Although they stand just two places apart in the rankings, the seventh-seeded Tsonga and the ninth-seeded Gasquet bear little resemblance in their perception as dark horse threats. While the latter brought a 1-13 record in fourth-round matches at majors into this tilt, the former has compiled enough upsets and near-upsets over the Big Four to make him a figure of note for even the casual fan. Much of the reason for those contrasting levels of performance in key matches lies in their respective games. In the modern era of the ATP, Tsonga’s massive serve-forehand combinations usually trump the grace and touch of his compatriot, who fell to him today 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2 in a match that evened their record at 4-4.
From the outset, Gasquet looked much more like the player who had lost 13 of 14 fourth-round matches at majors than the man with a winning record against Tsonga. He dropped his serve in the opening game, while his opponent held easily and soon earned two more break points as a half-bagel loomed. Digging out of those virtual set points, Gasquet stemmed the slide of momentum to stay within range. Through the rest of the first set, he continued to knock on the door of opportunity without quite breaking through the uneven but more powerful Tsonga.
Finally, with the higher-ranked Frenchman serving for the match, the first break points appeared for his compatriot. Dashing towards the net ruthlessly to finish points, an inspired Gasquet sprinted around nearly the entire court before unleashing a passing-hot winner that left Tsonga frozen and mired at 0-40. From there, though, the seventh seed methodically erased each of the break points with solid serving and tighter focus. As deeply as he positioned himself to return, Gasquet could not find ways to keep his opponent’s first serves or forehands in play long enough to assert himself in the rallies. Two futile challenges later, Tsonga closed out the first set.
But the winner of the opening stanza had lost two of the past three meetings between these famously variable Frenchmen. Tsonga’s carelessness predictably caught up with him early in the second set, when he surrendered his first break in the fourth game. Having grown steadier as the match progressed, Gasquet kept a high first-serve percentage and won nearly every point behind that shot. Meanwhile, Tsonga’s body language illustrated his discouragement as the unforced errors flowed ever more quickly from his racket. He never earned a break point on his compatriot’s serve, allowing the set to slip away without much resistance.
Righting his bateau immediately in the second set, Tsonga followed a quick hold with a long game on Gasquet’s serve during which he stayed more consistent in rallies. An unwise attack on the net behind an indifferent passing shot would have produced the break had not the ninth seed’s volley caught the back of the baseline. Two points later, Gasquet surrendered the early lead anyway and allowed Tsonga to consolidate behind thumping aces. The role of impenetrability of serve shifted back to the seventh seed, recalling the first set, as the world #10 merely clung to his own games without mounting a serious threat on the return. Rumbling to the net with bravado, Tsonga prevented his compatriot from timing his elongated strokes with precision. But the two Frenchmen entertained the Rod Laver audience with clever touch shots such as drop shot-lob combinations and slices with side spin that created an elegant counterpoint to their serves.
Serving to take a two-sets-to-one lead, Tsonga fell behind early in the game just as he had in the first set, this time attempting a strange one-handed backhand pass that found the net. Gasquet’s success ebbed and flowed in proportion to his court positioning, for he struggled to trouble Tsonga when he stayed passively behind the baseline in retrieval mode. Pinned back there for the next four points after taking a 0-30 lead, he allowed his countryman to close out the set without facing a break point.
A double fault hastened Gasquet’s demise early in the fourth set, when he dropped his first service game as his shoulders seemed to slump. The challenge of mounting a comeback to win the last two sets perhaps seemed too implausible for a Frenchman not known for his mental tenacity or his physical fitness. More relaxed than in the previous sets, Tsonga rocketed serves and forehands through the court almost at will. The uneventful fourth set ended with Tsonga once again in the quarterfinals of the major where he reached the championship match five long years ago.
Projected to face Federer there, he will need to maintain his focus for longer spells and avoid falling behind early in important service games. That match will mark a key test for him early in his partnership with Roger Rasheed. Winless against the top eight in 2012, Tsonga would benefit enormously from reviving his status as a genuine threat to them in 2013.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
No Frenchman has won a Grand Slam since Yannick Noah won the French Open in 1983. Of course, that had paled in comparison to Great Britian’s Grand Slam drought before Andy Murray won the US Open last year. Now, though, with Murray having got that out of the way, much of the focus of the tennis world will be upon when the French can finally break that streak.
