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Marion Bartoli: More Than “Still A Weirdo”

Marion Bartoli has gotten the "weirdo" label for too long; ever consider that she's one of the normal ones?

In the hours and days following Marion Bartoli’s maiden Grand Slam win, pundits and commentators have been hard at work spinning the wheel of adjectives (if not euphemisms) to describe the Frenchwoman. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” “Unique.” All of which are ways of dancing around the word one really wants to use when opining on the veteran top tenner: “weird.”

Compared to her WTA colleagues, it’s true: Marion Bartoli is weird. While her two-handed groundstrokes set her apart from the rest on a fundamental level, Bartoli has made a career of exaggerating the sport’s fundamentals. She takes dramatic practice cuts before kangaroo jumping her way into a widely open-stance return position. She winds up to serve in a hitch-filled motion that looks more like a manual flip book of what a serve is supposed to look like. She is very aware of her surroundings, acknowledging cheering fans with an emphatic fist pump of appreciation.

Even in the context of a tournament so full of surprises and early round upsets that Wimbledon itself was re-dubbed “Wimbleweird,” Bartoli managed to stand out. Though coming into what has been her best major tournament (reaching the finals in 2007), the Frenchwoman had suffered through a middling 2013 highlighted by her decision to extricate her father from his perennial position as her coach and confidante. While bigger names went out in her half of the draw, Bartoli continued to cruise, not only reaching the final without losing a set, but also doing so without facing a top 10 player.

Against prohibitive favorite Sabine Lisicki, Bartoli continued to “weird out” those in attendance. The German had taken out two of the top four seeds, and had won three of her four matches against the Frenchwoman (including a quarterfinal encounter at the All-England Club two years ago). Yet, Lisicki crumbled under the weight of expectation, and Bartoli steadied her own nerves to play with the enthusiastic poise that has seen her conquer multiple Slam champions and reigning World No. 1s throughout her career.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX9zMBNq7Tc

As she closed out victory with an ace and jubilantly skipped over to greet her supporters (including her father with her new hitting partner, Thomas Drouet), I began to wonder if the read on Bartoli was all wrong.

Maybe Marion is one of the normal ones.

As a player, what was weird about Bartoli, whose best results have come on grass, using her on-the-rise groundstrokes to overwhelm seven opponents en route to the title? As a person, shouldn’t the athlete who gracefully stalks about big stages seemingly immune to nerves and tension look more to viewers like the “weird” one?

In this way, Bartoli is the People’s Champion in more ways that one would think. Over the years, she has approached a game often played at immortal levels as methodically as she has uniquely, constantly trying new and better ways of competing with the game’s elite. What many deemed “rituals,” she has seen as formulas for success. Where she has shown fits of greatness, she has also shown human frailty as she struggled with various injuries that derailed potentially earlier title runs.

When she saw she could go no further with her father’s coaching earlier this year, she began opening up to other ideas, and even made amends with the French Federation after years of ostracism and alienation. Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo and teammate Kristina Mladenovic’s presence in Bartoli’s player box was proof that Bartoli had been warmly welcomed back into the fold.

With these changes came a dip in form; some may have thought her master plan had backfired, but Bartoli refused to buckle under the immediate consequences of major change. As she’s always done, she continued to work and fine-tune her team until they were as formulaic as her two-handed volleys.

In victory and in press, she was charming and unguarded, standing in stark contrast with the high-jumping cartoon character one sees between points. Her pure, unadulterated joy was very human, something we all could imagine feeling after reaching the precipice of our life’s purpose.

If there was anything “weird” about Marion Bartoli holding the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft, perhaps it had to do with the fact that, despite the changes in technology, the vast accumulation of natural (or superhuman) talent, even the steely nerves shown throughout the tennis world, a normal young woman can continue to grow, change and tinker with her game and rise to the pinnacle of her sport.

After all these years and compared to the surrounding names in the Wimbledon Compendium, Marion Bartoli may still be a “weirdo.” But her fortnight at the All-England Club proved that she was something more.

She’s one of us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUv9AMB9cz8

The Day After: Andy Murray on Winning Wimbledon, Knighthood and Making Media Rounds

Andy Murray wins Wimbledon_600

(July 8, 2013) Andy Murray was overcome with emotion on Sunday on his way to winning his first Wimbledon title at the All England Club, a historic day for a nation celebrated.

After the congratulatory hugs and kisses from family and friends, a message from the Queen of England and a phone call from David Beckham, he jetted off to the Wimbledon Champions Ball looking every bit the winning gentleman. It looks like he won’t be letting that trophy go any time soon! (More photos in the link)

Andy Murray Wimbledon championOn Monday morning, Murray returned to the All England Club to make his media rounds, after catching only ”about an hour-and-a-half (of sleep) last night,” he told Sky News.

Andy Murray interview 2“You don’t want to go to sleep in case you wake up and it didn’t actually happen. I was just messaging my friends and laying in bed. It was tough to get to sleep last night,” he told BBC Five Live.

Andy Murray interview“I was pretty beat up when I woke up, but it’s a beautiful day to wake up as Wimbledon champion … it was a long day, but I’ll have a chance to celebrate today,” said Murray.

“I’m sure I will see some of the newspapers around. I’ve seen some of the back pages and front pages of the newspapers this morning,” admitted Murray during his media rounds.

Andy Murray reading the papersAmid the wonderfully-loud and supportive Center Court cheers on Sunday, Murray admits that he grasped quickly that he had won, but not quite yet what he had done for the country: “When I actually won yesterday, it sunk in quite quickly that I won Wimbledon. But actually how big it was, I think will take quite a while.”

“When I was sat downstairs on my own when I was waiting to do drug testing, that’s when it all hit me,” stated Murray. “I just got like so tired. I felt like I hit a wall and that’s when it felt like it was all starting to sink in, all of the emotions and what I had just done.”

Andy Murray wins WimbledonMurray added: “When you’re on the court you feel what is going on inside the stadium, on Center Court, but you can’t feel everything else that is going on outside.”

“But after the match you see some of the pictures of the hill and people watching back in Dunblane and the sports clubs, people at the Tower of London. I don’t know how many people watched yesterday on the TV – there will have been hundreds of millions across the world and that’s not really something you can grasp. That’s a strange feeling.

After a brief week-long holiday, Murray plans to get right back on the horse, and feels there has been a weight lifted off his shoulders going into future tournaments: ”I feel very relaxed today and there was a huge release of tension and pressure yesterday. I feel that once I get back on the match court, I’ll feel much more relaxed out there, preparing for big events … Last year after the US Open, the next few tournaments I played, I just felt a lot calmer on the court and much better about things.”

So is there anything that could top the feeling of winning Wimbledon? “Everyone would like to be world No. 1, but it’s such a hard thing to do,” stated Murray to the Telegraph. “Right now, I hold two of the Slams, the final of another one and the Olympic gold, and I’m still not close to No. 1 … maybe one day I’ll get there.”

Andy Murray with Wimbledon trophyWith his historic win at the All England Club, Murray becomes the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, and many have wondered if “Andy Murray” could soon become “Sir Andy Murray.” So, could the Scot see himself as that?

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “A lot of people have asked me about that today and in the past, ‘if you won Wimbledon.’ But I think it’s more just because it’s taken such a long time for someone to do it. I don’t know whether winning Wimbledon deserves a knighthood.”

Andy Murray with Wimbledon trophy 2According to Forbes, Andy Murray’s endorsement deals could get a boost following his Wimbledon win and be “at least on par with [Novak] Djokovic by the end of fiscal 2013,” which is estimated at around $14 million annually. Roger Federer is currently on top of men’s tennis with endorsement deals totaling $65 million, followed by Rafael Nadal at $21 million, then Djokovic. However, Forbes notes that “if 2-3 more majors follow in the coming years, eclipsing $20 million annually in endorsements is not impossible” for Murray.

But none of that matters to his hometown of Dunblane, Scotland, where the community celebrated, including his grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine, who said the atmosphere was “tremendous”.

Andy Murray grandparents“We were telling him what wonderful support there was up here,” Shirley Erskine told Sky News. His grandfather also commented on Andy’s spirit for playing the game. ”I don’t think Andy will change in any way,” he said. ”I think he will still be very committed to his tennis – he doesn’t know anything else. It’s been his way of life for the last 11 years.”

Stores were rebranding their names, kids were hitting the tennis courts at sports clubs, signs were adorning storefronts, and even a cake replica basked the city.

Andy Murray DunblaneBy early afternoon, Murray made his way to South London to take part in an adidas publicity event called “Hit the Winner” where 100 lucky fans took the court against the Scot.

Andy Murray adidas press WimbledonAndy Murray adidas event 3 Andy Murray adidas event 5 Andy Murray adidas event 4 Andy Murray adidas event 6Afterward, Murray made his way to 10 Downing Street in London for a cross-party reception in his honor, which included  (L-R) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Andy Murray, Prime Minister David Cameron, Labor leader Ed Miliband and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robinson.

Andy Murray at 10 Downing Street Andy Murray at Downing Street 2 Andy Murray at Downing StreetEnjoy the moment, Andy! Now go and celebrate!

