Category Archives: Daily recaps

Wimbledon Round 1: Qualifers and Other Underdogs

Some people watch the opening rounds of majors to see the top players drub lesser competition, perhaps gauging fitness by just how badly, say, Roger Federer beats Mikhail Kukushkin.  I get much more enjoyment out of the matches on Court 15, between players who are almost certainly not going to be around a week from now.

Last week’s qualifying rounds gave us a great group of contenders, plus another five lucky losers.  Wimbledon is also fairly unique in giving a handful of its eight wild cards to non-local players, giving a few free spots to players with good track records at the tournament (Arnaud Clement, Alejandro Falla) or guys on recent hot streaks (Dudi Sela).  Taken together, there are dozens of good early-round matches that can be enjoyed without the slightest reference to the thankfully-concluded Isner-Mahut first-rounder.

Let’s go to the bullet points:

  • Perhaps the biggest upset of the first round was Bernard Tomic’s straight-set win over Nikolay Davydenko.  Tomic is on the way up, and it’s ever more apparent that Davydenko is on the way out.  Tomic will next play Igor Andreev, who needed five sets to get past Teymuraz Gabashvili.
  • “Upset” may not be the right word, but I was somewhat surprised that Lleyton Hewitt was healthy enough to play today, let alone to beat Kei Nishikori.  The Aussie shouldn’t have much of a chance against Robin Soderling, but then again, Soderling’s performance was one of the weakest in the first round among the top seeds.
  • Grega Zemlja was one of two lucky losers to reach the second round; he beat Lucas Lacko to do so.  Lacko has been a bit of a mystery; he has posted a handful of solid wins in the last few years, but he hasn’t been able to stick in the top 100.  This was a big opportunity to get into a slam, and he let it go by.
  • The other very-lucky lucky loser was Ryan Harrison, who handled Ivan Dodig in straight sets.  Harrison bagelled the Croatian in the second, reeling off 25 of 33 points.  Depending on how some other lowly-ranked players do this week, the win might move Harrison into the ATP top 100.  His second-rounder against David Ferrer should be fun to watch, even if the conclusion is a given.
  • Frenchman Kenny De Schepper is ranked outside of the top 200, but he gave Olivier Rochus a real test today, pushing the Belgian to five sets.  My algorithm didn’t give De Schepper much credit, but apparently he didn’t check the numbers before heading out on court today.
  • Dudi Sela, in on a WC this year after stringing together some challenger titles this spring, had an easy first-rounder against Frederico Gil.  Gil always seems to be an easy match for somebody at a slam, yet he never leaves the top 100 for long.
  • Marinko Matosevic missed a big opportunity, falling to Juan Ignacio Chela without much of a fight.  Matosevic has a one-dimensional game, but when that dimension is a serve, a player still has a chance at the AEC.  Now the pressure is on Alex Bogomolov, another lower-ranked player who my algorithm favors over Chela.
For even more Wimbledon, check out the new Tennis Tracker at the Wall Street Journal website.  It gives real-time updates for about 20 top ATP and 20 top WTA players, including some win probabilities and a few stats, crunched by yours truly.

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Thursday Topspin: Tiebreak Madness Redux

Lopez threatens: In one of the best matches of the season so far, Roger Federer snuck past Feliciano Lopez 7-6(13), 6-7(1), 7-6(7).  It’s a shame there had to be a loser: given Lopez’s form right now, he’s no doubt better than many of the 16 players who remain in the draw.

The last time Federer played a three-tiebreak match was in November against Gael Monfils; he lost that one.  To find the last such match he won, we have to go back to Halle in 2006, when he beat Olivier Rochus after dropping a first-set breaker.  Whatever the weaknesses in Roger’s game, it’s tough to bet against him in a tiebreak, especially against another player with a serve-focused game.  He’s now 8-2 in tiebreaks this year, a percentage second only to Stanislas Wawrinka (really!) among guys who have played that many breakers.

Ending the madness: The Federer-Lopez was unusual yesterday; there were only two tiebreaks in all the other men’s singles matches combined.  With the exception of Jurgen Melzer, the other seeds coasted through, with both Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro (a seed in all but name and favorable draw) dropping a bagel on their opponent.

Melzer wasn’t so lucky, losing in straight sets to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.  DGT has been the surprise of the event, coming in with a 2-12 record this year in ATP main draw matches.  He qualified by beating a credible opponent in Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, then bumped Richard Gasquet in the first round.  He needed only two sets to beat Melzer, returning so well that the Austrian failed to win even half of his service points.

On the basis of his showing this week, Gimeno-Traver should rise to a new career high of at least #52, and he might not be done yet.  Later today, he faces Michael Llodra for a spot in the quarterfinals and a probable match against Rafael Nadal.

Today: On the Madrid schedule, we have the entire round of 16.  For the first time in the clay season, Nadal is not the most heavily favored player–the oddsmakers give him “only” an 85% chance of defeating del Potro.  If the betting odds are to be believed, Federer, Novak Djokovic, and David Ferrer are have a 90% chance or better of reaching the quarterfinals.

In fact, only two of the eight matches qualify for potential blockbuster status.  The first, of course, is Nadal-Delpo; the other is Robin Soderling vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  It’s odd to see Tsonga without a seed next to his name; in the draw, he’s taken the place of Nicholas Almagro, the man he beat in the first round.  He’s healthy, and while he’s appeared rusty the last couple of times I’ve seen him, the 6-1, 6-3 defeat of Almagro suggests the rust is coming off.  Soderling has been far from unbeatable lately as well, so this one could go either way.

A few challenger notes: In Prague, Fernando Gonzalez has won the first set over Jeremy Chardy, a step toward what would be a solid win for the Chilean’s comeback.  Also, Alex Bogomolov, the only American in the tournament, has reached the quarters after wins against Adam Kellner (last week’s finalist in Ostrava) and Jesse Huta Galung.  That should give Bogie another career-high ranking of at least #89.

The rest of the Americans are in Savannah, where both Wayne Odesnik and Denis Kudla have scored first-round upsets this week.  Odesnik, who qualified, knocked out sixth-seed Marinko Matosevic, while Kudla beat fifth-seed Izak van der Merwe.  This swing of U.S. challengers makes a good opportunity for Odesnik to rocket in the rankings, as these events are played on clay.  He might be the only man in the draw who prefers it that way.

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Wednesday Topspin: The Incredible Tumbling Spaniard

Past his prime? It has been a dreadful year for Fernando Verdasco.  He went to Australia ranked #9; now he’s #17.  With the exception of a run to the finals in Estoril last week, he hasn’t won a single match on tour since San Jose in February.  Even last week’s performance was unimpressive–one of his three wins was by retirement over Milos Raonic, and another required three sets over Kevin Anderson.

This year, he’s lost to the likes of Benjamin Becker, Pablo Andujar (on a hard court!), Sam Querrey, and yesterday, Yen-Hsun Lu, which suggests his free fall isn’t over yet.  At least yesterday’s 7-6 7-5 loss was a close one.

Lower standards: I suppose it could be worse for Verdasco–he could be coming back from injury, playing a challenger somewhere.  That’s what both James Blake and Fernando Gonzalez are doing this week.  Blake is charging through the U.S. challenger circuit with two finals in as many weeks, and is into the second round in Savannah.  His ranking this week rose to #109, so another strong effort will set him up to make the Wimbledon cut.

Gonzalez is playing in Prague, where he’ll start his tournament tomorrow against Jaroslav Pospisil.  If he wins, he’ll face top seed Jeremy Chardy, which should be an interesting test of Freddy’s fitness at this stage of his comeback.

Tiebreak madness:  A day after John Isner defeated Mardy Fish in a third-set tiebreak, the tables were turned.  Sergiy Stakhovsky came up with a clutch performance to down Isner in yet another third-set breaker.  The Ukrainian was just a little better in every category, winning 72% of service points and 32% of return points to Isner’s 68% and 28%.

Speaking of breakers, Rick Devereaux took a look at tiebreak winning percentage with a leaderboard.  He hints at a question that may prove difficult to solve: Are great players successful because they can perform in the clutch and win tiebreaks, or do they win tiebreaks simply because they are better than their opponents?

Faceoffs: Despite the early losses of Verdasco, Nicholas Almagro, and Gael Monfils, the Madrid draw is set to generate some big-time matchups.  An early highlight will be a round-of-16 contest between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, assuming both get that far.  Delpo, for his part, must defeat Marin Cilic today.

A thriller could come even sooner in the other half of the draw, with a second-rounder on today’s schedule between Gilles Simon and Andy Murray.  Simon won a squeaker against Ivan Ljubicic yesterday, and showed the skills to threaten Murray in Monte Carlo before suffering an injury.

Also interesting is the potential of the bottommost quarter.  As I write, Novak Djokovic is working his way past Anderson; next he’ll push aside Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.   But his projected quarterfinal opponent is a different story.  David Ferrer has been the second-best player on clay this year, and that match should be an early test of whether Djokovic can be a major factor on clay this year.

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Tuesday Topspin: Catching Up

Rankings report: It’s a fascinating time of the year in the rankings, as the French Open approaches and the value of a ranking in the top 32 (or 34 or 35, depending on injuries) rises.  As I wrote in February, a seed increases a player’s chances of advancing further in the tournament.  The benefit is most marked in the 30-35 range, where #32 won’t have to face another seed until the third round, while #35 could draw Rafael Nadal in the first round.

By winning in Estoril and Munich, respectively, both Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko bounced back into the top 32–Davydenko up 12 places to #28, and Delpo up 14 to #32.  Florian Mayer, the other finalist in Munich, also moved up from #35 to #30 on last week’s result.

Another big gainer was James Blake, up 40 spots to #109 on the strength of his title in Sarasota.  The losing finalist at that tournament, Alex Bogomolov, rose to #91, his career high.  Also marking a career best is Benoit Paire, who reached the semifinal in Ostrava, good enough to get him to #99, his first time in the top 100.

Big losers include Fernando Verdasco, down yet another two spots to #17, and Ernests Gulbis, who fell a whopping 31 places down to #64.  At the rate he’s going, he’ll have to qualify for Masters 1000 events this summer.

Pobrecitos: Every year, I go into the clay court season knowing it will be bad for Americans, yet every year, the top Americans manage to disappoint.  Andy Roddick may have reached a new low, losing to qualifer Flavio Cipolla.  I love Cipolla, but I root for him with full knowledge of his limitations, and those limitations should include an inability to beat Roddick.  Yet the Italian came through a very tight match, breaking four times to Andy’s two.

In the second round, Cipolla will face Michael Llodra, who had a much easier time dispatching his American opponent, allowing Sam Querrey only five games.  Querrey won only 51% of his service points, a disappointing number regardless of surface.  The only American in the second round is John Isner, who served his way past Mardy Fish.

Matches to watch: The first round isn’t quite over,  and the remaining matches include many blockbusters.  On the card for tomorrow:

  • del Potro vs Mikhail Youhzny.  The Russian hasn’t shown much in months, while Delpo sent the rest of the field a message with his 6-2 6-2 drubbing of Verdasco in the Estoril final.
  • Milos Raonic vs Feliciano Lopez.  Lopez is playing well, challenging Novak Djokovic in the Belgrade final and reaching the quarters in Barcelona.  Assuming Raonic’s back holds up, his recent results suggest he should make this match a close one.  They’ll play each other in doubles, as well, Raonic with Nicholas Almagro, and Lopez with Verdasco.
  • Kevin Anderson vs Olivier Rochus. If nothing else, it should be entertaining to watch Rochus threaten a guy more than a foot taller than he is.  The winner gets Djokovic
  • Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs Thiemo de Bakker.  This second-rounder features two guys who weren’t favored to get there.  GGL beat 14th seed Stanislas Wawrinka (who is having an awful clay season), while de Bakker won a three-setter over Juan Carlos Ferrero.  Both guys are capable of playing at a top-20 level, and both have already recorded solid victories this week.
Two’s are wild: There are some great, bizarre doubles pairings this week.  Roddick played with Mark Knowles, becoming one of the first doubles losers of the tournament on Sunday.  Fish and Delpo are teaming up; they’ll face the equally star-studded team of Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  It isn’t quite the doubles fiesta of Indian Wells, but we’ll get to see plenty of top singles players out of their comfort zones.

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Thursday Topspin: Tweeners

Oh-for-three: A couple of days ago, Dustin Brown blew open the bottom half of the Munich draw by upsetting Stanislas Wawrinka.  Yesterday, three men’s matches were completed, and each one knocked out one of the remaining seven seeds.

Potito Starace was most impressive of the three underdogs, winning 58% of total points and landing 86% of his first serves.  That was more than good enough to get past Sergiy Stakhovsky.  Starace is putting together a very solid clay season, at least at the 250s, as he reached the final in Casablanca a few weeks ago.

Starace will next face Phillip Petzschner, who needed three sets to get past Mikhail Youzhny.  That’s becoming a less-impressive feat–I’ve always been a big Youzhny fan, but he’s only had one solid tournament all year, and that was back in Marseilles, when he beat Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in back-to-back rounds.  The Russian mounted a fantastic comeback season last year, but if (when) he fails to defend his semifinalist points from the U.S. Open, it could well start a downhill slide that will knock him out of the top 20 for good.

Speaking of Tsonga: Perhaps beating Tsonga doesn’t count for as much as it used to, either.  Though the Frenchman is healthy, he is struggling to get back into match form.  The latest setback was yesterday’s loss in Estoril to Pablo Cuevas, in which he lost a second-set tiebreak at love.  Never a good sign for someone like him to lose at least three of three service points in a tiebreak.

There’s still plenty of firepower left in the Estoril draw.  As predicted, both Juan Martin del Potro and Robin Soderling advanced to the quarters, though Soderling needed three sets to defeat Jeremy Chardy.  Delpo crushed Soderling only a month ago in Miami, and on clay, tomorrow’s result will depend even more on the Swede’s health.  It’s only a quarterfinal, but the match could well determine the tournament champion.

Cakewalk: I’ve got a bold prediction for the Serbia Open: Novak Djokovic will beat Blaz Kavcic tomorrow (one oddsmaker has Kavcic as high as 44-1), then he’ll beat somebody else, and then he’ll beat somebody else.  Making things a little more interesting–at least for the home crowd–is that those two “somebody else’s” could both be Serbian.  Novak’s semifinal opponent could be Janko Tipsarevic, while the man seeded to face him in the final is designated whipping boy Viktor Troicki.

In the meantime, we can follow the rest of the contenders as they advance to slaughter.  Feliciano Lopez quickly ended Fernando Gonzalez’s comeback, beating him yesterday in straight sets, and he’ll next face Albert Montanes.  Sportsbooks have set that match dead even, while my system gives Feliciano a 58% chance of moving on.

Sarasota: Even the challenger fields are a bit uninteresting this week, partly because some of the guys who usually contend for those titles got into ATP-level draws, instead.  The possible challenger highlight of the week is coming on in a few hours, as James Blake will have a chance for revenge against the distracted Donald Young.  Oddsmakers give Blake about a a 57% chance, while my system favors Young, with his more recent success.

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Wednesday Topspin: Gonzo’s Back

On the road: I’m travelling for most of this week, so blogging will be light.  Moving on…

Belgrade: It’s a good thing the top four seeds got byes into the second round, since all the seeds who were in action yesterday fell in their first match.  Ernests Gulbis is perhaps most disappointing–he is encouraging us to forget his strong clay season last year, now with a straight-set loss to Ilya Marchenko.  Also out is 5th-seed John Isner, less of a surprise on clay.  I guess we should give Isner credit for showing up; he and Robert Kendrick are the only Americans to play on clay since Houston.

Congrats to Fernando Gonzalez, winner of his first match in nearly a year.  He made it look easy, getting past Martin Klizan–himself a big hitter–in straight sets.  I doubt he’ll be much of a factor in the bigger clay events, but it’s great to have him back.  He’ll play Feliciano Lopez later today, and the sportsbooks give him only a 33% chance of reaching the quarters.

Estoril: Much credit is due to Pedro Sousa, a 22 year old from Portugal.  Currently ranked #488, he worked hard to qualify–in fact, he hadn’t so much as qualified for a challenger-level event since November.  His run came to end yesterday, but he went out in style, taking a set from Juan Martin del Potro.

In today’s second round, Delpo plays Alejandro Falla for a probable quarterfinal with Robin Soderling.  If Soderling is back in form and health, that could be the match of the week.

Munich: For whatever reason, Stanislas Wawrinka sat out the first few clay events, failing to defend his Casablanca title from last year.  That strategy didn’t look very good yesterday, when he fell to Dustin Brown in three sets.  It’s a huge win for Brown, who had never before won a ATP-level match on clay.

