Jarkko Nieminen

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Wizards of Oz (II): Murray, Tomic, Tsonga, Wozniacki, Kvitova, and More from Day 2

Can the Scot fasten his jaws around a Dutchman who troubled him before?

Our daily preview series continues with six matches from each Tour.

ATP:

Haase vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena):  When they met at the 2011 US Open, the underdog nearly stunned the Scot by building a two-set lead.  Haase then won just six games over the last three sets as he continued a bizarre career trend of disappearing in matches that he started with a lead.  This match marks Murray’s first as a major champion, and one wonders whether the tension that he so often has displayed on these stages will abate in proportion to the pressure.  Although he won Brisbane, he looked imperfect in doing so and alluded to some emotional turmoil hovering around him.

Tomic vs. Mayer (RLA):  Shortly after he reached the Brisbane final, Grigor Dimitrov experience a rude awakening when he became the first man to crash out of the Australian Open.  Sydney champion Tomic must guard against the concern of having peaked too soon after winning his first career title, amidst  chatter about his upcoming clash with Federer.  But Leonardo Mayer should lack the consistency to pose any sustained challenge, while Tomic has excelled on home soil and reached the second week here last year with victories over much superior opponents.

Tsonga vs. Llodra (Hisense):  A battle of two flamboyant Frenchmen rarely fails to entertain, no matter the scoreline.  Formerly a finalist and semifinalist here, Tsonga embarks on his first season with coach Roger Rasheed, attempting to rebound from a paradoxical 2012 season in which he stayed in the top eight without conquering anyone in it.  Across the net stands a compatriot who shares his fondness for hurtling towards the net and finishing points with sharply slashed volleys.  Expect plenty of explosive, staccato tennis from a rollicking match filled with ebbs and flows.

Matosevic vs. Cilic (Margaret Court Arena):  Like Haase and Murray, their meeting follows in the wake of some notable US Open history.  Extending the Croat to a fifth set there last year, Matosevic built upon the best year of his career that saw him reach the top 50 and become the top Aussie man until Tomic surpassed him in Sydney (both on the court and in the rankings).  Cilic has stabilized at a mezzanine level of the ATP since his initial breakthrough in 2008-09, when he looked likely to emulate Del Potro’s accomplishments.  Of a similar stature and playing style to the former US Open champion, he appears to lack the competitive will necessary to take the next step forward.

Monfils vs. Dolgopolov (MCA):  The first week of a major offers an ideal opportunity to check out unusual shot-makers who usually fall before the tournament’s marquee rounds.  Recognizing this potential, the Melbourne schedulers have featured on a show court this fascinating pas de deux between two men who can produce—or at least attempt—any shot in the book.  Their match should remind viewers of the imaginative quality to tennis, often lost in this era of fitness and raw power.  Both men focus more on the journey than the destination, and style than substance:  not a recipe for major titles but certainly a recipe for entertainment.

Haas vs. Nieminen (Court 3):  Most had abandoned hope in the German when he started last year outside the top 200.  Bursting back into relevance over the spring and summer, the 34-year-old Haas should inspire other men near the twilight of their careers.  Among them is Nieminen, a veteran Finnish lefty without much polish but perhaps with enough wrinkles in his game to frustrate the easily ruffled Haas.

WTA:

Wozniacki vs. Lisicki (Hisense):  The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki has plummeted to the edge of the top 10 while losing four of her last six matches at majors.  Despite a hopeful fall, the Danish counterpuncher started this year in deflating fashion with early losses at Brisbane and Sydney, still mired in doubt and anxiety.  Lisicki has won two of their three previous meetings behind a booming serve that allowed her to seize and retain control of the points before Wozniacki could settle into neutral mode.  Outside the grass season, she struggled even more than her opponent did last year, and a surface that seems very slow may dilute her greatest weapon.  In theory, though, her huge game could unnerve Wozniacki again by denying her the rhythm that she prefers.

Suarez Navarro vs. Errani (MCA):  A pair of clay specialists meet on a slow, high-bouncing hard court that should not feel too foreign to them.  Suarez Navarro has become a credible dark horse in Melbourne, defeating Venus in the second round a few years ago and extending the then-formidable Kvitova to a third set in the same round last year.  Meanwhile, Errani reached the quarterfinals at last year’s Australian Open, the first significant result that signaled her breakthrough and thus the first key bundle of points that she must defend.

