Monthly Archives: March 2011

Thursday Topspin: Twenty-Two and Counting

Another win: Novak Djokovic has now strung together 22 straight wins to start the season.  He’ll probably make it 23 tomorrow against Mardy Fish.

As usual, he made it look easy last night.  Kevin Anderson played reasonably well, particularly from the baseline, where he was often able to match Djokovic shot for shot … at least for a while.  He was aggressive, frequently forcing Novak to make an excellent shot to pass him at the net, though of course his opponent was usually up to the challenge.  Djokovic wasn’t perfect, but the outcome was never in doubt.

What caught me by surprise is how easy it seemed to be for Anderson to return many of Djokovic’s shots.  I’d never thought of Djokovic as someone defined by his topspin, but on groundstrokes and second serves, Novak’s balls often bounced right up into Anderson’s hitting zone–that is, above the hitting zone for anyone shorter than Anderson.  That makes me think that Djokovic might be vulnerable to a player like Tomas Berdych, who beat him at Wimbledon last year and challenged him in Dubai recently, or Juan Martin del Potro, who he hasn’t played for nearly two years.

In any event, Anderson’s stature wasn’t a problem last night, and barring the unlikely event of Berdych reaching the final, it won’t be an issue this week.

New #1: By beating David Ferrer yesterday, Fish cemented his position as the new top-ranked American.  He’ll also reach a new personal high of #12 (I think), and with a decent clay result or two, he’ll have a shot at breaking into the top 10.

I’m assuming he’ll only get semifinalist points for Miami, because he needs to beat Djokovic to get any farther.  Novak has won all five meetings, though Fish has taken a set on three occasions, including last year at Indian Wells.

Two more quarters: Today, Roger Federer plays Gilles Simon, while Rafael Nadal faces Berdych.  Neither match is projected to be close, but that’s no reason not to watch.

Both my system and the oddsmakers now give Federer an 82-83% chance of winning.  That’s surprising, since Simon has won two of three head-to-heads, and Federer’s one win was the five-setter in Australia.  Of course, there’s little doubt Roger is the better player, and Simon has hardly been impressive this week.  He barely got past Janko Tipsarevic, so he doesn’t seem to be close to his best form.

Sportsbooks favor Nadal to the tune of 87%, while my system gives Berdych a much better chance, cutting Rafa down to 71%.  Of course, my system hasn’t been watching as Berdych did anything but dominate Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, Carlos Berlocq, and Florian Mayer.

Federer plays the afternoon match, scheduled for 3:00 EST, while Nadal opens the night session.

In the minors: Wayne Odesnik’s comeback will have to wait at least one more week.  After qualifying for the challenger in Barranquilla, he lost in the first round to Juan Pablo Brzezicki.  He did take the first set.  At least he didn’t suffer the fate of Norweigan wild card Sander Brendmoe, who was double-bagelled by Martin Vasallo Arguello.

Speaking of wild cards, the folks at Barranquilla are awfully open-minded.  The majority of wild cards go to native sons, but none of the tourney’s four wild cards went to a Colombian.  However, there are four local boys in the draw, and three of them advanced to the second round.

At the challenger in St. Brieuc, France, two up-and-comers are among the first men into the quarterfinals.  Both Jerzy Janowicz and Benoit Paire got through three-setters to win their second-round matches yesterday.

Finally, we have another run of upsets to report, this time at USA F8 in Oklahoma City.  Six of the eight seeds, including the top three, fell in yesterday’s first round.  Most notably, top seed Chris Guccione lost a three-setter to Vladimir Obradovic, a Serbian ranked outside of the top 600.  The top-ranked player left in the draw is #300, the fourth-seeded American, Greg Ouellette.

See you tomorrow!


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Wednesday Topspin: Cruise Control

Domination: The top four remaining seeds at Miami–Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and David Ferrer–had an easy time of it yesterday.  None had to face a fellow member of the top 20; Nadal was the only one of the four who played a seed.

Amazingly, Djokovic dropped the most games.  Playing his friend Viktor Troicki, Novak’s  6-0 6-1 victim at Indian Wells, he lost five games, coming through 6-3 6-2.  Olivier Rochus took four games from Federer, while Nadal and Ferrer both got past their opponents with a score of 6-1 6-2.

Squeakers: Tomas Berdych, the next seed in line, also drew an unseeded opponent: Florian Mayer.  But the Czech’s route to the quarters was not nearly so easy.  He breezed through the first set, winning 6-3, before the rain halted play.  Back on court, Berdych suddenly couldn’t land a first serve, making only 42% in the second set.  Mayer capitalized, evening the tally, then neither player took command en route to a third-set tiebreak.

Mayer played some excellent tennis at times, and he had his chances–Berdych double faulted five times in the final set, yet never allowed even a break point.  Berdych makes it look so easy, and the German just didn’t have the weaponry to hold him off.

