Annacone

Excerpt from Roger Federer: Back On Top due out Oct. 31,2012.

Roger Federer went through a few coaches for a bunch of different reasons, before locating Paul Annacone, including Peter Carter, Darren Cahill, Jose Higueras and Tony Roche.

But perhaps it was out of necessity – or a bit of desperation – that Federer and Annacone attempted a relationship.

Of course, people might define “desperation” differently. At the time Annacone was hired in a “test period,” as Federer said, Federer had won Wimbledon six times, the US Open five times, the French Open once and four Australian titles.

But in 2010, he lost at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych and to Robin Soderling in the French quarters, dropping Federer to – gasp – No. 3 in the world. It was his lowest ranking in seven years.

And so on came Annacone, 47 at the time as Annacone worked out the remainder of his contract as men’s head coach at the Lawn Tennis Association in Great Britain.

Annacone was no stranger to coaching. He was the former coach to Pete Sampras and British great, Tim Henman. In the days that followed Annacone’s hiring, let’s just say Annacone seemed more excited about the opportunity.

“I’ve been looking to add someone to my team and I’ve decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone,” Federer told his website.

Annacone, meanwhile, told the New York Times, “Sometimes, I wake up and go ‘Wow’, and I do feel kind of blessed to have had this opportunity. But I think part of my good fortune, I hope, is because of my work ethic and personality and the perspective that I view the game with and the history I have soaked up as a bit of a sponge in the last 25 years.”

Annacone was ranked as high as No. 12 in the world during his playing days and was subsequently put in charge of player development for both the United States Tennis Association and the British Lawn Tennis Association. Big jobs.

Yet Annacone’s hiring on the Federer team was historic. It made him the deli meat in the sandwich of two of the most significant eras of tennis in the history of the game. He got to work with Sampras and Federer, after all, who won Grand Slam events like the Yankees win the World Series.

Annacone was a net-rushing player before a herniated disk in his back cut short his career. One of the characteristics in both Sampras‘ game and Henman‘s game was the ability to move forward, thereby giving him an appeal to Federer at the time. Clearly, Federer wanted to end points sooner as he pushed past 30. That was never more evident than at Wimbledon this year and especially in the final against Murray.

“It’s important to question yourself, and that’s what I’ve always been doing since I got to world No. 1 in 2004,” Federer said after losing in the French Open in 2010.

It was nothing new to Annacone to prove himself. He took over as Sampras’s coach on an interim basis in March 1995, when Sampras’ coach Tim Gullickson became ill. Sampras was already No. 1, but with Annacone’s support won eight more Grand Slam titles.

Annacone told the author that Federer and Sampras have more in common than not. He called both, “immense talents and objective evaluators of winning and losing.”

So far, so good for the relationship.

Will Annacone be his most influential coach? Maybe. He will have to go far to outdo Carter, originally from Australia. Carter coached Federer in his formative tenn years and worked with him on his serve volley and slice. He also served as Swiss Davis Cup coach before dying much too young in 2002 at 37 in a car crash. his loss had an enormous impact on Federer.

ATP Top 20 Rankings

1 Rafael Nadal (Spa) 11225.00pts

2 Novak Djokovic (Ser) 7145.00

3 Roger Federer (Swi) 6735.00

4 Andy Murray (Gbr) 5035.00

5 Robin Soderling (Swe) 4910.00

6 Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) 4150.00

7 Tomas Berdych (Cze) 3780.00

8 Fernando Verdasco (Spa) 3330.00

9 Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) 3295.00

10 David Ferrer (Spa) 3200.00

11 Andy Roddick (USA) 3180.00

12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) 2905.00

13 Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 2605.00

14 Marin Cilic (Cro) 2540.00

15 Gael Monfils (Fra) 2250.00

16 Nicolas Almagro (Spa) 2150.00

17 Ivan Ljubicic (Cro) 2120.00

18 Marcos Baghdatis (Cyp) 2030.00

19 Mardy Fish (USA) 1931.00

20 Stanislas Wawrinka (Swi) 1860.00

All-Star Matchup In The Semis As Federer Takes On Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In a match where timely shotmaking turned the tide time after time, Roger Federer fittingly rocked the court-side clock with one final authoritative ace to cap a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 sweep of Robin Soderling and fly into the US Open final four for the seventh straight year. Continuing his quest to regain the US Open title he lost to Juan Martin del Potro last September, Federer will square off against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinals in their fourth consecutive Flushing Meadows clash.

It was a superlative serving performance from Federer, who ripped 18 aces and saved five of six break points in subduing Soderling. The fifth-seeded Swede had four break point chances at the outset of the match but could not convert and Federer picked up his serve considerably from that point forward.

“I think the serve was today the biggest key, because obviously he’s very famous for serving extremely accurate, extremely hard, over a long period of time,” Federer said. “That’s what makes him so hard to beat really. That wasn’t the case today.  He struggled to get the pace, the accuracy going, until midway through the third set when I think he started to hit it a bit better.  Then it was almost too late, really.”

The third-seeded Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the semifinals.

Hard court is Djokovic’s best surface. He can use his expansive reach to rip returns down the lines off both sides, he covers the court quickly and the speed of the Deco Turf adds some sting to his serve. Federer has won eight of his 12 meetings on hard court with Djokovic, but believes Djokovic is at his best on hard court.

“I think this kind of favors his play the most, kind of a faster hard court, because he can pick up some incredible balls, you know, half volley them, redirect them,” Federer said. “It helps maybe serve a bit more, and on the return he can, you know, zone in a bit, and all of a sudden he’s really tough to pass, you know, when he’s returning. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the game right now, and especially on this surface he’s obviously in the top 3 or 4.  That’s why he’s been able to play consistent here at the Open.  He’s obviously waiting for a breakthrough where he can win this title.”

Djokovic fell to Federer in the 2007 final and was victimized by Federer’s stupefying between-the-legs passing shot in last September’s semifinal. Djokovic said stylistically, the rivalry has not changed; he’s just hoping to reverse the result on Saturday.

“We do have more or less same game, you know.  Just maybe experience wise in my case I feel better now,” Djokovic said. “Physically I feel better than I did last year.  I feel stronger, faster on the court.  The conditions are quite different, so let’s see, you know.  Let’s see how this Saturday is gonna come out, you know, if we gonna have normal conditions or not.”

The second-seeded Swiss is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, including a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win in Toronto last month.

“Here we go again,” Federer said in anticipation of the latest installment of his rivalry with Djokovic. “He’s a great player. I got really lucky to get through there in Toronto and he’s obviously looking for the big break through here at the Open, so it’s gonna be a tough one.”

Though Federer has won nine of the 10 sets he’s played vs. Djokovic at the Open, the matches have typically been tightly-contested affairs, including the Swiss stylist’s 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4 triumph in the 2007 final in which Federer fended off five set points in the first set and two set points in the second set, relying on his edge in experience, expertise in playing the the right shots on pivotal points, exceptional anticipation and a first serve that was sharpest in crucial stages to subdue the first Serbian man to contest major final.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets and will enter the semifinals playing his best tennis of the tournament.

Opening the season by capturing his 16th career major championship in Melbourne in Australia, Federer suffered successive Grand Slam quarterfinal setbacks at Roland Garros and Wimbledon ending his reign in Paris and London and increasing speculation that Federer was more vulnerable in majors than ever.

On a drizzly day in June,  Soderling reigned a series of resounding winners across the red clay in overwhelming Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the French Open quarterfinals to snap the World No. 1’s record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. It was Federer’s first loss before a Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, ending one of the most hallowed record streaks in tennis history.

Soderling could not reproduced that form tonight, in part because the wind wreaked havoc with his high ball toss and because he has little margin for error on his flat strokes.

“I didn’t put so many first serves in as I needed to because of the wind,” Soderling said. “It was tough for me. So I could have needed some more first serves. Maybe I would have played better then.”

The lanky Swede did not hit an ace until the third set. To his credit, Soderling did not give up the fight as Monfils did in today’s first quarterfinal against Djokovic. He began to center his shots more and when Federer missed the mark on an inside-out forehand, Soderling broke for 5-3 in the third set.

The two-time French Open finalist could not capitalize on the break, putting a forehand into net as Federer broke back for 4-5.

Down 15-30 Federer benefited from a Soderling error to draw even then lured the big man forward with a drop shot followed by a forehand volley that rattled Soderling’s Head racquet. For all his prodigious power from the backcourt, Soderling is almost clueless at times at net and he screamed in frustration at himself as Federer eventually worked out a hold for 5-all.

Summer started with a struggle for Federer, who followed his French Open demise with a Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych. But he’s crafted another late-summer resurgence in picking up his play after Labor Day and working toward a potential blockbuster final against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

“I think he’s playing great. Because he lost in the quarters of the French and in Wimbledon, some people think he’s more vulnerable than ever.  But I think he’s actually playing really well,” Djokovic said of Federer. “He played great in Toronto and Cincinnati, and he’s just loves this surface.  He loves this tournament.  He has won so many times. Obviously he’s a favorite.  But, you know, we played so many times, and mostly we played on this surface.  It’s no secret in each other’s game.  Just I will try to hold on, you know.  He always tries to put pressure on his opponent.  He’s very aggressive.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

The Djoker Goes To The Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Novak Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the US Open semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.

The highly anticipated battle of the Djoker vs. Slider Man was about as absorbing as a two-page, color-less comic book.

Wearing the distinctive dragon design on the back of his Sergio Tacchini shirt, Djokovic, aka The Djoker, turned Slider Man Monfils into his own personal punch line after coming back from a break down in the first set to dispense a thorough thrashing of the flamboyant Frenchman who showed no fight after the first set.

The third-seeded Serbian powered into his fourth straight US Open semifinal where he will face either five-time champion Roger Federer or No. 5 seed Robin Soderling for a spot in Sunday’s final.

Federer has served as a personal road block for Djokovic in ending the 2008 Australian Open champion’s Flushing Meadows runs in each of the past three years, including a victory in the 2007 final and his famous between-the-legs passing shot winner that haunted Djokovic in the 2009 semifinals.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, but the Serbian showman will enjoy more rest than any other semifinalist. The question is: can Djokovic show the necessary mental strength and tactical acumen necessary to finally clear the Swiss hurdle in New York? Or is Djokovic destined for another final four failure?

A positive sign for Djokovic is the composed demeanor he’s shown both on court and in his post-match press conferences. This appears to be a more focused and determined Djokovic, but both Federer and Nadal have a habit of causing that familiar haunted expression in the normally smiling Serbian.

If Djokovic is to master another major he must step up and beat Federer in the latter stages of a major. He believes time is on his side.

“I have two days (to rest) so I will try to use them as best as I can to recover physically and get ready mentally for this next challenge,” said Djokovic, who has been all business in this tournament.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets

Meanwhile, Monfils reinforced his reputation as an ultra-talented, but extremely flaky Frenchman, who is apparently unable or unwilling or unable to accept that bobbing and weaving just won’t get it down against top four players.

Squandering the break lead in the opening set, Monfils played tentative, frightened tennis for the final two sets. Ducking and running rather than engaging Djokovic in committed baseline exchanges.

How bad did it get for Monfils?

His coach, Roger Rasheed, essentially called out Monfils as a passionless pusher who looked resigned to suffering his fifth consecutive loss to Djokovic.

“I’ve been disappointed to be perfectly honest,” Rasheed told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after an absymal second-set effort from his charge. “You gotta have some authority on the game and the person that gets after it is gonna get the job done in these conditions.”

Prince Introduces New Lightspeed Footwear Series to Tennis Players

January 21, 2010Bordentown, NJ, – Prince, a global leader in performance tennis equipment, announces the arrival of Lightspeed footwear for competitive players.  Designed to be lower, lighter and faster, Lightspeed models feature sleek silhouettes on a low-profile platform that keeps a player’s center of gravity low for enhanced balance, agility and responsiveness on the court.  The new shoes, which hit shelves globally beginning in February, debuted Monday at the 2010 Australian Open on the feet of Marcel Granollers, who raced around the court in the new shoes during his five-set, first round upset of No. 8 seed Robin Soderling.

“What a great way to introduce these shoes,” said Steve Davis, VP or Product Development at Prince.  “To have the first player ever to lace these up in a Grand Slam go out and move the way he did and pull off that upset is not a bad start.”

In addition to Granollers, there are seven other men and two women in the 2010 Australian Open main draws who have already converted to Lightspeed.  On the men’s side, in addition to Granollers, fans will see Albert Montanes, Santiago Ventura, Rik DeVoest, Julien Rojer, Martin Damm, Filip Polasek and Johan Brunstrom wearing the Rebel LS.  On the women’s side, Kveta Peschke and Yvonne Meusburger will be sporting the new Poise LS.

“We broke away from the mold of conventional tennis shoe design to give players a lightweight, ultra-responsive match-day shoe,” said Jerome Jackson, Global Product Manager for Footwear at Prince. “We are excited to make Lightspeed footwear available to competitive players around the world.”

A key feature in Lightspeed is its Propulsion Plate – a lightweight chassis built to transfer energy fluidly from the heel to the forefoot, resulting in quicker reaction time, better acceleration, and a sense of being ‘on the balls of your feet’.  In addition, each shoe features an ultra-low profile midsole, giving players a much lower platform for better stability as well as Prince’s Shock Eraser Pro heel insert to deliver maximum impact protection.

Lightspeed will be available in two models – the Rebel LS for men and the Poise LS for women.  Both models will hit shelves in the United States on February 15, 2010.  The Rebel LS will be available in three colorways including Yellow/Black/Silver to ‘hook up’ with the popular EXO3 Rebel 95 racquet, Black/White/Green to ‘hook up’ with the EXO3 Graphite racquet, and White/Navy/Silver for a more traditional colorway.  The Poise LS will be available in White/Silver/Neon and features the same technology platform as the men’s Rebel LS but has a distinct upper design built specifically to appeal to female players.

Lightspeed replaces the O-Series as the new flagship model in Prince’s ‘All-Court’ series -one of the three segments in the Company’s footwear line along with ‘Grinder’ and ‘Traditionalist’.  Models in the ‘All-Court’ series are designed for the all-around player interested in lightweight performance footwear that fits like a glove.

The ‘Grinder’ series, which includes the popular T22 model, is defined by durable, tough footwear capable of holding up to the rigors of extreme lateral stops and starts.

‘Traditionalist’ models are built for players seeing classic looking models with an emphasis on comfort and fit.  Prince’s classic Quiktrac & NFS models can be found here.

Players can ‘Meet the New Speed’ online at www.princetennis.com.

Pricing:
Men’s
Rebel LS – SRP: $110.00US
Women’s
Poise LS – SRP: $105.00US

About Prince Sports, Inc.
Prince Sports, Inc, based in New Jersey, is a company of racquet sports enthusiasts whose goal is to create cutting edge, functional and technically advanced products that deliver performance benefits for avid players.  The Company’s portfolio of brands includes Prince (tennis, squash and badminton), Ektelon (racquetball) and Viking (platform/paddle tennis).   The Company has a history of innovation including inventing the first “oversize” and “long body” racquets, the first “Natural Foot Shape” tennis shoe, the first “synthetic gut” string and the first electronic ball machine.  Today, Prince markets leading technologies in racquets (EXO3), string (Premier LT), footwear (Lightspeed Technology) and apparel (Aerotech).   It has operations on three continents with distribution in over 100 countries. For more information on players, products or programs please visit www.princesports.com.

For more information, product samples/images contact: Chrissy Ott; Prince Sports, Inc.; cott@princesports.com; 609.291.5704

Federer Makes Another Open Final

Is there anything Roger Federer can’t do with a racket? They don’t call the men’s grand slam record holder The Maestro for nothing.

In advancing to another U.S. Open final where he’ll meet sixth seeded Juan Martin Del Potro for a chance to match Bill Tilden’s six consecutive titles, the world’s top player pulled out all the stops in an ultra competitive straight sets 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 win over a game fourth seeded Serb Novak Djokovic at Ashe this evening.

Sure. Djokovic pushed him by playing a very good match. Unfortunately, his best wasn’t enough to even get a set as Federer eliminated him a third consecutive year.

If all the talk centered around Serena Williams’ meltdown last night, at least it should be much more positive following Federer’s latest bag of tricks helping him get through in three against the former 2007 runner-up who he defeated.

Not much separated the two but Federer was just better on the bigger points coming back from a break to take a first set tiebreaker, clinching it with an easy putaway at the net.

In the opening set, the two players exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games with Djokovic unable to cement it playing a poor game in which his forehand let down frustrating the 22 year-old Serbian. He also would miss a routine backhand to go mini-break down at 2-4 which allowed a shaky Federer off the hook.

“Um, well I thought conditions were tough. It was sunny in the beginning from the one end. Hopefully the same thing tomorrow, you know, sunny,” the 15-time slam winner indicated.

“Then it got really gusty, and I think we both struggled early on with our rhythm. I think towards the end of the sets, you know, I got in some good returns, and that allowed me then to actually go after my shots a bit more.”

The second set was better with each combatant going stroke for stroke as they protected their serves. Djokovic did well from the baseline drawing some errors. But Federer hung in there with his serve finally up to speed. At the outset, the 28 year-old from Switzerland couldn’t make a first serve but that changes as the match went on with him near 60 percent while winning 78 percent (49 of 63). Djokovic also did well serving and winning at 68 percent on firsts.

Serving first, Federer kept the pressure on Nole by holding turning it into a similar match as his quarter win over Robin Soderling. The five-time reigning champ fared well at net winning 17 of 20 points in the middle frame. For the match, he converted 81 percent (29 of 36) to Djokovic’s 45 (9 of 20).

