Split, Croatia’s premier clay court Tennis Club in Firule is hugged by a scenic marina on one side and a pebble beach on the other. It’s a quiet setting away from the center of the city encapsulated by Diocletian’s Palace, but contains possibly even more magic than that found within the former Roman Emperor’s walls. Legends such as Goran Ivanisevic and Nikola Pilic have practiced on the clay courts there, and last week another Croat who called Firule home added his name to the ATP Tour’s retirement roll, 26-year-old Mario Ancic.
Ancic is best known for his rise to World Number 7 back in 2006, but what gives his game strength is that he was the only player to beat Roger Federer — and at Wimbledon, no less — between 2002 and 2008. Having nicknames like “Baby Goran” reflecting his game’s likeness to his mentor Ivanisevic, or “Super Mario” after his missile-like serves, it was hard not to enjoy watching Ancic succeed on-court. He helped Croatia win its sole Davis Cup title in 2005 and teamed up with friend Ivan Ljubicic to take home a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Over the span of his professional career which lasted ten years, Ancic pocketed nearly $4 million dollars.
Sadly though, after a freak knee injury while jet skiing followed by a separate back injury in 2006, his career never rebounded. At the beginning of 2007 and 2008, he was stricken with mononucleosis which kept him more off the court than on it. The back injury continued to plague him for several years before it forced him to call it quits.
On February 23, 2011, Ancic came full circle as he made the teary announcement about his retirement at the very courts where he hit his first fuzzy yellow tennis ball nearly twenty years ago.
“For the last few years, I have been fighting against all kinds of illnesses. The last back injury was the last straw, it was the product of not playing due to mononucleosis from Krefeld in 2007, frequent breaks and numerous returns. After consulting with experts from Germany, France, the U.S. and Croatia, I came to the realization that my body could no longer follow the rhythm of today’s tennis game. There was no other solution. I have always fought, fallen and risen up, but I’ve always been honest with myself.”
Speaking to a private newspaper earlier in the week, Ancic also confessed that “it would not be me out there anymore. I knew I would never be 100% fit again, and there was no real answer to it. It would have required a pretty serious operation ever for me to have a chance to recover and I would never have been guaranteed a full motion again … I had to be fair with myself. My mind was fine but my body couldn’t compete.”
Ivan Ljubicic, in a press conference after his first-round match in Dubai last week, expressed his admiration for Ancic.
“Together we achieved so much at such early stages in our careers. It was just incredibly unfortunate to kind of finish it that way. I saw him in Zagreb just a couple of weeks ago. We are in touch all the time. I didn’t bother asking him too much how he was, because I knew the answer. It was not good, not good for the last three years.”
As difficult as it was for Ancic to speak, he praised the people who helped him achieve his greatness.
“I am grateful to God for the talent he gave me, but without the people in Tennis Club Split there would be no ‘me’. I am tremendously grateful to my family, my brother Ivica who was the main reason for my entry into tennis, all my trainers who worked with me from beginning to end, all those who prepared me and cared about my health. I also want to thank my fellow players. I honestly and proudly wore the Croatian representation from the time I was 15 to the last moment that I could play.”
But, fear not, Ancic has prepared for this moment. During his time away from tennis, he was able to finish his law degree from the University of Split in April of 2008 and has already been interning at a law office in Zagreb. His thesis was entitled “ATP Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” where he dealt with the legal foundation and organization of the ATP Tour. It seems that no matter how far he was from tennis, his heart was always craving it.
And it seems that the current President of the Croatian Tennis Federation, Radimir Cacic, also understands the impact Ancic has had on Croatian tennis. He invited Ancic to assume the role of President when his own term ends. But Ancic left much to be desired: “I have a challenge in the legal profession, but I always want to be close to the sport. Tennis wasn’t just a sport for me, but a way of thinking. I definitely want to … help our athletes, the future tennis players.”
Ancic concluded with a heartfelt goodbye.
“It will take a long time until I can watch tennis in peace, but time heals all wounds. I knew this moment would come so I was prepared, educated. New challenges now await me. The energy, desire and will I invested in tennis I now want to invest in something new. For me, sport and tennis are a part of life and will always be close. I am leaving peaceful and fulfilled.”
Ancic will bid his final farewell to tennis during Croatia’s Davis Cup meeting against Germany this week.
Check out ATP World Tour Uncovered with Mario Ancic and a few select photos below.
By Maud Watson
Last week in Mephis, Andy Roddick hit what he deemed to be the best shot of his career to win the ATP 500 title over breakout Canadian sensation Milos Raonic 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. For Roddick fans, the entire week of tennis had to be highly encouraging. Not only was the serve cooking, but he appeared to be playing more like the Roddick of old, driving through the ball with greater frequency on both wings – a tactic that has been missing from his game as of late. And impressively, despite going into the final with an illness, he managed to outlast Raonic to win his first title of the season. Unfortunately, the illness forced him out of Delray, but if Roddick continues to employ the brand of tennis we saw in Memphis, expect him to be in the thick of things far more often than he was last season.
Return to the Top
It wasn’t a long wait for Caroline Wozniaki to reclaim her spot atop the women’s rankings, taking the No. 1 ranking from Clijsters with her win in Dubai over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Of course, her return to the top has also meant the return of questions concerning her legitimacy as No. 1. Most recently, some have had the nerve to question her ranking based on the fact that she has no major weapons in her game. So maybe she doesn’t have the power of a Williams sister or the variety of a Henin. But one could argue that her speed and consistency are both weapons, albeit subtle ones. And besides, when an Australian by the name of Lleyton Hewitt was the No. 1 player on the men’s side, the fact that he lacked a major weapon didn’t seem to be a point of criticism. In fact, many commentators praised his lack of any weaknesses and marveled at the way he shrank the court for opponents. If Wozniaki is able to do the same thing, why should her accomplishments count for any less?
From Court to Court
“Super” Mario Ancic won’t be on the court trading groundies with tennis greats, but you might see him in the court rooms of Croatia. The 26-year-old Croat, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist who reached a career high singles ranking of No. 7, has announced his official retirement from the sport. Ancic was never the same after the mono, but it has been a chronic back injury that has forced him to the realization that his body will no longer allow him to compete at the highest levels of competition. But don’t despair for Ancic. He’s made a very impressive transition, using his law degree to land a job with a law firm in Croatia. He will be missed, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t find great success in his second career.
Is it a shocker that Serena Williams has announced that she has pulled out of the upcoming Nike exhibition? That would be a definitive “no.” If anything, a shocking story would be if Serena Williams was actually going to compete in an event that she named as the first stop in her return to the game. Ticket holders to the exhibition shouldn’t be too broken-hearted, however, with Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and now Azarenka still set to compete. Williams will also be making an appearance as a referee, but seriously, at this point, fans and tournament organizers would probably be more grateful if Serena Williams waited to announce her comeback event at a time when she knows she has a more realistic chance of actually being able to make good on her word (she was in a walking boot until earlier this month, making the Nike exhibition a tough ask).
According to ATP CEO Adam Helfant, men’s tennis has a lot to be happy about as the 2011 season gets underway. The numbers from 2010 are in, and it was a very good year. Helfant reported that there was a 26% increase in television coverage, which spurred a 20% increase in viewership. With these kind of numbers, the ATP was able to secure a little over 50% more in the latest television deals. The Federer-Nadal rivalry has no doubt provided a great product that has made these numbers possible, and with more players moving to the fore to threaten their dominance, the ATP’s product is only going to continue to improve, which should translate into better numbers next year.
Ancic Waves Farewell to Tour:
Former world No. 7 Mario Ancic has retired from tennis at the age of 26 to become a lawyer having battled injury and illness for years. The 2004 Wimbledon semifinalist secured three titles on the ATP Tour but has suffered with back and knee problems as well as the debilitating disease Glandular Fever. His crowning moment will undoubtedly be remembered as his winning singles rubber in the 2005 Davis Cup final to win the title for Croatia. He also held an Olympic Bronze medal in doubles (w. Ivan Ljubicic). Speaking from his hometown of Split he said: “I’m forced to quit because nature has decided it’s time. This is a difficult, emotional day for me. However, I don’t want it to be a sad day and I would like to still be remembered for everything I did in tennis and for the glory I brought to both Split and Croatia. Everything has an end. For me it was beautiful while it lasted and that is why this is a happy day. After consulting experts from Croatia, the United States, France and Germany I realised my body can no longer keep up with the rhythm of today’s tennis. The last back injury was the last straw.” Full fallout can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.
Soderling Continues Blistering Start to the Year:
Sweden’s Robin Soderling made it two victories in a row as he followed up last week’s success in Rotterdam by lifting the ATP Open 13 title in Marseille. The two trophies, added to the one at Brisbane in January, mean that 2011 is already a career-best year for the world No. 4 in terms of tournaments won. He stuttered at first but recovered well to overcome the unseeded giant Croat Marin Cilic 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-3. He has now won 17 of his 18 matches this year, his only defeat coming in the fourth round of the Aussie Open to surprise package Alex Dolgopolov. “It’s of course a very nice feeling,” said Soderling. “Winning three tournaments in four tries is something I’ve never been close to before. It’s the best possible start. I’ve won many matches and only lost one, unfortunately in the fourth round in Melbourne. It’s a great start and I really hope it can continue this way.” After suffering with consistency over the past year the world No. 28 Marin Cilic is finally seeing a decent return to form. He reflected on his defeat: “For a set and a half I was playing really well and in a high level; I was able to stay with him physically and dictating the game. I was extremely happy with the performance I played. In the seventh game of the second set, when I lost serve, that changed the momentum a bit. He got a step in front of me and I was all the time behind, looking to make changes to get back in the game. He was really playing good in the second part of the match.”
Woz back on Top:
Caroline Wozniacki returned to No. 1 in the world after taking her first title of the year at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. She overcame the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-3 in just 75 minutes to win the trophy without dropping a set in any of her matches. “I was hitting the ball cleanly and aggressively,” said the Dane. “I knew I had to, because if Svetlana is allowed to dictate, she’s just too strong. It was very important to stay pretty close to the baseline and keep her moving. I’m a player that can play aggressively, I can play defensively, I can mix it up and wait for the right moment. It depends on the opponent and it depends on how I feel. I always try to come up with the right answer to win the match.” “I was just making so many unforced errors,” Kuznetsova said. “She defends well and doesn’t really give you many free points. She plays a stable game and she wins. I just kept changing my strategy all match instead of just choosing one thing and playing it. She’s just a smarter player. That’s it.”
Big Title in Many Ways for Roddick:
Andy Roddick ended the hopes of rising Canadian hopeful Milos Raonic in the final of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships with a thrilling 7-6(7), 6-7(11), 7-5 victory on Sunday. It is the third time the American has won the event having done so in 2002 and 2009 while he also reached the final in ’03 and ’07. He is the third active player on the tour behind Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal to win 30 ATP Tour level titles and he did so in his 50th ATP Tour final appearance. “Winning tennis tournaments I don’t ever take for granted,” said the world No. 8. “I’ve won 30 of them now, but I think every one of them is just as exciting. I get just as much joy today as I did my first one.” He took the spoils following an intense and spectacular match point which was secured with a forward lunge from the deuce court which produced a forehand winner down the line Raonic couldn’t get near. “That’s the best shot I’ve ever hit in my life, considering the circumstance,” he said. “I played a pretty good point before that. Just making the return, you get disheartened when he doesn’t miss the next ball because it’s tough to get a serve back. He had a great volley there. I don’t really remember much else besides the fact that I went for the ball, I hit it, I didn’t really think much of it. Then I heard people cheering. I was like, ‘No, there’s no way that went in.’ I guess it did.” It also means that Roddick joins Roger Federer in securing a title for the eleventh consecutive year, a tour best. Raonic, 20, was contesting his second straight final having shocked world No. 9 Fernando Verdasco to win the SAP Open last week. The new world No. 37 is now the highest ranked Canadian man in history. “It’s something really special and amazing,” said Raonic of his ranking. “It’s not by any means something to be too happy with because I want to keep improving that. It’s not where my goal lies. I want to keep improving, I want to keep progressing and developing and I think I can do a lot more.” Full fallout can be read at the ATP website.
Two in a Row for Almagro:
Nicolas Almagro of Spain recorded his 200th victory on the ATP Tour whilst also clinching his second straight title by defeating Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the final of the Copa Claro in Buenos Aires. It is his ninth title (all have been on clay) while it is also his fifth triumph in South America. “It’s a very good feeling, I’m very happy after winning here and I hope it won’t just be nine titles in my career but a lot more,” said Almagro before speaking of his milestone win. “It’s a very high number and I hope I can keep getting to higher numbers in my career.” Chela was left to rue missed chances: “The key game was at 3-3 of the third set because I broke him the game before with great tennis but I couldn’t keep it up,” he said. “I had to be more aggressive with my serve during the match because his is very good.” For more go to the ATP site.