The bottom half of the draw is now ripe for the taking.  3rd-seed Marin Cilic is favored by ranking; he’ll probably draw Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters, and if all goes according to plan, Phillip Kohlschreiber in the semis.

Challengers: James Blake is playing again this week in Sarasota, and he beat Marinko Matosevic in his opening match.  That gives him a second-round matchup with Donald Young, the man who defeated him two weeks ago in Tallahassee.

As you may have heard, Young has plenty of his mind these days, with a highly-publicized spat with the USTA over (in part) the French Open wild card.  (If you haven’t heard, Greg Couch has written a good summary.)  It’s unfortunate that this is happening when Young is playing his best tennis in recent memory, fresh off the Tallahassee title and the upset of Andy Murray.  It’s always amazed me just how many wild cards Young was awarded over the years; it’s too bad he didn’t get them when he could use them.

Speaking of young Americans, Ryan Harrison also played Sarasota, but made an early exit to Amer Delic.  The less young Wayne Odesnik qualified again, but also fell in the first round.

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Monday Topspin: Down From a Mountain

Nadal, again: It doesn’t get much more anticlimactic than Rafael Nadal winning Barcelona.  In his five matches, he lost 21 games; he lost more than two games in only three of his ten sets.

I’m not sure whether David Ferrer will ever manage to beat Nadal on clay–based on the last two weeks, it’s not going to happen anytime soon–but Ferrer does make things interesting.  The outcome is never really in doubt, but Ferrer is one of the few guys (Andy Murray is another, I’m sure Novak Djokovic will add himself to the list soon) who can challenge Nadal in rallies on clay.  Ferrer even managed to string together a few strong points and break serve in the second set yesterday.

I’m standing behind my earlier prediction that Nadal will lose a match on clay, but I’m having a hard time visualizing it.

Rankings: By reaching the semifinals in Barcelona, Nicholas Almagro reached the top 10 for the first time, displacing Mardy Fish.  Ivan Dodig, the other semifinal loser this week, also reached a career high, rising 12 places to #44.

The winner at the Napoli challenger was Thomas Schoorel, who gained 9 places to hit #117, a second career high in as many weeks.  In Santos, Joao Souza won the title, jumping 27 spots to #148.

This week’s loser is Fernando Verdasco, who didn’t even try to defend his title in Barcelona.  He falls three places to #15.  Last year’s finalist, Robin Soderling, stays at #5 but loses 245 points, roughly half of his lead over #6 Ferrer.

Belgrade: This week there are three ATP 250s, and we’re just finishing up qualifying in all of them.  The Belgrade field is headlined by Serbian heroes Djokovic and Viktor Troicki, but the most noteworthy man in the draw is Fernando Gonzalez.  Freddy hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, and he hasn’t won a match since the first round of last year’s French.  He’ll face qualifier Martin Klizan in the first round.

Estoril: The tournament in Portugal probably features the strongest draw of this week’s three events.  Soderling and Verdasco anchor the top and bottom of the draw, respectively, while Milos Raonic and Juan Martin del Potro are among the remaining seeds.  Verdasco faces a potentially dangerous second-round draw in Federico Gil, who reached the quarters in Monte Carlo.

Also of note: HT.com favorite Flavio Cipolla (he’s even smaller than Simone Vagnozzi!) qualified for the main draw with a decisive 6-0 6-3 victory over Pablo Carreno-Busta.  World #488 Pedro Sousa, from Portugal, also qualified, beating top seed Albert Ramos in three sets.  Be careful: Also in the main draw is Portuguese wildcard Joao Sousa, who should not be confused with the Brazilian Joao Souza, winner in Santos last week.

Munich: This event is the only one this week without a top-10 player.  Still, the quality of play may be a bit higher than in Belgrade, with Mikhail Youhzny, Marin Cilic, and Stanislas Wawrinka in the field.

Among the qualifiers are Robert Farah, who defeated Dmitri Tursunov in the second round of qualifying, and 20-year-old Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, who beat both Bjorn Phau and Martin Fischer to reach the main draw.  Also worth mentioning is fast-rising Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who beat both Federico del Bonis and Paul Capdeville before losing a three-setter in the qualifying round to Julian Reister.

It may be a rest week for some of the top players, but there’s more than enough to keep us busy until the next Masters Series event.  See you tomorrow!

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