Tag Archive | "Legg Mason Tennis Classic"

Stepanek Thwarts Monfils for Title in Washington

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Stepanek Thwarts Monfils for Title in Washington

For the second day in a row, rain disrupted the proceedings at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But this afternoon, even that was insufficient for top seed and wildcard Gael Monfils to prevail. Unseeded Radek Stepanek bested Monfils 6-4,6-4 to win this ATP 500 tournament, the biggest prize of his career.

With a record of 5-2 against Stepanek, Monfils seemed in good stead to become the first Frenchman to triumph in the nation’s capital since Arnaud Clement beat Andy Murray in 2006.

For his part, Stepanek was on a quest to end his nation’s 29 year drought at this venue. Petr Korda, Stepanek’s coach, was the last victorious Czech in 1992.

The preamble to a disastrous afternoon for Monfils came in his initial service game. Monfils had two successive double faults despite holding.

Subsequent to guarding serve, Stepanek struck a backhand crosscourt winner for break point. When Monfils dumped a forehand into the net, Stepanek took a 2-1 lead.

In trying to consolidate, Stepanek went down 0-30. However, Monfils obliged with a sleuth of errors to allow the Czech to consolidate for a 3-1 advantage.

Later with Stepanek serving, the skies opened up and a thunderous downpour followed. Once Stepanek returned and completed the game for 4-2, showers came anew.

When play resumed, Monfils appeared more willing to fight and comfortably maintained serve. Yet despite Stepanek’s horrendous 30 percent first serve, Monfils could not capitalize on his second serve.

With Monfils stuck ten feet beyond the baseline and his returns falling short, an aggressive Stepanek proficient at volleying thrived at the net. Consequently, Stepanek easily bedded the first set.

For Monfils, the following set was a duplicate of the previous one. With a backhand volley winner, Stepanek had break point in the initial game. With Monfils’ forehand crosscourt pass finding the net, Stepanek converted.

Next, with an emphatic love game punctuated by his maiden ace, Stepanek raced to a 2-0 lead.

At times, Monfils uncorked his frustration on his racket. The crowd did it’s utmost to lift the Frenchman, however, without success. Despite losing solely two points his subsequent four service games, Monfils could not fabricate a single break point.

Stepanek’s first serve percentage picked up slightly this set at 46, winning 12 out of 12 points. With Monfils’ return not clearing the net, Stepanek had triple championship points.

When Monfils flubbed a backhand, Stepanek claimed his first title since San Jose in 2009. He also became the second oldest titlist. Jimmy Connors hoisted the trophy in 1988 at age 35.

With yesterday’s semifinals completed in the wee hours of the morning, Monfils did not go to sleep until four. Thus, the Frenchman felt the lack of rest made him “a fraction of a step slower. . . [so I] caught the returns late”.

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Monfils Skirts by Isner for a Place in the D.C. Final

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Monfils Skirts by Isner for a Place in the D.C. Final

Although this semifinal was scheduled for Saturday night, it’s conclusion came after one in the morning Sunday. Following a couple of shower intermissions, top seed Gael Monfils edged local favorite John Isner 6-4,3-6,7-6 to reach his initial final at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

Four years ago, Isner surprisingly advanced to the final in Washington. Along the way, in their first encounter, Isner prevailed over Monfils, a top 50 player, in a thrilling semifinal third set tiebreaker.

Tonight, subsequent to Isner carrying the opening game, Monfils’ turn was halted by rain. Ultimately when play resumed, the points went along quickly.

After Monfils erased a break point to hold, Isner’s did the same with a 135 mph serve. Despite further difficulties, Isner maintained serve for 3-2.

Later though, when Isner misfired on a forehand, Monfils had his second break point of the ninth game. The Frenchman converted courtesy of an errant forehand by Isner to ascend 5-4. Soon, with a strong service game, Monfils closed out the first set.

Isner and Monfils had tussled five times prior, with each meeting decided by a third set. Apparently, Monfils did not feel like deviating from the script.

By hitting a forehand wide, Monfils handed Isner double break point. The Frenchman compounded that mistake with a ill advised dropshot to gift the break. Promptly with a love game, Isner consolidated for a 3-0 lead.

In the fifth game, a dreadful incident occurred whereby one of Isner’s serving bullets struck a spectator in the eye. After the injured person was attended to and a horrified Isner gathered himself, play resumed.

