Posts Tagged ‘Xavier Malisse’
(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/16/2013)
Day Five Quarterfinal Results
 T Haas (GER) d [WC] Steve Johnson (USA) 6-4, 6-2
 J Isner (USA) d  Xavier Malisse (BEL) 7-6(8), 6-2
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Denis Istomin (UZB) 7-6(0), 6-3
 Sam Querrey (USA) d Alejandro Falla (COL) 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
Steve Johnson bemoaned his lack of aggression in losing to Tommy Haas in the first quarterfinal of the day, feeling that he let Haas take control too often at key moments. For his part, Haas is feeling good and grateful to be playing some of his best tennis towards the end of his career. He’s especially happy to be able to do so in front of his 2 year-old who’s here in San Jose with dad. “I know she probably won’t remember watching me play today, but maybe I can continue on playing and she’ll get to be around a couple of these tournaments and see me play competitively at a high level.”
John Isner didn’t play his best tennis in his quarterfinal match against Xavier Malisse, but he raised his level when needed to get by an opponent who was more than capable of a big upset. This was especially true in the first set tiebreaker after Isner dug a 0-3 hole with a mini-break on the first point. The tide turned with a monstrous return on a Malisse serve to level at 5-all. He closed out the tiebreak with some mad scrambling on the baseline before flicking one final running forehand winner that was netted by the Belgian. First set to Isner. Malisse’s level dropped off quickly in the second set. Isner, with the first set in his back pocket, kept up the pressure on the slumping Malisse to close out an uneventful second set for the win.
The quarterfinal match between Milos Raonic and Denis Istomin turned out to be almost a carbon copy of their match in last year’s SAP Open final. Both guys held serve easily and played to their strengths for most of the first set, with Istomin looking to be the stronger from the back court. But once again, the tiebreaker was the deciding factor with Raonic sweeping all seven points for the first set. After that, Istomin’s resolve slipped and Raonic’s confidence soared, and it was only a matter of time until Raonic closed it out.
Sam Querrey‘s win over Alejandro Falla was easily the best match of the day! It looked to be on track for a routine straight sets win by Querrey after a 6-3 first set. No one told that to Falla, however, as the Colombian left scrambled with even more intensity in the second set. In tennis, anything can happen when you make your opponent hit “one more shot”, and that was the case for Falla. Querrey’s level dropped, and a few key misses gave the set to Falla. The tension was high for both guys in the third set, with neither giving an inch until the eighth game when Falla broke Querrey for 4-all, then held serve for a 5-4 lead.
A straight-sets victory was a distant memory with Querry playing loose shots on the deuce court to find himself at match point, 30-40. A crucial 133mph ace out wide to Falla’s backhand saved the point, and lit the fire under Sam that he needed to hold serve, break Falla for a 6-5 lead, then serve out the match. That’s not to say that Falla didn’t have his chances, because he did. Two netted shots for a game point at 5-all could easily have put the pressure back on Querrey’s serve to stay in the match. But it was not meant to be for Falla, and a chance for a huge upset.
 T Haas (GER) vs  J Isner (USA)
Head-to-head: Isner leads 3-1
Quick Keys to the match: Isner needs to start aggressive and keep Haas from feeling like he has a chance. He must serve well to blunt Haas’ return opportunities, and keep the points short by coming forward as he’s done in other matches. For Haas, if he can get a handle on the Isner serve and make this a running match, he will have the edge for Isner.
Pick: Sticking with Isner for the win.
 M Raonic (CAN) vs  S Querrey (USA)
Head-to-head: Querrey leads 2-0
Quick Keys to the match: Raonic is going to come out firing on all cylinders with high intensity. Conversely, drops in his intensity level have been Querrey’s main issue in both of his previous matches. For Querrey to win this match against the two-time defending champion, there can be no drops. He has to maintain focus, serve well, and stay strong on the baseline. If Raonic can maintain focus and intensity from first point to last, something that Querrey typically can’t do, he’ll have the edge.
Pick: Sticking with Raonic for the win.
