Archives for May 2013

US women on fire at Roland Garros

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Roland Garros: Jack puts a Sock in Garcia-Lopez

Jack Sock won his first big Challenger title.

Jack Sock won his first big Challenger title.

Sore Back to the Future

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Venus is fighting her body while trying to stay competitive

PARIS – On Sunday afternoon just outside of Paris’ largest park, Venus Williams and Urszula Radwanska played a cracker of three setter which was eventually won by the 22 year old Pole 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in three hours and 19 minutes. The match was exciting because the tremendous effort put in by both players, not because of the quality of the contest, which did feature some fun exchanges and some admirable winners, but there were a slew of winners from both competitors, neither of whom played anywhere close to her best.

To Aga’s younger’s sister, that doesn’t matter so much because she’s been in a slump and as well as she’s played outside of the Slams over the past year or so, she has not exactly been money at the majors. A gutsy and dramatic win over a seven-time Slam champ might be all she needs to turn her season around and launch herself back into the top 30, provided that if she does play her older sister in the third round she doesn’t get skunked and see her confidence disappear once again.

In my mind, Venus should not have played this tournament, but she is ultra competitive, loves her sport and is missing playing high-level events.  But she injured her back sometime in early April, which forced her to pull out of Madrid and then she looked like a shadow of herself against Laura Robson in Rome. The same could be said for her performance against Radwanska: the same women who dominated the lawns of Wimbledon five times by firing serves into the 120s, didn’t average more than 95-mph against Radwanska. She didn’t have her wicked slice serve going either and often served right down the middle, which was why she was broken time and time again. Yes, she has tools from the baseline and is a very good net player, but at this stage in her career, many of the youngsters hit with the same pace so if she can’t intimidate with her serve and hold a lot , she isn’t going to win any tournament, much less a major.

Venus is getting daily treatment on her lower back injury and is planning  to play doubles with her sister, Serena. But how smart is that considering that the 32-year-old’s only realistic chance of making an impact at a Slam is at Wimbledon.

“ I can’t really serve very hard. It’s painful when I do that,” she said. “But I’m getting better.  I just ran out of time to get better for this tournament.  My strategy was more or less to put the ball in, and that’s very difficult for me, too, because that’s not who I am.  But that’s all I had… I want my serve back.  I’m going to try to get it back for Wimbledon.”

Williams says that she doesn’t believe that she is risking future tournaments by playing in Paris (“As long as I serve soft, I don’t think I’ll get worse. “I think my opponents like the soft serve.”) but does she really know that? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, but the fact is that even a week and half of rest between Rome and her match on Sunday didn’t help her much.

As the tennis world knows, the 32-year-old is also battling an autoimmune disease, so that she’s even out there giving it a go is very admirable. She hates to lose. Although her perspective is a little better than it was say five years ago after she took difficult losses.

“What I’ve gone through, it’s not easy,” she said. “But I’m strong and I’m a fighter. I don’t think I’m just playing for me now. I think I’m playing for a lot of people who haven’t felt well. I think for me today it’s a positive to be able to play three hours.  I’m constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better. For me, I would never give up because obviously at some point everyone has to retire. That’s an asterisk, but I feel like I have to give myself a chance to continue working on feeling better. I wouldn’t just give up just because it was difficult. That’s not me.  So my thing is that I’m going to  continue trying.”

Williams says that her previous success helps her get over their defeats because it is those victories that “keep you warm at night” and that if she had never had any prior success, she would feel horrible.

She’s considering asking for a wild card into a grass court warm-up because she needs match play, but if she is going to play Eastbourne, her back better be in great shape so that she’s truly ready for a potential three straight week stretch that includes another eye-popping run at the All England Club.  She has not lost faith, even if Father Time is nipping at her heels.

“Yeah, I’m definitely optimistic that I’ll play well,” she said.

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Players out in cold: Will men’s draw be predictable?

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Mattek-Sands back on rise, young US men make qualies noise

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Roland Garros Women: Drawn & Quartered


1st Quarter

No. 1 Serena Williams continues her now decade-old quest to win her second French titles and her draw could be much worse, but with that said, it isn’t that simple. She opens against Anna Tatshvili, could get Caroline Garcia in R2 and Sorana Cirstea in R3, all which should be routine wins. But the she could Roberta Vinci or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in R4, which could be dicey if she doesn’t play at the top level. Depending how Angie Kerber pulls up physically, she could be Serena’s quarterfinal foe and she did best Williams last summer in Cincy, so another upset is possible. But there is plenty of talent in Kerber’s section beginning with Mona Barthel, Varvara Lepchenko and Ekaterina Makarova.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Laura Robson: Wozniacki has lost five straight matches and, although Robson isn’t that comfortable on clay, she likes big matches and this is  a chance for her to blow the struggling Caro’s doors off.

 2nd Quarter

Here is Ana Ivanovic’s chance to reach her first Slam semifinal since she won the title in Paris five years ago. No. 4 Aga Radwanska leads the quarter and she’s struggling with an injury, and while No. 5 Sara Errani  has proven to be quite good on the surface she can be hit through. Ivanovic has been playing quite well (although not always against Maria Sharapova). She opens vs. Petra Martic, should be able to hit around her and then have little trouble reaching the fourth round as Julia Goerges is hurt. Then it’s either Radwanska, who may not even get there, or possibly Venus Williams, but she’s been hurt, too. So then the Serb will face Errani in the quarters, unless the Italian gets tripped up by the likes of Carla Suarez or Nadia Petrova. I’m not sure Ivanovic has had a better opportunity while in good form to reach a Slam semi since she left RG as champion.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Venus Williams vs. Ula Radwanska

The American has been struggling with a back injury and her autoimmune disease. While Ula has her off days mentally, when she’s on she is more than capable of winning a baseline battle on red dirt. This is an obvious so-called upset pick.

3rd Quarter

Going by bookends Vika Azarenka and Li Na, this is the toughest quarter. It’s depth is enigmatic, but it does have two players who are capable of beating Serena and Sharapova on great days. Li had a troublesome Rome and opens against Anabel Medina-Garrigues who has slowed down but is very capable on clay. Then she might have to face Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who’s been on fire, and possibly Yaroslava Shvedova who shocked her here last year. Then even if she makes it through there she could play Kaia Kanepi, Klara Zakopalova or Maria Kirilenko. She and coach Carlos Rodriquez have there work cut out for them in the first eights days.

Azarenka opens against the up-and-down Elena Vesnina, who is so unpredictable but dangerous. Alize Cornet has revived and could give her a little trouble in round 3 and then there is the possibility of playing the slumping, yet super dangerous Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in round 4.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Kirsten Flipkens vs. Flavia Pennetta. Has the former Italian top 10er finally recovered from wrist trouble? If she has, then she will give the equally crafty Flipkens fits.

 4th Quarter

Defending champion Sharapova as the player to beat here. She opens against the improved Su-Wei Hsieh, may face the Canadian who idolized her — Genie Bouchard — and possibly the veteran Zheng Jie before a fourth-round tussle with Sloane Stephens, whom she rekey destroyed on dirt. Her quarter could be tough though as Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur lurk. Expect the world No. 2 to get there but then have to seriously raise her level

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Lucie Safarova vs. Jamie Hampton

Most of the young Americans have reasonable first rounds but this one could prove very tricky for the slugger against the lefthander Czech, whom has much more experience than she does. Expect a three setter, but Hampton still has to show she can pull off this type of win without suffering cramps due to  nerves.

Rome: Berdych gets needed win over Djokovic

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The Berd Man took the scalp of a No. 1

After he upset clay court king Rafael Nadal in the final of Monte Carlo, the thought was that just like in 2011 Novak Djokovic was in prime position to end the Spaniards run in Paris. In fact after he battled his way to the French Open final in 2012, he looked like he had a very good shot, too, but a rain break killed his momentum and Nadal ended his dream the next day to snare his seventh title. So what to say now of the world No. 1 after  Tomas Berdych scored only his second victory in 15 clashes against the Serbian with 2-6 7-5 6-4 upset in Rome? Down 2-5 in the second set, the powerful and consistent Czech dictated play much of the rest of the afternoon and didn’t allow Djokovic to yank him around as he normally does. Throw in Djokovic’s loss to Grigor Dimitrov last week in Rome and you have a man who is surely the No.2 favorite in Paris, but also a man who has shown a wee bit of vulnerability against some other talented players outside of the Big 4. His time Paris should be very interesting.

“I lost concentration and started to play more defensively,” Djokovic said. “[I played] a bad game at 5-3 and I made some unforced errors. At this level you have to take advantage of the opportunities and I lost this game by myself.”

Berdych will now face Nadal, who once again had his way with David Ferrer in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory. Nadal looked a bit tired after his emotional win over the trash talking Ernests Gulbis in the quarters, but once it got to closing time against Ferrer he was the more competent and heady player.

“I played a great match against a difficult opponent. In the worst moment in the third set, I played my best tennis and I am happy,” said Nadal. “

Nadal has played a ton since his comeback in February, but there is a lot on the table for him in Rome: should he win the title, he would overtake Ferrer at No. 4 and therefore be seeded at least No. 4 at Roland Garros and possibly higher if the injured Andy Murray (back trouble) opts out. Nadal has a 13-3 record over Berdych and has never lost to him on clay, but some of their previous match-ups have been very entertaining, so if the Czech can get on top of the ball and not allow Nadal to force him to go for winners when he is off balance, then he has at least a 20 percent chance of pulling an upset.

The mercurial  Frenchman Benoit Paire reached his first Masters semifinal with a 6-1 6-win over Marcel Granollers and will face Roger Federer, who did a good job of repelling Jerzy Janowicz 6-4 7-6(2). Paire has a puncher’s chance against the Swiss, but not much more.

On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova withdrew from her quarterfinal with Sara Errani because of a bad cold that returned and induced a fever. Sharapova was told by a doctor to get some rest or her condition could worsen and there is no way she’s going to risk that when she has to defend her Roland Garros title.

“Its one of those things and the body is not ready and with a bigger goal around the corner its important to make the right and smart decisions and I have a lot of clay matches and so this is not lacking before the French Open,” she said.

So Errani now has the pleasure of trying to figure our Victoria Azarenka whom in her first tournament back since Indian Wells was darn impressive later in hitting through Sam Stosur 6-4 1-6 6-3. Azarenka has never been a standout player on dirt and a win over a quality foe on clay such as Stosur has to be a huge mental boost. If she can best Errani and then at least give Serena Williams a tussle should they meet in the final, then she will feel very good entering Roland Garros.

“It’s all a process – I’m just trying to improve day to day, and I feel it’s happening,” Azarenka said. “I will probably never be truly satisfied, but I’m on a good road.”

Williams overwhelmed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-0 and will face qualifier Simona Halep in the semis, who took down Jelena Jankovic in a long three setter. The 21-year-old Romanian is scrappy and can also belt the ball, but facing Williams after such an exhausting encounter against Jankovic is a tall order.


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