match points

Sampras, Moya, Lisicki Join Li Na for Exhibition Tournament in China

2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na received a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Wuhan, kicking off a two-day exhibition tournament on December 17, 2011 called “Li Na and Friends.” The festivities  also feature 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras and former world number number 1 Carlos Moya, as well as 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and WTA Comeback Player of the Year Sabine Lisicki. The event gave fans a chance to celebrate Li Na’s historic Grand Slam victory and brought tennis to a quickly-growing market in China.

Li’s slump since winning Roland Garros in June seems to have ended as she looked to be in better form this weekend after a month-long training camp in Germany.

“I trained quite solidly and effectively in Germany. I feel much better now compared with the past several months. But how good my form is, I think it will be tested at this tournament … I just want to relax my nerves after the Germany trip. It’s a feedback event for my home fans,” Li said after being greeted at the Wuham Tianhe airport by a cheering home crowd.

The 29-year-old was also nominated for the Laureus “Breakthrough Player of the Year” award on Thursday showing just how far the veteran has come not only in tennis, but in the international world of sports.

The first day of the exhibition featured a square off between Li and Lisicki followed by mixed doubles with Li teaming up with Sampras and Lisicki pairing with Moya. On Sunday, the men will take court for their singles match followed by a reverse mixed doubles match.

After fighting off two match points to defeat Li at this year’s Wimbledon 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, Germany’s Lisicki again praised Li’s mark on tennis.

“I am delighted to have been included in the ‘Li Na and Friends’ event. Li Na and I had one of the best quality matches of Wimbledon 2011 and it is always a pleasure to play a champion — especially a reigning Grand Slam Champion like Li Na who is so friendly and professional, something all of China should be very proud of,”  said the 22-year-old.

After growing up watching Sampras on TV, Li shared how starstruck she was upon meeting one of her idols.

“I always admired his skills and play, but only saw him on TV. But during the China Open this year, I met him for the first time outside the locker room, and he said ’Hi, Li Na, I am Sampras. Congratulations for the French Open championship,’” said Li. ”After he was gone, I had to ask myself, ‘Did that really just happen?’”

Likewise, Sampras reciprocated the feelings of mutual respect.

“It’s good to be back,” said Sampras, referring to his third trip to China in three months. “I’m a friend of Li Na now, which is a great honour for me.”

Check out more photos from the exhibition tournament’s press conference in wintery China below. Massive log cake included!

(Sabine Lisicki/Na Li photo courtesy of Lisicki’s Facebook page; Press Conference photos courtesy of IMG; Rest from LiNaAndFriends.com)

Did partying cost Roger Federer his win over Novak Djokovic?!? We are not sure…

By Bob Stockton

Could a late night drinking binge from Roger Federer be the reason behind his collapse against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s epic US Open semifinal?

There were reports that a man looking strinkingly similar to Federer partying at the Whiskey Blue bar the W hotel drinking Macallan scotch and exhaustingly posting for photographs with adoring fans.

The truth is that Federer was snuggly in bed while Darren Cellemme of Hoboken, N.J. – a spitting image look-a-like of the five-time US Open champion – was playing the part of the Swiss tennis-playing maestro at the “Get Served” Party sponsored by Macallan Scotch and The Daily.

Cellemme was discovered by representatives of the U.S. Tennis Association in 2009 while tending bar at Charley O’s on 45th and 8th in Manhattan and has been featured in many news reports around the world and various promotions.

“It’s uncanny, really,” said Cellemme of his resemblance. “There’s not a day that goes by when someone doesn’t say, “Hey, you know who you look like?”

Cellemme fooled many attendees at “Get Served” and at one point caused for a small mob of cell phone camera toting admirers to rush the W Hotel lobby glass door to get glimpse and photo of the guy they believed to be Federer.

The following day, Federer lost one of the most famous US Open matches of all time, losing a two-sets-to-love lead and blowing two match points in losing to Djokovic 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 in the men’s semifinals.

All guests at “Get Served” were given a free year-long subscription to The Daily Ipad news application and copies of the New Chapter Press book “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection.”

