2014/04/19

Knapp Sacks Riske: Italy Advances in Fed Cup Over USA

DSCN0663

By Steve Fogleman

(February 9, 2014) Karin Knapp followed up on her win over Christina McHale yesterday with a clinching 6-3, 7-5 victory today over Alison Riske in the first round of the 2014 Fed Cup season in Cleveland, Ohio. The Italians defeated the American team in all three live rubbers.

Knapp did had some trouble closing it out over Riske, who was a last-minute replacement for Madison Keys in an effort by Captain Mary Joe Fernandez to get some momentum for the US. Riske acquitted herself well. She elevated her game in the second set, and after drawing even with the Italian, she was broken at 5-5 in the next game. Knapp served it out from here.

Overall, the match was more competitive than it might appear.

“It’s not easy because she came back. I got a little bit nervous. I got a little bit of emotion.”

Knapp told the press that the team made a pact to jump in the Cleveland snow if they won the tie.

“After this, we will all put the jacket on, the scarf on and we will jump in the snow!”, she said.

No word on when and where that photo opportunity will occur, but the snowy tundra of Cleveland Public Square is conveniently located between the venue and the Fed Cup hotel.

The snow didn’t stop the crowd from arriving to cheer on the US team, but it did slow them down. There were many empty seats at the start of the tie, but the fans filled in to create a boisterous cheering section by the beginning of the second set. The Public Auditorium was noticeably louder than yesterday.

Riske

Riske

Riske had a “big group of people from Pittsburgh” to join her for the event. She called the tie “an unbelievable experience” and noted the “awesome” support from the fans.

She’ll be in training in the two weeks leading up to Indian Wells.

Madison Keys and Lauren Davis won the inconsequential doubles rubber 6-2, 6-3 over Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci.

Italy will advance to the quarterfinals, while the US will be attempting to simply avoid relegation from the World Group in their next outing.

Steve Fogleman is Editor of TennisEastCoast.com, a Mid-Atlantic based tennis website. He is in Cleveland, Ohio covering the Fed Cup tie between USA and Italy for Tennis Panorama News.

Related article:

Catching Up with Alison Riske at Fed Cup in Cleveland

sphere

Share

Italy Sweeps USA on Day 1 of Fed Cup to Take 2-0 Lead

DSCN0505

By Steve Fogleman

(February 8, 2014) CLEVELAND – Team Italy blanked the USA on Saturday in Cleveland, Ohio, to take a 2-0 lead in Fed Cup first round action.

Christina McHale played a horrendous first set, ceding second serves to Karin Knapp. Knapp’s powerful backhand threatened to make the match a runaway for the Italian. McHale settled down in the second and broke twice to level the score at 6-4.

The ultimate result was a big bang for Italy with a victory by Karin Knapp in three sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. McHale ran her Fed Cup career record to 5-3 with the loss.

After the match, McHale admitted that “by giving her that lead she really relaxed and started playing much better.”

The Italian team was especially loud and supportive. Karin Knapp acknowledged that she feeds off of them and predicted that they would feed off of her win.

“We are not a lot, but we are loud. They helped me”, she said.  “They gave me confidence”.

“If I get the point, maybe Camila goes on the court a little relaxed.”

Maybe you’re right, Karin Knapp.

As predicted by Knapp, Camila Giorgi did come out relaxed…and focused.

Giorgi thrashed Madison Keys 6-2, 6-1, notching a victory for the Italian in her first Fed Cup rubber. Keys seemed to be confused and having one of those days, and she was unable to hold serve on a regular basis.

Giorgi said it did help her composure knowing that her nation was already on the board before she hit her first ball in a Fed Cup.

Keys summed it up best. “She was playing amazingly. I can only control so many things. Great job to her today”, she said.

The Americans are now in danger of losing a fourth straight tie to the Italian team dating back ten years. They’re 0-10 in ties where they’ve started with a pair of singles losses.

But US Captain Mary Joe Fernandez has every reason to believe that this team, at least on paper, should have a realistic shot at pulling a sweep of their own tomorrow. I agree.

Steve Fogleman is Editor of TennisEastCoast.com, a Mid-Atlantic based tennis website. He is in Cleveland, Ohio covering the Fed Cup tie between USA and Italy for Tennis Panorama News.

