The ATP Race to London continues in Asia

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Wawrinka is chasing his first birth in the final eight.

1. Rafael Nadal: The Spaniard is way, way ahead in the point’s race, nearly 3000 points in front so unless disaster strikes the number one ranking is his for the taking. Nadal did not play at all last fall and current No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic is defending 2,610 points with 2012 titles in Shanghai and the Barclay’s ATP World Finals.

Essentially, Nadal’s goals during this stretch where he will play Beijing, Shanghai, Paris/Bercy and London would be not to beat up his knees and make sure that he comes into World Tour finals well rested because his failure to win it is perhaps the only black mark  on his rapidly expanding resume.

2. Novak Djokovic:  By his 2011 standards, this has not been a great season for Djokovic. He has been very good for the most part, but outside of his Aussie Open title run, he has rarely been great. There is no question that he is lacking confidence against the other super elite players in big matches, as his play in the Wimbledon and US Open finals – especially in the fourth set in New York– attest to.

The Serbian is constantly trying to improve and he is venturing to net more, so since his No. 1 ranking will almost surely go to Nadal, his intention should be to try and smooth out the rough edges of his game and rediscover his self belief against the big boys, so when he gets to London, he can put up a ferocious title defense and go into 2014 feeling much better about his prospects.

3. Andy Murray: Most on the British press who follow Murray closely don’t believe he will be able to play the ATP World Finals due to his back surgery, so after his post Wimbledon swoon (which may have been partly due to his back pain) he needs to rest up, rehab and get ready for an assault on the No. 1 ranking in 2014

4. David Ferrer: The Spaniard did such a fine job in reaching his first Roland Garros final, but after Nadal terrorized him his level dropped: he took a straight set loss to Del Potro at Wimbledon, two shocking losses to Alex Bolgomolov and Dmitry Tursunov in Canada and Cincy, and then let go of a two sets to love lead against Richard Gasquet at the US Open. He’s 31 now and has played a relentless schedule since he turned pro in 2000. His days of consistently going deep at big tournament may be behind him. However, he’s pretty much locked up place in London as assuming Murray pulls out, he’s more than 2100 points over the Gasquet, who is in ninth place.

5. Thomas Berdych:  It’s been a respectable but not standout year for the Czech, who hasn’t reached a final since February. Stan Wawrinka spanked him at the US Open and while Berdych’s game  will always  feature substantial doses of power, he isn’t as clear headed and motivated as he was during the last couple of years. A big fall push would sure help to get him back on track. He’s only 865 points ahead of Jo Tsonga, who is one out of London right now. The only way he can pick up substantial points this week at the ATP 250 in Bangkok is to actually win the title.

6. Juan Martin Del Potro: The towering Argentine’s left wrist is feeling better and he has taken a wild card into Tokyo. He’s an excellent player, but he’s been struggling with wrist injuries in both arms since late 2009 and it’s conceivable that he will never be all the way back, or be able to progress much due to his ailments. Frankly, he cannot win a major is all he can do is slice one handed backhands. He’s in decent shape in the point’s race as long as he doesn’t implode. A couple quarters and semifinals should get him back to London.

7. Roger Federer: Despite having his worst season since 2002 – which was just before he came into his own as a great player – Federer still stands at seventh in the points race and although he is in a slump, he’s an excellent indoor player and it would be stunning if he didn’t reach London. Sure, his confidence is down and he’s likely fiddling with a new racquet again, but at the very least knowing that he have a chance to ply his trade again in still air again should give him reason to hope. In fact, since 2001 there has only been one year, 2009,  when he hasn’t won an indoor title. While he many not grab one this year, it’s hard to see Federer not reaching at least one final.

8. Stan Wawrinka: In many ways this has been the No. 2 Swiss best season and he may soon be the top Swiss if he progresses further in Malaysia and puts up strong results in Beijing and Shanghai. The US Open semifinalist is not only swinging from the hips but playing smarter and more confidently. With his colorful game he would be an excellent addition to  the field in London.