Every bit as tight was yesterday’s first match, between Mardy Fish and Juan Martin del Potro.  Neither player was at their best; it seemed that Delpo had a tough time getting in a rhythm against Fish’s less-than-elite groundstrokes.  Ultimately, it took two very long sets, in which Fish triumphed, 7-5 7-6(5).  That puts Fish one match away from becoming the top-ranked American.  He’ll have to beat Ferrer to do so.

Quarters: We’re left with eight men to decide among.  The first two quarterfinal contests are scheduled for today; the first is Fish-Ferrer, and the night match is between Djokovic and Kevin Anderson, who got past John Isner in straight sets yesterday. Tomorrow, Federer faces Gilles Simon, and Nadal plays Berdych.

Fish-Ferrer may be the only pairing in the quarters that makes for a close match.  Oddsmakers certainly think so: They give Mardy a 36% chance of reaching the semis, while the other three matches are at least 85/15 splits.

Challengers: It’s already a bizarre week in Barletta, a clay-court challenger with the strongest field of the three events this week at that level.  Of the top six seeds, only one–third seed Filippo Volandri–survived to the second round.  Fabio Fognini and Pere Riba, the two top seeds, both lost three-setters.

An equally notable but less surprising loser is 43-year-old former #1 Thomas Muster, who fell to Martin Fischer today, 6-0 6-3.

Another strong field is contesting the challenger in Barranquilla, Colombia, another clay court event, where the top seeds are Teymuraz Gabashvili and Horacio Zeballos.  The draw looks a lot like many of the other South American events of the last couple months, with one exception: Wayne Odesnik came through qualifying for a spot in the main draw.

This is Odesnik’s first challenger-level event since his drug suspension.  The qualifying draw was reasonably competitive, as he had to beat three top-500 players, including Marcel Felder.  His first-round opponent is Juan Pablo Brzezicki, the first top-200 guy he’s faced since Houston, almost exactly one year ago.

See you tomorrow!

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Tuesday Topspin: 17 Men Standing

Round of 17: All eight matches in the round of 16 are scheduled for today, but before the draw is set, Alexandr Dolgopolov will have to finish his match with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  The players split sets in their rain-muddled match, and will resume in a few hours at 3-2 in the third.

Let’s look at each of the fourth-rounders:

  • Rafael Nadal vs. TBA. Here’s a tall order: finish off a match that went late, take a few hours rest, and come back to face Nadal.  Not exactly a recipe for success.  Whoever comes through to meet him, it will be Rafa’s first real challenge since Indian Wells.  The fact that Tsonga played Dolgo to a draw is promising–after the loss in California to Xavier Malisse and the near-crash against Teymuraz Gabashvili, it wouldn’t have been that surprising if Dolgo had run away with it last night.
  • Florian Mayer vs. Tomas Berdych.  Berdych played what was, to me, the most interesting of yesterday’s matches.  He barely held off Carlos Berlocq, 7-6 7-5.  I’ve been a little rough on Berlocq lately, since he has no hard-court track record, yet he made it to the third round and pushed a top-10 player to a tiebreak.  He crumbled under pressure a few times with very inconvenient double faults, but generally played a very aggressive game from the baseline.  Consider me impressed.
  • Roger Federer vs. Olivier Rochus.  It’s been a big tournament for the Belgian, who upset Mikhail Youhzny yesterday after the Russian bludgeoned him in the first set.  Rochus has never beat Federer, but he has won a set three times, including a match in Halle five years ago, which was decided by a third-set tiebreak.  It’s been said that Federer has a harder time playing against guys he likes, and he certainly likes Rochus.
  • Janko Tipsarevic vs. Gilles Simon.  What a day for the Serbian–he breezed through his third-rounder against Philipp Petzschner, then teamed with Oliver Marach to defeat the Bryan brothers in doubles.  Simon had a tougher time of it, dropping the first set to Pablo Cuevas.  The oddsmakers give Simon a slight edge, suggesting he has a roughly 57% chance of reaching the quarters.
  • David Ferrer vs. Marcel Granollers.  Granollers has fought through three three-setters, an upset every one, while Ferrer lost only nine games in his first two matches combined.  It’s hard to imagine this one going any differently for the sixth seed.
  • Mardy Fish vs. Juan Martin del Potro.  Delpo made a huge statement in the third round with a drubbing of Robin Soderling.  Even if the Swede was far from his best, del Potro demonstrated why he belongs in the top five.  Delpo beat Fish in straights last month en route to the Delray Beach title, and today should be no different.
  • John Isner vs. Kevin Anderson.  I won’t be watching this one.  Someone will win 7-6(4) 6-4, and then he’ll lose to Djokovic.
  • Novak Djokovic vs. Viktor Troicki.  Last time the two friends played, Troicki won a single game.  This week, in two matches, Djokovic has lost only three games.  This match should take just about as long as the conclusion of the Tsonga-Dolgopolov contest.

As you can see, lots of great tennis today.  It all starts at 11:00 EST, with the Delpo-Fish match leading off.  See you tomorrow!


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Monday Topspin: Who’s Number Four?