Randy Walker and Roger Federer look a like

(photo caption: Randy Walker, publisher of the book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR
PERFECTION (www.RogerFedererBook.com) with Roger Federer look-a-like Darren
Cellemme)

Popcorn Tennis at the Australian Open 2011 – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Highs

The term “popcorn tennis” is often used to describe a scintillating match, and there has certainly been plenty of “popcorn tennis” in week 1 of the Aussie Open. The women’s side has seen a number of highly competitive matches that have resulted in more than one big upset, while the men’s side has enjoyed a slew of five-set thrillers, many that saw the victor emerge triumphant from being down two sets to none. While native Australian Lleyton Hewitt lost a heartbreaker to David Nalbandian in what might be the match of the tournament thus far (though the Federer vs. Simon match was also right up there), organizers and fans alike should expect to see more real gems heading towards the business end of the tournament as one of the Australian Open’s more entertaining opening weeks in recent memory draws to a close.

The Lows

As enjoyable as the opening week of the first major of the year has been, it hasn’t been without its blemishes either. Former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli suffered a tear in her calf and is expected to miss up to six weeks, while American Mardy Fish was diagnosed with a thyroid problem following his second round loss to Tommy Robredo. Then there was the shriek heard round the world when Venus Williams suffered a groin injury, which has to be disheartening given all of her recent injury woes. But the biggest low from this first week has to be the fifth-set performance put on by Janko Tipsarevic in his loss to Fernando Verdasco. Sure, Tipsarevic was understandably disappointed. He had won the first two sets and had held match points. But Tipsarevic wasn’t the first player this tournament to find himself in that situation, and no matter how deflated a player may be, barring injury, there’s no reason to just go away in the fifth set and start going through the motions. Tipsarevic didn’t even attempt to stick a racquet out on the return in the last game of the match. If a player is going to do that, they should just throw in the towel. It’s a waste of their time, their opponent’s time, and the fans’ time. It’s inexcusable.

The Bizarre

It’s not all that uncommon to see a player shatter a bat in baseball, but breaking your stick in tennis was all but unheard of. That is until Aggie Radwanska did just that in her tight three-set victory over Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm. The young Pole had been banging her racquet against the court in frustration just prior to the racquet head breaking away as she attempted a return. Not quite what a player wants to see happen at such a crucial juncture, but it’s a great way to make the Sports Center reel! Another incident occurred following Kim Clijsters’ dominant win over Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. During her on-court interview with Todd Woodbridge, Clijsters called out the Aussie doubles specialist on a text he sent to Australian player Rennae Stubbs that stated he thought Clijsters might be pregnant; his reasoning being “she looks really grumpy and her boobs look bigger.”Always ready for a laugh, Clijsters took the text in good humor while Woodbridge was both embarrassed and horrified, even joking it could be the end of his TV career. This would fall under the “hate” side of the relationship with technology.

No Shocker

No surprise when the announcement came that the International Tennis Hall of Fame will be inducting Andre Agassi later this year. There had been a tiny pocket of doubt regarding this outcome, as his admitted use of crystal meth did raise a few eyebrows among fans and pundits who questioned if this should impact his eligibility. But the Hall of Fame is there to recognize primarily what one has done as a player on the court, and with eight majors, several Tennis Masters shields, and other accolades, there’s no question he’s one of the game’s legends (and this should mean Hingis fans can take heart that this precedent should mean her shaky cocaine-use conviction shouldn’t preclude her enshrinement odds either). Agassi has also done good post-tennis between his school and other charity work. One just hopes that he truly does appreciate his election for what he’s achieved in a sport that has also given him so much and put him in the position to do his charitable work today, despite his insistence that he hates it.

It’s Official

The two-man Maria Sharapova coaching team of Thomas Hogstedt and Michael Joyce didn’t last long. Details are still a little fuzzy surrounding exactly how it all came apart, but when the dust settled, it was decided that it would just be Hogstedt coaching Sharapova. Sharapova explained the choice, stating that she just needed a fresh voice in her ear. She was quick to point out, however, that Joyce is like a brother to her, and that they are still close. Having spent nearly 10 years together, it’s not surprising reports circulated that the split had left Sharapova feeling a little unsettled. It hasn’t shown up too much in her game, though, and in the end, she’ll most likely find out the change is for the best.

