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.
Like last week, the upcoming ATP slate features two European tournaments on indoor hard courts and a South American tournament on outdoor red clay. Only one of the Big Four participated in last week’s action, but this week his archrival returns to the spotlight as well.
Rotterdam: Back in action for the first time since those consecutive five-setters in Melbourne, Federer prepares for a title defense closer to home soil. He often has produced his crispest tennis on indoor hard courts late in his career, and he finds himself near familiar victim Youzhny. Tested by rising star Raonic last year, Federer could meet another rising star in Jerzy Janowicz at the quarterfinal stage. Massive servers trouble him more than they once did, although Janowicz has looked less intimidating in the early events of 2013 than he did while reaching the Paris Indoors final last fall. Of further interest in this section is the first-round clash between doubles partners Benneteau and Llodra, both of whom should shine on this surface.
Continuing the French theme from Benneteau-Llodra, the second quarter lies in the shadow of two top-20 Frenchmen: the third-seeded Tsonga and the fifth-seeded Simon. No player of note would bar their routes to a quarterfinal, which their recently solid form suggests that they should reach. Both Frenchmen charted a course to the second week at the Australian Open, and Tsonga in particular excelled by extending Federer to a final set in their quarterfinal. His meeting with Simon should present a compelling contrast of styles, in which one would fancy the third seed’s chances on a surface that favors aggression.
Although both men enter the tournament unseeded, Tomic and Dimitrov offer the most notable storyline of the third quarter with the looming first-round clash between these two phenoms. Greatly celebrated for reaching the Brisbane final in January, the latter has not built upon that breakthrough but instead slipped back into the inconsistency that has slowed his progress. A hero on home soil again, Tomic recaptured much of the reputation that he lost with his 2012 antics by showing a more professional attitude to start 2013. Meanwhile, a strong week in Montpellier continued Gasquet’s strong start to the season and leaves him the favorite to reach the semifinal here. The fourth seed could repeat the Montpellier final against compatriot Benoit Paire in the second round.
Leaping from the lowest part of the draw is the first-round match between wildcard Gael Monfils and second seed Del Potro. While the former left Melbourne in mildly promising fashion, the latter fell well short of expectations in suffering a third-round exit to Jeremy Chardy. Del Potro can waste little time in recapturing his rhythm at a tournament where he finished runner-up to Federer last year, for Monfils’ two finals at the Paris Indoors prove his ability to succeed on this surface. Less likely to shine is the sixth-seeded Seppi, a player who prefers slow courts and lacks the firepower of either projected quarterfinal opponent.
Final: Tsonga vs. Del Potro
San Jose: In the last edition of this tournament, long a mainstay of Bay Area sports, Milos Raonic attempts to complete a title three-peat on the scene of his first trophy. Among the faster indoor hard courts on the calendar, San Jose will showcase a serve nearly unanswerable at its best. In the last two years, opponents struggled even to earn a break point against Raonic. Fresh from his Davis Cup heroics, last year’s top seed could repeat the 2012 final against Denis Istomin in the quarterfinals, or he might meet home hope Ryan Harrison in a rematch of a 2012 semifinal. Both of those men struggled to match Raonic hold for hold last year with their modest serves, and neither has taken a significant step forward since then.
Someone who can match the Canadian hold for hold, the third-seeded Sam Querrey seeks to continue building on his recent upward trend in the rankings. Returning to relevance midway through last year, Querrey plays his best on American soil and mirrored Raonic’s contributions last weekend by lifting Team USA past Brazil with two singles victories. He faces the possibility of consecutive matches against Australians, first the fading Lleyton Hewitt and then the surging Marinko Matosevic. Near his career-high ranking, the latter man will meet the teenage sensation Jack Sock, still in the process of refining his explosive serve and forehand.
If North Americans dominate the top half of the San Jose draw, a more European flavor emerges from the third quarter. Following his best season since his prime in the mid-2000s, Tommy Haas lurks near the edge of the top 20 after starting 2012 outside the top 200. Injuries and recurrences of his volatile temper hampered him in January, but expect his forecourt skills to flourish on a court where he can shorten points. Female fans would enjoy a quarterfinal between Haas and Fernando Verdasco, two slots below him in the rankings. Unfortunately for them, former finalist Ivo Karlovic might topple the Spanish lefty in the second round, although he lost to him here two years ago. Can wildcard Steve Johnson, who took Almagro to a fifth set at the Australian Open, build on that momentum to upset Dr. Ivo?
The only man in the ATP shorter than Karlovic, the second-seeded Isner needs to build momentum much more urgently than Johnson, for he defends finalist points at Indian Wells. Still the top-ranked American man by a small margin over Querrey, Isner withdrew from the Australian Open with a knee injury and looked unimpressive in Davis Cup last weekend. No player in his vicinity looks like a convincing dark horse, however, with the most notable resistance coming from Xavier Malisse. Otherwise, this section features a handful of promising-but-not-quite-there-yet figures like Vasek Pospisil and Evgeny Donskoy, the latter of whom defeated Youzhny in Melbourne.
Final: Querrey vs. Verdasco
Sao Paulo: In a draw that greatly resembles Vina del Mar last week, Nadal again shares a half with Jeremy Chardy amid a collection of players from South America and southern Europe. Few Spaniards have shown the determination to challenge Rafa on his favored red clay, and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo should prove no exception. One of the few Spanish journeymen to defeat him on any surface, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez could meet the man whom he defeated in Bangkok at the quarterfinal stage, although Vina del Mar semifinalist Carlos Berlocq seems more plausible. Yet another Spaniard, the eighth-seeded Albert Ramos, opens against Garcia-Lopez.
Splitting his two Davis Cup rubbers in the United States, Thomaz Bellucci transitions back to his homeland and a friendlier surface for his traditional lefty game. The fifth-seeded Brazilian would meet Chardy in the quarterfinals with no legitimate threat between them. Fellow Brazilian Ricardo Mello, known better for his doubles success, received not only a wildcard but a winnable opening match as a reward for his victory over the Bryans in Davis Cup. Facing aging Federer-killer Volandri is Vina del Mar quarterfinalist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who mustered some decent resistance to Rafa last week.
