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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.

Federer in Fine Form at Tour Finals; Roddick Continues Slump

With the ATP World Tour Finals well underway, the favorites to advance are doing just that, while those in questionable form continue to prove that this season might want to end soon. Roger Federer has won both of his matches over David Ferrer and fan-favorite Andy Murray in straight sets. On the other side of the equation, Andy Roddick lost his matches against Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych.

Federer beat Ferrer, the underdog of the event and a surprise, last-minute entrant, 6-1, 6-4. He also dispatched Murray, who he beat to collect this year’s Australian Open title, in a similarly quick 6-4, 6-2. At this rate, there’s nothing to stop Federer from advancing to the final two, where he’ll likely meet Nadal.

Although Nadal only has one win so far given the scheduling of Group A’s play, I predict him beating Novak Djokovic without much trouble in a repeat of the US Open final. It would be nice, however, to see at least one three-set match, although that simply has yet to happen.

For Roddick, things just are not looking too good as the this point in the season. He started the year of with a strong, quarterfinal showing at the Australian Open. He also made the finals at Indian Wells and won the big Miami event. Things, however, have been on the slide in the second-half of the year, especially regarding Grand Slam play. Here’s to hoping the top American man can pull himself back into position to make noise at the largest events again — and for him to get inspired against Djokovic in his final match of the Tour Finals.

In other news, Serena Williams has pulled out of the Hopman Cup event to start 2011 due to a nagging foot injury. When will the champion next play? She’s been out since collecting her Wimbledon title months ago.

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?

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.

Team Changes: Federer and Murray Get New Coaches

It’s been recently announced that world number three Roger Federer and world number four Andy Murray have made some major decisions in their coaching going into the US Open Series. Federer, who’s been without a full-tim coach since he split with Tony Roche in 2007, is partnering up with Pete Sampras’ former go-to guy, Paul Annacone. Andy Murray, however, called it quits with Miles Maclagan — his full-time coach after ending his partnership with Brad Gilbert.

For Federer, the decision signals possible unease with two quarterfinal losses at the French Open and Wimbledon, events he dominated last year. As a result, the 16-time Grand Slam champion has fallen in the rankings, while rival Rafael Nadal finds himself in a commanding top spot. Yes, Federer won the Australian Open, but he’s going to need to get to the semifinals at the US Open at the least to save the year from being marked as the beginning of the end. Personally, I think he has more Grand Slam titles in him — at least enough to make it to 20 in total. We’ll see how Annacone factors into the next couple months.

As for Murray, firing Maclagan shows frustration with his game to an extent. Two times, Murray had the chance to win a Grand Slam title, and both times he was ousted easily by Federer. Murray replaced Maclagan, his coach for less than three years, with Alex Corretja, a player who got to two French Open finals. Corretja has been Murray’s part-time coach for about two years now.

According to a recent article on Telegraph.co.uk, “the three men [Murray, Maclagan, and Corretja] were finding it difficult to work together. Although Maclagan was Murray’s main coach, Corretja had been working with the team as a coaching adviser since May 2008, and will continue on a part-time basis in the build-up to the US Open.” Whatever the reason, let’s hope the change benefits Murray, who’s been having a great year, despite some lopsided losses in the late stages of the big events. For instance, Nadal beat Murray 6–4, 7–6 (6), 6–4 in the Wimbledon semis, before winning the title against Tomas Berdych.

Will these changes for the top men prove successful as the summer hard court season continues? We’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be judging the switch-ups based on their performance at the US Open in September.

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.

ATP Post-Wimbledon Ranking Roundup

Wimbledon ended yesterday with Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams collecting the titles of the particularly historic tournament. Along with taking the trophies, the world number ones are enjoying uncontested positions as the best in the world. Here’s a breakdown of the ATP ranking changes released today.

  • Rafael Nadal surges ahead to a dominant position as world number one with over 10,000 points. His exceptional play at the French Open and Wimbledon after a difficult 2009 makes him poised to hold the spot for the remainder of the year. If so, this will be his second year to end the season as number one.
  • In a severe shake-up of the rankings, Roger Federer fell to number three in the world. This is the first time in seven years he’s been at the position. I don’t see him reclaiming the number two spot from Nadal, although number two is definitely in his sights with a strong US Open Series showing. Novak Djokovic — now number two — leads Federer by only the slimmest of margins. At the US Open, Federer will need to make the finals or win the title to avoid losing any more points and salvage his worst year on tour in quite some time.
  • Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych also moved big in the rankings. The Czech is now inside the top ten for the first time since 2008. With his improved play and the confidence gained from making the semifinals at Roland Garros — going along with his first finals showing at a Grand Slam — I think he’ll continue to ascend. I predict a top five finish the year, especially if he can advance past the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in his career.
  • Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey both posted their best wins at Wimbledon. Isner won the longest match in tennis history to make it to the second round, claiming a well-deserved career-high ranking of 18. Querrey made it to the fourth round to come out just behind Isner at number 19. They meet compatriot Andy Roddick in the top twenty.
  • Yen-Hsun Lu, the man that beat Andy Roddick, raced up the rankings 40 spots after his quarterfinal showing. Let’s see if he can keep the momentum going through the hard court season.
  • Other notables include Daniel Brands, who will enjoy a career-high 66 after gaining 30 spots, while Dudi Sela of Israel — a player that made it to the 4th round of Wimbledon last year — dropped 25 spots after losing to Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the first round.

The women’s ranking changes will be highlighted tomorrow.

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