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Marion, Misunderstood

Marion Bartoli will be playing her first Fed Cup tie since 2004 this weekend.

The year was 2004. Cesar Millan was yet to be called “The Dog Whisperer.” Ridiculously successful sequels Shrek 2, Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were dominating the box office. The Red Sox were winning playoff games and the Russians were winning slams.

And Marion Bartoli was playing Fed Cup.

As a 19-year-old, Bartoli partnered Emilie Loit in doubles in two separate ties that year; the pairing won their doubles match in a 5-0 semifinal win against Spain, but lost the deciding rubber to the Russian duo of Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva in the finals. 2004 marked the only time that Bartoli had competed in the national ITF team event in her career.

Until now.

New French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo announced on Wednesday that Bartoli, along with Alize Cornet, Kristina Mladenovic and Virginie Razzano will be the French squad that will take on Germany in a World Group II first round tie on February 9-10 in Limoges.

Bartoli’s previous point of contention with the French Tennis Federation came from the role, or lack thereof, of her father in Fed Cup ties. Previous Fed Cup captains Loic Courteau and Nicolas Escude, as well as the federation itself, took issue with the fact that Bartoli wanted to be coached by her father during the ties, rather than practice together with the team. The parties involved also questioned the nature of Marion’s relationship with her father.

“In France, they think our relationship is, so to speak, fake, and that in public it’s big smiles and behind the scenes I’m getting pushed around every day,” she once said. “When I try to explain to them that is not the case, they have a hard time to understand.”

More than just the French public and tennis administration have had a hard time understanding the Bartolis. To say that they have gone outside the box in their approach to Marion’s tennis training is putting it mildly. One of the WTA’s more colorful characters, Bartoli’s shadow swings between every point have become her trademark, and she (allegedly) boasts an IQ of 175. She and her antics are always a spectacle on the WTA, no matter where she plays; nonetheless, these things are what endear her to her fans.

Due to her Fed Cup absence, Bartoli was ruled ineligible to compete at the Olympic Games. Three Games have come and gone since Bartoli made a name for herself on the circuit, but it was perhaps the last snub that hurt her the most and may have contributed to this reconciliation. The 2012 London Olympics were held at the site of Bartoli’s greatest career successes, on the lawns of the All-England Club. Without Bartoli, Cornet required an special invitation to compete, as she did not make the cut by ranking; she won a match before falling tamely to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. Many argued that Bartoli would have been an outside, but no less legitimate, medal contender on the surface.

So the question remains: after nine years, 17 ties and a boatload of conflict, why now? Some detractors will state Bartoli’s chances to represent her country in the Olympics have come and gone; she’ll be 32 when the Olympics in Rio come around in 2016. Others would say she’s selfish for making the concessions, and is only looking to repair her image at home after the 2012 debacle. Both parties remained stubborn throughout this saga, and each holds a share of the blame.

No one can question Marion Bartoli’s patriotism. Despite all the quirks, the results don’t lie; a Wimbledon finalist with wins, among others, over Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters in her career, Bartoli’s made the most of what she has. With the crowd behind her, she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, the best performance at that event by a Frenchwoman since Mary Pierce won the title there in 2000 and reached the final again in 2005. All of that success has come with her father by her side, with little support from the national federation.

However, for this tie, Walter Bartoli will not be on site to help Marion prepare for her matches; he will be allowed to attend, but only as a family member. While we may not ever know what was said between Mauresmo and Bartoli over the past weeks, one thing is certain; someone finally understood.

CAREERS REJUVENATED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

Ivan Ljubicic

Careers Rejuvenated – Raise your hand if you had Caroline Wozniaki vs. Jelena Jankovic in the Indian Wells women’s final and Andy Roddick vs. Ivan Ljubicic in the Indian Wells men’s final. While credit has to go to both of the losing finalists for a fine effort in the desert, hearty congratulations are due to the winners, Jankovic and Ljubicic. Jankovic, who has seen her ranking slowly plummet as she struggled to win matches, finally got her act together to bag the big title and put herself back on the map. Even more impressive was Ljubicic. Well into the twilight of his career, it would seem that the big Croat’s best days were behind him. But Ljubicic proved the critics wrong and held his nerve to knock off Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal (“accident” or not), and Roddick to win his first Masters 1000 title. If this is a sign of things to come, the men’s and women’s games just got a little more interesting.

More Rumblings at Roland Garros – Gilbert Ysern has once again reiterated the fact that the French Open may not only have to move away from the Roland Garros site, but from the city of Paris itself. The reason for the move is the current inability of the FFT to enact site upgrades, such as the construction of a retractable roof, due to opposition from the public, primarily environmentalists. Some predict this will all blow over, that there’s little chance of the move. They feel that the public will cave, as they can’t imagine the second major of the year being played anywhere but Roland Garros. I’ve got my fingers crossed that a compromise can be reached so that fans around the world can continue to enjoy springtime in Paris.

A Split Decision – Politics once again has the opportunity to influence an upcoming Davis Cup tie, as Serbia is set to take on host Croatia in the city of Split. The Serbian coach, Bogdan Obradovic had requested that the tie be played in the capital Zagreb, as he felt it would be less nationalistic than Split. I’m with the ITF on denying the request, especially given the significance of Split to Croatian tennis as the hometown of local hero Goran Ivanisevic. That said, I’m not Serbian, nor am I Croatian. I can’t fathom the levels of tension that may exist, but I have seen players from both nations making great strides to get along and set an example. While this could potentially be ugly, this may also be a viewed as a golden opportunity. This is a chance for tennis to set politics aside and perhaps through sport, start mending fences between two nations.

Hewitt Headed to Houston – Aussie Lleyton Hewitt has announced that he will be making his return to the ATP World Tour earlier than expected at the clay court event in Houston.  Bouncing back from a second hip surgery will be difficult, but Houston is the perfect place to test the waters. The soft clay coupled with a middle-of-the-road field should give Hewitt the opportunity to ease back into competition. And with guys such as Ivan Ljubicic and Juan Carlos Ferrero mounting their own comebacks in the latter years of their careers, there’s no reason two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt shouldn’t expect he can do the same.

Tiger Tim Ready to Return – Well, he wasn’t ready to sit in the captain’s seat of the British Davis Cup team, but Tim Henman, still one of the most popular figures in British sports, has stated that he is ready to consider making a return to competitive tennis. He’ll play his first event at the AEGON Masters in London at the end of the season. Having reached a career high of No. 4 and one of the best serve-and-volleyers in his day, Henman was always a crowd favorite and will undoubtedly be a welcomed presence to the tour. I for one hope everything pans out, and that as Henman said, the AEGON Masters is the “first event of many for me on the ATP Champions Tour.”

Chatrier – The Name That Permeates The French Open

One name that you are hearing – and will hear – more than perhaps any other during the duration of the 2008 French Championships is that of “Chatrier.” Who is Chatrier and why is his does his name grace the center court at Roland Garros? Bud Collins, tennis journalist and historian extraordinaire, in his soon to be released book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, profiles Philippe Chatrier, the French tennis administrator who was instrumental in the resurgence of the French Championships as one of the world’s top events and the return of tennis to the Olympic program in 1988. (To pre-order THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS for a special pre-sale price of 39 percent off, click here)

As player, journalist and administrator, Philippe Charier, a Parisian, made a tremendous impact on the game, and was instrumental in its growth and success, particularly during the Open era. He was a good enough player to win the French junior titles in singles and doubles in 1945, play internationally for France, and later captained the Davis Cup team.

Serving dual roles as president of the French Federation of Tennis (1972-92) and the ITF (1977-91) he was largely responsible for the renaissance of the French Open, placing it on par with the other three majors and overseeing the splendid updating of Stade Roland Garros. He fought valiantly against over-commercialization of the game, and led a carnpaign to restore tennis to the Olympic Games, a goal realized in 1988 after a 64-year interval.

Championing the Grand Slam concept, he worked hard to ally the four major championships in staying at the pinnacle. He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee. An intelligent chronicler of the game, he was a Paris newspaperman, and founded one of the leading magazines of the sport, Tennis de France. The central court at Roland Garros is named for him. He was born Feb. 2, 1926, in Paris, and died there June 23, 2000.

Mondays With Bob Greene – Rafael Nadal Wins Monte Carlo Masters Series

STARS

Rafael Nadal won his first title of 2008 and his fourth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters, defeating Roger Federer 7-5 7-5.

Nuria Llagostera Vives won both of her singles and teamed up to capture the doubles and lead Spain over China 4-1 and into the Fed Cup World Group finals.

Vera Zvonareva beat Vania King to clinch the Fed Cup World Group semifinals victory as Russia beat the United States 3-2.

Marcelo Rios beat Michael Stich 6-3 6-3 to win the BlackRock Champions Cup in Barcelona, Spain.

