Thursday Topspin: Rohan Bopanna, Singles Champion

Indians at Indian Wells: It’s no surprise that Somdev Devvarman came through qualifying–he was the second seed and won both his matches in straight sets.  Rohan Bopanna, on the other hand–he may have been the lowest ranked player in the qualifying draw.

Yet, after a tough three-setter against Peter Polansky and a tight two-tiebreak match against top seed Daniel Brands, Bopanna finds himself in the main draw.  This is the first time he’s made it this far in singles at a 1000-level event.  He’ll face wild card Bernard Tomic in the first round.  If he wins, he faces none other than Viktor Troicki, the man who he pushed to five sets in Davis Cup last week.

Opportunities for qualifiers: The 96-player draw is unusual, and it gives a big opportunity to qualifiers and others who just missed the cut.  In most draws, non-seeded players can show up just to face Rafael Nadal in the first round.  Here, you’re guaranteed to get at least one match against someone outside the top 30.

A couple of players in position to take advantage of the format are Ryan Sweeting and Matthew Ebden.  Sweeting plays the Spainard Marcel Granollers in the first round and would then face Juan Monaco, one of the most beatable seeds in the tourney.  Ebden battles Mischa Zverev for a chance to play Tommy Robredo.

Match of the day: The top half of the draw is in action, meaning a lot of qualifiers get to play their third match in three days.  That doesn’t apply, however, to the marquee event: Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Radek Stepanek.  Stepanek can be a challenge for any player, and that might be particularly true for Del Potro, who has faced a barrage of aggressive big servers in Memphis and Delray Beach.

If I were setting the schedule, the undercard would be the matchup of Richard Berankis and Alex Bogomolov Jr. Bogie is playing well, having just won the title in Dallas and qualified here, and of course Berankis has big potential.

Elsewhere: Speaking of big potential, Grigor Dimitrov isn’t going to display it this week.  Seeded #1 in Sarajevo, he lost in the first round to Karol Beck.  That means no semifinal matchup with Dmitri Tursunov, though the Russian is through to the second round thanks to an injury to Igor Sijsling.

Miami wild cards: We’re already talking about the next tournament, apparently.  Miami has given main draw slots to James Blake, Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, Milos Raonic, and Tomic.  I’m a bit surprised by the love for Tomic stateside; yes, he’s young and talented, but he’s only a fan favorite until the fans get to know him.  After he showed up in Dallas and tanked a match, you have to wonder why the Miami tournament is doing this for him.

After all, I’m guessing Evgeny Donskoy is available.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday Topspin: Start hydrating

Indian Wells draw: The most interesting quarter, by far is Robin Soderling‘s.  In the first round, Juan Martin Del Potro must face Radek Stepanek–most likely an easy match for the Argentine, but with both players’ health issues, you never know.  The winner plays defending champion Ivan Ljubicic–again, an outcome that will depend in part on injury status.

The winner of that match will probably play Alexandr Dolgopolov, and whoever comes out on top then, most likely, gets Soderling.

In the other half of that quarter are Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco, both guys with a shot at winning the tournament.  Verdasco, however, will probably need to beat Richard Berankis in his first match.

Also of note: James Blake faces a qualifier in the first round, and if he wins, he draws Andy Roddick.  Milos Raonic opens up against Marsel Ilhan, and the winner faces Mardy Fish.  Raonic-Fish could easily be the highlight of the second round.  Another potential second-rounder is Roger Federer vs. Kei Nishikori, assuming Nishikori beats Igor Andreev.

It’s nice to have all the top players in the world together again, isn’t it?

Speaking of Milos: Raonic’s rapid rise is creating all sorts of oddities.  He’s currently ranked 37th, and since he doesn’t have many points to defend, a decent performance at either Indian Wells or Miami will push him into the top 32.   Once there (or even close), he’ll be seeded at the French Open.  I wonder how many times it has happened that a player has to qualify for one grand slam and then is seeded at the next?

Miami creates another unique situation for the Canadian.  Because the cut is determined so early, Raonic is not yet in the main draw of Key Biscayne.  Anyone ranked higher than 78th got into the main draw.  As is, Milos will be the top seed in qualifying (ranked in the 30s!), unless he gets a wild card, or enough players withdraw to move him into the main draw the old-fashioned way.

