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What’s In Store For ASB Classic In New Zealand

Ivanovic

By Thaddeus McCarthy

 

Dear Fans,

As I will be covering the ASB Classic in New Zealand for you all , I thought that now would be a good time to give you a rundown of what’s in store.

The tournament will run from the 30th of December, and the final will be played on the 4th of January. Current world no. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska is the reigning champion, but unfortunately will not be defending her title this year. The two big names that will grace the first event of our 11 month season will be Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, both former number 1’s and Grand Slam winners. Venus is undoubtedly the bigger name of these two. Sister of Serena, 7-time Grand Slam Winner, 44 career titles and arguably the main reason why women get equal pay today. It is for this last reason that I have requested an interview with her. If I manage to get one, I will be sure to let you all know how it goes. Ana Ivanovic won the 2008 French title, and 11 career titles. She has had many struggles since then, dropping to No. 65, but she has since gone back up to No. 16. It will be one of the main interests of the tournament will be to see if she can regain some of her No. 1 form. Ana will arguably be the most keenly watched player, particularly amongst the boys, as she is definitely one of the better looking females’ on tour.

Some other very recognizable names include young Laura Robson from Great Britain, Yanina Wickmayer, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Georges. The latter three are all former top 20 players, and are seeking to regain some of their earlier form. Laura Robson is a promising teenager, and did reach a WTA final in 2012 in China. The expectations for her, mostly as she is the top ranked British female, are very high. Personally I like her playing style, and being a similarly tall individual, I hope she does well. Julia Georges is another tall player, who’s a big hitter and uses lots of top spin. Along with Ana she is another popular player on tour.

Players who I have requested interviews with, include (obviously) Venus, Yanina, New Zealander Marina Erakovic, and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. With Venus I will talk about gender equality in tennis, and by extension, in sports in general. She was instrumental in getting equal pay for women at the French and Wimbledon, as it was her essay which eventually swayed the debate.  With Garbine I will (hopefully) discuss with her about the development of younger players in Spain, and how they are working to continue producing quality. Following on from this I will talk with Marina about the development of the game in New Zealand, and how we can start to emulate countries (such as Spain) in producing some more tennis stars. My talk with Yanina will be about how she plans to return to (near) the top of the game. If I manage to get an interview with Ana, my chat would be on the same topic.

Well, that’s the end of my discussion today; I would appreciate any suggestions you guys may have in regard to interview topics.

 

Ivanovic

Vince Carter, Mo Vaughn and Dick Vitale Have Strong Praise For New “Macci Magic” Book

Rick Macci

“MACCI MAGIC: Extracting Greatness From Yourself and Others,” the new inspirational book by renowned tennis coach Rick Macci, is now available for sale and download, New Chapter Press announced today.

“MACCI MAGIC,” available where books are sold, including here on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Macci-Magic-Extracting-Greatness-Yourself/dp/1937559254/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1387141455&sr=8-1 is the entertaining and inspirational manual and memoir that helps pave the way to great achievement not only in tennis, but in business and in life. Macci, known as the coach of tennis phenoms, including five world No. 1 players – Venus and Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova – shares his secrets to success both on and off the tennis court through anecdotes and more than 100 of his famous “Macci-ism” sayings that exemplify his teaching philosophy and illustrate the core role and power of positive thinking in the molding of a champion.

The book was written with Jim Martz, the former Miami Herald tennis writer, author and current Florida Tennis magazine publisher. Former world No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick contributed the foreword to the book while another teen phenom student of Macci’s, Tommy Ho, wrote a preface to the book.

Among those endorsing the book are ESPN basketball commentator and tennis fan Dick Vitale who says of Macci, “He will share his secrets for becoming a better all-around person and tennis player and gives you all the tools you will need to assist you in THE GAME OF LIFE!”

Said Mo Vaughn, three-time Major League Baseball All-Star, former American League MVP, “Rick Macci is the best coach I’ve seen. He can coach any sport on any level in any era. That’s due to his ability to communicate directly with his athletes on a level that they clearly understand the technique and what it takes both physically and mentally to be successful. Ultimately the best thing about Rick Macci is that no matter your age, ability or goals being with him on a consistent basis will teach you life lessons that you can take with you regardless of what you do. Rick Macci can make any person better just by his coaching style. My daughter Grace is lucky to have Rick Macci in her life.”

Said Vince Carter, NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist of Macci, “As a professional athlete, I have been around many coaches. Rick’s dedication and commitment to turning kids into great tennis players is paramount. The confidence and technique he continues to instill in my daughter amazes me. Rick Macci’s ability to cultivate a player is a testimony of his dynamic coaching skills.”

Said popular tennis coach and personality Wayne Bryan, father of all-time great doubles team Bob & Mike Bryan, “Rick Macci has long been at the very top of the mountain as a tennis coach. Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Jenny Capriati are on his laundry list of Grand Slam champs and all-time greats that he has worked with, but he has coached so, so many other pros and Division I college players through the years. He is a coaches’ coach. He is passionate, motivational, dedicated to the game and players, super hard working from dawn to dusk and into the night when the court lights come on, very bright, knows the game inside and out, still learning, and still striving. He is engaging, fun and funny. His new book is loaded with great stuff and stories are such a great way to entertain and educate and inspire — and no one can tell a story or give a lesson better than Rick. You will enjoy this book and be a better person for having read it.”

Macci is a United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) Master Professional, and seven-time USPTA coach of the year. He founded he Rick Macci Tennis Academy and has been inducted into the Florida USPTA Hall of Fame. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida.

Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com) is also the publisher of “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All-Time” by Steve Flink, “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection” by Rene Stauffer (www.RogerFedererBook.com), “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” by Bud Collins, “The Wimbledon Final That Never Was” by Sidney Wood, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey and Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Titanic: The Tennis Story” by Lindsay Gibbs, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes with Peter Kolar, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “On This Day In Tennis History” by Randy Walker (www.TennisHistoryApp.com), “A Player’s Guide To USTA League Tennis” by Tony Serksnis, “A Backhanded Gift” by Marshall Jon Fisher “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli (www.Boycott1980.com) among others.

Forget The GOAT Debate! Let’s Talk About The GROAT!

Roger Federer

By Thaddeus McCarthy

As we are in the (short) off-season, I thought now would be a perfect time to look at some historical aspects of our great game. Rather than discussing my opinions on the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate (which is a boring and tedious one), I will instead talk about the GROAT (Greatest Record of All Time) debate. Whether it is Roger Federer’s 17 Grand Slams, or Rafael Nadal’s 81-match clay-court win streak, we certainly have an array of options. The records I will compare will be only men, as it is too difficult to compare both sexes. I also don’t want to get into a debate on the relative importance of the two.

Two factors are most important here; the first is the difficulty of acquiring the record, and the second is how important the record is too the game’s history in general. The difficulty of acquiring the record can be looked at by the closeness of the results, the quality of the opponents, and the next person in the category. How important the record is can be looked at by how widely known is, and is revered by players and historians.

