Medibank International

The WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul are about to begin

My motto has always been: Why be the best of the best when you can be the best of the rest?  But apparently the WTA Tour and ATP Tour have other ideas about that. That is why we are having the WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul. The best eight players of the 2011 season will come together one more time to compete and show the world who really is the best of the 2011 season.

But even with a winner this year, how certain can we say that it is indeed the best player of the 2011 season?  It has been a long season and I guess we can say that  it is not so much about skill anymore at this stage but more about determination and will.

To analyze the tournament we will just go by seeds.  From top to bottom.

Caroline Wozniacki (no. 1 seed)

Caroline Wozniacki was off to a great start of the 2011 season. She reached the semis at the Australian Open and won in Dubai and Indian Wells. She was ousted in the second round at the Medibank International but as the season progressed started the feel the pressure of being a slamless number one. And ofcourse she has been distracted by boyfriend Rory McIlroy as well. Losing in first rounds and midnight sessions with the boyfriend on her phone cost her dearly and she has not played up to her potential at all in the second part of the season and my guess is that she will have trouble getting past the round robin stage. Better luck next year.

Maria Sharapova (no. 2 seed)

Maria Sharapova is a special case. She has won three out of four slams in her career but the last couple of years and was a title favorite at the French Open 2011 after winning in Rome. She would have completed her career Grand Slam if she indeed had won the French Open. It was not meant to be as she was ousted by later French Open winner Na Li.  Before Rome she was written off by many people who said that she will never win another slam or be that player who indeed won slams and while it has been a while ago that Sharapova won  one, I wouldn’t write her off and in fact her bid for a next Grand Slam title could start right here in Istanbul.

Petra Kvitova (no. 3 seed)

While many people were surprised by her taking Wimbledon, I have to admit that I am not surprised at all. With a strong display in Madrid at the Mutua Open I was convinced that it was only a matter of time to see her win a Grand Slam tournament and it happened in London. Her statistics haven’t been great ever since that Wimbledon win but I saw her play a few weeks ago in Linz and I saw a strong and confident Petra Kvitova: A force to be reckoned with!

Victoria Azarenka  (no. 4 seed)

Victoria Azarenka. I have long waited  for her to win her first major but it is yet to happen. She is definitely a contender in any Slam she plays in but just misses that final piece. Nevertheless with great wins at the Sony Ericsson Open and great runs at the French Open and Wimbledon this lady just won’t give up until she has won that Grand Slam. And it can’t be soon enough for me.  She has had a good run in Luxembourg by defeating Monica Niculescu in the finals. It looks to be a good rehearsal for the Istanbul tournament.  It is too bad that Azarenka is prone to injury or she would have perhaps won tournaments this season.

Li Na (no. 5 seed)

Li Na was my personal heroine this year after she won the French Open. The first female Asian player but she kind of fell off the radar after that. With early round losses and simply returning to her sloppy form between the Australian Open and the French Open I don’t have high expectations for this great player. In fact I am hoping for a first round loss to put her out of her misery.

Vera Zvonareva (no. 6 seed)

Vera Zvonareva had two great seasons in a row in 2009 and 2010. She is not having her best season this year but I reckon it is tough to stay on top of your game for three years in a row. The season slump has already set in and her two consecutive losses to Agnieszka Radwanska aren’t doing her any good either. Zvonareva is not a contender this year but she may be able to surprise us with a win here  and there. Who knows?

Sam Stosur (no.7 seed)

Samantha Stosur did what many fans hoped she would do one day: Win a Grand Slam tournament. She came close at the French Open  a few years ago but the US Open fell prey to her this year and it was a great and well deserved victory versus hot title favorite Serena Williams.  I am undecided if she can win the Istanbul tournament. Her stats after the Open win aren’t that good but I do hope that she gets her act together and shows us one more time this season  why we cheered for her for years.

Agnieszka Radwanska (no. 8 seed)

Agnieska Radwanska is the lucky loser. She got into the tournament after Marion Bartoli decided to withdraw. Does lucky loser mean anything? It means that you are the underdog in every match and with that Radwanska can thrive under it. Just like she is the kind of top 10 player who  always seems to fly under the radar until you see her win tournaments. She might just be the tournament revelation.

The groups are set

The players are divided in two groups, the red group and the white group.

The Red Group

The red group harbors the following players:

Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Vera Zvonareva, Agnieszka Radwanska

The White Group

While the white group contains the following:

Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, Samantha Stosur

 

GASQUET, BAGHDATIS, ISNER AND CLEMENT IN PRE-OZ OPEN FINALS

Richard Gasquet advanced to his first tournament final following his drug suspension and successful appeal, defeating Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals of the MediBank International in Sydney. Gasquet saved triple set- point in the second set and has yet to lose a set this week.

