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ANDY RODDICK AND SAM QUERREY ARE OPPOSITES: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Questions for Querrey – American Sam Querrey needs to find some answers as to why he’s lacking motivation, how does he find it again, and how does he do a better job of controlling his mindset when he’s out on the court. I’ll give credit to Sam for at least owning up the fact that he’s struggling to find his motivation and that he hasn’t exactly been the epitome of professionalism, even admitting that he’s tanked some points. He’s had some peaks and valleys in his 2010 season, but there’s no doubt he’s been one of the more promising young American players. To hear his latest comments was definitely disappointing. It sounds like his coach has the backbone to call Sam on it though, and hopefully between the two of them, they’re going to be able to turn things around before burnout occurs.

Grinding it Out – American Andy Roddick has been the opposite of his compatriot Sam Querrey. Roddick’s clay court preparation has been next to nil, and undoubtedly his worst since turning professional. To top it off, clay is his worst surface, and his results at Roland Garros have predominantly been dismal. When playing Fin Jarkko Nieminen, who himself has thus far had a terrible 2010 season, Roddick found himself down two sets to one. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and look towards the greener pastures of Wimbledon, but he ground it out like a true professional. In his second round, he takes on little-known Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia. Roddick had his serve broken on multiple occasions, endured a few rain delays, and even dropped the second set before finding his way to the finish line. I haven’t always been a fan of some of his outbursts on court, but I greatly admire the way he’s handled himself thus far at the French Open.

Darkness (and Chaos) Reign – It was only Day 4 of Roland Garros, but already there was high drama on Court Philippe Chatrier. Gael Monfils was up against Fabio Fognini. There was enough drama as it was, with Fognini staging a comeback after being down two sets to love. Then, at 4-4 in the fifth, tournament referee and Grand Slam supervisor Stefan Fransson made an appearance to presumably call play for the day. Instead of calling play, however, he talked it over with the players, and then, the insanity began as Fognini argued it was too dark to continue but was forced to play on anyway. In a statement made on Day 5, Fransson confirmed that both players claimed that they wished to continue playing, but that Fognini changed his mind after his box signaled to him to stop. Now maybe that constitutes illegal coaching, but I still felt for the Italian and found myself rooting for him. Of course he was initially going to claim he wanted to keep playing. He was playing a Frenchman and had a stadium full of French tennis fans who had patiently sat through rain delays earlier in the day (and were being egged on by Monfils) clamoring for the drama continue.  The situation was poorly handled by Fransson. Fognini should never have been put in the position of having to be the bad guy by asking for play to be called, and the fact that he got a point penalty for delay of game was ludicrous. I realize Monfils cannot be held accountable for the actions of tournament officials, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of justice was done when Fognini came out the victor.

(Un)dressed for Success – I’m going to join the multitudes of people commenting on Venus Williams’ latest tennis attire and go on record as saying I’m not a fan. Venus pushed the envelope with similar use of the bodysuit down in Australia, and now she’s crossed the line. Even taking into account that Venus has the figure to wear the dress, and that French Open and WTA administrators alike agree that her outfit doesn’t violate dress codes, that doesn’t make it right. Her attire is better suited to the bedroom than Court Philippe Chatrier, particularly on Kids’ Day. And as a sidebar regarding Venus’ comment that lace has never been done in tennis, she should research the stir Gussy Moran’s lace-trimmed panties made at Wimbledon just over 60 years ago. I’m happy to see that women’s tennis fashion has evolved since the time of Gussy and others, but I think in this case, the pendulum has swung a bit too far.

In Need of a Break? – That’s the question some are asking of Dinara Safina after she lost her first round match to 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm. After winning the first set, the Russian led by a break in the second and a double break in the third, but still failed to put away the cramping Japanese veteran. The good news for Safina is that she wasn’t complaining of the niggling back injury that has hampered her year, and she also seems positive about working with her new coach, former ATP pro Gastón Etlis. It’s hard to forgo competing in a Slam, but given that grass is historically her worst surface, I wonder if it wouldn’t serve Safina well to take month or so away from the game, bond more with her new coach, and get in the valuable practice time that’s has eluded her due to her back injury.

