Posts Tagged ‘San Jose CA’

PostHeaderIcon Ten Final Thoughts on Covering the Final SAP Open

2013-02-17-10.18.50Ordinarily, I do my “Ten Final Thoughts” immediately after a tournament is done.  But with a week of driving back and forth to San Jose from San Francisco (then staying up to write) under my belt, I figured it was okay to give my brain at least one day of rest before cranking out something new.

Break time over!

Sunday’s final at the SAP Open was, sadly, the end of a 125 year-old era. This was my second year covering the event with a media credential, and unfortunately my last.  The drive/commute may have been tough, but there were some great things about covering this year’s tournament that definitely warrant a mention.  This “Ten Final Thoughts” will go outside of the lines a bit more than usual as I write about my final thoughts on this last edition of the SAP Open.

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  1. The media staff at the HP Pavilion did an excellent job (again), and I was really sorry that I couldn’t say to them, “Thanks guys.  See you next year!” because, of course, there will be no next year.  So for all you do, take a bow Jim Sparaco, Jonathan Okanes, and Chelsea Wilson.  Each year, you guys have done a great job of making us all feel welcome.  IF there were going to be a next time, the only thing I’d suggest is that you have more tennis ball cookies on hand for the final day.
  2. It’s sad to see this great tournament leaving San Jose. The equally sad reality, however, is that for the past few years the amount of empty seats in the arena seems to have increased, even on finals day. That makes for slim chances of economic viability in the new world order of “global tennis”. I can’t vouch for the specific attendance numbers, but it appeared as if the largest crowds on hand the past two years were on nights with exhibition matches featuring McEnroe/Monfils (2012), and Graf/Davenport/Roddick (2013). It’s difficult to justify big financial payouts in prize money or appearance fees when you can’t fill the seats for a return on your investment.
  3. The weather was beautiful in San Jose during the tournament run.  So it was not lost on this tennis-loving writer just how ironic it was that I was driving to a city with beautiful, sunny weather in order to sit indoors and watch others play under the glare of greenish indoor lights.
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  5. On a more positive note, what better way to go out than with someone winning three straight titles in such dominating fashion. The SAP Open put Milos Raonic’s career “on the map” by giving him a wildcard for the first year he won the title.  He repaid the favor by giving them a noteworthy sendoff.
  6. After watching the Americans at this year’s event, I agree that there’s no easy answer to the question of finding that next “great” American player. John Isner is a fine player, but with a lot of work to do in order to realistically contend with the other Top 10 guys.  The same holds true for Sam Querrey. As for Ryan Harrison, I just don’t know if it’s in him to reach that level.  The mind and spirit are willing, but his talent might not be enough to matter. And when you look past those three, it’s easy to see that we’re in a world of hurt for the next crop of elite male contenders. Is it impossible? Probably not, but…
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  8. The mixed doubles exhibition with Graf-Roddick playing Davenport-Gimelstob was great fun for spectators and media alike. That’s a good thing considering that they changed the schedule for TV and moved both singles to the afternoon, replacing the second singles semifinal that was supposed to follow with a doubles semifinal. As far as the exo is concerned, Andy and Justin should consider selling tickets and taking their show on the road.  Their schtick, incorporating Andy’s hair challenges and Justin’s small calves, was pure gold. My only beef was that their “strong” personalities overshadowed the women.  Steffi was pleasant and looked great, and Lindsay was solid as well even if a little under the weather.  Neither could get in a word, however, when they actually had something to say.  Thank God I got a chance to hear them speak in the press conference afterward!
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  10. Not that I’m “all that and a bag of chips”, or so seasoned in the press room that I can dictate to anyone, but I’ve fast discovered the major pet peeve of all writers in press conferences: photographers who block access to the front where it’s easiest to ask questions, take a million pictures up close that they have lenses for, then sit there picking their noses after they get the pictures that they wanted to get. Just sayin’.
  11. Taking pictures while writing about a tournament is challenging.  Taking pictures while writing AND tweeting can push you over the edge!  Thankfully, I had a great photographer by my side for the important matches.  Thanks David Sweet for your hard work and willingness to learn and deal with the challenges involved in shooting in a dark and greenish environment.
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  13. I spent part of the week closely watching the chair umpires and linespersons for tips and techniques to help me as I get closer to becoming a certified USTA official.  Now that I know a bit more about the process, it was cool to view their actions through that prism. This was especially true as I watched Steve Ulrich putting singles sticks into the net before a match before measuring it. I’d like to say that maybe I could be an official at next year’s tournament, but then I remember, “oh yeah…no mas!”
  14. My final takeaway from this final SAP Open is how much I’ll miss the intimacy of this particular tournament environment.  From the seating in the arena to the cramped press room, the confines made it easy to get a feel for the mood of the matches and the players. Those are the things that you can’t experience from watching on TV or online. It makes all the difference in the world between watching a good match and experiencing great tennis.
    Goodbye SAP Open.