He will face Marcos Baghdatis, who overcame Mardy Fish 6-4, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5) after a three-hour battle. Baghdatis wasted a match point in the second set tie-break only to recover from a break down twice in the final set.

In Auckland, John Isner advanced to the final, defeating Albert Montanes 6-2, 7-6, one year after being Monanes 7-6 7-5 in the first round at the same event. The American giant meets next Arnaud Clement who surprisingly ousted the 2008 champ, Philip Kohlschreiber 6-3 7-6.

“I am very happy to be in the final again,” said Clement. “Since 1997, I have played between 23-30 tournaments a year and I have only been in ten finals, so of course it is special to be in a final”.

BAGHDATIS NETS REVENGE WIN OVER HEWITT

There are no seeds left after quarterfinals at Medibank International in Sydney as local favorite Lleyton Hewitt, the only seeded player in quarterfinals, was defeated Thursday 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to Marcos Baghdatis.

“The first set and a half I was hitting the ball pretty well, and I was happy with my ball striking,” said Hewitt. “Even after that, my ball striking wasn’t too bad.”

The match was a re-match of a famous match where Hewitt beat Baghdatis two years ago in Melbourne in latest finish match ever (4:34 AM). In the semifinals, Baghdatis will play Mardy Fish. The American ousted the other Aussie, Peter Luczak, 7-6, 6-2 in the night match.

In Auckland, Albert Montanes advanced to his first hard-court semifinal after 6-3, 6-3 over qualifier Michael Lammer. He meets next John Isner, who reached first semifinal outside United States by upseeting No. 1 seed Tommy Robredo 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4, recovering from 1-3 in the third set.

JELENA JANKOVIC LOSES IN FIRST ROUND BUT STILL LOOKS GOOD ON PHOTO!

Jelena Jankovic has lost her first round match versus Agnes Szavay (5-7, 6-1, 7-5)  at the Medibank International in Sydney. It’s quite the surprise but judging from the scoreline, she really did try. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.  And hopefully she will do better at the Australian Open next week. Personally that’s what I am hoping for.

Anyway since we won’t get to see any photos of Jelena Jankovic anymore, unless it’s her training in Melbourne, I am just going to spoil you with the following images submitted to me.

As an extra added bonus I have added a photo of Jelena and Ana Ivanovic in bikinis.

Oh and I inserted another poll in this one too. Let us know what you think and cast a vote!

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ELENA DEMENTIEVA INCIDENTALLY

I wish I knew then what I know now. That’s pretty much my opinion when it comes to Elena Dementieva. As I am writing this I am staring at her photos from the Medibank International in Sydney. Two photos in particular draw my attention. It’s the two dark shots.

In the meantime Dementieva has told the press that she found the Hopman Cup in Perth as an ideal preparation and a good way to get her going in the 2010 season.

“I had some good matches here, — singles and also mixed doubles — and it is good for your confidence to be playing real matches, but also to be able to relax and enjoy them,” she said.

“I think it was good preparation — we had done all the hard work already off the court.

“Now it is just about playing points and matches and feeling your game.”

I am seriously hoping that she can win a slam this year. I know her nervosity on critical moments is a problem but I am hoping she will get over it. In my view she should have won a slam many moons ago.

I am actually even going to insert a little poll here, just because I am curious about your opinions. Will Dementieva ever win a slam before she retires? Cast your votes after the photos!

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GASQUET TOPS LOPEZ; MAYER SAVES FIVE MATCH POINTS

Richard Gasquet and Leonardo Mayer had salient wins on the opening day of the MediBank International in Sydney Monday. Gasquet, in his full comeback from battling cocaine drug charges last year, beat Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-4, while Mayer saved two match points in beating Igor Andreev 6-7(7) 6-3 7-6(4).

Gasquet extended his head-to-head record to 5-0 against the Spanish Davis Cup star. “I played well last year with semi-final in this tournament, so I’m happy to be here and to win the first match.” said Gasquet.

Mayer, from Argentina, handed Andreev his fifth defeat in a row in a final set tie-break and his fifth defeat after wasting match points in last 13 months.

In Auckland at the Heineken Open, only three matches were played on Monday. In one of them, hometown pupil, Jose (Rubin) Statham won his first career ATP match beating fellow New Zealander King-Turner 6-2 7-5.

