Tenaciously Tennis


Indian Wells 2012: A Fearsome Flu and Fresh Faces

It’s been a weird few days at Indian Wells with a ferocious flu taking down scores of players, trainers, and even journalists, while new American talent has been breaking through to the final few days of action in the California heat. The stomach viruses’ victim count so far is estimated at approximately 30, including stars Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils.

The flu’s latest casualty? American wild card Jamie Hampton, 22, who couldn’t deal with the cramps and fatigue. She retired during the third set versus World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska. It’s too bad; Hampton seemed to find her game despite trailing 3-0 in the final set. She enjoyed the momentum by taking the second set 6-4. Ultimately, illness proved too much. Hampton should leave feeling proud. Ranked No. 99, she’s making a serious breakthrough into the big leagues and the third-round is a quality advance. Hampton took out former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in round one and Jarmila Gajdosova in the second.

Said Hampton: “At the end of the second [against Radwanska] it hit me and I knew it was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And this type of thing has happened in the past for the up-and-comer; she’s suffered from cramps five times already in her young career, forcing her to quit the match. Yet she says she “hydrates and eats the right way, according to a Ticker post on Tennis.com. A visit to a specialist  is in her future, which is a good call for a player who can definitely do major damage if she keeps the fuel going for further upward trajectory.

Bowing out in another close match was the No. 32 seed and New Jersey-native Christina McHale. The giant killer — think Cincinnati 2011 and my shameless self-promotion here — added Petra Kvitova to her list, taking out the World No. 3 in round two. The 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, the surprise 2011 US Open semifinalist, however, proved to be a little too much to handle, edging past the 19-year old 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4). McHale, although not quite as new a face as Hampton, summons the fresh and hopeful feelings of where American women’s tennis is going in a time of crisis. The Williams sisters aren’t getting any younger, and their typical absence at Indian Wells this week always makes it even more pronounced. Regardless, expect a top 20 ranking for McHale by the year’s end (if not by the time Roland Garros rolls around).

In other WTA news, Ana Ivanovic has pushed past the stomach bug and her own insecurities, downing former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with her huge forehand. The No. 15-seeded Serb might finally be ready to go on a roll and reclaim her rightful place in the Top 10 after confidence issues sapped her game post-Roland Garros victory 2008.

On the men’s side, American Ryan Harrison, 19,  has advanced to the final 16. He’s had huge success at Indian Wells in the past, advancing to the fourth round last year after securing a solid win over Canadian Milos Raonic (before losing to Roger Federer in straights). This year, it’s been more of the same. He took out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez just like in 2011, while also claiming solid wins over Viktor Troicki and Flavio Cipolla. Up next: the No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, who’s entirely beatable if Harrison can keep calm and not let the Frenchman’s tricky counter-punching style unsettle his power.

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French Open Predictions 2011: ATP Tour

Novak Djokovic has owned this year so far with a staggering number of consecutive wins, including a handful over the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. The question of the tournament, therefore, becomes: Can Djokovic take this all-time high confidence to a Grand Slam on Nadal’s own turf? That is, if both make it that far. How about Roger Federer, once a contender for any and every title on tour? With Andy Roddick and 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero out, the field looks a little wider (although whether or not those two could have significantly swayed the flow of competition also comes into question). Regardless, here’s a preview of the second Grand Slam of the year on the red clay of Paris.

Rafael Nadal’s Section:

He may be struggling to defeat Djokovic on clay in the Masters events. Roland Garros, however, is Nadal’s Grand Slam comfort zone. With the best-of-five set format, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in this section of the draw who can put a dent in his aura of clay court invincibility. Except for one guy. That’s none other than Robin Soderling, who defeated Nadal in the fourth round in 2009, as the no. 23 seed. The Swede then went on to make the finals, falling to Federer. In 2010, he came out swinging again by repeating the result. In the end, however, Nadal got his revenge in straight sets, winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

With a potential (and highly probable) clash in the quarterfinals, it’ll be Nadal making good on his performance last year against Soderling. He’ll win again in three sets, although by a closer margin.

