Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roland Garros Day 3 - Tsonga Celebrates 1st French Open Victory in Style

"I'm happy I played my first match. This is my first victory here. I celebrate this victory like this."
-- Number 9 seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrated his first ever victory at Roland Garros by wearing a tie to his post match press conference.

The French Ali-look-alike overcame his compatriot Julien Benneteau 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, to book himself a second round meeting with Argentine, Juan Monaco. This will definitely be a tough match since Monaco has been playing exceptionally well on clay recently, while Tsonga is still working on his clay game. The Frenchman however believes his game is improving on this surface and seems adamant to prove it to everyone:

"I was very frustrated sometimes, indeed. But it was because of outside conditions, because of the wind, but not because of my game. I believe my game is getting better and better every time. I play on clay, it's even better. So for those who are blase and think I can't play well on this surface, I can prove to them now I can play well."

Besides Tsonga showing up in a tie to his presser, the day didn't have that many surprises except for James Blake [15], who decided to ruin my almost perfect bracket along with Tomas Berdych [19] yesterday, by losing to a virtually unknown Argentine qualifier, Leonardo Mayer. Normally I wouldn't have picked Blake, but he made the final in Estoril (beat Davydenko en route) and he reached the third round in Madrid, where he beat Ivo Karlovic before he fell to eventual champion, Roger Federer, so I figured picking him to win his first round match against Mayer was a safe bet, but what can I say?! This is tennis, this is life and this is James Blake in Roland Garros (his best performance was 3rd round in 2006).

Okay I lied, there was one more surprise for me today and that was Juan Carlos Ferrero beating Ivan Ljubicic in 5 sets. Am amazed by the 2003 French Open champion, who at 29 (turned pro 11 years ago), can still come out on top in a 5-setter, especially that Ljubicic has been experiencing a bit of a revival recently (made the quarters in Monte Carlo and Madrid). Well am surprised but very happy, por que me gusta mucho Ferrero :)

Who's on tomorrow?

Well Murray, Rafa, Safin, Simon and Verdasco are all in action tomorrow and in an odd scheduling scenario I must add. Both top seeds, Dinara Safina and Rafael Nadal are playing on Suzanne Lenglen instead of Philippe Chatrier, while the lineup for Chatrier is as follows:

Andy Murray (GBR)[3] v. Potito Starace (ITA)
Alize Cornet (FRA)[21] v. Maret Ani (EST)To Finish 6-4 4-4
Tamarine Tanasugarn (THA) v. Ana Ivanovic (SRB)[8]
Josselin Ouanna (FRA) v. Marat Safin (RUS)[20]
Venus Williams (USA)[3] v. Lucie Safarova (CZE)

I say they bump Venus and put Rafa there instead. That dress of hers doesn't deserve center court honor anyways... I'm just saying!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roland Garros Day 2 Quotes - Nadal, Federer, Roddick all through in straights

Photo via AFP/Getty Images

Four-time defending champion, and Roland Garros top seed, Rafael Nadal, speaks after fighting off a challenging Marcos Daniel 7-5, 6-4, 6-3, in the first round:

"Always tough, you know, beginning here. Roland Garros always is difficult. Yeah. I say, no, I expect a tough match, and it's normal, now. And when I start, normally I didn't start to play my best here the last four years. But the important thing is be with positive mentality and try to win, no? And I win. I won in three sets. That's important."

"The court is big, and at the beginning, I didn't quite get the best feelings, but I won in three sets. That's very positive. I should have won more easily, but at 5‑4,when I had to serve, then I had to serve again ‑‑ sometimes I missed some opportunities to win the set earlier, but it was a difficult match."

"I feel good, and last year, I played a match ‑‑ well, I didn't play well, really, and little by little I felt better. This year ‑‑ well, it's not a very good start. I'm not going to say it's positive. I would have preferred to start with a very positive start, but I hope this tournament is going to be long enough for me to give me time to adapt and to improve and get good feelings all along the tournament."

It's good that Rafa makes statements like these every now and then, because it is necessary for us to remember that he is human after all, and that he allows himself to get nervous during the first round of a Grand Slam where he has never lost a match (29 matches so far). What's more important of course is like he said, winning in three, which he managed to do despite some feisty and smart play from the Brazilian.

Photo via AFP/Getty Images

Roger Federer [2] beat Alberto Martin 6-4, 6-3, 6-2

"I was happy with the way I played. It always takes some time to getting used to the match conditions here on center court, you know, but started maybe a bit slow but reacted, you know, all right... Once I got the upper hand, things were pretty much in control. Yeah, it was good. I served well when I had to, and mixed it up. That's how I want to play. I'm happy to be through without a fright."

