Miami

Challenge Accepted: My Workout with Vera Zvonareva

The morning after Wimbledon’s now-infamous “Black Wednesday” was a hazy time for most; fans and pundits were trying to come out from beneath the rubble left by the shocking number of upsets.

It is often said that exercise can help clear the mind and aid in decision-making. However, burning calories (as well as one’s own sense of dignity) with former World No. 2 and two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva did little to restore normalcy to an already-crazy week.

In a partnership with Fila, Zvonareva hosted a racquet sports oriented fitness class with Miami-based trainer Greg Corso in Manhattan, at the Upper East Side’s Sports Club LA. For the former Olympic Bronze medalist (and the group of reporters participating), the forty-five minute class was only a taste of the Russian’s off-court conditioning routine as she works towards a comeback from a shoulder injury.

“During the off-season, we train…probably four hours on the tennis court and at least two-three hours off the court,” Zvonareva remarked in a Q&A session following the class.

The course, held on the Sport Club’s roof, emphasized the importance of the full-body workout required by a professional athlete throughout the year. While most of the exercises were aerobic in nature, Corso and Zvonareva also made use of resistance bands and free-weights as heavy as ten pounds that morphed the burn into a small fire felt by the admittedly unprepared press core.

“To prevent [injuries], we do a full-body workout, but with lighter weights, with [exercise] bands just to keep ourselves conditioned.”

The workout was conceived with the help of videos taken during Zvonareva’s actual workouts with her coach, which adds a stamp of authenticity most fitness classes cannot boast.

“My job was to figure out how to adapt [those sessions] into a group exercise setting, with a big crowd and a limited space,” said Corso, who looked to the resistance bands (strapped to the ankles) as the key to making the class work for racquet-sport athletes who require practice with lateral movement.

Zvonareva agreed. “Using the bands helps a lot, because then you can do two steps, right/left, and you’re getting that movement that you want…you don’t need to run across the whole tennis court!”

The class required constant movement under the Manhattan sun, an essential feature for the athlete who will need to draw on that stamina over the course of a long tennis match.

“The thing about tennis is that you always have to give 100% every point, and it is very difficult because even if you’re tired, you still have to play the point at the professional level…you lose a couple of points, you lose your serve, you lose the game, it can cost you the whole match…[During this class], you have that hour but you have to keep pushing yourself.”

For the exhausted students, Zvonareva reminded us that it wasn’t always as effortless as she made the workout appear. On the exercise called the “Burpee,” she recalled, “I remember when I was 12 years old, my coach would do something like this and we were all dying…as soon as he turns away we’re like ‘stop it!’ It’s a very difficult one, but it helps a lot.”

The former Russian No. 1 has been off the court for nearly a year, last playing at the London Olympics. After getting surgery on her shoulder in February, she returned to school, and received a degree in International Economic Relations. She flew into New York the next day to conduct the class. Though looking in phenomenal shape, she admitted it was difficult to balance fitness with studying.

“I was studying so much that I had no energy to do fitness, it was so difficult for me…I was doing some, but not every day because once you start reading you keep going and going and it’s midnight already…when I’m playing tennis five hours a day, I still have energy to go and do fitness, but studying…it was so difficult!”

Keeping up with the Tour has been difficult for the college graduate, but she tries to keep in touch with friends like Elena Vesnina. For those wondering about that comeback, Zvonareva left the media in no suspense.

“I’m heading to Arizona, that’s where I will start my training. I’m meeting with my physiotherapist there and hopefully he will give me a green light to start training. I don’t know how long it will take but maybe three-four months before I can start playing at 100%.”

Zvonareva was a gracious host and encouraging teacher to her tired and, later, very sore students. The experience was a tremendous insight into the mind and work ethic of one of most disciplined and well-conditioned players on the WTA Tour, illustrating the key difference between “player” and “professional.”

In Appreciation of Tommy Haas

By James A. Crabtree

What thirty five year old Tommy Haas has done this year is just absurd. The guy is not just old; he is pretty much prehistoric.

Tommy turned professional in 1996 and lost his first grand slam match to Michael Stich at the U.S. Open that year. That was the same year Renée Zellweger said “You had me at hello” to Jerry Maguire, everyone danced ‘the Macarena’ and approximately 45 million people were using the Internet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiBYM6g8Tck

Some of the big and very much now retired players young Tommy beat in the years following were Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1997, Marcelo Rios in 1998, Tim Henman and Andre Agassi in 1999, Pete Sampras in 2000 and Andy Roddick in 2002.

Yet Tommy is still swinging. Better, stronger and faster. In many ways he makes a mockery of the suggestion that the modern player is a much better player/athlete/tactician. He still plays very much the same game he always has. The groundstrokes are still crisp and aggressive, he isn’t afraid of the net and he will likely still have a slight emotional meltdown during the match.

Many a professional athlete has tried a comeback from the usual ailments that affects us all over time, but few have shown the resolve to not only to make it back, but stay back and truly return to a respectable level.

Haas has come back from various injuries for the joy of playing in front of his young daughter. His determination to continue playing shows there is a fire inside that is still burning. It is obvious that Tommy has an increased duty to physical fitness, as he is known to practice hard but also put in the work before and after practice. It would not be unreasonable to believe that Tommy Haas is indeed the result of military intervention courtesy of the Office of Scientific Intelligence and is the new 6 million dollar man (that’s 31 million adjusted to todays money).

2013 has seen him register wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gilles Simon, John Isner and a certain Mr Novak Djokovic. All while wearing the sort of awful translucent fashion statements and lame black socks that you expect your dad to wear in attempt to embarrass. Indeed, Tommy is still human and a dad, so some things should be expected.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrVUGc0b5wo

The German who is as much an American now is the quintessential nearly man, one of the best to have knocked on the door of grand slam contention having reached 3 Australian Open semi-finals and 1 Wimbledon semi-final. Obviously he still believes he can add his name to the history books having climbed to his current ranking of 14 after an all time high of 2 back in 2002. Not a bad comeback after dropping out of the rankings in 2010.

