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The Best Backhands of All-Time

"The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time"

 

Who has the greatest backhand in the history of tennis? Tennis historian and author Steve Flink throws out his thoughts on the debate ranking the top five men’s and women’s backhands of all time in his new book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME, available on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354551927&sr=8-1&keywords=greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time The except of the best backhands is excerpted below.

 

Men

1. DON BUDGE When he captured the Grand Slam in 1938—the first player ever to realize that feat—Budge had it all, but the single biggest strength in his game was his majestic backhand. Most of those players who preceded Budge at the top of tennis were better off the forehand, but his backhand was the first of its kind. His aggressiveness off that side was ground breaking in many ways. He drove the backhand essentially flat and all students of the game marveled at its magical simplicity.

2. KEN ROSEWALL The diminutive Australian’s backhand was legendary. He prepared early, turned his shoulders unfailingly, kept his eyes glued to the ball, but, most significantly, Rosewall’s backhand was a slice. Across the history of tennis, many slice backhands have been used primarily for defensive purposes, but not Rosewall’s. His slice backhand worked in every way: as a rally shot, as a passing shot, for the lob, and on the return of serve. It was multi-faceted. It was incredibly versatile. And above all else, it was unmistakably elegant.

3. JIMMY CONNORS Watching Connors launch into one of his two-handed backhand drives was one of the great joys for all erudite observers from the early seventies until the outset of the 1990’s. Connors retained the old fashioned flavor of a flat, one-handed backhand, producing flat and penetrating two-handers of unrelenting depth and immense power, yet gaining stability with his right hand. His backhand was the picture of purity. It was his signature shot.

4. NOVAK DJOKOVIC A mesmerizing athlete, Djokovic can be forced well off the court by wide balls to his two-handed backhand and still recover in time to play the shot with assertiveness and astounding control. He returns with unswerving authority off that side, and in long rallies from the baseline, his two-hander is rock solid. Djokovic finds just the right blend of flat and topspin shots with his two-handed backhand. This shot made him the great champion he became.

5. LEW HOAD and GUSTAVO KUERTEN One match away from winning the Grand Slam in 1956, Hoad at the height of his powers was impenetrable. The gifted Australian had every shot in the book, could perform brilliantly on any surface and was universally admired for his immense talent. Off the ground, his one-handed backhand was widely appreciated. He drove through the ball with an essentially flat stroke and was lethal off that side. To be sure, he was a streaky player, but when he was on, there was nothing he could not do on a tennis court, including cracking the backhand mightily. Kuerten’s one-handed backhand was the cornerstone of his game—a majestic, sweepingly beautiful, fluid, one handed stroke that carried him to three French Open crowns. Kuerten sparkled off that side, hitting winners at will, driving the ball both crosscourt and down the line with extraordinary pace and minimal topspin. His backhand was singularly inspiring in its time.

 

Women

1. CHRIS EVERT While both Connors and Borg made substantial contributions toward the cause of the two-handed backhand, it is safe to say that Evert’s impact was larger. Her success charted a new course for women’s tennis and the two-hander became a staple. But that did not mean it was easy to replicate the geometric precision of her backhand. The daughter of an outstanding teaching professional named Jimmy Evert, she worked diligently on her two-hander. It was the shot that never deserted her across the years. In rallies, her depth was unmatchable and she seldom missed. Her returns were crisp and solid and her passing shots were unimaginably precise and unerring. Meanwhile, the topspin lob was always at her disposal. In my book,  the Evert backhand was the best in the history of women’s tennis and the precursor for so many great two-handers to replicate.

2. MONICA SELES Just as Djokovic broke new ground by taming the Rafael Nadal forehand with his backhand, Seles did essentially the same thing with her lefty two-handed backhand against Graf. The German always was more comfortable running around her backhand to play the inside-out forehand, but if you could keep her pinned deep in her forehand corner, she was not able to control rallies in the same manner. Seles forced Graf to do that by virtue of the depth and speed of her two-handed backhand crosscourt, forcing Graf back on her heels. That was no mean feat. The Seles backhand was immaculately executed.

3. JUSTINE HENIN The Belgian brought an awful lot to the table of competition. She was a complete player with all of the tools to succeed in her trade. Yet her one-handed topspin backhand was her trademark. Henin’s backhand was sweepingly beautiful, a spectator’s dream, an opponent’s nightmare. She was willing to miss off that side because her goal was to make things happen off the backhand, and, if that meant making some aggressive errors, so be it. But she more than balanced the scales by sprinkling the court with clusters of topspin backhand winners, going down the line or crosscourt, long or short.

4. LINDSAY DAVENPORT At nearly 6’3,” Davenport was an imposing physical presence on a tennis court. Over the years, she became decidedly better as a tennis player and athlete by losing weight, gaining momentum in the process. Across time, her two-handed backhand was strikingly effective, particularly crosscourt. She kept it uncomplicated, going for one deep, penetrating and flat shot after another until she could break down the defenses of her adversaries.

