prestigious tournament

WILL MELBOURNE HAVE A SPANISH FLAIR IN 2010?

The 2010 tennis season is now getting in to full swing with the first Slam of the year, the Australian Open, underway in Melbourne this week.

The usual names are being touted for Grand Slam glory this year but question marks are being placed over the head of Spanish giant Rafael Nadal after his injury ravaged 2009 ended with some pretty poor displays by his own high standards.

The man is one of the few things keeping tennis competitive as his rivalry with Roger Federer has meant R-Fed hasn’t led a Pete Sampras-like domination over the sport this past decade.

Nadal’s native Spain has been in fine form during the “noughties,” lifting the Davis Cup on four occasions in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009. They had never won the prestigious tournament before.

So is Nadal Spain’s only chance of Grand Slam glory this year? Many would say no.

Juan Carlos Ferrero is a former world No.1 with the French Open title (2003) and a U.S. Open final (also 2003) under his belt. However, 2009 started badly for him with early exits, including the Australian Open, seeing him drop outside the world’s Top 100 for the first time in ten years.

However the grass courts saw a mighty resurgence and only the aggression of Andy Murray halted his progress at the semifinals of the AEGON Championships and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. His ranking climbed from 90 to 37 in a month.

From there he kicked on and looked to be getting back to his best tennis. Age is against him now and this could be his last major push to add to that solitary Slam.

Then there’s Tommy Robredo. The 2009 season was a good one for the Girona boy with career-best-equaling performances at the French, Wimbledon and US Open.

Another clay-court specialist, it is often his performances against the top ten players which let him down. In 2009, it was Andy Roddick who knocked him out in Australia, then Juan Martin del Potro in Paris before Roger Federer ousted Robredo on his way to the US Open final.

But at the Hopman Cup a couple of week’s ago he led Spain to victory with partner Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. It was his dominating play against Britain’s Andy Murray in both their singles and mixed doubles rubbers which got tongues wagging and if he can keep that sort of performance up against the top seeds then the latter rounds of the Slams won’t be far out of reach.

The Spanish youngsters look promising too. The success of eight-time Grand Slam champion Nadal has seen tennis flourish again in the Mediterranean and there are some big hitting youngsters to look out for too.

Nicolas Almagro is looking to build on his quarterfinal appearance at the French in 2008 while Marcel Granollers and Daniel Gimeno-Traver both posted career-best results at three of the four Slams in 2009.

Add David Ferrer, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco to that mix and Spanish fans are rightfully licking their lips at the bevy of talent they have to cheer on throughout the season.

But there is one name in particular that will get the imagination racing and will pull on the heartstrings as they chase one final hurrah.

Along with Roddick, Federer and Lleyton Hewitt he is one of only four stars currently playing to have wracked up over 500 ATP level wins. He graced the final of the Australian Open in 1997 and went on to lift the French in 1998, his only Grand Slam thus far. Ravaging injuries and a loss of form mean he has not reached a quarter final since the 2007 French and US Opens but after taking a hiatus to recover from injured tendons and ischium in his hip Carlos Moya has returned to the tennis circuit.

A hit with fans in all countries his style of play is loved by the male fans while his style and rugged good looks keep the females in tow too.

A first round exit to Janko Tipsarevic at the Chennai Open last week may not have been the return he would have been dreaming of but it takes time to regain that match practice.

How is it looking for the Spaniards in the Australian Open draw (seedings in brackets)?

Ferrer (17) faces a first-round encounter with Federico Gil of Portugal while Verdasco (9) faces home-boy Carsten Ball. Ferrero (23) has to overcome Croatia’s Ivan Dodig while Moya faces Illya Marchenko of Ukraine.

Gimeno-Traver will have to overcome third seed Novak Djokovic if he wants to see the second round while Robredo (16) faces Columbia’s Santiago Giraldo. Almagro (26) and Granollers face Xavier Malisse and Robin Soderling respectively.

In the bottom half of the draw Feliciano Lopez faces Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas while Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka awaits Garcia-Lopez. Second seed Rafael Nadal yesterday (Monday) was the first Spaniard to play and he quickly overcame local boy Peter Luczak 7-6(0), 6-1, 6-4, a good omen?

With thirteen Spaniards overall in the draw there is a high chance of a competitor in the final. And how many betting men are brave enough to go against Nadal? It’s now up to the players to live up to the hype. Watch this space!