Molik, Heather Watson Aspiring For Greater Heights: Tennis in the Commonwealth

By Leigh Sanders

*Former world No. 8, Australia’s Alicia Molik, reached the final of the Cliffs Esperance Tennis International Pro Tour event before finally being derailed by top seed Olivia Rogowska. It was her fourth pro tour final since coming out of retirement in September. In the men’s final, Aussie Matt Ebden overcame John Millman 6-3, 6-4.

*British tennis starlet Heather Watson of Guernsey was eliminated in the first round of the singles at the Tevlin Challenger Event at the Rexall Centre in Toronto. She was defeated by1999 Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson 2-6, 4-6. In the doubles, Watson and partner Julia Boserup lost to the Canadian duo Gabriela Dobrowski and Rebecca Marino. Despite her early exit in Toronto, Watson has made the final three in the running for the 2009 BBC Young Sport’s Personality of the Year award. The acclaimed accolade honours sportsmen and women who achieve sporting heroics in the calendar year and the Young Personality award goes to up and coming stars of the future. The US Open junior girls champion faces stiff competition from world driving champion Tom Daly and double world youth sprint gold medallist Jodie Williams. Andy Murray picked up the award in 2004.

*The prestigious Queens Club in England was celebrating a coup this week after US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro committed himself to the pre-Wimbledon tournament until 2012 in a bid to improve his grass court game for Wimbledon. Andy Murray picked up his first grass-court title by winning at Queens this summer before losing a heartbreaking semifinal at Wimbledon to American Andy Roddick.

*French Open Champion and WTA No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova has confirmed she will begin her 2010 season at the Medibank International Sydney, Australia, following Serena Williams, defending champion Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka in doing so. On the men’s side, home favourite Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Marcos Bagdhatis are already confirmed. The event takes place at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre from Sunday 10 to Saturday 16 January 2010.

*While over in Brisbane, Australia, Nadia Petrova has added her name to an already impressive cast at the Brisbane International warming themselves up for the 2010 Australian Open. The world No. 20 in singles and 16 in doubles joins Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina and Jelena Dokic in what should be a tasty event. On the men’s side, Andy Roddick, Gael Monfils, James Blake and Giles Simon have pencilled in the event for their early 2010 schedule.

*This week’s ATP World Tour singles rankings saw no movement in the world’s Top 40 players. Australia’s Peter Luczak climbs a place to 78 while compatriot Carsten Ball does the same to 137 and Chris Guccione in 139. India’s Somdev Devvarman drops two to 124 and Frank Dancevic of Canada drops 12 to 144.

*In the ATP doubles rankings, all the Commonwealth players in the Top 10 were safe as there was no movement. However, Australia’s Ashley Fisher climbed two places to 41 and his compatriot Carsten Ball dropped four to 61 and Chris Guccione dropped one to 67. Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi climbed up one to 59 and Jeff Coetzee of South Africa dropped a place to 69.

*British Paralympic Champion Peter Norfolk took the world No. 1 slot by regaining his quad singles title at the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters. He beat the American world No. 1 David Wagner 6-2, 7-5 in the final to leapfrog him in the rankings. Norfolk had already beaten Wagner in the pool stage as well as Paralympic silver medallist Johan Andersson.

* Canadian duo Maureen Drake and Marianne Jodoin defeated compatriots Sharon Fichman and American Mashona Washington after world No. 97 Fichman was forced to retire when 3-2 up in the first set. It is the third year in a row an all-Canadian team has triumphed at the event.

*British women’s’ No. 2 Elena Baltacha has bounced back from injury to glide through the first round of the $75k event in Toyota, Japan. She beat the Japanese player Misaki Doi 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1 and will face Korea’s So-Jung Kim in the next round. Meanwhile, at the €106.5k ATP Challenger Event in Helsinki, Finland, Alex Bogdanovic saw first round defeat after going down 6-7(0), 4-6 to Switzerland’s Stephane Bohli.

*Slovak-born Jarmila Groth has been granted Australian citizenship following a ceremony at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Up to now, she has been unable to represent her adopted homeland other than in the four Grand Slam events but she is now cleared to play Fed Cup and play under the Australian flag in all other events on the WTA Tour. Earlier this year, she married fellow tennis pro Sam Groth and reached a career-high No. 57 on the WTA rankings. She has formerly represented Slovakia in the Fed Cup in 2003 and her best tour result to date is a semifinal at the Japan Open in 2008.