PostHeaderIcon Notes from the Front – Milos Raonic Three-Peats at the Final SAP Open

 

Photo by Anne-Marie Stark

Photo by Anne-Marie Stark

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) d [4] Tommy Haas (GER) 6-4, 6-3

Milos Raonic completed a week of dominating tennis by defeating Tommy Haas in straight sets to become only the third man to three-peat in the SAP Open’s 125 year history, and the first in the Open Era. Though some great players have won this tournament 3 times or more, the three-peat hasn’t been accomplished since Tony Trabert (1953-55).  With this win at the final SAP Open, Raonic has indeed joined the ranks of an elite few.

The term “dominating” is actually an understatement for Raonic’s play when you look at his accomplishments at this tournament.  He won without dropping serve the entire week, and only faced one break point in 39 service holds. Additionally, Raonic has never dropped a set during his three year run at the SAP Open, winning 24 sets in a row. These are remarkable numbers from a player who’s won three of his four career titles in San Jose, and who jokingly said that he should “roll up the court, put it in his bag, and hope that it doesn’t get lost” on his next flight.

THE X’S AND O’S

Serve

Raonic’s first service game set the tone for the match with four aces, ranging in speed from 123mph to 148mph. By the end he would have a total of 19. Many expect Raonic to ace his opponents with pace, but many of his aces in this match came on serves between 115-120mph with great placement.  By contrast, Haas had 1 ace in the third game of the second set; his only ace of the match. It’s tough to overcome that many free points in a match that might be decided by only 5. (Raonic had a total of 58 aces for the week.)

Return Game

Raonic has talked a lot this past week about the work he’s put in on his return game, and the results were evident in today’s final.  Whenever Haas served out wide to the Raonic backhand on the ad court, he ran the risk of getting burned by Raonic’s backhand down the line.  It was a risk that hurt him greatly.  But there weren’t many other options open if he wanted to avoid the Raonic forehand, which could hurt him worse: either as a crosscourt return from the deuce court or an inside out shot from the ad court.

Break Chances

Raonic put Haas under pressure with an early break in the third game, and finished the match with a total of 7 break point chances while facing none on his own serve.  To put this into the larger context of the tournament, Raonic faced (and saved) one break point the whole tournament.  It happened in his match with Denis Istomin. His opponents (Michael Russell, Denis Istomin, Sam Querrey, and Tommy Haas) faced a total of 27. It’s impossible to take a set off of someone if you can’t break their serve.

Ground Game

Unlike his match against John Isner, Haas had to face an opponent with a strong ground game on both sides who also wasn’t afraid to come in and attack the net. In his post-match press conference, he referred to Raonic’s strategy as “taking risks” and being rewarded.

I understand Tommy’s need to chalk this up to a player rolling the dice and getting hot.  But that would be unfair to Raonic, because it’s not possible to explain the Raonic game in such low-percentage terms, especially given the consistent execution. Raonic didn’t have one spectacular day of shot-making.  He’s had three years of spectacular shot-making, so it doesn’t seem like there was much risk-taking involved.

It should also be noted that Haas didn’t play badly.  In fact, his play in the final was very much on a par with his play against Isner in the semifinals. He served decently, hit his backhand well and tried to finish points at the net when possible.  But as the match wore on and the pressure wore him down, Haas’ execution suffered. Either he cut his margins too fine when going for the lines, or was forced to block shots back in the hope that they would stay in and prolong rallies. More often than not he was left watching shots whiz by with a plaintive look on his face.

Sadly, his reactive tennis seemed more of a risky strategy than the Raonic’s game.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Milos Raonic

Did you feel any pressure today?

“Yes, at the beginning.  But I made a conscious effort…to hit harder to get the energy out.”

Even with your dominant level of play in the final, is there one thing you could have done better?

“When I’m playing well and my opponent is playing well, mixing it up a bit more.”

Tommy Haas

Did Raonic’s play how you expected him to play today?

“Yeah, he didn’t give me too many looks on his serve. He served extremely well and has a lot of confidence in that serve. He played risky when he had to and he got rewarded for it. That’s his game and what’s so tough. It puts pressure on me trying to hold serve, and he was feeling it.”

