Beijing

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Exclusive: Caroline Wozniacki on being an actress, her biggest fear and future karaoke battles with Serena Williams

Caroline Wozniacki (REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity)


Former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki holds not only 18 WTA Tour titles but also a great sense of humor. During the Sony Ericsson Open, the 21-year-old Dane cheerfully chatted with me about her most memorable moments on court, the best part of being a tennis player, her aspirations to be an actress, her biggest fear,  and the three tennis players she would most want to party with.

What is your most memorable moment on court?

I’ve had a lot. I think reaching the #1 ranking for the ranking and what happened in Beijing was definitely a big moment for me. Or lifting up my first trophy – or any trophy. Or walking into the opening ceremony of the Olympics was huge as well.

What is the best part of being a pro tennis player?

To travel the world and get to meet new people and get to experience things that others maybe never experience, which is great.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

I would like to be an actress – I think that would be quite fun. Always, when we had plays in school, I wanted to be in there. I had the leading role quite a few times, which is cool.

How old were you when you did that?

I can’t remember. (Smiles) I think it was all from 9 to 14 years old. I remember I was Sandy in Grease as well, so I had to sing and I’m a terrible singer. I wasn’t shy I just sang. (Laughs)

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be any why?

That’s a tough one because I would Martina Hingis, but I’ve played her before. She was my role model growing up.

If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?

I would invite Serena [Williams] – she would have to bring her Karoake. (Laughs) I would bring Agnieszka Radwanska and maybe someone like … of the guys … maybe someone like Rafa [Nadal].

Which actress would you like to play you of a movie of yourself?

Maybe Cameron Diaz or Scarlett Johansson.

They have your likeness.

I don’t know, maybe. I would like to think that. (Smiles)

What are two things you couldn’t live without?

My mobile phone and … (Shyly) maybe some chocolate once in a while. (Smiles)

What is one thing that scares you?

Spiders. And I’m a bit afraid of the dark, especially if I have to walk outside when it’s dark, I don’t like it. (Laughs)

(Three watermarked photos courtesy of Neal Trousdale. To check out more photos from the Sony Ericsson Open, check out Neal’s Flickr page.)

Andy Roddick’s short temper makes him walk from Beijing presser – The Friday Five

Andy Roddick

By Maud Watson

Short Fuse

The fuse that ignites Andy Roddick’s temper seems to be getting shorter and shorter these last few months, and that was certainly the case earlier this week in Beijing when Roddick walked out of a press conference after being asked about retirement following his opening round loss to Kevin Anderson. Roddick’s anger and annoyance are understandable. He’d just lost in straight sets to the talented but unheralded South African after putting on a performance that he himself labeled as “unacceptable.” There’s also the frustration that stems from tennis pundits and journalists often being too quick to shove top stars out the door the second their form starts to dip. And had Roddick finished the press conference after wryly commenting that the reporter who asked the question should be the one to retire – a response that garnered some laughs – everything would have been fine. But it’s the fact that he walked out that should draw some criticism. It was obvious listening to the reporter that he didn’t have the greatest command of the English language, which may have contributed to how bluntly the question came across. Then there’s Roddick’s own past comments that may have warranted the line of questioning. He admitted he nearly left the game three years ago when he wasn’t happy with his form and suffered an early exit at Wimbledon, and there’s no doubt that his present-day results are subpar at the biggest events. It was also made public a remark he’d made to Donald Dell, saying that if he ever fell out of the top 15 (he’s currently ranked 15), he’d seriously consider retiring, as he didn’t want to hang around the tour for the sake of hanging around. No one should rush Roddick out the door, as he’s paid his dues. But he’s not the first player to be fielding these questions, and there was no excuse for going all Paris Hilton on the press.

Breakthrough

The saying goes that it’s better late than never, and that seems to be the case with Janko Tipsarevic. At age 27, he’s on the latter end of what many consider to be the prime years for a tennis player, but last weekend he secured his maiden ATP singles title. He’d previously lost four other finals, including two earlier this season. Spurred on by the success of his countryman Djokovic and his best Grand Slam singles result this year in New York, Tipsarevic may finally be hitting his stride. With him, it’s always been a question of how much he wants it, because the game is there. If he’s ready to totally commit, he’s going to be one to watch heading into 2012.

Paying Dividends

After a plethora of low points, many fans were wondering if Ana Ivanovic had any hope of reclaiming the form that took her to the top of the women’s game. Since hiring Nigel Sears, she has seen her game improve in leaps and bounds and appears headed back towards the upper echelons. Just this week, she defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, with the latter win marking her first victory over a top-five player since 2008. She’ll need to post these types of results on a more consistent basis to truly be considered back in the mix, but she’s well on her way. We’ve also witnessed the long-awaited emergence of Donald Young. Several months ago he’d hit rock bottom, but since mending fences with the USTA and accepting their guidance, his game has done a 180. Last week he earned a victory over Gael Monfils before being crushed by Murray in what marked Young’s first ATP final appearance. As with Ivanovic, we’ll need to see more of these runs to know whether he’s a legit top 50 player, but he’s certainly in a better place.

Show Me the Money

A few short decades ago, the Australian Open was the red-headed stepchild of the majors. Today, it’s pushing hard to be top dog. In 2012, the season’s first major will boast the largest amount of prize money in Grand Slam history, with the men’s and women’s singles winners taking home $2.2 million USD, and $25 million in total prize money. The Hawk-Eye technology will also be extended to a third show court. Props and thanks are in order for all the folks at the Australian Open and Australian Tennis for turning this into a first-class event that is a favorite among players and fans alike.

A Real Pity

Hopes may have been high when rumors began circulating that Martina Hingis would be stepping out of retirement to play mixed doubles with Roger Federer at the Australian Open in preparation for a mixed doubles gold medal bid at the 2012 Olympics later in the summer. While Hingis will be playing the new Legends event, she has nixed the notion that she’ll be playing with her fellow Swiss compatriot. And while not impossible, it’s looking more doubtful the pair will team up for the London Olympics. Hingis would have to secure a high enough WTA doubles ranking, submit to the drug testing program, and play Fed Cup to be eligible. It’s a real shame, because you’d be hard pressed to find a pair gifted with as much court craft and guile, which would have been entertaining to witness, win or lose.

Dementieva’s Shock Retirement, Clijsters wins in Doha and ATP Finals Chase is on

Kim Clijsters

*29-year-old world No. 9 Elena Dementieva has shocked the tennis world by announcing that she will retire from the sport following the WTA Championships in Doha. She reached the finals of the French and US Opens in 2004 as well as the semi finals in Australia (2009), Wimbledon (2008, 2009) and at the WTA Chmps. (2000, 2008) whilst also holding both an Olympic Gold (Beijing) and Silver (Sydney) medal. In 2005 she starred for Russia in their Fed Cup triumph and currently stands as their most successful competitor ever in the competition and in 2009 she reached a career-high No. 3 in the world. But she says it was at the beginning of the year she made her decision and that, despite her family’s best attempts, she’s sticking to her guns. “This is my last tournament,” she told the Doha crowd after her group-stage defeat to Francesca Schiavone. “Thank you to all of the people that I have worked with for such a long time. I would like to thank all of the players for an amazing experience. It’s very emotional. I would like to thank all of the people around the world for supporting me through my career. And I would like to thank my family, especially my mum.” For more from Dementieva as well as reaction from her fellow pros visit the BBC Tennis website as well as the WTA site.

