Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Richie To Return!

French player Richard Gasquet will be able to return to professional tennis after his hearing that took place on June 29th. ITF released an announcement stating that the ban was overturned due to "no significant fault or negligence". They also stated that:
With regard to sanction, the Tribunal accepted Mr Gasquet’s plea of No Significant Fault or Negligence, on the basis that he was able to demonstrate on the balance of probabilities how the cocaine entered his system (through inadvertent contamination in a nightclub the night before his scheduled match), and that, while he was at fault in exposing himself to the risk of such contamination, that fault was not significant. It further ruled that, in the exceptional and “probably unique” circumstances of the case, it would be unjust and disproportionate to impose a 12-month sanction on Mr Gasquet. Instead it ruled that Mr Gasquet be suspended from participation for a period of two months and 15 days, commencing on 1 May 2009, and thus ending at 08:00 GMT on 15 July 2009. It also ruled that his results, ranking points and prize money from events subsequent to Miami should remain undisturbed.
In other words, the ITF agrees that he did not intentionally take cocaine, but he could have done more to prevent the events from occurring. His ban is now over and he can resume playing. Hopefully upon Gasquet's return he will finally realize the opportunity he has and will step up his game. Before the suspension he has had a propensity for seemingly exhibiting less than optimal effort. He is just too good to level off as a barely top 30 ranked player on tour. I know I can't wait for his return, his wonderful single-handed backhand has been missed!

Monday, July 13, 2009

This Weeks Winners and Losers

Well throughout the week there have been a number of upsets and surprises in Davis Cup and the multiple other WTA and ATP tournaments. Here are this week's biggest winners and losers:


Team Croatia

The persistent Croats finished off team USA today as Marin Cilic defeated James Blake in 4 sets to seal the 3-1 victory over the Americans (which became 3-2 after USA won the dead rubber). Can they continue their winning ways and win the Davis Cup? Honestly, I could see Czech Republic or Spain knocking them off, but I wouldn't be surprised if Croatia ended up winning the championship again.

Rajeev Ram

Talk about a feel-good story. This years Newport winner is Rajeev Ram, a lucky loser, who not only battled through the rain-filled draw after losing in the qualifying rounds to win the singles title, but he also won the doubles title! He became the first lucky loser this year to win an ATP title and I predict he will be the last to pull off such a feat.

The Szavay Family

This week in Budapest was a week long celebration for the Szavay family. Agnes Szavay won the singles title over Patty Schnyder and had a number of thrilling victories along the way. This being her first title since 2007 where she had her breakout year, peaking with her quarterfinal US Open run and her Beijing title. Also in action, Agnes' sister, Blanca Szavay received a wildcard into the qualifying draw and won one match before falling to eventual qualifier, Timea Bacsinszky. The sisters also teamed up and entered the doubles main draw in Budapest.

And this week's Losers:

Caroline Wozniacki

Not only does this determined Dane seem to play a lot of events, but she fails to win many of them. Wozniacki has already entered 16 events this year, winning only 2 titles and receiving 5 losses to players outside of the top 50. Once again, the Dane lost in the finals of Bastad to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in straight sets and on her 19th birthday.

Team Russia

All credit to team Israel, who defeated Russia 4-1 in Davis Cup, but Russia has no business losing to the Israelis. Specifically, Igor Andreev's opening day loss to Levy of Israel set the tone of tie. Russia only has themselves to blame. They were missing big gun Nikolay Davydenko, while Israel had all of their top players there. But once again, Russia should have not lost this tie.

Well there you have it! This week's biggest winners and losers on both the ATP and WTA!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Davis Cup Conundrum

Karlovic of Croatia celebrates win over Blake in the first rubber of the Croatia-USA tie

Two days into this year's Davis Cup Quarterfinals and there are a number of surprises. For one, who would've thought the unheralded Israeli team could knock off the mighty, or not so mighty rather, Russians in a relatively straightforward 3-0 sweep after the first two days. For the other three matches all of the host countries lead the series 2-1 heading into the final day of singles matches.

