Andy Murray, the world’s number 3 tennis player on the ATP tour, is currently in Miami fine tuning his game in preparation for the summer hard court season.
Team Murray members Miles Maclagan and two time French Open finalist Alex Corretja pressed Murray through a variety of drills Thursday afternoon under swealtering conditions at the UM Tennis Center. Murray’s signature backhand was in full effect during several intense rallies against Maclagan and Corretja. Corretja, pictured below, held his own during the practice session unleashing forehands with heavy top spin complemented by a nasty backhand slice. During drills Corretja pumped Murray up by shouting “Vamos Andres!”
Murray is looking to add to his three Masters Series titles by taking part in the Rogers Cup in Montreal which runs from August 8 – 16, 2009. Murray is looking to improve on last year’s result at the Rogers Cup where he was defeated in the semis by the eventual 2008 champion, Rafael Nadal. Murray’s last Masters Series title came earlier this year when he defeated Novak Djokovic at the Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne, Florida.
After pushing Spaniard Rafael Nadal to the limit in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, Serbian Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, fancied his chances of retaining the title. But, Nadal once more proved his invincibility on clay defeating Djokovic 7-6, 6-2 in the finals of the ATP Masters Internazionali BNL d’Italia for a record setting fourth trophy at this venue.
Leading 40-15 in the first set’s opening game, Djokovic committed two forehand errors while Nadal converted a forehand up the line winner for break point. Then, Nadal capitalized on another Djokovic error in a long rally for the advantage. With mistake after mistake by Novak, Rafael sprinted to a 2-0 lead. After calming down, Djokovic finally got on the board with a forehand down the line winner. With Nadal serving at 3-2, Djokovic for the first time got to 30 all. Nadal rescued the game for a 4-2 advantage due to a net court winner. Still, there was a sense that the tides were possibly shifting. Djokovic had an easier time holding serve while inserting himself more and more into Nadal’s service games. At 5-4 with Nadal serving to close the set, he made three forehand unforced errors permitting Djokovic to level things. Untroubled by the previous game though, Rafael caused Novak to net a backhand crosscourt then produced a dipping forehand which the Serbian was unable to volley giving the Spaniard double break point which he converted for 6-5. Except, Nadal again had problems with the forehand and was broken after having set point. Thus, it was on to a tiebreaker. As a result of bad judgment by Djokovic, including dropshots which never cleared the net, Nadal bedded the first set.
Nadal started the second set prevailing in long rallies for 40-0; Djokovic countered with three consecutive forehand winners for deuce. When Nadal’s forehand up the line went out of bounce, Djokovic arrived at break point. Yet, Nadal responded with a forehand down the line winner to salvage the game. Serving at 1-2, Djokovic ran into trouble with too many errors. Nevertheless, with a couple of wide serves and backhand winners, the Serb forbade the Spaniard from doing any damage. Nadal, under fire on his own serve after a double fault, curled in a forehand up the line winner to stay ahead 3-2. In the sixth game, Djokovic avoided going down 0-30 with a reflex backhand volley winner after Nadal crushed a forehand down the line. Ahead 40-15, Djokovic misfired twice with the backhand, dumped a forehand crosscourt into the net and double faulted to gift Nadal a break for 4-2. After easily consolidating, Nadal curved a forehand pass for a winner to break Djokovic and win the match.
What a difference a year makes! Last May, Nadal was fighting off Djokovic just to retain the number two ranking. By prevailing in Rome, the Spaniard claims his 15th Masters’ shield and is now two behind the all-time leader Andre Agassi. Moreover, with his 25th clay title, at 22, Nadal is five shy of the mark set by the great Bjorn Borg. With this lost, Djokovic cedes the number three spot to Andy Murray albeit the latter exited in the second round in Rome. Despite falling to Djokovic in the semifinals, Roger Federer hangs on to the number two ranking although by his finger nails.
