Thursday, July 23, 2009

Message to Safin: Please Show Us The Magic One More TIme


It is fitting that Marat Safin, the last of a dying breed of tempestuous and eccentric entertainers on the Professional tennis circuit, will play his last precious hours of Grand-Slam tennis at this years U.S. Open.

It is fitting because, held both prior to and after Labor Day weekend, the U.S. Open always brings with it a touch of nostalgia. Much like what is left of Safin's breathtaking natural ability on the tennis court, early September in New York reminds us that the summer is finally slipping away, and that soon all we'll have left is photographs plastered dolefully into scrapbooks, and fading memories of what was and what might have been.

What would make this summer especially sad for Safin fans, and for tennis in general, is another uninspired performance by the imposing 6'4" Russian who has always been long on talent, but to his detriment, almost fatally short on patience. Dubbed "The Magical Misery Tour" by tennis.com's Tom Perrotta, Safin's farewell performance in 2009 has been morose at best. The 29-year-old has been content to leave the big-time tennis to his kid sister, compiling an anemic 7-12 record and performing progressively worse in each Slam that he has appeared in.

But don't let the results fool you. The enigmatic Russian can still play - his run to the 2008 Wimbledon Semi's is proof - when he feels like it. The question this summer, as the American Slam approaches, will be more about Safin's desire to play than his ability to do so.

That is why I am sending this heartfelt message to Marat, in the hopes that he might shelve his jaded persona for a few weeks at the end of this summer. If not for himself, then maybe for his little sister who I'm sure wouldn't mind being reminded of just how pristine her bloodlines are. And if not for Dinara, then how about for us, the fans and journalists who've been rooting for you for the better part of 10 years, in spite of your painfully obvious indifference for the tour.

Please, Marat (I will get down on my knees if it helps), play this last Grand-Slam like you mean it. Play it with heart and soul and focus, and most of all, patience. I'm not asking you to repeat what you did in 2000, when you trampled over the legend Pete Sampras like he was a mere speed bump on your way to the No. 1 Ranking. I'm not even asking that you do what you did last year at Wimbledon when you upset Novak Djokovic on your way to an improbable run all the way to the semis. I'm just asking that you play the sport like you love the sport, because there is no way in hell that you don't love it - nobody plays tennis with the flair and power that you do if they don't love it.

Marat, I'm begging you, and I think I speak for all true tennis fans when I say this: Get that one foot that has been hanging out the door for most of 2009 and put it back on the tennis court. Channel that fiery temper of yours into something positive. Make it to the second week and who knows what might happen?

Please Marat, Play the 2009 U.S. Open like it will be your last, because this time it really will be.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Magic in the Magic Box: Nadal outlasts Djokovic in Epic Struggle


Madrid: Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9)

I sneered when I heard that Madrid was, like most of the other Masters 1000 events, dubbing itself as the "5th Slam." But trust me on this one: I sneer no more.

La Caja Magica delivered a jewel of a tennis match today, and if the inaugural year of the event is any indication, this might indeed be the Masters 1000 event that really does deserve to make the claim.

The state of the art 12,500 seat venue was electrified by the longest match in the history of the Masters Series, a 4 hour and 2 minute display of breathtaking tennis, in which both players played some of the most exquisite tennis of the 2009 campaign.



The rallies were so regularly filled with improbably unfathomable shot making that at times I found myself wondering if there has ever been a better match played on clay. It bodes well for today's loser, regardless of the eventual outcome of the match. Novak Djokovic has gone on a mission this spring, and we as tennis fans ought to be thankful for that.

There has not been another player that has amounted to anything more than a mere fly on the windshield of Rafael Nadal's rapidly moving semi-truck of a clay court season. If it weren't for Novak Djokovic's commitment to his fitness and his hunger to reprove himself as a legitimate contender for Slams, this spring would have been nothing more than a Nadal target practice.

Even though he remains winless against Nadal on the clay, there is a very nifty story line developing in front of Roland Garros now. Djokovic has emerged as a threat (if there is such a thing) to the King of Clay's Parisian Monarchy.

What Djokovic did today in defeat is even more impressive considering the regular criticism that the Serb has received regarding his fitness level. Negativity and doubt was palpable after his unsuccessful roller coaster ride in the heat in Miami, where he lost to Andy Murray in the Masters final. In a match that it looked like he could have won if he had been able to catch his breath, Djokovic ended up getting blown of the court by the Scot - to many it was clear that fitness was the determining factor in the match.

But today we saw a different Djokovic. He was calm and determined, his hard work with recently hired fitness guru Gebhard Phil-Gritsch obviously paying off. Signs of fatigue did eventually emerge, but even then Djokovic seemed to abate his suffering by reaching deeper into his core of belief. Even though his ranking has dropped to world No. 4, this is the best tennis that Djokovic has played since his Australian Open win in January of 2008.



The King of Clay: That being said, we mustn't forget that until he's knocked off his throne, Rafa Nadal is the reigning King of Clay. For that reason, the story of what very may well be the best match of 2009 (it is already being compared to Nadal v. Verdasco the A.O. Semis this year), begins and ends with the Spaniard.

In the face of heavy artillery fire from Djokovic, the surly Mallorcan dug into his trench behind the baseline and made sure that his presence was felt. When Nadal faced a double break point at 4-4 in the 2nd set, it was he who willed himself to consecutive service winners to get to deuce. When he was down a break point at 5-5, again he was basically facing a match point. Again he delivered a service winner.

While it wasn't his most flawless endeavor (he committed the most un-Nadal-like double fault in the third set), or his most dominant, at the conclusion of the match, after facing three match points and three others that were all but match points, it was Nadal, covered in clay, tossing his wrist bands into the adoring throngs of supporters in the building.

