Hopman Cup

John Isner withdraws from Australian Open due to knee injury

January 9, 2013 — Top ranked American and world No. 13 John Isner has officially withdrawn from the 2013 Australian Open due to a bone bruise in his knee.

On Wednesday, top-seeded at the Sydney tournament, Isner went out to qualifier Ryan Harrison, 6-4 6-4, hinting at continued issues with his knee.

“I have been feeling some discomfort in my knee and have recently learned that I have a bone bruise,” Isner said. ”Doctors have told me that continuing to play on the knee could result in a more serious injury.”

Isner also pulled out of last week’s Hopman Cup exhibition tournament in Perth after losing both of his matches against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kevin Anderson in order to be ready for Sydney. Via Twitter, Isner’s manager stated that the American “gave it a weeks rest before the match and wanted to test it.” But it was not meant to be.

Fellow American Mardy Fish withdrew last month due to continued recovery from his heart troubles, leaving No. 22 Sam Querrey as the highest-ranked American left in the main draw of the year’s first Slam.

Tomic and Djokovic on an “exhibition” scale

By Jesse Pentecost

So far as I can ascertain, Bernard Tomic has defeated Novak Djokovic twice, and lost three times. It might have been more, but notwithstanding their status as high profile athletes, and despite our era’s ungovernable urge to document everything, it has proved surprisingly difficult to be sure. Perusing the official records doesn’t help. The tour website lists their head-to-head as 3-0 in the Serbian’s favour. The reason for this is that Tomic, quite unforgivably, chose to beat Djokovic unofficially, which is to say at mere exhibition events not worthy of the ATP’s imprimatur.

The first of these victories came at the AAMI Classic at Kooyong in 2010, and was so unofficial that it doesn’t even figure in the record for that event: an interlude within an exhibition, no more than a few practice sets with paying spectators. You can guess how seriously Djokovic took the whole thing. It couldn’t have been less official had the players removed their pants, although it would undoubtedly have been more widely discussed. As it was, even the local Australian media found it difficult to get sufficiently excited. It made the six o’clock news, but it wasn’t quite the lead story.

Tomic’s second win over Djokovic occurred in Perth last week, at the Hopman Cup, and made front pages across the country. This is a tougher result to place, because the Hopman Cup as an event resists easy categorisation. Strictly, it’s an exhibition. But is it just an exhibition? Personally, I am not enamoured of ‘exhibition’ as a blanket term, since it covers then smothers too many disparate types of match. If Sharapova and Wozniacki stage a one-night unremunerated love-in at Madison Square Garden for the benefit of charity, then that is categorically unlike the top men parachuting in to the Emirates to play a three-day tune-up for a million bucks each. The events occurring the week before majors – such as Kooyong or The Boodles – are a different matter again.

Charity exhibitions have pre-decided outcomes, and are heavily laced with farce and crowd interaction. Warm-up events, on the other hand, can be contested as vigorously as an official tour match. Certainly most players gave their all in Perth last week, at least in the singles. (One questions whether Djokovic did in going down to Tomic. But if he didn’t, I can’t imagine he would have given more at, say, the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf, which is played the week before Roland Garros, and the only ‘exhibition’ the ATP endorses.) Perth saw a number of withdrawals, but most appeared legitimate.

Normally the reward for an opponent’s withdrawal is unimpeded passage to the next round. At worst you’re expected to join your critically wounded foe on court and launch tennis balls into the crowd, in the misplaced belief that this helps them forget the cost of their tickets. However, in Perth when Isner pulled out, Fernando Verdasco was obliged to see-off a hastily-located replacement, who turned out to be promising junior Thanasi Kokkinakis. Hopman Cup here betrayed its exhibitionist tendencies: it was, after all, about the crowd. Verdasco was happy to do it, because unlike a real tournament he was in Perth for match practice. He hopefully wasn’t averse to winning the event – although he did is personal best not to – but that’s not why he was there.

It is a curiosity of Hopman Cup is that it doesn’t really build towards anything. I’ve watched it for fifteen years, but I’ve never once known who the finalists were without being told. Tournament draws have a discernible momentum, a teleological promise of heightening quality as the rounds progress, a promise which then may be realised or frustrated. The stakes are raised as the draw pares down. With the exhibition’s typical round-robin format this clarity is lost, such that any match can feel as important or trivial as any other. Djokovic’s victory over Verdasco in the final didn’t feel more elevated than his victory over Seppi earlier in the week. But I’m not convinced it was less special than if they’d played in Montpellier, where the result would be official. I’m unconvinced that singles results in Hopman Cup shouldn’t count, even if it’s a just an exhibition. Perhaps it’s a question of definition.

Everything seems to exist along some sort of continuum these days, defined not merely in opposition to something else, but by where it falls within a spectrum. For example, whereas people were once pronounced sane or crazy according to official whimsy, we now assess mental health according to a range of scales, which led to the breakthrough discovery that most of us are suffering a mental illness. In an effort to make all this comprehensible, there has also been an exponential rise in the use of flowcharts and other diagrams. In any case, it should be possible to forsake the traditionally dichotomous view of tennis tournaments as being ‘official’ or ‘exhibition’, and instead subscribe to a more supple definition.

I propose the Gangnam Scale. Under the Gangnam Scale any tournament can be defined by the point at which it becomes theoretically acceptable for its participants to mount imaginary K-pop steeds, and thenceforth to caper like lunatics. In the course of his recent blitzkrieg though South America, Federer went Gangnam at the change of ends during a singles match. This tour therefore scores a solid five on the Gangnam Scale. Djokovic and Almagro’s Gangnam-heavy tussle in Taipei last September rates similarly.

In Perth such folly was quarantined to the mixed doubles, traditionally a playground for absurdity. The singles matches remained uncontaminated (this was confirmed by the resident bio-containment team), and might therefore be considered safe for consumption. Meanwhile at official ATP events, such as Beijing’s China Open, Gangnam’s influence was only felt after the trophy ceremony. At the Majors Gangnam can be found only in designated safe zones, except for Wimbledon, which mandates a short prison term for any offending spectators or players. Grand Slams therefore default to a one on the Gangnam Scale.

Periodically any tournament can be audited by the ATP or WTA for traces of Gangnam or other exhibition-grade hilarity – and the list of proscribed memes and hijinks will broaden over time – by an independent unit co-funded by each tour, and reporting to the ITF. Assuming that an event’s draw comes up clean, it is permitted to award points according to its status. On the other hand, if a player willingly rolls up his sleeves and thus believes he has riotously parodied Rafael Nadal, all results from that tournament will be nullified, and struck from the official record for a period of no less than two years. Thus Kooyong, set to begin in two days, will remain just an exhibition – you may recall that last year Tomic stole an umpire’s shoe, a vaguely creepy move that earned him neither a reprimand nor a psychiatric evaluation.

Hopman Cup, despite its lighter tone, seemed clean. Consequently it rates a three on the Gangnam Scale. On his internal and therefore unofficial record, I suspect Tomic has added that lone victory over Djokovic to the three official losses. It’s something to savour while lounging at home on his huge pile of purloined shoes.

The Aussie Swing

by James A. Crabtree

What we have learned Down Under, so far…

The Hopman Cup got the new tennis year started, even before the New Year had arrived.

Perth, the worlds most isolated city welcomed Tomic the Tank Engine who quickly became Saint Bernie after an impressive victory over a jet-lagged Djokovic. Still, it was a memorable enough performance by Bernard Tomic to inspire a tennis rich nation, starved of a real contender, to put their hopes in someone for the month of January.

John Isner looked rusty before he pulled out with an injury. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga looked confident and played aggressive focused tennis that would have pleased new coach Roger Rasheed. Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Haas both displayed improved physiques, sculptured during the off-season although they both may need a few matches until they find some form.

Surprisingly Spain took the spoils that included a diamond encrusted ball, much in part thanks to Anabel Medina Garrigues who only lost one match, that being in a dead group match versus Venus Williams.

Praise should be bestowed on Djokoic and Ivanovic who won the hearts of the Perth crowd, for their lighthearted manor and their attempt at Gangnam Style.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKVbgW0W5UI

Meanwhile the Brisbane Open had been playing out over on the other side of the country. This turned out to be a relative disaster for the home nation. Every Aussie player fell by the second round. Only qualifier John Millman, in his second round loss, showed true guts with a three set thriller against eventual champion Andy Murray.

Over on the women’s side Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig turned heads with the sort of hard hitting not seen since Seles. Although she lost to Angelique Kerber she is most certainly a player for the future.

Serena Williams won the women’s event in typically devastating fashion that we have come to expect from the most dominant woman on tour. She wasn’t however seen supporting her rumoured boyfriend of last year, and young riser….

‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov, who is on the verge of getting a new nickname that has no reference to anybody but himself. His play this past week has been sensational, capped off by clear cut victories over Milos Raonic, Marcos Baghdatis and Jurgen Melzer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1fcT6N6AVo

In truth the final versus defending champion Andy Murray could have been a very different story after Grig-er Dimit-ederer (ok so that’s a poor nickname, help me here!) punished with his inside out forehand and his new and improved serve. The young Bulgarian took a 5-2 lead in the first set and had breaks in the second as we all wondered if we were witnessing the second coming of Fed.

Murray, who is wearing the tightest shirts seen since Borg this year, staged his usual counter-punching comeback every time he was counted out. Regardless, place a bet on Grigs the Great to be a top twenty player by the end of this year.

Up next is Sydney which was won last year by Victoria Azarenka and surprise winner Jarkko Nieminen. Oh yes midway through next week is the invitational AAMI Classic at Kooyong, where there is a strong rumour ol’ Mr Federer will be appearing for the first time since 2009.

 

Bouncing Back: Pavlyuchenkova and Tomic in Brisbane and Perth

At first, 2011 appeared to mark the breakthrough of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova when she reached two major quarterfinals and stood toe to toe with many of the WTA’s leading ladies.  The former junior #1 looked likely to become the latest Russian woman to rise in a sport riddled with them over the past decade, blending ferocious groundstrokes from both wings with a keen competitive instinct.  Soon afterwards arrived the apparent emergence of Australian prodigy Bernard Tomic.  The lanky, enigmatic teenager delivered his “hello, world” moment by soaring from Wimbledon qualifying all the way to the quarterfinals of the main draw, where he won a set from eventual champion Djokovic.  Two majors later, Tomic thrilled his home fans by reaching the second week of the Australian Open with electrifying five-set victories over Verdasco and Dolgopolov.

