Manolo Santana

Serena Williams crowned champion at the Madrid Open

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – The new world No.6 Serena Williams stormed to victory against world No.1 Victoria Azarenka with a dominating 6-1, 6-3 victory that lasted only 64 minutes to win yet another title to add to her collection of 41.

Azarenka and Williams stepped out on court under the blazing sun and the two heavy-hitters of the WTA Tour lived up to their reputation, but it was Serena Williams who dominated rallies and was in full control from the onset.

The American hammered down 14 aces in the match, 41 in total during her five matches in Madrid this week and never really let Azarenka into the match. She broke her opening service game with scorching returns, which unnerved the Belarusian, as she then struck 3 double faults.

The second set did not see much of an improvement as the 13-time Grand Slam champion stepped up her game even more and offered few unforced errors.

Serena Williams needed only an hour and 4 minutes to lift the trophy and she was clearly delighted. On the stands Serena Williams held up her trophy and beamed from ear to ear and struck different poses with her prized possession.

The Mutua Madrid Open champion joked in the press conference about how she has handled the clay surface well this week, as have most of the WTA ladies on Tour in comparison to the men:

“Women are way tougher! You guys could never handle kids! We’re not going out there and being weenies!”

Serena Williams still has her ranking at the forefront of her mind and as always she would love to get back to the top spot once again:

“I don’t play to be No.2, we’re all playing to be the best. If that’s No.1, that is my ultimate goal.”

With Roland Garros a few weeks away, Williams would love to make a big impression at Rome and the French Open to continue climbing up the rankings, which she doesn’t attempting to do on clay:

“It’s a big myth, I love the clay. I have won the French Open. Actually, I like it more than the grass.”

After her victory today, Williams has now won her 41st title match and recorded a 13-0 winning record on clay this season and as always will be a big threat at Rome this week.

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Novak Djokovic loses at the Madrid Open and says ‘no blue clay’

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – It was evident when walking into the press room that Novak Djokovic was not a happy man. He clearly felt that his loss was due to the courts, claiming he ‘wants to forget this week as soon as possible and move onto the real claycourts.’

When the notion of a the use of a fluorescent ball was put to the fiery Serb, he simply scoffed and said:

“They can do whatever they want, I will not be here if this clay stays. This is what is in 2012 and if in 2013 they come up with fluorescent balls or whatever I will not be here for sure.”

Djokovic reminded everybody that he has been here over a week now trying to adjust to the courts and get in to some of these matches and he does not consider the surface as clay, but as something totally different.

Djokovic was still angry with the ATP as he looked around the packed press room with a stern look on his face and repeated once again that it is their fault and has nothing to do with the tournament organizers or director, only the ATP:

“I hope the ATP will strongly consider what we feel and what we think. If the ATP has protection for their players and back them up, there is no way they would use the blue clay. I don’t need to meet anybody [and talk about it] it’s simple in my eyes – no blue clay.”

The defending champion pointed out that he was here to do exactly that – defend his title – which he has now failed to do and wishes not to put any pressure on his body and worry about getting injured, as the court is so unpredictable in his eyes. His point of view was that ‘it is the players who are the losers this week.’

After reiterating that it is not the fault of the tournament, the organizers or its director – Manolo Sanana – Djokovic spoke once more about his loathing towards the ATP and their decisions at this time:

“We had a couple of discussions about this last year and we were more than clear that we didn’t want it. This is a clear example of how our system does not work in favour of players. I cannot blame the new president because he came here in January and started his presidency, he did not make the decision, the old one. It’s very simple, he was going away he knew that his contract is not renewed and he made this decision on his own. I will not go into what was going on behind closed doors but something was going on definitely because he didn’t care about tennis and what the players think, only himself and his own interests.”

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Rafael Nadal: If I lose it’s not because of the courts

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – Popstars draw people into their concerts, football teams have supporters cheering them on and Rafael Nadal draws in the crowd at La Caja Mágica – and there were few seats left in the giant Manolo Santana stadium whilst the ‘King of Clay’ was playing against Nikolay Davydenko. The Spanish world No.1 knocked out the Russian in the second round with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory.

There was an eerie feeling outside of the arena where there are so many shops and activities for children and adults to do that have been enjoyed by many during the last few days – until today. Most matches played at the same time as Nadal’s were empty, including the match of his compatriot and rival in his third round match, Fernando Verdasco.

Throughout the match Rafael Nadal was adorned with many chants of “Raf-a” from around the stadium with cheers that were reminiscent of a Spanish Davis Cup match as his loyal fans watched him skid and slide his way into a ruthless victory over Nikolay Davydenko. Every winner struck from the world No.2’s racquet was accompanied with ear-piercing screams, whistles and claps and he certainly rose to the occasion today.

