early exit

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

By Maud Watson

At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.

Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.

Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.

The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.

Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.

Pride Over Points; Ana Ivanovic Turns Down Wildcard For Montreal – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

First Time for Everything – One of the big news items this week was the fact that for the first time since the ATP rankings began, no American man is in the Top 10. The United States has always had one of the richest tennis traditions, producing some of the game’s greatest, from Sears, Tilden and Trabert, to McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi. So, the absence of a rep for the Stars and Stripes in the Top 10 is certainly worth noting, but it’s not the big crisis that some of the national sports pundits make of it. Tennis has become a much more global sport over the last few decades, and there’s no doubt that the depth has greatly increased. The other aspect that needs to be considered is that the United States is still producing world class players…they just don’t always represent the United States. The same Nick Bollettieri Academy that produced tennis greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and has also produced other top players like Tommy Haas (Germany) and Maria Sharapova (Russia). Besides, at the end of the day, assuming he’s healthy, the odds are still in favor of Roddick finishing the year in the Top 10, and other guys by the names of John Isner, Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish aren’t doing too shabby either.

The Ailing American – It was Andy Roddick’s departure from the Top 10 that sparked the bit of panic about the status of American men’s tennis, but the worries for Roddick are far from being about the ranking. After suffering an early exit in Washington, the American admitted to feeling lethargic and stated he would be undergoing some testing to try and discover the possible problem. He has since pulled out of the Toronto Masters citing his being too ill to play, though no word yet on the health issue that may possibly be plaguing him. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Roddick. After one of his better spring seasons that seemed to hint at a possible resurgence, the American has suffered a steady decline that now sees him at one of his worst lows in recent memory. The fingers are crossed that he can reverse this trend at what has historically been one of the most successful junctures of the season for him and give the people back home something to cheer about.

Nalbandian on the Rise – A man on the flip side of what Roddick is experiencing is David Nalbandian. Though just really starting to fully come back from his long injury layoff, it hasn’t taken the Argentine long to polish the rust off his game. He looked in devastating form as he stormed his way to the title in Washington, and he’s continued his ruthless play this week in Toronto. He’s spent a lot of time out of the game, and for sure playing best-of-three vs. best-of-five makes a big difference. But if Nalbandian continues is form of late, and you factor in his records against both Nadal and Federer, it’s hard to not label him one of the outside dark horses to make a deep run at the US Open.

Pride over Points – The offer of a wildcard, one initially denied to the struggling Ana Ivanovic, was put on the table earlier this week, but the young Serb refused it. Her reason? She didn’t like what tournament director Eugene Lapierre had to say in The Montreal Gazette regarding his initial reasons for denying the wildcard to her earlier this summer. There’s right and wrong on both sides of the equation in this one. Lapierre raised many valid points in his reasons for initially denying the wildcard, but Ivanovic was right to think that he certainly could have been more diplomatic in presenting those points, and definitely a little more discreet as far as stating the number of reasons he initially denied her the wildcard other than that she’s “not Canadian.” With Ivanovic playing Cincinnati and also scheduled to play New Haven (through a wildcard), skipping Montreal most likely works in her favor anyway. But I have to applaud Ivanovic for having the guts to stick to her own personal principles instead of taking the tempting wildcard and the potential to earn some needed points at one of the most prestigious events on the WTA calendar.

Sponsorship Terminated – In order to comply with the laws in several countries which put heavy restrictions on tobacco advertising, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament will be enjoying its swan song in 2010 as the tobacco company will be forced to end its 17-year sponsorship of the popular indoor stop. This is out of the ATP’s hands, and the current global trend to reduce the amount of tobacco and tobacco-related products advertising is understandable for obvious reasons. But this was still a bit of a head shaker given how hard it can be for tournaments to find title sponsors, and in this specific case, we are talking about a sponsor who didn’t just step in for a few years, but had been faithfully sponsoring the tournament for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, those are the breaks that come with being at the 500-level. Hopefully given the quality of the field that tends to show up in Basel year after year, the Swiss Indoors won’t find it too much of a struggle to find a replacement sponsor.

Venus Williams Suffers Ironic Loss At Wimbledon

American Venus Williams, who had made 8 of the previous 10 Wimbledon singles finals, learned a hard lesson about irony today at the All England Club.

The number two ranked player in the world suffered a crushing defeat on the same day her book, “Come To Win” was released.

A few hours after being knocked off 6-2, 6-3 by Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, Williams was already promoting her new release on Twitter where she offered followers a chance to read passages from her book.

It would seem however that it was the little-known Pironkova who came to win today and in the process advances to the semi-finals of Wimbledon where she will next face Vera Zvonareva – a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Kim Clijsters.

