Bell Challenge: Four Americans Into QFs

BELL CHALLENGE
Québec City-CAN
September 13-19, 2010
$220,000/International
Hard/Indoors

Results – Thursday, September 16, 2010
Singles – Second Round
(8) Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) d. Mirjana Lucic (CRO) 57 64 62
Christina McHale (USA) d. (WC) Valérie Tétreault (CAN) 64 63
(Q) Tamira Paszek (AUT) d. Jill Craybas (USA) 63 62
(Q) Alexa Glatch (USA) d. Stéphanie Dubois (CAN) 75 62

Doubles – Quarterfinals
(1) Mattek-Sands/Zahlavova Strycova (USA/CZE) d. Oudin/Zalameda (USA/USA) 76(6) 63
Osterloh/Tatishvili (USA/GEO) d. Craybas/Goerges (USA/GER) 14 ret. (Craybas: left wrist injury)

Doubles – First Round
Erakovic/Govortsova (NZL/BLR) d. (WC) El Tabakh/Marino (CAN/CAN) 46 64 104 (Match TB)

Order of Play – Friday, September 17, 2010
Court Bell (from 12.00hrs)
1. Sofia Arvidsson vs. Tamira Paszek
2. Foretz Gacon/Woerle vs. Erakovic/Govortsova
3. Alexa Glatch vs. Christina McHale
4. Rebecca Marino vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (NB 19.00hrs)
5. Lucie Safarova vs. Melanie Oudin

US Open Mens Preview

(August 28, 2010) In the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, paradise came to the parking lot of the US Open. Clad in a white warm-up, Roger Federer popped out of the back seat of a Mercedes and walked to the red brick building to pick up his US Open player credential at about 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon. Moments later, Rafael Nadal, wearing a white t-shirt and shorts, Babolat racquet in hand, walked by to greet Federer in meeting of two men who have split the spoils in combining to win 20 of the last 22 Grand Slam titles.

World No. 1 Nadal and the second-ranked Federer met briefly in the parking lot drizzle, will their paths cross again in what could be a day of dazzle in the US Open final?

You might think after transforming Grand Slam center courts into their own personal stomping grounds for several years, either man might grow slightly complacent, but both Nadal and Federer figure to be highly motivated to reign in New York.

The top-seeded Nadal, a semifinal casualty in each of the last two years, may be looking at his best shot to capture his first career US Open championship, complete the career Grand Slam and solidify his status as one of the greatest players of all time by becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold the Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open crowns simultaneously.

A resurgent Federer, who snapped a six-month title drought in defending his Cincinnati title on Sunday, is aiming for his seventh straight US Open final as he attempts to reclaim the crown he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in five sets last September. Should Federer win the Open he could challenge Nadal for the year-end No. 1 ranking and move closer to his stated goal of winning 20 career majors and surpassing Pete Sampras’ record fo 286 weeks at No. 1.

Two guys who have lapped the Grand Slam field could be racing toward history and each other in two weeks’ time.

Del Potro, who beat Nadal and Federer in succession to win his first major, is out of the Open with a wrist injury, 2007 finalist Novak Djokovic is mired in malaise and fourth-seeded Andy Murray appears to be the only man capable of derailing the first Rafa-Roger US Open final.

The US Open draw was conducted today and while the women’s draw is more wide open that at anytime in recent memory, the men’s draw revolves around three men — Nadal, Federer and Murray — who serve as the tennis equivalent of Manhattan gridlock for aspiring upwardly mobile members of the men’s draw:  paralyzing presence to be avoided at all costs.

Here’s a look at each quarter of the draw.

First Quarter

Nadal opens against Teymuraz Gabashvili and while this year’s Open is hardly a case of now or never for the 24-year-old Mallorcan, former US Open champion John McEnroe says this may well be the best shot the muscular Mallorcan ever has of mastering the Flushing Meadows major.

“I think this is the best chance perhaps he will ever have to win the Open and I don’t think we should forget the fact he has improved his efforts pretty much every year the last two years,” McEnroe said in a conference call with the media today. “Despite having issues physically — the stomach last year and the knees a couple of years ago — he’s gotten to a couple of semis. I think he’s poised. He’s had the time off, he says he’s 100 percent healthy, the body is there and he is much tougher to beat in a best of five set match.”

