Marat Safin

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On The Hunt: Get to Know 11-year-old Longines Future Tennis Aces Competitor Adam Neff

Adam Neff to compete in Longines Future Tennis Aces event in Paris.

(May 28, 2013) After winning the USTA Boys’ 12s Spring Nationals last month, 11-year-old Adam Neff has earned a spot to compete against hopefuls from fifteen other countries in the Longines Future Tennis Aces event in Paris, France from May 30-June 1.

One look at Neff and you can hardly believe he is only 11 years old. Having grown ten inches over the past year to a height of 5’8” (173cm), his coach of four years, Lance Luciani, laughs at the thought that his pupil will soon tower over him. In fact, doctors anticipate he will grow to a height closer to 6’5” (196cm) by the time he’s done growing, and according to Luciani, he is looking to develop Neff into a similar body type of former world No. 1 Marat Safin.

Neff’s trip back to Paris, this time for the Longines event, signals a “second chance” for the young player as he attempts to redeem himself. Earlier this year while traveling to a junior tournament with his coach, Neff came down with a bad case of Norovirus, and was unable to eat for 10 days, losing 13 pounds. Not surprisingly, he lost in the first round “and it really hurt Adam because he lost to someone he probably shouldn’t have lost to,” Luciani offered. “He felt bad that it happened, and when he heard about the Longines event and how the winner of the 12s Nationals had an automatic bid, he said that it was his chance to go back (to Europe).”

At the 12s Nationals, Neff didn’t drop a set en route to the title, guaranteeing him the all-expense paid trip back to France this week.

Pupil and coach began working together shortly after Luciani’s ten year stint at the IMG Academies teaching students strategy and tactics, including several current professional tennis players, and Luciani jokes about his already four-year partnership with Neff:

“You can only coach a kid for that long if you like the kid, and Adam is a really nice young gentleman.”

The skills that Luciani has ingrained in Neff as well as Neff’s own goal to become world No. 1 one day, has allowed him to be a player mature beyond his years. Luciani imparts words of wisdom, teaching him that although “you may lose a few battles, you are not losing the war,” and Neff has won 85% of his matches in the past year using that slogan. The absolute trust and respect between player and coach, and Neff’s teachability on court, has only propelled his chances at becoming a future breakout star.

“A lot of coaches are about today, and today’s results,” said Luciani. “I once had a coach, who after Adam’s match, pointed out to him that he had missed his backhand 17 times, and then asked him ‘Don’t you think you should have changed it?’ And Adam said, ‘No, my coach told me this is the footwork I’m supposed to use.’”

“And now, one year later,” Luciani elaborates, “because Adam’s body (after having grown ten inches) matches up with what I wanted him to do back then, he’ll now make that same shot 16 out of 17 times.”

And Luciani continues, referring to the steps in his program: “It may be ugly in the beginning, but eventually it’s going to be beautiful.”

The system that Luciani employs is a self-designed program called “Strategy Zone” which is a “very aggressive system based on Andre Agassi and how he built points … and teaches a lot about footwork, targets, amounts of spin, stances and more.” The first four years are spent working on offense “to get a good base,” adding in several new skills every six months. Because Neff has now been with Luciani just over four years, the second stage of the program — the defense — was introduced this past January and “it’s already starting to show up in his game,” states Luciani. “Defensively, we’re working on slicing a little more on his backhand side, and we have a fitness trainer who is working right now on his movement to his right, so he can get to the ball earlier and go from a defensive situation to an offensive situation quickly.”

Neff’s at-home training includes two hours of tennis in the morning, followed by one hour of a private fitness session with his trainer, and an additional hour of tennis in the afternoon, followed by a recovery session every evening. If you’re thinking that this sounds an awful lot like a professional athlete’s schedule, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, many pros hold this similar schedule while preparing for some of tennis’ biggest events.

And to go along with the training, Neff’s backyard is equipped with every tennis player’s dream: a state-of-the-art facility and courts.

When Neff and Luciani first started working together, Neff’s father asked Luciani what he needed in order to give Neff his best chance at becoming a pro. Luciani gave some pointers, construction began and now, their backyard in Bradenton, FL has one of the best facilities in the world. Among it are three tennis courts: 1) a European red clay court akin to the surface of the French Open, 2) a slower hard court like that used at the Sony Open in Miami with seven layers of cushion “to ensure we can save his knees,” states Luciani, and 3) a faster hard court like that found at the US Open with eleven layers of cushion.

It also includes a full 2800 square foot indoor gym with a recovery area, including a CVAC unit like that used by Novak Djokovic. In fact, Luciani researched the manufacturer of that same recovery pod and leased a unit for five years to allow his pupil to have optimum recovery after playing. “There’s nothing like it for recovery,” he states. “If you get injured, you get well really quick.”

Neff’s parents are both doctors and have put everything into Adam and his two younger sisters to become the tennis players their kids aspire to be. Though “successful and busy” individuals, “his parents are extraordinarily supportive,” says Luciani. “They don’t get upset at losses; they just brush them off and are really down to earth … They built (the house and facility) so that their kids can grow up and have a chance to do whatever they wanted to do in tennis. His parents trust me because they know I have their kids’ goals in mind.”

With his efforts culminating this week in Paris, Neff will vie for a shot to win the Longines Future Tennis Aces event, and as Luciani reiterates his and Neff’s long-time goals: “We’re on a mission, there is no other goal. Number two is a failure, bottom line. We’re on a hunt.”

Alex Kuznetsov Q&A: USTA Roland Garros Wild Card Hopeful on His Start and Goals in Tennis

Alex Kuznetsov, currently ranked No. 176 in the world.

May 1, 2013 — The last three weeks have been a game-changer for 26-year-old Alex Kuznetsov as he has shot up the rankings one hundred spots to world No. 176, and is also in the lead for the USTA Roland Garros wild card as part of the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.

Last month, the Ukraine-born and Pennsylvania-raised Kuznetsov dropped down to 271 in the rankings before having a breakthrough run at the Sarasota Challenger. He came through the qualification rounds to grab the title, en route defeating players all ranked better than him. He then went onto reach the quarterfinals of the Savannah Challenger the following week, and is currently in the second round of the Tallahassee Challenger after defeating young American hopeful Jack Sock in three sets on Tuesday.

With a win last year over current top 20 player Sam Querrey, Kuznetsov has had a taste of the top players and is ready to eclipse his career-high singles ranking of 158. Get to know the laid-back Kuznetsov as he talks about his start in tennis, his most memorable moment on court, and the player he would most want to play against in history.

What is your most memorable tennis moment?

I would say the Australian Open last year. I got through qualifications and drew Rafael Nadal in the first round – which was exciting but also nerve-wrecking. I had seen him play numerous times on TV, and he has won countless Grand Slams. I was really nervous going out there but it was a great experience for me, and I learned a lot from it.