Fittingly, as the Sony Ericsson Open turns twenty-five this year, the first week of competition has already provided tons of fireworks on the courts. Here are just a few of the most memorable occurrences.
The initial two days were taken up by the qualifying rounds. Despite receiving wildcard entries, former major champions Swede Thomas Johansson and Argentine Gaston Gaudio did not move on to the main draw. In addition, the Americans teenager Donald Young and veteran Vincent Spadea failed to advance. On the other hand, Taylor Dent, whose career has had fits and starts due to niggling injuries, progressed into the primary field along with Michael Russell, Amer Delic and thirty-something Jill Craybas.
As the action got underway for real on Thursday, Dent’s hot hand continued. The American beat two top twenty players in the second and third rounds, Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo respectively. In the round of 16, Dent will face Roger Federer; this will be their first encounter. Albeit the world number two has had multiple kinks in his game, Dent will need to pull off the performance of a lifetime in order to vanquish Federer. Surprisingly, the 14th seed Argentine David Nalbandian made a second round exit while James Blake, the 13th seed, was halted in the third round by Czech Thomas Berdych.
The sole top ten male to scent any whiff of difficulties in the third round was Frenchman Gael Monfils. The 9th seed clawed back from a double break deficit and saved two match points against Marat Safin, the 22nd seed and former major champion, before prevailing in a third set tiebreaker. Top seed Rafael Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin Del Potro, Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco and Jo- Wilfried Tsonga are also into the second week.
Much of the ruckus appeared to be on the women’s side. The rain was not the only nuisance at Crandon Park on Sunday as a ragging storm decimated through the elite ten. Actually, the turbulence commenced Saturday evening with the last match of the day featuring world number three, Serb Jelena Jankovic. The usually steady Serb was ushered out by Argentine Gisela Dulko. Jankovic’s game has been stagnating; for the second consecutive tournament, she has made a second round exit. After the euphoria of the previous night and the quick turnaround, Dulko lost the next afternoon in straight sets to Czech Iveta Besenova. Another Serb Ana Ivanovic, the world number 7, was also excused in the third round by gifted Hungarian youngster Agnes Szavay in three sets.
Potential semifinal opponents for Nadal include Andy Murray unstoppable of late whether facing Roger or him, Gilles Simon who had a spectacular win against him in Madrid last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist. However, as of press time, it’s still a question mark whether Tsonga will take the court due to a back problem. For Federer, all roads to the finals seem to go through defending champion Novak Djokovic. The two appear destined for a semifinal rematch. The spoiler may be Andy Roddick who will possibly have to defeat Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Regardless, with his phenomenal record since losing in his first major final, no longer a novice, this may be Murray’s tournament for the taking.
Maria Sharapova, last year’s winner, will be unable to defend because she is rehabbing her shoulder post surgery. Therefore, on the women side, potential champions abound. Top seed Jelena Jankovic should sail through to the quarterfinals where she may battle Vera Zvonareva, a player Jelena has had little trouble crushing in the past. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 runner up, and Dinara Safina are possibly heading for a quarterfinal clash. Either one could be an impediment to Jankovic making her second consecutive major final. But, Ivanovic’s play has been patchy lately; it would not be surprising if Caroline Wozniacki stops her from advancing. With the Williams sisters on the same side of the draw, Venus and Serena may meet in the semifinals. Venus may need to bypass Elena Dementieva or Flavia Pennetta while Serena may have to vanquish Victoria Azarenka who recently won her first tour title or Agnieszka Radwanska before the siblings can tango. With two titles under her belt already and a recent win over Serena, Dementieva will be no push over for Venus and is a genuine contender. Nevertheless, Venus is perhaps the underdog with the best chance to win it all considering how well she finished 2008. The first ball strike is in less than 72 hours. For a detailed look at the singles and doubles draws go to www.australianopen.com
Fascinating is the word in a nutshell that perhaps best describes this past season. With 2009 looming, the time has come to reminisce as to why 2008 was such a quintessential year for the ATP.