9. Richard Gasquet: The Frenchman is having a very consistent year and a very good one as of late with his US Open semifinalist appearance. He has reached the semis  of Bangkok this week but only a title would add a decent amount of points to his total. If he keeps his nose to the grindstone, he’s a good bet to reach the ATP Finals.

10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: The Frenchman had a good comeback week in Metz, reaching the final, but is his knee really healthy enough to withstand the six week grind and make a run at London.? Possible, but doubtful

11. Milos Raonic:  We all realize how much upside the Canadian has and it now it looks like his new coach Ivan Ljubicic  has found a way to steady him mentally so he can perform better at major events and more consistently. Since August he’s reached the final of Montreal, the fourth round of the US Open and now is in the semis of Bangkok. But as of Friday he was 540 points behind Gasquet, which means that he’ll have to put up strong results in Tokyo and Shanghai and likely Bercy to be able to make a huge push at London.

12. Tommy Haas: It’s been an impressive season for the 35 year old German, but even though he still has elite ability in two out of three set tournaments and can play on any surface, does he really want to put himself through the meat grinder to qualify for the years end championships again? Questionable

13. John Isner: The only American in contention was 710 points behind Gasquet as of Friday, which make it near mandatory for him to do deep in Beijing, Shanghai and Bercy. For whatever reason he has never performed well on tour during the fall, going 2-3 in that part of the season last year. He’s capable of confidently dictating and making a charge, but he’s going to have to want it very badly.

Isner Stands ‘Tallest’ in Atlanta

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John Isner finally wins his third Atlanta final. Photo: Tom Grason/BB&T Atlanta Open

The “Tallest Finals Match in ATP World History” turned out to be one of the best finals so far in 2013 as John Isner and Kevin Anderson went the distance, playing three tiebreaks with Isner eeking out a  6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) win in the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open.

John Isner, at 6’10″, and Kevin Anderson, at 6’8″, combined for the tallest final in ATP World Tour history. They trace their rivalry back to their college days at the University of Georgia and the University of Illinois.  What began as an indoor college match in the fall of 2005 between the Bulldogs and Cavaliers now has blossomed into a fun rivalry on the ATP World Tour. Both players were looking for their first BB&T Atlanta Open title; Isner was a two-time finalist.

“Fun” is a good way to describe what took place on Sunday when these two met in the finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open, an ATP World Tour 250 at Atlantic Station.

Is was no surprise when the first set ended up in a tiebreak with no service breaks and only two break points opportunities (for Anderson). The difference was in the tiebreak — when Isner’s forehand seemed to leave the stadium — Anderson capitalized, and closed out the breaker 7-3.

More of the same in the second set, as there were only three break point chances, two for Anderson and one for Isner. Both players served up nine aces in set two and had a first serve percentage of 63 percent. Even stats like those usually mean another tiebreak and that is just what Atlanta tennis fans got. This time it was the was Isner who put pressure on his opponent to force two straight Anderson errors at 2-2 in the breaker. With a partisan Atlanta crowd and numerous University of Georgia alumni in attendance, Isner caught a second wind to close out the tiebreaker 7-2.

“I knew not much was going to separate us,” said Isner. “In the first set I was a little sluggish, I was missing a lot of forehands and my footwork was pretty bad, but I knew I had a second gear in me.”

Anderson began the deciding tiebreak with an unforced error to fall behind 0-1. Isner then took his two service points before Anderson got on the board. Training 1-3, Anderson committed yet another unforced error while Isner turned up the volume on his serve and getting another backhand unforced error gift from Isner to take the breaker 7-2 and delighting his Atlanta fans.

In total, Isner saved 11 break points and that was the key to the match.

“I never wavered, I believed at love- 40 or whatever, it was that I could hold on,” explained Isner.

Anderson said he didn’t lose focus when he failed to convert on numerous break point opportunities.

“I thought I did well taking care of my own service games,” admitted Anderson. “I had only one break point (against me) in the three sets and gave myself opportunities, but wasn’t able to capitalize.  He just played two better tiebreaks than me.”

With the win, Isner pockets $98,700, 250 ATP World Tour ranking points and 70 Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series points to take the lead in the US Open lead up competition.

