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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.

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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.

After Finals Loss, Turbulance Increases for French Davis Cup Team

Posted in Jurgen Melzer,Michael Llodra,Viktor Troicki by Ben on December 24, 2010

If it wasn’t difficult enough to suffer defeat against Serbia in the Davis Cup finals, the French Davis Cup team’s spirits probably won’t be flying much higher any time soon. In fact, France won’t even get to play their next tie at an actual tennis stadium. Instead, the match against Austria will take place in a re-purposed aircraft hangar.

According to a recent Associated Press article, “A hangar at Austria’s main airport currently being used for airplane maintenance will be transformed into a 6,000-capacity tennis stadium for the March 4-6 match.”

Get this, the Davis Cup website briefly explains the list of venues for the first round matches. For Austria versus France, it reads:

Austria v France
Venue: Vienna Airport – Hangar 3
Location: Vienna, Austria
Surface: Indoor clay

Austrian Jurgen Melzer, who had a breakout year on tour with a semifinal showing at the French Open, doesn’t believe the noise from airplanes flying overhead will be problematic. In the Associated Press article, Melzer likens the conditions to the US Open, which is located near JFK airport.

The only problem, Melzer, is that you’ll actually be playing in an airport. It might just be a little louder.

Luckily for France, Austria hasn’t advanced past the first round since 1995.

Although not in English, view the video below of Serbia’s Victor Troicki beating France’s Michael Llodra in straight sets. The energy is intense, and the emotion truly exemplifies the spirit of the Davis Cup.

Headline Round-Up: Fish, Zvonareva, and Safina Win

After some exceptional American success last week, a string of big headlines are signaling the start of another busy seven days on the ATP and WTA tours. Here’s a round-up of the current events around the sport this week.

  • Mardy Fish continues his winning streak, notching match number 11 over Viktor Troicki. The American has swept the field since a second round loss at Wimbledon. He won two titles in Newport and Atlanta and looks primed to continue his success after dropping 30 pounds.
  • Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva beat Dominika Cibulkova in a tough 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 to get her first win since losing to Serena Williams. Zvonareva seems to have recovered from the mysterious ankle injury that forced her to retire from the Bank of the West Classic last week.
  • Dinara Safina’s free-fall in the rankings and with her form finally picked up a little after she won a match — her first win in seven tries. The former world number one and three-time major finalist beat Alyona Bondarenko 6-1, 7-6 (2) in San Diego.
  • Serena Williams and John Isner are set to take part in the Hopman Cup, an international tournament that serves as a warm-up for the Australian Open. As an Associated Press article writes, “Williams and Isner will join the Serbian pair of Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, Belgium’s Justine Henin, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt and France’s Gael Monfils in the mixed teams tournament which runs Jan. 1-8.” Time will tell if the big-name players keep their commitments to this progressive event.
  • James Blake continues his poor form, this time losing to the qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Blake is now ranked 105th. At the same event, David Nalbandian is back after a hamstring injury, winning over Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-0.
  • Speaking of players recovering from injury, US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is back on the courts. Although he probably won’t make it back in time to defend his title, or at least be a threat to win the event, it’s good to see he’s back. Click here to see the picture he posted on his Twitter account, apparently proving his return.
  • Back for more: Ivan Lendl will debut on the ATP Champions seniors’ tour in Paris this October.
  • Ones to watch, maybe: 22-year old Alexandra Mueller, ranked 447th, received a wild card into the US Open qualifying after defeating Alina Jidkova in the USTA playoffs. She handily beat Jidkova 6-0, 6-3. The last time Mueller played at the qualifying, she was 16. Jelena Dokic also made news for winning her second straight title on the ITF tour.

Top Men Show Wear and Tear Early in Season

With Roger Federer ill, Rafael Nadal sidelined by injury and both Andy Murray and Nikolay Davydenko succumbing to much lower ranked players early on in Dubai, the men’s game is not looking too healthy at the moment. But then again with the season as long as it is, maybe that’s too be expected.

What’s especially worrisome about this all is Nadal’s own “worry” about his knee injuries, as reported in a recent Associated Press article, “Costa: Nadal ‘worried’ about constant injuries” in which the Spanish Davis Cup Captain Albert Costa relayed the troubling news. Yes, Nadal is hurt, but to actually go so far as to report worry to the media shows a very, un-Nadal-like sign. One that proves that the physical pain is transcending deeply into the emotional. This could be a sign that even Nadal himself doesn’t hold that same belief in his ability to recover, that’s there are some deeper issues beginning to surface than simply those plaguing his knees.

In other news, Murray and Davydenko disappoint in Dubai with the Brit falling to the other male Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, while the Russian retired due to his nagging wrist injury. While Davydenko’s story is justified, what went wrong with Murray? Losing 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 to Tipsarevic is certainly a shocker. In fact, according to the AP article, Tipsarevic has barely strung together any wins on the ATP level recently, not to mention over a top-ten player in the world, and recent Grand Slam singles finalist. The article reports, “Tipsarevic, who hadn’t won on tour this year until this week, served for the match at 5-3 in the third set but was broken by Murray’s double-fisted backhand passing shot on the run.”

Only Novak Djokovic is continuing his form, securing a well-fought win over another Serb, Viktor Troicki, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

With the way things are going, the ATP tour is looking pretty weak. Maybe it’s time for some up-and-comers to emerge and claim a sport at the top echelon of tennis. If there were ever a time, it’s right now.


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