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ATP’s Rollercoaster Ride in 2009

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ATP’s Rollercoaster Ride in 2009


img_2928From Rafael Nadal winning his first hardcourt major in Australia, to Roger Federer completing the career grand slam, to the emergence of a new major star Juan Martin Del Potro at the U.S. Open, 2009 was a year replete with ups and downs on the men’s tour.  Here’s a flashback.

At the Australian Open final, despite a marathon semifinal match, Nadal had adequate reserves to stare down Federer in another five setter.  With that victory, Nadal seemed well positioned to achieve the calendar grand slam.  After sweeping every clay court tournament, Nadal was halted at the Madrid Masters by Federer days prior to the French Open. For many analysts, fatigue may have been deserving of an assist as Federer defeated Nadal in straight sets to capture his initial title of 2009. As such, Nadal was still considered the outright favorite for a fifth consecutive French trophy.

While everyone may have discounted Robin Soderling in the fourth round at the French Open, the Swede who played a contentious match with Nadal at Wimbledon in 2007 had visions of victory dancing in his head.  Soderling upstaged the best clay player in circulation, handing Nadal his first defeat at Roland Garros.  Soderling rode this euphoric wave all the way to his first final at a major where he was ultimately stopped by Federer. In addition, Soderling was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open.  At his initial ATP World Tour Finals, Soderling was a semifinalist and with that result jumped to a career best ranking of 8th after commencing 2008 at 17.

Melbourne was the site where Fernando Verdasco at last  lived up to his talent.  After surprising Andy Murray the hottest player on tour in the fourth round, Verdasco was involved in a dogfight in the semifinals with countryman Nadal.  Hands down, the best match of the tournament and one of the most scintillating of the year, the two Spaniards went toe to toe for over five hours.  Although Nadal was triumphant, Verdasco’s run in Australia galvanized him the rest of the year.  Verdasco reached the quarters at the U.S. Open and was instrumental in Davis Cup play. Verdasco participated in his first ATP World Tour Finals and ended 2009 at number 9.

After an horrendous start to the season, Federer’s year turned around after beating Nadal in Madrid in May. After avoiding a sleuth of pitfalls to get to the French Open final, Federer grabbed the elusive brass ring and tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors.  With a knee injury placing Wimbledon defending champ Nadal out of action, the impossibility of a Federer-Nadal duel could have been deflating for the championships.  To the contrary, Andy Roddick stepped up to the plate and in facing Federer, the two had a final to rival last year’s epic.  Federer had to out ace Roddick, required 95 minutes and 30 games in the fifth set before coming away with the victory and a record setting 15 majors.  In July, Federer supplanted Nadal at the top of the ATP’s ranking list.  Brimming with confidence, Federer appeared unstoppable and was a shoe-in for a sixth consecutive  title in New York.

At the U.S. Open, Federer battled Del Potro in the final.  With this being the latter’s maiden major final, jitters were more likely than not to play a pivotal role.  In spite of his youth, Del Potro demonstrated that he is a quick study.  After a devastating lost to Federer in the French semifinals, down two sets to one, Del Potro carried a tiebreaker and showed up Federer in the fifth set to capture his initial major. Del Potro closed 2009 as the world’s fifth best player and is a definite threat to take over the top spot in 2010.

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The U.S. Open’s Wild First Week

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The U.S. Open’s Wild First Week


img_3407At the majors, the unpredictable can happen. The early rounds of the U.S. Open have proven not to be the exception providing lots of fireworks particularly on the women’s side.  Here’s a half time synopsis and a look at the week ahead .

If one thought her ousting of Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon this year was a fluke, Melanie Oudin said think again. The17 year old American Fed Cup heroine bounced back after dropping the first set to defeat a trophy favorite world number 4 Elena Dementieva in the second round. On Saturday, Oudin duplicated that result by ousting 29th seed Maria Sharapova.  In the round of 16, Oudin will take on her fourth consecutive Russian Nadia Petrova.  Moreover, in the quarterfinals, Melanie may have a shot at claiming another Russian big scalp, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Speaking of Jankovic, the 2008 finalist was eliminated in the second round by Yaroslava Shvedova.  Another jaw dropper was the exit of  8th seed and  reigning Sony Open champion Victoria Azarenka sent packing in the third round by Francesca Schiavone.

