nice feeling

Soderling lifts first title of year, Clijsters back on form and Wozniacki laughs off criticism

*Swedish star Robin Soderling has paid tribute to new coach Claudio Pistolesi after overcoming Andy Roddick to win the Brisbane International 6-3, 7-5. The victory means that the Swedish No. 1 will climb above Andy Murray to No. 4 in the world and secures him the fourth seeding at the upcoming Australian Open. “We’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks, this is the first tournament, and it’s working pretty well, no?” said Soderling, who is looking to improve on a dismal record of never reaching the third round at Melbourne Park. “I’m playing really well and what makes me really happy is I never really played well in Australia before. It gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne.” American star Roddick rued his inability to combat Soderling’s serve: “He served too well, it seemed like any time I had a look, he came up with one of those big serves,” said the American No. 1. “I’m normally at the other side and it’s better on that end of the serve.”

*Despite recent talk of a second retirement the Belgian Kim Clijsters has exploded on to the 2011 tennis calendar. In her opening match of the year at the Sydney International she took only 62 minutes to register a 6-1, 6-2 victory over the young Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru. The No. 3 seed won the first eleven points of the match and the first five games. “I was feeling very comfortable out there, said the three-time US Open winner. “It’s a nice feeling to have when you play your first match. I was really focused on trying to place my serves well and not give Alexandra a lot of second serves to attack. When I started back on the WTA I was working on my consistency – my best game was there but then I’d lose it for three or four games,” Clijsters added. “The last few months I’ve been focusing on that and reading myself better, and realizing when I lose that intensity, pick it up again as soon as possible.” Full reaction to the day’s play can be viewed at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has laughed off criticism after being stunned by Dominika Cibulkova in the second round in Sydney. “You need to learn from the losses,” said the 20-year-old, who is aiming to break her Grand Slam duck in Melbourne. “I’m confident for Melbourne I’ll be OK, there are positives I can take.” It was Cibulkova’s first win over the dominant Wozniacki in six attempts. And the Dane admitted there was room for improvement: “At the start of the new season you need to get into match play. I didn’t feel I was playing great tennis out there,” Wozniacki added. “Now I just need to get some training matches, head to Melbourne and get ready for the Australian Open. Last year I had the same start, so hopefully slow start, good finish.” The young Cibulkova was understandably delighted: “I think I’ve beaten No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5 and everybody, just not No.1,” said the Slovakian. “So I’m really happy about it. The most important thing today was I went on the court and saw myself like a winner from the first point until the last point. So it wasn’t a surprise for me – I just played my game. I had my plan. I knew it was going to work if I just stuck to my plan.” Full reaction can be seen at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal is back on his feet after the bout of flu which badly affected him during his semifinal defeat to Nikolay Davydenko at the Qatar Open and has flown to Melbourne to continue his preparations for the Australian Open. The Spaniard is hoping to dethrone his great rival Roger Federer and hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously for the first time in his career. “Going by plane sometimes makes you worse and at the same time I don’t have anything to do right now in Australia,” the 24-year-old told the NZHerald. “With my condition right now I think the more reasonable thing to do is rest a few days and have less risk of injuries, less risk of everything.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro insists he is happy with his current comeback from injury following a shock 2-6, 5-7 defeat to the German Florian Mayer in the second round of the Sydney International. Missing much of 2010 saw del Potro fall to No. 259 in the world but having an injury protected ranking means he will compete at the Australian Open next week. “Of course I want to play and win a tournament,” he said following the match. “When you lose, it’s hard, but now it’s different, I have different sensations. I lost but I have another tournament in three days. I have my wrist in good shape. That’s good. Mayer played better than me but it’s normal. I am very far off my good game but I did my best. It was shorter, but I tried.”

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has denied that his decision to play in un-ranked events leading up to the Australian Open has harmed his chances of success. His decision to attend the Hopman Cup alongside Laura Robson last week coupled with Robin Soderling lifting the title at Brisbane means that the Scot will slip below the Swede and enter the Aussie slam ranked and seeded fifth. “I was seeded five for the Australian Open last year, so I don’t think it makes a big difference,” said Murray, who reached the final in 2010 before being outclassed by Roger Federer in straight sets. The full interview can be read at The Guardian website. Murray has also announced that he will return to Davis Cup play for the first time since 2009 after discovering that some play is required in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics. “I didn’t know about the Olympics situation until December,” he told the Daily Mail. “But I said to Leon [Smith, Davis Cup captain] before that I would be able to play and we should keep speaking. I will sit down and talk with him in Australia and see if he wants me to play in March or if it would be good for the other guys to have another match. I will definitely play, probably one or two [ties].”

