Philip Bester

Nadal & Djokovic To Play Doubles: Are You Kidding Me?

The song ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ was unfortunately the most over-played tune from Sunday in Toronto as the Rogers Cup was forced to deal with plenty of precipitation as the qualifying tournament approached its end.

The first match of the day on Centre Court between Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan and Marius Copil of Romania began shortly after 10am local time and finally ended just after 3pm with Lu prevailing 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3. Rain halted progress for a lengthy period of time at the start of the second set and forced competitors and fans alike to play the waiting game at the Rexall Centre.

I took the time to test my serve at one of the popular interactive fan attractions on the grounds and walked away humbled by my 136 kilometre per hour attempt. Gonna do a few bicep curls and come back stronger for tomorrow.

The second match on the main stadium was between Canadian hopeful Philip Bester and veteran American Michael Russell. Bester – who looks strikingly similar to Max Mirnyi – was unable to perform like the beast he had hoped to and was beaten by the 32 year-old Russell 6-2, 6-2 in front of his home fans. Bester made good on his promise to, “go out guns blazing,” as he was the more aggressive of the two players. Unfortunately his shots were often off the mark which sent his unforced errors tally spiralling out of control. As the sun finally broke through the persistent cloud coverage it became clear that Bester was not going to get the reprieve he so-badly needed.

Of the six Canadians admitted into the qualifying draw, none have advanced to the main tournament that begins Monday. Don’t worry Canadian tennis fans, we still have four of our own represented this week so you’ll have plenty to cheer for.

Youngster Milos Raonic gets first dibs on Monday’s schedule and will face 53rd ranked Victor Hanescu on the Grandstand court at 11am. Despite giving up about ten years in age, the 19 year-old Raonic has a decent shot against a player mostly known for his clay-court prowess. One stat that may buoy Raonic’s hopes is the three straight first-round losses that Hanescu has accumulated this summer.

In the evening session top-ranked Canuck Peter Polansky gets the unenviable task of taking on Jurgen Melzer who has had the best results of his career in 2010. The Austrian made the semi-finals at Roland Garros and followed that up with a fourth round showing at Wimbledon. Not bad for an eleven year vet who had never previously advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

The doubles draw also offers some Canadian content as Frank Dancevic and partner Adil Shamasdin will face the duo of Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley on the more intimate court 1.

There are tons of great singles matches set for day one at the Rogers Cup but the real show-piece no doubt will feature Raonic and partner Vasek Pospisil against the ‘are-you-kidding-me’ tandem of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That match will close-out the evening session on Centre Court with some fireworks that will truly impress.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Did I hear the baby? My grandmother in Russia heard the baby

STARS

Juan Martin del Potro beat Andy Roddick 3-6 7-5 7-6 (6) to win the Legg Mason Tennis Classic title in Washington, DC, USA

Flavia Pennetta beat Samantha Stosur 6-4 6-3 to win the LA Women’s Tennis Championships in Los Angeles, California, USA

Feliciano Lopez won the ATP Open Castilla y Leon in Segovia, Spain, defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-4

Andreas Seppi beat Potito Starace 7-6 (4) 2-6 6-4 to win the San Marino CEPU Open in San Marino

Marcos Baghdatis beat Xavier Malisse 6-4 6-4 to win the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open men’s singles in Vancouver, Canada

Stephanie Dubois beat Sania Mirza 1-6 6-4 6-4 to win the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open women’s singles in Vancouver, Canada

SAYING

“We play until the tiebreaker, and then I did the best service of my life.” – Juan Martin del Potro, who hit five of his 19 aces in the tiebreaker to beat Andy Roddick and win his second straight Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

“I kind of forced him to play high-risk tennis, especially with the heat. He was taking big cuts, especially for the last 30, 45 minutes we were out there, and he was connecting.” – Andy Roddick, after losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the final at Washington, DC.

“Every match I improved. I had a great chance in the second set and I took it, that’s why I won.” – Flavia Pennetta, who won the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.

“My whole career I’ve been trying to get to this point. It kind of looks like I’ve done it late, but I don’t worry too much about that. I took a little longer to develop.” – Samantha Stosur, after reaching the final of the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.

“I don’t have fear if I miss that important point. If you don’t take a risk, you don’t gain.” – Fernando Gonzalez, after beating Tommy Haas at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

“Did I hear the baby? My grandmother in Russia heard the baby.” – Maria Sharapova, after a baby started crying in the first set of her 6-4 (4) 6-4 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka at the LA Women’s Tennis Championships.

