madrid masters

Three Unmissable Events of the Clay Season

The draw is whittling down nicely at Houston’s grandly titled US Men’s Clay Court Championship. The WTA has already completed a fine week in Charleston. Clay, whether we like it or not, is upon us. There are unbroken months of dirt ahead, and it’s only getting redder. Soon it’ll be everywhere – swirling into our eyes, clogging our nostrils and matting our hair. With the last of the clear air, I’m looking forward to the three landmark events that excite me the most about the coming European clay season.

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid

Madrid was of course notorious last year for its blue clay, which was roundly condemned at the time, but has since grown so toxic in frenzied retrospect that it might as well have been laced with arsenic. Actually, Madrid’s surface was notorious for two things: its colour and its slipperiness. The organisers insisted repeatedly that these two factors weren’t related: the slickness was the result of a shoddy job when laying the court down, and had nothing to do with the colour. They pointed out that an older blue court had been available on the site for a year, and that it was no more slippery than the Madrid surface is in other years (which is to say quite slippery).

Nevertheless, cerulean dirt and insecure footing became so inextricably bound up in people’s minds that there was no way to separate them, even at the time. It didn’t help that the tournament’s owner Ion Tiriac is held out in such low regard that any attempt to defend his event has come to seem wilfully perverse. It was very easy to assume Tiriac was lying, because he’s a natural villain  It was harder to assume Manolo Santana and Carlos Moya were lying, as well. The consensus emerged that they’d been duped. There’s nothing that wicked Tiriac won’t stoop to.

In the end, Madrid’s blue surface – which improved televisibility (a word I just made up) and resembled nothing more lethal than laundry powder – was felt to be too unpredictable and too unsafe, and fatally disruptive to everyone’s Roland Garros preparation. It was so unpredictable that almost only seeded players made the quarterfinals (two non-seeded women pushed to the final eight). It was so unsafe that it saw fewer serious injuries sustained than most other events of similar stature; look at the recent Miami event, whose attrition rate was comparable to The Somme. Of course any subsequent niggle suffered by anyone was duly ascribed to the blue dirt, including shoulder twinges and a stomach virus. And it was so disruptive that the following week in Rome the men’s semifinals consisted of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, who all went on to reach the French Open semifinals.

On the men’s side, Madrid produced the first decent Masters final in over a year; an electric blue tussle between Federer and Tomas Berdych. The women’s final was a perfunctory blowout, though this had nothing to do with the court. It had everything to do with Serena Williams playing as she can, thus rendering her opponent irrelevant, notwithstanding that her opponent was world number one Victoria Azarenka.

In any case, the chorus of disapproval was not merely deafening but decisive. Nadal and Djokovic declared they wouldn’t come back unless the clay was returned to its proper shade. Williams recently remarked that she doesn’t ‘know of anyone that’s going to miss the blue clay’. Consequently, this year it’s back to red. The irony, if we can call it that, is that the Madrid surface is always relatively slick. But you can be sure the tournament work diligently to guarantee secure footing this year, even if they have to lay down Velcro, and that everyone will claim it is due to the colour. I think it’s a shame, but I’m still looking forward to it.

Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome

Rome is my favourite combined tennis event outside of the four Majors.

It contrives the perfect alchemy of real and fake tradition; the real evoked by the thousands of fine matches it has hosted over the decades, and the fake by the kitsch faux-Classicism of the venue itself. The Foro Italico’s striven-for effect of gladiatorial antiquity is utterly undone by the slightest knowledge of the facility’s history: it is a Mussolini-era monument to Il Duce’s ego, and testifies to his overweening determination to connect his rule with ancient Rome. The adjacent swimming pool is a real eye-opener.

But in the heat of battle, especially in the semi-submerged old Court Pietrangeli, the absurd colonnades and statues become the best set dressing in the sport. Throw in ideal clay, typically excellent weather, and a local crowd only ever one inconvenience away from rioting, and you’re all but guaranteed a magical week in which high drama becomes the norm rather than the exception, especially when Italian players make a bold run through the draw.

Last year’s bold locals were Andreas Seppi and Flavia Pennetta, who both ran all the way to the quarters. Seppi’s excruciatingly tense victory over Stanislas Wawrinka was the match of the tournament, conducted in a restive twilight atmosphere on Pietrangeli. There’s no telling what the crowd would have done had the Italian lost. After Li Na’s morbidly fascinating third set collapse to Maria Sharapova in the final, the crowd really did lose it, indulging in some minor civic unrest when it was announced the men’s final was delayed. Boos rang out lustily, security stepped in, and the Center Court was littered with bottles.

Open de Nice Côte d’Azur, Nice

The Open de Cote d’Azur is an ATP 250 level event staged in Nice the week before Roland Garros, and it is cursed.

It first ran in 2010, taking the place of Kitzbühel on the tour calendar. The week before a Major is a tricky slot for a tournament, especially given that the top male players no longer bother with anything more strenuous than inconsequential exhibitions – think Kooyong or The Boodles – conserving their energy and time for meticulous acclimatisation and useless media events.

