For the first time since Wimbledon 2012, all of the Big Four convene at the same tournament. We take a detailed look at a balanced Indian Wells ATP draw.
First quarter: Twice a champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic brings a perfect 2013 record to the desert following titles at the Australian Open and Dubai. Having faced Federer at neither tournament, he could face the Federer facsimile Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. While his one-handed backhand certainly spurs thoughts of the Swiss star, this young Bulgarian continues to alternate encouraging results (Brisbane final) with disappointing setbacks (first-round loss in Melbourne). The towering serve of Isner ultimately undid Djokovic in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, and Querrey’s similar game toppled him at the Paris Indoors last fall. Now the Serb can eye an opportunity for revenge in the fourth round, where he could meet the latter and will hope to stay mentally sturdier than he did against Isner here. A higher-ranked potential opponent does loom in Juan Monaco, but the world #14 has not won a match this year outside the Davis Cup as injuries have sapped his confidence. Among the intriguing first-round matches in this section is serving leviathan Karlovic against future American star and forehand howitzer Jack Sock.
Winless against the top eight from the start of 2012 until last month, Tsonga may have gained confidence from finally snapping that skid against Berdych in the Marseille final. On the other hand, he also lost immediately in Rotterdam to an unheralded opponent and thus still seems less trustworthy than most of those ranked around him. Rarely has he made an impact on Indian Wells, outside a near-upset over Nadal in 2008, but his draw looks accommodating through the first few rounds. Returning American Mardy Fish, a former finalist here, surely cannot sustain the level of tennis necessary to discomfit Tsonga at this stage of his comeback if they meet in the third round. In the opposite side of this eighth lies Milos Raonic, tasked with outslugging the more balanced but less intimidating Marin Cilic in the third round. Lesser players of note in this area include French serve-volleyer Michael Llodra, who upset Tsonga in Dubai, and Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, who has not won a match since stunning Nadal there. Although Tsonga obtained considerable success early in his career, his results against him have tapered so sharply of late that one might think Raonic the sterner test for the Serb.
Second quarter: Assigned probably the smoothest route of any top-four man, Murray cannot expect much resistance at a tournament where he reached the final four years ago. Nevertheless, early losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his last two appearances illustrated the Scot’s struggle to recover from his annual late-round disappointment in Australia. Murray will want to bounce back more smoothly this time on a slow hard court that suits his counterpunching so well. Looming in the fourth round is Memphis champion Kei Nishikori, who faces a potentially edgy opening test in Tursunov. Resuscitating his career in February, the Russian reached the Marseille semifinals as a qualifier and qualified for this draw as well. The mercurial Dolgopolov, the second-most notable player whom Murray could face in the fourth round, has floundered throughout 2013 and probably lacks the steadiness to threaten either Murray or Nishikori.
Of all the seeds whom he could have faced in the third round, Del Potro surely would have wished to avoid Australian Open nemesis Jeremy Chardy. The Frenchman receded into obscurity again after reaching the quarterfinals there, but he may hold the mental edge over Del Potro should each win his opener. Not since his first appearance in the desert five years ago, though, has the Tower of Tandil tumbled to anyone other than Federer or Nadal, and he has taken care of business against lower-ranked players with impressive consistency over the last year. One of the most compelling third rounds in the men’s draw could pit Almagro against Haas in a clash of exquisite one-handed backhands and volatile shot-making arsenals. The eleventh-seeded Spaniard has produced an early 2013 campaign inspiring and deflating in equal measure, but his Australian Open quarterfinal (nearly a semifinal) reminded viewers what a threat he can pose away from clay with his underrated serve. Accustomed to wearing down mentally dubious opponents, Murray should handle either Almagro or Haas with ease, and he compiled a flawless hard-court record against Del Potro even during the latter’s 2009 heights.
Third quarter: The section without any member of the Big Four often offers the most notable storylines of the early rounds, although Ferrer succeeded in living up to his top-four seed at both of the majors where he has held it. Never at his best in the desert, however, he may find his transition from clay to hard courts complicated by the two towering servers whom he could face at the outset in Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling. The latter upset Tsonga and nearly Cilic last month, while the former started the year impressively by reaching the second week of the Australian Open before injury sidelined him. Curiously, the fourth round might hold a less formidable test for Ferrer because his grinding game matches up more effectively to the two seeds projected there, Simon or Kohlschreiber. The quirky Benoit Paire and the lanky lefty from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, add some individuality to an otherwise monochrome section, as does the invariably entertaining but terminally fading Verdasco.
Berdych may loom above the opposite eighth, considering his two February finals in strong fields at Marseille and Dubai. But an equally intriuging storyline may come from Jerzy Janowicz, still attempting to find his footing in the crucial post-breakthrough period when players encounter scrutiny for which they are not yet prepared. The next several months could prove critical for Janowicz in consolidating his seeded status, and he will deserve credit if he emerges from a neighborhood filled with diverse talent. Nalbandian could await in his opener, and the trio of Bellucci, Tomic, and Gasquet will vie for the right to face the Pole in the third round. Twice a titlist in 2013 already, the last of that trio has retained his top-ten ranking for a long time without scording a signature victory. Such a win could come in the quarterfinals if he can solve Berdych, unlikely to expend much energy before that stage against the likes of Troicki and Florian Mayer. The heavier serve of the Czech should propel him through on a hard court, though, as it should against a fourth seed who has not played as crisply this year as his results suggest.