(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/15/2013)
Day Four Second Round Results
 Denis Istomin (UZB) d Benjamin Becker (GER) 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2
Alejandro Falla (COL) d  Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 6-4, 6-4
 Xavier Malisse (BEL) d Matthew Ebden (AUS) 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(1)
[WC] Steve Johnson (USA) d [Q] Tim Smyczek (USA) 6-3, 6-3
 Sam Querrey (USA) d L Hewitt (AUS) 7-6(6), 1-6, 7-6(4)
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d Michael Russell (USA) 6-2, 7-5
Xavier Malisse might be past his best days on tour, but the Belgian can still do damage given the right draw. He could also make things easier for himself by not putting so much energy into griping during his matches. Everything and anything from ball kids to the officials to his shots, you name it. It was a mutter-fest out there in his match against Matthew Ebden. He’ll need to be much more positive in his output if he plans on getting by John Isner in the quarters.
The battle of young Americans fizzled early as Tim Smyczek started strong but couldn’t stem the tide of unforced errors in going down to defeat against Steve Johnson. Johnson didn’t play particularly well either, but he played well enough to capitalize on Smyczek’s errors. Smyczek is a small, wiry guy who “redlines” his game to produce the pace needed to compensate at this level. Now he needs to figure out how to do that and find the court on a much more consistent basis. Johnson moves on to face Tommy Haas.
Sam Querrey got through a tough and very “losable” match to Lleyton Hewitt with the help of some last-minute errors by the Aussie in the final set tiebreak; notably a double fault on match point. Querrey started strong, but then struggled mightily with shot consistency after an initial 5-2 lead in the first set. Hewitt battled hard to take the first set to a tiebreak, but was done in by a close call he couldn’t challenge because he used up his allotment.
The second set was a wash for Querrey with Hewitt raising his game to easily sweep and take the match to a third. The third set was by far the best in terms of quality. Both men served well, defended admirably, and stood toe-to-toe in great rallies that tested each man’s resolve. To end such a great set on the aforementioned match point double fault was disappointing. A win is a win, though. Querrey now faces a much easier opponent in Alejandro Falla for a spot in Saturday’s semifinals.
Michael Russell did well to make it to the second round by defeating Donald Young. He didn’t play great tennis to beat Young, but then again he didn’t need to. Milos Raonic was a different story. Russell, like Olivier Rochus and a few others, is at a considerable disadvantage when playing larger and stronger guys like Raonic because he doesn’t have the weaponry to match up from the baseline. Russell scrambled well to get balls back but couldn’t do nearly enough in terms of moving the ball around to keep it out of the Raonic strike zone. With the win, Raonic moves on to face Denis Istomin in a quarterfinal rematch of last year’s final.
Every time I pass John Isner in the hallway, I’m astounded by his height. Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic are all tall players as well. But none of them give me the same sense of height as John. It’s like I’m looking up a small tree. I wonder what the court looks like from up there?
The Hewitt kids are pretty gosh darn cute, and it’s a good thing too. After his disappointing loss to Sam Querrey, which ended with a double fault on match point, I tweeted, “Hopefully they’ll put a smile back on dad’s face tonight”. Sure enough, about 20 minutes after the match I passed Lleyton, his wife Bec Hewitt, and the kids as they were heading out to eat. And yes, he was smiling.
Observation of the day? After watching Hewitt lose a match that was within his grasp because of an awful third-set tiebreaker, I had the sense that I’d seen something like this before. I did: two weeks ago in the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick and the 49′ers last possession.
Odd sighting of the day? Sportscaster Vern Glenn standing outside of the HP Pavilion trying to get his work laptop to connect online.
Quote of the day? Also from Vern Glenn but attributed to Ronnie Lott, and in reference to working in the sportscasting biz: “Always make sure they keep you on scholarship!”
More tomorrow after Day Five quarterfinal action.
There were many times during matches, press conferences, or even just waiting around when I would hear something that made me chuckle. I tried to keep notes when this happened so that I could share them after the tournament.
Here are some of the things that struck me funny during the SAP Open (in no particular order):
- Because it’s in my notes in front of me, Justin Gimelstob tweeted “congrats 2 @milosraonic on defending his title @sapopentennis @SAPSponsors 2 titles already in 2012 4 big Canadian, big year ahead 4 him!”. The second set score was 5-2 at the time, a game away from the end of the match. Matt Cronin immediately tweeted back “@justingimelstob it is still 5 2. Dewey vs truman?”.
- “I didn’t see it at all, but I challenged to make sure it was in” – Denis Istomin on the 151mph bomb that Milos Raonic hit to start the second set in their final.
- Steve Ullrich sometimes struggled while sitting in the chair to umpire matches with Denis Istomin. I knew there were troubles when I heard “Estonia to serve” or “Game, Estonia”. I turned to Matthew Laird and said, I didn’t know this was a Davis Cup event?
- I forgot to see which umpire was chairing the final between Mark Knowles/Xavier Malisse and Kevin Anderson/Frank Moser, but he definitely warrants a mention here. Though Steve Ullrich had troubles with Istomin, this guy completely butchered the pairing of Knowles/Malisse. Here is a random sampling of his pronunciation for this team:
- No Expense (as in spare none for that volley technique)
- No Spice (doubles, plain)
- Nose Mass (about 50 grams, more if your surname is Nalbandian…no offense meant)
- No Spanish (good thing Verdasco wasn’t here)
- Noel Spice (Xmas tennis spice?)
Finally at 8-4 in the championship tiebreaker, he finally said it correctly. I was pretty much rolling in the aisles by then.
- I asked a fellow scribe how he managed to maintain a sense of neutrality in the press box, to which he replied “I don’t give a shit who wins, though I prefer that someone wins who gives me a better story to write about”. Hmmm…
- Best caption to accompany a Malisse winner in the Ginepri match: “Thank you for not making me move”. From Matthew Laird in reference to the X-man’s lack of singles fitness and footwork.
- If you didn’t listen to my audio of the Stan Smith interview, his contribution to the comic relief section came when I told him about my first racquet: a Stan Smith racquet. He said that was great, and that it had been good for two things. I could play tennis with it, then I could start a fire with it. THAT was unexpected.
- Will finish this section with “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I may get upset” – John McEnroe jokingly putting the kibosh on a question regarding June 1984… would have loved the reporter to press that one a bit more.
It was a great day of tennis on Sunday at the SAP Open. After an up and down week of withdrawals, injuries, 3-setters delaying the schedule, there were some very compelling finals matches.
Milos Raonic was set to defend his title after a comprehensive win over Ryan Harrison in the semifinals. Harrison did almost nothing wrong in their match and still lost in straight sets because of Raonic’s outstanding level of play. Denis Istomin, one of last year’s semifinalist, had just knocked off two big scalps by beating both Andy Roddick and Julien Benneteau from France.
Raonic was playing at a level above both of those previous opponents, however, and many things would have to go Istomin’s way for him to pull off the win. And as you presumably know by now, the final was all Raonic! The only stat you need to know is that Milos lost 4 points on his serve for the entire match. The pressure on Istomin to hold his own serve was unrelenting. Though he served decently, he didn’t serve quite as well as he had in his previous match with Andy Roddick.
After the first set tiebreak, the fight slowly started to slip away from his game… and he began to look like a beaten man. He would look upward and smile to himself, or hang his head and slump his shoulders. Thankfully he didn’t tank the match (it was a final after all). But I’m sure if he could have been anywhere else as the serve bombs rained down on him, especially the ones reaching 150 and 151 mph, he would have gone posthaste!
The Raonic serve was the dominant feature of the day, but it was backed up by ferocious groundstrokes that always kept Istomin on the defense. Where the day before Milos had opted for solid consistent rallies, the final saw him outwardly exerting extra effort into his groundstrokes to attack Istomin at every turn. Istomin tried his best to counter with slices, topspin, and winners of his own. Nothing worked. Raonic was not going to be denied.
An interesting fact: Raonic won the toss and opted to receive. When asked about this in the post-match press conference, he basically said with as much confidence as a humble Canadian can muster, “I knew that if I could break him early I would have no trouble holding my serve and closing out the set”. When asked if he felt he could serve better, he said “Yes”. Scary!