5. EVONNE GOOLAGONG The Australian often looked like a ballerina on tennis court, but never more so than on the backhand side. She was very flexible, using the slice backhand to keep herself in rallies, raising the tempo whenever she saw an opening to release her glorious topspin backhand. She did not have to think when she hit a backhand— it was all flowing and instinctive. The Goolagong backhand remains frozen in the minds of tennis fans everywhere.

A Look Back At The Playing Career of Amelie Mauresmo

Amelie Mauresmo

With much of the Wimbledon hype surrounding Amelie Mauresmo’s coaching role with Andy Murray, we look back at the playing career of the Frenchwoman, courtesy of tennis historian Bud Collins. The following is the bio of Mauresmo from his famous book “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” set for an updated re-release later this year.

 

The only French woman to win Wimbledon other than Suzanne Lenglen (1919–23, 25) and the fifth woman of her nation to win a major, Amelie won two majors in 2006—the Australian over Justin Henin (BEL), 6-1, 2-0, ret. and Wimbledon over Henin, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Unseeded, she lost the 1999 Australian final to Martina Hingis (SUI), 6-2, 6-3, defeating No. 1 Lindsay Davenport (USA), 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinals. A superb athlete, well-rounded attacking game, she played Federation Cup 11 years, 1998-99, 2001–09 played 21 ties, posting a 30-9 singles, 2-2 doubles record. She led France to the Cup in 2003, winning two singles in 4-1 final-round win over U.S., including the decisive point, 6-2, 6-1, over Meghann Shaughnessy. In the 2005 Fed Cup final, lost to Russia 3-2, she lost the decisive doubles match with Mary Pierce to Elena Dementieva-Dinara Safina, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. A member of the French Olympic team in 2000, 2004, she won Olympic silver in women’s singles in 2004, losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She was a member of the world’s Top 10 for seven years—No. 10, 1999; No. 9, 2001; No, 6, 2002; No. 4, 2003; No. 2, 2004; No. 3, 2005-06 (briefly No. 1, 2004). She was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open three times (2002, 04-05), the French Open twice (2003-04) and the US Open four times (2001, 03-04-05). She was a semifinalist at Wimbledon twice (2004-05) and the U.S. Open twice (2002, 06). She was born in St. Germains en Laye, France on July 5, 1979. A right-hander, 5 ft. 9, 152 lbs, she turned pro in 1993 and was the world junior champ in 1996. She won 25 singles titles and three doubles pro titles and $15,022,476 in prize money. She announced her retirement at the end of the 2009 season.

MAJOR TITLES (2)—Australian singles, 2006; Wimbledon singles, 2006.

Get to know Marion Bartoli as she talks french cooking, snakes and Pierce Brosnan

Marion Bartoli at the Sony Ericsson Open (Photo credit Neal Trousdale)


Marion Bartoli is set to play Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open today, but I bet you didn’t know she likes to oil paint and her best friend on tour is Dominika Cibulkova. I had a chance to chat with the bright, enthusiastic and funny Marion this week about Pierce Brosnan, her most memorable moment on court, snakes, chocolate cake, and being a humanitarian at heart.

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Semifinal Wimbledon 2007 against Justine Henin … before everything. The court … beating the #1 in the world … meeting Pierce Brosnan after the match. (Laughs) I felt like I was on top of the world for 10, 15 minutes after the match.

What is the best part of being a pro tennis player?

Traveling, meeting different people, having the crowd cheering for you, playing in front of a packed house. (Smiles)

If you weren’t a tennis palyer, what would you be and why?

I would probably be a scientist or someone who helps other people. That’s the education I received from my parents – my dad is a doctor, my mom is a nurse. They really have passed that on to me. Both of them were volunteers in some projects for people who didn’t have enough money that had cancer and HIV. They were going there and helping them for free.

Where you able to go with your parents to any of those projects?

Yes, I was going with my dad and my mom, and helping them out. I was a young child, my brother and I did go. It was very important to me.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Pete Sampras. (Laughs) Monica Seles. I met both of them and they were extremely nice people and that would be a dream.

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

Gael Monfils (Laughs) … because he’s so funny and his dancing level is extremely high. Dominika Cibulkova because she’s my best friend on the tour. And either Rafa or Roger because I just love them. (Smiles)

What are three things you couldn’t live without?

My paints … I love to oil paint outside of tennis. I love to do it every time I have some time off. My iPod… iPhone .. iPad … actually all three of them! (Laughs) And my Louis Vuitton bag.

Is it a purse?

Yes, it’s a purse. But they made is especially for me and I have my initial on the outside of the bag in gold.

What is your biggest indulgence?

When I’m at home, I love to cook. But actually I don’t really eat it. (Smiles) So I love to cook for others, my neighborhood. Anything with chocolate would work for me. (Smiles)

What is your favorite meal to make?

I love to make chocolate cake, of course. (Smiles) I love to make some crepes, spinach-and-ricotta-filling crepes as an appetizer. And then as a main course, l’agneau– it’s like a roasted lamb, but you roll it in paper and cook it in the oven with some potatoes and some French beans. (Smiles)

What is one thing that scares you?

Spiders, snakes – I hate them, oh my gosh! (Smiles) You can’t make me hold a snake in my hand, it’s just impossible.

