Fed Cup

Love Found: Ana and Jelena Come Full Circle in Melbourne

“Rivals,” my high school gym teacher once said, “always hate each other. Mac does not like PC. Coke does not like Pepsi. Competition makes the world go round!”

Had he been a tennis fan at the time, he might have added Serbian rivals Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to his list of those between whom little love was lost.

In the mid-to-late 2000s, Ivanovic and Jankovic were the fire and ice of the WTA Tour’s elite. Ana was the big-hitter with an on-court effusiveness that was as jarring as it was endearing. Not to say that the counter-punching Jankovic was reserved; she saved her quirky personality and for the pressroom, where she gave quotes that continue to defy explanation.

Both hailed from the war torn city of Belgrade. Both became famous in their home country. Both wanted to be the best.

With few other compatriots, isolation combined with a singular goal could have bonded these young women together. The Italian and Czech Fed Cup teams are shining examples of on-court camaraderie in an individual sport. Off the court? The guest list at Elena Dementieva’s wedding was a “who’s who” of Russian tennis (Vera Dushevina caught the bouquet).

Yet, there is something about countries that boast only two talented players. Perhaps that it serves as a microcosm for the game itself, the idea of a dual between two players and only one can emerge victorious, intensifies what could otherwise be a friendly rivalry. Whatever the reason, like Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin before them, the relationship between Ivanovic and Jankovic was always cool at best. Never overtly friendly, the two had ways of reminding fans and media where the two women stood with one another.

After scoring a win over her rival in Madrid a few years ago, Jelena was seen mocking Ana’s signature fist pump:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nxYarGyTMY]

Upon seeing it, Ana quipped, “…Sport doesn’t build character, it shows it.” Far from contrite, Jelena defended the gesture and struck out against players who fist pump “in the player’s face, and especially after not winning a point [but] after your opponent missed an easy ball, I don’t think that’s fair play.”

For all of their differences, Ana and Jelena ended up having two fairly similar careers.

At their peaks, they fought for the No. 1 ranking at the 2008 French Open. Jankovic squandered a third set lead and Ivanovic went on to win her only Slam title. From there, she promptly entered a slump that persists to this day; she has only made one Slam quarterfinal in the last (going on) five years.

Jankovic eventually wrested the top spot from her rival and went on a late-season tear to finish the year atop the rankings. A move to change her game in order to better compete for majors saw her not only remain slamless, but also caused her to tumble from the game’s elite.

This year’s Australian Open saw the two play one another for the first time at a Slam since that fateful French Open encounter. Far from the penultimate round, the rivals were seeded outside the top 10 and competing for a spot in the fourth round, where the winner would take on the much-higher ranked Agnieszka Radwanska.

Ostensibly, the stakes were as high as ever as each woman strives to retain relevancy on a Tour that has moved on without them. Once highly marketable stars, the rivals were relegated to Hisense Arena for a competitive, though more lighthearted, battle. While showing flashes of their former brilliance, the two shared a laugh several times during Ivanovic’s two-set victory. With that, the “Serbian Sisters” wordlessly confirmed the news that they had buried the hatchet.

Reflecting on their frosty past, Jankovic mused, “Back then we were competing for No. 1 and we both wanted what we never achieved and it was different circumstances.” In the heat of the moment, it was easy to see things less clearly, but in retrospect, Jelena poignantly describes the fate of the rivalry with her compatriot, one that was never truly realized.

But rather than dwelling on what might have been, it is comforting to see the two former foes together, now able to laugh and reminisce about their time at the top.

David Ferrer’s shining moment; Trouble in tennis paradise at Indian Wells — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Crowning Achievement

David Ferrer had the dubious distinction of being the player with the most Master Series match wins without a title, but that is the case no more. The Spaniard finally clinched one of the coveted Masters shields when he defeated surprise finalist Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in straight sets. While acknowledging that Ferrer was certainly helped by the withdrawals of Federer and Nadal and the early exits of Djokovic and Murray, it doesn’t diminish the significance of his win. Ferrer is too talented of a player not to have walked away with at least one of premiere titles before he retired, and as it’s the seventh title he’s won in 2012, it’s a testament to just how well he’s playing this season. It’s a great achievement for Spain’s No. 2, and now that he’s gotten that mini-monkey off of his back, perhaps he’ll face the Big Four with a little more self-belief come 2013.

Forgotten Champion

It was a thrilling end to the year for Russian Nadia Petrova. She and compatriot Maria Kirilenko won the WTA Championships Doubles event in Istanbul, and she followed that up with a run to the singles title in the Tournament of Champions in Sofia by absolutely drubbing No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki. Petrova has always had a beautiful game. She possesses one of the best serves on tour as well as great hands that have garnered her so much success in the doubles arena. The biggest hurdle throughout her professional career, however, has been her mental toughness, and her victory in Sofia doesn’t necessarily mean she’s greatly improved in that area. The field at the Tournament of Champions is essentially the JV squad of the WTA’s top crop of talent, which is why that tournament doesn’t generate nearly the amount of headlines as Istanbul. It’s that lack of a spotlight that helps a player like Petrova. So props to her for a tremendous 2012 finale, but I wouldn’t yet bank on that translating into more consistent results or frequent upsets of the sport’s best come 2013.

Czech Them Out

For the second straight year, the Czechs are Fed Cup champions, becoming the third consecutive team to successfully defend a Fed Cup title. They defeated Serbia 3-1, with the former Yugoslavian nation’s only point coming courtesy of Ana Ivanovic. Kvitova, who recovered from bronchitis just in time to help her squad defend their 2011 crown, went 1-1 over the weekend, but it was her teammate, Lucie Safarova, who defeated both Ivanovic and Jankovic to give her team the unassailable lead. Kvitova, and to a slightly lesser extent Safarova, have always exhibited plenty of talent with flashes of brilliance, but both have also struggled to produce it consistently on the biggest stages. Here’s to hoping that unlike this past season, they’re able to draw upon their experience in winning the 2012 Fed Cup to produce their best tennis when it counts next year.

