match play

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s Fairy Tale Run at Toray Pacific Open – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Comeback Cut Short – The much-anticipated return of Juan Martin del Potro and his potential third-round clash with Rafael Nadal were quickly derailed as little Ollie Rochus cut down the big Argentine (who stands a foot taller than the Belgian) in straight sets in the opening round of the PTT Thailand Open 7-6 (7), 6-4. Despite the loss, there was still much to cheer about for Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing his first match in eight months. For those lucky enough to see the match, it was apparent that he wasn’t afraid to go after the ball, as he appeared to be clocking many of his ground strokes with the same ferocity that took him to the US Open title. He wasn’t without his chances either, holding a set point in the opening set, though lacking in match play, he can hardly be blamed for feeling a few extra nerves at those crucial moments. But the biggest positive of all is that Juan Martin del Potro reported that his wrist felt perfect at the conclusion of the match and is looking forward to working in another 5-6 tournaments before the 2010 season is officially in the books.

A Very Happy Birthday – Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the interesting storylines over the course of this season, but this week, she was truly one of the feel good stories. Playing in her native Japan, Date Krumm collected one of the biggest scalps in her comeback to-date, taking out defending champion Maria Sharapova in three sets on the eve of her 40th birthday. Bouncing back from her grueling victory, she then celebrated her birthday by defeating Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova was forced to retire with a shoulder injury down 0-4 in the third set. Sadly, Date Krumm’s fairytale run came to a halt at the hands of 2010 Roland Garros Champion Francesca Schiavone, but keep an eye on the Japanese veteran. The odds are still highly stacked against her, and it’s certainly going to take the right kind of field with a little bit of luck, but Date Krumm may just break Billie Jean King’s record and soon become the oldest female to win a title on the WTA Tour.

Proud Papa – Struggling with knee injuries, the bulk of 2010 has been a nightmare of a year for young Frenchman Gilles Simon, but he’s had much to smile about as of late. He and his fiancée recently celebrated the birth of their first child together, and instead of acting as a further stumbling block to his career, as his fiancée feared it might, the new addition seems to have rejuvenated Simons’ game. He belatedly entered the Metz tournament in his home nation, and with his family there to cheer him on, he rolled to his first title of the season, trouncing Mischa Zverev 3 and 2 in the final. It’s still too early to tell, but hopefully this win means Simon has righted the ship and will once again become the contender he showed promise of over a year ago.

Plight Update – The women of Spain have taken their stand, it appears that the Spanish Tennis Federation has been forced to take notice. In an unprecedented move, the National Tennis Congress stated that there would be an upcoming conference in Pamplona devoted solely to hashing out the issues facing Spanish women’s tennis, including training opportunities for the top players and raising young talents. Of course, it’s too early to see what will or won’t come of this meeting, but it is a positive sign that the Spanish Federation is setting aside the time to seriously take a look at the issues. Given their success in the men’s game, there’s no reason to think that perhaps with a little bit more time and effort, they couldn’t see an increase in success achieved on the women’s side as well.

Injury Report – Foot injuries continue to make headlines as Belgian Kim Clijsters announced that she was forced to pull out of the China Open due to a foot infection she acquired after having a mole removed. This comes on the heels (no pun intended) of Serena Williams also calling off her whole Asian tour as a result of her own foot issues. And on the men’s side, Robby Ginepri will be forced to call off his season early due to a broken arm he sustained from a biking accident. Injuries are never a good thing, but at least these are not related to the length of the season.

Around the corner: Baghdatis is the top seed in New Haven

Only a week to go before the final Grand Slam of 2010 and there is one last stop on the tour before we get to Flushing Meadows. This week offers the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven where Marcos Baghdatis is the number one seed. The ATP World Tour 250 level tourney offers some lower ranked players a chance to get some match play in before the U.S. Open. While it is often a gamble to play so close to the start of the Open, it is a necessary chance that some struggling players must take in order to gain some much needed momentum.

After having a quiet mid-season stretch up until August, Baghdatis has rediscovered the game that brought him to his only Grand Slam final in Australia in 2006. He made the finals in Washington where he lost to David Nalbandian and then the semi-finals this past week in Cincinnati where he was defeated by Roger Federer. I’m a bit surprised that Baghdatis is going to play this week as he has had plenty of matches under his belt recently. Maybe he simply does not want to lose any of the progress he has been making.

Other players in his section of the draw to lookout for are Sergiy Stakhovsky and Taylor Dent. The Ukrainian Stakhovsky has been quiet of late, but did win a grass court tournament in June in the Netherlands. Dent meanwhile, continues to make small improvements in his game and played a tough match against Rafael Nadal in Cincy last week where he fell in the second round. Either one could emerge from this quarter of the draw in New Haven, especially if Baghdatis pulls out.

Mardy Fish is supposed to be the fourth seed but I would be absolutely shocked if he played. Appearing in the finals in Cincy on Sunday and playing six matches in seven days is too much tennis to then push it the week before a Slam. That leaves Germany’s Michael Berrer as the likeliest candidate to emerge from this section of the draw. The big serving Berrer impressed me in Toronto two weeks ago with his powerful game and had promising results on hard courts earlier in the season.

On the other side of the tournament we might get an intriguing second round encounter between rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov and struggling American veteran James Blake. Dolgopolov is the youngest player in the top one hundred in the world and possesses a very diverse game and lethal first serve. Blake has had a summer from hell and most recently was bounced in the first round in Cincinnati by Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-0. I pick Dolgopolov as a good darkhorse selection to be the eventual champion in New Haven

Fernando Gonzalez is also in this quarter, and the third seed is arguably the most talented player in the entire draw. Coming back from a left calf injury, it will be interesting to see how he handles himself.

The final quarter in New Haven has Xavier Malisse and second seeded Tomaz Bellucci as the favorites. I liked Malisse’s chances given his experience and hard-court talent.

Regardless of who advances this week, there will be a new champion in New Haven. Defending champion Fernando Verdasco is not present this year, allowing somebody else to hoist the trophy. While I wouldn’t put any faith in the eventual winner to go deep in New York, it could give them some confidence to at least win a few rounds and trouble some of the big guys.

Around The Corner – Rogers Cup Gives Canada The Tennis Spotlight

For a land known more for its on-ice accomplishments than on-court, Canada boasts one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the history of the game. Third behind Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in terms of longevity, The Rogers Cup seems to get better year after year.

A quality field once again descends upon Toronto this summer led by world number one Rafael Nadal along with the always dangerous Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. All are former champions here in Canada and possess an almost-equal chance of hoisting the trophy again in 2010.

The tournament benefits from an excellent window in the ATP World Tour schedule that has been void of any major tennis competition since Wimbledon wrapped-up in early July. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have all spent the past few weeks resting from match-play so it should be quite intriguing to see how they respond in their return to the court.

A change in surface should also provide some interesting results as the clay and grass court swings are now behind us. Once known more for his play on the dirt, Nadal has truly morphed into a master on every playing field as he mentioned on Friday at the tournament draw ceremony held atop the CN Tower.

“Sure I think I am a better player or more complete player now than in 2005 on every surface,” the Spaniard admitted. “If I play well I’m going to have the chance to have good results in every surface. If I play bad, on clay maybe I still have any chance, but on the rest of the surfaces I don’t have a chance to play at the top level. Yes I am more complete, but if I am not feeling at my best…it is going to be impossible because every match is difficult and the level between players is very close.”

That narrowing talent level between players has perhaps never been more distinguished than it is now. Joining the top four as legitimate threats this week are Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic.

Meanwhile, Canada will have a visible presence in the draw with the foursome of Frank Dancevic, Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Peter Polansky and Milos Raonic all benefiting from wildcards.

