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A New World Order:  The Year That Was 2008

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A New World Order: The Year That Was 2008


img_3045Fascinating 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.

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Murray Subdues Simon In Madrid To Get Second Masters’ Shield This Year


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.

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Down But Never Out: Federer Grabs Last Major Of The Year


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.

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“It’s Showtime”: U.S. Open Draw Announced Today


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.

 

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Murray Demounts Djokovic In Cincinnati Final


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.

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Nadal Knocks Out Kiefer To Take Rogers Cup In Toronto


As expected, the finals at the Rogers Cup between Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Kiefer did not turn out to be much of a contest with Nadal winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-2.

After keeping close the first couple of games, Kiefer surrendered his serve for Nadal to take a 4-2 lead. Then in trying to stay in the first set, Kiefer made a bevy of unforced errors then double faulted to give Rafa the set.

The pivotal game in the second set came at 2-2; with Nadal serving, Kiefer finally earned a break point. But, an overhit went on to erase that chance. Yet, Nicolas obtained another break chance. With a good drop shot, Kiefer drew Rafa in the forecourt, but the Spaniard had all the answers producing an even more spectacular stroke of his own to get back to deuce. After six deuces and dismissing a third break point, Nadal secured his serve. Demoralized after taking 30-0 lead, Kiefer threw in two double faults to be broken the very next game. Thereafter, Rafa pressed on the accelerator and broke Kiefer to close out the match.

Last year’s finalist, Roger Federer was defeated in the second round, his first match since Wimbledon, by Gilles Simon. Simon made it to the semifinals where he fell to Kiefer. Andy Murray eliminated Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, in the quarterfinals. In doubles news, Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor beat the Bryan brothers 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 in front of the latter’s home country.

With this title, Nadal edges even closer to the number one spot. So far, Roger Federer has been a non-factor this hard court season. The playground shift to Cincinnati this week where Federer is the defending champion. All eyes will be on Rafa to see whether he will wrestle the number one ranking away from Roger.

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Good Fortune Helps Djokovic Win First ATP Masters Title On Clay: Warwinka Comes Out Second Best


At the ATP Masters Series in Rome, the finals came down to Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka, a Swiss player on the rise. This was the latter’s first ATP Masters Series final. After dropping the first set, Djokovic recovered to claim his first ATP Masters trophy on the red dirt 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

After starting his first service game with a double fault, Wawrinka, who looked a bit edgy, calmed down and kept toe to toe with the world number three, who himself appeared on his heel throughout the first set. Wawrinka’s one handed backhand, his most prolific shot, had good depth and range getting him off the hook on a couple of close service games. In the seventh game with Djokovic serving, a fortuitous net court, a superb backhand winner and a double fault presented the first break points for either player which Wawrinka eventually capitalized on to lead 4-3; the Swiss took the first set 6-4.

The second set began without much to differentiate the two players. Yet, one conspicuous fact was that Djokovic had trouble with finding the right distance on his backhand with 8 unforced errors to 2 winners. Djokovic tried to mix things up by coming to the net, but without much success. On the other hand, Wawrinka did not have a strangle hold on this match either. As the rallies became longer the Swiss competitor commenced to produce more errors on both wings. In the first set, Stanislas won over 70% of his second serve points while Novak less than 40%. The contrary was happening in the second set. A frustrated Djokovic finally seized an opening in the sixth game, converted the break taking a 4-2 lead and carried the set 6-3.

At the commencement of the decisive set, Wawrinka again flirted with danger and that cost him dearly. With his first opportunity to break, Djokovic put his nose in front 1-0. From then on, Djokovic’s opponent withered away, paralyzed by a litter of unforced errors. As the net play and the drop shots which were not clicking for Djokovic earlier, started to find their mark, the match turned around. In the ninth game of the set with Wawrinka in dire straits, Djokovic broke one last time to take the championship.

With two retirements clearing his path and his not facing any seeded player for the duration of the tournament, Djokovic’s win is difficult to put into perspective vis-à-vis Roland Garros.

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Compact Clay Court Schedule Impacts Rome ATP Masters


Anticlimactic appears the operative word to describe ATP Masters tournament in Rome. A rash of retirements, five in total, plagued the event with Novak Djokovic, twice the beneficiary. In the quarterfinals, Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, a multiple clay court titleholder, retired against Djokovic in the second set due to a wrist problem. After the euphoria of defeating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals 7-6, 7-6, Radek Stepanek suffered an overnight transformation. In the semifinals, Stepanek cited dizziness and weakness for his stoppage of play against Djokovic. Capping off a bizarre day, Andy Roddick also withdrew from his semifinal match in the first set due to back spasm. In the first round, Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina retired in the third set against Andy Murray with back problems in a match where the two traded insults. Murray alleged that the Argentine made disparaging remarks about his mother. In the third round, Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, a winner on clay at the BMW Open the week prior, was forced to retire with a right leg injury.

Controversy has arisen because in the past, the clay period has been spread out over seven weeks with players normally choosing to take two weeks of rest. This year, in order to accommodate the August Olympic Games, the ATP altered the schedule, shortening it by one week. Rafael Nadal has vociferously expressed his displeasure over the curtailed calendar, fearing that the recovery time between tournaments would be inadequate. Nadal’s concerns were validated this week when feet blisters contributed to his lost in the second round to Juan Carlos Ferrero. As a result, Nadal was unable to defend his title in Rome. This marked only the second defeat for Nadal in 105 clay court matches in nearly five years. The penultimate leg of the clay court season is in Hamburg this upcoming week. Subsequently, the players will have a week to recuperate before stepping on the court at Roland Garros. With so many athletes having to contend with injuries and the grinding nature of clay court play; this year’s French Open may be a case of the survival of the fittest.

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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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