A lot of my family actually got to see that match back home, and my girlfriend recorded the match — it’s still on my DVR back home. (Laughs) So sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll sit back and watch that a bit. I have maybe (seen it) a handful of times. After the first set, it gets a little frustrating to watch. (Nadal won 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.)

How did you first start playing tennis, and what is your earliest tennis memory?

My earliest memory is of my dad getting me out on the tennis courts in our neighborhood around age 6. A good friend of mine played tennis, and he was going to the local club and getting lessons. My dad said “Why don’t you go and try it?” At first, I didn’t really like it to be honest with you! I was more into team sports like basketball and soccer. But dad saw that I had talent for the game and pushed me to continue getting lessons and play in more tournaments. I remember traveling all over the state of Pennsylvania with him to junior events.

How would you describe your personality?

I have a pretty laid back personality. I like playing golf, that’s one of my favorite things to do. I have two dogs at home, a pug named “Gnarly” – my girlfriend’s dog – and we just got another one year ago, a terrier mix named “Poppins”. My ideal weekend would be playing golf and then spending time with them and going on walks, taking it easy … Nothing too crazy.

What are two things on Tour that you couldn’t live without?

My iPad, I can’t live without that. And, I guess, my iPhone to call friends, family, and my girlfriend.

Do you have a favorite app?

I’m not too into the games, but if I’m bored on a long plane ride, I have these racing and putt games I might play. But I love watching TV shows, so that’s something that I enjoy on my iPad.

What is your favorite show at the moment?

Oh, I’ve watched so many! I just finished watching “Shameless,” which is kind of a crazy show. But my favorite is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ”… I have all the seasons.

If you were in a Rock ‘n Roll band, what would your role be?

I would like to be the drummer and rock out in back, not out in front. (Laughs)

You had a titanium rod inserted into your leg after breaking it during a car accident in 2005. Is the rod still there and do you ever feel it while playing?

I still have the titanium rod and screw around my (right) knee. It doesn’t bother me at all; I don’t feel it. I feel that my right leg is even stronger than my left one now because I do a lot of work in the gym.

Do you have any trouble going through security at the airports?

I get asked that a lot. Only if they select me for the screening, the (metal-detecting) wand goes off. I don’t carry a (documentation) card, I just say I broke my leg and have a titanium rod in it. They just let me through. They don’t give me too much trouble.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Marat Safin. He was my favorite player growing up. He was kind of crazy out on court, but people seemed to really enjoy his personality. I’ve always looked up to him in the way he played the game and how well he struck the ball. Even for his big size, he moved really well. He just had so much talent and I really liked watching him.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?

I would love to be a golfer. Seeing how well those guys do and the lifestyle that they have isn’t too bad. I think I would still love to be involved in sports somehow, maybe even some coaching.

Do you remember your first Tour win and the feelings behind it?
(Editor’s Note: The player in reference, former world No. 60 and current University of Florida Assistant Coach Amer Delic, had already been playing on Tour while in college, and had just won the NCAA singles title before officially turning pro and making his debut against a youner Kuznetsov in 2003.)

That’s a good story actually. I beat a good friend of mine who just recently stopped playing, Amer Delic. We were in Lubbock, Texas and he had just turned pro as well. He was doing really well and this was (supposed to be) his first prize money check after his great summer results (as an amateur). I was just some 16-year-old kid and I happened to beat him, and that was my first ATP ranking point. It was a good moment for me. But I’ll always take the opportunity to remind him that my first point was against him. (Laughs)

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?

I am not really looking for a rankings goal; it’s really mainly for me to continue improving. I’ve done ranking goals for myself before. But I feel the reason I’ve been doing well these last couple of weeks is because I’ve been really focused on my game and how I’m playing, and not necessarily the rankings. That takes care of itself if you’re playing well, I feel. I just want to keep improving, keep working hard off the court, and keep getting stronger and fitter.

To follow Alex around the Tour, make sure to check out his Twitter, @alexKUZnetsov87!

(Special thanks to Tallahassee Challenger media manager @NickMcCarvel who made this interview possible.)

Milos Raonic Talks About Biggest Fear, Pete Sampras, and Good-Looking Girls

REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity


Milos Raonic stands fervent among a slew of young ATP players hoping to break into the top 10 of the world rankings this year. At 21-years-old, this Canadian has stood as a gauge of what the next generation of tennis players has to offer. Today at the Sony Ericsson Open, I had the opportunity to catch up with Milos and ask him some fan-friendly questions, including what he would be if he weren’t a tennis player and what three tennis players would he want to party with. Always honest and friendly, his answers are sure to leave you laughing!

What is the greatest moment in your career?

Winning San Jose and then defending it.  First title, and then being able to back it up is amazing.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

I would be trying to play basketball. I love the sport. But I think really I would be finishing University.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Pete Sampras, he was my idol. I got to play him actually last year. But any other player I would like to play? (Pause) McEnroe or Borg because it’s a big change since they played and I think it would be amazing to step up against them.

If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?

Feliciano Lopez. (Smiles) He’ll bring a lot of good-looking girls.

Daniel Nestor, he’s funny and we like to tease him a bit. He’s not the biggest partier, but he’s fun to have around.

And the third player that I would pick to party with? (Long pause, converses and jokes with ATP rep). Oh, Marat Safin. He’ll bring a lot more good-looking girls too. (Laughs)

What is one thing that scares you?

(Long pause) Ok, let’s say, the biggest thing that scares me is probably being stranded in open water.

Caroline Wozniacki ends as world number one, tennis loses people to grunting – The Friday Five

Caroline Wozniacki

By Maud Watson

Deal Sealed

It’s official. Caroline Wozniacki will finish 2011 as the No. 1 ranked player for the second year running and the first player to manage the feat two consecutive years without winning a major. The Dane was guaranteed the top spot when Maria Sharapova failed to win either of her first two matches and subsequently withdrew from the season-ending championships. Sharapova only had an outside chance to unseat Wozniacki at the apex of the rankings and had already stated she wasn’t focused on No. 1. What will be more disappointing for the Russian was the way she performed. To be fair, she was competing in her first tournament since withdrawing from Tokyo with a badly sprained ankle, but there’s no denying she had ample opportunity to turn both of her matches around, particularly the encounter with Li Na. You can also bet she was more than healthy enough to stick around to finish out the last round robin match, but she did make the wise decision to pull out and gear her focus towards next year. And as for Wozniacki, small congratulations are in order. Though the season didn’t include the major success she is still seeking and ultimately ended in a whimper, she still achieved an impressive accomplishment.

