Vandeweghe would love to become No.1, but very long way to go

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WIMBLEDON – CoCo Vandeweghe is still very young, only 23 year old, but she has learned a lot over the past two years. In the second round at Wimbledon, she upset the world No. 11 Karolina Pliskova 7-6(5) 6-4.

On an excellent game for the Americans on Wednesday, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Bethany Matter-Sands, John Isner and Denis Kudla all came through.

Mattel-Sands, who upended the No. 7 Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, said that the women are stronger and stronger.

“It’s great.  I think we had 16 players in the main draw this year, maybe more, including some doubles players,” Mattel-Sands said. “But, no, a few years ago, I was being asked, What happened to USA tennis, and I said, Well, it comes and goes.  I think there were a lot of younger players that coming that showed promise.  Sure enough, I think we have a really strong contingent of American players and it’s really good to see.”

The San Diego resident Vandeweghe wasn’t afraid at all against Pliskova. She went out on court, hit huge serves and was very effective. Some people thought the Czech might out hit her, but the American knew exactly where she was going. Vandeweghe dictated her terms.

“I wasn’t nervous about playing her. I had more confidence that I was the better player,” Vandeweghe said.

“Not just because of that. I think I have more weapons than her, personally. She’s definitely the higher ranked player, she’s had the results through the year, consistently but I thought off the ground I could rally her, which I did. In the return of serve games if I got a beat on her serve I would be able to break her, which I eventually did. And I thought I could serve better than her, which I did. I really think going there that I was the better player and I should win that match.”

Vandeweghe has a tremendous amount of confidence. She can go up and down at times, but she loves the grass and last year she won a tournament at the Netherlands, grabbing seven wins and the title. A few weeks ago, she went back to the Netherlands, reaching the quarterfinals. She has been ranked inside the top 40 most of this year and she wants to move forward.

This is the first time on the Slams that she has reached the third round. Vandeweghe is ambitious and she believes that some day she could grab No. 1.

“I’ve always thought to be No.1” she said. “It’s kind of similar of going into a match and thinking for me, I’m not going to win. It’s like winning a Grand Slam, winning a gold medal, those are lifelong dreams of mine. So to put it to the way side for whatever reason, I think is silly.”

Vandeweghe admitted that when she first started on the tour, she wasn’t strategic. She was still learning to play, trying to figure it out which way she should play. In 2006, she was given a wild card at a tournament in San Diego. She had a blast, but as she admitted, she could be wild.

Now, she is much smarter.

“Maturity is probably a big thing for me,” she said. “I’ve also improved a lot in the fitness department. I’ve focused a lot on that. I’ve found my game style. I have a lot of variety, a lot of different things I can do on the court. So it was kind of reigning it all in for me.
I always went and played tennis and just played. It wasn’t like game plans or if I get put in this pickle, this what’s going to happen. I’m going to serve my first serve here and I’m putting my first shot here. That was never a structure in my game till about two years ago. It was just me playing tennis.”

Vandeweghe knows Serena very well – they all do. Vandeweghe and Serena once played against each other in 2012, when Williams bested CoCo in the final. The tall and strong woman played very well then, and she has watched a close eye on the legend.

Vandeweghe respects Serena greatly and Williams leads by her example.

“I’ve faced Serena a couple of different times and it’s when you’re down a break point or you feel that momentum switch at 4-3 in the games, where most momentum changes happen in a match – I think Serena is very high up there. She definitely makes it about Serena in any match that she plays. For me, I think that’s also her own way of doing things and that’s her own killer instinct. Where she’s going to take upon herself to beat you – you’re not going to beat her. So that’s just a different mind frame.”

 

7 US Men on clay: All have tough matches in first round at Roland Garros, Day 1

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In 2006, the last great U.S. player Andre Agassi retired and there were no competitors left who still loved the clay. Agassi won Roland Garros in 1999, and the other fantastic males had grown up together on the hard courts and very quickly, they learned how to play on the clay. Michael Chang won Roland Garros when he was just 17 years old, shocking the world in 1989. Jim Courier pounded his forehand into the corner and he won two straight titles in 1991 and 1992. His best players, the 14 Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras never reached the final on clay in Paris but at least he reached the semifinal in 1996.

But when the American’s Big 4 retired, only Andy Roddick had won a major, winning the 2003 US Open, so it looked like he would change it up and go deep in Roland Garros. But he could not manage to reach a quarterfinal. Two of the top 10, James Blake and Mardy Fish, couldn’t do it either.

This current US males group would love to reach the second week in Paris, but they have to play extremely well from the    outset because everyone they are facing are either ranked in the top 32, nearly ranked or coming soon.

Here at the 7 US men:

No. 16 John Isner vs. Andreas Seppi: Isner is favored but Seppi stunned Roger Federer at the Aussie Open. Dangerous.

Jack Sock vs. No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov: The Bulgarian Dimitrov hasn’t played well at all this year but of he is on, Sock is going to have to be very patient to win it.

 Sam Querrey vs. Borna Coric: Querrey is super aggressive, but so can the 18 year old Croation also be able to bomb away.

Donald Young vs. Santiago Giraldo: The Columbian cracked the top 30 last year and while he has slipped this year, Young will hang in there for hours to best Giraldo.

Steve Johnson vs. No. 27 Guillermo Garcia Lopez: Johnson has improved over the past two years on clay, but if he can upend the Spaniard he will have to play very aggressive.

Tim Smyczek vs. No. 15 Kevin Andersons: The tall South African doesn’t love the clay but he is consistent on every surface, which means that Smyczek has to run him as much as possible.

Frances Tiafoe vs. Martin Klizan: Another teen, Tiafoe, has potential and he looked pretty good on the hard courts, but in order to best the No. 35 Klizan he must return very well to take him down.

The Pick, May 14: Nadal faces Isner in Rome, where both feel confident

 

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Rafa Nadal vs. John Isner, Round of 16, Rome, May 14

Remember way back when in 2011 when Isner was still rising and in the first round against Nadal, they faced off at Roland Garros and nearly stunned him, but the Spaniard overcame the American 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4. Nadal made a deep breath and went on to win the tournament.

Isner lost, but he was pleased overall because he showed the world that on clay, he had potential. Since then, the now 30-year-old Isner has had some good wins on clay, most notable against Roger Federer at Davis Cup, wiping the Swiss. Last year in Paris he upset Tommy Robredo in the third round in four sets before losing to Tomas Berdych.

He hasn’t gone deep at the biggest clay tournaments and he has had a couple brutal losses. In 2012 in the first round at Roland Garros, he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu 18-16 in the fifth set. He was so exhausted that he could barely walk. The next year in 2013 he was right there against Tommy Robredo, but he couldn’t grasp it and lost 10-8 in the fifth. He was disgusted.

But even though he can get down on himself, he will keep trying. This year, he started slow but after kicking himself after losing against Great Britain at the Davis Cup, by March he was moving faster and he was more composed. He looked pretty good at Indian Wells and Miami and with the exception of Houston, he was been fairly consistent on the clay, beating Steve Johnson and Victor Troicki in Monte Carlo before going down to Nadal. In Madrid, he won three matches, including beating the rising Nick Kyrgios before losing to Tomas Berdych.

Here in Italy, he has already won two matches, besting Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (6) 6-4 on Wednesday. While Nadal is 5-0 against him, Isner has hung around, such as in Monte Carlo last month, which was fairly close.

But can Isner actually beat him? Yes he has a real shot but he must play as well as he can and somehow, someway, when he is returning, he has to attack the second servers extremely deep or on the lines. He knows that Nadal can dig out everything and if he is on and he is feeling good he will dare his foes, running as fast as he can and retrieve massive shots in the corners. He can be super-steady and chase down anything, That is very difficult for Isner but he can boom aces and easily hold him.

Coming into this week, Isner’s service games won are at 96%, which is fantastic, but on the other side at the return games won, it’s 9%. Ouch.

As long as the points go on and on and Nadal will be quiet pleased. Nadal can torch Isner’s backhands and pulls him way out wide. The American has a gigantic forehand and is confident enough to dance to his left wide and dictate with his forehand. However, if he isn’t nailing it and Nadal is in control, he will change up his shots and frustrate him.

