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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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Djokovic Comes Full Circle By Taking Ultimate Showdown In China


With archrival Rafael Nadal booted out of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai by a bum knee, defending champion Roger Federer was the odds-on frontrunner for the title.  Yet, still troubled by a bad back, Federer petered out in the round robin stage.  Instead, the final was pretty much a one sided affair with Serb Novak Djokovic defeating Russian Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 7-5.

For reigning Australian champion, Djokovic, this year has been a roller coaster. After starting out blazing, the Serb cooled off midway.  Except for ousting Nadal in the ATP masters final in Miami, Davydenko has had dismal results. Although Davydenko lost to Djokovic in round robin play, in the semifinals he convincingly beat Brit Andy Murray. Moreover, Djokovic had a tough match against Frenchman Gilles Simon. Thus, it’s a shame the Russian could not perform better in the finals. 

Two words best summarize the first set, fast and dull. Djokovic’s seemingly interminable ball bouncing extended the set more than the actual playing time.  After holding serve, Djokovic put away a forehand winner. Then, Novak drew a backhand error from Nikolay for double break point.  When the Russian netted a backhand, the Serb secured his first break for 2-0.  Djokovic broke down his opponent’s backhand to pull ahead 5-1.  While serving for the set, Novak made two unforced errors and overcooked a volley to face double break point.  However, with two good serves and a crosscourt forehand error by Davydenko, Djokovic arrived at deuce.  Subsequently, with a flaming crosscourt backhand, Djokovic forced another backhand error from the Russian and punctuated the set.

With his first serve deserting him, his backhand on early sabbatical and his stronger wing, the forehand, cracking, Davydenko really had no chance. After Nikolay got on the board in the second set, with well-angled serves, Novak put away the short balls to level things at 1-1.  Due to a double fault, Davydenko gave Djokovic another break point chance in the third game and went down 1-2 after misconnecting on a backhand volley. With movement not Davydenko’s stronger suit, Djokovic exploited that weakness, running him corner to corner. Nevertheless, despite facing numerous break points, the Russian kept his disadvantage to a single break.  As Djokovic served for the championship at 5-4, he committed two unforced errors while Davydenko came up with a timely forehand volley for double break point.  Then, thanks to a double fault, Davydenko stayed alive. After this momentary lapse, Djokovic converted a backhand crosscourt winner, duplicated it on the forehand, and then got a backhand down the line error from Davydenko for double break point.  When Davydenko made another forehand error, Djokovic was again in the driver seat at 6-5.  Subsequently, the Serb rounded out the match with a love game to take his first year-end trophy.

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Homecoming: Tsonga Lights Up Paris With A Victory


When defending champion Argentine David Nalbandian met Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the BNP Paribas Masters final, not only was a Waterford crystal at stake, but also the last slot at Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Moreover, Nalbandian was trying to become the first repeat titleholder in the event’s 23-year history. Urged on by his fellow Parisians, Tsonga defeated Nalbandian in a scintillating match 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

A supercharged atmosphere became even more electric when Tsonga after winning his service game at love, crushed a forehand down the line for a winner to get a break point. Nalbandian then donated the game by tossing a double fault. Subsequently, the Frenchman consolidated the break with a bullet crosscourt forehand winner in another easy service game 3-0. From that point on, the Argentine steadied himself and maintained the deficit at one break. As Tsonga served at 4-2, a forehand unforced error gave Nalbandian his first shot at getting back on serve. However, with a crisp forehand volley, Tsonga deleted the break point and secured the game with a terrific backhand volley. Serving for the set at 5-3, with great serve placement, Tsonga was able to draw the errors from Nalbandian and take one step closer to winning his first Masters’ shield.

After leading 40-15 in the first game of the second set, Nalbandian lost his way when Tsonga made a volley and crosscourt forehand winners to get to deuce. Then, a few points later, David double faulted to give Jo-Wilfried a break point. But, the steely Argentine erased the Frenchman’s advantage with an ace and secured the game with a forehand volley 1-0. While Tsonga put on a serving clinic, Nalbandian, one of the game’s best returners, continued to pile on the return errors. The Frenchman produced back to back aces to close out his games at love for 2-2 and 3-3. However, ahead 4-3, Nalbandian’s opportunity to break came with Tsonga misfiring on two forehands and making a double fault. Nevertheless, with aces and finesse at net, Tsonga escaped triple break point and equalized the set at 4-4. After holding serve at 5-4, Nalbandian again worked his way to triple break point. This time, the Argentine converted with a forehand error from Tsonga and took the set.

Tsonga’s backhand had been ineffective the entire match with double digit errors and no winner. Nalbandian exploited that deficiency to hold serve at 1-0 in the decisive set. But, Tsonga returned the favor exposing Nalbandian’s weakness on the forehand side and with four consecutive errors converted a break point for a 2-1 advantage. From that point on, neither player was challenged on serve until the sixth game when Nalbandian got a break point courtesy of a backhand error which Jo-Wilfried then dismissed with his 24th ace. Serving for the championship, Tsonga appeared like he would crack again after making three consecutive errors to go down triple break point. Yet, Jo-Wilfried responded with three good first serves which led to a quality volley and a forehand down the line winner for deuce. Sparked on by the crowd, Tsonga produced his 25th ace for match point and with a forehand error from Nalbandian captured the trophy.

After being kept out of the French Open and Wimbledon by knee surgery, Tsonga made up for his absence this week by beating Novak Djokovic in the third round, Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals and James Blake in the semifinals. The Australian Open finalist culminated the season as he had begun, on a high note. Not only did Tsonga knock out countryman Gilles Simon from Shanghai, he jumped to number 7 in the rankings taking over the honor of top ranked Frenchman from Simon. Besides, Tsonga became only the third Frenchman to win this tournament, the last being Sebastien Grosjean in 2001.  Despite injury getting the better of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Nadal withdrew with a knee problem after being thumped in the first set by Nikolay Davydenko while Federer never took the court against Blake due to back spasm, fans were still rewarded with a high quality final.

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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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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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Quiet Simon Prevails In Indianapolis


The French and Russian red, white and blue stripes were flying high in Indy as France’s Gilles Simon and Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov met in the finals at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. Although ranked 25th in the world and seeded second at this tournament, Simon’s career has flown under the radar compared to countrymen Richard Gasquet or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. By beating the defending champion Tursunov in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, perhaps Simon will make tennis fans take notice on this continent.

The finals can best be summed up as Simon being opportunistic with his break point chances while Tursunov allowed the myriad of break point opportunities he had fall to the waste side. On a few occasions, Simon had his back against the wall, down triple or double break point; yet, he came up with the goods to hold his serve. Despite the Russian’s noticeable advantage with a powerful serve and blazing groundstrokes, it was the Frenchman with the beguiling frame who came out on top in most of the long rallies in a match primarily played from the baseline. Simon needed just one break in each set to prevail.

Despite this event being loaded with Americans, their progress was stopped at the semifinals with James Blake, the top seed, falling to Tursunov and Sam Querrey eliminated by Simon, with the Frenchmen saving 16 break points. The big test for Simon will come this week at the Rogers Cup where he will face Roger Federer in the second round should he win his opening match. With Federer returning to the circuit after his heartbreaking lost to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, this will be a test for both players.

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