Draw Preview: US Open Men’s Singles – The Road to R4

August 23, 2013

Jack Han previews the men’s US Open draw for 2013 in his latest installment of his Hard Courts blog. You can follow Jack on Twitter @KSplayersclub.

Section 1/8

Seeds: Djokovic (1), Dimitrov (25), Paire (24), Fognini (16)

Last year’s finalist Djokovic gets the fleet-footed Ricardas Berankis, a former US Open junior champion, as his first-round opponent. Lukas Rosol looms in Round Two. After that, Novak might have to play Grigor Dimitrov.

Coming into the Open, Djokovic is perhaps playing the best tennis of his life, in terms of backing up his second serve (58.9% of second serve points won). He has only lost to two players ranked outside the Top 20 so far this season (Dimitrov in Madrid and Isner in Cincinnati), so look for him to stick around until the end of the second week in New York

FAVORED: DJOKOVIC

DARK HORSE: KUBOT

*****

Section 2/8

Seeds: Haas (12). Youzhny (21), Melzer (29), Del Potro (6)

One first-round encounter which promises to excite is the matchup of former champ Lleyton Hewitt and American wildcard Brian Baker. It will probably be played either on the Grandstand or on the new Court 17, so get there nice and early to grab a seat near the action. Lleyton is the sentimental favorite, but local support will be strong for Baker, who out for glory after skipping the last two Slams with a knee injury.

Assuming Tommy Haas and Juan Martin Del Potro end up playing each other in Round 4, you best put your money on the Argentinian. Delpo is 5-0 lifetime against Haas and has yet to drop a set against the German.

FAVORED: DEL POTRO

DARK HORSE: DOLGOPOLOV

*****

Section 3/8

Seeds: Murray (3), Monaco (28), Seppi (20), Almagro (15)

Watch out for Steve Johnson, currently ranked 121st in the world. He pushed Almagro to the limit during this year’s Australian Open (lost 7-5 6-7 6-2 6-7 6-2) and could play the Spaniard against in the second round if he can get past Denis Istomin first.

Andy Murray is the defending champ here and will be hard-pressed to live up to ever-increasing expectations associated with him now being a two-time Grand Slam champ. While he has not necessarily been playing better against his immediate competitors (he is only 5-4 against Top-10 players in 2013), he is an impressive 26-2 this season against players ranked outside the Top 20 (compared to 4 losses in 2012 and 6 in 2011).

FAVORED: MURRAY

DARK HORSE: JOHNSON

*****

Section 4/8

Seeds: Wawrinka (9), Anderson (17), Benneteau (31), Berdych (5)

There are a few older guys to watch out for in this section: Stepanek (who plays Wawrinka in Round 1), James Blake (who opens against a qualifier) and Marcos Baghdatis. Also, two recent Federer-slayers can be found in Stakhovsky and Daniel Brands. Brands can be especially dangerous in New York – he’s a 6’5” German who really hits the covers off the ball.

Berdych begins his US Open campaign ranked a career-high number 5 in the world. He has played reasonably well this season despite only making 2 Tour finals and losing both of them (to Djokovic in Dubai and to Tsonga in Marseille). Some good news for the Czech: he is drawn against Murray (against whom he is 6-4 lifetime) instead of Djokovic (2-14) in the quarters.

FAVORED: BERDYCH

DARK HORSE: BRANDS

*****

Section 5/8

Seeds: Gasquet (8), Tursunov (32), Lopez (23), Raonic (10)

It’s a bit hard to get a read on this section because 4 of the 16 slots are reserved for to-be-determined Qualifiers. As things stand, Raonic has a relatively neat draw until the quarters, as neither Gasquet nor Lopez has the firepower to compete against the Canadian if his game is firing on all cylinders.

It’s good to see Dimitry Tursunov snag the 32nd seed. The Russian started the year ranked 117th in the world and having to qualify for ATP 250s like Marseille.

FAVORED: RAONIC

DARK HORSE: KLAHN

*****

Section 6/8

Seeds: Janowicz (14), Tipsarevic (18), Gulbis (30), Ferrer (4)

Janko Tipsarevic’s record this season stands at 15-17. The last year in which he had a losing record was back in 2005 (17-24). He has not won back-to-back matches since making the 3rd round of Roland Garros this spring, and is 2-4 since Wimbledon.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, 30th seed Ernests Gulbis started 2013 ranked 138th in the world before seeing his ranking climb by over 100 spots courtesy of a 49-21 record so far this season. His likely third round opponent is David Ferrer – they have only played once against each other, and that was back in 2007. Gulbis is also a respectable 2-2 against potential 4R foe Jerzy Janowicz.

FAVORED: GULBIS

DARK HORSE: SOCK

*****

Section 7/8

Seeds: Federer (7), Querrey (26), Robredo (19), Nishikori (11)

It really is odd seeing Federer seeded so low after ten years at the top of the game. There is no question that the Swiss is not hitting the ball as crisply and moving as swiftly as in the past. He has not hit so few aces (8.2% of first serves) since 2000 and his 56.0% second serve conversion rate is the lowest since 2002.

26th seeded Sam Querrey is currently in the semis at Winston-Salem, and could ride into the Open on a wave of confidence. He is drawn to face Federer in the third round. The pair has not played since 2008. There is some upset potential there.

FAVORED: FEDERER

DARK HORSE: QUERREY

*****

Section 8/8

Seeds: Isner (13), Kohlschreiber (22), Verdasco (27), Nadal (2)

In Round 1, Kohlschreiber goes up against wildcard and California native Collin Altamirano, the first unseeded player to ever win the USTA National Championships at Kalamazoo. The 17 year-old is currently unranked and will be aiming for a first pro win on tennis’ biggest stage.

Nadal has a fairly reasonable draw, facing Ryan Harrison in the first round and perhaps old friend Verdasco in Round 3. Beyond that, he might come up against Kohlschreiber, Isner, or even a resurgent Gael Monfils.

