Tsonga back in the stirrups

Updated: August 27, 2008

A Tsonga sighting

NEW YORK -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hasn't played since May thanks to knee surgery for a torn meniscus that knocked him out of the French Open. The U.S. Open might seem like a pressure-packed venue for his return, but the dynamic Frenchman simply couldn't wait any longer.

"In French, we have a saying -- he wanted to put his feet back in the stirrups," said veteran tennis writer Philippe Bouin of the daily sports newspaper L'Equipe, who watched Tsonga's first-round match on the intimate Grandstand court Wednesday.

Elsa/Getty Images

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looked sharp, hitting nine aces, in his first match since May.

Tsonga took a little while to warm up, but he eventually rode roughshod over No. 108 Santiago Ventura of Spain, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Although his timing was clearly off, Tsonga moved more fluidly as the match proceeded, served as high as the low 130s, and sprinkled in some of the crackling forehands and deft volleys that got him to this year's Australian Open final.

The 23-year-old has been hitting for several weeks and said his main problem now was conquering anxiety about his knee. When the first set slipped away, he said, "I thought, 'OK, a tiebreak, perfect, now things can start.'"

Tsonga reached a career high of No. 11 earlier this year and is seeded 19th. In his U.S. Open debut last year, he had the distinction of defeating Great Britain's Tim Henman in Henman's last non-Davis Cup match before retirement, but lost in the third round to Rafael Nadal. It also was against Nadal that Tsonga played his electrifying Australian Open semifinal, stunning the current No. 1 in straight sets.

Spain's Carlos Moya, who celebrated his 32nd birthday by beating lucky loser Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan, will be Tsonga's next opponent.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Five things we learned Wednesday

1. Jankovic and drama go hand in hand: Is it possible for Jelena Jankovic to play a match without drama?

The Serb edged Swede Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in the first round, but forget about the score.

Jankovic irked her opponent by lying face down on the court for about 30 seconds after chasing a shot and breached tennis etiquette, though not the rules, by apparently serving as Arvidsson asked her to wait.

The former incident occurred in a topsy-turvy third set.

"I was so exhausted at that moment," said Jankovic, unable to train as normal recently because of a calf strain, her latest injury. "I was breathing hard, and I didn't have the energy to get up."

She arose to make sure her yellow dress didn't get overly dirty.

"I would have loved to take a nap on court," she said. "But the rules are the rules."

Jankovic wasn't fussed about the second incident, saying she "really didn't see that."

2. Djokovic's ankle is fine: Novak Djokovic's tournament almost was over before it began.

The Serb, who gained legions of fans last year in New York thanks to his impersonations and his all-around game (probably in that order), injured his left ankle when he slipped midway in the third set against French veteran Arnaud Clement. Djokovic walked gingerly to his chair and needed the ankle taped up.

He still managed to put away Clement comfortably, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

"It's going to be good in two days, I'm sure," Djokovic said. "After that happened, I was thinking more of it than I was really actually feeling the pain, so it's not really a big deal. But in that moment, I felt big pain. It's going to be all right."

A source of concern for Djokovic this summer was his serve. Against Clement, armed with a solid return, he hit 14 aces and won more than 80 percent of points behind his first delivery.

3. Last year's women's runner-up is here: Svetlana Kuznetsova, without much fanfare -- or an overflow of fans watching -- breezed past Romanian Sorana Cirstea 7-6 (3), 6-1 in the day's opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Not that it dampened her enthusiasm.

"You just have so much fun being on the court," said Kuznetsova, who lost to now-retired Justine Henin in 2007. "Even playing first at 11 a.m., it's not so many people, but you feel special being on the central court. I'm enjoying this city so much, the crowd."

Kuznetsova won her lone Grand Slam title in New York four years ago, though on current form there's little to suggest a repeat. Since the end of April, the affable Russian has reached a solitary semifinal.

Given the wacky season on the WTA Tour, however, Kuznetsova, ranked fourth, has a chance of becoming the world No. 1 by tournament's end.

4. A big serve can conquer all: The highest-ranked Aussie man in the draw after Lleyton Hewitt's withdrawal, 6-foot-7 Chris Guccione, converted only 1 of 16 break points against Florida lefty Jesse Levine. The world No. 87 made up for it with 32 aces and prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6).

Another Florida resident, Robert Kendrick, delivered 28 aces in a four-set win over France's Nicolas Mahut, a big server himself.

