nerves of steel

Ana Ivanovic Splits with Coach – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Abrupt Ending

Few saw this one coming, but following her defeat to Italian Francesca Schiavone on the last day of the round robin competition at the WTA Championships, Elena Dementieva shocked fans with the announcement that she was retiring, effective immediately.  She later cited one of the main reasons behind her decision was the desire to start a family, and while tennis fans undoubtedly understand and wish her the best, the hard-hitting Russian will still be missed.  Arguably the best of her generation to have never won a major, she was a steady presence at the top of the women’s game.  Her serve may have been near the bottom of the barrel, but she could compete with the game’s biggest hitters stroke for stroke and played some of the most exciting matches against the game’s top stars.  So while her value may not be weighted the same as a Williams sister or one of the Belgians, Dementieva’s departure will leave a hole on the WTA Tour.

Nerves of Steel

Trying to win a top tier event like the WTA Championships when competing against the best players in the world is a difficult task in and of itself.  Managing to take the title after enduring a frightening car crash is a near impossible ask.  Yet that is exactly what Kim Clijsters did.  En route to play her semifinal match against Sam Stosur, a truck “came out of nowhere” to hit the car Clijsters was in.  Thankfully, the only person hurt in the accident was Clijsters’ manager Bob Verbeeck, who suffered some minor cuts from all of the shattered glass.  Hats off to Clijsters who quickly found her composure to reach the finals, where she took out the current World No. 1 Caroline Wozniaki in three sets.  After an ordeal like that, a fourth Grand Slam title might prove to be a walk in the park.

The Nightmare Continues

The frequently-injured Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is suffering from knee problems yet again.  After sitting out nearly three months following Wimbledon, Tsonga revealed that he has suffered a tear in the patella tendon while in Montpellier.  While there is a slight silver lining in that the injury is not as serious as the post-Wimbledon setback, he has been forced to heed his doctor’s advice and end his season early, which includes missing the trip to Belgrade as part of the French squad that will face off against Serbia for the Davis Cup title.  Tsonga has done much to get himself into better shape over the course of the past few years, and some players are naturally just more prone to injury.  But these recurring injuries might suggest that Tsonga needs to start searching for more solutions, be they tweaking his workout or perhaps adjusting his style of play.  As one of the most fascinating players on tour to watch, it would be shame to see the curtain fall on his career prematurely due to a multitude of injuries.

Leader of the Pack

The BNP Paribas Open will be leading the way as far as Hawkeye technology is concerned when the event is staged in 2011.  Tournament Director Steve Simon announced on Wednesday that not one, not two, not even three, but that all eight match courts will be equipped with Hawkeye.  This has to be welcomed news to players at all levels of the game, who will always have the option to challenge a call, irrespective of the fact that they may not be on one of the main show courts.  Spectators at the event can also relax at the Stadium Plaza, which will now provide feeds from three show courts, while the Garden Club displays will be providing feeds from two.  Bearing in mind that finances are a potentially large hurdle, hopefully other tournaments will follow suit with the BNP Paribas Open as the situation allows.

Coaching Split

Earlier this week Ana Ivanovic announced that she would be splitting with Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt, as he is unable to be with her fulltime due to other commitments.  Gundthardt and Ivanovic began their relationship earlier this year, and they enjoyed success in a relatively short amount of time.  Ivanovic cut her ranking woes by more than half by going from 58th to 24th in the world, and she ended a two-year title drought with her win in Linz last month.  Having finally righted the ship and still in her early 20s, it is hard to imagine that there won’t be some high profile coach willing to pick up where Gundthardt left off.

Caroline Wozniaki has Reached the Pinnacle of the WTA Rankings

By Maud Watson

At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.

Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.

Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.

The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.

Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.

RIVALRY RENEWED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Rivalry Renewed – Australian Open tournament organizers couldn’t have planned it any better if they had tried.  The women’s final will pit current Australian Open Champion Serena Williams against former world No. 1 Justine Henin. Though Serena has never said as much herself, the media has been speculating that the return Henin has provided a new source of motivation for Williams, who may want a piece of the Belgian who was her main rival before Henin shocked the tennis world in 2008 by retiring while she was still at the top of the game. It will be interesting to see how Henin’s nerves hold up in what is just her second event back since returning to the sport, but there can be little doubt that sparks will fly. And one can be sure that this is only the beginning; those sparks are going to get brighter and more intense as the 2010 WTA season unfolds.

A Niggle in the Knee – After a relatively positive start to the season, Spaniard Rafael Nadal had to be disappointed to have to pull out of his semifinal encounter with Scot Andy Murray due to his niggling knee problem. All credit to Murray who played a brilliant match and would have won anyway, but there has to be concern in the Nadal camp going forward in 2010. For a man who bases his game around tracking down every ball and bludgeoning it around the court, a bad knee is a death sentence for his career. He’s going to have to seriously consider overhauling his game, or his career, which started so brilliantly so early, may now well be over.

The Captivating Croat – Put me down for jumping on the bandwagon of Croat Marin Cilic. After putting together a stellar run at the 2009 US Open, he followed it up by going even further at the first major of 2010. He was the tournament’s marathon man, who showed nerves of steel with his five-set victories over Bernard Tomic, current US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and American Andy Roddick. He may have bowed out to British No. 1 Andy Murray in the semifinals, but there’s no doubt that this young up-and-comer is going to be a Grand Slam champion in the near future.

Change in Weapon – U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller has stated that he plans to temporarily trade in his skis for a tennis racquet as he attempts to win a wildcard into the US Open qualifying draw. Miller has reason to think he might be successful, as he is no stranger to the game of tennis. He won the 1996 Maine State Singles, and his family owns the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, New Hampshire. If Miller does make it into the US Open qualifying draw, it could definitely create more pre-tournament buzz than ever before.

The Chinese Charge – For the first time in tennis history, China had two players in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event. Na Li and Jie Zheng gave the world’s largest nation something to smile about as they fought their way into the final four of Melbourne, which included Na Li’s narrow escape from the jaws of defeat against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. While Na Li and Jie Zheng both lost in the semis (to Serena Williams and Justine Henin respectively), their continuing success bodes well for the future of tennis in China.