Have Tennis in Your Life 365 Days a Year

Compiling information for more than 15 years, former U.S. Tennis Association press officer Randy Walker has published a compilation of significant anniversaries, summaries and anecdotes from the world of tennis in his book On This Day In Tennis History. Presented in a day-by-day format, the entries into this mini-encyclopedia include major tournament victory dates, summaries of the greatest matches, trivia, statistics as well as little-known and quirky happenings for every day of the calendar year.

On This Day In Tennis History is an informative guide that brings significant – and quirky – tennis matches and happenings from the past into the context of the present,” saidWalker. “It is uncanny the number of significant events in tennis history that occurred on other significant and appropriate anniversaries, such as Boris Becker and Michael Stich both winning their first Wimbledon titles on the birthday of the first great German tennis champion Gottfried von Cramm. It’s fun to pick up the book every day and read what happened on each day of the year.”

Some of the quirky and significant events documented by Walker include from February 5, 1985, when Ivan Lendl defeats Larry Stefanki 6-2, 6-0 in the first round of the Lipton Championships in Delray Beach, Fla., in a match that ends without an umpire or linesmen, from July 18, 1930 when Wilmer Allison saves a record 18 match points in his Davis Cup victory against Giorgio de Stefani of Italy and from April 28, 1968 when Ken Rosewall wins the first ever “Open” tournament, defeating fellow Aussie and fellow professional Rod Laver 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 in the final of the British Hard-Court Championships in Bournemouth, England.

Said former world No. 1 Jim Courier of “On This Day In Tennis History is a fun read that chronicles some of the most important—and unusual—moments in the annals of tennis. Randy Walker is an excellent narrator of tennis history and has done an incredible job of researching and compiling this entertaining volume.”

Walker is a New York-based sports marketer, publicist, writer and tennis historian. A 12-year veteran of the USTA’s Marketing and Communications Division, he served as the press officer for the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1997 to 2005 and for the U.S. Olympic tennis teams in 1996, 2000 and 2004. He also served as the long-time editor of the U.S. Open Record Book during his tenure at the USTA from 1993 to 2005.

On This Day In Tennis History is published by New Chapter Press, also the publisher of The Bud Collins History of Tennis. More information on the book can be found atwww.tennishistorybook.com.

Nadal And Djokovic Lose In Doubles

Was it really worth all that hype?

The super-duo of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Rogers Cup in the first round late last night at the hands of Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

The mostly unheard of Raonic/Pospisil pairing came back to win the match 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 in front of an electric opening night crowd at the Rexall Centre.

At only 19 and 20 years old respectively, Raonic and Pospisil defied the odds and somehow managed to avoid the nerves that must have accompanied sharing a court with the two top ranked players in the world.

Serving at 8-2 in the Super tie-break, Raonic and Pospisil appeared to have won the next point which would have given them six match points. Instead the chair umpire called Pospisil for touching the net prior to the point ending, thus giving the point to Nadal and Djokovic. The call seemed to temporarily rattle the Canadians as they allowed their more experienced opponents to bring the match all the way back to 9-8 with still one match point to try to capitalize upon. On that point they made no mistake and an authoritative Pospisil volley ended the match and allowed the two to walk out with their heads held high.

The Nadal/Djokovic partnership marks the first time since 1976 that the world’s top ranked singles players have joined forces in doubles on the ATP Tour. Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe were the last to do it and after last night’s result I wonder if it might be another 34 years before we see it again.

While it certainly created quite a buzz both here in Toronto and around the tennis world at large, the fact that the number one and two players joined forces is perplexing in many ways. Obviously Nadal and Djokovic get along quite well, as was further evidenced by their multiple practice sessions together here this week, but in an individualistic sport such as tennis you’d think teaming up with your greatest competition is a bit too close for comfort.

Roger Federer mentioned in his pre-tournament press conference yesterday that he never would have teamed up with Nadal during the height of their intense rivalry. Even though those two also got along reasonably well, the press had created such a build-up with their quest for Grand Slam glory and the number one ranking that it basically negated any possibility of a doubles partnership.

“Well, Rafa asked me a few years ago to play doubles in I think it was Madrid indoors…but then I think our rivalry was so intense, I just felt it was the wrong thing to do,” Federer revealed.

