Raonic Rising, Roddick Rolling, Federer Florishing
There was one "major" upset in the men's draw as Canadian Milos Raonic defeated 13th-seeded Mardy Fish, 7-5, 6-4. In my opinion, this is an upset in name only and that is not to detract in any way from the solid all-around effort put forth by both players in this match. I've seen Fish play before where he was not playing well; this was not one of those occasions. Ever since he dropped 30 pounds a little more than a year ago, I've seen a different Fish. He is far more competitive and takes his career very seriously, which is not to say that he didn't do that before. But clearly, his results since the weight loss and prior to that taking place are as different as night is from day.
Many of you might not be familiar with Raonic. He's currently ranked 37th in the world but has made major strides in his rankings in the last year and he's only 20 years old. Last year, he was playing futures events, which are a step below the challenger level. He doesn't have a profile page in the 2011 ATP Tour Media Guide. And why would he? Last year at this time, he was ranked 384th in the world. After the Australian Open, he made a major move in his rankings going from 152nd in the world to his current ranking of 37. He was born in late December, 1990 in Montenegro but relocated to Canada. He has adopted that country as his new home, with the expressed intention to play for Canada in Davis Cup. They are not in the World Group tournament this year, but he moved to Canada at the age of three, so he virtually grew up in that country and identifies himself as a Canadian. He got to the Round of 16 at the Australian Open (losing to David Ferrer), won the SAP Open in San Jose, CA (defeating Fernando Verdasco) for his first Tour-level title, lost in Memphis in the finals to Andy Roddick and won both his Davis Cup matches against Mexico last week. As I noted earlier, Canada is not playing in the World Group Davis Cup tournament this year but they are playing in the Americas tournament which is a step below the world group. Raonic is for real; the guy has some serious upside potential and he is still learning to play the professional game. At the age of 20, he has nowhere to go but up. It is possible that he could face Roger Federer in the fourth round if both players win their next match and if that happens, Roger is in for a very, very challenging match. It would not be a shock to me if he manages to upset the Swiss Maestro.
The other seeded player to lose was Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain (who was seeded 22nd here), who lost to American Ryan Harrison, 3-6, 6-7 (4). Andy Roddick had a relatively easy win over James Blake (who received a wild card), 6-3, 7-5. I kind of hated to see that match-up so early in the tournament. James has struggled with knee injuries in recent years and at one point, seriously contemplated retiring from the sport (before Wimbledon last year). Yet, the knee got a little better and he hung on; his rank entering the week was 158. When you think of James Blake, you think of a Top 100-ranked player, something he has not achieved since June 7th last year. That particular week marked the 247th consecutive week Blake was ranked in the Top 100 (from 8/8/05 to 6/7/10). He just turned 31 in late December of 2010 so, depending on how this year turns out for him, I would not be totally shocked if he decides to walk away from the game by the end of the year. Obviously, if he has a stellar season, there would be no reason to retire. But you have to think that he is not having as much fun playing tennis as he did when he was a constant fixture in the Top 100.
Roddick has had a good start to his year despite being unable to defend his 2010 title in Brisbane, Australia. It is one of the tournaments that lead up to the Australian Open. This year, Andy lost in the finals of that event to Robin Soderling, 3-6, 5-7. His only other loss to this point in his year occurred in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open to Stanislas Wawrinka (the other Swiss player), 3-6, 4-6, 4-6. But then he rebounded to win the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, TN (over Canadian sensation Milos Raonic) on a spectacular forehand passing shot. The shot was so superb, it made the top 10 plays on ESPN's Sports Center the night of February 20th. It was on match point and Roddick had raced cross court to dive for a ball in the ad court and then somehow managed to rifle the shot down the line while falling to the court to win the point and the championship. Then he played a pivotal role in winning the first round Davis Cup tie against Chile in Santiago on clay. He won both his singles matches while the Bryan brothers captured the doubles point to give the tie to the U.S. However, Roddick has a lot of points to defend in the next few weeks as he reached the finals at Indian Wells last year (losing to Ivan Ljubicic) and winning at Key Biscayne (defeating Tomas Berdych).
Andy next plays fellow Davis Cup teammate John Isner, who defeated Brazil's Ricardo Mello,6-3, 7-6 (2). After his match, Andy was asked about the challenge of playing such a big server (he has a 2-1 career head-to head record against him with both wins coming in the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C. in 2007 & 2009 with a loss in the 2009 U.S. Open in the Round of 32). "As far as what you're going to get on the tennis court; it's one of those matches where you can play badly and win or you can be in good form and lose. It's a scary prospect and a lot of it is out of your hands. It depends on his serve," Roddick explained.
Roger Federer walked a virtual tightrope against Igor Andreev but managed to win, 7-5, 7-6 (4). Depending on how this week goes, Novak Djokovic could pass him in the rankings as only 165 points separate him (ranked 3rd in the world) and Roger who remains 4,425 points behind top-ranked Nadal for the top spot in men's professional tennis.
Kim Clijsters won her third round match with a bit of a struggle, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 over Sara Errani. Schiavone and Jankovic advanced easily over their opponents as well. I'll talk more about the women's tournament tomorrow; today had so many story lines that I wanted to devote most of this article to men's game.