Roddick pulls out of Rome Masters; Venus injury prevents Fed Cup slot

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Andy Roddick has pulled out of the Rome Masters while Venus Williams' knee injury will prevent her from playing in the Fed Cup against Russia this weekend.

Roddick, the world number seven, cited personal reasons for missing the Masters in Italy that starts Sunday.

The tournament is classed as mandatory for top-ranked players but Roddick will not face any sanctions for dropping out. He is allowed one free exemption per year because he has competed in over 600 matches on the ATP tour.

The tour said they expected Roddick to return to action for the Madrid Masters on May 9, which is two weeks before the French Open.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams has been removed from the U.S. squad for their Fed Cup semifinal with Russia due to a knee injury she picked up at the Miami Masters.

Her sister Serena, the world number one, will also miss the event in Alabama.

Venus said in a statement to United States Tennis Association Web site: "I am continuing to rehabilitate my knee and regret that I will not be able to participate in the Fed Cup tie.

"I waited until this moment in the hope that I would have an opportunity to play but I am being advised by my medical support team that I will need more time to recover.

"I will be rooting for a United States win and look forward to returning to Fed Cup competition."

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The Net Post: Roger Federer unsurprised by Rafael Nadal’s comeback

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Roger Federer insisted he did not watch a single stroke of Rafael Nadal’s staggering exploits in Monte Carlo the week before last when the Spanish leviathan won the title for a sixth time in succession, losing 14 games in the process. Did the results surprise him? “I was more surprised that everybody thought Rafa wasn’t playing so well any more,” the world No 1 said. “The critics in this sport are at a pretty high level. I went through the same thing before.”

The higher you rise, the greater the praise, and the more intense the scrutiny becomes if the wheels should start to lack traction. The Wimbledon champion knows how the game is played. By “high level” the 16-time grand slam champion did not mean that he bowed to the quality of the questions raised against Nadal, but more that he found a lot of what had been written about his friendly foe rather disquieting.

“He (Nadal) should have clearly won Doha in the first week of the year when he was playing incredible tennis, he was toying with (Nikolay) Davydenko in the final before Davydenko got a little lucky, saved a match point and ended up playing an incredible third set,” Federer said. “He was playing really well in the Australian Open before he had to pull out (against Andy Murray) and everybody started to get negative. There has been too much of that about him in my opinion. Surely you would have to assume that once the clay-court season came around, he was going to be back to his A-game.”

It was A+ in Monte Carlo and now that he is rested by choosing not to repel all invaders in Barcelona for a sixth time – Fernando Verdasco, beaten 6-0, 6-1 by Nadal in the Monaco final, collected that title, defeating Robin Soderling yesterday – Nadal ought to be refreshed for the formidable challenges ahead.

Federer looked pretty bloomin’ blossoming as he did his usual frenetic media rounds at the Foro Italico. It has got to the point where women with babies in pushchairs ask Tony Godsick, his manager, to pose for pictures with their offspring, hoping no doubt that the acumen with which he has delivered Federer’s off-the-field splendour will rub off on them.

Of the nine current Masters in which he has competed (Federer did not play in Shanghai last year when it became a Masters 1000 for the first time), Rome is only one of three, along with Paris and Monte Carlo, that he has not won. He did have two match points on his racket in the extraordinary five-set final here in 2006, which would have satisfied an awful lot of people not named Federer. He did not baulk at the point made to him that this is Nadal’s title to lose.

“His record would suggest that for sure,” Federer said. “He has been on an absolute tear on clay, he has only ever lost one match at the French Open and though I would love to say that I’m the big favourite here and in Paris, it would not seem quite right. Rafa has proved again in Monaco just how tough he is but I think there are guys out here who can challenge him.”

Federer was intriguing, too, on the travails of Murray and Novak Djokovic, the young pretenders who have hit the odd stumbling block recently. Djokovic has returned, lock, stock and barrel to Marian Vajda, his long-time coach, having believed that Todd Martin, the American, may have been able to offer him solace and a new understanding of his game. Sometimes, if it ain’t really broke, there is no need to seek out a different fixer. Murray’s travails are well known.

