grand slam champion

Rafael Nadal – It’s a Matter of Time

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Rafael Nadal is back. How long have his fans and supporters been waiting to hear those words? A very long 222 days.

Time is a great healer, or so we are told. The Spaniard may have been back for less than two weeks, but in that time he has reached the singles and doubles final at Viña del Mar and has been crowned champion in São Paolo.

Today he won his 51st ATP Tour title and 37th on clay, but is Rafa back at his very best after a great two weeks of his comeback? I doubt it, but give him time.

‘Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.’ – Abraham Lincoln

Taking time out from the ATP Tour to recuperate and recover has been necessary for the 11-time Grand Slam champion to ensure his knee heals and to prevent further injury. Undoubtedly his rhythm and feel for the ball is not at its best, but at least he is back on the courts competing again and without taking the time to recover, he may have made his injuries worse.

He may have ‘lost’ seven months on Tour, but in doing so it’s possible he has lengthened his time competing and that is the most valuable thing.

‘It’s better to do the right thing slowly than the wrong thing quickly.’ – Peter Turla

Nadal has won his first title in eight months and has received a mix bag of press about his return. He has been honest that he is not 100% and still feels some occasional discomfort in his knee. Whilst playing at the two South American tournaments, he revealed that he has struggled with his movement and timing on the ball, but after months of not playing, that is natural.

The Spaniard will not be playing in Buenos Aires next week and this is a sensible decision. It will give him an opportunity to assess his performance over the last two weeks, evaluate how he is feeling physically and relax mentally after two weeks of interrogation about his knee and level of play. Taking things slowly now may create better results in the future.

‘All the flowers of all of the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.’ – Chinese Proverb

The South American swing of the Tour is a good test for Nadal. He may not be playing against the top 5 players, but match practice is more vital. Clay is his favourite surface and one that is the least likely to cause further injury to his knee. Participating and winning at these tournaments are small stepping stones towards his bigger goals – winning against the best and adding further Grand Slams to his outstanding list of achievements.

Not being able to do the one thing you love always has the ability to make you realise how much you miss it. Have the last two weeks planted the seeds for future success for the King of Clay? I believe so, but only time will tell…

Sam Stosur: the highs and lows since the U.S. Open

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Sam Stosur had quite a year in 2011 by acheiving a career-high singles ranking of four in February and defeating Serena Williams to win the US Open in September. Since then, Stosur has struggled reaching only one semifinal and two finals since her maiden slam title. Does she have it in her to mount a surprise run at this year’s French Open?

Stosur’s maiden Grand Slam title was a massive achievement, making her the first Australian woman to win the US Open final since Margaret Court Smith in 1973, and the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam final since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980.

And it wasn’t a straightforward ride to victory. Stosur proved her strength and stamina by defeating Nadia Petrova in a third round match that turned out to be the longest ever US Open women’s match in the open era, lasting 3 hours and 16 minutes.

Then, during the final, Stosur calmly played on after Serena’s rant against the chair umpire, un-rattled by the incident that later cost Serena a $2000 fine.

There’s something special about Sam

As well as being an elite tennis player and Grand Slam champion, Stosur is also a great Australian. She is supremely fit, works incredibly hard, is tanned, smiley, humble and let’s face it, she can pull off cool sunnies on court like not many other players can.

Scott Draper, Manager of Developmental Tennis for Tennis Australia, who partnered with Stosur to win the 2005 Australian Open Mixed Doubles final, summed up what makes Sam’s style of play special:

“Sam works extremely hard and is physically strong, which gives her an incredible advantage in being able to overpower her counterparts.

Sam’s point of difference is that she’s not the typical female tennis player. She has angular swings, a heavy forehand, one of the best serves in the women’s game and she can slice. This style of play takes her opponents out of their comfort zone and away from what they typically see.”

An early loss at the 2012 Australian Open

A great Australian trait is that we love sport and we love an Aussie winner. So when Stosur played in Australia this January, the burden of expectation from the home crowd was enormous, and ultimately proved to be too big for Stosur to bear.

Playing in Australia was Stosur’s kryptonite. What should have been her home ground advantage turned into a bonus for her opponents.

A second round loss at the Brisbane International was followed by first round losses at the APIA International inSydneyand the Australian Open in Melbourne.

After the Australian Open loss Stosur said on her blog:

“There’s nothing probably more than my expectation. I really, really wanted to do well here and over the summer…… I did everything I could to try and give myself a good opportunity. It obviously didn’t happen.”

Stosur’s results since the Australian Open

Then February came, WTA tennis moved to other parts of the world and the kryptonite of the Australian public’s expectations lost its power.

Stosur played Fed Cup for Australia against Switzerland where two wins boosted her confidence. After the wins, Stosur said on her blog:

“You want to win as many matches as possible to erase anything negative and it does not matter the opposition, it is always good to win.”