I would like to start off by talking about a record that unfortunately never was, Federer’s 19 consecutive Grand Slam finals. The match which broke this streak was the 2008 Aussie Open semifinal versus Novak Djokovic, which coincidentally your writer watched from the stands. I remember thinking that Fed was not his normal self. He did in fact have mononucleosis, which did slow him down. But let’s for now go back to fantasy and believe that Federer won this match, in which case I believe we certainly would have had the greatest record in tennis, and arguably in sports. Why? Well there were many close matches throughout, such as Janko Tipsaravic at Aussie 08, won 10-8 in the 5th. The opponents Federer had to face in this time (2005-2010) before the final were very good; such as a young Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, and David Nalbandian. The next person in the consecutive finals category is Rafael Nadal with 5, which is not even close. And it’s standing in the history of tennis and sports would undoubtedly be exemplary. It would be near on five years of constantly finishing in the top two of sports major tournaments… ridiculous.
As it is in reality land, we have Federer’s 23 consecutive semi-final streak to admire. The matches were close and the opponents were still very good. The next person in the category though is Novak Djokovic with 14, which is much closer than five. It is probably the best known record in tennis, and has been talked about as one of the greatest in sports. But is it the greatest? His own 17 Grand Slams stand out as maybe a better known record. Nadals 81-match clay court win streak, or his 7/8 titles at 4 different tournaments (French Open, Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona) were both far beyond anything else. Jimmy Connors 109 single titles record will likely never be approached. Guillermo Vilas’s 16 titles in a single season will not be overtaken in the modern age. You could also include Rod Laver’s two calendar year Grand Slams or his 200 total titles in this company.

For Nadal’s two greatest records there is one match which stands out above all others, and that is the 2006 Rome Final, which went over 5 hours. It was the longest match in the Nadal-Federer rivalry. Winning this match enabled Nadal to break Vilas’s record 53 straight clay wins. Jimmy Connors total titles record of 109 is a reasonably known record throughout the tennis public. The next person in the category is Ivan Lendl with 94. Seeing that Fed only won a single title this year to notch up his 77th, we can clearly see how difficult it is. The Vilas record of 16 titles in one season (1977) is practically unbreakable. Especially considering that Federer in his best year of 2006 ‘only’ won 12. Most of those for Vilas were on clay though, so one has to question his all-court mastery. Rod Laver’s calendar Grand Slams, one in the amateur era and one in the professional; will be hard to emulate. It has to be remembered though that these were the transition years when neither (amateur/professional) had all the great players in their respective competitions. One has to think that it would be somewhat easier to accomplish the true Grand Slam then, than from the 70s onwards.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to that which is best known by the general public and appreciated by historians. And unfortunately Vilas’s, Nadal’s and Connors records; while undoubtedly great, are not well known by the general public. The Laver calendar Grand Slams are well known, but the quality of the opposition in those days was spread across two separate competitions. The record which stands out I believe (and I know it may be obvious) is the Federer semi-final streak of 23. The reasons for it are many. It is one of the best known records in tennis and is revered by historians and the public alike, most importantly though it demonstrates consistent excellence over a prolonged period. Among the great records in sports it is arguable where this stands alongside the likes of Tiger Wood’s 142 consecutive cut streak or Wilt Chamberlains 100 point game. Within tennis though, nothing is on par with it. We needn’t live in a fantasy land, because the reality of 23 consecutive top four finishes isn’t half bad.

Looking Ahead To The Start Of The ATP World Tour In 2014

Rafael Nadal

by Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

As we are are now at the end of the ATP tennis season, I thought it would be good to assess how the beginning of the ATP season is looking heading into next year.

We start off as always Down Under, with the Heineken Open in New Zealand, and the Sydney International, before the first grand slam of the year. As this is the start of the year, it usually takes the big names some time to build up speed. So we may see some new names as winners of the year’s first couple of tournaments. Some we could see include; Jercy Janowicz, Milos Raonic and Stanislas Wawrinka. All of whom have been performing steadily better this year. One name I sadly don’t think we will see though is Bernard Tomic. Touted a few years back as the next Lleyton Hewitt, after a run to the Wimbeldon Quarters, he has failed to live up to expectations. He does definitely have a lot of talent though, and has a decent serve. Maybe in 2015 I think he will return to good form, but in 2014 I don’t think he will be quite there yet. David Ferrer will feature in Auckland, and should perform strongly there. He has won the tournament in the past, and he could win again.

The Australian Open has been Novak Djokovic’s domain during the past few years. And judging by his form finishing this season, I would not count him out. Some interesting possible records could emerge from a few of the regulars. Roger Federer of course will going for his eighteenth grand slam. Although his 2013 year has been poor, he does still have the potential for winning another. A lot of experts have said that he will have the best chance of doing so at Wimbledon. But I don’t agree with that assessment. If you look at his record at the Australian Open, he has not failed to reach the semi-finals since 2003. I expect that we will see a strong showing from the great man. Novak Djokovic is going for his fifth title, which would be a stand-alone record. And Nadal meanwhile, is going for a two-time career Grand Slam and would join Rod Laver in that category.

Why I think that Federer will play well at the Australian is for a couple of reasons. Firstly of course, is his record there, having won the tournament four times. Mostly though, I think that the off-season break will be hugely beneficial for him. He has been plagued by injuries this year, and you do have to wonder if he has not yet gotten fully over them. The off-season should do him a world of good. Novak Djokovic’s record at the Australian is stellar, and he would be regarded as possibly the greatest Aussie Open (male) champion in the open era, if he was to win there again. His form at the end of this season is unbelievable. You do have to question though whether he can keep winning. I suspect that next season we may see his streak broken. Nadal will benefit from playing on Rebound Ace, as it is a slower surface than indoor hard (where he has never done well). If he was reach the latter stages of the tournament, especially the final, I think he will win. Nadal has legendary mental toughness, and on the biggest stages there is perhaps none better. Andy Murray also, should not be counted out. He has made three finals, and would love to grab a win. He is an all-court player, and the days when many thought he couldn’t win on the big stage are long gone.
The Australian though, is notorious for throwing us surprises. Everyone will remember the Tsonga run back in 2008. And before that there was Gonzalez in 2007, Baghdadis in 2006, and way back in 2001, Thomas Johansson went one step further by winning it. The potential surprise run I’m going with next year (although it wouldn’t be really) is Juan Martin Del Potro. Since he won the US a few years ago, he has been plagued by injuries. But this season he has hit form again. He plays best on hard courts as well, with his strong ground strokes and booming serve. A mentally tough Nadal against an in-form Del Potro in the final would be quite a match.

Anyway, I would just like to say that I hope you all enjoyed my first blog. I hope that I will have created some debate.

Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and James Blake Talk Tennis!

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and James Blake held court and talked tennis Thursday in a conference call with the media to promote the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit. The following is the transcript of the call where a number of subjects where presented with some fascinating responses.

