Tuesday, November 23, 2010

World Tour Finals Day 2

At last, we've had an interesting match at the World Tour Finals! After three more blow-out, straight matches in the first singles and the first two doubles matches, the night match between Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal featured stellar tennis from both players. Roddick won the first set and was up a break in the second set, but Nadal picked up his game and the American couldn't quite stay level with the world number one from the back of the court. It was a very hard-fought match, and even though he didn't come away with the victory, Roddick has to be encouraged by the result.

He came into the event playing solid tennis, but he hadn't had a win against a top-ten player since Cincinnati, and his injury status was sort of unresolved. But he started the event playing the only player in his group that he has a losing record against, the reigning champion of the past three grand slams, and world number one. If he could have won that match, Roddick would have felt pretty confident about being able to run the table. Frankly, if he can play as well as he did against Nadal in his next two matches, Berdych doesn't have a shot, and Djokovic could be in trouble. Obviously, Roddick will be disappointed by the way his level dipped at key moments (serving up a minibreak in the second set tiebreak?) but overall, he was playing at a very high level. He forced the top player in the world to dig deep and play his very best tennis. Roddick's still in with a shout, which is the benefit of the round robin format.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, I think we may have our second and perhaps third tightly-contested matches, since the line-up is absolutely appetizing. First off, we have Federer vs. Murray, a rematch of the Australian Open, Toronto, and Shanghai finals, this year. Murray leads the overall head to head 8-5 and this year by 2-1. Both of them won their opening matches, so a victory tomorrow would all but seal their place in the semifinals. Not to mention the fact that Federer won their meeting at the finals last year (in London!) but Murray won the year before - there's a lot on the line, here. I think Murray probably played better in his opening round match, but his opponent also played worse. Murray has gotten the better of Federer more often than not lately (when it hasn't been in a Grand Slam, anyway) but Fed has been in better form. This one's too close to call.

But if there's a lot riding on the first match, there's even more riding on the second one. Robin Soderling and David Ferrer, who each lost their opening rounds, need a win to stay in contention. Not to mention, the pair met five times this year (the most meetings of any pair in 2010, leading up to the World Tour Finals) with Soderling leading 3-2, but Ferrer won two of the last three. Their five meetings were all since Wimbledon, too - which means they have had plenty of looks at each other's games in the past few months. Ferrer played better in his opening match, but Soderling was in great form two weeks ago in Paris. Again, this one is just too close to call.

I'm excited for both of these matches, and hoping that they can live up to the level of play that Roddick and Nadal set today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

World Tour Finals Day 1

So the first day of action at the World Tour Finals was a bit of a dud, in all honesty.

Robin Soderling may have replaced Andy Murray as the world number four and won his first Masters Series shield last week, but he looked very much like the Soderling of a couple years ago who was mired around 25 in the world against Murray today. Honestly, I was really puzzled by Soderling's tactics today. It was always going to be tough for Soderling to hang from the back of the court with Murray, since the Scot can run down just about anything. But I thought that the solution for the Swede was just to bludgeon the ball with increasing force. That's been the formula for beating Murray in the past - Verdasco, Gonzalez, Berdych, Cilic, Querrey, even Soderling did it that way in their previous matches. The secret was out. But shockingly, today Robin's gameplan was to rush the net every chance he got, where he was either completely helpless on his volleys or a target for Murray to pass. It was a beatdown.

The second match, between Roger Federer and David Ferrer, looks like it had a similar scoreline, but it was actually a bit closer than that. Ferrer may have won fewer games, but that's in large part because he started off the match in absolutely awful form, spraying his forehand and unable to hit a first serve. He finally got into the match, but he was already down a double break, and once he blinked in the second set, it was pretty much over. Still, it was a much more encouraging performance from Ferrer than from Soderling - the Spaniard actually knew what he had to do in order to beat Federer, he just couldn't play at that high a level for long enough, and he missed a couple key points. Soderling just looked baffled and overawed by the situation.

Looking ahead to tomorrow's matches, it's very difficult for me to see Berdych upsetting Djokovic. Since the two played at Wimbledon, their levels of play could not have been any different. Berdych has been absolutely AWOL while Djokovic has found the best form he's been in since early 2008. Barring a miraculous revival from Berdych (or a grievous injury to Novak) there's no way that the Serb loses this one.