"I asked for Sunday, but Monday and Tuesday would have been okay. Wednesday, as well. Well, we can go through the whole week if you want to. You know, what counts is that ‑‑ well, in any case, you have to win seven matches. Never mind who you're going to play against and the type of weather you have, but what you have to do is end this race and win the battle."

Federer is making it sound like a war. It obviously feels that way to him anyway. Well he sure seems determined. His draw, which I believe looks like a relatively simple one, opened up even more today as Simone Bolelli eliminated Tomas Berdych [19], who could have been a tough 4th round opponent for Federer.

Photo via AP

Andy Roddick [6] beat Romain Jouan 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

"I'm just glad I finally won a match out there."

Sixth seed, Andy Roddick, keeps it simple and honest. The American's record at the French Open since his debut in 2001, is as follows: 3rd round, 1st round, 1st round, 2nd round, 2nd round, 1st round, 1st round and a no show last year. So for those of you who don't understand why he's so psyched for getting past an almost unknown French wildcard; there's your answer.

Last year's runner-up and reigning world number 1, Dinara Safina, beat last week's Warsaw semifinalist, Anne Keothavong, 6-0, 6-0. Here's what she said after her match:

"I'm going to go and hit some balls. Just couple things that my coach was maybe not happy, even the score, 6‑Love, 6‑Love, but there's always things to improve on the next one.

I guess I could serve a little bit better, and I don't know, hitting the balls a little harder, especially in that Love game, 5‑Love, when I pushed a few shots he was angry. He said, What's this at 5‑Love? Hitting the ball. You have to hit it. Just simple things."

That's probably one of the many reasons Safina is now the world number 1, and is one of the top contenders for the French Open title this year. She just served a double bagel to Keothavong, but she's heading off to a practice court to "improve" and work on things. I am certainly rooting for her this tourney!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quote of the Day - Safin on Safina: Third time's a charm...

"I'll be rooting for her. I think she has a chance this year especially when she's coming in with great confidence."

"She's playing really well. She had a week off. She's ready. She has been through two (Grand Slam) finals. Now is the time. The third time is the winning one. I'm pretty sure."

-- Former world number 1, Marat Safin, speaks of his sister, current world number 1, Dinara Safina, and he chances of winning this year's French Open.

Safin, a two-time Grand Slam champion himself, won his opening round match on Sunday against a French wildcard, while Safina will open her Roland Garros campaign first on Philippe Chatrier against Great Britain's Anne Keothavong at 11:00 a.m. Paris time.

I am certainly liking Safina's chances at the French Open this year. The 2008 runner-up is coming off back-to-back titles in Rome and Madrid and also made it to the finals in Stuttgart.

The Russian star could face defending champion, Ana Ivanovic [8], in the quarters, Venus Williams [3] in the semis, before any of the likes of Serena Williams [2], Jelena Jankovic [5], Elena Dementieva [4] or Svetlana Kutznetsova [7] await her in the final.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roland Garros Day 1 - All seeds intact except for record-breaking Karlovic

Photo via Getty

"I wasn't expecting to play that well on the first match. I hit a lot of winners... I dictated most of the points and when the rallies went long, which he normally likes, I was coming up on top a lot. If I played that well in all my matches, I've got a good chance of winning comfortably." -- 3rd seed, Andy Murray, speaks of his straight sets win over Juan Ignacio Chela.

Photo via AFP/Getty

7th seed, Gilles Simon, shakes the hand of America's Wayne Odesnik, after the Frenchman endured a tough 5-setter to make it to the second round. I don't think the French crowd would have forgiven him had he not pulled off that win. Another American awaits Simon in the next round; Robert Kendrick, who also came through in 5.

Photo via AFP

Croatian giant, Ivo Karlovic, broke the open-era record for the number of aces in a single match as he served 55 aces against Lleyton Hewitt on Sunday. Sadly for the 26th seed, he couldn't serve his way past Hewitt who caused the first upset of the tournament by beating Karlovic in 5.

Photo via AP

Fernando Verdasco [8] secured a comfortable passage to the second round with a straight sets win over Florent Serra. Next up for the Spaniard is Philipp Petzschner who scraped through in 5.

Photo via AP

Lleyton Hewitt battled past Karlovic as he came back from 2 sets down to post a hard-fought 6-7(2), 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-4. 6-3 win over the Croat. This is the 5th time in Hewitt's career where has managed to come back from a 2-set deficit. Hewitt next faces Andrey Golubev.

Photo via Getty Images

Marat Safin [20] took care of French youngster, Alexandre Sidorenko, in straights, 4, 4, and 4, to book himself a second round meeting with another French wildcard, Josselin Ouanna.

Photos via AP and AFP/Getty

David Ferrer [14] and Ernests Gulbis both earned themselves second round spots on Sunday.

For complete Sunday results, check here.

Roland Garros Men's Draw Analysis - Who's standing in Rafa's way?

