So Far So Good

Photo Source: AFP / Getty Images

The first week of the ATP and WTA seasons have been concluded with many of this year’s featured players performing well.

Tournaments in Brisbane, Auckland, Chennai and Doha boasted a number of high-profile names while the Hopman Cup also panned out Down Under in Perth.

With many ranking points to save early on this year, Milos Raonic got off to the best possible start by winning the second ATP World Tour title of his career in Chennai. The 21-year-old Canadian beat Janko Tipsarevic 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4) in a final which didn’t feature any breaks.

Andy Murray took no time to claim his first title of the year and 22nd ATP World Tour crown of his career as the world number four went all the way at the Brisbane International. Not only was it the maiden event of 2012 for the Brit but also the first with new coach Ivan Lendl.

The eight-time Grand Slam winner has been installed to take Murray to the next level by claiming a major title himself. Lendl watched from the stands as his pupil dispatched of Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-3 and, with improved movement on the court, he will be a serious title threat again at the Australian Open.

Murray had beaten Dolgopolov in last year’s Aussie Open quarter-final when the Ukrainian emerged as a main player on the tour. The 23-year-old’s chances of jumping another step and making the top 10 this year look to be on the right track.

At 19, home favourite Bernard Tomic is set for big things. After breaking the top 50 last year he’s backed that up with a semi-final berth already.

There was less joy for Kei Nishikori though, as he fell in the second round despite being seeded fifth. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and Ryan Harrison both crashed out in the first round but young Aussie James Duckworth took full advantage of his wildcard by beating Nicolas Mahut in the opening round.

For the ladies at Brisbane there were less positives. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova went out in the second round along with Bojana Jovanovski but they had some saving grace as they were beaten by eventual champion Kaia Kanepi and multiple Grand Slam winner Serena Williams respectively.

Things didn’t improve in Auckland. Top seed Sabine Lisicki made the last eight but had to retire in her quarter-final match due to an abdominal injury. She’ll be hoping it doesn’t prove too serious and won’t keep her out of the first major of the year next week.

Elsewhere, Rebecca Marino lost her first match of 2012 in straight sets but teenage Czech Karolina Pliskova came through qualifying to make the main draw.

At the Hopman Cup, Petra Kvitova and Tomas Berdych took the main prize for the Czech Republic but Grigor Dimitrov put some impressive displays in for Bulgaria including a 6-2, 6-1 win over top 10 player Mardy Fish.

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Grigor Dimitrov

Last week at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham I reluctantly purchased a programme for £5 to pile on top of the expenses of my four-day Parisian venture.

Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli were featured inside despite not partaking in the tournament whilst Ana Ivanovic wasn’t despite making the semi-finals. The joys of an ever-changing sporting landscape.

Luckily the advertisement-filled glossy proved a decent buy thanks to a three-page section entitled “The Next Generation”. You can see why it would be of some interest.

In it, there were six players (three from either sex) whom we are told to “keep an eye on”.

I arrogantly told my accompanying friend I’d been tracking Bojana Jovanovski, Heather Watson and Milos Raonic since the early days of this blog and had also covered Alexandr Dolgopolov and Christina McHale in some capacity too. But the one I hadn’t mentioned at all on here was Grigor Dimitrov.

This is how they described the Bulgarian:

Sees himself as a future world no.1 and believes he has no weaknesses. Former coach Peter Lundgren, who helped Roger Federer to his first Grand Slam title, has said that Dimitrov is a better player as a teenager than the Swiss was in his teens.

Without wanting to reach cocky-level again, I did know of Dimitrov before but thought against writing a post or checking his progress at Grand Slams or on tour.

Yet he’s being compared to Roger Federer? A closer inspection, therefore, is a must.

So far Dimitrov has reached a peak of #63 (on his 20th birthday no less) and hasn’t moved much from that position achieved a month ago, dropping just one place.

He’s quite a tall player at 6’2” and possesses the element that draws the Federer comparisons, the one-handed backhand.

His best achievements have been the boys’ singles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open which led to his junior world ranking of number one. Federer didn’t succeed with the middle of these three triumphs but did reach the final at Flushing Meadows losing to David Nalbandian.

And this is where the career paths begin to shift in opposite directions. Dimitrov has yet to win an ATP World Tour title or make a mark on the Grand Slam stage at senior level.

Comparing him to the greatest player of all time is daunting. Looking at his chances compared to his fellow prospects shows he’s still in with a chance of making it, albeit not to Federer’s level.

Also featured next to Dimitrov were Raonic and Dolgopolov. The former just turned 20 when he made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open before going on to win his first ATP World Tour title in San Jose whilst the latter made it to the last eight in Melbourne as a 21-year-old.

Therefore the next few months are going to be critical for Dimitrov. Raonic and Dolgopolov are now established top 50 players and earning seeding positions.

If Dimitrov is to make half as much impact as Federer he’ll have to catch up with the aforementioned duo rapidly. With the grass court season upon us, he may just do that but improving his return of serve is critical having only won 18% of 154 return games played this year.