Tommy does have a long list to be encouraged by such as Andre Agassi, who held the number won spot aged thirty three and Ken Rosewell who won the 1972 Australian Open aged thirty seven. Fabrice Santoro played twenty one years on tour, Jimmy Connors competed in his final ATP match in 1996 at the age of forty three and Pancho Gonzalez sustained his mission until the age of forty six.

Tommy will surely join this list at some time. But for now Tommy is no Haas been.

Hardcourt Retrospective (ATP)

As the ATP tour descends with wrathful inevitability upon the clay of southern Europe and elsewhere – indeed the WTA has already made the switch – the time seems appropriate to look back at the prolonged hardcourt season just ended, the one that began in Atlanta last July, and concluded just a few days ago in Miami.

It is a useful way to view the tennis season: as a near-perpetual hardcourt marathon punctuated by those brief fevered months on the traditional courts of the Old World, with the year-end break merely the longest of several afforded to worn players. A wider perspective is always a useful thing to maintain, provided one can resist the persuasive distortions of the panorama.

This period incorporates the US Summer, the Asian swing, the European indoors, Australia, and the disparate events in February that culminate in the US Spring Masters, and therefore includes two Majors, six Masters 1000, the World Tour Finals, and a multitude of 250 and 500 events.†

Table 1. Hardcourt Leaders

This shows the hardcourt season leaders, including their number of points, titles, and win/loss.

It surely comes as a surprise to no one that Djokovic tops this list, across all three categories, or, presumably, that Murray sits in clear second place. After all, between them they won both Majors, and three of the six Masters events. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Ferrer numerically out-performed Federer, at the Majors, the Masters and at 500 and 250 level. It’s interesting to note that Berdych accrued more points than del Potro, despite having a worse winning percentage and winning fewer titles. However, the Czech did play more matches than anyone else in this period.

Table 2. Points Gain

This table shows which players gained the most points. It will consequently favour the top players heavily.

How about that? Gasquet has gained the most hardcourt points since last July. His biggest hauls came in Montreal, Miami, and three 250 level titles in Montpellier, Doha and Bangkok. It’s more proof that he’s headed in the right direction. I am hopeful that this trend will continue for a while yet. These numbers merely add more wonder to the late career resurgence of Haas. Ferrer, meanwhile, feasted on his elevated seeding to gain excellent results in Paris, New York, Melbourne and Miami.‡

Del Potro made a substantial gain despite a dismal Australian Open loss, and he has gradually returned to an appropriate spot in the rankings. Djokovic gained points despite failing to defend titles at the US Open and Miami, mainly because he picked up titles in Shanghai and at the Tour Finals.

Table 3. Points Loss

This table shows which players lost the most points. Once again, top players are inevitably featured.

It’s hardly surprising that Nadal tops this list, given that he contested only one hardcourt tournament in this period (Indian Wells), though he did win it.Ψ Federer, on the other hand, has fallen away sharply, as the fistful of titles he claimed in 2011/12 to regain the No.1 spot have gone sadly undefended. Seeing these two atop this list does rather support the idea that we’ve seen the last of the ‘Fedal’ era, for better or for worse.

Tsonga is a worrying case, since there isn’t much evidence that his poor form is due to pick up. He still has tremendous weeks, such as Marseilles, but he also has too many stinkers. Fish’s health issues have been amply discussed, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever return to the top ten. Monfils has also suffered a dispiriting run of injuries (he’s prone to it, of course), and has tumbled outside the top hundred. It’s worth mentioning that John Isner sits just off this list at No.6. Like Tsonga, but more so, it’s hard to find much hope that his current slide has bottomed out.

Table 4. Rankings Gain

This table shows who made the biggest rankings leap into the top 100 since last July.

This reveals a mixture of seasoned professionals returning - Blake, Robredo - and youngsters on the make. De Bakker and Berankis were ranked unusually low, due to injury, and it’s good to see them reascend to a level more commensurate with their abilities, although I’d hazard that the Lithuanian is more likely to keep climbing much higher. I cannot see de Bakker breaking into the top 50, but a ranking around 70-90 seems not unreasonable. The same could be said of Donskoy. I suspect he’s ranked right at the limits of his current ability. His numbers attest to hard toil at the challenger level, and a nice run to the third round in Melbourne.

Table 5. Top 100 Entries

I include this list, and the one that follows, purely for the sake of curiosity. They show entry into and exit out of the top 100. Given the relatively modest number of points shared between these players, these figures are undeniably skewed by clay results in South America and elsewhere. Zeballos is a perfect example of this.

As with the previous list, as well as a few (too few) youngsters, there is a healthy number of veterans making late-career stands: Robredo, Blake, Hewitt, Tursunov, Mathieu, Becker.

Everyone was on Rosol’s case when he didn’t follow up on his upset of Nadal at Wimbledon with more astounding feats. But it should be noted that he has risen some 44 places, which is a pretty good effort (there are a couple of clay results mixed in there). It wasn’t all roses, though: he did get bagelled by Paolo Lorenzi.

Zemlja is also a pretty interesting case, leading the current Slovenian charge in men’s tennis, along with Bedene and Blaz Kavcic. His standouts were the run through qualifying to the third round of the US Open, and through qualifying to the Vienna final, defeating Haas and Tipsarevic en route.

The average age of these 22 players, incidentally, is 26.59 years. Make of that what you will.

Table 6. Top 100 Exits

Roddick, Ferrero and Chela have of course retired, and so their departures from the top 100 hardly merit further discussion. Excluding those three, the average age of the departed is 28.32 years. This number is dragged down slightly by the 26-year-old Monfils, who tops this list courtesy of a run of injuries, owing to bad luck and a playing style tailored perfectly towards crippling oneself. Assuming he can regain his health – never a safe assumption – he’ll be back in the top 20 before too long. Perhaps.

There is certainly a decent number of tour veterans who one suspects the race is overtaking: Karlovic, Phau, Andreev, Volandri, Mahut and Ramirez-Hidalgo. I hesitate to include Nalbandian on this list, but doing so has become increasingly hard to justify. His low ranking and poor results still somehow feel like a mistake that will one day be rectified, even though I know deep down it won’t be. Hope springs eternal, though Nalbandian clearly doesn’t.

