australian open title

Serena Williams set for Return? – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

“Aussie” Kim

After a few near-misses, Kim Clijsters finally found her way to her first Australian Open title, and by her own admission, felt that she could now truly be called “Aussie” Kim. While it wasn’t really fair to suggest that Kim didn’t have the goods to win a major outside of the Big Apple as some pundits have stated, it still had to feel as though she were getting a bit of a monkey off her back with her win in Melbourne. With her solid run to the title, many are also starting to speculate that Kim is the heavy favorite at Roland Garros and perhaps even at Wimbledon, despite her never having won either of those titles. But with so many health issues and a lack of consistency from the other mainstays on the WTA, it isn’t far-fetched to think that Kim could have her best season ever in what may be her last year as a professional.

Djoker Got his Groove Back

“Mediocre” is not often a term applied to one of the game’s elite players, but that’s exactly the type of season Novak Djokovic had in 2010. If anything, he managed to remain at the top in spite of himself, having hit more double faults than aces over the course of that year. But the young Serb seems to have put all of that behind him and has played absolutely scintillating tennis from leading Serbia to its first Davis Cup victory through the start of 2011. Except for a minor hiccup early in the tournament, Djokovic raced to the Australian Open title with the loss of just one set – and that’s a run that included straight set victories over the likes of Roger Federer and Andy Murray. If Djokovic really has put it together between the ears, look for him to start making a legitimate push for No. 1.

Second Best

It’s undoubtedly very difficult to fall just one match shy of a major title, but the experiences of this year’s Australian Open singles finalists couldn’t have been more opposite. For Na Li/Li Na, it was a major breakthrough for both her personally and for her home nation. She provided for one of the most competitive women’s finals in recent memory, and appears to have taken nothing but positives from the experience. By WTA standards, she’s no spring chicken, but if she only continues to believe in her game more and more, she should expect to consistently make the latter rounds of tournaments and walk away with more than a few big prizes. For Andy Murray, the final was a total disaster. Ironically, he has stated that he was in a worse state after losing last year’s final, but it’s hard to imagine why. Djokovic was playing beautifully throughout the fortnight, but he still wasn’t Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal on the other side of the net from Murray. The wheels also completely came off Murray’s game by the second set, and he appeared at a total loss for how to fix the problem. It was hard not to feel bad for him, especially knowing the kind of extra pressure he endures when he reaches that last hurdle. But if that performance proved one thing, it is that he needs to find himself a full time coach, and fast. You hate saying this about a player as young and as talented as Andy Murray, but the monkey on his back is growing ever larger. With each major that slips by without a win, it’s going to become harder and harder to make that breakthrough.

Injury Report

Well, tennis fans around the world now know what was ailing Rafael Nadal in his quarterfinal match against David Ferrer. The Spaniard suffered a torn leg muscle in his right leg, but thankfully it is nowhere near the extent of his chronic knee problems. Doctors have estimated that he will only need ten days to recover, and as a result, he should be primed and ready for Davis Cup duty. It was welcomed news, as no one ever likes to see a player injured, and with players like Djokovic, Soderling, and yes, even Murray, stepping up to the plate, fans want to see all of the top players at their best as they compete for the grandest prizes in the sport.

Really Coming Back?

Reports are out that Serena Williams may be making a return to the tennis court to play a Nike exhibition event with fellow Nike-sponsored players Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova. The event is set to take place just before the dual Indian Wells top tier event. Love her or hate her, the game has missed the presence of Serena Williams, but don’t get your hopes up regarding her return just yet. This foot injury has proven to be the most mysterious injury of her career, and it isn’t the first time she’s hinted at a potential comeback date. Fingers crossed it happens this time and we see her in full health come Miami…just don’t put money on it.

Li and Clijsters to Play for Aussie Open Title

By Blair Henley

Li Na may get that shopping spree after all.

With her 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 semifinal win over world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Li has become China’s first Grand Slam singles finalist. And she’s one win away from getting free reign with her credit card as promised by husband/coach, Jiang Shan – the same guy who she says contributed to her early struggles in Thursday’s match.