It's 8 hours till kick off people and am sure you're all as excited as I am. The French Open draw, which was picked out with the help of defending champions Ana Ivanovic and Rafael Nadal last Friday, is now complete with all the qualifiers. Here's the breakdown of the 2009 Roland Garros men's singles draw:

The Rafa Quarter

The four-time defending champion, Rafael Nadal, goes to Roland Garros for the first time as the world number 1. He is 28-0 in Paris and will be looking to become the 1st player in the history of the game, to win 5 consecutive French Open titles.

Rafa opens his 2009 Roland Garros campaign against Brazilian qualifier, Marcos Daniel. His first real test could come as early as the third round, where he could meet either 26th seed, Ivo Karlovic, or former world number 1, Lleyton Hewitt.

Just like in Madrid and in Rome, Nadal is drawn to possibly face his compatriot, Fernando Verdasco [8] in the quarterfinals, but first he might have to overcome another dangerous Spaniard, David Ferrer [14] in the 4th round.

Meanwhile Verdasco will have to fight the likes of Nikolay Davydenko [10] and Stanislas Wawrinka [17] to make it to the quarters.

First round hot matches:

Lleyton Hewitt vs Ivo Karlovic [26]
David Ferrer [14] vs Frederico Gil
Sam Querrey vs Ernests Gulbis

"I can't really read the future but what I know is that I will do my best to win once again. Then again there is a big difference between trying and winning of course... Everything's quite complicated, there are some very good players out there, and it's gonna be very tough to beat the players that I'll come against so I just wanna think about training and be ready for my first match."

The Murray Quarter

World number 3, Andy Murray, has been drawn to face Nadal in the semis, which means that Roger Federer [2] and Novak Djokovic [4] could feature in the other semifinal.

Murray, whose best performance at Roland Garros came last year when he reached the third round, is set to face Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round on Sunday, and is drawn to clash with 7th seed and home favorite, Gilles Simon in the quarters.

Murray could bump into Feliciano Lopez [28] in the 3rd round, Radek Stepanek [18] or Marin Cilic [13] in the 4th, before meeting Simon [7], Fernando Gonzalez [12] or Marat Safin [20] in the last eight.

First round hot matches:

Janko Tipsarevic vs Albert Montanes
Gaston Gaudio [WC] vs Radek Stepanek [18]

"I want to reach the second week and I'll try to do that. That's a good starting point for me... I feel much more comfortable on clay than I did last year. Obviously the confidence is better and that's a big factor."

"He's (Juan Ignacio Chela) obviously a tough clay-court player. He had a bad injury last year but has come back this year and is playing well so I definitely can't afford to look past him at others in the field."

The Djokovic Quarter

World number 4, Novak Djokovic, is having the clay season of his life at the moment (despite slipping to #4 in the rankings) and let's hope he can keep it up for 2 more weeks.

The Serb, who is considered by some to be the greatest threat to Nadal's unbeaten record in Paris, opens against Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti and is drawn to potentially meet 5th seeded Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarters.

But before Djokovic thinks about the quarters, he must beat the likes of former French Open champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero, or Ivan Ljubicic in the 3rd round, followed by a possible 4th round against Tommy Robredo [16].

The top part of Djokovic's quarter is filled with field mines as Del Potro [5], Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [9], Marcos Baghdatis and Juan Monaco are all potential quarterfinal opponents for the Serb.

First round hot matches:

Fabio Fognini vs Igor Andreev [25]
Marcos Baghdatis vs Juan Monaco
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [9] vs Julien Bennetau (French vs French in France!!)

"This clay court season has been probably the best that I had in my career and I've made some major improvements since last year. I changed the racquet, which is a lot faster than the one I had before so maybe I can use that and try to get a step further at the 2009 Roland Garros."

The Federer Quarter

Roger Federer, who will be playing his first French Open as a non-top-seed since 2003, opens his quest for this elusive Grand Slam title, against Spanish veteran, Alberto Martin.

Andy Roddick [6] lies at the opposite end of Federer in that quarter of the draw, and the two will have some not-so-difficult obstacles to overcome, if they are to meet in the quarters.

Federer could face Frenchman Paul Henri-Mathieu [32] in the 3rd round before he could get his first test in the 4th round against James Blake [15] or Tomas Berdych [19].

If Roddick makes it to the quarters, his only main challenge en route, could be in the form of a not-so-fit Gael Monfils [11] in the 4th round. This part of the draw is definitely a lot easier than all the others, or at least it appears so on paper.

First round hot match:

Simone Bolelli vs Tomas Berdych [19]

"I know that if I play well I can beat everybody on all surfaces and that includes Roland Garros... I think that I'm a lot more relaxed now than I have been in the last few years."

TYFV: Djokovic the biggest threat to Rafa on clay

Welcome to the first edition of the Thank You For Voting segment, or TYFV.

