grand slam champions

Andy Roddick is the top seed at the Winston Salem Open – Around the corner

With only one week left before the start of the U.S. Open, the Winston Salem Open provides tennis players with one final opportunity to prepare themselves for the final Grand Slam of the year.

Usually the top players in the world like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer take this week to rest-up before heading to New York, while the lower ranked players who are seeking a few more ranking points or preparation on their games can be found in the draw.

This is the first year of this event as it was previously held in New Haven, Connecticut. With Pilot Pen vacating their spot as tournament sponsor, the event could not find a suitable replacement and was forced to fold.

Let’s look at this week’s draw to see who might end up as the inaugural Winston Salem champ.

First Quarter:

Andy Roddick arrives here as the number one seed. Normally Andy would not be playing in the week leading up to the Open, but he is struggling to find his game this summer and needs all the help he can get. On Monday his ranking will drop out of the top-twenty, something that has not happened for him since August 2001. That was back when Roddick was on his way up in the rankings as a new tennis professional. He has done an amazing job at consistently being one of the top players in the world and will be very focused to get back there.

He opens with a first round bye and then is scheduled to face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. Either way this should be exactly the confidence boost that Roddick requires.

A tricky third round match could have him play against veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who is also trying to find his game after struggling with injuries this year. It’s sad in many ways to see these two former world number ones and Grand Slam champions having such difficulty with their games.

Second Quarter:

American John Isner is the 4th seed and will face either Dudi Sela or Filippo Volandri in the second round. This is a tournament that Isner should do quite well at and his only real competition could be in a quarter-final match against either Marcos Baghdatis or Dmitry Tursunov.

Isner defeated Baghdatis in Montreal this past week 6-3, 6-4 and the Cypriot has been quite mediocre of late. He has not advanced past the quarter-finals of any hard-court events this summer.

Third Quarter:

Enigmatic Alexandr Dolgopolov is seeded third and has also been playing under his talent-level for many stretches this year. After starting the 2011 season strongly by reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, he has failed to really build on his potential on hard-courts. He did win the event in Umag a few weeks ago but that was on clay. He could face either Grigor Dimitrov or Donald Young in the third round, but otherwise should be able to navigate his way to the quarter-finals.

There he could meet big-serving Kevin Anderson, who is the 6th seed, and has had a solid summer that was highlighted by a victory over Andy Murray in Montreal. He will likely face wild-card Ryan Harrison in the second round. The up-and-coming American faces Victor Hanescu in his opening match. James Blake is also lurking in this section and could face Anderson in the third round.

Fourth Quarter:

Jurgen Melzer is the second seed and will have the toughest opening match of the top seeds as he will face either Bernard Tomic or Igor Andreev. Tomic is a fast rising star on the ATP World Tour who showed his promise at Wimbledon this year by making the quarter-finals. Andreev is never an easy opponent and has skills on all surfaces. I’d call an upset over Melzer here a distinct possibility.

Nikolay Davydenko is the 5th seed and should be able to navigate his way towards the quarter-finals, but after a brutal 6-0, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Mardy Fish in Cincinnati, I wonder if his confidence is able to handle anyone at the moment.

I’m going to go with Roddick or Isner prevailing in this one. They are both great hard-court players and with their serves they are incredibly dangerous. This tournament could do wonders for their confidence as their home-country Grand Slam approaches.

A Battle of Champions: Andy Roddick defeats Lleyton Hewitt

Friday in Memphis was pretty action packed. I got to the press room bright and early in hopes of doing some writing before the start of play, but not quite early enough to actually get a full post written. Even though I wasn’t quite finished writing, there was no way I was going to miss the first match, Milos Raonic v. Robert Kendrick. There’s been so much hype around the young Canadian and based on the matches I’ve watched him play on TV/streams, I knew I wanted to see him in person. I don’t want to get side tracked, but I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed with Raonic. He’s been playing so well. He also gave a great press conference that I’ll likely write about later.

The real action was reserved for the night session. The first night match featured two former Grand Slam champions, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Andy’s pretty much a favorite at any American tournament, but I was surprised at how much support Lleyton got last night. I think that’s a true testament to Lleyton as a player and as a person. I’m not sure that there’s another player on tour who fights the way that Lleyton does for each and every point and I think crowds really respond to that level of dedication.