One for the ages: The tennis was so phenomenal that it's hard to believe that anyone lost. It was such a well-played match, chess-like yet grueling - a clinic. The way Djokovic and Nadal popped the ball today - with total control, focus, precision, and gusto - is the stuff of tennis dreams. This was tennis nirvana, gift-wrapped in a Magic Box.

At 5-5 in the third set there was a frenzied exuberance that filtered through the crowd. Even if the best tennis had already been played it wouldn't have mattered. La Caja Magica was booming, sound spilling from every orifice of the cleverly constructed tennis palace.

The third set tiebreaker took it to another level. Djokovic's valiant attempt to steal the match was met with every inch of Rafa's steel will...3 match points were courageously exterminated and the salacious crowd erupted as Rafa finally closed it out.

While it is difficult to know where this match will stand in the annals of Masters history, it's hard to imagine it not being considered worthy of classic status. If the Slam's can provide the type of drama that we witnessed today, tennis fans will be counting their blessings as 2009 unfolds.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When in Rome...

Greetings Octf's,



Just wanted to check in and let you all know that there's some pretty serious red-clay litmus tests about to go down tomorrow at the Italian Open.

But before I discuss the trivial matter of actual matches, I want to flashback to earlier in the week to the following quotes, captured by Asap Sports, which were uttered by the illimitable Serena Williams at a press conference prior to the start of the tournament.

Q. What about the No. 1? Safina now is the No. 1.

SERENA WILLIAMS: (Laughing.)

Q. It's a new question, no?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I'm excited for her.

Q. Who do you think is the real No. 1 today?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, we all know who the real No. 1 is.

Q. A lot people think that if Serena dedicated all of her time to tennis nobody could beat her. How do you feel?

SERENA WILLIAMS: I dedicate a lot of time to tennis, and I dedicate a lot time to other things. So, you know, I have to do what's best for me. Right now, I'm doing that. Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world.

Really? Geez, if you're Dinara Safina, and you've been drooling over your brothers 2 Grand-Slam trophies for the last five years of your life, do you really need any more motivation to go out there and overcome any mental hang-ups that might have previously held you back? Is Serena that confident in her ability that she needs to function as her opponents motivation in order to keep her interest piqued?

This is just plain crazy in my opinion, whether you've got ten more Slams on your mantel than the worlds current # 1 or not.

But don't hate on Serena for saying what she feels, i.e. letting it all hang out and being completely honest with the press. You know what they say...it ain't cocky if you can back it up...well, after her uninspired first round loss to 30-year-old Patty Snyder, her remarks are looking cockier, much cockier in fact, then when she first deigned to offer them up.

Now... on to more pressing matters, we've got two chances to look deeper into the clay court looking glass tomorrow, as Dinara Safina takes on Venus Williams in one Italian Open Semi-final and red-hot Svetlana Kuznetsova takes on Victoria Azarenka in the other. All four have to be considered possibilities for a Roland Garros crown at this point, but each still has a lot to gain in terms of confidence if they can play big on the red clay in Rome.

With Serena maybe potentially hampered by the leg injury that slowed her in the Miami finals against Azarenka, the field looks even wider open that we already thought it would be.

Kuznetsova was stellar last week taking the Stuttgart title, and she's been good again this week in victories over Italian Flavia Pennetta and Jelena Jankovic. Another two wins and her confidence would surely benefit.

Meanwhile the mercurial and streaky Safina is still quick to go from overpowering to overwhelmed. She finds a way to hurt her cause in nearly every set that she plays, but these days, her mental power is strong enough to allow her to find traction before all four wheels come off. It's amazing how much damage she can do when she is firing on all cylinders. But it's also amazing how she can completely lose her form in a matter of seconds and look like a child screaming for her bottle.

While she is a no doubt a head case, she's also got the most upside of all the women on tour, because the less hiccups she commits, the tougher she'll be to stay in a match with.

As far as Azarenka goes, she still looks a little green out there, but man is she feisty. I'm not sure if she's got a Slam in her yet, but her performance in the next to days in Rome could change my mind.

Thanks for reading,

The Fan Child

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monte Carlo: Round of 16 Underway

Greetings OCTF's,


What a difference ten days makes. The high octane tennis that we saw on the faster surfaces of Melbourne, IW, and Key Biscane has given way to a slower more strategic flavor of tennis. One that is more chess-like and longer playing; one where angles, spin, and consistency can comfortably compete with power-serves and quick strikes.

Ah, I remember this. It's all coming clearer to me now: Clay is like the formal dance of an ancient people, while hard-court is the thrill-seeking bump-and-grind of the new world. Clay court tennis is never without an element of struggle. It introduces another dimension to matches that we don't get to see on other surfaces, and it provides us with another window from which to observe the hero's of our game.

We've already seen evidence of this at Monte Carlos this week. Players at times seem tortured, worked to the bone, covered in the dirt that they are so tirelessly trying to scramble around on. Meanwhile, other players seem calm, stoic, right at home - happy to submit to the will of the dust.

The action: Nine of the top-ten men entered the Monte Carlo field of fifty-six four days ago; of those nine, only six have proven themselves worthy of the round-of-16.

Crash # 1: On Wednesdays final match of the day, #5-ranked Juan Martin Del Potro became the highest-ranked player to exit the tournament. His hopes were dashed at the hands of a recently rejuvanated Ivan Ljubicic. The 30-year-old Croatian, who resides in Monte Carlo, has won 6 out of 9 matches after starting the year poorly. This current spell of "better" tennis includes a surprising run to the QF's @ Indian Wells which featured wins over Nishikori, Ancic, Simon, and Andreev.

Crash # 2: On tuesday, #7-ranked Gilles Simon also went down. Serving at 32% in the 2nd set, he was drubbed easily by Andreas Beck of Germany, 7-5, 6-1. The Australian Open quarter finalist has not made the round-of-16 in 2 of the 3 Masters Series events.

