A plethora of intriguing encounters awaits audiences as the third round begins at the Australian Open. Foremost among them are two in the women’s draw, which we include in our latest preview.
Kerber vs. Keys (Rod Laver Arena): Long hovering on the horizon, the 17-year-old Madison Keys has soared into the consciousness of the tennis world by winning four main-draw matches in the last two weeks. Moreover, she has won most of them decisively, including routs of top-20 opponent Safarova in Sydney and the 30th-seeded Paszek here. The teenager’s serve could prove a crucial weapon against Kerber, whose superior steadiness and experience should prevail in rallies unless Keys can find a way to unsettle her, which she could with a strong start. Featured on the show court of a major for the first time, she seems more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the weight of the moment.
Li vs. Cirstea (RLA): Familiar with both rising and crumbling in spectacular style, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up split her two meetings with Cirstea at majors last year. Li defeated the heavy-hitting Romanian at Roland Garros but lost to her at Wimbledon before battling past her in a Cincinnati three-setter, so she will know what to expect. While Cirstea defeated Stosur in the first round here last year and can hope to capture that magic again, the moderately paced hard court in Australia would seem to favor Li’s more balanced game.
Sharapova vs. Williams (RLA): Scanning the WTA elite, one might not find two champions more similar in playing style than these two legends of first-strike tennis. Both Sharapova and Venus can hammer lethal missiles from both groundstroke wings, and both compete with the ferocity of women whose lungs illustrate their loathing for losing. Both have the ability to win free points in bunches with their serves, but both also can lose control of that shot beyond repair amidst cascades of double faults. Both have survived significant bouts of adversity, Sharapova by battling back from a career-threatening shoulder surgery and Venus by battling back from a career-threatening illness. While the American has accumulated a richer title haul, the Russian owns the more balanced resume.
Their record reflects much of the above, neatly balanced at 4-3 in Sharapova’s favor but skewed 4-1 in her favor away from Wimbledon, where Venus has claimed her greatest achievements. Not dropping a single game through her first two matches, Maria can expect a steep elevation in her opponent’s quality and must come as prepared to elevate her own quality as she did five years ago here against Davenport. Like her sister, Venus has produced some of her most dazzling surges when least expected, and she has looked quietly impressive if less overtly overpowering so far.
Ivanovic vs. Jankovic (Hisense): Those who appreciate tennis largely from an aesthetic perspective may wish to cover their eyes in a pairing of two women who sprayed disheveled errors to every corner of the court in their previous matches. Meanwhile, those who fancy their tennis served (or double-faulted) with a dollop of drama should enjoy this battle between two countrywomen who have feuded chronically but bitterly. The superior player by most measures, Ivanovic has dominated their head-to-head as her versatile forehand has hit through Jankovic’s baseline defense. So high do the emotions run in these matches, though, that one never knows what to expect from one point to the next.
Djokovic vs. Stepanek (RLA): In addition to their five-set epic at the 2007 US Open, Stepanek has troubled the Serb on two other occasions. He won a set from him at Wimbledon last year by using his idiosyncratic style to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm. Even as his career has faded, Stepanek continues to revel in the spotlight and ended 2012 on a high note by winning the decisive match in Davis Cup. That momentum probably cannot lift him high enough to disturb Djokovic in Australia, where he looks as dominant as ever in all facets of his game.
Ferrer vs. Baghdatis (RLA): The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, Ferrer can falter at times with the distractions caused by partisan crowds. Supported vociferously by Melbourne legions of Greeks and Cypriots, Baghdatis hopes to revive the memories of his charge to the 2006 final. At this tournament two years ago, he became the first man ever to win after losing the first two sets to Ferrer at a major, surprising in view of their relative fitness. The fourth seed looked vulnerable in stretches against an overmatched opponent in the last round, while Baghdatis did likewise in another mismatch. His flat, net-skimming groundstrokes should offer an intriguing contrast to Ferrer’s safer topspin.
Anderson vs. Verdasco (Hisense): Reprising their meeting at the Hopman Cup this month, this match pits a rising against a fading star. Like Baghdatis, Verdasco has failed to duplicate his breakthrough performance in Melbourne (a 2009 semifinal), and he should count himself fortunate to escape a five-setter to start the tournament. On the other hand, Anderson followed his strong results in Perth with a final in Sydney, where he showed poise under pressure. Expect plenty of quick holds as each man struggles to crack the other’s serve.
Benneteau vs. Tipsarevic (MCA): Which Tipsarevic will show up here? The man who fired his way past Hewitt with a blizzard of electric shot-making, or the man who barely edged past Lacko in an unimaginative performance? Tipsarevic looked a bit drained after the heroics of his opener, and he may pay the price if he enters this match flat, for Benneteau rolled past trendy dark horse pick Dimitrov in the first round. Although streaky, the Frenchman represents a clear notch upward in quality from Lacko.
Querrey vs. Wawrinka (MCA): The lanky American with the casual power got a little too casual early in each of his first two matches, dropping the opening sets in both. Against Wawrinka, a natural grinder who thrives on long rallies, Querrey should discipline himself to eliminate such gifts. Having lost both of his previous meetings to the Swiss, including a US Open five-setter, he will need to maintain a higher first-serve percentage this time and aim to end points more efficiently.
Almagro vs. Janowicz (Court 3): In the wake of a bizarre five-set comeback against Devvarman, one wondered whether to praise Janowicz for his tenacity in roaring back after losing the first two sets, or to linger on his immaturity for letting his emotions run astray early in the match. Without that costly burst of petulance, the match likely would not have lasted as long as it did. Similarly, Almagro needed much longer than expected to dismiss American neophyte Steve Johnson in another five-setter. Between the Spaniard’s backhand and the Pole’s forehand, fans should see risky, flamboyant shot-making as each man hopes to exploit a weak section of the draw.
The first day of the second round looks rather sparse in general, but we picked out a few potential diamonds in the rough. Let’s start with the ladies for a change.
Zheng vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): When they met a week ago in Sydney, the Aussie suffered from a slow start, rallied to reach a final set, and then let a late lead slip away in a match of unpredictable twists and turns. Although Stosur improved on last year’s performance here by escaping the first round, her first victory of 2013 did not come without a series of wobbles such as donating an early break and failing to serve out the first set. She won fewer free points from her serve than she usually does, which could spell trouble against Zheng again. Despite her limitations on return, due to her short wingspan, the Chinese doubles specialist competes ferociously and should outlast Stosur from the baseline with her more balanced weapons. But she struggled even more to survive her opener and had stumbled through a string of losses before that upset of the Aussie in Sydney.
