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Rafael Nadal – It’s a Matter of Time

Rafael Nadal is crowned champion in Brazil.  (Photo credit: InovaFoto)

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Rafael Nadal is back. How long have his fans and supporters been waiting to hear those words? A very long 222 days.

Time is a great healer, or so we are told. The Spaniard may have been back for less than two weeks, but in that time he has reached the singles and doubles final at Viña del Mar and has been crowned champion in São Paolo.

Today he won his 51st ATP Tour title and 37th on clay, but is Rafa back at his very best after a great two weeks of his comeback? I doubt it, but give him time.

‘Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.’ – Abraham Lincoln

Taking time out from the ATP Tour to recuperate and recover has been necessary for the 11-time Grand Slam champion to ensure his knee heals and to prevent further injury. Undoubtedly his rhythm and feel for the ball is not at its best, but at least he is back on the courts competing again and without taking the time to recover, he may have made his injuries worse.

He may have ‘lost’ seven months on Tour, but in doing so it’s possible he has lengthened his time competing and that is the most valuable thing.

‘It’s better to do the right thing slowly than the wrong thing quickly.’ – Peter Turla

Nadal has won his first title in eight months and has received a mix bag of press about his return. He has been honest that he is not 100% and still feels some occasional discomfort in his knee. Whilst playing at the two South American tournaments, he revealed that he has struggled with his movement and timing on the ball, but after months of not playing, that is natural.

The Spaniard will not be playing in Buenos Aires next week and this is a sensible decision. It will give him an opportunity to assess his performance over the last two weeks, evaluate how he is feeling physically and relax mentally after two weeks of interrogation about his knee and level of play. Taking things slowly now may create better results in the future.

‘All the flowers of all of the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.’ – Chinese Proverb

The South American swing of the Tour is a good test for Nadal. He may not be playing against the top 5 players, but match practice is more vital. Clay is his favourite surface and one that is the least likely to cause further injury to his knee. Participating and winning at these tournaments are small stepping stones towards his bigger goals – winning against the best and adding further Grand Slams to his outstanding list of achievements.

Not being able to do the one thing you love always has the ability to make you realise how much you miss it. Have the last two weeks planted the seeds for future success for the King of Clay? I believe so, but only time will tell…

Rafael Nadal in your Pocket!

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This week, 11-time Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, may be making his debut of the new season at Viña del Mar in Chile, but he has also made his debut in the world of mobile technology.
Nadal has launched his new application, which can be downloaded on the iTunes App Store. The new Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy App is for all recreational players, which helps you to learn directly from the Spanish champion himself.

The application offers exclusive, in-depth tennis tutorials of Rafa’s strokes and has easy-to-use video coaching tools so players can capture their strokes, analyse their games and compare their technique side-by-side with Rafa.

With this application, it is like having a bit of Rafael Nadal in your pocket, learning his secrets on his powerful serve, brutal forehand and ripping backhand.

The Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy App comprises of nine tutorials featuring his serve and returns with a host of future tutorials of all Rafa’s strokes, along with exclusive insights from Rafa himself on what makes him one of the world’s best tennis players.

For those who download the application can also upload their own videos as well as their own Vstrated coaching sessions to the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy on Vstrator.com.

It seems to me that for any budding future tennis star, this is the easiest (and most likely cheapest!) way of having Nadal as your own personal tennis coach!

http://youtu.be/mp5ufVDSz-0

Le Grinder- Some Appreciation for David Ferrer

-david-ferrer

by James A. Crabtree

David Ferrer has been an elite top ten player for a considerable amount of time. He has made four grand slam semi-finals and won three Davis Cup titles for Spain.

He has also won eighteen career titles and leads the 2012 tour with titles won in Paris, Valencia , Bastad , s-Hertogenbosch , Acapulco , Buenos Aires  and Auckland . If you weren’t counting that is seven titles and on every surface.

Not bad for a guy who could have ended up on a building site.

Wikipedia

“Once, as a teenager, when Ferrer did not practice hard enough, his coach, Javier Piles, locked him in a completely dark 2m x 2m ball closet for several hours, giving him only a piece of bread and a bit of water. After this incident he was fed up with tennis and went to work at a construction site, but after a week he returned to Piles and asked if he could remain at the club and play tennis. As of 2012, he is still coached by Piles and has said he considers him a second father.”

Simply put Ferrer is a player who has become a tennis master on the grandest of stages because of necessity.  Not only does he have the talent, but also the determination needed to match it to become successful. It is obvious that he has found his resolve from hours and hours on the practice court then consistently polished it to a winning formula when the points have counted. Judgement  and retort, dependability and dexterity. The guy’s feet never ever stop moving, even on a changeover.

But should David Ferrer be an elite player? Well, no, depending on whom you ask?

For a start experts believe an elite player should be 6’1 or taller and they should possess a dominant serve. The majority of technicians believe a player should hit the forehand with a circular ark. Fans believe a player should have one dominate stroke that strikes fear into any foe.

