August 31, 2010
Nima and Dan sit down and discuss the final Grand Slam of the 2010 season. Who looks good, who’s already out, and what you can expect for the next two weeks.
As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.
August 31, 2010
Q. When you were talking to Brad on the court afterwards, you alluded to fan support that you received that helped you turn things around out there. Can you comment on that?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, especially from the first couple of rows in the stadium court, you could hear people what they say. Most of the comments throughout the whole match was positive my way. They tried to kind of lift me up. I had, of course, big support from my box. It was difficult for all those people even to sit on that heat. Yeah, I’d just like to thank everybody who was with me, kind of give me strength and wings to turn the match around.
Q. While you were playing, it was 109 degrees on the court. Talk about that experience.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, look, you know, it was very hot. It was just very hot. It’s same for everybody. That’s all basically I can say. You know, heat issue is something that, you know, it’s just there. You cannot affect it. The weather is weather. You just have to try to be patient and wait for the shadows, like I did (smiling).
Q. What is your worst, hottest, most uncomfortable moment out there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, I’ve been in those situations before, played a lot of long matches in very difficult conditions, feeling very exhausted. You know, you kind of start panicking a little bit when you don’t feel great physically. Then your opponent takes the advantage. And it’s not easy. Definitely those moments are very challenging for an athlete. But I overcomed it once again and this is what matters most to me.
Q. When you start to panic, talk about that moment.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I just told you. I mean, I don’t want to get into that too much. I mean, I just talked about heat issues too much. I’d just like to keep it simple.
Q. What was the turning point for you? What did you find that helped you to turn things around out there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I guess middle of the fourth set is when I started kind of reading his serve a little bit better, especially on the advantage side. When I made the break, it obviously gave me more confidence and I got back into the match. Then I had, more or less his every serve game, chances till the end of the match. I was just trying to tell to myself, Okay, you know, he makes a serve winner. He was serving extremely well. The whole match he was serving unbelievable. I never saw him serve that way, which gave him a lot of free points, a lot of aces, winners, things like that. So I just tried to tell myself, Hang in there, you know, the chance will come. He will get tired, as well. Under those conditions, in a long match, he did. When I got the chance, I used it. You know, I got the match.
Q. How well do you two know each other? What is the history of your backgrounds?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We know each other for a very long time. We grew up together playing in juniors. We’re practicing together for a long time. We know each other since we were I think nine years old. My first tournament in my life that I’ve played, first match officially, it was under 10. I won my first round and then I played him second round. He destroyed me. We keep on talking about that. But we are very good friends for a long time already. We won many things together with Davis Cup, a lot of matches. We won European team championship under 18 together. So we share a lot of nice moments. It’s never easy to play a good friend on the court. Just bad luck for him today because he’s been playing really well, you know, lately. Today he was the better player on the court for a while. Just too bad.
Q. Is it an added challenge to play with someone you have an emotional connection with?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It is. You try to put the winning attitude when you step into the court. You’re a professional. You have to do what you have to do. You have to try to win regardless of who is across the net. There is always in some moments a little more respect, just better behavior to the opponent because he’s your close friend.
Q. You said you never have seen him serve like that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yep.
Q. What was different today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he made a lot of aces. As I said, he made a lot of free points. I don’t know the statistic, but I’m sure it’s around 80% of the first serve in throughout the whole match. Was incredibly efficient, good angles, giving himself an easy shots after that. It was just a big weapon for him.
Q. Have you seen the Federer video on the Internet when he knocks the can off somebody’s head?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No.
Q. Did you see the replay or the actual live shot of his tween the legs shot last night?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No. I’ve seen it live last year passing next to me (smiling). That’s enough traumatic experiences for me. Today when Viktor tried to do the same thing, I said, No, no, please. He was running for the ball between the legs. Please miss it. Please don’t embarrass me again.
Q. When it happened last year, did you see the moments of your lives pass…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: They keep on repeating that. I mean, it’s amazing shot. Just incredible. At that stage, as well. It was the last game. You know, once in a while you get that shot.
Q. It had a lot of zip on it. It wasn’t just putting it back in play.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I got to the net. I did what my coach wanted me to do: covered the long line. I was just standing there, following the ball. Okay. Everybody applause. I applause.
Q. As somebody who does very good imitations, is that something you can imitate?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, definitely not. I am not as good as he is in that. I’d like to be very careful with my racquet (smiling). You know what I mean.
Q. You made a comment about sleeping with your girlfriend out on the court. What was that analogy to?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t know. He asked me for the comparison of the feeling, what kind of feeling was it to feel the shade. The sun came down and I didn’t have any more heat, what kind of feeling was it. It just came up to me. It’s one of the best feelings, I guess, when you’re sleeping with your close one. So I compare it to that.
Q. Must have felt good.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It felt unbelievable (smiling). Let’s get back to tennis now (laughter).
August 31, 2010
Wednesday’s order of play at the US Open will feature Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, Sam Querrey, and John Isner.
For Wednesday’s complete order of play, click the link below.
