InsideOut Sports & Entertainment today announced the dates, venues and fields for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit, highlighted by the debuts of Andy Roddick and James Blake, who will join the 12-city tour and play alongside tennis legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The PowerShares Series will kick off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Kansas City and will conclude March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. Players competing on the 2014 circuit are Roddick, Blake, Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Todd Martin and Mark Philippoussis. Each event will feature two one-set semifinal matches, followed by a one-set championship match.
An exclusive USTA member pre-sale offering a 15% discount for USTA members begins today. Tickets and unique VIP fan experience packages will go on sale to the general public next Tuesday, October 22. Tickets start at $25 and all ticket and VIP information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.
“We are eagerly anticipating the 2014 PowerShares Series season with an exciting blend of all-time greats from different generations competing in 12 cities across the country,” said Jon Venison, Partner at InsideOut Sports & Entertainment. “We are excited to welcome Andy Roddick and James Blake as they join our eighth year of Champions Series tennis and look forward to seeing them, along with the other legendary players, compete and entertain crowds around the United States this season.”
“I am looking forward to playing on the PowerShares circuit,” said Roddick. “Having a chance to stay connected with tennis and compete on a limited basis through events like these fits perfectly with my life these days.”
“It’s going to be exciting to start a new chapter of my tennis life playing on the PowerShares Series circuit,” said Blake. “Having just retired from the ATP tour, you’d think I have an advantage over some of the guys, but players like Andy, Andre and Pete are so talented and competitive that is going to be a great challenge for me to win some titles. I look forward to the challenge.”
The full 2014 PowerShares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:
Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint Centre – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Indiana, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Thursday, February 20, Houston, Texas, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake
Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, California, Sleep Train Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander
Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, North Carolina, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander
Friday, March 21, Surprise, Arizona, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
This week, Canadian Milos Raonic has been a continuous feature in tennis discussions this week after breaking into the top 20 of the ATP rankings for the first time in his career. The 21-year-old young gun moved up five spots to secure his No. 19 place, thanks to his quarter-final appearance at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last week.
Many have predicted great things for the rising star, speculating on whether he will be a future Grand Slam champion, on his ability to break into the top 10 or even break up the mold that has bound the top 5 players so tightly in recently years, but this achievement is something which no Canadian singles players has managed to do before. He is enjoying being on the court; he is living the dream and he still has a lot more to give. Here is a little bit of information and fun facts about the Canadian hero that many may not know about:
Who is Milos Raonic?
Milos Raonic was born Podgorica, Montenegro, in the former Yugoslavia just before Serbia became an independent country and he moved to Canada at the age of 3-years old. He did not begin playing tennis until he was 8-years old and whilst growing up his hero was Pete Sampras. It seems as though he suddenly exploded on the tennis scene from nowhere after enjoying a very successful 2011. He rocketed up the rankings from No.156 at the end of 2010 to a year-end ranking of No.31 in 2011. The 6’5” player is infamous for his booming serves and possesses an all-court style of play. He has won three career titles – his first in San Jose in 2011, which he successfully defended again this year and he has also won on the hard courts of Chennai.
How much does Raonic remember of his Serbian roots?
Milos moved to Canada with his family because of the war that continued in between the surrounding nations. Milos has said before that he doesn’t remember anything about his homeland except for one bad memory that has always stayed with him – the time when he was stung by a bee on his finger when he was 4-years old.
His super serve
When you hear the name ‘Milos Raonic’ you automatically think: big serve. As a child his father made him train with a ball machine at 6:30am and 9:00pm and those early morning starts and workouts seemed to have put him in good stead as a player. He rarely shows aggression on court (apart from when he is serving or during a rally) and emulates the speed and finesse of his hero’s service motion, Pete Sampras.
Making his mark
Milos Raonic made his mark in the tennis world after he won his first ATP Tour title at the SAP Open in San Jose beating the then-ranked world No.9 player, Fernando Verdasco. It was a very special moment for the Canadian and indeed for Canada, as it was the first time a Canadian tennis player won an ATP title since 1995. After this victory, Milos earned a lot of attention from the media – and particularly the Canadian media – which is something he has had to learn to deal with. Very much like Andy Murray and his British expectations, Raonic has expressed how he hopes that it will benefit and influence the juniors who are up and coming in Canada.