“It would have been great for the game, but I think it would have been a bit of a curveball for everybody. I don’t think the press would have enjoyed it so much. They want to put us against each other, not with each other.”

Nadal and Djokovic are in the infancy of their relationship as the best two players in the world and there is no guarantee it will last very long. Djokovic’s lead over Federer and Murray in the rankings is slim and he hasn’t had the most consistent year on tour. Maybe if their chase for the top ranking was narrower they would have thought twice before teaming up in Toronto.

Regardless, their experiment has ended prematurely and will now allow them both to concentrate on their singles play. For Nadal, he will open Wednesday night against the winner of the Frank Dancevic/Stan Wawrinka match that will close out the evening on Centre Court today. Djokovic will play Julien Benneteau of France tomorrow during the day session.

Fernando Verdasco: Press Conference & Match

In a match the lasted just over two and a half hours, Fernando Verdasco battled back to beat Michael Berrer in the second round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The final score was 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6). Berrer held two match points at 5-2 in the 2nd set but couldn’t close it. Verdasco unexpectedly kicked into fifth gear and won the next five games forcing a third set. It wasn’t pretty tennis and both had trouble returning each other’s first serve, but the crowd was exhilarated by the score.

In the first set, as explosive as his forehand was, Verdasco otherwise seemed tired and drained out of energy. But according to his press conference afterward he “woke up at 12:30pm today” and felt well-rested before the match. I then brought up whether a concert he attended of friend Alejandro Sanz the night before affected his play today. He stated that he “left at 10:30pm. By Spanish standards, that’s early!” I’ll admit I smiled, but for two reasons. One, he was charming and funny in the way he said it. Two, I had already checked the timestamp on his twitter and it didn’t quite support it. At midnight, he tweeted “Having dinner!” and just over an hour later came “Good night everybody!” It’s possible that the time may not have accurately tracked his current location on twitter, or perhaps he had just lost track of time and didn’t want to blame his less-than-stellar play on a late night out. In all fairness, the good eleven hours of sleep he did get should be sufficient recovery. Tennis players have a very unique schedule with matches and practices both early in and late into the day. Plus, it’s summer and he should be able to enjoy his time freely. I guess tennis players need to have some fun outside the courts too!

As the match progressed into the 3rd set, I found my head shaking again and again in doubt. Verdasco’s toss was horribly off. He would throw it too far behind him, let it drop and try again. It’s ok if this happened a couple of times. But no, this occurred at least a dozen times that I counted. I started imagining his future: the press and fans defining his entire game simply by his bad toss. The kind of bad dream that Ana Ivanovic had been in for a while where the more she tried, the further away she got from her serving goals. I cringed at the thought and tried to dispel it. But each time he threw a ball too far behind him again, I would find a few more faces in the crowd cringing with me. “I need Verdasco at the top of the rankings, we ALL need Verdasco.”

Thankfully, as errant as his toss was he still managed to serve decent. When asked about his toss in the press conference, he replied he had no problems really. He said that several times the wind picked up on-court and he stopped the ball instead of serving it. He also claimed that the “people moving” in the crowd disrupted his concentration when he tossed it a few times and he let it go as well. This was a surprising answer. Actually one I had never thought of or heard of before. Every match has ‘people moving’ around. They are the ones who pay to watch the players play. It seems a bit out of the ordinary to cite that as a reason for the horribly-constructed toss. But then again, I should take his word for it instead of speculating that he is having problems. He did mention that he was having a hard time seeing the ball in the third set because it was getting quite dark and he hadn’t played a night match in the humidity in a while. It was actually his first time in Washington, D.C. and I won’t shy away from the fact that it has been quite muggy lately.

