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August 8, 2011 Article

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Legg Mason 2011 And The Risers Of The Second Trimester
by Ray Bowers

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

Once again the Legg Mason Tennis Classic brought the pro tour before the tennis community of the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section. Attendance seemed slightly below that of recent years, perhaps reflecting the slowed national economy or perhaps the thin representation here of the game's current superstars. The weather changed from very hot to widespread rainfall, but the last match was completed only slightly past the expected time despite region-wide thunderstorms in the last weekend.
The singles produced a higher than usual number of surprises. The new champion, Radek Stepanek, had been unseeded. Radek thus became the week's primary overachiever. Another oveachiever was Donald Young, 22, also unseeded, who reached the semi-finals. Eleventh-seeded John Isner reached the final four, and unseeded Mike Russell, Grigor Dimitrov, and James Blake all reached the round of 16, displacing seeded entrants. The expected field had been diminished at the outset by the late withdrawals of Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, and Lleyton Hewitt, all regulars here. Bernand Tomic, who earlier this year became the first teenager to reach the quarters at Wimbledon since Boris Becker, withdrew for personal reasons.
The successes of Stepanek and Young helped people forget these disappointments. Both men showed attractive playing styles. Radek varied his tactics to suit each occasion but generally sought to prevent his opponents from finding their best rhythm and timing, meanwhile attacking net often and skillfully. His victims included seeded stars Nieminen, Verdasco, and Monfils. Radek also eliminated Donald Young after Donald had knocked out Baghdatis, Russell, and Melzer largely thanks to his own solid defensive abilities.
Much attention early in the week went to American Ryan Harrison, 19, who had reached the semis at Los Angeles the previous week, losing there only closely to Mardy Fish. Ryan again displayed his power serving and stroking, along with a strong dose of self-confidence, but he lost in his second match here to third-seeded Viktor Troicki.
Many players were on hard courts for the first time this summer after competing in the European second clay season. These included finalists Stepanek and Monfils plus the likes of Baghdatis, Davydenko, Melzer, and Verdasco. All save Stepanek were probably below their best hard-court form. Also prominent were several older players trying to rekindle past success after difficult periods. That group included Tommy Haas, now a U.S. citizen living in California at age 33, who won his first match and fought well in losing to rising Brazilian Bellucci. A larger impact was that of James Blake, 31, who won two matches before losing by the narrowest of margins to John Isner. James looked good even in losing, controlling his familiar heavy hitting well. Less successful was David Nalbandian, 29, last year's champion here, who lost in his first match in straight sets to Blake.
The doubles featured a high-powered entry list, including six of the world's seven highest-ranking pairs. The Bryan brothers, seeded first, were beaten in their first outing by the Brazilian pair Melo-Soares. The championship went to the third-seeded pair, Llodra-Zimonjic, who overcame adverse match points against Melo-Soares in the semis and Lindstedt-Tecau in the final. The quality of the doubles play in these late matches seemed of highest level. A disappointment arose when the Saturday-evening doubles semi-final was lost. With a singles final just ahead for a tired Stepanek after a week of hot weather and three-setters in singles, Radek and his partner Tommy Haas understandably withdrew. The pair had won their first two matches including over the second-seeded team, Mirnyi-Nestor, in each case after splitting the first two sets. Few paying customers minded the cancellation, as rain delays extended the evening's singles long past midnight.
I found myself enjoying the No-Ad rule used in the doubles, where upon reaching deuce the game ends with a single Deciding Point. The effect is to heighten considerably the chance of a service break whenever a receiving team manages to win two points. Even if the score is 40-30, pressure is on the serving pair to hold the next point or else face the dangerous Deciding Point.
The Legg Mason marks the end of tennis's Second Trimester, where each trimester occupies 3-4 months, or one-third of the tennis year. The Second Trimester started in late April and included the Slams at Garros and Wimbledon. The top point gatherers male and female in the period were Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova -- the singles champions at Wimbledon. Djokovic now also leads in the men's 2011 year-to-date race and in the rolling-12-month rankings. Wozniacki is the leader among the women in both of these.
Offered next is the newest version of our watch list, where current risers are identified by their 3p ratio. The latter compares a player's performance in the trimester just completed with his or her previous best-ever 12-month ranking. Also shown is each player's most-probable (predicted) ranking looking one year in the future. The calculation mainly adjusts the player's trimester ranking for his or her age and height.
Our formula identifies 32 female pros of the top 120 or so who performed at a higher level in the Second Trimester of 2011 than ever before. Of the seven female leaders at the top, five are under the age of 23 and all are from different tennis nations. These seven are the risers most requiring close watching in coming months.