Still the One

Roger Federer may have come into the ATP World Tour Finals knowing that he would finish behind Novak Djokovic in the rankings, but not surprisingly, the Swiss remains number one in the hearts of many a fan. This was proven earlier this week when Federer was presented with the ATPWorldTour.com Fan’s Favorite Award for a record tenth consecutive year. With his smooth style and grace, it’s easy to see why fans from all over the world continue to enjoy what the Maestro can do with a tennis racquet. In addition to the love from the fans, Federer also received love from his fellow ATP pros. They voted him the recipient of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for the second straight year and eighth time overall. Not a bad haul for a guy that many were writing off a little over a year ago.

Say What?!

Yes, in case you were wondering if you read the headlines correctly, the ATP Tour Board of Directors passed on an $800,000 prize money increase at Indian Wells. The increase was to have been primarily distributed to winners in the first three rounds. Thus far, the official reason given by the ATP for declining the offered increase is that the proposed distribution is not in line with the ATP rules that both players and tournaments have agreed to and to which every other tournament on tour follows. One suspects the latter part of that explanation is the real reason behind the decision to decline the generous offer. Earlier this year, Indian Wells already upped the prize purse by one million dollars, and it didn’t follow the normal ATP distribution rules either. Larry Ellison has done a lot to upgrade the status of Indian Wells, and has broached the idea of looking into adding mixed doubles. This may have some tournament organizers nervous that he’s looking to try and take away any arguments of eventually upgrading the event to Grand Slam status (which is somewhat hard to imagine given how much it would upset the historic status quo). It may also have them nervous that players will expect them to cough up more dough at their own events. Whatever the reasons, the fact that sources claim it was the three tournament representatives who voted against the increase, while the player representatives were in favor, means this topic of discussion isn’t likely to go away any time soon. Stay tuned.

Americans Serena Williams and John Isner shine — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

In the Zone

Serena Williams was firing on all cylinders last week in Charleston, which wasn’t just bad news for the rest of the field – it was devastating. Serena showed no mercy as she demolished her opponents en route to the title, dropping a grand total of just three games in the semis and final. Though it was an absolute clinic by the decorated Grand Slam champion, it’s difficult to use as a barometer for how she’ll perform in Paris. For starters, near the latter rounds, she played above her head (even by her lofty standards), and that level for her has increasingly become the exception rather than the norm. Additionally, while there are few players who at their best can potentially hang with Serena at her best, it’s still worth noting that the currently hottest players on the WTA were absent. Finally, there’s the fact that the win is unlikely to have a substantial carry-over effect on Serena herself. She’s frequently shown she never lacks for confidence at any event, irrespective of how match fit she is, simply taking things as they come. So, congrats on a well-deserved 40th career singles title for the younger Williams, who reminded the world of what she’s capable of when her heart and head are in it, but one fantastic title win does not just yet a heavy favorite for Roland Garros make.

Riding the Momentum

Where Ryan Harrison failed to capitalize on his opportunity when named to the U.S. Davis Cup Team, John Isner continued to shine. Since upsetting Roger Federer in the team competition this past February, he’s continued to improve and surprise everyone, including perhaps himself. He delivered a much-needed win against Simon to pull the Americans even with France on the opening day of last weekend’s tie, and he clinched the victory with his triumph over Tsonga. He’s also being smart with his scheduling, choosing to sit out the optional Masters 1000 event next week in Monte Carlo in order to rest and get fit for the remainder of the clay court and following grass court seasons. As he continues this good run of form, he’s set to become the No. 1 American man sooner rather than later. Such an achievement would be a crowning moment for Isner as well as the USA, given that Isner has been one of the handful of Americans to consistently comport himself with class and dignity this season.

PR Nightmare

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario needs a crash course in public relations stat. We previously heard she was broke thanks to the mishandling of her finances by her parents, which has since been followed by rebuttal from her mother claiming otherwise. Now the “Barcelona Bumblebee” is upsetting her nation’s top female player by personally attacking Anabel Medina Garrigues during her announcement that Garrigues would not be part of her Fed Cup squad. As captain, it’s her prerogative as to who she’d like to select for the team, but there was no need to launch an attack against the Spanish No. 1. Her actions and decisions in recent months might suggest it’s time for the Spanish Tennis Federation to consider looking at a potential replacement. It’s a shame given what all Sanchez-Vicario has done in the sport and for her county, but recent behavior dictates that a review of her ability to be a leader at this point in time is in serious doubt.

Good Cause

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be facing off in an exhibition on July 14, when they hope to break the tennis attendance record by filling all of the 80,000 seats in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid where the match will take place. The proceeds from the match will go to both the Real Madrid Foundation and the Rafael Nadal Foundation, which provide funding for programs aimed at disadvantaged children. It’s great to see two of the biggest names in the sport continue to give back (especially in the midst of a busy summer schedule), and while they’re going for an ambitious record, as one of the most exciting rivalries in the sport right now, they might just do it.

Potentially Ugly

Mary Joe Fernandez is living in a dream world if she thinks Serena’s “heart is in Fed Cup, ” as Serena’s sudden patriotism is undoubtedly spurred on by her desire to play in the Olympics. Despite committing to her second tie this season, Serena will still need to get special permission from the Olympic Committee to compete in London. Sister Venus is looking to try and raise her ranking high enough to gain automatic entry for the London Games, but if she doesn’t, she’ll also require special permission to compete in the British capital. Where this may get messy is if another player – a player who has put in more time representing their country during the non-Olympic years – gets burned. It’s hard to vilify the Williams Sisters, who are just doing the same as other top pros this season and also have historically performed well in the Olympics. Still others will contend spots should go to those who have put in the time and who arguably could still medal for the USA (especially when factoring in Venus’ health liabilities). Of course, the ITF could just spare the U.S. and other nations, like Russia, this potentially ugly situation by doing away with the whole problematic Fed/Davis Cup participation rule, but hard to see that happening any time soon.