*The well-loved British tennis commentator Max Robertson has sadly passed away aged 94 on his home island of Guernsey. After serving in World War II he joined the BBC in 1946 and his post-war tennis commentaries live long in the memory of those who were guided through the action by Robertson. As well as tennis, he was the first reporter at the 1948 Winter Olympics in Switzerland as well as gaining fame away from sport on BBC’s famed investigative journalist program ‘Panorama’ and the antiques programme ‘Going for a Song.’ He was also an accomplished author and poet.

*Tennis Canada has announced that the recently retired Frederic Niemayer has been added to their coaching team to coach hot Canadian prospect Milos Raonic. In another coup for the organization, an announcement has been made that the Tennis Matters benefactors Mike and Nicole Tevlin have made a second $500,000 pledge. A new event named the Tevlin Open will now be held in their honour.

Mondays with Bob Greene: I’m chasing a lot of records

STARS

David Nalbandian beat Jarkko Nieminen 6-3 6-7 (9) 6-2 to win the Medibank International men’s singles in Sydney, Australia

Juan Martin del Potro beat Sam Querrey 6-4 6-4, winning the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand

Elena Dementieva won the Medibank International women’s singles, beating Dinara Safina 6-3 2-6 6-1 in Sydney, Australia

Petra Kvitova beat Iveta Benesova 7-5 6-1 to win the Moorilla Hobart International in Hobart, Australia

Roger Federer won the AAMI exhibition event in Melbourne, Australia, beating Stanislas Wawrinka 6-1 6-3

SAYING

“New season, big opportunities for me. I’m chasing a lot of records.” – Roger Federer, who needs only one more Grand Slam tournament singles title to tie Pete Sampras with a men’s record 14.

“I was hoping for a good start but I couldn’t imagine I was going to win two titles.” – Elena Dementieva, who won the Medibank International in Sydney, Australia, to go with the title she won the week before in Auckland, New Zealand.

“I don’t know if I can call her a friend anymore. We are sharing a room, but I think I will kick her out tonight.” – Iveta Benesova, joking after losing to her roommate Petra Kvitova in the final of the Hobart International.

“It’s very good. I mean, winning a tournament before (the Australian Open) is almost perfect to arrive.” – David Nalbandian, who beat Jarkko Nieminen to win the Medibank International men’s title.

“The livestock industry in Melbourne is well developed and it impresses me that there are so many flies here. But since it is so hot, the flies get tired here and do not feel like flying much!” – Sun Tiantian, writing in her blog on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour website.

“In Serbia we don’t have the best facilities in the world, especially in wintertime it’s very hard for to us train. But we are really hungry and motivated to do well. The three of us that have achieved and came to the top of the tennis game, we all did it in different ways, going to different places and really wanted to become the best that we can be.” – Jelena Jankovic, on the fact that she, Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic give Serbia three of the world’s top players.

“The ATP Board believes it has secured a new leader with the necessary strategic vision, operational strength and international perspective.” – ATP tournament board representative Graham Pearce in announcing Adam Helfant as the new head of the men’s professional tennis tour.

SELES TO HALL

Monica Seles is the newest member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The nine-time Grand Slam singles champion will be inducted into the shrine at ceremonies on July 11 in Newport, Rhode Island. Also being inducted will be Andres Gimeno of Spain, a star in the 1960s; pioneer marketer Donald Dell and the late Robert Johnson, who was instrumental in the development of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Seles won the 1991 and 1992 US Opens, the 1990-1992 French Opens and 1991-1993 and 1996 Australian Opens. In 1990 she became the youngest French Open champion in history at 16½ years.

SUPER START

Elena Dementieva is off to a tremendous start in 2009. She beat fellow Russian Dinara Safina 6-3 2-6 6-1 to win the Medibank International in Sydney, Australia, her second title in two weeks. She had won in Auckland, New Zealand, the week before. With the 13th title of her career, Dementieva increased her match record to 10-0 this year. She is currently ranked a career-high number four in the world and at Sydney beat two top three players at the same tournament for the second time in her career. Besides Safina, who is ranked number three in the world, Dementieva also bested second-ranked Serena Williams. Safina has now lost her last three matches to Dementieva, including last year’s Olympic singles final in Beijing.

STRUCK DOWN

Nicolas Kiefer is out of the Australian Open before it begins. The German withdrew from the year’s first Grand Slam tournament after suffering an injury to his left ankle while playing in the Hopman Cup. A semifinalist at the Australian Open in 2006, Kiefer had been scheduled to play Argentina’s Guillermo Canas in the opening round. He was replaced in the draw by another German, qualifier Dieter Kindlmann.