Raising a Racquet

There is more and more conversation surrounding the topic of “grunting” (can we just agree to start calling it “shrieking?”) in the women’s game, with WTA CEO Stacey Allaster confirming that the WTA would start looking into the issue after an increased volume of comments from media and fans alike. Wozniacki is also bringing the issue to a head with her comments earlier this week, suggesting that some players do it on a purpose as a tactic that is distracting to the opposition. Azarenka, one of the most notorious shriekers in the game, feels that players like Wozniacki who don’t like the shrieking should “mind their own business.” But the fact is, while it’s debatable as to how much the shriekers are attempting to consciously employ gamesmanship, their shrieks are a distraction to the player on the other side of the net, as well as anyone watching the match. Many of the shriekers don’t make a sound on the practice court either, so it’s clear it is something that they can control. Additionally, if it’s starting to turn people away from the sport – as the numbers are starting to indicate – then action needs to be taken. The only disheartening element of Allaster’s response was the statement that shrieking must be eradicated at a young level. While catching it early is key, a no-shrieking rule needs to be employed at the highest levels of the game, including against the likes of Sharapova and Azarenka. I’m inclined to agree with Brad Gilbert on this one. No matter how “ingrained” they might think their shrieking is…you start fining them every time they cross a certain decibel threshold, they’ll learn to zip it real quick.

Some Potential

Due to the growing success of combined events, the ATP and WTA are working harder and harder to create more dual tournaments in the future. One of the latest items on their punch list is to combine the season-ending championships of both tours. Players and fans would undoubtedly enjoy this, but of all the events to make dual, this one could be the most challenging. The biggest obstacle would be the calendars, as the ATP’s schedule is currently a month longer than the WTA’s season, and even when their season is shortened in 2012, it will still be two weeks longer. Then there’s the issue of the contracts that need to be fulfilled in the cities of Istanbul and London for hosting the current finals. In short, bringing these two together into one is a tall task, but it will pay huge dividends if they’re able to succeed in this lofty ambition.

History Made

In the letdown that is the autumn of the ATP season, a bit of history was made last week in Moscow as Janko Tipsarevic defeated countryman Viktor Troicki in the very first all-Serb final. The win also marked Tipsarsevic’s second title of his career, with his first coming only a few short weeks ago in Malaysia. Tipsarevic is still too inconsistent to be a sure a bet in any tournament that he enters, but he appears to be establishing some consistency and belief. Look for him to have a good 2012 and play the spoiler on some of the game’s biggest stages on more than one occasion.

Cast Your Vote

That’s what retired tennis professional Marat Safin will be asking voters to do as he runs for election to Russia’s State Duma on December 4. The prospect of the charismatic Russian making the cut may not be all that farfetched given what he’s been up to the last two years. Since retiring in 2009, he has been working with both the Russian Tennis Federation and Olympic Committee, and he has navigated his way through the primaries in the Nyzhny Novorod region. He’s also brimming with confidence, saying he’s an “intelligent guy, and I have a lot to bring and a lot of ideas about things and what to do.” Plus, as he cheekily surmised, “I could be the best looking guy in the Duma. But that’s only because all the other guys are over 60.” Rest assured that if elected, Russia’s lower house of parliament will have gained more than just a handsome face.

Safina has “No Return”, Li Na Continues Year of Firsts and Tipsarevic Joins Winner’s Circle

Safin says Safina is Done:

Marat Safin says that his little sister Dinara Safina is finished on the tennis circuit. The former world No.1 has not been seen since May and has struggled tremendously over the past two years with a back injury that has seriously limited her playing time. She has dropped as low as No.129 in the world. “Dinara was injured two years ago, in Beijing, remember?” Safin told Eurosport.  “She left, but never recovered completely. She tried to return, but only aggravated the crisis. Now she needs to keep her back to be able to walk normally and live a normal life. [Her back] will continue to be treated, but she will play no more…She will make an official statement herself, but as her brother, I believe that there is no chance of return.”

Firsts Continue for Li Na:

Li Na’s record-breaking year continues as she becomes the first Chinese player to qualify to play singles at the year-ending WTA Finals. She joins Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka in guaranteeing her place in Istanbul. $5m will be shared out among the players as the tournament switches from a two-year stint in Doha and Li will be hoping for a large slice of the spoils. “This year has been the most successful of my career so far and I’m very happy to have qualified for the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships,” Li said. “I’m proud to be the first Chinese woman to qualify in singles for this event and I look forward to some tough matches against the best players of the season.” In January she became the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open and she bettered that in June by becoming Asia’s first winner at the French Open. She has also become Asia’s highest-ranked player this year, peaking at No.4 on the WTA World Rankings.

Tipsarevic Nets Maiden Title:

Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic has finally rid himself of the unwanted mantra of being the only player in the ATP Top 20 not to win a title. He defeated Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in the Malaysian Open final 6-4, 7-5 to win an ATP Tour final at the fifth time of asking. “It feels great. I think I deserved it,” said the 27-year-old. “I’m so happy that it came in a good place, at a tournament that is really, really nice, and against a good player. Marcos Baghdatis has played in 11 finals and was a former Top 10 player, a Grand Slam finalist. So I feel happy that I won against a great player in a final that I hope kept the fans on the edge of their seats until the very end. I could not be happier.” Over in Bangkok, world No.4 Andy Murray was way too strong for American Donald Young as he annihilated the man who had embarrassed him in the first round at Indian Wells 6-2, 6-0. “In terms of the way I’m playing it’s very good to get off to a start like that on this stretch and hopefully I can continue that through Shanghai,” said the Scot. “It’s a very good start. Roger [Federer] always plays very well on the European indoor courts, so I’m sure I’m going to have to win a lot more matches if I want to finish No.3 [in the world this year]. That’s the goal and I’ll keep working hard to give myself a shot at doing that.”

Djokovic Makes Rafa “Nervous”:

Toni Nadal thinks that his nephew Rafa may be getting nervous when he faces Novak Djokovic after he watched him fall at the Serb’s feet six times this year. “It is clear that there have been too many losses and it is true that Rafael has become nervous [during] their recent matches and so far, there is the reality that Djokovic is playing superior to the rest….I hope it does not last forever,” he said. “Rafael’s type of game has worked well against Djokovic and has been very spirited. We must return to make a change, not [in] his game, but of mentality and try to win again.”

Federer Second Biggest Sporting Brand:

Forbes have named Roger Federer the second biggest sporting brand in the world, behind one of the other three ‘Gillette Champions’ Tiger Woods. “Federer holds the most impressive endorsement portfolio in all of sports with 10 major deals, including a Nike sponsorship that is the most lucrative in all of tennis,” said Forbes. “He is also the only one of Gillette’s original three ‘Champions’ to have his deal renewed this year as the brand dropped Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry.” Earlier this year, Forbes listed Federer 25th in its annual list of the world’s 100 most influential celebrities.

Ivanovic Returning to Bali:

Ana Ivanovic will return to the Bali setting of her Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions win in November after receiving the first wild card in to the tournament courtesy of the organisers. The event brings together the eight best performers over the year’s International series of WTA tournaments and the 24-year-old will be given the chance to defend her title. “It almost goes without saying Bali is one of the most beautiful places on the tennis circuit – probably the best, in fact,” Ivanovic said. “I had a wonderful time there last year. Off the court I was able to relax on the beach, but on the court I played some of my best tennis and was so happy to win the title.”

Savic Banned for Match Fixing:

Serbian tennis player David Savic has been banned for life from professional tennis after being found guilty of match fixing. The 26-year-old world No.659 was also fined $100,000 after being found guilty of three violations. He is only the second player to be found guilty of such charges after Germany’s Daniel Koellerer was also banned in May. Savic reached a career-high No.369 in the world in 2009 but has never played above the Challenger circuit. Savic, though, claims he was set up by an unnamed top player, and that the allegations against him are an “absolute lie”.

Azarenka Out of Beijing:

Victoria Azarenka has pulled out of the China Open with a right foot injury, giving Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova a walkover win.

GB Win Junior Davis Cup:

Great Britain have won the Junior Davis Cup for the first time after defeating Italy in the final, in Mexico’s San Luis Potosi. With former world No.4 Greg Rusedski coaching them, Evan Hoyt, Kyle Edmund and Luke Bambridge justified their top seeding by bringing home the spoils. Hoyt and Edmund won the two singles rubbers, meaning the doubles was not needed to be played. “I’m very proud of our team,” said Rusedski. “It feels great to be the first British team ever to win the Junior Davis Cup.”

Stars Pay Tribute to Japan while Competing in Tokyo:

Some of the world’s biggest names have been paying tribute and pledging their support to the Japanese people following the year the country has endured. Still recovering from natural and nuclear disasters it is a small miracle that these events are taking place at all. “It has been a really hard year for all the Japanese people,” said world No.2 Rafael Nadal. “For people like me, who was here in the past, can make some sense about what happened. The reason why I am here is that I believe Japan is a fantastic country and a safe country. The people are very, very nice and I always send all my support to the people and the country.” Rising star Milos Raonic revealed that he had been following proceedings with a vested interest. “My dad is a nuclear engineer and kept following what has been going on. He kept me up-to-date with the news. I know it has been a really tough time, but I am happy people are getting back to their homes. There is still a lot of work to be done. But I wish all the best to the Japanese people and to the country. It is a very respectful and well mannered country. They treat us so well.” World No. 4 Andy Murray added: “I hadn’t played here for five or six years, but the people look after us really well here. They put on a nice tournament for the players, there are many practice courts and the hotel is very close and convenient. I think that is why they get strong fields and hopefully I will be back a few more times.”

Race for Finals On in Rankings Watch:

With few opportunities remaining to garner rankings points for the upcoming ATP and WTA finals in London and Istanbul, America’s Mardy Fish currently sits in eighth on the South African Airways ATP World Rankings, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych are not far behind him. With Monfils missing both Beijing and Shanghai through injury qualification doesn’t look overly optimistic for him. Nicolas Almagro and Gilles Simon, in 11th and 12th respectively, will not be happy with early exits in Beijing this week as they try to make up ground on those above them. Donald Young enters the Top 50 for the first time this week after reaching the final at Bangkok, while Japan’s Kei Nishikori is in to the Top 50 at No.47, one below his career-best No.46 in May. Germany’s Matthias Bachinger climbs ten to No.88, while Federico Gil, Joao Souza and Tobias Kamke are in to the Top 100. Vera Zvonareva climbs back up to No.3 in the world in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week while Petra Kvitova is in to the Top 5 for the first time. Kim Clijsters climbs back in to the Top 8 with Istanbul around the corner, which Francesca Schiavone the unlucky star who falls out of the qualification berths. Ana Ivanovic is back in to the Top 20 at No.18. Iveta Benesova and Christina McHale are in to the Top 50 and Stephanie Dubois and Romina Oprandi are in to the Top 100.

Nadal Back in Action for GOAT Race Points:

With Roger Federer again sidelined by injury Rafael Nadal has earned himself a little more room in the GOAT race as he trundles towards a long-ago evident victory. By entering Tokyo Nadal earns an extra ten points, which makes the scores:

Roger: 1100 Rafa: 1920

Nadal not Feeling Pressure, Safina at a Loss and Djokovic/Murray eye Silverware

Rafael Nadal

*Rafa Nadal insists that there is “no pressure” as he bids to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Slams at the same time. Dubbed the “Rafa Slam,” it is a feat not even his greatest rival Roger Federer has achieved. Speaking before the tournament began he said: “Maybe I am only going to have this opportunity [once] in my career. But [it is] not for that reason I [am] going [to] have the pressure. The pressure is like every Grand Slam, you want to play well in the important tournaments. And for me, having the fourth or not is something that is not in my mind.” He also was quick, as always, to place himself behind R-Fed in the list of favourites to lift the trophy. “I feel if I play at my best level, I can have a chance to be in the second week, and there we will see what happens. Every match will be really difficult, so I have to be ready for everything. But I for sure am feeling less favourite than [Federer] and not more favourite than Djokovic, Murray, Soderling, these kinds of players.”

*Before we can even catch our breath following the Christmas rush we are thrust back in to the hectic world of a Grand Slam and already the headlines are keeping us hooked. Former world No. 1 Dinara Safina collapsed to a 0-6, 0-6 defeat at the hands of No. 3 seed Kim Clijsters in just 44 minutes. Many of her critics are labelling her as finished as the woman who reached the final here in 2009 has won only nine of her last 25 matches since returning from her latest injury setback. “I was sitting in the changeover, and I was like, OK, at least how can I get a chance to hurt her?” said the younger sister of enigmatic men’s star Marat Safin. “Nothing was hurting her, not my backhand, my forehand or my serve. My return, nothing. She was dictating basically from the first point. There was nothing that I could do to hurt her. Embarrassing.” But she has vowed to defy those doubters and fight her way back to the parapet of the game she once sat on top of. “I will give my 100% to get back. I will fight. I will go through whatever it takes,” she added. “But first I want to find answers. I’m fully motivated…I cannot say that I didn’t practise hard but I guess something was not right. I don’t know. I have to figure out the answers.” The full interview, plus Clijsters’ reaction can be seen at the WTA website.

*That result was the sixth ‘double bagel’ of Clijsters’ impressive career. All have come at Grand Slams with four of the six being in Melbourne. They have all come within the first two rounds and all, bar one, have seen her reach at least the semi finals. The omens look good for the Belgian. They read as follows:

Year Tournament Opponent Round Finish
2000 US Open Marta Marrero 1st 2nd
2003 Australian Open Petra Mandula 2nd SF
2003 Wimbledon Rossanna de los Rios 1st SF
2004 Australian Open Maria Elena Camerin 2nd R-Up
2007 Australian Open Vasilisa Bardina 1st SF
2011 Australian Open Dinara Safina 2nd ?

*Both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are confident they can lift the 2011 Aussie Open title after coming close to lifting majors in 2010. But they appreciate the fact that they must aim to overcome the top two of Nadal and Federer if they are to achieve this, having had mixed results in previous encounters. Djokovic overcame Roger Federer in the mesmerising US Open seminfal in New York last September before losing to Rafa Nadal in the final. He also lost to Tomas Berdych in the semis at Wimbledon. “They’re the two best players in the world, deservedly,” said The Serb. “Of course, [they are] the two biggest favourites in any tournament they play to win the title. I guess I’m in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event. How far back, I can’t say. To be able to compete with them is a big challenge. Every time we play they take my game as well to another level. They make me play better. In case I get to play them in this tournament, I will look forward to it.” Murray lost the other Wimbledon semi to Nadal whilst he also lost last year’s Melbourne final in straight sets to Federer. He believes that experience will help his assault this time around. “Experience obviously helps,” said the 23-year-old Scot. “I played quite a lot of big matches last year. I went through some very tough patches last year, as well, especially after the Aussie Open. That was something I had to come back from and I learned from. So I think mentally I’m probably in a better place.” The full interviews can be seen on the ATP website.

*Danish beauty Caroline Wozniacki has come under further scrutiny as she begins another Slam looking to lift her first major. The top female star is probably sick of listening to the old “worthy No.1” debates and, even if she won’t admit it, Matt Cronin believes she is showing the signs of stress and strain. “I believe that I’m a really good player,” the 20-year-old said. “I can beat anyone on a good day. If I win, great. If I lose one match, just back on the practice court, work, and get stronger. I think that’s also why I’ve reached the level I’ve reached. I’m never satisfied. I always want to get better. Every time I step on the practice court, I always see things that I want to improve. I think I get frustrated, but I use it in a positive way. That’s the way I’m built.” The full report can be seen at the FOX Sports website.

*It was the match that truly exploded the 2011 tennis season in to life. David Nalbandian overcame feisty home favourite Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic five-set tussle that reprised the 2005 quaterfinal here, that time Hewitt coming out on top. Visibly exhausted following the late finish, Nalbandian was understandably elated at the shift he had just put in. “It was a very tough first round,” said the Argentine. “We both know it, every time we play it’s long matches, tough ones, he’s a real fighter. He played unbelievable. It’s amazing playing with him in a full stadium, here in Australia. We both had a lot of chances, I was serving for the match, it was that kind of match nobody can forget. Cramping was around all the time, he was too tired as well. I played the two match points, I play incredible, serve and volley, it was amazing, and then after that the match was for both. I can win, I can lose, the match was very close. I was one point to be two break points down in the fourth, so I play very good shots, I didn’t care about it. I win my serve, and that’s helped me, that helped me to win the match. I take that we both fight a lot all the time; it doesn’t matter when we are tired we keep fighting. Today the match was for me, but he can win as well. I take the brave heart that I put today on court.”

*Venus Williams has been sporting yet another bizarre dress Down Under but then, what’s new? With what could best be described as fishing net wrapped around her midriff she has claimed that Lewis’ Carroll’s most famous creation is the inspiration. “The outfit is inspired by Alice in Wonderland,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s kind of about a surprise, because when Alice goes down the rabbit hole, she finds all these things that are so surprising. This outfit is about having a surprise in a tennis dress, and showing some skin and then just having a print. Prints don’t happen that often in tennis. So it’s called the Wonderland dress.” Okay then.

*Former world No, 6 Nicolas Lapentti has retired from tennis, aged 34, after suffering ongoing tendonitis in his knee. He won five ATP Tour singles titles and reached a further seven finals in his 16 years as a professional. “It took me a lot to take the decision,” he said. “I didn’t want to rush; I wanted to be 100 percent sure. I’m leaving tennis without regret. I’ll have a farewell match, but I don’t know when and against whom. I have to get over the injury first.”

*When faced with questions about her longevity Japanese stalwart Kimiko Date Krumm says that it is her husband who will decide how long she prolongs her gargantuan career for. “If my ranking is high enough to play in the Grand Slams I’ll be back next year,” she said. “I’ll just have to check with my husband first. We only spent about a month together in total last year.”

*Fundraising for the flood victims of Queensland, Australia has topped the $1.8m mark following another charity event organised by the gracious Roger Federer on Sunday. Rally For Relief was a 90-minute-long friendly extravaganza featuring many of the sport’s top stars. Pat Rafter captained the Green Team which featured the Andy’s Roddick and Murray, Viktoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonereva, Kim Clijsters and Rafa Nadal. The Gold Team was led by home favourite Lleyton Hewitt and featured the talents of Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer and Sam Stosur. Players rotated round court and even took turns as line judges while US Davis Cup captain Jim Courier oversaw proceedings from the umpire’s chair. As usual, players were miked up and fired quips as sharp as their groundstrokes across the net much to the delight of the 15,000 present at the Rod Laver Arena. The event finished with an all-Aussie encounter as Hewitt battled Rafter before Nadal and Clijsters faced Federer and Stosur in mixed doubles.

*Former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic has blamed her pre-tournament injury disruptions for her first round crash at Melbourne Park. “For the last 10 days I couldn’t push hard in practice because of my abdominal strain,” said the Serb, who was forced to withdraw from the Hopman Cup with the problem. “I had [only] really Sunday and Monday that I could push a little bit more, and the first couple days that I could actually serve. I think that at the end got to me. It’s a ten-day strike before the Slam.”

*Maria Sharapova has been discussing her recent split with long-term coach Michael Joyce publicly, Thomas Hogstedt taking over the reigns. “After a really long period of time, I think a few things become a routine,” said the 23-year-old, who describes Joyce as “like a brother” and who will continue to look after him financially. “I think from both of our perspectives it was really a good move to bring in a new voice, a fresh perspective into the team. Obviously it’s different not having him at a tournament after so many years. But it’s part of an athlete’s career…It’s been going really well with Thomas. I like the work ethic that he’s brought on the court. I’m happy so far, but you never know where things will take you.”

*Nadia Petrova insists she is in no rush to find a new coach having been “single” since the off-season. “Frankly, I’m in no hurry to get a new coach because I’ve been on tour for so long,” said the Russian. “What I need is a regular hitting partner.”

