grass court

Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer Hit the Wimbledon Practice Courts on Saturday

(June 22, 2013) With Wimbledon set to kick-off main draw play on Monday, several top players hit the grass courts of the All England Club on Saturday to prepare for the season’s third Slam, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and more.

Rafael Nadal looked right at home on the grass, but he seems to have caught the British bug. And yes, it’s contagious. Someone should remind him he’s Spanish!

Tennis - 20123 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Rafael Nadal smiles

And yes, even champions take shirtless breaks on make-shift seats.

Rafael Nadal Wimbledon practice

Wimbledon’s official Instagram account and user TennisByLisa also took some great footage of Nadal practicing today. (Click on the pictures to play video.)

Afterwards, Nadal sported a stylish white Nike jacket as he posed for a photo with an excited fan.

Rafael Nadal with fan

Scot Andy Murray also hit the courts on Saturday under the watchful eye of his coach Ivan Lendl.

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl

Tennis - 20123 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

And Ross Hutchins, a doubles player who recently finished his chemo treatment and is one of Murray’s best friends, joined in on the fun. Nice to see the 28-year-old Brit in such good spirits!

Andy Murray and Ross Hutchins

Tennis - 20123 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

It’s all fun and games though until Murray forgets how to get dressed, and worse yet, how to hold a tennis racquet. I think you’re doing it wrong, Mr. Murray.

Tennis - 20123 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Roger Federer also enjoyed a nice hit with Lleyton Hewitt, complete with Hewitt’s 4-year-old son Cruz crashing the party from the stands.

Roger Federer Wimbledon practice

(Click on the picture to play video.)

And for die-hard fans who are just itching to see more color on the holy grass of Wimbledon, ladies and gentleman, I present to you Caroline Wozniacki, the always daring adidas-clad fashion star.

Tennis - 20123 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Is Grass Always Greener?

When the new International-level WTA event made its debut this week in Nürnberg, Germany, there was no shortage of quality story lines; although the draw featured no top 10 players, top seed Jelena Jankovic is always a walking headline and four Germans started off in the main draw. Nonetheless, the event has made headlines for completely unexpected reasons. Some have questioned the merit of the WTA holding a clay court event two weeks before Wimbledon, particularly in a country where the grass-court tuneup in Halle always attracts a star-studded ATP lineup.

The idea of arbitrarily placed clay court events on either tour’s calendar is nothing new. The WTA calendar also allocates space for four clay court events in the two weeks following Wimbledon: Budapest, Palermo, Bastad and Bad Gastein. Serena Williams is committed to play the clay-court event in Bastad for the first time in her career, and the event is held the week before her usual US Open Series tuneup in Stanford. Rafael Nadal returned from a seven month injury layoff and prepared for the North American hard court season by playing in Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco…on clay.

With the way that professional tennis has evolved over the years, the grass court season has become little more than a blip on the drawn-out tennis calendar; while players like Alison Riske and Tsvetana Pironkova might’ve found their lives a bit easier if three of the four slams were still contested on grass, career-defining results on grass are not the norm for most players. Is it really to a player’s benefit to waste time (and money) to travel and compete on a surface where she’ll reap such little reward for such a short time?

There is constant clamoring for players to schedule smarter and play the tournaments that are in their best interest. By putting these tournaments on the schedule, the WTA is allowing for that. There was little to no clamor about Nadal returning to action on his most preferred surface to get match play and confidence. This week in Nürnberg, the narrative was quite similar. The saga of Andrea Petkovic and her injuries over the past 18 months is well known. After losing in Roland Garros qualifying to unheralded Yi-Miao Zhou, Petkovic dropped down to the ITF Circuit and won a $100,000 event in Marseille on clay; among her scalps, Petkovic defeated in-form players Monica Puig and Paula Ormaechea, both of whom came off third round showings in Paris. After defeating Sofia Arvidsson in the first round in Germany, Petkovic assured her return to the top 100. Petkovic’s good form continued as she rallied past Annika Beck, her teenaged countrywoman, in nearly three hours to reach her first WTA semifinal since Luxembourg in 2012.