Fourth quarter: Defending champion Federer can anticipate his first quarterfinal meeting with archrival Nadal in the history of their rivalry, but a few obstacles await before then. Like Del Potro, the second seed probably drew the least auspicious third-round opponent imaginable in Benneteau, who nearly upset him at Wimbledon last year and succeeded in finishing the job at Rotterdam last month. Federer obtained avenge for a February 2012 setback against Isner at Indian Wells a month later, so he can seek similar revenge this year. A rematch of last year’s final beckons against Isner himself in the fourth round, although little about the American’s recent form can infuse his fans with confidence that he even can reach that stage. Much more consistent this year is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss #2 who played the most thrilling match of the Australian Open against Djokovic and backed it up with a February final. This section also features the most curious match on Thursday, an encounter between the battered Hewitt and the one-match wonder Lukas Rosol that should offer a clash of playing styles and personalities. Despite falling short of the final in his first three tournaments, Federer looks fully capable of sealing his side of the rendezvous with Nadal.
Not in much greater doubt is Rafa’s side of that appointment, for he could face no opponent more intimidating that Tipsarevic through the first four rounds. Young American Ryan Harrison looks set to become Nadal’s first hard-court opponent of 2013 (exhibitions aside), and his woeful results of the last several months intersect with a non-competitive effort against Djokovic in Melbourne to suggest a lack of confidence fatal here. While Youzhny has enjoyed several successes and near-successes against the Spaniard before, the Russian has left his prime several years behind him and lacks the power to outhit him for a full match. Hampered by injuries recently, the ninth-seeded Tipsarevic never has tested Nadal in their previous meetings and should count himself lucky to reach that projected meeting. The Serb’s current four-match losing streak could reach five in an opener against lefty serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez or Delray Beach champion Gulbis, who carries a ten-match winning streak of his own. Either the winner of that first-round meeting or the unpredictable Baghdatis seems a safer bet than Tipsarevic to meet Nadal one match before Federer. Afterwards, the Swiss should repeat his victory in their semifinal last year.
Check out the companion piece that we wrote yesterday to preview the women’s draw if you enjoyed this article.
One of the strongest ATP 500 tournaments on the calendar, Dubai follows its Premier women’s event by hosting six of the top ten men in the first significant outdoor hard-court tournament since the Australian Open. This tournament claims pride of place in our weekly preview, although events in Acapulco and Delray Beach also feature key storylines that relate to what we can expect at Indian Wells.
Dubai: A three-time champion at this event, world #1 Djokovic did not bring his best tennis to the Persian Gulf last year in the wake of a draining Australian Open. The medium-paced hard court showcases his game splendidly, though, so he might bounce back in 2013 with a less exhausting Melbourne marathon behind him and a comfortable quarter ahead of him. Not since his first meeting with Troicki has he lost to his compatriot, and rarely in the current twelve-match winning streak has the other Serb seriously troubled him. That said, Djokovic did drop a set when they met here in 2010. Also unlikely to threaten him on a hard court is the seventh-seeded Seppi, while Lukas Rosol does lurk but so far remains a one-upset man.
While three qualifiers form a soft center to the second quarter, its edges might feature some intrigue. Seeking to avoid a third straight first-round loss here, former semifinalist Baghdatis faces a tall task in Del Potro, but he has won their last two clashes. That battle of flat groundstrokes and inspired shot-making should offer some of the first round’s best entertainment. Of lesser note is the encounter between the eighth-seeded Youzhny and rising Slovene Blaz Kavcic. How much does the aging Russian with the graceful one-handed backhand have left?
Like the second half overall, the third quarter looks stronger than the two above it. Top-eight threats Tsonga and Berdych bookend it, the former of whom faces a stern test in compatriot Michael Llodra. Neither of those Frenchmen will relish the relatively slow courts here, nor will potential second-round opponent Tursunov. A smart wildcard choice after his astonishing charge to the Marseille weekend as a qualifier, he ranks among the draw’s most notable dark horses. Two comfortable rounds await Berdych, who excelled in Marseille as well as Tsonga and Tursunov. Not known for his consistency, the Czech has maintained some of his steadiest tennis to date over the last several months, and he should fare better against Tsonga on an outdoor hard court than on the fast indoor court where he lost to him on Sunday.