During his press conference, it was not his fantastic tennis today which was topic of conversation, once again Nadal was asked questions about the change of colour and the surface of the clay, but he made it very clear that he did not want to keep talking about this matter anymore:

“This tournament is not just about talking about the blue clay or the conditions. We all have the same conditions and start from scratch on the blue court. I’m talking about everything here but tennis.”

Despite wishes not to continue discussing the court, as he would prefer to talk about his tennis, the Spanish world No.1 made it very clear that the tournament should not be mentioned in such a negative way all of the time and it is special to him:

“The tournament here cannot be better, it’s fantastic. It’s one of the best for the public and followers of tennis. If I lose here it’s because I’m not as good as I should be, not because of the courts.”

The Mutua Madrid Open is one of few home tournaments in Spain for Nadal and many have continued to ask for his opinion about the tournament, but he modestly points out how the changes involve everyone, not just him:

“My opinion is not important, here I am one player, there are many more and they have opinions.”

Nadal admitted that he had asked if he could change the shoes he would normally wear for clay to grass court shoes but was denied the request:

“I can’t play with grass shoes, we play with what we have to. We have to adapt.”

Next up for the home hero is friend and compatriot Fernando Verdasco who scraped through a tricky three set match 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 against Falla and during his press conference after his victory he is hoping Nadal does not have a good day tomorrow and joked about not sharing his tactics should he choose to change them:

“If I do [have different tactics], I’m not going to tell you! I don’t want him to know about it. Hopefully I will have a good day and things will work fine and hopefully he will not have a great day too and play bad!”

Fernando Verdasco will have his work cut out against him tomorrow in front of his hometown crowd:

“Tomorrow is going to be one of the toughest matches I have had here in Madrid, he is the best player on the clay court and he knows that, but I will go out there and try.”

Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.

Hall of Famer Guillermo Vilas To Receive Davis Cup Award of Excellence

NEWPORT, RI — The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have announced that Guillermo Vilas is this year’s recipient of the Davis Cup Award of Excellence.  Presentation of the award will be made on Saturday, November 22 during the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final between Spain and Argentina to be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Presenting this prestigious award to Vilas will be the President of the International Tennis Federation Francesco Ricci Bitti, joined by past award recipients Neale Fraser (2001), Pierre Darmon (2002) and Manolo Santana (2004).

“The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the ITF have the great honor of presenting Guillermo Vilas with this year’s Davis Cup Award of Excellence,” said Christopher Clouser, Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “Guillermo is one of our great ambassadors of tennis and served Argentina in Davis Cup play for a record 14 years. He is responsible for the growth and popularity of tennis in Argentina, competing so successfully at the highest level of international competition during his career.”

“Guillermo Vilas is synonymous with tennis in Argentina, particularly Davis Cup where he represented his country for 14 years,” added ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti.   “He was instrumental in his country’s march to the final in 1981 and I know that he is very proud that he will be in Mar del Plata to see his Argentinean team attempt to win the title for the first time.”

The purpose of this award is to recognize the importance of Davis Cup by honoring individuals who best represent the ideals of the competition’s founder, Dwight Davis, 108 years ago. The Davis Cup Award of Excellence is presented annually and is voted on by a panel that includes the ITF President, the Chairman of the Davis Cup Committee, the President of the host National Association, a representative of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and a journalist from the host nation. The recipient must be a member of a past or present Davis Cup team, and must be from the country/region where the Final is being held.

Guillermo Vilas, inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991, holds the Argentinean Davis Cup records for most total wins (57), most singles wins (45), most doubles wins (12), most ties played (29), most years played (14) and best doubles team (with Jose-Luis Clerc). His overall career Davis Cup win-loss record stands at 57-24 (45-10 in singles and 12-14 in doubles).  A true sportsman, a fiery competitor and all-around team player for his country, Vilas played in 29 ties over 14 years (1970-1973, 1975-1984) and led his country to their first-ever appearance in a Davis Cup final (1981).

Born in Mar del Plata in 1952, the left-handed Vilas became the Latin American sensation that popularized tennis in South America. In 1977 he captured the singles titles at both Roland Garros and the US Open. He went on to win back-to-back Australian Open singles titles in 1978 and 1979. Vilas also reached the Australian singles final in 1977, and three additional French singles finals (1975, 1978, and 1982). He was ranked in the World Top 10 for nine consecutive years (1974-82), reaching the world No. 2 ranking in 1977.