Venue: CEZ Arena, Ostrava (hard - indoors)
Tomas Berdych (CZE) d. Juan Monaco (ARG) 64 26 26 63 62

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d. Ivo Minar (CZE) 61 63 63

Tomas Berdych/Radek Stepanek (CZE) d. Jose Acasuso/Leonardo Mayer (ARG) 61 64 63 Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)
Ivo Minar (CZE) v Juan Monaco (ARG)

Going into the final day of play the clear question is whether or not Radek Stepanek will be playing. After playing in the doubles match and easily dispatching the sacrificial lamb team of Acasuso/Mayer, one wonders whether or not Stepanek will replace the lowly Ivo Minar. Most likely, if Stepanek does not play, the Czechs are doomed as Juan Martin del Potro and Juan Monaco could very easily dispatch their opponents. However, if Stepanek does play Monaco the match will end up becoming the decider. Either way I still think Argentina pulls out the victory here. Hopefully for them, their sacrificed doubles rubber won't come back to bite them in the backside.

CROATIA leads USA 2-1
Venue: Sportska Dvorana Zatika , Porec (clay - indoors)
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) d. James Blake (USA) 67(5) 46 63 76(3) 75
Marin Cilic (CRO) d. Mardy Fish (USA) 46 63 67(3) 61 86
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) d. Roko Karanusic/Lovro Zovko (CRO) 63 61 63
Marin Cilic (CRO) v James Blake (USA)
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) v Mardy Fish (USA)

On the opening day, both Ivo Karlovic and Marin Cilic posted impressive 5 set victories over their American opponents. Notably, James Blake led Karlovic by two sets to love before losing the next three sets to the big serving Croat. After these nailbiting singles, and Bob and Mike Bryan blitzed their Croatian opponents in 68 minutes. After looking at the scoreboard for the match I thought it was an error. A 68 minute three set match? That's 25 games played at an average speed of less than 3 minutes per game. Going into the final day of singles I have no idea what to expect. Blake is not the most reliable player in live Davis Cup rubbers, (but you can count on him to win those dead rubbers!) and Cilic is the far superior clay court player. If Blake can pull the upset, however, Fish and Karlovic is a toss-up. Simply put, America has not come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a tie in over 50 years, and I can't see this line-up pulling off the comeback.

Venue: Plaza de Toros de Puerto Banus, Marbella (clay - outdoors)
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. Andreas Beck (GER) 60 36 67(4) 62 61
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d. Tommy Robredo (ESP) 63 64 64

Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d. Nicolas Kiefer/Mischa Zverev (GER) 63 76(1) 67(6) 63
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) v Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)
Tommy Robredo (ESP) v Andreas Beck (GER)

The Spanish duo of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco may have been the deciding victory for the host country, as Germany will be forced to sweep the remaining singles matches to win the tie. Sure, Phillipp Kohlschreiber could upset Verdasco in singles, as he played a solid match to dispatch Tommy Robredo on the opening day. But can Andreas Beck really knock out Robredo? He played well enough to win two sets off an inconsistent Verdasco in the opening rubber, but the sets he did lose were by the scores of 6-0, 6-2, and 6-1. Even without some top players like Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, Spain should advance past Germany after winning at least one of the remaining two singles matches.

ISRAEL defeated RUSSIA 3-0
Venue: Nokia Stadium, Tel Aviv (hard – indoors)

Harel Levy (ISR) d. Igor Andreev (RUS) 64 62 46 62
Dudi Sela (ISR) d. Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) 36 61 60 75
Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram (ISR) d. Igor Kunitsyn/Marat Safin (RUS) 63 64 67(3) 46 64
Dudi Sela (ISR) v Igor Andreev (RUS)
Harel Levy (ISR) v Mikhail Youzhny (RUS)

Wow. Who would have predicted Israel easily beating Russia after two days? Not I, certainly. Sure, I am not that shocked by Dudi Sela's defeat over an injury plagued Mikhail Youzhny, but Igor Andreev losing a relatively straightforward match to Harel Levy? That's a shocking upset that should not have happened. The main problem with the Russian squad this year is the absence of Nikolay Davydenko who should have been there with his team to possibly lead them to victory. The one played on team Russia that I am impressed with is Marat Safin, who despite pitiful singles performances throughout the year fought back with his partner Igor Kunitsyn before barely losing to a top doubles team on tour, Erlich and Ram.