*British teen sensation Laura Robson will miss both the Australian Open and Britain’s upcoming Fed Cup tie in Israel after injuring her hip in the Hopman Cup last week. Marcos Baghdatis is now a doubt for the men’s draw after withdrawing from this week’s Sydney International, where he was defending his 2010 title, with a groin injury.

*Young Aussie hopeful Bernard Tomic has vowed to mend his ways after receiving one of the final four wildcards in to this year’s Australian Open. Aussie Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge had previously told the talented 18-year-old to start making more of his gifts and Tomic seems firmly in agreement. In response to some questioning whether he deserved preferential treatment he said: “Look, it’s their decision at the end of the day. I can’t decide if I’m going to get it or not. I can only try to play tennis as much as I can. Yes, I had a bit of a strange December, but now it’s January. I mean, it’s their opinion. Everyone has got their own opinion; I’ve got mine. You don’t think about those things. You just play tennis. I think the wild-card that they gave, they gave for a reason.” Tomic’s full reaction can be read at The Australian’s website. Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson were the other recipients.

*Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt believes he is ready for a strong run at his home slam Australian Open despite not playing a ranked warm-up tournament for the first time. “I feel like I’ve done the hard yards,” said the 2005 finalist who did compete at the Hopman Cup last week and is currently taking part in the Kooyong exhibitions. “There’s no stone that’s unturned for me, and I can go out there and know that I’ve had the best preparation possible for myself and my body. Obviously I won’t be seeded next week, so [it’s] a little bit in the hands of the Gods where you get put in the draw, but I feel capable that I can go out there and cause some upsets.” Sam Stosur also believes she can bring home glory for her flood-ridden country despite an early loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sydney as well as an early defeat to compatriot Jarmila Groth in Brisbane last week. “I’m going to go in there thinking I can [win],” said the 26-year-old. “But there’s a long way from thinking you can do it and playing a first-round [match] to holding the trophy at the end…Even though it’s two second-round losses, I’m actually quite happy with the way I’m playing and think I’m in a good spot for Melbourne and still looking forward to obviously the Australian Open. If I could look back on this time last year to now I’m feeling 100 per cent better than I was.”

*In her latest attempts to find a new coach the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has begun working with Carlos Cuadrado.

*Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has been named the joint director of her home town tournament the WTA Paris Open. The Wimbledon and Australian Open Champion won the event three times during her career and said the challenge was “too good to turn down.”

*Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will find out next month whether they are the 2011 victors of the Laureus Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi. Nadal faces Formula One’s Sebastien Vettel, boxer Manny Pacquiao, basketball star Kobe Bryant and footballers Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Serena faces fellow tennis stars Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters, skier Lindsey Vonn, British track star Jessica Ennis and high jumper Blanka Vlasic.

*Roger Federer is looking to expand his charity exhibition CV by hosting an event in aid of the flood victims in Queensland on Sunday in Melbourne. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is in the city preparing for the Australian Open and said on his Facebook page: “The floods here in Australia are devastating! I am on my way to practise now and am going to speak with Tennis Australia to see if we perhaps can organise something on Sunday to help raise some funds for the people of Queensland who have been affected. Stay tuned as it would be great if the sport of tennis can help out right before the Australian Open begins.” Federer has previous when it comes to this type of thing and his ‘Hit For Haiti’ fundraisers were a massive hit on the 2010 circuit. Andy Roddick and Aussie star Sam Stosur promised $100 for every ace they hit in Brisbane last week with Roddick handing over $10,800 following his loss to Robin Soderling in the final. The ATP and WTA have also made the same pledge covering last week’s and this week’s tournaments as well as the Australian Open.

