2011 Tennis News Archive

Davis Cup Final

Spain won their third Davis Cup in four years, and their fifth overall, with a 3-1 victory over Argentina in Seville’s Olympic Stadium at the beginning of December. Led and inspired by a resurgent Rafael Nadal, Spain always held the upper hand, although the tie was a lot closer than the 3-1 scoreline suggests.

Playing his ever-present combination of Babolat AeroPro Drive GT with Babolat RPM Blast strings, Rafa opened proceedings with a comprehensive straight sets demolition of Juan Monaco, who played the Yonex VCore 98D, strung with Luxilon Big Banger Original strings. Juan-Martin del Potro looked to be on the way to levelling things up in the second rubber against David Ferrer, but ran out of steam in the last set and a half, allowing Ferrer to come back and put Spain 2-0 up at the end of the first day’s play. Ferrer played his usual Prince EXO3 Tour/ Luxilon Big Banger Original set-up, whilst del Potro was using the same Wilson [K] Factor Six.One 95 racket he’s been playing with all this year, even though it’s been deleted from the Wilson range for two years. Unable to adjust to any of the Wilson BLX range, delPo returned to the frame he used to win the 2009 US Open this year in order to maximise his chances on court. He’s slated to play the new Wilson Juice Pro BLX in 2012, and it’ll be interesting to see if he plays it at the Australian Open in January. He was playing his usual Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power strings in Seville.

David Nalbandian and doubles specialist Eduardo Schwank kept Argentine hopes alive with a conclusive straight sets win over Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. Schwank is one of the few pros who use as Pacific racket, (the Pacific XForce Pro), following Pacific’s buy out of Fischer’s tennis division in 2010. He used it to great effect alongside long-time Yonex user Nalbandian and his VCore 98D. Both players used Luxilon Big Banger original strings. Fernando Verdasco had a bit of a nightmare, and he’s clearly still struggling to adapt to the Dunlop Biomimetic 300 he’s now using after years with Tecnifibre rackets, or Tecnifibres disguised as other rackets. His singles ranking has dropped to 24 from a career high of 7, and he’ll no doubt be hoping that he can adjust before he falls even further down the list.

Rafa wrapped things up on the final day, but not before delPo had virtually hit him off court with a 6-1 first set beating. Seldom has Rafa been made to look so impotent on a clay court, but, like the champion he is, he hung in and eventually started to turn the tide from 2-0 down in the second set. It was far from easy, however, and things were in the balance right through to the fourth set tie-break, where Rafa turned up the heat and took the breaker, the set, the match, and the Cup without losing a point.

ATP World Tour Finals

Roger Federer finished his 2011 season on a high note with a record sixth year-ending title at the O2 in London at the end of November. Wielding his customary Wilson Six.One Tour BLX strung with his usual combination of Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings, Federer was unbeaten throughout the event, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an exciting three set finale. This was Federer’s final match with the Six.One Tour BLX, as he’ll be switching to Wilson’s new Pro Staff Six.One 90 with its predominantly white colour scheme from January. The frame may change, but it’s odds-on that the stringing will stay the same.

Tsonga rounded off his second year of playing with the Babolat AeroPro Drive GT by reached his highest ever world ranking of 6. Having used Babolat RPM Blast polyester sting in 2010 Tsonga returned to Babolat VS Team natural gut this year, and his results, including a Wimbledon semi-final and a runner up finish in the Paris Bercy 1000 Masters event, bear testament to the improvement since the change.

Tomas Berdych finished his first year as an official Head player with a run to the semi-finals, but whilst Head’s advertising and promotional activity show him with their YouTek Instinct racket, he’s actually using the YouTek Radical, strung with Luxilon Alu Power strings. Will Head force him to use the Instinct in 2012?  We’ll probably have to wait until the Australian Open to find out.

US Open Report

Another Grand Slam singles title for Babolat rackets and Babolat RPM Blast string, but this time it wasn’t Rafa Nadal in the Men’s Singles – it was Samantha Stosur taking home the silverware in the ladies’ event.

Having been beaten finalist at Roland Garros in 2010, Sam went one better in New York, taking down the seemingly invincible Serena Williams in straight sets for one of the biggest upsets in ladies’ Grand Slam tennis for many years. Sam played the Babolat Pure Storm racket with the aforementioned Babolat RPM Blast strings. She switched to the black-coloured RPM Blast when it was launched in 2010, and has been playing her best tennis ever since.