RANDY WALKER: Thanks, everybody, for joining us today on our PowerShares Series conference call. We’re excited to have Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier on the call today.
Last week we announced the full schedule for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit featuring legendary tennis players over the age of 30. The series kicks off February 5th in Kansas City and runs through March 21st in Surprise, Arizona. All event dates, venues, player fields and ticket information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.
General public ticket sales kicked off on Tuesday of this week, and we can report some brisk early sales.
Before we open it up to questions, I’m going to start off with a question for each of our participants. We’ll start with Andre.
Andre, you’re scheduled to play in Houston and Portland this year. You, James and Jim are in those fields. Can you talk a little bit about those venues and potentially playing against Jim and James. You and Jim have been battling it out since the Bollettieri days. You and James had that epic US Open quarterfinal from a few years ago where you won 7 6 in the fifth. Talk a little bit about that.
ANDRE AGASSI: Absolutely. First of all, this has been a great platform for me to stay engaged with the game of tennis. It’s been a very high priority in my life, tennis has given me a platform to do so many things. I’ve struggled to find ways to stay involved that don’t take too much time away from my family and the balance of life.
What Jim has created with this PowerShares Series, he’s created an opportunity for guys like me and James and others to be able to get out on the road for a night and prepare for this, have an excuse to stay in shape, have an excuse to stay involved in the game, and go to these places and enjoy that level of engagement.
I can’t say I’m looking terribly forward to James with this because he still moves like the wind. Nevertheless, the memories will come flooding back for me. I love the feeling of engaging with people that have been a huge part of my life. James and Jim have certainly been two of them. Going to places where tennis really should be and isn’t.
RANDY WALKER: James, you played your last ATP career match at the US Open this year. Who are you most looking forward to playing and what are your expectations on the PowerShares Series this year?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, after Andre’s comment, I don’t know if I should be offended or complimented (laughter). I totally understand.
It’s funny because I was just thinking about it the other day. My whole life on tour seemed to go by so fast. I was the young guy on tour. Before I knew it, I was the grizzled veteran. Now I’m off tour and I get to be the young guy again on this PowerShares Series again. That’s exciting for me to be the young guy in any situation.
It should be a lot of fun. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life that doesn’t have tennis be the first, second and third priority, as I’m sure the other guys understand. When you are on tour, it’s a bit selfish. We have other things involved in our lives. I know Andre has his family and foundation. Jim has so many business ventures and a family as well.
It’s going to be a little less stressful than that match I played with Andre at the Open, but maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight if I can get a little revenge on the PowerShares Series.
ANDRE AGASSI: Let the record show that it was a compliment.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to Jim. Jim is playing in the kickoff event in Kansas City on February 5th, returning to where he and Andre had an important Davis Cup win in 1991, 22 years ago, over Germany.
Jim, talk about the PowerShares Series this year, 10 new cities, including a lot of cities that don’t have ATP or WTA events.
JIM COURIER: Sure. It’s going to be great to be going back to a city like Kansas City that I haven’t played in since ’91, since Andre saved my bacon when I lost the fourth singles match. Who did you come out and beat? Was it Steeb?
ANDRE AGASSI: Steeb, yeah. You took care of him the first day, I had to take care of him the last day.
JIM COURIER: It’s going to be fun to go back to Kansas City and be out on tour with James and Andy Roddick, who are two newcomers this year. A little bit like Andre said, be careful what you wish for. It’s great to have these guys out with us, but it’s going to make it that much tougher to win.
But I love the challenge. Obviously it’s great to have those guys out joining me and Andre and some of the other great champions that are a part of the circuit.
There’s going to be a lot to look forward to as we get going in February and March. I think January is going to be a pretty hectic time trying to get ready for these guys, too, trying to build up the body to take on these young bucks.
It’s going to be a good circuit. A lot of great cities that I’m looking forward to playing in for the first time. I haven’t played in Salt Lake, Sacramento, among many others. It’s going to be definitely a good challenge and some new travel for me, which will be great.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to the media for questions.

Q. A quick Rafa/Federer question. Rafa is at 13 majors now. If he wins the Australian and/or the French, he’s at 14, 15, tying or passing Pete. Do you think it’s inevitable that he’s going to pass Roger? If so, does that make him the greatest? With regard to Roger, do you think he can win another major?
ANDRE AGASSI: As far as titles go, I don’t think that’s inevitable. I do think he’s capable of it. I would make argument he doesn’t need to pass Roger in quantity to have him be arguably one of the best of all times.
I also think getting to 14 slams and tying Pete doesn’t suggest that Pete is in his category. I think Pete dominated his generation and won 14 slams but was never a factor during the clay court season.
You have to put in a bit of variety as part of that analysis, see what Rafa has done on every surface that he’s won at least a couple times, and in some cases eight times, then see what Federer has done winning multiple times, not winning the French many times because of Rafa. I think these two guys are in a class of their own.
I do think without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time. He does have a winning record over Fed, although a lot of those wins come on clay. He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
You can also make the argument this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world, and once Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world.
If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit.
It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title. That’s also forgetting about the fact that Djokovic is one win away from entering not necessarily this all time conversation, but certainly accomplishing a win at every slam. So now you got three guys potentially in one generation who have done something that only five guys have done over five decades.
I think it’s a golden age in our sport for sure. I think we’re better off for it. I hope everybody appreciates what it is we’re watching.
JIM COURIER: I think Andre covered it pretty well. Obviously, the biggest question mark for Rafa at the moment is his ongoing health. Those of us that care about the sport want to see him stay healthy and challenge the numbers.
It’s a fun dinner conversation. I’m not sure you can convincingly say that one guy is the greatest right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to omit somebody like Rod Laver who did so much and missed so many opportunities because he turned professional.
It’s a fun party discussion, for sure. I just hope that in 10 years’ time we’re able to look back and see what Rafa and Novak and the current guys did in the rearview, put it in proper perspective.
Lastly, with Federer, I would not be surprised whatsoever if he were to win another major. I think anybody that counts him out right now does it at their own peril.

Q. Andre, you and Steffi are arguably the couple who have been the most involved in charity matters. You’ve spoken at great length about your education work. Could you take a moment and talk about what you’ve seen through Steffi’s work with Children for Tomorrow.
ANDRE AGASSI: What she’s chosen to take on is nothing short of Herculean and quite honestly heroic in my mind because I do believe that it takes a unique strength to deal with the trials and tribulations of the wounds that exist in children that you can’t tangible ize. That’s the reality of her work.
For me, it’s about providing a high standard of education for kids that society has failed or society has written off. For her it’s about somehow solving something that you have to first prove really exists.
It’s remarkable the stuff that she’s made, remarkable what she’s done. She’s built kindergartens and counseling centers all across the world, from Kosovo, to Eritrea, to Hamburg, Germany, and other places.
I see how it affects her. I see how committed she is. There’s not one time that she does anything tennis related that she doesn’t give literally 100% of it to her foundation.
She makes me feel like the devil with her generosity. I look at her and I think, Why are you putting yourself through this? She puts herself through it and then comes home and writes the check to her foundation.
She doesn’t need fanfare with it. She doesn’t advertise it. Most of the time she’s not that thrilled to talk about it publicly because it brings her to tears in a hurry. She just chooses to live it.
I’m amazed at what she does. I get to watch her live her values every day. I try to do the same. I pale in comparison. She beats me at everything. At the end of the day, I still get to learn so much how she chooses to live. Her foundation is right up there with the highest of what there is to respect about her.

