Roland Garros – round 3rd + 4th

The 21-year-old David Goffin [109] of Belgium came to Paris with a humble 5-5 main-level record of 2012, yet became a tournament revelation. The young player was defeated in his last qualifying match by Joao Souza 3-6 6-7, but jumped into the main draw thanks to withdrawal of Gael Monfils. In the opening two rounds he won first career 5-set battles, ousting two veterans: Radek Stepanek and Arnaud Clement, from two-sets-to-one down on both occasions. In the third round he came back from a 2:5 in the 1st and 3:5 deficit in the 2nd set to beat Lukasz Kubot 7-6 7-5 6-1. The angry and frustrated Pole spat towards the Belgian in the 3rd set. Kubot was given a code violation by the chair umpire, he was probably upset by the partisan crowd with plenty of Belgian supporters… Goffin doesn’t look like a tennis player, his slender body building and lack of wristbands (wore a red one on right wrist in his fourth match) reminds more of a table tennis player. He is fast, takes the ball early and serves surprisingly well considering his posture. He has already inscribed himself to record books as the first player to reach last 16 in Paris being a “lucky loser” # “I had his photos and posters in my room,” said Goffin on Roger Federer. “Since I was very young, I watched him play on television. For me, for a long time, he plays near-perfect tennis, with perfect technique. And I also like him in human terms.” It was tough to expect that Goffin playing against his idol would be able to hold service games not facing a break point through almost entire two sets, but it happened on Suzanne Lenglen court! On third set point in the 1st set, Goffin played a stunning forehand DTL from the tram-lines and led 5:4* (30/15) in the 2nd set being two points away from a sensational two-sets-to-love lead – Federer responded with a bunch of good serves and the momentum shifted onto his side. The Swiss won by a 5-7 7-5 6-2 6-4 margin. He had an excellent draw to the quarterfinals (his highest ranked opponent is 78th in the world) and it’s really surprising that has lost three sets in the process.
In the same time on Philippe Chartier, an other 4th round novice – Andreas Seppi – was playing surprisingly good tennis against Novak Djokovic. The Serb started the match with a 3:0 lead, but Seppi better adjusted to difficult conditions (strong wind and penetrating chill – the temperature on Sunday dropped 10 degrees comparing to previous days). The Italian was spreading the ball with a terrific depth and accuracy, his best moment came as he broke Djokovic in the 5th game of the 2nd set with three consecutive winners, the last one after a rally in which No. 1 was invited to the net and immediately repelled. Seppi led 5:3* (30/15) in the 2nd set when Djokovic finally found his rhythm, broke back and was four times two points away from tying the match. The Italian survived an untypical tie-break, decided just by one mini-break on set point (Djokovic’s forehand error). Seppi, who played two consecutive five-setters, wore off, but cut a *0:3 (30/40) deficit in the 4th set and was two games away from producing an enormous upset – it’s a very long distance in tennis though, especially against such a clutch player like Djokovic, who stepped up and after 4 hours 18 minutes finished the contest with a drive-FH-volley directly after the return (4-6 6-7 6-3 7-5 6-3) improving his perfect record against Seppi to 8-0. “I didn’t have such a good start [to the third set],” reflected Seppi. “Maybe if I could stay in front or so in the third set, it could change a little bit. And that’s the only thing I could do better, I think, to just start a little bit better there, the third set.
Stanislas Wawrinka was involved in two straight five-setters against local pupils. First, he ousted Gilles Simon 7-5 6-7 6-7 6-3 6-2 saving two break points at 1:3 in the 4th set, afterwards in a revenge of last year’s meeting on Philippe Chatrier he had to admit the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga‘s superiority. The Frenchman, saved a triple set point in the 2nd set (with three service winners, the last one second serve). Wawrinka despite a small injury won the next two sets easily. At *4:2 for Tsonga in the decider the match was suspended due to darkness. On the following day Wawrinka broke back, but Tsonga took the last two games and the match 6-4 7-6 3-6 3-6 6-4 – the advancement to the quarterfinals is his biggest result achieved on clay. “Today, I came on the court [in] good spirits,” said Tsonga. “I had a good night. I slept well. I was ready to play again.” The resumption was also required in the match between two tall hard-hitters, Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro avenged the semifinal defeat in Madrid, winning 7-6 1-6 6-3 7-5 (three sets on Sunday, the fourth one on Monday).
The strongest contender to the title, Rafael Nadal has been in a scary form. He was *1:2 (30-all) in the 1st set against very solid this year Juan Monaco when notched a 17-game winning streak! Poor Monaco had his chance to win just one game in both bagel-sets. “Very happy the way I played,” said Nadal. “I think he’s playing probably the best tennis of his career, but probably not today, especially the last set, when he started to miss. I saw him suffering a little bit on court at the end. He’s one of my best friends on tour. I feel very sorry for him.” Nadal’s semifinal rival of three Grand Slam tournaments last year – Andy Murray – survived second 4-setter this year concluded after an identical scoreline (!) 1-6 6-4 6-1 6-2, this time against Richard Gasquet who squandered a couple break points at 4-all in the 2nd set and fell apart. “The game was not in my favour,” said Gasquet on that game. “And then I lost my confidence, and then he was feeling good.”

