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TennisOne - Larson news

Click photo to hear TennisOne Editor, Jim McLennan's greeting and overview of our site.

The following are excerpts from Bob Larson's Tennis International Newsletter, published daily by TennisOne. For more Larson tennis news products, go to: www.tennisnews.com

Olympics -- Men

Singles - Gold Medal Match: (2) Rafael Nadal def. (12) Fernando Gonzalez 6-3 7-6(7-2) 6-3
What can you say? It was obviously thoroughly efficient, and it adds another trophy to Rafael Nadal's incredible collection this year. He now has eight titles this year -- two Slams (Roland Garros and Wimbledon), three Masters (Monte Carlo, Hamburg, Canadian Open), one Olympics, and two optional titles, both fairly big (Queen's, Barcelona). His record for the season is 69-8 -- meaning that he is on track to exceed Roger Federer's 92 wins of 2006 (though he cannot possibly exceed Federer's winning percentage of 94.8% in that year, let alone Federer's 95.3% in 2005). He might even exceed Federer's year-best title count (though, again, he can't possibly hope to beat Federer's fraction-of-tournaments-won, and he still hasn't earned a surface sweep -- there are no carpet or indoor hard tournaments on his list. The flip side is, he's played only one indoor event). Despite those extremely minor quibbles, this is unquestionably a season for the record books.

And then there is his Race total -- 1180 Race points, or 5900 entry points. That's 400 points ahead of #2 Novak Djokovic, with only about 650 points yet to award this year. Even if Nadal doesn't play another match this year, odds are that he will be the year-end #1.

Fernando Gonzalez can at least add to his medal collection. He in fact has one of each medal: A gold in doubles from 2004, a bronze in singles from 2004, and now a silver in singles. He's up to #12 in the rankings. It seems safe to say that the great meltdown of mid-2007 is now far behind him!

Olympics -- Women

Singles - Gold Medal Match: (5) Elena Dementieva def. (6) Dinara Safina 3-6 7-5 6-3
Dinara Safina has been the best player on the WTA this summer; she came into this final with a fifteen match winning streak. That's due largely to the fact that she has calmed down. But this is a different sort of pressure. Elena Dementieva, who had the huge advantage of a previous Olympic final (even if she lost it), managed to keep up her game, finishing off with a perfect down-the-line backhand (a shot she didn't even really possess eight years ago) -- and sank to her knees with a grin of disbelief.

We won't make some sort of foolish attempt to try to describe her emotions, though she looked so light-headed afterward that she appeared ready to fly out of the stadium under her own power. She has some real reason to be happy, though -- the win moves her up to #5 in the world, meaning that she'll get the #4 U. S. Open seed if Ana Ivanovic pulls out. In any case, this Open looks like perhaps her best chance ever: Ivanovic will be hurting even if she plays, Jelena Jankovic still hasn't reached a Slam final, Svetlana Kuznetsova is a mess, Serena Williams is in a slump, and Dementieva at least has shown the ability to reach Slam finals. Having managed to win this, maybe she can win a Slam, too.

The end of Safina's streak means that she remains a mere #7. But she is a #7 who is only 550 points below #1 -- relatively speaking, almost certainly the strongest #7 of all time. Assuming she keeps up her form, it's hard even to guess how high she will end up after the U. S. Open -- it appears we will have a five-way contest for #1, between Ivanovic, Jankovic, Serena, Dementieva, and Safina (Maria Sharapova is out of the hunt because she can't play, and Svetlana Kuznetsova is out because she has too much to defend).

Singles - Bronze Medal Match: (9) Vera Zvonareva def. Li Na 6-0 7-5
Poor Li Na was clearly feeling the pressure for the second straight match. Talk about a terrible two days: First losing the chance for silver or gold, then losing bronze, and losing ugly. Plus she lost her chance for a U. S. Open seed -- she will end up at #36.

