Archives for September 2013

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.

Picture of the Day, Sept. 26: Hingis camps reacts

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WTA Post US Open review and the Race to Istanbul


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Serena smoked Li in New York, but can China’s top player rise up at the Premier tournament in Beijing?

There are currently 13 players with a decent chance to make the season ending WTA Championships in Istanbul, October 22-27.  Two players have already made it, No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka. Third ranked Maria Sharapova, who has been contending with bursitis in her right shoulder, is as of this point doubtful to recover in time. No. 7 Marion Bartoli has retired.

Assuming Sharapova does not play, at least for this week that leaves nine players with decent shots for the final six spots. No. 11 Sloane Stephens is just one spot out if Sharapova and Bartoli don’t play, while Nos. 12-15 Angie Kerber, Sabine Lisicki, Caroline Wozniacki  and Simona Halep have a lot of ground to catch up but have outside shots  if they put up great results during the next three weeks.

Three big tournaments begin next week, with Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow ahead.

1. Serena Williams: The world’s best player was both heartened and relieved when she won the US Open by racing past Azarenka in the third set. Now the rest of her year is all gravy as she managed to win two Slams this season. When Serena is playing loose, she is super dangerous, as it’s been when she has been tight this season that she has suffered losses. She says she’s planning on playing Beijing (she rarely plays in Asia so the proof will be in the pudding), but she will no doubt be motivated to defend her title in Istanbul and show the rest of the elite players that the 32 year old plans on ruling the tour until she finally puts her rackets down.

2. Victoria Azarenka: Despite a few injuries this year, the Belarussian’s fitness has improved overall: she is much stronger and faster specimen than she was say even three years ago. But the drop in her level after she stole the second set from Serena in New York was troubling. While she has shown that she has the game to best Williams, she has yet to beat her at major. Two wins over her older rival in Beijing and Istanbul would serve her very well heading into 2014.

3. Maria Sharapova: She was told to take two to three months off to cure her shoulder after Wimbledon, but she didn’t,  played Cincinnati and practiced all the way up until he US Open, so it’s hard to see her injury fully healing by the time the first ball is tossed up in Istanbul. But…she is stubborn and misses competing so if she doesn’t feel like she’s putting her 2014 at risk, she may show up and play. It’s doubtful, but she can’t be totally ruled out just yet.

4. Agnieszka Radwanska: Even if she wins Korea on Sunday, is that enough reason to think that she can go on another brilliant fall run like she did in 2011 when he won Tokyo and Beijing back to back? No it isn’t. At this point, her 2013 is a disappointment: as good as Ekaterina Makarova can be there is no reason the Pole should have lost to her at the US Open, much less going down to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon. If she doesn’t start to schedule more smartly and learn to peak at the big events, she’ll never win a major.

5. Li Na: Sure, she played Serena very tough in the second set of her 6-0, 6-3 loss to her in the US Open semis. But to have a bagel hung on her by a player whom she has pushed so far before in a Slam semifinal? That shows just how mentally fragile she is. Her coach, Carlos Rodriguez must fully realize by now that he does not have another super mentally tough player in his stable like he did with Justine Henin.

6. Sara Errani: She admitted at the US Open that she is having massive trouble contending with the expectations that are put on top players, hence her 6-3, 6-1 loss to her countrywoman Flavia Pennetta. In some ways she was already overachieving, so what chance does Errani have to keep up a top-10 level without her legendary fight? A very slim to none one.

7. Petra Kvitova: For whatever reason, I keep expecting the tall and powerful Czech to make a push at No. 1 and then she gets sick again and lets down at another major, like she did in her 6-3, 6-0 loss to Alison Riske in New York. [And that’s not a typo, the 6-0, 6-3 score seems to be popular figure coming out of New York]. If Kvitova continues to contract a virus every few months, she’ll never win another big title. If she can get healthy for an extended period, then she’ll be a threat again. But I am taking a full-on wait- and-see approach when it comes to her now.

8. Marion Bartoli: She has retired, at least for now, but the real stunner would be if she never attempts a comeback after all the attention on her dies down.

9. Jelena Jankovic: “JJ” will surely go to the ends of the earth to gain what she believes is to be a deserved spot in the final eight club. She has shown flashes of her former No. 1 play at times this season, but she evaporated quickly in her 6-3, 6-0 loss to Li at the US Open. She may no longer be a considered to be a consistent threat to the super elite, but she will be occasionally based on pride alone.

10. Roberta Vinci: The Italian is a very decent, but not a great hard court player who may have the Fed Cup final more on her mind than reaching the Championships in singles. She and Errani are a lock for the doubles, so perhaps she’ll focus on helping boost her friend’s confidence level during the Asian swing. However, Sharapova and Bartoli won’t play she is sitting at No. 8, so for her to completely fall out, the likes of Stephens, Kerber, Lisicki and Wozniacki are going to have to make substantial pushes.