Verdasco was then asked “Why decide to play D.C. this year, and not before?” I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the reasoning behind his scheduling. When he had played Davis Cup in France last month, he hurt his ankle slightly and even played Bastad still injured. The following week, he then had to pull out of Gstaad with a microtear in his hamstring. He looked into the schedule, wanting to play a 500-level tournament this month to make up for those missed points, and decided to come to D.C. for the first time as a wildcard. Sometimes I sit and wonder how players decide which tournaments to play and when to take vacation, so this was an enlightening inside look as to how it’s done on the tour from one player’s perspective. I respect his and all player’s match schedules as most tennis fans do. The ATP calendar really is a grueling and long one and a few weeks missed can bump you down in the rankings significantly, especially if it’s injury related. Just take note of Juan Martin del Potro whose last match was at the Australian Open in January and who, just this week, picked up a racquet after more than six months of being away from tennis because of a wrist injury that needed surgery. I can’t stop wondering whether he’ll ever be able to play at 100% capacity as before. I’m hopeful, as are many, but only time will tell. And it’s time that gets more and more precious for these players. No wonder Verdasco tries to enter as many tournaments in a year as his body can handle.

One last interesting thing of note from the press conference was regarding the relative non-existence of other Spaniards in the Legg Mason field. Among the Spaniards he referred to, one mention caught my attention in particular. And that is the story behind Feliciano Lopez actually wanting to come and play in D.C. this year as well. What happened and why didn’t he? Well, as Verdasco put it, “Feli” had asked the ATP to sign him up for Legg Mason and quite frankly they “forgot” to. I’m not sure how this works, but Verdasco seemed disappointed as the two are great friends on and off the court. Feli has played in years past and it seemed fitting for the two friends to enjoy the tournament together. We missed out on what could have been another venerated doubles team .

All in all, as nerve-wrecking as his match was for a spectator to watch, he was calm and collected in his press conference afterward. He seems to have the attitude that “nothing is wrong” on-court and everything can be handled. That’s an admirable mindset to have when you’re hitting well and winning. However, it can be a tricky position when your game begins to falter. His misplaced toss and weaker-than-usual return game and footwork could be a sign of troubles to come. It might have just been a bad day at the office, but it’s something to be vigilant of in the future. Keeping an eye on his injuries and possibly cutting back on his full schedule could alleviate this rollercoaster of stellar performance followed by a mediocre one. We want to see his best tennis but, more importantly, we want him healthy.

Verdasco has something else to be proud of and that is his fan support. On his first day of practice when he first arrived, there were two dozen people watching him. The day following his first match, he became a star. A pleasant guy off-the-court, he loves interacting with fans and enjoys their words of support. His forehand and court presence are as immense as they are exhilarating. Next time you have a chance to see Verdasco live, don’t pass up the opportunity!

Anna Chakvetadze Is On A Roll!

With our photographer Ralf Reinecke still in Portoroz the photos just keep coming.  Anna Chakvetadze is doing some good business here and it shows in her results:

Anna Chakvetadze beat sixth-seeded Vera Dushevina 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 after saving two match points in an all-Russian quarterfinal.

Chakvetadze will face seventh-seeded Polona Hercog of Slovenia—the only seeded player left at the tournament—who defeated Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland, 7-5, 7-5.

(Source AP)

Let’s hope that this will be a jumpstart to new success for AnnaChak!

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FEDERER DEBUTS, GORAN PUKES, GILBERT IS UGLY, GUGA SAYS GOODBYE

May 25 is chock full of historic – and interesting – happenings in tennis history. Here’s a list as it appears in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

1999 – Ranked No. 111 in the world, 17-year-old Roger Federer plays in his first main draw match at a major tournament at the French Open, losing to two-time reigning U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter of Australia 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. Writes Rene Stauffer in the book The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection, “He (Roger) jumped out to win the first set against the world’s No. 3-ranked player who then was at the peak of his career. However, the sun came out and the conditions became warmer and faster. The clay courts dried out and balls moved much faster through the court. The Australian’s attacking serve-and-volley style seemed to run on automatic and he won in four sets. ‘The young man from Switzerland could be one of the people who will shape the next ten years,’ the French sports newspaper L’Equipe wrote during the tournament. Rafter shared the same opinion. “The boy impressed me very much,” he said. “If he works hard and has a good attitude, he could become an excellent player.’”

