Fernando Gonzalez

The Greatness of Gonzo

Not every story has fairy tale ending.  The final match of Fernando Gonzalez’s career- a 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 loss to Nicolas Mahut in the first round of Miami- took place without a television camera in sight. It ended in the worst way possible- on a double fault.

“I was a little bit tired at the end.” Gonzalez admitted afterwards.

He had every right to be tired. In his thirteen year career the Chilean played 571 ATP singles matches and 207 ATP doubles matches. He won a combined 479 of them (370 in singles), earned 11 singles titles, and amassed over 8 million dollars of prize money. He made it to the finals of the Australian Open in 2007, the semis of the French Open in 2009, and won three Olympic medals- one of each color.  He amassed all his accolades in signature style- with fun, flair, and a famously ferocious forehand.

You didn’t just see Fernando Gonzalez hit a forehand- you felt it.

I only had the pleasure of seeing him play live once, but it was the most memorable tennis match I have ever attended. It was a 4th Round clash at the 2009 U.S. Open. Fernando took on Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a late afternoon into the evening match on Louis Armstrong Stadium.  It was a perfect storm of greatness- two of the most entertaining players on tour, a rowdy New York crowd (with Chilean and French fans to spare), and a beautiful sunset providing relief from the mid-day September sun.

The match was sensational (check out the highlights below), and Gonzalez was in rare form. Down a break in the first set- and naturally unhappy with his play- he nonchalantly handed his racket to an elated woman in the front row (1:54 in the video).  Later in the same set, when Jo had a great look at an overhead smash, Gonzalez turned his back and ducked (3:30).  At various points throughout the evening he smashed his racket, pumped up the crowd, and applauded his opponent’s crafty shots.  I was so used to tennis players putting up a wall when they came out onto the court, but with Gonzalez it was the opposite.  I felt like I knew what he was thinking and feeling at all times- almost to the point where I thought I was on the court running around right beside him. And every single time, without fail, that he unleashed the fury of his forehand I got chills- no small feat in the New York summer heat.

http://youtu.be/_ReQmejWYy4

Eventually Gonzalez won that match 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-4.  He went on to face Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and I left Flushing Meadows that evening with a greater understanding and appreciation for what tennis could be.  Tennis wasn’t merely a sport when Gonzalez was on his game- it was a theatrical experience that transcended country club stereotypes, pushed boundaries, and often defied logic.

Many pundits throughout his career wondered why he couldn’t- or wouldn’t- tone down the histrionics. It was often said that if he could stop with the outbursts and the racket smashes and learn to keep his composure that he would have had an even more decorated career. But that’s just not who Fernando Gonzalez was. He gave it his all- for better or for worse. There were no filters, no falseness, no reigning it in. It’s what made the forehands so chill-inducing and the dramatics so head-scratchingly entertaining. He held nothing back. It was exhilarating, maddening, and why he captured the hearts of so many tennis fans.

But at the end of the day- in his 571st ATP singles match- there was nothing left to give.  His body had been breaking down often over the past year and a half, clearly paying the price for laying it all out there every single time.  The endless cycle of pain and rehab had left him fatigued. Simply put, when he could no longer give his matches 100%, he decided to call it a day.

After he hugged Nicolas Mahut, flashed his trademark smile, and soaked in the applause from the crowd, Gonzalez turned his attention to the big screen.  The ATP played a tribute video for him where Roger Federer, David Nalbandian, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal (among others) sang his praises.  He was clearly moved by the video- these weren’t just his competitors, they were his friends. “I think (it) is much better to remember as a person than as a tennis player,” he told the press afterwards.

Of course, that’s the greatest thing about Gonzo- the person and the tennis player were always one in the same.

http://youtu.be/0khJUxEVaDw

Azarenka Takes Hold of WTA; Federer as Strong as Ever — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Answering the Call

After the 2011 WTA season saw a slew of different winners (including three first-time Grand Slam champions), there was a real question as to whether or not there was a candidate who could muster some staying power at the top of the game.  It would appear that at the start of 2012, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka has emphatically answered that query in the affirmative.  She left Indian Wells with her perfect record intact, and what a run she had in the desert.  After nearly being bounced out in her opening match, she went on a tear.  She allowed only two games to Aggie Radwanska in the quarters, weathered nasty conditions better than Kerber in the semis, and trounced Sharapova in the final.  Her improved abilities to retrieve and improvise, as well as her skill to just outright outwit the opposition on the court have all paid dividends in her success.  Not bad for a player who almost walked away from the sport early last season.  The powers-at-be are surely grateful that she opted to stick it out, as irrespective of what many may think of her controversial shrieking, she is exactly what the WTA has so desperately needed.