Longest match: 4 hours, 33 minutes. Juan Monaco d. Milos Raonic 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4
Most aces: 26 – Milos Raonic, lost to Juan Monaco (third round)
5-set barometer:  18-12 Stanislas Wawrinka, 16-5 Novak Djokovic, 15-10 Fernando Verdasco, 14-7 Tomas Berdych, 10-10 Andreas Seppi, 8-10 Paul-Henri Mathieu, 8-6 Gilles Simon, 8-3 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-1 Marcel Granollers, 4-6 Juan Monaco, 4-5 Kevin Anderson, 1-1 Milos Raonic
# Farthest advancements of “lucky losers” in majors:
Australian Open: Glenn Layendecker (3rd round 1991)
Roland Garros: David Goffin (4th round 2012)
Wimbledon: Dick Norman (4th round 1995)
US Open: Fernando Verdasco (3rd round 2003)
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RG, 2R: Mathieu d. Isner 18-16 in 5th set!

I guess this match deserves a special entry because one record has been broken – the longest 5th set in terms of games in the Roland Garros history. Paul-Henri Mathieu [261], who didn’t play a pro-match in 2011, came back on Philippe Chartier court after three years (in 2009 he was beaten in the third round by Roger Federer), John Isner in his debut on this court took unexpectedly Rafael Nadal to a 5-setter last year. There wasn’t anything unusual on Thursday evening until the 5th set: one tie-break (two breaks of serve before), three sets decided by one break. Through a long sequence of the deciding set they both were serving perfectly and winning games on serve wasn’t any problem at all. When they reached 5-all after ten quick service holds, I thought that Isner would prevail considering his extraordinary experience obtained against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon two years ago and Mathieu’s poor record in decisive tight sets. The Frenchman was displaying very positive attitude though, fist pumping many times, always after holding another service games. He was closer to make the final blow – 6:5 (30/15), 11:10 (40/0), 15:14 (40/15) whereas Isner had his chance only in one return game which occurred at 7-all, Mathieu saved two mini-match points, one with a service winner, the other one with a high forehand volley (Isner slipped trying to pass). Around 10-all Isner signalized fatigue, his 1st serve dropped around 30 km/h, but the high kick-serve and hard forehand kept him in the match…. until 34th game – on 7th match point he sent a forehand wide from relatively good position. Mathieu celebrated rather calmly, he was more emotional after shake-hands when saw the standing ovation. He had lost a few dramatic matches in Paris, so this victory is some form of consolation for him. “I remember Mahut’s match, so I just couldn’t believe it was over,” admitted Mathieu. “I had match point. It was tough. Every time I needed to concentrate and focus again on my serve, so when the match was over, I had trouble realizing it was really over. Before I used to become very tense at the end of a match like this. But in the fifth set I was always ahead. I was up in the scores and I was serving first so that it was an advantage.” Isner commented: “I escaped a lot today; it could have been worse. But I just didn’t get it done. I felt like I got caught in patterns that weren’t ideal for me. I was hitting every return to his backhand and he was stepping up and running me around. I’m not gonna win the point when I’m running side to side.” The American saved 20 of 24 break points faced on serve, all in vain in the end.
Mathieu’s next opponent was revealed in dramatic fashion as well: 28-year-old Malek Jaziri had a huge opportunity in the last second round match to beat Marcel Granollers (suspended on Thursday at two sets apiece due to darkness) producing the biggest success of Tunisian tennis in history. Malek had played one Grand Slam tournament before – US Open 2011 where he lost as a qualifier to Mardy Fish in the second round. Against Granollers, served at 5:4 (40/15) in the 5th set, but squandered those match points, another one, and lost three games in a row. The match lasted 4 hours 27 minutes (78 minutes on Friday). The Spanish player  returned on court some time later and spent on it additional two hours losing a doubles match along with Albert Montanes 6-4 6-7(5) 3-6 to Eric Butorac & Bruno Soares (the Spaniards led 5:3 in the tie-break).
Granollers and Mathieu met on Saturday on court No. 1, and the Spaniard survived the second straight 5-setter (6-4 6-4 1-6 4-6 6-1) in 3 hours 56 minutes (the latest concluded third round match) overcoming a beat-down in the second phase of the match (Mathieu had a break point for a 5:0 lead in the 4th set). Granollers has advanced to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in 19 attempts. He has won his last six 5-setters.