You don't often see a player who didn't win a title look as happy as Zvonareva did. She is up to #9, she has earned the #8 U. S. Open seed -- and she made it three Russians on the medal platform. It was quite a scene as Dementieva, Safina, and Zvonareva hugged after it was all over.

The author cannot help but point out an important secondary observation. The Russians won all three medals -- but two of their three medalists (Safina and Zvonareva) were not in the initial Russian singles lineup. Safina was added when Anna Chakvetadze withdrew; Zvonareva took a spot when Maria Sharapova pulled out. Of course they might not have medalled had Ana Ivanovic played. Or if Sharapova had played. But since there are three medals available, it must be possible for a team to field its three best singles players. In the case of a country like the United States, this was obvious: The Williams Sisters and Lindsay Davenport were their only medal hopes. But for Russia, this wasn't even close to obvious. Russia had, at the time of the cutoff, at least seven players -- Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Chakvetadze, Safina, Zvonareva, and Petrova -- who might have proved one of their three best on a given surface in a given week. They were not all the Russ! ians who were ranked high enough for entry (Kirilenko and Kleybanova also would have gotten into a 64-woman WTA draw, and several other Russians were borderline), but those seven are all players with many WTA titles and excellent Slam results (two of them have won Slams, two more have made finals, two more semifinals, and the only one who doesn't have a Slam semifinal is Zvonareva, who medalled). Russian tennis is exceptional -- but the simple fact is, the current system does not assure that the three best players for a country will qualify for the Olympics. Which, in a wild case like women's tennis, may even mean that the three best players in the world don't qualify! A scary thing to realize when you think that Russian women took all three medals even so.

Doubles - Gold Medal Match: (2) Williams/Williams def. (4) Medina Garrigues/Ruano Pascual 6-2 6-0
It's really true: The Sisters get better with each doubles match they play. (Maybe that's why they never play smaller events -- there aren't enough rounds for them to really click.) Still, they earn their second title of the year (in four events together), and also earn their second doubles gold (they also won in 2000).
Medina and Ruano Pascual fail to win gold, but it has still been a great year for them, with a 32-11 record and three titles (Hobart, Roland Garros, and Portoroz).

Doubles - Bronze Medal Match: (8) Yan/Zheng def. (6) Bondarenko/Bondarenko 6-2 6-2
At least China got something out of this. You worry a little about the Bondarenkos, though. They started the year with two straight titles (Australian Open and Paris). Since then, they have nothing better than a semifinal, and aren't beating many top teams. It's turning into quite a letdown. Of course, both have been having physical and .off-court problems.

Washington

Singles - Final: (2) J M del Potro def. V Troicki 6-3 6-3
Give Viktor Troicki credit: Despite pain in his back, he didn't just fade away -- he even earned a break point as Juan Martin del Potro served for the championship. But he couldn't convert (he won only one of seven break points), and del Potro finished it off after a long final game. Which means -- nineteen straight wins, and four straight titles, for del Potro. It's amazing how spectacularly he improved right after Wimbledon. This is now the second-longest winning streak on the ATP this year, second only to the 32-match streak Rafael Nadal had during the clay and grass seasons and extending up until summer hardcourts.

The ATP notes that del Potro is the only player in history to win his next three events after scoring his first tournament win. They also noted that he is the twelfth player to win four titles in a year while still a teenager; they observed that ten of the previous eleven went on to reach #1 at sometime in their careers. That's not the only big prize del Potro can hope for as a result of this. The win takes him up to #17. That of course means a U. S. Open seed -- indeed, he's only one withdrawal away from a Top Sixteen seed. Pretty good for a guy who wasn't seeded at all at Wimbledon. There is only so much more del Potro can do at optional events -- with his ranking so high, and four titles on his record, he stand the risk of losing points as he has to trade optional events for required. But we have to think he'll be doing a lot of damage come next year's clay season....

