You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Cirstea’ tag.

US Players

Readers familiar with this blog will know that we do not beat the tribal drum to proclaim the wonders of American tennis when few such wonders exist.  By contrast, we save praise of our compatriots for the moments that genuinely matter, a category that definitely includes this weekend’s victory over a heavily favored Swiss squad.  From the outset, virtually every imaginable card seemed stacked against the Americans, mired in the hostile clay without the services of their most prolific singles star (Andy Roddick) and half of their legendary doubles team (Mike Bryan) as they confronted the greatest player ever (need you ask?) and a very capable clay threat (Stanislas Wawrinka).  Only heightening the odds were the unimpressive Australian performances of both Fish and Isner, gone before the second week.

In one of the most stunning upsets during the last decade of Davis Cup, however, the Americans registered victories for every member of their team as they shut out their hosts.  Most stunning was Isner’s four-set victory over Federer that grew more emphatic as it progressed, but his teammate Fish deserves equal honors.  With the GOAT looming in the second rubber, the top-ranked American knew that he needed to secure the first rubber against Wawrinka for his team to harbor legitimate hopes of surviving the tie.  Trailing by two sets to one, Fish must have struggled to dispel memories of his demoralizing Davis Cup losses to Spain last year, when he spent eight hours on court with nothing to show for it.  Finishing the nail-biting fifth set with a burst of confident, assertive play, he set an optimistic tone crucial to his team’s success that weekend.  After Isner lost the first set to Federer, his comeback mirrored the spirited effort of his compatriot, unwilling to concede a grain of dirt to a Swiss team far superior in talent but far inferior in resolve.

Tennis sprawled well beyond Switzerland last week, though, so we discuss the rest of the best and worst from Davis Cup and two small WTA events.

Ad-in:

Team Argentina:  Another visiting team to sweep their hosts, Argentina arrived in Germany without their best player in Del Potro and yet still ravaged their higher-ranked foes with merciless efficiency.  As he has so often, Nalbandian seized center stage by winning both of his live rubbers, including a demolition of German #1 Florian Mayer.  The Argentines impressed even more because they had sustained a potentially devastating loss to Spain in yet another Davis Cup final last fall, so the psychological burden of starting their quest anew must have loomed large.  Somewhat lightening that burden, to be sure, was Germany’s uninspired decision to host this tie on clay, an unexpected courtesy to South American dirt devils like Monaco.  In the April quarterfinals, the Argentines should show less courtesy when they lay as slow a court as possible to frustrate one particular Croat.

Ivo Karlovic:  Defending his flag far from home, the tallest man in the ATP almost single-handedly thrust aside Japan by winning three rubbers for Croatia.  Like Germany, Japan may rue their choice of surface in retrospect, but Karlovic has proven himself dangerous even on slower courts.  Sweeping aside Nishikori in straight sets on Friday, he never lost his serve in either of his singles matches, including a decisive fifth rubber during which he seemed to feel neither pressure from the situation nor fatigue from his previous matches.  Perhaps most notable from the weekend was Karlovic’s ability to break serve; he needed only one tiebreak in six singles sets and won two sets by double-break margins.  Inside the top 50 as he prepares to turn 33, the Croat has grown more rather than less consistent with age.

Angelique Kerber:  While more often than not the player makes the results, sometimes the results make the player.  After bouncing around the second and third tiers of the WTA for years, Kerber astonished virtually everyone by racing within a set of the US Open final last fall.  That glimpse of what she could accomplish catalyzed her motivation and encouraged her to improve her fitness during the off-season.  Dismissed initially as an accident all too common in the parity of women’s tennis, she has begun to prove otherwise by compiling a 14-3 record in early 2012.  The German lefty reached semifinals in Auckland and Hobart before breaking through to claim her first career title in Paris with victories over two top-eight opponents.  Despite her lack of experience in finals, Kerber held her ground against multiple comebacks from Bartoli and continued creating opportunities to deliver the coup de grace.  When she did, one wondered whether the German trio of Petkovic, Lisicki, and Goerges might have become a quartet.

Pattaya City finalists:  Among players outside the top 20 when the year began, Hantuchova has surpassed all but Kerber in her achievements.  In addition to spearheading Slovakia’s victory over France in Fed Cup, she reached the Brisbane final and knocked off Schiavone in Sydney. Although she defeated no prominent name in the Thai beach city, her first career title defense represents a significant accomplishment for a player considered unreliable and emotionally frail.  Further undercutting that reputation, Hantuchova has rallied from losing the first set in seven of her fourteen victories this year, showing greater capacity for endurance than she has for most of her career.

Despite its insignificant position near the base of the WTA’s tournament hierarchy, Pattaya City featured a final filled with drama and entertainment throughout its 194 minutes.  No less responsible than Hantuchova for its quality was runner-up Kirilenko, who battled through game after game with unexpected tenacity.

Sorana Cirstea / Mona Barthel:  Flavors of the month in January, they started February with promise.  After she upset Stosur in the first round of the Australian Open, the former prodigy Cirstea reached the semifinals in Pattaya City, where she extended Kirilenko to three sets.  Even more notable was the continued surge of Hobart champion Barthel, who has amassed 16 victories already this year.  The last five of those came when she qualified for the main draw and then reached the quarterfinals at the Paris Indoors.  If her progress continues, the Germans could boast five players in the top 30 by midsummer, more than any other nation except Russia.

Deuce:

Team Kazakhstan:  One might wonder how a team can take positives away from losing a second straight Davis Cup tie 5-0, but Kazakhstan’s 10 straight losses mask a brighter story.  Faced with the task of playing a much superior Spanish team on clay, many more talented squads would have crumbled before the first ball even without the presence of Nadal and Ferrer.  In a 2011 quarterfinal, moreover, the Kazakhs had mustered only minimal resistance to Argentina in a clay tie under similar circumstances.  This year, they improved considerably by winning two sets from Ferrero and a set from Almagro in a weekend when victory lay inevitably beyond their grasp.  Still a fledgling Davis Cup power, they may have started to feel as though they belong.

Team Japan:  Literally overshadowed by their Croatian guests, Nishikori and Go Soeda nevertheless left their compatriots little reason for regret.  Although one expected a somewhat more competitive match between the Japanese #1 and Karlovic in Friday, he redeemed himself with an equally imposing triumph over Dodig on Sunday when the tie hung in the balance.  Unable to threaten Karlovic for more than a set in the decisive match, Soeda galvanized the crowd in the Bourbon Beans Dome by erasing a two-set deficit in the opening rubber.  On the heels of Nishikori’s quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open, this scintillating Davis Cup tie might enhance the prominence of tennis still further in Japan.

Switzerland's Roger Federer Reacts

Ad-out:

Federer:  Winning two total sets in two rubbers, the Swiss #1 lost little time in finding not one but two scapegoats for his embarrassment:  the poorly laid surface (fair) and his teammate Wawrinka (unfair).  So heavily did Federer criticize the latter, someone who didn’t watch the tie might have thought that Wawrinka had slumped to a four-set defeat against Isner while Federer had extended Fish deep into a fifth set.  Despite his surprising listlessness, this defeat will occupy scant space in any survey of the 16-time major champion’s career, but his reaction built upon earlier suggestions (cf. Wimbledon 2010, Roland Garros 2011) that Federer’s sportsmanship correlates directly to his success.

Sharapova:  Spraying more than 30 unforced errors in 20 games, she fell well short of justifying her status as the top seed in a draw of players who almost never had defeated her.  A reminder that no conclusions are foregone, Sharapova’s loss paralleled Federer’s setback in the lack of intensity or purpose shown by their protagonists.  Although Kerber’s ensuing march to the title mitigated the disappointment in retrospect, it still surprised considering her dominance of that opponent in Melbourne.  Perhaps February simply offers a necessary lull for these two champions between the demanding months of January and March.

WTA health:  Just one month and one significant tournament into the season, the casualty list has started to mount.  A few days after Li retired from Paris, Zvonareva retired from Pattaya City.  Before Paris even began, both Lisicki and Jankovic excused themselves with lingering injuries that had nagged them during Fed Cup.  Even with the Premier Five tournament in Doha on the horizon, world #3 Kvitova decided to save her ammunition for grander stages.  To some extent, these injuries stem from the habit (and ability) of the top women to set their own schedules, a trend that no Roadmap can cure.  But it still raises concern to see so many injuries to important figures so early in the season.

Alex Bogomolov:  Having stirred the cauldron of controversy by playing Davis Cup for Russia rather than the United States, Bogomolov did nothing to reward the trust of Tarpischev in his first World Group tie.  This most improbable Russian #1 won one total set in two singles rubbers, including an ignominious thrashing by Melzer in the tie-clincher during which he lost only seven games.  Just as embarrassing, though, was a four-set loss on Friday to the 127th-ranked Haider-Maurer that essentially sealed Russia’s fate.  If Tarpischev has any other weapons at his disposal, the Russian-turned-American-turned-Russian should watch the next tie’s live rubbers from the safety of the bench.

 

Maria Sharapova - 2011 French Open - Day Three

Sharapova vs. Garcia:  Dispatching one Caroline en route to the Rome title, Sharapova eyes a less intimidating Caroline in Paris.  This apparent mismatch pits a storied champion who has won three Slam titles against a 17-year-old who has won two total matches at majors, but perhaps one should not feed this Christian to the lioness too eagerly.  Flitting across one’s mind are the shadows of Kudryavtseva and Oudin, who defeated Sharapova at Wimbledon and the US Open when ranked #154 and #70, respectively.  Thrust onto a court far larger than any where she has tread, Garcia can expect the vociferous support of her compatriots and showed a glimpse of courage by winning the first Slam match of her career in January.  Demonstrating a nascent aptitude for the surface, the world #177 claimed her second ITF clay title in Florida this April.  Of course, Sharapova would capture the Premier Five crown in Rome two weeks later.

Chardy vs. Simon:  Sharing a passport but little else, this internecine clash of les bleus pits an aggressive, forehand-centered Frenchman against a compatriot who relies on steadiness and a crisp two-hander.  Whereas Chardy can drift emotionally within tournaments and even matches, a healthy Simon consistently competes with the sturdiness that has enabled him to maximize his potential.  The clay will shelter the former’s asymmetrical groundstroke game while showcasing the latter’s defense.  In the pressure of playing in their nation’s most prestigious event and largest stadium, the experience of Simon may shine through, but the brashness of Chardy may allow him to capture the moment.

Zheng vs. Kvitova:  Although she has failed to recapture her momentum following wrist surgery, Zheng has accumulated a history of upsetting or nearly upsetting contenders from Sharapova to Serena.  Her low center of gravity and compact stroke production aid her in adjusting to the clay’s unpredictable bounces, while her court coverage should prove even more seamless on the dirt.  Nevertheless, the unusually fast bounce and light balls at Roland Garros this year, coupled with warm, sunny weather, will encourage shot-maker like Kvitova to fancy their chances against defensive-minded foes.  Displaying traces of her scintillating form in Madrid, the Czech crushed 2011 surprise Arn in the first round and should gain further hope from her friendly first-week draw.

Malisse vs. Verdasco:  Most dangerous when least anticipated, the Spaniard surprisingly overcame a history of futility against Monaco in his opener despite a generally disappointing season.  One would imagine that this comprehensive four-set victory would raise the spirits of a player whose form fluctuates with his confidence.  But Verdasco’s fortunes have not always followed a logical trajectory, nor have those of his opponent.  From a nation more renowned in the WTA than ATP, Malisse has underachieved even more than the Spaniard has, in part as a result of chronic injuries.  Taking a set from Murray in Rome, he could unsettle the unsubtle Verdasco with his penetrating backhand and versatile all-court repertoire.

Mirza vs. Radwanska / Medina Garrigues vs. Gajdosova:  Only a sporadic player at this stage, Mirza still can unleash forehands that occasionally fluster competitors as noteworthy as Henin (in Melbourne this year).  Targeting the lines too often for sustained success on clay, her relentless ball-striking presents Radwanska with an assignment at which the Pole excels.  Smothered by the WTA’s premier offenses, she specializes in chipping away at less consistent or balanced attackers with canny shot placement that exploits the geometry of the court.  The balance of overall talent between puncher and counterpuncher shifts in the opposite direction when Gajdosova faces Medina Garrigues, whose superior clay skills that carried her to the Barcelona title.  Unruffled by a recent divorce or the circumstances of her opener against Razzano, however, the Aussie proved herself a focused and motivated competitor.