Venus vs. Cornet (RLA): At the 2009 Australian Open, Cornet stood within a point of the quarterfinals and a signature victory over then-#1 Safina. Match point upon match point slipped away, confidence evaporated, shoulder trouble sidelined her soon afterwards, and the petite Frenchwoman remained too mentally and physically dubious to fulfill her promise as a junior. The relatively slow court might suit her game more than the volatile, inconsistent style of Venus, but the American raised her level dramatically from the Hopman Cup while dropping just one game in the first round. By contrast, the Frenchwoman struggled to hold throughout that match, especially under pressure, so only an implosion by Venus could repeat the Suarez Navarro upset from the same Australian Open in which Cornet faced Safina.
Sharapova vs. Doi (Hisense Arena): On a late afternoon without many marquee matches, the Sharapova Show offers a decent way to end the day session. The 2008 champion has blitzed almost all first-week opponents at majors since the start of 2012, but the caliber of those opponents often has prevented one from accurately judging her form. Doi, who defeated Schiavone last year, may surpass expectations after defeating the more familiar Petra Martic in the first round. In general, though, the value of this match comes from juxtaposing Maria’s form here against what Venus shows in the night session, two days ahead of their highly anticipated third-round collision.
Pervak vs. Watson (Court 8): While Murray and Robson attract most of the attention currently circulating around British tennis, and justly so, Heather Watson may develop into a meaningful talent in her own right. The Bolletieri-trained baseliner twice has taken sets from Sharapova and defeated fellow rising star Sloane Stephens last year before finishing her season with a title in Osaka. Not lacking for durability, she won one of the season’s longest finals there and will attempt to grind down Pervak with a combination of depth and court coverage. Teenagers have excelled in the women’s draw so far, eleven reaching the second round, so this youth movement might bode well for the 20-year-old Watson.
Djokovic vs. Harrison (RLA): The Serb has won all five of their sets and looked his usual imposing self in the first round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, showing off his elastic movement and transition game at the major that most rewards it. For Harrison, who avenged his Olympics loss to Giraldo in four sets, an upset bid will require greater focus and competitive stamina than he has shown so far in his career. Typical of his stop-and-start results was a week in Brisbane when he defeated Isner and lost meekly to Benneteau in the next round. Harrison will need to take more chances earlier in the rallies than he did against Giraldo, especially on his forehand, to take Djokovic outside his comfort zone against an opponent who does nothing better than he does. As with his match against Murray last year, this meeting offers a useful measuring stick to test Harrison’s progress.
Malisse vs. Verdasco (MCA): Even in the twilight of his career, the Belgian defeated the Spaniard on the latter’s weakest surface at Wimbledon last summer. Malisse still can unleash blistering backhands when he times his short swings effectively, and Verdasco looked thoroughly human in a five-set rollercoaster against David Goffin. Both men have shown a tendency to alternate the sublime with the ridiculous, often finding the latter at the least opportune moments, but a comedy of errors could provide its own form of entertainment.
Lacko vs. Tipsarevic (Court 2): The eighth seed played his best tennis in months when he battled past Hewitt in a straight-setter closer than it looked. Ripping winner after winner down the sidelines, Tipsarevic looked every inch the elite player that he has become and could charge deep into a draw where he inhabits the least formidable quarter. He has struggled for much of his career with sustaining a high performance level from match to match, though, which makes a letdown a plausible possibility. If he does, Lacko might have just enough talent to punish him for it.
Lopez vs. Stepanek (Court 3): Aligned opposite each other are two net-rushers from opposite sides, the Spaniard from the left and the Czech from the right. As a result, the tennis might trigger memories of decades past before baseline tennis established its stranglehold over the ATP. Stepanek rallied from a two-set deficit in the first round to ambush Troicki, but a comeback would prove more difficult against a server like Lopez, who has won sets from Federer before. While the Czech has dominated most of their rivalry, the Spaniard did win their last meeting on a similar speed of court in Montreal.
Querrey vs. Baker (Court 6): The man who mounted a long-term comeback meets a man who mounted a more ordinary comeback that culminated last year when he rejoined the top 30. Querrey typically has struggled at majors other than the US Open, however, and he lost a set to an anonymous, underpowered Spaniard in his opener. If he can bomb a high percentage of first serves, Baker may not match him hold for hold. On the other hand, a sloppy effort from Querrey would open the door for his compatriot to expose his meager backhand, one-dimensional tactics, and unsteady footwork.
James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — A day before Lleyton Hewitt’s encounter with 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic the Aussie legend was in a defiant practically Federer-esque mood.
”I don’t care. I’ll knock him off, try to take his spot in the draw,” said the tour veteran playing his seventeenth Australian Open.
And Hewitt, the number one player in the world in 2001, had good reason to be confident. Only last week he had beaten Raonic, Berdych and Del Potro in succession on way to victory at the Kooyong invitational.
With victories such as these, “Rusty” — as he is known to both friends and The Fanatics — with his raucous disciples, had good reason to be confident.
The giant roof opened shortly before the evening match exposing some late sunshine and waiting seagulls who, as expected, had a bird’s eye view.
Two minutes in and Lleyton’s Fanatics were auditioning for X-Factor, led by a young man in a yellow vest and white sailors hat.
“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian”
Indeed, if you are not Australian you couldn’t help but feel patriotic, especially in Lleyton Hewitt’s backyard.
The game started as expected, two diminutive players both under six foot slugged it out from the back, chasing balls like mad Border Collies at a park. The game followed with serve with Janko Tipsarevic employing a harder heavier ball whilst keeping his unforced errors to an absolute minimum. Hewitt meanwhile played his typical passive aggressive which made you wonder if he followed the same maddening route when it comes to verbal arguments at home.
Going 6-5 up Hewitt let out his trademark “Come On,” which made us hope we were going to witness a Lleyton classic. Tipsarevic quickly levelled and subsequently took hold of the tiebreak stunning the home crowd.
