Asia Muhammad

Mark Knowles teams up with Querrey, Lisicki, and Davenport for weekend of tennis

Dec 12, 2012 — One of tennis’ most respected doubles players in history and former world No. 1, Mark Knowles brought professional tennis back to his home country of the Bahamas for one incredible tennis invitational, that included a Pro-Am and exhibition. (Gallery and video at bottom)

The recently retired 41-year-old welcomed Lindsay Davenport, Sam Querrey and Sabine Lisicki among others to the Atlantis, Paradise Island to help raise money for local children’s charities at the Mark Knowles Celebrity Tennis Invitational (MKCTI). The proceeds brought in this year topped $100,000, bringing total contributions to around $900,000.

“It was another great year at the 12th MKCTI. We raised a lot of money and had great support from our sponsorships,” said Knowles. “We had fantastic players down here, so it’s always special. The impetus behind the event is to raise money for those that are in need, and we were very successful doing that again this year.”

The main beneficiaries include the Sassoon Heart Foundation (Pediatric), the Cancer Society For Pediatric Care, the Association for the Physically Disabled, the Special Olympics, Mark Knowles Tennis scholarships for promising junior tennis players and numerous additional children’s charities.

“It’s always great to come here,” said Sabine Lisicki, who looked particularly radiant and enjoyed playing doubles with her Pro-Am partner. “I’ve known Mark for quite a few years and it’s been a lot of fun to play. The fact that it helps kids makes me always want to come here to help. It’s a nice place.”

After enjoying a cocktail reception sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Atlantis at Fathoms on Dec. 6, diamond and platinum sponsors had the opportunity to team up with the stars in the popular Pro-Am the following day.

Each team was guaranteed two matches in the fun, but competitive tournament with bragging rights on the line. Knowles and Miles Nadal, CEO of MDC Partners, defeated Lisicki and her partner David Demuth for the title, while Brent Haygarth teamed up with Betsy Wannakuwatte to win the consolation bracket over Querrey and Jeremy Stuby.

“The Pro-Am was great,” Querrey said. “This is my first time down here and we had a good time. It’s something I really enjoyed and I’m hoping to come back again next year.”

The players, event organizers and sponsors reunited in the evening for a special dinner at the Ripples Deck, featuring a gourmet buffet and live and silent auctions. The items on offer included signed racquets from Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, a dual photograph signed by Roger Federer and Jack Nicklaus and the dress Serena Williams wore when she won this year’s US Open final. The highest-selling item was a US Open poster signed by number of top players, which sold for $6,000.

The invitational was anchored by the tennis exhibition on Saturday, Dec. 8, where the players were split into two teams. Fans were treated to three sets of tennis, using the World TeamTennis format. Play opened with a mixed doubles match between Lisicki and Knowles against Davenport and former doubles world No. 1 Donald Johnson and was followed by a men’s singles encounter featuring Querrey versus Xavier Malisse. In the final match-up, Knowles and Malisse joined forces to take on Querrey and Alex Kuznetsov.

Afterwards, Knowles spoke to the crowd, where he thanked host Atlantis for their hospitality, the sponsors, players and fans for their support and recognized Sir Durward Knowles, the 1964 Olympic gold medalist in sailing. Fans were then treated to a meet and greet with the players.

“Being on the west coast, we don’t usually come this far east to vacation, so it’s great,” said Davenport. “I came here in 1999 and this is my next time here, so it’s fun to be able to share it with my family now. Mark has become a good friend over the years, along with [wife] Dawn and their kids. I’m thrilled we were able to come this year.”

The Mark Knowles Management Group would like to thank all involved in making this event an annual success and gives its appreciation to players, sponsors, charities, friends and family, fans, and followers who have supported Knowles’ charitable endeavors since its inception in 2001.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f73LUBvj8n4

The 2012 Mark Knowles Celebrity Tennis Invitational Player Field: Lindsay Davenport, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Brent Haygarth, Donald Johnson, Craig Kardon (Coach to the Stars), Mark Knowles, Alex Kuznetsov, Sabine Lisicki, Xavier Malisse, Asia Muhammad, Yasmin Schnack, Tara Snyder Haygarth and Jesse Witten.

The 2012 Mark Knowles Celebrity Tennis Invitational Sponsors: Atlantis, the Bahamas Ministry Of Tourism, MDC Partners, Pictet, Fast Ferries, American Airlines, Ultimate Limo Service, Odyssey Aviation, Ministry of Youth Sports & Culture, H.G.Christie, Everkey Global, The Balmoral, Caribbean Bottling, Kerrygold, Corner Bank, Schooner Bay, S.G.Hambros, Daron & Sheri Roberts, Vince Menard, Alex Pier, Sean & Sarah Farrington, Peter & Pippa Vlasov, Mark & Nancy Holowesko, Chris Day, Sir Durward Knowles, R.E. Barnes, Donald Tomlinson, Graham & Aidie Garner, Dave & Fran Donald, Steve Swords and Peter & Vicky Knowles Andrews.

(Parts taken from press release; Photos copyright Matt Fitzgerald/MKCTI)

An Unexpected Summer Vacation For Local Girl Ahn

Kristie Ahn lost her first round match at the US Open, but gained a whole new fan base on Tuesday at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Hitting multiple winners from the baseline and maintaining a high percentage of first serves throughout the match, the 16 year old from New Jersey hung tough with No. 6 seed Dinara Safina in losing 6-3, 6-4.

“My attitude is to fear no one, but respect everyone,” said Ahn. “I didn’t want to give her more credit than she deserved before going out there. It’s a first round match and a lot of upsets take place early in the tournament,”

Despite losing serve while trailing 3-2 in the first set, Ahn fought off break points in her next two service games to keep within striking distance of Safina. Safina became visibly frustrated by Ahn’s retrieving skills as she threw her racquet several times during the match.

Trailing 4-3 in the second set, Ahn leveled the match by breaking Safina’s serve on her fifth break point opportunity. It would be the last game Ahn would win in the match as Safina broke her serve to love at 4-4, and then served out the match to reserve a spot in the second round.

“Players at this level just seem to handle the pressure better,” said Ahn, who is only competing in her fourth professional tournament. It seemed like Safina was able to utilize her serve out there when it mattered most.”

Having grown up in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, a 45 minute drive from the USTA/Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Ahn has declined to move south for training unlike many of her peers on the junior circuit, choosing to instead train at home.

“My parents and I talked about it and they said they would prefer for me to stay at home for now,” said Ahn. I feel like you establish a better relationship with a private coach anyway.

Ahn said that she hadn’t even considered playing pro tournaments until this year, and entered a $10,000 tournament last May in Pennsylvania simply to gain experience. After winning the event, Ahn entered another $10,000 event in Texas, coming through the qualifying to win her second consecutive event. These two wins prompted the USTA to give her a wild card into the qualifying of the US Open, which she utilized by advancing into the main draw without the loss of a set.

Despite her rapid progress on the tour, Ahn said that she is still intent on intending college once she graduates from high school.

“Even if I defeated Safina, it still wouldn’t be the wisest decision to turn pro right away,”said Ahn. “Once you turn pro, it just adds all this pressure which isn’t necessary right now.

Ahn has already competed against this year’s NCAA champion, Amanda McDowell, easily defeating her 6-0, 6-2 at the $10,000 event in Texas. Despite the routine win against the best college player in the country, Ahn said that she sees other benefits to attending college.

“Everybody I’ve talked to says that college is the best four years of your life,” said Ahn. “I’ve always played well in team events and it would be unbelievable to be around that atmosphere. Even if the level isn’t that high, I can always travel and play pro events during the summer.”

Asia Muhammad, a 17 year old American who recently turned professional, said on Monday that college tennis is a distraction for young American players and called for upcoming junior players to take their tennis more seriously. While Ahn said she agrees with the need for more focus amongst top junior players, she also sees the benefits of playing at the junior level.

“I think rather than worrying about turning pro right away, you should appreciate being one of the top juniors in the country,” said Ahn. “It’s a tremendous honor to be able to have that distinction.

Despite Ahn’s grounded personality, she said that she envisions a career for herself on the pro tour and wants more of the experiences that she had today on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“It was a privilege to be able to play on that stadium today,” Ahn said. “When the crowd was getting behind me out there and cheering my name, it’s something that I’ll never forget. It’s something that I want to get to experience more.”

Muhammad Establishes Herself In First Round Loss

Asia Muhammad said that she wanted to make her US Open debut a lasting one, but became of the first players to be eliminated from the tournament on day one.

Struggling with her serve and Rezai’s aggressive baseline play, the 17 year old Muhammad wasted a 3-0 lead in the second set in losing to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai 6-2, 6-4. The victory allowed Rezai to gain her first win during the American hard court season and snap a five match losing streak in the process.

“I just have to make a decision to be aggressive out there and the rest will take care of itself,” Muhammad said. “That’s what everybody has been saying all along. It’s just a matter of whether or not I’m able to do it consistently.”

Despite the loss, Muhammad impressed the packed crowd on Court 11. Showing a more mature shot selection and willingness to construct points then she did when competing in the US Open qualifying last year, Muhammad took advantage of Rezai’s serving troubles in the second set by breaking early to take a 3-0 lead.

Muhammad served three consecutive double faults to give the break back to Rezai, allowing the Frenchwoman to regain her momentum in the match. At 4-4 in the second set, Rezai broke Muhammad’s serve at love before closing out the match on her own serve with a forehand winner.

“I played well to get to that point, but held back once I got the lead,” Muhammad said.

Despite the loss, Muhammad said that she could see noticeable improvements in her game.

“As long as you learn from every match, then it’s a good match in my mind,” Muhammad said. “I felt much less nervous out on the court than last year and was able to feed off the crowd instead of being overwhelmed by it.”

Growing up in Las Vegas, Muhammad began playing tennis at the Boys and Girls Club in Las Vegas that was founded by Andre Agassi. She trained there until recently hiring a full-time coach, Tim Blenkiron, but is still mentored by both Agassi and his wife, tennis legend Steffi Graf.

“If you ask anybody in Las Vegas about Andre Agassi, they only have positive things to say about him” Muhammad said. “He founded a school that’s completely paid for and helps keeps the younger kids out of trouble. And I’m so thankful that he did it. Without him, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”

Muhammad said that in addition to offering advice, she’s also had the opportunity to train with both Agassi and Graf on their private tennis court.

“It was pretty overwhelming at first, but I’m comfortable with the both of them now,” Muhammad said. “I hit with Steffi three weeks ago at home and Andre also comes out on occasion. He also helped me with strategy before playing some clay court tournaments this year.

Spurred on by strong results at the challenger level in 2008, including reaching the finals at a $50,000 event in her hometown of Las Vegas, Muhammad said that she decided to turn pro this year while still competing in top level junior tournaments. Having had the chance to compete against several players in the top 100, Muhammad said has been inspired by the intensity of her colleagues on tour.

“They take it far more seriously than junior players do,” Muhammad said. “This is their job, so this is how they’re going to make

While many of her peers from the junior circuit have decided to forego the pro tour and attend college instead, Muhammad said that she has decided to adopt a more international approach.

“In Europe, they don’t really have national events and there’s not the differentiation between college and pro tennis,” Muhammad said. “You go to college if you haven’t made it as a pro player.”

Muhammad said that upcoming American players need to start taking the game more seriously in order for American tennis to break out its slump.

“In my experience, a lot of junior players view the national tournaments as a big social event,” Muhammad said, “There needs to be more focus amongst some of the girls out there. We have a lot of young and talented players coming up, and we have the ability to make it. It’s all about your mindset.”