August 12, 2011
MONTREAL – So it goes. So it goes. The slaughtering of a hero, the changing of the guard, the strangling reality of time: what has been said about Roger Federer that hasn’t already been said? How many times has that question been asked?
Yet no one is willing to put the story to bed. Roger Federer, chief among them. It still takes some getting used to, hearing Federer discuss what went wrong in his matches versus what went right but in each press conference, as gloomy as he might be feeling, he refuses to accept that his time has come. In his recent, somewhat surprising loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during the third round of Montreal’s Rogers Cup, Federer didn’t seem too shaken. “I feel good physically… I can tell you I feel good mentally and I’m playing well.” His shield of invincibility might be worn down to a soft glow, but there’s this fascinating mix of quiet determination and calm confidence that manages to unravel what would be the logical argument: that his decline is clear and unavoidable.
There’s a sense that Federer is comforted by a personal belief that he truly is the greatest of all time. He’s been careful not to confuse his self-assurance with arrogance and it seems he takes comfort in all those years at number one, all the slams, all the success, all the glory. There’s still the raw hunger and thirst for victory, but he shows it less often. When there’s a challenge, he rises to it, seeming to draw from a belief that whoever is beating him now isn’t as good as he once was, and still can be. Don’t think it didn’t mean something to him that he is the sole person the new kid in town, newly minted number one, Novak Djokovic lost to this year. At the French Open, no less. The surface Federer’s struggled on the most saw him take Djokovic down in the height of his rise to number one, with an uncharacteristic show of swagger, the much discussed index finger wave that seemed to shout, “Not so fast, kiddo.”
It was an incredible statement, a new kind of win for Federer, who’s seen them all, and a shining moment of triumph against the rumblings that he doesn’t have what it takes anymore. But those moments are going to be coming fewer and farther between, no matter how free from physics he’s seemed in the past. There is a new kid in town and he’s playing tennis with his own brand of otherworldly command. Djokovic has hit his stride, and with an incredible 50-1 record on the season, he is the man to watch.
Oozing charisma on and off the court, the affectionately nicknamed “Djoker” is coming into his own with admirable aplomb. He respects the game, respects the past and knows what it means to be number one. After his first win under the official number one ranking in Montreal’s Rogers Cup, he acknowledged the weight on his shoulders with grace, shifting from his trademark jovial attitude with an endearing sincerity. “[As number one], the world is looking at me a bit differently, which I think is obvious to expect… You represent not just yourself but the game of tennis in general. You need to handle yourself well.”
Djokovic has been dreaming about this time in his life since he was a child and he is now the man for the job. Where others such as Andy Murray and, to some extent Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling, have tried to grab the spotlight and stumbled, Djokovic has proven he has the stamina and mental stability to seal the deal. The only other player who has shaken Federer’s stronghold on tennis is Rafael Nadal, who, when healthy, remains a formidable opponent and will surely capture future slam titles, but has not proven to be the same immovable obstacle for the fired up Djokovic than the roadblock Federer faced.
Djokovic is playing with a joy and command that is beautiful to see. There’s an actual spring in his step and a maturity has settled into his game that is satisfying not just for him personally, but fans as well. His success means something to him. “I feel great… I achieved the dreams of my childhood. I had a bit of time to enjoy the success I had, but now it’s back to reality, back to the tennis court, back to business.” He’s taking nothing for granted, respecting what he’s achieved, and somehow without taking himself too seriously, he’s taking his game to another level.
What’s ironic is that one of the only things standing in Djokovic’s way from becoming a bona fide superstar is the inescapable fever for Federer and his undeniable continued megawatt presence. Not to mention that the story of Federer’s fall has the power to overshadow the rise of Djokovic. As Federer’s star flickers and fades, Djokovic will have to keep climbing if he ever hopes to eclipse some of the Federer legacy. Something tells me, though, that he’s up for the challenge. And as Djokovic’s love affair with the sport and the crowd continues to evolve, Federer will have to settle for taking a seat farther and farther back to marvel at the view.
So it goes. So it goes.
Lyra Pappin will be covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal for TennisConnected. You can follow her on Twitter at @allthatracquet.
September 16, 2010
Falling just short of his seventh straight US Open final, Roger Federer entered the final Slam of the season by capturing his 17th career Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati.
Defeating Mardy Fish in the championship match in Ohio, Federer captured his 63rd career title (tying him for fifth place on the all-time list with Bjorn Borg), while ending a seventh month title-drought after winning the Australian Open in January.
Federer also reached the finals of the Rogers Cup in a losing effort to Andy Murray, but not before defeating Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic en route.
The Swiss displayed his gritty fighting spirit in Toronto, while taking advantage of a cushy draw to prevail in Cincinnati. While his serve was cooking in both tournaments, the current world No. 3 improved on his footwork in Mason, and took that part of his skill set into his first five rounds in New York.
Pulling in his best performance of the season against Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, Federer struck 18 aces in the hurricane Earl induced conditions.
Telling the on-court crowd after his victory that “I’ve been serving for 20 years, and if I was called to serve at 4 a.m. I would,” Federer notched his 13th career victory against the formidable Swede. For those you that were in attendance for Federer’s victory over Soderling, it was perhaps the greatest display of footwork that any player could have put forth under the difficult conditions.