Hewitt broke the Tipsarevic serve quickly in the second set, going up 3-0 with an array of well time net advances whilst allowing The Fanatics reason to sing out. Tipsarevic sat mindfully at the changeover, changing his grip to get a grip.
Tipsarevic now focused broke back enabling a spattering of Serbian fans to become more vocal, if note as theatrical. Still Tipsarevic had work to do but his refusal to lie down was enough to rattle the Australian two time grand slam champion. The more Tipsarevic was pushed the more he found a way. Fighting back from 5-3 now Hewitt had lost his way. He was drunk on the brilliance of Tipsy who rallied to win the next four games of the current set and three games of the third set. One onlooking Aussie with a beer mentioned to his mate, “Mate, I can’t remember the last time this Janko bloke hit a bad shot.” To which the mate nodded and downed the rest of his beer.
Lleyton made some minor reprisals in the third set, even levelling the score line briefly, but the Tipsy groundstrokes had no cracks enabling him to run out the win, surprisingly for all in straight sets 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 6-3. Certainly, if Mortal Kombat ever introduced Janko Tipsarevic as a character in their next game, his death move would be a backhand down the line, a weapon his next opponent should watch out for.
Afterwards the courteous Tipsarevic reflected, “I think Lleyton Hewitt is as tough as it gets for a first round Australian Open first Grand Slam of the year. With all the respect to all the other guys who are potential threats, like Davydenko or Monfils or Dimitrov or whatever, I think this is as tough as it gets.”
Notably no mention of retirement was mentioned by Lleyton Hewitt after the game, although in truth the journalists in attendance were too afraid to ask.
By Evan Valeri
“Beauty will save the world.”
Written in Japanese and adorning the left arm of current ATP number nine ranked player Janko Tipsarevic, this is just one of many tattoos that make Tipsarevic stand out from the crowd. His tattoos along with the sporty Oakley glasses he wears make Janko an unforgettable figure in tennis. Separating himself from the traditional gentlemen’s sport stereotype of tennis, he brings a modern day Andre Agassi rebel type figure to the game. This tennis rebel is out to prove to opponents and fans that he is more than just another player doing what he can to stand out. Janko is on a mission to beat the best in the world, and after finishing in the ATP top ten the previous two seasons, he has cemented himself at the top of the game.
Janko Tipsarevic has earned himself a reputation as one of the hardest working players in the game over the 2012 season. Having changed his diet, losing weight, and adding muscle, he has made sure he can play with the same amount of energy deep in the fifth as he did the first point of the match. Janko is ready to go the distance with anyone. He is fast, but has made strides learning how to move more efficiently around the court. Tipsarevic controls his emotions on court as well as anyone. He uses positive energy to pump himself up, not allowing negative thoughts or energy to impact his play. Combine his hard work, positive attitude, and newfound drive to compete and emerge victorious every time he enters a stadium for battle, and you have a new gladiator at the top of men’s tennis.
The world number ninth ranked player likes to stalk the baseline and play a unique hybrid aggressive/counterpunching baseliner style of game. He will often change the direction of the ball when opponents are not expecting it. Tipsarevic has the ability to flatten the ball out from both sides and likes backpedaling around balls to the backhand wing, striking inside out forehands. You won’t see as many winners fly off Janko’s racquet as other players but he won’t litter the stat sheet with unforced errors either. He often wins points by running opponents ragged until he forces an error from them or they cough up a short ball he is able to capitalize on. While the 5’11” Serb doesn’t benefit from being able to bomb aces past opponents several times a game, he mixes his serve up well. His arsenal includes a bending slice, hard flat ball, pinpoint placement, and a kick serve. He gives opponents a different look by sliding closer to the sideline on the ad side to deliver his kick, which pulls returners out wide and opens up the court so he can hit aggressive forehands. Tipsarevic has a complete game with the necessary tools to continue his rise up the rankings.
If Janko is to start defeating the big four on a regular basis he needs to improve his defensive abilities. The game has become more about defense rather than offense. This can be attributed to slower court surfaces and the improved fitness of players, which gives them the ability to run down winner after winner, point after point for hours. During a press conference after losing to Novak Djokovic at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals Roger Federer said, “What he does well – even in defense he stays somewhat offensive. That, I think, is what separates him from the rest a little bit.” Now don’t get me wrong, Janko Tipsarevic plays great defense, but what separates the top four from him is their ability to quickly transition from defense to offense. Within three shots you can see Novak, Rafa, Andy, and Roger on the full stretch slicing a ball from ten feet behind the baseline to stepping inside the court and cracking a winner.
Tipsarevic has the quickness around the court needed to retrieve many balls but at the pinnacle of the game you need to be able to hit defensive shots that are hard for opponents to capitalize on. Watching Janko play Federer during the ATP World Tour Finals last November, Federer always appeared to be one shot ahead. Janko would hit an offensive shot just to have Fed pull him into the net with a short ball and pounce on Tipsarevic’s approach passing him before he even knew what happened. His improved fitness and new understanding of playing defensive tennis could bring increased success in 2013.
Tipsarevic plays his best tennis when he is dictating play and moving opponents side to side. This higher risk type of tennis is hard to play for an entire match against the top players in the world. By improving his defensive abilities and learning to capitalize on transitioning from defense to offense, he will feel less pressure to play perfect tennis every point. With that weight lifted off his shoulders; Janko will make deep runs in the majors more often, improve his ranking, and more regularly defeat the big four. Janko Tipsarevic isn’t a rebel without a cause, but more a rebel with a cause to be the best in the world. With the drive he possesses Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, and Murray better watch their backs.
While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully. We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.
Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea. Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test. But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.
Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA): Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots. In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena. Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly. The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.
Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA): This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic. A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career. That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final. She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.
Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena): Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day. Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others. The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.
Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense): The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little. Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska. Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.
Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena): For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4. Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope. The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.
Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA): Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career. Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden. Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.
Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA): After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents. She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.
Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3): The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic. Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years. The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.
Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8): From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology. He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight. Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.
Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8): The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker. The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.
Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11): Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process). The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match. Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.
Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13): At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce. A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced. The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week. The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.
Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19): Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans. She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years. Is she ready for her comeback? Perhaps more to the point, are we?
Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20): From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative. Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament. His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland. Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.
Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22): Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines. Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level. Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.
Excited about these matches and others on Day 1? Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.
