Marseille

Page 1 of 11

Another Croatian Surprise?

Bob and Mike Bryan

Croatia stands just one win away from a third incredible win over the United States in Davis Cup play. Croatia, in fact, is the only nation the United States has never beaten in Davis Cup play and it will remain as such unless James Blake and Mardy Fish can sweep Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic in Sunday’s reverse singles. On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, cutting the Croatian lead from 2-0 to 2-1.

After losing to Croatia 3-2 in the opening round of the 2003 competition, the United States was again upset by Croatia in the first round in 2005, despite the United States having Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins on the squad. That 2005 upset – a match that was ultimately the Davis Cup swan song for Agassi – is documented below.

The day after returning back in New York after the 2004 Davis Cup Final in Sevilla, Spain, where the U.S. lost 3-2 to the Carlos Moya/Rafael Nadal led Spanish team, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe called into the nationally-syndicated morning radio and MSNBC cable show “Imus in the Morning,” where host Don Imus and his sports reporter Sid Rosenberg had been ridiculing McEnroe for the final round loss to Spain – or as Imus described “a team of leaf blowers and cab drivers.” McEnroe was introduced onto the program as the “tennis terrorist” in that he had embarrassed the United States to the largest degree.

After taking the playful ribbing, McEnroe told “the I-man” and gang that he wanted to have a serious reflection on the Davis Cup Final, stating that he felt proud in the way that he and his team represented the United States in Spain and that the conduct and sportsmanship displayed by his team “had restored a little respect for our country in a part of the world where the U.S. is not looked upon in the most positive way” in reference to Spain’s recent objection to the foreign policy of the United States, most notably the war in Iraq.

“Next year,” Pmac then boasted. “We’re going to bring back the Cup I-man.”

Imus, quick with the retort, then stated, “When the authorities find you, they’re going to ask that you give it back.”

The United States had drawn a first round home tie against Croatia and the USTA selected The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, as the site of the contest. Los Angeles is a town that like stars and while the U.S. Davis Cup team did have a star in Andy Roddick, the one star that it was missing was one Andre Agassi.

McEnroe had always kept Agassi in the loop as far as Davis Cup goes since taking over as captain and, after asking him to play in the Final against Spain, sensed that Agassi was considering a return to Davis Cup in 2005. McEnroe began to push the buttons again at the Australian Open, where Agassi first addressed his possible comeback after his second round romp over Rainer Schuettler.

“I’m going to have this discussion with Patrick, just because he’s made the effort to want to have conversations with me about it, so I’ll be respectful of that,” said the 34-year-old Agassi. “But it’s just two-fold. I have a lot of regret not playing because it’s one of the best memories of my career, playing Davis Cup, not to mention playing with another generation of guys that have such a good fellowship and team camaraderie together. To experience that would be a great feeling. But the other side of the coin is really what my decision has come down to in the past, which is what can I really do. I’ve never been a big fan of being halfway playing at your convenience. It’s always been something I haven’t respected a whole lot in the past when it’s come to that for others. The decision I had to make is not an easy one and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s something I’ll discuss with him.”

A few days after Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer, McEnroe phoned Agassi at his home in Las Vegas and offered to sit down with him in person en route back to New York after the Australian Open. Agassi told McEnroe he was still hung up on the year-long commitment that he expected he would have to give to Davis Cup. On Monday January 31, McEnroe arrived in Los Angeles from Melbourne and stopped off in Carson for a media luncheon to promote the USA vs. Croatia tie. McEnroe then revealed to the gathered guests and media that he was en route to Las Vegas that evening to meet with Agassi.

”I think (Agassi) finds that right now, it’s hard for him to commit to every match because of his family and his responsibilities and because he is going to be 35 and it’s a little taxing on him,” McEnroe told the assembled press. “My job is to alleviate his fear that we don’t necessarily have to have him play ever match… I don’t need to hear from Andre ‘I’m going to play every match.’ My feeling is, let’s see how it goes. Let’s get you to play in the first round and let’s see what happens and take it from there.”

McEnroe tagged his chances at “less than 50-50” before boarding the AmericaWest Airlines flight to Las Vegas. “I don’t have any expectation other than I hope he says yes,” said McEnroe. “I have to field the best team I can and I have to exhaust all possibilities. If that means getting on a plane and sitting down with him face to face, than that’s a small price to play for trying to get him to join up.”