Of the four, Dancevic has experienced the most success since turning pro as was most evident with his quarter-final run at the event in Montreal in 2007. That year he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and took a set off Rafael Nadal before being defeated 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Health issues have side-tracked Dancevic’s progress, which peaked at 65th in the world in the fall of 2007. Recovering from back surgery kept him off the tour for the first six months of this year but since then he has reached the quarter-finals in Newport and made the semi-finals of the challenger event in Granby. A tough first round match against Stanislas Wawrinka looms but it is challenge Dancevic is equipped to handle.

While Canada has some limitations that may hinder the development of a strong contingent of players inside the top one hundred in the rankings, its fans will be out in full force to support the boys. The lack of suitable year-round outdoor weather, distractions from other sports such as hockey and lacrosse and the absence of a real big-gun to motivate youngsters might be part of the issue thwarting our own emergence on the world scene.

John McEnroe joked with me this past spring that Canada would have a top-ten player if tennis was played on ice. While I couldn’t help but chuckle at this slight jab at our tennis pride, I feel like the potential to realize tangible achievements is certainly on the horizon in our country.

A positive result from any of the four Canadians here in Toronto might just be the confidence boost that is needed for one of them to take that next step and it could also encourage the next Rafa Nadal to pick up a racquet within the boundaries of the true, north, strong and free.

YOUR GRASS IS MINE! 2010 WIMBLEDON PREVIEW

By Peter Nez

With Wimbledon only one week away, the talk has shifted from sheer dominance on the sandy surface to an all out blitz of question marks and shrugging shoulders as to who will take away lawn glory. It’s hard to refute a 76-2 record on grass for the past seven years by defending champion Roger Federer, and one would be remiss if he wasn’t, on all accounts, the decisive favorite, but circumstances are bound to change, the wind can shift, and church bells may toll, sounding off eras swaying, and epochs coming to an end, as we saw inevitably happen in France when Robin Soderling dismissed the G.O.A.T. in the quarterfinals, ending an astounding streak of 23 semis or better in a row.

Roger, who typically plays his Wimbledon warm up tournament in Halle, Germany, the Gerry Weber Open, did the same this year, only bypassing it twice in the last eight years. He had a strong week, reaching the finals, taking out some accomplished grass court players along the way, losing only to Lleyton Hewitt, a former world no. 1, and former Wimbledon champion; an accredited savant on the green stuff, in three sets on Sunday. Not a terrible start to Federer’s grass campaign, especially considering how quick the transition is from clay to grass, and the results of his arch rivals and other top players: Nadal, Murray, Roddick, and Novak, all went out fairly early in their Wimbledon warm up at the Queen’s Club in London.

Entering major tournaments in good form is all about momentum, and nothing can build momentum like match play and excellent results at preceding tournaments. This couldn’t be exemplified any more than what happened this past spring where Rafael Nadal took three back to back masters titles upon entering the French Open; riding on a mountain of momentum, there was little doubt as to what the Savage Spaniard would do at Roland Garros. I don’t think there was one ‘expert’ out there in the tennis universe who didn’t pick Nadal to win it all, and many thought that maybe spring 2010 would mirror spring 2008 for the Mallorca Madman, who won not only The French Open, and Wimbledon, but the warm up to Wimbledon in the interim, (Queen’s Club Open) taking out a red hot Novak Djokovic in the final. But all for not, Nadal lost to Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals in straight sets, his only other loss to Lopez coming when Rafael was a bubbly seventeen year old, raw on the tour. Nadal seemed relaxed about his loss saying he was, “looking forward to going home,” and was happy so he could, “play golf and see family.” A peculiar attitude to exude before the Super Bowl of Tennis, but who am I to speculate on Rafa’s preparation? His track record speaks for itself. A friend of mine said, about Nadal’s performance, who was a National Doubles Champion for the USTA, in his smooth southern drawl, that “It looked like he wasn’t timing the bounce as well. He looked unbalanced.” It’s not out of order to speculate that he may be feeling the magnificent run he had this past May, and a bit tired, and I don’t see any cause for alarm for Nadal fans, but I don’t get the feeling that 2010 will sing a cover song anytime soon for the Spaniard, but even more than that, I have reservations about King Roger as well.