On the other side of the draw, Polona Hercog was making an injury comeback of her own. The Slovenian quietly played just one match this year at the Australian Open before requiring wrist surgery, and made her return to competition at a $50,000 ITF event in France before Roland Garros. No slouch on her beloved clay, where she owns two WTA singles titles, Hercog also fell in Roland Garros qualifying. Hercog’s greatest grass court success came as a junior, when she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2008. Since then, Hercog has avoided grass like the plague, and rightly so. The Slovenian’s game is far from effective on grass, and it didn’t take her long to figure that out. She’s played just a handful of matches on the surface in her career. Her only career win at Wimbledon came against Johanna Larsson, perhaps the only active WTA player less comfortable on grass than Hercog herself. Instead of moving on to grass, Hercog took the title at a $25,000 ITF event in her hometown of Maribor, reached the semifinals in Marseille and took out the No. 2 seed Klara Zakopalova en route to a quarterfinal showing in Nürnberg. With smart scheduling, Hercog got herself more match practice in a few weeks than she might have for nearly the rest of the year.

In a sport where so much is made of wins and losses, it’s much easier to adapt to an uncomfortable situation when you’re in good form. None of the WTA’s top three are entered in a grass court warmup event, and does anyone believe that this is a hindrance to their title hopes? The difference is that these players perform at a high level nearly every week and are rarely, if ever, short on confidence. Confidence and the ability to adapt comes from winning, and nothing else. Not everyone has the luxury to be able to have and do that on a dime. By holding simultaneous tournaments on different surfaces, both tours are allowing for the highest percentage of their players to succeed.

Kim Clijsters to focus on Olympics; John Isner new number one American — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

London or Bust

To the dismay of her legion of fans and the WTA in general, Kim Clijsters announced that she will be unable to make one last run at Roland Garros. The Belgian is suffering from ankle and hip injuries and is healing much slower than anticipated. She is wisely opting to focus all of her efforts on the upcoming grass court season, which she hopes will include a victory at Wimbledon, the Olympics, or both. In reality, such a scenario is looking less and less likely. The competition near the uppermost echelons of the game has made it harder to be a part-time competitor, and given Clijsters’ slow recovery and seemingly continual string of injuries, it’s difficult to imagine her being at the top of her game when she needs it most. She’s a great person, and I’d love to see a fairytale ending to her career, but count me among those who will be sincerely shocked if she not only wins one of the biggest grass court titles of 2012, but actually finishes the season.

Joining the Club and a Snub

The lineup for the 2012 Hall of Fame class has been set, and not surprisingly, it includes Jennifer Capriati. The American’s career follows a very similar arc to that of 2011 Inductee Andre Agassi. She was a standout teen prodigy who crumbled under the pressure in a very public fall from grace, only to pick herself up and ultimately realize her Grand Slam potential more than a decade after turning pro. Her career also impacted the sport as a whole, with her early burnout cited as one of the main reasons the WTA put restrictions on its youngest competitors, while the controversial overrule in her match with Serena Williams at the 2004 US Open is considered the catalyst for introducing Hawk-Eye to the game. With three singles majors, an Olympic gold medal, and the No. 1 ranking, she’s a deserving candidate. Also a deserving candidate but who was instead snubbed for induction is Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The Russian won two singles majors, four in doubles, reached the apex of the men’s rankings, won Olympic gold, and was a member of a winning Davis Cup team. His record is equally, if not arguably more impressive, than Capriati’s, and he’s certainly a more accomplished player than some previous inductees. Some have suggested he failed to make the grade in spite of his Hall of Fame résumé because of his often sour disposition. In an ideal world, induction would be based on pure merit and not popularity, but that’s politics. And while it doesn’t’ make it right, I guess bottom line, Capriati, not Kafelnikov, puts butts in seats.

