contenders

Who’s Left to Qualify for London?

So we tearfully farewelled Elena Dementieva, my favourite, the “Slamless Swan” and saw “Little Miss Sunshine” Caroline Woznaicki and her magical yellow panties, cement the world No. 1 ranking for the year, and Sam Stosur reminded us (with the help of Fran Schiavone) that sadly, all the love in the world can’t stop a choke. Vika Azarenka stuck around Doha for another girlie sleepover while Jelly Jankovic limped home. And finally, Kim Clijsters reminded us that her best days are far from over. There is credit going where credit is due, and that is to the fabulous field of eight women who showed us some beautiful, well-crafted, athletic and gutsy tennis last week in Doha.

It’s time to turn the volume back up now for my legitimate favorites, the boys of the ATP. It’s a big week, as the contenders for the Top 8 to reach the World Tour Finals in London scrabble to pick up as many loose points as they can, even if it means stealing it from an old lady. (Oh no wait, Kimiko Date is in Bali!)

While the Big Four (And Sod!) have already qualified, competition for the last three spots is tight, most of it depending on this week’s 500 tournaments in Valencia and Basel. Next week’s Masters in Paris Bercy will clinch the lineup.

There are six guys competing for the last three spots, and they’re all awesome. (And hot. Random, amazing, true.) These guys have all had a great season, for one reason or another, and would be great additions to challenge the “B4AS” and give us some depth in London. (Except Tomas, sorry – unless he leaves his brain at home).

Tomas Berdych

With the 3665 points he picked up from basically being a badass this year, upsetting big ‘uns at the important moments, he had us all thinking he could do it before running back to the happy choking cave and refusing to win since Wimbledon. He’s in Basel for the week, but so are Nole and Fed, which means it’s likely the head case came too, packed and wrapped in a shiny red ribbon. Sweet.

David Ferrer

The sexy Spaniard’s been aiming for this goal all year – unlike the dudes who pretend they have no interest whatsoever – and he’s done pretty well to get there, with an incredible clay season and consistent hard court results throughout the year. With 3325 points, he has an almost sure chance of getting in, even if he doesn’t pick up any spares in his backyard in Valencia.

Andy Roddick

It looks like a lackluster season, but we forget how well he did on hard courts at the start of the year, in Miami and Indian Wells. His 3305 points make it very easy to catch up to Mr Ferru or even Tomas, should Tomas lose early and Rod make it all the way. Though honestly, it’s Basel that he’s chosen for the week, and scary Fed is there. Boo.

Fernando Verdasco

Fernando Verdasco is trying to remind us of the inspired second half of a match he played in New York when he stole our hearts with that incredible matchpoint, hoping for a deep run in Valencia that’ll supplement his 3150 points. Got to remember though, that even if he takes the whole thing, that still leaves him shy, and who knows what else the other boys might pick up during the week.

Mikhail Youzhny

My boy Misha is a worry. His 2910 points could have put him in contention if he’d done what he was supposed to do after beating Dima, and actually finished off Kukushkin for the St Petersburg title. Instead, he waltzed around the tennis court for an hour and now has to show us his stuff in Valencia or risks falling back down into top 20 land. He made the final last year, so Race aside, he could also fall significantly, dammit.

Whatever, Jurgen. We know you had a great year, but take what you got in doubles and shuddup now, okay. You got your Vienna title, but there’s no way you’ll make it to London for singles unless you somehow take Paris. I’ll snigger at the prospect now but let me bite my tongue – hell, this is tennis.

Honorable mentions go to Jo and Marin, who everyone’s going, what, them? They haven’t had such great seasons –until we remember they were our Melbourne semifinalists, though Marin has basically reached irrelevance and Jo’s pulled out of Valencia with an injured knee. Nico’s done great, and I’m proud, but that’s enough for now boy. Leave the Valencia points to the boys who need them.

Caroline Wozniacki Talks

After the exciting match between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova, which Caroline won in straight sets 6-2, 7-5,  Wozniacki sat down with  Next Contenders for an exclusive interview.

Here is an excerpt of the interview and you can find the article at American Express’ NextContenders.com

Sweet Caroline did it again on Wednesday night, knocking out her quarterfinals opponent, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, in just two sets 6 2, 7 5, and continuing her impressive run of not dropping a single set at the Open, despite the windy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I’m happy to be through definitely, it was a tough one,” Caroline told me when we caught up after the match. “The wind was not easy to cope with. It was just about getting it in. I wasn’t really thinking to place it anywhere special, I was just thinking about getting it in. But a win is a win and I’m happy to be through to the semifinals.”

Next up, Caroline faces seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who she beat in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month in straight sets, and who also made it to the finals of Wimbledon this year.

“She’s a tough player. She’s a good competitor,” Caroline said. “She takes the ball and really tries to be aggressive all the time. So it’s going to be a tough match.”

Of course, Caroline’s game has improved greatly since her last Open, which she’s not shy about admitting. “I definitely think I’m a better player now than I was before,” she said, to which I asked how exactly she upped her game.

“Well, the fitness definitely has been a big part of it— boxing, running, a lot of cardio. I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been, I think, and that’s helped me to get into the right positions for my shots and that’s a good feeling to know that you can just continue.”

And they also provided us with some great videos:

Caroline Wozniacki – Language lessons and loose lips

Caroline on being the face of Stella McCartney’s Adidas line

Caroline says hello to the city of New York

What to wear? The fashionable Caroline Wozniacki tells us what it takes to win it all

MARIA WHO? CAN WIMBLEDON RESURRECT THE RUSSIAN?

By Peter Nez

Sitting with some friends at a coastal tavern, throwing back some vodka cranberries (just barely a splash) made by a bartending staff that was made to pour the perfect liquid delight for squeezing every last drop of tension out of the five senses, the discussion turned over to a forgotten champion, a forgotten giant amongst women: Maria Sharapova. “You know what I love about her?” said my cohort, in a solemn tone, “the way she walks. She has one of the most regal walks out of any of the women on tour. She walks like she isn’t fazed by anything, like she owns the world.”

I always liked Maria, Masha as I like to call her. She possesses the perfect mixture of charm, fight, tenacity, elegance, and charisma out of any of the WTA contenders, and has a mental agility that can be on par with the likes of Nadal, outlasting her opponents with sheer will, and brushing off squandered opportunities without the slightest hint of hesitation. Rarely do you see Sharapova hang her head in resignation or “walk” to the chair on a changeover after she had just been broken with the plod of the dismayed. She has an uncanny elevation of spirit and marked maturity for someone only twenty three years of living. And yes, most of that living has taken place in the world of money, contracts, planes, cars, fame, and hoopla galore, and yet there is a residue of innocence in all she engages in; a quiet gratitude that resides in all her activities and interviews that are a testament to her character which is as rich as they come. Yes, she is beautiful, and yes, she has all the makings of a diva snob, but there is something more to her than that, something brimming under the surface.

After winning her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon, at the tender age of 17, beating the likes of Serena, there were little doubts as to where the Siberian Siren was headed. But being active during the reign of the Williams sisters, who are touted as two of the best players of all time, and plagued by injuries, especially in the last two years, which seemed to come and go ever so often sidelining her on many occasions, missing slams, the doubts began to build and build. In 2008, Sharapova started off the year desecrating the competition at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open, slaughtering tennis sovereigns Lindsey Davenport and Justine Henin along the way, showing the world once again that the Russian dawn was upon us once more. The blistering forehands, the baseline fury, and the romping serve were in full fledged doomsday mode. She was back. She was confident. She had the world in her palm. Unlike other Russian starlets, and most other Tennis babes, Sharapova wanted to be known as a champion, and transcended the label of diva beauty queen with ephemeral results, matching her passionate looks with passionate competitiveness, working harder and harder at improving her game and her ranking. After the AUS Open in 2008, nothing looked to be a huge obstacle in attaining her rights amongst the greatest. Then it happened. A brutal injury to her serving shoulder sent her to the disabled list for almost a year and a half, squelching all the momentum she had built and provoking her to change her game entirely, more specifically her serve – that same serve that pounced opponents into submission time and time again, producing win after win, and essentially the key to her success.

After losing in the first round at the 2010 Australian Open, Sharapova became a ghost in the conversation surrounding the women’s game. She lost to Henin in the third round at the French, and many dismissed her having a chance at ever winning another slam. With the likes of Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone plastered across headlines around the globe, setting off atom bombs in the women’s game, and new faces such as Caroline Wozniacki emerging, creating major cause for concern to reigning dominators Serena Williams, and her sister Venus, Masha loomed nowhere. Let’s not forget the return of Justine Henin which I am sure caused a stamp on the ground, or at least a mild hot flash by Serena when hearing of that bit of news. But grass has replaced clay, and the shift may be the perfect transition for the statuesque Russian.

Maria entered the AEGON Championships, the first grass court event leading up to Wimbledon, as the 17th seed, and nobody gave her a big shot at winning. But grass suits the long limbed Sharapova’s game, and she reached the final, losing only to Chinese top seed Na Li. Nothing builds confidence like winning a tournament before a major, but reaching a final and losing to a worthy opponent is a close second. With all the talk and expectations falling on other women during the Wimbledon Championships, Maria may be able to squeak by if she can retain her old grit and power packed serve. I wouldn’t count her out on grass. I know she wouldn’t. And with the surprise at the French Open and the overall schizophrenia that seems to constantly hover over the women’s game, anything is possible. We may see that prowl all over the lawns of London come final Saturday. Since 2004 Sharapova has won a slam ever two years: 2004 – Wimbledon; 2006- US Open; 2008- Australian Open. 2010- Wimbledon?

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MARIA SHARAPOVA AND BOYFRIEND LAKERS STAR SASHA VUJACIC AT INDIAN WELLS

Still checking on blogs like I have been doing this whole week. I found some interesting articles that I will link to.

FoxNews.com wonders where the young women contenders are. We got Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin,  Serena & Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova. But where are the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Yanina Wickmayer or Victoria Azarenka?  Fox Sports goes into details. Read all about it here: http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2010/03/11/young-womens-contenders/

Greg Couch is attending Indian Wells and blogs. One of his blogs is an interesting read.  It deals with America’s tennis sweetheart  Melanie “Miracle Melanie” Oudin. She got ousted in the first round of the Indian Wells tournament losing to Roberta Vinci, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0. But that’s not the worst part according to Greg.  Mel’s playing as if she no self confidence at all and it’s a not a fun sight.  http://tennis.fanhouse.com/2010/03/12/miracle-melanies-missing-confidence/

TheSportReview.com wonders about the, according to them, sad state of the WTA Tour. Will the WTA Tour be able to bounce back after a bad year filled with bad headlines? TheSportReview.com thinks they can. http://www.thesportreview.com/tsr/2010/03/is-womens-tennis-finally-about-to-bounce-back/

TMZ.com has a cute photo of lovebirds Maria Sharapova and boyfriend and Lakers star Sasha Vujacic.

Federer’s Last US Open Loss

Roger Federer’s reign as US Open champion is over. The Swiss maestro’s quest to win a sixth straight US Open men’s singles title came to an end Monday as Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro defeated the world No. 1 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the championship match. “Delpo” and David Nalbandian account for “Argentine book-ends” as the two countrymen combined to be the only two players to beat Federer at the US Open since 2003 – Federer winning 40-straight matches between losing to Nalbandian in the round of 16 of the 2003 US Open and losing to del Potro in the 2009 US Open final. Rene Stauffer, in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) discusses Roger’s loss to Nalbandian in 2003, when Roger was first on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the world, in this exclusive book excerpt below.

The US Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, presented another opportunity for him to seize the top spot. As the tournament be­gan, Federer seemed in the best position to capture the No. 1 ranking as he was the player with the least amount of points to defend from the previ­ous year among the contenders for the No. 1 ranking. He survived the first three rounds without being seriously challenged, but in the round of 16, once again, his opponent was none other than Nalbandian.

Media and tennis insiders tagged the Argentinean as the arch-nemisis of Federer. The two players played four times as professionals, with Nalbandian winning all four times. Federer, however, rejected the idea that Nalbandian was the player he feared the most.

“That bothers me because I’ve never said that and I don’t see it that way either,” he told reporters almost defiantly in New York. “I’ve never lost to him decisively and I’ve even beaten him in the juniors.”

The second week of the US Open became an ordeal as rain created a sched­uling chaos. The round of 16 matches that were scheduled for the second Tuesday of the event did not start until 3 pm on Thursday. After four hours of play and two more interruptions due to rain, Federer had—for the fifth time in five professional matches—succumbed to Nalbandian 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3. The Argentinean was still a mystery to him.

“I find it difficult understanding why I take the lead or fall behind,” Federer said after the loss. “I knew that I had to play aggressively. But I just don’t know how much I should risk when serving against him. He gets to many balls quickly and is great at reading my game. I don’t know what to make of him.” Federer could only watch from a distance as Nalbandian reached the semifinals, where he lost a heart-breaking five-setter to Roddick after leading two-sets-to-love and holding a match point. Roddick went on to win the championship, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who assumed the No. 1 ranking by virtue of his runner-up showing. The American wept after his first Grand Slam title just as Federer had two months earlier at Wimbledon. Roddick won the tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati earlier in the summer and moved to No. 2 in the world rankings.