claudio pistolesi

Soderling lifts first title of year, Clijsters back on form and Wozniacki laughs off criticism

*Swedish star Robin Soderling has paid tribute to new coach Claudio Pistolesi after overcoming Andy Roddick to win the Brisbane International 6-3, 7-5. The victory means that the Swedish No. 1 will climb above Andy Murray to No. 4 in the world and secures him the fourth seeding at the upcoming Australian Open. “We’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks, this is the first tournament, and it’s working pretty well, no?” said Soderling, who is looking to improve on a dismal record of never reaching the third round at Melbourne Park. “I’m playing really well and what makes me really happy is I never really played well in Australia before. It gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne.” American star Roddick rued his inability to combat Soderling’s serve: “He served too well, it seemed like any time I had a look, he came up with one of those big serves,” said the American No. 1. “I’m normally at the other side and it’s better on that end of the serve.”

*Despite recent talk of a second retirement the Belgian Kim Clijsters has exploded on to the 2011 tennis calendar. In her opening match of the year at the Sydney International she took only 62 minutes to register a 6-1, 6-2 victory over the young Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru. The No. 3 seed won the first eleven points of the match and the first five games. “I was feeling very comfortable out there, said the three-time US Open winner. “It’s a nice feeling to have when you play your first match. I was really focused on trying to place my serves well and not give Alexandra a lot of second serves to attack. When I started back on the WTA I was working on my consistency – my best game was there but then I’d lose it for three or four games,” Clijsters added. “The last few months I’ve been focusing on that and reading myself better, and realizing when I lose that intensity, pick it up again as soon as possible.” Full reaction to the day’s play can be viewed at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has laughed off criticism after being stunned by Dominika Cibulkova in the second round in Sydney. “You need to learn from the losses,” said the 20-year-old, who is aiming to break her Grand Slam duck in Melbourne. “I’m confident for Melbourne I’ll be OK, there are positives I can take.” It was Cibulkova’s first win over the dominant Wozniacki in six attempts. And the Dane admitted there was room for improvement: “At the start of the new season you need to get into match play. I didn’t feel I was playing great tennis out there,” Wozniacki added. “Now I just need to get some training matches, head to Melbourne and get ready for the Australian Open. Last year I had the same start, so hopefully slow start, good finish.” The young Cibulkova was understandably delighted: “I think I’ve beaten No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5 and everybody, just not No.1,” said the Slovakian. “So I’m really happy about it. The most important thing today was I went on the court and saw myself like a winner from the first point until the last point. So it wasn’t a surprise for me – I just played my game. I had my plan. I knew it was going to work if I just stuck to my plan.” Full reaction can be seen at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal is back on his feet after the bout of flu which badly affected him during his semifinal defeat to Nikolay Davydenko at the Qatar Open and has flown to Melbourne to continue his preparations for the Australian Open. The Spaniard is hoping to dethrone his great rival Roger Federer and hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously for the first time in his career. “Going by plane sometimes makes you worse and at the same time I don’t have anything to do right now in Australia,” the 24-year-old told the NZHerald. “With my condition right now I think the more reasonable thing to do is rest a few days and have less risk of injuries, less risk of everything.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro insists he is happy with his current comeback from injury following a shock 2-6, 5-7 defeat to the German Florian Mayer in the second round of the Sydney International. Missing much of 2010 saw del Potro fall to No. 259 in the world but having an injury protected ranking means he will compete at the Australian Open next week. “Of course I want to play and win a tournament,” he said following the match. “When you lose, it’s hard, but now it’s different, I have different sensations. I lost but I have another tournament in three days. I have my wrist in good shape. That’s good. Mayer played better than me but it’s normal. I am very far off my good game but I did my best. It was shorter, but I tried.”

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has denied that his decision to play in un-ranked events leading up to the Australian Open has harmed his chances of success. His decision to attend the Hopman Cup alongside Laura Robson last week coupled with Robin Soderling lifting the title at Brisbane means that the Scot will slip below the Swede and enter the Aussie slam ranked and seeded fifth. “I was seeded five for the Australian Open last year, so I don’t think it makes a big difference,” said Murray, who reached the final in 2010 before being outclassed by Roger Federer in straight sets. The full interview can be read at The Guardian website. Murray has also announced that he will return to Davis Cup play for the first time since 2009 after discovering that some play is required in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics. “I didn’t know about the Olympics situation until December,” he told the Daily Mail. “But I said to Leon [Smith, Davis Cup captain] before that I would be able to play and we should keep speaking. I will sit down and talk with him in Australia and see if he wants me to play in March or if it would be good for the other guys to have another match. I will definitely play, probably one or two [ties].”