The night match tomorrow could be very interesting, but I think that the odds of letdown are pretty high here. Both players are in questionable condition here - Nadal skipped the last tournament of the year due to injury. We'll find out tomorrow whether he would have skipped that tournament regardless of where it fell in the calendar, or if he was just limiting his play in order to maximize his chances here at the year-end championships. Normally, that's not a tactic I'd associate with Nadal, but these championships are the biggest hole in Nadal resume by far. If he was just saving his strength for this event, the rest of the field could be in trouble. But if he's really hobbled and worn down by another long (if spectacular) season, then the other players in his group have a good shot.

Roddick's level of play may be just as much a question mark. He squeaked into the year-end championships after his year, which started out spectacularly, was sidetracked by a mild bout of mono and injury. All week, he's been saying that he's just glda to have qualified, and nobody's really talking about him as a contender. Either he's really not thinking he's at a level where he can win four to five matches against the best players in the game, or he's just flying under the radar.

We'll know a lot more about the answers to both of these questions after the match tomorrow. I'm very curious to see how it goes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World Tour Finals Preview

Before looking ahead to the Tour Finals in London, a quick look back at the culmination of the Paris Masters. Semifinal day was one of the best days of the entire tennis year, with Gael Monfils upsetting Roger Federer and Robin Soderling holding off a stern challenge from Michael Llodra. Both winners had to save match points, and both matches were settled in a third-set tiebreak. I considered it a great rebuke for all the commentators who said that the tennis season ended after the U.S. Open - this was a pretty exciting result. The final didn't quite live up to expectations, as Monfils was never really in it, even though he took the second set to a tiebreak. Kudos to Soderling for winning his first Masters Series shield - honestly, I'm surprised it took him that long. Monfils played amazing tennis but couldn't quite close the deal. I think next year could be big for him, though.

In any case, the draw came out today for the World Tour Finals, and I've read articles complaining both about the weakness of Federer's gorup and of Nadal's group. Personally, I think the two groups are relatively well-balanced, and should lead to some interesting match-ups.

Group A has top seed Rafael Nadal, U.S. Open finalist Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, and 8th-place finisher Andy Roddick. Despite the fact that Roddick is lowest-ranked player in the year-end finals, he's not the weakest player here. Tomas Berdych has been in terrible form since he made the final at Wimbledon, going 8-12 in that span, and only winning back-to-back matches two times. He also has a 1-6 record against the other players in his section this year, with the lone win coming over a lackluster Djokovic in the Wimbledon semis. It's tough to imagine Berdych making a run here, considering just how poorly he's played. Since beating Federer and Djokovic back to back, Berdych's biggest win has been against world number 37 Andrey Golubev. Barring a stunning reversal of fortune, he goes 0-3.

Roddick is an interesting question mark. Since the U.S. Open, Roddick has played stellar tennis - until he's had to play a top player. He lost an incredibly close match to Gael Monfils, then really underperformed in his matches against Federer and Soderling. Thankfully for Roddick, they're both in the other Round Robin group. Instead he gets Nadal and Djokovic - and Roddick is 1-0 against each of them this year. Unfortunately for Roddick, he beat both of them outdoors in North America. While Roddick will probably enjoy the conditions here as well, it remains to be seen if it will allow him to play his absolute best. Of course, if Roddick's serve is firing and he can play consistently enough to let loose on a few of his groundstrokes, he'll be tough to beat.

While Roddick's injury status is a question mark - he looked healthy enough in Paris, but he's been hampered through much of the year - it's nowhere near as up in the air as Rafael Nadal's. He's been having shoulder troubles this Fall, and even withdrew from the Paris Masters as a precaution. It will be interesting to see whether he skipped Paris simply because he was having injury difficulties, or if he was trying to maximize his chances at the year-end championships, where Nadal has never done well, historically. He's 4-7 at the event in three appearances. Shockingly, Nadal and Djokovic have only played once this year, while they played an astonishing seven times in 2009, and their matches are always close.

Djokovic has been in good form, but he may be more focused on the Davis Cup final, which follows pretty closely after the WTF in London. The biggest question will be whether or not Nadal is injured, but I think that the odds are pretty good that any two of Roddick, Nadal, and Djokovic will find their way out of this section of the draw. The odds are longest for Berdych, but he has wins over everybody in his section, at least...