The ball was at the sheer mercy of the wind—not the mention the Evian bottles and napkins flying around overhead—and for Federer to control his shots with the precision and accuracy that he did, only further exemplified his artistry and footwork.
If there’s one area of Federer’s game that he could improve on, it would be his self motivation. Federer has accomplished so much for so many years that the thrill of capturing the sport’s biggest titles may have eluded him.
I’m not suggesting that Djokovic didn’t earn his victory over Federer because he did, but the Swiss has squandered a ton of crucial points this season in various matches, and that could very well be attributed to his lack of focus.
That extra gear of ruthless desire to finish an opponent off is what carried Federer to great heights throughout his dominant years, and if he’s adamant on reaching that level again, he’ll have to buckle down and take chances on the bigger points.
Facing Djokovic in the semifinals of New York, Federer had an opportunity to create a 15-40 break point chance and push the match into a deciding fifth set tiebreak. After striking a blistering forehand winner on the first point of the game, and then receiving a backhand cross-court error from Djokovic on the second point, Federer decided to hit a routine passing shot back to the Serb at the net. If Federer had gone down-the-line with that particular forehand pass—I know it’s easy to sit here and say that now—he would have without question won that point.
However, letting Djokovic off the hook, Federer would drop the next two points and fail the reach the finals of his second most successful Slam. Leaving the event with the grace and respect that he always has, Federer will now turn his attention to resting before finishing off the season.
Pulling out of this weekend’s Davis Cup play-off round, Federer is scheduled to see action at the Shanghai Masters in China as his next event.
Whether or not the Swiss great finishes the year with a few more titles, I think it’s safe to say that his objective for 2011 should include playing with more urgency on a consistent basis.
Although Federer has played his entire career with the fluidity and ease that even his contemporaries have marveled over, the closing stages of his truly storied campaign will require him to place more attention and guts on playing every point like it’s match point.
by: Nima Naderi
August 11, 2010
Rogers Cup—Toronto, Canada
We’re almost at the halfway mark of this year’s Rogers Cup, and all appears well on the draw sheet, and from a fans’ perspective. However, I’d bet the Corona hat that I was given yesterday that the level of play of some of the major seeds hasn’t been up to their standards.
I started off my day by watching the last Canadian in the field, Peter Polansky lose in straight sets to Victor Hansecu. Although the match went a close 6-4, 7-6 (4), I found myself asking the same question of Polansky that I did three years ago: Will his backhand groundstroke, and more importantly his backhand return ever gain the margin and penetration that it needs in order to become a top-flight shot?
Polansky is a tremendous athlete, and has beefed up his serve considerably since last summer. Able to drop 120 MPH serves at ease, Polansky has also altered his serve variety to include more slice and kick serves. Unfortunately for Polansky, his backhand does remain a noticeable weakness, and I’m sure that the Tour boys have figured that out by now.
Here’s hoping that Polansky can turn the corner on his career, because he’d be a great ambassador for the Canadian game.
The day really kicked into gear with the arrival of Novak Djokovic. The former champ was in suspect form throughout his straight set win over Julien Benneteau, requesting the trainer on numerous occasions, while suffering from breathing issues. Djokovic’s battle with heat and allergy ailments is by no means a new story. The Serb has encountered, and lost the battle to heat-related problems during some pretty big matches, and he almost found himself out of the first-round of a Masters event for the second time this season.
Djokvovic’s serve was also underwater for most of the contest. He dropped serve on four occasions, but was lucky enough to break serve six times. To be honest, I’m really not confident that Djokovic would have won, or even finished a third-set if it had taken place. I like Djokovic’s game, and I’m in noway claiming that he isn’t sincere when he’s struggling, but it certainly is starting to become a regular occurrence which he could soon do without.
“It was a big struggle. It was obvious that on the court I wasn’t feeling the best, but I overcomed it. It was nothing unusual, just little heat issues that I have, but, you know, the life goes on. I won another match, and usually when you win the tough first round like this, second round, actually, my first match in this tournament, now I get more confidence and hopefully I can be ready for the next challenge.”
I’m not sure if we can call them “little heat issues” for much longer, but it won’t be getting any cooler in Toronto as the week goes on, and that certainly will not bode well for the No. 2 seed.
Moving along through the chaotic bliss that is the grounds of a Masters event, I was fortunate to witness the finishing touches on the Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Mikhail Youzhny dogfight, before venturing off to catch David Nalbandian obliterate Tommy Robredo.
Dolgopolov, who overcame a disgruntled Philipp Petzschner yesterday, poured in another up-and-coming performance against the Russian veteran. Trailing by a set and 4-1, Dolgopolov roared back to capture the second set, while squeaking out a momentum shifting final set.
Using a superb blend of drop-shots and slice backhands, Dolgopolov is beginning to showcase his mettle—which was once questioned—against formidable opponents.
The 21-year-old will next face Tomas Berdych.
What can be said about David Nalbandian, that hasn’t already been put on pen and paper?
Although the Argentine has been on the DL for the better part of a year, he never really left the conversation, or the minds of the game’s elite. Winning his 10th match in a row against his Spanish foe, Nalbandian’s footwork, forehand, and most importantly his fitness, were all in top gear. The former world No. 3 will next face Gael Monfils in an intriguing third-round match up.
After chowing down on an overcooked hamburger, I decided to check out how Fernando Verdasco was coming along.
