WASHINGTON, D.C. — Argentine Juan Martin del Potro returned to Washington, D.C. after a three year hiatus to claim his third Citi Open title against American John Isner, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. (Finals gallery at bottom)
“It’s amazing, I’m so happy to win here once again,” the 24-year-old stated after the final. “When you win a tournament its special, its big. After Wimbledon to be my first time on hard court it means a lot. I am looking forward to Montreal, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open. It gives me a lot of confidence to keep trying and get closer to the top guys.”
The soft-spoken Argentine struggled returning Isner’s solid serves and baseline shots in the first set, and realized that he needed to step further back out of the court in order to play his own game. He then kept Isner to only one ace per set for the remaining two sets.
Though disappointed, the American didn’t take the loss hard. After playing nine matches in eleven days, Isner admitted that his body wasn’t as fresh as he’d like it to be.
“I was a little tired out there,” said Isner. “It was one of those things where my body felt fine but my legs weren’t quite there. I wish I felt a little bit better out there but at the same time I could have been a 100% and still could have not won that match. That just speaks on how good he is. He was better today and my hats off to him. He was the better player.”
When asked about where Del Potro stacks up to the current top four ATP players, without hesitation, Isner praised the Argentine’s game, saying he was just a hair behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the third favorite to win the U.S. Open.
In Del Potro’s press conference, he was told what Isner had commented regarding his chances at this month’s Slam, and the Argentine almost looked embarrassed, sweetly and sincerely returning the favor.
“He’s going to be a favorite too, for sure,” Del Potro said. “On the hard court, Isner is really good player. His game is improving day by day. He has a good advantage to take the opportunities to go farther.”
In the women’s singles final, Magdalena Rybarikova successfully defended her title defeating a newly-healthy Andrea Petkovic, 6-4, 7-6(2). On court, the Slovakian called Washington, D.C. “home” after never having lost a match on the surface, and admitted it was not an easy run.
“This year when I saw the draw I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be very tough,’” Rybarikova said. “I would have been happy to make the quarterfinals and play Kerber. But every match I was playing better and better, then I beat Kerber, which was a huge win for me. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Petkovic meanwhile reached her second final of the year after Nurnberg and feels her game is in a better place.
“It was a pretty good week – all in all I’m quite satisfied,” Petkovic said. “I would have loved to win the title here to really feel like I’ve completely come back, but I’m really okay. She played really well.”
“Magda was really stepping up her game, not missing a lot and not giving me many free points. It was a really difficult match but all the credit to her, she really deserved to win the title today.”
In the men’s doubles final, the duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau won their second doubles title as a team against Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek.
“It feels really great to win such a big tournament,” said Zimonjic. “It’s a 500 series, and not just that, it was a really strong field. It didn’t have easy matches here. Very good teams played. To come after a long break, to come this strong and win the tournament without losing a set is really the best way you want to come back to the tour.”
“It was a lot of fun for both of us to play. We had a great time here on the court, off the court, and hopefully this will help us for the upcoming three tournaments that we’ll play.”
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Super Saturday at the Citi Open saw John Isner and Juan Martin del Potro defeat their respective opponents, Dmitry Tursunov and Tommy Haas to reach the men’s singles final. Andrea Petkovic also defeated Alize Cornet and will meet Magdalena Rybarikova in the women’s final.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Set against the backdrop of downtown Washington, D.C., this week’s Citi Open has brought some of tennis’ most recognizable names to the tournament, including Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and the youngest player in the women’s draw, 17-year-old newcomer and American Taylor Townsend.
It was a full schedule on tap with both men’s singles semifinals set on stadium court, along with one women’s semifinal and one men’s doubles semifinal. The rest, including the women’s doubles final, was scheduled on the first grandstand court.
There has been some discussion in player press conferences this week regarding scheduling differences between the men’s and women’s draws, and how the women are not being scheduled as equally on stadium court. It seems though that most players understand why. The men’s event is a 500-level while the women’s is a lower-tiered International-level, and several players — including females — commented that men tend to bring a bigger draw and whoever the tournament believes would be a bigger draw will be the match scheduled on stadium court. Logical enough but still questionable reasoning on some level.
