Mondays with Bob Greene: It is not crucial that we immediately get Nadal, Federer or Murray to play

STARS

Cedric Pioline beat Greg Rusedski 6-7 (4) 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) to win the BlackRock Masters Tennis in London, England

SAYING

“I took my chances and it worked. It was really close and it came down to a few points and I think at the end maybe I just returned a little bit better than him.” – Cedric Pioline, about winning the BlackRock Masters in London, England.

“I was just one or two points short. I had one match point in the second-set tiebreak, but Cedric played great and I think he’s a deserving champion.” – Greg Rusedski, after losing to Pioline.

“I think Roger’s going to break (my) record over the next couple of years. There’s a lot left in him. I think he’s gotten to a stage where it’s about the majors.” – Pete Sampras, on Roger Federer breaking his men’s record of 14 Grand Slam tournament singles titles.

“He is not going to overplay next year. He is just going to try to make sure that he peaks for the tournaments that mean the most to him.” – Tony Godsick, Roger Federer’s agent.

“It is not crucial that we immediately get (Rafael) Nadal, (Roger) Federer or (Andy) Murray to play. It is important that we get quality matches.” – Novak Djokovic, on the first ATP tournament to be played in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2009.

SURPRISE

The United States Fed Cup team will take on Argentina in Surprise, Arizona, in February. The matches will be played at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, which received the 2008 USTA Outstanding Facility Award. A USTA Pro Circuit women’s event is also played at the complex. This will be the fourth Fed Cup meeting between the Americans and Argentina, with the South Americans winning the last meeting in the 1993 quarterfinals in Frankfurt, Germany. The United States leads the overall series 2-1. Mary Joe Fernandez will make her debut as captain of the US Fed Cup team.

STAYING HOME

Russia will begin the defense of its Fed Cup title by staying home February 7-8 against China. The tie will be held on an indoor hard court in Moscow. Spain, runner-up to Russia this year, will travel to Brno, Czech Republic, for its first-round tie. Other World Group matches will find Italy at Orleans, France, while Argentina takes on the United States in Surprise, Arizona. Serbia, boasting two of the world’s top five players, will make its World Group II debut at home in Belgrade against Japan.

SLOWING DOWN

Only two clay-court tournaments are on Roger Federer’s schedule for 2009 prior to the French Open. Federer will go into the only Grand Slam tournament he has not won after playing Masters series events in Rome and Madrid. This year, the Swiss superstar played four clay-court events ahead of the French Open: Estoril, Portugal; Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg, Germany. Federer has reached the French Open final in each of the past three years, losing each time to Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

SERBIAN STOP

Belgrade, Serbia, is now a stop on the ATP tour. Novak Djokovic announced the Serbian capital will stage a USD $500,000 men’s tournament in May. Djokovic’s family bought the license of the ABN Amro Open, which had previously been held in the Netherlands. Ana Ivanovic, the reigning French Open women’s singles champion, is reportedly negotiating to buy a franchise for a WTA Tour event to be held in Belgrade next winter. Challenger events have been held in the past, but Belgrade has never been a stop on the main tours of either the ATP or WTA. Niki Pilic will be the director of the men’s tournament.

SHARAPOVA THREATENED

A former college football player has been arrested and charged with threatening Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova. Leonard Taylor, who was a defensive back for the University of Wisconsin from 1995-95, reportedly threatened to kill Sharapova and her family as well as his former college coach, Barry Alvarez, who is now the University of Wisconsin athletic director. Taylor’s father told police his son has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and stopped taking his medication about three months ago.

SYDNEY OUT?

Jelena Jankovic may not play the Sydney International after all. While organizers earlier said she would be in the field, they now say she has withdrawn from the official acceptance list. “Players often end up re-arranging their schedules a number of times and Jelena has not finalized her plans for 2009 yet,” said Craig Watson, the tournament director. Watson said Jankovic still could enter the tournament as a wild card.

SENIOR KING

Cedric Pioline rallied from match point down to outlast Greg Rusedski in an ace-filled match to win his first BlackRock Masters Tennis trophy. The Frenchman prevailed 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) as he and his British foe pounded out 22 aces. Rusedski reached match point at 9-8 in the Champions tiebreak, but Pioline won the next three points to grab the title. Pioline ended the season finale before packed crowds at Royal Albert Hall by winning all four of his matches, beating Jeremy Bates, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras en route to the final. Rusedski was perfect until he met Pioline, beating Guy Forget, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash.

SAMPRAS THE TRAVELER

Pete Sampras is back on the world-wide tennis tour after spending some time in retirement. Last year, Sampras played exhibition matches against Roger Federer in the Far East. He began this month in Prague, presenting a tennis racquet to Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus while visiting the famed Prague Castle. He then played an exhibition match against Czech Radek Stepanek before going to London to compete in the BlackRock Masters tournament at Royal Albert Hall. Sampras won his first two matches, beating John McEnroe and Jeremy Bates, before losing to eventual winner Cedric Pioline.

SLUGGING IT OUT

Victor Hanescu proved that he is Romania’s top player by winning the First Edition of National Tennis Championship “Masters Romania” in Bucharest, a tournament limited to Romanians. In a match that lasted 12 minutes shy of two hours, Hanescu defeated Victor Crivoi 4-6 6-3 6-3. Monica Niculescu beat Irina Begu 1-6 6-4 6-1 to capture the women’s title. Both winners reportedly received houses valued at USD $210,000. The runners-up received SUVs, while those who finished in third place in the closed championships will receive free flights to all competitions throughout 2009, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

STILL UP THERE

He may be ranked number two in the world on the ATP tour, but Roger Federer still is the leading tennis player when it comes to raking in the money. Federer was fifth on the Forbes Magazine’s list of Best-Paid Celebs Under 30, having earned USD $35 million in 2007, including on-court winnings and endorsements. The only other tennis player in the Top 10 was Maria Sharapova, who earned a reported USD $26 million to finish at seventh. Serena and Venus Williams finished at 11th and 12th, respectively, on the magazine’s list. According to Forbes, the Best-Paid Celeb Under 30 was entertainer Beyonce Knowles, who earned USD $80 million in 2007, nearly double the amount of Justin Timberlake. Federer is the all-time ATP leader in career prize money, having earned USD $44.5 million to date.

SO LONG

With most top players in an off-season, Mondays With Bob Greene also will take a few weeks off. We will return on Monday, January 12, 2009. Have a great holiday.

SITES TO SURF

Doha: www.qatartennis.org

Brisbane: www.brisbaneinternational.com.au/

Chennai: www.chennaiopen.org/

Auckland: www.asbclassic.co.nz

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

ATP: www.atptennis.com

WTA Tour: www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

ITF: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS BEGINNING JANUARY 5, 2009

ATP

$1,110,250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Doha, Qatar, hard

$484,750 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$450,000 Chennai Open, Chennai, India, hard

$100,000 Sao Paulo Challenger, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$220,000 ASB Classic, Auckland, New Zealand, hard