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(2)Rafael Nadal d. (9)Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-4 [1:50 h]
It was Simon’s first clay-court semifinal in such a big event. He had a very favorable draw earlier, but displayed brilliant disposition winning 14 games in a row (!) between 1st set against Gil and 2nd against Tipsarevic… The Frenchman confirmed his great form against Nadal, especially early on. There was 3:3 (15/40) in the 1st set on Nadal’s serve when the Spaniard hit the baseline after a long rally. At the second break chance Simon should have won the point at the net but his high-forehand volley was too soft for Nadal’s amazing defensive skills. Since that moment Nadal had a control over the progress of the match. Credit to Simon though, he had several break points (in three games) and run very similar distance (both players above 2000 meters). Nadal is unbelievable at Monte Carlo, in his last 29 matches there, he has lost just 2 sets (to Djokovic & Murray), but both 3-setters clinched convincingly anyway. Tomorrow’s final looks fascinating, Nadal for the first time since his final against Federer in 2006, won’t be a 100% favorite on Monaco’s Centre Court, having lost the last seven meetings to Djokovic.
(1)Novak Djokovic d. (6)Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 [2:42 h]
The match was played in very tough, windy conditions. It irritated Djokovic more, as well as the rustling packed crowd. The Serb led *4:2 in the 1st set, but an unusually patient in rallies Berdych was able to win four straight games and almost got the fifth in succession. There was exposed an interesting stats in the middle of that set, Berdych was constantly violating the serve rule, needing on average 32 seconds between the points while Djokovic known for frequent violation, this time was serving according to rules (23 seconds). The beginning of the 2nd set was crucial, Djokovic had saved break points in the opening and the 3rd games before established a safe 3:0* lead. He is too good recently to lose two sets in a row from a break up… In the 1st game of the decider, Berdych committed two double faults, and it helped Djokovic to break Berdych’s serve after an 8-point game, and the Czech’s spirit too. Djokovic has improved his H2H against Berdych to 9-1, winning 3 out of the last 4 matches after dropping the first set. Monte Carlo ’12 turned into a very challenging tournament in terms of the weather: on Thursday heavy rain, sunny Friday and extremely windy Saturday, Djokovic dealt with all these conditions as a true champion.
Andy Murray was in a very defensive mood throughout his match against Tomas Berdych. This tactics somehow worked out in the 1st set due to Berdych’s inability to get the most important points (he wasted all seven break points, including 4 set points at 6:5*). The Czech kept the focus though, the conditions quickened up and Berdych’s game began to labor better. He was aggressive all the time spreading forehand winners in all corners of the court, and finishing the points at the net with good efficiency. Murray lost his service game at 1-all in the final set, missing a relatively easy overhead on break point. He broke his racquet immediately and didn’t regroup to the end. Berdych won 6-7(4) 6-2 6-3 in 2 hours 48 minutes, improving his H2H against the Brit to 4-2 (three wins in France). “He played better,” conceded Murray. “I mean, I hung in, in the first set […] At the start of the second set it was where he obviously started playing better and my level dropped clearly, as the result, the score line, suggests.” In the second quarterfinal, Robin Haase acted like he knew he didn’t deserve to be there. I had an impression Novak Djokovic was playing at barely 60% of his abilities, but it was enough to secure the seminal berth with a 6-4 6-2 victory, despite losing the serve four times!
The second semifinal will be consisted of Rafael Nadal and Gilles Simon . Both players won their matches after the same scoreline: 7-5 6-4. Nadal extended his overwhelming H2H with Stanislas Wawrinka to 8-0 (17-0 in sets) with the victory which lasted 1 hour 47 minutes. As usual in their meetings, Wawrinka  produced solid tennis, made several entertaining winners, but wasn’t consistent enough to finally take a set off Nadal. Simon his all-French affair with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga began with a 3:0 lead after two breaks of serve. They were involved in a 39-stroke rally in the 4th game, Tsonga admittedly lost the point but it awoke him. He erased both breaks, silly errors cost him the set though. Simon signalized lethargy, he received some pills, but the decider seemed inevitable as he found himself at *1:4 down in the 2nd set. Tsonga couldn’t keep the momentum, made a bunch of unforced errors and lost five straight games.
