Monte Carlo 2013 recap

This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

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As always, I would like to thanks Tennis-Buzz.

Following Nadal’s unexpected win in Indian Wells a month ago, as I said here it was beginning to look ominous for the rest of the tour regarding the fast-approaching clay court season. However on Sunday Djokovic beat him 6-2 7-6 in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters. It was the first time the Spaniard had lost there since 2003, having since racked up eight straight titles.

After coming into the tournament with a slight injury cloud over him, Djokovic very much played his way into form, dropping sets in his first two matches, before dispatching the tournament’s giant killer Fabio Fognini in the semis. The first set against Nadal showed just why Djokovic must surely have at least one Roland Garros crown in him at some point. He raced to a 5-0 lead, effortlessly hitting winners left right and centre, in a way that no one has ever done against Nadal on clay before. Indeed the Serb said himself after the match that it was the best he is capable of playing on the surface.

The second was a much tighter affair, with Nadal twice going up a break, but not managing to consolidate, and once it reached the breaker it had that sense of inevitability as Djokovic stepped it up a gear. The victory was really big news for both camps. As far as Nadal is concerned, he basically owns this tournament. No one has had a look in for almost a decade, but as he keeps stressing, the streak couldn’t go on forever so it’s not a disaster! For Djokovic, it was a big one ticked off the list – he’s lived in Monaco for a fair few years now so of course his home tournament has been high up in his priorities for a while. It also means that he only has to win the masters in Cincinnati to complete the set of masters 1000 titles.

Where from here…

Well obviously it seems easy to say but these two are clearly the men to beat on the clay. We won’t see what Federer is looking like until Madrid in a couple of weeks’ time when he kicks off his campaign, and Murray looked completely off the pace in his 6-1 6-2 defeat to Stan Wawrinka. Nadal is also playing Barcellona this week, and so with and extra week of match practice I’d say that he should be more competitive come the next meeting between the two of them. However with their current rankings that doesn’t mean that will necessarily be in a final. Regardless, if they did meet in a semi, surely the winner of that match would go on and take the tournament.

I’m backing Djokovic for another win in Madrid. At altitude, it’s never been prime hunting ground for Nadal given the fast clay courts there, though he has won there in the past. However it could also suit a relative outsider with a big game like Del Potro or Berdych if they get on a run. Come Rome, I’m seeing Nadal back to his absolute best, and I think he will take the win there before moving on to target yet more history at the French Open. Lets just hope they will be in opposite sides of the draw there!

The ones to watch out for…

Fabio Fognini was the surprise package in Monaco. Beating Berdych and Gasquet back to back without dropping a set was massively impressive and just highlights the hand skills the Italian possesses. If he can just stop moving so lazily about the court he court really challenge the best on this surface.

Richard Gasquet is arguably at his best on the clay and despite that shock loss to Fognini, he is having a good year. Without the burden of pressure and expectation from which he suffered earlier in his career, I do expect him to go deep into one of these tournaments soon and possibly overtake compatriot Tsonga as world number 8.

Jo Wilfried Tsonga is himself improving on the red dirt though. A couple of years ago I would’ve laughed at the prospect of him reaching the semis in Monaco, but he came back from a set down to defeat Wawrinka in the quarters which was particularly impressive. These two have had their fair share of battles in the past, but you would generally class the Swiss as the superior clay courter, backed up by that win over Murray. But however impressive Tsonga was there, he was just as disappointing against Nadal in the semis, failing to trouble the Spaniard at all. Still if he gets a good draw on the quick courts of Madrid he could do some damage.

Grigor Dimitrov had the beating of Nadal in the quarters in Monaco. I see him as a super-hybrid-cross with Federer’s shots and Djokovic’s movement and flexibility. At times he was just unplayable, and of course, he plays that variety of tennis which the crowd love, so once he can just get to the next level of consistency and hold it together mentally, he could start beating the big dogs.

This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

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As always, I would like to thanks Tennis-Buzz.

All the best players in the world came to Indian Wells for the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year, and over the last couple of days it all came to a head with some of the most spectacular matches of the season. You can read here about how the four semi-finallists made it to that stage, namely Nadal cruising past Federer in the quarters. 