In the doubles final, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Igor Sijsling defeated Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray 7-6(6), 6-3.

Fun Match Facts

The 2:54 match turns out to be the longest best-of-three sets final on the ATP World Tour in 2013.

This was the first ATP World Tour final with three tie-breaks and no breaks of serve since the 2012 Chennai final between Milos Raonic and Janko Tipsarevic.

Of Isner’s seven career ATP World Tour titles, three have come after saving a match point.

Isner is 8-0 in decisive set tiebreak matches in 2012-13.

Isner’s seven career ATP World Tour singles titles equals the number held by his occasional doubles partner and good friend Sam Querrey. He also passes Mardy Fish who owns six titles.

A ‘Giant’ of a Final in Atlanta

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Kevin Anderson looks to keep John Isner from getting an Atlanta title. Photo: Tom Grason/BB&T Atlanta Open

History will be made in Atlanta on Sunday as the tallest ATP Tour final in history will take place when 6’9″ John Isner meets a familiar foe in 6’8″ Kevin Anderson.

Expect big serves, huge forehands and maybe a tiebreaker or two by these two players who first met in the fall of 2005 as college players at the University of Georgia (Isner) and the University of Illinois (Anderson).

In Saturday’s first semifinal, two players that know each well, and played each other in a semifinal match just two weeks ago at Newport, in tournament top seed John Isner and Lleyton Hewitt took to the court under overcast skies in Atlanta at the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open.

Hewitt led the career head-to-head with Isner 4-1 coming into the match, with that including a win in that Newport encounter. Isner is a two-time finalist at the BB&T Atlanta and always appears confident and enjoys tremendous support when he plays in Atlanta.

The previous two meetings between these two both went three sets and this one was no exception as Isner squeaked out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) win and a trip to Sunday’s final.

There was nary a service break to be found until the 10th and final game of the opening set when Isner played perhaps his best service game of the entire tournament to break and secure the set. Isner tallied 10 aces in the first set, served 68% and didn’t face a break point.

The second set looked like more of the same until Hewitt amped up his weaponry and put more returns in play forcing the American to make three straight unforced errors in the fifth game. Isner then broke back to 3-3 before he played more loose points and fell down the break that would ultimately decide the set.

The third set was all about living dangerously as Hewitt faced a break point early on and then Isner fell behind love-40 in the seventh game of the set and faced another break point in the ninth game- saving them all.

As with many Isner matches, this came down to a tiebreaker and with Isner carrying a 23-6 record in tiebreakers into this decider, Isner said he was feeling confident.

“I would prefer not to be (in tiebreakers) like I was in the first set,” admitted Isner. “When the situation comes down to it, I’m not going to shy away from it.”

Isner was also happy with the way he hit his forehand.

“I thought I played very well. I would go for my shots more and my forehand was there today.”

Hewitt, who has not played in an ATP World Tour since Las Vegas in 2007, will now move into the top-60 in the ATP World Tour rankings on Monday morning.

Isner will be seeking his seventh ATP title on Sunday.

An intriguing semifinal between Ryan Harrison and Kevin Anderson was on next. Harrison was looking to continue what has been a great week for the Harrison family in Atlanta and Anderson was looking not only for a title, but a move into the top-20 of the ATP World Tour rankings.

Anderson has been one of the most consistent players on tour this year and that showed in the first set as he waited patiently for his opportunity to break in the eighth game and then closed out the set with his fifth ace of the match.

A well played second set included zero service breaks, so that meant a tiebreaker.  Anderson took control at 3-2 in the breaker with a passing shot and an overhead smash that gave him mini breaks and then the match 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Isner leads the head-to-head with Anderson 5-3, and has taken the last two meetings, but every match but one has featured at least one tiebreaker and last year in Shanghai they played three breakers.  Anderson said that will be in the back of his mind, but he’s mainly focused on what he needs to do.

“I think for tomorrow, it’s important for me to take care of my service games and be patient,” offered up Anderson.

Anderson has taken notice that his, and Isner’s careers have paralleled and criss-crossed each others since their college days, and he’s noticed what John has accomplished.

“I feel since we turned pro at the same time and had been ranked similarly, the top-10 is a place where I can be,” said Anderson.

In doubles semifinal action, the pair of Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Igor Sijsling defeated the Israeli team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 3-6, 6-1, 10-7 while the British duo of Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray took down Chris Guccione and Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 7-6 (6).

ESPN2 will cover the men’s singles final live at 3 p.m. Eastern time.

Hewitt resurgence continues in Atlanta

Lleyton Hewitt’s summer rise up the rankings continued on Friday as he rebounded from losing a 17-minute first set to Ivan Dodig of Croatia and advanced to the semifinals of the BB&T Atlanta Open, a ATP World Tour 250 event.

The 1-6, 6-3, 6-0 win, means another showdown with John Isner on Saturday.  The pair met two weeks ago in the Newport semis with Hewitt winning.

Hewitt attributes his run this summer to his body feeling the best it has in a number of years. ”My body is holding up well, it hasn’t been a problem.  Even though it’s hot and humid here, the match was a fairly short three-set match.”

After dropping the first set, the two-time major champion converted on four of five break-point opportunities to win going away.

“At the start of the match, I couldn’t get it into it much,” admitted Hewitt. “But then I just wanted to stay in the games and hold serve. I played a good game at 4-3 to break and then I was able to get some cheap points.”

Another key to the victory for the Australian, Hewitt improved his 43 percent first serve percentage from his previous matches to 57% for the Dodig match.

In the second afternoon semifinal, top seed Isner defeated fellow American James Blake 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) in 1 hour and 27 minutes, setting up a rematch with Hewitt and a match that many in Atlanta wanted to see once the draw came out.

“Coming to this tournament, it’s my fourth year, I always seem to have incredible support,” offered up Isner, the world No. 22.  “I do have some roots in this vicinity with going to school so close here, and given how many Bulldog alumni live in Atlanta.

The first set featured both players holding serve throughout and not one break point.  Nobody on the ATP World Tour has played more tiebreaks than Isner and he showed why his is so comfortable in breakers by being dominant on serve and then taking chances on the serve return. When he connects on serve returns in a tiebreak –where every point matters — Isner is just about unbeatable.

Blake jumped out to a quick break in the second set and looked in command until he played a sloppy service game at 4-2. As with any Isner match, it always comes down to a crucial point or two, and a tiebreak.

“His serve doesn’t give you any rhythm,” said Blake. “It comes down to a couple points every time I play him, and I didn’t play those well.”

Isner/Hewitt match-up

Isner with a 1-4 career mark against Hewitt said he’s looking forward to playing Hewitt, but he needs to serve well.

“His return of serve is incredible,” said Isner after the match. “He gets his racquet on the ball and he competes.”

Although his younger brother, Christian, has received most of the attention this week, Ryan Harrison was looking to garner some of his own as he took on Santiago Giraldo of Colombia in the first quarterfinal of the evening session.

Playing inspired tennis, Harrison scored the only break of the opening set and with that break in hand, the American leaned on his serve to close out a 6-3 first set.

The Colombian raised his level of play to start the second and Harrison threw in a sloppy service game early in the set to fall behind.  Harrison wouldn’t see a breakpoint in set two and one ball felt the wrath of the Louisiana native and landed out on the I75/I85 downtown connector in Atlanta, while Giraldo closed out the set 6-3.

Giraldo again jumped out on top in the deciding set, and Harrison squandered break points in games three and five.  A tiring Giraldo ended up giving back the break mid-set and with no further breaks, Harrison was dominant in the tiebreak, taking it 7-2, and the match 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2).

All in all, Harrison was pleased with the effort and is happy to be making another final four appearance in Atlanta.

“I played well, other than that service game at 3-4 when I missed a couple balls, I guess I got broken,” explained Harrison. “The only dip I had, those three or four games and them when I broke in the third set. Other than that, I feel great.”

Next up for Harrison, a matchup with tournament No. 2 seed Kevin Anderson.  Anderson won a tight three-setter against Denis Istomin on Saturday night 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Even though Harrsion gives away six years, eight inches, and over 100 ranking spots to the South African, they both turned pro in 2007, and are both playing some of their best tennis of the year in Atlanta.

