Nadal, Murray pleased after opening Madrid tennis wins

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MADRID — Former champions Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray both booked their passage to the third round of the Madrid Masters on Wednesday as the countdown to Roland Garros began to heat up.

Nadal took the first step towards a third clay title this season by defeating Ukrainian qualifier Oleksandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 6-3.

Murray, seeded third and desperate to start turning a so-so season on clay, beat Juan Ignacio Chela for the fourth time in a row, earning a 6-3, 6-3 opening victory after a bye in the first round.

"I was pleased with the win," said Murray. "I served well and was able to move him around the court.

"It will be the same tomorrow (when he plays Romanian Victor Hanescu). He's a tall guy and the serves will be booming. I have to take control to win."

Nadal and Murray both won the event when it was played indoors on hardcourt during the autumn, with Nadal taking the title in 2005 and Murray following up in 2008.

The Spaniard, second seed behind Roger Federer, didn't need to produce much second-round spectacle for his eager home fans as he methodically dispatched number 62 Dolgopolov with three breaks of serve and little else required.

Nadal, who has titles this season from Masters 1000 outings at Monte Carlo and Rome, won his 11th match in a row on clay this season in just under 90 minutes.

"It was difficult to play against him, he's very fast, said Nadal, calling the win "an important victory for me".

"I'm happy with it, but sometimes I did not have the match under control. I must do better tomorrow."

Nadal will have to lift his game on Thursday when he takes on 2.05-metre American John Isner, a comeback winner over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 1-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.

The 13th-seeded Isner made a breakthrough at the weekend as he lost in a rare all-American European clay final in Belgrade.

"Isner is one of the most dangerous players on tour," said Nadal.

"The pressure is very big on your serve. If you lose it against him you are unlikely to be able to come back in the set."

Marin Cilic, the Croatian eighth seed, beat Argentine Edoardo Schwank 6-3, 6-0. Latvian Ernests Gulbis, a semi-finalist in Rome, upset Russian number 10 Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.

French 12th seed Gael Monfils needed only 11 minutes to go through as German Philipp Petzschner quit at 1-1 with a leg injury after informing his friend in advance that he was in pain.

But Monfils's compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew as a precaution with back pain after losing a first set 6-2 to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

"This is something I've had before. It usually takes about a week to heal. I first felt it last Friday practising, so I thought it would be smarter to withdraw as a precaution since Roland Garros is now so close," said Tsonga.

Stanislas Wawrinka set up a third-round meeting with Federer after Argentine Leonardo Mayer quit with an arm problem at 6-4, 4-2 in their match.

Off-court, Andy Roddick was forced out before his second-round start after unsuccessfully trying to overcome a stomach virus.

The pullout from the fifth seed and world number eight came before his opening match against Madrid's Feliciano Lopez, who later defeated Oscar Hernandez of Spain 6-1, 6-2.

In women's WTA play, Jelena Jankovic said she took little notice of compatriot Ana Ivanovic across the net, emerging with a scratchy 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win in a Serbian struggle for the third round.

"I treated it as just another match," said the seventh seed, a beaten finalist in Rome last weekend.

"Maybe at the start of our careers it was important. Now you just want to play your tennis."

Spain's Arantxa Parra Santonja claimed the last of the third-round places, defeating China's Peng Shuai 1-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3.

In the third round, Venus Williams beat Italian Francesca Schiavone 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 but top seed Serena crashed out to Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.


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Tennis needs Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry to resume

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Sunday afternoon, it will be a full year since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other.

Theirs is arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis, better than Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, more compelling than Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and in the 2008 Wimbledon final they produced some extraordinary drama. Yet, since Federer defeated Nadal to win the title at Madrid’s Caja Magica last season, the 20-match series has been on hold.

Though they have been on opposite sides of the net in charity doubles matches, tennis could do with Federer and Nadal resuming their rivalry for real, either here, in Paris, or in London.

The Swiss and the Spaniard are seeded to meet in the final on the clay here, ahead of the French Open a week on Sunday, yet it cannot be said with any certainty that the projected match is going to happen in the Spanish capital.