On the face of it David Ferrer has none of these attributes. For a start he is listed at the most popular actor height of 5’9, which puts him at eye level with Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro. He isn’t intimidating like Del Potro, flashy like Tsonga or powerful like Berdych. In fact of all men ranked within the top 10 some would argue that Ferrer is the least talked about. He doesn’t have a dominate stroke and he scurries around the court in between points like a man without a coat on a cold winters night.

However during point play the scurrying takes on a whole new form. His side stepping baseline coverage beggars belief. Most importantly he takes charge when returning serve. Statistically speaking in 2012 he ranked within the top five for points won on the first serve, second serve and return games won. He is fourth on the all-time list of career return games won, winning 35%. In layman’s terms the servers are under pressure. Once the ball comes back the pressure is compounded by the consistent grinding that has been the major characteristic of his career, and the success of his most recent win in Paris.

A career that could have been very different,  it’s safe to say that this determined little Spaniard has made the right choice in pursuing a professional tennis career over that of a very different sort of grind.

SAP Open: Defending Champ Raonic through to Final, Faces Istomin

Harrison played well, but Raonic was just too good today

The SAP Open final is set for Sunday, with defending champion Milos Raonic preparing to defend his title after a hard-fought 7-6(4), 6-2 victory over 19-year old American hope Ryan Harrison. At the start of the week, Raonic was surely one of the favorites to make it to the final, but his opponent is something of a surprise. From the half of the draw that contained former champions Andy Roddick and Radek Stepanek, the top Uzbekistani player Denis Istomin has fought his way to the final after beating Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3.

Raonic will be trying to defend a title for the first time and at his first opportunity, since his victory in last year’s SAP Open was the first tournament win of his career. In addition to trying for his second SAP Open title, Raonic is hoping to win his second title of the year, after he bested Serbian number two Janko Tipsarevic in the final of the Chennai Open in three tiebreak sets. Raonic is now 10-1 since the start of 2012, with his only loss coming to Lleyton Hewitt in the third round of the Australian Open. His match against Harrison was tight, with both players serving extremely well in the first set. During the inevitable tiebreak, the American up-and-comer played one loose point to start it off, and that was sufficient to allow Raonic to take the breaker. Once he had secured the first set, the lanky Canadian began swinging more freely and hitting his serve even harder, tipping the speed gun over 150 miles per hour on multiple occasions. It was too much for Harrison to whether, after dropping such a close first set.

Denis Istomin’s semifinal against Julien Benneteau was no less competitive, but it would be difficult to say that there had been as much of an extended period of consistent play from both players as there had been in the first set between Raonic and Harrison. Both Istomin and Benneteau played spectacular shots from every part of the court, but each of them had their ups and downs. After going up by a set and getting the second set to a tiebreak, Istomin cracked a backhand return winner to take the first minibreak, but with the end of the match in sight, he faltered and ended up losing the breaker. In the closing stages of the third set, however, Istomin upped his aggression once again, and this time managed to sustain his level long enough to break Benneteau and serve out the match. This was the first time that Istomin had managed to even take a set off the Frenchman, after three previous meetings.

Istomin will be competing in only his second career ATP final. He reached his first in August of 2010, in the New Haven tournament where he lost in three sets to Sergiy Stakhovsky. Since then, Istomin’s results dipped in 2011 when he reached just one quarterfinal during the entire year, which was at the SAP Open. He has started this year off with much stronger results, with a 9-3 record on the year. In 2011, Istomin only managed 10 wins over the course of the entire year. He’s been serving better and playing with more consistency off the ground than he was last year, waiting for better opportunities to deliver his booming winners. Particularly this week, Istomin has reminded some viewers of Czech Tomas Berdych for the way he strikes the ball off both wings, though Denis has yet to demonstrate the kind of firepower that propelled Berdych into the top ten and all the way to a Wimbledon final.

If Istomin wants to win his maiden title against Raonic, he will certainly have his work cut out for him. When asked what he would have to do to win the match, he laughingly replied that he would need to return Raonic’s serve. But that has not been an easy task. In the two years that Raonic has been playing the SAP Open, he has only dropped serve twice in seven matches: once this year against Tobias Kamke, and once last year against James Blake. Other than that, he’s been untouchable on serve. Ultimately, it will likely come down to big points. In the seven matches that Raonic has played at the SAP Open, he’s played seven tiebreaks, and he’s won every single one of them. Istomin comes into the final with a less impressive tiebreaker record, since he’s just 1-3 on the year. That could prove to be the difference.

Defending a title is never an easy task, but winning the first title of your career isn’t either. Up to this point, Raonic has proven to be unflappable in the most tense situations. All he needs to do is reach back and bring out another 150 mile per hour serve. If he can hold his nerve and play consistently, in addition to serving well, it will be difficult for Istomin to maintain a sufficiently high level of play for long enough to take a set from Raonic. That said, both of these players love playing at the SAP Open. Both of them have more wins at this tournament than any other. I have no doubt that both of them desperately want one more win at the HP Pavilion this year.

Indian Wells observations: Who says American tennis is weak?

John Isner

Americans have a history of doing well in the California desert. Since 1987, when the men’s tournament moved to Indian Wells, the event has been won by an American eight times and on six occasions, an American has come in second. In just 24 years, half of the finals have showcased at least one American man. There’s been plenty of talk lately about how weak American tennis is, particularly in terms of young players on both the ATP and WTA tours. Frankly, we as Americans have been spoiled by players like Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, and Sampras. American tennis isn’t weak. We just don’t have the best player in the world anymore. What we do have is an incredibly solid field of American men, rather than one or two stars.

At this points in the tournament, there are still six Americans remaining in the draw at the BNP Paribas Open, more than any other country. Andy Roddick, last year’s runner-up, still leads the field even at the age of 28. He beat fellow American, and good friend, James Blake yesterday in the 2nd round, and will have to face another American, John Isner, in his effort to pick up his sixth Masters title and his first in Indian Wells.

John’s struggled a bit so far this year, but he managed a convincing win over Ricardo Mello yesterday to set up his meeting with Roddick. When asked about his slow start this year, John said, “I still think my best tennis is three, four years ahead of me, even though I’m 25 right now. That’s just how I feel. It’s just going to take a little time. I have always been a late developer, and this year hasn’t been the greatest year so far.” Honestly, I believe him. John didn’t take the conventional route to professional tennis. He went to college, and while NCAA match play certainly helped develop his game, it’s not the same as being on the pro tour day in and day out. Most 25 year olds have been on the pro tour for seven or eight years, but John’s had less than four years.

John’s buddy and sometimes doubles partner, Sam Querrey, has also had a rough start to the year with some very disappointing losses, including the 1st round at the Australian Open. Until this week, Sam had been just 2-5 this year in wins and losses, not exactly what you’d expect from a guy who started the year in the Top 20. But, his first match at the BNP Paribas Open was no walkover. He beat Janko Tipsarevic, who has had quite a good start to 2011, going 10-5 and making his third career final just a few weeks ago in Delray Beach. I think this was a huge match for Sam, in terms of gaining back some confidence. He comes off as a laid back guy, but it’s tough to imagine that such a rough start to the year wasn’t weighing on him a little. He’s got a positive outlook for the rest of the week and going into Miami, saying, “I feel like I’m off to a good start, and, you know, I played really well. You know, Janko, it’s tough seeing him in the first – second round for him, first round for me. I thought I played great. I want to play like that in the next one against Verdasco.” If Sam really does play the way he played against Tipsarevic, he should have no trouble making his way past Fernando Verdasco, who’s also had some rough losses lately.

Sam was asked in his press conference what he thought of Donald Young’s win over Andy Murray, certainly the most surprising result of the tournament thus far. He said, “that was awesome. I’m so excited for him…He’s a good friend of mine. I have been practicing with him a lot. I’m excited for him and happy for him.” I love to see the players being so supportive of each other, and Donald gave Sam some of the credit for his win, saying, “I’ve been around like in LA in the offseason with Sam and Mardy and I saw how hard they work every day, I’m like, this is what they do all the time and I’m dying. It was tough. I kind of made the decision where this is my living. This is what I want to do. I really don’t want to go get a real job, so I want to give 100% of my effort and have no regrets.” I’m not sure a few weeks training in LA is enough for Young to turn over a whole new leaf, but if he can pull off big wins like he did against Murray, nothing’s stopping him. Young is his own worst enemy, so if he can pull it together and really look for consistent results, we’ll have another very talented young American.

The last two Americans left in the draw are Ryan Harrison and Ryan Sweeting. Harrison is actually the youngest player left in the tournament, at just 18 years old, and he was quick to point that out to journalists when they said he and his next opponent, Milos Raonic were around the same age, saying, “He’s two years older. He’s not a teenager anymore, so let’s clarify that.” I’m not sure how big a difference there really is between 19 and 20, but Harrison is doing a pretty good job for someone who probably just got their real driver’s license. Sweeting is a slightly different story. Sweeting is 23 and attended the University of Florida before turning professional in 2007. While he’s been on tour for a while, he’s only just beginning to be noticed.

I doubt each of these guys has the potential to be No. 1, but not every player needs to be No. 1. America can still have a strong tennis tradition without having the very best player, and who knows what these youngsters will do in the next few years? Even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had to start somewhere?

On a sidenote, the only American woman left in the draw is 18 year old, Christina McHale. Probably not what you expected, huh?

2011 Set For a Cracker

Roger Federer

With the dust still settling in our memories over the stunning year that was 2010 the new tennis calendar is already upon us. It seems not too long ago that Federer was dismantling a shattered Rafa Nadal at London’s o2 Arena in the ATP Tour Finals. But with Christmas coming and going with its ever-rapid characteristics Down Under has opened its tennis season with aplomb.

Everyone has their favourite star and their own pantomime villains. And everyone has an ideal year mapped out in their mind with their top men and women coming out trumps at all the major tournaments, myself included.

So, as a year-beginning blog I have decided to look ahead to the 2011 men’s tour and predict, not entirely seriously, what may (or probably not) happen throughout the year ahead…

January

The early hard court season jumps in to life at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha building up to the first slam of the year in Australia. Andy Murray falls in the second round blaming the heat and a low-flying seagull and promptly sacks his coach. Juan Martin del Potro is still suffering with his troublesome wrist but plays his way to the quarter finals using only his good hand. The final is slightly predictable with Rafa and Roger battling their way there but to spruce things up after their recent exhibition exploits on water, centre court is flooded and the pair do battle in full scuba gear. Roger comes out as winner in four sets. As January winds down in Santiago, Chile, Juan Ignacio Chela wins the Movistar Open and is touted as this year’s big hope to challenge Rafa in the clay season.

February

As the early hard season slowly slides in to clay, Thomaz Belluci lifts his home Brasil Open title while Gael Monfils dances his way to the Open 13 in Marseille where he celebrates with a perfectly executed Moonwalk across court. Four Americans reach the semifinals at Memphis and again at Delray Beach. Wayne Odesnik wins both tournaments which causes mass outrage throughout the sport. He is touted for a Davis Cup call but Jim Courier decides to take a seething Mardy Fish instead.

March

The first Masters events of the year begin and fresh off Davis Cup victory Andy Roddick, Fish, The Bryans and John Isner are on fire. A sulking Sam Querrey falls early in both. Andy Murray comes out on top at Indian Wells beating Roddick in the final but then typically falls early at Miami and promptly sacks his coach. Nadal faces Robin Soderling in the final who has been slating the ‘Big Two’ all year. Rafa takes it with two bagel sets bringing tears and tantrums from the egotistical Swede.

April

April begins with Rafa rubbing his hands and licking his lips at the prospect of another clay season. Young Yank Ryan Harrison takes the title at Houston and is the latest star to be labelled ‘the next Sampras.’ Rafa takes Monte Carlo as expected with a straight set win over Fernando Verdasco in the final. Most notably throughout the tournament he seems to be multitasking while on court, even seen filing his nails whilst rallying with his compatriot. There is no real sign of Chela. Novak Djokovic again takes the Serbia Open in Belgrade and is installed as ruler of the nation for his achievements. He decides to sit out the rest of the 2011 season to concentrate on his new role.

May

Madrid and Rome are again taken by Rafa who now appears to be growing bored on court. Whilst dismantling Marcos Baghdatis in the final in Rome he appears to give interviews to Spanish television during the match. As everyone arrives in Paris the shocking news emanates that Rafa has decided he is bored of lifting the French Open with such ease and has decided to umpire the tournament instead to see who else can win it. With the new celebrity chair the French players really kick on in the race to be crowned their nation’s new hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retires from his first round match injured while Michael Llodra comes through an epic five set semi with R-Fed to face Monfils in the final. The marathon man then takes Monfils through six hours of stupendous Gallic play and the greatest French Open final of all time ends with Monfils on the floor in a tantrum pounding the floor with his fists. Llodra is crowned the saviour of France.

June

As the ATP Tour comes to Britain tennis stars snap up as much Royal Wedding memorabilia as they can get their hands on as the traditional Wimbledon plate is switched for a porcelain edition bearing the faces of beloved Wills and Kate. Andy Murray takes both Queens and Eastbourne and is believed to be a dead cert for Wimbledon. But he crashes out in round three and promptly sacks his coach. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut somehow weave their way to the final and the tents are brought out in preparation for the impending marathon. Isner wins in three sets. Roger Federer makes some possible unsavoury comments about Mahut after he overcame the Swiss God in the semis and the world’s media call him unsporting and a scurvy dog for the next six months before involving him in another betting scandal claiming he and Rafa betted on many of the matches the Spaniard had chaired at the French Open.

July

Serbia’s Davis Cup title defence ends at the quarter final stage and King Djokovic has the entire team executed for letting their nation down. Federer re-hits form late on again by taking Bastad and Gstaad while Roddick is doing well by taking Hamburg and Los Angeles. The Americans work themselves in to a fervour over the home prospects for the US Open and many pundits are with them because of the top form of A-Rod, Harrison and Isner. David Nalbandian wins in Atlanta and everyone once again remembers who he is. There is talk of a possible push in New York. Surely not…

August

Nalbandian again wins at the Legg Mason Classic. He takes a marathon final against Baghdatis, his other eternally injured friend. Andy Murray loses in the second round in Montreal and sees his title slip away. He again blames a lack of love for tennis and promptly sacks his coach before announcing his retirement from the sport. Roger takes the title before losing the Cincinnati final to Roddick. America is literally on the edge of its seat. Rafa ruptures the tendons in both knees in the third round at Cincy against Ernests Gulbis and will miss the rest of the season.

September

The final Slam of the year in New York explodes in to life with the partisan crowd firmly behind Roddick. He finally puts all the pain behind him by overcoming Federer at last in the semis in five sets. Federer is immediately written off by the world’s media, again. In the other semi Soderling falls to a resurgent Nalbandian and America gears itself up to crown Roddick their new leader. But he falls apart. His serve leaves him, his ground strokes are erratic and Nalbandian triumphs in four to become the second Argentine in three years to silence Arthur Ashe court. He quickly sees his title switch from the best player of the last decade not to win a major to the sixth best player of the last decade to win one.

October

With no Rafa, Murray or Djokovic to compete with Federer once again silences his critics by beginning a clean sweep of the late tournaments. He takes the China Open, Shanghai, the Kremlin Cup, Vienna and Basel without losing a set. Over in Valencia David Ferrer shoots to the final after a quiet year where he meets the marathon man Llodra. Ferrer takes the final in five much to the delight of the home fans. Murray decides he was wrong to be so hasty and announces his return to tennis, promising he will win that first Slam in 2012. Djokovic declares that all Serbian children will take karaoke lessons as well as practice tennis at school as of 2015.

November

In Paris, Federer finally runs out of steam and drops a set against Brian Dabul. Critics are again on his back saying he is finished. He manages to reach the quarter finals where he falls to Ryan Harrison. The American youth then falls to Del Potro in the semi who in turn loses to Soderling in the final. The Swede moves to No. 3 in the world and says he is ever so close to breaking the Top 2 but nobody is listening anymore. The ATP Finals kick off with a somewhat decimated lineup. Federer, Soderling, Roddick, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Isner, Ferrer and Verdasco do battle in London with the eyes of the tennis world watching on. Ferrer, Verdasco, Nalbandian and Roddick fall at the group stage leaving Soderling and Federer to battle it out in the final after overcoming Del Potro and Isner respectively. Federer triumphs in straight sets and the Swede storms off court refusing to take part in the ceremony, predictions in tatters. The USA take the Davis Cup home after defeating Russia in the final and it is seen as a victory for politics rather than tennis.

Well, stranger things have happened!

Nadal and Wozniacki world champions, Roddick to play Davis Cup again and Ivanovic hires van Grichen

Ana Ivanovic

*The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has named Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki as their world champions for 2010. 20-year-old Dane Wozniacki has ousted Serena Williams as world champion after six tournament wins during this calendar year. She is, however, yet to lift a Grand Slam. “To be listed with all the former world champions is something I’m really proud of,” said the No. 1 player in the women’s game. Rafa Nadal was a more obvious choice on the men’s side having taken three of the four majors and becoming the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam after finally conquering New York. The 24-year-old reclaims the crown off Roger Federer. “It is an honour to be named world champion for the second time,” said the 24-year-old. “After a difficult year in 2009, it was an amazing feeling to regain the number one ranking and finally win the US Open. My goal all the time is to keep improving and be a better player each year than I was the previous year.” This should be a pretty dominant 2011 for the Spaniard then.

*American No. 1 Andy Roddick has committed to his country’s Davis Cup cause for 2011. The 28-year-old missed the 2010 event but is set to return under the stewardship of new captain Jim Courier. The USA will travel to Chile for round 1 between 4-6 of March. “I have always said that Davis Cup is something you should commit to for the entire season and not when it is convenient,” said the world No. 8 who suffered a torrid time at last month’s ATP Tour Finals. “Andy not only brings his outstanding Davis Cup record but also his experience and team leadership which will be invaluable to our efforts,” Courier added. “On a personal note I am very excited to get the opportunity to sit on the bench with Andy and help him continue to perform at his very best on the Davis Cup stage.”

*Rejuvenated Serbian star Ana Ivanovic has hired Portuguese coach Antonio van Grichen on a trial basis till at least the end of the Australian hard-court season. She enjoyed a fabulous end to 2010 which saw her climb back to No. 17 in the world but then split with coach Heinz Gunthardt as he no longer wanted to travel full-time. van Grichen enjoyed great success coaching Viktoria Azarenka to No. 6 in the world and he has also worked briefly with Vera Zvonareva and Sorana Cirstea.

*Belgian stars Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are pondering pairing up to compete at the London 2012 Olympics together. The pair once shared a pretty hostile relationship but having both returned from retirement recently this seems to have thawed. They have competed as a team once before at the 2006 Fed Cup where Belgium lost to Russia in the quaterfinals. Both are said to be treating the Olympics very seriously and Clijsters has hinted that 2012 could be her final year on the tour. “We have to get together to discuss this, see what the possibilities are and assess how far we want to go in this,” said world No. 3 Clijsters. Henin, 28, added: “There is a real willingness to be there.” Further feedback from the players can be read at the BBC Tennis website.

*The Australian Open have announced that both Juan Martin del Potro and Dmitri Tursunov have been accepted directly in to the men’s singles playing field as they both have injury-protected rankings.

*Gael Monfils has pulled out of the French team to play next month’s Hopman Cup and will be replaced by Nicolas Mahut. This means that he will come face to face with America’s John Isner for the first time since their record breaking 183 game, 11-hour epic encounter at Wimbledon back in June.

*After an exceptional year world No. 16 Mardy Fish has set his sights on cracking the Top 10 in 2011. “I have very high expectations, higher than I’ve ever had,” he told the Treasure Coast Palm. “I’m healthy, fit, confident. So I don’t think it’s unrealistic to aim for the Top 10. I don’t have many (rankings) points to defend the first half of the year. The first three Grand Slams, I didn’t get past the second round. So if I can be more consistent through the first part of the year, win some matches on the clay, do something more at Wimbledon, I should be able to get there.”

*Serbian Davis Cup hero Novak Djokovic took some time out on Tuesday to visit the Special Olympics Centre in Monte-Carlo where he spoke to members, posed for photos and signed autographs. He became involved with the organisation earlier in the year where he has helped fund various events. “I was really impressed with the good organisation of the centre and the nice and dedicated people working there,” Djokovic said, sporting his newly shaved head from the final celebrations. “It’s always very nice to be able to give time and resources to these kinds of causes here in Monte-Carlo, where I live.”

*Rafa Nadal becomes the latest sporting superstar to become a modelling figurehead for fashion powerhouse Giorgio Armani. He follows in the footsteps of football’s David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo and will spearhead their spring/summer campaigns for 2011.

*The Moorilla Hobart International has a strong lineup ready for tennis fans when it kicks off on January 9, 2011. There are five former Top 10 players including the Russian former world No. 1 Dinara Safina who will be looking to put a dreadful 2010 behind her. World No. 16 Marion Bartoli will take the top seeding but she will face stiff competition from the likes of Kimiko Date-Krumm, Patty Schnyder, Anna Chakvetadze (two former Champions), Alona Bondarenko and Shahar Peer if she wants to be victorious.

*Dutch doubles legends Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis will return to the ATP Tour briefly in February to compete at the ABN Amro Tournament in Rotterdam to raise money for the Richard Krajicek Foundation. Between 1991 and 1998 they won 39 doubles titles together.

*Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi has begun his first mission as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador by visiting the victims of this year’s devastating floods in his native Pakistan. He flew in by helicopter to oversee rebuilding projects where homes are being built of wood, brick and stone, most notably with indoor plumbing. “It is really overwhelming,” said Qureshi. “You see the pictures on the television, you read about the thousands and thousands that are affected. But until you actually go there and see the suffering and in such harsh weather, it is very tough to fully comprehend.” You can read his full reaction at the ATP website.

*Yen-Hsun Lu’s 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 6-7(5) 9-7 victory over Andy Roddick in the fourth round at Wimbledon has been named the upset of the year by the ATP. “Through three sets I was playing horrendously, I mean really, really badly,” Roddick moaned at the time. “Actually I think the fifth set was probably the best set that I played as far as hitting the ball, making him struggle to actually get through service games sometimes. But when you dig yourself a hole, it’s tough to get out. He deserved to win more than I did. That’s for sure.”

*Following recent reports that much of Pete Sampras’ career trophy haul had been pinched from a storage facility in LA, the ITF have offered him duplicates of some of those missing. He has been offered two replica trophies of his Davis Cup wins with the United States, according to thestar.com. Sampras also recently admitted he had no insurance to cover the theft.

*Former women’s star Martina Hingis has tied the knot with French showjumper Thibault Hutin, six years her junior, in a private ceremony in Paris. “Our marriage may come as a surprise to many, but it was planned a long time in advance,” the 30-year-old, who has been engaged twice before but never married, told Swiss magazine Scheizer Illustrierte.

*American doubles star Bob Bryan has wed lawyer Michelle Alvarez on December 13.

*Serena Williams is to be inducted in to the California Hall of Fame next week. She enters alongside Hollywood director James Cameron, country music singer Merle Haggard, former Secretary of State George Shultz, actress Barbra Streisand and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

*Canadian Valerie Tetreault, 22, has announced her retirement as a pro following four and a half years on the tour. She reached a career-high No. 112 in the world in February but leaves to study communications, citing depletion in motivation as the main reason.

*17-year-old George Morgan, the British junior No. 2, has become the latest player to add his name to the prestigious pool of Champions to lift the Orange Bowl title in Key Biscayne, Florida. He beat the Dutch second seed Jannick Lupescu 6-2, 6-3 in the Under-18s final having already lifted the Under-14s trophy in 2007. Most of tennis’ top talent have competed at the Championships and past winners include Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Bjorn Borg.

Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

Roger Federer

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

Nadal Expects to play London, Federer and Murray Call for Longer Winter Break, Wozniacki on Player Council

Rafael Nadal

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal expects to be fit for the ATP Tour Finals in London despite pulling out of the Paris Masters this week with injury. “I am not worried at all about London,” said the Spaniard. “It was not an easy decision [to pull out of Paris] because Paris is a special city for me. But I have played all the season’s Masters and Grand Slams. I will be back to practice soon, before next Sunday.” Nadal had an awful experience at the o2 Arena last year, being eliminated at the Group Stage without taking a single set. “I’m going to do all in my hands to play well there,” said the man who has won this season’s French Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles.

“It’s my goal to improve the image of last year in London.” The full interview, in which he discusses his latest injury, can be seen at the BBC Tennis site.

*Roger Federer is calling for the current four-week ATP Tour winter break to be increased to six to protect players from possible burnout. This debate has been going on for years as more and more tournaments crop up on the circuit and there have even been mentions of a possible fifth Grand Slam in Asia to dip in to the Eastern market. “I think it’s time we shifted back a bit and we get a proper off-season,” said the 29-year-old before he went in to battle at Paris this week. “Four weeks is just not enough. I think six is much better as you can take two weeks off… practise three, four weeks which is a lot for us in our world.” Federer has also this week firmly denied he has had any part to play in the IMG betting scandal surrounding many sports currently. IMG executive Ted Forstmann is accused of betting millions on sporting events including the 2007 French Open final with Federer lost to Rafa Nadal. “I reached out to him and told him I want to know everything about it, how this came about,” Federer told the New York Times. “And he’s been, you know, nice enough obviously to tell me from his side and has been very open in the press already. So that’s OK.”

*Andy Murray is another calling for a longer break. He believes the current length of the tour will curtail many players’ careers before their time. “There’s no time for you to take a break to get rid of an injury,” The British No. 1 told The Sun newspaper. “Instead players end up playing through it and that actually shortens careers. There should be fewer mandatory tournaments because you get punished so much for being injured and I don’t think that’s fair.” Recent examples of Murray’s points are 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro and Serena Williams.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will replace the outgoing Patty Schnyder on the WTA Players’ Council. She joins the Williams sisters, Franchesca Schiavone, Akgul Amanmuradova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands as the players’ representatives.

*American Taylor Dent has become the latest star to announce their retirement from professional tennis. The Newport Beach native staged an amazing comeback in 2009 from a debilitating back injury for which he was nominated for the 2009 Comeback Of The Year award after climbing nearly 800 ranking slots to finish the year at No. 76 in the world. “I had the privilege to compete at the highest level for 12 years, see places in the world I would have never been able to see without tennis, and meet people along the way that have become lifelong friends,” said 29-year-old Dent.

“I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, especially with my wife Jenny [Hopkins, former tennis pro] and our son Declan. I want to continue to stay active in the tennis industry and I am excited to explore opportunities in the world of tennis that my full tournament schedule never allowed me to do.” 38-year-old doubles specialist Martin Damm has also announced his retirement from the sport due to poor results coupled with his age. He will now coach American starlet Ryan Harrison.

*World No. 4 Andy Murray has said it is “a possibility” that he may play on without a full-time coach if he feels happy with his current form and set-up. The British No. 1 has not had a full-time coach since parting ways with Miles McLagan in July but has been working closely with former world No. 2 Alex Corretja in that time. “I just have to decide to see what to do next year,” said the 23-year-old. “If I like the way things are going and I feel like I’m improving, then I’m not scared of playing some tournaments on my own, trying out being on my own for a little bit. But I need to make sure I’m improving. If I’m not improving, then I’m not going to keep just trying to make it work without a coach.” You can read, or watch, the full interview including Murray’s views on his recent form at the ATP website.

*Italy became the sixth nation to win three or more Fed Cup titles with their victory over the USA in San Diego. Understandably, Flavia Pennetta was on cloud nine. “It’s amazing to win a match like this,” Pennetta said of her victory over Coco Vandeweghe in their singles rubber. “I was feeling really good on the court and I think all of the team is very happy now. It’s amazing to be here. This will be with me all my life so it’s really nice and really exciting.”

*The Bryan brothers clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking in doubles with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-3 victory over long-time rivals Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic at the Swiss Indoors Basel on Sunday. It was title number eleven for 2010 and they now have a 11-0 record in finals this year. They have achieved this feat once before (2007) and have the chance in either Paris or London to take a career-record twelfth title of the season.

*Pat Rafter has outlined Plan A in bringing Davis Cup success to Australia: healing the very public rift between Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic. It began at Wimbledon 2009 when Tomic and his father and coach, John, snubbed requests by Hewitt to be his hitting partner. It then exploded last summer when Hewitt questioned whether Tomic was ready for Davis Cup play. With many seeing Tomic, 18 last month, as the future of Aussie tennis, Rafter is keen to heal the damage. “I think after the Australian Open would be a nice time for us all to sit down. Both boys have to agree,” Rafter told the HeraldSun. “I spoke to Bernard recently and we had a really good conversation with both him and his father. That’s been a great thing. Obviously he is really important to us. He’s a great player, a great talent and he’s got a good opportunity of making it. He’s someone, with me being Davis Cup captain, who will definitely come into the fray.” For a great interview including Rafter’s views on Aussie tennis and how kids should have “more mongrel” on the tour, as he puts it, check out the Herald/Sun website.

*Former world No. 20 Katarina Srebotnik has announced her retirement from singles tennis to focus fully on the WTA doubles tour. The 29-year-old Slovenian suffered badly with injuries throughout 2009 and so has decided to focus on her more prosperous doubles exploits. In January 2008 she reached No. 3 in the world in doubles and she hopes to recapture some of that form in her twilight years. “I practiced very hard in the off-season in 2009 to prepare to play my best in singles and doubles in 2010. My career goal was always to do well in both,” Srebotnik said. “Because I was still doing very well in doubles, I used my special ranking in singles at bigger events, so I could play doubles there too.” Speaking about the end of her singles career she said: “I was in a situation. I was No. 228 and couldn’t even make the qualies of the US Open. Everything was pointing to a new direction.” You can read the full interview at the WTA website.

*The Paris surface has received a thumbs up from many of the top stars this week. Check out their views at Tennis.com.

Roger Federer Named in Lawsuit

Roger Federer

From the Australian Open to the US Open, I couldn’t get enough tennis. It seemed like there was a constant stream of news. I was attending tournaments almost monthly and if I wasn’t watching in person, I was glued to the TV. For those of you in Europe, I highly recommend a subscription to the online Eurosport player. They provide great tennis coverage, much better than what we have here in the US. Anyway, the last month has been tough for me, not because of my crazy schedule or copious amounts of work, but because I’m going through tennis withdrawal. My favorite blogs are only updated every few days, my twitter feed is as silent as I’ve ever seen it, and if I want to watch a match I have to stay up until 3am.

Luckily, next week the ATP tour moves back to Europe and I can stop being nocturnal. Even better, there’s actually been news. The last few weeks have been pretty boring. Rafa won another tournament. Yeah, that’s not really news anymore. Serena Williams claimed she was coming back at Linz and then tweeted that she was actually wrapping up the year instead. I guess that’s kind of news, but who didn’t see that coming?

Anyway, let’s talk about some of this week’s developments.

First up, Caroline Wozniacki has reopened the infamous WTA #1 debate. After winning the Beijing tournament Caro topped Serena Williams for the number one spot even though Wozniacki remains winless at Grand Slam events. I thought we exhausted this debate when Jelena Jankovic was #1, and then again when Dinara Safina was #1, but I was wrong. Everyone had to weigh in all over again and I was actually quite surprised by the overwhelming criticism of the adorable Dane. As far as I’m concerned the numbers don’t lie. She won the points and deserves the credit. Plus, Caroline Wozniacki has won as many tournaments this year as Serena Williams has played. Don’t tell me she doesn’t deserve this.

Nadal lost in Shanghai. I think there was actually more press about his loss to Jurgen Melzer than the fact that he won last week’s tournament. Frankly Nadal can afford to spread the wealth a little when it comes to winning and this was pretty darn impressive for Jurgen Melzer, who has never beaten Rafa before. Also, a great way for Melzer to underscore the point I made in my article a couple of weeks ago that the older players keep getting better. If he keeps playing this way, Jurgen actually has a reasonable chance of making the World Tour Finals.

Roger Federer was named in a betting lawsuit. Apparently the owner of IMG, Fed’s management firm, upped his bet on Fed to win the 2006 French Open final based on a tip. The IMG guy may be guilty or he may not, but I honestly don’t believe Fed had anything to do with this. Roger addressed the situation in his latest press conference, saying he was unconcerned as there was no truth whatsoever to the claim.

Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic are parting ways next year. If you don’t follow doubles, this means nothing to you. However, these guys are the number two doubles team and have won three Grand Slam titles together. Nestor will play with Max Mirnyi next year and more interestingly, Zimonjic will pair up with Michael Llodra. I’m pretty intrigued by this second pair. Nenad only plays doubles so I’m a little surprised he chose a partner that is currently a high ranked singles player.

Andy Roddick is injured, again. Poor Andy just can’t catch a break. He was forced to withdraw from his first match in Shanghai against Guillermo Garcia Lopez with a leg injury. He hopes to be back for Basel and almost certainly for Paris, but it’s going to be an uphill battle to make it to the World Tour Finals this year. Roddick looked pretty torn up about his withdrawal in Shanghai and I can’t blame him. Andy’s bestie Mardy Fish is also out, with some kind of ankle injury. Hopefully they both make a full recovery and we’ll see an American back in the Top 10 soon.

In weird tennis news, Ana Ivanovic was docked an entire game worth of points during a match in Linz. Apparently she had to leave the court to throw up but wasn’t given permission. It turns out the game was insignificant since Ana won quite convincingly, but you’ve got to think this was a little unfair. Would the ref have preferred she throw up on court?

Well, that’s a wrap for this week’s tennis news. Plus, it’s 3am and I’d really like to catch the Djokovic/Garcia Lopez match. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with something a little more interesting.

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