Consequently, the best Nice can manage to attract are a few standouts from the second tier. However, even to secure their services, the tournament has apparently struck a Faustian deal with Mephistopheles. Richard Gasquet won the tournament’s inaugural edition, then travelled to Paris and lost in the first round from two sets up. Nicolas Almagro won Nice in 2011, then lost in the first round in Paris from two sets up. Only divine intervention prevented another recurrence last year, in the form of Brian Baker.

Astute fans will remember that it was precisely a year ago that Baker shot to prominence, setting forth on his seemingly quixotic quest to have a professional tennis career. He won the USTA’s French Open wildcard playoff series thing, before travelling to continental Europe and qualifying for Nice. The rest is history. He pushed through qualifying, and then pushed further – all the way to the final. Although he fell to Almagro, his audacious run so impressed the tournament’s demonic patron that the curse was temporarily suspended, with the dire promise that it will return tenfold if Baker doesn’t reprise his heroics every year thereafter.

The Cote d’Azur is unquestionably an idyllic location at which to stage a decisive battle between heaven and hell, and Baker’s shoulders are slight ones upon which to place the fate of so many. But I think he’s up for it. In fact, he’ll probably win it. And then lose in the first round at the French Open from two sets up.

Djokovic and Sharapova Conquer Rome, Paris Missing Williamses, but Del Potro and Clijsters opt in

Djokovic Building Roman Empire:

Novak Djokovic moved to 39-matches unbeaten after battling to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the Rome Masters final. The Serb star at times over-powered Nadal and has now beaten a man twice in a week, who, before last weekend’s final at the Mutua Madrid Masters, had not lost on his favoured clay surface since 2009. Most had written off Djokovic after an enthralling semi-final victory over Andy Murray on Saturday night as the 23-year-old had visibly been struggling with tiredness and injury throughout much of the second and third sets. Yet he dusted himself off and came back determined to win his second title in the Italian capital and stop Nadal taking his sixth. Both players were in good form. The accuracy and power behind each shot was mesmerising and the Italian crowd was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, even though they did not receive the third set they so desperately craved. “I’m amazed with they way I’m playing, especially today given the circumstances and the condition I was in,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I played three hours [on Saturday] against a player [Murray] who was playing great, I was on the verge of losing that match and I came back. Whatever the conditions I needed to step into the court and take chances and be aggressive. That’s really the only way against Nadal on clay.”

Sharapova Back in the Winners’ Circle:

Maria Sharapova lifted her first title in nearly a year by beating Australia’s Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-4 in a Rome final heavily delayed by rain. The damp conditions favoured the Russian who powered in to a 4-0 lead, Stosur taking only three points in the opening four games. The 24-year-old has not lifted a Grand Slam since the 2008 Australian Open and has only shown glimpses of her former dominant self after taking long injury lay offs to recover from shoulder surgery. But recently she has looked in a dominant mood again and after cruising to the first set withheld the more assertive challenge from Stosur in the second. “I’m so happy to be the champion,” said the three-time Slam winner. “It means so much to me to add this title to the ones I already have. Rome is such a special place and I’ve dreamed of holding up this trophy. There are a lot of tournaments coming up, and this is a great start to everything. I can’t wait to be back next year.”

Djokovic set for o2 return:

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has qualified for the season-ending ATP Finals at London’s
o2 Arena in November after picking up his seventh title of the year in Rome on Sunday. The 24-year-old is closing in on the record of 44 set by Guillermo Villas, depending on which sources you believe, in 1977. He is only the second man, after Nadal in 2009, to qualify for the event before the French Open has even been played. He has already lifted the Australian Open, plus the titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and now Rome in what has been a sensational start to the year. American Hall of Famer John McEnroe believes that Djokovic’s current record surpasses his own unbeaten 42-match streak to kick off the 1984 season due to the increased depth to the modern game. “There is more competition, more athleticism, deeper fields and more depth in the sport,” said the 52-year-old. “So his record is even more impressive than mine. I’m quite excited at the timing of this because he could break my record at the French Open. I’ve followed his progress and to put it mildly it’s been quite amazing to see how much confidence he is playing with. It’s impressive given he came in number three and to dominate [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal the way he has, to see what he has done, it’s a little surprising.”