Schiavone vs. Kvitova (MCA):  This match could get gruesome quickly if both of them play as they did earlier in January.  At the Hopman Cup, the aging Schiavone struggled to find the service box or her groundstroke timing, while Kvitova struggled to find any part of the court in Brisbane and Sydney.  Those efforts prolonged a span in which the former Wimbledon champion has lost seven of her last ten matches, suggesting that she will bring little of the confidence necessary to execute her high-risk game.  Schiavone nearly ended Kvitova’s title defense at the All England Club last year, suggesting that this match may contain as much upset potential as Wozniacki-Lisicki.

Oudin vs. Robson (Court 3):  Phenoms past and present collide in this meeting of careers headed in opposite directions.  While Oudin did resurface last summer with her first career title, she has extracted little from her counterpunching game since the US Open quarterfinal that vaulted her to fame perhaps too early.  A highly awaited presence as soon as she won junior Wimbledon, Robson progressed significantly last season in both power and consistency, ultimately reaching the second week of the US Open.  Will both of their trends continue, or will Oudin blunt the British lefty’s attack?

Petrova vs. Date-Krumm (Court 6):  Surely not much longer on display, the age-defying Date-Krumm merits a trip to the outer courts for her sharply angled groundstrokes and the joy with which she competes.  As if one needed any further reason to watch this match, Petrova produces ample entertainment with her percussive serves and crisp volleys, not to mention her bursts of classically Russian angst.

Putintseva vs. McHale (Court 7):  As she recovers from the mono that sidelined her last year, the young American might have preferred a less intense opponent than the yowling, perpetually emoting bundle of energy that is Putintseva.  The junior exudes with talent as well as aggression, so the quiet McHale cannot take her opponent in this stark clash of personalities too lightly.

ATP Spotlight on Robin Haase

Robin Haase

During the Sony Ericsson Open, I sat down with Dutch ATP player and current world #53, Robin Haase to chat memorable moments, the perks of being a tennis player, the players he would most want to party with and Novak Djokovic as the toughest opponent he has ever faced.

Even though he was running late to the interview, he was apologetic and friendly, showcasing his signature curls and inviting smile. I made sure to take full advantage of his good attitude after defeating Australian Marinko Matosevic earlier in the day, 6-3, 6-4. He will next face 22nd-seed Jurgen Melzer in the second round.

What is your most memorable moment on-court?

It’s a tough one. It’s always tough to say that because you are always in a different time of your career – and you have many moments. I can go back to when I was 12, the most important thing was to win the national championships. Of course, that’s not my most memorable moment, but it’s always tough to say what is. I had a great experience almost beating Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon [in 2010] — took him to five sets, on center court. He was defending champion and #1 in the world, and of course, to play on the nicest court of the tennis world was a great experience. Also, last year I won my first ATP event and I think that’s, of course, a memorable moment.

What’s the best part of being a tennis player?

The best part is that I made tennis, which is my hobby, as my job. I think that not a lot of people can say that they do what they love to do, every day, day in and day out. But it’s not as easy as people think. It’s not just as glamorous a life as people think. It’s also a hard life but I enjoy it every day.

What’s the toughest part?

The toughest part is the many weeks of travelling, playing a lot of tournaments, having to go to almost all the continents. That’s not easy. You lose almost every week, so every week you have to recover from disappointment. That’s hard.

Do you have any superstitions on court?

No, not really. I think there’s also a big difference between superstition and rituals, so I have the same kind of warm up to prepare for the match. But it’s not like Nadal with the bottles, or stepping on lines. I don’t have that. Sometimes I take the same ball and sometimes I don’t.

If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?

I think I would pick the ones I am closest friends to. With friends you go to parties and dinners. One of the guys would be Jarkko Nieminen. I think almost everyone would invite him, he’s a great guy. I know Marin Cilic from juniors too. I get along with, for example, from the States, Michael Russell. There are a lot of guys, of course, but there are some guys you kind of practice more with, have dinner with. So I think these guys are it.

Who’s the toughest opponent you have ever faced on-court?

Of course, it’s the top 3 or 4 players. It’s always tough to play them. I wouldn’t say Nadal is the toughest for me to play because I took him to five sets. For me, it’s Djokoivc. I played him twice and didn’t even have a chance to get close to winning a set. So that’s probably the toughest guy for me to play. But outside of that there is also Soderling, Berdych, Del Potro — these kinds of players are tough to beat.

