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August 6, 2011

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2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic - Washington, DC, USA
August 6, 2011
Editorial By Ray Bowers. Photography by Pablo Sanfrancisco.


 

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

Legg Mason Saturday
 
At one end of the court was Radek Stepanek, 32, the oldest pro among the ATP top-ranked hundred. Unseeded, the Czech veteran had advanced to the Saturday semi-finals with four victories, two of them over seeded players -- Verdasco and Nieminen. Radek's style of play had been both determined and varied, including heavy doses of net-attacking at times. His stated purpose here at the Legg Mason was to improve his ranking inside the first 32, thereby earning seeded status at U.S. Open and thus helping his chances for reaching the middle and late rounds.
 
Across the net was one of the game's current risers, Donald Young, who had blended his strong defensive skills with occasional attacking sorties, thereby defeating his four opponents, among them near-superstars Baghdatis and Melzer. Whatever happened today, it would be a lustrous week for Donald, whose run would lift him into the first hundred. Donald was Radek's fourth consecutive left-handed opponent -- an advantage for the older player that Radek himself pointed out. 
 
Donald held serve in the first game and forced Radek to deuce in serving the second. There was some fine net and counter play by both as both men sought their intended patterns. For Radek, that meant a steady blend of moderately forcing shots, moving the ball and his opponent about Donald's side of the net, always changing speeds, spins, and depths, all to keep Donald from finding his timing and rhythm. Radek gradually worked in occasional net sorties and also drop shots, where both tactics shortened points and made it harder for Donald to find his best. The drop shots were especially successful in winning points, as many of them were almost perfectly delivered.
 
Kept constantly on the move by Radek's tactics, it was hard for Donald to attack effectively or indeed to sustain long rallies without error. After the scoreboard turned against Donald when he lost serve in game five, the younger man's frustrations and his error-making grew. Radek knew how to feed the meltdown, especially by avoiding errors himself, and for a stretch (frankly) Donald played quite badly. Radek would lose only one more game in the first set and then win the first eight points in set two. Donald staged a near-comeback in the next game but Radek stood off the near-reversal, and both players held serve until the finish.
 
In their post-match interviews both players largely explained the match in accord with the above. The winner, Stepanek, withdrew from his scheduled doubles semi-final in order to rest for his next-day's singles.
 
Earlier, I watched the first doubles semi-final, Llodra-Zimonjic against the Brazilian pair Melo-Soares. The elegant singles and doubles stylist, left-handed Michael Llodra, returned from the ad court. Thus both Michael and his brilliant and firm-hitting partner, Nenad Zimonjc, in their receiving games played with both backhands toward the middle of the court. Nenad and his then-partner Dan Nestor had finished as the world's top-ranked doubles pair in 2008, the only year in the last six that the Bryans failed to claim that honor. Across the net, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares, both right-handers, lined up with Soares in the left court. Both were hard-hitters, where Melo was distinctively taller and more heavily built than his older partner.
 
The match stayed close to the finish, where the pairs split the first two sets in tiebreak games and where the Match Tiebreak (needed to win ten points with margin of two) decided matters. Both pairs played aggressive, modern doubles, working to control net, especially the center, amid much deception and poaching. All served firmly, especially Melo and Zimonjic -- generally in the 110's or 120's for first serves, 90's or 100's for second. Only rarely did a server fail to come directly forward, and that tactic usually proved mistaken. Melo and Soares used the I formation about half the time, where Melo often took his crouched position closer to net than did his partner. Llodra-Zimonjic used the I only occasionally. There were many points highly entertaining for the gallery.
 
The first tiebreaker went to the Brazilians shortly after Llodra missed an easy overhead while holding a set point. The second ended in a superb close-in exchange among all four men, Soares missing under heavy pressure. The Match Tiebreak was won by a single minibreak, when a Soares serve came back like a rocket, handcuffing Bruno's partner at net.
 
The final round tomorrow will pit the current world #3 pair, Llodra-Zimonjic, against #5, Lindstedt-Tecau. In singles, Stepanek will face the winner of Gael Monfils vs. John Isner. That match is still in progress as this is being written.
 

 
Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Donald Young (USA) {white hat} 63 63
 
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC
Radek Stepanek Donald Young 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Washington DC

 
Earlier Columns from this Event:
 
August 5, 2011 Legg Mason Classic: Verdasco, Baghdatis, Troicki, Tipsarevic, Monfils, Isner, Stepanek, Young
August 4, 2011 Legg Mason Classic: Monfils, Isner, Blake, Young, Sweeting, Russell
August 3, 2011 Legg Mason Classic: Donald Young, Jurgen Melzer & Lots Of Rain
August 2, 2011 Legg Mason Classic: Harrison, Haas, Blake, Nalbandian, Zverev, Delic
August 1, 2011 Legg Mason Classic: Blake, Young, Stepanek, Petzschner, Sitak, Ito
 

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