by James A. Crabtree
Former grand slam champions Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters are retired. Now add 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero (well, after Valencia in October) to the list that has seen Fernando González and Ivan Ljubicic call it quits in 2012.
An era of big names and equally big characters is most certainly over. And they will all be missed. The sport will suffer for a short time, but new names shall replace them. The athletes themselves will surely enjoy the initial stages of not being on tour, but then they shall face a new problem. What on earth do you do when you are retired? Play bridge? Downsize? Renovate? Buy some ugly slippers? Purchase Grecian 2000? Play slot machines? Start a hobby, like pottery? Drive slowly and in your way? Play social tennis in the mornings?
Well these recent retirees are not the usual plus sixty vintage so they could settle down and have some kids. Or in the case of Kim and Ivan have more kids.
First of all is the unwritten prerequisite to enjoy oneself, take time out, relax and see the world. Okay, so the players in question have done a whole heap of travelling but maybe they need a get away from it all, with fine food in a beautiful location – minus the racquet. Hang on a minute, Juan Carlos Ferrero has his own hotel! Surely if Kim and Andy were to travel Juan would shout them a 10% discount as former grand slam champions. Seriously check out the food on the websites video!!!
Another idea is to do something different, perhaps apply talents to a different avenue such as Andre Agassi did with his school. Besides playing with Billie Jean, the pet bulldog, Andy Roddick has done something similar to Andre helping children improve their lives via his foundation. To date he has helped raise over ten million dollars. Maybe Fernando and Ivan could volunteer a day here and there now they have some spare time.
Other players in the past have set up businesses. Fred Perry launched the Fred Perry clothing brand (www.fredperry.com). Bjorn Borg set up the something similar with more emphasis on underwear (www.bjornborg.com). Other than his Davis Cup duties Pat Rafter has also spent a lot of time in his briefs for Bonds (www.bonds.com.au/pat-rafter).
Or perhaps these great players could pass on their knowledge like Sergi Bruguera and Emilio Sanchez have at their respective academies. It isn’t too hard to imagine Juan or Andy sitting as coach of a future great, such as Ivan Lendl has done with Andy Murray. Or perhaps even add their expertise within the commentary box like John McEnroe. Of the current crop it’s hard to imagine politics as an option, as it was for Marat Safin.
Lastly, we shouldn’t expect these guys to buy a condo and move down to Florida. Besides there is far too much tennis down there for them. Hang on a minute that could kick start a comeback! Maybe that is a good idea?
By Romana Cvitkovic
The tennis world went into overdrive Saturday afternoon as Ivan Ljubicic tweeted a comment targeted at American tennis players supposedly skipping the European tournaments. Americans John Isner and Mardy Fish quickly fought back on Twitter with Fish almost immediately deleting his tweet after he sent it.
Of all the tennis players looking to cause controversy, newly-retired Croat Ivan Ljubicic would not be high on my list that includes the likes of Daniel Koellerer, Yannick Noah, John McEnroe and Marat Safin. Hell, even Marat Safin has cleaned up his act and holds a seat in the Russian Parliament!
But I digress. In light of Mardy Fish pulling out of the Mutua Madrid Open due to fatigue and Andy Roddick skipping both Madrid and Rome due to a hamstring injury, the presence of American ATP players at the European clay tournaments has dwindled. But Ljubicic’s tweet may have gone a little too far to point the finger.
Three hours later, American John Isner (who was ousted in the second round of Madrid by another Croat, Marin Cilic, and is scheduled to play Rome this week) defended his friend’s absence from the tournaments in Madrid and Rome:
Not even an hour later, Fish fired back heavily at Ljubicic before almost immediately deleting the following tweet.
Unfortunately, the internet is not forgiving once you put something out there. Perhaps this conversation should have occurred through direct messaging, email, or BBM. It’s one thing to put a “generalized comment” on your personal Twitter but it’s also another nobler thing to privately respond. Not sure if there is history here between Fish and Ljubicic, but hopefully the 140 character limitation framed responses insufficiently. However, the fans were drinking it up …
Whoa!Twitter war waged. Shots fired! Shots fired!
— Ataraxis (@Ataraxis00) May 12, 2012
Funny that Isner thought about Fish and not Roddick
— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) May 12, 2012
Mardy Fish, nothing is deleted on the internet. Nothing. Ever. Ask Feli Lopez about the US shit Open.
— julesdc (@julesdc) May 12, 2012
epic that Fish deleted the tweet immediately afterward. Realized how DUMB it was.
— Ricky Dimon (@RD_Tennistalk) May 12, 2012
Mardy may be convalescing somewhere in Malibu, but he’s still got some energy left to fire off a few Twitter zings…
— Erik Gudris (@AdjustingTheNet) May 12, 2012
@Ataraxis00 I think Fish is sensitive b/c he’s having a tough time physically & would love to be playing more tennis than he can.
— Kimber Bennett (@DirtyOldBroad) May 12, 2012
This happens everytime a player retires doesn’t know what to do with there time at first so they tweet a lot. Sometimes controversial xD
— Stella (@storacle) May 12, 2012
I do think that Ljubicic needs to calm it on the whole keyboard warrior thing… or join MTF.
— Foot Fault (@FootFault_) May 12, 2012
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.
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.
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.
Tennis From All Angles is a semi-weekly roundup of tennis happenings from the ATP and WTA pro tours, highlighting the most entertaining on-court and off-court news and gossip.
OnTheGoTennis‘ Rachel Vinson is in Indian Wells, CA this week covering the first U.S. outdoor tournament of the season. She snapped photos of tennis’ elite on the green carpet as they arrived for the BNP Paribas Open Players’ Party. The gallery includes Sam Querrey and Gael Monfils in their respective strange hats, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Julian Benneteau in European chic, Ana Ivanovic in an elegant indigo sleeveless dress, and Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki all in clean-cut blazers. Bonus: David Ferrer, simple and stunning.
- On a similar note, this year’s Hollywood themed Players’ Party posed the following question to tennis players: Who is your favorite actor and actress? Novak Djokovic keeps his allegiance to Robert De Niro, Ana Ivanovic goes with one of my personal favorites, Rafael Nadal sticks with the Spaniards, and Andy Murray picks a comedian. And guess which player answers “Sean Connery” as the actor who would play them in a movie. Doh! (Side note: Josh Hartnett still acts??)
- The BNP Paribas tournament website spotlights Novak Djokovic as he begins his title defense from last year. “I’m not really trying to position myself as a defending champion, because then defending is not really something that I want to have. I always try to get that aggressive approach… I still have the same daily routine, same approach to my career, to the life that I’m having. I don’t consider myself being in the top of the world, being untouchable or unbeatable. That’s out of the question.”
- Matt Fitzgerald caught up with past BNP Paribas champion Vera Zvonareva to get her take on winning the 2012 Australian Open Women’s Doubles title with countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova, and who she would most want to perform with at the Grammys and why. Good choice, Vera, but don’t party too much!
- After the recent retirement announcement from Fernando Gonzalez that he will hang up the racquet after the Sony Ericsson Open later this month, Croat Ivan Ljubicic is following suit. With 10 titles and a career-high world number 3 ranking, Ljubicic is expected to play his last pro tournament at April’s Monte Carlo Masters. Tennis will miss you, Ivan!
- Haven’t had a chance to check out the top 8 ladies on the WTA engage in a little “Fun Facts Challenge” about each other? Watch as they (sometimes unsuccessfully!) answer questions on IQs, Nickelback, and Sam Stosur’s dog. I won’t deny some of these moments are embarrassing to watch!
- Ever wonder how SI.com’s tennis writer Courtney Nguyen first fell in love with live tennis? Well, wonder no more.
(Photo © OnTheGoTennis)
By Maud Watson
The results may have been lost in the anticipation of Indian Wells, but last weekend saw some noteworthy victories on the ATP World Tour. Kevin Anderson broke hearts after saving match points against Roddick before dismissing Isner and ultimately winning the Delray Beach title over Australian qualifier Matosevic. Anderson hasn’t done enough to warrant being considered a dark horse at any of the bigger events, but the 6’8” South African has proven more than capable of playing the spoiler. Meanwhile, David Ferrer added to his case for being considered an outside chance to take the title at Roland Garros or any of the lead-up Masters 1000 events by securing his third consecutive title in Acapulco with his victory over Verdasco. He certainly has the game and tenacity to give anyone trouble, but as always, it’s questionable whether he has the mental fortitude to play his best when it really counts. A player who has exhibited plenty of mental fortitude over the years if Federer. He continued his good run of form, defeating Andy Murray in the final of Dubai to show he has more than enough game left to win another major or two. Hopefully these results will translate into a growing mental confidence, because while Djokovic, Murray , and especially Nadal will always pose a potential problem to him, his biggest hurdle seems to be between the ears.
It’s not every day a losing finalist garners much attention, but Andy Murray deserves it after his run to the Dubai final last week. In his quarterfinal match against Berdych, he squandered multiple match points and got down a break point before clawing his way across the finish line. Then in the semifinals, after blowing Djokovic away the first set and a half, he found himself in a position to serve it out, only to be broken and see Djokovic level things at 5-5. It appeared to be shades of the Australian Open semis all over again. This time, however, Murray held his composure and broke the Serb to still seal the deal in two sets. Though he fell shy against Federer, there’s little doubt that this tournament marks a turning point in his career. He’s keeping his temper relatively in check, and he’s bouncing back from the lows in matches much quicker. Whether or not he’s capable of managing this at a Slam remains to be seen, but his performance in Dubai could move some back towards once again asking the question “when,” not “if” Andy Murray will win a major.
Roger Federer is getting more vocal, and his latest complaint is that time violations are not enforced properly. Personally, I’m in agreement with Federer. It’s up to the chair umpires to use their best judgment, as there will be occasions where an excessive amount of time is warranted. But when excessive time is taken merely as a mind trick against an opponent or a stall tactic to gather wits before a big point, it needs to stop. The same goes for those who have long rituals between points, especially if it holds up an opponent’s serve. But what is most interesting about Federer’s comments is that he chose to single out Nadal. It would have been preferable for Federer to leave out names, but it’s still not on par with Nadal’s comments about Federer back in January. Federer is, after all, stating a fact. Nadal has been the highest profile offender of this rule for a number of years, but for all intents and purposes, Djokovic is right there with him. Given Federer’s history with Djokovic, it’s surprising he wouldn’t name him, too. Then again, perhaps it’s Federer laying the groundwork for should he meet Nadal in the semis of Indian Wells, hinting that Rafa should pick up the pace or be prepared for Federer to ask the chair umpire to work on him. And maybe, just maybe, their rivalry is no longer the love fest it once was.
Off into the Sunset
Shortly after Fernando Gonzalez calls it a career, Croat Ivan Ljubicic will be doing the same after the Monte Carlo Masters. Often referred to as “a poor man’s Federer,” Ljubicic was always fun to watch and a dangerous floater at any event. His presence on the circuit will be greatly missed, but it sounds like he won’t be straying too far from the game. We all look forward to what he’ll bring to the table as he looks to serve the sport in other ways.
Chalk another one up for Brazil, as the South American nation is set to see another one of its own enter the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten, a three-time winner of Roland Garros who shocked many when he won the Tennis Masters event in Lisbon to finish 2000 as the No. 1 ranked player in the world, will take his place among the legends this coming July. He’s a deserving addition, and congratulation to him for this honor.
(Photo via AP)
Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes day one action.
Three top players were surprised to find themselves on the losing end of their first-round matches.
- Paul-Henri Mathieu came to Rotterdam as a wildcard into the qualifying draw only to find himself in the second round of the main draw, after stunning Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
- Jesse Huta Galung dispensed of former world number 3 Ivan Ljubicic 7-6(6), 6-3.
- Sixth-seed Alexandr Dolgopolov also saw his time in Rotterdam come to a premature end as he was defeated by Lukasz Kubot 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2.
- Richard Gasquet also came through in three sets beating Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
For a full recap of Roger Federer‘s and Juan Martin Del Potro‘s press conferences from earlier today, go here.
Full Tuesday schedule below.
SCHEDULE – TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY, 2012
CENTRE COURT start 11:00 am
[Q] R De Voest (RSA) vs A Seppi (ITA)
[WC] I Sijsling (NED) vs J Nieminen (FIN)
Not Before 1:30 PM
 V Troicki (SRB) vs [WC] T de Bakker (NED)
F Cermak (CZE) / F Polasek (SVK) vs J Del Potro (ARG) / P Petzschner (GER)
Not Before 7:30 PM
R Haase (NED) vs N Davydenko (RUS)
M Youzhny (RUS) vs I Kunitsyn (RUS)
COURT 1 start 2:00 pm
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) / D Norman (BEL) vs  M Bhupathi (IND) / R Bopanna (IND)
Not Before 3:30 PM
 M Granollers (ESP) vs P Kohlschreiber (GER)
After a hectic two weeks of Grand-Slam action from Melbourne, life returns to normal on the ATP World Tour. There are three 250-level tournaments this week and while the pace will be perhaps less enthralling than what we’ve just witnessed in Australia, here are some of the big names we can look forward to watching.
Formerly held in Lyon in October of each year, the Open Sud de France has now relocated to Montpelier at an earlier date within the tennis season.
Tomas Berdych is the number one seed and will try to win his first ATP title since his victory in Beijing this past October. That was the only title the Czech won in 2011, but he had an incredibly solid year reaching the semi-finals of eight tournaments and the quarter-finals of seven others. That type of consistency has made Berdych a main-stay in the top-ten in recent years but success at the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level have still mostly eluded him with the exception of his win at the Paris Masters in 2005 and his Wimbledon final in 2010.
Berdych has a very manageable quarter of the tournament with no major obstacles in his way and a first-round bye to ease him into the draw.
Richard Gasquet is the fourth seed and is also in the top-half of the draw and he will likely face Nikolay Davydenko in the second round. Despite Davydenko’s rapid drop in play these past two years, the Russian will still give Gasquet a good challenge and provide fans with an entertaining early round match.
In the bottom half of the draw, look for two Frenchman to navigate their way through to the semi-finals. Both Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon are the highest two seeds and also the most likely to ride the support of the French fans to a solid showing.
Canadian number-two singles player Vasek Pospisil will undoubtedly be keeping his eye on the French, as Canada is scheduled to host the French in the first round of the Davis Cup on February 10th in Vancouver. Pospisil opens against French wildcard Guillaume Rufin.
It was a moment for Croatian tennis fans to relish a year ago in Zagreb when Ivan Dodig captured his first ATP title against Michael Berrer. While the chances of Dodig repeating are not necessarily favored, he is one of three Croats who could lift the trophy on the final Sunday.
Veteran Ivan Ljubicic holds the top seed and opens against Karol Beck. Ljubicic has won the event before and has the best chance of emerging from his quarter of the draw.
Beneath him can be found monster-server Ivo Karlovic who will also receive plenty of home-country support. Mikhail Youzhny will try to bounce back from a disappointing first round loss in Melbourne as he holds the third seed and is my pick to emerge from the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom half, we have Marcos Baghdatis and the previously mentioned Dodig in one quarter. In the final section of the draw, Alex Bogomolov Jr. is the surprised second seed and leads the weakest section of the tournament. In other words, look for Baghdatis or possibly Dodig to have a good route to the finals.
Providing some contrast to the two hard-court tournaments this week, we have the VTR Open which is played on red clay. Last year’s champion in Vina del Mar is Tommy Robredo but he is not entered in this year’s edition. Meanwhile Fernando Gonzalez holds the most career titles at the event with four. Gonzalez has taken a wildcard into the main draw as he has struggled since returning to the tour last year from hip and knee injuries he sustained in 2010.
Clay court expert Juan Monaco takes the pole position this year and opens with a first round bye. Albert Montanes who is seeded fifth will likely be Monaco’s main source of opposition in the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom section look for Thomaz Bellucci, who won the event in 2010, to challenge once again for the title and for second seeded Juan Ignacio Chela to advance into the draw as well.
Don’t feel bad if you are feeling the effects of a tennis-hangover as these smaller events begin. Nothing can really compare to two weeks of elite level tennis like we have just experienced. There is a lot to look forward to however, with the first round of Davis Cup action just two weeks away and then a month after that we will enjoy back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.
For most tennis fans, that awkward period after the US Open and before the World Tour Finals is a time to relax and tend to some non tennis pursuits. For those of us who just can’t put tennis aside, it means watching blurry streams of Florian Mayer beating Pablo Andujar, on clay, in Bucharest or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga overcoming Ivan Ljubicic in Metz. Sure, for most players, and fans, the season is winding down, but for about twelve guys, things are just revving up. These are the guys still in contention for the last few coveted spots in the Barclays World Tour Finals in November.
If you are unfamiliar with the format, the World Tour Finals are held at the end of each season and the eight players who have compiled the most ranking points in that season are invited to participate in the event. They are divided into two groups for round robin matches, with the top two guys from each group advancing to the semifinals. So far, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Roger Federer have all qualified for this year’s event. That leaves four spots for the rest of the competition.
One guy will be conspicuously absent this year. Andy Roddick has qualified for the World Tour Finals for eight years in a row, but after a disappointing 2011, where he dropped out of the Top 20 for the first time in what seemed like forever, he just couldn’t keep the streak going. However, Andy’s absence could mean a first time appearance for his good friend Mardy Fish, who is currently in 6th place and will very likely make his World Tour Final debut in November just before his 30th birthday. Let’s look at the rest of the competition
David Ferrer: At 5th in the race, David will most likely have no trouble qualifying for third trip to London. He previously qualified in 2007, where he lost to Roger Federer in the final and last year in 2010, where he bowed out in the round robin stage. He’s got a lead of nearly 1000 points (a Masters title worth of points) on his nearest competitor, so I would say it’s a safe bet to book him a spot.
Mardy Fish: As I mentioned, Fish is chasing his first appearance in the year end championships. Mardy had a great summer in 2010, but few people believed he would back up those results in 2011. However, Fish has had the best year of his career, reaching the Top 10 for the first time as well as the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. He’s done well taking on the demands of being the top US player, a crown Roddick has worn for many years. I have little doubt we’ll being seeing him at the O2 this year.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Jo seems to have found his 2008 form again. He had career best appearances at Wimbledon (semifinals) and the US Open (quarterfinals) this year and has cracked the Top 10 again. This week, he beat Ivan Ljubicic to take home the title in Metz and he will seek to build on that momentum going into the Asia swing.
Tomas Berdych: Berdych currently holds the tenuous eighth spot in the race. He hasn’t had the best results this year, but he has been able to maintain his Top 10 ranking. If the reports are correct, he’s also had a tumultuous year in his personal life, breaking up with long time girlfriend Lucie Safarova. Perhaps he’ll be able to right the ship this fall. A good run in Shanghai or Paris, or a title run at one of the smaller events would certainly keep him in contention.
On the Cusp
Nicolas Almagro: When I looked at the race, I was actually shocked to see Almagro in 9th place. When did that happen? I couldn’t remember any significant Grand Slam contribution this year, because there weren’t any. But, once I did a little checking, sure enough, Nicolas has appeared in five ATP finals this year, and won three of those titles. They were all 250 and 500 events, but those points add up. He’s less than 100 points behind Tomas Berdych and has a real possibility of taking one of the remaining four spots.
Robin Soderling: Soderling made his debut in London in 2009, where he reached the semifinals, and followed it up with a second appearance in 2010. He had an amazing start to the year, winning titles in Brisbane, Rotterdam, and Marseille. However, since then it’s been a sea of injuries and illness that has kept him from competing in a lot of key events. He recently announced that a case of mono will keep him out for at least another month. The outlook is a bit grim for Robin’s third consecutive appearance at the World Tour Finals.
Juan Martin del Potro: After not playing for basically all of last year, Juan Martin del Potro has been making up for lost time. In January 2011, del Potro was ranked 485 in the world and depended on wildcards and a protected ranking to get him direct entry into tournaments. He started rising up the rankings after semifinal appearances in San Jose and Memphis and his first title back in Delray Beach. He topped his February performances by reaching the semifinals of Indian Wells. He won a second title for the year in Estoril in May. He’s now back in the Top 15.
Gilles Simon: Simon had a breakout year in 2008, reaching the semifinals in his lone appearance at the World Tour Finals and then reaching a career high ranking of 6 in January of 2009. However, he missed a great deal of 2010 due to a knee injury. Like his countryman Tsonga, Simon seems to have rediscovered his form and could be a force going into the final legs of the season.
Janko Tisparevic: At 13th in the race, he’s a long shot, but it’s been quite a year for Tisparevic who reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and broke into the Top 15 for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
Gael Monfils: It would take some stellar results this fall for Monfils to leapfrog the other competitors and reserve a spot in London. I doubt he has the consistency for it, but Gael always brings the surprises.
Richard Gasquet: Like his French compatriots, Richard has had a pretty good year. He’s not quite back to his Top 10 form, but I would not be surprised if we see big things from him in 2012.
Alexandr Dolgopolov: At 22, Dolgopolov will have plenty more chances to qualify for the World Tour Finals. If he keeps up his current trajectory, we’ll likely be seeing a lot of him next year.
If you like to participate in bracket challenges, I can pretty much guarantee you didn’t predict what has happened so far to this year’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. I think last year’s surprise victory by veteran Ivan Ljubicic has given hope to players who previously had none. I mean it seems like losing early is the thing to do this week for top players, opening up the field for those lesser recognized guys and gals.
Biggest upset thus far? It’s still Andy Murray. I’m not even surprised that Andy Murray lost his first match in Indian Wells because frankly, I still think Australia is weighing on him, but he lost to Donald Young. I’m going to say that again in case you’re confused. Andy Murray lost to DONALD YOUNG. I think you’ve got it now. Anyway, Donald went on to play one of the most embarrassing sets of tennis I’ve ever witnessed yesterday against Tommy Robredo, losing the match 6-0 6-4. The crowd cheered each point he won like he was one point away from the match, rather than one point closer to finally holding a service game.
I don’t mean to beat up on Andy Murray, because he’s not the only big name that lost early on. David Ferrer, likely the biggest competition in Nadal’s quarter lost his first match to Ivo Karlovic, who followed that up with a win against Gilles Simon. Watch and learn Donald Young, watch and learn. When you take out the big player, you’re supposed to capitalize on the opportunity to play a lesser ranked player. Robin Soderling was one of the big names to topple yesterday, against Philipp Kohlschreiber. He appeared to be having some issues with his foot, so maybe we can chalk this one up to injury, but none the less, the number 4 seed has been taken out of a quarter already missing the number 5 seed.
Of the men remaining in the top half of the draw, Rafael Nadal is the only player in the Top 20. The bottom half of the draw has gone much more predictably, with no shocking upsets to speak of; however, they will be playing their 3rd round matches today, so we’ll see if the pattern holds.
The ladies’ draw hasn’t fared much better. The top half of the draw has already lost players like Li Na, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sam Stosur. Kuznetsova lost to Christina McHale, which is probably the most comparable upset to the Young/Murray match on the men’s side. McHale played amazing tennis this week and came very close to beating Nadia Petrova yesterday, but Petrova managed to hang on. The most interesting, although probably not the most surprising upset in this section was Sam Stosur’s loss to Dinara Safina. The former world No. 1, Safina, is still a long way from her old form and she probably wouldn’t have won this match without a little help from Sam. Safina served 16 double faults in the two set match, not exactly a stat most tennis players hope for. Regardless of how she won, Dinara was delighted. She was all smiles on court after her win and was funny and endearing in her press conference. The on court interviewer even gave her a hug. She plays Maria Sharapova later today.
The bottom half of the women’s draw is also missing a key player after world No. 3 Vera Zvonareva lost to Dominika Cibulkova on Sunday night. Possibly more surprising than Vera’s early loss was what a tough time Kim Clijsters had against Sara Errani. Clijsters is definitely favored to win here in Indian Wells because she’s been so dominant lately, but she did not look like the Aussie Open champ on Sunday. In the second set, her serve seemed to fail her and she ended up losing it 6-2. Honestly, I think this match was a kind of a fluke, and Kim should have no trouble dispatching Marion Bartoli today. Based on the look of the draw, I would not be at all surprised to see a Kim Clijsters/Caroline Wozniacki final. Both players are in fine form at the moment and even when they struggle, the rest of the field seems to struggle as well.
Split, Croatia’s premier clay court Tennis Club in Firule is hugged by a scenic marina on one side and a pebble beach on the other. It’s a quiet setting away from the center of the city encapsulated by Diocletian’s Palace, but contains possibly even more magic than that found within the former Roman Emperor’s walls. Legends such as Goran Ivanisevic and Nikola Pilic have practiced on the clay courts there, and last week another Croat who called Firule home added his name to the ATP Tour’s retirement roll, 26-year-old Mario Ancic.
Ancic is best known for his rise to World Number 7 back in 2006, but what gives his game strength is that he was the only player to beat Roger Federer — and at Wimbledon, no less — between 2002 and 2008. Having nicknames like “Baby Goran” reflecting his game’s likeness to his mentor Ivanisevic, or “Super Mario” after his missile-like serves, it was hard not to enjoy watching Ancic succeed on-court. He helped Croatia win its sole Davis Cup title in 2005 and teamed up with friend Ivan Ljubicic to take home a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Over the span of his professional career which lasted ten years, Ancic pocketed nearly $4 million dollars.
Sadly though, after a freak knee injury while jet skiing followed by a separate back injury in 2006, his career never rebounded. At the beginning of 2007 and 2008, he was stricken with mononucleosis which kept him more off the court than on it. The back injury continued to plague him for several years before it forced him to call it quits.
On February 23, 2011, Ancic came full circle as he made the teary announcement about his retirement at the very courts where he hit his first fuzzy yellow tennis ball nearly twenty years ago.
“For the last few years, I have been fighting against all kinds of illnesses. The last back injury was the last straw, it was the product of not playing due to mononucleosis from Krefeld in 2007, frequent breaks and numerous returns. After consulting with experts from Germany, France, the U.S. and Croatia, I came to the realization that my body could no longer follow the rhythm of today’s tennis game. There was no other solution. I have always fought, fallen and risen up, but I’ve always been honest with myself.”
Speaking to a private newspaper earlier in the week, Ancic also confessed that “it would not be me out there anymore. I knew I would never be 100% fit again, and there was no real answer to it. It would have required a pretty serious operation ever for me to have a chance to recover and I would never have been guaranteed a full motion again … I had to be fair with myself. My mind was fine but my body couldn’t compete.”
Ivan Ljubicic, in a press conference after his first-round match in Dubai last week, expressed his admiration for Ancic.
“Together we achieved so much at such early stages in our careers. It was just incredibly unfortunate to kind of finish it that way. I saw him in Zagreb just a couple of weeks ago. We are in touch all the time. I didn’t bother asking him too much how he was, because I knew the answer. It was not good, not good for the last three years.”
As difficult as it was for Ancic to speak, he praised the people who helped him achieve his greatness.
“I am grateful to God for the talent he gave me, but without the people in Tennis Club Split there would be no ‘me’. I am tremendously grateful to my family, my brother Ivica who was the main reason for my entry into tennis, all my trainers who worked with me from beginning to end, all those who prepared me and cared about my health. I also want to thank my fellow players. I honestly and proudly wore the Croatian representation from the time I was 15 to the last moment that I could play.”
But, fear not, Ancic has prepared for this moment. During his time away from tennis, he was able to finish his law degree from the University of Split in April of 2008 and has already been interning at a law office in Zagreb. His thesis was entitled “ATP Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” where he dealt with the legal foundation and organization of the ATP Tour. It seems that no matter how far he was from tennis, his heart was always craving it.
And it seems that the current President of the Croatian Tennis Federation, Radimir Cacic, also understands the impact Ancic has had on Croatian tennis. He invited Ancic to assume the role of President when his own term ends. But Ancic left much to be desired: “I have a challenge in the legal profession, but I always want to be close to the sport. Tennis wasn’t just a sport for me, but a way of thinking. I definitely want to … help our athletes, the future tennis players.”
Ancic concluded with a heartfelt goodbye.
“It will take a long time until I can watch tennis in peace, but time heals all wounds. I knew this moment would come so I was prepared, educated. New challenges now await me. The energy, desire and will I invested in tennis I now want to invest in something new. For me, sport and tennis are a part of life and will always be close. I am leaving peaceful and fulfilled.”
Ancic will bid his final farewell to tennis during Croatia’s Davis Cup meeting against Germany this week.
Check out ATP World Tour Uncovered with Mario Ancic and a few select photos below.