Yanina Wickmayer on Serena Williams, Skiing, and Dancing

Current world #33 Yanina Wickmayer broke through the ranks at the 2009 U.S. Open escalating herself into the tennis spotlight. The Belgian tends to shy away from press but I had a chance to chat a few interesting topics with her at the Sony Ericsson Open this week. Did you know she has never met Serena Williams? Hard to believe, but it’s true!

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Probably my semifinals run in the U.S. Open and some Fed Cup moments.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

I chose between tennis and skiing, so maybe a skier.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

I’ve actually never played Serena [Williams]. I look up to her a lot and have a lot of respect for her. She’s one of the biggest champions in women’s tennis, so maybe her.

Are you and Serena friends off-court?

No, never talked to her. (Laughs)

If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?

Probably [Gael] Monfils because of his dancing skills. And then the girls is tough to choose – I don’t want to be picky on them. (Laughs) But ‘Who would I invite?’ Hmm, Sabine Lisicki and Dominika [Cibulkova]. She’s a fun girl also.

What two things can’t you live without?

My dad. And …. I guess, happiness! (Laughs)

I Love the WTA

Maria Sharapova giggled and jumped in the snow with her Russian compatriots. Forty-one year old Kimoko Date Krumm upset Polona Hercog, ranked 42 spots above her and born 21 years after her.  Serena Williams destroyed a racket. Christina McHale served a bagel. Julia Goerges nearly upset Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, but fell just short and broke down in tears on court. The upstart and adorable British team, led by new coach Judy Murray, stormed (and tweeted) their way through their competition.  Francesca Schiavone (over)-dramatically won a match.

It was a predictably unpredictable Fed Cup weekend, what many would describe as “typical” WTA, and I loved every single minute of it.

It’s been a tumultuous few years for the most popular female sports league in the world.  In 2007 the tour seemed invincible when Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to offer the women equal pay.  However,  an unfortunate series of events have left the tour in flux ever since.  In 2008 World #1 Justine Henin abrubtly retired, leaving a vacuum at the top of the game.  With various injuries crippling The Williams Sisters and Sharapova, a group of talented young girls were thrust into the spotlight at the top of the game a bit prematurely.  The “Slamless Number One” saga overshadowed everything else, only rivaled in media coverage by the incessant shrieking debate (which often reaked of sexism).  Some of the best female athletes on the planet were constantly declared out of shape and mentally weak by the experts of the game, many of whom were former WTA stars themselves. To make matters worst, all of this turmoil transpired simultaneously with the “Golden Era” of the ATP.  The more Federer, Nadal, and recently Djokovic dominated the Slams the more it seemed to diminish whatever “product” the WTA tried to produce.

As a WTA fan it’s been a sad few years. Wait- no, I actually don’t mean that at all. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure, but it’s been a blast.

I love parity, I love unpredictability, I love my sports to come with a side of “WTF is going on here?”. I love the fact that every Grand Slam you could pick fifteen women who have a legitimate shot to hold the trophy at the end of two weeks. I love the fact that Schiavone, Li Na, and Samantha Stosur are now Grand Slam Champions. I love that Vera Zvonareva, despite a history of meltdowns that would have made her eligible for the Real Housewives of Russia, made two Grand Slam Finals and climbed to number 2 in the world.  I love that Kim Clijsters retired, had a baby, then came back to the tour and won three more Grand Slams- 3 times more than she had pre-motherhood.  I love that Sharapova has fought her back from what many feared would be a career-ending shoulder injury and now, at 24, seems poised to be a factor for years to come. I love that Serena went from hospital bed to U.S. Open Final in less than six months.  I love that Andrea Petkovic dances in victory. I love that the outspoken Agnieszka Radwanska seems to only win when she’s taped up like a mummy.  I love Petra Kvitova’s forehand, Victoria Azarenka’s backhand, Marion Bartoli’s insane serve, and yes- even Caroline Wozniacki’s moonball. (Sometimes).

I love that the best days are yet to come.  Champions and superstars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are sill hungry and fighting for titles. Azarenka and Kvitova, twenty-two and twenty-one respectively, seem unfazed by the pressure of expectations.  Clijsters is with us for the rest of the year (and I still not-so-secretly hope for more) and will be extra motivated to win her first French Open and/or Wimbledon trophy.  Venus Williams might not ever win another Slam again, but it won’t be without trying like a true Champion to deal with her Sjogren’s Syndrome and find a way to compete on the top level again.  Wozniacki will (surely) be determined to regain her spot at the top of the rankings and earn that elusive Slam.  Li, Schiavone, and Stosur will all be eager to get rid of the “One Slam Wonder” label.  And then of course there’s Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Any given Slam.

I don’t think that dominance is the only way to measure success.  I don’t think that unpredictability is always a sign of weakness. If you disagree with the prior statements then that’s fine, but I do think that these female athletes deserve heaps more respect than they get on a regular basis.

Yes, I unabashedly love the WTA, flaws and all.

Kvitova Dominates WTA Awards, ATP Finals Draw Made and Federer Back Hitting Milestones

Kvitova Scoops Top WTA Player Prize:

In probably the least surprising revelation of the year, Petra Kvitova dominated the WTA awards by scooping four prizes, including player of the year. The 21-year-old lifted her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon, climbed to victory at the WTA Finals in Istanbul and then led her Czech Republic side to Fed Cup victory in the final against Russia. Starting the year as the world’s No.34, she finished just behind Caroline Wozniacki as the world No.2. “This season has been simply a dream,” Kvitova said. “It is an incredible honour to win the player of the year award and join the ranks of some of the best players that have ever played the sport, especially Martina Navratilova. I will always cherish the 2011 season and look forward to building on it.” Kvitova also walked away with the gongs for the most improved player of the year, the fan’s favourite breakthrough of the year and the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award awarded for professionalism, attitude and sense of fair play. Germany’s Sabine Lisicki won comeback player of the year for her titles at Dallas and Birmingham and for reaching the Wimbledon semis where she lost to Maria Sharapova. Kvitova’s fellow Czech Kveta Peschke and her Slovenian partner Katarina Srebotnik won doubles team of the year, and Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu won newcomer of the year after rising from No.214 to No.38 in the world during 2011. Agnieszka Radwanska picked up the award for the fans’ singles player of the year, while Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko were voted their doubles pairing of the year. Finally, Italian star Francesca Schiavone was given the Player Service Award for being the player who did the most to help her fellow pros through the WTA Players’ Council.

Djokovic-Murray and Rafa-Roger in London:

The draw for the ATP World Finals was made on Tuesday with two sets of great friends and rivals set to do battle. World number one Novak Djokovic was placed in Group A alongside good friend Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. 2010 finalists Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will do battle in Group B alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish. Djokovic beat Murray for his first Grand Slam of the year in Australia back in January although Murray won their last encounter in the Cincinnati final. Nole was, however, forced to pull out halfway through with a shoulder injury. Federer won the final between him and Nadal last year, while Tsonga will not relish facing him again so soon after his disappointing Paris final defeat last weekend. That game will come up first on Sunday afternoon, before Nadal and Fish do battle in the evening session. Murray will go in to the fight against Ferrer on Monday afternoon, before Djokovic faces Berdych in the evening. In the doubles, the Bryan brothers were paired with Mahesh Bhupathi/Leander Paes, Robert Lindstedt/Horia Tecau and Jurgen Melzer/Philipp Petzschner in Group A, while Michael Llodra/Nenad Zimonjic will do battle with Daniel Nestor/Max Mirnyi, Rohan Bopanna/Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Mariusz Fyrstenberg/Marcin Matkowski in Group B.

More Milestones for Federer:

It was a good time all round for Roger Federer in Paris last week. He finally broke his second Paris hoodoo, having at last secured the French Open title in 2009, by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6(3) in the final of the Paris Masters. Just being in the final made him the first man to ever reach that stage of all the ATP Masters 1000 events, and by winning the title he is now one behind Rafael Nadal’s record of 19 Masters titles on the all-time list. It means he goes in to this weekend’s ATP Tour Finals on a 12-match winning streak and that he won’t finish a season without a Grand Slam or a Masters title for the first time since 2001. His victory over Juan Monaco in the quarter-finals was also the 800th of his career. “I’m amazed by how well I played,” Federer said of his time in the French capital. “I’m really ecstatic to have played so well this week from the first ball to the end. I had many attempts to win Paris-Bercy and for some reasons I had not been able to win it earlier, so it’s a special victory.”

Costa Praying for Nadal and Ferrer:

Spanish Davis Cup captain Alberto Costa has revealed he isn’t worried about Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer having to make the quick transition from the ATP Finals hard courts to clay for their upcoming Davis Cup final with Argentina, but he is concerned that one of them might pick up an injury during their time in London. Speaking of the Argentines, he also admitted he wasn’t sure who they would be using. “They will come with five players,” Costa said. “Del Potro and Nalbandian are the strong base, but do not rule out that Nalbandian may not play the first day [in singles]. And the doubles may be [Juan] Monaco, [Juan Ignacio] Chela, or [Eduardo] Schwank. Del Potro is getting his level back [to where it was] before his wrist injury, and next year will be back on top,” he continued. “And Nalbandian has been injured, but we know that he’ll be ready for Seville. He’s a super talent who has not won a regular basis because of physical problems. But in a particular week he can play great. They are very dangerous, balanced and tough.”

Roddick Criticises ATP Structure:

Andy Roddick is really starting to show his age by becoming increasingly more grumpy with the world. This time, he has taken a swipe at the ATP leadership structure, stating that the current set-up doesn’t favour the CEO, which is why that seat seems to be constantly changing. Currently, the seven-man board consists of three player representatives, three tournament representatives and the CEO to give a deciding vote should he need to. Roddick feels that unfair pressure has seen his career span three men in that position. Current incumbent Adam Helfant will leave the role on December 31, with Roddick hoping something can be done to make the next one stick around more long-term. “I think at a certain point you have to look at the system as being flawed as opposed to continually looking for the scapegoat,” he said. “You don’t go into negotiation and have someone represent both sides. It just doesn’t happen in any business transaction or negotiation. I don’t think it’s the CEO’s fault. It’s an impossible situation. I think the system is suspect. Hopefully someone can get in there and win the battle of rhetoric one of these times and get someone to approve some changes. But under the present system, he really can’t. Some of the good ol’ boys club have it figured out pretty good. It’s not an easy position. It’s not as if we haven’t had smart people.”

Paes Denies Bhupathi Split:

Leander Paes has denied reports that he and Mahesh Bhupathi are about to end their doubles partnership with the latter eyeing a pairing with Rohan Bopanna, one eye on next summer’s Olympics in London. “As things currently stand, Mahesh and me have not yet decided to part ways as such,” Paes told MiD DAY. “We have the all-important ATP World Tour Finals that begin on Sunday and after that tournament we will sit down together to have a discussion to decide about our respective futures. When Mahesh and me got together (after nine years) we had clearly announced that we would take the partnership ahead one month at a time and see how things pan out. It was never a long-term thing. But having said that, we have not yet decided to part ways as such.’”

Moya Back at No.1:

Spaniard Carlos Moya completed a perfect debut season on the ATP Champions Tour by winning his fourth-straight title 6-3, 6-4 over Mariano Zabaleta in the Royal Guard Champions final in Santiago, Chile. In turn he secured the year-end No.1 ranking. “For the first year to finish at No.1 is all I could hope for, it’s great,” said Moya. “After I lost to Thomas [Enqvvist] this week I knew I had to try to beat Mark [Philippoussis] in straight sets, not just for a final place but to get those extra rankings points as well. And I was on my way to doing that and then suddenly I got a bit tired, he started to play a bit better and I had to save match point to get the victory. Then I had to wait for [Agustin] Calleri to beat Enqvist before I knew my fate so it has been very up and down this week with the rankings. I was lucky in some ways but now I am very relieved that I am sure to be No. 1 at the end of the year.”

Forget About the Davis Cup:

L’Equipe is reporting that Guy Forget is about to step down as the French Davis Cup captain to take over the tournament director’s job at the Paris-Bercy Masters. Henri Leconte, Arnaud Clement, Sebastien Grosjean and Amelie Mauresmo are names they are touting as possible successors.

Williams Goes Green:

Venus Williams has revealed at a sports conference in Qatar that she has added a lot more vegetables to her diet after discovering that she was suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome earlier this year. The 31-year-old added that she hoped the changes would help her play a full schedule next year. “I changed my diet completely, so lots of vegetables,” she said. “I (altered) my mind frame completely because I was the person who always ate their steak first and their salad second.  My goal next year is to play a full schedule. It will take some work to get there, but I’m no stranger to hard work. I love the game. The racket feels right in my hand and I’m planning on going right back to where I was at the top of the rankings in the singles and doubles sometime within the next 12 months.”

Rankings Almost Finalised for 2011:

With most players’ seasons now over for 2011 the South African Airways ATP World Rankings almost have a finished look. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga climbs above Tomas Berdych going in to the ATP Finals in London, while Janko Tipsarevic climbs two to No.9 to finish his year in the Top 10. American John Isner climbs six and he will finish the year in the Top 20 at No.18. Philipp Kohlschreiber is up eight to No.43 in the world, while Tommy Robredo drops out of the Top 50. Carlos Berlocq (No.65) and Nicolas Mahut (No.78) climb 10, while Tobias Kamke leaps 16 places to No.92 in the world, and Jeremy Chardy is up seven to No.97.

ATP World Tour Finals set with Berdych, Tsonga, Fish; Ivanovic wins in Bali – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Blow to the Cause

The saying goes that “there’s no place like home,” and that was certainly the case for Roger Federer last week in Basel.  The Swiss Maestro won his home tournament for the fifth time, ending a 10-month title drought in the process.  But while the victory provides Federer some much-needed momentum and confidence going into the last remaining tournaments of the year, the bigger story was his comments pertaining to the recent gripes about the length of the ATP season.  Unlike many of his other high profile fellow competitors, Federer doesn’t see the schedule as a huge issue, putting more of the responsibility on the players to schedule themselves appropriately.  He is correct in saying that it’s better to have too many rather than too few tournaments, and players need to realize where they perform best and put themselves in the best position to peak at the right time.  So while there is definite merit to Murray’s suggestion of slightly reducing the number of required events, Federer is the one to have hit the nail on the head.  His sentiments are undoubtedly music to tournament directors’ ears, and his view will carry some weight against the opposing school of thought’s arguments.  Federer’s record speaks for itself, as you don’t win as many tournaments as he has without putting in a lot of court and travel time over the course of several seasons.  If he’s been able to do it with little complaint and little injury, there’s no reason why others should not be able to follow in a similar fashion.  And if they can’t, maybe they need to take a hard look at what else is causing their injuries aside from just the length of the season (such as poor personal scheduling, style of play, etc.).

One for All

The field is set for London, and it comes courtesy of Tomas Berdych’s win over Janko Tipsarevic on Thursday in Paris.  Berdych, who was next in line to qualify, had to dig himself out huge holes in both sets to secure the victory, and as happy as he was to earn the win, two others were equally as thrilled.  The Czech’s victory also ensured that the remaining two London berths went to Tsonga and Fish.  This may have proven key for Mardy Fish, who after blowing two match points against Juan Monaco in a second set tiebreak, ultimately had to retire from the match early in the third with a niggling left hamstring strain.  Fish will hopefully be able to take advantage of having the luxury to pull out of the match, knowing he was already London bound, in order to recuperate and be in the best shape possible for the final tournament of 2011.

Great Expectations

Fresh off her win in Bali for the second straight year, a confident Ana Ivanovic stated she thinks she has what it takes to get back to the top.  Ordinarily, this might be considered a pipe dream given her results the last couple of years, but with the current topsy-turvy nature of the WTA, it’s not impossible.  She’s quickly turning her game around since bringing on Nigel Sears, and with a victory to cap off her season, she’ll be looking to build on her results early in 2012.  And while her team admits it’s a big ask to return to the apex of the rankings, the WTA could use her in the latter rounds of the competition.  Here’s to hoping she’s back in the mix and on her way to playing Istanbul at the end of next year.

Now or Never

Andy Roddick’s 2011 campaign came to an abrupt end, as Andy Murray showed no mercy in dismantling the American’s game to win the match handily 6-2, 6-2.  But it will be more than just this loss that will be leaving a sour taste in Roddick’s mouth.  For the first time since 2001, he will finish outside of the Top 10.  For sure, going into 2012 Roddick is going to put in the time and effort, because he’s always been a fighter.  He also seems confident that his slump in form is due to needing to improve his fitness and movement.  But there’s no denying that he hasn’t seemed to be enjoying himself out there much of the season.  Nor does he have the personality of a Hewitt or a Ferrero, making it difficult to see him taking the approach of those two struggling veterans.  So, barring a favorable turnaround in results, it might be time to start asking ourselves if 2012 will be the final season for the man who has carried the American banner the last decade.

Cherry on Top

After a horrendous autumn, Petra Kvitova righted the ship in stunning fashion to finish the season strong with her win in Istanbul, making a very strong case to be named the WTA’s Player of the Year for 2011.  But the hard-hitting Czech wasn’t done yet.  She valiantly led her nation against Fed Cup powerhouse Russia to secure a sixth title for her country and first since 1988.  She certainly didn’t need the win to serve a springboard going into 2012, but it’s a great addition to her growing résumé.  If she can continue to play this way consistently, we may be witnessing the dawning of a new and fruitful era in Czech tennis.

Kvitova Inspires Czechs to Fed Cup, Djokovic £1m Better Off and Federer Triumphs in Basel

Kvitova Inspires Czechs to Fed Cup:

Petra Kvitova’s incredible 2011 culminated in another major prize as she led the Czech Republic to a tense 3-2 Fed Cup Final win over Russia that went down to the final rubber. Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke defeated Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina in the doubles to clinch the Czechs’ first title as an independent nation since splitting from Slovakia in 1993. Kvitova won her two singles rubbers against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kirilenko but Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s wins over Lucie Safarova had pushed the tie all the way. “Petra won two points, but we needed one more,” said Czech captain Petr Pala. “I’m glad we’ve managed to [get] the third one. We all won it because victory is made of small pieces you have to put together. It’s team work.” Kvitova’s incredible 2011 saw her lift her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon, finish the year as world No.2 and now comes international success with her native Czech Republic.

Djokovic £1m Richer for Just Turning Up:

World number one Novak Djokovic cruised past Croatia’s Ivan Dodig in the second round of the Paris Masters on Wednesday and collected a cool $1.6m (£1m) for his troubles. The bonus relates to appearing in seven of this year’s ATP Masters Series events and he would have received it even if his shoulder injury that threatened his participation flared up and he had crashed out. He missed the Masters event in Shanghai with the problem and it flared up again during his Basel semi-final defeat to Kei Nishikori last week. “It was really funny to see how people are coming up with this story,” he said of pre-match media reports. “I even heard that I would get on court and just play one game to get this money – I mean,

this is ridiculous. We are all athletes, this is our job and we are all playing to get paid. I don’t see what is unusual about that. On the other hand,” the 24-year-old continued, “I came here to compete and because I want to play a tournament. If I know I am physically in good enough condition to compete I will compete. If I don’t, I will not compete. It is as simple as that. There is nothing else that can affect my decision.” However, Rafael Nadal will not be competing in Paris as he has taken time out to prepare “properly” for the ATP Finals in London and the upcoming Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina in Seville, starting November 28.

Federer Lifts Second Title of 2011:

Roger Federer triumphed once more at his home Basel Open last weekend to secure only his second tournament win of 2011. The 30-year-old overpowered Kei Nishikori, who had shocked Novak Djokovic in the semis, 6-1, 6-3, and it bodes well with his intentions to finish the year strongly. “It’s great to win at home again,” he said. “Kei put up a good fight. I knew when I hit with him as a teenager that he could have a good future. It was a perfect match for me. Now I have big hopes for Paris and London [the ATP Tour Finals]. It’s been a long time since I felt so good physically.” Federer also spoke this week about his early plans for 2012, saying: “I’ve already said yes for Qatar (early January) and Rotterdam (mid-February). I’m talking with Dubai to see whether I’m going to play there as well, and then there will be Davis Cup (against the U.S. in Switzerland from February 10-12). Davis Cup will be announced as soon as I will make a decision for Dubai.” Meanwhile, in Valencia, the Bryan brothers claimed their 75th title together by defeating Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-4, 7-6(9) in the final. It was their eighth title of the year.

Ivanovic can Bali Believe It:

Ana Ivanovic claimed her second consecutive Bali title by defeating Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 6-0 on her 24th birthday. The $600,000 winner’s cheque will also be a welcome present. She hadn’t won one of the International tournaments used to qualify during 2011 but was given a wildcard as the reigning champion. “I felt like I didn’t do much wrong. It was a great match for me,” Ivanovic said in her on-court interview. “Anabel and I practiced together all week, so it was nice we got a chance to play each other on the last day of the tournament. Thank you so much to the tournament for giving me a wildcard this year.” Speaking of Ivanovic’s hopes of reaching No.1 in the world again, Garrigues said: “It will be difficult, but she has the technique, physique and mentality. Why not?”

Tsonga Closes on Finals:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-3, 6-4 for his 50th win of the season, the second time he has reached this feat during his career. It also sees him close in on his first ATP World Finals spot since 2008. A win over Andreas Seppi in the next round will guarantee his place in London. Seppi’s victim in round two, Nicolas Almagro, has seen his outside hopes of a London berth quashed by the defeat. Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon are also still in with a chance but as eighth-ranked Mardy Fish has made it past the first round they will have to beat his final posting by going a couple of rounds further. Frenchman Gael Monfils has seen his hopes dashed with an early exit at the hands of Feliciano Lopez on Wednesday, much to the disappointment of the local crowd.

Spanish Flavour Heading for Auckland:

Spanish pair David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco have signed up to play the pre-Australian Open event at Auckland. Ferrer is a two-time winner there, while Verdasco will be making his first appearance at the event, which will run from January 9-14 2012. “The Spaniards seem to like coming to Auckland, and it is great to finally get Fernando to play in the Heineken Open,” said tournament director Richard Palmer. “Not only is he a fresh face but he is also a very accomplished player as his record testifies. Over the years, many people have asked if it was possible to get him here.”

Del Potro Gains Rankings Respite:

His withdrawal from the Paris Masters may have ended his hopes of sneaking in to the ATP World Tour Finals in London later this month but Juan Martin del Potro may take some solace from his re-entry in to the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week at the expense of Janko Tipsarevic. Stanislas Wawrinka climbs four back in to the Top 20 at No.17. Spaniard Marcel Granollers’ win at Valencia sees him jump 28 places to No.26 in the world, while Nikolay Davydenko jumps 14 to re-enter the Top 50 at No.39. Juan Carlos Ferrero and Marcos Baghdatis also re-enter the Top 50. Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin jumps 21 places to No.85 in the world, while Sam Querrey is up 18 to No.93 and Karol Beck jumps 10 to No.99. Caroline Wozniacki closed out the year as the world No.1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings as had already been confirmed, and she was just one-week shy of holding that position for the entire calendar year. Kim Clijsters’ one week at the summit back in February put paid to that feat. The entire Top 10 finished as we were with Petra Kvitova (No.2), Victoria Azarenka (No.3) and Li Na, (No.5) all posting their career-best year-end rankings. Germany’s Sabine Lisicki finishes the year by climbing three to No.15 in the world, while Ana Ivanovic’s Bali win sees her finish at No.22. Ayumi Morita of Japan jumps from No.54 to finish the year in to Top 50 at No.47, and Britain’s Anne Keothavong is up 10 to No.73. Iryna Bremond (No.95), Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (No.99) and Kimiko Date-Krumm (No.100) all make last-minute jumps to finish the year inside the Top 100.

Federer Makes More GOAT Race Points at Season’s Close:

Roger Federer’s win in Basel last week sees him add 200 points to his GOAT Race total for 2011, while he also gains another 10 points for entering the Paris Masters this week. Rafael Nadal’s decision to skip Paris with his eyes on upcoming commitments means he again remains point-less for the week.

Roger: 1320, Rafa: 1930

Serena to Play Fed Cup Again, Clijsters US Open Scare and Murray out of Montreal

Serena to Play Fed Cup Again:

American star Serena Williams has confirmed she will play two Fed Cup ties in 2012 to make her eligible to represent her country at next summer’s Olympic Games in London. It will be the first time she has represented her country since 2007. With its top stars absent the US team has seen itself slip from the World Group and the USTA will hope that by Serena and possibly their other big names returning they can return to the top tier of competition. “I am committing to play in both of the U.S. Fed Cup team’s ties in 2012,” Williams said in a statement released to The Associated Press by the USTA on Wednesday. “After being physically unable to participate in the last few ties, I am eager to compete in Fed Cup and help my country return to the World Group.”

Clijsters in the Wars Again:

Kim Clijsters may miss out on the chance to defend her US Open title in a couple of weeks as her torrid time with injuries continued when she was forced to retire from her second round encounter with Zheng Jie in Toronto yesterday. A set up, a stomach complaint forced her to withdraw and she will now have one eye on the clock as the seconds tick down to the final Grand Slam of the year in New York at the end of the month. She is definitely out of Cincinnati next week.“I still have a few weeks until then so will try to do everything to obviously be ready,” she said. Another player in the wars is American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who revealed that she pulled out of this week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto because of a torn right shoulder. “The fact that I have to think about it during certain shots makes it even more uncomfortable,” she said. “I still am out practicing each day, but most of my practice is done left handed. I still work on all my movement drills and so on, which is continuing to make me a better player each day. Let’s hope this week goes well and I am able to string some days together without the pain.”

Murray Slumps out of Montreal:

British No.1 Andy Murray repeated his post-Australian Open troubles with a horrendous 3-6, 1-6 defeat to Kevin Anderson yesterday. The two-time defending champion was playing his first competitive tennis since Great Britain’s whitewash of Luxembourg in the Davis Cup last month and the 6ft 8in South African dominated him from start to finish here. “I just felt very slow, the game seemed to be going so fast,” Murray told BBC Radio 5 Live afterwards. “I’ve trained really hard to get ready for the tournament. I’ve always played very well here. I couldn’t get anything going. I started both sets really, really badly which doesn’t help against someone that serves like Kevin.”

Stepanek Upsets Monfils for Legg Mason Classic:

Radek Stepanek captured his fifth ATP singles title on the weekend by upsetting the French top seed Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Legg Mason Classic in Washington. It was his first title since San Jose in 2009 and will give him confidence going through the US Open Series. “It’s my biggest win in my career so far and it’s coming in the later stage of my career, so it means so much to me that I’m capable even in this age to play such great tennis, beating the guys from the Top 10 and winning the title,” said the Czech. “It’s really an amazing feeling.” In the wake of that defeat, world No.7 Monfils has revealed that trainer Patrick Chamagne will train him for at least the next few weeks after her parted ways with coach Roger Rasheed last month. “I’m a believer, but to reach the top I have to believe more, endure more,” he said. “When I do two hours of practice, I need to add 30 minutes more. I need to feel something inside to go further. I think I show too much respect to my opponent. Maybe I can be more selfish. If I do that, I believe I can reach the finals.”

Violence Erupts at ITF Challenger:

The 25k ITF Challenger Event at Versmold in Germany erupted into chaos this week when Dutch tennis player Elise Tamaela was attacked by the father of Danish teen Karen Barbat. Tamaela, 28, was cheering on compatriot Danielle Harmsen who faced Barbat in a qualifier for the $25,000 event when Mihai Barbat erupted in to rage and assaulted her. Witnesses have reported that Barbat shouted verbal assaults at Tamaela before eventually rising out of his chair and punching and elbowing her in the face. She was knocked out for five minutes and rushed to hospital in Halle. She is reported to have suffered concussion and facial swelling. Her brother, Sander Tamaela, rushed from Holland to Versmold with their father upon hearing of the incident and they hope to return Tamaela to Holland tomorrow. “Elise has been attacked by the father of Karen Barbat [while] watching her game,” Sander posted in a message on Tennis Forum. “He was calling her names from the start of the game (all kind of racist things I’m not willing to repeat). After a while Elise said something about it, he then knocked her out with a punch and elbows to [her] temple.”

Radwanska Back in the Winners’ Circle:

Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska won her fifth WTA title, and her first in three years, as she shocked world No.3 Vera Zvonareva in the final at Carlsbad. A year on from her last final at the same event, the 22-year-old put her recent falling out with her father/coach behind her to grind out a 6-3, 6-4 victory which followed comeback wins against both Daniela Hantuchova and Andrea Petkovic. “Everything was working,” Radwanska said. “Even though I had two really tough matches in the quarters and semifinals, I played very well today. I really wanted to win this tournament so I was really focused from the beginning. Winning a tournament with a lot of great matches against top players is very special.”

ATP Tour Welcomes Another New Winner:

Dutchman Robin Haase was celebrating over the weekend after he defeated Spain’s Albert Montanes to lift the Bet-At-Home Cup Kitzbuhel. It was also his first ATP Tour final so the experience will be all the sweeter for him. Feliciano Lopez and Andreas Seppi were also among the names to fall at the feet of Haase throughout the week. “It’s an amazing feeling. I’m really happy that I won,” he said. “It was one of the goals this year to make it into a semi-final or final, and maybe win it. I was close a few times when I played good but actually lost to good players. To win this match and beat good players this week was really great.”

Gasquet Reaches 250 Mark:

Frenchman Richard Gasquet hit 250 ATP Tour singles wins this week with his first round 6-3, 6-2 win over Germany’s Florian Mayer. “I went through a period when I was losing matches, but I still practised a lot,” said the world No.13 afterwards. “Little by little I started playing better and winning matches. The victories added up and I became more and more confident.”

Stepanek Leaps in Rankings Watch:

Radek Stepanek will be beaming this week after his title in Washington sees him leap 27 places in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings to No.27 in the world. Marcos Baghdatis drops 14 to No.40, whilst Argentine David Nalbandian plummets 24 to No.51. As he drops out of the Top 50, Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen climbs back in at No.50. Donald Young and Brazil’s Joao Souza both experience big jumps to enter the Top 100, while Young’s countryman Michael Russell rounds up the Top 100 after he climbs 9. This week’s Sony Eriksson WTA World Rankings are all about Germany. Andrea Petkovic becomes the first German woman in the Top 10 for 11 years after reaching the semifinals at Carlsbad last week. Her No.10 placing is a career-high. She is only the sixth German woman to complete this feat. Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki is also at a career-high No.21, which is amazing considering she was outside the Top 200 in April. There are two climbers in to the Top 100; Greece’s Eleni Daniilidou jumps from No.103 to No.93, and Varvara Lepchenko of the USA climbs one to No.100.

Tennis People Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) Race Returns:

After Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took it easy following their exploits in Wimbledon they have both returned to action at the Montreal Masters this week. As they are back, so too is the 2011 GOAT race documenting which of the two players involved in the constant rows over who is better is performing more amiably this year. As a reminder, players receive 10 points for entering a tournament, 25 for reaching a quarterfinal, 50 for a semi, 100 for a final and 200 points for winning a title. All points are doubled for Grand Slam events. Each player receives 10 points for entering Montreal.

Roger: 965 Rafa: 1675

Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic enjoy the city

Ana Ivanovic enjoys sightseeing in Madrid

So after an early exit from the Mutua Open in Madrid, Ana Ivanovic stayed a little while longer in town. Just like she says on her official Facebook page:

Losing early at the Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open hurts. But there is one small consolation: the opportunity to see more of the city. This week I visited the botanical gardens at Park Retiro – so beautiful!

Ofcourse it’s a small consolation because a lot of us would have loved to see Ana Ivanovic reach far into the tournament. And  perhaps even, dare I say, win it? Or would that be too far off? Well if it wasn’t for that then at least have her match up versus Dominika Cibulkova. Y’know, just to show Cibulkova who is boss and take her revenge for the Fed Cup misery.

At least my photographer, Ralf Reinecke, feels my pain of the early loss of Ana and did me a HUGE favor by shooting a stunning photo of Ana Ivanovic.

When in Rome…

Not only Ana Ivanovic was ousted in the early Maria Sharapova fell to Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open.  Instead of hanging around like Ana Ivanovic, Sharapova instead flew to Rome. On her Facebook page Sharapova asked her fans the following:

Arrived today in Rome a few days too early, but what a nice city. We are having major hotel issues but should be resolved soon. Don’t you hate when websites false advertise? These hotels spend all their money on a fancy website then you arrive at the hotel and you’re like, this is not the same hotel I just saw on line?” Back to the practice court tomorrow!!!!

Has anyone ever had the same problem she has with the hotel? I never had any of those but then again, I am never in my hotelroom anyway when I am on vacations. Well ofcourse to get some sleep but that’s all.

And while we are at it. Check this video of Maria Sharapova hitting with her fans in Madrid.

In preparation for the Mutua Madrid Open 2011, Maria Sharapova wowed the crowds when she met up with lucky Sony Ericsson Facebook fans to have a hit in the center of the city. Dominika Cibulkova joined in with the action, interviewing Maria for Xperia Hot Shots.

Don’t forget to check our Maria Sharapova gallery with special kudos to Ralf Reinecke for providing them!!

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