One to Watch: The one name other than Nadal and Soderling who sticks out as a potential giant-killer is Gilles Simon. With a fourth round match against the Swede a distinct possibility, it’ll be interesting to see in what shape the victor advances. Nadal looms for him right after. Additionally, American Mardy Fish also appears in Soderling’s section to make things even more interesting.

Bottom Line: Nadal faces a tougher test against Soderling in the quarterfinals, but ultimately seals a solid win to get to the semifinals.

Andy Murray’s Section:

Since making it to the Australian Open finals, Murray lost the spark for competition and regained it with some solid clay results leading up to this event. His first tough test comes with a potential third round meeting against Milos Raonic, the Canadian who shocked all with his trip from the qualifying to the fourth round. Since then, he’s held success on tour, winning his first title on the hard courts of San Jose. On clay, he’s held modest success, despite losing in the first round of his last two events at Madrid and Rome.

While Murray and Raonic have yet to meet, it’ll be tough for the young Canadian to take out the Scot in the best-of-five setting. That possible match will be decided in four sets.

Ones to Watch: While the Murray / Raonic combo grabs most of the hype in this section of the draw, watch out for Gilles Simon, who exhibited flashes of brilliance in an epic, five-set match again Roger Federer during the second round of the Australian Open. He shouldn’t pose to much of a threat here, however, given his latest, sketchy results on clay, including losses to both Murray and Raonic in Madrid, Monte-Car (to Murray) and in Estoril (to Raonic).

Also making this section of the draw a little trickier is last year’s semifinalist, Jurgen Melzer, who eventually bowed out to Nadal. Quite notably, he took out Djokovic in the quarters in five. Nicholas Almagro, too, has been having a strong clay season and has the game to take out Melzer in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Murray makes the fourth round after a tough test from Raonic. There, he’s likely to face Melzer. Murray wins in five.

Roger Federer’s Section: Federer’s section constitutes a heavy part of the draw, filled with talented players, such as David Ferrer, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of course, if anyone can handles these players to get to the quarters, it’d be Federer. Although he does face Feliciano Lopez in his opening round, a solid player, who he owns a 8-0 advantage over in head-to-head meetings. Regardless, Federer’s been off these days, losing early to Richard Gasquet and Melzer in two tournaments.

Ones to Watch: All the men listed above have the ability to make it deep in a Grand Slam, although Nishikori may be the one with the least experience at this point in his young career.

Bottom Line: Look for a quarterfinal match pitting Ferrer, who played well in his first three clay tournaments before falling to Nadal twice and Djokovic, against Federer.

Novak Djokovic’s Section: He’s owned the tour this year, taking the first Grand Slam of the season. Can he grab the second, too? It’s his to win with Nadal the only one truly standing in his way. Of course, he’s defeated Nadal in four finals this year, including the last two on clay. His main competition comes in the form of the number six seed, Tomas Berdych, who hasn’t been too successful on clay this year. He did, however, make it to the semifinals of the French Open last year, losing to Soderling. He then proceeded to make it to the Wimbledon final.

Ones to Watch: Marin Cilic, Mikhail Youzhny, Richard Gasquet, and Juan Martin del Potro all reside in this section of the draw. While none of them have the ability to touch Djokovic at this point in his career, they may give Berdych difficulty. Look for Rome semifinalist Gasquet to put up a fight against Djokovic in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Djokovic defeats Gasquet to get to the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Nadal taking on Soderling; Murray against Melzer; Ferrer against Federer; and Berdych against Djokovic.

In the Semifinals: Here, I see Nadal facing Murray and Federer against Djokovic to round out the final four.

Milos Raonic Wins SAP Open for First Career Title

The big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic upset top-seeded Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) at the SAP Open to claim his first title. With the win, he becomes the first Canadian to take home an ATP title since Greg Rusedski in 1995.

With a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open to start the season, the 20-year old looks to be on a quick upward trend in the rankings. At a career-high of 59th, Raonic has cemented his huge game by claiming the maiden title. The question is: Can he keep the momentum going, or will the pressure to succeed bear down? With his play these past few weeks, it seems like he’ll keep up the form.

