Tag Archive | "Blake"

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Wimbledon 2008: A Preview Of The Singles’ Draw


Once again, the Wimbledon seeding committee has upset the apple cart by utilizing its prerogative of not formulating the draw according to rankings. It is the only major that does not always abide by the rankings.

Thus, on the gentlemen’s side, Richard Gasquet currently the world number nine has been seeded ahead of James Blake ranked number eight. This is far from a minor detail. Gasquet’s semifinal finish last year probably influenced that decision, but his performance so far this year has been disastrous. For Blake, the implications are huge. Instead of meeting Andy Roddick seeded sixth in the semifinals, the two could potentially clash in the round of 16.

Marcos Baghdatis also reaped the fruits of his quarterfinal showing last year. Now ranked 25, Baghdatis is seeded tenth. Meanwhile, Stanislas Wawrinka, world number ten, in spite of his excellent season has been bumped to the number thirteen slot. Otherwise, the top seven players were seeded as expected.

For world number one Roger Federer, the road to the finals is paved with stones. In the first round, Federer faces former top ten player, Dominik Hrbaty. From there, things get more complex with Lleyton Hewitt, Fernando Gonzalez and possibly Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. For Rafael Nadal, it is harder to isolate potential pitfalls. Nadal recently beat Roddick on grass who is also on his side of the draw. Perhaps if Blake makes it to the semifinals, this may be problematic for Nadal considering that Blake leads him 3-2 in their head to head but they’ve always met on hardcourt.

The ladies’ seeding followed the rankings. Analyzing the top half of the draw, Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams should technically make it to the semifinals. For Ivanovic, speed bumps could include Patty Schnyder, Nicole Vaidosova and Agnes Szavay. On the other hand, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Agnieszka Radwanska may prevent Serena from getting to her projected engagement with Ivanovic. Defending champion Venus Williams’ journey to the trophy will be tough with Jelena Jankovic, Vera Zvonerava or Flavia Pennetta standing in her way in the quarterfinals. While Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina or Elena Dementieva may be semifinal obstacles for Venus. Similarly for Sharapova, her side of the draw is stacked with fellow Russians such Safina, Dementieva or Petrova who may stop her from advancing.

So, there is a lot to contemplate as we look ahead to next couple of weeks. On the women’s side, the draw appears wide open. Past major champions may have the edge because of their experience. With the gentlemen, considering that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic with their talent have distanced themselves so much from the rest of the field, it is hard to foresee another player as having even a marginal shot at the trophy. The question to be answered is whether this will be Federer’s sixth consecutive title or whether Nadal or Djokovic will manage to snatch it from Federer’s grasp.

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So Nice to Be On Grass: Federer Claims Fifth Title in Halle


After the fiasco in the finals of the French Open last week, Roger Federer was probably relieved to be back on grass. The world number one extended his winning streak on that surface to 59 by beating hometown boy, Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-4 at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany.

With the crowd in his corner, Kohlschreiber was inspired and played well. In the first set, the German kept up with Federer and actually had the opportunity to go up a break in the third game. Unfortunately for him, Federer served his way out of trouble. Federer’s variety, his most potent asset, proved overwhelming for Kohlschreiber. Eventually, Roger got the upper hand in the first set with a break 5-3. With a strong service game, Roger closed out the set.

Early on in the second set, Federer had a few chances to break. Yet, the German found a way to pull through. While serving at 3-3, Kohlschreiber once again lost his way which allowed Federer to take the lead 4-3. Nevertheless, with the spectators urging him on after a double fault, the German extended the match to 4-5. In the end, with a powerful service game, Federer closed out the match to secure the championship.

With his atrocious record against top ten competitors 8-18, Kohlschreiber beating James Blake, the second seed, in the semifinals was a surprise. Federer appeared in tip-top shape throughout the tournament with straight sets victories over every opponent he faced. Hopefully, this title will heal some of Federer’s latest wounds and help him regain the confidence he has been lacking the last few months. With Nadal’s first title on grass in Artois coming also today, the gauntlet has been thrown. Should these two meet in the finals at Wimbledon, Nadal may have the psychological edge and that may be the deciding factor in the match.