Doubles - Final: Gicquel/Lindstedt def. (1) Soares/Ullyett 7-6(8-6) 6-3
Lindstedt breaks an almost year-long title drought -- but the player who really makes news is Marc Gicquel. He's 31 years old, but he had never reached a doubles final until last year. And he had never won a title. At long last, he can claim his first. Ullyett at least earned some credit toward a sportsmanship award, giving away a point when his body and his racquet both touched the ball -- the umpire didn't see it, so Ullyett had to halt play and give the point to his opponents. And it wasn't just any point. It gave the first set to Gicquel/Lindstedt. James Blake must be wishing he had played Ullyett in the Olympic semifinal instead of Fernando Gonzalez....

Cincinnati

Singles - Final: (2) Nadia Petrova def. Nathalie Dechy 6-2 6-1
Clearly Nadia Petrova was over her upset stomach of the day before. And, presumably, over her various other injuries earlier in the year. It's her first title of 2008 -- and it was as overwhelming as the score.
Talk about a day for Russians: Three Olympic medals and the title at the only regular WTA event. For Petrova, that means a return to the Top Twenty. Dechy, #92 coming in, will rise to around #75 -- at least until her Forest Hills semifinal comes off next week.

Doubles - Final: (2) Kirilenko/Petrova def. (1) Hsieh/Shvedova 6-3 4-6 10-8 (Match TB)
Hsieh and Shvedova really should have won this. They were better-rested. They were healthier. And they led 7-5 in the match tiebreak. It's Petrova's first doubles title since she and Martina Navratilova won the Canadian Open in 2006 (hard as that is to believe for a player who won seven titles in 2004!). It's also the first time she has ever won singles and doubles at the same event. Kirilenko wins her second doubles title of the year (she also won Estoril); interestingly, she has five career titles, with five different partners.

New Haven --Men

Singles - First Round: M Zverev def. F Serra 6-2 7-6(8-6)
Zverev has fallen out of the Top Hundred, and if he wants to maintain his record of improving his ranking every year, he needs to get thinks back together pretty soon. Unfortuately, this is hardly even a start -- round of 32 points at an optional event are pretty trivial.

Singles - First Round: I Minar def. N Mahut 5-7 6-3 6-3
Mahut wasn't defending anything in particular this week, but like Zverev, he has been struggling. If he can't get on track soon, his spot in next year's Australian Open could be in danger.

Singles - First Round: A Montanes def. N Devilder 7-6(7-5) 7-5
Almost any points Montanes can earn away from clay are a gift. But, of course, things get a lot harder after this!

Singles - First Round: D Sela def. D Young (WC) 6-4 6-2
Sela definitely seems to be coming around from his pre-Olympic funk.

New Haven --Women

It was a wild qualifying final: The best player in the qualifying final, by far, was #1 seed Sara Errani, but she lost 4-6 6-1 6-2 to wildcard Mallory Cecil. Of course, Errani may not have been at her best, since there was a Lucky Loser spot waiting for her. (In fact, the luck of the draw had it that her opening match will be a rematch with Cecil. And that one will count; the winner will get to face all-messed-up Agnes Szavay.) #4 Camille Pin was also upset, in a third set tiebreak, by Alla Kudryavtseva -- but of course Kudryavtseva is a very good player on her good days. Our other qualifiers are Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Monica Niculescu.

Singles - First Round: Olga Govortsova def. Alisa Kleybanova 6-0 6-2
A significant turnaround -- Govortsova has been slumping after her solid 2007, and Kleybanova climbing. What makes it really strange is that Govortsova just flew in from Beijing.

Singles - First Round: Tsvetana Pironkova def. Bethanie Mattek (WC) 7-6(7-4) 0-6 6-0
What an utterly Tsvetana Pironkova-type scoreline. If she could just stop those wild ups and downs of hers, she would surely be Top Thirty at least. (Well, assuming she managed to play her best game all the time, anyway. If she stopped having the ups and had only the downs, we'd hate to think about where she would end up.)

Doubles - First Round: Cirstea/Niculescu def. Jans/Rosolska 6-1 6-4
Jans and Rosolska split up earlier this year, and both saw their results improve. They reunited for the Olympics, of course -- but you'd think they would have gone back to other partners after that.

Men's Look Forward: New Haven

If there is one event which hates the Olympics, it has to be New Haven.

With the Olympics in Beijing, hardly anyone who played there will come here. (That includes notably James Blake, who is the tournament's favorite draw, but who of course was playing for a medal on Saturday. There was no chance he would get back in time to play here.) And, because the Olympics occupied most of the top men for two weeks, it meant that many of the the remaining players -- notably Andy Roddick and Marat Safin -- played Los Angeles and Washington both. New Haven must have known that it was due for a very weak field this year. And so it proved: No Top Ten players. The #1 seed is Fernando Verdasco, who is #13. Ivo Karlovic, who was unable to play the Olympics last week, is trying to make up for it by taking a wildcard and earning the #2 seed. Juan Martin del Potro, who is the hottest guy this side of Rafael Nadal but who has to be exhausted, is the #3 seed. Igor Andreev, who is much better at upsets than at holding seed, is #4. Juan Monaco, who tried to play at ! the Olympics but was barely back from injury and lost first round, is the #5 seed. Ironically, the guy who beat him, Marin Cilic, is #6. Andreas Seppi takes the #7 seed. Mardy Fish, almost the only player to play all of the three hardcourt events leading up to the U. S. Open, is #8.

The #9 seed belongs to Marc Gicquel, with Simon Bolelli #10. Jurgen Melzer is going to be probably the most jet lagged player in the draw, but he's the #11 seed. Agustin Calleri is #12, Marcel Granollers #13, Jose Acasuso #14, and Eduardo Schwank takes the #15 seed. (Don't ask us why this draw is so heavy with clay specialists.) The final seed goes to Victor Hanescu. The field is a 48-draw, so all seeds have first round byes.

You get the feeling that the first day isn't going to be all that exciting. Still, Robby Ginepri faces Luis Horna in the first round for the right to face Calleri. Sebastien Grosjean will take on a qualifier for a chance to take on Fish. Arnaud Clement could take on Melzer in the second round in a contest of guys who were around for a long time in Olympic doubles. And John Isner faces Igor Kunitsyn for a shot at Karlovic. Plus there is the funny all-Italian section: The seeds are #7 Seppi and #10 Bolelli, and it's not unlikely that Seppi will open against Potito Starace and Bolelli against Fabio Fognini.

The Rankings

This week's rankings make effectively no difference; they will be used to seed only one event, Bucharest. (Maybe that's why all the clay players are here.) After that, the U. S. Open will be vastly more important.

By the looks of things, James Blake knows it. He was last year's champion, but -- as already noted -- he isn't coming back to defend. It's good that he did well at the Olympics, or he might find himself hardly ahead of Stanislas Wawrinka in the rankings.

Blake is the only Top Ten player with anything significant to defend. Nikolay Davydenko did make the quarterfinal last year, but he's secure at #5 (below Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Ferrer). Murray, Nalbandian, and Roddick round out the Top Eight, followed by Blake and Wawrinka. There is no possibility of a new name reaching the Top Ten.

Making the final last year was Mardy Fish, who therefore really needs to break his summer slump if he wants to stay close to #40. Ivo Karlovic and Paul-Henri Mathieu were semifinalists. Karlovic won't be affected much even if he loses his opener; he has lots of optional points in the bank. Mathieu will fall a little, but should stay Top Thirty.

Women's Look Forward: New Haven

It's amazing what a few Gold Exempt rules can do.

This is a tricky week to preview: We have two events, New Haven and Forest Hills. Forest Hills is a 16-draw, and doesn't release its draw for several more days. New Haven is a combined men's and women's event, with a 28-draw women's field and 48 slots for the men. They have to get started early. So we end up doing a split preview this week, New Haven and Forest Hills separately.