When there was any slight opening, each stepped up to hold with Federer holding for 6-5. Facing the prospect of another breaker, the opportunistic champion finally applied enough pressure on Djokovic’s serve to break for the second set. After he valiantly saved two break points, Nole couldn’t avoid the third thanks to some clutch shots from Federer.

First, a forehand winner got it back to Deuce. Then, with Djokovic looking to have the key point won at net, somehow he ran down a volley stabbing a low slice backhand which a stunned Djokovic netted. With the crowd urging on the underdog, there was little they could do when during a rally, Federer found the angle cracking his signature forehand down the line for a two set lead letting out an emphatic scream.

In grand slam history, Federer had never blown a two set lead. To his credit, Djokovic didn’t give up fighting hard in an entertaining third set that saw some splendid rallies including a 23 stroke one that the taller Serb ended with a forehand smack on the line which he successfully won on a challenge. If he didn’t win on the scoreboard, he certainly had much better success going six for seven on challenges with the end result of that rally resulting in grins on both players.

There also was an amazing point where Djokovic played great defense at the net continuing to get back half a dozen volleys before Federer closed with a forehand pass which the charismatic Serb bowed in the opposite direction to get out of the way.

“I’m kind of player who likes the emotions and very temperamental on the court. You didn’t see a lot of racquet throwing, but it could have been a lot    a lot    today, especially because I knew that I was so close of winning all three sets, and then just a couple of points decided, you know,” Djokovic remarked.

“But if you ask me if I had fun today and enjoy it, yes, I did, absolutely.”

Indeed, a player who lost the fans last year following mistimed remarks after a quarter win over Andy Roddick won them back with how he conducted himself. Though he probably wished ‘tennis partner’ John McEnroe was back out on the court instead of Federer.

“I had the feeling that I was close all three sets, and it’s just that when I get close, when I am able to get to the breakpoints or I’m up a break, I just start making some unforced errors,” lamented Djokovic.

“And I don’t want to mention the word luck, but I didn’t have it today. That’s why I’m a little bit disappointed.”

Each player fought hard in another tight set with both saving break points including a pair Djokovic saved that would’ve given Federer 5-3 and a chance to serve for it.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t push it to a tiebreak with the Sampras-like Federer finally getting him again in the 12th game breaking him at love.

It was how he got to match point that was most impressive. Already up Love-30, Federer hustled down a Djokovic lob volley and pulled off the shot of the tournament going to a between the legs winner which sailed by a shocked Djokovic who could only smile for triple match point to a thunderous ovation.

The shot even amazed the winner who when asked about it by CBS’ Mary Joe Fernandez, referred to it as “the greatest shot I’ve ever hit,” to chuckles.

“He just gets on the court and he wants to play his best and win more. That’s what makes him even more dangerous. That’s why he plays even better,” Djokovic said while alluding to the record and Federer’s recent marriage to Mirka and the twins as settling him down.

“Look, I mean, I think I’ve always been pretty relaxed on the court, just because, you know, I don’t get too crazy anymore about great shots, bad shots, because I know I have so many more points and games and matches to play in my life,” Federer replied while also acknowledging that Mirka’s pregnancy and the twins healthy made it easier.

Fittingly, he won with another nice shot punctuating it with a return forehand winner and a raise of the arms before Djokovic congratulated him as they shared a laugh about what had occurred.

“I mean, that shot that he hit, you saw the reaction of the crowd. I mean, what can I explain,” Djokovic added.

But it was funny, on these shots, you know, you just say, Well done; too good. What can you do?”

“You know, that’s not the goal here. You have to play smart,” Federer said.

“That’s why I still feel the pressure, but it just doesn’t show. I definitely enjoy tennis so much that I think that’s what gives me that sense of calm really, I think.”

With a career grand slam and the record in his hip pocket, Federer now can take aim at matching Tilden when he takes on his sixth different opponent in Del Potro tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM on CBS.

“It will be absolutely amazing. It’s something I wasn’t able to do in Wimbledon, even though I was so close. So I hope things go well for me. I’m feeling great. I really hope I can do it.”

When the Rain Stops, The Matches Are Great

Will the rain ever stop? They’re praying it will so that the women can actually get their semis in sometime tonight.

Caroline Wozniacki takes on Yanina Wickmayer in the first match moved to Louis Armstrong. And the second semi pits reigning champ Serena Williams against comeback queen Kim Clijsters who has proven that she still has quite a bit of game even though she took two years off to get married and now has 18-month old daughter Jade following her.

