Fan Watch

USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at Disney Provides Lessons for All

by Kevin Craig


The USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando is not the biggest or most prestigious tournament in college tennis, but it serves an important event for experiences gained and lessons learned for not just players, but for everyone involved in the event.

In an event that is meant to give college players as much actual match experience as possible – and on the important developmental clay surface – every player certainly found strengths in their games that they would like to build upon, while they also may have found weaknesses that they will want to work on when they return to the courts at their respective campuses. The players weren’t the only people at the event that learned, though, as spectators, coaches, ball kids, and the tournament directors each had their own experiences and observations that will help them build upon this weekend.

On-court success came from a variety of schools as South Carolina, Pepperdine, Clemson, North Carolina State, Florida State, and Florida were all able to bring home titles. Each of the players that were able to win their respective tournaments will use these results to springboard them into successful spring seasons, while the players that came up short will certainly look back at this event and figure out what needs to be improved upon before the regular season comes around. With every tennis match played comes an opportunity to learn, allowing for constant growth and skill improvement. This doesn’t only apply to the players, though, as everyone involved with tennis can take something away from every match.

Coaches of every team in attendance got to see what each of their players can do in an actual match environment and were able to figure out the best coaching strategies and tactics for their team. One match of interest was the Men’s Gold Draw final that was played between two members of the South Carolina team – Harrison O’Keefe and Gabriel Friedrich. Coach Josh Goffi was forced into an awkward situation having to support and advise both of his players, but him and the rest of his staff and South Carolina players were able to do a great job of helping out each player through the difficult match. The rest of the tournament saw coaches running from court to court as they were helping their players during matches that were taking place far from one another. Every minute a coach can spend with his or her players is extremely valuable, so this event was very important for the coaches as it helped them develop their ideas as to how they can most effectively support their players and get the best possible on court result out of them.

The spectators of the event also had plenty to take away from the weekend. Not only did they have the pleasure of watching high quality tennis, but they were able to develop some tips for their own games by watching the highly-skilled players, talk with other tennis fans about their experiences in the tennis world, and some were even able to show their young kids what it can be like to be a tennis player with big goals. Throughout the weekend, parents could be seen with their young children all around the grounds, talking to them about everything from the game of tennis in general to how playing on clay is different from playing on a hard court. It is important for young kids who are passionate about tennis to be immersed in it as much as possible so they can develop a true understanding of the game and possibly develop into a star of the future.

After another very successful edition of the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational, a huge congratulations must go to Florida State University, the USTA, and Carlos Goffi and his entire staff at the Tennis Resorts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports for putting on a fantastic event. A great venue like this one definitely deserves this great event and can hopefully attract more events throughout the calendar year. Every single person who attended this event will be able to take their experiences from the event and use them to help have a bigger and better future in the tennis world. This includes players, coaches, umpires, spectators, and ball kids, as there is something to be learned from every experience.

Great Atmosphere for Collegiate Clay Court Tennis at Disney Tennis in Orlando

by Kevin Craig


I had the chance to attend the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando on the second day of the four-day clay-court event and experienced many high quality matches while able to take in the unique atmosphere of collegiate tennis.

There is no better site for this event than the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. The intimate feel of the complex helps develop the intense atmosphere of the event as teammates and coaches are able to cheer each other on from anywhere on the grounds. In fact, if you take a walk around the concourse of the center court, you are able to have a great view of every court at the complex, allowing for fans to be able to watch every bit of action that takes place throughout the day. (See video here:

Every tennis fan should try to attend a collegiate event as the atmosphere is completely different from any pro event. At one point during the matches today, two Georgia Tech players were playing at the same time on adjacent courts, and they would often shout encouragement to each other when they were both in between points. On top of this, if there were multiple players from one school playing at the same time on courts that were further away from each other, the schools would make sure that at least one or two members of the team were supporting their teammates that were currently on court, ensuring that they would have some sort of support at all times.

