Maret Ani

Date-Krumm Makes Inspirational Comeback in Gifu

Last week on the challenger circuit, a former top 5 player and the only college graduate mother on tour recorded impressive results, while two players on the men’s side broke into the top 100 for the first time this week with their tournament wins.

Twelve years after competing in her last professional singles event, Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan returned to the tour this week at the $50,000 challenger event in Gifu, Japan. The 37-year-old, who reached a career high ranking of No. 4 in the world, accepted wild cards into the qualifying draw of the singles event and main draw of the doubles event. Date surprised everybody by coming through qualifying and storming through to the finals of the singles draw. In Sunday’s championship match against Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand, she was up a set and 4-2 before Tanasugarn prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. However, Date won the doubles event with fellow Japanese player Kurumi Nara. Date will also play in the singles and doubles draws of the $50,000 event in Fukuoka, Japan next week.

At the $100,000 challenger in Cagnes Sur Mer France, Viktoria Kutuzova of Ukraine finally lived up the expectations placed on her as a can’t miss junior prodigy, winning the biggest event of her career with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Maret Ani of Estonia. The win also places Kutuzova back in the top 150.of the rankings. Despite the loss, Ani has been riding a hot streak as of late, having reached the semifinals of the WTA event in Estoril, Portugal last week.

At the $50,000 event in Charlottesville, Virginia, Alexis Gordon of the United States won the first title of her career with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Olga Puchkova of Russia. The 25-year-old Gordon is currently in her debut year on the tour, having finished college at the Univ. of Florida in May of last year. She also took time off in college to give birth to her daughter, Imani, who’s now three years old. Gordon moves up to No. 374 in the rankings this week and she says that her goal is to make the cut-off for the qualifying at the Australian Open next year.

In other challenger results on the women’s side, Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein won the $50,000 event in Makarska, Croatia and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand won the $25,000 event in Balikpapan, Indonesia. Jarmila Gajdosova of Slovakia won the $25,000 event in Gimcheon, Korea, and Augustina Lepore of Argentina won the $25,000 tournament in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico.

On the men’s side, Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil won the biggest title of her career at the $125,000 challenger in Tunis, Tunisia, beating Dusan Vemic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4 in the final. This is Bellucci’s third challenger title of the year and propelled him into the world’s top 100 for the first time in his career.

At the $75,000 event in Prague, Czech Republic, Jan Hernych of the Czech Republic beat fellow countryman Lukas Dlouhy 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the final. This was the first all-Czech final in the tournament’s history.

Stephane Bohli of Switzerland won the title at the $50,000 event in Lanzarote, Spain with a 6-3, 6-4 over Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei. This is the first challenger title for Bohli, having lost in all four of his previous finals. Lu has been a strong competitor on the challenger circuit this year, reaching the finals of a challenger in Busan, Korea last month and winning the title in Waikoloa, Hawaii last January.

At the $35,000 event in Rome, Italy, Eduardo Schwank of Argentina won his second challenger title in the tow with a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 win over Eric Prodon of France. The win also moves Schwank into the top 100 for the first time in his career.

Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden leads the way next week as the top seed at the $75,000 event in Zagreb, Croatia. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino is the top seed at the $50,000 challenger in Jounieh, Lebanon, and Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium takes top billing at the $50,000 event in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. Challenger events will also be contested next week in Bucharest, Romania, Fukuoka, Japan, Antalya, Turkey, Florence, Italy, Changwon, Korea and Irapuato, Mexico.

On the men’s side, Donald Young is the top seed at the $50,000 challenger in Tunica, Mississippi. Michael Berrer of Germany is the top seed at the $42,500 event in Dresden, Germany, Sergio Roitman of Argentina takes top billing at the $42,500 challenger in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez leads the way at the $42,500 challenger in Rabat, Morocco. Challenger events will also be contested next week in Rijeka, Croatia and Telde, Spain.

Mondays with Bob Greene – Rafael Nadal Wins 4th Consecutive Barcelona Title

STARS

Rafael Nadal won his fourth straight Barcelona, Spain, title, the Open Sabadell Atlanatico, defeating David Ferrer 6-1, 4-6, 6-1

Fernando Gonzalez beat Simone Bolelli 7-6 (4) 6-7 (4) 6-3 to win the BMW Open in Munich, Germany

Vera Zvonareva won the ECM Prague Open, beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (2) 6-2 in Prague, Czech Republic

Gisela Dulko beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 7-6 (2) 7-6 (5) to win the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Fez, Morocco

John McEnroe won the Champions Cup Boston, beating Aaron Krickstein 5-7 6-3 10-5 (Tiebreak) in Boston, Massachusetts

Viktoria Kutuzova beat Maret Ani 6-1 7-5 in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France, to win a $100,000 ITF women’s tournament.