August 31, 2010
US Open—New York
No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic d. Viktor Troicki 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3; Arnaud Clement d. No. 16 seed Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 2-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-5; No. 19 seed Mardy Fish d. Jan Hajek 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1; No. 23 seed Feliciano Lopez d. Santiago Giraldo 6-4, 6-4, 6-4; Jeremy Chardy d. No. 24 seed Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 7-6 (1), 6-4; Peter Polansky d. No. 30 seed Juan Monaco 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-3; James Blake d. 6-3, 6-2, 6-4; Eduardo Schwank d. Robby Ginepri 6-4, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3; Tommy Robredo d. Lukas Rosol 6-4, 6-3, 6-1; Daniel Gimeno-Traver d. Jarkko Nieminen 7-6(1), 6-4, 6-3; Benoit Paire d. Rainer Schuettler 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(2); No. 10 seed David Ferrer d. 6-2, 6-2, 6-3; Philipp Petzschner d. Dusan Lojda 6-3, 6-1, 6-1; Adrian Mannarino 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (1); Pablo Cuevas d. Julio Silva 7-6(0), 6-1, 6-2.
Matches that are still to come will feature No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal vs. Teymuraz Gabashvili.
August 31, 2010
US Open—New York
With record temperatures soaring through the grounds of the National Tennis Center on Tuesday, an interesting question was posed during ESPN’s daytime coverage: “Should the heat rule apply to ATP World Tour, the way that it does to the women of the WTA?”
While the ladies receive 10 minute breaks after each set during extreme heat, the men are only allowed to be treated for heat related issues. Considering that the men are forced to play best three out of five sets, I’d be inclined to support longer breaks for the men during days like today. It wasn’t confirmed if the conditions were the hottest the tournament had ever witnessed, but judging by the difficult matches that Marcos Baghdatis, Mardy Fish, and Novak Djokovic encountered, a further assessment of the men’s heat rules should be considered.
A Long Summer
Marcos Baghdatis’ recent summer of success hit a brick wall today against Frenchman Arnaud Clement. Reaching the finals in Washington, the semifinals in Cincinnati, and the quarterfinals in New Haven, Baghdatis’ heavy legs and his consistent former top 10 opponent would end his event early. Although Baghdatis provided enough charisma to give the Louis Armstrong crowd their moneys worth, it was Clement’s fresher physique, and experience that would prevail.
During his post-match presser, Clement provided—to my mind anyway—the reasons why he became the victor.
“You know, I start my summer, my U.S. summer in Los Angeles, and play like five tournaments before coming here. I won only one match in quallies in Cincinnati, so my confidence is very, very—was very, very low before this match,” said Clement. I didn’t expect anything from this match. In my mind I was—when I went on the court, maybe I have just one percent chance to win this match. He played great in Washington, in Cincinnati, so he’s in good shape. So it’s gonna be very, very difficult for me. Maybe that’s why I was more relaxed on the court in my game and my shots, because for me I have no chance to win before the match. That’s strange. Now it’s a little bit different. Now I played my best match, that’s for sure, for all the summer.”
It sure became “a little bit different” after the Frenchman won his 12th match of the season. Although Baghdatis completely overshadowed Clement in summer results, his poor scheduling—especially by playing in New Haven—severely hampered his US Open chances.
It certainly pays to have matches under one’s belt, but playing too much; a tad too much, won’t pay off in the long run, either.
Two Bagels And A Near Upset
Experiencing the “kiss of death” after winning the first set 6-0, Mardy Fish quickly found himself in the position of playing better, but trailing Jan Hajek by two sets to one. Picking up his fitness level in one of the most incredible stories in the past 12 months, Fish rolled through the fourth set 6-0, and nearly provided his third bagel of the match before capturing the fifth set 6-1.
Stating that the heat in New York was a “cakewalk” compared to what he faced in Atlanta against John Isner, Fish certainly didn’t look like a vibrant player after losing the middle two sets against his obscure opponent.
I appreciate Fish’s newly found fitness, and his ability to take the conditions in stride after the match, but there’s no doubt that he needed a little breathing room before marching to victory. Although he never would have prevailed today by carrying his previous weight and fitness, the 28-year-old American did showcase nerves that he will have to shake off if he intends on moving forward.
Feeling as good as he ever has at the Open, Fish will be a tough hombre to defeat during the remainder of the event.
The Shade Feels Like…
The writing appeared all but written on Ashe Stadium today when Novak Djokovic found himself down two sets to one against countryman Viktor Troicki. Never one to play well in the heat, Djokovic’s serve remained passive, while his inside-out forehand found the doubles alley far too often. Falling down a break in the fourth set, Djokovic began to zero-in on his defensive foundation, while thoroughly embracing the merciful shade.
Pounding his chest, while embracing his player’s box after his win, Djokovic told Brad Gilbert that the welcome shade was “like sleeping with my girlfriend.”
The humorous and brutally honest remark by Djokovic further exemplified his need for cooler conditions.