Her main weapons of huge forehand and big kick serve are superbly complemented by RPM Blast’s octagonal shape, the string enabling her to load both shots with stacks of topspin. The way they were rearing up off the court at Flushing Meadows gave all her opponents problems, including Serena in the final. For her part, Serena played with the Wilson Blade Team BLX racket strung with Wilson Natural Gut strings as usual.

Germany’s Angelique Kerber was a surprise semi-finalist whose game seems to have kicked off following a change of equipment. She’s now using the Yonex VCore 98D racket with Tecnifibre Pro RedCode strings. She came closest of anyone to upsetting Stosur, taking her to three sets in the semi.

On the men’s side Novak Djokovic continued his extraordinary run, capturing his third Grand Slam of the year and dethroning Rafa Nadal in one of the highest quality matches ever played. With his Head YouTek IG Speed Pro racket and hybrid Babolat VS Team Natural Gut mains/Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings Djokovic seems to have found the perfect weaponry for his game. Whether attacking or defending, Novak looked to have perfect control of the ball as he moved his opponents around or eased himself back into the rallies.

Beaten finalist Nadal and semi-finalists Roger Federer and Andy Murray played their usual set ups – Babolat AeroPro Drive with Babolat RPM Blast strings for Nadal, Wilson Six.One Tour BLX with Wilson Natural Gut mains and Luxilon Alu Power Rough crosses for Federer, and Head YouTek Radical Pro with Luxilon Alu Power Rough mains and Babolat VS Team Natural Gut crosses for Murray.

Andy Roddick continues to struggle to find his form of old, and for Flushing Meadows he was using the Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour/Babolat VS Team Natural Gut hybrid he’s used in the past, sadly without the results he’s achieved in the past. Donald Young, once touted as the next great thing in American tennis, had his best summer and best Grand Slam to date, and he did so with a new racket. A long-time Head user, Don played the summer with the Prince EXO3 Tour, and boosted his ranking considerably to a career high No 57 by the end of the Open. He played with no Prince ‘P’ logo on his strings, indicating that there’s no formal contract in place, and it will be interesting to see how the relationship develops. Don continues to use Solinco Tour Bite strings.

Lastly, there was big boost for British men’s tennis, with three British boys reaching the semi-finals of the Boys’ Singles, and Oliver Golding coming through to take the title. Ollie plays with the Prince EXO3 Rebel 95 racket, strung with Prince Beast XP strings. He said afterwards that he’s now abandoning junior events in order to concentrate on Futures and Challenger events on the ATP circuit, and there will be a lot of interest to see if he can perform as well as the last British winner of the Boys’ event back in 2004 – Andy Murray.

Wimbledon Report

Novak Djokovic continued his dominance of the men’s game and Petra Kvitova took her first Grand Slam title at this year’s Wimbledon. Djokovic took down defending champion Rafael Nadal in the final, taking over as World No 1 in the process, whilst Kvitova defeated a resurgent Maria Sharapova in the ladies’ decider.

Djokovic played with his usual set up of the Head YouTek IG Speed Pro racket with natural gut/polyester hybrid stringing, but this time round he chose Babolat VS Team natural gut mains to go with his Luxilon Alu Power Rough crosses. Nadal had his regular Babolat AeroPro Drive racket with full Babolat RPM Blast stringing. Djokovic’s string choice is now the same as semi-finalist Andy Murray, except that Murray has the Alu Power Rough as his main string, with the Babolat gut in his crosses in his Head YouTek Radical.

The other semi-finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, uses the Babolat AeroPro Drive French Open racket. This is the same racket as Rafa uses, but it’s finished in a clay red colour rather than yellow. Last year Tsonga was using the same RPM Blast string as Rafa as well, but this year he’s switched to

New ladies’ champion Petra Kvitova plays with the Wilson Tour BLX racket, and strings with Luxilon Alu Power. She’s the first woman to win a Grand Slam event with Alu Power since Ana Ivanovic won Roland Garros in 2008. Maria Sharapova certainly seems to be benefitting from her switch to the Head YouTek IG Instinct racket and Babolat VS Team natural gut/Babolat RPM Blast hybrid, following up her Roland Garros semi-final showing with a runner up spot at the Big W. Luxilon Alu Power strings were also the choice of both Ladies’ semi-finalists, Victoria Azarenka playing with a full Alu Power stringbed, and wild card entrant Sabine Lisicki playing an Alu Power Rough mains/Wilson Natural Gut hybrid.

