open history

HENIN, DEMENTIEVA TO FULFILL THE APPETITE OF TENNIS FANS

By Melina Harris

WTA players and tennis fans alike were waiting with baited breath to see where seven-time major champion, the diminutive Belgian Justine Henin was going to be placed in the Australian Open draw last week. Unfortunately for the players, but fortunate for fans, the draw created a hugely competitive mouth-watering half of the draw featuring Justine Henin, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Dokic, Flavia Pennetta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Henin’s Belgian rival Kim Clijsters.

Indeed, after impressive first-round performances, Henin and Dementieva have set up what promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated second round match in Australian Open history Wednesday night in Australia. Henin eased her way comfortably back into Grand Slam action with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Belgian compatriot, Kirsten Flipkens, breaking early in both sets, while Dementieva demolished Russian compatriot Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-1 firing an audacious 23 winners during her smooth victory in the Hisense Arena.

In previewing this match, I felt it necessary to take a moment to ponder what must have gone through Henin’s deeply contemplative mind as she faced the prospect of Dementieva in the second and a rematch of the recent Brisbane International final with Clijsters in the quarters? Something along the lines of unwavering relish I would think as she admitted in a recent uncharacteristically open interview with the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK, ‘I’m afraid I am not an observer in life. I am somebody that has to go out there and do things. I need challenges all the time, I need to set myself a goal and achieve.’ She also admitted after an 18-month ‘retirement’ from the game, ‘I need tennis; it’s something I have found out about myself. I wasn’t sure whether I truly needed it before or whether it was something I’ve just always done but after nearly two years of seeing things through different eyes, I know it’s something I must have in my life.’

With this new found thirst for the game, I doubt the mentally fragile but freshly confident world No. 5 Dementieva is relishing her second-round match up with the notoriously cool Belgian. Despite winning convincingly against the battling Williams sisters in Doha and the Sydney International tournament, impressing critics with her stoic displays, it is evident she has some niggling insecurities to triumph over in order to win her first Grand Slam here in Australia. The fact that she openly admitted having to remind herself ‘she’s just like you, you know, she can be nervous’ regarding her opponent Venus Williams, reveals how she clearly suffers at the hands of a rather damaging inferiority complex against Grand Slam champions, which could play a significant role in the way this second round match will play out.

It remains to be seen whether Wednesday January 22nd at 19:00 local time will signify a turning point in women’s tennis and the most exciting match of the year so far. Millions of tennis fans will tune in to see whether Henin will manage to defuse Demenieva’s meticulously honed confidence with her steel, style and psychological strength.  It will be fascinating to watch how the possible psychological advantage Henin may have over Dementieva will play out on Wednesday. This match could symbolize the beginning of an illustrious Grand Slam career for Dementieva or launch the return of the elusive Henin to the top of rankings once again. It’s certainly an intriguing encounter which should not be missed – set those alarms people, we’re in for a treat!

Tracy Austin rallies Team Lendl to victory in US Open Champions Invitational

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 12, 2009 — Team Lendl rallied behind the dominating play of two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin to defeat Team Cash 21-17 in the final day of the US Open Champions Invitational at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. With the win, Team Lendl finished the competition as the only undefeated team, posting a 2-0 record.

With her team trailing by four games after the first three events, Austin teamed with Guillermo Vilas to roll over Hana Mandlikova and Ilie Nastase, 5-2 in mixed doubles. Austin and World TeamTennis CEO/Commissioner Ilana Kloss routed Mandlikova and Iva Majoli 5-0 in women’s doubles to give Team Lendl the match win.

Team Cash, coached by Pat Cash, started the day with an early lead when Majoli edged Conchita Martinez 5-4 in the opening set of women’s singles. The set was evenly matched with every game going to 3-points all, forcing a 9-point tiebreak at 4-4. Majoli won the tiebreak for the 5-4 victory.

Cash and Todd Martin topped Vilas and Jimmy Arias in men’s doubles 5-4 to add to Team Cash’s lead. Cash subbed in the men’s doubles event when Ilie Nastase had not arrived by the start of the set. Nastase showed up a few minutes later and when interviewed by the announcer about the reason for his late arrival, the irrepressible Nastase replied, “I cannot say – there are kids around.”

