Alex Bogomolov

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Wizards of Oz (I): Australian Open Day 1 Preview

Pack lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack when this man enters Rod Laver Arena.

While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully.  We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.

Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena):  A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea.  Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test.  But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.

Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA):  Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots.  In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena.  Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly.  The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.

Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA):  This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic.  A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career.  That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final.  She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.

Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena):  Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day.  Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others.  The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.

Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense):  The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little.  Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska.  Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.

Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena):  For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4.  Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope.  The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.

Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA):  Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career.  Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden.  Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.

Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA):  After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents.  She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.

Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3):  The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic.  Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years.  The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.

Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8):  From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology.  He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight.  Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.

Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8):  The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker.  The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.

Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11):  Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process).  The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match.  Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.

Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13):  At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce.  A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced.  The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week.  The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.

Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19):  Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans.  She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years.  Is she ready for her comeback?  Perhaps more to the point, are we?

Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20):  From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative.  Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament.  His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland.  Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.

Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22):  Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines.  Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level.  Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.

Excited about these matches and others on Day 1?  Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.

Rotterdam Behind-the-Scenes Look; Exclusive Photos of Federer, Berdych, Del Potro

DelP_s-r16_005m

The seeds had no trouble advancing to the quarterfinals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam today, as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Viktor Troicki and Richard Gasquet all dispatched of their opponents, and Roger Federer was involved in an entertaining exhibition match for fans.

Second seed Berdych advanced to the next round after only 19 minutes on court as Marcos Baghdatis was forced to retire due to a left foot injury.

Del Potro had to overcome not only his opponent in another battle, but a slightly bloody nose near the beginning that required a medical timeout. He eventually prevailed over qualifier Karol Beck 6-4, 7-5.

“He played so fast and hits with such a low bounce, I really had to keep up,” said Del Potro of Beck. “It was tough. But I focused in the last game on trying to get an ace. I got one and I’m just glad that I’m through.”

Frenchman Richard Gasquet, seeded fifth, continued his steady progress at his second tournament appearance by defeating Alex Bogomolov, 6-3 6-2, while Andreas Seppi dispatched German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4 6-2. Viktor Troicki also defeated wildcard Jesse Huta Galung, 7-6(2), 6-3, but not before the match’s second game lasted a brutal 17 minutes.

Finally, what was supposed to be only a super tiebreaker between Roger Federer and Igor Sijsling turned out into an all-out battle, but with plenty of smiles from both players. Federer was given a place in the quarterfinals after his second-round opponent Mikhail Youzhny had to withdraw the day previously. Federer finally prevailed 6-7(2), 6-4, 11-9.

Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes not only day three action, but a behind-the-scenes look at Ahoy Rotterdam, the indoor arena the tournament is held in.

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

10 Reasons to be Excited for Davis Cup Weekend

Switzerland's Davis Cup team member Federer speaks to Wawrinka during a practice session in Fribourg

The time has come!  While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.

 

10. The Newcomers

It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group.  For Japan it’s been 27.  In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns.  Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.

 

9.  Fedmania!

In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend.  To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.

8. Russian Roulette

The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover.  Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player.  Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place.  Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder.  All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.

 

7. Veterans Day

Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others.  Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.

 

6. The Battle of the Misfits

One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan.  The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine.  It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.

 

5. Tommy Haas

Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we?  Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

 

4. The Other Groups

Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means).  Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko).  You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.

 

3. The New Heroes

Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes.  Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players.  Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.

2. Double Trouble

Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different.  This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.

1. The Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis.  It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us.  Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.

Players Withdraw from Australian Open — The Friday Five

Andrea Petkovic

by Maud Watson

Down and Out

You can add two more high profile names to the withdrawal list for the first major of the year. German Andrea Petkovic has been forced to withdrawal with a stress fracture in the back that will likely take a good six to eight weeks to heal properly. After the splash she made last year in Melbourne, this will be a blow to the start of her 2012 campaign. But Petkovic is an upbeat, positive competitor. It would be surprising if she didn’t come back in the spring fresh, hungry, and ready to break out a few new dance moves. The more troubling withdrawal has to be that of Venus Williams, who stated that she still felt unprepared to return to match play. With all due respect to Venus, this is just one more reason to argue against selecting her for Olympic duty. You can call it admirable that she’s striving to get in shape for that event, and it’s more than understandable for her to set that goal. But the last few years, her availability for events has become increasingly suspect as injuries have mounted, and she’s even more of a liability now. Couple that with her frequent lack of commitment to Fed Cup and even the WTA to an extent, and it just doesn’t seem right to select her over another female player who arguably has as likely of a chance to help bring home Olympic Doubles Gold and has put in the time at both the Fed Cup and WTA levels. The powers-at-be are unlikely to see it that way, but it certainly warrants discussion.