Not entirely concealed by those achievements, however, were the shortcomings in the games of both nascent stars.  While Pavlyuchenkova grappled with a serve that leaked too many double faults and untimely service breaks, Tomic struggled less with his body than with an undisciplined mind that too often drifted away from the task at hand.  For most of 2012, they not only stagnated but regressed dramatically.  The Russian struggled to string together consecutive victories and did not advance past the first week at any major, while she defeated top-30 opponents at only one tournament (Cincinnati).  Meanwhile, Tomic combined on-court with off-court embarrassments that ranged from a visibly disinterested loss at the US Open to surly altercations with media and Davis Cup team members.  A nation that values hard work and humility, Australia recoiled from the man whom they had prized so recently when he admitted his failures to commit full effort and sounded detached while doing so.

During those demoralizing seasons, then, Pavlyuchenkova and Tomic absorbed a series of bruising blows that might well have left their confidence in tatters.  But this week they began 2013 with promising performances that hinted at a revival.

On opposite sides of the Australian continent, the two faltering phenoms delivered victories over players who would have dismissed them with ease last year.  At the Premier tournament in Brisbane, Pavlyuchenkova recorded consecutive victories over top-eight opponents for the first time in her career, thus improving even upon her success in 2011.  Neither Kvitova nor Kerber played convincing tennis for long stretches in those matches, to be sure, but journeywomen of the WTA had not needed to play even average tennis to unravel her during her slump.  In those two straight-sets victories, a fitter and generally calmer Pavlyuchenkova found the courage to win crucial points late in sets.  The serve that had betrayed her so relentlessly over the past year became an occasional weapon and only a rare liability.  Rallying from a dismal first set in a semifinal against lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko, the Russian also showed the maturity to reverse the momentum of a match while shouldering the pressure of a heavy favorite.  In view of the field’s overall quality, Brisbane marked arguably her most significant final to date.

Thousands of miles to the west in Perth, Tomic toppled three consecutive top-25 opponents at the Hopman Cup.  The experience of playing before the fans whom he had alienated over the preceding months seemed to energize rather than weigh upon him.  Crucial to his week was his first match against Tommy Haas, the author of a remarkable resurgence in 2012.  Having let a one-set lead slip away, the Aussie quickly dropped the second set and fell behind by an early break in the third, at which point familiar chatter about “Tomic the Tank Engine” reverberated around Twitter.  Many onlookers, including me, expected him to fade meekly and lose the set, perhaps by a double break.  To the contrary, Tomic stayed within range until Haas served for the match, when edgy play from the German veteran allowed the youngster to sweep the last four games.  Galvanized by this comeback, he then notched straight-sets victories over Italian grinder Andreas Seppi, who had compiled the best season of his career last year, and world #1 Djokovic.  Granted, the Serb seemed a bit out of tune in that match, and exhibition tournaments rarely elicit A-list tennis from A-list names.  As in the case of Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane, however, Tomic deserved credit for capitalizing on an opportunity that would have eluded him last season.  And the speed with which his compatriots embraced him again illustrated how easily he can reverse the tide of public opinion that had flowed against him.

A tennis season  is a marathon, not a sprint, and one should beware of placing too much emphasis on a single strong week.  All the same, plenty of draws would become more intriguing if Pavlyuchenkova and Tomic rediscovered the talents that deserted them in 2012, and they took important steps in that direction during the first week of 2013.

Make This Place Your Home: Jarmila Gajdosova

By Victoria Chiesa

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear; don’t pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down; if you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna make this place your home.” -“Home”, Philip Phillips

Twelve months ago, Jarmila Gajdosova opened her 2012 season at the Hopman Cup in Perth, partnering Lleyton Hewitt and representing Australia. The Australian sporting fans were slow to embrace her in that event, but rallied her and pulled her through a tough opening win against Anabel Medina Garrigues. In Australia’s second team tie against France however, Gajdosova was double-bageled by Marion Bartoli in 50 minutes, and was reduced to tears after the loss. Following that loss to Bartoli, Gajdosova was the victim of obscene and ongoing abuse on Twitter in regards to both her on-court performance and her, well, Australian-ness. She was called “gutless,” “a joke” and others referred to her as “a refugee.”

Gajdosova was born in Bratislava, Slovakia and her WTA bio states that she “fell in love with Australia in her first trip to the Australian Open as 14-year-old”; she became an Australian citizen on November 23rd, 2009. She was married to ATP Tour journeyman Australian Sam Groth, and went by the name Jarmila Groth from February 2009 until late 2011. Following their divorce, Gajdosova was again subjected to abuse on Twitter and the ongoing harassment led to her absence from the social media site for a period of time.

On the court, she has had decidedly mixed success in her adopted homeland. In 2010, ranked outside the top 100, she fell in qualifying in both Brisbane and Sydney. Gajdosova started off 2011 again in Brisbane, where she knocked off top-seeded Sam Stosur in straight sets for her first win over a top 10 ranked opponent. She would go on to win her second career title in Hobart the next week, as she posted wins over Johanna Larsson, Tamira Paszek, Roberta Vinci, Klara Zakopalova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Despite these results in the lead-up events, Gajdosova has never won a match at the Australian Open in her career, posting a 0-7 record.