With Isner leading 5-2, another rain stoppage came. With Monfils incapable of a break point, Isner captured the second set.

At 3-2 in the decisive set, Monfils forced Isner into a forehand mistake for break point. By taking out his big gun, Isner salvaged the game to level the set at 3 all.

The next time Isner served, Monfils was again at 0-30. Yet, he could not fabricate a break point. However, ahead 5-4, Monfils arrived at his first match point when Isner committed a forehand error.

But with a crisp volley, Isner got to deuce. A second match point by Monfils was dismissed with a second serve ace. Not certain of the umpire’s call, Monfils challenged. With the review system malfunctioning, the call stood. Monfils shrugged it off; the two even exchanged a knuckle high five.

Eventually, the tiebreaker settled the winner. As each competitor guarded serve, Isner thumped an ace to get to his first match point. Monfils replicated to square the breaker at 6 a piece.

Then, with a courageous lob winner, Monfils secured his third match point. When Isner dumped his forehand into the net. Monfils booked a place in the final of a U.S. tournament for the first time.

It’s conspicuous that these two share a mutual respect as they embraced at the net. Monfils said as much after the match “I have great respect for John. I like his mentality and it’s always a pleasure for me to play him”.

Monfils expressed that he was relieved to finish the match. During the breaks, he had his coach to distract him and did not get too anxious.

With the momentum after the first set, Monfils lost his way early on in the second. MiamiTennisNews.com asked him to evaluate that part of the match “he played two solid points and I played two fancy shots”.

Monfils admitted that his judgment was flawed “instead of the dropshot, I could have hit another forehand . . . because from the baseline I’m a bit stronger than him. I did not play with my weapon. Once you lose serve against John, you know it’s three sets”.

Although it’s less than twenty-four hours before the final, Monfils stated that fatigue will not be a factor. The shear adrenaline from being in his first final of the season will squelch any physical or mental tiredness.

Isner was attempting to reach his third consecutive final after bagging the title in Newport and runner up status in Atlanta. Isner was also glad to resolve the semifinal tonight. Now, he can move on to his next stop, the Rogers Cup.

In tomorrow’s final, Monfils will collide with Radek Stepanek. They last clashed in Hamburg a few weeks ago with Monfils victorious.

Monfils is at a career high ranking of seven while Stepanek is world number 54. Although Monfils has been a finalist the last two years at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris, his three ATP titles have been at the 250 level.

Both men have a losing mark in finals with Monfils at 3-10 and Stepanek 4-7. However, Monfils has a 5-2 record over his opponent. For both men it will be their maiden ATP 500 trophy.

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Baghdatis Sent Packing, Young Into First ATP Semifinal

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Baghdatis Sent Packing, Young Into First ATP Semifinal

Last year, Marcos Baghdatis was the runner up at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Today, in the quarterfinals, the seventh seed and 2006 Australian Open finalist was cut down by Donald Young 6-3,7-6.

Although this was their first meeting, with the success he’s had this week, Young was not intimidated by his opponent’s credentials. Young took advantage of Baghdatis’ dismal serving, 39 percent first serve, and converted the only break point donated early on in the opening set.

However, the second game of the next set, on triple break point, Baghdatis connected with a winner. With Young dumping a return in the net, Baghdatis raced to a 3-0 lead.

After finally holding serve, Young broke his adversary to get back on serve. Later, with Baghdatis’ forehand sailing long, Young secured double break point. With Baghdatis’ forehand crosscourt traveling wide, Young was at 4-3.

Yet, by gifting a double fault and with a miscue on a backhand, Young faced triple break point. When the American’s backhand up the line found the net, the players were back on equal footing.

As a result of a backhand volley winner, Baghdatis had two chances to break and capture the second set. But with his backhand return and volley off their mark, Young was at deuce. One more break point had to be wiped out before Young could send the set into a tiebreaker.

The initial point went to Young as Baghdatis flubbed a forehand up the line. Subsequent to erasing Young’s mini-break advantage, Baghadtis double faulted.

Eventually, the Cypriot squared the tiebreaker at 4 all. But when Baghdatis fumbled a backhand volley, Young was two points from the win.

With a spectacular overhead winner and backhand error from his rival, Young clinched his first ATP semifinal spot.