Question Marks

Caroline Wozniacki has grown used to the questions as to whether or not the next major will prove to be her breakthrough. But as the Dane heads into the first Slam of 2012, she’s also going to have to contend with injury speculations. In her quarterfinal loss to Aggie Radwanska in Sydney, it was evident she was suffering from a wrist injury. Thankfully, an MRI showed that inflammation is the culprit rather than something more serious. But the wrist is always a potentially serious injury in this sport, and Wozniacki will need to keep an eye on it going forward. If she hasn’t already done so, she may want to consider taking an extended break after the Australian Open. Besides, it’s almost inevitable that she’ll lose her No. 1 ranking to Kvitova, and her play in 2012 has thus far been underwhelming. Choosing to recoup and regroup could pay dividends come spring.

Strong Start

The first week of the ATP regular season came to a conclusion last weekend, and some familiar names did well to argue for the label of contender in Melbourne. Murray impressed fans and his new coach, Ivan Lendl, en route to the title in Brisbane. Tsonga also continued the fine form that he ended with in 2011, defeating compatriot Gael Monfils for the title in Doha. But perhaps in many ways the most impressive victory was that of young Canadian Milos Raonic, who held his nerve to edge out Janko Tipsarevic in a match composed of three tiebreak sets. For a guy who had his momentum severely interrupted by injury last year, he’s come back with a vengeance. He’s more of a long shot than either Murray or Tsonga, but be sure to keep this young gun on your radar in Melbourne.

Topsy Turvy

Where the ATP’s first week didn’t produce too many surprises, the WTA continued its trend of unlikely winners, as Jie Zheng won in Auckland and Kaia Kanepi triumphed in Brisbane. No offense to either woman. Kanepi has a big game, and Zheng is a feisty competitor who’s no stranger to picking off the game’s top stars to post some impressive tournament runs. But neither is a household name, and neither is truly a strong candidate to be named a dark horse. Still, in the topsy-turvy world that is the WTA, a little confidence can go a long way. Don’t be surprised to see either one of these players make some noise at the Aussie Open.

Score Settled

He’s had a colorful past, so say what you want about the guy, but hats off to Alex Bogomolov Jr. who took the high road with minimal fuss and paid the USTA the $75,000 it was seeking for his decision to now represent Russia. Fans seemed split on the USTA’s demands, and with good reason. Bogomolov has given back to the USTA in a variety of ways, and it’s not as though he was ever going to be selected for American Davis Cup duty. Factor in that there are certain other players that have also received a heap of assistance from the USTA with little return for the investment, and the USTA’s demand did seem a little high. But Bogomolov’s decision to pay them the money now should ultimately prove the best thing for his future. He’s rid himself of this latest demon and ensured that there are no hard feelings on either side. Here’s to hoping he can continue to enjoy success in the second half of his tumultuous career.

A Sunday match preview of the US Open – Around the corner

Juan Martin Del Potro

Let’s take a quick look at the matches set for Sunday at the U.S. Open on the men’s side. The third round is set to finish-up and there are some great battles to keep an eye on.

Alex Bogomolov Jr. is having a career year and has made the third round of his second consecutive Grand Slam. At the age of 28 he is a career high of 44th in the world and that is likely going to rise even further following the completion of this tournament. Just how well has Bogo been playing this year in comparison with his previous years on tour? In this one season alone he has amassed almost a third of his career earnings!

Bogo’s run will likely come to an end against John Isner who is also having a terrific summer and has had more success in big-time matches. Isner has won both their career head-to-head matches on the ATP World Tour and both of those victories were earlier this year. I’ve got Isner in straight sets in this one.