I’ve had high hopes for Verdasco during the current hard-court swing, considering that he sustained a relatively poor grass-season. Facing another promising star in Jeremy Chardy, Verdasco was forced to withstand an hour plus first set to edge in front. Displaying his renowned forehand and artistry for the intimate Grandstand crowd, Verdasco quickly gained an early break lead over the Frenchman to lead 1-0 in the second set.
Holding onto his lead until the doorsteps of victory at 5-4 in the second set, Verdasco never really seemed to settle into the match, even though he was ahead. Looking over at his father and coach Darren Cahill on numerous occasions, Verdasco broke a racket over his foot, while letting out a record amount of F-bombs. I’ve never seen Verdasco need his box of supporters more than he did today, but after he lost the second set—a set which he never should have lost—the wheels, and his constant stares to his box subsided.
To Chardy’s credit, the struggling Frenchman continued his strong breathing—doesn’t it seem that the French players have the deepest breathing habits from any Nation?—while blasting his multi-faceted forehand into the corners of the court.
Finding himself a few points from victory, Chardy’s green and lime shoes caught my attention. Tightly wound around his narrow and long feet, Chardy’s shoe of choice dawned the famous Rafael Nadal “bull” symbol.
Playing nothing like the current top dog of tennis, Chardy was undoubtedly looking for any means necessary to dig out of his under .500 season.
The 23-year-old Frenchman will need his dancing shoes and then some, when he next faces Nikolay Davydenko for a place in the quarterfinals.
With no rest for the weary, I’m off to catch Nadal light up the Rexall Center.
January 31, 2010
Injury-prone Argentine David Nalbandian will return to competition in two week’s time at the Buenos Aires event. Nalbandian pulled out of the Australian Open event with an abdominal strain.
September 3, 2009
Federer’s straight set win was complicated slightly in the second set after his No. 65 ranked opponent began to light-up the court with his backhand down-the-land.
Gruel held a set-point in the second set, which was dashed be Federer via a backhand cross-court volley.
“Ya I knew the guy had a good backhand, and ya he’s a good player,” said Federer.
The win for the Swiss will take him to a third round meeting with Lleyton Hewitt. The Australian defeated Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and ten minutes.
I was present for both Federer and Hewitt’s matches, and I must say Hewitt looked as good as I’ve seen him in recent year’s. His ground-game was aggressive (taking the ball early and off-the-rise) and although his serve didn’t provide the necessary kick required, it was slicing quite adequately.
Hewitt will be the substantial underdog going into Friday’s round of 32 encounter, after losing his last 13 meetings to Federer.
Something tells me, Federer is not worried about his next challenge.
The day session included Rafael Nadal and his highly anticipated contest with good friend Richard Gasquet.
Nadal had defeated the Frenchman during six previous occasions and was eager to not only extend his lead, but also partake in his first Grand Slam match since the French Open.
The encounter was a little disappointing to be honest. Although Gasquet was returning from a drug suspension, his glorious game had the potential to rival anyone on the planet.
Nadal began the affair in stunning fashion, determined to diminish the confidence of his good friend.
An early break of serve was followed by a 34 minute opening set win. Nadal’s forehand and serve were on fire, which left Gasquet in the turmoil of winning in four sets.
Rafa’s serve (which had been question for technical change) won 94 percent of its points when it went in. His knees looked great and it was never a question that his desire to compete was present.
Gasquet was simply content with being back on court again. His returns were tight and his footwork seemed to be step slow. The former top ten player will definitely need multiple tournaments in order to regain his form of 2007, when he reached the semifinals of Wimbledon.
“He can win the tournament,” said Gasquet. “Day after day, he will improve his level. For sure, he can win.”
Nadal’s next opponent will be Nicolas Kiefer of Germany. The former top four player defeated Michael Llodra 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Rafa summed up his win in over Gasquet in perfect Nadal manner: “I played well, no?
Leave it to Nadal to knock ‘em dead in the interview room.
To be honest, what I enjoyed the most about this encounter was the words Gasquet shared with the media before taking the court.
The Frenchman said, “You have to be a sadomasochist to want to play him [Nadal] at any time, but I’m very motivated. Rafa supported me more than anyone in the last few months and if he ever needs me to help him, I will do what I can. I’ll never forget what he’s done for me. Now I just want to get out and play.”
Hopefully, Ree-shard will be back to his usual flaky self in no time.
A few elder statesmen said good-bye to the Open for the final time today.
Marat Safin and Fabrice Santoro exited to the final Grand Slam of the year, as well as their respective career’s in four and three sets respectively.
Safin was utterly pitiful in his last stand in New York. After cruising to a first set lead, the 2000 champ poured in a three lackluster and disinterested final three sets to lose in round one to Jurgen Melzer.
Marat provided the packed Armstrong Stadium with a few moments of past brilliance. A big serve here, a rocket forehand there, and almost but not quite, a racket brake.
But when it was all said and done, Safin did not want to win today, plain and simple.
“It’s OK. It’s the end. So, just, it’s the last one. Could have been better ending, but still OK,” Safin said. “I don’t care about losses anymore.”
A few more tournaments and the only worry for Safin will be ducking out of a bar fight in Moscow.
Onto Fabrice “the magician” Santoro. The Frenchman was sliced and significantly overpowered by his opponent Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Santoro’s innate touch and point composition provided the side-court crowd with a final showcase of endless two-handed forehands and drop-shot returns.
