(July 14, 2013) After his semifinal loss to Nicolas Mahut at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, RI on Sunday, American Michael Russell kept his eyes on center court. Due to rain delays on Saturday, both singles semifinals and the final were forced to be played back to back the following day on adjacent courts.
After winning their respective semifinals, Lleyton Hewitt took the court against Mahut to battle for the grass court title at 2:30pm on Sunday. After serving for the match, up 7-5, 5-4, Hewitt ended up losing the set and the match, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 to the Frenchman.
Afterward, Russell unexpectedly took to his personal Facebook page for an aggressive rant and name-calling session against the Aussie, calling him a “douche bag and a racist.”
The “side court 1″ comment is in reference to both semifinals being played side-by-side simultaneously, where Hewitt versus John Isner was on center court, and Russell versus Mahut was on court 1.
Though Russell somewhat explains what he meant by the “douche bag” comment, there was nothing to allude to the “racist” comment whether on Facebook or during the week’s happenings in Newport.
However, this isn’t the first time Hewitt has been called a racist.
During a second round match between Hewitt and James Blake at the 2001 US Open, Hewitt was called for two foot faults in the fourth set. The line judge happened to be black, and during a changeover, Hewitt had a conversation with the chair umpire regarding what many perceived to be a race issue.
“I’m only being foot-faulted on one end … Look at him, look at him and you tell me what the similarity is,” said a heated Hewitt on court.
When questioned in his post-match press conference about seemingly comparing the umpire’s and Blake’s skin color as the reason for his outburst, Hewitt firmly denied it was a race issue. “No, I didn’t say that to the umpire.”
“It was a conversation with me and the umpire,” Hewitt continued. “I come from a multi-cultured country, I’m not racial at all … There was nothing racial said out there at all. If people took it in the wrong way, then I apologize because it wasn’t meant to be in that way.” Blake publicly gave him the benefit of the doubt “because it’s in competition.”
However, the stigma stuck and the Aussie received continued backlash — one that seems to have extended to present day with Russell’s comments some 12 years later. The strange thing is though, Hewitt went on to defeat Albert Portas, Tommy Haas, Andy Roddick, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Pete Sampras to win his first Slam, the 2001 US Open.
UPDATE: Michael Russell went on Facebook and Twitter late Sunday to debunk it was him posting these comments to his Facebook account, instead claiming it was his “publicist.” However, while saying he “NEVER posts directly on Facebook” but “ONLY” uses Twitter linked to his Facebook account, the first post below is clearly in opposition to that statement. Moreover, as seen in the screencap above, the person apparently posting in Russell’s stead commented that “I have been on tour for over 15 years.” Now, why would a publicist state that if indeed it was the publicist? Furthermore, Russell’s wife Lilly “liked” several of the comments within the now-deleted rant.
Regardless of what happened here or who is to blame, it was not a smart move for a guy generally well-liked on the Tour, and one who has been quite outspoken about the need of restructuring the ATP.
(h/t to @prashantsport on Hewitt video)
With all of the American men gone by the third round of the Australian Open, we look back on how each of them fared. Interestingly, the greatest accomplishments came from some of the least expected names, while the more familiar figures often fizzled.
Ryan Harrison: Avenging his Olympics loss to Giraldo with a four-set victory, he relied on defensive tennis to a startling degree and could not trouble Djokovic at all in the second round. Harrison’s serve looked sharp, but he appears to have improved his game little over the last year or so.
Sam Querrey: The last man to fall fulfilled the expectations for the 20th seed, falling only to the higher-ranked Wawrinka. That straight-sets loss ended a reasonably good week for Querrey, although he benefited from Baker’s retirement and did not defeat anyone of note.
Brian Baker: Perhaps the saddest story of the tournament, he injured his knee in the second round against Querrey and may miss the next four months. That said, Baker impressed by battling through a tight five-setter against former American Bogomolov, and he had won the first set from Querrey in a match that looked like an upset before his injury.
Michael Russell: He drew Berdych in the first round and unsurprisingly had no answer for the Czech’s offensive arsenal, unable to match him hold for hold in a straight-sets defeat.
Tim Smyczek: The most pleasant surprise of the tournament among American men, he entered the draw as a lucky loser when Isner withdrew and made the most of his opportunity. Smyczek somehow tamed the towering serve of Ivo Karlovic in the first round, not even losing a set, and he snatched a set from world #5 David Ferrer in the second round before succumbing gallantly. Especially impressive was his comeback from losing the first nine games of that match to make Ferrer earn his victory.