If a fan is hesitant to attend a collegiate event because the players aren’t the big names that casual tennis fans may know, they must be aware that these players are still able to make the matches entertaining for the fans. These athletes are on court truly for the passion of the game, and this is made evident as you are sure to hear a “come on!” or “vamos!” from anywhere around the grounds at any given time. They leave everything on the court and give 100 percent effort until the very last point, ensuring an exciting watch for any one in attendance.

Not only are the matches fun to watch, but the people that you can meet are interesting as well. With the players and coaches of the teams walking around the grounds all day, you are able to strike up a conversation with any of them when the opportunity comes up. You may also run into former ATP World Tour players, employees of the ATP and USTA, and many others who have a great knowledge of the tennis world throughout the day, opening up the opportunity to have lengthy conversations and make new friends.

Disney Tennis, Florida State To Host USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational Nov. 5-8

The Florida State men’s tennis program is hosting the fourth annual USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando from Nov. 5-8. VISIT FLORIDA is the presenting sponsor for the second consecutive season.

“We always look forward to hosting this premier event with so many great schools and programs competing,” Florida State head coach Dwayne Hultquist said. “We’re excited to have ESPN3 covering our matches again this year and continue to see the tournament grow into a nationally-recognized event.”

Joining the Seminoles at the event is Baylor, UCF, Clemson, Florida Gulf Coast, Georgia Tech, Miami, Michigan, North Florida, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pepperdine, South Alabama, Stetson, South Carolina, TCU, and Troy.

The women’s teams include BYU, UCF, Clemson, Columbia, Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Georgia, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, NC State, North Florida, Old Dominion, South Alabama, Stetson, Syracuse, Troy, Virginia Tech, and Youngstown State.

The tennis complex at ESPN Wide World of Sports includes 10 world-class clay courts, including a stadium court which can seat more than 1,000 spectators. The facility has hosted a variety of major tennis events over the years featuring global tennis stars such as Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King and Andy Roddick. The facility is run by famed tennis instructor Carlos Goffi, author of the best-selling tennis book “Tournament Tough,” updated recently in ebook form.

Between the men’s and women’s draws, the event will include 38 schools around the country, the most in the event’s three-year history. Clemson men (Hunter Harrington) and women (Joana Eidukonyte) won the singles titles in 2014. Seminoles Benjamin Lock and Marco Nunez won the men’s doubles, while Auburn’s Michala Kucharova and Reka Muller won the women’s doubles title.

A collaboration between Disney, the USTA and Florida State, the Collegiate Clay Court Invitational will stream live on ESPN3, including eight hours on Nov. 5 and the men’s and women’s singles finals on Nov. 8.

Matches will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and the Hyatt Grand Cypress. All matches will be played on clay, beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday morning.

Martin Blackman, head of USTA Player Development, will be the guest speaker at the welcome dinner Thursday night at 7 p.m.

For sponsorship information, contact Derril Beech at (850) 645-8296. To keep up with the Seminoles, visit for the latest news and scheduling information, or keep up with the team on social media through Twitter (@FSU_MTennis), Facebook (/FSUMTennis), and Instagram (@FSU_MTennis).

For more information on the Tennis Resort at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, go to

Seven Matches To Remember From 2014 U.S. Open

By Randy Walker



The 2014 U.S. Open will best be remembered for Serena Williams winning her 18th major title – tying fellow American legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time list – and for Marin Cilic’s surprise victory, beating another long-shot finalist Kei Nishikori in the final. However, there were other standout matches that defined the event, as outlined below and as seen in the updated mobile app “This Day In Tennis” available at


August 26, 2014 – Cici Bellis, 15, becomes the youngest player to win a match at the U.S. Open since 1996, upsetting No. 12 seed and Australian Open finalist Dominka Cibulkova 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in the first round of the U.S. Open. “Believing was the No. 1 thing that I had to do today,” says Bellis, the winner of the USTA National Girls’ 18 Championships. “That’s what my coach told me before the match also: Just go out there and believe that you can win.” Bellis becomes the youngest player to win at the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova reached the fourth round at age 15 in 1996.

