By Maud Watson
In a fitting end to the 2010 season, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off in the finals of the ATP World Tour Championships. While not as intense as some of their previous encounters, there were some absolutely fantastic rallies and scintillating shot making. When the last ball was struck, it was Federer who came out on top. The loss shouldn’t take away from Nadal’s season, as with a stellar clay court run and three majors in his back pocket, it was clearly his year. But for Federer fans, the performance he put on over the course of the last week is extremely encouraging. Coach Annacone has done wonders with the Swiss Maestro, and he was producing plenty of vintage Federer tennis throughout the tournament. It has certainly set things up for an intriguing start to 2011 as Nadal looks to complete a “Nadal Slam,” Federer looks to regain his hold at the top of the sport, and the rest of field tries break the stranglehold these two have had on the game.
Earlier this week it was announced that Robin Soderling and Magnus Norman will be ending their partnership as player and coach. The parting was amicable, with Norman wanting to spend more time on his personal life and Soderling, understandably, needing a coach who can be with him full time. The split has the potential to be a setback for Soderling, who has seen his game and ranking improve in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Norman. At only 26 with his game improving and confidence growing, however, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be able to find some experienced coach willing to step up to the plate and try to take the big-hitting Swede to the next level.
The WTA listed its award winners this week, and the top honor went to Kim Clijsters, who was named the player of the year. While some might have made a case that Serena should have received the honor with two majors (a season that admittedly most players would gladly take), it’s a tough argument to win when she only played six tournaments over the course of the entire year. In addition to player of the year, Clijsters also received the player service award, and her fellow Belgian Justine Henin brought more honor to their home nation by being named the comeback player of the year. The remaining awards fittingly went to Maria Sharapova as humanitarian of the year, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko as doubles team of the year, and Petra Kvitova as the newcomer of the year.
Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev has to be feeling confident of Russia’s chances in the 2011 Fed Cup, having named Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Sharapova for the first-round tie against France in February. The real steal in that lineup is Sharapova, though a source from her team as alleged that Sharapova has stated she is only “very likely” to play as opposed to being a sure a thing. Sharapova has only competed for Russia once, that time coming in 2008 in order to be eligible for the Olympics. She is in a similar situation here, having to make herself available for Fed Cup duty at least once in order to be eligible for the 2012 Olympics. In many ways, her participation is similar to that of the Williams Sisters for the United States, and while you can’t fault a coach for wanting to put his best talent forward, it seems unfair to bypass another player who has continually put in the time (especially with a country like Russia, that has a deep pool to pull from) just so that someone like a Sharapova wants a shot at Olympic glory. Perhaps the system needs to be tweaked and force a player to be available for duty on more than one occasion if they want the top honor of representing their country in the Olympics.
Taking a Stand
Former pro and Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge released a statement earlier this week stating that three players, Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly, have been barred from contesting the December playoffs for the chance to earn a spot in the Australian Open. All three (and certainly not surprisingly in Klein’s case), have received the bans due to their “numerous accounts of unacceptable behavior at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months.” Given the promise some of these juniors have shown, as well as the fact that Lleyton Hewitt is the only Australian male in the Top 100, it’s admirable that Tennis Australia is doing the right thing taking a tough stand with its players, even if it might temporarily hold back their development. Hopefully these guys will turn it around and prove fruitful prospects for a nation that has one of the richest tennis traditions in history.
By Maud Watson
Blast from the Past – My biggest praise this week goes to Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Not only did he defeat six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the final of Halle, but he did so after having undergone two hip surgeries. The match had more than shades of the old Hewitt who was at the top of the game nearly ten years ago, with the Aussie chasing down everything that Federer threw at him. While it has to be said that Federer’s game did go off, there’s no doubt Hewitt played a large part in making it so. Down a set and 0-40 at four-all in the second, Hewitt refused to succumb. Federer clearly became a bit rattled and began to press, ultimately resulting in Hewitt snapping his 15-match losing streak against the Swiss. Wimbledon is a different prospect with the matches all being best of five, but given his status as a former Wimbledon champ and his current run of form, Hewitt’s suddenly looking like a decent pick to go deep at SW19.