Longest 5th sets in terms of games:
2012: 2R – Paul-Henri Mathieu d. John Isner 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16 *
2007: 1R – Philipp Kohlschreiber d. Lukas Dlouhy 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 17-15
2004: 1R – Fabrice Santoro d. Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14
1985: 1R – Darren Cahill d. Mark Dickson 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 2-6, 14-12
1994: 2R – Ronald Agenor d. David Prinosil 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 14-12
Longest matches: **
6 hours, 35 min. Fabrice Santoro d. Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(5), 3-6, 16-14… 2004, 1R
5 hours, 41 min. Paul-Henri Mathieu d. John Isner 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16… 2012, 2R
5 hours, 30 min. Alex Corretja d. Hernan Gumy 6-1, 5-7, 6-7(4), 7-5, 9-7… 1998, 3R
5 hours, 4 min. Guillermo Canas d. Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-7(5), 8-6… 2005, 3R
5 hours, 0 min. Ronald Agenor d. David Prinosil 6-7(4), 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-3, 14-12… 1994, 2R
Most aces:
55 – Ivo Karlovic (2009) 5 sets, lost to Lleyton Hewitt
41 – John Isner (2012) 5 sets, lost to Paul-Henri Mathieu
39 – Ivo Karlovic (2008) 5 sets, lost to Alejandro Falla
38 – John Isner (2010) 4 sets, defeated Marco Chiudinelli
37 – Andy Roddick (2001) 5 sets, defeated Michael Chang
* It’s the  fifth longest 5th set  (in terms of games) and 4th longest match in Grand Sam history
** Mathieu and Isner played the longest match in Paris within a day; all other four matches lasted two days, suspended due to darkness
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Roland Garros – round 1st + 2nd

