Weekly Roundup: Rogers Cup

ATP

Novak Djokovic sealed his second Masters 1000 title of the year by defeating Frenchman Richard Gasquet in straight sets. After facing break points in his first service game that were not taken, he took control breaking Gasquet on all three occasions he had a break point. Djokovic was dominant on serve throughout and dropped just eight points on his serve on the way to a 6-3 6-2 victory. This win means that Djokovic does not suffer any points hit as he defends the title that he took in 2011 where he beat Mardy Fish. Djokovic only dropped one set on his way to the title here, in the quarter finals against Germany’s Tommy Haas.

Second seeds Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan carried on their excellent form picking up the Doubles title just a week after doing the same at the Olympics. The brothers dropped just one set on their way to the trophy, as they defeated Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers 6-1 4-6 12-10 to make it five titles on the year.

Source: Rogers Cup Facebook

WTA

Petra Kvitova finally took her first title of the year in Montreal in an enthralling encounter with Na Li, defeating the Chinese star 7-5 2-6 6-3. Kvitova had gone down an early break in the first before reeling off four games in a row to serve for the first set. She could not do so and was pegged back to 5-5. Li eventually buckled under the pressure of serving to stay in the set as Kvitova broke in the twelfth game of the set to take the first. With the set in Kvitova’s pocket, one would expect that she had the momentum but that was not to be the case with the Czech dropping the first SIXTEEN points of the set to quickly drop into a 0-4 hole. Kvitova recovered slightly but Li eventually took the set 6-2. Kvitova’s serve reappeared in the third set as she was never in danger and after breaking for a 4-2 lead never looked back sealing the third set and with it, the championship and 900 WTA ranking points.

The Doubles title was taken by the surprise package of Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Kristina Mladenovic. The pair defeated their more storied counterparts Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik in a tight encounter 7-5 2-6 10-7. The title is their first as a team and Mladenovic’s first on the WTA Tour.

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ATP 1000 Toronto Masters Preview

Due to the Olympics, Toronto has suffered a big number of withdrawals including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. The field still does contain three of the four semi finalists though, with Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro scheduled to play at the time of writing.

Favourites – With such a depleted field in terms of the top players, the two big favourites are clear. Defending champion Novak Djokovic has not quite been showing his 2011 form with two recent semi final exits on the grass but is still a huge danger. The Australian Open champ has only lost twice on hard courts this year to Andy Murray and John Isner, both of which reside in the other half of the draw.

Andy Murray will be big on confidence after taking the Gold Medal and defeating Roger Federer with such ease. Murray did not take a hard court title post-Australian Open but was twice a finalist losing to Federer and Djokovic in Doha and Miami respectively. The draw appears to favour Murray, with the top seeds in his half being an out-of-form Tomas Berdych, Juan Monaco and John Isner – who Murray always performs well against.

Outsiders
While both players fitness is in question after record breaking matches at the Olympics, Juan Martin Del Potro (match length in minutes) and Milos Raonic (match length in games) are dark horses for this tournament. Raonic will be hoping for an excellent tournament in his home country, and has a nice route to the final if he can defeat the No.2 seed Andy Murray in a potential Round 3 clash. While Murray has dealt with big servers well in the past, Raonic will take heart from his victory on the clay in Barcelona earlier this year. Raonic has some extraordinary serving stats this year, topping the aces count as well as winning the highest percentage of service games this year.

Meanwhile, Juan Martin Del Potro looks somewhat back to his best after an excellent Olympics in which he picked up the bronze medal after defeating Novak Djokovic in straights. While often thought of as just a forehand, the tall Argentinian showcased it all in the latter stages as possibly should have beat Roger Federer in the semi final. After a long time out with injury, Del Potro finally looks like he is ready to take on the top players again.

One To Watch
Canadian number two Vasek Pospisil is one of three home players to receieve a wildcard. The 22 year old reached his career high of 85th in the world after taking the title in Granby Challenger, his second of the year. Pospisil will most likely float between low level ATP tournaments and North American challengers this year but does have a win over No. 8 seed John Isner to his name. He faces a tough tie in Round 1 taking on the Italian Andreas Seppi

Did You Know…?
The last eight Toronto Masters titles have been shared equally by the top four players – Roger Federer (04,06), Novak Djokovic (07,11), Rafael Nadal (05,08) and Andy Murray (09,10).

Novak Djokovic has winning records against all of the other top 8 seeds – though John Isner, Juan Martin Del Potro, Janko Tipsarevic and Andy Murray have all defeated him in their last encounters.

Finals Prediction Andy Murray defeats Novak Djokovic in three sets

For a more detailed preview of the tournament check out the write up I did for Stevegtennis here.

Tennis Power Couples

Ace of Baseline takes a look at high profile tennis relationships..

The relationship between former World No. 1’s Caroline Wozniacki and Rory Mcilroy is one of the most famous in the sporting world between two athletes that are at the top level of their sport. However, criticism has been fired at the pair with many feeling that the relationship is having a negative influence on their sporting performance.  With this in mind I thought I’d take a look at other high profile tennis relationships to compare.

Since becoming a couple, both have performed fairly poorly in their major events with Mcilroy failing to make the cut at his most recent Major while Caroline Wozniacki exiting Wimbledon in the first round after being overpowered by Tamira Paszek in an entertaining three set encounter. This defeat knocked her to No. 8 in the rankings.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Wozniacki’s game has always concentrated on staying consistent and drawing errors as opposed to a more aggressive game that many believe she should play. Although often disappointing on the big stage, there is no doubt her style was key to her twelve titles and 67 weeks as World No. 1 from 2010 to early 2012.

However, Wozniacki isn’t the only player to date/marry a similarly high profile athlete.  Ana Ivanovic 18-month relationship in with golfer Adam Scott coincided with a trophyless period in 2009-2010 as Ivanovic dropped out of the top ten. Failure to defend big points at the Australian Open and French Open cost her, following up a final appearance and a win with fourth and third round performances respectively.  Defeat to Vera Zvonareva at Indian Wells was as close as the Serb got to a title in this period. Ivanovic’s most recent successes lie in the Tournament of Champions and her form over the past three years seems to indicate that her 2007/2008 form was of a career year than representative of what was to come. She has floated around the top 20 in the year end rankings, with her serving issues still working strongly against her. New coach Nigel Sears appears to have made improvements in 2012 with more consistency in the slams, making the third round at all three so far. Previous to this, Ana also dated Fernando Verdasco for a short period in late 2008, mostly during the tennis off-season.

Fresh from her split with fellow Russian tennis star Igor Andreev is Maria Kirilenko, the 25 year old is dating Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals in the NHL. Ovechkin is one of the most famous male athletes in Russia, having represented them regularly at international level and at one stage there could be a case made that he was one of the top stars in the NHL alongside Sidney Crosby. While the beginning of many other relationships coincided with a drop in form for players, things have never been better for Kirilenko, reaching a career high ranking of No. 14 after making it to the quarter finals of Wimbledon, pushing Agnieszka Radwanska extremely close in an epic three set encounter.

It is interesting to note the lack of high profile relationships involving the top level men, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all in long term relationships while Roger Federer married former tennis player Miraslava “Mirka” Vavrinec in 2009 with the couple now proud parents of twin girls.

While there are many inter-sport relationships involving tennis stars, there are two couples of tennis players that were some of the very best in their time. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi must be the most decorate couple in tennis; the pair possess over 150 titles between them, including 30 grand slams singles titles – Steffi with 22 and Andre with 8. While retirement was looming for Graf by the time the couple got together, Agassi added an additional four titles to add to his previously completed Career Slam before retiring in 2006. In 2005, Agassi even managed to break his own wife’s record at the Miami Masters, overtaking her record of five titles by earning his sixth with victory over Carlos Moya. The pair first met at the 1992 Wimbledon Champions’ Ball, where the now famous photograph of the pair was taken, with Agassi sporting his now infamous mullet.

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi at Wimbledon ’92 Champions Ball

Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt had a four year relationship even getting engaged, before the pair split up in 2004. Affectionately dubbed by Australians “Aussie Kim”, the young Clijsters was slamless in this time while Hewitt became US Open and Wimbledon champion in ’01 and ’02 respectively with convincing finals victories. The pair also made the Mixed Doubles final in 2000 but were defeated in straight sets. After the split Kim went on to become a quadruple slam winner, however the majority of these were after her comeback from a 2007 retirement. Hewitt definitely suffered from the emergence of Roger Federer on the ATP Tour, losing to him seven times in a row at Grand Slams with the Swiss making the final every single time he had beat the Aussie. While Kim was slamless during this period, she did reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings as a 20 year-old in 2003 and there is no doubt that she matured as a player in this time picking up plenty of titles and the No. 1 spot in doubles.

Other notable tennis relationships include Iveta Benesova and Jurgen Melzer. The pair teamed up both off and on the court, even earning themselves the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title, with Benesova’s singles form improving for a short period of time. It seems Melzer is no stranger to the leading ladies on the tour having previously dating 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina and also Nicole Vaidisova, the latter of which is now married to fellow Czech Radek Stepanek.

Personally, I am sceptical of the idea that relationships are to blame for a loss of form. In the case of Wozniacki, I just feel that a lack of a plan B has hit her hard and relying on opponents errors can only get you so far. As seen even before Rory was on the scene, when a big hitter has been on their “A” game she has struggled and she cannot generate enough offense to fight back. She is young enough to come back and learn from it, so I think she can definitely re-enter the top 5 but to go any further much more progress is needed at the slams. Along with New Haven, where she is a four-times winner her most consistent performances come in the US Open with a semi final place or better each of the last three years so this could be just the thing to reignite her struggling year.

Do you think that having a famous sporting partner can distract your performance? Feel free to post comments below!

Nishikori stuns Novak

Had he not secured the title of Newcomer of the Year for 2008, it would seem this year has been the breakthrough season for Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

Back then he claimed his first and only ATP World Tour trophy at Delray Beach but even though he’s yet to add any silverware to that collection he’s been to two finals including the Swiss Indoors this week.

In getting there, Nishikori did the rarest of feats for a male player in 2011 by beating current world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. If getting to his first Masters 1000 semi in Shanghai last month wasn’t enough of a landmark, then the 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0 victory over the formidable Serb will certainly give him some attention.

Djokovic had only lost three matches on tour all year, with two of them retirements. The reigning Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion struggled with a shoulder injury in the final set so don’t read too much into the bagel.

Nishikori won’t care though. He’s now one of only four people to say they beat Djokovic in his historic year and only one of two outright, the other being Roger Federer.

Federer was Nishikori’s opponent in the final in Basel and although the 21-year-old lost comfortably in the Swiss’ home country he’s been given special discretion to enter the Paris Masters.

Anything Nishikori does from this point is a bonus for his home nation. Having become the first Asian to win the Newcomer of the Year award, his solid 2011 season including a final in Houston to go with Basel means he’s the highest ranked Japanese player of all time.

It comes after he missed most of the 2009 season through injury. He’ll now be looking to avoid another breakdown after a record season and kick on next year with a place in the top 50 secured.

Dark Horse Del Potro?

After his recent title victory at the Estoril Open, is it worth a punt on Juan Martin del Potro to win at the French?

Well, yes, it’s certainly worth a couple of pounds, dollars or whatever your currency may be but just don’t bet your mortgage on the 22-year-old Argentine.

Rafael Nadal is still far and away the favourite to claim a sixth crown at Roland Garros at just 24-years-old. And should he lose it’s most likely going to be to Novak Djokovic.

Del Potro is a rare breed though, being one of only four men on the tour who have won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick in 2003.

That scenario was also true with Djokovic before his unbelievable 2011 form brought an Australian Open title, several other ATP wins and advertising deals aplenty.

Djokovic is now considered by some to be the best player in the world right now after two tour final victories over Nadal when he’d always been living in the shadows of the Spaniard and Roger Federer. So can del Potro get there also?

Another Grand Slam is definitely possible. A French Open success this year may be too much for a man still climbing the rankings after being at number 484 last February following a wrist injury.

Now at #32 the 2009 French Open semi-finalist might not have the stamina to go two weeks on clay with the extended best of five set format.

But players must be wary. A straight sets win over the 2009 and 2010 French Open finalist Robin Soderling last week proves the dark horse tag is suitable.

We’ll learn more from del Potro this week in Madrid, especially with a third round match-up with Nadal on the cards.