• Raonic plays with a double-handed backhand
• He can speak Serbian and English
• He moved to Canada when he was 3-years old.
• Both of his parents (Dusan and Vesna) are engineers.
• He has a sister called Jelena, and a brother, Momir
• Raonic first picked up a racquet aged 8-years old.
• His favourite surface to play on is on the quick-paced hard courts.
• He confessed that when he was younger, his dad used to make him train with a ball machine early in the morning and at night as they were cheaper to hire during those times.
• Raonic enjoys watching movies and talking to family on Skype when he’s away.
• Raonic is a big fan of football (soccer) and his favourite team is Real Madrid.
• The Canadian has the correct height to be a basketball player and he supports Toronto Raptors.
• His tennis hero as a child was fourteen-time Grand Slam champion ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras and he admitted that he recorded his matches that were shown on tv.
• He is coached by former ATP pro Galo Blanco (since October 2010)
• His ultimate goal? To remain consistently in the top 50 and break into the top 10.
Milos Raonic’s rise in the rankings has been documented by the ATP World Tour Uncovered, which you can watch using the video below.
by Maud Watson
Return the Glory
Last weekend saw three ATP stars recapture some positive vibes as they each added another championship title to their list of accomplishments. Nico Almagro, always a danger on clay, looked sharp as he successfully defended his title in Brasil and mounted a case to be considered a dark horse contender at Roland Garros in the process. Canadian sensation Milos Raonic, who pulled out of Davis Cup play due to a misreading of a knee scan, showed little sign of any injury, as he worked his way to tournament champion in San Jose for the second consecutive year. As big as the wins were for Almagro and Raonic, however, the guy who might have been most pleased with his win last weekend was Roger Federer. After the debacle of the Swiss Davis Cup defeat, a run to the Rotterdam championship was just what the doctor ordered. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in his psyche as he takes to the court in Indian Wells.
You probably haven’t heard of her, but 19-year-old Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino completed a great weekend for Spain, claiming her first WTA title with her win in Bogota. Granted, it was a weak field to begin with, and it only grew weaker as the final approached, but you can only play those in front of you. There’s also no substitute for big match play, so while it’s far too soon to tell what this young lady is capable of, keep an eye on her to see if this impressive win will lead to future breakthroughs on the game’s grandest stages. Of course the bigger story was the win in Doha by Victoria Azarenka, who continues to make as much noise with her game as she does with her shrieking. Though she herself has attempted to stem the talk, there are already murmurs comparing her to Djokovic, as her win in Doha sees her remain perfect in 2012. Irrespective of what people think of her attitude and theatrics, she appears more than capable of comfortably wearing the badge of the hunted, and there’s no denying that she’s going to be difficult to beat anywhere and on any surface.
Sam Querrey has been given a second chance at finding success on the ATP World Tour, and it looks like he may be intent on not wasting it. The Californian has switched coaches and has hired Brad Gilbert on a trial basis. The former coach of Agassi, Roddick, and Murray may prove to be just what Querrey needs, as he has a proven track record of being one of the best when it comes to understanding the game and strategizing. If anyone can help put Sam in the right mindset and teach him how to best utilize his strengths and guard against his weaknesses, it’s Gilbert. Here’s to hoping he can help get Querrey back on track, because with Querrey’s talent, anything short of returning to the Top 20 should be considered unacceptable.
At the beginning of this week, Andy Roddick was ranked No. 27. It’s a ranking that many upstarts, journeyman, and other former top ten players struggling with injury would love to have. But for Roddick, it represents his lowest ranking since 2001, and it’s a source of major frustration. He also finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. After sustaining a fresh ankle injury in San Jose, he admitted it might be best to rehab it, but he also wanted match play. He opted for the latter and remained in Memphis, but after a straight-set dismissal by Malisse, he’s going to get to rehab it after all. The good news for Roddick is that he doesn’t have much to defend in the near future, but this time period may prove to be the most trying and telling of his career. Tennis has a way of flipping these scripts on their heads and producing a Cinderella story, like Pete Sampras at the 2002 US Open, but you have to wonder if this latest setback doesn’t have Roddick thinking that retirement is sounding better by the second.