2004 – Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement finish play in the longest-recorded match in tennis history in the first round of the French Open as Santoro edges Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14 in 6 hours, 33 minutes. The match is played over two days and is suspended from the previous day with the two playing for 4:38 the previous day – stopping at 5-5 in the fifth-set – and for 1:55 the second day. Santoro saves two match points during the marathon – one on each day. The first match point comes with Santoro serving at 4-5 in the fifth set on day one and the second comes at 13-14 on the second day. Says Santoro, “I came very close to defeat, it’s a miracle. I tried to stay relaxed on the important points and if it looked that way, then I did a good job because I was very tense.” Santoro and Clement break the previous record – curiously held by two women in a straight-set best-of-three match – held by Vicki Nelson-Dunbar and Jean Hepner, who played for 6 hours, 31 minutes in the first round of the WTA event in Richmond, Va., in 1984, Nelson-Dunbar winning 6-4, 7-6 (13-11). Says Clement of establishing the new record, “”I don’t care. What do I get? A medal? There may be an even longer match tomorrow. I don’t play tennis to spend as much time possible on court.”

1976 – Adriano Panatta saves an astonishing 11 match points in defeating Kim Warwick of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the first round of the Italian Championships. The result becomes even more significant when Panatta goes on to win the title, defeating Guillermo Vilas in the final.

1958 – In one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the French Championships, Robert Haillet of France beats 1950 French champion Budge Patty, 5-7; 7-5, 10-8, 4-6, 7-5 in the fourth round after Patty serves at 5-0, 40-0 in the fifth set and holds four match points.

1993 – Three-time French Open champion Ivan Lendl experiences one of the worst losses of his career, losing 3-6, 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (2) to No. 297th ranked qualifier Stephane Huet of France in the first round of the French Open. The match marks the first ATP level match victory for Huet, against Lendl’s 1,027 match victories. It was also Huet’s first Grand Slam match against Lendl’s 51 Grand Slam events.

1993 – Brad Gilbert wins his first match at the French Open in six years, registering a two-day 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 10-8 first-round victory over fellow American Bryan Shelton. Gilbert and Shelton share 87 unforced errors in the three-hour-and-52-minute match. Says Gilbert, the author of the book Winning Ugly after the match, “It was a chapter out of my book…Unequivocally ugly.”

1928 – George Lott defeats China’s Paul Kong 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 in the Davis Cup second round in Kansas City, Mo., to become the first U.S. Davis Cup player to win a match without losing a game. Lott would register another triple-bagel in Davis Cup play in 1930 against Mexico’s Ignacio de la Borbolla. Frank Parker is the only other American to win a Davis Cup match without losing a game, turning the trick in 1946 against Felicismo Ampon of the Philippines.

1993 – Goran Ivanisevic overcomes throwing up on court in the first set to defeat Franco Davin of Argentina 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the French Open.

2005 – No. 2 seed Andy Roddick is eliminated in the second round of the French Open, blowing a two-sets-to-love lead in his 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 8-6 loss to Argentina’s Jose Acasuso.

2008 – Three-time French Open singles champion and former world No. 1 Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten bids goodbye to tennis, playing the final singles match of his career losing to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round at Roland Garros. Kuerten plays the match wearing the canary yellow and blue outfit he wore when he won the first of three French titles in 1997, but due to the wear and tear at this ailing hip, the 31-year-old was unable to compete at the same level that saw him rise to the world’s No. 1 ranking in 2000. Says Kuerten following the match, “I think I’m very satisfied, especially with the memories that are going to stick with me from this match. I thought I played much better than I expected, and there wasn’t a single shot I didn’t make. I played forehand, backhands, serve, drop shots, volley. I did everything I think I was able to do in the past, just not with the same frequency. But at least I had the feeling to do it once more.”

AROUND THE CORNER: MIAMI MASTERS

Fresh off from a very intriguing tournament in India Wells, the ATP Tour now heads east to Miami for the next Masters 1000 event – the Sony Ericsson Open. Anyone willing to put money on another Roddick/Ljubicic final? Didn’t think so.

Well for starters the two are paired in the same half of the draw, so a meeting in the finals in Miami is a physical impossibility. I somehow doubt anyone would have guessed the 31 year old Ljubicic would have had such an amazing run in a big event like Indian Wells, and yet he captured his fist Masters Series event by defeating top-level talent like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and then Andy Roddick. A nice feather in his cap as retirement draws nearer, but not something that will be repeated.

Instead look for a big name like Murray (the defending champ) or Djokovic (winner in 2007) to capture the title in Miami.