Can the former 2005 Open winner rundown enough balls and hit with enough variety versus the powerful Serena, who is looking to make it three slams this year and four of the last five? Yet that’s not good enough to be ranked No.1. Everyone already has Williams taking the trophy but figure her to get a fight from the feisty 26 year-old from Belgium.

Though Serena has gone out of her way to praise Kim saying how she admires her, you know once they get out on Ashe, it’s on. And she’ll also be aiming for a measure of revenge for older sis Venus, who Clijsters ousted two previous rounds receiving plenty of love. So, the 11-time grand slam winner has plenty of incentive.

We’re just glad the men were finally able to complete the quarter that got suspended by a heavy downpour Thursday night. Even if poor Fernando Gonzalez offered token resistance, allowing Rafael Nadal to win the final four points of a crucial second set tiebreaker before getting bageled.

So, here’s Rafa again showing the tremendous heart in spite of the abdominal strain which was ailing him the other night. That the 23 year-old kid from Mallorca can give you this much effort when the odds are stacked against him tells us all we need to know about him. He’s two matches from making history by completing a career grand slam.

Don’t forget he beat Federer in five down under this year before Robin Soderling got him at Roland Garros and then Nadal couldn’t even defend his Wimbledon crown due to balky knees. Now, he will face tough sixth seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in one semi tomorrow. So, it won’t be easy against a player who has proven to be an excellent hard courter posting a 16-1 mark since Wimbledon. The last time they met, Del Potro won in straights at Montreal before losing to Andy Murray in the final.

The other semifinal hasn’t gotten much talk even though it’s Federer trying to keep his bid to match Bill Tilden’s six straight Opens alive against fourth seeded Serb Novak Djokovic. Here’s the kicker. They’re only meeting a third consecutive year with Feds prevailing in the 2007 final and last year’s semi in four sets going onto a fifth championship in a row over Murray.

So, even without Murray or Andy Roddick, there’s plenty of star power/storylines which will make the men’s Final Four compelling.

Let’s just hope the ladies can get their matches in tonight which is asking a lot with the weather not cooperating. Wozniacki is coming off her impressive 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over new 17 year-old American sweetheart Melanie Oudin, whose run captivated everyone.

What the 19 year-old blonde bombshell from Denmark did was come in with a great strategy using her speed to play excellent defense while mixing in a consistent topspin forehand that forced Oudin to go for more resulting in unforced errors.

The ninth seed is a good player and this has been expected. She had never before made it past the fourth round until this tournament. But after disappointing results at the first three slams, Wozy has stepped up following her win in New Haven. Her game is a breath of fresh air in that she doesn’t just rely on power but on precision along with solid D to stay in points. Something which frustrated former Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Dane’s come from behind three set Round of 16 win.

Aside tom the consistency is the wonderful smile which can win crowds over as can her positive attitude, even admitting that when it got interesting early in the second set versus fan favorite Oudin, she didn’t show any frustration because the wise teen had used any negativity in her upsets over the big Russians to her edge.

Now, there will be even more pressure with Wozniacki facing another 19 year-old in Wickmayer. A player she knows well from juniors. Thus far, the Belgian has had a breakthrough of her own to reach this point. That included a first round straight set upset of No.16 seed Virginie Razzano and a come from behind three set Round Two triumph over Shuai Peng.

Wickmayer also had to show mettle rallying from a set down to defeat Dinara Safina conqueror Petra Kvitova in the fourth round. Even her quarter win over Kateryna Bondarenko got dicey when after sneaking out the first set late, she fell behind 1-4 having to save break points before righting herself to reel off the last five games for the big win.

Not bad for a player who’d never surpassed the second round of a major. Wickmayer hits a bigger ball than Wozniacki. So, she’ll likely be going for more while the counterpunching Wozniacki will try to use a similar gameplan that worked so well against Oudin. The contrast in style should make for an intriguing match.

Now if only the rain would go away.

Federer Hangs Tough Over Soderling

For two sets, it wasn’t a contest. Roger Federer was making quick work of Robin Soderling, looking like a lock for a grand slam record 22nd straight semifinal.

Perhaps it came too easy because his U.S. Open quarterfinal match against the No.12 seeded Soderling completely changed, suddenly becoming a whole lot more interesting with the underdog trying to pull off the impossible. Comeback from two sets behind against Federer at a slam, who brought a perfect 147-0 record under such circumstances.

