Clijsters injured, Nishikori has home in mind and Safina winning again

Paribas Open Ends in Belgian Tears:

Reigning US and Australian Open Champion Kim Clijsters was forced to retire from her BNP Paribas Open encounter with Marion Bartoli with a shoulder injury. The 2003 and 2005 winner took the opening set before calling a trainer on court while trailing 2-1 in the second. With Bartoli taking the next game she decided to call it a day. Her early exit from the tournament ends all hopes the 27-year-old had of regaining the number one world ranking from Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki won her round of 16 match beating Alisa Kleybanova 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, booking her own place in the quarter-finals and securing top seed in the process. “With those higher shots against the opponent today, I just feel it pinching a little bit more when I have to do that kick serve and when I have to reach that right arm up higher with the forehand,” said Clijsters. “It’s not that I’m really, really worried about it but it is something that I have to pay attention to and that I don’t want to risk.”

Nishikori Thinking of Home:

It must have been a highly difficult task but Japanese star Kei Nishikori took to the court at Indian Wells to face the Russian Igor Andreev just hours after last week’s earthquake and tsunami tore through his homeland. The 21-year-old immediately contacted friends and family when he had heard of the disaster. “I talked to them this morning and they were fine,” he said on Friday. “My town was okay. It wasn’t too bad. But around Tokyo and others, it’s bad.” Despite going down to Andreev he refused to blame what had happened at home for the defeat. “I was shocked yesterday and today, but I have to concentrate on my game. I don’t think it affect[ed] me, but maybe inside my heart I was thinking [of it] a little bit. It was okay.” He wore a black ribbon on-court to honour those who had lost their lives in the tragedy. Russian star Maria Sharapova, who runs a foundation offering scholarships to children from around the Chernobyl area, also spoke of her sympathy for the victims in the wake of the news filtering out of the instability of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant. “Crazy, right?  Can you believe one disaster 25 years ago?  Now another?” she said. “In terms of what’s going on over there, it’s crazy and something that you can’t even prepare for. It happens, and you see the coverage on it and the videos, and it’s really incredible that something like that can even happen in the world. It opens your eyes, and obviously puts a lot of perspective in your life.  [Japan] is a country where I have very great memories from. I started playing there when I was very young, and I always loved my experiences there. So to see it going on there to its culture and the people, it’s really sad.”

Japanese Star Kei Nishikori

Safina Smiling Again:

Just a month after her flirtation with quitting tennis Dinara Safina was smiling again after a string of good performances at Indian Wells including a 7-6, 6-4 victory over the fourth seed Sam Stosur. In April 2009 the younger sister of the equally enigmatic Marat Safin sat atop of the world but terrible form and niggling injuries have seen her plummet to No.108 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Rankings. In January she suffered a 0-6, 0-6 humiliation at the hands of champion-in-waiting Kim Clijsters in the first round of the Aussie Open but things slowly seem to be picking up again. “Definitely it’s a nice feeling to get [that winning feeling] back,” the 24-year-old told reporters. “It’s been a while since I had these feelings, after winning a match, and you really can smile and enjoy the win. Many things have happened, so I really want just to enjoy the moment. After Australia, it was tough. I said to my mom: ‘I’m retiring’. I said: ‘I don’t want any more of this’. For me it was tough because I knew that I’m gonna start from the next week with a new coach. It was a moment that was going in my mind, like: ‘Will I be back?’ But there is a saying that you never give up.”

Soderling Walking Wounded:

Swedish star Robin Soderling says he should never have taken to the court due to injury after his shock 6-7(8), 4-6 defeat at the hands of Philipp Kohlschreiber. The two-time French Open finalist said he “shouldn’t have done that” when asked about taking to the court. When asked about whether he considered retiring after the first set, throughout which he did at times look extremely uncomfortable, he said: “Yeah, of course. But, you know, I wanted to keep on playing. I didn’t withdraw from many matches in my career. Of course it was tough, but I felt that even though I had some problems, I still had a few set points in the first set. But again, it was maybe stupid to continue play after the first set.” He also said he was unsure whether he would be recovered in time for Miami. “I think it’s pretty stupid to play,” he added. “Hopefully they won’t find anything bad and then I will be able to play [Miami]. But I’m not sure.”

Federer Eyes Opponent’s Serve:

Roger Federer is statistically the greatest player in the sport’s history. Yet he has recently spoken of possible areas where he admires opponents. “A good serve is a good start,” he said. “Then you pick the obvious suspect. The ones who are hitting aces and unreturnable serves and can clutch serve all day. One of those big guys, like John [Isner] or [Ivo] Karlovic or [Andy] Roddick and so forth.  Guys who have proven themselves over a long period of time, of course, and also have variety.” One of his rivals who seems to be able to break his game is Andy Murray. Yet he wasn’t sure trading his one-handed backhand for Murray’s excellent defensive strokes would benefit him. “I don’t know how effective it would be, Murray’s backhand with my game,” Federer added. “My game needs my one-handed backhand, I feel, and I don’t know how his game would work out with my forehand.”

Gonzalez to Return in Belgrade:

Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez says he is aiming to return to the sport at the Serbian Open 2011 in April after recovering from hip surgery. He hasn’t competed since last year’s US Open. Speaking on his Twitter account he said: “My protected ranking is No. 55 and works at nine tournaments or nine months, whichever comes first. Also I confirm a wild card in Belgrade.” The 30-year-old also announced that he was now working with a new coach, former Chilean star Horacio Matta. Elsewhere, David Nalbandian is aiming to return midway through the clay season in order to be ready for Roland Garros. The surgery he underwent on Thursday on his groin and leg was successful. “I am very calm and am confident that I’ll be ready soon to face the rest of the year absolutely fine,” said the world No. 19.

Nadal-Federer Friendship Stays in Locker Room:

World No.1 Rafa Nadal has insisted that despite being great friends off the court he and Roger Federer take their on-court rivalry very seriously. The pair hold 25 Grand Slam singles titles between them yet also host many fundraising events and exhibitions for fans. Despite kicking back together off-court this hasn’t stopped them producing some memorable scraps over the years for the sport’s biggest titles. “We love competition,” said the 24-year-old. “But we understand outside competition [there] is the relationship of outside of the court. [It] doesn’t affect nothing on our performance on court. That’s the most important thing. At the end, we have a good connection together, and that’s why we are always open to do exhibitions or events for our foundations or anything together. I think Roger, for sure he’s a good person, but at the same time he’s a good friend of mine at this moment. For sure, our relationship is getting closer and closer all the time, and I think we are feeling comfortable together.”

Clijsters to Adopt Child:

Belgian supermum Kim Clijsters has spoken of her desire to adopt a child once her glittering tennis career draws to a close, according to CNN. She is the reigning US and Australian Open Champion and one of the sport’s biggest names. But she has widely hinted that this year could be her last and that retirement this time would be permanent. “I have always said that my goal in life is to adopt so that is something that I want to start working on when I am done playing,” she said. “[My husband and I] have a lot of help and we travel with a big group, but I want to try and be as hands on as possible.”

Nadal Not Focussed on Defending Points:

Rafa Nadal says that he is not fazed about defending the vast amount of points he accumulated during last year’s clay-court season as he does not have the same method of thinking as the ranking system does. In 2010 he lifted the titles at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid as well as yet another French Open title. But he said that just keeping up good form this year is all that matters. “Even if I like or I don’t like, that’s what’s gonna happen. Always the same,” he said. “I don’t have to defend no points, because every season start from zero, and I am focused always. And when I am playing in Monte Carlo, if I do quarterfinals, I win, I don’t know, 160 points, not I am losing 800 points. So that’s how I approach every tournament. For me [at Indian Wells], I defend semifinals; and if I do quarterfinals, my approach is am I losing points? Defend or not defend, doesn’t matter. If I don’t have to defend that points, for sure I’m not gonna be No. 1. I don’t believe about defend points or not. I believe in play well and try to win. You play well, you have chances. If you are not playing well, doesn’t matter if you don’t defend nothing or a lot. You not gonna win.”

Henman: “Kids Aren’t Alright:”

Former world number four Tim Henman has hit out at Britain’s floundering tennis stars for failing to push on after promising junior careers. He also claimed they were the victims of Britain’s “blame the system” culture. Scotland’s Andy Murray continues to challenge at the top of the men’s game while Heather Watson and Laura Robson look like promising talents in the women’s. But there is little else to cheer for as Britain’s Davis Cup team have slumped to the fourth tier of competition. “The players should appreciate how lucky they are with the opportunities they’ve got, and they’ve got to get out there and maximise that,” said the six-time Grand Slam semifinalist. “That’s what success is about and unfortunately in British tennis there are too many people over the years who haven’t maximised their potential.”

Raonic to Inspire Canadians:

As Milos Raonic takes the ATP Tour by storm he has spoken of his intent to raise the profile of tennis in his native Canada. Speaking of his first-round win over Marsel Ilhan of Turkey at Indian Wells he said: “I noticed when I was walking off the court that there were a lot of Canadians in the crowd. I heard people saying ‘I’m Canadian. I’m here. I came down to watch you.’ It means a lot.” He also spoke of his intent to get Canadian youngsters involved in the sport. “Even further down the road, the goal would be all those tremendous talents and athletes you have going into hockey, if they could see really a successful road towards tennis in Canada, they might come this way. There really are some spectacular Canadian athletes, like [ice hockey star Sidney] Crosby, for example, [fellow hockey star Wayne] Gretzky.”

Ivanovic doing it for Herself:

Serbian former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic has ended her brief training arrangement with childhood friend Marija Lojanica in order to take more control of her own career. “We are still friends, but it just was a little bit time for me to consider certain things because we had a little bit of different view of my stage and where I should be at,” Ivanovic said. “I just felt like I needed to get a little bit stronger. I was feeling very weak on the court and I had quite a few injuries. I just want to take a little bit different approach, and gain some more muscles, because my game is so powerful. I felt weak, and that caused a lot of stress on my body.”

Murray Wants Scottish Davis Cup Tie:

World No.5 Andy Murray has spoken of his desire to see Davis Cup tennis played in his Scottish homeland. The 23-year-old pointed towards Stirling as a real possibility as three quarters of the likely GB team to play Luxembourg in July trained at the University courts when they were juniors. “It’s a great venue with an excellent atmosphere which would sell out no problem,” said Murray ahead of the Lawn Tennis Association decision on Monday. “Too often it’s just been the most convenient venue. But if they pick the right venue and get a full passionate crowd, I don’t mind where it is. I think they should just make sure it’s in a place where tennis is in a high demand, because it’s going to be a tough match.”

Watson Holmes-less:

The Lawn Tennis Association has confirmed that Guernsey-born starlet Heather Watson has split from her coach Billy Wilkinson who has overseen her rise from No. 176 to No. 132 in the world.

GOAT Race Update:

Both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have entered the business end of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells so their scores are unchanged from last week. Both are looking to score big going in to next week’s column.

Roger: 450 Rafa: 140