Since winning a 16th grand slam title at the Australian Open, Federer has failed to reach another final, let alone win another tournament.

On the clay, the French Open champion’s form has been particularly scratchy, as he lost his opening match in Rome to Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis and last week was defeated in the semi-finals of the Estoril tournament by Albert Montanes, of Spain.

He did not have everything his own way as he opened his tournament in Madrid against Benjamin Becker, needing a tie-break to complete his straight-sets, second-round, 6-2, 7-6 victory over his German opponent.

In the 3½ months since Federer won the Australian Open, the only one of the top four to have won a title is Nadal, the champion at the clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo and Rome.

Novak Djokovic, ranked second behind Federer, had to retire from a match in Belgrade last week because of allergies and breathing problems, and he decided against coming to Spain, and Andy Murray has had his difficulties since that night at Melbourne Park.

So far on the clay this season, Murray has won one match. The Scot, who had a bye through the first round here, will open his tournament against Juan Ignacio Chela, an Argentine qualifier on Wednesday.

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Nadal Takes Low-Impact Road Toward French Open

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
A week to win a tennis tournament. A week to recover. It is not Rafael Nadal’s traditional approach during the clay-court season that has often felt like his clay-court season, but his new rhythm certainly seems like the right rhythm at this sensitive stage of Nadal’s career.

For all his victories and his celebrity, he is still just 23 years old, and yet the mileage and the method mean more than the birth date in professional tennis. Nadal runs harder, plays harder than just about all of his peers.

He has the fragile knees to prove it, and after trying and failing to make it to the French Open in fine fettle last season, he is now making himself scarcer and is on a mission to peak in Paris later this month.

It seems strange that it could mean quite so much to Nadal to win a Grand Slam tournament that he has already dominated four times, but the tennis temple that made him a star is also the place where he suffered the biggest setback and upset of his career: to Robin Soderling in the fourth round last year.

Nadal craves number five at Roland Garros. Wanting something too much has been problematic for some tennis luminaries (think Ivan Lendl, who never won Wimbledon, or Martina Hingis, who never won the French Open), but an excess of desire has never seemed to build much of a mental block for Nadal.

At his best, the Spaniard has defined in-the-moment focus; has defined keeping it simple between the lines (even if he has to feed his superstitions by clearing them of red dust). And after nearly a year without a tournament victory, he has feted his return to his favorite surface by sweeping his first 10 clay-court matches of the season.

As great as ever in Monte Carlo, Nadal had to settle for being good enough in Rome last week, where Ernests Gulbis gave him a three-set scare in the semifinals. Now Nadal has the week off while his yang, Roger Federer, plays for a big appearance fee at the minor clay-court event in Estoril, Portugal.

Their paths are scheduled to converge next week in Madrid, where Federer jump-started his climb back to the top of the pyramid by beating a tired Nadal in the final last year. They have not played each other since, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for one of the best rivalries in sports; the matchup that gave us the 2006 Rome final and 2008 Wimbledon final.

For the moment, with Nadal ranked No. 3, they are no longer guaranteed to face off only in finals. Nor is there any guarantee that Federer is going to be in the kind of form required to go that far. He has a 3-3 record since winning the Australian Open. But the difference this spring is that he is not facing any cosmic questions about possible decline: his inquisitors remembering all too well what happened the last time they doubted his ability to keep winning the big ones.

Perhaps there’s more meaning to this microslump and all those errant forehands than the tennis world imagines, but Federer was so good in the heart of the season last year and so good in Australia this year that he has earned this conspiracy of courtesy.

Nadal has earned plenty of goodwill himself. His movement and positive energy are clearly there again. So is his forehand. But there is grist for contrarians. He has not beaten a member of the top eight on any surface in nearly a year and has yet to play on clay this season against any of his main rivals, including Federer, Novak Djokovic , Andy Murray or Juan Martin Del Potro.

There is also the unsettling feeling that the tall and very powerful Gulbis has much in common with the tall and very powerful Soderling, Both were intent on keeping the points short on clay against Nadal. Both were intent on robbing him of time by hitting with enormous pace. Both have enough height to avoid having to reach up to cope with Nadal’s nasty, high-bouncing topspin.

Bring on similar body types and tactics in Madrid and Paris, but even so, with Nadal eager and fresher by design, it requires little imagination to see him holding up the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the fifth time .

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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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Nadal wins dazzling slugfest over Ferrer

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You wouldn't want to have been a tennis ball getting clobbered about court in this high velocity encounter Tuesday that sent Rafael Nadal through to the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Ouch! The balls used for this match that saw Nadal emerge as a 7-6, 6-4 winner over David Ferrer will go back into their cans for re-sale battered and bruised. Is it possible to hit a ball harder with a tennis racket? Probably not. A large, often stunned, but always noisy crowd basking in the Miami sunshine gasped time and again as 15-, 16-, 20-stroke rallies sent the ball flashing back and forth across the net at speeds that defied the eye.

It's talent and timing that allows players of this caliber to produce such amazing tennis, of course, but it is also the Big Banger strings which have transformed the game over the past decade. They take so much spin that baseliners like Nadal and Ferrer can take mighty swings at the ball, safe in the knowledge that, if their timing is right, it will stay in court.

There was one instance in the second set when the pro-Nadal crowd let out sighs of dismay as a huge, lofted forehand seemed to be sailing long. But Rafa had imparted so much spin on his shot that it dipped at the last moment and landed smack on the baseline.

Slugfests between these two Spaniards are nothing new. They were meeting for the 12th time and now Nadal has won nine of their encounters. But the muscular, 17th-ranked Ferrer is rarely easy to beat. In fact, for a typical clay-courter, he has a remarkable record on hard courts, having reached the semifinals here in successive years (2005-06) and the U.S. Open semifinal the following year when he beat Nadal in four sets in the Round of 16.

Today, the first set could have gone either way, and for much of it Nadal was just hanging in there, trying to make sure that he could get on the end of Ferrer's raking drives. Another huge rally developed on set point at 6-5 in the breaker, which Rafa eventually won by forcing his opponent to put a forehand wide.

After that Nadal always looked the likely winner and showed his class by ending one of the most superlative rallies you will ever see by suddenly moving forward into his backhand and undercutting a high-bouncing ball, turning it into a winning drop shot with sweet precision. The place went nuts.

Mardy Fish had a sad day. His suffered a leg spasm out on the Grandstand Court and, and after a long period of courtside treatment, he was unable to continue, defaulting to Mikhail Youzhny of Russia after the first set.

"A little bit of bad luck, obviously," said Fish, who has been feeling great recently as a result of a strict diet. "I lost the feeling in my leg for a couple of minutes," he explained. "Then I got it back at the changeover. Just excruciating pain. I mean, I was doubled over. I could hardly breathe. I thought maybe in two games I would get it back. But it never loosened up. Just tightened up so much I could hardly walk."

Meanwhile, Mardy's pal Andy Roddick was extricating himself from a 1-4, 0-40 situation against the German Benjamin Becker (no relation to Boris). Roddick managed to come through to win 7-6, 6-3 by improving his first service ratio and staying positive.

"He came out aggressive and ready to play from the first ball," said Roddick. "I was maybe looking to work my way into the match a little bit more than he afforded me. But then my serve slowly started inching its way up. At 0-30 it's nice to be able to make some first serves."

Roddick, who will now meet Spain's Nicolas Almagro, will be playing an exhibition doubles with Jim Courier here on Friday night to raise money for the Chilean earthquake fund. Roddick played down his willingness to help good causes but he is never slow to step up when he feels something needs to be done.

"Even if things go great and I'm in the final here, I'll still play because it's necessary and what needs to be done. It's above what we do. It's bigger than a tennis match."

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A Year of Farewells, Returns and Surprises in Tennis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
It was a sentimental tennis season. Marat Safin, Amélie Mauresmo and Ai Sugiyama retired and actually appeared to mean it. Meanwhile, the unretired Kim Clijsters clutched the United States Open trophy as her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, toddled around the hard court where her mother had played with such strength and composure.