Steve Johnson: Making his main-draw debut at the Australian Open, this former UCLA star qualified for the main draw and then received the unpleasant tidings of an opener against Almagro. But Johnson rose to the occasion with panache, firing first strikes with abandon through five entertaining sets as he stood toe to toe with a top-15 opponent despite his inexperience. His passion captivated and suggested that he can score an occasional surprise if he can refine his game.
Rajeev Ram: More noted for his doubles expertise, this serve-volley specialist surprised by winning his first match over baseliner Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Falling meekly to Cilic in the next round, Ram still probably overachieved by reaching that stage.
Rhyne Williams: The winner of the Australian Open wildcard playoff, he deployed his booming serve and forehand to brilliant effect in claiming a two-set lead over top-30 opponent Florian Mayer. Williams later would hold match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before the German wriggled out of the trap to complete a comeback in five. But the experience should help this promising young star evolve into a fitter, more tenacious competitor, which could prove a dangerous combination with his obvious talents.
All things considered, the American men produced respectable results in view of prominent absences like Fish, Isner, and the retired Roddick. With expectations especially low, they competed with credit and, in some cases, produced results on which they can build.
During the Sony Ericsson Open, I sat down with Dutch ATP player and current world #53, Robin Haase to chat memorable moments, the perks of being a tennis player, the players he would most want to party with and Novak Djokovic as the toughest opponent he has ever faced.
Even though he was running late to the interview, he was apologetic and friendly, showcasing his signature curls and inviting smile. I made sure to take full advantage of his good attitude after defeating Australian Marinko Matosevic earlier in the day, 6-3, 6-4. He will next face 22nd-seed Jurgen Melzer in the second round.
What is your most memorable moment on-court?
It’s a tough one. It’s always tough to say that because you are always in a different time of your career – and you have many moments. I can go back to when I was 12, the most important thing was to win the national championships. Of course, that’s not my most memorable moment, but it’s always tough to say what is. I had a great experience almost beating Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon [in 2010] — took him to five sets, on center court. He was defending champion and #1 in the world, and of course, to play on the nicest court of the tennis world was a great experience. Also, last year I won my first ATP event and I think that’s, of course, a memorable moment.
What’s the best part of being a tennis player?
The best part is that I made tennis, which is my hobby, as my job. I think that not a lot of people can say that they do what they love to do, every day, day in and day out. But it’s not as easy as people think. It’s not just as glamorous a life as people think. It’s also a hard life but I enjoy it every day.
What’s the toughest part?
The toughest part is the many weeks of travelling, playing a lot of tournaments, having to go to almost all the continents. That’s not easy. You lose almost every week, so every week you have to recover from disappointment. That’s hard.
Do you have any superstitions on court?
No, not really. I think there’s also a big difference between superstition and rituals, so I have the same kind of warm up to prepare for the match. But it’s not like Nadal with the bottles, or stepping on lines. I don’t have that. Sometimes I take the same ball and sometimes I don’t.
If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?
I think I would pick the ones I am closest friends to. With friends you go to parties and dinners. One of the guys would be Jarkko Nieminen. I think almost everyone would invite him, he’s a great guy. I know Marin Cilic from juniors too. I get along with, for example, from the States, Michael Russell. There are a lot of guys, of course, but there are some guys you kind of practice more with, have dinner with. So I think these guys are it.
Who’s the toughest opponent you have ever faced on-court?
Of course, it’s the top 3 or 4 players. It’s always tough to play them. I wouldn’t say Nadal is the toughest for me to play because I took him to five sets. For me, it’s Djokoivc. I played him twice and didn’t even have a chance to get close to winning a set. So that’s probably the toughest guy for me to play. But outside of that there is also Soderling, Berdych, Del Potro — these kinds of players are tough to beat.
What are two things you couldn’t live without?
(Long pause) Air? (laughs) I’m not really materialistic, I don’t care about a lot of “stuff.” But of course, friends and family, and health, that’s most important in life. Just recently in Indian Wells, a family member of mine died, so that’s most important, and all the other “stuff” are extra.
How did you handle the personal loss during Indian Wells on the emotional side?
That was fine. I knew it was going to happen. I decided to go and play, so for me was ok. I was almost happy that it happened because it was better that way [because of the suffering].
And to end on a fun note, what is your biggest indulgence?
I’m not really the gadget guy, don’t wear watches. So I can’t think of something.
A type of food, maybe?
You can always wake me up for good Japanese or Italian. I love to eat. Every day I go out to restaurants. As a tennis player, you get to see a lot of good restaurants so you get really picky. So certainly, that’s something I look forward to every day. You’re always practicing, so going out for dinner for one, two, or even three hours at a time, you can have fun and enjoy.
Day one from the Rogers Cup offered up some quality first round matches in Montreal. Some were able to meet expectations while others did not.
Falling into the category of the latter would be David Nalbandian against 16th seeded Stanislas Wawrinka. While the world’s second ranked Swiss player held a solid 5-3 record against Nalbandian heading into the match, the Argentine won their last encounter with ease a year ago by a score of 6-1, 6-3.
Nalbandian has had a tough year, one that once again has been negatively impacted by health issues. Requiring not one, but two separate surgeries to his left leg/groin areas, Nalbandian missed three months on the tour and returned just in time for the brief grass-court season. He lost in the third round of both Queen’s (Verdasco) and Wimbledon (Federer) before falling to James Blake in the first round of Washington where he was the defending champion. His inability to defend those ranking points sent him plummeting 24 spots in the ranking to his current spot of 51st in the world.
Nalbandian looked ordinary on Center Court against Wawrinka today and could not make a dent in his game. He looked somewhat lethargic and allowed Wawrinka to win easily 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the second round where he will now face the winner of the Michael Russell vs. Albert Montanes match scheduled for tomorrow.
Wawrinka was moving well on the court today and never seemed bothered by Nalbandian’s game. His assessment of his opponent was pretty much to the point as he said that, “With him, you never know. Today he was not playing really good. I think he’s not really ready.” He pointed out that perhaps at Nalbandian’s age he is not quite as fit as he needs to be. “But maybe with the year (age), he’s 29 now, maybe it’s not easy for him to play many matches at the top level.”
Nalbandian was practicing on the weekend with big-serving Ivo Karlovic – perhaps not the best player to prepare for a groundstroke battle with an all-round player like Wawrinka.
In the second match of the day on the main stage, the ever-present Juan Carlos Ferrero took on enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. JCF held a 1-0 head-to-head advantage coming into the match and had looked strong lately on clay in winning his sixteenth career title in Stuttgart. Ferrero’s season has been a trying one however as he did not play his first tournament until April due to wrist and knee injuries. He was then out between May and July when those same ailments began acting up once again. Today was his first hard-court action of the year and he got off to a good start by taking the opening set 6-3.
Gulbis has been playing some of the best tennis of his career as of late as the 22 year old won his first title of the year and second of his career in Los Angeles against Mardy Fish. Could it be that Gulbis is finally going to deliver on his enormous potential? He dug deep today against Ferrero to comeback and win 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Next on the horizon will be a match against the winner of tomorrow’s match between Mikhail Youzhny and Michael Llodra.
Other matches of note on the outside courts included the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov, who survived a scare from Erik Chvojka of Canada who is ranked 290th in the world and was entered in the draw thanks to a wildcard from Tennis Canada. Dolgopolov had to battle to win 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Big serving Ivo Karlovic snapped out of a funk that has seen him lose seven of his last eight matches on the tour. He prevailed today against Juan Monaco 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(5) for only his second win since May. Speaking with him afterwards, Karlovic recalled that when he turned thirty it was, “the most depressing day of my life, so I know how Roger must feel now.”
American Alex Bogomolov Jr. continued his surprising play of late by dispatching Adrian Mannarino in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6(4).
Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil knocked-off Andrey Golubev 7-5, 7-6(6). Golubev has now lost eighteen straight matches. He is quickly approaching the all-time losing record of Vince Spadea who at one point in his career lost twenty-one consecutive matches. Talk about having your resolve to keep playing thoroughly tested.
Marin Cilic, who it seems to me is due for some sort of breakthrough this year, was able to dispatch of Andreas Seppi 7-5, 6-4.