Crash # 3: Also on Tuesday, #10-ranked Gael Monfils was shown to the door by Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, 6-3, 6-1, in the first round.

But the 4 big dogs at the top of the food chain have all advanced as expected.



This bodes well for the faithful fans, as many enticing matchups are on the menu.

Verdasco v. Ferrer: Earlier today, in an all-Spanish affair, Fernando Verdasco continued his shining play by turning in a dominating performance over David Ferrer, 6-2, 6-1. Verdasco awaits the winner of Djokovic v. Montanes, which is just getting underway on court 2.

Federer v. Wawrinka: As I write, roger aka our heavenly father has just fought off a break point @ 3-3 in the 2nd set against his Swiss mate Stan Wawrinka. Federer dropped the first set and is in danger of yet another surprising defeat. Though another loss seems possible, the good news for Fed is that his on-court demeanor seems more relaxed, even during times of trouble. He has just held to go up 4-3 in the 2nd set.

Elsewhere: Andy Murray was trailing 5-1 in the first set to Italian Fabio Fognini, but Murray has crept all the way back and is now serving @ 4-5.

The main attraction: After Federer's match on Court Central, it'll be the King of Clay. Rafa's foe today will be Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador. The feisty qualifier pushed Marat Safin to the brink of insanity yesterday, finally triumphing over the prince of tennis darkness in the 3rd set tiebreak that saw several grade-A tantrums from the enigmatic Russian, and some stylistic racquet smashing to boot.


But Lapentti will not be so fortunate against Nadal. We are talking about a man who hasn't lost a set in Monte Carlo since the finals of 2006. If there ever was a reign of terror in tennis, this is it. The king of clay is now 160-14 in his career on the surface.

Rains forced a late start today, and tournament management was forced to move action onto Court 2 and Court 9 in order to get the 8 scheduled matches in.

The QF's should be set in 3 hours if the rain stays away.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

MIAMI: MURRAY MUSCLES PAST DJOKOVIC



Andy Murray inched closer to the #3 world-ranking Sunday, after notching a decisive 6-2, 7-5 victory against the enigmatic but always dangerous Novak Djokovic.

It was the tour leading 3rd ATP title for Murray, and the 11th of his career.

For Djokovic, it was another loss in what has become a disconcerting stretch for him.

"Yet again, I was, I think, the biggest enemy to myself," the frustrated Serbian told the media after the match. "I was struggling again and adjusting to the heat."

Unfortunately for Djokovic, who has held the #3 ranking since August of 2007, the heat came in several forms. While the temperature soared to 87 degrees with 54% humidity, his opponent, the ever improving Scot who looks destined for the # 2 spot at some point later this year, was bringing the heat as well.

After taking the first 4 games of the match, the calm and patient Murray did not loosen his grip. Serving well and playing virtually error free from the baseline, Murray only surrendered 3 points on his serve in the whole set.

Djokovic, meanwhile, was over hitting and playing too aggressively - exactly what he said he didn't want to do in a pre-match interview. He sailed many attempts at winners beyond the baseline and when he did make shots it seemed that Murray, even from defensive positions, was able to counter (especially with his cross-court backhand, a nasty dipping shot that seemed always to elude Djokovic as he approached the net.)

"I think I played volleys quite well, but he was managing to find a little space to pass me," said Djokovic. "He just made good passing shots. You have to say, well done. I was positioning myself as best as I can."

While the scoreboard will allude to a completely one-sided match, Djokovic did have chances to force a third set. Following a brief encounter with the trainer (Djokovic suffered from fatigue due to heat) after being broken in the first game of the 2nd set, Djokovic rallied to win the next four games for a 4-1 lead. But the security of that cushion proved to be fleeting.

Murray battled back, using his superior conditioning to gain the edge, and he finally was able to gain a break in a pivotal 9th game of the set to get back on serve (Djokovic missed an inside out forehand by an amount so tiny that even the Hawk-Eye seemed to deliberate on the call) after Djokovic squandered 2 critical set points.

At that point the battle of wills appeared to favor Murray.

Djokovic had a chance to earn a break point at 30-30, 4-5, but he failed to convert an overhead smash and eventually lost the point on an unfortunate net-chord bounce that favored Murray.

He wouldn't see another opportunity like that, and the match ended with Murray reeling off the final 5 games.

Murray, who now lives part-time and trains in Miami, is the first British player to ever win the Masters Miami event. While he actively dispels any hype that might be brought upon him due to his heritage, he is eager to share his enthusiasm about his improving fitness. "I spent my off-season here and trained at the University. I traveled all last year with a fitness trainer. It just makes a big difference."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

MIAMI MEN'S FINALS PREVIEW

What: Murray v. Djokovic

When: Do you seriously not Know?


How: Both players are hitting the snot out of the ball, each has lost only one set in Miami, and both are serving like some sort of futuristic android built for tennis domination.

What's at Stake? Though Murray needed Novak to lose against Fed to have a chance of gaining the #3 World Ranking next week, there are still 400 points on the line (and $310k in prize money).

Who has the edge: Murray is 2-4 career v. Novak but he has won the last two meetings, which were both in Masters series events and both on hard courts.

Did you know? That Murray and Djokovic were born 1 week apart in May of 1987?

Did You know? That Novak Djokovic has held the Worlds #3 ranking since August 6, 2007?




In a clash of two hard-serving 21-year-olds, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will do battle tomorrow at the SEO in Key Biscane, Florida. The match will culminate an eventful 2 weeks in Miami, while also marking the end of the hard-court swing.

Djokovic is 22-7 on the year, and has 1 title (beat David Ferrer in the finals of Dubai). Losses to Roddick (2) and Tsonga, not to mention Gulbis and Niemenen, have fans of Djokovic worrying a bit. But his QF win over Tsonga was classic Djoker tennis -he appears ready to defend his turf.

That's good because the man on the other side of the net will most certainly be on the attack. Andy Murray, 25-2 on the year, has not dropped a set since the first set in Miami against upset-minded Juan Monaco. Since that shaky set the tennis has steadily gone from remarkable to how the hell can he turn defense into offense from there? The red-hot Scot has been reeling in victories like fisherman reel in prey on the local estuaries.

Tomorrow's Final on the purple courts of the Crandon Park Tennis Center will be the 2nd Masters 1000 final in 8 months between Murray and Djokovic. With both players at the ripe age of 21, the potential is there for many more.

Thanks for Reading,

The Fan Child

MIAMI: VIKA SHINES, TOPS 5-TIME AND DEFENDING CHAMP SERENA IN STRAIGHTS

Miami, Women's Final: Azarenka d. S. Williams 6-3, 6-1.



Quotes from an elated Victoria Azarenka on the court in a post-match interview…

“IT'S THE BIGGEST MOMENT OF MY CAREER RIGHT NOW AND I’M JUST…I’M JUST NOT HERE RIGHT NOW… I’M IN SOME PLACE WHERE (NERVOUS GIGGLE THEN PAUSE)…AN UNBELIEVABLE PLACE…”

“IT’S THE BIGGEST WIN OF MY CAREER SO FAR…AND THE HIGHEST RANKING… WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE BETTER?…I JUST WANT TO WORK THE SAME WAY AND KEEP GOING LIKE THIS. (SPEECH CHARACTERIZED BY EXUBERANCE AND YOUTHFUL JOY) ”

“I DON'T KNOW THEY JUST SAID ‘VIKA JUST GO AND PLAY, YOU CAN DO IT, JUST GO AND PLAY AND ENJOY... AND THAT’S WHAT I DID... (SPEECH CHARACTERIZED BY GIDDINESS, JOY - THE VOICE OF COMPLETE AND UTTER JOY.) I JUST WENT I ENJOYED AND I BELIEVED IN MYSELF FOR EVERY POINT.”

Bandage on her leg or no bandage on her leg, a win against the worlds current #1 player (who has 33 career WTA titles btw) is a colossal win. The 19-year-old Azarenka, who now lives in Scottsdale, Az, will be # 8 in the world when rankings are released Monday. After closing out 2007 at #30 and 2008 at #15, she is into uncharted waters here. From the looks of things today, this won’t be the biggest win of her career for long.

Serena was quick to give the credit to Azarenka after the match, and the 10-time Grand-Slam winner (with 8 more in dubs) deserves a lot of credit for gutting out two matches - the one against Venus where she was visibly limping, and todays final, where the leg was clearly an issue.

Thanks for Reading,

The Fan Child

Friday, April 3, 2009

MIAMI: BOTH MEN'S SEMIS GO THE DISTANCE

Greetings OCTF's,



It was a long day of men's semi-final action at the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscane, Florida. After a whole lot of top-notch tennis, and some screaming and racquet-smashing to boot, we have our men's singles finalists: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have each secured 600 points for the Sony Ericsson Open, with 400 more on the line (and $310,000 more in prize money) on Sunday.

Tennis warfare is often as emotional and psychological as it is physical, and today was no exception. Both matches, while wildly entertaining from a purely "I can't believe how good these guys can play" perspective, were also wildly intriguing due to heavy emotional and psychological content.

Fed, the Djoker, Andy, and the 20-year-old Del Potro were up to their usual tricks: Slamming tennis balls with ridiculous force and even more ridiculous accuracy. But there was more than just pure athleticism going on. As much as both of these matches were athletic, they were also spiritual and psychological, tests not only of muscles but of spirit, belief, and faith.

Now to the action...

Semi-final # 1: Djokovic d. Federer 3-6,6-2, 6-3.



It wasn't clear that this wasn't going to be Fed's day until more than 2 sets of grueling tennis had been played. After taking the first set 6-3, Fed's serve went downhill - in the 2nd set he allowed Djokovic to win 50% of his 1st-serve and 75% of his 2nd-serve points - and he dropped the 2nd set rather easily.

In the third set, it became painfully clear: Roger was not feeling it. Fed's game went haywire. He committed 6 errors in the first 2 games of the final set and he was walking the tightrope with the match on the line as Novak prepared to serve...

And we all know what happened next. Fed plopped a purposeless forehand into the net (to go down 30-0 in the 3rd game of the set) and before he could subdue his anger he smashed his racquet into the purple painted hardcourt with Safin-like force.

And immediately as it happened you could feel the largeness of it. You could feel the largeness of Roger Federer, the tennis genius, the artist, he of surgeon-like precision, of uncanny grace and limitless shot making abilities. Everything Fed does these days, you can feel the largeness of it. You want to feel it, you want to soak it in, enjoy him while there is still time. You want to see him overcome, to stay on his perch, to show us that he is who we think is: A superhuman.

But today he would not overcome. Novak Djokovic was still serving well enough to keep a clearly discombobulated Federer at bay. Even as the sympathetic crowd attempted to cajole Fed into providing them with some last minute heroics, the closest he could get was down 4-2 with Novak serving. Novak came up with a strong hold to make it 5-2, then broke Fed for good measure to close this strange emotional thriller out. Novak wins his 3rd career match in 10 tries against Federer, and books a spot in the final alongside Andy Murray.

Quotable : You've had other matches where things aren't going as well and you don't get as upset about that particular moment. What was different about today that you just lost it there?

Federer: "I didn't lose it. I was just frustrated. Just because I smashed the racquet doesn't mean I lose it. Didn't feel great. Didn't feel - it's just a natural thing I did."

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Semi-final # 2: Murray d. Del Potro, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2



The evening session semi-final was another tense affair, even though it didn't start that way. Andy Murray earned the right to go after his third ATP title of the 2009 season with a win over the youngest player in the top ten, Juan Martin Del Potro.