FAVORED: NADAL

DARK HORSE: MONFILS

Men’s Draw Preview: Western & Southern Open @Cincinnati 2013

August 10, 2013

by: Jack Han

Currently @CoupeRogers in Montreal covering the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 for TennisConnected, @KSplayersClub checks in with a men’s preview of the Cincinnati Masters in Mason, Ohio starting on Monday.

TOP HALF

Section 1

Djokovic gets a fairly good draw here, with a first round bye and a second round against either Juan Monaco (against whom he is undefeated in 7 matches) or Jurgen Melzer (3-1 record for ND). Later on he could meet this week’s surprising semifinalist Vasek Pospisil, or perhaps a qualifier who happens to be hitting a hot streak.

FAVORED: DJOKOVIC

*****

Section 2

Speaking of good draws, Milos Raonic, another semifinalist in Montreal this weekend, definitely did not get one. He’ll need to fly to Ohio and take on wildcard Jack Sock in the first round. Sock beat Raonic in Memphis earlier this year, and the Canadian will be in tough especially considering the circumstances.

This section is perhaps the most competitive part of the draw, as it also features Querrey, Isner and Gasquet. Whoever will advance to the quarterfinals from here will definitely have his work cut out for him.

FAVORED: ISNER

******

Section 3

David Ferrer rarely loses against players outside the top 10 (57-9 in the last 12 months), but was defeated by 83rd-ranked Alex Bogomolov Jr. in Montreal this past week. Look for him to reassert his dominance of underdogs in Cincy. First he’s up against the winner of Dolgopolov and Ryan Harrison. 16th seed Jerzy Janowicz will be his most likely opponent in the following round.

FAVORED: JANOWICZ

******

Section 4

Juan Martin Del Potro struggled with back pains during his loss to Raonic a couple of days ago. He’ll have a couple of days to rest up. If he is still feeling unwell, he might decide to pull out, which will make 10th-seeded Kei Nishikori the on-paper favorite to move into the quarters in this section. A couple of dangerous floaters feature here: Jeremy Chardy almost took out Raonic in the first round at the Roger’s Cup, while Benoit Paire is playing good tennis these days as well.

FAVORED: CHARDY

*****

BOTTOM HALF

Section 5

The big story here, obviously, is Roger Federer’s return to hard courts. He has 1000 points to defend from his title here last year, so an early-round stumble could prove to be extremely costly for his ranking as well as his chances at the US Open. He will start against a familiar foe, either Philipp Kohlschreiber (6-0) or Mardy Fish (4-1).

In the following round, Roger could well play against good friend and occasional doubles partner Tommy Haas.

FAVORED: FEDERER

******

Section 6

Nadal gets a first round bye, then a qualifier in the second round. Meanwhile, Almagro and Dimitrov, two stylish players with disappointing showings in Montreal, face off against each other. The winner there gets to play either Brian Baker, who is playing his first tournament since injuring his knee at the Australian Open, or the in-form Denis Istomin, who pushed Djokovic to three sets at the Roger’s Cup.

FAVORED: NADAL

******

Section 7

Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka are the favorites to move on here. Both have had plenty of time to adjust to conditions in Cincinnati after their early exits at the Roger’s Cup at the hands of Pospisil and Paire, respectively. Andreas Seppi could be dangerous on hard courts, so Wawrinka will need to play his best tennis in round one.

FAVORED: BERDYCH

******

Section 8

Andy Murray crashed out in straight sets versus Ernests Gulbis in Montreal, and he’ll have a chance to avenge that defeat right away, if Gulbis prevails over the veteran Mikhail Youzhny in round one. Elsewhere, it will be a battle of welterweights with Fognini taking on Stepanek and Benneteau playing against Baghdatis.

FAVORED: MURRAY

Hard Courts 4: The Middle Rounds at the Roger’s Cup

August 9, 2013

Second Round: Filip Peliwo vs. Denis Istomin

After an inspiring first-round win with veteran Jarkko Nieminen, Filip Peliwo pushed another experienced player in Istomin right to the limit. The young Canadian dominated proceedings from the baseline, doing an especially good job of picking on the weaker Istomin forehand. To the Uzbek’s credit, he played solid tennis and hung around long enough to get a lucky bounce at 6-3 3-6 4-3 30-40 on his opponent’s serve. Peliwo came to net on a good approach shot but Istomin’s pass clipped the net and bounced over the Canadian’s head for the deciding break. All in all it was still an encouraging week for Peliwo, who showed off great athleticism, a world class forehand and a fighting spirit allowing him to breaks into the Top 300 for the first time.

Final Score: Istomin def. Peliwo 6-3 3-6 6-3


Second Round: Vasek Pospisil vs. Radek Stepanek

Pospisil, who is of Czech ancestry, faced off against the wily Radek Stepanek on Court Banque Nationale. The Canadian wildcard played nearly flawless power tennis and dominated the match. While his countryman Milos Raonic’s serve is widely respected on tour, Pospisil’s is no slouch either – he hit one which was recorded at 235 KMH (a touch over 140 miles per hour). Stepanek might have been able to diffuse his opponent’s north-south power game in his younger days, but nothing he did on court seemed to work all that well on this particular occasion.

