Rarely has a player dominated so much on the strength of his backhand as Richard Gasquet in today’s upset quarterfinal victory over #4 seed David Ferrer. After barely surviving a 5 set thriller against Canadian ace Milos Raonic, Gasquet could have been expected to start slow against the indefatigable Ferrer, but it was the Frenchman who powered through the first 2 sets rifling pinpoint one-handed backhands cross court and down the line as the Spaniard looked helplessly on. Gasquet’s backhand is such a thing of beauty the crowd was mesmerized and the only question was whether he could sustain the momentum and close out the match. Sure enough, Ferrer came to life in the 3rd and 4th sets as his aggressive play pushed Gasquet further and further back behind the baseline, but after a poor service game in the deciding set at 2-2, the Spanish veteran was unable to catch up as Gasquet prevailed 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3. The victory was an enormous coup for the talented Frenchman, who will most likely face the unstoppable Rafael Nadal in the semis. Will Nadal’s history of success against one-handed backhand players continue or does Gasquet have a fighting chance? In either case, Richard showed a lot of skill in getting to his first semi-final appearance at a grand slam in 6 years (beating Roddick to advance at the 2007 Wimbledon semis) and his first ever U.S. Open semifinal appearance.
2011 champion Li Na gets ready to serve against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
One of things you can always count on at the French Open is rain: light rain, heavy rain, and the threat of more rain. On this blustery Thursday of week one, the rain arrived early, midway, and late, throwing the day’s round 2 schedule into chaos and the shivering spectators into the concourses to try and keep dry and maybe wolf down some fries and rosé during the interminable rain delays that sadly have become a hallmark of this event.
It was a good day for American women’s tennis- on court 6 up-and-coming American Sloane Stephens dominated countrywoman Vania King 6-1, 6-3 with her powerful crosscourt forehands. And on Court number 1, the original stadium of Roland Garros, we saw American Bethanie Mattek-Sands prevail 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 over 2011 champion Li Na, who seemed out of sorts after winning the first set and sitting through 2 rain delays.
Court number 1 is an excellent stage for the serious tennis fan, providing enough vantage point to see the strategy of the players and the pace of the shots so often missed on television, but unlike the larger stadiums where you are forced to watch from way up high unless you pay dearly or are the guest of a corporate sponsor, its roughly 2,000 seat capacity allows for the perfect mix between the dramatic and intimate. When the men finally took the court, we saw the latest French phenom Benoit Paire match up against an equally imposing Pole Lukasz Kubot in a tight match that featured hard, flat serves from the big men, but also a high degree of finesse particularly from Paire, who always seemed to have an extra shot up his sleeve in his win.
Over on court 7, world #9 Stanislav Wawrinka took on Argentine Horacio Zeballos, best known for his victory over Rafael Nadal in this year’s Chilean Open final, but even with his hair cut short he was unable to keep up with the wits of Wawrinka, who is having a great year having played Djokovic to 5 astonishing sets in Melbourne and winning the final over David Ferrer in the Portugal Open. The stands were packed for this one, with spectators literally scaling the fences for a better view after the seats filled up.
Unfortunately the rain returned once again and halted play for the day with many matches unresolved, to continue tomorrow as the tournament marches on.
The Monte Carlo Masters 1000 Championship wrapped up today with the dream final everyone wanted to see: 8 consecutive title holder and proverbial “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal vs world #1 and virtually unstoppable Novak Djokovic. This was the first 2013 matchup between the 2 men since Nadal came back from his injury in February and tore through the field in Latin America and Indian Wells. Djokovic, having won the Australian and in Dubai, has also been in great form this year, with his only notable losses being to Del Potro in Indian Wells and Tommy Haas in Miami.
Right after the pre-game warmup, the skies opened up and rained for about an hour delaying the start, but afterward the sun came out in the brilliant setting of Court Central overlooking the Mediterranean coastline and the conditions became more dry and windy. Djokovic blew through Nadal in the first set 6-2, having led 5-0 at one point with several break points, but Nadal was tenacious in his defense and started to show signs of life towards the end of the first set. The second set was a much closer affair, with the champions breaking each other twice each to force a tie-break, which Djokovic won handily 6-1, taking his first title ever at the event.
