Tag Archives: Djokovic

Hopping around Australia: A Preview of the Hopman Cup

26 Dec

The star-studded field at this year’s Hopman Cup will start the tennis season off in Perth, Australia with eight eager teams ready to battle each other for the title.  Top seeded Serbia will look to make quick work of their Kazakhstanian opponents on January 2, while Justine Henin and her Belgian counterpart will play the first match against Australia on New Year’s Day.

Group A:

(1) Serbia- Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic

(3) Belgium- Justine Henin and Ruben Bemelmans

Kazakhstan- Yaroslava Shvedova and Andrey Goublev

Australia- Alicia Molik and Lleyton Hewitt

Group B:

(2) Great Britain- Laura Robson and Andy Murray

(4) Italy- Francesca Schiavone and Potito Starace

France- Kristina Mladenovic and Nicolas Mahut

United States- Bethanie Mattek-Sands and John Isner


This post will highlight in detail the top four seeds chances at the finals and briefly touch upon the other four unseeded teams in the field.

(1) Serbia- Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic

These two lifelong friends will partner each other for the second time (they also played with each other in 2006) at the Australian event and based on the second half of 2010, they look to be in great shape to take the title in 2011.  Novak Djokovic played impeccably well in the US Open semis against Roger Federer to make the finals only to lose to Nadal.  But, more significantly, Djokovic led his Davis Cup team to the title at the beginning of December in his native Belgrade.  In addition, Ana Ivanovic made an incredible late-season surge up the rankings taking International titles in Linz and the second-tier year-ending championships event in Bali.  All signs point to a spectacular 2011 for these two Serbian phenoms and the Hopman Cup will surely be an indicator of how the new season will progress.

If she can hit plenty of forehands like this, Serbia will be in great shape to win the tournament.

 

 

Novak Djokovic always brings his competitive side out during team competitions.

(2) Great Britain- Laura Robson and Andy Murray

Reaching the final of this event together last year, the British duo of Robson and Murray will look to go one better at this year’s edition of the tournament.  But, it should be noted that last year Robson only one of her singles matches (against Martinez Sanchez in the final) and she will have to improve upon that statistic if she hopes to lead her team to glory.  While she has yet to score a hair-raising victory against a top player, she won’t face too much competition from the other females in her group, with the exception of Francesca Schiavone, as she is scheduled to face Bethanie Mattek-Sands (#58) and Kristina Mladenovic (#300).  Andy Murray, on the other hand is by far the strongest male player in his group as he should be minimally challenged by Nicolas Mahut and Potito Starace.  However, John Isner also resides in this group, and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly.

 

Playing the event for the second year in a row, Robson and Murray will attempt to hoist the trophy this go-around.

(3) Belgium- Justine Henin and Ruben Bemelmans

The unheralded Ruben Bemelmans will want to impress his partner Justine Henin from the start, and he might have to because Henin hasn’t played a tour match since Wimbledon.  Henin, who appeared to be struggling with the serve and forehand at an exhibition against compatriot Kim Clijsters in December will need to play well from the get go in Perth if she wants any hope of reaching the weekend.  Bemelmans on the other hand will be hard pressed to beat men like Djokovic and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt.  Nevertheless, as the mantra goes: anything is possible, and it will have to be if the Belgian team hopes to have any chance at the title.

Ruben Bemelmans will partner Justine Henin in the 2011 edition of the Hopman Cup

Justine Henin will be returning from an elbow injury at the Hopman Cup.

(4) Italy- Francesca Schiavone and Potito Starace

Led by the surprise Roland Garros champion, Team Italy will have a decent chance at making the finals.  Schiavone, who is coming off a career-best season, will face relatively weak opposition from Laura Robson, Kristina Mladenovic, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, whom she beat in the Fed Cup final.  Starace, a perennial top-75 player on the ATP World Tour, will be the clear underdog when he goes against Andy Murray and John Isner, but could have a chance at victory against France’s Nicolas Mahut.  But, with the doubles skills of Schiavone, the duo will always be alive up until the final match, mixed doubles, is decided.

Francesca Schiavone will hope for a strong start to her season after taking the Roland Garros title in 2010.