11. Sloane Stephens: The youngest player in the top 15, the 20-year-old Stephens finds herself only 104 points behind Vinci for the final spot assuming that both Sharapova and Bartoli don’t play. Even if Sharapova does, she is only 99 points behind Vinci, which gives her a clear shot.

Stephens played Serena close in the first set of her 6-4, 6-1 loss to her rival in New York, but let down in the final game of the set and then lost focus in the second. She almost has enough game to play with anyone, but she does go on mental walkabouts, which is a no-no against the veterans.

She is seeded No. 9 in Tokyo, opening against Voegele, possibly facing junior rivals Genie Bouchard or Monica Puig in round two, and maybe Jankovic (should she get past Laura Robson) in the third round. Should she face and best JJ, she will pick up 100 points on the Serbian. Then she may have to play Azarenka in quarters in a rematch of their Aussie Open semifinal. Sloane’s week ahead sounds very challenging, and very fun.

12. Angelique Kerber: Does anyone recall that the German lost a third set tiebreaker to Suarez in New York, who then went on to be double bageled by Serena? Angie looks tough on the outside, but hasn’t shown much elite resiliency this season. She needs to loosen up and start playing more aggressive.

13. Sabine Lisicki: The ace-bombing German has done little since her Wimbledon heroics as she is struggling to stay in lengthy points on hard courts. She is capable of making a push, but she needs to be more patient and not get so anxious in big matches.

14. Caroline Wozniacki: The Dane is currently ranked No. 8, but she is defending 835 points from her fine fall play in 2012, so she is going to have to play just as well or better to make it. However, the most important thing for the Dane is to keep working on finding her elite level again, which she did not show in the third set of her loss to Camilla Giorgi in New York.

15. Simona Halep: The young Romanian caught fire this summer, but may have overplayed. She’s a terrific ball striker, but still needs to mature. She is 535 points behind Vinci so she is going to have to really catch fire again.




A lucky 13 in New York for Rafa

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US Open Men’s final prediction: Nadal or Djokovic?

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Serena’s Successful Drive for Five

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Photo of the Day: Vika comes up short

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Federer falls again, giving Robredo first win in 11 matches

Federer IW 11 MALT5774If the state of Roger Federer’s deteriorating game is based on his age, why was he defeated by a player he has never lost to who is only five months younger than him?

In straight sets.

At the US Open.

With one match away from facing nemesis Rafa Nadal in the US Open quarterfinals (and for the first time ever in Flushing Meadows), the 32-year-old Federer fell to Tommy Robredo 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-4.

The Swiss legend was stymied by one of his weaknesses – converting break points – and it really bit him badly. He only converted two of 16 opportunities. True, Robredo stepped up with a wad of passing shots and aces when he needed them. But, the key was Federer often tried to blast a forehand winner on the first shot he had. And, the fearsome forehand that sent Grand Slam pretenders out of contention for year upon year, was neither accurate nor dependable.

“I struggled throughout, which was not very satisfying, to be honest,” Federer said. “I mean, Tommy did a good job to keep the ball in play and make it difficult for me today. I missed so many opportunities. Rhythm was off.”

Throughout the post-match press conference, the string of negative comments came from the player who has gone for invincible to vulnerable.

“It was up to me to make a difference and I couldn’t.”

“I just couldn’t do it. It was frustrating performance today.”

“It just ended up being a bad combination of many things.”

Federer talked about going back to work and training harder in hopes he can continue to improve on the success he’s had in the last month. But, he will finish this year without making a major final, the first time since 2002.

But, slump or not, Robredo still found great pleasure in knocking off the player who had a 10-0 record over him.

“Well, it’s amazing. For me, Roger, for the moment, is the best player of all times. And, to beat him in a huge stadium like the US Open and in a Grand Slam, a match of five sets, it’s a dream, no?”

Still, Robredo mentioned the cinch in the armor, the failure for Federer to convert break points. “But, I think the difference today was the break points conversion,” Robredo said.

For the first time in 12 attempts, Robredo’s will play in the US Open round of 16.

Asked why older players are making a great impact on tour today, Robredo said, “I think right now all the players take a lot more care of our body. We have physios; we have trainers. In our team, we are a lot of professionals.”

Next up for Robredo is countryman Rafa Nadal. Nadal dropped the first set to Philipp Kohlschreiber, but quickly recovered to post a 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win.

Li courts future success

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Having a strong, defined personality in an individual sport such as tennis might not be mandatory to success, but it sure is helpful.