Monte Carlo Masters

A Beautiful Day On A Perfect Court

The Monte Carlo Masters is now officially two rounds old. As ever it has achieved a heady alchemy of the wearyingly familiar and the edifyingly refreshing. In the former category may be found Rafael Nadal’s annual disavowal of his own favouritism, which would carry more credence if it wasn’t delivered from atop a golden throne fashioned from his eighty-two previous Monte Carlo trophies. In the latter category one will discover Fabio Fognini, Grigor Dimitrov and Jarkko Nieminen, all of whom have progressed farther than one might have expected, scattering seeds along the way.

All four of the top seeds had been granted byes through the first round, in order that they might today parade for the delectation of the Court Central ticket holders. It was a packed ticket on one of the world’s prettiest tennis courts. Tomas Berdych kicked things off in confessedly grotesque fashion, seeing off Marcel Granollers in a pair of rather skewed and terribly scrappy sets. He conceded that it hadn’t been lovely, but rightly suggested he’d take the win anyway.

(3) Nadal d. Matosevic, 6-1 6-2

The most heavily anticipated match of the tournament is surely the potential third round between Nadal and Philipp Kohlschreiber. That’s the one everybody is talking about on the streets. But in order even to qualify for this epoch-fissuring rumble the Mallorcan somehow had to overcome Marinko Matosevic. It was here that Nadal’s form would be put to its first, and perhaps sternest test.

Matosevic won two points in the first four games, which turned out to be too few to claim any of them. Encouragingly, however, he won six points in the fifth game, in the process saving a break point, and he cashed these in for a lone game. He raised his arms aloft at this triumph, monumental in the circumstances. He won a few more points in the set – all of them were by definition memorable – but no more games. It wasn’t a long set, which was a mercy, because nor was it particularly exciting. Nadal was dominant, but it wasn’t the variety of dominance that expresses itself via torrents of winners, and nor was he obliged to display much virtuosity in defence. The television commentators had long since given up on pretending it was anything but a mismatch: ‘If these guys were boxers, they’d never meet.’

It’s a lazy commentary trope to suggest that a player changes his shirt in order to alter the match’s momentum. Sadly any hope that the practice will die out wasn’t helped when Matosevic returned to the court in a new top and promptly broke Nadal’s serve. Sky Sports duly correlated these events. Matosevic then held for 2-0, and moved to break point in Nadal’s next service game. The prospect of some significant resistance surfaced, far out near the Mediterranean’s serene horizon. Nadal saved that break point, and began to pick up his game, breaking back as the Australian netted a fairly straight-forward volley. The possibility of resistance submerged once more, along with Matosevic’s chances. The defending champion ratcheted up his pace, and didn’t lose another game. Suddenly the winners were flowing, the last and best coming on the final point. I think he’s the favourite, even if he doesn’t.

(1) Djokovic d. Youzhny, 4-6 6-1 6-4

There was some feverish speculation as to whether Novak Djokovic would actually play the event at all. Julien Benneteau’s revelation that he’d practiced with the world No.1, and that Djokovic had barely moved, was duly gasped at, and pored over. A practice set against Andy Murray yielded nothing more certain than that the Serb was indeed alive. It’s the kind of minor intrigue that’s hard to feel excited by at the time, given that it’ll soon be resolved one way or another. Djokovic would play or he wouldn’t. Then it turned out he would. And then he did. Now he has, defeating Mikhail Youzhny in a fine and sometimes finely-balanced contest.

Youzhny had shown rare poise in the first round – rare given his execrable form of late – delivering a bagel to Daniel Gimeno-Traver. It was supremely unlikely he’d manage the same feat against Djokovic, no matter how many or few functioning ankles the Serb had. Yet, at 4-0 to the Russian, an unlikely bagel wasn’t all that far off. Djokovic was playing poorly, moving gingerly, and probing the upper-half of the net with his groundstrokes. Youzhny served for the set at 5-2, and was broken at love. Suddenly Djokovic had stoked himself to life. Youzhny served for it again at 5-4, this time with rather more success.

Sadly, he would then lose eight of the next nine games, including the second set. Having well and truly attained his full stride by now, Djokovic moved ahead a break in the deciding set. At the time it was hard to imagine that this break wouldn’t prove definitive. This was evidently a failure of imagination on my part, and one that Youzhny didn’t share. Showing admirable belief, he broke back, and survived a titanic, superb seventh game to move ahead. He couldn’t hold onto his next game, though. Djokovic broke for 5-4, and served out the match decisively. It had been a test. Despite a tentative start, his movement appeared ultimately unhindered, and all the speculation about his ankle will hopefully cease. It won’t, of course, but one can hope.

