doubles team

Legg Mason Finals: Practice Session Fun; Press Conferences & Analysis of Nalbandian, Baghdatis

It was a gorgeous sunny day here in Washington, DC as I stepped onto the grounds of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic to witness history being made in both the doubles and singles finals.

I arrived before the crowds were allowed in so I got a sneak at a practice session between doubles partners Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek on stadium court before their 12:30pm match. They were focused yet jovial, practicing forehands and backhands before working on their serves and returns. Even though this was their first finals together as a pair in a tournament, they were enjoying the heat and joking with each other. With about 10 minutes to go in their session, Mark Knowles, half of the doubles team they would face shortly in the final, came out. He warmed up by jogging around the court and even remarked to a winner Stepanek sent down the line: “Save that for next week, partner!” I quickly searched my memory and remembered seeing that they were teaming up in this week’s Rogers Cup because his usual partner, Mardy Fish, decided to take a week away from doubles.

Five minutes later, Mardy Fish himself came out, cheerful and talkative. He jogged over to Stepanek’s extra racquet asked to see it and jumped in as a doubles partner to Berdych who was serving. It was 2-on-1 vs. Stepanek. They played a couple intense points while Fish checked out Stepanek’s racquet. It was an enjoyable few minutes as I found myself wishing I had brought my camera from the media tent to tape it. I wasn’t expecting any kind of camaraderie between guys who were about to play each other in an hour! Three of the four players in today’s doubles are singles players and the lone doubles specialist has already reached over 700 career wins. Clearly, these guys know each other well and enjoy the company. It’s always pleasant to see light moments like this as a fan. The doubles fun ended when Stepanek and Berdych played their last volleys. The final shot found Berdych tumble to the ground on his back in fear of Stepanek’s racquet smacking a ball that was only two feet away. He came up laughing. I made the conclusion that as non-expressive as these guys sometime seem on-court, they know how to have fun and enjoy tennis.

The fun was over and it was time for the matches, or was it? I happened to run into a familiar face in the ladies’ restroom about 20 minutes later. In the split-second I had to contemplate whether I would say anything, my mouth worked quicker than my mind and I found myself asking: “Are you Stacey? Mardy’s wife?” She pleasantly responded “Yes” while looking up. I had a quick chat with her and wished her husband good luck in the match. She mentioned that it was very hot in Atlanta two weeks ago when Fish won the singles title. It was her first time there and she wasn’t expecting the humidity. But, as a loving wife, she said “Mardy made it worthwhile.” This brought a tender moment as I once again realized what a great support system means to a player on and off the court.

As I made my way over to the stadium and sat down, I spotted another familiar face in a red official’s t-shirt, the infamous line judge Serena Williams cursed out at last year’s US Open. She was measuring the net and adjusting the height, slumped over it, barely reaching the tape. It struck me that she was quite petite and I was even more surprised then at how well she handled the situation last year. Williams is an intimidating character, especially in the heat of a match, but this line judge held her own.

The doubles teams of Berdych/Stepanek and Fish/Knowles made their way onto the court and the atmosphere became more spirited. Berdych, Stepanek and Fish are normally singles players, but a couple of years ago the ATP changed the formatting of the doubles game. They shortened it with no-ad scoring sets where players could use their singles rank to enter the doubles. This promoted top singles players to showcase their talents in the doubles field encouraging more fan support.

The match got underway and each player’s talents and weaknesses were quickly exposed. While Fish excelled in his backhand return game, Knowles struggled a bit to get into the rhythm. And although Berdych’s net play has improved by playing more doubles, he was still the weaker of the two at the net; Stepanek’s variety and quickness to read the ball well gave them the early break. Fish/Knowles weren’t able to bounce back from this and Berdych/Stepanek took the first set 6-4.

The second set, however, was more hotly contested. At 4-3, deuce, Berdych double-faulted and this inevitably changed the rhythm for the rest of the match. Fish/Knowles held their serve, Berdych became more loose at the net not anticipating balls well and we found ourselves in a second set tiebreaker. Fish then double-faulted on his fourth set point saying to his partner that the sun was “right in my toss” bringing the score to 6-6. Two mistakes by Berdych gave Fish/Knowles the second set, and the match was decided by a 10-point super tiebreaker. Fish/Knowles got off to a quick start and never looked back. They took the match 4-6, 7-6(7), 10-7. This was their second title as a doubles team, Fish’s eighth doubles title and Knowles’ 53rd. All-in-all, it was an excellent doubles match for the championship.