Murray, 25-2 on the year, last faced Del Potro in a memorable QF battle during the 2008 U.S. Open, and is currently 3-0 against the 20-year-old Argentinian, who will move to an all-time high spot of #5 when updated rankings are released on Monday.

Easy Street: Murray's tennis was so convincing in the first set (and Del Potro's 18 unforced errors were so unconvincing) that it looked like it might be over before some of the paid audience had found their seats. All Del Potro could manage was a hold to bring the score to 5-1, before Murray sealed the set with a hold of his own.

The Turnaround: But Del Potro found his game as the 2nd set began. Some fine serving earned him his first lead of the match, then 2 straight double-faults, including one at game point, gave him his first break of the match. Rowdy chanting fans of the Argentine were eager to will him back in the match, but much of their (but definitely not all of it) enthusiasm was tempered when Murray broke back in the next game, then held to even the set at 2-all.

But Del Potro continued to elevate his game. He really started to pop his ground strokes and as the winners came his confidence grew. Some of the best tennis of the match was played in the middle games of the 2nd set, with each player ripping the cover off the ball, serving big, and mixing in lobs, volleys, and passing shots.

As Del Potro closed the second set with a break, it appeared that the upset was within his grasp. But Murray struck first in the third set, taking a 3-2 lead with a break, then consolidating the break with an easy hold.

Down the stretch: Murray, a veteran of more of these high-stakes matches than Del Potro, seemed to be cruising, getting into a zen-like pose and constructing points as if he were a chess master. Already up a break, he went for the kill in the 7th game of the set: After luring Del Potro in with a drop shot, Murray punched a two-hander that forced his opponent to lunge and miss. Another break point and a chance to all but lock the match up for Murray.

But Del Potro chose that tense moment to ask for the trainer. Murray seemed nonplussed but dealt with it effectively. After a long delay, Del Potro washed out the break point, but two points later none of it mattered, as a focused Murray got the break and closed out the match with an emphatic hold, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

Quotable: "The guy served like 80% first serves in the 2nd set and served big. It wasn't like he was just rolling them in. He was serving like 125, 130, and it made it tough for me."

Andy Murray in the post-match press conference, on playing why overcoming Del Potro was so tough.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fed Continues Mastery of Roddick, Williams Sisters Semi-Final Set

Business as usual.



Slice it any way you want to slice it, but in the end this is a story about utter domination: Always has been, probably always will be.

End of Story, right?

Apparently not. Wednesday nights match in Miami between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick turned out to be a nail biter until the bitter end.

It started innocently, as Roddick lost the first set quickly, but the laser-serving American battled in the 2nd and finally earned a chance to break his long-time nemesis. In that crucial 7th game of the 2nd set, Roddick got a gift: Federer double-faulted on break point and Roddick took the set before Roger could recover.

WTF, said the Twittering texters.

Then Roddick found himself holding 2 break points @ 3-3 in the final set. Improbable, but true! A clear shot at redemption for Captain America a.k.a. Andy Roddick: here was a golden opportunity to snatch a victory from the hands of his long-time abuser.

It was not to be. The opening slammed shut on Andy before he could tighten his grip on the match. Roddick's break point opportunities in the 3rd set evaporated; they became a mere segue to yet another clutch victory from Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

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Djokovic advances to Semifinal: Now we are left to ponder the implications of a Djokovic-Federer Semifinal. The 21-year-old Serbian steered his way to a decisive victory, a convincing straight set triumph over his personal nemesis, J0-Wilfried Tsonga of France.



The triumph helps Djokovic in his battle for ATP rankings points with upwardly mobile Andy Murray. Novak is currently fighting to avoid a drop to # 4 in the world for the first time since Aug 6, 2007. Questions have recently surfaced regarding the fire in Novak's belly: it's been over a year since his one-and-only Grand-Slam crown, and he's struggling, it seems, to find inspiration.

There wasn't much to question about his convincing effort today.

Novak served big (no breaks yielded) and he attacked Tsonga's 2nd serve with remarkable efficiency. The Serb won 61% of the points against Tsonga's 2nd serve, which is double what Tsonga did to him (34%). The 6-3, 6-4 victory encourages us remember how dangerous Djokovic can be when he is playing with a chip on his shoulder.

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Djokovic, Nadal, and Del Potro are the only men who have not lost a set in Miami.

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Breaking the Chain: The straight set victory against Tsonga was Novak's first in 5 tries dating back to his Australian Open title.
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Quotable: "I don't know, really. I mean, look, I've had time warnings in the past. I'm not saying that I will not have more. If they give me time warning with a reason, if they, you know, let me know that I am slow and everything and then give me warning, I have no problems with it. I will accept it as, you know, something which is rule."

Novak Djokovic, while answering what were, IMHO, annoying questions from the media at the post-match press conference.
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Sister Act: On the woman's half of the ticket, it was business as usual for the William's sisters.



But it wasn't all roses. Serena led off the day by losing the first 5 games of her match against the salty veteran, Li Na of China. Li held on for the 1st set, but only after a disconcerting last-second meeting with her coach/husband and some very shaky moments on the court.

At the end of the 2nd set, the real Serena (the one that mows people down in majors) still hadn't appeared. But that would change. The 5-time Miami champion finally decided to make her presence felt as the 2nd set tiebreak began. 8 points later, Serena had the set, and the momentum.

She never looked back, and the 2:08 affair ended without drama, 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-2.

In the other half of the all-Williams QF's, Big 'Sis Venus took care of #26 seed Iveta Benesova, pretty much dominating save for one 3-game hiccup to start the 2nd set. The hiccup raised a few eyebrows, but in the end it was dismissed as something that really didn't matter much. What did matter was that Venus claimed her spot next to Serena in the Semis, with an ace count of 8 and the usual bevy of winners.

