Cedric Pioline

UP IN THE AIR WITH JIM COURIER

Being a tennis player means a lot of traveling.  You get to see many interesting places and collect Airmiles. Maybe some tennis players are just like Ryan Bingham from Up in the air and try to collect 10 million miles. Who knows?

The life of a tennis player however is not always glamorous. Jim Courier depicts that in his blog entry.

Here is a quick excerpt:

Flights out of Rio depart late in the evening back to both Europe and the US so all of the foreign players, save Mikael Pernfors who had flown back Saturday night and Wayne Ferreira who was staying an extra day in Rio, were booked to depart on Sunday evening following the 3rd place and Championship matches on Sunday. Cedric Pioline, Marat Safin, Mark Philippoussis, Mats Wilander and myself along with Champions Series head honcho Jon Venison and Mats’ wife, Sonya all met up in our airline’s VIP lounge (business class, one of the perks of Champions Series life) to await the boarding of our planes. Marat and Cedric were headed back to Paris at 11:30pm and the rest of us were going to NYC at 11pm, or so we thought. Note: we’re all flying on the same Brazilian airline.

For the full entry click here: http://www.championsseriestennis.com/player_blog.php?id=6

SAFIN ARRIVES IN RIO

Marat Safin will make his debut on the Champions Series tennis circuit Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Safin, who retired from the ATP World Tour last fall, opens against Wayne Ferreira in the eight-player event.

Safin, who turned 30 in February, is the favorite to win the event, titled the Banco Cruzeiro do Sul Rio Champions Cup. Also competing in the eight-player, single-knock out event are Jim Courier, Mats Wilander, Mark Philippoussis, Cedric Pioline, Mikael Pernfors and Fernando Meligeni. The event will feature $150,000 in total prize money, with the singles champion earning $60,000. Tickets can be purchased by calling 5521-3005-4023 or by visiting www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

The full schedule of play is as follows;

Friday 12th March: Starting at 6 pm
Quarterfinal #1 – Fernando Meligeni vs. Mikael Pernfors
Quarterfinal #2 – Mark Philippoussis vs. Cedric Pioline
Quarterfinal #3 – Marat Safin vs. Wayne Ferreira
Quarterfinal #4 – Jim Courier vs. Mats Wilander

Saturday 13th March: Starting at 6 pm
Men’s Doubles Match
Semifinal #1 – Winner of Safin/Ferreira vs. Meligini/Pernfors
Semifinal #2 – Winner of Philippoussis/Pioline vs. Courier/Wilander

Sunday 14th March: Starting at 11 am
3rd Place Match
Championship Final

Safin became the first Russian to win the U.S. Open in 2000 when he shocked Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the men’s singles final. Safin rode the momentum of winning his first major singles title to earn the No. 1 ranking later that year and rank in the top spot for a total of nine weeks during his career. He reached the final of the Australian Open in 2002 and again in 2004, losing to Thomas Johansson and Roger Federer, respectively, but broke through to win his second major title in Australia in 2005, defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Safin, who also reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2002 and at Wimbledon in 2008, won 15 career singles titles and guided Russia to Davis Cup titles in 2002 and 2006. Safin turned 30 years old on January 27 and concluded his ATP World Tour career last fall.

The Rio Champions Cup is part of the global Champions Series tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over. To be eligible to compete, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team.

Each event features $150,000 in prize money – with the tournament champion earning $60,000 – and ranking points that determine the year-end No. 1. Each tournament champion earns 800 ranking points.

Here are other photos from the event’s Facebook page of Courier and Wilander also arriving.

The full 2010 Champions Series schedule of tournaments will be announced in the near future. The first tournament in the United States – the Staples Champions Cup – will be held April 29-May 2 in Boston, Mass., and will feature Bjorn Borg playing in his first tournament in the U.S. in 10 years.

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Chang And Enqvist To Clash In Final

Michael Chang and Thomas Enqvist booked their places in the final of the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy in Paris on Saturday after both men won their final group matches to finish unbeaten at the top of their respective groups.

In the first match of the day, Enqvist had to come through a lengthy struggle against an in-form Thomas Muster 6-3, 3-6, 10-5 (Champions’ Tie Break). Elsewhere, Chang walked on court knowing he had already booked his place in Sunday’s final but he still completed a clean sweep of round robin victories with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) victory over Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch.

Chang is thrilled to have reached his first ever final on the ATP Champions Tour.

“It feels really good to be in my first ATP Champions Tour final,” he said. “Today was definitely a tough one against Arnaud so I’m pleased I was able to hang in there. I’m really enjoying being here in Paris this week with my wife Amber and it’s been great to play some good tennis as well.”

Enqvist is equally pleased to be playing in his second ATP Champions Tour final in two events.

“It’s great that I’m in the final,” he said. “I think today against Thomas it was a tough match and I was lucky to get through in the Champions’ Tie Break in the end. I’ve played well this week so hopefully I will go all the way tomorrow.”

Since making his debut in Sao Paulo earlier this year, Enqvist has remained unbeaten on the ATP Champions Tour, winning the title in Brazil and now reaching the final in Paris. Despite being on a seven-match winning streak, the Swede is modest about his achievements.

