Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dustin "Dreddy" Brown bounces Wawrinka in Munich

He's half Jamaican, half German. He has the arms of a rower and the dreads of Ziggy. And above all he has the kind of spirit and energy on a tennis court that makes it impossible for you not to root for him. In fact he makes you want to pick up a tennis racket and join him on court just cuz it seems like it's so much fun. Oh and he's pretty easy on the eyes too, to say the least. Those are just some of the many attractive elements that form Dustin Brown's magnetic appeal.

The 26-year-old, nicknamed Dreddy for his signature dreadlocks, caught the eyes of many when he made his Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon last year taking Jurgen Melzer to 4 sets in the opening round and later reached the 2nd round at the US Open where he lost to Andy Murray.

He got to be famous for driving a VW camper van to tournaments across Europe, which was his mom's idea of saving costs.

And it looks like that all those accumulated miles of driving around have finally paid off because the world number 123 just earned his first win over a top 20 player with a 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5 first round victory over Stanislas Wawrinka at the BMW Open in Munich.

Dreddy, who now plays for Germany and trains in Hannover, justified the wildcard entry he received into the Munich draw by rallying from a set down against the tournament's second seed to claim the biggest win of his career and his first one on clay.

“It’s unbelievable. Stan is a great player and it wasn’t the best draw,” Brown said after his win on Tuesday.

“If you want to do well, you have to start beating these guys. My mom has been urging me the past couple months to believe in myself and actually believe I can beat these guys."

"I’ve had a lot of tough losses this year against guys like Querrey and Montanes, but I really felt like I could do this today. Even after losing the first set, I still stayed in it and I’m happy I pulled through."

Brown next takes on Radek Stepanek in the 2nd round on Thursday and considering the Czech hasn't been doing very well this year and has slipped to 67 in the rankings, Brown has a big chance of making the quarters in Munich.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy return for Juan Carlos Ferrero

Former world number one, Juan Carlos Ferrero, made a successful return from the injury that had kept him away from tennis since last year's US Open, by defeating his 1st round opponent in Barcelona, Xavier Malisse in straight sets.

The Spaniard, who had a wrist and knee surgery last October, showed no signs of trouble en route to his 6-4, 6-2, win over Malisse and will next face Mischa Zverev, who replaced Andy Murray in the draw after the Scot pulled out with a minor elbow injury.

The 2003 French Open champion said he felt "a lot better than expected" in his first competitive match in 7 months and that he "felt like a tennis player again".

"It's been a difficult period. This match is the fruit of the all the effort done by a great team. I had many people behind me,"
said Ferrero after his opening win at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

"I am happy with my victory because it helped me. Coming back and winning is really important. The goal was to comeback and not get hurt again."

Although the scoreline shows a comfortable win for the 31-year-old, it wasn't easy grabbing that first win after such a long break with such a tough injury.

"I felt a little discomfort at the beginning but as I warmed up I started to feel better. At the end I felt pain all over and it was tough closing out the match but I'm happy that everything went well and I won."

The "Valenciano" has now slipped to #77 in the rankings but those who know the Ferrero know that he is bound to climb up those ranking spots once again.

Ferrero had a good season last year where at 30 years old, he managed to win 3 titles in Brazil, Argentina and Croatia, all on clay. His ranking in 2010 reached as high as 14 proving that he was far from done with the game.

While Ferrero emphasized remaining healthy as a main objective,he expressed his desire to improve and compete with the games best.

"I have to gain back my confidence. It’s not that I have to start from zero, but I never suffered from such a severe injury. I want to keep competing on the highest level for at least two or three more years," said Ferrero.

Humility, Motivation, Positivity... Only way to go for Rafa

"Indian Wells to Wimbledon is the most part of the season for me, these four or five months are decisive in my season. Everything started very well. Let's keep that with humble, motivation, and positive attitude every day. That's the only way to keep playing at this level because the important thing is I didn't play perfect this tournament and I won. I have something to improve and I am excited to try to do it."

Take notes everybody out there. Wise stuff from the world number 1 after he won his record 7th straight Monte Carlo title. His relentless will to try and do better will forever blow my mind!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Melzer learns the hard way what NOT to say before a match

World number 9 and last year's French Open semifinalist, Jurgen Melzer, came off his shocking victory over Roger Federer in the Monte Carlo semis with a great sense of confidence... I mean of course he was confident. Who wouldn't be after doing something like that?

But I guess using the words "I killed him" about a previous match with your next opponent can push a few buttons. The Austrian said this in his post-Federer-rout-presser about his semifinal opponent David Ferrer:

"In Paris last year I killed him on clay and hopefully that result is still in the back of his mind."

