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The Top 5 Players On Day 5 At Roland Garros

27 May

Thursday was quite an interesting day of 2nd round matches. On the men’s side, upsets by qualifiers were the story of the day, with Jurgen Melzer, a semi finalist last year going out in five to 111th ranked Lukas Rosol, Florian Mayer losing to Alejandro Falla and Leonardo Mayer beating former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis. Although these were all upsets by players outside the top 100 they were not as high-profile as the upset which happened in the women’s draw, through the loss suffered by Kim Clijsters. In addition to Clijsters losing, Sharapova was almost upset too. It is the matches of the women considered title contenders which dominates the list of best players on the day.

At number five we have Aranxa Rus, the young Dutch girl who caused the biggest upset of the tournament thus far by capitalising on the mistakes of 2nd seeded Clijsters. In all fairness, it wasn’t like she had to do much to win, such was the extent of Clijsters’ implosion. But the 20-old secures her spot on this list by virtue of continually going for her shots, and closing out this match against a tour veteran, with not too many nerves on display. Like the above mentioned qualifiers wreaking havoc in the draw, Rus too is ranked outside the top 100.

Number 5, Aranxa Rus caused the major upset of the tournament so far, by beating 2nd seed Kim Clijsters in three sets.

At four we have the sole gentleman on the list in the shape of Pablo Andujar. While the 48th ranked Spaniard (Interestingly he is a few months older than Rafael Nadal.) failed to win or even take a set off Nadal, he played a great game, and was still pushing hard in the third set, even being 5-1 ahead at one point, despite being down two sets to love. In all fairness, he might make the list by virtue of Nadal playing horrendous tennis by his standards at Roland Garros thus far. Nevertheless, I loved his energy, his self belief and ultimately the fact that he actually provided Nadal with a tricky encounter in what is really still the early stages of a grand slam. Most of all Andujar makes the list due to this match yet again indicating that it is looking increasingly unlikely that the Nadal will succeed in his defence of the title. Somehow, the other members of men’s tennis big four look in much better shape. I would however not put it past Nadal to play himself into form as the tournament progresses. (If you have not yet read my analysis of the men’s draw – do so now by following this link.)

Pablo Andujar makes the list at number 4.

Maria Sharapova had a really tough match against yet another Spanish tennis player, Caroline Garcia. The young girl, aged only 17, which is ironically the age at which Sharapova won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2004, played the first set and a half as if though it was just another ITF Futures event, and not a match on Philippe Chatrier court in the main draw of the French Open ladies singles event. Her solid play, and ability to hit winners (She hit a few more than Sharapova despite losing one of the sets 6-0) lead to Andy Murray picking her as a future world number one. Hopefully this is a moniker she will live up to, that is however something for the future, for now her play in this match places her third on my list of top 5 players on day 5 of the French Open.

After being down a break in the 2nd set, Sharapova ceased the opportunity when her young opponent let up in just the slightest amount, reeling off 11 consecutive games. She ended up winning that set, and taking the third in a bagel. This in conditions which don’t suit her at the best of time slightly frail service motion at all, a fairly torrid second serve and while playing against a young (future champion) of the sport, who had nothing to lose and was playing blisteringly brilliant tennis. Sharapova’s mental steel and never say die attitude, deservedly makes her the favourite for the title to most. Her ability to have turned this match around makes her the second best player on the day.

Number 2, Maria Sharapova, and 3, Caroline Garcia.

At number one we have one of the few matches of the day in which a seeded player was resoundingly better than their opponent. Victoria Azarenka was in excellent form, beating Pauline Parmentier, who has been ranked in the top 40 in the past, 6-1, 6-0. Mainstream media have largely ignored this result, sticking with the stories about the upsets. I however think that Azarenka has sent a clear warning to her opponents through her dominating display, she is certainly who I’ll be watching for the title.

Number 1, Victoria Azarenka.

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Top 10: The French Open So Far

26 May

So the French Open has been ongoing for a few days now and by now we know who is in form, who isn’t and who’s feeling the pressure (Wozniacki much?); it’s nearing that moment where the nervous energy of the first few days of a grand slam ceases to exist, and the favourites start to play at their fluent best. Several notable happenings have been observed at the French Open thus far. Not quite making the top 10, but worthy of at least a mention is Vera Zvonareva’s almost loss to Sabine Lisicki, and Lisicki’s subsequent meltdown, which included her being carried off court on a stretcher presumably due to cramping. The losses suffered by sixth seed Tomas Berdych, and Ana Ivanovic, the 20th seed and  former winner, definitely warrant a mention. Both lost to players not expected to proceed beyond the first round, in the shape of world number 140, Robert Stephane and virtual unknown Johanna Larsson, respectively. And then the last French Open factoid to make it into this article before we start with the official list, is that tennis, oops make that #tennis is huge on twitter. Not only are plenty of big players using the platform to communicate directly with their fans, the fans are also using it to make their voices heard loud and clear; #frenchopen and #rolandgarros have been trending topics in various countries over the past few days.

