Francesco Ricci Bitti

Women to Score Big at Olympics, Henin in Mourning and Raonic’s Maiden Title

Olympics High Ranking for Women:

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has announced that for the third-straight competition ranking points will be available to all women competing at 2012 Olympics in London. They hope the move will entice all the top players to participate. Entry criteria has also been altered to allow four singles players and two doubles pairings to partake from each competing country. ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said: “More top women will be eligible to compete in London, which is good.” The ITF is now in talks with the ATP to strike a similar deal for the men’s players.

Henin “Mourning” Her Career:

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin has described her feelings following her second retirement from the sport as being in “mourning.” An elbow injury suffered at last year’s Wimbledon failed to heal properly and forced the 29-year-old to announce her leaving after her defence of the Aussie Open ended in round three against Svetlana Kuznetsova. “I regard ending my career more like a sentence that’s been handed down than a decision I’ve made,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner. It is also ironic that the injury which ended her career was suffered whilst playing her long-time nemesis turned friend Kim Clijsters. “The will is there, but physically I can’t [carry on]. Now I have to mourn the end of my career. I’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career but this time, at 29, I just can’t go on. You have to be reasonable about things. When I came back from Australia, I had consultations with three different doctors. It got to the point that I needed 10 minutes in the morning just to get my elbow functional. The ligament wasn’t solid enough to handle the intensity of the game. I’m going to miss all the great feelings you have as a professional tennis player. I hope I’ll pick the racquet up again one day, but more than anything I want to live a normal life.” We wish one of the greatest talents to grace the women’s game luck in whatever ventures she now chooses to pursue.

Raonic Nips Debut Title:

The star of 20-year-old Milos Raonic continues to rise after the Canadian shocked Fernando Verdasco and much of the tennis world to lift the SAP Open in San Jose last week. The 20-year-old secured a 7-6(6), 7-6(5) victory in a tightly contested final to become the first Canadian since Greg Rusedski to lift an ATP Tour title. It also makes him the youngest victor since a 19-year-old Marin Cilic triumphed at New Haven in 2008. The match ended in somewhat controversial circumstances. Raonic hit a blockbuster 138mph serve which Verdasco got his racquet too. However, just before string met ball a spectator screamed “yes” and the Spaniard netted the return. The umpire refused to replay the point leaving the world No. 9 furious. “It came quicker than expected and it was amazing, I can’t stop smiling” said Raonic of lifting an ATP title. “I hope I can keep it going more than six weeks, for a full year schedule, and see where I am at the end of the year. I can play at this level. It’s going to be tough to jump into the top 10 right now but I think I’m on the right way. I have some things I want to work on but I’m happy with my week and I’ll always remember this. This is what I’ve always dreamed of.” Verdasco was surprisingly gracious in defeat given the final proceedings: “I saw the big potential he had in Australia,” Verdasco said of Raonic’s fourth-round achievement at the Aussie Open. “He deserved the victory here. He was hitting big serves but he also had so many forehand winners. I tried it all but couldn’t do anything more. He played too well.” Raonic yesterday (Wednesday) repeated the result at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis.

Soderling Finally a Defender:

Swedish star Robin Soderling successfully defended an ATP title for the first time in his career last weekend as he overcame Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the final of the ABN AMRO World tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. Soderling has now clinched two titles this year (he also took Brisbane) equalling his season best total from 2010. “I had many tough matches this week,” said the 26-year-old. “I had to fight a lot for every match. I was lucky, I had the margins on my side. I think to win tournaments like this, you need to of course play well, but you need a little bit of luck as well.” Rotterdam is proving a fruitful city for Soderling who also reached the final here in 2008, losing to Michael Llodra. “I’ve had two wins and one final, it’s very good, I like it here a lot,” he said. “It suits my game and when you come to a place where you’ve played well before it brings out good feelings. Of course it’s tough trying to defend the title, it adds some extra pressure, but I felt good and had only positive feelings.” Full fallout can be read at the ATP website.

Pennetta to make History:

Doubles beauty Flavia Pennetta will make history on Monday when she climbs above her partner Gisela Dulko to claim the No. 1 ranking in doubles. It will be the first time ever that an Italian, male or female, has sat at the top of the pile in either singles or doubles. This week last year, Dulko won the Bogata Championships alongside Edina Gallovits-Hall. As she is not playing this week those points have fallen off her total and so Pennetta will climb above her. This follows on from the pair’s maiden Grand Slam at Melbourne Park where they overcame Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko in the final.

Kvitova Stuns Supermum:

Petra Kvitova lifted her third, and biggest, WTA Tour title with a shock 6-4, 6-3 win over Kim Clijsters at the Open GDF SUEZ in Paris last weekend. “I’m very happy to win my second title of the year, and it doesn’t get much better than beating the new No.1 in the final,” said the No. 4 seed. “I thought I played very well. I played my game, fast and aggressive, as I couldn’t let her dominate. It’s very special to defeat Kim in the final. I’d like to thank my team and I would like to dedicate this victory to my grandfather, who passed away last week.” Clijsters was gracious in defeat: “My opponent was just better today,” she said. “I couldn’t play my best because she put so much pressure on me. I had to go for it because if I put it in her hitting zone, she was dominating. If she continues to play like that, she will be Top 10 before long. She is so much fitter and moves better than last year.” More can be read at the WTA website.