In other, more upsetting news: Nicolas Almagro has joined John Isner in that special purgatory reserved for those players who take too little care with their scheduling, at least according to judgemental pundits. Almagro’s conqueror Jurgen Melzer will now face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who displayed typical exuberance in taking down Nikolay Davydenko. Dimitrov will face Florian Mayer, and there’s no telling what will happen. The only certainties are that the sun will shine, the view will snatch away your breath, and Rafael Nadal really is the man to beat.

Donald Young’s Slump Continues

Donald Young proved doubters wrong last season.

It began with an upset win over then world No. 5 Andy Murray at the 2011 Indian Wells Masters. Then came a series of career highs as Young reached his first ATP semifinals in Washington, D.C., had a fourth round showing at the U.S. Open, and played in his maiden ATP final in Bangkok. After struggling on the ATP Tour, it appeared that Young was on his way to fulfill the potential he showed during his extremely successful junior career.

But despite the momentum heading into the new season and reaching a career high No. 38 in February, the 22-year-old Young is struggling to repeat the success in 2012.

In the nine tournaments Young has played this year he has only gone past the first round twice – at the Australian Open and at Memphis, losing both in the second round. His latest loss came at the hands of world No. 352 Paul-Henri Mathieu, losing 6-0, 6-1 in the first round at the Monte Carlo Masters. It was his fifth consecutive loss to a lower ranked player.

At No. 50 in the world, Young is the fourth ranked American and is still in a position to turn around his sub-par season. And if the 2011 U.S. Open was any indication, American tennis fans are eager to see Young succeed. With each victory in Flushing Meadows, the crowds for Young grew increasing boisterous and spirited. Young, who often exhibits negative body language during his matches, seemed to be on an upward trajectory and the American player to watch. That distinction now belongs to 26-year-old John Isner, who at No. 9 in the world is the top ranked American.

With Young, the coaching question is never far. After accepting an increased role from the USTA coaches last season, Young decided to go back to being coached by his mother Ilona in late 2011. As of now, there is no indication Young will be making any coaching changes.

Young may have proved his skeptics wrong last season, and as a result played with confidence befitting his talents, but he must find his game quickly before the doubts and doubters begin creeping up again.

Rafael Nadal marches on, Federer refutes criticism and Azarenka not taking risks

Rafa Continues Love Affair with Clay:

Rafael Nadal remains unbeaten on clay since 2009 after a battling 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo final. It was his 37th straight victory at the Masters tournament and his seventh consecutive title there, a new record. “It would have been impossible to imagine a few years ago winning seven titles here,” said Nadal. “I’m a lucky guy to have done this by age 24. I’m really enjoying everything. This was a very important win for me. I don’t think about defending points from previous years, only about playing well. I just keep trying to improve every day, train humbly and improve. Winning this week was so important.” Ferrer seemed at as much of a loss as the rest of us as to just how Rafa can be stopped on his favourite surface. “Well, he’s not a machine. He can lose,” Ferrer pondered. “Maybe if Rafa has an injury, I will have a chance.”

Federer Refutes Criticism:

Roger Federer refused to be downbeat following his slightly surprising defeat to Jurgen Melzer at Monte Carlo last week. The Austrian left-hander bested the No.2 seed 6-4, 6-4 and many saw it as another step back for the former world No.1 who now hasn’t won a tournament since Doha in January. But Federer refused to be troubled by the result: “I didn’t think I played terrible,” he said. “It’s the first week of play (on clay) so I didn’t expect to play my best. It’s been a solid tournament. I think I should have definitely gotten one of the sets. Every time I had this slight opening, things didn’t go my way. Even in the wind, I had all my chances to come back into the match. He did well. I think he played aggressive, was able to mix it up. Obviously, I wasted way too many break-point chances today, which was unfortunate.

Azarenka not risking it in Stuttgart:

Victoria Azarenka explained her reasons for retiring from her first-round Stuttgart match against Julia Georges despite taking the first set. She revealed that a shoulder injury suffered while on Fed Cup duty had been behind the withdrawal. “I picked up a shoulder injury during Fed Cup,” said the Belarusian. “I have been trying to rehab the last few days and tried my best here but it keeps getting worse. I didn’t want to push it any further at the start of the clay season. I’ll go back to do some therapy in Monaco so hopefully I’ll have time to recover and play Madrid.”

Nadal: “Barca Crucial to No.1 Ranking:”

World No.1 Rafa Nadal believes that Barcelona is a vital stop on the ATP Tour this year as he looks to keep up the gap over his closest rival Novak Djokovic. Nadal realizes he has a difficult challenge over the coming months as an incredible clay season during 2010 means he has 4,000 South African Airways ATP World Ranking points to defend. With his lead over Djokovic standing at 3,230 he is looking to open that up a little before the Serb begins his clay-court season. “Every year I did a fantastic clay court season. I have to try to do it another time,” Nadal stated after winning his seventh straight Monte-Carlo title on Sunday. “With these four or five tournaments, if I am playing very well, I’m going to have the biggest chances to have enough points to try to be in the top position at the end of the year ranking. Nole will always be on the opposite side of the draw, which means that I can only meet him in the final. For now I have to focus on my upcoming opponents. Djokovic has started the season in great shape and why should this not be his season?”

Almagro to Crack Top Ten:

25-year-old Nicolas Almagro will enter the world’s Top 10 next week for the first time in his career having overcome the freefalling Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the third round at Barcelona. The Spaniard has had most of his success on clay, particularly this year, and only David Ferrer prevented him picking up triple titles on the South American “Golden Swing” circuit by defeating him in the final at Acapulco after he had taken home Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. “I knew that today’s match could have a special reward,” he said. “It was the third time I had a chance to get to the Top 10, after Acapulco and Monte-Carlo first. It’s an incredible feeling. There’s no better place to achieve it than in my home club in front of my own people and my family and all the home support. It’s a great reward for myself and the work of my whole team.” Almagro will become the 17th Spaniard since the rankings’ inception in 1973 to crack the Top 10.

America on the Decline:

A 5-0 defeat to Germany in the Fed Cup World Group play-offs means that the USA will drop out of the top tier of the competition for the first time. A youthful side, still missing both Serena and Venus Williams who haven’t represented their country since 2007, were no match for an Andrea Petkovic-inspired German side and it was the creator of the ‘Petkodance’ who won the deciding rubber, 6-2, 6-3 over Melanie Oudin. A tearful Venus could be seen courtside after traveling with the squad despite injury for moral support. Speaking of the all-important rubber, Oudin said: “I tried not to think about it but it was extra weight on my shoulder.” The USA have won the Fed Cup a record 17 times and have finished as the runners up to Italy in the past two years.

Venus “Unsure” on Return:

Venus Williams admits that she is unsure when she will be fit enough to return to the WTA Tour. She has not played since the Australian Open and has penciled in Madrid, next month, for a return. Yet she says she won’t start playing until she is 100% fit again, unlike in Melbourne when she only troubled her existing hip injury. Meanwhile, Serbia’s team doctor has confirmed that the abdominal injury that forced Ana Ivanovic to retire from her Fed Cup match against the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova is not that serious and she will only be out for around a week. It has been troubling the former world No.1 slightly since the Aussie Open but it is not thought  that surgery is required to fix the problem.

Will Chakvetedze return to Dizzy Heights:

Former Top 10 player Anna Chakvetedze retired from her first-round encounter against Zuzana Kucova in Stuttgart after becoming ill and suffering from dizzy spells, the third tournament in a row (Dubai and Indian Wells) she has retired from for these reasons. “I started the match feeling fine but I knew it [the dizziness] was coming and started to feel worse in the second set, the same feeling as the last two times,” Chakvetadze said in a statement distributed by the WTA. “I have seen a doctor and don’t really have anything more to update at the moment. I saw the doctors at home before the tournament and they told me everything would be OK, which is why I decided to play here.” At the time the scoreboard read 6-1, 5-7, 4-4.

Boldly Going Where no Moroccan Woman Has Gone Before:

Before this week Morocco’s Nadia Lalami had played four WTA Tour matches, which had all been first round defeats. Now she finds herself in the quarterfinals of the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and in the history books too. The 20-year-old shocked No.1 seed Aravane Rezai to become the first Moroccan to reach a WTA Tour level quarterfinal in the organisation’s history. She dropped the first set before racing to a 5-1 lead in the second. She almost let it slip before beating Rezai in the tiebreak and going on to nick the third set.

Rankings Watch:

American Mardy Fish enters the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week while Jurgen Melzer is up to No.8 and Frenchman Gael Monfils moves up to No.9. Fernando Verdasco is the unlucky Spaniard who drops out. Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov continues his ascent since January and finds himself in the Top 20 for the first time. Xavier Malisse is in to the Top 50 at No.47 while Italy’s Fabio Fognini joins him at No.49. Federico Gil had an impressive run at Monte Carlo, which sees him jump 18 to No.64 while Dudi Sela (19 places to No.96), Donald Young (24, No.98) and Germany’s Matthias Bachinger (35, No.99) all took big leaps in to the Top 100. Li Na has equaled her career-best in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week after returning to No.6 in the world. She is the only mover within the Top 20. Britain’s Anne Keothavong is enjoying her return from injury and jumps 15 to No.95 this week while the Czech Republic’s Sandra Zahlavova is also in to the Top 100.

Rafa Closes GOAT Race Gap:

Rafael Nadal continued to claw in to Roger Federer’s GOAT race lead by continuing his mesmerizing run on clay courts to lift the Monte Carlo title. Roger Federer reached the quarter final stage before losing to Jurgen Melzer so adds 25 points to his running total while Rafa’s title gives him 200 points to cut the deficit to just 35 points. By then entering Barcelona, Rafa adds another 10 to his score to make Roger’s lead now just 25.

Roger: 595 Rafa: 570

The 2008 French Open draw is now available!

The 2008 French Open draw is now available! Full draws can be found at event’s official website – www.rolandgarros.com. Agence France Presse report on the draw is as follows:

PARIS (AFP) – Birthday boy Novak Djokovic, the best player in the world in 2008, emerged the big winner after the French Open draw placed a succession of booby traps in the paths of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer’s bid to win a first Roland Garros title faces a testing start against big American Sam Querrey.

He could then face a tricky fourth round date with Argentinian claycourter Juan Monaco before a possible quarter-final match-up with the likes of either fast-rising compatriot Stanilas Wawrinka, the ninth seed, or French eighth seed Richard Gasquet. Spanish claycourt specialists Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2002 champion, fifth seed David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo are all possible semi-final opponents for Federer who is desperate to add an elusive French Open title to his collection of 12 Grand Slams. Federer, who has lost to Nadal in the last two finals, will face a confident Querrey. The 20-year-old is riding high after capturing his maiden career title in Las Vegas this year.

Querrey also showed that he is no fool on clay when he reached the quarter-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters in April knocking out former French Open winner Carlos Moya on the way. But Nadal, who is bidding to become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win four titles in a row here, was the biggest loser in the draw.

The Spaniard, who has a perfect record at Roland Garros of 21 wins in 21 matches, begins his campaign against a qualifier with a possible tricky quarter-final against David Nalbandian. Nadal has lost both his career meetings with the muscular Argentininan.

The 21-year-old, fresh from deposing Federer as Hamburg champion last week for his eighth win in nine claycourt meetings with the Swiss, faces an array of possible problems in the early rounds.

Compatriots and claycourt specialists Nicolas Almagro, seeded 19, and 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco, as well as British 10th seed Andy Murray, could stand in his way.

Australian Open and Rome Masters champion Djokovic could face Nadal in the semi-finals. He starts against Germany’s Denis Gremelmayr, the world 63, with America’s James Blake a probable last eight opponent. In between, Djokovic, who turned 21 on Thursday, should be untroubled with just 1998 champion Moya a potential problem in the third round. Former triple champion Gustavo Kuerten, who will be playing his last match before retirement, faces a tricky opener against French 18th seed Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Women’s top seed Maria Sharapova, bidding to win a first French Open and complete a career Grand Slam, begins her campaign against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina, the world number 104. Second seed Serbian Ana Ivanovic, the runner-up to Justine Henin in 2007, faces Sweden’s Sofia Andersson while 2002 champion Serena Williams starts against fellow American Ashley Harkelroad. Henin, the champion here for the last three years, recently announced her retirement from the game, a decision which has thrown open the women’s draw. Sharapova, a semi-finalist in 2007 and the new world number one could face compatriot and 2004 runer-up Elena Demetieva in the quarter-finals with fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova a potential semi-final opponent. Third seed Jelena Jankovic begins against a qualifier with French hopes Amelie Mauresmo and Alize Cornet also in her section.

Venus Williams, runner-up to her sister in 2002, is seeded eight and could face Jankovic in the last eight. Serena is a possible quarter-final opponent for Ivanovic.