World #15 Monaco looked nearly certain to meet Nadal in the Vina del Mar final until the unheralded Guillaume Rufin upset him, only to issue a walkover a round later. At least the Argentine enjoyed accompanying Nadal through the doubles draw, which gave him plenty of opportunities to refine his clay skills before this second opportunity. A former top-10 player, Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo could become Monaco’s first opponent in a grinding match of counterpunchers who rarely miss. Cast from a similar mold is Robredo’s compatriot Albert Montanes, situated near the seventh-seeded Pablo Andujar. The latter must start the tournament on a high note to escape Santiago Giraldo, a Colombian who has upset much more notable players on clay before.
The key difference between the draws in Vina del Mar and Sao Paulo, Nicolas Almagro hopes to rebound from a memorable fortnight in Melbourne. While he reached an Australian Open quarterfinal, he may need time to forget his repeated inability to finish off Ferrer there and perhaps also to recover from a leg injury. Like Nadal, though, Almagro will find the clay accommodating to his ailing body, and he has won a set from Rafa on the surface before. Opening against surprise Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, he finds himself near the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw, David Nalbandian. The grouchy gaucho languishes in a semi-retirement from which he emerges just often enough to remain relevant, and a player lacking in fitness, confidence, or both would seem plausible prey. Nalbandian has tested Nadal severely before, even during his decline, but can he string together the solid efforts necessary to produce that tantalizing final?
Final: Nadal vs. Almagro
Check out the companion preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha, and return on Friday for the next entry in my column.
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.
Having completed the recap of the WTA field at the Australian Open, we issue report cards for the ATP. As before, grading reflects not just results but expectations, quality of opposition, and other factors.
Djokovic: The master of Melbourne like none before him, the Serb became the first man in the Open era to finish on top Down Under three straight years. That record span of dominance over a tournament that famously has eluded dominance came with a satisfying serving (note the word choice) of revenge over Murray, who had defeated him in the US Open final. Consolidating his current control over what looks like the ATP’s next marquee rivalry, Djokovic won his third straight match in it after losing the first set in all of them. Vital to his success was the series of 44 consecutive holds with which he ended the tournament, strangling two of the game’s best returners in Ferrer and Murray. Those top-five opponents managed break points in just two of Djokovic’s service games through the semifinal and final as he repeatedly won 30-30 and deuce points throughout the tournament—with one notable exception in his epic against Wawrinka. The undisputed world #1 survived and then thrived in running his winning streak over top-eight opponents to eleven. Overpowering Ferrer and outlasting Murray, Djokovic showed that he can—and will—do virtually anything to win. A+
Murray: The US Open champion came closer than many anticipated to becoming the first man to win his second major on the next opportunity after his first. Murray admittedly benefited from a puff pastry of a pre-semifinal draw, which allowed him to conserve energy for that five-setter against Federer. Threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the end of the fourth set in that match, he showed remarkable resilience by bouncing back to claim an early lead in the fifth and close out the man who had tormented him at majors. Murray maintained a nearly impenetrable rhythm on serve throughout that match, and his forehand continued its maturation into a real weapon. He will rue the three break points that he let escape early in the second set of the final, which could have unfolded entirely differently otherwise. But Murray was right to consider the tournament an important consolidation of last year’s success. A
Federer: Handed the most difficult draw of the top three, he showed just how well his game can silence players who rely heavily on their serves in ousting Tomic and then Raonic. Federer defended crisply and moved as alertly as he has in years past during the five-set quarterfinal with Tsonga that followed, which unveiled the full range of his weapons from the explosive to the delicate. But his struggles to break serve caught up with him against Murray, whom he could not crack for three and a half sets even as his own serve came under frequent pressure. Probably drained by the Tsonga epic, Federer faded in the fifth set despite mounting an impressive surge to swipe the fourth. He finished the tournament by winning all six of his tiebreaks, a sure sign that he remains one of the sport’s best competitors under pressure. A
Ferrer: Never looking his best during the fortnight, he backed into the #4 ranking rather than charging into it with confidence. Ferrer probably should have lost to Almagro in the fourth round, outplayed for most of the first four sets and kept alive only by his compatriot’s shocking inability to deliver the coup de grace. Thoroughly exposed by Djokovic in the semifinals, he suffered his second humiliating defeat at that stage of a major over the last twelve months as he offered little better than batting practice for the Serb’s weaponry. Ferrer said consistently this fortnight that he considers himself a clear level below the Big Four, and his results against them on grand stages continue to make his point for him. B
Tsonga: The Frenchman slipped to 13 straight losses against top-eight opponents here, but the manner in which he did contained kernels of hope for the season. Not folding meekly to Federer as he had in an earlier Australian Open, Tsonga regrouped from losing the first set in a tiebreak to win the second and regrouped from losing the third set in a tiebreak to win the fourth. He even spared no effort in battling Federer down to the finish in a fifth set tenser than the scoreline showed. Also likely to please new coach Roger Rasheed was his greater efficiency in closing out overmatched opponents in the previous four rounds. Docked a notch for his Neanderthal-like comments about women’s tennis. B+
Almagro: As the percipient Steve Tignor of Tennis.com noted, sometimes a player’s greatest achievement can turn into his greatest catastrophe within a handful of points. Jerking Ferrer around the court for two and a half sets, Almagro astonished audiences by his newfound courage against an opponent who had won all 12 of their previous meetings. He will remember his first quarterfinal at a hard-court major for the wrong reasons, though, once he failed to serve it out three times across the third and fourth sets before succumbing to cramps as well as the crushing weight of his disappointment in the fifth. B-
Chardy: Not only did he upset Del Potro with inspired attacking tennis, but he followed up that five-set victory by grinding out a four-setter against the recently dangerous Seppi. The Frenchman came from nowhere to reach his first major quarterfinal and in the process showed considerable courage. Chardy almost pulled off an Almagro against the Tower of Tandil, gagging on triple break point midway through the third set when he had won the first two. Unlike the Spaniard, he mustered one last surge in the fifth with an unexpected fearlessness to finish what he had started. A-
Berdych: Drawn against the top seed in a quarterfinal for the second straight major, he could not find the same thunderbolts that he had hurled at the US Open. Or perhaps Berdych simply matches up more effectively to Federer than to Djokovic, who has won all eleven of their hard-court meetings. Before that relatively tame four-set loss, however, he recorded four straight-sets victories that bode well for his consistency, always the main question for him. He leaves the Australian Open as the man outside the Big Four most likely to win a major this year, although he will need some help to do so. B+
