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Women’s Tennis Power Rankings: Li Na Takes the Top Spot After Winning in Paris 3

Posted on June 08, 2011 by Ronger Fengerer

Li Na wins the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in Paris

China is known for its domination in the sport of table-tennis, but in tennis it is a completely different story.

Indeed, tennis has long been dominated by players from Europe, America and Australia. While Asian players like Kimiko Date-Krumm (former world No. 4) and Paradorn Srichaphan (former world No. 9) were able to win a few titles and make some deep runs in Grand Slams, Asia has failed to produce one single major champion. Until now.

Li Na, from Wuhan China, became the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam final at the 2011 Australian Open (l. to Kim Clijsters). And at the 2011 French Open, she went one-step further and became the first Grand Slam champion from her continent by defeating the defending champion from Italy, Francesca Schiavone.

Many claimed this year’s French Open the “most open” Grand Slam in recent years, and so it proved to be. None of the top four seeds were able to make it to the semifinals, and the “favorite” for the crown changed after each passing day. Not many predicted the final line-up of Li and Schiavone, even fewer picked the Chinese woman to win the title. But against all odds, Li conquered the Parisian clay and for ever etched her name in the annals of tennis.

It is hard enough to make it to a major final, and it is even harder to win it. Many players faltered at the last hurdle (one needs to look no further than the dropping out list below). To make it to two consecutive Grand Slam finals is no small feat. And to win the second final after losing the first one takes courage, dedication and enormous self-belief. To be a champion, you must have the heart of a champion.

This installment of our women’s power rankings is a tribute to the 2011 French Open Champion, Li Na from China. Her success will for sure serve as an inspiration to the next generation of young players from China and Asia.

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Rafael Nadal Tops the Men’s Tennis Power Rankings 9

Posted on June 08, 2011 by JA Allen

Rafael Nada wins French Open championship number six.

The 2011 French Open is history, one for the books. It proved to be an exciting two weeks of action with plenty of surprises as the world tuned in to watch players battle it out on the courts of Stade Roland Garros.

It is rare that the ATP top-ranked players are also the top four in our power rankings. Understandably, that does not happen often. But this was a year for the unusual. A case in point––in 2011 the men’s top four seeds reached the French Open semifinals.

It was the first time since since the 2006 French Open that the top four men’s seeds reached the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament. At that tournament those final four were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal,  David Nalbandian and Ivan Ljubicic.

The men’s tour has already moved onto grass with the crisp white tradition of historical Wimbledon––the most prestigious of all the grand slam tournaments. While French crowds booed and hissed at players, the exact opposite will unfold under the pristine umbrella of proper British behavior.

So as we shake the red dust off our tennies and cross the channel to London, a new brand of tennis awaits. The question is––who will win the next grand slam tournament held at the All-England Club.

Grass changes the complexity of the game. The slow grind of clay speeds up on the grass courts and low bounces at your ankles becomes the norm.

Change is good and Wimbledon promises another great tournament.

The men’s current power rankings are based on a player’s results in his last four tournaments. In this entry, ranking points come primarily from the ATP points awarded at the French Open.

For the list on the women’s side, please check out the complementary article authored by Feng Rong (Ronger Fengerer). This season-long series contains contributions from JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Feng Rong.

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Federer vs. Nadal: 2011 French Open Finals, Once More for Posterity… 1

Posted on June 04, 2011 by JA Allen

Roger and Rafa 2005 French Open

Great rivals should challenge each other equally. Shouldn’t they? Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? Are they true rivals?

Nadal dominates, practically speaking, with a 16-8 record against Federer and an 11-2 superiority on the clay.  Off clay courts, Federer holds a slight edge.

Regardless of your feelings and your loyalties, most will agree that never in the history of the game has there been a more compelling rivalry as the one between Federer and Nadal.

We are witnessing, perhaps, the two greatest men ever to play the game of tennis. These tennis phenoms continue to exert pressure on a very talented men’s field as Federer nears age 30 with Rafa just turning 25.

Currently, the World No. 1 is hanging on to the brass ring for dear life, fighting off the newly inspired Djokovic for the top spot in men’s tennis.

Federer, on the other hand, is playing some of his most inspired tennis since losing in the semifinals of the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic.

In the past, playing practically perfect tennis against Roger Federer evolved into an art form for Rafael Nadal. Nothing inspired him more or engaged his senses more completely than striving to match his considerable strengths against the man many proclaim as the best player ever to wield a tennis racket.

The quixotic mission to overtake Federer that had driven Nadal throughout his career must reemerge during Sunday’s final for Nadal to win French Open number six.

It will mark Federer’s fifth French Open final and Nadal’s sixth.  Federer has won one championship trophy and Nadal has five.

They have met each other on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros four times prior to Sunday’s final.

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Novak Djokovic Triumphs on Clay to Capture The Top Spot in the Men’s Power Ranking 4

Posted on May 27, 2011 by Ronger Fengerer

Serb Novak Djokovic

Ever since early April, the clay war has been raging on in the world of tennis.

From Casablanca to Belgrade, from Monte-Carlo to Rome, tennis warriors have been fighting it out on the red dirt for glory and pride.

As for the past few years, it was predicted that the “king of clay,” Rafael Nadal, would once again rule the kingdom of clay.

Only this year, no one saw it coming. A “perfect storm”—named Novak Djokovic.

