Lukasz Kubot

Leading Reasons to Cheer: Preview of Miami Saturday Matches

There are fewer matches that capture the imagination on Friday, but those that do offer plenty to discuss.  Here’s a look at the end of the men’s second round and the start of the women’s third round.

Tomic vs. Murray:  The Aussie prodigy has all of the elements that should make him a future star:  a balanced but distinctive and aesthetically pleasing game, a personality oozing with charisma, and more than a whiff of controversy.  All of the elements, that is, but competitive toughness, although Tomic has begun to remedy that flaw this year with somewhat more consistent results.  He has yet to leave his mark on a Masters 1000 tournament, however, unlike a few of his fellowing rising stars, nor has he scored a signature win over one of the Big Four somewhere other than an exhibition.  Such an opportunity might await against Murray, who was fortunate to avoid an exit earlier than the quarterfinals at Indian Wells amid notably scratchy form.  Since both men know virtually every shot and tactic in the book, a display of all-court tennis should ensue that suits this notably slow surface.

Venus vs. Stephens:  The past and future of American women’s tennis collide in a match of two women separated by over a decade.  Having just turned 20 this week, Stephens may have catapulted into celebrity a little too early with her victory over Serena at the Australian Open.  She now attempts to echo what Kerber did last year by sweeping the two Williams sisters on hard courts, a task probably within range considering the arduous evening to which Kimiko Date-Krumm subjected Venus in her first match.  The contrast in their serves should boost the veteran’s chances, albeit less than it would on a faster hard court.  And Sloane also has looked mortal as she has struggled to find her best form in the wake of that Australian accomplishment.  She will rely on her consistency to extend the points longer than the erratic Venus can harness her weapons.

Kubot vs. Querrey:  Now the top-ranked American man, Querrey has some work to do in justifying the expectations associated with that label.  His results this year have toed the line between mildly disappointing and unremarkable, and he lost his only previous meeting with Kubot in a five-setter at the 2011 Australian Open.  The doubles specialist from Poland kept Querrey’s serve at bay with penetrating returns and took time away from him by capitalizing on short balls to approach the net.  But these are the types of matches that the top-ranked American man is supposed to win, and the excuses for Querrey’s apparent lulls in motivation will grow less convincing with the increased spotlight on him.

Bellucci vs. Janowicz:  A fairly straightforward lefty, the leading man from Brazil had lost five straight match before rallying from losing the first set to oust lucky loser Daniel Brands here.  Curiously, considering his clay origins, he defeated Janowicz on the indoor hard courts of Moscow last fall, near the time that the latter launched himself on his charge through the Paris Masters 1000 draw.  The superior server and arguably superior competitor, the youngster from Poland should fear little if he can unravel the wrinkles of a lefty’s game and put a reasonable number of returns in play.  An intriguing rendezvous with Murray could await in the next round.

Petkovic vs. Tomljanovic:  Reaching the Miami semifinals in her last appearance, two years ago, Petkovic justified her wildcard at this tournament by not only winning her first match but also upsetting top-15 opponent Bartoli (admittedly, by retirement).  Since she played only a tiny handful of matches in the first half of 2012, she certainly would relish the opportunity to collect more points to boost her ranking.  Petkovic will enter this match as the favorite, but Tomljanovic enters with plenty of momentum as well.  The 19-year-old Croat defeated both Pervak and Goerges in straight sets to justify her own wildcard, producing a level of form well above her ranking of #242.

Wozniacki vs. Muguruza:  Virtually unknown before the last few months, Garbine Muguruza raised a few eyebrows when she slugged groundstrokes fearlessly against Serena in Melbourne.  Then she raised many more eyebrows by reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier, the best result that any qualifier had garnered in the desert for nearly a decade.  Armed with much more potent weapons than most of her compatriots, Muguruza aims to duplicate that achievement at a second sraight Premier Mandatory tournament.  Consecutive three-setters in the first two rounds may have sapped her energies for a physical matches ahead, although Wozniacki also opened the tournament with a taxing battle.  Extended to a final set in her Indian Wells opener too, she hopes to bounce back again from that uninspired start but has no more margin for error on the eve of collisions with Li Na and then Serena.