Del Potro: Through the first two rounds, the Tower of Tandil looked not only sturdy but downright terrifying. Just when people began to take him seriously as a dark horse title threat, Del Potro turned into the Leaning Tower of Pisa when he tottered to the exit in a strangely enervated effort. That five-set loss to Chardy at the end of the first week marked a setback in a surge that started with his bronze-medal victory at the Olympics, departing from his recent steadiness against opponents outside the top ten. F
Tipsarevic: He looked every inch a top-eight seed in dismantling sentimental favorite Hewitt before his home crowd on Rod Laver Arena, where the Aussie had wrought so many miracles before. Striking winners down both lines with abandon, Tipsarevic appeared to make an imposing statement. Then he wobbled through two five-setters and retired against Almagro, not a surprising result for a man who has completed a career Golden Slam of retirements. C
ATP young guns: Heralded with enthusiasm when the tournament began, none of these prodigies left a meaningful impact on the tournament. Brisbane finalist Dimitrov became the first man to exit Melbourne, failing to win a set in his opener, and Raonic succumbed to Federer much more routinely than he had in their three meetings last year. Tomic produced a stronger effort against the Swiss star than he did last year but still lost in straight sets after struggling mightily with a qualifier in the previous round. And American fans need not have watched Harrison’s ignominious loss to Djokovic for long to realize how far this alleged future star must improve before mounting a credible threat. Last but not least, Paris finalist Jerzy Janowicz narrowly avoided a second-round implosion over a dubious line call and rallied to win after losing the first two sets—sets that he should not have lost in the first place. Janowicz did at least progress as far as his seed projected, and many of these young men received difficult draws, but the breakthrough of young stars that many expected here happened almost entirely on the women’s side. C+
Bryan brothers: At their most productive major, they closed within four major titles of Federer by comfortably winning the final after some close scrapes earlier in the fortnight. The Bryans have earned some of their most consistent success in Australia, where they have reached nine finals and five consecutively. Djokovic still has some work to do before he can approach the numbers of these twins whose talents never seem to fade. A
Djokovic vs. Wawrinka: Undoubtedly the match of the tournament, it represented the high point of Wawrinka’s career to date. The Swiss #2 basked in the spotlight while cracking his exquisite one-handed backhands to all corners of the court and taking control of rallies with his penetrating cross-court forehand. Wawrinka even served at Federer-like heights for much of the match, outside a predictable stumble when he approached a two-set lead. Stunned by the brio of his opponent, Djokovic needed a set and a half to settle into the match. The underdog then needed about a set and a half to regroup from the favorite’s charge, at which point the fourth and fifth sets featured spellbinding tennis all the more remarkable for the ability of both men to sustain their quality. Fittingly, the match ended only after Wawrinka had saved two match points with breathtaking shot-making and only with a rally that forced both men to pull out nearly every weapon in their arsenals. A+
Simon vs. Monfils: Not much shorter than Djokovic vs. Wawrinka in terms of time, it felt considerably longer to watch. This mindless war of attrition featured rally after rally of the sort that one more commonly finds on practice courts, including a 71-shot meander to nowhere that contributed to the inevitable cramping suffered by both men late in the match. If the previous epic offered an argument to keep the best-of-five format, this match argued just as eloquently for its abandonment. Simon, the winner, had no chance of recovering in time for his next match, nor would Monfils if he had won. C-
Men’s final: Not a classic by any means, it compared poorly both to the women’s melodrama on the previous night and to the marathon of the 2012 men’s final. The 2013 edition illustrated some troubling reasons why the Djokovic-Murray rivalry never may capture the imagination to the extent of Federer-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic, and Djokovic-Nadal. Presenting no contrast in styles, these two men played essentially the same games in a match of mirror images that came down to execution in any given situation—interesting but not exactly stimulating to watch. Moreover, they continued to bring out the passivity in each other by showing so much respect for each other’s defense that many rallies featured sequence after sequence of cautious, low-risk shots designed to coax errors rather than force the issue. These tactics worked perfectly for Djokovic, just as they worked for Murray at last year’s US Open, but they left fans waiting for a spark that never came in a match that trudged towards anticlimax. B-
And that is a wrap of the 2013 Australian Open! Up next is a look ahead to the first round in Davis Cup World Group action: all eight ties previewed and predicted.
Today unfold the remaining quarterfinals in Melbourne, which will decide who joins Sharapova, Li, Djokovic, and Ferrer in the final four of the season’s first major. We break down key facts to know and trends to watch in these four matches on Rod Laver Arena.
Azarenka vs. Kuznetsova: Fans who have followed women’s tennis only over the last few years might find it surprising that an unseeded Russian owns a winning record against the world #1, who has looked nearly unstoppable at hard-court majors in 2012-13. A two-time major champion, Kuznetsova won their first three clashes several years ago, while she remained in her prime and Azarenka still early in her development. More relevant are their two meetings last year, both won by Vika in straight sets. The world #1 routed Kuznetsova in their only recent hard-court encounter, ten months ago at Indian Wells, as her baseline consistency proved more than adequate to exploit the erratic lapses in her opponent’s fading game.
Reviving her career this month, the Russian has swept nine of her last ten matches and showed surprising poise in closing out a tense three-set contest against Caroline Wozniacki. Also shown by Kuznetsova in that fourth-round match were her skills at the net, where she won all but two of twenty-five points as she relied on her natural athleticism to improvise as necessary. A player of equal athleticism, Azarenka prefers to play rallies tethered to the baseline unless she can move forward to finish points easily. The Russian will need to continue her all-court play to trouble Vika, for her meager serve will win her few free points, and—recent improvements notwithstanding—she cannot outhit her consistently from the baseline. Kuznetsova might win a set if she catches fire at the right time, but she ebbs and flows too much to defeat an opponent of this caliber.
Serena vs. Stephens: Three weeks ago, they met in a Brisbane encounter that showed how much promise the future of Stephens may hold. The young American did not look overawed by a veteran who mentors her at times outside competition, swinging freely and even looking disappointed when a close first set slipped away from her, as though she had expected to win. Nevertheless, Serena did stifle her routinely in the end, and one expects the 14-time major champion to bring a greater level of intensity to a major quarterfinal. Stephens thus must raise her level even higher to keep this match competitive.