According to the poll I had here on G,S,M about who could be considered the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal on clay this season, the majority came in favor of none other than the world number 4, Novak Djokovic.

The former Australian Open champion, who is currently experiencing an incredible clay swing, reached the finals at both Monte Carlo and Rome, made it to the semis in Madrid last week, and won the title at home in Belgrade.

Before Madrid, Djokovic was the only one who had managed to take a set off Nadal in a clay-court match this season, and in the Madrid semis, Djokovic held several match points against the Spaniard but ended up losing 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in a match where he proved he could truly compete against the best on clay.

Of course up until the Madrid final, many people believed that if anyone was going to trouble Rafa at Roland Garros, it would definitely be Djokovic, but then Roger Federer dropped the bomb on the home crowd at the Spanish capital, as he dispatched Rafa easily in straights and got himself in full contention for the "who could steal the Roland Garros crown from Rafa?" race. Well the Swiss is definitely in that race but according to G,S,M readers, he's not in the lead.

Here are the complete poll results:

Roger Federer 23% (25/107)
Fernando Verdasco 5% (6/107)
Novak Djokovic 29% (32/107)
Andy Murray 13% (14/107)
No is even close 25% (27/107)
Someone other than those mentioned 2% (3/107) (am wondering who those 3 people are & who were they thinking of...)

Thank you all for voting and stay tuned for some thorough Roland Garros coverage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Verdasco going for the win at Roland Garros, says Rafa still the favorite

World number 8, Fernando Verdasco, spoke to the press on Tuesday, about his hopes for Roland Garros next week, at the Club de Tenis Chamartín in Madrid, where he was honored alongside Virginia Ruano.

"To make it to the semifinals at Roland Garros is a great result, but I can not go [shooting for] the semifinals, I must go to win. My mentality is that I am going there to win just like when I went to Australia and got to semi-finals against Nadal..." said the Madrileño.

"I'm very excited this year and I hope to do better than previous years..."

Verdasco also assured everyone that he still believes that Rafael Nadal is the clear favorite at Roland Garros this year, despite his loss last Sunday to Roger Federer in Madrid:

"Rafa is just as good, despite having lost the final. He can lose on clay, but it is more normal for him to win in Roland Garros, best of five sets, where has won the last four years and is the great favorite."

"Federer comes with some extra confidence, but he knows the difference between Madrid and Paris and best of five sets will be more difficult for him. In addition, he can not win many points with his serve [like in Madrid] and the points will not be as tight. He knows that Paris is going to be different."

Verdasco flies to Paris on Thursday, where he will have a couple of days to practice before the tournament kicks off on May 24th. This is the first time the Spaniard will take part at a Slam as a top-ten player.

(Quotes via, translation by me)

Nadal, Federer, Murray to get some Roland Garros warm up at Guinot Mary Cohr exo

For those of you who were wondering how they were gonna get past this week - until Roland Garros kicks off - without their Nadal/Federer fix, well you might just have that covered as the world's top 2 players will feature in the Guinot Mary Cohr Masters exhibition that takes place between the 20th and 22nd of May (tomorrow through Friday) at the Paris Golf & Country Club. They will be joined by the likes of Andy Murray and James Blake and the cherry on the top is none other than Marat Safin.

The 12 players will be divided into two teams of six, Guinot vs. Mary Cohr, coached by internationally renowned captains. Two best-of-3 matches will take place each day with each player playing once only during the 3-day event, that will end with a match between the two captains on Friday just before the presentation of the trophy.

One could wonder why the players would want to get more match play after all the grind from the last 5 weeks on clay, but the truth is that the conditions and the court at the Paris Golf & Country Club are said to be extremely similar to those at Roland Garros and after playing in Madrid last week in totally different conditions, the players are believed to get the ultimate warm up to the French Open at this exo.

Draw and Order of Play

May 20

1:30pm Andy Murray vs Paul-Henri Mathieu

Followed by Gaël Monfils vs Marcos Baghdatis

May 21

1:30pm Roger Federer vs Stanislas Wawrinka

Followed by Rafa Nadal vs Arnaud Clement

May 22

1:30pm Kei Nishikori vs Tommy Haas

Followed by Marat Safin vs James Blake

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The rivalry is still alive, Federer beats Nadal to win Madrid

Today Roger Federer ended a 5-match losing streak to Rafael Nadal with a solid performance against the world number 1, in front of a home crowd in the Spanish capital, to grab the Madrid title.

It was Federer's 7th win against Nadal, who now leads the Swiss 13-7 H2H, and only his second on clay.

This win must be very special for Federer and not just because he had lost his last 5 finals to Nadal (including the last Australian Open, Wimbledon and French Open). Almost half the season has passed and Federer had not won a single title, which lets face it, without the mono, he didn't really have much of an excuse. Today he not only ended the 2009 title drought, but he also beat his nemesis at home and on clay (regardless how different the conditions are).