McEnroe met Agassi and his coach Darren Cahill for a two-and-a-half hour dinner at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The three reminisced about Davis Cup stories of old, talked of the passion of the current group of Davis Cuppers and addressed the concerns and issues that Agassi had with committing to Davis Cup. McEnroe later said he told Agassi, “Don’t cut off your options by saying it’s all or nothing, because to me it’s not. We’ve never had a year where we’ve had the same four guys every match. It’s too unrealistic for that to happen, with injuries, with different surfaces, with schedules, you name it.” McEnroe said he, the team and the tennis industry in general would not hold it against him if he could not commit for every match in 2005.

Two days later, after consulting with others in his inner circle – most notably his wife Steffi Graf -  Agassi phoned McEnroe to tell him to count on him to be in Carson. Agassi then called all the members of the team – Roddick, the Bryan twins and Taylor Dent (who would travel to Carson as the “fifth” player on the four-man team and would have been the No. 2 singles player had Agassi not decided to play) – to get their approval on his returning to the team. On Monday, February 7, McEnroe made the Agassi news public in a conference call with the media.

“We’re going to take it one match at a time,” said McEnroe in explaining Agassi’s commitment to the team. “It’s not just this match. It’s not every match. I think it’s a case-by-case basis situation. He’s not coming back simply to play because it happens to be the week before Indian Wells. At the same time, I didn’t ask him to say, “Are you going to play every match?’ I understand where he is in his career, personally, professionally with all the different things on his plate. We will take it one step at a time…To me, it doesn’t make any sense to say to him, ‘Listen, you’ve got to play every match.” Things happen, things come up, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s having a tough major, whether it’s not having a tough major and maybe wanting some extra matches. I think you have to take all those things into account and understand that Andre is going to make the decision based on a variety of factors.”

Two days later, Agassi first addressed his return to Davis Cup following his first round win over xx in San Jose, Calif.

“What had a big influence on me was the camaraderie I saw last year,” said Agassi. “They’ve built a great team and are a part of something I never got to experience. I played Davis Cup with guys who were fighting to be the best in the world and everyone had a sense of their own goals…This group of guys really seems to look out for each other. I respect and admire it a lot.”

Agassi again addressed his absence from Davis Cup for five years, citing the demanding schedule and the difficultly in committing to potentially four ties during a calendar year, especially at age 34 with a wife and two children.

“I had gotten to a point that I didn’t have enough to give anymore when it came to the full goal of winning the Cup,” said Agassi. “I did it for 12 years and wasn’t convinced I could do it anymore and accomplish the things I needed to stay out here for the last few years. I never respected those guys who played at their convenience and didn’t play all times. Patrick was the first captain to show a strong sense of understanding and support in knowing it’s not realistic for me to play every tie.”

Roddick was estactic at the news and struggled to stay composed when Agassi reached him by phone while Roddick was in his car in driving several of his buddies around his hometown of Austin. Said Roddick, “I told him I was excited he was on board and then hung up the phone and started screaming.”

While the Agassi hype was substantial, insiders were paying close attention to the progress of the Croatian team. Ivan Ljubicic, who had almost single handedly defeated the United States in Zagreb two years prior in the first round, was fast becoming the hottest player on the circuit. Entering Davis Cup week, he posted three straight final round appearances in Marseille, Rotterdam and Dubai – the latter two losing to world No. 1 Roger Federer in three tight sets. Ancic had reached the semifinals of Marseille (losing to Ljubicic) and Rotterdam (losing to Federer) and had reached his second career ATP singles final in Scottsdale, Ariz., the week before Davis Cup. With Ljubicic and Ancic boasting a bronze medal in men’s doubles from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Bryan twins would also face a stern test. Cautioned Ancic, “In Davis Cup, there are many surprises.” Croatian Captain Niki Pilic, who also captained Germany to Davis Cup victories over the United States in 1985, 1987 and 1989, echoed the sentiment of his young charge. “In Davis Cup,” he said, “there are no rules.”