“I have to give him a lot of credit. He helped turn my mind around. I’m no longer looking at tennis as a matter of life and death.” – Philip Bester of Canada, speaking about his several sessions with sports psychologist Jim Loehr.

”I realized how much I missed it and how it made me sharper, and, in some ways, more focused. Then I realized I wanted it back.” – Ana Ivanovic, talking about the pressure of being number one in the world.

“Maybe some people think it’s too crazy, but I’m enjoying a lot. For me it’s not only for the ranking or always to win the tournament. It’s just to enjoy life.” – Kimiko Date Krumm, on returning to the WTA Tour after her 12-year retirement.

SECONDING THE CALL

After battling through 14 points in the final-set tiebreaker, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro waited at the net for the replay to tell them if their match was over. Del Potro appeared to win the match with a crosscourt forehand winner, but Roddick challenged the call. “I actually thought it might have been out, and I asked him and he said it might have been out,” Roddick said. “So imagine the disappointment when it wasn’t.” The disappointment was all Roddick’s as del Potro won his second straight Legg Mason Tennis Classic title in Washington, DC, edging Roddick 3-6 7-5 7-6 (6).

STRIKING BACK

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has appealed a ruling that essentially cleared Richard Gasquet, who said he inadvertently took cocaine by kissing a woman in a nightclub. The ITF is appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after an independent tribunal decided to exonerate Gasquet for a positive cocaine test. The Frenchman was allowed to resume playing after serving a 2½-month retroactive ban. The ITF is seeking a two-year ban under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code.

SKIPPING SUSPENSION

Tamira Paszek will not be suspended while officials investigate whether medical treatment the Austrian tennis player received for a back injury violated doping regulations. The disciplinary committee of Austria’s anti-doping agency said Paszek can continue to play on the WTA Tour until a verdict is reached in about seven weeks. Last month Paszek had blood taken for homeopathic enrichment, and then re-injected into her lower back. Re-injecting one’s own blood is banned under international anti-doping rules. It was Paszek herself who alerted the doping agency when she learned that her treatment may have been illegal. She hasn’t played a match since retiring in the first round of Wimbledon in June.

SPARKLING MARK

Andy Roddick reached another milestone at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC. When the Wimbledon finalist beat fellow American Sam Querrey in a third-round match, it was his 500th career match victory, making Roddick only the fourth active player and the 36th in the Open Era to win 500 matches. Roger Federer – no surprise there – leads the active players with 657 match wins, while Carlos Moya has 573 and Lleyton Hewitt 511.

SODERLING STOPPED

An elbow injury did what an opponent couldn’t at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC. An injury to his right elbow forced Sweden’s Robin Soderling to withdraw from his quarterfinal match against second-seeded Juan Martin del Potro. Soderling reached the French Open final this year, losing to Roger Federer, then won the Swedish Open in Bastad, Sweden, in his last two tournaments.

SQUEEZE PLAY

After years of paying on consecutive weeks, men and women will compete for the Rogers Cup at the same time but in separate Canadian cities. The men and women take turns playing one year in Montreal, then the next in Toronto. This year, the men will play in Stade Uniprix at Jarry Park in Montreal this week; the women will play at Rexall Centre at York University in Toronto next week. But because of increased international pressure for more combined men’s and women’s tournaments, Tennis Canada will squeeze its two marquee events into the same week beginning in 2011. That’s the only way the Rogers Cup can be played three weeks before the US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Despite the two tours playing in separate cities, Tennis Canada will be calling it the world’s first “virtually-combined” tournament, melding the two events into one through the medium of television.

SINGLES WINNER

On her way to the court to play for the title, Stephanie Dubois noticed the photos of the previous winners of the Vancouver Open. “I visualized myself on that wall with the others,” said Dubois, a native of Quebec, Canada. “I worked very hard for this.” The 22-year-old Dubois made sure her picture will be added to the “winners’ wall” when she became the first Canadian to capture the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open women’s singles title by beating India’s Sania Mirza 1-6 6-4 6-4. The winner didn’t hold serve until 3-2 in the second set, then knotted the match at one set apiece when she cashed in on her sixth set point. “I’m very happy to have won,” Dubois said. “I came here with that objective.”

SWEETING FINED

When he suffered a second-round loss at the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Ryan Sweeting had a few choice words to say to the chair umpire. The officials weren’t impressed by his choice of words and instead fined Sweeting USD $1,500 for verbal abuse of a chair umpire. The young American made his expensive speech after losing to Canada’s Philip Bester 6-4 6-3.