It's true that this isn't the first time Federer has beaten Rafa on clay, since he's done it in Hamburg 2 years ago, but this win must mean a lot more because the world number 2 has been bombarded with so much critique from almost every single form of media recently, about his decline and his recent losses to Nadal, Murray and Djokovic. People were starting to see him as the underdog against those players and today's win will definitely bring back the faith to countless Fed fans.

In my opinion actually, today's win was more convincing than his 2008 US Open victory, which I know may sound ludicrous to some people, but Federer's form throughout the Madrid Masters was very solid and he took care of some tough opponents to eventually end up with the title. His form in the title match was unbelievable as he finally got rid of those forehand errors, his serve was on, his groundstrokes were perfectly timed from both sides and he came to the net ever so frequently, barely losing any of those net points. He never lost his cool, and didn't allow Nadal to get back into the match unlike most of their previous encounters. I mean did you guys see how he was hitting those lines with such aggression and how he made it look effortless?!?!

So on the Federer front, things are looking up for the Swiss and he should travel to Paris with lots of confidence. As for Rafa, I am not worried at all. Just the thought of a perfect clay sweep was ridiculous and after yesterday's 4 hour semi against Djokovic, he obviously couldn't keep up with an in-form Federer. But looking at the last 5 weeks, winning back-to-back titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, and making it to the Madrid final should give him more than enough confidence ahead of Roland Garros, and am sure his team will know exactly how to take care of him and get him ready for the French throughout this week.

A flawless Federer is frustrating, we know!!

Madrid champions, Roger Federer & Dinara Safina together with runner-ups Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki

Djokovic left frustrated after Nadal loss

"It happened too often so I'm very disappointed that I can play this well and still not win a match."

"I don't think you need my comments. You could see everything. A couple of points decided the winner."

"Next time I'll probably take two rackets on the match point and try to hit with both of them. It's frustrating that when you play so well you can't win."

-- A shattered Djokovic speaks after losing to Nadal 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in the Madrid Masters semis on Saturday.

I certainly feel for the young Serb, he was outplaying Rafa for a good set and a half, and then he kept fighting him till the very end and it all came down to 1 single point, but what can I say?!?! It's Rafa, the man with the heart of a lion and the brain of a robot. Regardless the result, in retrospect, Djokovic will have a lot to be proud of from this match, and from his entire clay court season.

Rafa edges Djokovic in longest best-of-3 Masters match ever

It never gets old. Seriously! That feeling right after an incredible Rafa win. Not just any win. The kind of win where you keep wondering for several hours after, how exactly he managed to pull it off. You find yourself in awe of the young Spaniard and you find yourself literally screaming at the screen in an empty room in your house. Then you look around you and you realize how ridiculous you must look like, jumping in front of the screen like that, but then again you don’t really care, cuz Rafa just came through another epic match, and you instantly run to your phone to call someone and share the excitement.

Today was not a Grand Slam final, it wasn’t a Rafa-Federer classic and it wasn’t a match that for example, decided the world’s top ranking spot or something of that sort. But the level of play in this match and the anticipation it created made it worthy of a Grand Slam final audience. Rafa and Djokovic transformed this match from a Masters semifinal in Madrid, to a mouth-watering classic people tuned into worldwide. I was actually at a wedding during the third set and I had a bunch of wedding guests surrounding me as we all stared at my iphone to check on all the updates.

The thing about Rafa is that he doesn’t constantly demolish his opponents. He may do that in the early rounds but when it comes to the semis against the big boys, he surely knows how to create a drama out of a match. Today Rafa played a rubbish first set while Djokovic was playing an awesome one. It may have been the knee, it may have been Djokovic’s attacking form coupled with the altitude or maybe it was something else, but for some reason he just wasn’t playing and as the errors kept coming, Djokovic got sharper and more aggressive and raced to a 1 set lead.

At that point, the true Rafa fans were waiting for him to wake up, and everybody else didn’t expect much and were busy being impressed with Djokovic, and when the Spaniard got medical attention for his knee, more people started to think that this match was finally going to be Djokovic’s first clay win over Rafa.
However the second set got tighter and tighter, as both players failed to break serve and held on to their own with their dear lives, until Rafa edged Djokovic to capture the tie-break. The atmosphere was tense as hell and I was already pacing around the room, because the rallies were getting longer and Djokovic wasn’t giving up, but the result of the tie-break caused some temporary relief, before the torture started again in the 3rd set.