Additionally, he had a tough road to the finals, beating Xavier Malisse, James Blake, Richard Berankis, and an ailing Gael Monfils. Verdasco, the player he defeated to take the title, was the tournament’s top seed. These solid wins should further boost his confidence going forward.

To make things even more interesting, Raonic is set for a rematch against Verdasco in their next tournament at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships next week. There, look for another close match between the Spaniard and Canadian with Raonic coming out the victor once more.

To see some of Raonic’s big game, check out this video of him playing Ivo Karlovic in an exhibition match at the SAP Open before the final below.

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: ATP Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the ATP tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

With just two days until the Australian Open begins, it’s time to predict the finalists with a bracket-by-bracket breakdown. Will a recently ailing Rafael Nadal overcome any physical woes to take his fourth straight major title? Maybe Roger Federer feels the need to get to his first Grand Slam final since his win Down Under last year. Then, there’s the rest of the tour aching for a title. Here goes the potential results of the year’s Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal’s Section:

As the top seed and winner of the 2008 Australian Open, Nadal has proven he can take the title once more, especially with the win at the US Open against Djokovic in September. Nadal has a relatively easy draw as his first match against a seeded player pits him against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, a man he owns in their career head-to-head. That is, if Lopez, who lost to Nadal in straight sets in the fourth round of the US Open, can even make it that far. He’s lost an astounding eight-of-ten matches, since losing to Nadal. Although the seventh-seeded David Ferrer looks formidable with a win over David Nalbandian in the Auckland finals, Nadal hasn’t lost to him since 2007.

The only foreseeable obstacle standing in the number one’s way, therefore, is Nadal’s own health. He lost in a lopsided affair to Nikolai Davydenko in the Doha semifinals, but came back to win the doubles title.

Ones to Watch: John Isner, who helped the United States win the Hopman Cup, could put together some wins to get to the fourth round. He’ll potentially meet Marin Cilic, last year’s semifinalist along the way. The tenth-seeded Youzhny also lurks in the bottom half. Lleyton Hewitt, who made it to the fourth round last year, also appears in the bottom half, but faces Nalbandian first.

Bottom Line: Nadal has a ticket to the quarterfinals.

Robin Soderling’s Section:

Fresh off a title, Soderling is a dangerous fourth-seed. Having never made it past the second round, there may be some doubts. That, however, should change with a pretty comfortable draw until he meets Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a possible fourth round match.

At the bottom of the section, Murray, last year’s finalist cannot be discounted. He won his last three matches at the Hopman Cup. He’ll be in the fourth round, where he might meet a number of solid-looking players.

Ones to Watch: Besides Tsonga, things look clear for Soderling at the top of this section. Murray’s half, however, seems stronger with 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis and the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro back after a wrist injury both present. Jurgen Melzer, seeded eleventh, may also put up a strong effort as his semifinal appearance at last year’s French Open and subsequent fourth round finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open illustrated.

Bottom Line: Soderling and Murray should get to the quarterfinals. There, it’s tough to say who will win. Murray edges Soderling with a recent victory at Barclays in their 3-2 career head-to-head. They’ve never played at a major, however, so endurance will also play heavily into the match. In that case, I see Murray advancing to join Nadal.

Novak Djokovic’s Section:

Things get tougher here with a slew of talented players. Djokovic, however, shines through, having won his last five matches between the Hopman Cup and the Davis Cup at the end of last year. His trip to the US Open final against Nadal also proves relevant along with his lone major title at the Australian Open in 2008. His biggest challenges come against Sydney finalist and compatriot Viktor Troicki in the fourth round. Djokovic, however, probably won’t have a problem. He’s defeated Troicki six straight matches in their seven match head-to-head.

Ones to Watch: For sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, a cast of characters could prevent him from getting far in the draw, such as the American Ryan Harrison, the resurgent Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori, who now has Brad Gilbert on his team. Nikolai Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco also loom in potential fourth-round matches.

Bottom Line: Djokovic looks like a clear favorite into the fourth round. For Berdych, that’s not the case at all. I’ll go with Davydenko defeating Verdasco as he boasts a 7-1 head-to-head against the ninth-seed.