September 2, 2014 – Kei Nishikori defeats Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4 in four hours, 19 minutes in a fourth-round match at the U.S. Open that ends at 2:26 am, tying the tournament’s record for the latest finish. Nishikori and Raonic’s finish at the exact time as the 2012 match when Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated John Isner and the 1993 match when Mats Wilander defeated Mikael Pernfors. When asked by reporters if he was impressed by the late finish record, Raonic responds, “Not in the slightest bit.”

September 4, 2014 – Roger Federer saves two match points and rallies to beat Gael Monfils 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in a dramatic U.S. Open quarterfinal that concludes just before midnight. Monfils leads 5-4 in the fourth set and holds two match points before Federer fights back to win in a comfortable fifth set, coming back from 0-2 down for the ninth time in his career. “I feel lucky to be able to do a press conference as the winner instead of the loser,” Federer tells reporters. “But I’m also proud that I fought and stayed with him. The problem was that I was just one point from the end.”

September 5, 2014 – Bob and Mike Bryan win their 100th career doubles title defeating Marcel Granoller and Marc Lopez 6-3, 6-4 for their fifth U.S. Open final. “It’s always sweet winning a Grand Slam,” Mike Bryan says after the final. “This just adds some extra whip cream and cherries and nuts on top.”

September 6, 2014 – In one of the most shocking semifinals in U.S. Open history, both the No. 1 and No. 2 men’s seeds are upset as No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic is defeated by No. 10 seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 and No. 2 seed Roger Federer is defeated by No. 14 Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

September 7, 2014 – Serena Williams wins the U.S. Open for a sixth time and for a third year in a row defeating Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 in the final. At age 32, Williams becomes the oldest woman to win the U.S. Open in the Open Era and also earns her 18th major singles title, tying her for fourth place all time with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who congratulate her on court during the post-match ceremonies and present her with a Tiffany bracelet.

September 8, 2014 – Marin Cilic of Croatia, seeded No. 14, becomes one of the most unexpected U.S. Open champions in history, winning his first major title with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win over Kei Nishikori. Nishikori, who upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, becomes the first man from Asia to play in a Grand Slam final.

Roger Federer’s Win Over Novak Djokovic In Cincinnati Boosts US Open Chances

Roger Federer spelled out revenge for his Wimbledon final loss in July to world number one Novak Djokovic, as he stormed to a 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 straight sets win in the Cincinnati Masters Final on Sunday.

Federer’s path to the final involved a semi-final victory over British number one, and new world number two, Andy Murray, whilst Djokovic defeated Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in his semi, in a two sets to one win.

Federer, who claimed his seventh Cincinnati Masters title and 87th tour-level title, claimed the ever-tight battle every time the two take to the court has heated up even more in recent times.

“We really get the best out of each other,” he said.

“We have improved a lot playing against each other over the years. It’s very special for me. I will try my best to come back for many years to come.”

The win means the 34-year-old Swiss will go into the US Open, which officially begins on August 31st, as the No. 2 seed.

The win was never going to be straightforward against one of the greatest tennis players in history – Djokovic, but Federer held serve to take the match in just one hour and thirty minutes.

Not only that, but the win also has gives Federer the edge in the twos career head-to-head tally at 21-20 to the Swiss, whilst also denying Djokovic the chance to seal all nine ATP Master titles too.

The tournament was seen as a good warm-up for players before the US Open begins on Monday.

Punters will be eager to get the best free bets offers before the tournament starts and will be a popular destination for those people – with the site offering all the latest and greatest bookies offers from each and every large bookmaker. Not only that, but they also offer high quality betting previews and it will be more than worth your while to check their US Open preview when it is released.

The big tournament favourite despite his loss in Cincinnati is Djokovic, with 5/4 odds on him. Murray is fancied next with 7/2 widely offered for his successes, whilst Federer will have to settle for pre-tournament odds of 5/1.

Whilst on the Women’s side of things, Serena Williams continues her dominance on the world stage, as she will enter the tournament with odds as short 10/11 for her success. Victoria Azarenka is deemed her closest rival for the title, and can be found at 8/1.