Flipkens vs. Kvitova:  Never at her best at the spring North American tournaments, the former Wimbledon champion has struggled with the heat and her breathing in previous appearances.  An Indian Wells quarterfinal appearance struck a more hopeful note, although her serving debacle at that stage did not.  Opponents who can disrupt her baseline rhythm with something unexpected tend to trouble the Czech more than those with straightforward styles, and Flipkens can offer some unconventional looks with her backhand slice and occasional forays to the net.  Those tactics should work better on a faster, lower-bouncing surface, though, while the Miami court should present Kvitova with balls at a comfortable height and time to target the lines.

 

The Return of Rafa Nadal, and More: What to Watch in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina Del Mar

Each Monday morning, I will break down ATP and WTA draws quarter by quarter with a prediction of who may meet in the final and perhaps the semifinals.  Fans can look forward this week to three ATP 250 tournaments in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina del Mar.  The most significant storyline concerns the highly anticipated return of Rafael Nadal in the last of those events, but the other two merit the attention of dedicated fans too.

Montpellier:  After a weekend satisfying but exhausting, Berdych travels from a Davis Cup tie in Switzerland to neighboring France and one of his most productive surfaces:  an indoor hard court.  Clearly the best player in his half and probably the best in the tournament, the top seed might face an intriguing quarterfinal test in Nikolay Davydenko, also proficient on this surface.  A champion in Doha last month, the Russian owns a stunning 9-2 record against the Czech.  But most of Davydenko’s success comes from before 2010, the year when his decline and Berdych’s breakthrough began.  The greatest pre-semifinal obstacle for the top seed probably lies in his ability to recover from the longest match in Davis Cup history, which spanned a remarkable 422 minutes.

As one would expect in a draw littered with Frenchmen (10 of the 24 direct entrants), the home crowd should find plenty of reasons to cheer.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second quarter, where Gasquet could meet Monfils in the second round.  Both men shone at the Australian Open by their standards, as did occasional upset threat Julien Benneteau.  While all of these French stars have faltered on home soil at times, they also can point to notable achievements from Gael’s two appearances in the Paris Masters final to Julien’s upset of Federer at the same event.  Like that doubles specialist, the third-seeded Gasquet will bring momentum from a commanding Davis Cup effort on French soil.

Less impressive is the lower half of the draw, spearheaded in the third quarter by Gilles Simon.  The fourth seed shares Gasquet’s task of surmounting the compatriots scattered around him.  A group that features Benoit Paire, Adrian Mannarino, and Paul-Henri Mathieu includes no challenger of a competitive will comparable to Simon.  This Frenchman’s first real test should come in the semifinals against the winner of a tantalizing all-Serbian quarterfinal.

While the second-seeded Tipsarevic has produced much better tennis than Troicki lately, the former arrives from an injury and the latter from a fine Davis Cup performance in Belgium.  In a small, fervently patriotic nation like Serbia, rivalries among compatriots can prove more tightly contested than their relative talents would suggest.  Hoping to disrupt that projected clash, the aging Michael Llodra seeks to rekindle his former magic from the Paris Indoors with a net-rushing style that reaps rewards on these courts.  If Tipsarevic does advance, he will need to reverse a poor history against Simon, not an easy task in view of his unimpressive recent form.

Final:  Gasquet vs. Simon

Zagreb:  Twice a titlist at his home tournament, top-ranked Croat Marin Cilic has started to knock on the door of the top ten again after an encouraging campaign in the second half of 2012.  He holds the top seed in a draw that features several rising stars from the region, including Blaz Kavcic and Aljaz Bedene.  The former reached the third round of a major for the first time at the Australian Open in the wake of a five-set, five-hour marathon, while the latter reached a semifinal in Chennai by defeating Wawrinka (more impressive in retrospect) and winning a set from Tipsarevic.  If the winner can survive the mercurial Marcos Baghdatis, an exciting quarterfinal with Cilic would beckon.

Among the most notable figures in the second quarter is seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, assigned a difficult opening assignment against serving leviathan Ivo Karlovic.  The young player popularly likened to Federer endured a January of extremes that lurched from his first career final in Brisbane to a first-round exit in straight sets at the Australian Open.  Beyond Karlovic, another local threat in Ivan Dodig would unleash his first-strike power against the maturing Dimitrov, which should test his focus.  The third-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, well past his prime, looks less intimidating in a quarterfinal that could showcase two elegant one-handed backhands.

