Justine Henin

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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.

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

Justine Henin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dementieva’s Retirement: Foreshadowing What’s to Come?

Elena Dementieva

After the final round robin match of the Doha Championships, all of the players gathered on the court for a special announcement. Elena Dementieva, a stalwart of the women’s tennis tour, was about to upset the delicate balance of the tennis world by announcing her retirement, effective immediately. In a very touching ceremony, Elena thanked her supporters while the audience, her mom, Vera, and the other YEC competitors looked on. Everyone, even stony faced Sam Stosur, looked a bit teary eyed by the end Elena’s speech.

Elena’s abrupt departure set the tennis world abuzz. Were there more high profile retirements on the horizon? Later that day, Kim Clijsters announced that she would wrap up her career, for the second time, after the 2012 Olympics. Thanks for the warning Kim, but you’re at least a year ahead of yourself. Talk about the longest goodbye tour ever.

The way I see it, neither extreme is the way to go. I’m not a huge fan of Elena Dementieva, but even I felt jilted by her sudden exit. I wanted a farewell tour damn it, but not two years worth of farewell. We’ve seen both mistakes before. Justine Henin almost retroactively announced her retirement even though she was the world number one at the time, depriving fans of a proper goodbye. On the other hand, Marat Safin, a former number one player, gave us a full season’s notice, and by the end of the season he’d been asked so many retirement questions that the actual day couldn’t come fast enough. If you want my suggestion, the best time for a player to announce their retirement is before the last major event they plan to play. Clearly there are exceptions to any rule, but this allows the player a proper farewell in front of a large crowd and gives fans enough time to accept the inevitable.

As much as I hate to say it, I think the next couple of years are going to be full of these tearful goodbyes. Many of our favorite players are pushing 30 and for tennis players, that’s just about ancient. Here are a few of my best guesses as to who will be trading in their racket for retirement in the coming years.

The Honor Roll

My honorable mentions go out to players who will almost certainly retire Slamless, but who have given us a great deal of entertainment and heart over the years.

Tommy Haas

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Tommy play anymore tennis, which is unfortunate because he deserves a nice send off. This former top 10 player is already 32 years old and his ranking has dropped down into the 300s after undergoing hip surgery earlier this year. Nothing’s out of the question, but the chances of Tommy coming back strong at this point are slim.

James Blake

This 30 year old New Yorker has had recurring knee issues and lackluster results this year. I attended James’ 3rd round match against Novak Djokovic at this year’s US Open and I couldn’t help but think of it as a kind of last hurrah. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake pulls the plug any minute now.

Nikolay Davydenko

Davydenko broke his wrist earlier this year, which kept him out for the majority of the season, but his ranking has stayed high. The 29 year old has often been considered a contender for a major title but has always fallen short, way short, when it comes to the Grand Slams. I’m basing this one solely on age, not performance. If he stays in shape and avoids more injuries, Nikolay could prove me wrong.

The Cum Laude Society

Venus Williams

I may not shed a tear over this one, but I know someone will. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Williams sisters, an opinion based purely on behavior, not talent. However, I also don’t really know how to picture the tennis world without Venus and little sister Serena. Venus turned 30 this year and underwent knee surgery after this year’s US Open. She actually posted great results at the Slams this year, reaching two quarterfinals and a semifinal, but I question how much longer she can keep it up. I have a feeling Venus will let us know pretty early on when she plans to retire. She strikes me as the type that wants a long farewell tour.

Lleyton Hewitt

This one will be a little bit tougher. Lleyton Hewitt’s a pretty likeable guy, so I’d imagine fans will be sad to see him go. I mean who can resist the Aussie accent? Hewitt was once number one in the world but his career has been riddled with injuries. Lleyton’s career peaked early on when he became the youngest man ever to be ranked number one at the age of 20, the same year he picked up the US Open title and the World Tour Finals. He followed up those results by winning Wimbledon in 2002 and defending his WTF title. I wouldn’t exactly say that things have been downhill since then, but a man who’s won two Grand Slam singles titles does not aspire to be ranked 50th in the world and very rarely making an appearance in the second week of a major. Lleyton’s wife recently gave birth to their third child and I have a feeling that this 29 year old’s tennis days are numbered. I hope that Hewitt gives us a little notice and decides to wrap things up at the Australian Open. He deserves a good hometown send off.

Andy Roddick

I’m dreading this, a lot. Andy has always been one of my favorite tennis players and I’ve always felt he had the talents to win several Grand Slams. Roddick triumphed at the 2003 US Open against Juan Carlos Ferrero, but in every subsequent Grand Slam final he’s been thwarted by Roger Federer. The current total is at four, three Wimbledon and one US Open. Most recently, in what I consider to be one of the most heartbreaking matches of all time, Andy lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final 16-14 in the deciding set. As much as I would love to see Roddick keep playing for years to come, Andy has said that he will not overstay his welcome in the tennis world. If he cannot maintain a high ranking, Andy will retire. Lucky for us, Andy is currently still in the top 10 and on course to appear in his eighth consecutive World Tour Final, so maybe we’ll get a few more years.

Roger Federer

Honestly, I don’t even want to discuss this. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player and really the reason I fell in love with tennis. I think he’s the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had and an incredible example of what a star athlete should be. For me, Federer’s retirement will leave a gaping hole in the tennis world. Even if you’re a Rafa fan, you should be able to appreciate that the famous rivalry has helped make both players as great as they are today. Luckily, Federer is on a quest for the one trophy that has eluded him, an Olympic gold medal. Although, he did recently say that winning one more Wimbledon is actually more important to him than the Olympic gold. Roger has confirmed that he will definitely continue playing through the 2012 Olympics, but after that all bets are off. I personally believe Fed is not done winning Grand Slams and would love to see him go out on a high note (maybe a late career title at Wimbledon, I think that would be fitting.) However, if he’s not winning, I can’t imagine Roger will stick around. Currently he possesses a record 16 major titles and is ranked number two in the world. If his ranking starts to slip and he starts losing to nobodies, you can count on his retirement. Finally, Roger better not pull any of this surprise retirement crap. I have yet to see Federer play live and I fully intend to do so before he retires, so I’m going to need plenty of notice.

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