The anticipation had been building for months following the announcement that Vancouver would host its first Davis Cup tie in 20 years. It also just so happened to be the biggest non-Rogers Cup tennis event to be held on Canadian soil in the last decade.
In the end, the Canada-France first round World Group tie lived up to the hype and delivered on expectations despite Milos Raonic being forced to withdraw from the much-anticipated reverse singles match up with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because of pain in his knee.
Raonic played and won his singles match on Friday, defeating Julien Benneteau in straight sets, putting forth a virtually flawless performance to give Canada it’s only point of the weekend in a 4-1 defeat. Level at 1-1 after Friday’s singles, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau substituted the in-form Raonic for Vasek Pospisil to play with Daniel Nestor for the crucial doubles point. In the end, the French pair of Benneteau and Michael Llodra played subliminal doubles to secure the second point for France and Canada was dealt a major blow when it was discovered that Raonic had tweaked his knee during the first set which would ultimately keep him out of Sunday’s reverse singles.
Frank Dancevic replaced Raonic against Tsonga in the first match on Sunday and acquitted himself more than admirably, playing inspired tennis that ignited the boisterous crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Dancevic’s performance, perhaps his best since the former world no. 65 made a surprise run to the quarter-finals o f the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal in 2007, just wasn’t enough against Tsonga who was also at the top of his game, hitting winners from seemingly everywhere on the court. The World no. 6 posted an impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win to propel France into the Davis Cup quarter-finals where they will play the United States on home soil. Tsonga said he was disappointed to miss out on the chance to play Raonic in this setting.
“For us it was a good surprise,” said Tsonga. “Milos (Raonic) is a good player, talented, and I was a bit sad to play against another guy, because I think it (would have been) a good confrontation with Milos.”
For his part, Dancevic thrived in his return to the Canadian Davis Cup squad and enjoyed every minute of playing in front of vocal, supportive fans.
“I felt the energy out there and I felt like I had a lot of momentum on my side,” Dancevic said. “I felt like anything could happen … and it came down to just a few important shots by him, especially in the second set. He painted the lines on a few forehands, hit some unbelievable down-line and cross-court one-hand backhands.”
Gael Monfils, who did not play Friday’s singles match against Raonic as originally anticipated, and Vasek Pospisil concluded the tie with an entertaining match that wowed the crowd featured more than one highlight reel shot from the always flamboyant Monfils. The Frenchman defeated Pospisil, Canada’s Davis Cup hero in 2011, 6-4, 6-4.
A total of 15,233 spectators attended the tie over the three days and certainly made themselves heard throughout the weekend and showed why Vancouver is the fastest growing tennis city in Canada. The Canadian team left with many lessons learned as they look ahead to their World Group playoff tie in September, but also proved they belonged among the top 16 Davis Cup countries in the world.
The weather in San Jose may have been unusually cold and wet today – even for February, but that didn’t stop things from proceeding exactly as planned at the HP Pavilion, where the first day of the SAP Open finished up at ten minutes before midnight, when big-serving Kevin Anderson prevailed over Grigor Dimitrov in a third set tiebreak. Dimitrov had come out on fire, but once the tall South African found his serving rhythm in the second set, neither player could manage a break, and when it comes to tiebreaks, being able to rely on a booming serve like Anderson’s can make all the difference.
The highlight of the evening had been earlier, when the legendary John McEnroe took to the court, along with the talented and top-seeded Gael Monfils to play doubles, each paired with a young American. McEnroe partnered with Jack Sock, while Monfils played with NCAA champion Steve Johnson. The exhibition match had its roster changed around due to the withdrawals before the tournament, but neither the B-team players nor the weather outside could dampen the audience’s enjoyment of Johnny Mac displaying plenty of his signature magic at the net.
Monfils got up to plenty of showmanship as well, with his own brand of shots behind the back, between the legs, and hang time smashes, not to mention plenty of diving and sliding around the court, in his inimitable fashion. Sock and Johnson each acquitted themselves admirably, both serving and volleying with more precision that you might expect from a pair so inexperienced at tour level. Sock has perhaps a bit more firepower and a bit more flare than the USC Trojan, but everyone in attendance was left confident that both players ought to have long and successful pro careers ahead of them.