January 12, 2013 — The Australian Open kicks off main draw play on Monday, January 14th, but what exactly do we have in store in this year’s men’s draw? Your trusty panel of Tennis Grandstand writers delve into the hot topics surrounding the first Slam, including dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets, and potential semifinalists and champion for the men’s tour. You won’t have to look anywhere further than our comprehensive coverage!
Check out our women’s Australian Open draw preview here!
Romi Cvitkovic: Grigor Dimitrov.The men’s draw this Slam seems to be very forgiving to the top 8, but not so much to the players just under them. Despite that, the 21-year-old has finally been delivering this year, reaching his first ATP final en route taking out three players ranked considerably higher than him. His road to the quarterfinal is fairly open after his first round encounter with No. 32 seed Julien Benneteau, against whom he holds a 2-0 winning record.
Yeshayahu Ginsburg: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Dark horse is a relative term, because the fact remains that in men’s tennis today it’s the top 4 and then everybody else. Nadal is out, so the odds of anyone but Murray, Federer, and Djokovic winning are incredibly low. But if I had to take someone from the field, I’d go with Tsonga. The AO is historically his best Slam and Federer is probably the one of the top 4 he’s most comfortable against in a quarterfinal. The fact that his draw is not particularly challenging until then helps too.
David Kane: Tommy Haas. The German has had more lives than a cat as he enters 2013 in the midst of his third career. With a pretty nice draw that pits him against a tournament’s supply of wild cards and a pair of Frenchmen, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Haas could keep things interesting for nostalgic fans that remember the German’s glory days. Should he make the second week, he could get a war-weary Roger Federer, who has more than his fair share of tough opponents early on. It might not be too late to party like it’s 2002.
Andrea Lubinsky: Richard Gasquet. Perhaps it’s a risky pick, at 26, it’s unlikely the Frenchman will all of the sudden start to consistently maximize his talent. However, after hitting a career high of No. 7 in 2007, Gasquet is back in the Top 10. He’s already 5-0 this season after winning his eighth career title, in Doha. His draw isn’t exactly a cake walk, but that backhand should get him to Week 2.
Chris Skelton: Milos Raonic. His towering serve makes him a threat in any draw on any surface, and he nearly toppled potential fourth-round opponent Federer on three occasions in 2012, losing two final-set tiebreaks and a 6-4 final set. Raonic will need to win his previous matches efficiently, something that has troubled him before but certainly within his abilities considering his accommodating draw.
Evan Valeri: Richard Gasquet. Winning a three set match against Davydenko in the Doha final to start the year, had Richard fist pumping left and right. Looking reenergized and in a favorable section of the draw, Gasquet is poised to make a deep run during the first major of the season. Look for a potential quarterfinal match up between the current world number ten player and Roger Federer.
Maud Watson: Juan Martin del Potro. Assuming anyone outside of the Big 4 is a dark horse, Delpo is in with a real shot. He had two big victories over Federer at the end of last season and gave Djokovic all he could handle at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals. He’s looking an awful lot like that guy who won the 2009 US Open, and let’s not forget that he is the only one outside of the Big 4 to have won a slam in over half a decade.
Seeded Player Crashing Out Early
Cvitkovic: Fernando Verdasco. Sadly, “Fer” has become my go-to player for crashing out early in Slams. But this time the strengths of his first round opponent, David Goffin, warrant it. The two have never played each other, and though Goffin’s best Slam result came in the fourth round of Roland Garros last year, the young Belgian has had consistent results on the hard courts as well. Fer had a nice showing in Hopman Cup the other week, but we all know those good results come in all too-short bursts for him.
Ginsburg: Janko Tipsarevic. Nothing against Janko here, but there is no tougher atmosphere in tennis than playing against Lleyton Hewitt in Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt will feed off the crowd and will give Tipsarevic the match of his life. And even if Janko gets through this, it will be physically and emotionally draining, possibly leading to potential problems in his next few matches.
Pentecost: Alexandr Dolgopolov. His encounter with Gael Monfils may well be the match of the first round, but I suspect it’s one the Dog won’t survive intact. This will of course depend on Monfils’ recovery from Auckland. I also doubt whether Juan Monaco will get past Kevin Anderson in the second round.
Skelton: Janko Tipsarevic. The second-ranked Serb doesn’t have as many weapons as the rest of the top eight seeds and never has left an impact on Australia other than a first-week epic against Federer in 2008. He may find himself in trouble against Hewitt in his opener, for the Aussie crowd always galvanizes their champion, but Tipsarevic’s section also includes rising young stars like Janowicz and Dimitrov who look ready to take the next step.
Valeri: Marin Cilic. The fourteen seed will lose in the first round to Australian Marinko Matosevic. The two played a tough five setter at the U.S. Open last year where Cilic came out on top but don’t expect the same result this time. Cilic is off to a so so start of the season, losing to Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals of Chennai. The 2012 ATP Most Improved Player of the Year will beat Cilic and advance to the second round.
Watson: Juan Monaco. Monaco was actually given a decent draw, but a hand injury that took him out of the Kooyong Classic has certainly hurt his chances. Now even his opening match against Kuznetsov is a tricky proposition, and a possible second round encounter with South Africa’s Kevin Anderson may be all she wrote.
First Round and Potential Second Round Matches to Watch For
Cvitkovic: Gael Monfils vs Alexandr Dolgopolov. Though a first-rounder, this match has the potential to be a highlight of the tournament. Both players employ vastly unorthodox playing styles and they will run each other down until someone lands in the hospital. Be certain there will be plenty of diving, slicing, acrobatics and “Ooo’s” and “Aaa’s” from both the audience and the players. I recommend this match over any quarterfinal matchup of the top eight, and that’s saying something.
Kane: Robin Haase vs. Andy Murray. That this rematch is nigh may only serve to prove that the end of the Mayan calendar was not so much wrong as they were merely a few weeks late. I was in Armstrong Stadium for the last three sets of their US Open 2011 encounter, which has a similar effect to admitting that one was in the eye of Hurricane Sandy. Murray had seemingly righted the ship after falling two sets behind, only to suddenly take his foot off the proverbial gas pedal within feet of the finish line. Buoyed by support from perennial Armstrong courtside ticketholders (who are usually the ones behind the unnerving “What time is it? Break time!” call and response), Haase took advantage and nearly took the match before Murray once again regained composure. Can these two recreate the magic in the crazy bottle? Can you resist finding out?
