First Ball In, 6/19: Revival Ground
On the surface of split decisions, Richard Gasquet plays his most complete game.
The Frenchman celebrated his 28th birthday with an opening-round win over Bernard Tomic earlier this week and kept the party popping with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Denis Istomin to reach his third Eastbourne final today. Though Gasquet grew up on clay, grass compels his most inspired tennis. He has produced a better winning percentage on grass (.683) than any other surface, has won this tournament title twice (when it was staged in Nottingam) and produced some of the most eye-popping shot-making of his career on turf when he roared back from a two-set hole to beat then world No. 3 Andy Roddick and reach the 2007 Wimbledon semifinals.
On other surfaces, Gasquet's game — like the blue over grip he wraps only halfway up the handle of his racquet — sometimes suggests partial commitment as he drifts back behind the baseline searching out obscure angles with his sweeping one-handed backhand. On grass, Gasquet works the low bounce of his slider serve and slice backhand to push opponents into awkward spots and open the court for the attack.
While clay gives Gasquet more time to consider his options, it also affords more opportunity for self-doubt and brooding. On grass where points unfold fast, Gasquet's game can free flow. When he's connecting on his first serve and swinging freely, the Frenchman has more opportunity to use his all-court skills — the sharp slice and transition game, fine feel around net and quickness — to play more assertive tennis.
The man in the rooster shirt is willing to take the first strike more often on turf and will try to maintain his perfect record against defending champion Feliciano Lopez in the Eastbourne final.
Jurgen Melzer experienced new life and sudden death of the third-set tiebreaker in 's-Hertogenbosch today.
The Austrian lefty saved three match points outdueling second-seeded Fernando Verdasco, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-6 (9), in the completion of their quarterfinal today. Melzer returned to court for the semifinals and another tiebreak tug of war against a Spaniard. This time, 26-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut had more pull in the extra session, scoring a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) triumph to reach the final.
Sound and Fury and Center Court
Imagine bursting into a theatrical Scottish warzone with the steel swords of two dozen soldiers swirling around you in showery darkness, all a prelude to the chilling murder and madness to follow.
Sir Kenneth Branagh, starring in Macbeth at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, compares the nerves of stepping out on stage to play the title role in one of Shakespeare's darkest tragedies to the jitters tennis players feel before walking out onto center court to play a major match.
"I sometimes feel like you're in the tunnel waiting to come out before a huge game. It's like tournament tennis — some of it's up here [in the head], some of it's in the body," Branagh told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview earlier this week (those comments come with about 31:40 left in the video here).
Branagh is well-versed in the metaphorical power the Stratford Bard brings to the sport of kings. Watch him as Henry V issue this riveting reaction to the presentation of "new balls" starting at about one minute, 20 seconds into this video:
(5) Angelique Kerber vs. Madison Keys: Accuracy on the counter-strike and a knack for flattening out her drives at crunch time helped Kerber fight back for a three-set decision over 2009 champion Caroline Wozniacki today. At the core of this final is Keys' booming serve against Kerber's precise return. Kerber has handled Keys' massive serve before: She converted all five break points beating the American teenager, 6-4, 6-2, in the Sydney semifinals in January. The German lefty should be vigilant given she let five championship points slip away losing to Tamira Paszek in the 2012 final. Keys has not dropped serve in her last two matches and showed calm nerve reaching her first final. Keys will try to displace Kerber with the serve and finish points quickly with her forehand.
Feliciano Lopez vs. (1) Richard Gasquet: Defending champion Lopez, who held a match point before losing to Grigor Dimitrov in last week Queen's Club final, has been in a relaxed rhythm on serve and attacked at the right times. Two-time champion Gasquet, whose clay-court season was largely wiped out by a back injury, looks eager for his 11th tournament title and leads the event in first-serve points won. The 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist is 5-0 against the left-handed Lopez, winning 12 of the 15 sets they've played. Gasquet has defended his second serve better, used his one-handed backhand down the line to get to the Spaniard's weaker backhand and passed with confidence in their prior meetings, so Lopez must serve with authority to break through against the Frenchman.
(Q) CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Zheng Jie: Playing her most assertive tennis of the week, Zheng broke serve six times and won 10 of the first 12 games dismissing Magdalena Rybarikova in 56 minutes. The 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist has not dropped a set and should be highly motivated playing her first WTA final in two-and-a-half years. Vandeweghe's serve is lethal on the lawn: She permitted just five points on first serve beating Klara Koukalova to avenge last week's loss in Birmingham when the American served for the match. The 6'1" Vandeweghe has blasted 51 aces in four main-draw victories. Zheng is a flat hitter at her best hugging the baseline. Look for the 69th-ranked Vandeweghe to bang some body serves to back Zheng up and drive the ball into the corners to stretch the 5'4" Chinese.
Benjamin Becker vs. Roberto Bautista Agut: The Dutch lawn is winning welcome mat for the 33-year-old Becker, who smacked 13 aces defeating Joao Sousa today to reach his second 's-Hertogenbosch final. The 2009 champion began the week with just six ATP wins this season before knocking off a pair of seeds (No. 4 Marcel Granollers and No. 6 Vasek Pospisil) en route to the third final of his career. Bautista Agut beat defending champion Nicolas Mahut before saving nine of 11 break points edging former Wimbledon doubles champion Jurgen Melzer, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4). The 28th-ranked Spaniard has used a damaging forehand to reach his second career final and will need to hit that shot aggressively against Becker.