*Swiss star Patty Schnyder says she is unsure how long she will continue to play tennis after bombing out of the Aussie Open at the first hurdle. “I haven’t made any commitments beyond the next one or two months,” she said. “I’ll play Fed Cup against Israel and then Doha and Dubai. After that I don’t know.”

*Former player and founding member of the ATP, Jim McManus, 70, has passed away of medical complications brought about by his recent fight with cancer. Before the ATP was established McManus twice featured in the Top 10 American players in both singles and doubles. In 1968 he and Jim Osbourne reached the semifinals at the US Open, probably his greatest moment as a player. But it is after retirement that he really made his mark. Employed by the ATP for 28 years he worked on rankings, tournament representation and development, pension plans, player entries, the Senior Tour and alumini services as well as being one of the original Board of Directors. “It is with great sadness that we learn of Jim’s passing,” said Adam Helfant, the ATP’s Executive Chairman and President. “From his early days as a player, and later as a founding member of the ATP, Jim was always regarded as a true pioneer of the game of tennis. On behalf of the ATP, I can say that men’s tennis has truly lost one of its greatest and most significant figures.”

*There is an interesting piece written on Maria Sharapova and how her recent engagement could affect both her playing career and her assets in comparison to former Russian pinup Anna Kournikova. It is written by Mark Hodgkinson of The Daily Telegraph in London and can be read at the website for the Montreal Gazette.

*The GOAT race enters week two with both Roger and Rafa competing at this year’s Australian Open. Both gain 20 points for their troubles and have the chance to add mega bucks to their totals next week.

Roger: 230, Rafa: 80

Dissecting the Australian Open 2011 Draw: ATP

Rafael Nadal is the top seed for the Australian Open 2011

In a couple of days, the Australian Open will be under way. The ‘Happy Slam’ is not only great for the players, but it has also proven to be the most fan friendly of the four majors. The Aussies have provided us free streaming of the qualifying tournament as well as the draw ceremony and the “Rally for Relief” event will be aired on Tennis Channel (Saturday at 10pm EST.) By the wonder of technology, I was able to stream today’s draw ceremony on my phone and it looks like we’re in for some great tennis in the next two weeks. I’m already preparing myself for some sleepless nights. In case you missed it, or you were just too lazy to check out the draw for yourself, I’ll be breaking it down piece by piece.

First off, Rafa and Roger have won 23 of the last 26 Grand Slam events, so you’d pretty much be crazy to pick anyone else to win. However, if anyone can challenge their dominance, it’s going to happen in Melbourne. Historically, the Australian Open has provided us with a lot of breakthrough performances. The 2008 final was contested between Novak Djokovic and Jo Wilfried Tsonga and the 2005 final between Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. Every other Slam final for the last five years has included either Federer or Nadal.

Just remember, I’m no Nostradamus and some of my picks may sound a little crazy, but it’s boring if you always pick the better players. Sometimes the mediocre guys rise to the occasion and even the best players have bad days.

First Quarter

Seeded Players: Rafael Nadal (1), Feliciano Lopez (31), John Isner (20), Marin Cilic (15), Mikhail Youzhny (10), Michael Llodra (22), David Nalbandian (27), David Ferrer (7)

Clearly all of the expectations lie on Rafa. He could become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Slam titles at the same time, something not even the great Roger Federer has accomplished. Although, Laver was quick to say that this would be impressive, but would not equal his calendar year sweep. Nadal certainly could have drawn a worse quarter, i.e. Andy Murray, but there are a lot of great competitors lurking in here, ready to take away his chance at making history. In round 4, Rafa is likely to face John Isner (or Marin Cilic) who can both be occasionally great, but I definitely like Nadal’s chances. In the quarters he could find Mikhail Youzhny, Michael Llodra, Lleyton Hewitt, or David Ferrer. All of the are dangerous, but Rafa would have to have a pretty off day to lose. Rafael Nadal’s biggest challenge will likely come in the semifinals: Robin Soderling or Andy Murray.

Semi Finalist: Rafael Nadal

Possible Sleeper: Michael Llodra

Best First Round Match: David Nalbandian (27) v. Llyeton Hewitt ***This will be a fight to the death. Given the hometown advantage, I think Lleyton will prevail.

Second Quarter

Seeded Players: Robin Soderling (4), Thomaz Bellucci (30), Ernests Gulbis (24), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13), Jurgen Melzer (11), Marcos Baghdatis (21), Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (32), Andy Murray (5)

A week ago, it was huge news that Robin Soderling would usurp Andy Murray’s place as No. 4, giving him his own quarter of the draw. However, the universe likes a good joke and Murray landed smack at the bottom of Soderling’s quarter. So, things are pretty much the same as they would have been. Robin did catch a (tiny) break by ending up on Rafa’s side of the draw considering his head-to-head with Federer. Speaking of Andy Murray, expectations are high. He made the final last year and hasn’t yet managed to prove himself by winning a major event. Andy’s road the final is tough, probably the worst of any guy in the Top 5. In round 3, he’s likely to face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who had a great fall season, beating Rafa and winning an ATP title. Then things get really tricky. In round 4, Andy could face Jurgen Melzer, Marcos Baghdatis, or Juan Martin del Potro. Whoever gets there will be tough. Things only get worse because, he will likely see Robin Soderling in the quarters. If he even makes it that far, his prize will be a semifinal meeting with Rafael Nadal. This is no one’s dream draw.

Semi Finalist: Robin Soderling

Possible Sleeper: Juan Martin del Potro, Alexandr Dolgopolov

Best First Round Match: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13) v. Philipp Petzschner

Semi Final: Robin Soderling d. Rafael Nadal ***Yes, I know I’m crazy, but have you seen how fit Soderling looks and Nadal’s coming off a bout with the flu

Third Quarter

Seeded Players: Tomas Berdych (6), Richard Gasquet (28), Nikolay Davydenko (23), Fernando Verdasco (9), Nicolas Almagro (14), Ivan Ljubicic (17), Viktor Troicki (29), Novak Djokovic (3)

Novak Djokovic is thanking his lucky stars tonight. This draw suits him beautifully. His greatest triumph came in Melbourne in 2008 and I’m sure he’s keen to repeat that. To get there, Nole will likely have to go through the huge server, Ivo Karlovic, countryman Viktor Troicki, and either Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco. I like his chances, particularly after his triumph over Federer at last year’s US Open. I think Djokovic is more confident in his abilities that he has been since the ’08 AO. However, we all know that Nole’s biggest enemy is heat, and even though his conditioning has gotten significantly better, weather will still play a huge role in his draw.

