Melissa Boyd

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Rogers Cup presented by National Bank to welcome 59 of the top 60 players in the world

Caroline Wozniacki returns to Montreal to defend her 2010 title

By Melissa Boyd

Tennis Canada has unveiled the official player acceptance lists for the 2012 Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal and Toronto. This year, 59 of the Top 60 players in the world will be descending upon Canada, including both current world No. 1s Maria Sharapova and defending Rogers Cup champion Novak Djokovic. The Top 35 men of the ATP World Tour will play at Rexall Centre in Toronto from August 4-12, while 24 of the Top 25 women of the WTA will compete August 4-13 at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal.

“We are thrilled to welcome back all the best male players in the world to Toronto,” said Toronto Rogers Cup tournament director Karl Hale. “The depth in the men’s game makes for riveting storylines and unparalleled rivalries and we look forward to watching all the action up-close and personal when the players hit the courts in Toronto.”

“We are very pleased to announce that 24 of the Top 25 players in the world will be in Montreal this year,” said Rogers Cup Montreal tournament director Eugène Lapierre. “Our list shows that the Rogers Cup continues to be one of the most important and appreciated tournaments on the tennis calendar, one that the ladies don’t want to miss.”

Other past champions expected at the tournaments include seven-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal, 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, two-time Rogers Cup titlist Andy Murray, and former world No. 1 players Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic. Joining them will be last year’s Rogers Cup finalist and US Open champion Sam Stosur, Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and home-grown Canadian hero Milos Raonic.

“I think that Rogers Cup in both Montreal and Toronto do a tremendous job in organizing the event and it’s one of the best [Masters] 1000 events that we have in the world of tennis,” said Djokovic. “Every player enjoys playing there. I’m really looking forward to coming there and playing my best tennis.”

For the second year, the two internationally-recognized Rogers Cup events will be staged during the same week making them “virtually combined”. As with last year, all necessary elements will be in place to ensure that spectators, journalists and players are able to interact across venues.

New for 2012, both draws will consist of 48 players with the Top 16 seeds receiving first-round byes. Main draw action in Montreal will begin one day later than usual on Tuesday, August 7 with the women’s final taking place in the evening on Monday, August 13. An evening final is also scheduled in Toronto for the first time ever on Sunday, August 12 with doubles starting at 5 p.m. and singles at 7 p.m.

The draws in each city will be completed with the addition of qualifiers, tournament wildcards and Tour special exemptions. These entrants will be announced at a later date.

With the smaller draw size, qualifying weekend at both tournaments will be extremely competitive with fan favourites such as Tommy Haas, David Nalbandian, Marcos Baghdatis and Shahar Peer all possibilities based on their ranking to be part of the group fighting for a spot into the main draw. Entry to the grounds during qualifying is free for spectators both in Montreal and Toronto.

Tickets for Rogers Cup presented by National Bank start as low as $20. Session seats, group offers, packages and executive suite opportunities are still available. Inventory for championship weekend is limited. For more information and to purchase tickets visit rogerscup.com or call 1-877-2TENNIS (Toronto) or 1-855-TENNIS-0 (Montreal).

Tennis Canada nominates olympic representatives for London

Milos Raonic & Daniel Nestor will represent Canada in London

By Melissa Boyd

Tennis Canada has announced the four players nominated for selection to the Canadian Olympic Team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Daniel Nestor, Vasek Pospisil, Milos Raonic, and Aleksandra Wozniak will represent Canada in London. Raonic and Wozniak will play singles while Nestor and Pospisil will team up for doubles.

In singles, the Top 56 players in the world as of the June 11 rankings deadline receive direct entry into the tennis event provided they meet all other requirements set out for qualification. Raonic sits at No. 21 in the world while Wozniak’s third round appearance at the French Open lifted her to the exact cut-off point of No. 56. It will be the first Olympic Games for both.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming since I’m a little girl, and my dream came true today,” Wozniak said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere than playing in the Grand Slams and on the WTA Tour, something where you’ll be with the best athletes around the world in all different sports”.

For the doubles event, each of the Top 10 players receives direct entry with a compatriot of their choice. As the No. 1 doubles player in the world, Nestor has elected to play with first-time Olympic hopeful Pospisil. The duo holds a 2-0 Davis Cup record, including a pivotal win against Grand Slam champions Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram during Canada’s World Group play-off versus Israel last September.

London will represent the fifth consecutive time Nestor has represented Canada at the Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he won gold with partner Sebastien Lareau marking the first, and only, tennis medal in Canadian history.

