Sightings from the Mountain, Sunday

Kirilenko d. Lisicki, 5-7 6-1 7-6(1) in Pattaya

Sabine Lisicki struggled to control her backhand right from the beginning of this match, and Maria Kirilenko took advantage of it, hitting hard forehands relentlessly to that side and drawing copious errors. Lisicki made things interesting by fiercely returning Kirilenko’s weaker serve, recovering after trailing by an early break and taking the first set after Kirilenko overhit a series of forehands.

Kirilenko’s game settled down in the second set, however, and she stuck with what was working. Lisicki’s backhand continued to fail her, and her attempts to compensate by running around it often backfired too, as she either went for forehands that were too big or picked moments where she couldn’t hit one big enough. As the taller player with the famously powerful serve, Lisicki remarkably won only 55% of the points on her first serve during the match, compared to 67% for Kirilenko, who cruised to a 5-2 lead in the third set.

Suddenly Lisicki fought back, serving seven aces in the set and finding opportunities to blast forehand winners as Kirilenko seemed to forget the strategy she had used to build her lead. Lisicki broke Kirilenko’s serve twice in a row and served for the match at 6-5.

And then it was Lisicki’s turn to lose focus. She played a horrible service game and was broken to love when she failed to get a low volley over the net. Perhaps remembering this, Kirilenko hit a series of drop shots and dipping passes in the tiebreak, drawing more volley errors from Lisicki when Kirilenko wasn’t finishing points from the net herself. The match could have been straightforward, but took dramatic turns thanks to Lisicki’s fighting spirit and the nerves of both players, each trying to end a title drought. In the end the player with the longer drought proved her game was smarter and more robust, and Kirilenko won her first singles title since 2008.

Errani d. Suarez Navarro, 7-5 4-6 7-5 in Paris

I underestimated Carla Suarez Navarro in my Australian Open draw analysis. With her outstanding one-handed backhand and all-court skills, for years she has had the ability to be a more aggressive and more successful player, and demonstrated it by upsetting Sara Errani in straight sets in the first round in Melbourne.

This rematch was a tough seesaw battle of long points painstakingly constructed with a full variety of shots. I was pleased to see Errani make a few efforts to get to the net, as such aggressive play was a key to her breakout success last year. But Suarez Navarro quickly smothered such ideas, using her speed around the court and shotmaking ability to hit difficult passing shots for winners. In the end Suarez Navarro was by far the more aggressive player, but Errani had a clearer sense of what she wanted to do on the court, selecting smarter shots and making fewer errors.

Barthel d. Bartoli, 7-6(7) 6-4 in Paris

Mona Barthel had a great run of success last spring, and might have fared even better if she hadn’t had to face Victoria Azarenka in early rounds four times in three months. If anything Barthel is playing even better to start this year.

Despite some early serving troubles, Marion Bartoli played this match well. Barthel served for the first set, but Bartoli fought back hard in front of her home crowd. As Bartoli took an early lead in the tiebreak, the match started to feel like her previous one against Christina McHale, where she beat back an early challenge and then cruised to victory.

But Barthel raised the level of her play too, and soon made the game look easy, using her long, graceful swings to fire baseline winners from both sides almost at will. Until Bartoli fought to multiple deuces in the last game, Barthel only lost two points on her own serve in the second set. She hit 43 winners in the match, compared to Bartoli’s 25.

Mladenovic d. Kvitova, 6-3 6-4 in Paris

After a wrist injury set back the beginning of her season, Kristina Mladenovic proved in Paris that her strong performance at the US Open last year was no fluke, beating Julia Goerges and Yanina Wickmayer on her way to the quarterfinals. Mladenovic has powerful and technically sound groundstrokes, particularly a lethal forehand, and excellent volleying skills as well. Most importantly, however, the nineteen-year-old has shown exceptional confidence and mental stability throughout her matches this week.

Petra Kvitova has yet to place her groundstrokes inside the court consistently in a single match this year, and started this match serving poorly as well. She served six double faults in the first set, two of them on break points. Mladenovic’s power and depth asked more of Kvitova’s groundstrokes than they could deliver, and limited her opportunities to get to the net, leaving Petra no way into the match.

Mladenovic would finally meet an opponent with an even hotter hand in the semifinals, however. Barthel beat her, 6-1 6-4.