Roger Federer’s Section:

Federer, like Nadal, won’t have it too hard to get into the second week of the Sunny Slam. He’ll need to beat a number of Americans to do it, but that shouldn’t pose any threat. He owns Andy Roddick (21-2), Sam Querrey (2-0), and Mardy Fish (6-1) in their respective head-to-heads.

Ones to Watch: Gael Monfils and Chennai winner Stanislas Wawrinka also appear in Federer’s section.

Bottom Line: This is Federer’s chance to advance to the quarterfinals without dropping a set. Can Andy Roddick fight through, too?

In the Quarterfinals:

With these predictions, we’ll see Nadal facing Ferrer; Soderling against Murray; Davydenko against Djokovic; and Federer versus Roddick.

In the Semifinals:

Here, I see Nadal against Murray and Federer versus Djokovic to emerge as the final four.

Soderling Defeats Monfils to Claim First Masters Title

Robing Soderling of Sweden beat France’s Gael Monfils in a relatively routine 6-1, 7-6 (1) match to take home his first Masters 1000 title. The tw0-setter comes right off two phenomenal three-set matches by Soderling and Monfils in the semifinals. Both went to at least two tie-breaks on the way to having their respective matches decided.

Along with the supreme satisfaction of winning one of the biggest tournaments in the game — and one which has alluded even Roger Federer’s distinguished career — Soderling will replace Great Britain’s Andy Murray as the fourth-ranked player in the world. The win, therefore, caps off an excellent season in which Soderling made his second straight consecutive final at Roland Garros, followed by quarterfinals showings at Wimbledon and the US Open. The victory should also feel pretty good going into the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals in London.

In the semifinals, Soderling saved three match points against France’s Michael Llodra. He advanced with a 6-7 (0), 7-5, 7-6 (6) win.

Monfils faced a particularly tough tests against Federer, who’d hoped to win the only Masters-level event that escapes him. The Swiss champion proved painstakingly close to advancing to the finals. After all, he had five match points to close the match while Monfils served at 5-6 in the third set. Monfils, however, denied him every time, showing a level of mental strength that has previously been viewed absent from his career at the later events of major tournaments. He beat Federer 7-6 (7), 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4).

The results of both matches prompted the following response from Federer, according to an Associated Press article, “There were two quite extraordinary matches today,” said Federer. “You could have had a Federer-Llodra final and it became a Soderling-Monfils final. “What’s disappointing is that I was in control of the situation and had a break in the third set. But I know that on a surface so quick, it can turn very quickly,” he continued.

Depending on Rafael Nadal’s form, I like Soderling to claim the year-ending championships in London. He’ll be confident and ready to go the distance with the form that has earned him this accomplishment in Paris.

US Open Predictions – ATP Tour

The US Open is finally upon us. The stage has been set, the qualifying is over, and the last major of the year is underway. Here’s my review of each section of the draw.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter:

This section of the draw is owned by one man: Rafael Nadal, the number one player in the world, and the winner of both the French Open and Wimbledon. He’s primed to take home his first US Open title on paper, but his US Open Series has been severely lacking, raising some questions about his most recent form on the hard courts. Regardless, this is a major tournament, and there’s no one that enjoys the grind more than Nadal.

The first real test for the Spaniard seems to be Ivan Ljubicic, but even that’s a stretch. I’m going for Nadal to get through to the quarterfinals in dominating fashion.

Other notables: Ryan Harrison, the young American qualifier, plays Ljubicic in the first round. Can he get the upset? Probably not.

Fernando Verdasco’s Quarter:

Verdasco and David Ferrer, both Spaniards, own this section of the draw. There is, however, a very dangerous 31st seed in the Argentinian David Nalbandian. Something about Ernests Gulbis, the 24th seed, is also enticing. I’ll pick Gulbis to face against Nalbandian for a spot in the quarters. In that match, I’m going with Nalbandian to find himself across the net from Nadal.

Other notables: None. I’ll just stress that Gulbis and Nalbandian are ones to watch.

Andy Murray’s Quarter:

With a strong US Open Series, including his win over both Nadal and Federer in Toronto, I like the looks of Murray going into this event. And his path doesn’t look to difficult until getting to the fourth round. There, I’m going with Sam Querrey to fight for the chance at the second week.