In the top half of the draw we have world number one Roger Federer who still is shaking off the rust from a month and a half layoff after winning the Australian Open. Federer lost a match against Marcos Baghdatis in the third round at Indian Wells that he led 4-1 in the third set and had several match points as well. That can only be chalked-up to inactivity. Federer might need a bit more time to get back to his usual self out there, so don’t expect a big run in Miami – but don’t count him out either! Federer has a first round bye and then a pretty easy go until a potential fourth round meeting with Tomas Berdych.

Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic are two players who could cause Federer some trouble in his quarter of the draw and both will be looking to post a good result for the first time since the Aussie Open. Verdasco is 3-3 since winning in San Jose in February while Cilic has cooled considerably since starting the year with two titles and his first Slam semi-final.

Andy Murray heads up the other quarter in the top section of the draw and it is definitely time that he stepped up his game. After losing his second Slam final to Federer in Australia, Murray tanked in Dubai and was then beaten in straight sets last week against Robin Soderling. I’m not sure why Murray has played such a light schedule in 2010, perhaps he really does spend too much time playing video games. Either way, he is due for a title and what better place to grab one than in the exact spot he did a year ago. Murray’s draw should allow him to advance to the quarters before being tested, perhaps again, by Soderling.

In the bottom half of the draw look for quarter final matches between Tsonga/Nadal and Djokovic/Roddick. Tournament organizers will certainly be hoping for those outcomes. Tsonga has been quiet since the Aussie Open but has a nice section of the draw where his toughest competition will come from Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Isner. Nadal looked fit at Indian Wells and should be able to at least make it through to the quarters here in Miami. A returning David Nalbandian is in his section but the Argentine has a long way to go in his return from injury before being considered a threat. Let’s hope Rafa can stay healthy because the tour is much more interesting when he is in the mix.

Djokovic should advance in his section as should Roddick – although I wonder if the American is due for a slip-up after starting the year so strongly. A guy like Igor Andreev could trouble him in the early-goings.

Enjoy this last hard-court tournament before the clay-court season gets started next week at three European locations. The lead-up to the French Open is just around the corner.

FEDERER-MURRAY TIE-BREAKER HISTORY; BRYANS MAKE HISTORY

Roger Federer and Andy Murray’s third-set tie-breaker in their 2010 Australian Open men’s final was second-longest tie-breaker ever played in major men’s final – only the epic Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe 32-point “Battle of 18-16” tie-breaker 30 years ago in the 1980 Wimbledon final lasting longer. Federer saved off five set points in the third-set tie-breaker in his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) victory. The five longest tie-breakers ever in men’s singles finals at Grand Slam tournaments are as follows;

Wimbledon 1980: Bjorn Borg def. John McEnroe 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7(16) 8-6… Mac saved 7 match points (5 in TB)

Australian Open 2010: Roger Federer def. Andy Murray 6-3 6-4 7-6(11)… Fed saved 5 set points in TB

Wimbledon 2000: Pete Sampras def. Patrick Rafter 6-7(10) 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2… Pat saved 2 set points in TB

US Open 1976: Jimmy Connors def. Bjorn Borg 6-4 3-6 7-6(9) 6-4… Jimmy saved 4 set points in TB

Wimbledon 1998: Pete Sampras def. Goran Ivanisevic 6-7(2) 7-6(9) 6-4 3-6 6-2… Pete saved 2 set points in TB

The first two sets were more one-sided than the score line would suggest, especially the second set when Federer broke Murray’s serve only once, despite a 40-15 and 40-0 lead in two other service games of the Brit. In the third set, Murray broke Federer’s serve for the second time in the match (first one at 0:2 in the first set) and led 5:2, later was two points away from taking the set at 5:3 on serve. In the tie-breaker, Murray had five set points (6:4, 6:5, 7:6, 9:8, 11:10) and saved two match points, at 9:10 in a spectacular way with a passing-shot off of Federer’s drop shot. The Swiss maestro converted his third match point to improve his all-time record 16 Grand Slam triumphs in singles. Federer won fourth Australian Open (2004, 2006-2007) what gives him second place Down Under right after Roy Emerson, who won six times between 1961 and 1967. For Murray, it was the longest tie-break of his pro career, while Federer won three longer tie-breaks (14-12 against Martin Verkerk, 16-14 against David Ferrer and a record 20-18 against Marat Safin).