Final Score: Pospisil def. Stepanek 6-2 6-4


Third Round: Kei Nishikori vs. Richard Gasquet

The mercurial Gasquet was the slight favorite in this match, being ranked a couple of spots higher on the ATP computer. However, the first set did not reflect that fact, as the Japanese number one gave Richard no opportunities to set up on his favored backhand wing. Coupled with some service woes from the Frenchman, and the first set was over in a hurry, 6-1 in favor of Nishikori. To Gasquet’s credit, he kept plugging away, and set up the points in a way to hit the most backhands possible. With time, the extraordinary amount of spin (over 3000 RPM according to research) and angles Gasquet could generate with his one-hander began to disrupt Nishikori’s timing. This coupled with better serving (Gasquet got quite a few free points with his wide slice serve in the deuce court) and sensible net play allowed the Frenchman to claim the second set 6-3. In the final set, Nishikori looked impatient and began to press, especially off the forehand wing. That lead to few costly errors which handed Gasquet a lone, critical break. Speaking of impatient, Gasquet was anything but, as he was called for two time violations in the third set. On the second offense, at 5-3 40-30, he was forced to relinquish his first serve. He lost that point, but served the match out with a service winner moments later.

Final Score: Gasquet def. Nishikori 1-6 6-3 6-3


Third Round: Denis Istomin vs. Novak Djokovic


After gutting out a victory against Peliwo, it was Istomin’s turn to play the underdog. This time, instead of merely moving the ball around the court and hitting his forehand conservatively, the Uzbek attacked the world number one with abandon. The strategy proved to be effective, as Istomin ran away with the first set 6-2 and was right in the thick of things for the duration of the match. However, Djokovic, supported by a vocal crowd, did not get rattled and hit his way back into contention. While his shots do not quite have the heaviness of a Raonic or a Berdych, Djokovic stands out by his ability to make clean contact effortlessly whether moving back, taking the ball off the rise, or hitting the ball in the air with a swing volley. While Istomin had the raw power to compete, he made quite a few late errors going for too much just to keep up with his opponent’s pace of shot.

Final Score: Djokovic def. Istomin 2-6 6-4 6-4


(Stay tuned to Tennis Connected for more daily reports from the grounds of the ATP Roger’s Cup Masters 1000 held in Montreal)

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and has been writing for Tennis Connected since 2009.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

Hard Courts 3: Dog Day Afternoon (Rogers Cup Qualifying)

August 4, 2013

The weather has been capricious over Qualifying Weekend in Montreal. While the heat and humidity have yet to become factors, the seemingly random alternation between bright sunshine and sudden thunderstorms has been an annoyance for both fans and players.

Still, the conditions were mostly pleasant, and allowed all of the qualifying matches to take place without too many delays. Here were some of the moments we experienced out on court:

Q1: Ranjeev Ram vs. Denis Kudla

The first match up on the underrated Court 9 on Saturday, the clash between fellow Americans promised to be an interesting contrast in style, with classically elegant Ram trying to glide to net behind a deft approach shot  at every occasion and the new-school Kudla countering with topspin drives from behind the baseline.

Ram started the match well and earned two break points on his very first return game, but Kudla reacted by taking the net away from his opponent at strategic moments and served for the first set at 5-4. However, a double-fault and two missed backhands later, Ram had miraculously broken back to tie the match at 5-games-all. The pair held serve to force a tiebreak, where Ram pushed Kudla to the limit before succumbing.

The second set was more of the same – Ram doing his best to hang around in baseline rallies while looking for a chance to come to net. In a strange paradox, the better he rallied, the worse his overall prospects became. Protracted exchanges, where the Indian-American was forced to use the slice backhand to stay alive, drained him on the energy he needed to take care of his own serve. Kudla broke early in the second set and ran away with the match. The match proved to be a loss for the old-school, and yet another win for the modern game.

Final score: Kudla def. Ram 7-6(7) 6-4

Q1: Yen-Hsun Lu vs. Ricardas Berankis

Lu, the top-seeded qualifier, made short work of the talented-but-undersized Lithuanian. The Taiwanese veteran was sharp from the get-go and made his opponent look genuinely bad with an overwhelming display of baseline tennis. While Berankis looked to take chances with his favored forehand wing, Lu was simply merciless and just looked to be reacting to the ball at a superior level. I had never seen someone hit the ball so well on the run this side of David Ferrer.

As strong as Lu appeared on that day, however, you could also see why he is not placed higher than his current ranking of 60th in the world. Though at 5’11” he is not a big guy, Lu insists on hitting his first serves quite flat, which meant that he rarely makes more than 50% of them. In addition, he doesn’t have the explosive racquet-head speed to turn a point around in a single swing. Once he’s on the back foot, he’s liable to remain that way for the duration of the point, especially against Top-50 opposition. Berankis, however, was ranked a middling 113th in the world, and Lu, in his element, closed out the match in just over an hour.

Final Score: Lu def. Berankis 6-1 6-2

(Lu def. Kudla in Q2 to advance to the main draw)

Q1: Jack Sock vs. Tim Smyczek

If this were a street fight, it would have been quite a mismatch between the 6’1” 180lb Jack Sock and the 5’9” 145lb Tim Smyczek. Fortunately for Smyczek, tennis is not played with fists, and for a while he actually had the higher-ranked Sock on the ropes.

The much-heralded Sock had a rocket first serve, a hard-kicking second serve and a whip-like topspin forehand, which he used to great effect in taking the first set 6-2. Much of his explosive racquet-head speed on that wing came from his wrist and forearm, which made the shot hard to read but somewhat streaky. In the second set, Smyczek took advantage of a dip in his opponent’s form and built up a 5-1 lead before forcing a deciding set. The scrappy, undersized grinder used his compact but efficient groundstrokes to target the Sock backhand, a stiff and unnatural-looking shot, with good effect.

In the deciding set, however, Jack Sock righted the ship, began to clean up his forehand unforced errors, and directed more of his 130MPH first serves into the service box. After getting an early break, he held the rest of the way to snuff out the Smyczek challenge.

Final Score: Sock def. Smyczek 6-2 3-6 6-3

(Sock lost to Matosevic in Q2)

Q2: Ivo Karlovic vs. Amir Weintraub

Off the tour with illness for the past few months, Karlovic is just a few matches into his ATP comeback. Having dismissed the veteran Gabashvili 7-6 7-5 on the day prior, Karlovic must’ve liked his chances against unheralded Israeli Amir Weintraub out on the National Bank Court.

