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July 14, 2009

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Tennis Eminence: Federer Regains Wimbledon With Record 15th Major

July 5, 2009

img_0461The Wimbledon championship was the scene for round 21 of world number two, Swiss Roger Federer, versus world number six, American Andy Roddick. For the second consecutive year, the men’s final had one exhausting superlatives as Federer vanquished Roddick in a five set marathon 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 for his sixth Wimbledon prize and a record setting fifteen majors.

Roddick baptized the match by blasting away on serve and holding for 1-0. Federer, no slouch himself, kept up on serve. After neither neared the other’s serve, at 5 all, Roddick appeared on the verge of cracking. With two inexplicable errors, Roddick faced 0-30. But with two explosive serves, Andy forced Roger to miss. Yet, in the first long rally of the match, 18 strokes, Federer dipped a forehand so low that Roddick made a forehand error giving the Swiss his first break point. Still, with his star stroke, the serve, Roddick escaped. Federer got three more chances; however, Roddick came up with the answers each time and took the lead 6-5. Now, it became conspicuous to Federer that there was a new nuance to Roddick’s game. Although the serves were still coming at ungodly speed, Federer’s customary tactic of blocking them back was futile because of variety and placement. Furthermore, Roddick’s weaker stroke, the backhand, was producing winners either down the line or crosscourt, a novelty to Federer. These developments contributed to Federer slicing a backhand and forehand up the line long to give Roddick break point and subsequently the set.

In the second set, Roddick continued his brilliant play, volleying well from both wings. But, Federer’s shot making ability was also on display as he tracked down a Roddick dropshot and flicked it crosscourt for a backhand winner in a 23 stroke rally to hold for 5 all. No break point on sale by either man, the set went to a tiebreaker. A forehand error by Federer handed Roddick a mini-break for 2-0. Andy got a second mini-break and a 5-1 edge when Federer pushed a backhand down the line long. The Swiss appeared on his way to a two set deficit. Federer saved the first set point with a backhand crosscourt winner on Roddick’s serve. After Federer protected his serve, Roddick missed a backhand volley which leveled the tiebreaker at 6 all. Then, Federer provoked a volley error from Roddick with a low backhand to earn set point which the Swiss converted when the American’s backhand sailed long.

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Nestor and Zimonjic Defend Wimbledon Title By Toppling Bryan Brothers While Williams Sisters Also Repeat

July 4, 2009

img_9036As the top men doubles team squared off in the Wimbledon final, second seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic defeated number one seeds Mike and Bob Bryan 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 to maintain their title. Moreover, after Serena Williams secured her eleventh major, she partnered with sister Venus to defeat Australians Rennae Stubbs and Samantha Stosur 7-6, 6-4 for their fourth Wimbledon doubles title.

After Bob Bryan put away a volley to hold at love, Zimonjic made short work on his serve to equalize things at 1 all. This was the pattern in the first set, with neither team getting close to deuce. Thus, the tiebreaker was called upon. With Mike double faulting, the opposition got up a mini-break for 3-1. However, when Zimonjic’s backhand volley sailed long, the teams were leveled at 5 all. After Zimonjic put away an overhead for set point, Mike’s volley found the bottom of the net giving the second seeds the lead.

Second set was a duplicate of the first as neither team could dent the other’s service game. The tiebreaker was required anew. This time with excellent volleying for winners, the Bryan brothers carried the set.

In the third set with Mike serving, a Bryan missed volley gave their rival their first break point of the match. Still, with a couple of service return errors, the Bryans held. Despite hairier games from both sides, neither team buckled. Another tiebreaker was in order. After Zimonjic and Nestor jumped ahead on the first point with a mini-break, the Bryans were unable to recover. The defending champions took a two set to one advantage. After Zimonjic held to start the fourth, his forehand return winner denied Bob game point. Subsequently, with two errors by the Bryans, the opposition edged in front 2-0. The next game with Nestor serving, a forehand down the line winner by Mike gave the Bryans double break point. But with three successive aces, Nestor scratched out any opportunity the Bryans had of closing the gap. With Zimonjic serving for the championship at 5-3, a couple of double faults gave the Bryans hope. However, with a couple of aces, Zimonjic clamped the door giving the second seed their second consecutive title.

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Venus Bows To Serena In Wimbledon Final

July 4, 2009

img_1725With five titles to her name this decade including 2008, Wimbledon has been Venus Williams’ playpen. For the second straight year, the ladies’ final featured Venus and Serena. For the third time, Venus was compelled to cede her most precious toy to little sister. Serena delivered a fatal punch beating Venus 7-6, 6-2 for her first Wimbledon trophy in six years.