Under normal circumstances, one would think that after Rafa struggled for 2 sets, he would race to grab the third like he normally does, and given the fact that Djokovic has a history of tiring easily, one might expect the third set to have been an easy one for Rafa, but that was far from the true case, and the match eventually came down to match points getting saved back and forth in the tie-break before Rafa’s brain outwitted Nole’s and the result was 12500 Spaniards leaping at the Caja Magica, Rafa throwing himself to the ground, Djokovic feeling his heart break, and me screaming like a 6 year old in a dress and heels at a freakin’ wedding.
It was pure torture but when I think about it, where’s the fun in winning easy huh?!?! And credit must be given to Djokovic, not only for his incredible display of tennis, but also for creating a new rivalry in tennis that in itself rivals the one between Rafa and Federer. Who else is hoping that Djokovic is NOT in Rafa’s half of the draw at the French Open?!?! I would love to see this rivalry put to the test in the Roland Garros final (sans Djokovic retirements of course).

The coolest part of all this, is that we still have one more classic ahead of us as Rafa will play Federer tomorrow in the final, where they will be facing each other for the 20th time. I think that deserves a celebration of some sort, the fact that I have witnessed all 20 Rafa-Fed matches, don’t you think?!

Sorry for the long post… I got carried away :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rafa says he's not the favorite ahead of Djoko clash

"In this tournament I don’t even think that I’m favorite. I’m one of the four players in semi-finals and we’ll see what happens, because I think that these conditions are quite different from a normal clay court tournament and playing against [Djokovic] is going to be a true challenge. Djokovic is going to try to make me be more inside and to make me use my forehand more."

-- Rafael Nadal speaks ahead of his semifinal clash against Novak Djokovic

The world number one, who rallied back from a 0-4 deficit in the second set of his quarterfinal showdown with Madrid native, Fernando Verdasco, sealed a 6-4, 7-5, victory to book a semifinal spot against Novak Djokovic.

The Facts

- This is the 3rd straight Masters event on clay that Rafa and Djokovic have crossed paths.
- Rafa leads Djokovic 13-4 H2H.
- Rafa has won their last four consecutive meetings, the last 3 were on clay.
- Djokovic's clay season so far this year includes 2 Masters finals, 1 ATP 250 title and this week's Madrid Masters semifinal showing.
- Rafa has a 149-4 record on clay since 2005.
- If Rafa wins Madrid, he will be the first player (since 1990) to win all 3 Masters events on clay in the same year.
- Rafa is currently on a 32 match-winning streak on clay (he is 18-0 on clay this year).
- Djokovic has reached the last 3 consecutive Masters finals (Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome).
- Rafa is 8-0 against Djokovic on clay.

Well I certainly never get tired of reciting Rafa stats, more importantly Rafa's stats on clay. It's just mind-blowing. But I have to agree with the Spaniard, with the conditions in Madrid (apparently this altitude thing is not a joke), Djokovic has a better chance against Rafa than he will ever have on any other clay surface.

I gotta give props to Rafa for pulling through against Verdasco in straights. He was 0-4 down, and already thinking about the 3rd set, yet he managed to come back. He really knows the importance of finishing off a match in straight sets rather than surrendering to a decider. For starters you never know what could happen in the deciding set, and more importantly, the less time you spend on court, the more fit you'll be for your next matches, which is something Rafa more than possibly anyone else on tour needs to benefit from.

Just like last year's Monte Carlo final when he was trailing Federer 0-4 in the second set and ended up winning 7-5, 7-5. Pulling off those comebacks against formidable players is just ridiculously awesome I must say, and it's one of the reasons why he is now the number 1 player in the world.

Anyone remember Rafa's comeback against Ljubicic in the Madrid Masters back in 2005 (when the tournament was on indoor hardcourt and the Masters Series finals were still played best of 5)???! Rafa was down 2 sets to love and ended up winning the title. That was just mean... Haha!!

Anyways am looking forward to tomorrow's semis. Rafa vs Djoko (not before 4pm Madrid time, 5 pm Cairo time), Fed vs Del Potro (not before 8pm Madrid time).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Verdasco says "faith is there" ahead of Nadal clash

Photo credit: AFP/Getty

In front of a packed Manolo Santana Stadium, initially intended for Rafael Nadal (who got a walkover after Kohlshcreiber withrdrew), Fernando Verdasco impressed his home crowd as he overcame a resurgent Juan Monaco 7-5, 6-2, in the Madrid Open third round, to set up a highly anticipated quarterfinal against top-seeded Nadal.

"I came out with a role that's supposed to be for Rafa. So for me it was unbelievable to play with a stadium like this full."

"The atmosphere was amazing to play here in madrid with 12000 people it's unbelievable its a dream. Am so happy today, one of the happiest days of my life... All my family is here, 50 people are watching me."

"Anyway against Rafa you need to play a perfect match to win and on clay almost even more because in Australia I played maybe my best match ever and I lost in 5 sets. I think I need to play unbelievable and he needs to have also a bad day but you know my faith is there and I hope that tomorrow can be the day to beat him."