The 82nd ranked Pironkova – a sure-shot to break into the top-fifty regardless of her next result – defeated Williams much to her own surprise.

“If I have to be honest: no,” she said about the possibility of making the final-four. “Coming here, I really just wanted to play a good game, to maybe win one or two rounds. But (a) semifinal looked, to me, very far.”

Maybe the number 82 is somewhat of a kryptonite towards American tennis players, as Andy Roddick was defeated by the 82nd ranked male player in the world, Yen-Hsun Lu, the day before.

The early exit by Venus is especially surprising given the solid year she has put together so far in 2010. In her post-match press conference however, she failed to give much credit to her able opponent.

“Yeah, you know, it’s very disappointing. I felt like I played some players along the way who played really well. You know, I think she played really well, too, but maybe not as tough as like my fourth round or my third round or even my second round.”

Instead she took a page out of her sisters book and claimed that her own short-comings were largely responsible for her early departure.

“You know, to not be able to bring my best tennis today and to just make that many errors is disappointing in a match where I feel like, you know, I wasn’t overpowered, you know, hit off the court or anything; where I just kind of let myself exit.”

In other women’s action, sister Serena moved past Li Na 7-5, 6-3, while Petra Kvitova defeated Kaia Kanepi by a much more grueling score of 4-6, 7-6(8), 8-6 while saving five match-points against her in the process.
The odds now clearly favor Serena when examining the Grand Slam experience of the remaining four players.

While the unknown factor of playing someone like Kvitova or Pironkova may offer some subtle challenges, the world’s number-one player should advance towards the title with little intrigue standing in her way.

Perhaps Venus can take some solace if her younger sister comes to win in her place.

FEDERER-NADAL: HOW OFTEN CAN THEY PRODUCE CLASSIC MATCHES?

By Ritesh Gupta

Over the past week or so, reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and 2008 winner Rafael Nadal have been queried about their chances of winning the 2010 edition.

The beauty of all the projections for any major title not only lies in choosing the winner, but also in whether we would get see another epic Federer-Nadal battle.

How often can these two meet and that too for the big summit clashes?

The possibility of these two going all the way may not be as strong now especially considering the indifferent form displayed by Federer of late.

Federer might have survived an early exit at the Wimbledon tennis championship with his five-set win over Colombian Alejandro Falla, but he needs to show some of the vintage stuff sooner than later to amend some of the dented impressions. It’s not that Federer can’t have an off-colour day or a  slow start in any major championship, but no one is used to seeing the Swiss champ being challenged in the first round of a Grand Slam in such a fashion.

To some extent, the onus lies on Federer to show the same ruthlessness.

Still, for those, who follow the sport and perhaps the most intriguing tennis rivalry seen ever, digging deeper and deeper or anticipating who would win the battle everytime they face each other is quite fascinating.

On top of it, after achieving so much, the two have reached a stage where everytime a Grand Slam is about to begin, there is talk of new records and comparisons inevitably lead to talk of unparalleled success in this sport.

In all, there have been 21 matches between the two. Nadal has won 14 times.

But what about these two players themselves?

There are two facets which clearly stand out in equal proportion in these two players i. e. self-belief and respect for each other.

The fact that there has hardly been any other pro other than these two to emerge as a strong contender for a title of Wimbledon’s stature, too, reflects the mindset of Nadal and Federer to a large extent. But still, if we look around the way the likes of Maradona and Pele have reportedly indulged in verbal volleys during the ongoing FIFA World Cup, it is quite amazing to see the way Nadal and Federer conduct themselves and never get perturbed by the incidents around them.

In case of Federer, the recent unexpected loss to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, has hardly dented his pride. Just days before this loss,  Federer saw his streak of a record 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals come to an end at Roland Garros.

For one, who would be trying to win his seventh Wimbledon title – a record currently shared by William Renshaw (1881-86, ’89) and Pete Sampras (1993-95, ’97-2000), Federer’s demeanour oozes simplicity. He categorically says his game is made for grass and even though he hasn’t performed the way he was expected to after winning the Australian Open this year, Federer says he is ready to defend his Wimbledon title again. He has also talked about his love for lifting the Wimbledon trophy and leaving a record which would be tough to beat.

Federer says he is happy to see Nadal competing again after missing out on the last year’s edition. And for himself, Federer still feels its important to win the first round and try to make all the expectations simple for “yourself”.

On the other hand, the only man who has managed to beat Federer in the past seven years at the All England Club, Nadal, too, never stops giving away any credit to the Swiss prodigy.

Nadal may have put the onus on Federer by labelling him as favourite, but at the same time, he says he is ready too.

The Spaniard pointed out that before the commencement of the clay court season, questions were being raised whether he would be able to reach the pinnacle again. After a troublesome 2009, Nadal’s hunger has only got stronger and stronger.

Even if Nadal fails to win the title at the All England Club this year, he will leave London at the top of the rankings.

For Federer, one comment from Sampras comes to mind.

“The reason I play tennis is to play in these big tournaments,” Sampras had said after his loss to Federer in the fourth round of the same championship in 2001.

Federer, too, lives for tournaments of such stature. Let’s see whether Federer can go all way this time around!

RUTHLESS NADAL IS TOUGH OUT AT FRENCH OPEN: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Defending Champ Out – It’s approximately three months down the road, but Juan Martin del Potro has already ruled out his chances of attempting to defend his US Open title. The Argentine, who recently underwent wrist surgery, stated that if all went according to plan, he should be able to play during the fall season. I sympathize with del Potro but greatly admire his realistic grasp of the situation. He noted that the US Open would always be a special place for him over the course of his career, but that he didn’t want to rush his comeback. He obviously has a good head on his shoulders and recognizes the advantage of his painful decision to skip the last major of the year as a decision that could, and should, pay dividends later. My fingers are crossed we see him make steady progress at the end of 2010 and in full flight come 2011.

King of Clay – Lest there be any doubt, Rafael Nadal added yet another tournament to his already impressive tally of titles, and he did so in ruthless fashion, including a relatively routine straight-sets victory over Roger Federer in the Madrid final. I tip my hat to Nadal for his composure in taking the title in Madrid, because it wasn’t just any ordinary title. His win in Madrid not only saw him become the first player to complete the Masters 1000 clay court hat trick in a single season, but it also saw him surpass Andre Agassi as the all-time Masters 1000 title leader with 18. While I’m not as sold as some on the idea of it not being matter of “if” Nadal will win Roland Garros but “how easily” he’ll win the title, there’s no doubt that it’s going to take something extra special from someone in the field to knock Nadal off course for his fifth French Open victory.

Raising French Hopes – Last week I noted that Justine Henin had suffered a shock early exit in Madrid. Her exit was courtesy of a one Aravane Rezai, and it included a bagel in the third.  After seeing the way Rezai played Venus Williams in the final of Madrid to claim the biggest title of her career, however, I suddenly understand that victory over Henin a little better. Rezai proved she’s got game, she’s developed some composure, and she has been knocking on the door. There’s clearly a difference between a player going on a hot streak as opposed to being the real deal, but Rezai is starting to look more and more like she could be a contender.  And for the nation of France, her potential arrival couldn’t come at a better time.

Head Scratcher – The verdict is out on the case of Wayne Odesnik, and he was given a two-year suspension for being in possession of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). That suspension wasn’t a shock, but what ultimately led to it was. In a statement, Odesnik made in response to the ITF’s verdict, Odesnik said, “The sole reason I was in possession of this banned substance was under doctor’s advice for treatment of a recurring shoulder injury. I was unaware at the time that this would be considered an anti-doping violation.” Odesnik claims that he was planning to apply for a therapeutic use exemption, and that may very well have been the case. But given the controversy surrounding HGH in the world of sports, as well as the number of suspensions the ITF has meted out over the last couple of years, it’s puzzling that Odesnik wouldn’t have done a better job of staying on top of applying for the exemption, particularly since there’s no guarantee it would have been granted.

Royal Presence – As if there wouldn’t already be enough pressure on the one lone Brit capable of making a run to the title on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, Andy Murray now has extra incentive to find a way out of his slump. Queen Elizabeth II, who last attended Wimbledon when Virginia Wade won the title in 1977, will once again be attending The Championships.  Nationalistic politics and pride aside,  Murray might draw some inspiration from the current reigning monarch who might very well be making her own return to Wimbledon because she sees in Murray a strong possibility of ending the British drought.

PRAISE TO ANA IVANOVIC: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Serbian Turnaround – Over the course of the last year or so, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have experienced varying degrees of a downward spiral in their careers, but signs seem to indicate that they are well on their way to turning things around.  Earlier this spring, Jankovic snagged the Indian Wells title, and she showed great mental toughness to defeat both Williams sisters back-to-back in Rome.  With a few more big wins under her belt, she may just find the consistency that took her to the top of the game in 2008.  My bigger praise, however, has to go to Ana Ivanovic.  While she lost early in Madrid to countrywoman Jankovic, she did put together a great run in Rome that included wins over Azarenka, Dementieva, and Petrova.  She’s gotten herself a new coach, she’s lost some weight, and most importantly, her mindset couldn’t be better.  Ivanovic acknowledges that she’s faced her worst fear in experiencing her playing slump and is ready to begin the climb back up the rankings.  Kudos to both, and I hope that they’ll once again strongly factor into the top of the women’s game.

Chaos Reigns – Roland Garros is just over a week away, and with the decimation of the seeds in Madrid, the women’s field couldn’t look more open. After winning Stuttgart, many (myself included) thought that perhaps Justine Henin was worthy to wear one of the heavy favorite tags, but her upset by Aravane Rezai, which included a bagel in the third, might suggest otherwise.  Serena Williams has looked decent for a player who hasn’t competed since the Australian Open, but with her failure to twice serve out the match against Jelena Jankovic in Rome and a listless performance against an inspired Nadia Petrova in Madrid, she hasn’t exactly looked solid.  Throw in that names like Wozniaki, Sharapova, Safina, Dementieva, Kutznetsova, and last week’s Rome champion Martinez Sanchez have all made an early exit in Madrid, and the time may be ripe for a dark horse to step up and take her first Slam victory at the second major of the year.  And yes, I realize that the seeds that have fallen in Madrid haven’t exactly had the greatest past couple of months, but that only sets the stage further for a surprise victor or finalist in Paris.  But then again, the champions are champions because they can turn it on when it counts.  One thing is for sure…it should be an interesting two weeks at the French Open.

Turning Back the Clock – First there was the return of Kim Clijsters that was then followed by the comeback of Justine Henin. Now there’s another news item that harks back to days gone by. With her three-set victory over Francesca Schiavone this week in Madrid, Venus Williams has guaranteed that she will be the No. 2 player in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday. Younger sister Serena currently holds the No. 1 ranking, and the occasion will mark the first time since May 2003 that the sisters have held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.  While the Williams sisters aren’t dominating the game as they once did when they previously held the world’s top rankings, their longevity and ability to come up big on the sport’s grandest stages, which has led to their return to the top, deserve tremendous applause.

Zero Pressure – That’s what American Andy Roddick should be feeling as he goes into Roland Garros. Roddick opted to skip Monte Carlo and Rome and do his Paris preparation in the Spanish capital. A stomach virus has since forced him to alter his plans, however, as the virus resulted in his withdrawal from the Madrid Masters before even playing a single match. Not that Roddick has probably ever held great expectations on the red dirt, given that it is his worst surface, but this year in particular he should really be swinging freely. Who knows? Perhaps possibly mental lower expectations will ultimately lead Roddick to his best finish in Paris.

Off into the Sunset? – A lot of tennis fans, myself included, are wondering when Spaniard Carlos Moya will decide to hang up his racquet.  The 33-year-old Moya has rarely played in recent months, and his showing against Benjamin Becker this week was dismal. One wonders if he is able to play Roland Garros, which is currently his plan, if that won’t be the last we see of him.  Having won a major, reaching the No. 1 world ranking, and even winning the Davis Cup, Moya has nothing left to prove. And with Moya and his girlfriend Carolina Cerezuela expecting their first child later this year, he may find it the perfect time to call it a career.

A LEGGY MARIA SHARAPOVA WAS SHOT ON CAM

Despite her early loss in Madrid our photographer managed to snap a few shots of a leggy Maria Sharapova. And when I say leggy I seriously mean leggy. The short skirt is a huge improvement over the dress she wore at the Australian Open I have to say.

This is what she had to say about her early exit:

“It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm,” Sharapova said. “I thought she played really solid, good tennis and did everything she needed to win the match. More solid than me anyway.”

I talked to Marija from Womens Tennis Blog and she reworded Sharapova’s comment about her playing on clay just fine:

I always remember Sharapova’s statement that she’s like a cow on ice when playing on clay.

I don’t think she will Roland Garros any time soon.

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JELENA JANKOVIC TAKES INDIAN WELLS

It’s been a good two weeks of tennis at one my favorite tournaments of the year. It had many upsets in the women’s draw. The early exit of Justine Henin for example.  Tournament favorites were ousted in earlier rounds. Outsiders and underdogs surprisingly made it to the finals.  Ofcourse we are talking Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki here.

Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki both made it to the finals of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament. And Jelena Jankovic won the finals in only two sets 6-2, 6-4 and took home her first title since Cincinnati last August.

Jankovic is now expected to rise to the 8th place on the WTA Tour while the diligent Dane will reach a career high of No. 2.

Wozniacki has yet to beat Jelena Jankovic. She failed to do so in the past 3 meetings between the two.

Photos of Jelena Jankovic at Indian Wells:

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