Gajdosova’s best career results in Grand Slams came in 2010, where she reached the fourth round of the both French Open and Wimbledon. She reached a career high ranking of No. 25 in May of 2011 but her high-risk, high-reward style of play always leaves her vulnerable to extended dips of poor form. Her 2012 season was the imperfect storm, as her tennis and personal life went into a tailspin. Her last match win of the 2012 season came in May at Roland Garros, where she benefitted from a retirement from Magdalena Rybarikova. She ended the season on a nine-match losing streak, and plummeted from No. 45 to her current ranking of No. 183. Gajdosova’s mother passed away in late September and she could not grieve with her family, as she was competing at the WTA event in Guangzhou.

Gajdosova returned to Brisbane in 2013 for the fourth straight year as the beneficiary of a main draw wild card; a new year offered her a new start. With new coach Antonio Van Grichen in tow, she faced off against Roberta Vinci in the opening round. She was greeted with a warm reception and after dropping the opening set, the crowd was a huge factor in propelling her on to victory. After Gajdosova ripped her final backhand past Vinci at the net, handing her a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory, she again walked off an Australian court in tears. These tears were different from 12 months ago. These were tears of relief, tears of triumph. Gajdosova later recognized how much she had finally been embraced by the Australian crowd.

https://twitter.com/Jarka_Tennis/status/285285737304301568

As the last Australian standing in Brisbane, Gajdosova fell in the next round to lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko, who replaced Maria Sharapova in the draw. Despite getting off to a good start in the match, Gajdosova could not contain her unforced errors and eventually fell, 6-1, 1-6, 4-6. As Gajdosova tried to fight back late in the third set, chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” could be heard throughout the stadium.

Gajdosova will continue her long road back up the rankings next week in Hobart, the site of her last tournament triumph. Her goal is to return to the main draw of the Australian Open, via either qualifying or a main draw wild card. One thing is certain; Australians are famous for the passion they show for their athletes, and they’ll finally be cheering Gajdosova on in her own backyard. After all she’s been through in the past twleve months, Gajdosova deserves nothing less.

Surprises, Upsets and the Hot Australian Summer of Tennis

By Jesse Pentecost

The Australian Summer of tennis is under way, mainly in Perth and Brisbane, but also in those parts of the country unaccountably located in Doha, Shenzhen, Auckland and Chennai. We have now commenced the single month of the year when Australia strives mightily to convince the rest of the world that it is a tennis-mad nation, a month otherwise known as January.

Indeed, for a month Australia is mad for tennis. Last night there was a news feature about the guy painting lines on the Rod Laver Arena court-surface. In a couple of weeks Channel 7, the Australian Open’s official network, will relocate its entire base of operations to Melbourne Park, from which to broadcast its nightly news. Meanwhile, two-time defending Australian Open champion and world No.1 Novak Djokovic has finally arrived amidst general fanfare, fresh from triumph in Abu Dhabi. Amongst his unnumbered mainstream media commitments, there is some hope he’ll be permitted to play tennis.

Of course, Djokovic landed in Perth, and not Melbourne, but he’s well on the way. Paired with Ana Ivanovic, he’s contesting the Hopman Cup, which to the enduring outrage of the ATP and WTA maintains the highest profile of all the lead-up events. Within hours of arriving, and on virtually no sleep, Djokovic saw off Andreas Seppi. By his own admission he took a while to hit his stride, but thereafter demonstrated that it is possible to be at once the overwhelming favourite and the sleeper in the draw.

Interviewed on court immediately afterwards the question was put to Djokovic that having just flown in from the Middle East, he was therefore well-qualified to say which city was hotter, Abu Dhabi or Perth? It was akin to the cringe-worthy old practice whereby visiting movie stars were breathlessly asked for their thoughts on Australia even as they exited the plane, but before their feet had found the tarmac. Djokovic, by now an old-hand at reading the subtext, remained sufficiently awake to provide the desired answer. ‘Perth’ he replied, after only a slight hesitation. The crowd duly cheered: damn right we’re hotter.

In any case, Djokovic was probably right. Perth is suffering through a heatwave that can be readily termed biblical, insofar as it is only justifiable as divine retribution. Most days have seen the temperature exceed 40C (104F for those countries – the Cayman Islands, the United States – that have retained Fahrenheit). Happily, New Year’s Day has brought blessed relief. Today it is merely 34C (93.2F). The Hopman Cup is intended to provide useful acclimatisation for Melbourne, but so far it has usefully prepared its attendees for a manned mission to Venus.

It helps that its new venue – the evocatively named Perth Arena – is a truly leading-edge facility. Its designers had the foresight to install individual air conditioning units under every seat. Spectators are thus afforded the rare treat of watching professional athletes expire from sunstroke even as their own buttocks remain blissfully climate-controlled. Truly we live in an age of wonders.

The Perth Arena’s other defining characteristic is blue. It is probably the bluest venue I have ever seen. Indeed, great swatches of retina-searing cobalt more or less define the entire Australian tennis summer, to a degree that must make even Ion Tiriac weep with envy. Tiriac’s contention, amply borne out in Madrid, was that blue courts make for greater visibility. It’s a hard contention with which to argue. The ball in Perth is clearly visible from Melbourne. The venue itself is clearly visible from space.