Tamarine Tanasugarn beat Kimiko Date-Krumm 4-6 7-5 6-2 to win an ITF women’s tournament in Gifu, Japan.

SAYINGS

“When I did make mistakes, in the second set, David was unstoppable, but I kept very focused throughout and I am very happy to be the first man to win four years in a row.” – Rafael Nadal, after winning his fourth consecutive Barcelona Open.

“I think I played a good match, but what can you do? That’s Rafa.” – David Ferrer, following his 6-1 4-6 6-1 loss to fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal for the Barcelona title.

“It’s a great relief for me.” – Vera Zvonareva, who won the ECM Prague Open, her first in 2008 after finishing second in three other finals this year.

“If someone had told me beforehand that I could reach the semifinals, I would have jumped at it.” – Younes El Aynaoui, who, at age 36, reached the semifinals of the BMW Open in Munich, Germany, before being edged by eventual champion Fernando Gonzalez 3-6 6-4 6-3.

“I felt I was regaining the feeling of playing tennis every day.” – Kimiko Date-Krumm, who ended a 12-year retirement by reaching the singles title match, which she lost, and winning the doubles in an ITF women’s tournament in Gifu, Japan.

“I took my opportunities and went for my shots. That probably made the difference today.” – Gisela Dulko, after winning the title in Fes, Morocco.

“A 13-day schedule, we feel, is about the right amount of time to get value of matches. … We see no need for change in 2008.” – Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, explaining why there will be no play at Wimbledon on the middle Sunday this year.

“I’m thrilled with this. This is exactly right: an international city, different cultures.” – WTT co-founder Billie Jean King on the Washington Kapitals joining World TeamTennis and playing its matches in the center of the city.

“My shoulder is not up to it. I have been having pain with it again and again.” – Tommy Haas, after pulling out of this BMW Open in Munich, Germany, with a persistent shoulder injury.

STREAKING ALONG

Rafael Nadal is on a roll. Nadal defeated fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 6-1 4-6 6-1 to become the first man to win the Barcelona Open four straight years. Nadal has now won his last two tournaments and increased his clay-court winning streak to 20 consecutive matches. The lefthander is 117-3 on clay since the start of the 2005 season and has won 103 of his last 104 matches on the surface.

STREAK SNAPPED

Fernando Gonzalez of Chile won his second tournament of the year, edging Italy’s Simone Bolelli 7-6 (4) 6-7 (4) 6-3 for the BMW Open title in Munich, Germany. This year was the first time in 19 years that no German player reached the quarterfinals.

SURFACING AGAIN

When Kimiko Date-Krumm decided to end a 12-year retirement, she felt she should start at the bottom. Gaining a wild card into qualifying of a $50,000 ITF event in Giru, Japan, Date, once ranked as high as number four in the world, won six straight matches before falling in the final to Tamarine Tanasugarn 4-6 7-5 6-2. Date didn’t come away empty-handed, however. She teamed with Kurumi Nara to win the doubles.

SAYS BETTING IS OK

A French court says it’s OK to bet on matches at Roland Garros. The court ruled that betting companies like bwin did not violate the rights of the French Tennis Federation by offering bets on Roland Garros matches. The federation had filed a lawsuit, saying online betting stained the reputation of the clay court championship, especially in the wake of Internet gambling scandals. But the European Gaming & Betting Association said the court had concluded “these operations had behaved in a prudent and diligent matter.” It is not known if the French federation will take further legal action against the betting companies.

SHOOTING FROM THE LIP

Maria Sharapova is upset because the WTA Tour demands that she participate in a publicity shoot on the eve of the Italian Open. According to Sharapova, the women’s tour wants several top players, including the Australian Open champion, to take part in a four-hour commercial shoot for WTA Tour marketing materials. If she refuses to participate in the photo shoot, Sharapova could be fined $300,000, Sharapova said. A WTA Tour spokesperson said: “Players have many obligations both on and off the court, and what is being asked of players in Rome is in the rules.”

SACRED SUNDAY

The middle Sunday will remain sancrosant at Wimbledon – at least for now. While admitting there are strong arguments in favor of making “People’s Sunday” a permanent fixutre, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club says it felt no need for change this year. The wettest Wimbledon in 25 years played havoc with the schedule last year, and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, among others, criticized the club for not scheduling play on the middle Sunday.

SPOT IN PARIS

Wayne Odesnik has a spot in this year’s French Open after winning a wild card in Boca Raton, Florida, by defeating Jesse Levine 6-2 7-5. The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) and French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild card entries into the main draw at the 2008 French Open and the 2008 U.S. Open are exchanged.

STACKING POUNDS

Roger Federer isn’t really looking at the money, but if he should win his sixth straight Wimbledon title in July he will take 750,000 pounds ($1.49 million) to the bank. That’s an increase of 7.1 percent over what he collected last year as singles champion. The women’s winner will receive the same amount as Wimbledon continues its equal prize money payout. The total prize money will rise by 4.7 percent, to 11,812,000 pounds. The doubles champions will each earn more than one million pounds for the first time, with the winning pairs receiving 230,000 pounds.

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Anastasia Myskina, who won Roland Garros in 2004, gave birth to a son, Zhenya, on April 28 in Moscow. Myskina missed most of last year with a left foot injury before announcing she was pregnant. She has not said whether she will return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. The righthander was the first Russian to win a Grand Slam title and the first to break into the Top 10 in the rankings, reaching as high as number two in the world.

SOCIAL EVENT

Billie Jean King and the Class of 2008 – Michael Chang, Mark McCormack and Eugene Scott – will be honored at the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Legends Ball, which will be held in New York City on September 5, the last Friday of the U.S. Open. More than a dozen Hall of Famers and other tennis dignitaries will be on hand when the third annual Eugene L. Scott Award will be presented to Billie Jean King. The award honors an individual who embodies Scott’s commitment to communicating honestly and critically about the game, and who has had a significant impact on the tennis world.

SPANISH BATTLE

Ten cities are bidding for the right to stage the Davis Cup semifinal September 19-21 when Spain takes on the defending champion United States. The cities are: Barcelona, Benidom, Gijon, Jerez de la Frontera, Madrid, Malaga, Marbella, Murcia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Santander. A decision is expected on May 9. The highest attendance for a Davis Cup tie was set in Seville, Spain, in 2004 when an average of 27,200 watched Spain win the fabled Cup by defeating the United States in the final 3-2

SERENA TO D.C.

Serena Williams is off to Washington this year to play World TeamTennis. While the eight-time Grand Slam singles champion is scheduled to play four of the Washington Kastles’ 14 regular-season matches, she will join the team for only one contest in Washington – that coming on July 8 against the Boston Lobsters. Also on the Kapitals’ roster are Justin Gimelstob, Mashona Washington, Scott Oudsema and Sacha Jones.

STARS ON PARADE

How trendy are tennis players? Well, Tommy Robredo, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Verdasco and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez have been featured in an eight-page magazine spread titled “Spanish Tennis Is Trendy.” The magazine is a weekly supplement of Diario AS, a daily sports newspaper in Spain.

SHOULDER STOPPER

Not only did Tommy Haas pull out of the BMW Open in Hamburg, Germany, with a persistent shoulder injury, he says he may not be able to play at Roland Garros later this month. Haas, once ranked as high as number two in the world, has suffered first-round losses in four of the seven tournaments he has played this year. In only one event, an ATP Masters in Indian Wells, California, did Haas reach the quarterfinals, losing to Roger Federer. He retired in his first-round match at Monte Carlo to Olivier Rochus while trailing 6-1 3-0.

SHARAPOVA OUT

Maria Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova have withdrawn from this week’s Germany Open. The Australian Open champion, Sharapova has not played since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 19. She has not revealed her injury. Hantuchova, ranked number ten in the world, withdrew because of a stress fracture in her right foot.

SUCCESS STILL DENIED

Jelena Dokic is having a hard time getting her career restarted. Once ranked as high as number five in the world, Dokic was a first-round loser at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Fez, Morocco, falling to Greta Arn of Hungary 6-4 6-2. Dokic successfully qualified for the main draw at Fez, just as she had at Hobart, Australia, in January. At Hobart, Dokic trailed Italy’s Flavia Pennetta 5-0 in the second round when she retired.