Touching Tribute

Novak Djokovic has proven his mental toughness on multiple occasions the last 12-18 months, but perhaps one of the more stunning displays of his resolve occurred in his victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov to reach the quarters in Monte-Carlo. On the morning he was to play that match, he learned that his grandfather, Vladimir, had passed away at the age of 83. Vladimir was a hero to his grandson and the man Djokovic credited with teaching him to always fight. With that in mind, he couldn’t have put together a more fitting tribute to his grandfather on the day of his passing, overcoming the Ukranian in a topsy-turvy three-set tussle. In the first set, Djokovic was clearly suffering mentally, as he swung without any real purpose and Dolgopolov’s talent was on full display. But the No. 1 roared back in the second to force a tightly contested third set that ended when Djokovic broke his opponent in the ninth game before serving it out for the win. He raised his arms and eyes to the heavens in recognition of his hero before wiping away a few tears and undoubtedly causing more than a few spectators to grow misty-eyed themselves. He’s never won Monte-Carlo, so you can bet he was plenty motivated coming into his adopted hometown event. But now there’s extra motivation, because this one is for grandpa.

New No. 1

No, nobody has knocked Djokovic from his perch atop the world rankings, but John Isner did displace Mardy Fish as the top American, becoming the 12th man to hold the coveted spot in the process. It would have been nice to have seen him punctuate the achievement with the title in Houston, but you have to give credit to his vanquisher Juan Monaco, who before having to retire in his match with Haase in Monte-Carlo was playing some very stellar tennis. Isner has coped relatively well with the expectations that were suddenly heaped on his shoulders following his surprise defeat of Federer in Davis Cup, so it will be interesting to see if he continues the trend now that he’s the U.S. No. 1. It will also be interesting to track if the flip-flop in rankings takes some of the pressure off of Fish and allows him to relax and return to playing top-notch tennis instead of continuing his downward spiral. Either way, it could make for an intriguing spring and summer.

Ultimate Professional

It’s wasn’t a long swan song for Ivan Ljubicic as he entered the final tournament of his professional career in Monte-Carlo earlier this week. Perhaps fittingly, he went out to a fellow Croat, Ivan Dodig, in a straight sets defeat where he admitted he was surprised by the well emotions swirling inside of him. His story of an escape from war-torn Croatia and eventual rise to top tennis star is an inspiring one to be sure, and his dedication to his off-court endeavors is admirable. Always ready with an endearing smile, it was touching to hear his fellow competitors gave him a standing-o when he entered the locker room after that last defeat. He has and continues to be a class act, and I for one can’t wait to see what else he’s going to be able to do for the game.

US Open Fourth Round Preview

The final week of Grand Slam play for 2010 is about to begin and there are sixteen players left in the men’s draw. Noticeable absentees include the Andy’s (Murray and Roddick) and Tomas Berdych. Other than that I suppose David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis bowed out slightly earlier than we had thought, but there are still several big names left in the draw.

Rafa Nadal has been rolling alo

ng just fine on the hard courts so far in this tournament. He’ll get compatriot Feliciano Lopez next. Lopez took him out of the grass court tune-up event at Queen’s Club in June so we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. Nadal will raise his game when required however and we all know how hungry he is to complete the career slam with a win in New York. I’m going with Nadal in straights.

Another all-Spanish battle features Fernando Verdasco the 8th seed against number 10 seed David Ferrer. Verdasco impressively knocked off Nalbandian in the third round while Ferrer advanced against a lesser-known hard court player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver. I’m looking at a tough five set Verdasco victory which would give us a nice re-match of the Nadal/Verdasco tilt from the Australian Open that went the distance in 2009.

