By Maud Watson
Taking the Reins
A week after Australia named the appointment of Patrick Rafter as its new Davis Cup captain, the United States followed suit. On Wednesday it was announced that Jim Courier would be replacing Patrick McEnroe at the helm of the U.S. team. Courier will have some big shoes to fill, as McEnroe did much to turn around the fortunes of the U.S. Davis Cup squad, which included a title win in 2007. But Courier, a four-time Grand Slam winner, brings plenty of experience to the table, including serving as a member of the 1995 victorious U.S. Davis Cup squad. And, as an added bonus, reports seem to indicate that there’s a slight chance Mr. Courier’s new appointment could entice a healthy Andy Roddick to devote time to Davis Cup duty once again.
Thomas Muster made his comeback debut at the main ATP World Tour level in his native Austria this week, and unfortunately, it didn’t have a fairytale ending. The 43-year-old succumbed to his native countryman Andreas Haider-Maurer in straight sets in the opening round, though it should be noted that the second set ended in a tiebreak. Perhaps Muster is still polishing off some of the rust, but it is a little difficult to see him putting in another two good years as he stated he hopes to do. Still, judging by the crowd’s reaction to his efforts, there’s little doubt that his comeback is still bringing plenty of smiles to fans’ faces.
In addition to Muster, the ATP World Tour may see the return of yet another veteran in Australian Mark Philippoussis. After securing two wins on the Champions Series seniors’ tour, the veteran Australian has stated that he has found his hunger once again and is contemplating a return to the main tour level. While there are many fans who would love to see Scud see his plan through, it’s certainly questionable on Philippoussis’ part. It’s not as though this is the first time he’s considered such a comeback, and while those who compete on the Champions Tour are champions in their own right, they are retired from the main tour for a reason. The difference in the caliber of play is wide, and Philippoussis is kidding himself if he thinks success on one tour means it will translate to success on the ATP World Tour. Sadly, one has to wonder if Philippoussis’ considerations for a return don’t stem from the fact that he squandered his talent during his prime by choosing to live the good life instead putting in the time necessary to remain more injury-free and to realize his full potential. But then again, if Muster thinks he can do it in his 40s, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for the Aussie to do it in his 30s.
Few would argue that 2010 has been the year of Rafael Nadal. With the No. 1 ranking sewn up, three of the four majors to his name, and achieving the career Grand Slam, it has been his banner year. But Roger Federer, despite the subpar results by his high standards, has still managed to achieve yet another milestone, as he tied Sampras’ record of 64 singles titles with is win in Stockholm last week. At this stage in the game, Connors’ 109 still seems untouchable and McEnroe’s 77 a doable but lofty goal, but look for Federer to add to his total and use this mini-milestone as a springboard to better things in 2011.
In case you missed your daily dose of gossip, it’s worth noting a story that broke late last week followed by one earlier this week. The first concerns the engagement of Maria Sharapova to LA Laker Sasha Vujacic. More than once Sharapova has commented that she couldn’t see herself playing till she was 30, and if her results don’t drastically improve in 2011, don’t be entirely surprised if she hangs up the racquet and decides to permanently soak up the California sun. Then there’s Lleyton Hewitt, who became a father for the third time as he and wife Bec welcomed a baby girl last weekend. The whole charging for texts to find out the baby girl’s name is a little odd (and someone please let me know if that goes to some kind of charity), but congratulations are in order for the Hewitt’s. Don’t look for a third child to have a negative impact on Hewitt’s game either. It’s his body he’ll need to worry about.
By Maud Watson
Notable Performances – There have been a number of great matches at this year’s US Open, and as predicted, some of the biggest stars in the game have lived up to their billing to reach the latter rounds of the year’s last major, while others have had some outstanding breakout performances. But a special tip of the hat has to go to Swiss No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka. A talented player with a relatively versatile game, he’s struggled to really find his footing in the Slams. It now seems those days could potentially be behind him, as Wawrinka finally took out one of the Top 4 at a major, defeating Andy Murray in four sets in the third round of the 2010 US Open. Though he nearly faltered at the next hurdle against Sam Querrey, he found a way to follow up his big win by grinding to a 5-set victory over the American. Look for him to hopefully build on his US Open performance going into 2011, especially with the solid coaching he is getting from Federer’s former man, Peter Lundgren.
Relinquishing the Helm – Over the course of Labor Day Weekend, Patrick McEnroe announced that he would be stepping down as captain of the United States Davis Cup squad. The move stemmed from McEnroe’s desire to spend more time with his family, as well as in his other job with the USTA in developing elite players. No word yet on who will replace the younger McEnroe, but he himself had suggested that both Jim Courier and Todd Martin would make excellent candidates for the job. Whoever takes the job will have their work cut out for them, but at least there is the assurance that there’s a young and talented crop of Americans eagerly willing to step up and represent their country in the international team competition.
Back for More? – Once again Hingis is toying with the idea (and the tennis world) with the possibility that she may be coming back to the WTA Tour to strictly play the doubles circuit. Hingis has stated her decision will be based primarily on whether or not her heart is in it, as well as if she can find a steady partner. Davenport had suggested playing with Hingis but wanted to return sooner than Hingis was ready to. Curious to see if Cara Black would be interested in teaming with the Swiss Miss given that she has tried out a few different partners since she split with Liezel Huber (she’s played with four different partners at each of the 2010 majors this year). They wouldn’t bring a lot of fire power to the court, but they would be no less formidable to any opponent.
Eggs in One (Promising) Basket – Paul Annacone has opted to cut short his time working with the British LTA after being named the full-time coach of Roger Federer. The reasoning behind his immediate resignation was the potential for a conflict of interest, given that his charge could meet British No. 1 Andy Murray in the latter rounds of any tournament on any given week. Given the current state of British tennis, the move has to be a welcomed one for Annacone, particularly given the talent and prestige of some of his past clientele.
At Long Last? – On Wednesday, Chief Executive of the ATP Adam Helfant announced that the ATP would be looking at increasing the offseason by two to three weeks, and that he expects a formal decision on the matter no later than the last board meeting of the year, which takes place in mid-November. A longer offseason is well overdue, but it will be interesting to see if action is finally taken, and if so, how smoothly it will go. Currently there is no talk of moving the Australian Open start date, which seems to imply any changes to create the longer offseason would have to come from tweaking the ATP tournament calendar, and depending on the nature of those changes, it could be a bumpy road ahead.
By Maud Watson
Confidence in Crisis – It was just nearly four months ago that Scot Andy Murray appeared ready to continue his ascent up the rankings and perhaps claim his first of what could be multiple major titles. He was confident then, even claiming before the Australian Open final that his best could beat Roger Federer. But then the Swiss maestro schooled him on that final Sunday, defeating him in straights sets just as he did the first time they met in a Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open. But this second one hurt more. The third set was on his racquet, and there’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been the same since that crushing defeat. Evidence of that was blatantly on display during his most recent devastating defeat at the hands of Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. I thought at the start of the season that this could potentially be a make-or-break year for the young gun, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is the time that Murray has to either put up or shut up. He’s in serious crisis mode, and his coaches have their work cut out for them. To allow him to completely fizzle would truly be a great tragedy for British tennis.
One Brave Man – Leon Smith has bravely accepted the post as captain of the British Davis Cup Squad. The LTA appears to be going in a different direction with the selection of Smith, which hopefully will prove fruitful over time. Many speculated Smith was appointed due to his status as one of Murray’s former coaches, and that his appointment would secure the participation of Britain’s No. 1 (though Murray has already stated Smith’s being named captain will have no bearing on his own participation in Davis Cup). Still, putting someone of Smith’s background in such a position may be the spark this nation needs. It’s a nation that isn’t short on money for developing players, and it has a population pool similar to tennis powerhouses France and Spain to draw from. The talent is there, and maybe Smith, who will have the chance to mold some of these players in a different forum, is finally going to be able to watch that talent bloom into some quality players.
Seize the Clay – That’s exactly what American Serena Williams will be looking to do, as she has announced she’s planning to make her return to competitive tennis in Rome at the Italian Open. Tennis fans will be anxious to see how the reigning Australian Open champion fairs on the red dirt as she prepares for the second major of the year. Hopefully Williams will prove she has bounced back nicely from her knee injury, as I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see how a fit Williams stacks up against an in-form Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters on clay.
At the 11th Hour – As happy as I was to hear that Serena Williams was planning a return to tennis in Rome, I had to roll my eyes at the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez is holding one spot open for either Williams sister to join the U.S. Fed Cup Team, due to play Russia on April 24 & 25. I understand that there’s a drop off in talent and experience when looking at the Williams sisters versus the rest of the American women, so it’s understandable why Fernandez would desperately want them to be part of the squad. But both sisters have a history of only playing Fed Cup when it suits them, and more recently, have said they’ll play only to pull out in the end. Fernandez has up to an hour before the April 23 draw to change her roster, so I personally think she’d be better served to name a complete squad now with the understanding that the last one named may lose a spot to either Williams sister. Granted, it’s not the most ideal setup either way, but at least this way another less-experienced player doesn’t lose valuable time in mentally preparing to represent her country and practicing with the rest of the team should both Williams sisters opt to forgo filling that last spot.
Splitsville – Earlier this week, Serb Novak Djokovic announced that he was splitting ways with co-coach Todd Martin, who had been working with Djokovic since 2009. As Djokovic explained, “Todd faced a lot of difficulties to work on and off the court…He just didn’t have enough time to understand what I need…” It’s hard to say how the split will impact the Serb’s game. Evidence shows that he has struggled with results this year, but I was still sad to see the split. It’s no offense to his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who has done an excellent job with his young charge. But Martin was a top player, an aggressive player, and perhaps most importantly, a true gentleman of the game. Since Martin had come on board, it seemed that Djokovic was starting to show more poise and grace on the court, which mentally could only pay off in the long run. I’m hoping this newly-acquired skill will stay with Djokovic, even if Martin has not.