Djokovic to use Doubles to his Singles Advantage:
Following the defeat of Novak and Marko Djokovic in the doubles at Dubai by “The Indo Express” Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, the 2008 and 2011 Australian Open-winning Serbian Novak is keen to use such experiences to improve his serve and volley game for when he takes to the court to participate in singles play. He also hopes it will help his younger brother Marko get a taste for playing at the highest level. “Indian Wells I’m playing with [Viktor] Troicki; Miami with [Andy] Murray,” said the world No. 3. “One of the reasons playing doubles is to work on the serve and volley game and return. It’s good. It helps. Hopefully I can have fun with it as well. The main purpose for [Marko] here and in any professional event he plays is to learn. To get as much practice, as much experience as he can, and then use it afterwards. It’s a huge inspiration for him to see the best players in the world, and motivation.” Reaction from Bhupathi and Paes can be read at the ATP site.
Rafa to Return to Davis Cup:
Rafa Nadal will return to Davis Cup play for Spain for the first time since 2009 when they take on Belgium in Charleroi next month. He will line up alongside David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez for what will be his first appearance on court since tearing a leg muscle against Ferrer in the quaterfinals of the Australian Open. Nadal’s last outing resulted in Spain lifting the prestigious event for the fourth time in their history and coach Albert Costa is confident the world No. 1’s injury problems will be behind him: “When Nadal joins our training camp, he’ll be in perfect condition.”
Henin “Regrets” Infamous ‘Hand Incident:’
Retired Belgian star Justine Henin has spoken further of her regret over that now infamous occasion during the semifinals of the 2003 French Open where her call to the umpire that she wasn’t ready to receive serve wasn’t spotted and Serena’s blast in to the net was deemed a fault. Henin’s failure to speak up led to Serena losing the next four games and, ultimately, the match. “I think she saw it and she was disturbed by that,” she told Belgian TV. “There is a lot of tension; actions are a bit by instinct. So it’s true that it is not the best memory. At the same time what happened was magic. I don’t know if that changed the match. Maybe it was a way to give me respect, because you know that Williams’ have an attitude, sometimes difficult. They play with a lot of intimidation. You need to know that when you play against a Williams and they walk on court.”
Rybarikova Secures Easy Title:
It’s probably not as she pictured it, but Magdalena Rybarikova secured her second WTA Tour title with a 6-2 retirement victory over Rebecca Marino in Memphis. “It first happened in the semifinals against [Evgeniya] Rodina [semifinal opponent],” the No. 6 seed Marino said of her left abdominal injury which forced her out. “As I kept playing today it got worse and worse. I’m upset I had to retire in the finals but I didn’t want to make the injury worse. If this injury gets worse, it’s an injury that would take a long time to recover from.” “I’m very sorry for Rebecca,” said Rybarikova. “I didn’t know she was injured, but I could tell when she was playing something wasn’t right. But still, congratulations to her on a great week. I saw her play a good match against [Franchesca] Schiavone in Australia, very aggressive like [Petra] Kvitova. She’ll be a great player.”
Déjà Vu for Lino:
It was a second coming for the Spaniard Lourdes Dominguez Lino who lifted her second WTA Tour title last week on the same courts where she lifted her first five years ago. She defeated first time WTA finalist Mathilde Johansson 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to lift the XIX Copa BBVA Colsanitas in Bogata, Columbia. “It was a very difficult match today,” said the 29-year-old. “She started very well and I didn’t feel comfortable or in control of anything. But then she started making a few errors and little by little I was getting back into the match. Maybe she was nervous; I was very calm. It was a special feeling to win.”
Milestone for del Potro:
2009 US Open Winner Juan Martin del Potro registered the 150th victory of his career when he overcame the promising Lithuanian Richard Berankis 6-4, 6-1 at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships this week.
Federer Aims To Retain Dominance:
Roger Federer has been speaking this week of his belief that he can continue to dominate tennis for the near future: “I am a better player now, but then I was young and there was no fear in me and you had nothing to lose,” said the 29-year-old world No. 2. “Sometimes it’s easier to play that way as well. It is hard to dominate because I have been doing it for so long, but I feel I still have it in me.”
Private Djokovic Loving Monaco Life:
Novak Djokovic has revealed that part of the reasoning behind he and girlfriend Jelena Ristic’s move to the tax haven of Monaco was the fact that he couldn’t go out in his native Serbia without being harassed. “I just don’t have my private life,” he said. “That’s what I looked for and I found it in Monaco. I just feel great spending time there. I miss a lot of things [about Serbia]. I miss the food, my family in general and my friends who are back there that I don’t get to see that often…but at this moment, I prefer staying somewhere else.”
Serena Comeback Delayed:
Serena Williams has now pulled out of the Nike Clash of Champions exhibition event in Oregon scheduled for March 8. Victoria Azarenka will take her place.
Bogdanovic Back for Britain:
World No. 368 Alex Bogdanovic will return for Great Britain in their Davis Cup Europe/Africa Group II match against Tunisia next month having not featured since 2008. He missed play during 2010 saying he wanted to improve his ranking but has now agreed to return to the fold. He will line up alongside world No. 212 James Ward, Jamie Baker and doubles specialists Colin Fleming and Jamie Murray, older brother of world No. 5 Andy who, again, will not participate. “This is a team with the experience, ability and passion to win this tie,” said the new captain Leon Smith. “Hard work and a good team spirit will also be key to a successful start to our 2011 campaign. I’m really looking forward to the match and I am sure the home fans will get behind the team to ensure a good result.”
Milos Raonic of Canada continues his amazing story by becoming the highest ranked Canadian man ever at No. 37 in the world in the South Africa Airways ATP World Rankings. Marcos Baghdatis re-enters the Top 20 with Marin Cilic hot on his heels by climbing 7 to No. 21. The USA’s Robert Kendrick leaps 27 to No. 83 in the world while Philipp Petzschner drops 13 to No. 73 and Julien Benneteau is down 14 to No. 80. Another American, Michael Russell, jumps 17 to re-enter the Top 100 at No. 90. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings the Danish beauty Caroline Wozniacki has returned to the summit of the sport after her win in Dubai relegated Kim Clijsters back to No. 2. Aussie Sam Stosur is a career-high No. 4 in the world but has a lot of ranking points to defend in the coming weeks. Alisa Kleybanova is the new world No. 20, a career-high, while Ayumi Morita also posted a new best by jumping in to the Top 50 at No. 48. There were also big leaps for Lourdes Dominguez Lino (26 places, No. 51), Rebecca Marino (20, No. 60, career best), Magdalena Rybarikova (38, No. 67) and Mathilde Johansson (27, No. 71). Coco Vandeweghe enters the Top 100 for the first time at No. 93.
Rodger Edges Forward in GOAT Race:
With Rafa Nadal still out injured Roger’s appearance in Dubai adds another ten points to his lead:
Roger: 340 Rafa: 130
Robby Ginepri beat Sam Querrey 6-2 6-4 to win the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Nikolay Davydenko beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-2 to win the International German Open in Hamburg, Germany
Dinara Safina won the Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz, Slovenia, beating Sara Errani 6-7 (5) 6-1 7-5
Andrea Petkovic beat Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-2 6-3 to win the Gastein Ladies in Bad Gastein, Austria
“I have some exciting news to share with you. Late last night, in Switzerland, Mirka and I became proud parents of twin girls. This is the best day of our lives.” – Roger Federer, announcing the births on his Web site and Facebook page.
“The twins certainly come from good tennis stock. If they are half as good as their dad they will still be a potent force on the court.” – Nick Weinberg, spokesman for British bookmaker Ladbrokes on the twin girls one day winning Wimbledon.
“When you have a lot of losses, you start questioning if you can play at this level. It creeps in the back of your mind, so this is definitely a confidence boost for me the rest of the summer.” – Robby Ginepri, after winning the Indianapolis Tennis Championships.
“It’s been a great week for me. Of course, when you are in a final you always want to win but it has been a great week for me.” – Paul-Henri Mathieu, after losing in the Hamburg, Germany, final to Nikolay Davydenko.
“I know I am good enough to beat most players on this level.” – Andrea Petkovic, after reaching her first career WTA Tour final, which she won.
“I played better each match this week. I beat two Top 30 players this week, the best wins of my career. I’m sorry about today: I wish I could have done more, but there’s always next tournament.” – Ioana Raluca Olaru, who lost in the Gastein Ladies final to Andrea Petkovic.
“I am a hundred percent. I mean, if I wasn’t at that point, I certainly wouldn’t be playing.” – Maria Sharapova, who played for the Newport Beach Breakers in a World TeamTennis match against Kansas City.
“There’s always a lot of pressure against Korie (Homan) because I have not lost a set at this tournament since 2000 and of course I have the winning streak.” – Esther Vergeer, after stretching her unbeaten singles record to 364 matches in wheelchair tennis by again beating world number two Korie Homan.
“Andy’s presence really does give a boost to County Week and British tennis in general. It proves to 12-, 13- and 14-year-old children that if the world number three can be bothered to show up and compete for his county, then they can do it, too.” – Ian Conway, captain of the North of Scotland team, on Andy Murray playing an amateur event.
It’s been awhile since Nikolay Davydenko took home the biggest check at a tournament. The Russian won his first ATP World Tour title in over a year when he trounced Paul-Henri Mathieu at the International German Open in Hamburg. Davydenko last appeared in a final at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai last November, and he hadn’t won a title since Warsaw, Poland, in June 2008. Davydenko also became the first Russian to win in Hamburg.
Until this past week, Andrea Petkovic had a 3-8 lifetime record in WTA Tour-level events, with all three match wins coming at Grand Slam tournaments. That changed in Bad Gastein, Austria, where Petkovic won five straight matches and her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title, the Gastein Ladies, when she stopped Ioana Raluca Olaru. The unseeded German dropped only one set all week, that to seventh-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the quarterfinals. “It’s the best moment of my career,” Petkovic said. “I hope I can keep playing like this and build on it.” Olaru was also appearing in her first Tour singles final, having upset third-seeded Sybille Bammer, sixth-seeded Magdalena Rybarikova and top-seeded Alize Cornet en route to the title match.
It didn’t take the British bookmakers long. Just a day after their birth, Roger Federer’s twin daughters were given 100-1 odds for either to win Wimbledon. Charlene Riva Federer and Myla Rose Federer are 50-1 to win a Grand Slam as part of the same doubles team and 200-1 to capture the Wimbledon women’s doubles. Andy Roddick, who has lost the Wimbledon final three times to the twins’ father, agreed with the bookies. The American sent a message from his Twitter page, which read: “Wimbledon women’s champs in 2029-2040 … the Federer girls: congrats to the new parents!”
Playing together for the first time, Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Ernests Gulbis of Latvia won all four matches in third-set super tiebreakers to capture the doubles title at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. “They’re obviously better as a team, but when there’s a lot of firepower against you, there’s not much you can do,” Tursunov said after the pair beat top-seeded Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak). Not one to break up a winning pair, the two plan to play together in Los Angeles this week. “It’s kind of like beginner’s luck in poker, so we’ll see how it goes,” Tursunov said. “If we’re having success, it makes sense to continue to play.”
STEPPING IT UP
The knee injury must be better. Rafael Nadal has returned to training for the first time since he was sidelined by tendinitis in his right knee. Nadal is planning on returning to the ATP tour at the Montreal Masters next month. He has been out since losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, where he was seeking his fifth straight title. The injury also kept him from defending his Wimbledon crown. With Nadal not there, Roger Federer won both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to record his 15th Grand Slam trophy and reclaim the number one ranking.
Leander Paes was named the league’s male MVP as he led the Washington Kastles to their first World TeamTennis Pro League championship. Paes teamed with Scott Oudsema to win the men’s doubles and with Rennae Stubbs to win the mixed doubles as the Kastles downed the Springfield Lasers 23-20. Oudsema beat Springfield’s Raven Klaasen in the men’s singles, while Washington’s Olga Puchkova downed Vania King in women’s singles. King and Liezel Huber captured the women’s doubles. King was named the league’s female MVP.
Cara Black is only 5-foot-6 ( 1.67m) but she stands tall in the tennis record book. The Zimbabwean player is second only to Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova in the number of weeks spent as the number one doubles player in the world. When Black recorded her 125th week at number one spot, she moved past Natasha Zvereva. The 30-year-old first took over the top spot on October 17, 2005, staying there for 16 weeks. She regained the spot on June 11, 2007, before relinquishing it two weeks later to Lisa Raymond. But Black began her third and current stint at number one on July 9, 2007, after winning Wimbledon. Navratilova led the doubles rankings for 237 weeks.
Austria’s national anti-doping authorities are investigating Tamira Paszek after she received a medical treatment for a back injury that allegedly violated doping regulations. Authorities say that during treatment earlier this month, blood was taken from Paszek for enrichment, then later injected back into her, which is not allowed under international anti-doping rules. Paszek said she was not aware that the treatment was possibly illegal until a reporter told her. Paszek then alerted the Austrian anti-doping agency NADA, which began its investigation. The Austrian right-hander has struggled with back problems since last season. She has not played since retiring during her first-round match at Wimbledon.
Argentina’s David Nalbandian and Croatia’s Mario Ancic won’t be playing in this year’s US Open. According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the 15th-ranked Nalbandian is still recovering from recent hip surgery, while Ancic is battling mononucleosis. Their spots in the men’s main draw were taken by Ivan Navarro of Spain and Karol Beck of Slovakia.
An injury has caused Li Na of China to withdraw from China’s National Games in Shandong. The 27-year-old said she felt a recurrence of her right knee injury. Li will undergo tests in Beijing to determine whether she will be able to play the North American hard court season, including the US Open. “We have signed up for it and got the visa,” said Li’s husband and coach, Jiang Shan. “If she is OK by then we will go to play.”
John McEnroe seems to be a lightning rod for problems on a tennis court. His World TeamTennis club has been fined for what the league called “unprofessional conduct.” During the men’s doubles match between McEnroe’s New York Sportimes and the Washington Kastles, a shot by Washington’s Leander Paes hit New York’s Robert Kendrick. McEnroe and Sportimes coach Chuck Adams went to Paes’ side of the court and yelled at him. Four points later, Kendrick hit Paes with a serve, prompting more confrontations. The league suspended and fined Adams the next day, then, after reviewing the video and getting the umpire’s report, issued fines on both teams. Kendrick and Kastles player Olga Puchkova received individual fines.
SHORT STICH STAY
Michael Stich’s return to competitive tennis lasted only 62 minutes. The former Wimbledon champion lost his first-round doubles match at the German Open in Hamburg. The 40-year-old Stich, who retired from the sport 12 years ago, and 21-year-old Mischa Zverev were beaten by Simon Aspelin of Sweden and Paul Hanley of Australia 6-4 6-2. Stich won Wimbledon in 1991 and reached the final at both the French Open and US Open. His best ranking was number two in the world. As tournament director of the German Open, Stich gave himself and Zverev a wild card into the tournament. Stich is not the only retired player to make a brief doubles comeback. John McEnroe was 47 when he and Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won the doubles at San Jose, California. That came 14 years after his previous title.
SAYING AU REVOIR
Nathalie Dechy is calling it a career. The 30-year-old Frenchwoman is expecting a child and wants to devote her time to family life. Dechy reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2005, but is currently ranked 88th in the world. She won two US Open women’s doubles titles, with Vera Zvonareva in 2006 and Dinara Safina in 2007. She also won the French Open mixed doubles in 2007 with Israel’s Andy Ram. Dechy won her only WTA Tour singles title at the Gold Coast tournament in 2003 and reached her career-highest ranking in January 2006 when she rose to 11th in the world. She played for France in the Fed Cup in singles and doubles from 2000 until this year.
STRIKE IT WASN’T
Robby Ginepri had an unusual way of throwing out the game’s first pitch when he was a special guest at the Triple-A baseball game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Durham Bulls. In Indiana where he was competing in the Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Ginepri used his racquet and a tennis ball to serve to the Indians catcher. The umpire called balls on both of Ginepri’s “serves,” but the American was delighted with his performance. “It was very close to a strike,” Ginepri said. “It is quite different to have to serve at a catcher’s glove. The target is just very small.”
SCHOLARSHIPS BY MARIA
Maria Sharapova is continuing to give back. The former world number one has launched the Maria Sharapova Foundation to distribute scholarships among first-year students at Belarusian State University throughout the 2009-2010 academic year. The USD $3,500 scholarships will be available to Belarus residents attending BSU who come from areas formally recognized as affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. According to the BSU press office, recipients should actively participate in public, research and volunteer activities, and should have a high average grade in their general education school diplomas. It’s not the first time the tennis player has given generously. In February 2007, Sharapova, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Program, donated USD $100,000 for eight Chernobyl relief projects in Belarus and Ukraine. Sharapova’s father and pregnant mother fled Homyel, a town 80 miles north of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, shortly after the accident in April 1986. She was born in a Siberian city months later.
SUMMER COUNTY CUP
Forget the ranking. Andy Murray took time to compete in the AEGON Summer County Cup, a 115-year-old amateur team tennis competition. With no umpires, line judges or ball-persons, the players call their own lines in the last amateur grass-court competition in the United Kingdom where senior professionals mix with junior players to represent their county in a competitive team environment. It was a huge surprise to the other players and the 300 spectators at Eastbourne when Murray showed up to play for North of Scotland. “Andy has come down to Eastbourne under his own steam, paying for his transport and lunch out of his own pocket,” said North of Scotland captain Ian Conway. “I was surprised and delighted, and his presence has given the rest of the team a huge boost.” While Murray and Owen Hadden won all three of their matches for the North of Scotland, Hertfordshire won the tie 5-4 when Andy’s brother, Jamie Murray, and his partner lost the deciding match 6-3 6-7 (3) 10-8 (match tiebreak).
Esther Vergeer is not slowing down. The Dutch woman won her ninth consecutive women’s wheelchair singles title at the British Open in Nottingham, defeating Korie Homan. Ranked number one in the world, Vergeer stretched her winning streak to 364 matches.
Shingo Kunieda of Japan won the men’s main draw singles, while American David Wagner captured the quad singles titles. Kunieda beat Stephane Houdet for his third successive men’s main draw singles title. Wagner won his second British Open quad singles in three years as he beat world number one and home favorite Peter Norfolk.
Nicole Pratt has been appointed Australian national women’s coach. A former junior Australian Open champion, Pratt will work with Australia’s Fed Cup team and on player development, according to Tennis Australia. Pratt’s highest ranking on the WTA Tour was 35th in the world.
Indianapolis: Dmitry Tursunov and Ernests Gulbis beat Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak)
Hamburg: Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley beat Marcelo Melo and Filip Polasek 6-3 6-3
Bad Gastein: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka beat Tatjana Malek and Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4
Portoroz: Julia Goerges and Vladimira Uhlirova beat Camille Pin and Klara Zakopalova 6-4 6-2
SITES TO SURF
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
San Marino: www.atpsanmarino.com/
Los Angeles: www.latennischamps.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$700,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
$500,000 Allianz Suisse Open, Gstaad, Switzerland, clay
$450,000 Studena Croatia Open, Umag, Croatia, clay
$100,000 Orbetello Challenger, Orbetello, Italy, clay
$700,000 Bank of the West Classic, Stanford, California, hard
$220,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$1,402,000 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Washington, DC, USA, hard
$150,000 ATP Open Castilla y Leon, Segovia, Spain, hard
$120,000 San Marino CEPU Open, San Marino, clay
$100,000 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Vancouver, Canada, hard
$700,000 LA Women’s Tennis Championships presented by Herbalife, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
Robin Soderling beat Juan Monaco 6-3 7-6 (4) to win the Catella Swedish Open in Bastad, Sweden
Jeremy Chardy won his first career ATP title, beating Victor Hanescu 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.
Flavia Pennetta beat Sara Errani 6-1 6-2 to win the Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo in Palermo, Italy
Sybille Bammer beat Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (4) 6-2 to win the ECM Prague Open in Prague, Czech Republic
Marcos Daniel won the Open Seguros Bolivar in Bogota, Colombia, defeating Horacic Zeballos 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-4
“I’m so happy, I wouldn’t trade this victory for a Grand Slam.” – Robin Soderling, the French Open finalist, after becoming the first Swede to win the Swedish Open since 2000.
“It is the first time I’ve won a title here in Italy. And it’s even more special with my family and friends here watching and supporting me.” – Flavia Pennetta, after winning the Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo.
“I felt the pressure because I knew this would be my first title.” – Jeremy Chardy, after beating Victor Hanescu to win his first ATP title, the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.
“I like practicing, but I like playing matches better.” – Kim Clijsters, saying she’s rejoining the WTA Tour after a two-year retirement during which she got married and had a baby.
“I’m tired of the tour, tired of staying at hotels and tired of travelling…I’ve had enough now.” – Marat Safin, after his first-round loss at the Swedish Open.
“I still want to win. Especially that title. I like winning that one. I’m used to winning that one.” – Venus Williams, taking little consolation that the Wimbledon women’s singles title remained in the Williams family when she lost the final to sister Serena.
“I thought it would be pretty easy. You play five games, you get to sit down. But it’s highly competitive and a difficult way to tiptoe back into it.” – Andre Agassi, after returning to the sport by playing World TeamTennis.
“Basically, it was a great match, probably one of the greatest World TeamTennis matches ever played, maybe the greatest. All in all, I thought it was a great night.” – New York Sportimes owner Claude Okin, after his coach was suspended following a wild and crazy match that saw two players get hit by batted balls.
It was Robin Soderling’s fourth ATP title and his first on clay. But what made his 6-3 7-6 (4) victory over Juan Monaco even sweeter was that Soderling became the first Swede to win the Swedish Open since his coach, Magnus Norman, won in 2000. Soderling, who upset defending champion Rafael Nadal en route to the final of the French Open, was playing in his third ATP final in Sweden. He lost both previous times on the indoor hard court of the Stockholm Open. He wasn’t to be denied this time as he didn’t drop a set on the clay courts of Bastad. Swedish players have won the singles 18 times in the 54-year history of the Swedish Open. Soderling also was in the doubles final, but he and partner Robert Lindstedt lost to Jaroslav Levinsky and Filip Polasek 1-6 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak).
Frenchman Richard Gasquet escaped a two-year ban when an independent panel agreed with him that the reason he tested positive for cocaine was because he had kissed a woman in a Miami, Florida, nightclub who had been using the drug. The panel also ruled that while Gasquet’s test was officially in competition, this was a technicality as he had decided the day before his first match to pull out of the Sony Ericsson Championships. Cocaine is not banned out of competition. Fearing a dangerous precedent, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) sought a mandatory two-year band and may yet appeal the ruling, as may the World Anti-Doping Agency. Gasquet’s test showed traces of a tiny quantity of cocaine, about the size of a grain of salt. Gasquet missed the French Open and Wimbledon, but could return to the tour at the Montreal, Canada, Masters that starts on August 10.
The president of the Russian tennis federation blames his team’s upset Davis Cup loss to Israel on the scheduling of the men’s tour. “The main problem is this murderous calendar,” said Shamil Tarpishchev. “This is not only a big problem for us. Just look at the other top teams like U.S., Spain, Argentina or Germany. It seems like every top team was missing their best players.” Tarpishchev, who had led Russia to Davis Cup titles in 2002 and 2006, said the timing of the World Group quarterfinals coming immediately after the French Open and Wimbledon gave top players almost no time to recover. Russia played without its top two players, Nikolay Davydenko and Dmitry Tursunov. Others missing Davis Cup quarterfinals included American Andy Roddick, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Argentina’s David Nalbandian, Germany’s Tommy Haas and Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic.
Before President Barack Obama headed to baseball’s All-Star game to throw out the first pitch, he welcomed Wimbledon champion Serena Williams to the White House. “I love President Obama; he has such an unbelievable presence, and he seems to be so normal – and he noticed my shoes,” Williams said. “I think that was the highlight of the whole day, was he liked my shoes.” Serena said she was wearing 5-inch heels and the President wondered if she should be wearing them. “I thought that was kind of funny because he may have been right,” Serena said. “Because it is a job hazard for me, but I insist on wearing them.”
Spain is on top of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Davis Cup Nations Ranking. The Spaniards ended Russia’s 2 ½ -year reign as number one. The United States moved up to second place, followed by Russia. Israel, which upset Russia in the quarterfinals, advanced to a career-high sixth.
When Andre Agassi ended his nearly 3-year retirement, he did it all. The 39-year-old played mixed doubles, doubles and singles for the second straight week while competing for the Philadelphia Freedoms in World TeamTennis. Agassi also traded shots with youngsters and bantered with fans as the Freedoms played the Newport Beach Breakers. He teamed with Lisa Raymond to post a mixed doubles victory, but lost in singles to Ramon Delgado and to Delgado and Kaes Van’t Hof in the men’s doubles.