 

Roland Garros to be Williams-less:

Former world No.1 Serena Williams has pulled out of this month’s French Open after failing to recover from the foot injury that has kept her out of action since winning last year’s Wimbledon Championship. “While I am making good progress, unfortunately I won’t be able to compete in Roland Garros as I am continuing to rehab my foot and recover from the pulmonary embolism,” said Williams. “I am grateful for every moment I have and the fact that I have returned to the court. I am hopeful that I will be back competing this summer. Thank you all for your continued prayers.” Serena’s older sister, Venus, is also doubtful for the Open after pulling out of Brussels. The 30-year-old has not competed since retiring from her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic at the Australian Open in January after tearing her groin muscle. Another former No.1, Dinara Safina, and Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky have already withdrawn from the competition. Ana Ivanovic, yet another former incumbent of the top spot, is also a doubt for the Open after pulling out of Strasbourg this week still troubled by a wrist complaint. “I’ve had this pain for a while now, despite physical therapy,” she said on her official website. “My doctor has told me to rest it completely for a few days, and I’m having treatments twice a day. Considering that it is not my racquet hand, I can still practice, but backhands are out of the question for the next few days. I expect to be fit for Roland Garros.” In the men’s draw, Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez has withdrawn after failing to recover from a knee injury. The 2009 semi-finalist has not missed the event since his 2001 debut but the current world No.370 has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months. “Unfortunately today I withdrew myself from Roland Garros, it’s a shame, but I’m doing everything possible to comeback and feel better,” he said via his Twitter account. Andy Roddick is also questionable after pulling out of this week’s tournament at Nice with a right shoulder injury. “It’s running a big risk, playing on an unhealthy shoulder with Roland Garros round the corner and Wimbledon shortly afterwards,” the American said. “I’m pulling out of Nice for now. Obviously the situation is not perfect for Roland Garros, but I still have a couple of days to hope for something to get better.” He also said that he would not play Roland Garros unless he was 100% fit.

Del-Po and Clijsters are Definitely In:

2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro has declared that he is fit and ready to compete in the French Open. The 22-year-old Argentine missed most of 2010 with a wrist injury and his comeback has been blighted by niggles such as a torn hip muscle two weeks ago in Madrid. The former world No.4 has clawed his way back up to No.27 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings since his return thanks largely to his victory at the Estoril Open on May 1, where he beat Fernando Verdasco in the final. “See you in Paris!” he posted on Twitter ahead of the year’s second Grand Slam. Kei Nishikori’s agent says that the Japanese star has also recovered from kidney troubles and will play in Paris. Kim Clijsters also says she will play at the Open after recovering from an ankle injury she suffered last month whilst dancing at a friend’s wedding. “Increasingly I am going for it,” said the reigning US and Australian Open Champion. “I am not totally without pain, but the strong tape round my ankle gives me sufficient security. The advantage is that I still have the spirit of the past Grand Slam tournaments. If I play well, I can win. Attitude is very important, even though the situation is physically very different.” France’s Virginie Razzano has also declared she will play despite her fiancé’s death on Monday. Stephane Vidal, 32, served as her coach until March and was diagnosed with a brain tumour nine years ago. “He was like a big brother,” Razzano said. “We shared very strong moments and, little by little, we fell in love.” It was thought that Vidal had encouraged Razzano to compete before his death.

Rosewall Hospitalised in Rome

Australian tennis Hall of Famer Ken Rosewall was hospitalised in Rome on Saturday morning after a suspected stroke. His wife, Wilma, said that the doctors had told her that he had not suffered any heart or brain damage and would be monitored until deemed fit to fly back to Australia. The eight-time Grand Slam champ was due to receive a golden racquet over the weekend given annually to greats of the game, which his wife accepted on his behalf at a dinner on Saturday night. His condition is said to be good.

Nalbandian Handed Queens Wildcard:

2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian has been handed a wildcard in to the main draw at Queens club to warm up for his return to SW19. The Argentine has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months and aims to be fit for the grass-court Slam after failing to regain fitness in time for Roland Garros. He joins the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, British No.1 Andy Murray and Andy Roddick in the draw. “I am looking forward to starting my comeback from injury on grass at the AEGON Championships at The Queen’s Club,” said Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Canadian starlet Milos Raonic has committed to the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships, one of the opening events of the US Open Series from July 18-24. Americans John Isner, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey are already on the bill.

Ginepri Hoping for Summer Return:

Robby Ginepri has said that he is back on the practice courts after breaking his elbow last autumn swerving to avoid a squirrel whilst cycling, and that he hopes to return to competitive action this summer.

Rankings Watch:

This week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings see Tomas Berdych climb back above David Ferrer to No.6 in the world, while Mardy Fish re-enters the Top 10 at the expense of Nicolas Almagro. Croatian Marin Cilic re-enters the Top 20 while Jarkko Nieminen of Finland is back in to the Top 50. Russia’s Igor Andreev and Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos take big leaps to re-enter the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, Maria Sharapova climbed above Sam Stosur to No.7 in the world after defeating the Aussie in the Rome final last weekend. New hotshot Petra Kvitova also claimed a new personal best by climbing above Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic to No.9. Greta Arn’s magnificent run to the quarters in Rome sees her post a career-best No.40, while Anastasia Pivovarova made it 16 Russians in the Top 100 by climbing up to a career-best No.95.

Rafa Still Edging Ahead in GOAT Race:

Last week saw Rafael Nadal reach another ATP Masters Final and extend his lead over Roger Federer in the 2011 Greatest Of All Time Race. Rafa’s second successive final defeat to Novak Djokovic gives him another 100 points to his total, while R-Fed’s failure to reach the quarter-finals means he fails to add any points on to his score.

Roger: 665, Rafa: 990

Roger Federer wants Roland Garros, Djokovic tumbles Nadal and Kvitova earns shock win

Federer Will not Concede French Open Title:

Everyone is talking about Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic right now, but anybody would be a fool to forget about the other large threat at Roland Garros this month – 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer. “It’s definitely an interesting time right now that Novak hasn’t lost all season long. It makes it a new, different situation, but for me it doesn’t change a whole lot,” said the Swiss ace. “Right now [Djokovic and Nadal] are playing better than me and better than other players. I feel like everybody can play on all the surfaces these days and that makes it extremely hard to win all these big tournaments.” At 29, Federer has a lot on his plate with a family to look after but he is by no means faded as far as top-class tennis is concerned.

The Dominant Force Dislodges the Immovable Object:

Novak Djokovic continued his unbeaten start to 2011, ending Rafa Nadal’s two-year winning streak on clay in the final of the Mutua Madrid Masters. The Serbian won 7-5, 6-4 at the Caja Magica, racing in to a 4-0 lead in the first set. The Spaniard levelled proceedings but ‘Nole’ showed his new resilient side by again fighting back to take the set. The second started with the Spaniard lobbing his opponent expertly through his legs while running to the back of the court but the magic was not to last as Djokovic closed out the match to seriously put his case forward about taking the No.1 ranking off of Nadal. “I came up against a great player obviously – he’s having a monster year,” said Nadal afterwards. “He was better, you have to accept that.” Djokovic showcased his new found self-belief when he said: “I stepped onto the court today believing I could win. I needed to be aggressive and it was a great match.” If Djokovic wins this week’s Rome Masters and Nadal fails to reach the semi-finals then we will have a new No.1 to cast our eyes over next week. It was Djokovic’s first win over Nadal on clay in ten meetings between the pair on the surface.

Kvitova Shocks Azarenka in Madrid:

Petra Kvitova lifted her third title of the year by shocking Victoria Azarenka 7-6(3), 6-4 in the Madrid Open final. It adds to the titles she took in Brisbane and Paris earlier in the year. The 18th-ranked Czech star dominated the first tiebreak after both players had broken the others’ serve in the first set. Four breaks were seen in the second and with the 21-year-old leading 5-3, she needed two match points to see off the Belarusian’s challenge. “We know each other so it was going to be tough to find the key, but I think it was who will play faster, who will be the more aggressive – and I was the first!” she said afterwards. “It’s nice to win the tournament and to be in the top 10 at the same time, but it’s just a number. I want to improve my game and we’ll see – I don’t want to be only number 10!” Azarenka was quick to praise her opponent’s play: “Petra had such a great week and totally deserved to win today,” she said. “She showed some impressive tennis.”

Injuries Still Rife Among Stars:

Venus Williams has put her French Open participation in doubt after pulling out of next week’s Brussels Open. The 30-year-old has still not been seen since retiring from her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic at January’s Australian Open and her eyes may now be on Wimbledon having signed up for the pre-Slam event at Eastbourne. Meanwhile, David Nalbandian is one definite casualty on the men’s draw saying he is “not right physically” to play. The 2004 and 06 semi-finalist has lost 6kg since getting injured in March and fighting a fever over recent weeks. He hopes to return at Queen’s to prepare for Wimbledon. 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro may also miss out on Roland Garros after revealing he has torn a hip muscle. “The results of my tests showed a tear in the hip,” the Argentine wrote on his Twitter page. “I have already started rehabilitation and I will do all I can to be in Paris.” Ernests Gulbis is still suffering from a respiratory problem that has kept him out of Madrid and Rome. He hopes to have the problem resolved by the Roland Garros kick-off. “Every time a small wind blows it affect me,” Gulbis told The Times of London. “My immune system was not good and this time I had to drink antibiotics for three days and didn’t practice at all. I hope to get a wild card into Nice.” India’s Sania Mirza was continuing her comeback in the Prague Challenger, hoping to maybe make a late push for Paris, but she was forced to withdraw from her first-round match with Aleksandra Krunic after suffering back spasms. “Tried to play today, back was no good, it’s gotta be one of the worse feelings ever to pull out mid-match,” she said on Twitter.

Roddick not Enjoying European Clay Holiday:

Andy Roddick’s miserable start to the 2011 clay season continued with a first-round defeat to Gilles Simon at the Rome Masters. The world No.19 notched a 6-3, 6-3 victory to frustrate the 28-year-old, who a week earlier had suffered a first-round Madrid exit to clay-court debutant Flavio Cipolla. “He moves very well, which you don’t want to see when you are short of matches like I was today, when you are not getting clean hits,” said Roddick. “We soon got into rallies and it became a battle striking the ball in movement, I was coming second sometimes.”