Due to enter the top 20 after the Australian Open, the highest-ranked teenager in the WTA sparkled in ousting fellow prodigy Laura Robson after the latter’s victory over Kvitova. Somewhat less splendid was her three-set battle against the less dangerous Bojana Jovanovski, who nearly snatched away their match after Stephens had won the first set. In her first major quarterfinal, the 19-year-old must play less passively than she did then, for the authoritative progress of Serena leaves her little margin for error. Only slightly less commanding than Sharapova, the older American has lost just eight games in four matches as opponents have found no answers to her first strikes on serve and return.
Chardy vs. Murray: Before he vaulted into unexpected prominence by toppling Del Potro, Jeremy Chardy recorded two victories over top-eight opponents at consecutive Masters 1000 tournaments last summer. The latter of those, in Cincinnati, came against a Murray weary from his gold-medal campaign at the Olympics. Exploiting that opportunity, Chardy had claimed no success at all in their previous four meetings, winning one total set.
The outlook on this match depends in part upon how much one attributes the Frenchman’s upset of the former US Open champion to his own brilliance and how much to his opponent’s listless tennis. Chardy deserves credit for building upon that victory by overcoming the tenacious Seppi in four sets, but he remains a diamond in the rough with no prior experience at this stage of majors. Also very raw is his game, which relies almost exclusively upon his forehand in a groundstroke asymmetry that the balanced Murray tends to dissect in other opponents. The Scot has not found his most convincing form this fortnight, despite winning all twelve of his sets, and he has complained of inconsistent timing during practice as well as matches. Known for several days now, those issues have persisted and could deplete his confidence if the underdog bursts out to a sizzling start. Heavy hitters on a hot streak, even those much lower in the rankings, often blasted through Murray before he soared to major glory. Has that pattern ended, or will Chardy become the latest in an Australian Open tradition of surprise finalists and semifinalists, from Gonzalez and Baghdatis to Tsonga and Verdasco?
Federer vs. Tsonga: Beyond the Montreal tournament, the GOAT has impaled Tsonga on his horns in eight of their nine matches, establishing him as the clear favorite here. Among those victories was a straight-sets demolition in an Australian Open semifinal three years ago and another in a quarterfinal at the 2011 US Open. Tsonga’s only victory outside Montreal does raise some eyebrows, though, for this upset in a Wimbledon quarterfinal marked the first time that Federer had lost a major after winning the first two sets. He never broke serve in the final three sets of that match, a slightly concerning fact in view of his struggles to break serve through much of his first four rounds here.
But Federer has looked the better player of the two by a distinct margin, and perhaps the best player of the tournament despite the most challenging draw of any contender. The Swiss superstar still has not dropped a set after dispatching rising stars Tomic and Raonic. Even areas of frailty in recent years have held firm for him, such as his backhand and his movement, while he has not even lost his serve or faced serious pressure in more than a handful of service games. Not an elite returner, Tsonga should not test Federer much more severely in that department than his previous victims, and he suffered familiar lapses of focus in meandering past an overmatched Gasquet a round ago. The immensely talented Frenchman could not claim a victory over any top-eight opponent in 2012, an alarming trend for someone with his previous successes against them. At the outset of 2013, a sturdy effort against Federer would give Tsonga and new coach Roger Rasheed a reason to believe that the worm may turn.
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 Maud Watson
The biggest tennis story this week didn’t come from one of the players in Mason, Ohio, but rather from one who isn’t, as Rafael Nadal announced he would not be competing at the 2012 US Open. Given the fact that Rafa hasn’t played since Wimbledon, the announcement itself wasn’t too big of a shock. But his withdrawal from the US Open does have many questioning what this means for the Spaniard’s future, particularly given the odd saga of his knee woes in 2012. The saga began in January with the bizarre injury from getting up out of a chair. He wisely took February off and appeared fine at Indian Wells before losing to Federer in the semis. It was after the fact that we learned that’s when the knees started acting up again and subsequently forced him to pull out before his semifinal match with Murray in Miami. At that time, however, Nadal had said the knees were not as bad as they were in 2009, giving his fans hope. Those hopes were fanned during the clay court swing where there was no mention of injury, Nadal was moving beautifully, and he went on his usual tear. By all accounts, Nadal looked poised for a successful grass court season before it was abruptly cut short by the stellar play of an “in-the-zone” Rosol. Shortly after the loss, word started leaking about MRIs, and Nadal refused to set a return date. All he would say about this time around is that the problem with the knees is “different.” To be clear, the latest rhetoric coming out of the Nadal camp has focused on the fact that he’s just not yet properly prepared to compete at the highest level, but his return will still be dictated by the shape of knees. Fans have seen him practicing, so there’s hope. After all, things looked bleak in 2009 before he had a career year in 2010, so it would be foolish to write him off. But times have also changed since then. Players besides Federer are in a position to challenge him on any stage. He’s looking more vulnerable on anything but clay, as evidenced by his lack of a non-clay court title since 2010. And he’s three years older. Given that he’s typically underperformed in the fall, it might be wise to cut his losses and focus on making a strong start to 2013. How he begins next season could potentially be very telling regarding how the remainder of his career will progress.
Righting the Ship
It wouldn’t be fair, or accurate, to say that Novak Djokovic has had a bad 2012. Coming into Toronto last week, he’d already won the Aussie Open and Miami Masters, had been in the finals of three of the four biggest clay court tournaments, including Roland Garros, had reached the semis of Wimbledon, the medal stage of the Olympics, and was still solidly ranked No. 2. But as both Federer and Nadal can attest to, when you set the bar high and fail to replicate that success the following season, people start asking questions. Doubts start to creep in. Losing the No. 1 ranking to Federer at Wimbledon – the very same venue where he’d claimed the top ranking just a year prior – along with leaving empty-handed at the Olympics appeared to really be taking a toll on Djokovic. He looked edgy, and his game was no longer as solidly sharp. For Djokovic, it looked as though the game wasn’t quite as fun anymore. But last week he got to return to his favorite hard court surface. Aided by the number of withdraws, Djokovic was able to put in a solid week of tennis and defend his Canadian Masters crown to grab his first, and a much-needed, tournament victory since Miami in March. It was a boost of confidence for the Serb, who is trying to recapture that 2011 form as he prepares to mount a defense of his US Open title of a year ago.
While Toronto was big for Djokovic, the WTA equivalent event in Montreal was nothing short of a life preserver for Petra Kvitova, whose career has been adrift in 2012. It seems almost impossible to believe that less than a year ago, she was ranked No. 2 just barely behind Caroline Wozniacki. After breakout performances at both Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, she looked poised to sit atop the rankings and capture more prestigious crowns. But in 2012, she’s experienced the dreaded “sophomore slump.” She’s been able to stay near the top of the game thanks in large part to deep runs at the majors and some of the premiere events, but she was without a title until her victory in Montreal. And as happy as she was with her win over Li last week, more than anything you saw relief etched on her face. Kvitova, perhaps more so than other top players, relies on confidence. When her game is firing on all cylinders, she can blitz anybody off the court. When the doubts creep in, she can lose to the lowliest ranked players on tour. That’s why Montreal was so huge for her. Yes, she still needs to continue to work on her fitness, as well as her consistency, but hopefully this win will also provide her with the belief that she can bring her best when it matters most. She’s too talented of a player to not only be competing for the sport’s biggest prizes with the likes of Serena, Sharapova, and Azarenka, but taking home her fair share.
The term “lucky loser” is an oxymoron, yet there’s many a player who’s come up short in qualifying that would love to wear that tag. This week at the Western & Southern Open, Jeremy Chardy was the player fortunate enough to be given a second chance when he got into the main draw by virtue of a late withdrawal. After defeating Roddick and Istomin, he came up against Andy Murray – a man who has owned him throughout his professional career. But Chardy’s luck continued to hold, as he shocked the reigning London Olympic Gold Medalist with a straight sets victory. All credit to Chardy, who played a fantastic match, but Murray helped the Frenchman’s cause with the ugly tennis that was coming off of his own racquet. The loss serves as a dose of reality for Murray and should bring him back down off of Cloud 9. Hopefully this defeat will help him focus better on the task at hand as he heads into the US Open, because after the way he has played on the lawns of Wimbledon, there’s no doubt he looks like a player not only capable, but mentally ready to take home his first major.
In what some are speculating may potentially be his last season as an ATP pro, Andy Roddick finds himself in a race to beat the clock and be fit to put together a deep run at the US Open. Despite a disappointing showing at the Olympics and being forced to pull out of Toronto, Roddick arrived in Cincy feeling pretty good. He’d won Atlanta a few weeks prior, and the summer hard court season has traditionally been kind to him. But back spasms hampered his ability to bring his best to the court, and he suffered a frustrating loss to lucky loser Jeremy Chardy in his opening round. Now he’s in doubt for next week and faces going into the final major of the year with both a lack of matches and confidence. Fans will be hoping he’s 100% ready to go in a little over a week’s time, but especially if this turns out to be Roddick’s swan song, it would be nice to see him turn back the clock and produce vintage Roddick tennis. As the man who carried the torch for American tennis for the better part of a decade, it would seem only fitting.
Stanislas Wawrinka suffered the most painful (6-3 6-7 6-7) defeat of the year at the hands of German qualifier Benjamin Becker and practically lost chances to book his place at the Masters Cup in Shanghai. Wawrinka couldn’t handle the pressure playing in front of the home crowd. Lost the second set despite a comfortable lead at 6-3 5:3 up and the third set despite 4:1 up and two match points on 6:5 on Becker’s serve. Wawrinka stayed positive after the bitter loss: “I’ve still had a great year and I have one more chance to qualify for Tennis Masters Cup when I compete in Paris next week”.
Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer surprsingly lost a set after wasting match point but finally won the match against Bobby Reynolds 6-3 6-7 6-3 without facing a break point in the whole match.
Other contenders to play in Shanghai: those with big opportunities like Juan Martin Del Potro and James Blake, and those with theoretical chances like Igor Andreev and David Nalbandian, all won their 1st round matches without too much trouble
One out of 12 Frenchmen, who played in the 1st round in Lyon, Josselyn Ouanna has got his first ATP victory, beating former champion Ivan Ljubicic 6-7 7-6 6-4. Ljubic was serving for the match at 5:3 in the second set. In Lyon, likewise in Basel, three players fight for a spot in Masters Cup. All of them (Andy Roddick, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) won first round matches. Madrid’s hero Gilles Simon needed a three-setter again to win another match on the road to Shanghai. Defending champion Sebastian Grosjean playing first match since US Open, lost 7-6 4-6 4-6 to Robby Ginepri. In the next round Ginepri will face Andy Roddick for the 9th time in his career but for the first time in the European indoor season.
Ernests Gulbis demolished Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-0 6-2 in just 51 minutes, serving 11 aces at 81% of the first serve and for the first time in the history, Latvian tennis will be represented by two players in the second round of an ATP tournament. Gulbis’ compatriot and peer, Karlis Lejnieks playing first ATP match in career beat Alexandre Koudriavtsev 3-6 7-6(1) 6-3. Lejnieks saved double match point at 5:6 (15-40) in the second set.
The Croats were unlucky in the first round : Mario Ancic lost to Jeremy Chardy 4-6 6-3 4-6 despite a 3:1lead in the third set, in turn Marin Cilic wasted two match points in the final set tie-break against unknown Kazakhstan qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin in a match which lasted 3 hours.
Basel – First Round
(1)Roger Federer (SUI) d. Bobby Reynolds (USA) 6-3 6-7(6) 6-3
Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) d. Eduardo Schwank (ARG) 6-2 6-4
Marcel Granollers (ESP) d. Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) 6-2 4-6 6-2
Simone Bolelli (ITA) d. (7)Tomas Berdych (CZE) 6-4 7-5
(4)James Blake (USA) d. Nicolas Kiefer (GER) 3-6 6-3 6-4
Oscar Hernandez (ESP) d. (q)Lukas Dlouhy (CZE) 7-6(6) 6-7(5) 6-1
Feliciano Lopez (ESP) d. (WC)Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) 7-6(5) 7-6(7)
(8)Mardy Fish (USA) d. Agustin Calleri (ARG) 7-6(5) 6-2
(6)Igor Andreev (RUS) d. Jurgen Melzer (AUT) 7-6(5) 7-5
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d. Denis Gremelmayr (GER) 6-4 7-6(5)
(WC)Stephane Bohli (SUI) d. Jose Acasuso (ARG) 6-3 6-2
(3)Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d. (q)George Bastl (SUI) 6-2 6-4
(q)Benjamin Becker (GER) d. (5)Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(5) – 2 M.P.
(LL)Andreas Beck (GER) d. Nicolas Devilder (FRA) 6-4 6-4
(q)Kristof Vliegen (BEL) d. (WC)Philipp Petzschner (GER) 6-2 6-3
(2)David Nalbandian (ARG) d. Albert Montanes (ESP) 6-4 6-2
Lyon – First Round
(1)Andy Roddick (USA) d. Nicolas Mahut (FRA) 7-6(5) 6-4
Robby Ginepri (USA) d. (WC)Sebastien Grosjean (FRA) 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4
(q)Christophe Rochus (BEL) d. Gilles Muller (LUX) 6-2 6-4
(7)Robin Soderling (SWE) d. (q)Thierry Ascione (FRA) 6-4 6-1
(4)Gilles Simon (FRA) d. Juan Monaco (ARG) 2-6 6-4 6-1
Andreas Seppi (ITA) d. (q)David Guez (FRA) 6-2 7-5
(WC)Josselyn Ouanna (FRA) d. Ivan Ljubicic (CRO) 6-7(2) 7-6(5) 6-4
Nicolas Lapentti (ECU) d. (6)Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 7-6(4) 6-3
(8)Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) vs Guillermo Canas (ARG) 6-3 6-4
Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) d. Samuel Querrey (USA) 6-3 7-5
Fabrice Santoro (FRA) d. Fabio Fognini (ITA) 6-4 6-1
(3)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d. Marc Gicquel (FRA) 7-5 4-6 6-3
(5)Tommy Robredo (ESP) d. Michael Llodra (FRA) 6-4 6-3
Julien Benneteau (FRA) d. Arnaud Clement (FRA) 6-3 6-2
Steve Darcis (BEL) d. (WC)Radek Stepanek (CZE) 6-4 3-6 6-3
(2)Richard Gasquet (FRA) d. (q)Santiago Giraldo (COL) 5-7 6-3 7-6(3)
Basel – First Round
(1)Andy Murray (GBR) d. Viktor Troicki (SRB) 6-3 6-3
Ernests Gulbis (LAT) d. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 6-0 6-2
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) d. Potito Starace (ITA) 6-3 7-6(4)
Jeremy Chardy (FRA) d. (7)Mario Ancic (CRO) 6-4 3-6 6-4
(3)Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. (q)Teimuraz Gabashvili (RUS) 1-6 6-4 6-3
(WC)Karlis Lejnieks (LAT) d. (WC)Alexandre Koudriavtsev (RUS) 3-6 7-6(1) 6-3 – 2 M.P.
Rainer Schuettler (GER) d. Igor Kunitsyn (RUS) 6-2 6-3
Dominik Hrbaty (SVK) d. (6)Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) 6-1 6-1
(8)Marat Safin (RUS) d. Sergey Stakhovsky (UKR) 6-2 6-4
(q)Andrey Golubev (KAZ) d. Olivier Rochus (BEL) 6-1 6-4
(q)Michael Zverev (GER) d. Florent Serra (FRA) 6-4 6-2
(4)Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) d. Ivan Navarro-Pastor (ESP) 6-2 6-1
(q)Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) d. (5)Marin Cilic (CRO) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) – 2 M.P.
Victor Hanescu (ROU) d. Evgueni Korolev (RUS) 6-1 6-2
(WC)Michail Elgin (RUS) d. Filippo Volandri (ITA) 6-4 6-4
(2)Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) d. Chris Guccione (AUS) 6-4 6-4
Last week on the challenger circuit, winning streaks continued on both the men’s and women’s sides. Several players have won consecutive challenger titles, making it clear that they’re serious about going into the draw at the French Open, which starts next week.
After limiting herself to just nine events in the last two years, it looks like Jelena Dokic of Australia is serious about making a comeback in 2008. The 25-year-old won her second challenger title in a row at the $25,000 event in Caserta, Italy, rolling over Patricia Mayr of Austria in the final with a 6-3, 6-1 victory. Dokic moves back into the top 300 with this result and was granted a main draw wildcard into the WTA event held this week in Strasbourg, France.
Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic is rolling into Roland Garros with as much confidence as a player could hope for. The 23-year-old won her second challenger title in a row at the $50,000 tournament in Saint Gaudens, France, with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain. Cetkovska has enjoyed a fine year on the clay, reaching the quarterfinals at a WTA event in Fes, Morocco, in addition to two main draw wins during the South American swing on the WTA Tour. With the right draw, Cetkovska is definitely a candidate to win a couple of rounds at the French Open next week.
American tennis has a new promising hope to look out for after teenager Chelsey Gullickson won the first challenger title of her career at the $25,000 event in Raleigh, North Carolina. She won the title with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win over fellow American Lauren Albanese. The 17-year-old is still listed as an amateur player, but may soon be rethinking her decision about whether or not to turn pro. Despite the loss in the finals, Albanese has all but eradicated her nightmare start to 2008, having lost her first ten matches of the year.
In other results on the women’s side, Barbara Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic won her third challenger title of the year at the $25,000 event in Szczecin, Poland, while teenager Kai-Chen Chang of Taipei won the first challenger title of her career at the $50,000 event in Kurume, Japan.
On the men’s side, Eduardo Schwank of Argentina is a name which has often come up in this column, which may mean that his time on the challenger circuit will soon be coming to an end. He won his third challenger title in a row at the $100,000 event in Bordeaux, France, overwhelming Igor Kunitsyn of Russia with a 6-2, 6-2 routing in the final. Schwank now moves into Roland Garros as a long-shot candidate to reach the second week.
Gael Monfils of France lived up to his billing as top seed at the $100,000 challenger in Marrakesh, Morocco, winning the title with a 7-6, 7-6 victory over Jeremy Chardy of France. Despite the loss, Chardy has been a consistent performer on the challenger circuit this year and has been granted a main draw wild card into the French Open as a result.
After losing in the finals of his last two challenger events, Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei finally broke the streak at the $50,000 event in New Delhi, India, prevailing over Brendan Evans of the United States with a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory. Lu’s strong performances on the challenger circuit this have helped move him back inside the top 100 this year and into a new career high ranking.
