Amelie Mauresmo

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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

Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and More Glam Up for WTA 40 Love Celebration in London

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(June 30, 2013) Current and former WTA world No. 1s gathered together on Sunday in London to celebrate “40 Love” – the 40th anniversary of the WTA, founded by trailblazer Billie Jean King.

The WTA and its leaders have strived to bring equality, recognition and respect to the tour over the years. The organization is now the global leader in women’s professional sport, and proudly counts many pioneering accomplishments, including the successful campaign for equal prize money.

Seventeen of the 21 WTA No. 1s were in attendance, including three of the original nine, displaying elegance and beauty. Can you name each one in the photo below?

Emcees Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo introduced each of the No. 1s in style, referencing the “sassy sour” Maria Sharapova to the ever elegant Monica Seles. Each lady then had the chance with the mic, and afterward, it was time to mingle and celebrate.

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The “pink” carpet arrivals were no less stunning.

Teenagers Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys were also invited guests, with the WTA calling them “potential future world No. 1s.” Quite an honor.

Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys

Watch all the pink carpet interviews with the World No.1s, gala speeches from the legends and much more with a full replay of all the Sunday celebrations. (Begins around the 24 minute mark.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT_OVo2FC0c

On Guts Alone

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To win a tennis match, a player usually requires a near-perfect alignment of their physical and emotional states. For most, even the slightest niggling pain or mental wobble can derail what would otherwise be a clear course to victory. But to say that all players can achieve this elusive equilibrium would not only be a gross oversimplification of the game, but also ignores those who can make up for a physical lack on the strength of one muscle in particular: the heart.

Such heart was on full display during a first round encounter in Doha between Marion Bartoli and Francesca Schiavone. Bartoli, a notoriously unorthodox player who sports two-fisted groundstrokes, was recovering from a flu virus that ruled her out of a return to Fed Cup. Schiavone, her undersized and underpowered opponent, is a crafty veteran who has suffered a lackluster 18 months arguably fueled by decreased motivation. Both came to court seemingly aware of the other’s deficiencies and sensed their own opportunities.

The Italian was largely story of the first set. A player who has only won one of her last seven sets played, Schiavone was whipping the kind of angles that took her to the 2010 French Open title. Exposing Bartoli’s flu-hindered movement, she had multiple chances to take a 5-1 lead and re-assert her quickly fading presence on the WTA Tour.

For Bartoli, this was not simply a first match post-illness: this was the first time in her career that she was playing without lifelong coach, father Walter Bartoli. While she has expressed an interest in working with two-time Slam champion and French Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo, the Bartoli came to Doha only with a fitness coach from the French Tennis Federation, the governing body that kept her out of the last two Olympic Games. With all of these careening circumstances, the stage appeared to be set for a Schiavone comeback performance.

Assuming this underestimates Marion’s own heart. The Frenchwoman, regardless of illness, may not be the fittest player on tour (something that might be due to training methods like these), but like Schiavone, has been able to rely on her heart, mind and resilience to pull off some improbable victories. Looking down and out at the US Open against former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Bartoli charmed a packed Grandstand crowd with her earnest effusiveness as she turned the match around and bageled her highly lauded opponent in the third set.

After holding for 2-4, she took advantage of Schiavone’s suddenly tentative play and began red-lining her own game for some incredible winners off of the Italian’s serve. The tiebreaker was a tense affair, but Bartoli kept her nose in front and parlayed the momentum into a big second set advantage.

Schiavone was far from finished, however. She used all of her veteran wiles to put off the inevitable, even attempting to engage Bartoli at the net following a failed volley attempt. With both beneath peak physical condition, the two played brilliant all-court rallies on guts alone as the Frenchwoman wrapped up the match in straight sets.

Playing another gutsy player in Kuznetsova, Bartoli will have to hope she recovers from the draining physical effort that comes from fending off a game opponent. If not, she will have to call again upon that indomitable heart.

Marion, Misunderstood

Marion Bartoli will be playing her first Fed Cup tie since 2004 this weekend.

The year was 2004. Cesar Millan was yet to be called “The Dog Whisperer.” Ridiculously successful sequels Shrek 2, Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were dominating the box office. The Red Sox were winning playoff games and the Russians were winning slams.

And Marion Bartoli was playing Fed Cup.

As a 19-year-old, Bartoli partnered Emilie Loit in doubles in two separate ties that year; the pairing won their doubles match in a 5-0 semifinal win against Spain, but lost the deciding rubber to the Russian duo of Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva in the finals. 2004 marked the only time that Bartoli had competed in the national ITF team event in her career.