World number four: I can’t remember the last time Robin Soderling looked so helpless on court.  He never earned a break point against Juan Martin del Potro and managed to win a paltry five games.  His position in the top five is safe for now, but you have to wonder how much longer it will be before Delpo climbs over him.

The part of del Potro’s game that doesn’t get enough credit is his defense.  Even on a bad day, Soderling unleashed some monster forehands, and the Argentine sent them right back–often to within a couple feet of the baseline.  More so than any of the other “big” players active right now, Delpo can play like a counterpuncher for a lengthy rally.

As long as del Potro keeps winning, we’ll see some interesting matchups.  In the fourth round tomorrow, he’ll face Mardy Fish, who scored a solid straight-set win yesterday over Richard Gasquet.  In the quarters, he’s seeded to face David Ferrer.  And if he makes it to the semifinals, his likely opponent is Novak Djokovic.  Even with Federer-Nadal possible in the other semi, Djokovic-Delpo could be the event of the tournament.

Novak’s quarter: Of course, Djokovic has to win a few matches to get there, too.  The way he’s playing, that sounds like a mere formality.  Even the draw is cooperating.  Last night, he won yet another set at love, beating James Blake 6-2 6-0.

Tomorrow, he’ll face Viktor Troicki, who won only one game against him at Indian Wells.  After that, he gets the winner of John Isner vs. Kevin Anderson, a strong contender for the most boring match of the event.  He may not bagel either of those big servers, but if Delpo reaches the semifinals, it’s a sure thing that Djokovic will be waiting.

Wild card: The biggest surprise still left in the bottom half of the draw is Marcel Granollers, author of three straight upsets.  In the first round, the Spainard defeated Benjamin Becker; not a huge coup as measured by ATP rankings, but a match in which sportsbooks gave him less than a 38% chance of winning.  He followed that up with a big three-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka, and yesterday he defeated Michael Llodra in his third-straight three-setter.

What makes Granollers’s success even more surprising is that he had only won two matches in his previous seven tournaments.  (Some of that is due to unlucky draws, including Djokovic in the first round of the Australian and Roger Federer in the second round in Dubai.)  He hadn’t won three straight matches since the indoor event in Valencia, where he reached the final as a lucky loser, finally falling to Ferrer.

His opponent tomorrow?  Ferrer.

Top half: Today, we’ll determine the remaining eight spots in the round of 16.  From where I’m sitting, the match of day pits Jo-Wilfried Tsonga against Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Tsonga is beatable right now, having just slipped past Teymuraz Gabashvili in the second round and losing to Xavier Malisse last week.  Dolgo will be able to absorb most of Tsonga’s power and force the Frenchman to play more consistently than he has in months.  It’s no surprise that sportsbooks give Dolgo a 59% chance of winning.

As I mentioned yesterday, there’s a wide-open draw section where Andy Roddick and Jurgen Melzer used to be.  Today we’ll find out who seizes the opportunity.  Janko Tipsarevic will play Philipp Petzschner, and Pablo Cuevas will try to follow up on his big upset over Roddick in his match against Gilles Simon.

Three of today’s matches seem extremely lopsided: Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano Lopez, Federer vs Juan Monaco, and Tomas Berdych vs Carlos Berlocq.  I’ve underestimated Berlocq before, so on that last one, I guess you never know.

Barletta: The clay-court challenger in Barletta, Italy this week has a strong draw, much like Le Gosier two weeks ago.  Several players headed straight to Italy after losing in the first round in Miami, so the top seeds include Fabio Fognini and Pere Riba.  Most notable in the draw is someone who wasn’t in Miami: Thomas Muster, who is apparently still on the comeback trail.

Muster was granted a wild card, and he’ll face countryman Martin Fischer in the first round.  The former world #1 is 43 years old and won a single match in eight tournament appearances last year.

See you tomorrow!


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Sunday Topspin: Goodbye, Top Ten

Roddick suffering: In sixteen matches yesterday, seven were upsets, with a seeded player losing to an unseeded one.  The most extreme of the seven was Pablo Cuevas’s defeat of Andy Roddick.

Roddick was clearly hurting, seeing the trainer three times.  Still, he put up a good fight, allowing only one break of serve and pushing Cuevas to a second-set tiebreak.  For his part, the Uruguayan served even better than his opponent, launching 15 aces.

Andy won the tournament last year, so the hit to his ranking will be enormous.  He’ll drop into the mid-teens, and given his usual lack of success on clay, it could be months before he gets back in the top ten.  It’s really a shame that after all the work he has put in reinventing his game, and the handful of great results he’s gotten from the effort, that he’s struggled as much as he has lately just to stay on the court.

Open quarters: Roddick’s loss creates a big opportunity for three other guys.  In the third round, Cuevas will face Gilles Simon; also in the quarter are Philipp Petzschner and Janko Tipsarevic, each of whom scored a straight-set upset, over Jurgen Melzer and Marin Cilic, respectively.  That leaves Simon as the only seeded player in that part of the draw, and the slight favorite to made it to a quarterfinal with Roger Federer.

An even more wide open section is the quarter that was meant to be Andy Murray’s.  Murray fell to Alex Bogomolov, and Pablo Andujar took out Fernando Verdasco.  That leaves John Isner as the presumptive quarterfinal matchup for Novak Djokovic.  Today, Isner will play Bogomolov, and Andujar will play Kevin Anderson, author of yet another upset on Friday against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Finishing the second round: As I’ve mentioned, seven seeded players went down yesterday.  A few of those were easily forseeable: Feliciano Lopez over Juan Ignacio Chela, Florian Mayer over Albert Montanes, and Olivier Rochus over Marcos Baghdatis.

The real surprise of the tournament has been some clay-court specialists, the sort of guys who sit in the bottom half of the top 100, show up at slams and 1000-level events, but rarely win a match.  I’ve been dismissive of Carlos Berlocq–rightfully so, I still think, because he has virtually no success on hard courts in his pro career.  Yet he upset Ernests Gulbis yesterday to earn a berth in the third round.

Berlocq’s opponent tomorrow, Tomas Berdych, had a scare against another clay-courter, Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo.  The Czech came through, but only after dropping a set to the Spaniard.

And then there’s Andujar.  His track record coming into the tournament was little better than Berlocq’s, yet he has defeated both Bernard Tomic and Verdasco.  The conditions in Miami are said to be closer to a clay event than the typical hard-court tournament, and based on the results so far, that seems to be the case.

Today: For the third round, we’re looking at a lot of tight matches.  In fact, Djokovic vs. Blake is the only truly lopsided contest.  Sportsbook odds suggest that four of the eight matches on today’s schedule are 60/40 or closer.

The highlight is Robin Soderling vs. Juan Martin del Potro.  Both men had to fight through three-setters to get this far, Soderling against Ivan Dodig and del Potro against Philipp Kohlschreiber.  They’ve only played each other three times; the last head-to-head encounter was in the 2009 tour finals, where del Potro won a semifinal match in a third-set tiebreak.

Also of interest is David Ferrer vs. Somdev Devvarman.  I didn’t give the Indian much of a chance against Milos Raonic, and he proved me wrong.  I have to imagine that Ferrer will have an answer for anything Devvarman offers; neither player does a lot of attacking, and Ferrer’s better than just about anybody on the defense.

With Roddick out, all of the Americans in the draw are in the bottom half, meaning they are all in action today.  In another potential highlight, Mardy Fish takes on Richard Gasquet.  And another one of the near-even tilts is between Sam Querrey and Viktor Troicki.  No matter how pessimistic you are about U.S. chances, though, rest assured that either Isner or Bogomolov will advance to the fourth round.

See you tomorrow!

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Saturday Topspin: All Figured Out

Backwards: Just when you think you have it all figured out, there’s a day of tennis like yesterday’s.  The upsets I suggested didn’t happen, and the automatic wins turned into disasters for the seeds.

At least Novak Djokovic is keeping things predictable.  He beat Denis Istomin 6-0 6-1.  The big question is not whether he can bagel James Blake in the third round, but whether he can bagel Blake twice.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four 6-0’s in seven matches, and three opponents who only managed a single game.  And Istomin, Viktor Troicki, and Ernests Gulbis are hardly unqualified to play at this level.

Center court: Before Djokovic took care of business, it was bad news for the big names.  Ivan Dodig was up a break on Robin Soderling in the third set before the Swede came charging back and escaped the upset.  He’ll live to see another day, meaning he gets to play Juan Martin del Potro, himself a narrow victor over Philipp Kohlschreiber.  At this point, Soderling can hardly be considered much of a contender for the title.

The shocker came a bit later, when Andy Murray fell to Alex Bogomolov.  I’m not sure whether this is better or worse than a loss to Donald Young; both make you wonder how much longer Murray can stay in the top 10.  Bogie is hardly a master returner, and Murray failed to win even 55% of first serve points.  I can just imagine him standing six feet behind the baseline, sending unforced errors in every direction.

Two more surprises: I didn’t think Pablo Andujar could beat Bernard Tomic; almost all of Andujar’s success has come on clay.  Once he beat Tomic, it was a no-brainer that he’d make easy picking for Fernando Verdasco.  Verdasco won the first set on schedule, then lost a second-set tiebreak and fell in the third.  It must have been very close, as there were only two breaks in the match, and Verdasco won more than half of the total points.

Then there’s Stanislas Wawrinka.  Marcel Granollers somehow bagelled him in about 20 minutes to open the match.  Stan made it interesting, winning a second-set tiebreak, but it Granollers eventually came out on top.  The last time Wawrinka lost a set at love was in April; the last time he was bagelled on a hard court was to Jurgen Melzer in the 2008 Olympics.

Today: I’m going to say it again: It looks like a fairly predictable day of tennis.  It can’t possibly turn out like yesterday, right?