Querrey vs. Ljubicic:  Formerly feckless at Roland Garros, the youthful tower of power delivered a victory over Kohslchreiber almost as impressive and unexpected as Verdasco’s win over Monaco.  Standing poised to intercept him is a seasoned tower of power, who will rely upon the experience that Querrey never quite seems to acquire or turn to his advantage.  Neither player has displayed much spark over the past several months, trudging from tournament to tournament with their explosive serves but not much else.  In a match less meaningful for the veteran than for the American, Querrey has an opportunity to accumulate a bit of momentum before defending his Queens Club title and perhaps launching a longer campaign at Wimbledon.  Far from a contender here or there, he personifies the recent trend among American men of underperforming at majors—by their nation’s lofty standards, in any case.  Perhaps we should learn to accept him for what he remains, a decent talent with weapons and weaknesses in equal measure, rather than expecting him to develop into something special.

Cirstea vs. Dulgheru:  Banished to a court as peripheral as their country on Europe’s map, these two Romanians have scored their finest achievements on clay.  Scorching into the second week at Roland Garros 2009, Cirstea delivered an epic upset over Jankovic that suggested much more promise than she since has fulfilled.  Barely inside the top 100, she has floated among challengers and qualifying draws while winning only three main-draw matches this year.  Less eye-catching in both looks and playing style, Dulgheru won the last two editions of the Warsaw clay tournament with tireless court coverage and timely backhands down the line.  The two Romanians have struggled for most of 2011, although Alexandra did reach the Miami quarterfinals.  Having eaten more bagels and breadsticks lately than her tennis health should permit, she must remember that those who give gain more blessings than those who receive.

While the men’s draw featured several suspenseful five-setters, Day 1 did not ruin the manicures of the leading women or their supporters.  That trend could shift on Day 2 when the most famous working mom in tennis opens her Melbourne campaign against the 2009 finalist and former #1.  Thoroughly embarrassed by another Russian here a year ago, Clijsters hopes to avoid a relapse when she faces Safina, with whom she has split their two meetings during her comeback (both in Cincinnati).  Almost invincible against non-Russians, the three-time US Open champion has posted an indifferent 5-5 record since the start of 2010 when she plays someone from Safina’s nation.  As the first set of the Sydney final demonstrated, the Belgian’s game still can evaporate at unexpected moments and drift hopelessly beyond her control.  On the other hand, Safina’s game may have fractured beyond repair after a career-threatening back injury that descended late in 2009, exacerbating the mental frailty that she displayed as #1.  After winning a set from Wickmayer in Auckland, the Russian secured just one game from Bartoli in Hobart, but the scoreline did not reflect the multiple-deuce games that littered their encounter.  The night-session atmosphere probably favors the more confident Clijsters, thrusting Safina into an uncomfortably intense setting where she collapsed against Serena in the 2009 final.  For Marat’s sister, though, a loss would drop her outside the top 100 and into the murky realm of wildcards or perhaps qualifying draws, so she may approach this clash with additional motivation.  Yet she has won two or fewer games in half of the sets that she has played against Clijsters, including two bagels and four breadsticks, so an ugly rout could develop if Kim seizes control before Safina settles into the match.

Elsewhere on Day 2:

Nalbandian vs. Hewitt:  Curiously, this vintage encounter opposes the victor and the vanquished from the last Wimbledon final before Federer’s lease on the All England Club began.  A finalist last week in Auckland, the Argentine scored encouraging victories over Isner and Almagro.  Despite advancing age and questionable fitness, Nalbandian continues to lurk among the dark horses at every prominent event when healthy, for his uncanny timing and immaculate ball-striking have flustered even Federer and Nadal on repeated occasions.  Probably less naturally gifted than his adversary, Hewitt has fully capitalized upon his potential with a gritty work ethic antithetical to the underachieving Argentine, whose motivation has seemed tepid and sporadic at best.  The two-time major champion likely realizes that few Australian Opens remain in the twilight of his tennis odyssey, as do his fervent supporters.  Etching indelible memories onto their minds, the Australian once collaborated with Baghdatis in an early-round epic that resulted in the latest finish ever witnessed in Melbourne.  Unless Nalbandian sweeps him aside efficiently, Hewitt’s superior fitness (both physically and mentally) likely will produce another marathon and perhaps another rousing victory.

Jankovic vs. Kudryavtseva:  Highly fallible during the second half of 2010, the Serb looks to recapture the form that brought her the Indian Wells title last spring.  Unleashing a temper as flaming as her hair, Kudryavtseva showcased her fearsome offense in a Wimbledon upset over Sharapova in 2008 and a near-upset there over Venus a year earlier.  The Russian’s forehand penetrates the court with ease, menacing the type of inconsistent counterpuncher that Jankovic can become when low in confidence.  But can Kudryavsteva rein in her unruly weapons at crucial moments and maintain her level throughout two or maybe three sets?  In that regard, the Serb comfortably trumps her volatile adversary.

Ana Ivanovic - Adizero Speed Week In Melbourne

Makarova vs. Ivanovic:  For the second consecutive major, Ana opens against the Russian lefty who stunned the Eastbourne draw as a qualifier last year.  Frequently flashing her signature smile during the Hopman Cup and yesterday’s Rally for Relief, Ivanovic will seek to carry her relaxed attitude into a relatively gentle draw that she can exploit.  Dueling Azarenka for more than three hours  in Sydney, however, Makarova has an imposing serve and a striking knack for saving break points, even more perceptible than with the typical lefty.  Like Kudryavtseva above, her streakiness often prevents her from delivering her best tennis for more than a few games at a time.  Much more consistent since last summer, the Serb may experience a few nerves at the tournament where she once reached the final, while a strained abdominal muscle stirs slight concern.  Guided by the insightful Antonio van Grichen , Ivanovic has gained an air of quiet confidence after conquering her self-created demons, and the crowd should support her vociferously from the first ball onwards.

