compatriot

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

By Maud Watson

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

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

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

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

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

Nadal to Play Queens, Davis Cup Semifinal Debrief, del Potro Back

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has confirmed he will warm up for the 2011 Wimbledon Championships by returning to Queens Club. Nadal played at the 2010 Aegon Championships where he lost to compatriot Feliciano Lopez at the quarterfinal stage. “I love playing at Queen’s Club because it is a traditional club,” he said. “Every time I have played there I have felt very welcome because of the British people and their support, and because of the tournament organisers who are so good at their job. After the French Open, it is very important for me to feel the grass under my feet as soon as possible. I tried my best in every match this year (at The Queen’s Club) and was disappointed that I could not win the tournament, but I reached the quarter-finals and it definitely helped me to feel ready for Wimbledon.” Nadal has reached the final at Wimbledon every time he has preceded it by playing at Queens.

*Both Serbia and France have understandably expressed their delight at reaching the final of the 2010 Davis Cup. But it is perhaps the Serbs, in their first final, who are looking forward to the occasion more. “This was a fairytale end to the tie, I have to thank the crowd for their fantastic support because they brought us back from the dead,” said Janko Tipsarevic, whose win over Radek Stepanek handed the young country victory over the Czech Republic. “Finally, it was my turn to shine for the national team after the others, mostly [Novak] Djokovic, proved to be instrumental so many times. I am glad I saved my best tennis for the national team in a match of this magnitude. I had to finish it in three sets today because I was getting tired towards the end and Stepanek was getting back into the match.” France coach Guy Forget was also delighted at his team’s achievements but is wary of the threat posed by the Djokovic-led Serbs. “We’ve been lucky enough to just play at home so far,” said Forget, after Serbia were given home advantage. “The final was already very hard and now it will be even harder because Djokovic and Tipsarevic are very talented. They will probably have 20,000 people behind them. It will be tough. Novak is in great form at the moment after his final at the US Open. Whenever they needed him, he responded. When he plays for his country, he surpasses himself every time. There’s also Tipsarevic, who saved his team against the Czech Republic. But we beat the Australians at their place a few years ago [in the final in 2001], so why not repeat the feat?”

*The injury nightmare looks like it’s finally over. According to his Twitter page, Juan Martin del Potro will finally return to the courts in Bangkok next week at the PTT Thailand Open. “I am extremely happy to tell you: I WILL PLAY AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!” exclaimed the man who has not featured since the Australian Open back in January. “Will be in the BANGKOK tournament next Monday. Thanks so much for everything!” Also on the draw will be new US Open Champion Rafa Nadal and French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer.

*David Nalbandian has denied any friction between himself and Argentine Davis Cup captain Tito Vasquez following their annihilation at the hands of France in last weekend’s Davis Cup semifinal. After losing the opening singles rubber to Gael Monfils it was reported that Nalbandian was unhappy that he was not selected as the top singles player which would have meant facing Michael Llodra instead. That task befell Juan Monaco. “It was a valid decision” he said. “It was all uncertain [who would play singles for France]… we did not know what would happen. Tito decided like this, sometimes can be good and other times not. If you want to win the Davis Cup, you have to beat Monfils Monday, Tuesday or Thursday.”

*As previously reported by Tennis People, Pakistani US Open men’s and mixed doubles finalist Aisam-Ul-Haq Quareshi has been awarded for his humanitarian work in a ceremony in Lahore last week. The doubles specialist has won worldwide praise for promoting harmony between his own country and India and has recently been raising money for the flood victims left homeless by recent events in Pakistan. “All my life I’ve tried to do something to make my country and my parents proud,” he said. “It’s been a long, tough journey. I want to thank my relatives, friends and family for being with me through my ups and downs. One should never give up on dreams.”

*The 2010 edition may not have reached its conclusion yet but the draw has already been made for Davis Cup play throughout 2011. India and Kazakhstan (for the first time ever) can look forward to World Group play and what will the likes of Italy and Switzerland have to overcome to re-enter the prestigious section? Head over to the ITF Website to check out the full draws.

*Chilean Fernando Gonzalez faces a long injury layoff after he announced he will undergo hip and possibly knee surgery next month. The world No. 44, his lowest ranking since 2002, was forced to retire from his first round US Open match against Ivan Dodig and could be out for eight or nine months which would place his return, possibly, at midway through the European clay-court season.

*It’s always quiet in the rankings at this stage of the season but there are a couple of significant changes in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings. American No. 1 Andy Roddick has re-entered the Top 10 at the expense of Spain’s David Ferrer. Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas has leapt 17 spots to No. 70 while Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq (No. 98) and the Russian Igor Andreev (No. 99) are in to the Top 100.

*Two women in particular are celebrating in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week. Jarmila Groth picked up her first tour title in Guangzhou last week which sees her at a career-high No. 41. 19-year-old Tamira Paszek won in Quebec City and she has leapt from No. 151 to No. 92.