On the doubles side, after Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, the number one seed, lost in the second round, the draw opened up. The finals came down to the number four seeds, Leander Paes /Lukas Dhouly and the unseeded team of Mikhail Youzhny /Mischa Zverev. The latter prevailed in the three sets.

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Blake Slips Again Losing In Houston; Ferrer Reigns In Spain


In Houston, the U.S. Clay Court Championship final was played with 22 year old Marcel Granollers of Spain, ranked 75 in the world, taking on James Blake ranked 8 in the world and the top seed at this event. After losing the first set, Blake recovered nicely, effortlessly winning the second. The hope was that the tides had turned. After having an early lead in the third set, Blake went down a break. With Granollers serving for the match at 5-4, Blake managed to break back. Yet, Blake was unable to harness this momentum and allowed the Spaniard back in the match. On the subsequent game because of a bunch of unforced errors, Blake was on the ropes once again. This time though, the Spaniard did not falter and edged in front. With a solid service game, Granollers won the match and with it his first ATP career title 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.

This represents the second time this year that Blake has been beaten in the finals by a no-name opponent whom he technically should have defeated handily. At the tournament in Delray Beach, 19-year-old Japanese qualifier, Kei Nishikori, triumphed over Blake. The American continues to be inconsistent. Just last week, Blake was instrumental in terms of the USA advancing to the next round in Davis Cup play. Ernests Gulbis of Latvia and Rainer Schuettler of Germany won the doubles title.

In Valencia Spain, another clay court final was underway with two Spaniards David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro fighting it out. The latter, the champion the last two years, went down in a third set tiebreak to Ferrer who snatched his first Valencia Open title 4-6, 6-2, 7-6. The Argentinean team of Juan Monaco and Maximo Gonzalez won the doubles crown.

The next stop on the ATP tour will be Monte-Carlo which starts on April 20th where Nadal, Federer along with an elite field of clay court virtuosos will be in action.

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USA Advances To The Semifinals In Davis Cup


The spotlight this weekend was on the Davis Cup as titleholder, the United States, confronted France in the quarterfinals in Winston, North Carolina. With a highly spirited crowd cheering him on, Andy Roddick took on Michael Llodra in the opening match on Friday. This turned out to be a close contest with Llodra being broken only once the entire match. Tie breaks determined the outcome of the second and third sets, allowing Roddick to prevail in three sets 6-4, 7-6, 7-6.

Round two featured James Blake versus Paul-Henri Mathieu. After splitting the first two sets, Blake won the third and looked to be in control of the match. But, Mathieu sprung back, winning the fourth. Considering Blake’s abysmal record in 5 set matches, US Captain Patrick McEnroe would have been justified in being alarmed. As the decisive set began, the likelihood of a lost loomed larger as France nosed out in front 2-1. Blake broke back to equalize things at 2-2. After that, things remained even until the 9th game when Mathieu converted a break point in a game in which he made an awesome down the line forehand. While serving for the match, Mathieu reacquainted himself with first serves, something which was absent throughout this set and went up 40-15. To his credit, Blake did not panic. On the next point which could have been the last, Blake used his speed to maintain himself in the match. Then, a couple of unforced errors by France leveled the set. After holding his own serve, Blake broke Mathieu to take the match and give the US a 2-0 lead 7-6, 6-7,6-3,3-6, 7-5.