There’s something wrong with Monte Carlo’s Centre Court this year… Two days after Juan Monaco had sprained his right ankle, Julien Benneteau sprained his right ankle too, stumbling almost in the same place on the court In Benneteau’s case it’s even a worse occurrence, actually a nightmare because while falling he damaged his right wrist which caused a broken elbow (!) as it was revealed when Benneteau underwent an examination at the doctor. The awful injury happened during his competitive, long (seventy minutes) 1st set against Andy Murray at 5-all (0/15). After the treatment the Frenchman came back on court only to have hopelessly played two points like Monaco…
Monaco and Benneteau finished their matches in tears as well as Novak Djokovic, but the Serb in regard of different circumstances. Djokovic before his match with Alexandr Dolgopolov received a massage that his grandfather died. Obviously it affected the mind of No. 1 in the world. Djokovic’s thoughts weren’t on court in the 1st set, but as a role model of professionalism he regained his composure in the 2nd set and perhaps helped him the rain break at the beginning of the 3rd set. Djokovic won the last three games winning by a 2-6 6-1 6-4 margin. He now faces Robin Haase , for whom quarterfinal in a ‘1000’ tournament is arguably the best career-result. And it happens under completely unexpected circumstances, the Dutchman reached a new low last week being ousted in Casablanca by a 752nd ranked-player in the world (Lamine Ouahab), who had never won an ATP match before! Two days ago he would have been badly beaten by Monaco, but the Argentine suffered an injury. Haase probably felt he was going to lose in the first round, suddenly got a chance to play further and took an advantage of it beating in straight sets two players – more or less – of his caliber: Fabio Fognini and Thomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian won against Haase just five games, it’s the same amount he dropped a day before in his sensational win over Ferrer. A crucial game during a 6-2 6-3 victory came at *2:0 for Haase in the 2nd set when he fought off three break points taking the game in nine deuces.
Bellucci’s namesake, Berdych saved a mini-match point at 4:4 in the 3st set against Kei Nishikori surviving a 2-6 6-2 6-4 scare. The Czech has won this year more tight sets than any other player on the tour except Isner. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrated his 27th birthday in the second round against Kohlschreiber, in the following match the best French player overcame a double set point in the 1st set tie-break to dismiss a former finalist Fernando Verdasco 7-6(7) 6-2. “I’m always hungry for victories,” said Tsonga. “I always go on the court wanting to win. Sometimes people are shocked when I say, ‘If I come to this tournament, it’s because I want to try to go to the end of the tournament.’ But I think it’s important.”
The first round was highlighted by the last match in Ivan Ljubicic‘s long career. 16 years on the tour, 291 tournaments played, countless of dramatic long matches, but the farewell was rapid – Ljubicic spent only 71 minutes on court during a bitter 0-6 3-6 defeat to fellow Croat Ivan Dodig. The Ljubicic’s attribute – the serve – evaporated totally, as never before, he was broken 6 times in 8 service games by a player for whom clay is the least favorite surface! “I have to say that I felt like it could end up emotional, but I didn’t expect it to be this emotional,” confessed the second best Croatian player in history. “Obviously, it’s the end of something beautiful for me. Now it’s time to do something else. I would love to help this sport to be even better in some way“. Ljubicic made his breakthrough at Monte Carlo thirteen years ago as he overcame qualifying rounds to beat easily famous “Soviet” names – Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev; ‘Ljubo’ reached three times quarterfinals in this tournament: he was beaten twice (2009, 11) by the the prince of the tournament – Rafael Nadal, who came back to his beloved venue speaking about his bothering left knee. Some pain in the knee wasn’t an obstacle to outplay in straight sets Jarkko Nieminen, beginning a bid for the 8th consecutive title in Monaco. In the third round Nadal takes on qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin who rallied from a *0:4 (15/30) deficit in the 1st set to beat Filippo Volandri 7-6(8) 2-6 6-2. Just like Nadal against Nieminen, Novak Djokovic has won all seven encounters against Andreas Seppi, whom he defeated 6-1 6-4 in his opening match. Djokovic said before the tournament that overcoming Nadal on clay would be the ultimate task. Admittedly the Serb beat Nadal twice on clay last year, but neither of those wins came on Nadals two favorite tournaments: Monte Carlo and Roland Garros. Therefore their potential final clash in Monaco is exciting. Andy Murray wants badly to bedevil expectations on another Djokovic-Nadal final. In his first clay-court match this season, he needed only 67 minutes to destroy Viktor Troicki, finishing his “Serbian tournée” – Murray has played the last three matches against the Serbs (he faced Tipsarevic and Djokovic in the two previous matches, in Miami). “It was good. I moved well,” said Murray about his 6-0 6-3 win. “I was sliding pretty well on the court. Normally that’s the thing that takes time to get used to. Normally for me that’s a good sign on the clay, whether I’m playing well or not.”