 

Video Bonus:
Fed Cup Cleveland: Better Than the Winter Olympics

 

Share

Catching Up with Alison Riske at Fed Cup in Cleveland

.@RISKE4REWARDS: Close to Home, But Still Not Messin’ Around With Those Cleveland Browns
By Steve Fogleman

(February 7, 2014) CLEVELAND – Alison Riske grew up in Pittsburgh, a mere two hours from Cleveland, but this week marks the first time the 23-year-old has ever been to this nearly-neighboring fair city.

As a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Riske is jovial and simultaneously serious about her love of the Steelers spoiling her desire to camp out in Cleveland.

“Never came. It is Browns territory, so I’m like ‘I’m not setting foot over there’.

I wouldn’t want to come to Cleveland for any other occasion than Fed Cup.”

browns

The World No. 46 admitted this without hesitation when I caught up with her outside of the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott at Key Center on the eve of her maiden Fed Cup voyage as a player.

Riske was a designated hitting partner six years ago as a 17-year-old at the US Fed Cup tie in Moscow and appreciated the experience.

“I got my feet wet. I think that was the whole point of being a ‘Future Fed Cupper’.

US Fed Cup Team 2014 Cleveland

Riske joins Cleveland native Lauren Davis in the fifth and final rubber on Sunday in doubles against Alice Matteucci and Nastassja Burnett. It could be crucial.

Fed Cup Doubles: Alison Riske, Lauren Davis, Nastassja Burnett, Alice Matteucci

Though she can cross ‘Fed Cup’ off of the old Bucket List for now, she says she’ll gladly come back and play singles anytime.

FUN FACT: Riske is the only regarded WTA player who lists Washington, DC as her address. But she’ll be filling out a change of address form sometime soon.

She’ll head to Toronto to rejoin her coach, Yves Boulais, who she followed to the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland a year ago. She will train full-time in Canada. Boulais left Maryland and returned to College Park late last year. She credits him for much of her success.

“I feel like my game has transformed into something I can build on. It’s really exciting and I think the best is yet to come.”

Steve Fogleman is Editor of TennisEastCoast.com, a Mid-Atlantic based tennis website. He is in Cleveland, Ohio covering the Fed Cup tie between USA and Italy for Tennis Panorama News.

Alison Riske photo by Steve Fogleman

Alison Riske photo by Steve Fogleman

Related articles:

Draw Set for US-Italy Fed Cup in Cleveland

Draws and Results for Fed Cup for February 7, 2014

Share

Draw Set for US-Italy Fed Cup in Cleveland

DSCN0408

By Steve Fogleman

(February 7, 2014) CLEVELAND – The US and Italian Fed Cup Team match ups are all set in Cleveland, having been determined during an afternoon draw ceremony on Friday at a downtown hotel two blocks from the site of the tie the Public Auditorium.

The second-highest ranked American on the team, Christina McHale, will open against top Italian Team player Karin Knapp at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, followed by Madison Keys and Camila Giorgi.

On Sunday, Keys and Knapp will meet at 12:00 p.m., followed by McHale and Giorgi.

Alison Riske and Lauren Davis were enlisted for doubles, and they will square off on Sunday against Nastassja Burnett and Alice Mateucci in the fifth rubber.

At the post-draw press conference, the members of the American team expressed elation at having been chosen to participate on behalf of the US. Only one of the players—McHale—has previously represented her country in Fed Cup play and she was designated a captain for her experience.

“Whether I play or not, it’s great to be here”, said Alison Riske.

Mary Jo Fernandez spoke out in support of her designation of McHale as the leader of the team.

“It’s a different experience playing for your country. Christina has been there before. She knows what’s coming her way.”

McHale’s past participation aside, this group is Generation Next. The Americans hope to end an 0-3 slump to the Italians, after beating the Azzuri nine times in a row between 1963-2003.

 

DAY/LOCAL TIME      MATCH             PAIRING

Saturday, 1:00 p.m.          Singles A:         Christina McHale (USA) vs. Karin Knapp (ITA)

Singles B:         Madison Keys (USA)  vs. Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Sunday, 12:00 p.m.           Singles C:         Madison Keys (USA) vs. Karin Knapp (ITA)

Singles D:        Christina McHale (USA) vs. Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Doubles: Lauren Davis/Alison Riske (USA) vs. Nastassja Burnett/Alice Matteucci(ITA)

 

Share

US Hopes Youth Will Triumph When They Face Italy in Fed Cup this Weekend

Fed Cup logo

(February 5, 2014) The USA will face Italy for the fourth time in the last six years when both teams meet again in Cleveland this weekend in Fed Cup quarterfinal play.

Neither team will have its “A” team so youth will be served, especially for Team USA. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez named the team last month – Madison Keys (18), Alison Riske (23), Christina McHale (21) and Cleveland native Lauren Davi (20).

“It’s exciting to have young members, new members on the team, said Captain Fernandez to media on Wednesday in a pre-draw news conference.  “Christina (McHale) is our experienced one, the veteran at the prime old age of what, 21?

“And I think Alison is our oldest player at 23.  So you bring a lot of excitement and energy and enthusiasm when it’s your first time.  You get this great experience to play for your country, represent your country.
So those are all pluses.  I don’t really see any negatives.  Obviously not having played under the pressure of Fed Cup before you never know how someone is going to handle it.
“I think that’s a positive regardless because of the experience and the feedback you get in it.  For me’s really it’s all positive.”

“I think this team from Italy, the challenge is that they’re big hitters,” said Fernandez. “They hit the ball hard and they’re aggressive.  Good indoors.  Probably one of their favorite surfaces.”

Team Italy who will be sporting a team of mostly first-timers are up to the challenge.

“I think will be a tough match, very talented match,” said Italy’s captain Corrado Barazzutti.  “They are young team against, so we come here to try hard to win this match and we know that will be difficult.”
“I think it’s pretty clear the future is very bright, and this is an example of it,” Fernandez said of the US squad.  “This group and the group around them has really been really making strides the last few years and working hard to break each category.
“When I started with the Fed Cup as captain five, six years ago I want to say there were only three Americans in the top 100.  I believe we’re at 11 or 12 now.  So everybody is improving and pushing each other.  We’re seeing the results.
“We have different game styles, which is great, and personalities, but it’s very positive.  It’s extremely exciting to be part of and to see the young players grow and develop as people and as players as well.

As the lone member of the Fed Cup team with any Fed Cup experience, Christina McHale offer some advice to her teammates:

“I’ve had some of my best memories and just fun weeks playing Fed Cup, so I’m really excited to be back on the team.
“I think everyone here has come to a Fed Cup before, so I think they already have some experience.
“I mean, I think just, you know, it’s such an honor to play for your country, so just giving it everything you have, which we always do.  I think that’s the best advice.”

Italy beat the US in the first round of Fed Cup last year. Overall, the US has a 9-3 record versus Italy in Fed Cup play. The US has the record for the most Fed Cup titles at 17, while last year’s winners Italy have now won the cup four out of the past eight years.

 

 

 

 

Share

US Names Keys, Riske McHale and Davis to Fed Cup Team

Fed Cup logo

(January 29, 2014) U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced that up Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Cleveland native Lauren Davis will represent the United States in the 2014 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas First Round tie against reigning Fed Cup champion Italy. The best-of-five match series will be played at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Feb. 8-9. Keys, Riske, and Davis will be making their Fed Cup debuts.

 

The winner advances to face either Spain or the Czech Republic in the semifinals, April 19-20.

 

Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti announced earlier this week that Italy’s Fed Cup team will consist of world No. 45 Karin Knapp, No. 84 Camila Giorgi, Nastassja Burnett, and Alice Matteucci.

 

“We have a fresh group of young talent competing in this Fed Cup tie against Italy,” said Fernandez, who resides in Cleveland. “They’ve already won big matches on Grand Slam stages and are a reason why the future of American women’s tennis is so bright. Both Alison and Lauren had strong showings at the Australian Open earlier this month, Madison is the youngest player in the Top 40, and Christina has had valuable Fed Cup experience as well as solid showings in tournaments around the world. I have complete confidence in this team to step up and play great tennis in front of a patriotic crowd in Cleveland.”

 

Top Americans Serena Williams (back) and Sloane Stephens (wrist) will not compete due to injury.

 

The first-round showdown begins Saturday, Feb. 8, with two singles matches featuring each country’s No. 1 player against the other country’s No. 2 player.  Sunday’s schedule features two “reverse singles” matches, when the No. 1 players square off and the No. 2 players meet, followed by a doubles match. Play on Saturday begins at 1:00 p.m. ET and play on Sunday begins at 12:00 p.m. ET. A revised schedule for Sunday may take place if a team clinches in the third or fourth match.

 

Single-day tickets for $25 per day remain available at www.usta.com/fedcup or by calling 888-334-USTA (8782). Collection Auto Group of North Olmstead, Ohio, will serve as a Fed Cup Tie Sponsor. Tennis Channel will present live daily coverage.

 

Ohio will be hosting Fed Cup for the first time. This match will mark the fourth meeting between the U.S. and Italy in the last six years. While Italy has won the last three matchups, the U.S. leads the overall series, 9-3. The U.S. defeated Italy in its first-ever Fed Cup tie, in 1963, and last defeated the country in 2003. The U.S. is 37-4 all-time in Fed Cup ties played at home.

 

World No. 37 Madison Keys, 18, is making her Fed Cup debut. Keys broke into the Top 40 in the world in 2013 after reaching the third round of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. In 2011, she became the youngest player to win a main draw match at the US Open since Nicole Vaidisova in 2005. And in 2009, she became the youngest player (14 years, 48 days) since Martina Hingis in 1994 to win a WTA match. Entering the 2014 season, Keys qualified for and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open tune-up event in Sydney, and she then advanced to the second round of the Australian Open. She trains with the USTA Player Development program at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla.

 

Alison Riske, 23, is also making her Fed Cup debut. She is ranked a career-high No. 47 in the world after reaching the third round of the 2014 Australian Open and the quarterfinals of the WTA event in Hobart, Australia, at the beginning of the year. Riske gained national attention after advancing to the fourth round of the 2013 US Open, where she defeated former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round. Also in 2013, she reached the semifinals of the WTA grass-court event in Birmingham, England, and advanced to the third round at Wimbledon.

 

World No. 59 Christina McHale, 21, made her debut for the U.S. Fed Cup team in the 2010 quarterfinals and has a 4-3 record in Fed Cup play (all singles), winning her last four matches (all in 2012). McHale was the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic tennis team and reached the third round of three Grand Slam events that year. In 2011, she established herself as the second-highest-ranked American behind Serena Williams and became the youngest player in the WTA Top 50 after defeating then-world No. 9 Marion Bartoli en route to the third round of the US Open. She also won the bronze medal in singles and the silver in doubles at the 2011 Pan Am Games. As a junior player, she swept the singles and doubles titles at the 2009 USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships to earn wild cards into the US Open. Like Keys, McHale trains with the USTA Player Development program in Boca Raton.

 

World No. 60 Lauren Davis, 20, a Cleveland native, will also be making her Fed Cup debut. She reached the third round of the 2014 Australian Open for her career-best Grand Slam result. Davis competed in all four Grand Slam events in 2013 and started the year by reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open tune-up event in Hobart, losing to Stephens. After the Australian Open, Davis returned to the States and won the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich. Davis broke into the Top 100 for the first time in her career in 2012, qualifying for and reaching the second round of the French Open and advancing to the quarterfinals in Quebec City, Canada. Davis also ended the 2012 season strong on the USTA Pro Circuit, winning the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Las Vegas, sponsored by music mogul Redfoo of LMFAO. Davis peaked at No. 3 in the ITF World Junior Rankings in 2010, when she won the Orange Bowl and reached the final of the Easter Bowl. She trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton.

 

Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international women’s team competition (96 countries have entered for 2014).  The U.S. and Italy are among the eight nations eligible to win the 2014 title as part of the elite Fed Cup World Group. The U.S. leads all nations with 17 Fed Cup titles, the last coming in 2000, and holds an overall 143-33 record. For more information, including access to player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup or www.fedcup.com. Wilson is the official ball of the U.S. Fed Cup Team

Share

Cleveland’s Public Auditorium to Host US vs Italy in First Round of 2014 Fed Cup

Fed Cup logo

(November 6, 2013) The USTA announced that the Public Auditorium in Cleveland has been selected as the site for the 2014 Fed Cup World Group First Round between the United States and reigning Fed Cup champion Italy, February 8-9.  Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition (96 countries have entered for 2014).  The U.S. and Italy are among the 8 nations eligible to win the 2014 title as part of the elite Fed Cup World Group.

 

The best-of-five match series begins on Saturday, February 8, with two singles matches and is followed by two reverse singles matches and the doubles match on Sunday, February 9. The winner of this match will advance to face either Spain or the Czech Republic in the semifinals, April 19-20.

 

Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Friday, December 6, with a USTA member pre-sale beginning on Wednesday, December 4. Fans can call the U.S. Fed Cup hotline at (888) 334-8782 or visit www.usta.com/fedcup to receive the latest ticket information. The event is being organized, staged and promoted by the USTA.

 

Ohio will be hosting Fed Cup for the first time, becoming the 15th state to host a Fed Cup tie. Davis Cup, the men’s equivalent to Fed Cup, was hosted in Cleveland 10 times between 1960 to 1979, including the 1973 Davis Cup Final at the Public Auditorium, where the U.S. lost to Australia. Notable Davis Cup players who have competed in Cleveland include Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Charlie Pasarell, and Rod Laver.

 

The United States Fed Cup Team will be competing in its second consecutive home tie after Serena Williams and Venus Williams led the U.S. to victory over Sweden in Delray Beach, Fla., in the 2013 World Group Playoff. The U.S. is 37-4 all-time in Fed Cup ties played at home and holds an overall 143-33 record.

 

This match will mark the 13th matchup between the U.S. and Italy in Fed Cup competition. Italy won the last three meetings, but the U.S. leads the overall series, 9-3. The U.S. last faced Italy in the 2013 World Group First Round, losing a  3-2, tie in Rimini, Italy. The U.S. also played Italy in consecutive Fed Cup World Group finals in 2009 and 2010, both won by the Italians. The U.S. last won against Italy in the 2003 World Group Quarterfinal in Washington, D.C.

 

The site selection is subject to final approval by the International Tennis Federation. Tennis Channel will present live daily coverage of the World Group First Round.

 

The United States leads all nations with 17 Fed Cup titles, the last coming in 2000.  For more information, including access to player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup or www.fedcup.com.

Share

The Week that Was: A Western and Southern Open Wrap

isner nadal cincy

By Kevin Ware

(August 18, 2013) MASON, Ohio – Champions have been crowned, nets have been taken down, and the past week in Mason is fading as we turn our attention to this last week of tournaments in the US Open Series. But before we move on, let’s take a look at the lasting, and dramatic, moments from this year’s edition of the Western and Southern Open as we head toward the start of the US Open.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal wins the men’s title, beating John Isner 7-6(8), 7-6(3) in a final that featured no breaks of serve. It’s his 9th title of the year, his fifth Masters Series title and third hard court Masters title of the year, and is his record-setting 26th Masters Series title. All of this from a guy who everyone counted out this season because of his bad knees. I hate to use the term “favorite”, but if Nadal isn’t one of the favorites for New York then we’ve got a problem.

Victoria Azarenka

Vika beat Serena Williams 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) in a match that perhaps didn’t showcase their best tennis, but definitely finished with a bang in a third-set tiebreaker. This was her second hard court win over Serena (Doha) and puts her back into the conversation as a threat to Williams’ chances for a title defense. It’s good to see that her Wimbledon injury issues are behind her.

John Isner

Big John beat three players in the Top 10 for the first time in his career en route to the finals (Raonic, Del Potro, Djokovic), playing some of his best and most aggressive tennis ever. He was extremely upbeat in his post-match press conference, and for good reason. Though he was beaten by Nadal in the final, his serve was never broken, and he made Rafa play his best tennis to come out on top. He’ll still struggle at the US Open because of the best of 5 set format, but you can bet that no top guy is looking forward to THAT match.

Serena Williams

Serena lost the final against Vika in quizzical fashion. She raced through the first set, but let her level drop badly in the second. She then battled back from behind in the third only to get broken while serving for the match at 5-4. In the tiebreak, she was behind until 5-all, and then double-faulted to go behind again. The best server and mover in the women’s game served poorly and moved poorly. One can only hope that she leaves this behind heading into New York.

Marion Bartoli

The buzz of the tournament was decidedly off-court as Marion Bartoli called it a career after a three-set loss to Simona Halep. It was a decision borne in the moment of feeling that she just didn’t have the desire to go on and deal with the pain in her body.  It’s a decision that many pro athletes face, and not an easy one at that.  Though there was much shock and second-guessing of her decision, she seems to be at peace with it for now. Let’s check back in a year or so when her body is feeling better.

Bob and Mike Bryan

The Bryan brothers defeated Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez of Spain 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 to take the men’s doubles title.  It was their fourth Cincy title, their 10th on the year, and the 92nd of their career. It was also their 25th Masters Series title. No matter how many titles these guys add to their resume, for them it’s still all about the fans, as evidenced by the fact that they signed every item and took every picture asked of them by the waiting throng on the Grandstand court. A class act.

Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai

Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke to take the women’s doubles title in Cincy: their third title of the year (Rome, Wimbledon, and Cincinnati). The pair is 7-0 in finals, which is a remarkable statistic for any doubles team. They are adding more events to their schedules in the hope of qualifying for the year-end championships in Istanbul. It would certainly be a great accomplishment if they are able to do so.

The US Open Series

Serena Williams has taken the top prize for the women in the US Open Series. The men’s top spot is still up for grabs, and is dependent upon whether or not John Isner plays this week in Winston-Salem. He’s currently just a few points behind Rafa, so could take it with a good week of play. But with the US Open coming up in a week, he’s going to have to think long and hard about the effects of all this tennis on his fitness heading into one of the toughest Slams.

The Roger-Rafa Rivalry

Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal squared off for the 31st time in their careers in a Friday quarterfinal match in Cincy. Though the rivalry is not nearly what it was a few years back, this match more than brought back a taste of the glory days. Rafa battled back from a set down to win in dramatic fashion as Roger began to falter in the third. These are the kinds of moments that you dream about as a tennis fan. And on Friday, we got a chance to experience it.

Maria and Jimmy

After months of waiting for “the reveal” of the Sharapova-Connors partnership, Maria Sharapova was unceremoniously bundled out of Cincy in a loss to Sloane Stephens that could only be described as puzzling. She flew through the first set, and then couldn’t keep the ball in play for the latter part of the second and third sets. A few days later it was announced that Jimmy Connors would no longer be her coach, to no one’s surprise…

Doubles Scheduling

In general, doubles got the short end of the stick in Cincinnati, with most doubles matches relegated to outer courts throughout the week. Even in a tennis-savvy town like Cincinnati, the rule of “out of sight, out of mind” still holds true. Doubles attendance was low at many matches, and the attendance at the men’s and women’s doubles final could greatly have benefitted from being played in tandem with the singles finals as they do in Miami. I hope it’s something that’s considered for 2014.

There’s more that could be pulled from this week, but we’ll end the list here and turn our attention to a new week of tennis in New Haven and Winston Salem. Goodbye from Cincinnati. See you next year.

Kevin Ware was covering the Western & Southern Open as media for Tennis Panorama News.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

Share

Nadal versus Isner, Serena Williams versus Azarenka: First-Time Finalists Rule in Cincinnati

RafaelNadalTasteofTennis-367x450

By Kevin Ware

(August 17, 2013) MASON, Ohio – Semifinal Saturday at the Western and Southern Open more than lived up to its’ potential. It was a day that featured a drama, tension, butt wiggles, and two matches ending with double faults. In the end, we were left with four first time finalists for Sunday’s final: Rafael Nadal, John Isner, Serena Williams, and Victoria Azarenka.

It’s surprising that such highly-decorated Grand Slam champions such as Nadal and Williams have never even made it to the finals of this event. For two players who’ve won virtually every title available, one would have expected more. Not so with John Isner, who’s finally put it all together and played the tennis we expected of him when he first became the top American male. For Azarenka, it’s a chance to establish some cred ahead of the US Open.

Let’s break down the men’s and women’s finals to see who has the best chance to take the Cincy titles and winning momentum into New York for the US Open.

ATP

[4] Rafael Nadal vs John Isner

Head-to-Head: Nadal leads 3-0

Nadal has beaten Isner twice on clay (Madrid and Roland Garros), and once on a hard court at Indian Wells. Though he leads their head-to-head 3-0, it hasn’t been easy. In fact, Isner is one of the few guys that make Nadal nervous; and I mean REALLY nervous. It’s all in the serve. That’s the reason that playing Pete Sampras made Andree Agassi nervous. When you play someone with a serve like Isner or Sampras, the outcome of the match is out of your hands if they serve well. No control.

The Indian Wells match, their one encounter on a hard court, was played in 2010. So it’s fair to say that Isner is a very different player this time around. He has improved his fitness, improved his ground game, improved his defense, and is more willing to come into the net to finish off points.  He’s still vulnerable to Nadal’s game on clay, but is incredibly dangerous on a hard court, and particularly a hard court in the States with heavy American support.

Nadal has played superior tennis to reach this final, with comprehensive wins over Dimitrov and Berdych, and a dramatic win over long-time rival Roger Federer. Isner has also played superior tennis, notching high-quality wins over Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and Del Potro. Nadal would do well to bring his full arsenal to bear in this match so as not to become another victim to the Isner juggernaut.

Isner will need to serve well in order to have any chance at beating Nadal. He served at 66% against Del Potro, 74% against Djokovic, and 62% against Raonic. Over 70% would be ideal, but high 60’s will work as well. Additionally, he’ll need to be as aggressive as he’s been in his last two matches. Particularly against Del Potro, Isner took the initiative and was the more aggressive of the two. He hit more errors, but got a huge payoff in winners. Nadal will need to take this threat seriously and be as aggressive as he can to stay out in front.

In all likelihood, this match is going the distance. The determining factors are Isner’s serve and Nadal’s aggression. All things being even, I’ll give the nod to Nadal for experience (25 shields) in these big Masters Series moments.

Pick: Nadal in 3 sets

 

Serena Williams usos

WTA

[1] Serena Williams vs [2] Victoria Azarenka

Head-to-Head: Williams leads 12-2

(Note – With her win over Li Na in the semifinals, Serena Williams took the top prize in the Emirates US Open Series.)

I’d like to say that this is emerging as one of the better rivalries in the women’s game, but that would be a misnomer because in order to have a rivalry there needs to be a certain amount of parity.  With Williams holding a 12-2 record over Azarenka, that doesn’t really represent parity. Yes the matches have been close, like last year’s US Open final, and Vika has beaten Serena once already in 2013 in Doha. But you never get the feeling that Azarenka is Williams’ equal in these matches. She might play well on the day, but this will never be a rivalry that turns for her.

Both women have played stretches of uneven tennis to make it to the final. Williams was practically gifted her 7-5, 7-5 semifinal win over Li Na when her opponent played inexplicable tennis to lose both the first and second sets after leading 5-4. It may count as a victory in Williams’ favor, but by no means did she “win” this match. She struggled with her serve and the rhythm on her ground strokes, particularly her backhand. She berated herself and looked like she didn’t want to be there…but won it anyway. It says everything about this match that Li Na double faulted on match point.

Azarenka’s 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Jankovic in her semifinal wasn’t much better. The match featured 23 breaks of serve, and was more entertaining for the video presentation of Azarenka’s butt shaking than the tennis. Azarenka won 47% of her first serve points, 22% of her second serve points, and was broken 10 times. She got the win, but it’s hardly what one would expect from a 2-time Slam champion.

Williams can get away with having an off day and still pulling out the win. But there’s absolutely no way that Azarenka can go into the match with Williams tomorrow and expect to win with the numbers she had tonight. If she serves poorly against Williams in the final, she’ll get punished and the match will be over in an hour, no matter how well she returns the Williams serve.

Against a few other players, I might give them a chance against this less-than-optimal Williams. But in a battle of less-than-optimal Williams and less-than-optimal Azarenka, Williams definitely comes out on top. I’m hoping it’s a close battle, but won’t bet the farm on it.