After being treated to some vintage Hewitt during the Australian hard court summer, fans of the Aussie will be disappointed to learn “Rusty” is to undergo foot surgery and sit out another four months. It’s a real testament to his heart and drive that he isn’t thinking of retirement, stating he feels he’s hitting the ball better than he has in years and can’t wait to get back out there. Hopefully he’ll still be sharp come this summer, as with the dedication he has shown to both the Davis Cup and the sport in general, it would be completely unjust to not award him a wildcard into the Olympics and allow him one last crack at representing his nation on one of the world’s greatest stages.
Roger Federer on Re-Inventing Himself, His Top Three Grand Slam Wins, Mental Strength and Retirement
Roger Federer is a man of many talents, and giving honest and stirring interviews is no exception. On Tuesday evening at the Manhattan Hotel in Rotterdam, Federer participated in a JURA coffee sponsorship event, where he was interviewed in front of exclusive guests before participating in a media conference. Federer reminisced on his top three grand slam wins, spoke on overcoming obstacles and becoming mentally strong, elaborated on his love for tennis, and gave his thoughts on retirement.
Roger Federer sat, calm and relaxed, fielding questions that brought guests and journalists to both laughter and astonishment on several occasions. Dissecting a champion’s brain is no easy task, but Federer always brings new inspirations to the table.
After former ATP professional and current Rotterdam tournament director Richard Krajicek was presented with a limited edition Roger Federer coffee machine from JURA as a token of appreciation, Federer was quick to recall Krajicek’s everlasting presence in tennis. It seems that any bad blood between the two that occurred at the end of last year when Federer opposed Krajicek’s candidacy for the ATP CEO position has washed away.
“I remember when [Krajicek] won Wimbledon [in 1996] … and he beat one of my heros back then, Pete Sampras, along the way. It’s great to see him again and still around tennis because I think it’s nice when legends and great players are still seen within the sport.”
In going back to his own history with Sampras, the only meeting between the two occurred at the 2001 Wimbledon where Federer prevailed in five sets over his hero. In those days, serve-and-volley style dominated the game. But today, the courts and technology have been built so that courts are slower, balls heavier, rallies longer, and this has all been done, as some speculate, to increase the entertainment factor for tennis fans.
“To some degree I wish that we had serve-and-volleyers in the game, but players just move and return and serve so well today that it really makes it difficult to come to the net, and then you get into the habit of playing from the baseline mostly. It’s really gotten different since I started because I did play Sampras, Krajicek, Henman and that generation, and I do miss that.” Federer then joked: “[The baseline style] doesn’t worry me too much yet, but if it stays like this for another 20 years, then I will start to worry!”
Federer was also quick to point out that “there is definitely not the outright clay-court specialist anymore or a true grass-court specialist. I think they have all merged together and today, you have to be able to play on any surface. You saw that in Davis Cup as well, as sometimes a home court advantage and choosing your own surface [as Federer’s Swiss team did], is not such an advantage anymore. We lost 5-0 this past weekend; Germany picked clay as well at home and lost 5-0 as well, so I think today players can really play on all surfaces.”
As a junior, Federer was often seen in tears following defeat and in recalling what made the difference for him during those early years, he concluded that “the biggest improvement that I have been able to make is the mental part. I used to be quite crazy when I was younger, and I eventually got my act together and started to understand why it’s so important to work hard. Once I started to work extremely hard, all of a sudden, I had this really fluid game and I was able to unlock my potential — which I knew was big but I didn’t know it was this great. I’m really amazed overall how well I’ve done.”
To hear Federer say those words reaffirms that nothing in life comes easy, even for a champion that holds countless records, including 16 grand slams and 70 career titles. People may be gifted and talented, but without the proper supplement of training and support, the world may have quickly ended up in short supply of grand slam tennis champions.
“You always have to re-invent yourself; come up with different ideas of how you can improve as a person and as a player. For me, it’s been a great evolution through the rankings from back in ’98 when I was a junior to today, and [how] the game has changed tremendously… I never thought I could play such good tennis. I really had to put in a lot of hard work. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because it’s all so fluid and people give me so many compliments. But I did put in the hard work and there’s no way around that in the professional game of tennis.”