Another aging veteran in lefty Jurgen Melzer holds the fourth seed in a tournament near his native Austria, where he will attempt to raise his level from an unimpressive Davis Cup display in Kazakhstan.  Explosive upset artist Lukas Rosol might test him in the quarterfinals should he survive another Lukas, the eighth-seeded Lacko.  The latter Lukas nearly upset Tipsarevic at the Australian Open, so he may fancy his chances against the Czech Lukas or a Polish Lukasz (Kubot), better known in doubles but dangerous in singles with his pinpoint serves and returns.

The bottom quarter may hold the least interest for local fans, since the only Croats received wildcards to compensate for their low rankings.  But its two seeds, Martin Klizan and Andreas Seppi, enjoyed their best seasons to date in 2012.  Seppi in particular has hinted at building upon that momentum in 2013 by reaching the second week in Melbourne, although this surface does not much suit his patient style.

Final:  Cilic vs. Melzer

Vina del Mar:  The toast of Chile when he arrived last week, Nadal celebrated his return to professional competition after a six-month absence by basking in a ceremonial welcome from the nation’s president and noted tennis stars.  Fans throughout the world, even those who never especially admired him, should welcome the return of a warrior whose presence injects much more intrigue into the ATP elite.  While Nadal probably will not find his finest form immediately, he may not need to find it here to win a title on the clay that he relishes so deeply.  Nobody in his quarter should muster the nerve to contemplate stopping the Spaniard, including compatriot Daniel Gimeno-Traver  and home hope Nicolas Massu, a former Olympic gold medalist.

The only clay tournament in a week otherwise spent on indoor hard courts, Vina del Mar has attracted a host of players from South America and the Mediterranean.  Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy will seek to shift his momentum from hard courts to clay, a surface that could reward his asymmetrical baseline game but not his preference for shortening points in the forecourt.  The third seed in Chile, this Frenchman might encounter veteran Spaniard and clay specialist Tommy Robredo in the quarterfinals.  Or perhaps Chardy will meet Lorenzi, who once nearly upset Nadal in Rome.

Often neglected among Spanish men, fourth-seeded Pablo Andujar occasionally drifts within range of an ardent fan’s radar during the clay season.  This week, he could collide with a compatriot ranked just six slots below him in Albert Ramos, who looked rather crisp at the Australian Open in a five-set loss to Baghdatis.  South Americans Rogerio Dutra Silva, Leonardo Mayer, and Horacio Zeballos add some local interest without heightening the level of competition significantly.

Like his fellow second seed Seppi in Zagreb, world #12 Juan Monaco produced a season far more productive last year than any before it.  A veteran clay specialist, he notched his greatest success last year on hard courts, where he reached the Miami semifinal.  But he regained his groove on his favorite surface while contributing to Argentina’s Davis Cup victory over Germany this weekend, and he often has excelled during the February South American clay swing.  Fellow Argentine Carlos Berlocq, known as the worst server in the top 100, should pose little threat in a weak section.  Can Monaco test Nadal in the final, as he has Djokovic and Murray on clay?  We will know better once the tournament unfolds.

Final:  Nadal vs. Monaco

I will return on Friday morning to look at the first round of Fed Cup.  Ahead on next Monday are previews of ATP events in Rotterdam, San Jose, and Sao Paulo, in addition to a more detailed preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha.

Rotterdam Results & Exclusive Photos: Federer, Del Potro, Baghdatis

It was a thrilling day in Rotterdam as the top three seeds, including Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro all claimed a spot in the second round of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament, including a first ever win for del Potro at this event – but not without some drama.

Top seed Roger Federer picked up where he left off seven years ago, as the 2005 champion won 13 of the last 14 points with his win over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 6-4. Federer’s expected second round opponent Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with a foot problem sending the Swiss straight into the quarterfinals on Friday against Jarkko Nieminen, who beat Lukasz Kubot earlier in the day.

“Any win is a good win,” stated Federer. “Frankly I’m glad to be in the quarterfinals. It’s always tough to make the change from clay but after losing my last two singles matches [for Davis Cup], a win is great.”

For more exclusive Roger Federer content on his top three grand slam wins, mental strength, his toughest opponent, and thoughts on retirement, go here.

