gulbis

MADRID PHOTOGRAPHY FROM GERMANY’S FINEST!

And he keeps sending us stuff! Ralf Reinecke is running around on Madrid and it shows.   Pressconferences and celebrities, noone is safe from his photo camera. And they shouldn’t be.  Ralf’s photography is once again great.

He sent me pics of Melzer, Almagro, Federer, Nadal, Na Li, Andy Murray, Gulbis and as extra bonus shots none other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulino Rubio!

Keep ’em coming and we’ll keep upping them and serve our readers and viewers the best of the best!

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THE LEGACY OF RAFAEL NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

Making History – We’ll agree to disagree on the bigger picture of tennis player Rafael Nadal and his career, but I’m more than happy to join the masses who consider him not only one of the greatest talents to have played the game, but the undisputable king of clay.  This was certainly apparent in Nadal’s road to victory this past weekend. Absorbing bludgeoning blow after bludgeoning blow from Ernests Gulbis in the semis, Nadal hung in there with the big hitting Latvian and eventually found a way to grind out a tough three set win.  He then held his composure during a rain-delayed first set against countryman David Ferrer in the final before going on to win the second set and claim his fifth title in Rome.  The title also marked Nadal’s 17th Masters 1000 win, which ties him with Andre Agassi for most Masters 1000 wins, and all before the age of 24.  Undoubtedly the Spaniard will add to this already impressive total, further adding to his legacy in the annals of the game.

Chalk One Up – It took approximately four months, but after coming tantalizingly close earlier in the season, Justine Henin has chalked up her first tournament victory since making her return to competitive tennis.  The win came on her beloved clay, the surface on which she has traditionally enjoyed the most success.  Despite her stumble in the second set, Henin’s three set win over the in-form Sam Stosur was impressive.  Now that she has gotten over that mini-hurdle, it will be interesting to see if she starts swinging a little more freely going into the second major of the year.

Last Resort – After missing several weeks and undergoing multiple treatments, Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro has announced that he ran out of options and underwent surgery this past Tuesday to fix his wrist.  It is impossible for Del Potro to name a return date at this stage in the game and has just stated that he will be out for “a long period” (reports indicate anywhere from three to six months). I’m sure I’m not alone and really feeling for Del Potro. He was knocking on the door throughout the majority of 2009 before finally breaking through in a big way at the US Open. It’s a tragedy that this injury comes so close on the heels of his success, but based on his comments, it sounds like he will only come back stronger.

Poor Timing – Earlier this week, Lleyton Hewitt wasn’t shy about his expressing his opinion regarding the timing of Australia’s upcoming inter-zonal tie against Japan this weekend. Coming just a week after the Rome Masters and days before the Madrid Masters, the timing could not have been worse.  Undoubtedly Hewitt would have preferred to spend more time prepping for Madrid, particularly given his lack of match play in 2010, but without the former world No. 1, Australia, historically one of the most dominant nations in Davis Cup play, may not even reach the World Group Playoffs in September. I’ll grant you that the inter-zonal matches are not the same draw as those in the World Group, but this was just one more glaring example of why the ITF needs to do something to restructure the Davis Cup format as it relates to the ATP World Tour calendar.

Latest in Technology – To-date, the hawk-eye technology has been the latest development used to enhance the game of tennis for the players and the fans. Later this month, the Madrid Masters will take things one step farther by airing the men’s and women’s singles finals in 3D. The matches will air in theatres in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga.  It will be interesting to hear fans’ responses to viewing matches in this format, and who knows?  It may just become the next latest craze to hit the tennis world.

WILL GULBIS BE THE SHINING STAR FOR LATVIA?

While the cameras may have been focused on Dubai and Acapulco last week as the two largest tournaments taking place on the ATP Circuit, a (not-so) little Latvian was making history on the courts of Delray Beach in the United States.

The 6 foot, 3 inch, 21-year-old was in scintillating form and didn’t drop a set as he progressed to the final via wins over Ryan Harrison (USA), Teimuraz Gabashvili (RUS), Leonardo Mayer (ARG) and Jarkko Nieminen (FIN).

The final saw him line up against the Croat second seed Ivo Karlovic who was hoping to lift the title and crown on his 31st birthday in style. But as is always the case in these stories, Ernests hadn’t read the script.

To the astonishment of many in the watching crowd, he dropped only five games in a mesmerizing 6-2, 6-3 victory which saw him become the first male Latvian player to lift a singles title on the ATP Circuit. Queue the celebrations on the streets of Latvian Capital Riga.

Gulbis and Latvian tennis fans in general have rightly been crooning on internet message boards and forums.

“He played so well and I was pretty much in tears when he won. His smile and his little fist pump…I am so proud of him. He has gone through a lot and Karlovic is definitely right, this will be his break through year! I am so pumped for Indian Wells and so happy for Ernests,” beamed Stelle on menstennisforums.com.

“I have problems to find the words to tell how happy I am for him. What a brave effort. The guy was written off by almost everyone. So unfair often. But he showed what he is capable of. We can call him a champion now,” added moni.

But what does this mean for Latvian tennis exactly? Well, they finally have a male champion to add to the likes of Larisa Neiland, who won the 1989 French Open and 1991 Wimbledon doubles titles with Natasha Zvereva. They were also the runners up in ten other Grand Slam finals.

But the authorities will also be hoping that such victories help the infrastructure. Lifting from the Latvian Institute website (www.li.lv):

“Our accomplishments in professional sports are brighter than they might seem considering the available national sports infrastructure and the small number of people officially engaged in regular professional exercise.

“Secondly, it is a tradition that, in major international competitions, Latvian sportsmen and women compete with rivals who have many more advantages in terms of financing and human resources.

“Thirdly, approximately 100 different types of sports are developing more or less successfully in small Latvia with its population of just 2.4 million.”

Latvian basketball and ice hockey continues to produce successful worldwide exports and football continues to grow off the back of the Latvian’s qualification for the 2004 European Championships.

The same website lists Gulbis in its list of top Latvian sports stars and is very proud of what he has achieved on the tennis court considering the lack of funding they could provide for him which resulted in him flying the roost to seek coaching in Germany.

They recognize that the lack of help they can offer him and his fellow players could be holding them back:

“Gulbis is still showing signs of impatience and immaturity due to his young age, however if he can learn to harness his considerable talent and keep the pressure on his opponent, he will be a strong player. He has gotten this far on talent, but if he could commit to working with a seasoned coach he could emerge in the next year as a contender.”

Unfortunately, money controls everything and of course the Government has a lot to consider on top of sport when it comes to distributing funding. But if Ernests can continue to add to his trophy haul alongside the successes of his fellow sportsmen (including some terrific performances at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) then the future prodigies of Latvia can receive a greater start in their careers than Ernests had.

Sport can set a people free and unite a nation in support of their brightest talents. This will not be lost on the authorities who can look at a long list of great powers who used sport as a way of cultivating and developing their people (namely Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and, to a lesser extent, the USA and United Kingdom).

I have seen Ernests Gulbis play only once, in his straight-set defeat to Andy Murray at last year’s US Open, but what I saw impressed me. It reminded me of a young Murray; power and will let down by physical frame and, as mentioned above, concentration levels.

With every achievement directing a few more glances towards one of Europe’s smallest nations the Latvian Government will be pining for more moments like these, preferably at the three remaining Grand Slams of the year.

As well as the opportunity of being Latvia’s brightest star the knowledge and understanding of how his success can help the prospects of his descendents should be more than enough to spur on a player who continues to show that you don’t necessarily need the greatest financial backing to earn success.

Advantage Murray

While Andy Murray has refuted claims that he took a medical ‘time-out’ to gain an advantage in a match played last year, the world number three has admitted that having more psychology between tennis players could add to the sport’s appeal.

The Scot vehemently denies using underhand tactics to gain an advantage over Ernests Gulbis at Queen’s Club last summer but told Tim Lovejoy’s channelbee.com that psychology features largely in the game.

He said: “There is quite a lot of psychology in tennis but you will rarely see it. John McEnroe has said that he used psychology as a sort of tactic. I wish there was more of it going on, as it makes it more interesting to watch.

“For example, Rafael Nadal always likes to cross the net second. So he waits. Sometimes a player will hit an ace or a good shot and they’ll want to use the same ball for the next point. So sometimes the opponent will hold it and wait until the time is up and throw it back. Just little things like that which go on.”

The world number three also thinks that the new Centre Court is helping give players an advantage at SW19 when it comes to the changeable British weather.

He commented: “It makes a big difference. If you play all your matches on Centre Court then you know that every day you are going to get finished. You’re not going to get held up by the weather, which the rest of the guys that are playing on other courts might.

“They may have to play out two or three days in a row, where as you will always be on schedule.”

Murray could become the first Britain to win the men’s championships in 73 years and believes that the huge swell of support he’s being shown on court could be to his advantage.

“When you have the whole crowd behind you it makes a huge difference. With that everyone says there is huge pressure and expectation, which is the same in any sport. There is that certain pressure and you can hear people groaning if you put the ball out but I enjoy playing in front of big crowds. The big tournaments are the reason you play the sport.”

The full interview with Andy is available to watch everyday this week at channelbee.com. Or you can view it here:

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