That being said, the men’s doubles semifinal between the pairing of Julien Benneteau and Nenad Zimonjic against University of Virginia alumni and Citi Open defending champions Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, took precedence over the women’s doubles final between 2012 Junior Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles champions Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend and Shuko Aoyama and Vera Dushevina.
In front of a decent-sized crowd, the first-time partnering of Aoyama and Dushevina were crowned champions in women’s doubles.
After the match, the only ones called into press were the runners-up, Bouchard and Townsend, as the media room was mostly empty and at the men’s doubles match. The winners gave no press conference.
With her longer history on tour than her counterpart, Bouchard was visibly disappointed in the presser but still sincere in answering questions. Townsend, on the other hand, looked as if she was on cloud nine. She seemed to have just been excited to reach a pro final and was relishing the moment despite the quick loss. I asked her about the contrast in the presence of young players on tour between the men’s and women’s side and she gave an insightful and rather mature answer.
“I think it’s a lot different for the men than the women,” Townsend replied.”The men mature at an older age and we mature younger. So I think it’s a lot easier for us — at a young age — to hang with the older players because our bodies mature faster. The men are so strong and it takes them a few more years to get caught up to that level, especially to get into that top shape.”
As the first men’s doubles semifinal started between top American John Isner and a newly-resurgent Dmitry Tursunov on stadium court at 3:00pm to looming clouds, doubles partners Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra (and his youngest son, Teo!) took to the practice courts.
As the Bulgarian stretched, a shirtless Llodra kicked a soccer ball around with his 6-year-old son. All week, the youngster could be spotted on the tennis court hitting some impressive shots and his soccer head-butting and kicking skills didn’t disappoint. After Dimitrov finished his stretching, he jumped into the mini-soccer game and ended up losing — happily obliging to do push-ups on court as the loser.
Heading onto stadium court for Isner-Tursunov, the first set was dead even, and ended up going to a tiebreak. Four exchanges of serve and some patience by the Russian and he got the unexpected upper hand, taking the first set. Tursunov diminished his double faults count from his matches earlier this week, and ran Isner laterally until the American hit long or into the net. On several occasions, Tursunov bullied the American’s backhand before pulling the trigger forcing Isner into an error with a running forehand.
During the changeover, sprinkles began falling but the players decided to continue on without any exchanges with chair umpire Magdi Somat. As the drops increased in intensity during the first game, Isner had a break point on Tursunov’s serve and slipped, slamming a forehand into the net. Instinctively, Isner yelled in the umpire’s general direction and Tursunov had also already began walking towards the chair. Play was called and the players taken inside as the 80-minute rain delay began.
Isner gets break point then nets FH. Yells, “WHY are we playing right now?! I’m NOT playing!” Magdi calls play, players go inside.
— Romi Cvitkovic (@RomiCvitkovic) August 3, 2013
At around 5:00pm, Juan Martin del Potro made an appearance on the practice courts to packed stands on court one. As play was suspended, fans still had the opportunity to enjoy a light hit by the Argentine for about 30 minutes.
Play shortly resumed on stadium court and after breaking Tursunov to go up 4-1, the American took the second set 6-3. The baseline play among both players was incredible to watch. After so many matches between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, you forget how powerful (and consistent and precise) other men on tour can hit, and the two held some extended jaw-dropping rallies. In the end, the American broke Tursunov again to take the final set, 6-4.
Walking back to the media center, I heard loud cheers coming from grandstand court and realized that the other men’s doubles semifinal went on at the same time as the singles match on stadium. That’s one of the problems with a rain delay — you don’t quite always get to watch everything you hope to. Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek took out fan favorites, Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra, and with that, the Citi Open crowds will have American men in both the men’s singles and doubles finals. On the opposite side of the grounds on grandstand court two, women’s semifinalist Andrea Petkovic was practicing in front of a small group of fans.