After the hubbub last year when the tournament declined to offer Malek Jaziri a wildcard, the organizers may have smirked a bit when, having received that privilege this year, the Tunisian has landed adjacent to Federer. More worthy of Swiss steel, surely, is the resurgent Tomic in a sequel to an Australian Open encounter closer than the score showed. Never a man to doubt his own chances, the brash Aussie will feel confident of toppling whoever emerges from the Tipsarevic-Davydenko opener. Although that match could present a battle of crisp two-handed backhands, both men have struggled this year and would enter a meeting with Tomic at a significant height disadvantage. Realistically, however, only one man will come out of this quarter.
Final: Djokovic vs. Federer
Acapulco: Of the four top-ten men not participating in Dubai, two lend their illustrious presence to the clay 500 tournament in Mexico. The end of the South American February swing, Acapulco usually offers an opportunity for top-seeded David Ferrer to bolster his rankings points. While the presence of Nadal at the base of the draw will complicate his quest, the man who displaced Rafa as the top-ranked Spaniard brings momentum from winning Buenos Aires and faces no significant clay threats in his quarter. Starting against left-handed compatriot Albert Ramos, Ferrer might face flaky Frenchman Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals, but another Spaniard in Pablo Andujar looms just as large. Outside Nadal, the top seed has enjoyed plenty of success against his countrymen.
The last victim of Ferrer in Buenos Aires, Wawrinka faces a much more intriguing series of tests to secure a rematch in the semifinals. Opening against Fabio Fognini of the famous eyebrows and unpredictable temperament, he might encounter the returning Nalbandian afterwards. A finalist in the first tournament of his return, Sao Paulo, Nalbandian took a set from Ferrer at his home tournament last week before his stamina waned. The fifth-seeded Jurgen Melzer has struggled this year outside a run to the Zagreb final on an indoor hard court, so Colombian clay threat Santiago Giraldo might seem a plausible dark horse to reach the quarterfinals.
Denied by Wawrinka in Buenos Aires, Almagro still looks to steady himself after that strange combination of breakthrough and breakdown that he endured in Melbourne. His draw looks comfortable in its early stages, featuring nobody more dangerous than the long-faded Tommy Robredo. In the quarterfinals, Almagro could meet one of three players who have recorded a strong result each during the South American clay season: Vina del Mar champion Zeballos, Sao Paulo semifinalist Simone Bolelli, or Vina del Mar semifinalist Carlos Berlocq. But Zeballos has not won a match since that stunning upset over Nadal, while Berlocq should struggle to match Almagro hold for hold despite winning a set from Nadal in Sao Paulo.
The easiest pre-semifinal route of all would seem to belong to the man who needs it least, or is it most? Far from bulletproof in his two-week swing through Vina del Mar and Sao Paulo, Nadal managed to scrape out results that looked stronger on paper than on television. He cannot face anyone of note in his first two matches, however, and the week-long respite may have freshened his body and spirits. The heavy left-handed groundstrokes of sixth-seeded Thomaz Bellucci might pose a threat in view of the Zeballos result. All the same, the Brazilian has accomplished nothing during this month’s clay tournaments so far and probably lacks the belief to threaten Nadal.
Final: Ferrer vs. Nadal
Delray Beach: In his last tournament before Indian Wells, where he defends finals points, top-seeded John Isner desperately needs to halt a slide that has seen him lose 10 of his last 17 matches. Although a semifinal at San Jose hinted at a resurgence, he dropped a lackluster straight-setter in Memphis, where the indoor hard courts should have suited his massive serve just as well. Fortunate to receive a modest first-round opponent in Jesse Levine, Isner then could meet Memphis semifinalist Marinko Matosevic. The Aussie upset similarly powerful American giant Querrey last week and the talented Dolgopolov, so he brings much more momentum into this match than the top seed. Before he succumbed to injury, Kevin Anderson enjoyed an excellent January by reaching the Sydney final and the second week of the Australian Open, the first South African to do so in a decade. He could match Isner serve for serve, or more likely surpass him if his pre-injury form revives.
Quite a contrast to Isner’s week in Memphis was the breakthrough delivered by Jack Sock, who upset second-seeded Raonic in the most significant victory of his career. Sock received a reward in a wildcard here, although he may not fancy a second-round rematch with the man who finally stopped him last week, Feliciano Lopez. The American will have gained experience in facing a serve-volleyer in an opener against Aussie Matthew Ebden, which could stand him in good stead against Lopez. And a third straight could loom in the quarterfinals if Karlovic can solve former champion Nishikori. Suggesting otherwise is the recent form of both men, for Nishikori has produced generally solid results so far in a 2013 where Karlovic’s age and nagging injuries finally may have caught up with him.
A semifinalist in San Jose and gone early in Memphis, like Isner, third-seeded Sam Querrey inhabits a section filled with his compatriots. That quirk of fate seems auspicious for him in view of his preference for straightforward opponents who allow him baseline rhythm and lack impressive retturns. Surely able to overpower battered veterans Russell and Blake, he may need to raise his motivation a notch for the ever-impassioned Ryan Harrison. That youngster has accomplished even less than Querrey lately, though, and a recent illness may have dulled his energies. The other seed in this section, Xavier Malisse, retired last week in Memphis.