If they had a player promotion where you had to hold a snake —

Yes, every time in the Sony Ericsson Open they have players hold this huge snake and I’m like, ‘No! I don’t want to do this!’ The dolphin, yes. But the snakes, no! (Laughs)

 

(Photo courtesy of Neal Trousdale. To check out more photos from the Sony Ericsson Open, check out Neal’s Flickr page.)

I Love the WTA

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Maria Sharapova giggled and jumped in the snow with her Russian compatriots. Forty-one year old Kimoko Date Krumm upset Polona Hercog, ranked 42 spots above her and born 21 years after her.  Serena Williams destroyed a racket. Christina McHale served a bagel. Julia Goerges nearly upset Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, but fell just short and broke down in tears on court. The upstart and adorable British team, led by new coach Judy Murray, stormed (and tweeted) their way through their competition.  Francesca Schiavone (over)-dramatically won a match.

It was a predictably unpredictable Fed Cup weekend, what many would describe as “typical” WTA, and I loved every single minute of it.

It’s been a tumultuous few years for the most popular female sports league in the world.  In 2007 the tour seemed invincible when Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to offer the women equal pay.  However,  an unfortunate series of events have left the tour in flux ever since.  In 2008 World #1 Justine Henin abrubtly retired, leaving a vacuum at the top of the game.  With various injuries crippling The Williams Sisters and Sharapova, a group of talented young girls were thrust into the spotlight at the top of the game a bit prematurely.  The “Slamless Number One” saga overshadowed everything else, only rivaled in media coverage by the incessant shrieking debate (which often reaked of sexism).  Some of the best female athletes on the planet were constantly declared out of shape and mentally weak by the experts of the game, many of whom were former WTA stars themselves. To make matters worst, all of this turmoil transpired simultaneously with the “Golden Era” of the ATP.  The more Federer, Nadal, and recently Djokovic dominated the Slams the more it seemed to diminish whatever “product” the WTA tried to produce.

As a WTA fan it’s been a sad few years. Wait- no, I actually don’t mean that at all. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure, but it’s been a blast.

I love parity, I love unpredictability, I love my sports to come with a side of “WTF is going on here?”. I love the fact that every Grand Slam you could pick fifteen women who have a legitimate shot to hold the trophy at the end of two weeks. I love the fact that Schiavone, Li Na, and Samantha Stosur are now Grand Slam Champions. I love that Vera Zvonareva, despite a history of meltdowns that would have made her eligible for the Real Housewives of Russia, made two Grand Slam Finals and climbed to number 2 in the world.  I love that Kim Clijsters retired, had a baby, then came back to the tour and won three more Grand Slams- 3 times more than she had pre-motherhood.  I love that Sharapova has fought her back from what many feared would be a career-ending shoulder injury and now, at 24, seems poised to be a factor for years to come. I love that Serena went from hospital bed to U.S. Open Final in less than six months.  I love that Andrea Petkovic dances in victory. I love that the outspoken Agnieszka Radwanska seems to only win when she’s taped up like a mummy.  I love Petra Kvitova’s forehand, Victoria Azarenka’s backhand, Marion Bartoli’s insane serve, and yes- even Caroline Wozniacki’s moonball. (Sometimes).

I love that the best days are yet to come.  Champions and superstars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are sill hungry and fighting for titles. Azarenka and Kvitova, twenty-two and twenty-one respectively, seem unfazed by the pressure of expectations.  Clijsters is with us for the rest of the year (and I still not-so-secretly hope for more) and will be extra motivated to win her first French Open and/or Wimbledon trophy.  Venus Williams might not ever win another Slam again, but it won’t be without trying like a true Champion to deal with her Sjogren’s Syndrome and find a way to compete on the top level again.  Wozniacki will (surely) be determined to regain her spot at the top of the rankings and earn that elusive Slam.  Li, Schiavone, and Stosur will all be eager to get rid of the “One Slam Wonder” label.  And then of course there’s Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Any given Slam.

I don’t think that dominance is the only way to measure success.  I don’t think that unpredictability is always a sign of weakness. If you disagree with the prior statements then that’s fine, but I do think that these female athletes deserve heaps more respect than they get on a regular basis.

Yes, I unabashedly love the WTA, flaws and all.

Venus and Serena Williams make comeback in Eastbourne, Ana Ivanovic back on track, Sabine Lisicki is a hot shot

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And while the Xperia Hotshots girls keep promoting the Sony Ericsson Xperia phone, the XperiaHotShots keeps adding them great videos of the Xperia girls on their YouTube channel. Ofcourse yours truly can’t stay behind and uploads them. Well it’s that and not uploading the videos for your viewing pleasure would be a serious crime.

Sabine Lisicki goes out to get herself interviewed

Here is Sabine Lisicki getting interviewed by a bunch of random people and I have to say that Sabine is a real looker in my opinion.  The video was taken at Roland Garros and it is most probably shot before Lisicki collapsed on court because of an allergic reaction to gluten. The poor girl had to be taken off the court by a stretcher.  I hope she feels better now. The video certainly shows a very sweet Sabine!

it’s the Roland Garros French Open ’11 and Xperia Hot Shot Sabine Lisicki takes a break from practice to give some lucky fans the chance to ask her some questions.

