Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 8: Dethroned!

While Woman's No. 1 seed Dinara Safina continues to serve up more bagels than a New York City coffee shop, Men's No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal was unceremoniously bounced from the French Open today by the suddenly calm and able Swede, Robin Soderling.

Nadal Dethroned!

In what may go down as the biggest upset to ever take place on the fabled clay of Roland Garros, the four-time defending champion was dominated pretty much throughout - and even when he mustered some of his best tennis (which certainly was not always the case).

The 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6(2) stunner leaves a crater-sized hole in the men's draw that will be filled by someone other than the brilliant Spaniard for the first time since 2004.

As always, Nadal was humble in defeat. "I have to accept with the same calm when I win than when I lose. After four years I lose here, and the season continues."

"If I lost today - well, the preparation, mentally, it wasn't perfect, no? So I have to work harder to be ready for the next big events."

Soderling didn't give the Spaniard much chance to regain a focus that was knocked out of balance after a first set thrashing of 6-2. And when he did, by playing poorly in the second set tiebreaker, Nadal wasn't able to build on the momentum.

As the capacity crowd at Philippe Chatrier waited for Nadal to finally put the overachieving Soderling out of his misery, the exact opposite scenario occurred on the clay.

Nadal seemed to get right back into a hole as the third set began.

He was obviously off of his top form, as he drubbed an ugly double fault into the bottom of the net in the third game of the set, and later stumbled and fell in a very uncharacteristically clumsy manner when trying to recover on the baseline at a later stage.

Finally, Soderling broke Nadal in the seventh game of the set, and at the 2 hour and 17-minute mark of the match, the determined Swede had the lead that he would never relinquish.

But Nadal wouldn't go easily. Even as he struggled and never did find his form, Nadal did manage to go up a break at 2-0 in the first two games of the fourth set.

But that lead, due primarily to poor serving by the Spaniard, rapidly dissolved. Nadal's first serve was clocking at an average of less than 100 m.p.h, and Soderling was hammering away, keeping Nadal under pressure throughout the majority of his service games.

As the fourth set progressed, Soderling (whose 61 winners - including a whopping 30 from the forehand side - were nearly twice as much as Nadal's 33) would not relent. He wielded his racquet as if it were his sword, and he swung effortlessly as if he were guided by a confidence, an almost eery calm that has rarely been on display in the career of the 24-year-old.

As the fourth set tiebreaker began, the crowd seemed to side with Soderling, and the Swede's courage seemed to grow as they cheered his powerful ground strokes. Quickly, and with the same attacking style that he employed all match, Soderling earned himself five match points, and Nadal was done before he even had time to realize what had hit him.

Rafa's reign of terror is over at the French Open. His streak of 32 straight sets falls short of Borg's streak of 41. His streak of four straight titles fails to outdo the man whose legend will forever be compared to Nadal's. With all the talk of Nadal being THE best clay player of all time, this loss has vaulted Borg back into that discussion. Borg's six French Open titles remain the most by a male player at Roland Garros, and Nadal, after the most disappointing loss of his career will have win more or risk being downplayed in the greatest of all time discussion.

So Borg's record is saved by a Swede. Is that mere coincidence or is there something about Borg's legacy and heritage that inspired the underdog Swede?

Soderling beat the king of clay by playing his hard court game - big serves (regularly in the 140's), big groundies (demolishing short balls at will), and short points.

It is a recipe, like every other, that had never worked before against Nadal at Roland Garros. But now that it has, expect to see it next year as well.

Safina On a Roll

Dinara Safina won't be searching for her first Grand-Slam title very much longer if she can maintain her current super-human level of play.

She's won eight straight sets thus far at Roland Garros and in the process she's only lost five games.

Today against France's Aravane Rezai, she gave the partisan French crowd absolutely nothing to cheer about. After granting her opponent two break point opportunities in the third game of the first set, the fiery Russian abruptly slammed the door shut on her bewildered opponent.

Safina's exceptional Power from the baseline and power on the serve overwhelmed Rezai, and she looked lost for virtually every second of the fifty-three minute affair.

Ivanovic Falls to Azarenka

Ana Ivanovic's bid to repeat as French Open champion came to a grinding halt as 19-year-old Belarusian sensation Victoria Azarenka steamrolled her in two one-sided sets, 6-2, 6-3.

Only seven unforced errors, along with an 81% 1st serve percentage, and six out of ten on break point opportunities were the perfect recipe to push Azarenka to her best results of her career in a Grand-Slam event.

If the feisty No. 9 seed can continue the trend she might be the first woman to take more than two games from the indomitable Safina in a set.

Sharapova Wins Another in Three Sets

Maria Sharapova's remarkable comeback bid stayed on track today, as she survived a horrible stretch of tennis and rebounded for a dramatic 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 win over No. 25 seed, Na Li of China.

After getting blanked in the second set, Sharapova appeared to be in dire straits as she fell behind a break at 4-2 in the third.

But the three-time Grand-Slam champion rose to the occasion and stormed back to win the set and the match going away.