The abundance of talent littering the tour foretold of a possible shake up as the year began, threatening Roger Federer’s supremacy. All dynasties have gone through a period of decline; perhaps, for Federer, 2008 will be viewed as such. In Australia, Federer faced two foes, mononucleosis and Serb Novak Djokovic. Unable to vanquish either, Roger succumbed in the semifinals. For Federer, this calendar had many ebbs and few flows with a spanking by Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the French final, a gut wrenching loss in the Wimbledon final in five sets, a much desired gold medal at the Olympics, but in doubles. Roger regained a bit of respect by capturing his fifth consecutive U.S. Open. But, for the first time since the dawning of the Federer era, Roger failed to grab a single masters’ shield. In 2008, not only did the Swiss have to get acclimated to the fact that Wimbledon was no longer his playpen, he also lost his grip on the number one ranking.
What a year for Nadal! Undoubtedly talent is an important part of success, yet hard work cannot be discounted. As the season started, the smart bet would have been on Djokovic yanking the top spot from Federer. Nevertheless, Roger’s clay nemesis, after more than two years of serving as best man, finally moved up to number one. After crushing defeats in the quarterfinals in Australia and finals at the Sony Ericsson, Nadal had a surreal clay run with one solitary loss. Moreover, Rafa won his fourth consecutive French Open and the crown jewel, his first Wimbledon trophy. He was the first man in over twenty years with this dual combination. The ultimate feather in Rafa’s cap was getting Olympic singles gold. An arduous and lengthy schedule put the breaks to Nadal’s play with tendonitis stopping him from participating in the year-end tournament and the Davis cup finals. Regardless, Nadal could not have scripted this year any better.
In many respects, Djokovic had an up and down ride. After hoisting the Australian and Indian Wells trophies, the world number three had a reality check. Nadal unwilling to relinquish his hold on number two, schooled Djokovic when the two met in Rome and Paris. His confidence slightly dented, Novak was a non-factor mid-year with an early exit at Wimbledon. However, Djokovic finished strongly by winning the year-end tournament in Shanghai.
The finalists at the Mutua Madrelena Masters Madrid were Frenchman Gilles Simon ranked 16th and Brit Andy Murray ranked fourth. Murray trumped Simon 6-4, 7-6 to obtain his second career masters’ shield.
Although Simon was a first time participant at a Masters’ series event final, he had won 5 out of 6 career finals and showed no signs of jitters. Aided by various unforced errors from his opponent, Simon held serve without difficulty his first two times out 2-1. For his part, Murray had no problems on his service games. Content with hitting from the baseline, the Brit kept the ball in play and tried to exploit the Frenchman’s forehand weakness. Thus, the rallies were usually exhaustive and decided by errors. Finally, Simon blinked in the fifth game, committing three consecutive forehand unforced errors to give Murray triple break point. After saving the second break point with a backhand crosscourt winner in a 33 stroke rally, Simon mistimed a backhand to hand Murray the break 2-3. Thereafter, Murray’s serve was the deciding factor. With excellent placement and speed, Murray never faced a break point, wrapping up the first set with an ace.
After a tough hold to start the second set where he erased a break point, Simon became more aggressive on Murray’s second serve with partial success. Up 3-2 with Murray serving, Simon saw a sliver of daylight after making a backhand volley winner for 15-30. Yet, with a couple of aces, Murray pulled off the game 3-3. Play after play, Murray had Simon running sideline to sideline, but the Frenchman stayed firm. Fittingly, the set was settled by a tiebreak. With a deep service return producing an error from Murray, Simon took a 2-0 lead. However, with a backhand down the line winner, Murray soon wiped out the advantage. Enamored with the dropshot, Murray had kept it in check throughout the match. But, with the score tied 4-4, Andy pulled out the dropshot which Gilles tracked down for a winner. Then with a crosscourt forehand winner, Simon arrived at double set point 6-4. Unfortunately, with two forehand miscues, Simon failed to capitalize on these opportunities 6-6. A backhand crosscourt winner gave Murray championship point. Once more, Murray resorted to the dropshot. Despite getting to the ball, Simon was unable to convert the volley.
Although Murray defeated second seed Roger Federer in the semifinals, Gilles was the giant killer this week. Close to being ousted in the first and third rounds, Simon survived tiebreaks against Igor Andreev and Robby Ginepri respectively to move on. Moreover, in the quarterfinals, the diminutive Frenchman returned Ivo Karlovic’s gargantuan serves adroitly to win 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, a task at which his predecessor Novak Djokovic had failed. Yet, the week’s marquee match was Simon’s semifinal against world number one, Rafael Nadal. After being bludgeon in the first set, Simon retooled his game to twice break Nadal in the second set and force a third. Then after being down 2-4, Simon pushed the set to a tiebreak and prevailed after Nadal had a minibreak 3-6, 7-5, 7-6. In addition to improving his ranking, Simon has positioned himself as a contender for a spot at the year end championship.
Saturday’s rain postponed the U.S. Open final between Roger Federer and Britain’s Andy Murray until today. But, Federer, the former world number one, did not permit this first time finalist to rain on his parade. Federer swiftly handled the Brit in straight sets 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to capture his only major of 2008.
The first set was a throwback to the Federer of old. His first game was a walk in the park, Federer held at love. Despite being flustered, Murray initially kept up with beautiful passing shots and good serves 1-1. After a forehand error, Andy faced his first break point and was bailed out by a backhand error from Roger 2-2. But in the crucial sixth game, Murray had a double fault and two unforced errors including on his best shot, the backhand, to allow Federer to lead 4-2. Federer then took command, breaking Murray after another backhand error to close the set 6-2.
Federer got off to a fast start in the second set converting a break point with a beautiful angled forehand winner 2-0. Murray’s initial majors final seemed to be destined for a quick finish. But, the Brit broke right back at love when Federer strung three straight unforced errors and offered a weak second serve for which Murray made him pay. Uncharacteristically, Federer made two forehand miscues and netted a volley to go down triple break point again. After erasing the first break point, Federer hit a stroke which appeared long but was erroneously called in by the line judge. Murray continued to play and ultimately lost the point and the game. Nevertheless, Murray overcame his misfortune and held easily for 3-3. Murray had another 15-30 opening on Federer’s serve but despite hitting only 48% of his first serves in the set, Federer escaped 4-3. As Federer’s unforced errors stacked up, Murray managed to hold serve comfortably. Yet, with Murray serving at 5-6, Federer produced three consecutive winners for triple set point, then guided a forehand down the line for a winner 7-5.
Amped up, Federer took charge in the third set, breaking Murray at love twice for 4-0. After getting on the board at 1-5, Murray produced a crosscourt forehand winner for a break point which he then converted 5-2. However, Federer flicked a backhand crosscourt which drew the error from Murray giving Roger his second match point. After getting back in play two overhead smashes, a resistant Murray finally conceded when his forehand hit the net. Federer becomes the first player since Bill Tilden in 1924 to win five straight U.S. Open titles.
Murray, a former juniors’ champion, seems to be a natural on hardcourt. His ranking will be bolstered from 6 to 4. Murray’s sluggish start may have been attributable to his being a novice at a majors’ final and having played a mentally grueling match in semifinals against world number one, Rafael Nadal. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Open, there was a parade of champions on opening night. As Federer crossed the stage, the song “Your Still The One” was performed. Maybe, it was kismet.
The U.S. Open draws have been posted with Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic the top singles seeds on the men and women’s side respectively.
Nadal should sail through to the quarterfinals where one possible tricky match up could be Argentine David Nalbandian. Despite a disappointing year, Nalbandian has always been dangerous on a hardcourt. Another David, countryman Ferrer who eliminated Rafa in the round of 16 last year may be a nuisance, although Nadal is not the same player. Yet, perhaps, the most dangerous potential opponent is Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro who has been blazing the last few weeks. If Del Potro continues to ride this wave, Nadal could be in trouble in the semifinals. Great Britain’s Andy Murray may have a lot to say in the matter, Del Potro and he could face off in the quarters.
Czech Radek Stepanek who beat him at the ATP Masters in Rome could test second seed and defending champion Roger Federer in the third round. Moreover, Serbian Jarko Tipsaravic who almost defeated Federer in Australia could be a potential quarterfinal challenge. But another Serbian 2007 finalist Novak Djokovic may be Federer’s biggest obstacle as the two may end up clashing in the semifinals. Djokovic has been stumbling of late but his draw looks manageable particularly with a struggling Andy Roddick as a possible opponent in the quarterfinals.
For Ivanovic, the task appears doable until the quarterfinals where she could meet Russian Dinara Safina who’s surely out for revenge after the French Open. Ivanovic’s thumb injury may be factor in the tournament. No possible Williams sisters finals, these two are on the same side of the draw and could clash in the quarterfinals. Moreover, both have intricate first round matches. Standing in the way of Serbian Jelena Jankovic could be China’s Jie Zheng in the third round or Russian Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals. The Russians are blessed with many contenders for the trophy. The road to the semifinals for Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova may mean motoring through one another. So it may not be a question of which country but which Russian will hoist the trophy, in my opinion, Safina has to be the favorite.
Miami native Ahsha Rolle is a wildcard entrant. Click here to access all of the draws for the 2008 US Open.
After terminating Rafael Nadal’s 32 match winning streak to get into the finals, world number 3 Novak Djokovic seemed to be destined to take the title at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati. Yet, no one clued in Great Britain’s Andy Murray on that part of the script. After beating Djokovic for the first time last week in Toronto, Murray was poised to demonstrate that he could give an encore performance. The Brit dismantled his Serbian rival 7-6, 7-6 to earn his first ATP masters’ shield.
After getting off the blocks in a positive light, Djokovic’s serve started to trouble him in the fifth game. Despite two double faults and break point, Novak escaped to get to 3-2. In the seventh game, Djokovic again faced break points which he dismissed. For his part, Murray’s service games were uncomplicated, not facing a single break point. Moreover, Murray did not lament his lost opportunities while an exasperated Djokovic had numerous one sided heated exchanges with his coach. A 71 minute first set was decided by a tiebreak and 31 unforced errors by Djokovic helped Murray to prevail.
Turning a new leaf, Djokovic held comfortably in the second set’s opening game. Then, Novak attacked Andy’s serve to attain break points which he banked to lead 2-1. But, the shift in the tides was momentary. Novak’s shaky serve deserted him and with consecutive double faults, Murray eventually leveled the set at 2-2. Subsequently at 3-4, Djokovic missed a makeable smash which handed Murray the break and the chance to serve for the title. Down 3-5, Novak had a drop shot bounce off the net to land for a winner, swatted away four championship point and broke Andy for another lifeline. The set was settled by a tiebreak. After a seesaw of points, Murray produced a delicious crosscourt backhand down the line winner in an interminable rally to get to 5-4. On the next point, Djokovic double faulted giving Murray match point which he then converted. The Bryan brothers, who have been struggling this year, won the doubles trophy in a compelling three set match over Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 4-6, 7-6, 10-7.
Belief is everything. The combination of an ineffective serve and the inability to connect on his favorite shot, the backhand down the line, caused Djokovic’s undoing in the finals. Murray’s return of serve was key in the match. By winning, Murray improves his ranking to number 6. With so many players peaking at this stage, it’s difficult to say who will claim Olympic gold or for that matter the U.S. Open trophy.