Still in the Mix

The newer and arguably more exciting rivalry in men’s tennis may now be that of Djokovic vs. Nadal, but only a fool would discount Federer’s chances of upsetting the apple cart and wrestling big titles from those two.  The Maestro proved as much with his victory at Indian Wells.  It may not have been a major, and he didn’t have to go through both 1 and 2 to hoist the trophy, but this was a huge win for Federer.  He became the first man to win Indian Wells four times, and he tied Nadal for most Masters 1000 titles at nineteen.  But perhaps the most important aspect for the Swiss was that he defeated Nadal en route to the title.  The terrible weather conditions take nothing from the significance of his victory over the Spaniard either.  It is an experience he will look to draw on should they meet again at a slam.  Interestingly, Federer’s run puts him less than a 1000 points behind Nadal.  It’s still a long way to go, and even further to reach the summit of the rankings, but with less to defend than either Djokovic or Nadal, Federer may just find a way to defy the odds, reclaim the top ranking, and add yet another enthralling chapter to his storybook career.

Serving Notice

John Isner may have fallen short at the final hurdle twice this past Sunday, but the towering American served notice to spectators and his fellow competitors that he is going to be a tough customer for anyone on tour.  Isner has shown promise in the past, such as his five-set loss to Nadal in the opening round of Roland Garros last year and his shock defeat of Federer this past February in Davis Cup.  But his definitive breakthrough came when he played the best match of his career to knock out Djokovic in the semis of the BNP Paribas Open last week.  Unfortunately for Isner, his serving wasn’t as stellar in the final against Federer, but it doesn’t diminish what he accomplished.  For his efforts in reaching the final, he earned a spot in the Top 10 for the first time in his career, and with little to defend in the coming months, he’s poised to climb even higher.  Does he have what it takes to win a major?  That’s debatable.  The high level he sustained against Djokovic is most likely the exception rather than the norm, but if he finds himself in the zone and gets some help from the draw, it could happen.  With that serve, nobody should count him out.

A Good Break

Tennis players are always looking to get a break, and the British Government is giving them one.  It comes in the form of a tax amendment amidst several complaints from international sports superstars.  Under the law, foreign athletes are taxed on prize money, appearance fees and their endorsement earnings.  It was enough to convince some to seek their match play elsewhere before competing at Wimbledon.  The British Government has since altered the current rule to include training days, meaning a smaller portion of an athlete’s endorsement earnings would be taxable.  Hopefully this latest move will sway some players back to competing in the British Wimbledon warm-ups once again.

Hello, Goodbye

Miami and the tennis world said welcome back to both Venus Williams and Alisa Kleybanova.  Williams showed no mercy and no rust from a seven-month layoff against Date-Krumm, while Kleybanova had to battle to overcome Larsson in three.  It was great to see them back out and competing once again and an added bonus that they both advanced to the second round.  Unfortunately, tennis fans had to say good-bye to the popular Fernando Gonzalez, who will now go into retirement after his opening round loss to Nicolas Mahut.  The Chilean put forth a valiant effort, saving three match points before ultimately falling in a third set tiebreak.  He was a joy to watch, he will be missed, and here’s to hoping he stays involved with the game.

Federer Calls Out Nadal; The Week’s Notable Winners– The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Notable Wins

The results may have been lost in the anticipation of Indian Wells, but last weekend saw some noteworthy victories on the ATP World Tour.  Kevin Anderson broke hearts after saving match points against Roddick before dismissing Isner and ultimately winning the Delray Beach title over Australian qualifier Matosevic.  Anderson hasn’t done enough to warrant being considered a dark horse at any of the bigger events, but the 6’8” South African has proven more than capable of playing the spoiler.  Meanwhile, David Ferrer added to his case for being considered an outside chance to take the title at Roland Garros or any of the lead-up Masters 1000 events by securing his third consecutive title in Acapulco with his victory over Verdasco.  He certainly has the game and tenacity to give anyone trouble, but as always, it’s questionable whether he has the mental fortitude to play his best when it really counts.  A player who has exhibited plenty of mental fortitude over the years if Federer.  He continued his good run of form, defeating Andy Murray in the final of Dubai to show he has more than enough game left to win another major or two.  Hopefully these results will translate into a growing mental confidence, because while Djokovic, Murray , and especially Nadal will always pose a potential problem to him, his biggest hurdle seems to be between the ears.

Notable Loss

It’s not every day a losing finalist garners much attention, but Andy Murray deserves it after his run to the Dubai final last week.  In his quarterfinal match against Berdych, he squandered multiple match points and got down a break point before clawing his way across the finish line.  Then in the semifinals, after blowing Djokovic away the first set and a half, he found himself in a position to serve it out, only to be broken and see Djokovic level things at 5-5.  It appeared to be shades of the Australian Open semis all over again. This time, however, Murray held his composure and broke the Serb to still seal the deal in two sets.  Though he fell shy against Federer, there’s little doubt that this tournament marks a turning point in his career.  He’s keeping his temper relatively in check, and he’s bouncing back from the lows in matches much quicker.  Whether or not he’s capable of managing this at a Slam remains to be seen, but his performance in Dubai could move some back towards once again asking the question “when,” not “if” Andy Murray will win a major.

Calling Out

Roger Federer is getting more vocal, and his latest complaint is that time violations are not enforced properly.  Personally, I’m in agreement with Federer.  It’s up to the chair umpires to use their best judgment, as there will be occasions where an excessive amount of time is warranted.  But when excessive time is taken merely as a mind trick against an opponent or a stall tactic to gather wits before a big point, it needs to stop.  The same goes for those who have long rituals between points, especially if it holds up an opponent’s serve.  But what is most interesting about Federer’s comments is that he chose to single out Nadal.  It would have been preferable for Federer to leave out names, but it’s still not on par with Nadal’s comments about Federer back in January.  Federer is, after all, stating a fact.  Nadal has been the highest profile offender of this rule for a number of years, but for all intents and purposes, Djokovic is right there with him.  Given Federer’s history with Djokovic, it’s surprising he wouldn’t name him, too.  Then again, perhaps it’s Federer laying the groundwork for should he meet Nadal in the semis of Indian Wells, hinting that Rafa should pick up the pace or be prepared for Federer to ask the chair umpire to work on him.   And maybe, just maybe, their rivalry is no longer the love fest it once was.

Off into the Sunset

Shortly after Fernando Gonzalez calls it a career, Croat Ivan Ljubicic will be doing the same after the Monte Carlo Masters.  Often referred to as “a poor man’s Federer,” Ljubicic was always fun to watch and a dangerous floater at any event.  His presence on the circuit will be greatly missed, but it sounds like he won’t be straying too far from the game.  We all look forward to what he’ll bring to the table as he looks to serve the sport in other ways.

Rightful Place

Chalk another one up for Brazil, as the South American nation is set to see another one of its own enter the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten, a three-time winner of Roland Garros who shocked many when he won the Tennis Masters event in Lisbon to finish 2000 as the No. 1 ranked player in the world, will take his place among the legends this coming July.  He’s a deserving addition, and congratulation to him for this honor.

(Photo via AP)

Around The Corner: Life After The Davis Cup

With the opening round of the Davis Cup wrapping up on Sunday, the ATP World Tour will now shift back into form with three tournaments in Rotterdam, San Jose and Sao Paulo. Here’s a closer look at the draws from all three events and some analysis on who stands the best chance of making it to the final weekend.

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament

The largest of the three being played this week, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament is a level 500 event. An indoor hard-court event, Roger Federer will be looking for the surface to bring him some much needed success. A disastrous Davis Cup showing at home on clay has left Federer clearly confused about the status of his game. Rather than admit he played poorly, Federer instead shifted the blame onto country-man Stan Wawrinka. It was a rare moment of bad judgement from Federer. He opens with Nicolas Mahut from France and then could potentially face a dangerous opponent in Mikhail Youzhny who won the title recently in Zagreb.

The always tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov is also in the same quarter as Federer. The two have only played once, with Federer winning in Basel two years ago. Dolgopolov has come a long way since then and with the way Roger played this past week, you’d have to think this could be a great QF match.

Richard Gasquet, Feliciano Lopez and former top-ten presence Nikolay Davydenko are in the following quarter of the draw. I’d give a well-rested Gasquet (he did not travel to Canada for Davis Cup) the best shot of emerging here.

Juan Martin Del Potro is the third seed and should be able to navigate his way through the third quarter of the draw. He opens against Michael Llodra of France who has to get all the way from Vancouver, Canada to Rotterdam in the next twenty-four hours.

At the bottom of the draw is second seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic who has had some success lately with a big win in Montpellier over Gael Monfils. Berdych had a very solid 2011 where he won one event and reached eight tournament semi-finals and seven tournament quarter-finals. He is really starting to find that consistency that will make him a mainstay in the top-ten. A meeting in the second round with Marcos Baghdatis looms, but otherwise Berdych should be able to set-up a semi-final encounter with Del Potro that would be highly entertaining.

Regardless of the results, the tournament is guaranteed a new winner this year as Robin Soderling is not yet healthy enough to defend the title which he has held for the past two years. I’m gonna give the nod to Berdych in this one and I have a feeling that Federer’s recent troubles might continue with an early exit this week.

Brasil Open 2012

Played on clay, the Brasil Open attracts some of the usual dirt-ballers one might expect to see. Nicolas Almagro is the defending champion and also won this event in 2008. He has played some pretty decent ball on hard-courts so far this year so we’ll see if that continues on his favourite surface. Almagro is seeded first and gets a bye into the second round. His quarter is pretty sparse which should help him get his clay-court wheels going.

Fernando Verdasco is the third seed and has a nice section in his quarter as well. Take a look at veteran Fernando Gonzalez from Chile if possible as he has already announced his retirement to take place in Miami this coming March. Injuries have really taken away Gonzo’s physical and mental endurance but hopefully he has a little magic left in him before he says goodbye.

In the bottom-half of the draw, aging Juan Carlos Ferrero the eighth seed and Thomaz Bellucci the fourth seed will likely fight it out for a spot in the quarter, while the bottom quarter is the most interesting with David Nalbandian who is unseeded, Albert Montanes and second seeded Gilles Simon.

Almagro gets my vote of confidence to take this one based on his clay-court prowess and success at this venue in previous years.

SAP Open

A year ago the ATP World Tour took notice of fast-rising Canadian sensation Milos Raonic when he won his first-ever event here in San Jose. Unfortunately for Canadian tennis fans, a repeat will be very difficult to achieve for several reasons.

Firstly, Raonic was forced to pull-out of the Davis Cup tie against France on Sunday with pain in his knee that had been already taped throughout the event. Will he even be healthy enough to play in San Jose?

Beyond the injury debate, Milos has a tough draw that sets him up with first-seeded Gael Monfils in a possible semi-final match-up. He will also have to contend with having the entire draw gunning for him as the defending champ. Coming into an event as the title-holder is quite different from what he experienced a year ago.

In the bottom-half things will be pretty wide-open with Andy Roddick returning from an injury he suffered at the Australian Open and occupying the second seed. Who knows what kind of game the former American No. 1 will bring with him but his lack of match play will hinder his changes.

Underachieving Sam Querrey, aging Radek Stepanek and vet Julien Benneteau round-out the bottom half in terms of potential contenders. I’d look for one of them rather than Roddick to make their way to the finals against Monfils who appears to be over the knee problems that he was dealing with upon his arrival to Canada for the Davis Cup.

Around The Corner: Life Continues on the ATP World Tour

After a hectic two weeks of Grand-Slam action from Melbourne, life returns to normal on the ATP World Tour. There are three 250-level tournaments this week and while the pace will be perhaps less enthralling than what we’ve just witnessed in Australia, here are some of the big names we can look forward to watching.

Open Sud de France

Formerly held in Lyon in October of each year, the Open Sud de France has now relocated to Montpelier at an earlier date within the tennis season.

Tomas Berdych is the number one seed and will try to win his first ATP title since his victory in Beijing this past October. That was the only title the Czech won in 2011, but he had an incredibly solid year reaching the semi-finals of eight tournaments and the quarter-finals of seven others. That type of consistency has made Berdych a main-stay in the top-ten in recent years but success at the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level have still mostly eluded him with the exception of his win at the Paris Masters in 2005 and his Wimbledon final in 2010.

Berdych has a very manageable quarter of the tournament with no major obstacles in his way and a first-round bye to ease him into the draw.

Richard Gasquet is the fourth seed and is also in the top-half of the draw and he will likely face Nikolay Davydenko in the second round. Despite Davydenko’s rapid drop in play these past two years, the Russian will still give Gasquet a good challenge and provide fans with an entertaining early round match.

In the bottom half of the draw, look for two Frenchman to navigate their way through to the semi-finals. Both Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon are the highest two seeds and also the most likely to ride the support of the French fans to a solid showing.

Canadian number-two singles player Vasek Pospisil will undoubtedly be keeping his eye on the French, as Canada is scheduled to host the French in the first round of the Davis Cup on February 10th in Vancouver. Pospisil opens against French wildcard Guillaume Rufin.

PBZ Zagreb Indoors – Croatia

It was a moment for Croatian tennis fans to relish a year ago in Zagreb when Ivan Dodig captured his first ATP title against Michael Berrer. While the chances of Dodig repeating are not necessarily favored, he is one of three Croats who could lift the trophy on the final Sunday.

Veteran Ivan Ljubicic holds the top seed and opens against Karol Beck. Ljubicic has won the event before and has the best chance of emerging from his quarter of the draw.

Beneath him can be found monster-server Ivo Karlovic who will also receive plenty of home-country support. Mikhail Youzhny will try to bounce back from a disappointing first round loss in Melbourne as he holds the third seed and is my pick to emerge from the top-half of the draw.

In the bottom half, we have Marcos Baghdatis and the previously mentioned Dodig in one quarter. In the final section of the draw, Alex Bogomolov Jr. is the surprised second seed and leads the weakest section of the tournament. In other words, look for Baghdatis or possibly Dodig to have a good route to the finals.

VTR Open – Chile

Providing some contrast to the two hard-court tournaments this week, we have the VTR Open which is played on red clay. Last year’s champion in Vina del Mar is Tommy Robredo but he is not entered in this year’s edition. Meanwhile Fernando Gonzalez holds the most career titles at the event with four. Gonzalez has taken a wildcard into the main draw as he has struggled since returning to the tour last year from hip and knee injuries he sustained in 2010.

Clay court expert Juan Monaco takes the pole position this year and opens with a first round bye. Albert Montanes who is seeded fifth will likely be Monaco’s main source of opposition in the top-half of the draw.

In the bottom section look for Thomaz Bellucci, who won the event in 2010, to challenge once again for the title and for second seeded Juan Ignacio Chela to advance into the draw as well.

Don’t feel bad if you are feeling the effects of a tennis-hangover as these smaller events begin. Nothing can really compare to two weeks of elite level tennis like we have just experienced. There is a lot to look forward to however, with the first round of Davis Cup action just two weeks away and then a month after that we will enjoy back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.

Fernando Gonzalez drinks his worries away

Fernando Gonzalez has had a tough road back since his right hip surgery back in October of 2010. He was a 2003 finalist at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, but he has yet to take home the title. Could he do it this year? Possibly, but don’t bet on it.

 

He had an intense two-and-a-half hour practice in the brutal Sunday afternoon heat, en route smashing three, count them, 3 racquets beyond repair. He was visibly frustrated with himself, his movement, and his overall form, and he took it out on his racquets. His coach was on him like glue during water breaks, telling him to change his placement or go for more on his shots. Jurgen Melzer in the court next to him even glanced over a few times in surprise, checking to see if everything was alright.

Although he is a former world #5, he is looking irritated and fragile on court. He is slated to take on another player coming back from right hip surgery as well, German Tommy Haas, in the first round on Tuesday.

At the Chef’s Challenge, a special event hosted by Rums of Puerto Rico, Gonzalez chatted up attendees and enjoyed the delicious Latin dishes. And then I caught him indulging in something else: alcohol. Does he seem to be washing down his frustration by getting his drink on? You decide.

Drink 1

Drink 2

Before his practice on Saturday afternoon, he couldn’t even get onto the court. The side door was deadlocked. The guy just can’t catch a break, can he?

Follow Romi on twitter for more exclusive updates! @TennisRomi

ATP Tour Honeymoon Fever Continues – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson
Taking a Stand – The ladies of Spain are making their voices heard, stating that they are prepared to boycott the first round of the 2011 Fed Cup if the Spanish Tennis Federation doesn’t show a little more support for Spanish women’s tennis. They’re maintaining their position even in the aftermath of the Federation’s response to their initial demands, and supporters of women’s tennis have to respect their stance. What’s more, former Grand Slam champions Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez have lent their support to their countrywomen. It will be intriguing to see how it all unfolds. Spain is tied for third in all-time Fed Cup title wins with 5, though their last win came in 1998. With so much success on the men’s side, however, there’s no reason to think that a similar level of success couldn’t be achieved on the women’s side without the same kind of support. Hopefully their stance will pave the way to change.

Return of a Champion – 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro will be making his return to competitive tennis in Bangkok next week. All eyes will be looking to see how quickly the big Argentine will be able to shake the rust from his game. In many ways, he couldn’t be coming back at a better time. The big guns tend to take a bit of a break at this time, and many of the tournaments will be contested on indoor hard courts where one is often able to produce his best tennis due to not having to battle the elements. Hopefully Del Potro is able to find his range quickly, as the sport has missed the powerful strokes of this young gun that belongs with the rest of the big boys at the top of the men’s game.

Injury Woes – One player on the opposite end of the spectrum from Del Potro is Fernando Gonzalez. The Chilean is set to undergo hip surgery that is expected to keep him out of the game for up to nine months. To compound his problems, his doctors have already informed him that a knee surgery may also be necessary. Playing the brand of tennis that he has throughout his career, it’s not surprising that the body would eventually give out, but hopefully it will also bounce back and allow him a chance to end his career on a high.

First Time for Everything – There were some pretty memorable Davis Cup victories over the weekend, but the biggest praise has to go the nation of Serbia, especially Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsarevic kept Serbian hopes alive by bringing his best to the court and defeating Tomas Berdych in his opening match on Friday, but the Serbs still found themselves down 2-1 going into the final Sunday. That’s when Djokovic and Tipsarevic came up good when the chips were down to lead Serbia to its first ever Davis Cup final. It will be a tough task to take out a deep French team, but what a fantastic story it would be.

Taking the Plunge – On a lighter note, two engagements were announced for two of the game’s most well known doubles specialists. Indian star Mahesh Bhupathi is set to wed former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, and one half of the famous Bryan Brothers duo, Bob Bryan, has also announced his engagement to girlfriend Michelle Alvarez. Dutta’s reps have already confirmed that her marriage to Bhupathi will not take place for at least a couple of years. No word yet on when Bob will look to tie the knot, but don’t look for it to impact his play. With so much left to play for, it’s unlikely the thought to hang it up has entered his mind, and neither Bryan seems the type where the institution of marriage could turn into a hindrance to their games.

Rogers Cup Draw Doesn’t Disappoint

For the second year in a row, the Rogers Cup draw ceremony was held atop Canada’s highest man-made peak. The CN Tower played host on Friday to the number one player in the world as Rafael Nadal filled a decisive role in slotting players into their respective starting positions.

I must admit it was certainly the most impressive location I’ve ever been to for this type of gathering and I tried to ignore my fear of heights as I shot straight up 1700 meters in an elevator above the city of Toronto.

Rafa arrived right on time at 4pm sharp to a healthy round of applause from tournament officials, local VIP’s and members of the media. He seemed to be in quite a good mood, but then again wouldn’t you if you had just won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back and also watched your country win the World Cup?

After a quick hello from tournament director Karl Hale and a brief generic intro from Rafa himself, the big moment of determining who will play who had arrived.

Nadal and number two seed Novak Djokovic were immediately placed on opposite sides of the draw. Then came the time where third seed Roger Federer and fourth seed Andy Murray were placed as tournament organizers anxiously crossed their fingers for the potential of a Nadal/Federer final. Djokovic might be second in the world now, but let’s be honest – we all want a Nadal vs Federer hard court final, right?

ATP official Tony Cho told Rafa he could pass the pressure of selecting a name to Karl Hale, but the Spaniard seemed to relish the opportunity to select his own eventual fate. Things worked out exactly as many had hoped with Murray ending up in the top half with Nadal and Federer ending up in the bottom half with Djokovic. Thank you tennis Gods!

Some of the more interesting first round matches include Gael Monfils the 15th seed against Fernando Gonzalez. David Ferrer the 10th seed has the misfortune of facing a suddenly resurgent David Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Gilles Simon will face 12th seeded Mikhail Youzhny which should also be a good one.

The top eight seeds in the tournament receive a first round bye, meaning they will not play their first matches until Tuesday and Wednesday.

The four Canadian wildcards in the draw received a mixed offering for the opening round. Canada’s best hope, Frank Dancevic always seems to draw tough opponents in his home tournament and this year is no different as he will face Stanislas Wawrinka. Should he get past him he will have the honor of playing against Nadal in the second round.

Pierre-Ludovic Duclos was fortunate to receive a qualifier as his first opponent. The plus side is that whoever he faces will have a lower ranking but on the negative side of things they will have two qualifying matches already under their belt.

Roger Federer’s practice partner in Canada, Peter Polansky, gets 13th seeded Jurgen Melzer for his first match, while 19 year old Milos Raonic will meet Victor Hanescu.

Looking at both halves of the draw is seems to me that the top portion is the stronger battlefield. Nadal will have to get through the likes of Wawrinka, Querrey, Roddick and Murray just to make it to the finals. Others like Robin Soderling, David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic also lurk in the top half.

In the bottom half, Federer has a nice quarter where he could face Wimbledon nemesis in the final eight. Before that however he has a relatively stress-free opening couple of matches. Novak Djokovic should be untroubled advancing to the semi-finals with a struggling Nikolay Davydenko and Jurgen Melzer has his only major threats.

After a month long layoff from any serious tennis it should be a great week of tennis here in Toronto. Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand as we will be keeping you up to date daily from the Rogers Cup.

Photos by Mike McIntyre.

GONZO OUT, MURRAY DUCKS OUT ON DAVIS CUP: TENNIS PEOPLE

* Former world No. 5 Fernando Gonzalez has announced he will be away from the tour for 10 weeks while he battles a bilateral patellar tendinitis. “Unfortunately I have bad news,” he told his official website. “The bilateral patellar tendinitis that I have will force me to be away from competition for 10 weeks. Because of that, I will have to skip Gstaad, Bastad, Hamburg and, most sadly, the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against Czech Republic at Coquimbo.” He has targeted the hard-court ATP Masters tournament in Toronto in August as his return.

*Andy Murray has conformed he will not be participating in Great Britain’s crucial Davis Cup relegation playoff against Turkey next month. New captain Leon Smith must face the Turks without his two highest ranked players as Alex Bogdanovic is also missing. But Murray felt the Brits were in good shape even without their two top stars. “I’ve given a lot of reasons for not playing and I do think that it’s time for us to start winning ties, having young players getting used to winning,” Murray told BBC Sport. “Right now it’s important that the guys get used to winning and beating teams like Turkey and I think they will do.”

* Rafa Nadal has admitted that recapturing his Roland Garros crown from Roger Federer was always top priority in his mind ahead of reclaiming the No. 1 slot in the South Africa Airways ATP World Rankings. In an interview with Fox Sports he said: “The (French Open trophy) is the most important thing for me. After the No. 1 is there, yes. But I was No. 1, and believe me, I am very happy. When I was crying after the match, the last thing I was thinking was the No. 1. The first thing is the title and all the hours I worked, a lot, to be here another time.” The interview also gives the views of top stars including Robin Soderling on Rafa’s chances of dominating at Wimbledon again two years on from that epic 2008 final against Roger Federer. Check it out at the Fox Sports website.

* Roger Federer’s defeat to Lleyton Hewitt in the final at Halle last Sunday was only his second defeat on grass since 2003, the first being the blockbusting 2008 Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal. The victory for Hewitt moved him up to No. 26 in the world in this week’s ATP rankings (14/06) which will help emphatically with his seeding for Wimbledon. Benjamin Becker re-enters the Top 50 at 48 while his Queens final defeat to Sam Quarrey has seen Mardy Fish jump 20 places to No. 70 in the world.

*Thai star Paradorn Srichapan has officially announced his retirement from professional tennis. He has always said he hoped to return from the wrist injury that has kept him sidelined since early 2007 but a recent motorcycle accident in which he broke both his hands and injured his knee has put paid to that. He is now set to coach the Thai Davis Cup team.

*In the Sony Ericsson WTA Rankings (14/06) Na Li’s victory over Maria Sharapova in Birmingham moves her in to the world’s Top 10 for the first time since February. Aravane Rezai is in to the Top 20 at 19 while Sybille Bammer and Arantxa Parra Santonja enter the Top 50. It is the first time since the week beginning August 25, 2003 that only one Russian occupies a Top 10 slot.

* The knee injury that forced Russian Elena Dementieva to pull out of her French Open semi with Francesca Schiavone has now ruled her out of Wimbledon. The 28-year-old reached the semis in 2008 and 2009 and had hoped to go one step further this year. In better news, Richard Gasquet has stepped up his return from the back injury that kept him out of Queens in a bid to make the Slam, reports L’Equipe. Kei Nishikori also hopes to make the event according to his management.

* Kim Clijsters reflected favourably on her return from injury which saw her crush compatriot Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-1 at Eastbourne. “It was not bad for a first match in a while,” said Clijsters. “I stayed focused very well… Yanina wasn’t playing her best tennis, she made a lot of mistakes, but I was trying to go to the lines a lot and be really aggressive.”

* Following on from yet another Roland Garros title Rafa Nadal chose somewhere different to celebrate – Disneyland Paris. He posed with new-generation favourites such as the Incredibles and spent the day on his favourite rides and attractions. “It’s a place I love,” he said. “I often come with my family and I also intend to return very soon.”

* Lindsay Davenport has increased her return to the WTA Tour by announcing she will also be playing the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford this year.

* Billie Jean King is backing Martina Hingis to also return to pro tennis on the doubles circuit following her competing in the 2010 World Team Tennis season. Hingis has already announced that her and Anna Kournikova will compete in the legends doubles competition at Wimbledon this month and King believes she is “testing the waters” in regards to a full return according to the associated press. In a conference call with Tennis.com, however, Hingis has claimed she is still undecided on the issue but has considered teaming up for doubles with Lindsay Davenport after the former American star announced more dates for her comeback this year.

* Following on from his defeat to Feliciano Lopez at Queens Rafa Nadal gave an insight in to how he was going to be spending his time off before Wimbledon. “Have some dinner with the friends and maybe play some golf. That’s it,” he said. “Oh, and World Cup—always,” he added. He also pinpointed where he may improve before tackling the third Grand Slam of the year at Wimbledon later this month. “Next week, in Wimbledon, I gonna have more time to practice and to adjust a little bit more the serve, a little bit more the backhand and the movements on the grass. So that can be good thing.”

* Dominica Cibulkova has begun to work full-time with Dinara Safina’s recently axed coach Zeljko Krajan, according to TennisReporters.net.

* Three-time Rogers Cup Champion Chris Evert is heading in to the tournament’s Hall of Fame. She will be inducted in a ceremony on August 16th during the evening session of that day’s play.

* GB’s Ken Skupski has spoken of his delight at moving in to the world’s Top 50 doubles players, at No. 49. “We’ve [Skupski and partner Colin Fleming] just finished with the Aegon Championships and we’re heading to Eastbourne to play in the Aegon International and that’s the tournament prior to Wimbledon,” he told BBC Sport. “We feel we have got a good chance next week. I’m not sure whether we’ll be seeded but we will be one of the top ranked teams there.”

AND NOW FOR THE GOOD DOCTOR: GONZO SHOWS OFF NEW GIRLFRIEND

Fernando “Gonzo” Gonzalez sure knows how to have a good time with the right girl.  He was seen taking a relaxing boat ride on the Yarra River in Melbourne of the sixth day of the Aussie Open 2010.

The girl in the photos is a famous-in-Chile artist called Daniela Castillo.  Who? Yah Daniela Castillo. For you Chilean fans who visit this website it is no mystery who she is. But for those who don’t know, I have scoured the pages of my famous friend, no not you Manfred, of Wikipedia.

Daniela Castillo Vicuña (born September 26, 1984 in Santiago de Chile, Chile) is a Chilean female pop singer and actress. She debuted in 2002 as a solo artist on the Chilean TV show Rojo: Fama Contra Fama. She studied four years at the Alicia Puccio Academy where she met the casting crew for the TV show Rojo. Although she did not win first place in the singer talent contest, she became very popular due to her voice. She released her first studio album on November 23, 2003 entitled Daniela Castillo under the Warner label. The album was was a success, achieving triple Gold and double Platinum certification in Chile.

In July 2006, she starred in the movie Rojo: La Película, which was released in Chile. The movie follows characters played by her and other fellow members of the show, trying to achieve their dream in the music industry.

She released her second album Obsesión on November 28, 2006, which was certified Gold in Chile.

Enjoy the read and the Aussie Open and most of all, enjoy the pics of Fernando Gonzalez and Daniela Castillo!

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