Nadal did not look great at all in losing in the final of Madrid against Andy Murray. However, he says that last week, overall he played better and he has been more mentally confident at anytime this season. If that’s the case, then he is ready to charge at the final at Rome again. Isner will bring Nadal deep into the third set, but in the end, the Spaniard will come through and grab it in the final tiebreak.

Notes on a Draw Sheet: Murray smokes Nadal to win Madrid; Kvitova won, on to Rome. Djokovic favored, but is Serena?

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MAY 10 – Props to Andy Murray, who won his first gigantic tournament on clay by beating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2 at Madrid. For the first time against the Spaniard on dirt, he never panicked, he wasn’t afraid, he was very impressive and he actually believed that he could out hit with his phenomenal backhand. Years ago, he stayed way back behind the baseline and frequently push the ball with his forehand, but not anymore. Now he believes that he can crack his forehand when moving forward and he would dictate as fast as he can.

Roger Federer was not going to participate in Rome, but then he lost early against Nick Kyrgios at Madrid and he changed his mind. He played fairly well in winning Istanbul, but he played against the lower-ranked guys. If he is going to go very deep at Roland Garros, he has to beat the better competitors and if he manages to face the other Big 4 (Djokovic, Nadal and Murray) he must be very close. If he does he will become more confident. Kyrgios could play against his fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic. They are super close and respectful of each other but Tomic doesn’t want the younger kids beating him yet – or ever. However, Nick has to play Feliciano Lopez in the opening round … first things first.

The No. 1 Novak Djokovic decided not to play in Madrid because he was exhausted. So now he will be super fresh. Obviously he is the favorite on clay because Nadal is panicking. Could the Serbian lose? I doubt it, but he will face the former No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, who is very fast and can run around for a long time. Maybe he will go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters which could be a terrific match if the Japanese keeps forward, and should he face Murray in the semis, well, we know that the Brit is on fire now. He hasn’t beat him in a long time, though.

John Isner has improved since March and now he has a solid draw, playing Joao Sousa in the first round. If he wins there he would face Leonardo Mayer. Rome is slower than Madrid. Isner will have to work very hard, but assuming he scores both wins then it is very likely that he will face Nadal. He has been close of beating him before and given that Rafa is shaky mentally, Isner would have a legitimate. Currently ranked No. 33, the young American Jack Sock could be seeded at Roland Garros. He will have a very tough task against Gilles Simon who, when he is happy and feeling right, can be excellent. You never know when Simon shows up. Oh my, Alexandr Dolgopolov has fallen to No. 73, but good for him for qualifying. We would assume that the former No. 13 is now back on track.

THE WOMEN

Petra Kvitova crushed Svetlana Kuznetsova to win Madrid. She looks faster; she was under control and torching both wings. If she plays as well she did in smoking Serena Williams and Kuznetsova, then she will be a huge threat to win Roland Garros for the first time. But as good as she can be, she rarely has been able to be excellent over a month or so. She can get tired and she can get upset with herself. At Rome, even if she loses, she has to move on. She beat Serena for the first time ever, which was huge because now she finally believes she can beat the best players. If she is feeling good mentally and she is healthy, perhaps the two-time Wimbledon champion can show the world that she has learned how exactly to play the right way at the French Open.

I wouldn’t be concerned about Serena finally losing. It’s impossible to win every time out and on clay over the years. Now the 33-year-old has taken some great wins and some bad losses. She is the favorite at Italy and at Roland Garros, but it won’t be easy. At Rome, she might have to face the former US Open champ Sam Stosur in the second round, which could be a marathon. Check out the potential fourth round: Ana Ivanovic, Belinda Bencic, Daria Gavrilova, Kateryna Pliskova or (gulp) Sloane Stephens. Brutal and extremely tough, who ever it is.