Q. You three guys have dedicated your lives to the game. Aside from changing the schedule, if you could change just one thing, what would that be?
ANDRE AGASSI: I would change our narrator calling you Mr. Simons instead of Simmons.
JAMES BLAKE: You hit the nail on the head with the first one, the schedule. If I had to go to a second one, I actually think I would like to go sort of back to the way it was when Andre and Jim were playing in terms of the surfaces.
I feel like the surfaces have become a little homogenized. It’s a surface that lends itself, in my opinion, to the domination you’re seeing with Roger, at times with Novak and Rafa. Like Andre said about Pete, he didn’t really factor in in the clay because I think the clay was so different from the grass back then. The grass was strictly a serve and volley game until Andre showed his returns were better than anybody else’s volleys. It was a time when you had to change your game a little bit to be effective on each surface. I think that added a little bit more variety to the styles of play, to the tournaments themselves.
I would like to see that change a little bit. It may change the rivalries, the Roger/Rafa dynamic for years where they were clear cut the two best players in the world. You could talk about who is better on what surface, a fast court, a slower court like we used to have in Hamburg, Germany. I think that would help the game, in my mind, to have variety.
ANDRE AGASSI: I don’t know what I would change. It’s been a while. I think James is probably your best look at clarity on the subject. He’s the most recently removed from the game, sort of has lived the realities of it in a very intimate and specific way.
When I look from the outside, I remember playing Wimbledon towards the end, and there’s no question, I agree with James, it is not the same kind of court that it once was. I can also speak to the fact additionally guys are stronger and moving faster and so forth. But the spin that’s in the game today, even if the court was faster, the spin generated off those racquets doesn’t serve anybody to move forward in the court, at least not without being 100% sure.
I love watching it. I didn’t have to live it. I wasn’t terrorized by it, except for once last year that I had to go through it. James has come off some fresh runs of having to face what the game has become. I think as a result, he can probably speak to it more comprehensively.
I don’t know what I would change except to make a general statement. That is the Association of Tennis Professionals by definition is designed to look out for the interest of all players. I don’t think any bureaucracy can move the game forward effectively if you’re trying to go all directions at once. You turn into a swamp. The game needs to be a river. It needs to be moving in one direction, which means a price needs to be paid by someone somewhere for the betterment of the game. This isn’t politics. This is about what a sport needs to do.
Generally speaking, I would love to see somebody have a position that at least allows them the responsibility and accountability of making decisions on behalf of the game. That’s what I would like to see.

Q. Andre, why did you decide to play the Portland tour stop? Did the cancer treatment center sponsorship or Nike have anything to do with that? Secondly, McEnroe is your foe that night. How much game does John have left?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I wanted to play in Portland first of all, yeah, because of what cancer research does. I’ll always support that. That factors into it to some degree. Personally I’ve grown really attached to Portland. It’s a way for me to make most use of a very delicately balanced life.
Again, the tour has been designed to facilitate this opportunity for us and for tennis fans in a way that allows it to be successful, enjoyable, and achievable.
My relationship with Nike has a lot to do with that, no question. But, again, everybody really looks for multiple overlaps, your time away, business or foundational, you have to make the most of that time when you’re away from the family.
John is remarkable. I think all of us on the phone would sign up to be in his shape, and certainly his talent. Given his age, I’d sign up for it right now, to be doing what he’s doing.
I know just being the age that I am, every year brings additional challenges. It’s not going to be as easy for him every year moving forward, just like it won’t be for us. What he’s done up to now is pretty darn impressive. He can neutralize a lot of power. He can make someone very uncomfortable, especially in conditions. For example, in Salt Lake, if he plays James, James will be surprised he can make the match play awkward.
He has a passion for the game that’s almost unparalleled. He brings that intensity to the court, sometimes against my wishes. I wish he could enjoy it more. But maybe that is his way of enjoying it. But he still has more tennis in him, for sure.
RANDY WALKER: James, any comment on going to Portland? You had a big win there in 2007.
JAMES BLAKE: Yes, 2007 we won the Davis Cup. One of my fondest memories to be a part of that team, guys I had a ton of respect for, still do, still am friends with. That was extremely special to me.
The support we got in the Portland community was really second to none, as well, the excitement we felt in that stadium.
The biggest part for me in Portland was the fact that it was really a team effort. Andy got it started. I got the second win. Then the Bryans clinched it on Saturday. We all contributed to winning in the finals. That’s to me the perfect ending to the journey we started in 2001 with Patrick.
I’m really looking forward to going back there. I had a great time there. Can’t wait to have some more memories there.

Q. Andre, I want to know what you think about whether you can compare players of back to back eras? If so, how would you compare the era you played in with Sampras and Courier and Rios, Kuerten, compared to the era that Federer played in which was probably Hewitt, Safin, Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI: I think some generations back to back are more realistic to compare. It’s when the game takes a leap forward that you are no longer talking about the same equation.
What Roddick brought to the table was obviously the dominance of his ability to hold serve and to make life really uncomfortable all day long because you felt like every time you were playing on your own serve, you felt like you’re serving to stay in the set.
Others had that. Pete had that, gave you that feeling. Hewitt, his movement and his defensive skills, were like many that I’ve played before. Lightning fast, redirect the ball. He did four or five things that I found in a lot of players throughout my career.
But when you start talking about guys like Djokovic, Rafa, Fed, possibly Murray, you’re talking about guys who have literally changed the rules of engagement. Whenever you’re talking about that, you cannot, in my opinion, compare generations.
Somebody who played in an era where there wasn’t that kind of spin, there wasn’t that kind of I don’t know how you want to put it but where the rules of engagement change that dramatically, impossible to do.
There’s no way a serve volleyer, a Rafter, can come forward on every point and get to your ball early. Covering the line at the net is fine, but you can’t reach the ball because it’s 15 feet over your head, coming down with margin, it’s like a drive forehand topspin lob winner. Certain things are just above and beyond. And I would say in this generation, that’s changed the game.

Q. Jim, as a person who has put this tour together, you have a couple guys in his early 30s, a guy in his mid 50s, somebody in their early 60s. How do we view these matches, more as competition or exhibitions?
JIM COURIER: I think if you look at each of the individual tournament draws, as far as the generations that are playing, you’ll see some logic to them. We’re not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn’t going to be that competitive. Not that Jimmy isn’t a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment.
You’ll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour. We’ll have some cross generational matches for sure. But Johnny Mack, as Andre pointed out, is going to make things difficult for anybody he plays, no matter what generation, because of how he’s able to play.
I think we have a terrific lineup all across the board when I look at all 12 of these events. I see nothing but great matches and great competition.