The Fab Five, Revisited: Wimbledon 2013 Women’s Contenders

Serena+Williams+Championships+Wimbledon+2012+aoSgz0qstAEl

This companion to a Monday article on the Wimbledon men’s field discusses five key women to watch during the next fortnight.  Tennis Grandstand will feature a joint preview on the men’s and women’s draws after they appear, but this article provides a general overview of the contenders.

1)     Serena Williams:  One woman in the Wimbledon draw holds more singles titles there than all of the other 127 combined.  In each successive appearance, Serena sets a new tournament ace record as she showcases the shot that separates her from the competition, and that separated her sister from the competition before her.  She has not lost a match since February, compiling a streak of 31 consecutive victories that she seeks to extend from hard courts through clay to grass.  But the most impressive statistic regarding Serena, who pursues her 17th major title, may be her stranglehold over the other women on this list.  The 31-year-old veteran owns a 31-4 career mark against the rest of the top four, so her greatest test could come from an unheralded opponent in the early rounds.  Or it could come from her health, the only reason why she does not currently hold all four of the major titles.

2)     Victoria Azarenka:  In the last twelve months, Azarenka has lost to only one match to someone other than Serena on a surface other than clay.  That span included a Wimbledon semifinal and a bronze medal at the Olympics, which showed that she can contend on grass despite a relatively modest serve.  Now a two-time major champion, Azarenka probably has not reached her peak period yet.  She still needs to prove that she can defeat a healthy Serena at a major, and her own health remains a significant question mark.  Azarenka issues walkovers, retirements, and withdrawals at a much higher rate than most of her contemporaries, although she rarely retires from a major.  While grass does not suit her reliance on rhythmic baseline rallies and frequent service breaks, it does reward her crisp footwork and groundstroke depth.  Moreover, her feistiness leaves her unruffled by the magnitude of the sport’s grandest stage.

3)     Maria Sharapova:  If Azarenka needs to prove that she can defeat Serena at a major, Sharapova needs to prove that she can defeat Serena anywhere.  Four losses to the American this year have left her not clearly closer to doing so, but she reasserted herself in another key rivalry last month.  Defeating Azarenka in a compelling Roland Garros semifinal, Sharapova extended a four-month, seven-tournament span during which she has not lost to anyone but Serena.  She often labels Wimbledon her favorite tournament, probably because she broke through there for her first major title in 2004.  Over the last few years, Sharapova has shifted away (a bit) from the quick-strike tennis that shone so brightly on grass.  Past the fourth round only once in her last six Wimbledon appearances, she prefers surfaces that give her more time to aim her weapons.  Perceptibly taller than in 2004, Sharapova can struggle with the low bounce on grass.

4)     Agnieszka Radwanska:  Associated with the grip-it-and-rip-it style of shot-makers like Sharapova or the Williams sisters, grass also can showcase the more subtle talents of last year’s finalist.  Among them are compact swings, keen reflexes, and deft touch at the net, which have made Radwanska a serial quarterfinalist at Wimbledon.  Her 2012 appearance there marked the only time in eight attempts that she has advanced past the quarterfinals at any major, and she profited from an especially accommodating draw.  Gone in the first round of Eastbourne last week, Radwanska has recorded reasonably consistent results for most of 2013 that have kept her entrenched at No. 4.  On the other hand, she has not produced anything spectacular this season to move higher up the hierarchy.  Radwanska has improved her serve over the years, but it remains a vulnerability that costs her on a surface where holding serve matters so much.

5)     Petra Kvitova:  The only woman not named Williams to win here since 2006, Kvitova defeated Azarenka and Sharapova en route to the 2011 title.  She has not lost to anyone but Serena here since 2009, although her results at majors have dwindled over the last year.  A fourth-round exit at the US Open preceded first-week losses at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, where Kvitova had reached the semifinals in 2012.  She might need to defeat all of the top three women in succession, but her enormous first strikes on serve and return can trouble any opponent on a fast surface.  Kvitova’s main challenge lies in sustaining her form for more than a few matches at a time, or even from start to finish in one match.  Too often playing to the level of the competition, she must show more discipline this fortnight.

 

The Fab Five: Previewing the Wimbledon Men’s Contenders

Roger Federer hopes to keep a step ahead of his rivals again.

At the Australian Open and Roland Garros this year, one man entered the tournament as a clear favorite to extend his mastery over it.  Wimbledon presents a much blurrier and thus more intriguing picture, for any of the top four men will have a real chance to win.  Here is my best shot at an early ranking of contenders ahead before the draw.

1) Roger Federer:  The man who has won seven of the last ten men’s titles at Wimbledon probably enters as a slight favorite because of those credentials alone.  While Federer has not defeated nemesis Rafael Nadal there (or at any major) in six years, he claimed consecutive victories over his other two rivals en route to the 2012 title.  Defeating both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, he showed how the best serve and best forecourt skills of the Big Four can trump the superior physicality and consistency of the others on grass.  Federer recaptured the Halle title last week despite some concerning stretches of fallibility against opponents whom he would have dominated in his prime.  He still owns just one victory over a top-10 opponent this year, and he will need to win efficiently in the earlier rounds to conserve energy for more demanding competition.

2) Rafael Nadal:  A two-time Wimbledon champion, Nadal did not lose before the final there between 2006 and 2011.  When Lukas Rosol snapped that streak last year, he continued a trend in which unheralded men with massive serves have troubled the Spaniard in the first week.  Take a careful look at his early draw, then, but prepare for him to raise his level several notches if he survives any early tests.  The grass slows during the course of the fortnight, especially behind the baseline where Nadal prefers to play, and that factor should aid him in the second week.  No questions remain about his ability to recapture championship form in his comeback, including on surfaces other than clay.  Nadal’s Indian Wells title, built upon victories over three top-eight opponents, proved the latter point.  Dominant at Wimbledon against Andy Murray, he holds the momentum in key rivalries against Djokovic and Federer.

3) Novak Djokovic:   The world No. 1 may attract the least scrutiny of the Big Four heading into the season’s third major.  Federer defends the title, Nadal seeks to complete a third Channel Slam, and Murray bears the hopes of the host nation on his shoulders.  A Wimbledon champion two years ago, Djokovic will finish the tournament in the top spot regardless of his result and may arrive at the All England Club in an emotional lull.  Revenge on Nadal for his heartbreaking loss to the Spaniard at Roland Garros might offer the Serb some motivation, or he may need time to regroup emotionally.  His reliance on extended baseline rallies and vulnerability at the net may hamper him on grass, although Djokovic acted wisely to choose rest rather than preparation ahead of Wimbledon.  Strangely, he has played only three matches against the rest of the Big Four on grass, winning just one.

4) Andy Murray:  And so it begins, the quest to become the first British man since the Second World War to win Wimbledon.  For the first time, though, Murray plunges into the cauldron of scrutiny as a proven major champion, which might relieve the pressure on him even as it may raise expectations.  He arrives at Wimbledon fresher than the other contenders, having cut short his clay season after a back injury in Rome.  Murray reaped the rewards of that decision immediately when he reclaimed the Queen’s Club title that he won in 2011.  He defeated both Djokovic and Federer at the All England Club last year when it hosted the Olympics, another experience that should help settle his nerves, and he also now knows the feeling of playing the Wimbledon final.  Murray will hope to avoid Nadal, from whom he has won one set in three Wimbledon meetings.

5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  Realistically, one struggles to imagine anyone other than the Big Four lifting the Wimbledon trophy.  Extending beyond that group, 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych might seem the most logical contender as the only active man other than the four above to reach the Wimbledon final in the last decade.  But Berdych has disappointed for most of the last few months, outside a victory over Djokovic in Rome, and he has only one quarterfinal in eight other Wimbledon appearances.  A more plausible threat could come from a man whose explosive serving and deft touch at the net positions him for success on grass.  Tsonga defeated Federer at Wimbledon two years ago, an upset that he repeated at Roland Garros last month, and he has won sets from Murray and Djokovic there.  The short points on this surface reward his shot-making talents while camouflaging his impatience and lapses in focus.

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In a day or two, I will return with a similar article on the women’s contenders.  Constructing the hierarchy of their title chances oddly came more easily than it did for the men.

Snakes in the Grass: Previewing the Wimbledon 2013 Dark Horses

Sabine Lisicki has defeated five top-ten women in her last three Wimbledon appearances.

With the Wimbledon draw just a week ahead, the time has arrived to scan the ATP and WTA rankings in search of dark horses who could grab some unexpected attention.  This survey features only players outside the top 20 at the start of the grass season, likely to meet an opponent of greater note in the first week.  On any given day, these snakes in the grass could strike for an upset or two.

ATP:

John Isner:  Forever famous for his Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut, Isner never has fared as well there as top-ranked compatriot Sam Querrey.  His lack of impact surprises, considering a playing style that should flourish on grass with a nearly impenetrable serve and a preference for short points.  Isner has languished in a slump for most of 2013, but he nearly reached the second week at Roland Garros with another valiant run.  The American would benefit from exchanging his pattern of endless epics for some more efficient first-week victories, conserving his energy early in the fortnight.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Reaching the third round of a major for the first time at Roland Garros, the Bulgarian rising star tends to perform better at non-majors than majors.  But Dimitrov took Tsonga to the brink of a final set at Wimbledon two years ago, and he has threatened every member of the Big Four this year except Roger Federer, whom he has not faced.  His combination of an explosive first serve with dexterity around the net could shine on the grass.  Less impressive is his movement and his ability to convincingly take care of business against overmatched opposition.

