ATP Event

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

Martin Continues Undefeated Champions Run In Newport

NEWPORT, R.I., August 20 – Todd Martin continued his undefeated run in champions tennis at the International Tennis Hall of Fame Thursday, defeating Wayne Ferreira of South Africa 7-5, 5-7, 10-6 (Champions Tie-Breaker) in the quarterfinals of the $150,000 Hall of Fame Champions Cup. Since Newport has hosted an event on the Outback Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over, Martin has not suffered a loss, posting a 5-0 record on Newport’s grass courts that includes his title run in the inaugural event in 2007.

“I still love playing here,” said Martin, who did not compete in the 2008 event. “I like being here. I like competing and I’ve made a commitment. My family spent quite a bit of time here these last couple of summers and we love it here.”

During his ATP career, Martin played three times on the grass courts of the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships in 1990, 1991 and 1992, with his best showing coming in 1991 when he reached the semifinals, losing to Bryan Shelton. His 1990 appearance Newport marked his first career ATP event. In 2007, returning to Newport in the first year of the Outback Champions Series event, Martin defeated John McEnroe 7-5, 7-5 to win the title.

Against Ferreira on Thursday, Martin said he struggled in the hot and humid conditions, despite living in a hot and humid climate of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I live in Florida in the swamp and you can’t walk to get the mail without breaking in to a full sweat,” said Martin. “Today it was warm. It was humid and at times maybe a little bit challenging to stay dry. Yeah, I was wiped.”

Martin jumped out to win seven of the first eight points of the Champions Tie-Breaker, a first-to-10-point tie-breaker played in lieu of a third set. Ferreira fought valiantly to close the gap to 8-6 before Martin won the last two points to clinch the match.

“On paper on this grass court, I match up pretty well against Wayne,” said Martin. “There’s not too many places where I think I match up really well. I probably on average return a little bit better than him. On average I maybe serve just a touch better than him. I also volley well. Where he gets me is with his athleticism and with his forehand. And today at times he returned really well, and with his backhand especially. He’s definitely a forehand guy but he had a really good time managing his backhand. But also he has an aggressive nature. He got a lot out of that side.”

Martin will face long-time rival and former U.S. Davis Cup teammate Jim Courier in Saturday’s semifinals. Courier posted a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Jimmy Arias in Thursday’s late quarterfinal match, played as a thick, afternoon fog rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Courier, who turned 39 years old on Monday, is seeking his first professional singles title on grass courts. The 1993 Wimbledon finalist was also a singles finalist a year ago in Newport, losing to Pat Cash of Australia.

“I grew up playing on the baseline and grass definitely rewards the serve and volley player,” said Courier. “Grass is a challenge for me but I like the challenge. I lost in the finals here last year to Pat Cash so I am getting closer.”

Arias was not only making his first visit of any kind of Newport and the state of Rhode Island, but was playing on grass courts for the first time since 1986.

Quipped Arias, “I brought Jim down to my level and I almost won a set.”

Mark Philippoussis of Australia opens play on Friday against Sweden’s Mikael Pernfors, while the late quarterfinal will pit Mats Wilander of Sweden against defending champion Cash. Ticket information can be found at www.TennisFame.com. The remaining schedule of play for the Hall of Fame Champions Cup is as follows;

Friday, August 21st – 1pm
Singles Quarterfinal – Mark Philippoussis vs. Mikael Pernfors
Followed by Doubles Exhibition – Jim Courier & Wayne Ferreira vs. Todd Martin & Jimmy Arias
Followed by Singles Quarterfinal – Pat Cash vs. Mats Wilander

Saturday, August 22nd – 1pm
Singles Semifinal – Martin/Ferreira winner vs. Courier/Arias winner
Followed by Doubles Exhibition
Followed by Singles Semifinal – Philippoussis/Pernfors winner vs. Cash/Wilander winner

Sunday, August 23rd – 1pm
Championship Match
Followed by
3rd Place Match

Pete Sampras won the opening event on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, defeating McEnroe in the final of the Champions Cup Boston in February. McEnroe won the second event of the year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, defeating Courier in the final. Sampras won his second title of the year at the Del Mar Development Champions Cup in Los Cabos, Mexico, defeating Patrick Rafter in the final. Courier won his first title of the 2009 season in April at the Cayman Islands, defeating Arias in the final. Following Newport, remaining events on the Outback Champions Series will be held in Charlotte (Sept. 24-27), Surprise, Ariz. (Oct. 8-11) and Dubai, U.A.E. (Nov. 18-21).

Courier leads the current Champions Rankings on the Outback Champions Series entering Newport with 2000 points, followed by Sampras with 1600 points and McEnroe with 1300 points. Arias sits at a career-high No. 4 Outback Champions Series ranking with 1050 points, followed by Cash with 700 points at No. 5 and Philippoussis at No. 6 with 600 points. Wilander, Pernfors and Patrick Rafter are tied at No. 7 with 500 points, while Martin rounds out the top 10 with 400 points.

Founded in 2005, the Outback Champions Series features some of the biggest names in tennis over the last 25 years, including Andre Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, Courier and others. To be eligible to compete on the Outback Champions Series, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team. The Outback Champions Series features eight events on its 2009 schedule with each event featuring $150,000 in prize money as well as Champions Series points that will determine the year-end Champions Rankings No. 1.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, established in 1954, is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving the history of tennis, inspiring and encouraging junior tennis development, enshrining tennis heroes and heroines, and providing a landmark for tennis enthusiasts worldwide. It was recognized as the sport’s official Hall of Fame in 1986 by the International Tennis Federation, the governing body of tennis. The International Tennis Hall of Fame’s legendary grass courts remain the only competition grass courts available for professional events and exhibitions, while also available for public play. For more information about the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, events and programs, please call 401-849-3990 or log on to www.tennisfame.com

InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Outback Champions Series, a collection of tennis events featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events, private corporate outings and tennis fantasy camps such as the annual “Ultimate Fantasy Camp”. Through 2008, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment events have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

Mondays With Bob Greene: It shows how important Andy is for the team

STARS

Rajeev Ram beat Sam Querry 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 to win the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, USA

Agnes Szavay won the GDF Suez Grand Prix, beating Patty Schnyder 2-6 6-4 6-2 in Budapest, Hungary

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-4 to win the Collector Swedish Open Women in Bastad, Sweden

Julia Goerges beat Ekaterina Dzehalevich 7-5 6-0 in Biarritz, France, to win the Open GDF Suez de Biarritz

Karol Beck won the Open Diputacion Ciudad de Pozoblanco in Pozoblanco, Cordoba, Spain, beating Thiago Alves 6-4 6-3

DAVIS CUP

World Group Quarterfinals

Czech Republic Argentina 3-2; Croatia beat the United States 3-2; Israel beat Russia 4-1; Spain beat Germany 3-2

Americas Zone Group 1 Playoff: Peru vs. Canada; Group 2 Second Round: Venezuela beat Mexico; Dominican Republic beat Paraguay; Netherlands Antilles beat Jamaica; Bahamas vs. Guatemala

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Second Round Playoffs: Kazakhstan beat Thailand 5-0; Korea vs. China; Group 2 Second Round: Philippines beat Pakistan 3-2; New Zealand beat Indonesia 5-0; Group 2 Playoffs: Hong Kong-China beat Oman 5-0; Malaysia beat Kuwait 4-1

Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Playoffs: Belarus beat FYR Macedonia 4-1; Group 2 Second Round: Slovenia beat Lithuania 5-0; Latvia beat Bulgaria 4-1; Finland beat Monaco 3-2; Cyprus beat Ireland 3-1; Group 2 Playoffs: Egypt beat Georgia 5-0; Hungary beat Moldova 3-2; Denmark beat Montenegro 3-2; Portugal beat Algeria 5-0

SAYING

“It’s a beautiful way to celebrate my career. … I wish my dad would have been here today, but I know he’s here in spirit because without him I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” – Monica Seles, on her installation into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“These days don’t come around very often unless you’re (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal. There’s definitely pressure. … Winning tournaments is not normal on the tour for 99 percent of us.” – Rajeev Ram, after beating fellow American Sam Querry in Newport to win his first ATP title.

“I’m sorry I spoiled your (birthday) celebrations, but I promise I will buy you something instead.” – Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, after beating Caroline Wozniacki on the Dane’s 19th birthday.

“For the first time I have absolutely nothing to say, usually I just can’t stop talking, and I started to cry like a little boy.” – Andy Ram, after teaming with Jonathan Erlich to win the doubles and clinch Israel’s first semifinal berth in Davis Cup competition.

“It was a great fight. At the end I was just fighting like a tiger. That was the difference, I think. It wasn’t about the tennis in that match. I was so close to losing.” – Agnes Szavay, after beating Patty Schnyder in the final in Budapest.

“I was so embarrassed to be with them that I called everybody sir. Those players have won Wimbledon, Davis Cup, Forest Hills, French Open, and I have one trophy, Monte Carlo.” – Andres Gimeno, who joined Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and others on the pro tour before he won his only Grand Slam tournament title, the French Open, in 1972.

“It shows how important Andy is for the team. Being on the No. 2 spot is less pressure than playing on the No. 1 spot.” – James Blake, losing both of his singles matches after being forced to play No. 1 when Andy Roddick pulled out of the United States-Croatia Davis Cup quarterfinal tie with a hip injury.

SWEET DAY INDEED

In a string of circumstances, Andy Roddick’s hip injury may have been the catalyst that led to Rajeev Ram winning his first ATP title. When Roddick pulled out of Davis Cup with the injury, he was replaced by Mardy Fish, the top seed at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Knowing he would get a spot in the main draw because of Fish’s leaving, Ram withdrew from his final round of qualifying, then became the tournament’s “lucky loser.” With rain curtailing play on Tuesday and Wednesday, Ram played eight matches over the last three days of the tournament as he became just the third player on the ATP World Tour this year to win both singles and doubles at the same event. He downed fellow American Sam Querrey 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 for the singles title, then teamed with Austria’s Jordan Kerr to beat Michael Kohlmann of Germany and Dutchman Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak) in the doubles. Ram, playing in his fist ATP final and ranked 181 in the world, is the lowest ranked player to win a tournament this year. Until the Newport tournament, he had won a total of six career ATP matches.

SHOCKER

In the biggest shocker of the Davis Cup weekend, Israel advanced to the semifinals of the World Group for the first time by upsetting Russia 4-1. The Israelis clinched the tie when Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich bested Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn to win the doubles and give their side an unassailable 3-0 lead over the two-time Davis Cup champions. “I actually can’t describe how I feel. … I am so proud to be an Israeli today, to be a part of this team, so proud to be part of this sport and Davis Cup tennis, it was a classic tie,” said Israel team captain Eyal Ran. Israel took a surprising 2-0 lead on the opening day when 210th-ranked Harel Levy upset Igor Andreev before Dudi Sela beat Mikhail Youzhny. Israel will take on defending champion Spain in the semifinals on September 18-20.

The other semifinal will pit two other surprising teams against each other. The Czech Republic edged Argentina, last year’s Davis Cup finalists, 3-1, while Croatia defeated the Andy Roddick-less United States 3-2.

STRIKING GOLD

The singles winners at the US Open will pocket at least a record USD $1.6 million. The two champions also can earn an additional USD $1 million in bonus prize money, which could help in building a new garage on their home since they will also receive a new 2010 Lexus IS convertible vehicle. The USTA announced that the total US Open purse will top USD $12.6 million, making it the third consecutive year that the prize money has increased by USD $1 million. In addition to the base purse of USD $21.6 million, the top three men and top three women finishers in the Olympus US Open Series may earn up to an additional USD $2.6 million in bonus prize money. And just in case that’s not enough to make ends meet, the US Open winners – like all the other players in the field – will receive per diem payments to help with the cost of accommodations and other expenses during their New York City stay.

STAR POWER

Andre Agassi is returning to the US Open. Twice a champion in the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, Agassi will headline the opening night ceremony on August 31 as the US Open celebrates charity work by athletes. Agassi, who began the Andre Agassi Foundation in 1994, ended his 21-year career by retiring at the end of the 2006 US Open. His foundation has a charger school in Las Vegas, Nevada, which graduated its first senior class in June, sending all 34 students to college.

SEEING IS BELIEVING

The marathon Wimbledon final in which Roger Federer outlasted Andy Roddick was the most-watch All England Club men’s final in the United States in 10 years. NBC said an average of 5.71 million people tuned in to watch Federer win his record-setting 15th Grand Slam title, the most since Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the 1999 final. The 3.8 rating and 10 share was the best for a men’s final since Sampras defeat4ed Patrick Rafter in 2000, and surpassed last year’s five-set battle between Federer and Rafael Nadal by nine percent. The fifth set of the Federer-Roddick match was the longest in major final history.

SMILE

While in Newport, Rhode Island, to attend his colleague Donald Dell’s induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ray Benton told the story about how he once advised Ivan Lendl that if he showed how much he enjoyed playing tennis it could help the bottom line. Benton, Lendl’s agent, theorized that if the stoic-looking Lendl just smiled and acted happy after he won matches, it would result in the player earning an additional USD $1 million dollars a year in endorsements. Benton said Lendl pondered the idea for a few moments, then said, “It’s not worth it.” Lendl, who won 94 singles titles in his career, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

SOMETHING TO PLAY FOR

The top mixed doubles team in the Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League will be playing on the big stage come this August. The mixed doubles team that finishes at the top of the WTT Pro League rankings will receive a wild card into the 2009 US Open mixed doubles tournament. More than 50 players are competing in the Advanta WTT Pro League this month for 10 franchises throughout the United States. “World TeamTennis has long featured some of the best players in the world, especially in doubles,” said WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss. “We are very excited to work with the USTA to provide our players with this opportunity to be rewarded for their high level of play.” World TeamTennis matches feature three sets of doubles – men’s, women’s and mixed – along with one set each of men’s and women’s single. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is a minority owner and promotional partner of World TeamTennis.

SPANISH LION

Spain reached back into the past to gain a victory in their Davis Cup tie against Germany. When Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer both pulled out of the World Group quarterfinal because of injuries, Juan Carlos Ferrero was added to the team. Then Spanish captain Albert Costa replaced Tommy Robredo with Ferrero in the decisive fifth match, and the former world number one bested Andreas Beck 6-4 6-4 6-4. It was the first time since 2005 against Italy that Spain won a fifth match to determine the outcome of a tie. It was Ferrero that time also who came away victorious. “It’s amazing what I felt on the court today,” Ferrero said. “It’s a long time I didn’t play Davis Cup competition and this tie for me was very special. To come back and play the last point, I felt amazing on the court.”

SMITTENED

India’s Sania Mirza is making headlines for reasons beyond her tennis. In the latest incident, two engineering students have been arrested and accused of stalking her. All of this comes as she is being engaged to family friend Sohrab Mirza, whose father owns Universal Bakers chain in Hyderabad, India. The 23-year-old Sohrab is reportedly heading to the United Kingdom to pursue an MBA degree. Police said Ajay Singh Yadva was apprehended as he tried to barge into the tennis player’s house, apparently to profess his love. He was taken into custody when he refused to leave. Yadav’s arrest came a day after another student threatened to commit suicide if the engagement was not called off. Last month, the Andhra Pradesh state government found that a man had secured a white ration card showing Sania Mirza as his wife, complete with photos of the tennis star. White ration cards are meant for people living below the poverty line. The 22-year-old Mirza became the first Indian woman to climb into the top 40 in the rankings. At one time, the Muslim player was assailed by conservative elements of the Indian community for competing in short skirts and sleeveless shirts.

SERVING BAN

Former junior Australian Open champion Brydan Klein has been banned from the game for six months for racially abusing South African Raven Klaasen during an ATP event in England last month. The 19-year-old Australian also will undergo a racial sensitivity course and was fined USD $10,000 by the ATP. Australian media said Klein called Klaasen a “kaffir” and spat at his coach and another player. Klein earlier had been fined USD $13,290 by Tennis Australia, which suspended him from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and cut off his funding grants. “I sincerely regret my error in judgment in using the language I did and I am deeply sorry for the offense caused,” Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted Klein as saying in a statement. “I am accepting the ATP’s ruling and am now looking to put the whole incident behind me. I will undergo a racial sensitivity course and am determined to learn from this mistake.” The suspension covers all ATP World Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events. The final two months of the suspension and extra fine will be waived if Klein successfully completes the racial sensitivity training course.

SIDELINED

Jelena Dokic’s ailment has been diagnosed as mononucleosis. The illness has plagued Dokic since the end of the French Open. Blood tests taken after she lost at Wimbledon revealed the illness. She was told by doctors to do nothing but rest for at least two weeks. “I am disappointed to have to pull out of a couple of events, but I am also relieved to finally know what was wrong,” said Dokic, who once was ranked as high as fifth in the world before dropping off the tour with personal problems. “It has been so frustrating since the French. My natural work ethic is to get on court and train hard with intensity. I just haven’t been able to do that, and until now I didn’t know why.”

SELECTED

Todd Woodbridge is Australia’s new Davis Cup coach. A 16-time doubles Grand Slam tournament champion, Woodbridge has been appointed national men’s and Davis Cup coach in an expanded full-time role. Tennis Australia made the move in an effort to reverse the country’s flagging fortunes in the competition, which they have won 28 times, second only to the United States. Woodbridge is Australia’s longest serving Davis Cup player and was a member of the 1999 and 2003 Davis Cup winning teams. The country currently has only one player ranked in the top 100 in the world, Lleyton Hewitt. It ended its 2009 campaign by forfeiting a regional group tie against India earlier this year, claiming security concerns on the sub-continent.

SOME HELP NEEDED

Being that tweeting while playing is against the rules, Justin Gimelstob needed help to tweet during his doubles match at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Gimelstob would write notes and give them to a ball girl who would run over to the side of the court where another person would post them on Gimelstob’s Twitter account. Some times he would mouth a few comments for the intern to post in between points. Most of the twittering was standard play-by-play recaps. “There’s so much competition for the entertainment dollar,” Gimelstob explained. “Fans want to know what goes on behind the scenes. Fans want to know what goes on in the players’ heads.”

SAD NEWS

The death of French tennis player Mathieu Montcourt has been attributed to cardiac arrest. Montcourt, who had just begun a five-week ban from tennis for gambling on other players’ matches, was found outside his apartment in Paris after he spent the evening at the home of Patrice Dominguez, technical director of the French Tennis Federation. Ranked 119th in the world, Montcourt was cleared of influencing the outcome of any of the matches he had bet on. He also had been fined USD $12,000 for the offense, which he called ridiculous since he had only bet a total of USD $192.

SPONSOR

NH Hoteles has extended its sponsorship of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for an additional three years. Originally a Spanish brand, NH Hoteles has grown to 348 hotels in 22 countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The International Tennis Federation (ITF), in making the announcement, noted that since NH Hoteles joined the Davis Cup family in 2004 as an international sponsor it has added 106 hotel properties to its portfolio.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Newport: Rajeev Ram and Jordan Kerr beat Michael Kohlmann and Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Bastad: Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta beat Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-2 0-6 10-5 (match tiebreak)

Budapest: Alisa Kleybanova and Monica Niculescu beat Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko 6-4 7-6 (5)

Biarritz: Yung-Jan Chan and Anastasia Rodionova beat Akgul Amanmuradova and Darya Kustova 3-6 6-4 10-7 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Indianapolis: www.tennisindy.com/

Bastad: http://men.swedishopen.org/

Stuttgart: www.mercedescup.de/

Prague: www.pragueopen.cz/

Palermo: www.countrytimeclub.com/web/club/home.asp

Portoroz: www.sloveniaopen.si/

Bad Gastein: www.matchmaker.at/gastein/

Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/

Gstaad: www.allianzsuisseopengstaad.com/e/

Umag: www.croatiaopen.hr

Stanford: www.bankofthewestclassic.com/

Istanbul: www.istanbulcup.com/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$600,000 Catella Swedish Open, Bastad, Sweden, clay

$600,000 Mercedes Cup, Stuttgart, Germany, clay

$125,000 Bogota, Columbia, clay

WTA

$220,000 Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo, Palermo, Italy, clay

$220,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$1,500,000 Bet-at-Home Open, Hamburg, Germany, clay

$600,000 Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, hard

WTA

$220,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard

$220,000 Gastein Ladies, Bad Gastein, Austria, clay

Another Croatian Surprise?

Croatia stands just one win away from a third incredible win over the United States in Davis Cup play. Croatia, in fact, is the only nation the United States has never beaten in Davis Cup play and it will remain as such unless James Blake and Mardy Fish can sweep Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic in Sunday’s reverse singles. On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, cutting the Croatian lead from 2-0 to 2-1.

After losing to Croatia 3-2 in the opening round of the 2003 competition, the United States was again upset by Croatia in the first round in 2005, despite the United States having Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins on the squad. That 2005 upset – a match that was ultimately the Davis Cup swan song for Agassi – is documented below.

The day after returning back in New York after the 2004 Davis Cup Final in Sevilla, Spain, where the U.S. lost 3-2 to the Carlos Moya/Rafael Nadal led Spanish team, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe called into the nationally-syndicated morning radio and MSNBC cable show “Imus in the Morning,” where host Don Imus and his sports reporter Sid Rosenberg had been ridiculing McEnroe for the final round loss to Spain – or as Imus described “a team of leaf blowers and cab drivers.” McEnroe was introduced onto the program as the “tennis terrorist” in that he had embarrassed the United States to the largest degree.

After taking the playful ribbing, McEnroe told “the I-man” and gang that he wanted to have a serious reflection on the Davis Cup Final, stating that he felt proud in the way that he and his team represented the United States in Spain and that the conduct and sportsmanship displayed by his team “had restored a little respect for our country in a part of the world where the U.S. is not looked upon in the most positive way” in reference to Spain’s recent objection to the foreign policy of the United States, most notably the war in Iraq.

“Next year,” Pmac then boasted. “We’re going to bring back the Cup I-man.”

Imus, quick with the retort, then stated, “When the authorities find you, they’re going to ask that you give it back.”

The United States had drawn a first round home tie against Croatia and the USTA selected The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, as the site of the contest. Los Angeles is a town that like stars and while the U.S. Davis Cup team did have a star in Andy Roddick, the one star that it was missing was one Andre Agassi.

McEnroe had always kept Agassi in the loop as far as Davis Cup goes since taking over as captain and, after asking him to play in the Final against Spain, sensed that Agassi was considering a return to Davis Cup in 2005. McEnroe began to push the buttons again at the Australian Open, where Agassi first addressed his possible comeback after his second round romp over Rainer Schuettler.

“I’m going to have this discussion with Patrick, just because he’s made the effort to want to have conversations with me about it, so I’ll be respectful of that,” said the 34-year-old Agassi. “But it’s just two-fold. I have a lot of regret not playing because it’s one of the best memories of my career, playing Davis Cup, not to mention playing with another generation of guys that have such a good fellowship and team camaraderie together. To experience that would be a great feeling. But the other side of the coin is really what my decision has come down to in the past, which is what can I really do. I’ve never been a big fan of being halfway playing at your convenience. It’s always been something I haven’t respected a whole lot in the past when it’s come to that for others. The decision I had to make is not an easy one and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s something I’ll discuss with him.”

A few days after Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer, McEnroe phoned Agassi at his home in Las Vegas and offered to sit down with him in person en route back to New York after the Australian Open. Agassi told McEnroe he was still hung up on the year-long commitment that he expected he would have to give to Davis Cup. On Monday January 31, McEnroe arrived in Los Angeles from Melbourne and stopped off in Carson for a media luncheon to promote the USA vs. Croatia tie. McEnroe then revealed to the gathered guests and media that he was en route to Las Vegas that evening to meet with Agassi.

”I think (Agassi) finds that right now, it’s hard for him to commit to every match because of his family and his responsibilities and because he is going to be 35 and it’s a little taxing on him,” McEnroe told the assembled press. “My job is to alleviate his fear that we don’t necessarily have to have him play ever match… I don’t need to hear from Andre ‘I’m going to play every match.’ My feeling is, let’s see how it goes. Let’s get you to play in the first round and let’s see what happens and take it from there.”

McEnroe tagged his chances at “less than 50-50” before boarding the AmericaWest Airlines flight to Las Vegas. “I don’t have any expectation other than I hope he says yes,” said McEnroe. “I have to field the best team I can and I have to exhaust all possibilities. If that means getting on a plane and sitting down with him face to face, than that’s a small price to play for trying to get him to join up.”

McEnroe met Agassi and his coach Darren Cahill for a two-and-a-half hour dinner at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The three reminisced about Davis Cup stories of old, talked of the passion of the current group of Davis Cuppers and addressed the concerns and issues that Agassi had with committing to Davis Cup. McEnroe later said he told Agassi, “Don’t cut off your options by saying it’s all or nothing, because to me it’s not. We’ve never had a year where we’ve had the same four guys every match. It’s too unrealistic for that to happen, with injuries, with different surfaces, with schedules, you name it.” McEnroe said he, the team and the tennis industry in general would not hold it against him if he could not commit for every match in 2005.

Two days later, after consulting with others in his inner circle – most notably his wife Steffi Graf -  Agassi phoned McEnroe to tell him to count on him to be in Carson. Agassi then called all the members of the team – Roddick, the Bryan twins and Taylor Dent (who would travel to Carson as the “fifth” player on the four-man team and would have been the No. 2 singles player had Agassi not decided to play) – to get their approval on his returning to the team. On Monday, February 7, McEnroe made the Agassi news public in a conference call with the media.

“We’re going to take it one match at a time,” said McEnroe in explaining Agassi’s commitment to the team. “It’s not just this match. It’s not every match. I think it’s a case-by-case basis situation. He’s not coming back simply to play because it happens to be the week before Indian Wells. At the same time, I didn’t ask him to say, “Are you going to play every match?’ I understand where he is in his career, personally, professionally with all the different things on his plate. We will take it one step at a time…To me, it doesn’t make any sense to say to him, ‘Listen, you’ve got to play every match.” Things happen, things come up, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s having a tough major, whether it’s not having a tough major and maybe wanting some extra matches. I think you have to take all those things into account and understand that Andre is going to make the decision based on a variety of factors.”

Two days later, Agassi first addressed his return to Davis Cup following his first round win over xx in San Jose, Calif.

“What had a big influence on me was the camaraderie I saw last year,” said Agassi. “They’ve built a great team and are a part of something I never got to experience. I played Davis Cup with guys who were fighting to be the best in the world and everyone had a sense of their own goals…This group of guys really seems to look out for each other. I respect and admire it a lot.”

Agassi again addressed his absence from Davis Cup for five years, citing the demanding schedule and the difficultly in committing to potentially four ties during a calendar year, especially at age 34 with a wife and two children.

“I had gotten to a point that I didn’t have enough to give anymore when it came to the full goal of winning the Cup,” said Agassi. “I did it for 12 years and wasn’t convinced I could do it anymore and accomplish the things I needed to stay out here for the last few years. I never respected those guys who played at their convenience and didn’t play all times. Patrick was the first captain to show a strong sense of understanding and support in knowing it’s not realistic for me to play every tie.”

Roddick was estactic at the news and struggled to stay composed when Agassi reached him by phone while Roddick was in his car in driving several of his buddies around his hometown of Austin. Said Roddick, “I told him I was excited he was on board and then hung up the phone and started screaming.”

While the Agassi hype was substantial, insiders were paying close attention to the progress of the Croatian team. Ivan Ljubicic, who had almost single handedly defeated the United States in Zagreb two years prior in the first round, was fast becoming the hottest player on the circuit. Entering Davis Cup week, he posted three straight final round appearances in Marseille, Rotterdam and Dubai – the latter two losing to world No. 1 Roger Federer in three tight sets. Ancic had reached the semifinals of Marseille (losing to Ljubicic) and Rotterdam (losing to Federer) and had reached his second career ATP singles final in Scottsdale, Ariz., the week before Davis Cup. With Ljubicic and Ancic boasting a bronze medal in men’s doubles from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Bryan twins would also face a stern test. Cautioned Ancic, “In Davis Cup, there are many surprises.” Croatian Captain Niki Pilic, who also captained Germany to Davis Cup victories over the United States in 1985, 1987 and 1989, echoed the sentiment of his young charge. “In Davis Cup,” he said, “there are no rules.”

To add to the intrigue of the first round tie, Roddick suffered a scare during his quarterfinal win over Robby Ginepri at the ATP event in Memphis, spraining his ankle just two weeks before the start of the tie. Roddick chose to default his semifinal match with Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark rather than risk further injury that would jeopardize his form for the tie with Croatia.

“The repercussions of this injury won’t just affect me, but they’d affect my teammates it would affect me playing for my country as well,” said Roddick. “That’s a lot of responsibility that I have to take into consideration.”

Gavin Rossdale of the rock band “Bush” and the husband of rock star Gwen Stefani pulled the ceremonial chip at the Davis Cup draw ceremony at The Home Depot Center that placed Andre Agassi against Ivan Ljubicic in the opening rubber of the best-of-five match series. Roddick would follow against Ancic, while the Bryan twins would face Ancic and Ljubicic in Saturday’s doubles contest. Whether it was nerves, discomfort with the cool, blustery conditions or Ljubicic’s game, Agassi showed distress and tentativeness as his return to Davis Cup began at 1 pm Los Angeles time on Friday, March 4. There was no swagger in the legend’s step or game as Ljubicic swept the first set 6-3. Agassi got out of his funk in the second set, taking a 5-2 lead, but faltered when serving for the second at 5-3 and was skunked 7-0 in the second set tie-break to go down two-sets-to-love. The eventual 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-3 loss marked only the third time that Agassi has been dismissed in straight sets in 36 Davis Cup singles matches.

His anger and displeasure was apparent on his face as he briskly left the court for the U.S. team locker room where his Head tennis racquet was tendered to multiple fragments scattered throughout the locker room within minutes.

“Today was one of those days,” said a dazed Agassi in the post-match press conference. “I just never got settled and never got comfortable. It was just frustrating. You’re trying hard to figure things out and sometimes you wonder if you’re just trying too hard…I was useless to be quite honest, as far as being clear on what was going on out there.“

Said McEnroe, “Everybody gets nervous playing Davis Cup – even Andre Agassi.”

Down 0-1, the match virtually sat on the shoulders of Roddick against Ancic, who quickly bounced upon the tentative Roddick taking the first set 6-4 as panic began to set in among the American hopefuls.  The second set marked the start of “the street fight” as Roddick’s trainer Doug Spreen would later describe the Roddick swagger and attitude, that translated the match into a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory for the American – tying the first day’s play at 1-1.

‘I’m not going to lie, I was really tight during the first set today,” admitted Roddick. “I’m happy because I was able to dig down…I think this was a big steppingstone for me.”

The Bryans entered the pivotal doubles match on Saturday having not lost a set in Davis Cup play in their previous five matches. However, the twins from Camarillo, Calif., knew that Ljubicic and Ancic were by far the best team they had faced in Davis Cup play.

Jumping like a pair of Mexican jumping beans, the Bryans were quick out of the blocks to take the first set 6-3 in just 27 minutes, but Ljubicic and Ancic would stay tight in the second set, forcing a tie-break. The Bryans would hold three set points, including one of Mike Bryan’s serve at 7-6, but were unable to deliver what would be a near lethal two-sets-to-love blow. They surrendered the second set tie-break – and their first ever set in Davis cup play – 10 points to eight and gave new life to Ancic and Ljubicic. As the Croatians gained in confidence, the Bryans appeared drained and dismayed. As the sun dripped below the Pacific Ocean just xx miles away, conditions became cooler and slower, helping Ljubicic and Ancic close out the final two sets for the vital 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 win and the 2-1 lead for Croatia heading into the climatic third day.

Former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson entered the U.S. team locker room to try and cheer up the Bryan twins. “You guys think you are going to win every match you play?” a jovial Jackson told the Bryans as one must of wondered whether Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal received the same speech after losing an NBA game. Jackson’s words could not take the sting out of the loss for the Bryans, who for the first time tasted Davis Cup defeat in front of their father and numerous friends and family from Southern California

“We’ve had a lot of disappointing losses, but this ranks pretty high,” said Mike Bryan. “It hurts.”

McEnroe’s posture still exuded confidence. After all, the United States was still favored to win the final two singles matches – Roddick against Ljubicic in the fourth rubber and Agassi against Ancic in the fifth rubber. Roddick held a 5-1 career record with Ljubicic, having won the last five meetings, while Agassi’s experience and aura would make him the clear favorite against the 20-year-old Ancic, who had lost to Agassi in their only previous meeting.

“If there are two guys you want to roll out down 2-1, we’ve got the two guys we want,” said McEnroe. “I’m extremely confident that they’re both going to play well. Andre’s been in this position before and Andy’s been in a position where he’s had to win a match. These are the two guys we want to bring out. This is our best team. It’s our one-two punch. We’re playing at home. They’re going to have to play with a little more pressure on them now. Up until now, I think they’ve been able to sort of swing away and been the underdogs and go for their shots. If they can do that, if Ljubicic can do that against Agassi, the Bryans and Roddick, than that’s too good. But we’ll see if he can.”

Roddick and Ljubicic would battle in the fourth rubber of the tie – Ljubicic, like in 2003, trying to shut the door on the Americans – while Roddick trying to stave off elimination, a position he had been in on two other occasions without success – against France in 2002 and Spain in 2004.

After splitting the first two sets, the epic – and pivotal – third-set tie-break ensued with neither Roddick or Ljubicic willing to give the other the two-sets-to-one lead. Roddick jumped to a 4-1 lead and held three set points throughout the 24 point tie-break – tying the longest tie-break in U.S. Davis Cup history. However, Roddick’s inside-out cross court forehand at 11-12 landed wide giving Ljubicic the fourth set. The two players would again go toe-to-toe in a tie-break in the fourth set, with Ljubicic fighting off four set points before double faulting at 7-8 on the fifth-set point to give Roddick the set and square the match at two-sets apiece. The momentum appeared to be with Roddick, but he was not able to capitalize. Ljubicic ran off with the first eight points of the fifth set, breaking Roddick at love in the first game of the fifth set and cashing in on an insurance break in the fifth game of the final set. Three game later, Ljubicic closed out the crushing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-2 victory in three hours and 57 minutes.

Roddick and McEnroe slumped on their courtside seating while Ljubicic, Ancic, Pilic and the rest of the Croatian delegation danced and sang on the court with handfuls of Croatian fans in the audience waving flags and rejoicing in the historic first round upset. It marked the first time in 105 years of Davis Cup that the United States was eliminated in the first round on home soil.

Ljubicic would become one of only two players to win three live rubbers against a U.S. Davis Cup team on two occasions – joining Mexico’s Raul Ramirez who turned the trick against the United States in the 1975 and 1976 Davis Cup campaigns.

In all, Ljubicic labored for a total of eight hours and 44 minutes over 12 sets over the weekend. His career record against the United States in Davis Cup play now stood at 6-0 – with only Laurie Doherty of Great Britain holding a better record against the U.S. with a 10-0 record in matches against the U.S. in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1906.

“I have no words, really,” said Ljubicic. “To beat Andre, the Bryans and Roddick in three days….it is amazing.”

Roddick was crushed, irritable, devastatingly angry and disappointed. He slumped in front of the microphone in the interview room and was asked to share how he was feeling.

“Probably not in words you would understand,” he slurred. “It’s tough to describe. Really, really bad….There’s no worse feeling than losing a match in Davis Cup in our sport, especially when your teammates are counting on you.”

“It hurts a lot,” said McEnroe, who spoke with the press after coaching Bob Bryan to a three-set win over Roko Karanusic in the dead-fifth rubber that made the final verdict a 3-2 win for Croatia. “After getting to the final last year, starting off at home with our best team, it’s disappointing.”

Challenger/Futures Write-Up for February 18th

The challenger and futures circuits on both the men’s and women’s tours this week showcased what was arguably some of the most competitive and high quality tennis in recent memory. Not only did three of the four challengers this week have finals that ended in a third set tiebreak, but Ivan Ljubicic also became one of the highest ranked players to ever compete in a challenger event.

Ivan Ljubicic

The clear highlight on the challenger circuit this week was the $125,000 event held in East London, South Africa. The field was on a similar level as an ATP event, with former top five player Ivan Ljubicic, top fifty player Stefan Koubek, 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johannson, and perennial ironman Jonas Bjorkman the event’s top four seeds. The top-seeded Ljubicic, now ranked 24 in the world, decided to pull out of the ATP event in Marseille and request a last minute wild card here in order to prove to his critics that he was still a serious contender for the Olympics.

“The press back home is pretty rough and if I didn’t win here, they would say I was finished and that I should give up,” Ljubicic said.

Although he started out slowly this week and almost fell in the first round to Lamine Ouahab, a qualifier from Algeria, Ljubicic said his game improved progressively with each round. He saved his best form for the final and put together an immaculate performance against Stefan Koubek; he defeated the 54th ranked Austrian 7-6 6-4 with an ace on match point.

“It’s not easy to win a challenger, especially when you have to beat players like Thomas Johansson and Stefan Koubek,” Ljubicic said. “But this victory is good for my confidence and I can take a lot away from this week.”

At the $125,000 event in Belgrade, Serbia, Croatian Roko Karanusic used his big serve and aggressive all-court game to earn the biggest title of his career to date. Karanusic defeated German Philipp Petzschner in a thrilling three-set final that culminated in a third-set tiebreaker 5-7 6-1 7-6. The win catapults the Croat to new career high ranking; in fact, he’ll find himself in the top 100 for the first time.

On the women’s side, Johanna Larsson of Sweden thrilled the home crowd by taking the $25,000 event in Stockholm. She overcame a slow start to win 0-6 6-1 7-6 over Barbara Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic. The nineteen year old is now on a 12 match winning streak, after also winning the $25,000 event in Sutton last week as a qualifier. Her fine form has also translated to her doubles game; she won the doubles event in Stockholm with rising British star Anna Smith. Larsson reaches a career high ranking of #232 this week and will likely contest her first Grand Slam qualifying event at Roland Garros this spring.

Berri, Australia was the host for the second of two $25,000 grass court events which were being held on the continent this month. In a shocking upset, Aussie Nicole Kriz won the first challenger title of her career by beating Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-4 4-6 7-6. Erakovic, who’s been in fine form this year by reaching the semifinals at a WTA event in Auckland last month and storming through the $25,000 event in Mildura last week, had only lost seventeen games in route to the final and looked to be the overwhelming favorite. However, the Aussie right-hander held her nerve in fighting off match points on the Kiwi’s serve to record her second final set tiebreak win of the tournament. Despite the loss, Erakovic’s inspired play will propel her to a career high ranking of #135 this week. With only a handful of points to defend between now and May, she might be able to improve her ranking enough to be able to contest the first Grand Slam main draw of her career at Roland Garros.

On the futures level, Frenchman Nicholas Coutelot took a small step towards reclaiming his former top 100 status by winning the $15,000 event in Torre Pacheco, Spain. The 31 year old also took the futures event in Murcia the week before. Ricardo Hocevar of Brazil is also on a ten match winning streak with his victories in La Habana, Cuba this week and Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico this week before. On the women’s side, Slovenian Polana Hercog is 11-0 on the year after this week after sweeping the two $10,000 events in Mallorca and winning a match in Fed Cup. The 17 year old is entered in some upcoming challenger events and looks poised to begin breaking through at the next level.

The men will showcase the feature challenger tournament of next week as Fabrice Santoro, competing in what will likely be his last year on tour, leads the field at the $100,000 event in Bensacon, France. On the women’s side, Milagros Sequera of Venezuela returns from a six-month injury layoff as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Clearwater, Florida. Anne Keothavong, the current British number one, will also lead the way at the $25,000 tournament in Capriolo, Italy.