Pentecost: Janko Tipsarevic vs. Lleyton Hewitt. This is sure to be a night match, and here in Australia neither effort nor expense will be spared in whipping the nation to a patriotic froth. It’s hard to see this one lasting less than five sets, or finishing before 2am, which history has shown to be Hewitt’s preferred timeframes.
Skelton: For tennis reasons, Julien Benneteau vs. Grigor Dimitrov. The Sydney semifinalist faces the Brisbane finalist in an match that pits two hot hands at opposite ends of their careers. Also featured here is an intriguing contrast in styles between the streamlined two-handed backhand of Benneteau and the graceful one-handed flick of Dimitrov, often compared to Federer’s backhand. For the best atmosphere in a first-round match, though, nothing will top Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic, which seems destined for a Rod Laver Arena night session.
First Round Upset Special
Cvitkovic: Lleyton Hewitt d. Janko Tipsarevic. This may be a bold prediction given Tipsarevic is sitting nicely as the 8th seed and Hewitt is ranked 82nd, but Hewitt can surprise anyone, anywhere, and especially on his home turf. Though Hewitt leads their head-to-head 3-1, the two haven’t played since 2009, so dynamics have completely changed. If Hewitt doesn’t pull off the upset, you can be sure it’ll at least go the distance with five sets.
Lubinsky: Lleyton Hewitt d. Janko Tipsarevic. If there’s ever been a player who has played to their maximum potential, it’s Lleyton Hewitt. The 31 year old’s ‘never say die’ attitude makes him a difficult opponent regardless of his health and playing on his home turf seems to give him an extra kick. He’s made the fourth round in three of his last five appearances and has played some excellent tennis at the Kooyong Classic this week, which puts in him a prime position for the upset.
Pentecost: Grigor Dimitrov d. Julien Benneteau. Dimitrov seems congenitally incapable of playing well for consecutive weeks, but the bad news for Benneteau is that the young Bulgarian got his bad week out of the way in Sydney. Benneteau on the other hand went deep in Sydney, and may balk at a best of five in the Melbourne heat.
Skelton: Gael Monfils d. Alexandr Dolgopolov. The Frenchman with talent in spades and consistency in spoonfuls moved back into the fringes of relevance with a series of solid victories in Doha and Auckland. Meanwhile, the mercurial Dolgopolov struggled even against anonymous opponents at every major last year, needing a fifth set to escape the first round here against the world #198. If Monfils starts well, his opponent may lack the resilience to launch a counterattack.
Valeri: Grigor Dimitrov takes down number 32 seed Julien Benneteau. Grigor started the year by taking down seeded players Raonic, Melzer, and Baghdatis to reach his first ATP final in Brisbane, where he lost a tight two setter to Andy Murray, 6-7, 4-6. With new girlfriend Maria Sharapova in his corner, Dimitrov is on a roll to start 2013. This kid has loads of talent and is backing it up by playing smarter than ever, which will prove to be too much to handle for 31 year old Benneteau.
Cvitkovic: I like to take risks in Slam draws, but with Rafael Nadal out of the loop, the draw gods have been nice to the top eight seeds, and I’m expecting the majority of them to make the semifinals. Djokovic will take on Berdych, while Ferrer will battle compatriot Almagro in the top half. The bottom half will most likely see Del Potro taking on Murray in one semifinal while Tsonga will battle Federer in the other.
Ginsburg: Well, I can’t be that boring with this pick. Then again, in today’s ATP world, not going with the obvious choices at the top is usually just silly. But there are a few potential surprises in the draw. I will take Tsonga, Murray, Djokovic, and Kei Nishikori as my semifinalists. Kei has a 2-1 career head-to-head against Ferrer and I think that Tipsarevic loses early. Nishikori also has the power to overpower Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals. This would be a perfect draw for Lleyton Hewitt to make one final miracle run through, but he just doesn’t have the legs to play that many matches anymore. I think Nishikori becomes Japan’s first Grand Slam semifinalist in recent history.
Kane: Djokovic/Ferrer. Despite the loss to Bernard Tomic at Hopman Cup, there’s no reason to believe the No. 1 seed won’t waltz into his third straight Australian Open semifinal (and beyond). That is, assuming he gets past Tomas Berdych. The one major stumbling block to the Big Four, Berdych does not fear the upset, but getting there may prove the bigger challenge for the inconsistent Czech, who lost to Roberto Bautista-Agut in Chennai (I’m forgiven for not knowing who that is, right?). Murray/Federer. Murray has his work cut out for him after an unconvincing (although successful) display in Brisbane two weeks ago, but aside from a potential run-in with Juan Martin del Potro, the Scot will have few problems en route to defending his semifinal points from one year ago. As for the Swiss Maestro, his draw is something of a minefield, littered with upset fodder like Nickolay Davydenko, Tomic, Milos Raonic. Even Lukas Rosol landed in Fed’s section! Yet, for all the talk about his age, Federer has rarely showed it in the first week, and unless Tsonga strings together a nice run, I can’t seen anyone posing a sufficient threat.
Pentecost: Novak Djokovic vs David Ferrer. If anything Ferrer has a cleaner run to the semifinals than Djokovic, although this depends on which version of Berdych shows up. Nonetheless, Djokovic should move through to the final in four sets at most. Roger Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro. I suspect Delpo will push deep here, and upset Murray in the quarterfinals. Federer’s draw is not kind, but he remains the favourite to make it through. I suspect the semifinal will come down to fitness, where the Swiss has the advantage.
Valeri: Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer. I expect the big three to all make the semis, although Federer and Murray will have a harder route than Djokovic, with many potential four and five set hurdles along their way, whereas Novak should cruise. Tipsarevic is set to have a breakthrough and has some momentum coming in with a win in Chennai. He has a tough first rounder against home crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt, but should get through it and advance to the quarterfinals where he will defeat the number four seed David Ferrer.
And the Winner is …
Ginsburg: I have to go with Novak Djokovic to three-peat here. Australia is his best Slam and, while he hasn’t been playing at his seemingly-invincible level in a while, he still is the man to beat here in Melbourne.