As long as we are in the “Big 4 era”, that won’t even be a question. It is impossible to even mention anyone other than the top 4 as being a potential Grand Slam champion. Saying anyone else, with the rare exception of Juan Martin Del Potro, is met with scoffing and incredulity. And for good reason. Aside from Del Potro’s 2009 US Open title, no one outside the Big 4 has won a Slam since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open.
Someday, though, when the dominance of the top 4 is broken, the world will turn and ask when the next great French champion will arrive. And he won’t even need to reach World #1 or win multiple Slams. One Slam will do to break this streak.
Luckily for us (and maybe unluckily for the French, depending on how you look at it), two of their potential candidates are meeting in the fourth round here in Melbourne. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet play drastically different styles of tennis, but they do share the fact that they both fly under the French flag and that both of them probably have Grand Slam potential if they can play at their peaks for extended periods of time.
Tsonga probably has the better chance of the two to win a Slam. He plays a game that is raw power. His massive serve is tough to break and he can hit huge groundstrokes from really just about anywhere on the court. The courts here in Australia suit him best (though grass comes close) and he did reach the final here five years ago in 2008 (l. to Djokovic). Tsonga can be beaten consistently by better players, but his powerful game and strong serve mean that he can stay close in a lot of matches, even when his ground game is not at its best.
Gasquet is a different story. He has pop on his shots, but he really is a finesse player. He works his way around in rallies until he finds a way to just fit the ball past his opponent, usually with the backhand. Gasquet has the best (and the prettiest; it’s just gorgeous to watch) backhand in the world. Honestly, with the way he hits that one-hander, Gasquet’s backhand is more effective than a lot of players’ forehands.
The one real critique of Gasquet is that he plays far too far behind the baseline. He runs around a lot to play defensively. It works for him, but it gets him into a lot of trouble against the other top players, who won’t get worn down or leave balls short in rallies. Gasquet can attack but he just doesn’t like to. He needs to change that tendency, though, against players who the defensive game doesn’t bother. Gasquet has one of the most technically perfect forms in the game. It really is just a shame that he can’t always utilize it due to staying an ineffective distance behind the baseline.
So who has the advantage in this head-to-head matchup? It’s really tough to say. The two have been pretty even their entire careers and both have looked impressive, though not unbeatable, throughout this tournament. Gasquet is the more battle-tested of the two in Melbourne and seems to have been slightly more consistent in the first week, but it really pretty much is a toss-up. What he do know is that if the winner of this match can upset Roger Federer in the quarterfinals (assuming that Milos Raonic doesn’t miraculously upset him first), then a Frenchman will be just 2 wins away from an improbable Slam victory and will put the Australians and Americans on watch with their respective decade-long Grand Slam droughts.
On Monday, the rest of the quarterfinals take form in both the men’s and women’s draws. The action shrinks to Rod Laver and Hisense, by which we divide the previews.
Rod Laver Arena:
Wozniacki vs. Kuznetsova: Fans may remember their pair of US Open three-setters, both of which Wozniacki won when her retrieving skills and superior fitness outlasted Kuznetsova’s fiery shot-making and athleticism. Those victories formed part of a four-match streak for the Dane against the Russian that halted abruptly last week in Sydney, where the latter astonished the former in a three-setter played under sweltering conditions. All but irrelevant last year, Kuznetsova appeared to have regained her motivation during the offseason before charging back into contention with one of her best results to date here. For her part, Wozniacki recovered from a dismal first-round effort to play cleaner tennis through her next two matches, albeit less impressive than what she produced as world #1. Long rallies and service breaks should await as both players focus on what they do best in this strength-on-strength matchup: offense for Sveta, defense for Caro.
Azarenka vs. Vesnina: On the surface, this match would seem like a rout in the making, and it might well turn out that way in reality. But Vesnina has played some of her best tennis in recent memory this month, starting an eight-match winning streak with her first career singles title last week. Meanwhile, Azarenka has looked vulnerable in two of three matches and staggered through an unexpected three-setter against Jamie Hampton, who likely would not have trouble the Vika who swaggered to last year’s title. Unable to hold serve consistently, the defending champion has relied on her return to break opponents regularly, possibly a more difficult task against Vesnina than the three before her. Still, Azarenka has won all six of their previous sets.
