big guns

ATP Tour Honeymoon Fever Continues – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson
Taking a Stand – The ladies of Spain are making their voices heard, stating that they are prepared to boycott the first round of the 2011 Fed Cup if the Spanish Tennis Federation doesn’t show a little more support for Spanish women’s tennis. They’re maintaining their position even in the aftermath of the Federation’s response to their initial demands, and supporters of women’s tennis have to respect their stance. What’s more, former Grand Slam champions Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez have lent their support to their countrywomen. It will be intriguing to see how it all unfolds. Spain is tied for third in all-time Fed Cup title wins with 5, though their last win came in 1998. With so much success on the men’s side, however, there’s no reason to think that a similar level of success couldn’t be achieved on the women’s side without the same kind of support. Hopefully their stance will pave the way to change.

Return of a Champion – 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro will be making his return to competitive tennis in Bangkok next week. All eyes will be looking to see how quickly the big Argentine will be able to shake the rust from his game. In many ways, he couldn’t be coming back at a better time. The big guns tend to take a bit of a break at this time, and many of the tournaments will be contested on indoor hard courts where one is often able to produce his best tennis due to not having to battle the elements. Hopefully Del Potro is able to find his range quickly, as the sport has missed the powerful strokes of this young gun that belongs with the rest of the big boys at the top of the men’s game.

Injury Woes – One player on the opposite end of the spectrum from Del Potro is Fernando Gonzalez. The Chilean is set to undergo hip surgery that is expected to keep him out of the game for up to nine months. To compound his problems, his doctors have already informed him that a knee surgery may also be necessary. Playing the brand of tennis that he has throughout his career, it’s not surprising that the body would eventually give out, but hopefully it will also bounce back and allow him a chance to end his career on a high.

First Time for Everything – There were some pretty memorable Davis Cup victories over the weekend, but the biggest praise has to go the nation of Serbia, especially Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsarevic kept Serbian hopes alive by bringing his best to the court and defeating Tomas Berdych in his opening match on Friday, but the Serbs still found themselves down 2-1 going into the final Sunday. That’s when Djokovic and Tipsarevic came up good when the chips were down to lead Serbia to its first ever Davis Cup final. It will be a tough task to take out a deep French team, but what a fantastic story it would be.

Taking the Plunge – On a lighter note, two engagements were announced for two of the game’s most well known doubles specialists. Indian star Mahesh Bhupathi is set to wed former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, and one half of the famous Bryan Brothers duo, Bob Bryan, has also announced his engagement to girlfriend Michelle Alvarez. Dutta’s reps have already confirmed that her marriage to Bhupathi will not take place for at least a couple of years. No word yet on when Bob will look to tie the knot, but don’t look for it to impact his play. With so much left to play for, it’s unlikely the thought to hang it up has entered his mind, and neither Bryan seems the type where the institution of marriage could turn into a hindrance to their games.

AROUND THE CORNER: AUSSIE OPEN TUNE UPS CONTINUE

With the Australian Open just a week away, many players are using this time to rest from tournament play and work on their game in practice only. You won’t find Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray or Andy Roddick playing any real matches this week. All of those top-dogs have already notched several wins under their belts and are feeling confident heading towards the first Slam of the year.

For some players though, they have yet to gain enough time on the court and are looking to take advantage of some precious ranking points and prize money while the big guns rest up. This week there are two ATP tournaments and one exhibition tourney set to begin.

Heineken Open – Auckland, New Zealand:

Tommy Robredo is the number one seed in Auckland this year and is coming in with a big win off Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup last week. The Spaniard defeated Murray 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 to help lead Spain to victory. He has a first-round bye and may face big-serving John Isner in the quarter-finals.

The only other big name in the top half of the draw is veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero who will likely face a qualifier or two on his way to the later rounds. Ferrero is still kicking his tires on tour, but expectations are low even in a tournament of this scale.

In the bottom half Philipp Kohlschreiber has the not-so-enviable task of facing David Nalbandian in his return to tour action. Nalbandian has not played since May of 2009 due to injury but started his season a year ago with a victory in his first tournament of the year. It will be interesting to see what kind of shape Nalbandian is in and whether or not he can be considered a threat at the Aussie Open.

David Ferrer is the second seed in Auckland and has a fairly open section of the draw which should enable him to reach the semi-finals. The bottom half also welcomes Sebastien Grosjean back to the tour. The Frenchman had a record of 2-6 in 2009 as he too was plagued with injury problems.

Medibank International – Sydney, Australia

There will be a new champion in Sydney this year, as defending champion David Nalbandian is in Auckland instead. It’s hard to figure out why the Argentine would make such a move, but he never really has been an easy one to figure out.

Gael Monfils is seeded number one and should advance to face Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals. It is surprising that Wawrinka is choosing to play in Sydney, since he already reached the finals in Chennai where he lost to Marin Cilic last week. I would not be surprised if Wawrinka drops out at the last minute to rest up for the Open.

Igor Andreev and Richard Gasquet are also in the top half of the draw and are capable of causing some damage. We’re still waiting on Gasquet to deliver some results since returning from his shortened drug-related suspension from last season.

Lleyton Hewitt, who has won here four times before, will represent the local hopes. Hewitt is eager to return to the top ten this year and with a higher ranking he should be seeded at most tournaments he enters in 2010.

Sam Querrey and Tomas Berdych are also in this section of the draw. Querrey lost in the first round last week in Brisbane, while Berdych made it to the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Andy Roddick.

Kooyong Classic – Melbourne, Australia

The annual Kooyong Classic exhibition normally attracts some big-name players and this year is no exception. Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro will both be in attendance, as will Fernando Gonzalez, Tommy Haas, Fernando Verdasco, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling.

While there will be no ranking points awarded here, the prize money must certainly be enticing and the players have the luxury of putting as much or as little effort as they see fit in the week before the Open. The draw will not be out until January 12th.

While players are eager for some more match play before the Aussie Open, it may be more of a burden for those who advance deep into the draws. Best-of-five-set matches are just around the corner and having some gas left in the tank is going to be a necessity for most.