Roland Garros – Day 1 (1R)

Roland Garros is the only major which starts on Sunday, it’s a relatively fresh tradition (since 2006). Among most notable players we can’t see in Paris Andy Roddick [11] and David Nalbandian [22]. Also former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, his compatriot Tommy Robredo and Fernando Gonzalez withdrew – all guys injured.

The biggest upset of the first day made 33-year-old Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo [99]. The Spaniard lost nine consecutive first round matches in major, not having won a match at this level since Roland Garros 2006! Today he ousted 19th seeded player Marin Cilic 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-4. The Croat served twice to win the 1st set, was two points away in three different games. In the 3rd set he cut the deficit from *1:5 (30-30) to 4:5* (30-0), but experienced Spaniard kept his nerves and won the last four points of the match. “It’s my greatest victory this season, that’s for sure,” Ramirez-Hidalgo said. “I would not say this is the beginning of a new career, because I’m too old for this, but it’s a kind of relief.”
Cilic’s peer, Ernests Gulbis [85], who had aspirations once to win a major, has suffered sixth straight Grand Slam defeat, without even winning a set (0-20 in sets in Grand Slams since Wimbledon ’09!!). Today he was beaten by Blazs Kavcic [79] collecting just seven games. The best players which appeared on day one, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga notched comfortably wins on Court Philippe Chatrier. Lleyton Hewitt (hasn’t played a match in the last two months) pulled out with a foot injury just hours before he was supposed to play against Albert Montanes… 16 matches were played on the first day.

Longest match:
3 hours, 52 minutes: Maxime Teixeira d. Vincent Millot 6-2, 5-7, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1
Most aces:
13 – Sergiy Stakhovsky, defeated David Guez in four sets
5-set barometer:
1-0 Maxime Teixeira
0-1 Vincent Millot
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20th WEEK

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Hosts (Germans), among all teams, treated in the most serious manner the 34th edition of the World Team Cup – # designated their two best singles players (Florian Mayer, Philipp Kohlschreiber) and their best doubles player (Philipp Petzschner). The most … Continue reading

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Rome – final

(2)Novak Djokovic d. (1)Rafael Nadal                   6-4, 6-4   (2:12 h)

For the first time in the 21-year-old history of the ‘Masters 1000’ tournaments, two players met in the final four times within a season! The final was delayed due to bad weather, rain caused that the match began three hours later (at 7:15 p.m.) than was supposed. Maybe it was a favorable circumstance for Djokovic, who had played three consecutive matches under the floodlights whilst Nadal none in Rome this year. Actually it was a copy of their last week’s final in Madrid: two sets lasted more than two hours, Nadal was never ahead, and Djokovic got crucial breaks in both sets when he needed it the most. In contrary to their previous three meetings this year, Djokovic fell on his back after winning a match point, he wasn’t so emotional before. “I am definitely  amazed with my playing,” Djokovic said. “But there’s no time to enjoy it – I’ve got to get ready for Roland Garros.” Nadal admitted: “He’s doing amazing things. Every match he’s very tough mentally and physically. I’m doing everything I can. I can’t ask myself anymore now. I’m doing very well but one player is doing better than me. I am waiting every week to try solutions, so let’s see.”

It’s interesting that Nadal known as a specialist of tight situations, has lost the last five sets to Djokovic (starting with their 3rd set tie-break in Miami) as they both were close to win the set. It’s a sign of tremendous mental advantage of the Serb right now. Once he is close to win a set, he finds another gear to move quicker and play faster from the baseline, especially his backhand from the level of his shoulders is astonishing. Djokovic winning his 25th title, becomes only the third man to beat Nadal twice on clay-courts, previously did it only the Roland Garros champions: Gaston Gaudio (Bastad 2004, Buenos Aires 2005) and Roger Federer (Hamburg 2007, Madrid 2009). Stats of the final

Doubles final:
John Isner/Sam Querrey d. Mardy Fish/Andy Roddick w/o

I wanted to understand the phenomenon of Djokovic’s extraordinary streak and I was observing very carefully his ground-stroke game during the last two weeks. Obviously he improved mentally and physically, serves better, but what’s the most important in my opinion, is his perfect timing. He moves on the baseline smoothly in all directions being almost every time exactly in the place where should be, if the ball is faster and deeper he goes two steps back, if the ball is shorter he goes two steps forward. There’s no room for accidental shots, his baseline game is just perfect. Only Federer and Andre Agassi during their peaks, had an ability to operate amazingly on the baseline playing so often inside ‘no man’s land’, not allowing opponents to put a pressure on themselves during rallies, but neither of them had such an offensive stroke from the backhand side like Djokovic possess…

Now, with 39 wins in a row, 37 this season and 22 in “Masters 1000′ events, Djokovic has a great shot to overcome three amazing records of winning matches in succession. A record of the best start of the year (John McEnroe‘s 42) may have been broken three weeks since today in Paris – Djokovic has to get the final without a walkover – then he will notch the 43rd match won  in a row to open the year! It’s a very probable scenario… And then, a hypothetical final with Nadal, 27 years ago McEnroe had beaten Ivan Lendl five times during his magical season before lost to the Czech in Parisian final. Will history repeat itself? We have to wait three weeks… Even if Nadal beats Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, the Serb will be the new No. 1 in the world!