The biggest issue for Nadal may be beneath his feet. Can he tame the game’s fastest Grand Slam tennis that has left him looking bewildered on some occasions and overwhelmed on others in his US Open losses? Nadal is a more complete player now than he was when he fell to Murray in a four-set US Open semifinal loss played out over two days two years ago.

The best big-match player in the game looked like a solid favorite to finally break through in Flushing Meadows when he rolled Tomas Berdych in straight sets to win his eighth career major at Wimbledon last month. But in losses to Murray in the Toronto semifinals and Marcos Baghdatis in last week’s Cincinnati quarterfinals, Nadal looks more like the guy who endured an 11-month title drought than he does the Flushing Meadows favorite.

Things happen quickly in tennis. Remember the euphoria surrounding Murray’s run to the Melbourne final when many were touting him as the next No. 1 after he bounced defending champion Nadal out of the tournament? The fact is Nadal has not won a hard-court title since the 2009 Indian Wells and looked as capable of adjusting to quick Cincinnati court conditions as a commuter trying to catch up to speeding cab. Julien Benneteau does not serve as big as Boris Becker, but Nadal could not consistently hit deep returns in that match, resorted to chipping his backhand and basically bluffed his way through the second set, saving a match point playing defense and waiting for the Frenchman to crack.

In practice sessions this week, Nadal’s two-handed backhand return has not been consistently sharp, but if he can regain the range on that shot he should get through the top quarter of the draw that features some dangerous players in the form of 10th-seeded David Ferrer, who beat Nadal in the fourth round of the 2007 US Open, 24th-seeded Ernests Gulbis, a talented, but extremely volatile Latvian who pushed Nadal to a 6-4 third set in the Rome semis on clay in May, and the dangerous David Nalbandian, who has thrashed Nadal on hard courts in the past, but has never beaten him in a best-of-five set match.

Coming off an opening-round exit last year, Gulbis has the game to push through to the quarters, but can degenerate into morose moods and periods of flaky play on court.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (24) Ernests Gulbis or (31) David Nalbandian

Second Quarter

Murray has arguably the smoothest path to the semifinals of the top three contenders. The two-time Grand Slam finalist opens against Lukas Lacko with 25th-seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka looming as his first potential seeded opponent. Wawrinka’s game is based on a brilliant one-handed backhand, he can serve big and has become a more disciplined match player working with coach Peter Lundgren, who formerly coached Federer and guided Marat Safin to the Australian Open title. But Wawrinka hasn’t been able to sustain himself in running rallies with Murray, a much smoother mover around the court. Murray destroyed the Swiss the last time they met in New York and should dispatch him again should they meet here.

Sam Querrey, who opens against American wild card Bradley Klahn, should reach a third-round match with 14th-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, who can hammer the ball as big as just about any Spaniard on Tour. If Querrey can get past Almagro he could test Murray in what would be a rematch of the Los Angeles final. Querrey fought off a match point to beat Murray in LA, but the best-of-five set format favors the Scot, who is fitter, faster and a better player at this point. If Querrey is landing his first serve, can shorten up the points with his forehand and get the New York City crowd into the match he has a shot should that match come off.

“I think Andy is the better player right now,” McEnroe said. “Sam showed a lot of heart and is is getting into better condition. People are looking carefully at Sam. In a best of five, Andy should be a strong favorite, no question about that. Andy should have beaten Sam in LA, he entered at the last minute, but I wouldn’t discount Sam particularly if he was rested for that match. Certainly, he’s fitter than he’s ever been and is a dangerous player. Things have set up for Andy about as good as he could have hoped for.”

Wimbledon finalist Berdych opens with a potentially tricky opponent in French left-hander Michael Llodra. American John Isner, who upset Andy Roddick last year, is still in the draw, but if he does play, Isner figures to be hampered by the right ankle injury he sustained in Cincinnati. If Isner was healthy, he could test Berdych in the fourth round, but given the tenuous condition of his ankle, Berdych should get through to the quarters to face Murray.

