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