Baghdatis admitted that he was somewhat tired this afternoon after playing two matches yesterday which went the distance. The Cypriot felt that his energy level was low. The fact that Young kept him on the move was not helpful.

With his serve inconsistent and Young “ playing smart”, Baghdatis said even if it had gone to a third set, he is not sure that his experience would have carried him through.

In reference to Young’s future in the game, Baghdatis stated that he’s “very talented, but it’s a tough world out there. . . [He] has to keep working hard and fight the way he did today. If he does. . . .he will have a bright future”.

After the match, Young expressed that it’s thrilling to find himself in his first ATP semifinal particularly with victories over “the quality players. . . I’m very excited and hopefully I can keep moving forward”.

Subsequent to obtaining the crucial break for 4-3 in the second set and dumping his serve at love, Young stayed focused. MiamiTennisNews.com inquired whether his current success is attributable to his mentally maturing.

Young replied “for sure. Before, that would have set me off. But, [now], I try to look at the positive. . . Even though he broke back, I was actually still ahead . . .and could still close it out in two”.

As far as his goal for the remainder of the year when asked by MiamiTennisNews.com, Young set the bar at breaking into the top fifty. For him, that would define a successful year.

Next up for Young will be Radek Stepanek. Again, he will be clashing for the first time with a veteran. Young expressed “I’ve seen him play quite a bit and I don’t know what it will feel like on the court”. Nevertheless, Young opined that he will continue to do what he has been doing and hopes that will get him to his maiden ATP final.

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Nothing but Nadal in 2010

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Nothing but Nadal in 2010

No room for dispute, 2010 was a banner year for Rafael Nadal.  The Spaniard captured three majors, regained the world number one ranking and completed the career grand slam.  As such, Nadal’s domination left no ambiguity as to who was the most outstanding player in 2010.  With the year at a close, here’s a snapshot of the stories which caught the headlines this foregone season.

After a slow start, Nadal found his footing on clay with his first calendar title at the Monte-Carlo Masters.  Subsequent to banking titles at the Masters in Rome and Madrid, Nadal culminated his clay campaign with his fifth big prize at Roland Garros.  At Wimbledon, the Spaniard defended his 2008 title to seize his second major at the All England Club.  Finally, at U.S. Open, with troublesome obstacles removed from his half of the draw,  Nadal reached his first final in New York.  Nadal stared down a strong challenge from Novak Djokovic to hoist his first U.S. Open trophy.  With a total of seven titles, Nadal topped his peers in 2010.

For Roger Federer, this year was a mixed bag.  After grabbing his sixteenth major in Australia, Federer had a fourth round loss at the Sony Ericsson Open to Tomas Berdych which sent him into a tailspin.  As defending champion at the French Open, Federer was beaten in the quarterfinals by Robin Soderling which ended an unprecedented streak of twenty-three consecutive semifinals at the majors.  Furthermore, defending champ Federer was ousted in the quarterfinals by Berdych at Wimbledon.  In fact, Federer’s ranking dropped to number three, his lowest since November 2003.  Yet, with his second title of the season at the Cincinnati Masters, Federer seemed again on the right road.  However, Federer failed to take advantage of match points in the U.S. Open semifinals against Djokovic and went down in flames.  After the New York fiasco, Federer resurfaced with a fresh coach, Paul Annacone, and won three of four finals including the ATP World Tour finals where he toppled Nadal.

The Australian Open appeared a turning point for Andy Murray.  Easily handled in the final by Federer, Murray could do nothing right with the racket for a while. Eventually at Wimbledon, Murray advanced to the semifinals only to be disappointed by Nadal.  With the defense of his title at the Rogers Cup, Murray seemed to be back.  But, another setback occurred at the U.S. Open where Murray was stunned in the third round by Stanislas Wawrinka.  In besting Federer in the Shanghai Masters final, Murray looked to be heading for a strong finish.  Yet, at the ATP World Tour Finals, Murray took another  downturn.  This was emblematic of the Scot’s tumultuous year which included a rupture with coach Miles Maclagan, a brief ceding of the world number four spot to Soderling and only two titles.

With solely two titles and a U.S. Open final appearance, Djokovic had a so-so year.  The Serb even ascended to number two for a bit, but finished at number three.  While individual success was sparse, Djokovic led his country to its first Davis Cup title.  Along with countryman Viktor Troicki, Djokovic mounted a brilliant comeback to stop France from a tenth trophy.

