british tennis

Page 1 of 212

Anne Keothavong Calls it a Career

Anne Keothavong, who spent a sizable portion of her career as Great Britain’s No. 1 tennis player, announced her decision to retire from professional tennis on Wednesday. In a career that spanned 12 years, the 29-year-old Keothavong won 20 titles on the ITF circuit and reached seven WTA semifinals; in fact, she was the only British player to reach a WTA semifinal in the 20-year period from 1992 to 2012.

“I have given my decision a lot of thought and I believe this is the right time to move on to the next stage of my career,” she said. “I have had some magical moments along the way. I think I am leaving tennis in excellent shape with both Laura Robson and Heather Watson leading the way for Britain in the women’s game.”

In her most successful period, Keothavong made her top 100 debut in May 2008 and arrived in the top 50 in February 2009 at a career-high of No. 48; at that point, she was the first British woman to be ranked in the top 50 in 16 years. During that time, she reached the third round of the US Open in 2008 and recorded three of her career semifinals in 2009.

Unfortunately, numerous injuries halted the progress of her career, and the worst of these came as Keothavong was having that career year in 2009. At the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Keothavong ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee during a doubles match. She had previously suffered a similar injury early in her career in 2004. Keothavong was unable to play another match that year, and her ranking slipped to the lower rung of the top 100.

Keothavong’s career was defined by her incredible tenacity and determination, both on the court and off it. Despite a litany of injuries including not one, but two knee surgeries, she bounced back each time. In her return to the main tour following her knee surgery in 2010, Keothavong reached the semifinals in Memphis by defeating Kristina Barrios, Michelle Larcher de Brito and Karolina Sprem in straight sets; she fell in three sets to eventual runner-up Sofia Arvidsson in the semifinals. Later that year, she reached her second semifinal in Luxembourg on the back of a protected ranking.

Backed by her big serve an forehand, Keothavong played in the main draw at Wimbledon for 13 consecutive years. Unbeknownst to spectators at the time, Keothavong’s last career match came at Wimbledon this year in a first round loss to Garbiñe Muguruza. Nonetheless, it seemed somewhat fitting that Great Britain’s most successful player of the past two decades got to close out her career at home on Centre Court.

Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, who flew the Union Jack on the WTA for the better part of a decade, have left an impression on British women’s tennis that far outshines their results. The pair help bridge the generational gap from Jo Durie and Sam Smith to Heather Watson and Laura Robson.While neither were praised as natural or fluid ball-strikers in the vein that Robson has been, the pair maximized their talents through hard work. In addition, both showed incredible dedication to playing for their country; Keothavong played 14 ties for Great Britain in Fed Cup, contesting 44 total matches.

In retirement, Keothavong will join the BT Sport broadcast team that will cover 21 WTA events, including the WTA Championships.

Can Anyone Stop Andy Murray From Reaching the Wimbledon Final?

Who Can Stop Andy Murray

(June 28, 2013) Andy Murray came out firing in his third-round match and Tommy Robredo didn’t know what hit him. Robredo played very strong tennis for much of the match and even hit some incredible shots. But at the end of the day, he stood no chance against Murray and lost 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.

And now, Murray is primed for a clear path to the finals against Novak Djokovic, as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have all been taken out already. But if this tournament has taught us anything, it’s that we should never take anything for granted about the top seed winning the match.

That being said, Murray has looked nearly unbeatable this tournament. His defense and depth of shot have been incredible. His movement has been crisp and his shot selection has been almost perfect. When Murray plays at this level it takes an incredible performance to stop him.

So who could Murray meet along the way that could derail his path to the final? For starters, he could meet a resurgent Viktor Troicki in the next round. Troicki’s level of play fell for much of last year, but he is playing well again and looks very comfortable on the grass. He is 0-5 in his career against Murray, but did win the first two sets in a match at Roland Garros two years ago. Of course, he has to get by Mikhail Youzhny first.

No quarterfinal opponent should pose any problems for Murray on grass, unless Ernests Gulbis decides to play out of his mind tennis for the rest of this tournament. Even then, though, Murray should be able to handle almost whatever Gulbis throws at him.