The tournament kicked off without three Top 20 players: Mardy Fish, Gael Monfils and Kei Nishikori, but it’s tough to expect they could play important roles during the fortnight, especially the American, who has been out of form since last Autumn. Fish was diagnosed with fatigue, he had a procedure called “cardiac catheter ablation” on Wednesday to deal with misfiring electrical pulses in his heart. “It felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest,” he said. He has a lot of points to defend in the next few months so very likely will drop after the US Open outside the Top 20. Admittedly Monfils reached quarterfinal in Paris last year, but in his three clay-court tournaments this year obtained a mediocre 3-3 record.
In the first two days French 30-year-old-plus veterans delivered positive emotions for their Parisian supporters: “the marathon man” Nicolas Mahut [89] ousted in four sets Andy Roddick [30], who probably played next to last time in majors as a seeded player. The American in his last five matches managed to win just one set… against Mahut; Mickael Llodra snapped a 5-match losing streak ousting also in 4 sets, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez; Paul-Henri Mathieu was badly beating by Bjorn Phau but since 0-2 & 4-all (30-all) in the 3rd set, he completely dominated his German opponent winning 14 out of 17 games; finally Arnaud Clement [139], who had announced 2012 would be his last season in career, prevailed a 5-setter against Alex Bogomolov [46] in uncommon circumstances. The short Frenchman saved a match point with a serve-and-volley in the 4th set and torturing “new Russian” in the decider with drop-shots forced him to exceptional effort. After one of them Bogomolov suffered cramps, in the following points he was supposed to face first match point, but decided to avoid serving and retired at unusual scoreline being match point down (!), however, he had done the same thing last season at Queens Club (against Igor Kunitsyn) # Clement just after this 4-hour-17-minute battle was kissed in his right hand by Jean Gachassin – the president of Fédération Française de Tennis :)
The comeback man – Brian Baker [141] – proved that magical run in Nice wasn’t accidental. Just two days after losing the final at Côte d’Azur, the American playing in Paris thanks to “wild card” (clinched it triumphing at Savannah challenger in April as a qualifier) in his first major match since 2005, met a guy who had beaten him in the previous Grand Slam match at the US Open seven years ago – Xavier Malisse. This time Baker avenged that defeat eliminating the Belgian in three sets. “I kinda had a little bit of confidence, too, going out there,” Baker said after first Grand Slam match in seven years. “I wasn’t as nervous as maybe I was in the U.S. Opens in the past. Last week [in Nice] helped me a ton, just beating some of those good players. You’re gonna have more nerves in a Grand Slam match. It’s just part of the game.” Baker’s quick and acute backhand motion wasn’t formidable enough to jump over another obstacle – Gilles Simon, but the American experienced his first 5-setter, and it happened on one of the most famous tennis courts – Philippe Chartier. Baker was two points away from losing the match in straight sets when he played one of the best forehands that day, eventually lost 4-6 1-6 7-6 6-1 0-6 under three hours. It was second round match, in the first round, Simon’s compatriot Jeremy Chardy [55] experienced the same scoreline progress through three sets, but had to wait until the latter stages of the 5th set against Yen-Hsun Lu to finally make a celebration. Chardy led two-sets-to-love and 5:2* (30/15), he had a match point on serve in the following game, a triple match point at 9:8* in the 5th set to ultimately win 6-4 6-1 6-7 3-6 11-9 in 4 hours 10 minutes on Court No. 3. Third match of this type occurred on Court No. 14 – Ernests Gulbis, who defeated Andy Murray a couple days ago in two tie-breeaks in an exhibition meeting, still struggles with finding a form which moved him to French Open quarterfinals in 2008. In the first round against Mikhail Kukushkin, the flamboyant Latvian [93] had a decent prospect to get one of the most amazing comebacks in the Grand Slam history: he won the 3rd set despite facing a triple match point at 1:5* (0/40) and had a break point for a double break in the decider – Kukushkin [53] prevailed 6-4 7-6 5-7 2-6 6-4, he had beaten in similar circumstances Monfils during the last Australian Open.
Three best players in the world compete not only with each other in this tournament, but with the tennis history as well… Novak Djokovic is bidding to become the first player since 1969 to win four consecutive Grand Slams. Facing similar task, previously in Paris stumbled Pete Sampras (1994 – quarterfinal) & Roger Federer (2006, 2007 – finals), Rafael Nadal could win four majors in a row last year in Melbourne but was outplayed at the Australian Open quarterfinal by David Ferrer. Djokovic signed a new contract for his clothes just before the tournament, replacing Sergio Tacchini by a Japanese brand – Uniqlo. The Serb didn’t delight his supporters in opening matches with a new logo on his chest – admittedly he didn’t lose a set but had surprising problems in one set in each of his first two matches, against Potito Starace and Blaz Kavcic (the Slovenian ousted Lleyton Hewitt in R1 – first tournament for him since Australian Open) “I didn’t expect an easy match, that’s for sure. He is a specialist on clay,” said Djokovic on Starace “I have seen him in the past couple of years. He gave a lot of trouble to the top players on this surface. I tried to be aggressive on the court and take my chances. When I look at it now, after the match is over, maybe it was good for me to have the tough first set and try to find the good control and rhythm and movement on the court.” His statement about * Baker: “You know, he always had a very smart game, a variety of shots. I haven’t seen him play, though, this year, but, you know, it’s great to see him back.” Nadal still sticks to Nike but in a new color – orange has been replaced by the red, the Spaniard may tie Sampras’ record of number of triumphs in one major – seven. Federer has already broken a record of the most Grand Slam wins ##. The Swiss unexpectedly had to wait for it one set longer than everyone would have expected, because all of a sudden he lost a tie-break to Adrian Ungur (GS novice) from a double match point. The fourth biggest gun in men’s tennis – Murray suffered a back pain while serving at 0:3 in the 1st set against Jarkko Nieminen. The Brit needed a 3-minute medical time-out and 6-7 games to  return to his normal physical shape. The Finn led 4:2* (deuce) in the 2nd set when totally fell apart and lost 6-1 4-6 1-6 2-6 the match which at some rallies looked like a promise of a 3-set upset.  For these best players winning opening two rounds in a major is a walk in the park, for others sometimes it’s a career-best achievement, for example for a 32-year-old Nicolas Devilder [286] who threw his racquet into stands after winning match point against Michael Berrer. Devilder until 2007 never even played in Grand Slam qualifying rounds, this week as a qualifier he has reached last 32 of a major for the first time in life. The joy was tremendous, it’s tough to expect that probable bitter Devilder’s loss of Djokovic’s hands would overshadow triumph achieved over Berrer. Devilder’s compatriot Mahut also has been unexpected in the third round. In his second match, Mahut dismissed in four sets Martin Klizan of Slovakia, taking a game at 5:5 in the 3rd set after 12 deuces on serve (4-6 6-4 7-6 6-3). Mahut fired 20 aces in that match on Court No. 2. Fabio Fognini [45] becomes the Roland Garros legend. Every year he wins dramatic fifth sets on different courts ###. Two years ago he saved a mini-match point against Monfils (it could be the latest finished match in Paris but suspended), last year despite cramps survived five match points against Albert Montanes, this year withstood two match points against a specialist of losing match point-up encounters – Viktor Troicki. The Serb blew first m.p. leading 6:5* (40/30) when he tried to finish the point with a backhand DTL – netted, on second m.p. Fognini approached the net, played a decent volley and Troicki netted again, this time with a shaky forehand.