Hopefully the excitement and surprises continue this weekend as the remaining 6 countries battle it out for three spots to join Israel in the Davis Cup semifinals!

Friday, July 10, 2009

We Need Answers Pt. 2

And here is the second installment to the preview of the upcoming US Open series and what we as fans should look out for on the main tour! After the first part of this series covered the future of Safina, del Potro, Simon, the Williams Sisters, and Azarenka, I will continue to focus on certain individuals of the sport.

5. Can Kuznetsova Regain Her Form?

Svetlana Kuznetsova
is one of the WTA tour's finest players. Kuznetsova, confident and strong, stormed through Paris to win her second grand slam title. But afterwards she had a series of lackluster performances on grass, accumulating in a losing effort to hard-hitting Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.

Sveta is known for her lapses in play, so as she approaches the summer hard courts defending little points we wonder how high she can climb. Primarily, she is in a three way race with Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva for the third and fourth seeds at the US Open. It is very likely that Sveta might just bomb out of a few of the summer hard court tournaments only to post a great run at the US Open, but just as likely is she could reach a few finals during the summer and bomb out in the second round at the final grand slam of the year.

Overall, as Sveta proceeds through this summer I know I'm going to be paying close attention to her ranking change because if she sneaks in above Venus in the rankings she might cause a Serena-Venus QF clash at the US Open.

6. When Will It Happen?

Despite only being in his early twenties, Marin Cilic (seen right), has seemingly been called a player to watch for the entire season. But time after time he has come up short despite his 6 foot 6 frame and outstanding movement for a man so tall. When examining his game I was constantly searching for major strengths and major weaknesses yet I found nothing. That's a good and a bad sign with his game for he can still improve. Primarily he needs to get stronger and get some more miles per hour on that already spin filled serve. Additionally he could work on moving forward more since his forecourt game is currently filled with natural raw talent that can still be refined.

His major curse has been his nerves. At Wimbledon he squandered match points against Tommy Haas and thus costing him a chance to advance deep in a gr
and slam draw for the first time. I am constantly waiting for him to break through at a top men's event yet countless times he refuses to get that big win.

Will it finally come this summer? These summer tournaments might be his best chance all year as Roger Federer might not be competing due to the pregnancy of his wife, Mirka.

7. Where Will Roddick Go?

Clearly, Andy Roddick is at a deciding moment in his career. Coming off his Wimbledon final loss he will either shine or fade away. As he continues to age he will certainly win less and less so these upcoming years are vital. Particularly, this US Open will be a huge opportunity with Nadal hurting, Djokovic slumping, Murray faltering, and Federer awaiting the birth of his first child. His loss to Federer in the Wimbledon final
could be so major that Roddick never recovers, however, and he won't be able to get over it. I pray that he realizes how it reflects his own improvement and he continues to grow in confidence because Roddick can cause serious damage to his competition this summer as his game flourishes on the hard courts.

Roddick may have withdrawn from Davis Cup because of an injury, but if his results are not top notch we will all know it's not his body that's hurting. It's essential tha
t he overcomes the loss and uses it to help his confidence because his level during the Wimbledon final was extraordinary and if he keeps it up he should be back in a grand slam final in a few weeks at the US Open.

8. Can His Knees Last?

Once again, Rafael Nadal's knees are causing some concern. Forcing him out of Wimbledon and a chance to maintain his number one ranking, those knees are causing havoc. Hopefully the rehab of the past few weeks has been enough and he can play on the hard courts. The blue-green summer hard courts, however, are notorious for being much more damaging to knees and joints compared to the soft clay and grass courts of the previous weeks.

To be frank, the tour needs him for his personality, the media needs him to broadcast tennis, and I need him to make the ATP even more competitive. I'm sure he will be back playing again, but will his knees continue to bother him and affect his play for the rest of his career? Can he regain his number one ranking? Will these knees consistently wear out mid season, forever stopping him from winning the US Open and thus the career slam unless he makes serious changes? There are just so many questions surrounding Nadal and his knees that his first few matches when he comes back will greatly reflect things to come.