At 7:20pm, Isner walked into press with ice on both knees for precautionary reasons. He’s one of the few to constantly have ice on some joint on his body so it’s not so much a surprise anymore.
Ten minutes later, the Isner presser was completed, and as we looked to the TV in the media center, we saw that Tommy Haas had just broken Juan Martin del Potro to go up 3-1 – a bit of early trouble for the two-time tournament champion.
Without much of a breather, Tursunov commenced his low-key presser, where he analyzed his loss but felt there really weren’t any holes in his game. A pretty fair analysis as he never once held break point, but stayed in the match much of the time.
As I prepared to go out and finally watch the Del Potro – Haas match, I realized the score was frozen at 4-1. Of course, another rain delay.
I looked at the live scoreboard and noticed that the women’s semifinal between Magdalena Rybarikova and Ekaterina Makarova was still going on though, and questioned what was going on. Rybarikova went on to win three games in a matter of minutes before play was finally suspended. But I guess the weather can be funny sometimes!
— Kelsey Anderson (@KelseyOAnderson) August 3, 2013
During the nearly three hour rain delay, the illustrious third edition of the “Citi Open Rain Delay Media Spelling Bee” commenced, where contestants had to correctly spell various ATP and WTA player names within the top 200. What started out with eight people in the first few minutes grew to nearly 20 and included photographers, bloggers, long-time wire writers, event staff and even Tour staff. Thanks to gracious contestant Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover, we have footage of Ben Rothenberg’s winning moment, having successfully defended his title from 2012.
The tournament media staff had some fun and sweetly made the winner his own notable trophy. How thoughtful!
The Del Potro – Haas match continued with the Argentine quickly picking up momentum, and later in press admitting that the rain delay helped him. Haas, conversely, came into press and was quite short, stating he was “aggravated and annoyed” during the rain delay and it reflected in his straight set loss, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Despite the lateness of the hour — the men’s semi had finished at 12:15AM — there had been no earlier talk of opening up play of the second women’s semifinal on a third court. Instead, Alize Cornet and Andrea Petkovic were set to follow on whichever court had finished first. Inevitably, organizers seemed to have waited to see if the men’s semi would finish shortly after the first women’s semi would, and they were lucky.
At 12:35AM, the second women’s semi finally took place to a crowd of still several hundred people. The sheer match ups of Cornet and Petkovic’s style could have made this match the highlight of the women’s draw so far, but the lateness of the hour prevented it from reaching grand proportions. However, both ladies impressed with full court-coverage, suspenseful rallies and looked — incredibly enough — quite fresh.
After being down 3-0, then getting broken twice while serving for the set, Petkovic finally took the first set, 7-5. She then made quick work of the French woman, taking it 6-3 in the second and delighting the crowd with her famous “Petko Dance.”
The evening finally ended at an “early” 2:15AM, with the women’s singles final scheduled for exactly 15 hours later. Talk about a quick recovery for both ladies!
ROTTERDAM (Feb. 17, 2013) — Juan Martin del Potro came out the victor at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament today, earning his 14th career title by defeating Julien Benneteau, 7-6(2), 6-3.
“I cannot believe I’ve won”, stated the Argentine in his final press conference. “I’m so happy. Before I came to Rotterdam, I saw all the big names on the participants list. I did not dare to think that I would leave with the title, but I’ve played well from the first round. And that was really necessary.”
As the first set went to a tiebreak, both players had their chance, but experience won over as Del Potro kept his cool to seal the first set. “It cost me so much energy to keep up,” stated Benneteau. “In almost all of my service games Del Potro got break points. Given the intensity of the game it was very difficult to stay fresh. In the tie-break I gave away some points too easy.”
Del Potro also paid respect to the Frechman’s game and perseverance: ”Julien was giving me a hard time. He had an excellent game plan, played every point aggressive and continued fighting until the end. He made me do a lot of running and I don’t like that. Benneteau earned to play this final.”