RUTHLESS NADAL IS TOUGH OUT AT FRENCH OPEN: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Defending Champ Out – It’s approximately three months down the road, but Juan Martin del Potro has already ruled out his chances of attempting to defend his US Open title. The Argentine, who recently underwent wrist surgery, stated that if all went according to plan, he should be able to play during the fall season. I sympathize with del Potro but greatly admire his realistic grasp of the situation. He noted that the US Open would always be a special place for him over the course of his career, but that he didn’t want to rush his comeback. He obviously has a good head on his shoulders and recognizes the advantage of his painful decision to skip the last major of the year as a decision that could, and should, pay dividends later. My fingers are crossed we see him make steady progress at the end of 2010 and in full flight come 2011.

King of Clay – Lest there be any doubt, Rafael Nadal added yet another tournament to his already impressive tally of titles, and he did so in ruthless fashion, including a relatively routine straight-sets victory over Roger Federer in the Madrid final. I tip my hat to Nadal for his composure in taking the title in Madrid, because it wasn’t just any ordinary title. His win in Madrid not only saw him become the first player to complete the Masters 1000 clay court hat trick in a single season, but it also saw him surpass Andre Agassi as the all-time Masters 1000 title leader with 18. While I’m not as sold as some on the idea of it not being matter of “if” Nadal will win Roland Garros but “how easily” he’ll win the title, there’s no doubt that it’s going to take something extra special from someone in the field to knock Nadal off course for his fifth French Open victory.

Raising French Hopes – Last week I noted that Justine Henin had suffered a shock early exit in Madrid. Her exit was courtesy of a one Aravane Rezai, and it included a bagel in the third.  After seeing the way Rezai played Venus Williams in the final of Madrid to claim the biggest title of her career, however, I suddenly understand that victory over Henin a little better. Rezai proved she’s got game, she’s developed some composure, and she has been knocking on the door. There’s clearly a difference between a player going on a hot streak as opposed to being the real deal, but Rezai is starting to look more and more like she could be a contender.  And for the nation of France, her potential arrival couldn’t come at a better time.

Head Scratcher – The verdict is out on the case of Wayne Odesnik, and he was given a two-year suspension for being in possession of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). That suspension wasn’t a shock, but what ultimately led to it was. In a statement, Odesnik made in response to the ITF’s verdict, Odesnik said, “The sole reason I was in possession of this banned substance was under doctor’s advice for treatment of a recurring shoulder injury. I was unaware at the time that this would be considered an anti-doping violation.” Odesnik claims that he was planning to apply for a therapeutic use exemption, and that may very well have been the case. But given the controversy surrounding HGH in the world of sports, as well as the number of suspensions the ITF has meted out over the last couple of years, it’s puzzling that Odesnik wouldn’t have done a better job of staying on top of applying for the exemption, particularly since there’s no guarantee it would have been granted.

Royal Presence – As if there wouldn’t already be enough pressure on the one lone Brit capable of making a run to the title on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, Andy Murray now has extra incentive to find a way out of his slump. Queen Elizabeth II, who last attended Wimbledon when Virginia Wade won the title in 1977, will once again be attending The Championships.  Nationalistic politics and pride aside,  Murray might draw some inspiration from the current reigning monarch who might very well be making her own return to Wimbledon because she sees in Murray a strong possibility of ending the British drought.

LTA AS ERRATIC AS MURRAY

If you thought Andy Murray was uncharacteristically erratic in Monte Carlo on Wednesday, the whole match served perfectly as a metaphor for the strange behavior of Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in recent weeks following the findings of the government’s report. The appointment of Murray’s former mentor Leon Smith as the new Davis Cup Captain has certainly raised a few eyebrows within the tennis world, with many left wondering if the experience of mentoring the Scot during his undoubtedly temperamental teenage years is enough to merit entrusting the 34-year-old with the future of British tennis? No doubt it must have taken some strength of character to handle 13-year-old Murray in a strop, but does he have the charisma to stir the team to victory and lure his former apprentice, the black sheep of British tennis, back into the fold?