Meanwhile the Queensland Tennis Centre in Brisbane looks, from low geosynchronous orbit, like nothing so much as an extravagant arrangement of swimming pools, although the main Pat Rafter Arena rather ruins the effect with its bone-white roof. Nevertheless, beneath that roof Sam Stosur has already initiated another defining characteristic of the Australian summer, which is for her to suffer home-soil losses that would be more shocking if only they were less common. She fell to Sofia Arvidsson in straight sets. It says a lot that the same domestic media that is busily canonising Bernard Tomic for beating Tommy Haas didn’t even bother to act surprised. Meanwhile the first-round loss for Marinko Matosevic, the nation’s top-ranked male, generated barely even a ripple.

Australians expect their elite athletes to be world-beaters, but in Stosur’s case they no longer expect her to do it in the part of the world she lives in. She already proved she can do it in New York, and the same impulse that compels Australian reporters to demand validation from foreign visitors before they clear customs, elevates triumph overseas above triumph at home. If Lleyton Hewitt had won the Australian Open in 2005 it would have meant the world, but it would have done so because he’d previously claimed Wimbledon and the US Open. By not winning he wasn’t the least diminished in his compatriot’s eyes (for all that he himself was bitterly disappointed). He’d already proved himself to be ‘world-class’; it’s a tired phrase, but in Australia there is no higher accolade.

Hewitt, incidentally, will open his season later today in Brisbane against Radek Stepanek, whose Davis Cup triumph may or may not do for him what it did for Djokovic in 2011. Time will tell. The only guarantee is that, win or lose, the prevailing opinion of Hewitt won’t change, just as it hasn’t changed for Stosur.

For Tomic, on the other hand, there’s still a great deal to prove, and, Wimbledon aside, the Australian tennis-mad summer is time in which he is obliged to prove it. He proved it the other night against Haas, twice recovering from desperate situations. Tomorrow night he’ll get to prove it in the azure immensity of Perth Arena against Djokovic, who by then may have shaken off the vestiges of jet-lag and the Hopman Cup ball. It’s a perfect match for the Australian, assuming he gives his all. There’s no shame in losing, but if he wins, he’ll be anointed as world-class.

Henin to return this weekend, Murray to continue with Corretja, Gilbert to Help Nishikori

*Justine Henin is to return to action this weekend at the Hopman Cup in Australia having been kept out since Wimbledon with an elbow injury. The former world No. 1 hopes to be able to compete in the Australian Open but fears it may take her up to six months to regain full fitness. “There were concerns about the future of my career,” the 28-year-old Belgian said. “I hope I can build my condition by playing tournaments this year and hope to be really ready around June-July.” 2010 was the seven-time Grand Slam winner’s return from an 18-month retirement and she will hope to add that elusive Wimbledon title to her CV before giving up permanently.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has confirmed that Spaniard Alex Corretja will remain as his coach for at least the first half of 2011. Corretja, a former world No. 2, took over the role after Murray split with Miles Maclagan back in July. “Andy has taken time out from his busy pre-season fitness training to confirm that the current coaching set-up, with both Alex Corretja and Dani Vallverdu, will continue into the first half of next year,” read a statement on Murray’s official website.

*Brad Gilbert has confirmed that he will work as a consultant to Japanese star Kei Nishikori at fifteen tournaments throughout 2011. Gilbert retired from the tour in 1994 and his since coached Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray on a permanent basis. “I have been working at the IMG Bollettieri Academy for a few years now, helping out Kei and other players,” Gilbert told ATPWorldTour.com.

“I decided to expand my role with Kei to 15 tournaments, but TV work with ESPN will remain my first priority.”

*World No. 8 Jelena Jankovic has begun working with former Romanian world No. 13 Andrei Pavel on a trial basis after lifting only one title in 2010 at Indian Wells. She was being handled by Ricardo Sanchez but they have now parted ways.

*American Wayne Odesnik has had his two-year doping ban overturned after 12 months. He is now free to return to competitive matches from December 29. Whilst entering Australia for last year’s Brisbane International he was stopped by customs and eight vials of the growth hormone HGH were found in his luggage, although Odesnik never tested positive for taking the substance. Whilst at one time being ranked as high as No. 77 in the world, Odesnik was ranked No. 111 when the incident occurred and has now slipped off the rankings altogether.

*Maria Sharapova has reserved a wildcard entry in to the Sydney tournament for if she falls early on in the previous week’s festivities at Auckland. The former world No. 1 is usually pretty lax in her preparations for Melbourne Park but has opted for a more strenuous approach after losing in the first round in 2010.

*Alona Bondarenko has announced she will miss the Australian Open after undergoing the second knee surgery of her career. 2010 semifinalist Jie Zheng will also miss the competition after failing to recover from the wrist surgery she underwent in September. In the men’s draw, Robby Ginepri is set to miss out after he set March as his benchmark to return to the tour after suffering a motorbike accident in November whilst swerving to avoid a squirrel.

*The GB Fed Cup team have announced that teen starlets Heather Watson and Laura Robson are set to compete in next month’s Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 tie in Israel. Watson, 18, was the 2009 US Open junior champion while Robson, 16, won the Wimbledon junior title in 2008 aged just 14. Watson said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to have been selected. It’s a dream come true as I’ve grown up watching the competition. I can’t wait to head out to Israel with the girls and give it our all.” Captain Nigel Sears added: “It is the right time for Heather and Laura to try and make it a successful week.”

*Teens the world over were celebrating early Christmas presents after receiving wildcards in to the 2011 Australian Open main draw. Australia’s No. 11 Olivia Rogowska was celebrating after defeating former world No. 4 Jelena Dokic 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-3 in the final of the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs. Dokic, though, has since been handed a discretionary wildcard by the Aussie tennis authorities. Marinko Matosevic overcame Peter Luczak in five sets in the men’s final to earn his place and Luczak has also been handed an entry card. Tennis Australia have also handed discretionary wildcards to Matt Ebden and Alicia Molik. In the American equivalent, played at the Racquet Club of the South, Georgia, world No. 444 Lauren Davis, 17, upset No. 113 Coco Vandeweghe, 19, in their final 6-2, 6-2. Ryan Harrison won the male playoffs after overcoming Jack Sock. The French Tennis Federation have awarded their discretionary pass in to the main draw to Virginie Razzano.

*Latest Career Grand Slam achiever Rafa Nadal was voted the 2010 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. “For me it’s an honour, thank you very much to the BBC for giving me this award,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s just a dream being in the list of great champions to receive this award.” For reaction and to see the Spaniard collect the trophy visit the BBC Tennis website. Marca.com also named him ‘Spanish Athlete of the Decade’ while elpais.es readers voted him the ‘Spanish Athlete of the Year.’

*The ATP website has interviews with a host of top stars available to read at your leisure including how Andy Roddick and Marcos Baghdathis have prepared themselves for the 2011 season and whether Novak Djokovic can keep up his impressive end to 2010.

*You have until midnight on December 31 to cast your votes in the TennisReporters.net 2010 Tennis Awards so get over there now before it’s too late to have your say on who were the players of the year, which matches really set your fires alight and which stars provide the greatest eye candy.

Nadals Laughs off “Grand Slam” Talk, Hopman Cup Taking Shape and Commonwealth Success for Australia

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has laughed off talk of him winning all four majors in 2011 as “impossible.” Nadal has the last three majors in his pocket and will complete an ‘out of calendar’ Slam if he lifts the Australian Open in January. Only Don Budge and Rod Laver (twice) have lifted all four Slams in the same year and Nadal said of his hopes: “I will try to keep playing well and try to win four titles next year. But the Grand Slam, for me, is impossible.”

*Andy Murray and Laura Robson have confirmed they will once again warm up for next year’s Aussie Open by partnering each other in the Hopman Cup. The pair lost 2-1 to Spain in this year’s final although the reigning Champions aren’t expected to defend their title in 2011. However, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic are expected to represent Serbia, Serena Williams and John Isner (USA) and Justine Henin (Belgium), Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) and Francesca Schiavone (Italy) will also compete. Tournament Director Paul McNamee said of Murray’s pending return: “He is a rare talent so we are delighted he is coming back.”

*It was a busy time for Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova at the Commonwealth games. She partnered Sally Peer to women’s doubles Gold where they beat fellow Aussies Jessica Moore and Olivia Rogowska in the final. She also took Silver in the mixed doubles (with Paul Hanley) after they lost to Scotland’s doubles specialist Colin Fleming and Jocelyn Rae. The temperamental former Russian left court in tears after failing to land a triple gold. This came after Rodionova beat home favourite Sania Mirza 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(3) in a marathon women’s singles final. Australia and India largely dominated the medals tables which, in full, read:

Event: Medal: Country
Men’s Singles Gold Somdev Devvarman (India)
Silver Greg Jones (Australia)
Bronze Matt Ebden (Australia)
Men’s Doubles Gold Paul Hanley

Peter Lukzak (Australia)

Silver Ross Hutchins

Ken Skupski (England)

Bronze Mahesh Bhupathi

Leander Paes (India)

Women’s Singles Gold Anastasia Rodionova (Australia)
Silver Sania Mirza (India)
Bronze Sally Peers (Australia)
Women’s Doubles Gold Anastasia Rodionova

Sally Peers (Australia)

Silver Jessica Moore

Olivia Rogowska (Australia)

Bronze Rushmi Chakravarthi

Sania Mirza (India)

Mixed Doubles Gold Jocelyn Rae

Colin Fleming (Scotland)

Silver Anastasia Rodionova

Paul Hanley (Australia)

Bronze Sarah Borwell

Ken Skupski (England)

*Novak Djokovic has a lot on his plate with the Shanghai Masters going on and the ATP Finals in London just around the corner in November. But he already has one eye on Serbia’s historic Davis Cup final matchup against France in December. Speaking at a press conference in Shanghai he said: “Davis Cup is a very unique competition where you get to feel the team spirit that you don’t get to feel that often. We are individuals, so we mostly perform for ourselves. In Davis Cup, it’s about the team; it’s about supporting each other, winning for your country.” He is also confident his beloved Serbia can upset the odds in Belgrade: “We are playing against France, who has much more success and tradition in this competition than us. Great players, but we’re confident we can pull out the win.” For the full interview visit the ITF website.

*Djokovic has also been issuing fighting talk on his chances of future Grand Slam glory to add to the Australian open he lifted in 2008. To date it is his sole Slam, but he is confident of more. “I’m ready. Definitely, I am,” he said at the Rolex Masters in Shanghai on Tuesday. “For the last two years I’ve been ready. If the good day comes, it comes.” Djokovic won his 18th tour-level title at the China Open last week and has now set his sights on higher honours once more. “Right now, emotionally, I’m confident. I’m happy, and looking forward to upcoming challenges. I feel good mentally and physically. I didn’t spend that much energy in Beijing. I’m sure I’ll be fit and ready. I will do my best to get as far as I can in this week.” The full interview is on the ATP site.

*Three-time Grand Slam winners Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic will not play doubles together again next season. The No. 2 seeds will part ways with Nestor teaming up with Frenchman Michael Llodra and Zimonjic aligning to fellow doubles specialist Max Mirnyi. “It think it’s a good move,” Nestor told The Globe and Mail. “It came from him but it’s something I’ve definitely thought about, too.”

*After reaching the semifinals of the China Open last week Shahar Peer rose from No. 18 to No. 13 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings. As well as being a career-high it is also the highest ranking for an Israeli in tennis history. Dane Caroline Wozniacki’s victory in China means she is now the twentieth No. 1 in WTA rankings history. Much has been made of the absence of Serena Williams attributing to Wozniacki’s ascent so the real test for her will be if she stays there once Serena is back on court.

*American Andy Roddick, who retired this week while leading Guillermo Garcia Lopez, hopes to be back competing in two weeks time in Basel, Switzerland. “I’m going to try to go home to Austin,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get back for Basel. I think the fact that I still have a shot at London, even after the past year and everything, I think it would be an accomplishment for me.”

*Kim Clijsters is now more confident of featuring in the year-ending WTA Finals in Doha after the pain in her foot which has kept her out of the past few weeks has begun ceasing.

*Roger Federer has been answering questions from his Chinese fans this week. Visit the ATP website to find out what was being said.

*Alicia Molik is running for election to Tennis Australia, joining John Fitzgerald, Wally Masur and six other candidates. If successful, she will be a rarity as an active pro on the board of her country’s tennis association.

*The Bryan brothers brought smiles to the young children unfortunate enough to be spending time at the Shanghai United Family Hospital on Wednesday. They spoke to staff, patients and families while signing autographs and giving insight in to their time on the tour.

*Venus Williams has become the face of new home workout video game EA Sports Active 2 which will use her image for branding in North America. She joins David Beckham whose image is used in Europe and Australia. “Her commitment to healthy living and ability to inspire others makes her a natural fit for EA Sports Active 2,” said Jon Slavet, EA Sports Active’s Vice president.

*It seems Lindsay Davenport and her trainer Todd Norman have got their roles mixed up. Davenport Tweeted on Wednesday: “I’m here working my ass off but my trainer is nowhere to be found.” Norman’s response? “Was getting a foot massage!”

*We all know males can be somewhat competitive. But what happens when tennis stars take to their Playstation consoles for a spot of Pro Evolution Soccer gaming? Tuesday night saw Juan Monaco and Rafa Nadal take on Andy Murray and his friend Dani Vallverdu and there is still some confusion as to who won. Monaco spoke first via his Twitter account claiming a 2-1 win for the Latin duo but Murray thinks otherwise. It appears there is some confusion on the rules between the teams regarding penalty shootouts. Monaco/Nadal seem confident of the win so could it just be sour grapes from Murray. Murray? Couldn’t possibly be… Check the ATP website for a full summary.

Henin Out For Season, Murray Lift For US Open, Roddick Over Illness

*Returning Belgian ace Justine Henin has announced that the elbow injury she sustained at Wimbledon in July has curtailed her 2010 season. She will begin light training in October in preparation for taking part in the 2011 Hopman Cup which begins January 1. “Unfortunately the healing process is taking time,” Henin said. “This means I must be patient.”

*Andy Murray believes his final victory over Roger Federer in the Rogers Cup last week boosts his chances of lifting the US Open in three weeks’ time. “It was good for me to win today [Sunday],” stated Murray after the final. “Three good results in a row against Nalbandian, Rafa and Roger, so that will give me confidence for next week. I managed to stay tough mentally, which is always tough against Roger because he started to play some great tennis, but it’s a great way to finish the week – I played very well.” Murray also reiterated that he was in no hurry to find a replacement for coach Miles Maclagan anytime soon. The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.

*Andy Roddick has revealed that mononucleosis has been causing his nausea and tiredness in recent tournaments. After missing Toronto to get to the bottom of his illness Roddick has returned to winning ways at Cincy this week. “I’m just glad that we found out something that was causing it,” Roddick said before play taking to the court. “It’s nice to have a little bit of clarity moving forward. It’s not something that’s going to affect me, anything super-serious. It was just me wondering if I was out of shape or what was going on, why there was this lethargic feeling.” Roddick has been told he is getting over the illness so believes he will be fine for the US Open.

*Despite again hinting he may be close to retirement James Blake is one of those handed a wildcard in to the US Open by the USTA this week. Blake lost in 45 minutes to the Russian Denis Istomin at Cincinnati on Tuesday but the current world No. 107 reached the quaterfinals of the Slam in both 2005 and 2006. He is joined by compatriots Ryan Sweeting, Donald Young, Jack Sock and Bradley Klahn in being handed first-round places. Australia’s Carsten Ball and France’s Guillaume Rufin have also secured slots.

*Two famous names have been handed wildcard entries on the women’s side. Chelsey Gullickson, daughter of former New York Yankees pitcher Bill Gullickson, and Coco Vandeweghe, niece of former New Jersey Mets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe, are to enter the first round draw. They will join American girls Jamie Hampton, Christina McHale and Shelby Rogers, as well as Aussie Sophie Ferguson and France’s Virginie Razzano in the draw.

*Juan Martin Del Potro latest – he is now NOT expected to defend his title at the US Open. Tune in next week for the next twist in this story.

*However, Venus Williams insists she will play the Slam despite withdrawing from Cincinnati and Montreal with a knee injury. “…I was not feeling 100 percent and I am very sad I wasn’t able to go back to Cincinnati and make my first appearance in Montreal,” she wrote on her official website. “But I am getting geared up to play in New York in just a couple of weeks.”

*In coaching latest – Paul Annacone is not with Roger Federer at Cincinnati. Is this the end of the trial?

*John Isner has assured fans the ankle injury he suffered against David Nalbandian at Cincinnati will not keep him out of the US Open. Serving for the first set at 5-4 he was forced to retire having rolled his ankle in the previous game. “It was just a routine second serve return that went into my body, so I moved to get out of the way,” said Isner. “So I had to jump up for it. Upon landing, my right foot just twisted really quick on the outside. That was it. I couldn’t play after that.”

*Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 7-5 victory over fellow Serb and great friend Viktor Troicki was his 100th win at ATP 1000 Masters Events. His lifetime record now reads 100-36.

*American doubles legends the Bryan bros. have returned to the summit of the doubles game following their 7th title of the year at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. They now sit top of the individual doubles rankings although they remain behind Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the team rankings. They beat French pairing Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau in straight sets in the final and Mike said: “We were lucky today. We played the best match of the year,” he joked. “We had a great week. It is one of our favourite weeks of the year. We will be back in 2012!”

*Kim Clijsters’ victory at Cincinnati was her third title of 2010. She now has more victories this year than anyone else showing just how wide open the women’s game currently is.

*After winning over Taylor Dent at Cincy this week Rafa Nadal has been complaining about the speed the court is playing at. He seems to think that the two North American masters Events (Cincinnati and Montreal/Toronto) should play at the same slower speed rather than Cincy playing closer to the quick velocity of the courts at Flushing Meadows. “It is something (that) in the future the tournaments can work to make the courts more similar,” Nadal said. “For us it’s difficult to adapt, especially if you only have one or two days [between tournaments]. When you get to semifinals or final it’s not easy to adapt, especially in the beginning of the tournament. So it’s big change. This first match always is very dangerous.”

*Tennis legend Chris Evert has been inducted in to the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame this week after a career which took in 154 singles titles, including 18 Grand Slams. Evert lifted the then-Canadian Open four times in 1974, 1980, 1984 and 1985 while she also lost the final to Tracey Austin in 1981 and great rival Martina Navratilova in 1989. “Aside from the Grand Slams, you had the best crowds and you certainly had very knowledgeable crowds,” she told those gathered at the induction ceremony.

*Roger Federer’s finals appearance in Toronto has seen him reclaim the world No. 2 slot from Novak Djokovic in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings. He does, though, remain nearly 4,000 rankings points behind No. 1 Rafa Nadal. Andy Murray’s title lift has seen him consolidate his No. 4 slot ahead of Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Serbia’s Viktor Troicki (47) and the Belgian Xavier Malisse (49) both climb in to the top 50 while Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili sneaks in to the top 100.

*In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings Caroline Wozniacki has climbed back above Jelena Jankovic to be world No. 2, although she, too, remains some distance behind No. 1 Serena Williams. Kim Clijsters’ Rogers Cup win sees her jump to No. 4 in the world while China’s Na Li re-enters the top 10. Ana Ivanovic is seeing a return for her improved form as she leaps from No. 62 to No. 39 and Timea Bacsinszky is in the Top 50 at No. 49. Dinara Safina’s woes continue as she drops from No. 35 to No. 70 this week and there’s a huge leap for Uzbekistan’s Akgul Amanmuradova who rises from No. 114 to No. 76.

*Roger Federer has announced he will play this year’s Stockholm Open, according to Swedish English-language newspaper The Local. Federer was a late withdrawal in 2008 but this time promises to be ready for the event where he will face competition for the title from local hero Robin Soderling as well as thorn-in-his-side Tomas Berdych. “The competition has fine traditions with winners such as Borg, Edberg, Becker and Agassi and I also want my name engraved on the trophy,” he said speaking from Cincinnati.

*Fernando Gonzalez has taken a wildcard in to New Haven next week. Ana Ivanovic also hopes to return from injury at the event ready for the US Open.

IS MURRAY GETTING TOO BIG FOR HIS BOOTS?

By Melina Harris

Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticizing the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder. His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.

Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organizers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behavior. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’

Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.

Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’

In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250,000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sports journalist almost walked out in protest.

Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?

In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council, thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.

Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semifinals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the world No. 4.

Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organizers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.

It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).

Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?

It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.

Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.