belgrade

The Forever Men

Last Sunday afternoon, Milos Raonic became the first man to win three consecutive titles at the SAP Open, at precisely the same moment he became the last man to win one at all. This edition of the San Jose was the last, bringing the rich history of professional tennis in northern California to a close. Raonic will therefore reign as defending champion approximately forever.

It can be a tricky matter to define precisely when a tournament actually expires, or even if it has. There are technical points to be made about licences and ownership, such that it is theoretically possible for an event to survive across endless variations of geography, surface and draw. Has Los Angeles really gone, or has it just moved to Bogota, simultaneously shifting continent and soaring into low orbit? What about the Memphis 500 event, which will relocate to Rio? What, if anything, about that tournament will truly endure?

Such discussions are apt to grow philosophical, as we’re compelled to wonder at the ineradicable essence of a tennis tournament, such that it can retain its identity when everything important about it has ostensibly changed. Apparently these things have ineffable souls, or at least durable traditions that might be strung out indefinitely.

On the other hand, aficionados of professional tennis in southern California are in no doubt that the LA tournament has ascended, not to Columbia, but to that great tennis boneyard in the sky. They might well be insulted if the next champion in Bogota was appended to the long and illustrious list of past LA champions, which includes Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. The fans often know when a tournament has really perished, just as they know when it is being artificially sustained on life support.

Indeed, reading down the past champion’s lists for many of these cancelled events is bittersweet, evoking sepia-tinted glories, now fading irrecoverably with the tournament’s passing. While some were new ventures that evidently didn’t pan out, many more were decades old, and the winner’s list tells a salutary tale of prestige giving way, gradually or suddenly, to irrelevance. You can understand what is lost, even as you can see why it had to go.

Sometimes what is lost is an invaluable start. It is fascinating to note that each of the Big Four won his first title at a tournament that has since been cancelled: Roger Federer (Milan 2001), Rafael Nadal (Sopot 2004), Novak Djokovic (Amersfoort 2006), and Andy Murray (San Jose 2006).*

In any case, today I’m going to look at those men currently active on the ATP tour who won the ultimate edition of a tournament, whose names will remain the last one on the trophy. I won’t pretend that great insight will be thereby gleaned – perhaps a pattern will emerge – but sometimes it is enough merely to catalogue such things as they pass. There is a sense in which such compilations are subjective; I think I could mount a good argument why the tournament in Sao Paulo is the basically same one that was in Costa do Sauipe, while disputing the idea that Brisbane is a continuation of Adelaide, but I understand that others may not feel the same way. (I do encourage anyone who spots glaring factual inaccuracies to let me know.)

Milos Raonic (San Jose 2013)

The Canadian is only man on this list who goes out as back-to-back-to-back champion. He has won three San Jose titles in a row without dropping a set, in the process breaking records and Fernando Verdasco’s mind. It’s interesting to think how different it might have been had Gael Monfils contested their semifinal in 2011. He didn’t, Raonic gained free passage to the final, and the rest is history, in every sense. It’s even more interesting to think what the tournament’s disappearance will mean for Raonic from here. San Jose accounts for 75% of his career titles.

Sam Querrey (Los Angeles 2012 and Las Vegas 2008)

Querrey is one of two men who merit inclusion on this list twice. He is the forever champion in Los Angeles, which he won a total of three times. Indeed, one report archly implied that his dominance was part of the reason the event was consigned to oblivion (or Columbia). He was also the last man to win the ill-fated Las Vegas event, which is where the Scottsdale tourney went to undergo palliative care.

Andreas Seppi (Belgrade 2012)

When the old Dutch Open was sold to the Djokovic family, they probably dreamed it would last longer in their home city than five years. Alas, the event more or less lived and died according to the presence of the family’s most famed member, which is a parlous situation for any tournament. Nonetheless, Seppi was a worthy final winner.

Kevin Anderson (Johannesburg 2011)

At the time, I joked that Joburg’s days were numbered when Feliciano Lopez was marketed as the star attraction in 2011. Initially things seemed okay, with players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer lured to South Africa, presumably with their consent. But geography and scheduling proved a fatal cocktail. Staged the week after the Australian Open, at the far end of the earth, it just couldn’t work. It was, nonetheless, Anderson’s first title. It also boasted a truly ludicrous trophy, as so many do.

Nikolay Davydenko (Pörtschach 2008 and Warsaw 2008)

Davydenko is the other twice-tainted forever man. He remains the eternal champion in both Pörtschach and in Warsaw (which were to St Poeten and Sopot what Las Vegas was to Scottsdale: a nice spot for the tournament to sit with a rug over its knees as it quickly slid into its eternal goodnight). Both of these events were staged for the last time in 2008, which was something of a watershed year as far as these matters go. If the prevailing trend is for the United States to shed tournaments, five years ago Europe was suffering a similar affliction. It is curious that almost alone among this list, Davydenko is rare for being a player who was at the top of the game when he won these tournaments (ranked world No.4), although this says more about how modest his profile was even in his hey-day.

Ivo Karlovic (Nottingham 2008)

In 1998, the towering Croat became the two-time defending champion in Nottingham, which used to be the Wimbledon warm-up that almost no one played. On this surface, facing a weak field with his serve, Karlovic had no trouble making hay from the emerald sward. Nottingham was replaced (but not relocated) on the calendar by Eastbourne, which became a dual-gender event. The current Nottingham Challenger is a totally new tournament.

Michael Llodra (Adelaide 2008)

The French net-rusher was the last man ever to win the ATP event in Adelaide, also in 2008. The technical argument is that this tournament was moved to Brisbane, and combined with the existing WTA event. Technically this may be true, but really the Brisbane International is nothing like the old warhorse at Memorial Drive, where Lleyton Hewitt famously won his first career title as a 16 year old.

Richard Gasquet (Mumbai 2007)

The tournament that finally found peace in Mumbai had led a troubled journey through what some Australians quaintly persist in calling the Far East, beginning in Shanghai, moving briefly to Ho Chi Minh City, and finally gasping its last in Mumbai. After Gasquet won the final instalment, it was supposed to move to Bangalore, but security concerns cancelled the event the following year, and after that everyone seemed to lose interest. It was replaced by Kuala Lumpur, meaning that India, the second largest country in the Asia, lacks a tournament within the now-unified Asian Swing.

Filippo Volandri (Palermo 2006)

I confess I don’t know too much about this one, although I’d suggest that the days were numbered on any tournament whose final featured Volandri three years in a row.

Robin Soderling (Milan 2005)

The Milan Indoors was one of those tournaments with a tremendous history and a champion’s list that scans like a who’s who of the Open Era (McEnroe and Becker won four times each. Lendl, Borg, Edberg, and Vilas also hoisted the trophy). Roger Federer won his first title here in 2001. Nonetheless, the entry list had thinned calamitously by the time Soderling won in 2005, years before the Swede found his place in the loftier echelons of the sport. At the time he was just another in a lengthening line of journeyman champions, a line that leads smaller regional tournaments inevitably to the scrapheap.

*Amersfoort later moved to Belgrade, which has also been cancelled.

Top Players Rest Up for Back to Back Masters, Leaves Room for Others to Shine

The only member of the Top 10 in action this week is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is playing the BMW Open in Munich. There are three European clay court tournaments in the week leading up to Madrid and Rome, all ATP 250 events that are often overlooked by the top players. This is a good decision for everyone involved, except maybe the tournaments and sponsors, who depend on the big names to bring in revenue. For top players, the shot at winning a Masters like Madrid or Rome, or the a Grand Slam like the French Open is far more important that gaining a few points at a smaller event. The clay season is a grueling stretch. Madrid, Rome, and the French Open all occur within a five week period, leaving little room for rest or recovery. On the flip side, smaller tournaments are a great chance for some of the lower ranked players to pick up much needed points, or a good chance for higher ranked players to get back their form.

Estoril Open

Located in the scenic seaside town of Cascais, Portugal, this tournament always manages to grab one or two big names to headline its draw. In ’08 and ’10, they even managed  to snag Roger Federer. This year the main attraction is the defending champion, Juan Martin del Potro. So far, del Potro is yet to play a clay event this season, so the decision to play Estoril could be considered a smart one. He won here last year, and considering the field only contains one other player in the Top 20, this is a great chance for him to get some much needed match play on the red dirt. Speaking of the No. 2 seed, Richard Gasquet could also use some match play. The Frenchman was forced to pull out of Monte Carlo after injuring his ankle playing soccer. It’s tough to see anyone taking the title away from del Potro this year, but look for two time champion Albert Montanes to trouble him. Gasquet will likely have to contend with Casablanca finalist, Albert Ramos.

BMW Open

It’s unclear why Tsonga felt he needed to sneak in another tournament the week before two important events, but he is the clear favorite to win this title. He made it to the quarters in Monte Carlo before losing to countryman Gilles Simon, but elected not to play last week, so perhaps he’s looking for a bit more clay practice before heading to Madrid. Tsonga has landed himself in a distinctly German quarter. In fact, the only other non-German in the quarter is Marcos Baghdatis. However, that bunch includes three wildcards and a qualifier, none of whom should trouble the Frenchman. There are some tough opponents in his half though, including last year’s champion, Nikolay Davydenko, Marin Cilic, and Mikhail Youzhny.