Make no mistake about it, as much as the pundits discuss Djokovic’s allergies and breathing woes, there has been more than enough evidence provided that the Serb can’t handle the heat, and he could fall earlier than expected in this event if he continues to play under warm conditions.
For now, though, let’s give our kudos to Djokovic and his witty humor. We can’t blame him for telling us how he feels, and I guess we also can’t blame him for feeling the conditions.
Two surprising results on the day: Peter Polansky defeated Juan Monaco 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-3, and Jeremy Chardy upended Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 7-6(1), 6-4.
Talk soon, folks.
August 31, 2010
Americans love a prizefight, even when the sport isn’t boxing.
Tennis is one of those rare experiences that can offer that one-on-one contest of physicality, skill, strategy and endurance, and all without the combatants having to get punched in the face. Watch closely enough during this year’s US Open and eventually a match, probably in the men’s draw, will eventually be described using a boxing analogy.
But not all bouts live up to expectations, in the sense that they are not closely fought affairs that teach us about human will. Sometimes one player unexpectedly reaches a plateau where he can’t be touched, and the contest’s outcome is not in doubt.
It’s not dramatic, but it’s still breathtaking.
Drama was what tennis fans wanted to see in the quarterfinal match between Pete Sampras andAndy Roddick in the quarters of the 2002 Open. Residual memory from the previous year’s event, particularly its quarterfinal rounds, was still strong: Sampras and Andre Agassi had played the most commemorated match of their career, a four-set clash of styles that ended in four tiebreaks, neither player having his serve broken. Roddick had taken on fellow young gun Lleyton Hewitt, the eventual champion, on the next night and fallen in a tight five-setter.
A year later, the Roddick-Sampras matchup bore the billing of two American heavyweight servers fighting for survival, and the added selling point of the generational divide: Sampras, age 31, looking for one last slice of Grand Slam glory, while 20-year-old Roddick was seeking to grab his first and live up to his billing as America’s tennis future.
It’s hard to blame anyone who picked Roddick to win that night. He had a far less impressive curriculum vitae than his opponent, but carried a 2-0 record against The Pistol into that encounter and was having a much better season.
Then again, Sampras had fallen to No. 17, so quite a few players were. Sampras’ last major title, his last title of any kind in fact, had come more than two years earlier at the 2000 Wimbledon, where he beat Patrick Rafter to win his 13th Slam and break Roy Emerson’s record. It was a joyous event, followed not long thereafter by his marriage to Bridgett Wilson and firmly established position in game’s history books.
After that historic performance, though, the burden of his nearly 30 years and more than a decade of pro play seemed to weigh on his legs. When coupled with his hereditary thalassemia minor – a condition that regularly results in anemia – this led to a sudden downswing in his results. What’s more, the game at large was changing, as new players emerged and, over the next two years, foisted a series of indignities on the aging champion.
Marat Safin effortlessly deflected his serve at the 2000 US Open finals. Gustavo Kuerten outlasted him at that fall’s World Tour Finals. Roger Federer’s passing shots finally punched one too many holes in his net coverage in the 2001 Wimbledon.
Most embarrassing of these brushes with greatness-in-the-making was the 2001 US Open final. There, Sampras had again beaten Rafter in four sets, won that crowd-pleaser with Agassi, and then avenged his loss to Safin from the previous year. His reward would be a final round encounter with Hewitt, a player whose returns, speed, and passing shots were the stuff of nightmares for serve and volley players even on the best of days; just see his winning records against not only Sampras, but also Rafter and (overwhelmingly) against Tim Henman.
We’ll never know how Sampras might have done had he played Hewitt fresh that day, but less than 24 hours removed from beating Safin he had only one good set in him, falling 7-6 in the first before Hewitt picked him apart 6-1, 6-1.
And that heralded the coming of the worst season of Sampras’ career since the start of the 1990s. He didn’t reach a final in 2002 until Roddick beat him on the clay of Houston. After that, he won just one more clay court match, losing in round one of Roland Garros to little known Andrea Gaudenzi. So palpable was his disappointment that Gaudenzi, who would win $3 million in total career prize money to Sampras’ $43 million, actually felt obliged to console the struggling legend with a conciliatory pat on the shoulder after their handshake.
But the lowest moment of all would have to have been the Wimbledon that followed, when the seven-time champion of the All-England Club won just one round before being sent home by George Bastl of Sweden. The sight of Sampras, sitting in the chair and staring at the grass beneath his feet after the match was probably on the mind of Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, who during his midterm grades for the event summarized Sampras’ performance thusly: “This isn’t fun for anyone to watch.”
But rather than retire, as many suggested, Sampras was prompted by that final low to adjust: He picked up the phone and rang Paul Annacone.
It was in 2001 that the Pistol had parted with the coach who had shepherded him through the hardest ordeal of his adulthood, the death of previous coach and mentor Tim Gullikson. Annacone’s coaching then helped him complete the breaking of Emmo’s record even as his dominance subsided. Sampras had tried a variety of things after their split, including hiring Jim Courier’s former coach José Higueras to help him gain a firmer hold on clay, but change had done him little good.