"After beating Roger Federer there is nothing I can't do."

Except maybe beat Ferrer again!!

The unlucky 29-year-old went on to lose to Ferrer 6/3, 6/2 in the semis on Saturday despite a brief early lead he held over the Valenciano. Brief being the operative word because After Ferrer broke back in the opening set, it was smooth sailing from then on, and just like that, the Melzer bout of confidence and outspoken pressers came to an abrupt end.

While Melzer's quote may be one relished by media professionals worldwide, I'm pretty sure he'll think twice before saying something like that before a match again. He'll at least consider the jinx factor...

Ferrer will face Rafa in the final on Sunday (2:15pm Monte Carlo/Cairo time).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TWIT WITS: Karlovic still picking on Serena

I'm not sure what Ivo Karlovic (a.k.a #1 Tennis Tweeter) has against Serena Williams but whatever it is, the hilarious Croat is not subtle about it. After Karlovic tweeted this a few weeks ago responding to Serena's "I'm hungry" tweet:

He tweeted this Thursday night...

Meanwhile Judy Murray continues to crack me up on Twitter with her random thoughts and her often dark sense of humor. She tweeted this on Tuesday after Rafa Nadal's match in Monte Carlo...

Speaking of hair, another candidate for Tweeter of the Year in my not so humble opinion, Rio Ferdinand, felt like sharing some very important news with us:

This just in. Another player seems to have joined the Wozzy cyber-bandwagon. Check this out and explain it to me :)

Football besties, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, have been at it as usual, mocking each other on Twitter. Ten days ago, Pique made fun of Cesc after news broke out that he had a minor driving accident...

"By the way, I see that after 30 years in the UK, Cesc still doesn't know how to drive on the left!"

Luckily Cesc found a story in the tabloids about Pique getting his car towed for illegal parking and hit back at Shakira's beau:

"I see that after living in Barcelona for 24 years you still don't know how to park a car. What a mess!"

And for the Manchester United fans (am not one of them but am no hater), here are a couple of celebratory tweets from Ferdy and Owen after their Champions League win on Wednesday:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Veteran Muster continues dismal comeback with loss in Rome

Former world number 1, Thomas Muster, suffered his 11th loss in 12 matches since he shocked the world with news of his comeback last June.

The Austrian, who retired from the game 12 years ago was playing his third challenger event of the season in Rome this week but the result was no different than almost all of his other attempts so far; a first round loss. This time Muster fell to 20-year-old German, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-0, 6-3.

Muster, whose last game prior to his return was a first round loss at the 1999 French Open, said the idea behind his comeback is to challenge himself to get back in top shape and enjoy the perks of the competitive world of tennis.

The 43-year-old’s decision to return to the ATP Tour was initially met with scrutiny by many, but Muster was not discouraged, accepting a wildcard into the Rai Open challenger in Rome, his 11th tournament in ten months, and third in as many weeks.

"I don't care what people say - I never did,” insisted the 1995 French Open champion, who was given the green light from his wife to – in his words – “chase his pubertal dream”.

Such comebacks are certainly inspiring ones, like that of American Dara Torres, who at 41 made a surprise return to professional swimming and qualified to the Beijing 2008 Olympics where she won three Silver medals.

In 2008, Japanese player, Kimiko Date-Krumm, made a reappearance on the WTA Tour at the age of 37 following a 12-year retirement period, and since her comeback has enjoyed victories over the likes of Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova, as well as a WTA title win in Seoul in 2009. The 40-year-old is currently ranked 56 in the WTA rankings.

Unfortunately Muster’s comeback story though exciting, is not nearly as successful as Torres’ nor Date-Krumm’s. Muster, winner of 44 career ATP singles titles, the tennis veteran has managed one single victory in 11 tournaments winning only 3 sets in total.

His only ATP Tour level match came on home ground in Austria, where he lost in the first round of the ATP 250 event in Vienna to his compatriot Andreas Haider-Maurer, the top seed in Rome this week.

Thomas Muster after winning the 1995 Roland Garros

Still the fact that someone of Muster’s calibre and record, has opted to fight his way through the challenger circuit is quite admirable. He is a player who at his peak was described as one of the grittiest clay-court players of all-time; a supremely talented lefty whose baseline mastery troubled the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and who at 43 is now attempting to compete with tennis’ younger generation. But I wonder how long he can put up with these losses and what is he really getting out of all this?

Muster is currently at 991 in the ATP rankings.

Rafa gunning for a 7th straight Monte Carlo trophy... RIDIC!