What separated Djokovic from his rival was his decisive shotmaking and excellent court positioning. Nadal just wasn’t able to step up and assert himself as he usually does against the lesser players. But perhaps some of it can be chalked into him not being in full rhythm as the start of the clay season. The intrigue will continue throughout the spring right up to the French Open- will Nadal be able to right the ship and hold his title at Roland Garros or is Djokovic well on his way to asserting himself as the greatest player of this time? Will Murray or Federer be in the mix? The tour continues on to the ATP 500 event in Barcelona and then to the 1000 series events in Madrid and Rome in May.
Late last night, 34-year-old veteran Tommy Haas knocked 3-time defending champion Novak Djokovic out of the Sony Open on a cool evening in Miami 6-2, 6-4. The journeyman was impressive from the start, breezing through his first set service games with beautifully placed serves and an effective one handed backhand that absorbed his opponent’s pace and wouldn’t allow him to step up. Djokovic was off kilter all evening, with numerous unforced errors on his forehand side but he did have a chance in the second set, when he rallied to break back and even the score at 3-3. However, Haas shook off his nerves and continued to take his game to Djokovic, hitting deep balls into the corner and finishing points at the net. In the post match press conference, the world #1 admitted to not playing his best tennis with the cool conditions throwing his game off, but he gave full credit to Haas, whose victory was only his second career victory over a world #1. (The first was Andre Agassi in 1999.)
The tournament now takes an interesting turn as we head into the quarterfinals, with 3 of the world top 4 out of the action (Nadal and Federer both skipped the tournament, with only Andy Murray remaining) and Del Potro knocked out in the first round. Will we see a surprise winner or will Andy Murray step up and claim the title on his home turf in Miami, where he spends much of the year living and training?
There were 2 marquee quarterfinal matchups at Indian Wells over the last 2 days- a resurgent Rafael Nadal taking on long-time rival Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro facing up against world #3 Andy Murray. Nadal/Federer looked to be the matchup of the tournament, but Nadal pulled off an easy 6-4, 6-2 win as Federer, suffering from a bad back, was unable to withstand Nadal’s ruthless topspin game and speedy court coverage. Having almost skipped this tournament, he really seems to be hitting his stride in his first hardcourt event after winning 2 back to back clay titles, and will be facing off against Tomas Berdych in tomorrow’s semifinal.
The more intriguing match turned out to be Murray/Del Potro as each player turned up in the desert having come from very different places. Murray, who had not seen action since his loss at the Australian in January, spent most of the last 6 weeks away from the tour working on his already impressive fitness in Miami, while Del Potro made a number of appearances this winter, taking a title in Rotterdam and competing well in Marseille and Dubai. All that action has put him in tremendous game shape, which turned out to be the deciding factor in his cool 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Murray, who showed a little rust in this tournament. The first set was an exciting battle of Del Potro’s relentless forehand versus Murray’s excellent defense, but Del Potro shook off a close tiebreak loss to prevail in the 2nd set and take the match. He will be taking on world #1 Novak Djokovic in a rematch of their Dubai semifinal 2 weeks ago, which Djokovic won on his way to collecting the title.
2007 and 2009 Champion Rafael Nadal made his first hard court return in almost a year holding off young American Ryan Harrison to advance to the 3rd round of the BNP paribas Open in Indian Wells. Despite shanking a few forehands, Nadal looked fast and fit as he covered the court and was able to pass the hard serve and volley approach of Harrison. In other news, 2002-03 winner Lleyton Hewitt advanced after knocking off last year’s runner-up John Isner 6-7, 6-3, 6-4. The 32 year old Aussie has looked sharp this year while the 6’9″ American has been off his game in 2013 partially due to a knee injury.
As far as upsets, the tireless David Ferrer was ousted by South African Kevin Anderson 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. The former University of Illinois standout has looked sharp in 2013, reaching the final at the Sydney International in January. And world #9 Janko Tipsarevic was soundly beaten 6-2, 6-0 by Latvian phenom Ernests Gulbis, who has charged from up the rankings after last week’s surprise victory at Delray Beach.
Any plans to see a much awaited Djokovic – Federer final in Dubai were squelched this morning as Tomas Berdych pulled out a surprise 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 victory over 5-time Dubai champion Roger Federer. It was a particularly dispiriting loss for Federer as he had 3 match points against the powerful Czech in a riveting 2nd set tie-break, but he could not seal the deal as Berdych fought his way into a 3rd set and went up a break. In the earlier semifinal, 3-time winner Novak Djokovic prevailed over Juan Martin del Potro to book his place in the final. Tomorrow’s final is set for 10 am EST and will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel.