Nadal, Wozniacki and Other Winners and Losers at Hamburg, Bogota and Istanbul

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJuly 20, 2014

Nadal, Wozniacki and Other Winners and Losers at Hamburg, Bogota and Istanbul

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    It was an interesting week for surprises and comebacks at Hamburg, Bogota and Istanbul. Additionally, Rafael Nadal picked up an award without swinging a racket.

    Perhaps the real star of the week was the emergence of young German Alexander Zverev. What kind of game does he have, and what can we expect in the future?

    And how has Bernard Tomic responded to the hot attention on young Australian tennis?

    In the WTA, one star stood out on a day the British Open of golf was captured by Rory McIlroy. Was it mere coincidence or star-crossed sports drama?

    Find out the latest headlines and interesting stories in this week's edition of "Winners and Losers," where we comment on the unusual, disappointing and triumphant happenings in professional tennis.

Winner: Rafael Nadal Wins ESPY Award

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    Rafael Nadal won the 2014 ESPY Award for Best Male Tennis Player. The award considers performances between June 2013 and June 2014. This is the second time Nadal has won this award, the other being in 2011.

    In a way, it is strange to hand out awards in mid-summer, especially when tennis gears up for November's WTF final and Race to London. The best player in a calendar year is best judged when the season for that sport ends.

    So it's an honor for Nadal, at least in the American-ESPN attempt to stage an all-sports award night like the Oscars. But the award is always about eight months too late for tennis fans.

    And if we wanted to find a new angle on tennis' "Holy War," we could gently point out that Roger Federer won this award in 2009, not Nadal. (Nadal had won the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon and the 2009 Australian Open.)

    If the ESPY Awards starts with the 2008 Wimbledon, then Nadal and Federer each have two Slams, but Nadal the No. 1 ranking from August 18, 2008 into July 2009. Maybe the sentiment for Federer's career achievement in getting the 2009 French Open, fresh for the voting, allowed Federer to take this award.

    But please hold the angry emails for more Fedal bashing. It's more of a media honor anyway.

Loser: Hamburg's Top Seeds

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    Hamburg's level-500 tournament was not exactly loaded anyway; it's like buying a half-gallon of bland chocolate Rocky Road ice cream and finding out that you couldn't even get a handful of almonds and marshmallows.

    Never mind that hometown hero Tommy Haas was absent. A couple of days into Hamburg's draw, many of the top seeds were gone. Yes, the marshmallows had been picked out, and only German teen Alexander Zverev and No. 1 seed David Ferrer provided enough flavor.

    Defending finalists Fabio Fognini and Federico Delbonis did not win a match.

    Alexandr Dolgopolov continued his disappointing play on clay, falling before the elite eight. There were only two seeds (Ferrer and Philipp Kohlschreiber) to make the elite eight.

    This was another missed opportunity for players such as Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Robredo and Mikhail Youzhny.

    It's tough for a tournament like Hamburg, which would love to still be considered a top-notch tournament, but it must cross its fingers to draw in superstar players and have the second-tier seeds battle to the weekend. Hamburg has invested a lot into their courts and facilities, so this past week may not have drummed up the attention they needed to attract superstars to come in 2015.

    There was a lot of quality tennis for those who watched, but there were not a lot of headlines to attract casual fans—tasteful enough but too many empty calories.

Winner: Alexander Zverev

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    The bright spot at Hamburg was seeing native son Alexander Zverev become the youngest player ever to get to the semifinals of a 500 tournament. He moved up 124 spots in the ATP Rankings this week (from No. 285 to No. 161), and he earned it with four impressive victories:

    1. Crushed journeyman Robin Haase 6-0, 6-2
    2. Upset World No. 19 Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 7-5; Youzhny is a tough competitor and shotmaker.
    3. Defeated world No. 32 Santiago Giraldo 7-6(6), 6-2, which was very surprising against a good clay-courter who is having a solid year
    4. Overcame the hype of an all-German quarterfinal to defeat fellow wild card Tobias Kamke 0-6, 7-5, 6-3; particularly impressive nerves after getting bageled in the first set

    Zverev is only 17 years old, fresh from being one of the top juniors players in the world. He has the tennis frame and quickness for a player at 6'4". In the quarterfinals, he somewhat resembled clay-court legend Gustavo Kuerten with green shirt and yellow headband (Brazilian colors) to hold up his floppy hair.

    There's a lot to like about Zverev's game already. He shows promise of being a strong server, and he looks like a natural with his groundstrokes and movement. He hits his groundstrokes fairly flat, even if he stands back too far to receive serves.

    He demonstrated moments of excellent patience and touch. His break to open the third set against Kamke was a blend of everything to get excited about: good angles and variety with his groundstrokes and finished with a delicate drop shot.

    Of course it's far too early to proclaim much else. He is a fine prospect, but he will likely need to go through a couple of more years of tough losses and steady progress before we can get a better measure of just who he will be.

    But props to Zverev's fine awakening at Hamburg. It's good to see another young talent.

Loser: Fabio Fognini

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    In little more than one week, Fabio Fognini had to turn in his championship belts for Stuttgart and Hamburg. What a difference a year makes.

    Fognini has been one of the more disappointing players the past few months, squandering opportunities through the French Open and now losing out in his first match at Hamburg to qualifier Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 6-0. Just how hard was Fognini playing in that second set?

    At least we know he still has some fire, misdirected as that can be. Against Krajinovic, Fognini bounced his racket onto the ground early in the match. He later turned Cobra Kai and did a flying dropkick into his racket that was leaned innocently (perhaps mockingly?) against his changeover seat. Fognini should at least get a tryout in an upcoming martial arts film, for passion rather than technique, it must be noted.

    But of course Fognini outdid even that. reported that Fognini used a racial slur against his Serbian opponent. He later apologized (excused his behavior) via Twitter, as reported by the article: "I made a mistake. I didn't want to offend anyone. ... I know Filip very well and anyone who plays sports knows that at times you get carried away saying things that make no sense."

    It's particularly distressing given Fognini's bad-boy conduct as his tennis results have declined. Fognini is friends with World No. 1, Serbian, Novak Djokovic, and they played doubles together at Monte Carlo.

    The ATP Rankings will not be so kind. Fognini, ranked No. 15 just a couple of weeks ago will now fall to No. 20. Maybe he can figure out a way to add a few martial-arts points to the rankings, but for now we will hand him his second-set result, the "Burnt Bagel."

Winner: Leonardo Mayer

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    It may not have been a masterpiece by Da Vinci, but Leonardo Mayer just won the biggest match of his life, 6-7(3), 6-1, 7-6(4). Who would have picked him to win Hamburg's title against No. 1 seed David Ferrer?

    Mayer is having a similar year to a player we profiled last week, Roberto Bautista Agut. At 27 years old, Mayer had a losing record (62-79) heading into 2014 and has had to play a lot of qualifying matches to get into tournaments. Since January, he is 22-12 and now savoring his first career title.

    He served well and was more forceful than Ferrer. He had the experienced Spaniard muttering a few choice words, clearly frustrated with his own performance.

    After the match, Ferrer gave credit to Mayer through ATP World Tour: "He was better in the match. I think I was little bit nervous in the important moments and he played more aggressive than me and nothing else."

    Mayer will now move up 19 slots in the ATP Rankings to No. 27, a far cry from his January ranking that hovered just below No. 100.

Retro Match: Federer Defeats Nadal at 2007 Hamburg

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    FABIAN BIMMER/Associated Press

    From 1990-2008, Hamburg was part of the ATP Super 9 series and transitioned this role to that of a Masters 1000 tournament. It hosted superstars as one of the power tournaments preceding the French Open. Those glory years provided some great tennis, and it was certainly one of the clay-court highlights for Swiss legend Roger Federer.

    Federer, like everyone else on clay, had been victimized by rival Rafael Nadal's record-shattering 81-match winning streak on this surface. He had also lost the 2005 French Open semifinal and the 2006 French Open final, among other matches. But on the faster clay surface at Hamburg, Federer was the one to break Nadal's streak and claim his own case for winning the 2007 French Open.

    "It's absolutely a breakthrough. It will be interesting to see how we both react in the French Open," Federer told BBC Sport. "For me it's just nice to be playing well again. I'm feeling very good going into the French Open."

    The key was Federer's aggressiveness after dropping the first set, 6-2. "I returned better and I served better and I was dictating play," Federer explained in ESPN after dominating the final two sets 6-2, 6-0. Meanwhile, Nadal sputtered with several uncharacteristic errors, often missing the court or leaving the ball short for Federer's attack.

