caroline wozniaki

Maria Sharapova is like a cow on ice – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

For Good Measure

Lest there be any doubt about his ability to beat any player on any surface, Novak Djokovic backed up his Madrid victory over clay king Rafael Nadal with a consecutive clay court win over the Spaniard in Rome. In many ways, his victory in Rome was even more impressive than the one that came a week prior. He played a healthy Nadal without the aid of the Madrid altitude, and despite being pushed to the brink in a three-hour marathon match against Andy Murray in the semifinals, he managed to take Nadal out in two routine sets. He’s extended his streak to 37 for the year, stands in a prime position to break John McEnroe’s Open Era record for best start to a season, and should he win the French Open, he’ll tie Guillermo Vilas for most consecutive wins on the men’s tour in the Open Era. Furthermore, he has already qualified for the ATP World Tour Championships, and the odds are heavily in his favor of becoming the new number one when the dust has settled in Paris (anything short of the crown for Nadal guarantees Djokovic the No.1 ranking, or if Djokovic reaches the final and loses to Nadal, he will still earn the No. 1 ranking). One thing is for sure…the French Open just got even more interesting.

Maria Sharapova wins Rome 2011

“A Cow on Ice”

That was the phrase that Maria Sharapova once used to describe the way she plays tennis on a clay court. After her victory in Rome, however, the Russian is starting to change her tune. Sharapova played impressive power tennis last week, hitting multiple winners as she outslugged the likes of current World No. 1 Caroline Wozniaki and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Sam Stosur in the final to claim the biggest clay court title of her career. Sharapova is still too inconsistent to be considered a heavy favorite to win the French Open, but if a shot of confidence is all the lanky Russian was looking for to help hone her game, she’s certainly going to be a heavy contender for the championship. No doubt Sharapova will have some extra incentive to extend her good run of form during the Paris fortnight, as with neither Williams sister competing, Henin retired, and Clijsters lacking match play, Sharapova has never been presented with a better opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam.

Back in Business

The odds were stacked against both of them, but through hard work and perseverance, both Kim Clijsters and Juan Martin Del Potro have stated that they are fit enough to compete at the second major of 2011. It’s hard to gauge how either player will fair on the red dirt. Clijsters has already reported that she’s hitting the ball well, and with so much inconsistency and no heavy favorites on the women’s side, it’s not inconceivable that she could make a deep run in spite of her lack of match play. As for Delpo, he hasn’t totally found his groove, but his play in Estoril demonstrated just how lethal he’s currently capable of being. In either case, the rest of the competition will be wary of seeing these superstars on the opposite side of the net.

Not so Lucky

On the opposite end of the spectrum are two former World Number Ones in Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Both players have been forced to withdraw from Roland Garros citing right shoulder injuries. Granted, Roddick would never turn his nose up at competing at a major, but his poor run of results in Paris are well-documented. He’ll be looking to make a quick recovery as he heads into the grass and summer hard court tournaments where he’s traditionally had the most impact. For Ferrero, this is just another setback in what has been an injury plagued 10-plus months. It will come as more of a blow to him, having only played two tournaments this year and being most at home on the clay, but after the rejuvenated season he put together in 2010, he won’t be lacking in determination to try and salvage the second half of this year in the hopes of a brighter 2012. Fingers crossed both make full recoveries.

Well Wishes

Earlier this week, it was announced that one of the greatest legends of our sport, Aussie Ken Rosewall, was admitted to the stroke ward of a Rome hospital. At Rosewall’s request, the specifics of his condition and the exact reasoning behind his admittance are being kept private, but his wife Wilma reports that he has suffered no heart or brain damage. Rosewall was in Rome to receive a golden racquet award, which is presented annually to former tennis greats. I’m sure fans from all over the world wish “Muscles” a very speedy recovery and safe journey back to Australia.

Serena Williams pulls out of Nike Event. A shocker? No! – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Vintage Roddick

Last week in Mephis, Andy Roddick hit what he deemed to be the best shot of his career to win the ATP 500 title over breakout Canadian sensation Milos Raonic 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. For Roddick fans, the entire week of tennis had to be highly encouraging. Not only was the serve cooking, but he appeared to be playing more like the Roddick of old, driving through the ball with greater frequency on both wings – a tactic that has been missing from his game as of late. And impressively, despite going into the final with an illness, he managed to outlast Raonic to win his first title of the season. Unfortunately, the illness forced him out of Delray, but if Roddick continues to employ the brand of tennis we saw in Memphis, expect him to be in the thick of things far more often than he was last season.