That's not the case in Group B, where David Ferrer is 0-10 against Roger Federer. Of course, Robin Soderling, who is also in that group, once had that sort of record against Roger. He may have notched his first win there this year, but Federer is still 24-1 against those two players. The intriguing part of that section of the draw is that the fourth player is one of the few people who Federer has a losing record against: Andy Murray.

It's appropriate, first of all, that Robin Soderling and David Ferrer meet up in this round robin group. Ferrer, while not having any particularly big results this year, has won more matches than any player not named Nadal or Federer. And he and Soderling have faced off more often this season than any other pair of players, with Soderling leading the head-to-head 3-2 this year. In addition to this competitive match-up and Ferrer's abysmal record against Federer, Ferrer actually has a 3-1 record against Andy Murray, though all of those wins were on clay. As I noted, Ferrer has not had any particularly big wins this year, though he has been in five finals and won two titles. He's been a solid player, showing up every week, but that may not be enough to get him results when he's only player other top guys. On the other hand, in Ferrer's only other appearance here, he made the finals of the event, going 3-0 in Round Robin play. So who knows?

Soderling enters the event on the biggest high, having just won the biggest title of his career. He's also the only player entering the event on a winning streak, as a result. He made the semis here last year, beating Nadal and Djokovic along the way, before he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro. As noted above, Soderling has a terrible record against Federer, and while the Sod does love indoor courts, the conditions are about as different as could be compared to the slow, heavy courts at Roland Garros where the Swede got his one win against Roger. Soderling and Murray have a competitive match history, 2-2, though Soderling has won their only match this year, which was their first since 2006.

Murray's form coming into this tournament is interesting. He just dipped to number five, being superseded by Soderling in the rankings. He played well in the U.S. hardcourt swing prior to the U.S. Open, and then won in Shanghai, but it's been either feast or famine for Murray, who lost to Ljubicic and Monaco when he wasn't winning in China. He can regain the fourth spot in the rankings if he makes it further than Soderling - or even wins an extra match! - but he has a tricky section and he may finish the year at five if he cracks under the pressure of being in London. It's been both a blessing and a curse for Murray in the past.

And of course, Federer. Despite losing to Monfils in the Bercy semifinals, he very nearly won that match, and he had won the previous two tournaments heading into that match. He's 29-7 in the World Tour Finals, with four titles to his name. He hasn't won it since 2007, so he must be itching to get back in that winner's circle. Also, if he wants to reclaim the world number one ranking from Rafael Nadal (and he surely does) then a win here would be a great step towards that in 2011. I don't want to put too much weight on it, but Federer's results here could indicate whether he really can get close to the dominating form he showed at the peak of his career, or if those days are really behind him for good.

Lots on the line here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Paris Masters Quarterfinals

And that does it! The race to the year-end championships in London finished today, with one win and one loss. Andy Roddick started off the day with a victory over Ernests Gulbis, which gave him enough points to ensure that Jurgen Melzer was unable to qualify for the top eight, even if he were to run through the draw and win the whole tournament. After that Monfils recovered from a complete misstep of a drop shot that cost him the first set tiebreak to beat Fernando Verdasco, the last remaining challenger for one of those eight spots. With the other contenders out of the running, Berdych, Ferrer, and Roddick were all assured of qualifying for the elite group.

However, this didn't necessarily inspire them to stellar play. Tomas Berdych was up a set and in a second-set tiebreak against Nikolay Davydenko, when apparently the wheels just came off. After losing the tiebreak, Davydenko fed Berdych a bagel, improving his record to 9-1 against the Czech. And David Ferrer lost a tightly-contested (but not especially well-played match) against Jurgen Melzer, who ended up enjoying the conditions more than his baselining, dirtballing Spaniard opponent. Whether Melzer was disappointed or relieved by not having to worry about qualifying for London, one can't be sure, but it was still a good win over Ferrer, who's been playing good tennis in this last part of the season.

The other upset of the day was a complete and utter shocker. Michael Llodra came up with some absolutely inspired tennis to beat Novak Djokovic, the second seed and defending champion. Down 6-3 in the first set tiebreaker, Llodra played five of the best points of his career to come back win it, 8-6. And he kept that form up in the second set, breaking Djokovic twice while saving the three break points he faced. This was a huge match, because the pair will likely face off again in a couple weeks in the Davis Cup final. France may not have anyone in the year-end championship, but they do have a couple players who are finishing the year hot, which they'll need to be to go into a hostile Belgrade and win the Cup.