Hantuchova Back in Business:

Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova was celebrating last weekend after her first title in nearly four years at the PTT Pattaya Open in Thailand. After overcoming the top seed Vera Zvonereva in a mammoth semifinal encounter she faced Sara Errani in the title decider. It was slightly more straightforward for her as she ran out a 6-0, 6-2 victory in just an hour and 16 minutes. “I was really hungry to get another title,” the 27-year-old said. “I was focused and aggressive from the start. I won the whole tournament in straight sets, which is a good sign. After the injury at the start of the year, this feels great. I had a good pre-season and now it’s paying off. I just never doubted myself. The match with Vera was a little final I would say, but I have to give credit to Sara, she played well the whole tournament. I hope to come back to Pattaya City. I didn’t have time to see anything of Thailand, so hopefully I come back not just for the tournament, but also holidays!”

Zvonereva Living the Dream:

In a column for the Gulf Times world No. 3 Vera Zvonereva has been discussing life as a tennis celebrity. “I believe there is a big side of talking to the media which isn’t about getting column inches,” wrote the Russian. “Sometimes I think we have to do interviews, sign autographs and have pictures taken as a way of giving back to the fans. That’s important. I also think it’s a two-way thing. The media must respect when enough is enough and give us our privacy. You learn how much to give as you get older. When you are young you give too much. It has to be a balanced relationship. You have to know where to draw the line because everyone wants a piece of you. I will always be a girl who doesn’t need the attention but I’ll always give what I can for my fans. They want to know who I am, see I’m a normal person who does normal things. I have a personality and I’m not afraid to show it.”

Murray Not Mint for Dubai:

Andy Murray has withdrawn from next week’s Dubai Championships with a wrist problem, his official website has confirmed.

Sharapova Back at The Priory:

World No. 13 Maria Sharapova has once again committed to playing the AEGON Classic at the Edgbaston Priory this summer as preparation for Wimbledon. It is the eighth time in nine years she will play the event, having previously won it in 2004 and 2005. “I’m excited to be playing once again,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s one of my favourite pre-slam tournaments. I always get such a warm welcome in Birmingham at the event and from the people in the city.” Sharapova was also a finalist here in 2007 and 2010.

Gasquet Orders An Italian:

French star Richard Gasquet has hired the Italian Riccardo Piatti as his new coach after splitting with Eric Deblicker recently, reports L’Equipe. Piatti is the man responsible for guiding the giant Croat Ivan Ljubicic to No. 3 in the world. “Everybody knows Richard’s an excellent player,” Piatti said. “He’s still young and had to live with huge expectations because of his early success. He has to be given time to grow and better manage his emotions.” Gasquet will also continue to take advice from former Top 10 player Sebastien Grosjean.

Bhupathi Gets the Universe:

Doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi has married for a second time, wedding former Miss Universe Lara Dutta in a ceremony attended only by the two families.

Mauresmo Dismayed with Roland Garros Decision:

Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has voiced her dismay at the French Tennis Federation’s decision last Sunday to keep the French Open at Roland Garros past 2016, reports Reuters. The areas of Versailles, Gonesse and Marne-la-Vallee also bid to hold the tournament but were beaten off despite all offering areas larger in size for development. “I think that in Paris today we don’t have the possibility to have the necessary space to develop Roland Garros,” said the two-time Grand Slam winner. “We are the smallest of the four Grand Slams and I think it is important to have the chance to grow, and for the public to have more room.”

WTT No.1 Heaven:

Ten current and former world No. 1s will compete in this year’s World Tennis Tournament with Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova agreeing to compete in the competition beginning in July. Hingis will play for the John McEnroe-led New York Sportimes alongside Kim Clijsters. Serena and Venus Williams as well as Sam Querrey will represent the Washington Kastels while Kournikova and Lindsay Davenport will turn out for the St. Louis Aces alongside competition debuting Mark Philippoussis. Melanie Oudin will also make her WTT debut this year, starring for the Philadelphia Freedoms. Pete Sampras will play for the Newport Beach Breakers, competing for the first time since 2007, and Bob and Mike Bryan again play for the defending Champions Kansas City Explorers. Mardy Fish will battle for the Sacramento Capitals and John Isner and James Blake will represent the Boston Lobsters.

Third Time Lucky For Blake?:

James Blake is now making a third and final attempt at a return to the ATP Tour following yet another long injury lay-off. The injury-prone 31-year-old missed most of 2010 but was back in action last week at San Jose. Matt Cronin of Tennis Reporters fame caught up with him to find out his thinking behind the decision. Read the great article over at the Fox Sports site.

Rankings Watch:

The Austrian Jurgen Melzer is the new world No. 10 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings following close of play in Rotterdam. He leapfrogs the Russian Mikhail Youzhny. The Serbian Viktor Troicki leaps five to No. 19 while Andreas Seppi of Italy is in to the Top 50 at No. 47. Milos Raonic’s maiden title at San Jose sees him leap 25 places to No. 59 in the world and Simone Bolelli and the Argentinean pair of Brian Dabul and Leonardo Mayer are up in to the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings Kim Clijsters has climbed above Caroline Wozniacki to become world No. 1 for the first time since she came out of retirement. It is the fourth time in her career she has sat on top of the sport. Petra Kvitova’s shock win over Clijsters in Paris sees her climb 4 to No. 14. The Ukraine’s Alona Bondarenko is in to the Top 50 with Anna Chakvetadze dropping out. Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan jumps from No. 72 to No. 64 and Jelena Dokic, Laura Pous-Tio and Ksenia Pervak enter the Top 100, Dokic climbing from No. 120 to No. 91.