Despite a valiant effort from a player he beat in Paris to complete the career grand slam and eliminated in a close three sets on his way to winning a record 15th major at Wimbledon, the five-time reigning Open champ earned No.22- hanging tough for a four set win over Soderling, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6) before a pumped up Ashe Stadium in Flushing.

“It was so close towards the end. It’s a great relief to come through, because Robin started playing better and better as the match went on,” a relieved Federer told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after escaping. “I knew he’d be tough, but the beginning was way too easy. He found his way into the match.”

Somehow after looking completely out of it, Soderling had fought back even earning set point to level the match. But the determined champion found his way out of trouble, winning the final three points to setup a semi rematch from last year versus a familiar foe Novak Djokovic, who got out of trouble earlier in the day prevailing in four sets over Fernando Verdasco.

“Yeah, I mean, look, we’ll see how it goes against Djokovic, I guess,” Federer said while discussing the style differences between his next opponent and Soderling. “It was good that I had maybe a bit of a test, but it’s not something I’m really looking for. The hoped I could close him out in three. I should have.”

“In the end, I’m lucky to be through in four.”

Following Caroline Wozniacki ending Melanie Oudin’s run, Federer was all business against what he termed a ‘dangerous opponent‘ in a press conference yesterday. In the opening pair of sets, that wasn’t the case with the Swiss world No.1 coming out of the gate so sharp that he even bageled Soderling.

Things didn’t get much better for the 25 year-old French Open runner-up as he couldn’t find an answer for Federer’s bread and butter forehand which produced plenty of a match best 64 winners. If only it were that simple. There’s also his movement which during sets one and two made it seem like he was out for a walk in the park.

Remarkably, Soderling was making better than 70 percent first serves but still found himself in a huge hole with an opportunistic Federer breaking him four times. He took full advantage of a weak second serve, taking firm control to jump out to a commanding two set lead.

Could anything stop him?

“For sure, I feel like I have a chance every time I play against him, even though it’s pretty small,” Soderling said after falling to 0-12 career versus Federer. “He always plays well, it feels like.”

The first game of the third set looked like it would be a similar script with Federer winning the first three points on Soderling’s serve but instead of going away, the Swede hung tough saving every single one with large serves and even bigger hitting which helped turn the match.

“You see how quickly tennis can change around if you don’t take those. I think he did well to hang in there, because it wasn’t easy after what he had to go through in the first two sets,” Federer duly noted.

“So I have to give him a lot of credit for hanging there and playing so well in the end.”

Suddenly, the switch went on. New York fans started to see why the gifted player is having a breakout year on the cusp of the top 10. Playing the same style that dethroned Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros, Soderling traded shot for shot with the game’s best making for much more compelling action. He even started getting the better of the rallies unleashing a lethal forehand which scored a good chunk of his 36 winners.

When he wasn’t hitting a flat out winner, it was mostly due to the speed of his world class opponent who did plenty of scrambling to stay in points, even having to fight off break chances to keep the third set on serve.

As the set wore on, a determined Soderling kept holding as if to say,’I’m not going away,’ gaining plenty of support from a boisterous New York crowd that wanted more tennis. If the ladies’ quarter disappointed with Oudin running out of steam against a focused Wozniacki who made her first slam semifinal, they sure got their money’s worth.

Fittingly, the well played set needed a tiebreak. At that point, ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe wondered if Soderling’s serve would suddenly go off. Early on, he looked prophetic with the Swede committing a couple of bad miscues to fall behind 0-4 making it feel over. But to his credit, he never quit stealing the next point on Federer’s serve to get a mini-break back.

Amazingly, against one of the best tiebreaker players ever, Soderling got back even at five apiece thanks to some enormous shots including a wicked forehand up the line. After a big serve, he had set point. However, Federer saved it in remarkable fashion playing great defense before running down a drop volley to come up with a slice forehand pass yelling, “Come on.

Soderling didn’t let it slip taking the next point before forcing a long Federer miss to claim the set, giving cheering fans another set.

“It’s tough to play worse than I did in the first two sets. It could only get better,” Soderling pointed out. “I think I was putting a lot of pressure on him from the start of the third set.”

The fourth set would be even better. With Federer serving first, he figured to have an edge because he could then put all the pressure on Soderling, who had to know one slip up and the comeback bid would be all for naught.

After digging out of a Love-30 game early to hold, the Swiss Maestro turned up the heat, ratcheting up his serve increasing the ace count. He took a page from the 50 he needed to edge Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. In the set, whenever he needed one, he got it cracking at least eight of 28 to keep holding.