SAYINGS

“Winning four times here is unimaginable.” – Rafael Nadal, who became the first player to win four straight titles at Monte Carlo since Anthony Wilding of New Zealand did it from 1911-14.

“He deserves to win. I’m pushing Rafa today, having the feeling I can beat him if I play the right way. That’s the feeling I didn’t have after (Monte Carlo) last year.” – Roger Federer after his 7-5 7-5 loss to Rafael Nadal for the Monte Carlo Masters title.

“I knew I could do it, but there were times when I wondered.” – Robert Dee, who finally won his first professional match after 54 consecutive losses.

“It was my first match on red clay in almost two years. That’s why I was a little nervous at the start of the match.” – Vera Zvonareva, who beat Vania King 4-6 6-3 6-2 to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the United States in their Fed Cup semifinal.

“I felt really sorry. I really didn’t want to lose.” – Peng Shuai, after losing 6-4 6-4 to Nuria Llagostera Vives as Spain clinched its Fed Cup semifinal victory over China.

“We knew we could win the tie, but we never expected to win three matches in a row.” – Nuria Llagostera Vives on Spain’s Fed Cup semifinal win.

“It’s not worth it. I’m just 20 years old. Still a lot of time, a lot of tournaments to come.” – Novak Djokovic, on how he felt it was too risky to continue his semifinal match against Roger Federer because of dizziness and a sore throat.

“Physically I was tired. That’s why next week is good. I don’t play any tournament.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who is taking a week off before playing in the Rome Masters.

“It’s still enjoyable. It’s nice to play the tournaments again where I have such great memories of what’s happened in the past.” – Gustavo Kuerten, after losing in the opening round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Kuerten is on a farewell tour which will culminate at the Roland Garros.

“We should have both (Maria) Sharapova and (Svetlana) Kuznetsova in the lineup. I might even have them play doubles together.” – Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev, talking about who might play for his team at the Fed Cup finals in September against Spain.

SUPER SPANIARD

Rafael Nadal joined Jim Courier as the only players in ATP Masters Series history to win both the singles and doubles at the same event. Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 7-5 for the singles title, and teamed with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo to down Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3 for the doubles crown. Nadal is the first player to win both titles at Monte Carlo since Ilie Nastase in 1973. Courier won both titles in an ATP Masters Series tournament in 1991 at Indian Wells, California.

SUCCESS – FINALLY

Robert Dee walked off the tennis court a winner after 54 consecutive defeats. The Briton defeated Arzhang Derakhshani of the United states 6-4 6-3 in qualifying for a Futures tournament in Reus, near Barcelona in Spain. Dee’s 54-match losing streak was the worst since Diego Beltranena of Guatemala also lost 54 straight matches between 1997 and 2005, although Beltranena at least managed to win a set. Until his victory over Derakhshani, Dee had played 108 sets – losing them all – since turning pro.

SUCH A PAYDAY

The payout at Roland Garros this year will be more than 15.5 million euros, an increase of more than 2 percent from last year. With equal prize money again awaiting men and women, the champions will each pocket one million euros. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the biggest prize money increases are in the wheelchair events where the total prize money available is 60 percent higher than in 2007.

SMOKIN’ SEMIS

When Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko reached the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, it marked the first time since Roland Garros in 2006 that the world’s top four ranked players were in the semifinals of the same tournament. It is the first time since the ATP Rankings began in 1973 that the top four-ranked players were semifinalists at Monte Carlo.

STOPPING THE BOMB

Frenchman Gael Monfils pulled off a unique feat in his 7-6 (8) 6-1 win over huge-serving Ivo Karlovic at the Monte Carlo Masters. Monfils didn’t concede a single ace against the 6-foot-10 Croatian. It was the first time in his career that Karlovic had failed to serve at least one ace in the match.

SITE SENSATIONAL

A record number of visitors checked out the Davis Cup web site as the nations played quarterfinals on April 11-13. The official site of the event, www.daviscup.com, recorded 4,568,701 page views, a 35 percent increase on the quarterfinals weekend in 2007. The total number of visitor sessions also saw a 39 percent rise from the previous year.

SO LONG

Clarisa Fernandez, who upset Kim Clijsters en route to the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2002, is calling it quits because of knee injuries. The lefthander from Argentina played her first professional tournament at an ITF event in Buenos Aires in 1997. She was ranked as high as number 26 in the world before undergoing surgeries in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

SEEKING HELP

Donald Young, the youngest player ranked in the ATP Top 100, will work out at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It is one of the first examples of the USTA Elite Player Development’s new collaborative approach with top coaches and private academies in a bid to develop the next generation of American champions. The USTA also announced that three top junior prospects – 12-year-old Sachia Vickery, 12-year-old of Victoria Duval and 9-year-old Alicia Black – will be working with Bollettieri.

STAYING HOME

Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, two of America’s top three players, will skip the Beijing Olympics, opting instead for a U.S. Open tuneup event. Roddick will defend his title and Fish will join him at the ATP Washington Classic, which will be played August 9-17 opposite the Olympic men’s tennis tournament. Fish was a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

SPANISH SHOCKER

Spain being in the Fed Cup final is no surprise. Peng Shuai losing three matches and Spain crushing China 4-1 in the semifinal at Beijing are shockers. Peng was the highest ranked singles player in the competition, ranked number 68 in the world. She and Sun Tian Tian are ranked ninth in the world in doubles. Instead, Nuria Llagostera Vives won three matches, teaming with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the doubles, while Carla Suarez-Navarro, ranked number 132 in the world, beat Peng in straight sets.

SHARAPOVA READY

Russia will have Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for its Fed Cup final against Spain in September. Sharapova made her Fed Cup debut against Israel in February and won both of her singles matches to lead Russia to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory. Svetlana Kuznetsova led Russia to a 3-2 win over the United States in semifinal play. Against Spain, Russia could field both Sharapova and Kuznetsova, who are ranked third and fourth in world, respectively.

SPONSOR

BoscoSport, a Russian sporting goods company, is the new official clothing sponsor of Fed Cup. It will outfit the linespeople and ball kids at all Fed Cup ties. BoscoSport has been the official Russian Olympic team outfitter since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and is also the outfitter of the Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.

SCRIBE

Bud Collins has written a new book about tennis. The writer, historian and Tennis Hall of Fame member has written The Bud Collins History of Tennis, which is due in bookstores later this spring in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and is available now with internet retailers. Collins’ achievements include being the recipient of the ATP’s 2007 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award.

SHARED PERFORMANCE

Doubles Champions

Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3.

SCORING FED CUP

World Group Playoffs

Italy beat Ukraine 3-2; France beat Japan 4-1; Argentina beat Germany 3-2; Czech Republic beat Israel 3-2

World Group II Playoffs

Belgium beat Colombia 5-0; Switzerland beat Austria 3-2; Slovak Republic beat Uzbekistan 5-0; Serbia beat Croatia 3-2

SITES TO SURF

Barcelona: www.opensabadellatlantico.com

Munich: www.bmwopen.de

Fes: www.frmt.ma/

Prague: www.pragueopen.cz

Rome: www.internazionalibnlditalia.it

Berlin: www.german-open.org

Boston: www.championsseriestennis.com/boston2008

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$824,000 Open Sabadell Atlantico 2008, Barcelona, Spain, clay

$370,000 BMW Open, Munich, Germany, clay

WTA TOUR

$145,000 Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Fes, Morocco, clay

$145,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay

SENIORS

$150,000 Outback Champions Cup Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$2,270,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Qatar Telecom German Open, Berlin, Germany, clay

SENIORS

BlackRock Tour of Champions Rome, clay

Maria Sharapova Plays Tennis with Billy Crystal and David Letterman

Hello true believers,

if you missed the last week of the good old Weekly Links it’s because I was busy and didn’t have enough time to complete it because of a hectic week!

Quitters never win and winners never quit. This definitely goes for Robert Dee, who after 54 consecutive losses, finally wins his first match. (Daily Mail)

Bud Collins reminisces on his first visit to Family Circle Cup (Island Packet)

Chris Evert and her Great White Shark are inseperable (AFP)

According leading experts Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, U.S. tennis suffers because more and more kids choose teamsports over individual sports (The Ledger)

Chris Goldsmith doesn’t rate Roger Federer’s chances of winning his much desired French Open title very high. (Sportingo)

Andy Murray has trouble playing his archnemesis Novak Djokovic (Daily Record)

The FFT has taken a stance against betting on matches and are now being countersued. (Bob Larson’s Tennis News)

Videos of the week:

Maria Kirilenko talks about her singles and doubles win at the Estoril.

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Maria Sharapova plays David Letterman and Billy Crystal.

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You seriously can’t write off Roger Federer already!

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Until next week remember the famous words of somebody I used to know: Never speak harshly of your enemy when you can kick ‘im in the shins instead!

Excelsior,

Manfred

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