“I didn’t have a good evening last night. My husband sleep like [snoring noise], you know? I wake up every hour,” she joked in her on-court interview.

Wozniacki served for the match at 5-4, 40-30 in the second set, having taken advantage of repeated mistakes from her opponent’s forehand side. But Li, seeded 9th, more than made up for her 51 unforced errors by striking 42 winners over the course of the match. Wozniacki had only 10 winners – none coming in the third set.

So what inspired Li’s comeback performance?

“Prize money,” she said as the crowd roared with laughter.

The win extends the 28-year-old’s record in 2011 to 11-0 and marks the third time she has topped Wozniacki since the beginning of 2010. Though the 20-year-old Dane will keep her No. 1 ranking, the loss proves once more that she lacks firepower when she needs it most.

Li will meet Kim Clijsters for the Australian Open title in a rematch of their bizarre final in Sydney just two weeks ago. The Chinese beat the Belgian 7-6, 6-3 after coming back from a 5-0 deficit in the first set.

Clijsters looked sharp in her 6-3, 6-3 semifinal win over Vera Zvonareva, but she wasn’t the only Belgian making news. Her countrywoman Justine Henin has announced her retirement due to an elbow injury.

“My elbow is too fragile and hurt,” she said on her website. “Having followed the advice of doctors it is now clear and I accept that here my career ends.”

She will be missed.

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.

AROUND THE CORNER: MEN READY FOR BATTLE IN INDIAN WELLS

Alright everybody it’s time again for some tennis that really matters at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Both the ATP and WTA Tour’s are in the house and that should make for a great week of coverage for our sport. This has always been a terrific event and it set the record for attendance outside of a Grand Slam event in 2008 with over 300,000 spectators during a twelve day period.

Let’s have a look at the men’s draw and see how things shape up.

Roger Federer is back on the scene for the first time since his Australian Open title at the end of January. The world number one has just overcome an apparent lung infection and coupled with his recent inactivity I don’t think we should expect all that much from him. Yes, he will likely make it deep into the draw, but I would be surprised if Roger made it past the semi-finals here this year. Roger gets a first round bye as do all thirty-two seeded players in the tournament. His first capable opponent could be Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Also in the top-half of the draw are the two Andy’s – 4th seeded Murray and 7th seeded Roddick. Murray tanked in Dubai in his only appearance since losing in the finals of the Aussie Open to Federer, while Roddick has played a fairly heavy schedule on the hard-courts of North America.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also lurks in the top-half while David Nalbandian seems ready to return to tournament play. Coming back in February after nine months away from the game due to hip surgery, Nalbandian withdrew before his third round match in Buenos Aires with a leg injury. The talented Nalbandian played the role of hero this past week in Davis Cup play as he closed out a victory over Sweden with a four set win over Andreas Vinciguerra. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, look for Nalbandian to quickly return to his typical top-twenty form.

The bottom-half of the draw contains 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic who recently defended his title in Dubai and seems poised for a bigger result here on the Masters Series stage. Right behind him is 3rd seed, Rafael Nadal, who returns to the tour after a recurring knee injury forced him to withdraw in Australia where he trailed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. Expectations are low for Nadal as he has been away from the game for over a month and let’s just hope he can finish the tournament on his own terms. Defending his title in India Wells from 2009 is simply not going to happen.

Playing on fire so far this year and also in the bottom section is hard-serving John Isner of the United States and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Isner won his first career title in Auckland in January and then was a finalist in Memphis, while Ferrero won back-to-back clay events in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Also worth watching is Nikolay Davydenko who is likely still kicking himself for self-destructing against Federer in Melbourne and youngster Marin Cilic who made the semi-finals down-under and is ready to assert himself as a top-level threat in every event he enters.

I feel that with players like Federer, Nadal and Davydenko dealing with recent injuries or illnesses we are in for a Djokovic/Roddick final in Indian Wells. Those are my picks in the ATP World Tour Fantasy Challenge that begins Thursday at 2pm ET. Who will you choose?