Through the first seven games of the initial set, each woman was dominant on serve with very few rallies. In the eighth game, with a series of deep returns producing backhand and forehand errors from Serena, Venus got double break point. With a rocket serve, Serena saved the first break point. Then, after Venus missed a relatively easy forehand pass, Serena threw in two aces to hold. With neither person able to fabricate another break point, the set went to a tiebreaker. As a result of Venus netting a backhand, Serena obtained a mini-break. Then, with a forehand crosscourt winner, Serena had multiple set points which she converted with a beautiful topspin lob winner.

The second set commenced the same way on serve; albeit, Venus was relying more on her second serve to win points. In the sixth game, Venus opened with a forehand up the line error. Subsequently, with a couple of backhand errors from big sister, Serena had her first break point. When Venus double faulted, Serena gained a 4-2 lead. After Serena consolidated with a love game, the pressure was back on Venus. The defending champion started her game with a double fault and backhand error to go down 0-30. Serving at 30 all, Venus’ forehand went long gifting Serena championship point. However, Venus escaped with a strong serve for deuce. But, with a forehand up the line winner in a long rally, Serena had her second match point. However, Serena dumped another backhand into the net for deuce. Finally, with a crosscourt forehand winner, Venus had game point. Yet again, a backhand mistake cost Venus the opportunity to force Serena to serve out the match. As Venus misfired another forehand, Serena had her fifth match point which she banked as big sister made another unforced error.

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2009 Wimbledon Draw Is Out: Regrettably So Is Nadal

June 19, 2009

img_9986-version-3Hours after the Wimbledon committee revealed the singles’ draws, turmoil ripped through the men and women side demonstrating that no player is a shoe in for the championship.

After losing his second exhibition match, Rafael Nadal, the top seed and reigning champion, withdrew due to knee tendonitis. That afternoon, female number one and top seed, Dinara Safina’s recovery after her meltdown in Paris was dealt a major setback. Safina was ousted in the semifinals by Tamarine Tanasugarn ranked 47th in a grass court warm-up tournament. Last year, Tanasurgan defeated Safina in the finals at this event.

Now, fifth ranked Juan Martin Del Potro replaced Nadal at the top half of the draw. Although Del Potro has been improving rapidly, more seasoned grass players such as Radek Stepanek, Lleyton Hewitt or first round opponent Arnaud Clement could be an obstruction. In addition, Del Potro could face Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. The extent of Roddick’s ankle injury will determine how much of a factor he will be. With a manageable draw, the prospect of Andy Murray becoming the first Brit since 1936 to raise the Wimbledon trophy looks promising. But, Murray may see Roddick or Del Potro in the semifinals. Despite Roger Federer’s multiple championships at the All England Club, with such a competitive field, other than experience, Federer has no distinct advantage. In the bottom section, Federer may need to go through the same stubborn rivals he battled in Paris to get to the quarterfinals. There, Federer could square off against Fernando Verdasco or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, both hungry competitors. Similarly to Murray, Novak Djokovic, Federer’s potential match-up in the semifinals, appears to have an easy path on paper. Yet, Tommy Haas who beat Djokovic in the finals at Halle could represent a roadblock.

Safina’s chance at redemption against Svetlana Kuznetsova may take place in the quarterfinals. Although with defending champion Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic as possible semifinals opponents, Safina could be in the midst of a perpetuating nightmare. Venus’ performance the first couple of matches will determine whether she can prevail for a sixth time at Wimbledon. Serena Williams’ chance to avenge her Sony Ericsson lost to Victoria Azarenka could come in the quarters. However, Azarenka may need to knock off former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the round of 16 before getting to Serena. With Vera Zvonareva slowly getting back from injury and Elena Dementieva’s dismal play the last few months, for players such as Dominika Cibulkova, Aleksandra Wozniak or Alize Cornet, the door is wide open to reach at least the quarters.

The Williams sisters will do double duty at a major again. Defending champion and seeded fourth, Venus and Serena will attempt to win their fourth Wimbledon doubles title. 2008 men’s doubles champion Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, the second seed, will attempt to repeat and wrestle the number one spot away from Mike and Bob Bryan.

Ambiguity reigns at Wimbledon this year. On both the female and male side, it is truly anybody’s trophy. First serve comes this Monday.


Murray Frustrates Blake In Queen’s Club Final

June 14, 2009

img_1971From Paris’ red clay, the ATP moved onto London’s green grass this week. At the Aegon Championships final, Brit Andy Murray, the top seed and world number 3, conquered American James Blake 7-5, 6-4 to become the first British male since Henry Austin in 1938 to win at Queen’s club.