Fabrice appeared more than his 37-year-old self today. Ferrero constantly hit behind Santoro, not allowing for the touch-craft of pesky Frenchman to disturb his cross-court patterns.
The charisma of Santoro will certainly be missed, and if anything it was sad that Santoro and Safin were not able to face each other today.
Safin historically had difficulties with Santoro’s game, and a final curtain call against each other would’ve been fitting.
At any rate, Ferrero will face Philipp Petzchner in round two, and Melzer will take on Juan Martin del Potro.
Del Potro was a routine 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 winner over countryman Juan Monaco.
I honestly thought the del Potro-Monaco match was going to be closer than it was.
Monaco is usually known as a feisty and fierce competitor. The problem for the Principality today was simply his tactical approach. Monaco was content with trading baseline bashes with his stronger, taller opponent—it just wasn’t happening.
Monaco was not willing to angle off del Potro to any degree and under any means necessary charge the net.
I do not think there are too many players out there at the moment who can out hit del Potro off the court. His ball-striking and margin of shot is top notch, and his serve is traveling at astonishing warp speeds.
Del Potro may need a tad more seasoning to win a Grand Slam, but he surely has made claim to holding serious hardware.
Other seeded winners on Day 3 action included:
No. 9 seed G Simon defeating Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3; No. 13 seed Gael Monfils leaped over a few linesmen to oust countrymen Jeremy Chardy 6-1, 6-4, 6-3; No. 18 seed David Ferrer overcame Alberto Martin 7-5, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 and No. 32 seed Nicolas Almagro dismissed Steve Darcis 6-2 6-4 2-6 7-6(8-6).
In case you were all wondering, Robby Ginepri ended the Grand Slam hopes of Romanian Andrei Pavel 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. I know everyone was all over that box-score.
Thursday’s action at Flushing Meadows will include:
James Blake vs. Oliver Rochus, Andy Roddick vs. Marc Gicquel, Novak Djokovic vs. Carsten Ball and Tommy Haas vs. Robert Kendrick.
Please join me later on Thursday for a complete wrap-up of Day 4 action.
August 28, 2009
Paula Vergara is a freelance tennis journalist, covering the WTA and ATP tours. Paula’s publishing credits include On the Baseline Tennis News, Tennis.com, USTA New England Magazine, and Bob Larson’s Tennis News. Paula is also a member of the United States Tennis Writers’ Association. To view her work, visit www.paula-vergara.blogspot.com.
We’re more than half way through the Olympus US Open Series (a.k.a., the summer hard court season). Even though the US Open is still a few weeks away, one thing is clear on the men’s side: Change is in the air.
US Open Contenders
Andy Roddick – It’s official. Andy Roddick is back, and he means business. After heeding the advice of his new coach, Larry Stefanki, Andy shed 15 pounds, and has renewed confidence in his game. The No. 1 American is having one of the best years of his career, battling his way into the Wimbledon final, and in the process, bringing American tennis back into the fold. After recovering from a hip flexor injury, he reached the final at Washington. In the sweltering heat, Roddick fought a very close 3-set final, saving 3 match points against Juan Martin Del Potro. The match ended in dramatic fashion, with a challenge call on championship point, giving Del Potro his 2nd consecutive title in Washington. Less than a week later, Roddick advanced to the semifinal of the Roger’s Cup, but lost to Del Potro. It’s safe to say that Roddick has the look of a champion, and is ready to do some damage at the US Open.
Juan Martin Del Potro -The 6′6″ Argentinean and current world No. 6, has been dominating the summer hard court season. His big serve and powerful double-handed backhand make him a tough opponent to beat. Del Potro showed Andy Roddick twice in one week how to win in a tight match, and in the process, he successfully defended his title at the Legg Mason Classic. Del Potro then went on to the Rogers Cup, beating Rafa and Roddick along the way, only to run out of gas in the final, losing to Andy Murray. Del Potro is the current point leader in the Olympus US Open Series Bonus Challenge, and is poised to break into the ATP’s top 5. The Federer/Nadal rivalry may be taking a back seat to the brewing battle between Del Potro and Roddick.
Andy Murray – Before the Rogers Cup, Andy Murray hadn’t played a match since his semifinal loss to Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. But since pulling off a 3-set win against Del Potro in the Roger’s Cup final, the US Open buzz has begun. Looking ahead to September, Murray will be looking to avenge his 2008 US Open loss to Roger Federer. The newly minted No. 2 also has a chance to become the first British man since Fred Perry (in 1933) to take the US Open title. Murray, who has yet to win a Grand Slam title, has beaten Federer 6 times in their past 8 meetings.
Roger Federer – The reigning No. 1 took 5 weeks off after Wimbledon to focus on family, but joined the summer hard court season in Montreal, at the Rogers Cup. He suffered a surprising loss in his quarterfinal match against Tsonga, despite a 5-1 lead in the 3rd set. Even Federer admitted that Tsonga is a “dangerous player.” But with 5 consecutive titles at the US Open (2004-2008), it’s doubtful that any player can take him down in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Novak Djokovic – Like Murray and Federer, Djokovic hadn’t seen any match play since Wimbledon. Upon his return to competition, the current world No. 4 made it to the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup, only to be taken out by Andy Roddick. Moving forward, Djokovic is considering some changes off court. He is in talks with Todd Martin to possibly bring him on as a member of his coaching team.