Murray, however, will win in three or four sets. He’s too masterful of a tactician to get shocked by Querrey’s power.

Other notables: Can the 14th seed Nicholas Almagro make any noise by defeating the home favorite Querrey in the third round?

Tomas Berdych’s Quarter:

The tennis world hasn’t heard too much from Berdych since his stunning run to the Wimbledon finals, where he was promptly dominated by Nadal. This section of the draw won’t make a repeat performance any easier. With Mikhail Youzhny, Xavier Malisse, and John Isner looming in the background, Berdych will need to prove he’s ready to continue his success at the majors. He made the semifinals at the French Open, too. Can he keep up the form when the pressure’s really on?

I’m going for the compelling match-up featuring Isner and Berdych. Although Isner’s health looks questionable, get injured in the last tournament he played, I’m looking for a good showing for the American giant. In the fourth round, however, Berdych stops the big guy without a problem.

Other notables: Youzhny could very well break my prediction with some inspired play against Isner in the third round. Watch out.

Nikolai Davydenko’s Quarter:

While this is called Davydenko’s section — he’s the sixth seed?! — it really belongs to Andy Roddick. Davydenko has been suffering recently with injury, and while Roddick isn’t doing too much better health-wise with his mono, he’s proven he’s on the fast track to recovery. I say it’s already a thing of the past.

Roddick shouldn’t have too much trouble making it to the fourth round. Gael Monfil had a lot of trouble in his first round match, barely getting by Robert Kendrick in the first round. I predict Roddick gets into the quarterfinals.

Other notables: The Frenchman Richard Gasquet may very well have the form to take out Davydenko early on. Even so, I’d say Roddick can dispatch Gasquet without too much trouble.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter:

This section also reads incredibly tough on paper. While Djokovic stands out as the heavy favorite to get through by seeding, one American, Mardy Fish, has been playing some incredible tennis recently. At the top of the quarter, the 16th seed Marcos Baghdatis is more fit than ever before. I call Fish advancing in a tight and dramatic four-setter against the Cypriot. The winner faces Djokovic without a doubt.

Other notables: Wild card James Blake and Robby Ginepri might become inspired by the home crowd. Both made the US Open quarterfinals a few years ago.

Robin Soderling’s Quarter:

Although Soderling, the 5th seed, looked shaky in the opening round, he gains confidence as the tournament progress. He’ll make the fourth round without dropping another set.

Marin Cilic finds good form — he looked good in practice when the qualifying tournament was going on — and doesn’t drop a set on his way to play Soderling. That is, unless one Japanese qualifer doesn’t get in his way (explained below) In the probably match Cilic-Soderling, however, Soderling prevails in five sets.

Other notables: Qualifier Kei Nishikori, who made the fourth round before injury set in, has looked sharp so far in his four matches. With a withdrawal after two sets in the first round, he’ll have the extra rest to do some damage. He may give Cilic a real test in the third round. In fact, I hope he does.

Roger Federer’s Quarter:

This section, of course, belongs to Federer. He’s gunning for his second major in a year and number 17 in total. After losing in two straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, he’s hungry for the win. With Paul Annacone as his full-time coach and his new, aggressive brand of tennis, he’s looking very, very good. Federer cruises into the quarterfinals in straight sets all the way.

Other notables: Jurgen Melzer and Lleyton Hewitt are promising, but there’s no way either can get past Federer in a major tournament.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Nadal defeats Nalbandian in four, while Andy Murray loses to Berdych in five sets. In the semis — a rematch of Wimbledon — Nadal dispatches Berdych, although this time in four sets.

In the bottom half, Roddick faces Djokovic, a player he’s beaten four times in a row. He continues the streak to make the semis. There, he faces Federer, the winner versus Soderling to avenge his quarterfinal defeat at Roland Garros. Federer beats Roddick in three.

US Open Qualifying: Day Three

The skies opened up, and a beautiful day of tennis ensued at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On my second visit to the home of the year’s final major, I made my way through throngs of fans to find some of the most promising American talent.