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Nole extends his amazing streak to “38”! (Rome – SF)

It was the best clay-court match of the season and the toughest one in Novak Djokovic‘s amazing streak. Andy Murray couldn’t do too much in the very first game (Djokovic hit four winners) but the Brit was playing very well after that, despite winning only one game in the 1st set. He had a double set point to win the 2nd set 6-2. The 3rd set was scintillating, both guys played their best tennis albeit Djokovic had some troubles with his standard accuracy, which allowed Murray to play harder from the baseline than in the two previous sets. Djokovic led *3:1 (30/30), afterwards Murray *4:3, Djokovic broke back only to lose his serve again after a long 9th game (three deuces) in which suffered cramps. Murray leading 5:4 on serve had 30/15 – served a double fault! [Djokovic was also two points away from defeat in the Miami final against Nadal, but on his own serve then]. On the third break point for Djokovic, Murray served a double fault again (just four d.f. in the whole match)! Serving Djokovic, 5:5 (0/30) and Murray plays a combination  of dropshot and lob – Djokovic gets the point though, with a convincing overhead, 6:5 for him… Murray at 15/30 in the following game, this time he is two points away from defeat – serve and backhand volley, Djokovic chases but falls spectacularly on the court. Another point, and another Murray’s successful volley, intelligent service winner (1st-“2nd serve”) and a tie-break! Both have very good records in deciding tie-breaks at the main level (Djokovic 8-4, Murray 11-4):
1:0 Djokovic – fantastic rally, Murray’s moon-lob allows him to make a transition from defensive to offensive but misses relatively easy forehand volley, D’Joke raises his hands
2:0 Murray’s backhand error
2:1 Murray’s backhand DTL
3:1 Murray’s backhand error again
4:1 Djokovic’s cross-court forehand winner
5:1 Murray plays serve and volley – lucky slice return by D’Joke and puts away a backhand passing-shot
Italian spectators scream “Nole! Nole!” during the change of ends
5:2 Murray’s ace
6:2 Djokovic’s combination of backhands: drop-shot & lob
7-2 Djokovic’s backhand drop-shot once more (furious Murray slams his racquet on the ground)
Last two points
The Serb wins 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(2) in 3 hours 2 minutes and roars in ecstasy… “Obviously it’s a great run,” said Murray about Djokovic’s 38-match winning streak “I’m just disappointed with myself that I should have ended it tonight. I’m one of the best closers in tennis and I very rarely, especially against the best players, lose matches when serving #. But I played a bad game and I made two double faults. It was good match and I had chances to win. He played very well in the first set and I did not really get into it. I think after that, especially towards the end of the second and third sets, there was some very good tennis
# Prior to tonight’s match, Murray lost only once at the main level serving to win – it was five years ago in Barcelona, to Ferrer 6-4 6-7(4) 1-6 serving at 6:5 when broken at ‘love’
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Rome – SF

Eight consecutive defeats from Rafael Nadal‘s hands suffered Richard Gasquet, so he knew that only mixing things up would give him some chances to beat “the Spanish bull”. Gasquet implemented great tactics in the 1st set, diversified ground-strokes and serves, was very offensive, and had a slight advantage in the first ten games. Nadal survived it and made the first break in the 11th game. In the following game, Gasquet had a back break point; one point later at ‘deuce’, there was a phenomenal rally, fantastic defensive display of both players, finished with Nadal’s forehand winner. It was a set point, however, a virtual match point, since then, Gasquet couldn’t stand the pace and Nadal notched a 7-5, 6-1 win, it’s his 14th successive victory in Rome. Nadal: “I am playing better every day and a little bit higher, so I think that in general I am happy for everything. [I’m in] another final, six in a row, and it is unbelievable; I had a tough week and so I am very happy for everything.”