However, the Croatian quickly found himself in a hole, as Weintraub broke in the final game of the first set. Karlovic’s first serve percentage was unremarkable and, more importantly, Weintraub seemed totally unfazed by the towering Croatian’s serve. It was good for an ace and an unreturnable on each Karlovic service game, but Weintraub blocked enough returns back in play with his favored one-handed backhand to make the big man hit many uncomfortable mid-court volleys. Despite failing to serve out the match at 5-4, Weintraub took control in the second-set tiebreak, closed out the match in straights, and is set to play his first-ever Masters 1000 main draw match.

Final Score: Weintraub def. Karlovic 7-5 7-6(2)

Q2: David Goffin vs. Tobias Kamke

Despite both being relatively undersized compared to most other players in the ATP top-100, Kamke and Goffin go about things very differently on the court. On the one hand, the German-born Kamke, slightly older and stronger, is a clean ball-striker who prefers to whack the ball off both wings until his opponent submits. On the other hand, Goffin, the Belgian who took a set off his hero Roger Federer in last year’s Roland Garros, stings rather than punishes with his groundstrokes and prefers to attack with his footspeed and counter-punching abilities.

As both men had solid return games and unspectacular serves, the match featured plenty of breaks. Kamke attempted to take the initiative and control proceedings with deep, flat drives.  Conversely, Goffin often attempted to change the complexion of the rally with soft, deep topspin forehands, putting Kamke on the run and out of his comfort zone. In match with plenty of long rallies and occasional strokes of brilliance from either player, Goffin’s steadiness and superior court coverage proved to be the difference; he’s into the main draw.

Final Score: Goffin def. Kamke 6-4 7-5

(Stay tuned to Tennis Connected for more daily reports from the grounds of the ATP Rogers Cup Masters 1000 held in Montreal)

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and has been writing for Tennis Connected since 2009.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

Hard Courts 2: Earlybirds at the Roger’s Cup

August 1, 2013


While most of the ATP field has not yet arrived in Montreal, some players are already hard at work on the practice courts at the first post-Wimbledon Masters 1000 event.

Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray were first on Center Court and practiced from about 10AM until noon.

They were followed by Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet, who hit in increasingly blustery conditions. Both were having trouble keeping the ball in the court for more than five or six rallies until the wind died down halfway into their hitting session.

Unsurprisingly, it was Nadal who was the stronger baseliner, especially off the forehand wing. His buggywhip swing inevitably met the ball cleanly and powerfully, producing a shot which consistently cleared the net by over five feet and dipped back in with pace. On the other side of the court, Gasquet was having a bit of trouble keeping up. His forehand, which he hit late or framed quite often, didn’t have the fluidity of the Spaniard’s. The Frenchman could belt the ball hard on that wing, or hit it with good topspin, but he seemed unable to do both at the same time.

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On the backhand side, Nadal hit the ball quite a bit flatter than Gasquet. The Frenchman had a better command of spins and angles off his one-handed stroke, but still could not hit as heavy a ball as his practice partner, especially when the latter really leaned into his shot. Sebastien Grosjean, Gasquet’s coach, watched the pair intently and seemed to be doing more coddling than coaching – keeping his charge’s attitude in check after every missed groundstroke. Meanwhile, neither Uncle Toni nor Francesco Roig, Nadal’s usual coaches on tour, were present on Rafa’s side of the court.

On the adjacent National Bank Court (the other stadium court), Jesse Levine was hitting with Cyril Saulnier, a retired French pro who topped off at #48 in the world back in 2005. Despite being 37 years of age, Saulnier hit the ball well and could very nearly keep up with Levine. The newly resurfaced court produced a few odd bounces, and seemed to play faster than that of the years past. Levine worked quite a bit on his groundstrokes, keeping the ball in play with control, and was full of praise for his hitting partner’s abilities. It is unclear whether this is the start of a new coaching arrangement, but we will find out soon enough when the world #124 begins his Roger’s Cup campaign (this weekend in doubles with Vasek Pospisil, then early next week in singles).

(Stay tuned to Tennis Connected for more daily reports from the grounds of the ATP Roger’s Cup Masters 1000 held in Montreal)

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and has been writing for Tennis Connected since 2009.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

Hard Courts: Rolling the Dice with Milos Raonic

July 30, 2013

by: Jack Han

As they say, with results come expectations. Milos Raonic should know.

Despite coming into this year’s Roger’s Cup ranked a career-best 13th in the world, most tennis fans seem to believe the narrative that the 6’5” Canuck with the rocket arm has been an underachiever so far in the 2013 season.

After a convincing showing at the Australian Open (loss to Federer in R4), a third title in San Jose and two successful Davis Cup ties in Vancouver, Raonic has only been 8-8 on the tour since and has lost early in the last two Slams.In Paris, he was taken out in the third round by 23rd seed Kevin Anderson, another big guy who is not quite a clay-court monster. At Wimbledon, Raonic crashed out in the second versus the unseeded Dutchman Igor Sjsling, who happened to be playing the best tennis of his career.

However, despite the recent setbacks, there’s no need to panic. In the words of Brad Gilbert, “good things are about to happen.”

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Stat 1: First Serve Winning Percentage + Match Record

Jan-Jul 2011: 79.1% (33-14)

Jan-Jul 2012: 82.8% (29-12)

Jan-Jul 2013: 79.5% (21-11)

Keeping in mind that Raonic padded his serving numbers by winning 8 qualifying matches in the early part of 2011, we can see that his record in 2013 so far is not too bad in the grand scheme of things.

Raonic’s career first serve winning percentage is 80.4%, while John Isner’s is 76.8%. More tellingly, Isner has never had a year where he’s won more than 78% of his first serve points. Even if we can say that Raonic’s serve is “off” in recent months, he is still the most potent server on tour considering that his first serve percentage has not significantly fluctuated in the past three years (between 61.5% and 62.9%).