Maria Sharapova played pretty well in Madrid until playing Svetlana Kuznetsova and then she stopped. Now she needs to step it up in Rome. She could play Caroline Garcia in the third round (a match that was very close in Madrid) or against Madison Keys, who is dangerous but who didn’t play well in Spain…Here is the biggest match in the second round: Caroline Wozniacki could face Victoria Azarenka, who has beaten the Dane twice this year. The Belarussian is the favorite so it is up to Wozniacki to figure it out and go for her. She can’t back off all the time if she is going to have a real chance…Here is a shocker: Wozniacki hooks up with the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario as her coach a few weeks ago, the Spaniard looked pretty good at Madrid and all of sudden Sanchez=Vicario bails out as she says that she cannot be able to travel toRome and Paris. Where did that come from? Why would the three-time RG champion have agreed to help Caro and then wave good buy already? There is something very fishy. Such is Sanchez-Vicario’s strange life.

The Pick: Kei Nishikori vs. John Isner. Can Isner take down the rising No 5 Kei

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MIAMI, APRIL 2

Maybe John Isner has come to life again. On Tuesday, he was almost gone against Milos Raonic in the second set in the tiebreak and even though he was mad, he maintained composed and grabbed it. In the final tiebreak in the third set, he didn’t shake his head or be depressed and kept on chugging, playing more forceful on the baseline.

Running and racing on the ground, Kei Nishikori is much faster than Isner is, so the American has to keep the points quickly. Nishikori isn’t as good as the Big 4 when it comes to the returns, he has improved a large amount in the last year and a half, so Isner has to fool him with his first and second serves.

Clearly, Isner has one of the biggest serves out there and it is very hard to break him, but the Japan can poke the balls back and get ready to rally. He will yank the balls side to side that the 6-foot-10 will be gasping for air.

Nishikori can smoke his forehand and backhand, he has developed a larger first serve that he can move it around, and he can also rush to the net and put away some hard passing shots.

Isner can blast his forehand and here and there, he can hit the lines off his backhand. He only does it occasionally, but on some nights he takes a risk.

Yes, Isner can put away his volleys but he has to be on the net because if he has to bend low he is usually in trouble.

Since last year and most of this year, Nishikori was much more courageous and believes that he could topple the Big 4, as well as the rest of the top 10. He has not yet to win a Slam, but he came close to reach the 2014 US Open final, even though he was tired and looked a little scared in front of the bright lights.

But on Miami, he spent years of training and he knows exactly how to play. Isner will serve and make the match close, but in the end, Kei will break early in the third set and hold on.

 

Who is up, who is down? Murray & Tomic happy, but not Italy

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Bernard Tomic carries Australia over the Czech Republic.

 

BIG WINS, MARCH 8, 2015

ANDY MURRAY

The Scotsman was thrilled to be at home taking down Donald Young and John Isner and led Great Britain over the USA in the Davis Cup. Essentially, he sounds like one of the coaches, and he loves putting together his X’s and O’s. Without question, some day he will retire and he will be the captain. But can the GB actually win the title one day? Hmmm.

BERNARD TOMIC

The Aussie won two matches over the Czech and they have advanced to meet Kazakhstan. For the past couple of years, Tomic disappeared for months on end. This year, he is really trying every week. If he doesn’t get hurt, he will reach the top 10 after Wimbledon, or darn close.

VASEK POSPISIL

Yes, the Canadian Pospisil lost to Kei Nishikori on the first day against Japan, but he and Nestor won the doubles in five sets and at 2-2 on Sunday, he came through, winning in three sets to grab the title. He has had a tough year, but now maybe he can turn it around.

FRANCE

Who do you like, the captain Arnaud Clement, or Giles Simons, Gael Monfils, Julian Benneteau or Nicolas Mahut? They all won over Germany and they all looked were strategic and thoughtful. They appear to like each other off the court, as well as Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, who are hurt. They are a true team and should be able to win it all this year – if they maintain their focus in each round.

SERBIA

Novak Djokovic says that his team can win the title again and perhaps they will, IF the world No. 1 is healthy this season. He actually won the singles and doubles this week, when they romped over Croatia. If Novak plays the dubs again and is willing to play three matches in three days, he could eventually meet Andy Murray in the Davis Cup. That would be a treat.

KAZAKHSTAN

Credit must go to Mikhail Kukushkin by winning two matches at home against Italians Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi. And then totally out of nowhere on the decider at 2-2, the No. 130 Aleksandr Nedovyesov over Fabio Fognini 7-5 in the fifth set to grab it 3-2. Few knew who he was, now Nedovyesov  is here to stay.

SWITZERLAND

Yes, the Swiss lost to Belgium 3-2,, with David Goffin winning the deciding match. But the Swiss No. 130 Henri Laaksonen won two singles matches. Had either Stan Wawrinka or Roger Federer played, they likely would have won the Davis Cup. Props must be given to the captain, Severin Luthi.

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI

Even though she did not play any of the top 20 players, Caro really needed a title and she got it, beating Alexandra Dulgheru in Malaysian for the crown. Wozniacki now has 23 WTA titles, which is fine, but she hasn’t won a Premier Event since 2012. Indian Wells is waiting for you.

BIG LOSSES

JOHN ISNER

The American lost both matches against the Great Britain, falling to James Ward and Andy Murray.  After taking the first two sets over Ward, he lost six straight in the two matches. Isner is very upset, saying that he threw it all away. Obviously, he has had a difficult season this year. Can he turn it around soon? Perhaps, but he absolutely has to change his returns.

ITALY

The Italians looked very good with Simone Bolelli, Fognini and Seppi at the Davis Cup. They all looked very flashy during the first two months entering against Kazakhstan, but on Sunday, Seppi and Fognini imploded and fell 3-2. Back to there drawing board.

ANA IVANOVIC

Without question, Carolina Garcia is rising and she bouced the defending champion Ana Ivanovic. InMonterrey, Ana was there for the taking. The world No. 6 Ivanovic wants to win a Slam again, but first of all, she has to be much more consistent.

CROATIA

The young Borna Coric played fairly well in losing to Viktor Troicki,, but Djokovic crushed the other two who aren’t ready for prime time. Croatia’s top man, Marin Cilic, has to come back very soon. And why isn’t Ivo Karlovic playing at all? The Davis Cup sure could use them.

Pick me, March 8: On Davis Cup, does Isner a chance vs Murray; will Raonic defeat Nishikori

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France and Serbia played excellent ball, already winning the ties 3-0 with the German’s couldn’t handle Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils Julien Benneteau/Nicolas Mahut, and Croatia needs a much stronger team with Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic, which nailing it down on Saturday. The rest of six vs. six teams will go on each other on Sunday at the Davis Cup. Who will win overall? It will be fairly close, but coming back 1-2 if very difficult.

GREAT BRITAIN leads USA 2-1

The US’s Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan over came Dominic Inglot/Jamie Murray 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-7(8) 9-7. Now the captain Jim Courier will tell John Isner exactly what he will do against Andy Murray. However, Isner admits that he is shaky this year and Andy will stay way back in the court so he could yank the tall man back and forth until he can’t run the balls down. The GB will win in four sets and move on to face France in the quarters.

AUSTRALIA leads CZECH REPUBLIC 2-1

The Aussie looked in great shape up 2-0, but then out of nowhere, the Czechs lifted their chins up and upset the foes when Adam Pavlasek/Jiri Vesely beat Samuel Groth/Lleyton Hewitt 1-6 7-6(2) 3-6 7-6(4) 6-2/

Can the Czech Lukas Rosol put down Bernard Tomic on Sunday morning? Perhaps, but Tomic wants to show the world that he is most important these days, not the teenagers-yet. However, if Tomic falls – which is down full– the young Aussie Thanasi might be a little tired, but he will out stroke Jiri Vesely to win it in five sets.

ITALY leads KAZAKHSTAN 2-1

Mikhail Kukushkin played very well at home to beat Simone Bolelli in the first match, but Bolelli and Fabio Fognini won the dubs. Kukushkin will wants to take down Andreas Seppi, but Seppi has been much better this year and he will win it by smoking his forehands by kissing the lines.

BRAZIL leads ARGENTINA 2-1

Argentina is playing home and is down 2-1? Really? Joao Souza overcame Carlos Berlocq and then the excellent doubles team, Marcelo Melo/Bruno Soares, wasted Berlocq/Diego Sebastian Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 6-4. So let’s assume that Leonardo Mayer, who won on Friday, will beat Souza, but it seems like Argentina is anxious and this time Thomaz Bellucci won’t become extremely nervous (which he has all the time). Brazil will grab the 3-2 when Berlocq loses three matches in a row. Ouch.

CANADA leads JAPAN 2-1

The Canada’s Daniel Nestor/Vasek Pospisil edged Go Soeda/Yasutaka Uchiyama 7-5 2-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 but it is wide open with all the players. Milos Raonic is playing Kei Nishikori a ‘pick-em’ and they know each other very well. Yes, the Japanese Nishikori has been slightly better in the past year, but Vancouver is very fast and Milos is more confident at home. It will go five sets, but Raonic will serve huge when it matters the most and win it 3-1.

BELGIUM leads SWITZERLAND 2-1

Everyone in Belgium was stunned that the Swiss Henri Laaksonen beat Ruben Bemelmans in five sets, but then Steve Darcis was extremely concentrated and Bemelmans/Niels Desein won the doubles pretty convincing. One would think that Darcis will grab the tie 3-1 when he mixes up his pace and beats Laaksonen in three sets.

Davis Cup Picks: Can Young stun Murray, will Kohlschreiber take Monfils?

 

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World Group First Rounds

GERMANY vs. FRANCE

Frankfurt, Germay

The new captain Michael Kohlmann chose Jan-Lennard Struff against the French Gilles Simon, Struff is playing better, but the veteran Simon is much more confident and will win in four sets. Philipp Kohlschreiber is a little bit sick, but the German will go out of the gates and knock out the tired Gael Monfils in five long sets.

GREAT BRITAIN vs. USA

Glasgow, England

Yes, the two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray will win at home, but the American Donald Young will play very aggressive and push him deep in four sets. Young won’t win, but he will threaten him big time.

The British James Ward stunned the USA last year when he took out Sam Querrey in California. This time, Ward has to go up against John Isner who has played extremely well at the Davis Cup and will nail his first serves, winning in straight sets.

CZECH REPUBLIC vs. AUSTRALIA

Ostrava, Czech

Tomas Berdych isn’t playing, but the Czech Lukas Rosol is much more consistent now and is about to reach the top-30. The 18-year-old Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis is talented, but there is tremendous pressure playing on the road and Rosol will kiss the lines to win in three sets.

However, the other Czech, Jiri Vesely, is vulnerable. The Aussie Bernard Tomic wants to be the man this weekend and will mix and match, winning in four sets.

KAZAKHSTAN vs. ITALY

Astana, Kazakhstan

The Italians have had a pretty good season, so the Kazakhstans could be in trouble early. However, Mikhail Kukushkin can find opportunities if he is smoking the ball. He will fire away for two sets, but the Italian Simone Bolelli will out stroke him and win in five sets.

Andrey Golubev must be thinking that Andreas Seppi played the best match of his career when he stunned Roger Federer at the Aussie Open. The Italian Seppi did on that day, but Golubev will play a fantastic match at home and beat Seppi in three sets.

ARGENTINA vs. BRAZIL

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Everyone here loves clay. It’s really about who is more consistent and who can run forever. Both the Argentines will win when Carlos Berlocq beats the Brazilian Joao Souza in straight sets, and Leonardo Mayer will out punch the other Brazilian, Thomaz Bellucci, in four sets.

SERBIA vs. CROATIA

Kraljevo, Serbia

Obviously, the No. 1 Novak Djokovic will crush the unknown Mate Delic of Croatia in three sets. But the other Serbian, Viktor Troicki, can become nervous. It will take him a long time, but Troicki will survive against the talented teenager Borna Coric in five grueling sets.

CANADA vs. JAPAN

Vancouver, Canada

The Canadian Milos Raonic loves playing at home and will destroy Tatsuma Ito of Japan in three sets. But the same goes for Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who loves to show off at Davis Cup, and he will be super aggressive and run past Vasek Pospisil in four sets.

BELGIUM vs. SWITZERLAND

Liege, Belgium

Look, none of the players are excellent competitors. However, the Belgium players are respectable. Without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka playing, the Swiss are nowhere. Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans will wipe Henri Laaksonen in three sets and Steve Darcis will waste over the Swiss Michael Lammer in a quick three sets.

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.