Elena Baltacha

D Arthur Ashe to be inducted to the US Open Court of Champions: This Week in Tennis Business

From the USTA announcing that Arthur Ashe will be inducted into the US Open Court of Champions to Midland, Mich., being named the “Best Tennis Town” in America to WTA CEO and Chairman Stacey Allaster issuing an apology to world No. 1 Dinara Safina for the late notice on moving her match at the US Open, these stories caught the attention of tennis fans and insiders this week.

  • The USTA announced on Monday that Arthur Ashe, the first African American men’s singles champion at the US Open and the famed ambassador to tennis, will be inducted on Thursday into the 2009 US Open Court of Champions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. Former President Bill Clinton will participate in a ceremony to commemorate the tennis legend. “Arthur Ashe is one of the greatest champions to ever compete at the US Open and we are proud to honor his remarkable legacy,” said Lucy Garvin, Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA. “Arthur was a great humanitarian and his legacy and his performance helped the tournament become one of the world’s premier sporting events.”

  • The USTA has named the city of Midland, Mich., the “Best Tennis Town” in America after nationwide voting. Midland earned a $100,000 grant to be used towards community-wide tennis programming and/or facility enhancements. Second place Ojai, Calif., earned $50,000, while Independence, Kan., earned $25,000 for finishing in third place.

  • On Monday, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO and Chairman Stacey Allaster said the USTA has issued an apology to world No. 1 Dinara Safina for the late notice on moving her third round match against Petra Kvitova from Arthur Ashe Stadium to Louis Armstrong Stadium due to the day session being extended because of the Andy Roddick vs. John Isner five-set match. “It was really the process,” Allaster said. “[The USTA] should have notified Dinara, our players, much earlier in the process of what was going to happen. They’ve apologized for that.”

  • Also on Monday, Allaster announced that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournament in Dubai will be canceled in 2010 if the country doesn’t grant a visa to Israeli Shahar Peer, who was not allowed to participate in the tournament this year because her visa was denied because she is from Israel.

  • Lastly, Allaster said Sony Ericsson WTA Tour lost only one of its 51 title sponsors in 2009. The Tour also cut back on its player withdrawals by 36 percent this year, which was a major past problem.

  • The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour announced last week that the Premier-level Los Angeles Open in Carson, Calif., will be moved in 2010 to the La Costa Resort & Spa and will be renamed the San Diego Open. The Malaysia Classic in Kuala Lumpur and e-Boks Danish Open in Copenhagen will also be added to next year’s tournament schedule.

  • Lleyton Hewitt has hired former Australian doubles specialist Nathan Healey as his full-time coach. Hewitt’s previous coach, Tony Roche, left his coaching duties to take a position at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris.

  • The 29th Annual Legends Ball will take place on September 11 at the Cipriani in New York City. Racquets signed by Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova , a hitting session with Jim Courier and VIP ticket packages to three of the Grand Slam tournaments will be some of the items auctioned off to benefit the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

  • World Team Tennis has named Bill Mountford as Senior Vice President. Mountford, who started at WTT in November 2008, will oversee staff in marketing, communications, pro league and recreational league and will be based in New York City. Before joining WTT, Mountford held positions at the Lawn Tennis Association in Great Britain and the USTA as the Director of Tennis at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

  • Last Saturday evening at the US Open, the USTA paid tribute to tennis legend Pancho Gonzalez during a ceremony to celebrate the 60 year anniversary of his second consecutive victory at the U.S Championships. “The USTA is proud to celebrate the life and legacy of such a great champion as Pancho Gonzalez,” said Lucy Garvin, the USTA President and Chairman of the Board. “Pancho was a true pioneer in the sport of tennis and this tribute will shed light on the importance of Pancho Gonzalez to the game and its history.”

  • The USTA announced that they have extended its contract with DecoTurf through December 2014. DecoTurf has been the official surface of the US Open for the last 31 years. “We are thrilled to extend our contract with DecoTurf for six years,” said Jim Curley, Chief Professional Tournaments Officer of the USTA. “The US Open and DecoTurf are a natural partnership, providing the most recognized tennis court surface at one of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments.”

  • Alan Schwartz, former USTA President and CEO, was inducted into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. Schwartz is the creator of the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP).

  • 17-year-old rising American player Jordan Cox, who will soon turn pro, has agreed to a three-year international contract with Babolat to use its racquet and strings. The contract is set to begin in January 2010.

  • Many of the top tennis professionals were seen wearing Oakley sunglasses during their matches at the 2009 US Open. Croatian Ivo Karlovic and Serbian Janko Tipseravic were among the men wearing Oakley sunglasses throughout the US Open, while world No. 15 Samantha Stosur, Elena Baltacha, Rossana de Los Rios, Anastasia Rodionova and Yaroslava Shvedova were the women spotted wearing Oakley’s.

  • World No. 36 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has dropped Patrick Mouratoglou as her coach.

  • Austrian player Tamira Paszek will not be punished by accidently breaking an anti-doping rule when receiving back treatment during a tournament earlier this year. The Austrian anti-doping agency said she is free to compete on the Sony Ericsson Tour once she is fit enough to play since she was not to blame because of the incident.

  • Italian Simone Bolelli, who was suspended 10-months by the Italian Tennis Federation for skipping a tie against Latvia, will return to play for the Italy Davis Cup team in the World Group playoff against Switzerland on September 18-20.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I’ve had good times and bad times

STARS

Tommy Haas beat Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-7 (4) 6-1 to win the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany

Andy Murray won the AEGON Championships in London, Great Britain, defeating James Blake 7-5 6-4

Magdalena Rybarikova beat Li Na 6-0 7-6 (2) to win the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain

Stanislas Wawrinka beat Potito Starace 7-5 6-3 to win the BSI Lugano Challenger in Lugano, Switzerland

Iona-Raluca Olaru beat Masa Zec-Peskiric 6-7 (4) 7-5 6-4 to win the Open GDF Suez de Marseille in Marseille, France

SAYING

“I’m a long way from winning Wimbledon, but I feel confident. I’ll try and not get too far ahead of myself and focus on my first match there, but if I play my best like I did this week, I’ve got a chance.” – Andy Murray, after winning at Queen’s Club.

“It’s incredible, I can hardly believe it myself when I think of the highs and lows I’ve been through in the last year and a half.” – Tommy Haas, after winning his first grass-court title.

“I was so excited last night after I beat Sharapova I forgot I had a match today.” Li Na, who lost in the final after upsetting Maria Sharapova in the semifinals of the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“I still felt like I had many chances in this match, but I have played five matches in the last six days and after that you just hope you wake up with that intensity you need. Against her you need that.” – Maria Sharapova, after losing to Li Na.

“Winning today is the best feeling of my career so far. It’s unbelievable. Just like a dream.” – Magdalena Rybarikova, after winning her first WTA title, the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“I had a good week. Playing on the grass, I always have a lot of fun playing here. I feel great. I’ve been working with my coach and trainer, and I know I’m doing the best preparation possible for Wimbledon. I’ll be ready to play and feel great about my chances.” – James Blake, after reaching the final at Queen’s Club.

“A problem a lot of people in this country have is expecting huge things, thinking that it’s just going to happen.” – Andy Murray, concerning the British public hoping he can win Wimbledon.

“I think he’s over the biggest hurdle in his tennis with the French under his belt. Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, great players, never did. The monkey is off Roger’s back and he’ll play, not with abandon, but with excitement, enjoyment and freedom. He’ll be Wimbledon champion again next month unless someone catches fire like Robin Soderling did against Nadal.” – Rod Laver, on Roger Federer winning the French Open.

“I’ve had good times and bad times. That’s me. That’s how I am. I’m really lucky and I’m happy that the ATP has allowed me to do what I want to do on the court. They’ve been nice to me throughout the years and that’s made it much easier for me to play this way.” – Marat Safin, talking about his career.

“I have now, after a lot of thinking, decided to put an end to my professional tennis career.” – Thomas Johansson, announcing his retirement from competitive tennis.

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to settle down. In my case, again.” – Boris Becker, after marrying Dutch model Sharlely “Lilly” Kerssenberg, his second marriage.