Longest match: 4 hours, 50 minutes. Kevin Anderson d. Rui Machado 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 6-1, 11-9
Most aces: 26 – Kevin Anderson, defeated Rui Machado (first round)… [excluding the Isner-Mathieu thriller]
5-set barometer:
17-11 Stanislas Wawrinka, 14-13 Jurgen Melzer, 13-21 Radek Stepanek, 13-20 Arnaud Clement, 9-9 Andreas Seppi, 8-9 Victor Hanescu & Paul-Henri Mathieu, 8-5 Yen-Hsun Lu & Gilles Simon, 7-8 Viktor Troicki, 7-2 Gilles Muller, 6-5 Fabio Fognini, 6-3 Alexandr Dolgopolov, 5-2 Mikhail Kukushkin, 5-1 Marcel Granollers, 4-7 Thomaz Bellucci & John Isner, 4-4 Kevin Anderson, 2-6 Alex Bogomolov, 2-4 Ernests Gulbis & Rui Machado, 2-3 Flavio Cipolla,  2-0 David Goffin, 1-3 Michael Berrer, Malek Jaziri & Pablo Andujar, 0-3 Bjorn Phau, 0-1 Igor Sijsling & Brian Baker
# Alex Bogomolov’s retirements facing match point:
Queens Club 2011: Igor Kunitsyn 4-6, 6-6(3:6)
Roland Garros 2012: Arnaud Clement 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 4-5 (adv. Clement)
## The most wins in Grand Slam tournaments:
234Roger Federer (1999-2012)
233 – Jimmy Connors (1970-1992)
224 – Andre Agassi (1986-2006)
222 – Ivan Lendl (1978-1994)
203 – Pete Sampras (1988-2002)
### Fabio Fognini’s dramatic wins at Roland Garros:
2010 – R2, Philippe Chartier: Gael Monfils 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7 (4:16 h)
2011 – R4, Suzanne Lenglen: Albert Montanes 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 – 5 m.p. (4:21 h)
2012 – R2, Court No. 6: Viktor Troicki 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 8-6 – 2 m.p. (3:30 h)
* Djokovic lost to Baker (2-6 4-6) the only time they met – qualifications to Adelaide ’05. Baker as a junior beat the current best players of his age: Tsonga, Baghdatis, Isner (6-1 6-0!), Wawrinka & Stakhovsky.
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Roland Garros 1990

It was wide open tournament, the long-time No. 1 in the world – Ivan Lendl was gradually declining, and withdrew from the competition in Paris for the first time since his debut in 1978, Chang’s second miracle in a row was very doubtful, two-top seeded players (Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker) weren’t favorites on their least favorite surface; because of that Andre Agassi had to deal with tremendous pressure… 30-year-old Andre Gomez [7], one of the best players of the previous decade, took an advantage of the favorable circumstances and got his first and only major title. Read more
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21st week

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Serbia weakened by the lack of Novak Djokovic, for the second time in the last three years claimed World Team Cup. It was a perfect tournament for both singles players: Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki, who won all their 4 … Continue reading

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US Open 1984

1984… it was a year of John McEnroe‘s total dominance. The American prior to the US Open ’84 had lost just two matches of the season (!), and confirmed his supremacy over the tennis elite outplaying Ivan Lendl in the final, revenging a French Open defeat. The tournament was highlighted by dramatic semi-finals on super Saturday, arguably the most exciting semi-final day in majors of the Open era. Read more
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Rome – final

(2)Rafael Nadal d. (1)Novak Djokovic
-5, 6-3                                    [ 2:20 h ]
Last year due to persistent rain their Roman final was delayed over three hours. It had seemed that this year it would have been delayed an hour longer but the officials at 8 p.m. decided to reschedule on Monday the final between the two best players in the world. The Italian crowd showed its disapproval automatically throwing plastic bottles onto the court covering it in all corners. The next day there was peacefully, albeit the stadium wasn’t fully packed because of the early match start (noon). The current Nadal-Djokovic matches remind me of battles between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and the Nadal-Federer rivalry as well. There’s some kind of synergy between the best players when they face each other, they know that their standard 100% of focus and commitment couldn’t be enough, so they try to give additional 10% which produces breathtaking rallies from start to finish… Nadal had been losing to Djokovic everywhere through 10 months, so obviously he – along with his team – had to find some medicine for all his problems, and I suppose he has found it: he needs to run more around his right side to play inside-out forehands with bigger frequency, obviously it opens more space on his left side, but Djokovic’s forehand DTL is relatively his weakest stroke, thus counter-attacks aren’t easy for him, especially if Nadal makes blistering forehand strokes… There was an exchange of breaks in the middle of the 1st set. Djokovic led 5:4* (30-all) – he was dictating the rally, and perhaps could have finished it with another stroke when the linesman  called ‘out’ Djokovic’s good ball – the Serb caught his head in disbelief. The point was replayed which benefited Nadal, whose determination allowed him to win two consecutive points. In the following game at ‘deuce’ Nadal grabbed two amazingly important points: first he pushed himself to an extreme effort in defense (31-stroke rally), then won a short-circuit at the net with a backhand volley – Djokovic tried to hide his frustration immediately, but broke his racquet on the net-post a few seconds later (he led 40/15 in that game). He lost quickly another two games, it was a 4-game streak for Nadal, so the Serb was theoretically in a good position to break back, although wasted a 40/0 lead in the 2nd game of the 2nd set – Nadal fought off those break points, and another one, with a bunch of powerful serves and forehands. It was the vital point of this final. Djokovic had two more break points in the 4th game but couldn’t capitalize and trying to stay in the match was broken for the third and last time that day, committing a double fault in the end. “I am happy that I won in Rome without losing a set against the best players in the world like Berdych and Ferrer and Djokovic. I will have this trophy in my bedroom. It is a dream. [I have] the confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level. Hopefully I will keep playing like this.” said the King of Clay, he has collected 49 titles, and once again becomes the leader in terms of number of ‘Masters 1000’ titles – twenty-one (six in Rome).