To add to the intrigue of the first round tie, Roddick suffered a scare during his quarterfinal win over Robby Ginepri at the ATP event in Memphis, spraining his ankle just two weeks before the start of the tie. Roddick chose to default his semifinal match with Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark rather than risk further injury that would jeopardize his form for the tie with Croatia.

“The repercussions of this injury won’t just affect me, but they’d affect my teammates it would affect me playing for my country as well,” said Roddick. “That’s a lot of responsibility that I have to take into consideration.”

Gavin Rossdale of the rock band “Bush” and the husband of rock star Gwen Stefani pulled the ceremonial chip at the Davis Cup draw ceremony at The Home Depot Center that placed Andre Agassi against Ivan Ljubicic in the opening rubber of the best-of-five match series. Roddick would follow against Ancic, while the Bryan twins would face Ancic and Ljubicic in Saturday’s doubles contest. Whether it was nerves, discomfort with the cool, blustery conditions or Ljubicic’s game, Agassi showed distress and tentativeness as his return to Davis Cup began at 1 pm Los Angeles time on Friday, March 4. There was no swagger in the legend’s step or game as Ljubicic swept the first set 6-3. Agassi got out of his funk in the second set, taking a 5-2 lead, but faltered when serving for the second at 5-3 and was skunked 7-0 in the second set tie-break to go down two-sets-to-love. The eventual 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-3 loss marked only the third time that Agassi has been dismissed in straight sets in 36 Davis Cup singles matches.

His anger and displeasure was apparent on his face as he briskly left the court for the U.S. team locker room where his Head tennis racquet was tendered to multiple fragments scattered throughout the locker room within minutes.

“Today was one of those days,” said a dazed Agassi in the post-match press conference. “I just never got settled and never got comfortable. It was just frustrating. You’re trying hard to figure things out and sometimes you wonder if you’re just trying too hard…I was useless to be quite honest, as far as being clear on what was going on out there.“

Said McEnroe, “Everybody gets nervous playing Davis Cup – even Andre Agassi.”

Down 0-1, the match virtually sat on the shoulders of Roddick against Ancic, who quickly bounced upon the tentative Roddick taking the first set 6-4 as panic began to set in among the American hopefuls.  The second set marked the start of “the street fight” as Roddick’s trainer Doug Spreen would later describe the Roddick swagger and attitude, that translated the match into a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory for the American – tying the first day’s play at 1-1.

‘I’m not going to lie, I was really tight during the first set today,” admitted Roddick. “I’m happy because I was able to dig down…I think this was a big steppingstone for me.”

The Bryans entered the pivotal doubles match on Saturday having not lost a set in Davis Cup play in their previous five matches. However, the twins from Camarillo, Calif., knew that Ljubicic and Ancic were by far the best team they had faced in Davis Cup play.

Jumping like a pair of Mexican jumping beans, the Bryans were quick out of the blocks to take the first set 6-3 in just 27 minutes, but Ljubicic and Ancic would stay tight in the second set, forcing a tie-break. The Bryans would hold three set points, including one of Mike Bryan’s serve at 7-6, but were unable to deliver what would be a near lethal two-sets-to-love blow. They surrendered the second set tie-break – and their first ever set in Davis cup play – 10 points to eight and gave new life to Ancic and Ljubicic. As the Croatians gained in confidence, the Bryans appeared drained and dismayed. As the sun dripped below the Pacific Ocean just xx miles away, conditions became cooler and slower, helping Ljubicic and Ancic close out the final two sets for the vital 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 win and the 2-1 lead for Croatia heading into the climatic third day.

Former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson entered the U.S. team locker room to try and cheer up the Bryan twins. “You guys think you are going to win every match you play?” a jovial Jackson told the Bryans as one must of wondered whether Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal received the same speech after losing an NBA game. Jackson’s words could not take the sting out of the loss for the Bryans, who for the first time tasted Davis Cup defeat in front of their father and numerous friends and family from Southern California

“We’ve had a lot of disappointing losses, but this ranks pretty high,” said Mike Bryan. “It hurts.”

McEnroe’s posture still exuded confidence. After all, the United States was still favored to win the final two singles matches – Roddick against Ljubicic in the fourth rubber and Agassi against Ancic in the fifth rubber. Roddick held a 5-1 career record with Ljubicic, having won the last five meetings, while Agassi’s experience and aura would make him the clear favorite against the 20-year-old Ancic, who had lost to Agassi in their only previous meeting.