Pick: Serena in 2 sets

Kevin Ware is covering the Western & Southern Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

Share

Semifinal Saturday in Cincinnati: My Men’s and Women’s Preview/Picks

By Kevin Ware

(August 16, 2013) MASON. Ohio – The women’s quarterfinal matches were solid, but the men stole the spotlight in a spectacular day at the Western and Southern Open.  John Isner beat Novak Djokovic for the second time at a Masters 1000 event during the day session, while the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry thrilled fans in the evening session. It was a great day of tennis by any measure.

Now we must turn our attention to “Semifinal Saturday”, and some great matches that will decide who will vie for the championships on Sunday. The women’s semifinals feature 3 Slam champions, and a former No. 1. The men’s semifinals feature 3 Slam champions and our best US hope for the Top 10.

All are worthy of their spots in the semis, but there can only be two finalists. Let’s dissect the match-ups to see if we can determine who will make it to the finals on Sunday.

ATP

[7] Juan Martin Del Potro vs John Isner

Head-to-Head: Del Potro leads 4-0

Isner notched one of the biggest victories of his career in the quarterfinals by beating world No. 1 Djokovic in 3 tough sets. His reward is a rematch with Del Potro, his nemesis from the Citi Open in D.C. Isner lost that match in 3 sets, but was also running on fumes after back-to-back weeks of play. He’s feeling fresher in Cincy, and also feels like his game is finally coming together.

For his part, Del Potro has played well this week in fits and starts, beating Nikolay Davydenko in two tight sets, Feliciano Lopez in three sets, and Dmitry Tursunov in three sets. Good play was followed by lethargic play, which could set him up for a fall against a surging Isner.  Match-ups matter, however, and history matters. Most of Del Potro’s wins over Isner have been comfortable. And that might help him with focus and intensity.

Given Isner’s great play against Djokovic, this match could go either way. But all serves being equal, I’d give the edge to Del Potro for his more potent ground game.

[4] Rafael Nadal vs [6] Tomas Berdych

Head-to-Head: Nadal leads 14-3

Nadal hasn’t lost to Berdych since 2006, which is incredible given Berdych’s solid assent into the top 10. He’s beaten the Czech on clay, hard court, and grass during this period, and has only lost a handful of sets. This isn’t to say that the match will be an easy one, because it won’t. Berdych has a big game.  And when he’s on top of it, his shots are untouchable.

The problem with Berdych is that he usually can’t sustain that level, whether it be nerves or pressure from his opponent. Nadal quickly seizes these moments and capitalizes on the opportunities given.  Also, when you compare their respective quarterfinals, Berdych’s match against Murray wasn’t great, and Nadal’s against Federer was an instant classic. So which player is better prepared for this semifinal? I’d say the man from Mallorca.

WTA

[1] Serena Williams vs [5] Li Na

Head-to-Head: Williams leads 7-1

It’s not easy to know whether Serena is serious when she makes comments like “It will be a really tough match because she has such a good game and she does everything so well.” In this case, however, odds are pretty good that she means it. The impressive head-to-head record doesn’t take into account the fact that the matches have been very tight with most of the sets decided by a single break of serve.

Li Na has had an extra day rest due to the withdrawal of Aga Radwanska from the tournament. This could work for her in terms of being the fresher player, or it might affect her timing and rhythm. The more likely scenario is that the day off won’t really matter, and that her performance will be based on whether or not she makes her shots. For Serena, it’s all about motivation. She’d like to win Cincinnati and finally add it to her CV, but the ultimate goal is a US Open title defense starting in less than two weeks. Either way, it will be a tight match in two sets.

[2] Victoria Azarenka vs [14] Jelena Jankovic

Head-to-Head: Azarenka leads 4-3

Neither woman is playing their best tennis this week, but both have played “well enough” to make it this far in the tournament. Jelena knocked out Roberta Vinci in straight sets, while Vika knocked out Caroline Wozniacki, also in straight sets. They haven’t played one another since 2012 Sydney, which Vika won in a fairly routine victory. I expect this match to be closer than that 4 and 2 score line, and likely little more complicated for Vika because Jelena excels in frustrating her opponents. Will frustration be enough to knock Vika off her game for a victory? Probably not.

Semifinal Picks:

ATP – Del Potro, Nadal

WTA – Williams, Azarenka

Kevin Ware is covering the Western & Southern Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

Share