Bryan Brothers

Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic

More Memories of Melbourne: Grading the Australian Open (ATP)

 

Having completed the recap of the WTA field at the Australian Open, we issue report cards for the ATP.  As before, grading reflects not just results but expectations, quality of opposition, and other factors. 

Djokovic:  The master of Melbourne like none before him, the Serb became the first man in the Open era to finish on top Down Under three straight years.  That record span of dominance over a tournament that famously has eluded dominance came with a satisfying serving (note the word choice) of revenge over Murray, who had defeated him in the US Open final.  Consolidating his current control over what looks like the ATP’s next marquee rivalry, Djokovic won his third straight match in it after losing the first set in all of them.  Vital to his success was the series of 44 consecutive holds with which he ended the tournament, strangling two of the game’s best returners in Ferrer and Murray.  Those top-five opponents managed break points in just two of Djokovic’s service games through the semifinal and final as he repeatedly won 30-30 and deuce points throughout the tournament—with one notable exception in his epic against Wawrinka.  The undisputed world #1 survived and then thrived in running his winning streak over top-eight opponents to eleven.  Overpowering Ferrer and outlasting Murray, Djokovic showed that he can—and will—do virtually anything to win.  A+

Murray:  The US Open champion came closer than many anticipated to becoming the first man to win his second major on the next opportunity after his first.  Murray admittedly benefited from a puff pastry of a pre-semifinal draw, which allowed him to conserve energy for that five-setter against Federer.  Threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the end of the fourth set in that match, he showed remarkable resilience by bouncing back to claim an early lead in the fifth and close out the man who had tormented him at majors.  Murray maintained a nearly impenetrable rhythm on serve throughout that match, and his forehand continued its maturation into a real weapon.  He will rue the three break points that he let escape early in the second set of the final, which could have unfolded entirely differently otherwise.  But Murray was right to consider the tournament an important consolidation of last year’s success.  A

Federer:  Handed the most difficult draw of the top three, he showed just how well his game can silence players who rely heavily on their serves in ousting Tomic and then Raonic.  Federer defended crisply and moved as alertly as he has in years past during the five-set quarterfinal with Tsonga that followed, which unveiled the full range of his weapons from the explosive to the delicate.  But his struggles to break serve caught up with him against Murray, whom he could not crack for three and a half sets even as his own serve came under frequent pressure.  Probably drained by the Tsonga epic, Federer faded in the fifth set despite mounting an impressive surge to swipe the fourth.  He finished the tournament by winning all six of his tiebreaks, a sure sign that he remains one of the sport’s best competitors under pressure.  A

Ferrer:  Never looking his best during the fortnight, he backed into the #4 ranking rather than charging into it with confidence.  Ferrer probably should have lost to Almagro in the fourth round, outplayed for most of the first four sets and kept alive only by his compatriot’s shocking inability to deliver the coup de grace.  Thoroughly exposed by Djokovic in the semifinals, he suffered his second humiliating defeat at that stage of a major over the last twelve months as he offered little better than batting practice for the Serb’s weaponry.  Ferrer said consistently this fortnight that he considers himself a clear level below the Big Four, and his results against them on grand stages continue to make his point for him.  B

Tsonga:  The Frenchman slipped to 13 straight losses against top-eight opponents here, but the manner in which he did contained kernels of hope for the season.  Not folding meekly to Federer as he had in an earlier Australian Open, Tsonga regrouped from losing the first set in a tiebreak to win the second and regrouped from losing the third set in a tiebreak to win the fourth.  He even spared no effort in battling Federer down to the finish in a fifth set tenser than the scoreline showed.  Also likely to please new coach Roger Rasheed was his greater efficiency in closing out overmatched opponents in the previous four rounds.  Docked a notch for his Neanderthal-like comments about women’s tennis.  B+

Almagro:  As the percipient Steve Tignor of Tennis.com noted, sometimes a player’s greatest achievement can turn into his greatest catastrophe within a handful of points.  Jerking Ferrer around the court for two and a half sets, Almagro astonished audiences by his newfound courage against an opponent who had won all 12 of their previous meetings.  He will remember his first quarterfinal at a hard-court major for the wrong reasons, though, once he failed to serve it out three times across the third and fourth sets before succumbing to cramps as well as the crushing weight of his disappointment in the fifth.  B-

Chardy:  Not only did he upset Del Potro with inspired attacking tennis, but he followed up that five-set victory by grinding out a four-setter against the recently dangerous Seppi.  The Frenchman came from nowhere to reach his first major quarterfinal and in the process showed considerable courage. Chardy almost pulled off an Almagro against the Tower of Tandil, gagging on triple break point midway through the third set when he had won the first two.  Unlike the Spaniard, he mustered one last surge in the fifth with an unexpected fearlessness to finish what he had started.  A-

Berdych:  Drawn against the top seed in a quarterfinal for the second straight major, he could not find the same thunderbolts that he had hurled at the US Open.  Or perhaps Berdych simply matches up more effectively to Federer than to Djokovic, who has won all eleven of their hard-court meetings.  Before that relatively tame four-set loss, however, he recorded four straight-sets victories that bode well for his consistency, always the main question for him.  He leaves the Australian Open as the man outside the Big Four most likely to win a major this year, although he will need some help to do so.  B+

Del Potro:  Through the first two rounds, the Tower of Tandil looked not only sturdy but downright terrifying.  Just when people began to take him seriously as a dark horse title threat, Del Potro turned into the Leaning Tower of Pisa when he tottered to the exit in a strangely enervated effort.  That five-set loss to Chardy at the end of the first week marked a setback in a surge that started with his bronze-medal victory at the Olympics, departing from his recent steadiness against opponents outside the top ten.  F

Tipsarevic:  He looked every inch a top-eight seed in dismantling sentimental favorite Hewitt before his home crowd on Rod Laver Arena, where the Aussie had wrought so many miracles before.  Striking winners down both lines with abandon, Tipsarevic appeared to make an imposing statement.  Then he wobbled through two five-setters and retired against Almagro, not a surprising result for a man who has completed a career Golden Slam of retirements.  C

ATP young guns:  Heralded with enthusiasm when the tournament began, none of these prodigies left a meaningful impact on the tournament.  Brisbane finalist Dimitrov became the first man to exit Melbourne, failing to win a set in his opener, and Raonic succumbed to Federer much more routinely than he had in their three meetings last year.  Tomic produced a stronger effort against the Swiss star than he did last year but still lost in straight sets after struggling mightily with a qualifier in the previous round.  And American fans need not have watched Harrison’s ignominious loss to Djokovic for long to realize how far this alleged future star must improve before mounting a credible threat.  Last but not least, Paris finalist Jerzy Janowicz narrowly avoided a second-round implosion over a dubious line call and rallied to win after losing the first two sets—sets that he should not have lost in the first place.  Janowicz did at least progress as far as his seed projected, and many of these young men received difficult draws, but the breakthrough of young stars that many expected here happened almost entirely on the women’s side.  C+

Bryan brothers:  At their most productive major, they closed within four major titles of Federer by comfortably winning the final after some close scrapes earlier in the fortnight.  The Bryans have earned some of their most consistent success in Australia, where they have reached nine finals and five consecutively.  Djokovic still has some work to do before he can approach the numbers of these twins whose talents never seem to fade.  A

Djokovic vs. Wawrinka:  Undoubtedly the match of the tournament, it represented the high point of Wawrinka’s career to date.  The Swiss #2 basked in the spotlight while cracking his exquisite one-handed backhands to all corners of the court and taking control of rallies with his penetrating cross-court forehand.  Wawrinka even served at Federer-like heights for much of the match, outside a predictable stumble when he approached a two-set lead.  Stunned by the brio of his opponent, Djokovic needed a set and a half to settle into the match.  The underdog then needed about a set and a half to regroup from the favorite’s charge, at which point the fourth and fifth sets featured spellbinding tennis all the more remarkable for the ability of both men to sustain their quality.  Fittingly, the match ended only after Wawrinka had saved two match points with breathtaking shot-making and only with a rally that forced both men to pull out nearly every weapon in their arsenals.  A+

Simon vs. Monfils:  Not much shorter than Djokovic vs. Wawrinka in terms of time, it felt considerably longer to watch.  This mindless war of attrition featured rally after rally of the sort that one more commonly finds on practice courts, including a 71-shot meander to nowhere that contributed to the inevitable cramping suffered by both men late in the match.  If the previous epic offered an argument to keep the best-of-five format, this match argued just as eloquently for its abandonment.  Simon, the winner, had no chance of recovering in time for his next match, nor would Monfils if he had won.  C-

Men’s final:  Not a classic by any means, it compared poorly both to the women’s melodrama on the previous night and to the marathon of the 2012 men’s final.  The 2013 edition illustrated some troubling reasons why the Djokovic-Murray rivalry never may capture the imagination to the extent of Federer-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic, and Djokovic-Nadal.  Presenting no contrast in styles, these two men played essentially the same games in a match of mirror images that came down to execution in any given situation—interesting but not exactly stimulating to watch.  Moreover, they continued to bring out the passivity in each other by showing so much respect for each other’s defense that many rallies featured sequence after sequence of cautious, low-risk shots designed to coax errors rather than force the issue.  These tactics worked perfectly for Djokovic, just as they worked for Murray at last year’s US Open, but they left fans waiting for a spark that never came in a match that trudged towards anticlimax.  B-

And that is a wrap of the 2013 Australian Open!  Up next is a look ahead to the first round in Davis Cup World Group action:  all eight ties previewed and predicted.

Wizards of Oz (XIII): Previewing the Australian Open Women’s Final and Men’s Doubles Final

On the penultimate day of the tournament, the 2013 Australian Open will crown its women’s singles and men’s doubles champions.  Read about what to expect from those matches.

Azarenka vs. Li:  Meeting in a final on Australian soil for the fourth time, these two women of similar styles have battled to a very even record.  Both can hammer magnificent backhands for winners to anywhere on the court, while the forehands of each can falter under pressure despite providing plenty of firepower at times.  Neither wins many free points on serve, although each has improved in that department lately, and both relish pouncing on an opponent’s second serve.  For these reasons, their previous meetings usually hinge on execution rather than tactics, as well as on the ability of Azarenka and Li to shoulder pressure deep in the tight sets and matches that they have played.  After the Roland Garros champion dominated the early stages of their rivalry, winning four of the first five, the defending champion here has reeled off four straight victories.  But two of those have reached final sets, including the Sydney title tilt last year.