In an ever-evolving game, The Pistol most needed a bit of familiarity.
So he and Annacone worked together through the summer, with Sampras stopping his losing skid in Canada and Cincinnati, but accomplishing little more. His last match going into the Open was a three-set loss to Paul Henri-Mathieu in the first round of Long Island.
The lights of New York had much the same rejuvenating effect that they’d shown in the previous year, as he won his first two matches easily. In the third round, though, the huge lefty serve and extensive wingspan of Greg Rusedski frustrated him for five sets, with Sampras seemingly misplacing his forehand return of serve until the very last game.
There he broke Rusedski to end the match, but it was not Sampras’ determination and perseverance that lingered in the Brit’s mind afterwards, it was his legs. ”I’d be surprised if he wins his next match,” said Rusedski. He proceeded to call Sampras a step slow, and added, ”He’s just not the same player from the past.”
In his very next match Sampras would face Tommy Haas, the world’s No. 3 player, who had beaten The Pistol in their three preceding matches, and looked able to fulfill Rusedski’s prophecy. Yet, Sampras won that match in four sets, having never been broken, and setting up his encounter with Roddick.
This looked to be a study of experience vs youthful energy, and of whether Sampras – schooled in the style the great Australians like Laver and Rosewall – was a match for the monster hitting of the young generation even on a good day.
Early in the match, announcer Ted Robinson wondered aloud how Sampras was going to cope with the Roddick serve which, he said, might be even better than The Pistol’s.
“Well,” said John McEnroe, sitting in the booth beside him “it’s harder. I don’t think he places it as well.”
When Roddick served in the second game of the match, and missed on a first delivery, the big difference between the two became obvious: Sampras stepped into the court, carved Roddick’s 100+ mph second serve back and rushed the net. The younger American, for whom passing shots were never a specialty, couldn’t get the pass by his elder compatriot.
When he was the game’s dominant force in the mid-‘90s, Sampras had not been its best pure volleyer; that designation belonged first to Stefan Edberg and then to Rafter, both of whom moved to the net and into volleying position more smoothly than The Pistol and, lacking his forehand weapon, never suffered from confusion as to whether they should stay back of not.
But under Annacone Sampras had continually worked to improve his net coverage and, as his speed and backcourt consistency declined, began going to net behind almost every serve. At times, particularly against Safin and Hewitt, this strategy simply had not worked.
But against Roddick – who slugged and pounded away from the backcourt only to see Sampras absorb the pace of his groundstrokes and transform them into acutely angled drop volleys – geometry and gravity were on his side. He won the match’s first seven points and broke Roddick straight away.
The constant changing in Sampras’ service placement and spins also more than compensated for Roddick’s pace advantage, as he was not broken once that night. By the second set, about the third time Roddick’s serve had been punctured, the great Boris Becker was interviewed at courtside. Having been on the receiving end of a few spectacular serving displays from The Pistol in the ‘90s, Becker was asked what advice he’d have for Roddick.
“Get the hell out of the stadium,” Boom-Boom replied.
This prizefight wasn’t Ali-Frazier. It wasn’t even Ali-Foreman; more like Ali-Liston II. Sampras finished him 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, losing only six serving points in the final set.
The win made him 20-0 in night matches in New York. “You guys say Pete is washed up. I never said it,” Roddick told the press after the match.
At courtside, Michael Barkann of the USA network asked Sampras if the remarks by Rusedski had provided more motivation.
“Who?” Sampras replied.
In the semis, Sampras drew Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands, whose stiff-as-a-stop-sign serve and flowing groundstrokes took the great American about two sets to figure out. Once he had captured them in tiebreaks, however, he overpowered Schalken in the third. On the other side of the draw Hewitt, who had denied Sampras his last real shot at Grand Slam success, was actually helping to enable this one, as he and Agassi, the only player even older than Sampras in the top 10, had an energy-burning four-set semi.
Agassi eventually knocked the legs out from underneath Hewitt, but for the first time in three years Sampras would enter the USO final as the younger and fresher player.
As a bonus he’d get one more bout with Agassi, but this would not be a repeat of their high-quality encounter of the previous year. Instead, it would be drama of a different kind, as two aging champions fought their own frailties as much as each other.
Sampras’ flat running forehand helped him run out to a set and two-break lead over Agassi, whose legs were still recovery from his semi. Then age started to catch up with Sampras, as he lost one break before closing out the second set, then surrendered the third 7-5. In the fourth, the familiar signs of Sampras anemia were evident, as he slumped over between serves, bounced the ball slowly and more deliberately, and fought to summon serving pace.
Agassi had successfully hit through the effects of the Hewitt match and was now clearly looking ready to go five with his compatriot, who had never been known for his fitness. So, as the set neared its end, Sampras hit out on returns, hoping four of them would hit lines in the same game, and finally succeeding at 4-all. He broke, and the story of how his career would end was all but written.
When his first volley at 40-15 moved Agassi slightly out of position, a sharply angled winning volley was the only reasonable thing to expect. It was his 14th major and fifth US Open, tying him with Jimmy Connors and (later) Federer for the most. It would also be his last match on the ATP Tour.
He had not won it for his place in history. He had not won it to set records, or to add to his wealth.
He had won it because he was a tennis champion. Tennis players play tennis matches for a living; tennis champions win them.
He also did it to prove a point: Tennis champions should never be discounted completely.
Epilogue: At the 2003 Wimbledon Rusedski, his ranking having slipped to No. 51 following injury, had a disappointing encounter of his own with Roddick. Rusedski lost in straight sets, but not before the most infamous meltdown of his career (you know, the one where he repeatedly shouted “Well done, well done!” at the umpire).
In his post-match press conference he was penitent, and congratulated Roddick for his win, saying that the young American had a good chance of reaching the semis against fellow rising youth Federer.
Rusedski then quickly added, “But I shouldn’t make predictions anymore.”
August 31, 2010
by: Tom Cochrane
Play is underway in the 2010 US Open and, while the majority of the women’s seeds in action on Day 1 progressed comfortably to the second round, it was a different story for several of the men’s seeds who were forced to go the distance.
Day 1 Recap
Roger Federer’s campaign for a sixth US Open crown got off to a smooth start on Day 1, the Swiss maestro producing a straight sets win over Argentina’s Brian Dabul. Andy Roddick enjoyed his birthday at Flushing Meadows, also advancing in straight sets, but former champion Lleyton Hewitt ended a scratchy North American summer in dismal fashion, going down in 5 sets to the dangerous Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. Seeds Soderling, Melzer, Monfils and Montanes were also forced to deciding fifth sets, but each managed to eke out a victory.
Rising star Marin Cilic demonstrated his undoubted class with a near-flawless display on Day 1, while Nikolay Davydenko had an easier than expected match against local hope Michael Russell, dispatching the American in straight sets. Taylor Dent restored some American pride by defeating Alejandro Falla, while Janko Tipsarevic saw off the talented Olivier Rochus in a torrid 4 set tussle.
In the women’s tournament, Kim Clijsters started her title defence in positive fashion with a comfortable win over Greta Arn. Melanie Oudin, last year’s US Open golden girl, joined Clijsters in the round of 64 with a 6-3 6-0 victory over Olga Savchuk. Other winners on Day 1 were French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, sixteenth seed Shahar Peer, Daniela Hantuchova, who overcame former world number one Dinara Safina, and Sam Stosur, who came from behind to defeat Elena Vesnina in 3 sets. There was better news for another former world number one in Anna Ivanovic, who saw off Ekaterina Makarova.
Third seed Venus Williams was rarely troubled in her opening match and is on course for a third round rematch against her apparent nemesis, Tsvetana Pironkova. Pironkova, who defeated Williams in this year’s Wimbledon championships and also at the Australian Open a few years back, had a 6-3 6-4 win over Renata Voracova. And finally, a salute to Sally Peers, an Aussie qualifier who made her Grand Slam main draw debut at Flushing Meadows on Day 1. Peers made the most of her first match on tennis’ biggest stage, annihilating Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak, 6-0 6-1. Now that’s what I call a debut.
Matches of the Day – Day 2
1. Viktor Troicki vs. Novak Djokovic
After beating Roger Federer en route to capturing his one and only Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park in 2008, it’s fair to say that Novak Djokovic’s career has stalled somewhat, although the Serb is a remarkably consistent performer on the ATP Tour who is always near the mark at Grand Slams.
While Djokovic no doubt harbours great ambitions of adding more Grand Slams to his Australian Open triumph, more often than not he has found it hard to match Federer and Nadal at the pointy ends of the Grand Slams. Additionally, rising stars such as Murray, Soderling, Cilic and Berdych have stepped up in recent majors, thus lengthening the list of true Grand Slam contenders.
In this year’s US Open Djokovic has been placed in a tough quarter of the draw, and the tough matches begin with this opener against his compatriot Troicki. Troicki is a good all-court player who has steadily improved over the past few years. Early on in his career I think Troicki would have been overawed playing against his high-profile countryman, but I think Troicki is now a more mature and experienced professional. Look for Djokovic to attempt to gain the ascendancy early; the third seed doesn’t want a gruelling encounter in his first round match. I don’t think it will be as easy a match as Djokovic would like, but I think his class will eventually enable him to prevail. Djokovic in 4.
2. Jarmila Groth vs. Maria Sharapova
There are very few players on the WTA Tour who can claim that they have made the round of 16 at both the French Open and Wimbledon this year, but Jarmila Groth is one of them. The naturalised Aussie has improved her game enormously in the last 12 months and has a sufficiently powerful serve and groundstrokes to trouble the best of them in the women’s game. But for some nerves and some poor decision-making under pressure, Groth could have beaten Venus Williams in their clash at Wimbledon.
Judging by Sharapova’s comments going into this encounter, the Russian is fully aware of Groth’s development and accordingly is wary of the threat she poses. I expect Groth to come out swinging and take the match right up to Sharapova, but I think Sharapova’s greater experience and good recent form will see her prevail. Sharapova in 2.
3. Marcos Baghdatis vs. Arnaud Clement
After a couple of years in the tennis wilderness battling fitness, form and confidence, the super-popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis has been enjoying a resurgence in his tennis career this year, having compiled a very healthy 35-20 win-loss record for the year to date and returning to the world’s top 20. Baghdatis is very much a confidence player, but when fit and full of confidence he is one of the purest ball-strikers in the men’s game. The sixteenth seed likes playing on the US hard courts, which are high-bouncing and fast-paced, and I consider him to be very capable of making deep run at this tournament.
French veteran Arnaud Clement is a former Australian Open finalist and top 10 player who, despite being past his best, can still pose plenty of problems for the world’s best due to his immense talent, his quick pace around the court and his strong competitive nature. Baghdatis will need to be switched on mentally for this one, and not let his concentration lapse – something he has been guilty of doing in the past. But if Baghdatis can focus and play his natural game, I expect him to come out on top. Baghdatis in 4.
4. Kristof Vliegen vs. James Blake
Make no mistake, the world of professional tennis is an utterly ruthless one; it’s a sport enjoyed by millions of people who hail from just about every nation on the planet. Everyone wants to make the big time, to enjoy the spoils of fame and fortune that accompany success on the big stage. Unfortunately, there are only so many players who are able to make it to the top, and even then it’s a mighty hard task to stay there.
In different ways, the stories of Vliegen and Blake illustrate this cold hard reality. Vliegen reached a high of 30 in the world rankings in October 2006, with the future seeming to look bright for the young Belgian. Alas, he now languishes at number 321 in the world rankings and sports an abysmal 1-8 win-loss record for the year to date. Blake, a former world number 4 in the twilight of his career, has also plummeted in the world rankings. The American is now ranked 111 in the world, his decline exacerbated by a combination of injuries and inconsistent form.
It’s tough to predict the winner of this encounter, with neither player exactly high on confidence, but this could well be Blake’s last US Open and no doubt the crowd is eager to witness one last stand from the popular American. Blake in 4.
5. Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Kimiko Date Krumm
After a poor start to the season, former French Open and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova has worked hard to turn around her form. Flushing Meadows holds fond memories for the eleventh seed and, with Justine Henin and Serena Williams out of the tournament due to injury, Kuznetsova will consider herself to be a legitimate contender for this year’s title.
But in order to make a run at this year’s US Open, Kuznetsova first has to overcome a tricky first round opponent in Kimiko Date Krumm. Soon to turn 40, Date Krumm appears to be enjoying her tennis after rejoining the WTA Tour following her initial “retirement” and, as she demonstrated in her French Open win over Dinara Safina, the wily veteran is capable of causing an upset. The bookmakers have Date Krumm as a rank outsider at around $12, but I sense the match will be closer than they predict. Kuznetsova in 3.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.
August 31, 2010
Q. Is this year’s shot better than last year’s between-the-legs one?
ROGER FEDERER: What do you think?
Q. This one.
ROGER FEDERER: You think this one was better? I don’t know. I would have to compare. Obviously the importance of last year’s was probably a little bit more important just because I think it was Love-30 to go Love-40, two points away from the match, and it was a semifinal. So obviously that has a little bit of an impact, too.
But maybe in terms of difficulty maybe this one was harder, because I had the feeling I had to run a longer distance and I was further back somehow, I felt. I had to really give the last big push at the end. I didn’t have time to set it up. So I felt like this one was incredible again. I turned around and couldn’t believe the shot landed in the corner.
So ovation was fantastic. Crowds went wild. Yeah, you could see on my reaction I couldn’t believe it.
Q. You practice that?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I don’t know if you can call it practice. I don’t go like, Feed me a few of those. It just happens or not, and you try to do — you probably hit one max at practice. So rarely.
Q. You’re undefeated at night matches here. I think this is 16-0. What is it about playing under the lights at the Open?
ROGER FEDERER: I guess I got off to a good start. I think the lights are really good. There are some stadiums around the world where the lights are not the same, but here it feels great. Obviously I have the experience to play under pressure and with so many people, high expectations, so I guess I can use that to my advantage.
Then court speed, surroundings, the event and everything helps my cause to really do well and play well here. I always loved coming here. Never had a bad US Open. Never had a first-round upset somehow. Just shows again, you know, I was playing well tonight. I’m happy I got to play a night session again.
Q. When you pull off a shot like that, how much does that reflect the confidence you’re feeling in your game at the time?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, has not that much to do with it, you know. But I guess what you can read out of it is you have to be at the net to have to hit a shot like that first. So it means I’m playing offensive, which is a good thing.
If you really want to break it down to like the last detail (smiling). My approach was somewhat awkward already to start with, so I don’t know what I was thinking. I tried to fake him out and it didn’t quite work, but I still got kind of the reply I wanted to.
But he hit a good hustle ball, which was not an easy shot for him to hit – the overhead – running in.
Look, there’s not that much you can read into confidence when you hit a shot like that.