The singles match quickly got underway and featured wildcard David Nalbandian and the #8 seed Marcos Baghdatis. The two players have very similar games: both are baseliners, pressure their opponent’s second serve by standing well inside the baseline and their most accurate shot is their backhand. Nalbandian is known for his great return percentage and Baghdatis for being able to quickly go from a defensive to an offensive position.

From the first couple games, I was getting the sense that Baghdatis was moving gingerly on his left ankle that he tweaked yesterday. He made several errors in the first game dropping his serve, while Nalbandian further responded by blasting winners past Baghdatis to go up 2-0. I recoiled thinking this was quickly going to turn into a beating and I simply hoped that Baghdatis’ ankle would hold out.

As luck would have it, Baghdatis became a little more comfortable with his backcourt lateral movement and began holding his serve. Even though Nalbandian was still more aggressive in his shots, Baghdatis began mixing up the pace making it harder for Nalbandian to keep his rhythm. What made it easier for Nalbandian to beat Cilic the other night was that Cilic hits hard and flat, and Nalbandian easily responds to that. Baghdatis, on the other hand, uses more topspin and changes it up with harder balls and comes into the net more, giving Nalbandian trouble with the pace. Even with this, Nalbandian’s forehand was brutally ‘on’ hitting winners, while Baghdatis was still searching for his game. A few times though, the audience got a spark of Baghdatis’ great talent as he took Nalbandian’s second serve so early, absorbing the pace and placing it deep in the middle catching Nalbandian on his back foot and off-balance. Not to be outdone, Nalbandian at one point stopped a rally midway and challenged a baseline non-call. He was right, the point was his and he gained even more confidence. What’s surprising is Nalbandian’s ability to hit on the run. At 3-2, Nalbandian hit a backhand on the run, followed by a perfectly placed running overhead lob that just nicked the line behind Baghdatis. Even though Nalbandian also has a few extra pounds like Baghdatis, he was moving with relative ease making contact with nearly every ball and demonstrating his physique.

At 4-2, Nalbandian was clearly dictating points, hugging the baseline and forcing Baghdatis further back, making him more defensive and not able to do as much with his shot. At deuce, a backhand error by Baghdatis gave Nalbandian another break opportunity. On the next point, Baghdatis tried to pull Nalbandian wide on both wings, followed a deep down-the-line forehand to the net, and Nalbandian excellently executed a crosscourt backhand passing shot that Baghdatis simply stared at as it went by. Nalbandian had once again broken and served for the set. Two back-to-back backhand returns into the net by Baghdatis gave Nalbandian the set, 6-2.

The second set saw some of the most brilliant tennis all week as both players refueled and showed us their best A-game. The first six games saw four breaks of serve. And yes, there were a few choice double-faults, especially on Nalbandian’s first service game to give Baghdatis a 2-0 advantage, but mostly, it was the pressure each was giving his opponent that made the difference. The shot-making, placement of the ball and strategy from both players was impeccable. In the third game, Baghdatis began not defending as well and in the fourth, Nalbandian seemed to be running out of steam, giving Baghdatis five break opportunities.

If ever there was a point in the match that was the defining moment, it was game four of the second set. Nalbandian double-faulted to give Baghdatis his first break point. A couple of bad errors from Baghdatis took it to deuce as he couldn’t control Nalbandian’s surprisingly heavy second kick serve. At the same time, Nalbandian double-faulted four times in the second set so far and I wondered if he was finally feeling Baghdatis’ pressure or if it was because he hadn’t played in the day yet and the sun was only getting stronger. Nalbandian kept spewing errors giving Baghdatis the opportunity to break, but he could never convert. Both tried problem-solving and finally Nalbandian came out the winner holding his serve. We will never know what could have happened had Baghdatis been able to break and go up 3-1 — it may have been a completely different match. I began to wonder if Baghdatis would be able to hold his serve after such a letdown.

At 2-2 as expected, Baghdatis’ serve goes to deuce. At ad-out, Baghdatis sent a winner down-the-line. Or was it? Nalbandian challenged again, the ball was clearly out, and Nalbandian went up 3-2. In the next game, Baghdatis wins a Hawkeye challenge of his own and breaks Nalbandian on a perfectly placed overhead. Three bad second serve returns by Nalbandian int eh seventh game allows Baghdatis to hold and go up 4-3. At this point, Nalbandian starts asking his camp what to do? He’s known for his aggressive second serve returns, but he couldn’t handle the depth and kick of Baghdatis’ for three in a row. He was stunned and it would be interesting to see how he would respond in his own service game. Nalbandian’s errors begin to pile up before he save two break points and ties the score at 4 a piece.

For the next three games, each player holds their serve at love. But again, not without some Hawkeye challenge drama. Nalbandian fires what seems to be an ace. Baghdatis challenges, but when he walks over to the mark, he nods his head and audibly says “It was good, it was good” before walking over to the ad-court. Surprisingly, the mark was out! Baghdatis, of course, got happy, sprinted back to the deuce side. A beautiful return to Nalbandian’s backhand that was just out of reach, gave Baghdatis a set point. Nalbandian saved it by forcing a wide forehand error from Baghdatis. A few more similar exchanges like this before Baghdatis once again challenged a baseline non-call. As we waited for the replay, Baghdatis stood on top of the line, smiling, staring at it, looking up into the crowd asking if it was in or out, crouching around it and just joking at the matter. It was a very clean shot just inside the baseline, but by this time the line judges were not dependable anymore. Two points later, on a supposed ‘ace’ of Nalbandian’s, Baghdatis challenges again and gets it right! By this time, the chair umpire was furious at the line judges and at Hawkeye. We could hear him softly yelling that he was very unhappy to the chair supervisor on the radio. Eventually, a backhand return by Baghdatis into the net gives Nalbandian the game, and forces a tiebreaker.

At the start of the tiebreaker, I could really hear the Argentine support from the crowd: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Daveeeeed, Daveeeeed!” He quickly went up 5-1, then held three championship points, before double-faulting. He won on his fourth attempt and was fired up!

As Nalbandian shakes hands with Baghdatis, puts his racquet down and runs over to his team in the corner to congratulate as well, I could once again hear the deafening Ole!’s. By the time Nalbandian got back to his chair, his name was already being added to the banner of past champions. As Juan Martin del Potro won the last two years, Nalbandian kept the Argentine streak to three years in a row in DC.

A few moments later, the trophy ceremony began with Baghdatis first accepting his runner-up glass trophy and check. In his on-court speech, he was gracious, smiling like he had won, and congratulated Nalbandian on a great win: “[David’s] a pain in the ass when he plays good!” The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers for a great competitor.

Nalbandian then took the court, with more singing and was beyond ecstatic with his win. He also thanked the sponsors, volunteers, and fans before giving us this little gem. He pointed up into a particularly rowdy Argentine crowd and said: “Somebody up there said they’ll buy me a drink if I win!” He said that it “looks like I’m in Argentina!” He loves the fan support and making a few extra friends in the process. He also stated that he “enjoys this moment because it’s tough to come back and do this” after all the injuries he’s had and not playing since April. He is $262,000 richer and is tied for first place in the Olympus US Open Series. He is also the first wildcard to win here at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

After both players made their commitments to all the tv crews and commentators, they each made their way to the media for their press conferences. It was once again my chance to hear a player’s perspective on the day’s happenings.

As Baghdatis came in, you would have thought he had won the tournament with his big smile and light demeanor. He said that he couldn’t have been happier with his play in the second set minus not being able to convert in the fourth game. He also knew Nalbandian was “returning good” so a lot rested on his own serve and he felt that he “served really bad” in the first set. He mentioned that he did have “a bit of pain in my leg” and it took some time to get better, but that Nalbandian was the better player today. “If I was serving better, I could win today but I didn’t have that.” When asked if Nalbandian is playing like a guy outside the top 100, Baghdatis quickly said “No, he can beat top 10 [players].” I asked a question about all those Hawkeye challenges that players were getting right. He responded with a smile and said that they both started challenging “even if you saw it out because there was no confidence in the line judges.” Baghdatis then addressed his performance this year versus last: “I will never forget where I came from. I was ranked 150 last year and now I maybe touched top 20 this year. I am looking forward to the future and playing better.”

Nalbandian came in a few minutes later, happy, confident and on top of the world. He again stated that he “played good all week” minus a few select games and that he was very happy with his performance today as well. He felt that he didn’t return well on Baghdatis’ second serve in the second set, but that it was more his ability that let him down than Baghdatis’ placement. “I have to believe in my shots and my game.” When asked whether he was surprised to come back after time off and win his first tournament back he responded: “For sure I didn’t expect to win the first tournament when I came. If I continue to play this good, I’m going to go far for sure.”

Nalbandian’s ranking will jump from #117 in the world to #45, while Baghdatis will climb from #25 to #20. I know that I am looking forward to seeing where Nalbandian falls into the draw at the US Open. He will be a threatening headache for any player if his body holds up.

Cahill Turns Down Murray, Lendl To Return And Bryan Bros. Make History

*The Aussie former coach of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, Darren Cahill, has ruled himself out of the running to become Andy Murray’s latest coach. The Scot had hoped to land the former US Open semifinalist following his recent split with Miles Maclagen but Cahill has intimated he would rather concentrate on his work with Adidas and ESPN. Todd Martin, Sven Groeneveld, Larry Stefanki and Tony Roche are other names linked with the position. “I think the world of Andy and I think he’s a major winner in the waiting,” said the Las Vegas-based Cahill. “But if I was going to go back to full-time coaching, I’d probably would have hung in there with Roger, seeing whether Roger offered me the job.”

*Ivan Lendl has confirmed that he intends to join the ATP Champions Tour having rarely picked up a racquet since his retirement in 1994. Paris is the chosen destination for his return, the site of his famous French Open victory of 1984 where he came from two sets down to beat American John McEnroe in the final. This gives McEnroe a shot at revenge. “Oh boy, l’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We had some great matches together but it’s been a long time and he hasn’t played for more than 15 years so I think we need to discuss a few things, both on and off the court. I know he’s been working most of the last year to get back into the type of shape he needs to be in, because it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. But we’ll be giving it our all, that’s for sure.” Yannick Noah will also make his return to the tour after a seven-year absence and Mats Wilander will also be present. The other two contestants of the October event are yet to be announced.

*They’ve done it, the Bryan brothers have finally become the most successful doubles team of all time following last week’s Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. Title number 62 came courtesy of a 6-7 (6), 6-2, 10-7 triumph over Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer. It was their 100th final together and was their sixth title in LA. “It’s sweet, feels awesome, hanging out with family and friends after the match,” said Mike. “It’s a cool feeling.” “Sixty two brings a smile to our face,” added Bob. “It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. We’ve never given up on each other.”

*Following on from that record-breaking win many of the world’s top doubles players have been paying homage to the feats of America’s doubles specialists. Arch rivals over recent years have been the Canadian Daniel Nestor and his long-time Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic. Nestor was beaming with praise at the achievement: “They are the face of doubles. They’ve pretty much been the No. 1 team for 10 years. When people think of doubles they think of the Bryans. They are fun to watch. I don’t think any team in history has been as consistent as they have been. They rarely have bad losses and they’ve won a lot. 62 titles is an amazing achievement and they’ve got a lot of time to go. They could reach 80 or 90 titles easily.” To see what Zimonjic, Mark Knowles and James Blake, among others, also had to say visit the ATP website.

*The first signings for the 2011 Hopman Cup have been anounced. John Isner and Serena Williams have signed up to play for the United States. Justine Henin and Steve Darcis will play for Belgium while Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic will partner up for Serbia. Lleyton Hewitt has agreed to return for Australia and Gael Monfils will play for France alongside Kristina Mladenovic. Tournament director Paul McNamee said: “It’s a spectacular line-up. There is potential for some really great match-ups for both the men and the women, not to mention the mixed.” We are now just waiting on the name of Hewitt’s female partner.

*Tennis’ long-running ‘anti-grunt’ campaign has received fresh backing from French star Marion Bartoli who was shrieked off court by Victoria Azarenka on Vika’s route to lifting the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford last week. “It’s difficult to play against those kinds of players,” Bartoli said. “I think it’s fine to grunt sometimes when you make an effort, but sometimes it’s just so loud. It’s hard to focus on the other side of the net. But it’s not something I can get bothered by, because otherwise I would lose my concentration so much. I just need to forget about it, but it’s hard.” There were other grumbles too from the elder Bartoli. To see these and Azarenka’s defence, visit TennisReporter.net.

*Another grumbling tennis queen this week is teenage American sensation Melanie Oudin. The 18-year-old has, at times, struggled to hit the form which saw her dazzle the courts of New York in that incredible giant killing run of 2009. Pressure seems to be mounting, and she seems to increasingly lose her temper on-court. “It’s kind of annoying sometimes when people are like ‘Pull it together Melanie,’ and they yell at me kind of,” she said after her 6-1 6-3 defeat to Victoria Azarenka in the second round at Stanford last week. “Really, like you get down here and play. I know they mean it in a good way, like to say ‘C’mon’ Melanie,’ but you don’t have to say ‘Pull it together,’ like ‘Get your energy up’ That’s what some lady was telling me.” The full interview can also be seen at TennisReporter.net.

*Following the conflicting reports about Juan Martin Del Potro’s proposed injury return in last week’s column the reigning US Open champ has posted pics of his long-awaited return to the practice courts on his Twitter page. Serena Williams posted an interesting one this week. She claimed that she was charged $100 to watch the likes of Andy Murray at the Farmers Classic in LA despite the publicity work she had done for the event plus the fact that she is one of the greatest women’s players of all time. “Oh my God, the Farmers Classic tournament in LA is charging me $100 a ticket after I did publicity for them. (Laughs out loud) I’ll send them a bill for my publicity. Anyway, don’t go if you’re in LA. I would have paid $1,000 if I had not done publicity for them.”

*Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s win in Istanbul last week has seen her climb to a career high No. 24 in this week’s Sony Ericsson WTA rankings. In the doubles, Liezel Huber has regained the number 1 doubles ranking slot from the Williams sisters following her win in Stanford with returning mum Lindsay Davenport.

*Reuters have been reporting that Victoria Azarenka has pulled out of San Diego having won at Stanford.

*Spanish newspaper El Mundo has held its annual poll of the country’s favourite celebrity with Rafa Nadal coming out on top. He defeated Spanish footballer and World Cup winning hero Iker Casillas who came second.

American Tennis Triumphs At The Farmers Classic

A Super Sunday for Southern California natives as the Bryan Brothers become the all time best doubles team in tennis history, and Sam Querrey repeats as champion trumping mopey Murray in three sets that thrilled the Los Angeles crowd as American tennis sets the US Open Series ablaze going two for two.
The first match was the historic one. Bob and Mike Bryan, twins, who personify synergetic, aggressive doubles tennis like no one else, take on the other guys on yet another perfect afternoon on the UCLA campus at the Farmers Classic Open. The first set was tight, and Bob later admitted that his arms felt like “spaghetti” throughout, as the other guys stood their ground, taking the initiative, looking as though they weren’t going to simply lay down and let the Brady Bunch script unfold without difficulty. Father Bryan, who instituted tennis to his twin sons at a very early age, was the MC of the event, and sat in the stands without objective restraint as he could be seen cheering his boys on with his signature enthusiasm. Fist pumps issued forth from father Wayne Bryan, and the crowd rallied as the Bryan brothers dropped the first set in a very tentative display by the twins, who were seeking their 62nd title, one ahead of the legendary team of Woodford/Woodbridge. Mark Woodford was on hand to see if his record would hold, and the other guys (Butorac/Rojer) looked to keep the Bryans at bay for at least another week. The first set wrapped in a weakly played tiebreak by the brothers Bryan, but what seems to be the going trend with the So Cal native sons, is the ability to bounce back and that they did. The Bryans easily took the second set 6-2, as the nerves subdued and the confidence returned. The custom for doubles, once it reaches a split, is to play a ten point super tiebreak. Did you expect anything less? Taking the quick lead 4-0, it looked like no. 62 was inevitable. The other guys fought back, and even broke the big serve of lefty Bob and the match was tied at 7-7. A few crucial mistakes, including an untimely double fault by Butorac gave the boys a match point and after putting away the volley the Bryans leapt into each other arms thrusting their names into the history books. Bob Bryan told reporters what he felt: “Sixty two brings a smile to our face. It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. Sixty one looked like it was on the other side of the moon. If you stay consistent, and never give up on each other – even in dry spells – anything can happen. We’ve never given up on each other.”

The singles championship was going to be decided after the Bryans match, between returning champion Sam Querrey, the local favorite and first time Los Angeleser Andy Murray. The battle ensued right from the get go, as the two men held nothing back. Querrey told reporters after his semi-final win that he needed to go for more against Andy, and take some chances. He certainly did just that. The American was going for his shots without delay and the first set slid Andy’s way mostly because Querrey wasn’t quite hitting his marks. Whether or not the nerves were a factor Andy held steady and was able to break Sam late in the set and hold for a 7-5 lead. This wasn’t new territory for the American number 20. Sam’s last three matches all went the distance and he trailed in all of them. But could he do it against a top player like Andy Murray? You wouldn’t have guessed so, but Andy was caught in familiar territory as well, as in all of his matches leading up to the final he started with a bang only to take a catnap in the second. He didn’t exactly sleep this set away but had some strong opportunities to dunk the trophy home in straights. But Sam showed what he has been showing for the past week: pure So Cal heart. I feel with this comeback, especially against a player of Murray’s caliber, can only send Sam across the ravine of steady, workhorse, blue collar man to white collar, trophy collecting, net jets flying, elite player. After a gritty tiebreak triumph in the second set, utilizing that big serve, big forehand one two to perfection, Querrey rolled on to wrap up the third and deciding set 6-3, and becoming one of the few to repeat in LA. With Mardy’s win in Atlanta, and now Querrey’s repeat, and Blake looking like his injuries have subsided, and Isner climbing the ranks steadily, and Roddick consistently re-proving his dominance on hard courts, this year’s US Open looks mouthwatering for American tennis. Could the flag of Spain, Switzerland, Serbia, and UK flap dead across the Hudson this August? Could the Unites States Open crown one of its own native sons? The tide of tennis is fickle, and if one were to venture a guess with the current shift, I would start singing the pledge of allegiance folks.

HOPMAN CUP AND DAVIS CUP HAPPENINGS: TENNIS IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Andy Murray has ended weeks of speculation by confirming he has pulled out of Great Britain’s Davis Cup match against Lithuania in March as they begin life in the competition’s third tier. Murray claimed that he would prefer to concentrate on his efforts to lift more Masters Event trophies and break his Grand Slam duck.

Captain John Lloyd will now look to give his other players valuable experience and hopes that talents like Dan Evans and the doubles team of Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski will be enough to lift Britain back in to the Davis Cup’s second tier where Murray can then step back in alongside an improved crop of British talent.

It has now been over a decade since a British player other than Murray, Tim Henman, or Greg Rusedski won a live Davis Cup rubber.

“You’ve got to do what is right for your tennis. That period of the year just before Indian Wells and Miami is very important for me,” Murray said.

“I’ve got a lot of ranking points to defend. I think it’s the right decision.”

*Britain’s first match at the Hopman Cup since 1992 ended in a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan after Andy Murray and Laura Robson combined to defeat Andrey Golubev and Yaroslava Shvedova despite the losers fighting to 10-12 in the final set. Murray had beaten Golubev 6-2, 6-2 in his singles rubber while Robson lost to Shvedova. They followed this up with an identical result against Germany. Murray won and Robson lost their respective singles rubbers before they combined to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber and Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-2. They face Russia tomorrow (Friday) in the final group match.

*Australia’s opening Hopman Cup Group A encounter didn’t go to plan. The top seeds were shocked by Romania as 19-year-old Sorana Cirstea overcame world No. 13 Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt defeated Victor Hanescu in their singles rubber but the Romanians triumphed in the mixed doubles.

*There was more Aussie disappointment at the Brisbane International where three top players suffered first round defeats. Jelena Dokic went down 5-7, 6-1, 3-6 to former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic while in the men’s draw 2009 Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick won his first match since suffering the knee injury which kept him out of the ATP World Tour Finals last September. He defeated Aussie Peter Luczak 7-6(5), 6-2 before knocking out compatriot Carsten Ball in round two. Matt Ebden caused a stir by knocking out Jurgen Melzer before going down to Richard Gasquet of France and John Millman is also out. This means there are no Commonwealth players in the men’s quarterfinals. Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva overcame upcoming Aussie star Casey Dellacqua in the women’s draw and her reward is a second round matchup with the returning Justine Henin. In her first Tour event since returning to tennis Alicia Molik notched a win, defeating Ekaterina Makarova of Russia before losing to 2009 US Open winner Kim Clijsters in round two. Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak also lost in round two to Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

*In the doubles at Brisbane, top seeded Leander Paes of India leads the Commonwealth charge after he and partner Lukas Dlouhy overcame Sam Querrey and Australia’s Carsten Ball in round one. A tremendous battle of the home-grown players saw Ashley Fisher/Stephen Huss defeat the wild cards Kaden Hensel/Bernard Tomic 4-6, 6-3, 10-6 while another Aussie pair, Peter Luczak and Joseph Sirianni, crashed out to Frenchman Michael Llodra and Andy Ram of Israel. Aussie doubles specialist Jordan Kerr and Britain’s Ross Hutchings as well as Aussie Paul Hanley and partner Thomaz Belluci (Brazil) are also out. The two Rodionovas, Anastasia of Australia and Russia’s Arina, are through to the semi finals of the women’s draw where they face Melinda Czink and Arantxa Parra Santonja.

*The Aircel Chennai Open, India, kicked off on Sunday evening with the hugely popular Kingfisher Fashion show which featured local stars Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman among others.

*On court at Chennai, Great Britain’s James Ward went down in the opening round to Spain’s Marcel Granollers while India’s Rohan Bopanna lost to Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka. Qualifier Prakash Amritraj, son of Indian legend Vijay Amritraj, lost to the USA’s Michael Russell while Somdev Devvarman upset Rainer Schuettler before losing to Janko Tipsarevic in round two.

*In the doubles at Chennai, Indian wild cards Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh are through to the second round of the doubles after overcoming Rik de Voest of South Africa and American Scott Lipsky 6-2, 7-5. Other victors included Brits Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski and South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee who overcame Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and partner Igor Kunitsyn with the help of Rogier Wassen. India’s Yuki Bhambri is also through.

*Jeremy Chardy, David Ferrer and India’s Somdev Devvarman have all put their names in to the hat for the 2010 South African Open in Johannesburg.

*British No. 1 Elena Baltacha has qualified for the first round of the Auckland Classic after defeating Canada’s Stephanie Dubois 6-3, 6-1 in the final of the qualifying draw. Baltacha then lost in the opening round to Romania’s Ioana Raluca Olaru. India’s Sania Mirza and wild card New Zealander Marina Erakovic are also out ending Commonwealth interest in the singles draw. In the doubles, South Africa’s Natalie Grandin is the last Commonwealth woman standing as her and partner Laura Granville of the USA prepare to face Vladimira Uhlirova and Renata Voracova in the semi finals.

US Open Qualifying Might Be The Best Deal In Tennis

Where can you watch former top 10 players, Grand Slam finalists, and rising stars of the game, all completely free of charge?

The US Open qualifying, that kicked off today at the USTA/Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and runs until Friday, attracts tens of thousands of spectators each year. With free admission and front row access to virtually any match during the week, in addition to the chance to watch top players practice in preparation for the main draw, the qualifying is arguably the best deal in tennis.

This rings even more true this year as the Open qualifying boasts likely its strongest field in tournament history. On the men’s side, 2004 Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio of Argentina will become the first Grand Slam champion to compete in US Open qualifying since Pat Cash in 1996. Former Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse of Belgium, former Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement and former top 20 player Vince Spadea of the United States are other highlights in the field. Two finalists at ATP events in 2009, Carsten Ball of Australia and Somdev Devvarman of India, will also help round out the draw.

The women’s draw features former top 10 player  Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic, and 38-year-old and former U.S., Wimbledon and French Open semifinalist Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, who will be competing in Flushing Meadows for the first time since 1996. Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain, part of the No. 3 ranked women’s doubles team with fellow Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues, will be competing in the final singles event of her career as she sets her sights on retirement at the end of the season.

All qualifying sessions start at 11:00 a.m. each day and run until approximately 7:00 p.m. The opening round of qualifying continues through Wednesday, second round matches take place on Thursday, and qualifying round matches will be held on Friday. For more information, visit www.usopen.org

In Indy: This Week in Tennis Business

  • Based on nationwide voting, the USTA announced that Independence, Kan., Midland, Mich., and Ojai, Calif., have been named finalists for America’s “Best Tennis Town.” The winning town will be announced during the 2009 US Open and will receive a $100,000 grant for community tennis programs and facility improvements. The second and third place winners will receive $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.
  • The USTA announced that IBM, the “Official Information Technology Solution Provider” of the US Open, has renewed its sponsorship with the tournament. The multi-year deal will allow IBM to continue maintaining USOpen.org through 2012. In 2008, the tournament’s website was visited 39 million times, a 33-percent increase from the previous year.
  • The USTA will partner with T&S Events to host its 2010 Australian Open wild card playoffs at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Ga., December 4-7. This event will include an exhibition match featuring the No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, as well as Mardy Fish and John Isner. Participants for the playoff will be announced at the completion of the US Open in September.
  • Bob and Mike Bryan will begin using Luxilon’s Big Banger ALU Power Rough 125 strings, after signing an exclusive contract with the Belgian-based tennis string company.
  • After three years without a title sponsor, The Indianapolis Tennis Championships “will not be able to do it (again) without a title sponsor,” Tournament Director Kevin Martin told the Indianapolis Star. In recent months, tournament officials have been seeking a company to becoming the event’s major sponsor. “I feel more confident today than I did two months ago because of the progress we’ve made in the discussions,” Martin said.
  • Former top 10 player Tim Mayotte has been hired as a national coach for the USTA Player Development program and will be based in Boca Raton, Fla.
  • Rising American tennis player Jordan Cox from Duluth, Ga., has signed with IMG Tennis.
  • Former top-ranked Australian and World No. 35 Nicole Pratt has been appointed the national women’s coach at Tennis Australia.
  • The USTA has announced that three tennis facilities in the Chicago area will make up new locations for the USTA Regional Training Center. In December, tennis facilities in Atlanta and Maryland were named the first two certified USTA Regional Training Centers.
  • The sixth season of the Olympus US Open Series got underway last week with American Robby Ginepri capturing his third career ATP title by defeating fellow American Sam Querrey at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. Throughout the US Open Series, players will compete for more than $30 million dollars in prize money in the six-week North American hard court season leading up to the US Open, which begins August 31. ESPN2, CBS and Tennis Channel will air more than 200 hours of US Open Series matches.
  • The United States Professional Tennis Association’s (USPTA) Tennis Buying Show will be held on September 24, in Marco Island, Fla., at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club and Spa. More than 1,500 tennis industry representatives are expected to attend the event.
  • Advanta World Team Tennis officials issued fines to the New York Sportimes and Washington Kastles for unprofessional conduct of several players during a recent match. Individuals were also handed to New York’s Robert Kendrick and Washington’s Olga Puchkova.
  • The US Open, along with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, announced that more than 700 temporary food service job opportunities will be available during the 2009 tournament. The full-time but temporary positions run from August 24 to September 13 and workers will earn $8 an hour plus overtime, as well as the opportunity to secure a year-round job when the tournament concludes.
  • 63-year-old Ray Ruffels has left his coaching position at the USTA National Training Center in Carson, Calif., to return home to Australia to coach top teenager prospects in the Australia Institute of Sport Pro Tour Program. Ruffels, a major influence in the careers of former top-ranked doubles players Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, starts his new job next month.
  • Earlier this month, the International Tennis Federation announced that future Davis Cup finals must be held in major cities. The ruling was made after Argentina’s use of Islas Malvinas Stadium in Mar del Plata last November’s tie with Spain did not meet capacity requirements.