“It’s been pretty close this week. Yesterday against Cedric (Pioline) and today against Thomas were both tough matches that I could have lost. Hopefully the run will continue for another day because I’d like to win another title but I’m certainly not feeling invincible. I saw Michael play against Stefan (Edberg) and he looked really good. He still moves well and he still plays really good so it’s definitely going to be an interesting match.”

Chang starts  the match with a 1-5 win/loss record against Enqvist, having never beaten him on clay.

“Thomas has always been a difficult opponent for me over the years,” he said. “I’ve definitely lost more than I’ve won against him so tomorrow’s not going to be an easy match and I’ll have to play my best that’s for sure.”

The match to decide the third and fourth place positions will be contested by Cedric Pioline and Stefan Edberg after both men won their final round robin matches to finish second in their respective groups. Pioline sped through his match against a tired-looking Yevgeny Kafelnikov, winning 6-1, 6-2, while Edberg had a slightly sterner test against Guy Forget, coming through 6-3, 6-4.

Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner.

After Paris, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Chengdu for the inaugural Chengdu Open (November 5-9), and after that will arrive in Turin, Italy for the city’s first ever ATP Champions Tour event (November 11-14). The Tour culminates in London at the AEGON Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall, 1-6 December.

To view the order of play and the round-robin groups, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/results.html

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV BLOG – Part One

Yevgeny Kafelnikov is back in Paris, the scene of his Grand Slam breakthrough in 1996, and as well as playing in the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy this week, he is also writing an exclusive blog for ATPChampionsTour.com.

In part one, the Russian, who also won the Australian Open title in 1999, talks about how he has felt to be strolling the streets of Paris again, and the memories that the trip has brought back to him.

In part two, which will be published soon, Kafelnikov gives his reaction to Kim Clijsters’ recent US Open triumph, his thoughts on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, and how the current era compares to his own.

To read part one of Kafelnikov’s blog, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/blog5.html

ATP Champions Tour Barcelona – Mantilla Completes Emotional Comeback After Cancer Recovery

Felix Mantilla completed an emotional comeback just two years after recovering from skin cancer as he became the first player in history to win an ATP Champions Tour and an ATP World Tour title in Barcelona. In the final of the Champions Cup on Sunday, Mantilla beat Albert Costa 6-4, 6-1.

The Spaniard, who won the ATP title in 1999, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2006 after undergoing tests on a mole on his back. The former top ten player made a brief comeback before retiring from the game, but went on to win his battle against the disease. Despite being given a clean bill of health, he did not expect to be back playing title-winning tennis in Barcelona.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be playing tennis like this again,” said Mantilla, after completing victory at his maiden ATP Champions Tour event. “When I got my illness, I felt like I was retired and that it was finished. But then they gave me the possibility to come here and to play on the ATP Champions Tour and I thought ‘Why not?’ It’s always nice to play your sport whilst having fun.”

For Mantilla, today’s win was the perfect end to an enjoyable week spent in his home city.

“I have really good memories of this Centre Court here in Barcelona,” said Mantilla, who jumps to No.1 in the South African Airways Champions Tour Rankings. “Today it was a good match and both of us did our best. It’s always special to be here and hopefully I can come back next year to defend my title.”

Although his battle with cancer put a premature end to his career on the ATP Tour, since retiring Mantilla has remained involved in the tennis world. For the past year he has been working for Tennis Australia as a talent-spotter, and he now spends half of the year living Down Under working with young Australian Tennis players.

“I’m really happy that Tennis Australia gave me the opportunity to try and help them,” he said. “I’m working to try and develop clay court tennis in Australia. We’re hoping that the young kids can grow up playing on slower surfaces, because that will help their play on all surfaces.”

In the third/fourth place play-off, Magnus Gustafsson defeated fellow Swede Anders Jarryd 6-7(3), 6-2, 11-9 (Champions’ Tie Break) in a thrilling three-set encounter. Jarryd looked to be dominating his countryman early on, but Gustafsson pulled off a dramatic comeback, eventually saving two match points in the Champions’ Tie Break before clinching the match.

The ATP Champions Tour will now move on to Sao Paulo for the Nossa Caixa Grand Champions, May 21-24 - http://www.atpchampionstour.com/saopaulo.html

To view the week’s results in Barcelona, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/results

For the latest gossip and chat from behind the scenes, click here: http://www.atpchampionstour.com/twitter

ATP Champions Tour Launches New Website

On the eve of the Barcelona tournament, the ATP Champions Tour launched its new, official website, http://www.atpchampionstour.com

The site features a fresh design, more player and tournament information than ever before, and a new interactive FanZone where fans can send questions to their favourite champions, access exclusive video and audio, and test their knowledge of the Champions in a special Quiz.

For the first time, you can also read exclusive Blogs and follow us on Twitter, with tweets from the players during tournaments as well as regular gossip, opinions and tennis chat throughout the year. Everything you could want to know about the Champions Cup ’09 in Barcelona (16-19 April) can be found in Events, such as player field (when available), the Roll of Honour and a guide to the city where the tournament is hosted.