Despite teetering on the brink of disaster, Dinara Safina had managed to record a W. However yesterday, Safina was ultimately pushed over the cliff in the third round by Czech teenage talent Petra Kvitova. The world number’s one performance has ignited the debate as to the relevance of the computer ranking system.  Since Justine Henin’s retirement, there’s been a conspicuous vacuum at the top of the ladies’ game.  Safina’s inability to embrace the big occasions while Serena Williams has flourished in that setting has fueled the discussion.  Unlike Safina, the defending champion has shown little compassion for her opponents in reaching the round of 16. In contrast, sister Venus’ performance has been a mixed bag with injury thrown in as a factor. Venus’ colossal test comes in the fourth round as she faces Kim Clijsters whose form appears unaffected by her sabbatical.  Unless Venus tidies up her game, the Belgian will foil her much anticipated semifinal with Serena. The free fall continues for 2008 French open winner and former world number one Ana Ivanovic as her stock took another hit with her first round departure. In all 21 of the 32 women seeds have failed to move pass the fourth round.

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2009 French Open Draw Released

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2009 French Open Draw Released


french_open_logoThis Monday, the most talented men and women in tennis will initiate the process of deciding who will walk away with the year’s second major. While Rafael Nadal is unequivocally the favorite on the men’s side, the women’s potential champion is much harder to predict.

Although Nadal going down to Roger Federer in Madrid added spice to the contest, the Spaniard remains the one with the target on his back. Fellow countrymen David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco, possible fourth round and quarterfinal opponents respectively, could provide further intrigue to the plot. But, Nadal has had no trouble dealing with either man during his spectacular clay court run. The most anticipated semifinal match up could be Nadal versus Brit Andy Murray. Murray showed moments of brilliance in their semifinal meeting in Monte Carlo which he lost. Murray may need to go through Spaniard Albert Montanes, Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, pesky Czech Radek Stepanek or Marat Safin, a semifinalist in 2008. So Murray’s will have a mount to climb before getting to Nadal.

On paper, Federer should reach the quarterfinals without difficulties. However, lurking in Roger’s section are James Blake, Tomas Berdych and a couple Spaniards, any of them could serve as spoilers. In the quarters, Federer could face Andy Roddick. Yet, Roddick could have a rough time getting past his rivals since clay is not his best surface. Serb Novak Djokovic and Federer could meet in the semifinals. Having come back from a set and a break down to prevail their last two encounters, Novak will have confidence squarely in his corner. However, standing in Djokovic’s way in the preliminary rounds may be former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, top ten players Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro and Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.

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USA Cleans Switzerland’s Clock In The First Round Of The Davis Cup


In Davis Cup play, Andy Roddick has been unflappable. Today, America’s ace in the hole hammered Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth rubber 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to book his team’s place in the quarterfinals. Moreover, Roddick becomes second only to John McEnroe on the U.S. all-time Davis Cup winning list.

With Swiss cowbells ringing, Wawrinka won the first game with a forehand volley. Thereafter, things got sticky pretty fast for the Swiss. In two subsequent service games, Wawrinka went down love-30 and also faced a break point. Still, with a few unforced errors by Roddick, Wawrinka held serve. However, it was just a matter of time before Stanislas had to pay the piper. The debt came due in the seventh game. When Wawrinka missed a crosscourt backhand, Roddick got his second break point. Then, with a little luck, Roddick’s stroke skidded off the line, leading to a backhand error from Wawrinka and the break advantage. With his overpowering serve, Roddick grabbed the set.

The initial game of the second set was a replay of the first. Again, Wawrinka held serve for 1-0 with a forehand crosscourt volley winner. But, after Roddick cruised through his service game, Wawrinka was in dire straights afresh. With a backhand down the line winner and a volley error by his adversary, Andy had double break point. When Stanislas misconnected on an overhead, Roddick jumped ahead 2-1. The Swiss was irate, slamming his racket to the ground because he felt that the ball bounced twice on the American’s previous stroke. Except, there was no conclusive evidence that this was the case. In fact, Andy appeared to have trapped the ball. Thus, Wawrinka’s and the Swiss team’s protest fell on deaf ears. With Roddick able to neutralize Wawrinka’s masterful stroke, the backhand, and with the Swiss forced to sure up his least comfortable shot, the forehand; one break was enough for Roddick to capture the second set.