The only place that we can really see trouble for Murray is in the semifinals. Jerzy Janowicz has backed up his final at the Paris Masters last year with a great season and he is only getting better. The big Pole has been playing great tennis this tournament, bombing down huge serves and supplementing that with a lethal ground game.

Janowicz clearly has the talent and the style to trouble Murray’s game. His serve is big, accurate, and well-placed enough to nullify Murray’s amazing return game. Janowicz can also hit with—and hit through—Murray from the baseline, something that few players in the world today can do. Murray is still the better player, there is no doubt about that. But if someone is going to stop the Scot from reaching the final, Janowicz is your best bet.

Andy Murray wins his first Slam in the big city of dreams

Andy Murray wins his first Slam at the 2012 U.S. Open

By Romi Cvitkovic

The Men’s Final of the U.S. Open Monday evening between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had it all. Wind, massive fistpumps, chokes, 54-plus shot rallies, deft net play, the best movement in tennis and, of course, a five set and nearly five hour battle on Arthur Ashe Stadium. (For video of match point and the trophy ceremony, see at bottom.)

The two finalists, who have known each other since they were eleven-years-old, put on a show much of the tennis world will not soon forget. Each player knew the other’s game possibly better than they know their own, and they tested each other to the limit.

At this moment in time, tennis forgot who Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were.

It was just Djokovic and Murray, at the top of the game and with millions of fans waiting to see if Murray would win his first Slam or Djokovic defend his title.

Amidst 18mph winds at the beginning of the match, Murray took the first set in 87 minutes  on a hotly-contested 12-10 tiebreak game that alone took 24 minutes. Murray kept momentum through 5-1 in the second set, before Djokovic kicked it into gear and came back nearly forcing another tiebreak. Murray took the second set 7-5, but Djokovic came out swinging in the third and fourth sets as Murray’s legs began to turn into “jelly” – as shouted by Murray himself numerous times.

As the match progressed into the four-hour mark, instead of the players fumbling with their energy levels, the pace and shot-making increased in quality. When Murray lost the third set, instead of wallowing and reverting back to his counter-punching ways, he stepped it up forcing Djokovic into the corners. Although Djokovic took the fourth set, it didn’t do much to demoralize Murray.

By the fifth set, both players were battling not only each other, but the clock, their own bodies, cramps, and their mental strength. Gone were the fistpumps, yelling and arguing as each player was saving every last bit of energy for the rallies. But the adrenaline rushed in for Murray, as two netted Djokovic forehands gave him a double-break to go up 3-0.

The tennis stayed clean, with Murray acing and holding at love to go up 4-2, then breaking a cramping Djokovic to serve for the championship match and his first Slam. And he did it on his own terms, 7-6(12), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.

As he covered his face with his hands in disbelief upon realizing he had won his first Slam, it was clear this moment was a long time coming for Murray and his team. It’s just unfortunate that CBS didn’t seem to understand the greatness of the moment as they cut his trophy speech short. Given his heartfelt and emotional Wimbledon runner-up and Olympic gold medal speeches, the US Open victory was sure to be as memorable. But we’ll never know.

But one thing I do know is, it’s Andy’s time. No more self-doubt. No longer the greatest active player without a Slam. No longer an underachieving workaholic. No more yelling at himself. Well, maybe that last one will always be there.

World, I would like to introduce you to tennis’ newest Slam champion, Andy Murray.

My. I was getting worried I would never be able to type that out …

Until next year, New York — the city where dreams are truly made.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnplRLXUuAg&feature=player_detailpage#t=224s&w=580

Spain’s Davis Cup Future; Judy Murray as New Fed Cup Captain – The Friday Five

Spain v Argentina - Davis Cup World Group Final - Day Three

by Maud Watson

Familiar Territory

The Spanish Davis Cup team was back to its winning ways as it captured the coveted trophy for the fifth time since the year 2000.  Despite an uninspiring display from their doubles duo, the singles performances by the Spanish Armada could not have been better.  What a difference a surface makes as Rafael Nadal, who sealed the victory for Spain with his defeat of Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth match, looked a far cry from the fatigued and insecure player that lost in London.  But as great as the performance from the Spanish No. 1 was, the biggest props should be going to his compatriot and Spanish No. 2, David Ferrer.  Often overshadowed by the man from Mallorca, it was Ferrer who came back from 2-1 down against a fresh del Potro to give Spain what turned out to be a crucial 2-0 lead going into Saturday’s doubles rubber.  It was also Ferrer who got Spain past arguably the biggest hurdle in their quest for the cup by single-handedly taking out the Americans on a hard court on their home soil to keep Spain in the hunt.  All in all, a great effort by the squad and congrats to Spain for yet another historic win.