1. Petra Kvitova, age 21, height 6-0. Ranking for Second Trimester #1, best previous rank #14, 3p ratio 14.00. This powerful lefty from Czech Republic appeared on our initial watch list based on her results in this year's First Trimester. Since then, Kvitova continued her way upward, capturing the crowns at Wimbledon and at the Premier Mandatory tournament in Madrid. Thus she now stands not only as our foremost riser for the Second Trimester but also as one of the leaders for the current year to date. She is currently #7 in the WTA 12-month rankings, and by our formula her predicted ranking one year from now is #1.
2. Roberta Vinci, 28, height 5-4. Trimester ranking #10, best previous #37, ratio 3.70. Italian star Vinci broke into the first hundred in 2005, finishing the year as #41. But Roberta's big jump came much later, in 2011's Second Trimester, when she won three tournaments -- Barcelona and Budapest on clay, 's-Hertogenbosch on grass. Her several defeats in that period came mainly at the hands of the game's current superstars -- Li at Madrid, Azarenka at Garros, and Kvitova at Wimbledon. Vinci is currently #22 in the WTA 12-month rankings, and her predicted ranking one year from now is #13.
3. Sabine Lisicki, 21, height 5-10. Trimester ranking #8, best previous #22, ratio 2.75. A severe ankle injury sidelined German-born Sabine through much of 2010, spoiling her ranking, which had reached #22 the previous year when she was just 19. Victories came slowly thereafter but returned in Second Trimester 2011 when at Garros she advanced through the qualifying rounds to reach the main-draw round of 16. Then at Wimbledon she won five main-draw matches including over Li and Bartoli to reach the semis, losing there to Sharapova. Tall and strong, Sabine is a power server and stroker with an attractive all-court game. Currently #21 in the WTA 12-month rankings, her predicted ranking one year hence is #7.
4. Sloane Stephens, 18, height 5-7. Trimester ranking #67, best previous #170, ratio 2.54. In the recent trimester Florida-born Sloane was a winner in the qualifiers at Estoril and Wimbledon, but her largest success came last week at San Diego, where she defeated Paszek, Goerges, and Zhang prior to a quarter-final loss to Petkovic. Curently #112 in the 12-month rankings, her predicted ranking one year hence is #67.
5. Ksenia Pervak, 20, 5-7, Trimester ranking #33, best previous #83, ratio 2.52. This Russian-born lefty has risen consistently in the rankings since her pro debut in 2007, attaining the year-end top hundred for the first time in 2010. A strong run at Wimbledon 2011 including two wins over seeded players, a semi-final finish on clay at Bad Gastein, and a final-round appearance at Baku in July lift her into our riser group. Currently #51 in the WTA 12-month rankings, her predicted ranking one year hence is #30.
6. Polona Hercog, 20, height 6-0. Trimester ranking #19, best previous #43, ratio 2.26. This slender player from Slovenia broke into the top hundred in 2009 as a teenager, and by 2010 was reaching the late rounds in about half the tournaments she entered. Her rise from #48 at year's end 2010 has continued through 2011 to date. Her success this trimester was largely on clay, including reaching the quarter-finals at Barcelona, the round of 16 at Rome, the second round at Garros and Wimbledon, the final at Bastad, where she won the tournament by defeating another riser, Larsson, and the final at Palermo. In losing at Palermo to now-five-time winner there Maria Garrigues, seen on television, Polona showed a nice mixture of power and variety but contributed far too many unforced errors, especially when stroking for full power. She seemed not yet in full control of her rangy physique. Currently #40 in the WTA 12-month rankings, her predicted ranking one year hence is #16.
7. Marion Bartoli, 26, height 5-7, Trimester ranking #4, best previous #9, ratio 2.25. Marion has been a challenger to the top tier for some time, so it is surprising that her recent numbers show so strong a rise. Playing at what seemed her career best, she defeated Kvitova at Eastbourne this spring and defeated Serena Williams at Wimbledon. She later lost to Serena at Stanford. Currently #9 in the 12-month rankings, her predicted ranking one year hence is #5.
Back in April our formula showed Canada-grown Milos Raonic, 20, to have been the foremost male riser of First Trimester. Milos, however, soon afterwards retired from matches at Estoril and Wimbledon, and in early July he underwent hip surgery. Raonic will remain sidelined at least until U.S. Open. But an even-younger player, also listed in our April group, not only reappears in our Second Trimester list but is also the most upwardly moving player of the latter period.
The calculations are the same as those described for the women, above. There were 25 male pros whose performance was better in the recent trimester than in any previous 12-month period (i.e., 3p ratio > 1.0)
1. Bernard Tomic, 18, height 6-4. Second Trimester ranking #37, best previous #173, ratio 4.68. Bernard's seven match victories at Wimbledon -- three in the qualifying rounds and four in the main draw including a win over Soderling -- were sufficient to assure this young star, grown in Australia, top place on our latest watch list. Bernard finally succumbed to the eventual tournament champion, Djokovic. But it was a four-set affair, where the younger player showed not only an ability to deliver rockets to the corners but also play in long stretches with control, deception, and variety in placement and spin.
From his results in this year's First Trimester, back in April we predicted for Bernard a ranking of #53 one year in the future. His subsequent performance supports the earlier prediction and produces an even stronger one ahead. Currently #68 in the ATP (12-month) rankings, his predicted ranking one year from now is #26.
2. Florian Mayer, 27, height 6-3. Trimester ranking #14, best previous #33, ratio 2.36. Second Trimester 2011 was good one for Florian, including favorable results at Munich, Rome, and Dusseldorf. At age 27 Florian seems unlikely to rise to superstardom. But his recent play was his career best, and his chances for sustaining his recent level seem possible given his past moderate success on hard courts. (His career winning percentage on hard courts is 45% , compared with 54% on clay, but his past record in Challengers is slanted the other way.) Currently #23 in the ATP 12-month rankings, his predicted ranking one year hence is #15.
3. Ryan Harrison, 19, 6-0. Trimester ranking #58, best previous #128, ratio 2.21. Garros and Wimbledon were encouraging for Ryan, who advanced through the qualifying rounds and the first round of the main draw in both slams before losing to top-tenners Ferrer and Soderling in five-setters. He then won three matches in Atlanta and three more in Los Angles. Powerful and confident, he seems to be closing in on the higher-ranked Americans. Currently #76 in the official rankings, his predicted ranking one year hence is #46.
4. Alex Bogomolov, 28, height 5-10, Trimester ranking #48, best previous #97, ratio 2.02. Alex scored three wins in reaching the semis at Los Angeles recently, to go with a strong run on grass and qualifying round wins at Garros earlier. Watching him from a distance at Legg Mason, he seemed to be a determined and disciplined player, but with somewhat less firepower than his opponent, Ryan Sweeting, who won in straight sets. Currently #57 in the official 12-month rankings, his predicted ranking one year from now is #58.
5. Novak Djokovic,24, height 6-2. Trimester ranking #1, best previous #2, ratio 2.00. As the acknowledged World #1, Novak's presence on our riser list seems strange. But his rise from second place happened in the Second Trimester, coinciding with his championship run at Wimbledon and very strong achievements on clay. His predicted ranking one year from now is #1.
6. Fabio Fognini. 24, 5-10. Trimester ranking #28, best previous #49, ratio 1.75. This Italian star has been a steady resident of the top hundred for the last four years. His successes have been almost entirely on clay, where his career main-draw winning percentage is 50% on clay vs. only 28% on hard courts, and where his clay-court appearances are twice as numerous as on hard. Largely explaining his presence here is his reaching the quarter-finals at Garros this year. It seems improbable that he will continue his surge in the coming hard-court season. He is currently #64 in the ATP 12-month rankings, and his predicted ranking one year hence is #29.
7. Lukas Rosol, 26, 6-5. Trimester ranking #80, best previous #123, ratio 1.54. Born and grown in Czech Republic, Lukas broke upward from the second hundred in 2011, when the largest source of points was in winning the qualifiers and then attaining the round of 32 at Garros. One of his victims there was Melzer. Clay has been his best surface historically. He is currently #69 in the 12-month rankings, and his predicted ranking one year from now is #81.
With another two trimesters remaining to complete the one-year period envisioned in last April's predictions, those predictions for the women appear to have been much more prescient than for the men, even if the Raonic case is excluded. The preponderance of clay events in the Second Trimester may partly explain this, where women's results are less subject to variation across surfaces. If so, it will suggest adjusting the formula to reflect degrees of commonality in playing surface across the trimesters.
Attention will now return to the Big Six in men's tennis and the forthcoming 1,000-Series tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. The U.S. Open will follow. If Novak Djokovic can retain the magnificent form seen in the first two trimesters, only Nadal would seem a plausible candidate to stop the Serbian superstar's run. Meanwhile, the presence of Serena Williams will overshadow most else in women's tennis. But forget not, there is nothing certain in sports.
--Ray Bowers
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.


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