Return to the Top

It wasn’t a long wait for Caroline Wozniaki to reclaim her spot atop the women’s rankings, taking the No. 1 ranking from Clijsters with her win in Dubai over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Of course, her return to the top has also meant the return of questions concerning her legitimacy as No. 1. Most recently, some have had the nerve to question her ranking based on the fact that she has no major weapons in her game. So maybe she doesn’t have the power of a Williams sister or the variety of a Henin. But one could argue that her speed and consistency are both weapons, albeit subtle ones. And besides, when an Australian by the name of Lleyton Hewitt was the No. 1 player on the men’s side, the fact that he lacked a major weapon didn’t seem to be a point of criticism. In fact, many commentators praised his lack of any weaknesses and marveled at the way he shrank the court for opponents. If Wozniaki is able to do the same thing, why should her accomplishments count for any less?

From Court to Court

“Super” Mario Ancic won’t be on the court trading groundies with tennis greats, but you might see him in the court rooms of Croatia. The 26-year-old Croat, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist who reached a career high singles ranking of No. 7, has announced his official retirement from the sport. Ancic was never the same after the mono, but it has been a chronic back injury that has forced him to the realization that his body will no longer allow him to compete at the highest levels of competition. But don’t despair for Ancic. He’s made a very impressive transition, using his law degree to land a job with a law firm in Croatia. He will be missed, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t find great success in his second career.

Shocker?

Is it a shocker that Serena Williams has announced that she has pulled out of the upcoming Nike exhibition? That would be a definitive “no.” If anything, a shocking story would be if Serena Williams was actually going to compete in an event that she named as the first stop in her return to the game. Ticket holders to the exhibition shouldn’t be too broken-hearted, however, with Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and now Azarenka still set to compete. Williams will also be making an appearance as a referee, but seriously, at this point, fans and tournament organizers would probably be more grateful if Serena Williams waited to announce her comeback event at a time when she knows she has a more realistic chance of actually being able to make good on her word (she was in a walking boot until earlier this month, making the Nike exhibition a tough ask).

Looking Up

According to ATP CEO Adam Helfant, men’s tennis has a lot to be happy about as the 2011 season gets underway. The numbers from 2010 are in, and it was a very good year. Helfant reported that there was a 26% increase in television coverage, which spurred a 20% increase in viewership. With these kind of numbers, the ATP was able to secure a little over 50% more in the latest television deals. The Federer-Nadal rivalry has no doubt provided a great product that has made these numbers possible, and with more players moving to the fore to threaten their dominance, the ATP’s product is only going to continue to improve, which should translate into better numbers next year.

 

 

Ana Ivanovic Splits with Coach – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Abrupt Ending

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

Nerves of Steel

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

The Nightmare Continues

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

Leader of the Pack

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

Coaching Split

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

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

By Maud Watson

At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.

Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.

Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.

The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.

Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.

The Friday Five: Danish Sensation Caroline Wozniacki is Top Seed at US Open

Back on Track – Last week in Cincinnati, Roger Federer righted the ship, going one better than he did in Canada to take the coveted Masters 1000 title. Not surprisingly, many of the pundits have quickly jumped back on the Federer bandwagon, with several of them declaring him the man to beat in Flushing. There’s little doubt that Federer is starting to play the brand of tennis that won him his 16th major earlier this year, and of the top four players in the world, he had the best overall two weeks across Canada and Cincy (though admittedly, he had an easier road than the other three in Cincinnati thanks to a retirement and walkover). So while Federer may not be deserving of the heavy favorite status that was due to him the last few years going into the Open, one would be a glutton for punishment to bet heavily against him winning his 17th Grand Slam singles title in a few weeks time.

The Great Dane – Heading into the US Open where she achieved reaching her first Grand Slam singles final just a year ago, life is looking very good for Danish sensation Caroline Wozniaki. She showed great patience and steady nerves as she waited out the rain to take out Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis and Vera Zvonareva in the finals (dropping just five games in each match!), to take the top tier Roger Cup title. As an added bonus, Wozniaki will enjoy her first stint as the top seed at a Slam, with the honor coming as a result of Serena Williams being forced to pull out of the US Open. While many are still tipping the likes of No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters as more of a threat to take the title, keep an eye on this Dane. With a positive attitude, a steady game, and a great work ethic, a major title could be very near on the horizon.

Return of a Champion – It’s not as early as she and many in the tennis world had hoped, but Serena Williams has announced that she intends to make her comeback later next month in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific Open. Both fans and Serena will get a chance to see how quickly she finds her game after the injury layoff, with eight of the world’s top ten currently entered into the star-studded field. Irrespective of what you feel about her, there’s an undeniable added buzz when she’s in the competition. So enjoy the Open but look forward to what could shape up to be a competitive fall and exciting end to the 2010 WTA season.

In a Flash – The woes of James Blake in 2010 are many and well known, but for one brief match, everything went right for the veteran American. Blake took young Spaniard Pere Riba out of the Pilot Pen in New Haven with the loss of just a single game in what was the fastest match on the tour this year. And while Riba is a man who currently has predominantly made his living on the challenger circuit and is most at home on the dirt, there was some hope that the 35-minute clinic Blake put on in his win over Riba would instill more confidence as he went on to face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Blake in that match, but at least there was something positive to take away from this week. And while it is unlikely that Blake will need any extra motivation as he prepares for the US Open, a venue where he has enjoyed some of his most spectacular moments as a professional, it would be wonderful if he could channel this small positive in New Haven into some vintage Blake play that sees him end 2010 on a respectable high as he heads into what could be a permanent hiatus from the game.

Great Idea – Hats off to the people behind getting the US Open draw televised on ESPN2 with live streaming available on ESPN3.com. The concept of the US Open Series has been a phenomenal hit, with ratings continuing to be strong, and this latest wrinkle only enhances the fan experience leading into Flushing Meadows. Can’t wait to see what feature they incorporate next!

By Maud Watson

CAN ROGER FEDERER WIN THE GRAND SLAM? THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

End to the Grand Slam Drought? – With his win in Melbourne at the Australian Open, Roger Federer became the first father since Andre Agassi to win a Grand Slam title, bringing his total up to 16. While every title he earns makes his legacy that much more impressive, the real question on everyone’s mind is, “Could he win the Grand Slam?” Rod Laver was the last man to do it back in 1969, while Steffi Graf was the last woman to do it in 1988. Federer is definitely still the man to beat. He finally got the monkey off his back at the French, loves the lawns of Wimbledon, and has a stellar record in Flushing Meadows. With Federer’s extraordinary ability to re-write the history books and shatter records, this may just be the year another player captures the elusive Grand Slam.

Showing Early Promise – So maybe Justine Henin was quite able to emulate the success of countrywoman Kim Clijsters by winning her fist major back from retirement, but it was just her second tournament in 18 months, and it was Serena Williams on the other side of the net (no offense to Caroline Wozniaki). While congratulations are in order for Serena Williams, whose 12th Grand Slam title ties her with tennis legend Billie Jean King, I was most impressed with Henin. Several times she had to grind her way through matches, including her second-round encounter with Elena Dementieva. She then takes the current No. 1 to three-sets in the final, and had she played a cleaner match, might have gone all the way. It was a little disconcerting to watch for those who remember seeing the Henin who was a human backboard, but her determination to execute a more offensive game plan is admirable. Once she hones her game and finds that balance between defense and offense, she may well go on to dominate the women’s tour yet again. And, given that she has approximately four months to prepare for the French, she has to already be considered a favorite to take the coveted clay court title.

Hewitt’s Hip Woes – In case you missed it in the entire hullabaloo at the end of the Aussie Open, local favorite Lleyton Hewitt announced that he had to undergo hip surgery on his right hip. He stated he tweaked the hip during the Hopman Cup, and after his run at the first major of the year came to an end, he had the surgery. One has to feel for the man from Adelaide who already underwent one hip surgery. That said, if ever there was a player who had the determination to bounce back from a second surgery, it’s Rusty.

He’s Gone Bollywood – Former Indian tennis star Vijay Amritraj once starred with Roger Moore in the James Bond film Octopussy, and now, once again, another leading Indian player is taking his shot at making it in the movies. Leander Paes, one of the most famous Indian players of the past decade, is going to be starring in a psychological thriller that will be released in both Hindi and Bengali. Maybe it’s not James Bond, but it’s going to give the boys something to talk about in the locker room.

She’s a Barbie Girl – Well, it’s not quite a Wheaties box, but it’s still pretty darn cool. Kim Clijsters has been made into a Barbie doll, as has her young daughter, Jada. Don’t expect to find the doll in a store near you, but for someone like Clijsters who remembers playing with Barbies as a young girl, there’s no doubt that it must be quite an honor to have been fashioned into one of the most iconic toys of all time.