The next round of competition on Saturday had the Bryan brothers playing against the 2007 Wimbledon doubles champion, Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra. After a tight first set which was decided in a tiebreak in the Americans’ favor, the French stepped up their game. The strategy of taking Clement out of his comfort zone and requiring him to come up with volleys and forehand shots, which are his weakness, at first paid off. But mid-second set, the more practice the Frenchman got, the better he became at executing these demanding shots. Furthermore, Llodra’s serve once again was on the mark picking up where he left off the previous day. Undeterred, the combination of all the aforementioned elements gave the Frenchmen the match and sustained the expectation that they could progress on to the next round 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

On Sunday, France’s Mathieu faced Andy Roddick in the initial match. Mathieu, probably still in shock from the prior day’s result, offered no resistance. Roddick slammed the door on France, smoothly winning in three sets 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. A final obligatory match took place between Blake and Richard Gasquet in which the former was victorious. A perplexing question remained as to why Gasquet, as the top ranked player on the French squad, did not square off against Roddick instead. Thus, in September, the Americans will play the Spaniards in the semifinals in Spain; the latter eliminated Germany on German soil. The other semifinal will have Russia opposing Argentina. The Russians needed the home court advantage to eke out the win against the Czech Republic, while Argentina slid through against Sweden.

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A Round Up of the First Week At Sony Ericsson Open 2008 (Part I)


March 26 marked the start of the Sony Ericsson Open. Here is, depending on your perspective, the highlights or lowlights of the week one of the tournament.

The qualifying rounds are deserving of a few lines since three South Floridians were vying for a place in the main draw. Miami native, Ahsha Rolle, lost to Russian Anastasia Rodionova in straight sets in the first round. After her nice run at the 2007 U.S. Open, the bar was set higher for Asha this season. Thus far, 2008 has not been kind to this hometown girl. 15-year-old wildcard, Sloane Stephens, a talented junior from Boca Raton, was also eliminated in the first round. While former University of Miami tennis standout and Plantation raised, Audra Cohen, also a wildcard entry had the best result. Cohen, a former number one collegiate player, made it to the second round of qualifying before falling to Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk in three arduous sets.

Moving on to the main draw, one news worthy item was that Maria Sharapova, the reigning Australian Open champion, pulled out of the field due to injury. With the customary first round bye for the top seeds, the action got underway in earnest on Friday with second round matches. Top seed, Justine Henin, coasted through her match against Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4. 6-2. Defending champion, Serena Williams easily put away her opponent 6-2, 6-1 while big sister Venus had a tougher time with Poland’s Marta Domachowska but pulled through in two sets. Jelena Jankovic scratched out a victory over Swede Sofia Arvidsson. This match ran into the wee hours of the morning with Jankovic coming back to win in a third set tie-breaker 6-7. 6-2, 7-6. On the gentlemen’s side, James Blake, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all proceeded to the third round despite testy matches with problematic challengers.

The most astonishing outcome in the second round was defending champion Novak Djokovic’s dismissal in three sets by qualifier, Kevin Anderson. This lanky South African with the big serve is a former college star. A few weeks ago, he posted his best result making it to the 2008 Tennis Channel Open final where he lost in a tight three setter to American Sam Querrey after beating John Isner and Robby Ginepri. Coincidentally, Mardy Fish, the runner-up at last week’s Pacific Life Open to Djokovic was shown no clemency in the first round by Frenchman Arnaud Clement. He was sent packing in straight sets 3-6, 3-6. Perhaps for both players, stamina was an issue.

Other important second round results included the 9th seed Marion Bartoli of France, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist, going down 3-6, 1-6 to Danish Caroline Wozniacki, an up-and-coming 17 year old. #15 Agnes Szavay and #12 Nicole Vaidisova were also defeated. Neither Richard Gasquet, seeded 6 , nor David Nalbandian, seeded 7, could stave off the assault by their respective opponents, Dmitry Tursunov and Xavier Malisse, thus, for them it was an early exit. Andy Murray seeded 13th also failed to graduate with Mario Ancic stopping his progression 2-6, 6-2,6-7, ditto with David Ferrer seeded 5th as he ran into former Australian Open champion, Thomas Johansson.