GOAT Race Update:

Again, neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal was in action last week so the scores remain as they were.

Roger: 330 Rafa: 130

Mondays With Bob Greene: We do not wish to politicize sports

STARS

Venus Williams beat Virginie Razzano 6-4 6-2 to win the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emigrates

Andy Roddick captured the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee, USA with a 7-5 7-5 victory over Radek Stepanek.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Open 13 by beating Michael Llodra 7-5 7-6 (3) in Marseille, France

Victoria Azarenka beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-1 6-3 to win the Regions Morgan Championships women’s title in Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Tommy Robredo stopped Juan Monaco 7-5 2-6 7-6 (5) to capture the Copa Telmex in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Gisela Dulko 6-3 6-2 to win the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia

SAYING

“I felt like I had to talk about her (Shahar Peer). I thought it was brave of her to come here and try and play despite knowing that it is not going to be easy for her. My dad grew up in an area where if you spoke too much, it was your life. So I felt I had a small opportunity to say something where everyone will listen.” – Venus Williams, who after winning the title in Dubai spoke of Peer during the trophy presentation.

“I am not here to rock any boat or upset people. I am just here to do things that are right. And I think right things are already happening next week and right things will happen next year.” – Venus Williams.

“We do not wish to politicize sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here in the UAE.” – Salah Tahlak, Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships tournament director, in a statement.

“I made it clear to them (the Dubai organizers) that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament. It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise.” – Larry Scott, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO.

“The ITF believes that sport should not be used as a political tool but rather as a unifying element between athletes and nations. Our flagship competitions, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, were founded on the idea of fostering greater understanding among nations through tennis, a principle that is as valid today as it was over 100 years ago.” – Francesco Ricci Bitti, ITF president.

“I personally look forward to competing in Dubai next year. It is still very unfortunate that due to the decision of the Dubai tournament and the UAE, I could not participate this year. This has hurt me significantly both personally and professionally.” – Shahar Peer.

“This has been a very difficult period for me, and I want to thank the many thousands of fans and organizations all over the world that made this breakthrough possible, including the WTA Tour and my fellow players.” Shahar Peer.

“In the 21st century there is no reason a person should be restricted from doing his or her job because of their nationality, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation.” – Billie Jean King.

“I think due to the press and the WTA talking about it and talking with the tournament, and the pressure they felt after Shahar Peer not getting a visa – it opened up an opportunity for this other player to get a visa. I think because we didn’t just sit down and say: ‘Oh, it’s OK’, we kinda stuck to it, and it opened the doors for someone else, which is great. I don’t think that would have happened if we had just let it be.” – Serena Williams, after Israeli Andy Ram received a visa to play in the men’s tournament in Dubai.

“No player who qualifies to play an ATP World Tour event should be denied their right to compete on the basis of ethnicity, nationality or religion and we are happy that the Dubai Tennis Championships and the UAE have shown that they share that view.” – Adam Helfant, ATP president, in a statement after Ram received a visa.

“It’s amazing, I played unbelievably. Novak did a very good job today, so it was tough to beat him. For me, it was my best match since the start of the year and I’m really happy about that.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after beating Novak Djokovic in the semifinals at Marseille, France.

“I had my opportunities to close out the match in the second set. But the truth is Monaco played a good match and deserved to win.” – David Nalbandian, after losing his Buenos Aires Open semifinal to Juan Monaco 2-6 7-5 7-6 (2).

“She played I think one of her best matches and I was not there. I didn’t give myself the chance to play. It was one of those days today and I’ll just have to forget it and get ready for Indian Wells.” – Dinara Safina, after losing a first-round match to Virginie Razzano 6-4 6-2

“It’s been a difficult tournament with changing conditions all the time. It’s the first time I’ve finished with my shoes full of water.” – Tommy Robredo, after winning in Buenos Aires on a court soaked by a heavy overnight downpour.

“I have no regrets. None. I was proud to retire as the world’s No 1 player. I came to the realization that there was a great life out there outside of playing top-flight tennis. It became clear in my head that I would be happier in another way.” – Justine Henin, in an interview with The Sunday Times of London.

“I could have played a match here, but not two.” – Richard Gasquet, after withdrawing from the Open 13 tournament in Marseille, France, because of a right shoulder injury.

SHAMEFUL ACTION

Tournament organizers, citing fan anger at Israel’s recent incursion into the Gaza Strip, said security fears were behind the decision to not give Shahar Peer a visa. The United Arab Emirates, which is trying to become a showcase for world-class sports, found itself immediately at the center of a firestorm of criticism from around the world. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP, which have rules stating any player should be able to compete where they wish provided they have the required ranking, led the protests. An American cable company, Tennis Channel, canceled its coverage of the tournament. And The Wall Street Journal’s European edition withdrew its sponsorship of the event. Peer thanked her fellow players for their support, but insisted it was only fair on the other competitors that the tournament continued. “They were in or on their way to Dubai, and denying them the right to play in this year’s tournament at the last moment would not make the wrong right. Venus Williams won the singles, then singled out Peer in her post-tournament remarks.