Nastase continued in classic form on the court as well, partially mooning Austin during mixed doubles and trying to unnerve her with a bit of trash-talking. “This one is for you, Tracy”. Austin was unaffected as she and her Team Lendl doubles partners outgunned her opponents 10-2 over the final two sets.

Team Cash and Team Lendl, along with Team King coached by Billie Jean King, each played two matches over three days of team competition. The event used the World TeamTennis format for the first time in US Open history and featured a lineup of Grand Slam champions and finalists competing on co-ed teams. Team Lendl finished with a 2-0 record, while Team King was 1-1 and Team Cash was 0-2.

Each match consisted of one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Other WTT features included cumulative scoring, sets to five games, no-ad scoring, playing let serves, Overtime and Supertiebreakers.

Final Score: Team Lendl def. Team Cash 21-17

Women’s Singles: Iva Majoli (Team Cash) def. Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) 5-4 (4)

Men’s Doubles: Todd Martin/Pat Cash (Team Cash) def. Jimmy Arias/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) 5-4 (1)

Men’s Singles: Todd Martin (Team Cash) def. Jimmy Arias (Team Lendl) 5-3

Mixed Doubles: Tracy Austin/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) def. Hana Mandlikova/Ilie Nastase (Team Cash) 5-2

Women’s Doubles: Ilana Kloss/Tracy Austin (Team Lendl) def. Hana Mandlikova/Iva Majoli (Team Cash) 5-0

Check www.USOpen.org for more details on the US Open Champions Invitational.

Team Lendl Tops Team King 24-16 In First Day Of US Open Champions Invitational

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 9, 2009 – Team Lendl defeated Team King 24-16 in Overtime to win the first match of the US Open Champions Invitational today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.  The event, which uses the World TeamTennis format for the first time in US Open history, features a lineup of Grand Slam champions and finalists competing on co-ed teams.

Team Lendl, coached by three-time US Open champion Ivan Lendl, jumped to an early lead as Jimmy Arias downed Luke Jensen in singles, 5-3.  Arias then paired up with Guillermo Vilas to boost their overall advantage to 10-5 with a 5-2 doubles win over Jensen and Stan Smith.

Team King’s tandem of Mary Joe Fernandez and Gigi Fernandez may have won two Olympic gold medals in doubles together, but they were outgunned this afternoon by two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin and Conchita Martinez, 5-2, in women’s doubles.

Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon singles champion, held on for 5-4 win over Mary Joe Fernandez in women’s singles to give Team Lendl a 9-point advantage heading into the final event.

Team King, coached by WTT co-founder Billie Jean King, rallied in mixed doubles when Smith and Gigi Fernandez topped Austin and Vilas 5-3 to send the match into Overtime.  The match was highlighted by back-to-back aces from Tracy Austin against Stan Smith.  Austin and Vilas held on to win the first game of Overtime and end the match with a 24-16 team victory.

The Champions Invitational continues on Thursday on Court 4 at 4 p.m. with Team King taking on Team Cash, coached by Pat Cash.  Team Lendl returns on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 11 a.m. to face Team Cash in the final match of the Champions Invitational.

The three teams, which have a combined total of 33 seasons of World TeamTennis experience, play two matches each between Sept. 9-12.  Each match consists of one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.  The event will use the traditional WTT format, which includes cumulative scoring, sets to five games, no-ad scoring, playing let serves, Overtime and Supertiebreakers.

TEAM KING: Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Stan Smith and Luke Jensen.

Coach:  Billie Jean King

TEAM LENDL: Tracy Austin, Conchita Martinez, Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Arias.

Coach:  Ivan Lendl

US OPEN CHAMPIONS INVITATIONAL RESULTS – Sept. 9, 2009

Team Lendl def. Team King  24-16 (OT)

Men’s Singles: Jimmy Arias (Team Lendl) def. Luke Jensen (Team King) 5-3

Men’s Doubles: Jimmy Arias/Guillermo Vilas (Team Lendl) def. Luke Jensen/Stan Smith (Team King) 5-2

Women’s Doubles: Tracy Austin/Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) def. Gigi Fernandez/Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) 5-2

Women’s Singles: Conchita Martinez (Team Lendl) def. Mary Joe Fernandez (Team King) 5-4

Mixed Doubles: Stan Smith/Gigi Fernandez (Team King) def. Guillermo Vilas/Tracy Austin 5-3

OVERTIME: Guillermo Vilas/Tracy Austin (Team Lendl) def. Stan Smith/Gigi Fernandez (Team King) 1-0

SCHEDULE FOR THURSDAY, SEPT. 10

4 pm – Court  4 (subject to change)

Team Cash vs. Team King

TEAM KING: Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Stan Smith and Luke Jensen.