The more impressive of the two in fortnight form, Li has echoed her 2011 surge in Paris by defeating two of the top four women simply to reach the final.  Convincing victories over Radwanska and Sharapova, the latter of whom had troubled her lately, left her record immaculate without a single set lost.  In fact, Li has won 14 of her 15 matches this year in yet another display of the brisk start with which she often opens a season.  Also accustomed to starting seasons on hot streaks before her body breaks down, Azarenka has mounted a creditable albeit not overpowering effort in her title defense.  She has not faced anyone ranked higher than 29th seed Sloane Stephens en route to the final, but she defeated the dangerous Kuznetsova with ease in the quarterfinals and has yielded only one set.  What most may remember from her pre-final effort here, unfortunately, happened in the closing sequence of her semifinal victory.  A dubious medical timeout just before Stephens served (unsuccessfully) to stay in the match incited disdain from throughout the tournament and Twitterverse, which may ripple through the response to her on Saturday.

In an ironic twist, any hostility towards Azarenka might well inspire her to produce her most motivated, relentless effort of the tournament.  The world #1, who will remain there with a title, usually thrives on the negativity of others and can excel when barricading herself inside a fortress of “me against the world” attitude.  For her part, Li Na will hope to show greater poise than she did in this final two years ago, letting a mid-match lead slip away to Clijsters.  The coronation that followed at Roland Garros just a few months later and the steadying presence of coach Carlos Rodriguez should help the Chinese superstar channel her energies more effectively this time.  Thus, one can expect a high-quality match with plenty of passion on both sides, a fitting conclusion to the many intriguing WTA narrative threads that unwound at the year’s first major.

Bryan/Bryan vs. Haase/Sijsling:  Finalists here for a fifth straight year, the Bryans hope to emulate women’s doubles champions Errani and Vinci in atoning for their disappointing runner-up finish to an unheralded team in 2012.  Equally unheralded is the duo of Dutchmen across the net, who have not lost a set since tottering on the brink of defeat in their first match.  Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling needed a third-set tiebreak to elude that initial obstacle, but they have compiled an ominously impressive record in tiebreaks here, which bodes well for their chances in a match likely to feature few break points.  Their relative lack of experience would seem a clear disadvantage against the Bryans, superior in chemistry to virtually every imaginable team.

All the same, the surprising Australian duo of Barty and Dellacqua posed a severe threat to women’s top seeds Errani and Vinci in the corresponding final, so the Bryans cannot take this team too lightly in their quest for a record-extending 13th major title.  They have earned their most consistent success in Melbourne, where they have reached nine total finals, but the twins looked slightly more vulnerable this year in losing sets to the teams of Chardy/Kubot and Bolelli/Fognini.  Neither of those duos can claim anything remotely comparable to the storied accomplishments of the Americans yet still challenged them.  As with those matches, this final will test the conventional belief that two capable singles player can overcome the most elite doubles squads.  Both inside the top 70, Haase and Sijsling have gained their modest success almost entirely in singles, whereas the specialists across the net know the geometry of doubles as well as any team ever has.  That comfort level should prove the difference in a triumph that extends the stranglehold of the Bryans on history.

Doubles is double the fun at Barclay’s ATP World Tour Championships

By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com 

November 7, 2012 — You’ve heard this before, “Why don’t they show more doubles?”

Why indeed.

But ask any producer and you’ll hear the expected rap, “It doesn’t sell ad space.”

The response is enough to shove dreams of American realism – the rags to riches story – in a deep hole. Their reasoning diverts to money, not entertainment, not consumer desires, not the absolutely awesome nature of the game of doubles.

Have they ever really watched it? Followed it? Way more interesting than singles.

First, four players are on court. That mathematically equals twice the entertainment and ticket value, twice the tennis, and twice what you would expect as added coverage. That means more jobs! Think about that you international politicians. You want an uptick in popularity, promise to televise doubles. It’s a slick ticket made in re-election heaven.

The political benefits aside, doubles fanatics, which we all know are more numerous than singles fanatics, can get their fill this week by tuning in to The Barclay’s World Tour Finals from London. Not only are the top eight teams from the year on hand to delight the packed O2 Arena, they are first up each session. You could conclude they are the premier matches of the week.

Here are more reasons doubles are twice the fun.

Two people play to win a point, game, set and match. Two means a relationship; they are partners. This logically suggests the introduction of complicated human interactions, which is lost in singles competition. Unless, of course, you construe the rantings of a player toward a support box as interaction.

Teams converse between points. Do knuckle bumps, high fives, signal tactics to their partner before a toss, and if the Bryan brothers are battling … chest bumps. Can’t see that in any other sport. Soccer players may leap into each others arms, but so can the brothers. They won’t skid across a tennis court on their knees though, for obvious and injurious reasons. Well, maybe on grass.

Let’s face it, doubles is way more interesting to watch. Teams serve and volley, change sides, yell ‘out’ so their partners don’t do something stupid like give away a point, and find every lucky angle and spot on a court.

They hit deep ground strokes, short under-spins, half-volleys, and magnificent overhead smashes that crack like a whip.

With four players at the net, the rata-tat-tat of volley exchanges builds audience energy to a fevered pitch. It’s a wonder the men don’t hear it.

It’s wild. It’s exciting.

Doubles is a complicated game, too, because of its nature. In singles every ball is for you. Not so in doubles. There is order to returns and movement, although scrambling to cover an open spot may look like mayhem.

The Teams

Bob and Mike Bryan are the best at movement. As twins, they intuitively know what the other will do. Their expectations are in sync, which puts them at a mighty high level of performance in sports. One person can enter the zone, yes, but two acting as a team … not so easy. They are the number one seeds this week.

Throughout their career they have clinched 82 ATP titles — the most of any doubles team. They will end 2013 at number one for the eighth time, and the fourth consecutive. At the U. S. Open they won their 12th slam, an Open-era record. To top off their season, they won a gold medal at the London Olympics.

Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi are the defending champions. So far they are 1-1 in round robin play. They seem to be in the ‘harder’ group, along with Wimbledon doubles champions, Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielson. They are 2-0 and the most unlikely team on hand.

Marray is the first native-born Briton to play in this tournament; and Nielsen teamed with Marray seconds before the deadline to enter Wimbledon this summer. Nielsen’s record has been about singles and after this week he will return to that discipline, leaving Marray to search for a partner. If they continue to mesmerize win, he won’t be left out in the cold for long. But, then again, partners are not just a matter of availability.

Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek were the last team to qualify. It’s Stepanek’s inaugural World Tour Championship.

Scoring

With all the fun available for fans, the choice of no-ad scoring has been hard to understand. And, any promotion that dares to intimate this is a ‘fifth grand slam’ should have their funding cut. No major tournament would allow no-add scoring.

The lovely dynamics of doubles is negated in this format. At 40-all, the serving team picks the side from where they’d like to serve. This point ends the game. Ordinarily, these top-flight teams groove to a different rhythm. Teetering between ad-in and ad-out is familiar. They are trained for this. It gives them chances to come back, use their strengths – both mental and tactical. The better team can hold with more consistency, which is the pinnacle of skill in tennis.

The no-ad scoring in London, though, throws randomness at the competition. It doesn’t serve the tournament, players, or 15,000 fans that pack the house every session.

As a result the outcomes of the matches have an odd undercurrent. If you look at the match stats, the losing teams have won more points than the winning teams. Not by much, but it’s lopsided. This means they’ve won more service and return points.

In their loss to Mirnyi and Nestor on Monday, Robert Lindstedt and Horacio Tecau won 83% of their second service points, an incredibly high percentage. Their opponents won 43%. Lindstedt/Tecau converted all their break point changes, too. Mirnyi/Nestor went 0 for 2.

Five of the six matches have been decided by 10-point champions tiebreaks. First to ten by two. This is the only remnants of normalcy in London. They are used throughout the season. And every world tour player knows that tiebreaks should be avoided. Without regular scoring, though, the outcomes this week will not reflect the depth that these men can achieve in the sets that precede the tiebreaks. The scoring robbed them of a type of play that demonstrates their excellence. They literally cannot play their games, which is a shame for the deserved prestige assigned them.

Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She wrote about John Isner’s ground-breaking wildcard run at the formerly named Legg Mason Tennis Classic in 2007 for Tennis.com. She has written tennis commentary for the late, great Tennis Week print publication and online version. Hundreds of articles from Jane have been seen on TennisServer.com, too. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U. S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Tommy Haas win big at ATP World Tour Awards

The winners of the annual ATP World Tour Awards were announced today and it’s no surprise that Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and the Bryan Brothers are each taking home a couple of awards. Full round up of nominees and winners below!

World No. 1’s

This honor is based solely on year-end rankings and the 25-year-old Serb has done his part to make it his second consecutive year at the top. Coming into London, Novak Djokovicis not only 2000 points above any of his compatriots, but he also won the Australian Open in January and backed it up with two more Slam finals’ appearances at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. His match record for the year is 70-11 and it’s the third time in four years that he’s had at least 70 wins — that’s no easy feat!

Likewise, the American duo of Mike and Bob Bryan snatched the Doubles No. 1 for a fourth successive year and record eighth time overall. They captured seven titles for the season, including a record-equalling 12th Slam trophy at the U.S. Open.

ATPWorldTour.com Fan’s Favorite

It’s hardly a competition anymore as Roger Federer stands king in this category for a record 10th straight year! Tennis couldn’t have asked for a more capable, kinder, and charming guy to bring millions of fans to the sport. The Bryan Brothers also snag this award on the doubles side for a record eighth time.

Most Improved Player of the Year (voted by fellow ATP Players)

The player who reached a significantly higher ranking by year’s end and who demonstrated an increasingly improved level of performance through the year.

Any of the four nominees in this category would have reason to win, but it was 27-year-old Bosnian-born Australian Marinko Matosevic who took home the goods. Jumping from a ranking of 203 to 58, he was easily the biggest climber of the group. He currently sits at No. 49, so I can only imagine his good results will continue.

He beat out Juan Monaco, who jumped from a ranking of 26 to 10, Jeremy Chardy who went from 103 to 31, and Go Soeda who battled up from 120 to 55. Looking forward to see what kind of damage these players can do in 2013!

Newcomer of the Year (voted by fellow ATP Players)

The player who, based on his ranking move in 2012, has made the biggest impact on the ATP World Tour.

This year was filled with some breakout stars on the courts, and 23-year-old Slovak Martin Klizan is certainly a worthy winner. He jumped from a ranking of 117 to 34, and currently sits at 29.  Having played mostly Challengers in the first half of the year, he announced himself to the world when reached the 4th round of the U.S. Open en route defeating world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He backed up his strong performance there by winning his first title in St. Petersburg just two weeks later.

He beat out David Goffin whose ranking rose from 174 to 46, Andrey Kuznetsov who went from being ranked 222 to 72, and this past week’s surprise Paris Masters’ finalist Jerzy Janowicz who went from a ranking of 221 to 80, and now sits at a comfortable 26. I have a feeling that if the awards had occurred after Paris, he might have been the likely winner. Interesting how one tournament can make all the difference to players grinding it out on the tennis court week-after-week waiting for their breakthrough…

Comeback Player of the Year (voted by fellow ATP Players)

The player who has overcome serious injury in re-establishing himself as one of the top players on the ATP World Tour.