The Rafa Comeback
Rafael Nadal’s long awaited comeback finally took place in Montreal, making his debut at the Roger’s Cup. A quarterfinal finish was a good test of his health and fitness, but the former No. 1 player is understandably taking a cautious approach. Looking back on this year, no one has experienced more change than Rafa. Within the span of just a few months, the 4-time French Open champion lost in the 4th round in Paris, his knees began to fail him, he withdrew from Wimbledon, he was sidelined with tendonitis for 2 months, and lost his No.1 ranking. Now at No. 3 (a ranking he hasn’t held since July 2005), Rafa isn’t setting any expectations for himself, or his knees. He knows that recovery is a process, which takes time. It may be too soon to tell if his knees will be ready to survive the hard-court pounding at the US Open.
The American Comeback
Not too long ago, there was a significant void in men’s tennis, caused by a lack of young American talent on the tour. With Andy Roddick now taking the lead, a new crop of American tennis players are following suit. Sam Querrey and John Isner, along with veterans Mardy Fish and Robby Ginepri, have the talent and commitment to put American tennis back on the map. It won’t be long before the American men start winning Grand Slams again.
Sam Querrey – The 6′6″ California native has top-10 potential written all over him, holding the No. 26 ranking spot. He reached the final of Newport and Indianapolis, and won the LA Tennis Open, in front of his hometown crowd. Querrey will have more than a few more aces up his sleeve as he heads into the US Open.
John Isner – Despite being sidelined for 2 months with mono, the 6′9″ rising star is back and stronger than he’s been in 2 years. He’s achieved his highest ranking -No. 55, and has proven that he can give the top 10 players a run for their money. Since the start of the summer hard court season, Isner reached the semifinals in Indianapolis, followed by a quarterfinal run in LA, and reached the semifinals at the Legg Mason Classic, where he lost a tight match to fellow American Andy Roddick. After the semifinal loss, he received a special exemption into the Roger’s Cup main draw. Isner has also been granted a wildcard for the Pilot Pen in New Haven.
Mardy Fish – The No. 2 American has lost the knee tape, gained a wedding ring, and has slowly crept back into the top 25. Despite an abdominal strain that has sidelined him during most of the US Open Series, the opportunity for him to rest and regroup could make him a dangerous opponent.
Robby Ginepri – One of the most unpredictable players on the tour, Ginepri managed to win the title in Indianapolis, beating Sam Querrey and John Isner along the way. With hard courts being his favorite surface, he will have some additional chances to prove himself during the US Open Series.
Darkhorse Picks for the US Open
August 15, 2009
Montreal—The stage is set for the final-four in Canada. Some of the usual suspects are missing, but those in attendance have rightfully earned their place. The grounds at the Montreal Masters are still a buzz with the shocking exit of No. 1 seed Roger Federer. The Swiss has left Montreal and will begin his preparation for the upcoming Cincinnati Masters.
Before the tour changes venues (which is usually the case), some good old Canadian tennis must be played. The stakes will be high at the 100o point event; Federer is no longer around and Andy Murray has a chance to capture the No. 2 ranking in the world. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be looking to add to his charm and charisma, while Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro will relive their rivalry.
With that in mind and only two days before the King of Canada is crowned, let’s take a look at the semifinal match-ups, with an open eye of course.
No. 3 Andy Murray vs. No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
H2H: Series tied at one match a piece. Both matches have taken place on hard-courts, with Tsonga winning the last encounter at the 2008 Aussie Open.
What do we have here? Not a Federer-Murray matchup? For those of you who saw yesterday’s mayhem induced quarterfinal, you are aware that anyone, anywhere can win a tennis match—against any player.
The sequence of events which led me to almost drop my carbonated beverage on my keyboard, began with the slow-but-sure resurgence of Jo-Willy Tsonga. It did not appear that there was any way Federer would be able to concede a 5-1 double break lead. But low-and-behold an errant double-fault on Center Court sent the thumb jumping Frenchman in a frenzy.
Will Jo-Willy be able to pull off another upset? It just might be possible.
Here’s way: I’m a firm believer in the “house money theory.” The theory is based on having nothing to lose when competing. More specifically, the theory portrays an athlete continuing on in any sport, solely on the means of not deserving to be there.
Now, before everyone gets excited and claims that I’m hating on Jo-Willy, let me further explain. In truth, Tsonga should not have defeated Federer. He did, which to his credit and it was a fantastic achievement. But there still remains no rhyme or relative reason for R-Fed’s dismissal.
Therefore, we can conclude that Tsonga really has nothing to lose against Murray, thus playing with “house money.”
I understand that every player always has something to lose and every match holds a great deal of value. But, I can assure you that when Tsonga was down 1-5 in the third set, he had only two things on his mind. A) I’m gonna go for my shots and whatever happens, happens and B) I wonder what time my flight to Cincinatti will be?
With burden of expectations of his shoulders, Tsonga will be full of fire and electricity when he faces Murray.
From a tactical standpoint, Tsonga will have to attack the net as much as possible. His ground game is potent, but he can not hang with Murray from the baseline.
Murray has shown the ability to dissect each and every opponent he has faced this week and will look to move the wiry Frenchman from the get-go.