About South African Airways

South Africa’s international flagship airline and the continent’s most awarded carrier, South African Airways is the official airline of the ATP Champions Tour and sponsor of the official rankings. Its modern fleet features a comfortable Economy Class cabin recently reconfigured for extra legroom and a Premium Business Class cabin featuring the airline’s award-winning, lie-flat seat. Complimentary South African wines, inspired cuisine and personal on-demand entertainment for all travellers make the trip to Africa fly by. Built on a venerable 75-year history of bringing the world to Africa and taking Africa to the world, the airline’s network is unsurpassed on the continent – connecting travellers to more than 20 destinations within South Africa and more than 20 cities across Africa. As a recent member to the worldwide Star Alliance, South African Airways is now able to offer its customers 852 destinations in 152 countries and more than 15,500 flights daily.

ATP Champions Tour Barcelona: Pioline Rolls On In The Rain

Cedric Pioline continued where he left off at The Masters Tennis in London last December by ignoring the storm clouds to thrash Michael Stich 6-1, 6-2 at the first ATP Champions event of the year in Barcelona on Thursday.

The weather was the story of the first day’s play. Dark storm clouds hovered over the Real Club de Tenis throughout, causing the start of play to be delayed by nearly three hours. When the rain eventually relented enough for the players to take to the court, it was Pioline, the man who beat Pete Sampras to win the event at the Royal Albert Hall last year, who once again stole the show.

The Frenchman was in imperious form to defeat Stich for the loss of just three games.

“I surprised myself today,” he said. “I didn’t expect to play that good as it was my first match on clay this year. I think I served pretty good and I returned pretty good. I kept the ball in play and he couldn’t stay in the rallies. I didn’t miss too much today and everything worked well.”

Pioline is now unbeaten in five straight matches on the ATP Champions Tour, and the Frenchman admits that he is setting his sights high for the 2009 season.

“I have to finish Number One!” said Pioline, of his intention to top the South African Airways Champions Tour Rankings. “It’s so important for me, it’s my goal.”

Up first on the Centre Court, Albert Costa wasted no time in beating Pat Cash 6-4 6-4 in a match that was played to a soundtrack of rolling thunder and crackling lightening.

Clay court specialist Costa looked in fine form against Cash, striking the ball with the heavy topspin shots that helped win him the French Open title in 2002.

Costa, a native of Barcelona, explained after the match that he always feels at home playing at the beautiful Real Club de Tenis.

“For me this tournament is always very special,” he said “It means a lot so I am so happy to play here. Even though it was tough today with the rain I think it was a good match we had.”

In the two matches played on the Number One Court, Anders Jarryd defeated 1996 Wimbledon Champion Richard Krajicek 6-4, 6-1, and Felix Mantilla beat Sweden’s Magnus Gustafsson 6-1, 6-4.

Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner. After all round-robin matches are complete, the top two players in each group will meet in Sunday’s final.

After Barcelona, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Sao Paulo for the Nosas Caixa Grand Champions (May 21-24), and after that will arrive in Istanbul for the Legends Cup (June 17-21).

To view the order of play and the round-robin groups, click here.

ATP CHAMPIONS TOUR LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE

With the first event of the year set to start in Barcelona on Thursday, the ATP Champions Tour has launched its new, official website.

The site features a fresh design, more player and tournament information than ever before, and a new interactive FanZone where fans can send questions to their favourite champions, access exclusive video and audio, and test their knowledge of the Champions in a special Quiz.

For the first time, you can also read exclusive Blogs and follow us on Twitter, with tweets from the players during tournaments as well as regular gossip, opinions and tennis chat throughout the year. Everything you could want to know about the Champions Cup ’09 in Barcelona (16-19 April) can be found in Events

, such as player field (when available), the Roll of Honour and a guide to the city where the tournament is hosted.

OTHER INFO

About South African Airways

South Africa’s international flagship airline and the continent’s most awarded carrier, South African Airways is the official airline of the ATP Champions Tour and sponsor of the official rankings. Its modern fleet features a comfortable Economy Class cabin recently reconfigured for extra legroom and a Premium Business Class cabin featuring the airline’s award-winning, lie-flat seat. Complimentary South African wines, inspired cuisine and personal on-demand entertainment for all travellers make the trip to Africa fly by. Built on a venerable 72-year history of bringing the world to Africa and taking Africa to the world, the airline’s network is unsurpassed on the continent – connecting travellers to more than 20 destinations within South Africa and more than 20 cities across Africa. As a recent member to the worldwide Star Alliance, South African Airways is now able to offer its customers 852 destinations in 152 countries and more than 15,500 flights daily.

Mondays with Bob Greene: It is not crucial that we immediately get Nadal, Federer or Murray to play

STARS

Cedric Pioline beat Greg Rusedski 6-7 (4) 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) to win the BlackRock Masters Tennis in London, England

SAYING

“I took my chances and it worked. It was really close and it came down to a few points and I think at the end maybe I just returned a little bit better than him.” – Cedric Pioline, about winning the BlackRock Masters in London, England.

“I was just one or two points short. I had one match point in the second-set tiebreak, but Cedric played great and I think he’s a deserving champion.” – Greg Rusedski, after losing to Pioline.

“I think Roger’s going to break (my) record over the next couple of years. There’s a lot left in him. I think he’s gotten to a stage where it’s about the majors.” – Pete Sampras, on Roger Federer breaking his men’s record of 14 Grand Slam tournament singles titles.

