Kimiko Date-Krumm

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Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6

This draw is wide open!

Miraculously after the rain on Thursday and Friday, Wimbledon has set all of its fourth-round matchups for Manic Monday.  More than half of the top-ten players there (five men, six women) fell in the first week, and Saturday featured its share of drama despite the welcome sunshine.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Even with the cloud of his father hanging over him at a distance, Bernard Tomic has compiled an outstanding Wimbledon campaign.  The enigmatic Aussie has upset two seeded players to reach the second week, most recently No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet.  Showing his taste for drama, Tomic played five sets in the first round against Sam Querrey and reached 5-5 in every set against the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist.

Upset of the day:  Few tennis fans knew much about Kenny de Schepper entering this tournament.  The 26-year-old Frenchman benefited from a Marin Cilic walkover in the second round and made the most of the opportunity.  Not losing a set in the first week of Wimbledon, de Schepper upset No. 20 seed Juan Monaco to reach this stage at a major for the first time.

Comeback of the day:  Imperfect in his first two matches, world No. 4 David Ferrer predictably fell behind the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov two sets to one.  After Dolgopolov steamrolled him in the third set, though, Ferrer regrouped immediately to drop just three games in the next two sets.  His far superior stamina gave him a valuable advantage against an opponent who struggles with sustaining energy or form.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There’s death, there’s taxes, there’s Nadal winning on clay, and there’s Tomas Berdych beating up on poor Kevin Anderson.  Nine times have they played since the start of 2012, including at four majors, with Berdych winning all nine.  At least Anderson took the first set this time and kept the match more competitive than most of its prequels.

Gold star:  Considering Kei Nishikori’s promising start to the tournament, Andreas Seppi merits special attention for his five-set battle past the Japanese star.  Like Ferrer, Seppi trailed two sets to one before digging into the trenches and holding his ground with an imposing fourth set that set the stage for a tight fifth.  As a result of his efforts, Italy leads all nations with four players in the second week of Wimbledon, an odd achievement for a clay-loving nation.

Silver star:  One day after demolishing an unseeded opponent, Tommy Haas overcame a much more worthy challenger in Eastbourne champion Feliciano Lopez.  Haas bounced back from losing the first set to prevail in four, arranging an intriguing Monday meeting with Novak Djokovic.  The German has won both of their previous grass meetings—four years ago—but lost to Djokovic at Roland Garros.

Wooden spoon:  At a minimum, one expected some entertaining twists and turns from a match pitting Ernests Gulbis and Fernando Verdasco.  The firecrackers fizzled in a straight-sets victory for the Spaniard, who now eyes his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with de Schepper awaiting him on Monday.  Gulbis joined a string of unseeded players unable to follow their notable upsets with a deep run.

Stat of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray cannot face a top-20 opponent until the final.  (No. 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny, his Monday opponent, is seeded higher than his ranking because of the grass formula used in making the draw.)

Question of the day:  Top seed Novak Djokovic seems to grow more formidable with each round, dismantling Jeremy Chardy today for the loss of only seven games.  Can anyone slow his path to the final?  Juan Martin Del Potro, the only other man in this half who has not lost a set, might have the best chance.  He defeated Djokovic earlier this year at Indian Wells and on grass at the Olympics last year.

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of many players who rallied to win after losing the first set, Li Na rushed through a second-set bagel against Klara Zakopalova but then found herself bogged down in a war of attrition.  Li finally opened the door to the second week in the 14th game of the final set.  She continues to show more tenacity at this tournament than she has in several months.

Upset of the day:  Sabine Lisicki’s victory over the grass-averse Samantha Stosur came as a surprise only on paper.  In fact, the greater surprise may have come from Lisicki dropping the first set before dominating the next two.  Lisicki has reached the second week in four straight Wimbledon appearances, proving herself the epitome of a grass specialist.

Comeback of the day:  British hearts quailed when Laura Robson started a winnable match against Marina Erakovic in dismal fashion.  The feisty home hope did not quite recover until late in the second set, when Erakovic served for the match.  Needing some help from her opponent to regroup, including a string of double faults, Robson asserted control swiftly in the final set and never relinquished the momentum once she captured it.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There was no Williams déjà vu at Wimbledon, where Kimiko Date-Krumm could not repeat her epic effort against Venus Williams there two years ago.  Notching her 600th career victory, Serena surrendered just two games to the Japanese star as she predictably reached the second week without losing a set.  Since the start of Rome, the world No. 1 has served bagels or breadsticks in nearly half of the sets that she has played (15 of 31).

Gold star:  In trouble against Eva Birnerova when Friday ended, Monica Puig rallied on Saturday to book her spot in the second week.  Unlike most of her fellow upset artists, she used a first-round ambush of Sara Errani to light the fuse of two more victories.  An almost intra-American match awaits between the Puerto Rican and Sloane Stephens.

Silver star:  Tsvetana Pironkova extended her voodoo spell over these lawns with a third second-week appearance in four years.  A non-entity at almost all other tournaments, Pironkova could not have chosen a better place to plant her Bulgarian flag.  thou

What a difference a day makes:  Shortly before play ended on Friday, Petra Kvitova had lost seven straight games to Ekaterina Makarova and narrowly avoided falling behind by a double break in the final set.  When she returned in the sunshine of Saturday, Kvitova won five of the last six games to abruptly wrap up a match full of streaky play from both sides.

Americans in London:  Also able to collect herself overnight, Sloane Stephens recovered from a second-set bagel to outlast qualifier Petra Cetkovska.  Stephens became the only woman outside the top four to reach the second week at every major this year.  Nearly joining her was Madison Keys, who gave 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska all that she could handle in a tight three-setter.  The impressive serve and balanced baseline power of Keys suggest that we will see much more of her at future Wimbledons.

Question of the day:  In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Sabine Lisicki halted the previous month’s Roland Garros champion at Wimbledon.  Can she do to Serena what she did to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, and Maria Sharapova?  Plenty of massive serves will scar the grass on Monday.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Smooth Sailing for Djokovic, Serena, Berdych, Del Potro, Radwanska, and More on Day 4

If the grass is slippery, simply rise above it.

