Advertisements

Tenaciously Tennis


Indian Wells 2012: A Fearsome Flu and Fresh Faces

It’s been a weird few days at Indian Wells with a ferocious flu taking down scores of players, trainers, and even journalists, while new American talent has been breaking through to the final few days of action in the California heat. The stomach viruses’ victim count so far is estimated at approximately 30, including stars Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils.

The flu’s latest casualty? American wild card Jamie Hampton, 22, who couldn’t deal with the cramps and fatigue. She retired during the third set versus World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska. It’s too bad; Hampton seemed to find her game despite trailing 3-0 in the final set. She enjoyed the momentum by taking the second set 6-4. Ultimately, illness proved too much. Hampton should leave feeling proud. Ranked No. 99, she’s making a serious breakthrough into the big leagues and the third-round is a quality advance. Hampton took out former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in round one and Jarmila Gajdosova in the second.

Said Hampton: “At the end of the second [against Radwanska] it hit me and I knew it was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And this type of thing has happened in the past for the up-and-comer; she’s suffered from cramps five times already in her young career, forcing her to quit the match. Yet she says she “hydrates and eats the right way, according to a Ticker post on Tennis.com. A visit to a specialist  is in her future, which is a good call for a player who can definitely do major damage if she keeps the fuel going for further upward trajectory.

Bowing out in another close match was the No. 32 seed and New Jersey-native Christina McHale. The giant killer — think Cincinnati 2011 and my shameless self-promotion here — added Petra Kvitova to her list, taking out the World No. 3 in round two. The 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, the surprise 2011 US Open semifinalist, however, proved to be a little too much to handle, edging past the 19-year old 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4). McHale, although not quite as new a face as Hampton, summons the fresh and hopeful feelings of where American women’s tennis is going in a time of crisis. The Williams sisters aren’t getting any younger, and their typical absence at Indian Wells this week always makes it even more pronounced. Regardless, expect a top 20 ranking for McHale by the year’s end (if not by the time Roland Garros rolls around).

In other WTA news, Ana Ivanovic has pushed past the stomach bug and her own insecurities, downing former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with her huge forehand. The No. 15-seeded Serb might finally be ready to go on a roll and reclaim her rightful place in the Top 10 after confidence issues sapped her game post-Roland Garros victory 2008.

On the men’s side, American Ryan Harrison, 19,  has advanced to the final 16. He’s had huge success at Indian Wells in the past, advancing to the fourth round last year after securing a solid win over Canadian Milos Raonic (before losing to Roger Federer in straights). This year, it’s been more of the same. He took out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez just like in 2011, while also claiming solid wins over Viktor Troicki and Flavio Cipolla. Up next: the No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, who’s entirely beatable if Harrison can keep calm and not let the Frenchman’s tricky counter-punching style unsettle his power.

Advertisements

Late Night Reflections on the 2012 Australian Open’s Start

It’s that time of the year again for the first Grand Slam in the sunny land of Australia to kick off. Injuries prevail among both tours as was the case last year — and why shouldn’t they with such a short off-season? A little tennis has been watched and a lot of guilt has been felt for not writing sooner. That aside, let’s get down to talking some tennis.

I caught a few matches last night, failing to fall asleep before 5am because, sure, Roger Federer’s match against …who? (Goes to look it up)

Oh, yes, Federer’s match against World No. 176, or something, Alexandre Kudryavtsev (apparently no relation to Alla Kudryavtseva) was just that interesting. Okay, so maybe not, but the later played decently enough, striking some booming backhands that pierced angles of the court in a very, well, Federer-esque way. Regardless of the spots of brilliance from his opponent, Federer prevailed easily, winning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

In other matches broadcast to my liking were Aussie heir apparent Bernard Tomic against Fernando Verdasco as well as last year’s champion and Down Under’s adopted daughter Kim Clijsters versus another nobody (will check name).

Tomic looked sharp in all his cat-like glory, moving the ball around beautifully against the No. 22 seed, while hitting perfectly timed slices over and over again to take the pace, put it in a blender, and then proceed to cut Verdasco’s confidence to pieces. In short, Tomic came back from two sets down for the win. Verdasco completely choked at the end, allowing the teen to advance to the second round 5-6, 6(3)-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.

For Aussie Kim, the win looked a little uneasy at the start. She let her opponent control play too much, but ultimately dominated by the end. She took out Maria Joao Koehler 7-5, 6-1. Should the Belgian’s body hold up, and she doesn’t do one of those surprising disappearing acts for which she’s known, we’ll get a rematch of last year’s final against Li Na in the Round of 16.

How’s that for strange?

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.

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’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.

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: