2014/08/21

Djokovic Limps, Serbia Advances: World No. 1 overcomes ankle injury to eliminate U.S. in World Group Quarterfinals

Djokovic 6 32

DAVIS CUP: DJOKOVIC LIMPS, SERBIA ADVANCES

World No. 1 overcomes ankle injury to eliminate U.S. in World Group Quarterfinals

 

By Junior Williams

 

(April 7, 2013) BOISE, Idaho -  The toughness of Novak Djokovic was on full display Sunday at the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals.

The world’s top ranked singles player battled through an ankle injury suffered early in the match and defeated American Sam Querrey 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-0 to give Serbia a 3-1 victory against the United States, earning a berth in the semifinals.

 

Midway though the third game of the first set with the score tied at 1-1, Djokovic crumpled to the ground in pain and had to be carried off the court by members of the Serbian team, stunning thousands on hand at Taco Bell Arena who were wondering if the six-time grand slam winner would continue playing the match.

 

After receiving treatment for several minutes, Djokovic — who led Serbia to its first and only Davis Cup championship in 2010 — returned to the court amid cheers from the crowd, and went on to actually break Querrey to put Serbia up 2-1.

 

Djokovic said his physiotherapist “did everything in his power after (the injury) happened to make sure I can continue playing. Because in his interest, my interest, and everybody, of course I want to continue on playing. I don’t want to retire the match.

 

“We did tests that indicated I could continue on, that it wasn’t an extreme ligament strain. That allowed me to continue on. I took some medications.”

Djokovic also made it clear he didn’t want to let Serbia down: “Obviously it’s very strong emotion when you play for your country. I guess that’s the biggest reason why I kept playing.”

 

The watch was on to see how well Djokovic would serve following the injury. He went on to hold that game, but it was clear that the ankle was bothering him as he hobbled during and after rallies. The U.S. broke back at 3-3 on a Djokovic double fault.

 

In the eleventh game of the set, Querrey’s forehand into the net cord gave Serbia a break and a 6-5 lead. Djokovic had to save three break points to close out the set.

 

Querrey bounced back in the second set despite a pectoral injury which prevented him from executing his trademark booming serves. The top-ranked American had no aces in the entire after striking six in the first. Querrey saved two break points to go up 6-5, and went on to win the second set tiebreak 7-4. The U.S. secured a mini-break at 6-4 when Djokovic took a Querrey return in mid-air and hit it wide of the sideline. A Djokovic shot into the net on the next point gave the U.S. the game and knotted the match at a set apiece.

 

But in the third set, a Querrey double fault gave Serbia a break and a 2-0 lead. After that, it was all Djokovic. His mobility improved as did his groundstrokes and his service game. The Serb hit twelve winners in the set to Querrey’s five, and had a 70-percent first serve percentage.

As for Querrey, the 20th-ranked player in the world couldn’t overcome his pectoral injury. The result: A 48-percent first serve percentage in the set, and three double faults. For the entire match, he ended up with more double faults (eight) than aces (seven).

 

“It hurt on my serve,” said Querrey. “I wasn’t able to get my usual pop, and that’s tough when you’re playing against the best returner in the world. I was trying, but, yeah, it was just kind of sore there second, third and fourth sets. ”

 

The first game of the fourth set saw Querrey broken at love, and Djokovic swept the remainder of the games.

 

“You take away Sam’s serve,  that is a different change” said U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier. “That would be like stripping Novak of his movement. That’s one of Sam’s two big key weapons. His serve went from 130 to barely over 100 at times just because he couldn’t get it there because of his pec.”

 

After the final point of the 2 hour 35 minute match, the world number one raised his arms in victory and was lifted off the ground and hugged by his Serbian teammates, whom he saluted in the post-match news conference.

 

“It wasn’t about my win Friday or today,” said Djokovic. “It was just about the team win, the team effort. That’s something that is very special and beautiful about this competition. You can represent your country and you get to be part of a team. You get to feel the team spirit that carries you on to victory.”

 

Next up for Serbia: A home tie against Canada, fresh from a quarterfinal victory over Italy. As for what’s next for Djokovic, he said he first has to assess the seriousness of his ankle injury. “I was planning to play Monte-Carlo,” said the world number one. “I live there and train there, so it feels like a home tournament to me. I love playing there, so I’m going to do everything in my power to recover for that tournament.”

 

“How realistic it is, to be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you right now. It’s still too early.”

 

The home loss is a bitter pill to swallow for the U.S., whose Davis Cup season has come to an end. The Americans — whose last home defeat was in 2011 to Spain in Austin, Texas — now must wait until a September draw after the semifinals and World Group Play-offs — to find out who their first opponent will be for the 2014 campaign.

 

But Captain Courier had some kind words for Boise, saying the city “did an outstanding job welcoming both teams … It was a tremendous atmosphere. It’s one of the pluses about the way Davis Cup is played today is the atmosphere.

 

“I think Boise has a lot to be proud of.”

 

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Serbia Holds Off Bryans in Five-Set Thriller

 

 

By Junior Williams

DAVIS CUP: SERBIA HOLDS OFF BRYANS IN THRILLER

Takes 2-1 lead after Zimonjic, Bozoljac win in five-set marathon.

 

(April 6, 2013) BOISE, Idaho – Serbia Davis Cup captain Bogdan Obradovic is probably saying, “I told you so.”

 

He stuck with No. 335th ranked Ilija Bozoljac instead of replacing him with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

 

The payoff: Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic defeated top-ranked Americans Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 4-6, 15-13 in a thrilling 4 hour 21- minute doubles match in the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals at Taco Bell Arena, giving Serbia a 2-1 lead heading into Sunday’s rubbers and an opportunity for Djokovic to clinch the tie in his singles match.

 

Bozoljac’s powerful serves — many of them rockets at around 135 miles per hour — helped to neutralize the Bryans. Together, Bozoljac and Zimonjic served up 36 aces to the Americans’ twelve.

 

The 27-year old Bozoljac also came through with a number of backhand winners down the line. his play, combined with the experience of former world number one doubles player Zimonjic, came in handy for the Serbs.

 

Both teams broke each other midway through the first set, but it was Serbia that struck first by winning the tiebreak on a Zimonjic second serve ace, followed by a winner that clipped the baseline.

 

The second tiebreak also went to Serbia, helped by a minibreak due to a net cord and a strong service game resulting in three aces.

 

But the world’s No. 1 doubles team refused to give up. The Americans began their comeback by breaking Bozoljac’s serve in the final game of the third set, as Zimonjic’s block of a Mike Bryan shot sailed beyond the baseline.

 

The Bryans repeated the feat in the fourth set, as Zimonjic — who was serving this game — knocked a return from the Americans in to the net, knotting up the match at two sets apiece.

 

In the fifth set, each team managed to hold serve while escaping danger at times, until the 27th game of the set, when Bozoljac’s backhad stab return was sent wide by the Americans to give Serbia a break and a chance to serve out the match.

 

But there was more drama, as Zimonjic double faulted to give the Bryans two break points and a chance to tie the set at 14-14. That’s when Zimonjic blasted two aces to tie the game at deuce.

 

After the Bryans staved off one match point on a lob the Serbs couldn’t convert, Zimonjic served out the next two points, ending with an ace to seal the victory for Serbia. The winners hugged each other on the court as their supporters cheered wildly. Despite their disappointment, those rooting for the home team applauded the quality play of both the Serbians and the Americans.

 

Just how close was the match? Each team scored 217 points.

 

“For sure, it’s the biggest win in the Davis Cup doubles for me,” said Zimonjic. “We were playing very good.

 

“This was definitely a great, great performance and great match from me.”

 

“Anybody who was supposed to play with Nenad was supposed to be the underdog against the Bryans,” Bozoljac said. “We won and I just can’t believe it happened.

“For me, it definitely means a lot because this is my best performance in Davis Cup so far. I knew if I give my 100 percent for one match I could play on a really high level.”

 

“Have to tip our hats to those guys, obviously,” said a disappointed Bob Bryan.  “Thought they played really well all day.  36 aces, didn’t give us much opportunity, in the fifth especially.
“Just one of those things.  Obviously disappointed we let the team down.”

 

He’s a guy we haven’t seen too much of on the tour,” Mike Bryan said about journeyman Bozoljac.  “Asked a few questions of guys that have seen him play.  Gave us a few things.  But he served great all day.  He actually was a stronger returner.  There at the end he didn’t show any nerves, came up with the goods, especially on some of those 30‑All points.”

 

US Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier was asked about if Bozoljac’s is a testament to the spirit of Davis Cup “I think inspiration is pretty easy to come by when you’re playing for the colors on your back, US.  We’ve seen a lot of people in this competition rise up.  You look at the numbers next to the guy’s career, you see the performance today, something doesn’t add up.  You clearly see there was some inspiration, chemistry with Nenad on the court, and you say, Too good.”

 

It was the second consecutive Davis Cup defeat for the Bryans, who back in February lost in the World Group First Round to Brazil’s Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. The winningest doubles team in U.S. Davis Cup history is now 20-4 when playing together.

 

Now the U.S. faces a tall task in tomorrow’s reverse singles, with Djokovic set to take on Sam Querrey in the first match. If Querrey pulls off the upset, it’ll be left to American John Isner and Serb Viktor Troicki to settle the tie.

 

Junior Williams is a long-time journalist and tennis fan. At a moment’s notice he can give you a list of all the Davis Cup match-ups that would give the US home ties. He is in Boise, Idaho covering the Davis Cup quarterfinal World Group tie between the United States and Serbia for Tennis Panorama News.

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Davis Cup: US, Serbia Deadlocked at 1-1; Djokovic, Querrey Victorious in World Group Quarterfinals

DAVIS CUP: U.S., SERBIA DEADLOCKED AT 1-1

Djokovic, Querrey victorious in World Group Quarterfinals

By Junior Williams

Sam Querrey

Sam Querrey

(April 5, 2013) BOISE, Idaho – Sam Querrey rebounded from a two sets to one deficit to defeat Viktor Troicki 7-6 (1), 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, drawing the United States even with Serbia at one match apiece in the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals at a loud Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus.

In the first match, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic dispatched American John Isner in straight sets 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-5.

 

Isner got off to a fast start by breaking Djokovic early in the first set, but the Greensboro, North Carolina native failed to hold on to his advantage and went on to lose the first-set tiebreak, courtesy of a Djokovic change-of-pace serve that handcuffed the number 23-ranked player in the world.

 

From then on it was all Djokovic. He did his best impersonation of a backboard, neutralizing Isner’s powerful serves with solid returns and defense. The Serb wrapped up the match in two hours.

 

On court in a post-match interview, Djokovic was asked about how he executed his game plan against Isner.

 

His response: “I executed perfectly.”

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

 

Djokovic elaborated further in the news conference. “I guess one of the tactics — crucial points — was to get as many balls back on the return games and try to use my serve very efficiently and not give him any opportunities to atack my second serve. So I had a very high percentage of first serves in. That helped my confidence, and I could play with less pressure in his service games.”

 

Isner agreed with Djokovic that the Australian Open champion’s ability to break back in the first set was the turning point the match.

 

“I let him back in it,” said the American. “Granted, he played a good game, but I didn’t make many first serves that game. Doing that against this guy is not a good recipe.

“You want to make first serves, and I didn’t do in that one game in the first set. That was critical because I think he became a lot more comfortable at that point.”

 

Isner had seventeen aces in the match, but his first serve percentage was 54%, compared with 77% for Djokovic.

 

The Serb’s win set up another Davis Cup pressure cooker for Querrey, the top-ranked American and world No. 20. In the World Group First Round back in February, the Californian ousted Brazil’s Thiago Alves in a fifth and deciding rubber to send the U.S. into the quarterfinals.

 

Querrey and Troicki battled for 3 hours and 20 minutes in a match marked by long rallies, powerful serves and lots of unforced errors: Querrey had 82, Troicki 62.  Querrey was going for his shots, while Troicki – like Djokovic – appeared to be returning everything in sight.

crowd

The crowd erupted in the fifth set, when Querrey broke the world’s 44th-ranked player to go up 5-4, on a Troicki shot that hit the net cord but stayed on the Serbian’s side of the court. The American went on to hold serve in the next and final game.

 

Querrey said finding his groove in the fourth set was key: “I stayed positive and kept with the game plan and played aggressive. That fourth set served extremely well and was fortunate to get two breaks and that gave me a lot of momentum going into the fifth set.”

 

Troicki said he began to tire in the fourth set:

 

“I get a bit tired mentally and also physically my legs were not 100 percent and got a little bit slower. I could say fourth set I just like wasn’t there.”

 

But Troicki added both he and Querrey played well in the fifth set, and that it just came down to who seized the opportunities.

 

“I had some chances early in the fifth,” said Troicki. “I had some chances early in the fifth.  I had some break points; didn’t use them.  He used his chances when he had a break point in a crucial moment for me. So I could say I was unlucky to lose this serve and also, yeah, to lose the match.  But that’s tennis.”

 

Next up: A crucial Saturday doubles match with Americans Bob and Mike Bryan — the number one team in the world – scheduled to play Serbian doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac. But Novak Djokovic says he’s “still in the option” for doubles.

 

Whether Djokovic plays or not, U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier says Saturday’s match is “not a must‑win.  We won’t be eliminated, nor will Serbia no matter what happens tomorrow.”

“We certainly want to win.  There is no doubt about that.  It’s an important match for both squads.  We’ll have two singles players ready to fire on Sunday.”

 

Junior Williams is a long-time journalist and tennis fan. At a moment’s notice he can give you a list of all the Davis Cup match-ups that would give the US home ties. He is in Boise, Idaho covering the Davis Cup quarterfinal World Group tie between the United States and Serbia for Tennis Panorama News.

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Querrey Rallies to Win in First Match as Top American

SamQuerrey

(March 23, 2013) Sam Querrey, newly minted as the top US male player as he moved past John isner this week was forced to come back against Lukasz Kubot 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday at the Sony Open.

“I started out a little slow,” Querrey said.  “Broke me the first game, but then he served really well rest of the first set.  But after that I felt pretty good second and third sets.

“Served big, hit my forehand well.  I was pretty happy.”

Querrey was playing with little rest he said due to an electronic music festival taking place near his hotel.

“I’m not sleeping well because of this Ultra Festival going on,” he said. “I could hear the bass, and strobe lights were shining in my hotel, so it’s hard to sleep.”

World No. 3, the second seed for Miami, Andy Murray had few problems with Bernard Tomic, dominating the Australian 6-3, 6-1.

“Once I got ahead, I mean, I was just trying to make a lot of balls at the start,“ said the Scot.  “You’re never going to feel great your first match, especially when it’s tricky conditions and with his game style, too.  He mixes the play up a lot.  It’s tough.

“I just tried to make loads of balls.  I don’t know if he was tired or struggling with the humidity, but he was playing pretty low‑percentage tennis.  With the conditions like they were today, that played into my hands.”

Murray commented on the crowd booing Tomic for what they perceived as a lack of effort.

“I don’t know.  I mean, I obviously just try to concentrate on my side of the court.

“The one thing I would say is that if you aren’t used to playing in these conditions, it is extremely hot and tough to play.  You know, it is tough when you’re going behind and making quite a lot of mistakes.

“I have done it before when my head has gone down and you still want to win, but it doesn’t always appear that way.

“So I don’t know.  The crowd, they’re free to do whatever they want.  They pay the money and they can greet players however they would like.”

 

In women’s play, defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, needed nearly 2½ hours to stop Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3. No. 5 Li Na topped No. 25 Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 6-4.

 

Seventh seed Petra Kvitova and ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki became major WTA casualties on Saturday. Kvitova fell to Kirsten Flipkens while Wozniacki was dominated by world No. 73 wild card Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-2, 6-4.

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Djokovic Win Streak up to 20: Faces Last Man to Beat Him – Querrey Next

Novak Djokovic at BNP Paribas Open players' party

 

(March 12, 2013) Novak Djokovic‘s win streak has hit 20 dating back to October 2012 with his 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over Grigor Dimitrov to reach the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday in Indian Wells, California.

The World No. 1 was forced to come back from a 2-5 deficit in the first set when Dimitrov’s serve began to fail. The Bulgarian hit 6 double faults including 4 in one game.

Djokovic moves on to play Sam Querrey, the last man to beat him back on October 31. Querrey beat Marinko Matosevic 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 7-5.

“It’s been a long time, Djokovic said. “It’s been a few months and I played a few tournaments since then.  So, you know, I don’t think it’s going to affect me negatively in a psychological way.

“I won four, five times against him.  Yes, he has won the last encounter indoors.  Different circumstances and conditions.  So we’ll see, you know.

“I mean, we’ll play in front of his crowd and he has a big serve and big game and he can come up with the goods when needed.  He loves to play also on a big stage.  We’ll see, you know.

“I don’t know if we’re going to play day or night match, and that’s going to also make a little difference.

“During the night it’s a bit slower, so we’ll see how that goes.  I will need to definitely start better than I have done today, and try to step into the court a little bit more.”

Sam-Querrey-backhand2

“It was tough,” Querrey said of the match versus Matosevic.  “Last couple of weeks those are the matches that I lost.  It feels great to get through it.

“You know, there was four breaks to start the third set there, and, you know, I was glad I just battled through it.  I didn’t feel I played unbelievable, but I just stuck around, stuck around, got a break at 5‑All, and then closed it out with some good serves.

“So I was really happy, and I feel like I can only play better than that in my next round.”

Querrey spoke about playing Djokovic next; “I’m just going to hopefully play well, hopefully be aggressive, hopefully on those break points, deuce points, you know, have some balls go my way.

“I’m going to try and just enjoy it out there.”

“He does everything really well:  Unbelievable forehand; unbelievable backhand; moves around the court great; returns great.  It’s tough to pick on something.

“I might have to go outside of my comfort zone a little bit and do things I don’t like to do, and hopefully it will pay off for me.

With John Isner’s early loss, Querrey will become the top-ranked American man when the next rankings come out.

“It means a lot,” Querrey said.  It’s a great feeling.  I feel like I have worked hard to earn it.  Everyone seems like they’ve got their shot with Andy and Mardy and James and John, and so I feel like it’s my turn now.

“But, you know, those guys are right on my heels and we will keep pushing each other.  I know they want it, too.  Hopefully we will just keep pushing each other and we can all keep moving up the rankings.”

Djokovic has a 4-1 record against Querrey.

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Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Six Semifinals

Haas d Isner semifinal (1 of 5)

Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Six Semifinals

By Kevin Ware

Day Six Semifinal Results

[4] Tommy Haas (GER) d [2] John Isner (USA) 6-3, 6-4

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) d [3] Sam Querrey (USA) 6-4, 6-2

Match Notes

Semifinal #1

After watching Tommy Haas and John Isner the past few rounds, I had an uneasy feeling about Isner’s chances against the resurgent German in the first semifinal.  Isner needed to start aggressively, serve well, and keep the points short. Haas needed to challenge the Isner second serve, take his chances, and work the big man over with baseline play.  The Haas strategy proved to be the winning one, as he took out the No. 2 seed in straight sets.

When asked about his success in seeing the Isner serve, Haas said, “I mean, that’s the key against somebody like John, obviously. I think early on in the beginning he didn’t hit his first serves in so I tried to jump on the second, tried to make something happen, get it back in play, and then take my chances in the rally.” That’s exactly what he did; getting balls back into play and making the big man hit the proverbial “one more shot”.

“You have to play aggressive and play the type of tennis that you want to play.  It can be tricky, but I did see his serve really well today and that obviously helps.”

For his part, Isner missed on all aspects of his “key to the win”. He started slow, missed some first serves, and found himself caught in baseline rallies he had little chance of winning. Lack of rhythm on his serve was at the top of the list in Isner’s honest assessment about his difficulties in this match.

“Yeah, that’s really what decided the match. I feel like normally I serve better than I did.  And against a guy who is and was playing really well in that match, I need to serve better.”

The serve was just one aspect of Isner’s loss. When Haas drew Isner into baseline rallies, his speed and movement gave him a huge advantage over the taller Isner.  When asked how he felt his ground game held up against Haas, Isner admitted, “It let me down a little bit. This court it stays low and it skids. I would prefer the ball to get up a little bit higher for me.  But still I got a ways to go with just my game and going for my shots, and trusting my shots a little bit more.  I just didn’t have it today.”

With this win, Haas reaches his 25th ATP World Tour final and has a chance to become the first German winner of the SAP Open.

Semifinal #2

Milos Raonic completely dismantled Sam Querrey, breaking the American’s serve in the very first game of the match.  From there, he never looked back as he gave Querrey a comprehensive lesson in “big boy tennis”.

Raonic dominated Querrey with big serving, big forehands, big backhands and, most importantly, solid returning that kept Querrey under continual pressure in his service games.  Every aspect of Raonic’s game was working in the match, and it became clear after a few games that Sam had little chance of stopping the Raonic juggernaut.

It can’t be overstated just how dramatically Raonic’s off-season work on his return game impacts a match like this.  The stats tell much of the story for these two big servers.

Aces: 12 for Raonic, 7 for Querrey
Double Faults: 0 for Raonic, 4 for Querrey
Break Points Saved: 0/0 for Raonic, 6/9 for Querrey

By breaking Querrey early, Raonic put him on notice.  Instead of the 20 aces that he hit in both of his earlier matches, he only got 7 against Raonic.  That’s a ton of free points on which he usually relies that were no longer available.  On top of that, pressing on his serve led to more double faults.  Raonic had, for all practical purposes, taken the Querrey serve out of the equation.

When your weapon is no longer a weapon, and you can’t break your opponent’s serve while defending yours in each service game, the odds of success drop dramatically.

Raonic’s continually improving game is the result of hard work in the off-season, and the confidence it’s given him on court is palpable.  “(I’m) returning well, moving well, getting into position to hit the shot and when I have the opportunity I’m going forward and I’m pretty successful. And I’m serving well.  So sort of everything’s on the right track, in that sense.  Then confidence comes with that. The work’s paying off.”

Sam acknowledged what was painfully obvious to all in attendance.  “He served unbelievable, and I was never even really close to getting a look on his serve. On my serve I wasn’t getting a ton of pop and he was doing a good job of putting the pressure on me.  He returned hard and deep and I felt like I was under pressure the whole time.” “He hit the ball big all around. He was really sharp today.”

To the contrary, Raonic has been sharp for the past three years. Two of his three career titles have come at the SAP Open, and he’s never dropped a set in San Jose.  If he wins this final SAP Open title, he will be the first man to three-peat in the Open Era, and the first since Tony Trabert in the fifties.  Judging by his play so far, this outcome appears likely.

Final Notes/Pick

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) vs [4] Tommy Haas (GER)

Head-to-head: Raonic and Haas have never played.

Keys to the match: Raonic just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing in order to lift the trophy. But in order for Haas to have a chance in this final, he needs to do everything that he did in his semifinal match against Isner, and do it all BETTER!  That’s a formidable task for most players, let alone a guy who’s spotting Raonic twelve years before they even step onto court.

Raonic can pressure Haas in ways that Isner couldn’t.  He serves as big if not bigger than Isner. In addition to the big forehand, he also possesses a stronger backhand. He scrambles well to short balls and isn’t afraid to take the net. To make matters worse, he really likes the court surface and feels that it suits his game nicely.  To say that this is an uphill battle would be the understatement of the day.

The good thing about tennis, however, is that titles aren’t handed out to the winners because it looks good on paper.  Even though Raonic is the overwhelming favorite, he still needs to win the match.  And lest we forget, Isner was the overwhelming favorite over Haas in the semifinals.  His odds aren’t good, but there’s always a chance for the upset.

Pick: Raonic for the win in straight sets.

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

All photos by David Sweet

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Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Five

John Isner-2

Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Five

by Kevin Ware

Day Five Quarterfinal Results

[4] T Haas (GER) d [WC] Steve Johnson (USA) 6-4, 6-2

[2] J Isner (USA) d [8] Xavier Malisse (BEL) 7-6(8), 6-2

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) d [6] Denis Istomin (UZB) 7-6(0), 6-3

[3] Sam Querrey (USA) d Alejandro Falla (COL) 6-3, 4-6, 7-5

Match Notes

Steve Johnson bemoaned his lack of aggression in losing to Tommy Haas in the first quarterfinal of the day, feeling that he let Haas take control too often at key moments.  For his part, Haas is feeling good and grateful to be playing some of his best tennis towards the end of his career.  He’s especially happy to be able to do so in front of his 2 year-old who’s here in San Jose with dad.  “I know she probably won’t remember watching me play today, but maybe I can continue on playing and she’ll get to be around a couple of these tournaments and see me play competitively at a high level.”

John Isner didn’t play his best tennis in his quarterfinal match against Xavier Malisse, but he raised his level when needed to get by an opponent who was more than capable of a big upset. This was especially true in the first set tiebreaker after Isner dug a 0-3 hole with a mini-break on the first point.  The tide turned with a monstrous return on a Malisse serve to level at 5-all. He closed out the tiebreak with some mad scrambling on the baseline before flicking one final running forehand winner that was netted by the Belgian. First set to Isner.  Malisse’s level dropped off quickly in the second set.  Isner, with the first set in his back pocket, kept up the pressure on the slumping Malisse to close out an uneventful second set for the win.

The quarterfinal match between Milos Raonic and Denis Istomin turned out to be almost a carbon copy of their match in last year’s SAP Open final. Both men held serve easily and played to their strengths for most of the first set, with Istomin looking to be the stronger from the back court.  But once again, the tiebreaker was the deciding factor with Raonic sweeping all seven points for the first set.  After that, Istomin’s resolve slipped and Raonic’s confidence soared, and it was only a matter of time until Raonic closed it out.

Sam Querrey‘s win over Alejandro Falla was easily the best match of the day! It looked to be on track for a routine straight sets win by Querrey after a 6-3 first set.  No one told that to Falla, however, as the Colombian left scrambled with even more intensity in the second set.  In tennis, anything can happen when you make your opponent hit “one more shot”, and that was the case for Falla. Querrey’s level dropped, and a few key misses gave the set to Falla.  The tension was high for both guys in the third set, with neither giving an inch until the eighth game when Falla broke Querrey for 4-all, then held serve for a 5-4 lead.

A straight-sets victory was a distant memory with Querry playing loose shots on the deuce court to find himself at match point, 30-40. A crucial 133mph ace out wide to Falla’s backhand saved the point, and lit the fire under Sam that he needed to hold serve, break Falla for a 6-5 lead, then serve out the match.   That’s not to say that Falla didn’t have his chances, because he did.  Two netted shots for a game point at 5-all could easily have put the pressure back on Querrey’s serve to stay in the match. But it was not meant to be for Falla, and a chance for a huge upset.

Semifinal Notes/Picks

[4] T Haas (GER) vs [2] J Isner (USA)

Head-to-head: Isner leads 3-1

Quick Keys to the match: Isner needs to start aggressive and keep Haas from feeling like he has a chance.  He must serve well to blunt Haas’ return opportunities, and keep the points short by coming forward as he’s done in other matches.  For Haas, if he can get a handle on the Isner serve and make this a running match, he will have the edge for Isner.

Pick: Sticking with Isner for the win.

[1] M Raonic (CAN) vs [3] S Querrey (USA)

Head-to-head: Querrey leads 2-0

Quick Keys to the match: Raonic is going to come out firing on all cylinders with high intensity.  Conversely, drops in his intensity level have been Querrey’s main issue in both of his previous matches. For Querrey to win this match against the two-time defending champion, there can be no drops.  He has to maintain focus, serve well, and stay strong on the baseline.  If Raonic can maintain focus and intensity from first point to last, something that Querrey typically can’t do, he’ll have the edge.

Pick: Sticking with Raonic for the win.

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

All photos by David Sweet

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Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Four

MilosRaonic

By Kevin Ware

Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Four

Day Four Second Round Results

[6] Denis Istomin (UZB) d Benjamin Becker (GER) 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2

Alejandro Falla (COL) d [7] Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 6-4, 6-4

[8] Xavier Malisse (BEL) d Matthew Ebden (AUS) 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(1)

[WC] Steve Johnson (USA) d [Q] Tim Smyczek (USA) 6-3, 6-3

[3] Sam Querrey (USA) d L Hewitt (AUS) 7-6(6), 1-6, 7-6(4)

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) d Michael Russell (USA) 6-2, 7-5

Match Notes

Xavier Malisse might be past his best days on tour, but the Belgian can still do damage given the right draw.  He could also make things easier for himself by not putting so much energy into griping during his matches.  Everything and anything from ball kids to the officials to his shots, you name it. It was a mutter-fest out there in his match against Matthew Ebden. He’ll need to be much more positive in his output if he plans on getting by John Isner in the quarters.

The battle of young Americans fizzled early as Tim Smyczek started strong but couldn’t stem the tide of unforced errors in going down to defeat against Steve Johnson. Johnson didn’t play particularly well either, but he played well enough to capitalize on Smyczek’s errors.  Smyczek is a small, wiry guy who “redlines” his game to produce the pace needed to compensate at this level.  Now he needs to figure out how to do that and find the court on a much more consistent basis. Johnson moves on to face Tommy Haas.