Federer has been in a title drought since the Australian Open, and his clay season was anything but normal, and we know how important confidence is to him, and to lose to Hewitt, somebody he has owned in past meetings, in a final of a grass court tournament that he has won many times before can’t bode well. Something is amiss. I get this strange feeling that there may be something more to this “lung infection” he acquired back in February and that it hindered him more than anyone thought, including himself. Who knows, maybe the universe is saying it’s time for somebody else, that the old adage about greed may prove true. The “uncharacteristic losses” have been accumulating since 2007, and Roger fans have been biting their nails more readily during his matches these days. Between the alien arrival of the spraying forehand, and the cryptic breakdown in his first serve (something we saw full fledged against Ernest Gulbis, in Federer’s first round loss at the Rome Masters), the impenetrable veneer of the Federer palace is looking to wane. But, the caveat to that is the swirling doubts have been parading around the press rooms and fan sites before every major, and Roger seems to silence the naysayers time and time again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he places a giant index finger across them yet again, by holding the coveted title that fortnight.

If anything, this year’s Wimbledon will be the hinge that turns the door on the rest of the season for anybody, especially the top players. Who can do it? A number of players can step up. What about Murray? Maybe he can finally reach grand slam glory that he has come so close to tasting before? Last year he was a semi-finalist and has an entire nation pulling for him. Henman Hill has now been transformed to Mound Murray. Can Djokovic finally turn back the hand of time and resurrect the career many expected he would encompass? What about Roddick? He always has a chance, as he proved last year. This is the next sunrise, the new morning, the middle of the ATP season, the cathedral of tennis, the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon, where dreams come true, and tears tremble the blades of grass, and in a men’s draw loaded up with bursting at the seams talent, anything can happen. Federer and Nadal are the two super powers, and it would be great to see them in the final again, battling it out, knifing through the English dusk with their artistry and brute will, but something tells me there may be new blood lurking in the Channel, that the familiar silhouettes may have different shapes this year coming out of the tunnel. I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s just a feeling, but I sense something blowin’ in the wind…

SHARAPOVA DOWN AND OUT (BUT NOT FOR LONG)

By Max Park

As Maria Sharapova left Philippe Chatrier court on Sunday at Roland Garros, it was clear that the former No. 1 was merely a shadow of her former self. Her heroic demise to the Belgian Justine Henin was lauded by the usually hostile and unsupportive Parisian crowd, as they cheered on a former semi-finalist who has largely been plagued by arm and shoulder injuries for the better part of the last two years.

Her match against the former Queen of Clay, Henin, only demonstrated the lack of match play and the erratic serve which has come of late to typify Sharapova. Forehand drives that landed just centimetres outside the lines, the dubious drop shots, the apparent inability to close out decisive points and most crucially, those double faults. One couldn’t help but feel that Sharapova at her peak would have nonchalantly scoffed at these problems. However, the reality is that Sharapova’s inconsistency and lackluster form has only faltered her progress in her comeback trail. Henin was the only top ten calibre player she has had to face this year and the inexperience fully manifested itself.

There is, however, no point in seeing only the negative aspects in a sporting match. Let’s look at the silver linings. Her trademark gritty-streetfighter-me-against-the-world dogged determination and fighting spirit was still intact and was the prime reason for the second set resurgence. What she lacks in technical prowess and precision, she makes up with good old fashioned perseverance and mental fortitude. I have had the ‘pleasure’ to witness another one of Sharapova’s Grand Slam losses, her 2008 Wimbledon second-round defeat against Alla Kudryavtseva. Camping out the night before to get Court No. 1 tickets and then to see your favourite active female player lose against her 154th-ranked compatriot was to say the very least, disheartening. However, what was most admirable about her play over the weekend and during that humiliating Wimbledon loss two years ago was her characteristic fierce intensity, instilled by father Yuri.  She may have played drop shots at the most inopportune moments and even the Court 1 crowd was frustrated with her apparent refusal to add any topspin to her forehand groundstrokes, which time and time again, would hit the top or middle of the net; but that face of utter determination and fierce intensity never subsided.

