Saturday, 30 April 2011

Julia the Jewel in Stuttgart

Last week it was Rafa Nadal continuing to be the nemesis of David Ferrer, this time in the Barcelona final.  Both are in fine touch as the French Open nears.

Watch out Top Ten!
However far more interest surrounded the WTA event in Stuttgart where rankings counted for little.  Number 3 seed Italian Francesca Schiavone was dumped in her first match, leaving the defending French Open champion in a trough of erratic form.  Then again, last year's Roland Garros triumph came on the back of a first round loss in Stuttgart, second round loss in Rome and third round loss in Madrid.  Number 2 seed Vera Zvonareva once more failed to overcome Sam Stosur despite taking the first set in their quarter final.

Number 4 seed and hottest player around Victoria Azarenka retired from her match with Julia Goerges when leading by a set after her shoulder played up - hopefully just precautionary action.

Of the favoured players only top seed Caroline Wozniacki proceeded through the draw unscathed - until she met Julia Goerges in the final.  4 German girls had made the quarters - a delight for local fans.  Goerges comfortably accounted for Sabine Lisicki before knocking out 5th seed Stosur in the semis, serving up a storm and hitting a multitude of winners.  Hard to imagine this girl outside the world's top 30.

Then  her greatest ever performance - a brilliant final against Wozniacki, a girl 20 months her junior but clearly not in tennis terms.  A tight first set went to a tie break where Goerges went on a charge winning it 7 points to 3.  The straight sets win 7-6 6-3 shot the German girl into the top 30 and into discussions about who may challenge on the clay in the lead up to and for the French Open itself.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Soderling shocked and Ferrer threatening

Andy Murray bypassed Barcelona because of injury sustained during his impressive run in Monte Carlo, but another top ranked player had only his tennis to blame for early exit in Spain this week.

Ferrer Firing!
Robin Soderling's best has been excellent this season - 3 tournament wins, but punctuated sadly by unexpected defeats in tournaments that matter most, including the Australian Open when he was in control (4th round) and Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami (both 3rd round).  It was his sole Miami victim, Croatian Ivan Dodig, who sought and gained revenge, dispatching him from Barcelona reckoning - straights sets second round loss after first                                                                         round bye.

There is already a credible threat, to at least trouble Nadal in his bid for a 6th French title.  He is David Ferrer, who was the last player to defeat his countryman in a major, albeit with assistance of injury to Rafa in Melbourne.  Ferrer is timing his run beautifully, as are a number of Spanish players, and he did push Nadal in the Monte Carlo finale.

In Barcelona, home fans are in raptures, as Croatian Ivan Dodig is the only semi finalist not from Spain.  It could very well be a retake of Monte Carlo, because it's difficult to mount a case for Dodig knocking over Nadal in one semi, and I believe that Ferrer has momentum and the pedigree to resist a Nicolas Almagro push in the other.  He has yet to lose to Almagro on tour.

If a true clay courter is to challenge the master of the surface for the 2011 French Open, then it looks to be Ferrer for the job.  Unfortunately he may be seeded to meet one of the big 3 before the semis.  However, maybe it should be the top 3 to have concerns with that prospect.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Rafa Rolling toward Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal
7 has been lucky for many a high roller at Monte Carlo, and Rafael Nadal is the latest to agree - Rafa rolled fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in a tight 2 set final to make it not only a slick seven Masters Titles in the rich resort but taking them in succession.  On clay Nadal is the prince, and no one has the form or pedigree to touch him in Paris, even allowing the form of a certain Serbian racquet twirler.

The strangest thing to come out of events this week, apart from Roger crashing early, was the return to form of Scot Andy Murray, not on a surface he favours.  This should give him confidence, not necessarily to dominate Roland Garros, but to be in top shape come the grass season and his biggest yearning - Wimbledon glory. 

Sad to see the Aussie girls lose their Fed Cup tie against the Ukraine - both teams were without top ranked players, but one would have thought that on home turf, and leading 2-1, that Australia should have consolidated a position in the World Group.  Not to be however, and congratulations to the Europeans a long way from home.

Barcelona this week for the men - expect more success for the world number one amid strong opposition from Murray again, and Soderling, a likely semi final opponent for Nadal.
The top women descend on Stuttgart where 7 of the top 8 ranked players will compete in one of the strongest fields assembled this year.  Only Kim Clijsters is missing out of that lot because of injury.  Expect Azarenka and Wozniacki to fight out the final though Wickmayer could be a nasty second round hurdle for the Danish number one.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Sweeting - I did say to watch him!

Ryan Sweeting, Of The United States, Kisses
Sweet kiss

Well it was a proud moment when Ryan Sweeting won his home nation's Clay Court Championship in Houston.  After he beat Sam Querrey, I never envisaged that he would go all the way, but he did, beating Japan's Kei Nishikori in the final. 

Amid all of the sadness of Japan's plite, it is wonderful to see success coming to Nishikori who jumps into the top 50.  Sweeting has leapt from 93 to 67 and with that comes guaranteed entry to the main draw of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and most other tournaments.