Q. Andre and James, you both played Nadal in 2005. He was a teenager. What was your first impression of him then? When you look at his evolution, the revisions he’s made to his game, what have been most important to his evolution?
JAMES BLAKE: 2005 was the first time I got to play him. I actually had the benefit of getting a great scouting report from Andre who played him a couple weeks earlier in Canada.
My impression of him then was he was a clay courter playing on hard courts. He was playing with a lot of topspin, hitting the ball heavy, but not attacking the ball, not moving forward at all. He sort of counted on his defense and his movement to win a lot of matches. He did it exceptionally well, obviously. He had already won the French Open at that point. He was the best clay courter in the world at that point. He hadn’t translated that into his best hard court game yet at that point, I don’t think.
Andre gave me a great scouting report that I needed to attack him, make him feel uncomfortable. I was able to do that that way. Since then, he’s become much more aggressive. He worked on his serve. When I played him in ’05, he served over 90% to my backhand. He was looking to hit that clay court serve where he hits it to the player’s weakest side instead of using it as a weapon.
We saw this year at the US Open how easily he held serve. His serve is much more of a weapon than it was.
I also remember specifically, I had never even hit with him before I played him, the first couple balls in warmup, he hit the ball so heavy, I actually thought I was in trouble from the start. Once the match started, he was hitting the ball shorter and playing with a lot of margin and not being as aggressive. That to me gave me the opportunity to play my game.
As I’ve seen him now and practiced with him much more recently, that guy is gone. He’s so much more effective with being aggressive, with taking his game and imposing it on me, like I said, being more effective with his serve. He’s still one of the best movers, moves so well side to side.
He actually has improved his volleys. He used to be pretty, in my mind, uncomfortable at the net. Now he looks comfortable. He’s not going to be Patrick Rafter at any time. He gets up there, looks comfortable, feels okay up there, can finish points at the net.
I think he’s improved everything he needs to to be aggressive and still keep the game that got him to be the best clay courter in the world, too.
ANDRE AGASSI: That was a hell of a breakdown of his game. The only thing I could add to it is my impression of him the first time I played him, I didn’t have the luxury of James’ speed. The one thing I knew I had to do, I just didn’t have it. James had the option.
I used to play lefty clay courters and pound the backhand cross court. They would try to fight it off deep. I would step inside the baseline and just control the point. I did it in the Canadian Open final the first point we played. Everything went according to my game plan. The next time I came from backhand cross court to his forehand, he went so high and so short, in order for me to do anything, I had to commit so far in the court, I was exposed on the next shot. I hit that shot. He came in, made an adjustment, hit it at my feet, laughed at me when I tried to make the volley. The next thing I knew, there’s no chance against this guy unless you have the ability to move exceptionally well, get up in the court, get back, or like James does so well, which is get around that short ball no matter where it’s bouncing and jump on the forehand knowing he has all that real estate he can cover if he doesn’t hit the forehand exactly the way he wants.
Nadal went from a guy that maybe I had a chance against that year, right surface, right circumstance, to a guy I see from my couch that I’m pleased to be watching from my couch.

Q. If you look at the guys under 24, Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Janowicz, who do you think has the hugest upside?
ANDRE AGASSI: James has played them.
JAMES BLAKE: I played all those guys. I didn’t play Dimitrov. I practiced with him plenty, though.
I would say Dimitrov has a ton of talent. Raonic, that serve, that’s the most uncomfortable to play. Out of those four guys, I’d least like to play Raonic because of that serve. It takes you out of your rhythm, which I know it sounds weird for me to say, because I do that with my forehand, try to get them out of their rhythm. He definitely makes it so you don’t feel comfortable. It could be a set and 3 all in the second set, you don’t feel you’re into the match because he’s won so many free points off his serve, he’s missed a lot of balls on the return game, and he hasn’t given you anything to really feel like you’re into the match. That to me makes it uncomfortable.
Janowicz is a little bit the same. He really hits the ball hard and flat. He can make a lot of balls in a row, which can give you some rhythm. I had success against him. I feel like he kind of sticks to patterns a little bit. I just happened to be playing well that day.
Nishikori I think is continuing to improve. It’s a tougher battle for him because he’s not a big guy. That’s another thing that’s changed about the tour, is guys have gotten so much bigger. I think it’s tough for him to compete against really big guys, even though he hits the ball better than a lot of them, moves better than a lot of them. It’s tougher for him to stay healthy and compete with the big boys.
Dimitrov, practiced with him a lot. I think he has a huge upside. If he stays healthy, he has a live arm, huge serve, even though he’s not one of the huge guys, 6’6″, 6’7″. He moves well. Looks like he’s comfortable hitting any shot. Just a matter for him of putting it all together.
If I had to say one guy that the game actually excites me, it’s did Dimitrov. Raonic is the most uncomfortable to play, but I don’t get quite excited watching a guy serve 25 aces and win a match 6 6.
ANDRE AGASSI: It’s funny you say that because when I watched Federer play Pete for the first time at Wimbledon, I said, There’s no way he’s going to beat Pete. You can’t play like Pete and beat Pete. He was too similar to Pete to beat him. Obviously as I was wrong with Pete. He’s gone down as one of the greats ever.
I look at Dimitrov, and I think, You can’t play like Federer and be better than him. I’ve seen it before. He excites me, as well.
JAMES BLAKE: Exactly.
RANDY WALKER: Andre, you’re playing on Thursday, February 20th in Houston. Can you talk about your past experiences in Houston. You played at the clay courts many years, also the year end championships.
ANDRE AGASSI: I really enjoy Houston for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the relationships I had there. The McIngvales were not just big supporters of my foundation, they were a huge asset to the sport of tennis. I think it’s one of the great crimes that we haven’t nurtured them more profoundly in our sport because they were really making a difference with our game.
There’s so many tennis enthusiasts in Houston. The standard of club players there, it’s very high. The education in the sport is very high. You felt it from a fans’ perspective with them watching you.
Clay was never something I looked forward to playing on at that stage in my life. Going there and playing on clay wasn’t ideal for me. But when I played the World Championships there on the hard courts, it was one of the great experiences in the World Championships that I’d ever been through.
Three set matches to make it to the semis, having two match points on Federer in the third set breaker, beating Ferrer in three, beating Nalbandian in three, coming back and beating Schuettler in three on Saturday, only to have to face Federer again in the final.
It was a great week of tennis. It will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of reasons heading back there.

Q. Could you share with me who your tennis heroes were when you were kids.
JIM COURIER: My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport. I wasn’t allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior in my house. I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero. That was my guy.
ANDRE AGASSI: I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well. He was easy to like, easy to root for. I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody’s game. I did that with Bjorn. I did that with John. I did that with Jimmy. But Bjorn, when it was head to head, it was easy for me to root for him.
I didn’t like Mack and Connors because of certain behavioral things. As I got older, I learned to like Mack.
JAMES BLAKE: I actually had a few. I kind of picked out different reasons for them. Arthur Ashe I learned about as I got older. He wasn’t in the generation I was growing up watching. Everything I learned about him made me respect him so much more and idolize him for his education, values, his humanitarian efforts inside and outside of the game.
I would say the two guys I grew up watching and finding certain things I enjoyed were actually ones on this call, Jim Courier for the work ethic. When I was a kid, everybody talked about his work ethic. You could see when he stepped on the court he felt like he out worked his opponent. That was something I looked up to and tried to emulate.
The other was Mats Wilander, a guy who in my opinion showed a ton of restraint. I know obviously to get to the level you’re at, the competitive fires are always going, and I was a bit of a brat as a kid. I watched Mats competing in the highest of highs of the competition, keeping his cool in every situation. To me that was the most impressive thing I could see because I had no idea how to do that at 14 years old. I’m still trying to learn how he was that cool under pressure at all times.
I got little things from each person and tried to emulate all of them. Failed miserably at all of them, but did my best.

