By Steen Kirby, TennisEast Coast.com
Rafael Nadal extended his amazing winning streak in the month of April to 77 matches, taking the Barcelona title once again over David Ferrer in grinding fashion 7-6 7-5. In addition to the win streak, he also becomes the 1st man to ever win 2 tournaments 7 times in a row (Monte Carlo and Barcelona).
Nadal had an easy week, rolling over fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, former USC standout Robert Farah of Colombia, top 10 player Janko Tipsarevic and a thrashing of compatriot Fernando Verdasco that bared little resemblance to some of their more memorable encounters (AO 2009), before toppling Ferrer in the all-Spanish final today. Verdasco had taken out Steve Darcis, Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori, who was forced to retire during their match before running into the Nadal steamroller.
Ferrer had another fine performance on clay that was spirited but once again fell short against Rafa. He beat Filip Krajinovic, who had notched his first ATP win since coming back from shoulder surgery in the previous round over wild card Inigo Cervantes. Then came the win against always-dangerous Albert Montanes, who had knocked off 15 seed Bernard Tomic in the previous round. He then played a quarterfinals thriller against countryman Feliciano Lopez where he saved 3 match points and survived a 2nd set tiebreak after losing the 1st set, finally triumphing 6-7 7-6 6-3 after a dejected Lopez faded in the 3rd set. It took him 2 tiebreaks to finish off surprise semi-finalist Milos Raonic in the semis.
Raonic, the 11 seed, started off his surprise run in Barcelona taking out one of the 3 Colombians in the draw Alejandro Falla. Next up was veteran Russian Igor Andreev, then 6 seed Nicolas Almagro, and an upset of 2 seed Andy Murray to reach the semis. Murray had played good matches against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Santiago Giraldo, but he struggled against the big serving Raonic and continues his inconsistent play on clay.
The Polish duo of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski won the Barcelona doubles title over home favorites Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez.
Top seed Gilles Simon took the title in Bucharest with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Italian Fabio Fognini.
Simon was in control all week, notching victories over Dudi Sela, Lukasz Kubot and German Matthias Bachinger, a surprise semifinalist.
Bachinger, who notched wins over Filippo Voldari, 4 seed Viktor Troicki, and fellow German Daniel Brands to reach the semis. He was joined by another surprise semifinalist, 23-year-old qualifier Attila Balazs of Hungary (ranked outside the top 400), who knocked off Lukas Lacko, Potito Starace, “X-man” Xaiver Malisse (who himself had knocked off the defending champion and 2 seed Florian Mayer of Germany in the previous round) before he fell to Fognini. To reach the final, Fognini took out 5 seed Marcos Baghdatis, 6 seed Andreas Seppi and Balazs.
It will be interesting to see if all these players can build upon their performances in Bucharest and make some more noise during the clay court season. Simon is another Roland Garros dark horse pick who has been playing some of his best clay court tennis so far.
Top seeds Robert Lindstedt and Romania’s own Horia Tecau won the doubles title in Bucharest over Jeremy Chardy and Lukasz Kubot.
In other news and notes, American Andrey Kuznetsov (Russian by birth) won the Napoli challenger and Brian Baker will take on Augustin Gensse in the Savannah Challenger final. Baker, who continues his comeback from retirement, also earned the French Open Wild Card and will be making an appearance in the main draw at Roland Garros.
The ATP world tour now heads to Munich, Belgrade and Estoril.
Tennis Maryland was so excited to contribute the following article to TennisGrandstand.com back in late December, it was never reposted here for posterity. Look for another Tennis Maryland contribution to TennisGrandstand.com soon!
Jack versus the Beasts
by Steve Fogleman
I caught up with Jack Sock last week at the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia. The 19-year-old Nebraskan was treated like a local hero at the event and was a heavy crowd favorite in his match against Denis Kudla last Friday. Unfortunately, Sock was forced to retire in the third set of that match due to cramping. The following day, he was still in good spirits and buoyed by the local support surrounding him. For all of his junior accomplishments, he’d already won the love of the Atlanta tennis community for a singular achievement: teaming up with Racquet Club of the South doyenne Melanie Oudin to win the 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles title.
I asked Sock what it was like to make the most important decision of his life thus far.
Sock said it was “obviously a very difficult decision when you’re 17-18 years old. You don’t really grasp the concept of turning professional in a sport. For me, growing up, I played lots of team sports, and really loved the team atmosphere. Still do. So, for me, I really would have looked forward to playing on a college team, being on a team with some friends, and competing as a team and representing a school. In the end, I’m also someone who, when I start something, I like to finish it. I thought if I’d gone to school, I would want to stay, get a degree and finish what I start, but I felt ready to take the next step and turn pro.”