Stat 2: Second Serve Winning Percentage

Jan-Jul 2011: 53.5%

Jan-Jul 2012: 58.0%

Jan-Jul 2013: 54.6%

Career: 53.7%

If we look at second serves, we can actually see that Raonic won a disproportional amount of points on his second delivery in 2012. A letdown this year is in a sense not that surprising. Still, we can see that the overall trend is in the positive direction.

Stat 3: Tiebreak Winning Percentage

Jan-Jul 2011: 18-9 (67%)

Jan-Jul 2012: 18-10 (64%)

Jan-Jul 2013: 9-9 (50%)

Career: 76-60 (56%)

At 6-games-all in a set, both players should have more or less an equal chance of winning a tiebreak. However, the final game rewards the most accomplished champions (Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic) and the biggest servers (John Isner, Raonic). Milos currently sits 8th on the ATP Tour in terms of career tiebreak winning percentage but only 36th in 2013.

Only one factor can explain this discrepancy: bad luck. A lucky let cord, a bad line call, or an inopportune gust of wind can all turn a tiebreak on its head. And as you know, luck can change at any time, independent of form.

Considering these three stats, we can see that things are not too bad after all. If Milos and his new coach Ivan Ljubicic continue to work the right way, a next-level breakthrough at the Grand Slam level and a trip to the top-10 is definitely not out of the question. While I can’t guarantee that Milos will win the Roger’s Cup or the US Open (that’s up to him), I’ll say it again: “Good things are about to happen.”

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and has been writing for Tennis Connected since 2009.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

Jack’s Quick and Dirty Wimbledon Preview – The Big 4 Rivalry + Raonic

June 23, 2013

by: Jack Han

1) Will History Be Made?

With Nadal both seeded fifth and playing in the same quarter as Federer, we are set to (perhaps) witness an unheard-of occurrence: a member of the Big Four beating ALL THREE other members of that exclusive club en route to a Slam win. Rafa can do it en route to his third Wimbledon title, or Federer can pull off the improbable feat and assure himself of being the King of the Hill at SW19 for yet another year.

How likely is this to actually occur? As it turns out, not very. Due to the structure of the draw, none of the Big Four has ever had the possibility of vanquishing all three of his chief rivals in the same tournament until now.  Winning against two of the three back-to-back has proven to be a colossal challenge as well:

Let’s take a quick look at what has transpired when each of the Big Four has faced two of the other three in back-to-back (semi and finals) matches since the 2010 Australian Open:

Novak Djokovic (1)

2012 RG (win RF, loss RN)

2012 AO (win AM, win RN)

2011 USO (win RF, win RN)

2011 AO (win RF, win AM)

2010 USO (win RF, loss RN)

Andy Murray (2)

2013 AO (win RF, loss ND)

Roger Federer (3)

2012 W (win AM, win ND)

2011 RG (win ND, loss RN)

Rafael Nadal (5)

2012 AO (win AM, loss ND)

2011 USO (win AM, loss ND)

2011 W (win AM, loss ND)

2011 RG (win AM, win RF)


A few takeaways:

-          Federer is the only one to have made beaten two Big Four players back-to-back at Wimbledon, which he did last year.

-          Djokovic has the best record (3-2) when confronted with the challenge, but this year he will only need to get through (maybe) Ferrer, and then one of the other three guys in the finals.

-          Murray has never beaten two Big Fours back-to-back in a Slam.

-          Nadal in 1-3 when put in similar circumstances, and failed to win at Wimbledon in 2011 against Djokovic after defeating Murray in the semis.

-          While Djokovic will be unfairly criticized for having a soft draw, in the grand scheme of things he has definitely earned his seeding due to his performance against the very best players on the planet since 2010.

2) Notables and Floaters

Section 1 (Djokovic)

Florian Mayer (Djokovic’s first round opponent, ranked 33 in the world, QF appearance at Wimbledon in 2012)

Tommy Haas (Has a victory over Djokovic this year)

Richard Gasquet (Past semi-finalist)

Bernard Tomic (QF loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2011)

Tomas Berdych (2010 finalist)

Section 2 (Ferrer)

Milos Raonic

Philipp Kohlschreiber (2012 quarter-finalist)

Kei Nishikori (career-high 11th ranking)

Grigor Dimitrov

Juan-Martin del Potro

Section 3 (Nadal/Federer)

John Isner (never been past round 2 at Wimbledon)

Lleyton Hewitt (former champ faces 11th-seeded Wawrinka in round 1)

Jerzy Janowicz (3rd round appearance in his only Wimbledon presence in 2012, now seeded 24th)

Lukas Rosol (will not play Nadal again unless he makes the quarter-finals)

Section 4 (Murray)

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (semi-finalist in the last 2 years; has a fairly nice draw this time around to get that far again)

Ernests Gulbis (upset Berdych in the first round last year, could be a second-round matchup for Tsonga)

Julien Benneteau (came within a few points of taking out Federer here in 2012, is a low seed once again)

Kenny De Schepper (6’8’’ lefty could be this year’s Lukas Rosol)

Mikhail Youzhny (just made the finals at Halle and was a quarterfinalist here last year)

Benjamin Becker (big-serving German has had a nice run on grass courts this summer, plays Murray in the first round after losing to the Brit at Queen’s)

3) Milos Alert

Raonic has not won a Tour match in nearly 1 month and has been the victim of three straight upsets (R32 loss at the French Open vs. Kevin Anderson, then first round losses at Halle and Eastbourne to Gael Monfils and Ivan Dodig respectively). Some of it could be attributed to his recent change in coaching situation (he’s now working with former world number three Ivan Ljubicic), but for a player who’s historically done a great job of winning matches he was favored to win, the recent losing streak must be a tough pill to swallow.

