by James A. Crabtree
Former grand slam champions Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters are retired. Now add 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero (well, after Valencia in October) to the list that has seen Fernando González and Ivan Ljubicic call it quits in 2012.
An era of big names and equally big characters is most certainly over. And they will all be missed. The sport will suffer for a short time, but new names shall replace them. The athletes themselves will surely enjoy the initial stages of not being on tour, but then they shall face a new problem. What on earth do you do when you are retired? Play bridge? Downsize? Renovate? Buy some ugly slippers? Purchase Grecian 2000? Play slot machines? Start a hobby, like pottery? Drive slowly and in your way? Play social tennis in the mornings?
Well these recent retirees are not the usual plus sixty vintage so they could settle down and have some kids. Or in the case of Kim and Ivan have more kids.
First of all is the unwritten prerequisite to enjoy oneself, take time out, relax and see the world. Okay, so the players in question have done a whole heap of travelling but maybe they need a get away from it all, with fine food in a beautiful location – minus the racquet. Hang on a minute, Juan Carlos Ferrero has his own hotel! Surely if Kim and Andy were to travel Juan would shout them a 10% discount as former grand slam champions. Seriously check out the food on the websites video!!!
Another idea is to do something different, perhaps apply talents to a different avenue such as Andre Agassi did with his school. Besides playing with Billie Jean, the pet bulldog, Andy Roddick has done something similar to Andre helping children improve their lives via his foundation. To date he has helped raise over ten million dollars. Maybe Fernando and Ivan could volunteer a day here and there now they have some spare time.
Other players in the past have set up businesses. Fred Perry launched the Fred Perry clothing brand (www.fredperry.com). Bjorn Borg set up the something similar with more emphasis on underwear (www.bjornborg.com). Other than his Davis Cup duties Pat Rafter has also spent a lot of time in his briefs for Bonds (www.bonds.com.au/pat-rafter).
Or perhaps these great players could pass on their knowledge like Sergi Bruguera and Emilio Sanchez have at their respective academies. It isn’t too hard to imagine Juan or Andy sitting as coach of a future great, such as Ivan Lendl has done with Andy Murray. Or perhaps even add their expertise within the commentary box like John McEnroe. Of the current crop it’s hard to imagine politics as an option, as it was for Marat Safin.
Lastly, we shouldn’t expect these guys to buy a condo and move down to Florida. Besides there is far too much tennis down there for them. Hang on a minute that could kick start a comeback! Maybe that is a good idea?
By Maud Watson
Farewell For Real
There was no singles fairytale ending for Kim Clijsters. In her opening round against young 16-year-old Victoria Duval, Clijsters spoke of passing the torch to the younger generation, and that’s exactly what happened in her following match, as she was outplayed by the young talent from Great Britain, Laura Robson. In many ways, her second round loss felt anti-climatic. Some of that may have been because Clijsters still technically had doubles to play. Maybe it was because she’d played so little since the summer of 2011 that it was hard to generate any buildup to her swan song. Or maybe it was simply that Clijsters wasn’t blatantly exhibiting any strong emotions (unlike Agassi). Resignation and a touch of relief were etched on her face, and you could hear a hint of contentment – an emotion that’s bound to blossom in the coming days. And why not? Clijsters gave it her all over the course of her illustrious career. She competed and defeated the game’s best. She won 41 singles titles, including four at the majors. She became the first mother since the 1980s to win a slam, and the first to reach No. 1. But more important than all of that was her friendly personality – the thing for which she will be remembered most. It’s an understatement to say she’ll be greatly missed, but with any luck, we’ll be fortunate enough to see her sometime in the future.
Calling It a Day
Less than 24 hours after Kim Clijsters’ singles career came to an end, Andy Roddick ended speculation about whether or not 2012 would mark his last season as a professional when he held a press conference to confirm that the US Open would be his last event. The fact that he’s retiring isn’t a shock. His results have been subpar by his standards, and it was obvious that more often than not, he wasn’t enjoying himself out there. But the abrupt nature of his retirement certainly might have caught some off guard, which makes his night match with Tomic all the more interesting. Whether it ends against the young Australian or later this fortnight, it’s appropriate that his career should end where he won his lone major. Roddick had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Federer, as without the Swiss Maestro, he might have picked up a few more majors. But he’s been a remarkable steady performer throughout his career, helped the United States to a Davis Cup victory, and carried American men’s tennis on his shoulders for the better part of a decade. He has a lot to be proud of and should leave the game with no regrets. Hopefully we’ll see him involved in the game somewhere else down the road.