“I was always pretty impressed at how incredibly solid they were in the Masters events, always in the semis or quarters,” Federer said, “because I know how hard that is to do. I never took those kind of achievements for granted, even when they were expected of me. They are obviously feeling it more now, when they aren’t winning the Masters and have not won a grand slam in the last year. The aura can fade and now, with Nadal winning Monaco, the situation has changed again. It will be interesting to see how it turns out and if they can bounce back.”

Djokovic called it a “crisis that everyone has to go through” and yet the Serbian is No 2 in the world, he is a grand slam champion and he is not 23 until next month. “I have got my thoughts back together, I’m working on some things, but it’s been mentally exhausting for me.”

The greater concern among the protagonists in the men’s game is the continued inactivity of Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, the US Open champion, who has not played since Melbourne because of an injury to his right wrist. There is still pain there, the Net Post is told, and he is considered only a ‘maybe’ for the Mutua Madrilena Masters in Madrid the week after next.

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Nadal: I’m Fine and Just Want to Stay Healthy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BARCELONA – Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal said Tuesday he was skipping the Barcelona Open, where he is the defending champion, because he “wants to keep playing the best possible for the longest time possible” and to avoid the heavy schedule that took a toll on his body in previous seasons.

“I am perfect, I am very well, but I don’t want to have a repeat of last year,” Nadal said in a press conference.

Many feared that Nadal, a five-time champion here who has battled knee problems in recent years, might reveal some new injury at the press conference, but he put his fans at ease.

Nadal said it would be “madness” to think he was injured after the way he dominated countryman Fernando Verdasco 6-0, 6-1 on Sunday to win his sixth consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.

The win in Monte Carlo ended an 11-month stretch without a title for the former world No. 1 dating back to last year’s Italian Open. That title drought included the first loss in his career at the French Open and his withdrawal from Wimbledon with a knee injury.

“For the tennis to be good, I have to be well physically and that’s the main goal,” Nadal said.

Nadal, who has been critical of the ATP tour schedule, especially the European clay-court season, in the past, made it clear that he had not planned to skip Barcelona.

“I had not planned it, let’s make that clear. Tennis is not like soccer. You don’t know the matches you’re going to play, and you plan the calendar based on the matches and not the tournaments. If I’d arrived in Monte Carlo and lost on Wednesday, the normal thing would’ve been to play here tomorrow,” Nadal said.

The world No. 3 said he won Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome last year, wearing himself out physically.

He lost at the French Open and spent more than two months off the tour, ending up unable to defend his title at Wimblendon.

Nadal said the taste of victory he got in Monte Carlo after 350 days without a win made him focus on “being careful” so he could “maintain the level.”

“It’s not an act, far from it. For me, not playing here is a hard blow. It’s my club, it’s Barcelona, I’m in my house and I’ve won here five years. But, you know, with the years you learn more, you start getting more experience, last year was an unpleasant experience and I think playing three weeks straight is not the best thing for me,” Nadal said.

Last year, Nadal defeated countryman David Ferrer 6-2, 7-5 in the final of the Barcelona Open.

“Next year, the schedule is going to be much more favorable, and I’ll play here,” Nadal said, referring to the fact that there will be a week off between Barcelona and Rome in 2011.

Nadal has won six Grand Slams, including four French Open titles, one Wimbledon championship and one Australian Open title.

After dominating in the early part of the 2009 tour, the 23-year-old Nadal did not win a singles event over the final six months of the year.

His most crushing loss came at the French Open against Sweden’s Robin Soderling, who handed the Spaniard his first-ever defeat at that Grand Slam tournament in five appearances.

Nadal subsequently withdrew from Wimbledon due to a knee injury and then struggled against the top players after returning to action late in the summer.

The Spanish star, considered by many the best clay-court player in the history of tennis, is now gearing up for the Italian Open, which begins next week, but he said he would play in the Masters 1000 event in Madrid, another mandatory tournament, before trying to regain his title in Paris. 

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Tennis ace Nadal paces formidable Spanish sweep on clay

Thursday, April 15, 2010
MONTE CARLO — Rafael Nadal moved closer to perfection for a second day in succession on Thursday, with the five-time champion completing a 6-0, 6-1 rout over German Michael Berrer to roar into the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Top seed and 2009 finalist Novak Djokovic also stayed in the race as the Serb defeated Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 6-4.