As he alluded to earlier, Federer credits his success to equal parts mental strength, fitness and technique, and talks about “tennis as an emotional sport” when you are just starting out in the smaller Futures and Challenger tournaments. To transition overnight to playing top players on a center court is “not so easy … as that can play a lot of tricks on your mind, and fighting your own demons is a difficult thing. I had them as well when I was younger … afraid of the unknown and [asking yourself questions] ‘How confident are you?’ and ‘Are you doing the right things?’ A lot of open questions is sometimes a difficult thing to handle — especially if you bring in the pressure, the travels and the tiredness of it all … I think if you work hard, are smart and have enough breaks, the right tournaments and schedule, the results will follow. That is my personal opinion.”
It looks like Federer has taken his own advice in conquering his “demons” and is one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. But some opponents still stump the Swiss maestro, including Rafael Nadal whom he holds a 9-18 losing record against, and Novak Djokovic, the current world number 1.
“I think the ranking doesn’t lie in our sport. I think Novak has had the best year in the last 360 somewhat days of all of us, otherwise he wouldn’t have won so many matches in a row. I think the big difference at this very moment is that he has more confidence than we do … But maybe I do struggle more against Nadal and maybe he’s the toughest competitor out there, but the other guys are equally strong, if not better at the moment, like Novak.”
And what of his current streak of not winning a major since the 2010 Australian Open?
“I think it’s in the details. I don’t think I have done a whole lot wrong. Obviously, things have changed in the last few years since having a family but I don’t put that down to less success. I just think I was extremely close but wasn’t able to push luck on my side. I had an extremely tough last year at the Grand Slam level to be honest; I think I could have won [the matches I played in].” (Click here to see video of Federer answering this question.)
Never one to deflate himself, Federer took the opportunity to sit back and recall his three fondest memories of his best grand slam wins, with the first one being his first slam final win at the tender age of 21, at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships against Australian Mark Philppoussis.
“Maybe the first one just because it’s got to be!” Federer remarked. After losing in the first rounds of both the 2002 French Open and Wimbledon, and then following it up with another first round exit at the 2003 French Open, “critics were coming up and saying ‘This guy has talent, but he’ll probably never do it.’ And thank God I won Wimbledon months later,” he joked. “It was a huge relief. After that, everything seemed to hold much easier and clearer because I knew where my strengths are, where my weaknesses are and managing them. It was the ultimate dream achieved for me, winning Wimbledon, where Becker, Edberg, Sampras, all of my heroes, won so many times.”
His next memory was unexpectedly the 2005 US Open final where he beat Andre Agassi, the American’s last slam final appearance. “Playing under the lights, in New York, it’s somehow special and electrifying … The crowds were the toughest that I ever had to endure because I think people thought that Agassi was maybe going to retire if he would have beaten me … It was such a tough match to come through and the emotions were different. It proved to me that I was a worthy number 1 in the world and a good grand slam match player.”
Federer then recalled his win at the 2009 French Open “just because I chased it for so long.” But it doesn’t end there. “The French Open has to be in there, but for some reason, I also have to put in when I was going for my fifth Wimbledon [in 2007] or the ultimate grand slam record at 15 against [Andy] Roddick in 2009 [at Wimbledon where Federer won 16-14 in the fifth set]. Those two matches had something mystical about them. Borg and Sampras were sitting there and all of my heroes were there. There was “record” pressure all around me and I was sort of a character in a play. So, for me to get that Cinderella finish was amazing.”
Being in a fairytale has its disadvantages, but Federer will never admit it. With the ruggedness and brutality of today’s game, it’s rare that a player is not nursing an injury or battling exhaustion from traveling. And after 13 years on the professional tour, Federer still rarely turns down the opportunity to be an outspoken promoter of tennis, even when his schedule is packed with commitments.
“I like when there is an excitement and a buzz for tennis. I am happy when I can promote tennis in a different part of the world than just Switzerland … so I don’t mind all of the stress I have [from doing these events], I really don’t. I was aware that it was going to happen and I was prepared for it … It’s just a natural thing for me today and it gives me an opportunity to also give great stories, meet great people and I don’t mind that part of my job which is part of the joy.”
