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Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

Federer After Strong End to Year, Azarenka in for Doha and Rafter to Captain Aussies for Davis Cup Play

*Roger Federer insists he is ready for a strong end to 2010 despite a decidedly off-day at the office when he lost to Andy Murray in the final at the Shanghai Masters. “I’m certainly not yearning for the year to be over,” said the 16-time Grand Slam winner. “I’m very positive for the rest of the season. I had a bit of an off day in the Shanghai final. It’s a pity, but Murray pushed me to that. Mentally I have a lot left for the end of the year.” He added: “I’ve played pretty well since Wimbledon. I hope to go deep into this event and hold up the trophy at the end of the week.” Federer is preparing to play at the Stockholm Open for the first time in a decade and he told BBC Sport how he was looking forward to the occasion.

*According to tennis critics a lot of players have gained from Serena Williams’ injury absence in the latter half of the year and this is true in the case of Viktoria Azarenka who will replace the stricken US star in the WTA Finals in Doha next week. The Belarusian confirmed her place by beating Andrea Petkovic in the first round at the Kremlin Cup.

*Following John Fitzgerald’s retirement after a decade in the role it is Pat Rafter who will take up the reigns as Australian Davis Cup Captain. The two-time US Open winner receives the blessing of “Fitzy” himself and a host of Australian tennis greats coming in to the post. “I am really looking forward to working with the team and helping lift Australian men’s tennis on the world stage,” said Rafter. “We’ve got a lot of young players that have a great opportunity to play for Australia. My standards and expectations are extremely high. This is a great opportunity to be part of something that means a lot to me.” Another Aussie legend, Tony Roche, joins him as coach. For full reaction to the announcement check the ITF website.

*Last week’s HP Open in Osaka was one for the history books. Kimiko Date Krumm (40) shocked the likes of Sam Stosur and Shahar Peer on her way to meeting Tamarine Tanasugarn (33) in what was the final between the oldest competitors ever, with a combined age of 73. By beating Stosur, Krumm also became the first 40-something to ever beat a Top 10 player. Krumm was trying to break the record for the oldest title winner, Billie Jean King having won at Birmingham aged 39 in 1983, but it was Tanasugarn’s day. “I just tried my best and fought as hard as I could,” Date Krumm said. “Nobody wants to lose, so I tried everything. Now I’ll play some ITF events followed by the Asian Games – so I’ll be continuing to play tennis the rest of the year.” Tanasugarn was happy with her performance: “I tried to be more aggressive in the third set and I finally made it,” she said. “Osaka is a great city. This is a great feeling and hopefully I can continue to play like this and get a good start to 2011.”

*Andy Murray says that his win over Roger Federer at Shanghai has once again given him belief that he can lift a Grand Slam. Asked after his shock defeat to Federer’s friend and compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open whether he could achieve the feat Murray simply replied: “I’m not sure.” Now things are different. “I need to win tournaments like this,” said Murray. “Beating guys like Roger, beating guys like Rafa (Nadal) gives you confidence that when you do play them in the big tournaments you will beat them. I need to play like I did this week for a whole tournament in the Slams, but it’s pretty simple. I don’t think my game needs to improve so much. I think I have the ability to win them. I’ve been close a few times.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Sport Tennis website.

*Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska will miss the rest of the season and the 2011 Australian Open after undergoing surgery on a stress fracture in her foot, reports the Polish Times. She is expected to return in February or March.

*Betty Blake, mother of American star James Blake, is releasing her own book on how to be a “tennis mom.” ‘Mix It Up, Make It Nice: Secrets Of A Tennis Mom’ will give insight in how to train and prepare a future tennis star and focuses more on education and family values rather than athletic and tennis training.

*Former world No. 1 Thomas Muster will return to tour-level action as a wildcard at next week’s Bank Austria Tennis Trophy in Vienna. He turned 43-years-old this month but is still hungry to add to the 44 tour-level titles he has already lofted before his retirement following the 1999 French Open, the site of his sole Slam triumph in 1995. “I’m looking forward to it enormously,” Muster told Austria’s Krone. “I want to inspire the crowd with my fitness and fighting spirit. I’m fighting like in the good old times and I will give everything in front of the fans in Vienna.” Muster will now become the oldest player to compete on the tour since Jimmy Connors competed at the same age in Atlanta in 1996.

McEnroe Quits Davis Cup, Davis Cup Lineups Announced, Wind Causing Flushing Meadows Havoc

*Patrick McEnroe will step down as US Davis Cup Captain later this month after a decade in the hotseat. With the US facing an important playoff against Columbia to stay in the top tier of the competition this will not help the players with their preparations. “It’s with a heavy heart I’m resigning as Davis Cup captain,” said McEnroe. “But it’s a decision I felt was best. Davis Cup is a significant time commitment and this decision will allow me to focus more energy on my family and to the US Tennis Association’s player development programme.” McEnroe captained the US to Davis Cup victory in 2007 but things have not gone so smoothly recently. Four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier has already voiced interest in taking over the role.

*The Davis Cup team selections for this month’s matchups have been announced. Play will take place between September 17-19 in the World Group semifinals where France take on Argentina and Serbia face the Czech Republic. Gael Monfils will be France’s main dangerman with injury robbing them of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and he will be backed up by Richard Gasquet, Michael Llodra and Gilles Simon. Argentina will be relying on Juan Monaco, the in-form David Nalbandian and doubles outfit Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos for victory. In the other big semifinal, Novak Djokovic will lead the Serbian charge with the help of Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic. Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Jan Hajek and Ivo Minar will play for the Czech Republic. The squads for the World Group Playoff matches have also been named and they can be viewed at the ITF website.

*The wind has been rustling some feathers at Flushing Meadows this week and the players have been waxing lyrical about the conditions in their post match interviews. “The talent to play in the wind, I don’t have yet,” bemoaned Gael Monfils after Novak Djokovic (with Aeolus and Njord) blasted him away on Ashe. “He can play really well in the wind,” said Robin Soderling of his conqueror Roger Federer. “He moves well. He’s always in the right place.” Just like in all other conditions then. But R-Fed was a bit more blasé about the whole wind situation. “I’ve been practicing my serve a whole lot, for my whole career,” the five-time US Open Champ said. “If I can’t serve in the wind, I’ve got a problem, you know?” But not everybody was looking for excuses. After crashing out to Vera Zvonereva Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi was looking closer to home: “I can’t blame the wind for everything, I didn’t play well,” said the world No. 32.

*Venus Williams’ run at this year’s Open has seen her edge towards yet another record. She has now appeared in ten US Open quaterfinals which ties her with Lindsay Davenport at fourth on the all-time leaders list. The top three are Chris Evert (19), Martina Navratilova (14) and Steffi Graf (12). Unfortunately age is very much against her efforts to surpass the likes of Navratilova and Evert.

*Stanislas Wawrinka’s coach Peter Lundgren has expressed his delight at his new protégé reaching his first Grand Slam quarter final this week in NY. The former Roger Federer and Marat Safin coach told Tages Anzeiger following the Murray win: “When you work with someone and he implements what you tell him and gets results right away, it’s a wonderful feeling. He is much more aggressive, serving better… Before he played too far back. There he’s also strong and defends well, but you won’t win any matches against top players.”

*Marcos Baghdatis has quit Davis Cup play with Cyprus to concentrate on regaining his place in the Top 10 singles rankings. He has starred for his country almost single handed for a long stretch, winning 54 of his 67 matches. Injuries have destroyed the last few years of his career after reaching No. 8 in 2006 but he has returned to the top 20 this year.

*Andy Murray doesn’t seem too confident right now about winning a Grand Slam. Following his US Open fourth round exit to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka a despondent Murray said: “I have no idea of whether I’ll win a Grand Slam or not. You know, I want to but if I never win one, then what? If I give 100%, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, then that’s all I can do.” The 23-year-old gives a candid and honest assessment of his match which can be seen in full here.

*The American men have been attacking tournament organisers in force at the US Open as they believe not enough of them are placed on Ashe Stadium. They believe the big-name foreign stars are preferred to home-grown talent. “I haven’t played on that court in two years. Man, is it different from playing on Louis Armstrong and Grandstand,” said Mardy Fish. “There’s not hardly any wind outside, and it’s windy in there, really windy. For him [Novak Djokovic, Fish’s conquerer] to play every match in there and sort of get used to that, I think certainly helped him. Doesn’t mean that if I play [Arnaud] Clement out there that I win today by any means,” added Fish, who was bested in straight sets by Djokovic after a five-setter in round three against the Frenchman Clement. “But it took me a while to get used to it.” After losing in the third round to Mikhail Youzhny, John Isner added: “I didn’t hit a ball on that court, no practice or anything prior to this match. Same with my opponent, Mikhail,” said Isner. “But without a doubt, had I been a little bit more comfortable on that court it probably would have helped, but it was the same for both of us.  He handled it better.” Then Sam Querrey added to the criticism after losing to Stanislas Wawrinka: “Not a huge fan of the scheduling this week,” Querrey said. “We have a lot of Americans here. None of us play on center court. If you go to the French Open, they have [Richard] Gasquet, [Julien] Benneteau, [Gael] Monfils, they’re on center court every day.” Something for the money men to think about next year if they want a home-grown winner to appease the fans again.

*The world was brought in to perspective by one player this week among the madness that combines to bring us the US Open. Talking about events in his native Pakistan, doubles specialist Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi said ahead of the mixed doubles final: “The only motivation I have for these two weeks is to get these titles for the people back home. I’m trying to send some positive news back home with the floods and everything.” A fitting message.

*Proud dad Srdjan Djokovic has been sporting a t-shirt baring his son’s face this week. But what does Novak think? “I would never wear the shirt.  Me, personally, never. My father, I understand… He’s a proud father. What can I say? I’m just happy to see them supporting me. I don’t know where he got this fancy shirt. To be honest, it was somewhere in Belgrade. I cannot say it.  He’s my father. If he wants to wear this shirt, he can wear this shirt.”