Of course, it was McEnroe who was the main draw of the evening, and he did not disappoint. He served exceptionally well, going so far as to thank the operator of the radar gun when one of his serves hit the 126 mph mark, which he claims to have been a first for him. McEnroe turns 53 on Thursday (the crowd regaled him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”) but his ability to hit pinpoint volleys from seemingly impossible positions and to place them perfectly on the other side of the court remains unmatched in the modern game. The crowd also got the result they wanted from the match, with McEnroe and Sock prevailing in two tight sets, 6-4, 6-4. There were even some theatrics involving the line calls and the challenge system, but it all seemed to be in good fun.
After the match, McEnroe fielded questions about the state of the game today and the surprises of his post-playing tennis career. He explained how thankful he was to have come to enjoy these sorts of exhibitions as well as his time as a broadcaster, two things which he never thought he would have wanted to continue doing, while he was playing. He also discussed his movie and TV roles, and marveled at how many people recognize him from his appearances in Adam Sandler movies, without being aware that he was originally a tennis player.
When it came to his take on the modern tennis game, he once again touched on how spoiled the United States had been up until the current generation, and what needed to be done to get an American player vying for grand slam titles, again. McEnroe touted Sock as a future top ten player, but he had more to say about what he is currently trying to accomplish at his tennis academy in New York. It was his opinion that the current trend in junior development which forces young players to devote themselves almost exclusively to tennis inevitably leads to burnout. He believed that a more rounded development process would ultimately be more successful, but he recognizes he’s in the minority, even finding himself in disagreement with his own brother, who is the head of the USTA player development program.
I guess time will tell.
When it came to the other matches during the day session, it was not a great day to be a former junior world number one. Two of them were in action in the final round of qualifying, and neither managed to win a set. Ricardas Berankis, who reached the quarterfinals in this tournament last year but has been struggling with a leg injury, was forced to retire against Tim Smyczek. Yuki Bhambri, another great junior player who has been struggling to make the transition to the pro level, fell to collegiate tennis player Dennis Lajola, of the University of Hawaii. It marks the first time that Lajola has ever successfully qualified into the main draw of an ATP event, and he has a chance to go even further, since he meets another qualifier in the first round tomorrow.
While the tennis season has been underway for nearly a month and a half already, the sport has to make its way onto US soil – with the exception of five matches a few weeks ago, when the United States bested Belarus in Fed Cup competition in Worcester, Massachusetts. That encounter was just a taste, because from now until the middle of April, there will be at least one professional tennis tournament taking place in the United States every week.
The first tournament is the long-running SAP Open in San Jose, and it must be said that US tennis is slightly stumbling out of the blocks. Even before the tournament has officially begun, the draw has been dramatically weakened by some high-profile withdrawals, particularly the veterans Hewitt and Blake, along with up-and-coming Aussie phenom Bernard Tomic. As if that weren’t enough, all three of the tournament’s top three seeds (Roddick, Monfils, and defending champion Raonic) have been struggling with injuries recently, and their ability to perform at their top levels has to be considered something of a question mark.
Fortunately for the tournament organizers, the remainder of the field – while not necessarily star-studded – is certainly varied. There are a handful of tour veterans, including Tommy Haas, Radek Stepanek, Xavier Malisse, and Michael Russell. The showing from the younger contingent is just as strong, as it features Donald Young, Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, and (probably) Milos Raonic. In addition to those young men, there is an excellent chance that we’ll have at least a couple more, once qualifying is completed on Monday. Ricardas Berankis, Yuki Bhambri, and Denis Kudla are all young players who have a shot at the main draw. Several years ago, Andy Murray won his first ATP title in San Jose, so we could see another young gun using this tournament as a springboard this year.
There are a handful of other interesting players scattered throughout the draw, including a pair of Americans fighting their way back from injuries last year (Sam Querrey and Robbie Ginepri), one of the shortest and one of the tallest players on tour (Olivier Rochus and Kevin Anderson), as well as the most successful active player without a tournament win (Julien Benneteau, who is 0-6 in finals). I also happen to think that Denis Istomin is one of the most entertaining players who you’ve probably never heard of. Just check out this point he played against Nadal a few years ago. He’s a guy that I keep expecting to make a breakthrough, but it hasn’t happened, yet.