“If there are two guys you want to roll out down 2-1, we’ve got the two guys we want,” said McEnroe. “I’m extremely confident that they’re both going to play well. Andre’s been in this position before and Andy’s been in a position where he’s had to win a match. These are the two guys we want to bring out. This is our best team. It’s our one-two punch. We’re playing at home. They’re going to have to play with a little more pressure on them now. Up until now, I think they’ve been able to sort of swing away and been the underdogs and go for their shots. If they can do that, if Ljubicic can do that against Agassi, the Bryans and Roddick, than that’s too good. But we’ll see if he can.”

Roddick and Ljubicic would battle in the fourth rubber of the tie – Ljubicic, like in 2003, trying to shut the door on the Americans – while Roddick trying to stave off elimination, a position he had been in on two other occasions without success – against France in 2002 and Spain in 2004.

After splitting the first two sets, the epic – and pivotal – third-set tie-break ensued with neither Roddick or Ljubicic willing to give the other the two-sets-to-one lead. Roddick jumped to a 4-1 lead and held three set points throughout the 24 point tie-break – tying the longest tie-break in U.S. Davis Cup history. However, Roddick’s inside-out cross court forehand at 11-12 landed wide giving Ljubicic the fourth set. The two players would again go toe-to-toe in a tie-break in the fourth set, with Ljubicic fighting off four set points before double faulting at 7-8 on the fifth-set point to give Roddick the set and square the match at two-sets apiece. The momentum appeared to be with Roddick, but he was not able to capitalize. Ljubicic ran off with the first eight points of the fifth set, breaking Roddick at love in the first game of the fifth set and cashing in on an insurance break in the fifth game of the final set. Three game later, Ljubicic closed out the crushing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-2 victory in three hours and 57 minutes.

Roddick and McEnroe slumped on their courtside seating while Ljubicic, Ancic, Pilic and the rest of the Croatian delegation danced and sang on the court with handfuls of Croatian fans in the audience waving flags and rejoicing in the historic first round upset. It marked the first time in 105 years of Davis Cup that the United States was eliminated in the first round on home soil.

Ljubicic would become one of only two players to win three live rubbers against a U.S. Davis Cup team on two occasions – joining Mexico’s Raul Ramirez who turned the trick against the United States in the 1975 and 1976 Davis Cup campaigns.

In all, Ljubicic labored for a total of eight hours and 44 minutes over 12 sets over the weekend. His career record against the United States in Davis Cup play now stood at 6-0 – with only Laurie Doherty of Great Britain holding a better record against the U.S. with a 10-0 record in matches against the U.S. in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1906.

“I have no words, really,” said Ljubicic. “To beat Andre, the Bryans and Roddick in three days….it is amazing.”

Roddick was crushed, irritable, devastatingly angry and disappointed. He slumped in front of the microphone in the interview room and was asked to share how he was feeling.

“Probably not in words you would understand,” he slurred. “It’s tough to describe. Really, really bad….There’s no worse feeling than losing a match in Davis Cup in our sport, especially when your teammates are counting on you.”

“It hurts a lot,” said McEnroe, who spoke with the press after coaching Bob Bryan to a three-set win over Roko Karanusic in the dead-fifth rubber that made the final verdict a 3-2 win for Croatia. “After getting to the final last year, starting off at home with our best team, it’s disappointing.”

Mondays With Bob Greene: This is not a tragedy, losing here in Paris

Brave Nadal finally loses

STARS

Robin Soderling beat top-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-7 (2) 6-4 7-6 (2)

Agnes Szavay beat third-seeded Venus Williams 6-0 6-4

Philipp Kohlschreiber beat fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-4 6-4

Samantha Stosur beat fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva 6-3 4-6 6-1

Victoria Azarenka beat eighth-seeded Ana Ivanovic 6-2 6-3

Nikolay Davydenko beat eighth-seeded Fernando Verdasco 6-2 6-2 6-4

Sorana Cirstea beat 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (3) 7-5

SAYING

“This is not a tragedy, losing here in Paris. It had to happen one day. That’s the end of the road, and I have to accept it. I have to accept my defeat as I accepted my victories – with calm.” – Rafael Nadal, after having his record 31-match victory string at Roland Garros snapped.

“This is for sure the biggest moment so far of my career. I couldn’t even dream of this before the match, so I will remember this match for the rest of my life.” – Robin Soderling, after beating Rafael Nadal.

“Everybody’s in a state of shock, I would think. At some point, Nadal was going to lose. But nobody expected it to happen today, and maybe not this year.” – Mats Wilander, a three-time French Open champion on Robin Soderling’s victory over Rafael Nadal.

“It’s just a bad day at the office, as they say.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber.

“I’m used to beating people 6-0. I’m not used to my shot not going in and losing a set 6-0. So it completely was foreign ground for me.” – Venus Williams, after losing to Agnes Szavay 6-0 6-4

“In the fourth game, I just suddenly started feeling so dizzy, and I completely lost my balance.” – Ana Ivanovic, after losing to Victoria Azarenka.

“I’m angry, because even though it was (Roger) Federer, it was a near-miss. I was so close to winning this match.” – Jose Acasuso, after losing to Federer 7-6 (8) 5-7 7-6 (2) 6-2.

“She (a WTA Tour official) told me to play with another T-shirt otherwise I was facing a fine. I told her to find one for me otherwise I would have had to play naked.” – Virginie Razzano, who was told to change her shirt because a sponsor badge on the shirt was misplaced.

“I’m just glad I finally won a match out there.” – Andy Roddick, an American who finally won a match after three straight first-round losses at Roland Garros.

“Well, he actually looks a little bit tired to me. He doesn’t look like he’s fresh enough. I think it’s going to be tough challenge for him to win this time, actually.” – Elena Dementieva, predicting Rafael Nadal will not win a record fifth straight French Open men’s singles title.

“The point is never over. I mean, the ball is a little bit far but I have to find a solution to jump or to dive or slide or whatever, to reach it. And when I think I can, I will try some magic. On a break point, you have to jump or dive. I mean, I go for it.” – Gael Monfils, on his acrobatic style of play.

“He’s not (Rafael) Nadal, but he’s still a great player on clay.” – Janko Tipsarevic, on Andy Murray’s improved game on clay.

“Winning the semifinal is not winning the tournament, so it doesn’t change anything.” – Roger Federer, when asked if he was relieved to see his possible semifinal opponent, Novak Djokovic, lose his third-round match.

“For the Americans, a lot of times, this isn’t our main goal of the year. Ours is generally Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.” James Blake, an American, after losing a first-round match to Argentine qualifier Leonard Mayer.

“I wasn’t nervous at the beginning, but at the end, when I had to close the match, I was very nervous, yes. I was dying of nerves.” – Leonardo Mayer, a qualifier who beat James Blake.

“We’re trying as hard as we can. Once these two weeks are over, the clay talk is over, and we’ll be looking to my most fun part of the year: Wimbledon, grass courts. That’s where we play our best.” – Mardy Fish, an American, after losing a first-round match.

“I feel very disappointed. She’s Serena. She’s one of the biggest players here, so bad luck for the draw,” said Klara Zakopalova, after failing to cash in on eight match points in her first-round loss to Serena Williams.

“I don’t see trouble. What I see is a champion that found a way to win on a day that she didn’t play good. See, in order to be a champion, you have to win when you should lose.” – Richard Williams, after his daughter Serena squandered eight match points before beating Klara Zakopalova 6-3 6-7 (5) 6-4.

“I felt like I had the match in my hands and I was doing well and even if I didn’t win, I was playing really well … I felt like I probably played the best tennis that I played this year.” – Jelena Dokic, after retiring with a back injury while leading fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva.

“I think the Serena now would definitely beat the other Serena. I’m older. I think I’m wiser. I think I’m just a more mature player.” – Serena Williams, after her second-round win over Virginia Ruano Pascual.

