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Sports Then and Now



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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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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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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Novak Djokovic Rules the Men’s Tennis Power Rankings After Dominating in Miami 5

Posted on April 06, 2011 by Marianne Bevis

Novak Djokovic has fulfilled the early promise of greatness so far in 2011.

The first three months of the tennis season pose some of the players’ biggest challenges.

With barely a fortnight to get their hard-court games into fine working order, the first Major of the year is upon them. Yet the Australian Open is just the beginning; ahead lie two months of hard-court rigor, all geared towards a second distant climax at the end of March.

Along the way are choices between indoor and outdoor, cool northern Europe and the hot Gulf states, even between hard courts and the points-rich Golden Swing on the clay of Latin America.

It is a topsy-turvy phase, where two of the most prestigious Masters events in the calendar close a season rather than building towards a concluding Major, and therefore, is often full of intrigue, unpredictable winners and surprising losers.

During the two months between Melbourne and Miami—where this edition of the Power Rankings is focused—there have been 10 different champions from 14 tournaments.

Kevin Anderson won his first tour title in Johannesburg, went on to reach the quarterfinals in the Miami Masters and now sits at an all-time ranking of 33.

Ivan Dodig won his maiden title in Zagreb and there was an even more significant first for the surging Milos Raonic, who started the year at 156 and now sits at 35. He announced his arrival big time by winning San Jose and then reaching the final of Memphis. Although he does not feature in this month’s rankings, he will surely join the party when the next hard-court season comes around.

One multiple winner, Nicolas Almagro, took titles in Brazil and Argentina and reached the final in Acapulco and, while he did not impress in the subsequent Masters, his form may impact on the clay road towards Roland Garros.

For each story of success, though, there has been one of ill fortune. Andy Roddick arrived in Miami on the back of his 30th career title in Memphis and with a 16-3 winning record for the year—and his record in Miami was second to none. But it soon became clear that Roddick was unwell during his opening match, and he made his earliest Miami exit since 2002. Now at No. 14 in the rankings, it is also his lowest position since 2002.

The biggest shock of this entire period, though, was the performance of Andy Murray, who replayed his post-Australian slump of 2010 with a vengeance.

Murray loves the North American Masters and was aiming to improve on last year’s quarterfinal finish in Indian Wells and his first-round exit in Miami. However, he lost in his first match at both as well as at the only other event he played, Rotterdam.

He is said to be reviewing his coaching setup ahead of the clay season and, with few points to defend before Wimbledon, that choice will have some time to bed in. One thing’s for sure: He needs to change something, and soon.

But while there have been surprises at almost every turn of the hard-court road that culminated in Miami, there has also been a clutch of constants. At every tournament they have played, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have stayed the course at least as far as the semifinals.

One of them has been as constant as the North Star—the winner of every match in every tournament he has played since the start of the year and he, of course, tops the latest Power Rankings.

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Will Rafael Nadal Still Be Ranked World No. 1 in December? 4

Posted on March 17, 2011 by JA Allen

Roger Federer battles Rafael Nadal for the No. 1 ranking.

Men’s tennis hierarchy is ruled by a complex system of ranking points. This is why players are relentless on court, fighting for the maximum number of points available in each tournament.

Being in the top 10 in men’s tennis brings money, fame and fortune plus an advantageous starting point in each tournament.

Since the inception of the ATP ranking system in 1973, 24 men have held the No. 1 ranking with Pete Sampras holding it the longest and Patrick Rafter holding it the shortest amount of time.

Roger Federer holds the record for the most consecutive weeks at No. 1 at 237 weeks.

Since the time Sampras gave up his hold on the No. 1 ranking in 2000, 6 different men held the No. 1 ranking until Roger Federer succeeded to the top in 2004.

After February of 2004, only two players have held the No. 1 spot, Roger Federer and the current No. 1, Rafael Nadal.

The question is, how long will these top two fight it out and hold onto the top spot? Many feel their period of domination is coming to an end and that there is an opportunity for someone to topple Nadal from the top spot.

Starting with the current tournament at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, what will it take to knock off the current king of the mountain, Rafael Nadal, and who will be able to accomplish it?

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Alexandr Dolgopolov: Rising Star in Men’s Tennis? 5

Posted on February 26, 2011 by Rob York

Robin Soderling at the 2011 Australian Open.

Robin Soderling is one of the biggest men in pro tennis, at 6’4” and nearly 200 pounds.

He has ridden one of the most overpowering serve-and-forehand combinations in the game’s history to a ranking of No. 4 in the world, scoring wins over the game’s biggest names.

And his personality, while less prone to controversy than it was just two years ago, could hardly be described as “warm.” I say all of this as a way of illustrating that the big Swede has rarely, if ever, been one to elicit sympathy.

Yet in the fourth set of his fourth-round Australian Open match, I couldn’t help but feel for the guy a little. Having battered his way past his first three opponents, he had won the first set easily, was up a break in the second and looked headed for a showdown with fellow Slam contender Andy Murray.

Alexandr Dolgopolov came alive in his match with Soderling at the 2011 Aussie Open.

Then suddenly his opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, caught fire, winning five of the last six games of set two and routing the Swede 6-1 in set three.

Suddenly, I was rooting for Soderling to win the fourth, if not the match, in the hopes of that he could leave the court having restored some respectability.

He did capture set four, forcing his streakier, less experienced opponent to play a fifth. That was a challenge Dolgopolov was up to, however, winning the final set 6-2.

As big a ball as Soderling hits – and its as big as anyone today – players such as he are always vulnerable to evolutions in the sport, as a player who relies almost entirely on serving and baseline power has little answer when another player learns how to hit bigger than he does.

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