In the doubles final, the team of Robert Lindstedt and Nenad Zimonjic overcame crowd favorites Thiemo De Bakker and Jesse Huta Galung, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8.
“It’s always great to win your first title [as a team],” stated Zimonjic. “This is our fourth tournament of the year and we were definitely struggling. The beginning of the week was really tough and we were lucky at times. We managed to play better and better.”
(Full gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)
ROTTERDAM (Feb. 14, 2013) — No. 2 seed Juan Martin del Potro had his hands full as a resurgent Ernests Gulbis clawed his way into the first set, before the Argentine eventually won 7-6(5), 6-3.
“It was a real battle”, Del Potro stated. “I played well, but had a hard time.”
Gulbis, a former top-25 player, revealed earlier this week that he feels he can break into the top 20 this season. And Del Potro agrees. ”I think Gulbis will be in the top twenty soon”, Del Potro complimented his opponent. “I’ve known him for quite a while now, because we are both 24 years old, but he’s a talented player and I’m sure he will return to the top.”
Roger Federer also made quick work of Thiemo De Bakker, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals, but not before paying his own respect to the Dutchman. “Thiemo de Bakker served good, he is an excellent player,” stated Federer. “He can be much higher on the ATP-ranking than he is now. ”
Martin Klizan, Marcos Baghdatis and Jarkko Nieminen also advanced to the quarterfinals, which begin tomorrow.
In doubles, leading 6-4, 1-0, the team of Marray/Fleming were forced to retire against Lindstedt/Zimonjic when Marray experienced severe right calf muscle pain.
(Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.)
Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend. We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.
Canada vs. Spain: Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America. Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor. Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches. Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year. If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic. Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.
Italy vs. Croatia: This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails. On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians. But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory. The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat. Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though. At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.
Belgium vs. Serbia: One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist. First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career. Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters. That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments. Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada. With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.
USA vs. Brazil: Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend. For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions. While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves. In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans. All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.
France vs. Israel: Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level. Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles. The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months. In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before. Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.
Argentina vs. Germany: Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge. While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy. Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq. The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well. Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian. Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber. There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.
Pick: Er, Argentina?
Kazakhstan vs. Austria: In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major. The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side. His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer. The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday. Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic: While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka. After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately. Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych. The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him. In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych. The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.
Pick: Czech Republic
Serbia and France name Davis Cup Squads, ATP Announce Longer off-season and Date Krumm sets Retirement date
*Serbia and France have both announced their squads for the forthcoming Davis Cup final in Belgrade taking place 3-5 December. Bogdan Obradovic has unsurprisingly chosen Novak Djokovic, who is unbeaten in Davis Cup singles play in 2010, to lead the Serbian attack with Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic vying for the second singles berth. Either player could also partner doubles expert Nenad Zimonjic in that field. French Captain Guy Forget has chosen Gael Monfils as France’s spearhead with usual number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga injured. Monfils has a 100% record this year and has recorded wins over the likes of ATP WTF finalist David Ferrer and David Nalbandian. Michael Llodra is expected to take the second singles berth after showing great form in the previous two rounds. It will be his first Davis Cup Final appearance after missing out in 2001 and 2002. Gilles Simon will also be hoping for some game time. The draw for play will take place on December 2.
*Two of the sport’s most prominent voices in the debate for extending the tennis off-season have spoken about the decision by the ATP to increase the resting period to seven weeks. “With seven weeks you can take a break at the end of the year and that should help the longevity of everyone’s careers,” said British No. 1 Andy Murray in his column for BBC Tennis. “We’ve been trying for quite a few years to make it clear that it’s too short an off-season. I’m hoping this will make a difference.” World No. 2 Roger Federer was more cautious with his response. “I think it’s good to have a longer off-season,” said the Swiss No. 1. “I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction. But only time will tell. Will we have less or more injuries because the calendar is more packed? I don’t know.” A full interview with Federer on the subject can be viewed at the Eurosport website.