“He is not going to overplay next year. He is just going to try to make sure that he peaks for the tournaments that mean the most to him.” – Tony Godsick, Roger Federer’s agent.

“It is not crucial that we immediately get (Rafael) Nadal, (Roger) Federer or (Andy) Murray to play. It is important that we get quality matches.” – Novak Djokovic, on the first ATP tournament to be played in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2009.

SURPRISE

The United States Fed Cup team will take on Argentina in Surprise, Arizona, in February. The matches will be played at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, which received the 2008 USTA Outstanding Facility Award. A USTA Pro Circuit women’s event is also played at the complex. This will be the fourth Fed Cup meeting between the Americans and Argentina, with the South Americans winning the last meeting in the 1993 quarterfinals in Frankfurt, Germany. The United States leads the overall series 2-1. Mary Joe Fernandez will make her debut as captain of the US Fed Cup team.

STAYING HOME

Russia will begin the defense of its Fed Cup title by staying home February 7-8 against China. The tie will be held on an indoor hard court in Moscow. Spain, runner-up to Russia this year, will travel to Brno, Czech Republic, for its first-round tie. Other World Group matches will find Italy at Orleans, France, while Argentina takes on the United States in Surprise, Arizona. Serbia, boasting two of the world’s top five players, will make its World Group II debut at home in Belgrade against Japan.

SLOWING DOWN

Only two clay-court tournaments are on Roger Federer’s schedule for 2009 prior to the French Open. Federer will go into the only Grand Slam tournament he has not won after playing Masters series events in Rome and Madrid. This year, the Swiss superstar played four clay-court events ahead of the French Open: Estoril, Portugal; Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg, Germany. Federer has reached the French Open final in each of the past three years, losing each time to Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

SERBIAN STOP

Belgrade, Serbia, is now a stop on the ATP tour. Novak Djokovic announced the Serbian capital will stage a USD $500,000 men’s tournament in May. Djokovic’s family bought the license of the ABN Amro Open, which had previously been held in the Netherlands. Ana Ivanovic, the reigning French Open women’s singles champion, is reportedly negotiating to buy a franchise for a WTA Tour event to be held in Belgrade next winter. Challenger events have been held in the past, but Belgrade has never been a stop on the main tours of either the ATP or WTA. Niki Pilic will be the director of the men’s tournament.

SHARAPOVA THREATENED

A former college football player has been arrested and charged with threatening Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova. Leonard Taylor, who was a defensive back for the University of Wisconsin from 1995-95, reportedly threatened to kill Sharapova and her family as well as his former college coach, Barry Alvarez, who is now the University of Wisconsin athletic director. Taylor’s father told police his son has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and stopped taking his medication about three months ago.

SYDNEY OUT?

Jelena Jankovic may not play the Sydney International after all. While organizers earlier said she would be in the field, they now say she has withdrawn from the official acceptance list. “Players often end up re-arranging their schedules a number of times and Jelena has not finalized her plans for 2009 yet,” said Craig Watson, the tournament director. Watson said Jankovic still could enter the tournament as a wild card.

SENIOR KING

Cedric Pioline rallied from match point down to outlast Greg Rusedski in an ace-filled match to win his first BlackRock Masters Tennis trophy. The Frenchman prevailed 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) as he and his British foe pounded out 22 aces. Rusedski reached match point at 9-8 in the Champions tiebreak, but Pioline won the next three points to grab the title. Pioline ended the season finale before packed crowds at Royal Albert Hall by winning all four of his matches, beating Jeremy Bates, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras en route to the final. Rusedski was perfect until he met Pioline, beating Guy Forget, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash.

SAMPRAS THE TRAVELER

Pete Sampras is back on the world-wide tennis tour after spending some time in retirement. Last year, Sampras played exhibition matches against Roger Federer in the Far East. He began this month in Prague, presenting a tennis racquet to Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus while visiting the famed Prague Castle. He then played an exhibition match against Czech Radek Stepanek before going to London to compete in the BlackRock Masters tournament at Royal Albert Hall. Sampras won his first two matches, beating John McEnroe and Jeremy Bates, before losing to eventual winner Cedric Pioline.

SLUGGING IT OUT

Victor Hanescu proved that he is Romania’s top player by winning the First Edition of National Tennis Championship “Masters Romania” in Bucharest, a tournament limited to Romanians. In a match that lasted 12 minutes shy of two hours, Hanescu defeated Victor Crivoi 4-6 6-3 6-3. Monica Niculescu beat Irina Begu 1-6 6-4 6-1 to capture the women’s title. Both winners reportedly received houses valued at USD $210,000. The runners-up received SUVs, while those who finished in third place in the closed championships will receive free flights to all competitions throughout 2009, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

STILL UP THERE

He may be ranked number two in the world on the ATP tour, but Roger Federer still is the leading tennis player when it comes to raking in the money. Federer was fifth on the Forbes Magazine’s list of Best-Paid Celebs Under 30, having earned USD $35 million in 2007, including on-court winnings and endorsements. The only other tennis player in the Top 10 was Maria Sharapova, who earned a reported USD $26 million to finish at seventh. Serena and Venus Williams finished at 11th and 12th, respectively, on the magazine’s list. According to Forbes, the Best-Paid Celeb Under 30 was entertainer Beyonce Knowles, who earned USD $80 million in 2007, nearly double the amount of Justin Timberlake. Federer is the all-time ATP leader in career prize money, having earned USD $44.5 million to date.

