challenger

ISNER, BAGHDATIS NET TITLES

Six-foot-nine inch John Isner fought off match point to win first ATP title beating five-foot-eight-inch Arnaud Clement 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (2) in the final of Heineken Open in Auckland. The 24-year-old Isner saved match point at 5-6 in the third set on serve and won the tie-break convincingly 7-2. After the final, the former University of Georgia All-American announced he would be donating $5,000 of his winner’s check to the Red Cross in its efforts to assist those affected by the recent earthquake in Haiti.

In Sydney, Marcos Baghdatis came back from a break down in the second set to overcome Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-6 in the rain-interrupted final. The Cypriot led 2:0 in the tie-break but served two consecutive double faults and lost seven straight points in all. Baghdatis won his fourth title in career and 15 out of last 16 matches, counting his triumph in Tashkent Challenger last year. “I felt great,” he said. “It’s my brother’s birthday, and I wanted to win for him also….So I’m very happy that I won today and can dedicate this win to him.”

AUSSIE OPEN WOMEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The women’s qualifying draw packs more heat than on the men’s side for one main reason: Yanina Wickmayer. Despite being ranked 16th in the world, the Belgian is being forced to grind it out through three qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main draw.

Wickmayer was suspended by the Flemish Anti-Doping Tribunal in her home country in early November for apparently failing to report her whereabouts at certain times during the season.

The twenty year old rising star appealed the decision and had it overturned by a civil court in Belgium. Unfortunately for Wickmayer the new ruling came after the December 7th cut-off date for entries into the Australian Open.

That left Wickmayer with the option of applying for a wild-card from the tournament, but when it was not extended, it left her with no other option but going through the qualifying draw.

It’s disappointing that such a talented player is being forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for the main draw. While I certainly feel that Wickmayer will make it through the qualies, it will place a greater physical strain on her body ahead of an already grueling Grand Slam schedule. Hopefully it will instead serve as a motivator for her and help her gain some momentum for a memorable tournament. She is obviously seeded number one in the qualifying draw and won a tough opening match on Thursday by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Aside from Wickmayer, the qualifying draw has a few other players worth following.

Alexandra Stevenson will best be remembered for her surprising run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999. That was a long time ago and Stevenson never built upon that success. Several injuries would creep up in 2002 and slow her progress and then a right-shoulder injury would derail her career at the end of 2004 and cause her ranking to plummet. Stevenson has been back to playing a full schedule for a couple of years now, but has not been able to regularly make it past qualifying draws and challenger-level tournaments.

Fifteen year old Laura Robson teamed up with Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup earlier this month and acquitted herself quite well. Born in Australia (Melbourne in fact) but playing for Great Britain, Robson lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year, her first appearance at a Grand Slam. The youngster will turn sixteen during the Aussie Open and represents the future of female tennis in the U.K.

Canadians: I have to give a shout-out to the numerous Canadian women who are represented in the qualifying draw in Melbourne this year including, Valerie Tetreault, Heidi El Tabakh, Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman. Our country does not have much representation in the upper rankings of the tennis world, but these ladies are showing that Tennis Canada does have some talent in the mix just below the surface.

Agassi’s Challenger Loss

Twelve years ago on November 16, 1997, Andre Agassi finished his first step towards his comeback from the depths of tennis – and as his new book OPEN revealed – the depths of his life. As excerpted from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), Agassi returned to the minor league Challenger circuit to try and resurrect his game, Andre Agassi was surprisingly defeated by No. 202-ranked Christian Vinck of Germany 6-2, 7-5 in final of the Luxor Challenger in Las Vegas, Nevada  “I have my goals long-term, and this week was assisting me to getting there,” said the former No. 1 ranked Agassi, whose ranking dropped to No. 141 after a dismal stretch of play over 18 months. “I can’t start questioning the big picture because of this. It’s ridiculous. That’s what the press’ job is. For me, it’s just to go one at a time.”

In OPEN, Agassi revealed that depression lead him to taking the drug crystal meth for much of the 1997 season.

To purchase OPEN, click HERE.

Kendrick Moves Into Second Round of US Open

Taking advantage of a visibly injured opponent, Kendrick crushed groundstroke winners in front of a packed crowd on Court 4, easily moving into the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Martin Vasallo-Arguello of Argentina.

Vasallo-Arguello, a clay-court specialist known primarily for his retrieving skills, looked to be moving lethargically throughout the match. Standing well behind the baseline, his shots lacked power and depth, allowing Kendrick to dominate the rallies.

Kendrick broke Vasallo-Arguello in his first service game, holding on to the lead throughout the set before winning it, 6-3. In the second set, Kendrick increased his first service percentage and showed more of a willingness to come into the net, taking advantage of his opponent’s limited power.

“I had a good warm-up this morning and came out playing well from the first point,” said Kendrick. “I try to take control of the points anyway, but with his style of play, I knew this was my match to win or lose.”

Kendrick raced to a 4-0 lead into the second set and had game points for 5-0 before Vasallo-Arguello held serve with a well-timed drop shot. Kendrick fired off aces in each of his next service games to take the second set, 6-2.

A winning lob by Kendrick gave him an early break to the third set as a dejected Arguello threw his racket to the ground. Kendrick gave himself an extra break at 3-1 with a winning forehand volley, and an ace on his first match point sent him into the second round.

After mainly playing on the challenger circuit for most of his career, Kendrick has almost exclusively played ATP Tour events in 2009. He has posted solid results including a 3rd round finish in Miami and winning a round at Roland Garros. His most memorable match came in the first round of Wimbledon, where he took a set off then world No. 3 Andy Murray on Center Court before losing in first sets.

Kendrick, who will play No. 21 seed Tommy Haas of Germany in the second round, is now seeking to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.

“I’m not too worried about the match,” said Kendrick. “I’ll have a day off before and know that I can play with anyone if my game is on.”