Of the top few seeds, Rafael Nadal has the relatively tough draw, facing Kei Nishikori in the night session.  I can’t imagine Roger Federer will suddenly forget how to beat Radek Stepanek, or that Andy Roddick will stumble against Pablo Cuevas.

According to sportsbook odds, the tightest match of the day is Juan Ignacio Chela against the slightly-favored Feliciano Lopez.  The Vegas odds give Lopez about a 53% chance of winning; my system goes further and favors the Spainard to the tune of 63%.

The other “close” match is Florian Mayer vs. Albert Montanes.  Montanes is the seed; Mayer is the better hard-court player.  Sportsbooks say Mayer has a 60% chance of winning; I give him 65%.

Finally, Olivier Rochus will see if he can continue his current hot streaks, both in March and at Miami.  In last year’s second round, he defeated Novak Djokovic.  This year’s task is much easier: he faces Marcos Baghdatis, who hasn’t won a match since early Februrary in Rotterdam and lost his last set in Indian Wells to Somdev Devvarman at love.  Sportsbooks give the Belgian about a 40% chance of pulling the upset.

Challengers: This time, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe couldn’t beat Go Soeda.  Stebe still reached his third straight challenger semifinal, so his ranking will continue to climb.  In tonight’s final, Soeda faces Matthias Bachinger, another German having a solid 2011.  Bachinger is in his third challenger-level semifinal this year.

In Bath yesterday, Nicholas Mahut fell in the quarterfinals, while Dmitri Tursunov kept his comeback churning.  The Russian will face Brit wild card Daniel Evans today.

See you tomorrow!

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Friday Topspin: Youth is Returned

Goodbye, Americans: Jack Sock had his chance, and he let it slip away.  The Miami draw gave him a great chance of racking up plenty of ranking points through a first-round matchup with Carlos Berlocq, a clay-court specialist.  Neither player made more than 55% of first serves, and Sock won barely half of his first-serve points.

It gets worse.  The American earned 13 break points, of which he only converted three.  I don’t want to be too hard on Sock–he’s 18 and ranked outside of the top 500, so it’s not like he came in with high expectations.  Yet, I’m sure he knows as well as the fans do that he was awfully close to a 1000-level win.

Measured by points, Sock outperformed his countryman Ryan Harrison, who fell 7-5 6-2 to Rainer Schuettler.  As in Sock’s match, the culprit was the first serve percentage: Harrison barely made half.  Schuettler is too consistent and too smart to lose when he gets all those second balls.

Youth, gone: It wasn’t a good day for other youngsters, either.  Grigor Dimitrov lost in straights to Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Richard Berankis failed to convert a second-set tiebreak and lost to Feliciano Lopez in three.

The result I’m happy to see is Kei Nishikori over Jeremy Chardy.  If nothing else, it tells us that Nishikori is able to successfully focus on tennis very shortly after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Kei’s performance is the flip side of Sock’s and Harrison’s: He made 78% of his first serves, a figure that may have made the difference in a fairly close match.

As a reward for his hard work, Nishikori gets to face Rafael Nadal tomorrow.

One more: Just when you think Ivo Karlovic is unstoppable, he reminds you that the serve is fallible and the rest of his game will never save him.  Florian Mayer, who my hard court rankings place in the top 25, took down the Croat in straights, withstood 10 aces and took advantage of Karlovic’s weak return game.  Mayer won an astounding 86% of his own service points.

Today: Half of the seeds are in action, each facing one of Wednesday’s winners.  In a way, the second round of these 96-player events is less exiting than the first, because so many of the seconder-rounders seem to be lopsided.  Still, here are a few matches worth following today:

  • Milos Raonic vs Somdev Devvarman: Before Indian Wells, Raonic was hot; after, Devvarman’s the one with the momentum.  I suspect that Devvarman’s speed won’t play terribly well against the Canadian’s big game, meaning that the result will depend heavily on whether Raonic is able to bring the game that won him so many indoor matches.
  • Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Juan Martin del Potro: Last week, this was one of the highlights of the tournament, as Del Potro fought with stomach issues to defeat the German in two tiebreaks.  Kohlschreiber should feel like he has a chance here.
  • Thomaz Bellucci vs James Blake: Bellucci has yet to post many good results on hard courts, and Blake is unlikely to be fazed by the lefty spin off the Brazilian’s racquet.  It’s about a good a draw as Blake could have hoped for.
  • Mikhail Kukushkin vs Sam Querrey: If you’re looking for a possible upset, look no further.  Kukushkin is about an anonymous a player as you can be inside the top 100, yet he snuck by Jarkko Nieminen to reach the second round.  And as we’ve seen, Querrey has it in him to lose to almost anybody.
  • Igor Andreev vs John Isner: Another upset chance.  Andreev has a solid return game and, when he’s on his game, he’s remarkably resourceful on the court.  Not a very favorable first match for Isner.

As you can see, lots of good tennis today, especially if you’re willing to look past the lopsided matches on center court.

