finish line

Kim Clijsters On the Mend – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Parting Ways – The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that the doubles pairing of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic will be calling it a day on their partnership at the end of this year. Though Zimonjic initiated the change, Nestor admitted he had been contemplating of doing the same, so the two will be parting amicably. They’ve also lined up some stellar partners for 2011. Zimonjic will be playing with Llodra, the tricky Frenchman with a great set of hands who has also seen a rise in his singles play due to his prowess in the forecourt. Nestor will be joining forces with “The Beast,” Max Mirnyi, who with his height and big frame always poses a challenging proposition. Both new duos should shake up the doubles arena next season.

On the Mend – It’s music to the ears of all WTA officials and the Doha tournament director. Kim Clijsters posted on her Twitter account that she is no longer feeling pain in her foot, though there is still a small cut. This is of course no guarantee that the Belgian will be competing in the season-ending championships, but her encouraging news that she might be able to make the final event of the year is welcome news indeed. With nearly half of the WTA’s top 20 players either officially out or assumed out for the remainder of the year, the WTA is in desperate need of another top star to find a way to cross the finish line. And with the field becoming more and more diluted with each passing week, if Clijsters is able to compete in the final event of the year, it could be easy pickings, providing her a strong platform from which to spring into next year.

Fitness Race – Much like last year, Andy Roddick finds himself in a race against the clock to try and finish the year on a high instead of on the sidelines. Having straineed his groin last week in Japan, the American tried to give it a go in Shanghai, only to aggravate the injury further. His retirement from injury all happened a year to the day that Roddick suffered a season-ending injury at the same tournament in 2009. Things look more optimistic for Roddick this time around, however, who feels he has a decent chance of competing in Basel and perhaps still earning a spot in the elite ATP World Tour Championships. Those pulling for American tennis success will particularly be hoping for a speedy recovery, as Roddick needs the points to attempt to finish in the top 10 for the ninth consecutive year (he currently stands at 11).

Bigger than Sport – Their partnership has been well-documented, and it is continuing to pay dividends. The Indian-Pakistani partnership of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi won the Peace and Sport Image of the Year Award in one of the feel-good stories of the week. Their courage and willingness to set aside their differences is admirable, and it is great to see it transcending the sport. Hopefully their actions, and the actions of other players, (such as Serb Novak Djokovic and Croat Ivan Ljubicic exchanging shirts at the end of a match) will teach others to put aside their prejudices.

Dropping like Flies – One of the biggest stories of the week has been the number of top WTA players who have already called it a season in order to prep for 2011. Granted, some have been freak injuries, but it has to leave some scratching their heads. After working out a “roadmap” to shorten the season, it seems the number of dropouts is an even bigger problem than in years past. No doubt the shortened season is a much-needed improvement, but the number of injuries and early exits would seem to also suggest that it’s time to start taking a look at what other factors are contributing to the WTA woes. Advancements in equipment and the predominant style of play, this “big babe tennis” as Mary Carillo has dubbed it, may be more of a culprit than some realize, and the situation needs to be rectified. After all, the WTA Championships should be won by the best of the best, not simply the last woman left standing.

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

By Maud Watson

At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.

Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.

Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.

The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.

Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.

Paul Annacone Joins Team Roger Federer Full Time – The Friday Five

Player Down – In one of the scarier moments at the US Open in recent memory, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka collapsed on court near the tail end of the first set during her match encounter with Gisela Dulko. Heat was initially deemed the culprit behind the collapse (and it probably did add to the situation), but it was later confirmed that Azarenka was suffering from a mild concussion, which came as a result of a fall she had taken earlier in the day. In hindsight, Azarenka should recognize the foolishness of her actions in staying on the court. Health should never be that severely compromised, and there were plenty of signs that she needed to throw in the towel well before she collapsed. But at the same time, I have to applaud Azarenka. Many a player has retired from a match for far less than she was experiencing, and while she did push the limits too far, I do admire her attitude of wanting to try to find any way to cross the finish line, even when things aren’t going well.

It’s Official – It’s probably no surprise, but Roger Federer did confirm prior to the start of the US Open that Paul Annacone would be joining his team full time. While Annacone is with Federer in New York, Annacone will not be able to go full time with Federer until he finishes his commitment with the LTA later this year. Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi will also remain a part of the Federer team. All are in agreement that having Annacone in his corner is likely to pay some big dividends for Federer down the road, and it would appear that Annacone’s advice is already creeping into the “Maestro’s” game, with Federer finding his way to net with increasing frequency. There’s still plenty of tennis to be played, but a major win in their first Slam together as official coach and pupil could be in the cards for Annacone and Federer.

Hall Bound? – Earlier this week, the International Tennis Hall of Fame announced the names of those individuals who will be on the ballot for possible 2011 induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the spotlight belonged to Andre Agassi. There were a few grumblings about the Hall putting Agassi forth as a candidate after he had confessed in his autobiography Open to using drugs, but Agassi’s situation is not the same as the performance-enhancing drug problem that baseball currently faces and should not stand in the way of his candidacy for induction consideration. Hard to imagine he won’t make the cut at the first time of asking, so expect to see him take his place among the legends next July.

Roddick Bounced – A few upsets have already occurred at the 2010 US Open, including the loss of Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych to tricky Frenchman Michael Llodra in his opening match on Wednesday. But later that same night, in a men’s second round encounter, Janko Tipsarevic caused an even bigger upset, bouncing crowd favorite Andy Roddick in four sets. While this match did go down as an upset (and certainly a disappointment to the home crowd), it wasn’t a total shocker. Tipsarevic has shown he can produce phenomenal tennis, as few will forget his memorable five-set encounter with Federer at the 2008 Australian Open. That was the kind of spectacular brand of tennis Tipsarevic brought to the court this past Wednesday, and coupling that with the fact that mono prevented Roddick from being match tough going into the Open proved a recipe for disaster for the veteran American. The question to keep an eye on for now will be how Tipsarevic follows up that win in his next round.

Spare a Thought – A former Top-10 player, who along with countryman Nicolas Massu brought glory to Chile at the 2004 Summer Olympics, Fernando Gonzalez now finds his career in a freefall thanks to a niggling knee injury. The Chilean had only been able to compete in one other tournament since Wimbledon, and it showed. After dropping the first set in a tiebreak in his first round match with Ivan Dodig, Gonzalez appeared just a shadow of his former self, quickly surrendering the second set before retiring from the match down 1-0 in the third. A colorful character who hits his forehand as big as anybody, my fingers are crossed that his body cooperates and allows him to have at least one more go near the upper echelons of the game.

By Maud Watson

ANDY RODDICK AND SAM QUERREY ARE OPPOSITES: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Questions for Querrey – American Sam Querrey needs to find some answers as to why he’s lacking motivation, how does he find it again, and how does he do a better job of controlling his mindset when he’s out on the court. I’ll give credit to Sam for at least owning up the fact that he’s struggling to find his motivation and that he hasn’t exactly been the epitome of professionalism, even admitting that he’s tanked some points. He’s had some peaks and valleys in his 2010 season, but there’s no doubt he’s been one of the more promising young American players. To hear his latest comments was definitely disappointing. It sounds like his coach has the backbone to call Sam on it though, and hopefully between the two of them, they’re going to be able to turn things around before burnout occurs.

Grinding it Out – American Andy Roddick has been the opposite of his compatriot Sam Querrey. Roddick’s clay court preparation has been next to nil, and undoubtedly his worst since turning professional. To top it off, clay is his worst surface, and his results at Roland Garros have predominantly been dismal. When playing Fin Jarkko Nieminen, who himself has thus far had a terrible 2010 season, Roddick found himself down two sets to one. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and look towards the greener pastures of Wimbledon, but he ground it out like a true professional. In his second round, he takes on little-known Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia. Roddick had his serve broken on multiple occasions, endured a few rain delays, and even dropped the second set before finding his way to the finish line. I haven’t always been a fan of some of his outbursts on court, but I greatly admire the way he’s handled himself thus far at the French Open.

Darkness (and Chaos) Reign – It was only Day 4 of Roland Garros, but already there was high drama on Court Philippe Chatrier. Gael Monfils was up against Fabio Fognini. There was enough drama as it was, with Fognini staging a comeback after being down two sets to love. Then, at 4-4 in the fifth, tournament referee and Grand Slam supervisor Stefan Fransson made an appearance to presumably call play for the day. Instead of calling play, however, he talked it over with the players, and then, the insanity began as Fognini argued it was too dark to continue but was forced to play on anyway. In a statement made on Day 5, Fransson confirmed that both players claimed that they wished to continue playing, but that Fognini changed his mind after his box signaled to him to stop. Now maybe that constitutes illegal coaching, but I still felt for the Italian and found myself rooting for him. Of course he was initially going to claim he wanted to keep playing. He was playing a Frenchman and had a stadium full of French tennis fans who had patiently sat through rain delays earlier in the day (and were being egged on by Monfils) clamoring for the drama continue.  The situation was poorly handled by Fransson. Fognini should never have been put in the position of having to be the bad guy by asking for play to be called, and the fact that he got a point penalty for delay of game was ludicrous. I realize Monfils cannot be held accountable for the actions of tournament officials, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of justice was done when Fognini came out the victor.

(Un)dressed for Success – I’m going to join the multitudes of people commenting on Venus Williams’ latest tennis attire and go on record as saying I’m not a fan. Venus pushed the envelope with similar use of the bodysuit down in Australia, and now she’s crossed the line. Even taking into account that Venus has the figure to wear the dress, and that French Open and WTA administrators alike agree that her outfit doesn’t violate dress codes, that doesn’t make it right. Her attire is better suited to the bedroom than Court Philippe Chatrier, particularly on Kids’ Day. And as a sidebar regarding Venus’ comment that lace has never been done in tennis, she should research the stir Gussy Moran’s lace-trimmed panties made at Wimbledon just over 60 years ago. I’m happy to see that women’s tennis fashion has evolved since the time of Gussy and others, but I think in this case, the pendulum has swung a bit too far.

In Need of a Break? – That’s the question some are asking of Dinara Safina after she lost her first round match to 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm. After winning the first set, the Russian led by a break in the second and a double break in the third, but still failed to put away the cramping Japanese veteran. The good news for Safina is that she wasn’t complaining of the niggling back injury that has hampered her year, and she also seems positive about working with her new coach, former ATP pro Gastón Etlis. It’s hard to forgo competing in a Slam, but given that grass is historically her worst surface, I wonder if it wouldn’t serve Safina well to take month or so away from the game, bond more with her new coach, and get in the valuable practice time that’s has eluded her due to her back injury.