American hopeful Sam Querrey and Swiss understudy Stan Wawrinka both have the opportunity to make their first career Grand Slam quarter-final. Querrey has had a great year at the lower-level tournaments winning three ATP Tour 250 events, and one 500 event. Let’s see if he now has the game to make a splash on a bigger stage. Wawrinka just beat one of the U.S. Open favorites in Andy Murray. Can he keep that level up? I’m picking Wawrinka in four sets due to experience.

Mikhail Youzhny took out American John Isner in the last round and will now face veteran Tommy Robredo. Normally I’d go with Youzhny hands-down but I’ve learned to never count Tommy out. Just when you think his career is on the downward swing, he tosses in an excellent result. Still, talent wise, you gotta think Youzhny will pull this one out in four.

Monday gives us the four bottom-half matches, starting out with Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils. This match should be one of the most entertaining between Gasquet’s beautiful backhand and Monfils’ colorful court antics. The all-French match holds a 2-2 career head-to-head with all meetings on hard court. Could go either way really as neither has enjoyed much success on this surface this summer, but LeMonf has my vote in a five setter.

Mardy Fish is likely wishing that the heat would return to Flushing Meadows in time for his match against Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately cool temperatures are in the forecast giving Djokovic the ideal conditions he needs to succeed against the American. While Fish has had a great summer and has made the quarter-finals in New York once before, the Djoker has been picking up his game this week and looks ready to advance. Djokovic in four.

Robin Soderling gets the easiest match on paper as he takes on clay-court specialist Albert Montanes. A straight set wins for the Swede should be in the cards, making him a very dangerous and well-rested player to face Roger Federer in the next round.

Federer gets resurgent Jurgen Melzer who has had the best season of his career for sure. The 29 year old had never before advanced past the third round of a Slam before 2010 and has now made the semi’s at Roland Garros, the fourth round at Wimbledon and now again the fourth round at the U.S. Open. His run is about to end at the hands of Federer who will have one last routine victory before having to face a serious test in Soderling. Federer in straights.

Around the corner: Baghdatis is the top seed in New Haven

Only a week to go before the final Grand Slam of 2010 and there is one last stop on the tour before we get to Flushing Meadows. This week offers the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven where Marcos Baghdatis is the number one seed. The ATP World Tour 250 level tourney offers some lower ranked players a chance to get some match play in before the U.S. Open. While it is often a gamble to play so close to the start of the Open, it is a necessary chance that some struggling players must take in order to gain some much needed momentum.

After having a quiet mid-season stretch up until August, Baghdatis has rediscovered the game that brought him to his only Grand Slam final in Australia in 2006. He made the finals in Washington where he lost to David Nalbandian and then the semi-finals this past week in Cincinnati where he was defeated by Roger Federer. I’m a bit surprised that Baghdatis is going to play this week as he has had plenty of matches under his belt recently. Maybe he simply does not want to lose any of the progress he has been making.

Other players in his section of the draw to lookout for are Sergiy Stakhovsky and Taylor Dent. The Ukrainian Stakhovsky has been quiet of late, but did win a grass court tournament in June in the Netherlands. Dent meanwhile, continues to make small improvements in his game and played a tough match against Rafael Nadal in Cincy last week where he fell in the second round. Either one could emerge from this quarter of the draw in New Haven, especially if Baghdatis pulls out.

Mardy Fish is supposed to be the fourth seed but I would be absolutely shocked if he played. Appearing in the finals in Cincy on Sunday and playing six matches in seven days is too much tennis to then push it the week before a Slam. That leaves Germany’s Michael Berrer as the likeliest candidate to emerge from this section of the draw. The big serving Berrer impressed me in Toronto two weeks ago with his powerful game and had promising results on hard courts earlier in the season.

On the other side of the tournament we might get an intriguing second round encounter between rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov and struggling American veteran James Blake. Dolgopolov is the youngest player in the top one hundred in the world and possesses a very diverse game and lethal first serve. Blake has had a summer from hell and most recently was bounced in the first round in Cincinnati by Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-0. I pick Dolgopolov as a good darkhorse selection to be the eventual champion in New Haven

Fernando Gonzalez is also in this quarter, and the third seed is arguably the most talented player in the entire draw. Coming back from a left calf injury, it will be interesting to see how he handles himself.