Victoria Azarenka  (Photo: Canadian Press)
Vika a threat!
   On the women's side, Caroline Wozniacki just rolls on taking her 3rd title for the year in Charleston - great clay court form, and although it's different clay in Paris the world number one must be high on confidence. 
Second only in confidence to her great friend Victoria Azarenka, who has won successive titles and moved into the top 5 at Sam Stosur's expense.  With Kim Clijsters in doubt for the French Open, Vika could well be seeded to play semis, and I'm looking forward to seeing her always enthralling and courageous efforts as she attempts to make it through the draw.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sam's Just Not Slammin'

2010 was what most have claimed to be Samantha Stosur's breakthrough year on the women's tour, and for many reasons it was - a second career title and a fantastic performance at Roland Garros just falling short. 

Stosur tumbles
Samantha Stosur
However, as much as last year was a breakthrough, 2011 represents a breakdown, at least for the first quarter.  Unable to string more than a few wins together at a time, Sam has lost many of her points that she racked up whilst wandering through the US tournaments in early 2010.  The loss of points has precipitated a loss of confidence and the old demons have returned - trouble closing matches out and struggling to pull a second idea out once the serve goes off.

As defending champion on the clay in Charleston, Sam was appearing a little more comfortable as she led Elena Vesnina 4-2 in the first set of their 3rd round match.  Then a procession of games lost - 10 of the next 11 in fact.

Hopefully the Australian number one can recapture the form that enabled her to stride the Paris clay with such authority last year.  I am going to be there this year to experience the French Open live, and it would be great to have an Aussie to cheer for in the second week in something other than doubles.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Not so Sweet for Querrey

See full size imageRyan Sweeting, in the battle of 2 tall Americans, belied his ranking yet again against top 20 player Sam Querrey on the clay at Houston this week for the US Men's Clay Court Championships.

After having a bye in the first round, Querrey looked on course to reverse his defeat by Sweeting at Delray Beach in February, a set up, and into a second set tie break.  However it was the Bahamas born 23 year old that held firm to win the tie break and the deciding set to reach the 3rd round. 

Sweeting has moved into the top 100 and with performances such as these could make further significant inroads and ultimately come into serious Davis Cup reckoning for the US.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Serbia Supreme!

The best Men's Tennis Team in the world as judged by Davis Cup glory is Serbia's.  And without a single shred of doubt, the best male player in 2011 comes from this country of only a shade over 7 million people.

Coming into the Australian Open earlier this year, most tennis followers and the supposed experts amongst them were wondering how the battle for number one would wage between Rafa and Roger, and which of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic would take a firm grip of the number 3 spot, albeit somewhat beneath the mighty two.

Well history tells us that Novak would destroy Federer on the way to a final that was as one sided as most of the Serena Williams ones have tended to be.  Andy Murray was blown away, and as his results have proven since he has been badly scarred mentally.

Roger too cannot pass the Djokovic hurdle - 3 times a loser to the Serb in 2011, but the most impressive stat is not the winning streak - that is fantastic don't get me wrong - it is how Novak has silenced his doubters by beating the best player (up until now that is) on the planet in finals at successive Masters events.

Indian Wells was a triumph because of the fight to come from a set down.  Miami was even more so because of the heat factor - something Novak has had problems dealing with in the past.  Additionally he opened the match abysmally giving Nadal every chance to build on the momentum and run away with a straight sets win.

We now have a more committed Djokovic - yes he fought back to a set all, but even at 5-6 in the decider he was facing 15-30.  Calm precise shot making forced a tie breaker and it was Nadal who felt the heat of Miami but more so from the Serbian shots. 

Rafa may yet prevail on clay (as has been his habit) later this year, but watch out for the new number 2 who is fast putting space between himself and Federer.  Number one is attainable.  Nadal has 3 Grand Slam titles to defend amongst the 11,000 or so points left from last year.  Djokovic only has to defend another 5200.

Fun times at the very top of mens tennis, and all sorts of movement in the ranks below. eg who'd have thought Mardy Fish 11 ahead of Andy Roddick 14 as the top ranked American?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Miami 2011: Womens Tennis in great shape

The possible dominance of Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki and to a lesser extent Vera Zvonareva in the big tournaments in 2011 has been thrown into doubt with the events this week.
With Maria Sharapova displaying the form we know she is capable of, injury-free, and Victoria Azarenka winning her second "5th Grand Slam Title" in Miami (on the way slaying Kim and Vera and mercilessly Maria in the final), there is an openness coming into the French and Wimbledon that we could not necessarily have foreseen.
If Schiavone v Stosur was a surprise Roland Garros finale in 2010, then don't be too sure that the top seeds will restore any normality to the draw for the final Saturday this time round.  The depth in the womens game is greater than we've seen for some time and it is tempered only by the absence of the greatest player - we hope that Serena soon rejoins this great era.