Second seed Tomas Berdych also had a routine win over fellow Czech countryman Lukas Rosol, 6-4, 6-2. Berdych also didn’t shy away from admitting it was “a tough transition from Davis Cup. Our court was much faster with lower bounce. I didn’t really have much time to train, but I coped with it pretty well. I was able to find my rhythm quite fast and was able to play my game.”

Juan Martin del Potro struggled to close out the second set in a tiebreaker and was forced to win in three, against 2008 champion Michael Llodra, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4. “I was really nervous, especially in the last game, so it was nice”, Del Potro said durin his interview. He underlined that he was very pleased to be in Rotterdam and to see so many people coming out to support him.

Cheerful Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (looking surprisingly great in Adidas’ lastest fireball orange and blue kits, below) defeated qualifier Matthias Bachinger, 7-6(2), 6-2.

Nikolay Davydenko was also take to three sets before overcoming the “comeback kid” Paul-Henri Mathieu who had received a wildcard into the qualifying. After two-and-a-half hours of play into the evening hours, Davydenko prevailed, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1.

But another qualifier, Karol Beck, made a commotion as he took out Philipp Petzschner, 7-6(3), 6-3.

Alex Bogomolov, Jr. won when Sergiy Stakhovsky was forced to retire.

In doubles action, top seed Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor were ousted by Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, while  the tandem of Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic  were defeated, as was the duo of Viktor Troicki and Jarkko Nieminen.

Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes day three action, and the Davydenko-Mathieu match was shot with a 200mm f/2 lens Canon Nederland provided to our photographe Rick for the match. The photos are of the highest quality. Thank you, Canon!

(All photos © Rick Gleijm)

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Moya Retires, Soderling Takes Paris and ATP Finals Take Shape

*Former French Open Champion Carlos Moya has become the latest star to announce their retirement, this time due to persistent foot injuries. “It’s not how I dreamt of ending,” said the former world No. 1 and Australian Open finalist. He also helped Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 but recently things haven’t been so rosy. “I wanted to say goodbye at one of the big tournaments, the Grand Slams, but that dream wasn’t to be. I am still young for life but for sport, I am already knocking on a bit.”

*Sweden’s Robin Soderling is understandably beaming after picking up his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Paris last week but he was also praising of the man whose dream ended one step too short in the final for the second year running. Home favourite Gael Monfils tasted finals defeat for the second year running having lost to Novak Djokovic in 2009. “I know it’s difficult to lose two finals in a row in this city but Monfils played incredible tennis this week,” said the 26-year-old Soderling. “Of course, winning matches against a lot of good players this week gives me a lot of confidence. Playing in any Masters, when you play the top players of the world, every match can be a Grand Slam final. I think you need to believe in yourself and I think that can make a big change. I’m feeling really good right now.” Soderling is now at a career-high No. 4 in the world.

*The groups have been decided for the ATP World Tour Finals in London starting this weekend. Group A in the singles sees world No. 1 Rafa Nadal paired with Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. Roger Federer, Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and David Ferrer will contest Group B. In the doubles, the defending Champions the Bryan brothers contest Group A with Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski and Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Group B consists of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi and Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman.

*Pakistan’s Prime Minister has announced that Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi has been appointed as United Nations Development Project (UNDP) National Goodwill Ambassador. His first task is to help obtain global funds to go towards the victims of the devastating floods across the country which affected twenty million people. “I am honoured to become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP in Pakistan,” says Qureshi. “I have been very fortunate in life to pursue my passion for tennis. It is important for me to help people who lost everything because of the floods to get back on their feet.” Full reaction can be seen at the ATP website.

*Roger Federer has targeted a strong finish to the year with victory at the ATP Tour Finals, a competition he has an enviable record of 29-7 at. Federer faced questions about the current state of his mind after squandering five match points during his semi final defeat to Gael Monfils in Paris but the world No. 2 is confident of his chances in London. “I think I have good chances maybe in London for winning,” declared the sixteen-time Grand Slam winner. “I feel good physically. In a way it is a relief that I was able to finish the tournament [in Paris-Bercy] in good physical health. I’m fresh mentally, too. This is the most important thing. Victories are important, but when you’re not fit and when you’re injured, it’s bad.  So I think I’m going to recover quite fast after that loss. I feel good. I’m playing well. It was not a bad match [against Monfils]. I’m happy with my performance. Clearly with a victory I would have had big chances of winning the tournament. This is not the case, so now I have to look at the future. I’m going to prepare for London.” The full interview can be seen at the ATP site.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has said that it was the increased burden of expectation following his Wimbledon finals appearance this year which contributed to his average results over the past few months. “In the past, I entered many matches in the position of a mere challenger, but after Wimbledon, everything changed,” he told the Prague Post. “My opponents became the challengers and were keen on taking the scalp of a top-10 player. Every game was much more difficult for me… [in London] I’ll try to pick up my game and to prove that I did not qualify by accident.”