Nole isn’t a total jerk, aka Ivan Ljubicic is the luckiest man in the world

Ivan Ljubicic - Novak Djokovic - Monte Carlo 2008

Not everyone just gets handed a sweaty shirt worn by Nole Djokovic (yes, some of us actually have to bid for it). But in the spirit of sportsmanship — and perhaps making a political statement — Croat Ivan Ljubicic and the Serbian exchanged shirts after their match at the Masters Series Monte Carlo last week. Consider this a “carbon offset” to the mouth of Djokovic and his camp, which has been recently spewing lots of hot air (none of which is directed to his old pal Andy Murray, of course…).

(Thanks, Chris!)

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Mondays With Bob Greene – Rafael Nadal Wins Monte Carlo Masters Series

STARS

Rafael Nadal won his first title of 2008 and his fourth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters, defeating Roger Federer 7-5 7-5.

Nuria Llagostera Vives won both of her singles and teamed up to capture the doubles and lead Spain over China 4-1 and into the Fed Cup World Group finals.

Vera Zvonareva beat Vania King to clinch the Fed Cup World Group semifinals victory as Russia beat the United States 3-2.

Marcelo Rios beat Michael Stich 6-3 6-3 to win the BlackRock Champions Cup in Barcelona, Spain.

SAYINGS

“Winning four times here is unimaginable.” – Rafael Nadal, who became the first player to win four straight titles at Monte Carlo since Anthony Wilding of New Zealand did it from 1911-14.

“He deserves to win. I’m pushing Rafa today, having the feeling I can beat him if I play the right way. That’s the feeling I didn’t have after (Monte Carlo) last year.” – Roger Federer after his 7-5 7-5 loss to Rafael Nadal for the Monte Carlo Masters title.

“I knew I could do it, but there were times when I wondered.” – Robert Dee, who finally won his first professional match after 54 consecutive losses.

“It was my first match on red clay in almost two years. That’s why I was a little nervous at the start of the match.” – Vera Zvonareva, who beat Vania King 4-6 6-3 6-2 to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the United States in their Fed Cup semifinal.

“I felt really sorry. I really didn’t want to lose.” – Peng Shuai, after losing 6-4 6-4 to Nuria Llagostera Vives as Spain clinched its Fed Cup semifinal victory over China.

“We knew we could win the tie, but we never expected to win three matches in a row.” – Nuria Llagostera Vives on Spain’s Fed Cup semifinal win.

“It’s not worth it. I’m just 20 years old. Still a lot of time, a lot of tournaments to come.” – Novak Djokovic, on how he felt it was too risky to continue his semifinal match against Roger Federer because of dizziness and a sore throat.

“Physically I was tired. That’s why next week is good. I don’t play any tournament.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who is taking a week off before playing in the Rome Masters.

“It’s still enjoyable. It’s nice to play the tournaments again where I have such great memories of what’s happened in the past.” – Gustavo Kuerten, after losing in the opening round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Kuerten is on a farewell tour which will culminate at the Roland Garros.

“We should have both (Maria) Sharapova and (Svetlana) Kuznetsova in the lineup. I might even have them play doubles together.” – Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev, talking about who might play for his team at the Fed Cup finals in September against Spain.

SUPER SPANIARD

Rafael Nadal joined Jim Courier as the only players in ATP Masters Series history to win both the singles and doubles at the same event. Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 7-5 for the singles title, and teamed with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo to down Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3 for the doubles crown. Nadal is the first player to win both titles at Monte Carlo since Ilie Nastase in 1973. Courier won both titles in an ATP Masters Series tournament in 1991 at Indian Wells, California.

SUCCESS – FINALLY

Robert Dee walked off the tennis court a winner after 54 consecutive defeats. The Briton defeated Arzhang Derakhshani of the United states 6-4 6-3 in qualifying for a Futures tournament in Reus, near Barcelona in Spain. Dee’s 54-match losing streak was the worst since Diego Beltranena of Guatemala also lost 54 straight matches between 1997 and 2005, although Beltranena at least managed to win a set. Until his victory over Derakhshani, Dee had played 108 sets – losing them all – since turning pro.

SUCH A PAYDAY

The payout at Roland Garros this year will be more than 15.5 million euros, an increase of more than 2 percent from last year. With equal prize money again awaiting men and women, the champions will each pocket one million euros. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the biggest prize money increases are in the wheelchair events where the total prize money available is 60 percent higher than in 2007.

SMOKIN’ SEMIS

When Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko reached the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, it marked the first time since Roland Garros in 2006 that the world’s top four ranked players were in the semifinals of the same tournament. It is the first time since the ATP Rankings began in 1973 that the top four-ranked players were semifinalists at Monte Carlo.