Bertens d. Safarova, 6-1 7-5 in Paris

A tall, powerfully built baseliner whose weakness is movement, Kiki Bertens reminds me of a young Kaia Kanepi. Pounding forehands deep into the court, Bertens kept Lucie Safarova under pressure and profited from the resulting errors. Safarova is a brilliant shotmaker on a good day, but more often her game looks reckless and messy as it did in this match. On the advice of her coach, Safarova almost found her way back into the match in the second set by playing safer shots and prolonging points, but that’s not really her game and it was too little too late.

Davis Cup World Group

As I write this, four of the weekend’s ties in the Davis Cup World Group remain to be decided, with the likely outcome of two of them unclear.

Czech Republic leads Switzerland, 2-1 (in Geneva on indoor hard court)

Wawrinka d. Rosol, 6-4 6-3 6-4
Berdych d. Laaksonen, 6-3 6-2 6-7(5) 6-1
Berdych & Rosol d. Wawrinka & Chiudinelli, 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-7(3) 24-22

With Radek Stepanek injured and Roger Federer opting not to play, Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych each beat much lower-ranked opponents on Friday. After winning the marathon 7-hour doubles match, Czech Republic has the edge and Berdych has a chance to clinch a win by defeating Wawrinka in the marquee fourth rubber. Berdych is ranked 11 places higher, but Wawrinka leads 5-4 in the head-to-head and has beaten Berdych in their last three matches. The match may be decided by who recovers better after the doubles. If Wawrinka wins, an unheralded teammate—most likely Marco Chiudinelli or Henri Laaksonen—will have to beat the only slightly more heralded Lukas Rosol to upset the defending champions.

Italy leads Croatia, 2-1 (in Turin on indoor clay)

Cilic d. Lorenzi, 6-1 6-7(6) 4-6 6-3 6-2
Seppi d. Dodig, 6-2 6-7(2) 6-4 6-4
Bolelli & Fognini d. Cilic & Dodig, 3-6 6-1 6-3 7-6(11)

Andreas Seppi upset Marin Cilic in the third round of the Australian Open, is the on-form player, and has a chance to beat Cilic again to clinch a victory for Italy. If Cilic wins, Croatia might have the edge in the fifth rubber, where the on-form Ivan Dodig faces Paolo Lorenzi, Simone Bolelli, or Fabio Fognini, who didn’t play Friday due to illness.

Canada leads Spain, 2-1 (in Vancouver on indoor hard court)

Raonic d. Ramos, 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 6-4
Dancevic d. Granollers, 6-1 6-2 6-2
Granollers & M. López d. Nestor & Pospisil, 4-6 6-4 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2

Canada is in a commanding position over an unusually skeletal Spanish Armada. Marcel Granollers, Spain’s leader in singles this week, was unexpectedly crushed on Friday by Frank Dancevic, and is unlikely to redeem himself against the far more imposing Milos Raonic.

United States lead Brazil, 2-1 (in Jacksonville, FL on indoor hard court)

Querrey d. Bellucci, 6-3 6-4 6-4
Isner d. Alves, 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3
Melo & Soares d. Bryan & Bryan, 7-6(6) 6-7(7) 6-4 3-6 6-3

The Bryan brothers’ doubles loss was a surprise, just their third in 24 Davis Cup matches. But the United States have two excellent chances to clinch victory in singles, thanks to John Isner and Sam Querrey. I’d give Thomaz Bellucci a chance to upset Isner in the fourth rubber if they were playing on clay, but not on an American indoor hard court.

Kazakhstan beats Austria, 3-1 (in Astana on indoor clay)

Golubev d. Haider-Maurer, 7-6(2) 6-3 7-6(5)
Korolev d. Melzer, 7-6(4) 6-3 6-2
Knowle & Peya d. Golubev & Schukin, 7-6(5) 6-3 7-6(3)
Golubev d. Melzer, 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-2

The surprise here was the ease with which both Evgeny Korolev and Andrey Golubev beat Jürgen Melzer, who has a game well-suited to clay and is the only top-100 player on either team.

