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Videos and Photos: Nadal, Del Potro, Williams and Azarenka take over New York City

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By Romi Cvitkovic

NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – Sunday night at Madison Square Garden was a night to remember as the BNP Paribas Showdown took over a packed venue with help from tennis players Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, and countless entertaining on-court moments.

The BNP Paribas Showdown was a part of a global tennis participation effort termed “World Tennis Day,” and was held to promote 10-and-under tennis which tailors the game to its youngest players.

The evening at The Garden started with all the players being welcomed onto the court as they ran down the lower-level corridor, to a swarm of cheering and high-fiving fans.

The atmosphere was vibrant and the spectators ready – all 15,984 of them – as the No. 1 and 2 ranked-women Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka opened up the night with a serious yet humorous tone to their match. There were brilliant and aggressive plays, a few breaks of serve and even an appearance by Azarenka’s boyfriend RedFoo!

Williams handily took the first set 6-4, but what was more impressive was that they didn’t treat it like an exhibition. They put their energy and competitiveness on the line as if it were a regular season match at a tournament – not holding much back for this packed house. That kind of respect for not only the fans but for each other says a lot about their immense characters on the court.

Look further and glance at the stands, and you would find RedFoo in the corner with his Wilson “Juice” tennis racquet in hand, quietly supporting Azarenka. During nearly every changeover, the ever-popular musician kindly obliged to take photos and chat with fans while enjoying the evening.

After Azarenka went up a quick 2-0 to open the second set, Williams evened it out. At 3-all, Azarenka did what Caroline Wozniacki did during last year’s BNP Paribas Showdown, as she brought up her boyfriend to play a few points against Williams. RedFoo may need to work on that serve a bit!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nap5SdCHd5U

After all the fun, Williams cruised to a solid finish, closing it out 6-4 in the second set, but not before playing a few points using their left hands and drawing cheers and laughter from the audience.

In their joint post-match press conference, the two ladies were at ease with each other, showing just how close of friends they are off the court. Azarenka revealed that her and Williams are in the process of recording a karaoke duet together of Rihanna’s “Stay,” with Williams on vocals and Azarenka on piano. It sounds like an great way for tennis players to pass the time on Tour, and Azarenka even joked that they should debut their musical collaboration as a concert at Madison Square Garden.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_ZO1apgwrE

Next up on the tennis menu was the men’s singles match featuring Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, who was taking to the hard courts for the first time since returning from his knee injury earlier this year.

Tennis exhibitions are known to not invoke full speed play from their competitors – but someone forgot to tell that to Nadal, who hustled for every volley, overhead and groundstroke. From the first point, the two players came out with a purpose – hitting winners all over the court in front of a highly-energized and cheering arena. The first set went the distance as del Potro pulled off the upset and won in a tiebreaker, 7-6(4), and followed it up with a 6-4 score in the second set to seal the win.

With most of the points seeing both players running down balls and displaying deft skills at net, a few splashes of humor added to the mix. Known as one of the most serious players on court, Nadal flashed his million dollar smile and jokes on several occasions, showing that he really does have fun on a tennis court no matter the setting.

There were points with exchanged ‘tweeners, ball head butts and plenty of fan interaction. At one point with Nadal about to serve, a woman ten rows up shouted that she loved him and he turned and threw her a ball. She then proceeded to send him air kisses for which he smiled and reciprocated the deed.

The moment of the night though occurred in the second set tied at 3-all, when, on the changeover, Nadal whispered something to del Potro and proceeded to pick out Ben Stiller from the crowd to join them on court for some doubles. With del Potro about to serve to Stiller and Nadal, he decided he needed his own partner and found a young girl from the audience to join him – and she easily stole the show. Check out the full clip below of one of the most entertaining and memorable moments in tennis history that I can remember.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4TF0imqn5w

In their own joint post-match press conference that started at 11:45pm, Nadal and del Potro were both relaxed with Nadal taking most of the questions regarding his knee, goals and schedule. Del Potro imparted his own thoughts on a few subjects with his own sweet charm, but otherwise silently enjoyed listening to his friend Nadal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHmu6KreFw8

With the evening coming to a close to the tune of “New York, New York,” World Tennis Day witnessed four tennis greats coming together for an honorable cause, and also assured us that the return of Rafael Nadal to the hard courts was a VERY good thing.

Marion Bartoli comedy night at the US Open

Marion Bartoli in action on Wednesday at the US Open

By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand

If Caroline Wozniacki represents the proverbial tragedy mask, then Marion Bartoli, intentionally or otherwise, is at the US Open to provide a healthy dose of comic relief.

The early days of the year’s final Slam are filled with tension around the grounds; while the top seeds are blowing past under-ranked and overmatched opponents on Ashe, the magnitude of the moment seems that much greater on the smaller courts, which makes for some compelling drama. All players react to the resulting stress differently: Maria Sharapova puts her back to her opponents, Novak Djokovic will bounce the ball 20 or more times before a serve. Marion Baroli, already a standout with her two-fisted groundstrokes, will engage in a series of massive high jumps and a most intense game of shadow tennis before approaching the baseline to receive serve, all the while bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter.

Yes, Bartoli is taking the moment very seriously, but that doesn’t mean her unorthodox methods and physical comedy don’t provide a deflation in tension for fans that would otherwise be gripping their benches after a long day of tennis.

With a win over Romina Oprandi, Bartoli would book a spot in the third round, but more importantly, she would re-enter the top 10 at the expense of her tragic counterpart, Wozniacki. During the first set, it was apparent that the Frenchwoman was brutally aware of all the circumstances and subtext of the match. Besides wanting to get back with the game’s elite, Marion has something to prove at this tournament; she’s had mediocre Slam results in 2012 and has to be looking at the US Open, played on one of her best surfaces, as a golden opportunity.

Oprandi, a player who has struggled with injury for most of her career, arrived on the court tape-free for the first time in a while. As the match got underway, she tried to use her signature drop shot to keep Bartoli off balance, but to no avail. The Bartoli rituals were in full effect and her eyes were on stalks; as she wrapped up the first set 6-2, it was refreshing to see a player so determined and unafraid of the moment, even if the moment was taking place far from the stadium courts.

But Bartoli, for her cartoonish nature, is still very much human, who can be inspired to play unbeatable tennis during a Wimbledon semifinal just because she sees Pierce Brosnan in the stands, and one who can become distracted upon hearing shocking news. Court 11 may be metaphorically far from the stadiums, but is physically much closer, and we could all hear Kim Clijsters’ last singles match unfold with the help of the booming loud speaker. Suddenly, Bartoli was on the backfoot and Oprandi began to dominate.

Perhaps it sounds illogical, but it’s happened before, even to Clijsters herself; the Belgian wasn’t the same in a Wimbledon quarterfinal she had been dominating after the scoreboard announced Venus Williams’ shock loss to Tsvetana Pironkova. Whatever the reason, Bartoli’s unique rhythm had been severely interrupted, and things became just a little less comedic on Court 11 as Oprandi ran away with the second set 6-1.

Entering a third set always seems like a dicey proposition for someone whose unorthodox game and style translates to some questionable off-court training. But the Frenchwoman’s unshakable belief often makes up for any other shortcomings, and she was able to once again grind her way to victory, even if it took until 7-5 in the third. Match point was typical Marion, who couldn’t resist taking an exaggerated practice swing off between serves before blasting a forehand into the Oprandi backhand, provoking the error.

On behalf of fans everywhere, Marion, never change.

David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.

All of Tennis Grandstand’s exclusive 1-on-1 interviews with ATP/WTA players from the Sony Ericsson Open

Sam Stosur vs Serena Williams on stadium court at the Sony Ericsson Open (Photo credit to author)

Missed any of Tennis Grandstand’s one-on-one interviews with a particular player during the Sony Ericsson Open? Or just want to laugh along with the players as they answer funny and tennis-related questions? Well, you’re in luck as below you’ll find a full list of interviews from Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Janko Tipsarevic, Sabine Lisicki, Sam Stosur, Milos Raonic, Maria Kirilenko, Flavia Pennetta, Yanina Wickmayer, Robin Haase and Vania King.

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Scoping out the Practice Courts: Ivanovic, Wozniacki, Murray, Lopez

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Even before match play began on Thursday morning, spectators got their money’s worth as Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray, and Feliciano Lopez were all spotted on the practice courts at the Sony Ericsson Open. Check out all the photos at the end!

Caroline Wozniacki was hitting with adidas Player Development Program’s Mats Merkel as coach Sven Groeneveld gave small tips from the sidelines. Her boyfriend and professional golfer Rory McIlroy sat side-by-side with her father Piotr. Both were relatively quiet – which is a stark change for the ever-vocal Piotr.

Wozniacki’s hitting was clean and surprisingly flat. Makes one wonder why the incessant moonballing continues to trump her game into oblivion during match play.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al0UD2J2oz0

On a court across from the central Tennis Plaza, tennis’ golden girl Ana Ivanovic was seen practicing with a University of Miami athlete. There is no sweeter individual on the WTA tour willing to chat with fans, sign autographs or smile for photos, but during practice she is brutal on herself. Floppy forehand? Unacceptable. Missed volley? Disappointing. Missed serve? Pathetic. It’s no wonder she’s had her fair share of struggles coming back in the rankings over the last couple of years. She’s tough on herself but it sometimes makes you wonder if it’s too much of the wrong kind of pressure.

Of note though is Ivanovic’s improved physical appearance. Just last year, she was looking eerily thin for a girl with a 6’1” frame. But today, she seems to have put on a few healthy pounds – thanks in part to her new coach since Wimbledon, Nigel Sears. She needs to keep this athletic and lean figure in order to have the strength and power required to hit her signature forehand well.

On a neighboring court, fans clustered around the fence for a peek of Andy Murray practicing with Feliciano Lopez. There were plenty of laughs, intentional pegging by Murray of his coaches while he served, and great match-like points during their joint practice session.

After a 30 minute warm-up, Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl walked over to his pupil and asked “What do you want to do today?” Oh, so that’s how you coach! If this is the type of approach Murray requires of a coach, then he may have been better off with just his core team. However, Murray’s demeanor on court was lively and he seemed to be enjoying himself. So maybe having a bigger team helps his psyche in that manner. Whatever it is, I hope he gets far here because he’s a fun player to watch.

Lopez likewise was having fun in the sun and the two have a good friendship going. Perhaps Lopez can convince Murray to get back on twitter? A girl can hope!

Lopez laughing at Murray pegging serves at his team and coach (bonus video below!). Not sure, Wilson thought through the sweat situation on this latest t-shirt…

In the two photos below, I would like to think that both Lopez and Murray are looking directly at my camera for an awesome photo-op. In all seriousness, it’s probably the hot redhead next to me that made their jaws drop.

 Hey. At least I got Murray to smile. AT me. Win!

 Murray and his team mesmerized by a yellow airplane in the sky. No joke. I can’t even make this stuff up!

Feliciano Lopez laughing as Andy Murray pegs his team with serves:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbR3rqgu1Ho

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vObelhZUqdM

 

Clumsy Andy Murray:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H3pVZ4PalA

 

Feliciano Lopez:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc2teF3akno

 

Andy Murray:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiN1vdsp0tg

 

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