Stebe watch: Regular readers will have noticed that I’m obsessed with the progress of the young German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.  Last week, he reached his second straight semifinal then lost 6-2 6-0 to Uladzimir Ignatik.  This week, in Pingguo, he got to the quarters, where last night, he faced Ignatik once again.

Apparently the German learned something: He beat Ignatik in three sets, winning the first and losing the second in tiebreaks.  In the semifinals, he’ll face top seed Go Soeda, who he defeated in the semifinals two weeks ago in Kyoto.

See you tomorrow!

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Thursday Topspin: Underdog Days

It isn’t 2006 anymore: Both Nikolay Davydenko and Ivan Ljubicic were in action yesterday, and both are headed home early.  Davydenko lost in straight sets to Kevin Anderson, never even earning a break point chance against the South African.  Ljubicic fell to qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, which must be at least partly due to lingering health issues.

Holding out hope for a return to mid-2000’s form is James Blake, who squeaked into the second round against American qualifier Michael Russell.  Blake had to win it the hard way, taking tiebreaks in the second and third sets.  He’ll next face the Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci, a matchup that gives him a decent shot at getting through to the third round.

Bad day for Americans: Russell was representative of the U.S. qualifiers.  Robert Kendrick had to retire midway through his match against Igor Kunitsyn; Donald Young fell to Denis Istomin, and Ryan Sweeting failed to follow up on his strong showing at Indian Wells, losing to Xavier Malisse.

In fact, the only American besides Blake to win yesterday was Alex Bogomolov, who needed three sets to get by Victor Hanescu.  That’s a solid win for the resurgent Bogie, who will try to do his best Donald Young impression tomorrow when he faces Andy Murray.

More upsets: It wasn’t a good day for favorites.  Going by sportsbook odds, 9 of yesterday’s 16 matches were upsets, and one of the 7 non-upsets was the no-brainer contest between Juan Martin del Potro and Ricardo Mello.

Perhaps the most disappointing loss was Bernard Tomic’s failure to get past Pablo Andujar.  Tomic lost serve after going up 40-0 at 5-6 in the third set.  Andujar was a fantastic draw for the Aussie, as he’s a clay court specialist with very little success on hard courts.

One last result that catches my eye is Marsel Ilhan’s 6-2 6-1 victory over Tobias Kamke.  The decision isn’t a big surprise; sportsbooks had the match about even.  Whenever I’ve watched Ilhan, he’s been very streaky–the sort of guy who will win a match 7-6 0-6 6-1.  Outside of a few good challenger results, this is the first time he’s dismantled someone in the top 100 since he beat Pablo Cuevas 6-2 6-2 in the Miami first round last year.

On the card: Lots of good stuff on the schedule today.  Both American 18-year-olds will be playing: Ryan Harrison takes on Rainer Schuettler in the night session, and Jack Sock plays Carlos Berlocq this afternoon.  As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a big opportunity for Sock.  He might have drawn the weakest hard-court player in the field.

Many more young stars are in action today, as well.  Kei Nishikori takes on Jeremy Chardy; sportbooks give the Japanese a slight edge, while my projections put the match exactly even.  Richard Berankis draws Feliciano Lopez, and Grigor Dimitrov, straight from a comfortable trip through qualifying, will face Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Doubles draw: Without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the doubles field isn’t nearly as headline-grabbing as that of Indian Wells.  There are still plenty of top players involved.

Murray and Novak Djokovic are teaming up, and they face a possible second-rounder with Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  For that to happen, Mirnyi and Nestor will have to win their opener against Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.

Sadly, last week’s champions Malisse and Alexandr Dolgopolov aren’t reuniting, though both are in the draw.  Dolgo is teaming with Nicolas Almagro, and Malisse is paired with Jamie Murray.  Dolgo and Almagro are set for a second-round match with the Bryans; the American duo will start their tournament against the wild card team of Harrison and Sock.

One more: Much later today–it will be Friday in China–there’s a great match at the Pingguo challenger.  Uladzimir Ignatik and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, two fast-rising youngsters, face off in a quarterfinal.  Stebe is attempting to reach his third consecutive challenger semifinal is as many weeks, while Ignatik will try to beat the German for the second time.  These are both guys who you can expect to see in the top 100 within another year or two.

At the rate Stebe is climbing, he could get there by fall.

See you tomorrow!


Filed under Daily recaps, Doubles, Miami

Miami Projections

While Roger Federer still holds a very slight edge in my hard-court rankings, Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win in Miami.  My simulation gives the Serbian a 27.4% chance of winning back-to-back tournaments, while Federer comes in at 19.7%.

For more background on how I generate these projections, click here.  I’ve tweaked the system a bit since then; most notably, I discovered that my rankings were slightly underrating the chances of younger players and overrating those of older players.  I’ve adjusted my forecasts accordingly.


Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(1)Rafael Nadal      100% 84% 76.8% 62.0% 48.8% 28.5% 14.3% 
Jeremy Chardy        50%   9%  5.2%  2.3%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
Kei Nishikori        50%   8%  4.5%  1.9%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0% 
Feliciano Lopez      69%  43%  7.3%  2.7%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
Richard Berankis     31%  12%  1.5%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(26)Juan I Chela     100% 45%  4.8%  1.4%  0.4%  0.0%  0.0% 
(21)Dolgopolov       100% 74% 40.0% 12.8%  5.8%  1.7%  0.4% 
Andreas Seppi        52%  14%  4.3%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mischa Zverev        48%  12%  3.7%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Teymuraz Gabashvili  44%   9%  2.4%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Daniel Brands        56%  13%  3.6%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(15)JW Tsonga        100% 78% 45.9% 14.4%  7.5%  2.6%  0.6% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(11)Nicolas Almagro  100% 87% 54.4% 25.3%  8.3%  2.7%  0.6% 
Federico Gil         61%  10%  2.8%  0.4%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Paul Capdeville   39%   4%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Leonardo Mayer       35%  12%  3.6%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Ivo Karlovic     65%  30% 11.7%  4.2%  1.0%  0.2%  0.0% 
(20)Albert Montanes  100% 58% 26.7%  9.5%  2.5%  0.6%  0.1% 
(28)Ernests Gulbis   100% 91% 34.6% 17.1%  5.0%  1.3%  0.3% 
Carlos Berlocq       82%   8%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Jack Sock        18%   1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Adrian Mannarino     72%  11%  3.5%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ramirez Hidalgo      28%   0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(7)Tomas Berdych     100% 89% 61.4% 41.5% 17.4%  7.5%  2.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(3)Roger Federer     100% 92% 80.4% 64.1% 50.0% 34.3% 19.7% 
Fabio Fognini        39%   3%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Radek Stepanek       61%   5%  2.5%  0.9%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0% 
Sergiy Stakhovsky    56%  18%  1.8%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Grigor Dimitrov   44%  11%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(32)Juan Monaco      100% 70% 13.0%  5.5%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1% 
(22)Marcos Baghdatis 100% 85% 54.0% 18.1%  9.6%  4.0%  1.1% 
Blaz Kavcic          43%   7%  1.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Olivier Rochus    57%   8%  2.2%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pere Riba            39%   6%  0.8%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Yen-Hsun Lu          61%  14%  2.2%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(13)Mikhail Youzhny  100% 81% 38.9%  9.7%  4.3%  1.4%  0.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(10)Jurgen Melzer    100% 76% 37.0% 16.3%  4.8%  1.8%  0.4% 
Philipp Petzschner   64%  18%  3.9%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Florent Serra        36%   6%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Janko Tipsarevic     57%  15%  6.5%  2.2%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Robin Haase          43%   7%  2.5%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(18)Marin Cilic      100% 78% 49.1% 26.4%  9.1%  4.0%  1.2% 
(25)Gilles Simon     100% 78% 34.7% 16.9%  4.7%  1.4%  0.3% 
(WC)Ryan Harrison    62%  17%  3.7%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Rainer Schuettler 38%   5%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pablo Cuevas         52%  10%  3.9%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Michael Berrer       48%   6%  2.0%  0.5%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(8)Andy Roddick      100% 83% 55.3% 33.9% 13.5%  6.4%  2.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(6)David Ferrer      100% 96% 65.3% 40.1% 18.5%  5.9%  2.5% 
(q)Robert Kendrick   49%   2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Igor Kunitsyn     51%   2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Somdev Devvarman     49%   6%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Potito Starace       51%   8%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(31)Milos Raonic     100% 86% 32.6% 16.0%  5.9%  1.6%  0.5% 
(23)Michael Llodra   100% 67% 26.5%  9.1%  2.6%  0.5%  0.1% 
Xavier Malisse       67%  25%  5.6%  1.2%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Ryan Sweeting     33%   8%  1.4%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Benjamin Becker      54%   9%  3.7%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Marcel Granollers    46%   8%  2.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(12)Stan Wawrinka    100% 83% 60.3% 32.1% 14.5%  4.5%  1.8% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(14)Mardy Fish       100% 73% 40.4% 12.3%  5.5%  1.4%  0.4% 
Julien Benneteau     61%  18%  6.0%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Gimeno-Traver        39%   8%  1.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ivan Ljubicic        85%  39% 19.3%  4.8%  1.7%  0.3%  0.1% 
(q)Paolo Lorenzi     15%   1%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(17)Richard Gasquet  100% 60% 32.3%  9.5%  4.0%  0.8%  0.2% 
(29)Kohlschreiber    100% 16%  5.1%  2.2%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0% 
(PR)Del Potro        100% 83% 50.8% 38.6% 25.8% 11.5%  6.1% 
Richardo Mello       0%    0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ivan Dodig           38%   5%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Andrey Golubev       62%  12%  1.6%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(4)Robin Soderling   100% 84% 42.1% 31.0% 20.1%  8.5%  4.2% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(5)Andy Murray       100% 99% 87.6% 65.1% 30.5% 18.9% 10.8% 
Victor Hanescu       55%   0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Alex Bogomolov    45%   0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Santiago Giraldo     56%  21%  2.4%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Igor Andreev         44%  15%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(30)John Isner       100% 65%  8.9%  3.5%  0.5%  0.2%  0.0% 
(24)Garcia-Lopez     100% 35% 15.9%  3.1%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Nikolay Davydenko    87%  61% 39.6% 15.1%  4.9%  2.3%  1.0% 
Kevin Anderson       13%   3%  0.8%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Bernard Tomic    68%  11%  1.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pablo Andujar        32%   3%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(9)Verdasco          100% 86% 41.5% 12.0%  3.1%  1.1%  0.4% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(16)Viktor Troicki   100% 77% 43.0%  5.9%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1% 
Tobias Kamke         51%  13%  3.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Marsel Ilhan      49%  10%  2.6%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Jarkko Nieminen      59%  22%  9.6%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mikhail Kukushkin    41%  12%  4.1%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(19)Sam Querrey      100% 66% 37.4%  6.6%  1.9%  0.5%  0.1% 
(27)Thomaz Bellucci  100% 69%  8.5%  3.9%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0% 
(q)Michael Russell   31%   7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)James Blake      69%  25%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Donald Young      47%   3%  1.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Denis Istomin        53%   0%  0.2%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(2)Novak Djokovic    100% 97% 89.7% 81.5% 55.9% 41.2% 27.4%