It was a controversial season. Serena Williams failed anger management at the United States Open but somehow avoided suspension. Israeli players generated diplomatic incidents in Dubai, where Shahar Peer was not given a visa for the women’s tournament, and in Sweden, where officials in Malmo cited security concerns in barring fans from a Davis Cup match against Israel.

It was a literary season, as Williams and the retired Andre Agassi produced autobiographies that were more revealing than the usual as-told-to filler that passes for sports literature.

Above all, it was a historic season, with Roger Federer becoming a family man and the career leader in Grand Slam singles titles. Federer finally won the French Open, the only major singles title he was missing. He then rode the wave — with his archrival Rafael Nadal absent — and won his record 15th major title at Wimbledon, the game’s favorite throwback and newly equipped with a translucent, retractable roof that was not closed for any of Federer’s matches. His latest title further bolstered the argument that he is the greatest player of all time.

Though he hardly dominated week in, week out in 2009, he reached the final of all four majors and regained the year-end ranking he had lost to Nadal in 2008. How easy then to forget that until May, this looked like Year 2 of Nadal’s reign, with the Majorcan launching his season by disposing of Federer in a five-set Australian Open final that left the Swiss star muttering, “God, it’s killing me,” through the tears at the awards ceremony.

But public breakdowns apparently do not end eras. Nor do minor tantrums, like the one Federer indulged in by throwing his racket for the first time in years in Miami. Nadal would eventually get derailed by knee problems and by Robin Soderling, the Swede who dealt Nadal his first loss at the French Open.

Federer has now turned into a scrapper in his middle tennis age. He had to claw his way through multiple five-setters to win at last in Paris and then had to keep holding serve in the Wimbledon final before finally prevailing, 16-14, over Andy Roddick in the fifth.

Federer could not hold off Juan Martín del Potro at the United States Open, however, as the towering del Potro gradually settled into his first Grand Slam final. He pounded enough thunderous forehand winners to end Federer’s 40-match winning streak in New York and to become the first Argentine man to win there since Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

Just to remind Federer and Nadal that the new guard will not be the only threat to their status in 2010, Nikolay Davydenko — a member of the establishment — beat Nadal, Federer and del Potro to win the year-end tour championships in London.

SHOTS OF THE YEAR A YouTube poll would surely favor Federer’s no-look, between-the-legs winner off a lob from Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the United States Open. But the shot that really made all the difference for Federer came in the fourth round of the French Open against Tommy Haas. Down two sets to none and facing a break point at 3-4, Federer let fly with an inside-out forehand that caught the line. Federer said he knew then and there that he was going to win the tournament.

On the women’s side, it might not have been pretty, but Serena Williams’s lunging backhand volley against Elena Dementieva in a Wimbledon semifinal saved match point. Even if it clipped the net, it was a winner. Williams went on to win her third Wimbledon.

UPSETS OF THE YEAR No debate necessary for the men: Soderling’s victory over Nadal at Roland Garros. As for the women, Carla Suárez Navarro’s defeat of Venus Williams in the Australian Open certainly made waves. So did Sybille Bammer’s straight-set defeat of Serena Williams in Cincinnati. But it was the combined effect of Melanie Oudin’s run of upsets at the United States Open that made the biggest impression. Oudin, a 17-year-old American, knocked off three imposing Russians: Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova. Oudin has yet to win another main-draw match.

COMEBACKS OF THE YEAR Clijsters, the first unranked player to win a major singles title since Evonne Goolagong in 1977, is the obvious choice, but in any other season, the prize would have gone to Kimiko Date Krumm, the Japanese icon who won a tournament in Seoul at 38 after taking a nearly 12-year break from the game between 1996 and 2008.

For the men, Haas might have failed to close the deal against Federer in Paris, but he did get the job done against Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in reaching the semifinals at 31. For the year, he improved his ranking 66 spots, finishing No. 18.