You know it’s a sign of just how far Wozniacki’s stock has plummeted when her opening round loss to 96-ranked Begu didn’t generate a lot of chatter. It certainly was a performance to forget for the former World No. 1. Hampered movement, unforced errors, and an inspired performance from her opponent all combined to make for a meek exit for the Dane. The loss prompted some to question if Wozniacki isn’t destined for a career path similar to that of Jankovic, but that’s jumping the gun, especially given her age. Wozniacki’s comments indicate she understands she needs to play bigger tennis, which she is capable of doing. Finding that right balance between aggression and defense will take time, but she’s got a good coach in Thomas Johansson at her side to make it happen. Her 2012 may end up being a wash, but let’s wait and see if she makes strides in 2013 before completing writing her off.
Chris Evert went so far as to say a “champion was born” in regards to Laura Robson’s defeat of Kim Clijsters at the US Open. It might be a bit too soon for that, but Robson is certainly looking more and more like she has top player potential. She’s always been on the cusp of big wins, like her tight tussle with Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2011. She recently hired Krajan to help get her over the hump, and it seems that partnership is already paying off with Robson scoring the big win to send the Belgian into retirement. Great Britain has been hungry for a champion, and they’d like more than just Murray to be vying for the big titles. Robson may just be the answer to their prayers.
Keep the Drama
There’s a reason “drama” is an Emmy category – people love it! There’s been plenty of it already in the early goings of the US Open, with several men mounting comebacks from 2-0 deficits. Hopefully the comebacks have discouraged the arguments for a best-of-three format at the majors, an idea that picked up steam thanks to the London Olympics. That best-of-five format is what creates the drama and also differentiates the majors from the other events on the calendar. And let’s be honest. More often than not, the players involved in those early five-set thrillers are not the players who are going to realistically be competing for the title, so the amount of gas they take out of the tank is somewhat irrelevant. Besides, for many of those players, those wins will constitute some of the fondest memories they have from their careers. In short, don’t mess with that tradition.
By Ian Horne, editor of Live-Tennis.com and US Open Tennis Live Stream
A 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) defeat against Laura Robson marked the end of Kim Clijsters’ singles career on Wednesday night, much to the surprise of the US Open fans in attendance in the Arthur Ashe Stadium. There had been high hopes for the Belgian. One final swansong could have provided the icing on the cake for her outstanding professional career.
The fact that it wasn’t to be did nothing to take the gloss off of the Belgian’s achievements. There’s no shame in losing two tie-breakers against one of the rising stars of the WTA tour. Maybe a few years down the line we’ll be viewing Robson’s victory as the ushering in of a new era, a changing of the guard akin to Roger Federer’s five-set dismissal of Pete Sampras in the round of sixteen at Wimbledon 2001.
All this aside, when the US Open hype dies down and the dust settles on the final slam of the year, there will be so many positives to look back on from Clijsters’ career – or two careers, depending on your take. In Clijsters we had a WTA player who not only won fans and plaudits with her tennis, but also through her gracious and pleasant demeanour.
The Belgian appears to have been well-liked in the locker room. The announcement of her imminent withdrawal had provoked praise from countless players in the WTA and ATP, but also a sense of sadness that can only be seen as a natural response to the retirement of a player who for years has been one of the most popular stars of the game.
Clijsters possessed one of the best backhands in the WTA, and a ripping forehand that could devastate on a good day. As results demonstrate, there were many good days for the Belgian. Clijsters was also extremely sharp around the court. Even though injuries plagued her career, she was one of the best defensive players on the tour, with the ability to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Net play was another of Clijsters’ strengths, a talent that she honed by playing doubles between 2000-2003. Paired with Ai Sugiyama, Clijsters achieved a runner-up finish at Wimbledon in 2001, before the pairing won French Open and Wimbledon titles in 2003.