With his massive serve (perhaps the hardest and most varied on Tour) and nose for the net, it’s just a matter of time until Raonic puts together a really terrific run on the lawns of Wimbledon. However, he is a fairly unspectacular 8-8 on grass at the ATP level. In fact, he has never beaten anyone higher than 45th-ranked Santiago Giraldo (a clay-court specialist) at Wimbledon or at any other grass-court event.

All that being said, since his four-set second round loss to Querrey last year, Raonic has carried Team Canada through a couple of epic Davis Cup ties and has climbed into the Top 15. His game is good enough, and he really can’t do any worse this year, so perhaps a run to the second week is in stores.

First Round: Carlos Berlocq

(Projected)

Second Round: Igor Sjisling

Third Round: Philipp Kohlschreiber

Fourth Round: David Ferrer

Quarterfinals: Juan Martin del Potro

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and business lecturer. In addition to writing for Tennis Connected and traveling the world to cover the pro game, he also write about business for IndecentXposure.com. Check out his work for IX here.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

“In a Sentence” – Roland Garros Men’s Singles Draw Overview (Bottom Half)

May 25, 2013

SECTION 3

Tomas Berdych (5) vs. Gael Monfils

-          Berdych gets an absolutely brutal draw against former top-10er and 2008 semifinalist Monfils, who is coming off of a final round appearance in Nice this week.

Ernests Gulbis vs. Rogerio Dutra Silva

-          The traditionally inconsistent Gulbis has been sterling on clay this season, going 12-4 and not losing to anyone outside of the top-20.

Igor Sijsling vs. Jurgen Melzer

-          Sijsling is having the best 12 months of his pro career, while Melzer is absolutely struggling on clay this season (2-8).

Jurgen Zopp vs. Tommy Robredo

-          Zopp has only played one match in 2013 (first-round loss in Nice) and has not won a Tour match since last October; Robredo started the year outside the top 100 and is now at #34.

Andreas Seppi vs. Leonardo Mayer

-          Normally an adept clay-courter, Mayer skipped most of the clay season with injury and only has one match under his belt heading into Paris (first-round loss in Nice).

Blaz Kavcic vs. James Duckworth

-          105th-ranked Kavcic last won consecutive ATP matches back in February, while 185th-ranked Duckworth has only 1 tour win (first round Australian Open), period, in 2013.

Martin Alund vs. Edouard Roger-Vasselin

-          Clay-court specialist Alund put together a nice run in Sao Paolo in February, taking a set off Nadal in the semis before falling in three.

Andreas Haider-Maurer vs. Nicolas Almagro (11)

-          Haider-Maurer, a big-serving Austrian, has not won a Tour-level match on clay since Gstaad 2011.

Milos Raonic (14) vs. Xavier Malisse

-          Since setting a career-best by making the round of 16s back in 2004, Malisse has only made it out of the first round on 3 subsequent occasions.

Steve Darcis vs. Michael Llodra

-          Both men have had success on clay at the Challenger level this year, with Llodra making the final in Bordeaux 3 weeks ago and Darcis reaching the quarters in the same tournament.

Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Evgeny Donskoy

-          Struff has only one win against players ranked higher than Donskoy since July 2012, but the latter is winless on clay (0-5) so far this year.

Illya Marchenko vs. Kevin Anderson (23)

-          Marchenko pushed Anderson to the limit in the pair’s last confrontation at Wimbledon back in 2011; Anderson won 6-1 in the fifth.

Marcel Granollers (31) vs. Feliciano Lopez

-          The favored Granollers has a bunch of ranking points to defend from his round-of-16s result last year, while Lopez is guaranteed to do at least as well as he did last year, since he retired from his first round match against Serra without having won a game.

Joao Sousa vs. Go Soeda

-          Sousa only has 1 Tour-level win on clay this season (vs. Melzer in Acapulco), which is 1 more win than Soeda has been able to achieve in the same time span.

Steve Johnson vs. Albert Montanes

-          The lack of clay court play in NCAA Division I tennis is reflected in Johnson’s 2013 record; he’s lost his last four clay-court matches, three of those losses coming against opponents ranked outside the top-200.

Marinko Matosevic vs. David Ferrer (4)

-          Since upsetting Verdasco in the first round of Monte Carlo, Matosevic has not beaten anyone in the top 150.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6) vs. Aliaz Bedene

-          Bedene comes into Roland Garros with a lot of clay court tennis under his belt, having won a Challenger in Rome earlier this month and upset Davydenko in Dusseldorf last week.

Jarkko Nieminen vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu

-          Overall, Nieminen is 4-1 against Mathieu, but the Frenchman won their only Grand Slam meeting in Australia back in 2009.

Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Gilles Muller

-          The two players should know each other’s games fairly well, having played in Dusseldorf just this past week (Bautista Agut won in 3 sets).

Benjamin Becker vs. Jeremy Chardy (25)

-          Becker is on an improbable 10-match losing streak since San Jose, and has seen his ranking tumble from 61st to 96th in the world.

Juan Monaco (17) vs. Daniel Gimeno-Traver

-          All 14 of Monaco’s 2013 wins have come on clay, but he’s also only 1-1 lifetime against Gimeno-Traver.

Viktor Troicki vs. James Blake

-          James Blake has not won a Tour-level clay court match since beating Carlos Berlocq in Houston two years ago.

Radek Stepanek vs. Nick Kyrgios

-          The wildcard Kyrgios from Australia will be making his Grand Slam debut; he is only 18 and currently ranked 264th in the world

Philipp Petzschner vs. Marin Cilic (10)

-          Other than two qualifying matches in Monte Carlo, Petzchner has been absent from the 2013 European clay court warmups; Cilic himself has a relatively modest 5-4 record in those same tournaments this year.