When asked about comments from fans and others expressing disappointment that Sock did not follow the route of pursuing a university education, Sock said that it was the first he had heard of any comments, and that he doesn’t delve into the internet looking for editorial comments about him.
Sock recalled his most vivid memory of the US Open as the Andy Roddick match on Arthur Ashe. “Andy’s a good friend. Both being from Nebraska is crazy. It’s crazy to be playing another guy from Nebraska in a Grand Slam. The whole build-up, seeing your name for a night match on Arthur Ashe is pretty crazy. The whole introduction, the interview before the match starts, walking out on the court, seeing the lights on, how many people, 18,000, cheering for you, especially an All-American match is pretty crazy.” I reminded him that there were even more people both inside and outside of Arthur Ashe watching him that night.
2012 will be the first full year of Sock’s professional career. It will also be his first full year of tennis at any level. “I think this next year will be the first time I will play a full schedule. Obviously, I went to a public high school for four years so I wasn’t able to play the full ATP Challenger/Future circuit like some other guys who turned pro a little younger. So far, I’m loving it.”
Regarding the new expectations and burdens that turning pro entails, he indicates that “you usually don’t want to think of it as a job. The decision to turn pro is not so much different than when you’re an amateur. The only difference is you’re taking responsibility for yourself now. You’re not having people make decisions for you. Going into this new year, I have to start making decisions on my own, being a lot more professional about the approach to the tournaments and getting better at tennis and more physical in order to hang with these guys, especially in five set matches.”
But the biggest difference, Sock added, is that “these guys are so physical. They’re beasts on the court. If you want to hang with them and compete with the best in the world, you ‘ve obviously got to be in incredible shape and you’ve got to have an incredible mind, so I think that’s the thing that hits you when you see these guys play.”
You would think it would be difficult to play at the US Open and a Masters series event like Miami, as Sock has, and then wind up in a Challenger event the next week. But he seemed to dismiss the notion that there are extreme highs and lows. “It’s a different atmosphere, but every one’s still good at tennis, everyone can still hit the ball. Maybe less people are watching, but you have to try to get some points, and you have to get some matches in. Hopefully, I’ll get through it sooner than later.”
Sock follows College Football closely, most notably his Nebraska Cornhuskers. “I went to the (Nebraska-) Washington game, earlier this season when I was up there visiting my brother and my dad. I think they’re on the right track, and their first impression as far as the Big Ten is that the other teams obviously respect them. The defense was a little weaker this year than previous seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how next year goes. We just let go of our Defensive Coordinator and I think next year they’ll do really well.”
Sock is currently managed by CAA, a sports management firm which represents Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco. Sock’s interactions with the firm’s other clients preceded his relationship with CAA. “Even before I was with them, at the Open last year, I got to warm up with Novak for a week. He liked the consistency of warming up with the same person, so I was either warming up with him or practicing with him when he was off. This year, at the Open, I got to know Murray. I mean, I got to talk with him and spend a little time with him.
His immediate plans are to return to Florida to compete in futures for the first two weeks of January and then resume training in preparation for San Jose and Memphis, where he was awarded wild cards to compete. The USTA announced on Monday that he will also be awarded a wild card to the 2012 Atlanta Tennis Championships next summer. “The next couple months are basically based on how the beginning of the year goes. The better you do, the better tournaments you’ll play. If not, it’s back to playing some Futures and Challenger and see how that goes.”
Last month in Atlanta, eight women competed for a Main Draw Wild Card for the Australian Open. It turns out that three of those competitors will be in the Big Kangaroo Dance after all. Jamie Hampton and Alison Riske both advanced in straight sets yesterday in final qualifying rounds at Melbourne Park.
Up next for Hampton will be Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. Riske will face Urszula Radwanska for starters. Madison Keys will open against Zie Jheng.
Other first-round American women’s matches include Christina McHale taking on Lucie Safarova, Irina Falconi against Alberta Brianti, Betthanie Mattek-Sands against Agnieszka Radwanska, Serena vs. Tamira Paszek, Sloane Stephens against Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Vavs Lepchenko starts against Daniela Hantuchova and Vania King will meet Kateryna Bondarenko.
Falconi and Hampton should definitely be in a position to advance, so Atlanta should have more than one reason to celebrate.
Nothing is better than seeing the answers to our questions in print. Especially when someone else is doing the typing. The USTA’s Steve Pratt breaks down pressers better than anyone. After all, his gumshoe reporting days were spent with none other than the Los Angeles Times. Here’s his take:
NORCROSS, Ga., Dec 18, 2011 – Boca Raton, Fla., residents Madison Keys and Jesse Levine both won coveted trips to Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday with convincing victories at the 2011 Kia Motors USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff played at the Racquet Club of the South.