Ever wondered what Sabine has for tea before a match or who her tennis idols are? This is the video to watch!

Xperia Hot Shots follows six young female tennis players on the WTA 2011 tour as they embark on the road to superstardom.

Venus and Serena Williams make come back to WTA Tour

Might the WTA Tour ever go bankrupt they can always rebrand themselves as The Comeback Tour. Why? Well look at the comebacks of the past few years. I am always happy to see amazing players return. Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis, they all came back from retirement. Serena and Venus Williams came back from longtime injuries. Venus was injured on her hip while sister Serena had footsurgery and bloodcloths in her lungs removed. Venus and Serena are two of the most succesful players in women’s tennis ever and their return will definitely spice things up on the WTA Tour. The biggest question that comes to mind is: Can the sisters reach the level of play that won them so many prizes? I guess we willl have to wait and see but until then Caroline Wozniacki be warned…the Williams sisters are coming back to claim that number one spot!

They are two of the defining players of their generation, and they are both returning to action at this week’s AEGON International in Eastbourne. Yes, Venus and Serena Williams are back! We followed them on to the practice courts as they began preparations for their first round matches on the Eastbourne grass.

And is it finally going to happen? Will Ana Ivanovic finally come back to the top?

Even though Ana Ivanovic lost versus Daniela Hantuchova at the AEGON Classic in three sets 6-7 6-3 6-2, it was great to see her reach the semis of a tennis tournament again. And she played great this entire week as well. I guess the wrist and abdomen injury are old news. That’s pretty good because Wimbledon is around the corner and Ana once made the semis.

Ana feels great to be back in Birmingham.

“It’s work in progress,” said Ivanovic, who withdrew from the doubles competition to minimize the chances of a recurrence of her recent wrist problems. “I had a few disappointing losses on clay, but I am just enjoying competing again on grass.

“It brings a lot of nice memories for me,” the former Wimbledon semifinalist added. “Since the first match I have felt good about myself, and my game. I am just trying to enjoy it.”

Ana is also looking for a new coach that can bring some stability. I hope she will find one and stay consistently in the top 10 because that would be her rightful place. But it is a place that is earned by performing good on a consistent basis.

Women to Score Big at Olympics, Henin in Mourning and Raonic’s Maiden Title

Former no.1 Justine Henin

Olympics High Ranking for Women:

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has announced that for the third-straight competition ranking points will be available to all women competing at 2012 Olympics in London. They hope the move will entice all the top players to participate. Entry criteria has also been altered to allow four singles players and two doubles pairings to partake from each competing country. ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said: “More top women will be eligible to compete in London, which is good.” The ITF is now in talks with the ATP to strike a similar deal for the men’s players.

Henin “Mourning” Her Career:

Former world No. 1 Justine Henin has described her feelings following her second retirement from the sport as being in “mourning.” An elbow injury suffered at last year’s Wimbledon failed to heal properly and forced the 29-year-old to announce her leaving after her defence of the Aussie Open ended in round three against Svetlana Kuznetsova. “I regard ending my career more like a sentence that’s been handed down than a decision I’ve made,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner. It is also ironic that the injury which ended her career was suffered whilst playing her long-time nemesis turned friend Kim Clijsters. “The will is there, but physically I can’t [carry on]. Now I have to mourn the end of my career. I’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career but this time, at 29, I just can’t go on. You have to be reasonable about things. When I came back from Australia, I had consultations with three different doctors. It got to the point that I needed 10 minutes in the morning just to get my elbow functional. The ligament wasn’t solid enough to handle the intensity of the game. I’m going to miss all the great feelings you have as a professional tennis player. I hope I’ll pick the racquet up again one day, but more than anything I want to live a normal life.” We wish one of the greatest talents to grace the women’s game luck in whatever ventures she now chooses to pursue.

Raonic Nips Debut Title:

The star of 20-year-old Milos Raonic continues to rise after the Canadian shocked Fernando Verdasco and much of the tennis world to lift the SAP Open in San Jose last week. The 20-year-old secured a 7-6(6), 7-6(5) victory in a tightly contested final to become the first Canadian since Greg Rusedski to lift an ATP Tour title. It also makes him the youngest victor since a 19-year-old Marin Cilic triumphed at New Haven in 2008. The match ended in somewhat controversial circumstances. Raonic hit a blockbuster 138mph serve which Verdasco got his racquet too. However, just before string met ball a spectator screamed “yes” and the Spaniard netted the return. The umpire refused to replay the point leaving the world No. 9 furious. “It came quicker than expected and it was amazing, I can’t stop smiling” said Raonic of lifting an ATP title. “I hope I can keep it going more than six weeks, for a full year schedule, and see where I am at the end of the year. I can play at this level. It’s going to be tough to jump into the top 10 right now but I think I’m on the right way. I have some things I want to work on but I’m happy with my week and I’ll always remember this. This is what I’ve always dreamed of.” Verdasco was surprisingly gracious in defeat given the final proceedings: “I saw the big potential he had in Australia,” Verdasco said of Raonic’s fourth-round achievement at the Aussie Open. “He deserved the victory here. He was hitting big serves but he also had so many forehand winners. I tried it all but couldn’t do anything more. He played too well.” Raonic yesterday (Wednesday) repeated the result at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis.