Date-Krumm vs. Radwanska:  Hobbled by injury last fall, the fabulously versatile Pole has not won a match since Tokyo and has not played since Beijing.  In fact, her entry in the Australian Open surprised most observers and causes us to wonder whether she has leapt to a premature decision that she will regret.  Across the net, the oldest player in the WTA has no regrets at all about a comeback that has ambushed two former #1s and a host of other players half her age.  Slapping groundstrokes at implausible angles with oddly truncated swings, Date-Krumm hopes to jerk Radwanska from side to side like a windshield wiper.  Comfortable anywhere on the court, the Pole aims to unsettle and exhaust the crafty veteran by exposing her to a variety of speeds and spins.  Sophisticated tennis fans will relish the subtle talents of both players as they delicately uncover each other’s flaws.

Vandeweghe vs. Cornet:  Once considered the future of women’s tennis in her nation, the Frenchwoman confronts a hard-serving foe often considered the future of American women’s tennis.  At the Australian Open occurred the collapse against Safina that precipitated Cornet’s seemingly irreversible spiral.  After three qualifying matches, Vandeweghe may enter the main draw somewhat weary, but her brash self-belief should help bring her past the easily wilting phenom of the past.

Berankis vs. Matosevic:  During the Australian Open wildcard playoff, we warmed to the mercurial Aussie as he launched a spirited comeback against Luczak to earn a berth in his home major.  Yet he will not find his task comfortable against the top-ranked Lithuanian in the ATP, who punches well above his diminutive stature.  Likely to reach the top 20 eventually, the boyish Berankis has reached the top 100 after gorging himself upon challengers while winning a match apiece at each of the last two majors.  Can he extend that streak?

Petrova vs. Pervak:  Last year’s quarterfinalist exited both Brisbane and Sydney in the opening round, while Pervak clawed her way through qualifying into the main draw at the former event.  There, she overwhelmed former top-5 star Chakvetadze before winning a set from ultimate champion Kvitova, who had ousted Petrova much more routinely a round earlier.  We watched the petite lefty against Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, where she convinced us that she possesses both the game and the mentality to threaten a fading, fragile veteran.

Cirstea vs. Lucic:  Not unlike Cornet, the exotic-looking Romanian formerly seemed destined to become the standard-bearer of her nation’s tennis hopes.  Hampered by injuries over the past two years, Cirstea merely seeks to reassert her relevance against yet another of the WTA’s comeback artists.  Lucic has enjoyed a far less successful return than her fellow veterans but did take a set from Jankovic at last year’s US Open with her flat, heavy groundstrokes; we look forward to watching her on grass.

***

We return tomorrow with the Day 3 preview!  As before, feel free to comment if you would like to share any recommendations for matches to highlight.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=federer+falla&iid=9173763″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9173763/roger-federer-celebrates/roger-federer-celebrates.jpg?size=500&imageId=9173763″ width=”500″ height=”788″ /]

If Wimbledon used the best-of-three format for the first week of its men’s matches, three of the top eight seeds would have fallen in their openers to Alejandro Falla, Olivier Rochus, and Kevin Anderson.  While the travails of neither Djokovic nor Davydenko surprised us, the near-disaster suffered by the six-time champion was completely unexpected, since Federer had comfortably dismissed Falla twice in the last month.  Forced to extricate himself from a two-set deficit, the feckless top seed nearly embarrassed the organizers who placed him atop the draw instead of Nadal.  Two potential outcomes could emerge from this excruciating brush with catastrophe, one positive and one negative for Federer.  Relieved to have escaped the Colombian, he might well relax in his future matches and remind himself that he managed to win despite playing several notches below his immortal best.  Don’t forget what happened after he hovered within five points of a straight-sets loss to Haas at the 2009 French Open, but also don’t forget what happened after he hovered within four points of a third-round loss to Tipsarevic at the 2008 Australian Open.  On the latter occasion, Federer’s frailty spurred the rest of the draw to assault him with renewed confidence, which resulted in his only straight-sets loss at a non-clay Slam since 2003 (semifinal vs. Djokovic).  Berdych, Roddick, Hewitt, and others should take note of how the defending champion’s tournament began as they devise their plans for how it will end.  Meanwhile, Federer’s fellow top seed attempts to make a more authoritative impact tomorrow morning.

***

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=larcher+de+brito&iid=7266076″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/7266076/michelle-larcher-brito/michelle-larcher-brito.jpg?size=500&imageId=7266076″ width=”500″ height=”431″ /]

Serena (1) vs. Larcher de Brito (Centre Court, 1st match):  A prodigy most noted for sonic scandals, the petite Portuguese star has yet to deliver upon the promise that she demonstrated in juniors and at the Bolletieri Academy.  Combined with her savage ball-striking, however, is a competitive ferocity rivaled by few of her peers.  Nevertheless, those assets recently have been overshadowed by her serving struggles, which will fatally undermine her cause against the most formidable serve in the WTA.  Although Serena does wobble sometimes in the first week of a Slam, she never has lost an opener and should be able to take command of most points with a massive first strike on either serve or return.  It’ll be intriguing to watch how Larcher de Brito handles the moment, though, for she remains unaccustomed to playing on venues like Wimbledon’s Centre Court.  In any case, we know that the Portuguese phenom won’t buckle meekly and will make every effort to dig her teeth into the rallies, creating sporadically entertaining exchanges before her eventual extent.  (By the way, our Portuguese Twitter correspondent Jose Morgado reports that the infamous shriek has diminished a little lately.)

Kendrick (Q) vs. Tsonga (10) (Court 1, 1st match):  Despite the rankings disparity here, Kendrick won a set from Murray last year behind impressive serving and relentless aggression.  Moreover, he’s accustomed himself to the atmosphere here by already having played three matches in the qualifying draw; having retired at Roland Garros a few weeks ago, by contrast, Tsonga has played no competitive matches on grass this season and might start a little slowly.  When the Frenchman lacks full confidence in his physical condition, his electrifyingly acrobatic style dips perceptibly as his shots rattle through the court with a shade less conviction.  Kendrick might have a greater chance to win in a best-of-three format before Tsonga can settle into a rhythm.  On the other hand, the tenth seed isn’t built for endurance and rarely plays five-setters, although he did win two of them in Melbourne.  Since both competitors will be swinging for the lines as soon as possible, few points should last more than four or five shots.  Extending a pattern of early-tournament inconsistency, Tsonga nearly dropped his opener in Paris to the unheralded Daniel Brands, yet that surface suits his game much less effectively than the speedy grass.  Therefore, an upset remains unlikely but not inconceivable.