A couple of notable racket and string changes spotted during The Championships were James Blake playing with a Donnay racket, still strung with his favourite Luxilon Alu Power, and Nikolay Davydenko using a black coloured string in his Dunlop Biomimetic 200 Plus. Blake seems to be searching for the Holy Grail of rackets.

Since his highly publicised, but ultimately fruitless, switch from Dunlop to Prince a few years ago he’s gone back to Dunlop, saying that it was too late in his career to adapt to a different manufacturer’s racket, then on to Wilson and their BLX range, and now on to Donnay.

It’s not clear if Davydenko’s string was one of the established black strings on the market, such as Tecnifibre Black Code or Babolat RPM Blast, or whether it was Dunlop’s own Black Widow string, a string which, like Black Code and RPM Blast, has a geometric shape rather than a round profile in order to provide more bite on the ball and thus more spin. Black Code is five-sided, RPM Blast is eight-sided, and Black Widow sits between them with seven sides. Neither of these changes did the players much good, as both lost their first round matches.

French Open Report

Rafael Nadal picked up his tenth Grand Slam title, whilst Na Li took her first at this year’s French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. Rafa’s sixth victory on the clay courts of Roland Garros tied the modern era record of Bjorn Borg, (Frenchman Max Decugis won eight times between 1903 and 1914, before the tournament moved to Roland Garros), and brings his record in the Grand Slam on the red stuff to 45-1, with only Robin Soderling in 2009 having been able to stop him. For Li, it was one step further than her runner up finish to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open at the start of the year.

This was the second year in a row that the winners of both the Men’s and Ladies’ Singles have used Babolat rackets and strings, with Nadal using his usual combination of AeroPro Drive racket and RPM Blast polyester strings, and Li using the Pure Drive GT racket strung with a hybrid of Pro Hurricane mains and Xcel Power crosses. In fact, Babolat had three of the four finalists, as ladies’ finalist and last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone played the AeroPro Drive French Open strung with RPM Blast. The only non-Babolat finalist was Roger Federer, who, as usual, played the Wilson Six.One Tour BLX strung with his Wilson Natural Gut/Luxilon Alu Power Rough hybrid.

Rafa used the ‘standard’ AeroPro finished in the yellow/black colour scheme rather than the newer ‘French Open’ version, which sports a clay-red and white finish, and was used by Schiavone, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and most other Babolat players. The superstitious Nadal was never likely to change, but he did make the concession of carrying his rackets in a Babolat French Open bag.

Talking of Babolat, there was a lot of controversy around the use of the Babolat ball for the first time in a Grand Slam event. General consensus was that it was harder, faster, and higher bouncing than the Dunlop balls used in previous years, and this, combined with the hot dry weather meant that the courts were playing much quicker, and more like hard courts than clay courts. A number of players were experimenting with different tensions early in the tournament in order to gain more control over the ball, including Nadal, who dropped a few lbs, but went back to his normal 55lbs, (25kg), tension in the latter stages of the event.

One player who did not tinker with his strings or tension was the man who pushed Rafa the hardest. Big John Isner, the marathon man from Wimbledon 2010, took him to five sets in the first round, and credited the feel his Prince racket with Tecnifibre Pro RedCode strings gives him. Interestingly, Isner has gone back to playing the Prince O3 White racket, a frame which hasn’t been available for a couple of years, as he feels it’s the right racket for him. He isn’t alone in that respect, as both Xavier Malisse, (Prince Diablo Tour), and Olivier Rochus, (Prince Triple Threat Graphite), are also using frames that are no longer available, whilst Juan Martin del Potro was wielding the same Wilson [K] Six.One 95 racket he used to win the US Open in 2009, even though the racket has now been deleted from Wilson’s catalogue, being replaced the BLX range.

Maria Sharapova’s slightly surprising run to the semi-finals was made with her new Head YouTek IG Instinct racket, strung with a new hybrid of Babolat RPM Blast and Babolat Natural Gut. This was exactly the same string set up as the other semi-finalist, Marion Bartoli, used in her Prince EXO3 Black. The two men’s semi-finalists, the previously unbeaten Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – winner and runner up at the Aussie Open in January – used the same racket and string combinations as they had at Melbourne. Djokovic had the Head YouTek IG Speed Pro, Murray the Head YouTek Radical Pro, and both players had natural gut and Luxilon Alu Power Rough string hybrids. Djokovic had the Alu Power as his cross strings, with Head Natural Gut main strings, while Murray had the Alu Power in his main strings, with Babolat VS Team crosses.