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Federer, Murray, Roddick and Nadal Stand Out of the Heap as U.S. Open Favorites

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Federer, Murray, Roddick and Nadal Stand Out of the Heap as U.S. Open Favorites

The U.S. Open draw has been unveiled with the usual suspects at the top pack.  Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are the highest seeds followed respectively by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.  For some, the path has multiple green lights, but for others it is lined with yellow flags.  Here’s a breakdown of the draw.

After his victories at the French Open and Wimbledon, Nadal is once more in pursuit of the U.S. Open trophy, the sole major he lacks.  In 2008, the Spaniard was halted in the semifinals by Murray and last year in the same round by Juan Martin Del Potro, the champion.  Although Nadal has been the most prolific performer on grass and clay this season, hardcourt has been a different story.  Nadal has a lone final appearance in January in Doha and went down to Nikolay Davydenko.  With neither injury nor fatigue an issue this time, Nadal is capable of going the distance.  However, there may be a significant boulder in his way in the quarterfinals.

Finally in shape after hip surgery, David Nalbandian has made himself part of the conversation and could clash with Nadal in the quarterfinals.  Although Nadal recorded the win at their last meeting at the Sony Ericsson Open in March, Nalbandian’s form has improved markedly since then.  Moreover, Nalbandian took the title as a wildcard at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic earlier this month.  As a result, the Argentine will not be an easy customer for the Spaniard.

While Fernando Verdasco, the eight seed, is technically another likely quarterfinal counterpart for Nadal, Verdasco is at best a minute obstacle.  With a 10-0 record against his countryman, in a five set match, Nadal is a sure bet.

De novo, Nadal has been placed on a collision course with Murray to reach his first U.S. Open final.  Twice on hardcourt this year, Murray has comprehensively beaten Nadal including the Rogers Cup two weeks ago.  After dreadful results most of the season, Murray is at last in form and defended his title in Toronto.  If they clash in the semifinals, Nadal will have a tough time getting a pass.

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Another Argentine at Home in Washington:  Nalbandian Grasps the Title

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Another Argentine at Home in Washington: Nalbandian Grasps the Title

Although injury prevented Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2008-09 champion, from defending his title at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic; Del Potro’s countryman , wildcard entrant David Nalbandian, proved an excellent substitute.  Despite being gravely tested by Marcos Baghdatis, the 8th and sole remaining seed, Nalbandian walked away with the championship with a 6-2, 7-6 victory.

As a former world number three, Nalbandian’s current ranking of 117 due to hip surgery and other injuries the past twelve months did not reflect his talent.  In phenomenal form this week, dropping just one set prior to the final, Nalbandian felt his game was now coming together.  Classify it as arrogance, confidence or clairvoyance, after his semifinal win yesterday, Nalbandian intimated that if his form held up, he would run away with the title.

The first game of the match, following two errors by Baghdatis, Nalbandian connected on a forehand crosscourt return winner to earn triple break point.  When Baghdatis’ forehand landed long, Nalbandian took the game.  Next, the Argentine consolidated for a 2-0 lead.  His next time serving, Baghdatis got on the board for 2-1.  Too many return mistakes by Baghdatis especially on second serves led to short rallies and permitted Nalbandian to maintain the break advantage for 4-2. After having game point, Baghdatis double faulted for deuce.  Then, by netting a backhand down the line, the Cypriot donated another break point.  Nalbandian capitalized by hitting a backhand pass for a winner and 5-2.  By comfortably holding, Nalbandian wrapped up the first set in 32 minutes.

In yesterday’s semifinal, Nalbandian required just 72 minutes to dismiss fourth seed Marin Cilic.  His first set performance gave off the vibe that this might be another short match.  After having a game point, Baghdatis double faulted and later on in the first game gave Nalbandian a break point.  Fortunately for the Cypriot, he guarded serve.  The subsequent game, it was Nalbandian who cracked, committing two double faults to gift Baghdatis his first break and a 2-0 lead.  Quickly though, Nalbandian rebounded with a forehand down the line winner for double break point which he banked after a backhand error by Baghdatis.  In the fourth game, Baghdatis obtained double break point on another Nalbandian double fault.  Despite Nalbandian having to resort to his second serve, Baghdatis failed to seize those chances. Too casual on a forehand volley, Baghdatis dumped it in the net on his fifth break point.  Ultimately, Nalbandian salvaged six break points to level the set at 2 all.  Next, on another mistake filled game, Nalbandian broke to move ahead 3-2.  Nevertheless, Baghdatis did not relent and promptly stole the following game to get back on serve.  After holding, Baghdatis knocked at the door again, earning two break points, yet was rebuked by Nalbandian.  Following three love holds by the players, with Nalbandian serving at 5-6, Baghdatis reached set point.  As before, Nalbandian dug out of trouble and pushed the set to a tiebreaker.

