coach claudio

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

Rafa looking for more duels with Federer, Soderling believes he can crack rivalry and Murray out to break his own duck

*2010 ended with the Top 2 doing battle at the o2 Arena in London in the final of the ATPWTFs. They also kicked off 2011 by rallying on water, and then going head to head in the final of the Doha Championships, which Rafael Nadal took in straight sets. Now the Spaniard wants more chances this year to do battle with his biggest foe. “I would love to play against Roger Federer this year a few more times because when we play each other it’s in the final, so that’s already a very good result for both of us to be in the final of important tournaments,” Federer, who came out on top in that big London clash, echoed the sentiment. “We only played twice last year in Madrid and the ATP World Tour Finals in London, which was a great end for both of us,” he said. “There’ll be huge hype going into the new season with him going for his fourth Grand Slam in a row and me trying to defend the Australian Open title. So right off the bat we’ll have some excitement.” More from the two great Champions can be read over at the ATP website.

*World No. 5 Robin Soderling believes he is ready to break the Federer-Nadal dominance at the Grand Slams in 2011 and finally lift one of his own. The two-time French Open finalist has never advanced past the quarterfinal stage at any of the other three majors. But the 26-year-old will be hoping that he can improve that record under the watchful eye of new coach Claudio Pistolesi. He has never advanced past the second round Down Under and insists this must improve. “I still feel I can improve and become a better player,” said the Swedish No. 1. “If I can do that then I’m pretty sure I have a good chance to do well this year. [During the off season] I tried to do a few things. I tried to work on playing a little bit more aggressively, coming into the net a little bit more.” He also laughed off the supposed gulf in class between the Top 2 and the chasing pack. “I never felt that the gap was very big,” said Soderling, who defeated Nadal (2009) and Federer (2010) en route to his only Slam finals appearances. “There are a lot of very good players and I think there are 10 or even 15 guys who can win the big tournaments like the Grand Slams. Of course, Roger and Rafa will always be the favourites in every tournament they play in, but I think there are a lot of players who have a chance to beat them.”

*In yet another season-opening promise to break his Grand Slam duck world No. 4 Andy Murray claims he needs to improve his serve if he is to finally take a major home to Scotland. It is almost a year ago that he collapsed in straight sets to Roger Federer in the final of the Aussie Open and he wants to recapture that early season form and go one step further. “I’ve worked a lot on my serve and I’ll keep working on it,” said the 23-year-old. “I think from the baseline I’ve matched up well with Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] but I’ll need to serve well and return well if I want to beat them. Last year’s Aussie Open was one of the best events I’ve played in my life…so I’ll have to play even better if I want to win, because Rafa and Roger are playing so well just now.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.

*Former world No. 4 Nicolas Kiefer has announced his retirement from tennis at the age of 33. He reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in 2006 and the final at the ATP Masters Toronto in 2008 but the past two years have been dogged by injury and loss of form. His greatest achievement was partnering Rainier Schuettler to the silver medal berth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

*Former tennis star Andre Agassi has labelled the Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer rivalry as “more compelling” than the one he fought with his compatriot Pete Sampras. At the time it was considered one of the greatest in history. But now all the talk is of the Spaniard and the Swiss as both have completed career Grand Slams and Federer has overtaken Sampras’ record haul of 14 Grand Slams by lifting 16 of his own. “Tennis is at an amazing time when you’ve got two of the best players ever to play the game,” said Agassi. “You can argue the two very best playing in the same generation. It’s a rivalry I think that we’ve never seen in our sport.” John McEnroe also spoke this week of how he sees the domination lasting for a few more years until Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray improve sufficiently to crack it. That can be read at Tennis.com.

*Juan Carlos Ferrero has officially withdrawn from Auckland and the Australian Open after failing to overcome the knee and wrist surgeries he underwent in October.

*In their first meeting since that eleven-hour epic at Wimbledon last year John Isner took only 90 minutes to secure a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over Nicolas Mahut at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia.

*Roger Federer has once again unveiled his masterpiece, “The Tweener,” in Doha. Facing 21-year-old Dutchman Thomas Schoorel, Federer sprinted back towards the baseline before unleashing a mesmerising winner through his legs, over the net and in to the corner. “It’s one of the best shots again of my career, one I’m going to look back on and smile, of course,” said the 29-year-old. It is the fifth occasion that the 16-time Grand Slam winner has unveiled the trickshot, having done so previously at the 2009 and 2010 US Opens, in Shanghai last year and also at the 2007 Dubai Open.

*American Wayne Odesnik has spoken publicly after last week having the second year of his ITF pro tennis ban scratched for trying to smuggle HGH in to Australia last January. “It’s been, obviously, the hardest six months of my life, this last year,” Odesnik told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “[I was] depressed. This experience has humbled me. I realize how lucky I am to be out here making a living on what we love to do, even if I have to start back again. I’m ready for it and looking forward to the challenge.” Many players condemned his actions at the time of being found guilty and just last month his compatriot Mardy Fish was very vocal about his disgust at Odesnik being allowed to rejoin the tour.

*Former doubles world No. 1 Daniel Nestor has been appointed a Member to the Order of Canada for his achievements within the sport and in raising money for charity. The 38-year-old has won more doubles titles than any other active player (71) including all four Grand Slams, all ten Masters Series events and the Olympic Gold in doubles at Athens in 2000. “[I’m] definitely a little bit surprised,” said Nestor. “It’s one of the greatest honours you can achieve as a Canadian. For me, I’m very proud. I wasn’t born in Canada [he was born in Belgrade and emigrated aged four] but something I’ve realised playing the tour and travelling so much is how appreciative I am to be Canadian and the great opportunity the country has given me. It’s a great honour for me.”

*Andre Agassi and Marit Safin have agreed to contest a series of matches taking place across Taiwan. The exhibition tournaments will also include Russian world No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny as well as Asia’s No. 1 player Lu Yen-Hsun and his compatriot Jimmy Wang. They will be chaired by former ATP World Tour umpire Romano Grillotti and take place on January 6 and 8 in both Taipei and Kaohsiung.

*Doubles team Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, affectionately known as the ‘Indo-Pak Express,’ have launched their new range of ‘Stop War, Start Tennis’ clothing at the Aircel Chennai Open. The pair have often campaigned for an end to hostilities between their native India and Pakistan and this is the next step. Some of the proceeds will go to the pair’s chosen charities. “What started out as a simple statement has now become a world-wide campaign,” said Bopanna. “This is a great opportunity for us to connect with our fans and we are thrilled to finally launch the merchandise.”

*Former world No. 6 Chanda Rubin is looking for pastures new after a severe fire destroyed her River Ranch, Acadiana home. The Aussie Open semifinalist escaped unharmed after lightning was said to strike the 5,500 square-foot pad. Much of her playing memorabilia is said to have been lost but she was able to salvage a few trophies. She was surprisingly philosophical about the whole thing: “Family and health, those things are number one,” she told KLFY TV 10 Eyewitness News. “Stuff is just that and I kind of have to keep that in mind.”

*The results are in for the 2010 TennisReporters reader’s polls. Without spoiling the surprise, head over now to see who was voted male and female Player of the Year as well as our sexiest stars.