Tuesday, January 31, 2012

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Djokovic's six-hour win over Nadal was the ultimate blockbuster

Sealed with a kiss: Djokovic poses with the trophy Monday morning at Carlton Gardens

Sunday night/Monday morning’s six-hour Australian Open final had something for everyone.

It was like a multi-genre blockbuster movie that would appeal to all the masses from the horror fanatics to the chick-flick lovers and everyone in between. The first set was for the tacticians of the game.

Rafael Nadal stepped onto the court a different man from the one who lost the last six finals to Novak Djokovic. He was way closer to the baseline, he was trying to pounce on the Serb's serve, and he was attempting to hit the ball as hard as he possibly could.

While Nadal is known for his genius in constructing points, the Spaniard had failed in doing so last year against the world No.1, who has no noticeable weaknesses for his opponent to exploit.

So instead Nadal was trying to get in the rallies early on, and although the first set was error-strewn from both, the world No.2 was using the correct tactics, to try and trouble a player, who is virtually impossible to trouble at the moment. The Mallorcan mastermind, although far from flawless in his execution, succeeded in taking the first set courtesy of his perfect plan. Kind of like the guys from Ocean’s 11.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Men's singles draw breakdown... Rafa and Fed in same half for first time in years

The Australian Open draw was revealed yesterday in Melbourne and for the first time in seven years world No2 Rafael Nadal and No3 Roger Federer find themselves in the same half of a Grand Slam draw.

The pair have not been drawn in the same half since the 2005 French Open, where they faced off in the semi-finals before Nadal beat the Swiss and went on to win his first of his ten Grand Slams.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic has fourth-seeded Andy Murray are on either side of the top half of the draw meaning a repeat of last year’s final between the duo is no longer a possibility but a mouth-watering semi-final could be in the cards.

The Djokovic Quarter

The world No1 faces Italian world No108 Paolo Lorenzi in the first round and the earliest seed he could bump into is in the form of No29 seed Radek Stepanek in the third round.

Potential fourth round opponents for Djokovic include No15 seed and four-time semi-finalist Andy Roddick, home favourite and former finalist Lleyton Hewitt, and rising star No23 seed Milos Raonic.

The Canadian youngster, who made the fourth round last year in Australia, is fresh off a title win in Chennai last week and is one of two up-and-comers Djokovic said could be a danger to his title defence.

Fifth seed David Ferrer is drawn to possibly face off with Djokovic in the quarter-finals but the Spaniard, who was a Melbourne semi-finalist last season, will have to tackle the likes of No17 seed Richard Gasquet and No9 seed Janko Tipsarevic first.

Quarter-final pick: Djokovic v Tipsarevic

The Murray Quarter

Before Murray could even think about meeting Djokovic in the semis, the Scot must first get past a tricky opener against American upstart Ryan Harrison.

Harrison is yet to get past the second round in a Major but the 19-year-old stretched Ferrer to five sets at Wimbledon last year, has wins over top-20 players, and troubled Marcos Baghdatis in Brisbane last week.

Murray could face talented Latvian Ernests Gulbis or No32 seed Alex Bogomolov Jr. in the third round, with a potential blockbuster fourth rounder looming ahead against No14 seed Gael Monfils.

Doha champion and former Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is seeded sixth and stands in Murray’s way in the quarter-finals.

Quarter-final pick: Murray v Tsonga

The Federer Quarter

Federer, who at 30 years of age is in search of a fifth trophy in Melbourne and a 17th Grand Slam title opens against a qualifier and his first test could come up against serving machine Croatian Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Aussie youngster Bernard Tomic, who made the Wimbledon quarters last year is a fourth round candidate for the Swiss along with No13 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov or No22 seed Fernando Verdasco – a semi-finalist in 2010.

No8 seed Mardy Fish or No11 seed Juan Martin del Potro are potential quarter-final draws for Federer, but first they have to square off in the fourth round.

Quarter-final pick: Federer v Del Potro

The Nadal Quarter

2010 champion Nadal will play a qualifier in the first round with the first seed in his path being No28 seed Ivan Ljubicic in the third round.

