belgians

Kirsten Flipkens’ Fairytale

For the better part of a decade, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin battled each other for major titles and the World No. 1 ranking while simultaneously putting Belgium on the international sporting stage. Who would’ve ever imagined that a nation that covers just under 12,000 square miles with a population of just over 11 million people would produce not one, but two of the greatest champions in the history of women’s tennis?

Unlike other nations which have traditionally produced the game’s greats, including the United States, the Czech Republic and Russia, Belgium did not have a strong championship pedigree in tennis prior to Clijsters and Henin’s success. The pair took a comparatively small nation and turned it into a powerhouse; in addition to holding 11 Grand Slam singles titles between them, the two were ranked No. 1 in the world for a combined 137 weeks and single-handedly led Belgium to a Fed Cup title in 2001 and a final in 2006. With Clijsters and Henin both retired, the future of Belgian tennis looked bleak. A nation that once enjoyed an embarrassment of riches courtesy of two players now only boasts just three in the top 300, with the most talented players still years away. Yanina Wickmayer made a shocking run to the semifinals of the US Open in 2009 at 19 years old, but a lingering back injury and patches of inconsistent play have dimmed her once-bright promise. In Fed Cup, Belgium will compete in Europe/Africa Zone Group I in 2014 following their defeat to Poland in the World Group II Playoffs this year, the first time Belgium will compete in zonal play since 1995.

When the Belgians were looking for someone to fly their flag, they probably weren’t expecting someone who was born in the same decade as both Kim and Justine to take it up. She’s been right under their noses the whole time.

In a tournament riddled with shocks and stunners, the Cinderella story of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships is more than just that. Ten years ago, Kirsten Flipkens won the junior Wimbledon title. The Belgian defeated well-known WTA players Alisa Kleybanova, Ana Ivanovic, Jarmila Gajdosova and Anna Chakvetadze in the final en route to the title and the No. 1 junior ranking. At the end of that year, Flipkens was named the ITF Juniors Girls’ Singles World Champion. A late bloomer of sorts, Flipkens did not play in the main draw of a women’s grand slam event until the 2006 French Open, and reached back-to-back third rounds at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2009.

After ending both 2009 and 2010 inside the top 100, Flipkens dealt with a wrist injury which resulted in a year-end ranking of No. 194 in 2011. Her troubles continued in April of 2012, as Flipkens’ doctors discovered blood clots in her legs and she was sidelined for two months. Despite recovering, Flipkens learned it was a genetic problem and she still needed to wear compression socks and take blood thinners before flying. As a result, her ranking continued to free fall and she slipped to No. 262 in the world prior to last year’s Wimbledon Championships – a ranking not even high enough to contest the tournament’s qualifying event.

There were few left who believed in her, as the Flemish Tennis Federation withdrew their support from a player ranked No. 262 at 26 years of age. In a matter of a few years, Flipkens went from junior standout and 2003 Belgian Talent of the Year, to top 100 player, to another ‘what could’ve been.’ The one person who never stopped believing, however, was Flipkens herself. “Because I knew, my highest ranking then was 59 and I was 100 percent sure that I would get into the top 50 one day. So that was the main thing that kept me up,” she said earlier this year.

Up she’s gone, and she’s refused to look back. With assistance from Clijsters’ former team and Kim herself, Flipkens’ first WTA title came in Quebec City last year, and she passed her career-high of 59 by one spot as a result. After ending 2012 at 54, she made her top 50 debut after reaching the semifinals in Hobart in January. She reached the second week of a slam for the first time at the Australian Open, and made her top 30 debut after Indian Wells. She arrived in the top 20 after Roland Garros and came to Wimbledon as the No. 20 seed.

With straight set wins in her first four matches, Flipkens has played her steadiest tennis in a tournament where nothing’s been certain. In her first major quarterfinal, no one would’ve batted an eyelash had she been overwhelmed and bundled out by former champion Petra Kvitova. No one talked about or expected her to make it out of Victoria Azarenka’s depleted quarter of the draw, yet here she is. Following both her fourth round win over Flavia Pennetta and the quarterfinal win against Kvitova, Flipkens fell to her knees and kissed the grass courts – a symbolic measure of just how far she’s come.

For all that Clijsters and Henin accomplished, neither of them managed to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon; Henin came the closest, as she reached the final in 2001 and 2006. At this time last year, Kirsten Flipkens was en route to winning an ITF $25,000 title in Middelburg, Netherlands. She’s been around the world and back with a game that would’ve looked at home a decade ago. 12 months later she has the chance of a lifetime, one that no one could’ve ever expected her to have, on the biggest stage in tennis. She still the biggest underdog remaining, but after all she’s overcome, there’s no doubt she’s primed for another fight.

Ana Ivanovic Splits with Coach – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Abrupt Ending

Few saw this one coming, but following her defeat to Italian Francesca Schiavone on the last day of the round robin competition at the WTA Championships, Elena Dementieva shocked fans with the announcement that she was retiring, effective immediately.  She later cited one of the main reasons behind her decision was the desire to start a family, and while tennis fans undoubtedly understand and wish her the best, the hard-hitting Russian will still be missed.  Arguably the best of her generation to have never won a major, she was a steady presence at the top of the women’s game.  Her serve may have been near the bottom of the barrel, but she could compete with the game’s biggest hitters stroke for stroke and played some of the most exciting matches against the game’s top stars.  So while her value may not be weighted the same as a Williams sister or one of the Belgians, Dementieva’s departure will leave a hole on the WTA Tour.

Nerves of Steel

Trying to win a top tier event like the WTA Championships when competing against the best players in the world is a difficult task in and of itself.  Managing to take the title after enduring a frightening car crash is a near impossible ask.  Yet that is exactly what Kim Clijsters did.  En route to play her semifinal match against Sam Stosur, a truck “came out of nowhere” to hit the car Clijsters was in.  Thankfully, the only person hurt in the accident was Clijsters’ manager Bob Verbeeck, who suffered some minor cuts from all of the shattered glass.  Hats off to Clijsters who quickly found her composure to reach the finals, where she took out the current World No. 1 Caroline Wozniaki in three sets.  After an ordeal like that, a fourth Grand Slam title might prove to be a walk in the park.

The Nightmare Continues

The frequently-injured Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is suffering from knee problems yet again.  After sitting out nearly three months following Wimbledon, Tsonga revealed that he has suffered a tear in the patella tendon while in Montpellier.  While there is a slight silver lining in that the injury is not as serious as the post-Wimbledon setback, he has been forced to heed his doctor’s advice and end his season early, which includes missing the trip to Belgrade as part of the French squad that will face off against Serbia for the Davis Cup title.  Tsonga has done much to get himself into better shape over the course of the past few years, and some players are naturally just more prone to injury.  But these recurring injuries might suggest that Tsonga needs to start searching for more solutions, be they tweaking his workout or perhaps adjusting his style of play.  As one of the most fascinating players on tour to watch, it would be shame to see the curtain fall on his career prematurely due to a multitude of injuries.

Leader of the Pack

The BNP Paribas Open will be leading the way as far as Hawkeye technology is concerned when the event is staged in 2011.  Tournament Director Steve Simon announced on Wednesday that not one, not two, not even three, but that all eight match courts will be equipped with Hawkeye.  This has to be welcomed news to players at all levels of the game, who will always have the option to challenge a call, irrespective of the fact that they may not be on one of the main show courts.  Spectators at the event can also relax at the Stadium Plaza, which will now provide feeds from three show courts, while the Garden Club displays will be providing feeds from two.  Bearing in mind that finances are a potentially large hurdle, hopefully other tournaments will follow suit with the BNP Paribas Open as the situation allows.

Coaching Split

Earlier this week Ana Ivanovic announced that she would be splitting with Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt, as he is unable to be with her fulltime due to other commitments.  Gundthardt and Ivanovic began their relationship earlier this year, and they enjoyed success in a relatively short amount of time.  Ivanovic cut her ranking woes by more than half by going from 58th to 24th in the world, and she ended a two-year title drought with her win in Linz last month.  Having finally righted the ship and still in her early 20s, it is hard to imagine that there won’t be some high profile coach willing to pick up where Gundthardt left off.

FEDERER’S EXPANDING TROPHY CABINET: TENNIS PEOPLE

* Roger Federer has been boasting about his expansive trophy cabinet as he goes looking for a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title alongside Pete Sampras and W.G. Renshaw. “All the US Opens, all the Wimbledons, they’re all lined up next to each other,” he beamed. “They almost go in a circle, so it’s nice. I’m lucky enough to have won that many.” Does he think about that record? “Maybe obviously a little bit because I’m aware of the great things he [Sampras] achieved, being one title away from it, you’re obviously aware of it,” he continued. “But then again, you have to break it down and make it simple for yourself, trying to win the first round, being here, trying to defend the title before everything.”

* This week’s Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings have seen former No.1 Jelena Jankovic re-enter the top 3 for the first time in over a year despite not playing a warm-up tournament on grass this year. She swaps with the Dane Caroline Wozniacki who failed to defend her title at Eastbourne last week. Sam Stosur now finds herself a career-high No. 6 while the returning Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters find themselves ranked at No. 16 and No. 8 respectively, the highest slots since they returned to the tour.

* The South African Airways ATP World Rankings were a bit quieter this week. There was no movement in the top 36, Michael Llodra climbing nine places to No. 37 in a big leap following recent performances. Janko Tipsarevic enters the top 50 at 45 while Sergiy Stakhovsky jumps 24 places to a career-best No. 47 following his victory over Tipsarevic at the UNICEF Open in Holland last week.

* The Lawn Tennis Association has hit back at claims by Aussie former Wimbledon Champ Pat Cash that Roger Draper’s “shocking” tenure at the governing body has seriously jeopardised Britain’s chances of rearing future Champions, according to the Press Association. An LTA spokesman said: “Investment in grass roots is our priority. We are spending over £40million over five years in improving facilities. We have more than half a million people playing tennis in England alone. That number is growing and we are looking to increase that number further.” The spokesman laid out future objectives by saying: “We are four years into a 10-year project, so yes, this will take time, but we are already starting to see encouraging signs both in performance tennis and at grass roots level. The accusation is that we are not getting kids playing tennis but club membership among children has grown by 16% in the last three years.” You can see the full war of words here.

* Russian Nikolay Davydenko is adamant he will face Argentina for Russia in the crucial forthcoming Davis Cup quarterfinal next month. “Yeah, I will play,” he said in a post-match interview following on from his gritty five-set win over American Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon on Monday. There had been fears over his fitness. You can see the interview in full on the Davis Cup website. This comes after the No. 7 seed claimed he was playing through the pain against Anderson. “My wrist is okay but the rest of my body? I don’t know. I will need treatment now,” reported the British newspaper The Sun.

* Kim Clijsters has spoken of her frustration at missing most of the clay-court season with a damaged foot following such an impressive performance at Miami earlier in the year. “It was frustrating because I felt that I was playing well,” she said in an interview published on the FOX Sports website. “I was finally in a routine where I started to play more tournaments. After Miami, as well, I was looking forward to play the Fed Cup and then to play the clay-court season.”

* Serena Williams says she can’t wait to have the chance to make it three Olympic Gold Medals in her trophy cabinet when the 2012 competition takes place at the All England Club. “I think it’s great as an Olympic venue,” she said. “It’s probably the best venue in the world.”

* A couple of players gave interesting verdicts following shock exits in the early days of Wimbledon 2010. Aussie Sam Stosur was gracious following her shock exit to Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi. “She’s a quality opponent.” said the 26-year-old French Open finalist. “She has been ranked a lot higher than what she is. For whatever reason, she slipped back. She’s definitely played a lot of matches recently as well. She qualified at the French as well as here and has been playing well, so it wasn’t an easy first round by any means. The last couple of days I practiced quite well, tried to prepare for the match as best I could…I just didn’t play my best.” Former world No. 4 James Blake was far more damning of his performance following his shock defeat to Dutchman Robin Haase in straight sets. “To be honest, it’s almost embarrassing to go out and play a Grand Slam match like that,” said the former US and Aussie Open quarterfinalist. “Maybe it says to me that I came back too soon [from a recent knee injury], or maybe I’m just too far away from where I think I need to be. The knee is not great. If it doesn’t get better soon, I’m not sure how much longer I want to play in pain. Something like this, and overuse injury, it’s a tough balance to have to find,” he said. “I want to be out there hitting, but I might be doing more harm than good.” Fans of Blake will hope that talk of retirement is just a knee-jerk reaction to a disappointing day. Sam Querrey, who saw opponent Sergiy Stakhovsky retire through illness while trailing by two sets and 2-1 down in the third, has revealed an almost McEnroe-like approach to his recent improvement. “My coach, David Nainkin, said if you’re gonna get angry, yell something out and smash the racquet and move on to the next point. Don’t carry it with you,” Querrey said. “Occasionally in practice (I do it). I guess this year, I’ve probably broken two or three in practice. I can’t really remember the specific moments. Sometimes it just needs to be done.”

* Dustin Brown, the first Jamaican to play at Wimbledon for 40 years, has placed the LTA on standby by claiming he would like to defect to play Davis Cup for Great Britain, according to The Sun newspaper. He crashed 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6 to Austrian Jurgen Melzer on Monday but won over fans with his flowing dreadlocks and stylish play. “I last played for Jamaica in 2002 and I’m pretty sure the cooling-off period is three years,” said the 25-year-old. “The Jamaican authorities are not giving me any funds, no coaching and no help. They are not doing their job. They even sent an email to me two days ago [Saturday] saying ‘Congratulations on your wild-card’ – I got in with a direct entry and didn’t have to qualify. If the president doesn’t know what the No.1 player is doing, he doesn’t care.” Brown qualifies for GB through his grandfather but says he will wait for the LTA to make the first move. “Something also has to happen from the Lawn Tennis Association. If they are interested, then they have to step towards me.”

* The first-round exits of Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone at Wimbledon this week means this is the first Championships where both Roland Garros finalists have fallen at the first hurdle.

* Serena Williams’ first-round victory over Portuguese teenager Michelle Larcher de Brito on Tuesday means her career record for Grand Slam openers reads 43-0, an outstanding achievement.

* Rafa Nadal took time out from his Wimbledon preparations by splashing out £130 for himself and three pals to play a round of golf at the Coombe Wood Golf Club. He applauded the presentation ceremony for Charlie Coleman, son of former Brit tennis star Annabel Croft, who became the club’s youngest Champion in its 106-year history at just 14-years-old.

* American Andy Roddick showed his disgust at the recent refereeing gaff which cost the USA a third goal in what would have been a thrilling second-half comeback against Slovenia at the FIFA football World Cup. The match ended 2-2 after midfielder Maurice Edu had what looked like a seemingly good goal wrongly chalked off. Roddick, asked if he understands the rules of football, said: “I understand the rules of football so well that apparently when two Slovenian guys mug an American guy the American guy gets called for a foul. That’s how well I understand the rules.”

RAFA, CRY ME A RIVER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Cry me a River – Maybe I’m alone in this, but I had to roll my eyes a bit at Rafael Nadal slamming the tour calendar, “especially this part of the clay court season,” just because he couldn’t play Barcelona. Look, I think everyone is in agreement that “tennis off season” is one of the better oxymorons in sports. I also understand that Monte Carol is a Masters 1000 event, and Nadal was going for his sixth straight title there. But Nadal is also one of the lucky few who has enough ranking points to be selective about where he plays, and Monte Carlo is not a mandatory Masters 1000 event. If Barca is that important to Nadal, he had the option of skipping Monte Carlo to play his “home” event. Furthermore, it’s not like he hasn’t played the full clay court schedule only to go on and taste success at Roland Garros. At the end of the day, the real issue for his being forced to pull out of Barcelona and lighten his load is his knees. I’m glad to see he’s opted to sit out a week, because that’s something he can control. He can also control his style of play, and he’d be well served to tweak that so that it’s not as demanding on the body. He can’t control the schedule, so he needs to make his peace with controlling what he can.

Battle of the Comeback Queens – In honor of Belgium’s six-month stint in the president’s seat of the European Union, fan favorites and fellow Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin will duke it out in an exhibition match due to take place on July 8. The match between the two is currently slated to beat the previous exhibition match attendance record of 30,492, which was set during the historic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. While the match between the two Belgians won’t have nearly the same ramifications, it will still be great for tennis if the two could generate such a crowd.

Million Dollar Baby – $1.54 million that is. That’s the chunk of change that’s awaiting the men’s and women’s singles winners at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. I think it’s great to see that the folks at Wimbledon have taken into consideration the deflation of the British Pound and are still doing everything possible to ensure Wimbledon remains the premiere event in the sport. I also greatly admire the fact that they’re sticking to tradition and have confirmed that there will still be no night tennis matches scheduled, despite having the lights and roof for Centre Court. Certainly selling tickets for a separate night session would help raise more funds to offset the increase in prize money, but it’s nice to see that they didn’t cave in to that temptation.

I Love This Town – That’s how Sam Stosur will undoubtedly feel when Charleston rolls around in 2011. This past Sunday, Stosur not only won her second (and biggest) WTA Tour singles title, but she did so in dominating fashion. Stosur absolutely crushed the competition, including her win in the final over Vera Zvonareva. Hopefully Stosur will take some confidence from this emphatic victory and employ it against the biggest guns on the grandest stages in the game.

Road Trip! – The biggest story of the week was volcanic ash disrupting flights all across Europe (and the world for that matter). No one was exempt from the inconvenience, including pro tennis players. One individual who had a particularly interesting journey from London to Barca was Jordan Kerr. His journey included a train ride, a subway ride, and a car trip with an unknown Moroccan man in a suit and seven other strangers, proving that the pro life isn’t always as glamorous as one might think.  The story has a happy ending however, as Kerr did win his first round doubles match and walked away with nearly 3,000 Euros. To read the whole saga, be sure to check out www.atpworldtour.com

ODESNIK DRAGS TENNIS IN THE MUD

So another tennis star has found themselves on the front pages of newspapers linked to the now menacing black cloud hanging over the sport in recent years – “drugs.”

Richard Gasquet “snogging” cocaine in to his system, Agassi’s admittance of crystal meth use, Greg Rusedski’s positive testing for nandrolone, the two Belgians – Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse – and their dances with the anti-doping board about missed tests.

Recent years have seen tennis’ relatively clean image dragged further through the mud when it comes to naughty substances and they seem to have rivaled the ever-guilty world of athletics in cases rising to the surface.

American Wayne Odesnik’s case is slightly different of course. He hasn’t actually failed a doping test. Yet he was caught trying to smuggle human growth hormone (HGH) in to Australia and has been fined by their courts.

The world No. 111, 24 years of age, hasn’t actually been banned from playing but has now self-imposed a playing ban until his independent tribunal is held within the coming months. He is free to pick up his racquet at any time should he choose to.

Odesnik was halted by Australian customs on January 2 as he was arriving to compete in the Brisbane International and he was fined Aus$8,000 for his trouble. Eight vials holding around 6mg each of the banned substance were found in his belongings.

The Tennis Anti-Doping Program (TADP) possesses a whole host of powers for banning players coming up positive for taking substances, but has little to no powers against those found holding a substance. By taking a voluntary ban it might favor him in terms of punishment come his tribunal.

The one major question coming out of this is, as always, why? Why do players find it necessary to jeopardize their livelihood with the use of such substances? Is it desperation to succeed? To be remembered for more than being the world No. 111? He was world No. 77 this time last year, does he wish to stop the slide? Is it a drive for financial reward as your career draws on? A chance to make those later years even more comfortable?

Recreational drugs pose different answers. Perhaps an ego and a love of the “party hard” lifestyle. But doping always leaves brows furrowed. I suppose it’s easy for people like us outside of the sport to sit here and judge. “How could he? There are thousands of kids who’d love to be in his position…” blah blah blah.

We don’t know first-hand the pressures of playing top class tennis every other week. With a calendar stretching over the eleven-month boundary now perhaps players are finding it harder to keep up. It’s slightly easier on the body for the top 10 in the world who can afford to miss the ATP250s to recuperate as the points gained won’t harm them.

But for those chasing the pack just how long can their bodies go on as the sport becomes quicker and more physically demanding every year? You now have to serve harder, move about the court more often and produce tenacious shots one minute and powerful cross-court drives the next. The sport has even transformed in the fifteen years I have been following it.

This isn’t new of course. Looking back through recent history you can go back to 1999 to remember Czech star Petr Korda’s run-ins with the authorities over his use of nandrolone alongside sprinters and footballers the world over. Rusedski’s later positive testing in 2004 led to revelations of an unnamed 44 players having used the drug. How we’d love to know who they were.

The Men’s Tennis Council began testing in the 1980s and their early studies looked for use of recreational drugs. However over recent times performance enhancing substances have risen to the forefront of most scandals and this is perhaps the more saddening aspect.

You can perhaps forgive the likes of Hingis and Capriati, young protégés given little guidance over such important life lessons like growing up and maturing. Given the wrong influence by the wrong people they can easily fall in to the wrong lifestyle and their dalliances with drugs shows how easy it really is. The story is the same throughout every sport. Youngsters earning vast amounts of money and with no idea how to spend it.

Odesnik shows how these performance enhancing substances are still an issue and the punishments put in place by the anti-doping agencies are still not enough to deter players.

Would they think twice if a lifetime ban was threatened? Would more severe punishments really flush out the “bad eggs” and stop players turning to superficial help once and for all rather than coaches and training?

“For possession there’s a possible two-year ban,” said an ITF spokeswoman back in March. Is this enough?

American No. 1 Andy Roddick certainly didn’t think so. “There’s nothing worse than that,” he said back at the Sony Ericsson Open when the story first broke. “That’s just plain cheating, and they should throw him out of tennis. There’s just no room for it.”

But he certainly didn’t think the authorities were to blame: “We have the most stringent drug-testing policies in sports,” he said. “We’re up there with the Olympics. We can’t take Sudafed.” While the tests are in place perhaps the severe punishments are not.

And what of Odesnik’s coach, Argentina’s former top 10 player Guillermo Canas? He himself failed a doping test in 2005 and served a fifteen month ban. His silence coupled with Odesnik’s self-imposed ban speaks volumes of the guilt.

It really is a problem which tennis should not have to face but it does time and again. Until new, possibly more severe, sanctions are threatened it will continue to do so too.

IVANOVIC, DRUGS, INJURIES, DAVIS CUP AND NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson
No Fed Cup for Ana – I’m sure it was a difficult decision, but I fully support Ana Ivanovic’s move to sit out for Serbia in the upcoming Fed Cup tie with the Slovak Republic due to her poor run of form. The Serb has slipped all the way down to 58 in the rankings, and with the return of the two Belgians and the depth in women’s tennis continuing to grow, it’s going to be extremely difficult to muscle her way back into the Top 10.  Here’s hoping the break allows her to once again get all of her ducks in a row.

Drug Bust – No, this time it wasn’t a player testing positive for a banned substance, but American journeyman Wayne Odesnik did get caught red-handed in possession of human growth hormone (HGH). It will be interesting to see what punishment the ITF metes out for this one. I’m personally all for a two-year ban as opposed to throwing him out of the game altogether as some have suggested. It is a first offense, and quite frankly, if the guy were ranked inside the top 20 instead of barely inside the top 100, I don’t think other players would be clamoring for such a harsh punishment. To me, the interesting thing to see will be if Odesnik has been supplying other players with the HGH and if he names names.

More WTA Injuries – Serena Williams is continuing to nurse the knee injury she sustained at this year’s Australian Open, and now she is a doubt for the Italian Open. With the French Open looming, Serena will be hard pressed to get in some time on the dirt, and with Henin possibly licking her chops to add to her impressive Roland Garros tally, Serena had better get it in gear.  And speaking of Roland Garros champions, current defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova reportedly suffered a shoulder injury while competing in Miami. The Russian will be in a race against time to get fit for the clay court season where she can certainly inflict some damage on her competitors.

Deaf Ears – It was announced earlier this week that the ITF has not only voted, but has unanimously voted to keep the current Davis Cup format despite the World Cup proposal put forth by some of the game’s leading players. I had to shake my head at this one. Roger Federer rarely plays, and the same goes for Andy Murray, now Andy Roddick, now James Blake, and who knows how many others over the course of the season. It’s clear the system is broken, the players have attempted to propose a change, and despite that, as Roddick so candidly tweeted “in the most unshocking news of the day, the ITF does nothing” Well said, Andy.

Times Up – This wasn’t a news story, but I have to rant on this one. While watching tennis in Miami, the coverage once again included a “stopwatch” to track how much time Rafael Nadal takes between points. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga even complained to the chair umpire, stating he had winded Nadal and deserved to benefit from it, but was unable to due to the 40+ seconds Nadal took before playing the next point. Don’t get me wrong. Nadal is not the only player to abuse the clock, but certainly Nadal, along with Novak Djokovic, are some of the highest profile competitors to violate this rule. It infuriates me that the chair umpires don’t step in and start assessing warnings, point penalties, and game penalties if necessary. Other players manage to play within the allotted time, so they all should. To allow them to do otherwise is to allow them to cheat, by both physically and mentally shortchanging their opponents. It’s time the officials start enforcing the rules and put a stop to the clock eaters.

MARTINA HINGIS MAKING A SECOND COME BACK?

2010 is the Chinese year of the Tiger but for the WTA Tour you can call it: The year of the comebacks. After surprising and stunning returns by both Kim Clijsters and more recently Justine Henin, Martina Hingis has told the German press that she doesn’t rule out a second comeback.

Hingis played Lindsay Davenport today in an exhibition in Germany.She won the match with a 6-4, 6-4 score.

Still feeling as fit as ever Hingis then pronounced that she doesn’t rule out a come back and is hardly surprised by the comebacks of the Belgians.

“I can not imagine a life without tennis,” she said after playing American former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport of the US in an exhibition game near Berlin.

“It’s still so much fun for me.

“I’d like to play more exhibition games and see what happens.

“Past that, I just don’t know at the moment.”

“I think the women’s game is somewhat monotonous at the moment,” said Hingis.

“The young girls all play the same way, whereas Justine and Kim are successful because they vary their game.”

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The Friday Five: Samurai Sam Is Back

By Maud Watson

Samurai Sam is Back – It was great to hear earlier this week that American Sam Querrey is successfully bouncing back from the freak accident he suffered in Thailand, where he fell through a glass table. Querrey admitted he wasn’t sure if he would ever play again, having cut 30 percent of two different muscles in his right forearm. He has proven resilient, however, and as of last week, was back out on the court practicing. He says all facets of his game minus the serve are where they were before the accident, and he’s optimistic that with further practice and exercise, he’ll have his monster serve up to snuff in no time. As one of the most likeable and promising young American stars, hopefully Sam can make a complete comeback and build on his great success of 2009.

More Good News for American Tennis – For the first time in two decades, more than 30 million Americans are hitting the courts, with a little over seven million of them newcomers to the game.  That is a 12 percent increase from 2008. It’s hard to tell why the jump in figures, be it grass roots efforts by the USTA, or maybe a touch of inspiration provided by some of the game’s elite, but at a time when tournaments and organizations in the sport are crying gloom and doom in this economy, it’s nice to hear some positive news.

Ban be Gone…Please? – Everyone is aware by now that Belgians Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse have been given a one-year ban for violating WADA’s controversial “whereabouts” rule. Earlier this week it was reported that both of the Belgians have put in their pleas to have those bans annulled. Wickmayer is claiming she was improperly informed of the online procedures for drug-testing, while Malisse’s defense has not been released. The CAS tribunal is expected to announce their ruling in four months. While the most important thing is that the CAS ultimately annuls their one-year bans, it is unfortunate that it will take up to four months to give a ruling. The wait will most likely mean that both players will be unable to participate in the Australian Open, which is particularly upsetting for the up-and-coming Belgian Wickmayer, who undoubtedly would cherish the opportunity to build upon her breakthrough US Open showing.

Good-bye Roddick, Hello Soderling – In a stroke of bad luck, Andy Roddick announced that he must once again pull out of the season-ending championships, this time without even playing a match.  The American is still suffering from a left knee injury he sustained in Shanghai.  Roddick’s withdrawal means that Swede Robin Soderling will be making his ATP World Tour Finals debut.  While it’s a shame that Soderling’s entry came at Roddick’s expense, I’m personally excited to see him added into the mix.  He’s been drawn into the same group as Nadal, and there could be some real fireworks as the two face each other for the first time since the Big Swede ended the Spaniard’s four-year hold on the red dirt of Roland Garros.

Now That’s Some Feat, Eh? – I’m going to throw a bone to doubles by giving some props to Canadian Daniel Nestor. Nestor teamed with Serb Nenad Zimonjic to defeat Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Tommy Robredo to claim the Paris Masters title last weekend, their fifth Masters title of 2009. The win was particularly special for Nestor, however, as with his first title win at the Paris 1000 event, he became the first player in singles or doubles to win all nine of the Masters Series titles over the course of a career.