Tsonga vs. Gasquet: If the passivity of Simon and Monfils bored you, rest assured that this pair of Frenchman will not produce the same lethargy. Outstanding shot-makers each, they shine most in different areas. Whereas Tsonga unleashes titanic serves and forehands, often rumbling to the net behind them, Gasquet favors one of the ATP’s most delicious one-handed backhands. He ventures to the forecourt often as well, displaying a fine touch that has contributed to his success in their rivalry. Gasquet has won four of their seven meetings, but Tsonga looked the sharper player during the first week. Not dropping a set in three matches, he has maintained the focus and discipline lacking from his disappointing 2012, so he will fancy his chances of halting Gasquet’s eight-match winning streak.
Serena vs. Kirilenko: Apparently recovered from her ankle scare, Serena remains the favorite to win a third straight major title here. Outside an odd three-game span in the second set of her last match, she has ravaged a series of overmatched opponents while reaffirming the dominance of her serve. The competition does elevate in quality with the 14th-seeded Kirilenko, much improved in singles over the last year or two. Serena has won all five of their previous meetings, though, and the weight of her shot should leave the Russian struggling to match her hold for hold. Only on an especially erratic day for the 14-time major champion would Kirilenko’s balanced all-court game and high-percentage brand of tennis threaten her.
Raonic vs. Federer: Perhaps useful in preparing him for the titanic serve across the net was Federer’s previous match against Tomic, who regularly found huge deliveries when it mattered most. As brilliant as the Swiss looked in other aspects of his game, he struggled to convert break points and nearly lost the second set as a result. Nevertheless, Federer did not lose his serve in the first week or even encounter significant pressure on his service games. That trend should continue against the unreliable return of Raonic, while the veteran’s struggles to break should as well. Combining those two threads, one can expect some tiebreaks to settle sets that should hinge upon just a handful of points. All three of their previous meetings, on three different surfaces, reached final sets—and two a final-set tiebreak, illustrating Raonic’s ability to trouble Federer. The younger man’s belief fell slightly short last year, but he has looked more assured in his status as a legitimate threat by brushing aside his first-week opponents here.
Chardy vs. Seppi: A match of survivors pits the man who defeated Del Potro in five sets against the man who defeated Cilic in five sets. Spectators who expected to see two baseline behemoths dueling today may feel surprised to see one of the ATP’s most asymmetrical games square off against a baseline grinder. Striking nearly 80 winners to topple the Tower of Tandil, Chardy produced nearly all of his offense from his forehand and at the net, where he will want to travel frequently again. A clay-courter who has enjoyed his best result here to date, Seppi wore down Cilic by staying deep behind the baseline, absorbing pace, and extending the rallies. That positioning leaves him vulnerable to someone as adept moving forward as Chardy, but the main theme of this match may revolve around who can recover more effectively, mentally and physically, from their notable but exhausting victories in the last round.
Jovanovski vs. Stephens: Somewhat surprisingly, Stephens enters her first fourth-round match here as a clear favorite. Probably the most unexpected member of the last sixteen, Jovanovski upset Safarova and weathered the distinctive game of Kimiko Date-Krumm to record a potential breakthrough. She plays an orthodox power baseline style, more raw than the game honed by Stephens, and she has struggled at times to contain her emotions. That said, one wonders how the young American will respond to the pressure of the favorite’s status at a stage where she has little more familiarity than her opponent. This match marks the first meeting of what could become an intriguing rivalry.
Simon vs. Murray: After his epic battle with countryman Monfils, which nearly reached five hours, Simon should have little energy left for the Scot. He tellingly said that he would appear for the match but estimated his probability of winning it as slim. Despite the issues with holding serve that Murray has experienced here, and his troubles with timing in the third round, he probably needs to play no better than his average level—or even below it—to advance. Even a rested Simon would have few weapons to harm an opponent who has defeated him nine straight times, much less this battered version.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
The favorites and top seeds all got through their second-round matches without much drama. David Ferrer was pushed by a powerful Tim Smyczek, who really began showing his true potential in the match. Still, Ferrer got through in four sets as he was just too solid and consistent for the young American.
Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, Del Potro, and Berdych all took care of overmatched opponents with relative ease as well. None of these seven challengers for the title has begun to show any real cracks in the armor yet, though Tsonga did not play his best match. Then again, he really didn’t need to to beat Go Soeda in straight sets. Del Potro still looked like the most dominant of the group, though, for whatever that’s worth.
Who Looked Good
Evgeny Donskoy: Donskoy is an up-and-coming strong young player. He has mostly stuck to Challengers his entire career and has brought his ranking up into the 80s with a good run to end last year. But he is going to be moving up to the main tour now. In his first ever Grand Slam main draw, he has now reached the third round with his gritty performance to get past Mikhail Youzhny. Donskoy only had one tour-level win before this Australian Open, but he will have plenty more opportunities now as his new ranking will get him into most ATP 250 and 500 level tournaments.
Jerzy Janowicz: How does beating Somdev Devvarman in 5 sets net you a spot in this section? It’s because Janowicz’s comeback win over the former NCAA champion showed us something that we didn’t know about him. Janowicz was only a good young Challenger player with potential until an epic run at last year’s Masters 1000 event in Bercy (which he had to qualify just to get into) vaulted him into the top 30. This comeback win, which took fight and mental fortitude, shows us that Jerzy could be near the top of the rankings for a long time.
Ricardas Berankis: After last round, I said that if Florian Mayer played as poorly against Berankis as he did against Rhyne Williams that he would lose this match. Now, though, it really wouldn’t have mattered. Berankis was absolutely on fire this match. His movement was superb, even in the blazing heat, and his ballstriking was lethal. The 22-year-old qualifier looks to be in the best form of his young career and it will be very interesting to see what he can do against Andy Murray in the next round. No matter what, though, this will be quite a learning experience for him.
Richard Gasquet: Gasquet is nothing short of an enigma. There are times where he actually feels like a top 5 player and there are times where he doesn’t belong in the top 100. He has so much power, not to mention the world’s best backhand, yet plays far too far behind the baseline. Still, his dismantling of Alejandro Falla was impressive. Gasquet is clicking on all cylinders so far early in this tournament. Let’s see if he can keep it up while facing the other top players in the coming rounds.
Who Looked Bad
Janko Tipsarevic: Tipsarevic came to play in his first-round match against Lleyton Hewitt. He hit the ball hard and clean and really never bowed to the pressure. His second-round match was the exact opposite. Lacko played well and fought hard, but Janko just wasn’t the same as he had been in the first round. If he had approached this match with the same intensity as his first, it wouldn’t have been this close. There was just a little bit missing from Tipsarevic’s game that he will need to find again moving forward to go deep in this tournament.
Bernard Tomic: Okay, this paragraph won’t be fair to Tomic. He didn’t play that poorly. This is more of a critique on the expectations we put on him. Yes, he has talent. But he is still not a top player yet. All he has in his career is one great run at Wimbledon. Everyone treats hid like—and expects him to be—one of those guys knocking on the door right outside the Big 4. But he’s not. At least, not yet..
Match of the Round
Though Gael Monfils and Yen-Hsun Lu made me think about putting them here, once again, the most exciting match this round was far from the highest quality. And, once again, it was really the crowd that put this match over the top. Blaz Kavcic and James Duckworth battled for nearly five hours in the blazing heat. Both played well, though Kavcic was clearly the superior player for much of the match. Still, Duckworth fought back with the crowd behind him to take the fourth set. With the crowd making duck sounds and chanting in support of the young Australian, the match felt much more like a Davis Cup rubber than a Grand Slam match. Kavcic served for the match at 5-3 in the fifth but was broken to 30 (he double-faulted twice in a row at 30-30), to massive celebration by Duckworth and the crowd. Eventually, after both players began cramping up, Kavcic took his fifth match point to win the fifth set 10-8, much to the dismay of the crowd. Still, it was a close and exciting match throughout and was an honest joy to watch.