“I always knew it was going to be a very intense match,” said Federer. “I’m happy I was able to play so aggressively and patiently at the same time because that’s what you got to be against Murray.”

* Murray is now the eighth player in the Open Era with a 0-2 record in Grand Slam finals joining two-time Aussie Open finalist Steve Denton, Wimbledon and Aussie Open finalist Kevin Curren, U.S. and Australian finalist Miloslav Mecir, U.S. and Wimbledon finalist Cedric Pioline, U.S. and Australian finalist Todd Martin, two-time French finalist Alex Corretja and Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist Mark Philippoussis. There is a strong analogy between Murray, Mecir and Pioline as only these three players have not won a set in a major final, and all three reached finals at two different majors and lost to the same best player on both occasions at three different periods of time:

1986 US Open: Ivan Lendl (1) def. Mecir (16) 6-4 6-2 6-0
1989 Australian Open: Lendl (2) def. Mecir (9) 6-2 6-2 6-2

1993 US Open: Pete Sampras (1) def. Pioline (16) 6-4 6-4 6-3
1997 Wimbledon: Sampras (1) def. Pioline 6-4 6-2 6-4

2008 US Open: Federer (2) def. Murray (6) 6-2 7-5 6-2
2010 Australian Open: Federer (1) def. Murray (5) 6-3 6-4 7-6(11)

“Tonight’s match was a lot closer than the one at Flushing Meadows,” said Murray, comparing his first and second major finals. “I had a chance at the beginning of the match, and I had chances at the end of the match.

* In doubles, the Bryan brothers beat Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 in their record-breaking 16th career major final as a team. The Bryans eclipsed Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde – the Woodies – who reached 15 major finals from 1992 to 2000, according to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS book ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com.) The title was the eighth major for the American identical twins – their fourth in Australia – and leave them four shy of equaling the record set by John Newcombe and Tony Roche for most majors won by a team with 12 titles (four Australian, two French, five Wimbledon and one U.S. title won from 1965 to 1976). Woodbridge and Woodforde won the most major doubles titles by a team in the Open Era with 11 titles (two Australian, one French, six Wimbledon and two U.S. titles).

The Bryans were close to clinch the match in straight sets but wasted a 5:2 lead in the tie-break. The Americans have won four Australian Open titles, which is an Open Era record for a team. The all-time record belongs to Adrian Quist and John Bromwich, who won the Australian title eight times between1938-1950.

* Leander Paes won his 11th career major title when he paired with Cara Black to win the mixed doubles final with a 7-5, 6-3 decision over the Russian-Czech duo of Ekaterina Makarova and Jaroslav Levinsky. Paes won his fifth mixed doubles title in a major – two each with both Black and Martina Navratilova and once with Lisa Raymond. He won six majors in men’s doubles.

* Murray avenged his loss to Marin Cilic from last year’s U.S. Open by defeating his Croatian opponent 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinals. It was the third meeting between the two players in the last four majors but two previous occurred in the fourth round: Murray won in straight sets in Paris, while Cilic did the same thing to Murray in New York, when Murray was seeded No. 2. In Australia this year, the Brit won 10 of last 13 games in the match. “This is the best I’ve played at a Slam,” said Murray. “Obviously the match against Rafa [Nadal] was great. Tonight, the majority of the match was great, as well. Physically I’m going to be fresh for the final. You know, [it] just comes down to who plays the better tennis on the day. It’s my job to do that.”

* Federer did not face break point in his 88-minute 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals. Tsonga had an identical score line (116 minutes) when he won his semifinal two years ago against Rafael Nadal.

* Cilic was the first Croatian to ever reach the semifinals of the Australian Open. Other Croats who reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne were Goran Ivanisevic (1989, 94, 97), Goran Prpic (1991) and Ivan Ljubicic (2006). Cilic was the fifth player in the Open era to win three five-setters en route to the semifinal in Melbourne, after Colin Dibley (1979), Steve Denton (1981), Andre Agassi (1996) and Nicolas Escude (1998). Nicolas Lapentti needed four five-setters to advance to the semis in Australian in 1999.