The comprehensive win was only the tip of the iceberg for Iberia's clay powerhouse players as four other Spanish seeds followed the world number three into the last eight at the seaside Country Club.

Only number 12 Tommy Robredo, put out 6-3, 6-4 by Argentine David Nalbandian, failed to follow the winning script.

Alberto Montanes' 6-4, 6-4 upset of fourth seed Marin Cilic lead the way on another sunny, chilly afternoon.

Sixth seed Fernando Verdasco played through his continuing back problems to put out Miami finalist Tomas Berdych, the tenth seed, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 and 2003 champion and seeded ninth, rolled back to the glory years as he denied fifth-seeded French hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 as the home player saved two match points,

Number 11 Iberian sparkplug David Ferrer ended the hopes of local resident Ivan Ljubicic, the eighth-seeded Croatian and Indian Wells champion last month, 6-0, 7-6 (7/4).

Top seeded Serb Novak Djokovic was playing Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka to conclude a showcase day.

Nadal, whose only loss in the principality came in 2003 (he did not play in 2004), now stands 31-1 at the event.

Nadal was in superb touch during his win, which came less than 24 hours after crushing Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker by the identical score.

"I played better, yes, better than yesterday," said the satisfied Spaniard.

"I played close to the lines, and my feeling is I had more control on the ball than yesterday.

"I had good backhands, very good forehands down the line. I played very well."

Nadal polished his record at the event which he has owned as champion for the last five years to an overwhelming 29 straight victories as the four-time Roland Garros champion continues a bid for history and a sixth consecutive title.

Berrer, ranked 51st, stood zero chance in the onslaught. The German could do little more than watch as Nadal sent over 28 winners, converted on five of six break point chances and made a mere eight unforced errors in 53 minutes.

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Jankovic rallies to advance at Charleston tennis

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CHARLESTON , South Carolina — Former world number one Jelena Jankovic survived a scare by rallying to beat unseeded Edina Gallovits 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round of the WTA Family Circle Cup.

The Serbian had to go the distance, needing two hours to beat Edina Gallovits of Romania at the 700,000 dollar clay court event on Tuesday.

The former winner and second seed received a bye into the round of 16.

"She (Gallovits) didn't have anything to lose. She can just play freely and go after her shots," said Jankovic, who won the tournament in 2007, and along with Nadia Petrova are the only lone ex-champions in the field.

It was first match on clay this season for Jankovic who is ranked seventh in the world.

"I think it's a good thing I played a tough match like that because it gives you confidence and you get fitter and fitter for the next rounds," said Jankovic.

World number 127 Gallovits started to fall apart in the third set.

"I feel like I pushed too much when I shouldn't have and I didn't go for it when I had it," Gallovits said. "It was hard to find the median in the third set."

There were two surprises Tuesday as No. 11 Virginie Razzano of France lost to Monique Adamczak 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, while 15th seeded Melinda Czink of Hungary was ousted by Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands 7-6 (11/9), 6-3.

No. 4 seed Samantha Stosur, No. 7 seed Vera Zvonareva, No. 10 seed Elena Vesnina and No. 14 seed Vera Dushevina all advanced in straight set wins, while No. 12 seed Aleksandra Wozniak needed three sets to advance.

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Roddick continues to show versatility

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The evolution of Andy Roddick has been in progress for a while now.

Much has been written about the fitter Roddick, the Roddick that still has an effective first serve though he doesn't rely simply on pure heat; the Roddick with more variety off the ground.

All of that was clearly evident in Key Biscayne, Fla., where Roddick on Sunday won the Sony Ericsson Open for the second time. It was his second title of the year — he's also an ATP World Tour best 26-4 on the season — his fifth Masters 1000 title and the 29th ATP title of his career, third among active players.

To get there, Roddick beat Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and Tomas Berdych in the final, showing the versatility in his game that we now have come to expect.

Against Nadal, Roddick turned up the aggression after falling behind, charging the net against the Spaniard — "It's kind of like driving into head-on traffic," Roddick said — and pulling out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Momentum turned when he won the last 11 points of the second set, including a 143-mph serve — the fastest by any player in the tournament — for a winner on the final point to even the match.