Carlsen calls for Wozniacki to Attack:

After three straight losses to Germans Julia Goerges (twice) and Andrea Petkovic in recent weeks, former Danish star Kenneth Carlsen believes the world No.1 may be playing too defensively against foes who up their game against the top-ranked star. “Caroline has trouble with the likes of Goerges and [Petkovic] when they [are playing their best] and not making so many mistakes,” he said. “When they do, it might look as if Caroline is bombed out. It’s the girls who take the initiative immediately, and you’ll get no peace from Caroline. Most people know that it is the way to beat Caroline, but it is also difficult because she, like Nadal, gets to so many balls and sends them back. We are still talking about small margins, but Caroline might be too defensive and rely too much on her own game, and with good reason, because she beats nine out of 10 opponents that way.”

Li Hoping for Danish Magic:

China’s Na Li has hired Danish Fed Cup captain Michael Mortensen as her new coach after citing that she could not regain her confidence whilst working under husband Jiang Shan, who had coached her to the Aussie Open final. “After the Australian Open I didn’t do well until Madrid,” said Li. “We’re working well together—we have good communication and [Mortensen] is helping me a lot. He’s giving me a lot of confidence and I feel positive on court.”

Kuznetsova Coach Split:

Two-time grand Slam winning-Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has announced via her official website that her and coach, Spain’s Carlos Cuadrado, have parted ways. She will still work with her other coach, Larissa Savchenko, and her hitting partner Alexander Krasnorutskiy.

Peering in to DC’s Debut:

Washington DC will have its own WTA World Tour event again this summer with the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Tennis Championships taking place from July 25-31. Israel’s most successful player, of both men and women, ever, Shahar Peer, will headline the field in the 32-strong draw which also features Lucie Safarova, Jelena Dokic and rising American stars Melanie Oudin and Sloane Stephens. Stacey Allaster, Chairman & CEO of the WTA, said: “We are thrilled to bring women’s tennis back to the incredible sports fans of the Washington DC area. The Mid-Atlantic Women’s Tennis Championships promises to be a fantastic event featuring some of the best female athletes on the planet. I look forward to this being the first edition of a great tradition of WTA tennis in Washington DC.”

Rankings Watch:

France’s Gael Monfils climbs above Nicolas Almagro to No.9 in the world in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings after last week’s play in Madrid. The Ukraine’s Alexander Dolgopolov returns to the Top 20. Thomaz Bellucci’s first ATP Masters semi-final sees him climb 14 to No.22 in the world, a career best. Andreas Seppi enters the Top 50 while Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, Illya Marchenko and Rainer Schuettler are in to the Top 100. Victoria Azarenka became the top-ranked Belarusian ever in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings on the back of her Madrid finals defeat as she became the new world No.4, a career-best. Maria Sharapova is up to No.8, her best ranking since November 2008, while Petra Kvitova is a career-best No.10 after her win over Azarenka. Julia Goerges makes her Top 20 debut while Czech star Lucie Hradecka enters the Top 50 at No.45. Incidentally, this week is the first in rankings history that there has been no Americans in both the Top 10 of the women’s and the men’s game. Yet American star Andy Roddick refused to accept that tennis in his country was on the way down. “There is no bigger crisis in American tennis than there is in Italian. We’re kind of a victim of our own success over the years in the sport,” he said.

Nadal moves Further Ahead in GOAT Race:

Rafael Nadal’s semi-final victory over Roger Federer at last week’s Mutua Madrid masters means he has moved further ahead of the early-season leader in the 2011 GOAT race. Federer’s semi-final berth earns him 50 points, while Nadal’s final defeat to Novak Djokovic earns him 100. They both also gain an extra 10 points for entering the Rome Masters this week.

Roger: 665, Rafa: 890

Djokovic still going, Del Potro’s winning return on clay and Medina ties Venus

Home Comfort for Djokovic:

Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to 2011 continued as he lifted his home Serbian Open title for a second time, his fifth title this year, defeating Feliciano Lopez 7-6, 6-2 in the final. It means the 23-year-old picks up the title without dropping a single set. After a scare at 5-5 in the first set he served himself out of a break point and never looked back. He received a standing ovation from the 5,000-strong crowd with two superb sliced dropshots, an ace and a service winner in the final game. “I wish to thank my family and my staff for supporting me all these years and also the fans who make this event that much more enjoyable for me to take part in,” he said after winning the tournament his family organises. “I am really glad that Feliciano had such a great tournament after accepting my invitation to come here. We are making a huge effort every year to bring the top players to Belgrade and it’s not easy because it takes place only a week ahead of the Madrid Masters. Hopefully, we will be able to make it an ATP 500 event very soon and I am looking forward to returning next year.” Lopez was in humorous mood after the final whistle, saying: “Last night I dreamed of being the hero of the year by beating you here but once again, you showed that you are a truly great player.”

All Go for Del Po:

Returning Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, playing his first clay tournament for 23 months, lifted his third title on the surface, and ninth overall, by besting Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2 in 76 minutes at the Estoril Open in Portugal. The 23-year-old has won 23 of his last 26 matches and has risen from No.484 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings in February to No.32 this week. An out of sorts Verdasco struggled throughout and the world No.15 will undoubtedly be unhappy with his performance here. “It was my best match of the week,” claimed Del Potro. “Finals are difficult to play, you never know if you will play your best tennis or not. Today, I won and I played really nice tennis. Everything was perfect. To beat Fernando you have to play good tennis. I served really well and was very confident on my forehand and backhand too. I took all my opportunities, especially on my break points. Hopefully I will be at the same level in my next match.”

