Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Safin's last chance to impress in Russia

Former world number one, and soon-to-be-retiring, Marat Safin, is playing his very last tournament in Russia this week in St. Petersburg, where he will face former top-tenner, Richard Gasquet, in the first round on Wednesday.

Safin, who treated us to an exceptional first round match against his compatriot, Nikolay Davydenko, in Moscow's first round last week, before falling to Evgeny Korolev in the following round, will be looking to extend his 3-2 H2H record lead over Gasquet.

The two have met earlier this year in Dubai, where the Frenchman defeated Safin in a tight 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 match.

Safin, a two-time champion in St. Petersburg (2000, 2001), will play his final tournament of his career in Bercy, Paris; where he has had tremendous success winning titles in 2000, 2002 and 2004, after reaching the finals on debut in 1999. I don't think anywhere else could be more fit for his farewell!

In the meantime, here's a video of Safin and Teimuraz Gabashvili visiting the Warm Home Charity Foundation, which takes care of children from troubled families, on Tuesday.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nadal gets crushed in Beijing semis, Next stop Shanghai

Rafael Nadal's perfect record in Beijing got shattered on Saturday after the world number two suffered a humbling 6-1, 6-3, loss to 8th-seed, Marin Cilic in the China Open semifinals on Friday.

The Spaniard, who won the China Open title in 2005 and the Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last year, couldn't match his excellent performance that saw him oust Marat Safin in the quarters, as Cilic proved too strong of an opponent for him.

"I played worst for sure than the last 2 days and he played well. First he didn’t give me lots of options. I can lose for sure against one player. Cilic is good and has good serve. I can accept to win and I can accept to lose but mentally probably I wasn’t there. If you’re losing 6-1, 6-3 then there’s something wrong," said Nadal after his loss.

"I can do better next time. I must do."

Meanwhile Cilic believed his resilience was the main key to his success against Rafa:

"He [Rafa] played some great tennis. From the beginning of the match to end I didn’t let my level of play drop. With more confidence and not giving him too much time to adjust. And I was aggressive when I had to be. In the second set when he came back the match wasn’t easy but I think I kept with what I did in the first set and the best thing was that I didn’t back off and I was just stubborn with my style of play."

Cilic, who reached the quarterfinals at the US Open last month, will face 2nd seed, Novak Djokovic, in the final.

The tour's next stop is the ATP World Tour 1000 event in Shanghai (no longer home of the Masters Cup).

Rafa could have a tough first match in Shanghai since he awaits the winner of the first round clash between James Blake (who gave Rafa a tough time in Beijing) and serving machine, Ivo Karlovic.

The top seed could face the likes of Gael Monfils or Fernando Verdasco in the quarters should he make it that far, and could face Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, or Robin Soderling in the semis.

On the other side of the draw, second seed, Djokovic, could face a tricky second round opponent, Ernests Gulbis. The Serb's quarter of the draw also includes Tommy Haas (potential 3rd round opponent), Marat Safin, Gilles Simon, Cilic, and Tomas Berdych, who are all possible quarterfinalists up against Djokovic.

Should Djokovic follow up his strong showing in Beijing with another one in Shanghai, the soon to be world number 3 might have to overcome the likes of Nikolay Davydenko or Andy Roddick in the semis first.

Interesting first round match-ups in Shanghai include:

David Ferrer [16] vs Richard Gasquet
John Isner vs Lleyton Hewitt
James Blake vs Ivo Karlovic
Juan Carlos Ferrero vs Radek Stepanek [13]
Marin Cilic [12] vs Tomas Berdych

THIS JUST IN: Barcelona to host Davis Cup final

According to Marca, Barcelona has finally been selected to host the Davis Cup final scheduled to take place between Spain and the Czech Republic between the 4th and 6th of December.

After all the bickering between the players who were arguing over Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona, the Palau Sant Jordi (St. George Palace) has been chosen as the venue for the finals, in the Catalan city.

The Spaniards should be happy since the last time they played the finals in that same venue, they won the 2000 Davis Cup against an Australian squad that included Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter.

The Palau Sant Jordi arena was one of the main venues in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and can hold up to 17600 spectators.

Beijing says goodbye to Safin after falling to Nadal in quarters

Top seed, Rafael Nadal, put an end to Marat Safin's run at the China Open in Beijing on Friday, as the Spaniard proved too strong for the soon-to-be-retiring Safin.

They're both former world number ones, both former Beijing champions, and both belong to the elite group of those who are arguably the most gifted tennis players to ever play the game, and they had only met once before, prior to Friday's quarterfinal. So we should consider ourselves lucky that we were rewarded with this match-up only weeks before Safin quits the game for good.

Despite Nadal winning comfortably 6-3, 6-1 in only a little over an hour, the match was far from a snoozefest and Safin made it quite competitive actually. Rafa was extremely focused though and whatever Marat threw at him, the world number 2 knew exactly what to do (including an acrobatic fall to the ground to dodge a shot from Safin).

The match had such a nice feel to it especially when both players approached the net to shake hands with huge smiles on their faces. Yes Safin was smiling!!

Although the Russian repeatedly said he wasn't interested in any farewell ceremonies until his very last tournament, the Chinese ended up throwing him a small farewell shindig anyway (see videos below).

It's awfully sad to see Safin play his last few matches, particularly when he's playing such good tennis like he played in Beijing this week.

The remaining stops on Safin's farewell tour are Shanghai, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Paris.

Rafa's semifinal opponent will be 8th seed, Marin Cilic, who disposed of Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets earlier on Friday.

I don't know how many times am gonna keep saying this but Marat, you will be missed!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

BEIJING - Marat Safin sets up Nadal quarterfinal showdown, Is he saving the best for last?

Former world number 1, Marat Safin, who is retiring from tennis end of this season, posted a fantastic 6-3, 6-4, victory over seventh-seed, Fernando Gonzalez, in the China Open second round on Thursday, to book himself a spot in the quarterfinals.

The Russian who is currently at 59 in the world rankings, had lost his last 4 matches to Gonzalez in straight sets, had not won back-to-back matches since July in Los Angeles (a feat he only managed to achieve only one other time this season, back in the Aussie Open), and was 0 in 6 against top 20 players this season heading into this match. So you can imagine my disbelief when I saw Safin (recently know as Mr. Meltdown) closing out this match in utter confidence.

Safin, who won the title in Beijing in 2004 on his sole other appearance in the Chinese capital, served 12 aces against Gonzalez and served a healthy 62% first serves in. I don't think I've seen Safin play this loosely all year. He was focused, confident and calm against the Chilean; something very refreshing to see although it's kind of sad to see this sharp form from Safin only a few weeks away from his retirement.

The juicy part is yet to come though... Safin's quarterfinal opponent is none other than top seed, Rafael Nadal, who had to fight hard against James Blake to earn himself a spot in the last eight. Safin and Nadal had only met once before on tour and that was 2 years ago in the Canada Masters, which Nadal won 7-6, 6-0.

I can't wait to see this match. I'll definitely be rooting for both and I really hope it'll be a tight one. Any chance Marat still has some fight in him for this one??! We find out Friday.

Other Friday quarterfinal matchups include Fernando Verdasco [6] vs Novak Djokovic [2] and Nikolay Davydenko [4] vs Marin Cilic [8].

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Nadal consoles Spain after Olympics bid loss, Kuerten celebrates Brazilian triumph

World number 2, Rafael Nadal, who is in Beijing preparing for the China Open next week, released a statement on his official website after Madrid lost the 2016 Olympics bid in the final round to Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

The Spaniard's reaction to the result was exactly what one would expect from him; graceful, proud and sportsmanlike:

“Keep your head up high, we were very close. We made it to the final round and now we have to stay close to each other and support the organizers of our campaign more than ever.” 

“We knew there could only be one winner at the end and unfortunately it wasn’t us. Nevertheless, the key is to keep on fighting.”

“Personally, I couldn’t make it to Copenhagen to support Madrid’s bid because my profession didn’t allow me. But I was glued to the TV last night watching the live broadcast”.

“I know next time we will win because we deserve it. Madrid deserves it and as it has always been the case, I will be there to help as much as I possibly can for whatever you need”.

“Finally, as the good sportsmen that we are, we should also congratulate Rio de Janeiro and Brazilians. We wish them the best of luck with the organization of the Olympic Games.” 

Meanwhile, Brazilian former world number 1, Gustavo Kuerten, who attended the election ceremony in Copenhagen, was thrilled by his country's victory:

“It is amazing... Some years ago this chance seemed so far [away], but I believed that Brazil was getting prepared to face this new opportunity."

“I think that we [have] got everything quite will organized, and as a consequence we will have the chance to develop all kinds of sports in our country.”

So the Olympics are in Rio in 2016, and the Fifa World Cup is in Brazil in 2014. Which one would you prefer attending?

I say both :D