His good friend and fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez is enjoying a career high ranking and the No18 seed could meet Nadal in the fourth round, but it will have to be at the expense of the likes of No16 seed John Isner or David Nalbandian.

Seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych is drawn to face Nadal in the quarters but the Czech has to overcome some tough opponents like Stanislas Wawrinka (No21), Baghdatis and Nicolas Almagro (No10) first.

Quarter-final pick: Nadal v Berdych

First rounders to look out for

Bernard Tomic v Fernando Verdasco [22]
Ivo Karlovic v Jurgen Melzer [31]
Viktor Troicki [19] v Juan Carlos Ferrero
Janko Tipsarevic [9] v Dmitry Tursunov

Second rounders to look out for

Andy Roddick [15] v Lleyton Hewitt
Richard Gasquet [17] v Mikhail Youzhny
Stanislas Wawrinka [21] v Marcos Baghdatis

Third rounders to look out for

Roger Federer [3] v Ivo Karlovic

Fourth rounders to look out for

Gael Monfils [14] v Andy Murrray [4]
Rafael Nadal [2] v John Isner [16]
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [6] v Gilles Simon [12]
Novak Djokovic [1] v Milos Raonic [23]

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tsonga keeping the faith in Grand Slam glory after Doha victory

Photo credit: © Reem Abulleil

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga believes he can end his wait for a Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open after beating his good friend and fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-3 to kick off his season with a smashing title victory at the Qatar Open.

Tsonga, who made the finals of the World Tour Finals in London and in the Paris Masters at the end of last season, is the first Frenchman to make three straight finals on Tour since Cedric Pioline did so in 1993.

The 26-year-old remains in search of a maiden Grand Slam trophy with his best showing coming in Australia when he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2008 - a fact he says helps believe he can fulfil his Major dream.

Tsonga said: “I feel like I’m a very dangerous player on a speed surface, on a hard surface or grass. So I’m sure I can. I have reached the final already, so maybe I can win.

“It’s really good for me because I played a lot of matches. I played well. I will leave this tournament, with a lot of confidence, and it’s good for me for the next tournament. At the beginning of the match it was a bit difficult because he broke me very early. It was tough. But in my head everything was right. I said, Okay, I’m one break down, but I will continue to play my game. I will make him run a lot.

“I think it was the good solution because then, after that, he was maybe a bit tired of that. After that, I was better than him. I was all the time in the court making him run. That's why maybe I won today.”

Monfils broke Tsonga in the very first game of the match but one point into the second game, play was suspended due to the unusual heavy fog that hit the Qatari capital a short while before the final which caused the court to be dangerously slippery for the players.

The French pair returned to the court almost half an hour later as play resumed and Monfils quickly raced to a 5-3 lead and was serving for the first set. But in a bizarre turnaround of events, Tsonga rallied to win four straight games to snatch the first set 7-5.

The fog thickened and descended more on the courts but the action still resumed in the second set with Tsonga picking up where he left off, holding to love.

The set remained on serve but the fourth game saw Tsonga slip and take a bad fall and officials were instantly called onto the court again to assess how wet it was and to wipe off the ‘Qatar’ letters on the ground, where the Le Mans man had fell.

The action continued but the following game saw more tumbles from both players but it was more due to them lunging for difficult balls, than because of the fog.

The significant moment came at game six when Tsonga hit a monstrous forehand to get a look at a break point and he went on to break immediately thanks to an unforced error from Monfils, who was now 4-2 down.

Tsonga had no trouble holding on to that break as his opponent continued to rack up the unforced errors and the No3 seed closed out the match when Monfils his 27th error of the night, to head to Melbourne with a well-deserved title under his belt.

Monfils said he was happy with his tournament, after losing his second final in Doha, but he admitted he was less aggressive than in his previous matches.

The world No16 said: “I think the conditions were a bit tough, but it was for both of us. So then I think today I was maybe less powerful than I was during this week, because I think also Jo play different. He was playing a bit soft and then change the rhythm, like a bit hard and mix it up with some slice.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

QATAR OPEN: Nadal flaunts vintage form in victory over Youzhny

Top seed Rafael Nadal displayed some vintage form to outclass Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-4 in the Qatar Open quarter-finals on Thursday evening in front of his good friend Raul Gonzalez and the entire Schalke squad.