Gilles Simon (15) vs. Lleyton Hewitt

-          The hometown favorite Simon is a bad draw for Hewitt, who has not beaten the Frenchman in 3 tries.

Adrian Mannarino vs. Pablo Cuevas

-          Both players are winless in Paris, so one of them will be setting a career best result here; Cuevas is in on a protected ranking and is currently #761 in the world.

Jan Hajek vs. Denis Kudla

-          This will be Kudla’s first appearance at Roland Garros; he did it the hard way by winning three qualifying matches.

Lukas Lacko vs. Sam Querrey (18)

-          Querrey is the on-paper favorite, but Lacko is 1-0 versus the American on Tour and also beat him right here in the 2005 Roland Garros Junior tournament.

Julien Benneteau (30) vs. Ricardas Berankis

-          Berankis is playing the best tennis of his career, while Benneteau is only 1-4 on clay this year.

Tobias Kamke vs. Paolo Lorenzi

-          Lorenzi has never won a match in Paris; he is also 0-1 lifetime against the slightly lower-ranked Kamke (66th vs. 77th).

Somdev Devvarman vs. Daniel Munoz-De La Nava

-          Devvarman has struggled with injuries and confidence, but has managed to get his ranking back up to 188th after starting the year on the wrong side of the Top 500.

Pablo Carreno-Busta vs. Roger Federer (2)

-          Though he is a relatively unintimidating 166th in the world, Carreno-Busta is an accomplished clay court player who is 14-5 on the red stuff this year.

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and business lecturer. In addition to writing for Tennis Connected and traveling the world to cover the pro game, he also write about business for IndecentXposure.com. Check out his work for IX here.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

“In a Sentence” – Roland Garros Men’s Singles Draw Overview (Top Half)

May 24, 2013

SECTION 1

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. David Goffin

-          Goffin got to the fourth round last year and made Federer work for his win. Very unfortunate draw this year.

Ivan Dodig vs. Guido Pella

-          Pella was one of the youngest players in the top-100 last year, look for the Argentinian left-hander to make some waves.

Alex Kuznetsov vs. Lucas Pouille

-          Kuznetsov turned pro in 2004 but has less than $600 000 in career earnings; wildcard Pouille is 19 but already has three pro titles to his name

Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov

-          Falla has not won consecutive Tour matches since March, while the surging Dimitrov surprisingly only has 2 match wins in the previous 4 Grand Slam tournaments

Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Dmitri Tursunov

-          The head-to-head is deadlocked at 1-1, Dolgopolov won 7-6 7-6 on clay in Munich a month ago.

Victor Hanescu vs. Bernard Tomic

-          Hanescu is having a late-career climb back up the rankings and is now ranked #55, while Tomic will be struggling for concentration due to his father’s recent run-ins with the law.

Simone Bolelli vs. Yen-Hsun Lu

-          Lu absolutely abhors playing on clay and has managed to only play three matches (1-2) on the red stuff in the past 12 months.

Jiri Vesely vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (16)

-          Vesely won three matches in the qualies to make his first-ever Roland Garros main draw, while Kohlschreiber, an excellent clay courter, will attempt to do better than his second-round appearance last year.

Tommy Haas (12) vs. Guillaume Rufin

-          Rufin, the world #88, is more or less playing the best tennis of his career; Tommy Haas has been having a good 2013 season but had just pulled out of his second round match in Dusseldorf this week with a minor health ailment.

Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez

-          Sock surprised more than a few by winning three straight qualifying matches, proving that young Americans are not all bad on clay.

Andrey Kuznetsov vs. Ryan Harrison

-          Harrison is in tough here, having never won a match in Paris and facing Kuznetsov who is quite good on clay.

Carlos Berlocq vs. John Isner (19)

-          Berlocq likes to stand way behind the baseline when returning serve, so Isner can make him look really bad by kicking the serve out wide and coming in behind it.

Mikhail Youzhny (29) vs. Pablo Andujar

-          At 27, Andujar is 3 years younger, but Youzhny has more firepower and is a former quarterfinalist here.

Federico Delbonis vs. Julian Reister

-          Delbonis has done well on clay court Challengers this year, but has not won a Tour-level match since February

Fernando Verdasco vs. Marc Gicquel

-          Ranked #118, the 36-year old Gicquel got in by the skin of his teeth; he’s also one of the least agreeable characters on Tour due to his temper.

Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic (8)

-          Despite Roland Garros being his home Grand Slam, Mahut has only managed 2 main draw wins in Paris since 2000.

SECTION 2

Rafael Nadal (3) vs. Daniel Brands

-          Brands is 6’5”, has a Rosol-esque power game and does not mind playing on clay.

Martin Klizan vs. Michael Russell

-          Klizan held a career-best ranking of #26 in 2012, but is only 6-13 so far in 2013.

Pere Riba vs. Lukas Rosol

-          Despite having the type of game which translates best to faster surfaces, Rosol actually had an 11-match winning streak on clay in April of this year.

Andrea Beck vs. Fabio Fognini (27)

-          Coming off a long injury layoff, Beck used a protected ranking to get into the qualies and won three straight matches to earn his shot at the main draw.

Benoit Paire (24) vs. Marcos Baghdatis

-          The seeded Paire is a light favorite, but Baghdatis won the pair’s only meeting in Rotterdam earlier this year.

Lukasz Kubot vs. Maxime Teixeira

-          Ranked 284, this will be Texieira’s first main draw match in a Grand Slam event since 2011.

Grega Zemlja vs. Santiago Giraldo

-          Zemlja comes into this match holding a career-best ranking, while Giraldo has not won back-to-back Tour matches since Acapulco in February.

Jesse Levine vs. Kei Nishikori (13)

-          The two Florida-trained player both like to play a run-and-gun type of baseline game; Nishikori won their only career meeting thus far 7-6 in the third back in 2010.