A little more from the desert: Yesterday was the first day of qualifying, and frankly, it wasn’t very interesting.  But one result stuck out: Rohan Bopanna took down Peter Polansky, 7-6(6) 3-6 7-5.  Bopanna has never had much success as a singles player, but his five-set effort against Viktor Troicki has got to have given him some confidence.

Today, Bopanna will face top seed Daniel Brands for a spot in the main draw.

Little brother: A single note from Futures this morning:  One of the qualifiers at Ukraine F2 is 17-year-old Leonard Stakhovsky.  Yep, he’s Sergiy’s brother.  He currently has a lone ranking point to his name, but he’ll get at least one more this week.  After winning three matches to get into the tournament, he beat Grzegorz Panfil, a Pole ranked in the top 500, to reach the second round.

Sergiy withdrew from Indian Wells, so this may be the first week that Leonard has the best result of the family.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday Topspin: Back in the USSR

This is what we in the tennis blogging world call a “slow news day.” Davis Cup is over, and the Indian Wells main draw hasn’t been released. Oh well, we’ll make do.

Star maps: Indian Wells has done a great job ensuring that the game’s young stars are in the main draw, granting wild cards to Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Ryan Harrison, and Richard Berankis.  Any tournament that gives more than half of its wild cards to foreign players gets a thumbs up from me.

Missing from the draw, however, is Grigor Dimitrov.  The Bulgarian followed the European challenger circuit to Sarajevo, where he will again be the top seed.  Also following the circuit is Nicholas Mahut, Dimitrov’s opponent in last week’s final.  The more interesting potential opponent for the Bulgarian, though, is in his half of the draw: fourth-seeded Russian Dmitri Tursunov.

Others to watch: Like I said, slow news day, so let’s glance through the futures draws.  Bizarrely, Marc Gicquel is playing France F4 in Lille.  His stock has fallen in the last couple of years, but one would hope that (a) he’s getting a nice appearance fee, and (b) he wins easily.

In McAllen, Texas, at USA F7, here’s an unlikely pair of wild cards: 16-year-old Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and drug cheat Wayne Odesnik.  Odesnik has been on entry lists the last couple of weeks but hasn’t played; I wonder if he decided he wouldn’t play qualifying and has waited for his next wild card.  It’s an interesting draw beyond those two, as well.  Joining the Texas futures swing are two American 19-year-olds, Jordan Cox and Andrea Collarini.

That Russian Davis Cup team: Without Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youhzny, Russia’s Davis Cup team last weekend was the weakest it has put forth in a long time.  While Russia lost to Sweden, Kazakhstan triumphed over the Czechs and moved into the quarterfinals.

Of course, Kazahstan (among many other countries in Europe and Asia) used to be part of the USSR.  The Soviets were generally not much of a factor, spending only five years in the World Group.  But my oh my, what a team they would have right now.

Of course, the Russian contingent isn’t that bad.  You have the Kazakhs.  There are two Ukrainians in the top 40.  Belarus sports one of the best doubles players in the world in Max Mirnyi.  Even Latvia and Lithuania each have a player in the top 100.

Which got me wondering: What would Russian tennis look like if it still spanned the entire USSR?  Here are the singles rankings:

13   Mikhail Youzhny         RUS  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov    UKR  
34   Ernests Gulbis          LAT  
38   Sergey Stakhovsky       UKR  
39   Andrei Goloubev         KAZ  
42   Nikolay Davydenko       RUS  
55   Denis Istomin           UZB  
62   Mikhail Kukushkin       KAZ  
74   Richard Berankis        LTU  
77   Teimuraz Gabashvili     RUS  
96   Igor Andreev            RUS  
99   Ilia Marchenko          UKR  
103  Igor Kunitsyn           RUS  
104  Dmitry Tursunov         RUS  
125  Yuri Schukin            KAZ  
144  Alexandre Koudriavtsev  RUS  
153  Konstantin Kravchuk     RUS  
197  Jurgen Zopp             EST  
200  Vladimir Ignatik        BLR

Pretty impressive, huh?  With a potential doubles team of Mirnyi/Stakhovsky, you could come with a Davis Cup team on par with anyone except for a healthy Spain or France.