After arriving in the early afternoon — missing Jesse Levine’s heartbreaking loss to Brazil’s Caio Zampieri due to retirement — I arrived at Court 7. The match featured the 21st seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy against the 15-year old Madison Keys of Florida. Keys began her Grand Slam debut firing away to capture an early break against Camerin. Nerves, however, set in with the players trading breaks until Keys pulled away to take the first set 6-3.

The young American, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, hit crisp backhands, while sporting a powerful serve and a strong mental game. Errors started to creep in Keys’ game as Camerin found her form — although never her serve. While the young American lost in the next two sets, bowing out against her 28-year old opponent3-6, 6-3, 6-4, expect success from her in the future once she finds increased consistency.

Also noteworthy about the match and the US Open atmosphere in general: after the first couple games finished, I looked up to see Keys’ mother enter the stands. Another arrival: Tom Gullikson, the brother of Tim Gullikson, who was Pete Sampras’ former coach. I suspect Tom works with Keys in Florida, the state in which he resides. Sightings like this happened for most of the day, once again highlighting the wonderful atmosphere for which the qualifying tournament shines.

With that match over, I went to Louis Armstrong stadium, catching Gael Monfils hitting. In the nearby court, the Australian Open finalist and world number four Andy Murray was practicing with the 25th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Talk about a fan-friendly experience — for free!

On the way to see the men practicing, I ran into Melanie Oudin — my second sighting of the Georgia teenager at the qualifying event. In fact, over the course of the day, I saw Oudin a number of times, supporting her compatriot Sloane Stephens and other Americans, among others.

I caught most of the 17-year old Stephens’ match, and I can safely say that she’s another one to watch. Currently ranked inside the top 300 in the world, Stephens enjoyed a good run at the BNP Paribas Open during which she advanced to the second round after qualifying. Although she fell  in the second round the US Open Qualifying for the second straight year — this time to veteran Zuzana Ondraskova 6-3, 7-5 — Stephens hits hard and with passion. She’s still streaky, especially on the forehand side, but with Venus and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters as self-proclaimed idols, a good volleying technique and a powerful backhand, the Florida-native looks poised to one day get into the top 100.

Once finished, I went to Court Four, which is notable for its easy-viewing access to the practice courts. There, I yet again saw Oudin along with Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Donald Young, and personal favorite Patty Schnyder.

I next scanned the courts for another match to view, making it in time to see Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac close out the first set against Guillermo Alcaide. Bozoljac, known for taking a set from Roger Federer in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon, is an exciting player to watch. He hits a big serve, rips backhand winners, and surprises with his tricky slice and two-handed forehand. After winning 6-3 6-2, a person in the audience — presumably a friend — mentioned his match against Federer to which he replied, “One set and one point.” Meaning: he only needed to win one more set and one more point against the greatest of all time to win the match and move on to the third round. Bozoljac will remember that fact for the rest of his life.

I ended the day by watching parts of Sania Mirza’s match against Elena Bovina. The former top 30 Mirza looked sharp, hitting winners and powerful groundstrokes to win 6-3, 6-3. I also caught Wimbledon junior winner Kristyna Pliskova — identical sister to this year’s Australian Open junior winner Karolina Pliskova and — beat the 18th seed Aranxta Rus. Are the Pliskova sisters the next Williams sisters? It’s too soon to say, but it will be interesting to see how the sisters’ games develop in the coming years.

My second trip to the qualifying tournament ended by viewing Ryan Harrison versus 10th-seeded Rui Machado. The young American advanced in a riveting 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 match filled with heavy support from the home crowd under the blazing lights of the US Open.

Headline Round-Up: Fish, Zvonareva, and Safina Win

After some exceptional American success last week, a string of big headlines are signaling the start of another busy seven days on the ATP and WTA tours. Here’s a round-up of the current events around the sport this week.