After each player held serve, Murray produced a break point with a backhand down the line winner. Then, when Blake’s forehand went off the court, Murray converted. However, with three successive forehand errors by Murray, Blake had double break point. The American crushed a forehand up the line winner for 2 all. A couple of times, Blake had small windows to take the lead. But, with errors, James’ chances fell by the waste side. After goading Blake into forehand errors in long rallies, Murray went on to secure a break for 6-5. Then, with a strong service game, the Brit captured the first set.

Subsequent to both players starting the second set well, serving at two all, Blake committed two forehand errors to go down 0-30. Yet, with a couple of good serves and by attacking the net, the American held for 3-2. After Murray protected service in a tricky game; leading 30-0, Blake made three backhand mistakes to gift the Brit a break point. Unable to handle a dipping return, Blake dumped another backhand volley into the net giving Murray a 4-3 edge. After easily consolidating and Blake holding, Murray closed out the championship with a love game.

By winning his first grass court title, Murray has thrown his name into the hat of challengers to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the Wimbledon trophy. Nadal, last year’s victor at Queen’s, was unable to compete due to ongoing knee issues and it’s uncertain whether the Spaniard will be healthy enough to defend his Wimbledon crown. Another contender, American Andy Roddick is also a question mark for Wimbledon. Roddick was forced to retire in the semifinals against Blake after rolling over his right ankle.


Fait Accompli: Federer Solidifies Place In History With First French Open Title

June 7, 2009

img_0441-version-2For three years, Roger Federer has been a bridesmaid at the French Open. Today, at last, Federer vanquished Swede Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 to seize his first ‘Coupe Des Mousquetaires’ and complete the career grand slam. Federer becomes just the sixth male player to possess all four majors.

Federer got off to an idyllic start by pressuring Soderling’s serve. With a forehand up the line error by Soderling, Federer had break point and cashed in courtesy of a double fault. After consolidating with a love game, Federer extended his lead by connecting on a forehand return winner for 3-0. After Soderling held serve in a tight game, he was unable to get a point in Federer’s game. Then, Soderling watched the first set end when Federer cranked a backhand crosscourt pass to break again.

In the second set, the caliber of Soderling’s play improved with a higher percentage of first serves and more forehand winners. With Soderling serving at 15-0, a deranged spectator leapt on court and accosted Federer, waving a Barcelona flag in his face. This frightening incident was terminated when security personnel tackled the intruder. Fortunately, after Robin won his game, Federer refocused and comfortably held for 3-2. With neither man able to dent the other’s serve, the set went to a tiebreaker. With an ace and by forcing Soderling into a forehand error, Federer went ahead 2-1. Soderling never touched Federer’s serve. With three additional aces, a backhand down the line error by Soderling and a forehand drop shot winner, Federer carried the set.

A double fault offered Federer his first opportunity to take charge in the third. Roger capitalized when Robin missed a forehand up the line. With his serve on autopilot, Federer went up 2-0. A hiccup came when serving at 2-1, Federer miscalculated a forehand up the line handing Soderling his first break chance. However, with a forehand down the line winner, Roger wiped out his previous error and held for 3-1. Once Federer extended his advantage to 5-3, tears began to creep into his eyes. Federer realized that he was four points from securing the only major trophy that had escaped him. After Soderling guarded serve, Federer misfired on a forehand mid-court to donate a break point. However, with a good serve and a forehand error from Robin, Roger was back on track. Subsequently, with a forehand volley winner, Federer finally arrived at match point and sealed the championship when Soderling’s return found the net.

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Kuznetsova Celebrates Second Career Major in Paris

June 6, 2009

img_1153-version-2Appropriately, the two women who have excelled on clay this year, world number one Dinara Safina and world number seven Svetlana Kuznetsova battled in the last round of the French Open. In this third all-Russian major final of the Open era, Kuznetsova pounded Safina 6-4, 6-2 to get her first ‘Coupe Suzanne Lenglen’.

With a dropshot on the very first point which Safina easily put away for a forehand winner, Kuznetsova revealed that she was nervous. Consequently, Safina took advantage and broke immediately. However, with three forehand errors and a double fault from Safina, Kuznetsova was on the board. Now more relaxed, Kuznetsova closed out a love game with a forehand crosscourt winner for 2-1. After Safina held with difficulty, Kuznetsova lost her way in a 40-15 game. With a backhand service return winner, Safina had break point. Boldly, with a serve and volley winner, Kuznetsova brushed aside the deficit and went on to secure the game. Serving at 3-4, Safina faced a 0-30 disadvantage for the second straight game. With a penetrating backhand return, Kuznetsova got to triple break point. Then, when a backhand crosscourt skidded off the line for a winner, Svetlana took a 5-3 lead. But, with four successive errors by her rival, Dinara broke back. Yet, Svetlana stayed calm. With two forehand winners and a spectacular backhand volley, Kuznetsova arrived at double set point. She converted when a heat packed backhand down the line forced Dinara’s forehand to find the bottom of the net.