Also withdrawing from Memphis was San Jose runner-up Tommy Haas, who holds the second seed here but faces an intimidating opener against Igor Sijsling. The Dutchman suddenly has burst into relevance after reaching the Australian Open doubles final, upsetting Tsonga at his home tournament in Rotterdam, and nearly toppling the top-seeded Cilic in Memphis. If Haas can weather Sijsling’s impressive serve, he must slow the surge of Denis Istomin’s second straight sold February. Ever an enigma and ever an entertainer, the fifth-seeded Dolgopolov rounds out this quarter and shares Tommy’s predicament of a dangerous first-round opponent. As his 2011 victory over Nadal proved, Ivan Dodig can trouble anyone on the occasions when his high-risk game explodes rather than implodes.
Final: Nishikori vs. Querrey
ROTTERDAM (Feb. 13, 2013) — In just his first match after the Australian Open, defending champion Roger Federer dispatched of Slovene Grega Zemlja 6-3, 6-1 in just under an hour.
“I love playing here,” stated Federer after his match. “Last year I received a great welcome in this stadium after a long absence. And I won the tournament for a second time, it was a wonderful experience.”
And he’s already looked forward to his third round match against Thiemo De Bakker. “I will not underestimate him. He is an excellent player and with support of his home crowd he will probably step up his game.”
In other singles news, 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov lost only four points on his first serve, defeating Nikolay Davydenko, 7-5, 6-3.
Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis also progressed as Benoit Paire was forced to retire at 6-0, 6-7(3), 4-0 with back trouble and sickness.
N0. 4 seed Richard Gasquet also notched his sixteenth win of the season by defeating Viktor Troicki, 7-6(3), 6-1.
“The victory in the tiebreak was crucial”, stated Gasquet. “At 5-3 I got one set point, but still lost my service. Luckily I kept fighting. It would have been very bitter if I had not won that set. But with the advantage of that set win, I got more confident.”
(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)
Each Monday morning, I will break down ATP and WTA draws quarter by quarter with a prediction of who may meet in the final and perhaps the semifinals. Fans can look forward this week to three ATP 250 tournaments in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina del Mar. The most significant storyline concerns the highly anticipated return of Rafael Nadal in the last of those events, but the other two merit the attention of dedicated fans too.
Montpellier: After a weekend satisfying but exhausting, Berdych travels from a Davis Cup tie in Switzerland to neighboring France and one of his most productive surfaces: an indoor hard court. Clearly the best player in his half and probably the best in the tournament, the top seed might face an intriguing quarterfinal test in Nikolay Davydenko, also proficient on this surface. A champion in Doha last month, the Russian owns a stunning 9-2 record against the Czech. But most of Davydenko’s success comes from before 2010, the year when his decline and Berdych’s breakthrough began. The greatest pre-semifinal obstacle for the top seed probably lies in his ability to recover from the longest match in Davis Cup history, which spanned a remarkable 422 minutes.
As one would expect in a draw littered with Frenchmen (10 of the 24 direct entrants), the home crowd should find plenty of reasons to cheer. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second quarter, where Gasquet could meet Monfils in the second round. Both men shone at the Australian Open by their standards, as did occasional upset threat Julien Benneteau. While all of these French stars have faltered on home soil at times, they also can point to notable achievements from Gael’s two appearances in the Paris Masters final to Julien’s upset of Federer at the same event. Like that doubles specialist, the third-seeded Gasquet will bring momentum from a commanding Davis Cup effort on French soil.
Less impressive is the lower half of the draw, spearheaded in the third quarter by Gilles Simon. The fourth seed shares Gasquet’s task of surmounting the compatriots scattered around him. A group that features Benoit Paire, Adrian Mannarino, and Paul-Henri Mathieu includes no challenger of a competitive will comparable to Simon. This Frenchman’s first real test should come in the semifinals against the winner of a tantalizing all-Serbian quarterfinal.
While the second-seeded Tipsarevic has produced much better tennis than Troicki lately, the former arrives from an injury and the latter from a fine Davis Cup performance in Belgium. In a small, fervently patriotic nation like Serbia, rivalries among compatriots can prove more tightly contested than their relative talents would suggest. Hoping to disrupt that projected clash, the aging Michael Llodra seeks to rekindle his former magic from the Paris Indoors with a net-rushing style that reaps rewards on these courts. If Tipsarevic does advance, he will need to reverse a poor history against Simon, not an easy task in view of his unimpressive recent form.
Final: Gasquet vs. Simon
Zagreb: Twice a titlist at his home tournament, top-ranked Croat Marin Cilic has started to knock on the door of the top ten again after an encouraging campaign in the second half of 2012. He holds the top seed in a draw that features several rising stars from the region, including Blaz Kavcic and Aljaz Bedene. The former reached the third round of a major for the first time at the Australian Open in the wake of a five-set, five-hour marathon, while the latter reached a semifinal in Chennai by defeating Wawrinka (more impressive in retrospect) and winning a set from Tipsarevic. If the winner can survive the mercurial Marcos Baghdatis, an exciting quarterfinal with Cilic would beckon.