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A Round Up of the First Week At Sony Ericsson Open 2008 (Part II)


Ai Sugiyama The third round of the Sony Ericsson Open,which began on Sunday, was memorable not just for the results but also for the intense heat. This forced the players to take advantage of an optional 10-minute interlude prior to the start of a third set. American Ashley Harkleroad had a tough time with Miami’s extreme temperature. During the match, she was constantly seeking the shade between points and went to the side of the court to bend. It is uncertain whether she was suffering from cramps. Nevertheless, Harkleroad was a trooper, pushing the match to a third set after being down a break in the second, but Elena Vesnina prevailed (4-6, 7-5, 4-6). For Amelie Mauresmo seeded 24, her greatest liability was not the heat, but rather her mental fragility. While serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the 2006 Australian and Wimbledon champion was broken and went on to lose the set. Prolonging her agony into a third with a seesaw of breaks, Mauresmo was serving to level the set at 5 all. After being up 30-0, Mauresmo produced a combination of double faults and unforced errors handing her opponent, Jie Zheng of China, the past to the next round (7-5, 4-, 4-6). A duplicate story unfolded on the adjacent court with Ai Sugiyama of Japan and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia with the variation being the latter having to push the match to a third set by winning a difficult second set tiebreak. After squandering a two break lead in the decisive set, in the 12th game, Hantuchova down 0-40 due to double faults and errors, inched back to 30-40 but hit the subsequent rally into the net to end the match.

An unforeseen occurrence was the ease with which multiple major holder, Lindsay Davenport seeded 32, disposed of the world’s second ranked player and last week Pacific Life Open champion Ana Ivanovic (6-4, 6-2). Also, Anna Chakvetadze, seeded 5, was pummeled by German wildcard Sabine Lisicki (5-7, 1-6). A third round marquee match on the men’s side featured James Blake against Fabrice Santoro who is always a tricky opponent. Santoro, the magician as he has been nicknamed, despite all his tricks, could not conjure up an illusion to conquer Blake’s powerful forehand. Although he required three sets, Blake was able to move on (6-3, 6-7,6-4). Rafael Nadal, Blake’s potential rival in the quarterfinals, waited out a rain delay mid match before finishing off Nicolas Keifer (6-2,6-4). Of note, although former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten (Guga) was ousted in the first round, he and partner Nicolas Lapenti are in the second round of the men’s doubles. This may be the last chance to see Guga in action, he is retiring. The doubles number one seed on both the women’s and men’s side, respectively, Huber/Black and the Bryan Brothers, are through after their first round wins.

In the next few days, some exciting competition will be on tap with the projected clash between Henin and Serena in the quarterfinals and a semifinal collision between either Serena and Venus or Venus and Henin. Both Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova have had their share of rough patches, but they are still alive, therefore, contenders. With Davenport doing so well, she may be heading for a showdown with either Henin or the Williams sisters in the finals; that would be a treat indeed. On the men’s side, Roger Federer is on course to crash with Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. Skipping a few days ahead, Nadal and Federer may possibly meet in the finals. With the latter two hungry for their first titles in 2008, the excitement is palpable. I can’t wait for next week to start.

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The Mighty Have Fallen: Federer, Nadal Ousted


For the first time since the 2005 Australian Open, where Marat Safin was victorious, a major’s trophy will be engraved with a name other than that of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. The projected clash between these two in the Australian final was unceremoniously interrupted by two of the game’s young tikes, Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

If Federer is not one with the tennis gods, he is certainly their favorite son. He has been a constant at the last ten major’s final. From the opening rounds, Federer, the world’s number one, appeared a little out of sort and off his game. In the third round, he needed five sets, since he converted only 5 of 21 break point chances, to fight off a stubborn opponent, Janko Tipsarevic 6-7,7-6,5-7,6-1,10-8. In the Round of 16, Thomas Berdych also proved to be a tough competitor even though Federer escaped with a straights set win 6-4,7-6,6-3. Against James Blake in the quarterfinals, again Federer advanced in straight sets, but it was obvious that Blake had the answers to some of Federer’s shots that were troublesome in the past. Blake broke Federer’s serve a few times, resulting in a far closer match 7-5, 7-6, 6-4 than the latter would have preferred.