Uncertain Future

But as the dust settles on another joyous Davis Cup win for Spain, Spanish fans will have much to be apprehensive about concerning their Davis Cup chances for next year and possibly beyond.  Nadal has already announced he won’t play for the team next season, and Ferrer appears to be hinting he won’t be either.  Ferrer is not only citing a focus on the Olympics, but his age as well, which means his pullout could be a permanent one.  Nadal is also said to be focusing on the Olympics, which means he may return to the team competition in 2013.  How many of Spain’s veterans may be willing to answer the call in 2012 remains unknown.  Couple that with the fact that some of Spain’s younger players may not be ready to step up to the plate, and a sixth title in the near future seems less certain than ever.  But Spain continues to develop great players, and still has a depth of talent to choose from.  Excluding France, it’s hard to name a nation in a better position to fill the void of missing its top stars.

Spare a Thought

Even the most hardcore Spanish fan would have to be heartless to not feel some sympathy for the player who seemed to take Argentina’s Davis Cup loss hardest, Juan Martin del Potro.  He left it all on the court in a devastating five-set defeat to Ferrer on the opening day of the tie – a loss that was all the more gut-wrenching since it was practically a must-win point with Nadal waiting to play the third singles on Sunday.  It was del Potro who also had that unenviable task of playing Nadal on Sunday to keep his country’s hopes alive, and what an effort he put forth.  He came out guns blazing to absolutely stun Nadal in the first, and up an early break in the second, it seemed the unthinkable might actually happen.  But then his game started to go off, Nadal settled into his own, and though he fought back from a break down multiple times in that fourth and deciding set, the Spanish Bull proved too tough.  The Argentine’s tears were completely understandable, but hopefully after he’s had time to recover, his coach is going to be able to spin his two losses into a positive.  He made great strides in his comeback this year, and perhaps had he been fresher, his offense a little sharper, he could have taken Nadal down in his own backyard.  If he continues on this path, Nadal is right.  Juan Martin del Potro could easily crack the Top 4 in 2012.

New Voice

We may never know the identity of Caroline Wozniacki’s mystery coach who was assisting her at the end of this past season, but we do know she has officially hired Ricardo Sanchez to coach her along with her father in 2012.  Wozniacki is happy to have Sanchez aboard, stating she feels comfortable with him and knows that he already knows her strengths and weaknesses.  One of his most recent charges was Jelena Jankovic, which makes the pairing seem even more perfect.  Wozniacki has a similar game to Jankovic, is less prone to injury, and most importantly, has a better attitude.  The Dane is ultimately going to have to develop some bigger weapons and get mentally stronger if she’s to capture that elusive first major, but hiring Sanchez has more than likely moved her one step closer to that goal.

New Role

She was the Scottish national coach for nine years, as well as the coach of a handful of other British players, including her two sons Andy and Jamie.  Now Judy Murray will take on her newest and most prominent coaching role as captain of the British Fed Cup Team.  She’s replacing previous captain, Nigel Sears, who left the job to coach former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Ultimately, a team’s chances of success are determined by the amount of talent that is on the squad, but with her no-nonsense approach to the game, Judy Murray may just prove the shot in the arm that British women’s tennis needs.  It’s one more change to look forward to in 2012 as we all wait to see what surprises next season will bring.

Rafael Nadal starts clay – grass adaptation

AEGON Championship - Day Two

The World No.1 Rafael Nadal arrived in London in his own unique, but now customary way – as the French Open champion, via the Eurostar from Paris, and just in time to practise on the best grass courts in the world at the AEGON Championships.