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THURSDAYS ORDER OF PLAY

Thanks for reading!

The Fan Child

Monday, March 30, 2009

MIAMI: SERENA SURVIVES CHINESE UPRISING

Greetings OCTF's,



Action is finished on the Purple courts of the Crandon Park Tennis Center; the women are now set for the QF's and the men are ready for the round of 16. Upsets were once again the theme on the women's side, as Caroline Wozniacki and Samantha Stosur provided some bang for the fans bucks with upsets over Elena Dementieva and Amelie Mauresmo respectively. Meanwhile, 25-year-old Zheng Jie of China almost pulled what would have been a major shocker, but fell short, allowing Serena to slip through to the QF's.

On the men's side the higher seeded player prevailed in all 8 matches. Winners included Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray.

Now to the action...

The # 1's Advance: Both # 1 seeds, Rafa for the men and Serena for the women, were in action on Stadium Court. Rafa was broken twice by Qualifier Frederico Gil, but in the end the inevitable occurred - another straight set win for Rafa. Serena, meanwhile found herself in a very sticky situation against a very resilient opponent.



After dropping the first 5 games of the match against Serena, # 17 seed Zheng Jie stormed back to win 14 of the next 21. She lead 2-0 in the third set before Serena finally put the gloves on and began punching her way out of the match, running away with the third set, and heading to dinner with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 hard fought triumph. The 27-year-old Williams is seeking her 6th title in Miami. She is currently tied with Steffi Graf for most wins all time at this event (5).

Verdasco steps closer to rematch with Murray: After finally outlasting country mate Feliciano Lopez in a very tight 3-set match, Fernando is one step closer to a QF match with Andy Murray. It would be their first meeting since Verdasco's stunning upset of Murray at the 2009 Australian Open.

Quotable: Verdasco on his training in Vegas: "Gil Reyes, Daren Cahill, Andre Agassi, all the people that I was in Las Vegas practicing with, helped me a lot. I was practicing so hard with Gil in December, also now in February."

They help me a lot. You know, Agassi, like I said too many times already, was my idol when I was young. I was watching all the time his matches. Now you have your idol telling you what to do, you know, telling you what he thinks is better for you, what is not better for you, you know, it helps a lot.

I think that it's one of the best decisions I ever had, to go to Vegas and to be with all these unbelievable people helping me."

Men are from Mars: Of the 155 games played in today's 8 men's matches, 38 breaks of serve were recorded.

Women are from Venus: Of the 178 games played in today's 8 women's matches, 70 breaks of serve were recorded.



Unbreakable: Kuznetsova for the women and Delpotro for the men were the only players who did not give up a break. Each fought off 2 break points while winning in straight sets.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

JUST ANOTHER MANIC SUNDAY

Greetings OCTF's,

Hope all is well...now to the stories...

Surprise Party: Keeping in theme with Gisela Dulko's Upset of JJ Saturday, 3 of the top ten seeds on the women's side were banished from the brackets today. In a double-whammy early in the day, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina used poor serving and inconsistent groundstrokes as a recipe for disaster: Ivanovic, last weeks Indian Wells runner-up, lost to Agnes Szavay of Hungary while Dinara was taken out by cagy veteran Samantha Stosur of Australia.



Ivanovic was broken in 7 out of her 14 service games, while Safina was broken in 5 out of 9.

Later in the day, last years Indian Wells Champion Vera Zvonareva tasted bitter defeat as well, losing to another cagy veteran, Na Li of China, in a match that featured 13 breaks of serve in 29 games.

Breaks, Breaks, and more Breaks: I have been staring at break point statistics for WTA matches for the last 8 hours. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it. Here are some interesting findings:

Alisa Kleybanova and Anastasiya Yakimova (from Bulgaria) registered 15 breaks of serve in 28 games (highest total in any of the days 16 womens matches).

Ekaterina Makarova of Russia converted 7 of 7 break point opportunities in her upset of Nadia Petrova, a 7-5, 6-1 drubbing.

What this means: The tennis is out of control. Emotions are high. Fear is a factor, and top seeds are getting bounced like fresh-out-of-the-can Slazenger's.



Fed Glides to Victory: Roger punched his ticket for the round of 16 without giving up a single break point. The 2005 and 2006 Champion in Miami deconstructed #28 seed Nicolas Kiefer, 6-4, 6-1, in a match that lasted slightly over 70 minutes. Roger is seeking his first ATP title since winning in Basel in October of last year.



Federer will face recently reborn and reconstructed Taylor Dent of U.S.A on Tuesday in the round of 16.

Dent Gets Bent: The biggest surprise on the men's side was Taylor Dent's straight set takeout of hot-hitting Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Robredo was sporting a 20-5 record on the year with 2 ATP titles coming into Miami, but Dent, who is in the process of making a remarkably brave return to the sport after debilitating injuries nearly forced him to retire, used a strong attack of Robredo's first serve to gain 3 breaks and a lock on the match. As his reward he gets to try and repeat the same miracle against an even higher-ranked opponent in Federer.

I do like Mondays: Ferrer v. Cilic, Lopez v. Verdasco, and Gonzo v. Stepanek are just three of the many enticing tilts to look forward to. Nadal and Murray will both be in action as well.

On the women's side, the QF's will be set by the end of the day. Wozniacki v. Dementieva is only one of many (8 to be exact) possible thrillers.

Enjoy!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nadal, Murray, and Williams Sisters lead top seeds in Miami


Greetings OCTF's,

As the action heats up in Miami, it is easy to see how successive events in Indian Wells and Miami can provide a great opportunity for players on both tours to make significant climbs in the rankings.  Four quick weeks where, if you are on your game, you can earn up to 2,000 rankings points.  

For hard-court specialists who aren't overly thrilled that the spectre of clay courts is looming on the horizon, this 4-week period is a last chance to create some Rankings security before the grueling clay court season begins.

