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Rafa looking for more duels with Federer, Soderling believes he can crack rivalry and Murray out to break his own duck

*2010 ended with the Top 2 doing battle at the o2 Arena in London in the final of the ATPWTFs. They also kicked off 2011 by rallying on water, and then going head to head in the final of the Doha Championships, which Rafael Nadal took in straight sets. Now the Spaniard wants more chances this year to do battle with his biggest foe. “I would love to play against Roger Federer this year a few more times because when we play each other it’s in the final, so that’s already a very good result for both of us to be in the final of important tournaments,” Federer, who came out on top in that big London clash, echoed the sentiment. “We only played twice last year in Madrid and the ATP World Tour Finals in London, which was a great end for both of us,” he said. “There’ll be huge hype going into the new season with him going for his fourth Grand Slam in a row and me trying to defend the Australian Open title. So right off the bat we’ll have some excitement.” More from the two great Champions can be read over at the ATP website.

*World No. 5 Robin Soderling believes he is ready to break the Federer-Nadal dominance at the Grand Slams in 2011 and finally lift one of his own. The two-time French Open finalist has never advanced past the quarterfinal stage at any of the other three majors. But the 26-year-old will be hoping that he can improve that record under the watchful eye of new coach Claudio Pistolesi. He has never advanced past the second round Down Under and insists this must improve. “I still feel I can improve and become a better player,” said the Swedish No. 1. “If I can do that then I’m pretty sure I have a good chance to do well this year. [During the off season] I tried to do a few things. I tried to work on playing a little bit more aggressively, coming into the net a little bit more.” He also laughed off the supposed gulf in class between the Top 2 and the chasing pack. “I never felt that the gap was very big,” said Soderling, who defeated Nadal (2009) and Federer (2010) en route to his only Slam finals appearances. “There are a lot of very good players and I think there are 10 or even 15 guys who can win the big tournaments like the Grand Slams. Of course, Roger and Rafa will always be the favourites in every tournament they play in, but I think there are a lot of players who have a chance to beat them.”

*In yet another season-opening promise to break his Grand Slam duck world No. 4 Andy Murray claims he needs to improve his serve if he is to finally take a major home to Scotland. It is almost a year ago that he collapsed in straight sets to Roger Federer in the final of the Aussie Open and he wants to recapture that early season form and go one step further. “I’ve worked a lot on my serve and I’ll keep working on it,” said the 23-year-old. “I think from the baseline I’ve matched up well with Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] but I’ll need to serve well and return well if I want to beat them. Last year’s Aussie Open was one of the best events I’ve played in my life…so I’ll have to play even better if I want to win, because Rafa and Roger are playing so well just now.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.

*Former world No. 4 Nicolas Kiefer has announced his retirement from tennis at the age of 33. He reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in 2006 and the final at the ATP Masters Toronto in 2008 but the past two years have been dogged by injury and loss of form. His greatest achievement was partnering Rainier Schuettler to the silver medal berth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

*Former tennis star Andre Agassi has labelled the Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer rivalry as “more compelling” than the one he fought with his compatriot Pete Sampras. At the time it was considered one of the greatest in history. But now all the talk is of the Spaniard and the Swiss as both have completed career Grand Slams and Federer has overtaken Sampras’ record haul of 14 Grand Slams by lifting 16 of his own. “Tennis is at an amazing time when you’ve got two of the best players ever to play the game,” said Agassi. “You can argue the two very best playing in the same generation. It’s a rivalry I think that we’ve never seen in our sport.” John McEnroe also spoke this week of how he sees the domination lasting for a few more years until Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray improve sufficiently to crack it. That can be read at Tennis.com.

*Juan Carlos Ferrero has officially withdrawn from Auckland and the Australian Open after failing to overcome the knee and wrist surgeries he underwent in October.

*In their first meeting since that eleven-hour epic at Wimbledon last year John Isner took only 90 minutes to secure a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over Nicolas Mahut at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia.

*Roger Federer has once again unveiled his masterpiece, “The Tweener,” in Doha. Facing 21-year-old Dutchman Thomas Schoorel, Federer sprinted back towards the baseline before unleashing a mesmerising winner through his legs, over the net and in to the corner. “It’s one of the best shots again of my career, one I’m going to look back on and smile, of course,” said the 29-year-old. It is the fifth occasion that the 16-time Grand Slam winner has unveiled the trickshot, having done so previously at the 2009 and 2010 US Opens, in Shanghai last year and also at the 2007 Dubai Open.

