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

A Few Random Notes on Indian Wells

Hello, OCTF's, hope you're all enjoying the tournament thus far...
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What is going on with Jelena Jankovic? OMG ICSTWA (I can't stand to watch anymore). Here's my prediction: Just when she sinks so low that we all count her out, she'll sneak back up on everybody and win her major...wouldn't that be great!



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I am praying that we get to see the following Quarterfinal matchups: 1. Murray v. Tsonga 2. Fed v. Verdasco. In my opinion the other half of the draw doesn't seem as intriguing. Of course I won't be complaining if we get another installment of Nadal v. The Joker in the semis...
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Dementieva, Jankovic, and Kuznetsova losing plus Williams sisters protesting = big money for Safina.
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All of the sudden Shahar Peer is playing with a chip on her shoulder. I think the unforgettable situation in Dubai has made her more determined. Good for her!
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Too bad Peer is running into the machine a.k.a. Victoria Azarenka. She is 15-1 on the year with 2 titles. Hot Damn!!! She'll be 20 in July, and I do believe that she'll be in the top-ten by then as well.


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Women who've completed 2 or 3 matches without losing a set: Safina, Zvonareva (man is she looking good these days), Li (can you believe it?).
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Kudos to 34-yr-old Jill Craybas for being the oldest woman left in the draw.
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Who is more likely to stay in the top ten the most in 2009, Monfils, Verdasco, Simon, or Delpotro?
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Don't be a stranger folks,

---The Fan Child