ken skupski

Blooming in to Life Once Again

All we have been hearing over recent months is negativity surrounding British tennis.

Tales of rotten apples in the barrel, failed youngsters, squandered millions and a country lost in a downward spiral of tennis faux pas which shows no signs of halting but for the increasingly confident performances of lone star Andy Murray.

Yet this week at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, a name nobody but the staunchest statisticians of British tennis will have been following is making a name for himself in the heat and humidity of east-coast America.

Current world No. 557 Richard Bloomfield will today (Friday) face young American Ryan Harrison in the last quarterfinal with the opportunity to face either American number 5 seed Mardy Fish (remember him from Queens?) or the Canadian Frank Dancevic in the semifinals.

Hang on, a Brit in the semifinals of a tournament other than Andy Murray? Continual sob-story Alex Bogdanovic failed to reach even the main draw here, going down in the final round of qualifying. So just who is this guy?

Richard Bloomfield was born April 27, 1983 in the small village of Alpington, just outside the beautiful Norfolk city of Norwich. He won the British Junior Tennis Championships in 2001, defeating that man Bogdanovic in the final, and picked up the equivalent title in doubles with Ken Skupski, now one half of the promising Flemski partnership alongside Colin Fleming.

He began playing on the senior tour that year and his first full ATP Tournament was the 2003 Wimbledon Championships where he gained a wildcard before losing to Anthony Dupuis in the first round.

In 2006 he reached round two of Wimbledon with a win over Carlos Berlocq which was investigated by authorities over strange betting patterns but no wrong-doing was ever discovered. That year he also reached the semifinals of the ATP Challenger Event at Rennes where he lost to rising French star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

2007 saw him reach his first ATP Challenger final in Wrexham, Wales, where he lost to Michal Prysiezny which saw him rise to a career-high 176 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings. He then partnered Jonathan Marray to the third round of the 2007 Wimbledon doubles Championships.

His ranking fell considerably over the next couple of years until he qualified for the 2009 Open 13 where he agonisingly lost 6-7, 6-7 to the Italian Simon Bolelli in the first round. Back injuries hampered him and his ranking fell further but then he surprisingly qualified for this year’s Hall of Fame Championships where he is beginning to make a name for himself again.

In reaching the quaterfinals he has recorded his first wins on the ATP Tour since that 2006 Wimbledon Championships and at 27 this will be a welcome boost for a man whose confidence must have been looking at rock bottom.

And hasn’t he done well. He is yet to drop a set. A 7-6 (1), 6-1 first-round win over Belgian Christophe Rochus, brother of Olivier, set up a second-round clash with second seed and world No. 56 Santiago Giraldo which nobody would have expected him to come out of. But this might just be his week. He won 6-3, 7-6 (5) and now marches in to this quarterfinal with Harrison with a renewed vigour and swagger he won’t have been feeling for a long while.

It is high time we had something positive to shout about for Britain and it’s always great to see somebody who looked down and out have a moment in the sun (literally as the temperature gauges out there are showing). If he overcomes Harrison and then Fish/Dancevic then he will be in his first final since 2007, and his first ever on the full ATP Tour. There either Olivier Rochus will be looking to avenge the slaying of his brother Christophe or Argentine Brian Dabul will be looking to put his own name up in lights.

So march on Richard, your country is firmly behind you!

THE ANA/JELENA FEUD, AMERICANS, MURRAY LOOKING AHEAD TO GRASS: TENNIS PEOPLE

* The Ana Ivanovic-Jelena Jankovic feud seems to have resurfaced following their encounter at Roland Garros. Following their second-round match at the Madrid Masters last month Jankovic appeared to mock Ivanovic’s famed fist-pump celebration which her Serbian Fed-Cup teammate took umbrage to. When questioned about it this week Ivanovic said: “You know what they say: ‘Sport doesn’t build character. It shows it’.” Jankovic, however, still stands by her action: “Every player has their way of motivating themselves and pumping themselves up,” Jankovic said at her press conference. “But I don’t think it’s nice to put the fist in their face. If I win a point or something, I don’t go like that in your face,” she added whilst holding up her fists to the media.  You can view the video of Jelena Jankovic mocking Ana Ivanovic’ fist pump here:

* Some updates from the large tennis presence on Twitter. Justin Gimelstob is predicting a big grass-court season for Americans following the performances of some of their lower ranked players in France. Kim Clijsters has announced she is back in training, albeit with her foot strapped up, while Brit pair Ken Skupski and Colin Fleming stated that: “our love for tennis could not be larger but we’re hurting bad” after their defeat in the French Open doubles.