Sam Querrey got through a tough and very “losable” match to Lleyton Hewitt with the help of some last-minute errors by the Aussie in the final set tiebreak; notably a double fault on match point.  Querrey started strong, but then struggled mightily with shot consistency after an initial 5-2 lead in the first set. Hewitt battled hard to take the first set to a tiebreak, but was done in by a close call he couldn’t challenge because he used up his allotment.

The second set was a wash for Querrey with Hewitt raising his game to easily sweep and take the match to a third. The third set was by far the best in terms of quality.  Both men served well, defended admirably, and stood toe-to-toe in great rallies that tested each man’s resolve. To end such a great set on the aforementioned match point double fault was disappointing. A win is a win, though.  Querrey now faces a much easier opponent in Alejandro Falla for a spot in Saturday’s semifinals.

Michael Russell did well to make it to the second round by defeating Donald Young.  He didn’t play great tennis to beat Young, but then again he didn’t need to. Milos Raonic was a different story. Russell, like Olivier Rochus and a few others, is at a considerable disadvantage when playing larger and stronger guys like Raonic because he doesn’t have the weaponry to match up from the baseline. Russell scrambled well to get balls back but couldn’t do nearly enough in terms of moving the ball around to keep it out of the Raonic strike zone. With the win, Raonic moves on to face Denis Istomin in a quarterfinal rematch of last year’s final.

Random Notes

Every time I pass John Isner in the hallway, I’m astounded by his height.  Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic are all tall players as well.  But none of them give me the same sense of height as John. It’s like I’m looking up a small tree. I wonder what the court looks like from up there?

The Hewitt kids are pretty gosh darn cute, and it’s a good thing too. After his disappointing loss to Sam Querrey, which ended with a double fault on match point, I tweeted, “Hopefully they’ll put a smile back on dad’s face tonight”. Sure enough, about 20 minutes after the match I passed Lleyton, his wife Bec Hewitt, and the kids as they were heading out to eat.  And yes, he was smiling.

Observation of the day? After watching Hewitt lose a match that was within his grasp because of an awful third-set tiebreaker, I had the sense that I’d seen something like this before.  I did: two weeks ago in the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick and the 49′ers last possession.

Odd sighting of the day?  Sportscaster Vern Glenn standing outside of the HP Pavilion trying to get his work laptop to connect online.

Quote of the day? Also from Vern Glenn but attributed to Ronnie Lott, and in reference to working in the sportscasting biz: “Always make sure they keep you on scholarship!”

More after Day Five quarterfinal action.

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Three

John-Isner_Miami-Tennis-Cup-e1354390274784

John Isner

By Kevin Ware

(February 14, 2013) SAN JOSE – Here are some more courtside impressions from an eventful Day Three at the SAP Open.  It was mixed bag of fun matches and dramatic wins.  But let’s start with the sad and unsettling loss by Donald Young.

  • I don’t know what to say anymore regarding the sad and curious case of Donald Young. With each shot he makes, you see the talent that took him to No. 1 in the juniors; yet with each unforced error and pained aftermath, you’re reminded of the reasons that his pro career has hit the proverbial wall. His loss to Michael Russell during the day session was about as ugly as it gets. Neither guy played well, but Donald’s lack of confidence at crunch time was the tipping point.  Every gaze over to his box is filled with agonizing pleas for help that isn’t arriving anytime soon.  It’s tough to watch.  Even though us in the “media” should maintain some semblance of neutrality, it doesn’t stop me from hoping that Donald comes back from the brink.
  • Lleyton Hewitt and Marinko Matosevic are quite an entertaining doubles team.  Lleyton is the clear leader, but Marinko holds his own pretty well. Best part is they look like they’re having a great time playing together.  We should all be so lucky with our partners, right?!
  • Steve Johnson continued to make the most of his wildcard with a stirring 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 win over Ivo Karlovic. After losing a tough first set by playing a horrible tiebreaker, Johnson stood toe-to-toe with one of the best servers in the game and found a way to break for the second set. In the third set tiebreaker, Karlovic served an ace to go up 6-4 in the tiebreak.  With two match points in hand, Karlovic inexplicably ran off the rails; committing three consecutive unforced errors to give Johnson a match point.  Karlovic followed a strong approach to the net, and all Johnson could do was toss up a high defensive lob.  Out of the blue, Karlovic was struck by a case of “tentative overhead-itis”.  He smashed the ball weakly back to Johnson, who happily thundered a hard and low forehand to Karlovic at the net. The big man could only muster a flubbed volley response.  Game, set, and match to Johnson, who had no business winning that match but did anyway.
  • The night session pitted American John Isner against Canadian Vasek Pospisil.  John is 27 and Vasek is 22, but they both look no older than 14 (plus/minus a year or two).
  • Isner was slow in finding his game for the match, but didn’t blame any of it on his knee.  However, he did admit to having back issues because of his flight.  With all of Nemo’s canceled flights, he lost his upgrade seat and had to fly coach in a window seat to San Jose.  The ATP website lists John’s official height as 6′ 9″.  Just think about that the next time you complain about being in a middle seat! FYI, if John flies coach and no exit rows are available, window seats are his only option to save his knees from the battering they’ll inevitably take with the cart going up and down the aisle.
  • Bay area actress Diane Amos was in attendance tonight at the HP Pavilion to watch the evening session at the SAP Open.  Or as I put it more succinctly in one of my tweets at the start of Isner’s match, ” Random fact: the Pine Sol lady is in the house tonight for the Isner match.”
  • When asked what he did to pay back Sam Querrey  for bailing the US team out of trouble in Davis Cup action after his own 5-set heartbreaker to Thomaz Bellucci, Isner said “I think he took some of my money in cards that night actually, and I didn’t do it on purpose.”

