Barcelona Open

Djokovic still going, Del Potro’s winning return on clay and Medina ties Venus

Home Comfort for Djokovic:

Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to 2011 continued as he lifted his home Serbian Open title for a second time, his fifth title this year, defeating Feliciano Lopez 7-6, 6-2 in the final. It means the 23-year-old picks up the title without dropping a single set. After a scare at 5-5 in the first set he served himself out of a break point and never looked back. He received a standing ovation from the 5,000-strong crowd with two superb sliced dropshots, an ace and a service winner in the final game. “I wish to thank my family and my staff for supporting me all these years and also the fans who make this event that much more enjoyable for me to take part in,” he said after winning the tournament his family organises. “I am really glad that Feliciano had such a great tournament after accepting my invitation to come here. We are making a huge effort every year to bring the top players to Belgrade and it’s not easy because it takes place only a week ahead of the Madrid Masters. Hopefully, we will be able to make it an ATP 500 event very soon and I am looking forward to returning next year.” Lopez was in humorous mood after the final whistle, saying: “Last night I dreamed of being the hero of the year by beating you here but once again, you showed that you are a truly great player.”

All Go for Del Po:

Returning Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, playing his first clay tournament for 23 months, lifted his third title on the surface, and ninth overall, by besting Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2 in 76 minutes at the Estoril Open in Portugal. The 23-year-old has won 23 of his last 26 matches and has risen from No.484 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings in February to No.32 this week. An out of sorts Verdasco struggled throughout and the world No.15 will undoubtedly be unhappy with his performance here. “It was my best match of the week,” claimed Del Potro. “Finals are difficult to play, you never know if you will play your best tennis or not. Today, I won and I played really nice tennis. Everything was perfect. To beat Fernando you have to play good tennis. I served really well and was very confident on my forehand and backhand too. I took all my opportunities, especially on my break points. Hopefully I will be at the same level in my next match.”

Medina Ties Venus in Estoril:

Anabel Medina Garrigues tied Venus Williams for the most clay-court titles among active players by lifting her ninth title on the surface at Estoril last weekend, her tenth overall. She dominated Kristina Barrois 6-1, 6-2 and did not drop a set all week, upsetting Greta Arn and Klara Zakopalova along the way. The loss took Barrois to 0-2 in WTA finals having lost to Maria Sharapova at Strasbourg last May. “I played very aggressively and hit it high and deep. Kristina couldn’t do her game,” Medina Garrigues said. “She’s a creative girl – serve and volley, slice, drop shots – and I was there. I felt like she lost her concentration a little bit. I think I played well this week. I had some lucky moments, like in the first round I was close to losing a set, and I had a close match with Zakopalova. It wasn’t as easy as it looked this week and I’m happy to win my 10th title.”

Davydenko Back on Track:

Russian Nikolay Davydenko put a nightmare start to 2011 behind him as he defeated Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift his 21st ATP Tour title at the BMW Open in Munich. It is his second title in the German capital having triumphed there in 2004. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 29-year-old, though, as he had to save five break points during the first set as well as fight back from a break down to take the decider. It is Mayer’s fourth defeat in four finals. “In finals I just feel stronger, more relaxed, my confidence is very high and I just go out there fighting,” said Davydenko. “It was a very important result here (to return to the Top 30) and I’m just so happy.” Mayer was in buoyant mood despite the defeat. “It was a fantastic week,” said the 27-year-old. “Of course I’m a little disappointed losing the final, but I see the positives this week. I had never won a match here in Munich coming in to this year’s tournament. I had very difficult opponents in my four finals playing [Roger] Federer, [Gael] Monfils and Davydenko twice. It could certainly have been easier opponents but it’s nothing I can change. It’s a great feeling to break into the Top 30 for the first time in my career, now I want to go even higher.”