Where his colleagues had failed, Djokovic succeeded, beating Federer in the semifinals. The two played in the finals at last year’s U.S Open where Djokovic lost in straight sets; clearly, the moment was overwhelming for the young player. But in Australia, after being initially irritated by his poor play and unsatisfied with his racket tension, (Djokovic switched his gear several times), Novak settled down and broke Federer as he served to secure the first set. From that point on, the dynamics of the match changed as Djokovic continually applied pressure on Roger’s serve and guarded his own. Djokovic, ranked third, was on fire the entire tournament. In fact, up to then, he had won all his matches in straight sets including against Lleyton Hewitt ranked 19 and David Ferrer ranked 5. Overall, Djokovic just looked a few steps faster than Federer, even “borrowing” shots from his opponent’s arsenal. In short, Djokovic made the normally extraordinary play of the world’s number one appear ordinary with a straights set win 7-5,6-3, 7-6. Thus, Djokovic will be making his second consecutive major final appearance.


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2007 ATP Year End Review


In many respects, the 2007 ATP tennis season can be summarized as a case of déjà vu, particularly where the grand slam tournaments are concerned. As he did in 2006, Roger Federer repeated at the Australian, Wimbledon and US Open while Nadal claimed his third consecutive French Open trophy. Majors aside though, Federer faltered throughout the year at the Masters’ Series, the second most prestigious competitions on the tour. At the Pacific Life Open, Guillermo Canas who entered the draw as a lucky looser, after a prolonged suspension from the sport for steroid abuse, provided the year’s first stunner by beating Federer in the second round, putting an end to the latter’s 41 match-winning streak. In so doing, the door was opened for Serb Novak Djokovic to make it to his first Masters Series final where he eventually lost to Rafael Nadal.

A few months later, at the Sony Ericsson Open, Canas demonstrated that his prior win was not a fluke, lightning can indeed strike twice, he again eliminated Federer in straight sets, a tremendous feat considering that in 2006, only Nadal and Andy Murray had been able to register wins against Federer. Moreover, the Sony Ericsson Open turned out to also be Djokovic’s coming out party; he exacted his revenge against Nadal by defeating him in the semifinals and went on to stop Canas from becoming the first qualifier to win the Ericsson Open, claiming his first Masters Series trophy. Without a doubt, Djokovic’s star was on the rise in 2007. He not only beat Federer at the Masters in Montreal, but also went on to make it to his first grand slam final at the US Open where he would prove to be a worthy contender before finally surrendering to Federer.

In the last few years, tennis has been a tale of two surfaces while Federer has been king on grass and hardcourt, Rafael Nadal has been “Rey” on clay, and 2007 was no exception. Rafa extended his winning streak to 81 on the “terre battue” including titles in Rome and Monte Carlo before Federer was finally able to get the better of him in Hamburg at the finals. This unforeseen result fueled speculation that perhaps Federer might win his first French Open title; but such a prediction never materialized. Rafa reasserted his dominance in beating Federer in the finals. Unfortunately, despite a strong stance at Wimbledon where he once again became a finalist, the remainder of Rafa’s season can best be described as lack luster. Plagued by injury, Nadal was unable to rack up another title, the only tournament final he reached, the Paris Masters, proved to be a debacle, a lopsided win by David Nalbandian. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the latter part of 2007 is a period that Nadal would like to relegate to the distant past.