Stanislas Wawrinka (9) vs. Thiemo De Bakker

-          Outside of Davis Cup, the #92-ranked De Bakker has only played 5 Tour-level matches this year, compiling a 2-3 record.

Vasek Pospisil vs. Horacio Zeballos

-          Pospisil’s Tour record in 2013 stands at 2-4, while Zeballos is 8-11.

Kenny De Schepper vs. Robin Haase

-          At 6’8”, the left-handed De Schepper towers over his 6’4” opponent, though he is ranked about 30 spots lower.

Albert Ramos vs. Jerzy Janowicz (21)

-          Though Janowicz is the favored player here, Ramos did beat him in their only meeting, on clay in Barcelona less than a month ago.

Florian Mayer (28) vs. Denis Istomin

-          Historically, Istomin has been brutal on clay, having not won consecutive matches on the surface since 2010, when he made the quarters in Hamburg.

Florent Serra vs. Nikolai Davydenko

-          Serra has a single Tour-level win in 2013, obtained when he beat #182-ranked David Guez in Nice this past week.

Michal Przysiezny vs. Rhyne Williams

-          Surprisingly enough, Williams has done significantly better on clay in the past year than Przysiezny, having made the semis in Houston earlier this year.

Sergiy Stakhovsky vs. Richard Gasquet (7)

-          Gasquet leads the head-to-head 2-1 and won the pair’s only Grand Slam confrontation in straight sets at the 2011 US Open.

(Bottom half preview coming up tomorrow)

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and business lecturer. In addition to writing for Tennis Connected and traveling the world to cover the pro game, he also write about business for IndecentXposure.com. Check out his work for IX here.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

Brad, Ivan or Someone Else – Who’ll Be Milos’ New Coach?

May 24, 2013

Since parting with long-time coach Galo Blanco earlier this month, Milos Raonic’s team seems to be actively looking for potential candidates to fill the coaching void. Former world #3 Ivan Ljubicic was seen in Raonic’s box in Rome, while Neil Harman of The Times has reported that Brad Gilbert is currently “helping out” the Canadian in his Roland Garros preparations.

Given Ljubicic’s career achievements and Brad Gilbert’s impressive coaching pedigree, we can safely assume that both men would be well qualified to give their inputs to Raonic. It’s hard to say who Milos will end up working with full-time, if it’s even either of those two, but let’s take a quick look at what each brings to the table:

TACTICAL

While Ljubicic’s coaching experience is very limited, his natural playing style does mesh very well with Raonic’s. The Croat’s serve has always been his strongest attribute, and he might be able to teach Raonic how to best take advantage of his reach and power while protecting his unspectacular movement, something Ivan has been able to do en route to a career-high #3 ranking, behind Federer and Nadal, in 2006.

Brad Gilbert is probably best known for transforming a young Andy Roddick from a promising talent into a world number 1 in 2003 by tapping into the American’s tremendous athletic talents. Since Raonic is as close as it gets to a 2013 equivalent of Roddick, the same approach might pay dividends with the Canadian. Keep in mind that it was Brad Gilbert who convinced a skeptical Andy Roddick that he, indeed, could succeed on grass, even though Andy struggled at Queen’s and Wimbledon early on in his career.

PSYCHOLOGICAL

A friend of mine who grew up playing junior tennis against Raonic in Canada once told me that Milos was a lot more emotional and demonstrative on-court back in the juniors than on the ATP tour. It seems that over the years, Milos has learnd to play more within himself mentally, much like his idol Pete Sampras. There is no denying that being able to stay level-headed in clutch situations has helped him win more than his share of tiebreaks and deciding sets, but would showing more emotions allow him to intimidate his opponents and otherwise get into their heads?

On the one hand, staying with the same mental approach which brought him to the cusp of the top ten is a safe bet. On the other hand, perhaps a change on that front is just what Milos needs in order to make the breakthrough from “pretty good” to “Grand Slam contender.” Considering that Ivan Ljubicic was also usually pretty quiet and even-keeled on the court, I’m not sure how much he’ll have to share with Milos on that front. Meanwhile, having coached fiery characters such as Agassi, Roddick and Murray, Brad Gilbert should be a lot better placed to advise the Canadian on the pros and cons of wearing your heart on your sleeve.

EMOTIONAL

Because of their shared ancestry (both Montenegro, the country of Raonic’s birth, and Croatia used to be a part of Yugoslavia) and low-key demeanors, Ivan and Milos should be able to find some common ground and shared understanding from a personal point of view.

Conversely, the famously talkative Gilbert might be a bit of a shock to the system for Milos. Milos doesn’t drink and doesn’t really have many interests beside tennis; Brad loves beer and is a man of a world, in his own way. Having interviewed Milos at Davis Cup and talked with Brad on a few occasions at Flushing Meadows, it seems that it would take a bit of work to make the partnership feasible long-term. The question is, would Brad be able to adjust his coaching style and find an optimal way to get through to Milos, or would Milos get tired of how much Brad talks (about tennis, other sports or life in general).

CONCLUSION

Historically, Brad’s done the best with Agassi and Roddick, two extroverted, fun-loving guys who, like him, didn’t mind hamming it up once in a while. His partnerships with Mary Pierce, Tatiana Golovin, Andy Murray, Sam Querrey and Kei Nishikori haven’t been as enduring perhaps because Brad works his magic the best when his charge also happened to be his best buddy. Meanwhile, Ivan seems to be a pretty good fit from a personal point of view, but does not have Gilbert’s extensive coaching experience and tactic savvy from which to draw upon.

What’s actually going to happen with Milos’ coaching situation remains to be seen, but at least he seems to be starting his search in the right place.

Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and business lecturer. In addition to writing for Tennis Connected and traveling the world to cover the pro game, he also write about business for IndecentXposure.com. Check out his work for IX here.

Twitter: @KSplayersClub

Instagram: SoireeCulturelle

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