Alas, the Russians will have to settle for watching their former compatriots.

See you tomorrow!

Prospect Rankings, 3/7/11

I’m always on the lookout for promising young tennis talent, and I know I’m not the only one. According to the most recent ATP rankings, here are the top 20 players in the world who are, respectively, 18 or younger, 20 or younger, and 22 or younger. It’s a great way to get some perspective on guys like Marin Cilic and Donald Young–it’s easy to forget that they are still so young.

One note on the 18-and-under list: As far as I can tell, the Australia F2 results didn’t go on the computer this week, so next week Benjamin Mitchell will get credit for his tournament win. I believe that will move him into 5th place, ahead of David Souto.

152  Ryan Harrison            USA    5/7/92  
187  Bernard Tomic            AUS  10/21/92  
334  Facundo Arguello         ARG    8/4/92  
405  Diego Schwartzman        ARG   8/16/92  
443  David Souto              VEN   3/26/92  
460  Denis Kudla              USA   8/17/92  
491  Yuki Bhambri             IND    7/4/92  
519  Alexander Rumyantsev     RUS   8/16/92  
524  Benjamin Mitchell        AUS  11/30/92  
535  Jason Kubler             AUS   5/19/93  
545  Agustin Velotti          ARG   5/24/92  
559  Carlos Boluda            ESP   1/22/93  
582  Tiago Fernandes          BRA   1/29/93  
592  Jack Sock                USA   9/24/92  
607  Renzo Olivo              ARG   3/15/92  
624  Suk-Young Jeong          KOR   4/12/93  
639  Yasutaka Uchiyama        JPN    8/5/92  
652  Roberto Carballes-Baena  ESP   3/23/93  
656  Richard Muzaev           RUS   3/21/92  
675  Micke Kontinen           FIN  12/18/92  

37   Milos Raonic        CAN  12/27/90  
71   Grigor Dimitrov     BUL   5/16/91  
74   Richard Berankis    LTU   6/21/90  
140  Federico del Bonis  ARG   10/5/90  
152  Ryan Harrison       USA    5/7/92  
165  Jerzy Janowicz      POL  11/13/90  
187  Bernard Tomic       AUS  10/21/92  
200  Vladimir Ignatik    BLR   7/14/90  
205  Evgeny Donskoy      RUS    5/9/90  
213  Marius Copil        ROU  10/17/90  
219  David Goffin        BEL   7/12/90  
224  Andrey Kuznetsov    RUS   2/22/91  
229  Filip Krajinovic    SRB   2/27/92  
252  Alexander Lobkov    RUS   10/7/90  
273  Jonathan Eysseric   FRA   5/27/90  
275  Ilya Belyaev        RUS    8/9/90  
289  Rafael Camilo       BRA   3/13/90  
290  Guillaume Rufin     FRA   5/26/90  
292  Pablo Carreno       ESP   7/12/91  
295  Javier Marti        ESP   1/11/92  

20   Marin Cilic            CRO   9/28/88  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov   UKR   11/7/88  
34   Ernests Gulbis         LAT   8/30/88  
37   Milos Raonic           CAN  12/27/90  
53   Thiemo de Bakker       NED   9/19/88  
59   Adrian Mannarino       FRA   6/29/88  
63   Kei Nishikori          JPN  12/29/89  
71   Grigor Dimitrov        BUL   5/16/91  
72   Pere Riba              ESP    4/7/88  
74   Richard Berankis       LTU   6/21/90  
90   Juan Martin del Potro  ARG   9/23/88  
117  Benoit Paire           FRA    5/8/89  
124  Joao Souza             BRA   5/27/88  
140  Federico del Bonis     ARG   10/5/90  
143  Donald Young           USA   7/23/89  
152  Ryan Harrison          USA    5/7/92  
165  Jerzy Janowicz         POL  11/13/90  
167  Thomas Schoorel        NED    4/8/89  
169  Martin Klizan          SVK   7/11/89  
172  Roberto Bautista       ESP   4/14/88 

Monday Topspin: Kazakhstan is not weak

(Yes, I know the Seinfeld reference is about the Ukraine.  It seemed appropriate nonetheless.)