The mental aspect of Sharapova’s game is what makes her stand out from the plethora of six foot Russian blonde bombshells and what has won her three Grand Slam singles titles. An improved and consistent serve and precise groundstrokes are imperative but it is her mental fortitude and fierce intensity that will ultimately pull Maria Sharapova through in this rather turbulent comeback campaign.

Tennis Etiquette- Where Has it Gone?

By Kimberly Minarovich

The 2009 US Open concluded and has added another chapter in the tennis history book. Juan Martin de Potro ended Roger Federer’s reign as five-time defending US Open champion to win his first major title. Kim Clijsters’ comeback not only gave her a second trophy, but also put her on record to become the second woman after Evonne Goolagong to win a major after in almost three decades after returning to the game after motherhood.

We honored Arthur Ashe by inducting him into the US Court of Champions. We remembered the contributions made by Jack Kramer after his death. We celebrated the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver’s 1969 Grand Slam sweep (For more on his life story, refer to The Education of a Tennis Player, by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, published by New Chapter Press.)

But, with all of this remembering, have we forgotten our tennis etiquette? Sadly, it seems as though we have. The recent surge in popularity has brought in a record number of attendees to the US Open in 2009 (about 1million for the entire tournament). Unfortunately, these spectators are not only newbies to the game, but are also newbies to tennis etiquette, which has been so closely associated with this gentlemen’s sport.

During this year’s tournament, I was struck by the number of attendees who were infants and toddlers. While I was watching Tommy Haas’ match on one of the outside courts, I was stunned to see a mother carrying two toddlers – one on her back and another slung across her chest. Thankfully for Tommy and the rest of us sitting on the small, intimate court that it was naptime for those little ones. But, what about the ones who wail, scream and cry during match play when their parents are sitting so close to the court? Kids under a minimum age are not allowed to attend live concerts and Broadway performances – both are also live events. So, why are they allowed onto the grounds? I am not shutting kids out of the game, but would mind boosting attendance at Arthur Ashe’s Kids Day! It is no secret that US tennis is losing its competitive edge. So, are we starting these kids young by bringing them to the courts while they are still in diapers? I was so curious why any parent would subject their little one to the hot blazing sun and the crowds that I asked a young couple who opted to bring their two month old to the men’s semi final matches which began with Rafa at noon and ended with Federer’s victory over Novak Djokovic over seven hours later. The father glared at me and said that he had two words for me. “F&%k off!” he told me. (And people were outraged over Serena’s language?) His display of sportsmanship was not ideal. I retaliated and had three (not two!) words for him. “Get a babysitter,” I shot back.

And, what about the cell phones, iPhones, and Blackberrys that ring during match play? And, the ensuing conversations that take place during match play! Are you joking? Should an announcement be made to turn these devices off before of after the rules of the challenge system are detailed? Maybe so.

How about those fans strolling around the stands when a player is in the middle of a first serve? Well, some of those fans look like they should stroll more, but around the track and not around Arthur Ashe Stadium Court. Has waiting for a changeover become a pastime like the all-white tennis garb that was clad by players of yesteryear? I’d like to bring both of those pastimes back, actually! After such poor etiquette from that the last fan that I questioned, I did not dare to ask another fan why that hot dog and beer were so necessary at that very moment rather than in a mere ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe the ushers can help us out on this front. Please do a better job keeping the fans in their seats (our in the waiting areas) during match play. If that is not possible, please direct these people to CitiField across the boardwalk. Maybe they are better suited to sit over there.

In all seriousness, let’s do our part to preserve the integrity of the game. But, the USTA can also help by changing some of the rules and reminding us all of proper tennis etiquette. They acted quickly towards Serena’s behavior so let’s hope they act quickly on improving the behavior of some of the fans. Off-court and on-court etiquette should be back in the sport.