  • Mardy Fish continues his winning streak, notching match number 11 over Viktor Troicki. The American has swept the field since a second round loss at Wimbledon. He won two titles in Newport and Atlanta and looks primed to continue his success after dropping 30 pounds.
  • Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva beat Dominika Cibulkova in a tough 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 to get her first win since losing to Serena Williams. Zvonareva seems to have recovered from the mysterious ankle injury that forced her to retire from the Bank of the West Classic last week.
  • Dinara Safina’s free-fall in the rankings and with her form finally picked up a little after she won a match — her first win in seven tries. The former world number one and three-time major finalist beat Alyona Bondarenko 6-1, 7-6 (2) in San Diego.
  • Serena Williams and John Isner are set to take part in the Hopman Cup, an international tournament that serves as a warm-up for the Australian Open. As an Associated Press article writes, “Williams and Isner will join the Serbian pair of Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, Belgium’s Justine Henin, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt and France’s Gael Monfils in the mixed teams tournament which runs Jan. 1-8.” Time will tell if the big-name players keep their commitments to this progressive event.
  • James Blake continues his poor form, this time losing to the qualifier Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Blake is now ranked 105th. At the same event, David Nalbandian is back after a hamstring injury, winning over Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-0.
  • Speaking of players recovering from injury, US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is back on the courts. Although he probably won’t make it back in time to defend his title, or at least be a threat to win the event, it’s good to see he’s back. Click here to see the picture he posted on his Twitter account, apparently proving his return.
  • Back for more: Ivan Lendl will debut on the ATP Champions seniors’ tour in Paris this October.
  • Ones to watch, maybe: 22-year old Alexandra Mueller, ranked 447th, received a wild card into the US Open qualifying after defeating Alina Jidkova in the USTA playoffs. She handily beat Jidkova 6-0, 6-3. The last time Mueller played at the qualifying, she was 16. Jelena Dokic also made news for winning her second straight title on the ITF tour.

Isner fades in three; Belgians Advance to Set Up 25th Meeting

After an extraordinary match hailed as one of the best in the Open Era, and the longest in tennis history, the winner John Isner fell in straight sets to Thiemo De Bakker, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Rightfully exhausted, Isner deserves to take a long rest, and recollect himself after such an amazing effort in the first round.

In other men’s matches, Roger Federer regained his form of old — he struggled in the first two rounds –  with a three sets win over Arnaud Clement of France. He won 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to make it to the fourth round of a Grand Slam yet again. Also advancing were Novak Djokovic in three sets, Andy Roddick in four sets, Jurgen Melzer in four sets, Tomas Berdych in five sets, and Lleyton Hewitt in three over Gael Monfils.

A match to look out for: Hewitt over Djokovic in the next round. I think there’s a huge upset in Djokovic’s future. Hewitt has been playing some spectacular grass court tennis, and he recently took out Federer in the pre-Wimbledon tournament he played. I say the veteran dispatches Djokovic in four sets.

As for the WTA, both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin won their matches in straight sets. The Belgians will meet for the 25th time. As I mentioned in my WTA predictions before the tournament began, I’m sticking with Henin to pull out the win.

Other players to advance include: Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Marion Bartoli, and Vera Zvonareva. Serena Williams teamed up with her older sister to knock out the doubles team of Timea Bacsinsky and Tathiana Garbin in two sets, 6-1, 7-6 (2). The sisters are looking to add to their “Williams Slam,” meaning the four major doubles titles they’ve won in a row.

My prediction: they’re too good to get any serious competition for the title. The Williams sister should expect title number five in a row to be in their possession soon enough.

Wimbledon Predictions – The ATP Tour

Roger Federer’s loss to Lleyton Hewitt last week and a tough draw for Rafael Nadal signify a tough time for the two previous champions. Can both overcome the tough challenge that lays ahead of them? I think so. Let’s take a systematic look at the draw and crack this year’s Wimbledon code.

The First Quarter:

Notables – Roger Federer (1), Tommy Robredo (30), Feliciano Lopez (22), Jurgen Melzer (16), Tomas Berdych (12), Stanislas Wawrinka (20), Victor Hanescu (31), Nikolai Davydenko (7)

In this section, the obvious person to pull through is Federer, the five time champion. I see him advancing to the fourth round without much trouble. Once there, however, I see a tough test against Tomas Berdych in the future. Also noteworthy, Lopez of Spain, who beat Nadal a couple weeks ago. While Federer didn’t play too sharply against Hewitt in his pre-Wimbledon warm-up, it’s a different story in a Grand Slam. Watch Davydenko, whose been having a tough year so far, falter before the fourth round.