Here’s a summary of Stosur’s singles results since the Australian Open:

  • Qatar: reached the final of the WTA Qatar Total Open and was defeated by Victoria Azarenka
  • Dubai: made it to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and was defeated by Jelena Jankovic
  • Indian Wells: defeated by Nadia Petrova in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open
  • Miami: defeated by Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open
  • Charleston: made the semi final of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston and was defeated by Serena Williams
  • Stuttgart: made the quarter finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and was defeated by Maria Sharapova
  • Madrid: made the quarterfinals of the Mutua Madrid Open and was defeated by Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka
  • Rome: was defeated by Venus Williams in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Next up, the French Open

The French Open starts on Sunday, May 27th. It will be two slams after the highest of Stosur’s highs and one slam after what is probably amongst the lowest of her lows.

We know Stosur can play incredible tennis and after making the French Open final in 2010 we’ve seen what she is capable of at Roland Garros.

Stosur recently displayed her clay “A” game with two cracker Fed Cup wins against Germany in Stuttgart in April, helping Australia get back into the 2013 World Group.

I have high hopes for Stosur at the French Open, while at the same time I’m doing my best not to have expectations! She is seeded sixth and will play her first round match against Elena Baltacha. If Sam progresses through the draw she will potentially play her Round 3 match against Nadia Petrova, Round 4 against Sabine Lisicki and quarter final versus world No.1 Victoria Azarenka.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on Sam Stosur’s progress, as well as other Australian players in the main draw, all throughout the French Open.

 

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.

The Meaning of a Last Name in Tennis; Berdych as His Own Worst Enemy — The Friday Five

by Maud Watson

Pushing the Limits

In the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Severus Snape once said, “Well, it may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.” Of course, Professor Snape was saying that to the Boy Who Lived, but it pretty much sums up what Dubai tournament officials told No. 1 Arab player Malek Jaziri (ranked No. 104) and the press, as they attempted to justify giving a disputed wildcard to Marko Djokovic (younger brother of Novak and ranked 869) instead. The uproar caused by the decision is only partially justifiable, and it’s most likely strictly due to the fact it involved the younger brother of the current No. 1. The Djokovic family did nothing wrong, having submitted the wildcard request at least a month ago. And as for Novak’s part in getting his brother the wildcard, he’s not the first star player to use his leverage. Many top tier players use their elite status to rake in huge appearance fees, and some, such as Hewitt and Clijsters, have also used leverage to garner wildcards for younger siblings. It’s also not uncommon for tournaments to weigh other factors over actual merit when doling out wildcards. How many French, American, and Australian players have benefited from the reciprocal major wildcard agreement between their home governing bodies that competitors from non-Slam nations can only dream of? And don’t get me started on the number of undeserving British players that have been handed a free pass to play on the most hallowed grounds in the sport. The real fault lies in how poorly tournament officials handled the situation. They previously told Jaziri he wouldn’t have to play the qualifying event only to pull the rug out from under him in the 11th hour by giving the wildcard to the younger Djokovic. Had it been handled more professionally, Jaziri may not have been as disgruntled. And yes, the extremely low ranking of Marko Djokovic does suggest officials were pushing the limits. Then again, had it been awarded to a local Arab player of the same ranking, would this even be a topic of discussion? I think not.

New Day, New Clay

Come April, France will look to do what Switzerland could not – defeat the United States Davis Cup team on clay. This time it will be an outdoor clay court set in picturesque Monte Carlo. But while the venue will serve as a beautiful locale, it’s still a surprising decision. French No. 1 Tsonga has already stated clay is not his best surface. A quicker hard court would help shorten the long rallies in which Monfils frequently finds himself entangled, not to mention better suit Llodra’s attacking style. The long short of it is that, barring injuries, these are going to be two evenly matched teams no matter what the surface, and the French need to avoid falling into a false sense of security. Playing the U.S. on the red dirt doesn’t mean what it did a decade or so ago.

Own Worst Enemy

Be it counting backwards from 10, taking a few deep breaths, or taking a page out of Frank Costanza’s book and yelling “Serenity now!” (risking insanity later), Tomas Berdych needs to find some way of letting the little things go. On a breakpoint for Berdych to extend the second set into a tiebreak, a Murray serve was initially called out, only to have Hawkeye reverse the call. Mohamed Lahyani then awarded the point to Murray rather than replaying it, infuriating Berdych in the process. It’s understandable that Berdych would rue letting the break point go, especially since he’d already saved multiple match points. But while he got his racquet on the serve, Lahyani was correct in his ruling. The initial out call in no way affected Berdych’s play on it, and yet, the Czech was still ranting about it in his press conference. But this isn’t the first time Berdych has failed to understand the rules and etiquette of the game, and sadly it probably won’t be the last. He needs to learn to stop sweating the small stuff. It doesn’t help his game any, and it certainly won’t win him any fans. With a game as big as his – a game that is capable of earning him a major – it would just be a waste to see it not come to full fruition simply because he can’t get out of his own way.