In the initial stages of the second set, both women held serve although errors dominated. After Kuznetsova netted a backhand and forehand stroke for 0-30, she induced three forehand errors from Dinara for game point. Later, Kuznetsova secured the game for 3-2. With Safina’s inconsistency on first serve, this proved the turning point in the match. As a result of a double fault, a backhand crosscourt long and a forehand error, Safina stared at double break point. When Dinara overhit a forehand up the line, Svetlana obtained a 4-2 edge. Despite both players’ reputation for mental fragility, Safina had improved significantly in that area in the past year. Yet, after losing serve, Safina turned to her coach asking: “why am I such a chicken?” After consolidating the break, Kuznetsova’s prayer of not having to serve out the match was answered. With a couple of huge forehands, Kuznetsova got to 30 all. Then, when Safina made another backhand mistake, Svetlava had match point. Safina capped a horrible afternoon with a double fault to give Kuznetsova her first French Open title.

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A Resume of Week One At Roland Garros

May 30, 2009

img_9890-version-2The initial week of the French Open has been filled with thrilling victories as well as agonizing losses. Here is a targeted recap of what’s gone on so far and a preview of week two.

The women and men’s number one seed breezed through their matches. Surrendering only four games in three matches, Dinara Safina faces Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai in the round of 16. Despite a partisan crowd, Safina should have no problems. After a slow start in her opening match, defending champion Ana Ivanovic, also in Safina’s section of the draw, has gotten better with each round. Reigning Sony Ericsson Open champion, Victoria Azarenka is up next for Ivanovic. Undoubtedly, this will be Ana’s biggest challenge to date. Rafael Nadal continues to make mince meat of his opponents. Lleyton Hewitt, a former world number one, won only five games in their third round meeting. Nadal takes on Swede Robin Soderling in the round of 16. Although Soderling beat clay court expert David Ferrer in the prior round, it’s hard to contemplate his having any success against Nadal. Another Spaniard making waves in France is Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco has prevailed in three in all his matches and will play Russian Nikolay Davydenko. The victor of that match will have the unenviable task of trying to go through Nadal to get to the semifinals.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the number two seeds, have had a tougher time, yet advanced to week two. Federer’s next obstacle will be German Tommy Haas and Serena’s Canadian Alesksandra Wozniak. Andy Roddick, the only American male standing, has made it past the third round for the first time. Roddick has dismissed his rivals in impressive fashion. However, Frenchman Gael Monfils, a semifinalist last year, will be Roddick’s upcoming puzzle. Should Roddick jump through that hurdle, he could meet Federer in the quarterfinals. Brit Andy Murray is another one who hasn’t sailed through. Although Croatian Marin Cilic may be a test for the Brit, with Gilles Simon out, Murray’s place in the semifinals is almost a certainty where he is likely to battle Nadal.

Saturday saw the departure of the number four seeds as Novak Djokovic fell to German Philip Kohlschreiber while Australian Samantha Stosur stopped Elena Dementieva. Along with Kohlschreiber, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro make their debut into the round of 16. The latter two will play each other for a quarterfinal spot. With Djokovic out, for these three men as well as Spaniard Tommy Roberdo, it’s a great opportunity to reach the semifinal where Roddick or Federer may be waiting.

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Clay : You Have To Love It For It To Love You Back

May 23, 2009

img_9979-version-2For as long as I live, when I think of the red clay at Roland Garros, the picture that will always come to mind is that of Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten tracing the contours of a heart on the ground after his grueling five sets win over Swede Magnus Norman in the 2000 French Open final.

Bar none, clay is the most demanding surface to play on. The points can be endless.  A men’s three set match can last longer than three hours. Thus, that type of court can exact a significant mental and physical price. Ironically though, clay is much gentler on the body than a hard court where joints can be prone to injury. Despite the clay presenting some significant health benefits, the list of players who excel on that specific turf is far shorter than that of those who perform well on hard court. Therefore, the question must be posed as to the source of this disconnection.

One explanation may be the competitors’ lack of familiarity with the surface. The majority of Americans and non- Iberian Europeans nowadays grow up playing on concrete. Red clay practice courts and tournaments have become a rarity in the U.S. Currently, the ladies have a choice of either Charleston or Jacksonville; many have characterized both as “simulated clay”. Players have described the green surface as a hard court dusted with clay which makes their movement feel awkward. For the men, their only option is the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston. Although it is more suitable than what’s available to the women, in many respects it falls short of the necessary requisite to offer a full fledge European red clay experience.

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