SUCCESS, FINALLY

When Andy Murray beat James Blake in the AEGON Championships final, he became the first British player to win at Queen’s Club since Bunny Austin in 1938. “I was quite nervous,” Murray admitted. “People were telling me that no (Briton) had won here for 70-odd years, so that got the nerves going, especially when I was serving for the match.” The fact he won on grass will only increase the belief – and the pressure – that Murray, ranked third in the world, will win Wimbledon. A Brit hasn’t won on the grass courts of the All England Club since Fred Perry did it in 1936.

SLOVAKIAN SURPRISE

Magdalena Rybarikova could be called the women’s champion of China. The little-known Slovakian won her first WTA title at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain, stopping China’s Li Na 6-0 7-6 (2) in the final. In the quarterfinals, the 20-year-old Rybarikova upset top-seeded Zheng Jie of China 7-6 (10) 6-4. “I was very nervous in the tiebreak, but she looked more nervous than me, so that helped me concentrate even harder,” Rybarikova said of Li. In the semifinals, Li upset Maria Sharapova, her first victory over the Russian in six career meetings.

SPECIAL ENTRY

Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm will play at Wimbledon for the first time in 13 years. The 38-year-old Date Krumm was given a wild card into the main draw. Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Date Krumm reached the semifinals in 1996, the last time she played on the grass of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. She retired from her first-round qualifying match at the French Open last month because of a calf injury.

STRAIGHT IN

Can Laura Robson match the exploits of Martina Hingis? Thanks to a wild card, Britain’s 15-year-old junior Wimbledon champion will be the youngest player in the women’s main draw since Hingis in 1995. Hingis went on to become number one in the world. Robson is ranked 482nd in the world, but was given a wild card via a clause that allows juniors to be included under “exceptional circumstances.” Others receiving wild cards into the women’s main draw include Elena Baltacha, Alexa Glatch, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Katie O’Brien, Georgie Stoop and Melanie South.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion from Spain who has been ranked as high as number one in the world, has been given a wild card entry into this year’s Wimbledon men’s draw, along with 2008 Wimbledon and US Open junior champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Also given wild cards into the men’s singles were Britons Alex Bogdanovic, Daniel Evans, Joshua Goodall and James Ward.

SQUEAKER

Although he ended up winning the tournament, it didn’t appear in the semifinals that Tommy Haas had a chance of advancing in the Gerry Weber Open. In an all-German semifinal in Halle, Germany, Haas trailed 5-2 in the third set before edging Philipp Kohlschreiber 2-6 7-6 (5) 7-6 (3). A year ago, Kohlschreiber beat Haas in the second round en route to the final at Halle. This year, Kohlschreiber served for the match while leading 5-3 but played a sloppy game. Haas made him pay for it, serving his 15th ace of the day on his third match point. It was the first tournament Haas has won since Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 2007.

SWAN SONG

Sweden’s Thomas Johansson, who won the Australian Open in 2002, retired from competitive tennis at the age of 34. Besides his surprising win in Melbourne, where he beat Marat Safin in the title match, Johansson won eight other ATP titles and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2005, where he lost to Andy Roddick. Last year, Johansson teamed with Simon Aspelin to win the silver medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, losing the gold-medal match to Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

SWEDISH PRISON

A 24-year-old man was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined USD $17,200 for rioting outside the Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden. The Swede was one of 10 people arrested after protesting Israel’s offensive in Gaza. Earlier, an 18-year-old was sentenced to 15 months in prison for rioting. A third man has been acquitted because of lack of evidence.

ST. MORITZ WEDDING

Boris Becker has married for the second time. The German tennis great and Dutch model Sharlely “Lilly” Kerssenberg tied the knot in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Attending the wedding were Becker’s two sons, 15-year-old Noah and 9-year-old Elias. along with Prince Albert of Monaco, supermodel Claudia Schiffer, cyclist Jan Ulrich and his wife Sara, and soccer stars Franz Beckenbaur and Oliver Kahn, among others. The newly-weds had announced their plan to get married when they appeared on a German television show in February.

SITTING IT OUT

Saying he was “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” after winning his first French Open title, Roger Federer pulled out of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, his usual grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon. “I sincerely apologize to the tournament organizers, my competitors, and my fans in Germany. I only hope they will understand that I still feel emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by the incredible events of the past few days,” Federer said on his Web site.

Before he began his victorious run at the Gerry Weber Open, Tommy Haas withdrew from Germany’s Davis Cup quarterfinal against Spain, saying the clay court matches would put too much strain on his body. Haas, once ranked as high as number two in the world, did not play in the last Davis Cup World Group against Austria after being sidelined with a shoulder injury for much of 2008.

SIGNAGE

No longer will the Swiss Indoors tournament be held at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland. Oh, it will be held at the same venue, but the name of the hall is being changed to Roger Federer Arena. Basel sports director Peter Howald said the city had discussed ways of honoring the new French Open champion, who completed a career Grand Slam and tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major singles title with his clay court victory at Roland Garros. Federer is a three-time defending champion of the Swiss Indoors.

SPLITSVILLE

The team didn’t last long at all. Ana Ivanovic has broken up with coach Craig Kardon. Ivanovic had hired Kardon, once a coach for Martina Navratilova, in February as a replacement on a temporary basis for Sven Groeneveld. But the Serb, who won Roland Garros last year, continued her fall in the WTA rankings. Once ranked number one in the world, she dropped out of the top ten following her fourth-round French Open loss this year. Ivanovic said she will use a temporary coach when she plays at Wimbledon.

SENTENCED

Damir Dokic has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for making death threats against the Australian ambassador to Serbia. “The sentence is inappropriate and we are going to appeal,” said Dokic’s lawyer, Bosiljka Djukic. “We hope that the higher court will annul this sentence.” The father of tennis player Jelena Dokic, Damir Dokic was arrested in early May after he reportedly said he would “attack the ambassador and her husband with a stinger missile.” Police found two hand grenades and 20 bullets in his house for which Dokic had no permit, in addition to seven hunting rifles and a handgun which he owned legally. The alleged threats came after Jelena, once ranked fourth in the world, was quoted in Australia’s Sports & Style magazine describing the torment she endured under her father.

START DELAYED

The start of the third-round match at Queen’s Club between Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt was delayed by a bomb threat. Both players stayed on court while officials searched the entire site but found nothing. Roddick and Hewitt were seen laughing and talking with each other during the break in play. Roddick ended up winning the match.

SCOTT AWARD

The late Arthur Ashe and his widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, will be recognized with the Eugene L. Scott Award by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum (ITHFM). Presented annually since 2006, the award honors an individual who embodies Scott’s commitment to communicating honestly and critically about the game and who has had a significant impact on the tennis world. “Arthur and Jeanne have used their voices, which have been amplified through the game of tennis, to change the world in so many ways that it’s fitting to present them as one with the Eugene L. Scott Award,” said Christopher E. Clouser, chairman of the ITHFM. “Humanitarians like Arthur and Jeanne are few and far between and we should recognize them for the contributions they have made to help enact change.” The award will be presented at the 29th annual “Legends Ball” on September 11 in New York City. Also being honored will be Rod Laver and the four newest members of the Hall of Fame: Donald L. Dell, Andres Gimeno, the late Dr. Robert Johnson and Monica Seles.

SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES

The 2009 US Open is a hot ticket. The first day of ticket sales to the general public for this year’s final Grand Slam tournament was the second-best opening day in US Open history. With nearly 35,000 tickets sold, it is only the second time that opening day ticket sales topped 30,000 tickets. This year’s total trails only last year’s event. In the six days leading up to the public sale, the US Open pre-sale for American Express members set an all-time sales mark of more than 31,000 tickets.

SPONSOR LOSS

The Australian Open is continuing to lose sponsors. The latest is Qantas, which is ending its 21-year agreement with the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. In the past few months, the Australian Open has lost several other major sponsors, including Master Card, Garnier and GE Money. Three major sponsors say they will continue, including Kia Motors, Rolex and Lacoste.

SLICING FINE

The Swedish Tennis Association (STA) has had its fine reduced by the International Federation of Tennis (ITF) Board of Directors. The board agreed to reduce the fine from USD $25,000 to USD $5,000, but upheld the original decision by the Davis Cup Committee not to waive the gross receipts payment of $15,000. The Committee took the action following Sweden’s first-round Davis Cup tie against Israel, which was played behind closed doors in Malmo, Sweden.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Birmingham: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 6-1 6-4

London: Wesley Moodie and Mikhail Youzhny beat Marcelo Melo and Andrew Sa 6-4 4-6 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Halle: Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Andreas Beck and Marco Chiudinelli 6-3 6-4

Marseille: Tathiana Garbin and Maria-Emilia Salerni beat Timea Bacsinszky and Elena Bovina 6-7 (4) 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Lugano: Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer beat Pablo Cuevas and Sergio Roitman walkover

SITES TO SURF

Eastbourne: www.lta.org.uk/Watch/

s-Hertogenbosch: www.ordina-open.nl/

Wimbledon: www.wimbledon.org

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$600,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

WTA

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

$220,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

The Championships (first week), Wimbledon, Great Britain, grass

Holy FCUK!

French Connection, from whose teat TSF sucked a LOT of clothes, makes an appearance at these Wimbledon championships on British player Elena Baltacha. I never would have thought that their in-your-face branding campaign (”FCUK”, which stands for French Connection United Kingdom) could have a place in the hallowed grounds of this uber-traditional event.

But I guess an almost-obscenity is on par with mensy-looking get-up Dominika Cibulkova wore for her first round match against Jie Zheng. (Zheng won 6-4, 6-3.) Cibulkova subs for Tati Golovin as the 2008 Lacoste bunny. Sadly, this flashy underwear is now year-old news.

Browse: You can check out the latest offerings from the FCUK online store here.

(player photos by Getty Images; FCUK banner by fcuk.com)

Starace Lives Up to Top Billing; Baltacha Breaks Through

The challengers circuit was graced with the presence of a top 50 player on the men’s side who hoped to get an early start to the clay court season, while several women followed up their victories on the challenger circuit last week with repeats this week.

The clay court season is about to get underway next week, but two players have already shown their intentions to leave a mark on it this season. At the $100,000 event in Napoli, Italy, Potito Starace won a nail-biting final in front of his local fans by beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 6-4 4-6 7-6. Daniel was coming of a win at the $125,000 tournament in Bogota, Colombia last month, and came within two points of the biggest win of his career against the 36th ranked Starace. However, Starace fought back from 5-6 down in the final set and won the last three points of the tiebreak to win his first title of the year. Two other prominent players, French Open finalist Gullermo Coria and Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu, took part in the tournament, but failed to get past the first round.

At the $35,000 tournament in St. Brieuc, France, Christophe Rochus of Belgium took the title with a 6-2 4-6 6-1 over Marcel Granollers of Spain. Granollers has had a fine start on the clay this year by winning a challenger event in Morocco and reaching the quarterfinals at the ATP event in Acapulco, Mexico, but ran out of gas in the end against the experienced Belgian. Rochus is a long way from his career high ranking of #38, but winning his first title in three years is certainly a step back in the right direction.

There inevitably comes a time for any good player to graduate from the futures circuit, and it seems that Rui Machado of Portugal has more than worn out his welcome at this level. His win at the $15,000 event in Loja, Spain, is his fifth futures title of 2008.

On the women’s side, British tennis has been in dire straits for almost two decades now. The last woman to be in the top 100 was Samantha Smith in 1999. However, Elena Baltacha demonstrated this week that she might be ready to finally break through at the level. She won her second challenger title in a row, and the biggest of her career, at the $75,000 event in Torhout, Belgium, with a 6-7 6-1 6-4 over Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic. Benesova has also been a hot streak as of late, having won the $50,000 event in Latina, Italy last week. Her characteristically fragile nerves got the better of her though as she was broken in the final set at 4-4, allowing Baltacha to serve out the win.

Magdalena Rybarikova also won her second title in a row at the $50,000 tournament in Patras, Greece, defeating Great Britain’s Anne Keothavong 6-3 7-5 in the final. The win puts her inside of the top 150 for the first time in her career, and with minimal points to defend until late this fall, she looks poised to break through into the top 100 by then.

After struggling with injuries and poor form through 2007, Kristina Barrois of Germany has finally turned her game around. She won her second title in a row at the $25,000 event in Hamburg, Germany, taking the title when Ana Vrljic of Croatia retired with a leg injury after losing the first set 6-2. The win puts Barrois back in the top 200 and guarantees her spot in the qualifying for Roland Garros this spring.

In other challenger news, Betima Jozami of Argentina won the $25,000 event in Civatechia, Italy, and Raquel Kops-Jones of the United States won the $25,000 event in Pelham, Alabama.

The spotlight turns over to the women at the $75,000 event in Monzon, Spain, where American Lilia Osterloh is the top seed. Martina Muller of Germany is the top seed at the $25,000 tournament in Biarritz, France, while Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada hopes to continue her strong form as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Jackson, Mississippi. On the men’s side, professional tennis finally returns to Puerto Rico with former Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuttler playing top seed at the $50,000 event in Humacao. Albert Montanes of Spain is also the top seed at the $35,000 event in Monza, Italy.

Pavlyuchenkova Rises As Echagaray Rebounds

On the challenger circuit this week, a former number one junior continues to live up to the hype, a former top 35 player proves she’s well on her way to a comeback, and Mexico’s top ranked male player completely turns his year around.

Being successful on tour as a teenager is difficult. Just ask Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who’s been limited to 13 tournaments in the last year until she turns 17 this May. However, Pavlyuchenkova has simply milked the most out of the few events she can play. After winning the $25,000 tournament in Minsk earlier this month, she prevailed at this week’s $25,000 event in Moscow, dominating Ekaterina Dzehalevich of Belrarus 6-0 6-2 in the final. With this victory, Pavlyuchenkova’s ranking should be high enough to contest in the qualifying rounds at Roland Garros. Despite the loss, Dzehalevich has also been in a stretch of good form over the last six months as well. She won her first WTA doubles title at Tashkent last fall and won her first challenger singles title earlier this month in New Delhi.

At the $50,000 event in Latina, Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic stormed through the draw this week. She dropped a total of 10 games on her way to the title, including an overwhelming victory over Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria 6-0 6-2 in the final. With form like this, it shouldn’t be long before Benesova her former place among the world’s top 35. Despite the loss, Karatantcheva has had an extremely successful start to 2008. Since returning from a two year drug suspension, she’s posted a 27-3 record on the challenger circuit and won two events so far.

At the $25,000 event in Jersey, Elena Baltacha of Britain satisfied the home crowd by winning her 18th career title with a 6-1 6-3 defeat of Croatian Ana Vrljic. After enduring everything from financial hardships to a recurring liver problem that limits her playing schedule, the 25 year old is still determined to crack the main draws of Grand Slams on her own ranking, a pursuit that she filmed a documentary for the BBC in 2005 entitled “Project 104.”

In other challenger news on the women’s side, Kristina Barrois of Germany won her first title in over two years at the $25,000 event in La Palma, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium won the $25,000 event in Tessenderlo, and American Carly Gullickson capped off a comeback from an injury which sidelined her for eight months by winning the $25,000 event in Pelham.

On the men’s side, Mikhail Kukushkin of Russia won his first challenger title of the year at the $50,000 event in Barletta by beating Boris Pashanski of Serbia 6-4 6-4. The Russian teenager showed his fortitude by coming through qualifying and prevailing in several tough three set matches throughout the week. This was also Pashanski’s best week of the year by far; he had endured a lackluster 2-7 record on the ATP Tour before turning the corner in his first challenger event of the year.

At the $50,000 event, Bruno Echagaray of Mexico won a thrilling 6-0 3-6 7-6 final over Ricardo Mello of Brazil. Prior to this week, Echagaray was winless so far in 2008, having lost in the first round of all seven events he played this year. The tournament also played host to former French Open finalist Guilermo Coria, who continues to try and come back from a career threatening shoulder injury. He lost in the first round to top seeded Werner Eschauer of Austria. Coria also received a wildcard into the challenger event in Napoli this week.

The men are hosting the biggest event next week with the $100,000 event in Napoli. Potito Starace of Italy will be the top seed there. Marcels Granollers of Spain also takes top billing at the $35,000 tournament in Saint Brieuc. On the women’s side, Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic leads the way at the $75,000 event in Torhout. Tzipi Obziler of Israel is the top seed at the $50,000 event in Patras, which will also host an exhibition match featuring Daniela Hantuchova. China’s Meng Yuan continues her strong 2008 campaign as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Pelham, Olivia Sanchez of France is top seed at the $25,000 tournament in Civatecchia, and Angelique Kerber of Germany hopes to bring her best out for the home fans at the $25,000 tournament in Hamburg.