Thursday, April 4, 2013
Fed slumping through first quarter
By Kamakshi Tandon Special to ESPN.com
Men's first-quarter report | Women's first-quarter report
Here's how the top men have fared through the first quarter of the season:
1. Novak Djokovic: Slight loss
After a strong start, the top-ranked Djokovic didn't continue dominating the way he was expected to during his favorite time of the year, getting upset at both the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Sony Open in Miami. He was error prone and looked bothered during those losses, and there was also tape on his elbow at Indian Wells. Whatever was wrong, there'll be a close watch to see how recovers for Davis Cup and then the clay season -- all leading up to his main goal of the year, the French Open.
But by any standard except the one he's set of himself the last two years, it was a good quarter overall -- he won the most important title, the Australian Open, and also got a win in Dubai.
Federer's service in Melbourne was not consistent.
2. Andy Murrray: Gain
Murray's goal is to move up the rankings by doing better in the Masters Series events this year, and a win in Miami is a good start. It took him up to No. 2, and while there's little prospect of catching up to Djokovic over the next few months, he's maintained his form well after winning the U.S. Open last year. Even though he would have wanted to do better in the Australian Open final against Djokovic, there haven't been too many missteps so far this season.
3. Roger Federer: Loss
His most impressive performance during this period was withstanding the onslaught of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open quarterfinals, but Federer hasn't been the same since winning that match in five sets. He was inconsistent and serving poorly in Rotterdam and Dubai and was clearly hampered by back trouble during his last two matches in Indian Wells.
Federer is renowned for his ability to stay injury free, but the back seems to be flaring up more often -- staying healthy will be a big priority for the 31-year-old for the rest of the season. Whether he anticipated problems or not, he did schedule himself a long break between Indian Wells and his first clay tournament, which should be a chance to rest and recover.
4. David Ferrer: Gain
Coming so close to winning Miami will sting, but Ferrer's battle against Murray was a welcome change from his previous two blowouts when facing the big four -- an ugly 6-0, 6-2 defeat against Rafael Nadal in the Acapulco final and a dismantling by Djokovic in the Aussie Open semifinals.
His almost apologetic reaction to the Miami defeat also won people over: "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he told the large Spanish-speaking crowd that was cheering him on -- and he got back the No. 4 ranking he had lost to Nadal two weeks earlier. Add an Australian Open semifinals and two titles, and it's been an extremely solid showing.
5. Rafael Nadal: Gain
If expectations were high for Nadal's comeback, the Spaniard managed to even exceed them. A final and two clay titles to kick off his return was impressive, but then again, he is the King of Clay for a reason. But then turning around and winning his first event on hard courts in nearly a year, and a Masters Series, no less? That got people's attention.
His victory at Indian Wells was helped by some fortunate events: a hobbled Federer, Tomas Berdych not at his best and a tiring Juan Martin del Potro in the final. But his quick match-by-match improvement and growing confidence bodes very well ahead of a return to the clay.
6. Tomas Berdych: Unchanged
It's been mostly a period of opportunities missed for Berdych, who is trying to take the next step and start challenging the big four for big titles. The Czech did get a win over Federer in Dubai but didn't do much against a tired Djokovic at the Australian Open or a still-adjusting Nadal at Indian Wells, then bowed out to Richard Gasquet in Miami. However, he has managed to stay consistent, which hasn't always been easy.
7. Juan Martin del Potro: Gain
His back-to-back three-setters against Djokovic, Murray and Nadal at Indian Wells might be the most impressive series of matches anyone has played this season. Though del Potro didn't have quite enough left to close the deal against Nadal in the Indian Wells final, his performance signaled that the 2009 U.S. Open champion may be finally ready to recapture his pre-wrist- surgery form.
The bad news is that the wrist has been troubling him a little again, and he's been up and down. He made a strong start at the Australian Open but then produced a puzzling five-set loss. The Argentine lost in the first round of Miami after Indian Wells but did earlier win a title in Rotterdam and reach the semifinals of Dubai. Overall, a promising beginning.
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Loss
Like Federer, Tsonga has struggled after that brutal five-setter at the Australian Open. Deflated by the defeat, he had a few opening-round losses before rebounding to win the title in Marseille in front of the French spectators. But he hasn't done much since.
9. Janko Tipsarevic: Loss
After winning Chennai to start the year, Tipsarevic retired at the Australian Open following back-to-back five-setters and has apparently been playing with the injury since. That may not have been a good decision, because he didn't win any matches until Miami, and it also didn't give him much chance to recover. He is, however, skipping Davis Cup to rest this week.
10. Richard Gasquet: Gain
Back in the top 10, the übertalented but erratic Gasquet has had some great weeks this season, winning two titles and reaching the semifinals in Miami. He was up a set against Murray in that semifinal, but as so often happens, he couldn't close the deal (an ankle injury played a role). Let's see how he follows up on this good start to the year.
Other notablesErnests Gulbis has been the biggest surprise on the men's tour so far, shaking off his long slump and rising almost 80 spots after going on a tear that included winning Delray Beach and reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier. No one has lost more spectacularly than Stanislas Wawrinka, who took Djokovic to five sets in Australia, played a seven-hour doubles in Davis Cup and almost took out compatriot Federer at Indian Wells. The feel-good story in Miami was Tommy Haas, who defeated Djokovic and made it all the way to the semifinals. And now at 35, he is back in the top 15. And Kevin Anderson is back in the top 30 after good showings at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, even with elbow surgery in between.
Men's first-quarter report | Women's first-quarter report