Kane: Novak Djokovic. Ok, Nole fans; you can relax now (or at least stop flailing so violently). For the third year in a row, the Serb has started the year looking the fittest and making the strongest case for supremacy. Odds are strong that he will punctuate that assertion with a hat trick of Australian Open crowns. With Murray and Federer to duke it out in the other semifinal, Djokovic will only have to play one of them for the title, and likely relishes the thought of a rematch with Murray, the man who took his US Open title a few months ago. Had Murray shown more authority in Brisbane, it could have been a toss-up, but he still lacks that consistent killer instinct of his peers.
Lubinsky: Novak Djokovic. Djokovic/Murray may be the new big rivalry in tennis, but when it comes to the Australian Open, Djokovic is on top. He’s won this tournament three of the last five years, and after finishing runner up at the French Open and US Open, he’s likely to be hungry for another trophy to add to his collection.
Pentecost: Novak Djokovic. By this point one has to come up with good reasons why Djokovic won’t win his fourth Australian Open, and I can’t think of any. He appears supremely fit, calm, driven and in good form. Of course, Federer is still Federer, and he demonstrated amply last year that age has yet to weary him. On his day, he can still ascend to unplayable heights. But I still feel Djokovic, on blue plexicushion, has the decisive edge.
Skelton: Novak Djokovic. He has won three of his five major titles in Australia and probably has played his most dominant tennis during those runs. If playing 11 hours in two matches against Murray and Nadal doesn’t stop this man Down Under, it’s hard to think of anything short of an asteroid strike that will. He also receives the softer side (e.g., the Ferrer side) of the draw, as though he needs any help.
Valeri: Novak Djokovic. Djoker is in a great section of the draw and should make the final relatively unscathed. I have never seen a player who can will himself to victory as much as Novak. After a well rested off-season the worlds number one will be ready to fight off any challenges to his throne from Murray or Federer. The two time defending champ has great memories and too much support in Melbourne not to be crowned the 2013 Australian Open Champion.
Watson: Novak Djokovic. Murray ended up in Federer’s half. Djokovic has won it the last two years. Federer said that the current World No. 1 has been the best hard court player the last couple of seasons. Is Djokovic a strong favorite to win the title and pull off the three-peat in Melbourne? You bet!
And there you have it: 8 of 8 Tennis Grandstand writers pick Djokovic as the heavy favorite. That’s pretty good odds for the Serb.
Looking for a jumbo preview of the Australian Open men’s draw that breaks down each section of the brackets? Look no further. We take one quarter at a time in tracing the route of each leading contender, locating the most intriguing matches, projecting the semifinalists, and identifying one notable player to watch in each section.
First quarter: Seeking the first men’s three-peat Down Under of the Open era, Djokovic will want to conserve his energy during the first week and probably will. Although rising American star Ryan Harrison could threaten briefly in the second round, he lacks the experience to test the Serb in a best-of-five format, while potential third-round opponent Stepanek lacks the consistency to do so as his career wanes. Among the other figures of note in this vicinity are two resurgent Americans in Querrey and Baker, destined to meet in the second round. The winner may fancy his chances against Wawrinka, more comfortable on clay, and Querrey in particular could bring confidence from his upset of Djokovic in Paris to another clash with the Serb when the second week starts.
The quarter’s lower section features several men who share Wawrinka’s affinity for clay, such as Monaco and Verdasco. While the Spaniard’s career has sagged over the past year or two, the Argentine enjoyed his best season to date in 2012 as he reached the top ten for the first time. His reward lies in a clear route to the second week and an appointment with the enigmatic Berdych. Always susceptible to ebbs and flows, the world #6 ended last season optimistically with a semifinal at the US Open, where he upset Federer. But then Berdych started this season miserably by falling in Chennai to an opponent outside the top 50. He has won just one of his twelve career meetings with Djokovic, although the only victory came in one of their most important matches: a Wimbledon semifinal. While Berdych’s route to the quarterfinals looks comfortable, then, only a superb serving performance can shield him from the Serb’s more balanced array of weapons when he arrives there.
Player to watch: Querrey
Second quarter: The only section without a clear favorite proliferates with question marks but also with talent and intriguing narratives. In the draw’s most notable first-round match, Hewitt will open his 17th Australian Open campaign against the eighth-seeded Tipsarevic. A mismatch on paper, this encounter could develop into one of the late-night thrillers that have become a Melbourne tradition, and the home crowd might lift their Aussie to an improbable victory over an opponent less untouchable than those ranked above him. Other storylines include the apparent emergence of Grigor Dimitrov, previously familiar only for his facsimile of Federer’s playing style but now a Brisbane finalist. While the Bulgarian never has reached the third round of a major, his recent accomplishments and his desire to impress romantic interest Maria Sharapova might inspire him. He faces a challenging initial test against Benneteau, who fell just short of his second straight Sydney final.
Awarded his first seed in the main draw of a major, Jerzy Janowicz looks to continue his momentum from last fall when he reached the final at the Paris Masters 1000 tournament. Unlike Dimitrov, his route through the first round or two looks clear, and projected third-round opponent Almagro does not pose an insurmountable obstacle. Unless Janowicz improves upon his January efforts so far, however, Almagro can look ahead to the second week and perhaps even a quarterfinal against compatriot Ferrer. The highest seed in this section, the latter Spaniard will reach the top four after the tournament no matter his result. His fitness should carry him past erratic opponents like Baghdatis or Youzhny, although the titanic serve of Karlovic has troubled him before and merits watching in their second-round match. Having recorded multiple victories over Ferrer on marquee stages, Nishikori poses his most convincing pre-quarterfinal threat. But he has struggled with injury recently and may prove no better able to grind past the Spaniard in the heat than Almagro, who never has defeated him. If Tipsarevic reaches the quarterfinals, on the other hand, he will aim to reverse the outcome of their US Open quarterfinal last year, which he lost to Ferrer in a fifth-set tiebreak.
Player to watch: Dimitrov
Third quarter: Never has a man won his second major immediately after winning his first. Never, however, in the Open era had a British man won any major at all, so this bit of history should not intimidate the reigning US Open champion. Murray will start his campaign by reprising an odd encounter with Robin Haase at the 2011 US Open, which he rallied to win in five sets after losing the first two. The lanky Dutchman behind him, he will face nobody over the next few rounds with the firepower to discomfit him over this extended format. Throughout his section lie counterpunchers like Simon or Robredo or tactically limited players like Mayer and Stakhovsky. The two exceptions who could threaten Murray will meet in the first round. Reviving his career with solid results in Doha and Auckland, Monfils will pit his momentum against fellow showman Dolgopolov in a match likely to showcase plenty of electrifying shot-making.