True Winner

She won’t get a ton of press, because she doesn’t have multiple majors to her name, nor is she known outside tennis circles. All of that aside, the undisputed feel-good story of the week is Alisa Kleybanova’s planned return to WTA competition. The young Russian announced last July that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would be undergoing treatment in Italy. She now says she’s finished her cancer treatment, the doctors are pleased with her health, and she’s anxious to return to action. Stories like this really drive home the point that tennis is just a game, and hopefully she’ll be an inspiration to others. One thing is for certain – win or lose when she returns to the court in Miami later this month, it will go down as a victory.

Leftfield

The worlds of sports and entertainment are never lacking for surprises, and this week was no exception. Who can honestly say that they saw the announcement that Martina Navratilova would be joining the Season 14 cast of Dancing with the Stars coming? There are players I’d love to see take to the dance floor, and others that I can see wanting to join the cast. Somehow the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion didn’t fit either mold. It’s hard to imagine her in a frilly ball gown. But she may just be full of surprises. She’s fit, and she also possesses the work ethic and commitment necessary for success. But it will be interesting to see how easily she takes direction from one of the show’s regular pros, Tony Dovolani, as well as criticism from the judges. Hopefully she proves adept at both. It’s just a fun TV show, but after the Seles debacle a few seasons ago, tennis could do with posting a respectable finish.

Rotterdam Results and Exclusive Photos: Federer and Del Potro Setup Dream Final

by Lisa-Marie Burrows

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam – Big serving Argentine Juan Martín Del Potro took to court with one mission on his mind – booking a place into the final. The 6ft 6” Del Potro was one of three top ten men in the semifinals and recorded his third victory over Tomas Berdych in four meetings 6-3, 6-1.

After a thunderous 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal performance against Viktor Troicki, Del Potro proved he was in no mood to mess around once again.  He took on second seed Tomas Berdych on Saturday afternoon and ignited his outstanding performance once again.

The first set saw Del Potro break the Czech in his opening service game after a slow start from the world No.7 and the third seed did not look back.  He did not face a break point against his own serve and continued to unleash his heavy forehand during exchanged rallies.

During the ninth game, Berdych was serving to stay in the set at 3-5 and after executing a backhand into the tramlines and an untimely foot fault the Czech faced another three break points and ultimately lost the set 3-6.

The second set delivered another outstanding performance from the resurgent Argentine as he timed his shots with perfection.  The Czech looked bewildered as he found no replies to the belligerence of shots and booming forehands and only managed to take one game in the entire set before losing to Del Potro 1-6.

During the press conference, the Argentine was understandably pleased with his performance and happy to reach the final on his debut at the tournament:

“I played almost perfect today. I was focused all of the time. I was focused with my forehands and I think that was the key of the match.”

Is he at his very best Grand Slam winning level yet? Not quite, but he’s not far away. “I am improving match by match. I played better than yesterday and should play better tomorrow.” 

Tomorrow will bring a very difficult task for the former US Open champion as he faces 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer after his tough three set defeat over unseeded Nikolay Davydenko 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

It was the Russian who took first blood in the opening set after playing some sublime rallies.  Davydenko ran faster than a cheetah and punched the ball harder than a boxer to continuously pull Federer from one side of the court to the other.  The Russian refused to play high percentage tennis as he struck the ball exquisitely on the rise whilst gunning for the lines.

His patience was rewarded in the ninth game after striking a forehand at the feet of Federer and subsequently broke at 5-4.

After a long service game Davydenko’s nerves of steel refused to bow down to Federer and his cheering army of fans as he eventually took the set 6-4 after a mistimed Federer forehand sailed out of the court.

With the crowd stunned into silence, Davydenko’s game continued to progress and once again he put his wheels into motion and broke the world No.3 in the third game after Federer’s usually reliable forehand was struck wide into the tramlines.  The atmosphere around the court intensified and the crowd murmured in speculation at the possibility of Federer losing.

Speculation and concern did not last long after a sloppy sixth game from the Russian and a change of tactics from Federer.  He began to attack the net and mix up the pace of the game by adding in beautifully timed drop shots and lobs.  The variation of play and supportive applause from the crowd spurred the former world No.1 to break back and the wheels fell off the game of the Russian as he received attention to his right leg.  He was broken a further time in the eighth game before losing the set 3-6.

In the third set both players had opportunities to break and faced break point pressure during their service games.  The spark that had ignited at the start of the first set appeared to be diminishing for Davydenko as he failed to convert three break point opportunities and during the next game was 0-40 in his service game.

To the delight of the crowd, Federer broke in the ninth game and comfortably served out the match at 6-4.

“I struggled sometimes with my timing but still thought I was right in the match.  It was a fun match to play, but it was tough. I hope it is a big match for me in 2012 because these are the kind of matches that sometimes you show to yourself that if you have confidence the next thing you know, you could win the title tomorrow.”