Besides Novak Djokovic, 2007 had some other nice surprises, primarily, the resurgence of a few so-called veteran players. For his part, at the tender age of 31,Carlos Moya, the former French Open champion, saw his rededication to the game pay off; posting his best results over the last several years. Moya reached the finals at the Medibank in Australia, the semifinals and quarterfinals on his best surface clay at Hamburg and the French Open respectively. Moya even demonstrated his competence on hardcourt by making it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. Perhaps as is the case with the Spanish wine Rioja, Moya gets better with age. Undoubtedly, Moya’s fellow countryman, Ferrer, was one of the most exciting players to watch in 2007. Customarily, the Spaniards can be expected to do well on clay, but Ferrer surprised everyone when he beat Nadal on hardcourt on his way to earning a spot in the U.S Open semifinal where he eventually fell to Djokovic. A few months later, Ferrer returned the favor at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, easily defeating Djokovic as well as two other players to make it to the series final. For all his troubles though, Ferrer sealed a date with Federer who despite looking sluggish in the initial rounds of the event, managed to pull out yet again another victory.

Another individual who decided the time had come to revive his game was Nalbandian; his recommitment was evident with a new fitness trainer and coach, weight loss translated to a renaissance of his powerful two-handed backhand along with spryness on the court. In the last few months of the year, Nalbandian’s game flourished, the reward was wins over both Federer and Nadal at the ATP Masters final in Paris and Madrid. Nalbandian has always been a difficult opponent for Federer, strangely enough, he is one of a hand full of players with a winning record against Roger. Thus, if he continues to work hard and improve, 2008 will prove to be an interesting season not only for him, but also for tennis fans alike.

Regrettably, for those fanatical about American tennis, 2007 continued to disappoint. Andy Roddick failed to reach the finals of any of the key tournaments, his best showing was semifinalist at the Australian; while James Blake appears to be spiraling down, he did not make it past the fourth round at any of the grand slams. This leaves many to wonder when the drought of American champions will come to an end. Hope may lie with a young Atlanta teenager by the name of Donald Young, who decided to dabble in the adult league in 2007 while still playing on the junior circuit. In 2008, Young will probably join the ATP full-time, his inexperience will be a hindrance for several years, as impatient as Americans are, it is doubtful that their hunger for a consistent champion will be satisfied early enough. Regardless, all was not lost in 2007; team tennis was the brightest spot for the USA. After a twelve-year hiatus, the Davis Cup returned to its home on US soil, when the US convincingly defeated Russia.

Probably, the biggest story in 2007 was for the shenanigans off the court; tennis was revealed not to be immune from an ugly aspect of professional sports, gambling. At times, one forgets that tennis is not just a game; it is after all a business. With so much money involved, there is no lack of temptation. Allegations of match fixing surfaced when one of tennis’s most prominent stars, Russian Nikolay Davydenko was accused of possibly throwing a match against a relatively obscure opponent. Eyebrows were raised when an inordinate amount of bets was being placed in favor of Davydenko’s adversary despite the fact that he had been pummeled in the first set. When the Russian retired in the third set supposedly due to a foot ailment, suspicions heightened that something illicit was afoot. Subsequently, a few players admitted to having been approached with the proposal of loosing matches for monetary gains. The investigation in Davydenko’s case is still ongoing, but the repercussions that this type of blemish may have on the sport are troubling enough to the ATP officials that a few months later an Italian player was temporary barred from play after he was found to be betting on matches.

After taking a look back at the past year, it would only be fitting to peak into the tennis crystal ball and tread into the realm of forecasting what may unfold in 2008. As it turns out, the crystal ball appears cloudy; therefore, what to expect the upcoming season is anyone’s guess. The predictable question remains as to whether Nadal will at last relinquish the French Open crown to Federer thereby anointing him the best player the game has ever seen or as was the case with Pete Sampras will that trophy continue to remain elusive. What is undoubtedly clear in reviewing the events of 2007 is that the gap has been closing between Roger and the rest of the field; thus, Superman may be forced to come down to earth in 2008 and permanently reside amongst the commoners.

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