*Kimiko Date Krumm has announced that the 2011 season will be her last. The 40-year-old Japanese defier of Father Time says she is targeting the Grand Slams during her swansong. The former Top 10 player returned to the Tour this year after a twelve year absence and finished the year ranked at No. 46. “I’m not a robot, I’m only human,” she told Sky Sports after losing in the semi-finals of the Asian Games in Guangzhou. “It’s been a good season but I’m exhausted now. I’m not sure whether or not I can manage to play until the end of next season. I need to recharge before I can think of competing next year. Hopefully I can have some good results at the Grand Slams.”
*Roger Federer’s 6-1, 6-4 victory over David Ferrer at the o2 on Sunday was the thirtieth victory of his career at the ATP World Tour Finals. He has qualified for the season-ending Championships for nine straight years. “I think it’s wonderful,” said Federer, speaking of the event. “The players love it. We’re all here. It’s really prestigious. That’s what it’s supposed to be and has been for 40 years. I’ve been a part of them nine times already. Having the World Tour Finals here in London makes great sense because it’s in a great time zone, in a country that loves sports, especially tennis. I think it’s great for the fans to see that. All the sessions are basically sold out, there’s such a run on tickets. So it’s hard to choose a better place than London, I feel.”
*Day four of the ATP Finals saw temper tantrums on court in the match between Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. During the second set, with Roddick serving, the advertising banners on the front of the boxes where the line judges sit began flickering red before returning to their usual light blue. Roddick was broken for the second time and took his frustrations out on his racquet by beating his foot until the frame broke, earning him a reprimand, whilst also blasting a ball high in to the arena stands. “I was angry with myself and there wasn’t anybody else to talk to at that moment,” Roddick said. “The neons in the back weren’t quite to the settled position. They were still advertising fun stuff. When you’re trying to track a ball, it’s kind of neon lights and stuff. Then Tomas noticed it. A couple of them just went out before we played a point.”
*Former Aussie star Mark Philippoussis is reportedly having more financial difficulties despite playing recent events on the Champions circuit. He allegedly borrowed $1.2m to buy his Sydney home but has now been served with a mortgage default. He has also been talking of a return to the professional tour since 2009.
*Venus Williams has told Reuters she wants to play Fed Cup for the USA next season. She missed the recent final loss to Italy with a knee injury and claims that she was too upset to watch on. “It’s been tough to be out so I decided I couldn’t watch any more tennis,” said the elder Williams sister. “I desperately wanted to turn on the television and watch the Fed Cup but it was like: ‘At this point, maybe I should just let it go.’ It was frustrating. But I really want to play the tie next year, the U.S. against Belgium. I have to be healthy but I would love to be there.”
*Auckland’s ASB Classic is set to welcome a star-studded lineup during the first week of the 2011 WTA season. Three-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova heads the field with her debut appearance in New Zealand. She won her last major at the neighboring Australian Open in 2008. Two other Russians, former world No. 1 Dinara Safina and former No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova have also signed up to play. Kimiko Date Krumm, Yanina Wickmayer and Alona Bondarenko are also on the bill. The tournament will run January 3-8.
*Aussie legend John Newcombe has told prodigy Bernard Tomic to work more on the physical side of his game off the court and to get in to immediate contact with Pat Rafter and Tony Roche about how he can work towards being a part of their Davis Cup squads. “I’m not privy to enough inside knowledge, but what I hear is he doesn’t do enough of the physical training on the running side, off the court, to get his body into that sort of shape,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner. “If he got himself into 100 percent physical shape, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be top 30, top 20. But we don’t know yet what he can do, because we haven’t seen it.” The full interview can be seen at Tennis.com.
*Serena Williams has pulled out of January’s Hopman Cup, the third time she has done so in her career. She has cited failure to recover from her foot injury as the reason and was recently photographed leaving an NFL game on crutches. Williams was due to play the event with John Isner.