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Rome – QF

Unexpectedly in the first quarterfinal, Florian Mayer totally outplayed Andy Murray in the initial phase of the match. The Brit changed his tactics at the beginning of the 2nd set, was playing more aggressively from the baseline and restored his authority in the next two sets, winning eleven out of the last twelve games and the match 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 in 1 hour 36 minutes. Murray hasn’t played a longer set than consisted of ten games in his nine matches this year on clay. He became the first British male since 1932 to reach the semi-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. “In the first few game I got a little bit uptight because I was not really seeing his game well and did not really put much pressure on him. He is a very tough player and he’ll probably will be in the Top 20 after this week. I managed to turn it round but I needed to get some emotion into the match. I needed to get myself pumped up, my legs moving and I seemed to get back into it.” analyzed Murray.
The five time champion of the Italian Open, Rafael Nadal had to win the quarterfinal match to maintain his status of the best player in the world regardless of Djokovic’s final result in Rome. “The king of clay” despite some troubles with a virus earlier this week, began his match with Marin Cilic in impressive style, leading 5:0* (30-15). The Croat found a way to hold his serve four times in a row (the fourth time after a 9-minute game) but since 3:2 in the 2nd set, he lost the next four games and the match 1-6, 3-6.
Richard Gasquet reaching the semifinal in Rome, achieved his best result since the Wimbledon semifinal in 2007. The Frenchman followed his sensational win over Federer with another 3-setter, this time against Thomas Berdych – 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 obtaining the crucial break in the 7th game of the 3rd set.
Novak Djokovic cruised into the semi-finals and extended his winning streak to 37 straight matches after defeating 5th-seeded Robin Soderling 6-3, 6-0.  It’s the sixth longest streak in the Open era, only five players (Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Roger Federer) won more consecutive matches than Djokovic – each of them at least 40.  The match with Soderling was balanced until 3:3 in the 1st set. In the 7th game Djokovic fought off two break points and Soderling, who had been playing very good match, completely lost his concept. The Serb finished the contest with two consecutive aces, winning the last 15 points!

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Rome – 3R

27-year-old unorthodox Florian Mayer [28] – the best German player at the moment – had never won a match in Rome prior to this week. Today he advanced for the first time in life to the quarter-finals of a ‘Masters 1000’ tournament, beating 7-5, 6-4 the Argentinian veteran Juan Ignacio Chela [42]. Mayer will reach the highest position in career next Monday.
Thomas Berdych [7] in contrary to Mayer, reaches quarterfinals of the biggest events regularly (this year lost quarterfinals in Melbourne, Miami and Madrid). The Czech dismissed ‘lucky loser’ Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-2 in 2 hours 41 minutes, being two points away from a 6-2, 6-4 win on Nieminen’s serve.
Marin Cilic [23] took an advantage of the favorable draw to book his berth in the last 8 of a ‘Masters 1000’ tournament on clay for the first time. Cilic last night outplayed Carlos Berlocq, who replaced injured David Ferrer; today the Croat had problems only in the 1st set against a tired Mardy Fish – the American spent more than 4 hours on court yesterday: 3 hours in singles (against Ljubicic), later on 1:15 in doubles (won a titanic super tie-break 19-17 along with Andy Roddick).
18-year-old Richard Gasquet [16] defeated Roger Federer at the Monte Carlo quarterfinal six years ago in their first encounter, saving three match points. Since then, Federer won their all eight meetings, dropping just two sets in the process. Today the Swiss seemed to be on the right track to notch the ninth straight victory over the Frenchman – after comfortable 6-4 in the 1st set, led 4:2* in the 2nd set. Gasquet broke back, saved a double mini-match point at 4:4, and played a fantastic tie-break. Neither player had a chance to break the opponent’s serve in the 3rd set (no ‘deuces’, only one game won to ’30’!) and a deciding tie-break was required… Gasquet played it with bigger risk and produced crucial winners to lead 3:1 (backhand DTL) and 5:3 (forehand cross-court). Federer hasn’t reached at least quarterfinal for the first time since last years Rome (lost in the second round to Gulbis) and for the third time in career has been beaten by a Frenchman with two losing tie-breaks! # Curiosity: Federer began the match winning 10 first points, Gasquet won the next 10! “I did a very good match for sure and as you can imagine I am very happy to beat Roger,” said Gasquet. “This does not happen so many times so I have to enjoy it. His forehand is very fast and the court today is very fast and very difficult conditions, but I tried to play good as I had nothing to lose and this is very important. I cannot play my game with a lot of pressure.

# Federer’s 3-set defeats with two losing tie-breaks:
Halle 2001: P.Rafter   6-4 6-7(6) 6-7(4)
Miami 2003:  A.Costa    6-7(4) 6-4 6-7(7)
Miami 2007:  G.Canas      6-7(2) 6-2 6-7(5)
Montreal 2007: N.Djokovic  6-7(2) 6-2 6-7(2)
Cincinnati 2008: I.Karlovic    6-7(6) 6-4 6-7(5)
Montreal 2009: JW.Tsonga 6-7(5) 6-1 6-7(3)
Paris 2010:  G.Monfils   6-7(7) 7-6(1) 6-7(4)
Rome 2011:  R.Gasquet   6-4 6-7(2) 6-7(4)
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Rome – 2R