Roddick kept coming, winning 12 points at the net in the final set. He also put more oomph into his forehand, especially on returns.

"I took a lot of risks there in the last two sets," he said. "I rolled the dice a lot and came up Yahtzee a couple times."

Nadal noticed.

"He started to play more aggressive," Nadal said. "It was a surprise for me."

In the 7-5, 6-4 victory against Berdych in the final, Roddick used delicate backhands, loopy forehands and changeup first serves to shake up his opponent's rhythm. (Click here to read what's Peter Bodo had to say about the Sony Ericsson final.)

It's been well-documented that since hiring Larry Stefanki as his coach in late 2008, Roddick has lost at least 10 pounds, improved his foot speed and developed a more well-rounded game.

What isn't as well-documented perhaps is Roddick's work ethic.

"He works as hard or harder than anybody else on this tour," Stefanki said. "He could be similar to Andre Agassi, where his best years are from 27 on."

The serve clearly is still a weapon — Roddick faced no break points against Berdych and dropped his serve only twice in the tournament — but it is much more nuanced.

A year-by-year review of Roddick's statistics shows that over the last decade the 6-2 Texan has upped his first-serve percentage by about 10%, including an ATP Tour-leading 70% in 2009. At the same time, he has consistently held serve nine out of 10 times.

In other words, sacrificing power for accuracy has not hurt his ability to dominate on serve and might help preserve his arm over time.

"The last month has been real good for me," said Roddick, ranked No. 7 in the world. "I've played well on the big moments. I've been able to have a game plan and execute it, regardless of what kind of shots it takes. So it's all good. It's all encouraging."

Clay-court season is up next, not Roddick's best surface. Does he think he can add a title?

"To be honest, I haven't thought about it for two seconds," Roddick said. "Four weeks from now I'm going to be feeling a lot different than I am in this moment. It's going be a process over the next month to get there. I know that's redundant and boring for you all. That's the reality of the situation. We'll see how I'm feeling then. I'll be able to give you some more insight."

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Isner now the feared one

Tuesday, April 6, 2010
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- John Isner's clay-court season, which begins this week in Houston, stretches ahead of him like a wide, inviting red-brick road to the near horizon.

He played just half a dozen matches on the surface last year before he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and had to shut things down until the summer hard-court swing. In the interim, the 6-foot-9 North Carolina native has made gargantuan strides in his game and now lurks menacingly on the edge of the top 20 with very few rankings points to defend for the next couple of months.

Isner, who will turn 25 later this month, recently proved he could hold his own on clay in the most challenging of circumstances, an away Davis Cup tie with thousands of Serbians rooting for his competitive demise. Pressed into service for doubles at the last minute when Mike Bryan fell ill, Isner teamed with Mike's twin, Bob, to win the doubles point and keep the U.S. team alive, then pushed Novak Djokovic to the limit in a thrilling five-setter.

"He showed to the world that he can play as well on clay courts as well as he plays on hard courts,'' said Djokovic, who needed more than four hours to put Isner away. "He gave me a very hard time. … He played like somebody that has longer experience in Davis Cup and not as somebody that just had the debut for his nation.'' Djokovic added that he and others think it's probably just a matter of time before Isner cracks the top 10.

That Davis Cup initiation was one hot crucible. Yet Isner doesn't regard the experience as a turning point so much as a direct result of getting well, getting into the gym and getting his mind around being a professional. "I went into that match expecting to win,'' he said two weeks ago during an off-day at the Sony Ericsson Open. "In college, I was in a lot of situations where the match came down to me and everyone was riding on it.''

Isner's real passage came when he beat Andy Roddick in the third round at the 2009 U.S. Open, overcoming both one of the world's top hard-court players and the intangible psychological edge held by a figurative older brother. As those five sets unfolded, it became clear that Isner's placid exterior concealed a deceivingly fierce drive.

"That's when for me, mentally, I knew my game was top-20 caliber at least,'' Isner said, sitting on the outdoor patio of the players' lounge in Key Biscayne, his legs extending well into the space between tables. "With the type of game I'm playing, and the way I'm playing it right now, I'm going to have a fighter's chance no matter who I'm playing.

