By Maud Watson
After a few near-misses, Kim Clijsters finally found her way to her first Australian Open title, and by her own admission, felt that she could now truly be called “Aussie” Kim. While it wasn’t really fair to suggest that Kim didn’t have the goods to win a major outside of the Big Apple as some pundits have stated, it still had to feel as though she were getting a bit of a monkey off her back with her win in Melbourne. With her solid run to the title, many are also starting to speculate that Kim is the heavy favorite at Roland Garros and perhaps even at Wimbledon, despite her never having won either of those titles. But with so many health issues and a lack of consistency from the other mainstays on the WTA, it isn’t far-fetched to think that Kim could have her best season ever in what may be her last year as a professional.
Djoker Got his Groove Back
“Mediocre” is not often a term applied to one of the game’s elite players, but that’s exactly the type of season Novak Djokovic had in 2010. If anything, he managed to remain at the top in spite of himself, having hit more double faults than aces over the course of that year. But the young Serb seems to have put all of that behind him and has played absolutely scintillating tennis from leading Serbia to its first Davis Cup victory through the start of 2011. Except for a minor hiccup early in the tournament, Djokovic raced to the Australian Open title with the loss of just one set – and that’s a run that included straight set victories over the likes of Roger Federer and Andy Murray. If Djokovic really has put it together between the ears, look for him to start making a legitimate push for No. 1.
It’s undoubtedly very difficult to fall just one match shy of a major title, but the experiences of this year’s Australian Open singles finalists couldn’t have been more opposite. For Na Li/Li Na, it was a major breakthrough for both her personally and for her home nation. She provided for one of the most competitive women’s finals in recent memory, and appears to have taken nothing but positives from the experience. By WTA standards, she’s no spring chicken, but if she only continues to believe in her game more and more, she should expect to consistently make the latter rounds of tournaments and walk away with more than a few big prizes. For Andy Murray, the final was a total disaster. Ironically, he has stated that he was in a worse state after losing last year’s final, but it’s hard to imagine why. Djokovic was playing beautifully throughout the fortnight, but he still wasn’t Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal on the other side of the net from Murray. The wheels also completely came off Murray’s game by the second set, and he appeared at a total loss for how to fix the problem. It was hard not to feel bad for him, especially knowing the kind of extra pressure he endures when he reaches that last hurdle. But if that performance proved one thing, it is that he needs to find himself a full time coach, and fast. You hate saying this about a player as young and as talented as Andy Murray, but the monkey on his back is growing ever larger. With each major that slips by without a win, it’s going to become harder and harder to make that breakthrough.
Well, tennis fans around the world now know what was ailing Rafael Nadal in his quarterfinal match against David Ferrer. The Spaniard suffered a torn leg muscle in his right leg, but thankfully it is nowhere near the extent of his chronic knee problems. Doctors have estimated that he will only need ten days to recover, and as a result, he should be primed and ready for Davis Cup duty. It was welcomed news, as no one ever likes to see a player injured, and with players like Djokovic, Soderling, and yes, even Murray, stepping up to the plate, fans want to see all of the top players at their best as they compete for the grandest prizes in the sport.
Really Coming Back?
Reports are out that Serena Williams may be making a return to the tennis court to play a Nike exhibition event with fellow Nike-sponsored players Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova. The event is set to take place just before the dual Indian Wells top tier event. Love her or hate her, the game has missed the presence of Serena Williams, but don’t get your hopes up regarding her return just yet. This foot injury has proven to be the most mysterious injury of her career, and it isn’t the first time she’s hinted at a potential comeback date. Fingers crossed it happens this time and we see her in full health come Miami…just don’t put money on it.
Compiling information for more than 15 years, former U.S. Tennis Association press officer Randy Walker has published a compilation of significant anniversaries, summaries and anecdotes from the world of tennis in his book On This Day In Tennis History. Presented in a day-by-day format, the entries into this mini-encyclopedia include major tournament victory dates, summaries of the greatest matches, trivia, statistics as well as little-known and quirky happenings for every day of the calendar year.
“On This Day In Tennis History is an informative guide that brings significant – and quirky – tennis matches and happenings from the past into the context of the present,” saidWalker. “It is uncanny the number of significant events in tennis history that occurred on other significant and appropriate anniversaries, such as Boris Becker and Michael Stich both winning their first Wimbledon titles on the birthday of the first great German tennis champion Gottfried von Cramm. It’s fun to pick up the book every day and read what happened on each day of the year.”
Some of the quirky and significant events documented by Walker include from February 5, 1985, when Ivan Lendl defeats Larry Stefanki 6-2, 6-0 in the first round of the Lipton Championships in Delray Beach, Fla., in a match that ends without an umpire or linesmen, from July 18, 1930 when Wilmer Allison saves a record 18 match points in his Davis Cup victory against Giorgio de Stefani of Italy and from April 28, 1968 when Ken Rosewall wins the first ever “Open” tournament, defeating fellow Aussie and fellow professional Rod Laver 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 in the final of the British Hard-Court Championships in Bournemouth, England.
Said former world No. 1 Jim Courier of “On This Day In Tennis History is a fun read that chronicles some of the most important—and unusual—moments in the annals of tennis. Randy Walker is an excellent narrator of tennis history and has done an incredible job of researching and compiling this entertaining volume.”
Walker is a New York-based sports marketer, publicist, writer and tennis historian. A 12-year veteran of the USTA’s Marketing and Communications Division, he served as the press officer for the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1997 to 2005 and for the U.S. Olympic tennis teams in 1996, 2000 and 2004. He also served as the long-time editor of the U.S. Open Record Book during his tenure at the USTA from 1993 to 2005.
On This Day In Tennis History is published by New Chapter Press, also the publisher of The Bud Collins History of Tennis. More information on the book can be found atwww.tennishistorybook.com.
*Patrick McEnroe will step down as US Davis Cup Captain later this month after a decade in the hotseat. With the US facing an important playoff against Columbia to stay in the top tier of the competition this will not help the players with their preparations. “It’s with a heavy heart I’m resigning as Davis Cup captain,” said McEnroe. “But it’s a decision I felt was best. Davis Cup is a significant time commitment and this decision will allow me to focus more energy on my family and to the US Tennis Association’s player development programme.” McEnroe captained the US to Davis Cup victory in 2007 but things have not gone so smoothly recently. Four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier has already voiced interest in taking over the role.
*The Davis Cup team selections for this month’s matchups have been announced. Play will take place between September 17-19 in the World Group semifinals where France take on Argentina and Serbia face the Czech Republic. Gael Monfils will be France’s main dangerman with injury robbing them of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and he will be backed up by Richard Gasquet, Michael Llodra and Gilles Simon. Argentina will be relying on Juan Monaco, the in-form David Nalbandian and doubles outfit Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos for victory. In the other big semifinal, Novak Djokovic will lead the Serbian charge with the help of Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic. Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Jan Hajek and Ivo Minar will play for the Czech Republic. The squads for the World Group Playoff matches have also been named and they can be viewed at the ITF website.
*The wind has been rustling some feathers at Flushing Meadows this week and the players have been waxing lyrical about the conditions in their post match interviews. “The talent to play in the wind, I don’t have yet,” bemoaned Gael Monfils after Novak Djokovic (with Aeolus and Njord) blasted him away on Ashe. “He can play really well in the wind,” said Robin Soderling of his conqueror Roger Federer. “He moves well. He’s always in the right place.” Just like in all other conditions then. But R-Fed was a bit more blasé about the whole wind situation. “I’ve been practicing my serve a whole lot, for my whole career,” the five-time US Open Champ said. “If I can’t serve in the wind, I’ve got a problem, you know?” But not everybody was looking for excuses. After crashing out to Vera Zvonereva Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi was looking closer to home: “I can’t blame the wind for everything, I didn’t play well,” said the world No. 32.
*Venus Williams’ run at this year’s Open has seen her edge towards yet another record. She has now appeared in ten US Open quaterfinals which ties her with Lindsay Davenport at fourth on the all-time leaders list. The top three are Chris Evert (19), Martina Navratilova (14) and Steffi Graf (12). Unfortunately age is very much against her efforts to surpass the likes of Navratilova and Evert.
*Stanislas Wawrinka’s coach Peter Lundgren has expressed his delight at his new protégé reaching his first Grand Slam quarter final this week in NY. The former Roger Federer and Marat Safin coach told Tages Anzeiger following the Murray win: “When you work with someone and he implements what you tell him and gets results right away, it’s a wonderful feeling. He is much more aggressive, serving better… Before he played too far back. There he’s also strong and defends well, but you won’t win any matches against top players.”
*Marcos Baghdatis has quit Davis Cup play with Cyprus to concentrate on regaining his place in the Top 10 singles rankings. He has starred for his country almost single handed for a long stretch, winning 54 of his 67 matches. Injuries have destroyed the last few years of his career after reaching No. 8 in 2006 but he has returned to the top 20 this year.
*Andy Murray doesn’t seem too confident right now about winning a Grand Slam. Following his US Open fourth round exit to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka a despondent Murray said: “I have no idea of whether I’ll win a Grand Slam or not. You know, I want to but if I never win one, then what? If I give 100%, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, then that’s all I can do.” The 23-year-old gives a candid and honest assessment of his match which can be seen in full here.
*The American men have been attacking tournament organisers in force at the US Open as they believe not enough of them are placed on Ashe Stadium. They believe the big-name foreign stars are preferred to home-grown talent. “I haven’t played on that court in two years. Man, is it different from playing on Louis Armstrong and Grandstand,” said Mardy Fish. “There’s not hardly any wind outside, and it’s windy in there, really windy. For him [Novak Djokovic, Fish’s conquerer] to play every match in there and sort of get used to that, I think certainly helped him. Doesn’t mean that if I play [Arnaud] Clement out there that I win today by any means,” added Fish, who was bested in straight sets by Djokovic after a five-setter in round three against the Frenchman Clement. “But it took me a while to get used to it.” After losing in the third round to Mikhail Youzhny, John Isner added: “I didn’t hit a ball on that court, no practice or anything prior to this match. Same with my opponent, Mikhail,” said Isner. “But without a doubt, had I been a little bit more comfortable on that court it probably would have helped, but it was the same for both of us. He handled it better.” Then Sam Querrey added to the criticism after losing to Stanislas Wawrinka: “Not a huge fan of the scheduling this week,” Querrey said. “We have a lot of Americans here. None of us play on center court. If you go to the French Open, they have [Richard] Gasquet, [Julien] Benneteau, [Gael] Monfils, they’re on center court every day.” Something for the money men to think about next year if they want a home-grown winner to appease the fans again.
*The world was brought in to perspective by one player this week among the madness that combines to bring us the US Open. Talking about events in his native Pakistan, doubles specialist Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi said ahead of the mixed doubles final: “The only motivation I have for these two weeks is to get these titles for the people back home. I’m trying to send some positive news back home with the floods and everything.” A fitting message.
*Proud dad Srdjan Djokovic has been sporting a t-shirt baring his son’s face this week. But what does Novak think? “I would never wear the shirt. Me, personally, never. My father, I understand… He’s a proud father. What can I say? I’m just happy to see them supporting me. I don’t know where he got this fancy shirt. To be honest, it was somewhere in Belgrade. I cannot say it. He’s my father. If he wants to wear this shirt, he can wear this shirt.”
Tennis fans of Queensland, Australia, were celebrating after three of their big name stars received wild cards this week for the 2010 Australian Open.
Davis Cup star Carsten Ball, two-time junior Grand Slam winner Bernard Tomic and national under 18 champion Jason Kubler were all handed passes to the event.
Ball missed the recent wild card playoff tournament with a back injury but has performed exceptionally well in 2009 and came close to making the main draw cut off point so the organisers made the decision to hand him a wildcard.
Tomic won this year’s US Open boy’s title to add to the 2008 Aussie boy’s title he’d already picked up. The Australians view Tomic as a huge prospect for the future and he has already shown promise by reaching the second round of the 2009 tournament.
Sixteen-year-old Kubler went on a 30-match winning streak this year which included victory at the prestigious Osaka Junior Open as well as leading Australia to Junior Davis Cup victory.
Former World No. 8 Alicia Molik and rising star Olivia Rogowska received wild cards in the women’s draw, Rogowska being the losing finalist in the recent wildcard playoffs.
The decision on the final wildcards to be handed out to the men’s and women’s draws will be made soon.
*Women’s doubles pairs were left feeling nervous as one of the most successful pairings of all time, America’s Lisa Raymond and Australia’s Rennae Stubbs, announced that they will once more compete together in 2010. Between 1996 and 2005 they won 32 titles together including three Grand Slams – Australia (2000), Wimbledon and the US Open (both 2001). They also won the 2001 Sony Ericsson Championships and both held the No. 1 ranking slot. Raymond has won a further two majors with another Aussie, Samantha Stosur, but the pair were always the most successful together. Raymond commented: “It’s funny how things come full circle.”
*Australian World No. 77 Peter Luczak has signed up to play in the 2010 Movistar Open, an ATP World Tour 250 tournament beginning January 31st in Santiago, Chile. The tournament takes place during the 200th anniversary of Chilean independence and vast celebrations are set to mark the event.
*Spanish clay court coach Felix Mantilla has been added to the Australian Davis Cup coaching team and captain John Fitzgerald was full of praise for the move, describing it as one of the most significant moves in decades. “Having Felix Mantilla now is a great asset to us,” he said. “I reckon it’s a very, very important appointment.”
*British tennis has awarded its December AEGON Awards with Naomi Broady picking up player of the month, Luke Bambridge (Junior Player) and Neil Frankel (coach) being the other benefactors.
*The Australian Open Changing Ends Film Festival has extended its entry deadline until January 18th. By submitting a film of no longer than 30 seconds you could win the top prize of $5,000 and have your film shown during end changes at the 2010 Open. Films must have a tennis theme. For more information visit www.changingends.com.au.