Soderling Finally a Defender:

Swedish star Robin Soderling successfully defended an ATP title for the first time in his career last weekend as he overcame Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the final of the ABN AMRO World tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. Soderling has now clinched two titles this year (he also took Brisbane) equalling his season best total from 2010. “I had many tough matches this week,” said the 26-year-old. “I had to fight a lot for every match. I was lucky, I had the margins on my side. I think to win tournaments like this, you need to of course play well, but you need a little bit of luck as well.” Rotterdam is proving a fruitful city for Soderling who also reached the final here in 2008, losing to Michael Llodra. “I’ve had two wins and one final, it’s very good, I like it here a lot,” he said. “It suits my game and when you come to a place where you’ve played well before it brings out good feelings. Of course it’s tough trying to defend the title, it adds some extra pressure, but I felt good and had only positive feelings.” Full fallout can be read at the ATP website.

Pennetta to make History:

Doubles beauty Flavia Pennetta will make history on Monday when she climbs above her partner Gisela Dulko to claim the No. 1 ranking in doubles. It will be the first time ever that an Italian, male or female, has sat at the top of the pile in either singles or doubles. This week last year, Dulko won the Bogata Championships alongside Edina Gallovits-Hall. As she is not playing this week those points have fallen off her total and so Pennetta will climb above her. This follows on from the pair’s maiden Grand Slam at Melbourne Park where they overcame Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko in the final.

Kvitova Stuns Supermum:

Petra Kvitova lifted her third, and biggest, WTA Tour title with a shock 6-4, 6-3 win over Kim Clijsters at the Open GDF SUEZ in Paris last weekend. “I’m very happy to win my second title of the year, and it doesn’t get much better than beating the new No.1 in the final,” said the No. 4 seed. “I thought I played very well. I played my game, fast and aggressive, as I couldn’t let her dominate. It’s very special to defeat Kim in the final. I’d like to thank my team and I would like to dedicate this victory to my grandfather, who passed away last week.” Clijsters was gracious in defeat: “My opponent was just better today,” she said. “I couldn’t play my best because she put so much pressure on me. I had to go for it because if I put it in her hitting zone, she was dominating. If she continues to play like that, she will be Top 10 before long. She is so much fitter and moves better than last year.” More can be read at the WTA website.

Hantuchova Back in Business:

Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova was celebrating last weekend after her first title in nearly four years at the PTT Pattaya Open in Thailand. After overcoming the top seed Vera Zvonereva in a mammoth semifinal encounter she faced Sara Errani in the title decider. It was slightly more straightforward for her as she ran out a 6-0, 6-2 victory in just an hour and 16 minutes. “I was really hungry to get another title,” the 27-year-old said. “I was focused and aggressive from the start. I won the whole tournament in straight sets, which is a good sign. After the injury at the start of the year, this feels great. I had a good pre-season and now it’s paying off. I just never doubted myself. The match with Vera was a little final I would say, but I have to give credit to Sara, she played well the whole tournament. I hope to come back to Pattaya City. I didn’t have time to see anything of Thailand, so hopefully I come back not just for the tournament, but also holidays!”

Zvonereva Living the Dream:

In a column for the Gulf Times world No. 3 Vera Zvonereva has been discussing life as a tennis celebrity. “I believe there is a big side of talking to the media which isn’t about getting column inches,” wrote the Russian. “Sometimes I think we have to do interviews, sign autographs and have pictures taken as a way of giving back to the fans. That’s important. I also think it’s a two-way thing. The media must respect when enough is enough and give us our privacy. You learn how much to give as you get older. When you are young you give too much. It has to be a balanced relationship. You have to know where to draw the line because everyone wants a piece of you. I will always be a girl who doesn’t need the attention but I’ll always give what I can for my fans. They want to know who I am, see I’m a normal person who does normal things. I have a personality and I’m not afraid to show it.”

Murray Not Mint for Dubai:

Andy Murray has withdrawn from next week’s Dubai Championships with a wrist problem, his official website has confirmed.

Sharapova Back at The Priory:

World No. 13 Maria Sharapova has once again committed to playing the AEGON Classic at the Edgbaston Priory this summer as preparation for Wimbledon. It is the eighth time in nine years she will play the event, having previously won it in 2004 and 2005. “I’m excited to be playing once again,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s one of my favourite pre-slam tournaments. I always get such a warm welcome in Birmingham at the event and from the people in the city.” Sharapova was also a finalist here in 2007 and 2010.

Gasquet Orders An Italian:

French star Richard Gasquet has hired the Italian Riccardo Piatti as his new coach after splitting with Eric Deblicker recently, reports L’Equipe. Piatti is the man responsible for guiding the giant Croat Ivan Ljubicic to No. 3 in the world. “Everybody knows Richard’s an excellent player,” Piatti said. “He’s still young and had to live with huge expectations because of his early success. He has to be given time to grow and better manage his emotions.” Gasquet will also continue to take advice from former Top 10 player Sebastien Grosjean.

Bhupathi Gets the Universe:

Doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi has married for a second time, wedding former Miss Universe Lara Dutta in a ceremony attended only by the two families.

Mauresmo Dismayed with Roland Garros Decision:

Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has voiced her dismay at the French Tennis Federation’s decision last Sunday to keep the French Open at Roland Garros past 2016, reports Reuters. The areas of Versailles, Gonesse and Marne-la-Vallee also bid to hold the tournament but were beaten off despite all offering areas larger in size for development. “I think that in Paris today we don’t have the possibility to have the necessary space to develop Roland Garros,” said the two-time Grand Slam winner. “We are the smallest of the four Grand Slams and I think it is important to have the chance to grow, and for the public to have more room.”

WTT No.1 Heaven:

Ten current and former world No. 1s will compete in this year’s World Tennis Tournament with Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova agreeing to compete in the competition beginning in July. Hingis will play for the John McEnroe-led New York Sportimes alongside Kim Clijsters. Serena and Venus Williams as well as Sam Querrey will represent the Washington Kastels while Kournikova and Lindsay Davenport will turn out for the St. Louis Aces alongside competition debuting Mark Philippoussis. Melanie Oudin will also make her WTT debut this year, starring for the Philadelphia Freedoms. Pete Sampras will play for the Newport Beach Breakers, competing for the first time since 2007, and Bob and Mike Bryan again play for the defending Champions Kansas City Explorers. Mardy Fish will battle for the Sacramento Capitals and John Isner and James Blake will represent the Boston Lobsters.

Third Time Lucky For Blake?:

James Blake is now making a third and final attempt at a return to the ATP Tour following yet another long injury lay-off. The injury-prone 31-year-old missed most of 2010 but was back in action last week at San Jose. Matt Cronin of Tennis Reporters fame caught up with him to find out his thinking behind the decision. Read the great article over at the Fox Sports site.

Rankings Watch:

The Austrian Jurgen Melzer is the new world No. 10 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings following close of play in Rotterdam. He leapfrogs the Russian Mikhail Youzhny. The Serbian Viktor Troicki leaps five to No. 19 while Andreas Seppi of Italy is in to the Top 50 at No. 47. Milos Raonic’s maiden title at San Jose sees him leap 25 places to No. 59 in the world and Simone Bolelli and the Argentinean pair of Brian Dabul and Leonardo Mayer are up in to the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings Kim Clijsters has climbed above Caroline Wozniacki to become world No. 1 for the first time since she came out of retirement. It is the fourth time in her career she has sat on top of the sport. Petra Kvitova’s shock win over Clijsters in Paris sees her climb 4 to No. 14. The Ukraine’s Alona Bondarenko is in to the Top 50 with Anna Chakvetadze dropping out. Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan jumps from No. 72 to No. 64 and Jelena Dokic, Laura Pous-Tio and Ksenia Pervak enter the Top 100, Dokic climbing from No. 120 to No. 91.

GOAT Race Update:

Again, neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal was in action last week so the scores remain as they were.

Roger: 330 Rafa: 130

Na Li the 1st Chinese Woman to Reach a Grand Slam Singles Final – The Friday Five

Na Li

By Maud Watson

Rafa Derailed

Rafael Nadal’s quest for a fourth straight major ended with a whimper as he was easily dismissed in straight sets by compatriot David Ferrer. While the opening games of the match seemed to indicate some stellar tennis was ahead, it was ultimately tainted by an injury Nadal developed in the second or third game. But Nadal fans shouldn’t despair. He left the Aussie Open under more dire circumstances last year and went on to have the season of his career. And in the end, the greatest amount of credit has to go to David Ferrer. From the first ball, he looked sharp, and there’s no doubt that even against a healthy Nadal, Ferrer was in with a fighter’s chance to cause the upset. Even more impressive was Ferrer’s ability to stay the course when it became apparent his opponent was injured – something that can often throw off a player’s game. So congratulations to David Ferrer on what has been a phenomenal start to his 2011 season.

Comeback Cut Short

In one of the more stunning and sad pieces of news this week, Justine Henin announced her permanent retirement from professional tennis. The Belgian was forced into the decision by the elbow injury that she sustained at last year’s Wimbledon, which she has had to accept will never allow her to play at her best. Looking back, few could have foreseen that when she took that dive on the grass lawns of the All England Club – traditionally the best surface for such risks – it would have such a devastating effect. Her run to the finals of the Australian Open last year showed early promise of what she was still capable of, and her variety and fighting spirit will be greatly missed. Many fans wish her all the best, and no doubt she’ll still find plenty of ways to give to the sport for years to come.

Never Say Die

There have been a number of entertaining and tight matches over the course of the opening major of 2011, but certainly the match of the tournament has to be the 4:44 match contested by Svetlana Kutznetsova and Francesca Schiavone. In what turned out to be the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history, the two competitors saved their best for the last set. The cliché would say that it was a shame someone had to lose, and that’s true. But how great was Schiavone to find a way to cross the finish line? She came back from consecutive match points down on more than one occasion, and she overcame the disappointment of failing to serve it out. Her heart, personality, and refusal to fold should endear her to fans everywhere, and as one of the tour’s veterans, she did an excellent job of rebounding to push Caroline Wozniaki to three sets in her following match. Another major is a big ask, but keep your eye on Schiavone. Lightening may just strike twice.

Chinese Breakthrough

Congratulations to Na Li who saved a match point to come back from the brink against top seed Caroline Wozniaki in the semifinals of the Aussie Open. The win earned Na Li the distinction of becoming the first Chinese woman to contest a Grand Slam singles final. Her opponent in the final will be the same woman she stunned less than a month ago for the Sydney title, Kim Clijsters. Despite Li’s recent good fortune against the Belgian, there’s little doubt that with three Grand Slam singles titles already under her belt, Clijsters will still be the heavy favorite. Assuming that nerves don’t overcome Li, it should be an entertaining and hard-hitting match. And win or lose, expect Li to give an entertaining speech when it’s all said and done, as her post-match interviews have provided some of the most entertaining moments of these championships.

Turning of the Page?

With Djokovic’s win over Federer in the semifinals, the murmurs are starting that perhaps a changing of the guard is afoot. After all, his win marks the first time since 2003 that Federer can’t claim to be the reigning champion of at least one major. Federer’s loss also means that for just the third time since 2005, a Grand Slam men’s singles final will be contested by two players who aren’t named Federer or Rafael Nadal. Throw in renewed concerns surrounding how much more pounding Nadal’s body can take with his style of play, and signs would seem to indicate that the time may be ripe for players like Djokovic, Murray, Soderling and others to start moving to the front of the line. But don’t count out Nadal’s and Federer’s major chances yet. Nadal may bounce back from injury as he’s often done in the past. And there’s no shame in Federer losing to No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Both men are still going to be the top favorites at virtually every tournament they enter – perhaps just not heavy favorites. If anything, this year’s opening major would seem to signal a few more shakeups at the top of the game, and it’s going to be a very interesting season.

Li and Clijsters to Play for Aussie Open Title

Li Na

By Blair Henley

Li Na may get that shopping spree after all.

With her 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 semifinal win over world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Li has become China’s first Grand Slam singles finalist. And she’s one win away from getting free reign with her credit card as promised by husband/coach, Jiang Shan – the same guy who she says contributed to her early struggles in Thursday’s match.

“I didn’t have a good evening last night. My husband sleep like [snoring noise], you know? I wake up every hour,” she joked in her on-court interview.

Wozniacki served for the match at 5-4, 40-30 in the second set, having taken advantage of repeated mistakes from her opponent’s forehand side. But Li, seeded 9th, more than made up for her 51 unforced errors by striking 42 winners over the course of the match. Wozniacki had only 10 winners – none coming in the third set.

So what inspired Li’s comeback performance?

“Prize money,” she said as the crowd roared with laughter.

The win extends the 28-year-old’s record in 2011 to 11-0 and marks the third time she has topped Wozniacki since the beginning of 2010. Though the 20-year-old Dane will keep her No. 1 ranking, the loss proves once more that she lacks firepower when she needs it most.

Li will meet Kim Clijsters for the Australian Open title in a rematch of their bizarre final in Sydney just two weeks ago. The Chinese beat the Belgian 7-6, 6-3 after coming back from a 5-0 deficit in the first set.

Clijsters looked sharp in her 6-3, 6-3 semifinal win over Vera Zvonareva, but she wasn’t the only Belgian making news. Her countrywoman Justine Henin has announced her retirement due to an elbow injury.

“My elbow is too fragile and hurt,” she said on her website. “Having followed the advice of doctors it is now clear and I accept that here my career ends.”

She will be missed.

Justine Henin Retires: Sound Familiar, Right?

Justine Henin wipes away tear as she announced her second retirement

Tennis is a sport for insomniacs. It’s played nearly all year and at all hours, so if you so much as blink, or in most cases take a nap, you might miss something monumentally important. Lately, I seem to have slept through some of the most shocking moments in tennis and last night was no different. When I finally got around to checking twitter, I had to ask myself whether this was 2011 or 2008. The very first tweet that I saw was from @WTATour saying, “Seven-time Grand Slam champion @Justine_Henin has announced her retirement from professional tennis. You’ll be missed Justine!”

In case you’ve been living in a hole, I’ll explain. Between 2003 and 2007, Justine Henin won seven Grand Slam titles, including 4 French Opens, 2 US Opens, and 1 Australian Open, as well as an Olympic gold medal and 2 WTA Championships. Going into the 2008 season, Henin was celebrating one year as the No. 1 player in the world. She appeared to have a near lock on the title at Roland Garros and was generally pegged as the favorite for that year’s tournament. Then, just one week before the start of the clay court major, Henin called a press conference and announced her retirement from tennis. This was truly shocking. It’s not often that the No. 1 player in the world, at the age of 25, opts to call it quits, particularly the week before her favorite Slam. Actually, Henin was the only woman to retire while still ranking No. 1.

At the time of her first retirement, she stated, “I am leaving as the world No. 1 and that is important as it is always better to go out at the top, I leave without any regrets and I know it is the right decision.” Clearly, she had regrets because at the end of the 2009 season, she announced her return to tennis in 2010. She was motivated by the idea of finally winning Wimbledon and achieving a career Grand Slam, as Roger Federer had done in 2009. She intended to continue playing through the 2012 Olypmics.

Justine’s comeback seemed almost as good as Kim Clijsters’ when she reached the final at the Australian Open, only her second tournament back on tour. She seemed well on track to finally attain the illusive career Grand Slam at Wimbledon. But things came to a crashing halt when she injured her elbow after falling in her 4th round match against compatriot Kim Clijsters. The injury was grave and cost Henin the rest of the season, but there was little doubt that she would return to the tour healthy and get back to her winning ways. Henin warned the world that she came to Australia not 100%, but ready to compete. Unfortunately, her Australian Open ended early when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd round.

Somehow Justine managed to shock us all over again this morning, by announcing her retirement from professional tennis, again. This time, there will be no coming back. Justine released a letter to her fans saying, “After having well considered and following the advice of doctors, it is now clear and I accept that my career here … … finally ends. Even though it’s hard, very hard, while I came back with a tremendous fighting spirit. I’m sorry … I had hoped for a different return and dreamed of a different ending. I will need time to process all this, but I remain convinced that even with little progress, my level with my return did not meet my expectations, despite everything I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 months.”

Whether you’re a fan or not, Justine is a great champion and has contributed a great deal to this sport. It’s a real shame that resurgence was cut short because of an injury. I offer the best of luck to Justine in her future endeavors.

2011: The Year of the Comebacks – The Friday Five

Justine Henin

By Maud Watson

Quick out of the Gates

It’s a new year, it’s a new tennis season, and the men of the ATP World Tour are wasting no time in dusting away any cobwebs that may have formed during the short off season. With the exception of Fernando Verdasco, the Top 10 men who played in the opening week of competition have looked solid as they prepare for the opening Grand Slam of 2011. As an added treat, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off in the final of the Abu Dhabi exhibition event, much to the delight of the crowd and fans around the world. Nadal emerged triumphant in a tight two-set encounter that seemed to promise plenty of fireworks to come in their captivating rivalry.

Slow off the Mark

The exact opposite of the men’s tour at the moment would be the women of the WTA. Tennis superstar Serena Williams isn’t even playing, but some of her main rivals are failing to find their footing and take advantage of the American’s absence. Top players like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sam Stosur, Shahar Peer, and even Maria Sharapova (though she was returning from a long injury layoff) have all been bounced early in their warm-up events for the Aussie Open. Then again, the women’s season ended on a relatively topsy-turvy note, so it would appear that 2011 is merely picking up where 2010 left off.

Comebacks

One of the WTA’s top stars who is enjoying some solid play is veteran Justine Henin. The Belgian is representing her home nation in the Hopman Cup mixed team competition, and while she admits that she is not yet 100%, she’s happy to be back and competing. For having not played since last year’s Wimbledon, Henin has looked decent, and with the way the rest of the women’s field is currently performing, don’t count out last year’s Australian Open finalist as a dark horse to go one better in Melbourne. On the men’s side and also competing in the Hopman Cup is Australian Lleyton Hewitt. “Rusty” is raring to go and happy to report that he’s feeling great out on the court once again. He believes he can make it back into the Top 10, and while that’s certainly a tough task, there are few players who can match the determination and intensity of the man who holds the distinction of being the youngest to finish as World No. 1.

Charitable Hearts

While the two charity exhibition matches between Federer and Nadal took place last December, it’s worth taking one more moment to further recognize their willingness to serve others. Theirs is a rivalry that is one of the greatest that the sport has ever seen, and it is extremely polarizing to many of their fans. Yet the two men at the heart of it are able to see well beyond what the annals of the game will say long after their careers are done. As Pat McEnroe pointed out while doing commentary for the match in Switzerland, you never would have seen his brother doing such a thing with the likes of Jimmy Connors or Ivan Lendl while in the prime of their careers. It speaks volumes for both Federer and Nadal that they are willing to give up a bit of their off season and risk giving away any edge they may have in their games in an effort to raise money, hope and awareness for those less fortunate.

Miscellany

Two other tidbits worth mentioning occurred over the course of the off season. First, a good-bye to the quirky German Nicolas Kiefer. The former World No. 4 has suffered injury problems with his wrist and has decided to call it a day. With a wife and a new baby daughter, one can hardly blame him. He was a joy to watch, and he will be missed. The second item is an early welcome back to Wayne Odesnik. Odesnik was to have still been serving a suspension for importing HGH into Australia, but the ITF reduced his ban, explaining that there had been “substantial assistance provided by Mr. Odesnik in relation to the enforcement of professional rules of conduct.” It will be interesting to see how he is received as he tries to make his way back on tour.

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