“For me, it’s very tough to read his serve, and I was very impressed about the way he served during the circumstances,” praised Soderling. “It was very, very windy.”

For his part, Soderling remained undeterred doing his best to emulate Federer. In one game late in the chess match, he served three consecutive aces going as big as possible even catching the edge out wide to win a challenge.

When he didn’t hit them, he was outslugging Federer with tremendous power from both sides of the racket striking lines. For as hopeless as it looked early with the first two sets taking less than an hour, suddenly Soderling was in the zone giving the crowd plenty of hope for a fifth set. At one point, a fan screamed:

Come on Robin. We want a fifth set.

He sure tried. As each guy stepped up and held, there was no doubt where the fourth was headed. And a Soderling service winner gave them another breaker.

Unlike the first one, neither player budged. Though Soderling got a couple of great looks at Federer second serves. But his go for broke return forehands sailed just wide. Had one connected, who knows? They might still be playing.

When Soderling kept his cool for 6-5, it was suddenly set point with a chance to actually send it the distance. Over an hour before, who ever would’ve believed it? Unfortunately, a more desperate Federer wasn’t so willing saving it with a big serve and then getting a little help from Soderling, who misfired a backhand when he had it lined up.

Just like that, it was match point. With the crowd hoping for more tennis, it was Soderling who finally gave in missing a forehand wide to which an excited Federer pumped his fist and let out a scream of relief.

He had avoided the upset. It sure got dicey. But when push came to shove, the great champion again showed why he is moving a step closer to matching Bill Tilden’s once thought unbreakable Open record of six straight titles back in the 1920’s.

Federer already owns one ridiculous record making 22 straight semi appearances at the slams.

“Not what I aimed for, that’s for sure,” the clever champ responded. “Probably one of the greatest records for me, personally, in my career. Glad it keeps going.”

They don’t call him the King of Queens for nothing.

Federer Gets Career Slam at Roland Garros

Tennis history was finally made today in Paris when Roger Federer finally won the one grand slam title that had eluded him- laying claim to the greatest of all-time with a straight sets 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 win over surprising No.23 Swede finalist Robin Soderling to capture the French Open.

At age 27, Federer becomes just the sixth man to win all four slams completing the career slam. The Swiss Maestro joins exclusive company that includes Rod Laver, Don Budge, Fred Perry, Roy Emerson and the last man who did it exactly 10 years ago fittingly presenting him with the trophy, Andre Agassi.

Facing the man who upset four-time French Open champ Rafael Nadal, nothing was going to stop Federer from finally making history not only becoming the sixth man to win all four slams but tying Pete Sampras’ slam record 14. Wimbledon is three weeks away and with it comes the distinct possibility that Roger can break the record at the place he’s won five times (2003-07) before his biggest rival Rafa got him at arguably the greatest final ever seen.

Does anyone not want to see the rematch pitting this time Nadal as No.1 vs Federer No.2 with it all on the line? Of course, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic could have something to say about it. I still wouldn’t count out Andy Roddick, who had his best showing at Roland Garros making the Round of 16 before Gael Monfils took him out in straights. Andy has played better this year staying in longer rallies and volleying more. But he’ll be a lower seed which means a likely tougher road. Could he face a Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic in an intriguing quarter? Who knows.

Today though is about Federer, who was simply brilliant finishing with 16 aces, only two doubles while smacking 58 winners to only 24 unforced errors.  He served remarkably well and took advantage of a nervous Soderling, who’d never been past the third round in any slam until his great run the past two weeks. Credit the 24 year-old Swede for at least fighting the last two sets. He finally started serving better and hitting some of those big shots we saw against Nadal that also enabled him to rally from 1-4 down in the fifth past Fernando Gonzalez in the semis. But as he later said during the trophy presentation, Roger was simply too good today.

The toughest moment for him actually came when a crazy spectator ran on the court approaching Federer with a flag before Roland Garros security surrounded the idiot. The best part was when one security guard finally tackled him on Soderling’s side of the court. Just nuts. See for yourself:

Yikes. Who knows what this nutball was thinking? We already had that sick German attack Monica Seles in Hamburg ruining her career. Insanity. Thankfully, nothing bad happened with security responding swiftly.

And so Federer is now in a class by himself with the heavy weight finally lifted off his shoulders. How will Wimbledon go? Nadal pulled out of the Queens Club tuneup. Is he doing so to rest a little more from a very busy schedule? All I know is I want to see another classic final between the two best players the sport has.

Congratulations Roger!!!!! :-D