A Look Back At The Tennis Career of Li Na

“Li Na has been a fun, powerful, and wonderful player on the WTA tour and, along with her fans, I am sad to hear that she has retired,” said WTA Chairman & CEO Stacey Allaster on the announcement of the retirement of Li Na, the Chinese tennis trailblazer, winner of the 2014 Australian Open and the 2011 French Open. “In addition to her amazing tennis abilities and her warm and humorous personality, she is a pioneer who opened doors to tennis for hundreds of millions of people throughout China and Asia.  It’s hard to be a household name in a nation with 1.4 billion people, but that’s what Li Na is.  Thanks to all she has achieved and contributed, her legacy is immense and I have no doubt that her contributions to the WTA will be seen for decades to come in China, throughout Asia and the rest of the world.  I wish her the best of luck in this next chapter in her life.  I will miss her, and I know that while she may be retired from competition, she still will play a big role in the growth of our sport around the world.”

Li Na’s 15-year professional career featured nine WTA singles titles, two doubles titles and saw her become one of the very best and most popular players in the history of women’s tennis.

Li, 32, etched her name in the history books at Roland Garros in 2011 when she became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeating Top 10 rivals in each of her last four matches. Earlier in 2011 she was the first player from the region to reach a major final, finishing runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open. After another run to the final at the Australian Open in 2013, when she was edged by Victoria Azarenka in a dramatic three-setter, Li captured her second Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park in January this year – just the second woman aged over 30 to win the title in the Open Era, after Margaret Court. The victory helped propel Li to World No.2 on February 17, 2014 – the highest ranking ever attained by an Asian player.

Over the course of her career, particularly in later years as her success reached its crescendo, Li’s powerful game delivered against the very best. Her 21 wins over Top 5 opponents included two over reigning World No.1s – Serena Williams at Stuttgart in 2008 and Caroline Wozniacki at the 2011 Australian Open. In total she reached 21 WTA singles finals (going 9-12 in those) and in addition to her wins at the Australian Open and Roland Garros was a semifinalist at the US Open and quarterfinalist at Wimbledon.

Along the way, Li established a string of breakthroughs for Chinese tennis, alongside her Grand Slam title triumphs. She was the first to win a WTA singles title (2004 Guangzhou) and first to win a WTA Premier title (2011 Sydney); first to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal (2006 Wimbledon); first to compete in singles at the WTA Finals (2011-13, finishing runner-up to S.Williams on her most recent appearance); and first to crack the singles Top 20 (August 14, 2006), Top 10 (February 1, 2010) and Top 5 (June 6, 2011). As wfaell as representing her country in Fed Cup competition in eight different years she was a three-time Olympian for China (Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and London 2012). She also played countrywoman Zheng Jie in the first All-Chinese WTA singles final at Estoril in 2006 (won by Zheng) and earlier this year won the second All-China final in WTA history at Shenzhen, defeating Peng Shuai for the title.

Li’s career singles win-loss record was 503-188 with prize money earnings of $16,709,074. She exited the game with a rank of No.6.


Novak’s “Djok-hold” on the U.S. Open

By David Cui


Following his thrilling Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer to clinch his seventh major singles title and return to the No. 1 ATP World Tour ranking, Novak Djokovic undoubtedly has great momentum going into the upcoming U.S. Open.

Since 2007, Djokovic has been a consistent powerhouse in the U.S. Open, qualifying for the finals in five of the past seven years and winning it all in 2011. Riding on this current streak, which is paired with his Wimbledon victory, a U.S. Open title for Djokovic seems almost imminent.

Furthermore, the U.S. Open is played on a hard surface. Out of his 14 Grand Slam finals and seven wins, Djokovic has played nine of them on hard surface, and won five of those nine. His ratio of Grand Slam titles won to Grand Slam titles played on hard surfaces exceeds that of Federer’s and even that of Nadal’s on clay, demonstrating his dominance among the world’s best players.

Djokovic is also entering the U.S. Open with one more significant advantage over one of his fiercest competitors. For this year’s tournament, many agree that Djokovic’s greatest obstacle will be Federer, who currently possesses the No. 3 ranking.

At first glance, the two appear to have equal chances of beating each other, with a tied record (13-13) on hard courts and an extremely slim overall series (Federer currently leads 18-17). However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clearer that Djokovic will enter the tournament with the upper hand.

In their last ten match-ups, Djokovic holds a 6-4 series lead, as well as a 4-2 lead in their hard court matches. This current trend, along with Djokovic’s most recent victory over Federer at Wimbledon, shows that if the two are pitted against each other in the U.S. Open, Djokovic will likely prevail.

Djokovic has once again risen to the top of the modern tennis world, and if all goes well, will exit the summer of 2014 with not one, but two additional Grand Slam titles to add to his collection.


Pro Tennis Right Now Is Boring – Bring On The U.S. Hard Court Season

By Thaddeus McCarthy


The tennis world at this time seems to be quite boring.

Some articles are still coming out concerning Novak Djokovic’s epic win over Federer in the Wimbledon final, which is quite surprising seeing that it was over two weeks ago, an article that recently came out discussed how Boris Becker called Federer the Greatest of All Time (yawn). Another article was out recently concerning how Boris does not call himself a friend of Novak’s. But rather than chattering about supposed coach/player relationships or the monotonous GOAT debate, what I will discuss today is the real business that should concern the tennis world right now, which is the upcoming American hard court swing.

Novak Djokovic has effectively lined himself up as the favourite to have the most successful US Open Series. Nadal is not going away any time soon, and will arguably be more of a threat on hard courts than he was through the short grass season. In terms of points to defend, Nadal has by far the most. There is a lot of doubt though, that he will be able to repeat his effort this year with what he did last year and win the US Open series (Cincinnati, Toronto and US Open). I would not put him as the second favourite this year, just because he has never traditionally performed well in the second half of the season. Last year was an odd occurrence in that respect.

The culprit for the second favouritism position this year could rest with Andy Murray, who has no points to defend and is coming under the radar. His performance at Wimbledon was encouraging after his long down period since his Wimbledon win last year. His strongest surface is perhaps hard courts, which is demonstrated by his 2012 US Open title and 3 Aussie Open final showings. Stan Wawrinka could perform well this summer, but since the Aussie Open has not looked like a Grand Slam winner. Jo Tsonga is another contender, but I think he will only do well enough through a week (or 2) to win one of the American summer tournaments, if any. I have always felt that Jo is the sort of player who is able to play lights out tennis for a period. And he could do this at any time.

The real second favourite though, should be Roger Federer, who has traditionally performed well on the American hard courts and is in resurgence this year. And the fact he lost the Wimbledon final could be good, because unlike in 2012, there will be a feeling this year that he still has something to prove. Last year he was having back problems, and so I think that it is not fair to compare his 2013 with 2014. The level he is playing at is similar to 2012, and the Wimbledon final in particular was reminiscent of Wimbledon 2009.

All things considered, Novak Djokovic should have the best period in the next couple of months. If all players are playing at their best on hard courts, I believe Novak is king. Unlike on clay, where I think Nadal still has the edge. Novak has only the one US Open title and will be hungry to grab another. However, the danger of the young up-and-comers will be more persistent this summer than any other time in recent memory. The showing of Nick Krygios (and Milos Raonic) at Wimbledon is a direct example of this.

But Novak and the rest of the tennis world should never count out Rafael Nadal, as he is the greatest competitor and most tenacious player in tennis history. And will be fighting hard to defend his titles. The field lining up against him is led by Novak, but is flanked by some notable old names and exciting new comers. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Tennis Musings From New Zealand

This gallery contains 1 photo.

By Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

                     The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.

David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.

Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.

In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.

On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.

All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.

So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.


Comings and Goings from Auckland, New Zealand

By Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

As I have just returned home from covering the ASB Classic, and the Heineken Open is already underway, I thought that now would be a good time to give you a summary of the Classic and an intro to the Open.