At number ten we have the success being experienced by the players favouring the clay surface. David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Jurgen Melzer and even Albert Montanes, along with their female counterparts in the form of Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova have made it through the draw with relative ease thus far. Watch out for a few of these players to put in a semi final run. Defending finalists, Stosur and Schiavone, should rightfully of course, be considered title contenders.

Sam Stosur easily wins her 2nd round match.
The dresses and other fashion statements of the French Open rank at number nine. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been playing with black stripes underneath her eyes, not unlike the ones that might be seen on the snarling faces of NFL players. As always her press conferences have centred on her attire and appearance more than anything else, she has even been attributed the moniker Lady Gaga of tennis. To her credit, she draws a lot of attention which the game would not generally get and she is also now the top ranked US women’s players. In addition to Mattek-Sands’ eccentricities, the fashion contest which emerges at every grand slam, has for my money been won by Sharapova. Her Eiffel Tower inspired dress, in an understated canary yellow shade is rounded off by a set of Tiffany earrings with which no other player can compete. Honorable mentions do however go to Wozniacki for her ruffled dress and Ivanovic for her hot pink number.

Mattek-Sands and her black stripes.

Enough of the fluff which surrounds tennis, at number eight we have the comebacks happening at Roland Garros. While we missed out on Amelie Mauresmo pairing with Michael Llodra in the mixed due to her not being part of the anti-doping programs in tennis for the past few years, and as a result not being allowed to enter, we still got to see Kim Clijsters (sometimes horrendous) but ultimately satisfying return to the game after months out due to a wedding reception injury. In addition, 2004 winner, Anastasia Myskina, has made a return to the game, in the form of coach to the lately struggling Kuznetsova.

Ranking number seven on my list of moments to remember is the 2nd round match between Wozniacki and Aleksandra Wozniak. Not only did the world number one struggle quite a bit in the second set, but she also proceeded to make a 3 minute fuss about a line call she disagreed with. Maybe a little bit of gamesmanship? The crowd did not appreciate her insistence, and there were some jeers to be heard when she left the court after winning the match five points later. To further add fuel to the fire, her father and coach, stormed out of the stadium and mentioned to journalists the fact that Wozniacki did not stick to the tactics set out for the match. He seemed quite unhappy with his 20-year old daughter. All-in-all this match seemed to indicate that Wozniacki is feeling the pressure of being number one in the world (and no grand slam title as of yet.) This match by Wozniacki and Clijsters’ erratic play (As I write this, the Rus-Clijsters match has gone into a third set) seems to make Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka the favourites for the title at this point.

Caro Wozniacki unhappy about a line call.

Several players that qualify the French Open as their home tournament, have made it past the first few round of tennis; the French supporters have come out  in hordes, and with soccer chants to boot. In addition, the organisers have scheduled the matches in such a fashion that the matches of the top French players have often been the most high-profile of their time slots, thereby ensuring the French players receive TV coverage all over the world. Looking after their own is an attribute the French certainly deserve, and as a result the French rank sixth on this list.

The Babolat tennis balls being used for the first time at Roland Garros make the list. They are apparently faster, harder and clearly advantage the hard-hitting players in the game. Criticism of the decision to change the balls have been widely received from players. Roger Federer has made it clear that it is not so much these balls specifically, but rather the fact that all the tournaments in the lead-up to the French use different one’s – the Dunlop balls previously in use at Roland Garros, meaning a transition is required. This is not ideally suited to the players of course. The attention that the tennis balls, and the knock which Babolat have taken as a result, qualifies for this list in fifth position.

Roger Federer with the new Babolat balls.

The manner in which Federer and Novak Djokovic have won their matches at the French thus far, leads to the pair making the list at number four. Both have been incredibly efficient and have sent a clear message that the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, might be dethroned for the 2nd time in three years at RG. Djokovic with his 40+ match winning streak is of course expected to perform in the manner that he has, it is the play of Federer that has surprised the many who have written of the 16-time grand slam winner.

Making my list at number three is the appearance of Virginie Razzano in the tournament so soon after she suffered such an intense personal loss. I was quite unsure about including this on my list, but eventually decided that the bravery and courage shown by Razzano by playing to honour of her deceased fiance, deserves recognition on every possible platform. As such I make mention of her emotion heavy first round loss to Jarmila Gadjosova.

At number two is the success of the 10 top ranked women in tennis. Not a single upset among the  lot of them yet! It probably shouldn’t rank so highly on the list, but with the inconsistency of the women’s game, any validation of the women’s game and the WTA rankings has to be considered invaluable. (Update: I spoke far too soon; Kim Clijsters has just lost her match to Arantxa Rus, nevertheless 9 out of 10 isn’t too bad.)