*Interested in the whole ‘interfering parent’ row surrounding young tennis prodigies? American tennis writer Greg Couch had an interesting run-in with the parents of 21-year-old Donald Young at the US Open regarding comments former US Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe had made in his recent book about dealing with them. It opens up a huge can of worms on the lack of communication and name calling that sometimes goes on between the coach and the parent. It’s an excellent read. Check it out at the Fanhouse website.

*One story that really caught my eye this week was that of Iraqi tennis hopeful Zainab Khadim Alwan. She used to skip school as a youngster to watch Venus and Serena Williams playing in the hope that she could one day emulate them. Losing both legs in a rocket blast four years ago, a lot of youngsters would give up on the dream there and then. Not Alwan. Now she hopes to star on the wheelchair tennis circuit. “I choose tennis because it’s a difficult game,” she said. “I wanted to prove despite losing my legs, I haven’t lost my mind.” “Tennis relieved Zainab’s suffering,” said her father, Khadim Alwan Jassim. This touching tale can be read at the News Sports Today website.

*Former Andy Murray coach Miles Maclagan has returned to work quickly as the coach of the German world No. 21 Philipp Kohlschreiber.

*Brit teenage star Laura Robson has announced that her and coach Martijn Bok will part ways at the end of the season. It is believed Bok did not wish to increase travelling commitments as Laura looked to push on further with her WTA tour next year.

*Bob Bryan is the latest tennis star to get engaged this week. He proposed to girlfriend Michelle Alvarez on Tuesday. “Just got engaged… at Pfeifer Falls in Big Sur, CA,” he posted on his Twitter account. She replied: “So happy to spend the rest of my life with the most amazing person. We’re engaged!” Awwwwwwwww!

*Indian star Mahesh Bhupathi has also got engaged to former Miss Universe Lara Dutta this week. Bhupathi divorced his former wife of six years earlier this year.

ATP Tidbits: Djokovic’s Humor, Ryan Harrison as Role Model, and the ‘Worst Job in Sports’

Since coverage of the US Open has been quite extensive this year, I’ll stick to the lighter side of tennis for this week and bring you the fun off-court moments. I’ll take a look at Novak Djokovic’s humorous ways, talk about the ‘worst job in sports,’ bring you tennis’ newest role model teenager Ryan Harrison, and talk about my thoughts on what may be going on with Andy Murray in his recent third round exit at the US Open — and it’s not his lack of mental strength or coach. I’m citing a different culprit altogether.

Djokovic, the comedian, gaining American fans quickly

In what was one of the most hotly contested first-round matches, Novak Djokovic squeezed out a win against compatriot and good friend Viktor Troicki in five sets, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. But the story wasn’t all in the tennis itself. As temperatures on-court soared to above 120-degrees and the humidity wreaked havoc, Djokovic’s respiratory problems were once again the center of attention. He could have lost in the fourth set, but as luck would have it, the shade came onto Arthur Ashe stadium and relieved Djokovic of some of his woes. He quickly took advantage of the slightly cooler temps and came out the winner.

Novak Djokovic. August 31, 2010

After the match, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert asked Djokovic on-court: “How nice was it out here to get a little bit of shade?” As Djokovic searched for words, the first analogy that came to mind was that “it was like a ‘sleeping with my girlfriend’ kind of feeling.” The crowd roared in laughter and Gilbert became noticeably embarrassed. But whatever, Djokovic was relieved that he pulled out the win.

His press conference following his win was one for the books. The Serbian “Djoker” seems to be building his American audience base and is getting more confident in his humor once again. It’s nice to see Djokovic back at his lighter, more confident ways – both on and off the court.

If you have a chance, see the live video of his presser as his facial expressions and comedy are ten times better than on paper, you won’t be sorry! Starts at the 5:31 mark.

What is the ‘Worst Job in Sports?’

Ever read the Wall Street Journal to get your tennis fix for the day? Honestly, neither have I. But Tom Perrotta of Tennis.com fame wrote an interesting article in the WSJ a couple of days ago concerning the ‘worst job in sports.’ And guess what it was. Being a tennis coach.

Brad Gilbert, former coach to Andy Murray and current ESPN Commentator.

For all the glitz and glamour we think coaches have in traveling with their athlete(s) and staying at plush hotels in destinations we can only dream of going to, there is a down-side of being a tennis coach. If you’re lucky enough to be a wanted elite coach, then you could probably live comfortably on the money you make as everything else is paid for by the player. But what if your player is not winning or progressing? You’re either ‘out’ or your pay doesn’t change much. Players seem to change coaches every few years anyway, looking for a new outlook or support system.