Kiefer (W) vs. Ferrer (9) (Court 2, 2nd match):  The aging German still possesses a penetrating serve that distinctly trumps the Spaniard’s pedestrian delivery, whereas Ferrer enjoys far greater consistency from the baseline.  If the veteran can serve at a high percentage, finish points quickly, and keep the speedy retriever guessing with intelligent placement, he might well overcome the clay specialist.  After an outstanding season on the European dirt, Ferrer demonstrated his susceptibility to powerful servers during his startling straight-sets loss to Melzer in Paris, although he defeated Karlovic at Indian Wells.  Like Tsonga, the ninth seed chose not to play a grass prep, perhaps an indication that he has conceded this part of the season.  His fellow clay specialist Wawrinka made the same decision and paid a predictable price against Denis Istomin on Monday.  Much more adept on grass, Kiefer will take the initiative constantly and hold the match in his hands, so the outcome should come down to his execution level and confidence at key moments.  After a lengthy period of irrelevance, does he still believe in himself on the grandest stages?

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=petkovic&iid=8919715″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8919715/2010-french-open-day-four/2010-french-open-day-four.jpg?size=500&imageId=8919715″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

Chakvetadze vs. Petkovic (Court 14, 1st match):  Two years ago, the mercurial Russian reached the second week of the All England Club.  Three years ago, she built upon a sensational hard-court campaign to edge within one set of the US Open final.  While Chakvetadze has generated few headlines since those accomplishments, her two-hander remains a sensational weapon, and she compensates for her relative lack of pace by striking the bally early and creating unexpected angles; one might liken her style to a diluted version of her compatriot Davydenko.  Opposite the Russian stands one of the WTA’s hottest new commodities, a Bosnian-German who charged to the UNICEF Open and severely threatened Henin at that stage.  Unintimidated by most occasions or opponents, Petkovic did falter against Kuznetsova at Roland Garros, but the alacrity with which she rebounded testifies to her granite mentality, a stark contrast with Chakvetadze.  Yet one should remember that the Russian defeated the Bosnian-German in Birmingham two weeks ago, exploiting a sub-par performance from Petkovic that perhaps stemmed from her Paris disappointment.  Nevertheless, one of these stars has been rising as swiftly as the other has been descending, and Slams tend to confirm rather than reverse such trends.

Kanepi (Q) vs. Stosur (6) (Court 18, 2nd match):  Decent but unremarkable in her Eastbourne prep, Stosur surrendered sets to Hantuchova and Baltacha before becoming one of the victims in Makarova’s bizarre march to the title.  The Estonian has never seen a ball that she doesn’t attempt to obliterate, adhering to a straightforward power baseline style that has proven less effective this year than it has in the past.  Charting Kanepi’s decline, one can note the inexorable transformation in the WTA, where what Mats Wilander called “mindless bashing” once represented a reliable formula for winning matches but now must be combined with intelligent point construction, a little more versatility, and a bit more consistency than was previously necessary.  (Slumping sluggers Kuznetsova, Safina, and Ivanovic, among others, might wish to take note as they wallow in existential woe.)  Beyond her outstanding serve, Stosur has cultivated more variety than the average women’s star and thus should be able to outlast the erratic, slow-footed Estonian.  All the same, the Australian was outslugged by Baltacha during the early stages of their Eastbourne match, and the Brit’s game markedly resembles that of the Estonian.  Don’t be surprised to see Stosur dragged into a decider before she pulls through, just as Kanepi dragged Jankovic into a decider at Roland Garros.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=nicolas+mahut&iid=9070305″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9070305/aegon-championships-day/aegon-championships-day.jpg?size=500&imageId=9070305″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

Mahut (Q) vs. Isner (23) (Court 18, 4th match):  The flamboyant Frenchman produced a characteristically odd bit of trivia in the qualifying by winning a 46-game final set from local hope Alex Bogdanovic.  Comprising 23 consecutive service holds, that Roddick-esque performance will need to be repeated in order for Mahut to upset the towering Isner.  Yet he should take heart by noting that giants did not stand tall on Day 1, which included losses by Anderson (6’7”), Cilic (6’6”), and Ljubicic (6’5”); even Del Potro (6’6”) exited in the second round last year.  A Queens Club finalist in 2007, Mahut came within a point of ambushing Roddick for the title and relishes grass more than any other surface.  Break points should be at a premium in this collision, which might witness multiple tiebreaks and probably will pivot on a tiny handful of timely winners or cluster of unforced errors.  Whereas the American will stand atop the baseline and attempt to dictate play with his forehand, the Frenchman will hurtle towards the net at the earliest opportunity.  Isner thus will test Mahut’s movement and consistency, while Mahut will test Isner’s reflexes and instincts.   If they head into a fifth set, these two adversaries might test the daylight by holding serve again and again…and again.

Briefly noted:  Shortly after his return from a protracted injury hiatus, Nishikori receives the monumental assignment of tackling Nadal on Centre Court, too demanding a task at this stage in his development although an opportunity to display some of his promise where people will notice.  Another Roland Garros champion, Ferrero might be challenged by Xavier Malisse as he attempts to repeat his 2009 quarterfinal appearance; the enigmatic Belgian recently upset Djokovic in Queens Club, while the Spaniard has been erratic since Rome.  Bolstered by the Croatian architect of Safina’s success, Cibulkova will seek to exploit the low bounces of the surface least natural to her against Safarova, who dazzled on clay before wilting at Eastbourne.  Her fellow clay-season arriviste Rezai rarely can be accused of wilting in any circumstances, but she did under-perform a bit at Roland Garros after swaggering to the Madrid title.  Having reached the Birmingham semis and vanquished Wozniacki in Eastbourne, the Frenchwoman faces a stern test of her all-court prowess when she confronts 2009 Birmingham titlist Rybarikova.  Early in a partnership with Antonio van Grichen (of Azarenka-related renown), Cirstea has accomplished little of significance for most of 2010 but showed signs of awakening by defeating Schiavone and nearly Kuznetsova in Eastbourne.  Will she extend her momentum against another Czech lefty, Kvitova, whose emotional implosions often dwarf her talents? 