Juan Martin Del Potro will continue to strive for another strong showing at the Open as he faces 12th seeded Gilles Simon of France. Despite being seeded 18th himself, Del Po will be considered the favorite in this one. Del Potro has lost to Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic and Roger Federer this summer and has yet to get on a roll since Wimbledon ended. Still, those are all quality opponents and he is no-doubt feeling comfortable at the site of his only Slam win.

Del Potro has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against Simon and beat him here in New York in 2008 as well as in June of this year at the All-England Club. I’ll take the Argentine in four sets.

Donald Young is having the break-out moment of his career here at the Open as evidenced in his stunning come-from-behind victory over Stan Wawrinka in the second round. Young is going to take-down Juan Ignacio Chela in the next round to continue on his impressive form. Four sets is likely, but Chela could use his experience to push to five in a failing effort.

Andy Murray came back with a vengeance against Robin Haase in a strange second round encounter. He pulled out the victory in five sets and with a day to rest should be ready to go against Feliciano Lopez. Murray in three this time.

David Ferrer saw-off a potentially tough challenge from James Blake in the previous round. He’ll face Florian Mayer, a player who is having career-best results but ultimately is not talented enough to take it any further. With Ferrer’s tenacity and game that is tailor-made for best-of-five sets, the Spaniard will breeze through this one in three.

Andy Roddick has admitted he is still not back to where his game is capable of being, yet he finds himself in the third round against French vet Julien Benneteau. Andy should be able to use the home-crowd to his advantage, but Benneteau did reach the finals at Winston Salem a week ago and could be capable of an upset. Roddick’s serve will have to be sharp and he cannot hesitate to charge the net when the timing is right. Roddick holds a 3-1 advantage against Benneteau but the duo have not played each other in three years. I’ll take Roddick in four, but would not be shocked if Benneteau comes up with a surprise.

Coin-toss in the Gilles Muller vs. Igor Kunitsyn match. This should have been a Mikhail Youzhny vs. Jurgen Melzer match if the seedings had held true, but neither of those players were able to fend off their challengers.

Most casual tennis fans won’t be too familiar with these two guys, so here’s a quick breakdown:

Kunitsyn is 29 years old and is ranked 62nd in the world. He reached a career-high of 35th in the world in 2009 and attaining the third round here is his best result at a Grand Slam.

Muller is best remembered for stealing Andy Roddick’s mojo at the Open back in 2005. He is 28 years old and ranked 66th in the world at the moment. His career high ranking is 59th which he reached back in 2005. His best Slam result was here at the U.S. Open in 2008 when he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Roger Federer.

Kunitsyn leads their previous matches by a 1-0 margin coming by way of a victory in Washington earlier this summer. I’m going to go with Muller in this one due to his previous Slam experience and results but it’s gonna go the distance for sure.

Last but not least we have a match that would have been a whole lot of fun to watch about four or five years ago. Talented but oft-injured David Nalbandian takes on 2nd seeded Rafael Nadal.

Nalbandian has again struggled with injuries this season and has been burdened with lacklustre results all summer long. Nadal has been less than his usual stellar self since reaching the finals of Wimbledon, but has still performed decently on hard-courts leading up to the Open.

While Nalbandian is one of the few players who boasts a solid record against Nadal, he is in over his head Sunday. The pair stand tied at two wins each, with all four matches coming on hard court. Nalbandian has lost the last two however and has not beat Rafa since 2007. Nadal will take this one in three relatively easy sets.

Enjoy the long-weekend tennis everyone. Check back with us again soon for more updates and analysis.

Sweeting wins in Washington, D.C., calls out Odesnik

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Ryan Sweeting serves to Alex Bogomolov Jr during the Legg Mason Tennis Classic presented by Geico at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center on August 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC is featuring some very candid and thoughtful up-and-coming American men. Among them, is 24-year-old Ryan Sweeting who gave elaborate details and opinions on Robert Kendrick’s current situation, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”

Sweeting defeated a tired-looking Alex Bogomolov, Jr in straight sets 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday evening. Bogomolov had just traveled from the Los Angeles Farmers’ Classic tournament where he was a semifinalist and he seemed sluggish because of it on-court.