*Doubles specialist Leander Paes says he will pursue an acting career when his playing days are over. The 37-year-old Indian star is looking forward to starting shooting on a film called ‘Rajdhani Express.’ “It’s something exciting. It’s something new,” he said. “I can’t keep playing tennis for the rest of my life. In India, I’m very lucky. I have a big following. I have a lot of people that enjoy what I do. Movies for me was a natural progression, to go from tennis to movies to entertain my fans. With the movies I’m just learning, I’m an apprentice. Right now I’m doing a serious drama movie, there’s not one song where I have to dance in it. Thank God.”
*Roger Federer’s coach Paul Anacone has said that the difference between the Swiss at 29 and Pete Sampras at the same age is vastly different. “I felt like I was with a 23-year-old or 22-year-old again [with Federer],” said Annacone, who has coached both stars. “He loves the life. He loves the tennis matches. He loves the travel. He has all the ingredients, including and most importantly good health in mind and body, to keep going for a number of years. I think in retrospect Pete at this age was a lot more tired—a lot more tired mostly emotionally, not physically. At the end of Pete’s career, he rejuvenated himself for that great push at the  U.S. Open, but the last couple of years, for a multitude of reasons, were a bit emotionally draining for him. Roger is not anywhere near that state.”
*The world’s Top 2 men’s players, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, will face off in two exhibition matches this winter, in Zurich on December 21 and in Madrid on the following day. Proceeds from the best of three matches will go to their charities. “I always enjoy playing Rafa on the big stages and it is especially exciting when we can do it to help raise monies for our foundations,” said Federer in a statement to Reuters last Thursday.
*Rafa Nadal has won the ATP Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, ending Roger Federer’s six-straight winning streak. However, Federer picked up the Fan Favourite Award for the eighth year running. The Bryan brothers picked up the Fan Favourite Award for doubles for the sixth year in a row.
*The charity SOS Children recently hosted two round tables entitled “Breaking the poverty cycle: Strengthening communities and families” at the European Parliament on November 18 and 19. Kim Clijsters and her husband, Brian Lynch, spoke at the event and begged EU policy makers to strengthen families and end child poverty. “Children not growing up in a family face a heightened risk of emotional insecurity, educational failure, abuse and violence,” said three-time US Open winner Clijsters. “These are the harsh facts. Not only in third world countries, but also here in Europe. That’s why you’re here, at the very heart of the European Institutions, debating. That’s why we’re here, supporting your debate. It should be a basic right for every child to grow up in the warmth of a family.”
*Tennis Canada have named Rebecca Marino their female player of the year. The 19-year-old rose 80 slots in the rankings this year to No. 102.
*James Blake will hold his annual Reception to benefit the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Cancer Research Fund at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre on November 30th, at the Lincoln Centre in New York City. Guests will include Andy Roddick and his wife Brooklyn Decker, Anna Wintour, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Michael Jordan, Patrick McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Sugar Ray Leonard, as well as a surprise musical guest performance (Bob Larson’s Tennis News).
*The Art of Success charity auction has been a massive hit at the o2 Arena during the ATP World Tour Finals as self-portraits and signed racquets of the top stars have been raising huge sums of money on EBay. The portraits were painted by players hitting balls of paint at a stenciled canvas of their outline with one of their racquets. Robin Soderling’s was the first to close last Thursday and his self-portrait and racquet fetched $5,100. David Ferrer’s then closed on a value of $3,350. Andy Murray’s is the next to close on Nov. 25 and his lot stood at $6,600 at the time of going to press. Tomas Berdych (Nov. 27) is standing at $2,700. The final four close on Nov 28 as play in London draws to a close. Andy Roddick currently stands at $5,600 with Novak Djokovic at $4,150. But the worlds Top 2 players are making the biggest splash of all. Rafa Nadal’s work currently has 26 bids and stands at £26,000 and the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, has his at $25,700. The proceeds will be split 50/50 with half of each sale going to Save the Children and the other half going to a charity of the player’s choice.
*Former French Open Champion Carlos Moya has become the latest star to announce their retirement, this time due to persistent foot injuries. “It’s not how I dreamt of ending,” said the former world No. 1 and Australian Open finalist. He also helped Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 but recently things haven’t been so rosy. “I wanted to say goodbye at one of the big tournaments, the Grand Slams, but that dream wasn’t to be. I am still young for life but for sport, I am already knocking on a bit.”
*Sweden’s Robin Soderling is understandably beaming after picking up his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Paris last week but he was also praising of the man whose dream ended one step too short in the final for the second year running. Home favourite Gael Monfils tasted finals defeat for the second year running having lost to Novak Djokovic in 2009. “I know it’s difficult to lose two finals in a row in this city but Monfils played incredible tennis this week,” said the 26-year-old Soderling. “Of course, winning matches against a lot of good players this week gives me a lot of confidence. Playing in any Masters, when you play the top players of the world, every match can be a Grand Slam final. I think you need to believe in yourself and I think that can make a big change. I’m feeling really good right now.” Soderling is now at a career-high No. 4 in the world.
*The groups have been decided for the ATP World Tour Finals in London starting this weekend. Group A in the singles sees world No. 1 Rafa Nadal paired with Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. Roger Federer, Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and David Ferrer will contest Group B. In the doubles, the defending Champions the Bryan brothers contest Group A with Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski and Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Group B consists of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi and Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman.
*Pakistan’s Prime Minister has announced that Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi has been appointed as United Nations Development Project (UNDP) National Goodwill Ambassador. His first task is to help obtain global funds to go towards the victims of the devastating floods across the country which affected twenty million people. “I am honoured to become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP in Pakistan,” says Qureshi. “I have been very fortunate in life to pursue my passion for tennis. It is important for me to help people who lost everything because of the floods to get back on their feet.” Full reaction can be seen at the ATP website.
*Roger Federer has targeted a strong finish to the year with victory at the ATP Tour Finals, a competition he has an enviable record of 29-7 at. Federer faced questions about the current state of his mind after squandering five match points during his semi final defeat to Gael Monfils in Paris but the world No. 2 is confident of his chances in London. “I think I have good chances maybe in London for winning,” declared the sixteen-time Grand Slam winner. “I feel good physically. In a way it is a relief that I was able to finish the tournament [in Paris-Bercy] in good physical health. I’m fresh mentally, too. This is the most important thing. Victories are important, but when you’re not fit and when you’re injured, it’s bad. So I think I’m going to recover quite fast after that loss. I feel good. I’m playing well. It was not a bad match [against Monfils]. I’m happy with my performance. Clearly with a victory I would have had big chances of winning the tournament. This is not the case, so now I have to look at the future. I’m going to prepare for London.” The full interview can be seen at the ATP site.
*Czech star Tomas Berdych has said that it was the increased burden of expectation following his Wimbledon finals appearance this year which contributed to his average results over the past few months. “In the past, I entered many matches in the position of a mere challenger, but after Wimbledon, everything changed,” he told the Prague Post. “My opponents became the challengers and were keen on taking the scalp of a top-10 player. Every game was much more difficult for me… [in London] I’ll try to pick up my game and to prove that I did not qualify by accident.”
*The Bryan brothers have announced that they will return to Houston in 2011 to defend their back to back US Men’s Clay Court Championships doubles titles.
*Li Na has taken Gold for China at the Asia Games, defeating Taiwan’s Chan Yung Jan 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
*Venus Williams has said she hopes to be fit in time for the Australian Open. The 30-year-old has been nursing yet another knee injury since her US Open defeat to Kim Clijsters but told AOL Fanbase: “I’m gearing up for Australia. Playing professional tennis is very intense. You have to be as close to 100 percent as possible. So I’m aiming to be 100 percent by January.”
*In the South African Airways ATP World Rankings Robin Soderling has benefitted from his Paris Masters victory by becoming the new world No. 4 at the expense of Andy Murray. Jurgen Melzer, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Nicolas Almagro, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey and Marcos Baghdatis all climb within the Top 20. Russian Nikolay Davydenko drops 11 places to No. 22 while Michael Llodra jumps 11 to No. 23. The Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov enters the Top 50 and Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko, Germany’s Dustin Brown and Brazil’s Marcos Daniel enter the Top 100.