***

Meanwhile, Maria prepares to showcase her latest foray into fashion on Court 2.  Can she recapture the lofty heights attained by her 2008 design?

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+wimbledon+2008&iid=1330921″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/1330921/the-championships/the-championships.jpg?size=500&imageId=1330921″ width=”423″ height=”594″ /]

Feel free to use the comments or write to us on Twitter if you have a Day 3 match about which you would like to read here! 🙂

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+strasbourg&iid=8881725″ src=”3/8/1/8/Russias_Maria_Sharapova_d8e3.jpg?adImageId=12956333&imageId=8881725″ width=”500″ height=”550″ /]

Cows, put on your skates.  Maria Sharapova would be the first to admit her shortcomings on clay, once labeling herself a “cow on ice,” but she claimed the first red-clay title of her career at Strasbourg this weekend.  Although nobody would confuse it with Rome or Madrid, the tournament will have restored some vital confidence to a player whose high-stakes game revolves around it.  We were encouraged to observe how greatly she relished winning this insignificant title, moreover, proving that her renowned passion for competition remains undimmed despite demoralizing injuries.  If Maria can carry her momentum here into faster surfaces, the summer hard courts should see her well-positioned to wreak some havoc.  Better positioned than a cow on ice, anyway.

While Maria journeys to the French capital, we inaugurate our daily previews of the matches to watch at Roland Garros.  Sunday’s order of play disappointed us a bit, to be honest, so the selection is smaller than what you’ll see from us in the future.  Nevertheless, there’s a defending champion and a pair of potential future champions in action…

Kuznetsova (6) vs. Cirstea (Chatrier, 1st match):  Just 3-5 since the beginning of March, Kuznetsova has been struggling to win matches since her title in Beijing last fall.  If the defending champion doesn’t win this match, she’ll drop well outside the top 10 and perhaps outside the top 20.  Unfortunately for her, victory is far less assured than in most first rounds, for the draw has pitted her against a quarterfinalist here last year, who upset Jankovic in a marathon three-setter.  Like Kuznetsova, though, Cirstea has accomplished much less recently than her talents would suggest and has not recorded an impressive win since defeating Dementieva in Hopman Cup.  On the other hand, she recently harnessed the assistance of Azarenka’s former coach, Antonio Van Grichen, and showed promising signs by defeating Kirilenko in Andalusia as well as taking a set from Pennetta in Madrid.  Both players showcase bold shotmaking that can veer wildly from sizzling to Antarctic, which might produce an entertaining rollercoaster.  If the photogenic Romanian can stay focused and within range, she’ll have an opportunity to pull off the upset.

Dulko vs. Azarenka (10) (Lenglen, 2nd match):  One never would consider Azarenka the retiring type, but the extroverted Belorussian has retired three times since Miami with a hamstring injury.  Also a quarterfinalist here last year, her balanced game suits the clay better than many of her peers and may someday lift her to the title.  It won’t happen in 2010, however, for any sort of hampered movement will be ruthlessly exposed on this surface.  Dulko’s consistency might enable her to wear down Azarenka in long rallies; the Argentine certainly isn’t intimidated by marquee players, having defeated Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Henin at Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and Indian Wells during the past year.  Another factor here may be the unruly French crowd, since hostile audiences have rattled Azarenka in the past by mocking her Sharapova-esque shriek.  That said, she has many more ways to win points than does Dulko. 

Benneteau vs. Gulbis (23) (Lenglen, 3rd match):  On paper, this first round should be an utter mismatch, but we’re moderately curious to observe how Gulbis responds to what surely will be a partisan Paris crowd.  The Latvian defeated an Italian in Italy and a Spaniard in Spain during his last two events, seeming a trifle jaded against Volandri but completely unruffled against Lopez.  An accomplished doubles player, Benneteau doesn’t possess the consistency or defensive skills that would test Gulbis’ still-suspect consistency.  Among the key questions regarding his future Slam success would be his ability to remain focused deep into a best-of-five format, but that question probably won’t be answered for at least one or two more rounds.

Sprem vs. Kirilenko (30) (Court 2, 2nd match):  Steadily rising in the rankings, Kirilenko impressively followed up her opening upset of Sharapova by reaching the final eight in Melbourne.  The 30th seed also navigated into the Rome quarterfinals after defeating Kuznetsova in three sets.  Situated in Sveta’s section again here, she could accomplish another strong run here, although she just suffered an oddly lopsided loss in Madrid to Radwanska, no dirt devil herself.  Designed around grace and guile, her game sometimes falters against an imposing server like Croatia’s Sprem, perhaps best known for a controversial Wimbledon win over Venus.  The contrast between adroit point construction and first-strike tennis could produce some engaging rallies.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=kirilenko+rome&iid=8718936″ src=”4/c/f/5/Sony_Ericsson_WTA_82b0.jpg?adImageId=12956358&imageId=8718936″ width=”444″ height=”594″ /]

Vesnina vs. Petkovic (Court 17, 1st match):  This match deserves much better than Court 17.  Separated by just three places in the rankings, the Russian and the German both possess well-rounded games as well as an imaginative sense of opening up the court with angled groundstrokes.  Although Petkovic prefers hard courts to clay, she has acquitted herself surprisingly well on the surface with wins over Rezai and Pennetta, in addition to taking a set from Serena in Rome.  Winless on red clay this year, Vesnina nevertheless scored her best performance of 2010 on green clay in the now-defunct Ponte Vedra Beach tournament, where she came within a few points of defeating eventual champion Wozniacki.  Mentally stronger than the Russian, Petkovic should prevail, but their encounter should be more tightly contested than most of Sunday’s clashes.

Briefly noted:  Most of the ATP matches look rather nondescript, but here are a few of minor interest.  A year after thrilling his compatriots by defeating Safin 10-8 in the fifth set, Josselin Ouanna attempts to recapture that magic against dangerous doubles specialist Lukasz Kubot.  Two years after nearly toppling Federer in another 10-8 fifth-set (at the Australian Open), the ever-eccentric, engaging Serb Janko Tipsarevic duels with Colombian clay specialist Alejandro Falla for the reward of a rematch with the world #1.  A tireless ball-retriever, Indian phenom Somdev Devvarman unsurprisingly clawed a path through qualifying to set up a winnable match against Swiss journeyman Marco Chiudinelli.  While Devvarman must refine his shot selection and develop an offensive weapon in order to break through, the clay should allow him to showcase his excellent defensive skills.  Keep his name on your radar for the long-distance future.

