passion

My Friend, My Foe, My Countrywoman

Flavia and Francesca.

While the two might be in the wrong business to be known by a single stage name, there is no doubt that Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone have been the faces of Italian women’s tennis for the better part of a decade.

Despite having contrasting styles, each brings something unique to women’s tennis. Schiavone, no doubt the flashier of the two, is the master of an all-court game and a classic clay court style; she uses an extreme Eastern grip on her one-handed backhand, a dying art in women’s tennis. Pennetta, to her credit, possesses some of the most aesthetically pleasing groundstrokes on the WTA; she’s renowned for her great timing, clean strokes, tenacity and net skills. They are similar in one respect; each time they’ve taken the court, they’ve played with immense passion and heart.

They’ve triumphed individually; Pennetta was the first Italian woman to ever be ranked in the top ten in singles, win a major title in doubles when she triumphed with Gisela Dulko in women’s doubles at the Australian Open in 2011 and be ranked No. 1 in either discipline when she and Dulko topped the women’s doubles list; Schiavone became the first Italian woman to ever be ranked in the top five in singles and win a singles major title at Roland Garros in 2010. They’ve triumphed together; with a combined a 48-24 total record in Fed Cup, the duo led Italy to three titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010.

Each has had so many standout moments over their long careers that it’s difficult to pick just one. Aside from her major triumph, Schiavone will probably best be remembered for one of the highest quality matches in the history of the WTA, when she and Svetlana Kuznetsova contested the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history at the Australian Open in 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBbLO06fBCU&feature=youtu.be

Pennetta, a three-time US Open quarterfinalist, made the most improbable of her three runs in 2011. Following her third round defeat of Maria Sharapova, Pennetta rallied past Peng Shuai, dry heaves and the mid-day New York heat to advance to her third career US Open quarterfinal. Having witnessed the match live, I can scarcely think of many other times when a New York crowd so firmly and whole-heartedly supported a non-American player.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP7CnDWIhyQ&feature=youtu.be

In recent years, however, age and injuries have played their part. Barely hanging on to her spot in the top 100, Pennetta returned from a six month absence after wrist surgery in Acapulco, where Schiavone won back-to-back matches for the first time since Wimbledon. In that time, Italian women’s tennis had been overtaken by another dynamic duo.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci spent a lot of time during those three Fed Cup title runs cheering on the sidelines. However, they’ve taken the mantle vacated by Schiavone and Pennetta and firmly seized control of it. Errani became the second Italian woman to reach a major final, something some expected Pennetta to do. Vinci, despite being just a year younger than Pennetta, has had the best 18 months of her singles career. They show no signs of slowing down in doubles either, as they currently hold three of the four majors and are the undisputed No. 1 team in the world.

In the first round of Fed Cup, it was Errani and Vinci who singlehandedly led Italy over the United States and instead, Karin Knapp and Nastassja Burnett cheered from the sidelines. It was the first time neither Pennetta nor Schiavone were named to an Italian Fed Cup team in over 10 years; one or the other was always a constant presence since Schiavone made her debut in 2002, and Pennetta a year later in 2003.

On a Wednesday in Indian Wells, these two WTA stalwarts, Fed Cup teammates and friends took the court for a singles match for the first time in three years. After Schiavone defeated Pennetta 7-5, 6-1 in a non-televised match under the setting California sun, one couldn’t help but wonder if the sun is also setting on their time at the top of the game. Whatever happens at the end of this season, it would be fitting for two of the WTA’s strongest characters to leave the sport the way they entered it.

Together.

Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

Love in Tennis

In life, ‘love’ envelopes all that is good and passionate. In tennis, ‘love’ is on the other side of the spectrum. It’s the equivalent of nothing, nada, rien, nichts. How is it then that an Indo-European word meant to show great belief and affection turns to anger and disgust in the world of tennis?

When we are down love-40 in a game of tennis, it conjures up thought that we are inadequate, and that perhaps we should find a new job, hobby, or general change in the path our life is heading. But what if being down love-40 is exactly what we need in order to breakthrough and perform our best? Every day there are unnecessary things in life that bring us down and draw energy out of us. It’s those times when our character is tested that we see exactly how strong we are. That we are indeed empowered, in control, and the serve is ours for the taking if only we believe.

The next time you are down love-40 in tennis or life, think of it as an advantage to prove your passion and dedication. To a tennis player and spectator, love can turn from anger and disgust into glory and triumph in a matter of seconds. There is no greater reward than to come back from the depths of despair and stand up victorious and joyful.