Aided by miscues from Baghdatis, Nalbandian rolled off five straight points in the tiebreaker for 5-0.  With Baghdatis misfiring on an easy forehand, Nalbandian arrived at 6-3 and had three championship points.  As Baghdatis’ forehand up the line sailed wide, Nalbandian claimed his 11th career trophy.  The Argentine’s first since Sydney 2009.

Subsequent to the match, Baghdatis’ analysis was as follow when asked by MiamiTennisNews:
Q.  Did you feel you had to go for more on your second serve because Nalbandian returns so well?
Baghdatis: Yes. I felt in the second set I had to mix it up a bit, go for more.  I think I did pretty well in the second set.  We are two players who are great at returning.  I think if I served better today especially first serve, with more free points, I could have won.. I did not do that which was the key to the match.

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Berdych and Stepanek Move On to the Doubles Final at Legg Mason Tennis Classic

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Berdych and Stepanek Move On to the Doubles Final at Legg Mason Tennis Classic

In the doubles semifinals in Washington, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek regrouped after dropping a contested first set to edge out the fourth seed Julian Knowle and Andy Ram 5-7,6-2,10-4.

After ousting the top seed Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic,  Berdych and Stepanek got a walkover into the semifinals. Subsequent to Ram and Knowle carrying the first set, the team’s failure in serving effectively, allowed the Czechs to dominate the rest of the match. In the super tiebreaker, Berdych and Stepanek took control to acquire their first berth in a doubles final on the ATP tour as a team.

Following their triumph, MiamiTennisNews was one of only three sources to sit down with the duos and discuss a variety of topics.  After his singles defeat, Berdych expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which he was treated as the top seed.

Post sleep and perhaps having reflected, MiamiTennisNews wanted to know his views since yesterday.  Berdych was ambivalent about participating next year.
Q.  The two of you had such tremendous crowd support for your match today.  How do you feel after what transpired yesterday?  Will today weigh more in terms of making a decision for 2011?
Berdych: I was quite sad yesterday.  [Today], I just wanted to go back on the court, try to win, play better tennis and enjoy it.  It’s not a question of the next day.  There’s still a year to go. . . I will think about it and see what to do next year . . .so it’s difficult to say right now.

Moreover, Berdych states that thus far his issues had not been taken under advisement nor had the appropriate authorities spoken to him on the subject.

Because of injuries and personal reasons, Stepanek has been absent from the court. In singles, he lost his first match out to Marco Chiudinelli.  MiamiTennisNews asked:
Q.  What are your thoughts on being in the final?
Stepanek:  It’s a great result for us as a team . . . We’ve always played together in Davis Cup, played great matches.  But, we’ve never been able to do so well at [the ATP level], so we are very please.  Especially for me, after being out for five months with [mononucleosis and knee injury] my first tournament, I’m in the final; it’s a great feeling even though it’s doubles.  I’m getting on the court, getting some matches, gaining confidence . . .so I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s final.

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Then There Were Two:  Baghdatis and Nalbandian Progress to The Final in Washington

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Then There Were Two: Baghdatis and Nalbandian Progress to The Final in Washington

At the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the first semifinal showcased Marcos Baghdatis, the eighth seed, against Xavier Malisse.  Baghdatis defeated Malisse 6-2,7-6 to earn his initial spot in the final of a tournament States side.  Later, David Nalbandian booked his maiden berth in a final on U.S. soil by thumping fourth seed Marin Cilic 6-2,6-2.