SIGN UP, PLEASE

Two tennis stars, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, have asked cricketers in India to sign the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code despite apprehension about the “whereabout” clause. “Lots of the tennis players had apprehensions early but we are all doing it,” Bhupathi said. The disputed clause makes it mandatory for athletes to disclose their whereabouts three months in advance. Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are two tennis stars who are the most vociferous critics of the clause, but both have signed it. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) supports its players and has asked the International Cricket Council, a WADA signatory, to explore the possibility of having an anti-doping agency of its own. “It would not be fair to all the other sports and sportsmen of the world to make exceptions to WADA’s rules, and I’m sure any doubts that the cricketers have can be sorted out amicably through consensus before they sign on the dotted line,” Sania said.

SWISS DOUBLES

Roger Federer posted the first public photo of his twin daughters on the Internet. The Swiss tennis star wrote below the photo on his Facebook account that the girls and mother are “doing great,” and thanks friends and fans for their wishes. Federer and his wife Mirka are each holding a baby in the picture. Charlene Riva and Myla Rose were born July 23. Federer said the photo was taken by his father.

SPECIAL HONOR

Jane Brown Grimes and John Reese are the 2009 recipients of the prestigious International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum (ITHFM) Chairman’s Award, which recognizes outstanding service by a board member. Brown Grimes opened the ITHFM’s New York office in 1977 and became the Hall of Fame’s executive director in 1981. In 1986 she became managing director of the Women’s Tennis Council, then returned to the Hall of Fame as its president and CEO in 1991, serving until 2000. A board member since 1983, Reese became executive vice president of the Hall of Fame board and later served in a number of positions, including president and CEO, chairman and CEO, and chairman of the executive committee. In 1998, Reese was inducted into the United States Tennis Association’s Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame.

SPOT CLINCHED

Dinara Safina is the first player to clinch a spot in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be held October 27-November 1 at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex in Doha, Qatar. The world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams from the 2009 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour will compete for the year-ending title and a share of the record Championships prize money of USD $4.45 million. It will be Safina’s second trip to the Championships, having made her debut a year ago. The Russian reached the world number one ranking on April 20. Her 16-match winning streak is the best on the WTA Tour this season. She also has reached the final of the Australian Open and Roland Garros, while gaining a semifinal berth at Wimbledon. “Qualifying for the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships is one of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year,” Safina said. “I’ve accomplished a lot of milestones this season and am thrilled to be the first to qualify for the Championships.”

STAR JUNIORS

The United States became the first nation to win three straight World Junior Tennis titles when the 14-and-under girls beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final held in Prostejov, Czech Republic. Aneta Dvorakova beat Victoria Duval of Delray Beach, Florida, to begin the title competition. After Sachia Vickery of Miramar, Florida, beat Petra Rohanova 6-4 6-7 (3) 6-2 of knot the tie at one match each, the American doubles team of Duval and Vickery beat Dvorakova and Rohanova 6-2 6-7 (4) 6-1 to clinch the crown. Also on the winning team was Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, Indiana.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Washington: Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski 7-5 7-6 (3)

Los Angeles: Chuang Chia-Jung and Yan Zi beat Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Segovia: Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat Sergiy Stakhovsky and Lovro Zovko 6-7 (4) 6-3 10-8 (match tiebreak)

San Marino: Lucas Arnold Ker and Sebastian Prieto beat Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 7-6 (4) 2-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Vancouver (men): Kevin Anderson and Rik De Voest beat Ramon Delgado and Kaes Van’t Hof 6-4 6-4

Vancouver (women): Ahsha Rolle and Riza Zalameda beat Madison Brengle and Lilia Osterloh 6-4 6-3

SITES TO SURF

Montreal: http://www3.rogerscup.com/men/english/home.php

Cincinnati: www.cincytennis.com/

Cordenons: www.euro-sporting.it/challenger/

Toronto: www.rogerscup.com/

Algarve: www.atpchampionstour.com/

Newport: www.championsseriestennis.com/newport2009/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$3,000,000 Rogers Cup, Montreal, Canada, hard

$120,000 Internazionali del Friuli Venezia Guilia Tennis Cup Cordenons, Italy, clay

WTA

$2,000,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, hard

SENIORS

Vale Do Lobo Grand Champions CGD, Algarve, Portugal, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$3,000,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, hard

WTA

$2,000,000 Rogers Cup, Toronto, Canada, hard

SENIORS

International Tennis Hall of Fame Champions Cup, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, grass

Rogers Cup Qualies Day 1

Just got back from day one of the qualifying draw at the Rogers Cup and it was a great day to be a tennis fan. It has been almost a year now since I’ve been able to catch some live tennis action and it was a nice way to ease back into things and get reacquainted with the game up close. Of course, having a press pass for the first time doesn’t hurt either!