Venus and Serena Williams aren’t the only sisters meeting on the opposite ends of a tennis court. The difference, though, is what part of the week they face each other. In their latest pairing, Serena beat Venus in the Wimbledon final. In Prague, Czech Republic, fifth-seeded Alona Bondarenko was ousted by her unseeded sister Kateryna in the opening round of the Prague Open 6-1 6-3. That snapped a tie and the younger sister now leads in their head-to-head matchups 4-3. In their career head-to-head battles, Serena leads her older sister 11-10. The Bondarenko sisters did team up to win the doubles in Prague, their third doubles title together. They won the Australian Open and Paris indoors last year.
SET FOR THE CAPITAL
Washington, D.C., will be the site for this year’s World TeamTennis championship finals. The July 26 competition, being played in America’s capital for the first time, will pit the 10-team league’s Eastern Conference champions against the winners of the Western Conference.
The Qi Zhong Tennis Center in Shanghai is adding new courts as it gets ready to stage an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in October. The Tennis Center was the site for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup for five years, an event that this year will be held in London. For this year’s tournament, Qi Zhong’s main stadium roof will be opened, turning it into a 15,000-seat outdoor facility. The Grand Stand Court 2 will accommodate 5,000 spectators, while Court 3 will seat 2,000. Construction of the new facilities is expected to be completed by August. The tournament will be held October 10-18 and will conclude a four-week Asian tour, following stops in Bangkok, Tokyo and Beijing.
New York Sportimes coach Chuck Adams was suspended and fined by World TeamTennis after his team and the Washington Kastles got into heated arguments over players getting hit by shots. The league barred Adams for “violating the World TeamTennis Coaches’ Code of Conduct.” During the melee, Adams went onto Washington’s side of the court to confront a Kastles player. The league said this was “the first p[punishment” for what happened between the two teams. WTT said it “continues to investigate the incident to determine if there will be any additional punishments issued.” During the men’s doubles match, a shot by Washington’s Leader Paes hit New York’s Robert Kendrick, prompting Adams and Sportimes player John McEnroe to yell at Paes. The chair umpire issued a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct against the New York team. Four points later, Kendrick hit a serve that hit Paes as he stood near the net as his partner waited to return serve. Kastles players Olga Puchkova and Rennae Stubbs responded and both drew code violation warnings, Puchkova for yelling at Kendrick and Stubbs for abuse of officials.
SET TO RETURN
Having taken time to get married and have a baby, Kim Clijsters is ready to rejoin the WTA Tour. The 2005 US Open champion, Clijsters reached number one in the world in singles and doubles in August 2003. She also was runner-up at four major tournaments – losing to fellow Belgian Justine Henin at both Roland Garros and the US Open in 2003 and at the Australian Open in 2004 – as she won 34 career singles titles before beginning a two-year retirement. This will be her first US Open since she captured the title. She has been given wild cards to enter tournaments at Mason, Ohio, and Toronto, Canada, before the US Open, which begins its two-week run on August 31. The 26-year-old Clijsters married American Brian Lynch in 2007 and their daughter, Jada, was born in February 2008.
SET FOR MONTREAL
Rafael Nadal is shooting to return to the men’s tennis tour at the Montreal Masters next Month. The Spaniard has been slowing recovering from tendinitis in his knees and plans to resume training this week. He last played at Roland Garros, where he was upset in the fourth round by Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Nadal then was forced to skip the defense of his Wimbledon title. He is the defending champion in Montreal. While he was recuperating, he also lost his number one ranking to Roger Federer, who succeeded Nadal as champion at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Marat Safin is looking forward to life free of racquets and balls. The Russian is scheduled to play another eight tournaments before he retires at the end of the year. After losing his first-round Swedish Open match to Nicolas Almagro, Safin said, “I’ve had enough now.” Asked by the Swedish news agency TT if he would be interested in a coaching career, Safin replied: “I am tired of everything that has to do with rackets and balls. I want to do something completely different.”
Yet another retiree is returning to the courts. However, when former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich snaps his 12-year stint on the sidelines, it will be only to play doubles at the tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Now 40 years old, Stich is the director of the event that is struggling to survive after losing its Masters Series status on the tour. Stich will team with 21-year-old Mischa Zverev, one of Germany’s top prospects. “I’ve been practicing with Mischa in Hamburg for about five years and we got the idea at some point to play doubles at a tournament,” Stich said. “The opportunity has now presented itself and as Hamburg boys we will play before the home fans next week.” Stich upset fellow German Boris Becker to win Wimbledon in 1991. The following year he teamed with John McEnroe to win the Wimbledon doubles.
Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick will skip this week’s Indianapolis Tennis Championships because of a right hip flexor injury. It’s the same injury that caused Roddick to pull out of the United States Davis Cup team’s quarterfinal at Croatia. Without Roddick, the Americans lost.
Australia won’t be suspended from Davis Cup for refusing to play in India in May. But while the International Tennis Federation board declined to impose tougher sanctions on Australia, it did say the next Davis Cup tie between the two countries will be played in India. Australia forfeited May’s competition when it refused to send a team to India, claiming security fears. While the board also reversed the Davis Cup committee’s decision that Australia would lose its hosting rights for its next home match, the board upheld a USD $10,000 fine and additional legal costs imposed on the Australian federation.
Spurred by last year’s competition in Argentina, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has decided that Davis Cup finals must in the future be held in major cities. The ITF said Argentina’s use of Uslas Malvinas Stadium in Mar del Plata last November did not meet capacity requirements. Wary of the Spaniards’ dominance on clay, Argentina moved the Cup final to indoor carpet. Spain won the final anyway, 3-1.
Three countries – Albania, Kenya and Zambia – have been promoted from Class C membership to Class B while two others have been dropped as the ITF has reconfigured the Europe/Africa Zone. It now will be Europe Group II and Africa Group III. Mongolia and Antigua and Barbuda are the nations who were dropped.
Roger Federer has been named “Ehrespalebaerglemer,” an award given to outstanding citizens of Basel, Switzerland, the tennis star’s home town. A plaque, unveiled in Federer’s honor, sits alongside those honoring other local heroes in the historic city center of Basel. “It’s a nice honor for me to receive the plaque and I will walk past it, I am sure, just a few more times,” said Federer. “It’s going to be a proud moment, maybe also to show my kids in the future.”
SCOTT TO STACEY
The new chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour is Stacey Allaster. The native of Canada had served three years as president of the WTA Tour after previously serving as vice president and tournament director of Tennis Canada. Allaster replaces Larry Scott in the top job at the WTA Tour. Scott resigned in March after six years as chief executive to become commissioner of the Pacific-10 Conference of US colleges.
Jon Gibbs, a trailblazer in computerized tennis statistics, has died in Verona, New Jersey, USA. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. A video tape editor for ABC Television before he retired, Gibbs created TenniSTAT, a computer program that enabled a complete printout of every point after a match. At one time TenniSTAT was the official statistics program for the US Open, the WCT Tournament of Champions, the Volvo Masters and the Virginia Slims Championships in New York City, and the US Pro Indoors in Philadelphia. He also provided statistics at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Gibbs had just celebrated his 71st birthday. A memorial service will be held July 26 at Temple Beth Sholom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Among his survivors are his wife, Roz, and two sons, Noah and Josh.
Bastad: Jaroslav Levinsky and Filip Polasek beat Robert Lindstedt and Robin Soderling 1-6 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Prague: Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko beat Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1 6-2
Palermo: Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Mariya Koryttseva and Darya Kustova 6-1 6-2
Stuttgart: Frantisek Cermak and Mischa Mertinak beat Victor Hanescu and Horia Tecau 7-5 6-4
Bogota: Sebastian Prieto and Horarcic Zeballos beat Marcos Daniel and Ricardo Mello 6-4 7-5
SITES TO SURF
Bad Gastein: www.matchmaker.at/gastein/
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$1,500,000 Bet-at-Home Open, Hamburg, Germany, clay
$600,000 Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, hard
$220,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard
$220,000 Gastein Ladies, Bad Gastein, Austria, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$700,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
$500,000 Allianz Suisse Open, Gstaad, Switzerland, clay
What happened the last time the U.S. Davis Cup team traveled to Croatia? Ironically, Andy Roddick was not in the U.S. line-up due to exhaustion and injury following a marathon match at a Grand Slam tournament – as is the case this week following his 16-14 fifth-set loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final on Sunday. Back in 2003, it was a wrist injury that placed Roddick off the U.S. team following his 21-19 in the fifth set win over Younes El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and, like this week in Pec, Croatia, he was replaced in the singles line-up by Mardy Fish. The following is a summary of the last U.S. visit to Croatia back in February of 2003
The pending retirements in 2003 of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, and the retirement of Jim Courier three years prior caused the U.S. Davis Cup focus to center more squarely on “Generation Next.” With a 33-year-old Andre Agassi still playing, but in retirement from Davis Cup play, and 33-year-old Todd Martin playing what turned out to be his final Davis Cup match at Roland Garros the previous fall, the changing of the guard was to be completed with an away match in the first round of the 2003 competition against Croatia in Zagreb.
However, Captain Patrick McEnroe’s hopes of his Andy Roddick-led youthful charge in 2003 suffered a lethal blow just 10 days before the start of the Croatia tie as Roddick’s exhausting Australian Open campaign had instigated a case of severe tendonitis in his right wrist, preventing his nomination to the team. Roddick’s 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 quarterfinal win over Younes El Aynaoui of Morrocco in four hours and 59 minutes contributed greatly to Roddick’s condition as did a diving attempt at a volley near the end of the match.
“I didn’t think anything about it then, and the wrist wasn’t really sore after the match,” Roddick told Bill Dwyre with the Los Angeles Times of landing on his right wrist after the diving volley attempt. “I packed up, went off, did my press, and then, when I went to leave, I picked up my big tennis bag and felt this huge pain in my wrist.”
Roddick considered defaulting the Aussie semifinal match to Rainer Schuettler of Germany, but since it was his first sojourn into a Grand Slam semifinal gave it a run. The later the match went, the more the pain affected his play in his 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Schuettler.
“At the end, it hurt so much to hit my two-handed backhand that I was, pretty much, just releasing my right hand and hitting a left-handed forehand.”
Roddick saw Dr. Norm Zemel of the Los Angeles-based Kerlan-Jobe group, who diagnosed three weeks of rest. “The doctor said it was the most severe case of tendonitis he had ever seen,” Roddick told Dwyre. “I really didn’t know what it was, how bad it was, until I saw the doctor yesterday.”
Without its No. 1 player, U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe would have to rely on James Blake, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri to carry load in lieu of Roddick. All four players had been knocking at the door and waiting to burst through and make a mark on their own and follow in Roddick’s lead through to the upper echelon of world tennis. Croatia would be their opportunity to take the stage and shine.
“I’ve said from the time I became captain, it’s time for the younger guys to step up and they have and now it’s time for them to take over,” said McEnroe. “I’m excited about watching the young guns take the responsibility into their hands fully for our Davis Cup quest to bring the Davis Cup back to the U.S… It’s time for them to enjoy this challenge, to take the responsibility of being our team and get us through this match.”
Much of the responsibility would fall on Blake, who would be designated as the No. 1 player for the U.S. with an ATP ranking of No. 24. The 23-year-old – the oldest player in the green American team - had previously only played supporting roles in Davis Cup play, playing singles behind Roddick in two previous ties – against India in Winston-Salem in 2001 and against France at Roland Garros the previous fall – while also playing doubles only in two other ties.
“It’s a little weird since I definitely feel like I’m still the one learning,” confided Blake. “Just last year, I was the brand new kid and the rookie on the team and now I’m considered the veteran. I’m the oldest member of the team. It’s going to seem a little strange.”
Blake would also be thrown into the spotlight as the draw for the U.S. vs. Croatia tie would be held on February 6 – the 10 year anniversary of the death of Arthur Ashe. The USTA would honor the legacy of Ashe by sewing the embroidery of his name on the left sleeve of the official team uniform for each U.S. team member. Said USTA Chief Executive Arlen Kantarian “The Davis Cup represents one of Arthur’s greatest ideals, to bring people together around the world through sports. On this tenth anniversary of his death, we remember an outstanding player, captain and humanitarian – and inspiration not just for his team, but to our country and the world.”
“I think being African-American, I owe him a great debt of gratitude for being able to deal with the pressures and situations. What I go through now and what anyone goes though is much easier thanks to what he did. It took a great man and great athlete like him to do that and we are so fortunate today to have had him as that role model.”