So the faith is there but it wouldn't hurt if Rafa has a not so perfect day. Well they're good friends and Verdasco is just being realistic. I like that! Afterall, Verdasco trails Rafa 0-8 in their head-to-head record.

Despite the obvious H2H record favoring Nadal, this match should be nothing short of incredible. The top two Spaniards facing off at this new impressive venue in Madrid, in front of thousands of home fans and celebrities, ranging from the Royal Family, to the infamous film maker Pedro Almodovar, to Real Madrid footballers, Raul Gonzalez and Gonzalo Higuaín. The stage is set and all we could hope for is a match that could even remotely resemble their Australian Open semifinal earlier this year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quote of the Day - Toni Nadal on Rafa's chances in Madrid

Rafael Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, spoke to Spanish sports magazine, Marca, about his nephew's chances in Madrid:

"The danger is not in Rafa's physical state; it's in the quality of his rivals."

"There are several players who are favorites. Federer, Djokovic, Verdasco ... are players who are doing well and can win in Madrid. As with every tournament, we intend to win, but surely it will not be easy."

On the prospect of changing the color of the clay surface to blue:

"We must respect every opinion, but I agree with Rafa that they should not change the color the clay surface, which traditionally has always been red or brown. I read that other players are in favor of the change, and I respect that, but we do not (agree)."

What I really respect about Toni Nadal is that he's always keeping it real. He never overestimates Rafa's chances and he always bears in mind how dangerous Rafa's rivals can be, which is why Rafa himself has that attitude on court. It's why the young Spaniard treats every opponent like he was his biggest rival and why he enters every match like it was a Grand Slam final. The Toni-Rafa combo is a ruthless one that is very hard to conquer and warrants anyone's respect.

You can read the full article in Spanish here.

Video: Nadal gets through first match at Caja Magica

Top-seeded, Rafael Nadal, breezed through his first match at the Caja Magica, as he beat Austria's Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-1, in front of a stellar crowd that included Queen Sofia, Spanish footballer, Raul Gonzalez, and Real Madrid football team manager, Juande Ramos, to reach the third round of the Madrid Masters.

Melzer, who had come through a tough 3-setter against home favorite Albert Montanes in the first round, gave Rafa a tough time in the first few games of the match, as he served and volleyed against the world number 1, who eventually took advantage of Melzer's mistakes and cruised through the rest of the match.

Next up for Rafa is Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, who upset the tournament's 15th seed, Marin Cilic.

Another surprise upset on Wednesday was Juan Monaco defeating Spanish number 3 and Madrid's 14th seed, David Ferrer, 6-4, 6-4. The Argentine is on a Spaniard-slaying spree as he had also defeated Feliciano Lopez in the first round, which means Monaco's next opponent, Madrid's very own Fernando Verdasco, should be pretty worried.

Suddenly the Spanish-packed quarter of the draw doesn't seem so Spanish anymore, with Lopez, Ferrer, JC Ferrero, Montanes and Nicolas Almagro all gone before the third round.

A result I certainly did not expect from today's matches was James Blake's victory over Croatian giant, Ivo Karlovic, who despite firing 26 aces (ON CLAY) managed to fall to the American 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(4). Blake is on a hot run on clay, as he reached the Estoril final last week and has posted two good wins in Madrid already. Too bad his next opponent is world number 2, Roger Federer. Could Blake's hot form disturb the Swiss?!?! I don't think so!!

The final spot in the third round has just been filled as 6th seeded Andy Roddick rallied back from a set down to defeat Tommy Haas 1-6, 7-6, 6-4, for the first time in 5 attempts on clay. The American next takes on 11th seed Nikolay Davydenko.

Hot third round match ups include:

Stanislas Wawrinka vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Andy Murray vs Tommy Robredo
Roger Federer vs James Blake
Fernando Verdasco vs Juan Monaco
Nikolay Davydenko vs Andy Roddick
Gilles Simon vs Ivan Ljubicic (who upset Tsonga!!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quote of the day - Roger Federer on playing Nadal

Photo credit: AFP/Dani Pozo

"It might have been a little bit of an advantage for Rafa to have beaten me before Paris on clay in the past seasons... That gives him confidence and might have made it a little easier to beat me in the (last three Paris) finals."

"This year I haven't played him on clay but I'm hoping to play him here in the final. But even if it doesn't (happen) it could still be a good thing. It's different when you've played a month earlier and got to Paris knowing that you've beaten someone."

- Roger Federer, in Madrid, discusses facing Rafa on clay ahead of Roland Garros.

Well I can't say I agree with Federer for the following reasons:

1) Federer beat Rafa in Hamburg (6-0 in the third) back in 2007, right before Roland Garros and the result was the same in the end; Rafa beat Federer in the Roland Garros final. So obviously whether he beat Federer or not before Paris was never really a factor.

