Another Award for Nadal, Laver Backs Murray and Sampras Praises Monfils

Nadal: Because He’s Worth it

Rafael Nadal was celebrating after lifting the Sportsman of the Year Award at this year’s Laureus Sports Awards. The reigning French and US Open and Wimbledon Champion beat of stiff competition from some of the world’s top athletes to raise the trophy in Abu Dhabi. Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters were all nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year award but lost out to the American skiing Olympic gold medallist Lindsey Vonn.

Laver Backs Murray for Success:

He may have taken a fair bit of stick from doubters questioning his ‘bottle’ after his third straight Grand Slam final defeat but Andy Murray will undoubtedly take great comfort after one of the true greats of tennis backed him to come good. Rod Laver, the only man to twice win all four majors in a calendar year and the last man to do so, has backed Murray to one day lift one of the great trophies aloft and has called for the British press to get off his back. “He did very well in coming through the field that he was against,” the eleven-time Grand Slam winner told Garry Richardson of the BBC. “Just look at the way that [Novak] Djokovic played that day and through the whole two weeks. He was just a man obsessed. Unfortunately Murray did not have any chance because Djokovic just played unbelievably well.” He said of Murray’s future chances: “Winning the first one is probably the toughest thing you’ll ever come across. He just has to not let the British public take hold of him and say ‘you’re a failure’ because he’s certainly not that at all…I think he’s certainly capable of pulling it off but…that’s up to Andy. It depends on his ability to win the big matches when he’s not playing so well. Sometimes he can get a little emotional and that detracts from his great ability.” The full interview can be heard at the The full interview can be heard at the BBC Tennis website.

Sampras a Monfils Fan:

Before the serious play began at this week’s SAP Open in San Jose current French star Gael Monfils took to the court to play an exhibition against esteemed Hall of Famer Pete Sampras. The young wild child scored a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory and certainly left a mark on his opponent. “I played a little better than I did last year and held my own,” said the 14-time Grand Slam winner. “But physically that’s the most I’ve served and volley in combination of the last seven years. Not easy. Gael’s a great mover. He returns well and made me work pretty hard on my service game, but all in all, I’m very happy with the way I played. I had a few chances in the first set I let slip away, but he’s the real deal. I’ve played a lot of good movers in my day, but not only does he move well, but he slides, which helps really cover the court that much better.” But he wasn’t getting carried away with talk of Monfils ending France’s wait for a major winner: “You look at Roger [Federer], [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic now, you can tell that they can play at that level a little bit easier, a little less effort, whereas with Gael I think just to get there is a lot of work. He has the talent, it’s just a matter of putting it all together, but he has the game. He serves big, he can come in when he has to, and returns quite well, but to win these majors you’ve got to be very, very special. He has the talent; it’s just going to take some time. He’s still very young. He’s 24. He still has a lot of time to get it.”

Nadal set to resume Training:

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has announced via his official website that he is set to resume training ahead of Spain’s Davis Cup match with Belgium next month. “I feel quite good,” the statement read. “I am going home today (Tuesday) to Manacor to begin training on the courts. I am going to start training slowly, following a plan, so that there are no setbacks.” Nadal also spoke of his disappointment of the way he crashed out of this year’s Australian Open at the quarterfinal stage to friend and compatriot David Ferrer: “I was crying in the locker room,” said the 24-year-old. “I [hated that I had] to go out of the tournament. Last year, I had to do it and it was something I didn’t want to repeat. But from the third game I knew I didn’t have a chance to win. David was playing fantastic and I wasn’t able to run enough to rise to the level to beat him.”

Querrey-ing his Form:

It’s not been a good start to 2011 for American star Sam Querrey. Complaining of a loss of love for tennis mid-way through last season it looks like his poor run has spilt over in to the new tennis calendar. This week in San Jose the world No. 17 suffered the unceremonious honour of falling to the world No. 113 Lukas Lacko of Poland in straight sets in their first-round encounter. “I didn’t try to play fast,” said the 23-year-old. “I tried to play more accurate, to make him run, and I knew he was going to miss when he was moving a lot.” His current run of a 1-8 win/loss ratio is a far cry from his career-best four titles on three different surfaces during the early part of last year which placed him third behind Rafa Nadal (seven) and Roger Federer (five) for the most titles won. Lacko was positively beaming after the greatest win of his career which places him against the 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro in round two. “It’s a good feeling because it proves to me I’m able to beat guys like this,” he said. “I played a couple matches this year, last year, against guys like Sam – Top 20, Top 10 players. I played good matches, I got chances, but I never finished the match. I lost too many close matches. It’s good satisfaction to beat a guy like this.”