Q. Jim, the day before the ’91 French Open final, you said of Andre, We don’t spend any time together and in the past we didn’t even speak to each other. Could you and Andre tell us what your rivalry and your relationship was like in the early ’90s. Did you want to beat each other more than anyone else?
ANDRE AGASSI: Our relationship was strictly platonic.
JIM COURIER: Andre and I grew up playing together and against each other at Bollettieri’s. From my perspective, I was fighting for attention down at Bollettieri’s. I took exception to Nick prioritizing Andre, as he should have done. In my adult years now looking back on it, I totally understand it. Obviously I get it at a new dimension now than when I was in the heat of battle back then.
I used what I thought was a slight from Nick Bollettieri to fuel my fire in whatever circumstances I needed to be in. Andre and I, he was the guy in our generation that got up to the top first, and Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and myself were all trying to keep up. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in competition with him for major titles in my 20s.
At that time in my perspective I drifted further away from all of those Americans that I was competing against almost out of necessity to be able to hold down the emotions of the moment. We’re all trying to take each other’s lunch money at that point in time. The thing we care about most is what we were fighting for.
It’s hard to separate what you know to be true, which is these are good guys you’ve known since you were a kid playing tennis. There was nothing caustic necessarily about it. It’s more a function of what you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve obviously gone on and become full fledged adults, are not in as serious of competition, I think we’ve been able to put it in proper perspective. I certainly have. I’m closer to Andre than I am to anyone else in my generation. We probably spend more time together as a result of that on and off the court.
There were certainly times when I looked across the net and I wanted to beat him as badly as I wanted to do anything in my life. I’m guessing, and he’s about to tell me, that was the way he felt, too. Andre, too, was also always the better player as we were growing up.
Andre, you’re surprised that I was even on the other side of the net in the big moments.
ANDRE AGASSI: I remember we grew up competing against each other, 11, 12 years old, Jim was always a good draw in about the second round. It wasn’t until three years later that I realized, because he played a bunch of different sports, and tennis is just a quarter of his season. When he put his full attention to tennis, his rate of improvement spoke to his talent and athleticism.
I simply was a guy that wasn’t easy to like if you were around me in the teenage years, nor did I feel Jim liked me, and I didn’t like anybody that didn’t like me, I didn’t like them. I feel my own sensibilities were skewed during those years.
When you step onto the world stage, you’re playing against somebody for titles and dreams, it doesn’t serve you to expose yourself to a friendship, let somebody understand what makes you tick, what’s really going on inside. I certainly had a lot of weaknesses that I felt the need to hide, even from myself.
But going through all that, I think we found ourselves with a deep respect of both our work ethics and our abilities and the way we handled our own survival. Today I think we respect one another for not just those things but also for a real deep sense of loyalty, not just to one another, but also to the people in our lives.
It’s been a full circle relationship, one I think that speaks most comprehensively, at least in the hub of my life, to how far somebody can travel in any given journey.
RANDY WALKER: Jim, we had some folks on the phone from Alabama. If you could talk about the field that’s going to be there. Andy will be making his debut there, played a big Davis Cup match against Switzerland. John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis are in that field.
JIM COURIER: I attended the Davis Cup match that James played as well with Andy and with the Bryan brothers against the Swiss a few years back. It was an absolutely packed crowd, completely enthusiastic. I’ve never had a chance to play in Birmingham. For me, this is going to be very exciting to get to go down there and be on the court instead of in the stands which I was for the entire weekend when I proudly watched our American team take the Swiss out.
Welcoming Andy onto the tour, a place that he obviously is going to carry fond memories into the battle there, I think it’s going to be a great way for him to get started. That’s going to be a pretty fiery night. Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick would most likely play there, and I will play John McEnroe. You can look for some fiery matches on all levels there.

Q. A question about the ATP World Tour Finals. Who do you think will be the final three to qualify? Regarding the event itself, do you think it should go back to a rotating locations like it did with the Masters Cup or do you think London is a great spot for it?
ANDRE AGASSI: I have no idea who is in contention for the spots. I can’t help you there.
Do I think it should rotate? It seems to me from a distance, maybe James could tell you the turnout is remarkable. I think the top eight deserve that kind of platform. I love what I’ve seen there. I think this event would be big in any part of the world, but they’ve certainly earned the right to at least keep it in the short term.
It reminds me of the days it was at the Garden, a remarkable venue that always turned out a full stadium. It felt like you were in a prime time fight. That’s the way it appears to me in London.
I haven’t seen anything close to Madison Square Garden since we left there.
JAMES BLAKE: I agree with Andre about it. They’ve earned the right to keep it in the short term. I didn’t get to play in London, but I’ve seen the crowds. I’ve heard from the guys that it’s an amazing venue. As long as the guys are happy and the fans are happy, they’ve definitely earned the right to keep it in the short term.
As far as the five through eight, six through eight, the last three guys, I don’t know exactly who has qualified already, but I’m guessing Berdych, Wawrinka will probably qualify. As I said earlier, Raonic was always uncomfortable for me to play. I think he’s got a good chance to qualify. I’m not sure the other guys in contention, probably Tsonga, Gasquet.
JIM COURIER: Federer.
JAMES BLAKE: Federer hasn’t qualified yet?
JIM COURIER: No.
JAMES BLAKE: Then I’ll take him. Just about any time, I’ll take him.
JIM COURIER: The top three guys right now that look like they’re going to qualify are Federer, Wawrinka and Gasquet. They’re the next three guys in. But I think Tsonga playing at home also in Paris next week, I think he has a really good chance to qualify. It’s going to take a lot for Raonic to get in. But one good week is worth 1000 points. A lot can change. Certainly indoors looks pretty good for somebody like that. Even Tommy Haas, if he were to sprint out in Paris, he could make it. It will be an interesting week next week for sure.
RANDY WALKER: Everybody, thank you for participating in our call today. I want to thank Andre, James and Jim for their time and great answers today. Appreciate all the media for calling in. We appreciate the attention to the PowerShares Series. We invite you to go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com for all the event, venue, player fields and ticket information.

Andy Roddick and James Blake Sign Up For PowerShares Series Tennis Tour

James Blake and Andy Roddick

InsideOut Sports & Entertainment today announced the dates, venues and fields for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit, highlighted by the debuts of Andy Roddick and James Blake, who will join the 12-city tour and play alongside tennis legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

The PowerShares Series will kick off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Kansas City and will conclude March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. Players competing on the 2014 circuit are Roddick, Blake, Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Todd Martin and Mark Philippoussis. Each event will feature two one-set semifinal matches, followed by a one-set championship match.

An exclusive USTA member pre-sale offering a 15% discount for USTA members begins today. Tickets and unique VIP fan experience packages will go on sale to the general public next Tuesday, October 22. Tickets start at $25 and all ticket and VIP information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.

“We are eagerly anticipating the 2014 PowerShares Series season with an exciting blend of all-time greats from different generations competing in 12 cities across the country,” said Jon Venison, Partner at InsideOut Sports & Entertainment. “We are excited to welcome Andy Roddick and James Blake as they join our eighth year of Champions Series tennis and look forward to seeing them, along with the other legendary players, compete and entertain crowds around the United States this season.”

“I am looking forward to playing on the PowerShares circuit,” said Roddick. “Having a chance to stay connected with tennis and compete on a limited basis through events like these fits perfectly with my life these days.”

“It’s going to be exciting to start a new chapter of my tennis life playing on the PowerShares Series circuit,” said Blake. “Having just retired from the ATP tour, you’d think I have an advantage over some of the guys, but players like Andy, Andre and Pete are so talented and competitive that is going to be a great challenge for me to win some titles. I look forward to the challenge.”

The full 2014 PowerShares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:

Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint Centre – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang

Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Indiana, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis

Thursday, February 20, Houston, Texas, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake

Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, California, Sleep Train Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake

Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, North Carolina, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander

Friday, March 21, Surprise, Arizona, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang

 

From Continent to Continent: ATP Washington and Kitzbuhel Previews

Juan Martin Del Potro looks to recapture his brilliant Wimbledon form.

While the WTA divides its action between two coasts this week, the ATP spans the Atlantic Ocean with events on two different continents and surfaces.  The 500 tournament in Washington, part of the US Open Series, takes center stage.

Washington:

Top half:  A champion in Washington four years ago, Juan Martin Del Potro holds the top seed at the 2013 edition.  The Wimbledon semifinalist hopes to rediscover his torrid form against one of two men who shone in Atlanta.  Producing semifinal runs there last week, Lleyton Hewitt and Ryan Harrison will square off in one of the most intriguing first-round matches.  Nor can Del Potro relax if he survives the winner.  A strong grass season, highlighted by a second-week appearance at Wimbledon, will have restored Bernard Tomic’s confidence.  Although he continues to cope with controversy surrounding his father, Tomic has plenty of ways to disrupt Del Potro’s rhythm if the Argentine returns rusty from a leg injury.  A more straightforward test awaits from Kevin Anderson, seeking his third semifinal in three weeks.  Before he meets Del Potro in the quarterfinals, Anderson may find the returning Mardy Fish an opponent worthy of his steel.

If power dominates the top quarter, flair defines much of the second quarter.  The flamboyant shot-making of Tommy Haas favors precision over physicality, while the graceful one-handed backhand of Grigor Dimitrov has a vintage appeal.  Haas reached the final in Washington last year, perhaps using his training at the Bolletieri Academy in Florida as experience for coping with the humidity.  But power never lags far behind in a draw filled with Americans.  Sam Querrey will face one of two Atlanta quarterfinalists, Denis Istomin or Santiago Giraldo, in the second round.   A contrast of styles would await if Querrey advances to face Dimitrov and then Haas, although a 5-8 record since April leaves a deep run far from guaranteed.

Semifinal:  Del Potro vs. Haas

Bottom half:  Filled with question marks, the third quarter could produce a surprise semifinalist.  The favorite at first glance would seem Milos Raonic, by far the most powerful of the seeds.  Raonic’s massive serve could sizzle on a hot hard court, but he has accomplished little since winning yet another San Jose title in February.  Neither has fellow seed Nikolay Davydenko, who has struggled historically against possible second-round opponent James Blake.  Some of Gilles Simon’s best results have come in North America, including a Miami quarterfinal this spring, and the fifth seed’s steadiness might suffice to ease him past the erratic men around him.  Among them is former champion Radek Stepanek, who looks forward to American collegiate star Steve Johnson in his opener.

One might lose sight of defending champion Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth quarter.  Not a threat for most of 2013, Dolgopolov faces an arduous route towards a title defense.  Home hope John Isner looms in the third round if he can revive his energy after a draining title run in Atlanta.  An easier route to the quarterfinals beckons for Kei Nishikori, who won a North American 500 tournament at Memphis this year.  Bogota runner-up Alejandro Falla faded quickly in Atlanta, as did American teenage sensation Jack Sock.  The clean, balanced baseline game of Nishikori should carry him past either of those opponents, after which a first meeting with Isner could await.

Semifinal:  Simon vs. Isner

Final:  Del Potro vs. Isner

Kitzbuhel:

Top half:  An assortment of Europeans and clay specialists have headed to this Austrian event before venturing into the steamy American summer.  German top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber aims to move one round further than he did at another clay 250 event.  The finalist in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, Kohlschreiber can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Spanish dirt devil Marcel Granollers.  This Rome quarterfinalist will welcome the opportunity to erase memories of an epic loss in Gstaad last week.  Between them stand Horacio Zeballos of Nadal-defeating fame and Wimbledon surprise Kenny de Schepper, who reached the second week there.

A greater Wimbledon surprise than de Schepper came from Fernando Verdasco, who would not hold the third seed here if not for his quarterfinal appearance at the last major.  To his credit, Verdasco parlayed that breakthrough into a strong July, highlighted by victories over Nicolas Almagro, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jerzy Janowicz.  An all-lefty matchup against Brazilian clay specialist Thomaz Bellucci should not detain him for long en route to a rematch of the Bastad final.  At that Swedish tournament, Verdasco fell to Carlos Berlocq, who faces an extremely challenging assignment as the fifth seed.  Days after defeating Federer, the ominous Daniel Brands sets his sights on the Bastad champion.  Also in this deep section is Robin Haase, arriving from a series of morale-boosting wins in Gstaad.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Verdasco

Bottom half:   A week of mixed omens for Albert Montanes in Umag included an upset over world No. 9 Richard Gasquet and a tight loss to Gasquet’s compatriot Gael Monfils.  Twice a semifinalist on clay already this summer, Victor Hanescu finds himself on a collision course with Montanes, who won a clay title in Nice just before Roland Garros.  The winner should feel confident heading into the quarterfinals, although home hope Jurgen Melzer will have most of the audience behind him.  Melzer reached the second week of Wimbledon but has lost five consecutive clay matches dating back to Monte Carlo.

Arguably the softest section, the base of the Kitzbuhel draw lies at the mercy of second seed Juan Monaco.  This recent member of the top 10 has shown altogether too much mercy in 2013, helplessly watching his ranking decline.  All the same, Monaco has produced at least somewhat respectable tennis this summer on clay, his best surface.  Three qualifiers and a wildcard offer little competition, so any challenge would need to come from one of two Spaniards.  While Daniel Gimeno-Traver has struggled on clay this year, Roberto Bautista-Agut retired last week in Gstaad.  Monaco thus looks safe unless he implodes, admittedly not unthinkable.

Semifinal:  Montanes vs. Monaco

Final:  Verdasco vs. Montanes

From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

Can Cibulkova make it two straight titles with a Carlsbad defense?

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.

Carlsbad:

Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Washington:

Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens

Future Stars Earning Their Stripes: Rising Americans in Stanford and Atlanta

Ryan Harrison flexed some muscle this week in Atlanta.

Among the annual narratives of the US Open Series are the glimpses of rising American talents on both Tours.  The first week of the 2013 Series shone a spotlight on a dozen of these players in Atlanta and Stanford, small events without draws too daunting.  Some took advantage of the breathing room this week, while others allowed opportunities to escape them.

Atlanta:

Ryan Harrison:  He had not reached an ATP quarterfinal since early January, compiling barely more wins in 2013 than one could count on the figures of one hand.  But Harrison ended that drought and bolstered his sagging ranking by weathering a pair of rollercoasters against higher-ranked opponents.  He outlasted Marinko Matosevic and the fourth-seeded Igor Sijsling more from superior determination than superior tennis.  Under the Friday night lights, Harrison will face Santiago Giraldo in a rematch of an Australian Open meeting that he won comfortably.  A first career final is not inconceivable.

Christian Harrison:  Every player must remember the moment of their first victory in the main draw an ATP tournament.  For Ryan’s 19-year-old brother, that moment came in the first round of Atlanta.  While Alejandro Falla entered that match drained from last week’s Bogota finals run, Christian still showed impressive grit by battling through three tight sets to upset an opponent ranked 210 places higher.  The grit resurfaced a round later, when he fell to the top-seeded Isner by the narrowest of margins.  Christian battled a far more powerful, far more experienced opponent deep into the third set, nearly scoring a massive upset.

Jack Sock:  A quarterfinalist at Atlanta last year, Sock could not recapture his success despite his clear advantage in power over Santiago Giraldo.  This Colombian clay specialist even out-aced Sock on a hard court.  Since reaching the quarterfinals in Memphis, Sock has not advanced past the second round of any ATP tournament.  Accumulated frustration from those struggles may have contributed to his outbursts of temper in Atlanta.  Fans should remember that Sock remains a raw, unfinished talent still a few years away from fulfilling his potential.

Rhyne Williams:  Raining aces aplenty on both of his opponents, this prospect established himself as an intimidating server in the mold of many American men before him.  Williams powered past compatriot higher-ranked compatriot Denis Kudla in the first round without dropping his serve.  He threatened to spring an upset on the seventh-seeded, much more experienced Lleyton Hewitt behind another barrage of aces.  But his inexperience showed in the first-set tiebreak, which Williams lost after holding four consecutive set points and donating a costly double fault.

Denis Kudla:  The world No. 93 showed promise in North American challengers this spring and by reaching the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club.  Kudla’s modest serve left him at a critical disadvantage against a torrid Williams, so Atlanta fans could not fully appreciate his skills in other areas.  He will hope for more advantageous draws as the US Open Series continues.

Tim Smyczek:  Just behind Williams in the rankings, Smyczek earned attention at the Australian Open when he upset Ivo Karlovic and won a set from David Ferrer.  Since that promising statement, Smyczek has won just three main-draw matches at ATP tournaments.  Curiously, two of those have come against notable opponents in Fernando Verdasco and Sam Querrey.  Smyczek needs to exploit opportunities in winnable matches better than in his loss to James Blake.  At 5-5 in the third set, he could not convert break points that might have sealed the match.

Stanford:

Jamie Hampton:  Like Smyczek, Hampton emerged on the radar of observant fans in Melbourne, where she won a set from eventual champion Victoria Azarenka.  A clay upset of Petra Kvitova signaled a second peak in June, marked by a stirring run to the Eastbourne final as a qualifier.  The 23-year-old Hampton holds a seed for the first time this week.  She carried that burden with mixed results in her opener, striking over 50 winners while spraying plenty of careless errors.  A semifinal looms against Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she defeated in Eastbourne.  She must clean up her game by then.

Madison Keys:  In a tale of two matches, Keys dominated eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova and then fell quietly to qualifier Vera Dushevina.  Eagerness to find a successor to the Williams sisters, which Keys could become, should not blind onlookers to the inconsistency in her results this year.  She often plays to the level of her competition, a trait common among young, raw talents, and more growing pains will lie ahead before we can rely on her as a late-week threat.  Stanford brought a dose of optimism and a dash of realism, a healthy recipe for both Keys and her fans to consume.

Christina McHale:  A once-promising talent veered off the rails when McHale fell victim last year to mononucleosis, often a death sentence for tennis careers.  The New Jersey native has time to regroup, though, for she just turned 21 in May.  McHale has advanced past the second round at only one tournament (Doha) in the last 11 months, but she has troubled top-15 opponents such as Li Na, Sara Errani, and Maria Kirilenko this year.  Still searching for confidence, she won just four games from Urszula Radwanska in the first round of Stanford.

Coco Vandeweghe:  Reaching last year’s Stanford final as a lucky loser, she qualified for the main draw this time and routed her first opponent.  The somewhat less inconsistent Sorana Cirstea then ended Vandeweghe’s bid for another breakthrough.  Back inside the top 200, the Southern California slugger wields a huge serve—and not much else.  She accomplished about as much as one could expect in the context of her year overall.

Mallory Burdette:  Unfortunate to draw Marion Bartoli in the first round last year, Burdette enjoyed only slightly better fortune by facing Francesca Schiavone in this year’s opener.  The Italian has feasted on inexperienced players like the Stanford alum, who became a full-time pro last fall.  Despite her dwindling form, Schiavone pulled away in straight sets to hand Burdette her fourth straight loss.  She will hope for less thorny draws as the US Open Series progresses.

Nicole Gibbs:  The best player in NCAA women’s tennis again received a wildcard to the tournament at her university.  Gibbs produced a result similar on paper to her Stanford appearance in 2012, when she won one match before losing the second.  But her three-set dogfight with the fourth-seeded Hampton revealed the toughness behind her gentle demeanor.  Gibbs easily could have grown disheartened after failing to serve out the second set, or after falling behind 0-4 in the third.  Her resilience in both of those situations suggested that she has the heart to succeed in the WTA, if perhaps not the weapons.

To Each Their Own: Previews of ATP Atlanta, Gstaad, and Umag

Twice a champion in Atlanta, Fish goes for the three-peat this week.

The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta.  Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York.  But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles.  For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.

Atlanta:

Top half:  The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20.  Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison.  The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta.  Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions.  He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.

Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American.  Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise.  On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise.  Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand.  His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles.  Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt.  A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.

Semifinal:  Isner vs. Hewitt

Bottom half:  The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months.  Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic.  Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable.  The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion.  Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues.  Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.

Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude.  They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta.  Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.

Semifinal:  Fish vs. Anderson

Final:  Hewitt vs. Anderson

Gstaad:

Top half:  As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw.  Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though.  Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week.  Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal.  But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.

A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title.  The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half.  Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg.  Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.

Semifinal:  Federer vs. Monaco 

Bottom half:  Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol.  Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring.  But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him.  The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true).  Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well.  The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.

That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez.  Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section.  Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder.  Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Wawrinka

Final:  Federer vs. Wawrinka

Umag:

Top half:  Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw.  He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later.  Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises.  The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking.  Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.

In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad.  This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as  recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker.  An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year.  Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

Semifinal:  Gasquet vs. Fognini

Bottom half:  Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon.  Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad.  A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there.  The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.

The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos.  While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there.  Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi.  On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.

Semifinal:  Robredo vs. Berlocq

Final:  Fognini vs. Robredo

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