Indian Wells Final – Nadal Beats Del Potro

Well this perhaps wasn’t the final we were expecting – being Nadal‘s first hard court tournament in a year and with Djokovic in Delpo’s half of the draw, it wasn’t all that likely, but they were clearly the two best players this week. Nadal came out with all guns blazing, racing out to a 3-0 lead; but Del Potro would then take control, winning 9 of the next 11 games, using those huge groundies to devastating effect. Despite taking a 3-1 lead in the second and demonstrating incredible feel around the net on several occasions, he would start to flag just as Nadal’s level moved up a gear. The Spaniard wouldn’t look back, dominating the rallies from then on, and eventually coming out a 4-6 6-4 6-3 winner, falling to the ground more than once in disbelief at this incredible achievement. 

This is the third time he’s taken the title in Indian Wells, but is saying that this is one of the best victories of his career. Indeed few would’ve forecast this win given his lack of match practice on this surface and the quality of the opposition. He was particularly pleased with his movement, having said previously that some days it’s good and some bad. He will now miss next week’s Miami Masters to go home and recuperate ahead of what is looking like it could be a very successful European clay court season. It’s also worth noting that this win was significant for a number of other reasons. It marked his 600th tour match win, it was a record 22nd masters title, and he will now move back to number 4 in the rankings, restoring the ‘big four’ in the top four spots.

As for Del Potro, his highlight of the week was obviously the back to back wins against Murray and Djokovic. Despite losing to Nadal in the final, this was a big break for him and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win a masters tournament in the near future, as well as move up perhaps even breaking into the top four in the rankings.

Indian Wells Semis Roundup

Nadal beats Berdych

The first semi saw Nadal continue his incredible comeback against Berdych. I thought that the Czech player might potentially score a big win here – he’s about due a win over the Spaniard, and has been well on top of his game of late. However Nadal demonstrated just how tough he is, and came through 6-4 7-5. Berdych actually served for the second set, however he just couldn’t find his first serve and got broken back. From that point he wouldn’t win another point, with Nadal’s agressive tennis proving too much. 

Obviously the Spaniard was delighted to make the final, stating that it was more than he could’ve hoped for; personally I think the win over Berdych was pretty important, as he has the kind of game – flat hard power that can be dangerous to Nadal if he’s not careful. Berdych was clearly disappointed afterwards – though semis in a masters is still a solid result he said that he’s really looking to push on in these tournaments, and he does need to start beating the top 4 a bit more often. We shall see what next week in Miami holds…

Del Potro beats Djokovic

Perhaps the best match of the tournament was also the biggest upset of the year. Delpo ended the world number one’s 22 match winning streak here in the semis, coming back with a 4-6 6-4 6-4 win. In the first set Djokovic proved to be marginally too strong, eventually managing the decisive break in the tenth game after piling on the pressure. However he needed to use every facet of his all-court game to come through it, and from that moment on it would be Delpo demonstrating his variety. 

We’re not really used to seeing sloppiness from the Serb but he lost his serve in the first game of the second. Though he broke straight back, that famously huge Argentine forehand would then come into play and Del Potro began to dominate. Despite the odd moment of brilliance from the Djokovic backhand, he wouldn’t look back, hanging on to take the set. 

The momentum would change again though, with Djokovic fighting as he always does, and taking a 3-0 lead in the decider. He couldn’t hang on to it though and once the Argentine broke back and his forehand started firing again, he took control and Djokovic had no answer as the match eventually slipped away from him. 

For me, this is Delpo’s best win since the 2009 US Open. In fact I’d say his game is better now than it was then – he’s added some good variety with that slice backhand; he kind of needed to given the wrist trouble on the two-hander, but it’s given him a host of new options. Anyway, Djokovic has been so dominant recently, and beat him fairly comfortably in Dubai only a couple of weeks ago, so this really is impressive. Hopefully it’s the start of some great things this season for him – with that bad wrist he’s been waiting long enough! Djokovic for his part was gracious as always in defeat, congratulating Delpo, and stating quite frankly that he didn’t deserve this one!