At 7pm, he walked into The Queen’s Club with a big smile on his face. In the locker-room, player after player congratulated him on his success at Roland Garros. And then it was time to take to the grass for the first time in 2011.

As he fizzed forehands and backhands over the net, it was difficult to believe that he had just come through a 3 hour, 40 minute final in Paris just a day earlier. The contrast in the way he hit the ball was significant. Groundstrokes that previously looped high over the net and bounced over the heads of his opponents were now being whipped from just above the turf and clearing the net by inches.

“All my career I have loved trying to adapt to this surface,” said Nadal, afterwards. “At the beginning it is tough. The first day is not easy and I did not play very well but I spent more than an hour and a half on the grass and that’s the most important thing. I love to be here in London at Queen’s, and I’m going to try my best.”

Elsewhere, to read about Andy Murray’s first major grass-court practice session, and defending champion Sam Querrey’s first round triumph, click here: http://www.lta.org.uk/fans-major-events/AEGON-British-Tennis-Series/AEGON-Championships/News/2011/Defending-champion-Sam-Querrey-safely-through-to-second-round/

The AEGON Championships will be broadcast live, every day from 6th-12th June, on BBC Television and Eurosport.

For results, draws and the order of play for Tuesday, please go to the official AEGON Championships website: http://www.aegonchampionships.com

WHERE IS BRITISH WOMEN’S TENNIS?: 25 YEARS SINCE ANNABEL CROFT’S BRITISH WIN

Annabel Croft

Today, April 28, 2010, marks the 25th anniversary of the last fully British female to win a WTA Tour singles title (Monique Javer won a WTA Tour singles title in 1988 but was only half British). On 28th April 1985, 18-year-old Annabel Croft of Great Britain, ranked No. 83 at the time defeated world No. 7 Wendy Turnbull 6-0, 7-6(5) to win the Virginia Slims of San Diego and her first WTA Tour Title, causing much excitement amongst the British press. The young British hopeful never rose to expectations caused by this victory and failed to win another title before quitting her professional career in 1988.

I doubt this statistic will bring a smile to the already frowning LTA reeling from the recent government report on their expenditure. But who within the British camp is remotely ready to step up and claim the next WTA tour singles title?

British No. 1, Elena Baltacha has certainly had a wonderful start to the year rising to a ranking high of No. 59, memorably beating world No. 10 Li Na in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells only to lose in the next round to Alicia Molik. She is currently training in preparation for the WTA event in Rome and it remains to be seen if she can produce back to back performances throughout the course of a tournament to win her first WTA title.

Britain’s Anne Keothovong and Katie O’Brien both won their first round matches of the Grand Prix De Sar La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Morocco. Keothovong recovered from an embarrassing second set performance to defeat France’s Julie Coin to win 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, but her form this year after being forced out of the game for six months due to a knee injury has hardly given enough evidence to suggest enough consistency to flip the coin of British tennis fortunes in the near future. Fellow Brit, O’Brien defeated France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 and commented “I was really pleased to come through my first match of the year on clay, especially as I haven’t had ideal preparation. I only started hitting on the clay a few days ago, as I was stranded in South Africa for six days where there weren’t any clay courts. I had to take five flights over two days to get to Fes, but I’ve recovered well, all considered. I’m now looking forward to tomorrow’s match against Renata Voracova. I lost to her last year in three sets on the clay, so I’m aiming to get my revenge.” She received more good news when it was confirmed that she had been given the key to a main draw entry in the French Open following the withdrawal of Sania Mirza. Out of the three, O’Brien is the less likely to emulate Croft’s singles victory considering her lack of victories over top ranked players.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Laura Robson recently reached the semifinals of the $50k event in Alabama after winning five consecutive matches in the USA, battling to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the world No. 144 Sophie Ferguson of Australia in the quarterfinals; an excellent indication of the consistency of Robson throughout a tournament considering she also came through two matched in the qualifying rounds. She also went on a fine run to the quarterfinals in the doubles with fellow Brit Heather Watson. Could Robson be the one to break the 25 year wait?