"It's hard to explain. It's not like something that I sit down and think about at night. I'm just more comfortable out there. And another thing -- I know that nobody really wants to play me. They don't like seeing my name next to theirs in the draw. That's something I can use to my advantage.''

Fifty-two weeks ago, that wasn't the case. Isner was No. 127 in the world and many were inclined to see him as somewhat of a novelty act. He'd spent four years playing at the University of Georgia -- what serious pro does that nowadays? -- and admiration of his huge offensive weaponry was tempered, as it would be for any guy with his build, by questions about his stamina and movement.

He'd just begun working with Craig Boynton, the coaching director at Saddlebrook Academy in Tampa, who viewed Isner as a tall glass that was half full, not half empty. Better fitness bred confidence, which in turn bred more varied tactics, and the rest is recent history. Isner still relies on his serve, but he is by no means one-dimensional, showing touch at the net and winning points from the baseline as well.

In a first for him, Isner will be a seeded player at the prestigious clay-court events in Rome and Madrid this spring. He'll also make a return trip to Belgrade for the tournament owned by Djokovic's family and compete for the United States in the world team event in Germany. He's much more jazzed about playing on clay, which actually could complement aspects of his game, than grass, where the low bounce can be a tough reach from his altitude.

"He's going to be a better clay player than some people think,'' Boynton said. "The ball comes up high and it slows everything down. He can get behind the ball and set up for shots.

"My expectations are that he's really going to do well [this spring]. He's got a big hole in [rankings] points and it's a great opportunity. The goal is to be a top-16 seed at the French Open. He's five slots away.''

It would be easy to take Isner's bazooka of a serve for granted, but he doesn't. "There's been plenty of matches where I'm disappointed with my serving,'' he said. Power and angle notwithstanding, top players can still get a read on it if he doesn't take care to mix up his targets and his patterns.

"My kick serve is a lot of times more effective than my fastball,'' Isner said. "Down break point, the scouting report on me is that I'm going to try to and go fastball ace on some people. I can mix up a slower 110 [mph] kick, get it up high and then serve and volley off it and kind of throw some people off. I think some people are sitting on some serves because they think they know where it's going to go. When I'm up in games 40-0, I'll hit ridiculous aces off 110 mile an hour serves. I need to do it when I'm down, too.''

Isner opened the year by winning his first ATP-level tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, reached his second straight round of 16 at a major in Melbourne, then lost the Memphis final to his pal and doubles partner, Sam Querrey. (A fan has started a "Quisner" Twitter feed in their honor.) After Isner's impressive display in Serbia, he avenged the loss to Querrey at Indian Wells before losing to Rafael Nadal.

The shift to Miami's tropical weather proved difficult. Isner struggled during stretches of an intense second-round match against terrier-like fellow American Michael Russell, eventually winning in a third-set tiebreaker before a rowdy crowd supporting the former University of Miami standout. Between points, Isner moved as deliberately as a human being can, ambling around behind the baseline in the thick humidity, his shirt drenched and his face impassive whether he'd just smacked a winner or committed an error.

"He's good mentally; he doesn't let things bother him,'' Russell told a trio of reporters as he cooled down on a stationary bike afterward.

Admittedly biased because of his own, briefer college experience, Russell contends that the time Isner spent ripening at Georgia, where he put on 50 pounds and helped win an NCAA championship, likely contributed to his ability to keep his emotions in check at crucial junctures.

"College helps you mature as a human being,'' Russell said. "You're traveling all over the world, usually by yourself. It's courts-hotel, courts-hotel. It's pretty tough mentally to travel 30 weeks out of the year and not self-destruct.''

Things didn't end as well in the next round against Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former world No. 1 from Spain. Isner smashed a racket to smithereens after being broken early in the match and lost in three sets. He and Boynton returned to Tampa, where Isner actually allowed himself a rare day off, and then got to work sliding on the green clay courts at Saddlebrook Academy.

Boynton said Isner doesn't need much pushing at this point: "He understands that 'This is what makes me successful; this is where I'm deriving my confidence, so I'm going to continue on the program.'''

Isner's idea of a perfect day away from the court involves a boat, some beer and fishing for largemouth bass. He appears to be capable of reeling in some big ones on dry land as well.

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