Playing a little free association with the words “Henin,” “Sharapova,” and “Madrid,” the 2007 year-end championships final springs to mind, an instant classic in which the statuesque Russian and the petite Belgian fired groundstroke missiles at each other for nearly three and a half electrifying hours.  In their very next trip to the Spanish capital, however, the two former #1s tumbled consecutively to a pair of streaky but second-tier players. 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=sharapova+madrid&iid=8745801″ src=”7/a/d/2/Mutua_Madrilena_Madrid_f2aa.jpg?adImageId=12803764&imageId=8745801″ width=”447″ height=”594″ /]

Returning from yet another injury and playing on her least comfortable surface, Sharapova wouldn’t have expected to pull off a deep run here and probably would have fallen to Dementieva in the third round even if she had won today.  The Russian has played just nine matches this year and scored just one win outside her title run in Memphis, so she’ll head to Strasbourg hoping to settle into a rhythm before Roland Garros (and perhaps test out what may or may not be a Head racket).  Parallel to 2009, though, Maria’s main goal will be to accumulate match play before the fast-surface summer rather than to peak at the French Open, where she won’t be and has never been among the leading contenders.  A high-risk game like hers doesn’t incorporate the margin for error necessary to win seven consecutive matches on a surface that rewards consistency more than shot-making.  Maria’s best tennis probably lies behind her, for one senses that her career peaked with her dizzyingly brilliant fortnight at the 2008 Australian Open, the most dominant single-Slam performance in recent memory according to such a perfectionist as Martina Navratilova (who ought to know).  But few players can equal the relentless competitive willpower that she brings to the court when healthy and confident.  Don’t be surprised to see Sharapova resurface on the North American hard courts, as she did last year, and progress deep into some significant draws in the season’s second half.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=henin+madrid&iid=8746947″ src=”0/6/6/4/Mutua_Madrilena_Madrid_c96d.jpg?adImageId=12803815&imageId=8746947″ width=”406″ height=”594″ /]

On the other hand, Henin indeed will be among the leading contenders (if not the leading contender) for the clay-court crown, and her illness-influenced loss to Rezai raises serious questions about her physical durability, problematic thus far in her comeback but essential for her to dominate Paris.  Rivals such as Jankovic and Serena will be encouraged to think that they might be able to claim the French Open title without confronting the Belgian, while the WTA rank-and-file will enter early-round matches against her without the conviction that victory would be “Mission Impossible,” in Rezai’s words.  Furthermore, she squandered a golden opportunity to gain a top-16 seeding at Roland Garros, which would have afforded her one additional round to find her comfort zone before meeting a marquee opponent.  After a hideous loss to Dulko in Indian Wells, however, Henin charged to the semifinals in Miami and nearly conquered eventual champion Clijsters, so don’t underestimate this feisty competitor’s ability to rebound from discouraging losses (see our article on the Art of Amnesia below).  She’ll have plenty of time to rest, recover from this illness, and acclimate herself to the Paris conditions before most of the other contenders arrive. 

***

It’ll be intriguing to see whether the wave of upsets in the opening weekend, which began with Kuznetsova’s Saturday loss, will trickle into Monday and Tuesday.  We take a look at a handful of Monday matches that each offer something to ponder:

Safina-Zakopalova:  Wobbly so far in her return from a back injury, the defending champion couldn’t have asked for a better opener than against Zakopalova…or for a worse opener.  The 28-year-old Czech lacks any real weapon but can retrieve ball after ball after ball, as Serena discovered to her dismay in a three-set marathon at last year’s French Open.  Safina won’t have to worry about being hustled off the court before she can find a rhythm; she’ll have plenty of chances to work her way through rallies and construct points, so in a sense the matchup is ideal.  On the other hand, an inconsistent evening from the Russian could be a prolonged trip to the torture chamber, since Zakopalova misses very few balls at all and loves to wage a war of attrition, for which Safina is currently unready.  Either way, it’ll be a timely opportunity for her to practice the vital skill of controlled aggression, always a test for her slim patience.

Kvitova-Wozniacki:  The world #2 lost to one lefty in Stuttgart (Sharapova-killer Safarova) and another lefty in Rome (Martinez Sanchez); here comes a third lefty in the opening round of Madrid.  Between Indian Wells and an untimely injury in Charleston, Wozniacki looked ready to take a major step forward, justify her inflated ranking, and perhaps even challenge for the Roland Garros title.  Since she still relies excessively on her movement and ball-retrieving skills, threats to mobility such as this ankle injury could undermine her capacity to outlast streaky shotmakers like Kvitova, who pummeled Zvonareva in Rome last week.   The Pole-Dane should come through because Kvitova tends to go cold at the wrong time, but expect Wozniacki’s wheels to be tested. 

Zvonareva-Venus:  We weren’t quite sure what to expect from either of these players after their dismal exits from Rome, including the worst loss of Venus’ professional career.  In the opening round, however, the American registered a sturdy serving performance, while the Russian routinely knocked off Oudin for the third time in 2010.  (Wasn’t the pugnacious Georgian supposed to be especially good against Russians?)  Venus has won their last six meetings, of which three were on clay, so on paper she appears the heavy favorite.  Nobody saw the horrific Rome loss on the horizon after a pair of capable wins there, though, and the elder Williams sister dropped her second-round match to Kleybanova here last year.  Solid with both sets of groundstrokes, Zvonareva has more than enough ability to grind down an erratic Venus from the baseline, as did Jankovic, or punish her for an off-key serving day.  Considering Venus’ struggles on clay, one imagines that Vera will see an opportunity sometime; can she hold her nerve and convert?