Ashe’s legacy and reputation to assist in humanitarian causes had clearly rubbed off on Jim Courier, who continued in his role as coach under McEnroe in Zagreb. Courier had been made aware of the significant land-mine problems in Croatia that remained following its war for independence in the early 1990s from Jim Lawrence, the U.S. State Department’s Director of Mine Action Initiatives and Partnerships.
Courier had arranged for the team to visit a de-mining operation on the morning of Tuesday, February 4, but snow and high winds delayed the helicopter ride that would take the team to a coastal region near the city of Zadar, where a major de-mining operation would take place. In place of the team, the United States Tennis Association sent a group of its officials in their place. USTA Davis Cup Committee Chairmen Warren Kimball and Allen Kiel were so moved by the struggles for the Croatian people to rid their soil of such deadly land mines, that they encouraged and received the financial commitment from USTA President Alan Schwartz, to donate $25,000 to de-mining efforts in Croatia. The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb pledged a matching $25,000 grant. The money was used to clear a mine-field in the village of Mekusje, 30 miles west of Zagreb, where the mine field prevented townspeople from access the town’s local tennis court.
“This is our way of showing support to the people of Croatia, who have been such incredible hosts to our Davis Cup team and USTA contingent this week,” said Schwartz. “It is reassuring to know that the contribution by the USTA and the U.S. government will help the people of Mekusje enjoy the wonderful sport of tennis once again.”
Much of the buzz entering the first round series centered around the status of 2001 Wimbledon champion and Croatian sporting god Goran Ivanisevic. Since his celebrated win at the All England Club in 2001, Ivanisevic had been plagued with injuries and underwent surgery on his left shoulder in May of 2002. Despite not playing only three ATP singles matches in the last year due to the recovery from his surgery, Ivanisevic was determined to make his return against the Americans. He had played in the Heilbronn Challenger level event in Germany the week before Davis Cup, only to withdraw in the second round with tremendous pain in his shoulder.
“I couldn’t do anything, my arm hurt terribly,” Ivanisevic said. “I suffered for 10 months, underwent an operation to feel better and now this…I’ve never felt so miserable….I’ll let him give me 30 injections if that’d help. I’m in such a state that I’d go to Tibet on foot if I knew that would help,” he said. “I’m totally lost.”
Not surprisingly, he was not drawn to play singles against the Americans, but in doubles with Ljubicic. Fish, ranked No. 74 in the ATP rankings, was drawn to face No. 52-ranked Ljubicic to start the tie off, with Blake and Mario Ancic playing the second singles match.
Under a backdrop of a loud, flag-waving jam-packed crowd of 2,800 in the tiny Dom Hall Sportova, which resembled a high school gym than a major sporting arena, Fish and Ljubicic opened the proceedings. Ljubicic, with his future brother-in-law banging a drum to incite the small but overflowing and vocal crowd, took advantage of the fast conditions on the indoor carpet serving with equal abandon on both first and second serve. With Fish showing nerves in his first away Davis Cup action and his first ever Davis Cup singles match, he was tentative on his normally solid return of serve and was unable to hook onto Ljubicic’s blistering serves. Only after 97 minutes – at 1-2 in the third set – was Fish able to look at a break point – only to see it disappear behind a Ljubicic service winner. Of Ljubicic’s 70 service points, 30 were aces, 19 were service winners, while 16 were double faults. Final result, Ljubicic in straight sets by a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 margin.
“I’ve never played anybody with a serve like that,” said Fish of Ljubicic. “I couldn’t read his serve and I just didn’t have an answer…I’ve never seen a first and second serve like that.”
Blake took the court with the swagger of the team leader and jumped on and dominated Ancic, easily winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-2 before maneuvering through a third set-tie-break to square the matches at 1-1 after the first day of play.
“Davis Cup is a lot of pressure and I think it’s a lot of fun out there,” said Blake. “It’s a great atmosphere out there having a biased crowd. There is going to be pressure in every match, with varying degrees. I went into it looking it as if it was another live Davis Cup rubber.”
While there was little doubt that Fish and Blake would pair in the doubles, there still remained a minor mystery on whether Ivanisevic would take the court the next day. Said Croatian captain Niki Pilic of Goran’s availability for the Saturday doubles, “I think he will make his decision. I have made my decision already. If he has a good arm, like today (in practice), I think he will play.”
An electric atmosphere greeted Ivanisevic as he strolled onto the court with Ljubicic on Saturday afternoon. The scene, according to Bud Collins of the Boston Globe was of pandemonium. “Horns toot, a drum rat-a-tat-tats, shrill whistles pierce the fetid air, and the checker board flags of Croatia flap everywhere.”
Ivanisevic was playing in only his second complete match since undergoing left shoulder surgery on May 15, 2002. Ivanisevic retired with shoulder pain in the second round of last week’s Heilbronn Challenger in Germany, his first event since April 6, 2002, when he and Ljubicic defeated Guillermo Canas and Lucas Arnold of Argentina in the Davis Cup quarterfinal in Buenos Aires.
The rust showed early for Ivanisevic who struggled with his serves and stumbled on volleys and returns, trying desperately to find his rhythm against the energized Blake and Fish. Leading two-sets-to-love, Blake and Fish appeared in complete control, until the third set tie-break. With the Croatians leading 4-2 in the tie-break, Fish served up a double fault to put the set on the Croatians racquet with Ljubicic serving at 5-2, but Blake and Fish won both points on Ljubicic’s serve, to cut the lead to 4-5. Blake then served to Ivanisevic, who floated a sitter return, that Fish netted on top of the net, giving Croatia two set points. A bungled volley by Blake then gave Croatia the third set tiebreak. “It was a screwy tiebreaker,” Blake said later.” Hard to believe – on a fast court, and strong servers. But I thought we were OK.” A loose service game by Fish in the first game of the fourth set, cemented the momentum change for the Croatians. At 4-4 in the fifth-set, the Croatians broke Blake at love for a 5-4 lead, with Ljubicic then serving out the incredible 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4 victory for the vital 2-1 lead.
Wrote Collins of Ivanisevic as the match concluded, “He was beaming ecstatically after hugging Ljubicic at the conclusion of their enthralling 3-hour-4-minute rebound. They leaped, danced, and pitched their rackets into the joyful crowd. Ivanisevic grabbed a microphone to thank the crowd and lead them in a victory song. The essence of the lyrics: “We stomped the Americans!”
Said Ivanisevic, “I knew it was going to be tough because 11 months, I played (one) challenger, but not a match like this. This is Davis Cup. It was really the first time in my life (I was) lost, that you don’t know what you are doing on the court. Nervous, heavy, no ideas. Then (Ivan) was telling me, come on, don’t worry it’s going to come, we need one break, we need something to happen. By the end of the second set, I start to play better and felt it that we were going to be OK. Blake played very good and also Fish, but Blake was the guy who was really pushing. Third, fourth and fifth set, everything open…I had great pain in my elbow, biceps, everywhere, but I said, doesn’t matter what happen, you have to finish this match….
“I was taking painkillers and I said to Ivan, ‘We are going to break Blake in the fifth set’, because he is playing too good, he has to do something wrong, Yesterday, he didn’t do anything wrong and today almost three hours, he didn’t do anything wrong and nobody can do it. And then we had good returns in the last game and it was great….I needed this match. Wimbledon was different. I forgot how to play this kind of match. I was so happy I didn’t what to do, where to go, where to jump. I really need this match. I need to feel, because when you play Challenger and you win a match and nobody is jumping, but when you beat the USA in doubles from two sets to love down and after 11 months without this type of match, you have to be happy. … I knew I play good at the practice. I was very nervous today. Very stiff, very lost, but I knew it would break somewhere and I did it. I started to play well later….volley, return everything was great. Crowd was great…this is crowd this is what you say, when you have home advantage when we have crowd like this and crowd can lift you. Without this crowd, we couldn’t win today….I was so stiff, so tight, so much pressure. I started to feel my serve at the end of the second set. I served the best in the fifth set when I had the most pain. I wouldn’t stop for anything. Even with a broken shoulder I would play, but I think it’s going to fine. Now I can take off for the next five months.”
The match marked the first time since 1965 that an American doubles team has lost in Davis Cup after leading two sets to love. In 1965, Dennis Ralston and Clark Graebner lead Spain’s Luis Arilla and Manuel Santana two sets to love, only to lose 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 11-9 in Barcelona.
Said Blake, “They served great. They kept their heads high. They stayed positive. Goran, I think, got better as the match progressed. He served better than you can expect from someone coming off an eight-month layoff.”
Blake chose his post-match press conference to also vent at some of the Croatian fans in the crowd, who called out during points, in between first and second serves, during serves, during overheads. “I feel like I was a little disappointed with the lack of class of some of the fans, but some of them might not be tennis fans, so that is possibly to be expected,” said Blake. “It didn’t really have a place in a match that was supposed to about goodwill and friendship between countries. I feel like I was more disappointed with the referee’s decision not to do anything about it and not control the situation when that’s there job and that’s the rule. I don’t think that affected us that much besides one incident of calling out in the middle of a point, which obviously affected concentration during that point. We tried to put that behind us.”
Instead Blake chose to look ahead to the fourth rubber of the series between he and Ljubicic and hopefully a live fifth rubber between Fish and Ancic. “I still see a good chance for me,” said Blake, “and I’d love to give Mardy the chance to be the hero”
On Sunday, Blake withstood the Ljubicic barrage of aces and after losing the first set, stole the second set tie-break and took a 4-2 lead in the third and appeared in complete control of the match. But Ljubicic went on a run of four straight games to win the third set, benefiting from two loose service games from Blake in the eighth and tenth games of the fourth set. Ljubicic carried his momentum to win in four sets- 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 - to clinch the tie for Croatia.
“I thought James was in control, ready to win the third set,” said McEnroe. “Maybe we both relaxed too much. Those were loose games that you can’t play against a guy serving and competing like Ljubicic. You cannot allow yourself to relax for a second. Maybe we both relaxed. Maybe I have look at myself and what I did there. Certainly, James played a loose game and you can’t afford to do that in a match like this, whether it is the Davis Cup pressure or how well Ivan was playing, because he was certainly playing well and doing things that took James out of his rhythm but that was his game plan…My job is to keep my player as a tune to what is happening without making him nervous. Maybe I could have done a better job at that.”
Ljubicic would end the match with 29 aces and 19 service winners in 97 service points. For the weekend, Ljubicic would amass 72 aces, would hold serve 50 of 51 times and only face nine break points during his three matches in joining a elite company of only eight other players to win three live matches against a U.S. Davis Cup team, joining Laurie Doherty of Great Britain (1903), Henri Cochet of France (1928), Frank Sedgman of Australia (1951), Neale Fraser of Australia (1959), Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy (1961), Raul Ramirez of Mexico (1975 and 1976) and Roger Federer of Switzerland (2001).
Blake described the matches as the most emotional match he’s ever played, but put a optimistic spin on the first round loss.
“We are going to get a Davis Cup in the next four or five years with Andy, myself, Mardy, Taylor, Robby,” said Blake. “I don’t really make guarantees, because I think it’s kind of silly, but I’m confident that we are going get a Davis Cup in the next couple of years. We’re already extremely strong. We all care about Davis Cup a lot, that’s why this hurts so bad. Together, we are so emotionally high and low after a weekend or an entire week together, I don’t see how other teams can be as excited about Davis Cup as we are, that’s why I feel confident in the fact that we are going to do this together and we are going to come through one of these times.”
McEnroe was obviously disappointed in the loss, which gave him the distinction of being the only U.S. Davis Cup Captain to lose two first round matches during his tenure, but again looked at the long term potential of the team.
“I think that down the road we are going to be a damn good team,” he said. “How far that road is…I certainly thought that we could do it this year and now we are out…
“These guys care a lot. One of the reasons that I’m not dispirited is because of these kids. They care and they are passionate about it. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. Obviously, it’s about winning and losing and I’m disappointed to lose again in the first round. It hurts. This one hurts more than any other one, because I felt like we could go all the way this year, but there is a thin line between doing that and losing in the first round.
“This is a tough atmosphere. These guys have to get burned. There’s no other way around it. Pete Sampras is the greatest player of all time and he went through it. It’s tough to go through it. These guys love it. Taylor Dent said to me in the middle of the match today, when he was playing out there. “You know what? We lost and all, but it’s been such a great week.” That makes me feel that it is worthwhile and that these guys really do care and that if they continue to improve that we will have success down the road.”