Li Screams for Ice Cream:

Li Na is already cashing in on becoming the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam final after ice-cream giant Haagen-Dazs signed her up as an ambassador and the face of all their Eastern advertisement campaigns. Among her benefits will be free consumption of ice cream at any of their worldwide stores. It is thought to be the first time the ice cream giant has used an athlete in its campaigns. Her finals appearance saw Na climb to a career-high No. 7 in the world, three places below Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm who once sat at No. 4. The deal is said to be worth well over $1m over several years and she is said to also be signing a similar deal with Rolex shortly.

Home is where the Heart is for Anderson and Dodig:

There were two maiden winners on the ATP tour last week as Kevin Anderson took his home title at the SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg and Ivan Dodig took home the PBZ Zagreb Indoors in his native Croatia. Anderson was a set down against the Indian star Somdev Devvarman but rallied to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. “It’s an amazing experience,” said the new world No. 40. “Obviously just winning my first title is one thing, but doing it in front of my home fans and my country with my friends and family watching is something I’ll remember forever. My end of year goal is to finish the year in the Top 20. Obviously it’s a good start, but there’s still a lot of tennis to be played and it’s just important to recognise the accomplishment this week and build in confidence for the rest of this year.” Dodig’s victory was a little more straightforward as he overcame the No. 8 seed Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-4. “I think it’s the best thing that can happen to a player – to play at home in front of your own crowd,” said the 26-year-old. “I’m really happy and enjoying this day. It was amazing for me all week and it’s an unbelievable experience. I think I served really well all week, especially on the important points. My serve is my best shot. I’m very happy that the serve was working great in all the matches this week.” For more fallout from both Anderson and Dodig visit the ATP site.

The Kids Are Alright:

This year’s Australian Open threw us a bevy of new names to look out for in the main draws of ATP events and some of the best performers at Melbourne Park are continuing the early season promise in to February. 20-year-old Canadian Milos Raonic qualified for the main draw Down Under and eventually reached the fourth round where he lost out to David Ferrer. Now at the SAP Open in San Jose the new world No. 84 has recorded an impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory over the No. 4 seed Xavier Malisse of Belgium. “It was a good win,” said Raonic. “He returns well. He’s been playing well this year. I’ve been playing well also, so I focused on making sure I take care of my serve and stay on top of that. I had a few opportunities there on his return and I was able to utilise them, so it helped. I was serving really well so it was putting a bit more pressure on his service game not to get down too early.” New Lithuanian prospect Richard Berankis was semifinalist Ferrer’s third-round victim in Melbourne but also at San Jose he conquered the No. 6 seed Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-3, 7-6(2). The Japanese No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori was another third-rounder in Australia and he is also in to round two. The 21-year-old overcame Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6(6).

Clijsters to be No. 1?:

If the Belgian Kim Clijsters wins her quarter final matchup with either Nadia Petrova or Jelena Dokic in Paris she will climb above Caroline Wozniacki as the No. 1 player in the women’s game. The four-time Grand Slam winner reached this stage with a less than regulatory victory over the world No. 78 Kristina Barrois. “I knew it would take time to get into the rhythm and get the feel for the ball,” the 27-year-old said. “Slowly I got into the match and started being more aggressive. It’s nice to be in Paris. I love the court here and the crowd is so welcoming.”

Ivanovic Single Again:

Ana Ivanovic has apparently split with coach Antonio van Grichen after only two months after the pair “failed to mesh.” He apparently wanted to implement many changes to the former world No. 1s game as well as criticising her current body weight which she did not agree with. Ivanovic has now announced her intent to find a regular hitting partner to create stability while she searches for a new full-time coach.

Blake Flying Solo:

Former world No. 4 James Blake has announced that he is no longer travelling with a full-time coach after splitting with Kelly Jones last year. The 31-year-old stated at the SAP Open in San Jose that he believes he is too old to be helped by a full-time strategist and instead travels with a full-time physio to help him with many long-term injuries he carries. “I really don’t need someone to put me through the same drills that I already know and to tell me things that I’ve already seen and heard,” said the world No. 170. “I may have Kelly, Brian [Barker, another former coach] or my brother [Thomas] come around here and there because someone on the outside can always pick up things that you can’t, but I knew that by this age I would know the game well enough to coach myself.”

Olympic Dream in Balance for Williams Sisters:

Venus and Serena Williams are set to be included in the USA’s Fed Cup squad for their match against Germany in April for the first time since 2007 as they have been told that they must at least show up for, if not play in, one tie this year to keep themselves eligible for Olympic play in 2012. ITF rules state that players don’t have to necessarily play but be on site and show support for their team during two ties prior to the Olympics beginning.

Young Enough to Conquer:

Donald Young quickly became the forgotten man of American tennis after his early promise failed to materialise in to a genuine challenge to the higher echelons of the sport. But while many have written him off he is back in action at the SAP Open in San Jose this week without his parents in sight. While both are USTA pro coaches and have definitely passed on some good advice to their talented but enigmatic son, the fact he is working now with other USTA coaches such as David Nainken and Leo Azevedo is a good sign. He is showing improvements to his game on his return and certainly believes a corner may have turned in his quest to be remembered for more than just ‘the one that got away.’ “It’s developing weapons and picking the way I want to play and sticking with it,” he told TennisReporters.net. “I’ve been doing it quite a bit. In the past I went with the wind and didn’t have a set game plan.” The 21-year-old Young still has his sights set on a Top 50 berth despite having never climbed higher than No. 73 before now. “To be honest, I’d be upset if I didn’t get there too,” said the left-hander. “Some of my peers have moved up and made it there and I’d like to move higher. But if I play better the wins will come. I’ve set [my goals] low before and now I want to set them higher. It’s wavered and there were times I feel like I couldn’t do it, but then you win some matches and you feel you can.”

No-Go for Novak:

It is reported that Australian Open Champion Novak Djokovic pulled out of this week’s ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament with a shoulder injury. It is not yet known how long the Serb will be out of action for.

Another Fresh Start for Safina:

In yet another attempt to resurrect her freefalling career the Russian Dinara Safina has announced that Davide Sanguinetti will be her new coach going forward in to 2011. Her latest former coach, Gaston Etlis, will work with the Argentine Juan Monaco. The injury and confidence-plagued sister of former men’s star Marat Safin was No. 1 in the world in April 2009 but now finds herself ranked 117.

Sacre Bleu:

There was no home comfort for the French at the WTA Paris Open this week as every single home-grown player crashed out in the first round for the first time in the tournament’s history.

Dolgopolov Fanbase Growing:

On the back of his exceptional run at this year’s Australian Open the star of Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr. continues to rise. If you are a fan of his or just want to know what it’s like growing up on the ATP tour following your father around then head over to their website where you can read a fantastic article on the upbringing of one of tennis’ latest starlets. It’s a little different to say the least!

Rankings Watch:

The Russian Mikhail Youzhny has re-entered the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings at No. 10 this week after his recent events replacing Jurgen Melzer while Marcos Baghdatis re-enters the Top 20. South Africa’s Kevin Anderson leaps 19 places to No. 40 after his maiden victory at the SA Tennis Open and Santiago Giraldo also enters the Top 50 at No. 47. Ivan Dodig leaps 24 to No. 60 after his victory in Zagreb and Somdev Devvarman (No. 80), Karol Beck (No. 87), Nicolas Mahut (No. 90) and Gilles Muller (No. 91) are all high risers. Due to last week’s Fed Cup commitments there were no movers in the Top 100 of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week.

GOAT Race Unaltered:

With neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal in action this week the GOAT Race scores remain unaltered.

Roger: 330  Rafa: 130