What are two things you couldn’t live without?

(Long pause) Air? (laughs) I’m not really materialistic, I don’t care about a lot of “stuff.” But of course, friends and family, and health, that’s most important in life. Just recently in Indian Wells, a family member of mine died, so that’s most important, and all the other “stuff” are extra.

How did you handle the personal loss during Indian Wells on the emotional side?

That was fine. I knew it was going to happen. I decided to go and play, so for me was ok. I was almost happy that it happened because it was better that way [because of the suffering].

And to end on a fun note, what is your biggest indulgence?

I’m not really the gadget guy, don’t wear watches. So I can’t think of something.

A type of food, maybe?

You can always wake me up for good Japanese or Italian. I love to eat. Every day I go out to restaurants. As a tennis player, you get to see a lot of good restaurants so you get really picky. So certainly, that’s something I look forward to every day. You’re always practicing, so going out for dinner for one, two, or even three hours at a time, you can have fun and enjoy.

Rotterdam: Federer, Del Potro Win, Boris Becker Talks to Press

Boris Becker Rotterdam Press

by Lisa-Marie Burrows

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam – All systems were go yesterday at the Rotterdam tournament. With “oohs” and “aahs” echoing around the large arena, the crowd were treated to four exciting quarterfinal matches, which saw Berdych, Del Potro, Federer and Davydenko all make it through to the semi final stages.

First up was the cool as ice Tomas Berdych who beat Italian Andreas Seppi in straight sets 6-3, 6-4.  After playing only three games against an injured Marcos Baghdatis (who retired due to experiencing problems with his calf muscle in the previous round), the tall Czech looked as fresh as a cucumber and ready for action.

It was all plain sailing for the second seed who comfortably took the first set 6-3 and broke again early in the second set with roaring topspin backhands that pushed Seppi back off the baseline onto his back foot.

A slight lapse in concentration by Berdych allowed Seppi back into the set after breaking during the fourth game, but at 3-3 the T-Berd regained his composure and consequentially broke again, before taking the second set 6-4.

The second match involved world No.10 Juan Martín Del Potro who floored Serbian Viktor Troicki 6-0, 6-1 in his quarterfinal appearance. Throughout the first set, the Argentine hit very few unforced errors and did not allow Troicki into the set, bagelling him 6-0.

The second set served up much of the same as Troicki only managed to steal one game and had no answer to the power play of the third seed.  Del Potro looked well adjusted to the slow speed and low bounces of the court and had adapted his game with prowess accordingly.  Del Potro sailed through to the semis and has booked a mouth-watering contest with secondseed Tomas Berdych on Saturday.

Despite leading the head-to-head 2-1, Del Potro played down his chances against the Czech in his press conference:

“I think he could be the favourite. He has the better ranking.”

The opening evening match drew in full capacity crowds to watch world No.3 Roger Federer take centre stage against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland.  There was very little between them as they traded powerful rallies and after two close sets, Federer booked his place into the semi finals with a tight 7-5, 7-6 (1) victory.

Nieminen demonstrated how comfortable he was to go toe to toe against the 16-time Grand Slam champion and did not succumb to Federer’s steely determination until the eleventh game of the match.  The champion of the Apia International in Sydney found himself squandering a 40-0 game to being break point down after firing untimely unforced errors. The Finn hit a backhand long and Federer readily accepted the break before serving it out 7-5.

The second set remained equally close, as Nieminen did not appear disheartened after the disappointment of a close first set. The crowd watched in amazement after a Federer unforced error such as the expectation for the Swiss to weave his magic and win every point.

They did not have to wait long as the top seed spun his web and snatched the victory comfortably in the second set tiebreak after a flurry of perfectly executed cross court forehands proved to be unassailable for the 30 year old Finn.  To the delight of the crowd, Federer rallied through to the semi finals 7-5, 7-6 (1).

During the press conference, Federer gave full credit to Nieminen for his aggressive performance:

“You have to give Jarkko credit too, he played aggressive on both the forehands and backhands. He took every second serve of mine on the rise.”

The final quarterfinal match of the day involved Russian Nikolay Davydenko who caused an upset by beating fifth seed Richard Gasquet in straight sets 7-5, 6-3.

The first set was all swings and roundabouts as it was the Frenchman who had the early break at the start, but fought back only to be broken again as Gasquet served to take the opening set 5-3.  Astonishing groundstrokes from the Russian prevent the fifth seed from securing the set and surprisingly it was the unseeded Russian who took the first set 7-5.

Davydenko continued his surge during the second set and broke Gasquet a further two times before wrapping up proceedings 6-3.  He will now face top seed Roger Federer in the semifinals on Saturday.

Quarterfinals day was also busy for another legend – Boris “I was quite a famous guy too” Becker. He arrived at the arena on Friday and greeted the centre court crowd after he held a jovial press conference with the media during his promotion of Mercedes Benz, a company he has been sponsored by for over 15 years.  During the conference, the tennis legend joked about pop stars in tennis and discussed one of the greatest debates rattling the lockers: the schedule.

“Tournaments like Rotterdam they need the top guys like Federer, they need Del Potro. What’s the perfect calendar? There is never going to be the perfect calendar.”

In a modern Tour that is plagued with scheduling issues Becker believes that Roger Federer has remained a positive, dominant force:

“The question about Roger is ‘is he ever going to get back to world No.1?’ I don’t think that should be the main focus.  I think we are all happy that we have him around. Whether he is No.2 or No.3 in the world, that doesn’t matter. “

But what we all know what really matters to Roger at this moment – winning this tournament and fulfilling what he came to do.

 

Lisa-Marie Burrows is in Rotterdam covering the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament as media. You can follow her on Twitter @TennisNewsViews

Rotterdam Results & Exclusive Photos: Federer, Del Potro, Baghdatis

Bagh_s-r32_015

It was a thrilling day in Rotterdam as the top three seeds, including Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro all claimed a spot in the second round of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament, including a first ever win for del Potro at this event – but not without some drama.

Top seed Roger Federer picked up where he left off seven years ago, as the 2005 champion won 13 of the last 14 points with his win over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 6-4. Federer’s expected second round opponent Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with a foot problem sending the Swiss straight into the quarterfinals on Friday against Jarkko Nieminen, who beat Lukasz Kubot earlier in the day.

“Any win is a good win,” stated Federer. “Frankly I’m glad to be in the quarterfinals. It’s always tough to make the change from clay but after losing my last two singles matches [for Davis Cup], a win is great.”

For more exclusive Roger Federer content on his top three grand slam wins, mental strength, his toughest opponent, and thoughts on retirement, go here.

Second seed Tomas Berdych also had a routine win over fellow Czech countryman Lukas Rosol, 6-4, 6-2. Berdych also didn’t shy away from admitting it was “a tough transition from Davis Cup. Our court was much faster with lower bounce. I didn’t really have much time to train, but I coped with it pretty well. I was able to find my rhythm quite fast and was able to play my game.”

Juan Martin del Potro struggled to close out the second set in a tiebreaker and was forced to win in three, against 2008 champion Michael Llodra, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4. ”I was really nervous, especially in the last game, so it was nice”, Del Potro said durin his interview. He underlined that he was very pleased to be in Rotterdam and to see so many people coming out to support him.

Cheerful Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (looking surprisingly great in Adidas’ lastest fireball orange and blue kits, below) defeated qualifier Matthias Bachinger, 7-6(2), 6-2.

Nikolay Davydenko was also take to three sets before overcoming the “comeback kid” Paul-Henri Mathieu who had received a wildcard into the qualifying. After two-and-a-half hours of play into the evening hours, Davydenko prevailed, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1.

But another qualifier, Karol Beck, made a commotion as he took out Philipp Petzschner, 7-6(3), 6-3.

Alex Bogomolov, Jr. won when Sergiy Stakhovsky was forced to retire.

In doubles action, top seed Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor were ousted by Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, while  the tandem of Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic  were defeated, as was the duo of Viktor Troicki and Jarkko Nieminen.

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 three action, and the Davydenko-Mathieu match was shot with a 200mm f/2 lens Canon Nederland provided to our photographe Rick for the match. The photos are of the highest quality. Thank you, Canon!

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

ATP Rotterdam Day 2 Results & Photos: Troicki, Youzhny Win, Haase Ousted

Troicki

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 two action.

The biggest news of the day came when eighth-seed Marcel Granollers was ousted by Philipp Kohlschreiber and doubles fourth seed Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were eliminated by Alex Bogomolov, Jr. and Dick Norman.

In other surprising (and possibly history-making) news, Mikhail Youzhny took the first set from Igor Kunitsyn in just under TWELVE minutes, 6-0, before winning in three sets. He could face top seed Roger Federer in the second round, should the Swiss defeat Nicolas Mahut on Wednesday.

Viktor Troicki made easy work of wildcard Thiemo De Bakker before stating that “We both had a tough start because we came here late, coming from Davis Cup. I think I handled it well. I got lucky in the first set I think. He played well, but he did not use his set points and I started playing better in the second set. I’m happy that I won through and am in the second round.”

Even though Roger Federer hasn’t played his first match of the tournament, his practice sessions this week have been a show of their own, and today was no exception. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwfIyq6FIyE

Full Tuesday results and Wednesday schedule are below.

***

RESULTS – TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY, 2012

Singles – First Round
[7] V Troicki (SRB) d [WC] T de Bakker (NED) 76(6) 60
P Kohlschreiber (GER) d [8] M Granollers (ESP) 61 16 64
M Youzhny (RUS) d I Kunitsyn (RUS) 60 67(4) 60
J Nieminen (FIN) d [WC] I Sijsling (NED) 61 67(7) 75
N Davydenko (RUS) d R Haase (NED) 75 62
A Seppi (ITA) d [Q] R De Voest (RSA) 16 76(5) 62

Doubles – First Round
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) / D Norman (BEL) d [4] M Bhupathi (IND) / R Bopanna (IND) 64 36 10-6
J Del Potro (ARG) / P Petzschner (GER) d F Cermak (CZE) / F Polasek (SVK) 75 63

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SCHEDULE – WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY, 2012

CENTRE COURT start 11:00 am
[Q] M Bachinger (GER) vs M Baghdatis (CYP)
L Rosol (CZE) vs [2] T Berdych (CZE)

Not Before 1:30 PM
M Llodra (FRA) vs [3] J Del Potro (ARG)
[WC] T de Bakker (NED) / R Haase (NED) vs M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL)

Not Before 7:30 PM
[1] R Federer (SUI) vs N Mahut (FRA)
[Q] P Mathieu (FRA) vs N Davydenko (RUS)

COURT 1 start 11:00 am
[3] R Lindstedt (SWE) / H Tecau (ROU) vs O Marach (AUT) / A Peya (AUT)
J Nieminen (FIN) vs L Kubot (POL)

Not Before 4:00 PM
R Gasquet (FRA) / I Ljubicic (CRO) vs A Qureshi (PAK) / J Rojer (AHO)
J Nieminen (FIN) / V Troicki (SRB) vs [WC] T Schoorel (NED) / I Sijsling (NED)

COURT 2 start 1:00 pm
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR)
[Q] K Beck (SVK) vs P Petzschner (GER)

Not Before 5:00 PM
[1] M Mirnyi (BLR) / D Nestor (CAN) vs M Granollers (ESP) / M Lopez (ESP)

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

The Secret Behind Bobby Reynolds’ Win Streak

Bobby Reynolds Sydney

The chances that Jesse Levine gets his racquet back are looking slim.

After an inauspicious start in Brisbane, losing in the first round of qualifiers, Bobby Reynolds asked Levine for one of his racquets.

Since then, Reynolds has gone undefeated, winning five matches in a row at the Sydney International, including an upset over second seed John Isner. The victory was his first top-20 win in nearly seven years.

“Luckily [Levine] was nice enough to give me one of his racquets in Brisbane because the ones I brought down here didn’t fare so well and I didn’t really like it after I played a couple matches with them,” said Reynolds in an interview with the ATP. “He was nice enough to give me one racquet and that’s been getting me through the last five matches.”

The world No. 126 also joked that he may owe his friend Levine some money after his successful run in Sydney.

“He told me that I own him 20 percent,” said Reynolds with a laugh. “But I told him the more the tournament goes on the less likely he’ll get his racquet back or the 20 percent.”

With the win over Isner, Reynolds is in his first ATP quarterfinal since 2008. However, the victory also means that he will miss out on the Australian Open as he was set to play in the qualifiers that began this week.

“It was kind of a tough decision for me to play it out because I was in the qualies at the Australian Open,” said the 29-year-old Reynolds. “[But] I’m glad that I stuck with it here and gave it my all and I hope to build on this for the rest of the year.”

After progressing through the qualifying draw, Reynolds faces fellow qualifier Jarkko Nieminen on Thursday for an unexpected spot in the semifinals.

Regardless of the outcome, Reynolds may want to start stocking up on Levine’s racquets.

 

 

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

Caroline Wozniacki is the new number 1

By Maud Watson

At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.

Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.

Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.

The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.

Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.

AROUND THE CORNER: ROGER FEDERER GOES HALLE WHILE ANDY MURRAY PLAYS LONDON

Less than twenty-four hours after Rafael Nadal’s impressive French Open victory and the ATP Tour is switching gears from the red clay of Roland Garros to the green grass of Halle and London. The short grass-court season is now upon us and over the next month we will witness a very different and exciting brand of tennis. Let’s take a closer look at what’s around the corner at the first two tune-up events for Wimbledon.

Gerry Weber Open – Halle, Germany

Halle will crown a new champion this year as veteran German player Tommy Haas is out with injury issues. In 2009 he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-1 for the title in his home country.

Roger Federer will be the number-one seed this year although he officially loses his number-one ranking on Tour on Monday as Nadal has surpassed him once again. Federer has won Halle five times before, from 2003-2006 and more recently in 2008. His first round opponent will be Jarkko Nieminen from Finland. The unfortunate Nieminen holds a 0-10 record against Federer and has never before taken a set off of him.

Interestingly enough, Federer signed a lifetime deal with the tournament on Sunday agreeing to participate in the event for as long as he is still playing professional tennis.

Federer could face the tricky Radek Stepanek in the quarter-finals and then either Juan Carlos Ferrero or Marcos Baghdatis in the semis. Both of those players have had success on grass, with Ferrero twice making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon while Baghdatis made the semi-finals in 2006.

In the bottom half of the draw Lleyton Hewitt is the 8th seed and opens against fellow Aussie Peter Luczak. Seeded second is Nikolay Davydenko who will be making his first appearance on the Tour since a wrist injury in mid-March.

One first round match worth noting is veteran Nicolas Kiefer against Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Kiefer is still struggling to find his game after injuries kept him from playing most of 2009.

AEGON Championships – London, England (aka Queen’s Club)

Four time champion Andy Roddick brings a 29-4 career record into Queen’s Club this year. Who can forget just how close the American came to finally capturing Wimbledon a year ago, where he fell 16-14 in the fifth set to Roger Federer. Roddick has not played much tennis in the past two months, but will be looking to regain his form on his favourite surface.

As of right now, Rafael Nadal is seeded first in the tournament. He does have a first-round bye so hopefully that will give him enough of a rest after winning Roland Garros. Nadal won this event in 2008 – the year he won his first and only Wimbledon title. Nadal opens by playing the winner of Marcos Daniel vs. Blaz Kavcic – a nice way to open his grass-court season wouldn’t you say? Nadal has the most favourable quarter of the tournament with the highest seed he could face being Feliciano Lopez who is the number-eight.

Andy Murray is the defending champion as he won in 2009 against James Blake 7-5, 6-4. Murray could meet up with Marin Cilic in the quarters. The pressure to win his first Grand Slam is growing and Murray will be looking to gain some momentum heading towards the grass at Wimbledon.

In the bottom half we have potential quarter-finals of Novak Djokovic against Sam Querrey. It will be interesting to see how Djokovic responds after blowing a two set lead over Jurgen Melzer at the French. Since winning his first and only Slam in Australia in 2008, Djokovic has consistently disappointed in the majors.

The last quarter offers us a potential Andy Roddick versus Richard Gasquet meeting – a rematch of their epic five-set Wimbledon battle from 2007 where the American was up by two sets before falling 8-6 in the fifth.

For any Canadian tennis fans, Frank Dancevic makes his first tournament appearance of 2010 after missing many months recovering from back surgery. After winning three matches in the qualies he advances to face Dustin Brown of Jamaica in the opening round. Dancevic is an able grass-court player and made the finals of Eastbourne last year where he fell to Dmitry Tursunov.

Don’t expect many surprises in either of these two tournaments as the big-names will be setting the tone for the month-long grass court season. I expect Federer to win his first non-Slam tournament of the year in Halle while I feel Andy Murray is due to put up some serious results in front of his home fans in London.

ANDY RODDICK AND SAM QUERREY ARE OPPOSITES: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Questions for Querrey – American Sam Querrey needs to find some answers as to why he’s lacking motivation, how does he find it again, and how does he do a better job of controlling his mindset when he’s out on the court. I’ll give credit to Sam for at least owning up the fact that he’s struggling to find his motivation and that he hasn’t exactly been the epitome of professionalism, even admitting that he’s tanked some points. He’s had some peaks and valleys in his 2010 season, but there’s no doubt he’s been one of the more promising young American players. To hear his latest comments was definitely disappointing. It sounds like his coach has the backbone to call Sam on it though, and hopefully between the two of them, they’re going to be able to turn things around before burnout occurs.

Grinding it Out – American Andy Roddick has been the opposite of his compatriot Sam Querrey. Roddick’s clay court preparation has been next to nil, and undoubtedly his worst since turning professional. To top it off, clay is his worst surface, and his results at Roland Garros have predominantly been dismal. When playing Fin Jarkko Nieminen, who himself has thus far had a terrible 2010 season, Roddick found himself down two sets to one. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and look towards the greener pastures of Wimbledon, but he ground it out like a true professional. In his second round, he takes on little-known Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia. Roddick had his serve broken on multiple occasions, endured a few rain delays, and even dropped the second set before finding his way to the finish line. I haven’t always been a fan of some of his outbursts on court, but I greatly admire the way he’s handled himself thus far at the French Open.

Darkness (and Chaos) Reign – It was only Day 4 of Roland Garros, but already there was high drama on Court Philippe Chatrier. Gael Monfils was up against Fabio Fognini. There was enough drama as it was, with Fognini staging a comeback after being down two sets to love. Then, at 4-4 in the fifth, tournament referee and Grand Slam supervisor Stefan Fransson made an appearance to presumably call play for the day. Instead of calling play, however, he talked it over with the players, and then, the insanity began as Fognini argued it was too dark to continue but was forced to play on anyway. In a statement made on Day 5, Fransson confirmed that both players claimed that they wished to continue playing, but that Fognini changed his mind after his box signaled to him to stop. Now maybe that constitutes illegal coaching, but I still felt for the Italian and found myself rooting for him. Of course he was initially going to claim he wanted to keep playing. He was playing a Frenchman and had a stadium full of French tennis fans who had patiently sat through rain delays earlier in the day (and were being egged on by Monfils) clamoring for the drama continue.  The situation was poorly handled by Fransson. Fognini should never have been put in the position of having to be the bad guy by asking for play to be called, and the fact that he got a point penalty for delay of game was ludicrous. I realize Monfils cannot be held accountable for the actions of tournament officials, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of justice was done when Fognini came out the victor.

(Un)dressed for Success – I’m going to join the multitudes of people commenting on Venus Williams’ latest tennis attire and go on record as saying I’m not a fan. Venus pushed the envelope with similar use of the bodysuit down in Australia, and now she’s crossed the line. Even taking into account that Venus has the figure to wear the dress, and that French Open and WTA administrators alike agree that her outfit doesn’t violate dress codes, that doesn’t make it right. Her attire is better suited to the bedroom than Court Philippe Chatrier, particularly on Kids’ Day. And as a sidebar regarding Venus’ comment that lace has never been done in tennis, she should research the stir Gussy Moran’s lace-trimmed panties made at Wimbledon just over 60 years ago. I’m happy to see that women’s tennis fashion has evolved since the time of Gussy and others, but I think in this case, the pendulum has swung a bit too far.

In Need of a Break? – That’s the question some are asking of Dinara Safina after she lost her first round match to 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm. After winning the first set, the Russian led by a break in the second and a double break in the third, but still failed to put away the cramping Japanese veteran. The good news for Safina is that she wasn’t complaining of the niggling back injury that has hampered her year, and she also seems positive about working with her new coach, former ATP pro Gastón Etlis. It’s hard to forgo competing in a Slam, but given that grass is historically her worst surface, I wonder if it wouldn’t serve Safina well to take month or so away from the game, bond more with her new coach, and get in the valuable practice time that’s has eluded her due to her back injury.

WILL GULBIS BE THE SHINING STAR FOR LATVIA?

Ernests Gulbis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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