2) I truly doubt that Rafa's confidence is the issue here, it's Federer who should be focusing on that, as for Rafa, the guy has a 13-6 record lead over the Swiss, the confidence is there no matter what.

3) Finally, does it bug anyone else when Federer makes annoying rationalizations like that?!?! Maybe it's just me, but most of the time he doesn't make much sense. I preferred it when he was just realistic and said "I don't have a problem on clay, I have a Rafa problem on clay". Now that's a statement I'd appreciate!!

First round action has already kicked off in Madrid today, with Tommy Robredo and Sam Querrey already through to the second round. You can read the tournament preview here, and can check the complete draw here.

UPDATED: Madrid Open Preview - Everything you need to know

The new Madrid Masters kicks off on Sunday and here’s a brief of what you should know:

Murray is in Fed’s half, Rafa’s in Djoko’s

... Which means we can’t have a third straight Masters final featuring Rafa and Djokovic. Which sucks cuz like I said before, am starting to like this new rivalry on clay, but anyway, they could still face off in the semis which is definitely something worth looking forward to.

Federer has some tricky obstacles en route to the semifinals, including potential encounters with Ivo Karlovic (3rd round), Nikolay Davydenko (QF), and Andy Roddick (QF). Meanwhile, Andy Murray might have to overcome Juan Martin Del Potro or Stanislas Wawrinka if he wants to meet Federer in the semis.

Mario Ancic returns and opens against Tomas Berdych

The Croat has not played since he retired from his first match at Indian Wells, against Ivan Ljubicic, citing illness as the reason. Ancic must be one of the unluckiest players to ever take to the tennis courts. He has been struggling with mono for ages now. I really hope he shakes off all this bad luck and gets back to his winning ways. He was world number 7 three years ago for crying out loud.

UPDATE: Ancic has withdrawn from the event and has been replaced by lucky loser, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Marat Safin opens against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

This is definitely the number 1 match to watch in the opening round in Madrid. The two have never played each other before but this match up bodes nothing but good signs for a strong and thrilling encounter.

The Spaniard-packed quarter of the draw

The Spaniards will have to take down one another in the Spanish capital next week if they wanna get ahead, since the draw has not been kind to them with Rafa, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Nicolas Almagro and Albert Montanes ALL in the same quarter of the draw. Rafa could face any of Ferrer, Verdasco, Ferrero or Lopez in the quarters.

Roddick finally realizes the clay season has started

World number 6, Andy Roddick, who returns to the circuit for the first time since his Miami quarterfinals exit last month, will be taking part in his first clay event of the season in Madrid next week. The newlywed, awaits either Ernests Gulbis or a qualifier in the second round.

Watch out for a possible Murray-Del Potro quarterfinal

We all know those two are far from friends; a fact which always makes their encounters intriguing. Before their US Open quarterfinal last year, people were betting on whether they would break into a fight during the match. They didn’t and instead they treated us with an incredible 4-set thriller which Murray won 7-6(2), 7-6(1), 4-6, 7-5.

The Venue

The venue for the Madrid Open is a very interesting one and they call it "La Caja Magica" or "The Magic Box". It features three main courts with retractable roofs, all in the same arena. It was described by Ion Tiriac, owner of the Madrid tournament, as “A tennis Taj Mahal.” Lenny Kravitz took part in the inauguration of the spectacular stadium as he sang to thousands of people in the arena on Friday. Both ATP and WTA events will take place at the venue this week. Tommy Robredo will kick off the ATP action on the Manolo Santana stadium against Nicolas Kiefer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day - Serena Williams on Rafael Nadal

"I have never seen such tenacity, such ambition, such fight and such honor go into every shot as when I watch Rafael Nadal.

I want to be like him. The attitude he exudes the moment he walks out on the court is the attitude of a true champion. A champion whose desire to win is the same as the desire of a lion to eat. Stalking his prey with force and speed, Nadal, 22, has already become one of the game's all-time best."

"What makes him so good? I think it's that he's the hardest worker. The last one to leave the court, the first to arrive. The one who falls asleep studying, the first to rise. It's not easy being a champion; you don't just wake up and — bam! — you're No. 1. It takes work, effort, desire, dedication — all qualities that Rafa has. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am far off."

- Serena Williams' description of Rafael Nadal for Time magazine's 2009 list of the World's Most Influential People

Rafa was named one the World's Most Influential People by Time magazine and is listed under Heroes & Icons alongside the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

You can check the complete list here...

Besides the worldwide recognition that Rafa is rightfully receiving these days, it must be much more fulfilling to hear such words from fellow tennis players, cuz those are the people who truly know what it takes to rise to the top. Well-said, Serena!!!