The Final Four: Federer faces Lopez, and Berdych handily defeats an ailing Davydenko.

The Second Quarter:

NotablesNovak Djokovic (3), Taylor Dent, Albert Montanes (28), Gael Monfils (21), Lleyton Hewitt (15), Marin Cilic (11), Mardy Fish, Ivan Ljubicic (17), Philipp Kohlschreiber (29), Andy Roddick (5)

This is a difficult part of the draw for Roddick, the guy I’m rooting for. He’s had some poor results this past few months, including a basically non-existent clay court season. Yes, he made it to the third round, which is as good as a showing as any for the top male American, but his third showing at Queens Club was his worst ever. Hopefully, this 2009 Wimbledon finalist can recall the drive and belief that took him to a fifth set against Federer last year. That match his to win. I see Roddick making it to the fourth round without losing a set. There’s no one to do any damage to his exceptional serving game and strong baseline rallying capabilities. The rest these past few months might also help. If anything, he’s fresh. It’s all up to the Roddick serve. Once he makes it there, I see a tough match against Marin Cilic in his future. He should, however, pull through.

The Final Four: Hewitt looks to be a difficult opponent with his win against Federer. I say he dismantles Djokovic. In the bottom half, Roddick proves to be too much for Cilic.

The Third Quarter:

Notables – Fernando Verdasco (8), Julien Benneteau (32), Nicholas Almagro (19), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10), Juan Carlos Ferrero (14), Sam Querrey (18), Gilles Simon (26), Andy Murray (4)

Out of this slew of players, the only one that I feel holds a chance at victory is Sam Querrey, which is surprising given his lackluster Grand Slam performances in the past. With his best performance coming in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open, and only making it to the second round at Wimbledon last year, he has a lot to prove. Regardless, his career high ranking and win over compatriot Mardy Fish in the finals of Queens Club shows he’s ready to do well on grass. With three titles to his name already this year, I see at least a quarterfinal run for the giant American. It won’t be easy with Murray as a potential fourth round opponent, but I like his chances. A lot.

The Final Four: Tsonga surprises Verdasco in five close sets in the top half. In the bottom section, Querrey gives everything to take out Britain’s hope Murray in another five set blockbuster to make his first quarterfinal showing in a Grand Slam.

The Fourth Quarter:

Notables – Robin Soderling (7), Robby Ginepri, Thomaz Bellucci (25), Marcos Baghdatis (24), David Ferrer (9), Mikhail Youzhny (13), John Isner (23), Philipp Petzschner (33), James Blake, Rafael Nadal (2)

Notice Nadal’s section as probably one of, if not the, most difficult in all four sections. I think he needs to watch out for John Isner big time. There’s no saying how Isner will play on a given day. But if he’s at his best, and his baseline game mirrors his wicked serve, the American can take out anyone, even Nadal. I’m not saying that’s probable, but it’s a slim possibility. On the top section, Soderling has a difficult match afainst Ginepri to go through. Other than that, it should be an easy time to make it to the fourth round. There, I see him facing Marcos Baghatis.

The Final Four: Soderling defeats Baghdatis in three sets, and Nadal faces a test against Isner in four.

Second Week Predictions:

  • Federer fends off Berdych
  • Roddick stops Hewitt’s string of grass wins in three
  • Querrey, assuming he plays the match of his life against Murray, faces a pumped up Tsonga. Querrey wins in five for a second straight top ten victory.
  • Nadal notches another win against the Swedish Soderling in a three set repeat of the French Open final.

In the semifinals, I don’t see Roddick repeating the excellent play against Federer. I think he’ll bow out in four sets, much to my chagrin. As for Querrey (or Murray with a serious asterisk), Nadal’s too much to handle in a Grand Slam semifinal. Get ready for much-needed Federer – Nadal final. We’ll leave that prediction for another day — it’s just too close to decide in my mind.

For the men’s official draw, look here.

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