The final quarter in New Haven has Xavier Malisse and second seeded Tomaz Bellucci as the favorites. I liked Malisse’s chances given his experience and hard-court talent.

Regardless of who advances this week, there will be a new champion in New Haven. Defending champion Fernando Verdasco is not present this year, allowing somebody else to hoist the trophy. While I wouldn’t put any faith in the eventual winner to go deep in New York, it could give them some confidence to at least win a few rounds and trouble some of the big guys.

Around The Corner – Rogers Cup Gives Canada The Tennis Spotlight

For a land known more for its on-ice accomplishments than on-court, Canada boasts one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the history of the game. Third behind Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in terms of longevity, The Rogers Cup seems to get better year after year.

A quality field once again descends upon Toronto this summer led by world number one Rafael Nadal along with the always dangerous Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. All are former champions here in Canada and possess an almost-equal chance of hoisting the trophy again in 2010.

The tournament benefits from an excellent window in the ATP World Tour schedule that has been void of any major tennis competition since Wimbledon wrapped-up in early July. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have all spent the past few weeks resting from match-play so it should be quite intriguing to see how they respond in their return to the court.

A change in surface should also provide some interesting results as the clay and grass court swings are now behind us. Once known more for his play on the dirt, Nadal has truly morphed into a master on every playing field as he mentioned on Friday at the tournament draw ceremony held atop the CN Tower.

“Sure I think I am a better player or more complete player now than in 2005 on every surface,” the Spaniard admitted. “If I play well I’m going to have the chance to have good results in every surface. If I play bad, on clay maybe I still have any chance, but on the rest of the surfaces I don’t have a chance to play at the top level. Yes I am more complete, but if I am not feeling at my best…it is going to be impossible because every match is difficult and the level between players is very close.”

That narrowing talent level between players has perhaps never been more distinguished than it is now. Joining the top four as legitimate threats this week are Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic.

Meanwhile, Canada will have a visible presence in the draw with the foursome of Frank Dancevic, Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Peter Polansky and Milos Raonic all benefiting from wildcards.

Of the four, Dancevic has experienced the most success since turning pro as was most evident with his quarter-final run at the event in Montreal in 2007. That year he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and took a set off Rafael Nadal before being defeated 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Health issues have side-tracked Dancevic’s progress, which peaked at 65th in the world in the fall of 2007. Recovering from back surgery kept him off the tour for the first six months of this year but since then he has reached the quarter-finals in Newport and made the semi-finals of the challenger event in Granby. A tough first round match against Stanislas Wawrinka looms but it is challenge Dancevic is equipped to handle.

While Canada has some limitations that may hinder the development of a strong contingent of players inside the top one hundred in the rankings, its fans will be out in full force to support the boys. The lack of suitable year-round outdoor weather, distractions from other sports such as hockey and lacrosse and the absence of a real big-gun to motivate youngsters might be part of the issue thwarting our own emergence on the world scene.

John McEnroe joked with me this past spring that Canada would have a top-ten player if tennis was played on ice. While I couldn’t help but chuckle at this slight jab at our tennis pride, I feel like the potential to realize tangible achievements is certainly on the horizon in our country.

A positive result from any of the four Canadians here in Toronto might just be the confidence boost that is needed for one of them to take that next step and it could also encourage the next Rafa Nadal to pick up a racquet within the boundaries of the true, north, strong and free.

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

With the short grass court season already over, the ATP Tour turns to a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe this week.

Stuttgart:

The chance at redemption to a multitude of players who have missed significant portions of the tennis season due to injury is offered at Stuttgart this year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Stuttgart and will try to improve on his semi-final appearances here in 2004 and 2005. Ranked sixth in the world, Davydenko is still struggling with his game since returning from a wrist injury in June. After missing three months he returned in time for Halle and Wimbledon and lost both times in the second round on his least favorite surface of grass. Davydenko gets a first round bye and will then play the winner of the Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jeremy Chardy match. Chardy won his first career title here a year ago but will be hard-pressed to repeat.

Frenchman Gael Monfils is seeded third and has a fairly easy looking quarter of the draw that is littered with qualifiers. Monfils also missed some time earlier in the year with injury issues and has yet to post any significant results in 2010. This tournament offers the perfect opportunity for Monfils to reach his first final of the season.

Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could meet up with veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third quarter-final. Simon will be have trouble living up to this seventh-seed status as he too was out of action for three months between March and June with injuries and is not yet where his game is capable of being.

In the final quarter, clay-court specialist Albert Montanes the fifth seed will likely meet up with second seeded Jurgen Melzer if they can get through the opening two rounds. Melzer is experiencing the season of his career thus far at the age of 29 by making it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Austrian had never before advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

Bastad:

In Bastad, Sweden, local hope Robin Soderling will look to defend his title from a year ago. Soderling was the first Swede to win the singles title in Bastad since his current coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000.

Third seeded David Ferrer won the title in 2007 and is still capable of strong results on clay. This year he has won the title in Acapulco, made the finals of Buenos Aires and the Masters-Series tournament in Rome as well as the semi-finals of four other tournaments.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fourth and is an able clay-court player. His section seems quite routine and he should be able to find his way deep into the draw.

The bottom quarter features two tough players from Spain in veteran Tommy Robredo, who has won the Bastad title twice before (2006, 2008), and second seeded Fernando Verdasco. Robredo holds a 23-7 career record at this tournament and has a 4-4 head-to-head against Verdasco.

One interesting note when looking at the list of former doubles champions is that Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won here on seven separate occasions and with six different partners.

Around The Corner: A Newport Preview

With Wimbledon ended it seems odd to have any grass-court tennis left and yet that is exactly what we have in the week ahead in Newport, Rhode Island. A sparse field is set for the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championship but there are a few names worth noting.

Seeded first is American Sam Querrey. After winning the grass-court title at Queen’s Club a few weeks ago, Querrey is the favourite this year to win in Newport. He finished runner-up here a year ago to Rajeev Ram. He opens the tournament against Jesse Levine.

Ram is also back to attempt to defend his title in both singles and doubles where he was victorious in both draws in 2009.

Other notable Americans include 5th seeded Mardy Fish and the 8th seeded Taylor Dent. Fish was beaten by Querrey in the Queen’s Club finals while Dent is always dangerous on a fast surface due to his imposing serve.

Dent is still trying to find his form since returning from a serious back injury that kept him off the tour for two years between 2006 and 2008. After some encouraging results a year ago Dent seems to have stumbled and holds a 4-11 record in ATP events in 2010. Perhaps a return to Newport, where he won in 2002, will help spark his game.

Canadian Frank Dancevic is also coming back from a back injury and is the lone Canuck in the draw in Newport. Dancevic will be trying to round into form as his home tournament at the Rogers Cup in Toronto is merely a month away.

Following this tournament the Davis Cup will resume with the quarter-finals followed by a few clay-court tourney’s in Europe and the start of the summer hard-court swing in North America.

YOUR GRASS IS MINE! 2010 WIMBLEDON PREVIEW

By Peter Nez

With Wimbledon only one week away, the talk has shifted from sheer dominance on the sandy surface to an all out blitz of question marks and shrugging shoulders as to who will take away lawn glory. It’s hard to refute a 76-2 record on grass for the past seven years by defending champion Roger Federer, and one would be remiss if he wasn’t, on all accounts, the decisive favorite, but circumstances are bound to change, the wind can shift, and church bells may toll, sounding off eras swaying, and epochs coming to an end, as we saw inevitably happen in France when Robin Soderling dismissed the G.O.A.T. in the quarterfinals, ending an astounding streak of 23 semis or better in a row.

Roger, who typically plays his Wimbledon warm up tournament in Halle, Germany, the Gerry Weber Open, did the same this year, only bypassing it twice in the last eight years. He had a strong week, reaching the finals, taking out some accomplished grass court players along the way, losing only to Lleyton Hewitt, a former world no. 1, and former Wimbledon champion; an accredited savant on the green stuff, in three sets on Sunday. Not a terrible start to Federer’s grass campaign, especially considering how quick the transition is from clay to grass, and the results of his arch rivals and other top players: Nadal, Murray, Roddick, and Novak, all went out fairly early in their Wimbledon warm up at the Queen’s Club in London.

Entering major tournaments in good form is all about momentum, and nothing can build momentum like match play and excellent results at preceding tournaments. This couldn’t be exemplified any more than what happened this past spring where Rafael Nadal took three back to back masters titles upon entering the French Open; riding on a mountain of momentum, there was little doubt as to what the Savage Spaniard would do at Roland Garros. I don’t think there was one ‘expert’ out there in the tennis universe who didn’t pick Nadal to win it all, and many thought that maybe spring 2010 would mirror spring 2008 for the Mallorca Madman, who won not only The French Open, and Wimbledon, but the warm up to Wimbledon in the interim, (Queen’s Club Open) taking out a red hot Novak Djokovic in the final. But all for not, Nadal lost to Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals in straight sets, his only other loss to Lopez coming when Rafael was a bubbly seventeen year old, raw on the tour. Nadal seemed relaxed about his loss saying he was, “looking forward to going home,” and was happy so he could, “play golf and see family.” A peculiar attitude to exude before the Super Bowl of Tennis, but who am I to speculate on Rafa’s preparation? His track record speaks for itself. A friend of mine said, about Nadal’s performance, who was a National Doubles Champion for the USTA, in his smooth southern drawl, that “It looked like he wasn’t timing the bounce as well. He looked unbalanced.” It’s not out of order to speculate that he may be feeling the magnificent run he had this past May, and a bit tired, and I don’t see any cause for alarm for Nadal fans, but I don’t get the feeling that 2010 will sing a cover song anytime soon for the Spaniard, but even more than that, I have reservations about King Roger as well.

Federer has been in a title drought since the Australian Open, and his clay season was anything but normal, and we know how important confidence is to him, and to lose to Hewitt, somebody he has owned in past meetings, in a final of a grass court tournament that he has won many times before can’t bode well. Something is amiss. I get this strange feeling that there may be something more to this “lung infection” he acquired back in February and that it hindered him more than anyone thought, including himself. Who knows, maybe the universe is saying it’s time for somebody else, that the old adage about greed may prove true. The “uncharacteristic losses” have been accumulating since 2007, and Roger fans have been biting their nails more readily during his matches these days. Between the alien arrival of the spraying forehand, and the cryptic breakdown in his first serve (something we saw full fledged against Ernest Gulbis, in Federer’s first round loss at the Rome Masters), the impenetrable veneer of the Federer palace is looking to wane. But, the caveat to that is the swirling doubts have been parading around the press rooms and fan sites before every major, and Roger seems to silence the naysayers time and time again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he places a giant index finger across them yet again, by holding the coveted title that fortnight.

If anything, this year’s Wimbledon will be the hinge that turns the door on the rest of the season for anybody, especially the top players. Who can do it? A number of players can step up. What about Murray? Maybe he can finally reach grand slam glory that he has come so close to tasting before? Last year he was a semi-finalist and has an entire nation pulling for him. Henman Hill has now been transformed to Mound Murray. Can Djokovic finally turn back the hand of time and resurrect the career many expected he would encompass? What about Roddick? He always has a chance, as he proved last year. This is the next sunrise, the new morning, the middle of the ATP season, the cathedral of tennis, the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon, where dreams come true, and tears tremble the blades of grass, and in a men’s draw loaded up with bursting at the seams talent, anything can happen. Federer and Nadal are the two super powers, and it would be great to see them in the final again, battling it out, knifing through the English dusk with their artistry and brute will, but something tells me there may be new blood lurking in the Channel, that the familiar silhouettes may have different shapes this year coming out of the tunnel. I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s just a feeling, but I sense something blowin’ in the wind…

HISTORY FOR SCHIAVONE AND NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

A Veteran’s Historic Moment – Francesca Schiavone is not a household name to the casual sports fan. Her run to the Roland Garros women’s final was a quiet one that included a retirement from her opponent Elena Dementieva in the semis. Her foe in the final was Sam Stosur, the woman who had taken out Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic in three consecutive matches to reach the final. Stosur also owned a 4-1 win-loss record against Schiavone. The Aussie came in equipped with a bigger serve, more powerful groundstrokes and a better 2010 season leading up to that point. But on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Paris, none of that mattered. Schiavone earned a lot of fans that day, including myself, as she played a spectacular match littered with positive emotions from beginning to end to become the first Italian woman to ever win a singles major title. What made her performance all the more impressive was that Schiavone herself admitted she never thought she would be in a position to win a Slam and to go out there playing that brand of stellar tennis, realistically knowing that it might be her one and only chance to ever win one of the top four prizes in the sport, is truly admirable.

Back on Top – A name a little more familiar to sports fans is that of Rafael Nadal, who sent a message to the rest of the field during his stay in the French capital. The Spaniard was in a ruthless mood as he cruised to the Roland Garros title for the fifth time in six years, doing so without the loss of a set. His defense against the powerful groundstrokes of Soderling in the final was phenomenal and clearly broke the spirit of the big-banging Swede. The added bonus for Nadal is that the win also propelled him back to No. 1 in the rankings ahead of Roger Federer.  Nadal has gotten that winning feeling back, and it’s set up him nicely going into the short grass court season where he can play with relatively less pressure given that he has no points to defend from 2009.

Double Trouble – While both of the Williams sisters crashed out earlier than either would have liked in the singles competition at the French Open, they didn’t allow that to impact their doubles game. The sisters took the title on the terre bateau, marking their 12th major doubles crown and their first in Paris since 1999. Their run at Roland Garros also assured them the top ranking in doubles, so the Williams sisters now rule the top spots in both the singles and the doubles. Given that when the Williams sisters enter the doubles draw its no secret that everyone else is unofficially playing for second, it’s nice to see them achieve the No. 1 doubles ranking. And love them or hate them, you have to applaud the Williams sisters’ staying power at every level of the game.

Comebacks Abound – The start of the grass court season is seeing its share of comebacks, at least in a manner of speaking. First, there is the return of Nikolay Davydenko, who last played in early March, marking his comeback with a win over Simon Greul in Halle. Given the Russian’s form coming in to the 2010 season, here’s hoping he quickly finds his game and shakes things up at the top of the pack. It was also announced that American Lindsay Davenport would be making a bit of a return to the game, teaming with Bob Bryan for the mixed doubles competition at Wimbledon, as well as with Liezel Huber for some women’s doubles later this summer. Finally, Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, who left the game last year, will be returning, but not as a player. Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champion, will be acting as an advisor to fellow compatriot Michel Llodra this grass court season.

Record Set To Be Broken – There were murmurs of it earlier in the year when it was announced that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin would be facing off in an exhibition to be played post-Wimbledon. Now those murmurs have become official shouts of triumph for the exo organizers, as it was announced that based on the ticket sales, the attendance for the Belgian showdown slated for July 8 will total 30,670. That total will top the previous record of 30,472 that was set during the famous “Battle of the Sexes,” match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King 37 years ago. Congrats to the two Belgians and organizers, and if the match is anything like some of their previous tussles, spectators are in for a real treat.