Semi Finalist: Novak Djokovic

Possible Sleeper: Janko Tipsarevic

Best First Round Match: Viktor Troicki (29) v. Dmitry Tursunov

Fourth Quarter

Seeded Players: Andy Roddick (8), Juan Monaco (26), Stanislas Wawrinka (19), Gael Monfils (12), Mardy Fish (16), Sam Querrey (18), Albert Montanes (25), Roger Federer (2)

Andy Roddick is the unluckiest man in tennis. I’m just going to say it. Of all the people who have been deprived of Grand Slam glory by the genius of Roger Federer, no one has been on the losing end more times than Andy Roddick. I think he’s in great form, making last week’s final in Brisbane, but there’s no way he beats Roger Federer at this year’s tournament. I am looking forward to a Roddick/Federer quarter final though because I love them both. I’m sure everyone is interested to see what Stanislas Wawrinka will bring to this tournament. Regardless of what you think of his decisions, he has definitely re-dedicated himself to tennis and it paid off in the form of winning last week’s tournament in Chennai. The American men really seemed to lose out in this year’s draw. Isner’s got Rafa in the 4th round and Querrey’s got Federer. I think both of them have excellent chances of finally breaking through to a major quarter or semi this year, but it’s not going to be the Australian Open. Federer had a “bad” year last year (only winning one major, making a semifinal, and two quarterfinals) but ended the season on a high note by beating Rafael Nadal to winning the World Tour Finals for the fifth time. He’s the defending champion and I think we’ll be seeing him play a lot of tennis over the next two weeks.

Semi Finalist: Roger Federer

Possible Sleeper: Andrey Golubev

Best First Round Match: Gael Monfils (12) v. Thiemo De Bakker

Semi Final: Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic ***Fed’s not letting Nole beat him again.

Final: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling

Stay tuned for my take of the women’s draw.

Dementieva’s Retirement: Foreshadowing What’s to Come?

Elena Dementieva

After the final round robin match of the Doha Championships, all of the players gathered on the court for a special announcement. Elena Dementieva, a stalwart of the women’s tennis tour, was about to upset the delicate balance of the tennis world by announcing her retirement, effective immediately. In a very touching ceremony, Elena thanked her supporters while the audience, her mom, Vera, and the other YEC competitors looked on. Everyone, even stony faced Sam Stosur, looked a bit teary eyed by the end Elena’s speech.

Elena’s abrupt departure set the tennis world abuzz. Were there more high profile retirements on the horizon? Later that day, Kim Clijsters announced that she would wrap up her career, for the second time, after the 2012 Olympics. Thanks for the warning Kim, but you’re at least a year ahead of yourself. Talk about the longest goodbye tour ever.

The way I see it, neither extreme is the way to go. I’m not a huge fan of Elena Dementieva, but even I felt jilted by her sudden exit. I wanted a farewell tour damn it, but not two years worth of farewell. We’ve seen both mistakes before. Justine Henin almost retroactively announced her retirement even though she was the world number one at the time, depriving fans of a proper goodbye. On the other hand, Marat Safin, a former number one player, gave us a full season’s notice, and by the end of the season he’d been asked so many retirement questions that the actual day couldn’t come fast enough. If you want my suggestion, the best time for a player to announce their retirement is before the last major event they plan to play. Clearly there are exceptions to any rule, but this allows the player a proper farewell in front of a large crowd and gives fans enough time to accept the inevitable.

As much as I hate to say it, I think the next couple of years are going to be full of these tearful goodbyes. Many of our favorite players are pushing 30 and for tennis players, that’s just about ancient. Here are a few of my best guesses as to who will be trading in their racket for retirement in the coming years.

The Honor Roll

My honorable mentions go out to players who will almost certainly retire Slamless, but who have given us a great deal of entertainment and heart over the years.

Tommy Haas

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Tommy play anymore tennis, which is unfortunate because he deserves a nice send off. This former top 10 player is already 32 years old and his ranking has dropped down into the 300s after undergoing hip surgery earlier this year. Nothing’s out of the question, but the chances of Tommy coming back strong at this point are slim.

James Blake

This 30 year old New Yorker has had recurring knee issues and lackluster results this year. I attended James’ 3rd round match against Novak Djokovic at this year’s US Open and I couldn’t help but think of it as a kind of last hurrah. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake pulls the plug any minute now.

Nikolay Davydenko

Davydenko broke his wrist earlier this year, which kept him out for the majority of the season, but his ranking has stayed high. The 29 year old has often been considered a contender for a major title but has always fallen short, way short, when it comes to the Grand Slams. I’m basing this one solely on age, not performance. If he stays in shape and avoids more injuries, Nikolay could prove me wrong.

The Cum Laude Society

Venus Williams

I may not shed a tear over this one, but I know someone will. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Williams sisters, an opinion based purely on behavior, not talent. However, I also don’t really know how to picture the tennis world without Venus and little sister Serena. Venus turned 30 this year and underwent knee surgery after this year’s US Open. She actually posted great results at the Slams this year, reaching two quarterfinals and a semifinal, but I question how much longer she can keep it up. I have a feeling Venus will let us know pretty early on when she plans to retire. She strikes me as the type that wants a long farewell tour.

Lleyton Hewitt

This one will be a little bit tougher. Lleyton Hewitt’s a pretty likeable guy, so I’d imagine fans will be sad to see him go. I mean who can resist the Aussie accent? Hewitt was once number one in the world but his career has been riddled with injuries. Lleyton’s career peaked early on when he became the youngest man ever to be ranked number one at the age of 20, the same year he picked up the US Open title and the World Tour Finals. He followed up those results by winning Wimbledon in 2002 and defending his WTF title. I wouldn’t exactly say that things have been downhill since then, but a man who’s won two Grand Slam singles titles does not aspire to be ranked 50th in the world and very rarely making an appearance in the second week of a major. Lleyton’s wife recently gave birth to their third child and I have a feeling that this 29 year old’s tennis days are numbered. I hope that Hewitt gives us a little notice and decides to wrap things up at the Australian Open. He deserves a good hometown send off.

Andy Roddick

I’m dreading this, a lot. Andy has always been one of my favorite tennis players and I’ve always felt he had the talents to win several Grand Slams. Roddick triumphed at the 2003 US Open against Juan Carlos Ferrero, but in every subsequent Grand Slam final he’s been thwarted by Roger Federer. The current total is at four, three Wimbledon and one US Open. Most recently, in what I consider to be one of the most heartbreaking matches of all time, Andy lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final 16-14 in the deciding set. As much as I would love to see Roddick keep playing for years to come, Andy has said that he will not overstay his welcome in the tennis world. If he cannot maintain a high ranking, Andy will retire. Lucky for us, Andy is currently still in the top 10 and on course to appear in his eighth consecutive World Tour Final, so maybe we’ll get a few more years.