“I’m very proud to be in a position where I can represent my country and hopefully bring back another medal,” said Nestor. “It was quite a special feat winning Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and with the growth of tennis in our country, we all can have a chance to make Canada proud.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will announce the full official list of entries on June 28 which will include the ITF places in singles and doubles. Additional nominations for players who did not make the rankings cut-off can be submitted to the ITF to be considered for ITF places.

“Congratulations to these four tennis players on joining the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team,” said 2012 Team Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury. “I know you will give your everything to make Canadian fans proud in London.”

Trials and tribulations end in the ultimate triumph for Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova completed her career Grand Slam at Roland-Garros

By Melissa Boyd

Four years ago many wondered if she would ever play again and when she did, next to no one believed she could taste the sweetest victory of her career, the one that she earned on the famed red clay courts at Roland-Garros. In the space of three days, Maria Sharapova became World No. 1, captured her first French Open title, completed the career Grand Slam and wrote another page in the tennis history books.

People may have doubted Sharapova’s ability to win a Grand Slam after suffering a potentially career threatening shoulder injury in 2008, but Sharapova herself never stopped believing through all of the trials and tribulations of her comeback. It all came together for her on the clay in 2012, a surface on which she once famously described herself as being a “cow on ice”. Remarkably, Sharapova went undefeated on red clay this year, a streak which culminated with her fourth Grand Slam title in Paris following a 6-3, 6-2 over first time Major finalist Sara Errani of Italy.

“I had so many outs in my career.  I could have said, I don’t need this.  I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams,” Sharapova said. “But, when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small.”

The 25-year-old Russian is the tenth woman to complete the career Grand Slam joining the esteemed ranks of Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court,  Chris Evert, Shirley Fry, Steffi Graf, Doris Hart, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams. She is the first player to accomplish the feat having won only one title at each of the four events.  Sharapova’s performance at Roland-Garros will propel her to a whole new category of greatness, the one that is reserved for the best players of all-time.

Beyond the numbers and the significance of such a monumental triumph, it’s how Sharapova found her way back to the pinnacle of her sport that is perhaps most impressive. She overcame bad losses, poor form and a less than reliable serve. She has since improved her movement, rediscovered her lethal groundstrokes and most importantly, found her confidence. The Sharapova that won her first French Open title is a better player than the Sharapova who won her first three Grand Slam crowns.

Beneath Sharapova’s fame, fortune and steely exterior, lies the heart of a true champion and the exuberance of a young woman who is realizing her dreams. She is a fierce competitor who takes her tennis very seriously and when she fell to her knees and cried tears of joys into the French ‘terre battue’ after Errani’s shot went into the net on match point, she showed the world just how much the greatest moment of her tennis life meant to her.

“It’s the most incredible feeling. I don’t know what to say. I’m so happy. I’ve worked so hard for this,” Sharapova said. “It took a lot to get to this stage and even more to win it. There are so many tough days where you feel like giving up, but you don’t. It’s been such a journey to get to this stage again.”

Making sense of a wide open women’s draw at Roland-Garros

Dominika Cibulkova upset Victoria Azarenka in the Round of 16

By Melissa Boyd

While play on the women’s side during week one of Roland-Garros has not been of the highest quality, the drama that the ladies have produced over the first eight days in Paris has more than made up for it. For those just tuning in, it would appear as though a tornado has run through the draw, sparing just a handful of seeds along its destructive path.

When pre-tournament favourite Serena Williams was reduced to tears en route to a stunning first round defeat at the hands on an inspired Virginie Razzano, the upset flood gates were opened and several title favourites were shown the door earlier than anticipated. Most notably, a cranky World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was knocked out on Sunday by Dominika Cibulkova to ensure that there will be a second different Grand Slam champion in 2012. The Slovakian exorcised some demons with the victory after failing to close her last two matches against Azarenka despite holding sizable leads on both occasions. Meanwhile, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska mustered just three games in bowing out to 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

While the top eight seeds are all still in title contention on the men’s side, only four of the top eight ladies remain. The top half of the draw has been particularly decimated. Case and point, one of Cibulkova, Sara Errani, Angelqiue Kerber or Samantha Stosur will be a Roland-Garros finalist this year. Stosur played for the title in 2010 and won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last summer. The other three are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the business end of Majors, but have quietly built impressive career resumes. With her ball striking, Cibulkova can contend with anyone, Errani has won three clay court titles this season alone and Kerber, the newest member of the WTA’s Top 10, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2011.

The bottom half of the women’s draw features the new tournament favourite as well as the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champions. A gaping hole was left in the Maria Sharapova’s section of the draw following Williams’ unexpected exit and Caroline Wozniacki’s third round loss to Kaia Kanepi. The Russian, who could take over as the new World No. 1 if she reaches the final in Paris, has been a woman on a mission through three rounds, dropping a mere five games as she attempts to complete her career Grand Slam. It remains to be seen whether the added pressure of being the favourite will get to Sharapova as she moves closer to the business end of the tournament, but so far she has been lights out. Na Li and Petra Kvitova are slated to meet in the quarter-finals and could provide some serious for opposition for Sharapova in the semifinals, especially considering her record against both players.

There are still many stories to be told as Roland-Garros approaches its climax and if week one of is any indication, prepare to brace for the unexpected.

Compelling women’s event in store at Roland-Garros

Serena Williams & Maria Sharapova could meet in the quarters in Paris

By Melissa Boyd

The WTA Season is off to a flying start and rarely has there been this much anticipation for the women’s event at a Grand Slam heading into Roland-Garros. The draw if filled with storylines that will keep fans enthralled for the entire two-week fortnight.

Serena Williams, who is undefeated on clay this year with two titles, comes to Paris as the favourite, but the American will have to conquer a few French Open demons if she wants to win her first Roland-Garros title since 2002 and first Grand Slam crown since 2010. Williams will have to prove she can win seven matches in the ever-changing conditions on the clay courts in Paris, but she certainly has put herself in prime position to accomplish the feat.

Then there is Maria Sharapova, the former self-described “cow on ice”, has been the second best clay court player this season on the strength of her two titles in Stuttgart and Rome. Many felt like this was the Russian’s best chance to complete her coveted  career Grand Slam, unless Williams, whom she has not beat in eight years, fell in her section of the draw and that’s exactly what happened. The much hoped for Sharapova-Williams final will instead potentially happen in the quarter-finals. Sharapova winning Roland-Garros would be some story, but she’ll have to navigate a tough draw to do it.

It’s hard to believe that World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has been labeled the tournament’s third favourite, but an underwhelming clay court season that featured uncharacteristic losses and an injury withdrawal have people wondering whether Azarenka can repeat her stellar run in Australia. Not to mention that 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur, Brussels champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus Williams as well as a pair of former French Open champions, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova are in her section of the draw.

Other names to watch out for include last year’s finalists. Defending champion Na Li could be stiff competition for Sharapova or Williams in the semifinals and while everyone was writing off Francesca Schiavone, she went and won her final tune up event in Strasbourg. Mona Barthel and Angelique Kerber are prime candidates to cause havoc in the women’s draw at Roland-Garros.

While many are already dusting off the French Open trophy to give it to Serena Williams, tournament tradition on the women’s side in recent years would lean more towards someone making a Cinderella run to the title with the odds stacked against them. The Parisian fortnight will dictate which of these two familiar story lines will characterize the second Grand Slam of the tennis season.

Kids’ tennis coming to Olympic Park in Montreal

Kids' tennis courts will be built at Olympic Park this summer

By Melissa Boyd

The Sun Life Financial Esplanade, Tennis Canada, Tennis Quebec and Tennis Montreal have announced the implementation of a unique project, as they are combining their efforts to build kids’ tennis courts at Olympic Park in Montreal where the city’s Olympic Stadium is located. The new courts will allow kids from all over the province of Quebec to learn how to play the sport with equipment adapted to their size.

“This project is unique and innovative because these permanent courts will be built from scratch according to the correct kids’ tennis sizes and not from already existing courts,” said Mr. Eugène Lapierre, Vice-President of Professional Tennis in Quebec and Tournament Director of the Rogers Cup. “It will be one of the few places in Quebec where kids will have their own courts built exclusively for them. It will be great for kids and families who are looking for an activity on the weekends and want to learn how to play tennis.”

In addition to the kids’ tennis courts, equipment rental kiosks (racquets, balls and games), resources to help the kids and organize tournaments, events and leagues will be available throughout the year.

“We are very proud to benefit from a renowned space like Olympic Park to organize tournaments and activities for our future tennis players,” said Mr. Jean-François Manibal, Director General of Tennis Quebec. “We are working together with the Sun Life Financial Esplanade to ensure we offer activities which target our young athletes.”

The location of these courts is very interesting strategically for Tennis Montreal who have very few courts in the eastern part of Montreal.

“This project will mark the first time that kids’ tennis courts have been set up in this neighbourhood,” added Mrs. Nicole Nobert, Director General of Tennis Montreal. “We will offer programming for elementary schools in the area to get more kids involved in tennis and this, in optimal conditions. Among our many projects, we will also launch a new activity for three and four-year olds called Little Tennis, something offered to kids in daycare and of course, families with young children.”

Furthermore, the participating organizations are exploring the possibility of making these new courts available year round with tennis on the snow during the winter months with appropriate equipment.

A mini Rogers Cup will be held to inaugurate the courts during qualifying weekend of the  Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal, from August 3-5. An official launch event featuring a WTA player is scheduled for August 3.

The construction of the kids’ tennis courts will begin in May and will be completed in July.

Many WTA Candidates In Line to Conquer the Blue Clay

The blue courts are stealing the show in Madrid

While all the talk has been about the colour of the clay in Madrid ahead of this week’s combined Mutua Madrid Open, there is an important tournament to be played on the new surface and there is a long list of title contenders in the women’s draw.

The top half of the draw features World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka who overcame a tough first round hurdle this weekend with a straight sets win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Despite a flawless start to her season, the Belarussian could use a strong showing at a major clay court event leading into Roland-Garros. Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Na Li are all in Azarenka’s quarter and her arch rival, new world no. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska is once again a potential semifinal opponent. Azarenka is the only player to beat the Pole so far in 2012. Radwanska’s section is already void of three seeds, Marion Bartoli, Dominika Cibulkova and a slumping Francesca Schiavone. Despite some of the favourites bowing out early, Radwanska could meet Sara Errani, the hottest clay court player in the world, in the second round. Errani has won 15 straight matches and three consecutive tournaments on the red dirt, including a title win last week in Budapest.

On paper, the bottom half of the Madrid women’s draw is definitely the tougher and deeper side. Leading the way is Stuttgart champion and world no. 2 Maria Sharapova. The rejuvanted Russian continues to make strides on clay and she rolled through her opening match. Fans are looking ahead to a potential blockbuster quarter-final  between Sharapova and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, or even the emerging Mona Barthel. Sharapova and Williams have not played eachother since Stanford last summer and with many labeling them French Open favourites, both would likely relish the opportunity to go head-to-head before Paris. Defending Madrid champion Petra Kvitova and the clay savvy Samantha Stosur could also meet in the quarter-finals. Both could use a big showing on the blue clay courts. As she proved last year with her title run, the Madrid altitude and quicker surface are certainly favourable conditions for Kvitova’s big game.

In keeping with a prevalent WTA trend in 2012, expect the top four players to be still standing in the latter stages of the tournament, but not without being tested along the way. At the same time, upsets will not be uncommon given the uncertainties and concerns about the new clay surface. It will be interesting to see what kind of champion the blue courts will crown.

Sharapova Win Gives Hope for WTA Rivalry

Maria Sharapova & Victoria Azarenka have an emerging rivalry

For what seems like years, fans of women’s tennis have been looking for a legitimate rivalry at the top of the game. They may finally get their wish with the compelling rivalry emerging between the top two players in the world, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

It was difficult to label head-to-head a rivalry given Azarenka’s dominance of Sharapova this season. However, the Russian finally turned the tables this weekend , for one match at least, in the final at Stuttgart to capture her 25th career title to match the birthday she celebrated a few weeks ago. The two had met twice already in championship matches this year and at least one of them has played for the title at all of the major tournament thus far in 2012.

Sharapova’s run to the Stuttgart crown was rather impressive, particularly on clay. She defeated Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova and Azarenka in consecutive matches, including a dominant 6-1, 6-4 victory over the World No. 1.

“I had lost the last few previous encounters with Victoria, so I was extremely motivated today,” Sharapova said. “When I got the chance to go out and play her again I knew I had to change a few things. Before I was maybe a little bit impatient and went for a bit too much sometimes, but this time I was really patient. I was aggressive but consistent when I had to be against her. “

If Sharapova can continue to keep up her end of the bargain, women’s tennis could have its version of the ATP’s Djokovic-Nadal rivalry. The potential is certainly there for many reasons. One of which is their match ups have risen in intensity. They brushed shoulders while crossing the net during a changeover in the Stuttgart final, drawing a small reaction from both, but exchanged a civil handshake at the match’s conclusion. Both are fierce competitors and currently at the top of their game which are important ingredients in any rivalry. They also have players like Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena Williams pushing them to be better.

Azarenka is the emerging star while Sharapova is a legend of her sport, both on and off the court. Azarenka wins matches with her natural athletic ability while Sharapova uses exquisite ball striking and a burning competitive desire to will herself to victory. The contrasts and similarities are there, so is the motivation and after Sunday’s somewhat unexpected result, anticipation is building already for their next encounter and the numerous one that are sure to follow.

The Ladies Hit the Dirt Hoping for Feats on Clay

Can Na Li repeat in Paris?

What promises to be a thrilling spring and summer of tennis for the WTA begins this week for the ladies in Stuttgart for the start of the clay court season.

This much-anticipated segment of the calendar begins with a bang as 17 of the Top 20 players in the world are entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Madrid and Rome will also host Premier events during the month of May as preparation for the second Grand Slam event of the year at Roland-Garros.

Over the past few years, the expectations and results on the red dirt for the women have been highly unpredictable and 2012 will be no different. Gone are the days of dominant clay court specialists on the WTA like Justine Henin or Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Instead, today’s Tour is all about parity making it anyone’s game, especially on clay. Case and point, the French Open has crowned a different champion each of the last four years. It will be interesting to see if World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka can continue her dominance this season on a different surface or whether Maria Sharapova will finally breakthrough with some titles after finishing as the runner-up at the three biggest tournaments of the year so far. Can Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova kick-start her season after a slow start? Will Caroline Wozniacki claim that elusive Grand Slam crown? Can Na Li repeat in Paris? Will a resurgent Ana Ivanovic be a threat again on a surface that brought her Grand Slam glory in 2008? All of these questions will be answered over the next few weeks with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.

Don’t be surprised if a player outside of the Top 10 makes some noise at the big tournaments and look for Agnieszka Radwanska to make a serious run at her first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros. Her all court game is well-suited for clay. Not to mention, she is enjoying the best season of her career.

It’s impossible to discuss a pending Major without throwing the name of Serena Williams into the mix. She played the Australian Open on one ankle, but comes into the clay court season in much better shape especially after rolling through the draw in Charleston a few weeks ago to win her 40th career title. Williams is driven to continually overcome health obstacles for another opportunity to add to her Grand Slam tally. The expectations may be low heading into Roland-Garros considering her recent results at the Majors and the fact clay is her worst surface. However, tennis fans have learned over the years to never discount Serena and it would be very much her style to triumph in Paris when everyone least expects her to.

Rejuvenated Wozniak is Dreaming Olympic Big

Aleksandra Wozniak is back in the mix

Following a tumultuous two seasons that were mired by injuries and coaching uncertainty, former world no.21 Aleksandra Wozniak has shown Top 25 form this season and is making her way back up the rankings with a renewed passion for her sport.

Wozniak became the first Canadian in 20 years to win a WTA singles title when she was crowned champion at Stanford in 2008 and appeared to destined to contend for titles for many years to come. Now 24 years old and with her hardships a thing of the past, the Wozniak hitting the court is definitely the 2.0 version. After finishing the 2011 season ranked outside the Top 100, she came into the off-season  100 percent healthy for the first time in a while. Wozniak took up boxing to improve her strength and agility. Her hard work is paying dividends so far in 2012.

Wozniak has also brought her father, Antoni back in the fold as her full-time coach. He introduced her to tennis when she was three years old and is the master technician behind her smooth strokes. Wozniak appreciates having her recently retired Dad around every day to work on the little things.

“ I am able to take my Dad on the road with me which is tremendous and makes a big difference because he can always keep improving my game,” Wozniak said. “He sees things right away and those little details make a big difference in my game. I think I’m pretty close to where I was, but I think I am coming back differently and stronger than before.”

Wozniak has improved her ranking by more than 50 places since the start of the season and finds herself ranked firmly inside the Top 60 again. Perhaps most impressive though is the kind of matches she is winning, the long, exhausting type. Matches she would have never been able to win earlier in her career. Wozniak has also played the top players very tough, losing 7-5 in the third to Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai and dropping a third set tiebreak to Venus Williams in Miami after holding a match point.

She is battling and fighting harder than ever with one lifelong dream motivating her every move, representing Canada at this summer’s Olympic Games in London. At no. 56 on the world rankings and with few points to defend until Roland-Garros, Wozniak has put herself in a good position to earn an Olympic berth.

“As an athlete, to know you made it to the Olympics, I can’t even describe it,” Wozniak added. “For me it’s very important to represent my country the best that I can. It’s a big privilege to represent Canada at the  greatest sporting event in the world. For any athlete it is very special and it would be really exciting.”

Not only is Wozniak a transformed player, but she’s also a different person. Physically, she looks better than  ever and her renewed confidence is evident in the way she carries herself. Her likeable, radiant personality makes it easy to root for the talent Canadian and  It will be fun to watch her rise back to the upper echelon of the women’s game. Wozniak is certainly not a name any player will want to see opposite their own in the draw, especially on Wozniak’s favourite surface during the clay court season.

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