Now to the news...

A pair of Andy's: Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, two happy hard-courters, appear destined to make the most of their opportunities in Miami, as both are playing strong tennis at the moment, and both have their sights set on the # 3 spot that has been occupied by Novak Djokovic for quite some time. The Joker has been #3 since August 6, 2007.  A long run for Murray and an early exit for Novak could supplant Djokovic this week. 

Murray fought off a stubborn Juan Monaco in 3 sets today; now the pressure will shift to Novak as he prepares to do battle with Frenchman Paul-Henri Matthieu Sunday.

Meanwhile, a vastly improved and surprisingly fit Roddick will Face #25 seed Dimitry Tursonov on Sunday.  Roddick is once again staring at a QF match with Federer. He Stunned Federer in Miami last year.

BTW: We are down to 32 men and women now.

Nalbandian -  The Mystery Continues: We all know David Nalbandian is capable of mind blowing tennis, we just don't know when. He was cast aside by 6'4" Serbian Viktor Troicki today in straight sets.

Sister Act: Serena looked unprepared at times, but in the end she had far too much game for American Wildcard Alexa Glatch. Next up for Serena  (the two-time defending champion - 5 titles in Miami overall) is # 32 seed, Shuai Peng of China.



Venus a.k.a. Big Sis, meanwhile, used 5 breaks to coast to an easy win over Shahar Peer, 6-3, 6-3. 

Bye Bye Miss American Pie:  Unfortunately for the American women, all besides the Williams sisters have been eliminated.  As it stands now,  only two others are ranked in the top 100. NGANTI. Not good and needs to improve.

Nadal on Form:  Rafa used 5 breaks and won 75% of points in which he faced a 2nd serve against Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili.  The two-time runner-up in Miami has never won this event.  He'll face, and likely dismantle, Portugese Qualifier Frederico Gil in the 3rd round.  

Jelena's Free fall continues:  Tom Petty might like free falling but I'm sure Jelena Jankovic would prefer a win to her current trend.  It has been a struggle (and that's putting it mildly) for the enigmatic Serb this year.   After making the U.S. Open final last year (and achieving the # 1 ranking) her game has disappeared.  She is now  9-5 on the year with no titles.  She fell to Argentinian Giselle Dulko, 6-4, 7-6 (5).  Jankovic has managed only one win in Dubai, Indian Wells, and Miami combined.  

Verdasco gets 200:  Continuing with his inspired tennis, Verdasco pushed his 2009 record to 13-3, getting his 200th tour-level victory over Qualifier Benjamin Becker 6-3, 6-4.  In a match of lefty Spaniards, Verdasco will face Feliciano Lopez in the 3rd round.  Lopez upended American Sam Querrey today, 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-2.  The country mates have split 4 previous matches.  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Indian Wells Finals Set



Indian Wells has produced a little March Madness of its own this year. As the eyes of the tennis world have descended upon the desert-baked hardcourts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the action on the court has been nothing less than scintillating.

In yesterdays first semifinal, Andy Murray engineered his 4th consecutive victory against Roger aka our heavenly father Federer. Murray, whose only loss this season came at the hands of the already eliminated Fernando Verdasco, is now 20-1 on the year with 2 ATP titles.

Federer meanwhile, remains coachless in the Coachella Valley.

The Swiss master had trouble converting breaks (2 of 10) and Murray did not (5 of 6). End of story. I don't think this one is worth over-analyzing. You win some and you lose some, even if you are Roger Federer. He's not # 1 anymore and he's going to have to fight for his wins like everybody else in the top-4. Especially since everybody is 5 years younger than him and they have all been chasing him for the last 3 years.

Finally, they are catching up. It is the lay of the land in men's tennis, and it doesn't dull the excitement surrounding Fed's quest for a record-tying 14th major one bit. Federer is, was, and always will be a miracle - while the cards seemed stacked in Rafa's favor at the moment, it would be foolish for us to count him out. Roger's not done yet, and he'll tell us when he is. Until then, let's keep letting him amaze us.



In the other men's semifinal, Rafa aka conquistador Nadal topped Andy Roddick 6-4, 7-6 (4). The loss ends Roddick's winning streak at 11, and propels Rafa to the 42nd ATP final of his career (he is 32-9 in them so far). While Roddick wasn't good enough to snatch a set against the Spaniard, he was good enough to break him twice and to force a 2nd set breaker. But, as is so often the case, Rafa was too good when the points mattered most. His record against Roddick goes to 5-2.

Todays winners, Nadal and Murray, will do battle tomorrow in the men's final. Vera Zvonareva and returning Champion Ana Ivanovic will collide in the women's final, which will be played first, at 12:00, left-coast time.

Murray v. Nadal: After losing his first 4 matches to Nadal, Murray has won the last 2 on hard court (one in the 2008 U.S. Open Semi). So that's 4 in a row v. Federer and 2 in a row v. Nadal. Wow. If the 21-year-old wins tomorrow I may have to start saving money so I can bet it on him to win Wimbledon. Just kidding... Sort of.

Ivanovic v. Zvonareva: Ivanovic defeated Zvonareva easily in the 2008 Indian Wells QF's, 6-1, 6-4. However, her streak of 3 straight-set victories against Zvonareva finally ended in November of 2008, as Zvonareva defeated Ana in 3 sets at last years Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha.



The 24-year-old Russian, who is currently ranked at her all-time high of # 6, also took the BNP Paribas Open doubles crown, combining with Victoria Azarenka to defeat Dulko and Peer yesterday in a match Tiebreak yesterday.

Meanwhile, Ivanovic, currently ranked 7, is struggling to regain the form that put her at # 1 in June of 2008. Since last years French Open title, she has failed to get beyond the third round of a major. Post Roland Garros, she was a tepid 11-9 in 2008.