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Slovak Republic Shocks Russian Siblings To Seize Hopman Cup


At the XXI Hyundai Hopman Cup, a tournament celebrating mixed doubles play, Slovakians Dominik Hrbaty and Dominika Cibulkova surprised the brother and sister team of Marat Safin and Dinara Safina to win that country’s third trophy in Perth, Australia. In the first match, Cibulkova, undefeated in singles this week, beat Safina for the first time in her career 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 while Hrbaty prevailed in the second rubber against Safin 6-7, 7-5, 7-6.

Nineteen year-old Cibulkova, also the world number 19, was aggressive from the first ball strike against world number 3, Safina. With the score tied at 2 in the first set, Cibulkova smoked a backhand down the line, which resulted in an unforced error from Safina for break point. With Dinara unable to dig out a low volley, Dominika pocketed the break. However, Safina quickly bounced back to square the set at 3 all. The Russian then held serve easily for 5-4 and had triple break point. But, with great defense and a few unforced errors from her opponent, the Slovakian escaped. The set was ultimately settled in a tiebreak. After Cibulkova gifted Safina a minibreak by missing an easy forehand volley, she gift-wrapped the set for Safina with a double fault.

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No Mercy For Zvonareva As Jankovic Mows Over Another Russian In Moscow


For the third consecutive week, Serbian Jelena Jankovic faced a Russian in the finals. At the Kremlin Cup, her opponent was Vera Zvonareva. The result was the same, as Jankovic beat Zvonareva 6-2, 6-4.

Zvonareva’s first tier I final in front of a partisan crowd was not a delightful experience. After opening the match with a forehand crosscourt winner, Vera threw away a game point and with a bunch of errors gave Jankovic the break. Subsequently, Jelena literally pinned Vera into a corner resulting in four straight forehand errors for a love game 2-0. After blowing a 40-15 lead, Zvonareva finally got on the scoreboard after Jankovic produced a couple of forehand errors of her own 1-2. After holding serve comfortably, Jelena pressured Vera with her deep groundstrokes resulting in four consecutive forehand errors on the Russian’s best shot. Now, the Serb had a double break lead 4-1, then, dominated to take the first set.

Just as she had done in the first set, Jankovic started out the second by imposing her game. A sequence of unforced errors by Zvonareva gave her triple break point; Jankovic capitalized by curling in a forehand winner from way off the court. Despite being frustrated, Vera did not wither. After a backhand down the line by Jankovic misconnected, the players were at deuce. Later, Zvonareva connected on a sensational topspin lob for a break point which she converted 1-1. At that point, momentum appeared to have shifted. Moreover, Zvonareva obtained another break point when Jankovic misfired on a ball that skidded off the line. However, successive unforced errors by Vera equalized the set at 2-2. With a swinging volley and two forehand winners, Jankovic regained the lead 3-2. But refusing to cry uncle, Vera received another opportunity when her backhand hit the net and dropped in for a winner to give her double break point. Zvonareva converted and the players were back on serve 4-4. However, the ever-crafty Jankovic fabricated two backhand down the line winners for a double break which she capitalized on for a 5-4 lead. Then, with repeated unforced errors from Zvonareva, Jankovic secured the match.

Zvonareva can still rejoice. With this showing, she will climb up a notch in the rankings from 9 to 8. On the WTA, the ranking shuffle continues. With Serena Williams withdrawing from this event due to an ankle injury, Dinara Safina, Zvonareva’s opponent in the semifinals, will become the new number 2.

Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik dismissed the number one women’s doubles team Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-4, 6-4 to take the cup. The men were also in action in Moscow. Russian Igor Kunitsyn defeated fellow countryman Marat Safin 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 to win his first ATP title.

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