Argentina beats Germany (currently 3-0, in Buenos Aires on clay)

Berlocq d. Kohlschreiber, 3-6 7-5 2-6 6-4 4-5 Retired
Mónaco d. F. Mayer, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3 6-4
Nalbandián & Zeballos d. Kas & Kamke, 6-1 6-4 5-7 6-2

Serbia beats Belgium (currently 3-0, in Charleroi on indoor clay)

Troicki d. Goffin, 1-6 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 6-4
Djokovic d. Rochus, 6-3 6-2 6-2
Troicki & Zimonjic d. Bemelmans & Darcis, 6-4 6-4 5-7 6-4

France beats Israel (currently 3-0, in Rouen on indoor hard court)

Tsonga d. Weintraub, 6-3 6-3 4-6 7-5
Gasquet d. Sela, 6-3 6-2 6-2
Benneteau & Llodra d. Erlich & Sela, 7-6(3) 6-1 6-0

Nadal Returns

Off the tour since Wimbledon with a chronic knee injury, Rafael Nadal makes his eagerly anticipated return this coming week in Viña del Mar, Chile. It will be the first time Nadal has played the South American clay-court tournaments since 2005—when he was #40 in the world and had won only a single ATP title, in Sopot, Poland. The South American fans are a little more excited to see him this time.

Nadal has a very comfortable draw, the greatest obstacle in his path to the final likely being Jeremy Chardy or unseeded Tommy Robredo in the semifinals. Links to that draw and those for the week’s other tournaments are gathered conveniently together in my Draws & OOPs page.

Injuries

Radek Stepanek will have back surgery this coming week.

Philipp Kohlschreiber retired from his Davis Cup match against Carlos Berlocq, while leading 5-4 in the fifth set, on serve, due to a thigh muscle tear.

Kiki Bertens retired from her semifinal against Errani in Paris, while trailing 0-5. Bertens sustained a back injury in qualifying, and entered the main draw as a lucky loser after Australian Open mixed doubles finalist Lucie Hradecka withdrew citing a viral illness.

Irina-Camelia Begu retired from her first-round match against Alexandra Panova in Pattaya, down 6-7(6) 2-3, with a shoulder injury.

Lucie Safarova withdrew from doubles in Paris with a knee injury, after losing in singles to Bertens.

Upsets

Paris, second round

Mladenovic d. Wickmayer, 6-4 6-4
Barthel d. Vinci, 4-6 6-1 6-3

Paris, first round

Mladenovic d. Goerges, 7-5 5-7 7-6(4)
Voegele d. Pironkova, 6-4 6-2
Bertens d. Paszek, 6-4 7-5

Pattaya, quarterfinals

Bratchikova d. Morita, 6-1 3-6 6-1

Pattaya, second round

Morita d. Ivanovic, 6-3 5-7 6-3
Bratchikova d. Hantuchova, 6-2 3-0 Retired (due to dizziness)
Sevastova d. Watson, 7-6(4) 4-6 6-2

Pattaya, first round

Erakovic d. Hsieh, 6-2 6-2
Wongteanchai d. Beck, 6-3 6-3

Other Interesting Results

Paris, second round

Bartoli d. McHale, 7-5 6-1

Paris, first round

McHale d. Parmentier, 6-4 6-1
Wickmayer d. Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6(7) 4-6 6-3
Barthel d. U. Radwanska, 7-6(1) 6-0
Cornet d. Arvidsson, 6-3 4-6 6-0
Vinci d. Halep, 6-0 6-3
Suarez Navarro d. Niculescu, 6-3 7-6(3)
Zakopalova d. Medina Garrigues, 2-6 7-5 6-0

Pattaya, semifinals

Lisicki d. Bratchikova, 7-5 6-3
Kirilenko d. Cirstea, 6-0 6-2

Pattaya, quarterfinals

Lisicki d. Erakovic, 5-7 6-3 6-2
Cirstea d. Sevastova, 6-3 6-0

Pattaya, second round

Morita d. Date-Krumm, 4-6 6-4 6-1

Pattaya, first round

Kumkhum d. Dellacqua, 6-2 6-2
Cirstea d. Mattek-Sands, 6-1 6-3
Date-Krumm d. Scheepers, 7-5 6-1
Bratchikova d. Peer, 6-3 6-3
An. Rodionova d. King, 6-4 6-4
Johansson d. Chang, 6-4 6-3

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