It’s always tough to predict how a tournament will break down, before you can see what sort of form players are in and how well they like the conditions that particular week. It’s especially difficult for a tournament when the favorites are carrying injuries that aren’t going to be helping their chances. Roddick, Raonic, and Stepanek are all former champions here. Raonic has another title this year already, and Monfils made the final of the last tournament he played in, losing a close match to Berdych in Montpellier. Roddick looked to be in good form at the Australian Open until a hamstring injury sidelined him against Lleyton Hewitt. Roddick is one of two active players (the other being Federer) to have won at least one title per year for the last eleven years. I know that’s a streak that Andy would like to see continue, and if he’s fully recovered, he has an excellent shot this week in San Jose.
If Roddick and the other big dogs aren’t able to play their best, then it might be open season. There are plenty of wily veterans who would love to get their hands on the trophy and just as many hungry young players who want their first taste of victory.
With the opening round of the Davis Cup wrapping up on Sunday, the ATP World Tour will now shift back into form with three tournaments in Rotterdam, San Jose and Sao Paulo. Here’s a closer look at the draws from all three events and some analysis on who stands the best chance of making it to the final weekend.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament
The largest of the three being played this week, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament is a level 500 event. An indoor hard-court event, Roger Federer will be looking for the surface to bring him some much needed success. A disastrous Davis Cup showing at home on clay has left Federer clearly confused about the status of his game. Rather than admit he played poorly, Federer instead shifted the blame onto country-man Stan Wawrinka. It was a rare moment of bad judgement from Federer. He opens with Nicolas Mahut from France and then could potentially face a dangerous opponent in Mikhail Youzhny who won the title recently in Zagreb.
The always tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov is also in the same quarter as Federer. The two have only played once, with Federer winning in Basel two years ago. Dolgopolov has come a long way since then and with the way Roger played this past week, you’d have to think this could be a great QF match.
Richard Gasquet, Feliciano Lopez and former top-ten presence Nikolay Davydenko are in the following quarter of the draw. I’d give a well-rested Gasquet (he did not travel to Canada for Davis Cup) the best shot of emerging here.
Juan Martin Del Potro is the third seed and should be able to navigate his way through the third quarter of the draw. He opens against Michael Llodra of France who has to get all the way from Vancouver, Canada to Rotterdam in the next twenty-four hours.
At the bottom of the draw is second seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic who has had some success lately with a big win in Montpellier over Gael Monfils. Berdych had a very solid 2011 where he won one event and reached eight tournament semi-finals and seven tournament quarter-finals. He is really starting to find that consistency that will make him a mainstay in the top-ten. A meeting in the second round with Marcos Baghdatis looms, but otherwise Berdych should be able to set-up a semi-final encounter with Del Potro that would be highly entertaining.
Regardless of the results, the tournament is guaranteed a new winner this year as Robin Soderling is not yet healthy enough to defend the title which he has held for the past two years. I’m gonna give the nod to Berdych in this one and I have a feeling that Federer’s recent troubles might continue with an early exit this week.
Brasil Open 2012
Played on clay, the Brasil Open attracts some of the usual dirt-ballers one might expect to see. Nicolas Almagro is the defending champion and also won this event in 2008. He has played some pretty decent ball on hard-courts so far this year so we’ll see if that continues on his favourite surface. Almagro is seeded first and gets a bye into the second round. His quarter is pretty sparse which should help him get his clay-court wheels going.
Fernando Verdasco is the third seed and has a nice section in his quarter as well. Take a look at veteran Fernando Gonzalez from Chile if possible as he has already announced his retirement to take place in Miami this coming March. Injuries have really taken away Gonzo’s physical and mental endurance but hopefully he has a little magic left in him before he says goodbye.
In the bottom-half of the draw, aging Juan Carlos Ferrero the eighth seed and Thomaz Bellucci the fourth seed will likely fight it out for a spot in the quarter, while the bottom quarter is the most interesting with David Nalbandian who is unseeded, Albert Montanes and second seeded Gilles Simon.
Almagro gets my vote of confidence to take this one based on his clay-court prowess and success at this venue in previous years.
A year ago the ATP World Tour took notice of fast-rising Canadian sensation Milos Raonic when he won his first-ever event here in San Jose. Unfortunately for Canadian tennis fans, a repeat will be very difficult to achieve for several reasons.
Firstly, Raonic was forced to pull-out of the Davis Cup tie against France on Sunday with pain in his knee that had been already taped throughout the event. Will he even be healthy enough to play in San Jose?
Beyond the injury debate, Milos has a tough draw that sets him up with first-seeded Gael Monfils in a possible semi-final match-up. He will also have to contend with having the entire draw gunning for him as the defending champ. Coming into an event as the title-holder is quite different from what he experienced a year ago.
In the bottom-half things will be pretty wide-open with Andy Roddick returning from an injury he suffered at the Australian Open and occupying the second seed. Who knows what kind of game the former American No. 1 will bring with him but his lack of match play will hinder his changes.
Underachieving Sam Querrey, aging Radek Stepanek and vet Julien Benneteau round-out the bottom half in terms of potential contenders. I’d look for one of them rather than Roddick to make their way to the finals against Monfils who appears to be over the knee problems that he was dealing with upon his arrival to Canada for the Davis Cup.
After a hectic two weeks of Grand-Slam action from Melbourne, life returns to normal on the ATP World Tour. There are three 250-level tournaments this week and while the pace will be perhaps less enthralling than what we’ve just witnessed in Australia, here are some of the big names we can look forward to watching.
Open Sud de France
Formerly held in Lyon in October of each year, the Open Sud de France has now relocated to Montpelier at an earlier date within the tennis season.
Tomas Berdych is the number one seed and will try to win his first ATP title since his victory in Beijing this past October. That was the only title the Czech won in 2011, but he had an incredibly solid year reaching the semi-finals of eight tournaments and the quarter-finals of seven others. That type of consistency has made Berdych a main-stay in the top-ten in recent years but success at the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level have still mostly eluded him with the exception of his win at the Paris Masters in 2005 and his Wimbledon final in 2010.
Berdych has a very manageable quarter of the tournament with no major obstacles in his way and a first-round bye to ease him into the draw.
Richard Gasquet is the fourth seed and is also in the top-half of the draw and he will likely face Nikolay Davydenko in the second round. Despite Davydenko’s rapid drop in play these past two years, the Russian will still give Gasquet a good challenge and provide fans with an entertaining early round match.
In the bottom half of the draw, look for two Frenchman to navigate their way through to the semi-finals. Both Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon are the highest two seeds and also the most likely to ride the support of the French fans to a solid showing.
Canadian number-two singles player Vasek Pospisil will undoubtedly be keeping his eye on the French, as Canada is scheduled to host the French in the first round of the Davis Cup on February 10th in Vancouver. Pospisil opens against French wildcard Guillaume Rufin.
PBZ Zagreb Indoors – Croatia
It was a moment for Croatian tennis fans to relish a year ago in Zagreb when Ivan Dodig captured his first ATP title against Michael Berrer. While the chances of Dodig repeating are not necessarily favored, he is one of three Croats who could lift the trophy on the final Sunday.
Veteran Ivan Ljubicic holds the top seed and opens against Karol Beck. Ljubicic has won the event before and has the best chance of emerging from his quarter of the draw.
Beneath him can be found monster-server Ivo Karlovic who will also receive plenty of home-country support. Mikhail Youzhny will try to bounce back from a disappointing first round loss in Melbourne as he holds the third seed and is my pick to emerge from the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom half, we have Marcos Baghdatis and the previously mentioned Dodig in one quarter. In the final section of the draw, Alex Bogomolov Jr. is the surprised second seed and leads the weakest section of the tournament. In other words, look for Baghdatis or possibly Dodig to have a good route to the finals.
VTR Open – Chile
Providing some contrast to the two hard-court tournaments this week, we have the VTR Open which is played on red clay. Last year’s champion in Vina del Mar is Tommy Robredo but he is not entered in this year’s edition. Meanwhile Fernando Gonzalez holds the most career titles at the event with four. Gonzalez has taken a wildcard into the main draw as he has struggled since returning to the tour last year from hip and knee injuries he sustained in 2010.