Medina Ties Venus in Estoril:

Anabel Medina Garrigues tied Venus Williams for the most clay-court titles among active players by lifting her ninth title on the surface at Estoril last weekend, her tenth overall. She dominated Kristina Barrois 6-1, 6-2 and did not drop a set all week, upsetting Greta Arn and Klara Zakopalova along the way. The loss took Barrois to 0-2 in WTA finals having lost to Maria Sharapova at Strasbourg last May. “I played very aggressively and hit it high and deep. Kristina couldn’t do her game,” Medina Garrigues said. “She’s a creative girl – serve and volley, slice, drop shots – and I was there. I felt like she lost her concentration a little bit. I think I played well this week. I had some lucky moments, like in the first round I was close to losing a set, and I had a close match with Zakopalova. It wasn’t as easy as it looked this week and I’m happy to win my 10th title.”

Davydenko Back on Track:

Russian Nikolay Davydenko put a nightmare start to 2011 behind him as he defeated Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift his 21st ATP Tour title at the BMW Open in Munich. It is his second title in the German capital having triumphed there in 2004. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 29-year-old, though, as he had to save five break points during the first set as well as fight back from a break down to take the decider. It is Mayer’s fourth defeat in four finals. “In finals I just feel stronger, more relaxed, my confidence is very high and I just go out there fighting,” said Davydenko. “It was a very important result here (to return to the Top 30) and I’m just so happy.” Mayer was in buoyant mood despite the defeat. “It was a fantastic week,” said the 27-year-old. “Of course I’m a little disappointed losing the final, but I see the positives this week. I had never won a match here in Munich coming in to this year’s tournament. I had very difficult opponents in my four finals playing [Roger] Federer, [Gael] Monfils and Davydenko twice. It could certainly have been easier opponents but it’s nothing I can change. It’s a great feeling to break into the Top 30 for the first time in my career, now I want to go even higher.”

Vinci Reigning in Spain:

Roberta Vinci lifted the Barcelona Open for the second time and extended her record at the tournament to 14-1 with a final victory over Lucie Hradecka on Saturday. After triumphing here in 2009 she was only stopped by Francesca Schiavone in last year’s final before repeating her heroics of two years ago once more. The unseeded Hradecka had done well to reach the final, ousting No.7 seed Iveta Benesova and No.5 seed Sara Errani along the way, but it was Vinci who kept her cool to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4). “Lucie is very powerful. The key for me was to be aggressive and focused, and that’s why I won today,” Vinci said afterwards. “I was a little nervous before the match because it was a final, but I believed I played some good tennis today! This is a great tournament. I feel like it’s my tournament! I’m in love with Barcelona. I always play great in this beautiful city and I’d like to thank [tournament director] Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario] and everyone here for making this tournament so great.”

Monfils Cheesed Off in Madrid:

Gael Monfils has revealed that it was a cheese allergy that forced him to retire from his match-up with Juan Monaco in Madrid when he was 2-6, 0-3 down. He threw up before going on court, experienced dizziness and blurred vision, and threw up again once he had left the playing area. “I only had a little bit, not on purpose, certainly,” said Monfils. “I ate some pasta and it was in that. But once it’s in my body, I can’t do anything.”

Soderling Lone Ranger Again:

Eurosport is reporting that Swedish star Robin Soderling has parted ways with coach Claudio Pistolesi already having only begun their partnership this season. He is looking for a replacement.

Clijsters’ Injury Woes Continue:

Kim Clijsters’ frustrating run with ankle problems continues as she has withdrawn from the Italian Open, putting her French Open participation in doubt. She joins both Venus and Serena Williams as well as Vera Zvonereva in withdrawing from the event.

Spain Continue Nadal Accolades:

World No.1 Rafael Nadal has received another top accolade from his country, having been made an honorary ambassador of the Marca Espana by the Prince of Asturias, Don Felipe. He was joined by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, Antonio Garrigues, orchestral conductor Inma Shara, The Instituto Cervantes, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the Spanish football team, who won last year’s FIFA World Cup for the first time.

Murray’s Former Coach claims he is Best in World:

Andy Murray’s former coach at the famed Barcelona academy, Pato Alvarez, describes the Scot as the best he’s ever worked with. “You can’t go wrong with Murray. He’s the best there is,” Alvarez told the BBC. “He’s a better player than Nadal and the other top guys. He’s more explosive. He has a better backhand. He has a better serve.”