Vinci Reigning in Spain:

Roberta Vinci lifted the Barcelona Open for the second time and extended her record at the tournament to 14-1 with a final victory over Lucie Hradecka on Saturday. After triumphing here in 2009 she was only stopped by Francesca Schiavone in last year’s final before repeating her heroics of two years ago once more. The unseeded Hradecka had done well to reach the final, ousting No.7 seed Iveta Benesova and No.5 seed Sara Errani along the way, but it was Vinci who kept her cool to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4). “Lucie is very powerful. The key for me was to be aggressive and focused, and that’s why I won today,” Vinci said afterwards. “I was a little nervous before the match because it was a final, but I believed I played some good tennis today! This is a great tournament. I feel like it’s my tournament! I’m in love with Barcelona. I always play great in this beautiful city and I’d like to thank [tournament director] Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario] and everyone here for making this tournament so great.”

Monfils Cheesed Off in Madrid:

Gael Monfils has revealed that it was a cheese allergy that forced him to retire from his match-up with Juan Monaco in Madrid when he was 2-6, 0-3 down. He threw up before going on court, experienced dizziness and blurred vision, and threw up again once he had left the playing area. “I only had a little bit, not on purpose, certainly,” said Monfils. “I ate some pasta and it was in that. But once it’s in my body, I can’t do anything.”

Soderling Lone Ranger Again:

Eurosport is reporting that Swedish star Robin Soderling has parted ways with coach Claudio Pistolesi already having only begun their partnership this season. He is looking for a replacement.

Clijsters’ Injury Woes Continue:

Kim Clijsters’ frustrating run with ankle problems continues as she has withdrawn from the Italian Open, putting her French Open participation in doubt. She joins both Venus and Serena Williams as well as Vera Zvonereva in withdrawing from the event.

Spain Continue Nadal Accolades:

World No.1 Rafael Nadal has received another top accolade from his country, having been made an honorary ambassador of the Marca Espana by the Prince of Asturias, Don Felipe. He was joined by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, Antonio Garrigues, orchestral conductor Inma Shara, The Instituto Cervantes, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the Spanish football team, who won last year’s FIFA World Cup for the first time.

Murray’s Former Coach claims he is Best in World:

Andy Murray’s former coach at the famed Barcelona academy, Pato Alvarez, describes the Scot as the best he’s ever worked with. “You can’t go wrong with Murray. He’s the best there is,” Alvarez told the BBC. “He’s a better player than Nadal and the other top guys. He’s more explosive. He has a better backhand. He has a better serve.”

“Best Five Months of My Career” – Djokovic:

Serbian star Novak Djokovic has described his current 30-match unbeaten stretch (28 in 2011) as the greatest run of his career. Better than that, it is one of the best in ATP history. Now he has set his sights on upstaging the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal, and may get a chance to do so this week should both men reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Masters. Yet he is weary that he is yet to best the Spaniard in nine meetings on this surface. “I didn’t think it was realistic to go without a loss in the first three-four months but it happened,” he mused. “I guess anything is possible if you really believe that you can achieve and if you’re fit, physically, if you’re mentally fresh and motivated and if you’re dedicated to the sport. This is something that I have been doing lately,” he continued. “I’ve been working very hard on my game, on my mental approach as well and my stability and now it´s paying off. There is no secret; it’s just something that I’ve been working on in the last couple of years playing on the tour. I knew that I had quality and I just need to get some things together and it’s happening right now.” Speaking about that possible Nadal match up, he said: “I don´t really feel like talking about an eventual final against Rafa because there is a long way to go and there are many other great players who want to win this title as much as we do. I will just try to take one match at a time and we’ll see how far it can go.”

“No More Surface Specialists” – Moya:

Former world No.1 Carlos Moya has spoken of his belief that Rafael Nadal is not unbeatable on clay, and that there are no more surface specialists like when he was at the top of the sport. “No one is unbeatable on any surface,” Moya told Spanish newspaper Marca. “If you ask the players who’ll get more points on clay this year, obviously they will say it will be Rafa. But on a bad day, bad night, a bad match, anyone can have one. The specialists we saw a decade ago no longer exist. Before there were players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic who specialised on super fast courts or grass and players such as Guga Kuerten who had to do so much just to get good on hard courts. Now you have players who do well on fast surfaces and on clay and vice versa. Those who can dominate on any surface are the ones at the top: Nadal, [Roger] Federer or [Novak] Djokovic and before it did not happen.”

Tomic and Dellacqua in for Roland Garros:

Bernard Tomic and Casey Dellacqua have been handed Tennis Australia’s two wild cards for the French Open based on an agreement between the French and Australian tennis associations. 18-year-old Tomic is frequently touted as a future Aussie star but behavioural issues have blighted his career thus far, while Dellacqua has had a torrid time with injuries and has only just returned from a 12-month lay-off.

12-City Champions Tour set for 2011:

The new-look 2011 Champions Tour will feature twelve events across the States and will get underway including the talents of former home-grown heroes Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe. Mats Wilander, Michael Chang and Bjorn Borg will also feature across the tour which sees the senior pros competing for $1m. Four stars will attend each event and will square off in semi-finals with the two winners progressing to the final.

Cavaday’s Had Her Day:

British No.5 Naomi Cavaday has announced her retirement from professional tennis at the age of 22. She reached a career-high No.174 in the world last May but currently languishes as the world’s No.231. She entered the main draw at Wimbledon three times, losing in the first round on each occasion. Her defeats to Ai Sugiyama in 2006 and Venus Williams in 2008 sandwiched her most famous moment in 2007 when she held two match points against Martina Hingis before eventually going on to lose. She suffered with depression and an eating disorder during her six-year career and now will work as a coach with the Lawn Tennis Association.

Rankings Watch:

Nicolas Almagro continued his recent ascent up the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week and climbs above Gael Monfils to No.9 in the world. Marin Cilic and Gilles Simon are back in to the Top 20. Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Martin del Potro’s titles last week see them climb to No.28 and No.32 in the world respectively, while Spain’s Marcel Granollers is in to the Top 50 again. Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis drops 31 places to No.64 while the American Alex Bogomolov Jr. (13 places, No.91), Denis Gremelmayr of Germany (10, No.95) and France’s Benoit Paire (13, No.99) all enter the Top 100. Li Na is the new world No.6 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, climbing above Sam Stosur in the process and equalling her career best. Jelena Jankovic also climbs to No.7 meaning Stosur is now ranked eighth. Roberta Vinci climbs from No.42 to No.37 after her Barcelona win and Anabel Medina Garrigues’ victory in Estoril sees her leap from No.61 to No.42. Monica Niculescu of Romania jumps 10 to enter the Top 50 at No.49 and Barcelona finalist Lucie Hradecka is up 14 to No. 52. France’s Virginie Razzano (No.94), Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic (No.99) and America’s Jill Craybas (No.100) are all in to the Top 100.

GOAT Race Update:

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in action at the Mutua Madrid Masters this week, adding ten points to their totals. Will Nadal move further ahead on his favoured clay? We’ll find out as the week wears on.

Roger: 605, Rafa: 780

Djokovic aiming for clay crown, Nadal continues to break records and a shock win for Goerges in Stuttgart

Djokovic Aims to Remain Unstoppable:

Novak Djokovic says he is aiming to do what nobody else has since 2009 and overcome Rafael Nadal on clay. The Serb has enjoyed an unbeaten start to 2011, 27 matches that have taken in titles at the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami, and the 23-year-old believes he has what it takes to finally stop the Spaniard in his tracks. “I am playing with a lot more confidence against him these days,” said the two-time Aussie Open winner. “I now believe I can beat anyone on any surface, although beating Nadal on clay remains a big ask and the biggest challenge of all. Down the years, as Nadal kept ripping apart everything in front of him on red clay, we always thought there was no room left for improvement in his game and he kept surprising us. He is still the player to beat [on clay] and the favourite in each of the upcoming events, including the French Open, because he is so dominant on this surface.” If these two continue in the same vein of form then this year’s Roland Garros could certainly be very interesting.

Nadal Records Continue:

Rafael Nadal continued his exceptional run on clay, which stretches back 34 matches to 2009, with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over compatriot David Ferrer in the final of the Barcelona Open. In a repeat of last week’s Monte Carlo final the 24-year-old raced through the first set in emphatic fashion. An early second-set wobble saw Ferrer establish a 4-2 lead but Nadal rallied and took four straight games to win the match. Nadal has now won six Barcelona titles in his last six visits, having missed last year with a knee injury, and he becomes the first man in the Open Era to win two events six or more times, his victory at Monte Carlo being his seventh successive at the club. “It’s incredible to come back here to my tournament and my fans after not being able to play last year,” said Nadal. “I am very, very happy for the win and sorry for David, who is having a fantastic year and deserves a title. It’s bad luck for him having to play me in three finals but it’s my sixth title here and it’s a huge delight.”

 

Goerges Stuns Wozniacki in Stuttgart:

Julia Goerges shocked world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki by overcoming the Dane 7-6(3), 6-3 in the final of the Stuttgart Grand Prix. She becomes the first German since Anke Huber in 1994 to triumph there. The new world No.27 (a career-best) assaulted the 20-year-old’s backhand from the off, forcing her in to repeated errors. Taking a 5-2 lead in the first-set tie-break Goerges forced Wozniacki in to two errors, sending forehands long, to hand her the set. Once Goerges had opened up a 3-0 lead in the second the title looked as good as hers. “Against Caroline it feels like you always have a mountain to climb and I did it,” said the 22-year-old. “Julia played very well, very aggressive and the balls were going in,” said Wozniacki. “I tried everything but it did not work. I’ll have to go back on the practice court and make things better. Hopefully we will have many more matches in the future.”

Brianti Breaks her Duck at Fes:

Italian veteran Alberta Brianti secured her first WTA Tour Level title at the age of 31 at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Fes, Morocco. She overcame the 19-year-old Romanian Simona Halep in the final 6-4, 6-3. It was Brianti’s second final, having lost to Shahar Peer in Guangzhou, China, two years ago. Not bad for a player who had never won back-to-back matches on clay before the event. “I played so well all week,” said the new world No.67. “I was a little bit surprised – we were playing on indoor hardcourts in Moscow for Fed Cup on the weekend, and I came here so late. I didn’t expect to win the tournament at all. In the first round I was down 4-0 with points for 5-0, but then things started going better.”

Querrey to Defend at Queen’s:

Queen’s Club have confirmed that the 2010 finalists, winner Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish, have agreed to return to the grass-court Wimbledon warm up this summer. They join a field already populated by the likes of Rafa Nadal, British No.1 Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro. The French trio Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet  and Gilles Simon, as well as Fernando Verdasco, Marin Cilic, Ivan Ljubicic and Ernests Gulbis, are all also involved. “This is arguably the strongest field of players we have ever had,” said Tournament Director Chris Kermode. “We also have a field of great depth this year, with every player on the entry list ranked inside the world’s Top 100. It means that there will be big names and great matches from day one and we are really looking forward to it.”

Roddick Given a Legg Up:

Three-time winner Andy Roddick has committed to the 2011 Legg Mason Classic in Washington DC for the tenth time in his career. The 2001, 2005 and 2007 victor won his 30th Tour level title this year at Memphis, making him only the third active pro (behind Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal) to have achieved that feat. “The Legg Mason Tennis Classic is very excited to announce that Andy Roddick, one of the most sought-after players by tournaments around the world, has committed to play,” said Jeff Newman, Tournament Director and Senior Vice President with Lagardère Unlimited. “Andy typically plays only 13 ATP World Tour Tournaments per year out of the 62 held in 32 countries worldwide,” he continued. “Similar to Andre Agassi during his career, we feel fortunate that Andy continues to choose to play in Washington each year.”

Sanchez-Vicario Attacks Modern WTA Tour:

Former world No.1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario has taken a swipe at the modern WTA Tour, stating that the tour she played on in the 1990s was of a higher standard. “We had eight or 10 players who always had an extreme rivalry,” she said. “And to be No.1, or winning a Grand Slam or two, that just didn’t come. Now everything is much more open. You can be number one without being a great champion. There is a lot more power in the game, but it lacks variety. If you ask people, they know names of the Williams sisters or Clijsters and Henin, but don’t ask them to tell you the name of the number one.” Was this a thinly veiled dig at current incumbent Caroline Wozniacki? “There was more variety, players with different games, stronger minds, more character,” she continued. “I played with three generations and they evolved. I had to adapt. It’s the same now. If you want to compete in today’s game you have to play a much more physical [game] and more power than before.”

Nadal Could Struggle at Altitude:

Former Spanish Davis Cup captain Emilio Sanchez says that while world No.1 Rafa Nadal is still the favourite to triumph at Madrid next week he could find the high altitude of the tournament difficult to handle. “When a tournament is on clay Nadal is the favourite, but if a site has difficulties like Madrid, with the altitude or enclosed court, that gives other players at his level a chance to make things difficult,” he said.

Haas Back where he Belongs:

Former world No.2 Tommy Haas has returned to the courts this week in the doubles in Munich after 14 months out of action due to hip surgery and repeated shoulder injuries. The 33-year-old is partnering Radek Stepanek in what will be a very welcome sight for all home fans at the event. He is hoping that a good showing will result in invites to the upcoming tournaments at Madrid and Rome as well as the French Open. “I have trained very well in the last few months and want to play again,” Haas told German paper Sport-Bild Online.

Injuries Galore on WTA Tour:

After Tennis People reported last week that Venus Williams was unsure over when she would return to tour level action, now her sister Serena has backtracked on earlier hopeful predictions saying that she, too, is unsure on when she will pick up her racquet again competitively. “I’m feeling better,” said the younger Williams sibling. “Just starting training. I’m a little later than I suspected and hoped. But it’s going steady. Slow and steady, I think, always works out when it’s a race.” The news comes as the sisters, as well as Belgian ace Kim Clijsters, have all pulled out of the upcoming WTA event in Madrid. Venus reached the final at Madrid last year where Aravane Rezai bested her, but she has not really competed since the 2010 US Open due to injury. Clijsters and Venus are also expected to miss Rome.

Nadal Joins 500 Club:

Rafael Nadal’s semifinal victory over Ivan Dodig in Barcelona was the 500th Tour Level win of his career. He is the youngest man after Bjorn Borg to achieve the feat.

Young not a Happy Tweeter:

Donald Young has aimed a foul-mouthed rant at the USTA for overlooking him for a wildcard in to this year’s French Open. The 21-year-old was not given a berth in the USTA’s WC playoff event in Boca Raton despite winning the Challenger event at Tallahassee last week, reaching the third round at Indian Wells via a win over Andy Murray and cracking the Top 100 at No.98. “F*** USTA! Their full of s***! They have screwed me for the last time!” said the tweet, which Young then apologized for, stating that it was out of character. Soon after that, Young shut down his Twitter account altogether but neither he nor his representatives have responded to press requests for comments. Young has since apologised to those at the top of American tennis but the head of USTA Player Development and former Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe revealed he is still upset at the youngster due to the amount of free coaching he has received from the organization over the years with, truthfully, little return to show for it. “My emotion is not coming from my personal opinions,” McEnroe said. “It’s coming from the people on my staff, our team, that have gone above and beyond to try to help Donald Young, and not just him, but all the players we try to help. Again, we can go back and debate whether you like our program. You can do a referendum on me and my run in another two, three years. Kick me out the door if you don’t like the results. I get that. I understand the position. I understand the responsibility. But I also understand what my team is doing on a daily basis, and I don’t like what I heard. I don’t like my team being put in that situation based on all they’ve done. I do take it personally, but I take it personally because of who I am in my position in this team.” Ryan Harrison turned down an invitation to the event stating that he would rather enter the Grand Slams the hard way via on-site qualifying.

Petkovic Hires Gunthardt:

Andrea Petkovic has hired Steffi Graf’s fomrer coach Heinz Gunthardt to work with her on a part-time basis alongside full-time mentor Petar Popovic. Gunthardt worked with Ana Ivanovic for part of last year but that agreement came to an end as she wanted a full-time coach with her at all times and Gunthardt didn’t wish to commit to that. “The point is that I will incorporate my ideas and experiences and give an input,” Gunthardt said. “I will not be working with Andrea every day.”

Gajdosova Refutes Marriage Rumours:

Jarmilla Gajdosova, up until recently Jarmilla Groth, has refuted claims that her marriage to Sam Groth fell apart as she had only married him to obtain Australian citizenship. She approached Tennis Australia about representing them in 2004 and moved to the country. She applied for citizenship in 2007, the year she met and began dating Groth before they married in February 2009 with Gajdosova becoming a citizen in November of that year. “To people who say bad things about me: I didn’t need get married to become aussie citizen-check the facts… and check the law!” Gajdosova wrote on her Twitter account. “I got married because I loved sam and did it from my heart not because I am from poor country or I need it him for passport!”

Soderling and Tsonga Set Sail:

The Portuguese navy invited world No.5 Robin Soderling and No.18 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga aboard their sail ship Sagres this week while they were competing at the Estoril Open. They received a tour of the ship including climbing the rigging before putting on a small tennis exhibition on deck for the ship’s crew. “It was a really good experience, totally different from the tennis world,” said Tsonga. “[Climbing up the rigging] was really dangerous! I can’t imagine what it would be like if it was windy. The last time I was on a boat, which I rented for fishing, I was sick for five hours. Here it was okay, as it was a big boat moored up.” Meanwhile, the 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro took time out to visit the Benfica football team who were preparing for their Europa League semi-final first-leg against fellow Portuguese outfit Braga this Thursday. He was presented with a signed club shirt by his fellow countrymen Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar, Nicolas Gaitan and Franco Jara. Whatever he said to them worked as the Lisbon club triumphed 2-1.

Almagro Posts Career Best in Rankings Watch:

Nicolas Almagro became the 17th Spaniard to crack the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week, a career best. Ivan Dodig’s run to the semifinals at Barcelona sees him climb 12 in to the Top 50 at No.44, another career best, while Spain’s Pablo Andujar also enters the Top 50 at No.48. Czech star Jan Hajek, Germany’s Mischa Zverev and France’s Florent Serra all enter the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, Sam Stosur climbs above Li Na to No.6 in the world. Andrea Petkovic finds herself at No.15 in the world for the first time. She is joined in the Top 30 by surprise Stuttgart winner Julia Goerges at No.27, meaning that there are two Germans in the Top 30 for the first time since Steffi Graf retired in 1999. Alberta Brianti’s win at Fes saw her jump from No.94 to No.67 in the world while the woman she conquered, Simona Halep, is at a career-best No.52. Venus Williams has dropped to No.16 in the world with her continued injury absence. It is the first time since August 2007 that she has been outside the Top 15.

Rafa Takes lead in GOAT Race:

Roger Federer took some time out following his early exit in Monte Carlo leaving Rafa Nadal with a chance to take the lead, which he grabbed with both hands. By taking the title he adds another 200 points to his total giving him a lead of 175.

Roger: 595 Rafa: 770

Rafael Nadal marches on, Federer refutes criticism and Azarenka not taking risks

Rafa Continues Love Affair with Clay:

Rafael Nadal remains unbeaten on clay since 2009 after a battling 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo final. It was his 37th straight victory at the Masters tournament and his seventh consecutive title there, a new record. “It would have been impossible to imagine a few years ago winning seven titles here,” said Nadal. “I’m a lucky guy to have done this by age 24. I’m really enjoying everything. This was a very important win for me. I don’t think about defending points from previous years, only about playing well. I just keep trying to improve every day, train humbly and improve. Winning this week was so important.” Ferrer seemed at as much of a loss as the rest of us as to just how Rafa can be stopped on his favourite surface. “Well, he’s not a machine. He can lose,” Ferrer pondered. “Maybe if Rafa has an injury, I will have a chance.”

Federer Refutes Criticism:

Roger Federer refused to be downbeat following his slightly surprising defeat to Jurgen Melzer at Monte Carlo last week. The Austrian left-hander bested the No.2 seed 6-4, 6-4 and many saw it as another step back for the former world No.1 who now hasn’t won a tournament since Doha in January. But Federer refused to be troubled by the result: “I didn’t think I played terrible,” he said. “It’s the first week of play (on clay) so I didn’t expect to play my best. It’s been a solid tournament. I think I should have definitely gotten one of the sets. Every time I had this slight opening, things didn’t go my way. Even in the wind, I had all my chances to come back into the match. He did well. I think he played aggressive, was able to mix it up. Obviously, I wasted way too many break-point chances today, which was unfortunate.

Azarenka not risking it in Stuttgart:

Victoria Azarenka explained her reasons for retiring from her first-round Stuttgart match against Julia Georges despite taking the first set. She revealed that a shoulder injury suffered while on Fed Cup duty had been behind the withdrawal. “I picked up a shoulder injury during Fed Cup,” said the Belarusian. “I have been trying to rehab the last few days and tried my best here but it keeps getting worse. I didn’t want to push it any further at the start of the clay season. I’ll go back to do some therapy in Monaco so hopefully I’ll have time to recover and play Madrid.”

Nadal: “Barca Crucial to No.1 Ranking:”

World No.1 Rafa Nadal believes that Barcelona is a vital stop on the ATP Tour this year as he looks to keep up the gap over his closest rival Novak Djokovic. Nadal realizes he has a difficult challenge over the coming months as an incredible clay season during 2010 means he has 4,000 South African Airways ATP World Ranking points to defend. With his lead over Djokovic standing at 3,230 he is looking to open that up a little before the Serb begins his clay-court season. “Every year I did a fantastic clay court season. I have to try to do it another time,” Nadal stated after winning his seventh straight Monte-Carlo title on Sunday. “With these four or five tournaments, if I am playing very well, I’m going to have the biggest chances to have enough points to try to be in the top position at the end of the year ranking. Nole will always be on the opposite side of the draw, which means that I can only meet him in the final. For now I have to focus on my upcoming opponents. Djokovic has started the season in great shape and why should this not be his season?”

Almagro to Crack Top Ten:

25-year-old Nicolas Almagro will enter the world’s Top 10 next week for the first time in his career having overcome the freefalling Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the third round at Barcelona. The Spaniard has had most of his success on clay, particularly this year, and only David Ferrer prevented him picking up triple titles on the South American “Golden Swing” circuit by defeating him in the final at Acapulco after he had taken home Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. “I knew that today’s match could have a special reward,” he said. “It was the third time I had a chance to get to the Top 10, after Acapulco and Monte-Carlo first. It’s an incredible feeling. There’s no better place to achieve it than in my home club in front of my own people and my family and all the home support. It’s a great reward for myself and the work of my whole team.” Almagro will become the 17th Spaniard since the rankings’ inception in 1973 to crack the Top 10.

America on the Decline:

A 5-0 defeat to Germany in the Fed Cup World Group play-offs means that the USA will drop out of the top tier of the competition for the first time. A youthful side, still missing both Serena and Venus Williams who haven’t represented their country since 2007, were no match for an Andrea Petkovic-inspired German side and it was the creator of the ‘Petkodance’ who won the deciding rubber, 6-2, 6-3 over Melanie Oudin. A tearful Venus could be seen courtside after traveling with the squad despite injury for moral support. Speaking of the all-important rubber, Oudin said: “I tried not to think about it but it was extra weight on my shoulder.” The USA have won the Fed Cup a record 17 times and have finished as the runners up to Italy in the past two years.

Venus “Unsure” on Return:

Venus Williams admits that she is unsure when she will be fit enough to return to the WTA Tour. She has not played since the Australian Open and has penciled in Madrid, next month, for a return. Yet she says she won’t start playing until she is 100% fit again, unlike in Melbourne when she only troubled her existing hip injury. Meanwhile, Serbia’s team doctor has confirmed that the abdominal injury that forced Ana Ivanovic to retire from her Fed Cup match against the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova is not that serious and she will only be out for around a week. It has been troubling the former world No.1 slightly since the Aussie Open but it is not thought  that surgery is required to fix the problem.

Will Chakvetedze return to Dizzy Heights:

Former Top 10 player Anna Chakvetedze retired from her first-round encounter against Zuzana Kucova in Stuttgart after becoming ill and suffering from dizzy spells, the third tournament in a row (Dubai and Indian Wells) she has retired from for these reasons. “I started the match feeling fine but I knew it [the dizziness] was coming and started to feel worse in the second set, the same feeling as the last two times,” Chakvetadze said in a statement distributed by the WTA. “I have seen a doctor and don’t really have anything more to update at the moment. I saw the doctors at home before the tournament and they told me everything would be OK, which is why I decided to play here.” At the time the scoreboard read 6-1, 5-7, 4-4.

Boldly Going Where no Moroccan Woman Has Gone Before:

Before this week Morocco’s Nadia Lalami had played four WTA Tour matches, which had all been first round defeats. Now she finds herself in the quarterfinals of the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and in the history books too. The 20-year-old shocked No.1 seed Aravane Rezai to become the first Moroccan to reach a WTA Tour level quarterfinal in the organisation’s history. She dropped the first set before racing to a 5-1 lead in the second. She almost let it slip before beating Rezai in the tiebreak and going on to nick the third set.

Rankings Watch:

American Mardy Fish enters the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week while Jurgen Melzer is up to No.8 and Frenchman Gael Monfils moves up to No.9. Fernando Verdasco is the unlucky Spaniard who drops out. Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov continues his ascent since January and finds himself in the Top 20 for the first time. Xavier Malisse is in to the Top 50 at No.47 while Italy’s Fabio Fognini joins him at No.49. Federico Gil had an impressive run at Monte Carlo, which sees him jump 18 to No.64 while Dudi Sela (19 places to No.96), Donald Young (24, No.98) and Germany’s Matthias Bachinger (35, No.99) all took big leaps in to the Top 100. Li Na has equaled her career-best in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week after returning to No.6 in the world. She is the only mover within the Top 20. Britain’s Anne Keothavong is enjoying her return from injury and jumps 15 to No.95 this week while the Czech Republic’s Sandra Zahlavova is also in to the Top 100.

Rafa Closes GOAT Race Gap:

Rafael Nadal continued to claw in to Roger Federer’s GOAT race lead by continuing his mesmerizing run on clay courts to lift the Monte Carlo title. Roger Federer reached the quarter final stage before losing to Jurgen Melzer so adds 25 points to his running total while Rafa’s title gives him 200 points to cut the deficit to just 35 points. By then entering Barcelona, Rafa adds another 10 to his score to make Roger’s lead now just 25.

Roger: 595 Rafa: 570