SO LONG

With most top players in an off-season, Mondays With Bob Greene also will take a few weeks off. We will return on Monday, January 12, 2009. Have a great holiday.

SITES TO SURF

Doha: www.qatartennis.org

Brisbane: www.brisbaneinternational.com.au/

Chennai: www.chennaiopen.org/

Auckland: www.asbclassic.co.nz

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

ATP: www.atptennis.com

WTA Tour: www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

ITF: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS BEGINNING JANUARY 5, 2009

ATP

$1,110,250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Doha, Qatar, hard

$484,750 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$450,000 Chennai Open, Chennai, India, hard

$100,000 Sao Paulo Challenger, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$220,000 ASB Classic, Auckland, New Zealand, hard

Pioline topples Sampras at last and meets Rusedski in final

Cedric Pioline recorded an historic win against Pete Sampras on Saturday afternoon to reach the final of the BlackRock Masters Tennis. The Frenchman had never previously beaten Sampras in nine attempts, but he produced some explosive tennis to topple the American 7-6(7), 7-6(5).

“This is a great feeling,” said Pioline. “I tried to hold my serve and today I was reading his serve pretty good as well. It was a close match in the end and it’s so great to finally shake Pete’s hand as a winner.”

After the match Sampras paid tribute to his opponent.

“It was a dog fight today,” he said. “I was really impressed with Cedric and he was returning better today than he used to way back when. I had my chance there in the first but I took my foot off the pedal serving for the set and he produced some great shots.” It was competitive and I wanted to win so I’m disappointed I didn’t make the final, but at least the crowd enjoyed it.”

Despite his defeat today, Sampras has enjoyed his long-awaited return to London, a place that holds so many special memories for the seven time Wimbledon Champion.

“I had a great time this week and I’ve been really impressed with the tournament,” he said. “It’s nice to be back in London and seeing the British people was fun for me. I’ve got some good memories coming here and just driving around the streets makes me think about my titles and my wins. It’s a shame I couldn’t win another one here at the Albert Hall.”

Pioline will now take on Greg Rusedski in Sunday’s final, and the Frenchman is expecting another tough battle.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult match again because he’s in good shape,” he said. “He has a big serve so I will need to return well again. To win the tournament would be something special and I’d love to leave London as a winner with the cup in my hand.”

In the final match of the day at the Royal Albert Hall Jeremy Bates put in a sensational performance to beat John McEnroe 6-4, 6-7(4), 11-9 (Champions’ Tie Break).

SAMPRAS TO RETURN TO WIMBLEDON WHEN TIME IS RIGHT

For Pete Sampras the All England Lawn Tennis Club is a special place, and one he has not revisited since his retirement from professional tennis more than six years ago. He had been considering a return to SW19 during his stay in London this week for the BlackRock Masters Tennis but the seven-time Wimbledon Champion decided to leave it a little longer before taking a trip down the most emotional of memory lanes.

“I decided not to go,” he said. “I hear there’s a lot of construction going on and I wanted to go at a time when all the courts are up. That way I’ll have a chance to properly reminisce and maybe even walk on to Centre Court again.”

Despite almost a decade of glittering success at the All England Club, Sampras’ most recent memory of SW19 came back in 2002 when the American suffered a  painful second round loss at the hands of the unseeded swiss George Bastl on Court Two. He retired later that year after winning the US Open and has not returned to the UK since.

“I decided that it’s probably better to go while the event is going on, and also I’d like to take my kids over to check it out as well and they’re not here this week. I’m going to go back one day. It’s just a matter of when.”

The event is being covered by ITV4 in the UK, and matches are also being streamed live on the ITV website, ITV.com. Click here to access the live stream http://www.itv.com/sport/tennis/default.html.

ITV4 TRANSMISSION TIMES

Sunday                                  13.00 – 17:00

RESULTS – Saturday 6th December

Cedric Pioline d. Pete Sampras 7-6(7), 7-6(5)

Jeremy Bates d. John McEnroe 6-4, 6-7(4), 11-9 (Champions’ Tie Break)

FINAL GROUP STANDINGS

GROUP A

Matches won/lost (sets)

Cedric Pioline                                                    3-0 (6-0)

Pete Sampras                                                    2-1 (4-2)

Jeremy Bates                                                     1-2 (2-5)

John McEnroe                                                                      0-3 (1-6).

Greg Rusedski                                                    3-0 (6-2)

Stefan Edberg                                                    2-1 (5-2)

Guy Forget                                                         1-2 (3-5)

Pat Cash                                                                                0-3 (2-6).

