First Ball In, 5/19: Pressure Points and Crossroads
Tiebreakers are terminal heartbreakers for Igor Sijsling.
Jiri Vesely's 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory over the No. 8 seed in Dusseldorf today dropped the Dutchman's record to 1-11 in tiebreakers this season, including a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1) loss to Vesely in Indian Wells in March.
Sijsling has become a tennis Sisyphus, pushing matches to the very edge of victory only to see the rock roll right back down on him. Five of his 16 losses this year have come in decisive-set tiebreakers, and in all five matches he won the opening set. If you'd experienced the torment of stress tests Sijsling's endured, you'd probably feel palpitations and dizziness at the sight of 6-6 lighting up a scoreboard.
Sijsling suffered three successive 7-6 in-the third losses at Masters events: At Indian Wells, Miami (to No. 43 Edouard Roger-Vasselin) and Monte Carlo (to No. 48 Jeremy Chardy). A year ago, Sijsling lost three matches in decisive tiebreakers, including to Marin Cilic in Memphis (9-7 in the breaker) and a stinging 7-6 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) setback to Michael Russell in the Newport quarterfinals despite out-acing the American veteran 15 to 0.
A perplexing part of Sijsling's futility is the fact he owns a very solid first serve. He’s won 75 percent of his first-serve points this year, better than both Rafael Nadal (71 percent) and Andy Murray (73 percent), and has held in 80 percent of his service games, more than Roland Garros runner-up David Ferrer and Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz.
John Isner's .646 career winning percentage in tiebreakers is a testament to both his imposing serve and comfort level in playing so many pressure sessions. Big servers may seem to have more pull in the tiebreaker tug of war—Pete Sampras (.637 winning percentage) and Andy Roddick (.622) were both excellent in them—but the biggest servers are not always the best tiebreak players. The world's fastest server, Ivo Karlovic, owns a .507 career winning percentage in tiebreakers, while Novak Djokovic, arguably the world's best returner, boasts a .642 career percentage. Nadal isn’t far behind at .632.
One for the Ages
The oldest and youngest women in the Strasbourg main draw posted wins today.
Casey Dellacqua, 29, knocked off No. 5 seed Elena Vesnina, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, while 19-year-old American Madison Keys beat Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, who has gone 1-4 since winning her first career WTA title at Marrakech.
Time flies. Dellacqua began the day as the oldest woman in the main draw, but before it was over she was eclipsed by Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The 32-year-old Croatian was a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5 victor over top-seeded Zheng Jie in the final round of qualifying. Both former Wimbledon semifinalists, Zheng reached the 2008 final four; Lucic-Baroni beat Monica Seles en route to the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals, and pushed Steffi Graf to three sets before bowing out. Lucic-Baroni will play No. 6 seed Bojana Jovanovski in the first round.
Mixed Melzer Arts
Monday brought mixed results for the Melzers.
Jurgen Melzer opened Dusseldorf with a tidy victory over Pablo Carreno Busta, while his wife, Iveta Melzer, fell to No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina, 7-5, 6-4, in Nurnberg. Iveta missed nearly the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury.
Jurgen, who beat Novak Djokovic to reach the 2010 Roland Garros semifinals, was sidelined earlier this year with a sore shoulder. He scored back-to-back wins over John Isner and Marin Cilic in Rome last week and said he's "feeling better and better" on court after today's victory.
The left-handed couple won the 2011 Wimbledon mixed doubles championship and could join forces again this year.
Jurgen, who celebrates his 33rd birthday on Thursday, is an active Twitter presence, recently reporting his run-in with Batman in Rome, sharing photos with fans and welcoming younger brother Gerald Melzer, ranked No. 141, to social media.
Top seeds arrive at the crossroads trying to gain traction on clay.
Navigating through pressure points at the "Town at the Crossroads" won't be easy for either in challenging first-rounders on Tuesday.
Nice native Cornet opens against No. 51 Camila Giorgi in a rematch of their three-hour, 11-minute thriller in the Katowice final last month. Cornet fought off a match point at 4-5 in the decider, prevailed 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5, then dropped to the court in elation and exhaustion.
Since that victory, Cornet is just 1-3. She has hard-court victories over world No. 1 Serena Williams (in Dubai) and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska (in Katowice) this season, and has won nine of her last 10 matches in Strasbourg, but Cornet is playing just her fourth clay-court match of the year. Giorgi, who lost a three-setter to Cornet at the Australian Open in January, is more explosive but also more erratic: She followed her upset of world No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova in Rome with a three-set loss to qualifier Christina McHale.
Stephens has yet to play with the urgency she showed in reaching the Australian Open semifinals and Wimbledon quarterfinals last year, and despite successive Roland Garros fourth-round appearances, she doesn't always assert her speed offensively on clay. She enters her first-rounder against Julia Goerges with a 3-4 clay-court record this season and resides in the same quarter of the draw as Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic and Bojana Jovanovski, whom the American beat in Rome last week.
Jack Sock was one of four Americans in Nice qualifying—top-seeded Sam Querrey, Donald Young, and Robby Ginepri were the others—and the only one to reach the main draw. Should Sock defeat Frenchman Kenny De Schepper in Tuesday's opening-round match, he would take on top-seeded John Isner in the second round.
Isner won both of their prior matches, including a 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3) victory on red clay in Houston last year.