The other matches of the day were not terribly interesting. Federer beat Stepanek, and is starting to look a lot like his imperious old self again. Soderling wasn't too challenged by Wawrinka either, who was unable to finish his season by building on his big run at the U.S. Open. And Andy Murray was too steady for Cilic, who really outplayed the Scot for much of the match, but wilted in the pressure moments. The Croat looked ready to become a major player at the start of the year, but he has not finished strong. He has a ton of points to defend in the first few months of 2011 as well, so here's hoping he can find his form in the off-season.

Looking ahead to the quarterfinals, we continue to have some very appetizing match-ups. Jurgen Melzer plays sacrificial lamb to Roger Federer. They've played twice this year, both times in Grand Slams, and Federer has won 6 out of 6 sets. Only one even went to a tiebreak, the others were either 6-2 or 6-3. But Melzer is playing with house money at this point. He'll be going to London for doubles, so he'll certainly be signed up as an alternate in case one of the top eight guys is injured (still not sure how Rafa's shoulder and knees are doing...) and there's no reason for him to do anything but play his best tennis at this point. That said, that probably won't be enough to trouble Federer.

Federer's semifinal opponent may be too close to call at this point, but whoever it may be, we know they're nursing an injury. Gael Monfils was troubled by some knee problems in his victory over Verdasco (the crowd really helped him over the finish line) and Andy Murray's wrist was bothering him in his match against Nalbandian. Murray leads the head-to-head against Monfils, but the Frenchman loves playing in Paris, and he made the final here last year. The Parisian crowd doesn't seem to be too enamored of the petulant, fussy Scotsman, so expect them to be a major factor in the match, if it's close. Monfils needs to show up, though - if he plays his passive game, he'll be toast. Murray is just as a good a defender as he is, and on most days, Murray is better at turning defense into attack. Still, this should be a fun one.

In the bottom half of the draw, the sudden loss of Novak Djokovic makes the stronger semifinal significantly more important. Instead of the Djoker waiting in the semis, the winner of the Roddick-Soderling match will get either Nikolay Davydenko, who has been in poor form this part of the season, or Michael Llodra, who may have put on an astounding performance against Djokovic, but it seems unlikely that he'll be able to maintain that form. He lost to a player ranked 131st in the world at a French challenger just a few weeks ago.

So whoever wins between Andy Roddick and Robin Soderling will feel like they've got their ticket to the finals punched. The pair has already played twice this year in ATP Masters Series events, and Roddick came out on top both times, but they were both decided by extremely close margins. Soderling's record is strange - despite having made 2 Grand Slam finals, he's never made the final of a Masters event. There are two factors in play here that will make this match interesting: the first is that the court surface here is incredibly quick, which helps Roddick since Soderling takes huge swings at his groundstrokes, and the timing is much tougher on a fast surface. That's why Soderling excels on the slow clay of Roland Garros, the bounce gives him time to set up for his shots. But on the other hand, the other two times Roddick played Soderling were both outdoors and on U.S. soil. Of course, Roddick thrives in America, but being indoors helps Soderling on his serve, since he has one of the highest ball tosses in the game, and the lack of wind or sunlight helps him with that. Soderling actually beat Roddick indoors in France back in 2008. This is a real pick-em, with a lot on the line for both guys.

The other quarterfinal, between Davydenko and Llodra, will be interesting because nobody really expected either of these guys to make it thus far, much less further. But sometime, you can find your form at just the right time and see the draw open up for you a bit, and turn around a rather humdrum year. It will also be interesting to see if Llodra can continue to conjur up the kind of magic he displayed against Djokovic, which was really some stupendous stuff.