I can’t even eat leftovers for two days in a row, how can I expect players to stay with the same coach for more than two YEARS in a row? It’s an interesting concept that is often overlooked by the casual sports fan. In other sports, where managers and executives pick their coaches, tennis is unique in that the actual athlete picks the coach. For further reading on this, check out Perrotta’s article as he talks to greats such as Larry Stefanki, Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Mats Wilander, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Bob Brett: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703946504575469961990822120.html

Ryan Harrison. Title? Role model

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’re familiar with the newest talent that has developed right under our eyes, Ryan Harrison. After coming through qualifying and taking out veteran Ivan Ljubicic in the first round, 18-year-old Harrison took Sergiy Stakhovsky to five sets in a match that lasted over four hours. In fact, Harrison held three match points in the fifth set tiebreaker before double-faulting on his last opportunity and allowing Stakhovsky to serve for the win, which he did.

Although Harrison lost, it doesn’t make his run any less fruitful or devoid of fans. The grace and calm which he exhibited after his defeat speak volumes to his character, and those around him agree. “He has wide open ears, always willing to learn, wanting to grow and develop,” said Tracy Austin, a former World #1. “I love his attitude, and his work ethic as well.”

Ryan Harrison. September 3,2010.

In his press conference, Harrison was quick to say that he has a lot to work on before becoming a “full-time tour player.” I’m just going to keep my head down, and work as hard as I can and listen to the people I trust and develop my game. I’ve got a lot of work to do. From the time I get back home until my next tournaments, my goal is going to be improving my game until I can be a consistent contender, and the ranking and all that stuff will take care of itself.” Parents, if you have any youth looking for a young capable role model, Ryan Harrison is it.

Could Andy Murray’s problem be …. mono?

You’ve all probably heard about Andy Murray’s surprising third-round exit to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka by now. But I wonder if you’ve thought about precisely ‘Why?’ Forget about lack of desire, mental stability, or coach, Murray may have a different ailment altogether. During the match, he called the trainer twice, once for “tightness in my quad” and the second time because he felt “pins and needles around my right elbow.”

Andy Murray bent over two different times during his match against Stan Wawrinka. September 5, 2010.

At his press conference Murray stated plain and simple that “I lost to the better player, that’s all there is to say.” However, when questions were raised about his physical capabilities he couldn’t pinpoint the problem and this made me wonder. Murray is known for his physical strength and being able to outlast his opponents, so something has to be up.

Andy Muray: “I was disappointed that I was struggling physically. You know, I tried to find a way to come back. Didn’t quite do it. Yeah, I was disappointed that I’ve not been really in that position for a long time. I still feel like I’m super fit. I just didn’t feel great. You know, there was a lot of things that I was feeling on the court. But, yeah, I just haven’t felt that way for a few years now. So I’m going to have to go look at why that was the case and try and get better.”

Anyone know where I’m going with this? Well, if Andy Roddick’s recent tumble gives any hint, my speculation is that Murray may be suffering from a mild case of mononucleosis as well. I’m no doctor, but that fact that he can’t pinpoint his problem and was “struggling physically” remind me of Roddick’s statement earlier this year when he said he wasn’t feeling strong enough mentally or physically and couldn’t fathom why. These players are in constant contact and mono travels like the plague in locker rooms and lounges. To me, this would spells disaster on tour as we’ve already seen Roger Federer and John Isner openly talk about their stint with mono. Here’s to hoping the ‘popular trend’ ends, but it could only get worse before it gets better.

ATP BONUS:

I picked up on a strange statistic at this year’s US Open. Not only are all four remaining men in Rafael Nadal’s quarter Spaniards, but there are a total of six Spaniards in the fourth round — that’s almost 38%! Did the US Open’s blue courts somehow turn into clay this year?! For a country known for producing talented clay-specialists, Spain is quickly turning into a force on all surfaces.

US Open Fourth Round Preview

The final week of Grand Slam play for 2010 is about to begin and there are sixteen players left in the men’s draw. Noticeable absentees include the Andy’s (Murray and Roddick) and Tomas Berdych. Other than that I suppose David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis bowed out slightly earlier than we had thought, but there are still several big names left in the draw.

Rafa Nadal has been rolling alo

ng just fine on the hard courts so far in this tournament. He’ll get compatriot Feliciano Lopez next. Lopez took him out of the grass court tune-up event at Queen’s Club in June so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. Nadal will raise his game when required however and we all know how hungry he is to complete the career slam with a win in New York. I’m going with Nadal in straights.

Another all-Spanish battle features Fernando Verdasco the 8th seed against number 10 seed David Ferrer. Verdasco impressively knocked off Nalbandian in the third round while Ferrer advanced against a lesser-known hard court player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver. I’m looking at a tough five set Verdasco victory which would give us a nice re-match of the Nadal/Verdasco tilt from the Australian Open that went the distance in 2009.

American hopeful Sam Querrey and Swiss understudy Stan Wawrinka both have the opportunity to make their first career Grand Slam quarter-final. Querrey has had a great year at the lower-level tournaments winning three ATP Tour 250 events, and one 500 event. Let’s see if he now has the game to make a splash on a bigger stage. Wawrinka just beat one of the U.S. Open favorites in Andy Murray. Can he keep that level up? I’m picking Wawrinka in four sets due to experience.

Mikhail Youzhny took out American John Isner in the last round and will now face veteran Tommy Robredo. Normally I’d go with Youzhny hands-down but I’ve learned to never count Tommy out. Just when you think his career is on the downward swing, he tosses in an excellent result. Still, talent wise, you gotta think Youzhny will pull this one out in four.

Monday gives us the four bottom-half matches, starting out with Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils. This match should be one of the most entertaining between Gasquet’s beautiful backhand and Monfils’ colorful court antics. The all-French match holds a 2-2 career head-to-head with all meetings on hard court. Could go either way really as neither has enjoyed much success on this surface this summer, but LeMonf has my vote in a five setter.

Mardy Fish is likely wishing that the heat would return to Flushing Meadows in time for his match against Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately cool temperatures are in the forecast giving Djokovic the ideal conditions he needs to succeed against the American. While Fish has had a great summer and has made the quarter-finals in New York once before, the Djoker has been picking up his game this week and looks ready to advance. Djokovic in four.

Robin Soderling gets the easiest match on paper as he takes on clay-court specialist Albert Montanes. A straight set wins for the Swede should be in the cards, making him a very dangerous and well-rested player to face Roger Federer in the next round.

Federer gets resurgent Jurgen Melzer who has had the best season of his career for sure. The 29 year old had never before advanced past the third round of a Slam before 2010 and has now made the semi’s at Roland Garros, the fourth round at Wimbledon and now again the fourth round at the U.S. Open. His run is about to end at the hands of Federer who will have one last routine victory before having to face a serious test in Soderling. Federer in straights.

HEWITT A THREAT AT SW19: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Blast from the Past – My biggest praise this week goes to Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Not only did he defeat six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the final of Halle, but he did so after having undergone two hip surgeries. The match had more than shades of the old Hewitt who was at the top of the game nearly ten years ago, with the Aussie chasing down everything that Federer threw at him. While it has to be said that Federer’s game did go off, there’s no doubt Hewitt played a large part in making it so. Down a set and 0-40 at four-all in the second, Hewitt refused to succumb. Federer clearly became a bit rattled and began to press, ultimately resulting in Hewitt snapping his 15-match losing streak against the Swiss. Wimbledon is a different prospect with the matches all being best of five, but given his status as a former Wimbledon champ and his current run of form, Hewitt’s suddenly looking like a decent pick to go deep at SW19.

Back on Track – After the dismal circumstances under which Sam Querrey made his exit at Roland Garros, it was nice to see him quickly back on the horse and in the winner’s circle this past weekend at the Queen’s Club. Querrey held his nerve to take a tight two-set victory over compatriot Mardy Fish, whom it also has to be said put together one of the nicer weeks of tennis he’s had in awhile. And as a sidebar to Querrey’s win and Hewitt’s, I think it’s safe to say that while it’s tough to bet against the big boys at the majors, this Wimbledon feels a little more wide open than it has in recent memory.

Undecided – Well, the Swiss Miss may not be done after all. No, Martina Hingis isn’t contemplating making yet another comeback to the singles game, but she is seriously considering the possibility of coming back to play doubles on the WTA Tour, naming American Lindsay Davenport as her current choice of partner. Hingis has already committed to playing 14 matches in World Team Tennis for the New York Buzz this summer, and given her level of talent, it’s hard to imagine it will take her long to shake the dust off her game. She’ll also be teaming with former partner Anna Kournikova to play the Legends Doubles event at Wimbledon, and I’m sure many are hoping that a potential return of Hingis to WTA Tour doubles will entice Kournikova to eventually follow suit.

Salt to the Wound – Brit Alex Bogdanovic has made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t thrilled when he learned he wouldn’t be receiving one of the Wimbledon main draw wildcards despite the fact that he meets the ranking criteria. But he didn’t give up hope at having another shot at winning a main draw match and opted to take his chances in the qualies. It was there in the second round that he came up short against talented Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, losing by a heartbreaking 24-22 in the third. I’m not a huge Bogdanovic fan, and I perfectly understand the logic behind not granting him a wildcard. But at 24-22 in the third, you gotta feel a little sympathy for the guy.

More Returns – This week has marked the return of a couple more players to the main tour just in time for the Big W. Eastbourne has seen Belgian Kim Clijsters bounce back nicely from the foot injury that kept her out of Roland Garros, as well as Frenchman Gilles Simon, whose absence from the 2010 season has been long and frustrating. While it’s a big ask for either to set high expectations for Wimbledon (Simon much more so than Clijsters), it’s great to see them notching some wins under their belt and gaining some momentum as they’re shortly to head into the heart of the summer season. And in case anyone missed it, former No. 1 and French Open champion Thomas Muster will be making a return to the Challenger Circuit at the age of 42. I’m not quite sure what the thought process was behind this return other than for love of the game, but to each their own.  Maybe he was inspired by Kimiko Date Krumm.

GONZO OUT, MURRAY DUCKS OUT ON DAVIS CUP: TENNIS PEOPLE

* Former world No. 5 Fernando Gonzalez has announced he will be away from the tour for 10 weeks while he battles a bilateral patellar tendinitis. “Unfortunately I have bad news,” he told his official website. “The bilateral patellar tendinitis that I have will force me to be away from competition for 10 weeks. Because of that, I will have to skip Gstaad, Bastad, Hamburg and, most sadly, the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against Czech Republic at Coquimbo.” He has targeted the hard-court ATP Masters tournament in Toronto in August as his return.

*Andy Murray has conformed he will not be participating in Great Britain’s crucial Davis Cup relegation playoff against Turkey next month. New captain Leon Smith must face the Turks without his two highest ranked players as Alex Bogdanovic is also missing. But Murray felt the Brits were in good shape even without their two top stars. “I’ve given a lot of reasons for not playing and I do think that it’s time for us to start winning ties, having young players getting used to winning,” Murray told BBC Sport. “Right now it’s important that the guys get used to winning and beating teams like Turkey and I think they will do.”

* Rafa Nadal has admitted that recapturing his Roland Garros crown from Roger Federer was always top priority in his mind ahead of reclaiming the No. 1 slot in the South Africa Airways ATP World Rankings. In an interview with Fox Sports he said: “The (French Open trophy) is the most important thing for me. After the No. 1 is there, yes. But I was No. 1, and believe me, I am very happy. When I was crying after the match, the last thing I was thinking was the No. 1. The first thing is the title and all the hours I worked, a lot, to be here another time.” The interview also gives the views of top stars including Robin Soderling on Rafa’s chances of dominating at Wimbledon again two years on from that epic 2008 final against Roger Federer. Check it out at the Fox Sports website.

* Roger Federer’s defeat to Lleyton Hewitt in the final at Halle last Sunday was only his second defeat on grass since 2003, the first being the blockbusting 2008 Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal. The victory for Hewitt moved him up to No. 26 in the world in this week’s ATP rankings (14/06) which will help emphatically with his seeding for Wimbledon. Benjamin Becker re-enters the Top 50 at 48 while his Queens final defeat to Sam Quarrey has seen Mardy Fish jump 20 places to No. 70 in the world.

*Thai star Paradorn Srichapan has officially announced his retirement from professional tennis. He has always said he hoped to return from the wrist injury that has kept him sidelined since early 2007 but a recent motorcycle accident in which he broke both his hands and injured his knee has put paid to that. He is now set to coach the Thai Davis Cup team.

*In the Sony Ericsson WTA Rankings (14/06) Na Li’s victory over Maria Sharapova in Birmingham moves her in to the world’s Top 10 for the first time since February. Aravane Rezai is in to the Top 20 at 19 while Sybille Bammer and Arantxa Parra Santonja enter the Top 50. It is the first time since the week beginning August 25, 2003 that only one Russian occupies a Top 10 slot.

* The knee injury that forced Russian Elena Dementieva to pull out of her French Open semi with Francesca Schiavone has now ruled her out of Wimbledon. The 28-year-old reached the semis in 2008 and 2009 and had hoped to go one step further this year. In better news, Richard Gasquet has stepped up his return from the back injury that kept him out of Queens in a bid to make the Slam, reports L’Equipe. Kei Nishikori also hopes to make the event according to his management.

* Kim Clijsters reflected favourably on her return from injury which saw her crush compatriot Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-1 at Eastbourne. “It was not bad for a first match in a while,” said Clijsters. “I stayed focused very well… Yanina wasn’t playing her best tennis, she made a lot of mistakes, but I was trying to go to the lines a lot and be really aggressive.”

* Following on from yet another Roland Garros title Rafa Nadal chose somewhere different to celebrate – Disneyland Paris. He posed with new-generation favourites such as the Incredibles and spent the day on his favourite rides and attractions. “It’s a place I love,” he said. “I often come with my family and I also intend to return very soon.”

* Lindsay Davenport has increased her return to the WTA Tour by announcing she will also be playing the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford this year.

* Billie Jean King is backing Martina Hingis to also return to pro tennis on the doubles circuit following her competing in the 2010 World Team Tennis season. Hingis has already announced that her and Anna Kournikova will compete in the legends doubles competition at Wimbledon this month and King believes she is “testing the waters” in regards to a full return according to the associated press. In a conference call with Tennis.com, however, Hingis has claimed she is still undecided on the issue but has considered teaming up for doubles with Lindsay Davenport after the former American star announced more dates for her comeback this year.

* Following on from his defeat to Feliciano Lopez at Queens Rafa Nadal gave an insight in to how he was going to be spending his time off before Wimbledon. “Have some dinner with the friends and maybe play some golf. That’s it,” he said. “Oh, and World Cup—always,” he added. He also pinpointed where he may improve before tackling the third Grand Slam of the year at Wimbledon later this month. “Next week, in Wimbledon, I gonna have more time to practice and to adjust a little bit more the serve, a little bit more the backhand and the movements on the grass. So that can be good thing.”

* Dominica Cibulkova has begun to work full-time with Dinara Safina’s recently axed coach Zeljko Krajan, according to TennisReporters.net.

* Three-time Rogers Cup Champion Chris Evert is heading in to the tournament’s Hall of Fame. She will be inducted in a ceremony on August 16th during the evening session of that day’s play.

* GB’s Ken Skupski has spoken of his delight at moving in to the world’s Top 50 doubles players, at No. 49. “We’ve [Skupski and partner Colin Fleming] just finished with the Aegon Championships and we’re heading to Eastbourne to play in the Aegon International and that’s the tournament prior to Wimbledon,” he told BBC Sport. “We feel we have got a good chance next week. I’m not sure whether we’ll be seeded but we will be one of the top ranked teams there.”

SHARAPOVA DOWN AND OUT (BUT NOT FOR LONG)

By Max Park

As Maria Sharapova left Philippe Chatrier court on Sunday at Roland Garros, it was clear that the former No. 1 was merely a shadow of her former self. Her heroic demise to the Belgian Justine Henin was lauded by the usually hostile and unsupportive Parisian crowd, as they cheered on a former semi-finalist who has largely been plagued by arm and shoulder injuries for the better part of the last two years.

Her match against the former Queen of Clay, Henin, only demonstrated the lack of match play and the erratic serve which has come of late to typify Sharapova. Forehand drives that landed just centimetres outside the lines, the dubious drop shots, the apparent inability to close out decisive points and most crucially, those double faults. One couldn’t help but feel that Sharapova at her peak would have nonchalantly scoffed at these problems. However, the reality is that Sharapova’s inconsistency and lackluster form has only faltered her progress in her comeback trail. Henin was the only top ten calibre player she has had to face this year and the inexperience fully manifested itself.

There is, however, no point in seeing only the negative aspects in a sporting match. Let’s look at the silver linings. Her trademark gritty-streetfighter-me-against-the-world dogged determination and fighting spirit was still intact and was the prime reason for the second set resurgence. What she lacks in technical prowess and precision, she makes up with good old fashioned perseverance and mental fortitude. I have had the ‘pleasure’ to witness another one of Sharapova’s Grand Slam losses, her 2008 Wimbledon second-round defeat against Alla Kudryavtseva. Camping out the night before to get Court No. 1 tickets and then to see your favourite active female player lose against her 154th-ranked compatriot was to say the very least, disheartening. However, what was most admirable about her play over the weekend and during that humiliating Wimbledon loss two years ago was her characteristic fierce intensity, instilled by father Yuri.  She may have played drop shots at the most inopportune moments and even the Court 1 crowd was frustrated with her apparent refusal to add any topspin to her forehand groundstrokes, which time and time again, would hit the top or middle of the net; but that face of utter determination and fierce intensity never subsided.

The mental aspect of Sharapova’s game is what makes her stand out from the plethora of six foot Russian blonde bombshells and what has won her three Grand Slam singles titles. An improved and consistent serve and precise groundstrokes are imperative but it is her mental fortitude and fierce intensity that will ultimately pull Maria Sharapova through in this rather turbulent comeback campaign.

ANDY RODDICK AND SAM QUERREY ARE OPPOSITES: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Questions for Querrey – American Sam Querrey needs to find some answers as to why he’s lacking motivation, how does he find it again, and how does he do a better job of controlling his mindset when he’s out on the court. I’ll give credit to Sam for at least owning up the fact that he’s struggling to find his motivation and that he hasn’t exactly been the epitome of professionalism, even admitting that he’s tanked some points. He’s had some peaks and valleys in his 2010 season, but there’s no doubt he’s been one of the more promising young American players. To hear his latest comments was definitely disappointing. It sounds like his coach has the backbone to call Sam on it though, and hopefully between the two of them, they’re going to be able to turn things around before burnout occurs.

Grinding it Out – American Andy Roddick has been the opposite of his compatriot Sam Querrey. Roddick’s clay court preparation has been next to nil, and undoubtedly his worst since turning professional. To top it off, clay is his worst surface, and his results at Roland Garros have predominantly been dismal. When playing Fin Jarkko Nieminen, who himself has thus far had a terrible 2010 season, Roddick found himself down two sets to one. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and look towards the greener pastures of Wimbledon, but he ground it out like a true professional. In his second round, he takes on little-known Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia. Roddick had his serve broken on multiple occasions, endured a few rain delays, and even dropped the second set before finding his way to the finish line. I haven’t always been a fan of some of his outbursts on court, but I greatly admire the way he’s handled himself thus far at the French Open.

Darkness (and Chaos) Reign – It was only Day 4 of Roland Garros, but already there was high drama on Court Philippe Chatrier. Gael Monfils was up against Fabio Fognini. There was enough drama as it was, with Fognini staging a comeback after being down two sets to love. Then, at 4-4 in the fifth, tournament referee and Grand Slam supervisor Stefan Fransson made an appearance to presumably call play for the day. Instead of calling play, however, he talked it over with the players, and then, the insanity began as Fognini argued it was too dark to continue but was forced to play on anyway. In a statement made on Day 5, Fransson confirmed that both players claimed that they wished to continue playing, but that Fognini changed his mind after his box signaled to him to stop. Now maybe that constitutes illegal coaching, but I still felt for the Italian and found myself rooting for him. Of course he was initially going to claim he wanted to keep playing. He was playing a Frenchman and had a stadium full of French tennis fans who had patiently sat through rain delays earlier in the day (and were being egged on by Monfils) clamoring for the drama continue.  The situation was poorly handled by Fransson. Fognini should never have been put in the position of having to be the bad guy by asking for play to be called, and the fact that he got a point penalty for delay of game was ludicrous. I realize Monfils cannot be held accountable for the actions of tournament officials, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of justice was done when Fognini came out the victor.

(Un)dressed for Success – I’m going to join the multitudes of people commenting on Venus Williams’ latest tennis attire and go on record as saying I’m not a fan. Venus pushed the envelope with similar use of the bodysuit down in Australia, and now she’s crossed the line. Even taking into account that Venus has the figure to wear the dress, and that French Open and WTA administrators alike agree that her outfit doesn’t violate dress codes, that doesn’t make it right. Her attire is better suited to the bedroom than Court Philippe Chatrier, particularly on Kids’ Day. And as a sidebar regarding Venus’ comment that lace has never been done in tennis, she should research the stir Gussy Moran’s lace-trimmed panties made at Wimbledon just over 60 years ago. I’m happy to see that women’s tennis fashion has evolved since the time of Gussy and others, but I think in this case, the pendulum has swung a bit too far.

In Need of a Break? – That’s the question some are asking of Dinara Safina after she lost her first round match to 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm. After winning the first set, the Russian led by a break in the second and a double break in the third, but still failed to put away the cramping Japanese veteran. The good news for Safina is that she wasn’t complaining of the niggling back injury that has hampered her year, and she also seems positive about working with her new coach, former ATP pro Gastón Etlis. It’s hard to forgo competing in a Slam, but given that grass is historically her worst surface, I wonder if it wouldn’t serve Safina well to take month or so away from the game, bond more with her new coach, and get in the valuable practice time that’s has eluded her due to her back injury.

SERBIA LOOKING FOR MORE RECOGNITION ON WORLD STAGE

Earlier this year I blogged on how players like Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis can help their home countries in terms of finances, profile and inspiration with top performances on the professional sports circuit.

In countries where money isn’t the largest commodity players have to fight tooth and nail and really aim high to make it in sport. With the Serbian Open taking place in Belgrade this week the spotlight now returns to Novak Djokovic, who helped found the competition before its inception last year.

Born on 22 May 1987, Novak was the eldest of three brothers who all set their sights on the professional game. He was spotted at eight years old by the Yugoslavian tennis legend Jelena Gencic who declared: “This is the greatest talent I have seen since Monica Seles.”

He won his first professional tournament in 2006, not dropping a set on his way to lifting the Dutch Open in Amersfoort with a win over Nicolas Massu in the final. He then took the Open de Moselle in Metz which saw him enter the world’s Top 20 for the first time.

Since then he has continued to grow and mature and his final appearance at the 2007 US Open before beginning 2008 by lifting the Australian Open shows the levels Novak can rise to.

There have been questions about his temperament, his drive and his personality but Novak has put all that behind him and as of this year he is looking to shut a lot of critics up and prove he can match the best of the best tournament to tournament.

The Serbian Open debuted in 2009 as an ATP 250 tournament offering the winner the prize of €373, 200. It was a resounding success with over 100,000 attending the showpiece that were treated to stars like Djokovic, compatriot Janko Tipsarevic, Croatian Ivan Ljubicic and Russian Igor Andreev.

“This tournament means a lot to me because I play in my country and my hometown,” said Djokovic in a statement on his official website. “I always give maximum, I’m not one of those players who can go on court and lose, even though they’re favourites,”

“I’m hoping for a full stadium, not only on my matches, but also on matches of the rest of our players. This tournament makes me proud, because it shows the most beautiful face of Serbia to the world.”

Djokovic added that he hopes the tournament will attract some of the world’s top players over the coming years which will help with attendances and in promoting Serbia to the rest of Europe. The country has produced the likes of Djokovic, Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki and Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Nenad Zimonjic over recent years and with top tennis inspiring the country this group will only expand and add to the previous success of Monika Seles and Jelena Dokic.

However Novak realises the scheduling problems for the tournament: “The tournament is held between two ATP World Tour Masters events, and most of the players save their energy for Madrid and Roland Garros. That’s why it is difficult to attract ‘stronger’ names at the moment,” he bemoans.

But the Open is a step in the right direction for one of Europe’s newest entities. The Republic of Serbia only became an Independent Republic in 2006 in yet another shifting of the former Yugoslavian states. Famous more for its wars than its sport, the players have a lot of PR work to do with the world’s media.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper back in January 2008 Novak acknowledged how the success of the likes of himself and Ivanovic was helping tennis become one of Serbia’s largest exports. Following Novak taking the 2008 Serbian Sports Personality of the Year (his only real competition was Ivanovic and Jankovic) his mother, Dijan, part of the Djokovic sporting dynasty now working in Serbia, spoke of her wish to set up a tennis academy in her son’s name to help the Serbs of the future.

“The important thing is that the idols for young Serbs now are very good kids,” she said in the same interview. “They are people who really worked hard to get where they are now. They didn’t steal, cheat, or kill somebody to get there. For 10 years it was so bad. The role models were gangsters, or drug dealers. Everything is changing.”

It shows how the war-torn state is moving forward and beginning to think like a developed country.

Ana Ivanovic was the first player from Serbia to top the WTA rankings back in 2008. “We have all witnessed the dramatic rise in Serbian tennis during the last few years and on Monday [09/06/2008] that will reach a new pinnacle when Ana Ivanovic is recognised as the WTA Tour’s new number one player,” WTA Tour chief Larry Scott said in a statement at the time.

She has taken part in the new “Me, Myself” advertising campaign by sports giants Adidas and appears in their star-studded advert campaigns blazing across television screens throughout Europe. A popular figure at home, Serbian actress Katarina Radivojevic has even asked Ana to star in a film with her.

Yet she has remained true to her Serbian roots and always remembers where she started. An insightful interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph back in 2007 opened up her thoughts on the rest of the world and their attitude towards her as a Serbian.

“It was very upsetting, especially when I went abroad,” she said. “People were very suspicious when they talked to you, they wouldn’t really trust you. And we would have trouble getting visas and getting through customs. It drove me a little bit crazy. Maybe somewhere deep inside me it helped.”

She bemoaned the facilities available to players and the lack of help provided by the authorities: “Our tennis federation didn’t really help us much at all,” she complained. “I think they did a little bit more for the men, but for the women they didn’t really do anything – they almost abandoned us. It’s really sad. They should appreciate it [having three players in the top 10] because who knows when it’s going to happen again.”

Three years on, hosting their own ATP250 tournament looks like a huge step in the right direction for Serbia and can only serve to improve the country’s standing in the eyes of the sporting and media world.

With players like Djokovic, Jankovic and Ivanovic; lovely people who you never see in the papers for the wrong reasons, the future generations of Serbians can only pick good role models to idolise and forget the war-torn past. With their football side also participating at this year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa the future certainly looks promising.

FRENCH HOPES IN MONTE CARLO

The 2010 Masters Circuit has landed on European soil with the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters this week.

After Americans had home-grown superstar Andy Roddick to cheer on in both the finals of Indian Wells and Miami, the French will be hoping that one of their many young prodigies across the tennis circuit rises to the challenge on the sumptuous clay courts of one of Europe’s largest tax havens. Yes, technically there can’t be any home-grown winners as no current players cite the city-state of Monaco as their place of birth, but you know what I mean.

As usual with organizers handing wildcards to national treasures they have plenty to choose from throughout the draw.

Most knowing eyes glance immediately to the name of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. ‘The Black Barracuda,’ No. 10 in the world and sixth seed here in Monte Carlo, would be most fan’s prediction as the nation’s biggest hope.

With no Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau will be receiving an increased share of support from the home crowd. The world No. 36 is still chasing his first career title and at the age of 28 is quickly approaching that dreaded brow of the hill known as the “big 3-0.” Having reached a career high ranking of No. 33 last October he will be hoping to push on and improve further in 2010.

Of the four finals he has lost during his career, two were on French soil in Lyon in 2008 and Marseille back in February where he went down 3-6, 4-6 to compatriot Michael Llodra. He also has four doubles titles on French soil and lost the doubles final here in 2007 when he and Richard Gasquet fell short of the dominating Bryan brothers.

Another bright French spark, Jeremy Chardy, has already crashed out in round one going down to Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan yesterday 2-6, 6-7(2).

With such big players in the draw the task lying ahead for the home talent is huge. But every big name missing from the draw is a blessing and they will all be happy not to see the shadow of Roger Federer crawling through the rounds towards them.

Whether they can live up to expectation is another matter and if they are like us Brits across the channel the French will be braced for disappointment. However, with so many more highly ranked players than our sole hope Andy Murray they have a much better chance of success.

The French have their own hoodoo to break too you know. Marcel Bernard was the last Frenchman to win Roland Garros in 1946, before the Open Era had even begun. It may not be quite as big as the ghost of Fred Perry but there’s not too much in it. They haven’t had a French finalist since Henri Lecont lost to the Swede Mats Wilander in 1988 either.

Will a local star use this tournament to push on towards ending that spectre and help appease the hurt of one of the world’s proudest nations? Sit back and find out as one of the world’s grandest tennis settings plays host to its own masters event of 2010.