“Best Five Months of My Career” – Djokovic:

Serbian star Novak Djokovic has described his current 30-match unbeaten stretch (28 in 2011) as the greatest run of his career. Better than that, it is one of the best in ATP history. Now he has set his sights on upstaging the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal, and may get a chance to do so this week should both men reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Masters. Yet he is weary that he is yet to best the Spaniard in nine meetings on this surface. “I didn’t think it was realistic to go without a loss in the first three-four months but it happened,” he mused. “I guess anything is possible if you really believe that you can achieve and if you’re fit, physically, if you’re mentally fresh and motivated and if you’re dedicated to the sport. This is something that I have been doing lately,” he continued. “I’ve been working very hard on my game, on my mental approach as well and my stability and now it´s paying off. There is no secret; it’s just something that I’ve been working on in the last couple of years playing on the tour. I knew that I had quality and I just need to get some things together and it’s happening right now.” Speaking about that possible Nadal match up, he said: “I don´t really feel like talking about an eventual final against Rafa because there is a long way to go and there are many other great players who want to win this title as much as we do. I will just try to take one match at a time and we’ll see how far it can go.”

“No More Surface Specialists” – Moya:

Former world No.1 Carlos Moya has spoken of his belief that Rafael Nadal is not unbeatable on clay, and that there are no more surface specialists like when he was at the top of the sport. “No one is unbeatable on any surface,” Moya told Spanish newspaper Marca. “If you ask the players who’ll get more points on clay this year, obviously they will say it will be Rafa. But on a bad day, bad night, a bad match, anyone can have one. The specialists we saw a decade ago no longer exist. Before there were players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic who specialised on super fast courts or grass and players such as Guga Kuerten who had to do so much just to get good on hard courts. Now you have players who do well on fast surfaces and on clay and vice versa. Those who can dominate on any surface are the ones at the top: Nadal, [Roger] Federer or [Novak] Djokovic and before it did not happen.”

Tomic and Dellacqua in for Roland Garros:

Bernard Tomic and Casey Dellacqua have been handed Tennis Australia’s two wild cards for the French Open based on an agreement between the French and Australian tennis associations. 18-year-old Tomic is frequently touted as a future Aussie star but behavioural issues have blighted his career thus far, while Dellacqua has had a torrid time with injuries and has only just returned from a 12-month lay-off.

12-City Champions Tour set for 2011:

The new-look 2011 Champions Tour will feature twelve events across the States and will get underway including the talents of former home-grown heroes Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe. Mats Wilander, Michael Chang and Bjorn Borg will also feature across the tour which sees the senior pros competing for $1m. Four stars will attend each event and will square off in semi-finals with the two winners progressing to the final.

Cavaday’s Had Her Day:

British No.5 Naomi Cavaday has announced her retirement from professional tennis at the age of 22. She reached a career-high No.174 in the world last May but currently languishes as the world’s No.231. She entered the main draw at Wimbledon three times, losing in the first round on each occasion. Her defeats to Ai Sugiyama in 2006 and Venus Williams in 2008 sandwiched her most famous moment in 2007 when she held two match points against Martina Hingis before eventually going on to lose. She suffered with depression and an eating disorder during her six-year career and now will work as a coach with the Lawn Tennis Association.

Rankings Watch:

Nicolas Almagro continued his recent ascent up the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week and climbs above Gael Monfils to No.9 in the world. Marin Cilic and Gilles Simon are back in to the Top 20. Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Martin del Potro’s titles last week see them climb to No.28 and No.32 in the world respectively, while Spain’s Marcel Granollers is in to the Top 50 again. Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis drops 31 places to No.64 while the American Alex Bogomolov Jr. (13 places, No.91), Denis Gremelmayr of Germany (10, No.95) and France’s Benoit Paire (13, No.99) all enter the Top 100. Li Na is the new world No.6 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, climbing above Sam Stosur in the process and equalling her career best. Jelena Jankovic also climbs to No.7 meaning Stosur is now ranked eighth. Roberta Vinci climbs from No.42 to No.37 after her Barcelona win and Anabel Medina Garrigues’ victory in Estoril sees her leap from No.61 to No.42. Monica Niculescu of Romania jumps 10 to enter the Top 50 at No.49 and Barcelona finalist Lucie Hradecka is up 14 to No. 52. France’s Virginie Razzano (No.94), Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic (No.99) and America’s Jill Craybas (No.100) are all in to the Top 100.

GOAT Race Update:

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in action at the Mutua Madrid Masters this week, adding ten points to their totals. Will Nadal move further ahead on his favoured clay? We’ll find out as the week wears on.

Roger: 605, Rafa: 780

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRYAN BROTHERS ROCK-AND-ROLL ON – AND OFF – THE COURT

The Bryan Brothers equalled the Open Era doubles record of the Australian Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodford on Sunday by securing their 61st victory of their careers in the Madrid Masters doubles final. The telepathic twins beat world No. 1 pair, Daniel Nestor and partner Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-4 in a final lasting only 55 minutes. Nestor and his partner were broken twice, with the Americans saving all three break points they faced. The brothers ruthlessly claimed victory on the first match point they gained. Interestingly, all twelve previous meetings between the teams have come in finals, seven of those in Masters events.

