dizzy heights

NEWS, VIEWS AND GOSSIP FROM QUEEN’S CLUB

LONDON – As I walked from Barons Court tube station, feeling the buzz of excitement, I was pleased to dodge the long train of tennis fans snaking their way around Queen’s Club for ground passes and head straight for the dizzy heights of the media gazebo. I was immediately distracted by a dashing familiar stranger directly in front of me – former Wimbledon champion, Pat Cash. It never fails to amaze me how many famous faces you will see mingling with the public at both Queen’s and Wimbledon. That’s what I love about these tournaments.

While waiting for my press pass, BBC Commentator and Andy Murray’s former coach, Mark Petchey surprisingly needed to give his name to the girl behind the counter. Two famous commentators spotted and I hadn’t even entered the grounds yet.

I was led to the media centre directly behind centre court, shown where the press seats were situated and was greeted by the lovely Sue Barker, ex Davis Cup Captain, John Lloyd, commentator John Inverdale and former British No. 1, Annabel Croft congregating in the bar area – how surreal!

I found my way through the maze of stairs and corridors to the press seats to watch the first match on centre – Britain’s wild card entry, Jamie Baker versus Denis Istomin. Baker, ranked No. 254 in the ATP World Tour rankings failed to get any sort of grip on the match or the slippery grass surface as he lost 6-1, 6-4, falling no less than three times on his backside, repeatedly chastising his shoes for letting him down. In the post match press conference, he looked a little forlorn as he mentioned the difficulty of “stepping up to the level of the player” he was up against. It remained to be seen whether Brits, James Ward and Alex Bogdanovic would fare any better.

During the second set of Baker’s match, I couldn’t help but notice a tanned and gorgeous Novak Djokovic strolling nonchalantly to the practice courts beneath us – knowing how close you can get to the players practicing, I rejected the nonchalance and nearly broke my leg rushing down the several flights of stairs in heels to get a prime position to watch my favorite player’s tomfoolery on the beautiful grass.

He didn’t fail to disappoint with his series of jokes, trick shots and a well timed shirt change! I wished I’d brought my tennis gear and trainers, as I have a feeling he could have sneaked me on court for a quick rally or two – well, maybe in my dreams!

After the Djoker sadly left the practice courts, I wandered back to the press seats to see if Britain’s James Ward could fare any better. He was against stiff opposition in the form of American Robby Ginepri, who looked a little incongruous in his colored shorts and shirt on the grass. Ward put up a decent display and should have had a convincing 5-2 lead in the second set if he’d held his serve after breaking the American in the sixth game, but instead he allowed Ginepri to come back and secure a 6-3, 7-5 victory. Ward spoke of his relationship with the new British Davis Cup Captain, Leon Smith in the post match press conference, revealing, “I’ve been in contact with Leon the whole time I was in America. I was away for seven weeks. E-mails, text messages, BBM, everything. Since I’ve been back, he’s been to see me practice a lot, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

A fellow journalist told me the Murray brothers were training on an outside court in preparation for their doubles match later that evening, so I nipped out of the media centre to watch Britain’s top hopeful. When I arrived I barely recognized his brother Jamie, who appeared to have had an argument with his hairdresser, as he was sporting a pretty horrific crew cut fit for the army. Apparently Andy commented on Twitter, saying he hoped Jamie had kept the receipt – who said he doesn’t have a sense of humour?

Team Murray were on good form as they practiced varying volley to ground stroke drills to a heaving crowd. A Spanish coach tried to get them off the court early – on home turf – adios! French maestro, Richard Gasquet was due on Centre court so I left the Murrays to it and headed back once again up the stairs to the press seats – who said being a reporter wasn’t hard work?

Eleventh seed, Gasquet faced Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who turned out to be no push over in a 6-3, 6-3 victory for the Frenchman, whose glorious backhand was really a sight to be seen first-hand. Gasquet often needed a translator to answer journalist’s questions, but revealed he believes the French have had such a great tradition on grass due to “good technique” and the talent needed to succeed on grass rather than clay.  No one could ever say he lacks talent, but it remains to be seen if he will ever weave his way like a cobra to the top ten again – his highest ranking was No. 7, but is now placed at No. 45.

Britain’s No. 2, Alex Bogdanovic was up next after getting through the qualifying rounds to play Bulgarian former Wimbledon junior champion, Grigor Dimitriv, currently ranked 360 in the ATP World rankings. Bogdanovic looked comfortable in front of his home crowd winning the first set convincingly 6-4, but lost the second 6-3. Rain stopped play at 2-1 in the third. If Bogdanovic loses the third, then Murray will be the only Britain left in the tournament – a situation he is very familiar with.

For the past eight years, a first round defeat at Wimbledon for Alex Bogdanovic following wild card entry has been as predictable as rain stopping play, but he still must have been a little bemused that he had been left out of the All England Club’s first batch of wild cards along with being denied one for the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club this week. He has also stubbornly refused to rejoin the Davis Cup fold following his miserable performances in the past. I really do hope that tomorrow brings some much needed luck for Alex and sunshine instead of rain for my second day reporting for www.TennisGrandstand.com Watch this space for more news, views and gossip from London.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

WHAT’S UP WITH THESE GIRLS?

This year’s Australian Open highlighted once more the stagnant pool of young teenage starlets whose careers have significantly flattened out since hitting the dizzy heights of the women’s game at a young age.

Unfortunately, it was the usual suspects as always. Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic; they all crashed out to supposedly lesser opposition once more early on.

Let’s start with Miss Ivanovic. She made headlines in 2007 with a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon before reaching the Aussie Open final in 2008 and then winning the French a few months later, beating Dinara Safina.

She hasn’t won a top-tier title since that year and only made one final in 2009, losing to Vera Zvonareva at Indian Wells in March. Her best Slam results during 2009 were the fourth rounds at both the French Open and Wimbledon.

This year Down Under it was Gisela Dulko who put paid to Ivanovic’s hopes in round two. While Dulko may be no slouch at times, she was unseeded and the result raised a few eyebrows, but perhaps maybe not to those who see Ana as a choker in the majors.

Another early setback has seen the Serbian drop two places to 23 in this week’s WTA rankings.

Jelena Jankovic sprang to prominence around the same time as Ivanovic. Another Serbian, she reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2007 before repeating that feat in 2008 as well as reaching the semis in Australia and the final in the US Open.

Big things were then expected of her, and she even held the world No. 1 spot for a short period, being the year-end No. 1 for 2008.

Unlike Ivanovic, Jankovic won a big tournament title last year beating Safina (she’s appearing a few times too) to lift the Cincinnati title before losing to Maria Sharapova in the final at Tokyo. She too failed to progress past the fourth round at any Slam during 2009.

The third round was this year’s stumbling block for Jelena, going down 2-6, 3-6 to the 31st seed Alona Bondarenko. She remains at No. 8 in this week’s rankings.

Russian Sharapova shot to prominence in 2004 when she won the Wimbledon title age 17, the third-youngest woman to do so. She picked up the US Open in 2006, reached the finals of the French and Australian Opens in 07 and then won Down Under in 2008.

Then she went completely off the boil. That Tokyo victory over Jankovic is only her third since lifting the Australian Open. Some erratic form, stress and some harrowing injuries have stalled the career of a girl who could have matched the likes of Hingis and Seles.

Another labeled as a choker, she was toppled by the unseeded Maria Kirilenko at this year’s tournament and now finds herself ranked No. 16 in the world having only reached the quarterfinals in Paris last year since her last Slam win.

Elena Dementieva is another Russian who has never quite lived up to her billing. Like Jankovic she has never won a Slam but has been widely expected to do so without quite making it.

She was a French and US Open finalist in 2004 before reaching the Wimbledon semis in 2008 and again in 2009. She reached the same stage in Australia last year too. She also picked up Olympic Gold in Beijing in 2008 with Safina again the unlucky loser.

She picked up three WTA titles last year whilst also overcoming this year’s Aussie Open Champion Serena Williams at the warm-up event in Sydney three weeks ago. But the Slam again proved to be her downfall, losing in the second round (although the returning Justine Henin is a formidable opponent).

Safina is continually improving, so it is a little early to add her to this list yet but there are a fair few women who continually flatter to deceive at the Slams each year.

So how refreshing it was to see the likes of Na Li and Jie Zheng of China reach the semifinals before finally succumbing to Serena and Justine respectively.

The sport has for many years been on the rise in Asia and now it looks like the world’s largest growing political powerhouse may be looking at branching out in to the highest echelons of tennis too.

With Justine becoming one of the favorites for the French in April it remains to be seen whether they can match their exploits Down Under. Or even if the lovely ladies looked at above bother to bring their A-Games to the next Slam.

Watch this space.