One other observation on Raonic… When Ryan Harrison was asked about the difference between Milos from last year (when he beat the Canadian in Miami) to now, Ryan noted that his ground game has gotten a lot stronger. This was clearly in evidence from the quarterfinals through the final. Last year Milos was a little like Ivo Karlovic. Big serve, no ground game to match. Now he can hurt opponents with serve, forehand, and overheads from virtually anywhere on or off the court.
If Raonic stays healthy these next few months, the ATP landscape could get interesting!
Mark Knowles and Xavier Malisse won the doubles title over Kevin Anderson and Frank Moser. The 40 year-old Bahamian and the Belgian, who rejoined forces for this tournament, won their first title since winning in Los Angeles last year. Though the match went to a championship tiebreak, the result was not really in doubt.
Knowles may have been the oldest finalist on court, but he was also the best doubles player of the group. There were many points where he took over at the net while his partner, Xavier, watched and admired. His partner, the X man, is a decent doubles player and certainly seemed to be happier in that capacity than during his singles match earlier in the week.
Kevin Anderson is a fine singles player, which doesn’t necessarily translate to doubles success. His partner, Frank Moser of Germany, is at best a journeyman in singles, and not ranked particularly high in doubles. There only hope was to maybe outhit their opponents from the baseline. In the end, good doubles strategy trumped the more singles-oriented baseline hitting. The championship tiebreak saw Knowles/Malisse take charge and never let go.
Moser, who is 35, was asked about playing doubles in San Jose and he remarked, “I wanted to feel young again, so it was good to play against Mark”. Kinda funny, but who is laughing on the way home with the trophy?
Since I am covering this event for The Gay and Lesbian Tennis Federation membership, I would be remiss if I didn’t give some thoughts on the event from a gay perspective. Right? So here are some thoughts from my first 4 trips to San Jose for the event:
- Grigor Dimitrov is HOT! It’s tough to interview someone who you would really love to ask out for dinner. But hey, someone’s gotta do it.
- Andy Roddick is hotter in person than one would expect from TV
- Justin Gimelstob is also better looking in person (and taller) than he appears on TV. And despite comments/miscues he made when first starting his commentary career, he seems like a really nice guy who wants to do the best job he can. I’m a supporter.
- Ryan Report: Harrison is much bigger in person than expected, and really cute. Sweeting really looks like he needs to eat more, but still kinda cute.
- I love being the “gay” perspective guy…like when @MatchPointAce said to me that Sweeting kinda reminds him of Marin Cilic. Oh no no no no… Had to correct him on that one.
- Xavier Malisse needs spanks. Just sayin’.
- After watching him, talking to him, and being very impressed by him on many fronts, I vow to stop calling Gael Monfils, “Flava Flav”! But I still wanna do something else about that hair.
- Donald Young wears way too much jewelry when he plays. I was wondering what all the jingling was about until I realized it was coming from him running around the court. Maybe less focus on that and more focus on settling your coaching situation AND not pissing off the USTA.
- Robby Ginepri seemed cuter to me back in the day…like before the “Minnie Driver” era. What happened???
- Milos Raonic’s arms and legs are ridiculously big in contrast to his boyish-looking face. Think “Popeye”-sized!
- Not to go “there”, but I wonder who decided to raise the stage in the interview room just high enough so that the media is sitting almost crotch level with the players? And no, it’s not as good of a view as you might think…
- Julian Benneteau is one helluva fine Frenchman, emphasis on “man”. Ooh La La!! And he is the Sad Sack of the ATP tour, and seems to be a nice guy. It would be nice if he could finally win an event. Maybe this one…
- John McEnroe looks pretty decent for a guy his age. One would expect him to be a little out of shape or have a gut, but nope. He looked good.
- Michael Russell might be listed as 5′ 8″ in the media guide, but I’d say that’s with a couple of sets of lifts. No matter what his height actually is, man oh man he is all muscle. Fitness can definitely make up for a lot.
- Bow-legs! I can’t tell you how many of these players have these bow-legged walks as they march back to the service line. Then again, maybe I’m the only one noticing because I’m always looking at the players’ legs. And on that note…
NOTE: All mentions of hotness and stuff like that are done in fun… If that becomes more important than finding out their thoughts on their match performances and peers, then it’s time to try my hand at pizza-making…