The ASB Classic was a fantastic six day event played at the ASB Tennis Centre, Auckland. It was (pleasantly) sunny, even though the forecast had predicted rain. The play did not disappoint, and from a personal perspective, as it was my first time covering a tournament, it was brilliant, and the experience certainly lived up to expectations. It was also the dream final, the one everyone had wanted from the start, Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic. Now sometimes these sort of the matches can be disappointments; like many of the long awaited finals in our sport e.g. any number of the Federer/Nadal French Open finals. But this was different; it was tight and the tennis was electrifying. In the first set, Ivanovic cruised to win 6-2. Venus saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and went on to win it 7-5. In the final set though Ivanovic’s younger legs proved to be springier. She caught a break at the early stages of the set, and did not let go from there, eventually prevailing 6-4, and taking the title.

Both Venus and Ivanovic said in the post-match interviews, that this tournament was the perfect preparation for the Australian Open. I think after watching both players, I would expect at least one of them to go into the second week there. They are both on comeback trails right now, but I think that Ana is the more likely one to do so. She has the younger legs, still only being 26. And has a number of weapons on disposal, such as a blistering ground strokes and strong service game. Whereas with Venus you have to say that age is catching up with her. The other player that most impressed me from the tournament was American Jamie Hampton. I was at the press conference where she announced that she was pulling out of her semi-final with Venus, due to a hip injury. Something about her struck me. She seemed in a way similar to the Mighty Fed, in that she spoke almost in third person. She seemed very sure of herself, and I am certain that if she gets over her injury in time, by the Australian Open she will do well. In her quarterfinal against Lauren Davis, I was impressed by the all-round strength of her game.

The NZ Festival of Tennis continues this week, with the Heineken Open. David Ferrer is the defending champion here, and has come back (now as the World No. 3) to defend his title. The other headline acts will be Tommy Haas and John Isner. Gael Monfils, the flamboyant Frenchman unfortunately pulled out this week citing fatigue. Being the first month of the year this is pretty doubtful, but understandable that if he is not feeling totally right, he doesn’t want to ruin himself for the coming Slam. The tournament organisers were in talks with Andy Murray’s manager about potentially getting him in on a wild card, after his early exit from the Qatar Open. Unfortunately though, this was not to be the case. In reality it was too much of a rush for Murray to suddenly come down here to play a tournament after his Qatar loss. Tournament Director Karl Budge insisted after the Murray and Monfils announcements that the tournament does still have some exciting talent, such as young American Jack Sock, not to mention Marcos Baghdadis, Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. Ferrer’s path to the title, will no doubt still be a difficult one, even without a Murray in his way.

As the Classic proved for the ladies, the Heineken Open will serve as a good preparation for the Australian Open, as that Slam begins on the 15th.  If I were to predict a player from this tournament who has the potential to win it though, it would not be David Ferrer. Although he has a very high likelihood of winning the Heineken again, I just don’t think that he has enough firepower to win a Slam. Yes, he did reach the French final last year (where he was dually shellacked in straight sets by Nadal), but Slam winners traditionally need to have a weapon arsenal at their disposal. It is very uncommon for journeyman (such as Ferrer) to win Slams. One-Slam-Wonder Journeyman who immediately come to mind include Andrei Gomez (1990 French) and Thomas Johanseen (2002 Aussie). Now in both these cases they were lucky; in Gomez’s case, Agassi was more worried about his hair piece falling out than winning the final. In Johanseen’s case, he had a very favourable draw that year, and played the volatile and unstable Marat Safin in the final.

My pick for the surprise run of the tournament is Benoit Paire. He is a tall man, with surprising balance, and of course has a booming serve. Although he has not yet gone beyond the third round of a Slam, the Australian as we all know is notorious for unexpected runs. Marcos Baghdadis, 2006 anyone? Or how about Fernando Gonzalez, 2007, or Tsonga, 2008. All of those players had weapon arsenals; the Gonzalez forehand was, is still is legendary. Whatever the case though, surprise run or not, for all of the players involved in this lead-up tournament, the Heineken will be great preparation for the Aussie Open.

You will hear from me again at the completion of the tournament. So for now, keep well.