*American Wayne Odesnik has spoken publicly after last week having the second year of his ITF pro tennis ban scratched for trying to smuggle HGH in to Australia last January. “It’s been, obviously, the hardest six months of my life, this last year,” Odesnik told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “[I was] depressed. This experience has humbled me. I realize how lucky I am to be out here making a living on what we love to do, even if I have to start back again. I’m ready for it and looking forward to the challenge.” Many players condemned his actions at the time of being found guilty and just last month his compatriot Mardy Fish was very vocal about his disgust at Odesnik being allowed to rejoin the tour.

*Former doubles world No. 1 Daniel Nestor has been appointed a Member to the Order of Canada for his achievements within the sport and in raising money for charity. The 38-year-old has won more doubles titles than any other active player (71) including all four Grand Slams, all ten Masters Series events and the Olympic Gold in doubles at Athens in 2000. “[I’m] definitely a little bit surprised,” said Nestor. “It’s one of the greatest honours you can achieve as a Canadian. For me, I’m very proud. I wasn’t born in Canada [he was born in Belgrade and emigrated aged four] but something I’ve realised playing the tour and travelling so much is how appreciative I am to be Canadian and the great opportunity the country has given me. It’s a great honour for me.”

*Andre Agassi and Marit Safin have agreed to contest a series of matches taking place across Taiwan. The exhibition tournaments will also include Russian world No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny as well as Asia’s No. 1 player Lu Yen-Hsun and his compatriot Jimmy Wang. They will be chaired by former ATP World Tour umpire Romano Grillotti and take place on January 6 and 8 in both Taipei and Kaohsiung.

*Doubles team Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, affectionately known as the ‘Indo-Pak Express,’ have launched their new range of ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’ clothing at the Aircel Chennai Open. The pair have often campaigned for an end to hostilities between their native India and Pakistan and this is the next step. Some of the proceeds will go to the pair’s chosen charities. “What started out as a simple statement has now become a world-wide campaign,” said Bopanna. “This is a great opportunity for us to connect with our fans and we are thrilled to finally launch the merchandise.”

*Former world No. 6 Chanda Rubin is looking for pastures new after a severe fire destroyed her River Ranch, Acadiana home. The Aussie Open semifinalist escaped unharmed after lightning was said to strike the 5,500 square-foot pad. Much of her playing memorabilia is said to have been lost but she was able to salvage a few trophies. She was surprisingly philosophical about the whole thing: “Family and health, those things are number one,” she told KLFY TV 10 Eyewitness News. “Stuff is just that and I kind of have to keep that in mind.”

*The results are in for the 2010 TennisReporters reader’s polls. Without spoiling the surprise, head over now to see who was voted male and female Player of the Year as well as our sexiest stars.

Wozniacki to be No. 1? Keothavong Faces Racism and Paes on a Mission

*Danish star Caroline Wozniacki is only one win away from taking the No. 1 slot in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings following her opening win over Sara Errani at the China Open. Victory over Petra Kvitova in the quaterfinals will see her climb above Serena Williams. If she does she will be the 20th player ever to do so since the rankings began.

*British No. 3 Anne Keothavong has had her preparations for the AEGON GB Pro-Series Open tournament in Barnstaple, England, hampered after suffering racial abuse outside her hotel on the weekend. Police have said: “Three men aged 20, 23, 25 have been arrested for this offence and for a separate shoplifting incident. They remain in police custody waiting to be interviewed. Police investigations continue.” Keothavong wrote on her Twitter account: “I was on my own and completely outnumbered. Gave a statement to the police, hoping CCTV will get them.” She won the tournament in 2008.

*Leander Paes has accepted an offer from the Cambodian Tennis Association to become the spokesperson for their “Killing Fields to Tennis Courts” campaign which aims to clear many of the minefields planted by the former Khmer Rouge regime and make large areas safer for children. These areas will be used for modified tennis courts enabling those disabled by the mines to play. “What attracted me to this foundation is that I can help bring landmine awareness to the tennis industry,” said Paes. “Though the genocide in Cambodia has been over for many years, the results of millions of landmines planted by the Khmer Rouge continue to be an everyday danger for the Cambodian people. And for those victims of landmines, it is now my mission to share this great sport of tennis with them. Through tennis, I can hopefully inspire children and coaches to dare to dream and that hard work and persistence you can overcome many of life’s obstacles.” For the full interview check out the ATP website.

*Former Thai tennis star Paradorn Srichapan was honoured in a special retirement ceremony at the end of his hometown tournament, the PTT Thailand Open, in Bangkok on Sunday. He reached the semifinals there three times and got to No. 9 in the world before playing his final match last year in his hometown. “I’d like to thank all the ATP staff,” said Srichaphan at the ceremony. “From the very first time I entered the ATP, it was like a second home to me. It meant that every year when I was travelling on the Tour for eight or nine months I was able to not miss home too much. Thank you for everything.” Since hanging up his racquet Paradorn has been starring in Thai movies.

*Svetlana Kuznetsova has called time on her 2010 season by pulling out of next week’s tournament in Moscow. Writing on her Twitter account she said: “my health issues won’t al[low] me to play in my home country tournament in Moscow! I have to end this difficult season now and recover.” She has also attributed her early exit from this week’s Beijing meeting to illness which prevented her from preparing. “I got sick,” she told the WTA website. “From Sunday to Saturday, one week, I wasn’t home, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do any fitness, I was in bed. I didn’t have time, but that’s how it is.”

*Russian Nikolay Davydenko overcame Marin Cilic 7-5, 7-5 at the China Open to record the 400th ATP win of his career. He is the eighth active player on the tour to do so. “It was a very good match for me,” said Davydenko. “[My] baseline [play] was good control and I played fast.”

*Venus Williams today (October 6) released a statement saying that she would not be competing for the remainder of 2010 due to a recurrence of her troublesome knee problems that have dogged a large chunk of her season. She will miss the WTA Finals in Doha as well as the USA’s Fed Cup Final matchup with Italy. The statement, released to the Associated Press, said: “ [I am] very disappointed to announce that I will be unable to play in the WTA Tour Championships at the end of October, and the Fed Cup final between the United States and Italy at San Diego in November. I have been getting treatment and therapy on my knee and have been making progress, but unfortunately must continue to keep weight off my knee for the short term and won’t be ready to return to competition in 2010. I am looking forward to returning to full health in time for the start of 2011 season and hopefully having the opportunity to play in both the Fed Cup and WTA Championships next year.”

*Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska has also ended her season due to a stress fracture in her foot and says she is also a doubt for next year’s Australian Open. “I’m done for this year with a very serious injury, a stress fracture,” said Radwanska. It’s a complicated injury and there’s some chance it won’t be healed in time for Australia. I just realized how serious the injury was just before I came to Asia to play in Tokyo and Beijing.”

*Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters have joined both Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva in qualifying for the season-ending WTA Championships in Doha. This leaves only four qualifying berths for the remaining hopefuls to fight over.

*Malaysian tennis fans are in for an extra special treat as the Showdown of Champions 2010 rolls in to Kuala Lumpur this week. Former tennis superstars Ivan Lendl and Goran Ivanisevic will commence battle against Pat Cash, Mats Wilander and Martina Hingis in the Asian paradise. Lendl has eight Grand Slams to his name while Ivanisevic will be most fondly remembered as being the only male wildcard to lift the Wimbledon Championships. Tickets are still available from www.fatdeal.com.my for an event which really cannot be missed.

*Following his title win last week Mikhail Youzhny is the new world No. 8 in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings. His current form should see him make a late push for the ATP Finals in London next month. He climbs above Spain’s Fernando Verdasco. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez leaps 14 places to No. 39 while Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen sees a return for his recent form by climbing twelve to No. 48. Russia’s Igor Andreev is back in the world’s Top 100 at No. 85.

*There are changes too in the Sony Ericsson WTA world rankings where Italy’s Francesca Schiavone is the new world No. 6, giving the French Open winner pole position to qualify for Doha. The Belarusian Viktoria Azarenka is also putting her US Open horror behind her and she is back in to the world’s Top 10. Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska drops out. Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer climbs a place to enter the Top 20 while Maria Sharapova drops from No. 15 to No. 21. Olga Govortsova continues her recent rise by entering the Top 50 at No. 48 and there are no fewer than six climbers in to the Top 100.

*Juan Martin del Potro certainly isn’t panicking despite a so-far winless return from a long injury layoff. “I need time, I need to work on a few things to get back to my best level,” he said. “If work in a good way, I will be in good shape in a month or so.”

*Great news for the Shanghai Masters set to begin next week; every player within the world’s Top 20 is set to compete.

*Belgian Christophe Rochus has said he will retire at the end of the season following tournaments in Mons (Belgium) and Valencia. “I don’t have the capacity to aim for a place in the top 100,” he said. “To play to be 200th in the world rankings doesn’t interest me.”

*To finish off this week, how about something a little different? Head over to YouTube to see Jelena Jankovic, Flavia Penetta and Gisela Dulko take part in a Ninja demonstration at the Players Party for the Toray Pan Pacific Open. It’s certainly not like anything you’d usually associate the three with, but perhaps they might want to stick to the tennis.