Of course the BNP Paribas Masters event in Paris kept the drama going after yesterday’s emotional day. Plenty of losses but not as shocking as Federer’s early exit.
Nikolay Davydenko lost a tough three setter to Robin Soderling who keeps his chances alive for a ticket to London. Davydenko backed into his slot when Fernandao Verdasco lost to Marin Cilic. Now Verdasco really is on the bubble as Jo-Wilifred Tsonga is also in the mix along with Soderling though both would have to get to the final and/or win the whole thing to qualify.
But Peter Bodo at Tennis.com summed things up rather well by again pointing out that, except for die hard tennis fans, this end of the year race and the ATP finale is, like the WTA Finale at Doha, a big “whatever” to most casual tennis fans as they probably think the season ended back in New York.
I’m not sure what the ATP can do to make things more interesting other than shorten the year and hope people stay along for the ride. At least they got smart and moved their finale to London. At least the place will be packed to see Andy Murray try and win another “major”.
As play at the BNP Paribas Masters officially got underway yesterday with the highlight being James Blake defeating Fabrice Santoro in his final career match, I’ll just do a quick preview of what to expect and not.
The only real drama left is who will qualify for the final two spots for the Barclays ATP Masters Finale in London. At this point, Nikolay Davydenko is a lock while Fernando Verdasco just needs to win a few rounds to squeak in. It’s possible that someone like Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, the defending champion, could get inspired on his home court, but I doubt it.
Although the European indoor swing has provided some great matches, at this point it all feels like overkill and that the boys should be wrapping things up by now. I still think that the tour should put the Asia events after the Australian Open since everyone is on that side of the world already. That way they could take a week or two off after Flushing Meadows and then start the indoor swing in mid-September and finish the year in early November. Of course some of those spring clay court events would have to go…
And don’t forget this is Marat Safin’s last professional event. He survived three match points in his first round match and now faces Juan Martin Del Potro next. As with all things Safin his post-match interview was full of candor i.e. “I didn’t practice at all last week.” and on Del Potro “he will be fighting to be number one next year.”
Quick update on the race among the ATP men to qualify for the Barclays ATP Finals in London. Even with his semifinal loss in Valencia, Nikolay Davydenko is all but assured of qualifying for the seventh spot. His closest rival, Fernando Verdasco, also lost in the Valenica semis so he’ll have to win a few rounds in Paris this week just to make sure he’s in.
The other “bubble boys” chasing them include Robin Soderling, Jo-Wilifred Tsonga and Fernando Gonzalez who will need to get the Paris finals to go past Davydenko and Gonzalez while Radek Stepanek and Marin Cilic will need to not only win Paris, but have Verdasco lose first round just to maybe qualify. Good luck with that.
Gilles Simon and Tommy Robredo who lost early in Basel are out of contention.
This week several hopefuls for the final spot at the ATP Barclays Finale in London will do battle against each other this week. All these events are ATP 250 so a title win is a must for those on the London “bubble”. In my recent poll, most of you said Fernando Verdasco would grab the final spot followed by Robin Soderling.
In Lyon, Jo-Wilifred Tsonga and good friend Gilles Simon head up the field there while in Vienna, Marin Cilic, who bounced out of Shanghai in the first round, looks to get his momentum back against such players as Gael Monfils and Radek Stepanek.
St. Petersburg is also this week but the only newsworthy event there is the continuing Marat Safin retirement tour. This event will be the last time Safin plays in his native Russia.
And congratulations to Mikhail Youzhny who won the Kremlin Cup and is now back in the top 25 again and also congrats to fan favorite Marcos Baghdatis who won the Stockholm Open.
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Despite having not won a singles match since his second round at the U.S. Open, Andy Roddick earned the sixth spot for the Barclays ATP Finale in London today.
“The reaction I received from fans after the Wimbledon final was something I will never forget. I’ve always had great support in London and I’m looking forward to being back there in November. I’m sure it will be a fantastic event,” said Roddick.
Though he had to pull out of Shanghai with a bad knee, Roddick’s London chances were helped immensely by early round losses in Shanghai by Fernando Verdasco, Fernando Gonazlez and Jo-Wilifred Tsonga who are still chasing the final spot.
I say “final” because with his Shanghai win and upcoming schedule, Nikolay Davydenko is all but assured of claiming the seventh spot for London.
Who do you think will claim the final spot for London?
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Two more players retired yesterday at the Shanghai Masters event upping it to seven total. Stanislas Wawrinka retired due to stomach pain in his match against Radek Stepanek while Gael Monfils had a bad back in his match with Ivan Ljubicic.
Meanwhile, Jo-Wilifried Tsonga crashed out in the third round by losing 6-3, 6-3 to Robin Soderling. In the first set, Tsonga had a break point at 3-4 and hit what looked like a winning down the line backhand. But it was called out by the linesmen.
Tsonga didn’t hear the call or score and proceeded to win the next point. He thought he’d won the game but when the umpire called deuce it was only then Tsonga realized he’d lost the previous point. He claimed the umpire didn’t allow him a chance to challenge but it was actually Tsonga’s fault for not paying attention. By the way, an unofficial computer review showed the ball was in.
Tsonga never really got over that call and sulked his way through the rest of the match. But all credit to Soderling who served very well, including three aces in the final game. Soderling looks very good going into his quarterfinal match against Feliciano Lopez and I would make him the darkhorse to win the whole thing.
In other matches, Nikolay Davydenko kept his lock on Fernando Gonzalez by winning 6-3, 7-5 improving to 6-0 lifetime against the Chilean. Also Rafael Nadal won easily over countryman Tommy Robredo 6-1, 6-4 while Novak Djokovic eased past Rainer Schuettler 6-4, 6-2.
Getting back to Roddick, with the early round losses of Fernando Verdasco, Gonzalez, and Tsonga, it looks like Roddick will qualify as soon as next week for the ATP finals in London.
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Marat Safin’s love affair with Asia continues. Even though he lost his second round match in Shanghai to Tomas Berdych 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, he was the one asked to hit the autographed tennis balls into the stands. Of course there was another mini-ceremony at the end with video of Safin back in his “movie idol” days with the appropriate “Wild Thing” as the soundtrack. Safin did take time to thank all of the fans in both Beijing and Shanghai for their support.
Meanwhile, injuries and the debate over them continues to mar the event. Juan Martin Del Potro and Tommy Haas both retired in their matches. Rafael Nadal, who joined Andy Roddick in complaining about the tour’s grueling schedule, looked ok in his win over James Blake.
Lleyton Hewitt, who knows a thing or two about injuries, lost a tough three setter to Gael Monfils 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Monfils who wavered between playing fifteen feet behind the baseline to then coming up with vicious forehand winners finally decided on an attacking style of play that saw him the last six games of the third set.
Other winners included Robin Soderling, Tommy Robredo, Gilles Simon and Novak Djovokic. Ivan Ljubicic scored the biggest upset of the day taking out Fernando Verdasco.
Tomorrow’s key match ups will be Soderling/Tsonga and Gonzalez/Davydenko as all are trying to make it to London.
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