Smith’s appointment signifies a distinctly strange choice for the LTA to make considering Greg Rusedski, an experienced Davis Cup player and popular choice amongst the players, was in the running for the job. It must be noted that great players do not always make the best of coaches, but still the decision symbolized one of Murray’s wild forehands out of court, rather than a safe topspin drive two feet within the baseline for the governing body. What is interesting is the motivation for this decision.

Smith described the appointment as “a huge honour and an irresistible challenge for me,” and went on to say, “I know the players, and I know that together we can get Britain back to winning ways in the Davis Cup.” Despite only reaching junior county level tennis for the West of Scotland and never coaching anyone over the age of 16, he has been appointed LTA head of men’s tennis following the recommendations of a review carried out by LTA player director Steve Martens, along with the accolade of Davis Cup Captain. Perhaps I should have applied for the job considering my similar levels of playing and coaching experience!

Martens commented, “Leon is the perfect fit for this important role, at this stage in the development of British men’s tennis. He’s a young British coach full of energy and passion, who’s already proved he’s a quick learner, and has the respect of the players” but was it simply a case of bowing to peer pressure from Murray?

It has appeared in recent weeks that the LTA can’t seem to make an independent decision of their own, with high profile employees delegating decisions left, right and center, while the appointment of Smith looks significantly as if they were blindly following the consensus of Murray who vocalized his opinions on Rusedski and the type of coach he would want as captain, although he has gone on record stating he had not named Leon Smith personally as his choice to the LTA. They were publicly criticized for the acquisition of high profile coaches such as Brad Gilbert, but once again this would suggest a knee jerk reaction to public opinion in appointing a relative unknown, a stab in the dark rather than a reasoned choice; only time will tell whether they have made yet another mistake.

Public opinion of the governing body cannot have been improved following their president, Derek Howorth’s erratic and strange public performance at The National Premier Indoor Tennis League’s official dinner, when reportedly during his speech, instead of politely commenting on the event, he took the opportunity to tear the British press to shreds, celebrated the LTA’s achievements and commented weakly that all will be put right eventually, clearly unconvinced that there is anything wrong with his beloved institution. Unsurprisingly, like a horrendous contestant on the X-factor, he was heckled by a lady in the audience. I have an idea what Simon Cowell might have said.

Indeed, it is clear the cracks are starting to appear deep in the armour of the establishment. According to reports in The Times, the LTA made another embarrassing bloomer, when their sports journalist was the one to point out that the LTA had got their entry procedures wrong for the ITF junior tournament in Nottingham – oops! The LTA should have submitted a top 75 ranking list to the appropriate authorities, but this was not carried out thus leaving the selection to be random, leaving out a number of top British juniors. Suffice to say, there were a number of seriously annoyed parents sulking across the country, shaking their heads in disbelief. The LTA’s response was: “New regulations were introduced for 2010 allowing national associations to submit a list of nationally ranked players after players with an ITF ranking. Communication on this new rule was not picked up in time to be implemented for the first two events in GB for this year. To cater for this, any relevant players adversely affected were considered by the national coaches for wild cards into qualifying.” The LTA admitted, “We didn’t apply the regulations as in effect per January 2010. This is unfortunate and, hands up, we made a mistake. The wild cards that were given out in qualifying could cater for a large group of the players without an ITF ranking but with a good domestic ranking; however this is not perfect”. Surely with a 60 million turnover, someone could have noticed and implemented this rule change?

This echoes with my own experience as an LTA ranked junior player aged 15, when results were not put in from a ratings tournament in which I embarked on a run so impressive that I faced Britain’s former No. 1, Anne Keothovong in the final, only to be told the points I had amassed from the tournament had not been added to my junior rating. This meant that my rating did not go up to where I belonged that year and when trying to rectify the situation, my mother was faced with the same kind of ‘closed shop’ treatment as the government, who recently commented that had the LTA been more open as an organization, the report would have been much easier to compile. It’s not a coincidence that my enthusiasm for the game dropped like a deflated helium balloon as I chose the safer option to pursue higher education, rather than a career as a professional tennis player.

Unfortunately, it is clear the chasm does run deep into the junior ranks and it is of no shock that this ripple effect over the years caused the tsunami of that infamous Davis Cup loss and the subsequent earthquakes of media attention the president is so obviously riled up about. So where is the solution? Well Mr. President, perhaps a look into the pool of unemployed graduate talent could be a start as replacements for the incompetent employees missing crucial rule changes and being about as decisive as a kid in a candy shop? Now, there’s a thought. Hopefully he’ll start ranting about me next!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. 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.

SHARAPOVA: WILL SHE BE A TOP CONTENDER AGAIN? THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Extended Leave – Continuing to cite the bone bruise that knocked her out of Miami, Maria Sharapova has stated that she’ll also have to forgo the Family Circle Cup in Charleston with her earliest plans to return coming possibly at Rome or Madrid. I personally feel that despite her young age, Sharapova is at a crossroads. Her game can certainly still be devastating to most opponents, provided she’s on. But the fact is that she’s become more and more prone to injuries since 2008, and with the return of players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, it’s going to be that much more difficult to break back into the top 10. Couple that with the fact that she’s not a great mover, has no game plan B, lacks confidence and has lost virtually all of her once intimidating aura in the locker room, it really is difficult to imagine her being a top contender once again. Only time (and results) will tell, but she may have some critical decisions to make very soon.

Good Timing or Good Omens? – No doubt that Andy Roddick has had an excellent two tournaments, reaching the finals of Indian Wells and going one step further in Miami. But while some are predicting this is the resurgence of Roddick’s career, with his own coach suggesting he may be a lot like Andre Agassi and win multiple majors post age 27, I’m not sold on it. Don’t get me wrong. The guy has played some amazing tennis, and he may have another major in him (last year’s Wimbledon proved that). That said, I wonder if he isn’t just taking advantage of a temporary lull in the men’s game. It’s not to take away from what Roddick has done in the month of March. But I still contend that guys like Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Juan Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, etc. have more talent, though it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to put it back together mentally or physically for the long term. If they do, hard to see Roddick matching them toe-to-toe week in and week out. So with all due respect to Larry Stefanki and others, I’m personally not ready to jump on the Roddick bandwagon once again.

What Was He Thinking? – That’s the question that had to be going through the minds of players and the fans when Wayne Odesnik opted to play in Houston. Forget that the ITF has said that technically Odesnik can play until an official ruling is made regarding his HGH case. The guy pleaded guilty, he’s going to get banned, and even if it isn’t a full two-year ban (which will be shocking if it’s not), he’s ultimately going to have to forfeit any prize money and ranking points he earns this week anyway. Given the harsh criticism he received when news broke of his HGH scandal, I can’t see where his latest move is going to endear him to his peers and fans. In short, even if he doesn’t get the maximum ban for possession of HGH, he should get one for utter stupidity.

That Niggling Knee – Gilles Simon certainly hasn’t had much to smile about over the course of the last 6-12 months. Much like Sharapova, the young Frenchman may also see his own career at a crossroads, which is a real travesty given the amazing promise he showed in the second half of 2008. Simon’s knee continues to be a niggling problem, and he’s announced that he has little to no chance of competing at his home major, having pulled out of Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Simon, whom I think is a brilliant and fun player to watch when he’s on. Given his potential talent, it would be a shame to see his career snuffed out so early.

Prognosis: Excellent – In a story that not only made tennis headlines but sport headlines across the globe, it was announced Martina Navratilova has breast cancer.  The good news for the former tennis champion, who won an astonishing 59 Grand Slam titles, is that the cancer is considered non-invasive and that her prognosis is excellent.  Given the many obstacles that Navratilova has had to navigate over the course of her life, there’s no doubt that she possesses the tenacity to fight the disease and inspire others also suffering from it to do the same.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing Navratilova the best in waging her battle against breast cancer.