Although this was their first meeting on the ATP tour, Malisse and Baghdatis faced off twice in the finals at the challenger level with Baghdatis prevailing both times.  From the difficult hold that Baghdatis had his primary game, Malisse gave the impression that he was going to reverse the former results.  However, with Malisse unable to make the volley off a dipping forehand,  Baghdatis gained double break point.  As Malisse’s forehand went out of bounds, Baghdatis nudged ahead 2-1.  By surprising Baghdatis with a sliced backhand down the line and forcing an error, Malisse attained break point.  But, with Malisse misjudging the second serve return, Baghdatis eventually consolidated for 3-1.  By inciting a few unforced errors from Malisse, Baghdatis captured a second break and later shut down the set with a love game.

The first two games of the second set, Baghdatis had two break points; Malisse handled the pressure to stay in front 2-1.  Following a couple of easy holds, Malisse connected on a forehand down the line winner for break point.  But, by sending a backhand outside the field of play, Malisse wasted that opportunity.  As Baghdatis shifted his movement in an attempt to track down the ball, he twisted his left ankle slightly.

With Baghdatis on the ground, play was interrupted and the trainer dispatched. Genuinely concerned for his opponent, Malisse quickly crossed the net and brought Baghdatis a bag of ice to apply.  After the ankle was attended to, play resumed and Baghdatis held for 4 all.  Subsequently, Malisse rebounded from love 30 to keep his nose in front 5-4.  Later, following a loose forehand by Malisse, Baghdatis connected on a forehand crosscourt pass for break point.  With another mistake by Malisse, Baghdatis claimed a 6-5 lead.  Yet, serving for the match, Baghdatis was bitten by the error bug.  Therefore, the set moved on to a tiebreaker.  At that stage, Baghdatis justified his 11-3 tiebreaker record.  In baiting Malisse into two miscues, the Cypriot raced to a 5-1 advantage.  Then, on his fourth match point, Baghdatis succeeded to punctuate the match.

In reference to his noble act, Malisse cited in the post match briefing:  “I know he has been injured for a while . . .you don’t want [the ankle to] be more inflamed. . . You don’t want to win a match in that way”.

MiamiTennisNews asked:
Q.  You got the equalizer in the second set, what went wrong in the tiebreaker?
Malisse:  At 3-1, I hit a good forehand but it clipped the tape.  He served well the whole tiebreaker . . . I kept [going] for my shots . .  At 6-4, it’s a little different because he feels he has to win the point because it’s on his serve . . . I made a couple of mistakes, but if you are going to hit your shot, you are going to miss a couple.  Too bad, it’s in a tiebreaker.

Q.  Despite the result today, it’s been a good week for you.  What are the positives you take away?
Malisse:  I’ve played good matches, so I can’t really complain . . . I gave it my all and beat a lot of good players in the top 20.  I lost today, but I fought hard . . . You can’t win everything . . . But the positive is that my ranking [will go] up to almost 50 . . . The pressure is off now, I can play freely.   My confidence is really high  . . I’m a bit tired, but we will see how Toronto goes after some days of rest.

In assessing his performance, Baghdatis surmised that the key to his victory was “playing smart” and coming up with “the perfect game” plan.  Essentially, Baghdatis said:  “I played the right point at the right time . . .not opening the court on his forehand and not giving him any angles”.  On the ankle, Baghdatis’ comment was “I twisted it a bit . . . I feel ok now and hope that it won’t be bad tomorrow”.

In the second semifinal, Nalbadian clashed with Cilic.  The last time these two tangoed, it was in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup in 2006 and Nalbandian was the victor.  Needless to say, with 21 year old Cilic now ranked 13th, Nalbadian was facing a different player.

In the first game, Cilic took advantage of multiple errors by Nalbadian and broke.  However, Nalbandian also pressured the Croatian into miscues to promptly level the set at 1 all.  Nalbandian then held at love for 2-1.  After getting to double break point with a backhand down the line winner, Cilic failed to capitalize on Nalbandian’s second serves.  Thus, the Argentine inched ahead 3-2.  With Cilic netting a forehand, Nalbandian earned his third break point of the sixth game.  Nalbandian converted when Cilic made his third forehand error in that game.  In his three previous matches, Cilic had only been broken twice, dismissing 12 of 14 break points.  After consolidating with a love game for 5-2, Nalbandian bagged another break to polish the first set in just 36 minutes.

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Final Four at the Legg Mason Classic: Malisse, Baghdatis, Nalbandian and Cilic

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Final Four at the Legg Mason Classic: Malisse, Baghdatis, Nalbandian and Cilic

The customary Washington heat returned today melting down two of the top remaining seeds.  In the first match of the afternoon, Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist and number one seed, was booted by Xavier Malisse 6-4,3-6, 6-2.  The same fortune befell Fernando Verdasco, the third seed.  The Spaniard was ushered out by Marcos Baghdatis 7-6,6-4.

In the evening session, David Nalbandian bested Gilles Simon, the 13th seed, 3-6,6-2, 6-3.  At number four, Marin Cilic is the highest surviving seed. Cilic toppled Janko Tipsarevic 7-6,6-4.

Having split their prior two encounters in 2006, for both Malisse and Berdych it was case of getting reacquainted.  Malisse drew first blood by capitalizing on his second break point chance in the third game.  The Belgian went on to readily consolidate for 3-1.  Down love-30 in the fifth game,  Berdych worked his way back to game point.  However, with Berdych failing to convert on eight game points, Malisse seized a second break and 5-2 lead.  Although Berdych narrowed the arrears to a single break, with the insurance edge Malisse managed to wrap up the set.

Unable to break in the second game, Berdych was gifted a double fault on double break point by Malisse for 5-4.  The Czech secured the following game to force a third set.  After opening the fourth game with a double fault, Berdych compounded it with a series of unforced miscues.  As a result, Malisse inched ahead 4-3.  With Berdych misfiring on three consecutive backhands, Malisse increased his lead to 5-3.  For good measure, Malisse broke Berdych one last time to earn his first semifinal berth in Washington.

After the match, Berdych expressed his discontentment with playing his third round on a non-show court and being scheduled first today after getting to his hotel late this morning.  At the preceding conference, Berdych alluded to jet lag being an issue, the early match he felt added to his wretched play in the first set.  Nevertheless, Berdych acknowledged that Malisse merited the win because he performed well.

For his part, Malisse commented that the key to his victory was his ability to return.  Malisse remarked that the third set was near perfect tennis from his end.

In the second singles, Verdasco had three break opportunities in the opening game.  Baghdatis survived the challenge and went on to break for 2-1.  Yet, Verdasco quickly got back on serve by manufacturing a break of his own.  Ultimately, the set was decided by a tiebreaker.  Courtesy of three double faults by Verdasco, Baghdatis built a 5-2 advantage.  As another Verdasco forehand traveled out of play, Baghdatis bagged the first set.

After Verdasco held to carry the initial game of the second set, Baghdatis netted a backhand giving the Spaniard triple break point.  However, Baghdatis once again disappointed his rival.  The next game, a disenchanted Verdasco dropped his serve.  Although Verdasco immediately equalized the set at 2 all, the errors became uncontrollable leading to further breaks.  When Verdasco’s forehand pass sailed long, Baghdatis had double break point.  With Verdasco flubbing a backhand down the line, Baghdatis secured a 5-3 lead which was the difference in the match.

MiamiTennisNews asked:
Q.  This was your first meeting with Baghdatis, was his game different than expected?
Verdasco:  No . . . I did not play [well].  It was very windy . . .so it was tough to play for both of us . . . [Too] many double faults [because of ] the changing direction of the wind . . . The bounce of the court was sometimes [irregular] . . . The conditions were not easy.

MiamiTennisNews was curious about Verdasco’s racket conundrum.
Q.  Earlier in the year you experimented with a different brand and you’ve since switched back.  What’s the reason?
Verdasco:  Before [the season started] I tried Yonex and I was suppose to play in Australia with it.  But, [the manufacturer] did not [fabricate] the racket the way I wanted.  So, I was told to play with my old racket in Australia . . . In San Jose and Memphis, I played with the Yonex racket.  On clay in Acapulco, I [noticed] it was not the racket I want . . . After Acapulco, the [team] spoke to Dunlop to see if it can make the [equipment that suits] my game. Dunlop worked on it for a few months, that’s why I played the clay and grass seasons with a black racket.  It’s still an [evolving process], trying to find the perfect racket.  It’s never easy like changing clothes or sunglasses because it’s such an [integral] part of the game.

Q.  Any plans to defend your title at the Pilot Pen?
Verdasco: I will just be playing the two Masters and the [major].  Last year I won New Haven, it was great and I enjoyed it . . . The people really treated me well . .  . But, last year, when I got to the U.S. Open, I had a micro-tear in my abs and lost in the first round  because of too many matches in a row.  I don’t want that to happen this year because I want to do well in [New York].