Robson’s achievements in Alabama have seen her rise an impressive 46 places to a career high of No. 269 in this week’s WTA singles rankings. She also sits at No. 103 in doubles, another career high due to her great run of form that saw her reach the semi finals in doubles at the $25k event in Osprey, Florida the week before. I have a feeling we may need to wait a little while longer for our young star to win a WTA singles title, however perhaps she will be the one to bring home a Grand Slam too; we can only dream.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

LTA AS ERRATIC AS MURRAY

Andy Murray

If you thought Andy Murray was uncharacteristically erratic in Monte Carlo on Wednesday, the whole match served perfectly as a metaphor for the strange behavior of Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in recent weeks following the findings of the government’s report. The appointment of Murray’s former mentor Leon Smith as the new Davis Cup Captain has certainly raised a few eyebrows within the tennis world, with many left wondering if the experience of mentoring the Scot during his undoubtedly temperamental teenage years is enough to merit entrusting the 34-year-old with the future of British tennis? No doubt it must have taken some strength of character to handle 13-year-old Murray in a strop, but does he have the charisma to stir the team to victory and lure his former apprentice, the black sheep of British tennis, back into the fold?

Smith’s appointment signifies a distinctly strange choice for the LTA to make considering Greg Rusedski, an experienced Davis Cup player and popular choice amongst the players, was in the running for the job. It must be noted that great players do not always make the best of coaches, but still the decision symbolized one of Murray’s wild forehands out of court, rather than a safe topspin drive two feet within the baseline for the governing body. What is interesting is the motivation for this decision.

Smith described the appointment as “a huge honour and an irresistible challenge for me,” and went on to say, “I know the players, and I know that together we can get Britain back to winning ways in the Davis Cup.” Despite only reaching junior county level tennis for the West of Scotland and never coaching anyone over the age of 16, he has been appointed LTA head of men’s tennis following the recommendations of a review carried out by LTA player director Steve Martens, along with the accolade of Davis Cup Captain. Perhaps I should have applied for the job considering my similar levels of playing and coaching experience!

Martens commented, “Leon is the perfect fit for this important role, at this stage in the development of British men’s tennis. He’s a young British coach full of energy and passion, who’s already proved he’s a quick learner, and has the respect of the players” but was it simply a case of bowing to peer pressure from Murray?

It has appeared in recent weeks that the LTA can’t seem to make an independent decision of their own, with high profile employees delegating decisions left, right and center, while the appointment of Smith looks significantly as if they were blindly following the consensus of Murray who vocalized his opinions on Rusedski and the type of coach he would want as captain, although he has gone on record stating he had not named Leon Smith personally as his choice to the LTA. They were publicly criticized for the acquisition of high profile coaches such as Brad Gilbert, but once again this would suggest a knee jerk reaction to public opinion in appointing a relative unknown, a stab in the dark rather than a reasoned choice; only time will tell whether they have made yet another mistake.

Public opinion of the governing body cannot have been improved following their president, Derek Howorth’s erratic and strange public performance at The National Premier Indoor Tennis League’s official dinner, when reportedly during his speech, instead of politely commenting on the event, he took the opportunity to tear the British press to shreds, celebrated the LTA’s achievements and commented weakly that all will be put right eventually, clearly unconvinced that there is anything wrong with his beloved institution. Unsurprisingly, like a horrendous contestant on the X-factor, he was heckled by a lady in the audience. I have an idea what Simon Cowell might have said.

Indeed, it is clear the cracks are starting to appear deep in the armour of the establishment. According to reports in The Times, the LTA made another embarrassing bloomer, when their sports journalist was the one to point out that the LTA had got their entry procedures wrong for the ITF junior tournament in Nottingham – oops! The LTA should have submitted a top 75 ranking list to the appropriate authorities, but this was not carried out thus leaving the selection to be random, leaving out a number of top British juniors. Suffice to say, there were a number of seriously annoyed parents sulking across the country, shaking their heads in disbelief. The LTA’s response was: “New regulations were introduced for 2010 allowing national associations to submit a list of nationally ranked players after players with an ITF ranking. Communication on this new rule was not picked up in time to be implemented for the first two events in GB for this year. To cater for this, any relevant players adversely affected were considered by the national coaches for wild cards into qualifying.” The LTA admitted, “We didn’t apply the regulations as in effect per January 2010. This is unfortunate and, hands up, we made a mistake. The wild cards that were given out in qualifying could cater for a large group of the players without an ITF ranking but with a good domestic ranking; however this is not perfect”. Surely with a 60 million turnover, someone could have noticed and implemented this rule change?

This echoes with my own experience as an LTA ranked junior player aged 15, when results were not put in from a ratings tournament in which I embarked on a run so impressive that I faced Britain’s former No. 1, Anne Keothovong in the final, only to be told the points I had amassed from the tournament had not been added to my junior rating. This meant that my rating did not go up to where I belonged that year and when trying to rectify the situation, my mother was faced with the same kind of ‘closed shop’ treatment as the government, who recently commented that had the LTA been more open as an organization, the report would have been much easier to compile. It’s not a coincidence that my enthusiasm for the game dropped like a deflated helium balloon as I chose the safer option to pursue higher education, rather than a career as a professional tennis player.

Unfortunately, it is clear the chasm does run deep into the junior ranks and it is of no shock that this ripple effect over the years caused the tsunami of that infamous Davis Cup loss and the subsequent earthquakes of media attention the president is so obviously riled up about. So where is the solution? Well Mr. President, perhaps a look into the pool of unemployed graduate talent could be a start as replacements for the incompetent employees missing crucial rule changes and being about as decisive as a kid in a candy shop? Now, there’s a thought. Hopefully he’ll start ranting about me next!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

MURRAY IN CRISIS MODE: THE FRIDAY FIVE

Andy Murray

By Maud Watson

Confidence in Crisis – It was just nearly four months ago that Scot Andy Murray appeared ready to continue his ascent up the rankings and perhaps claim his first of what could be multiple major titles. He was confident then, even claiming before the Australian Open final that his best could beat Roger Federer. But then the Swiss maestro schooled him on that final Sunday, defeating him in straights sets just as he did the first time they met in a Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open.  But this second one hurt more. The third set was on his racquet, and there’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been the same since that crushing defeat. Evidence of that was blatantly on display during his most recent devastating defeat at the hands of Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. I thought at the start of the season that this could potentially be a make-or-break year for the young gun, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is the time that Murray has to either put up or shut up. He’s in serious crisis mode, and his coaches have their work cut out for them. To allow him to completely fizzle would truly be a great tragedy for British tennis.

One Brave Man – Leon Smith has bravely accepted the post as captain of the British Davis Cup Squad. The LTA appears to be going in a different direction with the selection of Smith, which hopefully will prove fruitful over time. Many speculated Smith was appointed due to his status as one of Murray’s former coaches, and that his appointment would secure the participation of Britain’s No. 1 (though Murray has already stated Smith’s being named captain will have no bearing on his own participation in Davis Cup). Still, putting someone of Smith’s background in such a position may be the spark this nation needs. It’s a nation that isn’t short on money for developing players, and it has a population pool similar to tennis powerhouses France and Spain to draw from. The talent is there, and maybe Smith, who will have the chance to mold some of these players in a different forum, is finally going to be able to watch that talent bloom into some quality players.

Seize the Clay – That’s exactly what American Serena Williams will be looking to do, as she has announced she’s planning to make her return to competitive tennis in Rome at the Italian Open. Tennis fans will be anxious to see how the reigning Australian Open champion fairs on the red dirt as she prepares for the second major of the year. Hopefully Williams will prove she has bounced back nicely from her knee injury, as I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see how a fit Williams stacks up against an in-form Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters on clay.

At the 11th Hour – As happy as I was to hear that Serena Williams was planning a return to tennis in Rome, I had to roll my eyes at the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez is holding one spot open for either Williams sister to join the U.S. Fed Cup Team, due to play Russia on April 24 & 25. I understand that there’s a drop off in talent and experience when looking at the Williams sisters versus the rest of the American women, so it’s understandable why Fernandez would desperately want them to be part of the squad. But both sisters have a history of only playing Fed Cup when it suits them, and more recently, have said they’ll play only to pull out in the end. Fernandez has up to an hour before the April 23 draw to change her roster, so I personally think she’d be better served to name a complete squad now with the understanding that the last one named may lose a spot to either Williams sister. Granted, it’s not the most ideal setup either way, but at least this way another less-experienced player doesn’t lose valuable time in mentally preparing to represent her country and practicing with the rest of the team should both Williams sisters opt to forgo filling that last spot.