Clay court expert Juan Monaco takes the pole position this year and opens with a first round bye. Albert Montanes who is seeded fifth will likely be Monaco’s main source of opposition in the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom section look for Thomaz Bellucci, who won the event in 2010, to challenge once again for the title and for second seeded Juan Ignacio Chela to advance into the draw as well.
Don’t feel bad if you are feeling the effects of a tennis-hangover as these smaller events begin. Nothing can really compare to two weeks of elite level tennis like we have just experienced. There is a lot to look forward to however, with the first round of Davis Cup action just two weeks away and then a month after that we will enjoy back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.
With just over a week until the start of the Australian Open, there is little time to tinker with one’s game for the first Grand Slam of the year.
While the top four players in the world will be taking the week to rest themselves in anticipation for a deep-run in Melbourne, there are plenty of other of the game’s great players who are in action.
The ATP has two tournaments, one in Sydney and another in Auckland, while the Kooyong Classic exhibition will boast a strong field as well. Here’s a closer look at what tennis fans can expect.
Apia Sydney International
Juan Martin Del Potro starts his year in Sydney as the top seed. After making a strong return to the circuit last season following a wrist injury, the 2009 U.S. Open champion is ready to make some noise this year. Del Potro is certainly capable of challenging anyone in the top four and I would put him in the mix of the few serious contenders at the Aussie Open.
The Argentine could see Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters here and then Feliciano Lopez who is the fourth seed. I would however, put the winner of the first round match between Viktor Troicki and veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt to advance against Del Potro in this section of the draw.
Hewitt has won the even four times, in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Don’t expect a repeat as his career is clearly on the downward spiral and injuries have taken their toll on the two-time Grand Slam champion. This may be the last year we see Hewitt playing on the ATP Tour, so enjoy him while you still can.
John Isner from the United Statesis the second seed. Patrick McEnroe recently stated that he feels Isner has the potential to reach the top ten in the ATP rankings. While I do not see that as being a realistic assessment for the 6’9” Isner just yet, this guy is certainly a strong top-thirty player who can cause incredible damage on a hard court due to his imposing serve. It will be Isner’s first action of the year so it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gate.
Isner could face either veteran Xavier Malisse or Radek Stepanek in the quarters and given his ranking he should be beating opponents like these. However, at this stage of the year anything is possible.
A likely semi-final opponent would be third seeded Richard Gasquet who had a solid week at the Hopman Cup where he defeated Fernando Verdasco, Lleyton Hewitt and Wu Di before falling to Tomas Berdych in the finals.
All-court wonder and the always hustling David Ferrer is the number one seed in Auckland. Ferrer started the year off by making the finals of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and was the runner-up in that exhibition to Novak Djokovic. Ferrer starts his week off with a bye at the Heineken Open and will face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. In other words, a nice way to ease into the tournament.
Ferrer’s main opposition will be from third seeded Fernando Verdasco who has just competed in the Hopman Cup. There, the Spaniard defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, knocked-off Wu Di of China 6-3, 6-4 and was beaten by Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-4. So essentially, he won the two matches he was supposed to win and could not find a way to be competitive against a solid opponent in Gasquet. Never any consistency with Fernando, but he has the tools to go deep in any draw.
The second seed here is Nicolas Almagro, but unless we’re talking about a clay court match I wouldn’t count on this guy to get too far. While he did make the semi-finals in Chennai, the field was rather weak and he was no match for Canadian Milos Raonic who took him out 6-4, 6-4.
Look for guys like Philipp Kohlschreiber, Donald Young and perhaps Sam Querrey to enjoy some success in this draw. It is nice to see Young seeded in the tournament (7th) and hopefully able to build on a nice season in 2011. There is still so much potential with the American and he still has many years ahead of him despite already being a presence on the ATP Tour for several seasons.
AAMI Kooyong Classic
Always a high-quality exhibition tournament, the Kooyong Classic again boasts a strong field in 2012. Ten players make-up the draw that has both a championship and consolation side to it.
American Andy Roddick will be the most high-profile player involved and will make his season debut on the tennis court at Kooyong. Roddick’s buddy and current number-one American male tennis player, Mardy Fish, will also be present.
This year will be of the utmost importance to Roddick who struggled mightily a year ago. He needs to re-assert himself and prove to his fellow players that he is still relevant in the sport today. Usually a strong starter, Roddick will be one to watch closely here this week.