Outside of his family and friends, another aspect of his life that brings him great joy is his Foundation with the simple mission “I am Tomorrow’s Future,” and he talked about how his involvement will grow once he is no longer playing professional tennis.
“I think the involvement in a few years’ time is going to be a whole lot different. I will have a lot more time to travel and see the projects, go and do more fundraising potentially, and meet more influential people in the field of philanthropy.”
He then touched on the charity his mother instilled in his heart, and also the influence Andre Agassi played in starting his Foundation.
“My mom has always reminded me that when I do have the opportunity to give back in some shape or form, it doesn’t always need to be financially, it can also be something you donate, like time, going to a project, and helping other projects. I also remember Andre Agassi always saying that he should have started his Foundation a whole lot earlier. That quote resonated with me and I thought I would like to start somewhat early and see how it goes.”
And in many ways, Federer’s and Agassi’s Foundations have similar purposes of granting children the help to reach their full potential.
“My dream has always been to support kids ages 5 to 14 in some shape or form, [especially] through education … I am a believer that education is not something you can take away from someone, but can be translated to other people in a very positive way. We have many different projects we support all around Africa, some in South Africa, some in Zimbabwe, in Ethiopia, Malawi and Tanzania as well. We have had many different countries we have been looking at and we will be expanding more over time and as we are able to raise more money.”
But there is still time before Federer will devote himself more exclusively to his charities and retire his tennis racquet. Recently, Serena Williams stated that she no longer “loves” tennis and Federer agrees that “love of the game is not enough. You need to have the fire and wanting to become better or achieve more.” But unlike Williams in many ways, he is not afraid to show his dedication to the game by stating that playing is still “clearly on my agenda. I would like to re-live the great moments I’ve had, such as Wimbledon. Everybody says, ‘What’s the point of winning another Wimbledon?’ That’s exactly the point. I want to be there hopefully one more time, holding up the trophy, going through the goosebumps before match point, trying to show how good I still am for my team, my country, myself. There’s too many reasons not to be playing, and I’m in physically really good shape today and I feel better than I have in quite a few years.”
That is precisely the reason he is committed to playing an unusually tough schedule this year, including Davis Cup last week, Rotterdam (a tournament he has not played since winning it in 2005), Dubai, and the Summer London Olympics.
“I have a tough schedule that shows I’m very eager and trying to also maybe get back to world number 1. There are still so many things to achieve … Some of the media think ‘What else is there to achieve?’ Well, there’s always more to do in something that you really enjoy. So for me, there’s no reason to even think about how, and when, and what retirement will look like, or how it’s all going to happen. Because I think the moment you start asking yourself those questions, that means the end is near. The body will tell me, and my family, we’ll decide when it’s time for me to hang up the racquet. For the time being, I really enjoy it too much to stop.”
(Roger Federer interview transcript, press conference photo, and YouTube video courtesy of Tennis Grandstand writer, Lisa-Marie Burrows, who is in Rotterdam for the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament as media.)
They say one of the hardest things to do in sports is repeat—a task Novak Djokovic will try to accomplish 10 times in 2012. Coming off one of the best tennis seasons of all time, questions abound on whether the Serbian will be able to go “back-to-back” performance-wise. He’s not the first player to have to prove their career year was a fluke. Here’s a look at five stars that pulled off some of the best repeat performances in the Open Era.
Great Year: 1988. Graf became the only player—male or female—in the game’s history to win the “Golden Slam”; that being all four Majors plus an Olympic title.
The Follow-Up: In 1989, “Fraulein Forehand” won the Australian Open to start off the year in Grand Slam play, and then advanced to the finals at the French Open. She shockingly fell to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, but rebounded to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, bringing her two-year Slam record to 55-1.
Great Year: 1974. Connors only happened to go 99-4 during his breakout season, winning three Grand Slam singles titles that year: Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. opens. He missed out on the French, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t even play the event.
The Follow-Up: Connors repeated his final-round efforts at the three Majors he won the year prior. However, he lost in all three of them. Still, he won nine titles over the course of the season and made three other finals besides the second-place finishes at the Slams.
Great Year: 2004. This is the season when Federer first reached number one in the rankings, and it was years before he ever looked back. He won three Majors in a year for the first time and 11 titles overall.
The Follow-Up: While he “only” won two Slams in 2005, Federer fell one match shy of equaling John McEnroe’s record for winning percentage set in ’84. Federer won 11 titles again and of his four losses on the year, none came before the quarterfinals.
Great Year: 1993. It had been some time since Sampras’ breakthrough win at the 1990 U.S. Open. He only made one other Slam final—at the 1992 U.S. Open—before ’93. That loss to Stefan Edberg in the finals lit a fire under the American and he went on to win his first Wimbledon crown, as well as the U.S. Open.
The Follow-Up: Among a lot of dominant years in his career, this one might be the most complete. Sampras captured his first Australian Open, making it three Slams in a row won, then repeated at Wimbledon. Overall, he won 10 titles, which included the year-end championship and three Masters crowns—the most impressive and unexpected of them being the Italian Open, the second-biggest clay-court event in the game.
Great Year: 2000. Younger sister Serena beat her to the punch as far as winning a Grand Slam singles title. When Venus finally did win one at Wimbledon in 2000, it was as if a great weight had been lifted and she went on to win the U.S. Open, too, keeping the New York-based Major in the family after Serena won in ’99. Big sis also captured Olympic Gold, too.
The Follow-Up: Venus started off 2001 by reaching her first Australian Open semifinal. And aside from an opening-round loss at the French, the Majors were good to her as she successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. She also wrapped her career Slam in doubles by winning the Australian with Serena.
Gael Monfils elicits mixed emotions from tennis fans.
Some find his flair and flashy play exciting. Others find it grating and unnecessary. And there are many who worry that his acrobatic style of play will result in serious injuries.
But regardless of what pundits and fans think of him, Monfils continues to do what he does best: to entertain.
In August, the Frenchman brought his high-flying act to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C., and he did not disappoint. With overhead smashes that would make Pete Sampras proud and diving shots few on the ATP Tour would dare attempt, Monfils rolled to the finals where he was stopped by tour veteran Radek Stepanek.
In the semifinals against John Isner, Monfils held a match point that was followed by an Isner service ace. Unsure of the call, Monfils challenged but the review system malfunctioned and the call stood. Monfils shrugged it off and the two exchanged a fist bump during the following changeover.
After losing his doubles match at the U.S. Open to end his Grand Slam season, Monfils did not respond by hanging his head and walking off the court, but by throwing anything he could find to the crowd, including his shirt, a box of tissues and an umbrella.
Also known for his dancing abilities, the 6’4’’ Monfils showed off some of his moves during offseason exhibitions, including shuffling to “Party Rock” in Argentina this past weekend.
The entertainer understands that in addition to winning matches, giving fans a good show is an essential part of the job.
While the 2011 season marked a career high ranking for Monfils – he reached world No. 7 in July – his Grand Slam struggles continued. He lost in the third round or earlier in all the majors except for the French Open, where he reached the quarterfinals.
Currently sitting at world No. 16, Monfils has some work ahead in 2012 to climb back into the top 10 and potentially further. But regardless of what lies ahead for Monfils, one can be sure that he will continue to entertain.
And in the chance Monfils wins at a Grand Slam, the court may turn into his own dance floor.
2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na received a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Wuhan, kicking off a two-day exhibition tournament on December 17, 2011 called “Li Na and Friends.” The festivities also feature 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras and former world number number 1 Carlos Moya, as well as 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and WTA Comeback Player of the Year Sabine Lisicki. The event gave fans a chance to celebrate Li Na’s historic Grand Slam victory and brought tennis to a quickly-growing market in China.
Li’s slump since winning Roland Garros in June seems to have ended as she looked to be in better form this weekend after a month-long training camp in Germany.
“I trained quite solidly and effectively in Germany. I feel much better now compared with the past several months. But how good my form is, I think it will be tested at this tournament … I just want to relax my nerves after the Germany trip. It’s a feedback event for my home fans,” Li said after being greeted at the Wuham Tianhe airport by a cheering home crowd.
The 29-year-old was also nominated for the Laureus “Breakthrough Player of the Year” award on Thursday showing just how far the veteran has come not only in tennis, but in the international world of sports.
The first day of the exhibition featured a square off between Li and Lisicki followed by mixed doubles with Li teaming up with Sampras and Lisicki pairing with Moya. On Sunday, the men will take court for their singles match followed by a reverse mixed doubles match.
After fighting off two match points to defeat Li at this year’s Wimbledon 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, Germany’s Lisicki again praised Li’s mark on tennis.
“I am delighted to have been included in the ‘Li Na and Friends’ event. Li Na and I had one of the best quality matches of Wimbledon 2011 and it is always a pleasure to play a champion — especially a reigning Grand Slam Champion like Li Na who is so friendly and professional, something all of China should be very proud of,” said the 22-year-old.
After growing up watching Sampras on TV, Li shared how starstruck she was upon meeting one of her idols.
“I always admired his skills and play, but only saw him on TV. But during the China Open this year, I met him for the first time outside the locker room, and he said ’Hi, Li Na, I am Sampras. Congratulations for the French Open championship,’” said Li. ”After he was gone, I had to ask myself, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
Likewise, Sampras reciprocated the feelings of mutual respect.
“It’s good to be back,” said Sampras, referring to his third trip to China in three months. “I’m a friend of Li Na now, which is a great honour for me.”
Check out more photos from the exhibition tournament’s press conference in wintery China below. Massive log cake included!
(Sabine Lisicki/Na Li photo courtesy of Lisicki’s Facebook page; Press Conference photos courtesy of IMG; Rest from LiNaAndFriends.com)
The prodigy beat his hero on Thursday night in Toronto as Canada’s top player Milos Raonic defeated Pete Sampras 7-6, 6-1 in an exhibition match in front of his hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.
The Canadian rising star and the American legend were greeted with a standing ovation as they arrived on court sporting Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys embroidered with their name and the last two numbers of their date of birth.
The much anticipated ‘Face-off’ between Missile Milos and Pistol Pete featured blistering serves, impressive net play, deft touch and a lot of smiles on both sides of the net. Raonic was philosophical when describing what it meant to have the opportunity to play his childhood idol.
“It’s a moment that’s going to be tattooed in my mind,” Raonic said. “It’s never going to leave. There is a lot that comes with this moment. For myself to learn and grow, but also for Canadian tennis to promote the sport and that’s what the end goal is.”
Sampras, who met Raonic for the first time earlier this year at the SAP Open in San Jose, a tournament which Raonic won to capture his first ATP title, had some high praise for the 20-year-old Canadian.
“Milos is a great kid,” Sampras said. “He seems really driven and has a great future ahead of him. When I look at young players, I look at a weapon. And he has a big one with his serve.”
The evening’s main event was preceded by a set of women’s tennis between Wimbledon junior doubles champion Eugenie Bouchard and former world no. 21 Aleksandra Wozniak. Both ladies hit their fair share of winners in a 6-4 victory for Wozniak over her compatriot.
The festivities kicked off with some celebrity doubles as the four players took to the court with actor Hayden Christensen, former NHL player Brad May as well as Toronto television personalities Rick Campanelli and Gord Stellick. Christensen, famous for playing the role of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, played junior tennis and acquitted himself well against the pros.
This was the first time tennis has been played at the Air Canada Centre, a venue that seats 19,000 for Maple Leafs hockey games.
The event was a special treat for Canadian tennis fans, who not only watched one of the game’s all-time greats, but also saw Milos Raonic’s first match in his home country since the summer of 2010, an encounter he won’t soon forget.
There have been plenty of opinions voiced lately by players, media and fans alike about how the men’s ATP tour calendar needs to change and what can be done to alleviate the tension felt between players, tournaments, and sponsors. And now we can add two more players’ thoughts to the mix: legend Pete Sampras and current Davis Cup captain Jim Courier.