The Spaniard appeared to have found his magic hitting winners upon request and moving Youzhny all over the court to book his semi-final spot.

The first set went on serve up until 2-2 before Nadal started pulling Youzhny into the net with some short balls to execute the perfect passing shot – a strategy which saw the Mallorcan break to love to go up 3-2.

One break was all he needed as he continued to fire blistering forehands and backhands, and he clinched the set with a smooth backhand volley at the net.

The second set saw a strong start from Youzhny, who held serve before getting a look at a break point in Nadal’s opening service game. But some strong serves from the world No2 together with some clever shot selection held off the Russian opposition.

After holding serve, it was Nadal’s turn to up the ante and a ruthless backhand passing shot helped him earn a break of serve to go up 2-1 before another break saw him lead 4-1.

Youzhny however did not give up that easily as he broke back once but Nadal eventually flew with the victory after a marathon final game.

Nadal said: "I'm very happy. I think I played my best match here today. Doing a lot of things very, very well.

"I returned the first set very well. I went inside the court. For moments I enjoyed a lot playing tennis tonight. That's true, I had a mistake with 4 1 to close the match, 5 1 it's finished, but after that I suffered a lot with 5 4, 15 40, but that's, you know, just a small thing, no? If we talk global of the match, I think I played very, very well. Very happy.

"I know he's very dangerous player. He's one of these players that when you walk on court that you know you can lose the match. I think he did a good match. I believe he didn't have a lot of mistakes. His movements was good.

"But seriously, it's one of the days I go back to the hotel very, very happy about what I did. For a lot of moments during the match, I played at very, very high level, moving very well, going inside the court, having the control of the point most of the times against a player that I normally don't have the control of the point, because his level always put me in trouble in the past."

Earlier on Centre Court, defending champion Roger Federer survived a scare in his quarter-final against Italian Andreas Seppi falling behind 1-5 in the second set, before getting things in order in the decider.

The Swiss took the first set 6-3, in convincing fashion serving at 79 per cent first serves and breaking his opponent twice, but the tables were quickly turned and Seppi raced to a 5-1 lead in the second set, benefitting from a stream of unforced errors from Federer.

Still Federer would not let go of the set so easily as he stepped things up, attacking more with his backhand to level the set at 5-5. But Seppi still managed to snatch the set breaking Federer again to make it one set apiece.

The second seed regained his composure in the deciding set and one break was all he needed to seal the win 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in one hour 38 minutes.

“I thought I started well. I was able to play aggressive, not giving too much rhythm,” said Federer after his win.

“He was obviously missing more shots due to that. In the second set I think he found his range a bit more. I missed a couple of chances, but he was just better overall.

“I then started playing a bit better to come back into the match, but then he closed it out nice, serving well at 5 All and breaking well at 6 5. I thought he was a better player in that second set and deserved that set, and then the third set was close. I had my chances; he had his chances. But I was able to take mine, but at the end that was the small difference today.

“I guess my variation and my power just was maybe a bit too much at the end.”

Sunday, January 1, 2012

MWTC: Federer unfazed by double blow in Abu Dhabi

In a rematch of last year’s final, Rafael Nadal handed Roger Federer his second loss in Abu Dhabi this weekend to clinch third place in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

Federer had lost badly to Novak Djokovic the day before 6-2, 6-1 and the Swiss did not fare much better against Nadal in the third-place playoff falling to the Spaniard 6-1, 7-5 in 85 minutes.

Nadal started off looking much stronger and fresher than in his previous match with David Ferrer and the Mallorcan quickly went up 3-0.

Federer finally got on the board in the fourth game but Nadal continued to dominate as he broke again in the fifth game making Federer pay for every approach shot he made with some clever passing shots, and the world No2 wrapped up the opening set in 29 minutes.

Federer stepped up his game in the second set as he opened the set with a comfortable hold but Nadal again took the initiative and broke serve to go up 2-1 courtesy of a brilliant crosscourt backhand - a shot that went well for him throughout the course of the match - a Federer unforced error on the forehand.