Clijsters’ talent was never in doubt, but she had to wait a long time before she could establish herself as one of the greats of the Open Era. Between 2001-2004 she finished as a runner-up in four slams, losing some memorable battles against Justine Henin. Her performances in these finals were disappointing, but she wasn’t to be denied.
In 2005, Clijsters got her hands on the the US Open title, starting a run of victories in New York that would only end in 2012. Whilst she didn’t compete in the 2006 and 2007 events, she won the title again on her 2008 return and successfully defended the title the following year. She missed 2011’s tournament too, making Robson the first player to beat her at Flushing Meadows since 2003.
When Clijsters backed up her 2010 US Open title by winning the 2011 Australian Open, she became the first mother in the Open Era to climb to the top of the rankings. Dubbed ‘Aussie Kim’ by the fans in Melbourne, Clijsters perhaps couldn’t have picked a better event in which to win her final slam.
Clijsters will be missed by tennis fans worldwide as she swaps the tour for family life. Still, few could begrudge her for making the decision, as she’s added so much to women’s tennis since making her debut in 1997. Kim, you will be missed.
By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand
If Caroline Wozniacki represents the proverbial tragedy mask, then Marion Bartoli, intentionally or otherwise, is at the US Open to provide a healthy dose of comic relief.
The early days of the year’s final Slam are filled with tension around the grounds; while the top seeds are blowing past under-ranked and overmatched opponents on Ashe, the magnitude of the moment seems that much greater on the smaller courts, which makes for some compelling drama. All players react to the resulting stress differently: Maria Sharapova puts her back to her opponents, Novak Djokovic will bounce the ball 20 or more times before a serve. Marion Baroli, already a standout with her two-fisted groundstrokes, will engage in a series of massive high jumps and a most intense game of shadow tennis before approaching the baseline to receive serve, all the while bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter.
Yes, Bartoli is taking the moment very seriously, but that doesn’t mean her unorthodox methods and physical comedy don’t provide a deflation in tension for fans that would otherwise be gripping their benches after a long day of tennis.
With a win over Romina Oprandi, Bartoli would book a spot in the third round, but more importantly, she would re-enter the top 10 at the expense of her tragic counterpart, Wozniacki. During the first set, it was apparent that the Frenchwoman was brutally aware of all the circumstances and subtext of the match. Besides wanting to get back with the game’s elite, Marion has something to prove at this tournament; she’s had mediocre Slam results in 2012 and has to be looking at the US Open, played on one of her best surfaces, as a golden opportunity.
Oprandi, a player who has struggled with injury for most of her career, arrived on the court tape-free for the first time in a while. As the match got underway, she tried to use her signature drop shot to keep Bartoli off balance, but to no avail. The Bartoli rituals were in full effect and her eyes were on stalks; as she wrapped up the first set 6-2, it was refreshing to see a player so determined and unafraid of the moment, even if the moment was taking place far from the stadium courts.
But Bartoli, for her cartoonish nature, is still very much human, who can be inspired to play unbeatable tennis during a Wimbledon semifinal just because she sees Pierce Brosnan in the stands, and one who can become distracted upon hearing shocking news. Court 11 may be metaphorically far from the stadiums, but is physically much closer, and we could all hear Kim Clijsters’ last singles match unfold with the help of the booming loud speaker. Suddenly, Bartoli was on the backfoot and Oprandi began to dominate.
Perhaps it sounds illogical, but it’s happened before, even to Clijsters herself; the Belgian wasn’t the same in a Wimbledon quarterfinal she had been dominating after the scoreboard announced Venus Williams’ shock loss to Tsvetana Pironkova. Whatever the reason, Bartoli’s unique rhythm had been severely interrupted, and things became just a little less comedic on Court 11 as Oprandi ran away with the second set 6-1.