Unlike Federer, Murray did not come into Montreal full of anything on his plate other than his tennis. Big leads will not slip away—a clear, concise game-plan will be devised.
Look for Murray to dictate with his superb backhand and for Tsonga to pray that the Scot misses a few. (It hasn’t happened much this week.) As mentioned, the net charge will be Tsonga’s ticket in this match—I hope the Frenchman got the forehand passing shot memo on Murray’s preference—he only goes cross-court.
Anyway you slice it (and you know Murray will be all over that shot) this afternoon match will feature one of the tour’s most flamboyant physical players, against one of its most thoughtful.
I’d have to go with mind over matter most of the time.
Pick: Murray in three sets
No. 5 seed Andy Roddick vs. No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro
H2H: Del Potro leads 2-0, with both matches being held on the hard-courts in Washington, D.C.
Six day’s is all it would take. Sounds like the name of a wedding song, but it’s actually the duration of time which Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro last met on the ATP World Tour.
Just a little under a week ago, the two in-form giants battled through a muggy D.C. afternoon to the tune of a third set tie-breaker.
The match was a highly contested one and ended with del Potro forehand winner.
Both men have kept their form this week, battling adversity and defeating quality opponents.
At some points in time Roddick will have to figure out this del Potro kid. The lanky ground-stroke machine is moving better and has added 130 mph serve to repertoire.
Roddick very nearly defeated the Argentine last week in Washington, but “nearly” doesn’t exactly add a shelf to the trophy cabinet.
Andy will need to pick his spots on his serves and look to use his delivery as more of a set-up than a non-returnable tool.
Del Potro has the luxury of not changing a thing. He seems to possess an unbreakable will, that allows him to stay in matches and call upon whatever resource is necessary to win.
I ran into the Argentine on the way home from the site and asked him in the elevator (and yes reporting never stops) what his outlook on tomorrow’s contest was? He candidly suggested that was very tired and was fighting of a cold. He concluded that “it would tough, but I will try.”
That you will Juan, there is no doubt.
My final impression on Saturday nights semifinal is the following: Del Potro is wiry and will need to win in straight sets. However, the Tandil native is quickly showing the world that his mental fortitude, super-seeds all which surrounds him.
Roddick on the other hand appears fresh and quietly confident towards the weeks ahead. The hard work and the wise words of his coach have allowed for a better understanding of how to maximize his game.
Remember it’s not what you have, it’s what you make of it.
With that it mind and theme here being “to learn from ones mistakes”, a change in the guard of this exclusive Argentine show will occur.
Pick: Roddick in three sets
Please check back later in the day. I will have a full recap of the days semifinal action from Montreal, Canada. Cheers.
August 8, 2009
The glory day’s of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang winning every major title may be over. But if you ask Sam Querrey, the state of American tennis resides in capable hands. Led by his pin-point serve and Samurai club following, the 21-year-old California native is just getting started.
The month of July will always be considered a down time of year on tour. Wimbledon has ended, and the North American summer season begins to pick up steam mid August. Although the “Big Four” utilize the month of July to recharge their batteries, become parents, or find out how to win at a high level again, Uncle Sam made use of the dog-days-of-summer by making a name for himself on tour.
Throughout the month of July, Querrey had a fanatic stretch of tennis which included three finals appearances in row (Newport, Indianapolis and Los Angeles), as well as capturing the LA title during his trifecta of sensational tennis.
Other Americans who poured in great results in July and deserve mention: Rajeev Ram for winning his maiden tour title in Newport, and Robby Ginepri for capturing his first title in three seasons in Indianapolis. In case you were wondering, both men defeated Querrey for their titles.
With Ram and Ginepri breathing down the neck of Querrey’s POM honors, the choice for picking the San Fran native over his peers was based on consistency.
Querrey is without question the brightest prospect for the United States. His blistering serve provides easy service holds, and his compact, but highly effective forehand seldom breaks down. If Querrey can improve his movement and net play, there will no stopping him from reaching the top ten.
Querrey has shown the ability to play well all surfaces. He exhibited his all court prowess by reaching the Newport final (grass)—his quarterfinal appearance in Monaco (2008, quarterfinal), as well as pushing Rafa Nadal to four sets during a Davis Cup tie in Spain last year.
Perhaps the greatest asset which Querrey possesses is his not-so-serious demeanor. He readily summits quirky posts on his Twitter account, discussing his passion for video games and ice cream.
Querrey’s ability to work hard, while maintaining a light-hearted will allow him to conduct a long and prosperous career.
Andy Roddick has already regarded Querrey as a “stud”, and countryman James Blake coined Sam “the nicest guy I know”. For Roddick to call someone other than himself a “stud”, and for nice guy Blake to provide Querrey with the “nice guy” accolade—the 6′6″ So-Cal native appears to be more than just a backhand down-the-line.
When looking for fan fair, perhaps no other player can provide the necessary excitement Querrey can. His legion of devoted Samurai Club followers have become a staple at every Stateside tour stop.
Although Tommy Haas expressed his dislike towards the Samurai’s after a recent encounter, his disapproval was based solely on his defeat to Querrey in the LA Open semifinals. One can not argue the benefit of shirtless, brash, and witty clan of supportive Querrey followers and their contribution to a stadium court crowd.
Querrey’s fan base has spurred other players to follow suit. Rajeev Ram’s “Entouraj”, and Dudi Sela’s “Hebrew Hammers” will also look to rival the ear-pricing chants of Samurai’s. Good luck!
Moving on, let’s assess he rest of the US Open hard-court series, and Querrey’s chances.
It is to early to tell if Querrey has peaked going into New York. He has participated in three tournaments post Wimbledon, and will be taking part in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati. Querrey will likely gather a US Open seeding based on his recent success.
Going forward, if his ranking continues to climb from its current No. 26 position, Querrey will need to better address his schedule in order to avoid fatigue and injury.
It is yet to be determined how the Samurai Club will react to a reduced Querrey calender.
With the expectations of being marked “the next great American player”, Querrey offered a wise outlook towards the remainder of his career.
When asked whether of not he was ready to win the US Open, the charismatic Californian responded, “No player plans to do his best and get to the fourth round.”
Those “fighting” words would suggest that the rock-and-sock-em Yank will not be satisfied until he reaches the higher echelons of the sport.
The focal point for the tennis community leading up to the US Open, especially in the United States will be centered around Querrey’s results. No other player, except for Andy Roddick will be called upon by US supporters to provide that same sort of electricity.
There is a price for winning, it’s called expectation. Some embrace it and feed off of what is expected—some crumble and prefer to be unknown.
Sam Querrey clearly resides in the column of embracing the moment.
August 7, 2009
Having a little divine intervention never hurt any player, right? In the highly competitive world of men’s pro tennis, everything counts—from string tensions, to the sock thickness, and let’s not forget the good Lord above.
One player in particular, embraces not only the earth which has become the platform for his bludgeoned ground-strokes, but also the heavens above, which to his mind have made it possible. Juan Martin del Potro may become a future grand slam champ, but don’t expect to ever see his customary post match cross kiss dissipate.
Growing up in Tandil, Argentina, his parents Daniel and Patricia were supportive leaders who always stressed the importance of gratitude. The lanky 6′6″ baseline machine would use the wise words from his parents, to maintain perspective, while climbing up the steep ranking ladder.
With the development of his technique and court-craft, del Potro became increasingly adamant on paying tribute to his maker—not everyone was lucky enough to play on the ATP.
However, sticking to his regiment of playing with gratitude and perseverance, would become a difficult task. The beginning of the 2008 season would bring forth many question marks when testing the metal of the gracious and hard-hitting Argentine.
He would enter Wimbledon with a miserable 9-7 win/loss mark on the year. Del Potro had yet to reach a tour level final, and holding the No. 64 ranking position was respectable, but by no means a reflection of his abilities.
A higher power, and some hard work would be in order.
The much needed acquisition of coach, Franco Davin (Gaston Gaudio’s ex-coach) would be the first step in the process of fulfillment—in the long road ahead for the Argentine.
With the steadfast belief in his coach, and of course the powers above, del Potro would create the greatest turnaround of the year, by any player, to establish himself as a new tour star.
On the heals of four straight tour titles which spanned over Europe and the United States—both clay and hard-courts—the victories for the Argentine would continue to grow, each followed by a gesture to his maker.
The refreshing splash of del Potro’s success, would resonate throughout the tennis community. In a day and age of a abuse and dis-concern, for a young, good looking, seemingly had it all going for him athlete, to still be able to remain vigorous in his destination, while withholding his childhood belief system, would be an admirable feat by any standard.
Possessing first-tier mental fortitude, perhaps only to be rivaled by Rafael Nadal, del Potro’s steady, but magnified placement among the world’s elite continued to make head-ways back home.
He was simply not only a role-model in Argentina, but a statue of excellence for his legion of fans to adore and emulate.
It remains to be seen if del Potro’s spiritual outlook towards the game will underscore his immense talent, and constant desire for improvement. Certainly, it can be said that those who reside in a belief system which allows for constant hope to be achieved, will, inevitably find themselves happy regardless of their results. Anyone for a, what’s meant to be, is meant to be saying?
Often times, putting ones trust in a higher power, allows for less stress to be put on the actual execution, resulting in more clarity and passion to flow through the process.
Reaching a career high of No. 5 in the world, highlighted by a recent French Open semifinal berth, provided further evidence in the free-flowing arsenal of the 20-year-old.
The journey was certainly a long one.
Del Potro’s next task will be to penetrate the grand slam bubble which Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have ever-so-carefully cemented around the major championships.
Del Potro was able to clip Nadal once this year in Miami, and very nearly spoiled Federer’s coronation in Paris—both achievements provided further value towards his standing amongst the giants of the sport.
The Argentine’s decision to bypass the defense of the greater portion of the titles he won during the summer of ‘08, did not come under much scrutiny. If anything, the mature and precise decision to forgo smaller tour stops, in the light of being better prepared to combat the more point valued masters events, would highlight yet another positive attribute in del Potro’s development.
Overall, del Potro’s premise is a simple one: he envisions himself a legitimate contender to any crown, (trust me) that in itself is an innate trait most tennis players do not possesses.
The defense of his Washington title this week, will be the first hurdle on the road trip to the final major of the season.
With Rafa Nadal still a question mark in terms of his fitness, and Roger Federer adding two more plates to his balancing act of greatness, del Potro becomes the logical choice to capture his first slam title in New York. At the very least, he will be regarded as a top four contender.
Throughout the duration of the next six weeks, North America will granted the distinct privilege of hosting the greatest players on the planet—in their attempts to rule the hard-courts of the ATP. There will be many story-lines and accelerated forehands to behold—del Potro’s name may be at the top of both lists.
For those of you out and about this summer, on a leisurely (or intense) stroll throughout an ATP event, take a moment if you will, stop, and check out this young kid named Juan Martin del Potro.
He may not have the guns of Rafa; unlike Roger Federer he does in fact sweat. When fixating your tennis eyes on del Potro, you will be subjected to the following: a clean-cut kid, who upholds his roots to perfection, while designing his game-style based on the morals of his upbringing.
Win or lose, del Potro will continue to his mark on the competition, as well as the many venues across the globe—win or lose, del Potro will continue to give his customary angelic cross kiss to the heavens, as a token of the respect he has for his success.
Mom always said, going to Sunday school would pay off.
August 3, 2009
Searching diligently throughout the annual ATP World Tour handbook, it was quickly learned that the privilege of receiving a player bio was only granted to the top 200 players on the planet. If fact, if a player is ranked outside of the top 500, they are not even considered to have professional status—wow that hurts!
Let’s take a minute here, and look at that top 200 conundrum in detail. In the event that an average ATP star plays the entire year, travels the entire globe, and finishes No. 205 on the computer, will they be left out of the tour guide? Yes that’s right, they will. Welcome to pro life of Carsten Ball.
Before his tour stricken success in La La land began, Ball had seen his year-to-date consumed by not only the Challenger level, but the lonelier, and less profitable Futures circuit.
Ball’s 2009 year-to-date prize money hovered around a modest $31, 524, and his first round loss in Kentucky last week didn’t exactly break news on his Facebook page. So what’s a player do? Keep going of course.
That is exactly the direction Ball has been traveling since turning pro in 2005—hope, pray, and work towards making it on the main tour.
The luxury of having his father, Syd Ball in the coaches corner certainly has helped. The elder Ball was ranked as high as No. 63 in world, oh back when they actually used wooden rackets in 1974. Tough to believe right?
One absolute that is not hard to believe is Carsten’s game. The 6′3″ left-hander packs a rocket serve, and great agility for a big man. Watching Ball in LA last week, the initial scouting report suggested that his loose-armed strokes, and love for the game, would significantly aid him while climbing up the ranks.
With Ball’s recent success in LA, the Newport Beach resident’s can now set the standard of his achievements at a loftier level.
“I was just trying to get through my first round qualifying match,” Ball said. “It’s definitely been a surprise but something I’ve worked for. The conditions have suited my game with the court taking some kick and spin, and I’ve been able to play aggressively and get into the net. Doing it here in front of my family makes it that much sweeter.”
It remains to be seen if Ball’s sashay into the finals of LA Open was more a question of good fortune, over good effort? One thing is for certain, the man whose names resides in a full-out superlative show, will be seeing more prime-time real state soon enough.
The DNA of the youngsters seems to reside primarily on the support of his roots. Although he was born and raised in the US, his connection with his Australian heritage is evident throughout his continued Davis Cup efforts. (Ball is 4-1 in Davis Cup competition).
And don’t think for a second, that Ball is exempt from the ritualistic tendencies of the game’s elite. Eating the same food, using the same shower, and even commuting two hours a day, (each-way) in order to continue the tournament of his life, all came with a day’s work.
“I can deal with that,” said Ball, in response to traveling two hours each day, back and forth from his home in Newport Beach, for the entire duration of the tournament. Even though the players hotel was located near by, Ball decided to stay with what worked.
That’s the great aspect of what makes tennis, tennis. You have players who are willing to do whatever it takes in order to maintain their patterns of clarity— in order to sustain or better their results. It certainly didn’t hurt to have moms home cooking, and his entire family present, during the week long romp throughout the field in Los Angeles.
Although Ball ended up losing in the final of the LA Open to California buddy Sam Querrey, his victories throughout the week eclipsed his previous highlight wins over the likes of Eric Quingley in Sacramento, and Kaes Van’t Hof in New Zealand.
Defeating a stellar cast of characters which included, Marc Gicquel, Dmitry Tursunov, John Isner and Leonardo Mayer (all top 80 players), would be a commendable accomplishment for any level of player.
Ball’s recent success could very well be attributed towards his mature understanding of the sport.
When asked to provide an analysis of his loss to Querrey, the surfing, video game playing Aussie provided these words of wisdom.
“I think Sam definitely stepped up his game and started making a lot more first serves and putting a lot of pressure on my serve.”
“He got up on break early on me and that definitely gave him some confidence deep in the third. He just ran away a bit and he started serving better and cutting down on his errors and that definitely put pressure on me. He definitely returned well. I got a little tired but it (the outcome) had more to do with how Sam (Querrey) was playing.”
Carsten Ball certainly gave the tennis world a glimpse into the future of a potential fresh face on tour. His life will return to normal come Monday, when he travels to Vancouver to begin preparations for a Challenger event in Canada. Even though the drop back to the Challenger level becomes a far cry from the glitz and glamor of the main tour (especially in LA), Ball will forever be left with the lasting impression that hard work does pay off.
The wonderful and wacky world of men’s pro tennis could definitely use a superlative name driven player like Ball to call upon from a week-to-week basis.
One certainly hopes that there are no more wins over Kaes Van’t Hof in the immediate future.