Del Potro

Elsewhere in the Mutua Madrid Open:

  • After disappearing from the tennis scene for a while Bojana Jovanovski returned to WTA action with a first round 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win over Greta Arn.
  • Kei Nishikori lost his first round match to Spain’s Pere Riba 2-6, 2-6.
  • Dutch 22-year-old qualifier Thiemo de Bakker saw off world former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
  • Doubles specialist Vania King has aided her cause for a top 100 return in the singles rankings after a 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) win over Nadia Petrova.
  • Wildcard Arantxa Parra Santonja is enjoying a resurgence in form. The 28-year-old beat Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic in the first and second round respectively.

Home Thoughts

IMG_3298-nishikori Following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami to hit Japan, several tennis players have tried to raise funds to support the relief effort but none will be hurting quite like Kei Nishikori.

As Japan’s best player, his mind is firmly on those who have lost their lives and helping the survivors rebuild his homeland.

Nishikori’s family and friends all emerged from the disaster unscathed but his thoughts are still with his people, indicated by his continued work off court.

Novak Djokovic has been wearing a taped knee with messages of support for the victims and also set up a charity football match with Nishikori and other ATP tour players involved. Female Japanese players Ayumi Morita and Kimiko Date-Krumm have also felt the effects of the trauma.

At Indian Wells, Nishikori wore a black ribbon during his first round defeat to Igor Andreev but he’s now reached the second round at Miami’s Sony Ericsson Open and is set to take on world no.1 Rafael Nadal on Saturday.

Despite the chances of the 21-year-old beating Nadal being slim, it will be a welcome return to top-class tennis after a succession of injuries kept him out of the last three majors of 2009.

At one stage he was voted the ATP Newcomer of the Year after bursting onto the scene as an unknown qualifier, winning at Delray Beach and finishing 2008 at #63 in the world.

But the next year his progress was halted by injury and he slipped as low as 898 during the beginning of 2010. Now 12 months later he’s back amongst the top 100 and looking to build on where his promising career start left off.

Nishikori may have been able to quickly bounce back from adversity but his fellow countrymen and women face a much greater task than hitting a ball in the service lines.

To help Kei Nishikori in his Japan efforts you can bid for tennis and other sport memorabilia or donate and support the cause via Facebook.

The Curious Case of Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis should be in the world’s top 10, if not for his tennis skills then certainly for his crazy antics.

At the age of 22, he’s already been to jail in Sweden after an incident involving a prostitute and on court breaks more rackets than a noise officer.

Novak Djokovic is the only top player with a bit of spunk. He’s become a star via two Grand Slam titles and an increasingly popular internet career thanks partly to some hilarious impressions at the US Open (and Ace of Baseline also recommends his advert for Head).

“Ernie” is even more wilder than the in-form Serb but the potential for even more scenes like the ones from Djokovic are hindered by his poor performances on the big stages.

First round defeats have been next to Gulbis’ name in major tournaments since the 2009 US Open and he has won only one ATP tour title. His record against top 10 players is also appalling.

Yet Gulbis did reach the quarter finals of the French Open three years ago so the talent is there, particularly on clay.

What’s missing is the attitude to make it to the top. Most players who suffer a setback use the same line of trying harder in practice but for Gulbis he’d rather not bother with it.

There’s also a case he may not even care about performing to the crowd but we’ll never know until we see him on a regular basis.

A friend of Marat Safin, the two have drawn comparisons by their casual approach to the sport, somewhat refreshing but it doesn’t garnish that much success.

Another problem facing Gulbis is he’s a bit of a headcase. On the prostitute fiasco, an alleged solicitation attempt, he commented that everyone should experience jail once in their lives with six hours of his spent behind bars.

Gulbis didn’t know of his lady friend’s career choice because he didn’t ask and after a fine he was free to go. On court he’s known to get frustrated quite often and destroying his racket heads in the process.

It’s a shame really that Gulbis isn’t seen more by the public. When beating Roger Federer after missing six match points he said in an interview “I was shitting in my pants”. Just imagine the kind of things he’d come out with. He’s the kind of guy who’d snog Sue Barker on-air for a laugh.

The game needs more characters and the public will be grateful if Gulbis can one day match the feats of Djokovic on and off centre court.

And of course we’ll be watching, in Ernests.

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