Estoril Open

Top Players Rest Up for Back to Back Masters, Leaves Room for Others to Shine

The only member of the Top 10 in action this week is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is playing the BMW Open in Munich. There are three European clay court tournaments in the week leading up to Madrid and Rome, all ATP 250 events that are often overlooked by the top players. This is a good decision for everyone involved, except maybe the tournaments and sponsors, who depend on the big names to bring in revenue. For top players, the shot at winning a Masters like Madrid or Rome, or the a Grand Slam like the French Open is far more important that gaining a few points at a smaller event. The clay season is a grueling stretch. Madrid, Rome, and the French Open all occur within a five week period, leaving little room for rest or recovery. On the flip side, smaller tournaments are a great chance for some of the lower ranked players to pick up much needed points, or a good chance for higher ranked players to get back their form.

Estoril Open

Located in the scenic seaside town of Cascais, Portugal, this tournament always manages to grab one or two big names to headline its draw. In ’08 and ’10, they even managed  to snag Roger Federer. This year the main attraction is the defending champion, Juan Martin del Potro. So far, del Potro is yet to play a clay event this season, so the decision to play Estoril could be considered a smart one. He won here last year, and considering the field only contains one other player in the Top 20, this is a great chance for him to get some much needed match play on the red dirt. Speaking of the No. 2 seed, Richard Gasquet could also use some match play. The Frenchman was forced to pull out of Monte Carlo after injuring his ankle playing soccer. It’s tough to see anyone taking the title away from del Potro this year, but look for two time champion Albert Montanes to trouble him. Gasquet will likely have to contend with Casablanca finalist, Albert Ramos.

BMW Open

It’s unclear why Tsonga felt he needed to sneak in another tournament the week before two important events, but he is the clear favorite to win this title. He made it to the quarters in Monte Carlo before losing to countryman Gilles Simon, but elected not to play last week, so perhaps he’s looking for a bit more clay practice before heading to Madrid. Tsonga has landed himself in a distinctly German quarter. In fact, the only other non-German in the quarter is Marcos Baghdatis. However, that bunch includes three wildcards and a qualifier, none of whom should trouble the Frenchman. There are some tough opponents in his half though, including last year’s champion, Nikolay Davydenko, Marin Cilic, and Mikhail Youzhny.

Serbia Open

They should really just go ahead and rename this the Djokovic Open based on the Djokovic family’s connection with the event; however, this year, it would be missing its namesake. Novak Djokovic, as well as fellow Serbs Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki, have all elected to skip the event this year. Don’t worry, the Serbia Open will not be completely without a Djokovic, as Marco Djokovic was awarded a wildcard. Unfortunately, he lost to Fillippo Volandri on Monday. Again, do not fear, you can get your Djokovic fill at the merchandise shop where you can still pick up shirts, hats, and pillows with Novak’s face on them, even though he’s not playing at the event… Anyway, the Serbia Open features the weakest draw of this week’s events. The No. 1 seed is Pablo Andujar, who recently won Casablanca and has actually been having quite a good year. Another title win here could do him some serious good. The only other really notable name in the draw is David Nalbandian, who has an excellent opportunity to pick up some more points. Look for those two to make the finals.

If none of these events interest you, I suggest you take a cue from the pros and rest up for the big events. For those of you in the US, there are a lot of early mornings coming in the next few weeks.

Djokovic and Sharapova Conquer Rome, Paris Missing Williamses, but Del Potro and Clijsters opt in

Djokovic Building Roman Empire:

Novak Djokovic moved to 39-matches unbeaten after battling to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the Rome Masters final. The Serb star at times over-powered Nadal and has now beaten a man twice in a week, who, before last weekend’s final at the Mutua Madrid Masters, had not lost on his favoured clay surface since 2009. Most had written off Djokovic after an enthralling semi-final victory over Andy Murray on Saturday night as the 23-year-old had visibly been struggling with tiredness and injury throughout much of the second and third sets. Yet he dusted himself off and came back determined to win his second title in the Italian capital and stop Nadal taking his sixth. Both players were in good form. The accuracy and power behind each shot was mesmerising and the Italian crowd was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, even though they did not receive the third set they so desperately craved. “I’m amazed with they way I’m playing, especially today given the circumstances and the condition I was in,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I played three hours [on Saturday] against a player [Murray] who was playing great, I was on the verge of losing that match and I came back. Whatever the conditions I needed to step into the court and take chances and be aggressive. That’s really the only way against Nadal on clay.”

Sharapova Back in the Winners’ Circle:

Maria Sharapova lifted her first title in nearly a year by beating Australia’s Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-4 in a Rome final heavily delayed by rain. The damp conditions favoured the Russian who powered in to a 4-0 lead, Stosur taking only three points in the opening four games. The 24-year-old has not lifted a Grand Slam since the 2008 Australian Open and has only shown glimpses of her former dominant self after taking long injury lay offs to recover from shoulder surgery. But recently she has looked in a dominant mood again and after cruising to the first set withheld the more assertive challenge from Stosur in the second. “I’m so happy to be the champion,” said the three-time Slam winner. “It means so much to me to add this title to the ones I already have. Rome is such a special place and I’ve dreamed of holding up this trophy. There are a lot of tournaments coming up, and this is a great start to everything. I can’t wait to be back next year.”