Hewitt started out playing incredibly well and Andy started out just the opposite. Roddick got broken in the very first game of the match and was taken to deuce on his serve nearly every game in the first set. I was sitting directly behind Lleyton’s parents, and they were incredibly supportive throughout the match, constantly yelling encouragement. This became significantly more important once Roddick found his rhythm in the second set and the match went into a third set. While Roddick broke Hewitt’s serve fairly early in the third set, Lleyton was in every single game. There were a lot of long rallies and games with tons of deuce points. He definitely had some chances to get back on serve, but as Lleyton mentioned in his presser later on, Andy’s a great closer and he knows how to finish a match.

Comparing Andy’s match with Lleyton and Andy’s match with Janko on Thursday is basically night and day. Even though Roddick was in control for the vast majority of his match against Tipsarevic, he was angry. He was mad about line calls and at times, he looked like he was actually mad at his opponent. To be honest, Hewitt had a very similar in his match against Mannarino. He was arguing with the umpire about the lack of Hawkeye and throwing dirty looks at his box. Last night was totally different. Both guys had moments where they were frustrated, but overall, both were much more calm and collected. Lleyton actually got called out for foot faults three separate times, but each time he just accepted the call and moved on.

The tournament hasn’t been requiring players to do press after a loss, as far as I know, but Lleyton Hewitt agreed to do a press conference after the match last night. He was in the interview room not 10 minutes after the end of the match. He was very gracious about the loss. He mentioned that it was tough for players like him and del Potro who aren’t seeded because they’re “in the hands of the Gods a little bit” in terms of drawing top players in the early rounds of the tournament. He said that he started out well, but was definitely helped out by Andy’s high unforced error count in the first set. While a lot of players would be frustrated by such a close loss, it almost seemed like that made it easier for Lleyton. He said, “with a little bit of luck I could have beaten Nalbandian [at the Australian Open] and I could have beaten Andy here tonight.” He’s right. There was really no shame in this loss. Lleyton forces players to take control of the victory because he never gives up. Finally, when a journalist mentioned that Hewitt appeared to be dealing with some kind of foot/leg injury, Lleyton rebuffed the comment, saying, “Yeah, no I’m alright.” It was the least forthcoming he was all night and led me to believe that something was definitely going on.

Only minutes later, Andy arrived to do his press conference. He looked like he was ready to leave the second he walked in the room. The entire press conference lasted about three and a half minutes, including some awkward silence. However, he did have some really important things to say. First of all, he recognizes that he needs to start his matches better if he’s going to continue on in the tournament. In two out of his three matches, he acknowledged that he started slow and was able to turn things around, but that isn’t always the case. But he felt that in the second and third sets, he was playing his best tennis of the tournament thus far.

By far the best thing to come out of Andy’s presser was what he had to say about Hewitt. When asked about his opponent, Andy said, “There’s a reason why Lleyton is going to be a Hall of Famer in this game. He just fights so hard. I don’t know what exactly was wrong, but he was fighting through something tonight and he does it in a way, he doesn’t bring attention to it, he’s not full of a bunch of histrionics. The guy just goes out and competes and he certainly has the respect of all of us.” I love that Andy was able to acknowledge his respect for Lleyton and how he plays the game.

Andy Roddick will move on to face Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals on Saturday night. Lleyton Hewitt will not play again until Indian Wells in March.

ATP Tour Honeymoon Fever Continues – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson
Taking a Stand – The ladies of Spain are making their voices heard, stating that they are prepared to boycott the first round of the 2011 Fed Cup if the Spanish Tennis Federation doesn’t show a little more support for Spanish women’s tennis. They’re maintaining their position even in the aftermath of the Federation’s response to their initial demands, and supporters of women’s tennis have to respect their stance. What’s more, former Grand Slam champions Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez have lent their support to their countrywomen. It will be intriguing to see how it all unfolds. Spain is tied for third in all-time Fed Cup title wins with 5, though their last win came in 1998. With so much success on the men’s side, however, there’s no reason to think that a similar level of success couldn’t be achieved on the women’s side without the same kind of support. Hopefully their stance will pave the way to change.

Return of a Champion – 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro will be making his return to competitive tennis in Bangkok next week. All eyes will be looking to see how quickly the big Argentine will be able to shake the rust from his game. In many ways, he couldn’t be coming back at a better time. The big guns tend to take a bit of a break at this time, and many of the tournaments will be contested on indoor hard courts where one is often able to produce his best tennis due to not having to battle the elements. Hopefully Del Potro is able to find his range quickly, as the sport has missed the powerful strokes of this young gun that belongs with the rest of the big boys at the top of the men’s game.