SHOCKER

Rafael Nadal’s stranglehold on Roland Garros was smashed by Sweden’s Robin Soderling in a fourth-round match. It was the first time the Spaniard, who was seeking his fourth consecutive French Open title, had lost on the red clay of Roland Garros. In his opening round match, Nadal snapped Bjorn Borg’s record of 28 straight French Open match wins by a man. His second-round victory eclipsed Chris Evert’s overall tournament record of 29 consecutive match victories. He got to 31 straight before running into Soderling, a player Nadal had never lost to before. In their last meeting, on clay in Rome in April, Nadal won 6-1 6-0. This time Soderling finished with 61 winners, 28 more than Nadal, and advanced to the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career.

SENT PACKING

Serbian Ana Ivanovic has failed to defend her women’s singles title at Roland Garros, losing a fourth-round match to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-2 6-3. Last year’s French Open victory pushed Ivanovic into the top spot in the WTA Tour rankings. Since then she has struggled and came into this year’s tournament seeded eighth. Ivanovic had a trainer look at her neck before the final game of the first set, and later said she began feeling dizzy and lost her balance. Azarenka grabbed a 4-0 lead in the second set en route to her victory.

SURPRISING SHARAPOVA

She spent the first week working overtime, but Maria Sharapova was still around at the stare of the second week of the French Open. The unseeded Russian won four straight three-set matches to gain a quarterfinal berth at Roland Garros for the fourth time in her career. This is Sharapova’s first Grand Slam tournament since she lost a second-round match at Wimbledon last summer. She then suffered an injury to her right shoulder and underwent surgery in October. Sharapova only played one singles tournament before her remarkable run in Paris. “I’m definitely a little bit sore, but I’ll be fine,” Sharapova said. “That’s why the Grand Slams are great. You have a day in between, a day to recover, and that always helps the body.”

SISTERS STOPPED

Sisters Venus and Serena Williams won’t be adding to their stash of Grand Slam doubles titles at this year’s French Open. The American duo wasted a match point in their 7-6 (4) 5-7 7-6 (6) loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Nadia Petrova of Russia. Venus served for the match at 6-5 and was broken. The sisters led 6-5 in the tiebreak, one point from victory, before Mattek-Sands and Petrova won the last three points of the match. The Williams sisters won the French Open in 1999, one of their eight Grand slam doubles titles.

SETBACK

Jelena Dokic was leading fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva when she was forced to retire from their second-round French Open match because of a back injury. Playing in her first French Open since 2004, Dokic appeared to pull something in her lower back at 2-2 in the second set. She left the court to receive treatment from the tournament trainer and returned to break Dementieva and take a 6-2 3-2 lead. But Dementieva won the next two games before Dokic, tears streaming down her face, retired. “I didn’t deserve to win this match,” Dementieva said. Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Dokic rolled her ankle in his fourth-round match at the Australian Open in January. “Obviously it’s not my time at the Grand Slams,” she said. “I’m not 15 anymore, so it’s time probably to take more care now.”

SQUEAKING AND SQUEALING

A teenager from Portugal, Michelle Larcher de Brito, was the talk of Roland Garros more for her sound than her game. Grunting, squealing and moaning with every shot, the 16-year-old qualifier reached the third round before she was silenced by France’s Aravane Rezai. “It’s very disturbing, it’s disturbing me,” Rezai told the umpire before insisting the umpire consult the Grand Slam supervisor on the issue. Larcher de Brito shrieked when she hit the ball, yelped when Rezai’s shots were long and slammed her racquet when she was frustrated, earning boos from the crowd. “It’s just something I’ve done always since I started playing tennis. I’m going to keep on doing it because it’s really part of my game,” said Larcher de Brito, the first Portuguese player to advance to the third round of a Grand Slam tournament.

SPANISH FIRE

It took three sets before Serena Williams finally beat her Spanish foe, but it was a point in the opening set that riled the world’s number two-ranked player. With Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez close to the net, Williams fired a shot right at her. She managed to get her racquet on the ball, but Serena says the ball also hit her opponent’s arm. “The ball did touch her 100 percent on her arm,” Serena said. “The rules of tennis are when the ball hits your body, then it’s out of play. You lose a point automatically.” Television replays seemed to back Serena’s version, but Martinez Sanchez insisted the ball did not hit her and the umpire agreed. “To say I’m a cheat is stupid,” Martinez Sanchez said. “I’m not going to comment on it.”