Continuing with North-American players, we have Canadian Milos Raonic who has just made the finals in Chennai. Raonic is going to be very exciting to watch this year, especially if he can stay healthy. This guy’s game is perfectly suited toWimbledonand it is no surprise that he grew up idolizing Pete Sampras.
The rest of the players here include Jurgen Melzer, Bernard Tomic, Tomas Berdych and recent Qatar finalists Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of all the stops this week, Kooyong will be the one I’m most interested in due to its very strong field.
Keep checking back with us all week long for updates and check out my Twitter feed as well if you like. Only one more week until the first Slam of 2012 so we have lots to look forward to!
Roger Federer was forced to pull-out of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open on Friday due to a back injury he sustained in his quarter-final match against Andreas Seppi the day before.
Federer was supposed to play against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France for a spot in the finals but recognized the possibility to further aggravate the injury and made the decision to prevent missing the Australian Open which begins January 16th.
Federer has made it a point of avoiding injury for the better part of his stellar professional career, but something was clearly wrong as he was stretched to three sets against the 38th ranked Seppi on Thursday. Federer had held a 7-0 career head-to-head against the Italian prior to the match and had never lost a set in any of those encounters.
It was Swiss journalist and Federer biographer, Renee Stauffer, who broke the news of the back injury via twitter shortly after that match.
Stauffer’s tweet read as follows, “Federer has a bad back: ‘I wasn’t sure if i was going to play ag Seppi’, he revealed in Doha. It happened ag Zemlja (Wednesday).”
The injury withdrawal is only the second time Federer has had to do so in his career but fans should not worry as the world No. 3 seemed pretty confident he would be fine for Melbourne with a little time-off to heal.
“I don’t feel a whole lot of improvement for today, and I just don’t think it’s the right time to risk anything more right now,” Federer said. “I still have pain, and that’s why it was the only right decision, a difficult one for me … So it’s a sad moment for me and for the tournament and for the fans, but health goes first.”
Instead of the semi-final, Tsonga played a one-set exhibition match against former world No. one and six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg.
Rafael Nadal will play against Gael Monfils later in the day for a chance to play against Tsonga for the title.
Federer’s withdrawal guarantees a new champion in Doha this year, as the Swiss star had won the event a year ago.
by Maud Watson
One of the biggest stories going into the 2012 season was that Andy Murray has finally ended his search for a coach. In his decision to hire tennis great Ivan Lendl, Murray may have just found the missing piece to his success at the majors. Lendl has a personality that should jive well with Murray’s. He also is less likely to put up with the Scot’s on-court tirades, which will hopefully help Murray do a quicker job of righting the ship when things aren’t going well during a match. But perhaps most importantly, Lendl himself fell at the final hurdle of a major on multiple occasions before finally claiming that elusive first Slam title. That’s invaluable experience he can pass along to his new charge, which might assist Murray in becoming mentally tougher at the biggest moments. For sure, Murray is still facing an uphill battle given the quality of the top three players, but he’s shown he has the game to beat each of them. With hard work and a little luck, Lendl might make 2012 Murray’s year.
Not surprisingly, Serena Williams is making headlines straight out of the gates with her controversial comments. Before Brisbane even got underway, the younger Williams stated again, lest there be any doubters, that she saw no reason to feel bad about her behavior at the US Open. Was anyone really expecting an admission of guilt or an apology? Then a few days later, she says she doesn’t love tennis – in fact, never loved sports and is unsure how she became an athlete in the first place – hates working out, and is planning on scaling back her schedule. Many people excel at jobs that they don’t love, so on the one hand, it’s hard to fault Serena for that particular sentiment. On the other hand, she does have a high profile job that puts her in the unique position of a supposed role model, so it’s also understandable that many fans and pundits would find her comments both disappointing and frustrating. The comments also represent a complete 180 from the woman who was crying after her first-round win at Wimbledon, talking about how much it meant to be out there on the court. But the biggest eye roll has to go to the laughable statement about scaling back her schedule. Scale it back to what? In recent years (and many would argue even when she first came on the tour), she’s never bothered to put forth the effort to play a truly full schedule, even when healthy. It’s just one more example of how Serena views this as her world, and we’re all living in it. Sadly, whether you love her or hate her for it, it’s that very attitude that unfortunately more often than not makes her good for the game.