Leaving Federer vs. Davydenko for a special, detailed preview by one of our colleagues here, we break down some highlights from the latter half of second-round action on Day 4.
Brands vs. Tomic (Rod Laver Arena): A tall German who once caused a stir at Wimbledon, Brands has won four of his first five matches in 2013 with upsets over Chardy, Monfils, and Martin Klizan among them. As sharp as Tomic looked in his opener, he cannot afford to get caught looking ahead to Federer in the next round. Brands can match him bomb for bomb, so the last legitimate Aussie threat left needs to build an early lead that denies the underdog reason to hope.
Lu vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena): Is La Monf finally back? He somehow survived 16 double faults and numerous service breaks in a messy but entertaining four-set victory over Dolgopolov. Perhaps facilitated by his opponent’s similar quirkiness, the vibrant imagination of Monfils surfaced again with shot-making that few other men can produce. This match should produce an intriguing contrast of personalities and styles with the understated, technically solid Lu, who cannot outshine the Frenchman in flair but could outlast him by exploiting his unpredictable lapses.
Falla vs. Gasquet (Court 3): The Colombian clay specialist has established himself as an occasional upset threat at non-clay majors, intriguingly, for he nearly toppled Federer in the first round of Wimbledon three years ago and bounced Fish from this tournament last year. A strange world #10, Gasquet struggled initially in his first match against a similar clay specialist in Montanes. He recorded a series of steady results at majors last year, benefiting in part from facing opponents less accomplished than Falla. The strength-against-strength collision of his backhand against Falla’s lefty forehand should create some scintillating rallies as Gasquet seeks to extend his momentum from the Doha title two weeks ago.
Mayer vs. Berankis (Court 6): While Berankis comfortably defeated the erratic Sergei Stakhovsky in his debut, Mayer rallied from a two-set abyss to fend off American wildcard Rhyne Williams after saving multiple match points. He must recover quickly from that draining affair to silence the compact Latvian, who punches well above his size. Sometimes touted as a key figure of the ATP’s next generation, Berankis has not plowed forward as impressively as others like Raonic and Harrison, so this unintimidating draw offers him an opportunity for a breakthrough.
Raonic vs. Rosol (Court 13): The cherubic Canadian sprung onto the international scene when he reached the second week in Melbourne two years ago. The lean Czech sprung onto the international scene when he stunned Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon last year. Either outstanding or abysmal on any given day, Rosol delivered an ominous message simply by winning his first match. For his part, Raonic looked far from ominous while narrowly avoiding a fifth set against a player outside the top 100. He needs to win more efficiently in early rounds before becoming a genuine contender for major titles.
Robson vs. Kvitova (RLA): Finally starting to string together some solid results, the formerly unreliable Robson took a clear step forward by notching an upset over Clijsters in the second round of the US Open. Having played not only on Arthur Ashe Stadium there but on Centre Court at the All England Club before, she often produces her finest tennis for the grandest stages. If Robson will not lack for inspiration, Kvitova will continue to search for confidence. She found just enough of her familiarly explosive weapons to navigate through an inconsistent three-setter against Schiavone, but she will have little hope of defending her semifinal points if she fails to raise her level significantly. That said, Kvitova will appreciate playing at night rather than during the most scorching day of the week, for the heat has contributed to her struggles in Australia this month.
Peng vs. Kirilenko (Hisense): A pair of women better known in singles than in doubles, they have collaborated on some tightly contested matches. Among them was a Wimbledon three-setter last year, won by Kirilenko en route to the quarterfinals. The “other Maria” has faltered a bit lately with six losses in ten matches before she dispatched Vania King here. But Peng also has regressed since injuries ended her 2011 surge, so each of these two women looks to turn around her fortunes at the other’s expense. The Russian’s all-court style and fine net play should offer a pleasant foil for Peng’s heavy serve and double-fisted groundstrokes, although the latter can find success in the forecourt as well.
Wozniacki vs. Vekic (Hisense): Like Kvitova, Wozniacki seeks to build upon the few rays of optimism that emanated from a nearly unwatchable three-set opener. Gifted that match by Lisicki’s avalanche of grisly errors, the former #1 could take advantage of the opportunity to settle into the tournament. Wozniacki now faces the youngest player in either draw, who may catch her breath as she walks onto a show court at a major for the first time. Or she may not, since the 16-year-old Donna Vekic crushed Hlavackova without a glimpse of nerves to start the tournament and will have nothing to lose here.