Amazingly enough, these two have never met in an ATP, Challenger, Futures or qualifying tournament.

The 4 p.m. match on Saturday featuring Hewitt and Isner will air on ESPN2 and the Anderson vs. Harrison semi will run at 8 p.m. on Tennis Channel.

Haas tips Isner in 5 set classic

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John Isner already cemented his reputation for being marathon man due to his record setting 70–68 in the fifth set defeat of Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon, but he added to it Roland Garros when he fell in an epic  7-5, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(10), 10-8 contest to 12th seed Tommy Haas in the third round on the Bull Ring.

The 19th seeded American played his heart out, fighting off 12 match points in the fourth set. He  appeared to be on his way to victory up 4-1 in the fifth set, but Haas picked up his spirit and level and managed to break the big-serving Isner back to 4-3. Isner held a match point at 5-4 with Haas serving, but he dumped a backhand into the net in a  hotly contested rally

At that point, the 35-year-old Haas’ appeared to be more fresh– who had played another four-hour match in a victory over Ryan Harrison on Friday – and when Isner wasn’t bombing serves or crushing an occasional forehand that he could reach, it was the German who was controlling most of the points from the baseline. Finally, Haas broke the cramping Isner and then sealed the match when the American erred on a backhand.

Isner said he liked his chances going into the fifth set, but said his body began to fail him. He also gave credit to Haas

“Tommy he stayed the course, and he deserves the win,” he said. “I fought a good fight.  It was the only thing I can ask out of myself is to compete.  Even down two sets to Love, I still was fitting and it helped me.  I got it all the way back to up 4‑1 in the fifth set.  I can’t ask for a better scenario thereafter being down two sets to Love. In hindsight, probably would have been better to lose in straight sets, because I feel terrible right now.  But I’ll recover.”

Maybe so, and he will do it at home. Isner won’t stay in Europe and go right into he grass court season. He likes his mom’s home cooking so it’s likely he’ll head back  to North Carolina.  He’s unsure when his toes will first touch the grass, but he could use at least one warm-up tourney to Wimby as he has never played very well there, despite his 2010 first round heroics. Jack Sock is headed to Nottingham to play a Challenger, as is Ryan Harrison, who played fairly well in his loss to Isner.

 

All Pain, Big Gain

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Nole overcomes a sprained ankle to move Serbia into the semis. MALTphoto

Injured Djokovic Carries Serbia over US

FROM THE US VS. SERBIA DAVIS CUP TIE IN BOISE, IDAHO — Sam Querrey has enough weapons to hurt most players and perhaps in a year or two when he adds more weight to his backhand he will be able to shut down the likes of No. 1 Novak Djokovic down in a three-out-of- five-set match. But he does not have the skill or experience to be able to pull that off yet, not even if the world No. 1 was playing on a sprained ankle and especially not when he was dealing a with a right sore pectoral muscle himself.

Djokovic

Davis Cup: No holds barred

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Isner has a tall task ahead vs. Novak

FROM THE US VS. SERBIA DAVIS CUP TIE IN BOISE, IDAHO – It is very difficult to make a proper prediction as to who will win the US versus Serbia Davis Cup tie, because no singles player comes in on a hot streak and while the Bryan Brothers are clearly the worlds best double steam, Serbia is not without talent in that area, either.

Serbia has been called a slight favorite, but that assumes that Novak Djokovic will Play at his

TENNISREPORTERS INSIDER, MARCH 9: WHAT’S TROUBLING ISNER

 

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Ana is more explosive.

Hewitt upends Big John: Plus: Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Keys & Stephens fall

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – Something is seriously bothering John Isner and it

Don’t let the cart bang you in the knee

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Isner needs a good late winter and early spring.

 

FROM THE SAP OPEN IN SAN JOSE: In some ways John Isner

Bryan Bros.:

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Bob: ‘Emotions were running high’ MAL TAAM PHOTO

 

FROM THE SAP OPEN IN SAN JOSE