In other results on the men’s side, Jesse Levine of the United States won the $50,000 event in Bradenton, Florida, while Daniel Gimeno of Spain prevailed at the $50,000 tournament in Aarhus, Denmark. Diego Junqueira of Argentina took home the winners trophy at the $30,000 event in San Remo, Italy, while Christophe Rochus of Belgium won the $50,000 tournament in Zagreb, Croatia.
The challenger circuit will remain fairly quiet this week with qualifying for the French Open starting on Tuesday. Yen-Hsun Lu takes top billing at the second $50,000 challenger in New Delhi, India, while Danai Udomchoke is the top seed at the $35,000 event in Fergana, Uzbekistan. On the women’s side, Maria Kondratieva of Russia is top seed at the $25,000 event in Moscow, Russia, while Chin-Wei Chan of Taipei is the top seed at the $25,000 tournament in Nagano, Japan.
Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3 to win the Hamburg Masters in Hamburg, Germany.
Jelena Jankovic defended her Italian Open title by beating Alize Cornet 6-2 6-2 in Rome
Michael Stich beat Marc-Kevin Goellner 6-2 7-6 (4) to win the BlackRock Tour of Champions in Hamburg, Germany.
Eduardo Schwank beat Igor Kunitsyn 6-2 6-2 to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux, France.
Gael Monfils beat Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (2) 7-6 (6) to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Marrakech, Morocco.
“I am happy that I won and that I beat the number one in the world (Roger Federer) and the best player of the year (Novak Djokovic), and that should give me some more confidence for the French Open.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating both Djokovic and Federer en route to winning at Hamburg.
“I wish I could have won today, then I would have an even better feeling.” – Roger Federer, after losing to Nadal in the Hamburg final.
“My goal and dream is to become Number One in the world, and at the moment I think I’m on the right track. If I continue like this, I have a big chance.” – Jelena Jankovic, who beat qualifier Alize Cornet in the Rome final.
“Right now I’m just disappointed. I couldn’t do my best tennis today because of my physical condition, because I was tired because of my six matches before.” -Alize Cornet, who came through qualifying before losing in the final in Rome.
“I think we have a great future … I’m looking forward now to Roland Garros. I think this is a great boost.” – Nenad Zimonjic, who teamed with Daniel Nestor to win the doubles at the Hamburg Masters, beating twins Bob and Mike Bryan in the final.
“I had a lot of great opportunities, and I made a lot of opportunities for myself. But then I made a mistake.” – Venus Williams, after losing to Jelena Jankovic at Rome.
“I really struggled with my intensity today, and obviously that caused a lot of errors. It’s something I have to work on. Now I have ten days to prepare for the French Open.” – Ana Ivanovic, after losing early at Rome.
“I don’t expect this to cause any problems with my preparation for the French. It just happened all of a sudden.” – Serena Williams, who pulled out the Italian Open when her back froze up while warming up for her quarterfinal match.
In a shocking end to a short but highly successful career, Justine Henin retired from tennis while ranked number one in the world. The 25-year-old Belgian has won seven Grand Slam singles titles in her career and 10 tournaments in 2007. She had been in a slump this year, her last title coming at her home tournament in Antwerp, Belgium, in February. Henin’s retirement came just one year after another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, retired from the sport at the age of 23. Clijsters had won a Grand Slam title and had also reached the number one ranking.
“I thought long about this. I started thinking about it late last year. I was at the end of the road. I leave with my head held high.” – Justine Henin, announcing her immediate retirement from tennis.
“It is rare that an athlete leaves at the very top of her game in this day and age, but Justine has always played by her own rules.” – Larry Scott, WTA Tour chief executive.
“Justine is an extraordinary player, a special person and a true champion in both tennis and in life.” – Billie Jean King.
“Her victory at the 2004 Athens Olympics was Belgium’s only gold medal at the Games and we are sorry that she won’t be able to defend her title in Beijing.” – Francesco Ricci Bitti, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president.
“It is a new beginning for me. I feel like I already lived three lives. I gave the sport all I could and took everything it could give me.” – Justine Henin.
“I couldn’t imagine deciding out of the blue to retire, especially if I was number one. I would prefer to take a year off if it was all getting too much for me.” – Roger Federer.
“She gave me a world of trouble.” – Serena Williams.
“She’s 25 years old and she’s achieved so much in her career. If I was 25 and I’d won so many Grand Slams, I’d quit too.” – Maria Sharapova.
“I take this decision without the least bit of regrets. It is my life as a woman that starts now.” – Justine Henin.
“It can sometimes be very difficult, many years playing and traveling around the world. Being there, being at the top, can be very difficult. We will miss her.” – Jelena Jankovic.
“She was a great champion. She always challenged herself to play her best tennis no matter what the circumstances. She was just a real fighter.” – Venus Williams.
“(Tennis loses) another champion. She was a great player and she achieved so much. She bought a lot to the women’s game.” – Ana Ivanovic.
“I don’t understand it. She was number one and she retires … Maybe it’s a woman thing. I don’t understand women.” – Goran Ivanisevic.
“It’s a lot of pressure to keep playing at that level. Certain players, like Bjorn Borg, retired early, and you can’t blame them.” – Pat Cash.
“She was one of the most complete players of the last 10 years, winning seven Grand Slams. She was small compared to the other girls, but she had a very complete game. She made up for her size with her tennis.” – Michael Stich.
“At the end of the match in Berlin, (retirement) all of a sudden was there as something evident. I decided to stop fooling myself and accept it.” Justine Henin.
“She never craved fame and money. All she wanted to do was play and win.” – Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin’s coach.
“This is the end of a child’s dream.” – Justine Henin.
SITTING ON TOP
Due to circumstances not of her own making, Maria Sharapova is sitting on top of women’s tennis today. When Ana Ivanovic failed to reach the final of the German Open, the Serb lost her world number two ranking to Sharapova, who at the time had not played since losing a match in April. Then, when Justine Henin shocked the sport by announcing her immediate retirement, Henin was replaced as number one in the world by Sharapova.
Rafael Nadal became only the third player since 1990 to win the three ATP Masters Series clay-court tournaments in the same year, joining Gustavo Kuerten and Marcelo Rios, when he defeated Roger Federer in Hamburg, Germany. A year ago, Federer had won Hamburg while snapping Nadal’s 81-match winning streak. This year, Federer took a 5-1 lead in the first set, only to see Nadal win six consecutive games. Federer led the second set 5-2 before Nadal rallied, forcing the world’s number one player into a tiebreak, which Federer won. It was Nadal who jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third set before finally winning the match 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3. Since April 2005, Nadal has won 108 of 110 matches on clay.
Alize Comet came out of qualifying to reach her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Tier One final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. And while she lost the title match to defending champion Jelena Jankovic, Comet became only the second qualifier to reach a Tour singles final this year. The Frenchwoman, at 18 years, 3 months, had been seeking to become the youngest Tour champion this year. The first female qualifier to reach the final at the Foro Italico in the Open Era, Comet beat third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova before fifth-seeded Serena Williams withdrew from the quarterfinals with a back problem. Comet then advanced with a semifinal win over sixth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze.
Twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana of Thailand, with wet towels wrapped around their faces, helped the wife and son of Argentine doubles specialist Lucas Arnold Ker escape a smoky fire that broke out on the third floor of the tournament hotel in Bordeaux, France. The twins, top-seeded in the doubles in the Challenger Series tournament, fell in the quarterfinals to Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-2 7-6 (5). South Africa’s Rik De Voest fled the fire by crawling on his hands and knees. Argentine Eduardo Schwank, whose room was destroyed in the blaze, lost his passport, equipment, clothes, laptop computer and his Rome Challenger winner’s prize money in the fire. Schwank went on to win the Bordeaux tournament.
First, Maria Sharapova reached a compromise with the WTA Tour and did a promotional photo shoot before the Italian Open began. The women’s tour had threatened to fine her $300,000 if she refused. Then the Russian pulled out of the semifinals at Rome because of a strained left calf, but said the injury wouldn’t affect her preparations for the French Open. And, thanks to a series of events, Sharapova wound up the week as the number one player in the world.
SAMPRAS DEBUT DELAYED
Pete Sampras won’t make his debut on the BlackRock Tour of Champions circuit until June 19, one month than originally scheduled. That’s because the senior event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was changed until next month.
India’s top player, Sania Mirza, may be forced to skip the French Open. Her father, Imran Mirza, said his 21-year-old daughter, currently ranked number 33 in the world, has not yet fully recovered from wrist surgery performed in April. The 21-year-old Sania is expected to return to the tour at the $200,000 DES Classic in Birmingham, England, next month.
When Anne Keothavong won an International Tennis Federation tournament in Jounieh, Lebanon, she ended up qualifying for Wimbledon. The tournament title boosted Keothavong up to number 104 in the world rankings, enough for her to become the first British woman to automatically qualify for Wimbledon since 1999. “I thought I was going to withdraw from the tournament because of all the problems in Lebanon,” Keothavong said. “I was ready to get on a bus to Syria, but five minutes before I was due on court for my quarterfinal they told us that the border was closed and there was no way out.” The rest is history.
Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Jelena Dokic won her second consecutive tournament on the comeback trail. Dokic beat Patricia Mayr 6-3 6-1 to capture a $25,000 clay-court event in Caserta, Italy. The week before, Dokic won a $25,000 tournament on clay in Florence, Italy.
Roger Federer wants to celebrate his 27th birthday on August 8 by carrying the Swiss flag in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. “It’s my birthday on the day of the opening ceremony,” Federer said. “Maybe I will carry the flag again for Switzerland. I’d be very honored.”
SPOTLIGHT UNDER THE LIGHTS
The Australian Open women’s singles final will be played at night starting next year. The men’s singles title match has been a night event since 2005. Defending champion Maria Sharapova says the cooler conditions at night will make for a better match. The U.S. Open women’s singles title match is also held at night.
Ending his career where he won three times, Gustavo Kuerten was given a wild-card entry into this year’s French Open. The Brazilian clay court specialist, once ranked number one in the world, won Roland Garros in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Other wild cards into the men’s draw went to French players Eric Prodon, Olivier Patience, Jeremy Chardy, Adrian Mannarino and Jonathan Eysseric. French players given spots in the women’s draw are Olivia Sanchez, Severine Bremond, Stephanie Foretz, Mathilde Johansson, Youlia Fedossova and Violette Huck. Other wild cards were won by Americans Madison Brengle and Wayne Odesnik, and Australians Robert Smeets and Samantha Stosur.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES
It’s a wonder members of the University of Arkansas women’s tennis team can speak to each other. The Lady Razorbacks include Aurelija Miseviciute of Lithuania, Audrey Bordeleau of Canada, Maryori Franco of Colombia, Ela Kaluder of Croatia, Nanar Airapetian of Germany, Delia Damaschin of Romania, Fien Maes of Belgium, Anouk Tigu of the Netherlands and Melissa Hoffmeister, who comes from Joplin, Missouri, about a 90-minute drive from the campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The coach is Michael Hegarty, a native of Australia.
After a 25-year run, the USA Network is losing its US Open cable television coverage to ESPN and Tennis Channel, beginning in 2009. The six-year deal was announced by the U.S. Tennis Association. ESPN now owns TV rights to parts of all four Grand Slam tournaments. The broadcast network rights are still held by CBS, which has a contract through 2011. Besides the US Open, the new contract means ESPN2 will also be the lead cable carrier for the US Open Series, the circuit of hard-court tournaments leading up to the US Open.
Florida drivers may be able to show their love for tennis in the near future. The Florida legislature passed a bill enabling drivers to support tennis through a new specialty license plate. The money raised from the sale of the plates would be used for grants to nonprofit organizations operating youth tennis programs and adaptive programs for special populations of all ages, as well as for building, renovating and maintaining quality public tennis facilities. The tennis plates, with the phrase “Play Tennis” on the bottom, should be available starting October 1.
Hamburg: Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor beat Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Rome: Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung beat Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova 7-6 (5) 6-3
Bordeaux: Diego Hartfield and Sergio Roitman beat Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-4 6-4
Marrakech: Frederico Gil and Florin Mergea beat James Aukland and Jamie Delgado 6-2 6-3
SITES TO SURF
French Open (Roland Garros): www.rolandgarros.com/
French Tennis Federation: www.fft.fr/portail/
Maria Sharapova: www.mariasharapova.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
$1,500,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championship, Duesseldorf, Germany, clay
$576,866 The Hypo Group Tennis International 2008, Poertschach, Austria, clay
$576,866 Grand Prix Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco, clay
$200,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay
$175,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$11,034,805 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay
$10,891,368 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay