Melanie South

Tennis In The Commonwealth – Murray and Robson To Play For GB In Hopman Cup

By Leigh Sanders

Andy Murray and Laura Robson have confirmed they will represent Great Britain at the Hopman Cup, the official mixed team competition of the ITF, in Perth, Australia in January. Murray will use the event to prepare for the 2010 Australian Open. He is looking to improve his record at Melbourne Park and has decided to use the same tournament that Novak Djokovic (2008) and Marat Safin (2005) played on their way to victory Down Under. They will be the first British representatives at the tournament since Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie lost in the first round in 1992. Each match consists of a men’s and women’s singles and a doubles. The hosts will be represented by Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. Melanie Oudin and John Isner have been confirmed as the American team while Russia will be represented by Elena Dementieva and Igor Andreev while Tommy Robredo and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez will compete for Spain.

Robin Soderling is a doubt for the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England, after the world No. 10 was forced to withdraw from his semifinal in Stockholm against Cyprus’ Marcos Bagdhatis with an elbow injury. The Swede would have made up points on the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco who currently holds the eighth and final qualification place for the Championships. Soderling has not yet pulled out of his scheduled tournaments in Valencia and Paris ahead of London hoping he will be fit to fight for his place in the end-of-season tournament.

The final line-up for the Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha was decided this week without one representative from the Commonwealth making the final cut. Jelena Jankovic sealed the eighth and final spot despite crashing out of the quarterfinals of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow and she joins Venus and Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka in the battle to find the top player for 2009.

This weeks ATP singles world rankings (26/10) saw Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt climb two places to 20th while his compatriot Peter Luczak held on to his ranking of 83. Chris Guccione, also from Down under, climbed five places to 104th. Britain’s Andy Murray remained in 4th place and India’s Somdev Devvarman climbed three to 121st. In the doubles, Daniel Nestor of Canada remains No. 1 despite his early exit from Shanghai recently but Mahesh Bhupathi of India drops one place to 7th. Paul Hanley of Australia climbs four places to 26th after his finals appearance in Stockholm (see below) while South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee remains 35th after his semifinals berth at the same tournament. Australia’s Ashley Fisher is below him in 36th while Britain’s Ross Hutchins and Aussie Stephen Huss both fell this week to 49th and 50th respectively.

This week’s WTA rankings (26/10) saw Australia’s Samantha Stosur remain at 13 as she continued her climb towards the world top 10 while Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada climbed one place to 30. Another Aussie, Jelena Dokic, dropped to 64th and Britain’s Elena Baltacha jumped from 93 to 86 after her semifinal appearance at St. Raphael (see below). Her compatriot Katie O’Brien was also up one to 91st.

In the WTA doubles rankings (26/10) Australians Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs find themselves tied for 5th spot after Stosur jumped three places while Sania Mirza of India drops two places to 38th. Sarah Borwell, British No. 1 for doubles, jumps one place to 78th while South Africa’s Natalie Grandin is up two to 80th.

Daniel Nestor of Canada suffered his third straight first-round defeat with partner Nenad Zimonjic at the Bank Austria Tennis Trophy. The top two doubles players in the world fell to John Isner and Australian Jordan Kerr 4-6, 7-6(8), 10-6 in just over 90 minutes. It is the eighth first-round defeat the pair have suffered this year.

Jeff Coetzee of South Africa and Australia’s Stephen Huss reached the semifinals of the If Stockholm Open before going down to Kevin Ullyett and Bruno Soares. It was the 500th doubles victory for Ullyett making him only the 31st man in ATP history to reach that landmark. In the final they faced Australia’s Paul Hanley and Sweden’s Simon Aspelin. Soares and Ullyett won through 6-4, 7-6(4) to break the hearts of the Australian and the Swede.

In the doubles event at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow India’s Rohan Bopanna partnered Janko Tipsarevic to a semifinals berth where they were eventually defeated by Frantisek Cermak of the Czech Republic and Slovakia’s Mikal Mertinak. Metinak/Cermak went on to win the tournament and improve their chances of appearing in the doubles bracket at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England next month.

Geoff Pollard has been re-elected as the President of Tennis Australia for another twelve months following this year’s Annual General Meeting held in Melbourne on Monday.

More doubles joy for Great Britain this week as Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski were victorious at the ATP Challenger Event in Orleans, France. They defeated the French pair of Sebastian Grosjean and Olivier Patience 6-1, 6-1 who had beaten another British pair, Jamie Murray and Jamie Delgado, in the semi finals to prevent an all-British final. In Glasgow, Scotland, Chris Eaton and Dominic Inglot picked up their third Doubles title of the month. They defeated fellow Brit Dan Cox and Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus.

Peter Luczak of Australia was defeated in the round of 32 at the Bank Austria Tennis Trophy on the hard courts of Vienna by the Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. After taking the first set Luczak battled hard but it wasn’t quite enough and he went down 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1.

Rising teenage star Bernard Tomic of Australia will warm up for the 2010 Australian Open by partnering Aussie tennis legend Pat Cash at the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide next January. The novel tournament, which concludes just four days before the Open begins, sees a retired tennis star partner a modern-day pro in a team format. The 17-year-old Tomic will represent Australia with Cash, 27 years his senior. Representing America will be John McEnroe and Robby Ginepri, while Henri Leconte will represent Europe with an unconfirmed teammate. Finally, world No. 14 Radek Stepanek will head the Internationals team with an unconfirmed retired player.

Britain’s Elena Baltacha reached the semifinals of the $50k Event in St. Raphael, France before going down to the No. 3 seed Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic. Meanwhile in Glasgow, Scotland, Melanie South was defeated in the final of the AEGON Pro-Series Event. 5th seed Johanna Larsson of Sweden was too much for the British No. 4, winning in three sets. But South made amends in the doubles, teaming with Emma Laine of Finland to defeat the Mayr sisters of Italy 6-3, 6-2 and bring home the Championship. Future tennis starlet Heather Watson crashed out of the first round of the singles, going down 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(2) to Tunisian veteran Selima Sfar.

Tennis Canada has announced that former Chairman Harold P. Milavsky will be inducted in to the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in the Builder category with a dinner in his honour on December 3rd at the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I’ve had good times and bad times

STARS

Tommy Haas beat Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-7 (4) 6-1 to win the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany

Andy Murray won the AEGON Championships in London, Great Britain, defeating James Blake 7-5 6-4

Magdalena Rybarikova beat Li Na 6-0 7-6 (2) to win the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain

Stanislas Wawrinka beat Potito Starace 7-5 6-3 to win the BSI Lugano Challenger in Lugano, Switzerland

Iona-Raluca Olaru beat Masa Zec-Peskiric 6-7 (4) 7-5 6-4 to win the Open GDF Suez de Marseille in Marseille, France

SAYING

“I’m a long way from winning Wimbledon, but I feel confident. I’ll try and not get too far ahead of myself and focus on my first match there, but if I play my best like I did this week, I’ve got a chance.” – Andy Murray, after winning at Queen’s Club.

“It’s incredible, I can hardly believe it myself when I think of the highs and lows I’ve been through in the last year and a half.” – Tommy Haas, after winning his first grass-court title.

“I was so excited last night after I beat Sharapova I forgot I had a match today.” Li Na, who lost in the final after upsetting Maria Sharapova in the semifinals of the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“I still felt like I had many chances in this match, but I have played five matches in the last six days and after that you just hope you wake up with that intensity you need. Against her you need that.” – Maria Sharapova, after losing to Li Na.

“Winning today is the best feeling of my career so far. It’s unbelievable. Just like a dream.” – Magdalena Rybarikova, after winning her first WTA title, the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“I had a good week. Playing on the grass, I always have a lot of fun playing here. I feel great. I’ve been working with my coach and trainer, and I know I’m doing the best preparation possible for Wimbledon. I’ll be ready to play and feel great about my chances.” – James Blake, after reaching the final at Queen’s Club.

“A problem a lot of people in this country have is expecting huge things, thinking that it’s just going to happen.” – Andy Murray, concerning the British public hoping he can win Wimbledon.

“I think he’s over the biggest hurdle in his tennis with the French under his belt. Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, great players, never did. The monkey is off Roger’s back and he’ll play, not with abandon, but with excitement, enjoyment and freedom. He’ll be Wimbledon champion again next month unless someone catches fire like Robin Soderling did against Nadal.” – Rod Laver, on Roger Federer winning the French Open.

“I’ve had good times and bad times. That’s me. That’s how I am. I’m really lucky and I’m happy that the ATP has allowed me to do what I want to do on the court. They’ve been nice to me throughout the years and that’s made it much easier for me to play this way.” – Marat Safin, talking about his career.

“I have now, after a lot of thinking, decided to put an end to my professional tennis career.” – Thomas Johansson, announcing his retirement from competitive tennis.

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to settle down. In my case, again.” – Boris Becker, after marrying Dutch model Sharlely “Lilly” Kerssenberg, his second marriage.

SUCCESS, FINALLY

When Andy Murray beat James Blake in the AEGON Championships final, he became the first British player to win at Queen’s Club since Bunny Austin in 1938. “I was quite nervous,” Murray admitted. “People were telling me that no (Briton) had won here for 70-odd years, so that got the nerves going, especially when I was serving for the match.” The fact he won on grass will only increase the belief – and the pressure – that Murray, ranked third in the world, will win Wimbledon. A Brit hasn’t won on the grass courts of the All England Club since Fred Perry did it in 1936.

SLOVAKIAN SURPRISE

Magdalena Rybarikova could be called the women’s champion of China. The little-known Slovakian won her first WTA title at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, Great Britain, stopping China’s Li Na 6-0 7-6 (2) in the final. In the quarterfinals, the 20-year-old Rybarikova upset top-seeded Zheng Jie of China 7-6 (10) 6-4. “I was very nervous in the tiebreak, but she looked more nervous than me, so that helped me concentrate even harder,” Rybarikova said of Li. In the semifinals, Li upset Maria Sharapova, her first victory over the Russian in six career meetings.

SPECIAL ENTRY

Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm will play at Wimbledon for the first time in 13 years. The 38-year-old Date Krumm was given a wild card into the main draw. Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Date Krumm reached the semifinals in 1996, the last time she played on the grass of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. She retired from her first-round qualifying match at the French Open last month because of a calf injury.

STRAIGHT IN

Can Laura Robson match the exploits of Martina Hingis? Thanks to a wild card, Britain’s 15-year-old junior Wimbledon champion will be the youngest player in the women’s main draw since Hingis in 1995. Hingis went on to become number one in the world. Robson is ranked 482nd in the world, but was given a wild card via a clause that allows juniors to be included under “exceptional circumstances.” Others receiving wild cards into the women’s main draw include Elena Baltacha, Alexa Glatch, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Katie O’Brien, Georgie Stoop and Melanie South.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion from Spain who has been ranked as high as number one in the world, has been given a wild card entry into this year’s Wimbledon men’s draw, along with 2008 Wimbledon and US Open junior champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Also given wild cards into the men’s singles were Britons Alex Bogdanovic, Daniel Evans, Joshua Goodall and James Ward.

SQUEAKER

Although he ended up winning the tournament, it didn’t appear in the semifinals that Tommy Haas had a chance of advancing in the Gerry Weber Open. In an all-German semifinal in Halle, Germany, Haas trailed 5-2 in the third set before edging Philipp Kohlschreiber 2-6 7-6 (5) 7-6 (3). A year ago, Kohlschreiber beat Haas in the second round en route to the final at Halle. This year, Kohlschreiber served for the match while leading 5-3 but played a sloppy game. Haas made him pay for it, serving his 15th ace of the day on his third match point. It was the first tournament Haas has won since Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 2007.

SWAN SONG

Sweden’s Thomas Johansson, who won the Australian Open in 2002, retired from competitive tennis at the age of 34. Besides his surprising win in Melbourne, where he beat Marat Safin in the title match, Johansson won eight other ATP titles and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2005, where he lost to Andy Roddick. Last year, Johansson teamed with Simon Aspelin to win the silver medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, losing the gold-medal match to Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

SWEDISH PRISON

A 24-year-old man was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined USD $17,200 for rioting outside the Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden. The Swede was one of 10 people arrested after protesting Israel’s offensive in Gaza. Earlier, an 18-year-old was sentenced to 15 months in prison for rioting. A third man has been acquitted because of lack of evidence.

ST. MORITZ WEDDING

Boris Becker has married for the second time. The German tennis great and Dutch model Sharlely “Lilly” Kerssenberg tied the knot in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Attending the wedding were Becker’s two sons, 15-year-old Noah and 9-year-old Elias. along with Prince Albert of Monaco, supermodel Claudia Schiffer, cyclist Jan Ulrich and his wife Sara, and soccer stars Franz Beckenbaur and Oliver Kahn, among others. The newly-weds had announced their plan to get married when they appeared on a German television show in February.

SITTING IT OUT

Saying he was “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” after winning his first French Open title, Roger Federer pulled out of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, his usual grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon. “I sincerely apologize to the tournament organizers, my competitors, and my fans in Germany. I only hope they will understand that I still feel emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by the incredible events of the past few days,” Federer said on his Web site.

Before he began his victorious run at the Gerry Weber Open, Tommy Haas withdrew from Germany’s Davis Cup quarterfinal against Spain, saying the clay court matches would put too much strain on his body. Haas, once ranked as high as number two in the world, did not play in the last Davis Cup World Group against Austria after being sidelined with a shoulder injury for much of 2008.

SIGNAGE

No longer will the Swiss Indoors tournament be held at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland. Oh, it will be held at the same venue, but the name of the hall is being changed to Roger Federer Arena. Basel sports director Peter Howald said the city had discussed ways of honoring the new French Open champion, who completed a career Grand Slam and tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major singles title with his clay court victory at Roland Garros. Federer is a three-time defending champion of the Swiss Indoors.

SPLITSVILLE

The team didn’t last long at all. Ana Ivanovic has broken up with coach Craig Kardon. Ivanovic had hired Kardon, once a coach for Martina Navratilova, in February as a replacement on a temporary basis for Sven Groeneveld. But the Serb, who won Roland Garros last year, continued her fall in the WTA rankings. Once ranked number one in the world, she dropped out of the top ten following her fourth-round French Open loss this year. Ivanovic said she will use a temporary coach when she plays at Wimbledon.

SENTENCED

Damir Dokic has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for making death threats against the Australian ambassador to Serbia. “The sentence is inappropriate and we are going to appeal,” said Dokic’s lawyer, Bosiljka Djukic. “We hope that the higher court will annul this sentence.” The father of tennis player Jelena Dokic, Damir Dokic was arrested in early May after he reportedly said he would “attack the ambassador and her husband with a stinger missile.” Police found two hand grenades and 20 bullets in his house for which Dokic had no permit, in addition to seven hunting rifles and a handgun which he owned legally. The alleged threats came after Jelena, once ranked fourth in the world, was quoted in Australia’s Sports & Style magazine describing the torment she endured under her father.

START DELAYED

The start of the third-round match at Queen’s Club between Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt was delayed by a bomb threat. Both players stayed on court while officials searched the entire site but found nothing. Roddick and Hewitt were seen laughing and talking with each other during the break in play. Roddick ended up winning the match.

SCOTT AWARD

The late Arthur Ashe and his widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, will be recognized with the Eugene L. Scott Award by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum (ITHFM). Presented annually since 2006, the award honors an individual who embodies Scott’s commitment to communicating honestly and critically about the game and who has had a significant impact on the tennis world. “Arthur and Jeanne have used their voices, which have been amplified through the game of tennis, to change the world in so many ways that it’s fitting to present them as one with the Eugene L. Scott Award,” said Christopher E. Clouser, chairman of the ITHFM. “Humanitarians like Arthur and Jeanne are few and far between and we should recognize them for the contributions they have made to help enact change.” The award will be presented at the 29th annual “Legends Ball” on September 11 in New York City. Also being honored will be Rod Laver and the four newest members of the Hall of Fame: Donald L. Dell, Andres Gimeno, the late Dr. Robert Johnson and Monica Seles.

SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES

The 2009 US Open is a hot ticket. The first day of ticket sales to the general public for this year’s final Grand Slam tournament was the second-best opening day in US Open history. With nearly 35,000 tickets sold, it is only the second time that opening day ticket sales topped 30,000 tickets. This year’s total trails only last year’s event. In the six days leading up to the public sale, the US Open pre-sale for American Express members set an all-time sales mark of more than 31,000 tickets.

SPONSOR LOSS

The Australian Open is continuing to lose sponsors. The latest is Qantas, which is ending its 21-year agreement with the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. In the past few months, the Australian Open has lost several other major sponsors, including Master Card, Garnier and GE Money. Three major sponsors say they will continue, including Kia Motors, Rolex and Lacoste.

SLICING FINE

The Swedish Tennis Association (STA) has had its fine reduced by the International Federation of Tennis (ITF) Board of Directors. The board agreed to reduce the fine from USD $25,000 to USD $5,000, but upheld the original decision by the Davis Cup Committee not to waive the gross receipts payment of $15,000. The Committee took the action following Sweden’s first-round Davis Cup tie against Israel, which was played behind closed doors in Malmo, Sweden.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Birmingham: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 6-1 6-4

London: Wesley Moodie and Mikhail Youzhny beat Marcelo Melo and Andrew Sa 6-4 4-6 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Halle: Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Andreas Beck and Marco Chiudinelli 6-3 6-4

Marseille: Tathiana Garbin and Maria-Emilia Salerni beat Timea Bacsinszky and Elena Bovina 6-7 (4) 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Lugano: Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer beat Pablo Cuevas and Sergio Roitman walkover

SITES TO SURF

Eastbourne: www.lta.org.uk/Watch/

s-Hertogenbosch: www.ordina-open.nl/

Wimbledon: www.wimbledon.org

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$600,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

WTA

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

$220,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

The Championships (first week), Wimbledon, Great Britain, grass

Dokic and Massu Take First Steps to Former Glory

Last week on the challenger circuit, two former top 10 players struggling with injuries and motivation took their first real steps to reclaiming their former glory, while two players on the men’s side continued their hot streaks on the circuit.

Jelena Dokic of Australia has had more than her share of personal problems. The former world No. 4 has defected from her family, switched nationalities several times, and attempted multiple half-hearted comeback attempts. However, it looks like that Dokic is serious this time around after winning her first event in six years at the $25,000 event in Florence, Italy, dominating Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3 in the final. The win moves Dokic up to No. 325 in the rankings (after just four tournaments) and she has contacted the All England Club for a qualifying wild card into Wimbledon.

At the $75,000 event in Zagreb, Croatia, Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden won her first title of the year by beating former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Severine Bremond of France 7-6, 6-2. The 24-year-old Swede, who has recorded high-profile scalps over Anna Chakvetadze and Marion Bartoli this year, used her aggressive groundstrokes to wear Bremond down throughout the match. Despite the loss, Bremond has been on a hot streak as of late with a 10-4 record on the challenger circuit in her last four events.

At the $50,000 tournament in Jounieh, Lebanon, players had to endure the fighting that has plagued the country, confining them to their hotel rooms and the tennis courts for the week. Anne Keothavong of Great Britain weathered her surroundings and won the first clay court of her career, defeating Lourdes Dominguez-Lino of Spain 6-4, 6-1. The win moved Keothavong up to a career high ranking of No. 102 and allows her direct entry into Wimbledon this summer. The last British player to get direct entry into Wimbledon was Samantha Smith in 1999.

In other results on the women’s side, Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium won the $50,000 event in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. Petra Cetkovska of Czech Republic prevailed at the $50,000 challenger in Bucharest, Romania, and Tomoko Yonemura of Japan won at the $50,000 challenger in Fukuoka, Japan. Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus won at the $25,000 challenger in Antalya, Turkey, Yan Ze-Xie of China took home the winners trophy at the $25,000 event in Changwon, Korea, and Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia prevailed at the $25,000 event in Irapuato, Mexico.

On the men’s side, it’s been a while since we heard from Nicolas Massu. The former top 10 player and reigning Olympic gold medalist has been struggling with injuries, but took a step in the right direction by winning the $30,000 event in Rijeka, Croatia. His 6-2, 6-2 win in the final over Christophe Rochus of Belgium gives the Chilean his first title in over two years.

Ivan Miranda of Peru is continuing to ride his hot streak on the challenger circuit with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Carsten Ball of Australia at the $50,000 challenger in Tunica, Mississippi. Miranda has now reached the championship round in three of the last four challengers he has played. His experience clearly was a factor against Ball, who was competing in the first challenger final of his career.

Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil is a name that has repeatedly come up in this column, but it’s only a matter of time before he moves to the ATP Tour on a full-time basis. He won his fourth challenger title of the year (and third in a row) at the $42,500 challenger in Rabat, Morocco, rolling over Martin Vasallo-Arguello of Argentina 6-2, 6-2. Expect Bellucci to potentially do some damage at Roland Garros in just a few weeks.

In other results on the men’s side, Andreas Beck won the $42,500 challenger in Dresden, Germany, while Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia won the $30,000 event in Telde, Spain. Jiri Vanek also won the $42,500 event in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Fabrice Santoro of France highlights the challenger circuit this week as the top seed at the $75,000 event in Bordeaux, France, while Gael Monfis of France leads the way at the $75,000 challenger in Marrakech, Morocco. Several $50,000 events will also be contested this week; Robert Kendrick of the United States is the top seed at the one in Bradenton, Florida, Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei will lead the way in New Delhi, India, and Denis Gremelmayr of Germany takes top billing in Zagreb, Croatia. Oscar Hernandez of Spain is top seed at the $42,500 event in Aarhus, Denmark, while Santiago Ventura of Spain is the top seed at the $30,000 challenger in San Remo, Italy.

On the women’s side, Petra Cetkovska of Czech Republic is top seed at the $50,000 event in Saint Gaudens, France. Melanie South of Great Britain leads the way at the $50,000 challenger in Kurume, Japan, Tetiana Luzhanska of Ukraine is the top seed at the $25,000 challenger in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Jorgelina Cravero of Argentina takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Caserta, Italy. Finally, Renata Voracova of Czech Republic is top seed at the $25,000 event in Szczecin, Poland.

El Aynaoui Makes a Comeback (Again)

Once again on the futures circuit this week, another former ATP standout bravely swallowed his pride and started back at square one in the hopes of turning back the clock.

It’s hard to tell how many comebacks Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui has had. The 36 year old has overcome financial destitution and just about every injury in the book to achieve a top 15 ranking and reach the quarterfinals at both the Australian Open and US Open. This week, El Aynaoui returned from a seven month injury layoff at the $15,000 event in Castelldefels. Appearing as a late entrant, he was forced to go through the qualifying rounds before surviving several tough three set matches in the main draw. In the end, El Aynaoui won his first title in almost 12 months by beating Adam Chadaj of Poland 6-3 7-6 in the final.

At the notoriously strong $100,000 event in Sunrise, Dutchman Robin Haase won a rain-delayed final that was pushed into Monday. Haase came back from being down a set and a break to defeat Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean 5-7 7-5 6-1. For Haase, who has already scored wins over Andy Murray and Ivan Ljubicic this year, this is the biggest title of his career. He hopped in a car directly after the final to head to Miami, where he layer played in the qualifying rounds of the Sony Ericsson Open (he won his first round match in Miami Monday evening).

Another player on the comeback trail is Mariano Puerta of Argentina, who’s still trying to rebound after a second doping suspension that almost ended his career. Competing at the $50,000 event in San Luis Potosi this week, Puerta showed glimpses of the form that took him to the French Open finals as he cruised through the draw without the loss of a set. However, injury derailed his good form as he was forced to withdraw from the final before striking a single ball, which allowed Brian Dabul of Argentina to win his first title of year. Both Dabul and Puerta are scheduled at the next $50,000 event in Mexico this coming week, held in the city of Leon.

In other challenger news on the men’s side, Ivan Navarro of Spain won his first event in two years at the $35,000 event in Meknes, while Andreas Beck of Germany won the $35,000 event in Sarajevo.

With her ranking just outside of the top 100, Israeli Tzipi Obziler decided to drop back down to the challengers for the $25,000 event in Tenerife. The decision proved to be wise as she dropped just 14 games in her last four matches and overwhelmed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-2 6-3 in the final. The win puts Obziler back inside the top 100 and, with little to defend over the next few months, she should see her ranking continue to climb.

In other challenger news on the women’s side, Barbora Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic won her second title of the year at the $25,000 event in Redding, while Melanie South of Great Britain won a nail biting three-set final to take the title at the $25,000 tournament in Sorrento. Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova won the $25,000 event in St. Petersburg, and Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova won her first challenger event at the $25,000 tournament in Noida.

The men keep the spotlight with two $50,000 tournaments this coming week. Werner Eschauer of Austria is the top seed in Barletta and Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer takes top billing in Leon. On the women’s side, Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain accepted a late wild card and is the top seed at the $50,000 event in Latina. Once again this week, there are also several $25,000 women’s events. Anna Lapushchenkova of Russia will hope to keep her local fans happy at the $25,000 event in Moscow, while China’s Shuai Zhang hopes to reverse her losing streak at the $25,000 tournament in Hammond. Anastasia Yakimova of Belarus is the clear favorite a  the $25,000 event in La Palma, while Estonia’s Maret Ani takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Jersey. Finally, Tessenderlo hosts its first professional event as veteran Selima Sfar of Tunisia is the top seed at this $25,000 tournament.