The Kardon Effect: After hiring coach Craig Kardon in early February Ivanovic is 7-1. If her semifinal destruction of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is any indication, Kardon is helping the young Serbian's game immensely. But it has not all been perfect for Ivanovic this week: She did give up 7 service breaks against Flavia Pennetta in the round of 16. She'll need to serve better than that to regain the # 1 ranking.

Red-hot Zvonareva, who has not even needed a tiebreaker to win 10 consecutive sets @ Indian Wells this year, is 17-2 with one WTA title on the year.

Enjoy the Finals!

The Fan Child

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday @ Indian Wells - Rafa Escapes

It was an amazing day @ Indian Wells (If it wasn't so hard to find on t.v. you could almost think it was a major.) and we are now at the point in the tournament where marquis matchups are the norm instead of the exception. They are popping up like Joshua Trees do in the local deserts.

The story...



Nadal v Nalbandian: Just when you start to get the feeling that Nadal is never going to lose again, we find him in deep trouble, forced to fight off 5 match points in the 2nd set against giant-killer David Nalbandian (winner of 8 out of 18 v. Federer and 2 of 3 v. Nadal).

But rather than being too much, the pressure seemed to be just right for Nadal. After breaking to stay in the match, Rafa took charge in the tiebreaker and never looked back. Suddenly 1 for 10 on break point opp's for Rafa was 4 for 13 - he was up 2 breaks and cruising in the third. It was remarkably clutch tennis by Rafa, who is looking for his 2nd Indian Wells title.

2:54:48 was the elapsed time, with a bagel in the resoundingly affirming 3rd set for Rafa.

Also...



Azarenka Stays Hot: Victoria Azarenka continued her torrid tennis with a QF triumph over the highest ranked woman in the tournament, Dinara Safina. Azarenka is 17-1 on the year with two WTA titles; she is headed for a showdown with, of all people, her doubles partner, Vera Zvonareva (They are in the semis btw). That should be interesting, considering how well they know each other.

- During what was, IMHO, a very spirited match, Safina was hurt at times by double faults and errors. That I expected, as it is usually the norm for the very tempestuous Safina.

But what was surprising about the match was that Azarenka was able to overpower Safina as they went down the stretch. While Safina appeared to be muscling the ball, Azarenka was timing it so beautifully. Her strokes were rhythmic and remarkably consistent (given the bombs that Safina was hitting in her direction). This was a very impressive match from Azarenka, and it solidified her first ever visit to the top-10.



Isner's Run Ends: Elsewhere at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, surprise American and University of Georgia grad John Isner battled hard, but in the end the youngest player in the men's top-10, Juan Martin Del Potro, took both tiebreakers and booked himself a trip to the QF's. This was a true battle of the big boys. Isner, #147-ranked, is 6'9". Del Potro, #6-ranked, is 6'6".



Last Years Champ Advances: Novak aka the Joker Djokovic was up to his usual tricks, using both power and finesse to dismantle hard-fighting Stan Wawrinka. The Joker will now engage in another heavyweight tussle with Andy Roddick in the QF's. These guys must like butting heads in the QF's (they met in the QF's at the 2008 U.S. Open and the 2009 Australian Open).

The Dark Horse: Ivan Ljubicic, 2-5 on the season as of 10 days ago, is now going to do battle with Andy Murray in the QF's after 4 consecutive surprise wins.

Always the main event: Roger aka our heavenly father Federer was taken to three sets by Fernando aka Gonzo Gonzalez. - I'm not sure if this is good or bad for Roger. Of course the win is good, but we have all become accustomed to Rafa and Rog never losing a set. If they do then OMG something is wrong, right?

- During the match (and how good must you be, btw, to be able to beat Fernando gonzalez 12 out of 13 times?) Gonzo smashed his racquet during a changeover and it seemed to fire him up a bit. But it was not enough to shake the living legend from Basel, Switzerland, holder of 13 majors.

Murray Is Through: Murray and Djokovic are the only remaining man in the draw who have not lost a set.

UPCOMING TODAY...

- Thursday's Men's QF's will feature a heavily anticipated Federer v Verdasco installment. Fed is 2-0 vs. Verdasco, both wins coming on clay.

- Murray v Lubicic is the other men's match on tap.

- One Thursday women's QF features returning champ Ana Ivanovic against upset-minded Austrian Sybille Bammer, while the other pits Aggie Radwanska against the name that only the brave dare to speak: Pavlyuchenkova. The 17 year-old is the lowest ranked (42)of all remaing women.

Thanks for checking in,

Sincerely,

The Fan Child

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday at Indian Wells: Fed Forges Ahead, Blake Falls


Roger a.k.a. our heavenly father Federer won 34 of 36 first-serve points against Ivo Karlovic today. When Fed serves like this everything else seems to open up for him. He and Verdasco are one match away from a much anticipated QF match.
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17-yr. old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's (pav-lee-oo-CHEN-kova)appears to be on her way up. Fresh off her upset over Jelena Jankovic on Saturday, she was back at work today beating Karin Knapp of Italy 6-2, 6-4. The one-time Junior Australian Open and U.S. Open champ is currently ranked at career-high 42 and has not surrendered a set in 3 matches.
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Cold Streak: After winning his first 3 career matches against heavy-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, frustrated American James Blake has now lost 7 straight to Gonzo, including a controversial Olympic match.
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29 year-old Bosnian Ivan Ljubicic was 2-5 on the year entering Indian Wells. After wins against Nishikori, Ancic, and Simon, the future looks a lot brighter for him. He turns 30 on Thursday, and is currently ranked 74.
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Going from The Tennis Channel's HD coverage of Indian Wells over the weekend to Comcast's non-HD today is a bit of a letdown, but it's nothing that Justin Gimelstob's very insightful commentary can't remedy.

---The Fan Child