Doubles Championships

[4] Xavier Malisse (BEL) / Frank Moser (GER) d [WC] Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) / Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 6-0, 6-7(5), 10-4

After falling to an embarassing 6-0, 4-0 deficit, the Aussies made a match of it; winning the second set but ultimately losing the match tiebreaker.

PostHeaderIcon Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Six Semifinals

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(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/17/2013)

Day Six Semifinal Results

[4] Tommy Haas (GER) d [2] John Isner (USA) 6-3, 6-4

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) d [3] Sam Querrey (USA) 6-4, 6-2

Match Notes

Semifinal #1

After watching Tommy Haas and John Isner the past few rounds, I had an uneasy feeling about Isner’s chances against the resurgent German in the first semifinal.  Isner needed to start aggressively, serve well, and keep the points short. Haas needed to challenge the Isner second serve, take his chances, and work the big man over with baseline play.  The Haas strategy proved to be the winning one, as he took out the No. 2 seed in straight sets.

When asked about his success in seeing the Isner serve, Haas said, “I mean, that’s the key against somebody like John, obviously. I think early on in the beginning he didn’t hit his first serves in so I tried to jump on the second, tried to make something happen, get it back in play, and then take my chances in the rally.” That’s exactly what he did; getting balls back into play and making the big man hit the proverbial “one more shot”.

“You have to play aggressive and play the type of tennis that you want to play.  It can be tricky, but I did see his serve really well today and that obviously helps.”

For his part, Isner missed on all aspects of his “key to the win”. He started slow, missed some first serves, and found himself caught in baseline rallies he had little chance of winning. Lack of rhythm on his serve was at the top of the list in Isner’s honest assessment about his difficulties in this match.

“Yeah, that’s really what decided the match. I feel like normally I serve better than I did.  And against a guy who is and was playing really well in that match, I need to serve better.”

The serve was just one aspect of Isner’s loss. When Haas drew Isner into baseline rallies, his speed and movement gave him a huge advantage over the taller Isner.  When asked how he felt his ground game held up against Haas, Isner admitted, “It let me down a little bit. This court it stays low and it skids. I would prefer the ball to get up a little bit higher for me.  But still I got a ways to go with just my game and going for my shots, and trusting my shots a little bit more.  I just didn’t have it today.”

With this win, Haas reaches his 25th ATP World Tour final and has a chance to become the first German winner of the SAP Open.

Semifinal #2

Milos Raonic completely dismantled Sam Querrey, breaking the American’s serve in the very first game of the match.  From there, he never looked back as he gave Querrey a comprehensive lesson in “big boy tennis”.

Raonic dominated Querrey with big serving, big forehands, big backhands and, most importantly, solid returning that kept Querrey under continual pressure in his service games.  Every aspect of Raonic’s game was working in the match, and it became clear after a few games that Sam had little chance of stopping the Raonic juggernaut.

It can’t be overstated just how dramatically Raonic’s off-season work on his return game impacts a match like this.  The stats tell much of the story for these two big servers.

Aces: 12 for Raonic, 7 for Querrey
Double Faults: 0 for Raonic, 4 for Querrey
Break Points Saved: 0/0 for Raonic, 6/9 for Querrey

By breaking Querrey early, Raonic put him on notice.  Instead of the 20 aces that he hit in both of his earlier matches, he only got 7 against Raonic.  That’s a ton of free points on which he usually relies that were no longer available.  On top of that, pressing on his serve led to more double faults.  Raonic had, for all practical purposes, taken the Querrey serve out of the equation.

When your weapon is no longer a weapon, and you can’t break your opponent’s serve while defending yours in each service game, the odds of success drop dramatically.

Raonic’s continually improving game is the result of hard work in the off-season, and the confidence it’s given him on court is palpable.  “(I’m) returning well, moving well, getting into position to hit the shot and when I have the opportunity I’m going forward and I’m pretty successful. And I’m serving well.  So sort of everything’s on the right track, in that sense.  Then confidence comes with that. The work’s paying off.”

Sam acknowledged what was painfully obvious to all in attendance.  “He served unbelievable, and I was never even really close to getting a look on his serve. On my serve I wasn’t getting a ton of pop and he was doing a good job of putting the pressure on me.  He returned hard and deep and I felt like I was under pressure the whole time.” “He hit the ball big all around. He was really sharp today.”

To the contrary, Raonic has been sharp for the past three years. Two of his three career titles have come at the SAP Open, and he’s never dropped a set in San Jose.  If he wins this final SAP Open title, he will be the first man to three-peat in the Open Era, and the first since Tony Trabert in the fifties.  Judging by his play so far, this outcome appears likely.