Doubles final:
M.Granollers/M.Lopez d. L.Kubot/J.Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-2

 # The most ‘1000’ titles in one tournament (since 1990):
8 – Rafael Nadal (Monte Carlo 2005-2012)
6 – Andre Agassi (Miami 1990-2003); Nadal (Rome 2005-2012)
4 – Boris Becker (Stockholm/Stuttgart),  Roger Federer (Indian Wells, Hamburg & Cincinnati)
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Rome – semifinals

2nd semifinal:

(1)Novak Djokovic d. (3)Roger Federer          6-2, 7-6(4)                             [ 1:39 h ]

Their first meeting since the 5-set thriller at the US Open last year where Djokovic saved a match point with an incredible return. There were parallel emotions this time in the latter stages of the semifinal, the things concluded in two sets though. The Serb held his first service game after a couple of ‘deuces’ and received a strong support from the crowd chanting “Nole! Nole!“. Apparently he is beloved in Rome. Perhaps this early signal of worshiping the best of the world, intimidated Federer a bit. He lost his serve in the following game and once again at 2:4. Djokovic’s return worked magnificently, many balls were landing on Federer’s weaker backhand side which allowed Djokovic to dictate the vast majority of rallies. The first break of the 2nd set came in the 7th game. Djokovic led 5:3 when the Roman crowd started to cheer for the Swiss. He responded with a forehand on the line facing a match point, withstood two pretty long rallies afterwards, and broke the No. 1 for the first time despite hadn’t had a break point prior to that game! Djokovic stayed cool, two months ago he experienced two similar situations in back-to-back matches in Miami. Since *5:6 (15/30) he won six straight points. Impressed especially in the first tie-breaker point as he prevailed a 25-stroke rally responding from both wings on Federer’s precisely placed shots (it was the only mini-break that night). 3:0, Fed cuts quickly to 3:2, 5:2 after another demanding rallies, 5:4 after Federer’s two hard serves. Forehand on the line and two more match points. The second one in that match was enough, Federer made a casual backhand error on the 4th stroke. Federer on tomorrow’s final: ‘‘It’s going to be an interesting one, especially after what happened in Monaco. Djokovic has pressure to defend his points and his title and Nadal wants to close the points gap with me.” If Nadal wins, he will be seeded No. 2 in Paris which is important because a player seeded No. 3 faces in his section of the draw one of tennis titans, whilst No. 2 opens a possibility to draw Murray.

1st semifinal:

(2)Rafael Nadal d. (6)David Ferrer                 7-6(6), 6-0                             [ 2:06 h ]

The 19th meeting between two best Spanish players – it’s one of the biggest rivalries of the Open era, sadly pretty lopsided. The older Spaniard usually loses, but thankfully has been one of very few players who are able to play competitive matches with Rafa on clay… Ferrer took an early initiative and almost throughout the 1st set optically was the better player, he was getting more points directly after the first serve, he was running less, producing more winners. But Nadal never gives up until he loses the final point, he came back twice from a 1:3 deficit (games, and tie-break), saved a break point at 3:4, and on three occasions was two points away from losing the set: *5:6 (30-all), *4:5 in the tie-break; the third occasion was crucial – Ferrer attacked the net with a good approach-shot (FDTL), then played a good drop-volley, efficient against 90% players on the tour, however, Nadal chased the ball quick as lightning and managed to make a passing-shot which clipped the line. It was the turning point of this semifinal clash. Recently in Barcelona, Ferrer lost two tight sets to Nadal, here was the third one in a row, and I assume a possibility to lose another tight set clipped Ferrer’s wings. He was just a fifth business in the 2nd set except the 4th game where he showed some timid signs of interest. “[It is the] best thing possible after a fantastic time in Barcelona and Monte-Carlo, to keep playing in a clay tournament and then being in the final without losing a set is something fantastic and I am happy,” declared Nadal. “Rome for me is an important tournament and I am here for the seventh time and I couldn’t have imagined this a few years ago.