Until now.

New French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo announced on Wednesday that Bartoli, along with Alize Cornet, Kristina Mladenovic and Virginie Razzano will be the French squad that will take on Germany in a World Group II first round tie on February 9-10 in Limoges.

Bartoli’s previous point of contention with the French Tennis Federation came from the role, or lack thereof, of her father in Fed Cup ties. Previous Fed Cup captains Loic Courteau and Nicolas Escude, as well as the federation itself, took issue with the fact that Bartoli wanted to be coached by her father during the ties, rather than practice together with the team. The parties involved also questioned the nature of Marion’s relationship with her father.

“In France, they think our relationship is, so to speak, fake, and that in public it’s big smiles and behind the scenes I’m getting pushed around every day,” she once said. “When I try to explain to them that is not the case, they have a hard time to understand.”

More than just the French public and tennis administration have had a hard time understanding the Bartolis. To say that they have gone outside the box in their approach to Marion’s tennis training is putting it mildly. One of the WTA’s more colorful characters, Bartoli’s shadow swings between every point have become her trademark, and she (allegedly) boasts an IQ of 175. She and her antics are always a spectacle on the WTA, no matter where she plays; nonetheless, these things are what endear her to her fans.

Due to her Fed Cup absence, Bartoli was ruled ineligible to compete at the Olympic Games. Three Games have come and gone since Bartoli made a name for herself on the circuit, but it was perhaps the last snub that hurt her the most and may have contributed to this reconciliation. The 2012 London Olympics were held at the site of Bartoli’s greatest career successes, on the lawns of the All-England Club. Without Bartoli, Cornet required an special invitation to compete, as she did not make the cut by ranking; she won a match before falling tamely to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. Many argued that Bartoli would have been an outside, but no less legitimate, medal contender on the surface.

So the question remains: after nine years, 17 ties and a boatload of conflict, why now? Some detractors will state Bartoli’s chances to represent her country in the Olympics have come and gone; she’ll be 32 when the Olympics in Rio come around in 2016. Others would say she’s selfish for making the concessions, and is only looking to repair her image at home after the 2012 debacle. Both parties remained stubborn throughout this saga, and each holds a share of the blame.

No one can question Marion Bartoli’s patriotism. Despite all the quirks, the results don’t lie; a Wimbledon finalist with wins, among others, over Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters in her career, Bartoli’s made the most of what she has. With the crowd behind her, she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, the best performance at that event by a Frenchwoman since Mary Pierce won the title there in 2000 and reached the final again in 2005. All of that success has come with her father by her side, with little support from the national federation.

However, for this tie, Walter Bartoli will not be on site to help Marion prepare for her matches; he will be allowed to attend, but only as a family member. While we may not ever know what was said between Mauresmo and Bartoli over the past weeks, one thing is certain; someone finally understood.

Open GDF Suez Paris Photo Gallery with Bartoli, Mauresmo, Mattek-Sands

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Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF Suez WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes the draw ceremony that features Amelie Mauresmo, Marion Bartoli and Mary Pierce, as well as day two qualifying matches featuring Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Julie Coin, Marta Domachowska, Varvara Lepchenko, Mona Barthel, and Naomi Broady among others. For full qualification results, go here.

Also make sure to check out Rick’s feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Rafael Nadal set for Return – The Friday Five

Rafael Nadal set for return

By Maud Watson

Home Sweet Home

In an announcement that had to come as no surprise to many, it was decided that the French Open can remain known as Roland Garros, as it will continue to be staged at its current location. The decision comes with the caveat that many updates will be made to the present site over the course of the next few years, including the construction of new courts, a new press center, and a retractable roof over center court, which would allow for the potential of night matches. This will all be made possible by expanding the site by approximately 12 acres, which should hopefully also give fans a bit more elbow room. But these changes for some, such as former World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, are not enough. As Mauresmo and other opponents have argued, the decision means that the French Open will remain the smallest of the four majors, and it will still be limited in the renovations that can made in order to compete with the other three Grand Slam events. These arguments are all valid points, and it’s possible that this current vote may only be delaying the inevitable. But personally, it was nice to see it stay at home. It is a beautiful venue, and it also has a great history (check out the 1928 Davis Cup France vs. United States tie, and be sure to check out the history behind flying ace Roland Garros).