    What did it mean for the French Open? Not much at all, except perhaps to arouse Nadal. He cruised to his third consecutive title at Roland Garros with Federer taking the defeat in the final.

    The years have passed, and Hamburg's great tournament is fading into the archives of trivial notes and halcyon memories. With that it could still be super relevant.

Loser: Alexandr Dolgopolov

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Sad news for Alexandr Dolgopolov and for tennis fans who like watching his aggressive and engaging way of throwing his body into his shots. The World No. 21 injured his knee in Hamburg's third round, and he posted his own prognosis on Instagram, via Tennis World:

    I am really unhappy to announce that I injured my knee in Hamburg and I will probably need a surgery and will be out for 4-6 weeks. Disappointing,specially not playing the great event in Umag, the Us series and Davis cup play offs:((( hopefully il be back ASAP.

    Dolgopolov had been enjoying a strong year, especially on hard courts. He defeated world No. 1 Rafael Nadal on his way to the semifinals at Indian Wells. He battled Grigor Dimitrov for five sets in one of the best Wimbledon matches.

    Barring a medical miracle, Dolgopolov will not play the North American swing that includes the Canada Open and Cincinnati. Would he be able to get in shape for the U.S. Open? It's doubtful he would have an impact there.

    The U.S. Open will already miss Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and Nicolas Almagro. With Dolgopolov's potential absence, that's about 20 percent of Top 20-caliber players who could miss New York's major.

Winner: Bernard Tomic

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    He's back!

    Well, at least Bernard Tomic may have made a successful comeback from double hip surgery in late January to being fully healthy.

    Or maybe the once highly touted prospect decided that he, not Nick Kyrgios, should be the future Down Under player. Regardless, Tomic won the Claro Cup in Bogota, Colombia, outlasting giant Ivo Karlovic in the final tiebreaker,7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(4), despite blowing a mid-court sitter on his second match point that ultimately led to the tiebreaker.

    It was difficult to really see much of Tomic's game, other than enough timely passing shots against the serving power and erratic net play from Karlovic. All in all, Tomic held his composure in a laid-back atmosphere on strangely colored hard courts.

    He celebrated by flopping onto his back as if he were sliding into home plate. After the handshake, he tossed his green-striped shirt (The same design worn by Alexander Zverev at Hamburg) into the front row. The swagger was back.

    Tomic races up 54 spots in the ATP Rankings to No. 70, only five positions behind Kyrgios, not that anybody would be comparing.

Loser: Richard Gasquet

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    He was seeded No. 1 at Bogota's hard-court event and in a draw that should have been a cakewalk. Instead, Richard Gasquet was dumped in his second match by Victor Estrella Burgos, a veteran who came into Bogota with fewer career victories (32) than years lived (33).

    But the bigger issue is Gasquet's decline. Despite his fine strokes and beautiful form, Gasquet will be hard-pressed to defend his semifinal showing at the U.S. Open. He is a capable and intelligent player, but he often and inexplicably wilts when he should bloom.

    Gasquet, like other successful Top 20 and second-tier players such as David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tommy Haas and Tommy Robredo, he may soon be looking up at tennis' newest crop of young players.

    Dimitrov and Milos Raonic are now in the Top 10, but how soon until players such as Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, Jiri Vesely, Alexander Zverev and Thanasi Kokkinakis make their own bids for Top 20 territory?

    The feeding frenzy at the top can be a dog-eat-dog world, and if the Gasquet performance is any indicator, it will be difficult for him to hang on to the late stages of his prime years.

Winner: Caroline Wozniacki

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    Speaking of comebacks, Caroline Wozniacki showed up big-time to deliver a double breadstick beating (6-1, 6-1) to Roberta Vinci in winning the championship at Istanbul.

    Not that this had anything to do with former fiance and golfer Rory McIlroy capturing the British Open on the same day.

    No, this was about Wozniacki's strong return game and her ability to stay consistent and fight off break points. Additionally, this was accomplished against Vinci, who was last week's finalist at Bucharest.

    Maybe there will be good times ahead for Wozniacki on the North American swing. She likes hard courts, and she was once a finalist at the (2009) U.S. Open.

    But for this week, we will appropriately reward her dominating championship final with our "Golden Breadstick" award.