*Fresh for 2011 Tennis People has decided to introduce a new weekly feature to chronicle the ongoing battle between the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, and his great rival Rafa Nadal: The GOAT Race. Unfortunately, this won’t see the world’s top two players hurtle down a Welsh mountainside atop a buccaneering billy goat gruff, but will keep track of their on-court achievements this term. With Rafa’s injury problems and Roger’s off-court duties as a father to contend with, both players will be awarded ten points for entering a tournament. They will receive a further 25 points for a quaterfinals appearance, 50 for a semifinal and 100 if they reach the final. Every title lifted will earn them 200 points. These will be doubled for Grand Slam competitions. So, after the first tournaments of 2011 came to a close R-Fed’s victory in Qatar makes him our early leader with 210 points after that 6-3, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko. That’s ten for entering, and 200 for lifting the title. Rafa picks up 60 points after losing that flu-hit semi to the diminutive Russian.

Roger: 210   Rafa: 60

A Long Time Since Clijsters Last Lost At US Open

NEW YORK – The last time Kim Clijsters lost a match on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Roger Federer had yet to win the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

This year, Federer is seeking his sixth straight US Open title. Clijsters is going for her second in a row, yet she’s not the defending women’s singles champion. That honor goes to Serena Williams.

On Wednesday, Clijsters increased her winning match streak at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to nine by eliminating 14th-seeded Marion Bartoli 5-7 6-1 6-2.

“I stayed focused, I stayed aggressive, and really worked out a game plan that beat her today,” Clijsters said. “I think that’s something that’s even more rewarding when you win a match like this.”

Clijsters captured her first Grand Slam singles crown in New York in 2005, then was forced to miss the 2006 US Open when she re-injured her left wrist. In 2007, the Belgium native retired from the sport, married an American basketball player and gave birth to a daughter. Now 26, Clijsters decided to return to the women’s tour earlier this year and is playing in only her third tournament since ending her retirement.

“It was a nice feeling to have in Cincinnati, Toronto, knowing that I was capable of beating some of those top 10 players again,” Clijsters said. “That was a good feeling to have because that was something that I didn’t know what it was going to be like out there playing those girls again.

“But I haven’t played the big ones yet, Venus (Williams), Serena, (Maria) Sharapova, (Elena) Dementieva. I haven’t played those girls yet. Hopefully I’ll give myself a shot at doing that here.”

The last time Clijsters lost on the hard courts in Flushing Meadows was to fellow Belgian Justine Henin in the 2003 title match. She then missed the tournament in 2004 after undergoing surgery on her left wrist. The following year, she finally won a Grand Slam tournament title by beating Mary Pierce in the final of the US Open.
Then came another injury and her retirement.

Bartoli wasn’t the only seeded woman to fell Wednesday.

Fourteenth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo was ousted by Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4 6-0; Russian Maria Kirilenko eliminated No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-4 2-6 6-4; American Vania King shocked No. 15 Samantha Stosur of Australia 7-5 6-4; and Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium upset No. 20 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain 6-1 6-3.

Clijsters’ win over Bartoli, while technically an upset, wasn’t unexpected. Clijsters, after all, had been ranked number one in the world in 2003, and despite her inactivity she still has the game to be one of the top players. Plus, she played – and beat – Bartoli in her first tournament back, at Cincinnati where she reached the quarterfinals.

“I think it’s still a bit early for me to say after three weeks how the depth is in women’s tennis,” Clijsters said. “On the other hand, having seen a lot of the results lately I do think that a lot of girls can beat a lot of top players. But I think the consistency is what’s lacking.

“I think the consistency is what makes you a top 10 player these days. You know, we can all play tennis. We can all hit the ball hard. There’s a lot better athletes out there these days in the lower-ranked category.

“But it’s just a matter of consistency. It’s the biggest key. That’s what sets you apart from being a top 10 player or a top 50 or a top 100 player.”

Federer moved a step closer to his sixth straight title with a hard-fought victory over Simon Greul of Germany 6-3 7-5 7-5.
Wednesday saw the final US Open appearance of Marat Safin, a surprise US Open champion in 2000. The Russian, who is retiring after this year, fell to Jurgen Melzer of Austria 1-6 6-4 6-3 6-4.

“It’s the end. It’s the last one,” Safin said. “Could have been better ending, but still OK. I’m looking forwards to afterwards my career, so I have no regrets. And I don’t care about losses anymore.”

Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who also is retiring after this season, saw it differently.

“I love my sport,” said Santoro, who lost to 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-4 6-3 6-3. “I did it in this life for so many years. I was so happy to be on the court. You can’t do it if you’re not completely in love with your sport.

“Now I’m going to change, and I want to be home. I want to see my friends; I want to spend more time with my daughter. I want to live like normal life.

“But that’s the question: What is a normal life?”