An emotional Rafa lying on center court in Monte Carlo after winning his 6th straight title there last year

It's that time of the year again. The time when players trade their hard-court shoes for their clay-sliding ones, and prepare themselves to be trampled by one extraordinary Rafael Nadal.

This year Nadal is going for a record-breaking 7th straight Monte Carlo title. Needless to say the record he is trying to break is his very own, set last year when he captured a record 6th consecutive title in the Principality with a devastating performance that saw him drop only 14 games in total over 5 matches (hammered Verdasco 6-1, 6-0 in the final).

This time last year, Nadal was heading to Monaco having not won a title in 11 months and the skeptics were having a field day with it. The Spaniard then went on to make a perfect clay sweep that culminated with a 5th Roland Garros victory, followed by winning Wimbledon and the US Open.

This time around Nadal arrives to Monte Carlo without a title to his name in 2011, but with a mountain of titles to defend ahead of him and a ruthless rival in the form of Novak Djokovic, who pulled out of Monte Carlo with an injury, but will definitely be back harassing the world number one in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

The fact that Nadal is title-less so far in 2011 shouldn't really be a factor. It's not the first time he's not won a title in the first 3 months of the year. The fact that he lost to Djokovic in 2 straight finals however could have an effect on him, although luckily, the Serb isn't playing in Monte Carlo this week.

Also I believe that those 2 wins over Nadal in Indian Wells and Miami have more of an impact on Novak's confidence than they do on Rafa's. Meaning Djokovic is becoming more confident but Nadal is pretty much the same but is aware that his rival is simply getting better. A natural Rafa response should be stepping up his game and rising to the occasion; something he tends to enjoy doing when opportunity arises.

Nadal has won his last 32 straight matches in Monte Carlo but the 24-year-old insists he is not invincible on clay.

“I may have more options on clay. But I don’t feel unbeatable, I know I can lose."

The Spaniard will face Jarkko Nieminen in his opening match in Monte Carlo on Wednesday. He could potentially meet Richard Gasquet [13] in the third round, and possibly Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [12] or Tomas Berdych [5] in the quarters.

Andy Murray [3], Gilles Simon [16] and Gael Monfils [8] are all possible semifinalist opponents for the world number 1, but considering all the good Spanish and South American claycourters scattered around their quarter of the draw, it's not nearly necessary that either one of those seeds makes it to the semis.

The opposite half of the draw features Roger Federer of course, who is seeded second since Djokovic is out. The Swiss has Nicolas Almagro [9], Marin Cilic [15] and Jurgen Melzer [7] in his quarter and could face Fernando Verdasco [6] or David Ferrer [4] in the semis.

Federer commences his clay campaign on Tuesday against Philipp Kohlschreiber scheduled not before 11:30a.m. (Monaco time) on Court Central.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tsonga through in Monte, prefers being coachless for now

Talented Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga opened his clay campaign at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters with a tough three-set win over Juan Monaco.

The 12th seed needed some time to find his game before he took his stride and recovered from a set down to beat the Argentine 4/6, 6/3, 6/2 to set up a second round clash with Ivan Ljubicic.

Tsonga recently split with his coach Eric Winogradsky, who has been coaching the 25-year-old since 2004. The former Australian Open runner-up was thrilled with his victory over Monaco and said he will remain coachless for now.

"For the moment I just want to find my game. Play like I want to play. Not to be influenced by somebody else. I will see, if I am not playing well then I will search for someone to help me. For now, I have my friends in the crowd supporting me,"
Tsonga told Sky Sports after his win.

Earlier matches on Monday saw another Frenchman tested, 13th seeded Richard Gasquet, who went the distance against Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan to eventually prevail 5/7, 6/3, 6/4.

"I came to the court lacking some rhythm and playing my first match on clay, and he was making very few mistakes," said Gasquet. "But I was able to play solid, hang in there. But it was tough. I'm happy I pulled out that match today and I can play a second match here. I would have been disappointed if I had lost, because this is a beautiful tournament, there are many people watching."

Spaniards Nicolas Almagro, Tommy Robredo and Daniel Gimeno-Traver all made it through to the 2nd round while Marcos Baghdatis and Nikolay Davydenko highlighted the main upsets of the day falling to Radek Stepanek and Robin Haase respectively.

The order of play isn't out yet, but Roger Federer is expected to play on Tuesday against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

VIDEO: Coach Marian Vajda talks Djokovic

-- Novak Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, sheds some light on the reasons behind the Serb's recent mind-blowing domination

*Video courtesy of the ATP

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's Djokovic's world and we're all just in it...