Probably vast majority of spectators expected that 29-year-old qualifier Paolo Lorenzi (only six ATP wins in career) would win four games at a push against Rafael Nadal. It’s always tough to say whether the Italian was playing match of his life or Nadal was explicitly below his standard form, anyway through set and a half Lorenzi went toe-to-toe with the best player in the world! Nadal led *5:3 in the 1st set tie-break when played a sloppy forehand, three points later the Spaniard lost the first set point despite playing two overheads! Lorenzi improved from 1:3 to 4:3* in the 2nd set, was just two games away from the biggest win of his life but it was a mountain too high to overcome for his psychical and mental abilities – Nadal won the next nine games and the match 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-0 in 2 hours 26 minutes.
Also nine games in a row won Novak Djokovic in his encounter with another qualifier – Lukasz Kubot [141]. The Pole had to play his best tennis at the net to break the streak of losing games to avoid a humiliating “double bagel”. Djokovic scored a 6-0, 6-3 win tying with four great players (Connors, Borg, Muster and Federer) who won 35 consecutive matches. If Djokovic wins another two matches, he will jump to the 6th place of the greatest winning streaks in the Open era.
The rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic is amazingly interesting this week, because the Serb for the first time in career might advance at the top of the ATP ranking – he needs to win the tournament, counting on Nadal’s defeat before the semifinals. The two best players in the world said after their opening matches:
In general it was bad. I felt slow, I felt my forehand was short all the time. He played smart, too-good serves, good volleys. I played bad. And losing the final makes everything more difficult – you’re more tired and a little more sad. But I’m in the third round and that’s very positive for me.”
It is a great way to start. It is always great to have a straight set win and spend less time on the courts and save some energy for coming rounds.” – adding about his next opponent with whom played the final in Rome a couple years ago (Wawrinka) – “He likes this court and these conditions. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Robin Soderling miraculously avoided a straight set loss to Fernando Verdasco. These two players in  this year’s tournaments could meet at the earliest in the quarterfinals or semifinals, now they were gathered in the same section of the draw already in the second round because Verdasco lost many points in April and has slipped from No. 8 to No. 17. The Spaniard led 5:4 (40-0) on serve in the 2nd set having three consecutive match points. Soderling saved the first two with risky (especially the first one) powerful forehands, then Verdasco served two double faults in a row and the match turned around! Soderling won 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 saving a couple break points at 3:3 in the decider. Soderling’s first tournament with Fredrik Rosengren as a coach (the Swede replaced Claudio Pistotlesi, who had been working with ‘Toad’ the first four months of the season).

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Rome – 1R

Andy Roddick [12] playing his 200th tournament at the main level, suffered an early exit being ousted in straight sets (3-6, 3-6) by Gilles Simon [19], who finished the match with forehand passing-shot and high backhand volley. It is fourth consecutive defeat for Roddick – he hasn’t got such a bad streak since 2002! # “He moves very well, which you don’t want to see when you are short of matches like I was today, when you are not getting clean hits,” said Roddick.
In the most dramatic first round encounter, Sergiy Stakhovsky [36] saved a triple match point in the deciding tie-break against Victor Hanescu [65] winning 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(6). Stakhovsky becomes a specialist of winning deciding tie-breaks out of nowhere. During the last year’s US Open he beat Ryan Harrison despite 3:6 in the 5th set tie-break, last week prevailed against Albert Montanes, trailing 0:4 in the 3rd set tie-break.
In an unusual meeting between two lucky losers Jarkko Nieminen (replaced Gael Monfils,  was seeded No. 10 – sickness) overcame in three sets Adrian Mannarino (replaced Kei Nishikori – kidney stone).  Again it’s tough to expect that a local favorite will reach quarterfinals in Rome, in the first round appeared seven Italians and four of them have been already defeated. Although a nice surprise produced qualifier Paolo Lorenzi [148], overcoming in two sets Thomaz Bellucci, who reached semifinal in Madrid a week ago where was a set and a break up against Djokovic!

# Roddick’s two worst losing streaks in career:
US Open: Sampras 3-6 2-6 4-6, Davis Cup: Clement 6-4 6-7(6) 6-7(5) 1-6, Grosjean 4-6 6-3 3-6 4-6, Madrid: Youzhny 3-6 4-6
Indian Wells: Gasquet 3-6 6-7(5), Miami: Cuevas 4-6 6-7(4): Madrid: Cipolla 4-6 7-6(7) 3-6, Rome: Simon 3-6 3-6
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The end of Nadal’s clay-court streak

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Novak Djokovic broke yesterday Rafael Nadal‘s 37-match winning streak on clay (including 13 consecutive wins) in the Mutua Madrid Open final. It is Nadal’s second longest winning streak on clay and the sixth longest in the Open era on this … Continue reading

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