SAY NO TO DRUG TESTS

Rafael Nadal wants the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to stick up for the players and against the World Anti-Doping Agency’s new out-of-competition drug-testing rules. A number of top players, including Serena Williams, have complained about a new WADA rule that says athletes must say where they will be for one hour each day so they can be found for testing. Saying that’s too invasive, Nadal complains that it will be tough to keep WADA constantly updated on his whereabouts.

SANIA ENGAGED

Tennis isn’t the only thing on the mind of Sania Mirza these days. The 22-year-old Indian star has become engaged to a longtime friend, Sohrab Mirza. Despite the same last names, they are not related – yet. According to family members, the 23-year-old Sohrab Mirza, who is studying business, and the tennis star will be married on July 10 in her hometown of Hyderabad. In January, Sania became the first Indian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament title when she teamed with India’s Mahesh Bhupathi to win the Australian Open mixed doubles crown.

STRETCHED

Two-time Grand Slam tournament finalist Mark Philippoussis says he is broke, facing a legal battle to keep his home and suffers from depression. The Australian player, who earned more than USD $7 million during his career, said he is being sued for failing to pay the mortgage on his home in Melbourne, Australia. Once ranked eighth in the world, Philippoussis says he has been unable to play for three years following several knee operations. The knee injury ended his ATP tour playing career, which saw him reach the 2003 Wimbledon final, losing to Roger Federer, and the 1998 US Open final, where he fell to Patrick Rafter. Philippoussis said he is looking to play in tennis legends events with former stars like John McEnroe, Jim Courier and Pat Cash.

STRONG ENOUGH

Two freshmen are the newest National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tennis champions. Unseeded Devin Britton of the University of Mississippi became the youngest men’s singles champion, while Mallory Cecil of Duke captured the women’s singles crown. Britton ended a 22-match win streak by Steve Moneke, beating the Ohio State senior 3-6 6-2 6-3. In her final, Cecil beat Laura Vallverdu of the University of Miami 7-5 6-4.

SPANKED

Southern California has been awarded the 2008 Pac-10 Conference men’s tennis title after UCLA was penalized for using an ineligible player. The violation was self-reported by UCLA and the ineligible player wasn’t identified. UCLA had to forfeit all singles and doubles matches in which the player participated. As a result, team results of UCLA’s matches against Southern California and Arizona State were reversed, giving Southern Cal a 7-0 record. UCLA dropped into a second-place tie with Stanford at 5-2.

SITES TO SURF

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com/index.html
Prostejov: www.czech-open.com/
London: www.aegonchampionships.com
Halle: www.gerryweber-open.de/
Lugano: www.challengerlugano.ch
Marseille: www.opengdfsuez-marseille.com/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (second week)

ATP

$170,000 UniCredit Czech Open, Prostejov, Czech Republic, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$1,000,000 AEGON Championships, London, Great Britain, grass
$1,000,000 Gerry Weber Open, Halle, Germany, grass
$119,000 BSI Lugano Challenger, Lugano, Switzerland, clay

WTA

$220,000 AEGON Classic, Birmingham, Great Britain, grass
$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Marseille, Marseille, France, clay

Feli’s forehead!

feliciano-lopez-marseille09b

feliciano-lopez-marseille09b

What is Feliciano Lopez doing playing without a bandana? Does that mean we still get six more weeks of winter?

He’s made it to the elite eight of this week’s Open 13 tournament in Marseilles after beating Dmitry Tursnunov 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1). Too bad Dima couldn’t seal the deal. Perhaps he was still thinking about Grigor

Up next for Feli is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

(image via Getty Images)

Week 6 Preview: Costa do Sauipe, Delray Beach, Marseille

Costa do Sauipe (Brasil Open)

As expected, the only ATP tournament played in Brazil is full of clay court specialists. Carlos Moya comes back to play there after missing it last year; he is the top seed. He has an interesting first round match against Santiago Ventura, but he’s the favorite to go through to the second round. Agustin Calleri is in his quarter and that should be a great match if both get that far, though the Argentine would have to beat tough guys like Sergio Rotiman and Pablo Cuevas. In the second quarter, Igor Andreev is by far the biggest favorite even though Jose Acasuso’s in the same section. Two Brazilians are also in that same quarter with tough first round matches. Marcos Daniel faces Peter Luczak, who’s played a semifinal at the Brasil Open before and Bellucci faces Nicolas Lapentti.