At number one we have Oprah, ending her show after 25 years, what a run! Yeah, I’m kidding. The match between Nadal and John Isner is my top moment of the last few days of tennis. The match showed the value of being able to hold serve – Isner being able to take Nadal to 6-6 in two sets, lead to him being able to take those sets in tie breakers. It also showed that Isner should be higher ranked, and should perhaps be working a little harder at winning matches against players ranked lower than him, and not only coming to play in high-profile matches; thereby putting himself in a position where he doesn’t have to play Nadal in the first round at a major. Furthermore, this match indicates that Nadal is not in as good form as he usually is before the French Open. He truly struggled to pass Isner consistently, and definitely did not get as many balls back as he did circa 2008 at RG. If Djokovic manages to beat Juan Martin del Potro in convincing manner, I might even change my pick for the title from Nadal to Djokovic.

World number 1 and defending champion, Rafael Nadal, celebrates upon reaching the 2nd round at Roland Garros.

 

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The French Open Draw: Men

20 May

The French Open men’s draw is somewhat easier to analyze than the women’s. For starters – not everyone can win. It’ll almost certainly be one of the top 4, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray. They’re almost like the English Premier League Big 4 at the moment. Nadal and Djokovic consistently on top form, not unlike Chelsea and Man U, Federer would be Liverpool, older, wiser, solid, but lacking in spark and motivation. Murray is Arsenal. Highly inconsistent, can beat any one on a good day, and fun to watch. Enough of my abstract analogy – the point is, one of the four will win. All there really is to consider, is who in each quarter of the draw might prevent each of them from reaching the semi’s and how will the semi’s and final pan out…

Nadal’s Quarter:

Nadal has quite an interesting section of the draw. In the 3rd he could face Nikolay Davydenko, which on paper should be a good match up, but when you consider the Russian’s recent form, it’s unlikely that he will truly bother Nadal. In the 4th he could face fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. Their friendship is likely to be mentioned as a factor making it an interesting match up, most likely this will not affect the outcome, Nadal has never really struggled with closing out matches, as other players might against a friend. On the other hand, (quite literally) the fact that Verdasco is a lefty might make the match interesting, probably not in terms of who wins, but at least will serve as an indicator of the kind of form Nadal is in. If his form isn’t at a desirable level it will often show in that he struggles a little bit in matches against left-handed, lower quality players. In the quarter’s, he could come up against the man who halted him two years ago, Robin Soderling. While this is likely to be a good match, I think the odds are highly in favour of Nadal winning. He is the superior clay courter, the French is his home court to a large extent. This match is more likely to resemble last year’s rout in the final, than the surprise Soderling win of 2009.

Murray’s Quarter:

Murray is not a brilliant clay court player. Despite this, the fact that he has a fairly easy part of the draw means that he is likely to still reach the semi finals relatively unscathed. A match against young up-and-comer Milos Raonic in the 3rd round ought to be interesting. It is unlikely that the young Canadian will have much effect on the clay with his hard-hitting game though. Murray will progress to face 8th seed, Jurgen Melzer, in the quarter finals. While Murray is the inferior clay court player, he should be able to take advantage of the Austrian player’s inconsistent game, and reach the semi finals.

Federer’s Quarter:

His first round match will be a telling encounter against another Spanish lefty. While it should serve as in interesting measure of Federer’s form, it is unlikely that Feliciano Lopez will challenge him for a win. While many will feel that the likely 3rd round encounter between Federer and Janko Tipsarevic will be a test for Federer, I think that Federer will continue on to the 4th round with relative ease. A fourth round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stanislas Wawrinka will make for good viewing, but is still a match Federer should by all accounts win. As is the quarter final, which according to seedings, should be against David Ferrer.

Djokovic’s Quarter:

With the unbeaten run Djokovic is on, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to mount a challenge of note against him at least until the semi’s. Matchups he is likely to face include the always dangerous Juan Martin Del Potro, hometown favourite, Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych, who is capable of beating anyone on a good day. Of these, only Del Potro ought to be able to get more than a set off him, and will be an intriguing encounter that I for one won’t miss.

Semi Final 1: Nadal vs Murray

Despite Nadal having a few tough matches, he ought to get through, as should Murray, largely by virtue of his significantly easy draw.

Semi Final 2: Federer vs Djokovic

Federer is still the 3rd ranked player in the world, and hellishly dangerous. As such, he ought to  make it thru his quarter home safe. While Djokovic is likely to have a particularly tough match in the 3rd round against Del Potro, he is currently the best player in the world, and other than that match should make the semi’s relatively unhindered.

Final: Nadal vs Djokovic

Don’t bet against Nadal on clay. Murray is not as capable on clay as he would like. So I have to pick Nadal for that half of the draw. On the other side, I would love to see yet another, maybe final Federer vs Nadal classic, but I honestly don’t think the king has what it takes at the moment to challenge Djokovic on current form. It’s my opinion that Djokovic will struggle more against Del Potro in the 3rd, than against Federer in the semi’s.

Winner: Nadal

Don’t bet against Nadal on clay.

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