SHARED PERFORMANES

Barcelona: Bob and Mike Bryan beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski 6-3 6-2

Munich: Rainer Schuettler and Michael Berrer beat Scott Lipsky and David Martin 7-5 3-6 10-8

Prague: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka beat Jill Craybus and Michaella Krajicek 1-6 6-3 10-6

Fes: Sorana Cirstea and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Alisa Kleybanova and Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2

Cagnes-Sur-Mer: Monica Niculescu and Renata Voracova beat Julie Coin and Marie-Eve Pelletier 6-7 (2) 6-1 10-5

Gifu: Kimiko Date-Krumm and Kurumi Nara beat Melanie South and Nicole Thyssen 6-1 6-7 (8) 10-7

SITES TO SURF

Rome: www.internazionalibnlditalia.it

Berlin: www.german-open.org

Hamburg: www.dtb-tennis.de/AmRothenbaum/

Outback Champions: www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com

BlackRock Champions: www.blackrocktourofchampions.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$2,270,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Qatar Telecom German Open, Berlin, Germany, clay

SENIORS

BlackRock Tour of Champions, Rome, Italy, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$2,270,000 Hamburg Masters, Hamburg, Germany, clay

WTA Tour

$1,340,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

SENIORS

BlackRock Tour of Champions Hamburg, Germany, clay

El Aynaoui Makes a Comeback (Again)

Once again on the futures circuit this week, another former ATP standout bravely swallowed his pride and started back at square one in the hopes of turning back the clock.

It’s hard to tell how many comebacks Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui has had. The 36 year old has overcome financial destitution and just about every injury in the book to achieve a top 15 ranking and reach the quarterfinals at both the Australian Open and US Open. This week, El Aynaoui returned from a seven month injury layoff at the $15,000 event in Castelldefels. Appearing as a late entrant, he was forced to go through the qualifying rounds before surviving several tough three set matches in the main draw. In the end, El Aynaoui won his first title in almost 12 months by beating Adam Chadaj of Poland 6-3 7-6 in the final.

At the notoriously strong $100,000 event in Sunrise, Dutchman Robin Haase won a rain-delayed final that was pushed into Monday. Haase came back from being down a set and a break to defeat Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean 5-7 7-5 6-1. For Haase, who has already scored wins over Andy Murray and Ivan Ljubicic this year, this is the biggest title of his career. He hopped in a car directly after the final to head to Miami, where he layer played in the qualifying rounds of the Sony Ericsson Open (he won his first round match in Miami Monday evening).

Another player on the comeback trail is Mariano Puerta of Argentina, who’s still trying to rebound after a second doping suspension that almost ended his career. Competing at the $50,000 event in San Luis Potosi this week, Puerta showed glimpses of the form that took him to the French Open finals as he cruised through the draw without the loss of a set. However, injury derailed his good form as he was forced to withdraw from the final before striking a single ball, which allowed Brian Dabul of Argentina to win his first title of year. Both Dabul and Puerta are scheduled at the next $50,000 event in Mexico this coming week, held in the city of Leon.

In other challenger news on the men’s side, Ivan Navarro of Spain won his first event in two years at the $35,000 event in Meknes, while Andreas Beck of Germany won the $35,000 event in Sarajevo.

With her ranking just outside of the top 100, Israeli Tzipi Obziler decided to drop back down to the challengers for the $25,000 event in Tenerife. The decision proved to be wise as she dropped just 14 games in her last four matches and overwhelmed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-2 6-3 in the final. The win puts Obziler back inside the top 100 and, with little to defend over the next few months, she should see her ranking continue to climb.

In other challenger news on the women’s side, Barbora Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic won her second title of the year at the $25,000 event in Redding, while Melanie South of Great Britain won a nail biting three-set final to take the title at the $25,000 tournament in Sorrento. Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova won the $25,000 event in St. Petersburg, and Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova won her first challenger event at the $25,000 tournament in Noida.

The men keep the spotlight with two $50,000 tournaments this coming week. Werner Eschauer of Austria is the top seed in Barletta and Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer takes top billing in Leon. On the women’s side, Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain accepted a late wild card and is the top seed at the $50,000 event in Latina. Once again this week, there are also several $25,000 women’s events. Anna Lapushchenkova of Russia will hope to keep her local fans happy at the $25,000 event in Moscow, while China’s Shuai Zhang hopes to reverse her losing streak at the $25,000 tournament in Hammond. Anastasia Yakimova of Belarus is the clear favorite a  the $25,000 event in La Palma, while Estonia’s Maret Ani takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Jersey. Finally, Tessenderlo hosts its first professional event as veteran Selima Sfar of Tunisia is the top seed at this $25,000 tournament.