Thomaz Bellucci  made the biggest upset of the first three days as he ousted last year’s finalist David Ferrer 6-3 6-2. Bellucci had never won a set in his three previous meetings with Ferrer. This time he broke the Spaniard at the beginning of both sets and consolidated it holding all service games quite easily. Ferrer’s first clay-court loss after 14-match winning streak. “I didn’t play very well,” lamented Ferrer. “But my opponent, he was better than me in the first and second set, in every moment. I made lots of mistakes. I am not fast. He plays very aggressive, very consistent. He was better.”
This year the tournament is deprived of two elite players: Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro. The latter played only one match at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, three years ago. The elite aspirant, 19-year-old Bernard Tomic , notched the first ATP clay-court win, but in the second round was dismissed by his most frequent opponent – Alexandr Dolgopolov in a quick three-setter (one hour 40 minutes).
One of the recently hottest players on the tour (23-8 record since Valencia ’11), Juan Monaco, has bad luck as No. 14 in the world. Four years ago he advanced on this position (his highest ever) during a tournament at Vina del Mar and twisted his ankle which forced him to give a walkover instead of playing the final – in the consequence of the injury lost his form and dropped his ranking. This week he came back on No. 14 after clinching the title in Houston, and twisted the ankle again! It happened in the first round as he played against Robin Haase. Monaco took full control over the match after losing the 1st set, and had a break point at 3:1 in the 3rd set as a long rally occurred. After many strokes he slid badly, stumbled, fell on the ground and was moaning in pain “No creo! No creo!“. After a treatment to his right foot he came back on court, but couldn’t run, lost quickly two points and retired leading 5-7 6-0 3-2. A ligament in his ankle is torn, he will be out of the competitions for a month, which means he should return in Rome.
Arguably it was a tournament featured the best opportunity for Tim Henman to end a 62-year title drought for the British tennis at Wimbledon. The local favorite had already a solid experience obtained in two previous Wimbledons as he reached quarter-finals on both occasions. Four-time champion Pete Sampras  was clearly out of form before Wimbledon ’98. Admittedly he was the biggest favorite of bookmakers (6:4, second Krajicek 8:1), albeit his sensational defeat on grass (3-6 2-6) at Queens Club to Mark Woodforde a week before Wimbledon, allowed to suspect he might have been ousted by Mark Philippoussis or Henman. However, Sampras proved once again that Wimbledon’s Centre Court belongs to him. Read more…
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U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships have a long tradition, it’s been as long as the Open era (and even longer, the first championships took place in 1910). The event was held in different cities, since 2001 it’s been Houston. This … Continue reading
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Ivan Ljubicic  lost today his last professional match to his compatriot Ivan Dodig, 0-6 3-6 at Monte Carlo (the opening match of the tournament)… The 33-year-old Croatian player announced retirement a few weeks ago before Indian Wells ’12 – … Continue reading
It is an Olympic year so it’s a good occasion to look at all Olympic events of the modern history of tennis. Winning the Olympic gold medal is arguably the fifth biggest achievement in tennis behind four Grand Slam tournaments, however, the best players in the world skipped the first Open era edition of the Olympic tournament in Seoul 1988. Four years later in Barcelona (the only Olympics held on clay) the field was much more stronger… a number of surprises inexplicable. The first two Olympic gold medals were captured by players who have not won a major tournament, it’s one of reasons I decided to divide the Olympic tournaments into parts, other vital issues:
– in these two tournaments participated non-existed currently countries like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union/Commonwealth of Independent States
– only the first two events were played in a “best of five” formula throughout; since 1996 just the final has been held “best of five”
– no third-place match in Seoul & Barcelona
– players obtain ranking points since Athens (2004)
Here are pages with articles (quarterfinals and onwards) considering six Olympic events of the Open era, my remarks in blue:
Seven years after an astonishing triumph of 17-year-old Mats Wilander, the Parisian crowd witnessed another miracle fortnight with a 17-year-old boy as a main protagonist. A short USA-citizen of Chinese origin (170 cm, he grew 5 cm later on), Michael Chang  destroyed an unexperienced Pete Sampras, afterwards won two 5-set epics against the best players in the world at the time (Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg), separated by 4-set thrillers against other revelations of the tournament (Ronald Agenor, Andrei Chesnokov) to snap a 34-year-old title drought for the American tennis in Paris. Read more…
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For the first time in the history of Davis Cup all four World Group quarterfinals have been played on clay which suits beautifully to the spring season of the year when all best players in the world after Indian Wells-Miami … Continue reading