Sure, Radek Stepanek didn’t play, and Tomas Berdych may not have been 100 percent.  But really, did anybody see Kazakhstan advancing to the World Group quarterfinals?  Wow.

The hero for the Kazakhs was Andrey Golubev who, astonishingly, defeated Berdych in yesterday’s fourth rubber to even the tie.  That set the stage for the underrated Mikhail Kukushkin to clinch the victory by winning his match against Jan Hajek, exhausted from his five-set effort on Friday.  Next, the Kazakhs will play in Argentina, which may just be winnable for them, depending on who is healthy enough to represent the Argentine side.

The other drama-filled tie yesterday was in Zagreb, between Croatia and Germany.  After Marin Cilic handily won the fourth rubber, both captains went with substitutes, so the tie was decided by Ivo Karlovic and Philipp Petzschner.  It’s too bad Ivan Dodig was too worn out to play again; I’m liking this guy more every week, and I suspect he could’ve beaten either Petzchner or Florian Mayer.  As it was, Karlovic wasn’t strong enough, and the Germans advance to a tough quarterfinal matchup with France.

Elsewhere: In Cherbourg, Grigor Dimitrov took the final in straight sets against Nicholas Mahut.  It must have felt good: In Dimitrov’s last final, he played Mahut and lost in three.  In Dallas, Alex Bogomolov Jr. beat Ranier Schuettler for his second challenger-level championship since November.

Rankings update: Since it was a Davis Cup weekend, there’s very little movement at the top of the rankings.  Juan Monaco, Golubev, Jeremy Chardy, and Somdev Devvarman all gained a few spots thanks to their wins in live rubbers, while Joachim Johansson lept more than 200 places to 537th.

With his victory in Cherbourg, Dimitrov ascends to 71st, a new career high for the Bulgarian.  Bogomolov gains 24 spots to #128, and Andres Molteni, champion in Salinas, breaks into the top 200 for the first time, landing at #185.

Indian Wells: Another day, another withdrawal: It seems like I just mentioned Tommy Haas‘s comeback, to find out that he isn’t playing this week after all.

Looking at the entry lists, what’s fun about the upcoming tournament is that nearly everyone is playing doubles.  In addition to the usual pairs, Rafael Nadal is teaming with Marc Lopez, Novak Djokovic with Viktor Troicki, Robin Soderling with Jarkko Nieminen, Andy Murray with brother Jamie, and Tomas Berdych with Janko Tipsarevic.  I’m sure we’ll see a few of these teams withdraw, but for now, all that’s missing is Federer/Wawrinka.

Check back later today–I’ve got an interesting new feature I’ll be adding to the site.

Sunday Topspin: Day o’ Doubles

Davis Cup Saturday: The only time the world ever watches doubles.

There was plenty of good tennis to be seen yesterday, as a handful of World Group ties depended heavily on the outcome of the doubles rubber.  Nowhere was that more the case than in Serbia, where Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic overcame Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna in a gripping fourth-set tiebreak.  It’s too bad that neither Leander Paes nor Mahesh Bhupathi could play; a team of either one and Bopanna could have won the match and put India in position for a major upset.

The upset of the day has to go to Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach, who saved the day for Austria by defeating Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  The French team was heavily favored, and Melzer was able to make up for his loss on Friday.  The other result that surprised me was the easy defeat of Romania by Argentina.  Sure, it was on clay and the Argentines were at home, but Victor Hanescu and Horia Tecau are almost surely the better doubles team.

So, a quick recap: Sweden, Argentina, and Spain have clinched their quarterfinal berths.  Serbia needs to win just one of two lopsided singles matches.  The U.S. needs only Andy Roddick to come through with another win.  The Czechs are in a similar position with Tomas Berdych.  The French should rest easy knowing that the final rubber (if necessary) will pit Jeremy Chardy against Stefan Koubek.

That leaves Croatia and Germany.  As I write this, Marin Cilic has just sealed a straight-set victory to lock up the tie at 2, meaning that it all comes down to Florian Mayer and Ivan Dodig.  Originally I predicted a German win; at this point, I might give the edge to Dodig and the Croatians.