Q. When you hit it, did you know it was good?
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, I knew I hit it — I had good contact, perfect speed and hit and everything. I kind of like it when the ball like gets away from me a little bit, so I hit it with it’s lower, because then I can generate more pace off it.
The thing is, by the time I turn around it’s already in the corner of the court on the other side, so I’m almost looking for the ball first up. And then I just — I’m not even sure if I saw the bounce or not, and then obviously the crowd gave me the answer, which was kind of good.
Q. You make a ranking in your career of all your best shots?
ROGER FEDERER: Best shots? No. I know on YouTube there are guys that are putting together best shots of me. I guess you can do that after a 10-year career. I’ve gone there myself to see them, you know, because some of them have been forgotten, you know, because it was a second round, I don’t know, 3-All or 40-Love point in an ATP event somewhere.
Then those guys on the net, they find that stuff. That’s fantastic that they put it all together. I’ve pulled up some incredible shots throughout my career obviously in terms of length, just sheer talent or sheer importance of the moment because it all kind of comes together.
Today was just great shot-making.
Q. Can you talk about marriage. Used to be marriage was considered bad. Borg and McEnroe got married and quickly dropped from being No. 1.
ROGER FEDERER: That’s why I waited 10 years (smiling).
Q. Is there a feeling among male tennis players that marriage might distract you from your competitiveness?
ROGER FEDERER: No, not really. I guess in soccer guys marry and have kids much faster than in tennis. In tennis I guess very often financially you’re never quite safe, because for a long time at least, you know, because injury can hit at any time. You don’t have a five-year contract. Who is going to take care of you and stuff?
So it’s very much living day by day. You’re young, you know. 25, either you’re working or you’re going to school, and we’re not in one place like one place like maybe soccer players are. You have a tendency to marry later, and later also in your career you start to maybe not play as well.
I don’t believe in all those statistics, you know, because, uhm, that’s just the way our life is. We cannot get married that early. And if we do, you’re not going to see the other person maybe for over 50% of the year. It’s hard to keep up a good relationship, I find.
I was lucky enough that the last seven or eight years, I’ve been every day together basically with Mirka, and that has definitely helped me, you know, to be good.
I feel married since a long time, not just since last year. That’s for sure.
Q. But do you feel like your competitive spirit might wane a little bit with marriage and kids now?
ROGER FEDERER: No. I have the same fire, the same drive. I thought it might have a little impact on my schedule, it might play less, have an impact on how I practiced, maybe early mornings so I could get back and stuff because I have to wake up early.
It’s so well set up. Mirka takes such great care. I’m there anyway most all the time as well that I can place my practice whenever I want. I still have enough time with them.
Honestly, the transition was very smooth. I’m very happy about it, of course.
Q. In terms of trick shots, there’s been a lot of skepticism about the YouTube video.
ROGER FEDERER: Criticism?
ROGER FEDERER: There’s a difference.
Q. Some doubt that it’s real.
ROGER FEDERER: They’re not sure, those guys? They don’t dare to try it (smiling).
One thing I tell you, that the shots on center court in front of 22,000 people is a bit more difficult than what I did at the Gillette commercial. That was just having a bit more fun.
No, I can’t tell you if it’s real or not. That’s up for debate. Still up to debate, you know. I’m not going to answer that question.
Q. Could you hit one between your legs and knock the can off someone’s head?
ROGER FEDERER: That’s kind of tough, the trajectory going up. You can feel like the nose and everything being hit first. No, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
August 30, 2010
US Open—New York
No. 5 seed Robin Soderling d. Andreas Haider-Maurer 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(2), 5-7, 6-4; No. 6 seed Nikolay Davydenko d. Michael Russell 6-4, 6-1, 6-3; No. 9 seed Andy Roddick d. Stephane Robert 6-3, 6-2, 6-2; No. 11 seed Marin Cilic d. Illya Marchenko 7-5, 6-3, 6-1; No. 13 seed Jurgen Melzer d. Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2; No. 17 seed Gael Monfils d. Robert Kendrick 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4; No. 21 seed Albert Montanes d. Michal Przysiezny 5-7, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-0; No. 22 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero d. Martin Klizan 6-1, 6-3, 6-0; Ivan Dodig d. No. 27 seed Fernando Gonzalez 6-7(2), 6-1, 1-0 ret. (knee); Thiemo de Bakker d. Marc Gicquel 6-4, 7-5, 6-2; Taylor Dent d. Alejandro Falla 6-4, 7-5, 6-1; Ricardes Berankis d. Ryan Sweeting 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2; Igor Andreev d. Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3; Richard Gasquet d. Simon Greul 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Kei Nishikori d. Evgeny Korolev 7-6(0) 5-2 ret. (right elbow); Ricardo Mello d. Bjorn Phau 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4); Janko Tipsarevic d. Olivier Rochus 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(0), 6-2; Guillermo Rufin d. Leonardo Mayer 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-1; Carsten Ball d. Milos Raonic 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
August 30, 2010
US Open—New York
Tennis players get four chances each season to show the world, their colleagues, and their fans what they’re capable of. Although the rest of the year can’t be taken for granted, player’s resumes will always be remembered by how they rise and fall at the Majors.