Entering a third set always seems like a dicey proposition for someone whose unorthodox game and style translates to some questionable off-court training. But the Frenchwoman’s unshakable belief often makes up for any other shortcomings, and she was able to once again grind her way to victory, even if it took until 7-5 in the third. Match point was typical Marion, who couldn’t resist taking an exaggerated practice swing off between serves before blasting a forehand into the Oprandi backhand, provoking the error.
On behalf of fans everywhere, Marion, never change.
David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.
By Romi Cvitkovic
Day One of the US Open by the numbers:
51 - The number of minutes it took Sam Stosur to defeat Petra Martic, 6-1, 6-1 en route winning the first 19 points. That’s almost five straight games!
16 - The age of the youngest competitor, Victoria Duval, who lost to Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 6-1, but introduced her bubbly personality to the world.
0 - The number of second serve points (out of eight) that Alex Bogomolov, Jr. won in the first set against Andy Murray. He eventually lost 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
2 - The number of games most people thought Donald Young would win against Roger Federer after only recently breaking his 17-match losing streak.
9 – The number of games Young actually won. Not bad.
22 - The number of US Open night matches Federer has won.
0 - The number of US Open night matches Federer has lost.
3 – The surprising number of match points it took Federer to defeat Young.
9.63 - The number, on a scale of 1 to 10, of how good Jack Sock thought his second serve was in his win over Florian Mayer.
1 - The number of break points (out of six) that Petra Kvitova converted in the first set in her win over Polona Hercog, 7-6(6), 6-1.
92 – The percentage of first serves won in her defeat of Melinda Czink, 6-2, 6-2.
-22 - The winners-to-unforced errors differential for both Melanie Oudin in her loss to Lucie Safarova, 6-4, 6-0, and Sabine Lisicki in her loss to Sorana Cirstea, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
12 - The number of aces Mardy Fish hit in his three-set battle over Go Soeda, winning 7-6(3), 7-6(2), 6-3.
6 - The number of match points it took newly-minted American Varvara Lepchenko to finally close out the match over Mathilde Johansson, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
1 – The number of games Victoria Azarenka allowed her opponent Alexandra Panova to win in her whipping of her, 6-0, 6-1.
87 - The percentage of first serve won by Fernando Verdasco in the second set during his win over Rui Machado, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
48 - The first serve percentage of Laura Robson in her win over Samantha Crawford, 6-3, 7-6(6).
60 - The length of the first set in the match that eventually saw Kristyna Pliskova upset Julia Goerges, 7-6(4), 6-1.
292 - The total number of points played in the 3-and-a-half-hour match where Tim Smyczek prevailed over fellow American Bobby Reynolds, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
US Open Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day featuring singer Carly Rae Jepsen and tennis stars Federer, Djokovic, Williams
By Romi Cvitkovic
Saturday marked the annual US Open Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, and man, was it a party on court! Tennis players Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters were joined by some of entertainment’s hottest stars including Carly Rae Jepsen, The Wanted and Matthew Morrison. Olympian Missy Franklin also joined, dancing with Djokovic as they teamed up for pro/celebrity mixed doubles!
Enjoy some of the best photos from the event — including a lot of dancing by Djokovic, Fish and the ball kids, Carly Rae hitting some tennis balls, Morrison acting as a chair umpire, and plenty of laughs and high-fives!
And don’t miss this great video of a full-fledged flash mob of all the entertainers and athletes as they danced to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
In case you missed the action or want to see more, tune into CBS this Sunday from 12-1:30PM ET for the full stadium show.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
Kim Clijsters has enjoyed an illustrious career in tennis – dampened by injuries, but nonetheless, she has enjoyed many successes on the court. She is a firm fan favourite, always enthusiastically supported wherever she competes and is popular with her fellow players. Could an Olympic victory tempt her to decide not to halt her career just yet, or could it be the perfect way for the former world No.1 to bow out of competitive tennis for the second time?
Kim Clijsters is a four-time Grand Slam champion, who made her final Wimbledon appearance in July after 14 years of competing as a junior and a senior at the event. This week she is back on the grass courts of the Olympics, representing Belgium and hoping to add an Olympic medal to her list of achievements and victories.