Among the most notable figures in the second quarter is seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, assigned a difficult opening assignment against serving leviathan Ivo Karlovic. The young player popularly likened to Federer endured a January of extremes that lurched from his first career final in Brisbane to a first-round exit in straight sets at the Australian Open. Beyond Karlovic, another local threat in Ivan Dodig would unleash his first-strike power against the maturing Dimitrov, which should test his focus. The third-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, well past his prime, looks less intimidating in a quarterfinal that could showcase two elegant one-handed backhands.
Another aging veteran in lefty Jurgen Melzer holds the fourth seed in a tournament near his native Austria, where he will attempt to raise his level from an unimpressive Davis Cup display in Kazakhstan. Explosive upset artist Lukas Rosol might test him in the quarterfinals should he survive another Lukas, the eighth-seeded Lacko. The latter Lukas nearly upset Tipsarevic at the Australian Open, so he may fancy his chances against the Czech Lukas or a Polish Lukasz (Kubot), better known in doubles but dangerous in singles with his pinpoint serves and returns.
The bottom quarter may hold the least interest for local fans, since the only Croats received wildcards to compensate for their low rankings. But its two seeds, Martin Klizan and Andreas Seppi, enjoyed their best seasons to date in 2012. Seppi in particular has hinted at building upon that momentum in 2013 by reaching the second week in Melbourne, although this surface does not much suit his patient style.
Final: Cilic vs. Melzer
Vina del Mar: The toast of Chile when he arrived last week, Nadal celebrated his return to professional competition after a six-month absence by basking in a ceremonial welcome from the nation’s president and noted tennis stars. Fans throughout the world, even those who never especially admired him, should welcome the return of a warrior whose presence injects much more intrigue into the ATP elite. While Nadal probably will not find his finest form immediately, he may not need to find it here to win a title on the clay that he relishes so deeply. Nobody in his quarter should muster the nerve to contemplate stopping the Spaniard, including compatriot Daniel Gimeno-Traver and home hope Nicolas Massu, a former Olympic gold medalist.
The only clay tournament in a week otherwise spent on indoor hard courts, Vina del Mar has attracted a host of players from South America and the Mediterranean. Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy will seek to shift his momentum from hard courts to clay, a surface that could reward his asymmetrical baseline game but not his preference for shortening points in the forecourt. The third seed in Chile, this Frenchman might encounter veteran Spaniard and clay specialist Tommy Robredo in the quarterfinals. Or perhaps Chardy will meet Lorenzi, who once nearly upset Nadal in Rome.
Often neglected among Spanish men, fourth-seeded Pablo Andujar occasionally drifts within range of an ardent fan’s radar during the clay season. This week, he could collide with a compatriot ranked just six slots below him in Albert Ramos, who looked rather crisp at the Australian Open in a five-set loss to Baghdatis. South Americans Rogerio Dutra Silva, Leonardo Mayer, and Horacio Zeballos add some local interest without heightening the level of competition significantly.
Like his fellow second seed Seppi in Zagreb, world #12 Juan Monaco produced a season far more productive last year than any before it. A veteran clay specialist, he notched his greatest success last year on hard courts, where he reached the Miami semifinal. But he regained his groove on his favorite surface while contributing to Argentina’s Davis Cup victory over Germany this weekend, and he often has excelled during the February South American clay swing. Fellow Argentine Carlos Berlocq, known as the worst server in the top 100, should pose little threat in a weak section. Can Monaco test Nadal in the final, as he has Djokovic and Murray on clay? We will know better once the tournament unfolds.
Final: Nadal vs. Monaco
I will return on Friday morning to look at the first round of Fed Cup. Ahead on next Monday are previews of ATP events in Rotterdam, San Jose, and Sao Paulo, in addition to a more detailed preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha.
Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend. We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.
Canada vs. Spain: Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America. Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor. Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches. Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year. If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic. Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.
Italy vs. Croatia: This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails. On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians. But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory. The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat. Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though. At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.
Belgium vs. Serbia: One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist. First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career. Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters. That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments. Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada. With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.
USA vs. Brazil: Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend. For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions. While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves. In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans. All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.
France vs. Israel: Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level. Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles. The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months. In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before. Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.
Argentina vs. Germany: Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge. While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy. Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq. The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well. Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian. Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber. There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.
Pick: Er, Argentina?
Kazakhstan vs. Austria: In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major. The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side. His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer. The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday. Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic: While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka. After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately. Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych. The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him. In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych. The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.
Pick: Czech Republic
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There was a lot of very good tennis scheduled and played on the first day of the Australian Open. Unlike other Slams, which split up the first round into three days, the Australian Open plays exactly half of the first-round singles matches on each of the first two days. That means 32 of each men’s and women’s matches on Day 1, with the same scheduled for Day 2. The problem with that, for myself and for every other fan not actually on the grounds in Melbourne, is that less than half of them are available to be viewed.