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Berdych and Verdasco Make the Cut, Roddick and Company Wipe Out

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Berdych and Verdasco Make the Cut, Roddick and Company Wipe Out

With the quarterfinal spots at stake, after nearly five hours, the stormy weather cleared to allow play at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.  While Tomas Berdych, the number one seed, and Fernando Verdasco, the third seed, battled their way into the next round.  For the Americans, the tournament was a disaster.  Andy Roddick, the three time champion and second seed, 2007 finalist John Isner as well as 2010 Atlanta champion Mardy Fish were all swept away.

Isner, the fifth seed, squared off against Xavier Malisse.  In March at their initial meeting in Houston, Malisse prevailed in three tiebreaker sets. In the beginning stages of the first set, Malisse had a few break points.  However, Isner promptly brushed those aside.  Later at 4 all, Malisse obtained the break which permitted him to take the set.  But, in the second set, Malisse double faulted on break point to give Isner a 2-1 edge. As usual, this was the minute window the American required to push the match to a third set.  In the third game, Isner had two break point chances, yet converted none.  For his part, with Isner serving at 4 all, Malisse failed to capitalized on love 40.  Thus, the tiebreaker was called upon.  At 5 all, Isner miscalculated an overhead which resulted in the ball landing on his side of the court.  With a mini-break/match point in hand, Malisse connected on a good serve.  With Isner botching the return, Malisse punched his ticket into the subsequent round with  a 6-4,3-6,7-6 win.

Despite recently turning 30, Malisse is enjoying great success the last few months. MiamiTennisNews asked:

Q. Although you are getting on in years, you are playing pretty good tennis.  What keeps you motivated?
Malisse: I had two years of injuries, when you are sidelined and everyone else is playing it hurts. Sometimes you say that you want  a couple of weeks off, when it’s [not on your own terms], it really gets to you . . . Since I had two easy years, I feel I am healthy now . . . The road back has been tough playing challenger last year after being in nice tournaments in nice places. . . But it feels so much more satisfying now . . . Before, I was just playing, not really enjoying it.

At Wimbledon, Malisse teamed up with Kim Clijsters and made it to the quarterfinals in mixed doubles.  MiamiTennisNews inquired:

Q. Do the two of you  plan to do the same at the U.S. Open?
Malisse: I don’t think so.  We have not talked about it. It’s harder considering it’s five sets . . . We had a good time and laughed a lot in [London], that’s the most important thing.

The first set went along swimmingly for Malisse’s quarterfinal opponent, Berdych against Andrey Golubev.  After securing the break in the third game, Berdych cruised on serve.  Nevertheless, serving to send the second set into a tiebreaker, Berdych dropped serve at love.  In the decisive set, Berdych broke for 3-2.  Though, serving for the match and ahead 30-0, Berdych surrendered four straight points to enable Golubev back in.  Still, Berdych managed to break once more and hold for a 6-3,5-7,7-5 victory.

First round at Wimbledon, Berdych faced Golubev and send him packing in straight sets. Hence, MiamiTennisNews wanted to know:

Q.  Why was it so difficult to close Golubev out this time around?
Berdych: He’s really improved [in the last couple of weeks].  He won his first [title] in Hamburg which is a big tournament . . . Even before, he’s had a couple of good results . . . Hardcourt is going to be the best surface for him. . . The conditions, the fast courts suit his game . . .

The Sony Ericsson Open was a pivotal point in Berdych’s career.  Since, he’s had extraordinary results at the French Open and Wimbledon.  MiamiTennisNews questioned whether Berdych felt the same way.

Q.  In making the final in South Florida, did that give you the mental boost to propel you to additional success?
Berdych:  Yes. . .  But not only the tournament in Miami. It started the Davis Cup week right before Indian Wells. . . I won a couple of matches . . . Then at Indian Wells, I made the quarters which showed me even if I am . . .  not playing  well, I can [have] good results which gave me a lot of confidence. . . Coming to Miami which is really my favorite tournament . . . The key match against Roger [Federer] turning it around match point down . . . [getting] to the final . . .  I am happy I can keep the form, keep the consistency and bring more and more good results.

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