But the Swiss maestro hit back this time and broke back immediately and continued to attack with his backhand and approach the net, but Nadal eventually got the crucial service break at 5-5 in a long game that saw a tweener shot from Nadal and five deuces. All the Spaniard had to was hold serve once and he did so with an emphatic inside out forehand winner, to finish the two days of match practice he needed on a high note.

Despite the two losses Federer suffered in Abu Dhabi, the world No3 is positive about his form and is looking forward to defending his title in Doha next week.
He says: “It’s fine. It’s about getting ready and feeling fine out there, enjoying great atmosphere here and getting a chance to play world class players.

“It’s a great start to a new season, try a few things, see where you’re at, not all the focus on where the other guys are at but obviously I could tell that Novak and Rafa are playing really well, which is not a surprise to me. I expected them to be in good shape for next year and they just proved that to me this weekend.

“I’m still on a 17-match winning streak which is a good thing, that gives me a lot of confidence and I can start from here now.

“It’s still early in the season, it’s not really where you want to peak at your absolute best, so I understand that and I faced this situation many times before, to not overthink these two losses to badly, it’s about moving on and taking the positives out of this.”

Meanwhile Nadal was happy to improve on his form from his Friday defeat to Ferrer. He said: “I think Roger didn’t play at his top, he didn’t push myself at the top today. He played more aggressive than usual. But anyway I think I did a few things better than yesterday and that’s the most important thing.”

MWTC: Djokovic in scary form as he cruises to Abu Dhabi title

(Photo credit: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

When Novak Djokovic was asked on court after he won the Mubadala World Tennis Championship yesterday evening if he believed he can repeat his 2011 success in 2012, the Serb’s answer was concise. “Yes!” said the world No1 as the Abu Dhabi crowd roared with applause.

And to everyone who watched the Serb dismantle Roger Federer on Friday and David Ferrer in the final yesterday, Djokovic’s response could not have been more appropriate.
Djokovic eased past the resilient Ferrer 6-2, 6-1 in 63 minutes to take the Abu Dhabi title on debut, hitting with such pace, that makes it hard to conceive anyone on Tour would be able to counter.

The world’s No3 and 5 tried in Abu Dhabi but to no avail.

Djokovic broke early to go up 4-1 and Ferrer did everything in his power to hold on for 4-2, but no number of accurate passing shots or decent returns from the Spaniard were enough to stop the top seed from breaking again in the eighth game with a lightning fast crosscourt forehand winner to take the first set 6-2.

Ferrer had a look on two break points in the first game of the second set, but Djokovic’s serve came to the rescue and the Belgrade-born quickly raced to a 3-0 lead.

The pair had some of the biggest rallies witnessed all weekend but still Djokovic had the answer to every shot from Ferrer, who was forced into defence mode more often than he would have liked, and it wasn’t long before Djokovic sealed it all with an ace to record the same scoreline from his victory over Federer the day before, to take the trophy and a $250,000 winner's cheque.

“This is the best way to start off the 2012 season. I must say I am very very happy with the way I’m playing because playing against the top players in the world in this way is something that gives me a lot of confidence,” says Djokovic, who admitted he didn’t expect to be match-ready so soon in his preparation.

“I’m a little bit surprised to be honest because I know that it is only mid period of preparation so usually at this stage you’re still trying to find your speed on the court and agility, just dynamics of every stroke in general, but I found it already to be honest, and the surface itself is quite similar to Melbourne which is a great way for me to prepare for the Australian Open.

“I’m going to take some time and work on my physical strength again and just maintain the level that I’m playing at, I think this is where I want to be.”

Meanwhile Ferrer was happy with his performance over the three days in the UAE capital but believes Djokovic is just too difficult to beat when he is playing at this level.

“He was better than me, we played a really good match. I tried but maybe I played very defensive all the time and nothing else.

“I fought but with Djokovic at this moment it’s very difficult to beat him because when he’s playing really good it’s difficult to make points. He serves really good, his return is unbelievable, and he has more power than me. It’s difficult to beat him when I’m not playing aggressive.

“I’m happy with my game of course. I played three good matches. And now I will go to Auckland with confidence.”