California's Sam Warburg didn't need a big serve to oust Serb Janko Tipsarevic, who quit with a lingering ankle injury in the second set. Tipsarevic has retired from four matches this season and was a walkover in another.

5. There's life after Henman: OK, that's stretching it a bit, but Anne Keothavong is making waves in England.

Keothavong, ranked 87th, became the first British woman in 17 years to reach the third round in New York when she upset Italian wall and 2003 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. There was so much interest in the tilt that it was called in its entirety by BBC radio, which usually devotes all its attention to men's talent Andy Murray.

"There are women out there who are doing things in British tennis, and it's nice to know it's, well, that it's just not Andy [Murray] out there," Keothavong said. "It's nice to kind of be with him at these events and share it with him."

The reward for Keothavong, the same woman who drilled Venus Williams in the second round at Wimbledon, is a tussle with Olympic champ Elena Dementieva.

-- Ravi Ubha

Jaded Russian

Whether he's embroiled in a gambling scandal, complaining about the food at Wimbledon, trashing an Australian Open warm-up or labeling Federer "lucky," there's never a dull moment when Nikolay Davydenko is around.

The latest drama centering on the Russian, a comedian at times, involves his motivation. A workhorse the past few seasons, Davydenko admitted at the Olympics that he was drained.

He has gone 2-4 in his past six matches, and mostly gone AWOL at the big events, since putting in a sizzling performance -- his sharp baseline game in full flow -- at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami in the spring. There, he dispatched the likes of Nadal and Andy Roddick with ease to claim the title.

Among Davydenko's more eye-popping defeats was a third-round loss to Croat Ivan Ljubicic, not exactly on a roll at the time, at the French Open after having led by two sets.

His best Grand Slam showing in 2008 came when he advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open; the last time he failed to get to a quarterfinal in a major in a single season was four years ago.

At least it sounds as though some of the motivation is back.

"I can say I'm tired all year," said Davydenko, precariously holding on to his ranking of fifth, slightly ahead of onrushing Murray. "Now is the biggest tournament, and I didn't make so great result in Grand Slam. It's very important I will play very well here."

Davydenko had a trouble-free start, easing past pint-sized Israeli Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. One of the top returners around, Davydenko broke Sela six times.

"Very surprising I play good in the first round because always I would be nervous and confidence is not so great just in the beginning of the tournament," said Davydenko, a back-to-back semifinalist at Flushing Meadows. "But I played good all three sets, fighting good and very good concentration."

If Davydenko doesn't raise his game, he might find himself on the bench when Russia visits Argentina in the Davis Cup semifinals next month. Occasional doubles partner and Davis Cup teammate Igor Andreev backed the 27-year-old to snap out of his funk.

"He's 100 percent a professional and sometimes when things aren't working well for him, for sure he's going to think, see what is wrong and what's happening, and try to come out with some solution," Andreev said.

-- Ravi Ubha



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Sleep deprivation


Ted Robinson, leaning back in a makeup chair in the USA Network office, seemed to stifle a yawn.

"At least," said the signature voice of late-night tennis here for 22 years, "I'm vertical.

"Believe me, I sound and look much better than I feel."

And that is something of an upset. Although much has been made of the Beijing Effect here at the U.S. Open -- the difficult double players faced in playing the Olympics and the U.S. Open with only one week in between -- consider Robinson's ludicrous one-day turnaround. That's right, one day.

Call it Ted's Not-So-Excellent Adventure.

Robinson, 51 and working his sixth Olympic Games, was in Beijing to broadcast the various diving events for NBC. His last day of work was Saturday, but after final editing and voice-over work, he didn't get back to his hotel until 6 a.m. Sunday.

"The restaurant was serving breakfast," Robinson said, "but we convinced them to serve us two Tsing Tsaos [beers]. It was a highlight."

His 14-hour flight left later Sunday, at 4 p.m. Beijing time. Sleeping much of the way to Chicago in a slightly reclined seat -- he didn't fly in the 747's first-class cabin -- Robinson didn't arrive in his New York hotel until 10 p.m. Eastern time Sunday. By then, his body rhythms were "completely out of whack."

Exacerbating the extreme jet lag he was feeling was the sleep deficit after surviving the previous five days with less than five hours of sleep because of the heavy workload. USA Network went on the air at 7 p.m. Monday, and Robinson called the Jankovic-Coco Vandeweghe match, then the James Blake-Donald Young encounter that followed.