Roger Federer

Honestly, I don’t even want to discuss this. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player and really the reason I fell in love with tennis. I think he’s the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had and an incredible example of what a star athlete should be. For me, Federer’s retirement will leave a gaping hole in the tennis world. Even if you’re a Rafa fan, you should be able to appreciate that the famous rivalry has helped make both players as great as they are today. Luckily, Federer is on a quest for the one trophy that has eluded him, an Olympic gold medal. Although, he did recently say that winning one more Wimbledon is actually more important to him than the Olympic gold. Roger has confirmed that he will definitely continue playing through the 2012 Olympics, but after that all bets are off. I personally believe Fed is not done winning Grand Slams and would love to see him go out on a high note (maybe a late career title at Wimbledon, I think that would be fitting.) However, if he’s not winning, I can’t imagine Roger will stick around. Currently he possesses a record 16 major titles and is ranked number two in the world. If his ranking starts to slip and he starts losing to nobodies, you can count on his retirement. Finally, Roger better not pull any of this surprise retirement crap. I have yet to see Federer play live and I fully intend to do so before he retires, so I’m going to need plenty of notice.

Pending Fatherhood Forces Chang to Withdraw From Champions Series Event in Grand Cayman

Michael Chang

InsideOut Sports & Entertainment today announced that Michael Chang has withdrawn from the 2010 The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships this week due to the pending birth of his first child. Chang will be replaced in the field by 1986 French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors. Rounding out the field at the clay-court Champions Series event are Hall of Famers Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier, former US and Australian Open champion Marat Safin and former top 10 U.S. standouts Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Arias.

Said Chang, “I was very much looking forward to competing in the event at the Cayman Islands however at this time I need to be with my wife as we eagerly await the birth of our first child.”

Chang recently played his first event on the Champions Series since 2006, finishing in third place at The Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championships in Surprise, Ariz. Chang married former two-time NCAA singles champion from Stanford Amber Liu on October 18, 2008.

This year’s Grand Cayman tournament will feature for the first time a multi-day pro-am experience that will be combined with the world class tennis competition to create an exclusive tennis destination happening. All six competing pros will participate in the pro-am that will see the legends playing matches and enjoying meals and social time with participating amateurs over multiple days. Tennis fans interested in participating in the pro-am with the legends can find ticket, travel and tournament information by visiting www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

Edberg, Courier and Safin have combined to win 12 major singles titles and each achieved the world’s No. 1 ranking. The event will be played on red clay courts in a single-knockout format event with each player vying for a first-prize paycheck of $45,000 and ranking points that determine the year-end No. 1 ranked player on the Champions Series circuit.

In the opening quarterfinal match at 7 pm on November 5, Pernfors will play Krickstein, followed by Courier taking on Arias. On Saturday, November 6, starting at 2 pm, the winner of the Pernfors-Krickstein match will play Safin while the winner of the Courier-Arias match will play Edberg. The schedule of play on Sunday, November 7 will feature the third-place match between the two losing semifinalists starting at 1 pm followed by the championship match.

To be eligible to compete on the Champions Series, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team. Courier finished the 2009 season as the top-ranked player on the Champions Series, followed by Pete Sampras and Todd Martin. Courier won the 2009 edition of The Residences At the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships beating Arias 6-4, 6-2 in the final.

Earlier this year on the Champions Series circuit, former U.S. and Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis defeated John McEnroe in May to win the Staples Champions Cup in Boston and take over the No. 1 Champions Series ranking. Philippoussis maintained his ranking by winning the title at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championships in Surprise, Ariz., in October, defeating Courier in the final. Former French Open semifinalist Fernando Meligeni of Brazil was the surprise winner of the opening event on the 2010 Champions Series, winning the title in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil by defeating Philippoussis in the final in March.

Tennis Is Well Represented At The ESPY Awards – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Defending Champs Out – This past weekend marked the quarterfinals of the 2010 Davis Cup competition and promised plenty of good tennis matchups. But one result few could have seen coming was France’s thrashing of defending two-time champion Spain. Spain has gotten used to dishing out some 5-0 defeats of its own, but unexpectedly found itself on the receiving end of such a defeat as it suffered its first 5-0 loss since 1957. There’s little doubt that this was a disappointing showing for Spain, irrespective of the fact that they were without their No. 1 Rafael Nadal. They have won without him before, and France certainly wasn’t able to field their star players either. It was Spain’s misfortune that they ran into the one team that could match them for depth of players, and congratulations are in order for the nation of France that may be ready to make its first run to the title since 2001.
Coach in the Corner – Peter Lundgren is going to be coaching a man from Switzerland, but this time it isn’t Roger Federer. It’s the number two man for the Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka. This is a great move on Wawrinka’s part, whose results over the course of the past year have been up and down and have seen his ranking slip to outside of the Top 20. Lundgren has had another high profile pupil in Marat Safin, so there’s no doubt he possesses the ability to handle talented players and get their careers going in the right direction. Hopefully he will be able to do the same for Wawrinka by getting him to channel his talent and play within his own boundaries. If so, he could well be headed back to the Top 10.

Back on Track – On the historical grass courts of the Newport Casino, Mardy Fish suddenly found his game and emerged victorious. Fish has been an unfortunate victim of some serious injuries over the course of his career, and he’s also admitted to being more than a little negligent when it came to ensuring he was putting in the time on and off the court to be at his best. But they say it’s never late than never, and nearing his 29th birthday, Mardy Fish may be ready to make a run to the upper echelons of the men’s game, his ranking having jumped 30 places with his victory in the city by the sea. Last year’s Newport finalist appearance turned out to be a catalyst to a great summer for Sam Querrey, and it may bring Fish the same kind of results during the 2010 US Open Series.
Highest Honor – This past Saturday saw the induction of seven new members into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. This induction also had a different feel as it focused on some of the greatest doubles teams of all time (though not the first…see Hewitt/McMillan, Class of 1992), and saw the induction of the first wheelchair tennis player, wheelchair tennis founder and pioneer Brad Parks. Don’t expect this to become a trend at the Hall, but rightfully I think we can expect to see more stellar doubles teams and wheelchair tennis athletes behind the podium during Enshrinement Weekend in the future.
And the ESPY goes to… – Okay, not as prestigious as the Oscars or the Emmys, and personally I think there’s a bit of American bias with these awards, but it is worth noting that tennis was well-represented at the 2010 ESPY Awards. Not surprisingly, Roger Federer and Serena Williams took top honors in the sport of tennis, while Kim Clijsters was named the Comeback of the year. But what was best was seeing that John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut took the cake for best Record-breaking Performance. Again, the quality of the tennis was not the greatest in this match, but a big thank you to those guys for gutting it out for just over 11 hours and putting tennis on the map in a multitude of ways.

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