The most recent verbal outpouring on the topic resurfaced at the U.S. Open where players such as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal expressed concern over scheduling woes and even threatened to strike. There have been talks of a possible players’ union to address their issues, but will any party ever be fully happy with a deal? It’s an endless argument that has only brought minimal change in the past and on a time scale that moves very slowly. It has taken several years to finally move the ATP World Tour Finals to two weeks earlier in the calendar (starting with next year), but is that really enough to quiet the conflict?
Ideas such as decreasing the number of mandatory events for players, introducing a second off-season after Wimbledon, and players simply needing to be better managers of their own tournament scheduling have all emerged as an attempt to solve this problem. But what do past players who have fought these same battles in their time believe? I had a chance to chat with Pete Sampras and Jim Courier last Friday during the Washington, D.C. stop of the Champions Series and got their opinions on the matter.
Romana Cvitkovic: “Recently, a few players have vocalized their desire to form a players’ union. What is your take on the situation and do you think it could change the sport?”
Pete Sampras: “I don’t know if it will change the sport. I think if the players want to get things done, they all have to get in the same room, the top ten guys, they all agree upon one thing, and they walk out of that room with a definite decision, that’s the only way things will get done. Everyone is complaining about the schedule. In Davis Cup, even when I was playing and before, [the scheduling] didn’t work, we complained about it, but nothing really got done. If the top ten guys agreed upon one thing, like on the schedule of the U.S. Open with the Saturday semifinals and Sunday finals, they could change that if they wanted to. The top guys have so much power, they have all the power. It’s a name-driven sport. If Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Federer don’t play something, or threaten to do something, it will get done, trust me. I know these promoters, they want [these players’] names [in their tournaments].”
In reference to the same question, Courier commented on how players have an influence on the development of the sport, especially with the forthcoming appointment of a new CEO for the ATP men’s tour.
Jim Courier: “I think we’re in for an interesting time period in the next few months because the players’ association, which I was a member of, changed into a union between the tournaments and the players. So ‘union’ is maybe not the right word, ‘association’ may not be the proper word here for the players to form, to have more of a unified voice, because right now they are in a joint venture with the tournaments. So they are in a 50/50 partnership as opposed to having full representation. And there’s a new CEO that is going to be announced at some stage here in the coming months, for the ATP, and [the players] can influence his mandate. Because they are the ones who are hiring him; he is working for them. But if [the players] want to make some impact, now is the time. And we’ll see. But let’s be clear, that everyone in this sport, since Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith fought for Open tennis, we’ve all been overpaid, grossly overpaid, for what we do. So let’s be clear that this not a pity party, but I don’t think that player representation is necessarily a bad thing.”
Courier elaborated with an interesting transition to today’s game, the heavy physicality of the sport, and how we should preserve our players.
Jim Courier: “But there are probably some things that could create longevity for the players which would benefit everyone. I played Jimmy Connors last night and there is so much appreciation and love for Jimmy. Jimmy lasted so long on the ATP circuit. And there’s Andre [Agassi] – he lasted so long, played until he was 35. If you could extend the careers of Serena [Williams], and you could extend Roger [Federer], and you can extend Rafa [Nadal], these brand names, it would help the sport. Tennis doesn’t have the Capitals, the Redskins. Those don’t exist in tennis. You don’t have people who were born an Andre Agassi fan, and their kids will be Agassi fans and their grandkids. You don’t have that legacy; you have to build it every time with players. So, the longer you can have those players be in the sport, the healthier and the better it is for the sport. That’s really where the focus needs to be. It’s not about the immediacy of ‘we want this’ or ‘we want that because we need immediate gain.’ In my view, it’s the long view of how do we make the sport better for the players and therefore better for the fans and for everyone that surrounds the sport. And the off-season is a no-brainer, it needs to happen, but we’ve been saying that for thirty years and it hasn’t happened.”
Courier concluded by remarking on today’s players having “arguably more” respect for the game than his generation of players, particularly with the current struggles.
Jim Courier: “If you look at players on the men’s side and their sense of responsibility for the sport, I think we’re seeing [this respect] right now, with what they’ve been discussing with players getting a little more representation … When you look at Andy Roddick and these other players standing up, understanding that they’re lucky and wanting to protect the sport, and also protect themselves at the same time. I think we’re in a golden era of tennis.”
(For my USA Today piece on the Champions Series, please go here.)