Each year, without fail, oft-forgotten about stars are re-born on the ATP circuit after successful return from potentially career-ending injury. And there were plenty of these stories this year. From Brian Baker‘s tremendous year from starting on the Futures tour and making his quick climb up to playing the Slams, to Sam Querrey‘s battle back after injury to be within striking distance of the top 20, to Paul-Henri Mathieu‘s firm hold on the top 65 after starting the year unranked, there is clearly a story behind every comeback.

But according to friend and supporter Roger Federer, none was as great as the return of Tommy Haas— and the players seem to agree. After starting the year outside of the top 200, he’s found himself also within reach of the top 20. At 34-years-old, many wouldn’t have blamed him for calling it a career after last season and his flurry of nagging injuries. But not Tommy. He stepped it up, gained his confidence, slimmed up, and even found himself winning the Halle title by defeating Roger Federer in the final. Well done.

The Rest …

A handle of other awards was also given out, including:

  • the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award to Roger Federer for a record eighth time. He beat out Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer.
  • the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award to Novak Djokovic for his contributions through the Novak Djokovic Foundation, his role as a UNICEF ambassador and other individual ventures.
  • the Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award and the ATP Tournaments of the Year will be announced later this week.

Make sure to catch all of the action this week at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Draw, daily schedule and news here.

Tennis players from within the headphones

By James A. Crabtree

They say that the music you listen to says a lot about you.

Now, it could be said that this is a very high school, immature and small minded way to categorise someone. But we do it. And we do often show a little disappointment if someone we look up to happens to enjoy music that is entirely contrary to our own palate. Contrary to that it is often disappointing to find out that someone we dislike enjoys the same sounds as us.

Accordingly we make our own presumption about someone’s character, background, class and creed based on what they have on their own personal and sometimes guarded playlist. Classical music connoisseurs are perceived as boring and old, hard rock devotees are considered passionate airheads whilst techno fans are seen as energetic pill popping lunatics.

(Caution – video footage contains multiple mullets which some viewers may find offensive)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR58gHYC2yU

So where does that place Pat Cash and John McEnroe who both have a long history with their guitars? Or Illie Nastase who, according to legend, came out with some quite nasty Euro Disco in the eighties. On the flip side 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah has had huge success with his musical career in France with some very mushy stuff.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW5zbbXbaN4

And let’s not forget the Bryan Brothers who perform in the fittingly named ‘Brian Brothers Band’, and have their own successful album with lead singer David Baron.

Now let’s OVER psychoanalyse the tennis greats and the music that they love. For this study we must speculate further than what we really know. This involves foolhardy guessing to not only categorise a star by their own personal taste in music but to select a tune that matches their own personal play on court.

Andy Murray is said to be a fan of 50 Cent although the volatile Dizzy Rascal would perhaps be a better fit. But let’s not forget this gold Medallist, from the London 2012 Olympics, is a proud Scot and he has a brother he is close with. Time for a stereotype, one answer: ‘The Proclaimers – 500 miles’, When I wake up…Yea I know I’m going to be…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbNlMtqrYS0

Roger Federer’s favourite music is said to be everything by Lenny Kravitz or AC/DC and in this case Kravitz’s opening lyrics to ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ spring to mind. Although it could be argued that both the joy and the overtures that Federer’s strings create evoke sounds more symbolic of Mozart.

Novak Djokovic lists Serbian star ‘Inna’ as a personal favourite and the up-tempo vibe of her songs definitely fit the tireless hitter. But Novak has brought fire. He has carved out a space as a great when nobody would have said there was room within this generation. He is not only a Prodigy but a fire starter, a twisted fire starter…

Conversely the reserved beats of French hip hop artist Oxmo Puccino suit Jo Wilfred Tsonga to a tea. Not sure what to think about Andy Roddick’s confession that Rick Astley has a place on his iPod. Tomas Berdych has said he enjoys bands like Metallica and U2. This is quite an apt choice for the big hitting Czech as there are not too many subtleties to his game. His personal favourite must be Metallica’s ‘The Unforgiven,’ especially given his refusal to shake Nicolas Almagro’s hand after accusing him of trying to hit him during a rally back in Australia in January.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL8-8badzks&feature=related

Or what about Rafael Nadal, surely he must be a big fan of Shakira especially after this video for the song Gitana. Still this song definitely doesn’t fit his style of play. Think of how the Spaniard plays, he is relentless, aggressive and unwavering. Above it all is the passion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkx7muINXAQ&feature=related

Olympic tennis superlatives: GOATS, children and Andy Murray

By Ashley Babich

MOST LIKELY TO BE CALLED A GOAT, in a good way: Serena Williams. (Duh.)

Completing her Golden Slam — winning all four Grand Slam titles and an Olympics gold medal in singles  —  Serena displayed her best tennis this side of age 30. Serena dismantled her opponents in outright domination (read: beating Maria Sharapova in the gold medal final, 6-0, 6-1, in an hour and three minutes). In addition, Serena’s last three opponents were the last three women to hold the No. 1 ranking. Please, let the Greatest Of All Time talk carry on while Serena continues her supreme level of awesomeness.

(And never far from controversy, chosen or not, Serena stirred the pot with her post-win celebration dance, otherwise known as the Crip Walk. Some see it as an act of pure joy; others take it as a nod to the gang associated with the name.)

Time out. Did I forget to mention that Serena also won an Olympic gold medal in doubles with her sister Venus, their second consecutive gold medal in doubles?

Okay. GOAT talk may resume.