The tournament action heats up on Day Four with a day session featuring young Americans Tim Smyczek and Steve Johnson battling for a spot in the quarterfinals, as well as the anticipated match between Sam Querrey and Lleyton Hewitt.  The night session features the return of the defending champion, Milos Raonic, as he takes on Michael Russell; plus more doubles action with the Bryans.  I will save my Raonic/Russell “tall and small” jokes for after the match…

 

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Notes from the Front – SAP Open Day Two

 

Ryan Harrison

Ryan Harrison

By Kevin Ware

(February 12, 2013) SAN JOSE, California – One of the great things about watching live tennis in a tournament setting is that you get a better feel for the character of the match and the players.  Here are some courtside impressions from Day Two action at the SAP Open.

  • I arrived at just after Lleyton Hewitt’s dramatic 3-set victory over Blaz Kavcic to find that no one was surprised to see this match go the distance.  Even though he’s one of the older guys on tour, long grinding matches still seem to be Hewitt’s preferred method of advancing through the draw.  His next opponent is Sam Querrey, making his tournament debut after receiving a first-round bye. It will be interesting to see if Sam’s late tournament start against a cagey veteran who’s “into” the tournament has a factor on the match outcome.
  • Though he was suffering from low energy due to illness, Ryan Harrison lost a winnable 3-set match against German veteran, Benjamin Becker.  It wouldn’t have been a particularly spectacular win under the circumstances, but it was doable.  Unfortunately, Ryan couldn’t keep his focus on the important points in the second and third sets the way he had in the first set tiebreak. This was especially true when he got broken at the end of the second set.Illness aside, Ryan is a talented and thoughtful player who can sometimes makes things complicated for himself in his matches. He’s struggled in 2013, and his ranking has dropped from last year’s high of 43.  Because he’s defending a semifinal appearance in last year’s tournament, his ranking is going to take a pretty big hit. Hopefully he can turn things around in Memphis.
    (NOTE:  He’ll be playing doubles with his brother Christian)
  • As I was watching Jack Sock in his match against Marinko Matosevic, I tweeted, “While Ryan Harrison sometimes thinks too much on court, Jack Sock maybe needs to think a bit more…” That about sums up Sock’s match strategy, or lack thereof.  Sock is a big strong guy who hits a heavy ball, but that’s pretty much where it ends. Even when Sock broke Matosevic to serve for the first set, I had the feeling that the veteran Matosevic would find a way to out-think his younger opponent, and capitalize on the nerves of the moment.  That’s exactly how it played out, with Matosevic going on to take the first set tiebreaker before sweeping the second set 6-1.I don’t begrudge the big hitting, because the younger guys on tour definitely need big games in order to be competitive. But they also need to think clearly and give themselves options.  Sock’s not there yet, and I’m not sure that he sees the need for options and nuance.  I also look at Sock’s football player-like build and can’t help but think that maybe if his fitness were improved, it could pay dividends in the development of his game.  He’s young though, so he’s got time to pull those pieces together.  At least, I hope he does.
  • It was a rough day for young Americans, and Ryan Sweeting’s straight-sets loss against last year’s finalist, Denis Istomin, did little to stop the bleeding.  But then again, Sweeting was always going to have a tough time of it since he doesn’t have the weapons needed to trouble Istomin.
  • The world No. 1 Bryan brothers weren’t as dominant over their younger American opponents as one would expect. Jack Sock and Steve Johnson played well with no signs of intimidation at the Bryans credentials as one of the greatest doubles teams ever. But once again, experience and mental toughness won out over big hitting as the Bryans took the match in two tiebreak sets. I hope the young guys are paying attention to these lessons of strategy/mental fortitude!
  • Fernando Verdasco, with coach/dad by his side, seemed to have a decent on-court warm-up prior to the start of the doubles match.  But something must have happened to him between the warm-up and his match.  That would be the only explanation for his flat performance against an inspired Tim Smyczek.  Fernando played without purpose.  Smyczek, on the other hand, played as though his life depended on the win; and it showed.  The difference between the two couldn’t have been starker, with Smyczek looking much more like a higher-ranked player than Verdasco.There might have been an injury with Verdasco, who seemed to pull up on shots as the match progressed.  But it was still a disappointing match for a former Top 10 player who at one time, challenged for Slam titles against the top guys. Disappointing, that is, except for Smyczek.  At least one American young gun made it through!

That’s all for now.
More after Day Three action with Donald Young, John Isner, and Tommy Haas.

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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