All for Naught?
Injuries are no joking matter, so I won’t go as far as some have to call it karma for her pre-Brisbane comments. But whatever you believe the cause, the fact is that Serena Williams sprained her ankle in her second round match in Brisbane, leaving her Aussie Open participation in doubt. Williams normally sports an ankle brace, which she admitted she absent-mindedly neglected to wear. She did, however, still manage to finish the match and has only said that she probably shouldn’t be playing on it, meaning there’s no way to know just how serious the injury really is. But majors are one of the few events that Serena bothers to get up for, and it’s doubtful she’ll want that long trip to the Land Down Under to go to waste. Expect her to actually put 100% effort into being ready to go in another week.
Injury Saga Continues
Another high profile player who announced he’s dealing with an injury is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard says he’s still suffering from the shoulder issues that plagued him in London, and the heavier racquet he’s switched to probably isn’t helping the cause, at least in the short run. It’s a bit of a head scratcher that he wouldn’t modify his schedule to allow more recuperation time by skipping Abu Dhabi, or even getting his 2012 campaign started a week later by entering Auckland or Sydney, but he is a creature of habit. The good news for his fans is that even though he plans to take February off to rest the shoulder, he historically plays little tennis then anyway, so the post-Aussie hiatus shouldn’t negatively impact him. Additionally, he appears to be finding his groove in Doha. Don’t be surprised if he posts a deep run in Melbourne and expect him to be firing on all cylinders come March.
Business as Usual
It’s dangerous to put too much stock in an exhibition, even if it’s one of the exhibitions in which the players are more apt put forth a greater effort. But after pulling through a dicey match against Gael Monfils in his opening round, Novak Djokovic looked back to his winning form, absolutely demolishing Federer and Ferrer en route to the title in Abu Dhabi. Those wins should assist the Serb in burying some of the bad memories that came at the end of last season, as he prepares to back up his phenomenal 2011 and see where he stacks up against his two fiercest rivals in 2012.
With the 2012 season of the ATP World Tour just getting officially underway this week, tennis fans and media alike will be closely watching how the pros come out of the starting blocks.
The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (an exhibition) in Abu Dhabi last week and now regular events in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha, have provided an alphabetically-related quartet of venues whose results may or may not mean anything by the end of the year.
Players who struggle initially and suffer early round losses will attempt to quickly put those disappointments behind them, while winners will try to keep an even keel moving forward. Still, we should not be so quick to discount these early results when looking at the big picture.
The mental consequences of victory versus defeat in the early stages will certainly impact a players progress in the first few weeks on tour. Banking some points in January provides a confidence boost along with either a jump in ranking points or at the very least the ability not to drop in the standings.
Losing yesterday in Doha to Roger Federer means that Nikolay Davydenko can kiss about 150 ranking points goodbye that he had accumulated in the same tournament a year ago. His current ranking of 41st in the world is about to take a big hit and he can clearly forget about any hopes of being seeded at the Australian Open in two weeks.
A player like American Sam Querrey will also be distraught about his opening round loss to Victor Hanescu in Chennai in the opening round. After missing three months midway through 2011 to elbow surgery, Querrey was no-doubt optimistic about starting on the right foot this season. On the plus side for Querrey, he suffered three opening round losses in-a-row a year ago, and thus has no ranking points to defend. There’s only one way for Sam to go in the rankings in January and that is up. Still, he must now regroup and move on to the next tournament hoping his luck will change.
For the top-four of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray, these first couple of week’s will be used to jostle for the available confidence and swagger required to conquer the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia. Putting the seed of doubt in an opponent’s head is of equal value to owning that self-confidence. We all know how Djokovic was able to get into Nadal’s head last season and reel-off six consecutive victories in ATP finals on three different surfaces. That kind of dominance goes a long way into determining the final outcome of a match between two foes and getting an edge early-on is what all of these guys are hoping for.
Djokovic has already sent that opening message to his opponents with a strong result in Abu Dhabi. After needing three sets to defeat Gael Monfils, he thrashed Federer 6-2, 6-1 and then beat David Ferrer in the finals by the exact same dominating score. Lookout everybody, because Novak came ready to play.