Added Incentive

For the third consecutive time, the ITF and WTA have worked out an agreement stating that ranking points will be awarded to those women who compete at the 2012 Olympics, with the ATP expected to once again also follow suit. The thought process behind this decision is that it should help guarantee the headliners compete in London, but this decision should also be raising the question as to whether or not tennis even belongs in the Olympics in the first place. It hasn’t always been a staple of the Games. It was missing from the docket for more than 60 years following the 1924 Olympics before returning as a full medal sport in Seoul in 1988. But the fact that ranking points are needed to entice the players to compete is further proof that merely representing one’s country is not enough to convince them to participate. This is nothing against the players. Many have freely admitted that while winning an Olympic gold medal would be wonderful, winning a major would still mean more. It’s also a long season, and it’s understandable that if a player can’t add to his or her ranking, he or she might opt to take that week off. Tennis is also one of the few Olympic sports that allows professionals to compete, and given the nature of the sport, it’s not as if these players don’t already compete against one another on many large international stages week in and week out. It’s a tough call, but maybe it really is time to consider pulling tennis from the Olympics or revamping it to remain true to the Olympic spirit by only allowing amateurs to play.

Brief Hiatus

Perhaps after his stumble in Rotterdam, Andy Murray is learning from last year’s disaster. The young Scot has opted to pull out of Dubai citing a wrist injury. There seems to be some speculation as to the real severity of the injury, but all are in agreement that his withdrawal was the right move. Last year he angered Dubai tournament organizers by admitting he was ill prepared and merely tinkering with his game after his early exit. It’s good to see that this time around, Murray now appears to be taking a step back and mentally preparing himself for the long season ahead. He isn’t scheduled to play again until tennis’ “March madness” when Indian Wells and Miami are contested back-to-back. He might still be smarting from his poor performance in the Netherlands, but hopefully Murray will be ready to step it up once again.

Return Set

It’s official. Rafael Nadal will be well enough to represent his native Spain in the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Belgium, and Captain Albert Costa has named him to the team that will also include David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, and Feliciano Lopez. Costa noted that having the luxury of fielding Nadal would bring “certain tranquility” to the team. Hard saying how “tranquil” his multitude of fans will feel, however. Presumably Nadal wouldn’t play unless he’s 100%, but he’s generally shown a very strong commitment to Davis Cup and might be tempted to play even if not quite top notch. All eyes will be looking to see how he covers the court as an indicator of what we can expect from him this coming spring.

New Coach

The young Frenchman Richard Gasquet is now working with Italian Riccardo Piatti, though he will continue to employ the services of countryman Sebastien Grosjean. Tennis fans will remember seeing Piatti in Croat Ivan Ljubicic’s corner when Ljubicic reached a career high ranking of No. 3. Gasquet is currently suffering from shoulder injuries, but fans will be holding their breath to see if Piatti will prove to be the coach who can finally help Gasquet put it all together and realize his true potential. It hasn’t been fair the amount of pressure that has been put on Gasquet since before he was ten years old, but it would be an absolute travesty if he were never able to maximize his game and get the most out of his career.

THE YEAR THAT WAS: 2009 IN REVIEW

Another calendar year about to come to a close means that we can officially turn the page on another exciting year of professional tennis. Truly 2009 was not just an ordinary year in the history of the sport, but one that had fans and media alike talking tennis at great lengths over the past twelve months.

Tennis grabbed the headlines for a variety of reasons – some good, some bad – and captivated us from Rafael Nadal’s first hard-court Grand Slam victory in January to Nikolay Davydenko’s unlikely season-ending triumph at the Tour finals in November. In between we had a comeback like no other from Kim Clijsters in the summer and a meltdown from Serena Williams that made John McEnroe look like a saint. What about December you ask? Well hey, we have to give these guys a break sometime don’t we?

With all the high’s and low’s from the past year it is difficult to focus on just a few, but some certainly stood out more than others.

Roger Federer’s Achievements:

Up until the last Slam of the year in 2008, our boy Roger was getting a lot of flack from people about his performance on the court. No major titles to his credit, a thrashing by Rafa at Roland Garros and losing to the Spaniard again at Wimbledon did not bode well for his attempt at continued domination and his desire to topple the Grand Slam record held by Pete Sampras. Eventually he did win the U.S. Open to salvage some much needed respect and confidence – but could he maintain it in 2009?

Roger responded with authority by making all four Slam finals, finally breaking through at the French Open to complete his career-slam and re-taking Wimbledon in a match for the ages (yeah I know, we said that in 2008 too!) He broke Pete’s record with his 15th major title and also celebrated the year in his personal life with a wedding and the arrival of twins.

He is arguably now the greatest player of all-time and whether he adds to his Slam-total or not, it will be a good while before we even think about his record being challenged. Despite not being named the AP athlete of the year, this guy is as classy a champion as we’ll ever see. He is without a doubt, the tennis played of the year for 2009.

Serena Williams’ Ups and Downs:

On the women’s side the distinction of player of the year goes to Serena Williams. I’m not sure if the word ‘classy’ can be thrown in along with that, but her record at the majors was untouched. Slam victories at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, along with the season-ending championship in Qatar,’ all cemented her status as world number one. And let’s not forget her doubles accomplishments with sister Venus, as the duo won three Slams together and finished the year ranked third overall despite only entering six tournaments.

Negating some of the praise for her tennis achievements was the unfortunate meltdown in her semi-final match at the U.S. Open against Kim Clijsters. Her verbal assault towards a line-judge was completely unacceptable and brought all the wrong kind of attention to the sport in a match that should have been purely about two great and talented tennis players. Foot-fault or not, she was deducted a point according to the rules and as it was on match-point it ended up being the end of the contest.

Take away that one incident – if you can – and everyone would have been singing Serena’s praises for such a fantastic year. Personally I think we can shrug off this ugly heat-of-the-moment outburst and look for Serena to let her play speak for itself in 2010.

Comebacks:

Big-name, small-name, older and younger, there were several notable comebacks in 2009. The most impressive no-doubt goes to a certain Belgian player named Kim Clijsters. Clijsters chose a difficult time of the year to return to professional tennis – halfway through the season – and knocked off some tough competition in her first two tournaments back. It was in her third tournament, at the U.S. Open however, that she really showed us what she could do. After more than two years away from the game, Clijsters knocked off both Williams sisters en-route to her second career Grand Slam title. Makes you wonder if a little time away from the game might help some other players seeking to win another major, doesn’t it?

Other returning players worth note include Taylor Dent on the men’s side who overcame a potentially career-ending back injury to jump from 804 to 75 in the ATP rankings. It’s nice to see the affable serve and volleyer back on the court after such a prolonged absence from the game.

Kimiko Date-Krumm showed us that age is but a number when she returned to the court at 38 years old and became the second-oldest player behind Billie Jean King to win a tour event.

Maria Sharapova returned from an injury to her shoulder that kept her away from the game for ten months. While her powerful groundstrokes remain a threat, her serve was a disappointment as she attempted to use an adjusted motion. If she can keep the number of double-faults to a minimum there is no reason why Sharapova cannot return to Grand Slam success. January will mark two years since her last major victory.

A final comeback worth noting is that of Justine Henin. While Henin has yet to play a competitive match, she made her announcement in 2009 and one cannot help but think the success of her fellow-Belgian Kim Clijsters was partially responsible. What a great boost to the women’s game that is already thriving with plenty of big-name appeal.

Andre Agassi’s Revelations:

When eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi left the game in 2006, he exited as a soft-spoken, elder-statesman of the tour and a highly respected ambassador of the sport. It was hard to remember him as the long-haired, Big-mac eating, rock-star Agassi of the 80s or the over-weight, sullen, challenger-level Agassi of 1997. Agassi’s autobiography, Open, reminds us of these times and other dark moments in his tennis career that we never even imagined.

Recreational drug-use, lies to Tour officials about dope tests, and a deep rooted hatred for the game were all shocking admissions that Agassi shares with his readers. How did Agassi’s confession sit with his peers and his fans?

Some, like Martina Navratilova, were quick to condemn him, while others like Andy Roddick stood firm behind him. Most voiced their surprise and disappointment and some applauded his candor. While the manner in which Agassi came clean is somewhat less than perfect, his book sheds much insight into the tortured inner-feelings of one of the sport’s more complex characters.

Many lessons can be learned from his writing such as the pressure tennis parents place on their children, the completely ineffective drug-testing policies the tour’s adhere to and the ability to overcome adversity and triumph through hard work and determination.

Israeli Tennis:

It was a year of major tennis accomplishments and disappointments for Israeli tennis players in 2009. The ugly side of sports emerged in February in the United Arab Emirates when politics and racism reared their head in a controversial decision that had everyone talking. Israeli top-forty player Shahar Peer was denied entry into the Emirates despite qualifying for direct entry into the tournament in Dubai. Tournament organizers hid their motives behind so-called fears of security concerns for Peer. In truth, this was just another example of a country that attempts to appear progressive displaying its shallow prejudice.

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour officials mistakenly allowed the tournament to continue despite Peer’s exclusion. Fortunately the situation was corrected in time for the ATP event the following week with Andy Ram playing in the doubles draw. Despite Ram’s entry, American Andy Roddick took a noble stand and refused to play due to the treatment of Peer. A nice gesture of solidarity on his part.

Just when that situation had resolved itself, Israel was once again in the middle of a controversy – this time in Malmo, Sweden, for a Davis Cup tie in early March. Player safety was again cited as the reason why the best-of-five tie would be played with no spectators in attendance. The controversial decision clearly did not help the favored Swedes, as Israel advanced with a surprise 3-2 victory.

Davis Cup would prove to be the saving grace for Israeli tennis in 2009, as the country would defeat a powerful Russian team to get to the semi-finals before bowing out against the eventual champions from Spain. With a roster compiled of unheralded journeymen such as Jonathan Erlich, Harel Levy, Andy Ram and Dudi Sela, Israel made it to their very first Davis Cup semi-final and shocked many along the way. After all of the sensational press they had received earlier in the year, it was a deserving, feel-good story for the Israelis.

Other Notable Events:

- Rafael Nadal’s first-ever loss at Roland Garros versus Robin Soderling. The most shocking loss of 2009 without a doubt and one that would greatly help Federer achieve his missing slam.

- Andy Roddick coming so close to winning his elusive second Grand Slam title. Boy did Andy ever take Roger into extra-innings at Wimbledon in June. He earned some much needed respect after that five set marathon.

- Melanie Oudin’s unexpected run at the U.S. Open where she made it to the quarter-finals. A nice shot-in-the-arm for American tennis that bodes well for the future.

- Drug suspensions and subsequent reversals for Richard Gasquet, Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse. It is time for the ATP and WTA Tour’s to conduct a serious review of how they handle positive drug tests. Gasquet’s excuse that he ingested cocaine from a night-club encounter with someone’s mouth just doesn’t sit right.

- The retirement of former Grand Slam champions Thomas Johansson, Amelie Mauresmo and Marat Safin as well as Fabrice “The Magician” Santoro and Ai Sugiyama

Murray Intends To Win Major Title in 2010: Tennis in the Commonwealth

By Leigh Sanders

Great Britain’s top star Andy Murray has reiterated his intention to break his Grand Slam duck in 2010. Speaking to BBC Scotland, he said that he feels he improved throughout 2009 and firmly believes next year will be his best yet. “I always said I’d play my best tennis between 23 and 27 and I’m 23 next year,” said Murray. “I had three tough losses in the Grand Slams. Hopefully, I can turn that round next year and draw on the experience.”

*The ATP has announced its top five matches of 2009 and three of the selections were held at Commonwealth-based tournaments. Unsurprisingly, the nail biting Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick takes the No. 1 slot. Rafael Nadal’s semifinal victory over compatriot Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open ranks third while Nikolay Davydenko’s triumph over Roger Federer in the ATP World Finals semifinal at London, England’s o2 Arena placed fifth. Meanwhile, British No. 1 Andy Murray’s shock defeat to the Croatian Marin Cilic in the US Open fourth round ranked third in the top five upsets of the year but Murray still made the ATP’s list of the year’s top players.

*The news of former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo’s retirement has led to praise for the two-time Grand Slam champion from many quarters. Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak is one who will be sad to see her leave the world’s tennis arenas and with particular reason; it was Aleksandra who defeated Amelie in her last match at this year’s US Open. “She was a lot of fun to watch because not only did she do everything well, but she did it with flair at the same time,” said Wozniak. “It was an honour for me to play her in her last match, especially since we played on Arthur Ashe stadium court at the US Open – it was one of the biggest wins of my career and a very special moment for me.”

*Some of Australia’s biggest tennis names are missing from the first round of playoffs competing for wildcard berths at the 2010 Australian Open. Chris Guccione, Carsten Ball and Sam Groth are all suffering from injuries and will miss the December 14-20 event.

*The Medibank International Sydney championships in Australia have announced their strongest lineup to date with nine of the world’s top ten players in the women’s field taking to the courts. Joining the likes of Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki will be home favourite Samantha Stosur. The home fans can also cheer on Lleyton Hewitt in the men’s event but he will have to overcome players of the calibre of Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka if he is to emerge victorious.

*Great Britain’s Anne Keothavong saw the third greatest decline in ranking spots on the WTA tour during 2009. She started the year at No. 60, rising to No. 54 by July but a knee injury then finished her season and she ended the year at No. 98. It is, though, her second-best year-end finish in 11 years on the tour. The biggest climber was Germany’s Andrea Petkovic (No. 379 – No. 56, 323 places) and the greatest recession was suffered by Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova (No. 44 – No. 99, 55 places).

*Australian tennis is again celebrating with the news that Russian-born Anastasia Rodionova has been granted citizenship. The current world No. 96 becomes the third-highest ranked Aussie player behind Samantha Stosur and Jelena Dokic. Jarmila Groth was also granted citizenship last month and this continues the strengthening of the sport Down Under.

*Former world No. 1 Alicia Molik of Australia continued her impressive return from retirement by taking another title, this time at the Pro Tour Event in Bendigo, Australia. Her compatriot Matt Ebden took the men’s trophy.

*Former Tennis Canada board of directors chair Harold P. Milavsky was inducted in to the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame during a ceremony held at the Glencoe Club, Calgary, attended by much of the Alberta tennis and business worlds.

*Third seed Heather Watson of Great Britain is through to the second round of the Orange Dunlop Bowl tournament in Florida. The 17-year-old emphatically beat American Krista Hardebeck 6-2, 6-2. Watson is currently ranked No. 4 in the world for juniors and reached the last 16 in her last run out at the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships.

*Aussie serve-and-volley specialist Pat Rafter triumphed over the Swede Stefan Edberg in the final of the ATP Champions Tour Event in London, England last week.

Mauresmo To Quit Tennis?

Amelie Mauresmo will likely announce her retirement tomorrow at a press conference in Paris, France according to French sportsmagazine L’Équipe.

Mauresmo played her last match at the US Open where she lost to Aleksandra Wozniak in the second round.  Mauresmo, the current number 21 of the WTA Tour, was supposed to play several tournaments in October but withdrew which fueled speculations that she was going to retire.

Mauresmo won two majors during her impressive career. She won both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Due to many injuries she was unable to play much in recent years.

Mondays With Bob Greene: The Summary Of The First Week Of The US Open

Kim Clijsters

STARS

(US Open First Week)

Petra Kvitova beat top-seeded Dinara Safina 6-4 2-6 7-06 (5)

Kim Clijsters beat third-seeded Venus Williams 6-0 0-6 6-4

Melanie Oudin beat fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva 5-7 6-4 6-3

John Isner beat fifth-seeded Andy Roddick 7-6 (3) 6-3 3-6 5-7 7-6 (5)

Yaroslava Shvedova beat fifth-seeded Jelena Jankovic 6-3 6-7 (4) 7-6 (6)

Francesca Schiavone beat eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenko 4-6 6-2 6-2

SAYING

“I learned, once again, proved to myself that I can compete with these top girls. And if I believe in myself and my game, then I can beat them.” – Melanie Oudin, after upsetting Maria Sharapova to advance to the fourth round.

“She was playing very aggressively, really enjoying this atmosphere, the crowd support and really going for the winners. So it’s just the beginning, but it looks like she has a good future.” – Elena Dementieva, on American Melanie Oudin, who upset the fourth-seeded Russian in a second-round match.

“I like to do aces on the match points. I did it (at) the French Open. I did it twice. Yeah, close my match with an ace. So it was nice.” – Yaroslava Shvedova, who finished her upset of Jelena Jankovic with an ace.

“She pretty much takes my advice if I offer good advice. I don’t traditionally offer good advice, so she doesn’t normally take it.” – Serena Williams, asked if she gives advice to her sister Venus.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come here a little bit tired, a little bit sore, a little bit injured, a little bit distracted. There’s nowhere to hide out there, so I’ve lived and died on this court many times and taken a lot of people with me.” – Andre Agassi, talking about playing at the US Open.

“What Andre did in his career is incredibly impressive. But to have someone who can be more impressive after their career is so rare. It’s why someone like Arthur Ashe is my idol. I’m sure a lot of kids have grown up in this era after mine. I hope they have someone like Andre Agassi as their idol.” – James Blake.

“I was jealous. I was happy for everybody that was doing well. I’m friends with them all, but I was jealous. I wanted to be here competing and playing well and playing matches. So to be back here accomplishing that is pretty remarkable. I still have a long way to go. I still feel like my game is still pretty rough around the edges, but it’s extremely exciting.” – Taylor Dent, making his first US Open appearance since 2005 and after three back surgeries.

“My goal (was) to not get crushed and make it interesting for a little while at least. I got up a break a couple of times and that was fun while it lasted.” – Devin Britton, a wild card entry who lost a first-round match to top-seeded Roger Federer.

“I don’t want to make the decision to stop and then after two, six, eight months thinking, it was not quite the time yet. Because then it’s too hard, I would say, probably to make a comeback as Kim (Clijsters) is making now, given the age.” – Amelie Mauresmo, now 30 years old, saying she will wait until the end of the year before making a decision on whether to retire.

“I love winning tennis matches. If I get more money for more matches I win, that’s why we play. … It’s nice to get money for what you love to do.” – Jesse Witten, a qualifier who reached the third round before losing to Novak Djokovic.

I hated to lose more than I liked to win. – Jimmy Connors, explaining his mindset when he played.

SONY ERICSSON WTA TOUR

In 2010, the women’s tennis tour returns to San Diego, California, and will stage new events in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Copenhagen, Denmark. The 2010 calendar features 53 tournaments, in addition to the four Grand Slam events, with total prize money of more than USD $83 million. The international breadth of tournaments includes 24 events in Europe, 15 events in the Americas and 18 events in the Asia-Pacific region. “With three new tournaments investing in our sport in each of the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions, the Tour’s 2010 calendar continues to showcase the global commercial strength of women’s tennis,” said Stacey Allaster, chairman and CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. “I am proud of the fact that despite a worldwide recession we have been able to achieve modest growth.”

SAFINA SWITCH

When John Isner’s upset victory over fifth-seeded Andy Roddick went so late in the evening, tournament schedulers moved Dinara Safina’s match against the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova from Arthur Ashe Stadium to Louis Armstrong. Safina wasn’t happy with the switch. “I’m number one player in the world, why did they move me?” Safina asked. “This is not an excuse, but I don’t think it’s a fair decision they made.” To make matters worse, the Russian lost to Kvitova 6-4 2-6 7-6 (5).

SUDDEN END

Sabine Lisicki left the court in a wheelchair after she severely sprained her ankle on the final point of her second-round match. Qualifier Anastasia Rodionova of Australia, ranked 139th in the world, upset the German 6-3 3-6 7-5. On match point, Lisicki, seeded 23rd in the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, raced to her left. But as she slid for the ball, she rolled her left ankle and stayed on the court for several minutes. The ankle was heavily wrapped and a wheelchair was brought to the court. Lisicki was taken to a hospital where x-rays showed there was no break.

STATISTICS AND OTHER LIES

Numbers don’t lie. Sometimes they just don’t tell the truth. Philipp Petzschner of Germany out-aced his foe 17-1 and had 52 winners – 24 more than his opponent. Yet when the 3-hour, second-round match was over, the winner was 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 1-6 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-4. The reason: Petzschner had 20 more unforced errors than Ferrero, 68-48, and the Spaniard won 147 points, nine more than the German.

Marat Safin had 15 aces to eight for Jurgen Melzer in their first-round battle. The two each had 40 winners, and Melzer had one fewer unforced errors, 28 to 29. The Austrian won three more points than his Russian opponent, 107-104, and when the contest was over, Melzer was the winner 1-6 6-4 6-3 6-4.

Andy Roddick won everything but the score in his third-round match against fellow American John Isner. Roddick won 162 points to Isner’s 155 and had his serve broken only once. Isner lost his serve twice, but he boomed 38 aces in the 3-hour, 51-minute battle and advanced to the fourth round at a Grand Slam event for the first time. It also was Isner’s first victory over a top five player.

STILL RELEVANT

The story of Rod Laver’s second Grand Slam season, capped by winning the US Open, is the subject of a book, “The Education of a Tennis Player.” Written with Hall of Fame journalist and historian Bud Collins, the book is Laver’s first-hand account of his 1969 Grand Slam season. Laver also writes about his childhood and early days in tennis, his 1962 Grand Slam and offers tips on how players of all levels can improve their games. Originally published in 1971, “The Education of a Tennis Player” was updated by Laver and Collins in 2009 with new content including Laver’s recovery from a near-fatal stroke in 1998. Laver won 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969.

STARTING LATE

The US Open had its latest night session start in history during the first week. On Saturday, James Blake and Tommy Robredo took to the court at 10:35 p.m. following a special ceremony honoring Pancho Gonzalez. The night session normally starts at 7 p.m., but the last day match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, an all-American affair between fifth-seeded Andy Roddick and John Isner, lasted until 9:26 p.m. Officials moved the scheduled first night match between Dinara Safina and Petra Kvitova to Louis Armstrong Stadium and began the Blake-Robredo match in Ashe. Kvitova upset the top-seeded Safina, while Robredo beat Blake in a match that ended just shy of 1 o’clock in the morning.

SERIOUS THEY ARE

The US Open battles between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe are legendary. The two left-handers, who defined a generation and won 15 Grand Slam tournament titles between them, still excite the crowds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Now tennis commentators, Connors and McEnroe returned to the courts to face other during the first week of the US Open. The practice courts, that is. “Definitely brings back a few good memories,” McEnroe said.

SWOOP NOT

When James Blake walked onto the court to play his first-round match, the umpire made the American change his headband. “I didn’t know the rule,” Blake admitted. “I didn’t know you couldn’t have any writing on the headband or wristband.” A player can wear a logo on their headband, as in the Nike swoop. But Blake’s clothing sponsor, Fila, had the name “Fila” written on the headband. That’s a no-no. “I didn’t know we couldn’t do that,” Blake said.

SENOR PANCHO

The US Open honored two-time winner Richard A. “Pancho” Gonzalez on the 60th anniversary of his second consecutive victory in America’s premier tennis tournament. Gonzalez won the US Championships in 1948 and 1949, then turned pro at a time when only amateurs were allowed to play the Grand Slam tournaments. He went on to become the top draw on the professional circuit, then, when he was 40 years old, reached the semifinals of the French Open and the quarterfinals of the inaugural US Open. That same year he was elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1972, three months shy of his 44th birthday, Gonzalez became the oldest man to win a tournament title, capturing the championship at an event in Des Moines, Iowa. Among those participating in the on-court ceremony were members of the Gonzalez family as well as several Hispanic dignitaries.

STEPPING

You can’t find former US Open champion Martina Hingis on the tennis courts these days, thanks to a two-year ban after testing positive for cocaine. But the 28-year-old Swiss star has signed up to take part in the seventh season of BBC’s reality talent show “Strictly Come Dancing,” which starts September 18. Other former athletes participating in the show include boxer Joe Calzaghe, Olympic long jumper Jade Johnson, cricketer Phil Tufnell and jockey Richard Dunwoody.

SO FINE

The town of Midland, Michigan, has been named winner of the USTA’s “Best Tennis Town” search. The initiative by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) was designed to identify and reward American communities that “best exemplify the passion, excitement, spirit and impact that tennis brings to the local level.” Midland, which received the most votes during the nationwide, online balloting, will receive a USD $100,000 grant from the USTA to be used for community-wide tennis programming or facility enhancements. Finishing second was Ojai, California, which received a USD $50,000 community tennis grant from the USTA, while Independence, Kansas, was third in the balloting and received a USD $25,000 USTA grant.

SITES TO SURF

US Open: www.usopen.org
Davis Cup: www.DavisCup.com
Kim Clijsters: www.kimclijsters.be/
Roger Federer: www.rogerfederer.com/en/index.cfm
Rafael Nadal: www.rafaelnadal.com/nada/en/home
Serena Williams: www.serenawilliams.com/
Quebec: www.challengebell.com
Guangzhou: http://sports.21cn.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

US Open (second week), New York, New York, USA, hard

ATP

$120,000 Genoa Open Challenger, Genoa, Italy, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$150,000 Pekao Open, Szczecin, Poland, clay

WTA

$220,000 Bell Challenge, Quebec City, Canada, hard
$220,000 Guangzhou International Women’s Open, Guangzhou, China, hard

DAVIS CUP

World Group Semifinals

Croatia vs. Czech Republic at Porec, Croatia
Spain vs. Israel at Murcia, Spain

World Group Playoffs

Chile vs. Austria at Rancagua, Chile; Belgium vs. Ukraine at Charleroi, Belgium; Brazil vs. Ecuador at Porto Alegre, Brazil; Netherlands vs. France at Maastricht, Netherlands; South Africa vs. India at Johannesburg, South Africa; Serbia vs. Uzbekistan at Belgrade, Serbia; Sweden vs. Romania at Helsingborg, Sweden; Italy vs. Switzerland at Genova, Italy

Americas Zone

Group I Playoff: Peru vs. Uruguay at Lima, Peru
Group II Final: Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Asia-Oceania Zone

Group I Playoff: China vs. Thailand at Jiaxing, China
Group II 3rd Round: Philippines vs. New Zealand at Manila, Philippines

Europe/Africa Zone

Group I Playoffs: Slovak Republic vs. FYR Macedonia at Bratislava, Slovak Republic; Great Britain vs. Poland at Liverpool, Great Britain

Group II 3rd Round: Latvia vs. Slovenia at Jurmala, Latvia; Finland vs. Cyprus at Salo, Finland

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