Cirstea-Pennetta:  Picking Pennetta to reach the Rome semis, we felt that she would be buoyed by her recent Fed Cup success, her Andalusia title, and the home crowd.  How wrong we were (although not as wrong as when we picked Henin to win here); the Italian extracted just three games from Safarova in the second round on a very bleak day for her countrywomen, who won nine total games in four matches.  2010 has been surprisingly inconsistent for Pennetta, so far largely unable to capitalize upon the momentum from her strong second half in 2009.  Across the net, Cirstea seems to be finally emerging from a protracted slump by hiring Azarenka architect Antonio van Grichen and scoring a handful of wins during the clay season.  There’s plenty of potential for van Grichen to unlock, as Jankovic could attest after dropping a 9-7 third set to the charismatic Romanian at Roland Garros last year.  Can the stagnating veteran use her experience to prevail over the burgeoning youngster?

Li-Garcia Vidagany:  We hear the contemptuous chuckles from those of you who missed the Marbella event.  Before the dust had settled from Miami, Garcia Vidagany had stunned Clijsters in that lush Mediterranean resort.  Kudos to her for building upon the momentum by qualifying for another of her home tournaments here.  It’s unrealistic to expect her to defeat Li, but we’re curious to see whether this 21-year-old can muster something that will keep her name on our radar, at least for small events.  A competitive effort in this match would do so.

***

After Monday’s light canape, Tuesday should offer a delicious selection of tapas, not least the Ivanovic-Jankovic and Berdych-Nalbandian encounters.  We’ll be back to set the table for you tomorrow…

Inactive during the past fortnight, Sharapova dropped two places in the rankings to #14 as a result of some excellent performances by the players just below her.  While she caresses her strings above, we’ll recap some of the big winners and losers from both the WTA and the ATP.

ATP:

Murray (4):  The 2009 champion failed to win a set and once more exchanged places with Nadal after Rafa’s semifinal run.  On the other hand, he has only a relatively modest number of points to defend on clay, whereas the Spaniard has virtually no room to gain before he reaches Paris.

Roddick (7):  The top-ranked American’s sensational month vaulted him past Soderling despite the Swede’s consecutive semifinals.

Youzhny (13):  Sensational so far in 2010, the Russian has erupted from a lengthy slump to challenge the game’s elite.  He defeated a rusty Wawrinka and profited from Fish’s retirement.   Just a hint:  you might hear more about him from us in the near future.  😉

Berdych (16):  He fully earned his highest ranking in years by defeating not one, not two, but three higher-ranked players at Key Biscayne.  There’s plenty of room for him to keep ascending, too.

Simon (26):  Frenchman’s free fall continues after failing to win so much as a set all month.  He’s gone from beating the top players to threatening the top players to not threatening the top players to not threatening anyone.

Almagro (34):  Yet another talented Spaniard fully profited from the section vacated by Djokovic to plow his way to the quarterfinals against unremarkable opposition.

Chardy (44):  A French star of the future avenged his loss to Querrey in Indian Wells by rallying from a one-set deficit against him here before forcing the afore-mentioned Almagro into a third set.

WTA:

Venus (4):  Big sister supplants Kuznetsova after extending her winning streak to 15 consecutive matches.  If she can hold her ground, she won’t risk facing  little sister in the quarterfinal of a major event, better for her and better for the audience.

Azarenka (9):  The defending champion defended a little longer than her counterpart Murray, especially considering her brutal draw.  But she continues to struggle mentally against vaunted veterans and dropped two spots as a consequence.  We’ll see if she can regain her momentum on the clay.

Clijsters (10):  Her return to the top 10 was all but inevitable, since she has no points to defend until Cincinnati.  If she continues to perform at the level that she displayed in Miami, she’ll be back in the top 5 by the late summer.  Maintaining  a standard of excellence is easier than done, however.

Bartoli (12):  The Frenchwoman’s game may be eccentric, even unique, but her results have been more consistent than many of her peers.  She did well to capitalize on the opportunity offered by an injured Kuznetsova and an upset-riddled quarter.  If you open a door for her, she’ll almost always walk through it.

Li (15) / Pennetta (16):  These two veterans skidded downwards after dropping three-setters in their opening rounds.  Li failed to win a match at either Indian Wells or Miami, losing consecutive third-set tiebreaks (and double-faulting on match point).  Nevertheless, you’re going to hear more about her shortly, too.  😉

Rezai (20):  She accomplished nothing at all in Key Biscayne, losing her opener to a wildcard, but somehow still makes her top 20 debut.

Henin (23):  A superb semifinal run in which she defeated two top-ten players and Zvonareva launches Henin ten places closer to the top.  It’s likely that she’ll be seeded in the top 16 for Roland Garros and perhaps in the top 8 for Wimbledon.

Pavlyuchenkova (30):  The promising but still inconsistent Russian (once the #1 junior) returns to the top 30 by knocking off Schiavone, never an easy assignment.

Cirstea (36):  The very promising but still very inconsistent Romanian fell off the radar for the last several months  but knocked off Portuguese phenom Larcher de Brito.  Armed with the expert skills of Antonio van Grichen as her new coach, she should progress further during the road to Roland Garros, where she reached a quarterfinal last year after upsetting Jankovic.  A tricky first-round against Kirilenko looms in Marbella, though.

Ivanovic (57):  One match won, one ranking spot gained.  She made three great decisions during the tournament:  1)  retaining her new coach, Heinz Gunthardt, who seems an excellent personality match for her, 2) withdrawing from the pressure-soaked Fed Cup tie, 3) taking a wildcard into the Stuttgart event.  If she can maximize her match play during the clay court season, she should post more wins and gain more confidence, essential for her aggressive game.  Nearly half of her total rankings point (560 of 1172) come from fourth-round appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon next year, so she’ll want to build as much of a buffer as she can should she fail to reproduce those results.  Ana almost definitely will be unseeded for both Slams and could find herself anywhere in the draws.

***

Unless something especially newsworthy occurs in Marbella or Ponte Vedra Beach during the next few days, we’ll be busily working on our second player profile, which will follow the same format as the Radwanska essay (5 highlights, 5 lowlights, 3 strengths, 3 weaknesses, projected future results).  It should be published before the end of the week!  🙂

OnlyWire: The Magic Button!

Twitter Updates

  • Ещё причина для обмана. 2 years ago
  • вложила на вокзале. 2 years ago
  • Всегда уносимся мы думою своей; 2 years ago
  • Мне пропоёт их Весна 2 years ago
  • тема - день смеха 2 years ago
  • Не стремись знать все, чтобы не стать во всем невеждой. 2 years ago