Certainly, I’ll be looking out for him more in the next 12 months. The Federer backhand is the most wonderful stroke in the sport and to see it executed for another ten years at the top of the game via the hands of Dimitrov would be a delight.

French Open 2011 – Ranking Review

With the second Grand Slam of the year completed the ranking changes this week will feature significant drops and encouraging highs as the points gained or lost are at their highest values.

Therefore it seems an appropriate time to assess how the ATP and WTA tour rankings look heading into the grass court season and how some of the players being tracked on this website are progressing.

The biggest news, and the main brunt of it in all honesty, comes from the WTA tour.

Heather Watson’s five match winning run which saw her through qualifying and into the second round of the main draw has been rewarded with a top 100 place.

It’s the first time the 19-year-old has been in the top 100 and she has a great chance of getting higher this year as she’s entered the Aegon Classic and Wimbledon should give her a wildcard if she can’t qualify automatically.

Another big mover is Caroline Garcia. The 17-year-old almost pulled off the shock of the tournament after being two games away from beating Maria Sharapova in front of her home crowd but her first round win, with some help from her own wildcard, entry means she’s risen 38 places to #150.

Other young players who’ve made big strides are American Christina McHale, Canada’s Rebecca Marino and Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

Sabine Lisicki is back in the top 100 having made the third round and Vania King has reached #85 which is an increase of 30 places.

In terms of the top 10, there is good news for Petra Kvitova who’s at a career high world number eight whilst the chasing pack of Andrea Petkovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Julia Goerges have nudged ever closer to the next level.

Strangely enough it’s China’s Li Na who’s become a superstar at the age of 29 after becoming the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam title. Not many put that bet on two weeks ago but then again the same could be said of last year’s winner and her opponent in the final Francesca Schiavone.

A similar scenario is emerging in the ATP tour in that the titles are being won by older players. There really isn’t a new generation coming through yet in the men’s game with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and now Novak Djokovic favourites to win every major, masters series and world championship final.

Two of the above are undoubtedly modern-day legends and until they either retire or become awful then the sport will continue to be dominated by them.

Looking to break the dynasty are the likes of Milos Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov, who have dropped a place and gained one respectively. They seem to be the only young players with top 10 potential at the present time.

Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis had that at one point but the former has gone down six places over the two weeks and 13 places in total from the start of the year. Gulbis, incidentally, has actually gone up five places.

There are other ways of becoming a tennis superstar though. Just making the top 50 these days gets you noticed whilst you can still be big in your home country or continent, which Li Na has proven and Kei Nishikori is still striving for.

The Japanese 22-year-old is down a place but is still up 38 from the start of January. The American situation is also intriguing with their supposed lack of depth but Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick have both returned to the top 10 but youngster Ryan Harrison has moved down three places to #122.

The men’s tour is interesting. It seems to be in different leagues right now. But still, the young players, and even some old where warranted, will continue to be charted here whether that be in the top 10, top 100 or number one in Kazakhstan.

Sweet Victory

Ryan Sweeting beat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston to lift the first ATP Tour title of his career.

Upon winning, the American jumped into a pool and he’ll be looking to make more of a splash on the tour now as well (insert groan here).

On his way to the final he defeated fellow American and second seed Sam Querrey as well as former top 15 player Ivo Karlovic.

After losing the first set without gaining a break of serve, Nishikori will be ruing the three set points he missed at 5-4 up in the second as he fell in exactly two hours at the ATP 250 event.

Ryan Sweeting

As the name suggests, Sweeting will now gain 250 ranking points to push him to a career high position somewhere in the 70’s. It’s also the first time a wildcard has won the event since Mardy Fish in 2006. Since then Fish has gone on to become the USA’s number one player so this victory is a great boost for Sweeting and American tennis.

At the age of 23, he’s still got time to improve but any chance of a major title win during his career is unlikely. Still, a resurgence for Fish and Sweeting as well as the progression of teenager Ryan Harrison should increase the level of support for tennis fans in the US.

There’s also some good news for the beaten finalist, a prospect covered on here in the past. Despite the defeat, Nishikori is projected to be in the world’s top 50 once the rankings are out, almost matching the highest ever position of a Japanese player.

That’s currently held by Shuzo Matsuoka who reached #46 in 1992. Nishikori has every chance of breaking that record in the near future to slightly brighten the mood of a country surrounded by devastation following the tsunami last month.

Sweeting became the fifth newest player to win an ATP title this year joining Pablo Andujar who claimed the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca and Milos Raonic amongst others.

Canadian Raonic managed to beat Michael Llondra in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters and his progress at that tournament shall be watched with an eagle eye over the coming week.

Elsewhere in Monaco, Bernard Tomic lost out in qualification to Julien Benneteau while Ernests Gulbis saw off Alexandr Dolgopolov, a player only just coming to fruition after a fine run in the Australian Open this year.

Gulbis, 22, is a great clay court player looking to recapture the promise he showed last year when he beat Roger Federer on the surface. The Latvian’s next match versus Raonic is set to be a cracker of a second round tie.

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