Federer will hope to shake-off the loss to Djokovic and then Nadal in Abu Dhabi and instead look back to his impressive 17-0 finish to the 2011 season where he won three consecutive tournaments. Still, his early defeats to Djokovic and Nadal can’t make him feel great.
With Federer and Nadal playing in Doha and Murray in Brisbane this week, we’ll see who is ready to join Djokovic as an early front-runner prior to the January 16th start date in Melbourne. Regardless of what players of any ranking say to the press, the importance of week one is something we cannot deny.
Gael Monfils stunned Rafael Nadal for the first time in career wit 6-4 6-4 win in 1 hour and 29 minutes. The Frenchman in the three previous meetings against current No. 1 in the world, wasn’t even able to win 4 games in a set.
“I had an almost perfect start to the match and I played well on most points,” Monfils said. “I didn’t allow him to settle down.”
Roger Federer has extended his streak of consecutive winning sets in Doha to 26 (Federer won the Qatar Open in years 2005-06 but didn’t play there in the next two editions) but was very close to lose finally a set. After comfortable lead 6-2 4:1 against Philipp Kohlschreiber, Federer lost the momentum and found himself 1:5 down in the tie-break – Kohlschreiber who was playing amazingly to that point, made an easy backhand error and allowed Federer back into the match. Federer saved three set points in a row (two on return) and booked his place in the semifinal where he meets Andy Murray. Scottish No. 1 enjoyed a smooth passage over Sergey Stakhovsky 6-4 6-2 – Murray beat Stakhovsky after identical scoreline 5 years ago in the final of junior US Open.
Spanish hero from last year’s Davis Cup final (won decisive rubber against Argentina), Fernando Verdasco continues his run to reach Top 10. Verdasco (currently No. 15) needed three sets to overcome Florent Serra 4-6 6-0 6-3. At 2:2 in the third set, Verdasco saved break point with brilliant forehand lob, serving for the match at 5:3 saved another break point with astonishing backhand half-volley.
“I think the Davis Cup will be in my mind all my life,” he said. “For example when I was playing today and when it was the tough moments I was thinking ‘I can come back – I came back in the Davis Cup, why can’t I come back today?”.
Either from set down came back Radek Stepanek and Richard Gasquet, both after very similar matches – lost first set easily, were two games away from defeat in the second, only to win the third set almost as easily as they lost the first one.
Former No. 5 in the world, German Rainer Schuettler, exactly one year ago was ranked No. 99 but since last year’s Wimbledon has been on the road to go back to Top 30. In the quarterfinal Schuettler beat fellow German Bjorn Phau 6-2 7-5 despite a deficit of two breaks in the second set.
A two-time U.S. collegiate champion, Somdev Devvarman has notched the biggest success in his short career beating 7-6 6-4 Ivo Karlovic. Devvarman broke Karlovic’s serve once, in the final game of the match thanks to 4 unforced errors of the Croat, the Indian added one great passing-shot in that game. 23 year-old Devverman plays just 5th ATP tournament.
Doha – Quarterfinals
(5)(WC)Gael Monfils (FRA) d. (1)Rafael Nadal (ESP) 6-4 6-4
(4)Andy Roddick (USA) d. Victor Hanescu 6-3 6-2
(3)Andy Murray (GBR) d. Sergey Stakhovsky (UKR) 6-4 6-2
(2)Roger Federer (SUI) d. (8)Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 6-2 7-6(6)
Brisbane – Quarterfinals
Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) d. Kei Nishikori (JPN) 6-3 6-4
(3)Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. Florent Serra (FRA) 4-6 6-0 6-3
(8)Radek Stepanek (CZE) vs (4)Robin Soderling (SWE) 2-6 6-4 6-3
(7)Richard Gasquet (FRA) vs (2)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 1-6 6-4 6-2
Chennai – Quarterfinals
(8)Marcel Granollers (ESP) d. (WC)Lukas Dlouhy (CZE) 7-5 2-6 6-4
(3)Marin Cilic (CRO) d. (7)Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) 6-4 0-6 6-4
(WC)Somdev K. Dev Varman (IND) d. (4)Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 7-6(4) 6-4
(5)Rainer Schuettler (GER) d. Bjorn Phau (GER) 6-2 7-5