Swiss journalist and author Rene Stauffer chronicles in detail three of the most important matches between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick in his definitive Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION (New Chapter Press, $24.95, www.rogerfedererbook.com), the first U.S.-published book on the Swiss tennis champion. In the 2004 Wimbledon final, a coach-less Federer sustained a Roddick surge to win his second Wimbledon title – and his third Grand Slam tournament title. At Wimbledon in 2005, Federer dominated Roddick to win his third Wimbledon title and his first Grand Slam tournament title with his father Robert Federer in attendance. In the 2007 Australian Open semifinals, Federer played one of the greatest matches of his career to throttle Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 en route to his third Australian Open. The book excerpts that chronicle these matches are featured below.
2004 Wimbledon Final – Federer def. Roddick 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-4
On a rainy, bitterly cold Fourth of July, Federer played Roddick, who not only was in his first Wimbledon final on his country’s Independence Day, but on the birthday of his older brother John. Roddick clearly emerged as a solid No. 2 in the rankings behind Federer and took the identity of Federer’s primary challenger, especially on grass. The head-to-head between the two stood at 5-1 in the favor of Federer, who unlike the year before in his semifinal match with Roddick, was now considered the heavy favorite.
But Roddick and his coach Brad Gilbert both did their homework. Roddick played with an intensity that was palpable all the way to the top rows of Centre Court. Roddick’s power game dominated the early stages of the match as his brutal groundstrokes and lighting serve gave him the first set 6-4. The second set turned into a inexplicable rollercoaster ride—Federer took a 4-0 lead and had a point for 5-0, but lost two service games in a row and allowed Roddick to square the set at 4-4. But the tennis gods were in Federer’s favor. At 6-5, a let court winner gave him a set point. A gorgeously played running cross court forehand winner on the next point gave Federer the set.
The defending champion, however, was still unable to seize complete control of the match. In the third set, he trailed 2-4 when the heavens intervened as rain forced a temporary suspension in the action. The delay lasted 40 minutes and—as strange as it may sound—proved to be a pivotal moment in the match.
The rain stoppage also provided the Australian Pat Cash enough time on the BBC TV coverage of the match to make another false prediction—he wouldn’t bet any money on Federer winning the match. But Federer returned to the court as a man transformed and with a new tactic. As Cash used to do with much success, Federer rushed the net with greater frequency and began to win more and more points in that position. He won the third set in a tiebreak and was able to fend off six break points in the fourth set, before he broke Roddick’s serve at 4-3 without losing a point. In just a matter of minutes, Federer was again the Wimbledon champion.
It was 5:55 pm local time in Great Britain when Federer sank to his knees and rolled onto his back having once again won the greatest title in tennis. The sun, meanwhile, came out from the clouds, and like the year before, showered the award ceremony in sunshine. As with the ceremony in 2003, the tears flowed. “At least this time I managed to hold them back a bit during the award ceremony,” he remarked. “I’m even happier than last year.”
He admitted how surprised he was at Roddick’s aggressive and solid play. Federer said he himself made the decision during the rain delay in the third set to change tactics and to play more serve and volley. Of this, he said, he was proud. “Coach Federer is satisfied with Federer the tennis player,” he quipped.
2005 Wimbledon Final – Federer def. Roddick 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4
Federer unleashed a storm against Roddick at the start of the match—winning the first set in 22 minutes—a glaring difference to the previous year when the American dominated him from the start. In the second set, after the two players exchanged early breaks, Federer dominated the tie-break, taking it 7-2 to take a two-sets-to-love lead.
Although it was barely drizzling, Wimbledon officials ordered a suspension of play after the second set. Most of the spectators stayed in their seats, including Robert Federer, who watched his son play live in a Grand Slam final for the first time. While wife Lynette sat in the players’ box alongside Roche and Mirka Vavrinec, Robert sat on the complete opposite side of Centre Court.
Robert Federer didn’t have good memories of Wimbledon and it required courage for him to even venture to Centre Court to watch his son. His memories from his last visit to the All England Club in 2002 were still vivid—when he sat in the Players’ Box and expected to see his son roll through an easy first-round win over Croatia’s Mario Ancic. Instead, he witnessed “Rotschi” suffer one of the most bitter defeats of his career. Robert considered himself to be bad luck since then. His son finally convinced him to come. “Forget it! If I lose, then it certainly won’t be because of you,” Roger told him.
Robert Federer followed his son’s first two Wimbledon victories at home in Switzerland. When British reporters caught up with him afterwards, he explained that somebody had to look after the family cat. In 2005, he decided to come to Wimbledon from the beginning as a test. Most British reporters sitting only a few meters away from him in the Centre Court stands did not recognize him behind his sun glasses. The Sun actually ran a story about him, but the man in the photo associated with the story was not even him, but Federer’s physiotherapist Pavel Kovac.
Robert Federer was still nervous during the rain delay, even if his son’s two-sets-to-love lead calmed his nerves. “Even the points that Roger loses he plays well,” he said during the intermission. “I’ve always told him that he has to play aggressively and follow through with his strokes—anything else won’t work.”
Neither the short break—nor the supposed “jinx” presence of his father—could prevent Federer from winning his third Wimbledon title. After 101 minutes of play, an ace sealed his 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory. He fell to the ground and, as before, the tears flowed. Federer became the eighth man in history—and only the third player since World War II—to win three-straight Wimbledon singles titles. The other two to turn the “hat trick” in the last 50 years were Björn Borg and Pete Sampras, but Federer resisted the comparisons. After all, the Swede won Wimbledon five straight years and Sampras won seven times in eight years. What Federer didn’t say and perhaps wasn’t even aware of was the fact that his achievement in winning his three Wimbledon titles was, in fact, more dominant than the first three titles won by both Borg and Sampras. Borg gave up nine sets in the process while Sampras surrendered 11 sets. Federer, by contrast, lost only four sets.
Federer was at a loss for words for his near perfect performance in the final. “I really played a fantastic match—one of my best in my life,” he said. “I was playing flawless. Everything was working.”
Of the 35 grass court tennis matches Andy Roddick played over the last three years, he only lost on three occasions. All three losses were to Roger Federer. “His performance this year was clearly better than last year’s,” said Roddick after his third-straight Wimbledon loss to Federer. “If I had played as well as today last year I probably would have won.”
For a third year in a row Federer was the indeed the answer to the question “Guess Who is Coming To Dinner?” His guests for the Wimbledon Champions Dinner were Tony Roche and Robert Federer. Both men beamed with pride. The Wimbledon victory was very important to them as well.
“To me, Wimbledon is the greatest tournament in the world,” said Roche, happy that he stayed in Europe with Federer for the grass season. “Playing against such a great opponent as Roddick in a Wimbledon final and playing at the level that he did—it can’t get any better than that. On a scale from one to 10, that was a 10.”
The Wimbledon champion was glad that his father was able to be with him at this special moment.
“He still gets upset if I miss a backhand or a forehand,” he said to journalists the morning after his victory. “But I’ve learned to deal with this in the meantime because I know that he doesn’t know as much about tennis as I used to think.”
2007 Australian Open – Federer def. Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
Spurred by new coach Jimmy Connors, Roddick’s career was back on the up-swing. In addition to his runner-up showing at the US Open, Roddick won the Tennis Masters Series event in Cincinnati and after his strong performances against Federer in the US Open final and Shanghai, as well as his exhibition victory over the Swiss at the Kooyong Classic, many speculated that Roddick was on Federer’s heels. The hype increased when the two faced each other again in the Australian Open semifinals. Roddick lost 12 of the 13 encounters with Federer but the longer this losing streak continued, the greater the likelihood that Federer would eventually stumble and lose to Roddick. In what many people predicted would be an upset victory for Roddick turned into one of the bitterest days of the American’s tennis career. Federer pulled off a masterpiece—one of the best matches of his career. He trailed 3-4 in the first set and then rolled off 15 of the next 17 games and won the semifinal match 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in 83 minutes. “It was almost surreal,” Federer said. “I’m shocked myself at how well I played.” The statistics were incredibly lopsided as Federer hit as many winners in the match as Roddick won points.
Federer hit 45 winners to Roddick’s 11, while he won 83 points to Roddick’s 45. Federer also out-aced Roddick 10 to four, never lost his serve, and converted all seven break-point chances on Roddick’s serve. At one point, Federer won 12 straight games to take a 3-0 lead in the third set. The signature shot in the match came on the opening point of the fourth game of the second set. Roddick unleashed a fierce forehand from short range that landed close to the baseline. Rather than getting out of the way of the rocket forehand, Federer leaned left into the ball and hit a reflex backhand half-volley that traveled cross-court for a winner.
“Darling, you are a maniac,” Mirka told Federer after returning from his day’s work to the locker room. Two-time Grand Slam winner Rod Laver, who witnessed the flawless display of tennis, also showed up in the locker room and congratulated the victor. “Roger played fantastic,” said Laver. “He used all the strokes there were and Andy was a little frustrated. The only thing you could do is go to the net, shake hands and say, ‘That was too good.’”
Roddick’s post-match press conference was one of the most difficult of his career, but the American took the defeat like a man and was at least able to treat the humbling defeat with some humor. “It was frustrating. You know, it was miserable. It sucked. It was terrible. Besides that, it was fine,” he said. Federer, he said, deserved all the praise that was being bestowed on him.
It was 40 years ago today, June 25, that one of the greatest matches in the history of Wimbledon – and in tennis – was concluded on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Forty-one-year-old Pancho Gonzales finished off his 5 hour, 12 minute victory over Charlie Pasarell, coming back from two-sets-to-love down and saving seven match points. That match – as well as other Wimbledon Classics – are documented below in the June 25 excerpt from ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com).
1969 – Forty-one-year-old Pancho Gonzales finishes off his classic, darkness-delayed five-set win over Charlie Pasarell 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9 in 5 hours, 12 minutes – the longest match played at Wimbledon at the time. Gonzales, 20 years removed from when he won his last major at age 21 at Forest Hills, trails Pasarell two-sets to love when the match was suspended the night before due to darkness after 2 hours, 20 minutes of play. Gonzales sweeps all three sets on its resumption to move into the second round, but heroically fights off seven match points in the fifth set – at 4-5, 0-40, at 5-6, 0-40 and at 7-8, ad-out. Writes Fred Tupper of the New York Times of the match’s conclusion, “It was a question of raw courage now. How long could Pancho go on? He was leaning on his racquet between exchanges, flicking globules of sweat off his brow. At 9-9, Pasarell played a bad game. He double-faulted, hit a volley wide, a lob over the baseline and another volley just out. Gonzalez served for the match. A serve, a smash to deep court and a backhand volley that creased the sideline put him at match point. In sepulchral silence, Gonzalez toed the tape to serve. Then Pasarell lobbed out. Gonzalez had taken 11 points in a row. He had clawed his way back and won.” In 1989, in a second-round match played over three days, Greg Holmes beats fellow American Todd Witsken 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 14-12 in 5 hours, 28 minutes.
1953 – In the what the New York Times calls “one of the finest matches seen here since the war,” No. 4 seed Jaroslav Drobny defeats 1950 champion Budge Patty 8-6, 16-18, 3-6, 8-6, 12-10 in four-and-a-half hours in the third round of Wimbledon. The match, concluded in fading light on Centre Court, is the longest match played at Wimbledon at the time – eclipsed by the Pancho Gonzalez-Charlie Pasarell match in 5:12 in 1969. Patty has six match points in the match – three in the fourth set and three more in the fifth set – but is unable to convert.
1973 – The 1973 editions of The Championships at Wimbledon begins, but not with 82 of the top men’s players who boycott the event in support of Yugoslav player Nikki Pilic, who is suspended by the International Lawn Tennis Federation for not participating in Davis Cup for his country. The boycott is led by the new men’s player union, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and includes such notable players as defending champion Stan Smith, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall and Arthur Ashe. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and Britain’s Roger Taylor are among the notable players who refuse to boycott the tournament. Jan Kodes of Czechoslvakia, the No. 2 seed, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Alex Metreveli of the Soviet Union in the men’s final.
1979 – Wimbledon’s famous “Graveyard Court” – Court No. 2 – claims two high profile first round victims as 1975 Wimbledon champion Arthur Ashe, in what ultimately becomes his final match at the All- England Club, is defeated by No. 139 ranked Australian Chris Kachel 6-4, 7-6, 6-3, while No. 4 seed Vitas Gerulaitis is defeated by fellow American Pat DuPre 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3.
2001 – For the second time in three years, Martina Hingis exits in the first round of Wimbledon as the No. 1 seed. Hingis, 20, loses on Court No. 1 to No. 83-ranked Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain 6-4, 6-2 in 1 hour, 7 minutes. Two years earlier, in 1999, the top-seeded Hingis is also bounced in the first round by qualifier Jelena Dokic. Says Hingis, the 1997 Wimbledon champion, after her loss to Ruano Pascual, “It seems like I do really well here or I lose in the first round here.”