Well as always, Indian Wells has provided us with a top week of tennis. I personally can’t wait for Miami next week, and I’m expecting more good stuff from Berdych and Delpo. Without Nadal and Federer in the draw, it’s a real chance for others to move deep into a big tournament, and these two really seem to be the closest challengers to the big 4 at the moment. It could however provide the launchpad for someone else to break through! We shall have to wait and see…

This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

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As always, I would like to thanks Tennis-Buzz.

A few rounds of top tennis have gone by since my post about the early part of the tournament, and there has been a lot of drama! Wednesday saw what was the biggest day of tennis the Indian Wells Tennis Garden has ever seen, with all the top seeds in action (apart from Ferrer who was already out). Well none of the seeds were massively troubled making it through to the round of 16; the one match I would like to mention though is the Almagro-Haas encounter. I picked Haas to make a slight upset, and  he didn’t disappoint, coming out on top 6-3 6-7 7-6 in an epic. Great tennis from both men, but Haas really just seems to get better and better with age, and maybe that extra bit of wiliness pulled him through.

BNP Paribas Masters 4th Round

The next round however would throw up some more noteworthy results. Unfortunately for Haas, his good run wouldn’t continue as he was demolished by Del Potro, winning just three games. Djokovic, Murray and Berdych all came through in straight sets too, against Dimitrov, Berlocq and Gasquet respectively. Incidentally Berlocq’s outrageously load grunting did get on the Scot’s nerves to the extent that he had quite a rant about it afterwards. I think you’ve got to take his side really, especially seeing as the grunting was particularly sporadic.

At the bottom of the draw, Federer had a close shave, getting past compatriot and friend Wawrinka 6-3 6-7 7-5. He really should’ve closed it out when he served for the match in the second, but you’ve got to credit Stan for upping his game, particularly with an incredible backhand pass to begin the game.

Rafa Nadal would later fix the dream quarter-final as he too had a close one, eventually beating the hard-hitting Gulbis 4-6 6-4 7-5, breaking quite a winning streak that the Latvian was on. Nadal said after that his knee wasn’t so great in the match but that he was particularly pleased with how he fought and toughed it out like the Nadal of old.

Tsonga and Anderson also both came through three setters, against Raonic and Simon. Tsonga was impressive, being hampered by injury early on but still getting the better of the Canadian powerhouse. Anderson will too have been very pleased with this win, further backing up his earlier defeat of fourth seed Ferrer. He really has upped his game this year since the Aussie Open and it’ll be interesting to see how much higher he can move in the rankings.

BNP Paribas Masters Quarter-Finals

Nadal beats Federer

The Blockbuster match was of course the Nadal-Federer affair. 2004 was the last time they met this early in a tournament, so it seemed a bit strange, and the last time they had faced off was a year ago in the semis of the same tournament, the Swiss winning in 2. Nadal came into this one stressing that he really didn’t believe he had the necessary level to win; but come match day he played a superb match, winning 6-4 6-2. Admittedly Federer was having some back trouble: he was able to serve full pace but was visibly impaired in his movement. Nadal mentioned later that Federer clearly wasn’t his usual self as he didn’t appear to fight at all in the second set. However this was still a huge plus for the Nadal comeback – something from which he will surely take a lot of confidence. Federer is sitting out of Miami this year, so hopefully he’ll have ample time to rest up an recover before he returns to the European clay. 

Berdych beats Anderson

Slightly less anticipated was the Berdych-Anderson quarter-final. Berdych proved far too strong for the South African in Melbourne earlier this year and the same was true on Thursday as he came through 6-4 6-4. As I’ve said before, the problem for Anderson is that they both play very similar games, but Berdych just does everything a bit better. I think the Berdych-Nadal semi is quite intriguing. Though the Czech hasn’t beaten the Spaniard in ages, he is really on a high at the moment, playing some of his best ever tennis. He really impressed, crushing Gasquet in straights. Though Nadal is playing remarkably well considering the circumstances, I think that Berdych is the kind of player who could exploit any weaknesses which remain in his movement. This could well turn out to be a breakthrough for Berdych, who hasn’t won a masters tournament since his lone victory in 2005.