While Sharapova's error count was high, and her serve numbers were bad, the one thing that has remained consistent for her throughout the tournament has been her mental toughness and desire. After missing ten months due to shoulder surgery, Sharapova has become match tough in a very short period of time, as she has successfully faced a deciding set in each of her four matches thus far.

Sharapova, unseeded, will face the lowest remaining seed in her half of the draw, Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 7: Djokovic and Dementieva Eliminated

Stunned would be a good word, but what-the-hell? seems even better.

Novak Djokovic was so steady during the clay court swing, it was hard to see this one coming. But the mercurial Serb was routinely ousted by upset-minded German, Philip Kolschreiber in straight sets on Saturday, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.  

This is an abrupt ending to a great clay court season for Djokovic, who some considered among the handful of players with a remote (if unlikely) chance at beating four-time defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal.  

Kolschreiber, who also victimized Andy Roddick in the 2008 Australian Open, was in control of the match throughout.  The No. 29 seed committed only 22 unforced errors and cashed in on five of his ten break point opportunities.  

Meanwhile, Djokovic, a semi-finalist for the last two years at Roland Garros, was unable to find a rhythm against the German. 

"I was trying not to be frustrated with a lot of unforced errors," he said. "I played too passive and he really played solid from all the strokes, so congratulations to him of course."

Kolschreiber's bracket-busting upset sets him up for a round-of-16 clash with Tommy Robredo. 

Dementieva Downed

Former Roland Garros finalist (2004 loss to Myskina) Elena Dementieva saw her hopes dashed on Court Phillipe Chatrier today at the hands of Australian Samantha Stosur, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.

The highest woman seed to be knocked out of the draw, Dementieva committed 33 unforced errors and surrendered seven breaks to Stosur.  
Dementieva fought valiantly to force a third set, but was dominated by Stosur in the decider, 6-1.  

"It's really difficult to play against someone who is so fit," said Dementieva, "and her serve is very unusual for the women's game; lots of speed and very difficult to return.  She has a very powerful game."

Stosur, the last Australian left in the French Open draw, avenged her third round loss at the hands of Dementieva at this year's Australian Open, and will next face France's Virgine Razzano in the round-of-16. 

Federer Ousts Mathieu

Roger Federer spotted Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu a set, but quickly recovered to draw one stop closer to his third consecutive French Open final, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.  

The No. 32 seed from Strasbourg, France played a very solid match, but Federer's power game was dialed up a notch from what he showed in his shaky second round match against Argentine Jose Acasuso.  

The Swiss maestro converted on 81% of his first serve points, and also managed sixteen break point opportunities (converting on five).

The French Connections

The hopes of the French men now rest squarely on the capable shoulders of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils.  

Both were up to their usual tricks - playing a dynamic and incredibly entertaining brand of tennis that brought the French fans to their feet, and kept them there.  

Tsonga, who had never won a match on the Roland Garros clay, thrashed Belgian Christophe Rochus, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.  Tsonga's forty-three winners left the Belgian on the outside looking in from the onset of this affair.  

Monfils was forced to work a little harder, but in the end he achieved the same results.  He committed only seventeen unforced errors and also notched twelve aces in a decisive win over Austrian Jurgen Melzer.  

The victory lands him in the round-of-sixteen against overachieving American Andy Roddick.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 6 Preview: Nadal, Safina, Murray On Tap

The third round at Roland Garros kicks off with a bang on Friday, as singles matches on six courts will feature Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal on Philippe Chatrier, plus Dinara Safina, the womans No. 1 seed, on Court No.1.

Suzanne Lenglen will feature the likes of last years returning champ Ana Ivanovic, plus Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams, and Gilles Simon.

And lets not forget the French Knight who vanquished Marat Safin:

Josselin Ouanna, who has come through the draw in two dramatic five-setters, has a flashy game that blends together nicely into an uptempo yet versatile power game. The hype on Ouanna will be feverish if he can get by (go through is more like it with this kid) No. 12 seed Fernando Gonzalez.

The 6'4" 200 pounder has just turned 23, and is currently ranked No. 134 in the world. He's clearly seeing this years French Open as the chance of a lifetime and running with it, so the sky is the limit if he can get by Gonzo (he'll face the winner of the Simon v. Hanescu match if he does).

Here's some more on specific matches:


Nadal is .500 against Hewitt, at 4-4, but he's won all three on clay, including a straight set win at Roland Garros in 2007. Hewitt did manage to take a set off Nadal in the round-of-16 of the French Open in 2006, so the Aussie knows how to do something that not very many players have done. In fact only Hewitt, Paul-Henri Mathieu, and Roger Federer are the only ones to have accomplished this Herculean it since 2006.

But each win breaks a new record now for Rafa, and today will be No. 31 in a row for the impeccable Spaniard. It's hard to imagine any other outcome... Go ahead, bet the house.


These two have split four matches, none of them having been played on clay.

This is as far as Murray's ever gotten at Roland Garros, and while a win won't be monumental against the enigmatic Serb, it'd be a milestone nonetheless for the 22-year-old Scot.