Injury or illness can sometimes prevent a player from participating in an event, but for the most part anything and everything will be done in order for a chance to take part in the field.
Monday’s start to the US Open showcased four high profile men, and their respective but often questionable outlook toward their playing styles. Three of the four men advanced to the second-round, but it became apparent through each of their matches that this year’s Open may not end with the desired result.
It’s been a difficult year for Fernando Gonzalez. He started the season in middle-of-the-road form, but soon fell victim to the grief of a devastating earthquake in Chile, which was later followed by a pesky knee injury. Never relying on his foot speed as one of his strengths, Gonzalez took to Court 13 during the heat of the day to hopefully swat enough groundstrokes to defeat his No. 148 ranked opponent Ivan Dodig. Capturing the first set with a tight knit tiebreak, Gonzalez’s injury soon became an evident hindrance to his movement and mood. Displaying very little positive energy throughout the second-set, Gonzalez would pull the plug on his campaign after netting a meek slice backhand to start the third set. Although he’d shown up in an effort to put on a show, his sound shattering forehand, and his clan of devoted followers, were left with little to celebrate after a conceding handshake was brought forth.
There was no famous racket break from Gonzalez—no chi chi chi…eh eh eh from the crowd—only a head down exit from the final Slam of the year.
The Open remains worse off without last year’s quarterfinalist.
In Need Of A Helmet
You gotta love the way Gael Monfils goes about his tennis. He knows that he’s putting himself in harms way each and every time he dives on the court, but for whatever reason (no scratch that, there is a reason), Monfils seems to constantly defy gravity, while delighting a flabbergasted audience. Taking on Robert Kendrick of the US today, Monfils needed five sets, and all of his athleticism to reach the round of 64. Injuring his elbow earlier this summer in Toronto (you guessed it, by diving on court against Andy Murray), the Frenchman entered Flushing Meadows with not a lot to count on. Using his deceptively quick serve to hit 17 aces, Monfils was required to use his backstop positioned passing shots to offset the serve and volley tactics of Kendrick.
I’ve always put Monfils right up there as perhaps the best athlete in the game, but I think it’s safe to say that he’ll never become a serious threat to win a Grand Slam. Choosing to awe the crowd instead of putting forth the point construction and foresight that’s required to hoist the hardware, Monfils will remain a great opening door prize at the Majors, but until he proves that he’s willing to use his strengths for the long-haul, and not for the highlight reel, we’ll have to catch him while we can.
Finding It Haider
Brad Gilbert just came out and said it today during the Robin Soderling vs. Andreas Haider-Maurer match on the Grandstand: “There’s no way you can look at Haider-Maurer and consider him a Challenger player.”
Well, Gilbert was right on the money with that comment, and during the third and fourth set comeback efforts by the Austrian, it appeared that Soderling was in danger of suffering his second first-round hard-court Major loss of the season.
It’s amazing to consider that a player with Soderling’s power quotient struggles on faster courts. His long backswings can’t generate the same amount power that they can on clay or grass, and the outcome often results in mistimed, and framed groundstrokes.
However, Soderling had more than the fast paced courts of the Grandstand to deal with today. His unheralded opponent dropped 34 aces in total, while zipping 58 winners into various corners. Putting the shoe on the other foot for a majority of the match, Soderling was forced to use his improved confidence, and clay-court foundation to squeak into the second-round.
I didn’t like what I saw from Soderling today; I more than enjoyed Haider-Maurer’s desire, and judging by the Swede’s current level of play today, his upcoming “easy” draw will have to be reassessed.
Andy Roddick’s 28th birthday brought with it some nervous moments against through-back player Stephane Robert. Leapfrogging to a 5-0 first set lead, Roddick quickly lost the next three games before closing out the set. Although it was tough to assess Roddick’s play based on the non-modern game of his opponent, I wasn’t at all convinced that the American will be able to put forth a sensible title run this year.
Roddick is certainly low on confidence at the moment, and as he regains his energy from a brief bout with mono, he would be better served to give his groundstrokes some more velocity.
Jonny Mac made a great point today in dissecting Roddick’s fourth-round loss to Yen-Hsun Lu at Wimbledon. Stating that Roddick pushed his groundstrokes like an under 12-year-old junior in London, McEnroe highlighted Roddick’s overall problem throughout the past three years. We saw Roddick climb back against Marin Cilic at the Aussie Open in January by giving his groundstrokes a ride; we later witnessed Roddick defeat Rafael Nadal during the Miami event by smoking four forehand winners during the middle of his three set comeback victory.
Aside from Roddick’s tremendous serve, the rest of his game has become extremely timid. He’s too reliant on deep court positioning and defense, and not on exhibiting the lethal forehand he used during his late teens and early 20s.
The one positive for Roddick today was that he did advance in straight sets, and that will aid him in conserving energy for the latter rounds.
He will however need to step up his aggression if he intends on making the second week.