First-time winners: A couple of players have made names for themselves outside of Davis Cup this week.  Andres Molteni of Argentina was contesting his first challenger-level final in Salinas yesterday, against 100th-ranked Horacio Zeballos.  Molteni won several futures events last year but hasn’t gained much traction at the next level.  In fact, the final was only Molteni’s third time facing a top-100 opponent.

Molteni came through, victorious in two tight sets.  The Argentine is currently #236 in the world; the tournament win should rocket him up about 50 spots, ensuring he can play all the clay court challengers he wants for several months.

Also in the winner’s circle is young Australian Benjamin Mitchell, recording his first title.  His came at Australia F2 over countryman Michael Look.  The win will get him inside the top 500 for the first time, an impressive feat for an 18-year-old.

Indian Wells: After we’ve put Davis Cup behind us, it’ll be all Indian Wells all the time for a couple of weeks.  For now, all we can do is talk about who will be playing there.  David Nalbandian is not–despite notching the win, he struggled through his Davis Cup match in pain, and will be skipping both Indian Wells and Miami.  Tommy Haas, however, will be playing, his first professional appearance in more than a year.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday Topspin: Pim Pim and Somdev

It wouldn’t be Davis Cup without the unexpected.  We got plenty of that yesterday:

  • Starting with the biggest shock: India is level with Serbia.  Somdev Devvarman took out Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets.  What might be an even bigger surprise, Rohan Bopanna took Viktor Troicki to five sets.  With Bopanna, you have to favor India in the doubles, and if Devvarman and Bopanna are playing this well, they’ve got a chance to grab a point in the reverse singles, as well.  Wow.
  • I predicted a Sweden win regardless, but a straight set win for Joachim Johansson over Teymuraz Gabashvili?  I don’t think anyone outside of Sweden saw that coming.  A 2-0 lead basically locks up the win for the Swedes.
  • As I suggested the other day, Jurgen Melzer isn’t exactly unassailable right now, and Jeremy Chardy proved it yesterday with a victory over the Austrian in straights.  The depth of French tennis is simply amazing–Chardy is the nation’s #6 player.

For all of that, the best tennis on Friday may have taken place in Croatia.  Both singles matches went five sets, with Marin Cilic edging Florian Mayer, and Phillip Kohlschreiber squeaking past Ivan Dodig.  Today’s doubles rubber may well end up deciding the tie.

A rung down the ladder, Canada is facing Mexico.  Even without Daniel Nestor, Canada is heavily favored.  I was very curious to see how Milos Raonic would handle the clay.  His opponent is outside the top 500, so maybe the result doesn’t mean much, but Raonic came through with ease, dropping only five games.

The most intriguing matchup in Group 1 is Netherlands vs. Ukraine.  Neither squad would be out of place in the World Group; arguably, either one is better than Belgium and Chile, and perhaps even Russia.  The tie is even at one apiece, after Sergiy Stakhovsky defeated Robin Haase in five sets and Thiemo de Bakker beat Ilya Marchenko in straights.

Back to Dallas: The American challenger is a lot less exciting now; in the first two matches yesterday, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison exited the tournament.  Sock was impressive for much of the first set, but Matthew Ebden‘s speed and consistency was too much.  Still, it’s an exciting week for the youngster, and the quarterfinal showing should boost him more than 200 places in the rankings, up to the top 600.

More results: Benjamin Mitchell advanced to the final in Australia F2, taking out top seed Vishnu Vardhan.  It’s the second final of his career, and he’ll be gunning for his first tournament win when he faces countryman Michael Look.  The two have faced each other before: in November, Mitchell won in three sets. favorites Grigor Dimitrov and Horacio Zeballos keep winning: Dimitrov is in the semis in Cherbourg, and Zeballos has reached the final in Salinas.

Here’s one more name to keep an eye on: Takanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe.  A former African junior champ, he’s 20 years old, and he’s in the semifinals of USA F6.  He’s reached the later rounds of a handful of futures tournaments, but this is his best result in the U.S.  He had to qualify, so he has strung together five wins this week.  Today, he’ll face his toughest opponent of the week in top-seeded Brit Daniel Cox, ranked 320th in the world

I think it’s time to watch some doubles!