therefore, be in strong form. Could it be the jet-lag? Bartoli simply being the better player? Who knows. The question now: Can the 2009 US Open finalist put together another deep run this year? That remains to be seen.

In other matches:

  • Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousted Israel’s Shahar Peer 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
  • Roger Federer fended off a tricky Michael Llodra, who employed an underhanded serve during the second set. Federer won 7-6 (2), 6-3 after a slow start and inspired play from his long-time friend, the veteran Frenchman.
  • Kim Clijsters easily advanced against the struggling Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. Will the former world number one ever get back on track?
  • Ana Ivanovic, another former top player, continued her good form by beating Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-3.
  • Maria Sharapova didn’t waste time in her win against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who’s been having an excellent summer so far. She looked confident serving and powering the ball in the quick 6-2, 6-3 victory.
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