SLAMMED

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour fined the organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships a record USD $300,000 after Shahar Peer of Israel was denied a visa to play a tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Under a barrage of negative comments, Israeli Andy Ram was granted a visa to play in this week’s men’s tournament in Dubai. “Thanks to the courage of Shahar, and all those individuals and organizations – including her fellow players – that supported her, the UAE has changed their policy and another barrier of discrimination has fallen,” WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said. Besides the fine, the WTA Tour announced will receive USD $44,250 and 130 ranking points, the amount equal to the points that she earned during the same week in 2008 but was unable to defend. Peer also will be guaranteed a wild card entry into the Dubai tournament next year if she does not otherwise qualify. Anna Lena Groenefeld, who was to be Peer’s doubles partner in Dubai, will receive USD $7,950, an amount equal to the average prize money that she earned per tournament in doubles in 2008. “These actions are also intended to send a clear message that our Tour will not tolerate discrimination of any kind and that we will never allow this situation to happen again, in UAE or elsewhere,” Scott said.

SEEKING WIN

Andy Ram has an added reason to win the doubles title at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships this week. United Arab Emirates authorities granted Ram a visa following sharp world-wide protests when his fellow Israeli, Shahar Peer, was denied entry into the country and prevented from playing in the women’s tournament. Organizers of the men’s event said Ram will have all the security he needs while in Dubai. Ram and partner Julian Knowle are coming off a second-place finish at the Open 13 tournament in Marseille, France, when they lost the title match to Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra 6-3 3-6 10-8 (match tiebreak). The head of the Emirates consular affairs department said a “special permit” had been granted for Ram, but did not give a specific reason why Ram was allowed to participate and not Peer.

STAYING AWAY

Five of the top ten players in the world will be skipping the Dubai men’s championships this week. Rafael Nadal is suffering from a knee injury and hopes to be ready for Spain’s Davis Cup tie against Serbia. “The doctor has advised me to stay home and rest after the pain on my knee in Rotterdam last week,” Nadal said. Roger Federer has a bad back and will also miss Switzerland’s Davis Cup tie against the United States. Also skipping this week’s tournament, one of the richest on the ATP tour calendar with prize money of more than USD $2 million, are Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco and Andy Roddick. “They have all seemed to have legitimate injuries,” said Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free. He apparently hadn’t talked with Roddick, who said the Peer affair was the reason he won’t defend his title in Dubai. “I really didn’t’ agree with what went on over there,” Roddick said. “I don’t know if it’s the best thing to mix politics and sports, and that was probably a big part of it.”

SILENCE, PLEASE

There won’t be much noise when Sweden and Israel play their first-round Davis Cup match in Malmo, Sweden. Because of anti-Israeli demonstrations planned during the three-day competition, Malmo officials said the matches will be played in an empty arena. Only officials, some sponsors and journalists will be allowed to view the competition because the city’s recreational committee said it could not guarantee security for the fans. There is a history in Sweden for quiet Davis Cup ties. In 1975, following a military coup in Chile, no spectators were allowed in Bastad’s arena to watch Sweden play Chile.

SKIPPING TIE

Roger Federer will miss Switzerland’s Davis Cup tie against the United States because of a back injury. He also is skipping this week’s tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emigrates. Federer said he has not had enough time to completely strengthen his back after hurting it last fall and is taking the break as a precautionary measure. Switzerland takes on the United States in the first-round tie on March 6-8 in Birmingham, Alabama.

STAYING HOME

Nikolay Davydenko will not participate in Russia’s first-round Davis Cup tie against Romania. Russian team captain Shamil Tarpishchev said Davydenko is not yet fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined the world’s number five player for two months. Tarpishchev has named Marat Safin, Dmitry Tursunov, Teimuraz Gabashvili and Mikhail Youzhny for the March 6-8 tie that will be played in Sibiu, Romania.

SUING

In a lawsuit, Zina Garrison has accused the United States Tennis Association of discrimination. The former US Fed Cup captain said she was treated unfairly because she was paid a lower salary than Davis Cup coach Patrick McEnroe, wasn’t given a multiyear deal equivalent to McEnroe’s and was subjected to higher performance standards than he was. In the suit, Garrison claims her replacement as Fed Cup captain, Mary Joe Fernandez, was given a given a higher salary despite little coaching experience at the national level. The first black captain of the US Fed Cup team, Garrison replaced Billie Jean King in 2004 and her teams had a 5-5 record in five season, losing in the semifinals four times and the quarterfinals once. “During Ms. Garrison’s five-year tenure as captain, the United States Fed Cup team did not advance to the Fed Cup final, its longest drought in the competition’s 45-year history,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier, who denied discrimination was involved in the change.

SUCCESS

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez finally has a singles title to go along with her doubles success. The Spaniard captured her first career WTA Tour singles crown when she defeated Gisela Dulko 6-2 6-3 at the Copa Sony Ericsson Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia. “The final was more difficult than the score suggests, but on the important points I think I played better,” Martinez Sanchez said. “I really believe that doubles helps my singles.” The 26-year-old has won six doubles titles.

SABATINI HONORED

The International Tennis Hall of Fame paid a special tribute to former US Open winner Gabriela Sabatini during the Copa Telmex Tournament in her hometown, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sabatini, who became the first woman from Argentina to win a Grand Slam tournament title in 1990 at the US Open, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006. The ceremony was conducted by Mark Stenning, CEO of the Hall of Fame, and 2005 Hall of Famer Butch Buchholz.

SENIOR LEADER

Now that’s he’s recovered from hip surgery, Lleyton Hewitt will lead Australia’s Davis Cup team in their Asia/Oceania first-round tie in Thailand next month. Because of the surgery, Hewitt missed Australia’s last Davis Cup competition against Chile. Joining Hewitt on the squad will be Chris Guccione, Carsten Ball and teenager Brydan Klein. Tennis Australia also announced that Wally Masur will replace Darren Cahill as coach of the squad, joining Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald.

SAYS NO THANKS

Plans for a Davis Cup comeback by Greg Rusedski have been dashed by British captain John Lloyd and the team’s top player, Andy Murray. The 35-year-old Rusedski said his performance in senior event had convinced him that he still could be competitive. And with Murray on Britain’s team, Rusedski felt he could help the squad, and even was willing to participate in a playoff to decide who will play number two to Murray when Great Britain takes on Ukraine. Instead, Lloyd has decided to go with youngsters.

SHOWING LIVE

The United States Davis Cup tie against Switzerland will be televised live on Tennis Channel. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced Tennis Channel will broadcast live the US Davis Cup competition for the next two years. Tennis Channel has the US television rights for Davis Cup ties involving countries other than the United States, as well as all Fed Cup matches. For the past two years, Tennis Channel has shown US Davis Cup matches only on tape delay.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Marseille: Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra beat Andy Ram and Julian Knowle 6-3 3-6 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Dubai: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3 6-3

Memphis (men): Mardy Fish and Mark Knowles beat Travis Parrott and Filip Polasek 7-6 (7) 6-1

Memphis (women): Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki beat Yuliana Fedak and Michaella Krajicek 6-1 7-6 (2)

Bogota: Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 7-5 3-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Buenos Aires: Marcel Granollers and Alberto Martin beat Nicolas Almagro and Santiago Ventura 6-3 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Dubai: www.dubaitennischampionships.com

Acapulco: www.abiertomexicanodetenis.com

Delray Beach: www.yellowtennisball.com

Bergamo:  www.olmesport.it

Monterrey: www.abiertodetenismonterrey.com

Davis Cup: www.DavisCup.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$2,233,000 Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, Dubai, UAE, hard

$1,226,500 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, clay

$500,000 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, Delray Beach, Florida, USA, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$135,000 Internazionali di Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Monterrey Open, Monterrey, Mexico, hard

DAVIS CUP

World Group

(First Round)

Argentina vs. Netherlands at Buenos Aires, Argentina, clay

Czech Republic vs. France at Ostrava, Czech Republic, carpet

United States vs. Switzerland at Birmingham, Alabama, USA, hard

Croatia vs. Chile at Porec, Croatia, hard

Sweden vs. Israel at Malmo, Sweden, carpet

Romania vs. Russia at Sibiu, Romania, carpet

Germany vs. Austria at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, hard

Spain vs. Serbia at Benidorm, Spain, clay

Americas Zone Group I (First Round)

Uruguay at Colombia, Ecuador at Canada

Americas Zone Group II (First Round)

Jamaica at Mexico, Netherlands Antilles at Venezuela, Guatemala at Dominican Republic, Bahamas at Paraguay

Asia/Oceania Zone Group I (Second Round)

Australia at Thailand, India at Chinese Taipei, China at Japan, Korea at Uzbekistan

Asia/Oceania Zone Group II (First Round)

Philippines at Hong Kong, Pakistan at Oman, Kuwait at Indonesia, Malaysia at New Zealand

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (First Round)

Macedonia at South Africa

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (Second Round)

Slovak Republic at Italy, Ukraine at Great Britain, Poland at Belgium

Europe/Africa Zone Group II (First Round)

Georgia at Lithuania, Egypt at Slovenia, Latvia at Moldova, Bulgaria at Hungary, Finland at Denmark, Montenegro at Monaco, Ireland at Algeria, Portugal at Cyprus

Hall of Famer Guillermo Vilas To Receive Davis Cup Award of Excellence

NEWPORT, RI — The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have announced that Guillermo Vilas is this year’s recipient of the Davis Cup Award of Excellence.  Presentation of the award will be made on Saturday, November 22 during the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final between Spain and Argentina to be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Presenting this prestigious award to Vilas will be the President of the International Tennis Federation Francesco Ricci Bitti, joined by past award recipients Neale Fraser (2001), Pierre Darmon (2002) and Manolo Santana (2004).

“The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the ITF have the great honor of presenting Guillermo Vilas with this year’s Davis Cup Award of Excellence,” said Christopher Clouser, Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “Guillermo is one of our great ambassadors of tennis and served Argentina in Davis Cup play for a record 14 years. He is responsible for the growth and popularity of tennis in Argentina, competing so successfully at the highest level of international competition during his career.”

“Guillermo Vilas is synonymous with tennis in Argentina, particularly Davis Cup where he represented his country for 14 years,” added ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti.   “He was instrumental in his country’s march to the final in 1981 and I know that he is very proud that he will be in Mar del Plata to see his Argentinean team attempt to win the title for the first time.”

The purpose of this award is to recognize the importance of Davis Cup by honoring individuals who best represent the ideals of the competition’s founder, Dwight Davis, 108 years ago. The Davis Cup Award of Excellence is presented annually and is voted on by a panel that includes the ITF President, the Chairman of the Davis Cup Committee, the President of the host National Association, a representative of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and a journalist from the host nation. The recipient must be a member of a past or present Davis Cup team, and must be from the country/region where the Final is being held.

Guillermo Vilas, inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991, holds the Argentinean Davis Cup records for most total wins (57), most singles wins (45), most doubles wins (12), most ties played (29), most years played (14) and best doubles team (with Jose-Luis Clerc). His overall career Davis Cup win-loss record stands at 57-24 (45-10 in singles and 12-14 in doubles).  A true sportsman, a fiery competitor and all-around team player for his country, Vilas played in 29 ties over 14 years (1970-1973, 1975-1984) and led his country to their first-ever appearance in a Davis Cup final (1981).

Born in Mar del Plata in 1952, the left-handed Vilas became the Latin American sensation that popularized tennis in South America. In 1977 he captured the singles titles at both Roland Garros and the US Open. He went on to win back-to-back Australian Open singles titles in 1978 and 1979. Vilas also reached the Australian singles final in 1977, and three additional French singles finals (1975, 1978, and 1982). He was ranked in the World Top 10 for nine consecutive years (1974-82), reaching the world No. 2 ranking in 1977.

A clay court specialist, Vilas was just as strong from the back court as he was at the net, with a strategic game of tactical mastery to thwart his opponents. He captured 62 career singles titles along with 14 doubles titles. His Grand Slam singles career win-loss results are noteworthy: Australian Open, 23-3; Roland Garros, 56-17; Wimbledon, 15-11; and US Open, 43-14.  He is credited with being the first Argentine to capture a Grand Slam event (1977 Roland Garros) and the first Argentine to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1991). Vilas was also the winner of the last US Open Championship Match played at Forest Hills in 1977.

The Davis Cup Award of Excellence was inaugurated in 2001 by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation.  Past recipients are Neale Fraser (1984 Hall of Famer) of Australia in 2001; Pierre Darmon of France in 2002; John Newcombe (1986 Hall of Famer) of Australia in 2003; Manolo Santana (1984 Hall of Famer) of Spain in 2004; Miloslav Mecir of the Slovak Republic and Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia in 2005; Alex Metreveli of Russia in 2006; and last year, Stan Smith (1987 Hall of Famer) of the United States.

The 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final will be contested at the Estadio Polideportivo in Mar del Plata November 21-23 between Spain and Argentina. The Davis Cup Award of Excellence presentation will be made during a special on-court ceremony, prior to Saturday’s tennis competition.

For more information regarding the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, including live scoring, visit the official website www.daviscup.com. For more information regarding the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and its programs, visit www.tennisfame.com.

Mondays with Bob Greene: Nadal Beats Federer in Hamburg

STARS

Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3 to win the Hamburg Masters in Hamburg, Germany.

Jelena Jankovic defended her Italian Open title by beating Alize Cornet 6-2 6-2 in Rome

Michael Stich beat Marc-Kevin Goellner 6-2 7-6 (4) to win the BlackRock Tour of Champions in Hamburg, Germany.

Eduardo Schwank beat Igor Kunitsyn 6-2 6-2 to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux, France.

Gael Monfils beat Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (2) 7-6 (6) to win a $132,523 ATP Challenger event in Marrakech, Morocco.

SAYINGS

“I am happy that I won and that I beat the number one in the world (Roger Federer) and the best player of the year (Novak Djokovic), and that should give me some more confidence for the French Open.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating both Djokovic and Federer en route to winning at Hamburg.

“I wish I could have won today, then I would have an even better feeling.” – Roger Federer, after losing to Nadal in the Hamburg final.

“My goal and dream is to become Number One in the world, and at the moment I think I’m on the right track. If I continue like this, I have a big chance.” – Jelena Jankovic, who beat qualifier Alize Cornet in the Rome final.

“Right now I’m just disappointed. I couldn’t do my best tennis today because of my physical condition, because I was tired because of my six matches before.” -Alize Cornet, who came through qualifying before losing in the final in Rome.

“I think we have a great future … I’m looking forward now to Roland Garros. I think this is a great boost.” – Nenad Zimonjic, who teamed with Daniel Nestor to win the doubles at the Hamburg Masters, beating twins Bob and Mike Bryan in the final.

“I had a lot of great opportunities, and I made a lot of opportunities for myself. But then I made a mistake.” – Venus Williams, after losing to Jelena Jankovic at Rome.

“I really struggled with my intensity today, and obviously that caused a lot of errors. It’s something I have to work on. Now I have ten days to prepare for the French Open.” – Ana Ivanovic, after losing early at Rome.

“I don’t expect this to cause any problems with my preparation for the French. It just happened all of a sudden.” – Serena Williams, who pulled out the Italian Open when her back froze up while warming up for her quarterfinal match.

SAYONARA

In a shocking end to a short but highly successful career, Justine Henin retired from tennis while ranked number one in the world. The 25-year-old Belgian has won seven Grand Slam singles titles in her career and 10 tournaments in 2007. She had been in a slump this year, her last title coming at her home tournament in Antwerp, Belgium, in February. Henin’s retirement came just one year after another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, retired from the sport at the age of 23. Clijsters had won a Grand Slam title and had also reached the number one ranking.


SPECIAL LADY

“I thought long about this. I started thinking about it late last year. I was at the end of the road. I leave with my head held high.” – Justine Henin, announcing her immediate retirement from tennis.

“It is rare that an athlete leaves at the very top of her game in this day and age, but Justine has always played by her own rules.” – Larry Scott, WTA Tour chief executive.

“Justine is an extraordinary player, a special person and a true champion in both tennis and in life.” – Billie Jean King.

“Her victory at the 2004 Athens Olympics was Belgium’s only gold medal at the Games and we are sorry that she won’t be able to defend her title in Beijing.” – Francesco Ricci Bitti, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president.

“It is a new beginning for me. I feel like I already lived three lives. I gave the sport all I could and took everything it could give me.” – Justine Henin.

“I couldn’t imagine deciding out of the blue to retire, especially if I was number one. I would prefer to take a year off if it was all getting too much for me.” – Roger Federer.

“She gave me a world of trouble.” – Serena Williams.

“She’s 25 years old and she’s achieved so much in her career. If I was 25 and I’d won so many Grand Slams, I’d quit too.” – Maria Sharapova.

“I take this decision without the least bit of regrets. It is my life as a woman that starts now.” – Justine Henin.

“It can sometimes be very difficult, many years playing and traveling around the world. Being there, being at the top, can be very difficult. We will miss her.” – Jelena Jankovic.

“She was a great champion. She always challenged herself to play her best tennis no matter what the circumstances. She was just a real fighter.” – Venus Williams.

“(Tennis loses) another champion. She was a great player and she achieved so much. She bought a lot to the women’s game.” – Ana Ivanovic.

“I don’t understand it. She was number one and she retires … Maybe it’s a woman thing. I don’t understand women.” – Goran Ivanisevic.

“It’s a lot of pressure to keep playing at that level. Certain players, like Bjorn Borg, retired early, and you can’t blame them.” – Pat Cash.

“She was one of the most complete players of the last 10 years, winning seven Grand Slams. She was small compared to the other girls, but she had a very complete game. She made up for her size with her tennis.” – Michael Stich.

“At the end of the match in Berlin, (retirement) all of a sudden was there as something evident. I decided to stop fooling myself and accept it.” Justine Henin.

“She never craved fame and money. All she wanted to do was play and win.” – Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin’s coach.

“This is the end of a child’s dream.” – Justine Henin.

SITTING ON TOP

Due to circumstances not of her own making, Maria Sharapova is sitting on top of women’s tennis today. When Ana Ivanovic failed to reach the final of the German Open, the Serb lost her world number two ranking to Sharapova, who at the time had not played since losing a match in April. Then, when Justine Henin shocked the sport by announcing her immediate retirement, Henin was replaced as number one in the world by Sharapova.

SURGES

Rafael Nadal became only the third player since 1990 to win the three ATP Masters Series clay-court tournaments in the same year, joining Gustavo Kuerten and Marcelo Rios, when he defeated Roger Federer in Hamburg, Germany. A year ago, Federer had won Hamburg while snapping Nadal’s 81-match winning streak. This year, Federer took a 5-1 lead in the first set, only to see Nadal win six consecutive games. Federer led the second set 5-2 before Nadal rallied, forcing the world’s number one player into a tiebreak, which Federer won. It was Nadal who jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third set before finally winning the match 7-5 6-7 (3) 6-3. Since April 2005, Nadal has won 108 of 110 matches on clay.

SIZZLING WEEK

Alize Comet came out of qualifying to reach her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Tier One final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. And while she lost the title match to defending champion Jelena Jankovic, Comet became only the second qualifier to reach a Tour singles final this year. The Frenchwoman, at 18 years, 3 months, had been seeking to become the youngest Tour champion this year. The first female qualifier to reach the final at the Foro Italico in the Open Era, Comet beat third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova before fifth-seeded Serena Williams withdrew from the quarterfinals with a back problem. Comet then advanced with a semifinal win over sixth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze.

SURVIVE FIRE

Twins Sanchai and Sonchat Ratiwatana of Thailand, with wet towels wrapped around their faces, helped the wife and son of Argentine doubles specialist Lucas Arnold Ker escape a smoky fire that broke out on the third floor of the tournament hotel in Bordeaux, France. The twins, top-seeded in the doubles in the Challenger Series tournament, fell in the quarterfinals to Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-2 7-6 (5). South Africa’s Rik De Voest fled the fire by crawling on his hands and knees. Argentine Eduardo Schwank, whose room was destroyed in the blaze, lost his passport, equipment, clothes, laptop computer and his Rome Challenger winner’s prize money in the fire. Schwank went on to win the Bordeaux tournament.

SOME WEEK

First, Maria Sharapova reached a compromise with the WTA Tour and did a promotional photo shoot before the Italian Open began. The women’s tour had threatened to fine her $300,000 if she refused. Then the Russian pulled out of the semifinals at Rome because of a strained left calf, but said the injury wouldn’t affect her preparations for the French Open. And, thanks to a series of events, Sharapova wound up the week as the number one player in the world.

SAMPRAS DEBUT DELAYED

Pete Sampras won’t make his debut on the BlackRock Tour of Champions circuit until June 19, one month than originally scheduled. That’s because the senior event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was changed until next month.

SANIA OUT?

India’s top player, Sania Mirza, may be forced to skip the French Open. Her father, Imran Mirza, said his 21-year-old daughter, currently ranked number 33 in the world, has not yet fully recovered from wrist surgery performed in April. The 21-year-old Sania is expected to return to the tour at the $200,000 DES Classic in Birmingham, England, next month.

STRAIGHT IN

When Anne Keothavong won an International Tennis Federation tournament in Jounieh, Lebanon, she ended up qualifying for Wimbledon. The tournament title boosted Keothavong up to number 104 in the world rankings, enough for her to become the first British woman to automatically qualify for Wimbledon since 1999. “I thought I was going to withdraw from the tournament because of all the problems in Lebanon,” Keothavong said. “I was ready to get on a bus to Syria, but five minutes before I was due on court for my quarterfinal they told us that the border was closed and there was no way out.” The rest is history.

STILL SWINGING

Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Jelena Dokic won her second consecutive tournament on the comeback trail. Dokic beat Patricia Mayr 6-3 6-1 to capture a $25,000 clay-court event in Caserta, Italy. The week before, Dokic won a $25,000 tournament on clay in Florence, Italy.

SWISS FLAG

Roger Federer wants to celebrate his 27th birthday on August 8 by carrying the Swiss flag in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. “It’s my birthday on the day of the opening ceremony,” Federer said. “Maybe I will carry the flag again for Switzerland. I’d be very honored.”

SPOTLIGHT UNDER THE LIGHTS

The Australian Open women’s singles final will be played at night starting next year. The men’s singles title match has been a night event since 2005. Defending champion Maria Sharapova says the cooler conditions at night will make for a better match. The U.S. Open women’s singles title match is also held at night.

SPECIAL INVITATION

Ending his career where he won three times, Gustavo Kuerten was given a wild-card entry into this year’s French Open. The Brazilian clay court specialist, once ranked number one in the world, won Roland Garros in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Other wild cards into the men’s draw went to French players Eric Prodon, Olivier Patience, Jeremy Chardy, Adrian Mannarino and Jonathan Eysseric. French players given spots in the women’s draw are Olivia Sanchez, Severine Bremond, Stephanie Foretz, Mathilde Johansson, Youlia Fedossova and Violette Huck. Other wild cards were won by Americans Madison Brengle and Wayne Odesnik, and Australians Robert Smeets and Samantha Stosur.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

It’s a wonder members of the University of Arkansas women’s tennis team can speak to each other. The Lady Razorbacks include Aurelija Miseviciute of Lithuania, Audrey Bordeleau of Canada, Maryori Franco of Colombia, Ela Kaluder of Croatia, Nanar Airapetian of Germany, Delia Damaschin of Romania, Fien Maes of Belgium, Anouk Tigu of the Netherlands and Melissa Hoffmeister, who comes from Joplin, Missouri, about a 90-minute drive from the campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The coach is Michael Hegarty, a native of Australia.

SWITCHING BROADCASTERS

After a 25-year run, the USA Network is losing its US Open cable television coverage to ESPN and Tennis Channel, beginning in 2009. The six-year deal was announced by the U.S. Tennis Association. ESPN now owns TV rights to parts of all four Grand Slam tournaments. The broadcast network rights are still held by CBS, which has a contract through 2011. Besides the US Open, the new contract means ESPN2 will also be the lead cable carrier for the US Open Series, the circuit of hard-court tournaments leading up to the US Open.

SHOWING OFF

Florida drivers may be able to show their love for tennis in the near future. The Florida legislature passed a bill enabling drivers to support tennis through a new specialty license plate. The money raised from the sale of the plates would be used for grants to nonprofit organizations operating youth tennis programs and adaptive programs for special populations of all ages, as well as for building, renovating and maintaining quality public tennis facilities. The tennis plates, with the phrase “Play Tennis” on the bottom, should be available starting October 1.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Doubles Champions

Hamburg: Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor beat Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Rome: Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung beat Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova 7-6 (5) 6-3

Bordeaux: Diego Hartfield and Sergio Roitman beat Tomasz Bednarek and Dusan Vemic 6-4 6-4

Marrakech: Frederico Gil and Florin Mergea beat James Aukland and Jamie Delgado 6-2 6-3

SITES TO SURF

Duesseldorf: www.arag-world-team-cup.com

Poertschach: www.atppoertschach.info

Casablanca: www.frmtennis.com

Istanbul: www.istanbulcup.com

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-de-strasbourg.com

French Open (Roland Garros): www.rolandgarros.com/

French Tennis Federation: www.fft.fr/portail/

Maria Sharapova: www.mariasharapova.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$1,500,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championship, Duesseldorf, Germany, clay

$576,866 The Hypo Group Tennis International 2008, Poertschach, Austria, clay

$576,866 Grand Prix Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco, clay

WTA TOUR

$200,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay

$175,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$11,034,805 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

WTA TOUR

$10,891,368 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay