melbourne park

Australian Open: Grounds Pass Perspective – Live Coverage

by Stephanie Neppl, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Attending the Australian Open takes endurance – for long, unpredictable days and especially for the heat. Of course, fans have it a little better than the players who are unable to duck into air conditioned shops and enjoy ice cream to cool down a bit.

The 2012 Australian Open is no different. The heat has been unbearable and the crowds noticeably larger during the first few days, but fans have been rewarded by fantastic tennis and lots of drama.

A grounds pass is definitely the way to go when attending the first week of any grand slam, but the setup here is ideal. It’s very easy to watch player practices as they are spread out all over Melbourne Park so you get great access to the players. While the schedules aren’t posted anywhere, the Aussie Open twitter account is very good at tweeting who will be where at what time.

Many top players were practicing with each other this week: Petra Kvitova and Zheng Jie, Jelena Dokic and Shahar Peer, John Isner and Sam Querrey. The element of surprise when wandering the grounds is great – one never knows which players will be around the corner if you’re happy to bounce around between courts instead of focusing on one match.

Many top players tend to practice on courts 16 and 17 which are on the Hisense Arena side of Melbourne Park. This is quite a walk from the courts on the other side of Rod Laver, so fans must often race back and forth to catch matches and practices. No wonder the frozen Coke drinks are so popular!

We’re nearly through two full rounds of tennis, and the biggest shock so far was definitely Sam Stosur losing on Tuesday to Sorana Cirstea. The newspapers on Wednesday were not kind but hopefully Bernard Tomic’s big wins will keep the Aussies happy. Day three had a few surprises on the women’s side as two ladies who did well here last year were both upset. Francesca Schiavone of Italy lost to her countrywoman Romina Oprandi and Peng Shuai of China was knocked out by Czech Iveta Benesova. Ironically Schiavone and Peng are doubles partners this year so perhaps they’ll have a better run in that draw.

A few dramatic five-setters kept the nightlife going at Melbourne Park Wednesday night. John Isner and David Nalbandian battled for more than four and a half hours before the American won 10-8 in the fifth set. The match had some major controversy over chair umpire Kader Nouni not allowing the Argentine to challenge an Isner serve (which was proven to have been out) at 8-8 in that final set. This will surely be a huge talking point for a few days and was a sad way for Nalbandian to exit Melbourne, possibly for the last time.

Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgololov took his match 8-6 in the fifth over Tobias Kamke of Germany. Nicolas Almagro also won in five but bagelled Grigor Dimitrov in the fifth.

The most intriguing match for Thursday is surely that between Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick. Neither are in their primes but the Rod Laver Arena night crowd should be in for some great fight between these two old rivals.

Stephanie Neppl is the Social Media Manager for Tennis Auckland and is in Melbourne covering the Australian Open. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.

Grand Slam Fallout, Henin Gone Again and WTA Rankings Record

Djokovic Keeps Murray Waiting:

Two good friends, two very different sets of emotions kick off a bumper Grand Slam edition of  Tennis People. Melbourne Park saw Novak Djokovic repeat his 2008 triumph here to lift his second Grand Slam on Sunday which left Andy Murray staring defeat in the face for his third straight final. The Serbian continued the fearsome display which overcame Roger Federer in the semis to dismiss the Scot in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Murray simply had no answer to the explosive groundstrokes Djokovic continually fired over the net and his error count continued to rise as the match wore on. It follows Djokovic’s excellent end to 2010 where he was ousted by Rafa Nadal in the US Open final before leading Serbia to its maiden Davis Cup win over France in December. “[Winning a] Davis Cup title and another Grand Slam title. I’m living the dream of a tennis player, definitely,” declared Djokovic after the match. “I have been more focused and dedicated to the sport than I have ever been before. To be able to win in straight sets against a player like Andy Murray in the finals of Grand Slam, it makes my success even bigger.” He added of his friend: “I really have big respect for him and his game, because I think he has everything what it takes to become a Grand Slam champion. I’m sure that very soon he will be. This was a great match. From the start to the last point, I did what I intended of doing tactically, what I talked with my coach, what I prepared for. It’s the best way that I could ask for to start a season. Both of those guys [Federer and Murray] play their best tennis on the hard courts, as well as I do. But to be able to win against those players in straight sets is incredible.” “It’s better than it was last year,” said Murray on suffering his second-straight Australian Open final defeat. “It was obviously tough, disappointing. I thought Novak played unbelievably well. It’s tough, but got to deal with it. Anyone who played in three finals would have loved to have won one. But I haven’t. I just need to keep working hard and try and do it. I would have liked to have played better,” confessed Murray. “But I think he would have beaten every other player on the tour if he played like that tonight. He served well. He didn’t make many mistakes from the back of the court. He moved really, really well. He hit the ball very clean.” For more fallout hit the ATP website.

Clijsters Claims First Non-American Slam:

Kim Clijsters fully embraced her ‘Aussie Kim’ adopted moniker by finally lifting the hallowed trophy last weekend. The three-time US Open Champion hoisted her first Slam off of American soil by outlasting the Chinese star Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. It was a sad end to Na’s historic showing which made her the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final (Michael Chang was affiliated to the United States). Na was more aggressive in the first set with her ten winners outnumbering three from Clijsters. But the Belgian steadied herself and her experience began to shine through as she slowly closed out the victory. “She did everything better than me in that first set,” Clijsters told the gathered press. “Her ground strokes were heavier, deeper. She served better, she returned better. She was playing really, really well – probably the best she’s ever played against me. I tried mixing it up, putting some slices in, hitting a few higher shots that drew some errors. I saw her get a little bit aggravated and I just tried to hang in there.” Clijsters also praised her adopted home crowd in her on-court speech: “I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim, because I won the title. I’ve been coming here for many years and you guys have always been amazing. It helps so much.” Li was philosophical following her defeat: “I take positives. I think I played great tennis. She played better than me. After the match, when I was going back to the locker room, I made a joke that a tennis match should only be one set. I’m still happy what I did today. Right now I’ll just take total rest, because Chinese New Year is coming soon. I’ll take time with the family and prepare for the next tournament.” More can be seen by hitting the WTA website.

Bryans Make it Ten of the Best:

Bob and Mike Bryan denied the ‘Indian Express’ of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes the Career Grand Slam after cutting them down in the final of the men’s doubles at the Australian Open. It was Slam number ten for the 32-year-olds who now stand just one behind the legendary Aussie duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. “It never gets old,” said Bob. “Especially to play those two guys, the ‘Indian Express’, who we have tons of respect for. We were jacked up for this match. These two guys are legends. It was an extra special feeling out there on the court playing two guys that have dominated the game 10 years ago.” “We had a great couple of weeks,” reflected Paes. “We had a tough draw. Pretty much played all the best teams in the world getting to the final. Today we lost to the best team on the planet who played lights out today. I thought they played the perfect match. As far as Mahesh and myself are concerned, a great two weeks.” See more at the ATP website.

Crown Jewel for Flavia and Gisela:

They had a fantastic 2010 which saw them rise to the top of the doubles rankings on the back of seven team titles. But 2011 has exploded in to life for Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko who lifted their first Grand Slam at Melbourne Park. Seeded No. 1 they faced a difficult test against the surprise package of the tournament; Victoria Azarenka/Maria Kirilenko. It looked evenly matched. Pennetta/Dulko had dropped only 26 games in five straight set wins en route to the final while Azarenka/Kirilenko had dropped only 25 games and one set. But the top seeds struggled early on and the underdogs rushed the first set 6-2. They even held match points in the second before the Italian and the Argentine rallied to take the match 2-6, 7-5, 6-1. “We were in shock,” Dulko said. “At a set and 4-1 down, at the changeover, we were looking at each other saying, ‘Come on, we have played less than an hour.’ We went for it. We tried to play more aggressively and didn’t wait for them to.” She added: “I think Victoria started to get a little bit more nervous than in the beginning and missed more balls. I think her level started to go down a bit, then Maria maybe as well. But most importantly we just kept fighting. In the end we believed we could turn the match around. It was a good ending.” “It’s a Grand Slam. It’s something really amazing for me,” Pennetta added. “Last year we played so well. We won the WTA Championships and so many good tournaments, but we didn’t make any finals at the Grand Slams or win one of them. We started this year really well and hope to do the same in the next one.” The full fallout can be seen at the WTA website.

Nestor Still Defying Age:

Canadian doubles expert Daniel Nestor made it two Aussie Open mixed doubles titles by partnering Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia to overcome home-grown hero Paul Hanley and Chan Yung-Jan in the final at Melbourne Park. He previously lifted the title in 2007 with Elena Likhovtseva. “She played great [and] I played well, too,” said Nestor. “That’s some of the best mixed I played this week. I don’t always play that well. In the first [set] we lost serve and then broke back. That was important to stay close there. I played a bad game to start the second, which kind of lost our momentum, but then we broke right back again. Then they played a pretty good game to break us to win the set.” It was mixed doubles Slam number five for Srebotnik who won her last two with Nestor’s long-term men’s doubles partner Nenad Zimonjic.

Henin Calls It A Day (Again):

It was the 3am announcement that triggered a massive scramble as journalists leapt out of bed to gain coverage of the second retirement of Justine Henin from professional tennis. The Belgian who has seven Grand Slams to her name has struggled to overcome the elbow injury suffered at last year’s Wimbledon and has decided to give up the ghost permanently rather than struggle towards her dream of that elusive grass-court Slam and suffer complications for the rest of her life. After her early comeback showed signs of promise her recent results have been less-so and she took the decision following her exit Down Under. “It’s time now to turn an incredible page of my life…What a wonderful adventure! I’m sad to end with an injury but that’s the life. I just want to thank you all for your support during all these years…I will never forget it,” she announced via her Facebook and Twitter pages.

United Nations at the WTA:

This week the Top 10 of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings features ten women of differing nationalities for the first time ever. A Dane, a Belgian, a Russian, an Italian, an Australian, an American, a Chinese, a Serbian, a Belarusian and a Pole make up the Top 10 with an Israeli at No. 11. It shows just how truly global the sport of tennis has become during the Open Era as globalization has truly brought tennis to the four corners of the globe. More on this later on in Rankings Watch.

Dream Doubles Pairing for Close Friends?

Following his victory over long-term friend Andy Murray at the Aussie Open Novak Djokovic has announced that the 23-year-olds hope to team up for the doubles Championships at Indian Wells later this year. “We spoke in Melbourne of the possibility of playing doubles together in Indian Wells and I will raise the issue again with him,” Djokovic told the Serbian sports daily Sportske Novosti. At last year’s Rogers Cup in Toronto Djokovic teamed up with Rafa Nadal for a very high profile yet unsuccessful doubles campaign.

Nadal Confident of Swift Return:

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal expects to be fully recovered from the hamstring injury suffered in his quarterfinal defeat to David Ferrer by the end of next week. The Spaniard said in a statement on his official website on Tuesday: “Doctors estimate a recovery period of about 10 days from today.”

Queensland Victims to Receive Aid:

The final totals are in from the ATP and WTA as to how much will be donated to the victims of the Queensland floods following the completion of play at the Australian portion of the 2011 tennis calendar. Both organisations pledged $10 for every ace hit by players in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles categories at the Brisbane International, Medibank Open Sydney and the Australian Open. The total raised was $51,700 which adds to the personal contributions by stars such as the $10,000 donated by American No. 1 Andy Roddick ($20 for every ace he hit) and that of Sam Stosur who donated $100 for every ace she hit. The Rally for Relief event organised by Roger Federer also raised over $1.5m.

Djokovic Fit for a Queen:

Novak Djokovic has announced he will return to the AEGON Championships at the Queen’s Club alongside world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the run-up to this year’s Wimbledon. Djokovic has never won a title on grass and lost an exceptional final to Nadal here in 2008. He hopes the experience of re-finding that Grand Slam touch in Australia will help him progress on other surfaces too. “The AEGON Championships is one of the nicest tournaments around,” said Djokovic. “The Queen’s Club has got great grass courts, it’s a great atmosphere with always a packed house of spectators, and you just feel good there. Rafa and I had an incredible match in the Queen’s final in 2008 and it was the closest I ever got to a grass court title. Wimbledon is the most important tournament (of the year) for me, and I really want to do well at Queen’s and at Wimbledon this year.”

Serena Sets Comeback Date:

Serena Williams is set to make her comeback at an exhibition event organised by Nike just two days before Indian Wells begins in Portland, Oregon. She hasn’t played since cutting her foot after the completion of Wimbledon last year but is set to line-up alongside Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. She is yet to name her official comeback date on the WTA Tour.

Berankis in VMAN:

New Lithuanian star Richard Berankis has been featured in the latest edition of VMAN magazine after starring at this year’s Australian Open. The 20-year-old is now the youngest man in the Top 75 players in the world after reaching the third round. “I used to follow my older sister to the club and I would hit against the wall by myself while she practiced,” he says of his introduction to a sport. “I don’t really remember when or how I picked up my first racket but my earliest memory was my first match, which I lost. I was really pissed off afterwards, but I didn’t cry.” He added about the pressures of being a professional: “I guess I don’t really think about the pressure,” Berankis says nonchalantly. “I’m usually too focused and into the match. When you are competing almost every week, you get in a mode that is very focused and determined. I’m always working to get stronger and better, I’m always looking to the future. Sure there are times I get tight and nervous, like every other player, but the greatest ones know how to handle those emotions and still play their best.”

No Seeing Double for Bryans:

Bob Bryan will miss up to a month of the tennis calendar after hurting his left shoulder playing mixed doubles in Australia.

Fish out of Water:

Mardy Fish is still complaining of the thyroid infection that affected him at Melbourne Park so has pulled out of the upcoming tournament at San Jose. He hopes to return the following week at Memphis.

Coetzee/Schuettler Aim to Inspire Kids:

As the 2011 SA Open kicked off the No. 7 seeded German Rainer Schuettler joined Jeff Coetzee and wildcard Izak van der Merwe in hosting a tennis clinic for children from disadvantaged areas at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Jabavu, Soweto. “Development is the foundation stone on which we need to build the game of tennis in South Africa,” SA Tennis Association CEO and SA Tennis Open Tournament Director Ian Smith said. “We are committed to development and firmly believe that out there somewhere is a breathtaking talent just waiting to be unearthed. These clinics not only promote tennis but create a level of enjoyment that hopefully will motivate these youngsters to continue playing the game.”

Vigil for Mandela:

All South Africans competing at the SA Open joined tournament director Ian Smith for a candle-lit vigil in honour of ailing South African hero Nelson Mandela before the tournament began. Kevin Anderson, Rik de Voest and Jeff Coetzee led proceedings.

All Change in the Rankings Watch:

As mentioned above, the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings has seen drastic changes this week following the completion of the Australian Open. Kim Clijsters’ victory at Melbourne Park makes her the new world No. 2 and leaves her only 140 points behind the No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki who remains Slam-less. Francesca Schiavone leaps to No. 4 in the world (a career high) while Na Li also finds herself a career high No. 7 in the world. Agnieszka Radwanska re-enters the Top 10 after her impressive run Down Under. The Italian Flavia Pennetta leaps from No. 25 to No. 16 and Petra Kvitova jumps 10 to No. 18. Andrea Petkovic enters the Top 25 at No. 24 and Iveta Benesova goes from No. 60 to No. 45. The biggest mover is South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers who takes a gargantuan leap from No. 107 to No. 80. In the South African Airwaves ATP World Rankings there are movers too. David Ferrer climbs to No. 6 on the back of his semifinals appearance but he is the only mover within the Top 10. The Swiss Stanlislas Wawrinka jumps five to No. 14 while surprise quarterfinalist Alex Dolgopolov jumps 14 to No. 32. Nikolay Davydenko’s first-round exit sees him drop 10 to No. 35 in the world, a far cry from his No. 8 ranking of 2009. Spain’s Tommy Robredo re-enters the Top 50 at No. 40 while new Lithuanian star Richard Berankis is up 22 to No. 73. Germany’s Daniel Brands climbs 23 to No. 79 but the week’s biggest climber is new Canadian prospect Milos Raonic who led the teenage charge by gaining 58 places to enter the Top 100 at No. 94.

R-Fed Surges Ahead in GOAT Race:

With Rafa Nadal limping out of the Aussie Open at the quarterfinal stage it opened up an opportunity to fly out ahead in the GOAT Race for Roger Federer. Yet he came up against an emphatic and resurgent Novak Djokovic at the semifinal stage and went down in straight sets. He therefore scores an extra 100 points to take open up a 200-point lead over his closest rival.

Roger: 330 Rafa: 130

Soderling lifts first title of year, Clijsters back on form and Wozniacki laughs off criticism

*Swedish star Robin Soderling has paid tribute to new coach Claudio Pistolesi after overcoming Andy Roddick to win the Brisbane International 6-3, 7-5. The victory means that the Swedish No. 1 will climb above Andy Murray to No. 4 in the world and secures him the fourth seeding at the upcoming Australian Open. “We’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks, this is the first tournament, and it’s working pretty well, no?” said Soderling, who is looking to improve on a dismal record of never reaching the third round at Melbourne Park. “I’m playing really well and what makes me really happy is I never really played well in Australia before. It gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne.” American star Roddick rued his inability to combat Soderling’s serve: “He served too well, it seemed like any time I had a look, he came up with one of those big serves,” said the American No. 1. “I’m normally at the other side and it’s better on that end of the serve.”

*Despite recent talk of a second retirement the Belgian Kim Clijsters has exploded on to the 2011 tennis calendar. In her opening match of the year at the Sydney International she took only 62 minutes to register a 6-1, 6-2 victory over the young Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru. The No. 3 seed won the first eleven points of the match and the first five games. “I was feeling very comfortable out there, said the three-time US Open winner. “It’s a nice feeling to have when you play your first match. I was really focused on trying to place my serves well and not give Alexandra a lot of second serves to attack. When I started back on the WTA I was working on my consistency – my best game was there but then I’d lose it for three or four games,” Clijsters added. “The last few months I’ve been focusing on that and reading myself better, and realizing when I lose that intensity, pick it up again as soon as possible.” Full reaction to the day’s play can be viewed at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has laughed off criticism after being stunned by Dominika Cibulkova in the second round in Sydney. “You need to learn from the losses,” said the 20-year-old, who is aiming to break her Grand Slam duck in Melbourne. “I’m confident for Melbourne I’ll be OK, there are positives I can take.” It was Cibulkova’s first win over the dominant Wozniacki in six attempts. And the Dane admitted there was room for improvement: “At the start of the new season you need to get into match play. I didn’t feel I was playing great tennis out there,” Wozniacki added. “Now I just need to get some training matches, head to Melbourne and get ready for the Australian Open. Last year I had the same start, so hopefully slow start, good finish.” The young Cibulkova was understandably delighted: “I think I’ve beaten No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5 and everybody, just not No.1,” said the Slovakian. “So I’m really happy about it. The most important thing today was I went on the court and saw myself like a winner from the first point until the last point. So it wasn’t a surprise for me – I just played my game. I had my plan. I knew it was going to work if I just stuck to my plan.” Full reaction can be seen at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal is back on his feet after the bout of flu which badly affected him during his semifinal defeat to Nikolay Davydenko at the Qatar Open and has flown to Melbourne to continue his preparations for the Australian Open. The Spaniard is hoping to dethrone his great rival Roger Federer and hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously for the first time in his career. “Going by plane sometimes makes you worse and at the same time I don’t have anything to do right now in Australia,” the 24-year-old told the NZHerald. “With my condition right now I think the more reasonable thing to do is rest a few days and have less risk of injuries, less risk of everything.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro insists he is happy with his current comeback from injury following a shock 2-6, 5-7 defeat to the German Florian Mayer in the second round of the Sydney International. Missing much of 2010 saw del Potro fall to No. 259 in the world but having an injury protected ranking means he will compete at the Australian Open next week. “Of course I want to play and win a tournament,” he said following the match. “When you lose, it’s hard, but now it’s different, I have different sensations. I lost but I have another tournament in three days. I have my wrist in good shape. That’s good. Mayer played better than me but it’s normal. I am very far off my good game but I did my best. It was shorter, but I tried.”

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has denied that his decision to play in un-ranked events leading up to the Australian Open has harmed his chances of success. His decision to attend the Hopman Cup alongside Laura Robson last week coupled with Robin Soderling lifting the title at Brisbane means that the Scot will slip below the Swede and enter the Aussie slam ranked and seeded fifth. “I was seeded five for the Australian Open last year, so I don’t think it makes a big difference,” said Murray, who reached the final in 2010 before being outclassed by Roger Federer in straight sets. The full interview can be read at The Guardian website. Murray has also announced that he will return to Davis Cup play for the first time since 2009 after discovering that some play is required in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics. “I didn’t know about the Olympics situation until December,” he told the Daily Mail. “But I said to Leon [Smith, Davis Cup captain] before that I would be able to play and we should keep speaking. I will sit down and talk with him in Australia and see if he wants me to play in March or if it would be good for the other guys to have another match. I will definitely play, probably one or two [ties].”

*British teen sensation Laura Robson will miss both the Australian Open and Britain’s upcoming Fed Cup tie in Israel after injuring her hip in the Hopman Cup last week. Marcos Baghdatis is now a doubt for the men’s draw after withdrawing from this week’s Sydney International, where he was defending his 2010 title, with a groin injury.

*Young Aussie hopeful Bernard Tomic has vowed to mend his ways after receiving one of the final four wildcards in to this year’s Australian Open. Aussie Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge had previously told the talented 18-year-old to start making more of his gifts and Tomic seems firmly in agreement. In response to some questioning whether he deserved preferential treatment he said: “Look, it’s their decision at the end of the day. I can’t decide if I’m going to get it or not. I can only try to play tennis as much as I can. Yes, I had a bit of a strange December, but now it’s January. I mean, it’s their opinion. Everyone has got their own opinion; I’ve got mine. You don’t think about those things. You just play tennis. I think the wild-card that they gave, they gave for a reason.” Tomic’s full reaction can be read at The Australian’s website. Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson were the other recipients.

*Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt believes he is ready for a strong run at his home slam Australian Open despite not playing a ranked warm-up tournament for the first time. “I feel like I’ve done the hard yards,” said the 2005 finalist who did compete at the Hopman Cup last week and is currently taking part in the Kooyong exhibitions. “There’s no stone that’s unturned for me, and I can go out there and know that I’ve had the best preparation possible for myself and my body. Obviously I won’t be seeded next week, so [it’s] a little bit in the hands of the Gods where you get put in the draw, but I feel capable that I can go out there and cause some upsets.” Sam Stosur also believes she can bring home glory for her flood-ridden country despite an early loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sydney as well as an early defeat to compatriot Jarmila Groth in Brisbane last week. “I’m going to go in there thinking I can [win],” said the 26-year-old. “But there’s a long way from thinking you can do it and playing a first-round [match] to holding the trophy at the end…Even though it’s two second-round losses, I’m actually quite happy with the way I’m playing and think I’m in a good spot for Melbourne and still looking forward to obviously the Australian Open. If I could look back on this time last year to now I’m feeling 100 per cent better than I was.”

*In her latest attempts to find a new coach the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has begun working with Carlos Cuadrado.

*Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has been named the joint director of her home town tournament the WTA Paris Open. The Wimbledon and Australian Open Champion won the event three times during her career and said the challenge was “too good to turn down.”

*Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will find out next month whether they are the 2011 victors of the Laureus Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi. Nadal faces Formula One’s Sebastien Vettel, boxer Manny Pacquiao, basketball star Kobe Bryant and footballers Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Serena faces fellow tennis stars Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters, skier Lindsey Vonn, British track star Jessica Ennis and high jumper Blanka Vlasic.

*Roger Federer is looking to expand his charity exhibition CV by hosting an event in aid of the flood victims in Queensland on Sunday in Melbourne. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is in the city preparing for the Australian Open and said on his Facebook page: “The floods here in Australia are devastating! I am on my way to practise now and am going to speak with Tennis Australia to see if we perhaps can organise something on Sunday to help raise some funds for the people of Queensland who have been affected. Stay tuned as it would be great if the sport of tennis can help out right before the Australian Open begins.” Federer has previous when it comes to this type of thing and his ‘Hit For Haiti’ fundraisers were a massive hit on the 2010 circuit. Andy Roddick and Aussie star Sam Stosur promised $100 for every ace they hit in Brisbane last week with Roddick handing over $10,800 following his loss to Robin Soderling in the final. The ATP and WTA have also made the same pledge covering last week’s and this week’s tournaments as well as the Australian Open.

*Fresh for 2011 Tennis People has decided to introduce a new weekly feature to chronicle the ongoing battle between the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, and his great rival Rafa Nadal: The GOAT Race. Unfortunately, this won’t see the world’s top two players hurtle down a Welsh mountainside atop a buccaneering billy goat gruff, but will keep track of their on-court achievements this term. With Rafa’s injury problems and Roger’s off-court duties as a father to contend with, both players will be awarded ten points for entering a tournament. They will receive a further 25 points for a quaterfinals appearance, 50 for a semifinal and 100 if they reach the final. Every title lifted will earn them 200 points. These will be doubled for Grand Slam competitions. So, after the first tournaments of 2011 came to a close R-Fed’s victory in Qatar makes him our early leader with 210 points after that 6-3, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko. That’s ten for entering, and 200 for lifting the title. Rafa picks up 60 points after losing that flu-hit semi to the diminutive Russian.

Roger: 210   Rafa: 60

The Final Countdown – Doha

By Rishe Groner

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed the dawn of the 2010 tennis season by rushing with joy to our seats in Melbourne Park, pushing away the crowds for Presidential seats at Hit for Haiti.

It’s been quite the year, as my aversion to any court that wasn’t bright blue was quelled as my travels enabled me to experience the life of a tennis jetsetter, from gate-crashing the semis at Roland Garros, to combing the streets of Barcelona for tennis during the height of the World Cup, to invigorating Flushing Meadows with my own brand of Aussie as a Smashzone volunteer.

As the WTA season draws to a close, we’ve put the boys on hold for a week consider the ladies, getting hot and sticky in Doha. Doha, for those of you who don’t know, is in Qatar. Qatar, for those of you who don’t know, is a nation that Australia played in a soccer friendly, which was my first ever soccer match. Just sharing the love. So now we have eight ladies left in the game, and they’re going to show us who really did best this season. (In case we still didn’t realise that Caro owns the universe, because she does.)

Love it or hate it, the WTA is unique for its, well, uniqueness. You never know who is going to win from one day to the next, and while some cringe at the unpredictability, others revel in it for the laughs, the dramas, and the gloriously bizarre on-court coaching. This year’s top eight is markedly different from last year’s, which says a lot about the nature of the tour. That’s all I’m going to say – you can read the grown up tennis blogs for all the commentary. But Caro owns the universe, did I mention? And I love Sam.

CARO

The girl played her heart out this year, and deserves every accolade she can get. She’s no Serena in star power, not to mention, well, power, but she has something else that few others in the WTA do: She’s a role model. In a world where girls go gaga over Miley Cyrus, here’s someone who knows where she’s at, works hard, stays fit, smiles and laughs, and does her best.

VERA

Vera first popped onto my radar this year when, falling asleep in a pool of my own drool as Sam battled her way to her first title of 2010, I espied a rather handsome looking young man in Ms Zvonareva’s box. It was the modelistic Sergey, Vera’s coach and essentially, the primary reason you should tune into any of her matches, unless you are like me and also love a good racquet smash. But that aside, this girl has had a helluva year. While the Grand Slams have shown up lots of surprise semifinalists and finalists (hello, Chinese ladies. Petra Kvitova? I’d forgotten about you..) we had Vera showing up at both Wimby and the USO, making it all the way. Well done. You now have Number Two, now go away and let Caro keep number one. I really couldn’t bear another “Slamless Number One” discussion, and I’m not going to defend you this time.

KIM

I love Kim. I really do. She made me very sad earlier this year when she “couldn’t find her racket” playing Nadia in Melbourne, but then all of a sudden it surfaced somewhere from the bottom of Jada’s toybox and she played like the champion she is all over again. Kim is as veteran, she owns the universe (look at her playing record against the rest of the Doha field, for example) and she’s also the grandma of this tourney. Which means she can’t win it, because it belongs to Caro. Did you hear me say, CARO! (Or Sam. But Caro needs the validation.)

FRAN

Wish this woman wasn’t so likeable, because honestly, what she did to me and other Sam fans should have put her on the crap-list forever. Instead, I kinda like her, and seriously how pretty was she at the player party? That’s all I can say about you, Frannie. I know you’re cool, but give me a bit of time to get over the hurt, okay?

SAM

Sam is the best, chuck out the rest. Last season she was all chokey and hadn’t had a few wins in a while, thanking her lucky stars for the top 20 seeding that gave her a decent run into the AO. In January, Channel Seven cut away from her destruction at the hands of Serena to avoid an Aussie embarrassment (we don’t like to realise we’re not good at anything). By June, the Aussie media were singing her praises and giving away free posters of our girl. And seriously, with her brilliant Aussie contingent penning songs to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemites,” how could you not love the girl? (Oh right, the biceps.)

JJ

Stop sulking, Jelena, and go home. We know you don’t want to be here, and there are about 800 women who would kill to be in your place. Let Na Li bounce her ponytail in here and show us her stuff, because you sure haven’t been.

LENA

Hi, Lena. Remember me? I was that girl screaming like a crazy woman when Justine whipped your butt in Melbourne. I’m that girl who always talks about how good you are, even when we sit there trying to fathom how you’ve hung around for so long and not accomplished that much. Here’s the deal, Lena. You won the Olympics, which means you can win this. Go ahead. Just, like, lose to Kimmy and Caro and Sammy, because they’re my true loves.

VIKA

After a tough year, Vika’s back in the top 10 which is a monumental effort considering the struggles she’s had, including her horrifying collapse on the court in the US Open. Whatever it is making her struggle in the heat, let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in Doha, because this girl’s persistence is going to be good to see in the round robin matches. Cos that’s as far as she’ll go. We’ll see you again next year, Vika.

KOOYONG CLASSIC DRAW SET

The eight-man field at the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne, Australia is now set with Ivan Ljubicic rounding out the draw.

Winners from the first round advance onto the semi-finals while losers are relegated to the consolation side and are still guaranteed at least one other match. This is another reason why the unsanctioned tournament is such a drawing card for those looking for some extra preparation for the Australian Open. Players are sure of facing some top-level competition with the opportunity to work things out in their games despite the possibility of an early loss.

The opening round this year has the following battles:

Novak Djokovic vs Tommy Haas

Fernando Gonzalez vs Fernando Verdasco

Robin Soderling vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Juan Martin Del Potro vs Ivan Ljubicic

The Kooyong Classic began in 1988, the year the Australian Open was moved from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to its current location at Melbourne Park. The move was enacted to facilitate the growing need for space at the Open.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were frequent visitors in the 1990s, with Agassi making the finals for five consecutive years from 2000-2004. Interestingly enough, the years that Agassi won in Kooyong (2000, 2001, 2003) were also years he managed to win the Aussie Open. No wonder why in recent editions of the tournament we’ve seen players likeFederer, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick show up!

Federer won the tournament a year ago over compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, but chose not to join the field for the 2010 edition. It is still a possibility that the world number one may stop by to play a friendly match outside of the established tournament format.

The tournament runs from January 13-16th.