Clijsters admitted earlier this year that she is retiring for the second time due to her age and not for family reasons:
“I have no regrets. I’m too old to play the game that I want to play physically. It’s not for family reasons; it’s down to the physical side. I’ve put my body through enough strain and everything.”
It has been a tough 2012 for the 29-year-old, who missed the French Open due to a hip injury and battled to recover from an abdominal injury in time for Wimbledon, but this week she is proving that she is beginning to find her feet at the All England Lawn Tennis Club and would love to build on her semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006.
Many would love to see her win an Olympic medal – a fitting way to remember her final year on Tour, to add her to many wonderful achievements during her career – and here are a few of those many moments she will undoubtedly cherish:
Winning her first Grand Slam title in 2005: Kim Clijsters won her first Grand Slam title in 2005 on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows in New York against Mary Pierce. This was the first time she had won a Grand Slam and it was her first appearance in a Grand Slam final since missing out on the trophy in 2004 in Australia. Clijsters had a difficult year in 2004 and was happy to have recovered so well after her operation to remove a cyst from left wrist, which saw her miss Wimbledon and the US Open the previous year.
Back-to-back US Open titles in 2009 and 2010: Clijsters has always felt very comfortable on the hard courts and in New York she found her feet and showed her best tennis during a year which proved to be a sensational comeback season for the Belgian. Clijsters won the US Open in New York in extraordinary fashion – she had only played three previous hard court events before entering the Grand Slam and participated as an unranked wildcard defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
In 2010 Clijsters battled against a left and right foot injury, which forced her to withdraw from Roland Garros, but in August whilst fighting off her injury demons, the former world No.1 lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows for the third time after defeating Vera Zvonareva in the final.
‘Aussie Kim’ happy to be crowned champion at the Australian Open: Kim Clijsters has always been fondly welcomed at the Australian Open and many of the Aussies accepted her as one of their own after her long relationship with Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt. She reached the finals in 2004 but was unable to lift the trophy, but after returning to competitive tennis once again, she finally got the Grand Slam win she so desperately seeked in Melbourne and ‘Aussie Kim’ was happily crowned champion.
After this year when Kim Clijsters eventually retires, it will be a sad day for her supporters, team and fellow players as her kind and sporting nature on and off the court will be missed. Right now though for Kim Clijsters, she will not be thinking about putting down her racquet for the last time, she will be completely focused on picking it up again tomorrow to continue her assault on the Olympics and the impending, final hard court season ahead.
By Maud Watson
Not So Happy Feet
Between kicking a box that injured a linesman and suffering a case of “foot-in-mouth” disease after, David Nalbandian’s feet have gotten him into a lot of hot water this past week. The Argentine will be able to play Wimbledon thanks to the slow bureaucratic machinery of the ATP, but count me among the camp that believes Nalbandian should be suspended for his behavior. Many were quick to equate Nalbandian’s actions with Djokovic’s smashing of the Perrier sign at Roland Garros (for which Djokovic was fined). But they are not the same thing. If two drunks get behind the wheel of a car, the guy who gets picked up merely for drunk driving gets off easier than the guy who gets picked up after his drunken driving causes an accident. They’re both guilty of the same offense, but the severity of the punishment does and should take into account the consequences of their actions. If anything Nalbandian’s actions were more akin to Tim Henman’s disqualification from Wimbledon for hitting a ball girl. Unlike Nalbandian, however, Henman took his lumps and issued a public apology. By contrast, Nalbandian has looked to blame the ATP for his actions. He also has a track record of problems with fellow players, officials, and administrators, which should be taken into account. So, while recognizing that a suspension in tennis, unlike in other sports, does mean more than just missing tournaments – it’s also a loss of potential prize money and ranking points – the ATP needs to put its foot down, suspend him, and show that it will not stand for this type of careless and deplorable behavior.
Lurking in the Shadows
There’s always a buzz when a Grand Slam gets underway, but there’s been some extra chatter this year with a few big names going in unseeded. The biggest star to be doing so is 5-time Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams. Williams has struggled to find consistency this year, but throughout her career, no matter what her form was heading into Wimbledon, she’s always managed to flip the switch on the lawns of the All England Club. Kim Clijsters, a four-time major champion, also enters into the third major of the year unseeded. The Belgian has struggled with injury, and Wimbledon has been her worst Slam of the four. After a strong showing this past week in The Netherlands, however, she’s a decent bet at SW 19. In short, who knows what to expect? Either of them could just as easily lose early as waltz away with the title. They may also cause more than a few early problems for some of the pre-tournament favorites. Either way, the scenario makes Wimbledon just a little more interesting.
We all thought the U.S. Olympic selection process would be ugly, but it may not hold a candle to what has unfolded with the Indian selection process. The AITA originally planned to nominate Paes and Bhupathi as their number one team, but Bhupathi refused and insisted he be paired with his current partner Bopanna instead. Bopanna also refused to participate in the Olympics unless teamed with Bhupathi. The AITA tried to wait it out, insisting that it wouldn’t be fair to Paes to be paired with a more inexperienced and lower ranked junior player given that of the three, Paes has the highest ranking. But in the end, the AITA decided the chance to earn a medal for India was too enticing and ultimately caved to the demands of Bhupathi and Bopanna (though they have threatened to potentially punish the pair after the London Olympics have concluded). That may be too little, too late for Paes, however, with reports circulating that he has opted to withdraw from the Olympics. The rift between Paes and Bhupathi has been well publicized, with Paes being assigned the bulk of the blame for the rift. Maybe this is just karma’s way of paying him back. As for Bhupathi and Bopanna, they may be feeling extra pressure to deliver a medal. After all, a medal could go a long way towards softening any disciplinary action the AITA may levy against them later this year.
Out of Nowhere
At age 34, Tommy Haas is arguably playing on borrowed time as far as the career of a tennis professional is concerned. The oft-injured German came into Halle without too many expectations, and thanks to his countryman Kohlshreiber’s defeat of Nadal in the quarterfinals, his run to the final remained mostly low key. In the final he faced Federer, the guy who has practically owned the event to the point a street was named in his honor. But Haas, who has a game that translates to grass better than most, was firing on all cylinders, completely shocking the Swiss as he stole the first set and never looked back to win it in two. It’s a phenomenal win for Haas, and as he heads into Wimbledon, unseeded and brimming with confidence, he has the potential to cause some players a lot of headaches.
The sport of tennis lost two greats this past week – Barry MacKay and The Honorable Judge Robert Kelleher. After a successful career, Barry MacKay served as one of the early pros on Jack Kramer’s tour before going on to be a tournament director and world-class broadcaster. Kelleher also enjoyed success as a player, but his greater contributions came as a winning U.S. Davis Cup captain, and more importantly, the role he played in the U.S. to help make Open Tennis a reality. They touched the sport in a variety of ways, and both will be greatly missed.
Rafael Nadal set for seventh Roland Garros title; Maria Sharapova climbing the ranks — The Friday Five
By Maud Watson
Happy Hunting Grounds
Last weekend, Rafael Nadal was right where he wanted to be – on red clay and back in the winner’s circle. His play at the Foro Italico was a glowing example of why Nadal is arguably the greatest clay court player ever. He’s mixing in the right amount of aggression, and his defense is second to none. He’s also shown that his mental toughness is once again intact, as evidenced by his ability to come out on top in virtually any tight situation, absolutely refusing to give anything away to the opposition. This is the pre-2011 Nadal fans are used to seeing – less complaining and more sure of his game. This Rafa is also likely to hang around through the Roland Garros fortnight. There’s no doubt he’s the heavy favorite. There are only a handful of players that can even hang with Nadal when he’s playing this well, and it will take a Herculean effort from any one of them to defeat the Spaniard. At this stage, only a fool would bet against Nadal earning a seventh title in the French capital.
Don’t Rain on her Parade
Sharapova is not the most gifted athlete, and her shrieking is a source of annoyance to many. But irrespective of any of this, you have to respect that she’s currently No. 2, and it’s due in no small part to the fact that she is one of the fiercest competitors on the WTA. Down a set and 4-0 to Li Na on a cold, rainy day in the Italian capital, it would have been easy for Sharapova to throw in the towel. She’d already won Stuttgart and had put in a good effort to defend her Rome title. But the Russian has never been one to settle, and she fought to secure a dramatic three-set win to successfully defend her Rome crown. Sharapova heads to Paris as one the favorites, but gut instinct says she’s going to need some help to complete the career Grand Slam. Unlike Serena, who virtually blitzed most of the competition en route to titles in Charleston and Madrid, Sharapova more than once benefited from an opponent’s collapse. Not to take away from her victories, but it’s better to be in control of one’s destiny. Suffice it to say, Sharapova won’t be an easy out for anyone (except maybe Serena), but she’s not a lock in Paris.
Paris or Bust
Novak Djokovic hasn’t had a bad season. He won the Aussie Open and Miami, and he reached the finals of two out of the three clay court Masters leading up to Roland Garros. But after last week’s Rome final, Djokovic fans may have some cause for concern. On the one hand, he showed he still has the skills and the right game plan – when properly executed – to beat Nadal. The Spaniard has closed the gap, but there’s still a feeling that Djokovic can control the majority of points over the course of an entire match, which will likely continue to be the case given his superior return. But controlling points means nothing if you can’t execute the finishing shot. The Serb committed an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors – 41 to be exact – ranging from shanked overheads to overcooking easy sitters. To be fair, Nadal’s incomparable retrieving ability put pressure on Djokovic to hit ever closer to the lines, but 2011 Djokovic didn’t press in those same situations. Additionally, while you had to feel for Djokovic when a botched line call late in the first set gave Nadal a reprieve and ultimately proved a crucial turning point, you can’t expect to remain No. 1 and allow such a call to have a long carry over effect as it clearly did heading into the second. Djokovic is going to have to find that 2011 form and mindset if he wants to have any shot at completing the “Nole” Slam.
White Flag Ready
With the French Open just days away, Jo-Willie Tsonga is ruffling feathers with his pessimistic forecast for French players at this year’s French Open. Tsonga stated there was zero chance a Frenchman would be hoisting the trophy, and while none would argue against the realistic nature of his comments, they were no less disappointing. Most of France’s top stars are cast in the traditional French mold – flashy shot makers able to catch lightening in a bottle at any moment. Perhaps none are more capable of catching fire than Tsonga himself. Though he’s never won a clay court event, the fact that he’s currently No. 5, has been to a major final, and has beaten each of the four guys in front of him at least once makes his comments all the more galling (or is it Gauling? – sorry, bad pun!). Yes, the Frenchmen may all be eliminated in week one, but would anyone honestly be surprised to see a handful reach the second week? It would be wonderful to see Tsonga prove himself wrong, but it’s awfully hard to put together a good run when you’ve already decided defeat is inevitable before the first ball has even been struck.
Earlier this week, Kim Clijsters confirmed what many of us already saw coming. Rather than finish out the 2012 season, she will officially hang up the racquet at the conclusion of the US Open. It’s been a frustrating year for the Belgian, who has had to forgo the entire clay court season due to niggling injuries. As the competition is growing stiffer at the top, Clijsters’ lack of match plays is also apt to prove more costly this summer than in years past. In short, though as a four-time major champion Clijsters may know what it takes to win the big titles, it’s still a big ask for her to reign victorious at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, or at Flushing Meadows. But as one of the nicest and greatest players of her generation, here’s to hoping for a successful swan song. Here’s to hoping fans are treated to vintage Clijsters. And here’s to hoping she grabs what will be one of the three most prestigious titles remaining in 2012 before she heads off into the sunset.
By Maud Watson
London or Bust
To the dismay of her legion of fans and the WTA in general, Kim Clijsters announced that she will be unable to make one last run at Roland Garros. The Belgian is suffering from ankle and hip injuries and is healing much slower than anticipated. She is wisely opting to focus all of her efforts on the upcoming grass court season, which she hopes will include a victory at Wimbledon, the Olympics, or both. In reality, such a scenario is looking less and less likely. The competition near the uppermost echelons of the game has made it harder to be a part-time competitor, and given Clijsters’ slow recovery and seemingly continual string of injuries, it’s difficult to imagine her being at the top of her game when she needs it most. She’s a great person, and I’d love to see a fairytale ending to her career, but count me among those who will be sincerely shocked if she not only wins one of the biggest grass court titles of 2012, but actually finishes the season.
Joining the Club and a Snub
The lineup for the 2012 Hall of Fame class has been set, and not surprisingly, it includes Jennifer Capriati. The American’s career follows a very similar arc to that of 2011 Inductee Andre Agassi. She was a standout teen prodigy who crumbled under the pressure in a very public fall from grace, only to pick herself up and ultimately realize her Grand Slam potential more than a decade after turning pro. Her career also impacted the sport as a whole, with her early burnout cited as one of the main reasons the WTA put restrictions on its youngest competitors, while the controversial overrule in her match with Serena Williams at the 2004 US Open is considered the catalyst for introducing Hawk-Eye to the game. With three singles majors, an Olympic gold medal, and the No. 1 ranking, she’s a deserving candidate. Also a deserving candidate but who was instead snubbed for induction is Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The Russian won two singles majors, four in doubles, reached the apex of the men’s rankings, won Olympic gold, and was a member of a winning Davis Cup team. His record is equally, if not arguably more impressive, than Capriati’s, and he’s certainly a more accomplished player than some previous inductees. Some have suggested he failed to make the grade in spite of his Hall of Fame résumé because of his often sour disposition. In an ideal world, induction would be based on pure merit and not popularity, but that’s politics. And while it doesn’t’ make it right, I guess bottom line, Capriati, not Kafelnikov, puts butts in seats.
Novak Djokovic has proven his mental toughness on multiple occasions the last 12-18 months, but perhaps one of the more stunning displays of his resolve occurred in his victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov to reach the quarters in Monte-Carlo. On the morning he was to play that match, he learned that his grandfather, Vladimir, had passed away at the age of 83. Vladimir was a hero to his grandson and the man Djokovic credited with teaching him to always fight. With that in mind, he couldn’t have put together a more fitting tribute to his grandfather on the day of his passing, overcoming the Ukranian in a topsy-turvy three-set tussle. In the first set, Djokovic was clearly suffering mentally, as he swung without any real purpose and Dolgopolov’s talent was on full display. But the No. 1 roared back in the second to force a tightly contested third set that ended when Djokovic broke his opponent in the ninth game before serving it out for the win. He raised his arms and eyes to the heavens in recognition of his hero before wiping away a few tears and undoubtedly causing more than a few spectators to grow misty-eyed themselves. He’s never won Monte-Carlo, so you can bet he was plenty motivated coming into his adopted hometown event. But now there’s extra motivation, because this one is for grandpa.
New No. 1
No, nobody has knocked Djokovic from his perch atop the world rankings, but John Isner did displace Mardy Fish as the top American, becoming the 12th man to hold the coveted spot in the process. It would have been nice to have seen him punctuate the achievement with the title in Houston, but you have to give credit to his vanquisher Juan Monaco, who before having to retire in his match with Haase in Monte-Carlo was playing some very stellar tennis. Isner has coped relatively well with the expectations that were suddenly heaped on his shoulders following his surprise defeat of Federer in Davis Cup, so it will be interesting to see if he continues the trend now that he’s the U.S. No. 1. It will also be interesting to track if the flip-flop in rankings takes some of the pressure off of Fish and allows him to relax and return to playing top-notch tennis instead of continuing his downward spiral. Either way, it could make for an intriguing spring and summer.
It’s wasn’t a long swan song for Ivan Ljubicic as he entered the final tournament of his professional career in Monte-Carlo earlier this week. Perhaps fittingly, he went out to a fellow Croat, Ivan Dodig, in a straight sets defeat where he admitted he was surprised by the well emotions swirling inside of him. His story of an escape from war-torn Croatia and eventual rise to top tennis star is an inspiring one to be sure, and his dedication to his off-court endeavors is admirable. Always ready with an endearing smile, it was touching to hear his fellow competitors gave him a standing-o when he entered the locker room after that last defeat. He has and continues to be a class act, and I for one can’t wait to see what else he’s going to be able to do for the game.