In the third quarter, Potito Starace’s back after his ban for betting on tennis matches. In the same quarter, we’d have to mention both Fabio Fognini and Gustavo Kuerten, who will open against Carlos Berlocq. In the last quarter, the favorites are second seed Nicolas Almagro, who has a good draw, and Filippo Volandri; both of these players really good on clay. Nicolas Massu and Guillermo Coria are both in this quarter as well.

This year’s tournament should be really interesting, considering it will be the last time the three-time Roland Garros Champion Gustavo Kuerten plays the tournament in his own country. It’s also important to remember that the tournament might be played in another city (São Paulo) in 2009, so it might be the last year for the event in Costa do Sauipe. Also, none of last year’s semifinalists are playing at ths year’s event.

Delray Beach

While Delray Beach is typically the week right after the Australian Open, it was pushed back two weeks this year and instead follows the First Round Davis Cup ties; in fact, the draw is full of players who will be arriving from all corners of the globe.

Headliner and top seed James Blake is already on his way from Austria and will arrive home in Florida to see quite an easy draw. He opens against compatriot Robert Kendrick, but despite the inevitable jetlag, it’s hard to see him not coming through this section of the draw.

In the second quarter, although Dudi Sela is the highest-ranked player and #4 seed, he will be coming off a disappointing Davis Cup tie in Israel and faces potentially formidable competition in Robby Ginepri (if he’s healthy from the neck/back problems that plagued him during the Australian season) and #8 seed Mardy Fish (if he brings his brain down to Delray Beach).

The third quarter of the draw is led by American seeds Sam Querrey and Vince Spadea. It’s likely that the two will play each other in the Quarterfinals.

The fourth quarter is probably the most interesting. Tommy Haas is the #2 seed and makes his first appearance of 2008 after missing the entire Australian season due to his recovery from another shoulder injury. Whether he is 100% fit to play and fully recovered remains to be seen. If he wins, he could face another interesting story in defending champion Xavier Malisse, still coming back from injury after missing most of last year, who has had great success in Delray Beach in years’ past – it is where he was finally able to claim his first ATP Title in 2005 after a dismal record in finals. Malisse has also played two other finals in Delray and has won the doubles title. Florian Mayer will be coming from Davis Cup duties in Germany, giving rising American Donald Young a chance to finally make a splash in an ATP tournament.

Marseille

Marseille is by far the strongest event of the week, featuring more prize money and a field that includes three top 10 players in Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet, and new top 10er Mikhail Youzhny, all coming off of Davis Cup play this weekend.

Novak Djokovic heads the draw but his fitness is in question after retiring in today’s Davis Cup match. If Djokovic is fit, he should make the quarters where he would face the always tough Paul-Henri Mathieu in a very intriguing match. This little section also contains tough Frenchmen Michael Llodra, Marc Gicquel, and defending champion Gilles Simon. In the second quarter, Andy Murray returns after leaving his country high and dry in Argentina due to a “knee injury.” Also in this quarter, 2007 Brazil Open runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero makes an interesting decision to play indoors instead of in Brasil on his beloved clay, and more tough Frenchmen including Nicolas Mahut and Sebastien Grosjean could be dangerous.

The third quarter of the draw is full of good players and potential title threats. Defending finalist Marcos Baghdatis, whose coach stepped down last week, faces a difficult second round match between either Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez, which should be an exciting encounter (not). Should Baghdatis make it through to the quarterfinals, he will likely face Youzhny in a rematch of an excellent quarterfinal match at this event last year. However, Youzhny has a tough opener in rising Croatian Marin Cilic, who has posted excellent results this year.

The stars of the fourth quarter are France’s top 2 players – Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who will be looking to meet in the quarterfinals, which would be an interesting rematch of their Australian Open Round of 16 match and quite a big deal in France. But first, Tsonga must get past Mario Ancic, a former top player who is trying to come back from various ilnesses and injuries. Also in this quarter, Robin Soderling returns to the tour after an extended injury break. Soderling will open against tough Fin Jarkko Nieminen, a semifinalist here last year.

Page 1 of 11