Saturday, 5 September 2015

Fabulous Fognini stops Nadal in New York 5-setter

The backstage camera filmed Rafael Nadal as he exited the court and entered the locker room after his 5-set loss to Fabio Fognini. The devastating pain engulfing his face was seen by millions around the world. Head hung low like a loyal dog who knows he has betrayed his owner's trust, Nadal trudged quietly behind the scenes while Fognini prepared to address the crowd and the world on his remarkable win.

I felt truly sorry for Nadal in those moments. One of the legends of the game is enduring a horrible year. Age is not on his side. Younger players are losing the fear factor of facing the Spanish star. The feeling was very much that his career is winding down with increased velocity.

It was indeed the very first time that Nadal has a lost a major match after winning the first two sets. A historic moment for these two players in that respect.

Four hours earlier, Nadal started this 3rd round match well, and indeed took the opening two sets. Fognini looked to be dead and buried; a routine win seemed to be on the cards. 

Fognini though, has already beaten Nadal twice this year in best-of-three-set formats, and he came to life in the 3rd set. The Italian began producing a stunning array of shots and decided to play aggressive, forcing Nadal back and splaying him left and right across the court like a chair whose legs have buckled and fallen in all directions under heavy pressure.

Rafael Nadal seemed to spend large amounts of the match on the stretch

Fognini levelled the match at 2 sets all and such had been the intensity that both players and the umpire went for a toilet break before the 5th set.

The 5th set was ridiculous to say the least. I have never seen anything like it. From 1-1 to 5-4 there were 7 consecutive breaks of serve. It seemed that both players had a sudden mental block when it came to holding serve. It did however, make for exciting tennis, and the quality from both players remained high. 

Fabio Fognini was fabulous in his 5-set win over Rafael Nadal

In the end Nadal just couldn't handle how early his opponent was striking the ball. Fognini finally managed to hold serve to take the match and progress to the 4th round. Nadal made a hasty handshake and barely said a word - I thought Fognini's performance deserved a little more than that, despite the bitter disappointment for the Spaniard.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Petra Cetkovska puts on a display to defeat Caroline Wozniacki

Unheralded Czech, Petra Cetkovska, put on a terrific display to see off 4th seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-1) in the final match of the night session.

Earlier, Roger Federer had despatched of Steve Darcis in 80 minutes with another commanding performance, running away with the match 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

But the headline from the night session this time was Petra Cetkovska. That was just absolutely brilliant! Brilliant! If it was Roger Federer, everyone would be raving and purring over such a remarkable display of all-round tennis.

Cetkovska hit the ball consistently deep, had a great backhand, awesome forehand, taking the pace off it at times to find more acute angles, opening up the court, and came to the net and volleyed well. She also saved 4 match points with some fearless attacking tennis, before converting at the first time of asking in the final set tiebreak.

Thoroughly enjoyed that match, though I wonder if Cetkovska can recover both physically and mentally for the next round?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Matches to look out for in the US Open 1st round

The 4th and final major of the year is upon us. Serena Williams is seven matches away from completing the Calendar Year Grand Slam and equalling Steffi Graf's record of 22 major titles. Novak Djokovic comes to Flushing Meadows hoping to win his 10th major to complete a highly successful year winning 3 of the 4 major titles.

Here is my selection of matches to watch out for in the US Open 1st round.

1. All eyes will be on #1 Serena Williams in her first round match against Vitalia Diatchenko. If she starts well, talk will only grow over her chances of clinching the Calendar Year Grand Slam.

2. An all-American tie including Coco Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens features in the top half of the ladies draw. Vandeweghe put on an impressive showing at this year's Wimbledon while Sloane Stephens tries to elevate herself into major contention.

3. The demise of Eugenie Bouchard has been rapid and has seen her slip to seed 25 for this year's US Open. She has caused a stir over her unsportsmanlike behaviour in the Davis Cup and is in real need of a re-imaging on the court. That always starts with winning matches, and in the 1st round she will be up against Alison Riske of the United States. Expect the crowd to be behind the home player. Bouchard needs to turn the corner soon.

4. Perhaps the tie of the women's 1st round is 7th seed Ana Ivanovic versus feisty unseeded Slovak, Dominica Cibulkova. This is an intriguing match-up. Ivanovic has fought her way back to form while Cibulkova has struggled to live up to her own high standards following her thrilling run to the final in Melbourne last year.

5. On the mens draw, two really good players who have never made the breakthrough on the major scene. Fernando Verdasco, the 'other' left-handed Spaniard versus Tommy Haas, the German who continues to defy his age. Both players struggle with consistency, but on their day can play some top tennis. I favour Verdasco in this one, but it could be a good match.

6. Another golden oldie, Lleyton Hewitt, is in his farewell year on the ATP World Tour as his retirement from the sport draws ever closer. He will definitely be looking to go out with a bang during the penultimate major of his career. He is well-loved and respected throughout tennis for his battling skills and he will be ready for a typical battle in the 1st round against Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

7. Wherever there is Roger Federer, there will be an admiring audience. The Swiss legend is in town again, in some of the best form of his career, eyeing an 18th major title after his back-to-back wins over Murray and Djokovic in Cincinnati. He is up against Leonardo Mayer, the 33rd ranked player who held 5 match points against Federer earlier in the year, but couldn't convert. May be a little closer than most expect but I still back Federer in straight sets.

8. The first of the two tastiest mens 1st round match-ups involves teenager Borna Coric versus 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal. Coric is a rising star on tour who comfortably beat Nadal in Basel last year before the Spaniard went on a lengthy injury/illness layoff. Nadal has never recovered his full form since then and has endured a torrid year, falling to defeats to players ranked outside the top 100 amongst others. I class this as a potential upset but still expect Nadal to call on his experience to pull him through this one.

9. For me, the most intriguing match of the 1st round is Andy Murray versus Nick Kyrgios. You could say Murray drew the short straw with this 1st round tie. (We are glad it wasn't Wawrinka who ended up with this one!) Kyrgios is under intense scrutiny after he brought the game into disrepute with his disparaging remarks on court aimed at Wawrinka recently. He is fast becoming the bad boy of tennis, though his opponent, Murray, is not exactly a saint either. Kyrgios has the ability and weapons to win this match, so this is another potential upset, but it really depends on the state of his mind and his ability to block out what could be a very hostile crowd.