Ebden, Stebe, Bogomolov and Young are excellent examples of that rankings quirk around this level, wherein one or two strong results will buy a journeyman twelve months in the big time, but no longer. Once that year is up, they inevitably subside. My apologies to those readers still hoping for big thing from Young, but I cannot see it happening. Of course, a return to the top hundred isn’t out of the question for any of these guys, but it will always feel like borrowed time.

† This period also of course includes the Golden Swing in South America. Where this has affected the figures I have made a note of it.

‡ Ferrer’s current points total includes 550 points from the Golden Swing.

Ψ Nadal’s current points total includes 750 points from the Golden Swing.

All On The Surface: What’s Happened To Miami?

From my current vantage in Melbourne – which is either an ocean and a continent away or fifteen hours in the future, depending on the direction – the Sony Open Tennis in Miami has lost some of its erstwhile burnish. There was a time when it was, if not necessarily the most polished of the non-Slam events, certainly the biggest. It was a shining highlight on both the men’s and women’s tours. Now though, its lustre has dulled. Attendance figures are down, which is borne out visually by the dollops of empty seats dotting the strangely canted Stadium.

Even the players don’t seem that into it. It isn’t merely that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal skipped the men’s tournament, or that Victoria Azarenka pulled out of the women’s. There have been retirements galore at all levels – something like 13,050 at last count – of a volume that one associates with warm-up events staged the week before a Major. We expect players to pull out peremptorily for niggles when they have a more important event coming up, but that’s not the case in Miami. It’s supposed to be an end in itself, but people are pulling out with sore throats. Sergiy Stakhovsky quipped on Twitter that if Crandon Park began its renovations now the players would have an excuse to skip it next year. Jonas Bjorkman responded that the venue hasn’t seen an upgrade in 19 years, and that the revenues aren’t being reinvested into the event, or words to that effect.

As has been widely reported, Paul McNamee last week suggested that Miami should consider switching to clay, which sparked some debate. McNamee’s suggestion spoke directly to the specific issue of the tournament’s hardcourt surface, which has grown painfully slow in recent years, but also more generally to the tournament’s ongoing relevance to both respective tours. It’s well worth a read.

I’m not convinced that ‘relevance’ is a quality to which any tennis tournament should necessarily aspire, or be judged by. But it is a quality that Miami itself aims for: what are the tedious proclamations of its status as the unofficial ‘Fifth Slam’, iterated endlessly, if not a grasping towards relevance? If nothing else, we’re invited to judge. There was a time when it might have felt like a Fifth Slam, but they’ve now passed. Stakhovsky said that, too.

A move to clay would reposition Miami at the beginning of the mostly European clay swing. The current drive on both tours is to consolidate the many disparate events into coherent ‘swings’ (though this is a term I dislike). Thus the lead up to the US Open rebranded as the ‘US Open Summer Series’. The lead up to the French Open is called the ‘Road to Roland Garros’. The ATP has been more determined in this than the WTA: even September’s three week Asian swing has a clear shape, as it escalates from a pair of 250 level events (Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur), though a pair of 500s (Tokyo and Beijing), culminating in the Shanghai Masters. In a similar spirit, the two combined US Spring events are intended to complete the February hardcourt events staged throughout North America  and elsewhere.

As much as we (rightly) ridicule the idiotic bickering between Indian Wells and Miami as to which constitutes the ‘Fifth Slam’, there are reasons why the debate persists, and real ramifications for the winner and loser. As I say, back in the 1980s and 1990s Miami was the official unofficial fifth Slam; in the glory days of the Lipton International, players would themselves use the term. Indian Wells in those days still felt very much like an entrée to the main course. In fact it had a 64-strong draw in those years, and had yet to match Miami’s extravagant generosity towards the Bye family (the move to a ridiculous 96-draw came in 2004).

Two factors have significantly diminished Miami’s cachet. Firstly, there is the severe reduction of the number of American February events, which has been gone over exhaustively, and shows no sign of being reversed. Indeed, the WTA this year only staged one modest event in North America before Indian Wells (Memphis). Any culmination feels lessened when no one cares about the build-up. Secondly, Indian Wells has now overtaken Miami in terms of sheer interest and excitement. Beyond the issue of prize money and an expanding facility in Southern California, it feels – I realise I’m being subjective here – as though the players can’t wait to get to Indian Wells, yet are keen to skip Miami given half a chance. (Serena Williams is of course the exception here, and I don’t mean to downplay the value she represents for  the US market in particular.) Indian Wells is now such a spectacle that replicating the excitement would be difficult for Miami, even if it was possible, or desirable. I don’t think this part of the season can sustain back-to-back week-and-a-half mini-Majors. Consequently, Key Biscayne has started to feel like a hangover. There are even fewer celebrities in attendance. Kevin Spacey is nowhere to be seen.

Nor has Miami helped its own cause with the surface. The Miami hardcourt is among the slowest on the tours (perhaps only Valencia is its equal on the ATP tour).  This is a quality that is only enhanced by the dense swampy atmosphere. Indian Wells has a fairly slow court as well, but this is offset by thin desert air. Miami’s courts are notoriously difficult to penetrate, and grant a fairly decisive edge to defensive players (which of course is not to say that attacking players cannot do well). Indeed the joke that Miami doesn’t need to move to clay since it already has, is one worth making. I can’t recall that I’ve ever heard a single player praise the Miami surface.

Converting Miami to clay might even help US tennis. Dirt has for some time been the weakest surface for American players. Indeed, José Higueras has pointed out for some time that the lack of clay courts in the States has contributed significantly to the nation falling away on all surfaces, believing that early development on clay provides a much better foundation, in terms of stroke production and footwork, but also through patience and the capacity to structure a rally. Having an important clay court event right near many of the United States top training facilities would certainly help. As McNamee says in his article, Florida already has the highest concentration of clay (Har-Tru) courts in the States. Given that the Orange Bowl is also staged there –the official Fifth Junior Slam – this would directly incentivice clay for the youngsters.

But switching to clay wouldn’t solve the issue of identity, or relevance, or answer the increasingly vexed question of why there are two big joint events in March at all. Running back-to-back events only makes sense when there’s a Major to follow; the sheer size of the Major seems to subsume the discrepancies among putatively similar lead-up events. I disagree with McNamee that it would function as ‘the grand opening of the major clay court season’. It would be far too far out from the French Open to constitute a meaningful warm-up. Indeed, even Monte Carlo’s value is questionable in this respect. It seems to be a structural requirement that these ‘swings’ start small, and gather steam as they go. I also don’t think the ATP tour needs a fourth Masters on clay, although it desperately needs one on grass.

If I was a dictator – as we all pray I one day will be – or at least granted executive powers in the matter of tennis scheduling, I wouldn’t convert Miami to clay. Until I could figure out a way to move it to Europe and play it on grass, I think the easiest solution would be to switch Miami and Indian Wells, since the current disparity between them is only going to grow as long as Larry Ellison has his way, or more accurately his wealth and energy. You might as well play the biggest one second. I’d also ban any more talk of ‘Fifth Slams’. Perhaps these measures would free Miami up to be whatever it wants to be. If players still skip it, or indulge in perfunctory retirements, it won’t seem so crippling.

I’d also speed up the courts. It’s getting painful to watch.

Bartoli Ends Azarenka’s Win Streak

With the result of the match no longer in question, tears began forming in Victoria Azarenka’s eyes. There would be no magic escape from defeat this time around.

Marion Bartoli, ranked a career-high No. 7, beat world No. 1 Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 in a convincing fashion to end the Belarussian’s 26-match win streak. The 27-year-old Frenchwoman kept Azarenka on her heels all night and won six out of 10 break points. As the match wore on, it was evident that the 22-year-old Azarenka was running out of steam. She finished the match with 16 winners to Bartoli’s 27.

“I honestly never seen her play that well,” said Azarenka, who owns an 8-3 head-to-head edge over Bartoli. “But, I mean, all the credit to her. She did an amazing job today.”

Bartoli will play fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska next in the Sony Ericsson Open semifinals. She is through to the final four in Miami for the second time (2010) and is aiming for her first final at the WTA Premier Mandatory event.

“I think the main key for me was the belief and really to step up on the court trying to win the match,” said Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up. “Not only thinking about how well she’s playing and everything, but really go on the court, having a game plan and try to go for my shots.”

Azarenka has been the dominant player on the WTA Tour this year. She has won four titles, including her first Grand Slam – the Australian Open – to become the top ranked player in the world. But in the quarterfinals against Dominika Cibulkova in Miami, Azarenka was forced to dig deep and fought back to emerge with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory, keeping her 2012 win streak alive. It was the longest win streak to start a year since Steffi Graf began the 1990 season with 25 wins. Five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis holds the record for the longest season opening streak at 37 wins.

“What I’ve done in the last couple of months, I have to be really proud of myself,” said Azarenka. “For sure, you know, I could have maybe played better today, that’s for sure, but I gave it all I had. Physically I was just not able to do anything today. It was just not possible. You know, I’m a human, not a super woman, and I wish I could be but I’m not (smiling).”

While Azarenka will get some time to rest, Bartoli will be getting ready for Radwanska, a player she has not defeated in six tries.

“I know the stats (smiling),” said Bartoli. “But I think a first is always to happen, so maybe it’s going to be my first tomorrow. But I know it’s not going to be easy. That’s for sure. I know I will have to run a lot, a lot more forward, because I know she’s going to make a lot of dropshots. I’m going to be ready.”

Wozniak Shows Winning Attitude in Loss to Venus at Miami

Aleksandra Wozniak played Venus Williams tough in Miami

Aleksandra Wozniak was a forehand away from scoring one of the biggest wins of her career in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. The 24-year-old Canadian held match point against seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, but couldn’t close the deal, falling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5)in a two-hour, 53 minute match that had more ups and downs than a roller coaster.

Wozniak showed flashes of her Top 20 form from two years ago against the inspirational Williams who is playing her first tournament since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome at last year’s U.S. Open. After getting through her first two matches, Williams appeared sluggish and Wozniak took full advantage, playing deep, penetrating shots to keep her opponent on her heels.

Still, every time it looked like Wozniak was going to knock out the tournament sentimental favourite, either nerves or Williams’ champion’s mentality got her in the way. Serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, Wozniak survived two wild double faults to earn a match point which she wasted by putting a sitting forehand into the net. The Canadian didn’t go away though as she rebounded to force a third set tiebreak which, like the rest of the match, went back and forth until Williams converted her second match point with a service winner. Despite the pain of the circumstances, Wozniak showed a lot of class staying to sign autographs on court after shaking hands and chose to focus on the positives in her post-match comments.

“It would have been a big victory for me. It hurts and it is disappointing, but the important thing is that I’m healthy and progressing,” Wozniak said. “One thing is for sure, I am going to keep fighting.”

Wozniak is no stranger to coming up short in tight matches against top players. In 2010 she lost a pair of matches 6-4 in the third to Elena Dementieva at Roland-Garros and Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon. A few weeks ago in Dubai she lost 7-5 in the third to Agnieszka Radwanska. While all of the attention has been about the Williams comeback, Wozniak is also climbing the ranks again following a series of personal and physical setbacks that kept her off the court for significant chunks of time over the past two seasons. She won her maiden WTA title four years ago at Stanford, defeating Samantha Stosur, Serena Williams and Marion Bartoli en route. Wozniak reached a career-high ranking of no. 21 in June of 2009 and Williams was the first to acknowledge that a formidable player was across the net from her on Centre Court in Key Biscayne.

“It was tough out there. It was made even tougher because she played well, Williams said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her play as well as she did. She was close to the Top 20, so she has that tennis in her. I have to give her a lot of credit.”

With her third round performance in Miami, Wozniak will move close to Top 60 on the WTA rankings after a fruitful March that also saw her win the Nassau Challenger in the Bahamas. She is once again the top-ranked Canadian and is making a strong push towards her season goal of representing Canada at the Olympics in London. With her free-flowing all around game and genuine personality, Wozniak will come through in her fair share matches in 2012, and win over a lot of new fans in the process.

Welcome Back Alisa Kleybanova

There is great news in the tennis world.

The WTA announced on it’s website that former top-20 player Alisa Kleybanova, who has been battling cancer, has resumed her training and will play in the Sony Ericson Open main draw as a wildcard. The tournament, located in Miami, begins on March 19th.

The 22-year-old Russian announced she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last July and has been undergoing successful treatments that finished in December. In her personal statement posted by the WTA, Kleybanova states that her doctors “are happy with [her] health” and that she is “feeling great!”

Read the full statement below:

Hi to all my friends and fans!

It has been a long time since my last message… and now I really want to get back in touch with you and share all the great things and emotions I have!

I finished my treatments in December and a couple of weeks ago I did my last tests in Italy. The treatments were successful, my doctors are happy with my health and I’m feeling great!

I would like to thank the Hospital Gemelli in Rome (Prof. Giuseppe Leone, Dott. Stefan Hohaus and their Team), and the Hospital Silvestrini in Perugia (Prof. Brunangelo Falini, Dott. Flavio Falcinelli and their Team). From the bottom of my heart I want to thank my coach Iulian Vespan, my boyfriend Giacomo, my family and my close friends that were next to me all this time. I will never forget it…

I have started to train and right now I’m in Florida playing tennis again!!! It was physically really hard in the beginning, but it was so emotional that I didn’t want to get off the court :) This is just amazing, I’m working out every day now and enjoying it so much more than before!

More than anything, I’ve missed the competition. For me tennis is not just going on the court and hitting the ball – it’s testing yourself, seeing how good you are, trying new things, trying to improve, trying to win… For me the best part of tennis is the competition and I’m really looking forward to my comeback!

By the way, I just got confirmed my main draw wildcard into the Miami tournament, so I will see you guys really soon!!!

I don’t think I have ever been more excited :) ))

Alisa

Kleybanova has won two WTA Tour titles, at Kuala Lumpur in 2010 and in Seoul in 2008, and was ranked a career-high No. 20 in the world almost exactly a year ago. With her powerful build and groundstrokes, Kleybanova also reached the fourth round at a Grand Slam twice, at the 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open.

Kleybanova’s current ranking is No. 167, but she can use injury protected ranking as she returns to the competition she loves. Hopefully this is just the beginning of her success story.

From all of us tennis fans, welcome back Alisa.

(Photos by Getty Images.)

Gasquet Cleared, Party Kiss Transferred Cocaine

LONDON (AP) — Richard Gasquet escaped a lengthy doping ban Wednesday when the International Tennis Federation ruled that he inadvertently took cocaine.
The 23-year-old Frenchman, who was cleared to resume playing after completing a 2 1/2-month ban Wednesday, convinced an independent anti-doping tribunal that he ingested cocaine by kissing a woman he met at a nightclub in Miami.
The tribunal panel of three lawyers said Gasquet consumed no more than “a grain of salt” of the drug, and a long ban would be an injustice in a case which was “unusual to the point of being probably unique.”
“We have found the player to be a person who is shy and reserved, honest and truthful, and a man of integrity and good character,” the tribunal said in its ruling.
The ITF, which had sought a two-year ban under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, was told to impose a retroactive ban of two months, 15 days. The ban ended Wednesday morning, clearing 32nd-ranked Gasquet to resume playing.
Gasquet tested positive in a urine sample in March after he pulled out of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, with a shoulder injury.
After deciding to withdraw from the tournament he went to a nightclub with friends to see a French DJ perform at a Miami dance music festival, which the tribunal noted was “notoriously associated with use of illegal recreational drugs including cocaine.”
Gasquet told the tribunal hearing held in London last month that he kissed a woman, identified in the ruling only as “Pamela.”
The tribunal said it was likely she had consumed cocaine during the night, though it had no direct evidence.
Gasquet was “on the balance of probability, contaminated with cocaine by Pamela” and, therefore, not significantly at fault for the doping offense, the ruling said.
“We take into account that the amount of cocaine in the player’s body was so small that if he had been tested only a few hours later, his test result would be likely to have been negative,” the tribunal stated.
Gasquet also argued at the hearing that his positive test was given after he had pulled out of the Key Biscayne tournament. Cocaine is a banned drug for athletes in competition.
The tribunal said Gasquet’s rights to practice his profession would be infringed by a one-year suspension, though it was required to find that a doping offense was committed.
It also noted that Gasquet would be banned for life if he tested positive for a banned drug a second time.
The ruling allowed the Frenchman to keep the ranking points and prize money he gained at tournaments in April.
The ITF provisionally suspended Gasquet when the test result was announced in May and he was forced to miss the French Open and Wimbledon. His ranking has since dropped nine places.
The ruling can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within three weeks.

LONDON (AP) — Richard Gasquet escaped a lengthy doping ban Wednesday when the International Tennis Federation ruled that he inadvertently took cocaine.

The 23-year-old Frenchman, who was cleared to resume playing after completing a 2 1/2-month ban Wednesday, convinced an independent anti-doping tribunal that he ingested cocaine by kissing a woman he met at a nightclub in Miami.

The tribunal panel of three lawyers said Gasquet consumed no more than “a grain of salt” of the drug, and a long ban would be an injustice in a case which was “unusual to the point of being probably unique.”

“We have found the player to be a person who is shy and reserved, honest and truthful, and a man of integrity and good character,” the tribunal said in its ruling.

The ITF, which had sought a two-year ban under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, was told to impose a retroactive ban of two months, 15 days. The ban ended Wednesday morning, clearing 32nd-ranked Gasquet to resume playing.

Gasquet tested positive in a urine sample in March after he pulled out of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, with a shoulder injury.

After deciding to withdraw from the tournament he went to a nightclub with friends to see a French DJ perform at a Miami dance music festival, which the tribunal noted was “notoriously associated with use of illegal recreational drugs including cocaine.”

Gasquet told the tribunal hearing held in London last month that he kissed a woman, identified in the ruling only as “Pamela.”

The tribunal said it was likely she had consumed cocaine during the night, though it had no direct evidence.

Gasquet was “on the balance of probability, contaminated with cocaine by Pamela” and, therefore, not significantly at fault for the doping offense, the ruling said.

“We take into account that the amount of cocaine in the player’s body was so small that if he had been tested only a few hours later, his test result would be likely to have been negative,” the tribunal stated.

Gasquet also argued at the hearing that his positive test was given after he had pulled out of the Key Biscayne tournament. Cocaine is a banned drug for athletes in competition.

The tribunal said Gasquet’s rights to practice his profession would be infringed by a one-year suspension, though it was required to find that a doping offense was committed.

It also noted that Gasquet would be banned for life if he tested positive for a banned drug a second time.

The ruling allowed the Frenchman to keep the ranking points and prize money he gained at tournaments in April.

The ITF provisionally suspended Gasquet when the test result was announced in May and he was forced to miss the French Open and Wimbledon. His ranking has since dropped nine places.

The ruling can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within three weeks.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world

STARS

Tomas Berdych beat Mikhail Youzhny 6-4 4-6 7-6 (5) to win the BMW Open in Munich, Germany

Dinara Safina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-2 to win the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Italy

Novak Djokovic beat Lukasz Kubot 6-3 7-6 (0) to win the Serbia Open in Belgrade, Serbia

Albert Montanes defeated James Blake 5-7 7-6 (8) 6-0 to win the Estoril Open men’s singles in Estoril, Portugal

Yanina Wickmayer beat Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-2 to win the Estoril Open women’s singles in Estoril, Portugal

Yen-Hsun Lu beat Benjamin Becker 6-3 3-1 retired to win the Israel Open 2009 in Ramat Hasharon, Israel

Andrea Petrovic won the GDF Suez Open Romania, beating Stefanie Voegele 6-3 6-2 in Bucharest, Romania

DAVIS CUP

Americas Zone Group 1

(Second Round)

Brazil beat Colombia;Ecuador beat Peru

Asia/Oceania Group 1

(Third Round)

India beat Australia, default; Uzbekistan beat Japan 3-2

Europe/Africa Zone Group 1

(Second Round)

South Africa beat Belarus 5-0

SAYING

“If we are looking at the category of the event (ATP World Tour 250 tournament) it’s not the biggest success I ever had, but it certainly is the most important win for me.” – Novak Djokovic, after winning the inaugural Serbia Open in his hometown, Belgrade.

“It’s hard to say who I would rather face in the final because I didn’t expect to be here either.” – Lukasz Kubot, a “lucky loser” who reached the final of the Serbia Open where he faced Novak Djokovic – and lost 6-3 7-6 (0)

“It was a little bit like Christmas today; I was giving too many presents.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after losing to Dinara Safina in the final at Rome.

“Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.” – Serena Williams, the day before she lost her first match at the Italian Open to Patty Schnyder.

“It’s great to be number three. I just want to win. The ranking will come when it comes.” – Venus Williams, after losing to top-ranked Dinara Safina.

“I hope this gives me even more proof that I deserve to be there (at the top of the ranking) and it helps me maybe on the big stage to win a Grand Slam.” – Dinara Safina, after beating Venus Williams in the Italian Open semifinals.

“I don’t really have many words to describe the feeling – I’m nearly speechless!” – Yanina Wickmayer, after winning the Estoril Open women’s singles in Portugal.

“To me, she (got) too upset for no reason. It was just one ball in the match.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after Victoria Azarenka lost her concentration as she disputed a call, then lost the next five games and ultimately the match.

“I really tried hard to avoid surgery, but with my doctor and professional team we have decided it is the only solution.” – David Nalbandian, announcing he will undergo hip surgery May 13 in Barcelona, Spain.

“Physically I’m not as strong as I can be, but mentally I’m very tough.” – Nikolay Davydenko.

“Because I am a perfectionist, I had just assumed I would play perfectly all the time, but I have learned that in those times I have to find a way to win and I am much more OK with that.” – Ana Ivanovic.

“Champions do the ordinary things a bit better than anyone else.” – Craig Kardon, who is coaching Ana Ivanovic.

“I played what she liked and she has more power than me. Today was her day, she was the better player, she deserved to win.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“It’s nice to seee Americans doing well on clay. We have taken a lot of heat over the years.” – Scott Lipsky, noting an all-American team won the doubles and an American reached the singles final on the clay courts of Estoril, Portugal.

“It’s a fact that there are too many matches, but that’s the way the calendar has been set.” – Rafael Nadal, saying the men’s tennis calendar has too many tournaments after he played 14 matches in three weeks, winning clay-court titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

SUSPENDED

Richard Gasquet has been suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after testing positive for cocaine. The 22-year-old Frenchman will miss the French Open, which begins May 24 in Paris. Gilbert Ysern, director general of the French Tennis Federation, said the test was considered an in-competition control, meaning Gasquet could be banned for two years if found guilty. Announcing cocaine traces were found in Gasquet’s urine sample at a tournament in Miami, Florida, in March, the ITF said it expects to have a panel in place within 60 days for a hearing. Gasquet says he’s innocent, despite two samples that tested positive. Once ranked as high as number seven in the world, Gasquet reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2007.

SAD HISTORY

The father of Jelena Dokic is serving a 30-day prison sentence after he reportedly made threats against the Australian ambassador to Serbia. Damir Dokic was detained in his home in northern Serbia where police found seven hunting rifles, a gun and two bombs. The Serbian newspaper Blic quoted Dokic as saying he had called the Australian embassy in Belgrade and threatened to “fire a rocket” at the car belonging to the ambassador. Jelena Dokic, who has been estranged from her father since 2002, had been playing in Bucharest, Romania, where she reached the semifinals of the USD $100,000 GDF Suez Open Romania before falling to Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-1 3-6 6-1. In a statement released in London, her agent, Lawrence Frankopan, said: “Jelena is very distressed and saddened by her father’s arrest. … She understands very well the severity of the situation. Obviously, she cannot, in any way, be held responsible for her father’s actions. Jelena remains 100 percent focused on her tennis in preparation for the upcoming French Open.”

SO, TAKE THAT

Patty Schnyder was leading Serena Williams 5-0 in the final set of their Italian Open match when she called her husband/coach onto the court to give her a pep talk. She promptly lost the next game before going on to oust the second-ranked Williams, who a day earlier had proclaimed that she was the top player in women’s tennis despite the WTA Tour rankings. Schnyder’s 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory perhaps shouldn’t be considered that big of a surprise. Although Williams has an 8-4 advantage in their career meetings, Schnyder has won all three times the two have played on clay, including an Italian Open match two years ago.

SURPRISE

When Lukasz Kubot lost in the final round of qualifying to Slovakia’s Dominik Hrbaty, he had no thoughts about playing for the title of the inaugural Serbia Open in Belgrade. However, Kubot gained entry into the main singles draw as a “lucky loser,” thanks to Belgium’s Steve Darcis pulling out with a shoulder injury. Kubot then made the most of his second chance, becoming the first Polish player to reach an ATP final since Wojtek Fibak in 1983 by beating Serbian wild card Arsenije Zlatanovic, Russia’s Igor Andreev, Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen and Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic. The dream ended in the title match when Kubot fell to home crowd favorite Novak Djokovic 6-3 7-6 (0). However, Kubot wasn’t finished. Making it even a better week, he teamed with Oliver Marach of Austria to win the doubles, beating Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-2 7-6 (3).

STANDING TALL

Yanina Wickmayer won her first WTA Tour title by defeating Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-2 in the final of the Estoril Open and becoming Belgium’s first Tour singles champion since Justine Henin more than a year ago. Wickmayer, who was ranked 88th going into the tournament, broke her opponent’s serve in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead in the second set. Makarova, also runner-up at the Grand SAR in Morocco the week before, is still seeking her first Tour singles title. In her only previous title match, Wickmayer lost to Kateryna Bolndarenko in Birmingham, England, last year.

SURGERY SET

Saying his right hip is hurting more each day, David Nalbandian has decided to undergo surgery. The decision means Nalbandian will miss “the rest of the season – including all three Grand Slams,” he said. “I feel deeply sad because I won’t be able to play Davis Cup this year.” The surgery was set for May 13 in Barcelona. A Wimbledon finalist in 2002, Nalbandian reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2004 and 2006. The Argentine said he tried other treatment, but it didn’t work out as he and his doctor had hoped. “Unfortunately I have decided to have surgery because I have not felt a substantial improvement in the injury during my training sessions,” Nalbandian said.

STELLAR COMPANY

Lleyton Hewitt has joined Roger Federer and Carlos Moya as the only active players on the ATP Tour to have won 500 matches. The Australian reached the 500-victory plateau in the opening round of the BMW Open in Munich, Germany, when he staved off two match points in beating Philipp Petzschner 6-2 6-7 (2) 7-6 (8). Hewitt increased his match win record to 501 before running into eventual winner Tomas Berdych.

SWINE FLU NO-NO

Two International Tennis Federation (ITF) women’s tournaments in Mexico have been canceled due to the swine flu outbreak. Players who had been accepted for the tournament in Mazatlan this week have been permitted to sign-in as an on-site alternate at any other ITF tournament. And those players entered into next week’s event in Los Mochis can enter another tournament in accordance with the order of priority system. The two tournaments were canceled after the Mexican government suspended all non-essential work in the first five days of May because of the swine flu outbreak.

STILL MISSING

A knee injury will keep Ana Ivanovic from playing in the Madrid Open. However, the Serbian right-hander said she will be ready to defend her French Open title later this month. Ivanovic said her right knee has been bothering her since she and Jelena Jankovic teamed to lead Serbia over Spain in Fed Cup last month. A doctor in Munich, Germany, advised her not to play competitively for a week.

SETTING UP SHOP?

Nikolay Davydenko and Sabine Lisicki could have another career when they finish playing tennis. Before playing their first Estoril Open matches in Estoril, Portugal, the two were taught how to cook the famous Portuguese cake “Pasteis de Belem.” The two players visited the original Casa Pasteis de Belem, founded in 1837, then went into the factory to learn the secret recipe for the cakes. Only the original Pasteis de Belem carry the name, while the cakes are more commonly known in Portugal as Pasteis de Nata. The original recipe was invented by two Catholic sisters in the convent at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Beginning in 1837, the cakes were sold to raise money for the monastery, which today is an UNESCO heritage site.

SWEET PAIRING

Jan Henrych and Ivo Minar play on the same team at the Czech Lawn Tennis Club in Prague, but had never played doubles together until the BMW Open in Munich, Germany. They probably are wondering why they waited so long. The two knocked off top-ranked twins Bob and Mike Bryan in the first round and went on to capture the title, upsetting second-seeded Australians Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 6-4 in the final. “We only decided to play together 30 minutes before the (sign-in) deadline for doubles, and then we saw the draw against the Bryans, so we just went to the court and tried our best,” said the 24-year-old Minar.

SAC STATE STARS

Sacramento State has the best tennis team in the Big Sky Conference, thanks to a lifeline that extends into Eastern Europe. The California school’s top two women and three of its six men’s singles players, including the top player, come from the Belarus. But then so do the Hornets head coaches Slava Konikov (men) and Dima Hrynashka (women). The players include All-American Katrina Zheltova, Maria Meliuk and Kiryl Harbatsiuk. At the Big Sky Conference championships, Zheltova and Harbatsiuk were named most valuable players and Konikov and Hrynashka were selected Coaches of the Year. Sacramento State is not alone in looking abroad for college tennis players. About 43 percent of the ranked women and 64 percent of the ranked men in American collegiate tennis are international players. India’s Somdev Devvarman, playing for the University of Virginia, won the last two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s singles titles.

SCOTT’S WEDDING GIFT

Last weekend was when Scott Lipsky was supposed to be in Miami, Florida, at the wedding of his girlfriend’s twin sister. Instead, he was with fellow American Eric Butorac in Estoril, Portugal, where the two won their first ATP World Tour doubles title, beating Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedet 6-3 6-2 in the final. “The first day I had a flight on Wednesday, we won,” Lipsky said. “We played again on Thursday. I had a flight for Friday evening. We played our semifinal and won. I couldn’t get back for the wedding. I hope I still have a girlfriend.” It was Lipsky’s second doubles title, having teamed with David Martin to win at San Jose, California, in February 2008. Butorac also had won a doubles title earlier, teaming with Rajeev Ram in Channai, India, earlier this year.

SET FOR THE CAPITAL

Washington, D.C., will be the site for this year’s World TeamTennis championship finals. The July 26 competition, being played in America’s capital for the first time, will pit the 10-team league’s Eastern Conference champions against the winners of the Western Conference.

SWITCH AT TOP

John Tobias has been named president of Blue Entertainment Sports Television’s Tennis division. In 2005, Tobias was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 30 sports industry executives under the age of 30. He replaces tennis agent Ken Meyerson, who has left the company. BEST Tennis represents more than 100 professional tennis coaches and players, including Victoria Azarenka, Anna Chakvetadze, Caroline Wozniacki, Mardy Fish and Sam Querry. The company also produces tennis events such as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, and holds television production rights for the US Open, French Open and various US-based ATP tournaments. According to Bob Larson’s Tennis News, Meyerson left to establish a US office for a new company, Lagardere Unlimited, a division of the French media giant Lagardere. Meyerson reportedly is taking a number of tennis players with him, including Andy Roddick.

SHANGHAI STOP

The Qizhong Tennis Center in Shanghai is adding new courts as it gets ready to stage an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in October. The Tennis Center was the site for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup for five years, an event that this year will be held in London. For this year’s tournament, Qizhong’s main stadium roof will be opened, turning it into a 15,000-seat outdoor facility. The Grand Stand Court 2 will accommodate 5,000 spectators, while Court 3 will seat 2,000. Construction of the new facilities is expected to be completed by August. The tournament will be held October 10-18 and will conclude a four-week Asian tour, following stops in Bangkok, Tokyo and Beijing.

SUCCESS, HOPEFULLY

Tanzania figures tennis is the way to go. The government has urged the Tanzania Lawn Tennis Association (TLTA) to focus on international tournaments, including the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi, India. Bernard Membe, the minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said Tanzania could become known if its athletes do well in international competition. Membe noted that Ethiopia and Kenya are well known because of their success in sports.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Rome: Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai beat Daniela Hantuchovga and Ai Sugiyama 7-5 7-6 (5)

Munich: Jan Hernych and Ivo Minar beat Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 6-4

Estoril (men): Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky beat Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt 6-3 6-2

Estoril (women): Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears beat Sharon Fichman and Katalin Marosi 2-6 6-3 10-5 (match tiebreak)

Belgrade: Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach beat Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-2 7-6 (3)

Ramat Hasharon: George Bastl and Chris Cuccione beat Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 7-5 7-6 (6)

Bucharest: Irina-Camelia Begu and Simona Halep beat Julia Goerges and Sandra Klemenschits 2-6 6-0 12-10 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Madrid: www.madrid-open.com/

Bordeaux: www.atp-primrosebordeaux.com

Duesseldorf: www.arag-world-team-cup.com/

Kitzbuhel: www.atpkitz.at

Warsaw: www.warsawopen.com.pl/

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-strasbourg.fr/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$4,500,000 Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, Madrid, Spain, clay

$110,000 BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France, clay

WTA

$4,500,000 Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, Madrid, Spain, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$490,000 Interwetten Austrian Open, Kitzbuhel, Austria, clay

$1,800,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championships, Dusseldorf, Germany, clay

WTA

$600,000 Warsaw Open, Warsaw, Poland, clay

$220,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

SENIORS

Grand Champions Brazil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

Time for Roger Federer to Step Up

We are now two months into the 2008 tennis season and who would have thought that by this point Roger Federer would have exactly zero titles to his name? NRoger Federer 2ot only has he failed to win a title thus far, but he has not even made it to a final. While I’m not ready to join the growing number of tennis fans who are wondering aloud if Federer may have passed his peak, clearly it is time that he delivered some results to quiet his critics. It needs to start here and now with the Masters tournament in Miami.

To summarize his year to date, Federer has reached two semifinals and had one first round defeat. However, his semifinal appearances have not exactly been attained with his usual level of brilliance. At the Australian Open, he struggled to get past Janko Tipsarevic in the third round. He eventually pulled it out 10-8 in a rare fifth set – rare for Federer that is. Then last week at Indian Wells, Roger made it through three easy opening round opponents, lucked-out with a quarterfinal walkover, and was then trounced 6-3 6-2 by Mardy Fish. The bottom line is that Federer has not had a strong performance yet in 2008. For a player who has dominated the opening months of the year going back to 2004, this is a major issue.

Each of the past four years, Roger Federer has opened the tennis season by dismissing almost every challenge sent his way. In 2004 he had three titles by this point. In 2005, he had four titles. By this point of 2006 he had three titles and one final. And in 2007 he had two titles. The consistency in his game has been incredible, and by starting each season so strongly he has been able to carry that momentum throughout the year. The same cannot be said thus far in 2008, and with only one more hard court tournament before the claycourt season starts, his confidence and aura of invincibility are nowhere to be found.

While some of his lackluster play can be attributed to him coming down with mononucleosis earlier in the year, one has to wonder if that is the only factor. Perhaps other players are finally beginning to figure out what makes him tick. Younger players like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are presenting well-rounded and dangerous games that he has not had to face in recent years. Maybe his motivation is starting to wane after so many consecutive years of dominating play. Whatever the reason may be, Federer must make a statement in Miami to show the rest of the tour he is still top dog.

Should Djokovic win this upcoming Miami Masters Series event after his victory in Indian Wells last week, he would be the number one threat on tour, whether the rankings reflect that or not. Suddenly Federer could be viewed as the underdog in their rivalry. Federer needs to have that sense of being unbeatable to continue his push for the Grand Slam record. Many close matches he has had over the years have probably swung his way due to the player across the net realizing who they were playing, and not necessarily how he was playing. How will Federer evolve as a tennis player if he is no longer the number one threat?

I think we will see Federer fight his way to the title in Miami. He needs a confidence boost before switching to the claycourts of Europe and this would be the perfect one. It is time for Federer to display his champion spirit and returned to the winners circle. The alternative would not bode well for him as the tennis season quickly unravels. He does not want to be sitting back watching the Djokovics and Murrays of the tour grab the titles that he has owned for so long. He needs to step up and show them that their time is yet to come.