2005 – Jill Craybas, the No. 85-ranked player in the world, performs a shocking upset of two-time champion Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the third round of Wimbledon. “Horrible,” Williams mutters in a post-match press conference when asked how she was feeling. “I guess I had a lot of rust. I just didn’t play well today. I mean, the other days I kind of played through it and got better in the second and third sets. Today, I just didn’t do anything right.” The match was originally scheduled for Centre Court, but due to weather delays, the match is moved to Court No. 2, the “Graveyard Court” where champions such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras have all lost. At one point during the match, Williams misses a backhand and exclaims, “What am I doing out here?!”
2002 – One year removed from his stunning round of 16 upset of seven-time champion Pete Sampras No. 7 seed Roger Federer is bounced in the opening round of Wimbledon by 18-year-old Croat Mario Ancic by a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 margin. Says the No. 154-ranked Ancic, “I came first time to play Centre, Wimbledon, they put me on Centre Court for my first time. I qualified, nothing to lose, I was just confidence. I knew I could play. I believe in myself and just go out there and try to do my best. Just I didn’t care who did I play. Doesn’t matter…I knew him (Federer) from TV. I knew already how is he playing. I don’t know that he knew how I was playing, but that was my advantage. And yeah, I didn’t have any tactics, just I was enjoying.” Following the loss, Federer goes on to win his next 40 matches at Wimbledon – including five straight titles – before losing in the 2008 final to Rafael Nadal of Spain.
1996 – “Hen-mania” begins at Wimbledon as 21-year-old Tim Henman wins his first big match at the All England Club, coming back from a two-sets-to-love deficit – and saving two match points – to upset No. 5 seed and reigning French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 7-5 in the first round in what Jennifer Frey of the Washington Post calls “a cliffhanger that enraptured the winner’s countrymen in the Centre Court seats.” Henman goes on to reach the quarterfinals, where he is defeated by American Todd Martin 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-4, but remains a threat to win the title of much of the next decade, thrilling British fans in the excitement of the possibility of a home-grown player becoming the first player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon since Fred Perry won his last of three titles in 1936.
1988 – Thirty-five-year old Jimmy Connors fights back after trailing two-sets-to-love to defeat fellow American Derrick Rostagno 7-5, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in 4 hours, 2 minutes in the third round of Wimbledon. Says Rostagno of Connors, “He comes up with things you haven’t seen before. Tennis is an art and he’s an artist. It was thrilling, a pleasure to play against.” Says Connors, “My game has always been to stay in until I die.”
2001 – In his third appearance in the main draw at Wimbledon, Roger Federer finally wins his first match in the men’s singles competition, defeating Christophe Rochus of Belgium 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat Julien Benneteau 3-6 7-6 (1) 6-3 to win the Interwetten Austrian Open in Kitzbuhel, Austria
Aravane Rezai beat Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (2) 6-1 to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France
Alexandra Dulgheru beat Alona Bondarenko 7-6 (3) 6-3 6-0 to win the Warsaw Open in Warsaw, Poland
Serbia won the ARAG ATP World Team Championship, defeating Germany in Dusseldorf, Germany
Thomas Enqvist beat Fernando Meligeni 7-6(3) 6-3 to win the AOC Grand Champions Brazil in Sao Paulo, Brazil
“I know what I have to do, but that doesn’t make it easy.” – Roger Federer, when asked if he could win the French Open.
“Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world. He’s showed that throughout his career. But Paris begins with the first round, not the final.” – Rafael Nadal.
“If I continue playing like I’ve been playing for the past three weeks, I have a very good chance (of winning the tournament). I’m really looking forward to it.” – Dinara Safina, on her chances at Roland Garros.
“Any win on the clay is a great win. I know the Americans don’t do well over here, so it’s good to get us on the board.” – Robert Kendrick, after his five-set, first-day win over Daniel Brands.
“To play him on any surface, he’s so dangerous. (He served) a lot of unreturnables.” – Lleyton Hewitt, after surviving a French Open -record 55 aces struck by Ivo Karlovic to win his first-round match.
“I think it is going to be huge and this is respect because Djokovic was not here. And I think we showed that we are a big tennis nation also if Novak is not here with us.” – Janko Tipsarevic, after he teamed with Viktor Troicki and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic to lead Serbia to the ARAG ATP World Team Championship title.
“A very, very poor match – probably my worst match in the last two years.” – Jelena Dokic, after losing to Romanian qualifier Ioana Raluca Olaru in the first round of the Warsaw Open.
“I have no expectations for the French Open. This is not a time in my career to have expectations.” – Maria Sharapova, after losing a quarterfinal match in her first singles tournament since undergoing shoulder surgery.
“It’s incredible. I’m so happy to win my first title in France.” – Aravane Rezai, the first Frenchwoman to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, in the tournament’s 23-year history.
“I didn’t expect to win. I don’t know what happened that I was playing so well. .. I had to use every drop of energy I had to win.” – Alexandra Dulgheru, after winning her first WTA Tour title, the Warsaw Open.
“I think it’s my best moment in my career. I played in my first ATP World Tour final and I won.” – Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, after winning the Austrian Open.
SETS RECORD FOR ACES
Ivo Karlovic slammed a record 55 aces yet still lost his first-round Roland Garros match to Lleyton Hewitt 6-7 (1) 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) 6-4 6-3. The tallest man on the ATP Tour at 6-foot-10 (2.08m), Karlovic shared the previous record of 51 aces with Joachim Johansson. The ATP began keeping records on aces in1991. However, Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame tennis journalist and broadcaster, in his book The Bud Collins History of Tennis, lists American Ed Kauder as the holder of the most aces struck in a match. Kauder fired 59 aces in a 6-2 3-6 9-11 10-8 6-0 first-round loss to Ham Richardson at the US Championships (now US Open) in 1955. According to Collins, Karlovic’s 55 aces stands as the second-most all-time and the most aces in a match at Roland Garros.
SET FOR LONDON
Rafael Nadal is the first player to clinch a spot in the season-ending ATP World Tour finals to be held in London. Nadal is the reigning Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon champion. He will be joined by seven other player sin the November 22-29 event. Despite qualifying for the year-ending event in each of the past four years, Nadal has twice withdrawn from the competition because of injury and has never reached the final. Last year he missed the finale in Shanghai because of tendinitis in his knee. He lost to Roger Federer in the semifinals in 2006 and 2007.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Alexandra Dulgheru won the Warsaw Open. She rallied from 7-5 4-2 down to win her opening round in qualifying, then won two more matches just to get to the main draw. Ranked 201st in the world, Dulgheru included among her victims Daniela Hantuchova before she beat Alona Bondarenko in her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour final. Dulgheru won the title match in two hours, 52 minutes – exactly the same time it took her to beat Lenka Wienerova in the first round of qualifying.
John Isner’s French Open ended before it began. Isner won a wild card into Roland Garros by winning the USTA wild card tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. But he had to pull out of the French Open because of mononucleosis.
Russia’s Dimitry Tursunov and Croatia’s Mario Ancic are also missing this year’s clay court Grand Slam tournament. Tursunov withdrew because of a heel injury, while Ancic pulled out because of a lack of fitness.
Maria Sharapova played singles in a tournament for the first time in nearly 10 months, reaching the quarterfinals before being stopped by Alona Bondarenko. The three-time Grand Slam tournament winner needed nine match points in her opening match before finally downing Tathiana Garbin in three sets at the Warsaw Open. She beat Darya Kustova in the second round before falling to the eight-seeded Bondarenko. The Russian had surgery for a torn rotator cuff last year and missed the US and Australian Opens as well as the Beijing Olympics. She briefly returned to tournament tennis in March, playing and losing a doubles match in Indian Wells, California. “In these nine months the only thing I’ve accomplished is probably a good pasta carbonara,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s not my specialty. My specialty is to go out and compete and win Grand Slams.” Sharapova has already next month’s Edgbaston Classic in Birmingham, England, a grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori has an injured right elbow, forcing him to pull out of the French Open. Nishikori has not played since losing in the opening round at Indian Wells, California, in March. Last year Nishikori became the first Japanese man since 1937 to reach the fourth round of the US Open, and he was later honored as the ATP’s newcomer of the year for 2008. He was ranked as high as number 56, but currently is ranked 117th in the world.
STEFFI AND ANDRE, AGAIN
Their act was so good at Wimbledon, Andre Agassi and his wife Steffi Graf will play another exhibition match – this time at Roland Garros on Saturday, June 6. Sponsored by Longines and in honor of the tenth anniversary of the couple’s 1999 singles championship victories, Agassi and Graf will play on Court 7 with ten young players from around the world.
Lleyton Hewitt is upset over the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) decision to fine Australia USD $10,000 because of the country’s refusal to play a Davis Cup zonal tie in India. Tennis Australia (TA) had asked the ITF to move the Asia/Oceania Zone tie out of Chennai, India, but when the request was denied, the Australians refused to play, forfeiting the round. “The way the ITF went about it was a disgrace in the first place,” said Hewitt. “Australia Davis Cup is pretty disappointed about the way they’ve gone about it.” Under ITF rules, Australia could have been suspended for a year. India feels the ITF has been too lenient with Australia and is seeking a review of the punishment.
Jelena Dokic’s father is facing up to eight years in prison after threatening the Australian ambassador in Belgrade, Serbia. Damir Dokic was charged with “endangering security” of the ambassador and unlawful possession of weapons. He was arrested after reportedly saying he would blow up Ambassador Clair Birgin’s car if she did not stop negative articles about him from being published in the Australian mea. Searching his house in northern Serbia, police found rifles and hand grenades.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is seeking youngsters to perform at this year’s US Open. The children – 12 years of age and younger as of September 13, 2009 – will be singing “America the Beautiful” before the night sessions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Taylor Dent has been granted a wildcard for the Pilot Pen Tennis to be held August 21-29 at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven, Connecticut. Dent will join fellow American Mardy Fish and Spaniard Tommy Robredo as players already committed to the US Open hard court warm-up event. Dent has reached a career-high ranking of 21st in the world before undergoing back surgery. When that surgery proved to be unsuccessful, he had spinal fusion surgery and has slowly worked his way back onto the ATP tour.
Poland’s Radwanska sisters -Agnieszka and Urzula – along with Daniela Hantuchova have lent their support to Habitat for Humanity and their latest building project in Warsaw, Poland. Due to be completed this September, the Warsaw project will provide new homes and a better future for six families. The three WTA Tour stars joined in with the construction on the latest installment of the “women-only” construction program which is designed to recruit, train and empower women. Besides their financial support, the Radwanska sister gave their match play racquets to Habitat for Humanity Poland for an auction.
STAGE FOR UPSETS
The infamous Court Two at Wimbledon, dubbed the graveyard of champions, will be replaced in time for the 2011 grass-court championships. “The new court (Three), containing enhanced spectator amenities, will be built on the site of old Court Two,” All England Club officials said. The work will start immediately after this year’s tournament and will be completed by May 2011. Several Wimbledon champions were upset on the old Court Two, including Pete Sampras in his last visit to Wimbledon in 2002. A new Court Two will be used for the first time when the Grand Slam tournament begins next month, while the retractable roof over Centre Court will also makes its debut.
The Australian Open has lost nearly USD $10 million in sponsorship, thanks to the current world-wide financial crisis. Garnier, part of the L’Oreal Group, has become the second major backer to pull out of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. GE Money recently decided against extending its three-year arrangement. Garnier said the beauty products company has recently advised Tennis Australia of its decision not to continue as a sponsor in 2010. A much smaller arrangement between the Australian Open and MasterCard is also over as the sponsorship market continues to tighten locally and internationally.
Vera Zvonareva has been named a “Promoter of Gender Equality” as part of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s partnership with UNESCO. Zvonareva joins fellow tennis stars Venus Williams, Tatiana Golovin and Zheng Jie as Promoters of General Equality for the program as well as WTA Tour founder Billie Jean King. Zvonareva had her best year in 2008. The 24-year-old enrolled in the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 where she is studying for a post-graduate degree in International Relations and Economics.
STRODE ARTHUR ASHE WINNER
The top men’s player on the University of Arkansas’ team, senior Blake Strode, has been named the national recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship. Strode beat out nominees from Harvard, Georgia, Toledo, Rice, New Mexico and Pepperdine for the national honor.
Alex Bogomolov is the new Touring Professional in Residence for the Napeague Tennis Club in the Hamptons area of Long Island, New York. At one time ranked in the top 100 in the world, Bogomolov will serve as the club’s resident ATP Touring Pro and will be available to Napeague Tennis Club members for private lessons, clinics, and other club events throughout the summer.
Warsaw: Raquel Kops-Jones and Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Yan Zi and Zheng Jie 6-1 6-1
Strasbourg: Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo beat Claire Feuerstein and Stephanie Foretz 6-0 6-1
Kitzbuhel: Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa beat Andrei Pavel and Horla Tecau 6-7 (9) 6-2 10-7 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
ATP and WTA
Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
ATP and WTA
Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (second week)
$170,000 UniCredit Czech Open, Prostejov, Czech Republic, clay
Rafael Nadal won the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles at Indian Wells, California, USA, beating Andy Murray 6-1 6-2
Vera Zvonareva beat Ana Ivanovic 7-6 (5) 6-2 to win the BNP Paribas Open women’s singles at Indian Wells, California
Robin Soderling won the BMW Tennis Championships, beating Tomas Berdych 6-1 6-1 in Sunrise, Florida, USA
Horacio Zeballos beat Santiago Gonzalez 7-6 (3) 6-0 to win the Bancolombia Open in Bogota, Colombia
Marcos Daniel beat Lamine Ouahab 4-6 7-5 6-2 to win the Marrakech Challenger in Marrakech, Morocco
Pete Sampras beat Patrick Rafter 7-6 (6) 6-4 to capture the Del Mar Development Champions Cup in Los Cabos, Mexico
“A win here is amazing, another victory at the start of the season. It was a dream for me to win the Australian Open and now here. I love playing here.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating Andy Murray to win the BNP Paribas Open.
“It’s amazing, and a great feeling to win such a big event. I’ve been watching this tournament since I was a kid, you know. It’s been on television back home for so many years. It’s basically one of the biggest events after the majors.” – Vera Zvonareva, who won the BNP Paribas Open women’s singles.
“Honestly, it was the toughest conditions I ever played in. It was very, very windy and it wasn’t much about the game and a game plan today. It was just who can handle the conditions better and who can stay mentally tougher through it. Today she did. She played really well.” – Ana Ivanovic, after losing to Vera Zvonareva in the title match.
“It’s just one of those days when you really don’t feel comfortable on the court. I just didn’t have any momentum. No feel for the ball, no movement, no solutions.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Andy Roddick.
“I don’t think he had his best day by any means.” – Andy Roddick, after beating defending champion Novak Djokovic.
“He’s a big favorite and anything that happens to me, it’s all positive. It’s been a while since I didn’t play without that pressure. I feel like I’m 18 again without anything to lose.” – Ivan Ljubicic, before losing to Andy Murray at Indian Wells, California.
“I’m not thinking about this, because if it comes, it comes. If I play like this, definitely it will not come.” – Dinara Safina, on her chances of becoming number one in the world.
“It was only fair. He carried me for three sets. I only had to carry him for about five seconds.” – Andy Roddick, after Mardy Fish jumped on his back following their victory over Andy Ram and Max Mirnyi in the doubles final in Indian Wells.
“We’re both emotional. It’s just the way we are. … We want to win so bad. We want to be so much better that sometimes we just probably expect too much from ourselves. But I think you have to be emotional on the court. Otherwise I don’t think it’s fun.” – Victoria Azarenka, after teaming with Vera Zvonareva to win the women’s doubles in Indian Wells, California.
“Tonight we are here to celebrate. Celebrate our accomplishments, celebrate the Tour’s current success, and of course, celebrate its bright future, which now includes the establishment of the Tour Alumnae & Friends Program. This is a welcome addition to an association that is continually evolving. Let us continue the fun, reconnect with friends and celebrate all that has been achieved over the last 35 years.” – Billie Jean King, speaking at Indian Wells.
“It’s an elegant game that you can watch in every country. It’s a worldwide sport I’m in awe watching.” – Michele Sicard, head of BNP Paribas corporate communications in North America, talking about tennis, a sport she doesn’t play.
Pakistan has been forced to give up its right to stage its Davis Cup tie against the Philippines because of security fears in the wake of an attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team. The Asia/Oceania Zone Group II competition was scheduled to be played July 10-12 in Lahore, Pakistan. But the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has moved the tie out of Pakistan. Three of the five Filipino players, including Cecil Mamiit, are dual US-Philippine citizens and Philippine Lawn Tennis Association vice president Randy Villanueva feared they may be targeted because they carry American passports. Rashid Khan, secretary of the Pakistan Tennis Federation, called for the series to be held in a third country.
Rafael Nadal ended up winning yet another title, but getting past the fourth round was a struggle for the world’s number one player. Nadal had to save five match points before beating David Nalbandian 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-0 in Indian Wells, California. Nalbandian had four match points at 5-3 in the second set and another on his own serve at 5-4. But Nadal survived to beat Nalbandian, snapping a two-match losing streak to the Argentine. “I didn’t go to the match with a clear idea of how to play,” Nadal said. “I was scared about his backhand and it was a mistake. I played too much to his forehand and he killed me.” Nadal ended the week by besting Andy Murray in the title match.
The new president of the Romanian Tennis Federation is 38-year-old Ruxandra Dragomir, who played on the WTA Tour for a number of years. She succeeds Dumitru Haradau, who became the vice-regent president of the federation after Ilie Nastase resigned. During her playing career, Dragomir won four singles and five doubles titles. Her highest ranking was 15th in the world in August of 1997. In 2001 she suffered a major ankle injury, which ultimately resulted in ending her career.
By reaching the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open, Victoria Azarenka continued her strong move up the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. She became only the second player from Belarus to crack the top ten, joining Natasha Zvereva in that rarified ranking. Azarenka won the first two titles of her career earlier this season, at Brisbane, Australia, and Memphis, Tennessee. And while Azarenka lost to eventual champion Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals, she didn’t come away from Indian Wells without a title. She teamed with Zvonareva to win the doubles, besting Gisela Dulko and Shahar Peer 6-4 3-6 10-5 in the final.
SKIPPING MONTE CARLO
Roger Federer will miss the Monte Carlo Masters where Rafael Nadal will be going after his record fifth consecutive title. “Roger already told me some time ago that he had to renounce to play in our tournament because of a change in his clay season’s schedule,” tournament director Zljko Franulovic. A three-time finalist at Monte Carlo, Federer could still ask for a last-minute wild card if he changes his mind. Last year, Nadal beat Federer in the final. Also missing from the field will be American Andy Roddick.
STILL NUMBER TWO
Dinara Safina failed in her bid to overtake Serena Williams and climb into the number one spot in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. The Russian would have moved to the top of the rankings had she reached the final of the BPN Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Instead, she lost to eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals 6-7 6-1 6-3. Safina’s aggressive all-round game was the reason she moved up in the rankings in the past year. But she says she has gotten away from that in recent weeks. “I played three rounds before and I was struggling with every player that I’m playing,” Safina said. “With everyone I played, they were either serving for the set or had set points. I have to finally start playing my game, because I’m not playing it. Since Australia, I’m playing defensive, and it’s not me. I just want to play aggressive.”
SEEING IS UNBELIEVING
Even the Hawk-Eye system was against Ivan Ljubicic on his 30th birthday. The big-serving Croat was playing Andy Murray in a quarterfinal match at Indian Wells when a shot by Murray landed just outside the line. “I didn’t play the ball because it was clearly out,” Ljubicic said later. Murray, however, challenged the line call and everyone seemed surprised when Hawk-Eye showed the ball was good. “The (Hawk-Eye) operator showed a second bounce instead of the first,” Ljubicic said. “It’s just human error, and it’s frustrating when you see such a clear mistake. We really wanted to take control of the human error with that machine, and then you have a human error of the operator who is controlling that machine. It’s a strange situation.” Murray, who ended up winning the match, agreed. “Obviously I got pretty lucky,” Murray said. “Supposedly he (the operator) took the second bounce of the ball, which obviously landed on the line. So it wasn’t the technology problem. It was sort of human error, which can happen with line calls. But I don’t think it had a huge bearing on the outcome or the result.”
Teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is showing her triumphs as a junior was a harbinger of things to come. The Russian battled her way to the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, knocking off second-seeded Jelena Jankovic and seventh-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska before losing to defending champion Ana Ivanovic. It was the first WTA Tour semifinal berth for Pavlyuchenkova, who won three junior Grand Slam tournament titles.
Robin Soderling made a loss pay off. After losing his first-round match at Indian Wells, California, Soderling flew to Sunrise, Florida, fought his way through qualifying and eventually won the BMW Tennis Championship title. But in the second set of his quarterfinal match, Soderling smashed his racquet and drew a third conduct warning and game penalty to trail 1-3. Although the Swede won his fourth career title, his temper almost knocked him out of the Challenger event. When he missed a backhand pass down the line in the first-set tiebreak, he belted the ball out of the stadium for violation number one. He received another ball abuse penalty before he slammed his racquet to the court for the third violation and game penalty.
More than 100 guests attended a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Alumnae Reunion Celebration in Indian Wells, including Hall of Famers Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin and Rosie Casals. Others in attendance included Lindsay Davenport, Pam Shriver, Mima Jausovec, Mary Joe Fernandez and Diane Desfor Stadler. King honored another Hall of Famer, journalist Bud Collins, as the reporter most interested in women’s tennis and truly promoting it. Casals also spoke at the event, which also reflected on the progress made by women’s tennis since the 1970s, and the recent awarding of equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
Women’s tennis once again has to deal with sexual identity on the courts. Sara Gronert, a 22-year-old from Germany, was born with born male and female genitalia, but underwent surgery to become female both legally and physically. That hasn’t stopped some coaches, players and officials from charging that she seems unnaturally strong for a woman and questioning whether she would be allowed to compete against women. “There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams,” Schlomo Tzoref said after Gronert upset Julia Glushko, whom Tzoref coaches. Gronert has won two USD $10,000 International Tennis Federation tournaments, one in Israel, the other in Germany. Since her last title, she has lost in two USD $10,000 ITF events in France. In the late 1970s Renee Richards became the first reassigned female to play on the women’s tour after a New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Richards, then known as Richard Raskin, had played on the Yale University men’s tennis team before undergoing a sex change operation.
When Pete Sampras beat Patrick Rafter to win the Del Mar Development Champions Cup in Los Cabos, Mexico, he also overtook John McEnroe as the top-ranked player on the Outback Champion Series. It wasn’t easy for Sampras as he fought off two set points in the opening set, including at 5-6 in the first-tie tiebreaker. It was Sampras’ second tournament title this season on the Outback Champions Series and his fifth career title on the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over.
It was a rough day for Mashona Washington. She and partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands lost their doubles match at the BNP Paribas Open. Later the same day, Washington was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, according to the Riverside Count Sheriff’s Department. The 32-year-old Washington is scheduled to be arraigned on May 14 in Indian Wells, California. According to authorities, a felony vandalism charge is specific to damage estimated at USD $5,000 or more. Washington, who has been ranked as high as 50th in the world, was released on USD $5,000 bail. Mashona Washington is the sister of 1996 Wimbledon runnerup MaliVai Washington.
Mario Ancic switched from his tennis clothes in Indian Wells to his lawyer garb at Harvard University. Ancic spoke to students at Harvard Law School about the business side of tennis. Ancic received his law degree from the University of Split in his native Split, Croatia. His 90-minute lecture and question-and-answer session at Harvard was based on his thesis describing the “legal foundation and organization of the ATP Tour.” “I had given a couple of speeches before in Croatian, so it was a little more challenging delivering it in English, but I was prepared and I was really happy with the way it went.” Ancic said.
A five-person Class of 2009 will be inducted into the USTA New England Hall of Fame on June 6 in a ceremony in Newport, Rhode Island. This year’s inductees are Peter Allen, Jules Cohen, Avis Murray, Jean Osachuk and Aileen Smith Eleey. Murray is a USPTA Master Professional who has held the number one rankings in both the United States Tennis Association and the USPTA.
Indian Wells (men): Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick beat Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram 3-6 6-1 14-12 (match tiebreak)
Indian Wells (women): Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva beat Gisela Dulko and Shahar Peer 6-4 3-6 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Sunrise: Eric Butorac and Bobby Reynolds beat Jeff Coetzee and Jordan Kerr 5-7 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak)
Bogota: Sebastian Prieto and Horacio Zeballos beat Alexander Peya and Fernando Vicente 4-6 6-1 11-9 (match tiebreak)
Marrakech: Ruben Ramirez Hildago and Santiago Ventura beat Alberto Martin and Daniel Munoz-De La Nava 6-3 7-6 (5)
SITES TO SURF
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: www.bmattek.com.
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard (first week)
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard (first week)
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard (second week)
$116,000 Napoli, Italy, clay
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard (second week)