Tipsarevic is also trying to surpass his best results with a win. He's come through the draw to the chagrin of two Spaniards, Albert Montanes and Feliciano Lopez.


This could should be a spirited affair between two experienced clay court players. Surprisingly the lower ranked Almagro has been the victor in two previous matches between the two Spaniards.

Azarenka-Suarez Navarro

Aficionados are drooling over this one, because they know Suarez Navarro has a great game on the dirt. But will it be great enough to defend against what is sure to be an all out assault from Azarenka?

Azarenka gave Carla a pretty good beating in Stuttgart (6-1, 6-4), but Suarez Navarro played some big matches in the 2009 Australian Open (think Venus Williams upset and quarter final run), so she's no stranger to coming up with the goods at times.


Skeptics keep waiting for Ana play improbably bad like she has done quite regularly in 2009, but so far in Paris she's gotten the job done. One things for sure, she'll either win this match or lose it, and the Czech Iveta Benesova will be on the receiving end of whatever Ana decides to bring to the match.

Ivanovic has won all four of their previous battles, including a straight-setter on clay at the 2005 French Open.


There is something about Maria, and nobody can seriously deny this fact. This will undoubtedly be the most-watched match of the day.

Maria has looked incredibly ready for prime-time after a ten month layoff, and the qualifier Shvedova is going to have the time of her life. Whether or not she'll make it a match is another story.

Click here for the Official Roland Garros Order of Play.

Thanks for reading!

Day 5: Tsonga Feeds the French Heart

In what very well may have been the emotional high of this years French Open, charismatic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave the partisan crowd something to chant about.

And chant they did, as the electric Frenchmen with the can't-miss smile stormed back in a fourth set tiebreaker to advance to the third round over Argentine Juan Monaco, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8).

Excitement was at a fever pitch in the deciding moments of the fourth set as Tsonga, trailing 5-1 in the tiebreak, bravely stormed back to even the score at 5-5. Chants of Tsonga! Tsonga! reverberated through the rafters at Court Suzanne Lenglen, and as hard as Monaco tried to stem the tide, he finally wilted on Tsonga's third match point.

As Tsonga executed a series of volleys for his final put-away, he fell to the court in complete and utter joy and the adoring French crowd erupted in unison.

It was a truly surreal moment, with the fans resonating with one of their great hopes for this years event, and showering him with boisterous cheers. A beautiful and heartfelt exchange between the two players at the net ensued, with Monaco displaying a keen sense of understanding of the moment that served to further enhance the giddiness in the air.

Tsonga, who had never won at Roland Garros until the first round this year, will next face Belgian Christophe Rochus in the third round.

The No. 9 seed from Le Mans, France will no doubt benefit from the support of the partisan crowd, as Rochus, who has defeated French players Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in rounds one and two respectively, will more than likely be forced to face the ire of the French crowd on Phillipe Chatrier.

Monfils Also a Winner

Gael Monfils, a semi-finalist in last years French Open, invigorated the French crowds even further, as he was an easy straight set winner over Victor Crivoi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Mark Gicquel, Jeremy Chardy, Josselin Ouanna, and Gilles Simon are the other French players who have gone through to the third round.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 4: Murray Settles Down, Advances

For a while today it looked like Potito Starace of Italy was going to vanquish the heavily favored British prodigy.

Then he was sent tumbling back down to earth.

After a horrendous cluster of games in which Starace looked like the rising star and Murray looked like the one looking at the top-100 from the outside in, Murray gathered his loose parts together and roared to the finish, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.

A seemingly despondent Murray, down a set point at 1-5 in the third set and facing a long and terribly disappointing afternoon on Phillipe Chatrier, made a stunning surge that eventually netted him a spot in the third round, where he will next face Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.

This was classic Murray mental toughness (backed by spirited guttural howls after many crucial points), and as the 22-year-old Scot mounted his improbable comeback the match took on the feel of a world class boxing bout in which the favored boxer, beaten and bloody, crawled off the canvas, worked his way to his feet, and proceeded to rain merciless blows on his opponent.

The lively yet sparse crowd at Phillipe Chatrier had a glimpse of both sides of the No. 3 seed.

First they saw his vulnerability on the surface that is least familiar to him - he was outclassed by the confident Italian on the clay for the majority of sets two and three.

But just when it seemed like the Scot was headed for certain defeat the fans were witness to the incredible grit of Murray, the mental focus that is becoming his trademark - a combination of poise and courage that led him from a deep hole to a commanding advantage before a stunned and frustrated Starace could mount any resistance.

This was a Jeckyll and Hyde match if there ever was one, and while the fact that Murray was in such grave danger in the third set might be disconcerting to some, the fact that he was able to get off the canvas and play absolutely breathtaking tennis from that point on may provide him with enough belief to make a serious (and somewhat unexpected) run here at Roland Garros.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 4 Preview: Murray Up First On Chatrier

There is truly too much good stuff to fit into a preview of Day four of the 2009 French Open, so we will start with the first match on the No. 1 show court, Phillipe Chatrier, and go from there.

Murray up First

To kick off the second round, Andy Murray will face Italian Potito Starace at 11 A.M. Though the 28-year-old from Benevento Italy sports a lowly 9-13 record for 2009, he's actually had more promising results during the European clay swing.

Still, his best results of the year were a quarter final loss in Munich in early May. Murray should chew him up and spit him out and if he doesn't it will likely say more about the type of player that Andy Murray is on clay, and less about Starace's legitimacy. Currently ranked 104, Starace has never won a singles title on tour.

Tomorrows tilt will be the first meeting between Murray and Starace.

Both No. 1 Seeds Will Be In Action

Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina will also be among tomorrows headline acts. Safina will face her country mate Vitalia Diatchenko, a qualifier. Diatchenko, a 19-year-old from Moscow, is making her first-ever appearance in a Grand-Slam. She is most likely comforted by the fact that she can do no worse than Safina's first victim, Anne Kheotovang of Great Britian, who was brutally bageled by Safina in a sixty-one minute laugher in the first round.

(Safina's dear brother Marat Safin will also be in action on Chatrier, facing Frenchman Josselin Ouannan in the fourth match of the day.)

With each successive win for Rafael Nadal, his kingdom on clay expands. With a victory over Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili in the final match of five on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Rafa will take over the all-time record for consecutive wins at Roland Garros with 30. He will eclipse the legendary Chris Evert, possibly the greatest female clay-courter of all-time, who saw her streak of 29 end in 1981.

Nadal was victorious over Gabashvili in Miami, 6-2, 6-2, and is now 29-0 on the fabled Roland Garros clay for his career.

Sharapova set to clash with Petrova

After losing the first set on Monday to Bulgarian Anastasiya Yakimova, Sharapova quickly found her rhythm and basically pulverized Yakimova into submission. But tomorrows test could prove more difficult.

Nadia Petrova, seeded 11th, is a two-time Roland Garros semi-finalist. In six previous matches against Petrova, Sharapova has won five. If Sharapova maintains the form enabled her to easily dismiss Yakimova, she might score an easy win. If she's bothered by the effects of her recent shoulder surgery, it could be another story entirely.

The intriguing and sure to be entertaining match will be the 4th match of the afternoon on Suzanne Lenglen.

Good-bye Fabrice? Good-bye Marat?

The magician, local favorite and Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, was granted a reprieve yesterday. After breaking serve in the 8th game of the fourth set to stay alive in the match, darkness intervened. The match was suspended with Santoro to serve, down 3-5 in the fourth set, and down two sets to one against Belgian Christopher Rochus.

The fortunate ticket holders at Suzanne Lenglen will get the conclusion of this match, sure to be high on emotional content regardless of the outcome, after Safina and Diatchenko's match.

Santoro (along with Marat Safin) could see the end of his brilliant Roland Garros career tomorrow. While he has no titles at Roland Garros, the atavistic Santoro has been a pillar of consistency, missing only one French Open since 1989 (20 appearances).

Meanwhile, in 11 appearances, Safin has visited the quarter finals once, and the semi finals in 2002.

French Open Day 3: Serena Wins Ugly, Other Top Seeds Cruise

After two hours and twenty-five minutes of suspenseful (if sloppy) tennis, one thing is for certain: There are more questions about Serena Williams chances here at Roland Garros than there were at the start of the match.

While other top seeds (think Dementieva, Jankovic, and Kuznetsova) had the pedal to the metal (they each won easily, in straight sets) , Serena was stuck in neutral against unseeded and No. 100-ranked Klara Zakopalova. It took nine match points to finally get the job done, five of which went wasted in a sixty-seven minute 2nd set that was particularly frustrating for Serena, given that she had the spectre of an impending doubles match on Court 2 later in the afternoon.

But the feisty Zakopalova, to her credit, stayed in the match by keeping the ball in play, and keeping Serena on the move. After leveling the match by securing her fourth set point in the tiebreaker, the 27-year-old Czech went ahead a break in the third set.

Serena promptly won the next four games and was able to close it out, but only after burning through three more match points, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

Serena has never lost in 38 first-round Grand-Slam matches, but the bigger question is, how much gas will she have in the tank for future matches (on grueling clay, her worst surface) after spending far too much time on the court with Zakopalova today?

She'll face Spaniard Virginia Ruano Pascal in the next round. Ruano Pascal has been past the second round only once in her last eight appearances at Roland Garros.

After her victory, Serena got together with her sister Venus on the doubles side. Results were mixed there as well - play was suspended at 4-3 on serve in the 3rd set in their match with the Czech doubles team of Hlavackova and Hradecka.

Monday, May 25, 2009

French Open Day 2: Nadal Struggles but Still Wins Easily

The colors were garish, and the error count was uncharacteristically high, but the results were the same as they've always been.

Rafael Nadal, wearing a color combination that seemed more suited for an Easter parade, was a straight set winner on Court Phillipe Chatrier today against qualifier Marcos Daniel of Brazil - 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.

The 29th consecutive win for Nadal at Roland Garros was a tricky affair, as the wind was antagonistic at times, and the play of 30-year-old Daniel exceeded everyone's expectations. The Brazilian was in the match mentally for the duration, and at times it appeared that he may be able to actually break through and take a set off the reigning four-time French Open champion.

Predictably, he did not. When it mattered most Nadal was able to find his range, and as the match progressed, Rafa was able to dial in his nasty topspin groundstrokes more regularly, leaving the Brazilian with nothing more than a cluster of missed opportunities.

It wasn't the most convincing effort for the Spaniard, but it was good enough for his 29th French Open victory without a blemish.

Federer Keeps Pace

Looking to build on his surprising title in Madrid, Federer quickly dispatched Spaniard Alberto Martin in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

The most impressive part of Federer's game was his serve, as he was able to win 56 of 75 points on his serve, including 16 of 24 on the second serve.

"I served well, that's true. It's a good thing for me because my serve is good to start the tournament, which is what I like. Now the rounds are going to be tougher and tougher, so I hope I can play better and better as well."

Roddick Finally Wins at Roland Garros

2005 was Andy Roddick's last win at the French Open. But the svelte Nebraskan played like he was in Arthur Ashe Stadium today, turning in a dominating performance against French wildcard Romain Jouan.

As usual, Roddick was candid about his past failures.

"I'm just glad I finally won a match out here...I'd like to make the second week here. I feel that's a feasible goal and something that I'm surprised that I haven't done to this point in my career."

Using his kick serve to tie up the bewildered qualifier, Roddick did not surrender a single break point in the 1-hour 44-minute affair.

French Open Day 2: American Glatch Stuns Pennetta

Mary Joe Fernandez might want to tell one of the Williams sisters to take a back seat to Alexa Glatch when the American's Fed Cup final against Italy rolls around in November.

High on confidence from saving the Americans bacon in Brno, Czech Republic , Glatch has struck again, this time on the clay of Roland Garros against No. 14 ranked Italian Flavia Pennetta, 6-1, 6-1.

The 19-year-old heavy hitter from Newport Beach, California is quickly developing a reputation for calmly (and easily) pulling upsets in some very big situations. While she was orchestrating the biggest upset of the tournament, you wouldn't have been able to tell by looking at Glatch's face - she was poised throughout, displaying the same stoic yet purposeful glare whether she had just shanked a forehand or hit a blistering backhand passing shot.

The 61 minute affair was never contested, as Glatch burst out to a 3-0 lead, then used strong serving (69%) and heavy ground strokes to keep Pennetta pinned behind the baseline. Glatch was 6-11 on break point opportunities, and by the end of the match, a disconcerted Pennetta looked like she was contemplating digging a hole in the clay to hide rather than digging in and trying to fight back against the determined American.

Glatch will face the winner of the Barbora Zahlavova Strycova v. Lourdes Dominguez Lino match on Wednesday. In her career, Glatch has split two matches with Zahlavova Strycova. She has never played Dominguez Lino.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

French Open Day 1 Review: Murray Sails

Lingering doubts about Andy Murray's clay court capabilities have receded quite a bit, as the 22-year-old Scot, dressed in all black, put on a confident display on Court Suzanne Lenglen today against Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela.

The 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory lasted only 1 hour and 43 minutes, and featured 55 winners for Murray against only 14 for Chela.

The No. 3 seed was 8 for 16 in break point opportunities, and basically applied a choke hold to Chela from the moment he broke back to even the first set at one game apiece.

Murray has never been past the round-of-32 at Roland Garros but has higher hopes as this years event gets underway. For that reason, Murray isn't taking his possible second round opponents lightly. At the post match press conference, he was realistic about his prospects.

"I just focus on each match, and especially on this surface. It's not like I can take anybody for granted, because my results don't really merit me doing that."

55 Aces For Karlovic in a 5-set Loss

Croatian Ivo karlovic obliterated Andy Roddick's French Open record for aces with 55 today, but it still wasn't enough to keep him from dropping the final 3 sets against the cagey aging veteran Lleyton Hewitt, 6-7(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3.

In spite of Karlovic's remarkable effort, Hewitt got the better of the breaks, securing 4 on 8 opportunities, while Karlovic was only able to manage one break in the 3 hour and 56 minute affair.

Safin Not Ready to Say Goodbye

In what will be his last appearance at Roland Garros, Marat Safin advanced over Frenchman Alexander Sidorenko 6-4, 6-4,. 6-4. Next up in round two for Safin will be another Frenchman, Wildcard Josselin Ouanna.

Impressive Day for Top Seeds

No 7 seed Gilles Simon survived a five set scare from Wayne Odesnik, but for the most part it was easy street for seeded players, as David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Radek Stepanek, Nicolas Almagro, and Marin Cilic all won in straight sets.

Click here for all the scores.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Safina in the Drivers Seat, But it's a Long Race

French Open Women's Preview:

Before the clay court season got underway in April, the only thing that was certain in woman's tennis was that nothing was certain. But after attaining the No. 1 Ranking, and devouring the rest of the woman's field on the European clay, it isn't hard to tell who's in the drivers seat as the French Open begins.

Last years Roland Garros runner-up, Dinara Safina, would like nothing more than to put an end to the current state of chaos that has been permeating women's tennis.

While there are more than a handful of legitimate contenders for the title, when handicapping the mercurial field at Roland Garros, you have to start with Safina and work your way down the list. Anything else would be an injustice to the remarkable strides Marat's 'Lil sister has made over the course of the last year.

The 23-year-old Russian is 28-6 on the year with 2 WTA titles and 5 finals appearances for 2009. More importantly, she appears to have gained a sense of belief from her recent ascension to the top spot of the WTA rankings. While it still remains to be seen, that confidence could be the thing that eventually sets her apart from the field at Roland Garros and enables her to claim her first Grand-Slam title of her career.

But Safina is far from being the only player with a good chance to win this thing. As has been the case on clay since the premature retirement of Justine Henin (4 time champion in 5 years), there is a level of parity that gives hope to everyone.

Safina, as good as she has been, and as good as she can be, is definitely always in danger of a meltdown. These days she seems to be able to squirm out of her death defying scenarios, but one slip from her and the field will be blown wide open yet again.

In the Mix:

Serena Williams: Claiming to be the real No. 1, quite frankly, is a very different thing than playing like it. Serena has done the latter but not the former. And with an ailing leg that forced her retirement in Madrid a return to her 2002 Championship form seems more like wishful thinking. But you never know with Serena, and when she gets hungry for blood, she can quickly get her game into overdrive:

She's had five trips to the quarter finals or beyond at Roland Garros, so she definitely isn't a clay dunce (like most American players).

Chances: Pretty good but not great.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: Fresh off her first title of 2009, Kuznetsova, a semi-finalist in Paris last year, is likely headed for a quarter final match with Serena. Her achilles heel is consistency, but if she can get hot and stay hot, she'll be a real threat.

Chances: Decent but don't get your hopes up.

Venus Williams: At 35-12 over her French Open career, Venus is not a total underachiever on La Terre Batteau, but there is something about her game that just doesn't seem to work on clay. She's had mixed results on the dirt this spring, with a semi-final appearance in Rome followed by an early loss to Alisa Kleybanova in Madrid.

Chances: Decent but don't bet your life savings.

Jelena Jankovic: She has come back from the dead of late, but her draw seems somewhat favorable. Jelly is headed for a possible 4th round match with Great Dane Caroline Wozniacki. If she gets by that one and into the quarters, she could be on the roll that she has been yearning to be on since losing her No. 1 ranking.

As horrific as her play has been at times in '09, she is still 23-8 on the year with a title. Additionally, she has been to the semi's at Roland Garros in each of the last two years - perhaps that experience will guide her back to her comfort zone.

Chances: Very slim, but her big match experience and clay preference could really help her if she gets on a roll.

Elena Dementieva: Will she ever break through and just do the deal? The '04 French Open finalist is so long on potential, but sadly, as short as you can get on Grand-Slam titles.

Chances: Slimmer than a pack of yips and a cluster of nerves, but you never know.

Ana Ivanovic: last years champ is hoping for a return to past glory. But her confidence isn't with her, and it hasn't been for some time. You can't win the French Open without confidence, and I'm not sure if you can get confidence just from being last years champion.

Chances: She's done it before, so ruling her out completely would be a mistake.
Dark Horses:

Something tells me that a dark horse might come from out of nowhere (or at least at the bottom of the top 10) and ride a wave of emotion all the way to her first Slam. Here's a list of potential candidates, and why they deserve to be one.

Victoria Azarenka: The feisty Belarusian is hell-bent on climbing up the rankings, but her clay results this spring have not enabled her to springboard successfully off of her first Masters title in Miami. It'll be a challenge for Azarenka, who lost in the round-of-16 last year to Kuznetsova in straight sets, but a quarter final battle with Safina might be in the cards if she finds that extra gear that 19-year-olds sometimes find in events like this.

Caroline Wozniacki: With a game better suited for clay, and a hunger just as mighty, Wozniacki might be a faster dark horse than Azarenka. She has never been to the quarters of a slam, but the 18-year-old has reached three finals on clay this spring.
Darker Horses:

Here is a list of some players who may not win the big prize, but definitely could play the role of spoiler for a few rounds.

Carla Suarez Navarro: If the clay court specialist can make the quarters of the Australian open, the sky has to be the limit on La Terre Batteau.

Amelie Mauresmo: Losing the expectations and dropping the pressure might give Amelie an edge that she's never had in Paris.

Sabine Lisicki: 2nd round match with Venus is possible. Look out, Venus.

Jie Zheng: The top-ranked Chinese can punch from the baseline.

Maria Sharapova: 3 matches in 6 months? Is she ready for this? We'll know by the 2nd round, where she'll likely face Nadia Petrova.

Flavia Pennetta: 9-6 career record at Roland Garros, but seems to be getting better with age.