Well there you have it! Those eight things you should watch for with the upcoming summer hard court swing and the US Open on the men's and women's tours!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We Need Answers Pt. 1

In year's past the US Open Series has resulted in a number of breakthroughs and breakdowns on both the men's and women's tours. This year will be no different as we fans search for answers to questions that are constantly being asked of the players. Here is the first part of this two part blog:

1. Can Safina Hold On?

Dinara Safina has been a large victim as of late. Constantly, her number one ranking is being questioned and she is not winning Grand Slams. The last two slams she lost in straight sets in huge matches, not playing spectacularly in either. Can her confidence survive this serious blow? I hope so. She may crack and crumble under the pressure from her coach, the media, and herself, but I would love to see her persevere and keep on battling through tournaments until she finds her form. Being entered in the small event at Portoroz is a smart decision and she can easily get some confidence back and restart her winning ways.

Overall, I predict she will stay in the top 2 by the end of the year, but Serena will pass her in the rankings and barely attain the year-end number 1 ranking. I hope she is wrong and holds on, though.

2. Will breakout stars from last summer defend?

Particularly, Gilles Simon and Juan Martin del Potro broke onto the tennis scene last summer. Both men posted a number of excellent results that catapulted them up the rankings into the top 15. Now is a critical moment for both players as they are forced to start defending the points they earned last year.

Firstly, Simon will have a much harder time defending his ranking this summer. Last summer he won a title and reached a semifinal of a Masters Event. Additionally he reached the finals of another Masters Event and the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Cup. This year, however, his results have been polar opposite. He has a mediocre record for a top ten player at 24-19 so far this year and has not reached a semifinal of an event since Dubai, which is one of his two semifinal finishes this year.

del Potro, on the other hand, has much more points from this year to back up his ranking. Despite winning four titles last summer del Potro should be able to balance that out with strong results at the Masters Events that he missed last year as well as an improvement on his US Open result.

To be frank, I expect Simon to drop off to the 15-20 range in the rankings. He is similar to the WTA's Agniezska Radwanksa and just lacks a weapon. del Potro should stay in the top 6 along with the other big names, but he still needs a breakthrough win at a top event like a slam or masters event to solidify his position at the top of the game.

3. Will the Williams Sisters Show?

Neither Serena or Venus Williams have played much on the US Open series. In fact, last year Venus only played the Olympics while Serena played Stanford and the Olympics during the summer before the US Open. Venus needs to play more if she wants to defend her ranking spot at number 3 because the Russian, Elena Dementieva, is closing in on Venus after the American lost points from Wimbledon.

Serena does not need to worry about moving down in the rankings but she needs to step up her game outside the majors if she wants that number 1 rankings many, including myself, think she deserves. We all know Dinara will play a few tournaments (not to protect her ranking, but she usually likes to have a at least 2 or 3 tournaments before a slam) but will Serena or Venus play as much? I doubt it. But I bet they will play at least two tournaments.

4. Crumble or Conquer?

Victoria Azarenka
is a hard-hitting youngster that has soared up the rankings. Her shrieks are almost as famous as her fierce cross court groundstrokes. Now that she has ascended to top ten in the world, can the Belarusian get some big wins on some big stages?

She may have won Miami earlier this year over Serena Williams, but Serena was clearly not 100% and was suffering from a leg injury. On clay and grass Azarenka had some decent results, but nothing spectacular. As the fast hard courts of North America compliment Azarenka's game she should win even more matches and get some big wins. But still the question remains, can she do it at the US Open? I predict she reaches the semifinals as long as she doesn't face Serena or Venus along the way, and she will win a title this summer on hard courts as long as she stays healthy.

Part 2 and 4 more major questions on the game of tennis is soon to come!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wimbledon Review

Well once again a Grand Slam (Wimbledon) has come to an end and we have learned a bundle of new information about both the ATP and the WTA. I'm going to focus on four select aspects that may prove to be very significant for the rest of the year.