FLOPS OF THE YEAR The smooth-moving Ernests Gulbis of Latvia was on nearly everyone’s list of players to watch in 2009. He finished the year at No. 90. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former No. 1, struggled to get it right all season. Still charming, she was no longer as convincing with her serve or forehand, dropping out of the top 20 and failing to advance past the fourth round in a Slam.

MATCHES OF THE YEAR Serena Williams’s victory over Dementieva at Wimbledon was a three-set tussle brimming with athleticism, quality and courage. But Clijsters’ victory over Serena in the United States Open semifinals was more than a match. It was a spectacle wrapped up in a scandal. Clijsters kept her cool, and Williams most certainly did not as she threatened and swore at a lineswoman for calling a foot fault. Clijsters never had to win match point, but her brilliant play certainly brought Williams to the boiling point.

Nadal’s five-set victory over Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open semifinals was an ode to tireless hitting and hard running. Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic had to play for more than six hours and withstand a record 78 aces before prevailing over Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals. But Federer-Roddick gets the nod on the strength and length of the occasion. Even if Federer didn’t play his best, he served brilliantly. And Roddick, who will probably never get so close to another major singles title, was such a class act in defeat.

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Nadal ousts Kiefer, reaches 3rd round of U.S. Open

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Recuperating former No. 1 Rafael Nadal appeared in danger, at times, of being brought to his troublesome knees by German journeyman Nicolas Kiefer on Friday night but trooped through a 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the U.S. Open's third round for the fifth consecutive year.

Back on the Grand Slam circuit after being upset in the French Open and shelved by knee tendinitis for Wimbledon, Nadal breezed through the first set, but Kiefer began to display an uncanny anticipation, repeatedly catching Nadal out of position.

Ultimately, though, Kiefer was done in by his unreliable first serve (only 41 percent) and comparatively ragged play (60 unforced errors); Nadal had only 22 unforced errors as yet another night match went beyond midnight, ending at 12:15 a.m.

"Thank you very much for this atmosphere," Nadal told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd after the match. "I'm just very happy to be here and to be on this run."

Nadal, 23, healthy again but rusty, thus kept alive his pursuit of his first U.S. Open championship, the only Grand Slam tournament he has not won. His deepest run at Flushing Meadows came last year, when he was beaten by Andy Murray in the semifinals.

Nadal, who won three of the four major tournaments before the 2009 French, also ensured that all 16 of the top men's seeds would advance to the tournament's third round for the first time in any Grand Sl

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Federer, Nadal on opposite sides of Open draw

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could meet in the U.S. Open final for the first time.

The No. 1-seeded Federer and No. 3 Nadal were drawn into opposite halves of the field for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday. They have played in seven major finals as Nos. 1-2, including at each of the other three Grand Slam tournaments, with Nadal holding a 5-2 edge.

But because Nadal recently fell to third in the rankings, there was a possibility the two men who have dominated tennis in recent years would wind up on the same side of the bracket in New York.

Instead, 15-time Grand Slam champion Federer has No. 4 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Andy Roddick in his half. Federer, who is seeking a sixth consecutive U.S. Open championship, edged Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final in July.

The potential men's quarterfinals are Federer vs. No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, and Roddick vs. Djokovic in the top half; No. 2 Andy Murray vs. No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, and Nadal vs. No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the bottom half.

Nadal could face Murray in the semifinals for the second straight year at the U.S. Open; Murray upset Nadal in 2008 to reach his first Grand Slam final.

Nadal's first Grand Slam action since his fourth-round loss at the French Open will start with an intriguing opponent: Richard Gasquet, the former top-10 player coming off a 2 1/2-month suspension for testing positive for cocaine.

Federer starts off against American wild-card recipient Devin Britton, an 18-year-old who won the NCAA singles championship for Mississippi in May.

Federer, trying to become the first man since the 1920s to win the tournament six years in a row, could play two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt in the third round, U.S. Davis Cup player James Blake in the fourth, and French Open runner-up Robin Soderling or U.S. Open Series winner Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals.

 

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