*British teen sensation Laura Robson will miss both the Australian Open and Britain’s upcoming Fed Cup tie in Israel after injuring her hip in the Hopman Cup last week. Marcos Baghdatis is now a doubt for the men’s draw after withdrawing from this week’s Sydney International, where he was defending his 2010 title, with a groin injury.

*Young Aussie hopeful Bernard Tomic has vowed to mend his ways after receiving one of the final four wildcards in to this year’s Australian Open. Aussie Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge had previously told the talented 18-year-old to start making more of his gifts and Tomic seems firmly in agreement. In response to some questioning whether he deserved preferential treatment he said: “Look, it’s their decision at the end of the day. I can’t decide if I’m going to get it or not. I can only try to play tennis as much as I can. Yes, I had a bit of a strange December, but now it’s January. I mean, it’s their opinion. Everyone has got their own opinion; I’ve got mine. You don’t think about those things. You just play tennis. I think the wild-card that they gave, they gave for a reason.” Tomic’s full reaction can be read at The Australian’s website. Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson were the other recipients.

*Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt believes he is ready for a strong run at his home slam Australian Open despite not playing a ranked warm-up tournament for the first time. “I feel like I’ve done the hard yards,” said the 2005 finalist who did compete at the Hopman Cup last week and is currently taking part in the Kooyong exhibitions. “There’s no stone that’s unturned for me, and I can go out there and know that I’ve had the best preparation possible for myself and my body. Obviously I won’t be seeded next week, so [it’s] a little bit in the hands of the Gods where you get put in the draw, but I feel capable that I can go out there and cause some upsets.” Sam Stosur also believes she can bring home glory for her flood-ridden country despite an early loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sydney as well as an early defeat to compatriot Jarmila Groth in Brisbane last week. “I’m going to go in there thinking I can [win],” said the 26-year-old. “But there’s a long way from thinking you can do it and playing a first-round [match] to holding the trophy at the end…Even though it’s two second-round losses, I’m actually quite happy with the way I’m playing and think I’m in a good spot for Melbourne and still looking forward to obviously the Australian Open. If I could look back on this time last year to now I’m feeling 100 per cent better than I was.”

*In her latest attempts to find a new coach the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has begun working with Carlos Cuadrado.

*Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has been named the joint director of her home town tournament the WTA Paris Open. The Wimbledon and Australian Open Champion won the event three times during her career and said the challenge was “too good to turn down.”

*Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will find out next month whether they are the 2011 victors of the Laureus Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi. Nadal faces Formula One’s Sebastien Vettel, boxer Manny Pacquiao, basketball star Kobe Bryant and footballers Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Serena faces fellow tennis stars Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters, skier Lindsey Vonn, British track star Jessica Ennis and high jumper Blanka Vlasic.

*Roger Federer is looking to expand his charity exhibition CV by hosting an event in aid of the flood victims in Queensland on Sunday in Melbourne. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is in the city preparing for the Australian Open and said on his Facebook page: “The floods here in Australia are devastating! I am on my way to practise now and am going to speak with Tennis Australia to see if we perhaps can organise something on Sunday to help raise some funds for the people of Queensland who have been affected. Stay tuned as it would be great if the sport of tennis can help out right before the Australian Open begins.” Federer has previous when it comes to this type of thing and his ‘Hit For Haiti’ fundraisers were a massive hit on the 2010 circuit. Andy Roddick and Aussie star Sam Stosur promised $100 for every ace they hit in Brisbane last week with Roddick handing over $10,800 following his loss to Robin Soderling in the final. The ATP and WTA have also made the same pledge covering last week’s and this week’s tournaments as well as the Australian Open.

*Fresh for 2011 Tennis People has decided to introduce a new weekly feature to chronicle the ongoing battle between the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, and his great rival Rafa Nadal: The GOAT Race. Unfortunately, this won’t see the world’s top two players hurtle down a Welsh mountainside atop a buccaneering billy goat gruff, but will keep track of their on-court achievements this term. With Rafa’s injury problems and Roger’s off-court duties as a father to contend with, both players will be awarded ten points for entering a tournament. They will receive a further 25 points for a quaterfinals appearance, 50 for a semifinal and 100 if they reach the final. Every title lifted will earn them 200 points. These will be doubled for Grand Slam competitions. So, after the first tournaments of 2011 came to a close R-Fed’s victory in Qatar makes him our early leader with 210 points after that 6-3, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko. That’s ten for entering, and 200 for lifting the title. Rafa picks up 60 points after losing that flu-hit semi to the diminutive Russian.

Roger: 210   Rafa: 60

New Coaches for Robin Soderling and Maria Sharapova – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

First Taste of Victory

In a dramatic, boisterous tie that came down to the wire, the nation of Serbia claimed its first Davis Cup title by defeating France 3-2. The win was particularly impressive as all of the momentum appeared to be on the side of France going into the final Sunday, with the French duo of Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement coming back from two sets down to win the doubles and give France the 2-1 lead. Respect and praise has to be given to Novak Djokovic, however, who shouldered the pressure and came through for his country to push it to the fifth rubber, not to mention his crucial win on the opening day of the tie to level things at 1-1. Finally, it was great to see Viktor Troicki come through in the deciding match, and in such dominating fashion. Sometimes Davis Cup success proves a propellant to bigger and better things for an individual player, so keep an eye on Troicki in 2011 to see if the Davis Cup success doesn’t propel him to new heights.

New Coaches

As expected, it didn’t take long for big-hitting Swede Robin Soderling to find a new coach, as he announced that he’ll be working with Italian Claudio Pistolesi. Pistolesi was not his first choice. He reportedly tried to obtain another Swedish coach but to no avail. Even so, both Soderling’s prior coach Magnus Norman and veteran Swede Thomas Johansson have both given high praise to Pistolesi. He has previously coached Monica Seles, Anna Smashnova, Ai Sugiyama, Davide Sanguinetti, Simone Bolelli and Michael Berrer, so he’s not lacking for experience. Barring Seles, however, (whom he only briefly coached), Soderling would be his biggest client. This new partnership has the potential to pay off for both in the long run. In addition to this coaching change, it was also announced that Maria Sharapova has begun working with Swedish coach Thomas Hogstedt, a man whom Soderling is said to have approached. Hogstedt will not be replacing Sharapova’s longtime coach, Michael Joyce, but will instead be working in conjunction with him. Hogstedt has previously worked with Na Li and Tommy Haas, so he has as proven track record. Hopefully the fresh set of eyes and voice in her ear will help Sharapova regain the form that took her to the winner’s circle of majors.

Extended Layoff

It was already known that American Serena Williams would be sidelined with injury for the Aussie Open, but the former World No. 1 has reportedly told the New York Post that she expects to be out of commission for the entire winter season and looks to return in the spring. No word yet on when exactly she plans to return in the spring. Assuming she returns completely healthy when the cast finally does come off, her chances are still good to make a decent run at the French, a chance at the Wimbledon title, and you can bet her ranking will quickly climb back towards the top.

Back in the Game

One player who thankfully is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Serena is Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. He has been granted a wildcard into the Sydney International . It will take some time to brush the rust off his game, but it’s hard to imagine the hard-hitting Del Potro will see his ranking linger in the 200s or even 100s for long. And while it’s hard to see him winning his second major this coming season (especially given the form of Nadal in 2010), expect to see him in the thick of it.

History Lost

In one of the most unfortunate stories of not just the week, but the year, it was learned that someone broke into a West Los Angeles public storage facility, and virtually all items chronicling the career of “Pistol” Pete Sampras were stolen. While Sampras has not been completely devastated by the loss, it is understandable the sadness he feels at not having it available to show his children, both of whom never saw him play in his prime. It is unclear if the thief was aware of the nature of the cargo he was stealing, as it will be difficult to turn a profit on these stolen goods without raising too many eyebrows. There is also always the slight hope that the thief will be caught and the items recovered. After all, Sampras’ loss is undoubtedly a large personal blow, but it is also a loss to the tennis world, as those items belonged to one of the greatest players to have ever picked up a racquet.

Davis Cup Fallout, Soderling and Norman Split, Stosur wants to be No. 1

*There were fabulous scenes in Belgrade on Sunday as Serbia defeated France to lift their first Davis Cup title and none bettered that of the Serbian players shaving their heads on court after the final rubber. It was Viktor Troicki who sealed the dramatic victory and he described it as: “…the most unbelievable moment of my life. Seriously, I think we all did a great job this year. I would like to thank everyone, the whole team. We truly believed that we could do it, even though we were 2 1 down. I’m without the words. This is the most easiest [way] to explain. I’m without the words. No words can describe my feeling right now.” World No. 3 Novak Djokovic was adamant that what they had achieved would take a while to set in: “It’s historic. This is our biggest success as individuals, as a team, as a country. We are not even aware of what we have done. This is the best moment of my career and probably of my nation. This is like winning the World Cup for us.” He also added the beautiful sentiment that it was “a team effort that won the title.” Serbian coach Bogdan Obradovic added: “My players showed that they are mentally the strongest team in the world. We showed we are number one.” Serbia are the thirteenth nation to win the much-rejuvenated tournament.

*World No. 5 Robin Soderling has split with his coach Magnus Norman after two years working together. Norman, a former world No. 2, joined forces with the top-ranked Swede when he was ranked No. 35 in the world. A statement on Soderling’s official website stated that Norman wished to focus more on his personal life and other projects. “I’ve had the two best years of my career so far with Magnus as a coach,” said 26-year-old Soderling. Norman added: “I look back on a fun and fantastic 26-month-long period of time together with Robin.” The Swede has replaced Norman with Claudio Pistolesi.

*Aussie star Sam Stosur believes she can one day reach the pinnacle of the sport. The current world No. 6, who reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this year (losing to Francesca Schiavone), said: “I’d love to get to that spot and even though six seems pretty close, there is a long way to go before you could ever contemplate being No. 1. But I guess you’ve got to be able to put those little steps in place and be able to kick off those short-term goals to try to get there. I believe in myself and my tennis enough that maybe one day it is possible, but it’s not going to happen without doing a lot of things correctly for a long time. I’ve been in the Top 10 for nearly a year now and I think that’s a good first step.”

*The doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi have been awarded the 2010 Grand Prix of Peace & Sports at the fourth International Forum Peace and Sport in Monaco. The pairing, whose slogan is “Stop War, Start Tennis,” have pleaded for the ending of hostilities between their native India and Pakistan. The citation of the award said, “Their commitment to promoting peace between the two countries and their conviction that peace was possible was shown amply during the year. In the US Open tournament they managed to bring together the ambassadors of India and Pakistan to support the same team.”

*Juan Martin del Potro will continue his comeback from injury at the Sydney International in January after accepting a wildcard in to the tournament.

*Former world No. 4 Jelena Dokic has received a wildcard in to Brisbane, the first tournament on the 2011 WTA calendar.

*The ATP have named their ‘Top 5 Newcomers’ for 2010. Tobias Kamke of Germany, Lithuania’s Richard Berankis, Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker, Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mikhail Kukushkin of Russia are the lucky recipients.

*The WTA have announced their player of the year awards for 2010. Kim Clijsters was voted Player of the Year for the second time in her career while Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta were voted Doubles Team of the Year. Petra Kvitova won Newcomer of the Year and Franchesca Schiavone was instated as Most Improved Player. The full list of winners and the reasons behind the selections can be viewed at the WTA Website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has been nominated for the prestigious 2011 Laureus World Sportsmen of the Year Award. The Spaniard, who won the Newcomer Award in 2006, will face Formula One World Champion Sebastien Vettel, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta, among others. Academy Member Boris Becker said: “I can’t wait to see who the Media Selection Panel will vote for, but I would be amazed if Rafael Nadal and Sebastian Vettel were not at the top the list.” The full thoughts of Becker can be seen at the ATP Website.

*Tennis legend Pete Sampras has had much of his career memorabilia stolen from a storage facility in West Los Angeles. His first Aussie Open title, 64 Tour trophies and prizes from a further 24 finals have been pinched, including two Davis Cups, five ATP World Finals trophies, eleven Masters titles and an Olympic Ring. “I was like, ‘What?’” Sampras said. “I thought there were security cameras. I thought these things were locked up tight. I was shocked. I’m not one to gloat about trophies, or show them off. I’ve never been like that. I just want them for my kids to see. They didn’t see me play, but I’d like them to see these things.” The full story can be read at Kentucky.com.