Hsieh vs. Kuznetsova (Margaret Court Arena): A surprise quarterfinalist in Sydney, the two-time major champion defeated Goerges and Wozniacki after qualifying for that elite draw. Kuznetsova rarely has produced her best tennis in Melbourne, outside a near-victory over Serena in 2009. But the Sydney revival almost did not materialize at all when she floundered through a three-setter in the qualifying. If that version of Kuznetsova shows up, the quietly steady Hsieh could present a capable foil.
Putintseva vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 7) / Gavrilova vs. Tsurenko (Court 8): Two of the WTA’s most promising juniors, Putintseva and Gavrilova face women who delivered two of the draw’s most notable first-round surprises. After Suarez Navarro dismissed world #7 Errani, Tsurenko halted the surge of Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova in a tense three-setter. Momentum thus carries all four of these women into matches likely to feature plenty of emotion despite the relatively low stakes.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There are two things that we always need to keep in mind while watching these tournaments right before the Slams. The first is that there is a ton that we can learn about who is ready and who isn’t; the second is that it is very easy to overreact to results. Also, every match is a tale of two players. You can’t just look at a scoreline to determine how well or poorly a player is playing.
The most glaring result from the first week of the year was the Doha semifinal, where Nikolay Davydenko beat World No. 5 David Ferrer in straight sets. It was Davydenko’s first win over a top 5 player since the Doha semifinals in 2011, where he beat Rafael Nadal. So what does this match teach us and how much does that mean? First of all, it really doesn’t say anything bad about Ferrer. Ferrer plays a very strong counterattacking defensive style, which is prone to get beaten down by heavy hitters. He played his game and did not play badly. He was just not the better player on court that day and that’s okay. It doesn’t say anything bad about Ferrer’s chances of going deep in Melbourne next week.
Davydenko, on the other hand, looked incredible. He played at a level that we haven’t seen from him in years. He was striking the ball hard and true and would have troubled even Federer or Djokovic with that level of play. He really looked like a player that could challenge to win the Australian Open, something that we haven’t been able to say about him since 2010, really. This, however, is where we need to keep in mind not to overreact to individual results. Davydenko showed a sustained high level for an entire match for the first time in a long time. He seemed to sustain it also for a while against Richard Gasquet in the final until an injury surfaced. He is definitely one to keep an eye on in Melbourne (assuming he’s healthy), but we have to be careful not to expect too much at this point. A little more than one good match does not indicate the ability to sustain success, but it definitely would be nice to see if he could do it.
The runner-up in Chennai also deserves for us to take a look at. Roberto Bautista-Agut played the best tournament of his life so far (well, at the World Tour level), upsetting Tomas Berdych and reaching the final. This result, also, is something that we should not overreact to. Bautista-Agut played well and scrapped his way to winning those matches, but those wins came over players who were not playing at their best. Bautista-Agut has good upside, but he is not quite a top tour-level player yet. If he fights just as hard in Melbourne he could get a few wins with a favorable draw, but don’t expect this Chennai result to be indicative of future performance.
The final two players I want to look at heading into the Australian Open are two who met in the semifinals in Brisbane—Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov. Baghdatis is a former Australian Open runner-up who peaked in his third year on tour and hasn’t really done much since. He reached the Australian Open final and Wimbledon semifinal in 2006 but has only been past the fourth round of a Slam once afterwards (quarterfinalist in 2007 Wimbledon). Baghdatis has shown flashes of that old brilliance since then but has never really kept it up. He showed flashes once again in Brisbane, so maybe he can gain some confidence and momentum going into the Australian Open and make a nice run. Until then, though, he will still be more famous for his racket-smashing than his performance on the court.
Dimitrov is a player that a lot of fans have been waiting to see come out of his shell for a long time. Once known as “Baby Fed”, due to a perceived similarity in talent and playing style, Dimitrov is often mentioned along with Ryan Harrison as an undeveloped talent. He is not at the top mentally yet, but the more I see him play the more impressed I am. Yes, he still loses bad matches. But he is clearly developing and clearly has incredible potential, and seems to get more consistent as time goes on. I think he learned a lot from playing Andy Murray in the final and he, more than anyone else mentioned here, has the potential to do something special in Melbourne. A real test will be if he can keep this good form in Sydney this week as well. You don’t want to see him playing too much so that he isn’t too fatigued heading into Melbourne, but you want to see him at least have good showings. A lot depends on the draw, obviously, but if Dimitrov can continue this form, I expect to start seeing the big things that we all know he is capable of very soon.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
Internazionali BNL D’Italia, Rome – World No.6 David Ferrer progressed through to the semi finals after his third straight sets win this week against Andy Murray’s conqueror, Richard Gasquet 7-6 (4), 6-3.
David Ferrer was runner up here against compatriot Rafael Nadal in 2010 and has been extremely successful with his run on clay this season, so it was no doubt that the resilient Spaniard had the goods to pull out a straight sets win today against a tricky opponent who was into his second quarter final in as many weeks.
Ferrer had the first edge at the start of the match as he broke the 16th seed’s service in the fifth game only to be broken back shortly after. Richard Gasquet always proves to be a tricky customer and caused Andy Murray several problems yesterday and it looked like he was wiling to serve up a bit of the same today.
The first set was taken to a tiebreak and saw David Ferrer regain his composure and retrieve seemingly impossible balls, particularly from his backhand to seal the all-important first set 7-4.
The second set saw the steely Spaniard tighten up his game and expose the weaker movement of Gasquet in comparison to yesterday; as he barely lost any points on his own serve. The sole break towards the end of the match was sufficient for Ferrer as he recorded his fourth straight sets win in a row against Gasquet to progress to the semi finals for another all-Spanish mouthwatering encounter after his second round defeat over Fernando Verdasco, but this time he will square off against Spanish No.1 Rafael Nadal.
David Ferrer acknowledged in his press conference that it was a difficult match against Richard Gasquet and was pleased to progress through to the semi finals of the tournament once again:
“It was a tough match and I am happy getting into the semi finals. It is a Masters 1000 match and it was close and good – it was consistent all the time and the difference was only in some points. When I won the first set it was easier and I saw he was more tired than me.”
Against Rafael Nadal tomorrow Ferrer has described the semi final encounter as ‘tough’ and he knows that he is going to have to play his ‘best game.’
“In Barcelona [against Nadal] I played good but every match is different and I will have to play similar to get a good result. Tomorrow in any case is different.”
Will Ferrer be the second Spaniard in as many weeks to pull off a shock win against Nadal on his beloved clay? We can’t wait to watch!
Lisa-Marie Burrows covered the Mutua Madrid Open last week and is currently in Rome covering the all of the action from the Masters. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
Internazionali BNL D’Italia, Rome – A withdrawn looking Andy Murray attended a press conference yesterday after his 7-6 (1), 3-6, 2-6 defeat at the hands of Richard Gasquet. His eyes were downcast, shoulders slouched and head lowered as he mumbled into the microphone. In front of us was a man who was clearly lacking in confidence, bewildered with the outcome of the game and uncomfortable as he twitched awkwardly in his chair whilst occasionally flexing his back, but how much did it hamper his performance?
“It was a long match and I had a sore back towards the end, but I was expecting that coming to the tournament and I didn’t take a break but training and playing a lot – the muscles are more tired and fatigued.
Andy Murray did not want to go into detail as to where and how he sustained the injury or how severely it impedes his matches, but he has experienced the injury since December and with the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open coming up, the Scot has little time to recover and treat the niggling he is inflicted with.
Ultimately this may have knocked his confidence before the start of the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros as his preparation has not gone to plan as per previous years. He withdrew from Madrid last week and did not play on the infamous blue clay and this week has participated in only two matches against Nalbandian and Gasquet:
“To be honest when you lose matches your confidence drops and when you win your confidence grows and that is the possibility…”
Right now, Andy Murray is considering flying to Paris immediately to get some extra practice on the clay courts and train hard (back allowing) for the next nine days. He hopes to work hard at the gym, get into shape and adapt to the conditions of the courts with his coach Ivan Lendl who will be with him for 5 or 6 days in preparation.
Murray was philosophical about his injury and tried to find the positive side to the treatment he will need to undertake, believing that sometimes pains and injuries can get better when a player plays with them and his 2 hours and 40-minute match was certainly a good test for him.
For Andy Murray, no Cup Final visits for him this weekend as he will be in Paris recuperating and training – a positive decision in preparation for the French Open. Hopefully he will feel better soon!
Lisa-Marie Burrows covered the Mutua Madrid Open last week and is currently in Rome covering the all of the action from the Masters. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.
It seemed oddly empty at the tournament today compared with the past five days in terms of fans. Of course, the smaller player field made for a less hectic scene at the practice courts. Still, I managed to get a lot of photos.
The practice courts featured a few players who had been knocked out. David Ferrer, John Isner, Caroline Wozniacki, Jurgen Melzer, Iveta Benesova, Richard Gasquet, and Julien Benneteau were all getting some training in this morning. The afternoon saw the second half of Quisner–Sam Querrey–practicing as well as Milos Raonic, Rafael Nadal, and Marc Lopez.
Ana Ivanovic started off the morning on stadium 1. She played a strong match against an ailing Marion Bartoli, who apparently came down with the Indian Wells illness. Ivanovic will take on Maria Sharapova, who fought hard in the battle of Maria’s against Maria Kirilenko.
When Kirilenko took the first set and broke in the second, it seemed that Sharapova had a big hill to climb. The former world number one broke back, and it seemed the second set would be won by whoever could hold her serve. Sharapova managed to do so eventually and went on to win the set and ultimately the match.
On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic had little trouble with Nicolas Almagro. Djokovic made more errors than usual today, but Almagro couldn’t capitalize and seemed to fade away. When John Isner began his match against Gilles Simon, Isner couldn’t seem to stay focused either, making a plethora of mistakes. Simon took advantage of the situation and secured a break in Isner’s first service game. Despite this early disadvantage, Isner fought back and won the first set. The match took three sets, but the American was able to see it through.
Men’s doubles also took center stage tonight with Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez facing Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski. Fyrstenberg and Matkowski are strong doubles players; however, they never seemed to find a rhythm as Nadal and Lopez cruised to a victory.
Tomorrow will be my last day of live coverage, so check back tomorrow night for more photos!
I finally made it to the practice courts today. There was a little more mystery today as to who would be practicing when because the screens showing the practice sessions were not giving complete information. It was nice, however, to get to stumble upon Rafael Nadal practicing without every seat around the courts filled an hour in advance. It reminded me of the tournament five years ago when they didn’t announce the practice schedule.
My morning started out with Feliciano Lopez, Sam Stosur, Ana Ivanovic practicing. Petra Kvitova was also practicing with Yanina Wickmayer. It was a pretty intimate feel on court as no one was really watching them. Richard Gasquet and Grigor Dimitrov were on a practice court next to Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Julien Benneteau. Again, the malfunctioning practice schedule really helped out as the courts were fairly empty.
To my surprise, forty minutes after play began, Novak Djokovic was already a set up on Pablo Andujar. To go from a 0-6 thumping to a 7-6 victory in the second set was quite impressive from Andujar. Nevertheless, Djokovic showed why he’s the number one player in the world, winning the third set.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal had a quieter practice session at least until Djokovic won. Isner made quick work of Matthew Ebden while Sam Querry warmed up for their match later that day. Gael Monfils was also on court playing four-square soccer while Gasquet played actual soccer on the field. The entire French contingent would have a soccer showdown later in the evening on the field.
Victoria Azarenka took apart Agnieska Radwanska. Rafael Nadal also had a strong match against Alexandr Dolgopolov. I expected Dolgopolov to give Nadal more trouble, but Rafael held pretty strong as Alexandr made many unforced errors.
Sam Querry and John Isner went the distance Richard Gasquet and Paul Hanley and come out with a win as Roger Federer went a set down to Thomaz Bellucci. Federer held back and won as did Gilles Simon, who had a hard fought victory against Ryan Harrison. The score line in the third set didn’t do justice to how hard Harrison fought, but Simon deserved the victory.