Federer is Proving He’s Still the Best

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fernando Verdasco is no slouch. He is ranked no. 25 at the Open. That is the good news. The bad news is that he had to play a very hot Roger Federer today.

Game over quickly.

Federer won 6-3,6-4,6-4.

And the match had am amazing statistic. Federer was 26 of 27 in net points won. And it could have been worse if he had come in more. It was a bit too windy for that.

In the post-match press conference he seemed stunned by the stat.

He also would not admit that playing doubles in the Olympics helped his net play.

This came a day after his double partner, Stan Wawrinka said that Federer would be the best doubles player in the world if he played more doubles.

No one is better than Federer, but when in an age that he is trying to close out points earlier, some more serve and volley in his game would help appreciably.

There is no doubt that coach Paul Annacone is trying to incorporate that aspect more into his game.

Federer was effective coming in against Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. Admittedly, the rough was closed and it was easier to do.

If Federer incorporated some more doubles into his regimen at places like Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati he could even be more effective when he plays the likes of Nadal and Djokovic.

And he could also preserve some wear and tear on his 31 year old body.

Murray Just Too Much For Dent

Taylor Dent’s comeback story ended thanks to Andy Murray. The 2008 U.S. Open runner-up just had too much game for the 28 year-old American, coasting to a straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory at Ashe in Flushing tonight.

Against a good opponent whose serve-and-volley style tested his return game, the No.2 seeded Scot had all the answers in a virtuoso performance that makes him a strong contender to dethrone Roger Federer.

Amazingly enough, Murray got almost every powerful Dent serve back failing to return only six. That included two 145 MPH aces from the passionate guy who tried his best to make it a match with some crafty volleys which made for entertaining tennis.

But nothing was stopping Murray who after trading breaks in the first three games ratcheted up his level with a returning exhibition that made Tennis Channel analyst and former five-time Open winner Jimmy Connors proud. The precision with which he played made it difficult on Dent.

With the opening set still on serve at 4-3, Great Britain’s only hope at erasing Fred Perry’s name from the record book made his move earning a second break with a passing shot. He then served it out.

Dent continued to remain aggressive getting into net often but while he stuck to his game plan, the grinding Murray countered with quality shot making which included several of his 39 winners. Even when Dent had the edge in rallies with nifty touch, the younger 22 year-old scrambled after lob volleys running down every shot sending a message.

His return game was so effective that it made Dent pick his spots with the big man often staying back on second serves. Not shockingly, he didn’t win many points on seconds with Murray claiming 16 of 27. So much of a zone was he that he broke Dent consecutively to cruise through the middle set putting a damper on what fans came to see.

By the final set, even though Dent held twice for 2-1, the collective writing was on the wall because Murray was holding easily continuing to put the pressure squarely on his opponent’s shoulders. Eventually, his persistence paid off with a break for 3-2 thanks to some splendid return winners from both sides of the racket.

Though he didn’t get many chances converting one of two for the match, Dent had one opportunity to get it back. But Murray quickly erased it with a service winner taking the next couple of points for 4-2.

With the crowd sensing the end, they continued to urge the underdog on. But Murray would have none of it continuing to punish Dent serves by producing even more return passes. Clearly after dropping a set in his second round win, nothing was stopping him.

Even the net cord was on his side with a backhand fooling Dent to help get the double break that allowed him to serve out the match.

On his second match point, he punctuated it with a perfect backhand lob that initially was ruled out. But from the naked eye, it looked to catch part of the line. Obviously, Murray challenged and the replay showed that it barely got the edge giving him a third round victory.

The road will get tougher with 19 year-old Croat Marin Cilic next up in the Round of 16. The 16th seed was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Denis Istomin.

Also in that part of the section No.6 seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro advanced in four sets over Austrian Daniel Koellerer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Last year’s quarterfinalist aims for a second straight against 2003 finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero (24), who moved on when No.9 Frenchman Gilles Simon retired. Ferrero led 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 1-0.

If the higher seeds advance, it would setup a quarter rematch between Murray and Del Potro which Andy won in four last year.

Meanwhile, No.3 seeded Rafael Nadal kept it going with a straight set win over Spanish countryman Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. The six-time slam winner won without a problem despite needing the trainer to treat a reinjured abdominal strain late in the third set. The tough champ closed it out in style with a whipping backhand crosscourt before getting a pat on the back from Almagro.

“I don’t want to talk about injuries,” Nadal pointed out. “Sorry. No, no. I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries.”

Who could blame him? He gives his all every point and will need to even more against electrifying 13 seed Gael Monfils, who ousted Jose Acasuso in straights 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. No doubt Monfils speed and athleticism along with shot ability should be a good test for Rafa in Round Four.

The winner gets either No.7 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or No.11 Chilean Fernando Gonzalez. Each posted straight set wins over Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych respectively.

In the women’s portion of the night session, it was 10th seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta showing true mettle by saving six match points late in the second including a pair in a tiebreak before pulling out a well earned 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 win over No.7 Russian Vera Zvonareva. For her trouble, she draws defending champ Serena Williams in the quarters.

Unfortunately, the bigger story was Zvonareva, who imploded even letting off some steam at the chair umpire during a changeover about a bad tape job on a her knee.

“I knew I didn’t have the physical ability for a third set,” the emotional Russian admitted while denying she lost it. “I knew that in the middle of the second set.”

“She’s always like this,” the triumphant Pennetta assessed. “I know her. She can cry on the court, and then next point she fight and she play good tennis.”

Note: Fourteen of the top 16 men have advanced to the Round of 16 setting a new mark at the Open. The previous high was a dozen back in 1992. The 14 also matched a grand slam record set at the 2007 Australian Open. Their record is 28-2 entering Week Two with just No.5 Andy Roddick (John Isner in 5) and Simon (ret. vs Ferrero in 4) eliminated.

Week One US Open Stuff

The first week of the U.S. Open is almost done. Five days are in the books at Flushing Meadows.

We’ve seen our share of upsets on the women’s side while the men have held form setting up some intriguing match-ups this Labor Day weekend.

Here are some observations on what’s been a fun week of tennis in the final grand slam in NYC:

-Kudos to Melanie Oudin for upsetting No.4 seeded Russian Elena Dementieva in a thrilling second round match coming back to win in three sets against one of the WTA’s best. Lena was considered a contender and our pick to reach the final but we knew the 17 year-old Atlanta native would be a tough out. She proved to be too much as the blond haired kid showed mettle beyond her years, proving that her third round Wimbledon conquer of Jelena Jankovic was no fluke.

No doubt Oudin can play and is giving American tennis fans someone new to get excited about aside from the Williams sisters. Can she keep it going tomorrow versus former champ Maria Sharapova who’s only dropped six total games? It will be a tall order but if the three-time slam winner isn’t sharp, things could get interesting. Especially with the New Yorkers pulling for the kid. And we know one thing. They’re great fans who can always give an underdog a lift. Should make for some great watching.

-Loved the Taylor Dent-Ivan Navarro second round epic earlier tonight. This match was easily the best on the men’s side thus far as both players made it a point to get in and finish off points at the net. It made for classic tennis which we know John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had to appreciate. You just don’t see it enough.

The 28 year-old Dent is an inspirational story having made it back from three back surgeries which at one point had him in a wheelchair wondering if he’d ever get another opportunity to play a game he loves. But the throwback serve-and-volley specialist worked extra hard when told he could comeback getting into great shape. Tonight, the heart and passion was on display as he rallied from a set down to pull out a well earned five set epic taking the final breaker 11-9. That he had to fight off a few match points before chipping a perfect backhand slice pass erupting into celebration at the old Grandstand made it even more special. This was great stuff. Both guys dug deep but a determined Dent won the four-plus hour marathon to the crowd’s delight.

All in all, a pleasure to see with both players combining for 255 times at the net with each winning a high percentage (Navarro-62 percent, Dent-69 percent). Not surprisingly along with 20 aces, Dent finished with 121 total winners compared to his game opponent’s 70. Remarkable numbers. What made it all the more great was how efficient each was. Combine high energy tennis with an electric atmosphere and it was a real treat.

Best part had to be after Dent won. It was his first time back at the Open in four years. Having missed two and a half years, he had to wonder if he’d ever make it back to his favorite grand slam event. At the match’s conclusion, after a handshake, he took the umpire’s microphone and thanked everyone for their support. After a postmatch interview with ESPN’s Pam Schriver, he then pulled a Todd Martin taking two laps around the place slapping everyone five.

Easily one of the coolest things ever. That is what makes this sport so compelling. You could feel the love just coming across the TV.

Can Dent keep it going this weekend? He didn’t exactly get a great reward drawing Andy Murray next. But the No.2 seeded Scot did go four Friday and will certainly need to be better versus a higher quality foe. The game’s best returner pitted against a classic serve and volleyer should make for a nice contrast. Figure it to be a fun watch.

-It’d be easy to get on Jankovic for bowing out early falling in a tight three to Yaroslava Shvedova. Indeed last year’s runner-up has had a rough season at the majors not making one quarterfinal. However, she just lost her grandma and that had to be extremely difficult Thursday. So, let’s cut her a break and send our best wishes.

-Keep an eye on Caroline Wozniacki. The ninth seed from Denmark entered having won in New Haven and has continued to look in top form rolling through the first couple of rounds. She could get a stiff challenge from Romania’s Sorana Cirstea. If the improving 19 year-old looker moves on, Svetlana Kuznetsova might be a fourth round opponent. Interesting considering they recently were hitting partners in Eastbourne earlier this summer as seen here.

-Can’t wait to see that Round of 16 encounter between Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters. Should be a barn burner!

-Can anyone threaten Serena? She’s looking mighty tough. Don’t expect much from Daniela Hantuchova who while a steady hitter just doesn’t have enough in her arsenal.

-Give Nicolas Kiefer plenty of credit for making it a match versus Rafael Nadal tonight. Especially after getting bageled in the first set and down an early break before making things much more interesting taking the second. The third seeded Spaniard looked pretty good running down balls but he can elevate his game a couple of notches and will have to. That anticipated fourth rounder against flying Frenchman Gael Monfils would be fun.

-We like what we’ve seen from Andy Roddick but now it gets more challenging as he’ll see giant American server John Isner later today. If he gets through that, then it’s either Tommy Haas or Fernando Verdasco. So, it sure won’t be easy.

-Some other good matches to check out include emerging Sam Querrey taking on Robin Soderling and James Blake battles Tommy Robredo. There also will be a former final when Roger Federer faces old nemesis Lleyton Hewitt. Can the gritty Aussie vet push the five-time defending champ?

Tomas Berdych also plays Fernando Gonzalez this weekend and Juan Carlos Ferrero takes on Gilles Simon in France versus Spain. It’s interesting to note that for the first time ever in the Open Era, all top 16 men’s seeds remain alive. By weekend’s conclusion with Fall around the corner, some of those will be gone.

One of the best weekends of the year.