A clay court specialist, Vilas was just as strong from the back court as he was at the net, with a strategic game of tactical mastery to thwart his opponents. He captured 62 career singles titles along with 14 doubles titles. His Grand Slam singles career win-loss results are noteworthy: Australian Open, 23-3; Roland Garros, 56-17; Wimbledon, 15-11; and US Open, 43-14.  He is credited with being the first Argentine to capture a Grand Slam event (1977 Roland Garros) and the first Argentine to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1991). Vilas was also the winner of the last US Open Championship Match played at Forest Hills in 1977.

The Davis Cup Award of Excellence was inaugurated in 2001 by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation.  Past recipients are Neale Fraser (1984 Hall of Famer) of Australia in 2001; Pierre Darmon of France in 2002; John Newcombe (1986 Hall of Famer) of Australia in 2003; Manolo Santana (1984 Hall of Famer) of Spain in 2004; Miloslav Mecir of the Slovak Republic and Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia in 2005; Alex Metreveli of Russia in 2006; and last year, Stan Smith (1987 Hall of Famer) of the United States.

The 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final will be contested at the Estadio Polideportivo in Mar del Plata November 21-23 between Spain and Argentina. The Davis Cup Award of Excellence presentation will be made during a special on-court ceremony, prior to Saturday’s tennis competition.

For more information regarding the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, including live scoring, visit the official website www.daviscup.com. For more information regarding the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and its programs, visit www.tennisfame.com.

Italy’s Greatest — Nicola Pietrangeli

With the Italian Championships on-going in Rome, let’s take a look back at the greatest Italian player in history and the man whose name graces the Centre Court at Il Foro Italico – Nicola Pietrangeli. The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book The Bud Collins History of Tennis ($35.95, New Chapter Press; available for a 39 percent discount by clicking the title of the book) where Bud Collins outlines the career biography of Pietrangeli.

Nicola “Nicky” Pietrangeli was Signor Davis Cup. That team competition seemed his private preserve, although he won his only Cup from the sidelines as Italy’s non-playing captain in 1976. Before that, as a smooth touch operator, twice winner of the French — 1959 over Ian Vermaak of South Africa, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1, and 1960 over Luis Ayala of Chile, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 — he had made his name synonymous with Italy. He did it in Davis Cup by playing (164) and winning (120) matches, more than anyone before or since during a Cup career that reached from 1954 through 1972. In 66 ties for his country, he was 78-32 in singles, 42-12 in doubles.

Twice he carried Italy all the way to the Cup challenge round, 1960 and 1961, but on alien grass in Australia, and during the reign of Aussie powerhouses. He and 6-foot-6 accomplice Orlando Sirola were unable to come closer to the Cup than a good look. Still, to get there in 1960, they pulled off one of Italy’s greatest victories, 3-2 from 0-2 down, over the U.S. in the semifinal at Perth. Despite their discomfort on grass, Pietrangeli — he had squandered eight match points in losing to Barry MacKay, 8-6, 3-6, 8-10, 8-6, 13-11 — and Sirola, perhaps the finest doubles team developed in post-World War II Europe, struck back to beat Chuck McKinley and Butch Buchholz, 3-6, 10-8, 6-4, 13-11 – seemingly only to prolong their distress. But Pietrangeli stopped Buchholz, 6-1, 6-2, 6-8, 3-6, 6-4, and Sirola clinched, 9-7, 6-3, 8-6, over MacKay.

Pietrangeli was too much for the U.S. to overcome in the following year’s semi at Rome as he beat both Whitney Reed, 2-6, 6-8, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, and Jack Douglas, 9-7, 6-3, 6-2, and also teamed with Sirola again triumphantly in a 4-1 victory. But in the two finales, only Pietrangeli’s meaningless third-day win over Neale Fraser could be salvaged as Australia won, 5-0 and 4-1, respectively.

Solidly built, possessing exceptional instincts for the game and anticipation, 5-foot-11 Nicky was an all-round performer who moved with grace and purpose. He was in four French finals, losing to Manolo Santana in 1961 and 1964, and four Italian, beating countryman Beppe Merlo, 8-6, 6-2, 6-4, in 1957, and Rod Laver, 6-8, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, in 1961. His best showing away from compatible clay was a 1960 Wimbledon semifinal, losing to Laver, 4-6, 6-3, 8-10, 6-2, 6-4. His was a career of the amateur era during which he won 53 singles titles and was in the world’s Top 10 five times between 1957 and 1964, No. 3 in 1959 and 1960. Retired from the court, he captained Italy to the Cup round twice, defeating Chile in 1976 but losing to Australia in 1977.

A right-hander, born Sept. 11, 1933, in Tunis, he is a bon vivant, ever popular with fans and colleagues. He and Sirola were the biggest winners of Cup doubles teams, 34-8.