Perhaps of more interest is the route traced by Del Potro, the most likely title contender outside the top three seeds. In the second round, the Tower of Tandil could meet surprising Slovakian Aljaz Bedene, who reached the Chennai semifinals to start the year and nearly upset Tipsarevic there. Owning more than enough weapons to dispatch the passive baseliner Granollers afterwards, Del Potro would open the second week against Marin Cilic. The Croat developed around the same time as the Argentine and honed a similar playing style to complement his similar physique. But Cilic has disappointed those who anointed him a future major champion and top-10 fixture, appearing to content himself with a lesser level of accomplishment. He must brace himself for an opening battle against home hope Marinko Matosevic, who took him to five sets in New York last fall. If Del Potro can reverse his 2009 loss to Cilic in that projected fourth-round encounter, he also must halt his winless hard-court record against Murray. The task does not loom as large as it might appear, for he has won sets in all four of those matches.
Player to watch: Del Potro
Fourth quarter: What a pity that leading Aussie hope Bernard Tomic can play only two rounds before descending into the maw of the GOAT, as he did in the fourth round here last year. All the same, Tomic will have the opportunity to knock off a seeded opponent in Martin Klizan while praying for a miracle from Federer’s second-round opponent, Nikolay Davydenko. (Those who saw their match at the 2010 Australian Open will remember how impressive the Russian looked against the Swiss—for a set and a half, after which he utterly collapsed.) Perhaps more formidable than the momentum of Tomic is the mighty serve of Milos Raonic, which nearly toppled Federer three times last year. In each of their matches, Federer managed to win the crucial handful of points late in final sets, but can he continue to escape so narrowly? The younger man cannot look too far ahead too soon, however, for a second-round match against Lukas Rosol lurks, and everyone knows what Rosol has done in the second round of majors.
Winless against top-eight opponents in 2012, former finalist Tsonga hopes to turn over a new leaf in 2013. To snap that streak, though, he must survive the early stages of the tournament against dangerous lurkers like Llodra and Bellucci. Tsonga has struggled at times against compatriots and has a losing career record against Gasquet, his projected fourth-round opponent. Fresh from his title in Doha, the world #10 never has plowed deep into the Australian draw and may not benefit this time from the weak first-week slates that he received at majors last year. Eyeing a possible upset is Haas, another artist of the one-handed backhand who has collaborated with Gasquet on memorable matches before. But the question remains whether any of these men currently can compete with Federer across a best-of-five match, and the answer seems clear.
Player to watch: Tomic
Final: Djokovic vs. Murray
Champion: Novak Djokovic
Come back tomorrow for the women’s preview, designed with the same level of detail!
By Maud Watson
It was three years ago when Rafael Nadal suffered a major upset at Roland Garros at the hands of Robin Soderling, announced he had knee problems, and then pulled out of Wimbledon, unable to defend his crown. Now it seems he’s been handed a very similar scenario in 2012. After a hard loss in the second round of Wimbledon, he’s once again battling knee problems that have inhibited his ability to prep for London, meaning that he will be unable to attempt to defend his singles gold medal and serve as flag bearer for Spain. But while this is a troubling immediate concern for Nadal, it also brings plenty of uncertainty to the bigger picture. It would be plain stupid to write Nadal off just yet. Things looked bleak in 2009 before he turned it around to put together a banner year in 2010. But he’s three years older now, more of the competition is starting to catch up, the knee problems are never going to go away, and his style of play is only going to increase the wear and tear on his joints. Champions are stubborn. They don’t like to change the playing styles that have brought them so much success. But at this juncture in his career – and another heartbreaking pullout – it might be time for Rafa to consider doing more re-tooling of his game.
Woman on a Mission
The US Open Series got underway last week at the Bank of the West Classic, and it was a familiar champion that was left holding the trophy aloft. Serena Williams has rarely played the week after winning a slam, but she made an exception this year as she jetted from the lawns of Wimbledon to sunny California to successfully defend her title in Stanford. Stanford marked the site of a lucrative summer campaign for Williams last season, and she’s no doubt hoping for more of the same in 2012. But pundits are guessing there was a little more driving Serena to compete the week after winning her fourteenth major than just looking to recapture some good vibes. If she can successfully defend the bulk of her points this summer, she’s in with a real chance to finish the year as the No. 1 ranked player in the world. It’s certainly an attainable goal given how frequently the top spot has changed hands, and the younger Williams already has the experience of knowing what it takes to get there. If she’s truly dedicated towards reaching the upper-most echelons of the game, it’s going to make for an interesting summer.
Back on Track
While Tipsarevic secured a title in Germany, Ferrer continued his best year with a win in Sweden, and Cilic thrilled the home crowd in Croatia, the biggest ATP stories came out of the grass court event in Newport. The winner, John Isner, is undoubtedly elated to notch a tournament win and perhaps get his season back on track. Newport served as a catalyst to a great summer for him the past, and after the slump he’s been in, a victory in the City by the Sea is just what the doctor ordered. If he’s once again able to use this as a springboard to pile up the wins and confidence throughout the summer, look for him to be a force to be reckoned with at the US Open. The finalist in Newport is also noteworthy. Lleyton Hewitt, who has undergone a number of surgeries and played very little in 2012, proved that he’s still got the moves, even on the challenging grass courts. Though he fell one match shy of garnering his first tournament win since 2010, it was an excellent effort by the two-time Grand Slam champion. Hard saying how much longer he’ll be competing at the top professional level, but if he can continue to find that vintage form that made him the youngest ever to finish a season ranked No. 1, he can still cause more than a few problems for the game’s best.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that hell has frozen over, but a big change is slated to come to the All England Club in 2015. After studying the facts and figures, the powers-at-be have decided to bump Wimbledon back a week, allowing players both a little more recovery time following Roland Garros and the opportunity to gain an extra week’s prep on grass. The event that may be most impacted by this change is the tiny 250 event in Newport, typically played the week after Wimbledon. Presumably, Newport may look to grab a spot before The Championships, but even if that occurs, the move could have a negative effect on its field. How many players will opt to travel to the States for a week on grass only to return to Europe for Wimbledon? And if Newport is allowed to remain after Wimbledon, will players be as willing to participate, or will they look to get straight onto the hard courts in preparation for the US Open? But the potential woes of Newport aside, this is great news for tennis overall. It should lead to less grumbling and hopefully ensure even higher quality grass court tennis.