Nestor commented, “The Bryans always play us tough…we’ve had some good wins against them but they’ve been too tough this season. Obviously, it’s all about the Slams for us now, and our next big objective is the French Open. We’ll head to Paris now and regroup. We want to be playing our best in a week when the major begins.”

Like the Woodies, the brothers are a left-right combination, which they used to great effect in the final. Bob commented, “That is definitely the best combination…the sun out there today was really bad for a leftie, so we decided to put Mike on a different side. We can use winds to our advantage and the leftie serve is always tougher to break, I think. We feel like our game is pretty comfortable if I make first serves and Mike is such a good returner he keeps us in other guys’ service games.”

The Bryan Brothers have now leapt to the pinnacle of the world doubles rankings overtaking Nestor and Zimonjic as the world No. 1 doubles pair. The impressive brothers began 2010 with their eighth grand slam title at the Australian Open and have already won titles in Delray Beach, Houston and Rome. If they were to become victorious at the French Open in three weeks time, they will break the record held by the Woodies in some style, with a Grand Slam win.

Indeed, they show no sign of relaxing their steely grip on the world doubles tour and will no doubt break the record in impressive style and go on to win even more titles, keeping the doubles tour in the media spotlight for the next generation of tennis players. “We’re still having fun. It never gets old or boring to be travelling the world with your brother,” Mike said. “We love winning titles and sharing the trophies and memories. We don’t want to say, ‘Now that we’ve done this or that, we’re going to retire next year.’ I don’t think we’d find this adrenalin sitting on the couch at home so we might as well soak it up while we can.”

The talented twins have also been enjoying the adrenalin rush of playing in their rock band, The Bryan Bros Band at various concert venues around the world with singer David Baron. They even performed with the Counting Crows in front of 30,000 screaming fans. It seems for the twins, success is like a drug they cannot easily give up. You can download their new album ‘Let it Rip’ on iTunes now. British fans, check out the hilariously awful rap by Andy Murray on one of the tracks, alongside a slighter better Novak Djokovic about signing autographs – it’s well worth a listen and the other tracks are actually pretty catchy!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Religious Fanatic Disrupts Men’s Pro Tennis Event

A religious fanatic disrupted play at a men’s professional tennis tournament October 20, walking on to the feature court and in front of a sell-out audience and preached about the evils of credit cards and of Satan before being escorted into the custody by local officials. This was the scene on October 20, 1985 during the final round match between Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte at the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. The excerpt of this event, and others from this day, from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) can be found below…

1985 – A religious fanatic walks on the court, serves drinks to Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte and preaches a sermon in the middle of the final round match of the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. In the ninth game of the third set, the man, wearing a caterer’s uniform, walks onto the court with a tray with two glasses of orange juice and religious pamphlets that he presents to both Lendl and Leconte. Reports the Associated Press of the incident, “To the astonishment of the players, officials and crowd, he put the tray down in the center of the court and proclaimed loudly, ‘I would like to bring these gentlemen two drinks.’ He then began babbling about the evil of credit cards and the devil before being escorted away by embarrassed officials. The tournament was sponsored by a credit finance company.” Says Lendl of the incident, “I was really, really mad at that. Not for the security reason, but because they were too gentle with him. They should have been rougher with him.” Lendl wins the match from Leconte by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 margin.

2006 – Czech Tomas Berdych illicts jeers from an angry Spanish crowd after putting his finger to his lips in a silencing motion after defeating Spanish favorite son Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Masters. Nadal calls Berdych a “bad person” because of the gesture. Berdych responds that is done in response to the Spanish crowd cheering his mistakes. “I can understand they want him to win the match and the tournament, but this is not a Davis Cup where you can expect this — not in this tournament,” Berdych says. Counters Nadal, “When I played him in the Czech Republic, the crowd was the same and I didn’t say anything. If you play against a local player, that’s normal. That’s good for tennis because the public supports you.”

1974 – Evonne Goolagong defeats Chris Evert 6-3, 6-4 to win the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles and the first prize paycheck of $32,000, at the time, the largest payout ever in women’s tennis.

2003 – Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium officially becomes No. 1 in the world for the first time in her career. Henin-Hardenne holds the ranking for a total of 117 weeks during her career. Her last week in the No. 1 ranking comes on June 2, 2008, when she announces her shocking retirement from the sport and has the WTA Tour immediately pull her name off of the rankings.

1991 – Sixteen-year-old Anke Huber of Germany upsets nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to win the Porsche Grand Prix Championships in Filderstadt, Germany. Says Huber “I have been dream about this victory, but I never thought it would happen. I still can’t believe it.” The win for Huber spoils Navratilova’s bid to equal Chris Evert’s record of 157 tournament victories (which she does on Nov. 4, winning the Virginia Slims of Oakland). Despite being too young to drive a car in Germany, Huber chooses a Porsche car in lieu of $70,000 first prize paycheck.

1991 – Pete Sampras needs less than one hour to defeat Olivier Delaitre of France 6-1, 6-1 to win the Grand Prix singles title in Lyon, France.