*The Bryan brothers have announced that they will return to Houston in 2011 to defend their back to back US Men’s Clay Court Championships doubles titles.

*Li Na has taken Gold for China at the Asia Games, defeating Taiwan’s Chan Yung Jan 6-2, 6-1 in the final.

*Venus Williams has said she hopes to be fit in time for the Australian Open. The 30-year-old has been nursing yet another knee injury since her US Open defeat to Kim Clijsters but told AOL Fanbase: “I’m gearing up for Australia. Playing professional tennis is very intense. You have to be as close to 100 percent as possible. So I’m aiming to be 100 percent by January.”

*In the South African Airways ATP World Rankings Robin Soderling has benefitted from his Paris Masters victory by becoming the new world No. 4 at the expense of Andy Murray. Jurgen Melzer, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Nicolas Almagro, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey and Marcos Baghdatis all climb within the Top 20. Russian Nikolay Davydenko drops 11 places to No. 22 while Michael Llodra jumps 11 to No. 23. The Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov enters the Top 50 and Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko, Germany’s Dustin Brown and Brazil’s Marcos Daniel enter the Top 100.

*The Bondarenko sisters have announced that they will immediately cease representing Ukraine in Fed Cup play. Kateryna has described the move as a “mutual decision” between themselves and Ukrainian tennis authorities. The door has been left open for a future return.

*Tennis Hall of Famer Dennis Ralston has been talking to The Desert Sun about his life since the amputation of his foot back in June due to infection. It’s a touching story, which can be read on their website. “The situation was bleak, not knowing if I would work again,” Ralston said. “I still don’t know, but I hope I still can.”

*After her engagement to lawyer Andreas Bieri broke down back in April, Martina Hingis has announced that she is “…not single anymore.” She is said to be dating fellow horse-riding enthusiast Thibault Hutin.

FEDERER NEARS EDBERG RECORD; KUBOT SHINES BRIGHT FOR POLAND

* October 13, 1986 – this is the date when Wojtek Fibak, the best player in history of Polish tennis, was a top 100 player for the last time in his long career. Twenty-three years later, on Nov. 16, 2009, Lukasz Kubot became the second player from Poland to rank in the top 100 in the ATP rankings. In the third round at the Australian Open 2010, a doubles specialist Kubot, got a walkover from Mikhail Youzhny (right wrist) and advanced to his first-ever “sweet sixteen” singles appearance at a major. It’s the best result for a Polish player ever in Melbourne. Fibak, a four-time major quarterfinalist, played only once Down Under, reaching the third round in 1978. Kubot, ranked No 86, is the lowest ranked player in the last 16 this year, with Ivo Karlovic being the second-lowest at No. 39. Kubot will play Novak Djokovic Monday.

* “I started to feel it against [first-round opponent] Gasquet in the last set a little bit,” Youzhny said. “The next day was worse and worse little bit,” said Youzhny of his wrist injury. The Russian wasn’t the only player who did not advance due to injury or illness in the third round. Marcos Baghdatis and Stefan Koubek each retired in their matches after the first set. Koubek because of illness (against Fernando Verdasco), Baghdatis due to right shoulder (against Lleyton Hewitt). It was very tough especially for the Cypriot because he had been in great form winning 17 of last 18 matches. For the first time in tournament’s history three players defaulted in the last 32.

* Roger Federer overcoming Albert Montanes 6-3 6-4 6-4 won his 50th match at the Australian Open. In the history of the tournament only two-time champion Stefan Edberg won more matches – 56. But given the precentage, Federer is better – 50 wins, 7 losses (87%), Edberg 56/11 (83%).

* The two tallest guys on the tour (Ivo Karlovic and John Isner) advanced to the fourth round after thrilling four-setters, and lead in the ace department. The Croatian has already served 93 aces (34, 26, 33 respectively), the American 81 (34, 21, 26). Record holder, Joachim “Pim Pim” Johansson served 126 aces in four rounds five years ago.

* Jarkko Nieminen, the greatest player to ever come out of Finland, lost a heart-breaking second-round match, falling to Florent Serra, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 5-7. The Finn had two match points in the fourth set, but was unable to convert. Serra’s win was his fifth in a row over Nieminen. The Frenchman reached the third round at the Australian Open for the first time in his sixth attempt, but lost handily to Andy Murray.

* Among the five qualifiers who had played in the second round, only the veteran Stefan Koubek (quarterfinalist in 2002) advanced to the last 32 after beating the other qualifier, Ivan Dodig of Croatia. According to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, the farthest a qualifier has advanced in the Australian Open was the semifinals, Bob Giltinan turning the trick in the (December) 1977 Australian Open. After Koubek’s loss to Verdasco, Giltinan remains in the record book.

* James Blake lost his five-set match to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round despite being a break up at the beginning of the final set. The American’s five-set record has slipped 4-13 in his career, with only Ivo Karlovic holding a worse five-set record among active players. The 30-year-old Blake hasn’t yet won in his career in a match that goes beyond 6-6 in the final set, losing on all five occasions, as outlined below.

4-6 7-5 8-10  to Yaoki Ishii – Australian Open 2000, 2nd rd, qualifying match;
3-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 9-11  to Richard Krajicek – Wimbledon 2002, 2nd rd;
7-6(5) 6-0 6-7(2) 4-6 8-10 to Fernando Gonzalez – Davis Cup 2006, QF;
6-4 5-7 9-11 again (!) to Fernando Gonzalez – Beijing 2008, SF;
4-6 7-6(3) 7-5 3-6 8-10 to Del Potro – Australian Open 2010, 2nd rd

* American Robby Ginepri posted a revealing blog on the USTA’s website – www.usta.com. We encourage you to read the entire blog from Ginepri and other Americans, but here is some of what he said; “It’s been almost five years since I reached the US Open semifinals. It looks like maybe I peaked then. I hate to think that, but at some point you have to be realistic. I have to find a way to enjoy my career again. I ‘m not enjoying the travel grind and living out of suitcases as much any more, and it’s getting to me a little. I spent five weeks in Asia and Russia at the end of the fall, and at the beginning of this year I went to India, which was a very long trip, and then took another long trip to Australia, and I regret doing that. I’ve got to take it one day at a time and see if I can get this thing figured out. Playing healthy is the main thing, as it’s no fun to practice and play matches in pain. I’m a young guy at 27, and I stay fit and do the right things, and if things still aren’t working out, it takes a lot of wind out of your sail.”

Mondays With Bob Greene: Against Djokovic you need to be perfect

STARS

Novak Djokovic beat Nikolay Davydenko 6-1 7-5 to win the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China

Fabrice Santoro won the PEOPLEnet Cup by beating Victor Hanescu 6-2 6-3 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

SAYINGS

“I would put it in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here. I feel very happy. End up the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event.” – Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion who beat Nikolay Davydenko to win the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup.

“Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, also play very fast and very good. That’s what he did, and I didn’t.” – Nikolay Davydenko.

“At the moment it’s Rafa and myself. I really still feel it’s that way because … we’ve played big events on so many occasions. I mean, we still have to play a few more Grand Slam finals. If that’s the case, I’m very happy from my side.” – Roger Federer, after being ousted from the Tennis Masters Cup and failing to reach the semifinals.

“I didn’t feel like I could go out and try to compete and win a tennis match. It’s definitely a tough prospect trying to beat Roger (Federer) with no serve and not being able to move much.” – Andy Roddick, after pulling out of the Tennis Masters Cup with a right ankle injury.

“I don’t know if the injury (resulted) from my fight to be number one because in reality, I didn’t play in any extra tournaments, I only played what I had to for the ranking and I don’t think you can reproach me for that. I didn’t do anything crazy to be No. 1.” – Rafael Nadal.

“Rafa comes in off a very tough year and his body has been warning him for weeks. It’s an acute injury that needs time to recuperate. If he played in Argentina, it could become worse.” – Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, Spanish Davis Cup team doctor, saying Nadal would not play in the Cup final against Argentina.

“It’s disappointing (Rafael) Nadal cannot be with us but we shouldn’t talk about him any more from now on.” – Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, Spain’s Davis Cup captain, as he replaced the world’s top-ranked player with little-known Marcel Granollers.

“It’s always hard to win against Federer. I know that I have to play my best tennis. But in another way, it’s easier for me because I have no question in any head. I just want to give everything, every point to my best tennis to win. It’s easier to play in that way.” – Gilles Simon, after beating Roger Federer in the first match at the Tennis Masters Cup.

“The better you play, the better he plays. He’s quite a unique player and he makes you work hard and runs very well. He’s unusual to play against.” – Roger Federer, about Gilles Simon, who won their opening-round round-robin match at Shanghai.

“I think the umpires are not going to miss me. I’ve been quite tough on those guys.” – Jonas Bjorkman, who retired after 17 years on the ATP tour.

“She will laugh at herself, cry over sad memories, swear if she is angry, be shy about intimate details, and that is why she is a perfect movie hero.” – Film critic Dubravka Lakic, on his documentary on Jelena Jankovic.

“For the first time in my career I feel sad that the season is over.” – Elena Dementieva.

SLICED

After celebrating his Tennis Masters Cup victory by joining his coach, family and a former Miss University in the stands, Novak Djokovic realized he had cut his left hand. He had the trainer apply a bandage before accepting the trophy for capturing the season-ending tournament. Following his victory over Nikolay Davydenko, Djokovic celebrated by tossing two racquets, his wristbands and sweat-soaked shirt into the crowd at Shanghai’s Qi Zhong Stadium. Then he went to the player’s box where he hugged everyone in his entourage. That’s when he noticed his bloody hand. “You don’t feel the pain in the moments of happiness,” Djokovic said.

STRICKENED

After losing his first round-robin match, Andy Roddick pulled out of the Tennis Masters Cup with a right ankle injury. The 26-year-old American said he rolled the ankle during a warm-up drill in practice. He initially hoped treatment would allow him to play his second match, against Roger Federer, but realized during his pre-match warm-up that he couldn’t run or serve well enough. Roddick, who also missed the 2005 Tennis Masters Cup because of an injury, was replaced in the elite eight-man field by Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.

SEPARATED

When Rafael Nadal was forced to pull out of the Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina, he was replaced by little-known Marcel Granollers, who will be making his Davis Cup debut. Granollers, who is ranked 56th in the world, will join David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez as Spain attempts to win the famed international Cup for the first time since 2004. Also taking himself out of contention for the Spanish squad was Tommy Robredo.

STRAIGHT TO THE BANK

There’s a whole new look to the career money leaders in women’s tennis. Lindsay Davenport took over the top spot when she won USD $295,412 in 2008, boosting her career total to USD $22,144,715. Although she won both Wimbledon and the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar, Venus Williams slipped behind her sister Serena, the US Open winner. But Serena and Venus are now second and third on the WTA Tour career earnings list. Serena has pocketed USD $21,961,407, with Venus right behind at USD $21,921,346. For 2008, Serena earned USD $3,852,173 and Venus USD $3,747,565. Steffi Graf dropped from first to fourth on the career earnings list with USD $21,895,277, followed by Martina Navratilova at USD $21,626,089.

SIMON SURPRISE

It didn’t take long for this year’s Tennis Masters Cup to pull off a surprise. Gilles Simon made his debut by shocking four-time champion Roger Federer 4-6 6-4 6-3. It was Simon’s 50th ATP match win of the season, a year that saw the Frenchman break into the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time. Simon has also shown that the opening set is only the beginning of a match. The 23-year-old leads the ATP with 14 match wins after losing the first set. Against Federer, he also was a break down in the second set. “I defeated him once in Toronto, so it was easier to finish the match,” Simon said. “For sure it was one of the best victories of my career.”

SWEDE GOING

Jonas Bjorkman has hung up his racquets. The Swede finished his 17-year tennis career when he and partner Kevin Ullyett failed to qualify for the doubles semifinals at the year-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China. A Wimbledon singles semifinalist two years ago, Bjorkman won more than USD $14 million over his career as well as three Davis Cup titles with his country in 1994, 1997 and 1998. Although his playing career is over, Bjorkman isn’t leaving the sport. He will be editing a Swedish tennis magazine.

SWEDE COMING

Stefan Edberg is making his Outback Champions Series debut at the Emirates NBD’s The Legends “Rock” Dubai this week. The six-time Grand Slam tournament winner is joining the six-player round-robin field that includes Jim Courier, Sergi Bruguera, Anders Jarryd, Wayne Ferreira and defending champion Paul Haarhuis. Edberg is one of 15 men in the history of tennis to play in all four major singles finals during his career, winning twice at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The stoic Swede lost the 1989 French Open final to Michael Chang in a five-set thriller.

SLOVAKIAN ADDED

Daniel Hantuchova will play in next year’s inaugural Brisbane International tennis tournament. Organizers said the Slovakian star will join French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and reigning Australian Women’s Hardcourt champion Li Na in the field. The Brisbane International will be played at a new tennis center in the Queensland capital from January 4-11 and replaces both the men’s and women’s Australian Hardcourt championships. The Brisbane International men’s draw will feature Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marcos Baghdatis, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Mardy Fish.

SPOTLIGHT

A documentary film about Jelena Jankovic has opened in movie theaters in Serbia. The 80-minute film, titled “Jelena’s World,” follows the world’s number one-ranked women’s player during tournaments in Madrid and Berlin, as well as her frequent but brief visits to her hometown Belgrade. The movie’s makers, Talas Film, hope to distribute the film world-wide. Director Tanja Brzakovic said the documentary was borne out of her fascination with Jankovic.

SERENA’s SCHOOL

There’s a school in Kenya named for Serena Williams. The tennis ace was on hand when the Serena Williams Secondary school in the Eastern province district of Makueni was opened. The school was constructed through funds provided by Serena, computer company Hewlett Packard and The Build African Schools Organization, which funds and supports construction of schools in marginalized areas. Since the area does not have electricity, the school’s state-of-the-art computer laboratory runs on solar power supplied by Hewlett Packard. Following the ceremony, Williams paid a courtesy call on Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

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SERVING STILL

Andy Roddick is upset over plans to make players turn up for more tournaments next year. However, the hard-serving American refused to blame the rigorous tennis schedule for the ankle injury that forced him to pull out of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. “I think too much is asked of us as far as playing eleven months of the year, and now they’re imposing more mandatory tournaments,” Roddick said. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” The ATP tour has revealed a 2009 schedule that calls for top players to attend eight of the nine Masters events plus four lower-tier tournaments. That, of course, doesn’t include the four Grand Slam tournaments.

STOPPING STILL

There will be an ATP tournament in Hamburg, Germany, in 2009, despite the legal battle over the future of the event. The German tennis federation (DTB) said the tournament would be held in late July. At the same time, the DTB is appealing a United States court decision that upheld the ATP’s right to downgrade the Hamburg tournament from one in which all of the top players had to compete.

SHOES, ETC.

Lacoste has extended its partnership with the ATP and will be the official apparel and footwear partner of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals until 2013. As part of the restructuring of men’s tennis in 2009, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will replace the Tennis Masters Cup as the season-ending tournament with the top eight singles players and top eight top doubles teams. As the exclusive provider of apparel and footwear for the tournament, Lacoste will also continue to dress the lines people and ball kids.

SIGNED UP

Tom Gorman has signed on as the new director of tennis at La Quinta Resort & PGA West in the Palm Springs, California, area. A two-time NCAA All-American Gorman reached the semifinals at the US Open, Wimbledon and the French Open during his long career. He was on the winning American Davis Cup team in 1972 and coached the US women’s Wightman Cup and Federation Cup teams in 1984 and 1985. In 1986, he was named the US men’s Davis Cup coach, a position he held for eight years. Gorman was coach with the Americans won the Davis Cup in 1990 and 1992.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Shanghai: Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (3) 6-2

Dnepropetrovsk: Guillermo Canas and Dmitry Tursunov beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 6-3 7-6 (5)

SITES TO SURF

Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com

Odense: www.nordeadanishopen.dk/

Helsinki: www.ippopen.net

Macao: www.blackrocktourofchampions.com/3/events/2008/macao.asp

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

DAVIS CUP

(Final)

(Nov. 21-23)

Argentina vs. Spain at Mar Del Plata, Argentina, hard

ATP

$125,000 IPP Open, Helsinki, Finland, hard

WOMEN’S TOUR

$100,000 Nordea Danish Open, Odense, Denmark, carpet

SENIORS

Blackrock Tour of Champions, Macao, China