I Don’t Take Wimbledon…Like A Really Important Thing

Who is the biggest villain in Wimbledon history? Chilean Marcelo Rios may get the nod. It was on this day back in 1998 when the former world No. 1 took a swipe at the All England Club and The Championships after being dismissed from the tournament as the No. 2 seed. The match, and Rios’ comments, are documented below in the June 24 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, which is excerpted below.

1998 – Marcelo Rios of Chile takes a swipe at Wimbledon after being unceremoniously dumped in the first round of the world’s most prestigious tournament as the No. 2 seed. ”I don’t take Wimbledon, like playing on grass, like a really important thing,” says the dour Chilean, seeded No. 2, after losing to No. 36-ranked Francisco Clavet of Spain 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. ”Tennis, when you see it on grass, it’s not tennis. It’s not a surface to watch or play tennis on; it’s really boring. You just serve, return, go in, that’s it.”  Rios does not return to the All-England Club, never playing the event again after competing for three years – 1995, 1997 and 1998 – with a round of 16 showing in 1997 being his best result.

2003 – Lleyton Hewitt becomes only the second defending men’s singles champion at Wimbledon to lose in the first round as six-foot-10 Croatian qualifier Ivo Karlovic dismisses Hewitt 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4 at The Championships. Hewitt joins 1966 Wimbledon champion Manuel Santana, defeated in the first round of Wimbledon in 1967 by Charlie Pasarell, as the only defending champions to be dismissed in the first round.

2004 – Forty-seven-year-old nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova, in a cameo singles appearance at Wimbledon for the first time since 1994, loses her final singles match at the All England Club on Court No. 3, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round to 19-year-old Gisela Dulko of Argentina, the same player who ends Navratilova’s French Open singles cameo four weeks earlier. Says Dulko, “This is the most special win of my career.”

1983 – Kathy Jordan upsets Chris Evert Lloyd 6-1, 7-6 (2) in the third round of Wimbledon, marking Evert Lloyd’s first-ever loss before the semifinals at a major event. Evert Lloyd’s semifinal streak, which dates back to her 1971 U.S. Open debut as a 16-year-old, is stopped at 34 consecutive major semifinals. “I’m disappointed,” says Evert Lloyd. “In the past when opponents have been in a winning position against me, they’re usually intimidated. Kathy wasn’t. When I lose a set, it warms me up and gets me started. But at 3-0 in the tie-breaker, I knew, the way she was playing, I was not going to win.”

2004 – Chair umpire Ted Watts performs one of the biggest mistakes in Wimbledon history, famously awarding Croatia’s Karolina Sprem an extra point in a second-set tie-break in her second-round Centre Court upset win over Venus Williams. Sprem leads Williams 2-1 in a second-set tie-break and wins the next point to lead 3-1, but Watts announces the score as 4-1. The mistake escapes both players and neither player protests the incorrect score. Sprem holds to win the tie-break 8-6 and wins the match 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). Says a diplomatic Williams, “I don’t think one call makes a match.”

2002 – Pete Sampras wins what ultimately becomes his final match at Wimbledon, beating Britain’s Martin Lee 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the first round. Says Sampras of the match, also his final appearance on Centre Court at the All England Club, “It’s nice to play on Centre Court. Stepping out there felt like coming home again….It’s like Mecca out there.”

2006 – In a pre-Wimbledon press conference at the All-England Club, thirty-six-year–old Andre Agassi announces that the 2006 tournament will be his last Wimbledon and he will retire from competitive tennis at the 2006 U.S. Open. Says Agassi, “It’s been a long road this year for me, and for a lot of reasons. It’s great to be here. This Wimbledon will be my last, and the U.S. Open will be my last tournament.”

1996 – Andre Agassi, the No. 3 seed and a Wimbledon champion in 1992, is dismissed from the first round of The Championships by No. 281-ranked qualifier Doug Flach 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 7-6 (6) on the famed “Graveyard” Court, Court No. 2. Says Agassi after the match, “This has nothing to do with Wimbledon. This is just, you know, I came out here and I was one of many guys trying to do well, and I didn’t.” Michael Chang, the No. 6 seed, joins Agassi on the sideline, also losing on the Graveyard Court, falling to Spain’s Albert Costa, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-4. No. 8 seed Jim Courier is also dismissed in the first round, struggling with a sore leg in his 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 loss to former junior doubles partner Jonathan Stark.

1977 – Twenty-two-year-old world No. 1 Chris Evert defeats 14-year-old Wimbledon rookie Tracy Austin 6-1, 6-1 in 49 minutes in the third round of Wimbledon.