Berdych swept Murray in straight sets in the Roland Garros round of 16. And you could look at the fact another tall, lanky, big hitter, Marin Cilic, bounced Murray out of the Open last year as a sign Berdych could overwhelm Murray, who is prone to periods of passive play at times, this year. But Murray has had a consistently solid Grand Slam season in reaching the Australian Open final and the Wimbledon semifinals, knows he has a real opportunity to return to the semifinals and is coming off his second straight Rogers Cup title.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (4) Andy Murray vs. (7) Tomas Berdych

Third Quarter

This is the most wide open of the four quarters of the field with Djokovic the highest seed in this section, but based on the fact the Serbian showman has shown little confidence and played with a sense of resignation in losing to Andy Roddick in Cincinnati last week, it’s difficult to imagine Djokovic returning to the semifinals unless he pulls out some electrifying wins along the way to ignite some intensity in what has been a timid game recently.

Djokovic takes on Davis Cup teammate and good friend Viktor Troicki in the first round. The four players to watch in this section are sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, a former US Open finalist and ATP World Tour Final champion, Roddick, Mardy Fish and Marcos Baghdatis.

Since reaching back-to-back Masters finals at Indian Wells and Miami where he played some of the best tennis of his career, Roddick has slumped though he did reach the Cincinnati semifinals and failed to serve out the match in suffering a brutal loss to Fish. Roddick could be challenged in the second round against Olivier Rochus or Janko Tipsarevic, but should get to a fourth-round meeting with Davydenko, a player he has owned throughout his career, winning five of their six meetings. If Roddick can play more assertive tennis, his hit backhand up the line to open up the inside-out forehand even more, and use the speed of the court to pressure opponents, he has a solid shot to reach the quarters.

“His tennis earlier on in the year — when he got to the finals at Palm Springs and then he won at Key Biscayne — his tennis was certainly on a different level. He since seems to have lost that touch a little bit and maybe it’s just a little loss of confidence from losing a few matches — I think Wimbledon and his loss at Wimbledon set him back a little bit,” Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors, Roddick’s former coach, said. “I don’t think he ever expected to lose out on Court 2 to Lu. He is strong enough mentally and physically to be able to wipe that aside and to start playing the kind of tennis necessary to win a US Open now. He struggled during the summer. But certainly, he is strong enough and a good enough player to overcome that, especially with the excitement of the US Open and being the only American right now in the top ten. The crowd should give him a boost and help him lift his game to another level. I would look for him to go into the US Open with the right attitude and to play the kind of tennis to create a lot of excitement.”

The 19th-seeded Fish has never looked better, thanks to a nutrional plan that has seen him shed 30 pounds, and has never played better either. Fish sat out the Open last year and could take a quantum leap in the rankings toward the top 10 with a strong run in New York. Two years ago, Fish advanced to the quarters falling to Nadal and is a significantly improved player now. The quarterfinals are within reach, but he’ll likely have to beat Baghdatis, who beat Nadal in Cincinnati, and Djokovic back to back to make it. Fish is a combined 0-7 lifetime vs. those two players, but has never been in better form than he is right now. This could be a career-defining tournament for Fish.

Fish and Baghdatis opened the season playing a tremendous semifinal in Sydney with Baghdatis prevailing, 6-4, 6-7(7), 7-6(5) to raise his record to 3-0 vs. Fish.

“I think Mardy has a good chance,” Connors said. “Mardy Fish if he can handle the three out of five sets and over a two-week period, I think he also has a good chance as he has certainly been playing that kind of tennis over the course of the summer to put him in as a contender.”

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (9) Andy Roddick vs. (16) Marcos Baghdatis or (19) Mardy Fish

Fourth Quarter

Three former World No. 1 Grand Slam champions, Federer, No. 32 seed Lleyton Hewitt and No. 22 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero occupy three of the final eight lines of the draw.

Federer faces Brian Dabul in the first round and should cruise to a possible third-round meeting with Hewitt.

Given the fact Federer has lost just one match in the past six years in New York, he’s a strong favorite to advance to a quarterfinal against fifth-seeded Robin Soderling, who knocked the defending Roland Garros champion out of Paris at the same stage earlier this year.

Can Soderling, who takes mammoth cuts off both the forehand and backhand wings, time the ball effectively enough to beat Federer again here? Certainly, Soderling has enough offensive firepower to bea almost anyone when he’s on, but Federer is a much better defensive player and transition from defense to offense more effectively.

The surface is better suited to Federer’s style. Look for Federer to return to the semifinals.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (2) Roger Federer vs. (5) Robin Soderling

Read more from Richard Pagliaro at Tennis Now, where this story originally was posted.