Australian Open Roundup

openRound 4 of the Australian Open begins today. The first Grand Slam of the tour calendar has already seen its fair share of surprises, disappointments, scuffles, and nudity. I’ve recapped the highlights below.

The top-ranked men advance

Of the top ten-seeded men in the tournament, only David Nalbandian failed to advance, losing to unknown Yen-Hsun Lu in the second round. The others, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsongo, Gilles Simon, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro, and James Blake have all made easy work of their competition. Really, things won’t get interesting until the Quarter Finals.

Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic are eliminated

It must be said that both matches in which they lost have been the most exciting matches of the tournament. Unseeded 20 year-old Carla Suarez Navarro, in only her fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance, defeated Venus Williams in the second round. It was an amazing match and both women gave it their all. Navarro, however, was able to consistently return Venus’ 192 mph serve and never seemed to tire. Williams was on the defensive during the final set and Navarro’s fine shot placement carried her to victory. The crowd congratulated the awestruck youngster with a standing ovation. Suarez has since advanced to the Fourth Round where she will face twenty-first-seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues.

It was less than a surprise and more of a disappointment to watch Ana Ivanovic fall to twenty-ninth-seeded Alisa Kleybanova. For those who follow tennis, it’s perplexing that Ivanovic is ranked fifth in the world judging by the way she played yesterday. Strictly speaking, the Serbian lost because she couldn’t find her serve. It was painful to watch Ivanovic toss the ball five feet away from herself. She double faulted more than a few times and rarely was able to hold serve. All in all, the three-setter was intense, but undeniably sloppy. While Ivanovic made 50 unforced errors, Kleybanova committed 44, 24 of which came in the opening set alone. It’s time for Ana to take a break and try to get herself into the mindset that helped her win the French Open in 2008.

Serbian and Bosnian fans clash after Novak Djokovic/Amer Delic match

Last year at the Australian Open, Serbian and Croatian fans attacked each other with flagpoles, bottles, and boots. This year, the Balkan rivalry consisted of Serbians and Bosnians. After Serbian Novak Djokovic’s victory over Bosnian-American Amer Delic, fans from both nations pelted each other with chairs.

A streaker stalls a Williams sisters doubles match

Although this article claims the gentleman was out there for only 14 seconds, broadcaster Patrick McEnroe has him at nearly a minute. While Serena and Venus laughed bashfully during the incident, tournament officials aren’t taking this lightly. In 1993, a man stabbed Monica Seles on court during a match in Hamburg, Germany. Still, it looks like this guy was just having a good time.

Coverage of Day 7 will air at 7 PM ET and 12:30 AM ET on ESPN2.

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Is greatness slipping away from Roger Federer?

The record book will show that Roger Federer won the 2008 U.S. Open Men’s Championship over Andy Murray. But something is missing. His dominance in the sport hasn’t been noticeable this year. Let’s just face it; Roger Federer is not Roger Federer anymore.

Wait a minute, a terrible year? How many players on the men’s tour would take a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, two finals appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, and a Grand Slam victory at the U.S. Open, all in the same year?

Is Federer dominating? No. We are not used to seeing him struggle in the early rounds. What use to be a brisk workout for him has now become nervy five-set encounter. Federer’s brilliance ultimately prevails, but never once does he look like he’s in control of the match.

So what has changed in his game? Well, Federer is not setting up balls for the kill shot that usually keeps his opponents’ off-balance. Balls that have rocketed off his racket in the past are now just dribbling over the net as a return or an unimpressive point. Instead of ripping through sets, he is now winning a series of mini-marathons.

The last set of his semi-final match against Novak Djokovic on Saturday was reminiscent of the old Federer. He regained his cross-court backhand that, in years past, would go by his opponent like a shortstop reaching for a line drive off a hitter’s bat.

Maybe Federer won’t return to the #1 ranking, and maybe he’s not a sure thing anymore on the tour. His dominance is slipping. But Federer did remind everyone this weekend at Flushing that he still has a few bullets left in his racket. Was this a return to greatness or just a brief glimpse of the past?

Only time will tell.

U.S. Open Singles Semifinals Breakdown

This year’s U.S. Open has already yielded many spectacular matches, and there’s still four days left of play. After 25 years of coverage on the USA Network (ESPN and the Tennis Channel will pick up the rights next year), the athletes are providing a worthy sendoff. We’ve already seen an epic showdown between the Williams sisters and a grueling five-setter from Novak Djokovic and Tommy Robredo. However, unranked or low-seeded players have given the likes of Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina a run for their money. Below I’ve previewed both the men’s and women’s semifinal matches, which will begin tomorrow.


Dinara Safina RUS (6) vs. Serena Williams USA (4)

The spotlight has always just missed Dinara Safina. Though the 22-year-old has won a Grand Slam doubles title, a singles championship has always eluded her. Also, it doesn’t help that she’s the little sister of 2000 U.S. Open men’s champion, Marat Safin. Safina lost to Ana Ivanovic in this year’s French Open final and earned the silver medal in Beijing. Unfortunately, two-time U.S. Open women’s champion Serena Williams now stands in her way. After losing to Venus at Wimbledon, the sisters put on a phenomenal show last night at Flushing Meadows, with Serena emerging the victor. Given Safina’s emotionality on the court and her focused desire to win the same championship as her brother, tomorrow’s match is a must-see.

Elena Dementieva RUS (5) vs. Jelena Jankovic SRB (3)

Elena Dementieva is another top-ranked player who’s never won a Grand Slam, a testament to how competitive the WTA Tour has been this year. However, it was Dementieva that took the gold from Safina in Beijing. She’s also beat Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams, and Svetlana Kuznetsova in previous tournaments. Her opponent, Jelena Janokovic, continues her campaign for her first Grand Slam championship as well. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the women’s competition is that the winner will not only receive the U.S. Open trophy, but the world No. 1 ranking (from Ivanovic) to boot.


Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Andy Murray GBR (6)

By now, most sports fans should be acquainted with Rafael Nadal, even if they’ve covered their ears at the mention of tennis. Some say that the rivalry he has with Roger Federer has resurrected the sport. While that may or may not be true, those two have definitely set a high standard of play and their matches are a pleasure to watch. Still, there’s no question that Nadal is this year’s dominant player, having won the French Open, Wimbledon, and the gold medal at Beijing. Murray, on the other hand, has never won a Grand Slam tournament. Both are very quick and eclectic players, so count on seeing dozens of drop shots and volleys at the net. It seems like more and more matches are being forced into the fifth set. (Nadal’s last match finished at 2:15 ET this morning!) This one shouldn’t be any different, with each player bringing out the best in the other.

Roger Federer SUI (2) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3)

Of all the matches in the singles semifinals, this will be the most exciting to watch, for a couple of reasons. First, Roger Federer is on a mission. He seems to like having the No. 2 ranking by his name; it’s almost as if a certain weight has been lifted that allows his to make amateur mistakes and take the same risks he did when he first joined the tour. He’s not playing like he did four years ago, but the this is his tournament, and he’s going for his fifth U.S. Open championship in a row. Novak Djokovic, was his opponent in 2007 final at Flushing Meadows. The New York crowd fell in love with the Serb, in part because of strong play against Federer, but also because of this hilarious video that has since surfaced. Unfortunately, New York’s adoration is a double-edged sword, and its cheers have since turned to boos over the past two days. Both Tommy Robredo and Andy Roddick criticized Djokovic for taking too much time during matches to nurse his injuries. Roddick was a bit more vocal, causing Djokovic to take offense. After Djokovic destroyed Roddick on his home turf, he was interviewed (in front of the 20,000+ crowd) and addressed the derogatory remarks. You can decide if the crowd’s response was justified. Either way, I find Djokovic completely entertaining. He’s also a gifted tennis player and a good bet for stopping Federer’s reign at the U.S. Open.

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