The exhilarating semifinals will bring a rematch of the 2009 US Open match between Roger Federer and Juan Martín Del Potro, which saw the Argentine win his first Grand Slam of his career and hope that he can find the same form to beat the crowd favourite once again on Sunday.

Lisa-Marie Burrows is in Rotterdam covering the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament as media. You can follow her on Twitter @TennisNewsViews

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Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes all the semifinals action, both on-court and the press conferences.

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

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There Will Always Be Room for a Lleyton Hewitt Type in Men’s Tennis

Lleyton Hewitt put on one of the most impressive performances of the 2012 Australian Open by making it to the fourth round and actually taking a set off defending champ Novak Djokovic.

And while he might be far removed from his glory days, one thing’s for sure: You can never count Hewitt out.

But why is that the case?

Surely with his game—built around court coverage and flawless groundstrokes—would lead to him getting blasted off the court by bigger and more powerful opponents. But as has been the case throughout the former number 1’s career, he’s been able to prove that line of thinking wrong. Hewitt has won 28 singles titles, including two Grand Slams: the ’01 U.S. Open and ’02 Wimbledon—all while suffering a significant size and weight disadvantage most of the time.

That’s something Australian Open quarterfinalists David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori can relate to. When those two take the court against 95 percent of the bigger boys on the ATP World Tour, they have to rely on their foot speed and baseline play to enable them to stay in the point, as well as pop off a carefully constructed winner.

And the old phrase “defense wins championships” is exemplified by Ferrer and Nishikori, as well as Hewitt. It’s nearly impossible to hit through or past any of the three as they’re all willing to chase everything down: forehand blasts, overhead smashes, drop shots—whatever it takes to get the point won.

Ferrer has been the best practitioner of this over the years: His career-high ranking is 4 and he’s won tournaments on clay, grass and hard courts. He’s No. 5 right now, and while it may be extremely difficult for him to crack the “Big 4” considering the way they’ve dominated. But Ferrer is so entrenched in his position right now, it would be hard to imagine how the players ranked below him can knock him out of that spot.

With what he’s shown at the Australian this year, Nishikori appears to be ready to take on that challenge. He made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, knocking off one of the hottest players—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—in five sets. And it’s not too far-fetched to like his chances against Andy Murray as both play with a similar style.

That “style” is reminiscent of what Hewitt brought—or rather “brings”—to the table. It’s how Michael Chang before him ended up with a place in Newport, RI, at the Tennis Hall of Fame. Hewitt will find himself there after his career is over, and perhaps when it’s all said and done, the same will be said of Ferrer and Nishikori.

ATP Tennis 2012 Preview: Grand Slams, Young Guns, and the London Olympics

by Lisa-Marie Burrows

As one door has closed to say goodbye to the 2011 tennis season, another door will shortly be opening to embrace another exciting year of tennis in 2012, in which all fans of the sport and the players alike, will look forward to the impending Olympic Games in London.

It has barely been a month since the Spanish Davis Cup team danced and cheered triumphantly in victory over Argentina in the final in Sevilla, but whether the year 2011 has finished or not, preparation for 2012 is underway.

Players have been sharing their training plans for Australia on various social networks, as the first tournament of 2012 commences on New Year’s Day in Brisbane. Alternatively, many of the elite players on the tour (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) have elected to play once more in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East where five of the top six men will compete against each other at the end of December.

It was Novak Djokovic who became the king of the headlines in 2011 with his dominating, record-breaking year which saw him finish his season with an impressive 70-6 win/loss record. This year, the hunter became the hunted man, and there is no doubt the “Serbinator” will continue to fight for his victories throughout the impending year. But, in addition to his determination to repeat the feat of his triumphant year of 2011, the remaining players on Tour will vie to become headline contenders, title winners and seek to improve their own ranking. This year may throw up surprises in the form of new players stealing the limelight for outstanding victories, competitors who may rise up the rankings, and of course, the exciting possibility of there being a new Grand Slam winner in 2012.

Grand Slam Defenders and Contenders

Novak Djokovic

First and foremost, world number one, Novak Djokovic, is the man who will have the weight of the tournaments firmly on his shoulders after a successful 2011, winning three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Series titles. Without doubt, Djokovic has continued to train hard in his off-season in order to maintain his fabulous form, good health and specific dietary requirements to complete yet another successful year and repeat his spectacular achievements of a flourishing year. As the Serb continues to work on his performance, many of his rivals will search for the required method to beat the current world number one. The only other man who was able to swipe a Grand Slam in 2011 was Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on the Parisian clay, after Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic in the semi finals.

Rafael Nadal

World number two, Rafael Nadal, will search for further Grand Slam triumph and establish his confidence and belief in his game, which on occasion appeared absent on duty. The Spaniard has admitted via his Twitter feeds that he has been training hard in Majorca during the off-season to obtain peak physical condition for an action packed 2012, firmly eyeing the London 2012 Olympic Games in his sight.