But, because of that odd scheduling, we inevitably end up comparing the men's and women's New Haven fields. And that's what makes it so amazing. Hardly anyone on the men's side is flying from the Olympics to New Haven. But six of the eight women's seeds, and nine of the other sixteen women with direct entry, came here from Beijing. The rules pushing top players to play the Tier II events are clearly working.

Top players, but not the very top players. Based on the new rankings, the field has no Top Ten players (the #1 seed, Anna Chakvetadze, was #10 last week but will fall to #11 next week), but we have ten of the next eleven players in the rankings! From #11 Chakvetadze to #21 Wozniacki, the only face missing is Victoria Azarenka.

The #1 seed, as noted is Chakvetadze. She is also the only seed who is neither tired nor hurt. Of course, she is all messed up, so it remains to be seen if that is really an advantage. The #2 seed is Daniela Hantuchova, who has been struggling since her injury but showed at least a few signs of life in Beijing. #3 Marion Bartoli, who is in Hantuchova's half, also skipped Beijing, but she retired from her first round match at Cincinnati last week. #4 Agnes Szavay didn't have any better luck at Beijing than she did anywhere else this year. Patty Schnyder took a wildcard to earn the #5 seed; she is in Szavay's quarter. #6 Flavia Pennetta, who had to stay in Beijing longer than most because of doubles, is in Chakvetadze's quarter. #7 Alize Cornet is in Hantuchova's quarter, and #8 Dominika Cibulkova, who is probably in better form than any of the other seeds here, is in Bartoli's quarter.

That mass influx from Beijing means that there are some pretty tough unseeded players, too. Chakvetadze will have to open against either Casey Dellacqua, who is having a breakthrough year, or Virginie Razzano, who just fell out of the Top Thirty. Szavay opens against Gisela Dulko, then probably Sorana Cirstea. Schnyder will face either Amelie Mauresmo or Kaia Kanepi in the second round. Cibulkova, the #8 seed, opens against Wozniacki, almost the top unseeded player, in a match of very promising youngsters, with the winner likely to face Maria Kirilenko. Cornet has to start against Nicole Vaidisova, with Katarina Srebotnik likely to follow. And Hantuchova's second round opponent is likely to be Alisa Kleybanova, who is having a great year and will not be jet lagged.

Even the qualifying has its interesting points, since Sara Errani is the #1 seed, and she has been playing very well lately. We'd also keep our eyes on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the #6 seed, who is starting to look like the next important Russian.

The Rankings

The turnover from last year to this at New Haven is pretty amazing, Of last year's eight seeds, only three (Schnyder, Bartoli, and Szavay) are back. Our rough count is that 18 players who played last year were eligible for the main draw this year; only six are back (Cibulkova, Schnyder, Bartoli, Govortsova, Szavay, and Hantuchova). But the most extreme rate of non-return is among the players who did well last year. Of the four semifinalists Only Szavay, the finalist last year, is returning. Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and semifinalists Elena Dementieva and Eleni Daniilidou aren't returning. Of the four players who lost in the quarterfinal last year, the rate is the same: Bartoli is back, but Francesca Schiavone, Dinara Safina, and Alona Bondarenko are not.

For Kuznetsova, that means that she can forget the #3 ranking. She will lose it to Serena Williams. That will be the only change in the Top Five, though. #6 may change hands, depending on how Safina and Dementieva do in the medal round at the Olympics. Venus Williams will stay #8.

Szavay runs the risk of falling out of the Top Fifteen. Daniilidou, unless she posts a strong result at an event other than New Haven, will fall below #60.

It's hard to say much beyond that until we have the Forest Hills draw. Last year, Gisela Dulko won the event, with Virginie Razzano the finalist (note that both are ranked high enough now that they played New Haven); Elena Vesnina and Nathalie Dechy were semifinalists.

In practical terms, this week's rankings don't matter much anyway. They would be used to seed the events the week after the U. S. Open -- but the events that week are Bali and the Fed Cup final. Bali is small, and Fed Cup isn't about rankings. So what really matters most is getting in good shape for the U. S. Open.

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