*The Bondarenko sisters have announced that they will immediately cease representing Ukraine in Fed Cup play. Kateryna has described the move as a “mutual decision” between themselves and Ukrainian tennis authorities. The door has been left open for a future return.
*Tennis Hall of Famer Dennis Ralston has been talking to The Desert Sun about his life since the amputation of his foot back in June due to infection. It’s a touching story, which can be read on their website. “The situation was bleak, not knowing if I would work again,” Ralston said. “I still don’t know, but I hope I still can.”
*After her engagement to lawyer Andreas Bieri broke down back in April, Martina Hingis has announced that she is “…not single anymore.” She is said to be dating fellow horse-riding enthusiast Thibault Hutin.
By Maud Watson
Parting Ways – The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that the doubles pairing of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic will be calling it a day on their partnership at the end of this year. Though Zimonjic initiated the change, Nestor admitted he had been contemplating of doing the same, so the two will be parting amicably. They’ve also lined up some stellar partners for 2011. Zimonjic will be playing with Llodra, the tricky Frenchman with a great set of hands who has also seen a rise in his singles play due to his prowess in the forecourt. Nestor will be joining forces with “The Beast,” Max Mirnyi, who with his height and big frame always poses a challenging proposition. Both new duos should shake up the doubles arena next season.
On the Mend – It’s music to the ears of all WTA officials and the Doha tournament director. Kim Clijsters posted on her Twitter account that she is no longer feeling pain in her foot, though there is still a small cut. This is of course no guarantee that the Belgian will be competing in the season-ending championships, but her encouraging news that she might be able to make the final event of the year is welcome news indeed. With nearly half of the WTA’s top 20 players either officially out or assumed out for the remainder of the year, the WTA is in desperate need of another top star to find a way to cross the finish line. And with the field becoming more and more diluted with each passing week, if Clijsters is able to compete in the final event of the year, it could be easy pickings, providing her a strong platform from which to spring into next year.
Fitness Race – Much like last year, Andy Roddick finds himself in a race against the clock to try and finish the year on a high instead of on the sidelines. Having straineed his groin last week in Japan, the American tried to give it a go in Shanghai, only to aggravate the injury further. His retirement from injury all happened a year to the day that Roddick suffered a season-ending injury at the same tournament in 2009. Things look more optimistic for Roddick this time around, however, who feels he has a decent chance of competing in Basel and perhaps still earning a spot in the elite ATP World Tour Championships. Those pulling for American tennis success will particularly be hoping for a speedy recovery, as Roddick needs the points to attempt to finish in the top 10 for the ninth consecutive year (he currently stands at 11).
Bigger than Sport – Their partnership has been well-documented, and it is continuing to pay dividends. The Indian-Pakistani partnership of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi won the Peace and Sport Image of the Year Award in one of the feel-good stories of the week. Their courage and willingness to set aside their differences is admirable, and it is great to see it transcending the sport. Hopefully their actions, and the actions of other players, (such as Serb Novak Djokovic and Croat Ivan Ljubicic exchanging shirts at the end of a match) will teach others to put aside their prejudices.
Dropping like Flies – One of the biggest stories of the week has been the number of top WTA players who have already called it a season in order to prep for 2011. Granted, some have been freak injuries, but it has to leave some scratching their heads. After working out a “roadmap” to shorten the season, it seems the number of dropouts is an even bigger problem than in years past. No doubt the shortened season is a much-needed improvement, but the number of injuries and early exits would seem to also suggest that it’s time to start taking a look at what other factors are contributing to the WTA woes. Advancements in equipment and the predominant style of play, this “big babe tennis” as Mary Carillo has dubbed it, may be more of a culprit than some realize, and the situation needs to be rectified. After all, the WTA Championships should be won by the best of the best, not simply the last woman left standing.