Roger Federer

Despite turning 30 years old, Roger Federer has played down all talk of an imminent retirement plan and proved his tenacious attitude and thirst for glory is still very much at the forefront of his game, as he discovered his vintage form of old to win the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London in November. The Swiss Maestro should not be discounted for further Grand Slam victories to add to his record breaking 16 titles, as he is a player who is comfortable on all surfaces and he has demonstrated his superiority from grass courts, to hard courts and most recently on clay courts time and again. Federer will hope for a solid start to the year to improve on his 17 match winning streak he obtained at the end of 2011 and make a strong impact at the Australian Open to silence his critics by stamping his authority yet again in the men’s game.

Andy Murray

For the last few years, British number one, Andy Murray, has had the expectation of winning a Grand Slam burden him at the start of very season. Each year, critics are heard saying ‘this is his year’ and ‘it is now or never’ which inevitably is difficult for a player to ignore and even harder to live up to the expectation. Murray has shown great resilience despite the pressure and has proven he is capable of surpassing his disappointment at losing the final of the Australian Open for two successive years.

Murray has one trait which is vital for his success: confidence, and against the top guns of the game, more often than not, he has it in abundance. Murray is not afraid of a battle and has the ability to change the momentum of a game from defence to offense rapidly. Despite facing a groin injury towards the end of the season, (which saw him withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals), he has worked hard with his ever-supportive team in Miami during the off-season to develop his physicality and remain injury-free. The 24-year-old strives to improve his game to start the year off with all guns blazing – and with a Grand Slam trophy in his hands.

David Ferrer

Spanish world number two, David Ferrer, is a player who has remained consistent with his game, his level and his battling attitude on court. Rarely is there a day when Ferrer is not seen fighting for each and every point in a match and that is what makes his opponents so wary of him during matches. The 29-year-old has become the personification of a wall on court, as his defensive skills are incredulous and he is always able to make his opponent play that one extra ball, thanks to his great movement and physical strength on the court.

The world number five will hope that his participation in Abu Dhabi at the start of the new season will enable him to build on his great finish at the World Tour Finals where he reached the semifinal stages which saw him dispatch of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the round robin stages before losing to eventual champion, Roger Federer in the semifinals.

Ferrer may be considered as somewhat one of the veterans of the Tour, but his experience and recent success in the Davis Cup finals may have inspired his motivation further to complete his campaign of Grand Slam success. Could this finally be the breakthrough year for the fighting Ferrer?

Juan Martín del Potro

Having recently won the ATP Tour’s “2011 Comeback of the Year” award, the talented Argentinean has proven his passion for the sport, as he has soared up the rankings from world number 485 to an astonishing world number 11 by the end of the year. He has continued to stave off injuries since his wrist surgery, which saw him unable to compete on the circuit and as a result, his ranking and ability to play diminished.

This did not deter the giant Argentinean number one, as 2011 became the start of his resurgence. He displayed outstanding form in the Davis Cup finals in Sevilla, Spain, where he pushed both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer to the limits in both of the singles rubbers. He is certainly a player who will be eyeing a top five position in the rankings and would love once more to taste the sweet success of yet another Grand Slam victory after he became the champion of the US Open in 2009.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The talented, charismatic Frenchman finished 2011 on a high – and even equalled his career best ranking of 2008 to finish the year as the world number six after an incredible indoor season. Tsonga had started to encompass many of the headlines during different periods of the year as he appeared in the finals at Queen’s and followed up an excellent grass court week with an infamous victory over Roger Federer at the semi-finals of Wimbledon. But most recently, his indoor season saw him crowned champion in Vienna, Metz and reach the finals of the Paris Masters 1000 Series and become the runner up at the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

With the Australian Open just around the corner, this is one of the Slams that holds precious memories for Tsonga, having reached the peak of his career there for the first time in 2008 at the semifinals after his outstanding and unexpected victory over Rafael Nadal before losing to eventual champion, Novak Djokovic.

He is fast becoming more adaptable to all surfaces and playing with greater consistency in recent months. It would be no surprise to see the world number six break into the top five for the first time in his career and quite possibly threaten the elite players as a Grand Slam contender.

Other Players to Watch Out For

Bernard Tomic

Tomic gained himself notoriety when he became the youngest junior Australian Open champion at the age of 15. Since making the transition into playing on the ATP Tour, the hard hitting 19 year old will aim to take advantage of playing in his home country and use his native crowd to help spur him to further career success as he will aim to continue to climbing up the rankings after entering the top 100 and finishing the year at an impressive world number 42.

Alexandr Dolgopolov

The popular 23 year old player from the Ukraine started 2011 ranked number 48 in the world and despite a topsy-turvy year (particularly during the clay season), Dolly as he is so fondly referred to by his fans, was able to finish the year ranked number 15 after reaching his first ever quarter-finals at a Masters Series 1000 event in Shanghai, before losing to Kei Nishikori.

This year will inevitably become an important year for the Ukrainian, which will hopefully see him strive to make more impact in both the Masters Series events and at the Grand Slams to help him break into the top ten and challenge the dominating players.

The 2012 Olympic Games

The 2012 London Olympic Games will kick off from 27th July to 12th August 2012, which will commence 14 days after the Wimbledon finals. It will be interesting to see the necessary rapid court preparation and how well the courts recover in time for the greatest sporting event of the year.

Many of the top-seeded players in tennis have already started their preparation for next year, with the impending Olympics heavily at the forefront of their mind, particularly in regards to tournament scheduling. Some players have discussed how they have targeted the Olympic Gold Medal as one of the accolades they are aiming to clinch. Novak Djokovic has recently shared his ambitious plan for 2012:

“Next year is an Olympic year and the Olympics are the greatest sporting event in history. I was fortunate enough to get a (bronze) medal in Beijing in 2008 and it was a remarkable experience. It is something I’m really, really looking forward to, going there and doing my best.”

With this in mind, changes have had to be made to the tournament schedule this year, in order to make room for the Olympic Games. The penultimate Masters Series 1000 event in Paris-Bercy will have the possibility of a knock-on effect as a result of the alterations to the calendar. The tournament may be at risk of losing some of the top 8 competitors who may elect not to play in order to stave off injuries as the World Tour Finals, which begins the day after the final in Paris-Bercy. Problems could arise for the players if they were to reach the finals of the tournament and will then need to play at the 02 Arena the next day in London. Will the field be as strong in the Parisian capital this year?

With the new season underway in less than a week, there is so much to look forward to and having the Olympic Games this year, makes the tennis calendar all the more special. Every year in tennis, there seems to be new names striving to breakthrough, players aiming to put a halt to the dominance of the top five players, but will 2012 be the start of a new change? We shall have to wait and see…

Lisa-Marie Burrows is an aspiring sports journalist and has covered several European tennis tournaments, including Davis Cup and Valencia. She manages the blog Tennis News and Views and you can follow her on twitter for further updates, @TennisNewsViews.

If I Were The Tennis Santa

I really feel bad for the tennis players over the holidays.  They work so hard for so little and barely have time to relax!  So if I were the Tennis Santa, what would I bring them to lighten their load and bring a smile to their faces during this season of cheer?

The first thing I would wrap up and put under the e-tree would be the Fountain of Youth. Did you know that it’s actually an Archaeological Park in Florida?  How cool! I’d pass out a lot of these since quite a few players are at or around the age of doom (30) and could use the assistance turning back the clock and prolonging their tennis primes. I wouldn’t give one to Federer though. He doesn’t need any help.

Speaking of turning back time, I’ve found the perfect gift to help Andy Roddick re-discover his days of glory- or at least his days of hair. The Afro-Visor!


For Andy Murray, I thought some “Understand Your Mother (Instantly) Breath Spray” might be helpful, considering his mother’s eternal wisdom and awesomeness.

I’d give this “Sharp-End Dog Pencil Sharpener” to Rafael Nadal, mainly just to see his reaction.  What’s the fun in playing Santa if you can’t be a little bit naughty?

 

On the other end of the spectrum Robin Soderling just got a new puppy, so I will certainly have to bring him an embarrassing costume for the adorable pet!

I thought I’d get the cerebral Sam Stosur something special to help those match to-do lists stay put. Sweat-bands and sharpies are too finicky of a combination for a Grand Slam Champion!  She’ll love these “To-Do Tattoos”.

 

I’ve decided it’s time for Agnieszka Radwanska to finally come out of the ninja closet.  This “Ninja Hooded Mask” will reveal her true identity in 2012. Watch out WTA!

 

For Mikhail Youzhny, and maybe the rest of his Russian compatriots, I’d like to try to eliminate the brain farts on the court.  Therefore, why not help them get out of their system off the court?  The “Brain Fart Whoopie Cushion” should do the trick.

 

And finally, I’d like to prolong the day that Jelena Jankovic inevitably runs out of entertaining excuses for losing tennis matches. With this “Instant Excuse Ball” the colorful Serbian should have material for years to come!

 

So that’s my list- what about you? What would you virtually gift to your favorite players if you were the Tennis Santa? Feel free to share in the comments section, or tweet me with your lists. And no matter what you celebrate, be sure to have a safe and happy Holiday season. There’s no time to be too naughty, the new tennis season is just around the corner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sampras, Moya, Lisicki Join Li Na for Exhibition Tournament in China

2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na received a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Wuhan, kicking off a two-day exhibition tournament on December 17, 2011 called “Li Na and Friends.” The festivities  also feature 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras and former world number number 1 Carlos Moya, as well as 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and WTA Comeback Player of the Year Sabine Lisicki. The event gave fans a chance to celebrate Li Na’s historic Grand Slam victory and brought tennis to a quickly-growing market in China.

Li’s slump since winning Roland Garros in June seems to have ended as she looked to be in better form this weekend after a month-long training camp in Germany.

“I trained quite solidly and effectively in Germany. I feel much better now compared with the past several months. But how good my form is, I think it will be tested at this tournament … I just want to relax my nerves after the Germany trip. It’s a feedback event for my home fans,” Li said after being greeted at the Wuham Tianhe airport by a cheering home crowd.

The 29-year-old was also nominated for the Laureus “Breakthrough Player of the Year” award on Thursday showing just how far the veteran has come not only in tennis, but in the international world of sports.

The first day of the exhibition featured a square off between Li and Lisicki followed by mixed doubles with Li teaming up with Sampras and Lisicki pairing with Moya. On Sunday, the men will take court for their singles match followed by a reverse mixed doubles match.

After fighting off two match points to defeat Li at this year’s Wimbledon 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, Germany’s Lisicki again praised Li’s mark on tennis.

“I am delighted to have been included in the ‘Li Na and Friends’ event. Li Na and I had one of the best quality matches of Wimbledon 2011 and it is always a pleasure to play a champion — especially a reigning Grand Slam Champion like Li Na who is so friendly and professional, something all of China should be very proud of,”  said the 22-year-old.

After growing up watching Sampras on TV, Li shared how starstruck she was upon meeting one of her idols.

“I always admired his skills and play, but only saw him on TV. But during the China Open this year, I met him for the first time outside the locker room, and he said ’Hi, Li Na, I am Sampras. Congratulations for the French Open championship,’” said Li. ”After he was gone, I had to ask myself, ‘Did that really just happen?’”

Likewise, Sampras reciprocated the feelings of mutual respect.

“It’s good to be back,” said Sampras, referring to his third trip to China in three months. “I’m a friend of Li Na now, which is a great honour for me.”

Check out more photos from the exhibition tournament’s press conference in wintery China below. Massive log cake included!

(Sabine Lisicki/Na Li photo courtesy of Lisicki’s Facebook page; Press Conference photos courtesy of IMG; Rest from LiNaAndFriends.com)

Serena Williams takes on tennis and the First Family in a Kastles’ win

In her first U.S. match in nearly two years, Serena Williams joined the Washington Kastles as they defeated the Boston Lobsters 25-10 in a thrilling evening overlooking the waterfront in Washington, D.C. Not only was there entertaining tennis, but the First Family was in attendance with Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia.

The evening began early, but “fashionably late” as Williams arrived late but took the court for a Kids’ Clinic for local youth organizations. As she was mobbed with photographers, the thing that stood out to me was her willingness to forget about the cameras and interact with the kids 1-on-1. Even though her time on-court was limited, it was not short on energy and optimism as she coached the kids to perfect their slice backhands and encouraged them to try missed shots again. The smiles on the kids’ faces told the whole story: they were excited to meet and hit with their idol.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

As the Kastles’ players warmed up prior to the press conference, Coach Murphy Jensen also did not disappoint. During his serving drill, he was as audible as the capital letters in his twitter posts would have you believe. Williams also brought along her current coach, Sascha Bajin, who rallied with the players and acted as their temporary ball boy.

As the sun began to set over the Potomac River, the atmosphere was unique as first lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, attended the second home match of the Kastles. Sasha grooved to the changeover music, holding up “Refuse to Lose” signs while her sister and mother politely cheered and clapped points.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The women’s doubles tandem of Serena Williams and Rennae Stubbs took the court for the first match of the evening against Mashona Washington and Coco Vandeweghe. Even though Serena did not look like the former #1 and 13-time Grand Slam champion that she is, the Kastles’ ladies still came out victorious 5-2.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The men’s doubles featured Kastles’ players Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds versus Eric Butorac and Jan-Michael Gambill. The home team was in good form, quickly going up 4-0 before taking it to 5-1, bringing the score to 10-3.

With the men’s singles match occurring next, I expected only the men to take the court to warmup, but Serena jumped to her feet and warmed up Reynolds, while Butorac and Gambill warmed up on the opposite end. As much fun as it would have been to watch Serena take on Jan-Michael Gambill in the men’s singles match, it was Reynolds who did so and outplayed Gambill, 5-2.

At halftime, it looked like the First Family was leaving, but I quickly found out that they had met with the Kastles’ players and then returned to cheer on the mixed doubles team of Serena Williams and Leander Paes. For the first time in the evening, Williams seemed relaxed and chatty, taking on her old form pre-injury swiping anything that came her way and running down wide balls. From her press conference earlier in the evening, she addressed her foot fault fiasco as being “ages ago” and “so 2009.” Her renewed love for the sport was evident in Wimbledon as she broke down in tears on-court after her first round win and it was present here tonight as she smiled and danced her way to a win.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The women’s singles match concluded the evening and held the closest score all day, with Vandeweghe giving Williams good competition before going down 5-4 to take the final score to 25-10 for a Kastles’ win. Although Williams’ shot-making hasn’t faltered and her movement is deceptively quick, it’s her consistency that still needs improvement after being away from the game for almost one year. But if her renewed spirit is any indication, we will be seeing a lot more of Serena Williams this summer as she is set to play Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open next.

All photos provided by Kelyn Soong who is a freelance reporter and photographer. Follow his website here: http://kelynsoong.blogspot.com/ You can also follow Kelyn @Soongy12. 

Djokovic is unstoppable, Azarenka ready to step it up and Kim Clijsters injured – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Streak Continues

It was a hot and humid Sunday in Miami, and Novak Djokovic had the unenviable task of trying to overcome Rafael Nadal, the game’s most physically punishing player, in order to keep his 2011 record unblemished. But the young Serb proved he was up to the task and for the second straight tournament defeated the current World No. 1 to keep his undefeated streak alive. The way that Djokovic won this title was in many ways more impressive than at Indian Wells. Not only did he twice serve to stay in the match in order to ultimately win the title in a tiebreak, but it was Djokovic, a player who has often struggled with his physical conditioning, who appeared the fresher of the two after over three hours of play. Djokovic’s Miami victory decisively proved that he’s ready to grind it out for as long as it’s going to take. Couple that with the way that the rolling ranking point system works, and you have to like his chances of becoming No. 1 as early as this summer.

Remember Me?

Last week in Miami, Victoria Azarenka used her game – and not just her shrieking – to make a little noise. The Belarusian, who a couple of years ago defeated Serena Williams to win her first Miami title, was touted as the next best thing in women’s tennis before her emotions began to hamper her progress. But her second win in Miami over three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova might be a strong indicator that Azarenka is now ready to step it up and make the most of her career. She’s always had the strokes and talent, and those were certainly on display in her dominating play over Sharapova. But what was crucial in her run to the title was the way that she managed her emotions. Instead of imploding when she lost a set or when things got tight in the final, she remained (at least outwardly) calm. If she can maintain this mindset on a consistent basis, there’s no reason why her game can’t take her to one of the sport’s grandest prizes.

Injury Setback

It didn’t come as a shock when it was announced that Kim Clijsters has been forced to take a month’s break from the game in order to rest her sore right shoulder and wrist. Doctors recommended Clijsters rest 4-6 weeks. It’s evident that Clijsters feels that break should be enough, as she believes she should be able to compete at the WTA premiere event in Rome, which begins on May 9. She is optimistic that will prove ample preparation for the French Open. Hopefully the Belgian makes a full recovery, as with a few majors under her belt and having already reached the final twice, there’s no reason why a healthy Kim Clijsters couldn’t go one better in the French capital.

Back Door Policy

Earlier this week, it was announced that while Venus Williams is still nursing an injury and most likely won’t be representing the U.S. in Fed Cup later this month, she intends to travel with the team. By traveling with the team, Venus Williams will maintain her eligibility to represent the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this should have people shaking their heads. Venus Williams has only participated in eight ties since her Fed Cup debut in 1999 (and younger sister Serena – whom the USTA is already laying the groundwork for as far as her participation in the 2012 Olympics – has only played four times since her 1999 debut). Contrast that with Melanie Oudin, who has already represented the U.S. on six occasions since her debut in 2009, Svetlana Kuznetsova’s 12 ties since her first outing in 2004, or Francesca Schiavone’s 20 ties since her 2002 debut, and you can understand the frustration. There is something to be said for answering the call and representing one’s country in Fed Cup, but the ultimate goal is to represent one’s country in the more publicized and prestigious Olympic Games. A spot shouldn’t be given to a player who has rarely shown up to play and gets in by virtue of their willingness to sit on the sidelines. And if this is how things do play out, perhaps the ITF should do away with the notion of wanting players to participate in Fed and Davis Cup in order to play in the Olympics, as it’s clear that it is nothing more than a farce.

A Slap in the Face

That’s what Fernando Verdasco seems to think he’s suffered due to the fact that he wasn’t given a wildcard into the Barcelona 500 event later this month. To an extent, his gripe is understandable. He’s the defending champion, and currently ranked at No. 8, he’s the third highest-ranked Spaniard. But on the flip side, some of his comments were out of line. It’s not as though he worked out a deal with the Barcelona officials stating that they had to hold a wildcard for him, especially when his ranking was more than sufficient to garner him direct entry if he really cared about playing there. Furthermore, while fans are patriotic, they also love many players from outside their own nations. Players who did receive wildcards to Barca, like Tsonga and Soderling, are very well known and talented players, and particularly in the case of Soderling (ranked No. 5), have had a better season than the dismal one that Verdasco has put up thus far. Finally, it’s hard to imagine that Spanish fans will find themselves wanting for a homegrown hero. Spain has a plethora of players in the top 100, and looking back over the past ten years, 2002 champion Gaston Gaudio has the distinction of being the only non-Spaniard to win the title. Considering all of that, I’m sure Barcelona will be able to carry on fine without Verdasco.