Splitsville – Earlier this week, Serb Novak Djokovic announced that he was splitting ways with co-coach Todd Martin, who had been working with Djokovic since 2009. As Djokovic explained, “Todd faced a lot of difficulties to work on and off the court…He just didn’t have enough time to understand what I need…” It’s hard to say how the split will impact the Serb’s game. Evidence shows that he has struggled with results this year, but I was still sad to see the split. It’s no offense to his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who has done an excellent job with his young charge. But Martin was a top player, an aggressive player, and perhaps most importantly, a true gentleman of the game. Since Martin had come on board, it seemed that Djokovic was starting to show more poise and grace on the court, which mentally could only pay off in the long run. I’m hoping this newly-acquired skill will stay with Djokovic, even if Martin has not.

HOPE FOR BRITISH TENNIS AT INDIAN WELLS

Elena Baltacha

Despite British tennis being mauled to pieces like an animal’s corpse in a barren landscape, with even the politicians launching an investigation into how the LTA spends its millions from Wimbledon profits and tax payers money, there has been a beacon of hope burning brightly in the Californian sun. Our British fighter, Elena Baltacha, aged 26, became the first British woman to defeat a top ten player since 1998, when Sam Smith defeated the 1994 champion Conchita Martinez at Wimbledon. Baltacha beat world No. 10, the Australian Open semifinalist Li Na in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in a battling and spirited performance by a 7-6, 2-6, 7-6 margin.

She has since unfortunately lost to Aussie, Alicia Molik, winning just two games in the third round, however this represents a significant step in the right direction for the health of women’s tennis in Britain. This was helped by Anne Keothovong’s movement into the top 50 last year (the first woman to do this in a century) before her knee injury hampered her considerable progress.

Baltacha’s two victories in the main draw was the first time in 15 years that a British woman had won back to back victories in a tournament of this caliber. Both Keothovong and Baltacha are beginning to turn into the kind of role models young female juniors in Britain have been yearning for, such as the likes of Laura Robson.

Baltacha said of her victory against Na, “When I broke into the world’s top 100 in September last year, I felt like I really belong, and that was a defining moment. I’m not struggling with anything major, I’m practicing hard, I’m feeling confident and that all helps. When you are playing the better girls more often, you are seeing a more consistent, faster ball and unless you adapt to that, you aren’t going to survive. I have stuck in there, I think playing three matches already in the event helped but I felt from 4-4 in the final set that I was the one in charge of the match. It took about ten seconds for me to realize she had missed that last backhand but of course I’m elated. I’m playing as well as I’ve ever played and I’m really excited about my prospects.”

That feeling of belonging amongst the world’s best will hopefully transpire through into the consciousness of the young girls currently competing in LTA tournaments across the country. If they can start making headway on the WTA Tour, then why can’t we many will be thinking as they struggle to keep a balance between their time on court and their education. Many of our top juniors drop out at a young age, because quite frankly unlike the Premiership Football League, which contains a plethora of British rags to riches stories to choose from, tennis has so few. Is it worth the risk many players and parents ask themselves as they have to make the difficult decision to drop their studies in favor of a tennis career which seems like a one in a million chance of success; there are no scholarships for tennis in universities like in America, thus the decision is a difficult one for many.

The problem in the women’s game is the number of girls actually playing the game in Britain. There are such a small percentage of girls who play the sport mainly from the middle-upper class bracket, however if Baltacha and Keothovong were to climb further up the rankings, would talented girls from poorer backgrounds begin to see tennis as a way out, like the Russians, who have had a number of role models to aspire to over the years? With Laura Robson hot on the heels of Baltacha and Keothovong, I truly hope that with an overhaul of the way money is spent, Britain will finally have something to cheer about in the women’s game.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

THE CONTINUED MESS WITH BRITISH TENNIS

John Lloyd

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for British tennis, they do. In fact the situation has become so comical even the genius minds of the Monty Python crew would have been hard-pressed to come up with this.

Carry On Tennis, it should be called.

“Great Britain suffer humiliating Davis Cup defeat” scream the BBC.

“Dan Evans defeat brings fresh Davis Cup despair for Britain” moans The Guardian.

Yes, it is that time again. Very much like the hangover of all hangovers, that sinking feeling when the words “Great Britain” and “Davis Cup tie” have been the main event of the weekend is slamming around our skulls like the feeling of dread at a week ahead of working 15-hour shifts shoveling doggy doodoos.

Which great tennis nation have we lost to this time? Oh the mighty….Lithuania?!

Yes, a nation with only three world-ranked tennis players. A team of teenagers running around pumping the air celebrating the greatest victory in their history like they had just brought world peace.

The Lithuanian Tennis Association has an annual budget of £95,000 compared to the £25,000,000 continually squandered by the Lawn Tennis Association. After all, there are only 173 players our Lithuanian counterparts have to cater for.

You get the picture. David has once more cast his stone and Goliath has hit the deck quicker than Cristiano Ronaldo in a gust of wind.

You will all have read the doom and gloom stories about the matches and I would rather not subject any Brits reading this to any more of those. But what of the fallout?

LTA Chief Executive Roger Draper claimed in the 2009 Tennis Annual produced by the association that he had enjoyed the progress of British tennis over the past three years. This supposed progress has seen our national side drop through the tiers like an elephant strapped to a boulder in the Pacific Ocean.

Now we must face Turkey, who lost to Ireland, in a relegation playoff to avoid sinking to the Europe/Africa Zone Group III in July – the lowest tier of the competition.

Captain John Lloyd has now become the first British Davis Cup captain EVER to oversee five successive defeats. He has said he is “devastated” by the defeat.

“They don’t have as many players to pick from as we do but their players are good,” Lloyd told the BBC.

“We obviously didn’t have our number one playing, and that was certainly an evening-out point. It was a 50/50 sort of match before the start, and they were the better team.”

Woah, woah, woah. What you are saying Mr. Lloyd is that even with Andy Murray playing a nation such as ourselves is only just better than Lithuania and without him we are only as good as a side whose top player is ranked 195 in the ATP World rankings. Lord help us.

Mr. Draper has released a statement on the defeat:

“I share the deep disappointment and frustration at this result. Five defeats in a row is unacceptable.

“So I have asked the LTA Player Director, Steven Martens, to review last week’s performance and result, and report back to me and the LTA Main Board as soon as possible.

That review needs to be swift and decisive as it is clear some real improvements need to be made.”

That’s not even edited. That is the entire statement.

Fingers, though, are already being pointed. Former captain David Lloyd (brother of John) has demanded Draper step down to allow British tennis to recover. Draper’s decision to encourage British No. 1 Andy Murray not to compete in such a lowly tier was a particular stickler for Lloyd.

“”Roger is wrong endorsing the fact that Andy shouldn’t have played. That was a bad call,” he seethed in an interview with the BBC. “I would try and encourage him to play and give something back to the game.

“Where are the male players that the LTA has actually produced? Zero. That’s the bottom line. How do you keep your job if you are failing? I think Roger should walk. I don’t see it getting better.”

“He has missed every target he’s ever set,” added Andy Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey in an interview with Sky Sports News.

“What’s happened with the Davis Cup proves he’s wrong. His import of high-price foreign coaches, Brad Gilbert etc, has failed. The people at the LTA can’t sit on their hands and do nothing. They have to say ‘Your vision of the sport was wrong and you need to go.’”

But how can British tennis improve? Would culling the top man bring an improvement in fortunes? Well, Petchey certainly had ideas about how things could be changed for the better.

“The moment that we built the National Tennis Centre I feared for British tennis in a big way. What we needed right then was 30 centres around the country to get a catchment area from every region, every county.

“If you’re playing in Scotland for example, trying to get to a tennis centre with decent courts etc. is impossible. This money needs to be invested around the country, it’s that simple.”

That simple, eh? Fancy a new job as Chief Executive at the LTA Mr. Petchey?

Page 1 of 212