Injury Woes – One player on the opposite end of the spectrum from Del Potro is Fernando Gonzalez. The Chilean is set to undergo hip surgery that is expected to keep him out of the game for up to nine months. To compound his problems, his doctors have already informed him that a knee surgery may also be necessary. Playing the brand of tennis that he has throughout his career, it’s not surprising that the body would eventually give out, but hopefully it will also bounce back and allow him a chance to end his career on a high.

First Time for Everything – There were some pretty memorable Davis Cup victories over the weekend, but the biggest praise has to go the nation of Serbia, especially Janko Tipsarevic. Tipsarevic kept Serbian hopes alive by bringing his best to the court and defeating Tomas Berdych in his opening match on Friday, but the Serbs still found themselves down 2-1 going into the final Sunday. That’s when Djokovic and Tipsarevic came up good when the chips were down to lead Serbia to its first ever Davis Cup final. It will be a tough task to take out a deep French team, but what a fantastic story it would be.

Taking the Plunge – On a lighter note, two engagements were announced for two of the game’s most well known doubles specialists. Indian star Mahesh Bhupathi is set to wed former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, and one half of the famous Bryan Brothers duo, Bob Bryan, has also announced his engagement to girlfriend Michelle Alvarez. Dutta’s reps have already confirmed that her marriage to Bhupathi will not take place for at least a couple of years. No word yet on when Bob will look to tie the knot, but don’t look for it to impact his play. With so much left to play for, it’s unlikely the thought to hang it up has entered his mind, and neither Bryan seems the type where the institution of marriage could turn into a hindrance to their games.

LARCHER DE BRITO DRAWS SERENA WILLIAMS

By Luís Santos

For the second year running Serena Williams will face a Portuguese in the first round of Wimbledon. Last year she met Neuza Silva, sailing 6-1 7-5 despite a close second set. This year she meets Michelle Larcher de Brito, arguably the best Portuguese player in the women’s tennis history.

This is Larcher de Brito’s second Wimbledon main draw. She lost to Francesca Schiavone in last year’s second round 7-6 7-6. Michelle comes into Wimbledon with a 2-1 record on grass this year after reaching the third round at Birmingham where she beat number 7 seed Olga Govortsova before falling to resurgent Kaia Kanepi.

Despite being ranked outside the top 100 and only 17 years of age, Larcher de Brito holds an extensive number of wins over top 50 players and has actually pushed many of the latest Grand Slam champions to tough matches. One of her ‘almost-casualties’ was Serena Williams herself back at Stanford 2008, where the American had her hands full for three sets before finally prevailing 4-6 6-3 6-2.

These are Serena’s lawns but can Michelle turn the tables? We’ll see.

Tracy Austin rallies Team Lendl to victory in US Open Champions Invitational

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 12, 2009 — Team Lendl rallied behind the dominating play of two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin to defeat Team Cash 21-17 in the final day of the US Open Champions Invitational at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. With the win, Team Lendl finished the competition as the only undefeated team, posting a 2-0 record.

With her team trailing by four games after the first three events, Austin teamed with Guillermo Vilas to roll over Hana Mandlikova and Ilie Nastase, 5-2 in mixed doubles. Austin and World TeamTennis CEO/Commissioner Ilana Kloss routed Mandlikova and Iva Majoli 5-0 in women’s doubles to give Team Lendl the match win.

Team Cash, coached by Pat Cash, started the day with an early lead when Majoli edged Conchita Martinez 5-4 in the opening set of women’s singles. The set was evenly matched with every game going to 3-points all, forcing a 9-point tiebreak at 4-4. Majoli won the tiebreak for the 5-4 victory.

Cash and Todd Martin topped Vilas and Jimmy Arias in men’s doubles 5-4 to add to Team Cash’s lead. Cash subbed in the men’s doubles event when Ilie Nastase had not arrived by the start of the set. Nastase showed up a few minutes later and when interviewed by the announcer about the reason for his late arrival, the irrepressible Nastase replied, “I cannot say – there are kids around.”

Nastase continued in classic form on the court as well, partially mooning Austin during mixed doubles and trying to unnerve her with a bit of trash-talking. “This one is for you, Tracy”. Austin was unaffected as she and her Team Lendl doubles partners outgunned her opponents 10-2 over the final two sets.

Team Cash and Team Lendl, along with Team King coached by Billie Jean King, each played two matches over three days of team competition. The event used the World TeamTennis format for the first time in US Open history and featured a lineup of Grand Slam champions and finalists competing on co-ed teams. Team Lendl finished with a 2-0 record, while Team King was 1-1 and Team Cash was 0-2.

Each match consisted of one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Other WTT features included cumulative scoring, sets to five games, no-ad scoring, playing let serves, Overtime and Supertiebreakers.

Final Score: Team Lendl def. Team Cash 21-17

Women’s Singles: Iva Majoli (Team Cash) def. Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) 5-4 (4)

Men’s Doubles: Todd Martin/Pat Cash (Team Cash) def. Jimmy Arias/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) 5-4 (1)

Men’s Singles: Todd Martin (Team Cash) def. Jimmy Arias (Team Lendl) 5-3

Mixed Doubles: Tracy Austin/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) def. Hana Mandlikova/Ilie Nastase (Team Cash) 5-2

Women’s Doubles: Ilana Kloss/Tracy Austin (Team Lendl) def. Hana Mandlikova/Iva Majoli (Team Cash) 5-0

Check www.USOpen.org for more details on the US Open Champions Invitational.

Mary Joe Fernandez leads Team King to 21-17 win over Team Cash at US Open Champions Invitational

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 10, 2009 — Mary Joe Fernandez is used to juggling a number of tasks at once. Mom. TV announcer. U.S. Fed Cup captain. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in between her television commitments on Thursday, she was able to squeeze in leading Team King to a 21-17 victory over Team Cash at the US Open Champions Invitational at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Fernandez won her singles and doubles matches to help Team King outduel Team Cash and even their team record to 1-1 after losing their opening match to Team Lendl on Wednesday. Fernandez is one of the former Grand Slam champions and finalists who are competing in the event which uses the co-ed team World TeamTennis format.

In the opening set of mixed doubles, it was Gigi Fernandez and Stan Smith who raced to a 5-3 mixed doubles victory over a pair of former US Open champions, Hana Mandlikova and Ilie Nastase.

Fernandez put Team King solidly in the lead after the second event, topping 1997 French Open singles champion Iva Majoli, 5-2. Fernandez said the win wasn’t as easy as the score might indicate. “This is harder than being in the booth with John and Patrick”, she quipped, referring to her full-time television work on ESPN with the brothers McEnroe at the US Open.

Todd Martin, the 1999 US Open runner-up, wasted no time putting Team Cash back into contention with a dominating 5-1 win over Luke Jensen in men’s singles. Jensen opened the set confidently, serving both left-handed and right-handed to win the first game. Martin then took control, running the former French Open doubles champ all over the court with precise shot-making – highlighted by a drop shot winner from the baseline — before closing out the 5-1 win to bring Team Cash within one game, 11-10.

Fernandez and Fernandez (no relation) added to their team’s tally with a 5-3 win over Majoli and Mandlikova in women’s doubles. The duo, who paired up to win gold medals in doubles at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, gave Team King a three-game lead heading into men’s doubles.

Coach Pat Cash tried to mix it up a bit in the final event, substituting himself for Nastase at 1-1 in men’s doubles. WTT CEO/Commissioner Ilana Kloss, filling in for team coach Billie Jean King, matched Cash’s move by sending in doubles great Rick Leach to replace Smith. Martin entertained the crowd by serving at his opponent Luke Jensen who was at the net and not in the receivers’ position. Jensen played along and dramatically dropped to the court, a nod to the well-documented World TeamTennis dustup this summer involving Robert Kendrick and John McEnroe of the New York Sportimes and Leander Paes of the Washington Kastles. Unlike the WTT Pro League incident, no fines were handed out and play resumed. Team King looked to be rolling to an easy win until Team Cash held off a match point at 4-2 and then tied the set at 4-4. Jensen and Leach held on for the 5-4 win, giving Team King an overall 21-17 victory.

Team King finishes the tournament with a 1-1 record. The 2009 US Open Champions Invitational concludes on Saturday, Sept. 12, with the final round of competition. Team Cash (0-1) takes on Team Lendl (1-0) at 11 a.m. on Court No. 4.

US OPEN CHAMPIONS INVITATIONAL RESULTS –

Team King def. Team Cash 21-17

TEAM KING: Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Stan Smith, Rick Leach and Luke Jensen.

Coach: Ilana Kloss (filling in for Billie Jean King)

TEAM CASH: Iva Majoli, Hana Mandlikova, Ilie Nastase and Todd Martin.

Coach: Pat Cash

RESULTS:

Mixed Doubles: Gigi Fernandez/Stan Smith (Team King) def. Hana Mandlikova/Ilie Nastase (Team Cash) 5-3

Women’s Singles: Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) def. Iva Majoli (Team Cash) 5-2

Men’s Singles: Todd Martin (Team Cash) def. Luke Jensen (Team King) 5-1

Women’s Doubles: Gigi Fernandez/Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) def. Iva Majoli/Hana Mandlikova (Team Cash) 5-3

Men’s Doubles: Luke Jensen/Rick Leach (Team King) def. Todd Martin/Pat Cash (Team Cash) 5-4

SCHEDULE FOR SATURDAY, SEPT. 12

11 am – Court 4 (subject to change)

Team Cash (0-1) vs. Team Lendl (1-0)

TEAM LENDL: Tracy Austin, Conchita Martinez, Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Arias.

Coach: Ivan Lendl

TEAM CASH: Iva Majoli, Hana Mandlikova, Ilie Nastase and Todd Martin.

Coach: Pat Cash

Check www.USOpen.org for more details on the US Open Champions Invitational.

Team Lendl Tops Team King 24-16 In First Day Of US Open Champions Invitational

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 9, 2009 – Team Lendl defeated Team King 24-16 in Overtime to win the first match of the US Open Champions Invitational today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.  The event, which uses the World TeamTennis format for the first time in US Open history, features a lineup of Grand Slam champions and finalists competing on co-ed teams.

Team Lendl, coached by three-time US Open champion Ivan Lendl, jumped to an early lead as Jimmy Arias downed Luke Jensen in singles, 5-3.  Arias then paired up with Guillermo Vilas to boost their overall advantage to 10-5 with a 5-2 doubles win over Jensen and Stan Smith.

Team King’s tandem of Mary Joe Fernandez and Gigi Fernandez may have won two Olympic gold medals in doubles together, but they were outgunned this afternoon by two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin and Conchita Martinez, 5-2, in women’s doubles.

Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon singles champion, held on for 5-4 win over Mary Joe Fernandez in women’s singles to give Team Lendl a 9-point advantage heading into the final event.

Team King, coached by WTT co-founder Billie Jean King, rallied in mixed doubles when Smith and Gigi Fernandez topped Austin and Vilas 5-3 to send the match into Overtime.  The match was highlighted by back-to-back aces from Tracy Austin against Stan Smith.  Austin and Vilas held on to win the first game of Overtime and end the match with a 24-16 team victory.

The Champions Invitational continues on Thursday on Court 4 at 4 p.m. with Team King taking on Team Cash, coached by Pat Cash.  Team Lendl returns on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 11 a.m. to face Team Cash in the final match of the Champions Invitational.

The three teams, which have a combined total of 33 seasons of World TeamTennis experience, play two matches each between Sept. 9-12.  Each match consists of one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.  The event will use the traditional WTT format, which includes cumulative scoring, sets to five games, no-ad scoring, playing let serves, Overtime and Supertiebreakers.

TEAM KING: Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Stan Smith and Luke Jensen.

Coach:  Billie Jean King

TEAM LENDL: Tracy Austin, Conchita Martinez, Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Arias.

Coach:  Ivan Lendl

US OPEN CHAMPIONS INVITATIONAL RESULTS – Sept. 9, 2009

Team Lendl def. Team King  24-16 (OT)

Men’s Singles: Jimmy Arias (Team Lendl) def. Luke Jensen (Team King) 5-3

Men’s Doubles: Jimmy Arias/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) def. Luke Jensen/Stan Smith (Team King) 5-2

Women’s Doubles: Tracy Austin/Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) def. Gigi Fernandez/Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) 5-2

Women’s Singles: Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) def. Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) 5-4

Mixed Doubles: Stan Smith/Gigi Fernandez (Team King) def. Guillermo Vilas/Tracy Austin 5-3

OVERTIME: Guillermo Vilas/Tracy Austin (Team Lendl) def. Stan Smith/Gigi Fernandez (Team King) 1-0

SCHEDULE FOR THURSDAY, SEPT. 10

4 pm – Court  4 (subject to change)

Team Cash vs. Team King

TEAM KING: Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Stan Smith and Luke Jensen.

Coach:  Billie Jean King

TEAM CASH: Iva Majoli, Hana Mandlikova, Ilie Nastase and Todd Martin.

Coach: Pat Cash

Check www.USOpen.org for more details on the US Open Champions Invitational.

Match Times (time/court subject to change – refer to official US Open schedule):

Thursday, Sept. 10 –       4 pm:  Court 4 – Team Cash vs. Team King

Saturday, Sept. 12 –        11 am:  Court 4 – Team Cash vs. Team Lendl