Djokovic set for o2 return:

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has qualified for the season-ending ATP Finals at London’s
o2 Arena in November after picking up his seventh title of the year in Rome on Sunday. The 24-year-old is closing in on the record of 44 set by Guillermo Villas, depending on which sources you believe, in 1977. He is only the second man, after Nadal in 2009, to qualify for the event before the French Open has even been played. He has already lifted the Australian Open, plus the titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and now Rome in what has been a sensational start to the year. American Hall of Famer John McEnroe believes that Djokovic’s current record surpasses his own unbeaten 42-match streak to kick off the 1984 season due to the increased depth to the modern game. “There is more competition, more athleticism, deeper fields and more depth in the sport,” said the 52-year-old. “So his record is even more impressive than mine. I’m quite excited at the timing of this because he could break my record at the French Open. I’ve followed his progress and to put it mildly it’s been quite amazing to see how much confidence he is playing with. It’s impressive given he came in number three and to dominate [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal the way he has, to see what he has done, it’s a little surprising.”

 

Roland Garros to be Williams-less:

Former world No.1 Serena Williams has pulled out of this month’s French Open after failing to recover from the foot injury that has kept her out of action since winning last year’s Wimbledon Championship. “While I am making good progress, unfortunately I won’t be able to compete in Roland Garros as I am continuing to rehab my foot and recover from the pulmonary embolism,” said Williams. “I am grateful for every moment I have and the fact that I have returned to the court. I am hopeful that I will be back competing this summer. Thank you all for your continued prayers.” Serena’s older sister, Venus, is also doubtful for the Open after pulling out of Brussels. The 30-year-old has not competed since retiring from her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic at the Australian Open in January after tearing her groin muscle. Another former No.1, Dinara Safina, and Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky have already withdrawn from the competition. Ana Ivanovic, yet another former incumbent of the top spot, is also a doubt for the Open after pulling out of Strasbourg this week still troubled by a wrist complaint. “I’ve had this pain for a while now, despite physical therapy,” she said on her official website. “My doctor has told me to rest it completely for a few days, and I’m having treatments twice a day. Considering that it is not my racquet hand, I can still practice, but backhands are out of the question for the next few days. I expect to be fit for Roland Garros.” In the men’s draw, Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez has withdrawn after failing to recover from a knee injury. The 2009 semi-finalist has not missed the event since his 2001 debut but the current world No.370 has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months. “Unfortunately today I withdrew myself from Roland Garros, it’s a shame, but I’m doing everything possible to comeback and feel better,” he said via his Twitter account. Andy Roddick is also questionable after pulling out of this week’s tournament at Nice with a right shoulder injury. “It’s running a big risk, playing on an unhealthy shoulder with Roland Garros round the corner and Wimbledon shortly afterwards,” the American said. “I’m pulling out of Nice for now. Obviously the situation is not perfect for Roland Garros, but I still have a couple of days to hope for something to get better.” He also said that he would not play Roland Garros unless he was 100% fit.

Del-Po and Clijsters are Definitely In:

2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro has declared that he is fit and ready to compete in the French Open. The 22-year-old Argentine missed most of 2010 with a wrist injury and his comeback has been blighted by niggles such as a torn hip muscle two weeks ago in Madrid. The former world No.4 has clawed his way back up to No.27 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings since his return thanks largely to his victory at the Estoril Open on May 1, where he beat Fernando Verdasco in the final. “See you in Paris!” he posted on Twitter ahead of the year’s second Grand Slam. Kei Nishikori’s agent says that the Japanese star has also recovered from kidney troubles and will play in Paris. Kim Clijsters also says she will play at the Open after recovering from an ankle injury she suffered last month whilst dancing at a friend’s wedding. “Increasingly I am going for it,” said the reigning US and Australian Open Champion. “I am not totally without pain, but the strong tape round my ankle gives me sufficient security. The advantage is that I still have the spirit of the past Grand Slam tournaments. If I play well, I can win. Attitude is very important, even though the situation is physically very different.” France’s Virginie Razzano has also declared she will play despite her fiancé’s death on Monday. Stephane Vidal, 32, served as her coach until March and was diagnosed with a brain tumour nine years ago. “He was like a big brother,” Razzano said. “We shared very strong moments and, little by little, we fell in love.” It was thought that Vidal had encouraged Razzano to compete before his death.

Rosewall Hospitalised in Rome

Australian tennis Hall of Famer Ken Rosewall was hospitalised in Rome on Saturday morning after a suspected stroke. His wife, Wilma, said that the doctors had told her that he had not suffered any heart or brain damage and would be monitored until deemed fit to fly back to Australia. The eight-time Grand Slam champ was due to receive a golden racquet over the weekend given annually to greats of the game, which his wife accepted on his behalf at a dinner on Saturday night. His condition is said to be good.

Nalbandian Handed Queens Wildcard:

2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian has been handed a wildcard in to the main draw at Queens club to warm up for his return to SW19. The Argentine has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months and aims to be fit for the grass-court Slam after failing to regain fitness in time for Roland Garros. He joins the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, British No.1 Andy Murray and Andy Roddick in the draw. “I am looking forward to starting my comeback from injury on grass at the AEGON Championships at The Queen’s Club,” said Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Canadian starlet Milos Raonic has committed to the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships, one of the opening events of the US Open Series from July 18-24. Americans John Isner, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey are already on the bill.

Ginepri Hoping for Summer Return:

Robby Ginepri has said that he is back on the practice courts after breaking his elbow last autumn swerving to avoid a squirrel whilst cycling, and that he hopes to return to competitive action this summer.

Rankings Watch:

This week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings see Tomas Berdych climb back above David Ferrer to No.6 in the world, while Mardy Fish re-enters the Top 10 at the expense of Nicolas Almagro. Croatian Marin Cilic re-enters the Top 20 while Jarkko Nieminen of Finland is back in to the Top 50. Russia’s Igor Andreev and Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos take big leaps to re-enter the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, Maria Sharapova climbed above Sam Stosur to No.7 in the world after defeating the Aussie in the Rome final last weekend. New hotshot Petra Kvitova also claimed a new personal best by climbing above Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic to No.9. Greta Arn’s magnificent run to the quarters in Rome sees her post a career-best No.40, while Anastasia Pivovarova made it 16 Russians in the Top 100 by climbing up to a career-best No.95.

Rafa Still Edging Ahead in GOAT Race:

Last week saw Rafael Nadal reach another ATP Masters Final and extend his lead over Roger Federer in the 2011 Greatest Of All Time Race. Rafa’s second successive final defeat to Novak Djokovic gives him another 100 points to his total, while R-Fed’s failure to reach the quarter-finals means he fails to add any points on to his score.

Roger: 665, Rafa: 990

Goerges the giant killer, Djokovic awarded, Clijsters resumes training and Delpo vs Nadal is the match that didn’t happen – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Major Fizzle

The stage was set for an enthralling Madrid third-round encounter between clay court king Rafael Nadal and the resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro was fresh off his second title of the season, which he won in impressive fashion by thrashing Fernando Verdasco in the Estoril Open final. And while the odds would have still been heavily stacked in favor of Nadal, whose clay court record speaks for itself, there were many who saw the slight potential for the upset should Del Potro continue to find the form he had back in 2009. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as Del Potro was forced to withdraw before the first ball had been struck, citing a hip injury he sustained during his first round victory over Mikhail Youzhny. He has already endured a number of injury setbacks in his young career, and this is just one more frustration to add to his list as he was in midst of finding his way back to top form. The hip can be a tricky injury, but hopefully this will prove to be relatively minor so that Del Potro can soon resume climbing his way back towards the top of the pack where he belongs.

One to Watch

Hardcore tennis fans may recall seeing the name Julia Goerges pop up in draws over the course of the last several months, but she hadn’t become as well known as her compatriot Andrea Petkovic. That may be all about to change. Goerges stunned world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki last week to take the title in Stuttgart, and lest anyone think the victory might have been fluke, she backed it up for the second week in a row by eliminating the Dane in the third round of Madrid. Whether or not she’s ready to start stringing several of these big wins together and become a legit major contender is a question that remains to be answered, but for now, she’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Home Crowd Delight

Okay, so the field wasn’t as stacked as it was back in Melbourne, Indian Wells, or Miami, but there’s little doubt that Novak Djokovic was carrying around some immense pressure when he opened his clay court campaign at the Serbia Open – the tournament owned by his family. But Djokovic answered the call, taking the title without the loss of a set. The win also meant that Djokovic remains unbeaten in 2011. Adding to another great week for the Serb, Djokovic was awarded the prestigious Order of St. Sava of I class, the highest decoration of the Serbian Orthodox Church. His reaction to the honor was touching, and it was wonderful to see him recognized for what he has done and continues to do outside of tennis, too.

Status Update

The women’s game is floundering a bit with many of its top stars out of action or struggling to find their feet on the clay, but there may be a ray of hope in the near future. Kim Clijsters has resumed training, and while her participation at the French is still very much in doubt, positive reports from the Clijsters’ camp seem to indicate that at the very least, she should be ready to go for the grass court season. Also, it was announced earlier this week that Venus Williams has signed on to compete in the Wimbledon warm-up at Eastbourne for the first time since 1998. The multi-time Grand Slam champion is also still listed to possibly play in Brussels, the last event before the start of Roland Garros. While her participation there is still surrounded by many question marks, her decision to sign up for Eastbourne bodes well for an early summer return, which is something the WTA could desperately use.

Hold the Cheese

That’s what Gael Monfils probably wishes he’d said if only he’d known it was in the pasta he had ordered. The Frenchman was in dire straits from the start against Juan Monaco in Madrid, having thrown up before he even stepped out onto the court (and again after). He was in obvious distress throughout the course of the match and was ultimately forced to retire down 6-2, 3-0, handing Monaco safe passage into the third round. It was later revealed the cause of Monfils’ distress was an allergic reaction to cheese that he was unaware had been in the past dish he’d eaten earlier. Though certainly a bizarre and unlikely incident, it’s still a harsh reminder to the players how careful they have to be about what they put into their bodies.

Djokovic still going, Del Potro’s winning return on clay and Medina ties Venus

Home Comfort for Djokovic:

Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to 2011 continued as he lifted his home Serbian Open title for a second time, his fifth title this year, defeating Feliciano Lopez 7-6, 6-2 in the final. It means the 23-year-old picks up the title without dropping a single set. After a scare at 5-5 in the first set he served himself out of a break point and never looked back. He received a standing ovation from the 5,000-strong crowd with two superb sliced dropshots, an ace and a service winner in the final game. “I wish to thank my family and my staff for supporting me all these years and also the fans who make this event that much more enjoyable for me to take part in,” he said after winning the tournament his family organises. “I am really glad that Feliciano had such a great tournament after accepting my invitation to come here. We are making a huge effort every year to bring the top players to Belgrade and it’s not easy because it takes place only a week ahead of the Madrid Masters. Hopefully, we will be able to make it an ATP 500 event very soon and I am looking forward to returning next year.” Lopez was in humorous mood after the final whistle, saying: “Last night I dreamed of being the hero of the year by beating you here but once again, you showed that you are a truly great player.”

All Go for Del Po:

Returning Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, playing his first clay tournament for 23 months, lifted his third title on the surface, and ninth overall, by besting Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2 in 76 minutes at the Estoril Open in Portugal. The 23-year-old has won 23 of his last 26 matches and has risen from No.484 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings in February to No.32 this week. An out of sorts Verdasco struggled throughout and the world No.15 will undoubtedly be unhappy with his performance here. “It was my best match of the week,” claimed Del Potro. “Finals are difficult to play, you never know if you will play your best tennis or not. Today, I won and I played really nice tennis. Everything was perfect. To beat Fernando you have to play good tennis. I served really well and was very confident on my forehand and backhand too. I took all my opportunities, especially on my break points. Hopefully I will be at the same level in my next match.”

Medina Ties Venus in Estoril:

Anabel Medina Garrigues tied Venus Williams for the most clay-court titles among active players by lifting her ninth title on the surface at Estoril last weekend, her tenth overall. She dominated Kristina Barrois 6-1, 6-2 and did not drop a set all week, upsetting Greta Arn and Klara Zakopalova along the way. The loss took Barrois to 0-2 in WTA finals having lost to Maria Sharapova at Strasbourg last May. “I played very aggressively and hit it high and deep. Kristina couldn’t do her game,” Medina Garrigues said. “She’s a creative girl – serve and volley, slice, drop shots – and I was there. I felt like she lost her concentration a little bit. I think I played well this week. I had some lucky moments, like in the first round I was close to losing a set, and I had a close match with Zakopalova. It wasn’t as easy as it looked this week and I’m happy to win my 10th title.”

Davydenko Back on Track:

Russian Nikolay Davydenko put a nightmare start to 2011 behind him as he defeated Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift his 21st ATP Tour title at the BMW Open in Munich. It is his second title in the German capital having triumphed there in 2004. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 29-year-old, though, as he had to save five break points during the first set as well as fight back from a break down to take the decider. It is Mayer’s fourth defeat in four finals. “In finals I just feel stronger, more relaxed, my confidence is very high and I just go out there fighting,” said Davydenko. “It was a very important result here (to return to the Top 30) and I’m just so happy.” Mayer was in buoyant mood despite the defeat. “It was a fantastic week,” said the 27-year-old. “Of course I’m a little disappointed losing the final, but I see the positives this week. I had never won a match here in Munich coming in to this year’s tournament. I had very difficult opponents in my four finals playing [Roger] Federer, [Gael] Monfils and Davydenko twice. It could certainly have been easier opponents but it’s nothing I can change. It’s a great feeling to break into the Top 30 for the first time in my career, now I want to go even higher.”

Vinci Reigning in Spain:

Roberta Vinci lifted the Barcelona Open for the second time and extended her record at the tournament to 14-1 with a final victory over Lucie Hradecka on Saturday. After triumphing here in 2009 she was only stopped by Francesca Schiavone in last year’s final before repeating her heroics of two years ago once more. The unseeded Hradecka had done well to reach the final, ousting No.7 seed Iveta Benesova and No.5 seed Sara Errani along the way, but it was Vinci who kept her cool to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4). “Lucie is very powerful. The key for me was to be aggressive and focused, and that’s why I won today,” Vinci said afterwards. “I was a little nervous before the match because it was a final, but I believed I played some good tennis today! This is a great tournament. I feel like it’s my tournament! I’m in love with Barcelona. I always play great in this beautiful city and I’d like to thank [tournament director] Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario] and everyone here for making this tournament so great.”

Monfils Cheesed Off in Madrid:

Gael Monfils has revealed that it was a cheese allergy that forced him to retire from his match-up with Juan Monaco in Madrid when he was 2-6, 0-3 down. He threw up before going on court, experienced dizziness and blurred vision, and threw up again once he had left the playing area. “I only had a little bit, not on purpose, certainly,” said Monfils. “I ate some pasta and it was in that. But once it’s in my body, I can’t do anything.”

Soderling Lone Ranger Again:

Eurosport is reporting that Swedish star Robin Soderling has parted ways with coach Claudio Pistolesi already having only begun their partnership this season. He is looking for a replacement.

Clijsters’ Injury Woes Continue:

Kim Clijsters’ frustrating run with ankle problems continues as she has withdrawn from the Italian Open, putting her French Open participation in doubt. She joins both Venus and Serena Williams as well as Vera Zvonereva in withdrawing from the event.

Spain Continue Nadal Accolades:

World No.1 Rafael Nadal has received another top accolade from his country, having been made an honorary ambassador of the Marca Espana by the Prince of Asturias, Don Felipe. He was joined by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, Antonio Garrigues, orchestral conductor Inma Shara, The Instituto Cervantes, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the Spanish football team, who won last year’s FIFA World Cup for the first time.

Murray’s Former Coach claims he is Best in World:

Andy Murray’s former coach at the famed Barcelona academy, Pato Alvarez, describes the Scot as the best he’s ever worked with. “You can’t go wrong with Murray. He’s the best there is,” Alvarez told the BBC. “He’s a better player than Nadal and the other top guys. He’s more explosive. He has a better backhand. He has a better serve.”

“Best Five Months of My Career” – Djokovic:

Serbian star Novak Djokovic has described his current 30-match unbeaten stretch (28 in 2011) as the greatest run of his career. Better than that, it is one of the best in ATP history. Now he has set his sights on upstaging the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal, and may get a chance to do so this week should both men reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Masters. Yet he is weary that he is yet to best the Spaniard in nine meetings on this surface. “I didn’t think it was realistic to go without a loss in the first three-four months but it happened,” he mused. “I guess anything is possible if you really believe that you can achieve and if you’re fit, physically, if you’re mentally fresh and motivated and if you’re dedicated to the sport. This is something that I have been doing lately,” he continued. “I’ve been working very hard on my game, on my mental approach as well and my stability and now it´s paying off. There is no secret; it’s just something that I’ve been working on in the last couple of years playing on the tour. I knew that I had quality and I just need to get some things together and it’s happening right now.” Speaking about that possible Nadal match up, he said: “I don´t really feel like talking about an eventual final against Rafa because there is a long way to go and there are many other great players who want to win this title as much as we do. I will just try to take one match at a time and we’ll see how far it can go.”

“No More Surface Specialists” – Moya:

Former world No.1 Carlos Moya has spoken of his belief that Rafael Nadal is not unbeatable on clay, and that there are no more surface specialists like when he was at the top of the sport. “No one is unbeatable on any surface,” Moya told Spanish newspaper Marca. “If you ask the players who’ll get more points on clay this year, obviously they will say it will be Rafa. But on a bad day, bad night, a bad match, anyone can have one. The specialists we saw a decade ago no longer exist. Before there were players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic who specialised on super fast courts or grass and players such as Guga Kuerten who had to do so much just to get good on hard courts. Now you have players who do well on fast surfaces and on clay and vice versa. Those who can dominate on any surface are the ones at the top: Nadal, [Roger] Federer or [Novak] Djokovic and before it did not happen.”

Tomic and Dellacqua in for Roland Garros:

Bernard Tomic and Casey Dellacqua have been handed Tennis Australia’s two wild cards for the French Open based on an agreement between the French and Australian tennis associations. 18-year-old Tomic is frequently touted as a future Aussie star but behavioural issues have blighted his career thus far, while Dellacqua has had a torrid time with injuries and has only just returned from a 12-month lay-off.

12-City Champions Tour set for 2011:

The new-look 2011 Champions Tour will feature twelve events across the States and will get underway including the talents of former home-grown heroes Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe. Mats Wilander, Michael Chang and Bjorn Borg will also feature across the tour which sees the senior pros competing for $1m. Four stars will attend each event and will square off in semi-finals with the two winners progressing to the final.

Cavaday’s Had Her Day:

British No.5 Naomi Cavaday has announced her retirement from professional tennis at the age of 22. She reached a career-high No.174 in the world last May but currently languishes as the world’s No.231. She entered the main draw at Wimbledon three times, losing in the first round on each occasion. Her defeats to Ai Sugiyama in 2006 and Venus Williams in 2008 sandwiched her most famous moment in 2007 when she held two match points against Martina Hingis before eventually going on to lose. She suffered with depression and an eating disorder during her six-year career and now will work as a coach with the Lawn Tennis Association.

Rankings Watch:

Nicolas Almagro continued his recent ascent up the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week and climbs above Gael Monfils to No.9 in the world. Marin Cilic and Gilles Simon are back in to the Top 20. Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Martin del Potro’s titles last week see them climb to No.28 and No.32 in the world respectively, while Spain’s Marcel Granollers is in to the Top 50 again. Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis drops 31 places to No.64 while the American Alex Bogomolov Jr. (13 places, No.91), Denis Gremelmayr of Germany (10, No.95) and France’s Benoit Paire (13, No.99) all enter the Top 100. Li Na is the new world No.6 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, climbing above Sam Stosur in the process and equalling her career best. Jelena Jankovic also climbs to No.7 meaning Stosur is now ranked eighth. Roberta Vinci climbs from No.42 to No.37 after her Barcelona win and Anabel Medina Garrigues’ victory in Estoril sees her leap from No.61 to No.42. Monica Niculescu of Romania jumps 10 to enter the Top 50 at No.49 and Barcelona finalist Lucie Hradecka is up 14 to No. 52. France’s Virginie Razzano (No.94), Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic (No.99) and America’s Jill Craybas (No.100) are all in to the Top 100.

GOAT Race Update:

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in action at the Mutua Madrid Masters this week, adding ten points to their totals. Will Nadal move further ahead on his favoured clay? We’ll find out as the week wears on.

Roger: 605, Rafa: 780

Juan Martin Del Potro claims Estoril Open 2011

By Luís Santos

Sunny conditions at the Estoril welcomed the men’s singles’ final of the 2011 Estoril Open.

Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro took on number two seed Fernando Verdasco. Del Potro enjoyed a great week before the final having beaten top seed Robin Soderling in straight sets and in-form Pablo Cuevas also in two sets. Verdasco had a busy day prior to the final having to play both the quarterfinal match and the semifinal. He ended up powering past Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic, respectively.

All was set for a competitive final, but after three breaks of serve early in the first set, Del Potro’s massive forehand found no match from Verdasco. The Spaniard struggled to get into the match and despite breaking to love to level the first set 1-1, errors crept into his game.

“I think he just played too good after that and there wasn’t much I could do. He’s a player that when he’s on he hits the ball very hard and it’s difficult to counter that. He played very well today and I didn’t have a great day. He didn’t let me play my game.” Verdasco explained.

“I’m happy to have reached the final but there’s always a bittersweet taste when you lose it. It’s best to lose in the final than before it, so you need to stay positive.”

On his goals for the rest of the season and his ranking, Verdasco said: “I expect to finish at least in the same position as like the last two seasons. The good thing is that after Roland Garros I have nothing to defend so I’ll try to come back to the top ten. The year is so long, I hope to play my best and get good results.”

Del Potro quickly claimed the first set 6-2 in just 32 minutes as Verdasco held just once.

The Argentinian broke right at the start of the second set as Verdasco kept making errors. The Spaniard held for the second time to make it 2-1 but again it wasn’t enough and Del Potro readily powered his way to a 5-2 lead. A highly contested last game saw Verdasco grasp a breakpoint that was quickly eliminated with a crosscourt backhand winner from the number eight seed. Fittingly enough Del Potro closed out the match on his third match point after yet another massive forehand.

Of winning today’s match: “I think it may well be my best match of the week. Fernando is tough to beat but today I won and I played a really nice tennis so.” “I served well and took all my opportunities especially in the breakpoints.”

It was Del Potro’s ninth title and second this year after having won in Delray Beach.

When comparing his form with Delray Beach: “I think I’m better now. I’m getting better day by day. I’m getting ready for the second part of the season so I can beat the better players.”

Of the upcoming second Grand Slam and his goals for the rest of the season: “No, I’m far from being a favorite for Roland Garros. I’m surprised to have won here because I hadn’t played in clay for a long time. The biggest candidate if of course Rafa and then there’s Ferrer, Federer and Djokovic.”

“My first goal is to remain healthy and keep improving. I haven’t established ranking goals. I want to keep enjoying the tennis life, I missed it a lot when I was home injured.”

 

Mutua Madrid Open: Caroline Wozniacki wins opener, Sharapova struggles but wins and Pennetta upset

I have been trying for hours to write something interesting to write about the Mutua Madrid Open tournament but I just can’t seem to find the right words.  I suppose I could write about the Estoril Open but that’s my colleague  Luís Santos’ department. He does a great job by the way of covering the event. Who would have expected Anabel Medina Garrigues to win and be on par with the great Venus Williams when it comes to holding the most titles on clay. I sure as hell did not.

With the Mutua Madrid Open starting, tennis is back on the international stage with a Premier event. All the top players you missed are going to attend and so is my photographer Ralf Reinecke, who will shoot the photos of all the stars and more. Last year Ralf managed to get me photos of players of  Real Madrid. We had pics of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos and many others. Not sure if that is going to happen this year though. With the second leg match versus FC Barcelona for a spot in the prestigious Champions League finale at stake, match preparations are in full gear. The match will take place in Barcelona so I am not sure if the players of Real Madrid be able to watch a match or two from the stands. Has anyone seen the first match and its’ aftermath? Real Madrid fight harder off the pitch than they do on the pitch with complaints of schwalbes and videos to support their claims and whatever else. They should have included the two goals scored by prodigy Lionel Messi. Because that’s the harsh reality. They are going to play versus FC Barcelona for a spot in the prestigious Champions League 2011 finale trailing 2-0.  They should recruit Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible crew for that because there is no way they will be able to turn that into a win.  Ofcourse for football betters, I would call this a serious challenge. More so than  tennis betting on who will defeat Rafael Nadal on clay this year.

But I digress. TennisGrandstand is still a site about tennis and not about football.

I am sure all of you have viewed and reviewed and analyzed the Mutua Madrilena Open draw and it holds no surprises but some exciting match ups in the first round.  Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova are already through to the next round.

Caroline Wozniacki defeated Japanese Ayumi Morita in straight sets 6-2, 6-3. Maria Sharapova had to put in more effort to reach the next round beating Dutch talent Arantxa Rus 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In other results Daniela Hantuchova beat tour veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 6-3 while last year’s French Open winner Francesca Schiavone was made to work versus Shuai Peng 7-5, 7-6 to reach the next.  The biggest upset so far is the match between Arantxa (what’s in a name) Parra Santonja ousted former top 10 player Flavia Pennetta in straight sets 6-3, 7-5.

Keep an eye  out for photos from Madrid this whole week. Pictures are taken by rollin’ Ralf Reinecke!

Oh and for you Real Madrid fans there is a surprise for you at the end of this post.

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Estoril Open: A doubles report

By Luís Santos

Early Sunday afternoon at the Estoril Open final day and it was time for the men’s doubles’ final.

Defending champions and fourth seeds David Marrero and Marc Lopez were up against Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer, the third seeds this week.

Butorac is a former Estoril Open champion, having won the event in 2009 alongside Scott Lipsky. This week, Butorac and Rojer powered their way through the draw, never dropping more than six games in each match. In the semifinals they took out top seeds Bopanna/Qureshi in just 63 minutes.

The Spanish tandem of Marrero/Lopez had early struggles in the earlier rounds being taken to match tiebreaks twice.

It was no surprise when Butorac/Rojer claimed the match in straight sets, a break on each of them being enough to secure the win.

Rojer was grateful for the welcoming at the tournament and complimented his opponents: “I would like to thank all of you for coming out here, this is all me and Eric do for a living, so thank you. Our opponents today are always tough on every surface, so I’m happy for the win. I would also like to thank the sponsors, Banco Espírito Santo and Turismo de Portugal, without them this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Eric Butorac mainly agreed with his partner saying: “Jean-Julien said it all. I’m very thankful for the sponsors and tournament organizers, they were fantastic all week. It’s always good to come to Portugal, it’s a very nice country and I hope more people can come here and enjoy it.”

Yesterday afternoon Alisa Kleybanova and Galina Voskoboeva also took home the women’s doubles crown after they defeated Greek Eleni Daniilidou and Dutch Michaella Krajicek 6-4 6-2.

“Alisa and I enjoy each other’s company. We’ve known each other for a long time,” Voskoboeva said. “Every time we play well together, but we’ve never won before – here our game was solid and we really knew each other on the court.”

“I’m really happy because I didn’t do so well in the singles,” Kleybanova said. “It was important for me to play some more matches and have some good wins in doubles. It instills confidence. Another title can never be bad, always good!”

Raonic and Verdasco work double shift; Del Potro sets up clash versus Verdasco

By Luís Santos

It was a busy Saturday at the Estoril Open as organizers struggled to keep the men’s tournament on schedule.

Due to the heavy storms Friday afternoon, the three remaining quarterfinal matches were delayed. Juan Martin Del Potro  defeated Robin Soderling  6-4, 7-5 for a spot in the semis before darkness fell in. But the remaining matches were canceled and  rescheduled for Saturday.

Fernando Verdasco lost the first set to Kevin Anderson in a tiebreak before darkness stopped play. The Spaniard returned to the crime scene the next day. Pumped up and ready for battle.

No breaks in the first four games as both players served amazingly. But Verdasco put the game up a notch, piling on the pressure and forcing errors from Anderson’s backhand. The Spaniard went on to claim the next four games, winning the second set 6-2.

As the third set rolled on, rain threatened to suspend matches. The number 2 seed Verdasco wouldn’t lose much time though and one break was enough to secure a 6-7 6-2 6-3 win and a place in the semifinals. The final game of the match was contested under intense rain, as it was the only court still holding play.

Last player to qualify for the semifinals was number five seed Canadian Milos Raonic. Raonic was entangled in battle with fourth seed Gilles Simon in a match started Friday afternoon after the rain delay. The match was suspended at 6-5 on Raonic’s serve, however, due to lack of natural light and was rescheduled for Saturday morning. Raonic had a great start on Saturday and took the first set 7-6.

Simon bounced back setting up a 4-1 lead in the second set. Raonic would win three of the next four games to get to 4-5 but Simon didn’t let go, leveling the match at one set a piece, and he won 6-4.

In the deciding set, Raonic edged out the win, breaking one more time than the Frenchman, booking a meeting with second seed Fernando Verdasco. This will be the third meeting between these two players, all of them this season. Raonic leads the records 2-0 including a win in the San Jose final where he won 7-6 7-6. Both of those wins were on hard courts, arguably Raonic’s best surface, so Verdasco may gain some leverage on a slower surface like clay.

With the semifinals’ line-up completed, the first match taking the courts featured Juan Martin Del Potro taking on Pablo Cuevas on centre court. Cuevas is enjoying some good tennis lately having beaten Andy Roddick this year in Miami before losing to Gilles Simon.

Del Potro climbed his way to a 4-2 lead before, once again,  the rain interrupted play. The weather wasn’t enough to slow the big Argentinian down  as he continued that winning trend, claiming the set 6-2.

The second set no service breaks. Del Potro came close to break but Cuevas displayed his powerful abilities that saw him brush aside two seeds earlier in the week.

In the tiebreak was also highly contested but a backhand error from Del Potro set up set point for the Uruguyan Cuevas at 6-5. Cuevas seemed to feel the pressure and hit a wild forehand leveling proceedings again. But at 6-6 Del Potro didn’t let go and eventually won the match with his big inside-out forehand.

Both players were cheered loudly as they exited the court.

The final match of the day between Verdasco and Raonic took the court just minutes after Del Potro won.

Unfortunately for the spectators the second semifinal would only feature one set as Milos Raonic retired after dropping the first set 6-4. Verdasco captured the set on his second set point and had put up a great serving display, losing just six points on serve.

Tomorrow’s final will then feature two crowd favorites: Juan Martin Del Potro against Fernand Verdasco. They’ve met twice before with Verdasco having won the last meeting at the San Jose Open this year, by the score of 6-4 6-4.

Estoril Open: Anabel Medina Garrigues takes home Estoril Open 2011 crown

By Luís Santos

Saturday at the Estoril Open, the day for the women’s singles’ final.

The final Estoril Open match featured the more experienced Anabel Medina Garrigues, who was  looking to match Venus Williams´ record of most clay titles by an active player, and the German Kristina Barrois.

Barrois has been in good form all week and defeated top seed Alisa Kleybanova. Medina Garrigues ousted quite a few seeded players on her way to the Estoril Open finals as well. She took out eight seed Greta Arn and third seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets.

But today, none of that mattered as Medina Garrigues set up one-sided match with her solid play. Barrois seemed to feel the moment and never really played her best tennis, missing routine groundstrokes and losing the bite on her usually great sliced backhand.

Despite suffering from a back injury, which required a medical timeout at 4-1 in the first set, the Spaniard never looked back and took the set 6-1.

In the second set, Barrois was down 3-0 right from the start. She fought her way back into the set and the match, coming back to 3-2. A disruption by rain forced a delay in the match but again Medina proved too strong for her opponent  taking the set, the match and winning the Estoril Open tournament. Final score was 6-1 6-2. It was her 10th career trophy but her first one since Fes 2009.

The champion’s first words on court were: “Oh my back. At 4-2 in the first set I did this change of direction and I felt it. I hurt my back. In the last two points of the match it was hurting a lot.”

On her win today and its meaning as the player with most clay tournaments together with Venus Williams: “I’m very happy for matching Venus’ record, she’s a great player. I’m also thrilled to be the best among my countrywomen.”

And finally on her Estoril choice: “I’m very happy to have come here. It’s almost like playing home because we’re almost the same country, so. I’m happy to have won because I had a tough last year and would like to thank my coach, because he’s been there through my highs and lows.”

Runner-up Barrois complimented her opponent and acknowledged her own shortcomings during the match: “It was a difficult match for me, I didn’t play well today but Anabel played very well, so well done! I hope to come back next year. Thanks for the organization; they did a very good job.”

 

Estoril Open: Women’s top three seeds ousted, Portuguese hopes dashed!

By Luís Santos

It was yet another hot day at the Estoril Open 2011, but heat wasn’t the only thing that was getting to top seed Alisa Kleybanova. The powerful Russian may have escaped an upset in the previous round but she couldn’t handle the in-form Kristina Barrois.

Just like in the second round against Johansson, consistency wasn’t on the menu for Kleybanova today. Despite securing an early 4-1 lead, she lost nine consecutive games as Barrois kept the error count low. Down 4-6 0-4 it was a mere formality until Barrois claimed the upset 6-4 6-2.

Barrois will now meet Johanna Larsson for a place in Saturday’s final. Larsson was quick to claim the first set from Alla Kudryavtseva but had to rally in the second as the going got tighter eventually prevailing 6-2 7-5.
Said Larsson of her win: “In the beginning of the match I was playing really short in the court, but Alla was making some unforced errors during the game so I was able to get away with it. But then in the second she slowed down a little bit and I had to play more balls, so it was more difficult.”

Of her good form on clay lately, she said : “I always really love to play on clay, but my best results have been on hard court,” said Larsson. “Now it’s changing a little bit! I guess it doesn’t really matter on which surface the results are coming, as long as they are coming!”

And finally, when asked about her recent work with former top player Joachim Johansson she concluded (link to article no1): “The coach that I had (Mattias Arvidsson), his wife has just had a baby, so now I have to find another solution. Pim Pim Johansson was also ending his career at the same time and said he maybe wanted to help me, so we met up before I went here and we practiced for two days, and we’ll also practice when I come back home from this week. We’ll see what happens and take it from there.”

Larsson also talked about her welcoming at the Estoril saying : “It’s my first time here but I played Fed Cup indoors just next door. At that time I really liked it here and this week it’s the same. It’s a really nice tournament – the courts, the organization. The only thing is the security; they don’t let you in everywhere!”

Elsewhere in the draw, Monica Niculescu upset hard-hitting and number two seed Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia. Niculescu staged a comeback of her own rallying from a loss in the first to win 5-7 6-4 6-2. She will now meet Spanish claycourter Anabel Medina Garrigues who ended a dark day for seeds defeating number three seed Klara Zakopalova 6-3 7-5.

Over on the men’s draw, all Portuguese hopes vanquished as both João Sousa and Frederico Gil lost to their respective opponents.

Sousa may have had patches of play that were beyond his ranking but number 5 seed Milos Raonic wasn’t fazed. Despite getting broken while serving for the match and allowing a hold from Sousa, Raonic brought his best strokes to close 6-3 6-3.

As for Frederico Gil, there was nothing he could do in the first set as he got steamrolled by the powerful Fernando Verdasco, losing 6-1.

Verdasco never lost steam as he powered into a 5-1 lead in the second set. Gil, however, wasn’t done. The Portuguese staged a comeback as Verdasco squandered a match point up 5-3 on Gil’s serve. The Portuguese would go up 6-5 but once the Spanish went into the tiebreak he never looked back and sealed the victory 6-1 7-6(5).

Verdasco will now face Kevin Anderson who served his way into the quarterfinals by beating Victor Hanescu 6-4 6-2.

Conclusion of men’s second round matches saw Gilles Simon power past Carlos Berlocq 6-2 6-1 and book a meeting with rising star Milos Raonic.

Women’s semifinals get underway tomorrow while the men will start quarterfinal action.