This column is dedicated to the ‘love’ of tennis: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s called Romi’s Rants, Raves and Missives.

WIN SERENA WILLIAMS’ LUCKY RINGS!

This offer is no longer valid. The contest is over!

Anyone else enjoyed Serena Williams’ magnificent performance during the first week of Wimbledon?  I always enjoy watching this natural born champion. Not just for her marvelous and excellent tennis game but also for her attire.   I am always curious what Serena will wear on the courts. It are mostly clothes that make her look classy and feminin.

Serena has been into fashion for as long as she plays and I couldn’t help but Google about her fashion endavour.  I found out that she has her own jewelry line called “Serena Williams Signature Statement”.

And this is what Serena had to say about that:

I always try to make a statement both on and off the court. My passion and drive have enabled me to explore many creative paths throughout my life. It makes me smile when I think back to when my mother and I used to sew all of our own clothes together. I understand the talent and precision it takes to make beautiful things come to life.

Attending design school reminded me of my love for creating clothes, jewelry, accessories… you name it. One of my dreams has always been to share gorgeous gifts of fashion and luxury with the world, which is why I have created the Serena Williams Signature Statement collection.

All of my pieces are designed with love to offer you feminine and elegant beauty that you can wear all of the time. Know that a part of my heart goes into every piece and I hope my collection inspires you to make your very own signature statement for your lifestyle!”

In collaboration with the Home Shopping Network  (HSN.com) I am allowed to give away not 1, not 2 but 3 of Serena Williams Lucky Rings.

They come in the following colors: Yellow, Crystal,  Pink and Purple.

All you have to do is answer the following question:  How many times has Serena Williams won Wimbledon?

Answer the question and the first 3 to get it right will receive Serena’s Lucky Ring! It’s that easy folks!  Please leave your email address so I can contact you about shipping the rings to you!

Please watch Serena Williams on the Home Shopping Network that airs on July 22! Don’t miss out what this champion has to say to you!

This offer is no longer valid. The contest is over!

Andy Murray’s Radical Messenger

Over the past  six decades,  HEAD has witnessed many changes. In a long and distinguished history,  HEAD  has seen some good times and some not so good times.

The fact that HEAD  has survived is testament to the strength and resolve of everyone who has ever been involved with the company: customers and employees alike.

We are passionate about the gear we produce and we know this is a passion shared by our enthusiastic owners. All of our racquets will continue to be hand-built and bespoke but using high technology processes in a very modern environment.

That ethos goes right back to 1950 and the very beginnings of the company. Our founder, Howard Head, believed that a sports gear should have a distinctive and individual character. He felt it should be developed and designed  to the highest standards and be exhilarating to use and own – many things have changed over the ensuing sixty years, but those goals are still very relevant to us today.

HEAD sports gear  combines three important elements: power, beauty and soul. HEAD products are truly special – they always have been and always will be.

Andy Murray has enjoyed a solid partnership with HEAD and together they have worked on the Radical Messenger to promote the new developed Head youtek Radical Racket.

For the competition HEAD has many prizes in store. Among those are HEAD Backpacks, Microgel Raptor OS rackets and many more.

Please visit Andy Murray’s Radical Messenger website or by clicking here.

Krystle Clear: The Maria Sharapova Dilemma

Maria Sharapova has been out of tennis the past year or so, and her rankings have dropped significantly.  However, her face remains present  on our billboards, Fifth Avenue, and commercials reminding us to “make every shot a power shot” with Canon.  This is the time where she must  decide if she will come back to tennis full force or a small pop, disappearing into Kournikova land.

At this point, she has earned more money than many people will see in  their lifetimes.  She won grand slams, performed what she needed to do to become a memorable female athlete, and if she wants to forget her number one ranking, I don’t know if I would do anything else in her place.  She is a young girl.  Tennis schedules get hectic, her other modeling/spokeswoman career is more lucrative and fascinating.  Why not play halfheartedly and enjoy life?  She could become an actress, movie producer, fund her own sports ventures, anything she dreams of!

The flip side of the coin is sports are about passion.  You don’t care about money once you have it but winning, being the best to save your dignity.  I believe that’s what other top players have and top athletes in every field: drive.  Miss Sharapova could demand to be the best, extending her presence beyond today’s tennis to ages from now, the way we talk about Babe Ruth, thei height of Wayne Gretzsky, etc.

It’s her choice.  What would you do?