After the match, Sweeting arrived to his presser calm and composed, but engaging. After responding to the typical questions, he talked about his dominant performance: “I felt I got to see the ball really big today. Most importantly, I served well. I’ve been struggling with my serve a little bit this summer. It’s something I’ve been working on a lot … I feel being aggressive on my second serve was a strength … and I competed well.”

He then referenced his serve at the Australian Open compared to his serving today: “That’s been my main priority this whole year. I want to get back on track. A few years ago, I relied on my serve and used it as a weapon but somehow it got away from me a little bit. It’s something I’ve been working on … today I have to credit my win to my serve, definitely.”

He also touched on his upcoming match against #1 seed Gael Monfils: “It’s going to be a tough match. I’ve never played him before. Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of his matches … definitely the fastest person I’ve ever seen in most sports. I’m going to have to play well and stay aggressive. If I hit a great shot, I have to expect it to come back … he’s going to get every ball back. If I just sit back he’s going to run for days and make me look like an idiot (laughs).”

But the most honest and intriguing response of the day came at the very end of his interview. I didn’t anticipate how much heart he would show in his answer as I referenced American Robert Kendrick, who recently tested positive for a banned substance and was sentenced to a year away from the tour. I asked Sweeting if he’d been in touch with Kendrick or rallied behind him given his current situation. As his answer went on, he became more fired up reflecting on the situation. He responded:

“I’ve been in touch with him; we’re speaking every day. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous he’s gotten 1 year … the tribunal agreed and believed he took a pill for [jet lag] … granted, we have to be careful about what we injest; it’s our responsibility … however, the punishment he received compared to punishments other players received is absolutely absurd … when [Wayne] Odesnik got caught smuggling performance enhancing drugs into another country and he got 6 months. Richard Gasquet tested positive for cocaine, said that he kissed a girl, and I don’t think he received any punishment. For a 31-year-old to take 1 pill for jet lag and receive a year ban, I just don’t understand. I don’t understand the logic behind it and all the players know this and all the players are wondering what the hell is going on. It’s just unfortunate because everybody knows that Rob has never taken a performance enhancing drug his entire life. He’s a good guy … It’s just really sad that this had to happen.”

He calls out Odesnik with no hesitation, and it seems to be the norm among the other American players, including former world #4 James Blake.

Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week. @TennisRomi

Muscles, sweat, and skin: players’ funny practices

Sweeting

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic has been flooded this week with players from all around the world as they compete to pocket a cool $264,000 and 500 ranking points.  I’ll catch you up on all the intricate behind-the-scenes happenings and special events so far this week.

If there’s one partnership of players you should catch practicing together on court, it’s the duo of Bulgarian 20-year-old Grigor Dimitrov and his headband-wearing Russian comrade Dmitry Tursunov. Their off-court friendship translates into pure comedy gold on-court for the fans.

Dimitrov is at his highest ATP ranking of #57 and claimed two junior grand slam titles in 2008, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He is best known for his fluid strokes and one-handed backhand reminiscent of Roger Federer’s, and is often likened unto him. Tursunov, on the other hand, is a veteran, having turned pro in 2000. He quickly ascended up the rankings before succumbing to an ankle injury that required surgery and took him off the circuit for eight months. Even with his bumpy road back since 2010, he’s currently sitting comfortably at #45, and he displays that confidence on court.

The two players chatted up a storm, with Dimitrov’s coach Peter McNamara joining in on the fun and giving his pupil the nickname “Muscles,” while calling Tursunov “Mother.” What makes the exchange even better is that McNamara has a thick Australian accent, and well, everything sounds cooler in Australian. Between the smiles and teasing, the two had their serious moments as they got frustrated when they sent a ball long or shanked it into the net.

At one point, because Tursunov was sweating through his blonde curls, he planted a bright red headband on his head and called himself “Justin” joking how he looked like Timberlake. A few indecent nicknames were exchanged. For a full recap and video, click over to Rachel’s post from OnTheGoTennis.

Dimitrov also enjoyed a funny and engaging practice with Tommy Haas out on Stadium Court. Dimitrov seems to thrive off of the attention and there are some candid rundowns and goof-ups below:

Speaking of quirky headbands, American Phillip Simmonds was sporting the look on court yesterday as well. Think Tursunov would approve?

Also practicing on court two days in a row together were Farmers’ Classic semifinalists Ryan Harrison and Alex Bogomolov, Jr., who are both having breakthrough years. Harrison warmed up by throwing around a football and then jumped on court for an intensive hit. To see his forehand in person is revelatory to his unique style of play. His swing and follow-through are especially distinctive with a quick, almost unnatural, motion. But it gets the job done, as he is currently plowing his way through reaching #82 in the rankings.

Last year’s champion, Argentine David Nalbandian, was also on court hitting with Nikolay Davydenko in the hot afternoon sun. Equipped in a neon yellow t-shirt, he was looking noticeably fitter and moving much better than last year. With his uncanny feel for the ball and perfectly-placed backhand, he is again one that players need to watch out for. He won as a wildcard last year after being off tour for several months due to a right leg injury, and this year is primed to be an even better one for him.

24-year-old American Ryan Sweeting hasn’t had any big runs at the grand slams yet, but he’s steadily climbed to a career-high #65 in the world this week. If his physique is any testament, the hard work must be paying off on the court. He was seen practicing against John Isner and hitting the ball exceptionally well. As a fun tidbit, I spotted two tattoos, one on each oblique spelling out two very distinctive concepts. The more captivating one spells out the word MAYHEM within the whole of the tattoo: siMplicity, peAce, Youth, Hope, lovE, and memories, while the second one stands for “blood, sweat and tears.”

Catch more of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic as I cover it live all week. Follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information and photos! @TennisRomi

Tennis In The Commonwealth: Stosur Wins, Birmingham Restored

Sam Stosur

By Leigh Sanders

The following is Leigh Sanders’ weekly look at tennis headlines in “The Commonwealth” or the traditional tennis powerhouses that were former members of the British Empire, most notably Australia, South Africa, India, Canada and, of course, Great Britain.

Revered British tennis centre, the Edgbaston Priory Club in Birmingham, has been handed a boost by the confirmation that the WTA Tour’s AEGON Classic will be returning in 2010. It was feared the tournament would be moved as part of the new British Tennis Series.

But the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has agreed a contract for a further year with a view to extending that providing the centre makes substantial improvements to its facilities.

Discussions have now begun between the LTA, the club and Birmingham City Council to see how the site and future events can be improved.

A pre-Wimbledon event has been held here every summer since 1982 and past winners include Maria Sharapova, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.

Priory Club Chief Executive Robert Bray said: “We have a long tradition of hosting international tennis and we are delighted to have reached an agreement with the LTA.”

* Samantha Stosur of Australia picked up her maiden singles WTA title at the Japan Open on Sunday. She beat Francesca Schiavone 7-5, 6-1, Schiavone now losing 10 of her last 11 singles finals. Stosur dropped only one set throughout the tournament, in the semifinal to Caroline Wozniacki. She has previously won 22 doubles titles and has stated her intention to break in to the world top 10 singles following her first triumph.

* It was Wozniacki who had been the conqueror of new number two Brit Katie O’Brien in the second round. The Danish world No. 6 needed only 44 minutes to wrack up a 6-0, 6-1 victory over 94th ranked O’Brien.

* Britain’s Andy Murray dropped to 4th in this week’s ATP Rankings (10/19) following Novak Djokovic’s win in Beijing while Lleyton Hewitt of Australia climbed one place to 22nd. Fellow Aussie Peter Luczak dropped 19 places to 83rd and Chris Guccione also dropped 2 places to 109th.

* In the doubles rankings (10/19) Canada’s Daniel Nestor remains No. 1 despite his early exit from Shanghai (see below). Mahesh Bhupathi of India remains sixth after his semifinals berth at the same tournament. Aussie pair Jordan Kerr and Paul Hanley rose to 29th and 30th respectively while Jeff Coetzee of South Africa fell 9 places to 35th.

* In the WTA Rankings (10/19), Samantha Stosur’s win in Japan sees her climb two places to 13th in the singles while India’s Sania Mirza climbs to 58th after her semifinals berth at Osaka. Australia’s Jelena Dokic climbs from 69th to 62nd while Britain’s injured No. 1 Anne Keothavong continues to fall during her recovery, now down in 79th place. Katie O’Brien is now Britain’s number two after jumping above Elena Baltacha after her exploits in Japan.

* In the doubles rankings (10/19) Samantha Stosur dropped to 9th place after her singles exertions this week while India’s Sania Mirza climbed two places to 36th. Marie-eve Pelletier of Canada is up one to 66th and Britain’s Sarah Borwell is also up to 79th. Canada’s Sharon Fichman also climbs one place to 98th in the world.

* Andy Roddick has become the sixth player to secure his place at the ATP World Tour Finals to be held in London, England next month despite his withdrawal from Shanghai.

* Two Aussie women failed to follow the lead of Stosur this weekend by losing their respective ITF finals. Jelena Dokic went down to the Swede Sofia Arvidsson in the Joue-les-Tours event in France while Alicia Molik fell to Sacha Jones of New Zealand in the Port Pirie Tennis International, Port Pirie, Australia.

* French duo Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga picked up their first doubles title as a partnership in Shanghai this week having seen off the top seeds and world No. 1 and No. 2, Canada’s Daniel Nestor and partner Nenad Zimonjic in the second round and India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and his partner Mark Knowles, of the Bahamas, in the semifinals.

* Aussie tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley received a strange tribute this week as the town of Barellan, where she spent most of her childhood, unveiled a giant statue of the wooden Dunlop racquet she used to win 7 Grand Slam singles titles. Seven-thousand people attended the launch that also saw the 58-year-old hosting tennis clinics and a crayfish-gathering activity known as ‘yabbying.’

* Philip Brook has been named as the new Vice Chairman of the All England Tennis Club, Wimbledon, England from December 2009. He has been a member at the club since 1989, serving on many sub-committees during that time. The decision follows the announcement by current Vice Chairman Tim Phillips indicating his intention to step down in December 2009 following ten years in the role.

* Mixed fortunes for Great Britain this week as Alex Bogdanovic won the 42.5k Euros Challenger event in Denmark while Jocelyn Rae prevailed in the £10k event in Mytilini, Greece, beating fellow Brit and doubles partner Jade Windley in the final. Not so much luck in the doubles as Jonathan Marray and his partner were beaten in the doubles final in Denmark while Rae and Windley were edged out of the doubles final in Mytilini. Colin Fleming/Ken Skupski and Jamie Murray/Jamie Delgado, have progressed though to the quarterfinals of the ATP Challenger Event in Orleans, France.

* Also at Orleans, Australia’s Carsten Ball fell in the R32 of singles to Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

* Australian Peter Luczak has lost in the first round of the If Stockholm Open doubles paired with Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. They lost 7-5, 6-3 to Brazilian Bruno Soares and Zimbabwean Kevin Ullyett in 71 minutes. Fellow Aussie Jordan Kerr and American Travis Parrott are through though after victory over Brazilians Marcelo Melo/Andre Sa.

* Canadians on the march this week are Aleksandra Wozniak and Peter Polansky. Wozniak is through to the second round of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow after her first-round opponent, Sara Errani of Italy, retired after just 30 minutes. She’ll play the winner of Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska in the next round. At the Copa Petrobas Challenger in Santiago, Chile, Polansky is through to the second round of both singles and doubles. He beat Diego Alvarez of Argentina 6-1, 6-4 in the singles and with American Alex Bogomolov Jr. overcame Brazilian duo Ricardo Hocevar and Joao Souza in the doubles.

* Brit Dan Smethurst lost in the quarterfinals of the $15k ITF event in Dubrovnik, Croatia to Italy’s Simone Vagnozzi who was ranked 216 places above him in the rankings.

* The Canadian Junior Fed Cup team placed a respectable fifth at the recent Fed Cup finals held in Mexico. After narrowly missing out on the main draw they beat Croatia and China to top the bracket competing for fifth to eighth spot.

* Aussie Marinko Matosevic was beaten in the Round of 32 at the Royal Bank of Scotland Challenger in Tiburon, Calif., by America’s Vincent Spadea 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-0.

Bogomolov Wins Gotham Tennis Academy “Hamptons 20-Ball Open”

Napeague check presentation

AMAGANSETT, N.Y. July 5, 2009 – Alex Bogomolov of Long Branch, N.J. defeated Noam Okun of Israel 20-18, 17-20, 10-8 to win the $10,000 first prize at the first annual Gotham Tennis Academy “Hamptons 20-Ball Open” Sunday at the Napeague Tennis Club. The unique single day event featured first-to-20-point match formats beginning with a ground-stroke feed.

“It feels great to win this tournament,” said Bogomolov, ranked No. 179 in the ATP singles rankings. “I love this format and I challenge anybody to play me in a groundstroke game.”

Bogomolov has never been beaten in this unique competitive format. Last summer in Los Angeles, he won the only other known professional “20-ball” tournament, defeating John Isner in the semifinals and Philip King in the final. Bogomolov used the Hamptons 20-Ball as a preparation for his return to ATP tournament tennis. The bronze medalist for the United States at the 2003 Pan American Games team will play in Newport, R.I. this week in his first ATP-level tournament since the 2008 Sony Ericsson Open and since he underwent surgery on his left wrist late last year. Since his surgery, Bogomolov, ranked as high as No. 97 in 2003, has served as the touring professional for Gotham Tennis and worked with its officials to create the special formatted tournament for this summer at Napeague.

Okun, a member of Israel’s Davis Cup team from 1999 to 2008, traveled to the Hamptons from Winnetka, Ill., where he competed in the Nielsen USTA Challenger, losing in the round of 16.

“We both played really well and it was a great atmosphere and a great event here in the Hamptons,” said Okun, ranked No. 309, but as high as No. 95 in 2002. “Alex was just too tough and too solid for me. This is the first time I have played a tournament in this format, and I enjoyed it. The Napeague Tennis Club is very nice. The courts here are great. They are so even, which is very unusual for a clubs with clay courts, where they have courts that have a lot of bad bounces, but not here.”

The tournament was played simultaneously as the epic men’s singles final at Wimbledon, where Roger Federer won his record-breaking 15th major singles title, defeating Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14. When not playing their matches, players were glued to the television watching the drama unfold at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

“Andy was outplaying Roger for most of the match,” said Bogomolov, who beat Roddick to win the 1998 USTA National Boy’s 16 Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich. “The match is a different story if Andy wins one of those points at 6-2 in the second set tie-breaker and goes up two sets to love. I think losing that set from being up 6-2 made Andy uncertain about himself for the much of the rest of the match, even though he won the fourth set.”

“It was a great match,” said Okun, who lost to Roddick 6-3, 6-3 in a round of 16 match in Indianapolis in 2005. “I feel really bad for Andy. He played unbelievable, but not well enough to beat Roger Federer. There are no words to describe Roger Federer. He is the best player ever. He is so great for tennis.”

The one-day “20-Ball” event featured many fast-paced and entertaining matches featuring men and women who have represented their countries in Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Pan American Games competitions.

Three women registered wins over men in the co-ed event. Former Slovenian Fed Cupper Petra Rampe, currently ranked No. 375 in the WTA rankings, defeated Napeague member Rick Rudeman 20-12 in the first round before losing to Felipe Meier of Sweden 20-16 in the second round. Former Ukrainian Fed Cupper Elena Jirnova of Kiev defeated Napeague member and film director Mark Levin 20-5 in the first round before falling to East Hampton junior standout Max Hirsh in the second round. Suzanne Sales of Boston defeated Scott Marden in the first round 20-1 before losing to Ytai Abougzir 20-6 in the second round.

Sponsors of the Hamptons 20-Ball include Grand Central Racquet, Tiffany’s of East Hampton, Gubbins Sports of East Hampton, Gone Local, Hamptons.com, Montauk Chamber of Commerce, WHEN Radio and Pop Chips.

The Napeague Tennis Club is located at 2145 Montauk Highway in Amagansett, N .Y.  The club features four immaculately-maintained clay courts and one artificial grass court. The Napeague Tennis Club offers excellent tennis programming at reasonable prices including individual and family memberships, corporate memberships, adult and children’s tennis clinics, tennis parties, tennis camps and private tennis lessons. It is the preferred destination for tennis in the Hamptons because of its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, beautiful clay courts, close proximity to the beach, and reasonable prices. “Napeague is a very special place” says Tennis Director Brian Helm. “It’s an oasis of calm with high-level, state-of-the-art tennis programming for players of all levels.”

The mission of Gotham Tennis Academy is to provide friendly, personalized, high-performance tennis instruction in convenient facilities for Manhattan and Hamptons clients. In addition to operating the Napeague Tennis Club in the Hamptons, Gotham Tennis Academy has established a reputation for excellent tennis programming at three Manhattan locations — the Harlem Armory Tennis Center, the Midtown Tennis Club and the Riverside Clay Tennis Association. Gotham Tennis Academy offers tennis programs year-round to players of all ages and skill levels. Gotham Tennis Academy’s goal is to help each player improve all aspects of his or her tennis game. More information on Gotham Tennis Academy can be found at www.GothamTennis.com .

Kendrick Leads Early Commitments To Hamptons 20-Ball Open at Napeague

Kendrick Leads Early Commitments To Hamptons 20-Ball Open at Napeague

NEW YORK, June 10 – Robert Kendrick, the No. 5-ranked American tennis player, leads the early commitments to the inaugural “Gotham Tennis Academy Hamptons 20-Ball Open” to be held July 5 at the Napeague Tennis Club in Amagansett, N.Y.

This unique single day event will award a first-prize paycheck of $10,000 and features an action-filled, first-to-20-point match format beginning with a ground-stroke feed in lieu of a traditional serve. The event is open to both male and female players of all levels – professional and amateur. A qualifying tournament will be held on Monday, June 29.

Kendrick recently distinguished himself at the French Open in Paris, becoming the second-best performing American in the men’s singles tournament. Kendrick, who is ranked No. 76 in the world, reached the second round in Paris before losing to Gilles Simon of France. Joining Kendrick as early commitments in the tournament are Israeli Davis Cup star Dudi Sela as well as No. 6-ranked American Kevin Kim and tournament organizer and Gotham Tennis Academy touring professional Alex Bogomolov.

“Gotham Tennis Academy is excited to host this unique and fun event for tennis fans and players at the Napeague Tennis Club,” said Bogomolov. “The single day tournament provides a special opportunity to see professional players up close in a fast-paced, exciting-to-watch format. For non-professional players, this is a very rare opportunity to test skills against top level pros. If you are an amateur player who has ever wondered how many points you could get against a pro, we encourage you to put your game on the line and enter.”

The rules of each match in the high-action, fast-paced competition format are as follows:

* Feed below the waist to start the point, no “second serve” feeds.
* Player starts the point with a crosscourt feed.
* Players alternate feeding five consecutive points, similar to ping-pong.
* Players alternate feeding between the deuce and ad court every five points.
* Sudden death point at 19 all

Prize money will also be awarded to the tournament runner-up, who will earn $1,000, as well as semifinalists ($300) and quarterfinalists ($100). Entry fees are $100 for the main draw and $50 for the qualifying draw.

To enter the tournament, please contact Gotham Tennis Academy Hampton-20 Ball Tournament Director at 646-292-3511 or via email at info@gothamtennis.com. Complimentary transportation will be provided to and from New York City airports.

The Napeague Tennis Club is located at 2145 Montauk Highway in Amagansett, N.Y.  The club features four immaculately-maintained clay courts and one artificial grass court. The Napeague Tennis Club offers excellent tennis programming at reasonable prices including individual and family memberships, corporate memberships, adult and children’s tennis clinics, tennis parties, tennis camps and private tennis lessons. It is the preferred destination for tennis in the Hamptons because of its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, beautiful clay courts, close proximity to the beach, and reasonable prices. “Napeague is a very special place” says Tennis Director Brian Helm. “It’s an oasis of calm with high-level, state-of-the-art tennis programming for players of all levels.”

The mission of Gotham Tennis Academy is to provide friendly, personalized, high-performance tennis instruction in convenient facilities for Manhattan and Hamptons clients. In addition to operating the Napeague Tennis Club in the Hamptons, Gotham Tennis Academy has established a reputation for excellent tennis programming at three Manhattan locations — the Harlem Armory Tennis Center, the Midtown Tennis Club and the Riverside Clay Tennis Association. Gotham Tennis Academy offers tennis programs year-round to players of all ages and skill levels. Gotham Tennis Academy’s goal is to help each player improve all aspects of his or her tennis game. More information on Gotham Tennis Academy can be found at www.GothamTennis.com.

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