The 16-year-old Keys, who won a similar playoff in August in College Park, Md., for a spot in the US Open main draw, downed Gail Brodsky of Brooklyn, N.Y., 6-3, 6-4, before Levine dumped the hopes of local Kennesaw, Ga., resident Robby Ginepri with a 6-0,6-2, 6-1 victory that lasted just 1 hour and 24 minutes.
The three wins in three days mean an automatic berth for both players into the Australian Open main draw, the year’s first Grand Slam.
“Yes, I’m starting to like these wild card playoffs,” said an ecstatic Keys after the match. “ I knew she was getting pressured by my power and my serve was able to come in handy today.”
The key point of the match came early in the second set when Brodsky went up 15-40 at 2-all on Keys’ serve. But Keys pounded two big aces to get it back to deuce and wound up holding for the early lead.
Brodsky found herself down 5-2 in the second set but recorded a big break and hold to get itback to 5-4. “Anything I was throwing at her was not good enough today,” said Brodsky, who added that she will travel to Australia and try to qualify.“But I’m not upset with myself because I know there’s not much else I could have done.”
Brodsky added: “I don’t think she was feeling the pressure today. There’s really not much negative I can say about the way Madison played today. I just didn’t have enough today to beat her. I hope next time I’ll be better prepared and better trained.
“I was a little bit fatigued but she had tough matches too. It’s not like she was winning matches 0-0. She was in the same position as I was, it’s just she was better today.”
Keys admitted she never felt any pressure in the final. “Not really,” she said.“I’m one of the younger ones still so I’m not supposed to winthese matches. I’m the underdog. So I’m able to play a little morefree.”
“It still hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just really excited to be going to Australia. Just like the US Open, it’s going to take a couple of days before it actually sinks in.”
Keys will take a few days off before spending Christmas in her native state of Iowa and then back to training in Florida and California before heading Down Under.
Levine simply played some of the best tennis he’s ever played, moving well and running down everything Ginepri threw at him.
“I was just in the zone today,” he said. “I was just wondering after the first set if I could really stay with it. I wasn’t expecting to come out like that. I know Robby’s fit and in shape, I just didn’t expect to come out like that and was wondering if I was going to be able to keep it up.
Keep it up he did, dropping just three games in three sets. “Everything seemed to go my way and I was moving well and hitting the ball well all day.”
“I’m back in the Big Show so it feels really good.”
Ginepri tried to change things up at the start of the third set, taking a restroom break and changing his shirt and style of play, starting the set by serve and volleying the first game.
“I was just hoping to win that first game,” Levine said. “If I didn’t I thought maybe he could get the crowd back into it and the momentum could change.”
Levine joked about the third-set restroom break. “He tried to ice me, I guess. It was a veteran move. It was a big game to win that first one for sure.”
Levine added, “I’m used to the crowd being against me having played a year in college. I was just hoping to keep the momentum my way and not let them get into the match.”
Sponsors included: Kia Motors, Cost Management, USTA, Racquet Club of the South, Down Under Fest, New Chapter Press, Atlanta Kookaburros, Sports Rehab, Australian Bakery, Serious Tennis, Win Wear, Game Day Girl, Body Helix and Outback Steakhouse. The beneficiaries of the event were the United Way of Metro Atlanta and the National Tennis Foundation.
Sunday’s Final Scores
No. 6 Madison Keys (Boca Raton, Fla.) def. No. 5 Gail Brodsky (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 6-3, 6-4
No. 2 Jesse Levine (Boca Raton, Fla.) def. No. 4 Robby Ginepri (Kennesaw, Ga.), 6-0, 6-2, 6-1
THE MATCH: GOT THERE LATE
APRES LE MATCH:
USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe told the media on Friday that while he personally harbors no ill feelings for Alex Bogomolov’s jump to Russia to play for the Kremlin’s Davis Cup team, he did indicate that the USTA is looking into requiring him to reimburse American tennis for their exhaustive support of his career to date. Was McEnroe convincing in stating that he personally didn’t care about Junior’s decision? Judge for yourself. The entire twenty minute press conference may be viewed below, and includes Madison Keys, Robby Ginepri and Gail Brodsky.
Robby Ginepri was on ice yesterday after his 5 and 2 win over Rhyne Williams. He said the cool right arm was simply a precationary measure. If he wins the Wild Card this afternoon, he’ll have plenty of time to relax before heading to the other side of the world in a quest to reach the semifinals (or better) of another Grand Slam.
Jesse Levine is a great guy. He is a rock star on the ITF Challenger circuit and is poised to crack the top 100 on the pro scene. He’s also the first player of the 30 pressers we’ve covered to ask where he could see video of his conference. We know who we’re secretly rooting for later today.