Nikolay Davydenko defeated Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 6-3 to advance to an interesting second round encounter. Davydenko will now face world number one Novak Djokovic in the second night match on Tuesday in Montreal. While a shell of his former self, Davydenko will be a tricky opening opponent for Djokovic. The Serb has not played yet due to a first round bye.
At night, Juan Martin Del Potro easily handled Jarkko Nieminen by a margin of 6-4, 6-0. I’ve personally stopped feeling any sympathy for Nieminen ever since he trounced Andre Agassi in the last two sets of the American’s last appearance at the French Open. In that match in 2005, Agassi was up two sets to one until his back acted up and he was beaten 7-5, 4-6, 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-0.
The 19th ranked Del Potro is on a collision course to face Djokovic in the third round in what would be a marquee match-up that early in the event. The 2009 U.S. Open winner has been making some solid progress since missing most of the 2010 season due to injury and is certainly going to be back in the top ten, perhaps even top five if he continues at this rate.
Del Potro refused to speculate on facing Djokovic and gave the classic “one match at a time” answer when pressed.
“Yeah, I know that. But first I will have to play against Cilic. Will be very difficult match for both. We know each other since juniors. We play many, many times. It’s really difficult match for me because he knows everything about my game, and I know many things about his game, too. But first I have to beat him and then I will thinking if I have another match. Before (Djokovic), Cilic in the next round.”
The final match of the night was between fan-favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fabio Fognini. The Frenchman advanced with some second set difficulty but was able to make Fognini the third in a trifecta of Italians to be bounced from the tournament. The final score was 6-4, 7-6(0). Tsonga was visited by the trainer in the second set when down a break and appeared to have – no joke – his head checked. Tsonga stuck around after the match to hit a few balls with a local wheelchair tennis player in a nice moment to end the evening.
One noticeable no-show today was birthday boy Roger Federer. With a bye in the first round he is not scheduled to play until Wedneday so we will have to wait until then to discuss how he feels about turning the big 3-0.
The song ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ was unfortunately the most over-played tune from Sunday in Toronto as the Rogers Cup was forced to deal with plenty of precipitation as the qualifying tournament approached its end.
The first match of the day on Centre Court between Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan and Marius Copil of Romania began shortly after 10am local time and finally ended just after 3pm with Lu prevailing 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3. Rain halted progress for a lengthy period of time at the start of the second set and forced competitors and fans alike to play the waiting game at the Rexall Centre.
I took the time to test my serve at one of the popular interactive fan attractions on the grounds and walked away humbled by my 136 kilometre per hour attempt. Gonna do a few bicep curls and come back stronger for tomorrow.
The second match on the main stadium was between Canadian hopeful Philip Bester and veteran American Michael Russell. Bester – who looks strikingly similar to Max Mirnyi – was unable to perform like the beast he had hoped to and was beaten by the 32 year-old Russell 6-2, 6-2 in front of his home fans. Bester made good on his promise to, “go out guns blazing,” as he was the more aggressive of the two players. Unfortunately his shots were often off the mark which sent his unforced errors tally spiralling out of control. As the sun finally broke through the persistent cloud coverage it became clear that Bester was not going to get the reprieve he so-badly needed.
Of the six Canadians admitted into the qualifying draw, none have advanced to the main tournament that begins Monday. Don’t worry Canadian tennis fans, we still have four of our own represented this week so you’ll have plenty to cheer for.
Youngster Milos Raonic gets first dibs on Monday’s schedule and will face 53rd ranked Victor Hanescu on the Grandstand court at 11am. Despite giving up about ten years in age, the 19 year-old Raonic has a decent shot against a player mostly known for his clay-court prowess. One stat that may buoy Raonic’s hopes is the three straight first-round losses that Hanescu has accumulated this summer.
In the evening session top-ranked Canuck Peter Polansky gets the unenviable task of taking on Jurgen Melzer who has had the best results of his career in 2010. The Austrian made the semi-finals at Roland Garros and followed that up with a fourth round showing at Wimbledon. Not bad for an eleven year vet who had never previously advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.
The doubles draw also offers some Canadian content as Frank Dancevic and partner Adil Shamasdin will face the duo of Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley on the more intimate court 1.
There are tons of great singles matches set for day one at the Rogers Cup but the real show-piece no doubt will feature Raonic and partner Vasek Pospisil against the ‘are-you-kidding-me’ tandem of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That match will close-out the evening session on Centre Court with some fireworks that will truly impress.