SUSPENDED 1

Italy’s Filippo Volandri has been banned for three months by the International Tennis Federation for abusing an asthma drug. In making the announcement, the Italian Tennis Federation said Volandri’s use of salbutamol was deemed beyond therapeutic needs. The ban began last week and will end April 14. Ranked 109th in the world, Valandri was to face Mario Ancic of Croatia in the opening round of the Australian Open. His spot has been taken by American qualifier Wayne Odesnik. Volandri failed a drug test last March at a tournament in Indian Wells, California. The ITF also announced that all of Volandri’s results from March 13 on will be voided and he also will forfeit USD $166,000 in prize money he won and ATP points earned.

SUSPENDED 2

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, has upheld the two-year doping ban given to Spanish tennis player Laura Pous Tio. She tested positive for banned drugs during the 2007 Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Her ban started in October 2007, but she appealed to the CAS. The CAS also upheld the disqualification of Pous Tio’s results from the Wimbledon qualifying tournament and subsequent events. The 24-year-old, who had a career-high ranking of 75th in the world in 2005, will be eligible to play again in October 2009.

SWITCHING DATES?

The top men believe that moving the Australian Open to February would make more sense. Lleyton Hewitt doesn’t agree. Roger Federer said moving the year’s first Grand Slam tournament to a few weeks later would let the players work into the new year more gradually. He was joined by Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. However, Australian Open organizers don’t want to move the tournament back because the existing slot coincides with Australia’s national summer holidays. “I think as an Australian it’s probably the ideal time,” Hewitt said. “This is the time that I’ve always known it as the Australian Open, the dates that I’ve always come to since I was coming here as a young kid to watch.”

SHOWTIME

Tennis fans can watch matches live on the Internet this year – for a price. The ATP and WTA Tours announced the creation of TennisTV.com, which will offer streaming video from 41 events, including the season-ending championships. However, no Grand Slam tournament matches will be included, and not everyone in the world will be able to see the matches, even if they are willing to pay for it. Among others, the WTA Tour is blacking out Europe, while the ATP is not offering live service in Brazil. And the two singles finals of this year’s Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, will not be available in the United States.

SELA IN

Israeli Dudi Sela saved six match points before winning his qualifying match and gaining a spot in the Australian Open main draw. The 23-year-old Sela trailed 5-3, 40-0 in the third set before fighting back for a 6-0 2-6 8-6 victory over Grega Zemlja of Slovenia. Sela saved three match points in the ninth game of the third set, then staved off the others in the 10th and 11th games. He was to play Rainer Schuettler of Germany in the opening round of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

SIGNED

Adam Helfant is the new head of the men’s professional tennis tour. The former National Hockey League lawyer replaces Etienne de Villiers, who stepped down last year after heading the ATP since 2005. Most recently Helfant was Nike’s corporate vice president for global sports marketing.

SAID WHAT?

Zina Garrison’s departure as captain of the United States Fed Cup team apparently wasn’t as smooth as the United States Tennis Association (USTA) led everyone to believe. In December 2007, the USTA announced that 2008 would be Garrison’s final season and that she would be replaced by Mary Joe Fernandez. No reason was given for Garrison being dumped, although her record as captain was only 5-5 over five seasons, losing in the semifinals four times and the quarterfinals once. In 1990, Garrison was the Wimbledon runner-up, becoming the first black woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to reach a Grand Slam tournament singles final. When she replaced Billie Jean King for the 2004 season, she became the first black captain of the US Fed Cup squad.

SPONSOR CHANGE

The Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, California, has a new name. It now will be called the BNP Paribas Open as the France-based bank took over sponsorship of the event. Organizers of the tournament also announced equal prize money of USD $4.5 million each for the men and women. The tournament began in 1976 and is said to rank only behind the four Grand Slam tournaments in attendance.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Sydney (men): Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic 6-1 7-6 (3)

Sydney (women): Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai beat Natalie Dechy and Casey Dellacqua 6-0 6-1

Auckland: Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt beat Scott Lipsky and Leander Paes 7-5 6-4

Hobart: Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta beat Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2 7-6 (4)

SITES TO SURF

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

Heilbronn: www.heilbronn-open.de/Live/de_Homepage.CMS?ActiveID=1001

WTA Tour: www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

ATP Tour: www.atpworldtour.com

International Tennis Federation: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP and WTA TOUR

Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia (first week)

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia (second week)

$112,000 Heilbronn Open, Heilbronn, Germany

WTA TOUR

Australian Open, Melbourne, Australia (second week)