# Nadal’s most lopsided H2H’s:
13-1 Fernando Verdasco (+12)
15-4 David Ferrer (+11)
10-0 Richard Gasquet, Paul-Henri Mathieu (+10)
12-3 Tomas Berdych (+9)
18-10 Roger Federer (+8)
13-5 Andy Murray (+8)
8-0 Stanislas Wawrinka (+8)
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Rome – round 3rd + QF’s


David Ferrer is one of the worst match-ups for Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman has just won 2 out of 17 sets he played against the Spaniard, 14 of those sets he lost, were pretty one-sided. Today they played a tie-break for the first time, in which Gasquet led 4:2 only to lose five points in succession. In the 2nd set things were going towards another tie-break but Ferrer stepped up at 4:3, made three forehand winners in a row to break Gasquet to ‘love’ and finished him off in the following game easily, the final score 7-6 6-3. It was the only quarterfinal on Supertennis Arena, second biggest court in Rome. “[It was a] tough match and I am happy getting into the semi-finals,” said Ferrer, “When I won the first set it was easier and I saw he was more tired than me.”
As the first players on Campo Centrale appeared Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych. Their rivalry is similar to that of Ferrer and Gasquet. Berdych can’t find a way to beat Rafa, although had won 3 out of their first 4 meetings. Since then it’s all been Nadal. Today he gained 11th consecutive win (including a 20-sets winning streak!) over the Czech not being close to lose any of those encounters. Berdych led *4:2 in the 2nd set but on a game point committed a double fault and Nadal soon notched a 6-4 7-5 victory in 2 hours 6 minutes. Berdych in each of his last three tournaments was ousted by a Top 3 player. Rafa is bidding to win Rome for the sixth time (Thomas Muster won three times; Ilie Nastase, Vitas Gerulaitis, Bjorn Borg, Andres Gomez, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier and Novak Djokovic twice). Djokovic had very little trouble in dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5 6-1. The Serb led respectively 3:0 and 5:0 in these sets. In the 12th game of the 1st set Tsonga staved off a triple set point in spectacular style but on a 4th set point committed a painful double fault (didn’t even risk the second serve) and fell apart. Andreas Seppi had wonderful tournament but was too tired after back-to-back thrillers to play on equal terms the last quarterfinal (started at 10 p.m.) against Roger Federer. The Swiss needed just 54 minutes to get a 6-1 6-2 win. Seppi was stopped by Federer also in his previous best ‘1000’ tournament, as he reached semifinals four years ago (the Italian won then only one game more)… So, the four best clay-court players will face each other in tomorrow’s semifinals, they are gathered together in the final four for the first time. I’m glad Djokovic meets Federer because they haven’t played so far in 2012.

Third round

It was very windy day, the conditions were extremely difficult and bothering the defending champion Novak Djokovic, who plays this tournament in a new outfit (white-blue-red  strips) underlying national colors. As usual he’d presented himself during a night session match in a black version of the new outfit whilst his early match (started at 12 a.m.) against Juan Monaco demonstrated a white one. Monaco [15] who had previously lost all five matches to Djokovic, was hitting the ball very hard today over an hour of play. The stunned Djokovic broke his racquet in the last game of the 1st set (Monaco clinched it on the 5th set point). The Argentine led a set and a break, but couldn’t keep his focus and lost 10 straight points since serving at 2:1 in the 2nd set. In the deciding set D’Joke delivered the final blow at *3:3 (0/30) when he increased his concentration to win 12 out of the next 16 points and the match 4-6 6-2 6-3 in 2 hours 20 minutes. “Mental strength is what is needed, especially when you are playing against a player who has already won two tournaments on this surface this year already and is playing with confidence,” Djokovic stated.
In a much more longer 3-setter (2:58 h) on Supertennis Arena (the second biggest court in Rome) Richard Gasquet avenged three straight defeats to Andy Murray (all in majors) beating the Brit 6-7 6-3 6-2. The crucial game of the match came at one-all in the final set. The serving Gasquet led 40/0 but Murray manufactured three break points, Gasquet [22] eventually took the game after seven ‘deuces’. Both 25-year-old guys were semifinalists last year. In the quarterfinals Gasquet meets one of his toughest opponents – David Ferrer. The Spaniard was twice a game away on return to lose the set before dismissed Gilles Simon 6-0 7-6. Simon was involved in streaks of games won by one player over the course of two days: yesterday he lost five straight games to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, then won six in a row (coming back from a 0:4 deficit in the deciding set!), and began today’s match with Ferrer losing the first seven games.
Andreas Seppi won an incredible 3-hour-21-minute battle (the longest 3-setter of the year) against Stanislas Wawrinka after three tie-breaks, surviving six match points (three on return)! The Italian player received a tremendous support from the home crowd, Wawrinka on the other hand was booed a couple times for different reasons. Anyway he had the match in his hands, admittedly not in the 2nd set tie-break where Seppi fought off the first m.p. with a service winner. In the deciding set Wawrinka led 5:2 (deuce), then was serving at 5:3 (40/15): on both match points the net-cord halted the ball on his side, first after a shaky forehand, then after a long rally with many slices which Wawrinka wanted to cut with a drop-shot. The Swiss led 6:5* (30/0) afterwards – Seppi responded with three straight forehand winners! Third and final tie-break was amazing, Seppi led 3:0* and quickly lost six points in a row which meant a triple match point against him: the first one, Italian player saved with a cross-court forehand; on another two, Wawrinka missed backhands (net & wide DTL). Another two errors of the Swiss and Seppi could celebrate the biggest ‘best of three’ win of his life on knees. He’s been the first Italian quarter-finalist in Rome since Filippo Volandri in 2007. It’s Seppi’s 200th ATP tournament in career.