The tournament uses 16 courts on each of these first two days for singles play. Of those 16, only 7 of those have television cameras. If you want to watch a certain player or match, the first thing you have to do is check what court he or she is playing on. Unless you go to Melbourne, you can’t see the match if it’s not on one of those courts (Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena, Margaret Court Arena, and Courts 2, 3, 6, and 8).
Of course, it’s also not just about planning what matches you want to watch. Tennis is so unpredictable and amazing matches can come out of anywhere. We should have the availability of turning to those at any time should a compelling match come up. Three of the six 5-setters on Day 1 weren’t televised. Three matches went past 6-6 in the final set of Day 1 (two men’s and one women’s), two of which were on untelevised courts, including Radek Stepanek’s defeat of Viktor Troicki and Fabio Fognini’s loss to Roberto Bautista Agut. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I know that a match in a Slam is at 6-6 in the final set, I want to turn to it. People pay money for tennis packages so that they can watch every match. So why can’t the watch every match?
The real travesty in all of this, of course, is that the year is 2013. It’s so easy to have cameras on the courts. It doesn’t even have to be anything really special. Just put a camera there. This isn’t the 90s, where companies had only one channel and could only show one match at a time anyway. Cable could get you a second channel. This is the day of digital and satellite packages; with live streaming of every available court on the internet. Is it really so impossible to just put cameras on every court? No commentary is necessary; just have a camera at every match so fans can watch their favorite players or good developing matches.
The most disappointing thing of all is that it shows that the Slams refuse to learn from potential disasters. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if, in 2010, Isner/Mahut had been on untelevised Court 19 instead of Court 18? I’m sure there would have been some sort of mad scramble to get a camera crew and commentators to that court. But that’s not the point. It’s so easy nowadays to have everything televised. I just hope that it won’t have to take us fans missing out on a historic match before those in charge come to their senses.
Dec. 7, 2012 — After being without a coach since September, world No. 38 Viktor Troicki has hired Australian Jack Reader.
Reader worked with Alexandr Dolgopolov until October, helping the Ukrainian rise 300 spots and attain world No. 34 during their time together. Troicki had previously worked with Jan de Witt for seven years but the two split this fall after Troicki’s troublesome season.
Speaking to Serbian paper “Novosti,” Reader joked that his trip to Serbia for Troicki’s off-season better have been worth it to leave his sunny Australia for the cold: “I am very happy that I have started working with Viktor … I told (him) that I hope he will be good and listen to me during training!”
Even though the two have known each other for some time, the partnership began on recommendation from Troicki’s manager. And Troicki couldn’t be happier with having someone of Reader’s expertise on his team:
“Jack is interesting, entertaining, knows all the players and coaches on tour, does his job well and has been around for a few years, and from my own views, people respect and love him. He’s different from the coach I had up until recently, because Jan was very direct and everything was based on some strict rules. Reader is more relaxed and I believe that can help me at this time.”
The pair has already been working on some critical aspects of Troicki’s game, and they will continue to train together in Serbia until December 20th. A short break for the holidays, and then they will meet up again for the year’s first Slam next month in Australia.
“We have already begun making adjustments and working on little things that need to be fixed. There will be plenty more of that, as I have a lot that I can and must improve on. I hope that I’ll find my rhythm in the beginning and return to the top 20 — that’s my goal.”
And perhaps most telling of all is just how quickly he wants to forget about his 2012 season, which was the first since 2008 where he didn’t reach an ATP Tour-level final.
“It’s important for me to forget about this past season as quickly as possible, as it’s one of the worst I’ve had. I didn’t record consistently good results due to a drop in my game. Additionally, I lost confidence, and when you put that all together, things didn’t go well. I am trying to get out of this crisis as soon as possible. I had a similar experience three or four years ago when I was also around No. 20 in the world and fell to around 40. Then I again started with good results and reached a ranking of No. 12. I hope that another good wave and good games will come for me, and that I can go for an even better ranking.”
Troicki has always been a very “hot-and-cold” player, on fire one match and crumpling in the next. Hell, he will even indulge you with both versions in a single match! Case in point, after losing a first set 6-0 to Andy Roddick in Washington, D.C. a few years ago, Troicki came back and played lights out tennis, winning the last two sets 6-2, 6-4, en route quieting an entire stadium.
Continued results like these are what make him an entertaining yet puzzling player to watch. His seemingly turbulent on court mindset yelling at his racquet and talking back at loud fans, may seem off-putting to a spectator but it’s also what gives breath to his game. When it doubt, the louder he yells, the more he pounds his chest and the more self-deprecating he is, the better his results. Lately though, as his wins have dwindled, so to have his wit and savage charm on court. But perhaps the introduction of a relaxed coach in Reader will make all right with the world again and the fire will be restored.
Current world #9 Janko Tipsarevic is a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court, having finally won his first two titles on the ATP Tour last year. The Serb helped his country win the Davis Cup last year and credits his teammates as his best friends. I had the chance to chat with him about his time in Miami, the start of his DJing career and his Davis Cup win.
Knowing you enjoy house music, have you had a chance to catch to catch any of the Ultra Music Festival going on in downtown Miami?
I didn’t have a chance to go out to Ultra.
Is it on the schedule?
I think today is the last day, right?
So, no. Luckily, it’s not on the schedule, so that means I’m performing well. I went out on Saturday to “Mansion” and it was overcrowded because it was the beginning of Winter Music Conference.
I am starting my DJ career. Last week, I was DJing with Bob Sinclair [at the player’s party] and picked up a few tricks. I was really happy about that.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Winning the Davis Cup.
If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite and why?
I would probably invite the Serbian Davis Cup team because they are my closest friends, and I feel most relaxed when I am around them. We can talk literally about anything. Novak [Djokovic], Viktor [Troicki] would be my first picks.
What are two things you can’t live without?
Two things? People are not counted so I do not have to say my wife, right? (Jokes and laughs). I would say cell phone and internet.
If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Living or dead? Hmmm. (Long pause). I would invite probably Swedish House Mafia.
DJ a little with them, maybe join them?
Pfff. That would be good!
Day one of any tennis tournament can be overwhelming. But multiply that by 3 and add two 128-player draw for both the WTA and ATP and you have yourself a full-blown tennis party at this year’s Sony Ericsson Open held in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Although the women’s first round just began today and the men’s will begin tomorrow, there was still plenty of tennis around the grounds for fans to enjoy. From matches, to intense player practices, to fun off-court promotions, there was something in store for every age. The temperature was steady and warm, but the sun made it feel balmier than the 80 degrees that it registered.
Walking the grounds during the first couple of days of a tournament as large as this, you may be surprised to find the atmosphere calm, but therein lies the beauty. In order to see the elite practice, it’s best to come at the very beginning when there aren’t as many restrictions around the site and you have easy access to players.
Having never been to Crandon Park before while the Sony Ericsson Open was in session, the nature and palm trees nearly persuaded me into a vacation attitude. But I had work to do. I entered the media center and situated myself with my laptop, camera, chargers, schedule and personal flatscreen tv — all just steps away from stadium court. As I looked out over the stadium, top Serb Novak Djokovic was basking in the mid-day sun as he practiced against Xavier Malisse. Djokovic’s morning session took a more serious tone while his afternoon session near dusk was more light-hearted in order to please the fans that had converged to watch – which were numerous!
Also spotted were Maria Sharapova working on baseline shots extensively, and countless shirtless men sweating and playing to their hearts’ content on the practice courts. Needless to say, there were also many matches in progress, but the interest by fans was spread evenly between the practice sessions and the matches.
Highlights of the day
Venus Williams: In what turned out to be an emotional day on the WTA tour with the return of both Venus and Alisa (below), the former is back on court and practicing! Need I say more? Well, yes, actually. As wonderful and courageous as she has been, her Sjogren’s is something she will need to manage for the rest of her life. As good as she looks, she was visibly frustrated during her practice session, consistently hitting balls at wrong angles and sending them flying into neighboring courts. One thing is for sure though: she knows when to be fierce on court and when to smile once the work is done.
Alisa Kleybanova: In what has become the story of the day, Kleybanova came back after 10 months of being off the tour due to treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and basically rocked the tennis world off its axis. If you want to talk about a fighter and a strong woman, just use her as the example. She fought off world #64 Johanna Larsson in three mighty sets and afterward couldn’t stop smiling and hugging friends and coaches, and chatting up fans. If you ever needed a feel-good story in tennis, there you have it.
Milos Raonic and Jurgen Melzer: The Canadian in person looks even larger than his 6’5” frame would have you believe. The towering “Missile” is mostly legs though, as his normal-sized Lacoste shorts constantly ride up on his long legs. His left knee though is still alarmingly taped up. This is the same knee that was feared to be a serious injury which forced him to pull out of the Davis Cup. However, I hope the tape job is just precautionary. Melzer, on the other hand, looked great and invoked the same strategy in the practice set as he had used to beat Raonic in Memphis: pull Raonic to the net wide as quickly as possible and pass him into the open court with Raonic on the wrong foot to recover. Worked like a charm.
Bernard Tomic: Where do I begin? Here we have a 19-year-old boy who gets speeding tickets yet has no problem being the only player of a group to stop, bend over to a young fan and sign autographs. One who is constantly bombarded by the media as having a rude or offensive demeanor, yet none of this was seen today. Instead, the focus of why Tomic might be viewed the way he is should fall on his father John (Ivica) who is originally from Croatia. Having myself been born there, I’ve stayed fluent with the language and so had the privilege of watching Tomic’s afternoon practice session on a side court and actually understanding what was being said. And boy, did it not disappoint. John hounded his son nearly the entire time from the chair on court – yelling, pointing, talking, or simply swearing in Croatian at his son’s inabilities. It was quite honestly disturbing and somewhat saddening. Tomic is one of the brightest youngsters on the tour, but to see the background he comes from makes me question how far he will really go before he cracks emotionally. Take away: get yourself a non-relative coach, Bernard.
Sloane Stephens: The young American continues to prove her place in the upper echelons of tennis as today she defeated former top-30 player Sania Mirza in two easy sets, 6-2, 6-4. At the conclusion of the match, fans busted out in a fun rendition of “Happy Birthday!” in honor of Stephens turning nineteen today. She instantly got shy and covered her immensely smiling face. A few minutes later she joked, “Why didn’t you bring me any gifts?!” Touche, Stephens.
Practice Courts C & D: Another personal highlight of mine was these two practice courts. To me, there was no better tennis for your buck than watching the practice sessions that took place there. At any one time, four ATP players and two WTA players would take the court and hit at the same time. Whether it was Marcos Baghdatis and Ivo Karlovic on the same side or Ryan Harrison and Viktor Troicki during another hour, these courts were not short on talent – or laughs! Don’t believe me? Check out the great candid shots of Baghdatis below!
Shirtless Men: Last, but definitely not least, the hot weather tends to bring out shirtless male players. Namely, Janko Tipsarevic, Gilles Simon and Philipp Kohlschreiber. I can’t complain.
by Lisa-Marie Burrows
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam – Big serving Argentine Juan Martín Del Potro took to court with one mission on his mind – booking a place into the final. The 6ft 6” Del Potro was one of three top ten men in the semifinals and recorded his third victory over Tomas Berdych in four meetings 6-3, 6-1.
After a thunderous 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal performance against Viktor Troicki, Del Potro proved he was in no mood to mess around once again. He took on second seed Tomas Berdych on Saturday afternoon and ignited his outstanding performance once again.
The first set saw Del Potro break the Czech in his opening service game after a slow start from the world No.7 and the third seed did not look back. He did not face a break point against his own serve and continued to unleash his heavy forehand during exchanged rallies.
During the ninth game, Berdych was serving to stay in the set at 3-5 and after executing a backhand into the tramlines and an untimely foot fault the Czech faced another three break points and ultimately lost the set 3-6.
The second set delivered another outstanding performance from the resurgent Argentine as he timed his shots with perfection. The Czech looked bewildered as he found no replies to the belligerence of shots and booming forehands and only managed to take one game in the entire set before losing to Del Potro 1-6.
During the press conference, the Argentine was understandably pleased with his performance and happy to reach the final on his debut at the tournament:
“I played almost perfect today. I was focused all of the time. I was focused with my forehands and I think that was the key of the match.”
Is he at his very best Grand Slam winning level yet? Not quite, but he’s not far away. “I am improving match by match. I played better than yesterday and should play better tomorrow.”
Tomorrow will bring a very difficult task for the former US Open champion as he faces 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer after his tough three set defeat over unseeded Nikolay Davydenko 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
It was the Russian who took first blood in the opening set after playing some sublime rallies. Davydenko ran faster than a cheetah and punched the ball harder than a boxer to continuously pull Federer from one side of the court to the other. The Russian refused to play high percentage tennis as he struck the ball exquisitely on the rise whilst gunning for the lines.
His patience was rewarded in the ninth game after striking a forehand at the feet of Federer and subsequently broke at 5-4.
After a long service game Davydenko’s nerves of steel refused to bow down to Federer and his cheering army of fans as he eventually took the set 6-4 after a mistimed Federer forehand sailed out of the court.
With the crowd stunned into silence, Davydenko’s game continued to progress and once again he put his wheels into motion and broke the world No.3 in the third game after Federer’s usually reliable forehand was struck wide into the tramlines. The atmosphere around the court intensified and the crowd murmured in speculation at the possibility of Federer losing.
Speculation and concern did not last long after a sloppy sixth game from the Russian and a change of tactics from Federer. He began to attack the net and mix up the pace of the game by adding in beautifully timed drop shots and lobs. The variation of play and supportive applause from the crowd spurred the former world No.1 to break back and the wheels fell off the game of the Russian as he received attention to his right leg. He was broken a further time in the eighth game before losing the set 3-6.
In the third set both players had opportunities to break and faced break point pressure during their service games. The spark that had ignited at the start of the first set appeared to be diminishing for Davydenko as he failed to convert three break point opportunities and during the next game was 0-40 in his service game.
To the delight of the crowd, Federer broke in the ninth game and comfortably served out the match at 6-4.
“I struggled sometimes with my timing but still thought I was right in the match. It was a fun match to play, but it was tough. I hope it is a big match for me in 2012 because these are the kind of matches that sometimes you show to yourself that if you have confidence the next thing you know, you could win the title tomorrow.”
The exhilarating semifinals will bring a rematch of the 2009 US Open match between Roger Federer and Juan Martín Del Potro, which saw the Argentine win his first Grand Slam of his career and hope that he can find the same form to beat the crowd favourite once again on Sunday.
Lisa-Marie Burrows is in Rotterdam covering the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament as media. You can follow her on Twitter @TennisNewsViews
Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes all the semifinals action, both on-court and the press conferences.
(All photos © Rick Gleijm)