*Belgian super mum Kim Clijsters defeated Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki to lift the WTA Championships for the third time in Doha. The 27-year-old fought to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory despite having not played since lifting the US Open at Flushing Meadows back in September. “I’m glad I won and it must be disappointing for Caroline, but I don’t know how many more years I’m going to keep doing this,” said Clijsters. “It was just a great battle, great fitness and I think we showed the crowd some great women’s tennis.” Wozniacki said: “This has been a fantastic week for me. Kim just played amazing today and she deserves to win. In the third set it was very close. She played really well, especially in the important moments. Definitely the experience mattered a little bit today.” Gisela Dulko and Flavia Penetta won the doubles.

*The men’s season isn’t quite over yet but time is seriously running out for the remaining hopefuls looking to qualify for the ATP Finals in London later this month. Andy Roddick returned from a three-week layoff in Basel and defeated compatriot Sam Querrey 7-5, 7-6(6) to keep up his finals charge but there was not such good news for Tomas Berdych and Fernando Verdasco. Over at Valencia, Verdasco lost to Frenchman Gilles Simon in just fifty-seven minutes which deals a major blow to his finals hopes. Simon was on fire, winning an astonishing 81% of points off of his first serve. It was even worse for Wimbledon finalist Berdych. He went down 4-6, 1-6 in Basel to German lucky loser Tobias Kamke and now his qualification chances will be severely dented too.

*There’s an early Davis Cup final setback for France as world No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has withdrawn from the squad to face Serbia due to his recurring knee problems. He ruptured his tendon once more playing at Montpellier last week having only returned to action a few weeks previously. The 2008 Aussie Open finalist will also miss the Paris Masters next week where he would have been hoping to push his way in to the ATP World Tour Finals to be held in London later this month.

*Great scenes in St. Petersburg last week as world No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin humbled top seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6(2) to break his ATP Tour title duck. “For me it’s just incredible, this feeling, because I never think that I can win a tournament right now because I was ranked around 90,” he said. “When I came here I didn’t think I can even play quarter-finals, semis here. I was just concentrating on every match.” It was also his first final on the tour. A full interview with the Kazakhstani star can be seen at the ATP website.

*Caroline Wozniacki of course had already secured her berth as the year-ending world No. 1 but what did Doha mean for the rest? Kim Clijsters’ win has seen her climb back to No. 3 in the world meaning Serena finds herself sat at No. 4 as her injury woes continue. Aussie Sam Stosur finds herself back at No. 6 while much further down the scale, Croatia’s Karolina Sprem finds herself back up to No. 97 in the world having sat at 106 last week.

*The Christophe Rochus doping row has taken the interest of many tennis fans this week and it once again brings tennis in to contact with that horrible term and concept. There is an interesting debate on the issue over at Tennis.com between Steve Tignor and Kamakshi Tandon.

*Ana Ivanovic and coach Heinz Gunthardt have parted ways despite Ana’s recent resurgence. Gunthardt couldn’t commit to a full-time coaching role and Ana has decided to find somebody who will be able to follow her more permanently.

*It’s retirement central currently with American Taylor Dent hinting he may quit if results begin to slip. After overcoming terrible back injuries over the past few years the former world No. 21 has been fighting to climb the ladder again and save his career. “If I feel like I’m making headway, I’ll keep going,” Dent told the Charlottesville Daily Progress ahead of this week’s Charlottesville challenger. “If not—if I’m floundering or taking steps backward—then I’ll make that decision [to retire] sooner rather than later.”

*Another American is talking pipes and slippers, this time Rennae Stubbs. She says she plans to call time on her career in February after the Aussie Open and America’s Fed Cup tie against Italy. “If we win [in] Fed Cup and get to the semis, there’s a small possibility that I’d still like to be a part of that journey, having been on the train for so long,”’ the 39-year-old doubles specialist told the Melbourne Age. “But the plan is that Fed Cup will probably be it.”

*Dustin Brown is now competing under the German flag, having earlier represented Jamaica and expressing interest in representing Great Britain. He has clashed with the Jamaican tennis authorities over a perceived lack of support and famously travelled between tournaments in a camper van to save funds. He was born in Germany to a German mother and Jamaican father.

*There has been a lot of fuss made this past week about the fact that Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt announced the name of his new baby daughter via a paid-for text message service which fans could subscribe too. Hewitt, of course, is defending his “service” available to fans but many of the world’s press think badly of the venture. Although the argument is a little old now, there is a great tongue-in-cheek article on The Star website looking at the whole debacle from a typically Aussie perspective. Check it out, it’s a good read!

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.

Maria Sharapova Needs to Regroup and Move Forward

sharapovacelebutopia28

While many hoped that 2010 would be the comeback year for Maria Sharapova, it has been disappointing a little. Early exits in Tokyo and Beijing and I am sure many fans have their faith in their star shaken.

What does Sharapova have to say for herself?

“I’m definitely not as good as I wanted to be,” Sharapova told the WTA Tour website. “After the U.S. Open I wasn’t able to train as much as I would’ve wanted to, and I feel like the last couple of weeks I’ve just been trying to play catch-up.”

And there is more. She talks about rhythm and how she is disappointed with her losses but that it is not the end of the world.

“My rhythm hasn’t been where it should be. Obviously it’s disappointing, but I’ve lost and won many matches in my career. I’ll just have to regroup and move forward.”

And I sincerely hope that she will regroup asap because a Sharapova in top form is a threat for any player at any tournament!

Fashion Focus: Elena Denimantieva

Yonex decided to flex its design muscle by using “denim” — printed on a moisture-wicking syntehtic — for its fall ‘08 collection, which debuted in time for the fashion-forward U.S. Open. They even opted for orange thread as contrast stitching, giving the pieces a more authentic and rugged look.

Elena Dementieva played in the separates at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where she lost to Katarina Srebotnik in the quarters. Notice the knot on th front lefft tank strap.

And this Russian wore the halter version during her semifinal run in New York. (She’s had a pretty good summer, following her semi @ Wimbledon with a gold medal from Beijing and the semi in NYC.)


Yonex’s Beijing kit for Elena.

And here’s the men’s denim line. As far as I can tell, none of the major tennis retail outlets are carrying this line in America.

Standings in the “Mythical” Olympic Team Competition

After three days of play in the tennis competition at the 2008 Olympic tennis competition, it is the French men and the Russian women who leading in the team competition in Beijing. Both nations are seeking their nation’s first gold medal in the team competition in tennis….eerrr….uh…wait…a minute. Team competition? Is there one?

In my column posted last week (click HERE to read), I suggested that a team competition at the Olympics consist of each singles and doubles victory earning one point for a nation in a “team competition” and the nation with the most points at the end of the competition, be awarded team gold, silver and bronze. If this was indeed the case at the Games (there is only individual medals at stake in men’s and women’s singles and doubles), then after two rounds of singles and one round of doubles play, the men’s standings would be as follows

MEN

France – 8 points

Russia – 6 points

Switzerland – 4 points

Argentina – 4 points

Spain – 4 points

Czech Republic – 3 points

USA – 3 points

Germany – 3 points

Chile – 3 points

Belgium – 3 points

Serbia – 3 points

Austria – 3 points

France is paced by its depth as three players – Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Paul Henri Mathieu – all reaching the round of 16, and Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra reaching the round of 16 in doubles. Russia has two players in the round of 16 of singles – Michael Youzhny and Igor Andreev – and two doubles teams – Nikolay Davydenko and Andreev and Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov into the round of 16 of doubles. Switzerland is, of course, paced by Roger Federer, who is the round of 16 of both singles and doubles (with Stan Wawrinka). David Nalbandian is the only Argentine still remaining in the men’s field as he is into the round of 16 of singles. For men’s singles and doubles draws at the Games, click here.

In women’s play, the team point standings would be as follows;

WOMEN

Russia – 8 points

China – 6 points

USA – 6 points

Belarus – 4 points

Ukraine – 3 points

Czech Republic – 3 points

Italy – 3 points

France – 3 points

Slovakia – 3 points

Russia has three women remaining in women’s singles – Dinara Safina (the U.S. Open Series women’s winner), Vera Zvonareva (who replaced the injured Maria Sharapova in the Olympic field) and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Elena Dementieva, who are all into the round of 16. In doubles, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Safina, the No. 1 seeded team, are into the round of 16 as are Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina. The Chinese women have Jie Zheng, the Wimbledon semifinalist earlier this year, and Li Na, the first-round conqueror of No. 3 seed Kuznetsova, into the round of 16 of singles, while Zheng and Zi Yan are into the round of 16 of doubles. The United States is, of course, paced by the Williams sisters – Venus and Serena – who are into the round of 16 of singles – and vying for all-sister Olympic gold medal match – and through to the round of 16 of doubles. Lindsay Davenport and Liezel Huber are through to the round of 16 of doubles as well for the Americans. For men’s singles and doubles draws at the Games, click here.

Let’s keep close tabs on how the rest of the tournament shapes up as far as our “mythic” team competition goes.

Ask Bill: Looking Back to Paris; Looking Ahead to Wimbledon

Some random thoughts from a fascinating Roland Garros and the first look forward to the grass…

Roger Federer’s performance in the Roland Garros final against Rafael Nadal was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s fight against Larry Holmes. A mismatch from the start, Ali pulled out his tricks but had no answers for the younger, stronger Holmes, and was battered mercilessly. Like Sunday’s final, this was simply a bad match-up, and- to use the age-old explanation- styles make fights. Nadal moves better, defends better, and can control points off the ground (on clay, anyway) better than Federer. Like seeing The Greatest get punched around the ring, it was still surprising to witness Federer looking so vulnerable.

Rafael Nadal did not hit a single ace in the semis or final. He hit only seven aces during the entire two weeks. This serving approach will change on the grass. He will need some free points at crucial moments.

Darren Cahill brought up an interesting point on ESPN about Nadal’s Wimbledon preparation. Instead of rushing across the channel to play the Artois Championships, he should rest for a few days and skip the Queens Club event. Recall that he was spent by the end of Wimbledon last summer, although admittedly he was forced to play five (rain-delayed) matches in the last seven days of The Championships. Had Nadal been fresher, then he would have likely taken the fifth set of last year’s final.

Of course the cynic can offer about one million reasons why Nadal will compete at Queens Club again this year. It is hard to pass up that kind of appearance fee loot no matter how wealthy he has become. To paraphrase Bob Dylan (from “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry”), don’t say I never warned you if Nadal loses early this week.

It was great to see Bjorn Borg attending matches during the final weekend of Roland Garros. In an interesting on-court interview with his great rival John McEnroe, Borg agreed to play with Mighty Mac in the over-45 doubles next year.

Borg also told McEnroe that this was the first time he had returned to Roland Garros since winning the event in 1981 (beating Ivan Lendl in a five-set final). Evidently Borg forgot that he did television work for NBC Sports in 1983 (interviewing Yannick Noah and Mats Wilandner after their final) and presented the Coupe De Mosquetaires on-court to Gustavo Kuerten in 1997. Guga famously bowed to the great Borg, as though the Swede was royalty. Let’s just presume that Borg’s passing shots were better than his memory!

Ai Sugiyama is preparing to break the all-time record at the All England Club by competing in her 56th consecutive major tournament. She currently shares this record with Wayne Ferreira, who played 56 straight from 1991 to 2004. This is a remarkable strength of will and consistency.

In the For What It’s Worth category… After last year’s epic Wimbledon final, Roger Federer did an interview with a standout former player. Afterwards, this player, off-camera, of course, told his colleague that the Swiss would never win another Wimbledon title. He saw cracks in the armor last summer.

Fingers are crossed that Slazenger has produced livelier balls for this year’s grass court season. It has been disappointing to see men’s professional grass court tennis look like… hard court tennis. If that’s what people really want to see, then the grass should be paved for a more “fair” hard court surface. I would prefer that it retain the traditional allure for attacking players and reward players for net-rushing tactics.

In 1984, there were 64 American men in the singles main draw of Wimbledon. That will never be matched again. I do, however, expect to see several Yanks doing some damage at SW19.

Serena Williams would have been really annoyed with her result at Roland Garros. She will keep the Venus Rosewater Dish in the Williams family’s possession this year.

Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas and Peruvian Luis Horna completed a storybook run to the French men’s doubles title. In the quarterfinals they took out former champions and the top-ranked team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan. This match received a lot of attention because afterwards the Bryans refused to shake hands with Cuevas, as they were offended by his show of exuberance in the third set tiebreak. As the South American pair raced to a 5-1 lead, Cuevas leaped the net to switch sides- instead of walking around the net post. While it might have been a bit much, hopping the net certainly appeared to be an act of spontaneity on Cuevas’ part. The Bryans have perfected the leaping chest bump, so their reaction seemed a bit harsh.

To offer some context, the Bryan brothers have saved men’s professional doubles. Without them, it might not even exist these days. They carry the weight and responsibility of, literally, preserving this form of the professional sport. Furthermore, they have each distinguished themselves as fierce competitors and gentlemen throughout their storied career. They get it. Therefore, the Bryans deserve some slack. I’ll bet that they wish they had not reacted so strongly during the heat of the moment. I’ll also bet that they are hoping for a rematch against Cuevas and Horna at the Big W.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have much to gain these next months, and Federer much to defend. Pete Sampras finished as the world’s top-ranked player for a remarkable six straight years (1993-98), and Federer’s assault on that record is looking bleaker. Roger will need a “turn back the clock” effort for the remainder of 2008 to avoid relegation to No. 3 in the year-end rankings.

Less than half of the world’s top-ten players will compete in the Beijing Olympics. Keep reading the agate type in your sports sections for listings of injuries, because most of the top players will find them before hopping on a plane for Asia in August. This is as sure as the sun rising in the East.

I always write about making a pilgrimage to beautiful Newport, RI for the Hall of Fame Championships each July. For any fan living or traveling in Europe, please visit Eastbourne. This is a charming coastal town in the south of England, and a wonderful warm-up tournament for The Championships. The honor roll of former champions stands as a “who’s-who” list of Hall of Famers. The grass courts are typically as good as any in the world, and the players love the relaxed environment. In fact, the accessibility to the players is virtually unprecedented in this day and age.

Ask Bill – You Ask, Bill Answers!

Four years ago, I won a steak dinner at NYC’s Smith & Wollensky from a gentlemen’s bet that I had with a tennis insider. My winning bet was that more than 50% of the world’s top ten players (the ten men and the ten women, per the rankings at the start of the event) would pull out of the Athens Olympics before the start of the Games. Sure enough, only nine of the possible 20 players who took part, and I enjoyed my steak cooked medium rare.

Will the same happen again in 2008? Probably. It will be even more difficult for players to justify a trip to Beijing with the US Open, the world’s richest prize money tournament (lest you forget), beginning shortly afterwards.

Andy Roddick’s withdrawal has gotten a lot of attention, but I admire his forthrightness. Most players will feign an injury at the last moment to appear as though they “really wanted to be there.” Kudos to Roddick for telling it like it is: the US Open is the priority for tennis players.

It is great that our sport is part of the Summer Olympic Games, but foolhardy to think that players who grow up watching Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open finals will care as deeply for the once-every-four-years deal. A quick glance at the honor roll of medal winners supports this. Some all-time greats did receive medals at previous Olympics, but there are a lot of names that would be difficult for even hard-core tennis fans to recall. As the “ol’ perfessor” Casey Stengel used to say, you can look it up.

My family and I were having a holiday in the South of France two weeks ao, and I insisted that we make a pilgrimmage to the Monte Carlo Country Club, where Bjorn Borg spent so much time practicing. On one of the outside courts, the relentless Justine Henin was going through an on-court workout that would wear out any Olympic decathlete. She was also working on finishing points with her most potent weapon, her forehand. This stroke is more effective than, but often overshadowed by, her more aesthetically pleasing one-handed backhand. It is hard to envision her losing her crown at Roland Garros.

Of course, the tournament organizers in Indian Wells would have much rather seen the world’s #1 player in the Californian dessert than training on clay in Europe. Sadly, with the stubborn reluctance to modify the one-year-runs-into-the-next schedule of the international tour, players choose to make their own off-seasons. It seems that the time after the Australian Open ends in late January until March is becoming a “window” that more players will be using. It would be great to correct this one day.

After seeing Novak Djokovic winning in Indian Wells and reading more and more analysis of Roger Federer’s feelings toward the young Serb, I was reminded of a remarkable moment in boxing’s recent history. Roy Jones, Jr. was viewed as his generation’s pound-for-pound greatest, and one of the best boxers of all time. He won a disputed decision against Antonio Tarver, which led to their rematch. Jones had a few “explanations” for his sub-par performance leading into the second fight. When the boxers met in the middle of the ring for the pre-fight instructions, they were, as is customary, asked if they had any questions. “Yeah, I got one,” said Tarver, “You got any excuses tonight, Roy?” In an astonishing performance, Tarver knocked Jones cold in the second round.

To borrow from Antonio Tarver, we also “got” a few questions this week:

1) “What is your take on Roddick skipping the Olympics?”
~Arvind from India

See above. It is the right move for Roddick at this stage of his career. His decision will set a trend this summer. I’d expect Roddick to look to play in London 2012, which, again, would be the right move for him at that stage (unless he has a Barry Bonds-like second half of his career). Roddick will be just shy of his 30th birthday during the London 2012 Games, and will predictably get caught up in the “one more time” sentimentality. This year’s US Open will be among the last and best chances that Roddick has of enhancing his Hall of Fame career- and he is already a first ballot H-of-F’er.

2) I am an aggressive player, and I always tend to find a way to hit winners. I am a one-handed player for both forehand and backhand, I can do quite good on both sides, but sometimes I make many errors on my backhand, how do I improve that?
~Tony from Hong Kong

Despite your ability to always find a way to hit winners, I would urge you to play slightly more conservatively on your backhand and wait for the opportunity to use your forehand to full advantage. Think Fernando Gonzalez, who will roll, slice, and, of course sometimes, nail his backhand. When he gets a forehand, however, it is Katie Bar the Door.

Lastly, kudos to Rafael Nadal and David Nalbandian for playing in a friendly exhibition at the Palm Beach International Polo Club (on Har Tru!) on Tuesday evening. The event raised $50,000 for their respective charities, and Nalbandian was able to provide a favor for his buddy and fellow Argentine, Adolfo Combiaso, who is regarded as the world’s finest polo player.

Roddick to Skip 2008 Olympics

By Agence France Presse

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US star Andy Roddick will skip the Beijing Olympics in August to defend his crown at the ATP Washington Classic two weeks before the US Open. Roddick will bring star power to the only event on the men’s tennis tour that conflicts with the high-profile showdown for Olympic gold in China.

Roddick has decided to remain in the United States to better preapre for the US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam tournament that starts in New York on August 25, the day after the Olympics conclude in Beijing.

“My goal every summer is to win the US Open,” said Roddick. “I have won the Legg Mason Tennis Classic three times and feel defending my title in Washington best prepares me for another Grand Slam title.”

Sixth-ranked Roddick captured the ATP title in Dubai last weekend with victories over Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the run.

Roddick defeated big-serving US wild card John Isner in last year’s Washington final.

The Olympic tournament and Washington’s event are both set to be played on the week starting Monday, August 11.

With Roddick’s absence, ninth-ranked James Blake is the top-rated American in line to play for Beijing Olympic singles gold.

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