# Seppi’s match point down wins:
US Open 2004: R.Schuettler 3-6 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(1) 6-1 – 2 m.p.
Sydney 2006: L.Hewitt 4-6 7-5 7-5 – 2 m.p.
Australian Open 2007: B.Reynolds 6-1 6-7(4) 6-7(5) 7-6(3) 6-3 – 1 m.p.
Rotterdam 2008: L.Hewitt 3-6 7-6(4) 7-6(4) – 1 m.p.
Nottingham 2008: E.Schwank 6-1 4-6 7-6(7) – 1 m.p.
New Haven 2009: L.Yen-Hsun 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 – 3 m.p.
Bastad 2010: P.Starace 6-4 3-6 7-6(7) – 1 m.p.
Marseille 2011: R.Haase 5-7 6-4 7-6(2) – 2 m.p.
Rome 2012: S.Wawrinka 6-7(1) 7-6(6) 7-6(6) – 6 m.p.
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Rome – round 1st + 2nd

Back on red clay! Just like a week before without best American players of the previous decade: Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and James Blake (the latter could enter only the qualifying rounds), but with Andy Murray and Juan Monaco, the players who skipped the experimental tournament in Madrid. So the field in Rome was a bit stronger on Sunday than last week in the Spanish capital. Monaco came back successfully after a very painful injury he suffered at Monte Carlo. The Argentine won his first two round easily, thus seemingly the break in activity won’t affect him like similar injury four years ago when he had been also knocking on the the Top 10, but lost self-confidence after spraining his ankle.
Murray celebrated 25th birthday with a cake after winning the most interesting second round match featured plenty of long rallies with acute angles and perfectly placed drop-shots. The Brit needed 2 hours 37 minutes to overcome David Nalbandian 6-1 4-6 7-5, surviving a 1:3* deficit in the final set. “I was a little bit fortunate at the end but I went for it so,” said Murray, who won the 11th game with the net-cord help and saved a break point in the following game when his backhand clipped the sideline. “Some say you make your own luck.” Nalbandian – very solid player in tight matches throughout his career – lately loses tight matches with high frequency. It has been his sixth tight loss of the season (the third one in which he led 5:4* in the deciding set only to lose the next three games).
Shifting from blue clay to red clay? No problem for Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer. Each of these three players participated in five matches in Madrid, went to Rome to adjust quickly advancing to the third round with convincing victories, however, Del Potro still tries to get into the Top 8 which would facilitate him tasks by omitting first rounds in ‘Masters 1000’ on clay. In the first round in Rome he had a tricky opponent in the opener – Mikael Llodra [58], Del Potro won 7-5 3-6 6-4 saving a set point in the 1st set with a service winner. Del Potro and John Isner are the two players the most often involved in tight sets this season. Isner in the 1st round barely avoided a loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber [24]. The tall American was being outplayed badly through almost two sets by ‘Kohli’, but delivered a couple big serves at 3:5 (40-all) and the outlook of the match changed completely since then. Kohlschreiber was broken in the following game not having faced a break point before, and began to lose interest whilst Isner rediscovered his booming serves and forehands to notch a 2-6 7-6 6-2 victory. No doubts that the German has a Top 20 potential but his inconsistency obstructs his climbing in the ATP ranking. He triumphed in Munich but the following two weeks lost first round matches in Spain and Italy, at least one solid result in those tournaments would introduce him to the Top 20. Isner was ousted in his another match by Andreas Seppi [30] – the best local player, one out of five Italians who entered the tournament. Seppi needed 10 break points in the final set to get his only break (2-6 7-6 7-5) in 2 hours 50 minutes. He will probably reach the highest position in career next Monday at the age of 28. 
Juan Carlos Ferrero [47] has finally won first tournament matches in 2012. The former champion of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia (2001) obtained two straight sets wins over higher ranked opponents, Kevin Anderson and Gael Monfils. During a 7-5 6-3 over the Frenchman, Ferrero came back from a 1:4* deficit in the 1st set. Monfils once again displayed an ultra defensive mood. With this attitude there’s no chance he will catch the level of the Ferrer-Berdych-Tsonga-Del Potro quartet.

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