*According to an ESPN.com poll, 77 per cent of viewers would not buy the controversial lace dress sported by Venus Williams at this year’s French Open.

* With the British media already (harshly) dissecting Andy Murray’s defeat to Tomas Berdych at Roland Garros, the big names in tennis have been offering their views on his fourth-round defeat. Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey still believes Murray will be a strong contender for this year’s Wimbledon despite recent performances. “Wimbledon presents a great opportunity, potentially his best, to win it,” he told BBC Sport. “I expect him to at least be in the semis. Once you get through to the semis, it’s game on for everyone. On reflection, the conditions didn’t help him too much against Berdych. You’ve got to give a lot of credit for the way Berdych went after the match and executed his shots. Andy puts a lot of pressure in his opponents’ minds because of his speed at the back of the court and he has a tendency to over-hit. But you could see Berdych had the power to get through the court and he served great. He had some big moments, and Andy just lacked a bit of fire.” Three-time French Open winner Mats Wilander, analyzing for Eurosport, also commented that “Murray’s attitude was his main problem,” before adding: “the most aggressive player wins the French Open.” Former Brit star Greg Rusedski looked to other reasons on his Twitter account: “I guess Murray ran out of gas,” he said. “Berdych was sensational and took it on.”

* Andy Murray and Andy Roddick have both spoken of their pleasure at the grass season almost being upon us. Speaking ahead of next week’s AEGON Championships at Queen’s Club, Murray said: “It’s obviously a great tournament, it’s got great history and to have won last year was awesome. I’ll just go back there and try and win again this year and give it my best shot.” Roddick gave us the low-down on why he loves playing on the grass: “I feel like my game automatically translates well to that surface,” he said in a press conference. “My chip stays down, my backhand goes through the court a little bit, obviously my serve gets a little bit better. My returns don’t get any worse on grass, and some people’s do. They take big swings and have to step back to hit it. That’s a real problem. But I don’t really do that too much, so, it’s just maybe a more comfortable feeling. With that comes a sense of confidence.”

* Further news for fans of grass tennis, this time looking ahead to Wimby. Fernando Gonzalez has unfortunately been forced to retire with tendinitis in his left knee while former finalist David Nalbandian has said he is “training double” in an attempt to make this year’s tournament. The mixed doubles is shaping up to be a goodun. Kim Clijsters has announced she will be doubling up with compatriot Xavier Malisse, while Britons Jamie Murray (former winner) and Laura Robson are also set to compete.

* Justine Henin’s defeat to Sam Stosur in the French Open fourth round was her first defeat at Roland Garros in six years (although she hasn’t played at the event since 2007). It ended a fantastic sequence of 24 matches unbeaten on the Paris clay.

* Rafa Nadal’s French Open fourth-round victory over Thomaz Bellucci was his 200th win on clay during his career. Roger Federer’s third-round win over German surprise package Julian Reister was his 700th tour-level win. He is only the tenth player in the Open Era to achieve this feat.

* Following the ending of his rotten run against Federer at Roland Garros, Bjorn Borg is predicting that compatriot Robin Soderling will soon reach the No. 1 slot in the world. Borg told Swedish newspaper Expressen that his rise will happen “sooner than we expect” on Wednesday.

* Nikolay Davydenko hopes to end his injury hiatus by playing Halle’s grass-court event next week. The diminutive Russian has been missing since Miami with a fractured wrist but he said in a pre-tournament press conference: “I’ve never trained as much as now and before when I’ve taken long breaks, I’ve always come back playing better.”

* By beating Liezel Huber and Anabel Medina Garrigues in the French Open women’s doubles semifinal the Williams sisters will realise their dream of reaching the top of the doubles rankings next week.

* British tennis prodigy Laura Robson upset a few of her peers by allegedly calling them “sluts” who “make a bad name for themselves by dating so many men.” The 16-year-old 2008 Wimbledon Junior Champion admits she prefers a quiet night in to a wild night on the town but allegedly claimed her rivals often don’t. “Some of the tennis girls, they’re sluts. They go with every guy and make such a bad name for themselves – and you don’t want to be known for stuff like that. You want to be more discreet.” She continued, in a report printed in a host of British newspapers, “My coach knows I’m sensible. I don’t like the taste of alcohol and I hate smoke. Some go to nightclubs, but I’m not interested. Yes there are moments when you speak to your old friends, and they’re all going out to parties every weekend, and I’m stuck in Paris boring my brains out.” But she did admit to loving life at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris where she lives and trains: “It’s so much fun (here). We all know each other so well. I’m known as the Gossip Queen, but I’m careful never to repeat a word.” However, on Sunday she responded on her Twitter account by saying: “shame some quotes were taken out of context today.”

* Former world No. 4 Sebastien Grosjean has announced his retirement this week at Roland Garros. The Frenchman has only played eight tour-level events after undergoing shoulder surgery in December 2008 and in a press conference he said: “My body is in such a condition that I don’t think I can continue.” He had hoped to make his farewell in the men’s doubles event in Paris but his partner Richard Gasquet, rather fittingly, was forced to withdraw with a back injury. In a double blow for the hosts, 28-year-old Camille Pin also announced her retirement from the sport after 12 years on the tour. “It’s a very special day for me, because it’s such a tough decision,” she said. “But I’m so happy, because when I think of the 12 years I was on the Tour, I had such a great time. It was my passion to travel and be an athlete, and my tennis career enabled me to have both. For sure I’m going to miss it, but I have no regrets.”

* The bad news is coming thick and fast for French tennis fans. The hip injury which forced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga out of his fourth-round French Open match with Mikhail Youzhny could rule him out of the 2010 grass-court season. Scans have confirmed a muscle lesion around his hip which could pose real problems for the former Aussie Open finalist.

* Matriarch of the Austin tennis family, Jeanne Austin, has died aged 84 of heart failure following a long battle with illness. Two-time US Open winner Tracy Austin was the most successful of her two daughters and two sons who all played professionally at some point.

* Liezel Huber has announced that Lindsay Davenport will return to the pro women’s tour as her doubles partner for this year’s events at Stanford and San Diego. Davenport is also considering Cincinnati but is not interested in contesting the US Open, Huber told Roland Garros radio. Huber also blamed the breakup with long-time partner Cara Black on the Zimbabwean. She claimed Black became too nervous during the big matches, among other problems, which began at last year’s US Open following their defeat to the Williams sisters. After further breakdowns in the relationship the pair parted ways at Miami and despite admitting they may return together one day Huber says Black now does not speak to her.

* Sabine Lisicki is delighted to announce her new website, sabinelisicki.com, has gone online following her new partnership with WebWeisend. The site will keep fans updated on her every move.

HOPMAN CUP AND DAVIS CUP HAPPENINGS: TENNIS IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Andy Murray has ended weeks of speculation by confirming he has pulled out of Great Britain’s Davis Cup match against Lithuania in March as they begin life in the competition’s third tier. Murray claimed that he would prefer to concentrate on his efforts to lift more Masters Event trophies and break his Grand Slam duck.

Captain John Lloyd will now look to give his other players valuable experience and hopes that talents like Dan Evans and the doubles team of Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski will be enough to lift Britain back in to the Davis Cup’s second tier where Murray can then step back in alongside an improved crop of British talent.

It has now been over a decade since a British player other than Murray, Tim Henman, or Greg Rusedski won a live Davis Cup rubber.

“You’ve got to do what is right for your tennis. That period of the year just before Indian Wells and Miami is very important for me,” Murray said.

“I’ve got a lot of ranking points to defend. I think it’s the right decision.”

*Britain’s first match at the Hopman Cup since 1992 ended in a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan after Andy Murray and Laura Robson combined to defeat Andrey Golubev and Yaroslava Shvedova despite the losers fighting to 10-12 in the final set. Murray had beaten Golubev 6-2, 6-2 in his singles rubber while Robson lost to Shvedova. They followed this up with an identical result against Germany. Murray won and Robson lost their respective singles rubbers before they combined to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber and Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-2. They face Russia tomorrow (Friday) in the final group match.

*Australia’s opening Hopman Cup Group A encounter didn’t go to plan. The top seeds were shocked by Romania as 19-year-old Sorana Cirstea overcame world No. 13 Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt defeated Victor Hanescu in their singles rubber but the Romanians triumphed in the mixed doubles.

*There was more Aussie disappointment at the Brisbane International where three top players suffered first round defeats. Jelena Dokic went down 5-7, 6-1, 3-6 to former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic while in the men’s draw 2009 Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick won his first match since suffering the knee injury which kept him out of the ATP World Tour Finals last September. He defeated Aussie Peter Luczak 7-6(5), 6-2 before knocking out compatriot Carsten Ball in round two. Matt Ebden caused a stir by knocking out Jurgen Melzer before going down to Richard Gasquet of France and John Millman is also out. This means there are no Commonwealth players in the men’s quarterfinals. Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva overcame upcoming Aussie star Casey Dellacqua in the women’s draw and her reward is a second round matchup with the returning Justine Henin. In her first Tour event since returning to tennis Alicia Molik notched a win, defeating Ekaterina Makarova of Russia before losing to 2009 US Open winner Kim Clijsters in round two. Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak also lost in round two to Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

*In the doubles at Brisbane, top seeded Leander Paes of India leads the Commonwealth charge after he and partner Lukas Dlouhy overcame Sam Querrey and Australia’s Carsten Ball in round one. A tremendous battle of the home-grown players saw Ashley Fisher/Stephen Huss defeat the wild cards Kaden Hensel/Bernard Tomic 4-6, 6-3, 10-6 while another Aussie pair, Peter Luczak and Joseph Sirianni, crashed out to Frenchman Michael Llodra and Andy Ram of Israel. Aussie doubles specialist Jordan Kerr and Britain’s Ross Hutchings as well as Aussie Paul Hanley and partner Thomaz Belluci (Brazil) are also out. The two Rodionovas, Anastasia of Australia and Russia’s Arina, are through to the semi finals of the women’s draw where they face Melinda Czink and Arantxa Parra Santonja.

*The Aircel Chennai Open, India, kicked off on Sunday evening with the hugely popular Kingfisher Fashion show which featured local stars Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman among others.

*On court at Chennai, Great Britain’s James Ward went down in the opening round to Spain’s Marcel Granollers while India’s Rohan Bopanna lost to Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka. Qualifier Prakash Amritraj, son of Indian legend Vijay Amritraj, lost to the USA’s Michael Russell while Somdev Devvarman upset Rainer Schuettler before losing to Janko Tipsarevic in round two.

*In the doubles at Chennai, Indian wild cards Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh are through to the second round of the doubles after overcoming Rik de Voest of South Africa and American Scott Lipsky 6-2, 7-5. Other victors included Brits Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski and South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee who overcame Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and partner Igor Kunitsyn with the help of Rogier Wassen. India’s Yuki Bhambri is also through.

*Jeremy Chardy, David Ferrer and India’s Somdev Devvarman have all put their names in to the hat for the 2010 South African Open in Johannesburg.

*British No. 1 Elena Baltacha has qualified for the first round of the Auckland Classic after defeating Canada’s Stephanie Dubois 6-3, 6-1 in the final of the qualifying draw. Baltacha then lost in the opening round to Romania’s Ioana Raluca Olaru. India’s Sania Mirza and wild card New Zealander Marina Erakovic are also out ending Commonwealth interest in the singles draw. In the doubles, South Africa’s Natalie Grandin is the last Commonwealth woman standing as her and partner Laura Granville of the USA prepare to face Vladimira Uhlirova and Renata Voracova in the semi finals.