 

MOST IMPROVED: Andy Murray

For a tennis player who has continuously frustrated his fans, and his nation, with his ability to make it to Grand Slam finals but his inability to win them, Andy Murray finally had his chance to savor victory. Finally! Did I already say that? I mean it.

There has been endless chatter about Murray being the sole hope for Great Britain’s success in the current tennis realm; after figuratively carrying the nation on his back all these years, and being unable to deliver the prize at Wimbledon, Murray literally wore the Union Jack on his back and brought home what some might say is even better than a Wimbledon title: the Olympic gold medal AT Wimbledon.

With an inspiring win over a slightly-flat Roger Federer, Murray got a taste of revenge for the loss to Federer four weeks ago to the day in the Wimbledon final.  Considering that Murray had only won ONE set in the FOUR Grand Slam finals he’s reached, the 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Federer speaks volumes. Match point? An ace. #helloconfidence

Understanding that Murray’s chance to win an Olympic medal in London was literally only going to come around once, it is hard not to appreciate what a massive feat this is for him. Joy and tears all around, unless you are a Federer fan, who was denied his chance at a Golden Slam.

 

MOST LIKELY TO BE SENT TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE (aka the BRAVO studio):  Ryan Harrison

At 20-years-old, Ryan Harrison was the youngest American tennis player on the team, and the one who struggled the most to balance emotion and passion. In his debut match at the Olympics, Harrison threw his racquet to the ground multiple times while losing to Santiago Giraldo 7-5, 6-3. The following day, Harrison apologized to the nation during an interview on BRAVO.

Said Harrison, “My actions were in no way trying to represent the country poorly. I feel terrible. I wish I could take it back. I am sorry to everyone I offended. I hope you can see the improvements from before.”

Harrison is thought by many to have a big role in the future of American tennis, but he is often criticized for his on-court temper. Though, it seems fair to mention that if he had not been representing the USA at the Olympics, a couple of racquet smashes would not have been particularly note-worthy. It will be interesting to see if this incident and resulting apology will have any effect on his future on-court temperament.

 

BEST DISPLAY OF TWINNING: Bob & Mike Bryan

Twinning! Sorry. Had to.

So, speaking of Golden Slams, the Bryan Brothers completed their own with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) gold medal win over the French duo of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The jumping and hugging that ensued after their win was full of pure joy, and hinted that this win was sweeter because of its rarity. The Bryan Brothers are approaching a total of 300 weeks as the world’s top-ranked doubles team and have won all four Grand Slams, three of them at least twice! But an Olympic gold medal was the missing piece.

As Bob Bryan said, “There’s no bigger match we’d rather win than that one, Centre Court, Wimbledon, for our country, for each other. We’re 34 years old, and we’ve played tennis since we were 2-years-old. That’s a lot of balls going across the net, and this is it. This is the top of the mountain.”

 

CUTEST CONGRATULATORY TWEET: Micaela Bryan

Speaking of the joyous Bryan Brothers…. Micaela Bryan, Bob’s 6-month-old daughter, is the star of a very adorable Twitter account and often tweets shout-outs to various players, in addition to her many delightful pictures. After her dad and uncle won their gold medals in doubles, this was tweeted to the world. #aww

 

 

MOST LIKELY TO STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT: Henry Caplan

Unsure who Henry Caplan is? We all were just 48 hours ago! Remember the little boy who appeared as if out of nowhere near Andy Murray’s box and yelled bravely for Murray to turn around and give him a hug? And then proceeded to bury his face in Murray’s shoulder in a way that made hundreds of thousands of people watching collectively say, “awwww” while wiping away tears? (Or was that just me?) I think in that exact moment, most people in the world wanted to give Murray a warm congratulatory hug, and this little 11-year-old just had the guts to ask for it.

As Caplan told the BBC, “I was hugging my dad and the next moment I was gone. I was down near the royal box area in front of Roger Federer’s family and then I hugged Andy Murray. I just thought I had to be there.”

Caplan says that Murray said to him, “anything for my fans.”

So many levels of adorable. Dare you not to smile.

Billie Jean King on World TeamTennis, the Bryan Brothers, and Elton John

By Ashley Babich

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Before the Philadelphia Freedom took on the Kansas City Explorers at their home base at Villanova University, the creator of World TeamTennis, Billie Jean King, sang the praises of the organization, the fans, and the dedicated players. King cited the success of World TeamTennis to “keeping the economics under control” and finding support from the people who surround her. “I’m very fortunate with the team of people I have working with us.”

Speaking about the importance of team tennis, King highlighted the need for children’s tennis to operate from a team framework.
“For over 50 years now, my mantra has been, when they sign up for tennis, put them on a team. Get rid of the word ‘lesson.’ Kids don’t like that word. They’ll learn lessons in life from it, but they don’t need that word. Here’s what most kids do today, they play lacrosse or baseball or football; it’s a team sport usually. They practice two times a week and have a game. And what do they say about tennis? ‘Oh, I have a tennis lesson once a week.’ If a child is putting in 8 hours a week on one sport and then an hour on tennis, which sport do you think they’re going to choose after a year or two? I want them to practice two or three times a week and then I want them to have a game or a match. So they look forward to it every week. I don’t care what the skill level is, it’s fun!”

The WTT match on Monday night promoted marquee players Mike and Bob Bryan playing for the Kansas City Explorers. When asked to discuss the Bryan Brothers’ dedication to WTT, especially during an Olympic year, King had many positive things to say.

“It means a lot to us. Our format is totally built for them because they’re so great in doubles, and doubles is 60% of our scoring effort. They’re fantastic. They play their butts off.”

King also celebrated the recent Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title won by Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond: “Do I love it?! My little team tennis players? I love it.”

King ended the conference with a conversation about how special Elton John’s song “Philadelphia Freedom” is to her.

“We have the best signature song in all of sports, which no one ever writes about … He used to sit on the bench, when I played for the Philadelphia Freedoms, yelling, ‘c’mon!’ He was a maniac!”

King recalled that she was on her way to a concert with Elton John when he offered to write a song about her, and she candidly described her reaction: “I’m thinking, ‘are you kidding, yeah right, what are you smoking?’”

“He said, ‘let’s name it Philadelphia Freedom after the team,’ and I said, ‘Great! That would be a great gift to the people of Philadelphia.’”
King laughed as she described a favorite part of the song: “He told me the part [in the refrain] that goes, ‘Phi-la-delphia,’ that’s you getting ticked off at the umpires. And I said, ‘I love it!’”

The Philadelphia Freedoms went on to beat the Kansas City Explorers 20-16 in Monday night’s match, with strong playing from the other twins involved that evening, Kristyna and Karolina Pliskova, playing for the Philadelphia Freedom. “Tonight is twin night,” as King put it.

Before exiting the press room, King went over to Carmine, who was quietly stringing racquets for the team in the corner of the room, and thanked him for executing his crucial job for WTT King asked him to take a picture with her, and he happily obliged. She’s a dynamic one, that Billie Jean King.

Lindstedt-Tecau and Matkowski-Fyrstenberg Wins Signal Shift in the Doubles Landscape

Former Grand Slam titlists should have the upper hand against doubles teams that have had to scrape and claw their way into qualifying for the World Tour Finals, right?

Well, no one told that to the duos of Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau seeded 6th, who beat the #4 seed Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, or #8 seed Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg, who topped the #2 seed Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic in opening round-robin matches.

Add to that the 5th seeded Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, aka the “Indo-Pak Express,” coming within points of beating this year’s French Open champs Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor seeded 3rd, and a major power shift could be on the way in doubles.

Among the top four teams competing at the O2 Arena in London this year, seven of the eight players have ranked number one at some point in their careers. And aside from the Bryans, the players on the three other squads have enjoyed success with others at the tournament: for example, Zimonjic and Nestor are actually the “defending champions,” beating none other than the tandem of Bhupathi and Mirnyi in the finals last year.

If there were an actual Hall of Fame for doubles, the players among the top four seeds currently would be first-ballot selections, no question.

Their challengers, on the other hand, have barely accomplished a quarter of what they have in terms of titles.

Still, though, that hasn’t seemed to instill any sense of deference among them.

Bopanna and Qureshi have actually beaten Mirnyi and Nestor twice this year, including last week on the way to the Paris Indoors crown, their first Masters 1000 victory. Lindstedt and Tecau showed no signs of nerves in their debut appearance at the year-end championships with the straight-sets win over the “Indian Express.” And Fyrstenberg and Matkowski snapped a three-match losing streak to Llodra and Zimonjic at a crucial time as every little point helps when it comes to getting out of round-robin play.

Fyrstenberg and Matkowski aren’t exactly strangers to the tour finals though, making their fifth appearance. But as long as the Poles have been playing together, they just made their big breakthrough at this year’s U.S. Open. There, they lost to Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner in the finals.

Also the winners of the Wimbledon title in 2010, Melzer and Petzschner are two of the only three players in the doubles draw who maintain top 100 singles rankings (Llodra being the other). It would be hard to argue against the impact of the workload: Petzschner made the final in Halle this year and Melzer reached his career-high singles ranking, eight, earlier this year.

The players at the top—together or with different partners—have won titles by the dozens, but the new crop appears ready to take over and start reaping its share of the prizes.

London Showcase Set For Kick-Off: Tennis in the Commonwealth

By Leigh Sanders

The final line-up for the ATP World Finals Championship in London, England, next week has been confirmed following the conclusion of the Paris Masters. Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco secured the last two berths following their performances on the hard courts of Paris. Eight players went in to the week’s play knowing a victory there could secure a place at the prestigious event but after the twists and turns had unfurled Davydenko and Verdasco won through after Robin Soderling and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga failed to advance past the quarterfinals.

However, with Andy Roddick having missed five weeks with a knee problem he has announced that he is unable to participate, allowing Soderling the opportunity to take his place in the event for the first time.

“I have not fully recovered from my knee injury and I won’t be able to compete,” said Roddick. “One of my goals in 2010 will be to qualify for this event again.”

The round-robin stage of the tournament has been drawn (seeds in brackets) and Group A sees career Grand Slam winner Roger Federer (1), Britain’s Andy Murray (4), US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro (5) and Fernando Verdasco (7) vying for qualification. Group B consists of 2009 Australian Open Champion Raphael Nadal (2), the 2008 winner Novak Djokovic (3), Nikolay Davydenko (6) and Robin Soderling (8).

In the doubles at Paris, Polish duo Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski took the final berth at the tournament with an emphatic win over the Bryan brothers in Paris. That victory prevents South African Wesley Moodie and his partner Dick Norman taking part. The round robin groups have also been drawn. Group A sees world No. 1 and No. 2 Daniel Nestor of Canada/Nenad Zimonjic (1), India’s Mahesh Bhupathi/Mark Knowles (3), Frantisek Cermak/Michal Mertinak (5) and Max Mirnyi/Andy Ram (7). Group B will consist of the Bryan brothers (2), Lukas Dlouhy/Leander Paes of India (4), Lukasz Kubot/Oliver Marach (6) and Mariusz Fyrstenberg/Marcin Matkowski (8).

*Great Britain’s Murray crashed back down to earth in Paris following his victory at the Valencia Open last time out. He failed to progress past the third round in Paris, sluggishly going down 6-1, 3-6, 4-6 to Radek Stepanek just sixteen hours after he had seen off James Blake in the previous round in a match that went on till the early hours of last Thursday.

* Daniel Nestor of Canada clinched his ninth doubles title of 2009 with partner Nenad Zimonjic after the pair beat the Spaniards Marcelo Granollers and Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Paris Masters. The world No. 1 and No. 2 have now stretched their rankings lead over the Bryan brothers to 830 points. It follows on from their recent win in the Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel. Aussie Jordan Kerr reached the third round with American Travis Parrott before they eventually went down 6-2, 6-4 to the in-form Czech-Slovak partnership of Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak. In the previous round, Kerr/Parrott had halted doubles specialist and fourth seed Leander Paes of India and partner Lukas Dlouhy. The exit of South African Wesley Moodie and Belgian Dick Norman in round two to the eventual finalists Granollers/Robredo means they miss out on a place at the ATP World Tour Finals. Another Aussie, Paul Hanley, and his Swedish partner Simon Aspelin also fell foul of the Spaniards in round three after they had beaten India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles, seeded No. 3, in round two. South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee lost with his partner Marcelo Melo of Brazil in the opening round to the ever-impressive French duo Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

*In this week’s ATP World Tour Rankings for singles (16/11) there was no movement for any Commonwealth tennis star ranked in the Top 100 in the world. India’s Somdev Devvarman climbs two to 122 and Canada’s Frank Dancevic is down nine to 132. Australians Carsten Ball and Chris Guccione also saw falls this week, five and 12 respectively.

*In the doubles rankings (16/11) Canada’s Daniel Nestor extends his lead as the world’s No. 1 but there are no other changes for the other Commonwealth players ranked in to Top 10. Australia’s Paul Hanley is down a place to 28 while his compatriot Jordan Kerr climbs one to 30. Fellow Aussie Ashley Fisher is down two to 43. Despite falling in the singles rankings Carsten Ball is up one to 57 and Chris Guccione drops to 66. Following their recent leaps and bounds up the rankings Britain’s Ken Skupski (3) and Colin Fleming (4) see falls in their rankings. Countryman Jonathan Marray drops one to 92. Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi sees a jump of six and is now ranked at 60. Jeff Coetzee of South Africa sees the biggest fall of all as he drops 12 to 68 while Rohan Bopanna of India climbs five to 90.

*The final WTA rankings for 2009 have been decided following the closing tournaments in Bali and Doha for the top players of the year. There were no Commonwealth players in the Top 10, Australia’s Samantha Stosur the highest ranked at 13. Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak (35) is the only other player in the Top 50. Next up is another Australian, Jelena Dokic, at 57 while Sania Mirza of India is below her in 58. It’s been a bad year for British tennis but Katie O’Brien will be delighted to end the year as British No. 1 as her end of season form sees her end up in 88, one ahead of Elena Baltacha in 89. Anne Keothavong’s long injury sees her drop to 98 in the end-of-season rankings.

*The final doubles rankings or 2009 have also been decided. Australians Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs finish the year joint No. 7 and Sania Mirza of India is the third-highest ranked Commonwealth star at 37. Canada’s Marie-eve Pelletier ends the year ranked 66 while her compatriot Sharon Fichman is 96. British No. 1 Sarah Borwell is at 76. Natalie Grandin of South Africa, ranked No. 78, makes it only seven Commonwealth players in the Top 100 at the end of 2009.

*In a review of the British sporting “crown jewels” which decides which sporting events are to be aired on free-to-air television, it has been decided that Wimbledon should be kept on the list beyond 2017. The review, carried out by the Independent Advisory Panel for Listed Events, always causes arguments between satellite broadcasters and sports authorities but it is no question that the British public will be delighted that the prestigious tennis tournament is kept where everybody can view it without subscribing to satellite providers. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has already expressed concern at the decision as they believe it hampers investment in tennis. It seems money truly does talk in all sports.

*Australian tennis fans are celebrating the news that former Australian Open finalist and crowd favourite Marcos Baghdatis will return to play the Medibank International Sydney in 2010 alongside Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka. While at the Brisbane International, Frenchman Gilles Simon has announced he’ll begin his 2010 season by making his tournament debut. Both provide warm ups to the Australian Open.

*Former world No. 8 Alicia Molik of Australia won on her return to court in the first round of the Cliffs Esperance International. After a shaky start she saw of compatriot Monika Wejnert 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

*The All England Tennis Club and the LTA have announced that the 2009 Wimbledon Championships raised a total of £29.2 million which will be invested in to British tennis. The aim this year is to improve tennis facilities throughout the country so that all communities have access to quality coaching and future players coming through the youth ranks will be of a higher calibre. It would also mean that top players like Andy Murray wouldn’t have to seek the level of coaching they require abroad.

*British tennis starlet Heather Watson has qualified for the Tevlin Challenger $50k event in Toronto, Canada, despite losing in the final of the Qualifying Tournament to American Macall Harkins. Two competitors from the main event have withdrawn allowing Watson to progress as a lucky loser.

*British No. 7 Jade Curtis reached the semifinals of the $10k AEGON Pro-Series Women’s singles event in Jersey before going down 4-6, 1-6 to No. 6 seed Matea Mezak of Croatia.