ORDER OF PLAY (subject to change)

Sunday

1          Singles Final                  Cedric Pioline vs. Greg Rusedski

2          Doubles Final                   Bahrami/Fleming vs. McNamara/Woodforde

3          Doubles                          Bates/Murray vs. Black/Jarryd

About BlackRock

BlackRock is one of the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firms. At September 30, 2008, BlackRock’s AUM was $1.259 trillion. The firm manages assets on behalf of institutions and individuals worldwide through a variety of equity, fixed income, cash management and alternative investment products. In addition, a growing number of institutional investors use BlackRock Solutions investment system, risk management and financial advisory services. Headquartered in New York City, as of September 30, 2008, the firm has approximately 5,800 employees in 22 countries and a major presence in key global markets, including the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. For additional information, please visit the Company’s website at www.blackrock.com.

The BlackRock Masters Tennis: http://www.theblackrockmasters.com

BlackRock Tour of Champions: http://www.blackrocktourofchampions.com

Sampras beats Bates to set up winner-take-all Pioline showdown

Pete Sampras set up a mouth watering winner-take-all clash with Cedric Pioline on Saturday after battling to victory over former British number one Jeremy Bates at the BlackRock Masters Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday.

In a match that lasted just over an hour, Sampras was pushed to a second set tie break before eventually triumphing 6-3, 7-6(3) against an opponent nine years his senior. After the match, Sampras admitted he hadn’t been expecting to be pushed as hard as he was.

“The match was much tougher than I thought it would be,” he said. “I think on this court Jeremy’s pretty effective and he was serving and volleying well, particularly in the second set. I felt like I played pretty well, a little spotty at times but I’ve got to give him credit because he played really well.”

Sampras will now play Cedric Pioline on Saturday afternoon in a match that will decide which of the two men is to progress to Sunday’s final. Pioline has lost all nine of his previous meetings with Sampras, including the two most painful losses of his career in the 1993 US Open and 1997 Wimbledon finals.

“We’ve played in two Major finals before. He’s a talented guy and he’s going to be very tough to break out there because the court’s playing really quick,” said Sampras. “He’s got a good serve and he’s pretty eager to beat me so we’ll see what happens.”

The winner will take on Greg Rusedski in the final. The British player defeated Pat Cash 4-6, 7-5, 10-3 (Champions’ Tie-Break).

The event is being covered by ITV4 in the UK, and matches are also being streamed live on the ITV website, ITV.com. Click here to access the live stream http://www.itv.com/sport/tennis/default.html.

ITV4 TRANSMISSION TIMES

Saturday                                12.30 – 17.00 (19.30 Match on Red Button and also on the ITV.com website) Sunday                                  13.00 – 17:00

For tickets to the BlackRock Masters Tennis, or for further information, please call the box office on: +44 (0) 208 233 5882, or visit the official website.

Corporate Hospitality packages are also available. For more information, please call: +44 (0) 208 233 5854.

RESULTS – Friday 5th December
Stefan Edberg d. Guy Forget 1-6, 7-6(1), 10-6 (Champions’ Tie Break) Pete Sampras d. Jeremy Bates 6-3, 7-6(3)

LATEST GROUP STANDINGS
GROUP A
Matches won/lost (sets) Cedric Pioline                                                    2-0 (4-0) Pete Sampras                                                    2-0 (4-0) Jeremy Bates                                                     0-2 (0-4) John McEnroe               0-2 (0-4).
Greg Rusedski                                                    3-0 (6-2) Stefan Edberg                                                    2-1 (5-2) Guy Forget                                                         1-2 (3-5) Pat Cash                        0-3 (2-6).

ORDER OF PLAY (subject to change)

Saturday afternoon

Starting at 1pm
1          Singles RR      Pioline v Sampras  LIVE ITV4            2          Doubles Forget and Leconte v Black and Murray LIVE ITV4   3       Doubles Bahrami and Bates v Gullikson and McNamara LIVE ITV4

Saturday evening

Starting at 7.30pm
1          Singles RR      Bates v McEnroe                                2          Doubles           TBC                                        3          Doubles           TBC

Sunday
1          Singles Final                  LIVE   TBC                                        2          Doubles Final
LIVE   TBC                                        3          Doubles                                   LIVE   TBC

About BlackRock

BlackRock is one of the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firms. At September 30, 2008, BlackRock’s AUM was $1.259 trillion. The firm manages assets on behalf of institutions and individuals worldwide through a variety of equity, fixed income, cash management and alternative investment products. In addition, a growing number of institutional investors use BlackRock Solutions investment system, risk management and financial advisory services. Headquartered in New York City, as of September 30, 2008, the firm has approximately 5,800 employees in 22 countries and a major presence in key global markets, including the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. For additional information, please visit the Company’s website at www.blackrock.com.

The BlackRock Masters Tennis: http://www.theblackrockmasters.com BlackRock Tour of Champions: http://www.blackrocktourofchampions.com

Win over McEnroe gives Pioline chance for Sampras revenge

Cedric Pioline will have the chance for revenge against Pete Sampras after ending John McEnroe’s hopes of a fifth BlackRock Masters Tennis title at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Pioline, 39, put in an impressive display of serving to record a 6-3, 6-4 victory over McEnroe in front of a packed crowd of nearly 4000 fans. The Frenchman took just one hour and 15 minutes to beat his American opponent 6-3, 6-4 and now moves into first position in Group B. On Saturday, he will face Sampras, the man he lost to in the 1993 US Open final and the 1997 Wimbledon final. If Pioline wins, Sampras will be going home empty-handed.
“Those two Grand Slam finals belong to the past but of course I wish I could have won at least one of them,” said Pioline. “It’s going to be fun because I haven’t played against Pete for eight or ten years and if I win it will be revenge for me.
“The way Pete’s serving and the way he’s hitting the ball, he probably could be in the top 20 or top 30 in the world today. But I’m playing good and I’m serving good so I think I have a good chance too and if I win I’ll be in Sunday’s final which would be special for me.”
McEnroe, who is ten year’s Pioline’s senior, showed clear signs of frustration throughout a match in which his opponent dominated with his thunderous serve, hitting 12 aces in total. Pioline went ahead early in the first set, breaking early on to lead 4-1 and serving out the set in impressive fashion. The second set was a tighter affair, with McEnroe managing to stay level until 3-3 when his opponent produced a scorching backhand winner to take a 4-3 lead. The break of serve proved to be decisive and from that point the Frenchman never looked back. He fittingly clinched the match with an ace down the centre line, at which point McEnroe held up his hands in surrender.
“It was one of those days when you hit the ball and everything goes in so that’s a great feeling for me,” said Pioline.
“I served very well and I felt good moving side to side. John’s always in good shape and I think he was playing very good tennis but today I was just a little bit better.”
Pioline will now play Pete Sampras on Saturday afternoon in a match that will decide who will top Group A and progress to Sunday’s final. The two men met nine times during their ATP Tour careers and Pioline is yet to notch up a victory against the 14 time Grand Slam champion Sampras. The Frenchman will have more than a place in the final to play for on Saturday as he will also be seeking revenge against the man who denied him his two best chances of Grand Slam success, beating him in both the 1993 US Open and 1997 Wimbledon finals.

In the first match of Thursday’s afternoon session last year’s BlackRock Masters runner up Guy Forget toppled Pat Cash 6-4, 4-6, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) to move to second place in Group B.
The event is being covered by ITV4 in the UK, and matches are also being streamed live on the ITV website, ITV.com. Click here to access the live stream http://www.itv.com/sport/tennis/default.html.

ITV4 TRANSMISSION TIMES

Friday                                     18:00 – 21:30 Saturday                                12.30 – 17.00 (19.30 Match on Red Button) Sunday                                  13.00 – 17:00

For tickets to the BlackRock Masters Tennis, or for further information, please call the box office on: +44 (0) 208 233 5882, or visit the official website.

Corporate Hospitality packages are also available. For more information, please call: +44 (0) 208 233 5854.

RESULTS – Thursday 4th December
Guy Forget d. Pat Cash 6-4, 4-6, 10-2 (Champions’ Tie Break) Cedric Pioline d. John McEnroe 6-3, 6-4

LATEST GROUP STANDINGS
GROUP A
Matches won/lost (sets) Cedric Pioline                                                    2-0 (4-0) Pete Sampras                                                    1-0 (2-0) Jeremy Bates                                                     0-1 (0-2 John McEnroe               0-2 (0-4).
Greg Rusedski                                                    2-0 (4-1) Guy Forget                                                         1-1 (2-3) Stefan Edberg                                                    0-1 (1-2) Pat Cash                        0-2 (1-4).

ORDER OF PLAY (subject to change)

Friday afternoon

1          Singles RR      Edberg v Forget                                  2          Single              Bates v Sampras                                  3          Doubles           Bahrami/Pioline v McNamara/Murray

Friday evening

1          Singles RR      Cash v Rusedski                                 2          Doubles           Jarryd/Wilkinson v Black/Murray                   3          Doubles           Gullikson/Leconte v Fleming/Woodforde

Saturday afternoon

1          Singles RR      Pioline v Sampras                    2          Doubles          TBC                                        3          Doubles          TBC

Saturday evening

1          Singles RR      Bates v McEnroe                                2          Doubles           TBC                                        3          Doubles           TBC

Sunday

1          Singles Final                  LIVE   TBC                                        2          Doubles Final
LIVE   TBC                                        3          Doubles                                   LIVE   TBC

About BlackRock

BlackRock is one of the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firms. At September 30, 2008, BlackRock’s AUM was $1.259 trillion. The firm manages assets on behalf of institutions and individuals worldwide through a variety of equity, fixed income, cash management and alternative investment products. In addition, a growing number of institutional investors use BlackRock Solutions investment system, risk management and financial advisory services. Headquartered in New York City, as of September 30, 2008, the firm has approximately 5,800 employees in 22 countries and a major presence in key global markets, including the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. For additional information, please visit the Company’s website at www.blackrock.com.

The BlackRock Masters Tennis: http://www.theblackrockmasters.com
BlackRock Tour of Champions:

http://www.blackrocktourofchampions.com

Sampras beats ‘best ever’ McEnroe on London return

Pete Sampras received a rapturous, hero’s welcome in his first appearance on English soil in six years as he defeated John McEnroe 6-3, 6-4 at the BlackRock Masters Tennis in London.

In the opinion of Sampras, McEnroe played the best tennis he has ever produced against the seven-time Wimbledon champion, but it still wasn’t enough to slay the younger of the two Americans at the Royal Albert Hall.

McEnroe forced 0-40 on Sampras’s opening service game, but he couldn’t quite convert his only real opportunity on the Sampras serve.

After that, some of the rallies and reflexes were breathtaking for men supposedly past their peak.

Both players served and volleyed throughout, and a packed crowd in the Royal Albert Hall savoured every moment. So did the players.

“Talking to a few of the guys about playing here they told me there were great crowds and that the arena was phenomenal and it really was,” said Sampras.

“To be retired for six years and still be able to play in front of good crowds like this is an honour. It was a fun night of tennis, it really was.”

And he had some generous words for McEnroe.

“To be 49 and to be able to serve and volley and be effective and still have the hands and the movement is incredible. Forty nine is not young in tennis so more credit to him for keeping himself fit. I know he does a lot of off court training and it’s paid off. I’m really impressed.”

So was McEnroe.

“This is the twelfth year I’ve played and I don’t know if there’s a lot of matches I’ve played better than this and I lost,” said McEnroe. “I was a little unlucky in some of the games, like the two service games and when I had 0-40 in the first game. It’s sort of like being thrown out to the wolves to play Pete in my first match but it’s just good to be part of it even though I lost.”

Sampras said he might use his day off on Thursday to visit Wimbledon. He hasn’t been back to the scene of his greatest triumphs since he lost to George Bastl in 2002.

Elsewhere, Greg Rusedski scraped past Stefan Edberg 7-6(7) 5-7,10-6 (Champions’ Tie Break), and Cedric Pioline defeated Jeremy Bates 6-3, 6-4.

MURRAY DREAM COMES TRUE

Growing up, Jamie Murray dreamt of trading groundstrokes with the great Pete Sampras. On Wednesday in London, his dream came true.

Needing a practice partner with a swinging, left-handed delivery ahead of his clash with John McEnroe, Sampras asked Murray, who is here to play in the doubles event.

The pair laughed and joked together, and for Murray, it was a special experience.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Murray. “I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated as hard in my life on a tennis court but it’s got to be done against Pete.  The first ball he fed in was about 120 mph. It was a lot of fun and he still hits the ball as sweet as a nut and he was caning it from the back of the court right the way through. But I enjoyed it and I never thought or expected that I’d get the chance to do it in my life.”

The event is being covered by ITV4 in the UK, and matches are also being streamed live on the ITV website, ITV.com. Click here to access the live stream http://www.itv.com/sport/tennis/default.html.

ITV4 TRANSMISSION TIMES

Thursday                               18:00 – 22:00

Friday                                     18:00 – 21:30

Saturday                                12.30 – 17.00 (19.30 Match on Red Button)

Sunday                                  13.00 – 17:00

For tickets to the BlackRock Masters Tennis, or for further information, please call the box office on: +44 (0) 208 233 5882, or visit the official website.

Corporate Hospitality packages are also available. For more information, please call: +44 (0) 208 233 5854 , e-mail:blackrockmasters@imgworld.com or click here.

RESULTS – Wednesday 3rd December

Cedric Pioline d. Jeremy Bates 6-3, 6-4

Greg Rusedski d. Stefan Edberg 7-6(7) 5-7,10-6 (Champions’ Tie Break)

Pete Sampras d. John McEnroe 6-3, 6-4

ORDER OF PLAY (subject to change)

Thursday afternoon

1          Singles RR      Cash v Forget

2          Doubles           Bahrami/Bates v McNamara/Wilkinson

3          Doubles           Fleming/Woodforde v Jarryd/Leconte

Thursday evening

1          Singles RR      McEnroe v Pioline

2          Doubles           Rusedski/Wilkinson v McNamara/Woodforde

3          Doubles           Black/Leconte v Bahrami/Gullikso

Friday afternoon

1          Singles RR      Edberg v Forget

2          Single              Bates v Sampras

3          Doubles           Bahrami/Pioline v McNamara/Murray

Friday evening

1          Singles RR      Cash v Rusedski

2          Doubles           Jarryd/Wilkinson v Black/Murray

3          Doubles           Gullikson/Leconte v Fleming/Woodforde

Saturday afternoon

1          Singles RR      Pioline v Sampras

2          Doubles          TBC

3          Doubles          TBC

Saturday evening

1          Singles RR      Bates v McEnroe

2          Doubles           TBC

3          Doubles           TBC

Sunday

1          Singles Final                  LIVE   TBC

2          Doubles Final                          LIVE   TBC

3          Doubles                                   LIVE   TBC

About BlackRock

BlackRock is one of the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firms. At September 30, 2008, BlackRock’s AUM was $1.259 trillion. The firm manages assets on behalf of institutions and individuals worldwide through a variety of equity, fixed income, cash management and alternative investment products. In addition, a growing number of institutional investors use BlackRock Solutions investment system, risk management and financial advisory services. Headquartered in New York City, as of September 30, 2008, the firm has approximately 5,800 employees in 22 countries and a major presence in key global markets, including the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. For additional information, please visit the Company’s website at www.blackrock.com.

The BlackRock Masters Tennis: http://www.theblackrockmasters.com

BlackRock Tour of Champions: http://www.blackrocktourofchampions.com