Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Rome Theory: Why Most Seeds Stumbled !!

Okay so I haven't written in almost a week cuz I've been trying to focus on my GMAT preparation and also cuz my best friend just moved away to the US and I was busy bidding him goodbye. I do however have a lot to say about the tennis events that took place at the Rome Masters last week.

Weird Scenario #1 - Rafa bows out early to JC

Three-time defending champion, Rafael Nadal, crashed out to former world number one, Juan Carlos Ferrero, in the second round, 7-5, 6-1.

A fatigued Rafa was outplayed by his fellow Spaniard in every aspect of the game as the 21-year-old claycourt specialist was forced to take a medical break to attend to some major cuts and blisters in his foot (a sight that wasn't pretty upclose on screen I must add).

Rafa came to Rome off two major titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in the 2 weeks leading up to the Rome Masters. He had a large number of points to defend, had won the last 104 out of 105 clay matches, and had a 6-1 head-to-head lead against Ferrero, the most recent win coming in Monte Carlo last month. So what happened?!

Weird Scenario # 2 - Seeds, Ferrer, Nalbandian, suffer early exits

Valencia champion, Barcelona finalist and fifth-seeded David Ferrer suffered a surprising second round exit to Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. Ferrer, who also reached the quarters in Monte Carlo 2 weeks earlier, had not lost to Stepanek since 2004.

Stepanek had only played one clay match this season in Monte Carlo where he lost in three sets to Sweden's Robin Soderling.

Meanwhile, seventh-seeded David Nalbandian also lost his first match in Rome against unseeded Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, 6-4, 7-5.

Nalbandian has had some success on clay this season as he captured the Buenos Aires title earlier this year as well as reaching the final in Acapulco and the quarters in Monte Carlo.

Weird Scenario # 3 - Two Americans feature in the quarters at a claycourt event

Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake both made it to the quarters in Rome beating Spaniards Tommy Robredo and Fernando Verdasco on the way.

Roddick was playing his first clay event of the season while Blake had played one match in Barcelona where he lost to Germany's Denis Gremelmayr in straight sets.

Neither player had ever had much success on clay unlike their Spaniard opponents who are well-known for their great form on that surface.

Weird Scenario # 4 - Federer stopped by Stepanek

World number one, Roger Federer, who had the week off after his final loss to Rafa in Monte Carlo, was stunned by Stepanek 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7).

The last time Stepanek had the upper hand against Federer was back in 2002. Federer had won all their four subsequent meetings, 2 of which took place on clay.

Weird Scenario # 5 - Players get ahead as opponents retire

It started when Andy Murray advanced to the second round after Juan Martin Del Potro retired in the third set. But that was okay. The Scott obviously needed a break given his below-par performance on clay so far this season, so we're gonna give him that.

Then Almagro was handed a walkover cuz Fernando Gonzalez couldn't make it to their last-16 match.

Almagro himself then retired from his quarterfinal against third-seed, Novak Djokovic, in the second set after dropping the first one 6-1 to the Serbian ace.

It started to get a little annoying when Swiss number 2, Stanislas Wawrinka, booked himself a final spot benefitting from Andy Roddick's retirement, early in the first semifinal on Saturday.

What really topped it all was the fact that Stepanek, who was coming off an incredible victory over Federer, retired during the second semifinal on Saturday, against Djokovic, who had hammered the Czech 6-0 in the first set.

I can just imagine how the fans in Rome felt, as they didn't get their money's worth at all.

The explanation

In case you haven't come across Rafa's recent blasting of the ATP and how they messed up the clay schedule this year, I'm gonna fill you in.

The ATP has squeezed the claycourt schedule cuz of the Olympics this year in China causing the likes of Rafa and many players who have a lot of clay points to defend to play 4 big tournaments (including 3 Masters Series events) in 4 consecutive weeks, Monte Carlo, Barcelona (or Munich), Rome and Hamburg and then only one week off before the French Open. Which I believe is ridiculous.

This was never the case before, since there were always breaks in between the clay tournaments. Much-needed breaks as the stamina required on clay is way more than that needed for any other surface giving the slowness of the ground and consequently, the length of the rallies. It was only natural for players like Rafa, Ferrer, Nalbandian and many more to breakdown by the third week.

The players either had to withdraw from events to give themselves a break, risking losing a huge number of points like Djokovic who chose not to defend his title in Estoril, or play till they broke down which evidently happened in Rome. Just look at the early losses and the crazy retirements.

Most of the top players who played and won for 2 or 3 straight weeks couldn't survive (ex: Ferrer won Valencia, reached MC quarters, Barca final, Rafa won MC and Barca).

Let's see what's gonna happen in Hamburg this week. Which of the players will crack and who will be able to grab the shield from Federer?

Congratulations Djoker!!

Nonetheless, we need to congratulate Djokovic, who played it smart and took a well-deserved break before and after Monte Carlo, to come through in Rome and lift the shield, inching closer to Rafa in the rankings (they are now 310 points apart).

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