Coach:  Billie Jean King

TEAM CASH: Iva Majoli, Hana Mandlikova, Ilie Nastase and Todd Martin.

Coach: Pat Cash

Check www.USOpen.org for more details on the US Open Champions Invitational.

Match Times (time/court subject to change – refer to official US Open schedule):

Thursday, Sept. 10 –       4 pm:  Court 4 – Team Cash vs. Team King

Saturday, Sept. 12 –        11 am:  Court 4 – Team Cash vs. Team Lendl

John Isner Advances Into Second Round at US Open

Although it looked like an upset on paper, John Isner’s form this summer has shown he is ready to start beating the top players on the ATP Tour.

In a match between two of the tallest players in pro tennis, Greensboro native John Isner fought off 10 set points in one of the longest tiebreakers in US Open history, and advanced into the second round with a 6-1, 7-6 (14), 7-6 (5) win over Victor Hanescu of Romania, the No. 28 seed in the event.

The first set was dominated by Isner. Holding serve easily and taking advantage of the lack of depth in Hanescu’s groundstrokes, Isner charged the net relentlessly, breaking Hanescu’s serve twice in seizing the opening set, 6-1.

“I started off so well,” said Isner. “That first set and a half was as well as I’ve played in a long time.”

After Isner broke serve early in the second set and held a break point to take a commanding 4-1 lead, the end result appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Hanescu saved the break point with an ace and Isner’s forehand suddenly began to betray him. Isner dropped serve at 3-2 with three forehand errors and a missed overhead.

“It doesn’t look like he’s that fast out there, but he gets to a lot of balls,” said Isner. “He was making me hit a lot of extra shots and unfortunately, I started missing a few.”

The two players traded service holds throughout the rest of the second set to force a tiebreaker. A missed backhand sent Isner down a mini-break as the Romanian seemed content to guide the ball into the court, forcing Isner into unforced errors.

Hanescu soon found himself serving with triple set point at 6-3. That’s when Isner began to do the unthinkable.

He fought off one set point with an ace, then another with an overhead smash. A forehand error by Hanescu leveled the tiebreaker at 6-6. Isner fought off five more set points in a row, mainly with crushing groundstroke winners that clipped the baseline. Isner reached his first set point at 12-11, but was unable to convert and sent a forehand into the net.

Isner fought off two more set points to level the tiebreaker at 14-14. A poorly executed drop shot by Hanescu allowed the American to rip a backhand up the line, giving him a second set point. At 15-14, a forehand volley winner gave Isner the second set as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

“I started off a little bit slow and obviously didn’t really want to go a tiebreaker,” said Isner. “I think he had five (set points) on his serve, and each one of his points I played really well. I told myself if I could just get one advantage, I might be able to take it.”

Isner and Hanescu easily held serve throughout the third set, with neither player facing a break point. In the tiebreaker, two consecutive forehand winners by Isner allowed him to go up 2-1. He held on the lead for the rest of the match, converting on his first match point with a forehand winner to advance into the second round, where he will play Marcel Ilhan of Turkey.

Just three months after being diagnosed with mononucleosis and missing Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Isner has been able to achieve semifinal performances this summer at Indianapolis and Washington D.C, as well as a quarterfinal finish at Los Angeles. Isner said he is still working on regaining full fitness, but has been producing the most consistent string of results in his career.

“Missing the whole European swing might have been a blessing in disguise,” said Isner. “I’ve felt fresh ever since I started playing in the States.”

With his ranking currently at a career high of No. 55, Isner said his immediate goal is to reach the top 50 and ultimately, to be talked about as a player well beyond the American swing.

“I want to become a big name in tennis, not just American tennis,” said Isner.