STOPPING THE BOMB

Frenchman Gael Monfils pulled off a unique feat in his 7-6 (8) 6-1 win over huge-serving Ivo Karlovic at the Monte Carlo Masters. Monfils didn’t concede a single ace against the 6-foot-10 Croatian. It was the first time in his career that Karlovic had failed to serve at least one ace in the match.

SITE SENSATIONAL

A record number of visitors checked out the Davis Cup web site as the nations played quarterfinals on April 11-13. The official site of the event, www.daviscup.com, recorded 4,568,701 page views, a 35 percent increase on the quarterfinals weekend in 2007. The total number of visitor sessions also saw a 39 percent rise from the previous year.

SO LONG

Clarisa Fernandez, who upset Kim Clijsters en route to the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2002, is calling it quits because of knee injuries. The lefthander from Argentina played her first professional tournament at an ITF event in Buenos Aires in 1997. She was ranked as high as number 26 in the world before undergoing surgeries in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

SEEKING HELP

Donald Young, the youngest player ranked in the ATP Top 100, will work out at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It is one of the first examples of the USTA Elite Player Development’s new collaborative approach with top coaches and private academies in a bid to develop the next generation of American champions. The USTA also announced that three top junior prospects – 12-year-old Sachia Vickery, 12-year-old of Victoria Duval and 9-year-old Alicia Black – will be working with Bollettieri.

STAYING HOME

Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, two of America’s top three players, will skip the Beijing Olympics, opting instead for a U.S. Open tuneup event. Roddick will defend his title and Fish will join him at the ATP Washington Classic, which will be played August 9-17 opposite the Olympic men’s tennis tournament. Fish was a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

SPANISH SHOCKER

Spain being in the Fed Cup final is no surprise. Peng Shuai losing three matches and Spain crushing China 4-1 in the semifinal at Beijing are shockers. Peng was the highest ranked singles player in the competition, ranked number 68 in the world. She and Sun Tian Tian are ranked ninth in the world in doubles. Instead, Nuria Llagostera Vives won three matches, teaming with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the doubles, while Carla Suarez-Navarro, ranked number 132 in the world, beat Peng in straight sets.

SHARAPOVA READY

Russia will have Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for its Fed Cup final against Spain in September. Sharapova made her Fed Cup debut against Israel in February and won both of her singles matches to lead Russia to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory. Svetlana Kuznetsova led Russia to a 3-2 win over the United States in semifinal play. Against Spain, Russia could field both Sharapova and Kuznetsova, who are ranked third and fourth in world, respectively.

SPONSOR

BoscoSport, a Russian sporting goods company, is the new official clothing sponsor of Fed Cup. It will outfit the linespeople and ball kids at all Fed Cup ties. BoscoSport has been the official Russian Olympic team outfitter since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and is also the outfitter of the Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.

SCRIBE

Bud Collins has written a new book about tennis. The writer, historian and Tennis Hall of Fame member has written The Bud Collins History of Tennis, which is due in bookstores later this spring in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and is available now with internet retailers. Collins’ achievements include being the recipient of the ATP’s 2007 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award.

SHARED PERFORMANCE

Doubles Champions

Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3.

SCORING FED CUP

World Group Playoffs

Italy beat Ukraine 3-2; France beat Japan 4-1; Argentina beat Germany 3-2; Czech Republic beat Israel 3-2

World Group II Playoffs

Belgium beat Colombia 5-0; Switzerland beat Austria 3-2; Slovak Republic beat Uzbekistan 5-0; Serbia beat Croatia 3-2

SITES TO SURF

Barcelona: www.opensabadellatlantico.com

Munich: www.bmwopen.de

Fes: www.frmt.ma/

Prague: www.pragueopen.cz

Rome: www.internazionalibnlditalia.it

Berlin: www.german-open.org

Boston: www.championsseriestennis.com/boston2008

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$824,000 Open Sabadell Atlantico 2008, Barcelona, Spain, clay

$370,000 BMW Open, Munich, Germany, clay

WTA TOUR

$145,000 Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Fes, Morocco, clay

$145,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay

SENIORS

$150,000 Outback Champions Cup Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$2,270,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Qatar Telecom German Open, Berlin, Germany, clay

SENIORS

BlackRock Tour of Champions Rome, clay

Monte Carlo Royalty

Is this random circumstance, or are photographers working the early rounds at Monte Carlo having too much fun?

(photo of Jose Acasuso and Robin Soderling by AP)