Other Teams: Australia- Alicia Molik and Lleyton Hewitt, Kazakhstan- Yaroslava Shvedova and Andrey Golubev, France- Kristina Mladenovic and Nicolas Mahut, and United States- Bethanie Mattek-Sands and John Isner

The remaining four teams, all full of potential, lack the stardom of the other four seeded teams, despite having several distinguished names, like Lleyton Hewitt and John Isner.  Isner, who was originally partnered with Serena Williams, will now play the mixed doubles event with lesser-known, but highly capable Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  The US team will have a fair shot at reaching the finals if both Mattek-Sands and Isner can win a majority of their matches.  Like the US, Australia will also have a chance at the Saturday final if the stars align for Molik and Hewitt.  On the other hand, France and Kazakhstan will be hard-pressed to win any of their matches because of the relatively shallow resumes of their four players.  Team Kazakhstan, which could also be referred to as Team Russia as both Shvedova and Golubev hail from Russia.  When it comes to their tennis, both are talented, but also young and fairly inexperienced when it comes to big matches and pressure situations, despite the fact that Shevedova won two Grand Slams in doubles last season with Vania King.  If Kazakhstan was a part of Group B, along with Britain, France, and Italy, I would give them a fair chance, but Group A is far more competitive than B.  Lastly, France brings two players ranked outside of the top 100 to Hopman Cup: Mahut, who is most famous for his first-round loss to John Isner at Wimbledon and Mladenovic, who much like Laura Robson won her home junior Grand Slam event as a teenager (she won Roland Garros juniors in 2009). However, both players will have chances at victories in Group B.

Tennis enthusiasts won't have to worry about another 70-68 final set score with the third-set tiebreak in Hopman Cup play.

Alicia Molik's volleying skills will come in handy during the duration of Hopman Cup play.

Tennis Season: A Monthly Review of 2010 (Part 4)

15 Jul

This blog entry will include a full recap of Roland Garros and a quick review of the warm-up events that took place before The Championships at Wimbledon, which will be reviewed tomorrow or Saturday.

Roland Garros (French Open) in Paris, France (Red Clay)

Coming into Roland Garros, the men’s tournament had one clear favorite while the women’s tournament had many contenders, but no real favorite.  Starting off with the women’s event, I will touch on each of the top 5 seeds’ draws and also mention other standout stars of the fortnight, concluding with a brief essay on the champion and finalist.

Coming into Roland Garros, you could have picked Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic, and maybe even Caroline Wozniacki as the favorites for the title.  Others might say that Sam Stosur, who reached the semis last year and had the best clay record of the tour in 2010, could go all the way.  But what would you have said about Italian Fed Cup hero Francesca Schiavone?  Third round, maybe the fourth round, at the most she will go to the quarters.  She surprised even the best of us.

Serena Williams played some mediocre tennis going into the second week, but by the time her fourth round match came around, she looked sharp and ready to make a title run in Paris.  But in the quarterfinals, she faced the formidable Sam Stosur who had taken out Justine Henin in the previous round.  After being behind for most of the match, Serena turned it around and built a lead in the final set, only to lose it 8-6 to the Aussie.  On a lighter note, Serena was able to grab a title in Paris: the women’s doubles crown with sister Venus.

Sam Stosur used her powerful serve to gain an advantage over Serena Williams at the French Open.

Venus Williams suffered a similar defeat in the fourth round to streaky Russian Nadia Petrova, who used the slow conditions on a cold Sunday in Paris to finish off her American foe quite easily.  Coming into the event, Venus had won a title on clay in Acapulco and reached the quarterfinals in Rome and the finals in Madrid, so she looked like she could have gone all the way to the finals.  But, it wasn’t meant to be as she took yet another early defeat at the French Open.

Venus Williams lost to Nadia Petrova in the 4th round.

Caroline Wozniacki looked to be in fine form as she played her way into the quarterfinals where she faced the crafty Italian Francesca Schiavone.  In this match, the Dane was pushed around the court by Schiavone’s all-court topspin oriented game and it really wasn’t a contest from the beginning.

This photo sums up Wozniacki's day at the office against Schiavone.

Jelena Jankovic had been playing some of the tennis that saw her reach a U.S. Open final and the World No. 1 ranking on her way to the semifinals and it finally looked like she was going to win a major for the first time in her career.  But she would have to wait for another major to come around because lost quite easily to Sam Stosur.

Jelena Jankovic walked off the court knowing that she let a major career opportunity slip away from her.

Finally, Elena Dementieva made it to the semis here for the second time in here career and after losing a tight first set to Schiavone in the semis, she walked up to her opponent and shook hands with her, signalling that the match was over due to injury on Elena’s behalf.  We later learned that she had torn a calf muscle in the second round and had been struggling ever since.  We haven’t seen her since, so it must have been very serious.

Elena Dementieva spoke to the press in detail about her injury following her retirement.