Stay tuned, as all the bracket busting goodness gets underway Sunday May, 24th.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nadal Drives for Five, Others Look to Survive

French Open Men's Preview

The King of Clay Rafael Nadal will begin his quest for a 5th Consecutive French Open title as the 128 player field is set to begin doing battle on the fabled tennis grounds of Roland Garros Sunday. If Nadal can accomplish the feat he will become the first ever to do it (leaving legendary Bjorn Borg behind), and he will also become the first player since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the first two Grand-Slams of the calendar year.

While the indomitable Nadal, undefeated in 28 previous matches on the Roland Garros clay, is the heavy favorite coming in, his loss to Roger Federer last weekend in Madrid has given the No. 2 ranked player (and a few other gunners in the top 10) a glimmer of hope.

Though it may be a small glimmer, maybe more like a ridiculously small sliver, it does exist, and it has the tennis world abuzz as the day of reckoning draws nearer.

But when the rubber soles hit the clay, that glimmer will more than likely be obscured. In Nadal we are talking about a true phenom - he's lost one set in two years on the Paris clay - and his hiccup in Madrid may very well cause him to come out of the gates stronger this year, in spite of the glimmer of hope that his beleaguered adversaries have gleaned from the affair.

Truth be told, this should be another cakewalk for Rafa, barring injury - beating the King of Clay in a three set match in a lesser event is one thing, but taking him out in a five set match at Roland Garros is entirely and unequivocally another. The Spaniard is just too strong, too determined, and his voracious desire to win leaves him head and shoulders above even his staunchest competition.

That being said, don't make the mistake of thinking this years French Open is not must-see T.V. The longer Nadal's grip on Roland Garros lasts, the more compelling it is to watch. His superhuman endurance, agility, and focus are the stuff of legend; rare, remarkable, and nearly unfathomable. And if the unthinkable happens - if Rafa loses a set, maybe two, at any point during the fortnight, you don't want to be the person who forgot to set your alarm clock.

Either way, tennis fans can't lose this year: either we get the first player ever to win 5 consecutive French Open titles, or we get the biggest upset of the year, perhaps the decade, perhaps ever. While it seems unlikely, if Federer finds a way to turn his glimmer of hope into his first French Open title, and his 14th Grand-Slam, well then folks, we might just have another candidate for the greatest match of all time.

A look at the Draws:

Nadal's Quarter: Lot's of strong players are scattered all around Rafa's part of the draw, but as good as some of them are (Davydenko, Verdasco, Ferrer, Wawrinka, Almagro), it is highly unlikely that any of them will be good enough to puncture Rafa's armour.

A possible round-of-16 match up with fellow Spaniard David Ferrer will undoubtedly make for entertaining tennis, and a possible quarterfinal match with Verdasco will be hyped as an Australian Open rematch, but the two Spaniards combined are 0 for their last 10 against Rafa on clay.

Murray's Quarter: He may be the highest seeded player in his quarter, but the 22-year-old Scot appears to be on relatively thin ice heading in. Expectations were high for Murray as the clay swing began, and he started nicely, reaching the semis of Monte Carlo (a straight set loss to Nadal with a 2nd set tiebreak). But a second round loss to Juan Monaco in Rome, followed by a QF loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in Madrid proves that Murray's clay court game still has a ways to go.

Fortunately for Murray, this quarter of the draw is not loaded. If Murray can manage to avoid the mine fields known as Radek Stepanek, Marin Cilic, and Albert Montanes, a daunting QF clash with Fernando Gonzalez could prove to be a difficult task.

If Murray does get through to the semis, it'll be on guts and guile - as much as he's tried to improve on the dirt, clay is still his nemesis at this point of his career.

Djokovic's Quarter: Novak's game has undergone a revival in the past three months, and he appears to be, along with Federer, one of the two players most likely to give Nadal a run for his money. He came so close to his first career victory (on clay) against Rafa in Madrid, finally losing in a surreal third set tiebreaker, and he seems to have his core of belief in place when it comes to dealing with the challenge of playing Nadal.

Rafa has knocked Novak out of Paris the last two years, but if he is to do it again he will have to wait until the finals (they are in opposite halves of the the draw).

The way that Djokovic has improved week after week, he seems poised to advance beyond the QF's for the second consecutive year. A possible fourth round match with clay court expert Tommy Robredo could prove to be a challenge, as could a QF match with Juan Martin Del Potro, but make no mistake about it, this is Djokovic's quarter for the taking.

Things will be more difficult for the 5th seed, Juan Martin Del Potro. He'll face Michael Llodra, a round-of-16 contestant last year, in the first round. After that he'll likely face a red-hot qualifier from Poland by the name of Lukasz Kubot, then possibly Igor Andreev, ever dangerous on clay, in the third round.

One enticing match up in this quarter is a battle of Frenchmen, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Julian Bennetau, in the first round. Bennetau will be the underdog, but he was good enough to make the round-of-16 last year at Roland Garros. Meanwhile, the powerful Tsonga has yet to win a match at the French Open.

Federers Quarter: Probably the only thing I am not excited about when it comes to the 2009 French Open is another possible QF match between Federer and Andy Roddick. But don't worry folks, it is highly unlikely that it will happen, as Roddick has never made it past the third round at Roland Garros. Andy hasn't won a match since '05 at the French, and his best performance was in '01. That said, Roddick is on a tear this year, and he's playing with confidence and a new and improved fitness level as well.

Meanwhile, Federer should move easily through the draw, and reach the semis to face Djokovic in what will be a highly anticipated match to earn the right to be thrown to the wolves in the finals against the King of Clay.

Summary: Let's face it - anything other than seven customary Nadal bloodlettings is a severe long shot. As much as we want to speculate on who might be able to dethrone Rafa, it just doesn't seem plausible. If anybody has a shot, it appears that Djokovic would be the guy. Federer looked good in Madrid, but the memory of last years slaughter in the final might make it tough for him to truly believe that he can beat Rafa in a 5 set final in Roland Garros.

But it ain't over until Rafa bites down on the Coupe Des Mousquetaires. That is why they play the matches out there on the crushed red brick, and that is why we'll all be watching

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Russia with Love: Safina Leads Cast of Stellar Russians Into Roland Garros

The Russian women were one set away from having an all-Russian semi-final at the Australian Open this winter in Melbourne. Even as Svetlana Kuznetsova blew an early lead and lost a three-setter to Serena (after a fortuitous roof-closure), it was a testament to Russian Women's tennis that they could be so close to monopolizing the semi-finals of a Grand-Slam.

This Spring, as the balls begin to fly on the Parisian clay, the odds are in favor of similar domination.

Even in the anything-can-happen days of parity in women's tennis, where it is hard to pick the results of first round match ups, let alone the winner, it is difficult to imagine a French Open draw without at least two Russians banging through to the Semis.

Here is a look at the Russians who figure to be a factor in the Woman's draw at Roland Garros:

Dinara Safina: Holding on to the No. 1 ranking like a jealous child, Safina has stormed to three consecutive WTA finals on clay, winning the last two, and taking 14 out of 15 matches on the European clay.

On the woman's side, where unpredictably reigns supreme, Safina's consistent play this spring has her looking like the clear favorite heading in. Last year's runner up is 28-6 on the year, including an Australian Open Finals appearance, and she appears motivated to prove that her rise to the top of the rankings is anything but a fluke.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: She's made the quarter finals at Roland Garros in each of the last three years, including a finals appearance in '06 and a semi final appearance (loss to Safina) last year.

She regained her top form this spring on the European clay, and split two finals in two weeks with Safina, winning in Stuttgart and falling short in Rome.

The 23-year-old snapped a 6 match finals losing streak with her win over Safina in Stuttgart, and appears to be in top form - wins over Safina, Dementieva, Azarenka, and Pennetta in the last 3 weeks can attest to this.

Elena Dementieva: A finalist at Roland Garros in '04 and a quarter finalist last year, the maddeningly inconsistent Dementieva is always a threat when the Slams roll around. She's been to the quarter finals or beyond in 10 Slams, including a semi final appearance four months ago in Australia.

Dementieva is 31-8 on the year with two WTA titles. The 27-year-old is 8-3 in her last 11 clay matches, with 2 semi final appearances (loss to Wozniacki in Charleston, loss to Kuznetsova in Stuttgart).

Maria Sharapova? The three-time Grand-Slam winner is back in action this week in Warsaw. Though most are quick to give her little chance to match her career best semi final appearance at Roland Garros in '07, the fact that none of the girls have played against the 6'2" phenom makes me wonder if she doesn't have a chance to sneak through the draw.

But it won't be easy: Her current ranking of 126 means that she'll have to fight in every round to make it through.

Nadia Petrova: Two-time Roland Garros semi finalist Nadia Petrova is only 12-8 on the year with 0 titles. It hasn't been a great year for the 26-year-old, but with her previous experience on the Parisian clay, it's hard to completely rule her out.

Vera Zvonareva: Vera went down hard on the Charleston clay in a third round match against Virginie Razzano. Prior to this setback she was playing some of the finest tennis of her career, with an Australian Open semi final appearance, and a Masters title at Indian Wells.

But she has not played since, and even if she does enter the tournament at Roland Garros, it is hard to imagine her playing to the high standards that her '09 results have set for her.

The Rest of the Russians: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has lost four out of six matches after her surprise run to the semis of Indian Wells. The 18 year old doesn't appear to be comfortable on clay, but she does appear to be a player on the rise.

Alisa Kleybanova has the right name for this surface. She made her deepest run of her career at the Australian Open (4th round three set loss to Dokic), and her recent win over Venus Williams in Madrid shows that she is capable of winning some big matches on the dirt.

Anna Chakvetadze is way off her career high ranking of No. 5 (2007), but she has managed a few solid appearances in the last few weeks of the clay season. Round-of-16 appearances in Rome and Madrid (with wins over Garrigues and Wozniak) could be a sign that she is ready to emerge from her nearly two year slumber.

Also in the mix: Ekatarina Makarova, Elena Vesnina, Vera Dushevina, and Alla Kudryavtseva, all comfortably in the top 100, could pick up the slack if the top girls falter.