"The cumulative effect is what hits now," Robinson explained. "The good news? I don't have to run around and whack a ball. I can just sit on my rear end and watch them do it.

"It's part of what we do. If you accept this as your job, then you have to accept the lifestyle that goes with it."

This is a sound philosophy, and it might have carried him through the second match, but there was an unforeseen development.

"I was in pretty good shape until Donald Young won the fourth set," Robinson said, laughing. "I had to have them make me another cappuccino -- there was no chance I was going to make the fifth set without some kind of boost.

"The problem is I go back to the hotel at 1 a.m. -- and was wide awake for two hours. So, Donald Young's excellent showing cost me a couple of hours of sleep."

In all candor, Robinson looked pretty good Tuesday night during a visit to the media center. Oh, his eyes were a little red in the corners, but his energy level seemed strong as he ran down some information on Federer's opponent, Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina.

There's another incentive for Robinson to tough it out here after Beijing.

"This is our last waltz," Robinson said. "Working with the same people for so long -- 16 years with John McEnroe and 20 years with Tracy Austin -- you don't have that luxury in our business very often."

USA Network is in the last year of its contract to cover the U.S. Open; ESPN owns the cable rights beginning in 2009. And what of Robinson?

"Who knows?" he said. "To be determined."

--Greg Garber

Bad news, good news


Amer Delic's bum right shoulder prevented him from performing at his best against Robby Ginepri in their first-round match, which Ginepri won 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (5). The Bosnia-born, Jacksonville-raised member of the University of Illinois 2003 NCAA championship team said he injured himself at the ATP event in Los Angeles earlier this month, but an MRI failed to locate the source of the pain.

Delic tried to rest the joint and didn't hit serves in practice for two weeks, but he couldn't get much leverage Wednesday. "It's tough to play one of the best returners in the game without a serve," he said. "I had Plan A, B, C and D, and I had to play Plan F."

But in the big picture, normally good-natured Delic is an even happier guy these days after undergoing surgery to correct a congenital condition that causes excessive sweating and has given him untold hassles through the years. Delic has used topical creams to try to deal with the problem, and went through heaps of towels and wristbands at every practice session and match to make sure he could maintain his grip on the racket.

When he first heard about the surgery -- through former Illini teammate Kevin Anderson's girlfriend, a fellow sufferer -- Delic wasn't sure he wanted to take the risk. It's a 30-minute outpatient procedure that involves deflating the lungs, going through small incisions under the arms and clamping a nerve between the second and third ribs on both sides.

After going ahead with the 30-minute operation in April, Delic now says he wishes he had done it a long time ago. "It's been life-altering," he said.

--Bonnie D. Ford

The Cup runneth around

Davis Cup

The Davis Cup trophy is finishing up a rock-star-like national tour with an appearance at the U.S. Open. Encased in protective fiberglass, the 231.5-pound treasure, three wooden plinths topped by the famous silver cup first contested in 1900, is positioned at one of the entrances to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. A steady stream of people pose daily for pictures with the inanimate celebrity.

See it while you can. The U.S. team might have a hard time retaining the title it won over Russia in Portland, Ore., this past December, the country's first in 12 years. Nadal & Co. are hosting the semifinal on outdoor clay in a Madrid bullring next month. If the defending champions did pull off the upset, they would face either Argentina or Russia away, also presumably on clay.

U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe will formally announce his team next week, and barring injury, the usual suspects are expected to make up the roster: No. 8 Roddick, No. 9 Blake, and the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan. McEnroe also has spoken to No. 61 Ginepri -- who advanced to the round of 16 at this year's French Open -- to consider coming as a fifth player who could replace Blake or Roddick. Ginepri, a faithful part of the team through the years, said he is weighing the decision.

The practice partners for the team will be younger Americans Scoville Jenkins, Austin Krajicek and Wayne Odesnik.

--Bonnie D. Ford

Critic's choice


Bethanie Mattek vs. (17) Alize Cornet: Although Cornet made it to the New Haven semifinals last week, the talented 17-year-old is still far more comfortable on clay, and Mattek's confidence on all surfaces is at an all-time high. Look for No. 44 Mattek to pull off the upset, and, of course, take note of what she wears.

ESPN.com prediction: Mattek in three sets.

--Bonnie D. Ford