Back on Track – After the dismal circumstances under which Sam Querrey made his exit at Roland Garros, it was nice to see him quickly back on the horse and in the winner’s circle this past weekend at the Queen’s Club. Querrey held his nerve to take a tight two-set victory over compatriot Mardy Fish, whom it also has to be said put together one of the nicer weeks of tennis he’s had in awhile. And as a sidebar to Querrey’s win and Hewitt’s, I think it’s safe to say that while it’s tough to bet against the big boys at the majors, this Wimbledon feels a little more wide open than it has in recent memory.
Undecided – Well, the Swiss Miss may not be done after all. No, Martina Hingis isn’t contemplating making yet another comeback to the singles game, but she is seriously considering the possibility of coming back to play doubles on the WTA Tour, naming American Lindsay Davenport as her current choice of partner. Hingis has already committed to playing 14 matches in World Team Tennis for the New York Buzz this summer, and given her level of talent, it’s hard to imagine it will take her long to shake the dust off her game. She’ll also be teaming with former partner Anna Kournikova to play the Legends Doubles event at Wimbledon, and I’m sure many are hoping that a potential return of Hingis to WTA Tour doubles will entice Kournikova to eventually follow suit.
Salt to the Wound – Brit Alex Bogdanovic has made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t thrilled when he learned he wouldn’t be receiving one of the Wimbledon main draw wildcards despite the fact that he meets the ranking criteria. But he didn’t give up hope at having another shot at winning a main draw match and opted to take his chances in the qualies. It was there in the second round that he came up short against talented Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, losing by a heartbreaking 24-22 in the third. I’m not a huge Bogdanovic fan, and I perfectly understand the logic behind not granting him a wildcard. But at 24-22 in the third, you gotta feel a little sympathy for the guy.
More Returns – This week has marked the return of a couple more players to the main tour just in time for the Big W. Eastbourne has seen Belgian Kim Clijsters bounce back nicely from the foot injury that kept her out of Roland Garros, as well as Frenchman Gilles Simon, whose absence from the 2010 season has been long and frustrating. While it’s a big ask for either to set high expectations for Wimbledon (Simon much more so than Clijsters), it’s great to see them notching some wins under their belt and gaining some momentum as they’re shortly to head into the heart of the summer season. And in case anyone missed it, former No. 1 and French Open champion Thomas Muster will be making a return to the Challenger Circuit at the age of 42. I’m not quite sure what the thought process was behind this return other than for love of the game, but to each their own. Maybe he was inspired by Kimiko Date Krumm.
I was just reading the Tennis Fanhouse article by Greg Couch, a very good writer I must say, and he wrote that despite the 70 million dollar endorsement Sharapova recently signed she is still nothing more than a puppet in the hands of marketeers.
She is nothing but an Anna Kournikova but then with results. Well, can you blame them? Sharapova = money. She makes companies and brands money. Whether it be Nike or Cole Haan, Sharapova makes them money. And Sharapova knows it! If Maria doesn’t know then I would suggest that she checks her bank balance and see if Nike has deposited that $70 million. And for every million in that endorsement deal, Nike is sure to make 2 or 3 times that amount.
But I have to say that Greg is right, with big money come big expectations. Nike takes a big risk spending so much money on one player. Theoratically Sharapova can live up to those big expectations. She has won three majors after all at the age of 22. But will she actually live up to the big expectations? Nobody can really tell. Her shoulder may act up and that could mean that she could be off the courts for another year. She could be lovesick and throw matches. Who knows? There are too many factors that you have to take in in consideration to actually figure out if she is worth all that money.
What did Sharapova have to say about her loss not much except:
“You know, just a bad day,” she said. “A bad day’s not going to stop me from doing what I love. I’m still going to go back on the court and work hard and perform.
“I’ll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you’ll watch.”
And I’ll be sure to watch on that Saturday of the second week until then I have my many photos to keep me and you entertained.