In the finals, it was Sam Stosur against Francesca Schiavone.  They were both first time Grand Slam finalists, but the nerves certainly didn’t show that.  Both women brought their best tennis, with Schiavone simply outclassing the Australian in the championship match.  But, unlike so many of the finals at Roland Garros in the recent years (Henin standing a combined 48 games-17 games in championship matches , Ivanovic easily beating Safina in the 2008 final, and Kuznetsova beating Safina 6-4, 6-2 in 2009) it was very nice to see two women play their best tennis and make it a competitive match, with Schiavone prevailing 6-4, 7-6.

Francesca Schiavone felt like she was on top of the world after capturing her first Grand Slam title.

In the men’s tournament, there were few surprises until the quarterfinals, where all the action really began.  Starting at the top of the draw, Roger Federer took on last year’s finalist Robin Soderling.  After taking the first set over the Swede, Federer went on to drop the next three sets to subsequently lose the match and his streak of 23 consecutive semifinals in a major.  This was also the first time that Federer had lost to Soderling.

Federer left the main court of a Slam before the semifinals for the first time since the 2004 French Open.

In another quarterfinal of note, the Austrian Jurgen Melzer was 2 sets to love down against Novak Djokovic before capitalizing on the Serb’s poor play to book a spot in the semifinals for the first time in his career.  This also sparked him to play much better tennis at the season’s next major, Wimbledon, where he reached the singles fourth round and won the doubles.

Although it was Melzer who won, Novak Djokovic received more attention for his poor effort in the final sets of the match.

Also to be noted, Rafael Nadal faced his hardest test against his fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, who pushed him to two tiebreaker sets and made the 4-time champ look vulnerable at times.  But, it was Nadal who prevailed over his hard-hitting compatriot.

In the semifinals, Nadal had a straight forward win over Melzer to put him in yet another final at Roland Garros.  But, the other semifinal Tomas Berdych, a first time Slam semifinalist, and last year’s finalist Soderling took shape to be a tight and intriguing 5-set battle.  In the end, it was the experience of Soderling that got him through to the final over a visibly tight Berdych.  Luckily, this wasn’t the last we would see of Berdych (see tomorrow’s blog for Wimbledon).

Even though Berdych lost in the semifinals, it was the start of good things to come as he went on to reach the Wimbledon final several weeks later.

This set up a very interesting final between two men who don’t have a lot of love between them.   Nadal had every reason to be confident going into the match as he was a former champion at Roland Garros and his clay court credentials top every single man to ever play the sport, but there was still a tinge of nerves.  This can mainly be attributed to the fact that in 2009, Soderling became the one and only man to be Nadal at the French Open and did it in convincing style, by pounding ball after ball and serve after serve.  But in this case it was Soderling who seemed to have trouble rising to the occasion and couldn’t make it a competitive match against Nadal.  The good news for Nadal: a fifth Roland Garros title, a seventh Grand Slam title, and the No. 1 ranking.  What a deal!

Much like Francesca Schiavone was the day before, Rafael Nadal was ecstatic about his Roland Garros title.

Now for a quick recap of the grass court events leading up to Wimbledon.

AEGON Classic in Birmingham, GBR (Grass)

Champion: Li Na def. Maria Sharapova 7-6, 6-1

AEGON INTERNATIONAL in Eastbourne, GBR (Grass)

Champions: Ekaterina Makarova def. Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-4

Michael Llodra def. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 6-2

AEGON Championships in London, GBR (Grass)

Champion: Sam Querrey def. Mardy Fish 7-6, 7-5

It wouldn't be a tournament in England without some rain to worry about. Luckily, it didn't get in the way of Sam Querrey winning the biggest title of his career.

Gerry Weber Open in Halle, GER (Grass)

Champion: Lleyton Hewitt def. Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6, 6-4

*This was the first win for Lleyton Hewitt over Federer in 15 tries.  The last win for Hewitt came in a Davis Cup semifinal back in 2003.

UNICEF Open in Rosmalen, Holland (Grass)

Champions: Justine Henin def. Andrea Petkovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

Sergiy Stakhovsky def. Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-0

Thank you to all that read the entry on my blog.  You are what makes this possible so join me again tomorrow for the extensive review of Wimbledon!

Upcoming Entries:

Fri./Sat.– Wimbledon in Review

Next week: Players to watch in the U.S. Open Series (don’t forget to vote in the polls I set up a few days ago for your opinions on the U.S. Open Series)

I will also preview the Atlanta Tennis Championships sometime late next week.  Stay tuned as always and once again, thank you for reading.