One last thing. In these days of players taking out newly strung rackets every time there’s a ball change, spare a thought for French qualifier Stéphane Robert who beat No 6 seed Tomas Berdych in the first round, 9-7 in the final set having been two sets to love down. With only a couple of rackets in his bag, Robert played the whole match with one racket, only to break a string having just saved a match point at 6-7 in the decider. Robert calmly picked up the other racket, won three games in a row and took the match. Stéphane Robert plays the Wilson Six.One 95 BLX, strung with Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour strings.

Davis Cup First Round – 4th to 6th March

No major shocks in the first round of this year’s Davis Cup, with all the fancied teams going through. Last year’s finalists, France, were given a bit of a fright, however, with Austria fighting back from 2-0 down at the end of the first day to take the tie to a deciding fifth rubber, and taking the first set of that fifth rubber before France pulled through. Jeremy Chardy was the French hero, winning both his singles matches, including the deciding fifth rubber to see the nine-times champions home. The fact that France was without its top three players – Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Richard Gasquet, who were all out with injuries – gives testimony to the strength in depth of French tennis. Chardy plays with the Head Radical MP racket, strung with Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power striungs. Jürgen Melzer, the Austrian No 1, will be regretting his poor, nervous showing against Chardy in the opening match of the tie, which he lost in straight sets. His performances in the doubles, and in the first of the reverse singles where he came back from two sets to one down to beat Gilles Simon, were tremendous. Melzer uses the Dunlop Biomimetic 300 racket, and Isospeed Professional multifilament strings.

In Zagreb, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia set a new world record for the fastest serve, sending down a 156mph thunderbolt in the doubles match against Germany. It wasn’t enough to win the match, and Croatia lost the tie overall, but at least it’s some sort of consolation for Karlovic, who’s struggling to regain his form after missing most of 2010 with injury. Nominally, Karlovic is under contract to Babolat to use their rackets, but, as in 2009 and last year, he’s playing with a blacked-out Head frame.

Biggest upset of the round was undoubtedly Khazackstan’s victory over the Czech Republic away in Ostrava on their debut in the World Group. 2-1 down afer the doubles, Andrey Golubev’s defeat of last year’s Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych in the fourth rubber set the scene for Mikhail Kukushkin to take down Jan Hajek in the deciding match. The Czechs were without the injured Radek Stepanek, and his absence hit them hard. Golubev uses the Pacific XFeel Pro 95 racket strung with Pacific Tournament Pro natural gut stings, and Kukushkin plays the Wilson Blade 98 BLX.

Rafa Nadal looked pretty much back to fitness as Spain brushed past Belgium in Charleroi. Using his usual Babolat AeroPro Drive racket/Babolat RPM Blast string combination, Nadal eased his way past Davis Cup débutant Ruben Bemelmans in straight sets. Bemelmans uses the Prince Rebel 95 racket with Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power strings. Nadal also delighted the Belgian crowd by playing the dead fourth rubber against Olivier Rochus, who stood in for Belgian No 1 Xavier Malisse.

Finally, defending champions Serbia, playing without their No 1 Novak Djokovic, must have been a bit concerned when they found themselves at one match all and one set to love down in the doubles against India in Novi Sad. Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac managed to pull through in four sets, but if India had been able to field their doubles specialists Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes, who are on a 24 match winning streak in Davis Cup, but were both absent through injury, things may well have turned out differently, and the tie may have ended up with a scoreline somewhat different from 4-1 to Serbia. Expect Djokovic to be back for the quarter-final against Sweden in July.

Australian Open Report

It was expected to be a Rafa v Roger final, but in the end it was Nole against Andy, as Rafael Nadal’s bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time came unstuck due to a torn left thigh muscle in this year’s Australian Open. There was plenty of action and change on the racket and string front as Novak Djokovic captured his second Grand Slam title, his first since the Australian Open in 2008, and Kim Clijsters took her fourth Grand Slam win, and her first outside the US Open.

The variable weather and wide temperature changes between day and night sessions meant that players experienced more problems than usual finding the right string tension, with a number of them sending rackets out for restrings during the course of their matches.

It was an all Head men’s final as Djokovic and Murray squared off – Djokovic with the new Head YouTek IG Speed Pro, Murray with the Head YouTek Radical Pro – and both players also chose natural gut and Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power Rough string hybrids. Djokovic had the Alu Power as his cross strings, with Head Natural Gut main strings, while Murray had the Alu Power in his main strings, with Babolat VS Team crosses.

The man who beat Rafa, David Ferrer, played with Prince’s latest version of their Tour level O3 racket, the EXO3 Tour. This means that over the last five years Ferrer has played with four different Prince rackets – the Shark DB back in 2007, followed by the Vendetta, the Ozone Tour, and now the EXO3 Tour. One thing that has remained constant during this time has been his use of Luxilon Big Banger Original strings. Ferrer was only one point away from a two sets to love lead against Murray in their semi. On the other side of the draw Djokovic downed Roger Federer at the same semi-final stage as he had done at last year’s US Open. Federer played the Wilson Six.One Tour BLX racket he debuted last year, strung with his usual hybrid of Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power Rough crosses. Over the years Roger has reduced his string tension, and he was using 48.5lbs, (22kg), on the mains, and 44, (20.5kg), on the crosses.

Roger was fortunate to survive an onslaught by a resurgent Gilles Simon in the second round in five sets. Simon plays the Head YouTek Prestige MP, and strings with Head Intellistring – one of the few ready-made hybrids on the market. It’s a combination of RIP Power, a thin textured finish wrapped string, and RIP Feel, a coreless multifilament. It certainly seems to work for Simon.

Whilst the Men’s final was an all Head racket final, the Ladies’ final was an all Babolat racket and string affair, with both winner Kim Clijsters and runner up Na Li using the Babolat Pure Drive GT racket and playing with Babolat strings. Winner Clijsters used VS Touch natural gut strings as usual, whilst Li used a hybrid of Pro Hurricane mains and Xcel Power crosses. Vera Zvonereva maintained the excellent form she showed from Wimbledon onwards last year, following up her appearances in the final there and at the US Open with a semi-final showing in Melbourne. Vera played the Prince EXO3 Black racket she switched to last year, strung with Gamma Zo Sweet, a hybrid of Gamma Zo Power monofilament co-polyester main strings and Gamma TNT2 17 wrapped cross strings. Completing the semi-final line up was Caroline Wozniacki, who confounded those who criticised her for changing rackets. Using the new Yonex VCore 100S GT Caroline held match point against Na Li to reach the final, so the racket must feel pretty good to her. Interestingly, she strung with the same hybrid she used last year when using the Babolat AeroPro Drive – Babolat Revenge main strings with Babolat VS Team crosses.

Talking of changing rackets, there were quite a few changes of rackets and strings in evidence down under. Bob and Mike Bryan have switched from the Prince EXO3 Ignite Team to the Prince EXO3 Rebel 95, the same racket used by Gaël Monfils. The result was the same, however, as the brothers took their fifth Aussie Open title. After a year of playing with a mixture of a blanked out Tecnifibre frame carried in a Dunlop bag, (successfully), and a Dunlop frame carried in a Dunlop bag, (not so successfully) – see 2010 Tennis News Archive – Fernando Verdasco was 100% Dunlop in Melbourne, using the new Dunlop Biomimetic 300 racket. Nikolay Davydenko, who was nominally under contract to Dunlop from early 2010 but played with a Prince Ozone Tour until after the US Open, was using the Dunlop Biomimetic 200, whilst Tomas Berdych, who spent all of last year carrying a Dunlop bag but playing with an unstencilled Head YouTek Radical MP, was this time carrying a Head bag, but still using an unstencilled Radical. Looks like the contract with Dunlop has gone, but one with head is still to be worked out.

Last year Andy Roddick switched his stringing from a hybrid of Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour & Babolat VS Team to Babolat RPM Blast & VS Team, and then back again. He was back with the RPM Blast/VS Team hybrid in Melbourne. Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat Roddick in the singles, was another who changed strings quite recently. Stan moved to a full restring of Babolat RPM Blast late last autumn, and it’s helping him move back up the rankings in a quest to regain a Top Ten spot.

So, the first Grand Slam of the year finished with the two No 3 seeds taking home the spoils. Will they still be the ones to beat at Roland Garros in May and June?