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Pride Over Points; Ana Ivanovic Turns Down Wildcard For Montreal – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

First Time for Everything – One of the big news items this week was the fact that for the first time since the ATP rankings began, no American man is in the Top 10. The United States has always had one of the richest tennis traditions, producing some of the game’s greatest, from Sears, Tilden and Trabert, to McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi. So, the absence of a rep for the Stars and Stripes in the Top 10 is certainly worth noting, but it’s not the big crisis that some of the national sports pundits make of it. Tennis has become a much more global sport over the last few decades, and there’s no doubt that the depth has greatly increased. The other aspect that needs to be considered is that the United States is still producing world class players…they just don’t always represent the United States. The same Nick Bollettieri Academy that produced tennis greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and has also produced other top players like Tommy Haas (Germany) and Maria Sharapova (Russia). Besides, at the end of the day, assuming he’s healthy, the odds are still in favor of Roddick finishing the year in the Top 10, and other guys by the names of John Isner, Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish aren’t doing too shabby either.

The Ailing American – It was Andy Roddick’s departure from the Top 10 that sparked the bit of panic about the status of American men’s tennis, but the worries for Roddick are far from being about the ranking. After suffering an early exit in Washington, the American admitted to feeling lethargic and stated he would be undergoing some testing to try and discover the possible problem. He has since pulled out of the Toronto Masters citing his being too ill to play, though no word yet on the health issue that may possibly be plaguing him. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Roddick. After one of his better spring seasons that seemed to hint at a possible resurgence, the American has suffered a steady decline that now sees him at one of his worst lows in recent memory. The fingers are crossed that he can reverse this trend at what has historically been one of the most successful junctures of the season for him and give the people back home something to cheer about.

Nalbandian on the Rise – A man on the flip side of what Roddick is experiencing is David Nalbandian. Though just really starting to fully come back from his long injury layoff, it hasn’t taken the Argentine long to polish the rust off his game. He looked in devastating form as he stormed his way to the title in Washington, and he’s continued his ruthless play this week in Toronto. He’s spent a lot of time out of the game, and for sure playing best-of-three vs. best-of-five makes a big difference. But if Nalbandian continues is form of late, and you factor in his records against both Nadal and Federer, it’s hard to not label him one of the outside dark horses to make a deep run at the US Open.

Pride over Points – The offer of a wildcard, one initially denied to the struggling Ana Ivanovic, was put on the table earlier this week, but the young Serb refused it. Her reason? She didn’t like what tournament director Eugene Lapierre had to say in The Montreal Gazette regarding his initial reasons for denying the wildcard to her earlier this summer. There’s right and wrong on both sides of the equation in this one. Lapierre raised many valid points in his reasons for initially denying the wildcard, but Ivanovic was right to think that he certainly could have been more diplomatic in presenting those points, and definitely a little more discreet as far as stating the number of reasons he initially denied her the wildcard other than that she’s “not Canadian.” With Ivanovic playing Cincinnati and also scheduled to play New Haven (through a wildcard), skipping Montreal most likely works in her favor anyway. But I have to applaud Ivanovic for having the guts to stick to her own personal principles instead of taking the tempting wildcard and the potential to earn some needed points at one of the most prestigious events on the WTA calendar.

Sponsorship Terminated – In order to comply with the laws in several countries which put heavy restrictions on tobacco advertising, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament will be enjoying its swan song in 2010 as the tobacco company will be forced to end its 17-year sponsorship of the popular indoor stop. This is out of the ATP’s hands, and the current global trend to reduce the amount of tobacco and tobacco-related products advertising is understandable for obvious reasons. But this was still a bit of a head shaker given how hard it can be for tournaments to find title sponsors, and in this specific case, we are talking about a sponsor who didn’t just step in for a few years, but had been faithfully sponsoring the tournament for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, those are the breaks that come with being at the 500-level. Hopefully given the quality of the field that tends to show up in Basel year after year, the Swiss Indoors won’t find it too much of a struggle to find a replacement sponsor.

WILL BALANCED APPROACH TO LIFE WORK FOR OUDIN?

By Melina Harris

As I sat on the British table at the Professional Tennis Registry’s award ceremony last night at the Crowne Plaza, Hilton Head Island, we were informed that Brian de Villiers, coach of America’s new sweetheart, 18-year-old Melanie Oudin could not accept his award for PTR Touring Coach of the Year due to his commitments in supporting his young protégé in France during her impressive run at the Open GDF Suez tournament in Paris, which came to an end after a gutsy semifinal performance on Saturday against top seeded Elena Dementieva 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

De Villiers was given the award by the PTR based on Oudin’s meteoric rise into America’s consciousness as their No. 3 female player on the tour behind Serena and Venus Williams following her impressive run to the quarterfinals at last year’s US Open, when she dispatched of Dementieva, Petrova and Sharapova no less. Her two victories in the recent Fed Cup to give the United States a 4-1 win over France has not gone unnoticed by the American public desperate for someone to take over from the impressive Williams sisters. However the level-headed star recently commented, “I know people are hoping I’m the next up-and-coming American but I don’t read any of that, the blogs, the press, what anyone says. I just focus on myself and I already have my own goals. That’s what I’m concentrating on.”

After the recent ‘burn outs’ of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova in their early twenties with career threatening injuries, I began to wonder whether steps had been taken by De Villiers to ensure Oudin’s longevity in the game?

Unlike Sharapova, whose years of intensive training on the hard courts of the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida have caused the star to remodel her serve in order to recover from a recurrent shoulder injury and Nadal’s pounding on the Spanish clay as a junior causing widespread concern over his tendonitis, De Villiers has been careful not to overdo the training and instead has chosen to allow Oudin to also focus her attentions on academic pursuits. De Villiers is well known for encouraging his young players to keep a balanced perspective on and off court. It has been documented that Oudin intends on studying for a medical degree in the future. Could this more balanced view be the key to her future success?

Indeed, the recent rise of American collegiate graduate John Isner to No. 25 in the ATP world rankings has emphasized the idea that devoting too much time to tennis at a young age without consideration of a player’s personal and mental development outside of the game can be detrimental, while a more balanced approach to education can be more conducive to a lengthy and successful career.

The Williams sisters were notoriously held back from playing junior events by their father which could have been the predominating factor in their continued enthusiasm for the game, as well as their other pursuits such as Serena’s charity work and their fashion lines.

I think there has been a definite switch in opinion regarding the age at which players are expected to achieve success, confirmed by the notable come backs of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in their mid twenties following breaks from the game, when both players were allowed the time to shift their focus on personal development which has possibly given them an edge over their weary contemporaries such as Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic whose years of focus and discipline have lead to mental and physical fatigue. Most players should be reaching their peak around the mid to late twenties mark, like the great Roger Federer, who many forget took 17 attempts at a Grand Slam title before winning one. However, in the past players have been written off as failures if they haven’t succeeded in their teens or early twenties, which with hindsight was ridiculous.

I really hope that young players such as Laura Robson and Melanie Oudin are given the time and space to develop at a more natural pace, with the inclusion of academic and social pursuits to ensure their love for the game, which can be lost like Andre Agassi admitted in his recent autobiography who went so far as to say he ‘hated’ the sport, but only began to truly love it aged 27 during his comeback which included several Grand Slam victories.

As Oudin plays in the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis this week, it will be interesting to see whether the level-headed youngster, whose slogan “believe” is emblazoned on her trainers, and her coach’s balanced approach will create a fairy tale ending for her adoring American fans and become a future Grand Slam tournament champion.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.