1. Elena is Back

After one of the most impressive starts to '09, Elena Dementieva, fizzled out and had decent results throughout the rest of the year, however, she lacked some big wins. This Wimbledon she waltzed to the semifinals facing no seeds and many, including myself, thought she just took advantage of an easy draw and Serene would obliterate her. Clearly, I was wrong as Elena scratched and clawed in her epic semifinal loss to Serena. Her serve was phenomenal, her movement precise, and her mental fortitude matched Serena's. If Elena can recover from her loss she will surely be a contender going into the grueling summer hard court season.

2. Roddick Can Play

Six years ago Andy Roddick won his first slam. He has yet to win another. This fortnight, however, Andy stepped up and played one of the greatest matches in Wimbledon history, losing an epic 14-16 fifth set to Roger Federer. His forehand was ferocious and serve was unbelievable as always. But the part of Roddick's game that surprised me the most was his backhand. It certainly is not a weapon yet, but he his hitting it aggressively and can end points with it. Particularly, he can pass with his backhand and players can't take advantage of an easy forehand up the line approach shot to Roddick's backhand anymore. Overall, Roddick's confidence will have hopefully grown after his performance and he can continue his form to the USO. Preferably he will not land in Federer's quarter of the draw but by not being in the top 4 Roddick will need some favorable draws to do well.

3. The WTA Ranking System Needs Retooling

Serena Williams
has won 3 slams and a slam quarter yet is only ranked number 2. That statement seems impossible but it is true. Dinara Safina surely deserves to be at the top of the rankings, but it's hard to believe that she even believes she is the best tennis player in the world. She has won countless other tournaments and reached multiple finals, including two grand slam finals. These results, however, just don't seem enough to overthrow Serena.

My only justification can be that Serena has done poorly outside of the slams. Her series of losses on clay compared to Dinara's two titles and one runner-up are the main reason, I believe, that anyone can make an argument to say Dinara is the best in the world.

I guess I would say that Dinara definitely holds the number 1 ranking on tour, but Serena is the best player on tour. Does that make sense? I guess it does to me...

4. ATP Revival

For years on end I could not stand the ATP. Who wants to watch one man dominate everyone outside of clay? Not me. But now Roger Federer is being challenged. And it's other players other than Nadal that are doing this. It's great news!

As the WTA continues to fall apart because of lower quality matches, the ATP thrives with thriller after thriller in finals. Just look at the past few grand slam finals. The WTA has not gone three sets in a grand slam final since '06 Wimby, while the ATP has had a five set final twice already this year. I can't say this enough, although I love so many of the WTA players, the ATP just has so much more attractive qualities to it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Serena Williams. Enough said.


The only word that comes to mind when thinking about Serena Williams and her spectacular semifinal match against Elena Dementieva is clutch. Most people know, I am no fan of either Williams sister. But my hat goes off to Serena after that performance. Throughout the match she came up with the big shots when she seemed down and out.

Has their ever been a more important forehand than the one she hit down break point in the second set that grazed the back edge of the line? Has anyone ever seen such a Sampras-esque serving performance from a woman on such a big stage?

Originally, I did not think either Elena nor Dinara Safina (who faces Venus Williams in the other semifinal in a few moments) would stand a chance against either Williams sister. Elena gave me hope that at least one of the Russians would scrape her way into the final. Serena, however, smashed that hope with her serve. Countless times she would come up with a powerful serve that left me speechless. Throughout the match the ESPN commentators commented on how well Elena served. Yet I, however, could not get past how well Serena served when down and out. Both were going for their second serves. But I always had this feeling that Serena would not choke as she did against Kuznetsova in their infamous Roland Garros match.

With the match finishing only minutes ago I still can't fathom how Serena won. She hit a clutch volley down match point. She hit a clutch passing shot to get ahead in the second set. Serena just hit clutch shot over and over again.

I can't say this enough. I congratulate Serena on her herculean effort to defeat Elena Dementieva (who also deserves a hell ofalot of applause for her grit and determination) and I just hope she brings her clutch play back with her on Saturday as she battles her sister or Safina. Now I just hope this next semifinal can be half as good as the match of the year for the WTA.