I like that the season is ending with a bang, and a lot of the top players still at their best. It often has happened in the past that the top guys lose their motivation in the final weeks of the season, which is why the Paris final has often had some surprising winners in the past, and why Federer has never gotten past the quarters here - before this year, anyway.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Paris Masters Round of 16

Despite the fact that we're in the last week of the regular tennis year, a time where there are always some renewed calls for the shortening of the season, the tournament in Paris has been relatively free of big-name upsets. The top players don't seem particularly jaded or worn out, at least through the first two rounds. Out of the 16 seeds, only four have lost thus far, the highest of which was Mikhail Youzhny, who retired against Ernests Gulbis with an injury. In addition to the ninth-seeded Russian, Nicolas Almagro lost to Radek Stepanek, Ivan Ljubicic lost to Stan Wawrinka, and John Isner lost to Michael Llodra. Really, none of those are shocking results, and as a result of the dearth of surprising matches in the first couple rounds, the latter stages of the tournament are shaping up to be very interesting.

The top quarter features Roger Federer against Radek Stepanek, and they played as recently as last week in Basel. Unfortunately for Radek, he got blitzed in that match, and I don't see any reason why he won't suffer the same fate. The second match in this quarter, though, is potentially more interesting. Jurgen Melzer and David Ferrer are both aiming to qualify for the year-end championships, and while Melzer needs this match to keep his chances alive, Ferrer could lose this match and still have a good chance of making it to London. The Spaniard looked a little shaky against the Italian Fognini today, so he may be troubled by Melzer, who is still on a winning streak from his title in Vienna.

The other big match for the ATP Tour finals tomorrow is between Gael Monfils and Fernando Verdasco. If either Verdasco or Melzer loses, then Berdych qualifies automatically. If both lose, then Roddick, Ferrer, and Berdych have all sealed their spots. Verdasco was almost out of the tournament in the first round, down a set to Frenchman Arnaud Clement, before he reeled off nine straight games to win the match. That had more to do with Clement than Hot Sauce, though. Monfils also had trouble in his first round match, coming back from a double-break and 5-1 down in the first set to win it in two. Monfils will have to start a lot better against Fernando, but based on their recent form and the home field advantage, you have to learn towards Le Monf in this one.

The fourth match in the top half of the draw is a rematch of this year's Australian Open semifinal between Andy Murray and Marin Cilic. You have to say, considering how hot both of those players were at that point in the year, neither one had the success they might have expected this season. Cilic has been playing quite poorly since as far back as the clay-court swing, showing none of the firepower he demonstrated at the end of last year and the start of this one. Andy Murray just got through a very tough second-round match against David Nalbandian, who is frankly playing better tennis than the Croat these days. It'd be tough for Cilic to upset Murray again, even though he showed he has the potential to play that well when he trounced the Scot in last year's U.S. Open. He hasn't been able to play that level of tennis lately.

In the bottom half, Andy Roddick gets another early start - playing at 10:30 in the morning for the second straight day. It certainly didn't bother him in his match against Jarkko Nieminen, and I don't expect it should affect him much against Gulbis. The Latvian is another player who is capable of beating Roddick - of beating anybody, really - but he hasn't been at his best lately. Gulbis will have to play better tennis than he's played since the French Open, or hope that Roddick's serve isn't firing tomorrow. At least one of those things will have to happen for Ernie to hope to spoil the American's bid for another appearance at the year-end championships.

Roddick or Gulbis will probably be playing Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, unless Stanislas Wawrinka can pull off an upset. The Swiss number two looked to be poised for a career resurgence at the U.S. Open, where he blew Andy Murray off the court, finished the campaign of the last American standing, and made his first career grand slam quarterfinal. Since then, he's gone 4-3, but he has lost to Federer, Nadal, and Monfils, so those were tough matches. But Wawrinka needs to end the season with another big win under his belt under the wing of new coach Peter Lundgren. Soderling might just be that scalp. That's going to be an interesting one.

Novak Djokovic has the unenviable task of playing one of the two remaining Frenchmen in Paris, as Michael Llodra upset John Isner, who was probably ready to end his season and pay attention to some NCAA football. Djokovic won this title last year, so he has a lot of points to defend, and has been playing solid tennis since the U.S. Open, since the only person he's lost to in that time was Roger Federer. Tough luck for Llodra, but this match could be an interesting preview of the second singles rubber at the Davis Cup final in a couple weeks. Both of these players will be looking to learn as much about their opponents as possible tomorrow, in preparation for that tie.

The last Round of 16 match is another interesting one. Tomas Berdych plays Nikolay Davydenko. Berdych is the higher-ranked player, but the question of who's in better form is really a race to the bottom. Berdych hasn't made a tournament semifinal since Wimbledon, and Davydenko hasn't made one since Rotterdam, back in February! But Davydenko owns the Czech in the head-to-head, winning 8 of their 9 matches, and his only loss came at Wimbledon, where Davydenko could lose to just about anybody. I don't know who to lean towards in this one, but if Berdych loses, he won't have much confidence heading into the year-end championships.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paris Masters Preview and Week 44 Look Back

We had a pair of hometown winners this week, as Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic in Basel and David Ferrer beat surprise finalist and lucky loser Marcel Granollers in Valencia. Once the finals were set, those are the results we might have expected, but the semifinals had a couple of surprises.

The Roddick-Federer match in the semis looked like it would be an appetizing match-up, but unfortunately, Andy Roddick didn't really show up for the match. He played one of the poorest matches I've seen him play since he lost to Gilles Simon while suffering from mono this summer. He started the match serving at about 30%, and while he did improve that percentage as the match went on, his serve was never really on. And for Roddick, it's hard for him to win a match against anyone when that shot isn't working, and it's impossible for him to do it against Federer, even when Roger doesn't have to do anything special. That's really the worst possible result for Roddick - if he had lost but played a respectable match, he could take pride in that, but losing the match due to his own poor standard of play is not going to help build his confidence going into the last weeks of the season.

David Ferrer played Robin Soderling in the Valencia semis for the fifth time this year, and he won for the second time. That was a bit of a surprise, but Marcel Granollers' dismissal of Gilles Simon was more of a shock. Granollers had lost to Teymuraz Gabashvili in the qualifying draw, but got into the main tournament thanks to a withdrawal. He then won three matches against higher-ranked players and made it to the final.

As a result of the action this week, there weren't any major moves on the road to the finals in London. There's one week of regular action left, and here's how it stands. The likeliest outcome is that the current top 8 players will be the 8 who make it to the finals. The only way that Berdych (currently ranked 6th) doesn't make it is if either Youzhny or Verdasco wins the tournament and Roddick and Ferrer pass him, which would mean Roddick would have to make the semis and Ferrer would have to make at least the second round, while Berdych doesn't even win a match. The odds are good for Berdych.

Roddick and Ferrer are also in good shape, but they're not as sure bets. Melzer could bump Roddick if the Austrian wins the tournament and Roddick doesn't get any points, Youzhny would need to make the final, and Verdasco could do it by making the semis. Ferrer would need Verdasco to make the final or Youzhny to win. Considering Verdasco's form lately and Youzhny's back injury, I think the top 8 players are safe bets. Youzhny would need to get through Roddick and Verdasco would need to get through Gael Monfils and Andy Murray. Melzer would need to get through Ferrer and Federer, the winners of both of last week's tournaments. But two years ago, Tsonga needed to win the tournament to make the finals, and he played the second-best tournament of his life to do it. So anything can happen.

Looking at the other players involved in the BNP Paribas Masters. The most interesting thing is Nadal's withdrawal from the tournament - I think it may be because the Spaniard wants to make a better showing at the year-end tournament, where he has never performed well. That's one of the few remaining holes in his resume, so he may be skipping Paris to be fresher for London. Or he could really be on the verge of ending his season, which wouldn't shock me much either.

As a result, Federer is the top seed and favorite to win the tournament, since he's now on a nine match and two-tournament winning streak. As if that weren't enough, he has a pretty clear path to the semifinals. He opens against either Mahut or Gasquet, followed by Nicolas Almagro and then either Melzer or Ferrer. There's nobody in that quarter than can bother Federer, these days.

But his potential semifinal opponent, Andy Murray, has beaten him in two of their three meetings, this year. The Scot has an interesting draw, finding David Nalbandian or Marcel Granollers in his second-round match. Of course, he trounced Nalbandian earlier this year, so that may not be as exciting as it looks at first glance. After that, he could get either Cilic or one of two Ukrainian players. In the quarters, he'll probably have Verdasco or Monfils, who is now the top Frenchman in the tournament with Tsonga's injury-induced withdrawal.

The third quarter is an interesting one - Andy Roddick has the most to play for in the quarter, for sure. He'll open against either Xavier Malisse or a hot Jarkko Nieminen, and then he'll have either Gulbis or Youzhny, which is going to be a big match for two potential players in London. The other half of that quarter has Robin Soderling and Ivan Ljubicic, as well as Stan Wawrinka and Gilles Simon. You have to favor Soderling to come through, but there aren't really any weak spots there. Roddick has won both of their matches so far this year, so he can't be too upset about his draw.

Roddick also has to like that his most likely semifinal opponent is Novak Djokovic, against whom Roddick has played exceptionally well lately. Djokovic has another tough quarter, since it has Berdych, Isner, and Davydenko in it. In addition, Djokovic has to play either Monaco or Sam Querrey in his first round. Isner could open against Llodra - the pair played an epic match two weeks ago in Montpellier. The third round match between Berdych and Davydenko will be a big one for both players, assuming Davydenko can get past either Bellucci or Kohlschreiber.

There's still lots of action left in this last week of the regular season.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week 44 Semifinals

We're through to the final four in both of the ATP tournaments taking place this week, and there are some very appetizing match-ups. Quarterfinals day was maybe lacking some of the excitement that it looked like it might have had, but there was still some amazing tennis on display.

Out of the eight matches taking place today, only two were not won in straight sets. Argentine Juan Monaco faltered against Lucky Loser Marcel Granollers, who continues his campaign as one of the two remaining Spaniards in Valencia. That's a big win for Granollers, who was 17-20 on the year coming into this tournament. Unfortunately, I don't think he can pull of that magic again in the semis, as he faces Gilles Simon, who ousted Nikolay Davydenko in three - though it should have only taken two. Davydenko played brilliantly for intervals, but then he would completely lose his way. In the end, Simon was just too steady.

The other semifinal may not go terribly well for the other remaining Spaniard, David Ferrer, who is rewarded for his straight sets defeat of Andreas Seppi with the dominant player of the tournament thus far, Robin Soderling, who ousted Gael Monfils as if it were no small feat. It was strong play from Soderling, but honestly, Monfils didn't really show up for this match, which is a shame. Having just won a tournament last week and summarily dismissed Stanislas Wawrinka in the previous round, I was hopeful that Monfils had reached a new level in his career, but the quality of his play dropped precipitously in the quarterfinals. I expect Ferrer will be a sterner test for the Swede, but Soderling leads their head-head 8-3, including winning 3 out of 4 matches played this year.

Ferrer is in a tricky situation, which is that he needs to accumulate points to cement his place in the year-end-championships, but he doesn't want to exhaust himself before next week's tournament in Paris, where there are even more points on offer. A loss here wouldn't be the end of the world. Another player who is in the exact same boat is Andy Roddick, who wishes he was merely 3-8 against his semifinal opponent. But no, the American faces off against his greatest nemesis and hometown hero Roger Federer, against whom Roddick is a dismal 2-19. This is their first meeting since the epic Wimbledon final in July of 2009, and also the site of their very first meeting way back in 2001. Federer won that one in a third set tiebreak, and it may be a similar result tomorrow. A win for Roddick would be huge, but a loss isn't going to hurt his spirit too much - he came into this week without any serious expectations, considering his layoff, and he has played some great tennis. If he gets an extra day to get to France for the Paris Masters and get himself ready for that tournament, that's just fine. And really, it's tough to bet on the guy with a 2-19 record.

The final semi features a rematch of one of the most significant early round matches at the U.S. Open - Serb Novak Djokovic played his junior countryman Viktor Troicki and looked out of it in the very first round, down a break in a decisive set, and with a point to go down a double break. Djokovic managed to claw his way back to win the match and ultimately go on to beat Federer in the semis and make the final. Since then, Troicki won the first tournament of his career. Djokovic, of course, is trying to defend the title he won here last year. I expect that Novak will win this one, but it could be tricky, if Troicki brings his best stuff to the court.

Despite all the other matches going on tomorrow, the biggest question of the day will be whether Roddick can maybe pull of that magical upset and get another notch on his belt against Federer. It's not a decisive match for either player in terms of career trajectories, but a win would be a huge boost for Andy. For Federer, it probably won't affect him too much either way, and Roddick won't be surprised if he comes up second best. But a win could Roddick all kinds of momentum heading into the year's final weeks. After a very up-and-down year, it would be great to end on a high note.