After the turmoil of Wednesday, a tranquil Thursday came as a welcome respite.  Rain forestalled several of the matches at Wimbledon, but most of the familiar names managed to take the court—and live to fight another day.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The grass on the outer courts continued to score victories in its ongoing rivalry with those patrolling it.  Two Frenchmen, Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu, added themselves to the accumulating body count with retirements.  As the tournament unfolds, one wonders whether the specter of so many injuries will cause many players to move more tentatively, undermining the quality of tennis.

Upset of the day:  Only one top-20 player on either side fell on Thursday, but he fell with a resounding thud.  No. 17 Milos Raonic exited in straight sets to Igor Sijsling, forcing only one tiebreak.  Unimpressive on grass throughout his career, Raonic has not followed in the footsteps of other huge servers from Balkan origins who have shone at Wimbledon.  To his credit, Sijsling unleashes plenty of power himself, as an upset of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier this year showed.

No, not again:  For the second straight day, one of the Big Four reached a first-set tiebreak on Centre Court against an unremarkable opponent.  In contrast to Federer-Stakhovsky yesterday, though, Novak Djokovic’s encounter with Bobby Reynolds grew less rather than more intriguing after the first set.  The world No. 1 settled down with discipline to surrender just four games over the next two sets as his challenger faded.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes for Tomas Berdych, who has brushed aside the memories of his first-round exit at Wimbledon in 2012.  Berdych halted Daniel Brands in straight sets, impressive considering the effort that Brands mounted against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.  When Berdych last defeated Brands at Wimbledon, with much more difficulty, he reached the final.

Silver star:  The eighth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro usually finds grass his worst surface, but he has cruised through the first two rounds without dropping a set.  After hitting a flashy around-the-netpost winner in his first match, Del Potro earned the chance to shine on Centre Court against Jesse Levine.  He did not disappoint despite a second-set lull, starting and finishing with conviction.

Caution light:  Extended to four sets in his first match, world No. 9 Richard Gasquet again spent longer than necessary on court in finishing off Go Soeda.  Having lost just three games in the first two sets, Gasquet lost the plot temporarily and let the third set slip away in a tiebreak.  His best result at a major came at Wimbledon with a 2007 semifinal, but he looks vulnerable this year.

Americans in London:  RIP, this category, after just two rounds of the main draw.  Bernard Tomic followed his upset of Sam Querrey with a predictably dominant effort against James Blake, while Ivan Dodig dispatched Denis Kudla in straight sets.  The last man standing at Wimbledon 2013, Bobby Reynolds, stood no real chance against Djokovic.  Andy Roddick, where hath thou gone?

Question of the day:  Far from the spotlight, Kei Nishikori quietly has strung together a pair of solid victories.  He lurks in the section of Ferrer, mediocre in his first match and defeated by Nishikori on grass last year.  Could Nishikori mount an upset or two to reach a quarterfinal or semifinal?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Much superior to her opponent, Jana Cepelova, the 11th-seeded Roberta Vinci could not dispatch her in straight sets and nearly paid the price.  Cepelova nipped at her heels until 7-7 in the final set, when the Italian reeled off one last burst to cross the finish line and keep her Wimbledon campaign alive.

Upset of the day:  Court 2 has started to acquire the reputation of the preceding Court 2 as a haven for upsets, at least in the women’s draw.  Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki fell there yesterday, and today it witnessed the demise of No. 24 Peng Shuai at the hands of Marina Erakovic.  Granted, few fans will remember that result after the tournament.

Top seeds sail:  Facing Caroline Garcia in the second round for the second straight game, Serena Williams generously gave her two more games than she did in Paris.  Stingier was world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who has lost fewer games through two rounds than any other women’s contender.  Like Del Potro, Radwanska made the most of her Centre Court assignment and should return there later this fortnight if her form persists.

Gold star:  With an Eastbourne title behind her, Elena Vesnina entered Wimbledon with more momentum than most players.  All of that momentum crumbled when she collided with grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, a quarterfinalist or better in her last three Wimbledon appearances.  Lisicki’s impressively dominant victory moved her within two rounds of an intriguing collision with Serena.

Silver star:  The oddest scoreline of the day came from the fifth seed, Li Na, who defeated Simona Halep 6-2 1-6 6-0.  Not unfamiliar with such rollercoasters, Li managed to stop Halep’s 11-match winning streak, which had carried her to two June titles on two different surfaces.  The Chinese veteran drew a formidable early slate of opponents, but her route looks smoother from here.

The story that never grows old:  Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sara Errani have departed Wimbledon.  Kimiko Date-Krumm has not.  The Japanese veteran reached the third round, although now she must face Serena.  Date-Krumm took Venus deep into a third set at a recent Wimbledon, defying the power gap between them.

Americans in London:  Rain postponed Alison Riske’s match against Urszula Radwanska, but Madison Keys beat both the rain and 30th seed Mona Barthel with ease.  Up next for Keys is Agnieszka Radwanska in an intriguing contrast of styles.  While an upset seems like a bridge too far for Keys at this stage, she can only benefit from the experience of facing a top-five opponent at a major.

Question of the day:  Usually feckless on grass, Samantha Stosur has wasted little time in dispatching two overmatched opponents.  She next faces occasional doubles partner Lisicki in a battle of mighty serves.  Can she overcome Lisicki’s substantial surface edge, or were these first two wins a mirage?

Roland Garros Rewind: Memorable Moments from a Rainy Day 3

For the second straight day, a home hope survived a thriller on Chatrier.

Welcome back for the overview of a rainy Tuesday in Paris, where a shortened order of play unfolded.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The first two days had featured plenty of five-setters but no matches that reached 6-6 in the fifth set.  On a non-televised court, journeymen Ivan Dodig and Guido Pella finally produced the first overtime of the tournament.  Dodig deserves the lion’s share of the credit, for he trailed by two sets to one, trailed by a break early in the fifth set, and saved a break point at 5-5.  Pella then escaped a situation when he stood two points from defeat and eventually earned the decisive break at 10-10.

Comeback of the day:  Nobody rallied from two sets down to win, so this award goes to Mikhail Youzhny for winning three relatively routine sets after dropping the first frame to Pablo Andujar.  Consecutive semifinals in Madrid and Nice had ranked the Spaniard among the tournament’s dark horses, whereas Youzhny usually struggles on clay.

Surprise of the day:  Bookended by two 9-7 tiebreaks was Dmitry Tursunov’s straight-sets upset of Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Tursunov had stunned David Ferrer on Barcelona clay last month to continue an encouraging early 2013, but he had lost a two-tiebreak match to Dolgopolov in Munich.  The mercurial Ukrainian fell in the first round for the second straight major.

Gold star:  Playing with the initials of two deceased friends on his shoes, the 20-year-old Jack Sock won the first Roland Garros match of his career.  Sock knocked off veteran Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets despite his relative inexperience on clay.

Silver star:  Another Spanish dark horse in the same section as Andujar, Fernando Verdasco cruised through an uncharacteristically uneventful victory over local hope Marc Gicquel.  A path to the second week or even the quarterfinals could lie open for Verdasco if he maintains this form (always a big “if”).

Last stand of the day:  Trailing two sets to love against much superior clay talents, Thiemo De Bakker and Vasek Pospisil won third-set tiebreaks to extend their matches.  De Bakker would lose a tight fourth set just before darkness, while Pospisil parlayed the momentum into an early fourth-set lead that he will carry into Wednesday’s completion.  We’re curious to see if he can come all the way back.

Americans in Paris:  Counterbalancing Sock’s breakthrough was the disappointment suffered by the recipient of the Roland Garros reciprocal wildcard, Alex Kuznetsov.  After he had toiled through three April challengers to earn this main-draw entry, Kuznetsov lost to unheralded Frenchman Lucas Pouille.  Still, he should feel proud of earning the wildcard for its own sake rather than as a means to an end.

Question of the day:  Four men retired from first-round matches in singles on Tuesday, a high number for a single day.  Did the increase of prize money for first-round losers dissuade players from withdrawing who knew that they were unfit to compete?

WTA:

Match of the day:  A former semifinalist at Roland Garros, Marion Bartoli survived 12 double faults (not a shocking quantity for her these days) in a three-hour drama on Court Philippe Chatrier.  Having propelled Monfils to victory the day before, the Paris crowd redoubled its energies to help the top-ranked Frenchwoman edge Olga Govortsova.  Bartoli struck fewer winners and more unforced errors than her opponent, won fewer total points, and failed to achieve all three of the supposed “keys” that the IBM Slamtracker identified for her.  Tennis is a strange sport sometimes.

Comeback of the day:  None.  The woman who won the first set won every match, and only two of ten completed matches reached a third set.

Oddity of the day:  After rain postponed the majority of the women’s singles schedule, top-eight seeds Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova will not make their Roland Garros 2013 debuts until Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament.  Azarenka opens play on Chatrier at 11 AM after organizers had scheduled her to end play on Chatrier today.

Gold star:  Les bleus may have struggled today, but les bleues more than compensated.  While Guillaume Rufin and Florent Serra fell, and Benoit Paire dropped his first set in an incomplete match, Strasbourg champion Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic followed Bartoli into the second round.

Silver star:  Three times a Roland Garros semifinalist, Jelena Jankovic started her 2013 campaign in promising fashion by winning a tight two-setter from Daniela Hantuchova.  Jankovic saved set points in the second set when another of her tortuous three-setters loomed.  Her ability to close bodes well for her future here in a year when she has shone sporadically on clay.

Statement of the day:  Kimiko Date-Krumm stood little chance from the outset against the weaponry of Samantha Stosur, who bludgeoned everyone’s favorite old lady in 64 minutes.  Stosur needed just 21 of those minutes to serve a first-set bagel, extending her streak of consecutive matches with at least one bagel or breadstick to four.

Americans in Paris:  After the undefeated record to which they soared on Monday, Tuesday brought everyone back to earth with a salutary if unwanted dose of reality.  Coco Vandeweghe and Lauren Davis each ate first-set bagels en route to losses, although Vandeweghe did swipe a set from 2012 quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova.  On the other hand, neither Vandeweghe nor Davis ranks among the front ranks of American prospects.

Question of the day:  Could Bartoli’s victory become the moment that turns her season around?

 

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Previews of Acapulco, Florianopolis, and Kuala Lumpur

Can Errani carry her success from one surface and hemisphere to another?

While eight of the top ten men are active in the week before Indian Wells, only two of the top ten women have chosen live matches over practice sessions.  Two clay tournaments in the Western Hemisphere accompany an Asian hard-court tournament as the last chance to reverse or extend momentum before the March mini-majors.

Acapulco:  One of those two top-ten women playing this week, Errani hopes to begin repeating last year’s success on red clay while extending her success from reaching the Dubai final.  Little about her section suggests that she should not, although she stumbled unexpectedly on clay against Lepchenko in Fed Cup.  Considering that mishap, she might find Arantxa Rus a worthy test in the quarterfinals.  Rus once upset Clijsters at Roland Garros and owns a lefty forehand smothered with topspin that cause damage on this surface.  She might struggle to survive an all-Dutch encounter in the opening round against Kiki Bertens, though, who broke through to win her first career title at a clay tournament in Morocoo last year.

Gone early in Bogota, where she held the second seed, Alize Cornet will hope for a more productive week in a draw where she holds the third seed.  The Frenchwoman lacks weapons to overpower her opponents but will find few in this section who can overpower her.  The most notable name here (probably more notable than Cornet) belongs to the returning Flavia Pennetta, who got through one three-setter in Bogota before fading in a second.  Tiny Lourdes Dominguez Lino hopes that this first-round opponent still needs to shake off more rust.

An odd sight it is to see an American, a Croat, and a Swede all playing on clay during a week with a hard-court tournament, and yet all of them occupy the same section in Acapulco.  Perhaps more notable than Glatch or Larsson is Ajla Tomljanovic, a heavy hitter from a nation of heavy hitters who once looked like a sure rising star before recent setbacks.  Facing this Croatian wildcard in the first round, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu knows better how to play on clay, as 2011 finals in Marbella and Budapest showed.  Begu won her first career title last fall in Tashkent, which places her a notch above the other seed in this quarter.  Spending most of her career at the ITF level, Romina Oprandi recorded a strong result in Beijing last fall.

Handed a wildcard to accompany her sixth seed, Schiavone searches for relevance after a long stretch in which she has struggled to string together victories.  The sporadically intriguing Sesil Karatantcheva should pose a test less stern than second seed Suarez Navarro, who shares Schiavone’s affinity for the surface.  Humiliated twice in one week at Dubai, where she lost resoundingly in both the singles and the doubles draws, the small Spaniard owns one of the loveliest one-handed backhands in the WTA since Henin’s retirement.  Schiavone owns another, which should make their quarterfinal pleasant viewing for tennis purists.

Final:  Errani vs. Begu

Florianopolis:  In the first year of a new tournament, the presence of a marquee player always helps to establish its legitimacy.  The outdoor hard courts at this Brazilian resort will welcome seven-time major champion and former #1 Venus Williams as the top seed, and her draw looks accommodating in its early stages.  While young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza showed potential at the Australian Open, the American’s sternest challenge may come from a much older woman.  Extending Venus deep into a third set at Wimbledon in 2011, Kimiko Date-Krumm could unsettle her fellow veteran with her clever angles and crisp net play, although her serve should fall prey to her opponent’s returning power.

In the quarter below lies Kirsten Flipkens, who lost early as the top seed in Memphis after reaching the second week of the Australian Open.  Also a potential semifinal opponent for Venus, Caroline Garcia possesses much more potential than her current ranking of #165 would suggest.  Unlike most of the counterpunchers in Florianopolis, she will not flinch from trading baseline missiles with the top seed should she earn the opportunity.  Another young star in the eighth-seeded Annika Beck might produce an intriguing quarterfinal with Garcia.

Counterpunchers dominate the third quarter, bookended by Medina Garrigues and Chanelle Scheepers.  When the two met at the Hopman Cup this year, endless rallies and endless service games characterized a match filled with breaks.  The heavy serve of Timea Babos might intercept Scheepers in the second round, while Medina Garrigues could encounter some early resistance from the quirky Niculescu or Shahar Peer.  With her best years well behind her, the Israeli continues to show her familiar grittiness in attempting to reclaim her relevance.

Midway through 2012, the second-seeded Shvedova climbed back into singles prominence by reaching the second week at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  Starting with her three-set loss to Serena at the latter major, she has suffered a series of demoralizing setbacks in early rounds since then, often in tightly contested matches that hinged on a handful of points.  Shvedova once led the WTA’s rankings for overall pace of shot, though, and her power might overwhelm those around her.  Aligned to meet her in the quarterfinals is Kristina Mladenovic, the surprise semifinalist at the Paris Indoors who delivered the first signature win of her career there over Kvitova.

Final:  Williams vs. Mladenovic

Kuala Lumpur:  With a direct-entry cutoff even lower than Florianopolis, this tournament features only eight players in the top 100.  Headlining the list, however, is a former #1 who still occupies the fringes of the top 10.  After she produced solid results in the Middle East, reaching a quarterfinal in Doha and a semifinal in Dubai, Wozniacki should feel confident in her ability to secure a first title of 2013.  Few of the names in her quarter will strike chords with most fans, although some might remember lefty Misaki Doi as the woman who upset Petra Martic in Melbourne before eating a Sharapova double bagel.  Aussie lefty Casey Dellacqua sometimes can challenge higher-ranked foes but has struggled with injury too often to maintain consistency.

Doi’s highest-ranked compatriot, the double-fister Ayumi Morita holds the fourth seed in Kuala Lumpur.  Like Wozniacki, she could face an Aussie in the quarterfinals, and, like Wozniacki, she should not find the test too severe.  Although she has won the Australian Open wildcard playoff twice, Olivia Rogowska has stagnated over the past few years since winning a set from then -#1 Safina at the US Open.  Evergreen veteran Eleni Daniilidou rounds out this section with one of the WTA’s more powerful one-handed backhands—and not much else.

Surely pleased to recruit another player of international familiarity beyond Wozniacki, Kuala Lumpur welcomes Pavlyuchenkova as a third-seeded wildcard entrant.  The Russian often has excelled at this time of year, reaching the Indian Wells semifinals before and winning consecutive titles at the Monterrey tournament that has shifted after Miami.  This year, Pavlyuchenkova has shown a little of her promising 2011 form by reaching the final in Brisbane to start the season and much more of her dismal 2012 form by dropping three straight matches thereafter.  She could end her four-match losing streak here in a section filled with qualifiers.  But yet another Aussie in Ashleigh Barty hopes to continue what so far has become an encouraging season for WTA future stars.

When not conversing on Twitter with our colleague David Kane, 16-year-old phenom Donna Vekic has compiled some notable results.  Seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, she will look to build upon her final in Tashkent last year, a win over Hlavackova at the Australian Open, and a solid week in Fed Cup zonal play.  Vekic does face a challenging first-round test in the powerful serve of American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but no match in her section looks unwinnable.  While second seed and potential quarterfinal opponent Hsieh Su-wei won her first two titles last year, the late-blossoming star from Chinese Taipei still does not intimidate despite her presence in the top 25.

Final:  Wozniacki vs. Pavlyuchenkova

(Actually, can we just combine these last two draws and have Venus play a super-final against Caro?)

 

 

Fill Their Cups: Fed Cup World Group Quarterfinal Preview

Just three months after they celebrated, the Czechs must prepare to defend.

One week after the 2013 Davis Cup began, Fed Cup starts with four ties hosted by European nations.  We look ahead to what viewers can expect from the women’s national team competition.  Having gone 7-1 in Davis Cup predictions, will our hot streak continue?

Czech Republic vs. Australia:  The first of the ties features the only two members of the top ten playing a Fed Cup World Group tie this weekend.  But they also are the two most abjectly slumping women in that elite group, having slumped to equally deflating second-round exits at the Australian Open after imploding at tournaments earlier in January.  The defending champions hold a key trump card if the match reaches a decisive fifth rubber, where their experienced doubles duo of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova should stifle whatever pair the Australians can compile.  An ideally balanced team with two top-20 singles threats and a top-5 doubles team, the Czechs thus need earn only a split in singles, while the Aussies must get a victory from Dellacqua, Gajdosova, or Barty.  Even in that scenario, they would need Stosur to sweep her singles rubbers, not as plausible a feat as it sounds considering her habit of embarrassing herself with national pride on the line.  The boisterous Czech crowd might lift Kvitova’s spirits, similar to last year’s final when she eked out a victory as Safarova donned the heroine’s garb.  But she too has struggled early this year, leaving the stage set for a rollercoaster weekend.

Pick:  Czech Republic

Italy vs. USA:   To paraphrase the producers who initially turned down the musical Oklahoma:  no Williams, no Stephens, no chance.  Like that show, which became a smash hit on Broadway, this American Fed Cup team has exceeded expectations in recent years when understaffed.  Singles #1 Varvara Lepchenko enjoyed her breakthrough season in 2012, edging within range of the top 20, and Jamie Hampton announced herself with a three-set tussle against eventual champion Azarenka at the Australian Open.  Hampered by a back injury in Melbourne, Hampton likely will trump the inconsistent Melanie Oudin after she showed how much her groundstrokes and point construction skills had improved.  That said, Oudin has compiled plenty of Fed Cup experience, and her feisty attitude that so often thrives in this setting.  Doubles specialist Liezel Huber, although past her prime, should provide a plausible counterweight to the top-ranked doubles squad of Errani and Vinci.  The bad news for an American team, however, is the clay surface and the fact that their opposition also has proved themselves greater than the sum of their parts.  Both inside the top 20 in singles as well, Errani and Vinci look set to take over from Schiavone and Pennetta as women who rise to the occasion in Fed Cup.  Home-court advantage (and the choice of surface that accompanies it) should prove decisive.

Pick:  Italy

Russia vs. Japan:  Surprised at home by Serbia in last year’s semifinals, the Russians had become accustomed to playing final after final in Fed Cup during their decade of dominance.  Even without the nuclear weapon of Maria Sharapova, the ageless Shamil Tarpischev has assembled troops much superior in quality to the female samurai invading from Japan.  All of the Russians rank higher than any of the visitors, while Maria Kirilenko, Ekaterina Makarova, and Elena Vesnina all reached the second week at the Australian Open (Makarova reaching the quarterfinals).  And world #31 Pavlyuchenkova reached the final in Brisbane when the new season started, although her production has plummeted since then.  At any rate, Tarpischev has many more options for both singles and doubles than does his counterpart Takeshi Murakami, who may lean heavily on the 42-year-old legend Kimiko Date-Krumm.  Older fans may recall Date-Krumm’s victory over Steffi Graf in Fed Cup, which came in the friendly confines of Ariake Colosseum rather than Moscow’s sterile Olympic Stadium.  Kimiko likely will need a contribution of Ayumi Morita, who just defeated her in Pattaya City last week and has claimed the position of Japanese #1.  One could see Date-Krumm or Morita swiping a rubber from Kirilenko or Makarova, neither of whom overpowers opponents.  But it’s hard to see them accomplishing more.

Pick:  Russia

Serbia vs. Slovakia:  This tie in Nis looked nice a few days ago, slated to feature two gorgeous women—and only slightly less gorgeous games—in Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova.  Adding a bit of zest was another former #1 Jelena Jankovic, who always has represented Serbia with pride and determination.  When both of the Serbian stars withdrew from the weekend, then, the visitors suddenly shifted from slight underdogs to overwhelming favorites.  Granted, the hosts still can rely on the services of Bojana Jovanovski, who fell just short of the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in a breakthrough fortnight.  Beyond the 15th-ranked Cibulkova, Slovakia brings no woman in the top 50 to Nis.  A more dangerous talent than her current position of #58 suggests, though, Hantuchova should fancy her chances on an indoor hard court against whomever Serbian captain Dejan Vranes nominates for singles between Vesna Dolonc and Alessandra Krunic.  She has shone in Fed Cup while compiling a 27-12 singles record there, whereas even Jovanovski has played just seven singles rubbers.  Hand a slight edge to Slovakia in the doubles rubber as well because of Hantuchova’s experience in that format, where she has partnered with Magdalena Rybarikova (also here) to defeat the Serbs before.

Pick:  Slovakia

Come back on Monday for previews of the ATP and WTA tournaments next week, following the format of last week’s ATP preview.

Wizards of Oz (VI): Murray, Monfils, Kuznetsova, Stephens, and More on Australian Open Day 6

Monfils eyes another Frenchman with a berth in the second week at stake.

Our colleague James Crabtree will tell you everything that you want to know about the looming Federer-Tomic collision in a separate article, while we preview the other matches of note as the first week ends.

ATP:

Berankis vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena):  Recording his best performance to date here, Berankis cruised through his first two matches in straight sets and yielded just six games to the 25th seed, Florian Mayer.  The bad news for him is that Murray has looked equally impressive in demolishing his early opponents, and his counterpunching style suits these courts better than the Lithuanian’s high-risk attack.  Shorter than the average player, Berankis can pound first serves of formidable pace and crack fine backhands down the line.  So far in his career, though, he has not done either with the consistency necessary to overcome an opponent of Murray’s versatility in a best-of-five format.

Simon vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena):  Odd things can happen when two Frenchmen play each other, and odd usually equals entertaining in the first week of a major.  Monfils should feel lucky to have reached this stage after tossing nearly 40 double faults in a bizarre start to his tournament, where the nine sets that he has played may hamper him against an opponent as fit and durable as Simon.  His compatriot has looked fallible as well, meanwhile, dropping first sets to third-tier challengers Volandri and Levine.  Against the quirky arsenal of shots that Monfils deploys stands Simon’s monochrome steadiness, which can look unglamorous but has proved superior in three of their four meetings.

Seppi vs. Cilic (Court 2):  A second-week appearance at a hard-court major would mark a fine start to 2013 for Seppi in the wake of his breakthrough 2012, accomplished mostly on his favored clay.  For Cilic, the achievement would come as less of a surprise considering his semifinal here three years ago and the ease with which his elongated groundstroke swings suit this surface.  Near the middle of last season, he too signaled a revival by winning two small titles and reaching the second week at Wimbledon.  Cilic has looked more likely than Seppi this week to build on last season, winning all six of his sets as the Italian narrowly escaped his second round in five.

Raonic vs. Kohlschreiber (Court 3):  Seeking his second fourth-round appearance at Melbourne, Raonic passed the ominous test of Lukas Rosol with flying colors.  That effort improved greatly upon his uneven effort in the first round, allowing him to conserve energy for his meeting with a flamboyant German.  Defying national stereotypes, Kohlschreiber loves to throw caution to the wind by unleashing his cross-court backhand and inside-out forehand at the earliest opportunity, which will test Raonic’s vulnerable two-hander.  In this first meeting, he may find the rising star’s serve too great a frustration to keep his composure as he battles to match hold for hold.

WTA:

Vesnina vs. Vinci (Margaret Court Arena):  Fresh from her first career title in Hobart, Vesnina has brought that confidence to the brink of the second week.  Solid in most areas but outstanding in none, she faces a crafty Italian who coaxes errors from the unwary with unusual shots like a biting backhand slice.  Vinci has become the best women’s doubles player in the world by virtue of an all-court game that compensates in variety for what it lacks in power.  Her experience also should earn her a mental edge over the notoriously fragile Vesnina if the match stays close.

Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 2):  This match lies very much on Kuznetsova’s racket, for better or for worse.  Armed with one of the WTA’s more picturesque backhands, Suarez Navarro upset top-eight foe Errani and then outlasted a feisty assault from newcomer Yulia Putintseva.  But Kuznetsova has cruised through her first two matches with the same brand of controlled aggression that fueled her strong week in Sydney.  She lost to the Spaniard on a particularly feckless day at Indian Wells, showing her tendency to cross the line from bold to reckless too easily.  Showing that Suarez Navarro has no answers for her best form are the routs that she recorded in their other encounters.

Stephens vs. Robson (Court 2):  An encore of a match that Stephens won in Hobart, this battle offers Robson a chance to build upon her epic victory over Kvitova—provided that she can recover in time for another draining match.  The Brit showed remarkable resilience despite her youth in that 20-game final set against a Wimbledon champion, although her level fluctuated throughout in a way that Stephens rarely does.  Steadily climbing up the rankings, the American also has shown self-belief against even the most elite contenders, so a clash of wills awaits when the serves and forehands of the volatile lefty shot-maker meet the smooth, balanced groundstrokes of the counterpuncher.

Date-Krumm vs. Jovanovski (Court 2):  The oldest woman remaining in the draw faces the potential next face of Serbian women’s tennis, young enough to be her daughter.  A straightforward power baseliner in the traditional WTA mold, Jovanovski once lost a challenger final to Date-Krumm as she probably struggled to solve the sharp angles of the evergreen Japanese star.  Many thought that Date-Krumm would have ended her second career by now, but she has proved them wrong this week with two decisive victories that place her within range of a truly remarkable feat:  reaching the second week of a major as a 42-year-old.  With much to gain and little to lose, each woman should rise to the occasion in a match of high quality.

 

Laura Robson Steps Up; Rafael Nadal Seizes the Clay — The Friday Five

Laura Robson

By Maud Watson

Stepping Stone

Week one of the Aussie Open is not yet in the books, but already fans have been treated to some dramatic tennis. One of the most thrilling matches was Brit Laura Robson’s victory over No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova. Yes, Robson had already notched some big wins in her young career at the 2012 US Open, and Kvitova hadn’t yet found her form this season. But the manner in which Robson won her second round encounter against the Czech under the lights of Laver Arena represents yet another stepping stone in her journey as a professional. Down 3-0 in the decider, she stormed back and found herself in a position to serve for the match at 6-5 only to falter see the score line set at 6-all. Lesser players would have crumbled at the missed opportunity, but Robson kept it together, broke in the 19th game, and didn’t blink at the second time of asking. These types of wins build character, and she’s going to need to draw on that experience in her third round against the impressive young American Sloane Stephens, who has been playing the better ball in 2013.

“Crazy”

That’s the adjective many of Kimiko Date-Krumm’s past rivals use to describe her as she strives to compete in today’s modern game. But rather than crazy, the Japanese veteran represents living proof that sometimes age is just a number. In her opening match, she not only beat seeded Russian Nadia Petrova, she embarrassed her with a 6-2, 6-0 drubbing. She then battled Peer and the sweltering heat on Thursday to advance to the third round, making her the second-oldest woman to reach that stage behind Renee Richards. She has an excellent chance to keep the magic alive as she takes on Jovanovski in the third round. Though the Serb is half her age, Date-Krumm has won their only meeting. Perhaps she can continue to inspire by booking a place in the second week.

Why?

Why me? Why this? Why now? All questions that Brian Baker might have understandably been asking himself as he hobbled to his seat in his second round match. The 27-year-old, who lost years of his career to various injuries and surgeries, was competing in his first Australian Open. He’d reached the second round where he was a set to the good against his compatriot and No. 20 seed, Sam Querrey. But then, on a routine play, he came up lame. After a brief evaluation, the inevitable retirement came, and he was wheeled off the court in a wheelchair. Despite never having knee issues before, it was discovered that he’d torn his meniscus and will be out for at least four months. You don’t like to see this sort of injury happen to any player, but Querrey said it best when he noted that Baker, given all he’s been through, was the last guy who deserved this. Hopefully he still has enough fight in him to overcome this latest setback and come back stronger than ever.

Tragedy Strikes

On the heels of Hutchins’ announcement that he’d been diagnosed with the Hodgkin’s lymphoma came the sad news that current Executive Chairman and President of the ATP, Brad Drewett, has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig ’s disease. The disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a progressively debilitating disease that affects voluntary muscle activity, such as walking, talking, breathing, and other general movements of the body. Understandably, Drewett will need all his energies to focus on his uphill health battle, and so he will be stepping down from his post as soon as a suitable successor can be found. Though he’s only been in charge of the ATP for a little over a year, he’s already helped usher in great improvements, such as increased prize money overall, more compensation for the Grand Slam early-round losers, and has put measures in place to try and speed up the game. He will be greatly missed, but everyone in the tennis community wishes him well as he prepares to take on his biggest challenge to-date.

Seize the Clay

While at this point fans could be forgiven for thinking they’ll believe it when they see it, fingers crossed it seems that Nadal will be returning to the game in a matter of weeks. After pulling out of Oz, it at first appeared the Spaniard would stick to his plan of only playing the 500 event in Acapulco. But then earlier this week, he announced that he would be playing in Brazil and has since confirmed that he will also be competing in Chile in the opening week of February. That’s three tournaments in four weeks, but with latest reports being that his knee is doing extremely well, he should hopefully be up to the challenge. Additionally, provided he’s able to quickly wipe away the cobwebs and settle the nerves that come with a lengthy layoff, it could be an opportunity for him to build confidence and repair his aura has he fully dives into the 2013 season.

Kimiko Date-Krumm: The Finest Wine in Tennis

Kimiko Date-Krumm continues to defy the age game and inspire us all.

Age restrictions on the WTA Tour have wrested dominance from the prepubescent prodigies of old. Week-to-week, players of all ages continue making their mark, all products of their generation. The young guns are fiery, full of determination. Those in their mid-twenties are methodical, but looking for a breakthrough or an escape after nearly a decade at the proverbial grind.

Then there is Kimiko Date-Krumm.

The more we see of the ageless wonder, the surer we are of how she spent those 12 years away from the game. She didn’t spend it marrying German racecar driver Michael Krumm. She wasn’t staying in peak physical condition and running marathons. She certainly couldn’t have been playing tennis, save for an aborted comeback attempt in 2002.

No, it is all clear now. Kimiko spent that decade (or longer) in a time capsule.

After all, how else did she leave the game in the mid-90s only to reemerge in 2008 looking younger than her new crop of rivals, many of whom had yet to be born when the Japanesewoman turned pro (in 1989)? How else did she retain her throwback game, those mercilessly flat groundstrokes and all-court efficiency? How else could she, at (allegedly) 42, be improving at a rate outpacing teenaged players young enough to call Kimiko “Mom?”

Whatever the conspiracy, Date-Krumm should bottle it, sell it, and make millions off of it.

(Then she could buy an island, relax on the beach while maintaining her flawless tan.)

There is plenty of hyperbole here, but only because Kimiko is, in her own subtle way, the most hyperbolic player on the Tour. We as fans and writers enjoy entertaining debates of whether bygone generations could compete in today’s game, yet we fail to sufficiently take notice of this fascinating athletic experiment, one that takes place every time Date-Krumm takes the court.

Coming from an ostensibly extinct era where mental fortitude trumped brute strength, Date-Krumm appears to lack the height and technique of shot to bother the modern player. Yet, most matches involving the Japanesewoman begin and end on her own terms. With bulging biceps, her relentless shots spring from her Yonex racquet like a catapult for screaming winners or unfortunate errors.

With that game plan, Kimiko pummels the ball as well as anyone, and has the resumé to prove it. During the last five years of her incredible second career, she has beaten players like Slam champions like Maria Sharapova, former No. 1s like Dinara Safina and participated in classic matches, none more memorable than her titanic effort against Venus Williams at Wimbledon:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbLq2BcntLg&w=560&h=315]

For all she has achieved by simply being on the court, Kimiko continues to come back for more, even after an injury ruined her dream of representing her country at the London Olympics. Riding a wave of confidence and good form at the end of last year, she came to Australia ready to reclaim her giant-killing reputation.

Drawing Nadia Petrova, the No. 12 seed, it looked like an inauspicious start for the Japanesewoman. As well as she had ended 2012, Petrova had hit even higher peaks, and looked primed for a big run at a Slam. Tall and powerful, the Russian is a perfect example of the modern game. But Kimiko proved that her 90s sensibilities were still effective in 2013; she was positively ruthless in a thrilling upset and only allowed the in-form Russian two games.

As other big names were falling around her, Date-Krumm sensed opportunity knocking during her second round encounter with Israeli Shahar Pe’er. Once a formidable opponent, Pe’er alludes to those aforementioned twentysomethings who look as eager for a way out as Date-Krumm is for a way back in. Cruising past the former top 20 player with a set and two breaks, Kimiko looked poised for another effortless victory.

In the oppressive heat and against a reinvigorated Pe’er, however, Date-Krumm would not have the remainder of the match all her own way. But unlike those young enough to be her daughters, for whom “the moment” can crush, the Japanesewoman held her nerve and served out the second round on the second time of asking. Nearly five years after mounting this improbable comeback, Kimiko is in the third round of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 1996.

But then, we should have expected this from a woman who only recently awoke from cryogenic sleep. In fact, check her hotel room for the fountain of youth, lest we be forced to deal with the fact that yes, we can get better with age.

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

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

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

ATP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mondays With Bob Greene: This is unbelievable, to be in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam

STARS

(Australian Open)

Marion Bartoli beat number 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-1 6-4

Alisa Kleybanova beat number 5 Ana Ivanovic 7-5 6-7 (5) 6-2

Carla Suarez Navarro beat number 6 Venus Williams 2-6 6-3 7-5

Kateryna Bondarenko beat number 9 Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6 (7) 4-6 6-1

Lu Yen-hsun beat number 10 David Nalbandian 6-4 5-7 4-6 6-4 6-2

SAYING

“When I’m on the top of my game it’s very hard to beat me, because you really have to kind of spill blood if you want to win the match. But at the moment, I’m not there yet.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing to Marion Bartoli 6-1 6-4

“The times when you’re number one in the world, you put your head down, you try to win as many tournaments as possible. Maybe sometimes you forget to enjoy it.” – Roger Federer.

“This is unbelievable, to be in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. I was going to have the week off.” – Jelena Dokic, after her unexpected fourth straight win, meaning she will play in the second week.

“It’s just lucky that I went through. I guess she was just not ready to beat me.” – Dinara Safina, who won the last five games to beat Alize Cornet 6-2 2-6 7-5.

“For me, I’m number 61 in the world and I have no pressure. I just go on the court and play my game and it’s not about who is better.” – Lu Yen-hsun, after upsetting tenth-seeded David Nalbandian.

“I just thought, my eyes, my innocent eyes.” – Serena Williams after a man, wearing only a shirt, dashed onto the court during her doubles match with sister Venus.

“Any chance she gets she just does it to get under my skin, and she does it very successfully.” – Andy Roddick, on Serena Williams boasting that her best career victory came over Roddick when they both were 10 years old.

“I don’t like this bye-bye part. It’s just a sad story. It’s not for me. I prefer to leave this way, quietly, nice, with a great match.” – Marat Safin, who says he has played his last Australian Open.

“When I was top 10 before, I was not comfortable because it had never happened, a Japanese player in the top 10. Always I put too much pressure to me, I must win, I must win, always I was thinking. Of course I don’t like to lose. But too much pressure. I didn’t like so much traveling… always I felt alone.” – Kimiko Date-Krumm, who played – and lost – her first Grand Slam tournament match in 12 years.

“As we all know, Bosnians and Serbs have had some differences in the past. However, this is not the place nor time to settle those differences.” – Bosnian-born American Amer Delic, after boisterous fans disrupted his match against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.

SURPRISING DOKIC

Back in Australia, Jelena Dokic is back in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament. By herself, thank you. Dokic warned her estranged father Damir to stay away after he told an Australian television network that he was considering showing up in Melbourne to watch his daughter. Jelena told reporters after her 7-5 5-7 8-6 win over Russian Alisa Kleybanova that her father was not welcomed. In 1999, Damir was ejected from the stands at a tournament in England for shouting during his daughter’s match. The following year he fought with a television cameraman at the Australia Open, was evicted from Wimbledon and kicked out of the US Open, the latter for abusing staff over the price of a plate of salmon. He was subsequently banned from attending tournaments for six months by the WTA Tour. Jelena split with her family in 2003 and returned to Australia a year later.

STREAKING

Venus and Serena Williams had their doubles match briefly interrupted by a man wearing no briefs. The man, wearing only a shirt, jumped onto the court, sprinted across the sidelines and made several dance moves before he was arrested and banned from the event. Australian Open officials said the streaker was on the court for 14 seconds. When play continued, the Williams sisters easily won their match, defeating Japan’s Ayumi Morita and Germany’s Martina Muller 6-3 6-3.

SHAMEFUL

The streaker wasn’t the only problem Australian Open organizers faced in the first week. Violent clashes between ethnic factions marred the tennis as Serbs and Bosnians hurled chairs at each other in the beer garden outside center court. Police arrested two men and ejected another 30 people from the grounds after the rivals traded punches and kicks. Tensions between rival ethnic factions from the former Yugoslavia had been rising all week, breaking out when Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, beat Bosnian-born American Amer Delic.

SHIRT WITH SLEEVES

Rafael Nadal has a new look. The world’s number one player showed up for his Australian Open matches wearing a T-shirt and shorts instead of his trademark sleeveless tops and Capri pants. “For sure, when you have a change some people like (it), other people don’t,” Nadal said. “Not everybody liked the sleeveless. … Important thing in the end is not the clothes, (it) is the ball and racquet and playing well.”

SSSSHHHH!!

France’s Sebastien de Chaunac had problems with one of his very vocal fans. It seems that when the Frenchman was serving to James Blake at the beginning of their third set, a spectator began to encourage him. The man was so loud de Chaunac asked the chair umpire to intervene. Later, during a rally, the man started again. De Chaunac walked over to the fan and spoke to him. “I just told him in a bad way in French to shut up,” the player said. The man apologized but later was escorted out of the stadium when he continued to talk during points. Blake won the match 6-3 6-2 6-3.

SHUTEYE

The Hawk-Eye line-calling system was asleep during Roger Federer’s five-set escape from the upset-minded Tomas Berdych. The ball-tracking system failed to register a shot on center court, probably due to a heavy shadow over the line in question. Berdych, who had disputed the line call, was furious when it was found out the machine was not working. “If they bring some new system and it doesn’t work, why should it be on the courts,” the Czech player complained. Federer, who is a long-time opponent of the system, said the incident only confirmed his doubts. “It’s horrible. I don’t like it,” said Federer, who escaped with a 4-6 6-7 (4) 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory. “Tomas doesn’t like it since today. Finally one guy understood.” The Hawk-Eye technology reconstructs the ball’s most likely path by combining its trajectory with images from cameras positioned around the court.

SERENA THE WINNER

Serena says her greatest victory in tennis came over Andy Roddick. He reluctantly agreed that he had lost to the reigning US Open champion, but noted they were about 10 years old at the time. “There’s an argument about the score,” Serena said. “I think I beat him like 6-1. He says it was 6-4. He always says he’s ready for a rematch, but there’s no need for a rematch.” Holding up his little finger, Roddick said, “When we were 10 I had to literally run around in the shower to get wet – I was this big. She was bench-pressing dump trucks already at that time.”

SETTLING UP

When Nicole Vaidisova decided to skip her mandatory post-match news conference, she was fined USD $2,000 by the International Tennis Federation. Vaidisova was the first woman to be fined at this year’s Australian Open, joining 18 men who had been penalized for bad behavior at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. The heftiest fine was meted out to Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov, who was fined USD $500 for racquet abuse and another USD $2,500 for verbal abuse. American Ryan Sweeting, who lost in the final round of qualifying, received three separate fines totaling USD $1,000 for racquet and verbal abuse.

SAFINA SURVIVES

Dinara Safina barely made it to the quarterfinals, having to stave off two match points and rallying from a 5-2 third-set deficit before edging French teenager Alize Cornet 6-2 2-6 7-5. Cornet twice served for the match, and squandered two match points in the 10th game of the third set when Safina played aggressive tennis. Safina, who could take over the number one ranking if she wins the Australian Open, won the last five games of the match.

STILL WINNING

Elena Dementieva ran her match winning streak to 14 in a row when she advanced into the Australian Open quarterfinals by crushing Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-2. The fourth-seeded Dementieva won titles at both Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia, in tuning up for the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. Against Cibulkova, the Russian won nine straight games before being broken while she was serving for the match. That only delayed the inevitable for 10 more mintues. Dementieva won the Beijing Olympics singles gold medal last year.

SITES TO SURF

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

Heilbronn: www.heilbronn-open.de/Live/de_Homepage.CMS?ActiveID=1001

Zagreb: www.zagrebindoors.com/indoors.htm

Vina del Mar: www.movistaropen.cl/

Johannesburg: www.zagrebindoors.com/indoors.htm

Wroclaw: www.kghm-atp.pl

Fed Cup: www.fedcup.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia (second week)

$112,000 Heilbronn Open, Heilbronn, Germany

WTA TOUR

Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia (second week)

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$581,850 PBZ Zagreb Indoors, Zagreb, Croatia, hard

$500,000 SA Tennis Open, Johannesburg, South Africa, hard

$496,750 Movistar Open, Vina del Mar, Chile, clay

$137,704 KGHM Dialog Polish Indoor, Wroclaw, Poland, hard

FED CUP

(First Round)

World Group

Russia vs. China at Moscow, Russia

France vs. Italy at Orleans, France

United States vs. Argentina at Surprise, Arizona, USA

Czech Republic vs. Spain at Brno, Czech Republic

World Group 2

Slovak Republic vs. Belgium at Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Switzerland vs. Germany at Zurich, Switzerland

Serbia vs. Japan at Belgrade, Serbia

Ukraine vs. Israel at Kharkiv, Ukraine

Europe Zone Group 1

At Tallinn, Estonia

Austria, Belarus, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Great Britain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sovenia and Sweden

American Zone Group 1

At Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Venezuela

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1

At Perth, Australia

Australia, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, India, New Zealand and Korea

Asia/Oceana Zone Group 2

At Perth, Australia

Kazakhstan, Hong Kong China, Iran and Singapore

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