Remember the 2009 clay season? The 2 months of European clay that could have might as well been named the Nadal-Djokovic saga... The two had faced off in the Monte Carlo final, Rome final as well as the Madrid semifinals.

That Madrid semifinal was possibly the match that pushed Nadal's knees over the edge that year, but it was also arguably the match of the season. No player had managed to push Rafa on clay like Djokovic did in that match, but the Djokovic of 2009 was missing something to pull off a win like that over the greatest player to ever grace the clay courts.

Fast forward two years and another clay season is upon us and from the looks of it, Djokovic and Nadal might once again headline the clay events, except this time Djokovic has learnt to fly... both literally and figuratively I must add.

There was no doubt that when Djokovic showed up on the tennis scene and claimed his first big title at the 2007 Miami Masters, that the Serb had the kind of tennis one could label as complete. He had the serve, the forehand, the backhand, the movement and the shot selection. If anything, he wasn't really a natural volleyer but technically, he seemed as good as they can get.

Still it's almost impossible to have the absolute complete package. I say "almost" because at times, Federer and Nadal make it seem like they have it, a fact that had separated Djokovic from those two the past few years essentially because his mental strength and self confidence were constantly in question.

His fitness of course was subject to the most scrutiny due to a handful of retirements from some big matches like against Nadal at Roland Garros 2006 and Wimbledon 2007, against Federer in Monte Carlo 2008 or against Roddick at Australian Open 2009.

Few denied his technical supremacy but many questioned his fitness, consistency, mental strength and resilience. In those regards, Nadal and Federer were in a different league.

Little however can be criticized in the new and improved Novak Djokovic. Many things, small and big, led him to where he is right now, the reigning Australian Open champion, undefeated since last December winning 26 straight matches and capturing 4 out of 4 tournaments in 2011 including 2 ATP 1000 trophies besides the Australian Open one.

He beat Federer 3 straight times already this year, and Nadal twice in as many weeks. He is high on confidence and has a new-found resilience that allows him to turn around matches against someone like Nadal who rarely loses after winning the first set.

His achievements the past 3 months are unparalleled since 1986 when Ivan Lendl had that perfect 25-0 start to the season, but his performance against Nadal in Miami Sunday night stands out.

For starters, in what world does Rafa get more tired than his opponent? In what world does Rafa stand still without attempting to return a lob or a drop shot? In what world does Rafa return poorly on second serve? In what world does Rafa appear like an underdog? More disturbingly, feel like an underdog? In what world is Rafa out-rallied, out-smarted and over-powered?

It is a world where Novak Djokovic has managed to gather all the pieces that were missing from his game, improve on the pieces he already had, put them together and decide to fly. That is a world I am lucky to bare witness to.

Besides the super confidence, the mental strength, the excellent serving, and inch perfect shots, Djokovic even came to the net 21 times and was successful in 16 of those approaches.

I don't know when exactly all those tweaks to his game happened but I know that Head video definitely helped. I mean playing tennis on the wings of a plane... that's just genius!

So if people are wondering if Djokovic can challenge Nadal on clay the way he has in Indian Wells and Miami, my answer to them is yes. I think he can. He was this close to beating Nadal in 2009 when he wasn't playing this good or feeling this strong, so there is a great chance that Djokovic can take this edge into the clay season against the world number one. I'm not saying he's winning Roland Garros because that's still like 4 tournaments away and he is bound to slow down or get tired, but at this moment, I believe Djokovic is totally capable of challenging Rafa on clay.

One thing we know for sure is that Nadal pays little attention to others and focuses on himself, on playing well and getting good results. It was never about chasing Federer or reaching a certain number of Slam wins, he just feeds on his need to improve and work hard to win every single match. But when asked, he says Djokovic is on his way to the top.

"I think he's going to be No. 1. I don't feel he's breathing down my neck. The thing is, that's part of sport. We will see at the end of the season who's No. 1, who's No. 2, and who's No. 20... It's difficult for me to say my goal is be No. 1. My goal is be competitive in every tournament. If I do that, I going to have my chance to be No. 1," said Nadal after his loss in Miami.

"Djokovic won 2 tournaments in a row right now, very big tournaments and 1 Grand Slam. Normal thing is he will be No. 1 in the next month, month and a half, two months. I don't know. Depends on my results on clay. For sure he will be there, no? I going to fight for me. If I am solid, if I play a very good clay court season, we will see what's going on after."

Of course we'll have to wait and see but the million dollar question now is: Who will be the first to beat Djokovic in 2011?