Besides the French Open—the ultimate prize of the clay season—there are four other significant tournaments in the calendar: the three Masters events in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, Rome, and the only 500 event in Barcelona. Nadal made it to the final in all four events, winning two titles against David Ferrer—but finishing runner-up to Djokovic in the others.

So this year, Djokovic has beaten Nadal four times, all in the finals of Masters events: two on hard-court and two on clay. Will the trend continue if they both make it to the final at Roland Garros?

And what is in store at Roland Garros for Roger Federer, who is yet to overcome Na-No this year? Will Robin Soderling finally be able to come out on top after finishing second-best in the past two French Open finals? Will the Fedal duopoly finally be broken by the Djoker?

Before we take a look at who is hot and who is not heading to Paris, here are a few players who made our top ten list last time but were dropped this time.

Dropping Out

Mardy Fish (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 10)

Mardy Fish was in great form at Miami, advancing all the way to the semifinals before losing to the unbeatable Djokovic. Not long after that, he was able to crack the ATP top ten for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for Fish, actually for all American players, the clay season started right after Miami. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed little success on the red dirt. Though without many points to defend, he was able to retain his No. 10 ranking heading to the French capital.

Juan Martin Del Potro (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 27)

Del Potro had an impressive season so far, especially considering that he was out of action for much of last season. The tall Argentine has already won two titles this year, including one clay title in Estoril. Unfortunately, he suffered a hip injury before his much anticipated clash with Nadal in Madrid and he subsequently pulled out of Rome as well. His performance at Roland Garros will largely depend on his health and fitness.

Gilles Simon (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 19)

Gilles Simon had some success on hard-courts this season, winning the Sydney title and making to the quarterfinals at Miami. But he has been struggling on clay so far, winning six matches from five tournaments. This could be partly due to the fact that he missed the entire clay swing last season due to injuries. It is hard to see him have much success at the French Open this year.

Our power rankings try to measure the form of top players based on their recent results. This season-long series contains contribution from JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Feng Rong (Ronger Fengerer).

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Maria Sharapova Leads the Field in the Women’s Tennis Power Rankings 11

Posted on May 18, 2011 by JA Allen

Russian Maria Sharapova

As the 2011 French Open gets underway next week, the women’s field remains wide open.  There is no clear cut favorite for the title.

In fact, there has never been a true favorite heading into Paris since Justine Henin announced her first retirement from tennis in 2008.

The champions crowned in Henin’s absence have been great surprises––like Ana Ivanovic in 2008, Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 and Francesca Schiavone in 2010.

The good news for tennis fans is that Kim Clijsters will be returning to action in Paris with her ankle severely taped.  The Belgian, however, will not have the needed warm-up time on the clay to give her adequate preparation for a win in Paris.

In addition to the top 10 women listed in our power ranking, there are other players who merit our attention as we get ready to crown another French Open champion in 2011.  These “also to be watched” players are as follows:

Kim Clijsters can never be discounted at any major tournament regardless of her physical injuries.  As the winner of the last two slams at the 2011 Australia Open and at the 2010 U.S. Open, Clijsters will be looking to win this French Open crown. This remains a title that has eluded her in the past.

Svetlana Kuznetsova won the French Open title in 2009 and has the game to win the title again.  After her campaign in Marbella where the Russian made the semifinals, Kuznetsova has not fared well on the clay.  She will definitely be looking to improve on the grounds at Stade Roland Garros.

Ana Ivanovic has done nothing to suggest that she can win the French Open title again. Still, as a former champion, she has to be considered as a dark horse coming in because she knows exactly what it takes to win it all on clay.  Everyone hopes to see the Serbian beauty win in Paris, but the odds are not in her favor this year.

Andrea Petkovic is another of the surging German women who has been making a name for herself on the World stage in tennis.  Although Petkovic has not done well on the clay, she is a dangerous player with the potential to do well on any surface.

Our top 10 rankings are based on the four most recent tournament results and the WTA ranking points awarded.  The points are aged with the most recent receiving the most points. Following are the top 10 women poised to win at Roland Garros starting Monday in Paris.

JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Ronger Fengerer write the Power Ranking series.

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Previewing the Favorites at the 2011 French Open Championships… 4

Posted on April 27, 2011 by JA Allen

French Open gets underway in less than a month.

Last season the 2010 French Open marked the culmination of a player sweeping the major titles of the entire clay court season––the final act of the Tao of Nadal.

No man has quite dominated the red dirt so completely since Bjorn Borg did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That said, no individual has yet to equal Chris Evert’s record on clay, man or woman by winning 125 consecutive matches on the red dirt, and seven French Open titles in nine final appearances.

Is it possible that Nadal could surpass even the ice maiden?

There are few mysteries abounding about the results on clay in 2011. If Nadal can hobble on to the court, then he will no doubt win, according to the odds-makers.

The only unknowns come on the women’s side of the draw where no one stands out as a favorite to win. In fact the bookies remain fairly clueless.

Past winners like Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova remain mired in unending slumps punctuated by an unexpected win or two along the way.

Francesca Schiavone who won it last year over the woman who was supposed to win, Samantha Stosur, may be the best bet.

The sure thing about watching the French Open is that it is not pretty. Play on the red dirt can be long and ugly on a hot afternoon with unending rallies from the baseline.  It often becomes truly survival of the fittest.

So, selecting who will be standing holding the trophies at the end of the French Open can be a futile exercise but here are the favorites and where they stand at the beginning of May…

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