Serbia Open

They should really just go ahead and rename this the Djokovic Open based on the Djokovic family’s connection with the event; however, this year, it would be missing its namesake. Novak Djokovic, as well as fellow Serbs Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki, have all elected to skip the event this year. Don’t worry, the Serbia Open will not be completely without a Djokovic, as Marco Djokovic was awarded a wildcard. Unfortunately, he lost to Fillippo Volandri on Monday. Again, do not fear, you can get your Djokovic fill at the merchandise shop where you can still pick up shirts, hats, and pillows with Novak’s face on them, even though he’s not playing at the event… Anyway, the Serbia Open features the weakest draw of this week’s events. The No. 1 seed is Pablo Andujar, who recently won Casablanca and has actually been having quite a good year. Another title win here could do him some serious good. The only other really notable name in the draw is David Nalbandian, who has an excellent opportunity to pick up some more points. Look for those two to make the finals.

If none of these events interest you, I suggest you take a cue from the pros and rest up for the big events. For those of you in the US, there are a lot of early mornings coming in the next few weeks.

Djokovic Visits Former Coach Gencic with Wimbledon Trophy; Talks About Goals and His Head in 2012

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has been busy! After finishing up at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, he spent the weekend in Belgrade celebrating and visiting his childhood coach Jelena Gencic, received GQ’s “Ace of the Year” award, filmed a movie cameo in Bulgaria, and traveled to Bosnia to pick up another award, while talking with reporters about his outlook for the 2012 season – and joking about his head.

News broke out on Wednesday that Novak Djokovic would be playing himself in the upcoming Sylvester Stallone-written movie “Expendables 2,” alongside actors Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Filming for the tennis star took place in Sofia, Bulgaria along with some extraneous fun relishing the citiy’s trendy night life.

Interestingly enough, the only clue to Djokovic’s initial post-season adventures came by way of countryman Janko Tipsarevic, who said the two were heading to the Maldives for vacation after the ATP World Tour Finals. But I guess when Sylvester Stallone, your childhood idol, asks you to star in a movie, you don’t deny the opportunity.

First on the agenda though was a weekend of celebrating that included a night out at club Magacin in Belgrade.

The trip to Belgrade, however, was inspired for an entirely different reason. American television company CBS is currently filming a documentary on the world’s #1 tennis player, and it included a sweet reunion with his childhood coach Jelena Gencic after not having seen each other for four-and-a-half years. She also revealed the secret to Djokovic’s match point-saving return forehand winner against Roger Federer in the semifinals of the U.S. Open earlier this year.

Djokovic arrived to her house with a big hug, telling her “I have brought that which we have been dreaming about and which I had promised you I would win.” He then showed her his prized Wimbledon trophy. Gencic held the trophy and replied that her “happiness at this moment has no end.”

Before going into the house, he asked to see her garden. It was the same one which they had spent countless hours conversing in and where he had told her he would one day be #1.

As they entered the house, the jokes began and it became reminiscent of a time many years prior. Gencic teased her pupil and confessed she still had his childhood racquet from where everything had originated 17 years ago.

Gencic: “Do you remember this racquet?”

Djokovic answered jokingly: “Of course, I remember! I know that the cap fell off the bottom of the handle and I know that … oh my, you never changed the strings!”

Gencic replied: “Yes, I did!”

They were like old friends, with Gencic even bringing up his famed forehand return winner against Federer at the U.S. Open: “On match point [down], you played the most impossible shot, the most difficult shot …” But Djokovic interrupted, “How is it impossible when that is the shot we were training for for years?” To which Gencic joked, “But that’s why I’m bringing it up!” followed by laughter from both. Djokovic admitted to media that he learned his signature “crosscourt returns and down-the-line backhands” from Gencic’s unique training style when he was a kid. All things have come full circle as that save on match point has now become his career-defining moment.

Djokovic ended his visit with an invitation for Gencic as his guest for the opening day of Wimbledon in 2012. But she joked, “Nole, prepare me a seat two weeks later when the finals are, so we can celebrate a new [Wimbledon] trophy together!”

“If I didn’t have Jelena Gencic or my parents who believed in me and my potential, I probably wouldn’t have had the desire to become world #1,” Djokovic concluded. See the full video of their reunion below including video footage of Djokovic hitting on court as a kid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH_3zzqReZg

Following this momentous visit, he departed for a short trip to Banja Luka, Bosnia to accept the country’s “Person of the Year” award. There, Djokovic was asked by reporters concerning his movie role to which he said that “he had just filmed his [movie cameo] yesterday,” calling the cast “legends” and jokingly admitted that he’s better as a tennis player than an actor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTxSZUebk3k&feature=player_detailpage#t=96s

During the same news conference, he also talked about his goals for 2012.

“It’s crucial that if I prepare well for next year, I will have a great chance to begin the year [right], and it is that beginning that is crucial for the entire season. So, in Australia I’ll try again to get the title, and I believe [my play at the Australian Open] will give me good knowledge about how the rest of my season could go. I think I’m at the top of my career and my abilities, and I believe in the quality [of my game], and why not? I will always have bigger goals.

When asked about his injury status, he playfully replied: “I don’t have any injuries. I have enough time to heal everything – especially my head, which is a little crazy.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_kPaXJ68v8

(Magacin photo courtesy of HelloMagazin.rs; screen shots via YouTube)

ATP REVIEW WITH VOO

Robin Soderling came to Rotterdam having lost his last six matches and started the tournament by losing the first set in his opening match with Florent Serra. But since then, he played some of best indoor tennis and won nine consecutive sets, at 6-4 2-0 for him in the final, a 2007 champion Mikhaily Youzhny was forced to retire because of right hamstring. Youzhny had beaten a new No 2 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal in two tie-breaks. “It’s been a very good week overall,” said Soderling who won his fifth title. “I started out struggling a bit in my first two rounds, struggling to find my form, but I worked hard and managed to get better with every match”.

Fernando Verdasco claimed his fourth career title (first indoor) after beating Andy Roddick 3-6 6-4 6-4 in the final of SAP Open in San Jose. For the Spaniard, it was the first ever indoor tournament in USA. Verdasco broke Roddick’s serve at 1:1 in the second set and at 4:4 in the third set to finish the match with his 15th aces (Roddick served 10). Roddick has already won 13 matches this season, second best after Marin Cilic (15). The 19-year-old Ricardas Berankis (No. 255) of Lithuania, became the first man from his country to reach an ATP singles quarterfinal.

Juan Carlos Ferrero needed only 60 minutes to demolish Lukasz Kubot 6-1 6-0 in Costa Do Saupe, Brazil. Ferrero who celebrated his 30th birthday during the tournament, won the 13th title in his 30th career final. “You never expect to play a one-sided final like this,” admitted Ferrero. “One is always nervous in the beginning of a final, and it wasn’t different today. I thought I played well from the beginning and with two breaks of serve ahead quite early in the match I never looked back”. Kubot reached his second final of his career and for the second time lost to a top-seeded player (lost to Djokovic the final in Belgrade 2009). The Pole had had very busy Friday – he won two singles matches and one doubles (losing only 13 games in the process) before overcoming Igor Andreev in the semifinal despite being down 1:3 in the final set.

ANOTHER JELENA JANKOVIC PICTORIAL!

This is just another Jelena Jankovic pictorial. I mean she amazingly goodlooking and when I found these photos I just had to show you the class and style she possesses offcourt. The way she dresses is definitely class.

I am sure a whole lot of you know the biography of Jelena Jankovic, I figure I skip the less interesting parts for the more juicy parts. Her personal life. Taken straight from the pages of  my best friend next to Starbucks, Wikipedia:

Janković was born in Belgrade, in then Yugoslavia, now Serbia, as the third child of Veselin and Snežana Janković, both economists. Her mother is from Serbia and her father is from Montenegro (Vasojevići clan). She also has two brothers, Marko and Stefan. She is a student at the Megatrend University in Belgrade, studying economics; however, she has put her course of study on indefinite hold as she continues to pursue her tennis career. She trained at tennis club “Crvena Zvezda.”

Janković was the subject of the 2008 autobiographical documentary, Jelenin svet (Jelena’s World),featuring Justine Henin, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanović and other notable players.

The British press have linked Janković and Jamie Murray romantically but she has remained coy about their relationship, though she joked in interviews that she used kisses as a way of motivating the Scot.[3] In September 2008, Janković announced that she has been dating Montenegrian water polo player Mlađan Janović since August 2008.[4] The pair had been dating since the 2008 Summer Olympics.

On December 5, 2007, Janković became a UNICEF National Ambassador for Serbia, for Children’s Fund. “I am happy to have become a UNICEF ambassador for Serbia. This is a great honour for me and I will try to justify the role that has been given to me”, she said. Janković is the second Serbian tennis star to have volunteered to help promote the rights of children and collect funds for UNICEF after Ana Ivanović became an ambassador in September.

Feel free to comment on the pics as usual. That’s what that little box is here for. For you to comment on my articles.

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