Filed under Forecasting, Miami, Research

Wednesday Topspin: Young Sneaks In

Miami draw is set: All 96 players, including 12 qualifiers, are placed.  Matches begin with the first round of the bottom half of the draw in a couple of hours.

One of the few surprises out of qualifying was another strong effort from Donald Young.  Unseeded, he advanced into the main draw by beating Frank Dancevic, 6-1 1-6 7-5.  Young faces Denis Istomin today, setting up a possible second-rounder with Novak Djokovic.

Young is one of five Americans who made it through qualifying. Robert Kendrick, Michael Russell, and Ryan Sweeting were all seeded in the top 12, and they won the matches they were supposed to win.  Alex Bogomolov scored a minor upset with his three-setter over Simone Bolleli.  The only U.S. player to lose yesterday was Tim Smyczek, who put up another strong effort in forcing Olivier Rochus to a third set.

Rochus, you may recall, had a big tournament in Miami last year, beating Richard Gasquet in the first round and then shocking Djokovic in the second.  He’s coming off a challenger victory last week, and is in a relatively weak section of the draw.  He’ll open the tournament tomorrow against Blaz Kavcic; if he wins, he’ll face Marcos Baghdatis, and the winner of that contest is seeded for a third-rounder with Mikhail Youzhny.

The big picture: As was the case in Indian Wells last week, all the action was in one half of the draw.  This week, the bottom half is by far the more fluid of the two.  The top half seeds Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for a semifinal matchup, and with the possible exceptions of Ivo Karlovic and Tomas Berdych in Nadal’s quarter and Andy Roddick in Roger’s, there isn’t much in their way.

The bottom half, despite featuring Djokovic, is much less likely to go as planned.  Juan Martin del Potro opens the tournament today against Ricardo Mello; if he wins, he faces Philipp Kohlschreiber (again!).  The winner of that match gets a third-rounder with Robin Soderling.  To say the least, this is not the draw Soderling would’ve hoped for.

Also in Soderling’s quarter are Gasquet, David Ferrer, and Milos Raonic.

Djokovic doesn’t have quite as hard going, at least until a possible quarterfinal with Andy Murray.  Other possibilities there are John Isner and Fernando Verdasco.

In a few hours, I’ll run predictions on the draw and post my forecast for the tournament.

A dozen Americans: There are a total of 12 U.S. players in the draw: the five qualifiers, the familiar four seeds, plus three wild cards in Ryan Harrison, James Blake, and Jack Sock.  Blake faces Russell today, while Harrison opens against Rainer Schuettler for a chance to face Gilles Simon.  Given the draw, I have a hard time seeing Ryan match his success from last week–both players are smart counterpunchers who will be able to outlast the youngster.

Sock, the youngest player in the draw, is the one who has been granted a big opportunity.  He faces Carlos Berlocq, a clay court specialist whose challenger-level success has gotten him inside the top 75.  Here’s an amazing bit of trivia: Berlocq hasn’t won an ATP main draw match on hard courts in five years.  The kicker: That last win was a 6-0 6-0 drubbing of a 16-year-old American wild card … in Miami.  That time, it was Donald Young.  Blake avenged Young’s loss by double-bagelling Berlocq in the following round.

New wild card: Turns out Raonic didn’t need his wild card after all; a last-minute withdrawal got him in to the tournament the old-fashioned way.  He’s the 31st seed, set to face Ferrer in the third round.  Karlovic was granted the newly-available ticket in, and he’ll face Florian Mayer tomorrow for a shot at Albert Montanes.

Enjoy the tennis, and remember to check back later today for my complete draw forecast!

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Filed under American tennis, Daily recaps, Miami