Final Notes/Pick

[1] Milos Raonic (CAN) vs [4] Tommy Haas (GER)

Head-to-head: Raonic and Haas have never played.

Keys to the match: Raonic just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing in order to lift the trophy. But in order for Haas to have a chance in this final, he needs to do everything that he did in his semifinal match against Isner, and do it all BETTER!  That’s a formidable task for most players, let alone a guy who’s spotting Raonic twelve years before they even step onto court.

Raonic can pressure Haas in ways that Isner couldn’t.  He serves as big if not bigger than Isner. In addition to the big forehand, he also possesses a stronger backhand. He scrambles well to short balls and isn’t afraid to take the net. To make matters worse, he really likes the court surface and feels that it suits his game nicely.  To say that this is an uphill battle would be the understatement of the day.

The good thing about tennis, however, is that titles aren’t handed out to the winners because it looks good on paper.  Even though Raonic is the overwhelming favorite, he still needs to win the match.  And lest we forget, Isner was the overwhelming favorite over Haas in the semifinals.  His odds aren’t good, but there’s always a chance for the upset.

Pick: Raonic for the win in straight sets.

PostHeaderIcon Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Two

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(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/13/2013)

One of the great things about watching live tennis in a tournament setting is that you get a better feel for the character of the match and the players.  Here are some courtside impressions from Day Two action at the SAP Open.

— I arrived at just after Lleyton Hewitt’s dramatic 3-set victory over Blaz Kavcic to find that no one was surprised to see this match go the distance.  Even though he’s one of the older guys on tour, long grinding matches still seem to be Hewitt’s preferred method of advancing through the draw.  His next opponent is Sam Querrey, making his tournament debut after receiving a first-round bye. It will be interesting to see if Sam’s late tournament start against a cagey veteran who’s “into” the tournament has a factor on the match outcome.

— Though he was suffering from low energy due to illness, Ryan Harrison lost a winnable 3-set match against German veteran, Benjamin Becker.  It wouldn’t have been a particularly spectacular win under the circumstances, but it was doable.  Unfortunately, Ryan couldn’t keep his focus on the important points in the second and third sets the way he had in the first set tiebreak. This was especially true when he got broken at the end of the second set.

Illness aside, Ryan is a talented and thoughtful player who can sometimes makes things complicated for himself in his matches. He’s struggled in 2013, and his ranking has dropped from last year’s high of 43.  Because he’s defending a semifinal appearance in last year’s tournament, his ranking is going to take a pretty big hit. Hopefully he can turn things around in Memphis.
(NOTE:  He’ll be playing doubles with his brother Christian)

— As I was watching Jack Sock in his match against Marinko Matosevic, I tweeted, “While Ryan Harrison sometimes thinks too much on court, Jack Sock maybe needs to think a bit more…” That about sums up Sock’s match strategy, or lack thereof.  Sock is a big strong guy who hits a heavy ball, but that’s pretty much where it ends. Even when Sock broke Matosevic to serve for the first set, I had the feeling that the veteran Matosevic would find a way to out-think his younger opponent, and capitalize on the nerves of the moment.  That’s exactly how it played out, with Matosevic going on to take the first set tiebreaker before sweeping the second set 6-1.

I don’t begrudge the big hitting, because the younger guys on tour definitely need big games in order to be competitive. But they also need to think clearly and give themselves options.  Sock’s not there yet, and I’m not sure that he sees the need for options and nuance.  I also look at Sock’s football player-like build and can’t help but think that maybe if his fitness were improved, it could pay dividends in the development of his game.  He’s young though, so he’s got time to pull those pieces together.  At least, I hope he does.

— It was a rough day for young Americans, and Ryan Sweeting’s straight-sets loss against last year’s finalist, Denis Istomin, did little to stop the bleeding.  But then again, Sweeting was always going to have a tough time of it since he doesn’t have the weapons needed to trouble Istomin.

— The world No. 1 Bryan brothers weren’t as dominant over their younger American opponents as one would expect. Jack Sock and Steve Johnson played well with no signs of intimidation at the Bryans credentials as one of the greatest doubles teams ever. But once again, experience and mental toughness won out over big hitting as the Bryans took the match in two tiebreak sets. I hope the young guys are paying attention to these lessons of strategy/mental fortitude!

— Fernando Verdasco, with coach/dad by his side, seemed to have a decent on-court warm-up prior to the start of the doubles match.  But something must have happened to him between the warm-up and his match.  That would be the only explanation for his flat performance against an inspired Tim Smyczek.  Fernando played without purpose.  Smyczek, on the other hand, played as though his life depended on the win; and it showed.  The difference between the two couldn’t have been starker, with Smyczek looking much more like a higher-ranked player than Verdasco.

There might have been an injury with Verdasco, who seemed to pull up on shots as the match progressed.  But it was still a disappointing match for a former Top 10 player who at one time, challenged for Slam titles against the top guys. Disappointing, that is, except for Smyczek.  At least one American young gun made it through!

That’s all for now.
More after Day Three action with Donald Young, John Isner, and Tommy Haas.

PostHeaderIcon Melzer Defeats Raonic For Memphis Title, Or How A Jack Beat A King!


I don’t mean to “diss” Jurgen Melzer in any way with this poker terminology, but this win was about as fantastic as they come in pro tennis!

All things being equal, there’s absolutely no way that Milos loses this match. King always beats jack, right?! But as I often say about tennis, nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to match results! Matches have to be played in order to decide a winner and a loser. In Memphis, the winner was Melzer won. But not necessarily because he was the better player.

The two had never played before their meeting in the Memphis final, so there was no history that could predict Melzer’s win. He played some good solid tennis during the week with wins over San Jose finalist Denis Istomin, Tomic conqueror Ivan Dodig, #1 seed John Isner, and the Czech who’s most likely to annoy you from the first serve, Radek Stepanek. Raonic, in his earlier matches, looked to be continuing his form from the SAP Open en route to another title.

I would have bet the farm on this match given what I saw in San Jose. And I would have lost the farm in short order! A straight sets win over Raonic, the man who fired serves in San Jose at 150 mpg + and won the title without dropping a set, seemed more like the stuff of fantasy than a realistic outcome. That is, until it happened.

@MatchPointAce reminded me afterward about a “three week” mention during one of Milos’ press conferences at the SAP Open. In terms of scheduling, he felt that he performed most optimally within a three week period of tournament play, with decent results coming in week one, best results coming in week two, and borderline results coming in week three because of the accumulated wear and tear from that amount of tournament play and stress on the body.

His result in Memphis was the end of a three-week schedule that started with Davis Cup, continued through San Jose, and ended with that upset loss in the final to Melzer. There is no other explanation for Melzer breaking his serve as often as happened in the final. And by often I mean any amount more than “0”, which is how often his serve had been broken in San Jose over the past two years!

Melzer did it a couple of times during the Memphis final. And thought he is a good player (moreso in doubles), he’s not that good. Milos’ fatigue had as much to do with the win as Melzer’s strategy of picking on the Canadian’s backhand. I certainly hope Milos can figure out the schedule issue a bit better for himself so that he can get by matches like this consistently. Otherwise, the thought of winning a grand slam event (over two weeks with best 3 out of 5 set matches) will be TOUGH.

I guess the moral is that king usually beats jack unless the king is a little tired and the jack is kind of crafty.

PostHeaderIcon Roddick’s Istomin Redemption



For everyone who wrote him off amid suggestions of retirement, Andy Roddick struck back with a 6-4 7-5 win over Denis Istomin.

Istomin knocked Andy out of the SAP Open quarterfinals. Today, Andy returned the favor in Delray Beach in order to make the quarterfinals. His next opponent will be Kevin Anderson.

If you look at the stats (second graphic), the match was won pretty much by the numbers. Roddick was slightly better on all fronts except for first serve percentage. “Horrendous” is how Andy described his service performance tonight. But even if he wasn’t getting many first serves in, he won a high percentage of the points when it was in.

Second serve points won was better too. His “return points won” percentage was higher, he saved all break points he faced… In all, a nice effort even though he didn’t play his best tennis. In a way though, today’s win over Istomin was kind of redemption for their match in San Jose.

After that match, Roddick was loathe to make any excuses for his performance. But everyone could see that his injured ankle clearly hampered his performance. Two weeks and some healing time later, we finally got the result we should have seen in San Jose.

Pam Shriver was one of the more notable commentators who publicly questioned whether it was time for Andy to think about leaving the game. The reports of his continuing demise, however, have once again been greatly exaggerated.

For all the talk of his diminished capacity after that loss on a bum ankle, will anyone step up now and admit that maybe they were wrong OR a little too quick in their rush to judgement on his career? Probably not.

It would be a nice gesture, but I sincerely doubt that we will see an apology tweet from @PHShriver saying “Sorry Andy! My bad”. And that’s a shame, because Andy deserves it. Kevin Anderson will be a test. But for now let’s enjoy this delayed result for one more day.

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