Assuming the Helm
In what is probably a welcomed change by many of the French WTA Players, two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo has been named the new French Fed Cup captain. She replaces Nicolas Escude, who has been involved in a drawn out controversy concerning leaving top French player Marion Bartoli off the team due to her coaching arrangement with her father. As one of the most successful French players in recent decades, she brings a wealth of experience to the table – experience and guidance from which many of France’s fledgling talents could benefit. Smart move by the FFT, and hopefully the move pays dividends in the near future.
By Romana Cvitkovic
Full roundup of results during day three of the French Open.
“Biggest” Loser: Serena Williams
Winning two clay court tournaments recently in Madrid and Charleston, Serena Williams was (surprisingly) the heavy favorite to win the title in Roland Garros. But it’s never that simple, right? It what will turn out to be one of the biggest first round upsets in French Open history, the number one American woman lost to Virginia Razzano, ranked 111 in the world, in a rollercoaster of a match, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3. Serena was the only American women to lose in the first round of the French Open among ten other American women (save Jamie Hampton who had to retire earlier in the day). Perhaps all the good fortunes Serena’s countrywomen were getting the last two days all funneled into one disappointing loss for Serena herself.
But Serena is not down and out. She suffered life-threatening trials with her health last year and saw her sister Venus diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, but she always seems to find the silver-lining — even if only to keep the media from poking too deep into her emotions.
“It’s life,” Serena said. “Things could be a lot worse. I haven’t had the easiest past six months. Nothing I can’t deal with. I’m not happy, by no means. I just always think things can be worse.”
Nadal, Sharapova, Kvitova yawn their way to victory
Which one of the three above is not like the other? Judging from recent clay court titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome, Rafael Nadal’s 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 dismantling of Simone Bolelli in the first round was not unexpected. Similarly, Maria Sharapova’s recent clay court titles in Stuttgart and Rome were a mere prelude to her 6-0, 6-0 knockout of Alexandra Cadantu today.
Petra Kvitova, however, has had a surplus of ups-and-downs recently. Reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart and the quarterfinals in Rome before sputtering out of both, the reigning Wimbledon champion Kvitova has been difficult to find. That is why a 6-1, 6-2 routing of any player (even her opponent, number 332-ranked Ashleigh Barty) can be considered a temporary success. It’s a confidence booster that she spent not even an hour on court for the win, and it may give her just the kick needed to get her into the second week of the Slam. However, she had similar overpowering starts in the first three rounds of Roland Garros last year before falling in three sets to eventual champion Na Li.
Sam Querrey’s comeback cut short
After struggling with an elbow injury that required surgery last year, Sam Querrey may have a long way back to his career-high ranking of number 17. But today’s loss to world number eight Janko Tipsarevic in four sets, established a good path for his continual growth. Although his first serve percentage was stuck at 49%, he comfortably won 73% of net approaches and only nine total points less the Tipsarevic for the match! At just 24 years of age and standing at 6’6″ tall, it would do him well to look to good friend and fellow tall player John Isner for pointers on keeping your confidence.
Tommy Haas turns back time
After blazing through three rounds of qualifying, German (or is is American, or is is German?) Tommy Haas is firmly in the second round of the main draw after defeating Filippo Volandri, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4. The German tennis gods must be watching his back, as he would have next taken on number 16 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. But due to pure inspiration by Sergiy Stakhovsky to defeat fellow Ukranian Dolgopolov, Haas will next meet Stakhovsky in a match that could surely go the length.
Other notable winners
- Brit Heather Watson sails into the second round by defeating journeywoman Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the second round.
- In a battle of the young guns (can we really still call them that?), Grigor Dimitrov holds off Donald Young, 7-6(3), 6-1, 6-1.
- Caroline Wozniacki is in full stealth mode winning soundly against Eleni Daniilidou, 6-0, 6-1. After falling in the rankings to world number nine, it would do the Dane well to advance well into the second week.
- 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone made quick work of another tour veteran, Kimiko Date-Krumm, and next faces Tsvetana Prinokova who defeated Yanina Wickmayer.
- Juan Monaco got back on track after a debilitating ankle roll in Monte Carlo, by beating Guillaume Rufin, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(3). In Rome, Monaco was a set up over Djokovic before falling in three, but clay suits his game and if his ankle holds up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the second week.
Popcorn matches to watch on Wednesday, May 30:
- Gilles Simon ranked number 11 versus new comeback player Brian Baker. Baker has come out of the shadows after a seven year hiatus due to devastating injury and has been blowing past competition, leaving Gael Monfils and Nikolay Davydenko in his rearview. If he can keep it up, it will be a comeback for the books.
- Agnieszka Radwanska takes on Venus Williams. Both ladies are playing with a lot to prove. Aga needs to show fans her consistency and Venus needs to show herself she can continue battling after her health diagnosis. It’s anybody’s game, but I feel a Venus revolution.
- 2008 French Open Ana Ivanovic will take on Shahar Peer in what could be a purely nerves-driven match for both ladies. Ivanovic is always tough on herself and difficult shots by Peer could give Ana some self-doubt. If she plays through them, she should not have a problem plowing through Peer.
- Viktor Troicki takes on possible “frenemy” and personality-twin Fabio Fognini. Who could forget their fiery exchanges on-court during the first round of Cincinnati last year that saw Fognini prevail. The tension was palpable between the two, and another on-court encounter may boost each player’s game plan for an unbelievable match. It will surely be a fun match to watch. Oh, and the tennis should be good too.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
After an action-packed week on the red dirt of Rome, the finals Masters 1000 Series tournament before Roland Garros threw up some exciting matches, entertaining press conferences and an opportunity for memorable photographs to be snapped. Here is a collection of some of those events for you to enjoy featuring many of the players from the WTA and ATP Tour.
Lisa-Marie Burrows covered the Masters 1000 Series at the Mutua Madrid Open last week at the Rome Open. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.