Djokovic beats Tsonga

Djokovic raced through his quarter final, ousting Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 6-3 6-1 taking just 53 minutes. He is now on a 22 match winning streak; discounting that unofficial loss to Tomic in Hopman cup, he is undefeated this year, and will be wanting another season like his famous breakout year in 2011. He only dropped 5 points on serve throughout and credited his decision to focus solely on his own game. Tsonga was understandably disappointed at his performance; he was far too inconsistent to trouble the Serb at any stage. However the positive he can take forwards is a career first quarter final at Indian Wells. He will be hoping for a slightly quicker surface next week in Miami to better utilise his serve and forehand. 

Del Potro beats Murray

Djokovic will once again meet Del Potro in the semis, after the Argentine rallied to beat Murray 6-7 6-3 6-1 on Friday night. The first set was close, with no breaks of serve and Murray was able to come up with his better tennis when it really mattered. However he stuttered in the second, losing his serve to love in the first game as Del Potro’s level increased. The disparity between the two players just got bigger from there with Murray losing his serve three times in the final set. Del Potro seemed to manage the high temperatures better than the Scot – perhaps unsurprisingly, though Murray has just spent a month in Miami training hard. I guess his lack of match practice didn’t help – I’ll be expecting an improvement come Miami. Delpo takes a 2-8 head to head into his semi with Novak, and lost to him recently in the semis in Dubai in two sets. He will surely be hoping for an improvement this time around; personally I think he might take a set at best. Djokovic’s form at the moment is simply outstanding – I can’t see anyone beating him on hard courts any time soon. 

Check back very soon – I’ll be posting about the business end of the tournament – the four players left are arguably the top four in the world right now so it should make for some great tennis!

This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Our Website | Flickr | Via Email

I would like to thank Tennis-Buzz for this opportunity.

Well the first Masters 1000 event of the 2013 season is now well and truly underway, with all the seeds having completed their first matches. All 32 seeds receive a bye in the first round, so here I plan to give you a succinct run-down of round 2.

Top Half

Novak Djokovic had a bit of a lapse of concentration in his 6-0 5-7 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini. Having taken the opener without any resistance whatsoever, one bad game from the number one seed, and some great slow-court tennis from the Italian saw it go to a decider. However Djokovic said that he never really felt in trouble, given the great run of form he’s currently on and the confidence that goes with it. Next up for him is Dimitrov, a straight sets winner, who could provide quite a spectacle, though he’s unlikely to pose any real threat.

In a few days’ time the winner of that one will face the victor of the Querrey-Matesevic clash. Matesevic is a name to watch out for this season, and he upset 14th seed Monaco 7-5 6-0 in R2. This could be fairly close, though I’d expect the more experienced and big serving American to come through for a presumed rematch of his win over Djokovic in Paris last Autumn.

Further down, Cilic came through in two against Ramos, and he will play Raonic who was granted a walkover by Llodra. This could be interesting. Cilic is the more experienced, though Raonic is the more upcoming player at the moment. Though they’re both big servers, I think the slower courts will favour Cilic, as he probably has a slightly more solid defensive game than the all-offensive Canadian.

Mardy Fish continued his comeback to the tour with  6-3 3-6 6-4 win over countryman Bobby Reynolds. This tournament has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past, so he will be hoping for a couple more wins. Trying to prevent that will be Tsonga – a 7-6 6-4 winner over James Blake. A very tight affair where the American held 3 set points in the opener, Tsonga did well to grit out the win, and that should give him confidence going forward. He shouldn’t struggle too much with Fish on current form.

Andy Murray overcame a rocky start, eventually rallying to beat Donskoy 5-7 6-2 6-2. It was the Scot’s first match since the Aussie Open so he was bound to be a bit rusty. He’s said that he’s expecting peak fitness over the next couple of weeks given the training time he’s recently put in in Miami. So after a couple of matches to ease himself into the tournament he should be quite a force. The slow surface should also suit him. Next up is Yen-Hsun Lu.

Carlos Berlocq caused an upset, overcoming the 22nd seed Dolgopolov 6-3 6-7 6-3. A great win for the Argentine, it’s just another appalling loss for the talented Ukrainian. He really needs to look at where his game is at and start considering where he wants to take it – the regularity of his bad performances represent the only consistency in his game. Berlocq will next have his work cut out against Nishikori, one of the brightest young hopes on the tour at the moment.

One of the best prospects for the next round is the Almagro-Haas matchup. Both came through in two sets against unseeded opponents, and both have been playing at a high level of late. I’m picking a slight upset here, with Haas to come through – he really is having a late-career resurgence!

At the bottom of the top half, Del Potro was very impressive against a dangerman in Davydenko. The Russian had beaten him comfortably in the championship match at the World Tour Finals a couple of years back so the Argentine was aware of the possible risk. But Davydenko was never given a look in. Next up is Bjorn Phau – for me the fastest man in tennis. He plays great exhibition stuff, though won’t have the necessary firepower to hurt the seventh seed.

Juan Martin Del Potro

Bottom Half

At the very bottom of the draw, the number 2 seed (he could lose his number 2 ranking if he fails to defend his Indian Wells crown this week) is Federer. He came through very comfortably 6-2 6-3 against a dangerous opponent in Istomin. After two poor losses in recent weeks, he’s in need of confidence boosting wins like this ahead of a possible quarter-final showdown with Nadal. In R2 he faces Dodig; an opponent you wouldn’t expect to cause too much trouble. 

My pick of Saturday’s matches was Lleyton Hewitt‘s gritty comeback, beating last year’s finalist John Isner 6-7 6-3 6-4. The veteran Aussie has slipped in the rankings, so big wins like this are more important than ever to him, as he looks to extend his injury plagued career as long as he can. He faces Wawrinka in a potentially intriguing clash in the next round.

Ernests Gulbis continued his fine run of form, backing up last week’s win in Delray Beach, with a devastating 6-2 6-0 win over the struggling Serb Janko Tipsaravic. Though still in the top 10, he has had a distinctly average year since the Aussie Open, and is sure to see that ranking slip if he doesn’t change things soon. Gulbis on the other hand looks as if he may finally be putting a leash on that massive game; with a bit of reigning in, he should shoot up the rankings. His next opponent Seppi, will look to make very few errors – that type of opponent is a real test for the Latvian. 

One of the most noteworthy matches was Nadal‘s 7-6 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison. Though the American went up a break in the first, the Spaniard wasn’t about to let up, and powered through, recording his first win on hard courts in 12 months. He said that his movement still needs some attention, though he feels good and is happy to be at the tournament – potentially an ominous sign for his next round opponent, Leonardo Mayer!

The biggest upset thus far came in Kevin Anderson‘s 3-6 6-4 6-3 win over fourth seed Ferrer. The South-African seemed to have too much power for Ferrer, hitting winners-galore. The Spaniard doesn’t seem to have quite recovered fromt the routing Nadal gave him a week ago in the final of Acapulco. Anderson next faces Jarko Nieminen, who conceded just one game against fellow lefty Fernando Verdasco. A great win for the aging Fin, though Verdasco seriously needs to sit down and look at the direction his career is taking as a player with his innate ability shouldn’t be suffering these losses.

Kevin Anderson

The rest of the seeds in this half all came through fairly comfortably with the exception of Kohlschreiber who bowed out to Benoit Paire 6-4 6-2. The young flashy Frenchman will look to put on another show in the next round against countryman Simon; I reckon his metronomic style might just infuriate the youngster.

Gasquet was a straight sets winner over a potential hurdle in Bernard Tomic, and sets himself an interesting first time clash with Jerzy Janowicz. I pick Gasquet to come through, though it could be far from simple. Similarly, Berdych wasn’t troubled in his opener against Zverev, and goes on to probably beat Florian Mayer in round 3. I’m really hoping for a Berdych-Gasquet R4. If Gasquet comes to the party there could be some phenomenal shotmaking!

That’s pretty much the gist of the first few days’ action. Lots more promises to be coming our way though, so check back soon for more roundups, and special features on certain players!

Photos by Tennis Buzz (Del Potro, Roland Garros 2012 – Anderson, Bercy 2012)