I arrived on site around 9:30am local time and found my way from the parking lot to the actual venue. A short ten minute hike later and I was drenched in sweat on this humid July day but ready to begin my exploring of the site and all that the media access would allow me. Putting on the press pass for the first time was like wearing a badge of honor, and it also elicited a few curious looks from fans trying to figure out who I was and why I was fortunate enough to be wearing such a large pass around my neck. Seriously, this thing is huge!

I caught parts of a few different qualifying matches today, mostly the ones with the more familiar names. There were not a lot of well known players in the qualifying draw and I was somewhat surprised given that this is a Masters Series event. I suppose that due to the compressed schedule, many  players that would otherwise be here by now are still in Europe playing in one of the three current tournaments over there. I’d be very impressed if the names, Andrey Golubev, Farrukh Dustov and Alexandre Kudryavtsev ring a bell with any of you out there, because I can honestly say I’ve never heard of them before. And these are some of the round one winners from today!

I checked out one time Grand Slam winner Thomas Johansson who won the Rogers Cup back in 1999. He was taking on local Canadian hope Philip Bester. This match went the distance with Johansson’s experience proving to be too much for the young Bester. Prior to the match I noticed Johansson having an animated discussion with ATP liaison Thomas Schrader about the ranking cutoff used to make the main tournament draw. Johansson is the number one seed in the qualifying draw and I got the impression that he was not impressed to have to go through this pre-tournament process.

I felt bad for players who did not enjoy the privilege of playing on center court today. Just outside the grounds and relatively close to the Grandstand Court and other practice courts was some sort of Reggae festival that had rhythmic music blaring all morning long. A fan on the Grandstand watching Arnaud Clement march to victory against Illia Marchenko stood up between games and yelled at the umpire to, “turn off that damn music and show the players the respect they deserve.” The umpire addressed the crowd after this comment and explained that the neighboring festival was a nuisance that we would all have to put up with.

After leaving that match I moved on to the practice courts. It is always interesting to see who hits with who on the tour. I’m not sure how much thought goes into the practice combinations, but I always enjoy seeing these pairings up close. Mikhail Youzhny was playing a practice set against Paul Henri Mathieu. I was not keeping score, but it seemed to me that Mathieu was getting the best of the Russian on this day. Fortunately still lots of time to work out the kinks. These two were hitting quite hard and the contrast between some of the qualies and these higher ranked pros was obvious.

I noticed another practice court nearby to be packed with fans and it turned out to be recent Wimbledon champ Rafael Nadal was there hitting with Tommy Robredo. After a quick break Nadal took off his shirt and all of the women in the crowd were cheering and whistling right on cue! Nadal did not seem fazed by the attention, however Robredo turned to the crowd and teased them by lifting up his shirt to see what kind of reaction he might get. Everyone got a good laugh out of his light hearted gesture.

The draw ceremony took place promptly at 2pm just outside of Center Court and brought in quite a large gathering of fans and media alike. On hand to help with the draw were Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, and Canadian Frank Dancevic. It was really interesting to see how such a ceremony was conducted and to analyze potential matchups on the spot as they were being announced. They began by placing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s names on opposite ends of the large draw sheet. Then they randomly put the number three and four seeds, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko into the draw. I had always thought that the number one and four seeds were together, and two and three ended up on the other side, but that is not the case. Although fortunately for Federer, that is exactly how it worked out and he won’t have to see either Djokovic or Nadal until a potential final encounter.

After this, the 5th through 8th seeds were randomly picked and placed into the appropriate slots that received first round bye’s. I prefer when the top seeds have to play from the get-go, but in recent years in Canada this is how they have operated. After the remaining seeds were placed, they allowed fans to come up on stage to select the rest of the players from a big silver cup one by one. Both players participating in the draw ceremony cringed slightly when they realized what they were up against. Gonzalez didn’t seem to mind drawing Julien Benneteau of France in the first round, but did not seem thrilled when he saw that he was in Federer’s section of the draw with a potential third round matchup looming. Dancevic for his part also looked sullen when the name of Mario Ancic was called for his opening match, with the winner to face Djokovic.

Still there is plenty of time left for the players to adjust their practice routine according to who they will face in a few days. For now, everybody is in the hunt and anything can happen. I will be back with more updates from Toronto in the coming days.