Julien Benneteau:  He came closer than anyone last year to knocking off eventual champion Roger Federer at Wimbledon, snatching the first two sets before the match slipped away.  Benneteau has struggled to win any matches at all in singles since March, not long after he upset Federer in Rotterdam.  His doubles expertise could help on a court that rewards net-rushers, and he reached the second week in 2010.  Formidable early draws have stunted his progress in most Wimbledon appearances, but Benneteau has lost to only one opponent outside the top eight there since 2005.

Lukas Rosol:  His presence on this list should need little explanation.  Had Rosol won no matches at all after defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round last year, he still would merit a mention.  As it stands, he built upon that upset to rise from the edge of the top 100 to well inside the top 50.  Rosol faces the pressure of defending something meaningful for the first time, and he will need to insulate himself from the inevitable media scrutiny.  He often brings out his best tennis against the best while growing careless or unfocused against the journeymen of the Tour.

Ernests Gulbis:  Slinging ferocious forehands and controversial comments indiscriminately, the Latvian shot-maker once again has become someone intriguing to watch.  Gulbis upset Tomas Berdych in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and he twice has won sets from Nadal this year.  More distant achievements include victories over Federer and Novak Djokovic, showing that no elite opponent can feel safe when Gulbis finds his groove.  He may struggle to stay in that groove in the best-of-five format, perhaps a reason why his greatest headlines have come at Masters 1000 events.  Still, grass usually rewards the Jekyll-and-Hyde mixture of overwhelming power and deft finesse that Gulbis can wield.

Feliciano Lopez:  The Spaniard’s best tennis lies well behind him, and he accumulated a losing record this season through the end of Roland Garros.  Lopez has reached three Wimbledon quarterfinals behind his lefty serve-volley style, though, the rarity of which can unsettle younger opponents.  His notable victims there include Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, as well as Tim Henman in his last match on home soil.  Keep an eye on Lopez if he draws a relatively passive baseliner or grinder such as David Ferrer, who long has struggled against him on fast surfaces.

Daniel Brands:  Like Rosol, Brands typically plays to the level of the competition.  He lost resoundingly to Jan Hajek one week before he thrust Nadal to the brink of a two-set deficit at Roland Garros.  Wimbledon marks the scene of his greatest accomplishment, a second-week appearance in 2010, although he lost in the first round of qualifying each of the two subsequent years.  Beware of getting into a fifth set against Brands, who shares Isner’s asymmetry between a massive serve and a woeful return.  That stark contrast leaves him vulnerable against anyone and dangerous to everyone.

WTA:

Ekaterina Makarova:  Only one woman has defeated both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13:  not Maria Sharapova, not Li Na, not Petra Kvitova, but Ekaterina Makarova.  This fiery Russian also won Eastbourne on grass as a qualifier in 2010, her only title to date.  Her lefty serve swings wide in the ad court effectively on this surface, a valuable asset on break points.  Makarova’s doubles expertise has honed her net talents to a higher level than most of the women ranked near her, and she has proved that she can excel at majors by reaching two Australian Open quarterfinals.

Sabine Lisicki:  Four or five years ago, Lisicki looked like a future Wimbledon champion.  She honed the best serve in the women’s game outside the Williams sisters, even outdueling Venus to win a Charleston title.  In three Wimbledon appearances from 2009-12, Lisicki reached the quarterfinals or better every time and even notched her first major semifinal there in 2011.  An impressive list of marquee upsets in those appearances includes Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Caroline Wozniacki, and Marion Bartoli.  Somewhat like Gulbis in her ability to combine first-strike power with the finesse of delicate drop shots, Lisicki has struggled to stay healthy long enough to develop momentum and consistency.

Tamira Paszek:  A hideous 1-12 this season, Paszek has won barely any matches since last August but still held a seed at Roland Garros.  She defends the majority of her total rankings points during the short grass season, when she won Eastbourne and reached a second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal last year.  The good news is that Paszek rebounded from a similar sequence of futility at this time in 2012 to record those excellent results.  The bad news is that the pressure will lie heavily on her with the penalty so great for a misstep at either event.

Venus Williams:  Once a champion, always a champion, and never more so than at the greatest bastion of tennis tradition.  Venus will appear in this type of article before every Wimbledon that she plays, no matter her current form.  To be sure, that current form is far from impressive with losses this spring to Olga Puckhova, Laura Robson, and Urszula Radwanska.  Venus wins many fewer matches than she once did on her poise and experience alone, and she probably cannot ration her energy efficiently enough to survive deep into the fortnight.  But nobody wants to face that serve or that wingspan on grass, for one never knows when an aging champion will catch fire.

Laura Robson:  Combined with a junior Wimbledon title, two compelling efforts against Maria Sharapova on home soil suggest that the top British women’s talent could rise to the occasion.  Robson has proved twice in the last twelve months that she can shine at majors, upsetting Kim Clijsters to reach the second week of the US Open and outlasting Petra Kvitova in a nail-biting if ugly epic in Melbourne.  Since the serve plays a heightened role on grass, she must limit the double faults that have grown too frequent this year.  Robson never lacks for courage or belief, often aggressive to the point of reckless.

Zheng Jie:  If she had finished off Serena Williams in the first week of Wimbledon last year, the trajectory of women’s tennis since then would have followed a completely different course.  As it was, Zheng took Serena to 8-6 in the final set, displaying how well her compact swings and crisp footwork suit the low, variable bounces of the grass.  This less intuitive model for surface success than heavy serves and first strikes carried her to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2008.  Like Benneteau, Zheng has found herself saddled with some extremely challenging draws and has lost to few sub-elite opponents there.

Tsvetana Pironkova:  Two years ago, it seemed that Pironkova existed solely to prevent Venus Williams from winning another Wimbledon title.  The willowy Bulgarian defeated Venus in consecutive Wimbledons by identical scores, and she even came within a set of the final in 2010.  Proving that success no anomaly, Pironkova extended Sharapova to a final set last year.  A glance at her game reveals no clear reason why she enjoys grass so much.  Pironkova owns a vulnerable serve and little baseline firepower, earning her living with court coverage and touch.  Her Wimbledon feats show that counterpunchers can find ways to thrive on an offensively oriented surface.

An Intimate Look At Some Of The Inner Workings Of Wimbledon

The All England Lawn Tennis Club

By Paul McElhinney

Arriving in late-autumnal London and making my way up Church Road to the gates of Wimbledon, pleasant memories of past Wimbledons came flooding back.  Instead of the milling crowds and the buzz of excitement surrounding The Championships’ fortnight of mid-summer, this was a more sedate and relaxed time, a time perhaps more suited to a reflective discussion on the great event that is Wimbledon and the All England Club itself.

What is often forgotten amidst all the enthusiasm of the annual Championships fortnight is the fact that the location, the All England Club, is very much a living and thriving club with all the challenges faced daily (albeit on a larger scale) of any other tennis club.  To tennis fans worldwide, Wimbledon is the veritable Mecca.  Whatever is said of the ‘parity of esteem’ among all four of the Grand Slam locations (Melbourne, Roland Garros and Flushing Meadow), most would acknowledge in their heart of heats that Wimbledon is ‘primus inter pares’.

Its history, tradition, authority and influence are unrivaled and the world tennis public looks to Wimbledon for leadership on the developing issues in the world game.  Furthermore, its ability to combine respect for tradition and support for and encouragement of modernizing trends, means it remains at the hub of the world game: a comforting paternal presence and a dynamic influence combined.

It was in this context that I had the opportunity to meet Martin Guntrip, Club Secretary of the All England Club to discuss issues concerning the Championships and the Club itself.  Arriving at the Club, I walked up the steps to the entrance area in front of Centre Court to see Kipling’s famous ‘If’ inscribed above the lintel – the set of ‘guiding principles’ of The Championships.  Ushered into Martin’s office by his charming assistant, Kelly Revill (who put so much effort into scheduling the meeting), I was also introduced to Johnny Perkins, the Club’s PR executive and to Martin himself.

Wrapping my hands around a welcome cup of coffee, I ran my eyes around Martin’s crisp and efficient office, notable for its tennis memorabilia (old wooden tennis racquet on a pedestal, assorted photos and the Rolex clock on the wall, a testament to their role as Official Timekeeper of The Championships.

Martin, open, affable and media-savvy, opened with some reminiscences on his previous career in professional tennis which included winning the Men’s Doubles in 1984 at the Irish Open in Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, Dublin (incidentally, the author’s home club).  Having reached No.9 in Great Britain in his prime, some tour event wins under his belt, a long-time active member of the All England Club and an impressive background in the corporate world, he holds the ideal track-record for the role of Club Secretary.

Our discussion then followed a traditional interview format as follows:

PM Martin, Wimbledon manages to combine both respect for tradition and an accommodation to modernizing trends – how do you see the Championships evolving over the next decade or more?

MG   The Club is currently engaged in working on a new framework  ‘Wimbledon 2020’, which will form the vision for the next 15-20 years.  Much has already been achieved under the old long term plan, which was completed in 2011 including major elements such as  the Centre Court retractable roof; construction of new Nos 2 and 3 Courts; work on surrounding areas to the courts to improve spectator comfort and access; Club office development; and an all-new Museum.  The next stage of improvements under the Wimbledon 2020 banner has involved the engagement of master planners with a brief to look at all aspects of the Club in a holistic way with no untouchable ‘sacred cows’ (with the exception of the iconic Centre Court and Courts 1-3).  The plan will also be mindful of the interests of all our key stakeholders: spectators; members; debenture holders; broadcasters; sponsors, suppliers.  Very much at the heart of future developments will be a ‘green’ sustainability element with the concept of ‘Tennis in an English Garden’ as a centrepiece.

PM   With the wave of enthusiasm for sport generally generated by the 2012 London Olympics (to which tennis made a signal contribution), how do you see tennis now being positioned beside other sports in the market to attract a finite sport-playing and sport-viewing public?

MG   The men’s game has never been better placed with such strong competition at the top of the game now (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray). In Britain, the recent success of Andy Murray has given a boost to the game nationally.  Similarly, the success of Jonny Marray in this year’s Championship Men’s Doubles has helped lift the game here.  The Ladies’ game is also in very good shape, particularly in Britain which hasn’t witnessed the kinds of successes of Laura Robson and Heather Watson in a long time.

The Olympics were clearly a major boost to tennis in Britain with a major post-Olympics ‘bounce’ evident here.  The LTA would be more directly responsible for the development side of the British game, but the All England also plays its part.  Prior to the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visited the Wimbledon site and gave its seal of approval to the location and facilities which ultimately, proved a great success.  We were pleased to have played a part in that success.

PM   For many years, the BBC and Wimbledon have maintained a mutually productive relationship to the benefit of the tennis-viewing public.  Is that ‘ring-fenced’ relationship set to continue for the foreseeable future and what might be the role of competing media in Wimbledon coverage into the future?

MG  Yes, that relationship continues to be a mutually productive one.  Our existing contract with the BBC is set to conclude in 2017 which is also the year in which the BBC’s license fee is up for renewal.  An example of the popular and media appeal of The Championships is the telling statistic this year of 16.9 million viewers for the Men’s Singles final between Murray and Federer.  Our long-standing relationship with the BBC has inevitably led to a natural ‘closeness’, not least due to the fact that many of the commentators are also Club members themselves.  In relation to coverage of The Championships, we have ongoing discussions with the BBC as the issues arise.

PM In terms of media coverage of the Championship and links with the media, how significant has been the role of the new social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc?  Have you noticed any ‘digital divide’ between older and younger people’s facility with these new media?

MG Yes, we are very much engaged in the use and promotion of the new social media as part of our work.  Indicative of this has been the appointment of a full-time, dedicated Digital Editorial Content Manager.  We are very conscious of the importance of attracting younger audiences.  For example, indicators of the success of our social media efforts have been the recent statistic of 1.5 million I-Phone Wimbledon app downloads so far and almost 1 million Facebook friends on our account.

PM There is much use nowadays of the marketing term ‘the brand.’  Wimbledon itself is a distinctive ‘brand.’ What efforts does the club go to promote and protect that brand?

MG  Yes, we are very conscious of Wimbledon’s strong brand and seek to protect and promote that brand.  By way of illustration, top businessman, Sir Martin Sorell, Chairman of WPP has been quoted as saying that after the Olympics and the football World Cup, Wimbledon has the third strongest sports brand in the world (few would argue with that- PM). With such a strong brand, clearly comes the responsibility of promoting it wisely.

PM Could you talk a little about the AELTC’s ‘outreach’ activities in relation for example to: interaction with other clubs (UK and international), development of the game in the UK (chiefly the youth game), dealings with sponsors and other stakeholders in the Championships?

MG Among the outreach activities of  the All England Club is the promotion of a Schools Initiative We work closely with schools in the nearby London Boroughs of Merton and Wimbledon to develop interest and skills among schoolchildren.  The most promising schoolchildren are invited to play at the Club and to partake in squads, an initiative designed to give young people a focus and help build character.  We have also worked closely with your own club, Paul, Fitzwilliam, by participating in an annual event involving young players travelling outside their home base to play against and interact with youngsters of different backgrounds.  Indeed, our Head Coach, Dan Bloxham recently returned from such an event in Dublin which received very positive feedback from participants.

We also organize an HSBC ‘Road to Wimbledon’ National 14 and Under Challenge tournament, open to clubs and schools, which has proven very popular and has produced some excellent talent in the past.  Not part of the Championships itself, it is funded by the Club members.

We also have strong links with the game in China with many young Chinese players coming over to the Club.  We are also considering developing relations with the game at youth level in India. We also help in the development of literacy and numeracy skills through the Education Department by organizing school visits, all as part of our outreach activities.

PM – Regarding the demographic base of the AELTC’s membership, roughly what proportions of the membership are: London/Home Counties v Rest of UK and Rest of the World; male/female; senior/full/junior members?

MG We have three broad categories of membership: Full Members; Honorary Members and Temporary Members. Given our geographical location, many of our members live within a reasonable radius, but obviously, with a lot of ex-Champions as Honorary Members, many also live abroad. Ex-Champions who are selected for Honorary Membership do not pay a fee and may attend (but not vote) at Club meetings. Singles Champions do not receive Honorary Membership as a matter of course, but have to be invited. In practice, this is usually just a formality. Our Temporary Members tend to be young, most of whom eventually become full Members. Also, in order to avoid any confusion about our status as a club, we see ourselves as very much an ordinary tennis club based on talent and merit.

PM Wimbledon stands out as one of very few tournaments still played on grass as most clubs have transferred to more all-weather surfaces.  Is the All England Club involved in any initiatives to maintain and promote the grass game nationally and internationally?  How strong is the grass game in the UK at a club level currently?

MG Yes, we take the development of the grass game very seriously. In that connection, we were very pleased at the decision that in future, there will be a 3-week break between Roland Garros and Wimbledon to allow for pre-Wimbledon grass tournament play. We are pleased to see a recent renaissance of grass and note the continued support for grass internationally (in parts of the US, for example).

We also spend a lot of money on research and development into grass quality and seed technology. Over 2-3 years, under our Sports Turf Research programme we looked at the whole issue. This resulted in us being able to laying down a pre-germinated grass surface between Wimbledon and the Olympics this year, which proved very successful in restoring the presentation of the courts in only 20 days..

PM In terms of Club facilities, could you confirm the total number of courts (grass and hard); no. of squash courts; no. of ground staff and other facilities?

MG   The Club has 41 grass courts, 8 HarTru courts, 2 hard and 5 indoor courts,  We have 20 ground staff, a total that is supplemented in and around the time of the Championships.  Our Head Groundsman is Mr. Neil Stubley.

PM   Is it simply a myth or does a women’s doubles play a match on the Centre Court immediately before the Championships to ‘break in’ the Court?  

MG In fact, we carry on that tradition not just on Centre Court but also Nos 1, 2 and 3 Courts each year.  We use it as an opportunity for a dress rehearsal for the Chair and Line Umpires, ballboys/girls and to do a test run for the Hawkeye and scoreboard technology.

PM   Chair and Line Umpires – are these nominated by respective tennis federations?

MG   These are nominated by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

PM Ballboys/girls – are these still recruited from local schools and can you describe the training they undertake?

MG Yes, a number of schools from  surrounding areas send pupils to participate as ballboys/ballgirls at The Championships. Selection is rigorous and the training intense, commencing as early as the previous February (fuller information set out in 2012 press release).

PM   Regarding the retractable roof on Centre Court, is there a potential technical engineering solution to speed up the process to minimize further delays in matches resuming play?

MG   In fact, the closing of the roof itself only takes 8 minutes.  Setting the correct temperature/humidity levels for the court is what takes more time, anything between 10-25 minutes.  The other factor that can add to the timings is trying to assemble players back to court who may have wandered ‘away from base’.

PM Are there any plans for a similar roof for No.1 Court?

MG` It is on the agenda, but because of the different dynamics of No.1 Court, we have to look at the feasibility.

PM   Late night tennis has become a feature of the international game (Wimbledon included – notably, The Championships 2012 highlighting this).  Recognizing the imperatives of local authority regulations and the concerns of local communities, what are the future prospects for applying reasonable, flexible guidelines so that late night play (where necessary) can proceed without disruptions?

MG   Like any public event, we are subject to local authority regulations and by-laws.  Probably the biggest concerns over night play from the Club’s perspective are the effect on our neighbours and the danger of over-use of the grass surface ,which would cause damage over time.  The right balance would obviously be one of maximum use and minimum damage.  We certainly do not envisage playing matches well after 11.00pm, which is the agreed cut-off time.  Another concern is ensuring spectators get home at a decent hour.  We have a form of roof protocol and, at the moment it is ultimately a decision for The Championships’ referee at what time to stop play.

PM   It is a long way off, but are there any long term plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Championships in 2027?

MG   We will probably have some special event in 2027.

PM   The membership of the Centenary Tennis Clubs is conspicuous by the absence of the All England Club.  Are there any plans for the All England Club to join?

MG   No, we don’t have any plans to join the CTC, although we do have regular contacts and associations with many clubs around the world. .

PM   Martin, during your professional tennis career, you were a winner, inter alia, of the Men’s Doubles at the Irish Open and you have been a strong supporter of the annual Sterry Cup encounters between Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Club and the All England Club.  How popular is this fixture from the AELTC’s membership’s perspective and how do you see it developing in the future?

MG   Yes, I have many pleasant memories of my times in Dublin, in particular the hospitality.  Winning the Men’s Doubles at the Irish Open in 1984 was a special memory, in particular as one of my opponents was a then World Top-40 player, Matt Doyle.  Over the years, I have also participated in the annual Sterry Cup matches between the All England Club and Fitzwilliam and through which I have managed to forge many fruitful, long-standing contacts.  These annual encounters are always very popular and closely-contested. Long may they continue.

 

In relation to Grand Slam events, Martin mentioned further that each event organizes its own Championships, but also referred to the Grand Slam Committee which seeks to coordinate on issues of mutual interest.  There is a Grand Slam Development Fund which seeks to support and develop players of talent across the world.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Having thoroughly exhausted Martin with my interminable questions, it was at this point I took my leave for a tour of the Centre Court and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. The Centre Court out of season takes on a different aspect and looks more compact than on TV, although with its 15,000 capacity is still awe-inspiring.  Outside The Championships, the roof remains open all the time to allow nature take its course by exposing the court to the necessary sun and rain nutrients.

The Museum is very well worth a visit, very manageable and including a film: a great visit for all tennis aficionados out there.  Of special note is an exhibit including former Wimbledon ‘enfant terrible’ John McEnroe, who appears as a virtual hologram in a white linen suit delivering comments in his usual trenchant way.  His prominent inclusion in the Museum, I felt, was a strong testament to British tolerance and sense of fair play!

Visiting the Club, you realize the mammoth challenge involved in managing not only the annual Championships but also a club of this scale from day-to-day.  With an excellent pedigree in the game himself, a clear love of the game and as part of an excellent team, Martin Guntrip is well-placed to continue to help the All England Club to face and overcome the many challenges in the coming years.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Well, I tried to be quiet for you guys today

Melanie Oudin

STARS

Wimbledon (First Week)

Lleyton Hewitt beat fifth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 7-5 7-5

Sabine Lisicki beat fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2 7-5

Melanie Oudin beat sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic 6-7 (8) 7-5 6-2

Ivo Karlovic beat ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5) 6-7 (5) 7-5 7-6 (5)

Gisela Dulko beat 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova 6-2 3-6 6-4

Jesse Levine beat 2005 Australian Open champion Marat Safin 6-2 3-6 7-6 (4) 6-4

SAYING

“It is the best place to be when you are a pro tennis player and I savor every blade of it. I’ve had that crown for several years and I want to make it mine again.” – Defending champion Venus Williams.

“I come here every year expecting myself to win.” – Alex Bogdanovic, whose career record at Wimbledon is now 0-8, the second worst in tournament history only to Joe Hackett of Ireland, who went 0-9.

“Losses are tough. More here than at any other tournament. But, you know, it puts some perspective into your life.” – Maria Sharapova, after her second-round loss to Gisela Dulko.

“If I can win with only one shot, I don’t know, I’m a genius.” – Ivo Karlovic, responding to criticism that he has a one-dimensional game with his huge serve.

“Well, I tried to be quiet for you guys today.” – Michelle Larcher de Brito, who made headlines at the French Open for her on-court screeching.

“I think some people are just too noisy. For me it’s extra effort to do it, so I’d rather not do it.” – Ai Sugiyama, about players who screech on court during play.

“Everyone is from Russia. Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. I feel, like, you know, OK, all these new ‘Ovas.’ I don’t know anyone. I don’t really recognize anyone. … I think my name must be Williamsova.” – Serena Williams, noting the number of top women players from Russia.

“I need to get out of my brain and start from a new page.” – Marat Safin, after losing in the first round in his 10th and final Wimbledon.

“I’ve never met Serena. I haven’t even walked past her, like ever, almost. I’ve seen her, but she always has tons of security guards around her all the time, at least four or five people. But Venus, she walks around with, maybe, one person, that’s it.” – 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, who upset Jelena Jankovic.

“Women’s tennis is more speedy and more powerful. It’s tough, very tough … but I enjoy the challenge.” – Kimiko Date Krumm, who retired from the women’s tour in 1996, only returning last year.

“I remember the first time I played on grass, I think I just wanted to dive. That was the highlight, I guess, trying to dive. I don’t remember if I did or not, but when you’re growing up, you see all the players diving, and you think, I want a part of that. So that’s the first thing you want when you’re little.” – Venus Williams, remembering his first match at Wimbledon in 1997.

“Sometimes people need more respect for their opponents. When (Novak) Djokovic lost in the second round last year, (people were surprised, but) it was Marat Safin he was up against – and he can play a bit of tennis! And then Safin lost in the first round here (to Jesse Levine), so it shows that you should always have respect.” – Roger Federer.

“We should have a tiebreak at six-all in the fifth like in the US Open. All the Grand Slams should have this. That’s my personal opinion. When you’ve played so much tennis… it’s really draining.” – Tommy Haas, whose match against Marin Cilic was halted by darkness at 6-6 in the fifth set. Haas completed his 7-5 7-5 1-6 6-7 (3) 10-8 win the next day.

“I don’t think a lot of them would last five sets.” — Lleyton Hewitt, when asked about women playing best-of-five-set matches at the Grand Slam tournaments.

“I always said maybe if I was a guy I would play cricket.” – Sania Mirza, India’s top female tennis player.

STREAK STARTER

Not only is Venus Williams seeking her third straight Wimbledon women’s singles title and sixth of her career, the American has won 29 consecutive sets dating back to a third-round match against Akiko Morigami in 2007. That’s the last time Williams has dropped a set as she beat her Japanese opponent 6-2 3-6 7-5. Morigami actually led 5-3 in the final set. “That was an intense match and she was playing so well,” Venus recalled. “She played low ground strokes. I just remember playing very aggressive from 3-5, just returning aggressively. When the chips are down, I start to force the issue even more. Usually it works. You live and learn. I attribute it to that match.” If she wins, Williams would become the first woman to win three straight Wimbledon singles titles since Steffi Graf in 1993. She also would pull to within one title of Graf’s total of seven and within three of record-holder Martina Navratilova.

SPECIAL MESSAGE

Queen Elizabeth sent a message of congratulations to Andy Murray for becoming the first Briton to won the Queen’s grass court tournament in London since Bunny Austin in 1938. The last time the monarch visited Wimbledon was in 1977, where she presented the trophy to Virginia Wade after the Briton won the women’s singles title in the Queen’s Jubilee year. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth has no official engagements on the day of this year’s Wimbledon men’s final. Murray is trying to become the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon.

SLIPPERY CONDITIONS

Michael Llodra was knocked out of Wimbledon by being, well, almost knocked out. In his second-round match against Tommy Haas, the Frenchman was sprinting towards a drop shot when he was unable to stop and slammed into the umpire’s chair before collapsing on top of ball girl. Llodra quickly stood up and helped the startled girl back to her feet. After asking if she was OK, Llodra hugged her and returned to the baseline to resume the match. When the game was completed, Llodra clutched his side and asked for a trainer as he hobbled back to his chair. Following a medical timeout, Llodra played another game before being worked on by the trainer again. He attempted one more serve before retiring from the match.

SAYONARA

Two veteran players returning to Wimbledon found their stay to be short ones. Kimiko Date Krumm, a 38-year-old who last played Wimbledon in 1996, fell to Caroline Wozniacki 5-7 6-3 6-1. The Japanese player made her Wimbledon debut in 1989, a year before Wozniacki was born, and reached the semifinals in 1996. Jelena Dokic, who made her career breakthrough at Wimbledon in 1999, lost to German qualifier Tatjana Malek 3-6 7-5 6-2. Dokic, playing Wimbledon for the first time after a five-year absence, complained of feeling dizzy at the end of the second set and had her blood pressure taken at courtside.

SMASHING TIME

Ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was bombarded out of this year’s Championships. Ivo Karlovic slammed 46 aces to upset the Frenchman 7-6 (5) 6-7 (5) 7-5 7-6 (5). The ATP tour leader in aces in 2009, Karlovic hit a modern-era record 55 aces in a loss at the French Open last month. While he is best known for upsetting 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt in Wimbledon’s first round the following year, Karlovic had lost his opening matches at the All England Club from 2005 to 2008.

SLOWED

Ivan Ljubicic never made it to his first-round match at the All-England Club. The former world number three player from Croatia withdrew from Wimbledon with an ankle injury on the opening day of the tournament and was replaced in the draw by Danai Udomchoke of Thailand. The week before Wimbledon, Ljubicic fell heavily in his match at the Eastbourne International, injuring his ankle. Racing to the net to reach a delicate shot by his opponent, Fabrice Santoro, Ljubicic skidded on the grass, fell and cried out while clutching his left ankle. Santoro ran to the court-side freezer to get bags of ice, which he applied to Ljubicic’s ankle while officials summoned the trainer.

STARRING

There’s a new star in Lindsay Davenport’s house. The three-time Grand Slam tournament winner has given birth to her second child, a girl named Lauren Andrus Davenport Leach. Lindsay and her husband Jon Leach have a 2-year-old son, Jagger. The 33-year-old Davenport won the 1998 US Open, 1999 Wimbledon and 2000 Australian Open singles titles. She pulled out of this year’s Australian Open when she learned she was pregnant. At the time, Davenport said she would be putting tennis on hold “for the foreseeable future.”

SIGNED UP

Tommy Haas will be seeking his third title when he begins play at the 2009 LA Tennis Open Presented by Farmers Insurance Group. Haas is one of six players committed to the California tournament who are seeded in the draw at Wimbledon. “Tommy is a fan favorite, a great addition to our already strong field, and has played LA more than anyone else in the field,” said tournament director Bob Kramer. The 83rd annual LA Tennis Open will be held July 27-August 2 at the LA Tennis center on the campus of UCLA. Haas won the Los Angeles title in 2004 and again in 2005. Others already in the field include 2007 champion Radek Stepanek, Marat Safin, Mardy Fish, Fernando Gonzalez, Dmitry Tursunov, Marcos Baghdatis and Sam Querrey.

STILL TOP TICKET

Don’t look now, but the All England Club is not going through a recession. While the rest of the world grapples with the global financial downturn, Wimbled has sold more tickets than ever. “It seems people are saying, `Forget about the recession. Let’s go to Wimbledon and have some fun,” said All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins. “People are sitting down and trying to decide what to spend their hard-earned money on. The good news for Wimbledon is, they seem to be spending it here.” The first day’s attendance was 42,811, an increase of nearly 3,500 from the previous opening day record set in 2001. While organizers will not release figures for pre-tournament ticket requests, they say they have received about 20 percent more than last year. The All England Club recently sold out 2,500 Centre Court seats in five-year blocks for USD $45,600 each.

SWITCHING BETS

No wrongdoing is suspected, but tennis wants to look into the betting pattern on a first-round Wimbledon match. When a TV commentator remarked that one of the players was injured, more than six times as many wagers as normal were placed on the match between Wayne Odesnik of the United States and Jurgen Melzer of Austria. The British bookmaker Betfair alerted tennis corruption investigators about the unusual betting pattern, but company spokesman Mark Davies said it did not suspect any wrongdoing. Melzer’s odds shortened significantly after a TV announced mentioned that Odesnik had a thigh injury. Betfair received about USD $980,000 in wagers on the match, while the average for a first-round Wimbledon match is less than USD $163,000. Melzer won 6-1 6-4 6-2.

SITES TO SURF

Wimbledon: www.wimbledon.org

Braunschweig: www.nordlb-open.org/

Cuneo: www.countrycuneo.com

Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com

Serena Williams blog: http://www.serenawilliams.com/blog(underscore)message(underscore)detail.php?msg=93

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

The Championships (second week), Wimbledon, Great Britain, grass

ATP

$150,000 Nord/LP Open, Braunschweig, Germany, clay

$100,000 Trofeo Regione Piemonte, Turin, Italy, clay

WTA

$100,000 Cuneo ITF Tournament, Cuneo, Italy, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$500,000 Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, grass

$100,000 Open Diputacion Ciudad de Pozoblanco, Pozoblanco, Cordoba, Spain, clay

WTA

$220,000 GDF Suez Grand Prix, Budapest, Hungary, clay

$220,000 Collector Swedish Open Women, Bastad, Sweden, clay

$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Biarritz, Biarritz, France, clay

DAVIS CUP

World Group Quarterfinals

Czech Republic vs. Argentina at Ostrava, Czech Republic

Croatia vs. United States at Porec, Croatia

Israel vs. Russia at Tel Aviv, Israel

Spain vs. Germany at Puerto Banus, Marbella, Spain

Americas Zone Group 1 Playoff

Peru vs. Canada at Lima, Peru

Americas Zone Group 2 Second Round

Venezuela vs. Mexico at Maracaibo, Venezuela

Dominican Republic vs. Paraguay at San Francisco de Marcons, Provincia Duarte, Dominican Republic

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Playoff

Thailand vs. Kazakhstan at Nonthaburi, Thailand

Korea vs. China at Chun-cheon City, Korea

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 2 Second Round

Philippines vs. Pakistan at Manila, Philippines

New Zealand vs. Indonesia at Hamilton, New Zealand

Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Playoffs

Belarus vs. FYR Macedonia at Minsk, Belarus

Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 Second Round

Slovenia vs. Lithuania at Otocec, Slovenia

Latvia vs. Bulgaria at Plovdiv, Latvia

World’s Biggest Loser

Worlds biggest loser

One of the many charms of Wimbledon is the numerous tabloid headlines and storylines during The Championships. Back on this day, June 26, in 2000, the U.K.’s Daily Mail labeled Vince Spadea as the “World’s Biggest Loser” after he finally broke his ATP record 20-match losing streak in the first round of Wimbledon, beating Britain’s Greg Rusedski in the first round. Screamed the Daily Mail headline after Rusedski’s 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 9-7 loss to Spadea, “Rusedski Falls To World’s Biggest Loser.” Spadea, however, has proved to be far from a loser as the 34-year-old veteran qualified this year at Wimbledon (his 14th appearance) and reached the second round, losing to Igor Andreev. The book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) chronicles the Spadea-Rusedski match – and others – in the June 25 excerpt below.

2000 – Vince Spadea breaks his ATP record 21-match losing streak by upsetting No. 14 seed Greg Rusedski of Britain 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 9-7 in the first round of Wimbledon. Entering the match, Spadea is winless on the ATP Tour since the previous October in Lyon, France. Says Spadea, “If I had lost this match I was thinking: ‘Holy goodness! I am going to have to stay in Europe until I win a match. But here I am, six months on. It was worth the wait.” The following day, Rusedski is greeted with the headline in the Daily Mail reading, “Rusedski Falls To World’s Biggest Loser.”

2002 – Seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras plays what ultimately becomes his final Wimbledon match, losing in the second round – unceremoniously on the Graveyard Court – Court No. 2 – to lucky-loser and No. 145-ranked George Bastl of Switzerland 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4. Bastl, who enters the match having won only one main draw grass court match in his career, only gains entry into the tournament when Felix Mantilla of Spain withdraws the day before the tournament begins. Despite the loss, Sampras tells reporters after the match that he would return to the All England Club to play again, but after his U.S. Open triumph later in the summer, he never plays another professional match. “You know, I’m not going to end my time here with that loss,” Sampras says after the match. “I want to end it on a high note, and so I plan on being back… As long as I feel like I can continue to win majors and contend, I’ll just continue to play.” Says Bastl, “It’s a nice story isn’t it? I gave myself chances because I was practicing on grass for the last three weeks. I had won my last three matches and I knew my game was improving match by match. I felt I would have some sort of a chance.”

1951 – On a cold and rainy afternoon, Althea Gibson walks on to Centre Court at Wimbledon as the first black player to compete in The Championships. Ten months after becoming the first black player to compete in a major when she played the U.S. Championships the previous summer, Gibson wins her first match in her debut Wimbledon, defeating Pat Ward of Great Britain 6-0, 2-6, 6-4. Reports the Associated Press of Gibson, “Although the tall Negro girl is unseeded, she convinced the British experts that she has the equipment to rank high in the world within another year or two.”

1962 – Eighteen-year-old Billie Jean Moffitt beats No. 1 seed Margaret Smith 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the opening round of Wimbledon, creating history as the first player to knock of the women’s No. 1 seed in the opening round at the All England Club. Smith is the heavy favorite to win the title after winning the Australian, Italian and French Championships entering the tournament. Billie Jean, who goes on to win six singles titles at the All England Club– and a record 20 titles overall at Wimbledon. Writes Bud Collins in The Bud Collins History of Tennis, “Her victory established ‘Little Miss Moffitt’ as a force to be reckoned with on the Centre Court that already was her favorite stage.”

1965 – Manuel Santana becomes the first defending champion to lose in the first round of Wimbleodn when he is defeated by Charlie Pasarell 10-8, 6-3, 2-6, 8-6. Writes Fred Tupper of the New York Times of the Pasarell’s upset of the No. 1 seed, “Over 150 spine-tingling minutes this afternoon, the Puerto Rican was the better tennis player, stronger on serve, more secure on volley, and rock steady in the crises.” Says Santana, “Charlito was good.He was fast and hit the ball hard.”

1978 – Bjorn Borg performs a first-round escape on the opening day of Wimbledon as the two-time defending champion staves off elimination by six-foot-seven inch, 220-pound Victor Amaya of Holland, Mich., prevailing in five sets by a 8-9, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 margin. Amaya, who wears size 15 sneakers, leads Borg two sets to one and 3-1 in the fourth set and holds break point in the fifth game to go up two breaks in the fourth set. “He played better than I did on the important points, and that’s always the difference in a five-set match,” says Amaya. “He came up with great shots like that on crucial points, and that’s why he is great.”

1998 – After no victories in 17 previous matches, including a 6-0, 6-0 loss 10 years earlier in the final of the French Open, Natasha Zvereva wins her first match against Steffi Graf, defeating the German 6-4, 7-5 in the third round of Wimbledon. Graf is hampered by a hamstring injury and is playing in only her fifth event of the year after recovering from knee surgery.

2007 – In his last Wimbledon singles match, Justin Gimelstob makes Wimbledon history as the first player to use the “Hawk-Eye” instant replay system at the All England Club. In his 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) first-round loss to Andy Roddick on Court No. 1 on the opening day of play, Gimelstob uses the Hawk-Eye system to challenge one of his serves in the first set. Says Gimelstob of his new status in Wimbledon history, “I’d like to have a few more important records, but I’ll take what I can get.”

1990 – John McEnroe is defeated in the first round of Wimbledon for only the second time in his career, as the 31-year-old three-time champion is sent packing by the hands of fellow American Derrick Rostagno by a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 margin. McEnroe is joined on the sideline by newly-crowned French Open champion and No. 5 seed Andres Gomez, who falls to American Jim Grabb 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. “I’m going home to Ecuador and watch the matches on TV and pretend I never was here,” says Gomez. Future seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras is also sent packing in the first round by South African Christo van Rensburg, who defeats the No. 12 seeded Sampras 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.

1985 – French Open champion Mats Wilander of Sweden is dismissed in the first round of Wimbledon as six-foot-six, No. 77-ranked Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia defeats the No. 4 seeded Wilander 6-2, 5-7, 7-5, 6-0.

2004 – The USTA names the 2004 U.S. Olympic tennis team during the same day that the Olympic flame is run through the All-England Club at Wimbledon. Named to the U.S. Olympic tennis team were Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent, Vince Spadea, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Chanda Rubin, Lisa Raymond and Martina Navratilova.

Mondays With Bob Greene: What happened to me?

STARS

Novak Djokovic beat David Ferrer 7-5 6-3 to win the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Venus Williams won the Abierto Mexicano Telcel women’s title by beating Flavia Pennetta 6-1 6-2 in Acapulco, Mexico

Mardy Fish beat Evgeny Korolev 7-5 6-3 to win the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Florida, USA

Nicolas Almagro defeated Gael Monfils 6-4 6-4 to win the Abierto Mexicano Telcel men’s singles in Acapulco, Mexico

SAYING

“It’s a bridge that connects people, countries, culture, everything, religions, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I decided to go into sports and not politics.” – Andy Ram, after becoming the first Israeli to play a tennis tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

“What happened to me? Venus Williams is what happened to me. The number five player in the world is what happened to me. She was just playing so strong, serving so well, it was hard to fight against her power. I didn’t feel I played badly. She just overpowered me.” – Flavia Pennetta, the defending champion who lost the final in Acapulco, Mexico, to Venus Williams.

“Today was one of those matches where you just want to get off the court with a win. It was like I don’t care what the score is, I don’t care what it looks like, I just want to get off this court with a win.” – Mardy Fish, who endured the wind and a rain delay before finally converting his fifth match point to win in Delray Beach, Florida.

“Nobody is a favorite in a final. Everyone has the motivation to do well. But I was physically and emotionally really involved with this tournament and to win it is a great feeling, because Dubai has a history of having one of the strongest fields on the tour. And despite some players pulling out, it was still a tough field.” – Novak Djokovic, noting the field was missing five of the world’s top ten players, including Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

“I’ll probably sleep a little bit better next week as we prepare for the match and not have to prepare for Roger.” – Patrick McEnroe, US Davis Cup captain, noting that Roger Federer will not be on Switzerland’s team during the upcoming World Group tie.

“I didn’t feel any pressure because he’s one of the best players in the world, so I just played my best tennis.” – Lu Yen-Hsun, after upsetting Lleyton Hewitt at Delray Beach, Florida.

“With players of the caliber of (Andre) Agassi, (Steffi) Graf, (Kim) Clijsters and (Tim) Henman, this test event promises to be hugely entertaining.” – Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club, about a special event on May 17 to celebrate the completion of Wimbledon’s Centre Court roof.

“I got it first down in Australia and I haven’t been the same really since. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating. I got some anti-viral (medication) from the doctor … but it didn’t help so much.” – Andy Murray, after withdrawing from the Dubai Tennis Championships because of a viral infection.

“It’s going to be a new experience and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard so much about it from Ana (Ivanovic) and (Fernando) Verdasco, who had trained there before he made the semifinals of the Australian Open. This is going to be a short stint because I’ll be playing tournaments in the following week. If it works well for me I want to go over for a longer stint in the near future.” – Sania Mirza, about training in Las Vegas with Gil Reyes.

“Now I don’t want to let her go.” Boris Becker, talking about his fiancée, Lilly Kerssenberg.

SHAMEFUL ACTION

Even though he lost in the first round, Andy Ram of Israel said he achieved something big at the Dubai Championships. The United Arab Emirates gave Ram a “special permit” to compete in the tournament one week after it refused to issue a visa for fellow Israeli Shahar Peer to play in a women’s event. “It was obviously something big, history here, what’s been done, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai,” Ram said after he and Kevin Ullyett lost their first-round doubles match to Marat Safin and David Ferrer. “I fought for something really, really big, and coming here was something big because it showed that we should not involve sports with politics.” Like most Arab countries, the UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel and routinely denies entry to its citizens. Spectators and media were stopped from entering the arena until just before the start of the match. Ticket holders had to pass through airport-style security scanners, cell phones were banned and bottles of water confiscated even though spectators had to sit in blazing sunshine with the temperature reaching 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). Water was eventually passed out in plastic glasses.

STAR POWER

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi will once again play on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The couple will play Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters in an exhibition on May 17 to celebrate the completion of the roof over the famed Centre Court. The event, which is being used to test the new roof and air management system, will feature singles matches and a mixed doubles match. Graf won 22 Grand Slam tournament titles, including seven Wimbledon crowns, during her career. Agassi’s eight Grand Slam tournament crowns include the 1992 Wimbledon title. Agassi and Graf, who are married to each other, are both former number one players, as is Clijsters, who won the US Open in 2005. Henman remains one of the most popular players among British fans.

SWINGING AGAIN

Andre Agassi will play two matches for the Philadelphia Freedoms in the World Team Tennis (WTT) league this July. The WTT announced Agassi will play July 10 in Philadelphia and July 17 in Newport Beach, California. Agassi, who retired in 2006, played for WTT from 2002-04. Among other stars who will play during the WTT’s 34th season will be Serena Williams (Washington DC), Venus Williams (Philadelphia), John McEnroe (New York), Anna Kournikova (St. Louis), Michael Chang (Sacramento), Bob and Mike Bryan (Kansas City) and Martina Navratilova (Boston). The 10-team league runs from July 2-26.

SAID WHAT??

Novak Djokovic slammed what he thought was a game-winning ace in his title match against David Ferrer. But an official called the serve out. Djokovic challenged and was proven to be correct. “That was an unusual way to finish the match, and something like this has never happened to me before,” Djokovic said of the 7-5 6-3 victory. “But what worked for me during the match was that I mixed the pace well, which I think David does not like at all.” It was the first final of the year for the third-ranked Djokovic and his first title since capturing the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai last November. Both top-ranked Rafael Nadal and number two Roger Federer pulled out of the tournament with injuries, Andy Murray withdrew from his quarterfinal match because of a viral infection, and Andy Roddick pulled out of the tournament because the United Arab Emirates refused to allow Israel Shahar Peer to play in a women’s tournament the week before.

SECURE AND QUIET

There won’t be fans, but about 1,000 police from seven countries will handle security on March 6-8 when Sweden plays host to Israel in a Davis Cup tie in Malmo. Police commissioner Hakan Jarborg Eriksson said officials expect a “Stop the Match” protest to be relatively calm. But there are fears that protests from small, radical groups could turn violent. The first-round World Group match will be played without fans at the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall. Only teams, officials, some sponsors and journalists will be allowed in the hall. Organizers of the “Stop the Match” campaign expect 8,000 to 12,000 demonstrators before Saturday’s doubles match. Left-wing groups, human rights organizations and pro-Palestinian groups also plan to demonstrate during the tie.

SILENCE, PLEASE

Japan’s top player, Kei Nishikori, has been warned not to let his mobile phone ring on court during Japan’s Davis Cup tie with China. The 19-year-old Nishikori has been told to leave his phone in the locker room after it kept ringing during his first-round loss in a recent tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. Nishikori had left his phone in his jacket pocket and later admitting the ringing phone had interrupted his concentration in his 7-5 6-3 loss to Marcos Baghdatis. Eiji Takeuchi, Japan’s Davis Cup coach, said Nishikori “at the very least will have to learn to put it on vibration mode.”

STREAKING – 1

Venus Williams wound up with the title, but Flavia Pennetta kept one of her streaks going. Williams beat Pennetta 6-1 6-2 in the final of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel for her second straight title this year and 41st of her career. The victory increased her winning string to 10 consecutive matches. While Pennetta failed to defend her title in Acapulco, she reached the final for the sixth consecutive year. The 27-year-old Italian won her first Acapulco title in 2005 and was runner-up in 2004, 2006, 2007 and now 2009.

STREAKING – 2

When Nicolas Almagro successfully defended his men’s single title at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel, he became the first back-to-back men’s winner since the clay court tournament was moved from Mexico City to Acapulco. The fourth-seeded Spaniard also became the first to successfully defend the men’s title since Thomas Muster won four straight from 1993-96.

SWISS WEDDING

Hall of Famer Boris Becker says he will marry his Dutch girlfriend Lilly Kerssenberg in Switzerland on June 12. Becker made the announcement as he and his girlfriend appeared on a television show in Germany. The three-time Wimbledon champion said he had “taken a wrong turn” last summer when he announced his engagement to Sandy Meyer-Woelden, the daughter of his late former manager. The engagement was broken off after only a few weeks. Becker has two sons with his former wife Barbara and a daughter with a London-based Russian model.

SHAPING UP

Sania Mirza is spending some time in Las Vegas, but not at one of the city’s famed casinos. The 22-year-old Indian will be working out with Gil Reyes, the former trainer for Andre Agassi. Mirza is being joined in the Nevada city by coach Sven Groeneveld and will be working both on and off the court. After the week-long session in Las Vegas, Mirza hopes to play in Indian Wells, California, and Miami, Florida.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Dubai: Rix De Voest and Dmitry Tursunov beat Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt 4-6 6-3 10-5 (match tiebreak)

Acapulco (men): Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 4-6 6-4 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Acapulco (women): Llagostera Vives and Martinez Sanchez beat Dominguez Lino and Parro Santonja 6-4 6-2

Delray Beach: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa 6-4 6-4

SITES TO SURF

Bergamo:  www.olmesport.it

Monterrey: www.abiertodetenismonterrey.com

Davis Cup: www.DavisCup.com

Indian Wells: www.bnpparibasopen.org

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$135,000 Internazionali di Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Monterrey Open, Monterrey, Mexico, hard

DAVIS CUP

World Group

(First Round)

Argentina vs. Netherlands at Buenos Aires, Argentina, clay

Czech Republic vs. France at Ostrava, Czech Republic, carpet

United States vs. Switzerland at Birmingham, Alabama, USA, hard

Croatia vs. Chile at Porec, Croatia, hard

Sweden vs. Israel at Malmo, Sweden, carpet

Romania vs. Russia at Sibiu, Romania, carpet

Germany vs. Austria at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, hard

Spain vs. Serbia at Benidorm, Spain, clay

Americas Zone Group I (First Round)

Uruguay at Colombia, Ecuador at Canada

Americas Zone Group II (First Round)

Jamaica at Mexico, Netherlands Antilles at Venezuela, Guatemala at Dominican Republic, Bahamas at Paraguay

Asia/Oceania Zone Group I (Second Round)

Australia at Thailand, India at Chinese Taipei, China at Japan, Korea at Uzbekistan

Asia/Oceania Zone Group II (First Round)

Philippines at Hong Kong, Pakistan at Oman, Kuwait at Indonesia, Malaysia at New Zealand

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (First Round)

Macedonia at South Africa

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (Second Round)

Slovak Republic at Italy, Ukraine at Great Britain, Poland at Belgium

Europe/Africa Zone Group II (First Round)

Georgia at Lithuania, Egypt at Slovenia, Latvia at Moldova, Bulgaria at Hungary, Finland at Denmark, Montenegro at Monaco, Ireland at Algeria, Portugal at Cyprus

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$4,500,000 BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard

WTA TOUR

$4,500,000 BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard

Ask Bill: Looking Back to Paris; Looking Ahead to Wimbledon

Some random thoughts from a fascinating Roland Garros and the first look forward to the grass…

Roger Federer’s performance in the Roland Garros final against Rafael Nadal was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s fight against Larry Holmes. A mismatch from the start, Ali pulled out his tricks but had no answers for the younger, stronger Holmes, and was battered mercilessly. Like Sunday’s final, this was simply a bad match-up, and- to use the age-old explanation- styles make fights. Nadal moves better, defends better, and can control points off the ground (on clay, anyway) better than Federer. Like seeing The Greatest get punched around the ring, it was still surprising to witness Federer looking so vulnerable.

Rafael Nadal did not hit a single ace in the semis or final. He hit only seven aces during the entire two weeks. This serving approach will change on the grass. He will need some free points at crucial moments.

Darren Cahill brought up an interesting point on ESPN about Nadal’s Wimbledon preparation. Instead of rushing across the channel to play the Artois Championships, he should rest for a few days and skip the Queens Club event. Recall that he was spent by the end of Wimbledon last summer, although admittedly he was forced to play five (rain-delayed) matches in the last seven days of The Championships. Had Nadal been fresher, then he would have likely taken the fifth set of last year’s final.

Of course the cynic can offer about one million reasons why Nadal will compete at Queens Club again this year. It is hard to pass up that kind of appearance fee loot no matter how wealthy he has become. To paraphrase Bob Dylan (from “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry”), don’t say I never warned you if Nadal loses early this week.

It was great to see Bjorn Borg attending matches during the final weekend of Roland Garros. In an interesting on-court interview with his great rival John McEnroe, Borg agreed to play with Mighty Mac in the over-45 doubles next year.

Borg also told McEnroe that this was the first time he had returned to Roland Garros since winning the event in 1981 (beating Ivan Lendl in a five-set final). Evidently Borg forgot that he did television work for NBC Sports in 1983 (interviewing Yannick Noah and Mats Wilandner after their final) and presented the Coupe De Mosquetaires on-court to Gustavo Kuerten in 1997. Guga famously bowed to the great Borg, as though the Swede was royalty. Let’s just presume that Borg’s passing shots were better than his memory!

Ai Sugiyama is preparing to break the all-time record at the All England Club by competing in her 56th consecutive major tournament. She currently shares this record with Wayne Ferreira, who played 56 straight from 1991 to 2004. This is a remarkable strength of will and consistency.

In the For What It’s Worth category… After last year’s epic Wimbledon final, Roger Federer did an interview with a standout former player. Afterwards, this player, off-camera, of course, told his colleague that the Swiss would never win another Wimbledon title. He saw cracks in the armor last summer.

Fingers are crossed that Slazenger has produced livelier balls for this year’s grass court season. It has been disappointing to see men’s professional grass court tennis look like… hard court tennis. If that’s what people really want to see, then the grass should be paved for a more “fair” hard court surface. I would prefer that it retain the traditional allure for attacking players and reward players for net-rushing tactics.

In 1984, there were 64 American men in the singles main draw of Wimbledon. That will never be matched again. I do, however, expect to see several Yanks doing some damage at SW19.

Serena Williams would have been really annoyed with her result at Roland Garros. She will keep the Venus Rosewater Dish in the Williams family’s possession this year.

Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas and Peruvian Luis Horna completed a storybook run to the French men’s doubles title. In the quarterfinals they took out former champions and the top-ranked team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan. This match received a lot of attention because afterwards the Bryans refused to shake hands with Cuevas, as they were offended by his show of exuberance in the third set tiebreak. As the South American pair raced to a 5-1 lead, Cuevas leaped the net to switch sides- instead of walking around the net post. While it might have been a bit much, hopping the net certainly appeared to be an act of spontaneity on Cuevas’ part. The Bryans have perfected the leaping chest bump, so their reaction seemed a bit harsh.

To offer some context, the Bryan brothers have saved men’s professional doubles. Without them, it might not even exist these days. They carry the weight and responsibility of, literally, preserving this form of the professional sport. Furthermore, they have each distinguished themselves as fierce competitors and gentlemen throughout their storied career. They get it. Therefore, the Bryans deserve some slack. I’ll bet that they wish they had not reacted so strongly during the heat of the moment. I’ll also bet that they are hoping for a rematch against Cuevas and Horna at the Big W.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have much to gain these next months, and Federer much to defend. Pete Sampras finished as the world’s top-ranked player for a remarkable six straight years (1993-98), and Federer’s assault on that record is looking bleaker. Roger will need a “turn back the clock” effort for the remainder of 2008 to avoid relegation to No. 3 in the year-end rankings.

Less than half of the world’s top-ten players will compete in the Beijing Olympics. Keep reading the agate type in your sports sections for listings of injuries, because most of the top players will find them before hopping on a plane for Asia in August. This is as sure as the sun rising in the East.

I always write about making a pilgrimage to beautiful Newport, RI for the Hall of Fame Championships each July. For any fan living or traveling in Europe, please visit Eastbourne. This is a charming coastal town in the south of England, and a wonderful warm-up tournament for The Championships. The honor roll of former champions stands as a “who’s-who” list of Hall of Famers. The grass courts are typically as good as any in the world, and the players love the relaxed environment. In fact, the accessibility to the players is virtually unprecedented in this day and age.

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